"And suddenly, I find myself
Listening to a man I've never known before
Telling me about the sea
All his loves till eternity
Oh he's here again
The man with the child in his eyes"
-- Kate Bush, "The Man With The Child In His Eyes"
The night air was warm and filled with the scent of jasmine. In all the years Buffy had patrolled this cemetery, she'd never noticed the blooms that flourished between the gravestones. Perhaps being back among the living made her more aware of the beautiful things in life. Or perhaps the jasmine bushes had invaded the cemetery while she was dead. Buffy wondered if her daily routine of trudging through the graves and spreading vampire dust around had stopped the flowers from growing in the past. But in that case, why would they start growing now?
Buffy dismissed the thought with a shrug as she followed her usual patrol route through the graves. The tombstones were like old friends to her now. There were the ones with illegible names, the ones with strange shapes, the ones that had given rise to vampires. Buffy noticed with satisfaction that the gravestone she'd broken the day before Willow went on her murderous rampage had been replaced with a new one. It took time, but things returned to normal eventually.
With no vampires to slay, Buffy was reduced to twirling her stake and humming a little tune by the time she entered the oldest part of the cemetery. The tombs there were packed more tightly, some lying only a few inches away from the ancient, lop-sided crypts that dominated the area. Buffy smiled and put her stake away when she noticed light in the windows of Spike's former crypt. Clem was no doubt watching some old movie or one of those corny eighties shows he liked so much. Buffy didn't understand why he didn't just move Spike's television to his own home, since there was no sign of the vampire coming back. But Clem was unwaveringly loyal; he had promised to look after Spike's crypt, and he wasn't going to abandon it to any passing demon. Buffy thought his loyalty was kind of sweet.
As she drew closer, Buffy could hear music from inside the crypt. She knocked on the outside door and entered, looking forward to some inane chatter with the kindly demon. It beat hunting for vampires that just weren't there. As she walked in, Buffy was surprised to find that most of the furniture in the crypt was gone, including the television. The only items left were the refrigerator, the recliner, a lamp on the bier, and a clockwork radio on the window ledge.
Clem was nowhere to be seen. Someone else was standing by the refrigerator, pouring himself a glass of blood. Buffy stared at him and felt as though her heart stopped beating.
He evidently hadn't noticed her presence. Hearing her voice, Spike spun towards her and dropped his glass. It smashed noisily on the stone floor, spattering blood on his bare feet.
"What the hell are you doing here?" he exclaimed, more startled than angry. He turned off the radio and took a couple of steps in her direction.
"That's my question for you!" said Buffy, reaching for her stake in case he came any closer. "Only minus the bad language, obviously."
Spike stared at her. She stared back. She'd known he would come back, of course. No matter why they left or what they had done to her, they always came back. Never for long, not long enough to deal with what had happened, to explain to her why they had left. But always long enough to rub her nose in their happy Buffy-free lives.
Spike didn't look as if his Buffy-free life had been happy. In fact he didn't look much like himself at all. He was still wearing his black jeans, but they were torn and scorched in places. His shirt was some kind of white sports outfit, with grey and red stripes down the sides, and a crest bearing three lions over his heart. Spike's once slicked-back peroxide hair was now a dull mass of long, mousy brown curls, and he looked as if he was growing a beard. Buffy was also surprised to see that he was wearing plastic-framed glasses, though he removed them and hid them behind his back when he noticed she was observing him. He was shorter than she remembered; an unthreatening little man lost in his oversized shirt, his face an open book of bewilderment and apprehension. Buffy lowered the stake.
Glasses? Unbleached hair? A white shirt? If she hadn't recognised his voice, Buffy might have thought it was a case of mistaken identity. But this was definitely Spike. She'd spent four months waiting for this moment -- hoping, fearing, rehearsing what she would say -- and here it was. Spike was back.
And after all those months of waiting, Buffy couldn't think of a single sensible thing to say.
"So, what's with the new look?" she asked after a pause, trying, and failing, to sound nonchalant. "Finally woke up one evening and realised the whole Billy Idol thing is, like, twenty years out of date?"
Spike ran his hand through his hair. A wan smile twisted his lips. "Well, if you must know, I'm here incognito. I do have a lot of enemies. Thought the hippy look would throw them off the scent."
"So you're here incognito. Right." Buffy folded her arms and looked around the crypt with amusement. "And to set your many enemies even further off the scent, you thought you'd move back into the first place they'll come looking for you."
"Well, you know, me and planning..." said Spike with a wave of his hand. "Um, do you want a drink? Something to eat? Clem left tons of rubbish in the fridge. He's certainly been making the most of the place since I left."
Buffy smiled at him, tempted by the offer, but her smile faded when he mentioned his departure. Seeing him so different and quiet, Buffy had nearly forgotten who Spike was and why he had gone. But this was the vampire that had attacked her in her bathroom. Buffy looked away as the memory surfaced for the first time in weeks. Those same hands clawing at her bathrobe. That same face contorted into an unrecognisable mask of pain and anger. The feel of the hard floor beneath her injured back. The bathmat skidding on the cold tiles as she scrambled helplessly to escape. Her, helpless! God, she'd nearly erased the whole incident from her mind. Filed it away under the same 'Don't Think About It' category as the Angelus nightmare, crawling out of her grave, and Mom/Giles sex.
"I-I don't think--" she started, unnerved by the memory. "I mean-- Not that I think you'd try to, you know... but..."
"It's okay. I understand." Spike looked down and nudged the broken glass with his foot. "And I wouldn't. That was..."
"I know." Buffy took a deep breath and raised her stake again. "But, you know, not gonna happen again. Ever."
Spike raised his face towards the ceiling and closed his eyes. Buffy could see the muscles in his jaw clenching and unclenching as he steadied his emotions. Maybe threatening him with the stake was a bit much. It wasn't like he'd actually tried to assault her again. On the other hand, better safe than sorry. Buffy kept the stake raised and at the ready.
After a brief pause, Spike faced her again. When he spoke, his voice was quiet and sad.
"Buffy, I know this won't make things better, but I am so sorry about what happened. What I did." He sighed. "I never thought I'd fall so low. Never thought I'd cause you so much pain. But--I guess I completely underestimated what I could--"
"Yeah, me too," said Buffy coldly.
Spike turned away, wiping his face with his hands. Staring at the black ENGLAND on the back of his shirt, Buffy felt a bizarre twist in her stomach as she realised he was crying. Her anger abated and she put the stake away. He was sorry. He was really sorry. There was none of the macho posturing she'd expected to see. No threatening words, no pathetic excuses. Just a very unhappy Spike who regretted what he had done.
"I didn't come back to bother you." Spike waved his hand at a pile of crumpled papers on the bier. "I was going to write to you, you know. Just say I was sorry. That I wouldn't be bothering you anymore. I only needed to come back here to settle some debts. Be off in a few days... Thought I'd leave it up to fate whether you saw me or not." He shifted his position to look over his shoulder at her. "I think you're entitled to beat me up if you want to."
Buffy winced. "I'm not into that anymore. New, improved Buffy here. Full of the milk of human kindness."
Spike laughed bitterly, then let out a long sigh and slumped down on the ledge under the window.
"Well, for what it's worth, I'm sorry." He ran his hand through his unruly hair again, making it stand up in uneven curls. "Yeah, I bet that helps after-- God, Buffy, you must really hate me."
"I don't hate you, Spike," said Buffy in a soft voice.
Buffy paused before continuing, trying to gather her thoughts. She'd gone over the incident many times, in her mind and when explaining it to others. She'd told her friends it wasn't that terrible and there was no harm done; to appease Xander, to console Dawn, to convince Giles that she wasn't traumatised or about to sink into another depression. There was no time for everyone to be wringing their hands over such a minor incident when there was a broken Willow to take care of.
But now that she was face to face with Spike himself, Buffy wasn't sure what to say. She couldn't pretend it was nothing, because he was the only other person in the world who knew exactly what had happened between them. And he was the one who had done it. On the other hand, she didn't want some long, drawn out conversation about the whys and wherefores of their unfortunate encounter. It was way too painful.
"Look, Spike, what you did was bad," she said, looking everywhere but at Spike's miserable face. It was time to draw on the newfound maturity she'd cultivated all summer. "It wasn't ripping me out of heaven bad, and it's not like no one has ever... just not like that. But I know you didn't mean to harm me. And it's over now. It was months ago, and-- Spike, I don't think either of us can say anything about that night that won't make things more painful. But I know you're sorry. It doesn't make it okay, but it... It's... I'm glad you told me... about you being sorry."
Way to go with the mature. More like babbling idiot, thought Buffy. She leaned against the inner door and, steeling herself, looked straight at Spike to see his reaction. He was watching her, his head tilted to one side, an open, earnest expression on his face. Buffy could see his blue eyes shining with tears in the dim light of the crypt. A demon wearing the face of an angel...
"I--I should go," said Buffy, fumbling with the door handle.
Spike hung his head. "Yes, of course."
Breathing deeply to calm herself, Buffy turned and walked out into the night air. She'd often imagined Spike's return; what he'd say, what she'd say. She'd expected him to come back drunk and disorderly, perhaps, the way he had been when Drusilla first left him. Or maybe his long absence meant he had finally gotten the chip out, and he would return to Sunnydale for an old-style killing spree. She'd even considered the possibility that he would come back the same, maybe turn up on her doorstep one day, full of romantic notions and ingratiating apologies. But Buffy had never imagined him so devastated.
In all the confusion, she hadn't even asked what he'd been doing all these months. Buffy sighed as she left the cemetery. He'd only been back in her life a few minutes, and he was already tearing her apart.
Buffy was relieved to see that Dawn's first reaction was surprise, not horror or anger. She'd spent the night debating whether to tell anyone about Spike's return. Not that there were many people to tell; with Willow, Anya and Giles in England, the only people who would care were Xander and Dawn. Buffy had decided Dawn had a right to know.
"He's only here for a few days," explained Buffy, reaching for the cereal box. "But I thought you should know."
Dawn frowned, her eyes fixed on her bowl. "Did you talk to him?"
"Yes." Buffy paused, collecting her thoughts. "It was weird. Seeing Spike again after what happened, after all this time. He's different; I mean, he looks different. But he's really sorry, and I think we're okay."
"Okay?" sneered Dawn. "You're okay with the guy who tried to rape you?"
Buffy sighed. She folded the bag inside the cereal box and put it back in the cupboard.
"You spend too much time with Xander," she said, struggling to keep her voice level. "I told you what happened. It was complicated."
"Yeah. The golden explanation for everything that happened after you came back. Complicated!" Dawn crossed her arms. "So, can I go see our best friend the attempted rapist now that he's back in town?"
"If you want to see him, then you can," said Buffy, though it was obvious Dawn was just testing her. "I think you're old enough to decide. You don't need my permission. What happened between us was all about me and him. About the sick, twisted thing we had. And I told you, he's sorry. I'm sure what happened doesn't affect how he feels about you. I know he would never hurt you, Dawn."
"Yeah. But then, you thought he wouldn't hurt you, either, didn't you?"
Buffy laughed a bitter little laugh. "Yeah, I guess I did think that. No idea why. It's not like he never hurt me before. But I shouldn't have gotten involved with him in the first place. I was in a bad way. He was a vampire. A whole world of really bad decisions."
"I still can't believe he did that to you," said Dawn, her expression softer. "The way he was last summer, I couldn't imagine Spike ever hurting you. He loved you so much." Her face turned bitter. "How could he betray you like that? How could he say he loved you, and yet do something so ugly and then run away?"
"I don't know. Guess you always hurt the one you love. But Spike's a strange guy anyway. He can be incredibly kind and full of love, but he's dangerous too. It's easy to forget just how dangerous he can be." Buffy paused, remembering Spike's sad face the previous evening. Then she laughed as a thought occurred to her. "But you know me. I only have to sleep with a guy for him to turn into a jerk! So far, I have a perfect score. Whatever you do, Dawn, never come to me for advice on relationships!"
Dawn laughed, reluctantly at first, then more freely. She carried her cereal bowl to the sink and started to clean up. As she waited for the sink to fill, Dawn looked down at the floor, her innocent young face locked in concentration. Not for the first time, Buffy cursed fate and herself and Spike for subjecting Dawn to such horrible things. But Buffy reminded herself that she had been the same age when her parents divorced, and when she killed her first vampire. The world was a terrible place sometimes, but Dawn was old enough to face it.
"Do you think he'll do it again?" asked Dawn. Her tone was soft, but her eyes were full of apprehension.
"No!" Buffy was taken aback. "Well, I guess I can't say for sure, seeing as I didn't think he'd do that at all. But I think we were both in a really, really bad place. I mean I was really screwed up when I was with him." She busied herself with replacing the bag in the kitchen trash can. "He was a vampire, the kind of evil thing I'm supposed to kill, right? But he loved me, and I used him to feel better. And then I told him to move on, but I got jealous when he did. Did I tell you he came to apologise that night? He was so desperate and when I told him-- when we talked, I guess he thought he could do what he always did before: win me over with his... Oh, I don't know. It's--"
Buffy gave another little laugh. "Yeah."
"Yeah. I guess it is complicated," said Dawn coldly. "That's some 'bad place' that excuses attempted rape."
"Dawn, nothing excuses attempted rape, sexual assault, molestation or whatever you want to call a guy coming on to you after you said 'no'." Buffy raised her finger, fired by the horrifying thought of anyone trying to rape Dawn. "And don't you ever let any boy make you think you're responsible if he acts out of line. You have a right to say 'no' whatever your relationship with him, and if he crosses that line, then he deserves whatever he--" She noticed Dawn's amused expression and stopped. "Oh my God! We were talking about Spike and I'm suddenly giving you a lecture. What's with me these days?"
"It's okay, Buffy. It's that Mom vibe coming out again." Dawn's momentary smile faded again. "Nice lecture. But what I'm seeing is that you spoke to your attempted rapist once, and you've decided it's 'okay'."
"Not okay." Buffy rubbed her forehead. "But it's different. Like when I died last year is different from what happened to Tara. My thing with Spike wasn't like a normal relationship. It was... different," she said. God, that sounded so lame. "I mean, he isn't human. He's a creature whose very nature is to kill people. So what happened was bad, but not a surprise, which-- I guess that's what makes it different."
Dawn scrubbed a bowl and laid it on the drying rack. She clearly wasn't convinced. Buffy couldn't blame her; coherent explanations just weren't her speciality.
"Does that mean you've already forgiven him?" asked Dawn, her eyes downcast and her tone aggressive.
"Dawn, I don't--"
Both sisters turned towards the living-room when they heard a knock on the front door. Xander walked in, resplendent in a loud short-sleeved shirt and multicoloured shorts. He tossed his car keys in the air and caught them with a goofy grin as he entered the kitchen. Obviously a good mood day for the Xan-man.
"Hey, Dawnie," said Xander. "Ready for your driving lesson?"
"Yeah. Just need to finish this." Dawn hastily scrubbed the last few dishes in the sink.
Xander said hello to Buffy, helped himself to a handful of cereal from the cupboard and shuffled back out to the car. As Dawn went to follow him, Buffy caught her arm.
"Dawn, don't tell Xander about Spike. Not yet."
Dawn's eyes narrowed. "Why? Afraid Xander might stake him? Would that really be such a bad thing?"
"You don't mean that."
"Ow...owowowow," groaned Buffy, limping through the back streets of Sunnydale. Every vamp on the Hellmouth would be laughing if they saw the Slayer like this. As it was, she'd dusted the one vamp that had had the audacity to look upon her in this state, but she was impatient to get home before anyone unstakable saw her.
As she neared the Bronze, however, she heard a woman scream.
"Oh crap. Why now?" muttered Buffy, stake in hand as she hobbled in the direction of the cries.
When she reached the alley behind the Bronze, Buffy was nearly knocked over as two youths ran in the opposite direction. Puzzled, she continued towards the woman, who had stopped screaming and how seemed to be talking to someone. Buffy would have recognised the second voice anywhere.
"Yeah, well, cheers, luv," Spike was saying. "It was nothing, really."
"But you scared those creeps off! Thank you so much," said the woman. "Is there any way I can repay you?"
"Don't worry about it, luv. No problems."
Turning into the alley, Buffy could see Spike and the young woman he had apparently just saved. She couldn't believe her eyes. Was the Big Bad really saving random women in alleyways?
Spike heaved a sigh of relief as the woman thanked him again and walked away.
"Right." Not noticing Buffy, Spike turned on his heels with a flourish, a sarcastic grin on his face. "Off to the Spikemobile, you mysterious, black-clad hunk of a night thing!"
Buffy laughed out loud. Spike turned towards her with a murderous expression, his body poised for combat. But when he realised who she was, his shoulders slumped and he lowered his eyes. Buffy was disappointed by his sudden change of mood. That was quite some effect she had on him. Sucked all the life right out.
This time, Spike was clean-shaven and wearing black, though the long curls were still there. Buffy wondered if he was trying to grow an Afro. She felt like teasing him about it, but he didn't look as if he was in a mood to be teased. Buffy lowered her eyes and thought back to her conversation with Dawn a couple of days earlier. Maybe teasing her attempted rapist wasn't such a good thing.
On the other hand, she had to say something. They couldn't just stand there looking at the ground forever.
"So, what was all that about?" asked Buffy, pointing at the woman in the distance.
"Nothing." Spike shrugged, his eyes still downcast.
They both stood still for a moment. Okay, so maybe they could stand there staring at the ground forever. But Buffy had better things to do with her time. She muttered something about Dawn and started to limp in the direction of home. Spike watched her walk past.
"Bad patrol?" he asked, his eyes not quite reaching hers.
Buffy pursed her lips. "New shoes."
Surprised, Spike raised his eyebrows, and then chuckled. Buffy crossed her arms and pouted, in the hope that he would rise to the bait and tease her. Being teased by her attempted rapist had to be better than watching him stare at the ground.
Spike made a show of leaning back to take a good look at her footwear.
"You wore new boots to go on patrol?"
"What? I have to break them in!" She stretched out one foot so he could see the elegant pink boots she was wearing. "They're really cool. And it's not like the place is crawling with vamps these days... um, present company excepted, that is." She frowned. "Spike, how do vampires shave?"
"They usually get someone else to do it for them... Oh." Spike touched his shaven face, realising why she'd asked the question. "Yes, I decided to do away with the Jesus Christ Superstar look. Not really my style."
"No." Buffy wrinkled her nose. "Can't say it's mine either. Men with beards. Yech."
Spike didn't say anything for a moment, just stared at her with an unreadable jumble of emotions on his face. He looked so different with that unruly brown hair and the dark circles under his eyes. And he was acting different too. It wasn't like Spike to be so quiet and diffident, as if he was waiting for her to say something first. Plus, saving women in alleys. Definitely didn't compute.
Buffy looked down at her new boots and couldn't think of anything to say. Way to go with the great conversation skills.
"Well, I..." said Spike suddenly. He waved in the general direction of the cemetery.
"Oh, right, yes. And I need to see Dawn...who's probably in bed by now." Buffy shifted her weight from one foot to the other and winced. "Ugh, I give up!"
She limped over to sit on a crate in the alley and started to take off her left boot. Spike watched her for a moment, still standing in the same spot.
"Can I do anything to help?" he asked.
"Wanna wear in my boots for me?"
"Hmm." Spike pretended to consider that. "I don't think they'd suit me."
Still struggling with her boot, Buffy smiled. "I don't know. They might go with your new look. Throw your enemies further off the scent."
"Well, I suppose if it didn't throw them off the scent, it'd certainly give them a fright!" said Spike, relaxing enough to give her a sweet smile.
Buffy giggled at the mental picture of Spike wearing her boots. That seemed to encourage him; Spike came over and sat on a box beside her, a small distance away. Buffy tensed, but then willed herself to stay calm. She was the Slayer, and she had a stake in her pocket. Spike was not dangerous. Besides, this whole conversation was kind of fun.
"I didn't get to ask," he said in a soft voice. "How have you been? I mean, in general. You seem a lot happier."
"Yeah, I'm all cool." Buffy smiled at him, but not too long. Mustn't encourage him. "I'm all done with the depression thing. Got a new job: better hours, better money, less greasy smells. Taking evening classes, nothing great, but interesting to learn something new. Dawn comes on patrol sometimes. She's really good, too; I don't have to worry about protecting her so much. So yeah, things are good."
"Great. That's wonderful." Spike nodded, that sort of vigorous nodding people do when they're trying to think of something to say.
Buffy struggled some more with her boot and finally pulled it off. It had left angry red marks on her foot and calf. She rubbed them and wondered if she would have to walk home barefoot. Spike clucked his tongue at her.
"Look at the state of you, you silly mare," he said with a grin.
Buffy pouted. "It's not funny, Spike. I'm hurt!"
That seemed to disturb Spike. He looked down at his own shoes, those scuffed Doc Martins he'd worn for as long as she'd known him. He wiped one of his eyes with the heel of his hand. Unwilling to watch him cry again -- what was with the teary thing anyway? -- Buffy started work on removing the other boot. The night was so quiet that she could hear a seriously confused bird tittering by one of the bright lampposts. Dumb thing thought it was dawn. But the night wasn't through yet, no matter how bright the streetlamps made it.
"Clem told me about Tara," said Spike in a soft voice. "He got the whole story from Dawn, apparently. Bloody hell, there really is evil in the world!"
"Yeah." Buffy felt a pang at the mention of Tara's death, though she couldn't help noticing the irony of Spike's statement.
After a pause, Spike continued. "I've been thinking about it, and the thing is, magic always has consequences. With the amount of mojo your Wicked Witch of the West conjured up to resurrect you, I'm thinking maybe in some weird way, Tara's death was the price she had to pay. That we all had to pay, for getting you back."
"Actually, Giles said something about that too." Buffy was surprised Spike had come to the same conclusion. "It's weird. The day Tara died is the day I felt alive again. Really there for the first time. Anya said Willow never really finished my resurrection spell." She turned to Spike. "I don't know if Clem told you, but I was shot too, right through the heart. Willow healed me."
"You think she finally finished the spell?"
"I don't know." Buffy shrugged. "I'm not big with the magic and cosmic repercussions stuff. But Giles thinks it's all related. That I felt out of place because I wasn't supposed to be there, and couldn't feel better until Tara died and I took her place. He kept going around saying 'Dear God, I should have known'. Like it was all his fault. I don't know if it was Tara's death, or being shot and healed that made me feel better. I hope it was the being shot. I don't want to think Tara had to die because of me."
Spike was silent for a long time before speaking again. "So, what happened to Willow after she went all Armageddon on you?"
"She's in England with Giles and Anya. Well, with Giles, to be cured by some good witches over there. Anya's kind of along for the ride. I mean, the... to help... with her vengeance demon powers," stammered Buffy, remembering that Anya was another sore subject between them.
"Oh. Vengeance demon again." Spike seemed surprised. "And in England. That's a shame; I was hoping to see her." It was his turn to look concerned. "Not because, you know. Just some other matter I was hoping she could help me with."
Buffy nodded. "Oh," was all she could think to say.
She looked at Spike; his profile was in the shadow, outlined against the pale walls behind the Bronze. He was nervously clenching and unclenching his hands. No jewellery, she noticed. Maybe it had gone the way of his furniture. That probably meant he was selling off all his possessions and planning to leave soon. She chided herself for letting her heart sink just because Spike was leaving. Didn't need her attempted rapist hanging around town. Hard to believe he was the same person now, seeing him so calm and sad.
"Spike," said Buffy. "Where have you been?"
"Uganda." Spike paused for a long time, as if he didn't want to talk about it. "That's in Africa," he added.
"I knew that! Well, probably would have said Asia." Buffy rolled her eyes. "L.A., Belize, Uganda. Guess my next ex will have to go to the Moon to get away from me!"
Spike seemed uncertain how to take that, but then relaxed when he saw Buffy's amused expression.
"There's always Australia," he said with a grin. "I think that's further than Uganda."
Buffy grinned back. Then she remembered who she was talking to and lowered her eyes.
"Did you get the chip out?" she asked, though she wasn't sure she wanted to know the answer.
Spike was serious too. "No."
"So, what did you do there?" asked Buffy, as if she were asking him about a summer holiday. "Visit pyramids, walk through the desert, um, wrestle with tigers?"
"Tigers live in Asia." Spike smiled. "Didn't do much, actually. Watched England play like prats in the football World Cup -- Soccer World Cup, whatever you call it. Bummed around. Spent a lot of time thinking about what I did..." He plucked at the jagged edge of a tear in his jeans, closing it with his fingers. "It was... I didn't like to abandon you and Dawn like that. I know you've always relied on me to protect Dawn and provide some extra muscle in a fight. But under the circumstances..." He let go of the tear and it fell open, exposing a sliver of white skin. "Thing is, it's good to know you don't need me. You got better, Bob the Builder saved the world, Dawn's learning to defend herself. I was right to leave."
"Yeah, I guess so," said Buffy. "Though Dawn was upset that you left without a word."
"Didn't think a note from the guy who tried to rape her sister would go down well, somehow," said Spike with self-disgust.
"No, guess not." Buffy looked down at her sore toes. "It was kinda weird, not having you around. Guess I was used to you being there." Great. Make him think you missed him, why don't you? "I mean, after all this time... like I was used to, ah, Principal Snyder."
Buffy glanced at Spike, afraid that he might have picked up on her slip. But he was looking into the middle distance, his face grave and unhappy.
"You'd grown accustomed to my face," he said. "'S weird really. This place has been hell for me. Bit by bit, it's stripped me of everything I once was, until now, I'm as raw and naked as a newborn baby. But I still had to come back. Face the music, pay off my debts. I'd have been a coward to stay away. Even though being here hurts more than you can imagine."
Buffy let a moment go by. She didn't know what to do. Part of her wanted to help Spike shake off his melancholy. Another, smaller part, wanted him to suffer for what he'd done. But both parts agreed that she was probably the last person in the world who could help a remorseful vampire.
"You're really paying off your debts?" said Buffy after a while. She kept her tone light, in the hope of reviving their earlier teasing conversation. "Not a very vampire thing to do, is it?"
Spike looked offended. "I'm no welcher! What do you expect me to do, bugger off and leave Clem to pay my creditors off for me? If I owe someone something, I pay them back. Same applies to you." He hung his head, his voice softer. "I owed you an apology at the very least. If I could, I'd make amends, but I can't really see what I could do."
Neither do I, thought Buffy, though she said nothing. She watched him stand up and walk away, thin and sad in the pale lamplight, and felt a pang of compassion for him. Spike had done wrong and hurt her, but Buffy realised she didn't want him to suffer. It wouldn't undo what he had done, and it wouldn't make either of them happy. Buffy frowned at that thought, and remembered her pathetic attempts at explaining the situation to Dawn. Yeah, it was complicated.
It was Patrol With Dawn Night, one of those nights where Buffy could never fully relax, fearful that some monster would get the better of her little sister. Dawn was a good fighter, handy with a stake, and particularly adept with a sword. But whether it was instinctive, or a leftover from the monks' spell, Buffy still felt an overwhelming urge to protect her.
Unfortunately for Buffy's nerves, this evening was not as slow and boring as the previous ones had been. The sisters had been patrolling for half an hour when they were attacked by three large vampires. Ex-frat boys, from the look of them.
"Oh, good. I hate frat boys," said Buffy, delivering a roundhouse kick to the nearest vamp before turning to tackle his friend.
Dawn circled the third vampire, avoiding his blows and waiting for an opportunity to plant her stake in his heart. Buffy kept an eye on her while fighting the other two. She was seized with panic when Dawn underestimated the length of the vampire's reach, and didn't draw back far enough after an unsuccessful stab at his chest. The vampire whacked Dawn hard across the face, knocking her to the ground.
Buffy tried desperately to shake off her two opponents, but worry made her sloppy and it took another minute before she had both of them dusted. By the time she turned towards Dawn, the third vampire was gone. Spike stood in his place, a stake in his left hand. His eyes were on Dawn.
"Spike!" exclaimed Dawn, scrambling to her feet. Her initial smile of joy faded in an instant and she took on a cooler demeanour. "Buffy said you were back. How long are you staying?"
"Only a couple more days, actually. I'm leaving on Friday."
Buffy was disappointed; he'd been in Sunnydale barely a week. "Debts all paid off?" she asked.
"Pretty much." Spike waved his hand. "Just need to track down one last demon before she goes on a rampage."
"You have to track down your creditors?" asked Buffy with a smile. "Maybe that new look of yours is throwing them off the scent after all."
Spike ran his hand through his hair and chuckled. "Yeah. Didn't even need the pink boots. But once I've got this one sorted, I'll be off. Don't want to hang around here forever."
"Yeah. Guys never do," said Dawn, her voice as icy as her demeanour. "So, Spike, what brings you back to Sunnydale after you tried to rape my sister?"
Spike staggered back as if Dawn had hit him. He stared at her wide-eyed, his expression almost as shocked and horrified as it had been after the assault. He looked at Buffy, but she didn't know what to say.
"You didn't seriously think I wouldn't find out!" continued Dawn.
"No, I didn't." Spike lifted his head to the sky. "God, I am so sorry. The last thing I wanted was to hurt you both."
"Then why?" The ice was threatening to turn into tears.
"I don't know why. Because I was insane, because I'm a bastard with the self-control of a gnat, because I'm just a monster who thought he could be a man." Spike sighed and ran his hands through his wavy hair. "I told you things were complicated, little bit."
"Yeah. That's one thing you and Buffy agree on. 'Oh, it was complicated, Dawnie'," she sneered, taking a step back and fixing both Spike and Buffy with a disgusted stare. The tears were gone. "'Oh, he held me down and tried to fuck me while I screamed for him to stop, but it's okay, he's just a vampire. It isn't real, just complicated.' And there you are, both standing there flirting about pink boots after what you did to each other. You make me sick, both of you."
Buffy stared at Dawn in amazement. Where did all that come from? And what was with the bad language? She had a good mind to slap her sister and tell her to shut up. But all she could do was stand agape.
"We weren't flirting, Dawn," said Spike in a soft voice. Dawn tossed her head. "Look, I'm not going to be here long. Buffy has a happy life now, she doesn't want to waste it hating me. I'm not worth it." He placed his fist on his chest. "Hatred gnaws at you from the inside until there's nothing left, Dawn. Hating me as much as I deserve would destroy Buffy, and it still wouldn't undo what I did to her."
Dawn glared at him. "So what? You get away with attempted rape because Buffy wants hugs and puppies? Well, I'll tell you something, Spike. If Buffy won't hate you, then I'll hate you for the both of us."
"Dawn, this really isn't about you!" exclaimed Buffy. "What happened was between Spike and me. It's not up to you to decide whether I should hate him or not."
"Oh, right. Because he's a vampire and you're the Slayer, so it's all okay. He left you bruised and crying on the bathroom floor, but it's all forgiven?"
"God! I am going to kill Xander Harris one of these days," exclaimed Buffy. "That jealous bastard had no right to tell you anything!"
"Yeah, 'cause you were planning to keep all this as your dirty little secret," Dawn spat out. "What are you so ashamed of, Buffy? Did you ask for it, is that it? Lead him on and then change your mind?"
"Dawn!" Buffy raised her hand; Spike caught it in mid-air. He pulled Buffy around to face him, his hand gripping her arm hard through the sleeve of her jacket.
"Oi. If you're going to hit anyone, Buffy, it should be me." Spike looked at her arm and let go as if it was on fire. He turned to Dawn. "And I'm the one you should be hating, pet. Buffy wasn't responsible. It was all my fault. This is all...completely...my fault. Bloody hell, you can't let this come between you. That's just stupid!"
"I'll tell you what's stupid." Dawn's face crumpled up and she backed away, shaking her head in disgust. "I used to dream about the two of you getting together. But what I got was a nightmare! I thought it would be a beautiful romance, but it was just an ugly, disgusting abomination that made even rape excusable."
"Hey, I never said--" started Buffy.
"Shut up!" screamed Dawn, bursting into tears. "Shut up! I've heard enough!"
She turned and ran away, her sobs echoing in the still night air. Buffy started after her, walking slowly to give Dawn some time alone. She wasn't sure she could stand another session of Dawn's recriminations just yet. God, what a mess.
Buffy pressed her ear to the door, but all her Slayer senses could pick up was Dawn's breathing. Maybe she was asleep already? Buffy decided that was unlikely and called her sister again.
"Dawn, we really need to talk. Can I come in?"
There was a muffled noise that sounded vaguely like a "yeah", so Buffy opened the door. Dawn was lying on her bed still fully clothed, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. Buffy sat beside her and handed her the box of tissues she'd brought.
"Thanks," said Dawn, her breathing still punctuated by the occasional sniff.
"I'm sorry. I wish you didn't have to be involved in this mess," said Buffy. "I get why you're angry. I was angry too, for a while, but it doesn't help. Spike is right. Hatred is a bad thing and he's not worth it."
"I don't understand." Dawn looked at Buffy, her big blue eyes full of tears. "If what he did was so terrible, how can you laugh with him like that? Why don't you hate him like I do?"
Buffy stroked her sister's soft dark hair. "One thing I've learned during all these years as a Slayer is that I can't let things get to me. I don't hate vampires for trying to kill me every night. If I did, I couldn't keep going. Look how bad it was when Willow brought me back last year. If I let things get to me I just can't go on."
"So that's it?" Dawn shook her head. "Spike is forgiven, and you're both going back to normal -- until the next time he turns on you? Only maybe next time he'll finish what he started and you'll end up dead. He's a monster, Buffy. He's like a wild animal in captivity. No matter how gentle he might seem, one day, he'll turn on you. It's in his nature."
"You're right." Buffy frowned, trying to express the jumble of complex emotions she felt. "And that's why I don't hate him. If a wild animal bites you, you don't spend months feeling angry at it."
"No," said Dawn coldly. "You have it put down. When you discovered Spike could hurt you, you should have staked him. It was obvious that some day, he was going to hurt you for real."
"It's not quite that simple."
Dawn crossed her arms, a sarcastic little smile on her lips. "Why?"
"What are you trying to make me say, Dawn?" exclaimed Buffy. "That I didn't stake him because I loved him? It's not that simple either." She spread her hands. "I've known Spike longer than anyone in my life except you and the original Scoobies. He isn't a white hat hero, but whatever his motives, he has helped me a lot in the past. I can't just 'put him down'. There's too much history there." Buffy smiled sadly. "And, well, you know I wasn't great with the thinking clearly last year."
"Yeah, we all know how that ended up."
"Yes." Buffy looked Dawn in the eye, determined to tell her sister as much of the truth as she could bear. "No woman deserves what Spike tried to do to me. But I know that he wouldn't have touched me if I hadn't been sleeping with him before. And that was something I chose to do. I made the first move. I used him because I wanted to feel alive, and it was the biggest mistake of my life." She sighed. "I know you wanted me and Spike to have a grand romance, but that's just not how it worked out. It was horrible, Dawn. It made us lose all respect for one another. It could only end badly."
Dawn stared at the tissue in her hands and said nothing. Buffy touched her arm.
"Things were bad," she continued. "But it doesn't mean Spike has to be out of our lives this time. I know I've only seen him twice since he assaulted me, but he seems sincerely sorry. He's still a vampire, but there's another side to him too. Perhaps I can encourage him to show his caring side more often. He tried to help me, you know, when I was at my worst. I'm thinking perhaps I can help him a bit in return."
"Help him do what?" asked Dawn. "He can't be good. He doesn't have a soul."
"I know he'll never be anything other than a soulless vampire, but-- as weird as it sounds, I think he wants to do good. And maybe it's not just for me. You told me how he behaved last summer, and I saw him save a woman the other day. A complete stranger. He didn't even know I was watching. Spike's nature might be evil, but, somehow, I think he can do good too."
"Right." Dawn looked unconvinced. "Well, I'm guessing most human rapists can do good too. And they even have souls. Doesn't mean they don't deserve to go to jail."
"So do serial killers, Dawn, but I didn't notice you being all 'stake him' when Spike last tried to kill me. When was that, less than two years ago?"
"That was different. He didn't love you then." Dawn shook her head and shrugged. "Oh, Buffy, why are men such jerks?"
"They're not all jerks," said Buffy, watching the outline of a palm tree swaying in the breeze outside. "Just because Spike let us down like Dad. And Angel... And Riley. And Giles, I guess..."
Buffy frowned. That was quite some line-up of guys who had walked out on them. No wonder they had issues. Thinking about it, Buffy realised that every man she'd ever cared for had abandoned her. Not that she'd ever cared for Spike, of course. No, no feelings for soulless vampires. That had just been a lie that got her into trouble.
"So, didn't finish reading the book on Psychology 101?" said Dawn, in a half-mocking sarcastic tone. "Is that all the comfort you're gonna offer me?"
"Oh. Sorry. I was just thinking we don't have much luck with guys." When Dawn put on a 'do we ever' look, Buffy continued. "I mean, there's nice guys who turn evil, and evil guys who seem nice. But they all leave in the end."
Dawn nodded. "Guess the only one who's stayed a nice guy is Xander."
"Well, there's Giles too. I mean the leaving at the wrong time was bad, but he came back... then went away again. And, Xander, kinda not entirely with the nice. I mean, I wouldn't want to be Anya." Buffy sighed. "I'm sorry, Dawn. I suck at this. I think I missed the lesson where the whole helping people with feelings thing was explained." She placed her hand on Dawn's cheek. "I really want you to be happy, Dawn. I don't want you to be worrying about bad things like I do. And most of all, I don't want you to hate me."
"I don't hate you, Buffy," said Dawn in a calmer voice. "It's like this: I loved Spike. I wanted the two people I loved most in the world to get together. But when you did get together, it was you using him to feel alive, and then Spike sleeping with Anya and trying to rape you. You two together was my dream. But when it came true, it was just a nightmare. And that hurt." She hugged Buffy. "I'm sorry I yelled at you. If you need to forgive him to be a good Slayer, then go forgiveness."
Buffy stared at Dawn for a moment.
"Did we just swap places?" she asked, pointing from herself to her sister. "Because you clearly know more about Psychology 101 than I do!"
"Actually, I was thinking it over before you came in," said Dawn with a coy smile. Her smiled faded. "Guess what I'm saying is I totally don't get how you can forgive Spike, but if you do, then that's your prerogative." She touched her sister's hand. "I don't hate you, Buffy, but don't blame me for hating Spike. He doesn't deserve to be forgiven."
Buffy smiled. "You know, Giles said something to me once. You forgive people not because they deserve it, but because they need it. And I know, in my heart, that what Spike needs more than anything else right now is my forgiveness."
Another dark night in Sunnydale Cemetery, and Buffy was hunting. The air was cool and breezy enough to lift her short skirt, offering tantalising glimpses of underwear to every passing monster. But none of them were good enough for the Slayer. She paused, touching the blunt end of her stake to her lips as she appraised the assorted creatures in front of her. Humans, demons, vampires -- all worthless.
"You don't know me," she told them. "I sleep on a bed of bones."
Buffy caught her breath when a cold hand clapped over her mouth. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the gleaming yellow eyes and unfamiliar face of yet another anonymous vampire. Buffy tilted her head to one side, exposing her jugular, knowing she was safe because she had a stake in her right hand. The vampire slid his hand under her skirt and into her underwear. Buffy moaned as he bit down on her neck.
The wind blew in her hair and she collapsed face down on the bier in Spike's crypt. Turning her head to one side, Buffy could see Spike weeping, huddled in a patch of sunshine from the hole in the roof.
"No!" she screamed, leaping forward to help him even though she was naked and covered in blood. But by the time she reached him, he was dust. Buffy cried and plunged her hands into the ashes. When she wiped the tears from her eyes, the dust on her fingers stuck to her face like mud.
"This is what I am," she wept. "Tears of sorrow and the dust of vampires."
"It's just a mask, love." Buffy relaxed as she felt a strong arm slide around her. Spike put his hand on her face and pulled off the hard shell. "Inside, you're full of love."
"Hey, Beach Babe Buffy. My favourite flavour!"
Buffy woke up with a start and winced in the dazzling sunlight. Her strange dream still in mind, she sat up on the chaise longue and stared at Xander as he came down the porch steps. He was wearing a flowery shirt and a pair of Bermuda shorts, and appeared to be carrying two Cokes.
"Did I wake you?" he asked. "Sorry, Dawn said you were out here soakin' up some rays. I didn't realise..." Noticing Buffy's confusion, he added, "Bad dream?"
"Oh. You know how dreams go." Buffy shrugged as he handed her a Coke.
Xander sat on the bench beside her and looked around at the Summers' sunny back yard.
"We should go to the beach again," he said. "You know, before Dawn goes back to school."
"Sounds good to me. If I didn't have work and chores and shopping, I'd be at the beach all the time. I'd make a really good beach babe." Buffy pouted playfully. "This whole single, working Mom thing just isn't my gig."
"Hey, what say I take you to the beach right now?" said Xander with a grandiose sweep of his hand. "We'll live off the land there forever!"
Buffy laughed, amused by the idea of living off the land on Sunnydale Beach. Xander grinned at her. He'd lost weight over the summer, and was looking a lot more healthy and attractive than he had for a long time. Buffy still regretted his break-up with Anya, but she had to admit that the time on his own had done him good.
"I was thinking," started Xander. He put his drink down and turned to her with an earnest expression. "You need a break, Buffy. I'm thinking I might rent something in the hills. Get away for a while. You could come with me."
Buffy frowned. "I don't think we can do that. I mean, Dawn's starting high school in two weeks."
"I know, but we could go without her, after she's settled in. Dawn's a big girl now. I'm only talking a few days."
"Oh." Buffy felt as though Xander had just thrown a cold bucket of water over her. He wanted her to go on vacation with him. Alone.
"It's okay." Xander shrugged and put on his brave face. "Just one of those wacky ideas you get when you're kinda single and you know someone else who's kinda single. And you both kinda need a break."
"It's not that--" started Buffy, before realising she needed to be clear. "I mean, it is that, but also, Giles and Anya will be back with Willow in a few weeks. I think any kind of you and me would complicate things. Plus--" Buffy interrupted herself. Now was probably not the best time to mention Spike.
"Plus what?" prompted Xander. When Buffy shrugged and said "nothing", he continued. "I think things are over between me and Anya. We haven't talked in weeks, and when we do, we have nothing to say to each other. I'm not declaring my undying love here, Buffy. I'm just thinking we could help each other out. Just for a while, until you find Mister Right..." He winced. "And until I find another Miss Right I want to marry. It's just an idea. But no big if you're not interested."
Buffy stared at him, tempted by the offer. She was happy with her current life. Her new job on the credit helpdesk was a big improvement on the Doublemeat Palace. The argument about Spike notwithstanding, her relationship with Dawn was going well. She had re-embraced her calling as the Slayer. But she was lonely and there were times when she wished someone would just take her in his arms and comfort her.
