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The Page of Wands

Chapter Text

It seemed like the obvious solution, really. Possibly, Spike was killing again (again). Absolutely, even this year’s kinder, kitten-cuddling Spike was not going to let them magic a piece of molten rock into his brain. Quite probably, they all needed to stop trusting twelve year-old Giles with any decisions more important than next month’s brand of washing powder.

Once all of that had been taken into account, though, it became very difficult for Buffy to see any other solution than sending herself into Spike’s head. Willow and, try as she might to forget, Ethan, they’d been in hers, so it seemed like it was her turn to go walkabout.

Besides, Buffy thought, as the two of them drifted off into their trance – hands clasped and tingly; a sacred circle of chamomile around them – it couldn’t be that complicated, what with Spike expecting her and all.

And, actually, when she felt like she’d woken up, it wasn’t.

Trippily enough, they seemed to have found themselves back in Spike’s crypt from Sunnydale. It was… In its younger incarnation. A little bit dolled up, as Spike would have said, but not quite the way Buffy usually remembered it. Of course, memories were deceptive, but it was weird nonetheless.

“Well…” the vamp himself was saying, climbing up from the lower floor. “Fancy meeting you here.”

He looked a little less care-worn around the eyes; the whole of him was a little bit leaner, his shirt a little more red; the cut of his jacket was different. Funny, the things she didn’t really notice, but nonetheless never forgot. Like the hunger in his eyes when he looked at her – it was different, but definitely the same.

“Huh,” Buffy asked, though she was almost certain she knew the answer, “so, are you Spike-Spike or some sort of figment-memory-subconsciousness spirit guide?”

The figment-memory-subconsciousness spirit guide gave her the long-patented Look of Sarcasm, eyes boring into hers down his nose. “But you can ditch the ‘sub’,” he pointed out. “Far as I can figure it, I’m the Spike who knows who he is and does what he wants.” He cast an eye around the décor. “The rest of this place is a bit less subject to my will.”

For the moment, Buffy decided to park the question of why Spike’s conscious self was such an asshole. Instead, she took a slightly closer look at where she was standing. Mortar and slimy stone was the general theme, just as it had always been, but as she took a step further into the room she realised what was missing – the comfy, familiar Restfield vibe she’d failed to not associate it with. Beneath her feet, the ground wasn’t quite so sure and the old brown chair, when she touched it, that seemed to react. Or, maybe, the room seemed to react; it was like the candles were lit, that gentle heat taking the edge off the chill.

She remembered now why and when this place had felt cosy.

The feeling remained as she took her hand away – and somehow, without her noticing how it happened, the candles were all lit. Not at once, but right then, the crypt felt welcoming. Like she was a guest it would rather keep.

Buffy caught the eye of the asshole in the corner. He looked more than a little embarrassed. “Yeah, well,” he said. “Don’t get used to it. Can’t have you in my brain forever. I’ve got bad, evil, pornographic thoughts to be getting on with.”

Of course, that statement was undermined a moment later, as one, two, no, three kittens chose that moment to scamper up the ladder from downstairs, darting between Spike’s legs and over to the armchair. A tabby and a ginger kitten curled into the cushions, while the last, with black and white patches, leapt onto Buffy’s shoulder and threatened to nuzzle her into submission.

It was all Buffy could do not to break down into the longest laugh she’d had in her life. She settled for a giggle. “Yeah; you’re such a tough guy.”

Of course, like most of her jokes, it came out a little cutting. And its subject wasn’t amused: the asshole’s face turned stormy; the kitten clawed her neck; the lights guttered out. Because apparently some things were more connected in here than Buffy had fully realised.

Before she could apologise, Spike’s conscious will had retreated, dropping back down into the lower floor. Buffy started after him, the kitten long gone. She felt, as was often the case, like a tool. It was way too easy to punch needles through Spike’s act of indifference, and yet for some reason she had to prove she could do it every single time.

They were getting off-track, already distracted (which, dammit, mini-Giles had warned her would happen, ‘because minds are distractible things’). But she was dropping down into the lower crypt anyway –

– because how could any Buffy miss the experience of dropping from the first floor up onto a second, apparently sliding down an attic ladder into a dilapidated house she didn’t recognise at all?

“Spike, wait,” she called out. He was ahead of her, on the landing at the end of her corridor. He clearly heard her, glancing over his shoulder, but he didn’t stop, circling to descend the curving stairs.

Buffy dashed after him, taking the slats herself at a run. Of course, she needn’t have bothered, because he was waiting at the bottom. His gaze was caught by the halls that were in a different style again, and this time fit together in Buffy’s head.

There was the smell of sulphur in the air; magic and mineral soap. The clash of swords sounded, but it sounded odd, because when this had happened the first time around, Buffy had barely been able to hear a thing with all the blood rushing around her ears.

Yep, they were in the mansion, and apparently they were watching Spike of old, Drusilla in his arms, looking back on the fight she was having with Angel in front of Acathla. Her guide to Spike’s brain was doing nothing but watching, his steady, calculating gaze on his own other face. Spike from the memory shared the exact same look, before breath rushed through him.

“My god; he’s gonna kill her…”

For a moment, Buffy thought she was going to learn something – a different side to this guy she remembered. But then the concern seemed to wash right out of him; he shrugged, blinked, and without a glance backwards headed out towards the sun.

The sound of her fight with Angel dimmed – it was only her and the memory left; the part of Spike who could talk to her. “That was the last time I didn’t care what happened to you,” he said darkly. “The last time I felt it, a complete lack of care. Give me half an hour in the car and it’ll be gone.” A small smile crossed his face. “I ain’t done for yet, but it’s over – my head without you in it.”

The burn of embarrassment curled up to Buffy’s cheeks. “Why are you showing me this?” she asked, determined to put girlfriend!Buffy on standby and get on with the mission.

Spike – whatever part of him this was – turned and looked at her. Sarcastic again, but old around the eyes; tired. Not so much care-worn like she wanted him, but as though he’d been beaten up and bruises had yet had a chance to form. “I told you,” he said, trying to make her see the point. “I don’t have barely any power in this place… You, on the other hand, can make it ashes with a whisper.” He turned away. “Every now and then I need to remind myself that there was a time, once, when I was free to walk away.”

“Spike, that’s…” For a moment, Buffy wasn’t going to say it, but then she decided it needed to be said. “That’s kind of pathetic. You do get that, right?” Because who was she now? The Dark Willow of Spike’s head? That was never going to end well.

