"What is it? Spike- what's the matter?"
Buffy reached out, but he was gone, melting through her fingers like moonlight.
"Sorry, love," he muttered. "I can't do this."
She heard him fumbling for something in the dresser drawer, and then his silhouette was outlined against the window as he opened it and climbed out.
"Spike – wait!" Her heart seemed to turn over in her chest as she got out of bed and ran after him. It was a relief when she almost went sprawling headlong over his abandoned clothes. Surely on a winter night in Scotland, even Spike couldn't get far stark naked.
As if summoned by her thoughts, a chill wind blew through the open window, fluttering the drapes and making her shiver.
"Spike?" She stuck her head out of the window and looked down. This might only be the castle gatehouse, not the castle itself, but it was a long way to the ground – a very long way. However, there was no sign of him.
Then, the acrid scent of tobacco smoke made her nostrils twitch and she looked up.
"Spike – what the hell are you doing?"
He was perched on the sloping slate roof, to the right and above of the window, bare toes digging in, knees next to ears, like an improbably beautiful gargoyle on a cigarette break. Fitful moonlight silvered his hair and made his pale skin gleam.
"Spike – come back inside. It's freezing out here."
He barely glanced at her. "Bit nippy, I grant you. Not that bad, though."
Exasperated, she leaned out further. If she reached as far as she could, she might just be able to snag an ankle.
"Don't," he said.
She drew her arm back.
"Go back to bed, love." His voice was kind. "I'll be back, soon as I'm finished."
It was tempting. She was cold, and the bed was warm, in spite of him having no body heat to speak of – but this was the third time this week he'd blown her off.
"Stay where you are, mister. I'll be right back."
She ducked back inside and shrugged herself into her pyjamas, with her cosy winter robe on top for good measure. As a finishing touch, she thrust her cold feet into the fluffy slippers Dawn had given her for Christmas.
Armoured against the worst the Scottish weather could throw at her, she returned to the window and looked out again. He hadn't moved, though he might possibly be on his second cigarette. So much for coming back when he was finished.
She frowned. Not so long ago, she wouldn't have thought twice about climbing out of that window and joining him on his lofty perch. Now, though – well, things were different.
"All right, Spike, fess up. What the hell is wrong with you?"
He blew a stream of smoke through his nostrils.
"Nothing's wrong," he said, stubbornly. "Not with me anyway."
Her heart did that lurching thing again.
"You know, Spike – it's not my fault." No way he could miss the hurt in her voice. "And anyway, Giles'll fix it."
He swore softly under his breath.
"Soddit – Buffy -love, that's not what I meant."
"Then what did you mean?"
Somewhere in the night, an animal howled – barked – whatever. She had no idea what sort of animal –something doglike -a wolf, maybe? She shivered again. It sounded kind of lost and lonely – and just now she could relate.
"I'm an idiot." Spike stubbed out his cigarette on the roof-tiles in a spurt of flame. "The last thing I meant to do was hurt your feelings, Buffy."
"Like hell." She blinked furiously, not wanting him to see he'd brought her close to tears.
"Bugger!" The next moment, he was climbing back down the roof in the direction of the window. She watched his sure-footed progress with envy – and though she was mad at him, the glimpses she had of his pale muscular butt didn't hurt at all.
His abs weren't bad either – or his pecs, or whatever they were called. Now that he was back inside, she wanted to reach out and touch his silky perfection, but the cold, which radiated off of him, was kind of a mood-killer.
She folded her arms and glared up at him. "So?"
His nostrils flared and she realised that even if he hadn't seen her almost-tears, he could smell them. His expression became hangdog.
"God, Buffy, I'm so sorry. I'm an arsehole."
"No argument here." She dialled the glare up to eleven. "Come on, Spike – just tell me what's bothering you."
For answer he raised an eyebrow, and she felt her eyes do that prickling thing again.
"Okay," she conceded, "so I've lost my Slayer powers, but it's just temporary, right? I'm still me. I'm still – Buffy."
Despite her best efforts, her voice cracked on the last word, and he swore again, gathering her into his arms. Her head fit nicely, as it always did, in the hollow of his shoulder, but he was so damn cold!