But when her mind started to explore the possibility of Xander holding her in his arms, Buffy shook her head.
"I'm sorry, Xander. I really don't like you that way. We're just friends, you know that."
"Eh, like I said, no big," he said with a shrug. "I kinda resigned myself to the fact I'm not your type years ago. But I hate seeing you get hurt by jerks like Spike. You're better than that." He paused. "I hope you meet someone who deserves you."
"Well, I promise that if I do meet Mister Right, you'll be first to know."
Patrol, patrol, patrol. Boring, boring, boring. What was it about vampires that they seemed to become dormant in the summer? Buffy tossed her stake from hand to hand, her Slayer senses itching for a good fight. Or a good lay. Equally difficult to get these days. At this rate, she was going to have to be content with a binge on yesterday's pizza.
She had inspected every section of the cemetery, but there wasn't a single vampire to be seen. With a sigh, Buffy headed home, making a detour via the dark alleys in the centre of town. Still no vampires, though she did scare off a Thtalka demon lurking in a corner. Relieving itself, it turned out. But demon. Evil. Deserved to be scared, even when taking a dump.
Wrinkling her nose at that distasteful thought, Buffy put away her stake and walked down the main street. Not much happening there either. The gutted Magic Box was still empty and boarded up. The sign on the Sunnydale cinema said that 'ATTACK OF THE C ONES' was on at 10:30. Buffy had been to see the movie with Xander, Dawn and Janice that summer, and had offended everyone by falling asleep halfway through. Hey, not her fault; it was tiring work being the Slayer.
As she passed the Espresso Pump, Buffy glanced inside to see if she recognised anyone. She was surprised when she did. Spike was sitting at one of the tables, talking to two young women standing beside him. Buffy recognised one of the girls as a former student from Sunnydale High; she'd been in the class ahead of the Scoobies. The other girl looked Indian, and was talking animatedly with Spike. He was smiling at her, occasionally raising his eyebrows at something she said, his expressive face full of interest and amusement. Buffy firmly repressed the stabbing pain she felt in her chest. Jealousy was a bad, bad thing, and not something she should be feeling about Spike. If he was moving on, then good. In fact, she should even make it clear to him that he could do what he liked; there would be no repeat of the Anya fiasco. Because clear messages, good. Worked with Xander, after all.
The two women left the shop, still laughing and chatting. Buffy hesitated, then entered. Spike was sprinkling sugar on his cappuccino with such relish that he was actually doing that cute thing where he stuck his tongue between his teeth. It was a weird gesture, one which he had often made when they had sex, especially if he was feeling particularly naughty. Not much of a Big Bad if sprinkling sugar on his cappuccino made him feel naughty.
"Hey," said Buffy. "So, got tired of the whole 'lurking in the dark' thing?"
"Oh, hello," said Spike with surprise. He looked around as if he'd just noticed where he was. "Yeah, lurking in the dark gets a bit old after a hundred-odd years. Actually, I thought I'd give 'Attack of the Cones' a go." He grinned. "I think geometrical figures just don't get enough representation in action movies."
Buffy smiled and sat down opposite him. "You sound like Willow back in her nerdy days."
"I told you this place has changed me," said Spike with mock seriousness. "It's bringing out my inner nerd."
"You have an inner nerd?"
"Seems so." Spike poked the sugar into his cappuccino, his eyes downcast. "Shame it turned out to be Warren."
Buffy pondered that thought. True, Spike and Warren did share a one-time fondness for robot girlfriends, and neither of them took rejection particularly well. But Spike had shown remorse for attacking Buffy. Willow had told her Warren showed none for murdering Katrina. It didn't make sense that a soulless being should feel more remorse than a human. But then life didn't always make sense when you were grown up.
"Who were those girls?" asked Buffy, unwilling to dwell on the sad events of the previous spring. "Friends of yours?"
Buffy hoped she didn't sound too jealous. Fortunately, Spike didn't seem to notice. He was busy spooning the cream off the top of the cappuccino.
"The Indian girl is from Peckham, South-East London. I heard her talking to her friend and sort of butted in when I heard her accent. Other girl is local. Nice girls."
He stuck the spoonful of cream in his mouth and grinned at Buffy, raising his eyebrows comically. Okay, so maybe he did notice the jealous thing. Then Spike's mood changed and he planted the spoon back in the cappuccino. He left such a long pause before speaking that Buffy was afraid she was in for another tearful apology. Not that it wasn't nice to hear Spike apologise. Just getting to be overkill.
"Buffy, how did things go with Dawn?"
"Okay. I mean, she and I are okay." Buffy played with a paper napkin someone had left on the table. "She's still pretty mad at you."
"I thought you'd be pretty mad at me too."
"I was, for a while," admitted Buffy. "I thought about what happened a lot, and I guess after I'd thought about it, and talked to my friends, I realised it was something I wanted to move on from. Like you told Dawn, hatred doesn't help. With you out of town, there was no point hating you. And now you've come back, I'm kinda getting the vibe that you're sorry and wouldn't do it again. So I forgive you and it's over."
"Over? Bloody hell, after what I've done -- hurting you, hurting Dawn -- I have so much to apologise for, I should get myself a banner with 'I'm so sorry' written on it," exclaimed Spike passionately. "Like in that U2 video. Or I suppose I could always get myself a hair shirt and take up self-flagellation." The thought seemed to amuse him. "Do you think that would help?"
"Spike, did anyone ever tell you you're a real drama queen?" said Buffy with a smile. She tore off a little piece of the napkin. "Anyway, if we're into sorries: I'm sorry too. I was really mean to you. I tried to make things better afterwards, but you were in pain, and I didn't see that. I guess it was the same for you when, you know. We were both blind."
"Buffy, are you suggesting that what I did to you is okay because of what you did to me?" Spike frowned. "What is this, 'blame the victim'? You didn't want me, you were more than clear, and I--" He paused, searching for the right words. "For some bizarre reason, I thought I could change your mind. By force," he spat out in self-disgust. "Worst you could say is you broke my heart. But a broken heart doesn't give anyone the right to behave like I did."
"You're right." Buffy smoothed out the napkin and folded it neatly before putting it aside. "And being unhappy because someone ripped you out of heaven doesn't give you a right to hurt the people who love you. I sure as hell didn't deserve what you did to me, Spike. But it doesn't automatically make me the good guy. I owe you an apology as well."
Spike half-shrugged. "Oh, you know. Soulless vampire. You're the Slayer. Could even say you have a sacred duty to treat vampires badly."
"No. As the Slayer, I have a sacred duty to kill vampires, so they won't kill people. It's like a war." Buffy spread her hands, annoyed at Spike's refusal to accept her apology. "But hey, war? Geneva Convention? My calling doesn't mean I can take prisoners, use them for sex and then torture them until they go insane!"
"Oh, so using vampires for sex is a common occurrence, is it?" said Spike with amusement. The hair shirt and self-flagellation seemed to be slipping under the weight of his sense of humour.
Buffy pouted, pleased that the conversation had moved to lighter ground. "You know what I mean. Not that I don't get propositioned a lot these days. Vamps offering to 'show me a good time' before I stake them is getting kinda old." She smiled. "Word's evidently gotten around that the Slayer has a vampire fetish."
"Vampires know about us?" Spike's amusement vanished and his horrified look came back. "So not only did I contribute to your depression and then try to force myself on you, but I've ruined your reputation as well! Bloody hell, I have quite a line in making your life miserable."
"I am not miserable," said Buffy firmly. "Miserable is so last year. Besides, not so worried about the reputation thing. It's not like a bunch of fangy jokers are going to make me feel bad." She frowned. "Actually, Giles has sent me some stuff about other Slayers. Apparently there's a theory about how sex and death are two sides of the same coin. I don't really get it, but Giles says it applies to the killing vampires and being attracted to them thing I seem to have."
"Eros and thanatos." Spike leaned his chin on his hand with a thoughtful expression. "That makes sense. It's what existence is all about. Life pulling you one way -- to keep you going until you can reproduce. Death pulling you the other way -- so your offspring can take their turn. That's what's really wrong about vampires. Defeat the laws of nature on both counts. Even demons die and reproduce. But vampires just live on forever, barren and immortal."
"All except Angel, of course," said Buffy with a laugh. "He just had to be different and do both."
"Yeah, I heard about the snapper. I'm glad we didn't know that last winter. Never liked the sound of rubbers." Spike lifted an eyebrow at her. Then perhaps realising that he wasn't supposed to be flirting with her from under his dark cloud of shame, he added, "Those documents Giles sent you sound interesting. I wouldn't mind reading them. Purely academic interest, obviously. There are just some things I've always wondered about Slayers."
"They're good documents. Apparently, I'm not the first Slayer with a thing for vampires. But the others all got turned. So I'm just the first really lucky Slayer with a thing for..." Her voice trailed off as she remembered who she was speaking to. Mr 'Vampires get you hot'. "But even if it is a Slayer thing, I'm not interested in doing that again with any vampire. Especially not you. I-I just want that to be clear. I don't want a relationship with you. I mean, not the kind of thing we had before. Though if we could, the kind of thing we had before the before would be cool."
Spike's eyes lit up. God, how did he do that? "Before the before?"
"Well, the sort of after you wanting to kill me, and before us kinda bringing the house down. I-I mean now we're over the me being loopy, and you being... whatever. But just so it's clear. I mean, you know, with the looking jealous thing, and the kind of saying I missed you thing, and the forgiving the 'thing' thing." Buffy realised she was starting to babble. She really sucked at this expressing emotions thing. "Look, Spike, I don't want to confuse you. I'm all about clear, precise messages. I know what I want, and I won't change my mind. And the message is, well, I guess it's basically 'no sex'."
Spike looked more than a little disgusted. "Bloody hell, I should hope not. Way I treated you, I should become a bloody eunuch! Pretty much have. Not really into thinking about that sort of thing these days. Keep seeing you begging in my mind; makes me want to throw up."
"Oh." Buffy wasn't sure how to take all that. "Well, it wasn't exactly a high point for me either. I mean the begging bit. I don't normally do that. So probably best to put all that behind us. Okay?"
"Okay. I think." He smiled sheepishly. "I might have to wear the hair shirt occasionally, though."
"Deal," said Buffy with a teasing grin. "I'm sure Dawn and Xander would be more than happy to help you with the flagellation bit too."
Spike tilted his head and looked at her tenderly. "Do you know, I think this is the longest conversation we've ever had?"
"Hey, this is the All New Buffy," she declared with a wave of her hand. "Comes complete with conversation skills."
That made Spike laugh, and Buffy joined in, throwing her head back. When she straightened up again, Spike was looking at her with an expression that bordered on awe.
"I don't think I've ever seen you laugh like that before."
Maybe it was the way he said it, but Buffy felt a pang of regret. Regret for herself mainly, for the unhappy, emotionally stunted girl she had been for so long. But some regret for Spike too, because in her heart, she knew that despite all the ugliness, he had really wanted her to be happy too.
Spike looked across the road at the cinema. An usher had appeared in the ticket booth.
"Looks as if I'll be going in to see my film soon." He squinted at the sign. "Rather fancied myself as a type of Darth Vader back when the first film came out. Missed the others; thought it was all a bit nerdy. But I liked Darth Vader."
Buffy laughed at the idea of Spike as Darth Vader. "I had you down as more of a Han-- but you're absolutely right, Darth Vader is completely your type. Evil and all that." She raised her eyebrows in mock seriousness. "Plus, wears a lot of black."
"Exactly," said Spike, who happened to be wearing a blue shirt with his 'incognito' glasses in the front pocket. "I've always been big with the Dark Side... which back home in the UK would actually mean that I'm a poofter. But let's not get into that."
He grinned and Buffy smiled back. She hoped that the fact he had only seen one Star Wars movie meant he hadn't noticed her slip about Han Solo. It implied all sorts of things about redemption and lovableness that she really didn't want to be communicating to him right now. Or ever. No lovableness ever again.
On the other hand, even Darth Vader had redeemed himself after a fashion. Could a soulless vampire really be redeemed? Or was saving the woman in the alley just Angel-style atonement? But Angelus didn't care about atonement until he got cursed with the soul. Why would a soulless vampire want to atone? Buffy was getting a headache.
"Spike. What happened to you in Africa?"
He looked down at his half-filled cup and took a long time to answer. "The fact is, Buffy, I couldn't stand myself after what I did to you. The guilt just tore at me inside until I felt I would explode. It made me look at my life and realise I was worthless. A creature who belonged nowhere. Neither man nor beast. I couldn't go on living like that. I had to change. I had to pick a side once and for all."
Buffy's heart sank at his vehement tone. "What did you do?"
"Well, I went to Uganda," he said in a lighter tone. "See, there's this dem-- Oh shit!"
Spike was looking over her shoulder, his expression a mixture of irritation and resignation. Buffy turned to follow his gaze and her heart filled with dread.
"Spike!" exclaimed Xander, approaching them with outrage apparent in every word and gesture. "What the hell's going on?"
"You're making a scene, mate." Spike indicated an empty chair nearby. "Pull up a pew and listen to the little bedtime story I was about to tell Buffy."
"Like hell I will," spat out Xander. "I'm not interested in anything you say, you asshole. How can you even dare show your face around here after what you did?"
Buffy crossed her arms. "Why don't you shout a bit louder, Xander? I think those people over there haven't heard you."
"What the hell are you doing, Buffy? What is this: 'entertain your attempted rapist' night?" Xander jerked his thumb in Spike's direction. "Or is it just the return of that old favourite, 'Buffy the Vampire Layer'?"
Spike sprang out of his chair and punched Xander, knocking him into a row of empty tables. Xander tasted the blood on his split lip and stared at Spike in horror.
"You insult me, fine. But you do not insult Buffy!" shouted Spike.
Then as if he suddenly realised what he had done, Spike's eyes widened in surprise and shame. Buffy remembered the first time she had noticed that expression. The moment when, still shaken and in pain, sitting on her bathroom floor, she had realised that the soulless monster that had just run away was capable of remorse.
"Sorry, mate," said Spike. He extended his hand to Xander, who refused it. "Oh, sod this for a bleeding lark!" Too ashamed to even look at Buffy, Spike stormed out of the coffee shop.
Still wrapped up in her thoughts, Buffy barely noticed Xander coming to stand beside her.
"Buffy!" he exclaimed. "His chip isn't working!"
It was a grim meeting. Not much of a meeting, really. More like a sitting on the couch and looking miserable gathering. Xander, Dawn and Buffy. It was exactly like when Willow went evil. What was it with people going evil on her anyway? Buffy wondered if she had a special touch that turned people insane and made them want to kick every square inch of her ass.
"Lucky Giles did that deinvite spell last spring," said Dawn after a moment's silence.
Sitting on the coffee table, Xander shook his head. "Luck had nothing to do with it. It was obvious something like this would happen. I'm amazed Spike waited this long to come back and get his revenge."
"Maybe he couldn't get the chip out that quick," said Dawn.
"That makes sense. He didn't get it out in the two years he's had it. I guess there's not that many places that do chipectomies for evil vamps."
Dawn sighed. "Feels kinda like Angelus again. Wondering if he's going to come after us. Knowing that he's evil, but he knows us so well. And we don't even know where he is. If he left all his stuff at the crypt like you said, then I'm guessing he has stayed in town. Who knows what he might try to do?"
Buffy had been sitting back in the couch, playing with the buttons on her shirt while Dawn and Xander commiserated on their oft-predicted return of Evil Spike. But now she rolled her eyes and sat up straight.
"Right. I've had enough," she said with determination. "Enough with the sitting and the 'woe is me'. I'm going to take care of this."
Buffy went to get a stake from her weapons box. She stared at it for a moment, wavering as she remembered her last three encounters with Spike. Something was different, and she was pretty sure it wasn't the chip. He'd told her he didn't get the chip out; she'd believed him. He'd said he was sorry; she'd believed him. Spike had always been a bad liar; was he now adding outright lies to his crimes? And then there was the woman in the alley...
"Buffy, you don't have to be the one." Xander was standing right beside her. "I don't want you to go through the whole Angel thing again. Let me do it, even if you end up hating me for it."
He reached for the stake, and for a moment, Buffy was tempted to give it to him. Although Xander's chances of actually defeating an unchipped Spike were slim, she liked the idea of someone else dealing with the ex-boyfriend turned bad this time. But first, she needed to know what had happened. Something was not quite right.
"Thanks, Xander, but this isn't your problem," she said, heading for the door.
"What are you going to do?" asked Dawn.
"I'm going to find Spike and I'm going to talk to him," said Buffy, putting on her coat. "And if I have to, I'm going to kill him."
Buffy crouched in the shadow, perfectly still. This was her least favourite part of being a hunter: waiting for her prey to appear so she could leap out at it and deliver the death blow. The leaping out was fun; the waiting sucked.
Several minutes passed before she heard footsteps down the alley and the faint mewling of young kittens. Hidden behind a dumpster, Buffy primed herself. When she judged the prey was close enough, she sprang out.
"Slayer!" exclaimed Clem, dropping his cat carrier. Kittens crawled out and started to scatter.
"Clem. I've been looking for you for days!"
The demon picked up the last two kittens left in the basket, one tabby and one calico. "You-- You want me to give the kittens back?"
"No, I want Spike." Buffy rolled her eyes. "I mean, I want to know where he is. And where have you been anyway?"
"Spike said you'd be mad, so I stayed with Mom a couple of days. I'm not really into mad Slayers." Clem clutched the kittens to his chest and looked at her fearfully.
Buffy raised an appeasing hand. "Look, Clem, I'm not mad at you. I just want to know where Spike is. I need to talk to him."
"He--he's left town," said Clem, though he was about as convincing a liar as Spike at his worst.
"Clem..." said Buffy, trying not to sound too threatening, but just threatening enough to get an answer out of him.
"You're gonna hit me if I don't tell, aren't you?" said Clem in a tremulous voice. "I'm not Spike, I can't stand pain."
Buffy's heart sank. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well, you know. You hang out with a guy, you kind of notice the bruises." Clem's eyes widened and he took a step back. "Not that I think there's anything wrong with-- I mean, if that's how vampires like it. But personally..."
Buffy closed her eyes. Of course Clem knew. "Great. I'm gonna go down in history as Buffy the Batterer, the Slayer with a vampire fetish! I am so wishing Willow hadn't brought me back, you know. I mean, not really, because I'm happy to be alive now. But the not being happy made me into a really bad person last year." She pointed at Clem. "Let me tell you something, resurrection might seem like a good idea sometimes, but you just never live it down."
"I know," said Clem, his wrinkled face full of sympathy. "I had this cousin once, got resurrected by a kooky shaman. Not like the demon Spi--"
"Yes, Spike!" exclaimed Buffy, eager to change the subject. "Clem, just tell me where he is already."
"He's with Bresg," Clem blurted out. "Oh, he's going to be so mad when he finds out I told you."
"Can't be worse than Buffy the Batterer," said Buffy dejectedly. "Who's Bresg and why is Spike with...them?"
The tabby kitten had clawed its way onto Clem's shoulder. He stroked it absent-mindedly, while still holding the calico to his chest.
"Bresg is a Ktralke demon. She and Spike apparently had a major deal a while back that Spike kinda screwed up. I'm sure it wasn't his fault, but now Spike has to pay the damages."
"A major deal?" Buffy grimaced. "Please tell me this had nothing to do with Suvolte demon eggs."
"This had nothing to do with Suvolte demon eggs," parroted Clem. He looked puzzled. "Actually, now you come to mention it..."
"Never mind! Just tell me where they are."
Clem used his free hand to scratch his head. The calico in his other hand had fallen asleep. The tabby was batting at his ear.
"Probably in Bresg's lair," said Clem. "I saw Spike last night, and he said Bresg wanted him to service her to pay off his debt."
"Service her how?" Buffy wrinkled her nose as a thought came to mind. "No, scratch that question. I really don't want to know. Just point me in the direction of this lair."
It was late afternoon the next day when Buffy finally made enough sense of Clem's muddled instructions to find Bresg's lair. According to the demon bestiary Giles had left behind, Ktralke demons needed to stay in cool, humid areas, and were therefore very rarely seen out of their dens during the day in warm climates. Buffy was really proud of herself for actually doing the research. With this useful information in mind, she hoped she would find both Bresg and Spike at the lair.
The lair was in a cave not far from Kingman's Buff. It felt strange to be tracking a nasty in the daytime. Buffy usually confronted them when they came out at night. Fighting demons in hand to hand combat was a lot more fun than killing them in their sleep.
As she made her way through the trees and bushes, Buffy thought about what she would say to Spike when she saw him. She'd assured Xander and Dawn that she would be tough and stake Spike if he didn't have a good explanation. But it wasn't that simple. Even after he had attacked her, she hadn't wanted him dead. Not because she loved him -- of course not! -- but because he was someone she knew well. You just didn't go around killing people you knew, even if they were vampires. If Spike had got the chip out, perhaps she could convince him to leave town. That would be okay. Best solution for everyone. Worked for Dru and Harmony.
Buffy was nearing the open when she saw someone coming towards her in the bright sunlight. A thin man with curly brown hair, carrying a plastic bag and wearing a white sports jersey streaked with blood. She knew who she was seeing, but this didn't make sense.
"Spike?" said Buffy, her voice barely above a whisper.
As he came closer, she could see him clearly. He was unshaven, and there were bits of demon goo on his hands and shirt. His face was cut and bruised, his eyes red and his lips dry; a startling combination of the effects of Glory, Buffy and the Initiative all in one. Buffy moved towards him, paying no attention when a thorn scratched her bare arm.
Spike turned towards her, squinting in the sunshine. When he realised who it was, he brushed his hair back and straightened up, making a visible effort to be dignified despite his injuries. He was breathing heavily through his mouth, and as she approached him, Buffy realised that his nose was running. Which was pretty icky. But nothing compared to what else she had just realised.
"Oh God," she breathed. "Oh, my God, Spike. You're human!"
Spike seemed about to protest, but then he looked up at the sun, and coughed, covering his mouth with the back of his arm. He gave Buffy a half-hearted smile.
"Well, that explains a few things." His voice was strained and hoarse. He sighed. "It's a fair cop, pet. You've got me: I'm not a vampire anymore."
Buffy didn't know whether to laugh hysterically or burst into tears. Unable to decide, she walked over to him and slapped him on the arm instead.
"You bastard son of a bitch! Do you know how worried I've been, looking for you everywhere, thinking you'd gone all Angelus on me, when all the time you were human? You bastard!" She slapped his arm again. "Why the hell didn't you just tell me instead of letting me think you'd gone evil?"
"Ow! What do you mean gone evil?" said Spike, rubbing his arm and stepping away from her. "I thought you thought I was evil. You know, soulless thing and all that. Besides, I didn't want this to change anything." He sneezed loudly.
"Gesundheit. What do you mean, you didn't want this to change anything? This changes everything, Spike. You're human, you have a soul." She frowned. "You do have a soul, right?"
Spike grunted affirmatively as he wiped his nose. "Complete package, pet. Soul, mortality, vulnerability, and the strength of a newt. You name it, I've got it. Plus some kind of disease as an added bonus. Knowing my luck, it's probably fatal." He sneezed violently, then started coughing. "No, actually, knowing my luck it probably isn't fatal, just something that makes you into an invalid for the rest of your life. Like malaria. Do you think I have malaria?"
"It's probably just a cold," said Buffy. She stared at him. "Spike, what happened to you?"
"Oh. I owed Bresg some money, right, so she wanted me to do some stuff for her. Only she didn't realise I was human. She got a bit pissed off when she found out; roughed me up and dumped me in a puddle in her cave." He frowned. "Must be when I got sick. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I knocked her out and took her money. Which isn't a bad day's work." He gave Buffy a wan smile.
Buffy rolled her eyes. "No, Spike. How did you become human?"
Spike was silent for a while, observing Buffy with his head tilted to one side, a sad, uncertain expression on his face.
"I can't do this right now," he said finally. His voice was slurred and tired, as if whatever boost her presence had given him was wearing off. "I think something's wrong with my brain. I-I'll write to you or something." Spike rooted around in the plastic bag and pulled out some cash. "Do you want some money? It's all the product of Bresg's criminal activities, so it's not like you have to give it back. Take it. Consider it... I don't know, reparations or something. Then I'll just go away and leave you alone."
Spike emphasized his point by sneezing. With both hands occupied, he was unable to cover his face. Buffy grimaced and wiped at her front with an exaggerated gesture.
"Thanks, Spike. I've always wanted to be covered in snot." She took the money and put it back in the bag. "There really is something wrong with your brain, isn't there! You do know taking the product of crime is still wrong, right? I mean now you have the soul, you should know these things."
Spike looked down at the bag with confusion. "Never mind," he muttered. "Why do I bloody bother?" He started coughing, his thin body shaking with the fit as he walked away.
Buffy followed him. "Spike, you really don't look well."
"I'll be all--" Spike sneezed. "Fine. I'm fine. Couple of days in a damp cave wasn't a good idea, but I'll be fine." He turned away again.
"Where are you going?" Buffy grabbed his arm to stop him. "You can't stay in the crypt in that state. I mean, you're all sneezy and coughy." She put her hand on his forehead. "Oh, my God, Spike, you have a temperature!"
"Well, yeah, I'm alive. I'm supposed to be--"
"A fever temperature!" She looked at the wounds on his chest and face. "And if you're human, those wounds are gonna need treating."
Her concern seemed to undermine his determination. Spike's shoulders slumped; he now looked as if he was about to collapse. "Yeah, I'm having a gay old time being human." He squinted at Buffy. "I really need glasses, too."
"Yeah, you should have seen that demon of yours coming a--"
"No, I mean that literally. I need my glasses. Left them at the crypt like the bleeding ponce I am. Couldn't see what Bresg was up to until it was too late." Spike blinked and swayed, before sitting heavily on a nearby rock. He coughed again, making no effort to cover his mouth. Maybe being a vampire for a century or so had made him forget the human tradition of keeping a cold to himself. "God, I feel awful. It'd be just my luck to get this far and die of pneumonia!"
Buffy considered the options. Take him to a hospital and try to explain how he got in this state? Not good, especially with Spike also covered in demon gloop. Take him to Xander's? Bad idea. Xander had never really accepted Angel's innocence after the Angelus incident. There was no reason to think he'd be more amenable to Spike after what had happened the previous spring.
Buffy took Spike's hand and pulled him to his feet.
"Come on, we're gonna pick up your glasses at your crypt, then I'm taking you home."
"Buffy... are you sure about this?"
She had already gone up two steps on the stairs, but Buffy turned back towards Spike. He was standing in the doorway, clutching the bag of money to his chest, and looking forlorn and frightened. He seemed very small without all the trappings of his vampire days, and the brown hair and ugly glasses, coupled with his miserable expression, gave him a mousy air which Buffy found disturbing. She'd sometimes wished Spike could be less of a swaggering thug, but his current demeanour made her think 'swaggering thug' wasn't such a bad look after all.
"I don't think this is a good idea," continued Spike. "What will Dawn--"
"Don't worry. Dawn is at Janice's," said Buffy. She took Spike's arm and pulled him towards the stairs. "Come on, let's get you cleaned up."
"Buffy, are you sure about this?" repeated Spike, resisting the move. "I-I mean me and you alone." He turned towards the door. "Look, I'll go to a hospital, it's okay." He was about to walk out, but his resolve wavered when another coughing fit wracked his body.
Buffy shut the door and put a reassuring hand on his back. "Spike, don't worry. I'm going to take care of you. Now come upstairs."
"Upstairs where?" said Spike, his blue eyes full of fear and apprehension.
Okay. She hadn't actually thought of that. Complete mind block about the whole bathroom thing. Because, her bathroom. Spent the whole summer bathing and showering and peeing and brushing her teeth in there. Not evil or bad or anything to do with the Spike assaulting her thing.
Buffy stared at Spike. Hard to believe it was the same guy. Same face, same hands, same accent. Little bits of old Spike underneath the hair shirt and the beating heart. But the beating heart made all the difference.
"Spike. We've been through this. You did a bad thing and I forgive you. And this you being human thing is amazing! It changes everything." Buffy realised that Spike didn't look convinced. Explanations weren't her thing anyway. "Okay, just get your ass upstairs so I can tend to your injuries!"
Buffy grabbed his arm again and dragged him up the stairs. When they reached the bathroom, Spike collapsed on the lowered toilet lid and looked around with a miserable expression on his face. He was doing a good beaten dog impression, with his unhappy countenance further emphasised by his watery red eyes and bruised cheekbones.
"Kept seeing this room," he said. "In my dreams. Couldn't work out if it was really like this or if I was getting it mixed up with the Initiative."
"Mom redecorated most of the other rooms with flowered wallpaper and stuff," said Buffy, hoping that some inane chatter about home decoration would dispel Spike's discomfort. "But she left the bathroom as it was, because it doesn't really matter what a bathroom looks like as long as it's clean, right?" Chatter didn't seem to help; Spike was staring at the bathmat. Buffy opened the cupboard under the sink. "Okay, bandages, disinfectant, thermometer..." A couple of blue boxes fell out. "...a life time's supply of tampons. Amazing how they pile up when there are four wo--" Okay, so tampon build-up wasn't that funny considering why two of the four women were gone.
Spike wasn't listening anyway. "You didn't even repair the shower curtain."
So that was when the shower curtain...oh no, flashback. She was clutching at the curtain, tearing it as Spike pulled her down. Buffy looked at the tear in the curtain and shook her head. That was then and this was now, and right now, Spike was in no condition to be pulling her anywhere.
"Oh, you know me: not big with the fixing things," said Buffy lightly. She bundled up her medical supplies and went over to crouch by Spike's side. "But at least I can make you better." She wrinkled her nose. "Um, do you want to take a shower first? You really don't smell too good. Or you could have a bath! Mom always said a hot bath was the best thing for a bad flu."
Spike looked at her as if she had just suggested a walk in the sun. Which would have been a great metaphor if he'd still been a vampire. Buffy stared at him. He really didn't look as if he wanted to get naked in the bathroom right now.
"Okay..." she said slowly. "We'll deal with the whole personal hygiene thing later. Just get the gloop off." She pulled him to his feet and led him to the sink.
Spike stared at himself in the mirror for a while. Maybe he was taking in his thin, haggard face, half obscured by the long hair, three-day beard, and large glasses.
"Must be quite a shock, huh?" said Buffy. "Seeing yourself in the mirror, I mean."
"Never thought I'd have to look myself in the eyes again."
Remembering why she'd put him there, Spike coughed and pulled his bloody jersey off. He used a facecloth to wipe the pink goo away. Buffy stood behind him and watched his reflection. She noticed a healed burn scar over his heart, and there were some other recent cuts and bruises which needed care. When he had cleaned himself up, Spike went back to sit on the toilet lid. He picked up the disinfectant as if he was going to tend to his wounds himself, but Buffy stopped him.
"Hey. Expert nurse here," she said, making with the chirpy because Spike was looking so gloomy. "I'm great at caring for people!" She decided not to remind him that the people she had cared for were mainly Angel and Riley.
Buffy could feel Spike's heartbeat throbbing against her hand as she dabbed disinfectant on his cuts. Humanity was something she had often dreamed of for Angel, but it had never occurred to her that it might happen to Spike. No wonder he was so unhappy and apologetic. Considering the weight of the soul, she was amazed that Spike was capable of coherent conversation at all. Angel hadn't been so lucid when Willow resouled him... though admittedly, he had also been recovering from a few hundred years in a hell dimension.
Spike sat still, staring down at his lap, while Buffy tended to him. He obediently blew his nose when she handed him a length of toilet tissue, then opened his mouth when she decided to take his temperature. While Buffy was waiting for the thermometer to register, though, Spike raised his eyes to her face. He took the cotton from Buffy's hand and dabbed at the scratch the thorns had left on her arm.
"I'm fine, Spike. Don't worry. Slayer, remember?" Buffy put her hand on his and drew it away. "Whereas you're all covered in--"
She stopped and smiled as the phrase "sexy wounds" suggested itself. But then, looking at his bruised face, Buffy felt a painful twist in her stomach. The black eyes and swollen lips were a familiar sight by now. Spike had quite a habit of getting beaten up by crazy, evil women.
"I'm sorry I didn't do this before, when I hurt you," she said, gently rubbing ointment onto his bruises.
Spike drew back and tried to speak, then rolled his eyes with a sheepish smile when he realised he couldn't because of the thermometer. Amused by the expression, Buffy stroked his cheek, before realising what she was doing and hastily withdrawing her hand. Spike might be human now, but that didn't mean anything had changed as far as their relationship was concerned. The beating heart she felt under his soft, warm skin didn't make things any less complicated. This was nothing to get excited about.
Spike stood slouched against the wall while Buffy made up the double bed. It felt strange to be putting someone in the master bedroom again; she and Dawn had left it largely untouched ever since Anya and Giles had packed for Willow. The morgue cleaners had shampooed the carpet and removed all the blood stains, and the window had been replaced. But it still felt strange. However, there was no way Buffy could let Spike sleep in a crypt with a high fever.
"Did your Mum die in here?"
Still tucking the undersheet beneath the mattress, Buffy looked up at him. "No, she died downstairs. Tara--" Maybe best not to go there. Spike probably had enough ghosts to deal with. "--Tara and Willow lived in here. We haven't been using it since they...left."
"Right." Spike looked confused. "You're really not concerned about having me here? Seems a bit dangerous, having the chap who tried to rape you within easy reach. How do you know I won't slip into your room? I might be human, but I'm still me. Who knows what I'm capable of?"
"Spike, an anaemic sparrow would be a bigger threat to me than you are right now. Besides, I do have a lock on my door." Buffy spread out the top cover and tossed a pillow at the head of the bed. "Right. Get in there. Take an aspirin every four hours." She pointed at the box she'd left on the bedside table. "We're all out of tissues, so use the toilet roll if your nose is running. I'll get you some cough medicine tomorrow if I can. If you need anything during the night, you know where I am."
Spike didn't move as Buffy walked past him. She had reached the door when he spoke again.
"Why are you being so nice to me?" he asked, his tone aggressive. "It's because I'm human, isn't it? You didn't give a flying fig about me when I was a vampire, but now I have a beating heart, you turn into Florence blimming Nightingale!"
Wounded by his insinuation, Buffy spun around, tempted to hit Spike for being so rude when she was trying to help. He flinched, and Buffy took a step back, distressed by the momentary fear on his face. It was obvious his words were the result of his fever; nothing to get angry about. Besides, Mature Buffy didn't hit people in anger. She counted to ten to calm herself, then looked Spike in the eye.
"You know it's not like that," she said quietly. "I forgave you before I knew you were human, remember? And I meant what I said about wanting what we had before we slept together. Whether you're a vampire or a human, I-I just want us to be friends."
"Friends?" Spike frowned, as if he was going to contest that notion. But then his expression softened and he sat on the bed. "Yeah. Of course we can be friends."
Spike was human!
Buffy lay in her bed and smiled at this first thought of the day. There was no need to worry about him turning evil, or fret about him being a soulless creature that might harm her again. He was human! She didn't need to be ashamed of protecting and helping him anymore. He wasn't a creature of darkness, but someone who belonged in the light. With her.
Buffy sat up with a start when she heard the front door slam.
"Hey, Buffy, you up?" Xander called out. "If you're not, it's okay. I'll just start work. Don't you worry about me!"
Start work? Buffy stared up at the sloping ceiling. Then it came back to her. Xander had come to put some finishing touches to the training room in the basement. What if Spike got up and Xander saw him? Buffy sprang out of bed and slipped on the first nightgown she could find.
"Hi, Xander," she said as she ran downstairs.
"Hey." He took in her dishevelled appearance. "Guess I woke you up. Sorry, it's 10:30 and I thought--"
"Spike's here," Buffy blurted out, knowing how much Xander hated to be kept in the dark. Not that telling him about Spike upfront was likely to make him all happy either.
"What?" exclaimed Xander, dropping his tool bag. "You brought him back here? How can you even look at his face after what he did to you?"
Buffy lost her temper. "Same way I could look at yours after you did the same thing," she countered. "I forgave you for that, didn't I?"
"That was different." Xander looked outraged. "I was sixteen years old and possessed by the spirit of a hyena! Of course you forgave me as soon as I was a normal human being again."
"And I'm forgiving Spike now that he's a normal human being again," said Buffy, delighted at the opening Xander had given her. Noticing his dumbfounded expression, she explained, "Spike's human. He has a soul. He didn't turn evil at all. I guess the chip just doesn't work in humans. But it's all okay. Spike's human."
"All okay? Sheesh, Buffy, what is it with you?" Xander shook his head in disgust. "He's human, he has a soul, and it's okay? Unless he got a personality transplant with the beating heart, I'm thinking he's still the same son of a bitch who tried to rape you. He wasn't possessed and he wasn't some dumb kid. He had no excuse. Becoming human doesn't change that."
Buffy turned to find Spike standing on the stairs behind her. Like her, he'd clearly just jumped out of bed. He was wearing only his torn jeans, and his curly dark hair was mussed. The cuts and bruises dotting his pale skin were starting to heal, but his eyes and nose were red and sore from the cold.
"You're right, mate," said Spike in a hoarse voice. "I might be human, but I'm still the same son of a bitch who tried to rape Buffy. I'm not denying that."
Xander took one look at Spike's half-naked body and turned on Buffy.
"So what did he do? Turn up and say 'Hi, I'm human, screw me'?"
"Oh, please, Xander," said Buffy with disgust. "There are three bedrooms in this house. You do the math."
"Besides, do I look like someone who's getting any?" Spike coughed, holding his chest and wincing in pain.
Xander was unsympathetic. "After what you did, you don't deserve to ever touch a woman again."
"Sounds reasonable." Spike wiped his nose with the back of his hand and drew himself up to his full height. The effect of his sinister scowl was ruined by his tired swaying. "Does that mean you'll stop asking women to marry you?" He laughed. "Got to admit that's an interesting little factoid about your past, though, hyena boy. Must have been quite an improvement for a whelp like you."
Buffy folded her arms and rolled her eyes. She knew she should stop them before the pissing contest turned into a fight, but she was too annoyed to bother.
"And what happened to you, Spike?" asked Xander angrily. "Pissed off just one person too many, like Angel did with the gypsies? Or did you ask someone to take out the chip, and they took out the demon instead?"
Spike laughed and broke into another coughing fit. Buffy noticed he was shivering. "It's a long story, mate, and not one I fancy telling you."
"Spike, you look terrible," said Buffy. "You should go back to bed."
"You should go back to your crypt, more like," said Xander. He started up the stairs, as if to pull Spike down.
Buffy caught his arm and drew him back. "Keep your jealousy to yourself, Xander Harris, and show a little compassion. There's nothing going on between Spike and me. And even if there was, it's none of your business. He's sick, he needs help. I'm not going to kick him out."
"And if 'he' can just say something..." said Spike. He fixed Xander with a serious expression. "Look, mate, Buffy and I have talked about it, and we're all finished. And you're right. I'm not a vampire anymore, but I still remember everything I did. What I am now doesn't mean I didn't do those things." Spike glanced at Buffy and lowered his eyes. "Being human and having the soul doesn't change that."
"I don't agree," said Buffy, letting go of Xander's arm. "As a vampire, you had a demon deciding for you. Your human soul is innocent. That makes a big difference, Spike. The same difference there is between Angelus and Angel."
Spike lifted his eyes to the ceiling. "Bloody hell, I was wondering when I was going to be compared to the bleeding Poof." He coughed. "I'm sorry, pet. It makes no difference to me."
Before Buffy could argue further that his human self wasn't responsible for the vampire's actions, the front door opened and Dawn walked in. Her eyes widened in surprise when she saw Buffy and Spike, both dishevelled and half-dressed. She dropped her bag and glared at them, taking a step closer to Xander.
"Dawn, it's not what you think!" said Buffy before she had a chance to say anything. "Spike, go put some clothes on before anyone else gets the wrong idea."
Spike obediently clambered back up the stairs. He looked too ill to be up and about anyway. Buffy could hear him coughing as he entered the master bedroom.
"What wrong idea would that be, exactly?" asked Dawn, crossing her arms. "That you and Spike have hooked up again after what he did to you?"
"Well, we haven't," said Buffy with exasperation. "Look, I found Spike like this yesterday evening. He's human. A breathing, beating-hearted, sunshine-walking human. He's very sick, and I'm going to look after him." She raised her hand as both of them started to speak at once. "Dawn, you can stay at Xander's if you prefer, but please let me do this. I know you don't understand them, but believe me, I have my reasons."
"So I say to him: 'You must be kidding, ain't no way I'm doing that! There's places dicks belong, and that ain't one of them. That's just sick, man!'"
Buffy laughed politely, even though listening to the raucous tales of her work colleagues' sex lives made her uncomfortable. What would these worldly young women think if they knew that their demure little colleague with the strict hairstyle and sensible shoes had performed every one of the "sick" sex acts they described? That her tiny hands had torn her lover's flesh. That her mouth and tongue had explored every inch of his body. That she'd screamed with pleasure even when she was bound and gagged, every orifice filled, every taboo broken, every fantasy of her darkest warrior soul fulfilled?
The memory of the things she had done with Spike made Buffy feel suddenly weak in the knees. It was incredible to think that the fragile human lying in her mother's bed at home had once been the evil vampire who had given her the best sex of her entire life. She felt a pang of regret when she thought how weak he was now. She'd never have that kind of sex with him again.
Buffy shook her head and busied herself with checking her e-mail. Of course she would never have that kind of sex with Spike again. After what had happened between them, it wouldn't be politically correct, and it would send the wrong message to her impressionable young sister. Spike and Buffy sex was well and truly over.
Her phone rang. Yet other customer calling to find out what loans the company could offer. Buffy put on her headset and pressed the button to pick up the call.
"S.O.S. Credit, Buffy speaking. How can I help you?"
"Buffy!" She tensed when she recognised Dawn's voice. "Buffy, Spike's worse. He's delirious and he keeps calling for you and--"
"I'll be right there!"
"Dawn?" called out Buffy, flinging the front door open. She ran up the stairs, her heart beating wildly. Ever since Dawn had called her, Buffy had feared the worst. Spike was a nineteenth century man who had been recently resurrected. Maybe he wasn't suffering from a cold at all. What if he'd caught AIDS off one of his victims? What if he had some kind of weird African disease? What if he was dying? Had he even been vaccinated against anything?
When Buffy entered the master bedroom, she found Dawn standing beside the bed, holding a wet cloth. Spike was huddled in his sheet, shivering and weeping hysterically. Dawn had left the light off, but Buffy could see the sweat glistening on Spike's face in the light from the landing.
"He's going to tear me to shreds, you know," he muttered. "Never good enough. Fucking cunt. I'll rip his fucking throat out." He let out a strangled cry. "God, Dru. What have you done to me, pet? Can't you see you're just like him?"
