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Strawberry Fields

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Spike huffed and wedged a cigarette between his lips. This was bloody interesting. Like one of those bad horror flicks, only a lot fucking funnier. Granted, seeing something supernatural wasn’t exactly novel—he just wasn’t used to seeing buildings literally swarmed with a wall of wasps.

Nor was he used to watching the Slayer walk around looking as bloody dazed as she did. Perhaps if he’d had more time, he would have taken a second to appreciate the glossy, almost drugged look behind her eyes. She walked right by him, after all, without as much as a blink. Mite rude considering this was supposed to be his big reveal—dangerous predator, walking around on two legs when he had, so recently, been confined to the wheelchair in which she had put him, and she didn’t even glance in his direction.

If nothing else, though, this should be interesting. He didn’t reckon Angelus would leave the mansion for a while, even if his grandsire did seem interested in sniffing out the so-called possession going down at Sunnydale High.

Considering the Slayer looked to be experiencing a bit of the possession herself, Spike figured he had the upper hand. She couldn’t go into stake-first-ask-questions-later mode if she wasn’t all there upstairs. If he was lucky, he might get a word before she shook off the ghosties and introduced him to the business end of her stake.

Then again, knowing this particular slayer, he was better off not pushing his luck.

A sigh rolled off his shoulders. If he went on like this, he’d just end up talking himself in circles. The fact remained that he had no other option. Like it or not, Buffy was it. He might be out of his chair, but that didn’t mean he had the strength to take on Angelus plus minions, not to mention the woman to whom he’d formerly devoted the whole of his unlife. He wouldn’t become careless on account of his wounded pride.

With a little luck, the Slayer wasn’t so thick she wouldn’t be able to see his logic. Spike sighed again, tossed his half-smoked fag to the pavement and stomped on it once for good measure. Then again, the bloody chit was nearly as stubborn as he was. She didn’t like admitting weakness, even if acknowledging one’s shortcomings cleared the path to success. He’d heard it all—fuck, he’d lived it—and his life was hardly a living example of learning from his mistakes.

But in the matter of Angelus and Dru, there was no other option. Spike would dust and his deranged family would end the world. Bad for him. Bad for Buffy.

He figured he had the selling points lined up properly. The Slayer would have to be a complete nutter not to jump at the first offer he put on the table.

Then again, judging by the glazed look in her eyes as she’d walked into the school, perhaps they weren’t too far from the alternative.

Spike laughed shortly and shook his head. “Right, here it goes,” he said. The words fell bland against the cold night air, coaxing another laugh.

There was every chance he’d completely lost his head. Bloody figured. The century with Drusilla hadn’t cost his sanity a dime. It took coming to the Hellmouth to the Slayer and her wanker of a honey to make him officially go carrot-top. He could only hope that Buffy’s human penchant for guilt and do-gooder work had played enough on her conscience to make her as loopy as he.

A smirk tugged on his lips, and he again conjured the image of Buffy walking through a wall of wasps. Something told him that he was on the right track.

Sunnydale High had an entirely different atmosphere when the lights were on and he wasn’t tossing around tables and jabbing things into the ceiling. Spike prowled the halls leisurely, following Buffy’s scent as his eyes roamed the bulletin boards and darted into empty classrooms. This was the sort of place that made him grateful for the tortuous upbringing he’d suffered through lifetimes prior. Youth seemed to grow crueler with every generation.

He sucked in a breath when he finally caught up with her. She was moving sluggishly down the main hall, the air thick with the scent of her tears. And he didn’t know why, but that knowledge was humbling. It served as a cold reminder that she had lost things as well. She had lost almost everything.

Granted, Spike didn’t much care for what the Slayer suffered. Way he figured it, she deserved that pain…and then some. It was her formerly virgin pussy that had caused all this, wasn’t it? Had she been able to keep her legs shut, none of this would have happened. Dru would still be at his side. Angelus would be shoved inside that drastically unfunny soul. And Spike wouldn’t be doing the unthinkable—wouldn’t be approaching the Slayer for help, of all things ridiculous.

Bloody bint.

God, he’d be happy when things were back as they belonged. Then he could off the chit good and proper.

“Look,” he said loudly, sucking in a deep breath when Buffy’s listless trek down the hall came to an abrupt halt. Great. She was going to launch into battle before he could get a word in. and then he’d be too dusty or she’d be too dead to do either of them any bit of good. “First things first, I didn’t come here to kill you.”

He paused and waited. And waited. And waited.

And nothing. Spike blinked.

Well, that was rude. The least she could do was acknowledge his thoughtfulness. Any self-respecting slayer’s knees would be knocking together at the prospect of facing him—an assuredly pissed off slayer-killer. Hell, because of her, he’d just spent months of his unlife that he’d never get back rotting away in a bloody wheelchair, forced to watch Angelus fuck Dru into the bloody ground. If he hadn’t already committed to this throwing-it-in-with-the-enemy rot, he’d be drinking from the Slayer’s throat.

“Slayer?”

Buffy just stood there in the middle of the hall, her back to him.

A frown fell over his face and the surge of irritation fell to confusion. Perhaps he’d underestimated the rumors of a ghostly invasion. His own experience with the spirit-world notwithstanding, he’d never given hauntings too much credit. “You can hear me, right?”

There was another long silence. And nothing.

Spike expelled a deep breath and hazarded a cautious step forward. “Buffy?” he asked softly. “Slayer, are you—”

“You’re the only one.”

He froze. That made bugger-all sense.

“The only one?” he repeated, befuddled. “The only one who can help you bring them down, you mean? Point of fact, love, that’s the reason I’m here to begin with. I’ve got a proposition for you. And before you turn me down, just take into consideration that I’m here and not trying to kill you. That means—”

“You’re the only one,” she said again.

Again, Spike blinked. “Yeah, pet, we just covered this.”

“The only person I can talk to.”

Whatever sense he’d tried to decipher flew completely out the window. His brow furrowed in confusion. “Uhhh, Slayer, you sure you’re all rested from that fever? Gotta say, injecting yourself with a nasty bug, as bloody funny as it was, had to have worn away at what little sense you have trapped in that thick skull of yours.”

Or maybe she meant that he was the only one to whom she could talk to since they were in the same boat. They’d both lost their lovers to Angelus.

But then Buffy turned, and the second her eyes met his, his insides quivered. There was something there. Something monumental. Something earth-shattering. “You can’t make me disappear just because you say it’s over.”

There was no way to spin that. No way at all.

It’s not the Slayer.

Not the Slayer. Someone else is driving.

“What?”

It was the last intelligible word that escaped his lips. The next second, fog settled around his head, and the physical world simply fell away.

Chapter Text

At seventeen, Buffy had experienced a fair share of kisses. While she wasn’t as experienced in the realm of tonsil hockey as, oh say, Cordelia, she was a girl of former popularity and one or two slapdash pre-Angel boyfriends who had enjoyed sticking their tongues down her throat.

Yes, as far as first-date kisses went, she was quite the Guru.

Then Angel had come along, and her past of sloppy, slobbery kisses had been erased with lips made of sin. He’d kiss her and her world spiraled out of control. Her skin hummed, her pulse raced, her heart about exploded. He made her feel like dying.

The lips that were now caressing hers were most certainly not Angel’s. If Angel’s lips were made of sin, these were made of redemption.

She felt like she’d stepped into a dream or a painting—something perfect yet intangible. Something for which she’d spent her life reaching. Something she could only touch when her eyes were closed. Cool hands cupped her face as a foreign tongue explored her mouth. He was whimpering against her, murmuring sweet little nothings, stroking her skin with his fingertips. It was the most sensual moment of her life and she didn’t even know his name.

Pretty much because she had yet to open her eyes. She was too afraid of ruining the illusion. Undoubtedly, she was at home in bed, enjoying a nice, naughty wet-dream. Or she’d blacked out while dancing at the Bronze…and ew. Some guy just randomly comes by and makes with the kissage? That was just wigsome.

Only not so, because she was buttery goo and that was always a good thing. So if she had blacked out at the Bronze and was being taken advantage of by Creepy Guy, she’d let it slide. Anyone connected to these lips couldn’t be that bad. These lips were lips of good. Good, good lips. She’d happily marry the body attached to these lips, if only to stake her earthbound ownership on their magic touch.

“Mmm…”

Then she opened her eyes. The world crashed.

She knew Spike sensed it the second that she did. His eyes flew open and she found herself suddenly drowning in a crystaline ocean. No man’s eyes should ever be that blue. Especially if said man was the proprietor of the Lips of Good.

Okay, Buffy, prioritize.

“SPIKE?!”

Those totally illegal eyes of his flashed with an intoxicating mixture of arousal and confusion. Then he stepped back, shoving her away from him as his face contorted in disgust. The same disgust that she was surely mirroring back at him…that was, if she’d managed to pick her jaw up off the floor and roll her tongue back inside her mouth.

Spike? Spike owned the Lips of Good?

And why the hell had he been kissing her?

It didn’t take long to remember. Thankfully, the fog lifted before she could open her mouth and level some humiliating accusation his way. Something along the lines of, “How dare you sneak in here and kiss me?” when he was obviously as bewildered and shaken as she was.

The disgust, though, was a bit much. Her ego was fragile enough as it was. She didn’t need to know that kissing her equaled gross for men, even if he was her mortal enemy. Come on. Some allowances ought to be made.

“Ghosts,” she blurted, suddenly desperate to cover her tracks. Maybe Spike didn’t know about the school being possessed. Maybe he just thought she wanted him really badly. And maybe she should stop shaking and staring at his Lips of Good and get back to what she’d come here to do. “The school is possessed by ghosts…and hey, why are you out of your chair?”

Spike blinked at her, his mouth somewhat agape, his chest heaving deep, needless gasps.

And then it came back to her. Everything. The pained conversation between Grace and James. Shooting Spike in the chest. Watching him fall over the railing. Watching him fall, and being swallowed in despair. Going back to the music room and turning on the record. And then she’d put the gun to her head, and she would have fired if Spike hadn’t been there to stop her.

No. That wasn’t quite right.

Grace. It was Grace.

“We heal,” he said suddenly.

Buffy shook her head and met his eyes reluctantly, ashamed to discover that she’d been staring at his mouth again. It was really unfair. It was completely unfair. Why, out of all the men in the world—all the living, breathing, non-vampire men—did he get those lips?

Furthermore, she’d been so transfixed on that beautiful mouth of his that she’d completely missed out on what he’d said. And knowing her luck, it was probably important. “What?”

“Vamps. We heal. Bloody lot faster than humans, too.”

“Oh.” Oh. Right. The chair—or rather, the lack of the chair. Spike was standing in front of her on two healed legs, and he’d just saved her life. He’d saved her from blowing her brains out and given her a kiss to end all kisses on top of that.

Or maybe the kiss had been Grace, too. Maybe Spike kissed like a girl.

The thought inspired a nervous, high-pitched titter.

“Slayer?”

“You kissed me.”

Ugh. Verbal diarrhea much?

Why oh why did the floor not open up and swallow her? Why? It was the Hellmouth—one would think that the floor would be more with the random opening and swallowing of red-faced slayers during seconds of blind stupidity.

Spike stared at her. “No, you kissed me,” he retorted, perfecting an impression of a three-year-old.

“You were all with the lunging and the grabby!”

“Oh, don’t bloody flatter yourself!”

“Flatter? You think I want vamp slobber all over my shirt?” She forced a grimace and began wiping at her top with forced vehemence. Truth be told, she couldn’t stop shaking. She flexed her hands into fists, her eyes taking a quick survey of the room, searching for something to hold onto to prevent herself from lunging into his arms. It had been so long since anyone had held her like he had just seconds ago. Since she’d been kissed like that—since she’d felt alive.

And it had been fake. Every second. Every blissful touch had been pure fabrication.

“Well,” Spike snapped, “of the two of us, you are bloody more likely to snog the enemy. Why don’t you tell me?”

He would throw that in her face.

Buffy waited for the perfect retort to come to her, and her shoulders slumped when it missed its cue. “This is pointless,” she decided.

“You’re telling me,” he snarled. “Gonna take a biblical flood of alcohol to get the slayer taste outta my mouth. Don’t know how your precious Angel could stomach it.” He made a face and wiped his mouth with the back of his duster sleeve, and though Buffy was convinced that much was designed only to add insult to injury, his barb hit its mark with a vengeance. “Look, you daft bint, I was only coming here to see if you would…”

The air between them fell eerily silent. She waited. His face contorted into a scowl, and he did not continue.

“You’re out of your chair,” she repeated, flexing her hands again. Her lips were still tingling—even the intrusion of Spike’s snide remarks and all the reality they bore with them couldn’t stop her insane want to leap back into what the spirits had started. The past few weeks had taken a disastrous toll on her heart. She hadn’t known how starved she was for contact. How much she missed the simple pleasure of a loving embrace. And while Spike would sooner saw off his foot than play the part of the strong male arms to rock her to sleep at night, right now, with the taste of him in her mouth, she could think of no one else.

Not that Buffy needed those strong male arms—it was just comforting. It made her feel less alone. It provided a sweet lie. And even so, Angel had never really offered to play the role of her male lead. The implication was always there, sure, but he’d turn around and vanish just when things became interesting. Until the end. Until the one time he had held her in his arms. Until he bolted from bed and left her to his soulless counterpart.

Buffy blinked. Spike was staring at her.

“What?”

“You were off,” he said slowly, his tone belittling. She suddenly felt like an unruly child that had just broken the same rule fifteen times in a row.

“Off?”

“You mentioned the chair again and then you went off.”

“You’re not in your chair.”

Spike nodded, the incredulous look on his face never waning. “A fact, I believe, we’ve more than established.”

“Why haven’t you tried to kill me?”

At that, he balked, and it pleased her that she’d finally caught him off guard. “Well,” he replied, blinking, “why haven’t you tried to kill me?”

Because my lips are still numb from kissage and it’s gone to my brain.

“I asked you first.”

He sneered and rocked on his heels. “I asked you second.”

Buffy frowned. “You can’t do that. It’s cheating.”

The look on his face fell from disbelieving to amused, and the change enchanted her. She’d never seen Spike amused—not genuinely amused, anyway. There had been that sadistic smirk when he’d thought she and Angel were about to burn at the hand of the Judge, and the proud little grin when he’d first stepped out of the shadows at the Bronze. But nothing that suggested that he was honest-to-god humored.

It was disconcerting. Seeing Spike look at her like a person rather than a meal-ticket, particularly after he’d kissed her lips off, threw her for a loop. She wanted him evil and threatening. She wanted some of her own back.

She wanted to stop shaking, dammit. It was just Spike. Spike, whose ass should have been well and truly handed to him by now.

Damn that mouth of his.

“I didn’t come here to fight. I came here because…I wanted…” He paused again, his brow furrowing. Then, before she could blink, he pivoted on his heel, shaking his head as though to free himself of a wayward thought. “You know what, Slayer? Forget it. Call it a fleeting bout of insanity, yeah? It was bound to happen sometime with the company I keep.”

She was tempted to agree, but curiosity—and a strange want to keep things civil, if not tense and awkward—stopped her. “But you—”

“Forget it.”

“You came here to—”

“And now I’m leaving.”

Without even trying to kill me?

That was so…not Spike.

“Just bloody forget it,” he yelled over his shoulder. “And don’t get too cozy, Slayer. Next time I see you, it’ll be my fangs in your throat.”

The haunted tone in his voice remained with her the rest of the night.

Chapter Text

He had a hand braced against the shower wall, cool water cascading over his head and running down his body. He had a mouthful of her taste and his lips hadn’t stopped tingling. In the many years he’d spent wandering the earth, he’d never thought a simple kiss could make his insides melt.

God. He was such a wanker, and as tonight had so painfully exploited, he’d been without sex too long. Dru’s illness hadn’t allowed them to enjoy any play in the bedroom even before Angelus, and unlike many others of his kind, Spike was a one-woman-vamp. If he couldn’t have Dru, he didn’t want anyone. She was his reason for living after all. She was his salvation. She was his everything.

That didn’t explain why he currently had his left hand wrapped around his cock, or why the Slayer’s name was on his lips. It didn’t explain why his mind conjured the image of her on her knees before him, that perfect mouth of hers sucking him into oblivion.

A long whimper tore through his throat. He was sick. He was bloody certifiable.

He was coming hard.

“Fuck,” he gasped, banging his head against the wall, his hips jerking forward violently. “Buffy.”

Buffy. Buffy. When had she become Buffy to him?

It wasn’t right. None of what had happened tonight was right. He’d gone to her in protest. He’d gone to her as a last bloody resort. He hadn’t gone to her to have her press her succulent little body against his and kiss him in ways that made him realize his lips had been neglected for the past century.

Tonight was about getting his life back on track. About bringing Angelus down. About getting the wanker out of the picture so Dru would come to her senses and remember who had been there for her without fault.

Spike trembled and shut off the shower.

Buffy.

Buffy had gotten in the way. Buffy and her luscious little mouth. He’d never considered himself the sort of bloke who got so bloody turned on because of a simple kiss. Then again, nothing about that kiss had been simple. That kiss had been the sort that would inspire men to storm kingdoms just to win a second taste.

That didn’t change things. A kiss, in the end, was still just a kiss. Buffy’s lips might be delicious, but he’d never know how the rest of her tasted. Never. Tonight had been a mistake. A faux pas. A pathetic stunt played by two miserable excuses for spooks. It changed nothing. Had he been in his right mind, his mouth would never have gotten so close.

Spike frowned. Well, no, that wasn’t right. He still intended to rip her throat out, and that required mouth-on-Buffy action. But in an entirely different context. That was a step necessary to ensure that he got to lick her blood off his fingers. It didn’t mean he wanted to pound his cock into her tight little pussy.

He groaned as his disobedient cock hardened again.

Serves you right for thinking of slayer pussy.

“Spike?”

His head shot up, Drusilla’s scent flooding his nostrils. He was standing starkers in the middle of the room.

Standing, as in not in his wheelchair.

Bleeding fuck. He should have thought before he jumped in the shower. He’d just needed to wash Buffy off his skin as soon as possible.

Pity it didn’t work.

It took only a second to sprint across the room. Spike snatched his jeans from where he’d tossed them on the bed, wrestled with his T-shirt, and threw his duster over his shoulders, only to crash haphazardly into the wheelchair with a gasp as Dru’s head poked into the room.

Spike blinked at her, panting. His hair was wet. His skin smelled like soap. Had Drusilla possessed any of her faculties, she would have immediately known something was up.

He was fortunate, then, that the love of his unlife was uninhibitedly insane.

“Spike, my sweet,” she cooed, twirling as she entered the room. “Daddy has a surprise for you.”

His stomach lurched and his heart sank. So tonight was going to be one of the few nights that Angelus paid attention to him. There was no way this could be good—it merely meant that he’d grown bored with fucking Drusilla in front of the help and wanted to up Spike’s torment by making him watch as another bloke tasted his girl’s cunt.

“Is that right?” he drawled, wincing as his hands gripped the wheels of the chair. After this was over, he was going to burn the sodding thing. “What’s that, pet?”

“He says you’ve been a bad doggie.”

At that, Spike froze.

“Have you, my sweet prince? Have you been a bad doggie?” Drusilla smirked and sauntered forward, her hands running a tantalizing trail down her hips and up again until she was pulling at her own nipples through the thin fabric of her top. “Waiting till it burns. The fiddle won’t be played until the city’s on fire. You want it. Daddy says so.”

He swallowed hard and forced a smile. “I always want it, ducks,” he murmured, his eyes falling to her breasts. He knew how they tasted. He knew how every inch of Drusilla tasted. And he loved her taste.

But looking at her, watching her, he couldn’t help but yearn for something hot to offset the cold. She was cold. She’d been cold from the beginning. He’d never known any touch that wasn’t cold.

From where Buffy had held his face earlier tonight, he was still sizzling with warmth. His lips had yet to stop burning.

And the burn was so fucking good, he could barely stand it.

“You want to play in sunshine.”

Spike’s eyes jerked upward and his throat ran dry. “Dru—”

His protest died the second before Angelus’s intrusive scent hit the air. It was over then. Everything was over. The plan he’d carefully stitched together had been betrayed, likely by the aroma of slayer musk. Or perhaps Angelus had spied him in his dazed and hasty retreat of the Sunnydale campus. Perhaps. In the state he’d been in, Spike wouldn’t have noticed a ticker tape parade, much less a giant vampire with more forehead than face. Even if said giant vampire just happened to be his least favorite relative.

“Spike,” Angelus said quietly.

That much told him everything. Angelus knew.

Well bollocks.

Spike met his grandsire’s dark eyes and nodded stoically. “We gonna dance around this, mate?” he asked, arching a brow. “’Cause, truth be told, there are only so many clichés I can handle at a time.”

“There is nothing to dance around, as far as I’m concerned,” Angelus replied, offering little more than an apathetic shrug. “You can walk.”

“Yes. I can also talk,” Spike agreed. “I’ve been told that I have a lovely singing voice.”

“And yet you’re still in that chair.”

“Well, we’ve gotten to know each other so well over the past few months.” He rolled his eyes, going for casual while his mind raced. “Can’t blame me if you’ve been distracted, mate. What with playing practical jokes on the Slayer’s friends and tattlin’ to her mum about popping her cherry, it’s a bloody wonder that you’ve noticed anything else.” His tossed a meaningful, however wasted glance to Dru. “Much as I can recall, it’s none of your bloody business what I can do. I don’t ask for progress reports on your numerous injuries. As it is, the Slayer has landed you quite a few.”

“Sarcasm will get you nowhere, William.”

He shook his head. “That’s such a shame.”

“What I can’t understand is…what were you trying to pull? Kill Buffy and show me for sticking it to your woman? Hmm?” Angelus stalked forward, a dangerous shadow crossing his face. “Have I truly underestimated your ego that much?”

He snickered. “There are a great many things you’ve underestimated,” he drawled. “Mate.”

A beat. Angelus simply stared at him.

Then the wanker’s leg shot out and the wheelchair vanished, throwing Spike to the ground and smashing noisily into the wall behind him. “No need for dramatics, then,” the elder vampire sneered. “I never figured you the security-blanket type. And yeah, I might be a little off my game, but time hasn’t changed you much. I know you.”

Spike pressed his palms to the floor and shoved himself to his feet. Know him? Angelus knew him? What a bloody joke. Angelus had never known him. Never. The great git had attempted to mold him into something he wasn’t. He had an idea of what Spike was. He knew his habits, perhaps, and that he treasured Dru above all others. But that wasn’t knowing him. That was knowing about him and there was a bloody big difference.

“You didn’t plan to kill her, then,” Angelus mused, crossing his arms, his brows perking. “And I say that only because you’re here and not dust.”

Spike snorted ineloquently. His grandsire’s lack of confidence in people other than himself was not so much surprising as it was annoying. The fact remained that Angelus had not once been able to corner a slayer and snap her neck properly. Not once. Not even when he was snogging the stupid chit. And the great sod hated it that a vampire he considered as fumbling and incompetent as Spike had not once, but twice faced a slayer and walked away with another notch on his belt.

“Ye of little faith,” he said neutrally, enjoying the way Angelus’s face twisted. The wanker just hated it when his audience refused to react.

“Well, she’s still alive, too,” the elder continued, “but I figured that was a given.”

“My prince wants to play in sunshine,” Dru observed. “He’s tasted honey and he wants more. More of the pretty little drops of honey.”

Angelus perked a brow. “So that’s what that smell is.”

“Sod off.”

“You tried to get into her pants? What? Are you that desperate?”

Spike’s eyes darkened. “You’re the one who said I had to bloody love her to kill her, right? Though you haven’t been quite so eager to demonstrate that little pearl of wisdom, have you? After all, you had the bint’s grubby paws all over you for months and you still haven’t managed to do her in good and proper.”

Angelus was predictably unbothered by his criticism. “I have plans for the Slayer,” he replied, shrugging.

“Yeah. Sing me another one.”

“You doubt.”

“You’ve given me little reason to do anything else.” He nodded to Dru, ignoring the pang that struck his heart at the harsh apathy that danced behind her cold eyes. It wasn’t like he was used to seeing warmth when she looked at him. Even when she appeared touched at the things he did for her—the small and the very big—the spark of gratitude was always overshadowed by indifference. She didn’t care for him. Not like a lover, at least. More like a favored pet. And while he’d known it for a while—for years, though he’d never wanted to admit it—there was something about seeing it now. Now that he’d tasted true warmth and purity. “’Sides,” he continued, “since you’ve taken mine, I figured I’d sneak a taste of yours. See if her pussy really is tight enough to chase a soul away.”

Just once he’d like to strike a nerve. He’d like Angelus’s cool countenance to fail him. He’d like to send the bastard into a jealous rage the likes of which made the ground tremble and the skies quiver. However, even knowing how possessive his grandsire was over what he considered to be his property, there was nothing but cruel humor in his elder’s eyes.

Spike knew that it was obvious to every vamp in proximity that his dick hadn’t gotten any action aside from his left hand all evening. Showers couldn’t wash off the scent of sex. Not for vamps. And perhaps that was why Angelus didn’t give a shit about what had happened with Buffy tonight. Or why Angelus wasn’t worried that he might have gotten close enough to know what the girl’s silken lips tasted like.

Buffy.

He’d left her confused, her eyes wide and expectant, her cheeks flushed and her lips swollen from his kisses. He’d left Buffy and he’d returned to his self-made hell. Where Dru looked at him with cold, uncaring eyes. Where he was consigned to the role of the family punch-line. Where there was nothing to do but waste away as the woman he’d devoted eternity sold herself over and over to another man in the time between planning the apocalypse.

He’d left Buffy standing in that classroom because of what she’d done to him.

What had she done to him?

“Trust me, William,” Angelus said softly, snapping him back to the present. “Nothing there worth tasting.”

Spike blinked stupidly and fought the impulse to laugh. Nothing there worth tasting? Hadn’t this prat ever snogged the Slayer?

Hadn’t his world turned over when he had?

Spike turned his eyes to the ground. Buffy. He’d left her and returned home. And why? Because finding her tongue down his throat was more than a little surprising, and his reaction to her even more so. In those precious few seconds, he’d experienced more, felt more, from a girl possessed by a couple of spooks than he ever had from Dru.

A ghost had given him more warmth than the woman he loved. And his skin was still burning.

No more. No sodding more. He would go back. He would go back to Buffy. He would try get her to listen to him.

He just hoped her lips didn’t get in the way.

And, knowing how sweet she tasted, that he could keep his hands to himself.