"'Course you are," he said. "'Course you bloody are."
She felt her temper rising, because he sounded like he was trying to reassure himself as much as her.
"Then why won't you have sex with me? What? I can't beat the crap out of you, so now I don't turn you on?"
It was his turn to flinch, as if she had hit him, and when she raised her head to see his face, he looked guilty as charged.
"I don't believe this!" She pushed him away as hard as she could – which wasn't very hard these days. "You bastard!"
She made for the door, but he grabbed her arm. "Buffy – wait."
His fingers dug in, like bands of cold iron tightening around her forearm. She gasped. "You're hurting me."
"Fuck – oh fuck!" He let her go at once and retreated in the direction of the window, while she rubbed her arm, glaring at him some more.
"Soddit!" He had his back to her now, a slim, pale shape, bisected by shadows. "That's it, don't you see? The whole sodding problem."
"What do you mean?" She already had a pretty good idea what he would say in response.
He glanced back over his shoulder. "You're right. There is something wrong with me, but it's not that I don't fancy you any more. Christ, Buffy, as if that could ever happen!"
He drew in a deep, shuddering breath. "It's just that I'm scared, all right? Scared out of my fucking wits."
She rubbed her arm again. She could feel tender patches where his fingers had left bruises. "Scared of hurting me, you mean?"
He nodded, head drooping. "Too bloody right. Never been stronger than you before, love. It scares the crap out of me."
"But why?" Now the truth was out, she was still exasperated and upset, but sorry for him too. He had so many hang-ups about her. And sure enough –
"Shouldn't have to remind you, love –if you weren't a whole lot stronger than me, I'd have raped you that time in your bathroom." She saw his hands clench into fists. "I would've done it too, Buffy – no question."
She'd gone cold inside, as she always did at the mention of this subject, but it had gotten so it was his problem, not hers – almost like it had happened to someone else.
"Dumbass!" she said, crossly. "That wasn't you, it was that evil guy you used to be. And anyway, even if you did hurt me, it wouldn't be on purpose – like now, with my arm. I trust you."
At last, he turned to face her again, his expression set. "Well, I don't trust myself. Till this is over, Buffy – till you're fixed – I daren't touch you."
"But –" she opened her mouth to protest, then shut it again, in face of his obstinacy.
And after all, she told herself, it couldn't be for long. Maybe it was best to just humour him.
She shrugged and tried to smile. "Okay, then. Guess a few days' abstinence won’t hurt, as long as you–" and that annoying uncertain note was back in her voice – "I mean, you do still like me, right?"
He was at her side in an instant – too fast, in fact; another reminder of how very much he wasn't human.
"Like you?" He took her warm hand in his cold one and raised it to his lips. "'Course I bloody do. There's not a woman on earth to compare with you. My goddess, that's what you are -always will be."
She smiled, though his fervour was a little disquieting. Hadn't Drusilla been his goddess once, and he'd gotten over her.
"That's nice," she said, in a neutral tone – humour the scarily intense vampire. Then, slyly, "But even goddesses like to snuggle."
He frowned, and she made her eyes as big as they would go. "Snuggling's okay, isn't it? Very non-hurt-y – and we don't have to do anything else."
His face cleared. "'Course it is." Leaning close, he kissed her forehead. "Tell you what, you jump back in bed and get warmed up, while I just brush my teeth – get rid of the ciggy-breath, yeah?"
"Okay." She supposed she ought to be grateful he'd consented to share the bed at all, though it kind of hurt that he thought he could do so and not be tempted.
The bed had gotten cold in their absence. She shivered as she drew the quilt over her and curled herself into a ball. Her feet felt like lumps of ice.
When he finally wormed his way under the bedclothes to join her, not only did he have minty fresh breath, he was no longer naked. Instead, his body was covered in stiff, scratchy cotton.
"Spike – are you wearing pjs? You never wear pjs!"
"Yeah." He sounded a little embarrassed. "Dawn gave 'em me for Christmas, remember? Was winter woollies all round, ‘cos of that holiday job she had at M&S. Bit of a waste if I never wear the bloody things."
