Spike and Buffy stood in the empty cemetery. "Where can she be?" Buffy panicked.
"You'll find her. Just in the nick of time. That's what you hero types do".
She spun agitatedly. "I don't know…" The sound of a siren wailing in the distance made her stop short. "The hospital…" Buffy looked up at him. "I haven't told the others you're in town. And… I don't think this is the time. Y'know?"
"No worries, luv, I'll stay your dirty little secret".
He was lucky he didn't leer as he said it, didn't make any unseemly gestures, or she would have laid him out flat. "Don't push your luck," she threatened. "You're in no way forgiven".
Spike grabbed her arm as she whirled to leave. "I'll keep looking, alright? And will you… will you let me know when you find her? Please?"
It was… disturbing, knowing a vampire cared about her sister. In what appeared to be a brotherly fashion. But she agreed to his request. She'd want the same courtesy in his place.
The next day, at the Magic Shop, Buffy made the announcement. "So… There's no way to ease into this. Spike's back. In Sunnydale". Several pairs of eyes whipped towards her. "And I don't plan on killing him. Just yet".
"Buffy," Willow whispered. She'd gone white. The redhead was the only one who knew what had happened when she and Faith had switched bodies. The only one who knew why Spike had skipped town.
The Slayer looked to her friend. "I know Wills. But I can't deny that he cares for Dawn. He's offered to help protect her, and I have to say… I think we need his help. He's the only one who is strong enough to fight Glory, besides me. And you. It would be selfish of me to turn down his offer. It's business, nothing more".
"And do you trust him, Buffy?" Giles asked, obviously holding back a diatribe.
"Trust him? No. Never. But I do trust him with Dawn's life. Spike is way the lesser of two evils at the moment".
"At the sound of the tone, leave a message". Spike with an answering machine. Weird.
"So, hey, I let the gang know you're in town, and you don't-".
The phone picked up. "Buffy? Hello?"
"Hey, technology man. Welcome to last century".
"Don't want to miss any phone calls, yeah?"
"You're so strange. Anyhow, everybody knows you're here, no need to lurk about anymore. And they know you're working with me, to leave you alone".
He was silent, then asked, "Can you come over tonight? For dinner?"
She couldn't see his face, couldn't read the meaning in his voice. "Dinner?" she repeated dumbly.
Sounding nervous now, Spike said, "'Ve been learning to cook. Have a lot of time on my hands". He waited for her to laugh, but she didn't, so he went on. "Thought I could make you dinner, and we can talk… shop. Game plan for this Glory chippie. I'm, ah… not up for a full Scooby meeting".
How could she resist seeing what Spike would cook? Curiosity alone made her agree. She just hoped it would be edible.
As the appointed hour grew closer, she began to get jumpy. What to wear suddenly took on paramount importance. Being invited to Spike's apartment for dinner didn't exactly have the same vibe as barging into his crypt when she wanted to see him. Especially with it being Valentine's Day this weekend. She didn't want to give him the impression that something was starting up between them again, not even friendship.
Each outfit was too something – too sexy, too frilly, too adult, too childish, too utilitarian, too… The amount of thought she was putting into it made her head spin. She finally settled on a pair of jeans and a bright red sweater, but only because she was out of time.
Spike, on the other hand, looked as though he hadn't put any thought into his appearance when he answered the door, bedecked in his usual black. Of course, he didn't exactly vary his wardrobe. Buffy did notice his hair was tousled though. The way she liked it. She firmly clamped down on that thought.
"Hullo," he said anxiously, stepping aside and motioning her in.
"Thank you," she returned, equally on edge. The aroma of something simmering washed over her as she made her way in. "Hey, that smells good!" she exclaimed in surprise.
"You doubt my cooking skills?" he said mock-fiercely, teasing, eyebrow raised.
"Well, yeah. Your tastebuds are kinda dead. You didn't add a whole lot of spicy, I hope?"
He smiled nervously at her. "Followed a recipe and everything. I've been trying things out on your mum. She's been keeping me away from the spices".
Buffy was flummoxed. He wasn't supposed to be endearing. He was supposed to be cruel and snarky, so she could keep hating him. So she would find it easy to repress what she felt for him. She reached into her own meanness, trying to keep her hands from reaching out to him, touching him.
"So how are you affording this place? Did you eat the owner?"
Wow. She'd gotten really good at making him look like that lately. Like she'd ripped out his heart with her bare hands. "Sorry, sorry," she muttered. "I'm… I don't know what the hell is going on here, with you, with us, and it's making me spiteful".
A timer beeped and Spike turned away, his face impassive. "Sit down. Make yourself comfortable. I'll have this done soon". A moment later he was back in front of her, a glass of wine in his hands. "Do you -?"
"Yes, please," she breathed, grateful for the drink. Anything to take the edge off. She looked around as he went back to the kitchen. If her mom had been helping him decorate, they'd done a nice job. Buffy felt comfortable in the warmly lit living room, surrounded by deep, rich colors and soft leather. You'd never know a vampire lived here, and yet, it fit Spike perfectly.
She heard the clinking of dishes and got up to investigate. He was sliding hot plates onto a small table in the kitchen, the intimate place settings making her catch her breath.