"He's been like this for half an hour." Dawn looked very pale and frightened. Not for herself, Buffy realised, but for Spike. "I-I tried to help him. But he's too sick. We need to take him to hospital. For all we know, he could die if he stays like this!"
Buffy had to admit that Spike did look terrible. He was still coughing, but the sound was now loud and hollow, as if it came from the depth of his lungs. His nose was running, the mucus mingling with the sweat and tears streaming down his face. Whatever Spike had caught, his body was having a hard time fighting it. What if he didn't succeed?
"That'll be Xander!" said Dawn when she heard the front door opening. She ran downstairs.
"Xander? You called Xander?" exclaimed Buffy.
She went to follow Dawn, but Spike reached towards her. "Buffy, love," he whispered.
Touched by the vulnerable tone of his voice, Buffy sat down on the bed and took his hand.
"I'm here, Spike, it's okay."
His large, thin hand gripped hers hard. Spike stared at her with wild eyes, his breath ragged and uneven.
"Don't forgive me, you stupid bitch," he said through clenched teeth.
Buffy was taken aback by his bitter tone and the anger in his eyes. But his hand in hers was hot and clammy, and she remembered how sick he was. Buffy opened her mouth to say something, to explain how she had felt when she was at her worst, to tell him she understood. But Dawn came in with Xander, who turned on the light. Spike let out a howl and curled into a ball on his side.
Buffy stood up and observed Xander, unsure how he would react to the situation. He was watching Spike intently, but there was no hatred in his expression, just concern. That was a relief; the last thing Buffy needed was an argument between Xander and Spike in his current state.
"Boy, he's a mess. He needs to go to the hospital," said Xander. He turned to Buffy and Dawn. "Go wait outside. I'll get some clothes on him and we'll take him now."
Buffy hated this hospital; it always reminded her of her mother's illness. Not to mention that she herself had nearly died here, before Willow healed her. She hoped there wasn't anything seriously wrong with Spike; having him in hospital for any length of time would not be of the good.
"Thanks for consulting me on the whole taking care of him at home thing, by the way," said Dawn, who seemed to have recovered from her earlier concern about Spike. "I thought he was going to attack me! But then I realised he thought I was Dru, so the whole attack thing kinda started to make sense..."
Buffy and Dawn were waiting in the corridor while Spike was being examined. Xander had gone off to get something to eat. Said the hospital always made him hungry.
"I'm sorry. You're right, I shouldn't have brought him home," said Buffy. "But I didn't know what else to do. He was so ill. And, he's human. I've got to help him."
"Yeah. I know you did the right thing." Dawn was fiddling with a magazine, letting the pages stick to her fingers and then shaking them off. She had a thoughtful look on her face. "But knowing our luck, he's probably an evil human. Like Warren."
"Don't say that. Spike is no more evil than Willow is. And, yes, I know your feelings about that," added Buffy, suddenly remembering that Dawn didn't believe in Willow's redemption either. "The fact is, you have to learn to forgive people when they say they're sorry."
"I don't forgive people who try to murder me or rape my sister," said Dawn vehemently.
Xander returned from the vending machine with a selection of snacks. "Murder and rape? Are we talking Spike, here?"
"I tried to kill you too," Buffy pointed out, ignoring Xander. "You forgave me, didn't you?"
Dawn shrugged. "You were poisoned and didn't know what you were doing. But Willow knew exactly what she was doing when she tried to turn me back into the Key."
"Hey, she was under the influence of some very bad magic," said Xander. "She has an addictive personality. She couldn't help it."
"And Spike was a demon," said Buffy with a shrug. "He probably couldn't help all the stuff he did either. Everyone has excuses. But my point is that if someone is sorry, really sorry, then you should forgive them."
"Oh, I see." Dawn crossed her arms. "So you can do anything you like, so long as you're sorry afterwards?"
Buffy interrupted herself as the doctor came out of the examination room with Spike. The former vampire seemed more lucid, but was still feverish and shivering. Buffy wished Xander had found something warmer for him to wear than his torn, bloody jersey.
The doctor waved over an orderly to put Spike into a wheelchair. Probably wanted to avoid a lawsuit, in case her patient slipped and fell while walking the few feet between the examination room and the car. It seemed as though Spike's resurrection and current illness had taken the snark right out of him, because he said nothing as he sat down, though he did give the orderly a very dirty look. He probably had bad memories of wheelchairs.
"How is he, doctor?" asked Xander, stealing the words right out of Buffy's mouth.
"He has a bronchial infection," said the doctor, handing a prescription to Buffy. "It's nothing serious. I'm prescribing some antibiotics which should get rid of the infection in no time. Make sure he gets lots of rest, lots of fluids, and some good food, and the fever should get better in the next couple of days." Spike started coughing and the doctor gave him a concerned look. "Though we could keep him here if you prefer..."
Buffy shook her head. "No, we--he has no insurance. We can look after him at home. I mean, you did say it wasn't serious, right?"
"No, it isn't, but... Ms Summers, can I talk to you a moment?" The doctor indicated the examination room. Buffy followed her in. "Tell me, has your friend been roughing it?"
"I-I don't know," started Buffy, before realising that living in a crypt probably counted as 'roughing it' for a human being. "Yeah, I think so. Why?"
"To be honest, his general physical condition is not good, and I wondered how he got in that state," said the doctor. "He also said something about vaccination and tuberculosis, which had me thinking..." She smiled at Buffy and patted her arm. "But we can discuss that further when he's feeling better. If you can, keep him at home for a couple of weeks. Let him build up his strength again."
After taking her leave of the doctor, Buffy left the hospital in a daze. All her earlier misgivings about the horrible diseases Spike might have resurfaced. For all she knew, he might have been dying of consumption when he was turned. It might have come back when he was revived! She took a deep breath to calm herself. Tuberculosis was a curable disease these days. And the doctor didn't actually say he had T.B., just that Spike had mentioned it. And Spike was probably delirious. He'd called Buffy a stupid bitch, after all. Didn't know what he was saying.
When she reached the car, Buffy slid into the backseat beside Spike, who seemed to have fallen asleep in the few minutes since he had left the hospital.
"You sure he can't stay at the hospital, Buffy?" said Dawn, looking at her through the rear-view mirror as Xander started the car. "The doctor looked kinda worried."
"We can't afford it," Buffy told her. Her mind briefly considered the bag of money Spike had stolen from the demon, but then dismissed it again. She didn't even know if it was real money. "But you know, Dawn, if you don't want him to stay at our house, we can find another solution."
"I can take care of him," offered Xander.
Dawn and Buffy both stared at him.
"What?" Xander shrugged. "You think I'm going to smother him in his sleep or something? I don't murder humans -- whatever Anya says about the musical spell. Besides, I hate seeing people in pain. Even people I hate." His expression darkened. "And you know what? I really don't like the idea of him sleeping in your house, Buffy. I don't think it's right, you caring for him after what he did. I'm not concerned he's actually going to rape you. But it's the trying that was the problem last spring, right?"
Good point. Buffy looked at Spike, who was curled up as far away from her as he could get. She wasn't sure if he was listening or not.
"Yeah, the trying was the problem," she agreed. "But I don't think that'll be an issue this time."
"Buffy, if it's really that important to you," said Dawn, "then I'm okay with him staying with us. I'm with Xander on the not wanting to see people in pain, and I can take care of him while you're at work. I can defend myself if things look bad. Maybe I'll even forgive him." She didn't look too sure about that. "Some day."
"I really don't think--" started Xander.
"Oh for fuck's sake," interrupted Spike. "Just take me back to the bloody crypt, and I'll take care of myself. Better off dead than listening to you lot squabbling like I'm not here!"
He sounded so much like his old self that Buffy smiled. "Fortunately, nobody is asking you."
Trying her best to be quiet, Buffy looked into the master bedroom. Spike was lying on his side on top of the covers, wearing nothing but his bandages. The floor beside the bed was covered in used bits of toilet paper. He'd even stuck some up his nostrils in an effort to stem his runny nose. Buffy smiled and placed the plate of pancakes she'd brought on his bedside table. She'd been bringing him food at regular intervals over the last couple of days, although Spike had eaten very little. She tossed some clothes onto the chair by the door.
Buffy was about to close the door again when Spike stirred. He moaned softly and rolled onto his back.
"Spike, you awake?" she asked.
He lifted his head and stared at her, bleary-eyed. His brown curls were all matted to one side, and the pillow had left red lines on his face. His cheeks were dark with bristles, making him look like the ill-shaven baddie in an old cartoon. As Spike woke up more fully, though, his eyes widened in alarm. He looked down at his naked body and struggled to get under the sheet.
"Ooh, naked Spike," said Buffy, amused by his uncharacteristic modesty. "It's all right. It's not like I haven't seen it all before." She slipped back into the room and closed the door. "Thought I'd come and see how my patient is doing."
Spike arranged the sheet around his middle and sat up, looking very disoriented. He winced when Buffy opened the curtains. Then he seemed to remember the bits of tissue up his nose and disposed of them with an embarrassed glance at Buffy. When he noticed the pancakes, Spike seized the plate and fork, and started eating.
Buffy sat on the bed and put her hand on his forehead.
"Feels like your fever's gone. You're probably over the worst of it now."
Spike pulled away from her and stopped shovelling pancakes into his mouth for a moment. "I do feel a bit more clear-headed. My nose seems to have stopped running too, which is a plus. And I'm starving!"
"So I see." Buffy watched him eat, and then frowned as she remembered something. "Spike, when I first saw you a couple of weeks ago, you were drinking blood. But you were already human then. I don't get it."
"Eh?" Spike looked confused, and then laughed. "Oh. Tomato juice. Thought I'd try some healthy food for a change. Got a bit tired of living off Clem's snack food. These pancakes are delicious, by the way. Did you make them? You know, I think your taste buds get atrophied when you're a vampire. I only liked spicy foods. But now, I can taste all sorts of things I thought were really bland before. You know, mashed potatoes, rice, bread... tomato juice. They've all got really subtle flavours. I'll have to try things all over again."
Buffy thought his eagerness was quite sweet. She indicated the chair near the bed.
"I brought you some clothes. They're all the things I have that might be your size, but don't have pink bunnies on them. There are a couple of shirts Mom and I used for working around the house, so they're not real nice. I washed your clothes, too. I don't have any pants for you, so you'll have to make do with your jeans. Your shirt has holes in it, though; you might want to throw it out."
"Throw out my England shirt? Not bloody likely. That's my souvenir of World Cup 2002. And watching that was the very first thing I did as a human." Spike coughed, and put the empty plate on the bedside table. "Well, that hit the spot. Boy, I feel as though I've been out for days!"
"Well, it's been about four days, give or take a few hours. You've been here since Saturday night, and it's now Wednesday morning."
Spike yawned. "Blimey. Who'd have thought ex-vampires hibernated? I remember the hospital, and going to the loo once or twice, but I've been pretty zonked out the rest of the time... I say, Dawn didn't see me starkers, did she?"
"Stark-- oh," said Buffy. She remembered him using the word during one of their trysts. "I don't know. I'm sure it won't traumatise her to see one naked man."
Spike coughed and scratched one of the half healed wounds on his chest. "I was delirious, wasn't I? Did I say anything, you know, bad?"
"Well, you called me a stupid bitch." Buffy smiled. "But you were saying lots of strange things." She patted his hand earnestly. "You know, you can talk to me, if you like. About the guilt. I guess you must have a lot on your mind. And just think, I'm probably the best qualified person in the world when it comes to helping recovering vampires. I helped Angel, didn't I? I know it's hard, but you can get through this!"
"What if I can't?" Spike coughed again, then bent over, hugging his knees. "I've got a bloody town's worth of ghosts trotting around my head. But the murders, all the people I killed, I can handle, because I was a demon and that's how I fed. Now I'm human, I know I'll never do it again." He glanced at Buffy. "What I did to you, I can't rationalise. I just lost it. Being human doesn't mean I won't lose it again."
"It makes it less likely, though, because now you have a soul to tell you what's right and wrong," said Buffy with confidence. "I just wish we could put it behind us, Spike. You don't have to mention it every single time we talk. And you can't spend a hundred years brooding, even if all the people you killed would 'the multitudous seas incardanine' and stuff."
"Or indeed 'the multitudinous seas incarnadine'." In spite of his dejected posture, Spike gave her an amused look. "Since when do you quote Shakespeare?"
"We're doing Macbeth in my evening class," said Buffy, proud that Spike had recognised her effort, even though she had got the words wrong. Pesky syllables. "Anyway, I think we should leave the whole you attacking me thing behind, and talk about the other things we have in common. Like Shakespeare. Except I don't know much about that yet. Or resurrections! I'm an expert on coming back from the dead. How was it for you?"
"Painful." He paused. "And a lot harder than I thought. But then, when you're a half-crazed vampire, you generally don't think very straight. I certainly wasn't when I-- Sorry. Not talking about that." He shrugged. "Anyway, it just shows you should always be careful what you ask for."
Buffy was surprised. "You asked to be human? Why?"
"Well, there were all sorts of reasons." Spike sighed. "Most of them bad. Main reason's pretty simple. You put your finger on my problem a while back. Poor little Spikey, can't be a human, can't be a vampire. Thought it was time I picked one or the other. I was too far gone to become a fully fledged vampire again, so--" He indicated the burn on his chest with a sweep of his hand.
"Wow." Buffy stared at him, amazed. "I'd no idea a vampire could even choose to be human."
"I told you I could change, didn't I?" Spike glanced at her, and then looked away. "Well, I've certainly done that."
Buffy's eyes were still fixed on his emaciated face. She watched as his long lashes fluttered with the nervous movement of his eyes, and his jaw muscles clenched beneath his chiselled cheekbones. She'd kissed his mouth, but never those cheeks or those beautiful eyes, never given the soulless vampire he had been a single sign of affection. But now, he was human. That changed everything.
"But it doesn't change anything," said Spike. His wandering eyes met hers and this time, she was the one who looked away. "I'm not looking to get back with you, Buffy. Now that I'm human, I understand that what we had was very wrong. So I think I should just make it absolutely clear to you that I'm not interested in sex with you either. If ever I look as if I'm-- I'm not." He laughed. "As a matter of fact, I can't anyway. I'm more Willy than Spike these days. Rather ironic side-effect of the resurrection."
Buffy stared at him, rendered momentarily speechless. Was he trying to tell her that he couldn't--
"I-I'm sorry, Spike, I have to go to work," she said, though she realised as she spoke how cold the words sounded after his confession. "There's more food downstairs and my phone number is on the refrigerator." She wrinkled her nose. "Um, you really should have a bath and clean up. You don't smell too good."
"Oh, yes." Spike looked down at himself. "Humanity: the wonderful world of body odour."
Buffy laughed. "I didn't think of that. I should have got you some deodorant. I got you some other stuff, though. You know, shaving cream, razor, toothbrush, toothpaste. Everything a modern man needs." She frowned. "Well, everything I could think of, anyway. It's been a while since I lived with a man."
"That's-- That's really good." Spike looked very surprised. "Thank you."
"I was going to get your stuff from the crypt when I went on patrol the other night, but then I wasn't sure what you would need," she said. "But I can get your things tonight."
"Don't bother." Spike shook his head. Buffy could tell his mood had turned dark again. Maybe talking about the crypt was a reminder of his past crimes.
Buffy stood up, ready to leave, but Spike caught her hand. "Buffy, do you think... Do you think I can make things better with Dawn?"
"Yeah, I think so." She thought back on Dawn's behaviour in the last few days. "She's been taking good care of you while I've been at work. I think if you talk to her, you can make things all right. I know she still cares about you."
Home again after yet another long day talking on the phone and staring at a computer. Buffy sometimes wondered if the Doublemeat Palace wasn't better for her after all; at least she'd got some exercise. A vague memory of having sex with Spike in the service alley came to mind at that thought. Buffy firmly dismissed it and called for Dawn and Spike as she entered the house.
There was no sign of Dawn, but she did find Spike sitting out on the back steps. For a moment, she thought he was smoking, but then realised he was just drinking a glass of Coke. He was wearing his soccer shirt and jeans; both garments were torn, making Spike look like the victim of a shipwreck. Buffy wondered if there was any subtle way that she could find out his size and buy him some new clothes.
As she opened the back door, Buffy saw Spike wipe his face. Oh, no, weepy Spike again.
"Hello, Buffy," he said.
"Hi." She sat beside him and smiled when she noticed he had ignored her subtle hint about shaving. "I see you didn't bother with the razor after all. Sticking with the hippy look, huh?"
That was met by silence. Buffy tried again. "Where's Dawn?"
"Went storming off to her room."
"Oh." A quick glance at his face confirmed the tears. Had Angel ever cried this much? "You two argue?"
"No, she argued. I just sort of sat there." He sniffed and wiped his eyes again. "Sorry, thought I'd indulge in a drama queen moment since you weren't around. I'll get over it."
While waiting for him to get over it, Buffy looked down at her work clothes; smart cotton pants and a white blouse. She should have changed before sitting on the dirty porch. But Spike needed her right now; she could always wash her clothes later.
"How can I help you?" she asked. It was a phrase Buffy repeated dozens of times a day, but never with the sincerity she felt right now.
"I don't know. She's right; I shouldn't be here laying all my problems on the people I hurt." Spike gazed at the bubbles in his Coke. "I'm bad luck, you know. I'm the reverse fucking Midas -- everything I touch withers and dies. I used to have something with Dawn; something real and beautiful, and now she hates me."
Spike's eyes were filling with tears again. Unsure what to do, Buffy patted his back awkwardly. She seemed to remember Spike trying to comfort her this way once upon a time, when she had been the one crying on the porch steps.
"I keep doing this," continued Spike, completely wrapped up in his guilt trip. "I was a useless human; you'd have laughed your socks off at me. Then I become a vampire and things are okay for a while. I had my woman, the respect of my minions. Next thing I know, I'm dumped and I become the only vampire in the bleeding universe who can't bloody feed! Then to add insult to injury, I fall in love with you, try to be your fucking white knight and end up behaving like a complete prick. So I go off and become human again, and look what a mess I am. I thought I'd be good, you know, that having a soul and a beating heart would make me a better man. But I'm just the same sad pillock I've been all along." He looked up at the sky. "There was this comedian once, committed suicide. Last thing he wrote in his diary was 'what's the bloody point?'. What is the bloody point, Buffy? Why don't I just give up?"
Her hand still on his back, Buffy leaned forward to look into his face.
"Because you hope things will get better?" She smiled, and brushed a strand of light brown hair behind his ear. "Things will get better, Spike. You're not a complete failure. And hey, I like you. Everyone else will come around eventually."
Spike stared at her as if she'd just said something amazing, and then burst into tears. Buffy didn't think she'd ever seen a grown man cry like that. Definitely not something Angel had ever done; but then he was with the broody. Spike was all full-blown drama.
Overcome by his emotions, Spike threw his arms around Buffy and buried his face in her blouse. She tensed, prepared to deliver a couple of well-placed blows, but then relaxed when she realised he was too engrossed in his misery to be aroused. She stroked his head and murmured some soothing words. Buffy had never been someone people turned to for comfort, and she was surprised to find that holding Spike like this made her feel very wise and motherly.
Spike's sobs subsided after a short time. He clung to her a while longer, his large hands stroking her back, his face still pressed against her breasts. Buffy hoped he wasn't getting ideas. Fortunately, he pulled away before she had to start pushing him off.
Still wiping his tears away, Spike leaned against the post at the top of the porch steps.
"Sorry, that was-- I don't know where that came from. I was fine this morning." He lowered his eyes. "Thanks for being so nice to me. I don't know why I deserve it, but thanks."
"Hey, all new Saint Buffy here," said Buffy with a grin. "Besides, what you've done is amazing. To deliberately become human. That's incredible. How did you know you wouldn't end up like Angel? I mean, you really hate Angel!"
"I preferred to become something I hate, rather than stay something you hate." Spike winced and waved his hand. "Forget it, that's just rubbish. I told you, I wanted to belong somewhere. Community of six billion seemed attractive."
"You did it for me."
Spike's eyes stayed downcast. "No, I did it because of you. Because of what I did to you. But I did it for me, because I couldn't stand to be what I was anymore."
"Yes. Of course. It's not all about me," said Buffy, shifting uncomfortably. "I'm not the centre of the universe, and of course, you did this for you. I get that." She sighed. "But it's amazing. I'll have to tell Giles."
"I'm sure he'll be fascinated. And I promise to give him all the gory details as long as I don't get the Council of Wankers crawling all over me." He raised his eyes to Buffy's chest and frowned. "I wonder if he'll let me cover him in snot too."
"Snot?" Buffy looked down at her blouse; Spike's tears had left a wet patch.
"Well, you know, I had the waterworks running full blast and I'm not quite over my flu, so..."
Buffy put on her silliest grimace of disgust. "Ew! That is just gross!"
"Hey, gross comes with the sainthood," said Spike, though he was laughing. He pulled down the sleeve of his shirt as far as it would go, and wiped at Buffy's chest. It took a moment for him to register the displeased look on her face. He immediately pulled his hand away from her breasts. "Oh, sorry. Not trying to... you know."
"Get into Buffy's pants?" suggested Dawn, who had just come out through the back door.
Buffy looked down at her top and stood up. "I need to change..." She paused beside Dawn, tempted to tell her not to upset Spike, but then decided this was something they needed to work out together.
When Buffy returned to the kitchen having changed, she found Dawn standing on the porch behind Spike. He was still sitting on the top step, turned towards her with one ankle resting on his other knee.
"I don't think it's something I should be discussing with you, little bit," he said. "It won't make things any easier."
"I'm not your 'little bit' anymore, Spike." Dawn crossed her arms. "Maybe it won't make things easier, but I want to know why it happened. Even if it means I'll hate you even more. Even if you have to tell me bad things about Buffy. I just want to understand why."
Spike looked up at her, his thin face filled with anguish. Buffy watched them both, framed in the open back door, and wondered if she should interrupt, or if she should leave. But all she did was stand in the kitchen doorway. She wanted to know the answer to Dawn's question too.
"I loved Buffy," said Spike finally. "But she didn't love me, didn't even think I was a person. I was just the thing she used to punish herself. Punished me quite a bit, too. When she came to her senses, she said my love wasn't real. Broke it off, was really good about it -- 'cept for treating me like her dirty secret, but hey, can't have everything." Spike paused and leaned against the banister. "I went to apologise to her after the Anya thing, and she told me she had feelings for me. Being the desperate twat I was, I thought I could get her back." He rubbed his forehead. "When we were together, the only thing she liked about me was the sex. I thought if we could just have sex again, everything would be okay. And after that, I wasn't thinking about much at all." He looked up at Dawn. "Anyway, she didn't want me, and I finally understood she'd never want me again. So there you go. That's why it happened."
Buffy leaned against the kitchen wall and felt tears sting her eyes. She repressed them, berating herself for being so affected. She had already guessed Spike's motives during her conversation with Giles at the beginning of the summer. But hearing him talk about their affair reminded her just how dark and desperate those times had been. How horrible she had been to the soulless, but sentient being who had loved her. Buffy wiped at her eyes and told herself she shouldn't be eavesdropping on Spike's conversation with Dawn. She thought about starting to cook dinner, but took one last look at the pair outside.
Dawn too was close to tears. Spike moved as if he was going to stand up and take her in his arms. But he remained sitting and just touched her foot.
"Tell me how I can make things better, Dawn," he pleaded. "I can leave, if that's what you want. Or I can stay and take it like a man. Tell me what you want."
"Oh, Spike." A single tear escaped from Dawn's big blue eyes. She kneeled down beside him and took his hand. "I want you to stop being the man who tried to rape my sister!"
"Me too, little bit. And I am trying. Believe me, I never want to be that man again."
Buffy opened her eyes and saw Spike above her, his face flushed pink beneath his white hair, his teeth clenched, his hands grabbing at her. The bathroom floor was cold and hard beneath her injured back, and the light shone straight into her eyes, blinding her. This couldn't be happening. After everything they had been through, it couldn't end like this.
"I'm going to make you feel it," growled Spike.
"No you're not," she said, realising that this was ridiculous. She was the Slayer; no one could make her do anything. "No, Spike. We'll both feel it."
She flipped him onto his back on her bed and straddled his hips. Spike stretched out, his hands gripping the thin bars at the head of the bed, his blue eyes filled with tenderness. Buffy ran her hands over his white chest, feeling the firm muscles beneath his soft skin. Her fingers explored the pulsating veins in his neck before curling into this short blond hair.
"I love you," said Spike. "I'm all yours, pet."
"I know." Buffy kissed the heartbeat on his chest, shifting her hips against his erection. "You're all mine."
"Well, folks, it's Friday morning, and we've got a song from the Red Hot--"
Buffy automatically hit the Snooze button on her clock radio as it interrupted her sleep for the third time. Another day to kill those calls and answer those vampires. Or whatever. She checked the time and switched the radio to Off.
Clothes. Bathroom. Breakfast. Wake up at some point along the way. Buffy opened her bedroom door and found herself staring straight at Spike. Which was disturbing, considering the dream she had just had.
Spike was standing in the doorway of the bathroom, right opposite her bedroom, wearing only his torn jeans. Buffy's face was level with his throat; lowering her eyes only a fraction, she had a good view of his bare chest. It was nearly as she remembered it in her dream; sculptured and smooth, except for the new burn above his heart and some extra hairs she hadn't noticed before. Spike's face was different, of course, hidden behind the glasses and the long hair. He hadn't shaved again.
"Morning," he said with a smile.
"Hey," she responded. "You have chest hair."
Spike looked down. "Chest hairs, more like. Side-effect of the resurrection. More hairs all around. It's a monkey thing."
They looked at each other for a moment. Then Spike indicated the master bedroom to his right.
"I need to, um..."
As Spike disappeared into his room, Buffy took the two steps necessary to cross the corridor and enter the bathroom. She locked the door and sat on the toilet, yawning and rubbing her eyes. When her eyes were suitably rubbed, she opened them and stared in disbelief. The grey shower curtain she normally looked at every morning seemed to have turned bright blue and grown a frieze of big green seahorses.
Looking around to see if any other artefacts had been changed in the room, Buffy noticed that the vanity mirror on the dresser in front of the window had been turned so that it faced downwards. There was also a towel thrown over the mirror behind the sink. It seemed that Spike had an aversion to mirrors; no wonder he hadn't shaved in days. On the other hand, he was trying to make amends for his past. Buffy looked at the new shower curtain and smiled.
Once she was dressed, Buffy went downstairs and found Dawn sitting on the living room couch, watching the early morning news -- a recent change from her sitting on the living room couch and watching the early morning cartoons. Dawn was still wearing her pyjamas and robe; she was on vacation, and liked to keep her options open as far as going back to bed was concerned. Buffy was pleased her sister made the effort at all to get up and have breakfast with her every morning.
"Where's Spike?" asked Buffy.
"Don't know. Haven't seen him. Guess he was up late putting in that shower curtain," said Dawn, her tone neutral.
"Well, it was a nice thought." Buffy glanced at the television, her eyes drawn to images of bodies being dug out of a collapsed building. "What do you think?"
Dawn followed her gaze. "What, about the situation in the Middle-East?"
"No, about the shower curtain."
Dawn's response was a shrug; despite her emotional scene with Spike two days earlier, she was still a little wary of the former vampire. Between work and her evening class, Buffy had seen very little of him since he had recovered from his fever. She just hoped Spike and Dawn hadn't been arguing behind her back.
"Anyway, let's get some breakfast," said Buffy, heading for the kitchen.
Spike made his appearance while she was cooking the pancakes, his arrival heralded by a coughing fit that echoed in the hallway. Buffy could tell he had been back to the crypt to get some clothes; he was wearing his paisley shirt and a pair of black pants she recognised. Best not to think about how she knew every item in his wardrobe. She concentrated on her pancakes.
"Nice shower curtain," remarked Dawn. "Very colourful."
"Well, it was cheap." Buffy heard the creak of one of the barstools as Spike sat down. "Seahorses are interesting little beggars. The males have the babies, you know."
"Gee, new age sea creatures." There was a smile in Dawn's voice. "Aren't there some demons that do that too?"
"Oh yes. Igrostoron demons, for instance. Female lays her eggs inside the male, says 'cheers, mate' and buggers off to find another male to lay some more eggs in. Last Igrostoron I met was trying to encourage his fellow demons to stick together, marriage-like. Apparently, they have a problem with the males getting so pissed off with the females, they start eating the eggs. Few sandwiches short of a picnic, those Igrostorons. If I had some eggs of my own, I'd keep them, and then raise them to know their Mum was a bitc--bad person."
Buffy turned towards them with her newly cooked pancakes. After all his inane chatter about seahorses and Igrostoron demons, she had no problem facing Spike. He didn't look or sound like the soulless demon she'd slept with. She distributed the pancakes, then joined them at the breakfast bar.
"So, what are you going to do today, Spike?" she asked.
Spike made an undignified gulping noise as he finished his mouthful. It made him cough, which in turn meant that it took a while for him to answer. "Oh, I thought I might read the instructions for your washing machine," he said in a voice that sounded like a wheeze.
"Washing machine?" repeated Buffy. "You want to do laundry?"
"I haven't washed my clothes for months." He bent down and pulled up his shirt to smell it, uncovering his white belly. He made a face. "They don't smell very nice. Vampires don't sweat, but I've become Elvis bloody Presley ever since I became human. Don't think anyone will be bidding millions for my sweaty shirts, either. So give me the instructions and I'll do some washing."
"Do we even have instructions for that machine?" asked Dawn. Buffy shook her head. "Tell you what, Spike. I'll show you how it works. Then you can repay me by doing all our laundry too."
"I don't think--" started Buffy, as visions of Spike sifting through her dirty underwear danced through her head.
"Well, okay," said Spike, though he didn't sound too enthusiastic about Dawn's proposal. "I suppose I should be doing something useful. Oh! Speaking of which--"
He got up and sprinted out the door and up the stairs. Buffy could hear him in the master bedroom above the kitchen.
"Was that conversation over?" asked Dawn with a giggle.
Buffy shrugged, but then pointed at her sister. "Hey, you're not letting Spike wash our underwear, okay? He can do the towels and the other clothes, but you do our stuff yourself."
"Oops. Didn't think about that," said Dawn, pressing her hand to her lips. "Maybe I should show him the vacuum cleaner instead?"
Spike came back, out of breath and carrying a small paper sack sealed with tape.
"I got my stuff from the crypt yesterday." He handed the packet to Dawn. "It's a bit late, and probably totally the wrong time, but... Happy birthday, sweet sixteen."
Dawn stared at the packet a moment, and then ripped it open. It contained a little bracelet made of shiny green beads.
"Saw it when I got to Africa, thought about your birthday," said Spike. "I was going to send it after I became human, but... by then, I thought it wouldn't go down too well, what with...but it's for you."
"Oh, Spike, it's beautiful." Dawn held up the bracelet for Buffy to admire, then slid it on her left wrist. "Thanks. I didn't think you'd even remember."
Spike looked down at his feet. "Well, I only knew the month, actually. I remembered us having that-- well, celebrating your birthday last year."
"Yeah." Dawn shook her head. "That was a miserable birthday. Even the cake and decorations were miserable."
"You had cake?" asked Buffy, curious about this birthday celebration Spike and Dawn had shared while she was dead. "And decorations?"
"Willow kinda conjured up the cake and decorations," said Dawn with a shrug. Her eyes were still on Spike. "I still have the diary, you know. I was going to throw it out, after-- But I guess I wanted to remember you the way you were last summer."
She frowned, and gave Spike a suspicious look, as if she was remembering his betrayal and was still unsure whether to open up to him again. Then she looked at the bracelet, and at Spike's apprehensive face, and stood up to wrap her arms around him. He was taken completely off-guard. In fact, he seemed to be struggling to get out of her embrace at first. But as Dawn persisted, keeping her head on his chest, Spike gave in. His arms slipped around her; he closed his eyes, pressing his lips to her hair for a moment, with a small smile of contentment. The look on his face put a lump in Buffy's throat. It occurred to her that Spike probably wasn't used to being hugged.
It also occurred to her that he had never given her a birthday present. But then she remembered the circumstances of her last birthday. Spike turning up at her back door with a black eye, still bruised days after she had beat him. She hadn't deserved a present then. Maybe next year. She'd make it up to him.
Not a bad patrol, all things considered. The two vampires were nothing special, easily dispatched once they'd started their "Wanna try a real vampire for size?" routine. But the Osra demon had given her a run for her money. Buffy flexed her bruised arm. Bit less of the colliding with tombstones would have been nice. Still, the fight had got the juices flowing nicely. Buffy was in a great mood. Being the Slayer was fun!
When she let herself into the house, Buffy was surprised to see light in the living room. Spike was sitting at the desk, several of the books and papers Giles had sent spread out in front of him. He was so engrossed in what he was reading that he barely acknowledged Buffy's arrival, even after she dropped her weapons bag noisily on the floor.
"What are you reading?" she asked, peering over Spike's shoulder at the leather-bound book in front of him.
"The Watchers' Diaries."
"You're cramming to become a Watcher?"
"Don't insult me!" exclaimed Spike, turning towards her with a laugh. "Just thought I'd see what it's all about. Lots of interesting things in here. Boy, they weren't joking when they said Slayers died young. Most of them snuffed it before they were twenty. It doesn't make for very enjoyable reading. Not right now, anyway. A couple of years ago..."
"...It would have been the vampire equivalent of Hustler magazine?"
"I never got off on--" Spike grimaced and tossed the book aside. He looked up at Buffy with a sheepish smile. "I-- Since Dawn isn't here, I might as well break the news."
"News? What news?" asked Buffy, seized with sudden panic. "Where's Dawn? Was there a demon?"
"Erm, no. That's unless you think the washing machine is possessed. Which is possible." He tilted his head and considered the possibility, then went back to giving Buffy his best contrite expression. "Dawn put all your underwear in with my clothes. Now as you know, most of my clothes are black..."
Buffy closed her eyes. "Oh, no. Please don't tell me all my underwear is grey."
"More like a very pale sludge green, actually. Maybe it'll wash out. Dawn thinks it'll wash out, anyway. I didn't even know clothes could do that." He picked up a small spiral notebook. "I've written it down so I'll know not to mix dark and light colours next time."
"I wish Dawn would write it down too," said Buffy, opening her eyes again and glaring at Spike. "You looked at my underwear?"
Spike leaned back on the chair and crossed his arms. "Hey, you looked at my willy, I can look at your underwear." Perhaps realising that he was being over familiar with her, he stood up. "Anyway, didn't feel sleepy, so I thought I'd stay up and make you some dinner. Well, 'make' isn't really the word. These are the days of the microwave, after all. But I thought you might be hungry."
Buffy nodded and followed him into the kitchen, delighted at the prospect of food being made for her. Even if it was only microwave food. Leftover pizza was getting old. Not that they had had any leftover anything the last couple of days, with Spike the human eating machine living in the house. God, how the man could eat! He would give even Xander a run for his money. Buffy nearly regretted the days when all Spike needed was a mug of pig's blood.
She leaned against the centre island while he rummaged in the freezer. He extracted a cardboard box covered in frost and waved it at Buffy.
"I found this earlier," said Spike. "It's nothing exciting, just some spag bog. Spaghetti Bolognese." He wiped off the frost and showed her the container. "Five minutes in the microwave. I love food like that. When I was a little boy... um, things were different. Anyway, let's see... Ah, there we go. This is a machine I don't need instructions for. I remember your Mum showing me how to use it years ago."
It was bizarre to hear Spike talking about her mother. But thinking back, Buffy realised he had known Joyce quite well. They had spent a few evenings together when Buffy wasn't around. She felt a pang of jealousy at the thought that Spike had shared moments of her mother's life which she had not been part of. Moments she would never get back again.
"How did you know I would be hungry?" asked Buffy to change the subject. She moved closer, in case he needed help with the microwave.
Spike turned towards her abruptly, bringing them nose to nose. "Slaying awakens your passions, right?"
Unnerved by his proximity, Buffy lowered her eyes, fixing them on his paisley shirt. She remembered pulling it open in the past, and running her nails down his sculptured chest to the waistband of his jeans. She'd fondled those jeans, too, rubbing his erection hard through the rough material until he gasped with desire.
Realising that her eyes had followed her memory and that she was now staring at his crotch, Buffy took a step back and looked away.
"No. No passions," she said, delving into the cutlery drawer to get a fork. "Just hunger. Food hunger."
Spike gave her a funny look, but turned back to the microwave and coughed. He ran his fingers through his hair, brushing the uneven curls off his face. A moment passed before he spoke again.
"I've been thinking, Buffy. I think Xander was right: I shouldn't be living here. Now that I'm better, I mean. Things haven't exactly worked out well in the past, and I don't want... I can move back into the crypt--" Spike raised his hand as Buffy began to protest. "Or if you really think that's too unhealthy, I could move in with Xander. Unless I was hallucinating when he offered to take me in?"
"No, you weren't," said Buffy. "But I think that was Xander in one of his generous, compassionate moods."
Spike grinned. "Must admit, I'm taking it on faith that Harris has generous, compassionate moods. Last time I saw the guy, he tried to kill me! I mean, last time I saw him before I-- you know what I mean."
"Yeah." Buffy leaned on the breakfast bar again and gave Spike an amused look. "And I'm guessing his generosity will soon run out if he's living with the guy who slept with his ex-fiancée."
"But you find living with a guy who tried to rape you okay?"
Buffy winced. "Do you have to mention this every single day, Spike? It's over. It's okay. It wasn't even you, not the now you, anyway. Not really. So we can forget about it. And I think you living here makes sense."
Spike frowned at her and shook his head, but Buffy raised her hand before he could say anything.
"First of all, you're not fully recovered from your flu, so I don't want you living in the crypt," she said, putting on a Sensible Mom tone she was honing for interactions with Dawn. "And I don't think you'd get on with Xander for very long. Besides, this is a big house, and it seems stupid to have that big room lying empty. Now that you're human, you could get a job, and pay me some rent, if you like. Which would be great: I could do with the money. And you could stay with Dawn in case a nasty comes around when I'm not here. And you'd be an extra pair of hands for the chores. And you know how to drive, so we could get a car. You could drive us to the mall and take Dawn to school."
"Do you want a nice white picket fence to go with that little fantasy?" said Spike with an embarrassed laugh that turned into a cough. "I don't think I'm quite 'Wind Beneath My Wings' material yet, pet. Doing housework? Driving Dawn to school? And I've never had a job, Buffy. I didn't need one. I was going to live forever."
Buffy shrugged. "I know. I never thought I'd need one either. Thought I'd be dead by now." She smiled at the irony of them both avoiding work for such different reasons. "But you could live another forty or fifty years. You've got to make plans for all that time, or you'll just waste it until it's too late. It's what normal humans do."
"Yeah," said Spike with a sigh. "I wanted to be human; I suppose I should play the part, right? Yeah, I'll see what I can do."
"Tada!" exclaimed Spike. "Bought with dirty demon money, but at least it'll get me to work, and Dawn to school."
"Well. It's a car," said Buffy, looking at the thing Spike was pointing at. She knew nothing about cars, but she did know the monstrosity currently parked on the driveway was tiny and ugly. Looked old, too; the paint was peeling off the roof.
Squinting in the bright sunlight, Buffy was far more interested in the fact that Spike was wearing his tight, mottled grey T-shirt. Without an over shirt to add bulk to his thin frame, it made him look skinny and... kinda gay. Which was kinda scary. On the other hand, the half-grown beard and hideous glasses made him look like a geek. Which balanced the gay thing out, but still left Buffy wondering where the real Spike was. And shuddering at the thought that this was what human Spike might really be like. Maybe the demon was the one with the cool sense of style.
"Buffy, it's a Yugo." Dawn managed to imbue the two syllables with every bit of disgust a teenage girl could muster. Which was plenty. "I mean, a Yugo. Spike, do you have any idea how uncool that is?"
"Yes, I do, actually." Spike shrugged and tried to look nonchalant. "It's about as cool as a woolly jumper with patches on the elbows. But I needed a car to go to work, and it was cheap." All Spike's enthusiasm for his purchase seemed to have vanished. His shoulders slumped and he even let out a little sigh. "And available for immediate purchase first thing on a Saturday morning, which isn't bad either."
"And on the plus side, it is a car," said Buffy. She frowned. "Work? You have work to go to?"
"But--But it's a Yugo!" exclaimed Dawn, interrupting her. "An ancient, rusty Yugo." She turned on Spike. "You are not driving me to school in that!"
"You're going to school right smack on the Hellmouth. I should think the car I drive would be the least of your problems," said Spike. "Besides, when you're a normal human being, you have to compromise. Think of it as something grown-ups have to do." He looked at Buffy and grinned. "Like wearing a hat with a cow on it."
"Yeah, but Buffy never made me wear her hat!" protested Dawn.
Buffy crossed her arms and went into Mom-mode. "It's never too late. If you don't get another babysitting job soon, I know a good job that's just waiting for you."
"Actually, Mrs Koslowski next door says her daughter's coming over to stay next week. She said I could look after her grandson." Dawn didn't actually add 'so there', but Buffy could hear it in her voice. "Besides, it's not fair. You didn't have to work when you were in high school!"
"That's because Mom didn't have a job that could be done by a robot," Buffy pointed out. "They don't pay us mindless automatons much money for answering the phones and giving people details they could look up on the Internet. So we all have to work. Which reminds me, Spike, did you say--"
"Hey, there's an idea," said Spike, snapping his fingers. The finger snapping made the 'work' issue drop right out of Buffy's head. Since when did Spike snap his fingers? "When Willow comes back, she could use the schematics she has for the Buffybot to make robots that do mindless jobs. We could sell them to call centres all around the world!"
Buffy frowned. "Excuse me. A call centre full of Buffybots? Can I be the first to say 'ew'?."
"The Buffybot was kinda nice when you got to know her," said Dawn. "I sometimes miss her... I mean, not as much as I missed you, obviously. But she was kinda perky and cheerful..." She noticed Buffy's dubious expression. "Oh, is that rust on the trunk?"
"There's probably a great commercial market for robots like the ones Warren made," said Spike, staring thoughtfully into space. "I mean, they could be used for mining, and space exploration, and--"
"Sex?" suggested Buffy, her tone exuding disapproval.
Spike looked embarrassed for a moment, but then grinned. "Well, now you come to mention it, that would probably be their most lucrative function. I mean, that robot was...something I really shouldn't be talking about right now?"
Buffy nodded slowly, to emphasise her point that, yes, this was something best left to another day. Like, never. The sheepish look he gave her made her smile, though; the whole Buffybot fiasco was from another lifetime for both of them, and retrospectively, it was one of the more amusing events in their relationship. Which just showed how miserable the rest of their relationship had been. Spike grinned back at her, his eyes sparkling with mischief behind his glasses. He rubbed his hands.