“Well, as you would say, duh,” Spike replied, rolling his eyes. “If you haven’t figured out that at the heart of me lies one of the most pathetic sops the world has cared to offer, well – you’re really bloody slow.”

There were ways to respond to that, more words she could use to fill the echoing mansion halls. But the magical thing was, Buffy was sleeping with this guy she wanted to make feel better, so she didn’t have to beat him over the head with the blunt instrument she called speech. Instead, she put a hand on his arm, let her fingers sink gently into cool leather, reached up and kissed the grim lines on the mouth that turned her way.

Maybe you’re a sop, but you’re my sop.

It was quite something to be swept up into the undertow of her own romantic attention. The world tilted – actually tilted – then was upright again, with music, the sticky smell of beer, people passing by not ever so far away. They were at the Bronze, but Buffy didn’t want to be at the Bronze. Nothing ever good had happened from kissing at the Bronze. Thinking quickly, at least in the moments that didn’t catch her in them, she grabbed Spike’s hand and shoved it in her hair, which was neither post-resurrection, split-end chic, nor else post-hack-job, best-of-a-bad-situation bob. It was, in fact, her special my-shift-partner-has-a-roomie-who-works-at-a-salon, major-discount style of awesome.

With a small amount of gentle handling she managed to move them kind of effectively to Spike and Xander’s apartment, back in San Francisco. It turned out that manipulating Spike’s emotions wasn’t so much less predictable from inside his head than outside of it. Even if it did make her feel a little more dirty.

The kiss broke after she’d effectively pushed Spike onto the bed. He looked around, more than out of place when he was dressed the way that he was, all stark red and black with no washed tone in sight. It made him look brutal against the rumpled sheets.

For a moment he seemed surprised, his sharp blue eyes hunting down the corners of the room. But then, surprisingly, he smirked. “It’s good to know someone’s got this place figured out.” The sight of him leaning indolently back on the covers, legs spread invitingly – it didn’t seem right somehow, but Buffy couldn’t figure out why.

She crossed her arms. “I think you have more control over it than you think.”

His gaze wandered away, dark thoughts clearly returned. (The air felt like they needed to run the AC.) “Maybe…” Spike said grimly. “Guess I did always promise I could change.”

“Exactly,” Buffy agreed. Because he had done, obviously. “Anyway,” she reminded herself. They were back where they were supposed to be, living and dealing with the current time, so, “we need to figure out what’s going on with these killing dreams; is it you, is it not you – why the heck it’s happening…”

“Right,” Spike agreed, with more than a little lacking enthusiasm. The air was stale and thick, on the edge of smelling bad. Her boyfriend hung his head with despondency and when Buffy put her hand on the bed, between his knees, it was clear the sheets needed a wash. “Yeah,” he continued, shuffling back to accommodate her.

Crawling over to curl into Spike’s side, Buffy also realised that her initial plan wasn’t going to work. They couldn’t keep running around the corridors of Spike’s consciousness and expect to find the answers they needed. His subconscious probably had the answers, but they weren’t going to reveal themselves while Spike was only thinking of her.

“Hey,” Buffy said, as Spike’s self-image put his arm around her. It was like getting a hug from the entire room. “Why don’t you tell me a story?”

The figment frowned at her, down his nose where he was collapsing back against the headboard. The duvet was plump and fuzzy again; the air smelled a little bit like strawberry daiquiris, for some reason. Fresh. And fruity. “You what?” he asked, amused.

Buffy smiled, much happier in Daiquiri Land than with the ghost of guys’ dorms past. “I wanna story,” she insisted, as the ginger kitten hopped up on the bed to join them, warm and soft and alive where it curled itself into her fingers.

It would be like dreaming, she figured: think about something else and the answer would come to them. And hey, it was no crime to enjoy the process either. It wasn’t every day you got to literally snuggle in your significant other’s love.

Spike seemed to be on the same page. Or, at least, the image of his soulless self rolled his eyes and gave in. “All right,” he said, with forbearance. “If you insist.”

Chapter Text

You ever hear the story about the time Spike and Dru got their cards read?

It was ’78, two years before they had to start counting centuries, and Spike had just offed the Slayer in New York. It was a battle he’d fight again, as many times as his immortal life could hold, but for now undeath was on the up. Dru was back from her strop about that fight on the Kings Road, proven herself not quite as daft as she looked by getting across the ocean, and was proud to have her Spike the killer decorating her arm once more. As for the man himself, he was riding high, because the gossip was just starting to spread. Modern communications – that was the thing. They’d come a long way in seventy years and now he was quids in at demon bars across the country and had a dinner invitation for every night he could eat.

As it was, the pair of them were down in New Orleans. You’d never have thought the couple had been fighting since Woodstock: if there was a hotel, they’d shagged in the penthouse – if there was powder, they’d had a drink off of the last one to snort it. Dru had a thing about doing drugs straight, of course, which was probably some old Catholic leftover. She forgot the rule half the time (like she forgot all the others) but it never went well, so Spike had been keeping them out of the full scene.

Anyway, they were down in the French Quarter. It was more of a dump back then than it is these days, because pretty much everything was a dump in the 70s. Or for some other socio-cultural reason neither of them gave a shit about at the time. Fair enough, they’d been there on their first tour after China, just in time to find out Storyville had been shut down and have Darla sent into a tizz, but the Quarter didn’t seem to have changed much. It was still hot. Still sticky. Still full of too many mint juleps and not enough hard booze.

Spike blamed disco, if you’re asking.

It was avoiding disco, in fact, that found Dru twittering to the stars and down into some grime-ridden backstreet where this old woman was sitting outside her front door, table to the other side of her with a jug of iced tea on it. Tea, that was, and a hipflask of bourbon, which was getting more attention as she filled her glass. The result looked a lot like a julep.

It had been a long night and Spike was impatient, so he had half a mind to off the woman and have her flask. The whole idea made Dru giggle, though, and she put that hand of hers on his elbow, told him, “Ooh, no, this one’s not for supper, my Spike. She’s got a present for us. We’ll have to keep her as a guest.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking – being a guest of Dru’s isn’t something you’d wish on anybody. It’s all blindfolds and tea parties and viscera and sex games that verge slightly too far into torture scenarios. The thing is, about Drusilla, is that she can mean a hundred things with a single word, and with it now ’78, nearly a century, Spike knew quite well that Dru was actually warning him that they weren’t to kill this old lady – otherwise the old girl was going to be peeved.