Chapter Text

No matter how many times she repeated herself, that glossy, confused look refused to vacate her watcher’s eyes. It was annoying. There were certainly more important things about which to worry than her bizarre liaison with a recently un-crippled vampire. Things like her ex-boyfriend who had—among other things—developed a penchant for making her friends’ lives a living hell.

For whatever reason, attempting to convey this to Giles was not as simple as it should have been. He wanted to mull over every detail—every millisecond she’d spent in Spike’s presence. He wanted to know why they hadn’t fought. Why Spike had come to her in the first place. And he especially wanted to know how James and Grace’s haunting had influenced their behavior.

Buffy snorted inwardly. Yeah. She was really going to share sordid stories of Spike’s lips. And Xander was going to be the next President of the United States.

“No,” she said, rolling her eyes. “For the millionth time, no. Spike didn’t tell me why he was following me. And seeing as I’m standing here bored and annoyed and very much alive, I don’t think it really matters.”

Giles narrowed his eyes disapprovingly. “Your views on what is and isn’t important notwithstanding, the fact remains that a dangerous slayer-killer sought you out and then proceeded not to engage you in battle.”

“I know. I was right there.”

“It had to be something extraordinary,” he pressed with undisguised interest, “don’t you think?”

“No,” Buffy retorted dryly. “I think he wanted to exchange banana-nut-muffin recipes.”

Willow glanced up from where she was hunched over a pile of books. What she was researching, Buffy didn’t know. For the past few days, when they weren’t fending off whatever Angel or the PTB sent their way, the redhead was usually buried nose-deep in a book. Not that it was doing anyone any good. Sunnydale citizens were still showing up dead with not-so-mysterious neck wounds, no blood, and twisted messages from Buffy’s once one-and-only.

The chances that the antidote for Angel’s killing spree rested on some aged page in Giles’s library were obsolete.

“You make banana-nut muffins?” Willow asked. Then she paused, shifted uncomfortably, and glanced down. “Okay, so I only caught the end of that. Did I mention I’m really hungry?”

Buffy snickered. “I was just explaining to Giles for the umpteenth time that I have no earthly idea what Spike wanted with me. He didn’t stay long enough. I think he was a little shook up.”

“Presumably because of what happened while the two of you were possessed,” Giles agreed, staring at her intently.

“I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”

“Well, he came to you for a reason and then backtracked after the possession was over. Sounds to me, Buffy, that it has quite a bit to do with what occurred.”

She waved a hand, trying her best to change the subject. The memory of Spike’s melt-worthy kisses had fueled fantasies about the gorgeous vampire that she’d thought long dead. Fantasies that had haunted her longer than she wanted to admit. From the second he stepped out of the shadows at the Bronze, locked eyes with her, and called her by that stupid pet name. And then on Parent Teacher Night, she’d returned home, tense and excited from their first fight. Her body tingled at the thought of how he felt against her. Hard. Masculine. Aroused. Even when he had the upper hand, there was a part of him that remained infinitely male and separated from the larger part of him that was demon.

At first, she’d felt like she was cheating on Angel when she thought of Spike. After all, until Angel had barreled into her life, she’d never had an inappropriate thought about a vampire. They were all the same. All game-face, snarly, and quick with the dustage. Spike was definitely not the same. He certainly wasn’t like Angel or the Master, but he was also immeasurably different from the fledglings she was accustomed to slaying. There was a part of him that remained alive. There was a part of him that could not be bogged down by what he was. Instead, he was defined by who he was.

Buffy wasn’t blind. She’d seen from the start that Spike was different. He was different, and they were enemies.

Until last night, remembering that hadn’t been too difficult. In the days following the ruined St. Vigeous festival, her relationship with Angel had taken off, and her appreciation of Spike’s fineness—not to mention his sexy accent—had taken a backseat to her souled boyfriend. Sure, she’d make a quick appraisal of the blond Brit’s abs or whatever body part was most prominently displayed through all that tight clothing, but it only lasted until she threw a punch his way, or hit him in the head with something heavy and quipped uselessly to herself as a large organ crushed him. Angel, until the very end, had been the center of her universe when it came to men.

Since Angel had rejoined the Unsouled and Proud Club for Vamps, however, Buffy hadn’t felt like noticing the opposite sex at all. Not until last night.

Not until she found herself kissing Spike.

Not until all her naughty, forgotten fantasies were suddenly substantiated. In the midst of her heartache—of the guilt-crushing knowledge that she had, time and time again, let Angel slip through her fingers—she’d reawakened. She’d opened her eyes, and for a blink, the part of her that was consumed with guilt quieted, and she could forget about her failure. That people were dying because she couldn’t bring herself to do the inevitable. That Giles had lost the woman he loved because of her. For a sliver of a second, Buffy had ceased being the Slayer and had simply been a girl. Any girl. Any girl kissing any guy. She’d had her coveted normal and the taste had been so sweet, it was a miracle she hadn’t collapsed in tears.

It was fleeting, of course. She wasn’t just any girl. She was the Slayer, and Spike was a vampire. Spike was a vampire who very much wanted her dead. Angel was still out there—still killing people. And it was still her fault.

However, Spike had given her something back. Something that reality couldn’t take away. And even if his gift was an accident—even if he couldn’t care less about what their stolen kiss had given her—to Buffy, it meant the world.

“Buffy?”

She started and shook her head, forcing her thoughts to the back of her mind. If Giles knew Spike’s lips had restored her faith in men and her own femininity, he’d accuse her of having some sick vamp fetish. This was just one of those things that he could never understand.

“Hmm?”

Her watcher’s eyes were saturated in concern. “Are you sure you don’t want to tell us what happened?”

Buffy pasted on a grin and shrugged. “As I’ve said, nothing much happened. Spike came in after James had a hold of me. I think it took a few minutes before Grace nabbed him, ’cause he sounded…I dunno, confused for one thing. Confused and almost…resigned.”

“Resigned?”

Oh crap. She was talking about it. How had that happened? “Like I was his last resort, I guess. Like it was the last place in the world he wanted to be. I dunno…I might be imagining things. I was kind of possessed at the time.”

Giles cleared his throat and offered a jerky nod. “Go on,” he encouraged.

Willow placed down her book. “Yeah, this might be helpful.”

Helpful for what? For non-research? Buffy groaned inwardly, her will encouraging her mouth to shut up and keep the rest for herself, but her mouth had a way of running without giving her will or her mind much consideration. She really needed to get that checked out. “We did the whole sordid song-and-dance,” she continued. “I shot him. He fell over the railing. I walked to the music room and put on the Flamingos. And I would’ve shot myself had Spike not rushed in and taken the gun from me.”

Willow frowned. “He was still possessed, right?”

“Umm. Yeah.” Buffy’s eyes narrowed. Where had she been all night? “He was still possessed. It was Grace all the way. Grace didn’t want James to kill himself…and since Grace’s…I dunno…essence was trapped in a body that couldn’t be killed with a gunshot, she got to reach me—James—in time to let him know.” She paused. “It was a mistake. The shooting. I don’t…I don’t know what James was thinking with, you know, bringing the gun in the first place…but what I felt when I shot Spike…” She shivered and her stomach turned. There had never been a more frightening moment than the widening of Spike’s eyes as he grasped his wound and the love-drenched betrayal that he’d washed her in before toppling over the railing. There was nothing about shooting him—or Grace—that had been intentional. “What I felt…it wasn’t on purpose. He didn’t kill Grace on purpose.”

The library fell quiet. Buffy glanced up and shifted awkwardly. “Not that it…matters. To us. I mean, the ghosts are gone and everything is back to its normal, Hellmouthy state. Spike didn’t kill me, I didn’t kill him—”

Giles heaved an exasperated sigh. “Yes, yes, we know that. You simply haven’t been very forthcoming in what happened between the two of you to lead to your pacifism.”

“Not forthcoming? I just told you—”

“What happened between James and Grace, yes. That much was rather obvious.”

Buffy slumped, pouting. “I didn’t notice you stopping me from stating the obvious.”

“There is something you’re keeping from us.”

Willow looked confused at that, but that didn’t stop her from shooting a mildly accusatory glance in her friend’s direction. “You’re keeping stuff from us?”

“No.”

“You honestly can’t expect me to believe that Spike had you alone and did nothing about it. You put him in a wheelchair, Buffy…and he’s a vampire. They are not creatures capable of forgiveness or change. If he didn’t attack you, then—”

It angered her to hear her watcher so carelessly clumping Spike together in the overall generalization of vampires. He was different. Spike was different. He was evil, yes, but he was hardly a mindless bloodsucking machine. He had amazing capacity for feelings of compassion and empathy. Hell, Buffy knew that just from watching him with Drusilla.

“Well, we were both a little startled from the having-been-possessed thing,” she retorted sharply. “Why are you harping on this?”

“Because—”

“You wanna know what happened?” a deep, familiar voice interrupted from the head of the library, followed by the metallic clink of a lighter striking to life. “Simple. We snogged. We fondled. We woke up. The end.”

Giles froze. Willow gaped. And cigarette smoke filled the air.

Nerves shaking, mind racing, Buffy turned slowly—very slowly—until her gaze clashed with his.

Those eyes.

Spike only smiled. It wasn’t a kind smile, but that didn’t stop her legs from turning to butter or keep her clit from throbbing, especially when his eyes glossed over and dropped to her mouth before raking down the length of her.

When their eyes met again, his were alive with heat.

“Hello, cutie,” he said.

And Buffy inhaled sharply.

Oh God. She was in so much trouble.

Chapter Text

Buffy all but growled as she shoved Spike over the threshold of the first empty classroom she saw. She did her best to ignore the way her fingers tingled from where she’d touched him, just as she did her best to ignore the amused leer on his face—the one that informed her that he was enjoying the manhandling way too much. Noticing the parts of Spike that were less-than-grotesque, especially since he’d literally caught her in the middle of her Spike-made-me-feel-like-a-woman musings, was a definite no-no.

The spark in his eyes told her he wouldn’t mind making her feel like a woman right now. Against the wall. Or maybe bent over the teacher’s desk. And while the idea had her shivering in all the right places—had her mouth aching for another sinful taste of his—she forcibly clamped down and glared at him.

“Well?” she demanded, crossing her arms.

Spike’s brows flickered and a smile itched at his lips. “Well?” he echoed impetuously, indulging in a long puff on his cigarette.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

“Nice to see you, too, kitten.”

“You can’t do this!”

He blinked innocently. “Do what?”

“Just…come in here and be all in the…here and…dammit, why the hell are you here?”

Spike wasn’t paying attention to her. He was staring at her lips.

“Hello?” Buffy waved and rocked on her heels. “Earth to mortal enemy?”

“You have the most gorgeous mouth I’ve ever seen.”

“Well, that…” She frowned, blushed, and shook her head. Her insides flooded with heat. Suddenly her legs weren’t as sturdy as they should be. “That is…very nice, but really not the point. The point…” Did she have a point? She was certain that she’d had a point. “That’s nice.”

Spike domed a brow and grinned at her, tossing his cigarette to the ground and stomping it out with his boot. “You said that already.”

“Did I?”

“Yeah.” He inhaled and took a step forward, and oh god, did he smell good or what? It wasn’t fair. Spike was a vampire. He was of the dead. How was it that he smelled like a walking dish of man candy? “I told myself I wasn’t gonna touch you.”

Buffy blinked and realized that she was slowly walking backward. Her back soon collided with the wall. “Oh? Well…it’s not like I have…slayer cooties or something,” she said petulantly. “I’m actually quite clean.”

Oh. My. God. Was there any way she could be a little more pathetic, because that wasn’t quite pathetic enough. What the hell was wrong with her? One little possession of star-crossed ghosts and she’s all with the schoolgirl crush on Spike? There weren’t enough ways to spell disaster for this. He was Spike. Spike as in the guy who tried to kill Angel to save Dru…which, in retrospect, would have saved a lot of lives and some heartache. But then she would have killed Spike for killing Angel and that would have rendered it impossible for him to be here right now. Looking at her like a man fresh off a failed vow of celibacy.

“I shouldn’t touch you,” he said softly. “You’re the Slayer.”

“I’m the Slayer,” she repeated, nodding, her eyes wide.

He nodded as well, though it was more than obvious that the words hadn’t served as the bucket of cold water they’d intended. “I just gotta wonder…”

“What?”

“If you’d taste as good now as you did last night.”

He was on her in a blink, his hard, lean body pressing her against the wall. Her breasts flattened against his chest, her raised arms somehow wrapped around his neck. The second that his lips touched hers, the floor beneath her feet vanished, as did the wall at her back, and she was lost to an endless sea of pure heavenly delights. The world blinked away. Everything blinked away. Reality stepped aside. Nothing was left except Spike. Just Spike. Just Spike and those lips that could thaw any frozen heart.

He tasted dangerous, and the more her mind willed her to pull away, the more her body and her lips clawed at him, refusing to let him go. His tongue belonged in her mouth, wrestling with her tongue. His arms belonged around her waist, holding her against his all-too-male body to which her very female body responded in ways that would surely see her locked up in Rehab for Slayers before this was over. But that didn’t matter. None of it mattered. Spike was holding her, exploring her mouth with that sinful tongue of his. His lips formed lyrics as he kissed her, giving her wordless poetry. Filling her veins with more of that delicious femininity the past few weeks had been sorely lacking.

He kissed her and she ceased being a girl. He kissed her and she was a woman.

A woman pressed very intimately against a dangerous, soulless vampire. A woman who was so not rubbing herself wantonly against his denim-clad erection.

Spike sighed into her, his teeth lightly scraping against her lips. “You taste divine,” he murmured. “Like a slow drink of whiskey.”

Buffy trembled. “Whiskey?”

“Oh yeah.”

“I taste like alcohol. That’s not good.”

Spike chuckled. “Would bloody explain why I’m suddenly drunk on you,” he mused thoughtfully, then nipped at her lips again. “I was wrong, then. Definitely not the ghosts.”

Not the ghosts. Buffy didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed. Ghosts meant that her reaction to him was on a purely supernatural level. It meant that Spike-when-possessed-by-dead-teacher-woman kissed like a god. That would have made things a whole lot simpler.

Spike as Spike, though, didn’t kiss like a god.

He kissed like the devil.

He made sinning so delicious it was a wonder anyone wanted to be good.

Spike’s eyes twinkled in a way she’d never seen. Granted, the past twenty-four hours had shown her many sides of Spike that she’d never seen. Particularly the side that was all with the not-killing-her and more with the kissing-her-boneless.

“Oh trespass sweetly urged,” he murmured, those lady-killer lips brushing hers once more. “Give me my sin again…”

Buffy frowned and pulled back before the Lips of Good could tempt her into further distraction. “No. We can’t.”

He pouted. God, the man had the audacity to pout. “Why not?”

“Why? Why? Need I really go through the laundry list of reasons why this is a bad idea?”

“There’s a laundry list?”

“Spike!” Buffy flattened her hands against his chest—ohh, sturdy—and shoved him away. “Giles is gonna come in here with a hack-saw in like two minutes if we don’t get back before then. You show up on my turf after the weirdness that was last night to, what, play tonsil hockey?”

He offered a lazy shrug. “Seemed like the thing to do.”

“Why are you here?”

“I woke up with the desire to snog you.”

“To what me?!”

The smile on his face ought to be illegal. No one should ever look that self-confident. “Snog you. See if your mouth was as delicious as I remembered.” He licked his lips. “Mmm. You’re better when you’re not under the influence, love.”

Buffy snickered. “Thanks.”

There was a long pause.

“So?” Spike asked expectantly.

“So?”

“Back to snogging, then?”

The idea of losing herself in another one of his silken kisses had her eyes a little glossy and her heart doing somersaults. Gah—it wasn’t fair that he had such influence over her. For crying out loud, before the stupid school had gotten possessed by equally stupid ghosts, Spike was barely a blip on her radar. An admittedly devastatingly sexy blip, but a blip nonetheless. What right did he have to stroll in here like he owned the town, kiss her to the point where she could barely remember her name, and then casually ask if they could please continue making out when she had a murderous ex-boyfriend to slay?

A soulless, murderous ex-boyfriend. Angel would never come in here, sans soul, and kiss her like Spike had. He’d rip her throat out.

They were equally soulless, right?

Buffy groaned inwardly. She’d already had this debate. It was easier to think about when the object of her musings wasn’t staring her down with the bluest eyes she’d ever seen. Or licking his lips and making her envy his tongue.

A few kisses and she’d reverted completely from slayer to schoolgirl. No happy medium. Spike wasn’t fighting her, which was weird, but she wasn’t fighting him, which was weirder.

“You said that you’d told yourself you wouldn’t touch me,” she reminded him, attempting to step backward as he stepped forward, but going nowhere due to the wall pressed at her back. Walking through walls was not a slayer ability, although at the way Spike was looking at her—hungrily, and not in a blood-lusty way—she was beginning to wish it were.

Namely because the woman in her hadn’t felt so excited in weeks.

“I tell myself all kinds of rubbish. None of it ever pans out.”

“Why are you here?”

“You gonna keep asking that?”

“Well, until I get an actual answer that doesn’t involve your tongue down my throat.”

Spike smirked. “Didn’t hear you complaining.”

“It’s insane.

“Yeah. That’s what makes it so much fun.”

Right. Insanity. Fun. Thus described his fascination with screws-for-brains. Buffy rolled her eyes. “Look, I don’t have time for this. I have to, you know, stop you and yours from the big evil thing you’re planning. And I don’t wanna have to stake you here, especially because your lips have this numbing effect on my brain…that I probably should’ve kept to myself because I’ve just given you an unfair advantage and now it’s out there and I just realized that I’m still talking, which is never good. So I’ll stop now, and you’ll start.” She paused, focused on a spot on the floor while trying desperately to ignore how hot her cheeks were. “Okay…so, talking isn’t my strong point.”

“No, you’re doing just fine.”

“Shut up.”

“Make me.”

Buffy scowled, raising her eyes to meet his once more. “You’re here. And you’re non-fighty, yet again. And I thought last night you said that you’d try to kill me next time we met.”

“Yeah, well, that was last night.”

“Ugh…”

“What? A bloke can’t change his mind?” Spike held her gaze for another long minute, then sighed and combed his fingers through his hair. “Look, it’s not easy for me to be here, all right? When I came to see you last night, it threw me for a bloody loop.”

She frowned. “What did?”

“You did. I had a plan and you had to go bugger it up with your sodding ghosties. And now I can’t get you outta my head, which makes fuck-all in sense, but it’s the truth.” He sighed again. “I want to stop it.”

“Then stop it. I mean, don’t get me wrong…I like kissing you, but it’s really beginning to wig me out.”

A ghost of a shadow crossed his face at that. “No, love, you’re not hearing me. I want to stop Angel.”

Everything fell deathly still. Even the dust particles froze. She couldn’t have heard him right.

“What?”

“I want to stop Angel.” An ironic smile tickled Spike’s lips, and just like that, she knew it wasn’t a joke. God, it wasn’t a joke. He was completely serious.

Only he couldn’t be, because the words didn’t make sense.

And if those words didn’t make sense, then what Spike said next surely meant that doomsday was near.

“I want to save the world.”

Chapter Text

Her lips needed to stop tingling. Really. It was getting annoying.

As were the looks Spike kept shooting her. He was supposed to be talking, dammit. Which, okay, he was doing. He was talking. But he was looking at her. And her lips, being lame and uncooperative, were making with the tinglies and aching for his.

It was not fair that he could kiss like that. Not fair in the slightest.

“Allow me to…interject…” Giles said. His glasses were in a perpetual polishing session in the hem of his dress-shirt. Perhaps he hoped Spike would disappear if he couldn’t see him clearly. “You’re…you’re serious?”

Well, that was certainly profound. Her shoulders slumped and she breathed a relieved sigh that Willow had skipped out while she had discussed things with her vampire in the spare classroom. The redhead’s affinity for after-school activities had drawn her away, thankfully leaving them with only one pair of disbelieving eyes. One pair of eyes was proving to be difficult enough.

And Spike wasn’t making things any easier. Asshole.

“Serious?” repeated the vampire in question, arching a brow in a way that made her tingle for all the wrong reasons. “As a bleeding heart attack, mate.”

“You really wish to…”

Spike’s brows perked. “Save the world? Yeah.”

“Oh.”

“I could write it down for you if that’d help clear it up.” He huffed and shook his head, his eyes meeting hers again. An electric shock shot down her spine. “He always like this?”

Buffy forced a dry smile to her still-tingling lips. It was hard to make with the talking when all she wanted to do was suck his face until he forgot his name. “He’s just not used to bad guys waving white flags.”

He grinned and it was too sexy for words. “I’m not one for rules, love.”

The look on his face spoke for that and then some. No, Spike was many things and none of them had anything to do with abiding by the rules. The rules definitely said—underlined, italicized, the full-nine-yards—that fraternization between vampires and slayers was strictly forbidden.

It didn’t matter if the vampire in question was the sexiest creature on two legs. It didn’t matter if he made her feel female after so many weeks of being hollow inside. Perhaps her reaction to him was a side-effect of being lonely. And perhaps his reaction to her was a side-effect of being abandoned. Buffy didn’t harbor any delusions that things between her former boyfriend and Spike’s insane lover were chaste. The way the two acted together—the way Angelus spoke when she saw him—she knew that they were making it, and often.

That would certainly explain Spike’s reaction to her. He’d been deserted just as sure as she had. He was starved for touch as well.

In the end, it likely had little to do with her. She was just the owner of the lips he enjoyed kissing in the absence of Drusilla.

“D-do you know what they’re plotting?” Giles asked, glasses still in full-polish mode. “If the end of the world is Angel’s intention—”

“Not Angel,” Spike corrected, his eyes narrowing. “The git’s name is Angelus.”

Giles frowned. “I…I beg your pardon?”

There was a long, quiet moment. The vampire shrugged. “Suppose it doesn’t matter in the end, right?” he replied. “The wanker has the same face. Same walk. Same talk. Just minus one soul, yeah? Just got his confidence back.” He broke off then, laughing without humor. “Angelus is the prat who got a soul shoved up his self-righteous arse a good century ago. The beast that your slayer awakened by parting her dimpled knees.”

Buffy’s innards flushed with cold, a well-aimed barb striking her chest. She found herself swallowed in confusion and didn’t know whether to be angry or hurt.

Thankfully, Giles took care of her dilemma for her. In a blink, he’d paraded across the library floor and punched Spike in the eye. The move was so thoroughly uncharacteristic on part of her watcher that Buffy could do little more than stand numbly to the side, watching in disbelief as Spike sailed ineloquently to the ground.

“You filthy little berk!” Giles spat. “How dare you speak to her that way?”

Spike recovered quickly enough, rolling to his feet, his eyes flashing. “Speak what way? The truth, maybe? It’s what brought Angelus back, innit? It’s why that prat’s fucking Dru sideways while I’m here in the sodding belly of the sodding beast, chattin’ up the Slayer and her mates like we’re old chums. You think I want to be here? You think I want to be…” He paused, his gaze flickering to hers. It was likely her imagination, but she thought she saw some of the fire die.

No, check that. It had to be her imagination. As were the shaking of her legs and the ache in her heart.

“You’re the one who came to me,” she said softly, rubbing her arms. “Remember?”

“Pet—”

“You came here. No one forced you. No one held a stake to your heart.” Her brows perked and she surged with a forced sense of confidence. “You came to me for help.”

Spike nodded somberly. “That’s right.”

“And then…” Now’s not the time to cry, dammit. “And then—”

“Look—”

“I’m just saying, if you don’t wanna be here, then there’s the door.”

“I don’t wanna be here,” he retorted. “No more than you want me here. Can’t say I fancy keeping company with a lot that would just as soon see me dust as anything else. And you’d trade me over for a kiss from your boy in a blink, so don’t bloody look at me like I’ve squashed your dainty feelings, Slayer. You want Angel back, I want Dru. Simple as all that.”

Buffy froze, rubbing her arms again. A short twenty-four hours ago, she would have agreed with him. She would have given anything to see her boyfriend’s face. To feel his hands on her skin and his whispers in her hair. To hear him tell her that everything would be all right—that the dark was over and he was with her now.

But a day had passed. The night had come, and the sun had risen.

Spike had walked into the library. Spike had come to her. Spike had done what no vampire would ever do.

“Angel’s a killer,” she said softly.

“Yeah,” Spike agreed, arching that perfect brow again. “And he was before, too.”

She knew that. She’d known that the second that he’d flashed his fangs in her bedroom after they’d shared their first kiss. She’d known when they tentatively started dating, just as she’d known it the night she’d foolishly agreed to share his bed. He’d taken her virginity as a killer and he’d awoken as one as well.

Only now he’d killed people that she knew. The deaths were no longer a part of the past. They were no longer names in a history book. They were people like Jenny Calendar. People like her classmates. Girls and boys and teachers. He was eating away at her reality now, and the book had come to life. The names had become faces. The faces were people she knew. People she had once seen every day. People she’d cared for.

A long sigh whispered through her lips. “He’s a killer,” she reiterated, stronger now. “And I…look, you say they’re going to end the world?”

Spike shrugged lazily, though there was something in his eyes that hadn’t been there a minute ago. “They’re planning on it,” he replied flippantly. “Angelus has gotten some bloody large aspirations. Seems being shoved inside a soul tends to make one lose his marbles.”

“Imagine that,” Giles said dryly.

“He’s plotting something on the world-ending stage. I’d stake my smokes on it.”

“Yes,” the watcher replied. “And your word’s as good as grit.”

Spike shot him a narrow glance. “Did you miss the ‘stake my smokes’ part?”

“You insolent little—”

Buffy grumbled and held up a hand, quickly putting herself between her watcher and the supercilious vampire in question. One thing was certain—they weren’t getting anywhere like this. Despite Spike’s rather abrasive manner of getting his point across, he was right.

Angel—or Angelus—was crazy enough to end the world. Spike wouldn’t be here if he didn’t think so.

He wasn’t here for her after all.

It’s better this way, she told herself, swallowing hard. Vampires and slayers? Very nonmixy. I could write the book on how nonmixy they are.

“Giles,” she said softly. “If…if Angel’s planning something, we need to be ready. And we’re going to need all the help we can get.” She slowly turned to Spike, braving herself to meet his eyes. His too-blue eyes and the devastating way he could see into her without even trying. No one had ever looked at her like that. “All the help we can get.”

“We don’t need him. For God’s sake, Buffy, for all we know, he’s been sent to throw you off.”

Spike frowned at that. “I am not a sodding lackey.”

“Like we can believe one damned word you say!”