"So, now I have my wonderful Spikemobile, where do you ladies want to go? Shopping, maybe?"
"You are so not taking us anywhere in this thing!" exclaimed Dawn. "Seriously, Spike, if you take us to the mall in this rust bucket, I'll die!"
"Not dead yet, pet?" asked Spike as they got out of the car in the mall car park.
Dawn glared at him, expressing all the frustration she felt at not dropping dead with embarrassment after being driven around in a Yugo. Buffy didn't think much of Spike's acquisition either, but at least it made the trip to the mall easier than walking or taking a bus. Maybe they could get a better car when Dawn passed her driving test.
Their original plan had been to go straight to the supermarket, but Spike had expressed an interest in acquiring new clothes, and in particular, shoes. So the mall was their first destination. When they had picked a suitable shoe store, Spike tried on various items in the men's section while the sisters explored the women's side.
"Do you think Spike will get sandals to go with his New Age hippy look?" asked Dawn.
"Sandals?" Buffy looked down at the pumps she was trying on, and which she totally didn't need. "Well, I guess 'New Age hippy' is still an improvement on 'Big Bad'." An image of a long-haired Spike wearing sandals and love beads came to mind. She kicked off the pumps and put on her own shoes. "Maybe we should find him, and just check that everything is okay."
Dawn grinned. "You mean check that his fashion sense isn't completely gone after the whole resurrection thing? Getting that Yugo could just be the tip of the iceberg."
The sisters searched for Spike in the store, but he was nowhere to be seen. When they returned to the main corridor, Dawn suddenly pointed at the stairs in the middle of the mall. One of the escalators had broken down, and Spike was helping a woman carry a stroller up the steps. He looked embarrassed when she thanked him, but they talked for a couple of minutes, and Spike even leaned down to admire the child. Giles had always told her that a soul made all the difference, but Buffy was still amazed at the difference it made in Spike. It made so much difference, it was totally scary.
When the woman left, Spike trotted down the stairs with a satisfied smile on his lips. It faded when he noticed Buffy and Dawn watching him. He approached them with something of his old swagger in his step, and a sarcastic smile on his face. Both looked very strange considering he was wearing glasses and carrying bags from different clothes stores.
"So, half an hour mooning around the shop, and you still didn't get anything?" he said. "I spent five minutes getting myself a pair of sneakers, three T-shirts and a pair of trousers, then decided to go off and do something manly for a change."
"Like help strange women carry strollers?" asked Buffy with a teasing smile.
Spike gave her a rueful look, as if he were ashamed of his act of kindness. "She isn't strange. In fact, she's very normal. Unlike some other people I could mention. Bet she's never even seen a demon."
"Speaking of which. Is that one there?" Dawn pointed at something behind Spike.
An old man was looking through the shirts on display outside one of the clothes stores. Although he looked like a normal person in a shirt and baseball cap, the brown skin on the back of his neck had curled away from his collar, revealing the grey scales underneath.
"Definitely a demon," said Spike, "but I doubt he's planning anything nefarious if he's shopping for a shirt. Come on, we have things to buy!"
"Don't want to take any chances." Buffy crept up on the demon, her hand already reaching for the stake she had in her purse. She would threaten the demon and draw it to a quiet place before deciding whether it needed slaying. Surprise was a key element; she needed to catch it before it had a chance to cry out.
"Oi, demon," called Spike. Buffy stopped and rolled her eyes.
The demon jumped and turned with a big smile on his face. "Spike! You're back."
"Do I know you?" asked Spike, tilting his head to see if the demon was more familiar when seen diagonally.
"Come on, Spike. It's me, Thork." He slapped Spike's back. "I couldn't believe it when Clem told me you were off in Africa to become human. Man, that sucks. But, on the other hand, I can't blame you. Being a vampire sucks worse. Not human, not demon. Vampires are a bad lot. I mean, you were okay, except for the bit about killing demons, but on the whole, yes, I guess being human is better than being a vampire. You could have chosen to be a demon instead, though. That would have been even better."
"Yes, well, went with what I knew," said Spike. He was still looking at the demon as if he had no idea who he was. "Well, Thork, it's good to see you again. Or your disguise anyway." He tucked the demon's fake human skin into his collar. "Better be careful. Someone might notice. Anyway, got things to do. Um, human things." He waved his hand vaguely. "Shopping and all that."
"Yeah. If you're not too grand now that you're human, come around for a game once in a while, yeah?" Thork patted his back again and then went off to look at more shirts.
Buffy crossed her arms. She'd been really looking forward to kicking some demon ass. Slaying and shopping was one of her favourite combinations. Just before slaying and eating, though behind slaying and sex.
"Okay, who was that?" she asked.
Spike was still watching the demon's retreating back. "Not the foggiest. Now, then, where's this food you promised me?"
"Not eaty now food. Cooky later food," Buffy reminded him. They'd had this conversation on the way over. For some reason, Spike didn't quite grasp the concept of food that had to be cooked for more than five minutes before being consumed.
"Whatever." He strode purposefully towards the exit. "Come along, let's get this shopping done with. Have a job to do, you know."
"A job? What kind of job?" asked Dawn.
"And what does 'not the foggiest' mean?" asked Buffy, though she realised Dawn's question was a lot more pertinent.
"It's the kind of job that goes with the Yugo." Realising that both sisters were waiting for more information, he stopped and raised his hands. "Okay, I saw an ad in the paper and I'm taking up window cleaning. Satisfied?"
"You got a car and a job on a Saturday morning?" asked Buffy. "I'm impressed."
"Yeah, it took Buffy months to get a job," said Dawn, blithely ignoring her sister's dirty look. "And she still hasn't got a car."
"Oh well, besting Slayers is a lifelong hobby of mine. What can I say? I'm a man of action!"
A man of impatience, more like, thought Buffy as she followed them out of the mall.
The next night, Buffy was following her usual patrol route past Spike's old crypt. The lights were off, and she felt a momentary twinge of regret. Much as she had hated and distrusted Spike the vampire, she had to admit that he had been an important part of her life. Just knowing that he was in the crypt, ready to spring out at the slightest hint of action, had been more comforting than she had ever realised. He didn't seem big on the patrolling now that he was human.
A tall young man with dark hair approached her. Good-looking guy, with a nice smile and a well-built body. Buffy leaned against a tree, watching him.
"Hey, sweetheart, got a light?" he asked, holding out his cigarette.
"Don't smoke," she said with a shrug. "Looking for a meal?"
He put away his cigarette. "Oh, you know, just hanging around, waiting for the right one to come along. Can't eat just anyone these days."
"Yeah, that must be real hard," said Buffy shaking her head. She looked up at him, all wide-eyed innocence. "Say, if you had a chance to become human again, would you take it?"
"What, like your boyfriend?" He laughed. "I've heard about him. He's a wuss. That guy's a total loser." He leaned towards Buffy with a predatory smile. "I bet he's no good to you now that he's human, eh, Slayer?"
Buffy smiled up at him flirtatiously. "Oh, I bet you think you could do better, right?"
"Of course I can." He moved closer, his face nearly brushing against hers. She could smell the blood on his breath. "Humans are weak and pathetic; they deserve to be eaten. They're not like you and me, Slayer. I wouldn't become human for anything on Earth."
"Thanks, that's all I needed to know," said Buffy, plunging a stake in his heart. "Just making sure Spike's the weird one."
There was definite weirdness in the new Spike's behaviour, thought Buffy as the Yugo shuddered to a stop in front of the new high school a few days later. He was like an entirely new person; a nice person, to be sure, but someone she didn't really know.
"Thanks for the lift, Spike," said Dawn as she got out of the car. "I think I'll use my bike next time."
"Oh, come on, it's not that bad!" protested Spike. "It got you here, didn't it?"
Dawn lifted an eyebrow, but then ran to join her friends. Buffy sighed, remembering the days when she'd been at school with Xander and Willow. Back in the days when things were simple, and all she had to worry about was the Master. And Angelus. And Snyder. And Spike and Dru. And... Okay, so maybe things weren't so simple back then. She got out of the car and sat beside Spike in the front seat.
"So, what are you doing today?" she asked.
"Thought I'd look for a new job," he said. "Now I think about it, washing windows isn't really my thing."
"Gee, what a surprise. Took you all of three days to realise that, did it?"
"All right, since job counsellor is obviously one of your many talents," said Spike, "what kind of job do you think I should be doing?"
Buffy shrugged. "Well, I don't know. I just don't think you're a cleaning kind of guy."
"Well, you're right. I'm thinking hit man, something like that." He noticed Buffy's comedy frown, and laughed. "Hey, got to play to my strengths, right?" He shook his head. "One thing I do know; I'm stuck in low pay until I can convince people I can do something else."
"Maybe a résumé would help. A fake one, obviously," suggested Buffy. "You could use Willow's computer to type one up. She has a printer somewhere." She frowned as that plan's pretty basic flaw became apparent to her. "That's if you know how to use a computer, of course."
They stopped at a red light; Spike leaned on the steering wheel. "I know how to use a computer," he said.
"You do?" exclaimed Buffy with amazement.
"Yeah." Spike smiled as the light turned green. "Used to have one, actually. Sinclair ZX-81. God, it was crap. Even by the standards of its day, which was the early Eighties. Black and white, character-only resolution, insensitive keyboard, about as much processing power as your average washing machine nowadays. But I used to spend hours on that thing. You could get these magazines with program listings in them, and then once you'd typed in your program, you'd save it onto a cassette and use it again later. No CD-ROMs, no Microsoft, just your listing, your fingers, and a whole lot of tapes. Of course, Dru got jealous and smashed it after a few months." He noticed Buffy's glazed look. "Sorry. Got nostalgic for a moment there."
Buffy observed him in silence, then said, "You weren't kidding about the inner nerd, were you?"
"Well, at least it might some in handy," said Spike with a shrug. "If I get back up to speed with modern computers, I could probably get a good job. You know, IT engineer or something."
"Ugh. You do not want to work in IT. All the guys in our technical department are longhaired geeks with glasses and--" She looked at him. "--beards..."
He scratched his hairy face and grinned. "It's my destiny, obviously."
Realising that this was an opportunity to discuss a topic that was bothering her, Buffy looked out of the window and collected her thoughts. She didn't want to make Spike uncomfortable by staring at him. It made things easier for her, too.
"Spike. What is with all that? I mean, seriously." She took a deep breath when he didn't answer. "I noticed the mirrors in the bathroom the other day. That's why you're not shaving, right? You can't face yourself in the mirror?"
Spike didn't answer. After a moment, Buffy turned to look at him. He was staring at her, only just dividing his attention between her and the road. When he caught her eye, he chose to focus on the road.
"Didn't think you'd notice." He shrugged. "Doesn't mean anything. I'm just too lazy to shave and get a haircut. But I'll get it all chopped off if you think it's ugly."
"No." Buffy sighed. "Don't do that just because I tell you to. If you have your reasons, I'm fine with your new look. I just want to know what's going on."
"Nothing's going on. I'm fine. I did a lot of bad things as a vampire, but I'm going to be a really good person to make up for it. Ah, we're here." He parked the car across the road from her workplace, then looked at her with a friendly, but impersonal, smile. "Have a nice day at work." When she didn't move, his smile became warmer. "Buffy, I'll be all right, I promise. Trust me."
"Right, so now, we open the packet and read the instructions... Okay. Always a good idea to read the instructions before opening the packet. Make a note of that; it's a valuable lesson. Because right now, Uncle Willy is going to have to get some sellotape to work out what the bloody hell he's supposed to do with this stuff." A pause. "Ah, I think it says twenty minutes. Oi, I'm pretty sure aluminium foil isn't edible, half-pint. Give that back." A wail of protest from a very young set of lungs. "No, I'm not listening. No amount of effing and blinding is going to make me feed you aluminium foil. I might be a murderer and a rapist, but I'm a very responsible person now. New leaves turned over and everything. So I'll only feed you sensible things. Here, have a spoon. Wood, very edible, yum."
Buffy stood in the corridor outside the kitchen door and smiled. There was a stroller in the hallway, which had immediately alerted her to the fact that Dawn's babysitting job for Mrs Koslowski had materialised after all. But she hadn't expected Spike to be doing the babysitting. She entered the kitchen; she had to see this with her own eyes.
The scene that met her didn't turn out quite as homey as she had envisioned. There were toys strewn around the kitchen floor, as well as shredded bits of paper towel. The child perched on the counter beside Spike was a little Latino boy, approximately eighteen months old, wearing a pair of striped dungarees and a very startled expression on his dirty little face. Spike's long hair was tied into a ponytail, and he had acquired a shapeless beige sweater which was streaked with dust and grease. On the plus side, he didn't look gay.
"Hey, Spike. Who is that?" asked Buffy, pointing at the child.
"'That' is Pepito, Mrs Koslowski's grandson," explained Spike, who was arranging tacos on a plastic tray. "In theory, Dawn is looking after him, but she needed to go to a friend's house for ten minutes, so little Pepito and I have been doing some male bonding while I'm making dinner. Which is a very manly activity, right?"
"Dawn left you in charge of the child she's supposed to be babysitting?" exclaimed Buffy.
"It's okay. I offered. Her friend called with some crisis, and I offered to help out." Spike coughed and looked at Pepito with distress. "I haven't hurt him. He's fine, just a bit grubby, but that never hurt anyone." He looked around at the mess in the kitchen. "Um, I'll tidy up later. We got a bit carried away."
"Spike, I'm not saying you would harm him," said Buffy, realising that she had hurt his feelings. "It's just that Dawn has to learn that she can't dump her responsibilities on someone else like that."
"So what are you going to do about it? Move to England?" Spike smiled. "The point is, we all take the easy way out sometimes. She's sixteen. You didn't work at sixteen, and maybe you're not qualified to cast stones. Besides, you thought I was an okay childminder when I was a vampire, didn't you? First Dawn, now Mini Me here. I'm beginning to think I'm a natural."
"Yeah, same mental age. And talking about casting stones." Buffy put her hands on her hips. "First, I was the Slayer when I was sixteen. I had a far more important job than babysitting. Second, are you telling me you were Mister Responsibility at sixteen? I thought you were too busy being bad?"
Spike looked puzzled, then embarrassed. "Yes, well, I'm not the one casting stones." He opened the oven and prepared to put the breakfast tray in it.
Buffy rushed over to stop him. "Woah, not exactly Mister Responsibility right now, either. Plastic tray, hot oven, big disaster." Buffy took the tacos off the tray and pulled a metal one from the cupboard. "This: oven tray. This: breakfast tray. You: stupid man."
"Okay, me savvy," said Spike with that cute sheepish expression he got when he did something wrong these days. "It's weird, really. There's a difference between knowing something intellectually, and actually remembering it when it's relevant. I mean, I know plastic melts in heat, and that the real oven isn't the same as the microwave. But I forgot. Still, that's what this is for." He pointed at the spiral notepad on the counter beside Pepito.
While Spike put the tacos on the right tray, Buffy went over to take a closer look at the child, who had managed to insert the handle of the spoon into a banana. He held it up triumphantly when Buffy approached, but then his face crumpled when he saw her, and he started to bawl. Spike came over and picked him up, giving Buffy a very comical ' what have you done?' look.
"Hey, I only looked at him," she said defensively.
Spike stirred the meat for the tacos with Pepito on his hip. "Don't worry, tadpole. She might look like an ogre, but actually she's only the Slayer. Scary-looking, but not the same thing."
"Ha-ha," said Buffy, deadpan.
"While I have you here," said Spike, gesturing towards the door with his spoon. "I've left an envelope on the desk in the living-room. Can you take the cash in it and replace it with a cheque? I need to send some money to a friend, and it occurred to me that sending cash by post isn't a good idea."
Intrigued by the idea of Spike having a friend that he wanted to mail money to, Buffy went to get the envelope and her cheque book. The money was two hundred-dollar bills. She made out the cheque to the name on the envelope.
"Père Jean-Pierre Debaecke? You have a French friend in Uganda?"
"He's a Belgian missionary, actually." Spike put Pepito on the floor. The child picked up a piece of paper and started to eat it. "He got a bit of a shock when I came wandering out of the jungle. Definite Dr Livingstone moment. But he helped me a lot, so I thought I'd send him the last of my illegal cash. Well, the bit I'm not going to spend on the doctor."
Buffy was alarmed. "Why are you going to the doctor?"
"Oh, nothing serious. Just can't shake off this cough, that's all." He cleared his throat and grinned at her. "And I'm a bit behind on your average vaccinations. I'll have to find myself another demon to mug if I want to continue spending this much money."
"Or take up a job that pays more?" suggested Buffy. "Speaking of which, how's it going with the window-cleaning?"
Spike shrugged. "Well, I dropped that and got myself a job down the docks today. Get to drive a forklift truck and everything; it's a jolly sight easier than hanging out of people's windows. Tiring, though. But the lads have invited me out for a drink on Friday. Should be a laugh. Not to mention a novelty."
"What, you having friends? Yeah, that's new," said Buffy, though she realised she was being a little unfair. It wasn't as if people she didn't even recognise came up to her in the mall after she was resurrected. She wrinkled her nose. "What's that smell?"
They both looked at Pepito. He grinned at them. Spike looked appalled.
"You're a woman, you know how to change nappies, right?" he said, a note of panic in his voice.
"Oh, no." Buffy took a step back and raised her hands. "Nappies, diapers, Buffy. Totally unmixy things. I think his Uncle Willy should take care of that. You're Mr Natural Babysitter; you can deal with it."
Spike frowned with determination. "You're right, I can. I can do anything if I put my mind to it. You do the dinner. I'll do the nappy." Still holding on to Pepito, he rummaged around in a plastic bag on the floor and pulled out a packet of diapers. "Still, didn't have to do this kind of thing when I was a vampire. I used to have minions and everything," he grumbled as he headed for the bathroom.
Buffy stirred the meat, smiling at the thought of Spike changing a diaper. Maybe this was karmic payback for his past crimes. Forget agonising guilt and getting an honest job; changing a diaper was a true test of a man's redemption. She wondered if Angel had changed his son's diapers too.
Looking around, Buffy's eyes fell on Spike's spiral notebook. She hesitated, then decided that looking at the page it was open on wouldn't do any harm. Without touching the notebook, she glanced at the top page. After a few seconds, she realised that what she had initially read as 'donut leach dekic Hungo mith uot bunob' was actually 'Do not touch electric things with wet hands'.
"Boy, Spike should have been a doctor with handwriting like that!" she said, shaking her head. The other items in his list were equally uninspiring; most sounded as if he had copied them off signs and instructions, like 'do not refreeze once defrosted'. That one had a question mark beside it. Buffy couldn't blame him; she'd always meant to find out why too.
She noticed that the paper had several deep troughs in it, as if he had drawn something with very heavy strokes on a previous page. Buffy went to stir the meat, then chopped up a couple of tomatoes and some lettuce, trying to resist temptation. She had finished grating the cheese when she finally gave in. Flicking back a couple of pages on Spike's notepad, she found a crude biro drawing of a man gouging out his own eyes. The caption was in capitals, clearly legible. OEDIPUS PECCATOR. Totally freaked out, Buffy turned back to the last page and went back to making the dinner. Maybe there were parts of Spike's mind she didn't need to know about.
*Oedipus, In Greek mythology, king of Thebes who unwittingly killed his father, Laius, and married his mother, Jocasta, in fulfilment of a prophecy. When he learned what he had done, he put out his eyes. His story was dramatized by the Greek tragedian Sophocles.*
Great. Tell me something I don't know, thought Buffy as she closed the heavy encyclopaedia with a thud, and pushed it further down the dining table. She had hoped to find out something about Oedipus that would tell her more about Spike. But there was probably nothing more to his drawing than a straightforward parallel between two heinous criminals who had seen the error of their ways. She wondered if Oedipus had made amends the way Spike was doing. She smiled as she heard Pepito's squeals of laughter from the living-room.
She had started to do her evening class homework when Dawn came home nearly an hour later. As her sister crept through the front door, Buffy leaned back in her chair and folded her arms, waiting for Dawn to notice her.
"Oh, hey, Buffy," said Dawn with an embarrassed smile. "Have a good day at work?"
"Where have you been?" asked Buffy. "You were supposed to be looking after Mrs Koslowki's grandson."
"I know, but Charlene called. Her boyfriend dumped her, and when I told Spike, he said I should go see her, because that's what good friends do and he would be okay." Dawn's eyes widened in alarm. "He is okay, right? I mean, Pepito. Spike didn't do anything..."
Buffy kept a stern expression; Dawn deserved to feel bad for her dereliction of duty. On the other hand, she couldn't exactly lie to her. "Spike and Pepito are fine. They were having a great time when I came home. They're playing in the living-room right now."
The sisters fell silent for a moment, listening for sounds of play. When there were none, Buffy crossed the hallway and looked into the living-room.
"Okay, now I know Spike has been replaced by an alien," said Dawn, looking over her shoulder.
Spike was lying on the couch, buried in the large cushions and his oversized sweater. Pepito was laid out on his chest. Both of them were fast asleep, and, in Spike's case, snoring.
"Men. No stamina," said Buffy with a laugh. She indicated the kitchen. "Do you want some dinner? Spike made it. He's finally worked out that all you need to cook is to be able to read."
"Cool." Dawn got herself a plate. She sat down and turned to face Buffy, wringing her hands nervously as she spoke. "I'm really sorry about the Pepito thing. I know I said I'd do it, and I knew it was more important than Charlene's problems. But Spike seemed to really like Pepito, so I kinda let him talk me into going to see her. Which I know is totally my fault, because even though I'm saying it was Spike's idea, I really did want to go to Charlene's. The thing is, I've never looked after a child as young as Pepito, and it was kinda scary. So I totally realise I took the easy way out." She looked at the sink. "Tell you what. You forgive me, and I'll not only look after Pepito when he wakes up, but I'll do the dishes too, okay?"
"Sounds good to me. But you're still grounded."
Buffy smiled as she pulled the tacos and meat from the warm oven. She laid them out on a mat on the breakfast bar, then handed Dawn the salad. "Count yourself lucky. You're grounded, but I'll forgive you. Just this once, mind, and only because Spike was having so much fun. But you can't go around shirking your responsibilities just because you feel like it. I've been there, and I know it's a bad thing."
"I'm totally with you, Buffy. I won't do it again, no matter what Spike says." Dawn prepared her first taco. "Oh, before I forget. Xander called and wants us all to go out to the Bronze on Friday night. But I guess I can't go if I'm grounded." She shrugged, clearly not heartbroken about missing a night at the Bronze. "Oh well, television night with Spike, then."
"I think Spike is going out with his co-workers," said Buffy. She sighed. "It's weird. It'll just be me and Xander at the Bronze. There used to be so many other people. Willow, Tara, Anya, Riley, and...Cordelia, Oz, Angel. They're all gone. I used to have all these friends, and now it's just me and Xander."
Dawn smiled. "Well, maybe you should break the habits of the last six years, and actually make some new friends. I mean Spike's been working less than a week, and he's already got friends he goes out with."
"Yeah. I guess he's really fitting in now that he's human. He's adapting amazingly well." Her eyes fell on Spike's notepad. "Well, mostly."
"Yeah, mostly," agreed Dawn. "He looks like he's all happy and adapted, but I'm not sure." She frowned and bit into her taco, careful not to let it break. "He's so different. I know a soul makes a difference, and I guess when you think about Angel and Angelus, it makes sense. It's just kinda weird because we've only known Spike as a soulless vampire, so we think that's 'normal' for him. Who knows what's normal for human Spike? But still... It feels like he's putting on a show. I think you should talk to him about it."
"Me? Why me?"
"Who else is going to do it? Xander? And I wouldn't know where to start. At least you know something about being resurrected and not wanting to talk about it, right?"
Buffy guffawed. "Oh yeah. A whole year of depression really makes me Good Advice Girl. What am I going to tell him? Find himself a nice vampire girlfriend he can knock about...with. I don't think he'll be ready to take that kind of advice from me. He saw exactly how I was. Telling him to snap out of it would be really casting stones territory."
"But you got better. Spike knows that. Unless you're pretending again," said Dawn, giving her a suspicious look.
"No! I'm better. Totally fixed. Totally clueless about what to do with Spike, but totally fixed." Buffy sighed. "I promise I'll talk to him." She smiled at Dawn. "What would I do without my wise little sister?"
"Beats me. I'm way more grown-up than you sometimes," said Dawn as she broke her taco and got covered in gravy and tomato salsa.
The headlights of a car cast fleeting shadows across the sloping ceiling of Buffy's bedroom as it sped down the street. She turned to look at her clock and sighed. Buffy rarely woke up with a desire to pee in the middle of night, but when she did, there was nothing for it; she pulled on a robe and answered the call of nature. Coming out of the bathroom, she noticed a light downstairs and went to investigate.
Spike was sitting at the desk in the living-room; this time, Giles' books were cast aside, and he was working on Willow's computer. Buffy smiled at the thought of a nineteenth century vampire having computer skills. She sashayed into the room, the robe she had inherited from her mother creating a soft swishing noise as she came to stand beside Spike.
He didn't look at her, choosing instead to concentrate on the screen. His face was drawn and tired; not surprising, considering it was three in the morning. Buffy wondered how often he stayed up this late. It wasn't unusual these days for her to find that things had been moved during the night.
"Hello, staying-uppy person. What are you doing still awake?" asked Buffy. "Don't you need to get up in the morning to go down the docks or something?"
"Oh, I'll be all right. Don't need much sleep."
"Guess that's what you get for taking a nap after dinner."
Spike chuckled, but still didn't take his eyes off the screen. Looking over his shoulder, Buffy could see a picture of a young woman with straight blonde hair and a sad look on her face. It looked like a still from a security camera. Buffy's heart missed a beat when she recognised the man standing behind the woman.
"Yeah, big fat slob these days, isn't he? He's obviously been going heavy on the old pig's blood." Spike shrugged and tapped the screen, on the woman's face. "I'm more interested in Darla, actually. Curious to know how she was when she was brought back human, before Dru turned her again." A wicked smile lit up his face. "Apparently, according to this web site, Peaches had a crisis of faith and jumped her, hoping to lose his soul. Gained a son instead. Darla obviously didn't have the Buffy touch."
Buffy glared at him. "Maybe you should be getting more sleep after all. Seems to be affecting your mood."
"Chance would be a fine thing," he muttered. Then he shook his head and, without looking at Buffy, stood up. "Anyway. Fancy a drink?"
Buffy indicated that she didn't. When he left, she headed for the door, intent on returning to bed. She was in no mood for an argument with a bad-moody Spike. She reconsidered when she reached the door. Spike really needed her help, and she had promised Dawn that she would talk to him. Three in the morning was a classic time to find out what was bugging someone.
She sat down in the seat he had vacated and scrolled through the web page, following random links to see what Spike had been reading. The site was dedicated to the Master and his vampire progeny. There were sections on Darla, Drusilla, Spike and Angel -- several pages' worth, in the latter case -- and of course, a whole page on his son Connor. Who seemed to be also called Stephen, and appeared to be in his teens. None of which made sense, though that wasn't Buffy's main interest at that point. Glancing to her left to make sure Spike wasn't coming back, she clicked on the section dedicated to 'William the Bloody'. There were several screens of text, pictures from his past, and a link to a thesis someone at the Council of Watchers had written on him. Buffy was most interested in the pictures.
The earliest showed him as a longhaired youth, dressed up like something from the Waltons, with an oversized shirt and buttoned pants held up by braces. Dru sat by his side, a deceptively demure figure wrapped in shawls and frills, her dark hair trailing on her shoulders. Buffy smiled at the couple's shiny Marcel waves in the Twenties, and at Spike's dark James Dean coif a few decades later. A colour picture showed him in a bowler hat, one eye made up with exaggerated false eyelashes, as he mugged for the camera with an evil smirk on his handsome face.
Less amusing was the picture of the vampire couple posing in front of a Nazi flag. And the one where Spike had thrown a casual arm around Dru's shoulder as she cradled the body of a dead child, its lifeless eyes staring at the camera from a small face caked with blood. The picture sent shivers down Buffy's spine as she remembered Spike and Pepito playing together earlier that evening.
Scrolling further down, Buffy was horrified to find that the most recent photo was one of Spike with her. They were standing together in the woods, Spike's hands resting on her shoulders, his expression grim but determined. Buffy's face was turned away from the camera, but she knew exactly at what moment this picture had been taken. It was the night of the wonky time demons, when she had discovered Katrina's body. Tears stung her eyes when she remembered what else had happened that night. But that was all in the past, like Spike's crimes and his desperate attempt to rape her. They were different people now.
"Doesn't make for cheerful reading, does it, love?"
Spike's voice behind her made Buffy jump. She sprang out of the chair and turned to face him. He was holding a cup of tea and a plate of cheese and biscuits.
"Still creeping up on people, I see," she said nervously.
"Old habits die hard," he said, managing to look sinister despite the glasses and beard.
With Spike standing so close, Buffy was suddenly acutely aware that she was wearing only a flimsy robe. Looking down, she noticed that it had fallen open, uncovering one leg almost to the crotch. She closed it with haste, then realised that Spike wasn't even looking at her. His red-rimmed eyes were still on the screen. He sipped his cup of tea.
"I see your nerdy friends made the most of their hidden cameras."
Buffy glanced at the photograph. "Guess so. It makes sense that they would send all their stuff out on the Internet." Spike looked miserable; she tried to think of something that might cheer him up. "I hope they didn't catch the two of us on film. That's definitely the type of thing they'd want on the Internet!"
Spike nodded, clearly not listening to her. He seemed to be lost in thought. Determined to keep her promise to Dawn and talk things out with him, Buffy put her hand on his arm.
"Spike, are you okay? You said you'd be okay, but I'm kinda getting the vibe that you're not. I know I've been all with the 'everyone is happy, lalala', but if something is bothering you, you'll let me know, right?"
"What, like the fact that you seem be channelling Anya?" he said with a smile, taking Buffy's hand off him. His smile faded and he went to sit on the couch. He placed his cup and plate on the coffee table, then leaned on his knees, looking down. "All right, I'll admit that I'm having some little problems with the guilt. Problems like not being able to sleep at night. It's to be expected, right? But I'm not going to sit around moping about it. I'm in control of my destiny as a human being, and I'm...controlling it."
"Good. Because controlling your destiny? Totally a good thing. If you're controlling it for good, obviously." She came to sit beside him and helped herself to a piece of Cheddar. "I didn't know you liked cheese."
"There are lots of things you don't know about me, love."
Evidently, thought Buffy as she sampled another piece of cheese. There were three varieties on the plate Spike had prepared; she made a mental note to check the wrappers in the morning to find out what they were. Somehow, she felt that initiating a conversation about cheese with Spike right then would be anticlimactic. She had a far more serious matter to discuss with him.
"Spike, can I ask you a question? How does Oedipus fit in to all this? I-I saw your drawing."
Spike's expression turned stormy. "You're spying on me?"
"No. I'm sorry, you left your notepad on the counter and I-- I thought it might mean something. Something I could help you with. I don't know much, but I know he's the guy who killed his father and slept with his mother, then gouged out his own eyes." She looked at him with fear. "Is that what you did? I mean, the killing and sleeping thing, not the eye bit, obviously."
"No." Spike rolled his eyes. "That's Angelus' brief. Mind you, technically, Dru was my 'mother' since she sired me. But Oedipus... It's a long story." He stood up and went back to the desk to look at the drawing on his notepad. "It's just a poignant image of a man who can't bear what he's done."
"Yeah, I guess that makes sense." Buffy was disappointed. "I just thought there might be more to it."
"There is, actually," said Spike, his back still turned. "After his crimes were discovered, Oedipus was shunned by everyone except his daughter Antigone. He was exiled for years, until he became the subject of another prophecy, which said he'd bring a blessing to anyone who took him in and gave him a final resting place. Chap called Theseus did it and got the blessing."
"So... Does that make me Theseus?" asked Buffy, coming to stand beside him.
Spike laughed. "Very good, pet. You'd come first in a game of 'connect the dots'. Yeah, I can see you as Theseus. He's the one who defeated the Minotaur and founded Athens. Big hero type. Definitely very you."
"Cool," said Buffy with a grin. "So what happened to Oedipus? He just died?"
"Yes. But the interesting thing is, Sophocles never tells the audience whether he went to heaven or to hell. I suppose it doesn't matter in the end. He's done evil, he's done good, but we never find out if the good outstripped the evil. What's important is that he did good after he did evil, not whether he got a reward for it. Or maybe I'm projecting. Oh, I don't know." He shrugged and, realising that Buffy was standing right next to him, went to sit on the couch again. "It's late; you should be getting some sleep, not listening to me whinge."
Buffy sat beside him, wrapping her robe tightly around her. "You're not whinging; you've got good reasons to be unhappy. And I want to help. You tried to help me when I was kind of in the whole guilty about the way I felt thing last year, after all. And it did help. Sometimes." Spike was still looking away from her, his long hair hiding his face. "So, why don't we talk about it? Are you feeling guilty and you think you shouldn't feel guilty, or are you feeling guilty about not feeling guilty enough?"
"Oh, I've got the guilt, and I'm dealing with the guilt," said Spike with determination. "You deal with the guilt, you do good things, you move on, right? Brooding is just a waste of time. Just becomes self-pity after a while."
"Totally." Buffy nodded, though she wondered if the brooding bit was a dig at Angel. "I think you're doing really well, Spike." She put her hand on his knee. "You're a really good person."
Spike stood up with a sarcastic little laugh. "Not really. But I can be. It's all about potential, right? That's why I became human." Buffy watched his prominent Adam's apple quiver beneath his beard as he struggled to find the right words. "Thing is, it's not what I expected. I thought having a soul meant I'd know what's right and wrong, where I belong, what I need to do to be good. But it doesn't. I'm just as lost as I was when I was a vampire."
"Except that now, you're a good person," insisted Buffy. "You're connecting with people you don't know, even helping complete strangers."
"Skip the broken record, Buffy," he said, glowering at her through his glasses. "How do you know that I'm good now? I made friends and helped strangers when I was a vampire too. But I was evil, so it didn't matter, right?" He raised his hand before Buffy could answer. "I know, I know. Didn't have the whole good and evil concepts worked out right, and that's true. A soul makes a big difference when it comes to understanding things. Even caught the old September-the-elenventhitis."
Spike waved his hand at the television and started pacing. "Last year, it was all 'Brilliant, they knocked the towers down!', now I get the-- the whole thing. People waving towels out of windows above the point of impact, jumping out of the hundredth floor, that stuff. I get it. I understand why evil is bad." He smoothed his long hair back. "But that's the thing, isn't it? What's the point me being a bloody human if Ossama-blimming-Laden can kill as many people in one day as I ate in a year? Ten years, even!"
"There's no reason to think you're still going to be a murderer just because one other human is," said Buffy. She stood up and took a step in his direction, but he nailed her to the spot with a withering glare. "Most humans aren't like that, Spike."
"Most humans aren't like that?" exclaimed Spike, increasingly agitated. "I lived in bloody Nazi Germany. Given the right incentive, every human is like that. You know the first thing I saw when I came out of the bloody jungle and collapsed in Père Debaecke's mission? Rwandan refugees. Survivors of the massacre eight years ago. There was this little girl, about thirteen years old. Must have been five when the massacres happened. They'd hacked off her arms and legs. Probably raped her too, then left her for dead. She didn't speak. Didn't do much; couldn't, really, with all her limbs missing."
He lifted his heavy glasses for a moment to rub the bridge of his nose. "She smiled when she saw me; thought I was hilarious with my white skin and peroxide hair. But the point is, humans did that to her. No demons, no witches, just plain human nature. Neighbour turned against neighbour. And there I was, crawling out of my cave with my brand new beating heart, thinking it was going to cure me of being a monster. It made me realise I might have lost my physical demon, but the real one was still in here." He pressed his hand to his chest. "Made me wonder why I bothered. I mean, what difference does it make, being a vampire or a man when men do such awful things?"
"You know me. Not Philosophy Girl here," started Buffy, moving closer to him. "But I guess as I see it, the difference between a vampire and a man, is that the man has a choice whether to hack off the little girl's limbs or make her smile."
"I made her smile all right." Spike stopped his incessant movement and closed his eyes. "But last year, I made you smile too, once or twice. And in the end, I still couldn't bloody control myself." He opened his eyes again, fixing his shiny blue gaze on Buffy. "When push comes to shove, who's to say I'm not going to be the man with the machete?"
"I guess you're right: we don't know." She took his hands. "But things are different, Spike. That September-the-eleventhitis makes all the difference." Now that she had his complete attention, Buffy smoothed a lock of curly hair behind Spike's ear. "All vampires are killers. Only some humans are killers. So as a new human, I can assume that you're not a killer until you actually kill. I can give you the benefit of the doubt."
"I suppose so," conceded Spike. He pulled away from her and went to get some cheese from the coffee table.
"So we're all agreed," said Buffy, pointing at him. "No more 'some humans are bad so I must be bad' crap. You should repeat 'I am a good person' five times every morning, just to get used to the idea."
"Yes, mistress." He smiled at her, then lowered his eyes. "'I am a good person' will certainly make a change from the old 'I am an evil, disgusting thing'."
Buffy looked at herself in the mirror and sighed. She had opted for a subdued look: hair done up in a loose bun, a top that hid her top and a bottom that hid her bottom. She looked nice. Not sexy or sassy, just nice. Seemed good for an evening with her last remaining high school friend.
When she came downstairs, Buffy was relieved to see Spike at the door, getting ready to go out with his co-workers. She had barely seen him since their quasi-heart to heart two nights earlier. He was gone before she woke up in the mornings, and stayed only long enough to have some dinner in the evenings.
Spike was putting on a brown corduroy jacket that looked like it came from a Goodwill shop. He glanced at Buffy's sleeveless knitted top with amusement.
"What happened - didn't have enough wool for the sleeves?" He grinned when Buffy gave him a dirty look. "You look lovely. I'm sure Xander will be impressed."
"Yeah." Buffy put her hands behind her back and looked at the floor. "So, I didn't hear you come home last night. What were you doing?"
"I had a job interview. Bartender; they thought I should see the place in full swing. Met someone I knew, actually." He raised his finger. "You sort of know her too. She's that English girl I was talking to the other week." Buffy wasn't sure what to make of that. He was seeing strange women behind her back? "She's a nice girl. Invited me to a party."
Attracted by the sound of the word 'party', Dawn came out of the living room. "A party? Can I come?"
"No, you can't," Spike told her. "It's adults only."
"Adults only?" Dawn made a face. "What is it, an orgy?"
Spike laughed. "I don't think so. Probably just means there'll be a great deal of booze." He gave Buffy a friendly smile. "It's a bring your own friends kind of party, though, so you can come along. Seeing as you're all free, white and twenty-one."
Buffy tried to frown, then returned his smile reluctantly. "Don't say that kind of thing in public!"
"Yeah. Politically incorrect is my middle name. Anyway, I must be off." He rummaged in his pockets. "Let's see, driver's licence, car papers, keys. I think I have everything."
"You have a driver's licence?" exclaimed Dawn with excitement. "Can I see it?"
"No," said Spike automatically. She gave him a pleading look, and he relented. "No laughing at the picture, right?"
"Promise!" Dawn snatched the card out of his hands and scrutinised it. "Gee, you couldn't have picked a worse picture, could you?" She looked up at him. "1977? You want people to believe you're twenty-five?"
"Why, what's wrong with that?" Spike snatched the driver's licence back. "You don't think I look twenty-five?"
"More like twenty-five going on forty," said Dawn with a mischievous grin.
"Well, that's not bad for someone who's 158," grumbled Spike as he opened the front door. He came nose to nose with Xander. "All things considered, I think I look a lot better than some 21-year-olds."
Buffy actually thought that Xander was looking very good. His hair was neatly cut and he was wearing a light blue shirt and dark slacks. By comparison, Spike looked old-fashioned and scruffy. He had slicked back his long hair into a ponytail; between that and the beard, all he needed was a beer belly and an earring, and he would have made a perfect Hell's Angel. Minus the corduroy jacket, obviously.
The two men glared at each other while Spike pushed out the door. As soon as the former vampire was outside, Xander turned to Buffy with an evil grin. Well, what passed for an evil grin anyway; it was kinda goofy.
"Buffy, did you know someone dumped their old car on your driveway?" He said in a loud voice. "I haven't seen a Yugo in years. You know the joke: 'Yugo, but it doesn't'." He looked over his shoulder and shook his head. "Wow. That is quite some pile of junk!"
"Well, you know me. Always wanted a little pile of junk to call my own," said Spike, standing behind him. He took a look at Xander's flashy new car and grinned. "What can I say, mate? Some of us don't need to compensate."
"Compensate?" repeated Xander with a laugh. He pointed at the Yugo. "You would have to be hung like a--" He noticed Dawn standing in the doorway to the living room and stopped abruptly. Spike laughed; Dawn and Xander looked at Buffy.
"Come on, Xander. Let's go," said Buffy, pushing him down the porch steps. Spike's need to compensate or lack thereof was not something she was prepared to discuss with any of them. "Dawn, make sure you keep everything locked up. I won't be home late."
"Evening with Harris, I should think not," said Spike as he got in the Yugo. "You take care of yourself, nibblet."
Dawn assured them both that everything would be fine, and Buffy followed Xander to his car. He leaned on his steering wheel for a while, watching Spike back out of the driveway and then rattle off.
"You know, I'm not a petty man," he started. "But I have to say that seeing Spike drive a Yugo has pretty much made my day."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Yeah. Way to go with the not pettiness. I'm sure you and Spike can have a pissing contest later. Can we go now?"
The Bronze just wasn't what it used to be, thought Buffy wistfully. Gone were the hip teenagers from Sunnydale High. It looked as if most of the patrons were thirtysomething executives now; people with jobs, and mortgages, and responsibilities. Just like Xander and herself. Minus the being a thirtysomething executive part.
So far, the two high school friends had talked about the demons Buffy had slayed, about Xander's construction work, about how Dawn was doing at school. They had even touched upon the issue of whether the US should get involved in a war with Iraq. In short, they had talked about everything except Spike. Of course, that couldn't last.
"So, what is with the bearded wonder these days anyway?" asked Xander. "He seems very happy for someone who ate, murdered and raped his way across the world for two hundred years. You'd think he would at least have the grace to feel sorry about what he did. Especially what he did to you."
"Oh, yeah. Because what he nearly did to me was so much worse than all the eating, murdering and actual raping he did." Buffy shook her head. "Well, for your info, he's not happy, no matter how cheerful he might look. I live with him, I see him every day, and I know it's all a front. He doesn't sleep. He can't look at himself in a mirror. He's drawing garish pictures of himself as Oedipus tearing his eyes out. He's not all broody like Angel, but I know he's totally with the guilt."