"It looks great". He gestured at a chair and she sat as he lit the candles and flicked off the lights. The ambience was definitely set on romantic.
"Is… is this a date?" she asked hesitantly.
"A date? Puh-lease!" he scoffed, and then his voice turned hopeful. "Do you want it to be?"
She looked down at her plate and fiddled with the cloth napkin, not knowing how to answer. Of course she didn't want it to be a date. Spike had no place in her life, none at all, and the only reason she was here was because of Dawn. And Glory. Otherwise, she'd be sitting across from a big pile of dust… crying her eyes out.
Because – of course she wanted it to be a date. She'd missed the stupid vampire, missed watching him change, make himself into someone better, despite the setbacks he'd had. Missed him more than she had ever admitted, even to herself, and the full truth of it struck her, sitting across from him like this, a homecooked dinner in between them as if it were the most natural thing in the world for a vampire to cook.
Spike must have realized he wasn't getting an answer any time soon. "Have a taste, pet, while it's warm, tell me what you think". She paid attention to her plate for the first time, realizing he'd made a pasta dish of some kind.
After only one bite, she burst out, "Oh my God, that's like Heaven in my mouth! You should cook more often!"
"Yeah?" he asked, shy and pleased.
"Definitely. If you cooked for me like this every day, you'd have me eating out of your hand in -". Buffy abruptly clammed up, realizing what she was saying. "It's delicious," she amended. "And I can't tell you the last time I ate a real meal. Thank you".
"Glad you like it".
For long minutes, they were silent other than Buffy's little sounds of delight. Spike watched her, a small smile playing about his lips. When she began to slow down, he said, "Buffy. Pet. I know I really bollixed things up, before. And I know you don't trust me now. But I wanted you to know I'm back on the wagon".
"For how long?" she asked him, serious. "I mean, you fell off pretty hard, from the sounds of it".
Absently twirling his uneaten pasta on his fork he said lowly, "It was seeing you with that Riley tosser. On our beach. It hit hard. Here". He touched his unbeating heart. "The pain… was too much. But it's… I'm better now".
"So we're safe, then. Because I'll never cause you pain again," Buffy replied sarcastically.
"Won't let it happen again. Lesson learned, right? Isn't that what you told me once?"
"That was a – a nothing of a mistake, compared to this! How many people died, Spike, because you lost control? Because I didn't do my duty?" She was shaking in anger.
Quietly, he replied, "Too many. I know. But… think of it this way. How many people haven't died because I fell in love with you? Much bigger number, yeah?"
She ignored that, instead said, "And what happens when I die? Because I will. Odds are, any day now. What then? How many people will you kill then?"
"Only myself". Buffy's hand flew to her mouth, and she stared at him as he continued. "Life, without you? Pointless, luv. Long and grey and dreary. The day you're buried, I'll sit on your grave and watch the sun rise. Without the Gem of Amarra. Only reason I didn't already do it, before, was because I wanted to still be here. In case you would ever find it in your heart to change your mind. Forgive me". He looked at her hopefully.
"I don't know if I can," she said in a tiny, scared voice. "I failed. In my sacred duty. I let you live, and people died. Not just that, but I… I felt like I died, when I saw what you'd done with Faith – to my body. Do you know how horrifyingit was, finding myself back in my body, unable to walk? More or less raped?" she whispered in horror. "Especially after you kidnapped me and threatened to do just that to me?" He looked away, dismayed, and she asked, "How can I ever forgive you?"
Spike got up and turned his back on her, and Buffy suspected he was hiding tears. He came back with the bottle of wine and refilled her glass, then took his to the fridge and came back with it refilled as well. She realized with a start he was drinking blood, not wine, and he noticed her reaction. "I've been bagging it. Doesn't make up for anything, but…" He narrowed his eyes at her. "And if you say anything about the Great Poof, I will bite you".
She just shook her head.
He stared down at the table, shoulders taut, hands moving restlestly. "There's no way for me to make up for – with the other Slayer – or killing again. Or any of it. I know that, know 'sorry' doesn't cut it. There's a monster inside of me". Shifting briefly into game face, he added, "Literally". Human once more, he continued. "But everything I promised you, I meant. I haven't – I've been good, Buffy, and I swear to you I'll keep it up. I know you don't think I'm worth it, but please, just let me be a – a part of your life".
"I am, aren't I? With Dawn?"
He let out a shaky breath. "I meant – with us, luv. We were good together. I love you. I want to be -".
Buffy cut him off abruptly. There was no being anything with him. She would not be in love with something that was dead, and evil, and a vampire. Not anymore. "No. We are – business associates. That's the limit of what I can handle, Spike. You're useful to me, so I'll let you live. Don't ask for anything more".
Quickly standing up and moving to the door before he could stop her, she said, "Look, thanks for dinner. It was amazing. And I'm glad you're… back on the wagon, as you say. But you think your heart hurts? It's nothing, compared to how I feel, what I've gone through. I'm not going to open myself up to that kind of pain again".