On the one hand, now, Spike had spent the last decade growing a little tired of acting the junior partner in these sorts of decisions. Dru had come of age in 1960, of course, but it was Spike’s opinion that he’d had rather a hand in all of that. At the same time, it had been a lonely and often serious year hunting down Nikki the Vampire Slayer, and the magic of the world was always that there were other people to eat. Hell, there were liquor stores with entire displays of bourbon, which made for better targets than this crone’s poxy nightcap.

“All right then, my dove,” was what Spike said in the end, slinging an arm around Drusilla’s shoulders and squeezing tight. “Let’s see what she’s got. We’ve half an hour till the midnight showing, if you fancy.” If there was to be no more killing, then there was always time for a bit of softcore porn.

They strolled casually up the cobbles, happy as you please. Dru was humming away, because she liked it when they were happy and also, Spike feared, because she’d recognised one of her own. The Sight was a cruel mistress, time and a half, but Dru had mostly made her peace with it over the years. When they ran into someone else it had touched, there was either a bloodbath or an evening of sorority doublespeak. Those evenings, Spike knew, were her very favourites.

The woman acknowledged their presence with a nod. She had cards in her lap, then her hands – cards bigger than her hands – and in an instant she was shuffling through them. “You’ll be wanting to come inside Mama’s shop,” she said when they came closer. I’m not doing the Creole, so you’ll just have to imagine it. “It’s a shame we’re only open during daylight hours.”

It was a ramshackle set of buildings, all around them. There was a law or something like that, to keep all the facades Spanish-style, but these ones hadn’t been restored in a while. There were balconies above them and in the gloom it looked like Mama’s shop had at least a good lick of green verditer to go around the blue shutters, but there was terracotta red coming through. She looked out of place, is what I’m saying, because why she was sitting on the street I do not know. It makes sense to imagine she had a table outside her shop – and there was a sign, waving in the breeze, the way there was above half the doorways on the block – and it was a humid night, but why was she there and nobody else?

It was the Sight; it had to be. “But you know why we’re here!” is what Dru said, confirming it.

The woman nodded again, still shuffling. She jerked her head towards the table. “Get yourselves sitting down.”

It turned out there were two stools, under the table. Spike wasn’t about to let it perturb him, of course, but in his view it was all a bit unnecessary.

Dru got done first, but it was a load of nonsense, naturally, about time and daffodils and doilies. Presumably it made sense to the pair of them. It made the silly girl happy, and probably shored her up against some sort of misfortune they were set to run into later.

Then it was Spike’s turn. In retrospect, of course, he should have seen the whole thing coming. It had only been a few months since New York, and dealing with a Slayer was something to define a vamp for at least a generation afterwards. Still, when the cards were laid down – three of them, turned in a row with a satisfying slide of their soft edges – well, it was a message even a dunce like him could read.

First: the Queen of Swords. “Restrained emotion; pure skill. She’s brittle; exhilarating. Independent. Too aware of sorrow.”

Second: the Queen of Pentacles. “Sold determination and motherly support. She’s hard-working; perseverent. Tough. Secretive.”

Last: the Queen of Wands. “Instinct and creativity. She’s flexible; passionate. A leader of others. Fearless.”

Now, again, it’s true enough to say that over the years Spike had had it pointed out that he isn’t the sharpest tack in the box. Nonetheless, with the three ladies sitting there in front of him even he was able to work out that this was a line about Slayers. And it was intriguing: he was hooked. He’d been around Dru too long and grown up in a time too superstitious not to credit this kind of glimpse into his future when he got it.

“But how do they fight?” was what he asked, because he has the subtlety of an ox. He leaned forward, the Queen of Pentacles’ cowhide coat still new and unsettled around his shoulders. “This one,” he pointed out, tapping a finger on the Queen of Swords, “she’s got her weapon. But this one,” he tapped on Nikki, holding the round coin to her like a pregnant belly, “she’s not about to protect herself from anyone.”

He was too proud, really, not to be pissed at the idea his latest had been an easy kill.

The old woman’s dark eyes bore into his, as though she could see it in him – or something, at any rate. “The Queen of Pentacles’ power does not come from the weapon she wields, but from those around her, the ones she nurtures. Maybe you bring her down, but she’ll not be gone while her memory remains.”

Mama’s eyes dropped to his black leather lapels, at which point Spike resisted the urge to wrap the coat tighter around him. That comment, at least as he was concerned, was bollocks. The reason he’d done for Nikki – the reason it had been clear her time was done – that had all been right there in how she’d lost hold of her weapon.

He saw it every night, relived it. She’d lost the stake as the train doors had closed. Christ knew what would happen if he ever let himself into the same position.

“And this one?” Spike distracted himself, pointing at the Queen of Wands. This one. “What, she’s gonna come after me with a bit of tr…” All right, yeah, so he’s a bit thick, old Spike. It did in fact take him that long to make the connection between this queen’s leafy staff and those sharpened bits of wood that were every vampire’s bane.

Drusilla who was, to have it said again, a lot smarter than most gave her credit for – she laughed. It was one of her kinder giggles, going right up her nose and between her teeth. Spike narrowed his eyes at her, but he didn’t really mind. The girl looked indulgent, and in those days that was all he wanted.

With a growl, nonetheless, Spike turned back to the old woman and jabbed his finger in the new lady’s face, hard enough to make the rickety old table wobble on its wooden legs. “Who’s she?” When was she going to come for him? When was he going to come for her? Another seventy years hence, a century? Or sooner?

She was sexy, it was fair to say Spike noticed. With her knees spread beneath her yellow dress, she sat face on to the front of the card, not in profile like the Chinese swordmaiden; not at a demure thirty, forty-five degrees. There was a black cat at her feet and a sunflower held in her left hand, a deadly omen if ever there was one.

The mystic, of course, didn’t answer. It was Dru instead, in a sing-song. “The Queen of Cups is coming for you…” She swayed from side to side on her stool, making the legs creak – her hands between her knees like a schoolgirl and a pixie’s smirk on her face. “She lets you borrow her daughters, but it’s the youngest one, the younger one… She’ll borrow you back and make you bleed and burn and cry.”

It was a disturbing thing to be told, no question about it. Looking back at his beloved, Spike felt an odd sensation pass through him. It wasn’t fear, but it was a little something like uncertainty. Disquiet. Drusilla was in the know about something and she wasn’t about to say any more: she brought a finger to her lips and winked at him, giggled and cackled at the night.

Later on, as time went by and Dru forgave him for whatever slight it had been to fight the good fight with London punks last year, well – she would come to cackle less and growl a little more, even lament. For now, however, she was in a mood where this was all the most hilarious idea alive.