“If you knew anything about Angelus, you’d know he doesn’t send anyone to do what he couldn’t do himself.”

“Angel likes to torture psychologically. How can we know that gaining Buffy’s trust isn’t a part of some greater plan?”

Spike sputtered at that, wide-eyed. “Buffy’s trust?” he repeated. “Does the Slayer look like she trusts me? She doesn’t trust me any further than she could…” He paused. “Well, okay, so she could toss me quite a ways, but you get my meaning. And I say since the girl’s the one with the superpowers, she’s the one you oughta listen to.”

He met her eyes again, and another electric shock raced down her spine.

It was nothing. They had nothing. A few kisses didn’t mean loyalty.

He wanted Dru back. And until then, she was his substitute.

The idea left her cold for reasons she couldn’t explain, and try as she might, she couldn’t shake the feeling aside.

She wanted Spike to want her.

God, how screwed up was that?

Chapter Text

It didn’t take a century of informal people studies to know that he was in the doghouse. Well, as far in the doghouse as he could be with his mortal enemy. And in the end, he supposed it was for the best. This business with the Slayer—snogging her, for instance—had already gone as far as it could. She’d opened his eyes, sure, but there was nothing more to it than that. And while he certainly wouldn’t object to sampling what exactly had been sweet enough to provide a moment of perfect bliss, his truce with Buffy and her chums was going to be short-lived. The second the world was secure again, he was gone.

Without Drusilla.

That thought was going to take some getting used to, especially since he kept insisting that getting her back at all was the reason he was doing this. But he’d come to a realization between showing up and kissing the daylights out of the Slayer. And that realization was that there was no getting Dru back. After this was over, he’d be alone for the first time. The very first time since he was turned. It was for the best—no matter how nerve-wracking the prospect, he knew it was for the best. He’d been far too dependent on a woman who couldn’t care two pisses for him for too long. When his mortal enemy poured more feeling into kissing him than the woman he’d been with for over a century, it compromised all hope of fooling himself any longer.

But he couldn’t quite let Buffy and pals in on that, could he? Then they’d wonder why he was sticking around at all.

Not that he hadn’t wondered that himself.

Still, he was beginning to think saying he wanted Dru back might have been a mistake since it had done little more than get the Slayer all pissy. Granted, it wasn’t like he couldn’t understand why. The poor little twit had had her heart stomped on by her wanker of an ex, then Spike had come along and snogged her into the next century. He’d done that and then all but screamed that she wasn’t good enough. That abuse from his emotionally detached sire was better than the Slayer’s silken kisses.

Didn’t matter that nothing could be further from the truth.

Spike snickered, shaking his head with an ironic grin. A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on, he thought, wishing for a cigarette.

It wasn’t Buffy’s fault that he was a glutton for abuse. That there was a part of him that, no matter what, wanted exactly what he’d said. In the end, though, that was only because he didn’t know better. The years hadn’t shown him any love—Dru wasn’t going to provide that. And he deserved more.

He deserved so much more.

Hell, Buffy had given him more in a few simple kisses than he’d ever gotten from his dark princess. Buffy had opened his eyes. Eventually, he’d have to decide if he loved or hated her for the favor.

Right now, all he wanted to do was touch her. Forget what he’d said in the library and chalk it up to cowardly backpedaling at the emotions the Slayer—of all people—had awakened within him. Self-examination could wait. He wanted was her lips on his lips and her body against his body. He wanted her breasts in his hands and her pussy cradling his cock. He wanted all that without worry of what tomorrow would bring.

He wanted Buffy.

I’m sick.

That might be, but it didn’t change a thing. He wanted her like he’d never wanted another woman in his life. The knowledge was terrifying but relentless.

“Slayer—”

“You really don’t need to follow me home,” she said, not once breaking stride or even bothering to toss him a glance over her shoulder. Her blonde ponytail flopped enthusiastically against her back with every strident step, enchanting him to the point of pure absurdity. He needed a shag and bad. “I know the way, Spike. It’s why it’s called home.

“Buffy, I didn’t mean—”

“I don’t care what you meant.”

Her tone told him otherwise, and colorfully. Women who truly didn’t care never sounded so hurt. He knew. He’d spent a century with a woman who didn’t care.

He’d also spent a century not listening when people told him to shut up.

“I didn’t mean it,” he said again.

Buffy grumbled and batted a hand. “Hello? Were you not here two seconds ago? I said I don’t care. I don’t give an honest crap about anything you say, much less what you mean by it.”

“Slayer—”

“I don’t care if you want your crazy hoe-bag back. It’s none of my business.”

Spike arched a brow. “Thought you didn’t know what I was talking about.”

“Shut up.”

“The subject’s a little touchy for me, all right? It’s not like I enjoy advertising that the woman I’ve been with ever since I crawled from the grave couldn’t give two pisses about me.” Her paces slowed then, and Spike exhaled softly, running a hand through his hair. “She used to pretend, at least,” he continued. “And I could fool myself then. She doesn’t pretend anymore.”

Buffy stopped completely and waited until he caught up with her, her eyes bright and vulnerable. The shattered confusion across her face was enough to make any bloke fall to his knees, thus Spike was pleased when he managed to meet her gaze with somber dignity.

She was as lost as he was. And he could appreciate that.

“Look,” she said after a long minute. “I don’t…I don’t know. Yesterday—before the ghostly possession made with the smoochies and the touchies and…everything made sense.”

“I know what you mean.”

A dry laugh scratched at her throat. “Good, ’cause I don’t. Everything made sense in a way that was completely senseless, but at least I knew where it was going.” She licked her lips. “Now you’re all here with the distracty and the Lips of Good, I can admit some things. Like when you said that I’d run back to Angel. God, I’m so afraid that that’s true. That if he came back, I’d just forgive and forget, even after all he’s done.” A shiver ran through her, and she crossed her arms. “Throw in the monkey-wrench—that being you—and I’m so confused right now that…well, I can’t come up with a good analogy, but I’m just that confused.”

Spike had wandered off at some point. Probably around Lips of Good.

“This is crazy,” she said, shaking her head. “We’re crazy.”

“I’ve been around crazy most of my unlife,” he retorted, smiling softly. “Never felt like this before.”

“You hate me.”

“I’m willing to overlook that for now.” It was another half-truth. Something about tasting the girl’s succulent mouth had gone to his head. The whole feeling thing was a little intoxicating. Buffy had him under her spell whether she liked it or not.  “I like snogging you.”

She made a face. “Snog just sounds wrong.”

“You’re the ones who butchered the bloody language. Criticizing our slang’s not a door you wanna open.”

“Spike—”

“I know I was a jerk, all right? I’m evil. That’s how the game is played.”

Buffy rolled her eyes, her face hardening once more. And before he could even consider recanting whatever offense he’d laid out, she’d pivoted sharply on her heel and resumed her brisk pace down the sidewalk. “How many times do I have to say it to get it through your thick head?” she snapped. “I. Don’t. Care. I don’t care.”

Spike sighed. One step forward…

“You trying to convince yourself or me, Slayer?” he retorted, arching a cool brow. “You change your tune so often, it’s no bloody wonder your chums have a hard go of keeping track.”

“Shut up.”

Another long sigh peeled off his lips. “Buffy, we should talk—”

“I’ve already discussed the impending and oh-so-ambiguous apocalypse as much as I care to, thanks.”

It took all he had to bite back a growl. She had to be the most stubborn bint he’d ever laid eyes on. “That’s not what I meant and you bloody well know it, you frustrating cock-tease.”

She stopped walking so abruptly, he nearly plowed into her back. Not that he would have minded that, per se. Feeling any part of the Slayer’s taut, scrumptious little body against him would be the closest thing to bliss he’d felt in a long while. But he didn’t plow into her back—Buffy whirled around the next second, and again, he felt himself drowning in the liquid heat of her eyes.

“What the hell did you just call me?”

He didn’t bother repeating it. His nose was unblemished for the moment and from the way her right hand was twitching, he figured it was wise to not press his luck. “Got you to turn around, didn’t it?”

The fire in her eyes was about the sexiest thing he’d ever seen. She was trembling with a mixture of anger and arousal, and the way her lips moved made the urge to cover every inch of her with his mouth harder and harder to ignore.

God, the thought alone nearly undid him.

“You—”

“You’re making excuses,” he snapped, giving himself a good mental shake. “Deny it all you want, love, but there’s something happening between us, and ignoring it’s not gonna make it go away.”

“What happened between us was ghostly possession.”

“Yeah,” Spike agreed slowly. “Last night. What happened in the classroom was you and me, baby.”

“You were the one who made with the lunge-y!”

“And I suppose all that panting and moaning was your version of protecting your virtue?”

“There was no panting and moaning, you twisted perv!”

“If I hadn’t brought up Dru back there, you’d be putty in my hands.” Spike’s hungry eyes swallowed her as her nostrils flared with anger and her body tightened in that delicious way that only a slayer’s could. “And as it is, I didn’t mean it. Not all of it, anyway. So just accept my apology so we can get back to snogging, yeah?”

Buffy blinked at him incredulously. Then she huffed and shook her head. “You’re a pig,” she said, turning quickly to give him yet another scrumptious view of her biteable arse. “And I’m going home.”

“Buffy—”

“Just go home, Spike. There’s nothing to discuss.”

He rolled his eyes. Women. “I don’t have a sodding home to go to. If Dru hasn’t gone batty with another vision that spills all the glorious details of my turning traitor on Angelus’s massive waste of forehead, I’m still gonna have to watch your ex fuck her into the ground. And between the two of us, I’d rather skip that show and get back to exploring how good you taste when you’re less of a bitch.”

She scoffed. “Yeah. That’s happening.”

“Slayer—”

“We had two flukes. That’s it. No more. No less. There’s nothing between us, Spike. Nothing but a bizarre-o pact to save the world and seething hatred. Nothing.”

The bint had submerged so far into denial that she was beginning to sound like she’d convinced herself of that. Why oh why had he gone off his rocker and mentioned Dru? His mind was swimming in Buffy, and thanks to his big mouth, he wasn’t going to be welcomed to that dive he’d so looked forward to all day.

Except Spike wasn’t one to take defeat easily, especially over something so stupid. It was hard to admit he wanted something different after a century of having his eyes set on one thing, but he was determined to show her that saving the world was just a perk to tasting her sweet mouth. That, when all was said and done, Buffy was the one who had changed his tune. Kissing Buffy had changed everything. Everything.

She would know it, dammit. If he had to beat it into her thick skull, she would know it tonight.

Right now.

With a growl, Spike seized her arm and whirled her around so fast she didn’t have time to protest before his mouth came crashing down on hers. And as before, he immediately found himself lost in her rich taste. His audacity was rewarded with a sensual, cock-stirring moan rather than a slap. God, she could drive a sane man mad with the noises she made. And just like that, whatever hint of a fight Buffy had pretended to put up instantly dissolved. Her arms wound around his neck, her lips parting to welcome his tongue, her own pushing into his mouth and near licking a soul into his willing body. The warm heat of her pussy cradled his cock and her scent teased his nostrils. She was magnificent. She was divine. She was perfection. She was effulgent.

And he was lost in her.

“Tell me now,” he growled and nipped at her lips, tugging at her ponytail until her hair was free and cascading over his fingers like water. “Tell me now that there’s nothing between us.”

The fight abandoned her eyes. “Guh,” she replied drunkenly.

Spike grinned, dipping his head to nibble on her earlobe. “That’s what I thought,” he purred, his mouth skating slowly to tease the creamy skin of her throat. “You taste like raspberries.”

“Ohhh…” Buffy wove a hand through his hair, gasping and bucking her hips against him with wild abandon that did little more than drive him crazy. “It’s…my body-wash.”

“I love it.”

He lapped eagerly at the pulse-point of her throat, a low moan rumbling through his chest. Slayer blood pumped through her glorious body. She was an elixir, and as one of the only vamps who could brag as to having spilled slayer blood, he knew that her taste would redefine delectable.

“I’ll buy more,” she promised, then sucked at his earlobe.

Spike’s eyes rolled up. It wasn’t too difficult to imagine her sucking on something else. Something hard and aching for her touch.

“You smell like honey,” he growled. His fangs itched. He wanted to sink his teeth into her so badly.

But not for the kill. No. This was different. This was so different. And that knowledge shook him to the core.

He didn’t want to kill her. He didn’t want his fangs stained with red and her body crumpled at his feet. No—he wanted to bite her in pleasure. He wanted to bite her when he was balls-deep in her pussy with her tight, velvet warmth strangling his cock. He wanted to see euphoria wash across her face. He wanted her hand coaxing him to her neck. He wanted her permission—her encouragement—her pleading before he sank his fangs into her milky flesh.

“I smell like honey?” she repeated, her voice light. She gripped his shoulders, her mouth releasing his ear just long enough to nip at his throat. And Christ, if she hadn’t been walking a fine line before, she was practically sprinting down one now. “And I taste like raspberries. Do I look like a turkey drumstick?”

Spike chuckled. “Hardly, love.”

“You and your food analogies.”

“It’s not my fault if everything about you is delicious.” To accentuate his point, he nipped at her throat, then kicked himself immediately when she tensed in his arms. “Not gonna bite you,” he promised hurriedly before seizing her lips again. “Not gonna bite you. Want you alive and wiggling. You have my word on that.”

Buffy just looked at him. He could practically see the wheels in her head pulling on the emergency brake and heading for the ever-dreaded backtrack in a way that would put most politicians to shame.

“Sweetheart—”

“No. No, it’s okay.” She sighed heavily and shook her head. Her words didn’t inspire much encouragement, especially when she robbed him of her warmth by slipping out of his arms the next second. “It’s…I know you wouldn’t. Well, no, I don’t. I think you wouldn’t, and I know that you think you wouldn’t. Right now.”

Spike’s shoulders slumped.

Wanker.

“But we shouldn’t—it’s…” Buffy licked her lips and shivered. He knew she could taste him there, and despite his best efforts, that hint of how much they mutually enjoyed snogging each other wasn’t incentive enough to send her leaping back into his all-too-willing embrace. “I’d love to get caught up in this,” she said at last, sighing again and running a hand through her newly-tussled hair. “In you…and the goodness of kissing you.”

Spike’s plans went far beyond kissing, but he didn’t dare say that now. “I don’t really see the problem, pet,” he replied softly. “It’s not like we owe it to anyone.”

“I know.”

“Point of fact—”

“I can’t. We can’t.” Buffy stopped short, her eyes falling shut in frustration. “I mean we shouldn’t. Look, something happened…yeah…with the ghosts. But that doesn’t mean—”

“So you’re making excuses now?”

“You said back there that you want Dru back.”

If Spike could go back in time, he’d be sure to stake himself before those infernal words could breathe life. “Sod what I said back there!” he snarled, gesturing emphatically at the empty road behind them. “I want you, love. I want you so bad I’m gonna bloody burst if I can’t touch you. Is it crazy? Yes. I know it. I know it as well as you, but knowing it doesn’t make my wanting you go away.”

Buffy’s eyes darkened as the fight returned to her. Better, then. He much preferred her fighting rather than calm and rational. Made him feel less like a ranting, sex-crazed lunatic.

“You want me ’cause you can’t have Dru,” she said slowly, her tone dangerous. “You want me ’cause I’m…I don’t know. But you wouldn’t be here with me if Dru wasn’t playing cowgirl with Angel.”

He bit back a flinch. “You can’t know that.”

“Yes, I can. And hey—what’s more, I do.” Buffy glared at him for a few well-deserved seconds, her luscious breasts heaving as she panted with exertion. Then, slowly, the fire in her gaze softened again, and the calm was back. “Look…there’s nothing…we’re both very lonely right now. I can’t imagine how…how hard it must be for you. I mean, I had the wiggins just seeing Cordy flirt with Angel before he went all soul-crazy. I know how long you and…I know. And having to watch it can’t be a whole lot of fun. But I’m too broken right now to be used because you’re lonely. Or to use anyone else because I’m lonely. It’s not gonna help matters, Spike. Not in the end.”

A cool silence settled between them. A cool, haunted silence.

Buffy didn’t want to be used. And she didn’t want to use him.

A woman, for the first time in his life, didn’t want to use him.

And that golden knowledge tossed him over the proverbial edge. Standing there, on the street corner, looking into her gorgeous emerald eyes, he wanted her more than ever.

But more than that, he wanted her to want him as well. Beyond the pain and the hurt. Beyond Dru and Angelus, and their sodding mind games. Beyond the impending apocalypse. He wanted Buffy to want him. Him as in Spike. Him as in a vampire. Him as in her self-proclaimed executioner.

He wanted Buffy to want him.

God, how buggered was that?

Chapter Text

It was by the virtue of a gabby lackey that Spike discovered Angelus had decided to end the world by means of some demon from the stone-age. A demon that had met the business end of a knight’s sword. Ever since his post-Buffy-snogging encounter with the great sod and the former light of his evil life, Angelus and Dru had done little to include him in their plans. That much didn’t unravel him—he knew he didn’t have their trust. Hell, he was surprised he hadn’t been tossed out on his arse yet, though he knew the day was coming. He’d never had Angelus’s trust. Granted, trust wasn’t something that Angelus handed out by the barrel. Not even Darla had earned that privilege, but after so much time, Spike would expect at least a smidgeon of respect.

And Dru? Well, Dru had made her feelings about him perfectly clear.

The only thing Spike couldn’t fully explain was the lightness in his heart. All things considered, he should be absolutely miserable. The woman he loved had betrayed him—physically, emotionally, and all of the above. Furthermore, Drusilla’s betrayal had forced him into a corner—one that he knew he should resent with every fiber of his being. He was walking through the darkened halls of Sunnydale High, running slightly late for the Scooby meeting Buffy had asked him to attend the night before.

Buffy.

She was Buffy to him.

That thought was rather frightening, but it did little to dampen his good mood.

Buffy had him in a good mood. The same scrawny little chit who had done nothing but muck up his plans from the second he barreled over the Welcome to Sunnydale sign. The bloody thorn in his side. The bane of his existence. The one that he’d sworn to kill. He’d come here to drink her blood. To mark her as his third all the while restoring his black princess to her former dark glory.

And the thought of seeing her now had him inexplicably happy. It made bugger all sense to him, but happiness was something that had been sorely lacking in his life in recent months. He knew basking in happiness provided by his mortal enemy couldn’t lead to anything good, and while there was a very large part of him that was thoroughly disgusted with himself, he similarly knew not to sneeze on whatever good fortune came his way. He’d admitted his attraction to Buffy seconds after first setting eyes on her, just as he’d vowed to have her throat torn open and her blood in his mouth. Now that they had a tentative understanding, the male in him couldn’t help but soak her up for the warm, luscious female that she was.

The fact that she was the owner of the pussy his cock desperately wanted to sink into didn’t hurt, either. And while she’d put a cap on his intentions to cart her to the nearest bed, the way she reacted to him had him confident she wouldn’t be able to ignore his advances for long.

Her scent flooded his nostrils. He hadn’t wanted to wash her arousal off his skin, so he’d parked in one of Sunnydale’s motels and tended to his aching cock.

Buffy had certainly done her share to fuel his fantasies for the night. Every time he closed his eyes he saw her face. Every time he inhaled, he drowned in her flavor. He felt her breasts in his hands and the hum of her pulse against his mouth. At times, the fantasy became so intense—so real—that he was surprised when he opened his eyes and found he was still alone. That there wasn’t a warm and achingly female human beside him.

It was going to be hard maintaining composure when all he wanted to do was escort her to the nearest private area and shag her until she was no longer interesting. Until he was bored enough with her that he could off her good and proper. And bugger all if the thought of her dead didn’t make him ache. That needed fixing, the sodding soft-spot for the Slayer. It was one thing to crave her cunt—caring for her was something completely different.

All in all, Spike knew what he needed to do. He needed to fuck her so he could get back to the place where the idea of her broken, bleeding body inspired joy rather than outrage. He comforted his torn psyche by asserting that he’d be able to kill the chit and move on once his lusting after slayer-pussy came to an end, no matter how unappealing the notion was currently. For whatever reason, his heart and hands were tied behind his back. He wouldn’t be ready to kill her until he’d fucked her.

And until then, he’d have to accept that he wasn’t ready to kill her. He didn’t want to kill her, and he could only hope that fucking her would rekindle the oath he made to himself—that he would be able to spill her blood without regret, then move on.

It was what he told himself, anyway. Didn’t matter that every time his eyes landed on the sorry chit, his gut clenched and his heart warmed.

That would go away with time.

He hoped.

Trouble was, he’d never felt anything like it before, so he honestly couldn’t say whether the feeling would go away or not.

And if he was really honest with himself, he wasn’t sure he wanted it to.

Wasn’t that a kick in the balls?

Spike shook his head hard. If he started down this road, there was no way he was going to be able to focus long enough to tell the Slayer and her chums what he’d discovered. He sighed, stuffed his hands inside his duster pockets, and barreled through the library doors before he could talk himself out of it.

Buffy was sitting cross-legged on the front table with a book settled in her lap and her chin resting in her palm, tendrils of fallen hair hiding her eyes from him. And even though she was a good seven yards away, he could feel the exhilarated rush in her pulse. She was thriving on adrenaline and judging by the sweet smell she exuded, she’d just gotten through a hefty training session.

The idea of Buffy in her element killed his resolve to remain professional. His cock stirred and his fangs itched. She was glorious when she fought.

Even if all she had to fight was a padded-up watcher or a worn-down punching bag.

It was a decidedly juvenile, male voice that interrupted his exceedingly distracting thoughts. And from the distinctly unmanly shrill, he couldn’t tell whether or not the distraction was a godsend.

“Spike!”

Spike blinked and turned. Oh. Right. The Slayer’s friends. Seemed the whole merry lot was present. The redhead. The over-bearing boy and his cheerleader girlfriend. The werewolf. And, of course, the watcher. The bloke responsible for nearly giving him a black-eye. They were all staring at him dumbly, as though he hadn’t popped by the previous day and already gone through this time-wasting mess of explaining his motives.

Granted, only the watcher and the redhead had been there to see it, but a bloke would think that news would travel…especially since this lot fancied themselves a crime-fighting force to be reckoned with. Demons of Sunnydale beware, and all that.

“’Lo all,” he said, waving dismissively before turning back to the Slayer. She looked like something had bitten her; she was pale and wide-eyed, and too gorgeous for words. Were it not for their rather attentive audience, he’d be seeing about bringing that rosy blush he loved so much out to play.

“Spike,” she said. “I…oh…”

“Forget I was coming, love?

“No. I just…”

It took very little to pull the breaks on his good mood. Something wasn’t right. Buffy was too pale. Too dazed. And while he’d love to entertain thoughts that she was shaken by the very sight of him, he was too jaded to allow his ego the stroke, however needed.

“Got news,” he said, eyes narrowing. “’Bout Angelus.”

“So do we!” the redhead chimed in, raising her hand like an attentive student. “We found the curse!”

“The curse…” Spike froze, his world crashing. “The curse. The sodding curse. You found it?”

“Buffy found it.”

Buffy couldn’t look at him. She was suddenly very much interested in the book in her lap.

“In Ms. Calendar’s desk,” the overgrown boy with the girl-voice tossed in. “You know? The teacher you murdered?”

Spike bit back a snarl. “Don’t go pinning that one on me.”

“Like it matters. Point is, we have a plan, and you’re not needed anymore.”

That much was enough to snap the Slayer out of whatever inner pity-party she was attending. Buffy’s head shot up so fast it’d be a sodding miracle if she didn’t have whiplash come morning. And in an instant, she’d bounded to her feet. “Wait,” she said shortly. “We never decided that we couldn’t use Spike.”

The word hit him like holy water.

Use.

“Use me?” he repeated, disgusted. With her. With himself. With the notion that he could ever be anything more to her—that the night’s promise could actually be kept. God, he was such a git. Such a bloody useful git. “Well, Slayer…fancy that.”

She burned him with a look. “Don’t start.”

“Don’t start? I walk in here with news about what your lover-boy is plannin’ and get the bloody third degree from some wanker who’s still trying to grow outta his Pampers.” Spike shook his head in disgust. “And you—”

“I haven’t decided anything!” Buffy snapped. “So don’t start, Spike! Not you, too. I swear, I can’t…” She wandered off, chopping the sentence short with an abrupt jerk of the head, wiping her eyes before anyone could get another glimpse of slayer vulnerability.

It was enough. It gave him enough. She was reeling, and it was the fire in her eyes that lent him pause. Something was off. Very off. She looked, on closer inspection, like a woman at the edge of a very steep cliff, waiting for the slightest sign to send her over. And it occurred to him that he’d just walked blind into something very personal.

Something that had nothing to do with Angelus at all, and everything to do with Buffy and her relationship with vampires. Any vampire.

And right now, Spike was the perfect target.

It didn’t take much to put that together. As it was, Angelus had delighted in telling stories about the large git—Xander, his name was—and how the boy lusted after the Slayer with no thought to discretion or tact. And despite the arm-candy at his side, Spike would bet his smokes against the odds that Boy Wonder had thought to sneak his way into the Slayer’s knickers in the fallout. After all, he’d been proven right about vampires, and the Slayer would need some comfort in the difficult days following her first great love’s death.

What a sodding waste. As though a fumbling teenage human would ever be enough for Buffy.

“Y-yes, quite,” Giles concluded, his glasses falling into a waiting handkerchief. Spike briefly entertained the idea that the old man had been spurned into the world with a bloody square of cotton sewed to his palm. The watcher was well engaged in a polish session before he continued his thought. “What news do you bring us?” he asked.

Spike paused, his eyes drifting back to Buffy. She’d reinstated her campaign to avoid eye-contact, standing now with her arms crossed, her weight shifting from one leg to the other. “Acathla,” he said shortly.

Giles paled. “Acathla?”

“A-what-a?” Buffy echoed, her head darting upward briefly. Electricity flared between them when their eyes met, but the contact was so brief he barely had time to enjoy it before she was again paying attention to every nook and cranny in the library except for him. Which made it interesting, seeing as she intended to continue the conversation. “What’s an…whatever you said?”

“Nasty bugger, pet.”

“Acathla is a demon from ancient antiquity. The Watcher’s Council actually thought him to be a fabrication until sixty years or so ago, when more modern records of his existence were uncovered with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Giles shook his head incredulously. “Oh dear.”

Spike nodded. “Now some museum has hold of it. Here in ole Sunnyhell. It was all over the morning paper.”

Xander blinked, not even bothering to mask his surprise. “You read the paper?”