"I guess." She closed her eyes, thinking that whatever the hell was wrong with her, Giles had better hurry up and fix it.
This very difficult conversation.
"I'm sorry," Giles said. "I truly am – but I think it's important we take this on board and move forward."
"Come again, Rupert. Not sure I follow you." Spike's voice sounded like it was coming through gritted teeth. "And less of that spin-doctor bollocks. Call a spade a bloody spade."
"Spin-doctor - what?" Giles looked outraged. "It's nothing of the sort, Spike. Don't exaggerate. I'm merely trying to imply that there are positive aspects to this situation, that's all."
"Oh yeah?" Spike raised an eyebrow. "Think you need to work on your implyin' skills, then, 'cos so far you're makin' a right pig's ear of it."
Buffy pressed her fingers to her forehead. She'd woken up with a headache and it seemed to be getting worse. "Spike – really, really not helping."
Spike looked contrite at once, while the corners of Giles's mouth twitched in a hint of a self-justified smile. His eyes were kindly when he looked at her, though.
"To be honest, Buffy, I think this could be a good thing. As one ages, one's reflexes slow and being a Slayer becomes a more and more dangerous occupation."
She scowled. "Giles, I'm only twenty-five."
It was Giles's turn to look contrite. He polished harder.
"Quite, quite. Dear lord, Buffy, I'm not saying you're old."
"Then what are you saying exactly?" She could feel her temper rising with every throb of her head.
Giles stopped polishing. With a sigh, he put his glasses back on and pushed them up his nose.
"It seems I'm expressing myself very poorly today. If that's so, I apologise, Buffy. I meant to insinuate that the loss of your Slayer powers could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. It could open new doors for you."
Buffy noted that he'd very pointedly turned his back on Spike, excluding him both from the apology and the conversation. From Spike's white, set face, he'd noted the same thing.
"Doors leading – where exactly?"
Giles blinked again. For a moment, he looked flummoxed.
"Well," he said, at last, "you could go back to college - complete your education –– train for a career that doesn't involve mayhem and death. Then there's always –" he swallowed, looking uncomfortable –"marriage – er, children – that sort of thing. Or -"
Spike was staring at her over Giles's shoulder. She could almost see him thinking how every one of these suggestions pushed them further apart.
"Or?" She prompted Giles, wanting this conversation over and done with. She had ruffled vampire feathers to smooth – if she could be bothered. Right now, Spike's woe-is-me attitude was bugging her big-time.
Giles sighed. "Or you could do what previous Slayers have done who've had the luck to live to as long as you have and become a Guardian – an upholder of the Slayer legacy."
She smiled feebly. "Does that mean I have to start dressing like a character from community theatre night at the Aryan Nations compound and living in a crypt?"
Giles smiled back, his whole face softening, like he'd heard a distant echo of old-style quippy Buffy. "I don't think it's compulsory, no," he said. "For one thing, with the Scythe recovered, it doesn't need a Guardian to -er, guard it."
"Well, good." She didn't know what else to say. It was a hell of a lot to take in.
"So let me get this straight," Spike interrupted, still with the clenched-teeth tone in his voice. "The original Watchers put a sort of built-in obsolescence into the Slayer spell, so that when the Slayer reaches twenty-five, she passes on her powers to some other chit, even though she's still alive?"
Giles's face took on a pained expression.
"For the tenth time, Spike, yes. And it's more a question of if the Slayer reaches twenty-five, not when. I think Buffy may be only about the second or third to do so in the whole history of the Slayer line, which is why it's taken me so long to research the matter. It's barely a footnote in Slayer history."
"Yay me." Buffy rubbed her forehead again.
"But why?" Spike sounded angry. Worse, he sounded kind of lost. "Everyone knows a fighter gets more cunning with age, and twenty-five is hardly over the bloody hill, is it?"
"Well – no," Giles admitted. "Though possibly it was back in pre-historic times. The Slayer needed to be at her physical peak."
"Fuck that." Spike's voice came out a snarl this time. "Needed to be too young and naïve to question the old men pulling the strings, more like. God, they must have wet themselves wondering what to do with a woman old enough to know her own mind and strong enough to beat the shit out of them."