"Oedipus? What, like the play we did at the high school talent show?"
"The play we did at the -- Oh, my God. I forgot all about that!" Buffy looked down into her glass of wine with horror. "I played Oedipus' Mom!"
"Yeah. Load of crap. And I am so glad I've never had to learn lines since. I'm totally not with the learning lines." Xander shrugged, then turned to Buffy with a shocked expression. "Spike slept with his Mom?"
"No, it's a guilt thing. Oedipus did horrible things, Spike did horrible things. Oedipus gouged out his eyes, Spike is kinda, well, not Spike anymore. But that doesn't matter." She noticed that Xander had finished his beer. "Here, I'll get some more drink."
Moving to the centre of the room, Buffy hopped up and down to see how big the throng around the bar was. Only two or three people deep, with two bartenders serving. She could probably get a drink in fifteen minutes.
Looking around while she waited, she noticed Spike leaning at the bar. He was talking to a big, burly guy covered in tattoos. The contrast in size made Spike look very small and delicate. His face was animated, and he was gesturing as if he were telling the man a fascinating story. Buffy wondered what stories he could tell; it would take an enormous pack of lies to transform Spike's past life into anything he could relate to a stranger. But it was good to see him so intense, a little of his old fire coming back. She pushed her way through the crowd to see if she could hear anything, slipping in behind Spike, where he wouldn't notice her.
"That's the thing, see?" he was saying. "It's nearly impossible to do on your own, but once you've got a leg up, and someone says 'Go on, son, you can do it', then you've got a fighting chance, right?"
"Yeah. I get that," said the other guy.
"See, the thing is, we've supposedly 'paid our debt to society', but now we've got to prove it. The rest of our lives has to be proof that we've learned our lesson and that we've changed our ways."
"Totally." The man leaned towards him and spoke in a low voice that Buffy's Slayer senses could barely pick up. "William, don't look now, but I think that girl behind you totally digs you."
"Blonde hair, big eyes, knee-high to a grasshopper?" Spike spun around. "Hello, Buffy. I know you liked spying on me, but this is getting a bit much, don't you think?"
"I don't spy on you!" She looked at Spike's friend with embarrassment. "I totally don't. He's lying. I just...wondered what you were talking about."
"Redemption. Joe here went to jail too," he said, giving Buffy a significant 'play along with this' look. "We were discussing how you become a good person again when you've been really, really bad."
The bartender came over with several beers. There were apparently more drinks to come; Spike said he would wait for them. Joe excused himself to carry the first batch over to the other workers.
"You're an ex-con now?" exclaimed Buffy the minute Joe was out of earshot. "Spike--"
"Had to come up with something, didn't I?" said Spike with a shrug. "When Joe gave me his sob story about being a jailbird, I thought 'hey, kindred spirit'. Told him I was in the clink in England, though, in case he started getting technical. I can always draw on old episodes of Porridge for witty anecdotes... Porridge is a British sitcom about a prison, in case you're wondering."
"The British have a sitcom about a prison?" Buffy raised her hand. "I know, British humour. I wouldn't understand."
"So where's hyena boy?" asked Spike, looking around. "Weren't you two having a hot date?"
"It was not a hot date, and he's over there, waiting for his drink." Buffy pointed to where she and Xander had been sitting, but he was nowhere to be seen. Needless to say, the seats were already re-occupied. She turned back towards Spike. "You think I'm dating Xander?"
"No," he said with a chuckle. "If you were, he'd be round your place every day marking his territory. But you could do a lot worse. He's a decent fellow when he's not being a jerk."
"So are you. Look, I love Xander very much. He's my best friend, the only person I know who has never abandoned me. But I would never date him in a million years; it's too squicky and he's just not my type. And why are you singing his praises all of a sudden anyway? I thought you--"
She realised that Spike was looking over her shoulder with a sheepish smile. "Oh, hello, mate," he said. "We were just talking about you." He picked up the drinks which had accumulated on the counter. "If you'll excuse me. I have a bunch of thirsty dockers to water."
"No, don't--" started Buffy. She watched him join his friends at the pool table, and sticking his tongue out as he lowered the drinks onto a nearby table. Buffy rolled her eyes and turned towards Xander. "Look, I didn't mean--"
"To hurt me. I know. I guess I have to face the fact that a long-haired murderer who drives a Yugo always gets the girl."
Buffy resisted the urge to punch him. "That's harsh, Xander. First, I'm not a 'girl' to be gotten. Second, Spike isn't getting me. I'm helping him through a very difficult period in his life because he needs me and it's the right thing to do!"
"The right thing to do is chuck him out and let someone else deal with him," said Xander, pointing at Spike. "He has friends now, and you don't owe him anything, even if he did become human to get back in your pants. I don't like seeing you being manipulated by that murderous rapist!"
"I'm not being manipulated. God, Xander, give me some credit here!" She clutched her purse and walked past him. "I'm going home. I told Dawn I would be home early."
Xander caught her arm. "Buffy. Don't let that asshole--"
"Oi, leave her alone!" Spike was now standing beside him. "You have a problem with the 'asshole', maybe you should take it up with him, not Buffy."
"Yeah. I will." Xander let go of Buffy and spun on Spike. They were roughly the same height, and were able to glare at each other eye to eye. "What's with the new Neanderthal look, Spike? Guess when you asked to be made 'human', you forgot to specify 'homo sapiens', huh?"
Spike rubbed his hairy cheek with a chuckle. "Well, ever since I've become human, I must admit I feel as if my knuckles are scraping the floor. It's not easy being a monkey again."
"On behalf of my six billion co-monkeys: 'hey!'," exclaimed Xander. He poked Spike in the chest. "I'm not taking that kind of talk from someone who looks like a mouldy old college professor."
Spike looked down at his beige sweater and dark pants. He spread his hands with resignation. "Just goes to show," he said, speaking to himself rather than Xander. "No matter how far you run or how hard you fight it, you always turn into your old Dad."
Xander blanched. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Your father was a college professor?" asked Buffy, though neither man acknowledged her.
A wicked smile lit up Spike's face as he leaned towards Xander; Buffy could nearly see the peroxide hair growing back. "That's right. Have some father issues, don't we, thumper? Old man always at your Mum, grinding her down, humiliating her in front of all her mates. Oh yes, I can see it writ large. All those years of picking over every little thing Anya said--"
"Don't you talk about Anya!"
"--poking fun at her unhuman ways. I know who you take after, mate. You might have left the basement and run all the way into a Chrysler Sebring and a flat in the sky, but you're still going to turn out just like your good old Dad."
Xander seized Spike's sweater and threw him against a column. "I'm not going to stand here and be insulted by a disgusting rapist like you, Spike. I'm not afraid of you. You're just a vile manipulative liar. I don't buy this 'I'm so sorry' routine, and I'm guessing you didn't become human to take up a job with Amnesty International. Why did you do it, Spike? Discovered that raping her wasn't going to work and decided to turn on the pathos instead? It's obviously working. She's so blinded by whatever it is that makes you so irresistible to her, that she's letting you walk all over her."
"Hey. 'Her' is standing right here!" exclaimed Buffy. She threw her hands up in the air when both men ignored her. "Oh. Testosterone poisoning. I forgot."
"I am not manipulating her," said Spike through clenched teeth. He shoved Xander away. "Buffy's a big girl. She doesn't need some toothless puppy dog to defend her."
Buffy crossed her arms. "Thank you."
"She's not that strong, or she wouldn't have let a creep like you even get near enough to try to rape her. If I'd caught you after you did that to her--"
"Believe me, there are days I wish you had. Look, I'll leave you alone." Spike went to walk past him. "I have no quarrel with you, Xander."
The other man caught him by the arm. "Hey, I'm talking to you, you bastard. Why don't you just explain why you became human, huh? Thought it would make you any less of a worthless asshole? You know what your problem is, Spike? You don't know when to give up. She'll never love you, not really. Whatever she felt was all about your strength and the thrill of you being a vampire. You're just a loser, Spike."
Buffy could only see Spike's face in profile, but even under the beard and glasses, she recognised the expression on his face. "Xander!" she warned.
But it was too late; Spike drove his fist back over his shoulder, dealing Xander a hard blow to the nose. He spun around and caught the other man by the shirt before he fell to the ground.
"Fair enough. But you know what your problem is, Xander? You're the kind of guy who thinks that being bullied at school gives you a right to be a jerk." Spike staggered back as Xander shoved him off. "Well, I know all about that, mate. Why don't we go outside and see who's the biggest bully?"
"Okay. I'm out of here!" exclaimed Buffy, waving her arms to make sure they both saw her. "I'm way too old to be playing in a sandbox!"
"Who do they think they were, anyway?" muttered Buffy as she hurried home through the alleys of Sunnydale. "Fighting like school kids! Way to go with the mature. Spike is twenty-five?" She guffawed. "More like five. When is he going to learn that his fists aren't going to solve his problems?" Looking down, Buffy realised that her outfit was covered in vampire dust. "Oh, crap. Vampire dust again. I should bottle it and sell it. There must be someone somewhere who could use it. God knows spells use every other bizarro ingredient in the universe. There must be one that uses vampire dust!"
Buffy kicked a can out of her way. She had killed two vampires and still she was in a bad mood. Very unusual. And it was all Spike's fault. That bastard, coming back all human and remorseful, and then not wanting to talk about things, and being all weird and different. And then picking a fight with Xander out of the blue. She had thought Spike had changed! But no, it was still all macho, 'I'm the Big Bad'-ness all around.
Buffy turned and punched her hand clean through the bulky demon that had been shadowing her, pulling out its guts and tossing them to the ground with disgust.
"Why won't he talk to me? Tell me how he really feels about having his soul back?" she asked the demon as it lunged towards her again. She kicked it hard. "And why does he get to be normal guy? It's just not fair." Buffy broke the demon's neck. "He gets to have all these friends and a normal job, and a whole future to look forward to." She pouted as the demon dissolved. "And the only friend I have left is Xander."
Infomercials. More brain-numbing and soul-sucking than a...brain-numbing, soul-sucking thing. Buffy stared at the screen, mesmerised by the whole idiocy of big-haired, toothy actresses waxing lyrical about the properties of a toilet brush. Dawn had long since gone to bed, but Buffy had decided to wait for Spike to come home. It was time she gave him a piece of her mind.
Unable to stand the inanity of late night television any longer, she turned off the TV and walked over to the desk to look at the papers Spike had left there. He had evidently continued his studies; there were print outs and pieces of paper with hand-written notes on them shoved into virtually every book. Most were about vampires, and in particular Darla, but one, written in very small handwriting on the back of one of her mother's old business cards, looked like a rhyme. Bringing the paper up to the lamp, Buffy was just able to read it.
So I return to the land of painted grass
Where in silicon breasts beat hearts of glass
Victorious in my trials, I bow my head in defeat
As I lay my weary warrior's body at my love's stony feet
Buffy stared at the paper for a moment, shaken by the idea of Spike writing poetry. What did it mean? Was she still the 'love' he mentioned in the poem? If so, what did the 'silicon breasts' and 'stony feet' mean? And did Spike really think fake breasts were made of the same stuff as computer chips?
She was still puzzling over the poem when she heard the sound of a key in the door. Caught unawares, Buffy hastily pushed the card back into one of the books, but not fast enough that Spike didn't notice.
"What are you doing?" he growled. He wasn't wearing his glasses, and she got the full effect of his blue-eyed glare.
"N-Nothing." She faced him and crossed her arms. "So who won?"
"What?" Spike was still looking at the papers. "Oh. You mean me and Xander. It was a draw." His lips twisted into something that was not quite a smile. "He broke my glasses; I tossed him into a dustbin. We called it quits. Spent the evening down the Jackrabbit with my mates from work. The Jackrabbit actually looks quite posh when you can't see a bloody thing. Though the girls looked a bit like gyrating Energizer bunnies: fuzzy and pink." He frowned. "Were you reading my things?"
"I wasn't-- I was bored and so I was looking around. And--And you left them there! It's not like I'm poking around your room." Spike lowered his eyes with a tilt of the head which acknowledged this point. "Anyway, Xander broke your glasses? What are you going to do?"
"Not see for a while. He said he'd get me a new pair." Spike smiled. "Seems we're best mates now. Mind you, he was pretty rat-arsed." He leaned against the wall, and stared at the floor with a gloomy expression.
Buffy approached, but tonight, he didn't pull away. The speech she had prepared to give him, berating him for letting Xander goad him into a fist fight, had completely dropped out of her head.
"What's wrong, Spike?" she asked with concern.
Spike glanced at Buffy, then looked away, shaking his head sheepishly. He looked ashamed and upset. Even though she didn't understand what was wrong, Buffy slid one arm around his neck, drawing him close to her for a consoling hug. He nuzzled her cheek, his warm breath and prickly beard tickling her skin. Her heartbeat quickened as his arms slid around her. He smelled of shampoo and sweat; she turned her face towards his. Their lips touched once, barely brushing against each other, and then a second time, this time in a quick, chaste kiss.
Buffy drew away slightly to stare at Spike. His eyes were hooded, his lips parted by his ragged breath. She felt a rush of desire at the realisation that he wanted her, and leaned forward to renew the kiss. Spike pulled away.
"Oh, God." He stepped back and raised his hand. "Not a good idea. We agreed, right?"
"Yeah. Of course." He was right. Kissing Spike was not good. Not good at all. "You're right, we agreed. It-it's just because it's late, and you seemed so unhappy, and you... smell really good."
Spike burst out laughing. "God, that's-- That certainly puts things into perspective." He pressed his hand to his forehead and turned away. "Sorry, pet, I'm afraid my days of offering a stud service to the dumped, deranged and desperate of Sunnydale are over. We've been doing really well, yeah, and I don't want everything to be spoiled because I exude pheromones or whatever it is I do." He waved towards her as he backed away. "So that didn't happen, right?"
"Yeah, sure, whatever." Buffy put her hands on her hips as she realised what he had said. "Wait a minute. What do you mean, dumped, deranged and desperate? Are you talking about me?"
"Oh, for fuck's sake." Spike rolled his eyes. "Just forget it. I'm going to bed."
Buffy caught his sleeve as he tried to walk out the door. "No. Tell me. What do you mean?"
Spike twisted his arm out of her grasp, then grabbed her by the shoulders and slammed her against the desk. Realising what he was doing, he let go of her and stepped away, though his expression remained angry.
"What I mean," he said through clenched teeth, "is that I know exactly what you want from me. You're dressing it up with Mother Theresa kindness, but the bottom line is that it's the same thing Dru, and Harmony, and Anya wanted from me. And what I want, is to be treated like a human being. Like a man." He pointed at her. "This stuff, you don't need me for. It's nothing a couple of fingers and the blunt end of a stake can't fix."
"Wh-What?" stuttered Buffy. "I never-- How do you know--What did you say?"
He didn't answer, just ran up the stairs and into his room without a further word. Buffy stood in the hallway, aroused and angry. And very confused. Spike was rejecting her; in what bizarro dimension did that ever happen? Maybe he had come to the same conclusion as Angel and Riley, and had decided to have nothing to do with her now that he was a fragile human. What if he really didn't want her? Nobody else ever did, after all; she had to be the worst girlfriend in the universe. Why would Spike love someone like her now that he had a soul and was trying to be good?
Buffy took a deep breath to calm herself down. It probably wasn't even her fault; he was going through a rough patch, and he still wanted her enough to kiss her. So it would be okay. She'd work things out with him another day.
"Is everything okay?" Dawn was halfway down the stairs, peeping over the banisters. "I could hear you and Spike fighting."
Buffy sighed. "It's me and Spike. Fighting is what we do, remember?"
Buffy groaned as the vampire threw her against a crypt wall, crushing the wind out of her. He turned her around, pressing her back against the fraying concrete.
"Not so cocky now, huh, Slayer?" he said, gripping her by the throat.
"No." Buffy ran her hand down the front of his outdated jeans. "Guess I'm not the cocky one now." She pushed him to the ground and straddled him. "This isn't what I want, you know." She moaned when he tore open her shirt. "I want a normal man. I want a normal life. It's my reward for being a good Slayer."
"Pigs might fly," said Spike, standing beside her in his leather coat, a cigarette in his hand. "You're not normal. You're a freak." He threw away the cigarette. "And now I'm human, I can't be your sex toy anymore."
"No, really, I don't need to do vampires," Buffy assured him. The vamp had stripped her completely now and slipped one hand in between her legs. Another vampire came up from behind and started to caress her breasts. She leaned back into his embrace, exposing her neck, letting him bite her. The first vampire sat up beneath her; she threw her head back and moaned as he penetrated her. She was surrounded by vampires now; overwhelmed by their desire and need for her. "No, I don't need vampires," she sighed. "This is a Slayer thing. I'm not like this."
"Oh, drop it, William," said Xander, walking up to Spike. "Leave the weirdo in Weirdsville. Come on, we have a game of basketball to play." He threw the orange ball at Spike. It missed him completely and bounded away in the cemetery. Buffy caught it. "Okay, so we'll play without the ball."
"We always have to play without balls," said Spike with a shrug. "She always takes them away."
Buffy looked at the ball, then at the vampires around her. She pulled out a stake and dusted them all in turn. Some struggled, some fought her, some even managed to get in a few blows. But in the end, they were all reduced to dust. It covered her, obscuring her naked body.
"I don't want to hurt you," she said, holding out the ball to Spike.
"You will anyway. You're a killer." He pointed at the dust covering her. "This is what you do to all your lovers. Grind them down." He dug his hands in his pockets. "The fact is, only a soulless being could love a bitch like you."
He turned away and walked off with Xander. Some other men were waiting in a basketball court down the cemetery path. Although they were far away, Buffy thought she recognised Angel and Riley among them.
"No!" screamed Buffy. "This isn't right. You're the one who came back, Spike. You can't just leave like this."
All he did was shrug. "It's for your own good."
Buffy woke up with a start, tears welling in her eyes. It was daylight outside. She resisted the urge to run into Spike's bedroom and check that he was still there. It had taken her two hours to get to sleep after her encounter with him the previous evening, and the night had been haunted with dreams of him abandoning her, telling her she was evil and disgusting, and that he didn't want her anymore.
"He's not going anywhere," she told herself. "He just doesn't want to sleep with me. And that's totally okay. Very reasonable."
Buffy got up and looked out of her bedroom window. Dawn was on the front lawn, talking to a young blonde woman who was carrying Pepito on her hip. Buffy assumed this was Mrs Koslowski's daughter Melissa, though she had never actually met her. She dressed in a hurry, but by the time she came downstairs, Pepito's mother had gone back into her own house.
"Hi, Buffy," said Dawn, leaning against the Yugo. "Melissa is baking cookies. She says she'll bring some out for us." She frowned. "How come you never make cookies?"
Buffy waggled a finger at her. "Hey, I'm still working on the Mom thing. You can't expect everything." She paused, before adding, "Is Spike around?"
"No." Dawn shrugged. "He was gone when I got up." Buffy felt a cold dread come over her, though her sister didn't seem to notice. "Maybe they work on Saturdays down the docks."
"He went to work without the Yugo?"
Dawn wasn't listening. "Say, isn't that Xander's car?" she added, pointing up the road.
Sure enough, the sleek silver vehicle was cruising up the street and stopped outside their house. Xander got out first, carrying a power drill.
"One more word from you," he told someone in the car, "and I'm gonna use this to drill a hole in your head!"
"I'd like to see you try!" exclaimed Spike, coming out the other side of the car. He frowned. "On second thoughts, don't. I've had enough people poking around my head."
Buffy stared at him as he sauntered over to join them on the front lawn. "Oh wow," she whispered.
He had had a complete makeover. The beard was gone, the hair was short, and the glasses were trendy, with a thin black frame. Added to the light blue turtleneck he was wearing, the new look made him look...hot. Buffy was rendered completely speechless. She had nearly forgotten how handsome he was under all that hair.
"Wow!" exclaimed Dawn. "Way to go with the makeover!"
Spike gave her a sheepish smile and jerked his thumb at Xander. "Well, you know, when people like Monkey Boy start calling you a caveman, it's time to take some action!" He laughed when he noticed the dirty look Xander gave him. "I mean, can't have Barney Rubble here outshining me!"
Buffy drew closer and felt her heart sink as she got a clearer view of Spike. His short hair was speckled with grey at the temples. Dawn was right; he didn't look twenty-five. Perhaps those 158 years were catching up with him. Buffy also noticed how piercing his blue eyes were. Especially rimmed with black bruises.
What are you gonna do, beat me up again?
Shocked by her own memories, Buffy took a step back. No wonder he didn't want to sleep with her. This wasn't me, she told herself firmly, I've changed. I wouldn't do that anymore. But how could Spike know that? His change was obvious, manifest in his beating heart. But there was no way to prove that she had changed.
She caught Spike's eye and wondered if he was thinking about the previous night. But he just looked away, concentrating on what Xander was saying.
"Can I just mention at this point that the whole makeover thing was entirely on me?" said Xander, shaking his head. He too had some minor cuts and bruises on his face. "This free-loading son of a b-- gun made me pay for everything."
"Hey, you broke my glasses, you berk. You owed me," said Spike with a smug grin. He pointed out his black eyes to Dawn. "We had a little argument yesterday. Pissing contest stuff. You wouldn't understand; it's a man thing. So anyway, since he redecorated my face last night; I thought he could pay to have it done properly today."
Dawn patted Spike's arm with false sincerity. "Aw, poor Spike. You're always getting beaten up, aren't you?"
"Jeez!" Xander took a step back and gesticulated at Spike. "That is so totally unfair. I get beaten up, knocked unconscious, and I pay for all the damages, but do I get any sympathy? Nadissimo. How do you do it and can I have some?"
Spike pushed his arms forward in a gesture reminiscent of the Fonz. "Hey, what can I say, mate? It's the 'knack'. Either you've got it--" He indicated himself. "--or you haven't." He indicated Xander.
"Okay, now I know why I hate you. It's not because of the whole vampire thing. It's the superior English thing." Xander poked Spike in the chest. "You're like Giles with a bad attitude."
"Ah, the famous American inferiority complex!" They scuffled playfully, trading further insults.
Buffy couldn't help laughing at their idiotic behaviour. She wished she knew what had happened that night to change them into best friends all of a sudden. Meanwhile, Dawn was observing Spike thoughtfully, her head cocked to one side. Then she pointed at him with an excited smile.
"I know who you remind me of. Wesley."
Xander guffawed. "Wesley? Oh, I like that!"
"Who's Wesley?" asked Spike.
"Faith's ex-watcher," explained Buffy. "Works with Angel now." Spike looked confused. "You do remember Faith. Psycho slayer?"
"Oh, yes, I heard of her. Seem to remember Sherlock Holmes here and his sidekick Dr Giles asking me to help them find her, actually." He smirked at Xander. "Never met her, mind you." He caught Buffy's eye briefly, but then looked over her shoulder. "Oh, hello, Melissa."
"William, is that you?" said Melissa. She handed around the tray of cookies she had brought, then stared at Spike in awe. "What a difference! Who would have thought there was such a handsome man under all that hair?" Spike looked pleased by the compliment; Buffy wished she had made it when it had first occurred to her. "And cool glasses. I told you new glasses would change your whole outlook on life."
"Well, they gave me a new prescription, so yeah, it's a different outlook all right. Kerbs and steps are a bit of a challenge right now." Melissa's hearty laugh suggested that she knew exactly what Spike was talking about. Buffy was mystified.
Spike introduced Melissa to Xander and pointed at the drill he was holding. "I'm a man of my word. I have procured the Tool." He wrapped his arm around Xander, pulling him none too gently towards the house. "Not only that, but the Tool Operator as well, who will be delighted to put up your Mum's shelves."
"What? You brought me here to put up shelves?" exclaimed Xander, as Spike and Melissa led him into the Koslowski's house. "Have I mentioned that I hate you, Spike?"
"Why the long face?" asked Xander, coming to join Buffy on her back porch later that day.
Buffy shrugged. "Oh, nothing. Not a long face." She moved over to let him sit beside her. "I guess I'm just worried about Spike, that's all."
"Yeah, me too." Xander sipped his bottle of beer. "Stuff we talked about last night. Not pretty."
The object of their discussion was kicking a volleyball around the back yard, trying to work up a soccer game with Melissa, Dawn, and Pepito. It was fortunate that backyard soccer was a simple game, because they were all hopeless at it. Even Spike. Definitely an armchair sportsman.
"You talked to Spike?" asked Buffy. "What did he say? I've tried to get him to talk to me, but he won't tell me anything. It's like this brick wall comes down every time."
"He can't talk to you, Buffy," said Xander. "Think about it from his perspective. You're his last victim. You're why he did this to himself. He's not going to tell you how hard it is for him. He doesn't want your pity."
"Is that what he told you?"
Xander half-shrugged. "No, but it's the feeling I got. To be honest, I don't think you'd want to hear all the stuff in his head. It's bad, really bad. No wonder Angel was such a brooding pain." He shook his head. "Jeez, Spike's so ashamed of everything he did as a vampire, and that's 99.9% of everything he's ever done in his life. I don't know how he gets up in the morning."
"Dawn knocks on his door... Which obviously isn't what you mean." Buffy looked down at the drink she was holding. "I know he's having trouble, and I want to help him. But I don't know what to do."
"Just do what you're doing now. Be supportive. Just be like 'go, Spike'! It means a lot to him. He did tell me that much." Xander chuckled. "For the rest, I know what he's going through, trying to adjust to life as a grown-up for a change. But once he finds a good job he's interested in, and a girlfriend who loves him, I think he'll be fine." His expression became wistful. "Maybe with a century of experience behind him, he won't mess things up like I did first chance he gets."
"You still miss Anya?"
"I wasn't talking about Anya, just about Spike getting himself a life..." Xander paused for a while, nursing his beer and watching the others playing with Pepito. "But yeah. I guess I do miss Anya. I know, that's not what I said before. But you know, Spike and I got to talking, and he's actually pretty good at the whole listening thing. Made me realise some things I hadn't thought about before. If Anya can forgive me, maybe I can do things differently this time..."
Buffy looked at Spike. "Yeah, me too."
Buffy listened at the bathroom door. Spike had been avoiding her in a variety of ways all weekend. Every time she asked him what he was doing, he had a good excuse; he was working, or 'meeting mates', or having a 'quiet time' in his bedroom. Any time she did manage to corner him for a moment, he avoided any mention of their kiss, or what he had said. Buffy had been trying to think of a way to initiate a talk with him, and she now thought she had found the ideal conversation piece. She would just sneak in and leave it on his bed; that way, he could talk to her if he chose to. If he didn't, she'd try something else.
Trying very hard to be quiet, Buffy slipped into his room with the box she was carrying. She hadn't been in here since he had first moved in. There were clothes strewn across the bed, books and printouts laid out on every other surface. The dresser had been pulled in front of the door that led into Dawn's room, and its mirror obscured with a towel. Looking at the mess in the room reminded Buffy that it was time the whole house was cleaned.
She didn't have time to lay out the contents of the box before Spike came into the room by the other door. He was too busy hopping on one foot, pulling a sock off, to notice Buffy at first. When he did notice her, Spike stopped hopping and covered his genitals with the sock, staring at her wide-eyed.
"Wow," said Buffy, still mesmerised by the vision of Spike hopping on one foot. "You're naked."
Spike looked down. "Well, no, technically, I am wearing one sock." He raised one finger, grabbed some clothes and disappeared into the bathroom. When he returned, he was wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt, and was holding the sock in his hand. He gave Buffy a wary look.
"You know, if you're that desperate, I can satisfy you," he said with grim determination. "I'm not all go in the trouser area, but I still know a few tricks."
"Tricks?" Buffy grimaced. "No. And ew. And I'm not like that... Anymore. I never was, not really, though I know I didn't look like I wasn't when I was--" She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Look, I brought you something."
Buffy pulled the item out of the box, and laid it out on the bed. Spike looked horrified.
"I-I thought you might like it back," said Buffy. Judging by his expression, this was a mistake. Big, big mistake. Stupid Buffy. "You-you might need it in the winter," she added. Yeah, like that made it better.
"I don't understand," said Spike, staring at her with his head tilted to one side. "Why did you keep it?"
"Because it's yours." Buffy rolled her eyes. "I don't mean that in a keeping your things fetish kind of way. But it wasn't mine to throw out." She looked down at the leather coat, which was worn and beaten, and not the better for several months up in the attic. "Besides, I thought you might come back for it some day."
Spike shook his head, staring at the coat. "You're a weird person, Buffy."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know." Spike sat down on the bed, pulling one knee up so he could sit sideways on and face her across the bed. "I tried to rape you, and now you want me to finish what I started? I don't understand, Buffy." He looked up at her pleadingly. "What do you want from me?"
Buffy felt a lump in her throat; this little talk wasn't going at all well. She had hoped that giving him back the coat would be a gesture of forgiveness, and that he would reciprocate by telling her what was wrong. She hadn't thought out just how wrong the wrong might be, and how right Xander was when he said she wouldn't want to hear it.
She glanced at the door, tempted for one moment to run away, but then steeled herself. She wanted to know what was bugging Spike, now was the time to find out. Whatever his problem with her was, it couldn't be worse than her best friend wanting to kick her ass. Or her boyfriend giving her an ultimatum just after she'd found him having...something with vampires. Or her other boyfriend leaving because...
"I want to help you." Buffy sat down on the bed and faced Spike with resolve. There was a whole lot of bed and a pile of clothes between them. "It's-- I know we kinda kissed, and I know me coming in here while you're naked is kinda something to give you the wrong idea. Though you do know there's a lock on this door, right?" She sighed. "But it's not about sex. I mean, really. Not that, I guess, if-- But that's not why I want to spend time with you. I like you. I'm kind of getting used to the whole new you thing, and..."
Spike turned away and plucked at his pants. "That's the thing, you see. There is no new me. There's just me and some guilt. Well, shitloads of guilt, actually." He sighed. "But if I want to become a better person, I have to turn myself into someone completely new, and that means no booze, no fags, and no bloody fighting just because I've had a bad day."
"Spike, I know you've done a lot of bad things as a vampire, but that doesn't mean you have to turn into Gandhi now you're human."
"Yeah, why turn into Gandhi when I could be Ted Bundy?" He frowned. "Can't you see? After everything I've done, I can't just go out and bop a few demons on the head. I'm going to want to bop a few humans too. If I start again, I'll never stop. I'm a violent man. I couldn't even control myself enough to stop from clobbering Xander."
Buffy shook her head. "That doesn't make you a violent person. It makes you someone who uses violence under provocation. Like Xander."
"I'm pretty sure Xander has never killed a child with his own bare hands." Spike rubbed his forehead. "You should read that thesis the Council wrote about me. That'll give you some idea of the ghosts in my head." He turned towards her again, his brow wrinkled with worry. "I need to work through all this stuff, Buffy. I just can't give you anything right now."
"That's okay. You don't owe me anything. You're feeling the guilt and you're trying to do the right thing. That's all I need to know." She observed his hangdog expression for a moment. "Want a non-sexual kind of hug?"
He smiled at her. "I think I'll settle for a nice relaxing bath. But keep that hug, I might need it some day."
Buffy leaned her chin on her hand, trying to read the Council of Watchers' thesis on Spike. The actual document was dour and pedantic, but the subject matter was fascinating. Murder, mayhem, railway spikes and a whole lot of Drusilla. The author barely mentioned the man Spike had been before Dru turned him, except to say he had been the son of a college professor best remembered for his mild manners and bad poetry. Buffy thought back to the poem she had found the previous week. Spike the bad-ass vampire had been a poet? The author of the thesis said this proved that there was no connection between the human and the vampire he became, but to Buffy it made perfect sense. Even when she was trying to resist her feelings, she had sensed Spike's sensitivity and desire for beauty. As well as his obsession with not being a geek. And now he had come full circle, back to a man who wrote poetry and tried to avoid violence.
The phone rang and she delivered her usual spiel, her mind on Spike while she waited for the potential customer to tell her what they wanted.
"Ah, um, Buffy. I forgot you worked in a call centre."
"Giles?" Buffy grinned with delight. "Oh my God, you're calling from England?" Her smiled faded. "You never call. Is there something wrong? Has something happened?"
"No. Well, we had an earthquake last night, but nothing to worry about."
"I thought they didn't have earthquakes in England."
"Just the occasional little one." She could hear the smile in his voice. "Anyway, I was going to leave a message on your answerphone asking if you got my last e-mail -- which incidentally rather defeats the purpose of having e-mail in the first place. So I called, only to find that your answerphone is now Spike. Which, as you can imagine, caused me some concern considering the circumstances under which he left."
Buffy twirled the phone cord around her fingers. "Oh. Well, I was going to tell you, but he's only been at home for a couple of weeks, and I just didn't have time to send you an e-mail, so--"
"It's all right. You don't have to keep me appraised of every event in your life. Well, except that this is quite momentous, of course." Giles sounded hurt. "A vampire going through gruelling trials in order to be resurrected. It's unprecedented. This calls into question everything the Council has ever believed about vampires. If Spike can choose to seek redemption, then it's possible that other vampires might do the same."
"I don't think so," said Buffy. "I've done a survey using a representative sample of the residents of Sunnydale Cemetery, and none of them were interested in being human again. So I figure Spike is weird, and that's all there is to it."
Giles sounded as if his mind was on other things. "I do wonder, though, if this ties in to the Shanshu prophecy. Until now, Wesley and I believed that it referred to Angel becoming human at the End of Days. But now that Spike has become human instead..."
"Please don't tell me he's Prophecy Boy. Prophecies are never of the good. I haven't had one in years, and I totally don't miss them. They're always about death and destruction, and it is so not good to know what your destiny is."
"Yes, well, I can't be sure that Spike is the subject of the prophecy either," admitted Giles. "And I haven't heard from Wesley in months. Look, I'm going to collect some information for Spike and send it to you by e-mail later this week. Do check your mail on Willow's computer and make sure he gets it," he added in a sterner voice.
"Thanks. I'm sure Spike will be pleased. He's been reading all your books. Even the Watchers' Diaries!"
"Oh, well. I must admit there is some irony at the thought of Spike reading my books." He cleared his throat. "Anyway, as I was saying in the e-mail you didn't read, Willow and I will be arriving in Sunnydale next week; all the flight details are in the message. Willow will be staying with her parents, but we can discuss my accommodation later. By e-mail."
"Well, we can discuss it right... Oh, phone bill. Yeah, we'll get something worked out." She smiled. "I'm so glad you're coming back! I've missed you both so much. So I guess if she's coming back to Sunnydale, that means Willow is better, right?"
"She's improving," said Giles in a soft voice that screamed 'Willow is not better'. "I think she and Spike will have a lot in common. In the meantime, keep a close eye on Spike. He sounds a little... fragile to me."
Fragile? Spike? Buffy leaned on the banister in the basement, watching him make the most of her little training room. His back was to the stairs; he hadn't noticed Buffy's presence yet. He was wearing his new sweatpants and a sleeveless T-shirt, and was pounding the punch bag with a ferocity not unlike his old vampire persona. It was gratifying to see him so active; she'd really been afraid that their conversation a couple of days earlier meant he was turning his back on violence.
Buffy frowned at that thought. And what was wrong with Spike turning his back on violence, exactly? She'd often wished she could just become a normal girl who didn't have to kill things. Spike had that chance now; why was she pleased that he didn't take it?
Dismissing the thought, she observed Spike's technique with a critical eye.
"You should really wrap your hands, you know," she told him.
Startled, he spun towards her, his face momentarily angry. His new glasses were folded on the washing machine; except for the dark hair, he looked just like he had in his vampire days. Lean, mean and dangerous. Sexy too. Buffy felt a shiver run down her spine. She half expected him to morph into game face.
"Sorry, I-I didn't know you were--" started Buffy, turning back towards the door. "I-I don't want to stop you from using my punchbag as a...punchbag."
Spike sighed. "Oh, it's all right. I was lost in my own thing, didn't realise it was you. Don't know who else I thought it might be. Sort of wandered off into-- Well, never mind." He went to get a towel from the pile on top of the washing machine, burying his face in it for a few seconds. Then he put on his glasses and turned to face her, his content human façade once more in place. "Quite a convenient setup you've got here. Not enough room to swing a cat, of course, let alone some decent punches, but not bad."
"Well, Anya decided to let the Magic Box go now that she's a vengeance demon again, so Xander moved all my training equipment here."
"Good idea," said Spike. He wiped the sweat off his upper body and headed towards the stairs. "I talked to Giles this morning. I assume he called you, right? I gave him your number."
"Yeah. He told me they're coming back next week." Buffy turned to go up in front of him. "And also that he had a long conversation with you. What did you talk about?"
"Things. All the stuff in my head."
"Gee, first Xander, then Giles. You sure have a line in confiding in people," she said, before realising how hurt she sounded. She tried to open the basement door before Spike had time to say anything, but he held it shut.
"Buffy, I know you want to know what makes me tick. But trust me, it's not good." He lowered his eyes and released the door. "I don't want to spoil everything by spilling out all the crap that's in my head. This living here with you means a lot to me. This sort of friendship we have."
"You think this is friendship?"
Spike frowned, his expressive face full of confusion. Buffy looked down; his sweat-drenched T-shirt clung to his well-defined chest, outlining every hard curve and hollow. He wasn't as thin as he had been when she had first taken him in, and occasional days in the sunshine had given his face and arms a healthy tan. Buffy wondered if he would be very offended if she leapt on him. She didn't just want him for the sex, but oh, God, sex would be very nice. She looked up at his face. He had moved closer, and for a moment, she thought he might kiss her.
But instead, Spike looked away. He lifted his arm and smelled his own armpit. "Ugh. I really need to have a shower."
And they say romance is dead, thought Buffy. Spike started to open the basement door, but this time, she was the one who closed it again.
"Spike. I guess this is kind of a dumb question, but... do you still want me?"
"No." His expression was earnest; Buffy's heart sank and she let go of the door. "Or to be more precise, I don't want to want you."
Buffy looked up at him with hope. "Why not?"
"Because I can't be what you need." Spike opened the door. "And because it's wrong."
"That was lame."
"That is so not true!" Dawn brushed the vampire dust off her jeans as they walked through one of Sunnydale's many cemeteries. "I totally had him."
"Oh, so that's why I'm the one who had to slay him?"
Dawn pouted and kicked a stone. Buffy looked around at the familiar tombstones; Spike's old crypt was somewhere in the distance, though they were heading away from it now. She twirled her stake, itching for something to slay, and wondering how many vampires and assorted nasties she had killed since she was called. Far too many, and yet never enough. Still, it was something to do.
After walking in silence for a few minutes, Dawn spoke again.
"So, you looking forward to seeing Willow and Giles again?"
"Yeah. I've missed them." Buffy cast her sister a sideways glance as they continued through the cemetery. "You don't sound too happy."
Dawn shrugged. "I'm totally for seeing Giles again. As for Willow... What do you expect? At least she won't be living with us this time. I mean, letting her try to kill me twice is pretty bad, but three times would be downright careless."
"It won't happen again," said Buffy, lowering her eyes. "With the therapy, or whatever, she's been getting from Giles and the coven in England, she'll be back to normal Willow again."
"Oh, so not world-destroying Willow. Just Willow who cheats on her boyfriend, wipes the minds of her friends and casts wonky spells when things go wrong, then?" Dawn sighed. "Yeah, I know, she's your best friend, you have to give her the benefit of the doubt and everything. And as long as you two déjà your vu away from me, I'm cool with it."
"You weren't this harsh on Spike," remarked Buffy.
"You have a short memory, Buffy. I know you haven't noticed, but Spike and I aren't exactly best buddies. He's okay, though. And it's easier, because I know he really isn't the demon who attacked you. Plus, he never actually tried to kill me, which is a big bonus. Closest I got to meeting Spike at his most evil was when he was sitting in the living-room asking me where I got my nail polish."
Even though she now knew that Dawn hadn't really been there, Buffy smiled at the memory. It was comforting to remember her mother and little sister sitting on the couch while Spike, the evil vampire who only wanted to skip town with his evil girlfriend, sat with them and waited for Buffy to come up with a plan to stop Angelus.
Buffy raised her stake when she heard a sound nearby. A man walked out from behind a tree a few feet away. She lowered the weapon and crossed her arms when she recognised him.
"Boo," said Spike with a chuckle.
"Speak of the devil." Buffy shook her head in consternation. "Still hiding behind trees, I see."
"What can I say? Hard to break the habits of an unlifetime."
"Now, there's something we don't see very often," said Dawn.
Spike frowned. "What, me in a cemetery?"
"No, just you." Dawn walked around him, looking him over as if he might be a hallucination. "You've been kinda scarce this last couple of weeks. So, you leading a secret life in the cemetery you're not telling us about?" She raised her eyebrows and pretended to give Buffy a worried look. "Maybe he's a vampire again!"
"In that corduroy jacket?" exclaimed Buffy. "I don't think so. People who wear brown corduroy just can't be evil. It's a fact."
"I dunno, Buffy. Wasn't that vampire wearing cords the other day? Spike is a kinda geeky human being; I guess he'd be a bit geeky to start with after becoming a vampire. I mean, along with the being evil and soulless."
"Dawn is right." Spike waggled his finger at Buffy. "You're assuming I would be turned back into the vampire I was before I became human again. You're forgetting that it took over a century to get just the right combination of hairstyle, coat and attitude to strike fear in the hearts of my victims." He grinned. "I got a bit of a fright myself when I finally saw myself in a mirror!"
Dawn put her hand on his arm, radiating false concern. "I didn't want to tell you when you were a vampire. But it's true. You're really butt-ugly. I don't know what Buffy saw in you."
Spike leaned closer to Dawn. "Neither do I. But on the other hand, she did go out with Angel."
Buffy crossed her arms and glared at both of them. "Har-di-har-har. If I laugh any harder, I'll bust a rib. Anyway, what's with the cemetery visit, Spike? You picking up stuff from the crypt?"
"Oh you know," started Spike with a vague gesture that suggested he was making something up, "I was just passing by. Heard the pair of you making enough noise to attract every vamp in town. Thought I'd drop in and see what you were up to. Aside from the slaying, that is."
"Nope, it's just the slaying." Buffy tossed him a stake. "Since you're here, you can help. Or have you forgotten how?"
Spike handled the weapon gingerly. "Not so much forgotten how as got all my strength sucked out with the demon. I'll have to pass, I'm afraid; I'm not in the mood to be knocked unconscious."
"So if you're not here to pick up your stuff from the crypt or help us slay things, why are you here?" asked Dawn, eyeing him with suspicion.