Spike was not entirely out of touch with Drusilla’s emotions, but he didn’t know the future. He got about as far as figuring out that this next girl had a chance at killing him. “And what’s your wisdom about all this then?” he asked the tarot mama.

He didn’t listen, of course. He was too busy thinking about how he was going to kill this girl and her sunflower.

And then they did manage to make the midnight showing, so he soon forgot all about it.

Chapter Text

As the story came to a close, it was a natural moment for Buffy to sit up. The bedding in Spike’s subconscious was still warm and comfy and it was nice to have the kittens padding around – but they’d drifted back into Spike’s crypt again, to the super-king mattress and its silk satin sheets. The warmth was the glow of grimy table lamps from the dump.

They were both still clothed, which was maybe some kind of blessing. Buffy was pretty sure wearing shoes in bed wasn’t something she would have tolerated inside her own brain, but she was in Spike’s house right now, so she could abide by his rules. At least for the most part.

OK, so Spike’s story had taken them back to just where they’d been before, but for the moment Buffy didn’t care. “So you’re saying that you and me were – what? Destiny?” Even as she said it, it made her nose wrinkle. Sure, the whole idea could be romantic and a girl could go for that kind of thing once in a while, but it wasn’t something she’d ever thought about in relation to Spike.

“No, I’m not saying that,” Spike’s conscious will insisted, irritably. There was a crash and a yowl and it became clear that one of the kittens had knocked over a lamp. Buffy rolled her eyes. “What I’m saying,” Spike continued, “is that you could’ve killed me. That you’re the one – the one in a million – the right personality with that Slayer power burning inside you, that was doomed to do for me, one way or another. And this is how it’s been done. You in my head; you in my everything.”

“And what does that mean?” Buffy waved a hand at the earthen walls, the vision of at least a month’s sleepless nights. Spike slept like a log; he’d never known how much time she’d spent in this bed. “We have to keep coming back here?”

She’d never wanted to come back to this place again, the slick sheets and the walls that absorbed every echo of her voice. She’d been happy to blow it up, though she’d kept that part a secret. It was easiest to fix herself by burning the bridges between her and her dark places, so she’d thought once upon a time.

Spike, it turned out, kept them all inside his head. There were half-open doors between each one.

In an instant, the mattress bounced underneath them, propelling Spike’s asshole persona to turn on his hip and straddle Buffy over her thighs. They were at an odd but not precarious angle, Spike’s face suddenly inches from hers. Breath rushed into her mouth and a flutter in her heart sent cool tingles down to the end of her fingers.

"We’re always here, love,” was what he said, grazing fingers up her cheekbone.

Candles around them were bright and warm; the sheets were soft, but rumpled – rumpling. The air was fresh, because this crypt had ventilation, but the daiquiris were all long gone in favour of her own body’s tangy smell; Spike’s body’s bitterness. Those smells she wasn’t supposed to like about herself – the ones the aisle and the drugstore promised her could be masked by chemical florals and fresh linen… It was sex-smell, basically, but without the fug Buffy associated with doing it in a warm, human bedroom.

She’d had no idea that she’d missed it – or else that this was what she’d missed. Sex with Spike, it was either out in the open or down in this cold, cellar room. It was a hard, long walk on a winter’s day, with ice on the end of her nose the counterbalance to her burning insides, bruises on her skin but sweat that vanished as soon as it could form.

OK, so her eyes were tearing up now. Her elbows around Spike’s neck, she was kissing him again, but she wasn’t about to rip his clothes off, because she wasn’t quite sure what it would mean for her to literally dismantle his own image of himself.

Spike also seemed to realise that throwing random Buffy-sweaters into the corners of his subconscious was not likely the best course for good mental health. It did not stop him feeling her up underneath those clothes.

“Spike…” Buffy complained, though it was mostly a moan. Him straddling her was really the wrong position: he was going places, but the hand down her pants would run out of angle soon enough. She bounced on the bed, tugging on his consciousness’ belt buckle, but all that did was make them wobble like they were in some sort of melty-chocolate dimension, or on a waterbed – though Buffy wasn’t actually sure what those felt like.

Her eyes shut and clinging on, Buffy tried to regain control, but Spike was very clearly in the moment. He melted them both sideways, onto his back, and the gasp he pushed out of her sent a ripple around them like the drop on a dubstep baseline.

It was a toss-up, really, whether it made any difference to have sex with Spike in his head rather than saving it for the real world. Buffy tried to think through the ethics of it, because it seemed like it should be shady. It felt shady that she could manipulate him from in here – but right now, she thought as he manipulated her, well, it didn’t seem like that was a problem.

Buffy’s hands were on Spike’s shoulders right then, because she needed the support. Spike was getting the job done, the fastenings on her jeans no longer an obstacle. It was only when she next gasped a breath that she paused. The air eddied and choked in her throat, forcing Buffy to open her eyes, and at that moment Buffy realised how on the other side of the room there was Spike’s memory of her old Sunnydale basement. He was sat on his cot, this Spike, knees to his chest and his head in his hands. The manacles were around his wrists, their chain taut where it arced over his head to the wall.

He needed to think. He was thinking. He couldn’t think unless Buffy was taken care of, was that it?

“Spike,” Buffy said again, trying to think unsexy thoughts. God, what if this was somehow visible to all their friends back in SF? “Spike,” she repeated more forcefully, between breaths. Stop. “This isn’t why we’re here.” She looked down at the body beneath her, Spike’s eyes where they were intense and open. His jaw was clenching with every hard jerk of his hand. “You don’t have to shut me out.”

She caressed his face, as gently as she could, and his jaw clenched harder – nostrils flaring. The hand underneath her, that trembled, even the fingers that were inside of her, and Buffy couldn’t help but smile some sort of smile.

Her frustration dissolved in seconds as Spike relaxed, withdrew his hand and blinked. They were lying on the basement cot now, Buffy realised – another bed they’d shared. Wine-red satin was transformed into homely polycotton blue and the chains were hanging freely just in front of her eyes.

Her host in this place, he was still wearing black and red and his duster, the lining of it flared out beneath them. The coat's old rip was still there by Spike’s waist. His expression remained intense, but there were thoughts there too, a frown in the creases of his eyelids. Buffy straightened her underwear and zipped herself back up, before nestling into the crook of his arm.

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” she said, because they still had their mystery to figure out.

Spike sighed. He looked away, towards the chains, then back at her. “You know me,” he said with a wry smile. “I don’t have many thoughts what you’d call useful. I get plans without methods; feelings without contexts.”