The question wasn’t deserving of an answer. “But if your lot thinks reensouling the fat git is the way to go, best of luck to you.” His eyes landed on Buffy again, agitation swelling in his chest. He didn’t want to feel for the chit, but the lost look on her face was enough to melt the hardest of facades. It had to be hard for her. The tennis game the Powers were playing with her heart would eventually cause her to completely crash. Right now, she didn’t need him around making things even more confusing for her.

Granted, why he should give a bloody damn was beyond him. The girl had had her tongue down his throat just last night, and with a little coaxing, he knew that he could have convinced her to part her legs and take his cock into her small, perfect body. If she was now tossed up because her beloved one and only had another undeserved shot at redemption, he had every reason to be brassed. She hadn’t fought his advances. Fuck, turning away from her last night had been the hardest thing he’d ever done—forcing his ears to listen to her whispers of no all the while her skin hummed and the throb of her pulse told him yes.

“I saw Acathla this morning,” Giles said softly. “The curator of the museum in question wanted my opinion.”

“And what did you tell him?” the redhead demanded, her voice an octave away from summoning every dog in town. It was a wonder her mutt of a boyfriend could tolerate anything that piercing.

“‘Oh dear, oh dear,’ were my exact words, I believe.”

The cheerleader’s brown eyes widened. “Did anyone order a mass panic?”

“Acathla’s missing now,” the watcher concluded.

Xander wasted no time in pointing an accusatory finger at the vampire, his body trembling with disdain. “You!”

 Spike’s hands came up. “Oi!”

“Y-you came here to lure her into a trap!”

“How you figure? By the way I’ve compromised Angelus’s master plan?” He rolled his eyes. “Bugger this. I’m out.”

His back was already on Buffy by the time she snapped out of whatever inner debate she was entertaining. And though lead filled his boots, he refused to stop walking. Even when she called out after him. Even when she begged him to stop.

The world had already robbed him of too many things. If she thought she could have his pride on top of it all, she was in for a rude awakening.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The one thing Spike didn’t count on was Buffy running after him. That took moxie he hadn't thought she had. To maul him with her lips in an abandoned classroom was one thing—to leave her chums and her watcher, calling his name like he meant something to her…that was something else altogether.

It didn’t mean anything, of course. The Slayer’s chance had come and gone. He was through playing the perpetual whipping boy. Let her try to stop the apocalypse without him. Fuck, let her plunge Angel’s soul back up the git’s righteous ass—it didn’t matter to him. The way Angel and the Slayer had been going at it before her cherry was popped, they’d be fortunate to get a week together before Angelus reared his ugly head again.

Might be better if he told her to bugger off once and for all. And with that thought in mind, Spike whirled around angrily, only to find himself suddenly holding an armful of Buffy, her hands on his cheeks as her mouth ravaged his. Immediately, his cock sprang to life and his anger placated. There really was no remedy for outrage like a warm Slayer tongue caressing his, her legs parting just slightly to allow his denim-clad erection solace between her heavenly thighs.

“I don’t know what to do,” she babbled between kisses. Her body was burning up and her eyes had pooled with tears. Her mouth nipped at his flesh with desperation that had him calculating how long it’d take to get somewhere private if he tossed her over his shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Spike. I just don’t know what to do.”

“What—”

“I didn’t want… God!” In a blink, she’d torn herself away from his embrace. And the sudden absence of her warmth left him frozen in ways he didn’t want to consider. “I didn’t mean to find it,” she said, every inch of her delectable self trembling with uncertainty he knew well. “It was just there. I was studying with Willow and it was just there. What am I supposed to do? He’s… I loved him so much, and I was so ready to kill him. I was so ready. If I kill him now…knowing that I could…”

She shook her head hard and forced her eyes upward, and the heartache reflected behind her tears was enough to gut the strongest of men. Any hope of escaping this without his heart twice broken died that second. Forget all talk of fucking her as means of getting past his fixation and back to the way god intended it. He’d been fooling himself, and not well, either. A man didn’t weep for girls who were breaking if he only felt for her with his prick.

How had she turned his world on its hinges in just two bleeding days?

Spike sighed inwardly and cast a hand through his hair. Didn’t look like it mattered how. He was here now. He was staring at the Slayer, whose eyes were filled with tears she’d cried for someone else. And his heart, predictably, was mush. It hurt like hell, but there was bugger all he could do about it. He wanted Buffy—this he knew—but he wanted her smiling. The pain in her eyes…

Fuck me.

“Buffy, love…”

“I know…you…” She shivered hard and crossed her arms. “I’m crazy with the mixed signals and everything. I didn’t mean to…make with the lunge-y.”

His tingling lips didn’t mind. They just missed her warmth.

“I don’t know what to do,” she concluded, wiping at her eyes with a pitiful sniff. “And you…with the…kissing and the temporary not-being-my-mortal-enemy thing…my head hurts.”

Spike just looked at her. His hands were tied. If he stepped forward and caressed her aching head with his lips, he might well earn a punch in the gut. If he stood idly, she might take that as rejection and start again with the waterworks.

The only thing he could offer her was support, and that went against every innate stirring in his evil body.

Anything was better than watching her cry.

“Kitten—”

“Kendra.”

Spike blinked hard. “No,” he said slowly, patting his chest. “Spike.”

“No, I mean—” Buffy paused, her eyes narrowing. “Doofus, behind you. Kendra.”

It took a few seconds for the words to register. A few seconds that cost him dearly.

The last thing he heard, following the hard and rather underserved kick to the head, was Buffy screaming the Riot Act to the slayer behind him.

And oddly enough, as the world went black, he found that rather comforting.

Chapter Text

Nightmares haunted every second of sleep. His mind enacted every gut-wrenching scenario a twisted imagination could provide. And each came in the wrapping of a golden fantasy.

He saw Buffy smiling at him. Buffy stripping for him. Buffy lying spread-eagled on his bed, her pussy slick with aching anticipation of his touch. He saw her beckon him forward. Saw her take his hand in hers and guide his fingers to her slippery folds. She moaned and bucked against his hand, played to easy orgasm and drenched his skin with her heady feminine juices. She looked at him with open, trusting eyes. She looked at him in ways that made him question his existence.

Spike had always known evil things could appreciate beauty—he’d just never found purity beautiful.

And Buffy was pure. Buffy was nothing but pure.

And she wasn’t his. As dream faded into nightmare, as Angel strode into the room, there was nothing more singular than that knowledge. Buffy didn’t belong to him. She belonged to Angel. To the memory of a soul.

“Thanks for keeping her warm for me,” Angel quipped, winking. “Couldn’t have done it without you.”

That wasn’t the kicker, though. The kicker was watching Buffy’s face break into blinding illumination. The kicker was watching her scoot over. The kicker was watching her throw her head back in pleasure as Angel’s hand found her pussy.

Thankfully, that was where the nightmare ended. That was when he twisted awake, finding again that he was alone in his motel bed. That Buffy’s scent lived only on the clothing she’d touched earlier when she’d kissed his lips off. That she wasn’t here to taunt him with the incredible wrong turn his feelings for her had taken.

She’d decided to go with the curse. She’d helped him back to the library after talking down the incredibly brassed-off slayer. She’d tended to his bruised head with an ice pack, and told her friends she wanted to curse Angel again. Any hint of the girl who had sobbed in his arms was nowhere to be seen. Buffy acted with decisiveness. She wanted Angel back, and she’d said so while standing at Spike’s side.

Her argument? It would buy them time. Time to stop Acathla. Time to figure out how to put the apocalypse on pause.

It was just a happy coincidence that the curse would bring her boyfriend back. A two-for-one deal.

Spike moaned and threw his naked legs over the side of the bed, shaking his head hard. He was such a daft git. So bloody hopeless. Get a girl to smile at him, shed a few tears, and he was no more useful than Angel on Viagra. He wanted Buffy, and Buffy wanted someone else.

Story of his life.

The sun would soon fade below the horizon, and then it would be time to move. Spike was exhausted but wide awake, tense and ready for whatever the night brought on. He hadn’t been able to sleep—if it wasn’t the nightmares, it was worry that she might need him.

And that, friends, is the punchline.

Buffy had robbed him of his ability to sleep through the daytime, which did little more than solidify how thoroughly buggered he was. He was a demon; he was supposed to enjoy reaping havoc while the sky was dark and sleep when the sun was up. He was supposed to be out there planning an apocalypse of his own. He was supposed to not give a bleeding fuck if Buffy wanted to shag Angel until she rotted, or how many souls she stuffed up the git’s righteous arse. He was supposed to be different.

He was supposed to be so many things. Right now, the thing he focused on was the fact that he was a nocturnal creature, and he was turning arse over tit to change his habits for a girl who was probably dreaming of getting fucked sideways by another vamp.

A girl who would never dream of him.

Spike padded miserably to the bathroom sink, glaring into the mirror that refused to glare back. When had life become so sodding complicated? His plan had been simple enough. Go to the school. Talk to the Slayer. Get her to concoct a brilliant plan that involved Dru begging him to take her back as well as Angelus’s dusty downfall. But that hadn’t happened.

Buggering ghosts. The ghosts had turned his head and given his cock another pussy to crave. Crave beyond a fleeting fantasy—crave as he’d craved no woman before her. Before Buffy. And if that wasn’t humiliating enough, his heart, oh so predictably, had followed suit.

He was always falling for women who were infatuated with Angelus.

Perhaps he truly was a masochist.

“My Spike flies so far away from the other children.”

His eyes widened in shock, his feet twisting until he found himself staring at his maker. The motel door was wide open, and there she stood. Dru. Distant. Haunting. She held herself like a true aristocrat. Her hands were hidden behind her back, her hair pulled away from her face. She was dressed all in black.

Of course she was. The white gowns had vanished once her power was restored. The white had fooled him, played to his softer side. Made him believe that the sickly girl he saw—the one who pretended to love him to get what she wanted—could ever carry over in the rebirth of what no angry mob could destroy.

Drusilla had walked right into his motel. His neutral ground. The place he stayed that belonged neither to Angelus nor the Slayer. And she’d done so without triggering any of his senses. He hadn’t even smelled her.

Odd as it was, Spike was hardly surprised. If Dru didn’t want to be felt, she had ways to avoid it.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he growled, his unthinking feet carrying him to her. “And haven’t you ever heard of knocking?”

“I just came to see if the stars were lying to me.”

“Bloody hell, Dru, we already had this argument. I’m lost, remember?” He waved his hand. “I wanna play in sunshine? I’ve tasted honey and I want more? Any of this ringing any bells?”

“Only dirty boys play in the sunlight, my sweet.”

He rolled his eyes. “No need to tell me that. Why don’t you bugger the fuck off and head back to your cozy little apocalypse, yeah? You and Grandpap made it perfectly clear that you wanted me nowhere near the precious ceremony. And near as I can recall, I didn’t invite you to keep tabs.”

“Mummy looks after all her babies,” Drusilla replied coyly, taking a step forward. “You were always my favorite baby, Spike.”

“But nothin’ more than that. Trust me, got that message loud and clear.”

“Daddy worries you’ll ruin everything.”

Daddy ought to be more worried about the amateur witch that was brewing up a cup of soul, or at least looking at the recipe. But Spike didn’t say that. He wouldn’t betray Buffy. The last time anyone from her lot had tried to reensoul the wanker, a teacher lost her life. Not that Spike particularly cared if one or all of the little Scoobies had their innards ripped out—he just knew what it would do to Buffy if she lost someone else. If conjuring a curse meant sacrificing a friend.

He wouldn’t betray Buffy. Not now.

Look what she’s turned you into.

Not even thoughts like that could persuade him.

“If Daddy figured me for anything of a threat, he’d be here himself to deliver the message,” Spike retorted dryly, arching a brow. “You’re just here to keep me in the ranks. Make sure when the mojo starts later that I’m still standin’ on your side.”

Drusilla’s lower lip poked out in a way that, once upon a time, would have had him weak in the knees. Not now. Seeing her now only invited irritation. “My puppy feels mistreated?”

He rolled his eyes. “Yeah. For starters, not a sodding puppy.”

“Such a sad day it is for you, William.”

“You have no bloody idea.”

“You’re going to help the nightingale, aren’t you?” She took a step forward, her eyes now blazing with accusation. “You think she sings her song for you. She doesn’t, you know. She likes the way you feed and coddle her, and she will give you a treat in the end. But her song isn’t yours.”

Spike flinched inwardly, but he refused to let Dru see how deep the words cut. It wasn’t anything she hadn’t said before. Point of fact, the very first night she’d fed him the same speech. About how Buffy didn’t want him and all that rot. And while repetition didn’t make the hurt vanish, it did steal some of the punch.

“Still, she had the decency to tell me that before I got involved,” he countered. “Go home, Dru. You’re wasting your time with me.”

“I don’t think so, my darling.” She bit her lip coquettishly and her eyes sparkled with mischief. “Acathla awakes tonight. And you’re not going to ruin the surprise party.”

It was only then her arms dropped and the sword came into view. A sword. An honest-to-god sword. Spike barely had time to blink at it before the blade cut across his neck. Paralyzed shock hardened his body. He gasped his maker’s name and reached for the wound out of instinct, baring his gut in a moment of blind weakness.

“Dru—”

She barely blinked at him before swinging again. Then the wall was pressed to his back, the sword gone all but the handle that protruded from his belly.

“My Spike wants the sunshine,” she said, moving away with haunting grace. When he had the strength to glance up, she was at the window, her fingers coiled around the cord that dangled beside the cheap drapery. “Sunshine, my Spike shall have.”

“Dru,” he coughed, blood splattering on his lip. The sun had set, of course, and wouldn’t be back for hours. But it would be eventually. And as tomorrow’s day progressed, the sun would crawl deeper into the room. Until his flesh sizzled and his insides imploded. Until there was nothing left of him but dust.

The room spun.

Blood. He needed blood.

“Good night, sweet prince,” Dru singsonged from the distance. “May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

Had he been more coherent, Spike would have asked her when she’d ever had the faculties to memorize Shakespeare.

As it was, those words were the last he heard before the world blanked out.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Three years now. It had been three years. Three years since Merrick approached her on the steps of Hemery High School. Three years since she dusted her first vampire. Three years since her first Big Bad.

Three years since her first dead body.

It never became simple. She was never able to detach herself from the faces of those she failed to save. She still cried herself to sleep every night she had to wash blood off her hands. The twenty-second victim wasn’t easier to bury than the twenty-first. The body count seemed to follow her no matter where she went or how far she ran.

Buffy had buried strangers, classmates, and teachers. She’d stood at Giles’s side as Jenny Calendar was lowered into the earth.

She’d never gazed on the lifeless face of a friend. And even though the body was gone, it didn’t make her tremble any less. It didn’t quell the sickness in her stomach. The image was frozen in her mind. When she closed her eyes, she saw it again and again. There was no escape.

There was little difference from what she’d seen a few hours ago. Before she’d kicked herself free of police custody and torn away in desperation. The library was still a disaster. Bookshelves remained toppled. Incense and herbs remained scattered. Giles’s weapons cabinet was still empty. Blood spots still stained the floor.

And then there was Kendra.

Kendra.

Kendra wasn’t here anymore, of course, but she had been just a few short hours ago. She’d lain on the floor, her bleeding neck bent at a heartbreakingly awkward angle. Her eyes closed. She hadn’t breathed.

Of course she hadn’t breathed. Dead people didn’t breathe.

Angel had told her. Warned her that she was stupid for thinking everything was always about her. He was right. She hated that he was right. She’d stood beside her friend’s dead body because he was right. Because he’d dangled a shot at confronting him in front of her face and she’d leaped at it without thinking. Without waiting. God, without even waiting for Spike.

Spike. Spike. Where was Spike?

Buffy stood in the empty library, surrounded by the sad remnants of the attempt to stuff Angel’s soul back down his throat. Everything was gone. Wasted. Xander didn’t know where Giles was. Willow was recuperating in a hospital room. Cordelia had taken off and was probably halfway to Vegas by now.

There was no Spike. Spike hadn’t shown.

Xander had a theory on that. He said Spike had set them all up. Spike had ratted them out. Buffy had argued it was impossible for Spike to rat them out when he hadn’t known the plan. She hadn’t seen him since last night—hadn’t talked with him since bidding him farewell and sneaking a quick kiss in the hallway. After worrying over the bruise on his forehead—the bruise Kendra hadn’t, and now never would, apologized for giving him—he’d rolled to his feet, told her he’d see her tomorrow, and left.

Kendra was dead. Willow was in the hospital. Giles was missing. And Spike was gone.

I can’t do this alone.

She exhaled slowly, her eyes landing on the sword Kendra had abandoned on the conference table. The sword Buffy had kicked a cop—one holding her at gunpoint, no less—to retrieve.

In the end, you’re always by yourself. You’re all you’ve got.

Buffy shivered. The twerp from Giles’s apartment might have been right, but it didn’t mean she had to take it with a smile and a nod. Angel hadn’t mentioned Spike. Xander had even begrudgingly confessed the peroxided vampire hadn’t been anywhere in sight during the raid.

If Spike had been a part of it, Angel would have rubbed it in her face. She just knew he would have.

Something was wrong. Something was very wrong.

She needed Spike. She might be destined to always be alone, but it didn’t mean she had to sit down and accept it. If Spike was still alive, she needed him. He would help her. He would help her save Giles. He would help her save the world.

She wasn’t about to lose anyone else. Not tonight.

She would find Spike. She’d find him and kiss him until he was glad he didn’t need to breathe. Then they’d find Giles and stop Angel. They would.

But she wouldn’t lose him. Not Giles. Not Spike. She wouldn’t lose anyone else.

Not without dying first.

Chapter Text

Spike was dead.

Buffy stood frozen in the open doorway. She didn’t know how long she’d been there. Time had stopped ticking the second her shadow crossed the threshold. Nothing about the room seemed real. Not the turned-down bed. Not the bags of blood scattered across the window-table. Not the crucified vampire pinned to the far wall.

Spike was dead.

Oh my God.

It was the most horrifying thing she’d ever seen. Beyond every body she’d found drained. Every familiar face she’d had to bury. Spike was full of life—always full of life. He was someone she knew—someone who was not dead to her and never had been. He was her enemy. He was her reluctant ally. He was someone she really enjoyed kissing. He was…

God, he was dead.

Buffy sniffed hard and wiped at her eyes. When had she started crying? She hadn’t been here long enough to cry. And yet, her cheeks were damp with cold tears. She wasn’t sobbing. She wasn’t whimpering. She just stood in the doorway and looked at him, crying silent tears. 

Spike was dead.

It had happened hours ago—she was certain. He was pale. He was so pale. Paler than a vampire—paler than any corpse she’d ever seen. His white skin melted seamlessly into the white wall behind him. He looked like a snow angel—a snow angel splattered with blood.

He was naked. She wondered why he was naked. Perhaps he’d been here with someone. Perhaps they’d had fun. Perhaps…

No. She knew that wasn’t true. Fifteen years of living under her father’s roof had educated her childish eyes in the differences between recently-slept-in and recently-fucked-in beds. Spike had just awoken, most likely, when this happened to him. When he had been nailed to the wall with a sword.

It had happened hours before. Hours before Kendra was murdered. Perhaps, even, hours before the fumbled confrontation with Angel in the graveyard. The confrontation that had turned out to be a diversion. A diversion planned and executed to render her completely and utterly alone.

God, she was so foolish. Of course Angel and Dru knew about Spike. Of course they did. Spike wasn’t staying at a motel because he wanted to. He’d told her as much when he’d scribbled the room number onto the sticky-note he found in her backpack. She was so stupid for thinking they would leave him be—that her friends would be the only ones they targeted.

How odd that her last memory of Spike would be his handing her a note. The note with his room number. How her eyes had watched his lips and wished they could go back to the part where they were making out. He’d handed her something that could have saved his life had she used her brain, and she’d forgotten it because of his mouth.

“Oh Spike…”

The second the words touched the air, everything became real. It was real. And that was all it took for Buffy to break. She couldn’t leave him like that. She couldn’t. He meant too much to her; he was her vampire, dammit, and she wouldn’t leave him crucified. Not when she was the reason he was gone. Not when his alliance with her had cost his life.

Not when she had feelings for him she hadn’t gotten a chance to explore. Feelings she was too terrified to give credence. Feelings that had allowed her to shake the shadow of her relationship with Angel off her heels, and given her the strength to acknowledge what she had to do.

She didn’t love Spike, but he was hers. He was completely hers. He was hers to fight. Hers to kill. Hers to kiss until she couldn’t feel her lips. It was his fault—he’d thrown it in with her, and she cared about him. She hadn’t wanted to, but he’d made it impossible to look the other way. He’d held her when she cried. He hadn’t mocked her weakness. He’d been there for her the way no one else had, or could have been.

And now he was gone, and it was her fault.

All her fault.

Choking back a sob, Buffy’s numb legs took tentative steps forward, her eyes never leaving his body. His throat had been slit, trailing rivers of blood down his chest. The handle of the sword had staunched the heaviest blood-flow, but a growing pool of red still soaked his lower body. He was so still. So still.

Vampires were never still. Vampires didn’t die and leave a body behind. Why hadn’t Giles told her that vampires could bleed to death?

An inhuman cry scratched at her throat. She needed to get him down.

“I’m so sorry, Spike,” she whispered, her vision blurring. Her fingers closed around the slippery handle.

God. His blood was on her skin.

Buffy shivered and shook the thought aside, instead throwing her weight behind her arm and tugging at the sword as hard as she could. A sickening sound spilled into the air, the movement reenergizing the blood flow. Her stomach turned and bile rose in her throat, but she wasn’t about to stop on account of squeamishness. She owed Spike more than that. So much more.

It took both hands—the sword was too-far buried in his stomach. She ignored the sound of metal sliding against organs and ripped flesh; she ignored the red river that waterfalled down his snow-white skin. She ignored everything until the sword was free, until Spike’s body collapsed in a lifeless heap to the floor.

“Oh god!” Buffy cried, blinking away another wave of tears. The sword tumbled from her hands as her knees crashed to the floor, taking him into her trembling arms. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to…I just had to get it out. I didn’t mean to—”

And then something happened. Something that stopped her heart.

It was nearly inaudible, but it was there.

A moan.

The gasp that crushed her chest would have killed her if she’d been anything but a slayer. Buffy’s eyes widened, and she grasped Spike’s cold shoulders with shaking hands. “Spike?” she whispered. “Oh my god, are you…”

Another moan. Louder this time.

“Oh god. Oh my god. Oh god.”

Buffy was on her feet in a blink, Spike in her arms. She didn’t know, exactly, how to bring a vampire back from the edge of death, but she’d be damned if she didn’t try. Her feet carried her instinctively toward the bathroom where her trembling arms lowered him into the tub. She’d seen this in movies—people splashing water on the unconscious. Or dragging drunks into the shower because water had some sort of healing ailment that brought others from the brink of delirium. Was that even true? Her mom had never tried it with her father. She’d always just let him sleep it off. What if it worked on people but not vampires?

There were only so many options.

It was always cold water in the movies, but he was already so cold. He’d felt like ice against her fingers and she wasn’t about to make him colder. Instead, she turned the faucet on at full heat and stepped back, crossing her arms nervously. Trying hard to ignore the anxious shivers that clamored her insides and made it near impossible to stand still.

Her eyes were drawn irrevocably to the gaping hole in his stomach. How could anyone, human or not, walk away from that?

She didn’t know. She thought she’d known everything about vampires but she didn’t know this. If he was still alive, would he have that hole in his gut for the rest of forever? That permanent, ugly reminder of what his relationship with her had cost him? God, what if he woke up and wanted to tear her throat out? What if…

Spike moaned again.

Buffy’s wide eyes shot to his face. “Spike?” she ventured breathlessly. “Oh god, please.”

But that was all. That was all. Nothing happened after that.

Maybe she’d been wrong about the hot water. Maybe it was cold water that held the magical remedy. Buffy lurched forward, desperation charging her veins, and switched the faucet back to cold.

And waited.

And waited.

The tub was filling. The water was turning red. Spike didn’t moan again.

He needs blood.

Where the thought came from, she didn’t know. But it remained, niggling at her subconscious as her eyes soaked him in. Spike’s hauntingly pale body. Spike immersed in a bath of blood-water. Spike not moving.

Not moving.

And suddenly, she knew what to do. There was blood in the motel. There was bagged blood on the front table. On that crappy table every motel on the planet offered its patrons. He had blood. He had bagged blood. He had blood.

She had to get him blood.

Buffy twisted on her heel. She was just a second too fast to witness Spike’s eyes pop open. To see them blaze with amber as his fangs descended.

But she did hear his growl, and her feet promptly turned to cement.

The next thing she knew, his hands were on her and she was in the tub with him. His eyes were yellow. There was nothing hinting at recollection on his face—there was only a feral blaze of hunger.

She was too startled to think about kicking him away. Her mind was suddenly vacant—all she knew was his name.

“Spike?”

It was the last sound to touch the air before his fangs pierced her flesh.

 

Chapter Text

Spike was no novice to slayer blood. From the second he’d tasted it in China, he’d dedicated his life to chasing it down. Slayer’s blood was the ultimate trophy, and he was determined, in this contest, to always stand victor. To have this be one thing that he did better than anyone.

He’d tasted slayer blood before, but it had never tasted like this.

It had never tasted so…

Mine.

Her blood was his. She tasted thoroughly his. Beyond championing her death—beyond earning his chalice—the blood in his mouth belonged to him. His life had been a series of steps to reach this moment. To hold her in his arms and claim what was his. No matter that he didn’t remember how he’d gotten here, or whom he was holding—all he knew was it was right. His journey could end now because he’d tasted his purpose.

Mine, the demon purred. She’s mine.

Spike murmured contentedly around mouthfuls. The demon was right. There had never been a more perfect moment.

A name then. He remembered her name.

Buffy.

Buffy moaned and wiggled. Buffy tried to shove him off, but the demon wouldn’t be denied. Buffy couldn’t hold him from what was his.

“Spike!” someone sobbed, her voice tearing with pain and drenched in unshed tears. “Please! No, oh god, please!”

Please. Please. It was a word he’d come to know well over the last century.

“Please!”

Spike blinked wearily. The shapeless forms around him were beginning to realign. He was in a tub. He was immersed in steamy water. His body was battered but not broken. He had Buffy in his arms and his fangs in her throat.

He had Buffy’s blood in his mouth.