"Bloody hell, what is this? The Spanish Inquisition?" Spike laughed. "Can't a chap take a stroll through the local graveyard without being interrogated? Well, if you really want to know, I've joined this ex-con support group thing. They meet over the road from the cemetery, so I thought I'd wander in here on the off-chance that you were here. So there you go: nothing nefarious."
Buffy looked at Spike with a dubious expression. "An ex-con support group?"
"Giles seemed to think I should talk to someone impartial - in the vaguest terms possible, obviously. The counsellor there wasn't bad, but I think I'll be better off talking to Giles when he gets here. I think I need to get a bit more specific in my confessions."
"You could always talk to m--" started Buffy, though Spike wasn't listening.
"Watcher and Red are back in town tomorrow, aren't they?" he asked. "What's the plan?"
"We'll pick them up from the airport in the afternoon and then have dinner at our place," explained Dawn. "I guess they'll want to rest after that."
"I don't know why Giles wouldn't stay with us," said Spike. "I offered to let him have the room I'm in, but he insisted on staying in a hotel. Maybe he thought I would come and kill him in his sleep or something." He glanced at Buffy. "Either that or he's tasted your cooking."
She gave him a friendly punch. "Shut up! It's not that bad."
"I'm glad he's not staying with us," said Dawn gravely. "We really don't need to have two guys who leave the toilet seat up!"
"Hey, when you're a man, you need a big target!" exclaimed Spike. "Besides, I have to put the toilet seat up every time I go to the loo. You can jolly well put it down again." He gave the girls a goofy grin. "Just count yourselves lucky I don't just leave the toilet seat down and piss all over it."
Buffy wrinkled her nose. "Okay, leaving aside the fact that we're having a conversation about Spike's peeing habits--"
She interrupted herself and spun around when she heard a woman screaming a short distance away. The three of them ran in that direction and found a young woman being attacked by two vampires, a man and a woman. Buffy threw the male vampire into a tree, knocking him out for a moment while she fought the female vamp.
"Run!" she told the victim.
The girl was too traumatised to follow her order. Instead, she just sank to the ground, crying and shaking. Spike helped her to her feet.
"You okay, love?" He looked at Dawn. "Can you walk her out of the cemetery, pet? Make sure she's all right."
Dawn did as he suggested, guiding the girl to safety. Buffy returned her attention to the fight. The vampire was a good opponent; she and her mate were clearly not fledglings. The male vamp came back to his senses and attacked Spike, barrelling into him and knocking him breathless. For a moment, Buffy was afraid she would have to rescue Spike, but he recovered enough to punch the vampire. Before it had time to use its superior strength, he planted his stake firmly in the creature's chest, a smile of triumph on his lips.
Buffy dispatched her own assailant. Her heart was racing, its rapid rhythm pounding in her ears as the adrenalin coursed through her veins. Spike looked at the stake he was holding, a mixture of shame and pride on his expressive features, then raised his eyes to Buffy's and smiled. Pride had won out. He was a good fighter and he knew it. Hyped up by the slaying, Buffy couldn't help looking over Spike's well-concealed body and thinking about what might happen if she took a step closer. Slayage and sex. The best combination ever. She missed that.
"Gee, Spike," said Dawn, who had returned. "Guess you really meant it when you said you weren't in the mood to be knocked unconscious."
"I've read about human demon hunters," said Willow the next evening, holding her mug of cocoa with both hands. "A well-trained human with good weapons can usually take on a vampire. Spike might be human, but I guess he's still a good fighter. He certainly kicked Xander's ass. Though I guess that's not saying much."
Buffy stopped observing the oven and turned to look at her, puzzled. "No, he didn't. It was a draw. Xander broke Spike's glasses."
"Yeah, and then Spike knocked Xander out cold." Willow smiled. "Xander sent me an e-mail about it at the time. I guess they didn't give you all the details; kinda puts them both in a bad light."
"Yeah, the light where they don't tell me the truth about what happened," said Buffy. She frowned. "Now I think about it, I guess Xander did mention something about being knocked unconscious. I don't know why Spike said it was a draw. You'd think he'd want to brag about winning the fight."
Willow half-shrugged. "I've only exchanged a few e-mails with him, but he seems kinda down with the violence thing. Like he feels he should be all pacifisty to make up for his past."
"Oh." Buffy was puzzled, and a bit irritated. She could understand Xander confiding in Willow, but Spike? She turned her attention back to the oven and pulled out the casserole she had made.
Her misgivings about Spike sending Willow e-mails notwithstanding, Buffy was really happy to have Giles and Willow back. They had been such a large part of her life for so long that Buffy was amazed she had actually gotten used to their absence. Giles seemed very much the same as always; a little distant, but affectionate in his quiet way. Willow had put on weight, and appeared happy to be back in Sunnydale. She wasn't quite the sweet, innocent person she had once been, but then, who was?
The two returned to the dining room with the casserole. Spike was sitting at the table, while the other Scoobies looked over his shoulder at the photocopy he was holding. Buffy craned her neck to see it when she put the dish on the table.
"Hey, you're all doing something interesting without me," she said. "What's up?"
"You know, we do have lives outside what we do with you," remarked Spike with a grin.
"No, you don't," said Buffy. "You all cease to exist the minute I leave the room. I know this. Seriously, what are you doing?"
Spike held up the paper. "Taking a trip down memory lane. My lane, to be precise, though I seem to have a lot of passengers." He glowered at the Scoobies.
"I contacted the Watcher who wrote her thesis on Spike," explained Giles, "and asked her to provide me with some of the documents she found during her research."
"It's amazing," said Xander. "There are pictures of his family and everything. Spike had a family!"
Spike lifted one eyebrow and cast Buffy a long-suffering glance. "Yes, that certainly put to rest all the rumours that I burst spontaneously from a molehill."
Buffy laughed and came to look over his shoulder. The photograph Spike was holding pictured a typical Victorian family. The women wore enormous crinolines and unflattering hairstyles; the men had mutton-chop whiskers and high collars. The parents were seated on a couch, glaring at the camera with unsmiling faces. A little girl with blond ringlets sat on a low chair in front of them, while an older boy and girl stood behind the couch. Buffy assumed that Spike was the older boy, though his face was blurred, and it was difficult to make out his features clearly.
"Wow, you don't look like you're having much fun," said Willow.
"Yeah, guess Queen Victoria's 'we are not amused' pretty much sums up the era, huh?" Xander frowned when everyone turned to look at him in surprise. "What? Just because I'm 'didn't-go-to-college-guy' doesn't mean I don't know anything, right?"
Spike shook his head. "It's funny, really. I remember when this picture was taken. It wasn't every day you got photographed." He ran his fingers over the figures on the page. "We were all trying so hard not to laugh, we ended up looking as if we were going to a funeral. But you had to pose for so long that you were better off not trying any fancy facial expressions."
"Why were you laughing?" asked Dawn.
"Well..." Spike pointed at the little girl. "If you look carefully, you'll notice that my sash is actually wrapped around the back of the chair. My breeches were so shiny and new that I kept slipping off the chair just as the chap was about to take the photograph! Seems silly now, but you know how it goes; you get the giggles and can't stop."
"That's you?" exclaimed Buffy, peering at the golden-haired child.
Xander chuckled. "Oh, yeah. That's Spike. We've already had the 'Spike was a little girl when he was a little boy' conversation."
"It was the fashion of the time, okay?" said Spike defensively. "I bet there are some pretty embarrassing pictures of you as a child, Harris."
"He used to have ringlets too."
"Willow!" exclaimed Xander. "What is this, reveal embarrassing secrets time? Cause I know all sorts of embarrassing things about you, Wills...things like...things I'll remember later."
"Buffy's childhood pictures are kind of cute. Except she had dark hair," said Dawn. "Which proves she's a bottle blonde."
"Tell us something we don't know, nibblet," said Spike, reaching for a stack of papers. "I don't believe some of this stuff. These are photocopies of my mother's diary!" He stared at the papers for a moment, then turned to put them all on the sideboard. "Anyway, let's have some nosh, eh? It smells delicious, pet." He cast a bright smile in Buffy's direction. "Maybe I'll change my opinion about your cooking."
After dinner and a round of Pictionary, Buffy and Spike took out the dirty plates, still laughing about the game. Spike started on the washing while Buffy went to get another load of dishes. By the time she came back, she found him standing in front of a sink full of soap suds. A whole mountain of soap suds.
"What are you going to do with all that foam, doofus?" she laughed.
"Oh, I don't know." Spike lowered his head and gave her an evil look. He scooped up a handful. "Toss it at people who criticise my washing-up skills, maybe?"
"Don't you dare! I'll stake you if you do that. Hey! Argh!" Buffy screamed as the handful of suds caught her right on the head.
Spike backed away to avoid her playful blow. "See, that's actually a great improvement. Way better than the usual 'ponytail of repression' look."
"You don't like my ponytail?" asked Buffy, touching her hair.
"It does make your ears stick out," he said. Buffy pouted. Spike laughed. "Don't worry. I wouldn't have fallen for you if I was bothered by your hairstyle."
Buffy brightened up at the mention of him falling for her. Seeing him playing games and laughing with her friends had reminded her just how much he had changed. What a great guy he was now that the whole vampire thing was over. Great guy, and a great fighter too. Just perfect. She got some foam and flicked it at him. They chased each other around the kitchen for a few minutes, their squeals of protest prompting only one rather disinterested visit from Xander, who had been sent to investigate. After he left, Spike won their haphazard little game of tag, pinning Buffy against the refrigerator.
Breathless and exhilarated, Buffy looked up at him. Even with the glasses, he was just as sexy and exciting as he had been the previous year. Except that now, he was also a great guy. If she lifted her face just so, maybe he would take the hint and kiss her. A long, slow kiss, followed by the caress of his hands on her hips, the feel of his strong body pressed against her, his hard--
"Hey, is that Watcher Boy playing Stargazer out there?"
Her sensual mood completely broken, Buffy turned to look out of the back door. "Oh. Yeah. It is."
"I didn't even notice him go out," said Spike. He seemed concerned; Buffy was merely annoyed. "Maybe you should see what he's up to. Just in case he's feeling left out with all us bright young things in here."
"Yeah." Might as well, if Spike was more interested in Giles than in kissing her.
She pulled away from the cold refrigerator and went out to join her former Watcher. Just as Spike had pointed out, he was looking up at the stars, his glasses glistening in the pale night lights.
"So, I guess you're not that into Pictionary," she said, coming to stand beside him.
"No," admitted Giles with a chuckle. Then he turned towards her and sighed. "I thought I had grown used to the idea by now. That two weeks of research and reflection was enough to prepare me. But seeing Spike in person only makes me even more aware of the magnitude of what has happened."
"So one vampire became human again," said Buffy with a half-shrug. "He isn't the first. If someone could mojo Darla back to life, Spike's resurrection isn't exactly special."
"Oh, but it is," said Giles, shaking his head. "He wasn't just 'mojoed' back to life. He chose this path. As a soulless being, he made the decision to travel halfway around the world, and battle untold monsters to become -- from his point of view -- weak, mortal and powerless. And he did it all for--"
"I was going to say 'love'. But yes, he did it all for you."
Buffy smiled with delight. "It's quite something, isn't it?"
"Yes." Giles took off his glasses and cleaned them. "Quite something. A demon chose to switch sides in the great cosmic battle of good and evil. It goes against everything the Council ever taught me." He put his glasses on. "However, you shouldn't feel beholden to him, Buffy. I realise you have good reason to be impressed by the lengths he went to in order to make himself acceptable to you. But this doesn't mean you have an obligation to return his feelings, or that you should resume your previous relationship with him."
Buffy frowned. "Who said we wanted to get back together?"
"I did see you chasing each other in the kitchen just now. And the e-mails I exchanged with Spike suggest that he is still completely besotted with you." Giles noticed Buffy's look of surprise. "I gather he hasn't been pursuing you as he did in the past."
"No, not really. We agreed it would be wrong anyway. I-I mean, well, after everything... But he's changed."
"Yes, I suppose he has." Giles fixed Buffy with a stern expression. "But he isn't a different person. He feels very strongly that he is the same person who assaulted you, and I'm inclined to agree."
"I know, Giles," Buffy assured him. "I'm not some naïve teenage girl who believes in magic wands that turn a monster into the perfect boyfriend. But there were things I liked about Spike, even as he was. Now he's not so obsessed with being the big bad or impressing me, I guess those things are more evident. And... I don't know. It's-- we'll see what will happen." She shivered in the cool night air. "You wanna come back in?"
"No, I think I'll stare at the stars and ponder this extraordinary change for a little longer. A hundred years or so should do the trick."
When Buffy opened the back door, she could hear voices coming from the small room to her right. Spike was sitting in the corner armchair, while Willow leaned on the window sill beside him.
"...It's just a question of scale," Willow was saying. "It doesn't matter if I killed one person or ten thousand. And it doesn't matter if the two guys I killed were the worst scum in the universe. Maybe Warren really deserved what I did to him. But it doesn't change the facts. I am a murderer. Just like you." She put her hand on his. "And, hey, kinda tried to kill another six billion here."
"Were you planning to individually rip their throats out and drink their blood, or just snap their necks?" Spike sighed, his forehead a mass of worry lines. "I don't really see what your little Angelus-wannabe jaunt has to do with my problems. I still think you come off better, pet, no matter what you say."
Willow squeezed his hand. "I'm just saying, I know how you feel. I see Warren in my dreams sometimes. See myself torturing and murdering him. And I guess it helps if you have someone to talk to. Someone who understands. Giles and I understand, Spike, even if we killed people for different reasons."
"Oh, yes, I'd forgotten about the Watcher's dark past." Spike chuckled. "We're a fine bunch, aren't we?" Then he winced and stood up. "But you've just got a couple of faces in your dreams. I can lie there for hours, picking a victim to brood about. 'Now, should I agonise over the little girl I ate in Llansa, or what about the guy in Bergen? Or no, I know, the entire family Dru and I terrorised and murdered in Bangalore.' And after a while of this, I take a sleeping pill and knock myself out instead."
He turned slightly and noticed Buffy standing in the doorway. Willow followed his gaze and smiled. "Oh, hey, Buffy. Spike and I are comparing notes."
Spike gave Buffy a wan smile. "Turns out we have a lot in common now we're both murderers with a guilty conscience. We're thinking about founding a club, actually."
"Great," said Buffy uncomfortably. "Any room for me in your little club?"
"Nah." His smile broadened. "Got to be a murderer, innit?"
Buffy stared at them. She remembered the last time a former lover and an erstwhile friend had stood before her, united in their shared quest for redemption. But Spike wasn't Angel, and Willow wasn't Faith. They were her friends, standing in her home, and she was going to help them. Somehow.
Willow went through to the living-room to join Xander and Dawn, who were still playing the game. As he followed her, Spike leaned towards Buffy.
"Apparently, part of this murderer bonding process involves going to the beach this Saturday," he said. "I'm pretty sure they never said anything about that in the redemption manual!"
Spike was sitting on his own in the dining room when Buffy came down to get a glass of water later that night. She watched him reading the documents Giles had brought, his expression serious and sad in the orange light of a single table lamp. For a moment, she hesitated, tempted to walk into the room and demand to be shown what he was looking at. To be made part of his life.
Shaking her head, Buffy turned away, intending to go into the kitchen through the corridor. Before she had gone very far, she heard his voice.
"Buffy, is that you?"
She came back into the dining room. "Who else wanders around the house spying on you?"
"You're not spying. I could do with some company, actually. The ghosts get a bit tiresome after a while."
Spike held out his hand, inviting her to come and sit beside him. When she joined him, he showed her a picture of a middle-aged woman. She was small and thick-set, with a serious, austere expression to match her dark clothes.
"Your mother?" asked Buffy. "She looks... kinda scary, actually."
Spike laughed. "She does, doesn't she? So much for photographs capturing life. She wasn't scary at all. She ruled all our lives, but she wasn't scary." He looked at the picture with a tenderness that tugged at Buffy's heart. "I remember one day, after my father died. Mother got this idea that she should have a sewing machine. She was the world's worst seamstress; she just didn't have the patience. But anyway, she got this sewing machine and set about making a jacket for me."
"A jacket?" Buffy was no great seamstress herself, but she had sat and watched her own mother working at her sewing machine often enough to know a little about the craft. "She didn't know how to sew and she decided to start with a jacket?"
"I know." Spike grinned. "I told you; no patience. I was sitting in the library, and I heard these shrieks of laughter. So I went downstairs, and there were my mother and the maid actually rolling on the floor laughing! It turned out my mother had somehow sewn her dress' sleeve to the jacket."
Spike's laughter rang out in the dining room, loud and frank. Buffy laughed with him, trying to imagine this austere Victorian matron rolling on the floor with mirth.
"She was terrible," said Spike fondly. "She had a very sharp tongue; used to make fun of everyone. Including Father and us children, of course. Taught me to see the humour in things. Very useful skill when you've lived the life I've led. I didn't really appreciate it at the time; took myself far too seriously. I shudder to think what she said about me in her diary. In fact, I think I'll give it a miss," he added, pointing to the pile of papers he had set aside. "There are some things I'd rather not know." Then he sighed and looked at the picture. "God, she would have been so ashamed of me."
Buffy hesitated, and then put her hand on his, trying to comfort him. "I don't think so," she said softly. "I think right now, she'd be really proud."
Spike's lips twisted into a sad smile. Buffy put her other hand on his and his smile grew more confident.
"Of course, you realise that's poppycock," he said. "She'd have disowned me forever the minute I shacked up with Dru. But it's a nice thought." He slid one arm around her; Buffy resisted the powerful urge to kiss his cheek and rested her head on his shoulder instead. "Well, let's see what other maudlin sentiments this lot can inspire in us before the night is over."
"I'm also just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her."
Spike's lips were moving to the rhythm of Julia Roberts' voice. Buffy watched him, amused by his fascination for the British comedy they were watching. In a way, she could understand why he liked Notting Hill. Floppy-haired Englishman with glasses meets supercilious American bitch and wins her heart. It was probably Spike's favourite fairy tale.
Buffy had come home from her evening class to find Spike, Willow and Dawn lined up on the couch watching the movie and eating popcorn. It was like old times, except that Xander was out on a date with some girl he had met, and Spike had never participated in one of the Scoobies' popcorn-and-movie nights before. Buffy drew her eyes away from the former vampire, who was sitting in between her and Willow, and then settled down to watch the movie, smiling with contentment.
"I love that film," said Spike when it finished.
Dawn grinned at him from her position on the floor. "Of course you do. It has a guy called Spike in it."
"I like a romance with a happy ending," said Willow with a sad sigh.
Buffy and Dawn exchanged a look, unsure what to say. Spike put his arm around the former witch, pulling her into a friendly, consoling hug. It warmed Buffy's heart to see him so compassionate. Now that he was human, he seemed to know exactly how to connect with people. It was something that had never come naturally for Buffy.
Comforted by his embrace, Willow leaned against Spike with a smile, and then looked at the sisters.
"We're going to the beach on Sunday, by the way, not Saturday," she said. "Better weather, according to the forecast."
"It's just as well, because we have a party to go to on Saturday," said Spike with a grin. "Can't have too much excitement in a day!"
"Party?" repeated Buffy. "What party?"
"Is this the orgy you mentioned a couple of weeks ago?" asked Dawn.
Willow's eyes widened. "It's an orgy?"
"No! It's not an orgy. It's exactly what I said it was: a British-themed fancy dress party." Spike gave Dawn a dirty look. "There's just going to be a lot of booze, and the girl who's organising it doesn't want trouble with little tiddlywinks running around."
"You never told me it was a costume party!" exclaimed Buffy, suddenly remembering what 'fancy dress' meant. "What am I going to go as?"
Spike pulled his arm out from around Willow and drew back to look Buffy over. "Good question. I'd say Kylie Minogue, because of the pint-sized aspect, but she's not British. I'll have a think about it."
"A quick think about it, if the party is on Saturday." Buffy shook her head. "I can't believe you didn't remind me!"
"Yeah, well, you have a mind like a sieve." Spike shrugged. "Besides, I never see you."
"And whose fault is that?" demanded Buffy. "You're the one who works all the time. You're never here!"
"Okay!" said Willow in an artificially cheerful voice. She seized the popcorn bowl. "Want to help me make some more popcorn, Dawnie?"
"You want to see more of me?" exclaimed Spike in disbelief once the other two had made their hasty exit.
Buffy crossed her arms and looked away from him. He seemed genuinely bewildered, and the last thing she wanted was a long conversation about why she wished he was around more. Mainly because she wasn't sure herself.
"Forget it," she said.
"No." Spike put his hand on her arm. Again with the empathy thing. The touch of his warm hand on her bare arm sent shivers down her spine. "What's this all about, pet?"
"It's about you never being around," she snapped, drawing her arm away from his hand and scooting to the other end of the couch. "You kiss me, you show me pictures of your family, and then I don't see you for days, and it's like we're strangers again."
"Oh." Spike looked thoughtful.
Neither of them said anything for a while. Buffy could hear Willow and Dawn laughing in the kitchen. Well, that was one weight off her mind; she didn't like the idea of her sister holding a long-term grudge against her best friend. Now, if her sister would just forgive her ex-boyfriend, all would be right in the world. And if her ex-boyfriend would just forgive her, it would be even better. Buffy turned to look at Spike.
"Maybe we should date," she blurted out.
Now he just looked puzzled. "'Date'?"
Oh God, he was going to make things difficult. Buffy wished she hadn't said anything about dating. Here she was throwing herself at a guy who thought being with her was 'wrong'. What was she thinking?
"Come on, Spike," she said with a sneer, embarrassment making her aggressive. "I know you're like a born-again nineteenth century guy, but you do know about dating, right?"
He smiled. "Well, I've only been on one date since I became human again, but yes, I'm familiar with the concept."
"Well, we-- You've been on a date since you became human again?" Buffy was hurt; she was supposed to be the one he loved, the one he had become human for. He'd been on a date with someone else? "Who did you date?"
Spike rolled his eyes. Clearly, it wasn't something he had planned to tell her. "Okay... Melissa next door asked me out before she left. She was lonely, she fancied me, I... thought it would be good if I tried to be a bit more normal. Giles reckons it's good for me too. Get out, meet other people, go on the pull. Learn... normal stuff." He glanced at her. "Not that anything happened. I mean it was dinner, a movie -- spectacularly stupid movie -- and then we came home and that's it. Had to give her a little 'that was nice, but don't let's ever do this again' speech. Probably helped my maturity tremendously."
Buffy was too shocked to say anything for a moment. She remembered him playing with Pepito and Melissa in the backyard. She'd had absolutely no idea he was going out with the woman! Anya she could understand. Hell, even Harmony. But Melissa was a plain dishwater blonde with glasses. And Spike had gone out with her while he was living in Buffy's house. While Buffy was trying to--
"That's why you wouldn't-- that's why you said it was wrong! You were going out with someone else!" exclaimed Buffy. She shook her head in disgust. "And going on a date with a near-stranger before dumping her is your idea of maturity?"
"Compared to mooning after a woman I've tried to rape and murder, yeah." Spike stood up, breathing hard to calm himself. "Look, forget it. I'm sorry. I'll try to be around more in future, okay? And we'll discuss what you'll wear to the party. Plenty of time to get you a costume. It'll be fun."
"So you're not going to the party," said Dawn, looking at Buffy with suspicion while the latter made dinner for two.
"No. I'm not." Buffy smiled brightly. "I'm going to spend some quality time with my little sister."
Dawn nodded with a knowing smile. "Or you're pissed off at Spike and don't want to go to his party."
"It's not his party," said Buffy with a shrug. "And I'm not pissed off at Spike."
Which wasn't entirely true. She was still digesting the whole Melissa thing, and Spike's ridiculous working hours had conspired to keep them apart ever since. That and the fact that Buffy had arranged to go shopping with Dawn and Willow on the one day when Spike wanted to go looking for a costume for her. But who wanted to go to some dumb British costume party, anyway?
"I just don't want to leave you all on your own," she added. "We can spend the evening together. Just you and me."
"Yeah, like we do every evening." Dawn leaned on the breakfast bar. "I know you're trying to be like a good Mom and everything, but it doesn't mean you can't have fun too. I mean, even Willow and Xander have gone to the party. You don't have to stay home with me all the time."
Buffy poked at the pasta she was cooking, then gave Dawn a suspicious look. "Were you planning to have a party here or something?"
"No, but I was planning on a quiet evening on my own." Dawn smiled and crossed her arms. "Come on, Buffy. Swallow your pride and go to the ball. Maybe you'll meet someone who isn't a cheating, raping, homicidal maniac for a change."
Buffy could hear the vibrations of loud dance music from inside the house as she rang the doorbell. It was a while before a spaced-out girl dressed as a dominatrix opened the door. She disappeared without saying anything, leaving Buffy standing nonplussed in the doorway. Okay, not quite the kind of costume she'd imagined for British night. Maybe Dawn's assessment that this was an orgy wasn't so far off the mark after all. Buffy looked down at herself. Rather than get a costume, she had opted for the Grown-up Buffy look; little black dress with sheer pantyhose and high-heeled sandals, hair done up in a loose bun, just enough makeup to make her eyes beguiling and her lips luscious. It was a look designed to fit in anywhere. Except possibly at an orgy.
Deciding not to give herself time to ponder that thought any further, Buffy walked into the house and made her way toward the noisiest part. A large room at the back of the house had been converted into a club, complete with flashing lights and loud music. The walls were decorated with one Irish and one British flag, as well as some others Buffy didn't recognise; a red dragon on a white and green background; a red cross on a white background; a white X on a blue background. There was also a tabloid-sized picture of the Queen.
It looked as though the whole of UC Sunnydale had come to the party; Buffy scanned the crowd for any of her friends, but could see no one she recognised. Some of the costumes made her smile; there were at least two Dr Whos with long multicoloured scarves and a complete set of moptop Beatles, as well as someone dressed in a red phone box made of cardboard.
Still chuckling at the sight, Buffy went to get herself a drink in the next room. Xander was standing nearby, wearing his normal work gear, and having an animated conversation with the Indian girl who had organised the party. He saw Buffy and gesticulated wildly for her to come and join him.
"You look great, Buffy," he said, looking her over with appreciation. Buffy smiled at the compliment and wondered if Spike would feel the same way when he saw her. Perhaps it would even make him forget about how 'wrong' he thought they were for each other. Xander indicated the girl beside him. "Buffy, this is Amrita. I don't know if you've met before."
"We haven't. Hiya," said the girl with a bright smile. She was wearing a scarlet sari and enough golden jewellery to put Mister T to shame. Which was an incredibly outdated simile and the kind of thing Buffy's mother would have said. "So you're Buffy. I hear you're Spike's ex. He's a pet, inne?"
"Yeah, I guess--" Buffy caught Xander's eye. "But you know, kinda not with the whole 'pet' thing seeing as we're exes and all."
Amrita nodded. "Yeah, he told me it was all over. Mind you, I reckon he still fancies you. Thinks you're the greatest thing since sliced bread, the way he goes on about you. But he told me about his dark past, and I think you're probably better off without him. Can't trust them dodgy types to stay on the straight and narrow. He's very fit, though." She grinned at Xander. "Don't worry, mate, you're very fit too."
She offered to get Xander a drink and headed for the drinks table, her jewellery chinking as she swayed her hips to the music from the other room. Buffy turned to look Xander over with a critical eye.
"Fit isn't a word I'd use to describe you," she admitted, before realising how callous that sounded. "I-I mean, not that--"
Xander was too busy admiring Amrita's gyrating hips from a distance to notice Buffy's slight. "Apparently, 'fit' means 'hot' in British-speak. It's weird. I always thought British people were all like Giles and Wesley. You know, stuffy, pompous, kinda old-fashioned."
"Oh yes," said Buffy, deadpan. "Because all of that describes Spike just perfectly. Speaking of British people, who are you supposed to be?"
"Some cartoon character called Bob the Builder." He looked down at his checked shirt and jeans. The ensemble was completed with a hardhat. "I was going to come as James Bond, but Amrita thought this was more me. Not sure what to make of that. She's big with the British sarcasm; I'm never sure what she's really thinking."
Buffy was amused. "Sounds like a reverse Anya."
"No, more like Anya with all of Spike's snark. Not big on the demon thing, though, which is a refreshing change." He smiled at Buffy. "Your costume looks really great. Who are you?"
"Erm... A James Bond girl?" Xander didn't seem convinced, so Buffy changed the subject. "Speaking of Spike, where is he? And Willow?" she added, in case he thought she was only interested in seeing Spike.
"They're dancing." He waved toward the club section, then gave her a sharp look. "Tell me, Buffy; are you still interested in Spike?"
"No! Yes. Well, maybe," said Buffy, caught unawares by the question. "Spike and I have made our peace, and I've forgiven him. So we're starting off with a clean slate. And that's kinda none of your business, anyway."
Xander lowered his eyes. "I know it's not my business, but Spike is in a bad way, and I don't want to see him get hurt."
Buffy was about to ask him about this curious statement when Amrita came back with the drinks. Unable to find out what had caused Xander's change of attitude, she turned away and went to look for the others.
The people in the club room were performing a silly dance to an energetic song Buffy vaguely recognised. It involved bending down and jumping up, which was quite a challenge for the guy dressed as a telephone booth. Observing the multicoloured crowd, it took Buffy a while to realise that Spike was in the middle, jumping up and down like the rest of them, and looking as if he was having a great time. She couldn't help laughing; she'd never seen him dance before, and this song really didn't do much for anyone's dignity.
Spike's costume was a predictable choice. His glasses were nowhere in sight; he was wearing a Union Jack T-shirt and his ubiquitous jeans; his hair was dyed black and coifed into uneven spikes; his nails painted and his eyes circled with black eyeliner. The return to his punk look, albeit minus the slicked-back peroxide, reminded Buffy of the days when he was her formidable opponent, the one vampire she enjoyed fighting with above all others.
"I get knocked down, but I get up again
You ain't never gonna keep me down"
Buffy smiled at the appropriate lyrics. Getting the chip, falling in love with the Slayer, becoming human, suffering all the indignities of the previous winter. Every time life dealt him another blow, Spike just got up and kept on fighting. She watched his narrows hips moving to the music, shimmying sexily towards... Willow? Buffy barely recognised her friend. Black wig, heavy eye shadow, encased from head to toe in a leather catsuit; she looked like Vamp Willow and Darth Willow rolled into one. Just a costume, Buffy told herself. Just a very disturbing costume. And only slightly less disturbing than the sexy way she was dancing with Spike.
Buffy's pang of jealousy turned into disappointment when she also noticed that Spike was smoking. Then her heart sank right to the pit of her stomach when she realised he was holding the cigarette between his thumb and forefinger, and had just handed it back to the person beside him. Shocked and disappointed, Buffy turned away.
She got herself another drink, then leaned against the wall and watched the crowd for a while. One girl had come as the golden woman from Goldfinger and was wearing little more than a golden bikini and a lot of glitter. The telephone box was trying to make conversation with a woman in school uniform. The music changed to a modern disco tune, but Spike was still dancing with Willow and another girl Buffy didn't recognise. And a guy who might as well have had 'I Am Gay' tattooed on his forehead, and seemed to have designs on Spike's ass. Not that she could blame him.
"It's murder on the dance floor
But you better not steal the moves, DJ
Gonna burn this goddamn house right down"
Again with the appropriateness. Murderers on the dance floor, banding together and flirting while she stood on the side like an old maid. Buffy shook her head. This was ridiculous. So what if Spike was misbehaving; it didn't mean she wouldn't have fun. She put her glass down and threw herself into the fray. She was young, pretty and desirable, damn it. How could Spike resist her?
A delighted smile lit up Spike's face when he noticed her dancing towards him. Willow grinned as well, and moved back to dance with the other girl. Spike's hips swayed in rhythm with Buffy's as she approached. He leered at her, his lips parting as he ran his tongue along his top teeth. Buffy felt a surge of tenderness and desire at his lustful expression, but then repressed it with severity when she remembered why he looked so happy. He was high. She made no effort to hide her disgust at that thought.
Spike sensed her change of mood. Unable to speak to her over the din of the music, he frowned, returning her scowl with puzzlement. Buffy turned away to dance with the gay man, who seemed happy enough to oblige as long as he could keep staring at Spike. A quick glance over her shoulder told Buffy that her ex was not at all pleased. It took another two songs before Spike's patience ran out. He touched Buffy's arm gently, trying to get her attention. When she deigned to look at him, his face was contorted with anger. Given his reaction to Buffy's cold-shoulder treatment, she was surprised all he had done was tap her gently. He nodded toward the other room. Buffy hesitated, and then followed him out of the makeshift disco.
"What's going on?" he demanded, looking at her with bewildered black-rimmed eyes.
"You tell me."
"That's not very helpful," he growled, struggling to control his temper.
Spike's self-control made Buffy feel very contrary. "You're the one who wanted to stop dancing."
"You had your back to me!"
"Well, excuse me!" She put her hand on her hips. "You were dancing with Willow, I was dancing with your gay friend. Ergo, perfectly good reason to have my back to you."
"You're jealous because I was dancing with Willow?" Spike laughed. "You need your head examined!"
"She's done up like some kind of new Drusilla and I'm the one who needs my head examined?" As she spoke, Buffy was aware that this statement wasn't going to win her the argument.
"A new Drus-- Buffy, she's Emma Peel from The Avengers!" He laughed at her again and headed for the other room. Buffy stared at him for a moment; who was 'Emma Peel' anyway?
"I take back what I said," she called after him. "You're not a good guy, you're just a creep who takes drugs." Again with the lame statements. "I saw you! You said you weren't going to drink and smoke anymore, and now you're doing drugs?"
Spike spun towards her and rolled his eyes. "It was just a spliff, Slayer. It's not as if I'm going to be injecting my toes next week if I have one drag off a reefer!" He shook his head. "For fuck's sake, since I've been human, I've given up smoking, I haven't drunk so much as a beer, and I'm a bloody eunuch. Give the dog a bloody bone, Buffy."
"That doesn't mean you have to take drugs!" exclaimed Buffy, trying to keep her voice down to avoid attracting too much attention.
"Christ, I can tell you grew up in the Eighties," sneered Spike. "I'm having fun, love. Not that you'd know the meaning of the word." He looked her over with disdain. "You didn't even have fun when we were having sex."
"You'd get this frown on your face, like you were thinking 'Insert part A into slot B, then stimulate part C'," he said, mimicking Buffy's accent.
She stared at him in disbelief. "That is so not true! And I totally know how to have fun."
"Oh yeah?" Spike lifted an eyebrow at her. "I've been living at your house what-- Two months? And the most fun you've had is a night at the Bronze with Xander Harris!"
Buffy could feel her bottom lip quivering. "You bastard."
"Oh, yeah, that's right. I forgot." Spike was really furious now. "It's always my fault. Every bloody thing." He shook his head. "Just don't let the beams in my eye make you forget the motes in yours."
"What does that mean?"
Spike rolled his eyes again. "It means you should have paid more attention in school, for a start. And it means..." He looked around, as if he was debating what he should say to her. "It means I might be a bloody ex-demon, but you're no saint yourself. And-- Oh, bollocks, I'm not talking to you about this now."
He turned and started to walk away. Buffy grabbed his arm. "Hey! I'm not finished with you."
Spike twisted his arm out of her grasp and shoved her away roughly. A few people in the room turned to look at them, although fortunately, Willow and Xander were nowhere to be seen. Staggering back, Buffy lost her temper. She couldn't punch him because he was human, so she resorted to a slap on his arm.
"Ow!" he exclaimed, rubbing his arm like a petulant child. "You want to know what's wrong? That's what's wrong. You using me as your fucking punching bag cum dildo every time you feel an itch." His face was flushed with rage. "Do you think I like this? Being weak and feeble, reduced to half a man? I've lost my strength, my invulnerability, my immortality. Can't fight, can't shag. Can't sleep. Trying my best to be good, working hard, no drinking, no smoking. What's left for me? Being your lapdog again?"
"You chose that life!" exclaimed Buffy. "I didn't ask you to become human. You're the one who went off half-cocked and came back alive."
Spike raised his hands in frustration. "I'm not complaining about being bloody human. I'm complaining that you're pursuing me just because you want a roll in the hay, when I have a million other things to worry about. And when I say no, you start knocking me around again!"
"I'm not knocking you around! It's just that I-- I don't know how-- I can't--" Buffy felt tears stinging her eyes. "I don't know how to do this."
"Oh, God. Don't cry," said Spike, his anger immediately vanishing. He put his hands on her shoulders and guided her to a quieter spot. "Buffy, please. Please don't cry." He cupped her face in his hand, sounding a lot as if he was about to start crying himself. "Please don't let me make you cry."
"I'm not crying!" She swallowed hard and gave him her best Buffy glare. She leaned against his chest. "Oh, I hate you!"
Before Buffy knew quite what was happening, she had raised her face to his, and her lips were touching Spike's, their tongues entwined in a deep kiss. His hands embraced her waist while her arms encircled his neck, both of them conspiring to pull her up his body. She hooked her legs around his hips as he shoved her against the wall. This wasn't the right place to be doing this; she could hear voices behind Spike, people walking by and staring at them. Detaching one arm from his neck, Buffy fumbled behind her for a doorknob she could see out of the corner of her eye. She turned it, and the two of them stumbled out into the garage, colliding with the side of a car.
Spike placed Buffy on the cold metal hood, still kissing her mouth and neck, his hands now pulling at her clothes, trying to hitch up her skirt. Buffy slipped her hands under his Union Jack T-shirt to run her fingers up and down the cleft of his spine. God, she wanted him. She had forgotten just how much she had missed this. Parting her legs further, Buffy slid to the edge of the hood and rubbed herself against the hard seam of Spike's jeans. Too many clothes. She pulled her hands out from under his shirt and started to unbuckle his belt.
He caught her hands and took a step back. Still breathless and flushed with desire, he lowered his eyes and shook his head. Surprised by the unexpected change of behaviour, Buffy slid off the hood and ran her hands up his chest.
"Spike, what's wrong?"
He caught one of her hands and pulled it to his crotch. She could feel the rigid texture of the thick denim, but only soft flesh inside. "That's what's wrong," he said through clenched teeth. "Mechanical problem." He released her and headed for the door.
"Hey, it's okay," she said. "I remember you told me. Resurrection side effect." She smiled, although he wasn't looking at her. "At least I know it isn't because you don't want me."
"No. It's because you didn't want me."
Spike placed Buffy on the cold metal hood, still kissing her mouth and neck, his hands now pulling at her clothes, trying to hitch up her skirt. Buffy slipped her hands under his Union Jack T-shirt to run her fingers up and down the cleft of his spine. Parting her legs further, she slid to the edge of the hood and rubbed herself against the hard seam of Spike's jeans. Too many clothes. She pulled her hands out from under his shirt and started to unbuckle his belt.
He let her ease him out of his jeans, grinning lecherously when she started to stroke his hard erection. He grabbed her head and kissed her hard, his tongue sliding in and out of her mouth, making her dizzy with passion. Buffy let out a cry of surprise when he tore open the top of her dress, uncovering her breasts.
He slid his hands under her skirt, pulling her pantyhose and underwear downwards, exposing Buffy's naked buttocks to the cold surface of the car hood. His fingers dug into her hips, pulling her against his naked groin, his erection rubbing against her pubic mound. Buffy threw her head back with a loud moan, then another, each one louder than the last as he slid inside her and kissed her and stroked her and thrust into her until he made... her... come. Oh. Just like that. God, yes, just like that.
Buffy caught her breath and wiped her sticky hand on the bed covers. She looked at the sloping ceiling above her and thought back on the events of that evening. Spike wanted her and she wanted Spike, but they couldn't have sex. It was like Angel all over again. Only this time, the problem was physical rather than metaphysical. Or maybe it was psychological. Maybe he was afraid she'd hurt him, just like Xander said.
She sat up in bed when she heard footsteps on the stairs. Spike was home at last. Checking that the pyjamas she was wearing were decent, Buffy slipped out into the corridor. He had only just gone into his room; the door was still ajar.
"Spike?" whispered Buffy, pushing the door open so that she could look into the bedroom.
He was sitting on the bed taking his boots off. He glanced at her, then continued to undress without a word, starting with his sweater and T-shirt.
"Look, about tonight--" she started.
"Yeah, me too," he interrupted.
Buffy leaned against the door frame. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Not really." He rubbed his eyes, smudging the mascara and eyeliner onto his cheeks. "Look, pet, it's late and these new contacts are killing my eyes. Can we do this some other time?"
"Yeah, sure." She put her hand on the door handle, ready to pull it closed. "Just... I want you to know. I don't want to hurt you."
He looked at her sharply, and for a moment, she was afraid he was going to bring up the past again. Of course, he'd never wanted to hurt her either, and they both knew how that had ended. But he lowered his eyes again and said nothing.
Maybe he was right; they could talk about this another day. Buffy pulled the door towards her.
"This is the most pointless occupation in the universe."
Buffy kept her eyes closed. She had been enjoying a nice doze in the sunshine before Spike interrupted her sleep. She assumed that he was talking to Willow anyway, since the former witch was lying beside him.
"Well, I'm not Miss Happy Beach Person either," she heard Willow say. "I mean, sunbathing doesn't turn me into a suntan beach babe. More like a whole lot of sunburn and freckles babe."
Buffy heard Spike chuckle. "Can I just point out that this thing was your idea?"
"Hey, it rained all summer in England! I got homesick for the whole sunshine and beachy thing. Besides, sunshine is good for you."
"Well, I can think of more productive things to do with my time. But if you say it's good for me." There was a pause. "I like your bathing costume, by the way. Electric blue. Makes a change from the pink fluff you usually wear."
"I kinda don't feel very pink and fluffy these days. But thanks. I like your bathing costume too. Very brief briefs."
"Yeah," said Spike with a chuckle. "But somehow, I don't think seeing me in this ridiculous bathing suit is going to reverse the whole carpet munching thing, is it?"
Startled by his question, Buffy's eyes fluttered open for a moment. He was lying two towels away from her, with Willow on his other side. Spike in a Speedo was not a sight Buffy was used to. She had seen him entirely naked, and she had seen him entirely clothed. But mostly naked with only his privates concealed was something different. After a good look at him, Buffy closed her eyes again, intent on resuming her nap. And not thinking about Spike's briefs; especially after last night.
"Well, let's leave aside the whole 'carpet munching' thing," said Willow hastily. "Tell me, Spike, have you been in the sun, like ever? You're really white."
"Not really, no. It wasn't the done thing back when I was human. Hmm. I suppose I am rather white compared to everyone else." He chuckled. "You'd think I had spent the last 120 years lurking in dark, dank places. I look a bit like a mushroom."
"Well, you're gonna be a real fried mushroom if you don't have some kind of protection." Willow rummaged in her bag. "I have some really good suntan lotion that'll stop you from burning. I use it all the time. Here, I'll do your back. You can do the rest."