Somehow, he suddenly seemed less like Spike than he had done a minute ago. The way he was talking to her again, like he didn’t understand this place; Buffy felt like it put them at a distance. She thought she could recognise it all well enough, after all.

She looked around the basement again, over Spike’s chest. Junk, junk, clutter, junk. It was dark and quiet in a way that felt like the early morning. The bed was hard and it creaked the second either of them moved.

“Tell me what you’re feeling, then,” was what Buffy said, trying with the words. Her enthusiasm didn’t really come through.

It was for that reason, maybe, that Spike pretty much ignored her. He shifted a little, turning his head out towards the basement. “You ever have a good idea,” he asked, “of everything that’s down here?”

Buffy looked around. She remembered when the pipes had failed. She hadn’t had a daytime job back then, which was weird to imagine now, but she hadn’t noticed at the time how most of her days were spent either staring at the TV or staring at the wall in the Magic Box. In any case, after they’d got the water cleared she had in fact had the time to spend a couple of days with Dawn and Willow and Tara, either saving stuff and drying it out or throwing things away. The others had come and gone, because they’d had things to do, and it had been torture in the moments she hadn’t zoned out to deal with a box of papers… But yeah, at the end of it and for the next couple of years, she had known.

“I can’t remember all of it anymore,” was what Buffy told Spike. He looked at her like she was a marvel – somehow some light was filtering into the room now. “But I guess? I should have thrown more stuff out, maybe kept some of the stuff that went in the trash, but by the end I always knew what was here.”

“You cleared out my crypt,” Spike commented, as if remembering for the first time. The conscious will of him, it still looked suspicious about it, but the warm dawn light gave a lot of his feelings away. “After I left, you still… Then you brought it to me, down in the basement.”

“And you left most of it to turn into rubble,” Buffy immediately complained, trying to lighten the tone by poking him in the chest. He turned away

It was all very well him looking at her – him letting light glow on her – and she was sorry to lose it now. But the fact he was content to live in mess was not useful when it was his brain they were trying to pick through. Another glance and the boxes down here were overflowing with books and shoes and binders Buffy had never owned.

“Tell me another story,” she said then, tucking her chin up onto his chest as she looked away from it all. This was a plan and she was sticking to it. She’d get him to work through stuff, rustle things around – and then hey presto…

Of course, Spike was going to be contrary about it. “No,” he refused, with his arm wrapped again around Buffy’s back. There was light in his eyes then as though he had a plan. “I’ve invited you into my brain; I think it’s time you sing for your supper.”

“What supper?” Buffy grumbled. This was not going to help. She didn’t have any stories.

At that moment, however, Spike laughed, and it rumbled right through them both. With the pad of kitten paws across her head, making her blink, Buffy found that they were back in San Francisco.

The room smelled like boy again. Boy deodorant. The bed was all blue-grey and plain white, like Spike was actually a boy.

Although, wait, no – there was another smell…

“Is that pizza?” Buffy asked, peering over Spike’s chest. He was still in black and red, still with the duster, but he was chuckling at her and reaching to his left. Soon his hand came back into view with a steaming slice of pepperoni pizza.

“Never say I don’t do anything for you,” Spike commented, as he folded the slice in half, lengthways. Buffy’s stomach gurgled, even though this clearly couldn’t be real food. She brought up her own hand and shared the hold on the crust, nudging her fingers under Spike’s. “Now open up,” he finished, unnecessarily as they both helped her take a bite.

It was good pizza. The best, even. A story was a fair trade, if Buffy could just figure out what to say…

Although, seriously, Buffy thought while munching – this was not why they were here. He didn’t get off that lightly. It was deceptive, the taste of tasty cheese, and with it she suddenly knew; she realised he was hiding something. “Tell me what really happened,” she said on instinct, after swallowing. “With the reading.”

The pizza vanished – or had never been there, or something else that made sense. Spike collapsed back onto the bed in a huff and it grew dark around them, the air like daiquiris again, somehow, because for some reason Spike loved her when she was perceptive.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Spike gritted out, as though he could ever pull off a lie.

These daiquiris, they were stronger than before: the rum was sharp and heady. The bed was still San Francisco, but Buffy couldn’t be sure of it. “You didn’t tell the story right,” she insisted, shutting her eyes. “Tell me again.”

Spike groaned, but after one more poke in his side he started talking.

Chapter Text

All right, so it’s a true story to say that Drusilla saw it all coming. She always did. It’s a true story to say that she and Spike spent the time they were reunited making hell in Louisiana, keeping out of the punk scene until Dru made her peace with it in 1981.

All the same, that night they met a tarot reader they didn’t do much else apart from eat her. No; you want a story? The story you want goes back a little further, up and over into New York City, and the immediate aftermath that followed Spike leaving a Slayer’s dead body on the floor of a C train.

It was a stranger murder than the last time, it had to be said. The last time, there had been Darla and the great git himself doing the parental bit, expecting him to fail. There had been Dru to look at him in the aftermath, to see exactly the sort of man he was.

This time, there was nothing and no one. It’s the greatest achievement possible for any vampire, offing the Slayer, but it’s not something you can crow about – not the moment her corpse hits the floor, not when no one knows you were on for the challenge anyway. The thing about beautiful young girls lying dead on the ground, it has a tendency to make humans try and play the hero, cause you aggro. As for the demon world, they don’t believe the Slayer’s dead until they see her mourning family and hear about the next little dervish stirring up a storm somewhere else. They’re superstitious bastards, after all: take her name in vain and she’s destined to walk right through your barroom door.

Anyway, right after it all went down, Spike left the subway to find himself in Brooklyn with nothing left to do. It was weird, to say the least, rising out of the depths into a city without Nikki in it – into a city where the entire supernatural world, apart from him, still thought there was a Slayer running about.

It should have been raining. Or storming. It should have been doing something, but it was nothing but quarter past two in the morning, with one murdered bird on the subway lying in wait for the driver to investigate the emergency brake.

Spike laughed, and swung around a lamppost, and a girl with over-kohled eyes approached him from a doorway, popping gum. Her hair was styled into a head of greasy Farrah Fawcett flicks that covered most of her features. “Hey,” she said, with no self-preservation at all. “You wanna handjob? It’s ten bucks.”

Spike laughed in her face. He hadn’t fed on the Slayer – hadn’t felt like it this time around, not without Dru there – and now lunch was walking up to him with a tomato in its mouth. This was the witness to his glory.