Spike’s eyes shot open and his fangs retracted immediately. Buffy’s blood. Her slayer’s blood. He was naked in the tub and she was in his arms. She was…

“Buffy!” he gasped, shaking his bumpies away, panic charging his veins. Buffy’s blood. He’d tasted Buffy’s blood. His tongue was bathed in Buffy’s blood. He pressed a shaking hand against her torn neck, his hazed mind racing to catch up with logic and reason. Buffy’s blood coated his throat. What in god’s name had happened here? “Buffy, oh god…I didn’t mean to. I didn’t—”

Thankfully, she hadn’t been weakened to the point of battling consciousness. Perhaps he hadn’t taken as much as he’d thought. He didn’t know and he wasn’t about to fire off any questions. For the moment, he just needed to make sure she was all right. Explanations could come later.

What she said, though, had him trembling for completely different reasons.

“It’s all right,” she said, waving dismissively, her hand settling over his at her throat.

“Are you okay? Bloody hell, baby, I didn’t mean—”

She blinked blearily. “It…you didn’t take too much. A few mouthfuls. Just…felt like…”

“My god—”

“It was my fault, really.”

He would have been knocked off his feet had he not already been sitting. “What?”

“You don’t remember?”

“Remember…”

His mind was racing, eager to fill in the gaps. In easy seconds, everything came rushing back. Dru. Dru had been here. Dru had cut his throat. Dru had run him through with a sword. Dru had nailed him to the wall and left him for dead. She’d raised the curtains in the room so the sun would finish the job come morning if his body hadn’t drained of blood before then.

Now he was in the bath. Buffy was in his arms. Buffy was bleeding.

Buffy had saved his life.

Spike exhaled slowly, his bleary gaze taking her in. She might have been hell run over, but fuck if she wasn’t as beautiful as ever before. Sitting there in bath water, her hand over his. Her hair was tousled. Her eyes were tired. There was dirt on her skin. She shook beneath his fingers, and though she bled because of him, there was no condemnation in her eyes. She looked almost…relieved.

Relieved?

“You remember now, don’t you?” she asked weakly, her fingers slowly moving over his where he held her bleeding neck. “You remember what happened?”

“I don’t remember you, kitten,” Spike replied, cringing and reaching for his own throat with his free hand. He remembered being cut, but the damaged skin had already begun to heal. “Nothing after you got here.”

A small, near heartbreaking smile crossed her face. “I don’t imagine you would.”

“What…” His hand dropped without ceremony to his gut, his fingers grazing the sore patch of skin which had already formed over what would have been a nasty scar. He had slayer’s blood to thank for that. Slayer’s blood had strength charging his body. Had him itching with a need to pay his maker back for what she’d done to him, and take Angelus down in the process. Buffy’s blood had saved his life, and he couldn’t remember a lick of it.

Buffy’s eyes followed his hand, widening in shock. “Holy hell!”

“Yeah—”

“That’s impossible! That sword ran you all the way through! There’s no way…” She broke off with an abrupt jerk of her head, the hand at her neck dropping to his stomach and batting his away. “There’s no way this—”

“Slayer—”

“It takes me at least a day to heal a cut that’s maybe two inches deep. How in god’s name—”

“Your blood, love.” He hated the look on her face—the look those words inspired. “It’s your blood. Your…slayer’s blood…it’s the sodding holy grail for us. For vampires. Tasting you…just a drop could bring any vamp back from the edge of death. I got good a chunk of you.”

And amazingly, the knowledge didn’t come with pleasure. It didn’t come with a grin and a snappy remark. It didn’t come with pride. Hell, it didn’t even come with the urge to sink his fangs into her throat and finish what he started. He’d tasted his second slayer—the most powerful slayer he’d ever known—and he couldn’t gloat. Couldn’t even work up a grin that he knew what she tasted like. He couldn’t summon anything but remorse.

Because he’d hurt her. He’d hurt her, and that bothered him. He was too far beyond caring why it bothered him. He knew he was hopeless for her and was exhausted from fighting it. And Christ, with her blood in his body, fighting his feelings for her was nothing short of a disgrace. She’d given him a gift, willing or not. She was in his gut, in his throat, and he was drowning in her.

That particular acknowledgment made his life a whole lot easier and a hell of a lot more complicated in one bloody blink. At least now he could stop fighting his feelings.

All he had to do now was live with the knowledge that he was falling in love with another woman who could never love him back.

“My blood…did that?” she whispered, her fingers grazing his tender skin. “I…how—”

Of course, his feelings for her coupled with the fact that he was feeling much better than Buffy realized had his body reacting in a very inappropriate way. The Slayer was sitting in a tub with him, her hands on his belly, and he was naked. He was naked, revved with the most powerful aphrodisiac on the planet’s face, and the hands of the woman his cock wanted like no other were on his body.

His cock was not in the mood to ignore that. And his demon was no longer hungry for blood. His demon wanted Buffy. All of Buffy. Right now.

Buffy knew that he wanted her, of course. She’d felt his erection against her before. She’d torn his lips off with her own. The only sense that came in hiding himself now was wrapped in self-preservation. There was softness in her eyes right now unlike anything he’d seen before and he wanted to keep it that way.

“Bring any vamp back from the point of death,” he said again, praying she wouldn’t glance down or nudge his erection. “Though I don’t think I was—”

The shadow that crossed her face promptly silenced him. She looked, for all the world, as though she was reliving a horrid memory. It awed him to feel her trembling. “No,” Buffy whispered, her voice haunted. “No, you really…I…I thought you were dead, Spike. I thought you’d bled to death or…well, that’s stupid, I guess. I guess vampires can’t bleed to death.”

“Wouldn’t know, pet. Though I’m more of a believer now than I was yesterday.”

“I pulled the sword out and you made a noise, so I dragged you in here. I was about to go get the blood in the other room when you…made with the lunge-y.”

He winced inwardly. “I didn’t mean—”

Buffy shook her head abruptly and rose to her feet before he could blink. “Doesn’t matter,” she said dismissively. “You’re okay. That’s what matters.” A pause. “Kendra’s dead.”

Spike would have liked to think, for Buffy’s sake, that he would have been more inclined to care had the bint not kicked him unconscious the night before, but it was a lie. Kendra was a slayer and he was still a vampire—dead slayers were good news, as far as he was concerned.

As long as Buffy wasn’t the dead slayer in question.

He didn’t offer condolences he didn’t feel. Instead, he nodded somberly and asked, “How?”

“Drusilla.”

Something hard crashed in his chest, and at once, he was both filled with pride and hatred. And hatred was something he’d never thought to feel for Dru, regardless how their story played out.

Thankfully, the Slayer didn’t let him stew for long. She gracefully stepped out of the tub, ignoring the water that dripped from her soaking clothes even if she couldn’t ignore how it made her tremble. For his part, Spike was having a time trying to avoid staring at her nipples. Bloody hard task when they insisted on saluting him through her ridiculously thin excuse for a top.

“They have Giles,” she said, her voice firm even if he knew her will was not. “Angel and Dru. We have to go.”

Spike blinked. It was one thing if a slayer had been killed—now his girl’s mentor had been watcher-napped? What the sodding hell had he missed?

“Slayer—”

“It was an ambush. It started today—this afternoon. Angel wanted me cut off completely.” She shivered, reached for the towel rack and tossed one to him before giving thought to herself. “No friends. No watcher. No…you. He sent a lackey to one of my classes today and I was stupid enough to fall for it.”

“What the hell are you—”

“Angel lured me out so I wouldn’t be there to…Willow was doing the curse. Kendra was with them, so I thought they’d be okay.” Buffy’s eyes fell shut, toweling her hair dry without once turning to the mirror. She didn’t even bother to check the wound he’d left on her throat. “They weren’t. Angel had me out there and in the meantime, Dru was raiding the library. Now Giles is gone and I don’t know if… And Willow’s in the hospital.”

“You went out to face Angel without coming to me first?” Spike demanded. “Are you outta your mind?”

“I’m not exactly used to tag-teaming my saving of the world, Spike. I just wanted it to be over.” She held up a hand, effectively silencing the waiting retort on his lips. “I know. I know, I know. A thousand times over. I’m a moron. Okay? And because of that, I’ve lost…I’ve lost my friend, my watcher, and when I came here, I was terrified I’d lost you, too.” She paused. “Can we just save the world now and reflect on how very stupid I am when we’re back to being mortal enemies?”

Spike couldn’t help but grin. Lovely sentiment as it was, he didn’t reckon now was the time to tell Buffy they would never be mortal enemies again. He didn’t have warm feelings for enemies. He didn’t want to make love to enemies. Fuck silly, maybe, but not make love. And while he wouldn’t mind fucking Buffy blind a time or two, the dominant urge was for the former.

For the moment, though, she could think what she liked.

“You bloody well nearly did,” he said the next second. “Lose me, I mean.” And god help him, but the knowledge that losing him had her terrified made him feel as good as a bloke could after his insane ex had run him through with a very pointy sword. “Dru visited me here earlier.”

Buffy froze. “The sword?”

“Her handiwork.”

“Oh my god.”

Spike shrugged with a nonchalance he didn’t feel. No matter how things had ended between them, Dru’s dust was never something he would have sought. He was through with her, yes, but killing her would have meant killing a part of himself. The part of him she’d saved from mediocrity and helped shape into the man he was today. And while coming to terms with the heartbreaking knowledge that she’d never loved him at all had promised to cripple him, he knew he could move on.

Now he wasn’t sure he didn’t want her dust. His doubt had him thoroughly shaken.

“Spike,” Buffy said softly, stepping forward. “I’m so sorry. I—”

He held up a hand. “Don’t bother,” he said shortly, wrapping the towel around his waist. “Let’s get you some dry clothes. If we’re gonna save this watcher of yours, we better—”

 “You really are going to help me?” she whispered, her eyes bright.

Spike’s eyes narrowed. Aside from the fact he was more or less Buffy’s bitch, he bloody well wasn’t going to sit back and let Angelus destroy the world. He sure as hell wasn’t going to let Dru think she could get away with trying to off him. And if saving the Slayer’s watcher would make her smile at him, he’d do it over and over again.

As it was, Spike was in her debt. She’d given him her blood. Perhaps not willingly, but she’d given it.

“Of course I’m gonna bloody help you,” he said shortly. “That was the deal from the beginning, right?”

“I didn’t think—”

“Buffy, you just pried me from a sodding wall and brought me back from what you swore was the brink of nothing. If that doesn’t make me yours, I don’t know what does.” Spike cleared his throat and tightened the towel around his waist, doing his best to ignore the eager bob of his cock at the hint of how very much hers he’d become. “You want to save your watcher? Stop arguing with me and go get your biteable arse into something warm.”

“I don’t—”

“Top drawer.”

Spike swore softly when she finally crossed into the other room, leaving him alone with a tub-full of water and blood that belonged to them both.

This was going to kill him. He wasn’t sure it hadn’t already.

Dru had tried to end him. Buffy had saved his life. It was Buffy he wanted in his bed and Dru whose life he no longer cared about.

This stupid town had turned his life upside down.

And something told him it was only the beginning.

 

Chapter Text

“Drink this.”                                                         

“I said I’m fine.”

Spike rolled his eyes and shoved the glass of orange juice fully under her nose. “I don’t sodding care if you feel well enough to tap-dance on a forklift, you’re gonna drink this bloody juice if I have to pour it down your throat.”

Buffy arched a brow, her gorgeous eyes sparkling with amusement. God, a man could lose himself so easily in those eyes. After this rot about the apocalypse was in the past, Spike was definitely going to take Buffy-gazing up as his favorite hobby. She was so glorious, so wonderfully glorious in everything she did. Every sodding move she made took his proverbial breath away.

“Bossy McBossy,” she replied, accepting the proffered juice with a feigned sigh.

“I drank your blood.”

“A fact I’m well aware of, considering it was my blood.”

“And I’ve been around long enough to know you need sweets once you’ve donated.” He held up a hand at the burning question flashing across her face. “Don’t bloody fight with me.”

“Sorry,” she cracked unapologetically, shrugging. “It’s against my nature.”

Any other night and he would’ve gotten a brilliant kick out of her jesting. This was the sort of camaraderie which had him falling in love with her in the first place. She’d grown so used to being around him in such a short period of time—whether she wanted to acknowledge as much or not was another question. But for the way she sparred with him, verbally and with that piece of walking poetry she called a body, his insides filled with just enough hope to keep him afloat amidst troubled waters.

“Just drink,” he said, determined to betray nothing.

“The words slayer healing really mean nothing to you, do they?” Buffy replied dryly, arching a brow as she lifted the glass to her lips. If he didn’t know better he’d swear she was relishing this.

“Not when we’re about to go up against your wanker of an ex and my sword-happy sire, not to mention Angelus’s brainwashed apostles.”

She snorted appreciatively. “Don’t tell me you’re intimidated,” she replied, shaking her head. “But I suppose there’s nothing wrong with being at full strength.”

Spike smiled gently but didn’t reply. There wasn’t much time to waste in the seclusion of Buffy’s home, but the longer they stayed, the less inclined he was to leave. While he appreciated the severity of the situation around them, he was increasingly convinced Buffy wasn’t ready.

Oh, she could take Angelus out. There was no doubt there. The conviction in her eyes was unlike anything he’d ever seen, but god, her body was so worn. Perhaps she was immune to recognizing her own limitations, but she couldn’t hide the exhaustion in her eyes. Not from him. He’d tasted her blood now—he had a part of her inside him. He’d tasted her power and as a result, he knew her strength.

And because of that, he did know her limitations. He could see them clearly because they were not his own. Buffy was tired. Not just physically—physical exhaustion was manageable. Buffy was worn by every feasible stretch of the definition. And Angelus would know it. He’d know the second her scent hit the air.

However, it wasn’t likely Angelus would be open to postponing the apocalypse on account of white-hat exhaustion. It was very much now or never, but that didn’t mean Spike had to like it. He was too worried about Buffy to give a damn about logic or rationality. In the state she was in, she’d be lucky to be a blip on Angelus’s radar.

Buffy sipped her orange juice, a long sigh rolling off her shoulders. “Happy?” she asked.

“Over the bloody moon, kitten.”

She made an adorable face which he would have kissed right off her lips were they not pressed for time and suffocating under the heavy burden of the looming apocalypse. “I don’t like orange juice,” she complained.

“I’m not particularly fond of pig’s blood, but it didn’t stop me from draining three bags, now did it?”

Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “Not the same thing.”

“So says you,” he scoffed.

“Well, beyond the obvious factors of yuck, you were all but drained.”

Spike shuddered, his gut aching on prompt. Yes, he had nearly been drained, and were it not for the fiery woman sitting on the kitchen counter, he might not be standing where he was. Fuck, chances were he wouldn’t be standing at all. Either his blood would have drained completely and he would have withered away, or the sun would have finished him off.

Buffy’s blood had given him life. He was forever in her debt.

“Same could be said for you,” he countered softly, then clarified when she shot him a questioning glance, “Drained, and all.”

She rolled her eyes. “How many times do I have to tell you I’m fine?”

“Dunno. Let’s find out.” Spike arched a brow pointedly and nodded at the glass in her hand. “Drink up.”

“This is crazy.”

He grinned and shrugged. “Welcome, friends, to the show that never ends.”

“You lost way more blood than I did.”

“I had your blood to make it up for me. And, again, it didn’t stop me from drinking more.” Spike paused. “This is a pointless argument, love. I’m right, you’re wrong, t’was ever thus. Drink the sodding juice.”

Buffy hesitated a beat, but her eyes were dancing. “Well, as long as we’re concerned with my blood sugar, you might wanna get me a poptart,” she replied sweetly, waving with her free hand. “Second cabinet on the right.”

He arched a brow but did as she instructed, unable to hide his grin when his back was to her. “You need to be at full strength if we’re gonna do this thing,” he said, fishing out a pack of brown sugar pastries from the open box in the cupboard. “Angelus isn’t one to fuck with half-mass.”

“Kinky,” she replied with a smirk, catching the individualized poptarts-package off his toss.

Spike fought off another grin. If he kept smiling at how bloody cute she was, she’d never take him seriously. He could appreciate the need to ward off reality with humor and deflection, but she couldn’t afford to ignore the danger looming around them. Buffy had placed a lot of stock into Spike’s help, and while her faith was something he didn’t take lightly, no amount of wishing could change the fact he was still just one vamp. He’d dust at her side if it meant keeping her alive, but if he met his maker before the apocalypse was averted, she’d have no one to rely on but herself.

Granted, if they got out of this alive, it wasn’t like their problems were over. Buffy had this crazy notion in her head that things were going to revert back to the way they’d been before. Before the ghosts at her school had pitted them against each other. Before he’d gotten a taste of her soft lips. Before he’d felt the heat of her skin and dreamed of how her hot pussy would feel around his cock.

Before he’d started falling in love with her.

He didn’t know what it was going to take to convince her tonight was the end of Angelus and Angelus alone. Whatever they shared—whatever was happening between them—was only beginning.

“What happens when this is over?” Buffy asked, startling him with the sudden seriousness in her tone. Either she was amazingly attuned to his every thought and concern or this was weighing on her mind more than she betrayed. And honestly, for either of their sakes, he wasn’t sure which he preferred. “When Angel’s dust and…what happens?”

The unspoken question dwarfed her actual words, but he wasn’t about to make things easy for her. “Not sure I follow, love.”

Buffy sighed and took a quick bite of her poptart. “I don’t think…no, I know…and telling you this is probably the dumbest thing I could do, but I can’t go into this thing without knowing what’s going to happen next.”

“Slayer—”

“I can’t go back to the way things were, Spike. I know… I’ve talked about it and joked about it and pretended it’s gonna happen but I can’t…” She broke off. “I can’t go from…from, well, this…” She motioned between them. “To wanting you dead again. If I have to kill Angel and then…turn around and kill you, too…it’s going to break me. I can’t turn off whatever I’m feeling like a switch or something.”

Spike inhaled sharply, barely daring to hope. “Your feelings?”

“You know things have changed,” she replied, her eyes narrowing as she shifted, placing the poptart on the counter beside her. “I don’t make out with men at random.”

“I should bloody well hope not.”

“And…” Buffy trailed off on a long sigh. “Well, I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore. Except I don’t want to kill Angel if it means things go back…and then I have to kill you, too.” A still beat settled between them. “But if I…if I had to… God, please don’t make me, Spike. Don’t make me—”

He frowned. It’d been cute at first—this line of completely erroneous thinking—but if the chit was actually serious, they really needed to work on their communication skills. “You think I could go back from this to wantin’ to kill you?”

Buffy frowned. “I thought…I don’t know. I thought you and Dru—”

Oh bloody hell. Was she serious? Did she really think so little of him?

“Are you completely daft?” Spike demanded, eyes blazing. “Dru tried to kill me.”

“Well,” she replied, her tone cautious, “you’re a vampire.”

Spike’s brow furrowed, irritation surging through his veins. “And I’d wager you thought attempted murder between lovers—”

She threw her hands in the air. “I don’t know what I thought. I don’t know how any of this works or what vampire couples consider normal. Hell, I thought you guys were all about the kinky.”

“Sweetheart, there’s a big bloody difference between enjoying a rough shag to trying to kill your…” His voice faded, inhaling deeply. First thing after the apocalypse was averted, he was going to take Buffy somewhere secluded and perfect her education on vampires. She had some entertaining delusions, granted, but he didn’t want her developing a complex when, in actuality, she was the sort of woman who inspired complexes in others. There wouldn’t be another for him after this. He wanted Buffy—just as she was. “I admit,” he continued carefully. “Dru can make things a little unclear. There were a few times over the years when her sex games got so bloody, you’d wonder if she wasn’t really aiming to off you good and proper.”

Buffy wrinkled her nose. Yeah, he probably could have done a better job of phrasing that. “Nice girlfriend you’ve got there, Spike,” she drawled.

“Well, when you love someone—”

“You let them beat you bloody?”

“Oi! Don’t knock it.”

Spike swore inwardly the second the words left his lips. He was just digging himself deeper, but now it was more a matter of defending his character. Truth be told, while he’d never objected to whatever Drusilla wanted to do in the bedroom, he’d never shared her affinity for sadism. Never. Spike preferred his sex fairly straight forward—rough or gentle, depending on his mood. But despite that, he’d never wanted to deny his savior anything. If she wanted him to bleed, he’d bleed for her.

“Sorry,” Buffy retorted, her brows arching. “I just really don’t see the appeal.”

“We’re off the bloody point anyway,” Spike replied. “Dru tried to kill me. That’s not somethin’ you just…forgive and forget.”

She licked her lips and grew very still. “I…I thought you loved her.”

So did he. It was amazing how much could change in such a short amount of time. How much a goddess of light could drown out any want for a princess of darkness. How he could watch this tiny human with such adoration when, not too long ago, he would have withered at the idea of leaving Dru—no matter how much she’d hurt him.

Things had changed. Things had drastically changed. He could no more harm a hair on Buffy’s head than he could take a daylight stroll.

There was no good way to convey his feelings about his sire to the woman he’d unwittingly fallen in love with. While his love for Drusilla had withered away to nothing more than a shadow of gratitude, he could never completely strike her from his heart. He owed Drusilla his existence, but for the first time, he felt he’d finally repaid his debt. And while he would always remain grateful to her for introducing him to the night, the wealth of what he’d once felt had deflated into almost nothing.

Dru had tried to kill him. Really tried to kill him. There was no forgiving that.

“What I had with Dru is over,” Spike said, watching her intently. Was she really so oblivious to how gorgeous she was? How painful it was to be this close to her without touching her? Without nibbling on those succulent lips and exploring the forbidden contours of her body with his eager hands? He wanted to touch her so badly. He wanted to feel her skin beneath his fingers and drown in her kisses. He wanted her to cleanse him of Drusilla’s poison and bathe him with glory only this slayer possessed.

“I don’t know what that means,” Buffy replied a long minute later. “So…you and Dru are of the past. But Dru being out of your life doesn’t make you any less a vampire, Spike.”

A long sigh tore off his lips and his shoulders slumped. And that was the sodding problem, wasn’t it? He should have known the entire evil thing would arise at some point to nip him in the arse.

“What I am, Slayer,” he said carefully, “is yours.”

Buffy froze. “What?”

“I’m yours. There’s…god, pet, there’s no sodding way for me to go back after this.” He shook his head, shaking harder than he wanted to admit. “I didn’t plan it. This…this thing we have. Whatever it is.”

“Whatever it is?”

Spike arched an eyebrow. If she wanted to be the first to verbally define their relationship, she was welcome to it. But they were both licking their wounds right now—they were both trying to find themselves. And while he knew he wanted Buffy beyond the shadow of a doubt, he wasn’t about to pressure her into the same realization. Not right now. Not on the eve of the apocalypse her ex-honey had orchestrated. Not when she was so miserably lost.

Perhaps his advanced age gave him perspective. Or perhaps he’d been prepared to walk away from Drusilla all along. He didn’t know.

It was easy to forget, given everything she’d been through, that Buffy was all of seventeen years old. Things at seventeen seemed endless. He remembered being seventeen all too well, and he’d never thought anything could last forever as much as he had in his adolescence. Not even after Dru found him sniveling in the alleyway. Teenagers thought of forever in ways demons never could. And while Spike had thought his life with Dru would be forever, time and experience had rounded the corners of expectation.

Without Buffy, things would be different. Without Buffy, he never would have realized what he could have in comparison to what he did. Without Buffy, he’d be a wallowing mess of devastation.

But there was no without Buffy. She was right with him, and he was walking away from his old life by choice. Dru wasn’t leaving him—he’d left her. And he’d left her with the knowledge his heart belonged to someone else. It’d happened fast, yes, but he’d never been more certain of anything in his life.

Never more certain of anything. He had absolutely no idea how it’d happened, but it had. And if Buffy thought she could shake him off after this was over, she was sorely mistaken.

Buffy wet her lips when she realized he wasn’t going to make anything easy on her, her eyes dropping to her lap. “Spike—”

“I’m yours.” He had the idea the words were frightening her, but with the threat of the apocalypse breathing down his neck, he didn’t care. If nothing else happened—should the worst come crashing down—he wanted her to know he was at her side. He wanted her to know to whom he belonged. “I’m yours.”

His fingers slid just under her chin, his palms cupping her jaw as his lips brushed hers. It’d been too long since he’d kissed her. Since he’d had her taste in his mouth. Since he’d felt her hot tongue licking his. He loved the way her lips moved, the way she whimpered as though her control was about to be compromised. She was light. She was innocence personified. She was everything he wasn’t and everything he wanted.

“Buffy,” he murmured against her lips, soaking in her warmth.

“Uhhh…”

Just one more taste. One more…

It wasn’t to be. He leaned in for seconds only to be interrupted by the crash of the front door as it flew open. Buffy jumped and shoved him back, and while he knew she wasn’t acting out of shame, the sudden force in her movements couldn’t help but sting.

Perhaps it was fortunate he wasn’t given the chance to dwell on the matter.

“Buffy! Buffy, are you here?”

The Slayer’s head jerked up, her eyes fixing on his in the manner of an animal staring down the headlights of an oncoming truck. He knew it was her mum without needing clarification—one didn’t tend to forget the voice of a woman wielding an ax, especially if she had a famous daughter. He reckoned by the look on Buffy’s face that she hadn’t given her mum a moment’s thought since toddling off for school. When would she have had time? Today had started with a flaming vamp-memo from her ex and had yet to end. This was just the intermission. There was no time for mums.

“I’m in here, Mom!”

Before Spike could blink, Joyce Summers had barreled into the kitchen, her wide suspicious eyes drinking in the scene before her. He could only imagine what she saw. Her daughter in a blood-stained shirt standing beside a strange man. Well, not entirely strange, but Spike had the distinct memory of being in game face and under a chunk of wall the last time he and the woman had made eye contact. He didn’t expect to be recognized.

“Are you all right?” Joyce demanded. “You’re not hurt?”

Buffy’s hands came up. “I’m fine.”                           

The woman’s eyes fell to the blood on her shirt. “Whose is that?” She didn’t bother waiting for a response, shaking her head resolutely. “You’re not fine. We need to—”

“Wouldn’t worry,” Spike said without thinking, wincing inwardly when Joyce’s head snapped in his direction. He really would have preferred to remain as invisible as possible, but he similarly didn’t want Buffy to find herself under more pressure than necessary. The girl was going to snap and they still had a world to save. “It’s mostly mine.”

She blinked. “What?”                            

Buffy elbowed Spike hard, though her eyes shone with gratitude.

As it was, his interference didn’t distract the woman as long as he would’ve liked. Satisfied the blood wasn’t due to a mortal wound, the look in Joyce’s eyes swayed from concern to suspicion, and her tone followed suit. “Buffy,” she said levelly, “terrible things have happened. What were you doing?”