He threw his arms wide.
"And what better way to deal with her than to de-power the poor bint if she had the nerve to live that bit too long. Gotta hand it to those blokes, they knew how to keep their women down."
Giles looked momentarily outraged, but then his shoulders slumped.
"Much as it pains me to say it, Spike, I suspect you're right. And far be it from me to bang a drum for the Watchers' Council as previously constituted. However, that still doesn't mean that this – de-powering is such a bad thing for Buffy as an individual, and things are different now. The Slayers run their own affairs."
"Yeah well," Spike pressed, "Buffy may not agree – and you should be looking for a way to give those bastards the old two-fingers and restore her powers, not patronising her."
"I beg you pardon!" Giles's outrage was back full-force. "I must say, Spike, this self-righteous tirade of yours is a bit rich, given that you've murdered two Slayers in your time. I hardly think Buffy needs you to speak for her."
"Or you, you tweed-bound old has-been!" Spike shot back. "And I've nothing but respect for the Slayers I killed. Buffy knows that. They were warriors and they died like warriors."
"Buffy's sitting right here." By this time, any entertainment value to be gotten from their snarking was long since gone, and she was on the point of walking out and leaving them to it.
They both turned to look at her, and whatever the expression on her face was, it shut them up at once. Spike was back to looking hangdog and Giles just seemed embarrassed.
"Could you do that?" she asked him. "Get around this obsolescence thing and find a way to give me back my Slayer powers?"
Giles's lips pursed. "It would be very difficult, Buffy. The Slayer spell is a vastly complicated piece of magic. Attempting to change it in such a fundamental way could have repercussions we haven't even thought of – as we already know to our cost."
Buffy thought of Dana and shuddered. "I get that, but-"
"Besides," Giles went on, "even as we speak, somewhere in the world another young woman has been gifted with the Slayer strength that once was yours. It seems a little harsh, don't you think, to snatch it back from her."
"Sod that –" Spike began, but Buffy frowned him into silence.
"But you'll look into it?"
Giles gave her a long, sober look. "All right, if you want me to. I'll ask Willow to help me. However, instinct tells me, Buffy, that it's hopeless."
"Now who's not bein' positive," Spike muttered. He was fiddling with his lighter, though he hadn't taken a cigarette out.
The tone of Giles's voice suggested he thought her imbued with saint-like patience for keeping Spike around at all, and she was beginning to feel the same way.
"Thanks, Giles," she said, quickly. "Call me if you find anything?"
Giles had begun tidying his papers. His gaze on her was full of concern.
"Of course I will. And likewise will you inform me if you come to any decision?"
"Sure thing," she said, brightly.
She kept up appearances the whole time Giles was stuffing the papers into his old leather briefcase, but as he came towards her on his way to the door, she had a sudden urge to banish Spike from the room and confide everything to him- explain that it wasn't just her slaying life that was currently in jeopardy.
But then Giles glanced back over his shoulder at Spike and said, sourly, "And don't let any – outside influences have too much say in what you decide, will you?" and the moment was gone.
She continued to smile. "You know me, Giles – go my own sweet way."
"Of course." Giles hesitated. Then his hand rested briefly on her shoulder in passing, heavy and warm, and she felt a pang of loss for past intimacy. The front door clicked quietly closed behind him and a moment later they heard his car start up.
Spike opened his mouth to speak, but she held up her hand.
"Don't – say anything, Spike, okay? I have a raging headache."
At once, he was all concern.
"I'll get you something for it."
He was back quickly with a couple of capsules and a glass of water. "Neurofen," he said. "S'like Advil, I think."
"Thanks." She put the capsules in her mouth and chugged them down, while he hovered over her, looking helpless. When she held out the glass to him, he took it and stood turning it around and around in his hands with that twitchy desperate-for-a-smoke look on his face.
And sure enough –"You have a lie down, love. I'm just goin' out back for a quick smoke, I won't be long."
"Okay." She watched him go, the cigarette pack and lighter already in his hands. There was a shady place just outside the back door where he could safely smoke even on sunny days, not that this was one.