Temptation proved too irresistible; Buffy opened one eye again to see what was happening. Spike was now lying on his front, while Willow rubbed the suntan lotion into his back. Buffy watched as she ran her hands up and down his spine, kneading his shoulders, rubbing his white skin in large circular motions. Spike's back looked like marble in the bright sunlight.
"Oh, bloody hell, this is nice," murmured Spike. "Can you be my personal masseuse from now on?"
Willow laughed. "I don't think so. Your boobs aren't big enough."
"Damn. Women get all the luck these days." He shifted his head to look up at her. "So you're a breast woman, huh?"
"I guess I am," said Willow with a grin. "Cause, see, I've only got little boobs. Kinda non-existent boobs, really. Gotta compensate."
"Oh, come on, they're not that bad," Spike assured her; Buffy could tell he was looking at her chest. "Mind you, from my point of view as a guy: tits! And you pushed them up nicely last night. Just shows that size isn't everything."
So much for the idea he hadn't been flirting with Willow the previous night. He'd obviously been interested enough to notice her breasts! Buffy closed her eyes, trying to control her jealousy. Willow was gay, Spike was impotent; they were just being friendly, she told herself.
"Oh, that's the chicken fillet effect," said Willow, laughing. "And no, not the edible kind. These ones." Buffy heard Willow rooting around in her bag again. She presumably pulled out one of the plastic pouches. "Here. They're like the implants women get put in their boobs, only you put them in your bra. They're great. And as an added bonus, if you throw them at a wall, they stick. Kinda like Play-Doh."
"Interesting. Though you do realise you've just handed me something you normally wear on your tits, right?" Spike chuckled. "Personally, I'm more of a leg man anyway. First thing I noticed when I finally got to see a naked lady. Wow. Legs. Nice pair on Sleeping Beauty over there."
Unable to stand any more of this, Buffy sat up. "Lying right here, and kinda hearing everything you're saying!"
Willow looked guilty and pulled away with haste, but Spike drew himself up on his elbows and grinned at Buffy. His dyed black hair was disarrayed and had gone curly in the sea breeze, giving him a relaxed look that would have thrilled Buffy if she weren't so mad at him. Fortunately for him, he chose to say nothing.
"I'm just putting some suntan lotion on him before he turns into a lobster," said Willow. "I mean a boiled lobster, obviously, because a living lobster would be kind of blue and... I think I'll go see what the others are doing."
Willow got up and headed towards Xander, who was hanging out with some of his friends from work. Dawn had met up with a group of her high school friends and was playing volleyball with them further away. Buffy half-regretted the days when her little sister's main ambition had been to hang out with the Scoobies, but on the other hand, the fact that Dawn had friends of her own was a good thing. It meant she was growing up and not constantly interfering in her big sister's life.
"What was all that about?" asked Buffy, turning back towards Spike.
He shrugged. "Just talking, that's all."
Spike sighed and sat up. "I've got to treat it like something normal. That's what Giles said. I'm not a pervert."
"I never said you were a pervert, Spike. I'm just accusing you of flirting with my best friend."
"Well, I'm not," he said sharply. "Might as well accuse me of flirting with Xander. And anyway, I'm not your bloody property, you know."
He poured some suntan lotion on his hands and rubbed it into his arms. Buffy's anger abated when she realised that she had genuinely hurt his feelings. Besides, the whole jealous of Willow thing hadn't really worked out the previous night.
"I don't think you're my property," she said in a little voice.
Spike stopped what he was doing and looked at her, though she couldn't see his eyes behind his sunglasses. "What's it all about, Buffy? Why are you after me?"
"I'm not 'after' you. I just want... you."
Spike looked away. "Yeah, you want me to fuck your brains out again. Well, I can't do that anymore. So I suppose you'll just have to be content with treating me like a human being."
"You think I don't treat you like a human being?" asked Buffy, wide-eyed. "Why, what did I do wrong?"
"You want to have sex with me. It's revolting."
Buffy was aware that her voice was getting smaller and smaller. "You think I'm revolting?"
"No, I'm revolting," he snapped. "Me wanting you. It's disgusting."
"No, it isn't," said Buffy. She crawled over to the towel next to him, and put her hand on his shoulder. "My God, Spike, you can't beat yourself up forever for one minute of your existence."
He hung his head, shaking it slightly like a rueful schoolboy. "It's not as if the rest of my existence makes me feel particularly good about myself."
Buffy rubbed his shoulder gently, trying to think of something comforting to say. But what could console a man with 120 years of blood on his hands? For want of a better solution, she prepared to give him a happy, cheery speech about the good person he had become. She was interrupted before she even started; Xander came to join them, splashing them with water like a wet dog.
"Hey, guys," he said; he was carrying a surfboard under one arm. "We're thinking about doing some surfing. You wanna come?"
Buffy shook her head, annoyed by the interruption, but Spike sprang to his feet. "Sounds brilliant. I've never been surfing!"
"It's not funny, you know. I'm in pain."
Buffy exchanged a glance with Willow, and the two of them giggled. Sitting between them on the Summers' couch, Spike let out a melodramatic sigh. He was wearing nothing but his ridiculously small Speedo, and his shoulders and legs were streaked with irregular patches of sunburn.
"Well," said Buffy, rubbing after-sun lotion into his red and white shoulders. "You gotta admit there is some irony to you getting sunburn on your first day in the sun."
"But just think how handsome you'll look with a tan," said Willow, applying lotion to the other side of Spike. She smiled at Buffy to indicate that there was nothing serious about the comment.
Spike strained to look at his back. "Looks more like I'll have a tan in all the places I missed with the sunscreen."
"It'll certainly be a bold new look for you," said Buffy cheerfully. "But look at it on the bright side. There aren't many guys out there with a stripy tan."
Willow laughed. "You could be Zebra Spike!"
"Zebra?" he repeated, though he pronounced it 'zeh-bra'. "Bloody hell. Can't you at least call me Tiger Spike?"
"Oh, I wouldn't know anything about that," said Willow with a coy smile.
Spike looked from one woman to the other, taking in their light summer dresses and bare legs. "You know, this is every man's fantasy. Getting oiled up by a pair of scantily-clad beauties. And I can't even enjoy it because I'm in too much pain!"
Giles came in from the kitchen, carrying a cup of tea. He had dropped by shortly after the beach party returned, explaining that he wanted to talk to Spike. Buffy was pleased to see her former Watcher take such a great interest in her would-be boyfriend. It confirmed her belief that what Spike had done for her was amazing.
Giles smiled when he saw the state Spike was in.
"Oh dear. It's not a good idea to go out in the Californian sun when you haven't seen the sun in 150 years."
"You know the saying, 'Mad dogs and Englishmen'," said Spike with a grin. "I notice you carefully avoided the beach, sunny Jim. You should have come along. We had a laugh, did some surfing. I love surfing. Better than killing demons any day."
"But a lot more pointless," declared Buffy. For some obscure reason, Slayer strength and coordination didn't help when it came to balancing on a board. A fear of drowning was a bit inconvenient too; Buffy had spent the whole afternoon with her feet firmly on the ground.
"Oh, ah, I'm not much of a beach person, really," said Giles. "Besides, I had some research to do."
Spike looked worried. "Found anything interesting?"
"Only that vampires who have become human are a rare species." He sat on the chair opposite the couch. "I haven't been able to secure any more details on Darla. The people who brought her back are not very forthcoming, and I was unable to contact Angel."
"You tried to call Angel?" exclaimed Buffy, annoyed that he hadn't discussed this with her first.
"We really don't need to drag the bloody poof into this," said Spike.
Giles raised his hand to calm them both down. "As I said, I was unable to talk to him. The young lady I did talk to was very helpful, but everything she knew about Darla seemed to be second hand information. I had better luck with Wesley, who is going to e-mail me some documents. I gather he isn't working with Angel anymore."
"Never mind about that," said Spike. "Why are you so keen to find out about Darla?"
"Well, she is the most recent case of humanity among vampires," said Giles. "Studying her example might tell us if there's any risk of side-effects."
"What, like diseases I had as a human?" asked Spike. "First thing I did when I got here was get a health check. No TB, no other assorted nasties I might have picked up as a vampire. Clean bill of health."
Buffy was surprised. "I didn't know you went to see a doctor."
"You remember that cough I had?" Spike shrugged. "I was worried."
"You had TB when you were human?" asked Willow.
Spike ran his hand through his hair. "Not that I know of. It's just my--" He glanced at Giles, then lowered his eyes. "My sister died of TB. And believe me, it wasn't Dame Aux Camélias stuff either." He sighed. "So anyway, there's nothing to worry about as far as old Great-Granny having a syphilitic heart condition is concerned. I'm clean as a whistle, me."
Giles nodded. "However, I do find it interesting that the last case of humanity was in your vampiric ancestor."
"Makes you wonder about the demons you've all had," said Willow. "I mean, the Master sired Darla, who sired Angel, who sired Drusilla, who sired Spike."
"I think we all know the begats of my family," said Spike. It was a joke that only Giles chuckled at as Willow continued.
"Well, leaving aside the Master, who got killed; two of you ended up human, and one is a vampire with a soul. Not to mention the whole Connor thing. Kind of a weird family in the vampire world."
"Maybe the Master sired too many vampires and his demon became weakened or something," said Buffy. The others all looked at her as if she had sprouted horns. "Okay... maybe not."
Spike smiled at her. "Maybe not, no." He turned back to Giles. "I don't have any answers for you on that count, mate. Maybe it's just a coincidence."
"Yes, indeed..." said Giles in a voice which suggested he wanted to give it more thought. "When you're ready, I'd like to talk to you in private, Spike. There's still so much I want to know."
Spike gave Willow and Buffy a long-suffering look. "Oh, well. I'll see you lovely ladies later, when Watcher boy has finished poking around in my head." He grinned and rubbed his hands as he stood up. "I'm sure I can think up a few more home truths about vampires that the Council really doesn't want to know."
"I mean, none of the platforms are straight; there's this big gaping hole between you and the Tube train. So it's all over the place: written on the platform, on the trains." Willow waved her hand to mimic writing on a wall. "They even have announcements all the time saying 'Mind the gap!'. It's like they're terrified you're going to fall into the hole."
"Maybe someone did, and they got sued," suggested Dawn. "Like McDonald's who have to put 'Caution: this drink is hot' on the side of their coffee cups."
All the American Scoobies were sitting in the living-room while Giles and Spike had their talk. Xander laughed and finished off his drink.
"You'll have to ask our resident Limeys next door why everything is curvy in England," he said, nodding towards the closed dining-room door on the other side of the hallway. "I wonder what's up with the counselling sessions, by the way. Why is Giles so interested in Spike?"
"Because the idea of a soulless vampire wanting to be a mere mortal again totally blows his mind?" suggested Willow. "The whole vampire looking for redemption thing kinda doesn't fit in with everything the Council says about vamps."
Xander shrugged. "Yeah, but it just means Spike is weird. It doesn't mean other vampires can be redeemed. Spike's had the chip, the Slayer obsession, years of hanging around us. Guess that can really change a vamp."
"But didn't Giles always say that vamps couldn't change?" said Dawn. "If Spike could change, even if it was just because of things people did to him against his will, then maybe other vamps have that possibility too and--"
"I did a straw poll," interrupted Buffy before they got a chance to argue the advisability of staking vampires on sight. "None of the vampires I asked were interested in changing. So not staking them just means lots of dead bodies. Anyone want more drinks?"
Buffy took their assorted glasses and mugs and went into the kitchen. The last thing she wanted was a lengthy debate on whether her prey could be saved. She was fixing the drinks when she noticed that the dining-room door was open. Even though their voices were soft, she could just hear what Giles and Spike were saying.
"...and I thought 'I could have this'," Spike was saying. "Ready made family, new life in Sacramento with a clean slate. She was a nice girl, you know, and the boy was adorable." Buffy stared at the door, her heart suddenly cold with fear. Did he really regret letting Melissa go? She was a normal woman with a normal life; something Buffy would never have.
"But it would have been a lie," concluded Spike.
"Because you love Buffy?" asked Giles.
"Because I didn't love Melissa. And because I don't deserve that. God, I don't deserve anything. I hate being human, and I'm so ashamed that I hate it. I shouldn't feel like this. Buffy's right, I chose this path, and I shouldn't be going around whinging about it."
"Do you want to be a vampire again?"
There was a pause. "It was simpler. Before the chip, before Buffy, it was all very simple. There was just feeding, fucking and fighting. It was-- I don't know how to describe it, really. Being a vampire; it's like taking cocaine or something. You feel like you're the most powerful being in the universe and it's exhilarating. You're just so free. The kill, the human blood makes you free.
"But when that's gone, and it's just you... It's awful, like the worst cold turkey. You're just back to being nothing. Ordinary." He sighed. "It's been like that since the chip. Now it's a bit better, because being human makes me so busy, most of the time, I don't even remember the high. There's bills and work and worrying about whether I'll ever get it up again. Vaccinations, hunger pangs, and pain all the time; God, I can't bloody lift a finger without hurting something. My body's gurgling and thumping and fighting me. And more people want things from me than I even talked to while I was a vampire. But it's hard. When I remember how things were, it's a struggle. And that doesn't make sense. It's what I wanted."
"I can understand your conflicting feelings," said Giles gently. "It's very difficult to relinquish power once you've had it. But you mustn't stop the struggle. It will be worth it."
"Really?" Spike didn't sound convinced.
"It depends what you want, Spike. Do you want the fighting and fucking?" The word sounded strange coming from Giles. "Or do you want to be useful? Living here on the Hellmouth, knowing what you know about the demon underworld, you have a unique opportunity to make a difference."
"What, as an ordinary Joe like Xander?"
"As it happens, Xander was in a position to save the whole world last spring. You shouldn't underestimate the power of a human being. What you have now, most of all, is the power to choose. You can become good, you can become evil; you can even go back to being a vampire. The choice is yours."
"I made my choice when I was a vampire. I'm no coward; I'm going to stick this through."
"Good decision." There was a pause. "Do you want some more tea?"
Buffy realised she hadn't finished preparing the drinks for the others; she didn't have time to get them done before Giles walked in.
"Hey," she said, trying not to look too flustered. "How's the patient?"
"He's getting better, but is still having some doubts about his life as a human."
"He wants to be a vampire again?" said Buffy with concern, unable to conceal the panic she felt at what she had overheard. If Spike became a soulless vampire again, she would have to stake him.
Giles shook his head. "No. He is struggling, but I think he's doing a good job of adjusting to human life."
"Good, because I like him as a human."
"I know. And so does he," said Giles, turning away to turn on the kettle. Buffy could see a little smile on his lips. "You were right. He is quite a pleasant young man without the demon."
Pleased by this reluctant blessing from her former Watcher, Buffy carried the drinks in to her friends. Her smile faded when she found that Spike had slipped into the living room. He was talking to Willow, whispering something in her ear that made her laugh. Buffy had to struggle hard to conceal her jealousy, but the conniving smile they exchanged when he returned to the other room felt like a stab in the heart.
Buffy knocked on the Rosenbergs' door. After a while, the door opened to reveal Willow apparently wearing only a long, loose shirt. She stared at Buffy, visibly surprised, and not very pleased.
"Oh, Buffy, hey!" she said nervously. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to see you." They stared at each other for a moment. "Are your parents here?"
"No, they're in South Africa."
Buffy rocked on her heels, feeling awkward. "Wow. That's far away."
"So, can I come in?"
There was a noise from within the house, Willow looked behind her and grinned at Buffy. "Of course you can. Sorry. Not thinking very clearly. Kinda all zonked out with the studying thing. And other stuff."
She stepped aside to let Buffy in. The reason for her nervousness became apparent when Spike came out from the living-room. He was pulling on his T-shirt. Buffy felt as if her heart had been pulled out. Seeing Spike with Anya had been bad enough, but this...
"Hello, luv," said Spike. He raised one eyebrow, an amused twinkle in his eye. "You're not seriously thinking what I think you're thinking?"
Buffy crossed her arms. "And what do you think I'm thinking?"
"That you're thinking something completely wrong?" suggested Willow. "Buffy, I was giving him a massage."
"And in what way is that not what I'm thinking?" exclaimed Buffy, panic rising in her chest.
Spike's amusement vanished. "Me, impotent. Willow, gay. Both of us not bloody stupid."
"Spike," said Willow gently. "Don't you have to see Xander about that thing?"
"Yeah." He gave Buffy a dirty look as he passed her. "I'll see you later."
When Spike was gone, Willow pulled Buffy into the living-room. It smelled of cigarette smoke. Buffy soon realised why; Willow sat on the couch and rummaged in her purse, pulling out a packet of cigarettes and a golden lighter.
"Don't look at me like that, Buffy," said Willow as she lit up. "It's a lesser evil, you know. Can't kill anyone when I'm on a nicotine high!" She went over to open the window and sat on the sill. "Except from passive smoking I guess. But really, the worst that can happen is I'll get lung cancer, right?"
"That's Spike's lighter," said Buffy, suddenly realising.
Willow smiled. "Yeah, well, he doesn't smoke anymore, so he gave it to me."
"So what is this? Is Spike sleeping with all my friends now?"
Willow rolled her eyes. "Yeah, sure. In fact, Spike, Anya, and I are having a ménage à trois. We've tried to convince Xander to join, but you know how uptight he can be." She shook her head. "Buffy, I wouldn't sleep with your ex even if I wanted to. And believe me, I don't want to. Not after Tara. So keep your jealousy to yourself, Buffy. Spike and I don't deserve that."
"I'm sorry," said Buffy, touched by the hurt in Willow's voice.
"You just don't realise how harsh you can be sometimes." Willow blew a plume of smoke out of the window. "Spike and I have a lot in common, you know. We're both murderers; we both did our loved ones a terrible wrong. At least he had an excuse. Soulless demon with a lover who treated him like that."
Buffy swallowed hard. "What do you mean?"
"I read your mind. When I was all postal, I could hear everyone's thoughts. Even Spike's. I know everything about you two." She shook her head, her hard expression softening into the features of the Willow of old. "I'm sorry. Buffy, I shouldn't throw that in your face. It's none of my business. But Spike's hurting, and I don't like seeing that. He loves you, but he's terrified you'll hurt him again. And he thinks he'll hurt you too. He's just one big pile of fear."
"I know," admitted Buffy. "Willow, I don't know what to do. I want to help him, and I don't know how." She glanced at her friend. "Did he tell you what happened at the party?"
"Not everything. But he said you kissed. And he explained about the impotence." Willow drew on her cigarette. "Giles says it's probably just psychosomatic. He's so ashamed and afraid of his sexuality that he's subconsciously trying to avoid it completely. I guess being around you doesn't help."
There was that feeling of dread again. "You think I make things worse?"
"No, sweetie," said Willow, throwing her cigarette out of the window and coming to sit beside Buffy. "But... I think some of it is about you. The way you used him, what he did to you. He thinks sex is the only thing women have ever wanted from him, and at the same time, he thinks it's the worst thing about him."
"And I'm both the girl who used him for sex, and the one he tried to rape. God, I'm not surprised he's all conflicted. I didn't think about it that way." Buffy looked down at her hands. "But if it's all my fault, maybe I can make things better."
"You want to get back with him?"
Buffy looked at her. "I guess so. Makes me kinda weird, right?"
"Oh, you've always been weird. But Spike's okay. If you can forgive each other, it can only make you stronger, right? Because you never know what might happen." Her eyes stared into the distance. "If you love each other, you should take what you've got and make the most of it while you can."
Buffy stood in the back doorway, wiping her muddy feet on the mat and brushing back her wet hair. Loud music was blaring from the radio; oblivious to her presence, Spike was mixing something in a bowl. She watched as he took the spoon he was using and stuck it in his mouth, before plunging it back into the mixture.
"You know that's unhygienic, right?" she said.
He jumped and turned to glare at her. "What are you doing, coming in this way?"
"It's raining," explained Buffy. "Don't really care for mud stains in the front entrance." She kicked off her shoes. "I guess we really did catch the last beach day last weekend."
Buffy looked at Spike, unsure if she should bring up their awkward conversation at the beach. Or indeed their embarrassing encounter at the party. Spike seemed to be similarly afflicted, though he had the advantage of something to do. He was mixing that mixture for all it was worth.
"What are you making?" asked Buffy, deciding that a nice, neutral topic was safer than bringing up their problems.
Spike looked relieved. "A cake. Willow and Xander said they might come over later on, so I thought I'd cook a meal. Well, try to cook a meal." He lifted the lid on a pan that was bubbling on the stove, and peered into it with a dubious expression. "Chances are, we'll be having pizza."
"Pizza is good," said Buffy with a grin, coming nearer to see what he was cooking. It was some kind of brown stew that smelled very unpleasant. "But even if we don't eat it, you'll have made the effort."
Spike nodded. "Exactly. I'll never get what I want if I don't try for it."
He turned towards Buffy as if he were about to say something else. For a moment, he stared into her eyes, an apprehensive look on his face. But then he lowered his gaze again and went back to churning his cake mix. Buffy looked away too. God, this was hard. She thought about her conversation with Willow, and how she and Spike should make the most of what they had. Maybe now was the time to bring their problems out in the open, where they could be stabbed with metaphorical pointy things.
"What are you doing home?" she asked. "Don't you normally work down the docks and at that bar thing?" Okay, so she was a total wuss.
"Ah, well. Decided working down the docks really wasn't my thing, so I jacked it in."
"You left your job? Why?" Buffy hoped this had nothing to do with her complaining that she never saw him.
"Well, you were complaining that you never see me." Oh, crap. Couldn't Spike make a decision for himself for once, instead of always doing as she told him? "It occurred to me that we'd be a lot better off if I got myself a better paid job, so I don't have to work evenings too." He put down the mixing bowl. "Willow helped me make a résumé. It looks really good, considering I only entered the job market a few weeks ago. Just a sec, I'll get it..."
Spike went into the other room and returned with a printed sheet of paper. "There we go, my life story translated into normality."
The résumé was short, but laid out in an elegant typeface; Buffy skimmed over it and laughed. "You're pretending you've got a degree from Magdalen College, Oxford?"
"It's pronounced 'Maudlin', and yep, I followed my father's footsteps to a T." Spike started churning his cake mix again.
"You're serious?" Buffy stared at him. "You really have a college degree?"
He gave her an amused look. "Yes, I really did have a college degree. Don't get too excited; I don't think the ability to translate Latin and Greek comes in that handy these days. But at least it makes it look as if I've been doing something with my short life. Aside from practising martial arts a lot." He pointed at the 'Hobbies' section at the end of the résumé.
Buffy's mind was still on the degree. No wonder he got on so well with Willow; Spike was a closet egg-head. Not a college dropout like herself.
"Look, pet, I'm sorry about the other day and the Willow thing," he said in a soft, earnest voice. "I should have realised it would make you jealous."
That gave her thoughts another direction. She smiled at him. "That's okay. My bad, totally. I mean, you and Willow. So not happening, right?"
"Well, I used to fancy her," said Spike, though he didn't give Buffy time to react to that little titbit of information before adding, "But not now. We've both changed." He tilted his head and smiled at her, his expression hopeful but uncertain. "Besides, I've got someone far better to go for. If she'll have me."
He was staring straight at her; there could be no doubt who he was referring to. Buffy's heart skipped a beat, though she was puzzled.
"I thought you didn't want me anymore," she said. "I mean, you said it would be wrong."
"That was me being noble. Trying to do the right thing." Spike's lips twisted into a wry little smile. "But I've thought about it a bit more. If you want us to make a go of it, despite everything we've been through, then it's not really up to me to decide we're not going to. Not without at least having a chat with you first."
"Good thinking," said Buffy, smiling with delight at the thought that Spike had changed his mind. "Not to mention very mature."
He rubbed the back of his neck, a little embarrassed. "Yes, Giles thought so too. Thing is, pet, now I'm human, I can really see how messed up we both were last year. I behaved abominably, and being with me didn't bring out the best in you, either. I'm afraid that might happen again. After all, my only long-term relationship was with Dru, and I don't know if I'm cut out to be a good boyfriend to someone like you." He turned away from her. "Especially if my best feature is currently unavailable."
Buffy caught his arm to pull him back towards her. "That's not your best feature, and I think you'll make a great boyfriend." She smiled. "You're already a good friend. And you know, you had your moments when we were together before. Non-sexual kinds of moments," she added before he could get the wrong idea. "Ones where I saw the real you under all the posturing. But they were just moments back then; now, you're really that person all the time. And I want to be with you. Now we've got a second chance, maybe we can do things differently."
Spike suddenly laughed and wrapped his arms around her. Buffy returned his happy embrace, her heart dancing with the certitude that this was the right thing to do. Everything would be different this time around. Spike kissed her cheek, and God, it made her weak in the knees. His strong arm around her waist, his lips on her face, the smell of his sweat on the old T-shirt he was wearing. This all felt so right.
"Isn't Dawn supposed to be back from school?" asked Spike in a low voice, his lips tickling her ear.
Buffy closed her eyes, resting her head on his shoulder. "She told me she was sleeping over at her friend Imelda's place. DVD night, apparently."
"Oh." Spike brushed Buffy's lower lip with a floury finger. She snaked her tongue out to lick it, then drew it into her mouth, sucking gently. When she opened her eyes to look at him, Spike's face was flushed, his eyes half-closed, his lips parted by his ragged breath. The raw desire on his face made Buffy's entire body tingle.
"I can make love to you, you know," said Spike softly. "I can make you feel good."
"You don't have to." Buffy smiled. "I mean, we don't have to if you can't, you know."
"Get an erection?" His lips curled into a sardonic smirk that was all Old Spike. "Since when did you become so coy? Besides, it won't be that different for you without my willy." He leaned in close to whisper in her ear. "I have nimble fingers, and I doubt breathing will be a major handicap."
Aroused at the very thought of Spike touching her, Buffy laughed and kissed his cheek. She ran her hands up his back, removing them when he winced.
"Sunburn," he explained. "Getting better, but still a bit sore."
Buffy giggled. She had forgotten about the sunburn, even though he had complained about it every time she'd seen him since Sunday. Laying her hands flat on his back to apply as little pressure as possible, Buffy drew her head back slightly, aiming a kiss at his mouth. The phone rang.
"That's bound to be for you," said Spike, looking in the direction of the warbling telephone.
Buffy sighed and disengaged herself from Spike's warm embrace. The phone call was from Xander, explaining that he couldn't come over tonight because he had a hot date with Amrita. Way to kill the mood, thought Buffy, even though the poor man had no idea what he had interrupted.
By the time she had finished talking to him, Spike was back at the stove, adding some ingredients to his stew. He raised his eyebrows at her as if to ask what the phone call was about.
"Xander can't make it," she told him.
"Great. And here I am making food for the five thousand." Spike shrugged. "Oh well, if it's edible, we can always keep it for another day."
"Yeah." The romantic mood was gone. Buffy felt cold, wet and tired. "I'm gonna have a bath. Call me when it's ready."
She had just undressed and was running water into the bathtub when Spike knocked on the door. Smiling at the thought of the lame excuses he might come up with, Buffy put on her bathrobe and opened the door. Maybe he wanted to hop in the bathtub with her.
"It just occurred to me," said Spike, leaning in the doorway with a grin. "We didn't really finish what we were talking about."
"You want to talk some more about sex?" asked Buffy.
"No, I want to have sex," he answered, a twinkle in his eye. "But talking about it is fine, if that's your thing."
Buffy crossed her arms. "Oh yeah? Come a bit closer and I'll show you who wants to talk."
Spike smiled and seemed about to take her up on her offer. But then his smile faded, and he took a step back, his eyes on Buffy's crossed arms. "Maybe later. Actually, I came to tell you dinner will be half an hour."
"I don't stay that long in the bath anyway." She noticed the look on his face. "Spike, what's wrong?"
He turned away and headed for the stairs. Buffy looked down at her grey bathrobe, then at the water running into the bathtub, realisation striking her.
"Spike! Come back, I have an idea!" she said, turning the water off.
Buffy ran after him and caught up with him at the bottom of the stairs. Standing on the bottom step, she was exactly level with Spike's face. She held his head in both hands and gently kissed his lips.
"Maybe your problem isn't the resurrection," she said. "Maybe it's just the whole me in the bathroom thing." Spike gave her a 'duh' look, which suggested this was something he had realised a long time ago. Undaunted, Buffy pulled him up the stairs. "We can fix it. I've seen it on TV. When you're traumatised by something, you can be cured by doing the same thing again, only acting out a different ending. So what if instead of fighting you off, I'm all willing and stuff?"
"You're going to fuck me better?" exclaimed Spike when they reached the bathroom. He shook her hand off his. "You're bonkers! There's a bloody good reason that night haunts me; it makes sure I don't bloody do it again!"
Buffy put her hands on her hips. "So what? You're going to be impotent the rest of your human life just because of one minute of your existence as a soulless vampire? I'm not going to let you do this to yourself."
Spike gave her a disdainful look. "Oh well, I'm sorry I can't perform my duties as your walking dildo anymore."
"How can you say that?" exclaimed Buffy, too hurt to be angry. "That isn't what I want from you, Spike. I want the living with you, and the having you around, and you being friends with my friends, and being happy, and... We don't have to have sex. You said you wanted to, and I just want to help. But if you really don't want to-- It's okay. We can have dinner and talk about other things." She reached for the door, ready to close it and return to her bath, but he stopped her.
"I really do want to. If you think it'll help..." Spike sighed and walked into the bathroom. He turned towards her when he had reached the middle of the room, and looked her over with a wan smile. "Can I get you a new bathrobe after this?"
Buffy smiled. "Sure."
Of course, after that argument with Spike, sex was the last thing on her mind. But he was right; you didn't get what you wanted if you didn't at least try. Buffy took a deep breath and stepped forward. Spike instinctively stepped back. The back of his knees bumped into the side of the bathtub and he fell heavily into a sitting position.
"Pet," he said. "I'm not sure this is going to work."
"Are you going to give it a chance or not?" she exclaimed, applying her best bossy Slayer mode to the problem.
He gave her a comical look, but kept his mouth shut as Buffy removed his glasses and started to stroke his face. She ran her hands over his well-defined cheekbones and soft lips; through his black hair that was already fading to brown; down his warm, smooth neck. There she replaced her fingers with her lips, placing a series of soft kisses on his skin, up to the faint mole on his right cheek, and finally back down to his dry lips. She slid out her tongue to wet them.
Spike was breathing hard now. His hands reached for her hips, pulling her closer. Buffy straddled his thigh, her lips still brushing against his, their breaths mingling in the damp bathroom air. She pulled one of his hands into her bathrobe; he obediently cupped and squeezed her breast, flicking his thumb over the nipple while his other hand grasped her hip. Now he was the one lapping at her lips, his wet tongue teasing her mouth open.
Buffy wrapped her arms around Spike's neck and they shared a deep, passionate kiss. He released her breast and slid both arms around her body under the bathrobe, trying to pull her as close as he could. Buffy followed, rubbing herself against the rough material of his jeans. God, this man could turn her on.
"Look at me, baby," she breathed. She buried her hands in his hair and drew his face back. "I want you, Spike. Look how much I want you."
Spike obediently looked. Her bathrobe had fallen open, exposing her breasts and a thin strip of pale stomach. As she slid her hips back down Spike's leg to give him a better view, Buffy laughed at the moisture her arousal had left behind. She lifted herself up to unwrap the cord of her bathrobe, and pulled it apart completely. Her eyes locked on Spike's, Buffy cupped one breast and then ran her hand down her stomach to plunge two fingers into her wet curls. She touched herself lightly, then withdrew her hand as if it were on fire. Too much of that and she would come right now.
She tugged at Spike's T-shirt, encouraging him to remove it, but he stopped her.
"I'm a bit peely." When Buffy started to protest, he shook his head. "No, really. Unless you're turned on by me shedding like a blimming snake, that is."
Right at that moment, Buffy was pretty sure even a skin-shedding Spike would turn her on. But he seemed genuinely squicked himself, so she resigned herself to getting no naked chest of Spike. There were other, unaffected areas to explore anyway; Buffy kneeled between his legs and unzipped his pants.
"It's not-- I'm sorry. It won't--" said Spike. He interrupted himself with a moan and slid his hands through her hair when Buffy ran her tongue down his flaccid penis. Even if it didn't make him erect, this obviously gave him some pleasure. "Oh, pet. You don't have to do this."
"What if I want to?" Buffy gently pinched his foreskin between her top teeth and bottom lip, and looked up at Spike with a mischievous smile. She released him, then twirled her tongue around his penis again. This wasn't so bad. In fact, Mr Floppy was kind of cute. Buffy had never been this intimate with a flaccid penis before.
"Does that feel good? What about this?" She stroked his loose testicles, running her fingers through his dark, fluffy curls. "They're like Chinese stress balls."
Spike nearly fell into the bath with laughter.
"And you said I didn't know how to have fun." Buffy looked up at him, putting on that wide-eyed innocent look which had always got her what she wanted before. Not so innocent when she was on her knees on the bathroom floor, half naked, dripping wet and horny as hell.
"Oh, bugger this." Spike placed his hands on her shoulders to move her back a little, and slid down to join her on the floor. "I'm going to sort you out, all right."
Buffy lay back on the bathmat, and hooked her fingers into his pants waistband to pull him towards her. Spike smiled and straddled her legs, slipping one hand between them. Buffy wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.
"God, baby," she moaned, "Yes. Please, Spike. I want you inside me."
Spike was gone.
Buffy opened her eyes and saw him back into the dresser under the window, holding his pants up while he looked at her in horror. Okay. Clearly not the right thing to say.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"Not a good idea," said Spike, trying to sound calm, but looking very agitated. "Maybe we should start with something less frightening. Like dinner?"
Evidently powered by the force of their pheromones, the phone rang again. Spike jumped at the excuse and left by the bedroom door, mumbling about bloody phones while trying to do up his pants.
Defeated, Buffy sat up and wrapped the bathrobe around her, fighting back tears of frustration. She wondered if she could persuade Willow to do another one of those forgetting spells.
By the time Buffy came out of the bathtub, refreshed and ready to face him, Spike was nowhere to be seen. There were potatoes boiling on the stove; the stew was in a casserole in the oven; the cake was rising on the shelf above it; the dining table was set for two. Buffy walked through the rooms on the ground floor, feeling a growing sense of dread. Maybe he had left. After the embarrassing scene in the bathroom, she couldn't blame him.
Buffy's dread was threatening to turn into tears when she heard a noise in the basement. She opened the door and ran halfway down the stairs. Spike was pummelling the punching bag with all his strength. When he heard her enter, he held the bag still and turned to look up at her. Then he went back to his punching.
Without a word, Buffy walked down the stairs. She stood in front of Spike and assumed a defensive position. She was all for letting off steam; a bit of non-lethal wrestling would be just the ticket. It was the only thing that had kept her sane when Angel's curse had kept them apart after his return. Spike hesitated, then flashed a wicked grin at her and lunged forward. Buffy easily side-stepped his attack, but was caught by surprise when he suddenly kicked her feet out from under her. She sat on the floor and glared at him. Spike laughed; he held out his hand to help her up.
"I don't have the strength of a rhinoceros, but at least I know what I'm doing, love. You should train more often." He leaned against the washing machine. "So what was that, an alternative to sex?"
Buffy brushed off the sweatpants and T-shirt she was wearing. "You looked like you needed to let off some steam."
"My steam's all let off. I'd still prefer to be making love, of course, but--" He shrugged.
"I'm sorry it didn't help," said Buffy. Her face felt hot; she was certain that she had turned bright red at the very thought of the embarrassing scene she had put them through in the bathroom. "I guess you were right. It was just psychobabble."
"Well, you did give me some nice new visuals, even if they were a bit blurry without the specs." Spike scratched his ear. "But maybe trying to do it in the bathroom wasn't the best place to start. Perhaps we could try somewhere else and then work our way back up to the whole bathroom thing."
Buffy smiled. "Wanna start with the bedroom?"
"Maybe later." He spread his hands. "Not that working on my sexual problems isn't appealing, but I've been slaving over a hot stove for a while, so I'd rather have dinner first. Also, I'm quite keen on being naked while attempting sex, so the fact that I look like a lump of flaky pastry doesn't help." He grinned. "That was Willow on the phone, by the way. Her parents are back from South Africa, so she can't make it either."
"Oh." Buffy was puzzled. "You'd think she would have known that before she said she'd come over."
"Dawn, Xander, Willow. Sounds like a set-up to me." Spike tilted his head with a tender smile. "Well, if they're that keen on us having dinner together, we might as well oblige."
Buffy tried to control her facial expression as the piece of potato crunched beneath her teeth. There was nothing she hated more than uncooked potato. Okay, so there were actually lots of things she hated more than uncooked potato, but it wasn't her favourite food.
"You really don't have to eat the potatoes," said Spike. "I don't think they're cooked."
"Hmf." Buffy washed the potato down with a sip of white wine. "No, they're not. But the stew is really great." Really salty and the meat was kind of stringy, actually, but she didn't want to hurt Spike's feelings. He raised a quizzical eyebrow at her. "Okay, edible," she admitted. "Which is good. Took me years to even get to 'edible'."
"Makes sense," said Spike with a good-natured smile. "I was a piss-poor master vampire, and now I'm a piss-poor master chef."
Buffy laughed. They were sitting opposite each other at the dining room table, with a candle between them. The perfect romantic dinner; kind of surreal after everything she and Spike had put each other through, but a very welcome change.
"Actually, I have something for you that might go down a bit better than my potatoes," continued Spike. He went to get an envelope from the sideboard behind him, and handed it to Buffy. "It's rent money. I don't know how much I owe you, so I just made up a sum. I thought it was about time I was contributing more than groceries to this house."
Buffy looked into the envelope. "Spike, this is way too much!"
"I don't think so." He leaned forward and looked at her earnestly. "Thing is, I've had a bit of an epiphany. Now that I have a résumé and a social security card, I've been thinking about the kind of job I should be doing. The ones I've done already are useful, but are they the best I can achieve as an individual? After all, I remember the time I first saw a lightbulb, and I know things about the demon world that even the Council of Watchers doesn't know." He took his glasses off and cleaned them on a corner of his napkin. "And I've realised what I can do to be useful, what no one else can do. Help you do your job."
"You want to be my Watcher?" said Buffy, mesmerised by the idea.
Spike glared at her. "No, I want to be your live-in boyfriend. I'm not planning to ponce around spouting exposition and cleaning my glasses." He lifted one eyebrow and looked down at his napkin. He put his glasses back on. "That's a really contagious tick, you know. Been spending way too much time with Giles. Anyway, yes, I can help with the research, and a little bit of the fighting, but more to the point, I can help with your finances. With my dusty college degree, I can probably blag my way into some pretty good jobs, and then I can support you and Dawn. You wouldn't have to work anymore."
"So what do I get to do? Stay at home and knit?" exclaimed Buffy.
"You get to be the Slayer," said Spike patiently. "Let's face it, Buffy, you're wasting your time answering phone calls. That's not your calling. You save the world. If you don't have to worry about money, you can concentrate on that. You can get another job, something that pays less, perhaps, but that's more congenial. Maybe you can get a grant to go back to college, even."
"And what do you get out of this?"
"The satisfaction of being useful, helping you do one of the most important jobs in the world," said Spike proudly. "And the boyfriend stuff, obviously, if that works out. Which it should do, considering the amount of pain we've had to go through to get this far." He tilted his head to look at her. "What do you think?"
"I think it's a good idea. A generous idea too." She frowned. "But I don't really need the money. Well, you can contribute to bills and stuff, because that's useful, but you don't have to support me like that." She handed back the envelope. "You can buy me something nice, or pay the phone bill, yeah?"
Spike looked hurt and puzzled; he got up to put the envelope back on the sideboard. "Sorry, I didn't mean to offend you."
"It's no offence, it's just--" Buffy sighed. "Boy, we're really having problems this evening, huh? I try to give you sex, you try to give me money... I guess you want the sex and I want the money; just not out of the blue like that." She frowned as something occurred to her. "Wait a minute. You have a social security card? I thought that was just for Americans."
Spike laughed and pulled an American passport from the drawer beside him. He sat at the table again and handed it to her. "Had it made last spring. Just a whim; didn't really fancy travelling to Africa on a banana boat, so I thought I'd fly there legit."
"You flew to Africa?" Buffy thought back on an old conversation with Angel. "I thought vampires didn't fly."
"Only the ones who are afraid of flying," said Spike with an evil grin. He knew exactly who she was thinking about.
"Why didn't you get a British passport?" she asked, trying to change the subject.
Spike looked at her as if that was the silliest question he'd ever heard. "Well, for some obscure reason, it's a lot easier to get an American passport in the U.S. than a British one." His expression became more serious. "Thought I might need it if I got what I wanted over there."
Buffy opened the passport and looked at the last page. Her heart missed a beat when she saw the photograph. It had clearly been taken when Spike was still a vampire; his pale skin and peroxide hair faded into the white background, making his scowling dark eyebrows and the shadows on his sunken cheeks stand out in sharp, sinister angles. He was glowering at the camera, his expression full of anger and impatience. This was the face of the creature that had tried to rape her.
Buffy raised her eyes to look at Spike's human face. The weight he had put on had softened the angles of his features, and the dark hair made him look almost ordinary, but he was still the same man. Just as she was the same person as that carefree fifteen-year-old whose smile beamed down from a photograph on the wall. The same person, only older and wiser.
"Not the greatest picture, eh, pet?" said Spike, his eyes downcast. "Still, guess it serves as a before and after thing. Little reminder of what I was. In case I ever forget."
"It's okay," said Buffy, reaching out to take his hand. "At least I know I've seen you at your worst. You've seen me at mine. If we still want each other, it's got to mean something, right?"
A wicked grin illuminated Spike's features. "Yeah, we can't resist our hormones." He squeezed her hand. "I'm glad the others didn't come after all. I get to be all suave and gentlemanly, and you get to eat my crap cooking. Perfect evening."
"Yeah." Buffy sipped her wine. "What I don't get is since when are my friends so interested in us getting together?"
"I don't know," said Spike. "They're probably tired of listening to me talking about you. I think I've bored them all into the ground."
Buffy wasn't sure she liked the sound of that. "You talked to my friends about me?"
"Only in the vaguest possible terms, don't worry," he assured her, raising a calming hand. "It's quite amusing how different their advice was. Xander thinks we should hold off any kind of commitment until we're both absolutely sure it's what we want. Willow thinks we should seize the day and go for it while we still can. Giles thinks you and I may just be getting mature enough for a relationship, but that we should take it slow. I only mentioned it to Dawn once, and she pretended she didn't really care, so I'm not sure what her advice is."