“I’ll take five,” the girl replied, unfazed. Another one of Spike’s guffaws and then she’d lost patience. “Are you high?” she asked. “If you’ve got something…”

This world of his, Spike’s world, it was too easy sometimes. The way Darla used to tell it, there were dangers around every turn – hunters and Slayers and Watchers, mobs and magic, all of it gunning to take them down. As far as Spike could tell, just shy of a century now and with two Slayers to his name – and two, remember, is how you measure that something’s not a fluke – all of that was all bollocks.

Maybe a mob was coming and it would catch him unawares. Maybe there would be something else to take him down. But on that night, in 1977, Spike didn’t reckon there was anything that could keep him from doing what he wanted, from taking what he desired.

He was young, all right? It’s worth forgiving the youth sometimes.

In any case, Spike didn’t realise it quite at that moment, but there was something in him that was starting to find the whole business just a little bit dull.

“You got any other tricks, love?” was what he asked the streetwalker. He wasn’t able to recognise his own feelings right then, but he knew well enough that he was hungry for conversation more than anything else. At least before dessert. Nikki was dead, so there was to be no more jibes out of her, and it would take a while to blood in the next nemesis. “I don’t mean with either of our bits,” he added, as the girl made moves to take the gum out of her mouth.

She rolled her eyes, this girl – chewing. Presumably it had been a slow night for her as much as it hadn’t been for Spike. He was still coming down. “I can read your fortune?” was what she eventually offered. “Ten bucks.”

I’ll point out that I’m not translating the prices here. It was a ridiculous amount to ask for a load of hokum. Quite why Spike took her up on it, I don’t think anyone will ever know. It’s possible he figured out he could kill her anyway, before he paid; it’s possible he figured out that ten stolen dollars was worth nothing to him when he could always go and steal ten more. Quite likely, he was missing Drusilla acutely. The other woman in his life was stone cold dead, the warmth of her body practically gone from her jacket in the time he’d taken to have this conversation.

For whatever reason, Spike did agree to the deal, and they found themselves in a bar where no one gave a toss who either of them were, nor that in the lamplight this girl could only be seventeen. The vamp of the hour was on to buy them a bottle of whiskey, because he was going to need it later. At the lady’s request, however, he got them white rum.

The girl had a handbag, which Spike hadn’t noticed. Going by the clonk of it on the dark wooden table, she kept a brick inside or something that would work just the same. Spike raised an eyebrow when she pulled out her tarot cards, because they seemed to take up half the space. They were held in a pack with an elastic band.

As the long-term lover of a girl who could see into the future and liked to play the mystery, it wasn’t like Spike didn’t know how attached the women could get to their decks. At the same time, in a city like New York? The girl would have been better off with a bigger brick.

Watching her shuffle, Spike found himself curious. “What’s your name?” he asked her, wondering if it would mean anything.

“Candy,” she replied immediately, and it didn’t. A moment later she was pulling the gum out of her mouth, sticking it under the table and asking him, “So what’s the question, bub?”

Spike stared at her, the pockmarks that covered both her cheeks. She had a scar on her jaw, which he hadn’t seen outside, and she had brown eyes, just like Nikki the Vampire Slayer. Her skin was fairer, but for a moment Spike was watching himself watching her and trying to figure out why this one was still alive.

Shaking his head, because he didn’t know what he was thinking, Spike poured them both a glass of rum and shot his down to warm him up. His new coat creaked. “Let’s stick to the classics, shall we?” was what he said. “I think I’ve hit a turning point,” he added, because it was a joke. “What am I gonna do now?”

This seemed to amuse the girl. “No idea,” she said, before slamming the knackered deck on the table. “Say let’s find out,” she added, picking up her rum. “Cut.”

It’s fair to say that Spike knew the drill. He thought about his question, which mostly meant thinking about his hands. He remembered how it had felt to hold Nikki’s life between them, to see that look in the Slayer’s eyes for a second time and snuff it out. He cut.

As for Candy, she put the decks back together as happy as you please and spread.

This is the thing, though, because it wasn’t a three-card draw. It was a full-blown Celtic Cross. She drew the three queens – and, let’s face it, Spike snorted his rum at the sight of them – but she drew a load of others as well, at ninety degrees to the pair of them up at the top of the table.

“Wow,” was her deadpan reaction. “That’s a lot of Pentacles.”

If you don’t know how the Celtic Cross works, it’s a standard, complex spread that looks nice and arcane for the punters. There are two parts of it, the cross on the left and the staff on the right. The cross is made out of six cards, the staff out of four.

At the centre of your cross, you’ve got two cards, one on top of the other: the card that defines your present and the card that defines your problem with it. I didn’t lie before about this reading – that present card was the Queen of Pentacles, the figure who understands hard graft and material gain, wants to provide. Crossed over that, though, Spike had the Eight of Pentacles, some poor bloke in a workshop trying to hammer his stack of coins together.

Either side of those two cards. These were exactly, fatally, those two other Slayers: on the one side the Queen of Swords, the one who’s figured out the stabs of the mind; on the other the Queen of Wands, she who’s sussed out instinct, passion, fire…

Anyway, that gives you a line that’s your past, present and future – but then above and below on your cross you’ve got your conscious and unconscious thoughts on the situation, the goal you’re heading for and what’s driving you in the back of your mind. Spike, well, he had more Pentacles. Above him he had the Five – this charming little scene of a church window, blocking out these two beggars in the snow. Below him, just as you’d expect – though he didn’t, quite – he had the Devil.

Scary, right? The thing about the Devil, he’s got his own Pentacle too. It’s upside-down, slap on his head, forcing him and his subjects to suffer from their base, material desires.

It wasn’t hard even for Spike to cotton onto the fact there was another Slayer in his future, but that vertical line, from Devil to the Eight to the Five of Pentacles, it was a story of vampirism, as far as he could guess it.

“OK – what I’m seeing,” Candy told him anyway, sipping rum, “is that this issue with the Queen of Pentacles, I dunno… We can say it’s a woman, but you’re a fool to think the court cards can only be other people. It’s gotta be what she means to you as well as who she is – no one can read minds with this stuff, just yours.” The girl’s tongue was getting looser now she was getting drunk. She was mostly talking to herself. “You figured something out with her, right? But would you say you’re still making an effort? Hammering things together?”

She pointed at the crossing card and Spike looked at it, zeroing in on the bloke’s hard-working face. He was trying – to prove himself above anything.

“You wanna shut people out with this project you’ve got,” moving her finger to tap the Five of Pentacles above. “I mean, if we figure you’re worrying the worries of this guy in the Eight, then we can see you working to build this window in the Five. We can see you beaten down and driven by this… Need to do this thing.” She jabbed the Devil. “Which isn’t going to help when the Queen of Wands comes along, because she can run rings around Pentacles.”