It wasn't until she heard the whomp-whomp of the back door closing with its attendant blast of cold air into the room that she let her fists unclench.
Outside, rain beat against the window, steady and grey, and she shivered convulsively. There'd been snow, followed by sleet, followed by rain for three days straight now and the whole world felt waterlogged.
Picking up the jar again, she grasped the top and twisted as hard as she could, but again, it wouldn't budge, and in the end she banged the jar down on the table and slumped into a chair, head in hands.
As Buffy’s birthday surprises went, this latest was right up there – maybe not quite as bad as boyfriends turning evil overnight, but definitely in the top three.
All she wanted was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for breakfast. Was that too much to ask? And dammit, where was Spike? Wasn't your boyfriend supposed to be around to do this kind of dumb stuff for you when you couldn't?
Of course, she knew the answer to that question. He was sleeping off whatever it was he'd been doing the night before that had had him sneaking back in at 3am soaking wet and smelling of whisky.
When she'd gotten out of bed this morning, it was to find his wet clothes strewn about the room, though she noticed he'd put the damn pjs on again before getting into bed with her.
Her eyes were sore from not crying – something she'd been doing a lot of since Giles's visit- and the weird way Spike was behaving didn't help one bit. Between one moment and the next, he'd go from jumping like a scalded cat if she so much as laid a finger on him to holding her and telling her how sorry he was for being such a dick.
Which he was being – no question.
With a sigh of frustration, she settled for peanut butter on its own and sat crunching toast and licking crumbs from her fingers while the rain poured down outside. Briefly, she wondered how the others were doing up at the castle, but she was pretty sure they were managing just fine, and even if not, no one would have told her.
Her exile to the castle gatehouse might be self-imposed, but it still felt like she'd become some kind of leper.
Maybe that was why Spike was so antsy around her? He was afraid he'd catch whatever had made her weak and – what? She had no idea.
Or maybe he thought he'd lose even more of his Big Bad street cred if word got out the Slayer he was screwing wasn't a Slayer any more?
A gust of wind rattled the windowpanes and splattered them with rain. She sipped her coffee and stared at the drops sliding down the glass, feeling cold and empty and alone. It had been over a week since Giles had gone back to London and he hadn't called, so the news couldn't be good on the research front – not that that surprised her.
In fact, she hadn't spoken to anyone but Spike since Giles had left, except for Dawn on the phone once. But the line had been crackly, and besides, the overwhelming feeling of homesickness that had settled over her on hearing her sister's voice had just made everything worse.
She shut her eyes, trying to remember the bright California light – the heat haze in the warm air making everything ripple– but it seemed like a dream she'd once had. Instead, she was stuck in this cold, wet place with a freaked-out vampire who'd sworn off sex as her sole company, and to add insult to injury, she couldn't even open a damn jar!
Wearily, she wiped her eyes for what felt like the hundredth time. This was no good to anyone– and if it carried on, she'd be no good to anyone either. In fact, maybe she'd reached that point already?
"Mornin', love." She jumped. He'd managed to sneak up on her again.
"Hi." Okay, she thought, in the circumstances, who could blame her for sounding pissy?
When she turned to look at him, he'd already gotten that hangdog look on his face - and she was tired of seeing that too.
"You don't have to say anything, love. I'm sorry, all right? I just went for a quick drink, and before I knew what was happening, old Dougal had a lock in and I couldn't leave without breaking the door down."
"Lock in?" She stared at him in bewilderment.
"Yeah, you know – after hours drinking, when the pub landlord kicks everyone out except his mates and locks the doors."
"No, I didn't know." She stood and began to collect up the breakfast things. The clattering of plates would help hide her seething anger.
"Hang on a tick," he said. "I fancy a bite to eat myself. And tea - was just gonna make a cuppa. You want one?"
"No thank you."
She watched him fill the kettle at the sink and switch it on, then open the jelly jar with ease and sniff at the contents, wondering just why the hell she shouldn't be angry. He'd stayed out last night because he couldn't deal with being around her right now. And as for his excuse – well, he could at least have pretended he was doing something useful.