Spike blinked and said perhaps the worst thing he could have said. “What, your mum doesn’t know?”

Yeah, definitely the worst thing. The glare Buffy shot his way confirmed as much.

“Know what?” Joyce demanded.

Buffy was trembling so hard he feared she’d inadvertently drill a hole through the kitchen floor. He wanted so badly to reach out and reassure her with a touch, but something told him it wouldn’t be much help under the circumstances.

Though perhaps a touch would have prevented the Slayer from completely falling off her rocker. “That I’m, uhh…in a band. A-a rock band with Spike here.” She shot Spike a sharp glance, silently begging him to back her up.

Bugger. He was such a fool for her.

“Right,” he heard himself saying. “She plays the…the triangle.”

“Drums,” Buffy corrected quickly.

He fought off a grin at the visual, but he wasn’t about to contradict her. If his girl wanted to play the drums in their lie, by god, she’d play the drums. “Drums,” Spike echoed with a nod. “She’s hell on the old skins.”

Something told him their brilliant cover story wasn’t sticking.

“Hmmm,” Joyce mused. “And, uh, what do you do?”

He cleared his throat. “Well, I sing.”

There was a thick pause. Buffy plastered on her brightest aren’t-I-the-picture-of-innocence grin, which, as expected, had the reverse effect. Joyce palpably wavered between confusion and incredulity, ultimately falling completely over to suspicion again. Her eyes landed on the blood-splattered shirt once more before she completely took in Spike’s appearance.

“Buffy,” she said carefully. “A girl is dead. The police were here earlier. They’re saying you’re responsible.”

“Rot,” Spike growled before he could stop himself.

“Spike!” Buffy hissed.

“No, that’s complete rot. I can’t believe your mum would even…” He turned to the woman, fighting back a growl. And he noted, with more than just some satisfaction, his love for the Slayer hadn’t affected how menacing he could look when it was necessary. The barest hint of accusation in the woman’s voice had red flashing across his eyes. Cowering right now would be the smart thing to do.

Joyce was a lucky woman. Had she been anyone but Buffy’s mum…

“The police said—”

“The police?” Spike barked incredulously. “Are you naturally this thick?”

Buffy elbowed him again, but he ignored her. There wasn’t any oomph behind it anyway.

“If you think she’s capable of killing—”

“I’m not going to be lectured by a stranger in my own home.” Joyce crossed her arms, her eyes narrowing. Intimidated or not, the woman at once looked determined to hold her ground. “Why don’t you show yourself out?”

Spike huffed. He wasn’t going anywhere. Regardless, he couldn’t help but swell with warmth when Buffy grabbed his wrist to keep him from moving. She knew just as well as he did that he wasn’t budging—this was her way of providing support, and it meant the world.

“Mom, I need him.”

“Oh Buffy, come on—”

And for whatever reason, something in the girl snapped. It was unprecedented. Unpredictable. Not even Spike saw it coming. One second she was standing there, her small, powerful hand wrapped around his wrist, and the next her eyes were flashing and her shoulders were thrown back with courage unlike anything he’d ever seen. He was used to Buffy the Confident Slayer. Buffy the Confident Girl was a completely foreign concept, and she had him enchanted upon first glance.

“You want the truth?” she snapped, plowing ahead before Joyce could get a word in. “I’m a vampire slayer. Spike here? He’s a vampire.”

Spike nodded awkwardly when the woman turned her eyes to him in question. What else was there to do?

“And right now, we have to go save the world.” Buffy nodded at him, and that was that. He moved immediately for the back door, collecting the sword they’d propped between the cabinet and the door-handle and resting it against his shoulder. He moved and Buffy kept talking, standing across from her mother, who was frozen with astonishment. “The girl who died? Kendra? She was a friend of mine. A good, good friend. And the people who killed her are going to end the world. They have Giles, too. Spike and I are going to stop it. So you stay here. We’ll take care of everything.”

A smirk tugged on Spike’s lips. His girl had balls of brass. He knew her heart was thundering. He knew her pulse was racing. He could smell waves of tension rolling off her small, perfect body. But her voice didn’t waver or crack. There was nothing but conviction when she spoke. She was unlike anything he’d ever seen. And if he lived a millennia he’d never forget this moment. Never.

She was perfect. And he was lost to her.

“They have Mr. Giles?” Joyce echoed, dumbfounded.

“Angelus and Dru,” Spike confirmed with a nod. “They’ll decorate the rug with his librarian guts if we don’t get a move on.”

Buffy wrinkled her nose again but shot him a grateful glance nonetheless. She knew what he was trying to do. She knew without needing to be told.

“We should call the police.”

Spike rolled his eyes. Again with the sodding police.

“No. We’re not calling the police. Spike and I are handling it.”

“Handling what? What is happening?”

There was a long, tempered pause. “I’m sorry, Mom, but we don’t have time for this.” Buffy turned to him fully and nodded. “Spike?”

“The night awaits, pet.”

“No!” Joyce stomped her foot, exasperation flashing across her face. “I am tired of I don’t have time or you wouldn’t understand. I am your mother, and you will make time to explain yourself.”

Buffy didn’t even spare her a glance. “I told you, I’m a vampire slayer.”

“Well, I just don’t accept that!”

Spike snickered and shook his head, fully prepared to ignore the psychotic woman and get to it, but he noted almost immediately that Buffy wasn’t budging. And when he turned around, he could feel anger rippling off her body like tiny shock waves.

“Buffy,” he said softly, encouragingly. He didn’t even know if she heard him.

And a few agonizing seconds later, he had his answer.

“Open your eyes, Mom,” she said slowly, her voice trembling. “What do you think has been going on for the past two years? The fights, the weird occurrences. How many times have you washed blood out of my clothing?” She fisted her shirt demonstrably. “Blood like this, and you still haven’t figured it out?”

“Well, it stops now!”

“No! It doesn’t stop. It never stops!”

He could smell her tears. She was seconds from losing it.

“Do-do you think I chose to be like this?” Buffy continued, her voice teetering toward a shrill. “Do you have any idea how lonely it is? How dangerous? I would love to be upstairs watching TV or gossiping about boys or…god, even studying! But I have to save the world. Again.”

“No. This is insane. Buffy, you need help.

It was truly amazing how people could listen without hearing a damn word. And Spike wasn’t about to stand idly by—he’d already seen something too personal for words, and while his insides were quivering with rage, he knew how it sounded to outsiders. The woman hadn’t seen anything but blood. She had no proof.

Well, she was about to get some.

“She bloody doesn’t, you infuriating bint,” he snarled, fangs descending. He drank in Joyce’s horror with grim satisfaction, motioning quietly for Buffy to join him. “Accept it or not, the girl’s on a timetable. If you wanna be here to chat this out in the mornin’, I suggest you stop preventing us from—”

“What the hell are you?”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “He’s a vampire, Mom. Get over it.”

“I don’t—”

“We’re leaving.”

“No. No!” Joyce paraded forward intently. “I am not letting you out of this house. Not with—”

“You can’t stop me.”

“Oh yes, I—”

It was over too quickly. All he saw was the aftermath. There was a crashing sound as the woman toppled back, and when it was over, Joyce had been shoved against the island in the middle of the kitchen. She was gasping for air as though her head had been held under water, and staring at her daughter like she’d never seen her before.

Buffy turned back to him, her heavy, determined eyes ready. She looked ready to cry but her voice betrayed nothing. “Let’s go,” she said.

“You walk out of this house,” Joyce screamed after her, barely recovered, “don’t even think about coming back!”

Buffy didn’t even pause. She reached for his hand, and he gave it to her.

There was no more time for pausing. No more time.

They had a world to save. There would be plenty of time once this nasty business was behind them.

God, he hoped.

Chapter Text

She didn’t realize she was crying until she got a face-full of surprisingly cool spring air. There weren’t many strong gales of wind in Sunnydale, but they always seemed to accompany the various peaks and falls of her given mood, and her mood right now was all over the place.

She felt weak and beaten, angry and hurt. Her insides were numb and she could barely feel her legs. And were it not for the hand at the small of her back, providing subtle strength through even subtler caresses, she would have completely collapsed. It was the knowledge she wasn’t alone which kept her moving forward. She wasn’t alone.

She wasn’t ready to be alone.

“Are you all right?”

It was the sort of question one asked to be polite. The sort of question with no set answer. And even knowing this, Buffy couldn’t help a dry chuckle from tearing through her lips. There was no such thing as all right. Kendra was dead. Giles was missing. Willow was in the hospital. Her mother had kicked her out of the house. Now, armed only with a sword and a renegade vampire, she was about to face the man who’d once claimed her heart with the hopes of ending his existence once and for all.

Spike had come to town to kill her, and for some reason, he was at her side. Her lips still hummed with the echoes of his kisses. Her skin buzzed when she remembered the way his eyes pierced hers. The words he’d whispered had her mind racing, attempting to reconcile the confusing storm of emotions she felt for him with the part of her holding onto the love she’d once shared with Angel.

Tossing in her growing feelings for Spike on the mountain she had to defeat tonight would get her nowhere. Instead, Buffy nodded tersely, a forced smile stretching her lips. “Why do you ask?”

“Buffy—” The tone in his voice told her plainly he wasn’t about to drop the subject.

“Look, can we not?”

“She was out of line, love. You know—”

A strangled giggle erupted from her throat. “Really? You think she was? ’Cause kicking your world-saving daughter out of the house on the night of the apocalypse seemed to be the rational reaction from where I was standing.”

“It won’t take. She’ll—”

Buffy stopped shortly, jerking Spike to a halt beside her. “What?” she demanded, pivoting on her heel to face him, her eyes blazing. “She’ll what? Realize the error of her ways? Decide I’m not crazy when, hey, the world doesn’t end? I don’t have time for this. I don’t have time for…for…”

I don’t have time for life.

She didn’t realize she’d looked away until Spike’s hand settled under her chin, his gentle touch coaxing her eyes upward. And when their gazes clashed an undeniable sense of peace flooded her veins. She didn’t know how or why, but he wasn’t going to abandon her. Not tonight. Not after tonight. If she needed a place to stay, he would find her one. If she needed a shoulder to cry on, he would lend his. If she needed someone to fight her battles for a change, he would happily shoulder the responsibility.

Buffy was too tired to toy around with why. She didn’t know why. But for some reason, Spike was everything to her right now. Her friend. Her ally. Her kissing-buddy. And he’d promised her he wouldn’t revert to form once the fight was over. Aside from the assistance rendered the past few days, there was no reason to trust him. He was, after all, a vampire, and vampires were notoriously back-stabbing assholes. But she trusted Spike. Right now, she couldn’t help but trust him.

Perhaps the difference resided in the way she trusted him. She didn’t trust him as a vampire. She did, however, trust him as a man.

“If I stop and think about everything that’s happened, I’m gonna lose it,” she whispered belatedly, realizing they’d done nothing but stare into each other’s eyes for long, heated seconds. “Please…”

The only way to survive in this job was to compartmentalize her life. She couldn’t be Buffy and the Slayer at the same time—not when the world was at stake. The Slayer had to march in without the heavy burden of Buffy’s problems weighing her down. If the Slayer allowed Buffy to distract her, everything would end. It was what had killed slayers in the past, and what would undoubtedly kill her in the future. She was perpetually caught between two lives. She had to be one or the other. She couldn’t be both.

Not right now.

And though nothing else passed between them, Spike seemed to understand. Light filled his ocean eyes, and before she could pull away, he’d let the sword in his hands clamor to the pavement, his head dipping and his lips brushing hers. It was a gentle touch which quickly spun out of control. His tongue persuaded her mouth to welcome him, stroking her with tenderness bespeaking everything which remained unsaid between them. He drowned her in the richness of his flavor. Wholly masculine. Wholly dangerous. Wholly hers.

He’d told her earlier that he belonged to her. And for the way he moaned into her mouth, the surprising softness of his hands as he cupped her cheeks to capture her in his kiss—as though anticipating a fight she hadn’t the strength to put up—she could believe him. She could believe for a minute he spoke the truth.

She didn’t know what to do with him, but he was hers.

Her heart was too sore for love. Too gun-shy to attempt to place a label on her feelings. Knowing she was going to slay Angel tonight for the greater good still hurt more than she could verbalize. She didn’t want to think of tomorrow because she knew she had to get through the night first. But Spike was kissing her, loving her mouth with his, stroking her cheeks with calloused thumbs and whispering unintelligible words into her body. He was hers. The world allowed for no other knowledge.

Spike pulled away just a hair—just enough for his unneeded breaths to tease her lips with his taste as he drowned her in his eyes. Her heart thundered and her pulse raced, but she couldn’t look away if her life depended on it.

“This isn’t over, love,” he said softly, then kissed the corner of her mouth. “Not between us.”

There was no questioning the conviction in his eyes. He meant what he said. Every syllable. “I know,” she replied.

“You and I’ll sort this out.”

Buffy didn’t bother pretending to not understand. It would be an insult to them both. “Okay.”

Spike smiled and kissed her brow, then her lips again. “Okay,” he murmured before stepping back and collecting the abandoned sword. “Okay.”

It was amazing how much certainty a simple kiss could provide. And while she knew, truthfully, nothing between them could ever be defined as simple, the reassurance fueled her with just enough to keep moving forward.

The sun would rise and this would be over.

She wouldn’t worry about picking up the pieces until she could rest.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As it turned out, the sun started to rise well before they made it to the mansion. It was pure luck, she supposed, that they ran into Xander before taking refuge underground. He’d come to serve as the cavalry and to deliver Willow’s bloodthirsty kick Angel’s ass message. In other words, he’d come with good intentions but very little usefulness. And he’d unwittingly given her the task of telling him as much.

The only thing she could trust Xander with was getting her watcher to safety.

For his part, Spike said something snide and disappeared into the sewers. Buffy forced her grin aside. She was just happy to hear her friend was conscious.

Xander watched the vampire vanish, nose wrinkled in distaste. “You gonna be all right?” he asked, turning back to Buffy. “I can put my rock to good use, you know.”

Buffy glanced to the stone in his hands with a grateful smile, shaking her head. “I have all the help I need.”

“Spike?”

She nodded. “And before you start—”

Xander raised his hands, stone and all, and he shook his head. “No, no. I’m all with the understanding. Really. The enemy of my enemy…and all that.”

Buffy bit her tongue and decided it wasn’t worth wasting time to argue her point. Her friend was the perpetual tennis ball in the way he bounced from understanding to suspicious without a blink. But she was grateful for him, and more than relieved that she could entrust someone else to save Giles’s life while she and Spike focused on their respective exes. “We’ll be fine,” she assured him. “Just get Giles. Get Giles. Get out. I don’t want to have to worry about you.”

“You won’t. Stealth’s my middle name.”

She quirked her head. “I thought it was LaVelle.”

“I knew I’d regret telling you that.” Xander smiled wearily and took her in his arms for a quick but much-needed hug. “Watch yourself, Buff.”

“Always.”

She dropped into the sewers without another word and fell quickly into pace at Spike’s side. He knew the way down here and she was at his mercy. Didn’t much matter, though—she needed him and he needed darkness. As it was, she much doubted Angelus and company would know to expect an underground attack. Or an attack at all. Her ex had gone to a lot of trouble to sever her resources. He and Dru probably shared the belief that Spike was dust. And the longer they believed it, the easier this would be for all of them.

The sooner it would be over.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Hello, lover.”

The words made her skin crawl. He’d called her lover during each encounter. It was a nasty word, and it would never cross her lips again. But for what she needed, the words conveyed the appropriate message. Angelus glanced up and frowned, though the element of surprise was definitely not a luxury she could entertain for long. He was shocked to see her, which was obvious, but he’d been prepared. And right now she was little more than an unwanted distraction.

“I don’t have time for you,” he remarked, bored.

“You don’t have a lot of time left,” Buffy clarified, raising the sword Spike had handed her. She could still feel the warmth in the handle from where he’d held it so long. And for a fleeting second, she allowed her mind to wander to wherever he was—to the place he’d situated himself for the surprise attack—and whisper an ethereal kiss across his lips.

“Coming on kind of strong, don’t you think?” Angelus retorted, his eyes sizing her up. “You’re playing some deep odds here. Do you really think you can take us all on?”

It was damned hard not to gloat, and in the end, she decided the effort was wasted. “No, I don’t.”

“It’s what she’s got me for.”

Spike’s voice filled the main gallery timed with a nasty scream and an explosion of dust, and chaos inevitably erupted. Angelus barely had time to gape before he found himself uppercut by the blow of a crowbar. And for a few long seconds, reality suspended into a steady stream of slow-motion. Buffy saw Angelus’s eyes blaze and fangs descend—the fat load of good it did him. In a flash, Spike had clipped him again and watched gleefully as the big lug crashed to the floor.

“Guess my invite got lost in the mail, eh, mate?” he drawled, arching the crowbar far above his head. “It’s a mite rude to exclude me and the lady. Especially after all we’ve been through together.”

He glanced up and met her eyes, flashing a reassuring smile. And while her timing couldn’t be worse, Buffy was paralyzed with staunch appreciation. He was magnificent. He was absolutely magnificent. His torn black tee clung to his wiry form, accentuating his muscular build with subtlety lost on those who didn’t know what to look for. There was dirt on his cheek. His hands were red with his own blood. He’d nearly died tonight and here he was. Beating her enemy to the ground.

For me.

It was fortunate he caught her staring, else she might have assumed the form of a permanent statue and let the world end all for the want of appreciating the male body.

“Slayer!” he yelled, eyes widening with worry. “Behind you!”

Buffy whirled around just in time to catch a surprisingly forceful punch to the jaw at the courtesy of one of Angelus’s cronies. Across the room, Drusilla had similarly snapped out of her daze and was making up for lost time by screaming her lungs off. Her dark eyes were trained on Spike, who hadn’t broken form. He was beating the living hell out of Angelus and clearly enjoying every second.

Was Drusilla angry to see Spike alive? Buffy couldn’t help but wonder as she dove under the crony’s swinging arm, then effortlessly lopped the vamp’s head clean off his neck, courtesy of her sword. Where there was one, though, there was inevitably another. Drusilla was advancing, her steps slow and methodical, her malicious gaze not once breaking. And as though knowing Buffy would do everything in her power to stop the insane vamp, the lackeys just kept coming.

“Spike!” she screamed in warning, but her companion didn’t hear her.

He was too busy beating the stuffing out of Angelus.

“Hurts, doesn’t it?” he panted, smashing the crowbar across the elder vampire’s head with a satisfying crack. It was amazing how much damage he could inflict in just a few brutal swings. By the time Drusilla was close enough to pounce, Angelus was nothing more than a bloodied mess on the floor.

“Spike!” Buffy cried, though her form never broke. Her heart plummeted—the malice on Drusilla’s face was unlike anything she’d ever seen. The woman’s eyes were thoroughly black, and in the endless sea of ebony lurked hatred which would make the devil tremble.

Spike had seen it earlier, of course. Right before his former beloved had plunged a sword through his gut. How he could look at the woman he’d shared so much with and see nothing but the darkest storm of loathing without breaking was beyond her.

He’s so strong.

“Don’t stop!” Spike instructed her, gracefully deflecting every erratic blow Drusilla threw at him. He moved as though he’d already thumbed through the script, as though he knew her next attack before she did. As though reality had a five-second tape delay.

And through it all, he never stopped worrying about her. “Buffy!” he screamed. “Duck!”

Buffy dropped to the ground and rolled, the sword in her hands lashing at the charging lackey on instinct. She was showered with dust, and they kept coming. It was all very far away—she felt her body reacting to every attack, every punch thrown, but her mind remained with Spike. Drusilla was shrieking things that would break a lesser man. For Spike’s part, he barely flinched.

On the ground, Angelus was beginning to stir.

“Spike—”

“Look at me again, Slayer, and I’ll rip your lungs out.” Their eyes clashed and she saw nothing but concern. “Finish off the giant sod. I’ll take care—”

“She’s ruined you!” Drusilla screeched, her blood-red nails scratching crimson-rivers into his cheek. “No crumpets. No tea. Nasty little Slayer wiggles inside your head. No more shadows. You’re—”

Spike rolled his eyes and clocked his ex in the chin. “Knock it off, Dru.”

How he could be so blasé when facing the woman who had run him through with a sword was thoroughly beyond her. There was nothing but cold indifference on Spike’s face. None of the hatred she’d seen earlier that night. The way he’d violently rebuked the idea he could ever again love the woman who had tried to end his life. And Buffy was so enchanted by the exchange, as well as her continued choreography to avoid the laughable attacks of Angelus’s minions, she didn’t realize Angelus himself had managed to climb to his feet until something akin to a sonic blast pierced the room in half.

Buffy glanced up a second too soon, just as Angelus jerked the sword free of the stone demon’s chest. The move was so sudden it made everything in the mansion screech to a standstill. Even Drusilla, whose screams were likely attracting the attention of every dog in the area, fell abruptly silent with an air of reverence.

“Oh,” the insane vampire breathed. “Here he comes.”

Oh no he doesn’t.

Buffy shot to the statue, clenching the handle of her sword. She’d fought too hard and lost too much to allow Angelus the last laugh. And while his cackling eyes told her he thought the battle already won, if she died tonight she knew damn well it would be in the fiery release of Hell on Earth. Angelus wouldn’t best her. Not tonight. Not now.

“You almost made it, Buff,” Angelus remarked, greedy eyes scaling the clean iron of the sword he’d extracted.

“It’s not over yet.”

“My boy Acathla here is about to wake up.” God, he spoke like a proud papa. “You’re going to Hell.”

Buffy didn’t flinch. “Save me a seat.”

The extensity of Giles’s training covered a wide range of weaponry. She’d fired crossbows, battled with staffs, and thanks to Xander, could work her way around a rocket-launcher without batting an eye. Now with her sweat-laced hand clutching the hilt of a sword, raising the steel in a lightning flash to parry the blow Angelus aimed at her head, navigating her way around a weapon she’d never manned was surprisingly simple. Time around her remained indefinitely suspended. The clouds in her mind parted and she thrived on one golden piece of understanding.

She had to kill Angelus. She had to.

“You think this matters?” Angelus rasped, lashing for her throat. “You really think this is anything but a stall? Silly, silly Buffy.”

Buffy shrugged and dropped to the ground again, thrusting the sword for his legs, the teeth of the blade scratching his calf. It wasn’t a crippling blow; it was hardly a blow at all. But she took her victories where she could and at the moment, she’d consider any blade-on-skin contact a small triumph.

“You play the hand you’re dealt,” she replied, shrugging as she rolled to her feet. “Good a motto as any.”

“You think Spike—”

The blades clashed and she found herself staring up into chocolate eyes which used to regard her with loving warmth. They held at a standstill for what felt like hours before Angelus balked, his arms maneuvering upward in an arcing swing and narrowly missing her on the downward plummet. She found herself pacing backward, her body seemingly determined to put as much space between her and Angelus as possible, even as her legs carried her forward to trade more blows with his sword.

“Gotta say, Buff,” Angelus snarled, attempting the above-arc swing again and sending her this time onto a small table, which rattled with her weight and sent small icons of Acathla-worship to the ground. “This is almost worth it. I love the way you move.”

Buffy felt her stomach roll in disgust, her sword lunging for his chest. How a bulking giant like her ex could move as fast as he did—and duck low enough to avoid contact—was beyond her, but the next thing she knew she was leaping again to avoid a blow at her legs. The floor beneath her seemed to quake when she landed, where she immediately dropped and rolled when Angelus’s sword came crashing toward her.

Only this time, she felt pain. Her arm was suddenly bare and wet. She was bleeding. It was a superficial wound, but the slice echoed through her body. Blood made everything real.

Too real.

“Gonna enjoy licking that up,” Angelus snarled nastily.

“Sorry,” Buffy spat, forcing herself not to reach for the wound with her free hand. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. “Body of Buffy is a Spike-only zone these days.”

The black flash in Angelus’s eyes should have terrified her, but it didn’t. Not like the accompanying smile. She’d never seen a smile she could truly classify as evil. A smile which would literally make one’s bones rattle with fear. Perhaps it was a combination of his lips with the darkness in his eyes, she didn’t know. All she knew was she’d never seen anything like it before.

“Spike?” Angelus retorted, his tone betraying nothing of his outrage. “Sorry to break it to you, lover, but Spike wouldn’t know what to do with his mouth without an owner’s manual. You really think—”

“That you’re disgusting? Yep!”

Buffy shot out her legs, wiping his off the floor in a blink. Angelus didn’t even bother in trying to climb back to his feet. Instead, he turned to face her on his knees, the sword in his hand slicing toward her in three rapid strokes, all of which met nothing but the steel of her own weapon. On the fourth swing, Buffy managed to knock his sword into the table she’d leaped onto just a minute before, pinning his grip but leaving herself open for a fierce backhand with his free arm.

In the distance—thousands of miles away—she heard a feminine wail, fading as though the world around them was blinking out. Buffy craned her head instinctively to Spike, catching his eyes as Drusilla fell from his arms in an unconscious heap.

And then there were three. The cronies had either fled or dusted, Dru was on the ground, and Acathla was waking.

But she wasn’t alone.

However, for the rage that exploded across Spike’s face the second Angelus’s hand smacked her, she knew logic and reason had abandoned him. Spike was a creature of passion and impulse, much like she was, and she knew by his eyes that he wouldn’t stop before lunging—wouldn’t assess which angle would give him the greatest advantage.

Buffy sucked in a breath. Spike’s face shifted and a roar split the air, his body barreling into Angelus’s before she could scream in protest.

“Son of a bitch!” her companion snarled, jerking the sword out of Angelus’s surprised hands, the teeth of the blade slashing across Angelus’s gut once, then again when the other vampire attempted to rear around and regain control.

By the time Angelus managed to wrangle the sword back into his possession, the bulk of the damage had been done. Blood splattered across the stone floor, gushing with an effect Buffy had only seen in horror movies. His already-pale skin whitened to frightening measures. And before she could stop herself, her mind flashed to the presentation of Spike crucified to his motel wall. There was no comparison, of course, but she saw it all over again anyway. No one’s skin, vampire or not, should ever be so white.

However, for his part, Angelus refused to reveal weakness or show pain. Instead, he lashed a bloody line across Spike’s gut, reopening the healing hole Drusilla had put there, and allowed him only a second to howl before sending Spike to the far side of the foyer with a malicious kick to his open wound.

“This white knight shit, as funny as it is,” Angelus panted, his free hand feeling out the seriousness of his own gash, “is getting really old.”