The project, in case you haven’t figured it out, it was evil. Sometimes the cards are very literal and Spike knew that well enough. The devil drove him and he wanted nothing more than for the rest of the world to rot in the winter of his maleficent discontent. He was working hard at it – couldn’t really work any harder. It was this Queen of Wands and her sexy little sunflower, she was the worry on the table.

So far so obvious, of course. Why would you off a Slayer if not to prove you could do the devil’s work that much better than the rest of them? What challenge could the future hold apart from the next Slayer, when there was no other danger on the horizon?

But then, the other part of this spread, the staff section, that had Spike’s attention. It’s the part Drusilla has a tendency to refer to as the willy stick, because he should never have let her see The Wicker Man. As the cross is about what’s going on right now inside you, and is a nice feminine circle shape to point out it’s all about reaction, the other four cards in their vertical line is all about agency and what the bloody hell you’re going to do to fix the mess you’re in. A nice bit of virile jizz.

It goes from bottom to top, with the first card supposedly giving you a bit of advice to wake you up. Then you’ve got something that points out the external shit you can’t control. The third card is something along the lines of what you can control, your hopes or fears or dreams or nightmares. It’s all those niggly thoughts you actually need to think about. The top card, finally, is understood to represent what the outcome is going to be, or likely will be unless you sort yourself out. It’s what makes sense of your future and tells you what act to get together.

Spike’s draw that night, it was a mix, but it was also yet more Pentacles. That first card, the advice, it was the Emperor: masculine energy and war and control. For the external stuff, he was inside his church from before, with the Three of Pentacles setting the scene for a happy little craftsman to show his wears to a commissioning public.

Hopes and fears and that shit? Well, that was interesting. Given the darkness of the rest of spread, the card that was there didn’t seem like it fit. It was the Page of Wands, with some poor bloke in a hideous yellow tunic and Robin Hood’s hat looking up at his staff like he had no idea what he was doing. Page cards are all like that, of course: first forays and ignorance about what their suits are meant to mean. Opposite of the queens, almost. It seemed as though Spike was afraid of his own passions, his own instincts, the poor sod.

The top card, capping the lot, that was the Ten of Pentacles. Three generations and some dogs, mingling around the mouth of their home, coming and going, barely making eye-contact. The Pentacles hung like Christmas tree ornaments, floating over the scene but irrelevant, everything all disconnection and material wealth with nothing at its heart.

“Geez, so how are we gonna make sense of this?” Candy asked. She was leaning back in the green leather booth and contemplating the spread. “Maybe we should leave the advice for one second and look at this outcome card. I mean, the Ten of Pentacles, set against your goal of a five? Whatever this project is, you are over-achieving on it, guy. It’s not gonna get you anywhere: look at these people; they got nothing. OK, dig it, so there are other people watching you, wanting it. I guess that’s how we can take the Three as your outside – but, yeah, talk to the Emperor. You can always take control back again.”

By this point the girl had drunk at least three shots of rum, and was clearly not all that used to it, or at least hadn’t eaten in a while. She was oddly relaxed, considering how Spike was yet half-planning to kill her. She was the only woman in the place and none of the men were looking out for her. Really, the only thing holding Spike back was how this was supposed to be a momentous night. Cheap blood was only going to water him down.

Possibly, Candy here was past caring. She had no qualms looking down on the Page of Wands and raising an eyebrow over the table. “I mean, let’s look at this – you’re working so hard you don’t notice jack shit about yourself. This turning point you’ve been telling me about? You noticed something, got a feeling you didn’t understand and it’s gotten you freaked out. Let me tell you, that’s the only thing that’s gonna save your ass in the end, so you’d better get understanding.”

Spike watched as she knocked back the rest of this round’s rum, crossing his heart against every sense of pointlessness in this whole charade of Slayer-killing. It was the shock of it, that was all. This uncanny city without her. Soon enough, there would be rewards to reap, Drusillas to entertain again.

“This girl,” Candy finished, licking her lips and stabbing her thumb in the face of the Queen of Wands, a mere two inches away from her page. “She’s got it made, at least how you want it. You watch out for her, because she is gonna screw with your shit. She’s gonna know it, know you.” With a lighter touch, she tapped her index finger on the emperor. “You’re gonna have to get control, get some war armour that’s not all these coins. If you wanna stand a chance…” She looked him in the eye. “I mean it,” she said seriously, ending the lesson.

Spike looked back at her, down at the Emperor and then up at the gormless naïf of Wands.

“Now where are my ten dollars?”

In the end, he didn’t eat her. Strangely, for one Twilight Zone moment, he almost wished that she would just goddamn eat him.

At least, that's how he remembered it.

Chapter Text

“By the time the story started spreading, of course,” Spike finished, “and by the time Dru did come back…” He was staring up at the ceiling, while Buffy was watching his face. “That whole night seemed like a dream. It wasn’t until I told you about Nikki that I remembered the most of what she said.”

Buffy snorted, looking at her guy in his armour. The story was in her ears and she’d just about followed it, but even with the ring of truth this time it sounded ridiculous. They were in San Francisco, but the sheets were blood-red, swathed around them like history. “You loved her,” she said, because it was obvious – ridiculous.

“Eh?” Spike asked, looking down at her. He had a frown between his eyebrows and Buffy figured he thought she was talking about the hooker.

“Nikki,” she pointed out. A kitten was pawing tiny claws into her hair, but Buffy batted it away. “I don’t mean in a stalk-her, fight-on-her-side, get-a-soul-and-die-for-her way,” she explained, when Spike still looked confused. “Although,” she added, bumping her forehead into his shoulder, “you did stalk her…”

“No.” Spike shook his head. The room darkened, spun, and they were back on the crypt’s silky bed again, cigarette smoke clinging to the air. “You’re wrong.” He sat abruptly, swinging his legs around until he was on his feet and pacing back and forth amongst what would have been their clothes.

“It’s OK,” Buffy tried to tell him, as the storming darkness around him made the sheets cling and slide across her clothes. “It’s OK to have these twisty, weird emotions.” She put a hand on her chest. “Believe me, I get it. I didn’t want to, for a long time, but…”

“You want to know what I think about these dreams?” Spike interrupted her, abruptly turning on his heel to drag Buffy off from the bed and over to the back of his bedroom, out of the storm door –

– but it didn’t take them into the sewers, not this time. Instead, they were pulled out into an alleyway, where the wind howled and cars groaned in the distance.