"Wow. Loads of options." Buffy frowned. "I guess Giles is probably the person we should listen to, though."
"Probably. Though it's a bit like getting sex ed from a Catholic priest," said Spike with a grin. "Actually, Giles and Willow are the ones who persuaded me to talk to you about all this. I'd thought about it; just needed a bit of prodding to do it." He sighed. "I don't know. I think we should just play it by ear. If the hormones get too much, we have sex; otherwise, we can just take things one step at a time. It's a blessing in disguise, really. Rushing things didn't work out too well last year."
"Yeah, I'm really sorry about that," said Buffy.
Spike looked amused. "Takes two to tango, pet." He looked down at his plate. "I know I've cut you out since I came back, Buffy. I haven't felt that I could confide in you, burden you with my problems. Thing is, when I became human again, I realised I had to be my own man before I could be your boyfriend. Otherwise when you fall, you'll just drag me with you, and I want to be the one who pulls you up again. Don't want to push you in further like I did before."
"If we're talking drowning metaphors, I'd say you were more like a lifebelt." Buffy stared into his blue eyes in the flickering candlelight. "But I don't need saving anymore, and I'm glad you're your own man." She lowered her eyes. "I like the man you are."
"I like you too." Spike lifted her hand to his lips. "Don't worry, pet, we haven't come this far to fail now."
"I think the books are quite good," Spike was saying. "Okay, so the chap has obviously heard about witches, vampires and demons, and made up a complete fantasy, but what I've read so far is fun."
"Actually, J.K. Rowling is a woman," said Dawn, reaching for the rice. "And I think it would be way cool to really have a Hogwarts. I could totally have gone there when I was Harry Potter's age."
"You couldn't totally have gone there because you didn't exist when you were Harry Potter's age," said Buffy with amusement. She glanced at all her friends assembled around the dinner table, seized with a sudden doubt. "He's younger than fourteen, right?"
Willow nodded, though she looked annoyed. "Harry Potter is a total misrepresentation of witchcraft! Now kids think it's all owls and magic wands." She shook her head. "You won't get very far if you think all you need to do is wave a wand to cast a spell."
"Yes, I hear black eyeballs are all the rage in modern witchcraft," said Spike, winking at her. He poured some more wine for everyone except Dawn. It was their second bottle of the evening. "I take it you don't have an opinion on Harry Potter, Rupert?"
"Well, I feel that there's nothing wrong with a little entertainment," said the former Watcher. "Even if it is a little misrepresentative. You don't see me up in arms every time the villain in an American movie happens to have a British accent."
"Exactly. We all know villains never have British accents," said Xander, grinning at Spike. "Anyway, I vote in favour of letting Harry Potter be." He raised his glass. "We're here to say goodbye to a completely different Englishman with glasses. And one who isn't even a villain."
They all turned to Giles, who looked as if he couldn't decide whether to clean his glasses or lift his own glass of wine. He chose the latter.
"Well, er, I'm sorry to be leaving -- again. But I do have business in England, and--" He smiled at Buffy. "--I think you'll all do fine without me."
"Yeah," said Spike with a hint of sarcasm. "At least this time, you're right."
"Spike will take care of me," said Buffy lightly.
She knew the two Englishmen had recently argued over Giles' abrupt departure the previous year, and she didn't want a replay at her dinner party. Although Buffy had meant her remark about Spike to be a joke, she noticed that Dawn gave her a strange look, as if she had just declared her undying love for him. Buffy glared back at her little sister; it wasn't as if there would be anything wrong with her declaring love for Spike.
Buffy looked at Spike, sitting at her side, pouring wine for her friends, and realised there was something she needed to tell him. Now wasn't the time to be thinking about her personal feelings, though; she turned her attention back to what Giles was saying.
"Yes, I'm sure Spike will take good care of you," said Giles, looking at the two of them. "As will all your friends, of course. As always." He gave into temptation this time, and cleaned his glasses. "I realise that leaving last year wasn't such a wise move. But things have changed. I made a mistake then, but that doesn't mean I am necessarily making one now. For one thing, I am already planning to return for Buffy's birthday next year. The circumstances of my departure are different this time; it's most likely the outcome will be too."
Spike turned to smile at Buffy. Perhaps, like her, he was hoping that the outcome of their rekindled relationship would be different this time as well.
Xander drove Giles back to his hotel shortly after dinner, though Willow stayed a little longer to help with the aftermath of the party. After clearing the table, Spike and Dawn settled down to watch a rerun of Friends, leaving the women to deal with the dishes. The two friends discussed Buffy's boring job and Willow's efforts to give up smoking, and engaged in some speculation about how long Xander and Amrita would last together.
"Speaking about couples that never give up-- You and Spike seem to be closer these days," remarked Willow as she dried the last plate. She smiled at Buffy's surprised look. "I saw you two; exchanging furtive looks and secret smiles. It's kind of obvious when you know what you're looking for."
"Obvious? To whom?" Buffy wasn't sure she liked that. Things that were 'obvious' when she didn't mean them to be were usually things out of her control.
"Only to those of us who know already," Willow reassured her. "Which is just, well, everyone. Except perhaps Dawn. She seemed kinda like 'don't wanna hear it' when I tried to talk to her. But I guess she gets on okay with Spike." She nodded in the direction of the living room. "Now we've all gotten to know the new Spike, I guess we've decided he's a suitable kind of guy. We're really happy for you, you know. Even Giles."
"Glad you approve," said Buffy with a hint of sarcasm, though she was pleased that her friends liked Spike. Although she didn't need their approval if she wanted a relationship with a man she liked, it was good to know she wouldn't have to choose between him and her friends.
"I have to go," said Willow, checking her watch. "I have classes in the morning, and I swear this nicotine patch is making me sleepy. I thought they were meant to make you all awake and bouncy!"
Spike was alone in the living room when Buffy came to join him after Willow left. He explained that Dawn had decided to make a mega important, extremely urgent phone call to one of her friends she would be seeing all day the next day.
"You okay, pet?" he asked when she sat down beside him. He took her hand and gave it a comforting squeeze.
"Why wouldn't I be okay?" asked Buffy with a shrug. She laced her fingers with Spike's. "If you're talking about Giles, it's not the first time he has left."
"Well, first time it happened, you started shagging me." Spike grinned at her, his eyes still shining from the wine he had drunk. "Just thought I'd check how you were doing. Might be dangerous, you see."
Buffy laughed. "You're afraid I'm going to 'shag' you again?"
"Oh, yes. Keeps me awake at night." He frowned as if it were a terrible thing. "I keep having these nightmares where I get my mojo back and we spend the whole night naked, just--"
He interrupted himself abruptly and let go of Buffy's hand when Dawn came in, still holding the phone, though she didn't seem to be talking on it. Perhaps she was waiting for her friend on the other end to come back from whatever she was doing. Buffy remembered having similar disjointed conversations with Willow at Dawn's age.
"Anyone want a Popsicle?" asked Dawn, the receiver glued to her ear.
"A Popsicle?" repeated Spike. "You just had dinner, what on Earth do you want a Popsicle for? Those things aren't good for you, you know. They'll rot your teeth."
"Okay, Dad," said Dawn sarcastically. "You want one; Buffy?"
"Sure," she said; she was in the mood for something sweet, even if it wasn't good for her.
Dawn stuck her tongue out at Spike and went to get Popsicles for herself and her sister. The person she was phoning apparently said something interesting just when she brought the ice creams back to the living room.
"Oh wow! That is so cool," exclaimed Dawn. She all but threw the Popsicle at Buffy and rushed out of the room to continue her conversation upstairs.
Their romantic mood spoiled by Dawn's interruption, Spike started flicking through the channels, and Buffy sucked on her ice cream while she read the TV Guide to work out if there was anything on.
After a moment, she realised that Spike was watching her instead of the TV. She pulled the ice cream out of her mouth to ask him why, but then noticed the leer on his face. Strawberry Popsicle in her mouth; yeah, she could see where his mind was going. The wine had obviously removed some of his inhibitions.
Putting on a falsely innocent air, Buffy sucked the ice cream back in, before twirling her tongue around the top and up the sides. Spike's grin grew dirtier, his eyes glued to the movement of her lips and tongue up and down the Popsicle. When Buffy was sure she had his full attention, she bit the top off. Spike laughed.
"You saucy mare." He leaned forward to kiss her, tasting the strawberry ice cream on her mouth, then pulled her towards him.
Buffy turned so that her back was resting against his chest. While she was making herself comfortable, Spike leaned over her shoulder and gulped down the rest of her Popsicle in one go.
"Hey! I was eating that," protested Buffy. She pouted. "You bastard, you weren't interested in me at all. You just wanted my ice cream!"
"Well, yeah," he said, as if it were obvious. "Anyway, I thought couples were supposed to share everything."
"No, that's married couples. We're just-- a couple who don't have to share everything."
She laughed when he pretended to bite her neck, then leaned back in his arms and tried to take the remote from him. They wrestled for it briefly, but Buffy won in the end. It was true, she realised as she cycled through the channels; they were a couple now. Not some kind of freak show, or an abomination full of violence and despair -- a normal couple. Admittedly, they were a 'normal' couple where one partner had superhuman strength and the other was one hundred and fifty years old. But hey, this was Sunnydale.
"Tell me something, pet," asked Spike when Buffy muted the sound on a particularly obnoxious advertisement. "When did you decide you'd like to jump me? You know, before you actually did."
Buffy shrugged. "I don't know. I guess I always thought you were kind of hot..."
"Let me guess, you felt my hard-on during a fight and thought 'yeah, I'll have some of that'?" asked Spike with a chuckle.
"No!" Buffy sat up and turned to face him, offended at the suggestion. "I-I mean, I did feel that you were kind of enjoying the fights like that too. But it wasn't all about your dick. I just thought you were a hot guy who was the last person on Earth I should be involved with." Least said about it, the better, really; that was all in the past. On the other hand, her curiosity was a little piqued. "What about you?"
Spike gave her a sexy look. "Oh, I decided I wouldn't mind a poke the very first time I saw you."
"Decided you wouldn't 'mind a poke'?" Buffy slapped his knee. "That's gross."
"I was evil, remember?" he said with a laugh. His expression softened. "You were dancing with your mates at the Bronze, shaking your cute little booty like nobody's business. You were one hot Slayer." Spike shook his head and ran his hand through his curly hair. "Blimey, you were Dawn's age! I feel like a dirty old man." His face twisted into an evil grin. "Mind you, just think what that makes Angel!"
"Don't worry, I was never Dawn's age. More like sixteen going on forty with everything that was going on," said Buffy. "What is it with you and Angel anyway?"
"You really don't want to know."
Buffy decided to take him at his word. "It's weird how things change," she said. She leaned against him again and Spike started gently stroking her stomach. "Back then, I would have done anything to be with Angel. Now, I don't even know what I saw in him." She shrugged. "I think about my future, and I can't imagine being with anyone but you."
Spike didn't say anything, though his hand stopped moving. Buffy snuggled up to him, silently encouraging him to touch her, and after a moment's hesitation, Spike took the hint and started stroking her front again. Buffy closed her eyes and arched her back when his hand moved up to cup her breasts. Spike kissed her neck; his breath was warm and heavy. One hand snaked into her pants, finding its way down to her panties. Buffy's breathing was also becoming laboured; her eyes snapped open when she realised just how much Spike wanted her...
"Do you want to go upstairs?" he whispered.
The sexy tone of his voice seemed to affect her ability to speak. "Yeah," was all she could muster.
Buffy sat on the edge of the bed and watched Spike lighting candles around the master bedroom. There was no noise from Dawn's room; Buffy hoped she was asleep. She exchanged a polite smile with Spike when he came to sit beside her. Despite their affair the previous winter, and their close encounter the week before, Buffy felt awkward and self-conscious, as if they had never made love before. Thinking about it, she realised they never had. Their trysts had always been about passion, not affection.
In an effort to break the awkward mood, Buffy reached out to stroke Spike's face, caressing his jaw and cheekbones. He leaned into her touch and kissed her palm, his eyes half-closed. Buffy moved closer, and they shared a brief kiss before Spike drew back to look into her face, his features filled with adoration. She remembered a time when she had hated that look; it had reminded her of the horrible person she believed she was, and proved that Spike was not the evil thing she believed him to be. But now, the look felt different. It made Buffy happy to know that he still adored her after everything they had been through. Something had changed in her, too; something she needed to tell him tonight.
Buffy kissed Spike again. The caress of his tongue against hers sent shivers down her spine and into her womb.
When they broke the kiss, Spike placed his glasses on the bedside table and pulled off his sweater in one graceful movement. Buffy couldn't help smiling; his hair was now standing up in unruly curls. Sparse dark hairs peppered his pectorals in uneven little patches, and his chest was covered in alternating streaks of pale and light-brown skin, where his uneven sunburn had faded into stripes. But to Buffy, Spike looked beautiful.
Spike smoothed his hair back self-consciously, then gave Buffy a sexy, confident smile. He leaned towards her, resting his weight on his lean, muscular arms. They kissed again, and Buffy stroked his chest, tracing the contours of his irregular suntan down to the waistband of his jeans. A flicker of fear crossed his face, and she withdrew. But then he smiled and caught her hand, pulling it back to the hard bulge in his pants. Buffy watched his face as she stroked him, feeling her own desire mounting when he closed his eyes and groaned. Overcome by the tenderness she felt for him, she kissed his face and neck until he opened his eyes again.
They stared at each other for a moment, serious and out of breath. Then Spike grinned and raised his eyebrows invitingly. Buffy responded with an encouraging smile. They lunged at each other, falling back onto the bed and tearing at their remaining clothes.
When they were both entirely naked, Buffy slipped one arm around Spike's neck, pulling him down on top of her. She parted her legs, wrapping them around his narrow hips, rubbing herself against him. It wasn't the most subtle invitation, but after all these weeks of waiting, she wanted him too much to wait any longer. Despite the obvious invitation, Spike hesitated, pulling back to search her face.
"Hmm?" he murmured.
"Hmm!" she responded with a smile.
Spike let out an unmanly whimper and pushed inside her, his eyes closing as a look of bliss fell on his handsome features. Buffy clutched his shoulders and let out a low moan. God, she'd actually forgotten how good it felt to have a man inside her. Spike was a perfect fit to stimulate her just the right way.
His eyes fluttered open when Buffy moaned again. Spike was moving his hips slowly, his expression unsmiling, almost pained, as if he were working hard to make the moment last, more intent on Buffy's pleasure than his own. But this wasn't the time for hard work; Buffy wanted Spike to be enjoying his recovered prowess, not worrying about her. She smiled wickedly and grabbed his ass, encouraging him to move faster. Spike grinned and shook his head as if to say what a tease she was, but then he kissed her and complied, thrusting harder, his eyes locked on hers.
This was exactly what she wanted. Buffy leaned her forehead against Spike's, her arms around his neck, her legs locked around his hips. His heart was thumping wildly and his skin was covered in a thin sheet of sweat. His thrusts were getting even harder, hammering into Buffy and making her moan with pleasure. God, if he just kept this up a little bit longer--
"Oh," he groaned, burying his face in Buffy's shoulder. "Oh, bugger."
He sounded disappointed; Buffy laughed and kissed his neck. His penis was still inside her, and her arms and legs still wrapped around him. Now she had him, she would never let go. As soon as she relaxed her hold, though, Spike rolled off onto his back and stared up at the ceiling, looking out of breath and not very pleased. Buffy couldn't help feeling a little disappointed that he seemed more interested in the ceiling than in her.
"Bloody hell," he exclaimed. He gave Buffy a worried look. "What was that? Ten seconds?"
"Oh, no, it was at least fifteen," she teased.
Spike gave her a sheepish smile. "The fifteen second marathon. God, I'm knackered." He yawned. "I'm going to drop off any minute now. Blimey, I can see why you dumped the Cowboy. And why I was such an appealing proposition when I was a vampire. Humans must be lousy lovers." He closed his eyes and grinned. "Still, on the plus side, I know you won't be using me just for sex."
"That's not funny," admonished Buffy. In the dim light of the flickering candles, she rested her head on Spike's shoulder and unburdened her soul. "I wasn't attracted to you because you were a vampire, Spike. I could have had any number of soulless fiends, but I wanted you. The guy who had hot chocolate with my Mom, who looked out for my baby sister, who helped me when he didn't need to, and loved me when I didn't deserve it. I did everything I could to push you away, because you were a vampire, and I couldn't stand it if I had to-- If things turned out like they did with Angel. And then, when I thought I'd finally pushed you to the end of your endurance, you came back human. So it isn't about orgasms or stamina, Spike. It's about you."
Buffy hesitated. Once the words were spoken, there would be no turning back. She had kept them locked away for years, to be used only when she was sure.
"Spike, I love you," she whispered.
Spike didn't answer. Buffy lifted her head, puzzled by his lack of reaction to her declaration. Looking at his face, she realised that he was asleep, sprawled half on top of the covers, his black hair mussed. He was the first man she had said those words to since Angel, and he was asleep? He looked so cute, though, that Buffy's irritation melted. She yawned and snuggled up to him again, closing her eyes. She was sure he would have a more appropriate reaction when he was awake.
Something was making an annoying ringing noise. It sounded a lot like Dawn's alarm clock, except it was very loud and seemed to be coming from a different direction than usual. As she drifted further out of sleep, Buffy realised it was Dawn's alarm, as heard from the master bedroom instead of her own. She opened her eyes and found herself nose to nose with a sleeping Spike. As she watched him, his long-lashed eyes fluttered open and he smiled at her.
Buffy smiled back. "Hi."
"Oh, bloody hell." He lay on his back and rubbed his eyes. "I fell asleep while you were talking, didn't I? You were saying nice things about me, too." He leaned towards her. "Want to give me a rerun?"
Buffy pretended to think about that. "No. You had to be there the first time." Spike pouted comically, and Buffy laughed. "It wasn't that great. Just a speech about why I liked you when you were a vampire."
She traced an indistinct pattern on Spike's shoulder before kissing it. His skin radiated warmth and sweaty smells which should have been gross, but made Buffy feel very sensuous. She had seen a thing on TV where scientists proved that men and women could pick genetically-compatible mates by the smell of their sweat. So much for humans being superior to animals.
Buffy wasn't sure whether it was her scent or just her mere presence, but Spike seemed just as pleased to see her as she was to be with him. He slid one arm over her body to lower himself onto her, and placed a series of kisses on her face and neck, working his way down under the covers. Buffy smiled and arched her back in anticipation; this was one area where Spike's prowess would be irrelevant.
He had just started sucking on one of her nipples when Buffy heard noise from Dawn's room. Her sister was evidently up and lumbering around her bedroom with all the grace of a hippopotamus. Spike continued his ministrations for a moment, then crawled back out from under the covers, shooting a dark look at Dawn's door. His hair was a mess; Buffy ran both hands through it to smooth it down. She was beginning to understand why he was so fond of brilliantine in his vampire days.
"I guess it's time to get up," she said with a sigh.
"Hmm." As unwilling to give up this tender moment as she was, Spike kissed her, his hands running over her body and in between her legs as if he were trying to memorise each detail. But in the end, he pulled away again.
"Yes, time to get up. I have an interview this morning." He kissed her nose. "Why don't you hop into the bathroom, and I'll go downstairs and get some breakfast? Dawn won't notice a thing."
Buffy observed his face a moment, to see if he being sarcastic. After all, he had spent the better part of their affair earlier that year bugging her to tell her friends about them. But for now, he seemed content to keep things quiet. She nodded her agreement. It was all right for the rest of the Scoobies to guess about their relationship; but she wanted to tell Dawn herself.
Spike kissed her again and sat on the edge of the bed. Buffy watched the movement of the muscles in his back as he pulled on his jeans. He really did have a beautiful back. She sighed when he covered it with a T-shirt and left.
Buffy stretched and reflected on how happy she felt. The sex had been brief and furtive, and a light pain in her head told her that the wine she had drunk had left her with a little hangover, but it felt good to wake up in a warm bed and find her lover lying beside her. Still, dressing to be done, food to be eaten, work to go to... She sat up and felt an unfamiliar, unpleasant sensation between her legs. Something occurred to her which made her look down with horror.
Spike and Dawn were in the kitchen when Buffy came down a little later, fully dressed and showered. Her sister was eating cereal, but Spike was busy cooking something.
"I'm frying some eggs," he explained when Buffy asked. "Okay, so it's more like scrambled eggs. Or an omelette without any other things in it. You want some, nibblet?"
"Um, no thanks," said Dawn, carrying her cereal bowl to the sink. "Two breakfasts is just decadent."
She gave Spike a funny look when he laughed, and then walked past Buffy to get her stuff. Despite their party the previous night, and Giles' departure later that afternoon, it was still a school and work day. Buffy yawned and wondered why Giles couldn't have left on a Sunday, like any civilised person would. It would have given her a chance to recover from her mini hangover. Not to mention spend more time in bed with a warm, smelly Spike. The smelly part made her smile until she remembered she had more important things to worry about.
Spike served up two portions of his fried eggs and handed one plate to Buffy, who was still deep in thought.
"Here you go, my love," he said brightly. "Another Spike special."
"Thanks." Buffy looked at the food; she really wasn't an egg person, and the brown mess on her plate wasn't very appetising. Still, she picked up the fork and bravely tucked in.
Spike gobbled down his own egg and helped himself to a bowl of cereal with a whole banana. Although she was looking down at her plate, Buffy could feel his eyes on her.
"Bloody hell," he said. "I know that look."
"Look? What look?" she raised her eyes to his, but now, he was the one staring at his plate. "I don't have a look."
"Yes, you do." He drank his cup of tea in one go. "It's the time-honoured 'Oh my God, I've had sex with Spike' look." He took a deep breath and continued in a low voice, his eyes still downcast, but his expression determined. "Guess now you've had time to think about it, you think last night was a mistake. Too much wine, bit of telly, Giles leaving-- Familiar story. I understand. It's okay, you don't have to explain."
Buffy shook her head and reached out for his hand. "Yes, we made a mistake, but it wasn't--"
"Spike, don't forget your interview." Buffy withdrew her hand; Dawn was standing in the doorway to the kitchen. "You said you'd run me to school on the way, remember?"
Spike was visibly upset, but nodded and got up. "Yeah, nearly forgot. I'd better get some clothes on."
He ran out and stomped up the stairs. Buffy put down her fork, ready to run after him and explain, but found Dawn blocking her path.
"So did you sleep with Spike?" she asked, still standing in the doorway with her arms crossed. She rolled her eyes when Buffy didn't answer. "I heard moaning. Plus, I kinda heard what Spike said just now."
Buffy's heart sank. She wasn't ready for this; it was too early. Things were already too complicated, and the headache seemed to be getting worse. "Dawn--"
"You don't want to talk about it," said Dawn flatly. "You're shacked up with the abusive ex you used to abuse, and you don't want to tell me anything. Gee, colour me surprised."
"I thought you got on okay with Spike now," said Buffy, confused by Dawn's cold attitude.
Dawn looked towards the stairs; her stern demeanour softened a little. "Yeah, I guess. But 'getting on okay' isn't the same as being involved with a guy who tried to rape me. I don't have a problem with Spike. I know he's changed, and he's an okay kind of guy. But you and him? I don't get it." She looked at Buffy as if she were some kind of freak. "I don't understand how you can have sex with him after he tried to rape you!"
"You know it was never that simple. And we've both changed now."
"Oh, so that can never happen again," said Dawn sarcastically. "You're never going to get depressed and hit him. He'll never snap and try to force you if you break up with him." Dawn shook her head. "You sound like those abused girls they always show on TV, who think everything will be different just because the guy says so. It's still you and him. I bet you never thought you'd end up using Spike for sex and beating him unconscious before it happened. How do you know you won't do it again?"
"Because I love him," said Buffy quietly. Dawn's expression changed from anger to confusion. "I know that's a lame excuse, but it does make a difference. Last year, I couldn't. Now that I can, everything is --"
"Different?" Dawn smiled more sympathetically. "I guess if you're really in love..."
"Oh, this is real," said Buffy with conviction. "More real than it's ever been. I guess sometimes, you have to make a leap of faith and trust that things will be okay." She leaned against the breakfast bar. "I don't know how things will turn out, Dawn. I can't be sure things won't go wrong some day. But then I guess you never can. All I know is that I love Spike and he loves me, and we trust each other to get it right this time."
She looked towards the doorway as she heard Spike coming back down the stairs. When he entered the kitchen, he was clean-shaven and wearing a suit, and looking so handsome with his polished glasses and combed hair that Buffy had no doubt he would get the job instantly. She took a step forward, driven by a sudden impulse to kiss his cheek, or straighten his collar, or do one of those other stereotypical things women did to show that this was the man they loved. But Spike turned to Dawn instead.
"Come along, little bit," he said. "We need to get started now. Takes ages for that Yugo to warm up. I'll pick you up later, Buffy."
He gave her what was no doubt meant to be a confident, friendly smile, but which just made him look unhappy and frightened. So much for mutual trust, thought Buffy as she watched them leave. Spike really seemed to think she wanted to break up with him. Buffy now trusted Spike not to hurt her, but he apparently didn't trust her not to break his heart. She had woken up that morning thinking her life was finally going well. But no, life just kept right on sucking. Only this time, she was going to fight back.
Now would be a good time for the fighting back, thought Buffy when she got into the Yugo that afternoon. She fastened her seatbelt and turned to Spike, determined to air all the problems that were troubling her, but he interrupted her before she could speak.
"You can spare me the speech," he said as he manoeuvred the car into the traffic. "I know what you're going to say, and I really don't want to hear it again. Had enough of that last year, and behaved like a right prat. And worse." He shook his head. "So you don't have to say anything, and we'll get back to normal, yeah? Pretend it never happened."
Buffy felt a rush of anger. "You still think I'm breaking up with you?"
"There's an up to break?" Spike was watching the road, but his knuckles turned white as his hands gripped the steering wheel. There was still something of the hot-headed vampire in him after all. "Look, pet, you've had your poke and found out I'm not up to snuff anymore. It's all right. I'll survive."
"You know, Spike. You can be incredibly annoying. And crude. And irritating and immature. And..." Buffy sighed and rolled her eyes. "You have faults coming out of your ears, and I know every last one of them. And yet, in spite of all that, I know you're a good man, and... I love you."
Buffy looked over at him. Please don't let him say anything smart, she prayed. He didn't. Spike obviously hadn't heard her tell him she loved him the previous night. He was staring at her with that look of wonder on his face, the one he had had when she re-invited him into her home before her death, and when he first saw her after her resurrection. One that would have got them killed had they not been stuck in a traffic jam near the high school.
"Guess you've been waiting a couple of years to hear that," she said, unnerved by his silence.
"More like 120." Spike swallowed, turning his attention back to the road. "I mean, I suspected...hoped... You really think I'm a good man?"
"Yes," said Buffy. "An annoying and really crude one, but I guess you have to take the bad with the good. And--" She looked around. "I can't believe I'm doing this in a Yugo. I had this great speech I gave you last night, in bed, after we made love, with all the candles around us, just perfect, and you fell asleep! And the only time I get when you're awake and paying attention is when we're stuck in a Sunnydale traffic jam in a rusty Yugo!"
Spike observed her for a moment, then looked around at the clean, but decrepit interior of the Yugo. "You really don't like this car, do you?"
"I've been in better ones," she said emphatically. Then she gave Spike a rueful smile. "But it's okay. I don't love you for your car."
Spike leaned forward; Buffy met him halfway to kiss him. They had no sooner parted than the back door opened and Dawn jumped in. She had apparently decided she wouldn't wait for the car to crawl up the road to the high school. Her arrival put an end to any romantic conversation, though Buffy still felt as though she was on a little cloud. Spike looked so happy that she half expected him to burst into song.
"How did the interview go?" she asked, when a few minutes' reflection finally yielded a topic they could discuss in front of Dawn.
"Okay, I think. But I'm not quite sure why they thought I was a good candidate to run their Windows 2000 network when all I've used is a Macintosh, so I don't think I've got the job."
"This is Sunnydale," said Buffy with a shrug. "Don't forget that my boss thought I would be perfect for giving out loan advice."
She smiled at Spike, pleased to see that her little declaration had completely shaken off the broody, insecure mood he had been in that morning. That reminded her why she had put him into that mood in the first place; her smile faded as Spike continued.
"If I haven't got the job, Xander said I could work with him. They always need labourers, and I'm good at knocking down houses." His expression became more serious. "At least, I used to be."
"You still are," said Buffy guardedly, aware that Dawn was hanging on their every word. "You just need a little practice. And... maybe some... tools."
"Tools? I can get tools" Spike grinned at her. "You think tools will help?"
"Sure. But not complicated tools. Simple... tools."
"Guys," said Dawn, leaning forward in the backseat. "I don't know exactly what you're talking about, but I do know an innuendo when I hear one, so knock it off!"
The farewells at the airport were brief and unemotional. Giles embraced Buffy and the other girls, then shook hands with Spike and Xander, and he was gone. Again. The remaining Scoobies congregated at the Summers house for an evening of pizza and mindless entertainment; it wasn't until Buffy dragged him out on patrol that she had an opportunity to really talk to Spike.
They walked side by side through the old cemetery, holding hands in the moonlight that filtered through the trees. Moonlight, a light breeze, the man she loved by her side... fledgling vamps to dispatch along the way. A perfect romantic evening.
"So, you think I should try using a dildo on you?" said Spike out of the blue.
Buffy sighed; for a man who could be so romantic when he wanted to, Spike sure knew how to kill the mood. "Yeah, maybe we can discuss that later."
"You suggested it," he said defensively. He let go of her hand and sighed. "I'm sorry I'm not up to my old standards, pet. I knew it would be different, but I didn't think it would be that bad."
He really did sound sorry; Buffy put her arm around him, leaning her head on his shoulder. It was an awkward position for walking, so they stopped by the Alpert crypt. Buffy smoothed the lapels of Spike's coat and looked up at him.
"Spike. Don't worry about the sex. It was your first time in months, and I guess I kinda didn't help." She frowned. "I was surprised you got better so quickly. After what happened in the bathroom..."
"Well, your little bit of pop psychology did provide me with some nice new visuals." He swept her body with a sexy glance, then tilted his head to observe her more seriously. "I was afraid-- of you, of me. Then you told your friends I'd take care of you. Said you could imagine spending the rest of your life with me. That meant something." He bit his lip and toyed with one of the buttons on her coat. "You think I'm a good man?"
"Yes." Buffy got the feeling that meant a lot to him.
Spike leaned down to whisper in her ear. "Is it okay if I'm a naughty man too?"
Buffy laughed and wrapped her arms around his neck to kiss his cheek. Spike lifted her up and pinned her to the wall, among the ivy that grew up the side of the crypt. As she parted her legs and kissed him, Buffy had a vague memory of wanting wedding photographs in this spot, a lifetime ago. But right now, she was more interested in how they would get their clothes off without freezing to death.
Spike solved part of the problem by slipping his hand into Buffy's pants. She ground herself against his fingers as they slipped in and out of her, letting out little moans into Spike's coat. He was watching her intently, licking his lips, his blue eyes boring into her, clouded with desire. She grasped his collar and kissed every part of him she could reach. He rubbed her harder, until her moans were becoming cries. God, every vamp in the cemetery could probably hear her by now. That thought only seemed to excite her further. She clutched at Spike's clothes as her legs became weak and her body shook.
Still holding her propped up against the wall, Spike removed his hand. He looked at the slime on it with hooded eyes before licking each finger in turn. Buffy watched him, still amazed at how much she wanted him after all this time. There was something she needed to discuss with him, but that could wait. Buffy pulled his head towards her to kiss him hard.
"Pet," murmured Spike, his lips brushing against hers. "If everything is okay between us, why were you so pissed off this morning?"
Ah, yes. The thing she needed to discuss with him. Drawing her face away from Spike's, Buffy frowned to clear her head.
"Yeah, well. It's nothing. It's just that... we had sex --" She straightened up and searched for the right term. "--without protection."
"Oh." Spike's eyes widened as the implication sank in. He took a step back. "Oh, bugger!"
"Yeah. Kinda what I've been thinking since this morning." Buffy lowered her eyes and poked a broken urn with her boot. "I'm sorry, Spike, I just didn't think about it."
"Neither did I." Spike ran his wet hand through his hair; something which would have amused Buffy if they weren't in the midst of a serious conversation. "I've never had sex as a human before, so it just didn't occur to me."
"I should have thought about it," continued Buffy. "I always used a condom with Riley and with all the safe sex messages these days, you'd think-- You never had sex as a human?"
"Didn't even know the facts of life." Spike grinned; the sort of evil smirk he reserved for digs at Buffy's ex-boyfriends. "So on top of everything else, Captain Cardboard was Condom Boy as well? I nearly feel sorry for the chap."
Buffy raised her eyebrows. "You're the chap you should be sorry for. Captain Ex-Peroxide is going to be Condom Boy II."
"Well, okay," said Spike nonchalantly, straightening out Buffy's pants and managing to make her catch her breath at the same time. "Though the old saying about horses, stable doors and bolting comes to mind. No need to wear a condom if you're already up the duff, right?" He glanced at her abdomen with something similar to awe.
"Don't look at me like that," said Buffy, pulling away from Spike and the wall. "I'm not pregnant."
"And you know this because you've been to see a doctor?" asked Spike. Buffy pouted in irritation and didn't answer. "Yeah, thought as much. What's your plan, then, pet; wait a few months and see if you start throwing up? I hate to get all mature on you, but we need to find out for sure." He snapped his fingers at her. "I know, we'll get one of those sticks you piss on! They sell them everywhere."
Buffy sighed. "Great. I cure your problem, and what do I get for my pains? A stick to pee on."
"Beats a nasty rash," said Spike with a chuckle. Buffy gave him a worried look. "Don't worry, love, I got the old Hepatitis and AIDS tests while I was still in Africa. Vampires can't catch diseases off the people they eat, but--" He lowered his eyes. "I ate some pretty sick people." He smiled at Buffy again. "I'm guessing Slayers aren't big on catching lurgies either. So I suppose there's no reason you couldn't go on the Pill."
No, there wasn't. Her concerns about contraception aside, Buffy didn't much like the idea of fumbling with condoms in the midst of a passionate sex session with Spike. Things had been easier with Riley, who always approached sex like something that required a battle plan; even human, Spike was more the type to jump on her in the middle of a patrol. On the other hand, she didn't know what effect the Pill would have on her Slayer powers. And she wasn't sure she was ready for that much commitment.
"There's no reason you can't wear a condom, either," she remarked.
"I suppose not," agreed Spike, wrapping his arm around her waist. After a split second's hesitation, Buffy returned the embrace and they started walking again. "That's all right, pet. It's all part of the human experience."
As they walked through the cemetery, Buffy looked at Spike's chiselled features in the pale moonlight. Sensing that she was about to say something, he stopped and smiled encouragingly.
"What if-- I mean, it won't be. But, you know, what if it is?" Okay, way to go with the totally vague, but Spike understood what she was saying.
"Then I stick around," said Spike without hesitation, his expression serious and determined. "Make an honest woman of you, if you want. Do the Dad thing if you don't. God, Buffy, it--" He bit his lip and looked away, as if the very thought of fatherhood made him choke up. "I can think of worse things to do with my life," was all he said.
Hearing Spike talking about marriage and parenthood with such emotion made Buffy's heart turn over in her chest. She'd had schoolgirl dreams of marrying Angel and the occasional daydream about having kids, but the sudden prospect that if she was pregnant, she could marry Spike and have a normal life was terrifying.
"I-I don't know if I could--" Buffy let go of him and stepped away. "I'm really not ready. Maybe later, but this would be a terrible mistake. I mean, I know my Mom was my age when she married Dad, but she was different, and that didn't turn out so-- And then there's the whole Slayer thing. It really wouldn't be a good idea to-- Spike, I don't think I could go through with it. I can't have a child! I mean I'm the Slayer, I--"
A vamp chose that precise moment to leap out of the bushes with a terrifying snarl, its fangs and yellow eyes glistening in the moonlight. Buffy plunged a stake into its heart and watched it shriek in pain before exploding into dust.
"I kill things," she said, looking up at Spike, hoping he would understand.
He didn't. Spike looked disappointed. Disgusted, too. But then he struggled to regain his composure and held out his arms to her. Buffy felt her eyes fill with tears as she covered the two steps into his embrace. It had started out as a romantic evening and now, she was talking about killing things. Why couldn't anything just stay perfect?
"Shh." Spike hugged her harder and kissed her hair, rocking her gently. "Everyone can kill, love. But creating life is--" He pulled back and brushed her hair off her face. "But maybe we should find out if there's a problem before panicking. Come on, pet, let's get a stick."
This was stupid. Buffy straightened up and looked at the little tube with disgust. They really meant it in Friends when they said you had to pee on the thing; Buffy had expected to piss in a cup or something, not directly on the stick. Still, the deed was done and now all they had to do was wait.
Spike came in from the bedroom before she had time to readjust her clothing.
"Do you mind? Intimate moment here. Jeez!"
"Oh keep your knickers on, Slayer," he said with a good-natured laugh. "It's not like I've never seen you answering the call of nature, you know."
"Okay, I so don't want to know when that happened."
Spike's grin faded. "Hey, desperate lovesick vampire at the time. And those bushes behind the crypt really weren't all that thick."
Buffy scowled at him. It seemed that no matter how rosy their present relationship might seem, the past was determined to hang like a millstone around their necks. But that didn't mean they had to let it. Buffy firmly dismissed her memory of Spike as a lecherous vampire, and concentrated on the man in front of her; Spike the human concerned that he might be a future father.
"So, how long does the miracle stick take?" he asked.
"A few minutes, I think." Buffy placed it on the sink and turned her back on it. She stroked the front of Spike's sweater and looked at him with a teasing grin when a thought occurred to her. "You didn't know the facts of life when you were turned? Where were you living; under a large rock or something?"
Spike looked offended. "Hey, those were more innocent times. I grew up in a household where you really didn't talk about that kind of thing, and my father died before I reached puberty. So no talk about the birds and the bees. Just vague rumours from school. And even then, I was never part of the in-crowd. It wasn't like nowadays when you see people simulating copulation in every bloody program."
"Wow. So that was your first time." The thought filled Buffy's heart with tenderness. "It's weird to think of you being that innocent."
"Oh, I was innocent all right. But then Dru turned up, and hey presto, dirty as the yellow driven snow." He smiled and wiggled his eyebrows. "Still, came in handy when I was trying to keep you interested."
Buffy poked him in the chest. "Don't. That was horrible."
"We wouldn't be here if it hadn't happened though." Spike shrugged. "You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. And I should know!"
"Yeah, I guess you were big with the broken eggs in your time," said Buffy more seriously.
Spike's expression darkened. "Actually, I was referring to that thing I made this morning." He shook his head. "All those deaths; they were meaningless. All I did was pointless evil until I got the chip." He met Buffy's eye. "It's only after that you can say anything I did led to this."
"I'm sorry," said Buffy. "I didn't mean to remind you--"
"Reminders are good, pet. As long as we remember what we did, we'll remember not to do it again. Or something like that. I never was big on the philosophy." He took her in his arms, kissing her forehead. "You know, if it does turn out that you-- and you really don't want to... I won't force you."
"Let's not talk about that."
He smiled and kissed her upturned mouth. It was a slow, tender kiss; they took their time, savouring the moment while they waited for the test to resolve. Shivers ran down Buffy's body as she tasted Spike's tongue and ran her hands under his sweater and along his warm, soft skin. One arm still around her, Spike fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a condom.
"Got a few when we were in the shop," he murmured. "You'll have to show me how..."
Buffy nodded, but put the condom on the sink, beside the test. She looked around the bathroom, trying to find the best location for their tryst. Spike chose for her, sinking to his knees at Buffy's feet, and leaning his back against the side of the bathtub. He gently pulled down her slacks, looking up at her with a sensuality which seemed to increase her arousal, before leaning forward to kiss her. Buffy buried her hands in his hair; he was evidently determined to make up for their brief coupling the previous night. Doing a very good job of it, too.
When she collapsed down onto his lap, still shuddering from the aftershocks of her orgasm, Spike slid two fingers inside her. She looked at him with puzzlement, but he just grinned and kissed her, wriggling his fingers harder until she threw her head back and groaned. Still riding his hand, Buffy reached for the condom. Spike unfastened his jeans and watched with interest as Buffy slipped it onto his erection. When he pulled his hand out from between her legs, it was Buffy's turn to wrap herself around his hard member. They kissed, then stared into each other's eyes as Buffy started to move.
It was like the first time all over again, except that they were safe in Buffy's house. It was like their last encounter before the summer, except that Buffy felt only pleasure at holding Spike in her arms. Fired by his earlier exploration, Buffy could feel another orgasm building up; the look of pride and delight on Spike's face when it washed over her prolonged her pleasure even further. When Spike buried his face in her shoulder, trying to suppress his own cries of ecstasy, Buffy hugged him close and kissed his neck.
"You need to take it off," she said after a short pause, pulling away from him. "Flush it down the toilet."
Spike pulled off the condom and held it up with a comical look of utter disgust. Carrying it with the tips of his fingers, he dropped it in the toilet. Riley had never made such a fuss, Buffy reflected. But then he'd never done her in the bathroom either. Buffy grinned at Spike's back as she pulled on her slacks and stood up to check the stick.
"It's still negative," she said.
Spike picked up the information leaflet that Buffy had dropped beside the toilet. "I'm not surprised," he said with a laugh. "It says here that the earliest you can do the test is one week after conception. Did you actually read these instructions?"
"I guess I was too grossed out by the illustrations," admitted Buffy. She tossed the stick into the trash, feeling very stupid.
"Oh, well, we'll chase up a doctor and see what we need to do," said Spike, still laughing. "It's not the end of the world."
"Yeah." Buffy sighed and leaned against the sink. "That's what really sucks about being a Slayer. You're great when the world is about to end, but crap at everything else."
"I don't think you're crap," said Spike in a soft voice.
Neither said anything for a moment. Buffy put her hands in her pockets and observed Spike across the bathroom.
"If I'm not, you know... I guess it would be good if I went on the Pill," she said. "It'd make things simpler."
"Well, that's up to you, pet." Spike smiled, and then lowered his eyes. "I was serious about the marriage thing, you know."
"You'd marry me because I was pregnant?" asked Buffy.
"No, I'd marry you because I love you, you daft bint."
It occurred to Buffy that this was the first time he had mentioned his own feelings since his return. Maybe the fear that had made him so guarded towards her had finally dissipated. That made Buffy smile; even if she was 'up the duff' as he so elegantly put it, they were going to be okay. After everything they had overcome, she was confident there was nothing they couldn't face together.
Buffy and Spike were standing at opposite ends of the bathroom, but it took only a couple of steps each to bridge the distance between them and meet in the middle.