He'd followed her, hands clenching and unclenching at his sides, and he opened his mouth to say something snarky, based on his expression. Buffy got in his face. "Don't," she hissed. "Don't say anything that will make this worse. Don't remind me why it hurts so much to love you". And she ripped the door open and fled.
Eyeing the party goers, Spike reconsidered his decision to give up eating people. These Hawaiian-shirted wankers deserved it. Prats, the whole lot. And this was where Buffy wanted to spend her bleeding time?
He'd found out she was going to be here from Joyce, so he'd come along, hoping to see her. It had been three days since she'd stormed off from his flat, and he figured she ought to have calmed down a little. He'd intended to maintain his distance, not push her so hard to forgive him, but of course he'd buggered the plan up. Couldn't help needing her, wanting her, could he?
Wasn't all bad, though. Slayer had admitted she loved him, even if she hadn't meant to. He'd floated along on the knowledge, which – funny sensation for a vampire, that. Floating. And he wasn't even brought down by the reminder that whatever she felt for him, it hurt her. Made her cry. He couldn't feel anything but good.
Because, she loved him. He had a chance.
Spike spied Buffy standing alone, looking as though she were waiting on someone. He sidled up to her, waiting for her to sense him. She did, and the look she gave him wasn't friendly.
"Oh dear. If looks could stake. Miss me?"
"No. You'd better not be stalking me".
"Not stalking. Enjoying…" he looked around, trying to think of an apt description of the party, "…the stimulating and refined atmosphere. And," he raised a beer, "the copious free beverages. Even if they taste like rat piss," he added with a grimace.
"Go away. You're not welcome here".
"S'a free party. You want me to leave, you can put your hands on my hot, tight little body and make me," he leered and winked.
There was a momentary tremble, and then she hardened. He listened to the smarter part of his brain for once and made himself move away with a shrug. Buffy knew where he was if she wanted him.
Spike stood amidst the throng of revelers, watching her unobtrusively. His eyes narrowed as some ponce came up to her and, after a moment's conversation, handed her a piece of paper. Which, based on the way he was acting, had to be his phone number.
Buffy didn't seem to be brushing him off, though. In fact, Spike could have sworn she was pleased about this. When she smiled at the bloke and tucked the piece of paper carefully into her pocket, his jealously flared. What the bloody hell was she playing at?
Right in front of me, no less. Let's see how she likes it. He chose a pretty girl, went up to her. "And who are you, darling?" He glanced at Buffy from the corner of his eye and saw she was watching him. Good.
"I'm April. I'm looking for my fella".
"Maybe you just found him," he said suggestively.
"Really? Where?" The girl wasn't quite catching on. He certainly couldn't cause reciprocal jealousy if the daft bint paid him no mind.
Leaning in, he whispered in her ear. "Right here, sweetheart. I can take you home, make you forget about any other fellas. Make you scream in pleasure all night 'til you're hoarse and can barely walk".
Instead of the hoped for response, April pulled back with a startled, "Oh!" and easily lifted Spike into the air. He struggled ineffectually, panicked. What the hell was this girl? And how bloody undignified did he look right now?
"Hey! Hey! Hey!" he bellowed. This was not at all going well.
"That would be wrong!" April said. "You are not my boyfriend!" And she pitched him through the plate glass window.
Spike sprang up, broken glass raining down off of him. Psycho bitch. "Bloody hell! You threw me through a window! What's that about?"
"You cannot make those suggestions to me. I have a boyfriend. Warren is my boyfriend".
Rage mounted, fueled by all the sodding wankers staring at him like a sodding zoo exhibit. How dare she treat him this way? He ought to rip her bloody throat out. He ought to make her neck his chalice and pick his teeth with her bones. Tossing him through a bloody window. Spike tensed to spring at her, but then caught sight of Buffy's shocked face.
Suck it up, mate. You gonna break your latest promise right under the Slayer's nose?
Not the best plan.
"You know what? My bleedin' sympathies to Warren".
Gathering his tattered shreds of dignity, he swaggered away.
He was at Willy's, half-way to pissed, when she found him. "What d'you want Slayer?" he asked petulantly when he realized she was trying to hide a smile.
"Just making sure the little girl didn't hurt you too badly," she said with a giggle. He glared at her. "Oh come on, it was funny".
"'M not here for your bloody entertainment".
"In your defense, she was a robot".
He perked up at that. "Robot? Is that what she was? Knew I couldn't smell anything demonic about her".
"Nope. Just your run-of-the-mill robot girlfriend". Buffy was still smiling broadly. Nice to see her like that, even if it was at his expense.
Taking a swallow of his drink, his mind whirled with possibilities, but all he said was, "Huh". Spike suddenly recalled how he'd gotten into that mess in the first place. "So you gonna call that tosser? Go out with him?"
She frowned, trying to suss out what he meant, then figured it out. "Who, Ben? No, I was just being… polite. He's an intern at the hospital. He was real helpful when Mom was sick. I mean, he's cute and all, and I so should call him…" Spike growled low in his throat, and she rolled her eyes. "But for some reason, dating never seems to work out for me".
"Because you're mine!" Spike snarled before he could stop himself.
Buffy tensed. "No. Don't start that again".
And he was alone once more.