She was still holding her dirty plate. With great deliberation, she set it down on the kitchen counter.
"Bloody filthy weather again," he said, quickly. "Still, least it’s not snowing. Think I'll head up to the castle later – see if any of the Slayers are up for a good arse kicking."
She clenched her fists. She wouldn't be jealous on top of everything else.
"And what am I supposed to do in the meantime?"
For answer, he came and put his arm round her shoulders. "You could come with me," he said. "You could umpire – tell the chit when to say uncle."
She shook her head. "No."
He frowned. Then he sighed and changed tack.
"Tell you what then, love, why don't you go back to bed for an hour or two? After I'm done up at the castle, I could take that bloody great gas-guzzler of yours and drive down to Doune Bridge – buy the morning papers." He kissed her forehead. "Could bring 'em to you in bed, maybe."
She could feel herself literally trembling with rage, and he must have felt it too, because he let her go and backed off. Carefully – very, very carefully, she unclenched her fists.
"Spike, I'm not ill."
"I know that –" he began, but she didn't let him get any further. Turning round, she faced him across the kitchen.
"I'm not gonna get my powers back, Spike. Deal with it."
Behind him on the counter, the kettle began to boil, but they both ignored it.
"You don't know that," he said, the faintest hint of irritation in his voice.
"I do." As she said the words, she was more certain than she'd ever been of anything. "If Giles and Willow find a way to give me back my powers, it'll be one of those deals where something really bad will happen someplace else– like when I died and Willow brought me back to life."
He looked stricken.
"Like I said, you can't know that."
"Yes, I can. It's the same– wanting something for nothing. I was supposed to lose my powers when I hit twenty-five, and I have – just like I was supposed to die that time. Giving me my powers back is going against the natural order, like that was."
"No –" he began again, stubbornly, but again she wouldn't let him finish.
"But you know what, Spike? This isn't my problem. It's yours. You're the one who can't accept it. You're the one who can't deal."
He took a mug out of the cupboard, and stood with his back to her, making tea. "Too bloody right," he muttered.
At first, she wasn't sure she'd heard him right. "I beg your pardon?"
He rounded on her at once. "You heard me. No, I can't bloody deal with it – and you know why? Because you're giving up - without even a fight - and that's not like you, Buffy. It's not – who you are."
"Maybe it is now." She folded her arms and glared at him. Was he right?
"Fuck that!" He stirred the teabag in the cup so violently hot water slopped over onto the counter.
"Okay, then. Say they do find a way to restore my powers and some poor kid loses hers because of it – maybe when she's fighting for her life – what then? And what about when some of the other Slayers hit twenty-five, and they lose their powers? Is Giles supposed to help them get theirs back too?"
He opened the fridge to take out the milk. She frowned, realising they were almost out.
"Dunno," he said, still with that pig-headed tone in his voice. "Maybe." Suddenly, he held out his free hand to her in appeal. "In fact, yeah, why not? In any case, you're different, Buffy - special. Don't you get that?"
"No, I'm not." She was tired of hearing it. "I have no more right to that power than any of the other girls. The Slayer power was kind of a curse, Spike. We tried to turn it into a gift. Seems now, it came with conditions, one of which is that when the time comes, you have to pass it on."
"It was yours first," he insisted, pouring the last of the milk into his mug and fishing out the drowned teabag.
"No," she said, again. "I inherited it, remember? I can pass it on if I want – and I do. I have."
He stared at her. Then he looked away, eyes blinking rapidly. He drank his tea in silence.
When the silence stretched on and on and still he said nothing, she began again. "Spike – " but then the phone rang.
He gave her a triumphant look. "Talk about jumping the gun, Slayer. Bet that’s Giles."
"I'll get it." She was already heading for the living room, but he'd gotten there first and snatched the phone from its cradle, as if he didn't trust her not to slam it down again right away.
"Yeah, who is it?"
A moment later, his eyes widened and then narrowed. "What the fuck do you want?"
She considered trying to wrestle the phone off him, but what was the point? "Who is it?"
He was gripping the phone so tightly his knuckles were white.