Spike collided against the wall with a devastating crash, his chest heaving and his amber eyes burning with outrage the likes of which Buffy had never seen. And despite what she was seeing—the blood, the seriousness of the situation compiling around her, a small but very present and purely feminine thrill raced through her body—something she couldn’t explain. While she certainly had no delusions of being rescued, the possessive glimmer in Spike’s gaze couldn’t help but secure her in a way no words or actions could ever hope to achieve.

“Didn’t your mum ever teach you it’s not nice to hit girls?” Spike retorted, lifting himself to his feet, his left arm pressed to his bleeding gut. His legs shook but he didn’t fall. He was the picture of strength.

Angelus snorted. “Didn’t your mum ever teach you to die properly? For crying out loud, what does it take to—” His voice tore into a scream without warning, his gaze landing accusingly on the insane vampire who lay still on the other side of the room. “—rid of one’s enemies, Dru?”

“That’s precious,” Spike drawled.

“Honestly, she nailed you to a fucking wall. Doesn’t anyone stay dead anymore?”

Buffy snapped back to herself on a whim, her sword suddenly reminding her of its weight as she arched it high above her head. “You’re one to talk,” she spat, though speaking proved to be a bad idea as it only served to provide a verbal warning. Angelus whirled around and parried her attack with a hair of a second to spare, his body forced backward by the power of her blow.

“You and your game of”—she kicked him across the face and sent him back again—“musical souls.”

“The game’s such—”

Her leg smashed his head once more, and the giant came tumbling down. On his knees in front of Acathla, his sword tumbling from his bloodied hands. And that was it. Her opening. Her chance. Buffy sucked in a deep breath and arched the blade back, her tired but determined arms more than ready for the finishing blow.

She was in mid-swing when it happened. Had it been a second too late, his blood would have sprayed the stone demon behind him, silencing Acathla’s wake just in time for Angelus to witness the collapse of his empire. But it wasn’t a second too late. It wasn’t. The vampire’s gasp and timely groans resounded through the empty corridors with the foreign hint of pain. His head jerked up, his eyes vacant and bright. It was just a flash but it was there—she saw it. And when it was over, he met her gaze for a blink before crashing entirely to the floor, almost instinctive sobs scratching his throat.

Buffy was frozen, her sword still poised and ready, her chest heaving as her mind raced. She knew, logically, what she was seeing. She knew it. Awareness stung every nerve in her body, awash with disbelief, her aching heart hammering so hard she was amazed it still worked.

No. No. Impossible.

Her brain refused to believe her eyes. To accept what she already knew. But it was there—it was right in front of her. And before she could catch up with herself, the vampire at her feet was climbing to a stand, his eyes thick with tears.

It sold her. Angelus never cried.

No, Angelus never cried. But Angel would.

And for that second, everything around her vanished. Acathla. Drusilla. Even Spike. Everything vanished, and it was just her and Angel. Angel, not Angelus, meeting her gaze, his own lost and confused. Angel clamoring for recognition. Angel…

“Buffy,” he breathed, the cadence of her name on his lips striking her like a forgotten dream. She hadn’t heard his voice in months, and without warning, every dam inside collapsed. “What’s going on?”

She didn’t move. Didn’t dare. The sword remained suspended above her head. Her logical head was screaming it could be a ploy. A last attempt by Angelus to spare his life. She needed to be ready. One wrong move and the game was over.

Only this wasn’t a ploy. Her heart knew what her mind refused to believe.

“Where are we?” he demanded, erratic eyes taking in their surroundings. “I-I don’t remember.”

She lowered the sword, much to the gratitude of her aching muscles. The whole of her had given way to shock. “Angel?”

He blinked, zeroing in on her wound. The superficial cut on her arm. The one he’d given her. “You’re hurt.”

Did he not feel the pain of the lashes to his stomach? He’d reached for her, noticed her, before turning his eyes to himself. Her heart melted and tears finally broke free.

Oh god.

And before she could stop him, before her confused thoughts could reconcile a feasible answer, she found herself in his arms. She didn’t know how she’d gotten there—if she’d stepped forward or if he’d grabbed her. All she knew was the warmth of familiarity.

“Oh, Buffy…god.”

Her eyes fell shut, a trembling sigh tearing through her. Oh god.

“Oh my god. I feel like I haven’t seen you in months. Everything’s so muddled. I…” His lips dropped to her shoulder, his arms tightening around her. And for a minute, for a blessed minute, she could let herself forget. She could.

Only, no, she couldn’t. The haze vanished after what felt like years, and she remembered herself. She remembered where she was, and why she was here. She remembered what she was supposed to do. She remembered…

Spike.

Around Angel’s shoulder, she saw him. And the hurt in his eyes nearly broke her all over again. Emotions exploded and warred, and without warning, her heart lurched and her legs begged her to go to him. To reassure him—though of what she didn’t know. Past, present, and future were suddenly in the same room. Past was hugging her. Present was staring at her as though she’d just traded him for thirty pieces of silver. Future remained in the shadows, hiding its face from wandering eyes.

Angel didn’t know Spike was there. Didn’t acknowledge Drusilla lying on the ground, or the gentle roar of Acathla stirring behind him.

Acathla.

Buffy forced her eyes to leave Spike’s, drawn irrevocably to the contorting face of a stone demon. The frightening gargoyle brows angled downward, the previous gray slab of his eyes burning red. The contours of his lips parted grotesquely, and within the depths of his mouth, she saw Hell itself.

Angel must have sensed the sudden tension in her body. He pulled away, brow furrowing. “What’s happening?”

Everything.

It was what she had to do. What she’d come here to do. And the words which left her lips reflected her conviction. “Shhh,” she whispered, not allowing herself to listen to her own voice. “Don’t worry about it.”

“I love you.”

Her heart shattered and she heard Spike inhale sharply, though his eyes no longer reflected a shield of jealousy. There was something else there—awareness. He knew as well as she did what she had to do. And now he was waiting to see if she’d actually do it.

Buffy didn’t give Angel the words back, but she didn’t know for whose benefit. Perhaps it was cowardice. Perhaps it was necessity. Perhaps it was selfishness. She didn’t know. She didn’t let herself think about it. She couldn’t.

If she did, she’d never go through with what she needed to do.

“Close your eyes,” she whispered, her lips unable to keep from stealing a brief kiss from his.

A kiss of goodbye. Angel deserved as much.

It was the last thing he felt before the sword speared through his chest. Before his eyes thrust open in pain. Before she took a definitive step away from him, ignoring the arm that reached for her. She refused to meet his gaze. Refused to meet Spike’s. Instead, she merely stared at the blade she’d shoved through her first love’s body. Light flashed and the air cracked. Her feet carried her back and her eyes didn’t waver. She sensed the vortex of Acathla’s mouth growing wider, but not wide enough to touch her. Not wide enough to touch Spike. There was only Angel. Reaching for her. Saying her name. Standing there without his memories, and knowing only that she was supposed to love him.

Then he was gone. Acathla’s mouth closed and the ethereal lights blinked away, and he was gone.

The air fell silent. Buffy fell to her knees and stared.

She had no grasp of how much time passed. How long she remained on the floor, her hands in her lap, her eyes focused forward. Her heart was beating somehow, and the blood from her wound had stopped flowing. She didn’t register movement until Spike’s gentle hand brushed her shoulder. Until the solitude of her surroundings burst with clarity.

“Buffy?”

The welcome tenor of his voice washed over her like a personal baptism. Buffy blinked and realized for the first time she’d been crying. Crying silent tears. When she looked up, she found herself awash in compassion unlike anything she’d ever known. And in that second, she yearned for his arms like she’d never yearned for anything.

“Buffy, love…” Spike knelt beside her, stroking the length of her arm with a feather-light touch. “Sweetheart…”

She didn’t look at him. She wanted to but every muscle in her body was locked.

“I’ll take you away, Buffy. Anywhere. Anywhere you want.” His lips brushed her brow. “You shouldn’t stay here. You—”

Suddenly she was given the power to nod, and she seized it fiercely. “Yes,” she whispered, barely hearing herself. “Yes.”

It was the last thing she heard before the tidal wave inside came crashing down, and she collapsed in tears.

Chapter Text

The hum of the Desoto kept him company along the lonely stretch of highway. There was rarely heavy traffic in and out of Sunnydale, and he was glad. The faster he got the Slayer away from the Hellmouth, the better. Now in the aftermath, he didn’t care to ever see the pissant town again.

For her part, Buffy sat silently in the passenger seat. He thought she’d nodded off, but every time he hazarded a glance her way, he found her eyes focused with frightening intensity on the endless stretch of black pavement ahead. God, what he wouldn’t give to know what she was thinking.

If she was still with him at all.

Spike sighed, a very cold shiver racing through his body. He didn’t want to think about what had happened at the mansion. He didn’t want to think of the agony on Buffy’s face, or the way she’d looked at Angel like he was her personal fucking savior the sodding second the big git’s soul was stuffed up his arse. It was a hell of a time to be jealous, but dammit, he couldn’t help himself. In a blink he’d witnessed and suffered through a century of déjà vu. The women in his life—the dark sorceress of his past and the golden goddess of his future—falling over themselves to be with Angel, no matter the incarnation. All Angel had to do was gasp her name and Buffy was in his arms. As though the past few months Angelus had spent terrorizing her were so easily pardonable. As though her budding relationship with Spike meant nothing at all.

The only thing keeping him cool was the look he’d seen flash across her eyes. It wasn’t the look of a woman returning to an old lover—it was as though, for a few seconds, the past few days hadn’t occurred at all. As though Angelus’s regime had never existed, as though someone had hit the rewind button on some cosmic remote, sending them back to a place where Buffy wouldn’t know to care for Spike. Where Buffy only had eyes for Angel. In that second he’d known it wasn’t her steering. It was a shadow of herself. It was the girl who’d lived before her virginity had been stolen by a monster.

The Slayer he knew—the girl he loved—had slowly returned to herself once her eyes locked with his. It hadn’t been immediate, and it hadn’t stopped her from kissing Angel with the lips that belonged to Spike, but he’d seen her withdrawal. The lovesick look vanished with conviction, and while the pain on her face never abated, he knew she’d come back to him.

Spike wasn’t a fool. Though he’d entertained the idea of Buffy’s love for the wanker ending as quickly as his for Drusilla had, he knew it was different for her. Buffy was young. She was so young and she’d been through so much. For her, this was all she’d known. She didn’t have decades of experience in her past. She knew what she’d been handed. Now another door of her life was closing and she didn’t know what to do or how to react.

He could relate. He’d be lost as all bugger were it not for her. And yet here he was, speeding to Los Angeles as though the flames of Hell were licking his rear bumper.

Things were different for him. He was in love. He was in love with the woman sitting in the passenger seat. Because of Buffy, the pain of his sire’s attack quelled to nothing more than a gentle hum.

The pain of the love in Buffy’s eyes—the love which hadn’t been aimed at him—would render him dust if he didn’t stop thinking about it.

Let it go. She’s with you, isn’t she?

Sure, because he wasn’t dead. She wouldn’t be with him if Angelus hadn’t yanked the bloody sword out of the over-sized gargoyle. No, she’d be with her honey. Cuddled up and making kissy-face and crying a thousand tears over a thousand apologies.

Logically, Spike knew it wasn’t true. But it could be true, and that was what killed him.

“You hungry, pet?” he asked before he could stop himself. The silence between them was unnerving. He longed to hear her voice. “I’m sure there’s a greasy fast-food joint ’round here somewhere.”

He didn’t expect a response and was surprised when Buffy’s eyes broke from the road, tilting her head in his direction. “I wouldn’t say no,” she replied.

A thin smile crossed his lips and he nodded. “Right,” he drawled, veering the Desoto to the right-lane. They’d passed a sign announcing an impending exit-ramp a few minutes before, and while his attention was mostly engaged with the hurting slayer at his side, he didn’t think he was so pathetic as to have missed the exit without noticing.

He was right. In a matter of careless seconds, they were cruising through a strip of various fast-food restaurants and lodging options, nearly all of the latter declaring vacancies. He didn’t know if Buffy was in the mood to stop yet—if they’d gotten far enough away from Sunnydale. He hadn’t paid too much attention to the mileage signs, but he guessed they were on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Or the outskirts of the outskirts of Los Angeles. The town seemed to double in size every time he visited.

“Name your poison, love,” he offered conversationally, careful not to incline his head in her direction.

“I don’t care.”

“Only sodding place open this late is Denny’s.” At least, it was the only place he’d be willing to take her right now. The bustling nightlife of Southern California wasn’t exactly the antidote to Buffy’s sorrow. He didn’t want to make things worse by degrading her goodness with the filth only thriving metropolises could provide.

Buffy offered a half shrug. “Then Denny’s it is.”

Spike inhaled sharply and nodded, flicking on his blinker and swerving into the indicated parking lot. He didn’t know if she wanted to go in or order grub to go, but this was one instance where he was willing to sacrifice her desires for her needs. They’d been driving a while now and she hadn’t slept a wink. There was no harm in a breather.

“Want to just park here tonight?” he asked, attempting to keep his tone light.

“Where are we?”

“Just outside LA, I’d reckon. Maybe an hour or so.”

Buffy seemed to ponder this, worrying a lip between her teeth. Her eyes were drooping, large circles arcing under either lid. “We didn’t get very far,” she said reasonably.

“We didn’t start till a few hours ago.”

They hadn’t left Sunnydale immediately. Rather, after Buffy’s breakdown in the mansion, he’d resigned himself to the fact that her decision-making skills were likely a little fried by everything that had occurred. They’d returned to his room in the Sunnydale Inn, which had been left untouched by housekeeping. There was still a sizeable bloodstain on the far wall and a trail of red leading to the loo.

The visual alone made his gut ache. The bleeding from Angelus’s cut had stopped soon enough, but there wasn’t a bone in his body left unscathed. He was worn and tired, thirsty for blood, and so worried about Buffy he was afraid he’d collapse before she did. As it was, Buffy had fallen into bed without a blink, where she hadn’t slept, rather reclined and waited for nightfall.

When evening came and Buffy reiterated her desire to leave town, Spike hadn’t hesitated. And now here they were—a few hours down the road from Sunnydale, contemplating a cholesterol-heavy menu in a joint no self-respecting demon would frequent. Buffy hadn’t eaten since yesterday—since the poptart she’d barely touched and the orange juice she’d ingested under protest. Her stomach had been growling at him for hours but he hadn’t wanted to mention it. Now he was wishing he had.

There was no good way to approach situations like these. He was howling inside, screaming at the injustice of not owning her heart when she possessed every unbeating inch of his. Loving her had buggered his plans and good, but for Chrissake, he couldn’t stop. The vacancy in her eyes crippled him.

What was she thinking? Had she made a mistake? Did she regret leaving with him? Did she regret the kisses they’d shared? Did she wish—

He was going to drive himself batty if his mind didn’t mute. All that really mattered right now—really mattered—was Buffy. His feelings and bruised heart were secondary concerns. Buffy hadn’t promised him anything, except that she couldn’t off him. She’d only kissed him of her own volition once to his memory. Everything thus far had been entirely one-sided—she might like him, yes, but she’d never pretended to love him. She’d never pretended there would be something beyond their forbidden kisses after the big battle was behind them.

Angel was dead. Angel was dead because of Buffy, and he’d died without knowing why. He’d died just seconds after professing his love for her. Any reasonable bloke could understand why she wasn’t chatty.

“Wanna brave the flapjacks?” he asked, looking at the menu but not reading it. “Fried cake with liquid sugar on top. Sounds tasty, doesn’t it?”

“I guess.”

She wasn’t reading the menu either.

A voluptuous woman with frizzy red hair and a name-tag labeling her as Margo approached the table a few minutes later. She made sure to thrust her triple-Ds into Spike’s face, either not registering his wince or not caring. “Can I get somethin’ to drink for you, dahlin’?” There was a pronounced Texan twang in her voice.

Spike’s eyes unwittingly landed on the throbbing vein in her neck. “Coffee,” he said shortly, dragging his gaze away and ignoring the hungry sting of his fangs. “Black.” He turned to Buffy. “Sweetheart?”

“Diet coke.”

“Ya’ll ready to order?”

Spike kept his eyes on Buffy, who nodded. “Sure thing,” he replied. “Number three, heavy on the bacon.”

Margo jotted down the order and favored him a wink. “I love a man with a healthy appetite.”

He narrowed his eyes and nodded pointedly at his travel companion. “The lady hasn’t ordered yet.”

To her credit, the big-breasted server didn’t bat an eye. She nodded and turned to Buffy, pen ready. “What’ll it be, sugar?”

“Veggie omelet.”

“And a side of flapjacks.” At the Slayer’s questioning look, Spike shrugged a shoulder and clarified, “We’ll be on the road all day tomorrow, pet. Might as well eat your fill.”

“Oh, that’s sweet!” Margo gushed. “Ya’ll taking a road trip?”

“Why don’t you just bring me and the lady our drinks?”

He didn’t miss the flash of hurt across the waitress’s face, but he didn’t care. Instead, he turned back to Buffy and reached for her hand without thinking. The feel of her skin beneath his fingers sent an electric shock through his body. “You all right?”

It was a bloody stupid question but he couldn’t help himself.

“I don’t know how to answer that,” she replied with a soft smile which didn’t reach her tired eyes. “Suffice to say, no sums it up pretty well.”

A pang struck his heart. “I’m sorry, love…I didn’t…I wasn’t thinking.”

Buffy nodded but didn’t reply. She didn’t say anything for a long time. Long after Margo returned with their drinks, and again a few minutes later with their respective orders. They ate in silence for what felt like forever. It nearly startled him out of his bloody skin when she spoke again.

A vamp being startled by a girl’s voice. He was truly pathetic.

“Do you think she meant it?”                   

Spike blinked uselessly, a forkful of sausage suspended between his mouth and his plate. “Huss’at?”

“My mother. Do you think she meant it?” Buffy’s eyes were trained on her plate, playing idly with her omelet. She’d gobbled down the flapjacks in less than two minutes. “Do you think…she told me…”

Spike stilled, unsure how to proceed. She hadn’t mentioned anything about her mother’s decision to boot her from the house since before Angelus found himself stuffed with soul again. Since before they raided the mansion.

“I dunno, love,” he replied honestly. “Tempers were runnin’ high.” He paused. “Do you…do you wanna head back and talk to her? See if…she’s more inclined to listen now?”

Buffy was quiet so long he began to wonder if she heard him at all. Ultimately, she shook her head. “No.”

“No?” Spike arched an eyebrow and popped the bite of sausage into his mouth. “Just like that?”

“Just like that.” She glanced up again, her eyes shining. “I can’t go back there.”

“You need some time.”

He hoped she would seize his observation and either rebuke or affirm it, but she did not. Instead, Buffy finished her omelet and wiped her mouth delicately. She drank her cola and the refill Margo provided without needing to be asked. Spike cleaned his plate as well, and though his demon was hardly appeased by the lack of blood in the processed meat he shoveled into his mouth, his stomach was momentarily satisfied.

Margo approached again with the bill, all signs of southern hospitality having long abandoned her eyes. She didn’t jiggle her breasts for Spike when she slipped him the check, and he was glad. There were some women on which big breasts simply weren’t flattering, and Margo was definitely one of them.

At any rate, it was hard to ogle large knockers when the ones he wanted in his hands and mouth were just the size to occupy either or both desired destinations. All the while he couldn’t help his eyes from wandering down the length of Buffy’s throat until he was staring at her chest. Just two days ago, it hadn’t been hard to imagine cradling the soft weight of her in his palms, stroking her nipples with his eager fingers. Now everything had changed. Now Buffy’s mind wasn’t with him. He was fortunate enough her body was.

“Do you wanna keep drivin’?” he asked at the register as he handed the cashier a twenty. “We can go as far as you want.”

“Sunlight?”

Spike smiled thinly. He had a canister of black gunk he could smear across the windshield if need be. He seemed to remember telling her as much but decided not to dwell on it. “Poses no problem, pet. We’ll drive as long as you like.”

Buffy seemed to mull it over, not questioning his assertion that their journey could continue beyond dawn. “No,” she replied at last. “No.”

“Wanna motel?”

She nodded and curled herself into his side. Spike inhaled sharply and willed his body to keep from stirring at her proximity. Still, he couldn’t keep his heart from warming with hope. It was the most she’d done to assert contact between them since the mansion. She hadn’t recoiled from his tentative touches but she certainly hadn’t returned them. Now she was purposefully pressed against him, her head finding his shoulder as his arm closed around her. He had no bloody idea what she was playing at, or if she was fully aware of her actions. All he knew was she’d made the prospect of motel hunting both immeasurably important and incredibly dangerous.

Not if she didn’t want to be touched. With less than twenty-four hours between them and the mansion, he found his hands were aching to wander across her body. To make sure she wasn’t hurt physically, even if her heart was bleeding. Moreover, the taste of her blood was still prominent in his mouth. His demon was roaring for completion. He craved the touch of the woman he loved. Craved the silky hot feel of her pussy clamped around his cock. Craved things he felt now he had no right to want.

“Ya’ll come back now!” Margo chimed with saccharine sincerity as Spike steered Buffy into the parking lot. He flashed her a disarming smile and made a point of brushing his lips across his girl’s brow.

Perhaps he’d be back later tonight. His demon’s thirst had yet to be quenched, and Margo’s neck looked mighty juicy. The thought, at least, provided a moment of pleasure.

He directed Buffy to the car and helped her into her seat. Across the street was a Super 8, and he supposed it was as good a place as any for the night.

He just hoped that rest and morning light would clear the fog in his slayer’s eyes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“We have the room all day tomorrow,” Spike said conversationally, though the strain in his voice was pronounced. He locked the door and tossed the room keys onto the table that sat on his left. Buffy stood several feet away at the foot of the bed, her back to him. She hadn’t said anything since the restaurant. “And if you wanna stay longer, just say the word.”

Buffy inhaled sharply and nodded.

“Sweetheart?” Spike sighed and took several steps forward, stopping when he was all but pressed against her, his chest at her back. “Buffy…talk to me.”

She didn’t say anything. His hands closed around her upper arms, and before he could stop himself, he’d inhaled the sweet fragrance of her hair. God, there was nothing about her that didn’t tempt him. Just standing here—holding her but not—and he was a man lost. He’d left Drusilla for this—for the simplicity of being with the woman he loved. True, he’d left Dru for a number of reasons, one of which being his rather reasonable problem with women who nailed him to walls, but he knew he’d be here with Buffy regardless of the way his relationship with Dru fell apart.

He loved her. He loved her so bloody much.

“Buffy please…” Spike’s mouth dropped to her shoulder. “Please talk to me, baby. Please…”

He knew he was asking for it. Suppose she did start talking. Suppose she broke down about how much she loved Angel and how she’d never heal from shoving him ass-first into Hell. It’d break him completely. It’d leave him in ruins. But god, he couldn’t stop. He couldn’t help himself. Not when he needed to touch her so badly. Not when the accumulation of the past few days was pushing past the last barrier. He’d promised her and himself it wouldn’t be over with the ending of Angelus. And standing with the curve of her ass pressed against his crotch, with her scent flooding his nostrils, the last logical strain of knowledge was dangerously close to snapping.

“Please…”

Then something happened. Something which changed everything. Before he could blink in surprise, Buffy twisted in his arms, cupped his cheeks, and dragged his mouth to hers. Warmth exploded and stars fell—her tongue pushing past his lips as his senses exploded with her taste. And that was it. He was an evil bloke. Pure evil. And the woman he wanted was growling into his mouth, shoving his duster to the ground and scraping his lips with her teeth.

Christ. What did she want from him? He wasn’t a fucking saint. He thought he covered as much with the evil thing. But god help him, her heavenly scent was thick in the air, tickling his nostrils and making his mouth water. Her body was open to him at long last, arousal pumping her veins and need stretching every move she made. And if he answered her—if he gave her what she was suddenly screaming for, there would be no going back.

“Buffy—”

“Shut up,” she barked, raking his shirt over his head before turning her hands to her own top. “Just shut up, Spike.”

Objection flared within him, but god, he couldn’t help himself. His greedy eyes immediately landed on her lace-clad breasts, the rose protrusions of her delectable nipples silently begging for his mouth. Spike swallowed hard and licked his lips, a disobedient hand reaching to palm one of her ripe breasts before he could help himself.

“Buffy,” he choked, his dick painfully hard and straining against the denim of his trousers. “Oh fuck.”

“Yes,” she agreed breathlessly, reaching behind her to unclasp her bra.

And then the flimsy garment fell away, and he was staring at her naked tits for the first time. His mouth watered and his cock strained. She was even more perfect than he’d envisioned. Golden and curvy and mouthwateringly delicious. All woman. This little creature was all woman. Her breasts were the perfect bloody handful. He wanted to feel her skin against his, he wanted to suck her nipples into his mouth. He wanted to do everything at once and it left him paralyzed with astonishment.

One would think a hundred years of living would have left him jaded when it came to the female body. But the only other woman he’d ever fucked was Dru. Dru was cold. Buffy was hot. Dru was pencil-thin. Buffy was shapely and athletic, hard where a woman should be hard and soft where a woman should be soft. Dru was pale and fragile. Buffy was sun-kissed and courageous. Buffy was Dru’s antithesis, and perhaps that was why he loved her so much. She was everything he’d ever wanted while thinking he only deserved what he’d been given. He’d never wanted for anything else while at Dru’s side, but staring at Buffy’s body, he couldn’t help but feel like he’d finally surfaced from Plato’s cave. He’d never mistake shadows on the wall for the real thing again. How could he? How could he now that he’d seen perfection?

“Touch me,” Buffy said with a boldness that surprised him.

No need to tell him twice. Spike all but lurched forward at her invitation, closing his right arm around her middle, his other hand wrapping around her perfect, weighty flesh as his head dove for her other breast. He licked a wet path around her areola, drumming the perfect nipple with his tongue until he wrangled a truly feminine moan from her lips. Spike grinned and swallowed her flesh whole, worshipping her breasts with his amorous mouth and growling into her skin.

Christ, she tasted so good. He’d wanted to taste her like this forever—like this and in so many other ways. The rich, womanly aroma tickling his nose beckoned his mouth like a siren. He wanted to bury his face between her legs and inhale her completely. He wanted her flavor in his mouth and her moans in his ears. He wanted her thrusting against him with desperation only he could quell. He wanted—in that second—everything.

Buffy wove her fingers through his hair and clutched him to her breast, whimpering helplessly. “Spike,” she whispered, arching her hips against his. “Please.”