It looked a little like the alley behind the Bronze. Else it looked like a dozen alleyways Buffy knew from SF. Else it was New York. The location wasn’t really the important feature, unfortunately, so much as the spread of corpses littering the ground. Half of them weren’t wearing modern fashions, and to one side, with light flashing over her from no source at all, there was an African American woman in what looked like her early twenties, with a halo of black hair and flared jeans.

“I think I killed them,” Spike said, his conscious will adamant as his subconscious refused to detail the vanishing point of the alley, sending Buffy’s gaze back and further back down into darkness and always more bodies. “I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m sure I killed them. Evil’s the only thing I’ve ever been good at. You can say the only thing I need is some control, but the fact is I don’t have any.”

Buffy couldn’t stop staring at the bodies. She wondered what it would look like, all the vampires she’d killed laid out in the line. Hell, maybe all the humans. “If you killed them,” Buffy insisted, steadily, with a swallow, “then the knowledge is still here inside of you. We can find it. You can find it and we can use it.”

There was a sound of breath as Spike sighed. He looked tired, when Buffy finally wrenched her eyes back to his. The streets morphed a little, shifted angles and lighting, and then they were definitely outside Spike and Xander’s apartment building. “I just don’t know how to keep going sometimes. I honestly do not know.”

“Me either,” Buffy replied, pressing her lips together into a smile. Spike looked doubtful, but Buffy wasn’t sure now was the moment to try again to break his faith in her. “Come on, Spike,” she said, taking him by the shoulders and turning him physically away from the alley. Come on. “We don’t have to solve everything right now. Just… Just this one thing.”

Spike clenched his jaw, pulled his coat around himself. “Yeah,” he agreed, shutting his eyes. Buffy blinked and the alleyway was on their other side, empty like it usually was when they came home. “OK,” Spike added, nodding at her and centring himself. He reached out, took her hand. “All right.”

Buffy nodded, smiling what she hoped was an encouraging smile. They turned and breached the mouth of the alleyway –

– and found themselves heading straight back into Spike’s crypt from Sunnydale.

Damn.

“Bloody, sodding… Grraagh!” Spike swore, letting go of her hand to kick the door that swung shut behind him. “What the hell is wrong with me?” he demanded, glaring at Buffy as though she had the answers. “Why are we here?”

“Well I don’t know!” Buffy shouted back, throwing up her hands. “This is not my favourite scene in Buffy and Spike’s star-crossed romance.”

Spike clenched his jaw, livid and suiting it in his ridiculous Big Bad outfit. The room darkened, the air cold and a smell rising that was bitter, like tar.

“Calm down, OK?” Buffy kept shouting as blood pounded in her ears, for reasons she wasn’t sure why. Grime was gathering on the brown leather chair; the candelabras weren’t upright, clattering and breaking. There was a smell like burning matches, burnt meat, and the sarcophagus had a rumpled sheet on it, smelling like sex.

All of the smells were more vivid than Buffy could have remembered: they were giving her a headache, stabbing in her left temple.

There were voices, coming from below them, her own and – Riley’s; sounds of gunfire.

There was a crash and behind her there was Spike, half-naked and lean and bruised, one foot held up where he’d kicked his own TV from the stand. There wasn’t a single straight line in his body; every part of him was cracking inward.

Without even thinking, Buffy began rushing over to him, but she was held back by a hand on her shoulder.

“Don’t,” Spike told her, and they watched as this other image picked up his duster and left the crypt – noise and smell and adrenaline still an assault on Buffy’s every sense.

“Why are we here?” Buffy whispered. The noises went on. They weren’t a loop, but the explosion wasn’t due in Spike’s memory. She felt tired.

Was this what they were doomed to come back to? Buffy didn’t want to believe it, but in some ways it seemed inevitable. Here they were again, in the dark, without escape, and here they were knowing exactly how it felt.

“This is when I hated you,” Spike’s voice explained, as she squeezed her eyes shut against it. She didn’t want it to be true. “For the first time since you’d come back – for the first time ever, really.” He sounded resigned to it, as though he’d given up on hiding it. “I promised myself I’d never let you back in,” he added. “Not all the way.”

As she turned around, the clamour faded in Buffy’s ears. The smell dissipated, leaving only the smell she last remembered from this place: earth and green grass, sunlight filling the space that he’d left and she’d cleared out. “You’re gonna have to,” she told Spike, looking at the last warden he had for his soul. “Not only to fix this mystery, but if we’re gonna…” If we’re ever gonna work out.

He hadn't told her the full story, not about what had happened that night in New York. Buffy couldn’t be sure what was missing, but there was something. Of course, she wasn’t sure if she needed to know. It didn’t really matter, just the realisation that he wasn’t telling her - that he wouldn’t.

“You need to let me…”

“I know,” the image of Spike’s will interrupted her, walking away and hopping up to sit on the sarcophagus. There was no emotion in his voice, though when he’d made his peace with it Buffy had no way of telling. His legs dangled against the stone, spread wide, and he rested his hands on his belt.

Standing awkwardly, Buffy tried to figure out how she could ever reassure him. What was there to say? It was always going to be risk, just like it always had been. “If it helps,” she told him eventually, “this is the place I realised I’d let you in my head.” She nodded towards the ladder. “Downstairs, a few weeks before the whole… With the rugs?”

Spike snorted in surprise, his gaze darting away with what seemed like bashfulness.

Buffy figured he remembered. She continued to explain, “I hated myself; refused to believe it.”

That was the thing, wasn't it? Even now, of course, she could remember the feel of the heavy warp threads on her chest, blushing from the feeling of exposure. Everything else she did with Spike, there had always been a part of her who imagined what it would be like to explain it to someone else, how shameful it would be. That moment, however, she’d realised what she’d done was inexplicable. They’d only been talking, but it had been something else. A conversation, like Spike had called it, but something more than that as well.

“I never got you out again,” she promised.

Still suspicious, the Spike on the sarcophagus looked up. His eyes were narrow and there was a white kitten peeking out from just behind his back, between his wrist and his hip.

Buffy walked over, her heels clacking on the stone floor as the empty crypt echoed around her. She stood between his legs and put her hands on his knees, solidly holding his gaze. “Let me see what you remember,” she asked him, her face angled to his, “and we’ll figure this out. You’ll figure this out.”

With a ragged breath, Spike closed his eyes and leant forward, touching their foreheads together as he covered their hands. A moment passed, and then finally his touch felt like the man Buffy knew.

“All right,” he said.

Buffy nodded, and let him spin the world around them.