All thought of going slow or providing her with an exit abandoned him without warning. He couldn’t see but for the need splitting his insides. “You wanna be fucked, little girl?” he growled, releasing her breast to cup her ass completely as he angled her into the frantic thrusts of his hips. “Wanna feel my cock inside that juicy cunt of yours?”

Buffy mewled and nodded, her glassy eyes finding his before her hands dropped to the waistband of his jeans.

“You know how bad I want you, don’t you?” He fisted her sweats, grateful for the first time that she hadn’t adorned herself with a pair of designer jeans before leaving her home. The unimpeded fragrance of purely woman slayer had teased him mercilessly for the duration of the drive. Now he couldn’t be happier with her wardrobe. He didn’t have to bother with a fly—it was only a matter of seconds before her legs were free and the only thing keeping him from her drenched pussy was a thin strip of cotton. “You know what you’ve done to me from the very bloody beginning.”

“Spike…”

“You’ve known how often I laid awake at night, pulling at my dick and wishing it was you.” He turned his hands to the clasp of his jeans. “Wishing you were—”

His words were rewarded with a fresh wave of desire. It exuded from her. Her flushed face. Her small gasps. The way she clenched her thighs. The hazy look clouding her gaze. God yes, she was aching for this as much as he was.

“Spike,” she whispered again, but she didn’t say anything else. She blinked with innocence which betrayed her. Her eyes were large saucers. A man could lose himself in those eyes—in the tumultuous storm raging within those endless depths. God knew he had.

“What?” she asked. He’d thought she’d be the type to attempt to shield her nudity, but her arms remained at her sides. Her glorious body was bare for his perusal, and Christ, it was impossible to look his fill.

The previous litany of crude references to how much he’d wanted her abandoned him. In a blink, he was overwhelmed by her beauty. “You’re so gorgeous.”

Words were cheap—she wasn’t just gorgeous. She was radiant. She was magnificent. Just knowing her luscious body was his—his to touch, his to fuck, his to cherish—made the demon growl in delight. He would never let her stray. After tonight, there was no going back. There was no returning to the way things had once been between them. Once he’d tasted her, he wasn’t letting her go.

Mine.

The demon snarled again in approval. Yes, she would be his. Spike licked his lips and raked his eyes down her body, focusing intently on the damp material clinging to her sex. “Take your knickers off,” he said slowly, popping the button of his jeans with measured intent. “I wanna see that pussy of yours.”

Buffy stiffened but the air exploded with another wave of arousal. She was dripping for him, and he couldn’t wait to taste her honey. And while he saw defiance flash in her emerald eyes, it didn’t stop her hands—trembling now, much to his satisfaction—from seizing either side of her panties and slowly dragging them down her legs. His eyes followed the progression greedily, his own hands stripping himself of his jeans. He enjoyed the widening of her gaze as her eyes followed the enthusiastic bounce of his cock, almost as much as he enjoyed the breath she inhaled and the shimmer of juices along her inner thighs. He wanted to see her on her back with her legs spread. He wanted her to open up—to let his fingers and tongue explore every crevice of her sex. He wanted to taste everything.

And just like that, they were both naked. They were naked together for the first time. The knowledge was positively intoxicating.

If he were a gentleman, Spike reasoned as he took a pronounced step toward her, he would allow her one last out. One last escape hatch. One last chance to end the dance before it began. If he were a gentleman, he would remember the freshness of her loss and the soreness of her heart, and recognize a good rutting was likely not the antidote. But with Buffy standing before him, naked as the world had born her, he could not claim to be a gentleman. No, at that moment, he was very much a demon. A sinner. A creature of the devil who wanted nothing more than to devour her every inch.

Moreover, he was a man in love—a man in love who wanted to worship the woman he loved with his body. He craved her pussy like he’d never craved anything. He wanted to make her forget everything—Angel, her mother, the apocalypse, everything.

He wanted to make her love him.

“Spike?”

There was only question in her tone. The resounding echo of a girl too lost to be found. And if he allowed her a moment too long of introspection, he feared her sudden rush of bravado would vanish and he wasn’t strong enough to give up the promise of her touch.

“Back up,” he growled before he could stop himself, gesturing to the piece of furniture which housed the motel’s television. There was a good two feet of space to the television’s left—providing her scrumptious arse with more than enough wiggle room. “Sit.”

“You’re not in control here,” she fired back, though her voice was shaking.

“No?”

“I want—”

“And you’ll get what you want. Lord knows I’ve wanted it long enough.” Spike wrapped a hand around his cock and stroked himself unabashedly for her widening eyes. “I want your pussy around me so bloody badly. I wanna taste every sodding inch of you. I wanna fuck you till you can’t stand.” He broke forward for her without a second thought, shoving her onto the stand and spreading her legs with his free hand. “You want me here, don’t you?” he rasped, uncaring he was repeating himself, his eager fingers parting her slick vaginal lips, drunk instantly when her honey ran onto his skin. “You want me to fuck your brains out.”

Buffy sobbed and bucked against his hand, nodding desperately. “Yes,” she whispered, shuddering hard as though the word scandalized her. “Make me forget.”

Rage split through his body without warning and he didn’t know why. The head of his cock rubbed the length of her sopping hole, slathering him with her juices and driving him out of his bloody mind. “You wanna forget?” he snarled. “You want me to fuck his memory right out of you?”

Buffy’s eyes flashed and she met his with crippling understanding. “Spike—”

He didn’t want to hear it. Didn’t want to see her awareness. Didn’t want her to see the hurt she caused without knowing it.

She wanted to forget Angel.

By god, he’d make her forget.

Spike snarled and smashed his lips to hers, slamming his cock so deep inside her light exploded behind his eyes and he saw stars. He was suffocating in heat—surrounded by liquid velvet and squeezed so tight it was a wonder he could feel his dick at all. White hot pleasure crashed over every plane of his body. It was the most perfectly bittersweet moment of his life. He knew all at once he’d sold himself forever—he’d given into temptation and made himself more an addict for her. And in doing so, he’d lost her completely.

Knowing it didn’t slow his body down. Too soon he was sliding out of her pussy and slamming in again. Her body rocked hard against his, a heady gasp tearing through her throat as her lips tore from his and her head flew back. “Oh my god.”

“That’s right,” Spike growled, unable to quell his fury. Whether at Buffy or himself, he didn’t know, but at the moment it didn’t seem to matter. Logic intervened and told him plainly he had no right to be angry with her. Again, she’d asked for nothing. Nothing but a good fuck, which he could give her. Which he would give her over and over if it was what she wanted.

She was so tight. He’d never known a woman this tight.

She was tight because this was only her second time with a man. Her virginity had been intact not too long ago, and she’d given it to her precious Angel.

Spike roared, his neck snapping back, his hips pounding into hers hard enough to hurt. He wasn’t being careful and he knew he ought to be, but he couldn’t help himself. “Look at me,” he growled, seizing her cheeks and leveling her eyes with his. He was rocking against her with a fierceness which almost terrified him. His cock pierced her soft flesh with ruthless intensity, dipping into her pussy over and over again so hard it was a wonder the wooden surface on which she sat hadn’t cracked beneath her. “Is this what you wanted?” he growled.

Buffy sobbed and nodded.

“Then look at me.” He bit at her lips furiously, possessively, marking her body for all she was worth. “I’m not him, Buffy. I’m not.

“I know.” To her credit, her eyes didn’t waver from his. Their eyes locked and held, mingled pants lingering between them, his cock sliding between her soaking flesh, stroking her innermost parts as her molten walls molded around him. “Unh…Spike…”

It was all it took to melt his hard façade. Spike found his anger fading away, soaking her in and realizing for the first time this was truly happening. The dream wasn’t dissolving into a slow awake. Her heat was singeing his skin, her small, timely gasps only serving to forward the eagerness of his thrusts. He loved the way her breasts flattened against his chest. He loved the way her body rocked with the sharp drive of his hips. He loved the ‘O’ her perfect lips formed, the cloudy haze storming her eyes, the way she gasped every time his cock sank inside her heat. She was perfection—she was going to burn him up and bugger if he cared.

“Oh Buffy,” he moaned, his eyes rolling back, fingers digging into her hips. “You’re so warm.”

“Nnuah,” she offered ineloquently, her hips attempting to meet his every thrust, even from her slightly disadvantageous position atop the television stand.

“You’re so fucking warm. Christ, you feel good.” Spike’s mouth dipped to nip at her throat, slapping against her hard. “So…so bloody good.” He licked his way back to her lips, captured her in a needy, desperate kiss. He needed her taste in his mouth. Needed her tongue entwined with his. “I’ve wanted you so much.”

Buffy mewled in protest.

“Wanted you…” Spike kissed her again, pressing his brow to hers. “Look at us, baby. Look at us.” His eyes were glued to the mesmeric sight of his cock, glistening with her juices, pushing rhythmically into her pussy. “Look at how well we move together.”

He felt her tremble beneath his fingers. Undoubtedly she’d never seen anything like what he was showing her, even if she had had sex before. Angel would’ve been a sodding prude. He wouldn’t have wanted her focused on their bodies as much when in actuality, the union of their bodies was bloody glorious and not something to be disregarded as sloppy or sinful.

Though perhaps that was the lack of a soul thing talking. Spike just didn’t understand the human tendency to demonize an act so natural it was the very method by which life was created. Pleasure was similarly forbidden—and for the pleasure waving through him with every thrust, there was no question whether or not he would ultimately end up in Hell.

Perhaps his ultimate sin would be dragging Buffy with him. One glance at their thrusting bodies, and she couldn’t stop staring. Her eyes were glued to his cock, to the way her flesh folded around him, her pussy welcoming him with every plunge. “Oh…” she whimpered and sank her teeth into his shoulder. “Spike—”

His eyes widened and his hips bucked madly against her. God, she had no idea what she was playing at. “Buffy!”

Then something happened that he couldn’t have predicted. Her hands found the smooth planes of his chest and before he could blink, he’d been shoved clean out of her body, cock bouncing against his stomach as his legs hit the edge of the bed. And before he could raise his voice in protest—though to scream or whimper he didn’t know—Buffy pushed him onto the mattress completely and straddled his waist, her eyes gleaming with intent.

Spike inhaled sharply, his chest heaving with breaths he knew he didn’t need. He’d never breathed so much as he had around her. “Buffy—”

“I don’t want you to be him,” she growled, and though it was a belated reaction to an earlier assertion, it hadn’t lost its punch. “I just want you to fuck me.”

The word smacked him hard. In Buffy’s voice, it sounded so raw, so taboo—it was a word he never thought he’d hear her say. Not in anger. Not in bed. Not in anything. And for the life of him, he didn’t know if he was pleased or distressed.

As for the implications surrounding the word in question, his mind closed and refused to consider it. Buffy had his cheeks in her hands the next instant and was ravaging his lips with hers as he slid a hand between them to position his cock at her sopping sex once more.

Then she sank down and the stars exploded for the second time. Spike’s jaws fell slack, a strangled moan catching in his throat. Holy fuck, she was such a goddess. A warm, wanton goddess. Her pussy clamped hard around him, sucking him so deeply into her he truly understood the old adage of not knowing where he ended and she began. She was soaking. God, she was perfect. And he’d dust before letting her go.

“Buffy,” he gasped, his fingers digging into her thighs. But she didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to. Her body did all the talking.

The sight of her lifting off his aching cock only to welcome him back into her wet heat was mesmerizing. He could watch himself sink inside her pussy all bloody night. He was completely split apart, bliss ripping through his body and burning every black stain marring his past into a euphoric baptism of absolution. Buffy’s head rolled back, and he felt her stretching around him, her body adjusting to the heady strain of control. Spike was certain she’d never steered before, and knowing he could provide at least one first—one thing no one else had shared with her or ever would—sent a purely masculine jolt of pride through his pleasure-riddled bones.

“Oh yeah,” he growled, licking his lips as his eyes flicked from the wet suction of her pussy swallowing him to the bounce of her small, perfect breasts. He tightened his hold on her thighs, arching his hips upward every time her vaginal walls pulled on the skin of his dick. “You’re burning me up, baby.”

Buffy moaned and bit her lip, her right hand closing over her breast. The ecstasy crashing over her face shook him with gut-tightening awareness. It was the most erotic thing he’d ever seen. Buffy teased her nipple as she bounced mercilessly on his cock, moaning unintelligible words which sounded like his name but could have just as easily been a number of things. Spike clenched his jaw, his balls tightening as he reined in control—pressure built and warred for supremacy, but while he longed for release, there was nothing stronger than his need to prolong this moment. This wonderful first-time inside Buffy.

“You love this, don’t you?” He flashed a grin when her eyes shot open. “You love riding me.”

Her lips parted, heat crashing over her face. The thrusts of her hips became more demanding, as though to answer him with her body if not her words. “Guh,” she managed to cry. And that one little nonsensical word meant more to him than anything she could have otherwise conveyed.

“You love driving my cock into that sweet cunt of yours.” Without warning, Spike hauled himself off the bed, pressing a hand to the curve of her ass and subtly encouraging her to keep bouncing, even as he speared himself deeper inside her. “You feel that, Slayer?” he whispered when his mouth was at her ear, her nipples rubbing his chest and driving him out of his sodding mind—though from the feel of her or the heady moans reverberating through her body, he didn’t know. “You feel how your juicy little pussy sucks me right bloody back inside you every time you—”

“Oh god!”

“Fuck yes.” Spike covered his mouth with hers and flipped her onto her back, consuming her whimper when the move jerked him hard inside her. “I love the way you feel.”

“Spike…” Her nails scratched at his shoulders, her legs wrapping around him as he began to pound into her. She was so soft. So soft and warm and wet and his. God, she was his. He was going fuck Angel’s name right out of her vocabulary. Never again would he find himself standing across the room from the woman he loved as she wrapped herself in another bloke’s embrace.

Never.

Jealousy split him again and Spike roared before he could help himself. He knew he had no right—the git was dead and the matter was done with, but he couldn’t stand the idea of competing with his grandsire’s ghost. He intended to keep Buffy forever. Forever. He didn’t want to worry about who she saw when she slept. If she was thinking about someone else when he touched her. He wanted her with him. Always. Always.

He fisted a handful of her hair and tilted her head back. “Look at me,” he growled over the noisy slaps of their bodies.

Buffy’s eyes were wide but void of fear, and she didn’t question him. Instead, she merely held his gaze, her hips arching off the bed in time with his desperate thrusts.

“My name. Say it.”

There wasn’t a second of hesitation. “Spike.”

“Who’s fucking you, Slayer?”

“Spike…”

He sighed hard and dipped his head, nipping at her lips with his teeth before consuming her in another desperate kiss. He mauled her tongue with his, sucking her so deeply into his mouth he’d be tasting her for weeks. And that was just the way he wanted it. He would make it his prerogative to never awake without Buffy in his mouth ever again.

“Feel so good,” he murmured when their lips parted, brushing a kiss over her cheek with a sudden rush of gentleness. He released her hair and scaled his hand south, slipping between their thrusting bodies and finding her clit with a purr of satisfaction. Buffy jerked and gasped, arching into his hand, her vaginal walls tightening hard around his cock.

“Ohhh!” she cried. “What…what are you…”

“Wanna feel you come. Drench me, baby. Lemme feel it.”

“Oh! Oh my GOD!”

Then she was squeezing him with an intensity he’d never felt before. Squeezing him with muscles he didn’t know existed. Squeezing him with desperation unlike anything he’d experienced, as though attempting to lock him inside her with each slippery slide from her wet pussy. As though to make it impossible for their bodies to ever part. And every wonderful squeeze had his eyes crossing and tortured growls ripping off his lips. Spike pinched her clit and howled, the pads of his fingers quickly setting to rub her out of her mind. His fingers were wet. His balls ached. Buffy was thrashing and mewling beneath him and reason blinked out the window.

He needed her. He needed this to be forever.

He needed to ensure she never left him. Not for a second. Dru’s infidelity had hurt, but Buffy leaving him would render him dust. He couldn’t let her go. Not now. Not ever.

And as his demon finally roared free, fangs descending as his blue eyes glowed amber, he knew what he needed to do. He knew.

He needed to make her his.

Thus before he could stop himself, Spike buried his face in the crook of her neck, his incisors piercing her flesh, and as the warm ambrosia of her blood flowed into his mouth, he knew he’d arrived home.

Buffy screamed and clenched hard around him, soaking his cock as her body exploded into a series of spasms that had him spilling himself inside her the next second. It was the purest release he’d ever known. Thrusting hips determined to take as much of her as she’d give him, her blood bathing his tongue and the singularity of intent clearing his mind.

“Mine,” he growled against her flesh. “You’re mine, Buffy.”

She sobbed in pleasure. “Yes. Oh god, yes.”

The skies parted and something within him locked. “Mine,” he said again, this time proudly and not possessively. His long tongue licked at the mark he’d given her, trembling when she did. “God, Buffy…you’re mine now.”

There was nothing for a long minute.

“No,” she whispered, shattering him with alarm a split second before her teeth sank into his shoulder. “You’re mine.”

Spike’s eyes fell shut and his already hardening cock grew fully erect in a blink. “Oh yes. Yes.”

No sense arguing with the truth. He was hers. He was completely hers. He always had been.

So overwhelmed with belonging, he didn’t consider asking her if she’d felt it, too. The way the air had trembled. Beyond their panting bodies, beyond the fingers at her clit stroking her still as he began thrusting inside her again, something else had changed. Something big.

Tomorrow, he thought. We’ll talk tomorrow.

He was too much in need of her to talk now. Tomorrow, when the gritty edge of his desperation was at least fleetingly satisfied, he would tell her.

Right now, he just wanted to make love to her. Over and over and over again.

The rest could wait until tomorrow.

 

Chapter Text

She’d never before awakened in a bed with a man and the sensation filled her with a devastating rush of warmth and alarm. The arm around her middle tightened almost immediately as though sensing her unease, the chest pressed against her back rumbling a soothing purr as Spike subconsciously drew her nearer to nuzzle her hair. Buffy lay awake for a long time, staring mindlessly into nothing. Trying hard to put right what had happened last night in the jumbled mess of her mind. What she’d done in the mindless aftermath of complete devastation.

The tears she’d cried weren’t for Angel. Not entirely. While she knew she would never forget the betrayal in his eyes or the way his hand had reached for her, she’d reconciled with what she’d done almost immediately. There hadn’t been a choice—Angel himself had made sure of that. It was sacrifice Angel or lose the world, and the world deserved to be saved far more than he did.

Angel didn’t know why he’d died. Why she’d run him through with a sword. Why she hadn’t returned his declaration of love. Why anything that had occurred in the last moments of his life had occurred at all. It was something she couldn’t change. Something she’d just have to live with. Something she’d done to save the world. Something she couldn’t regret.

It wasn’t losing Angel which had broken her. It was everything. It was this. It was lying in an unfamiliar bed in the suburb of a city which hadn’t been her home for two years. A city where she’d left as a child and was returning to as an adult. It was lying in bed beside a man who had touched her in ways no man should—her worn, beaten heart was bleeding, and she’d willingly tossed herself into another arena. She was broken all over and she’d hoped Spike would fix her.

She didn’t know why she’d thought sex would make it better. Lying in the calm beside him, the idiocy of her actions glared with unforgiving scrutiny. She’d used him. She’d tapped into the feelings she knew he had for her and used him in order to feel something other than hollow. She’d used him and she was disgusted with herself.

Namely because despite all her efforts, turning off her own feelings was impossible. She’d thought she could ignore what she felt for Spike in the aftermath of something so brutal. She had been wrong. So wrong. But that didn’t make things better.

No. It made things immeasurably worse.

And she hurt. God, she hurt. She hurt for Spike. For the tender way he cuddled up behind her. For the gentle purrs he released into her hair and the loving way his hands caressed her body, even in sleep. He gave her so much without asking for anything, and while last night had been one of the most explosive nights of her life, her bruised heart wasn’t prepared for another crushing blow.

I can’t do this.

There was nothing left to give. Nothing left in her whatsoever. No want of love to give. No want of love to receive. Nothing but an ugly scar where there had once been warmth—a scar which ached with resounding freshness whenever her treacherous mind wandered into the forbidden territory she’d crossed last night. In everything that had happened, she’d never suspected this would be the fallout.

Spike hadn’t been coy in his intentions or desires. Since the beginning, since the sinful kiss they’d shared in the halls of Sunnydale High, he’d been as forward and blunt in his wants as any man she’d ever known. He’d rocked her foundations and wheedled his way into her heart. He’d defied everything she knew about conventional vampires in how unconventional he was. He’d been her friend and confidant when she’d felt at her loneliest.

She’d wanted him so much before what had happened at the mansion. Before the totality of her loss came crashing down and she realized the consequences of everything that had occurred since she awoke that fateful morning.

She’d lost her home. She’d lost her friends. She’d lost her watcher. She’d lost her mother. She’d lost her first love. She’d lost everything.

She’d lost everything but Spike, who refused to be lost. Spike had rushed her away at her request. Spike hadn’t pried her for conversation. Spike had fed her, cared for her, and wouldn’t have touched her last night had she not been the one to jump him. Had she not been so desperate to feel something beyond the cold that she was willing to do anything or use anyone in order to fulfill her needs.

Even someone she cared about.

At once, Buffy felt old. Very old. She’d just barely crossed the boundary of her seventeenth birthday and she felt like decades had passed overnight. She’d used someone she cared about and there was no taking it back. There was only the hurt she’d cause him in the afterward. The knowledge she had nothing she could give him. Nothing of the words he’d whispered or the caresses he’d given her. There was absolutely nothing.

Sex without love was something she couldn’t abide. Not after what she’d had. A part of her had hoped Spike would fuck her cares right out of her, but he hadn’t. He couldn’t. Instead, he’d been convinced he was fucking Angel out of her when there was no way he could. Not when Angel wasn’t the source of her pain. Angel was far removed from her—she hurt for him but not because of him. Not because of what she’d done. Killing Angel had been necessary. She’d known it going in and she knew it now.

It just hadn’t happened the way she’d wanted it to happen. Losing Angel hadn’t crushed her, but it had been the final straw.

And now here she was. Lying beside a man who cared for her—a man she cared for in turn—but there was nothing more between them. Nothing she could part with. Nothing her broken soul could entrust into his bloodstained hands. He was a vampire—a vampire whose moral boundaries were about as set as the devil’s in paradise. He said he wanted her, and she believed he meant it, but what would his promise be worth in a month? In two months? What would it be worth to him when he realized how broken she was? What would it be worth to him after the excitement was over and it became painfully clear she couldn’t stomach being with a man who regarded morality with the same casualness that others might regard the weather?

Spike had whispered pretty words but pretty words couldn’t save her.

Buffy shivered hard and sighed. She knew her conclusion wasn’t fair. She knew it but she couldn’t help herself. The bottom line remained that Spike was still a vampire, and no amount of poetry or promises could change his nature. Spike was a very soulless vampire. Spike could destroy her without hurting a hair on her head.

If Spike gave her a reason to kill him as Angel had, she wouldn’t survive. And she didn’t want to stick around long enough to find out if he would.

Buffy sniffed hard and slowly wiggled out of his embrace. She expected the arm around her middle to tighten at the first hint of movement, but Spike offered little more than a yawn and turned over in his sleep. She threw her legs over the side of the bed, wincing when her sore muscles complained under the movement. Her thighs were tender, and her pussy ached. Spike had nearly broken her at first in his anger and outrage at what he’d thought was holding her back.

Then the night had turned on her, and the fury in his eyes washed into bone-melting awe and wonder. He’d stroked her face with his fingertips, pumping into her body and whispering words against her lips that would have crushed a lesser woman. He’d claimed her as his own. His fangs had pierced her throat and her blood had flown into his mouth. He’d murmured words and proclaimed her as his. She supposed it was the truth.

She did belong to him. She just couldn’t have him, and he couldn’t have her.

Her vision blurred as she raised herself to trembling legs. She ignored the dull ache attacking her muscles with every step she took, just as she ignored the cold air stinging her skin and the resounding pang which struck her heart the further away from him she walked.

She couldn’t stop herself, however, from glancing wistfully over her shoulder at the man she’d left on the bed. Her eyes were soft and her heart was sore. There wasn’t an inch of her that didn’t hurt.

Somehow, Buffy made it to the bathroom without collapsing. She flipped on the light and winced as her tear-filled eyes blinked in adjustment. A long violent sigh rolled off her shoulders, and before she knew what she was doing, she was standing under the shower nozzle, her face turned upward as water cascaded over her aching body. It always seemed to work in movies. The cleansing power of a good scrub-down. The purity of water to wash away the night’s sins. She hoped the dirt and grime staining her flesh would carry with it the weight holding her down, but she received no such satisfaction.

She could bathe and scrub all she liked. Her problems weren’t going anywhere. She was still far from home. She was still quaking with the aftermath of Spike’s passionate lovemaking. She was still breaking because she knew she wasn’t programmed for this. For any of it. For the softness in his eyes or the way he touched her like she was cherished. For feeling like she ought to give him something when she had to keep whatever she had left. Whatever feeling beyond the cold had to be preserved, else she’d truly be left with nothing.

It was because of that, she couldn’t stay with him. At all. She couldn’t hand herself over to reckless abandon and allow him to fuck her concerns away. She couldn’t do last night again. Never again. She couldn’t have sex when love wasn’t in the equation, and though she felt closer to Spike than anyone, there was no love. There was the want of love, but wishing could not make it so. She couldn’t love when she was broken.

And even if she could, one resounding truth refused to waver.

No more vampires.

Buffy sniffed again and wiped at her eyes. A useless gesture, of course, but needed nonetheless.

I can’t do this.

There was no reason to believe Spike would make any of this easy. A part of her had expected him to join her in the shower, and she was not disappointed. Buffy honestly didn’t know how much time passed before the shower-curtain rattled and his presence consumed the small space surrounding her. Her body rejoiced even as her heart broke down sobbing again. She stood motionless, facing the showerhead, trembling and waiting for him to make a move.

And god, when he moved, the walls came tumbling down. Spike’s arms wrapped around her middle, his strong chest flattened against her back. His cock, hard but undemanding, settled provocatively against her ass. And he held her for long minutes without a word.

He was going to crush her.

“It’s all right, kitten,” he murmured, and she realized with a start she was crying again. Spike didn’t pressure her—didn’t ask why or plead with her to stop. She’d seen men come undone at a woman’s tears and wasn’t sure whether or not to be grateful that he didn’t demand she cease sniveling for his benefit.

It didn’t matter. She couldn’t stop. She wasn’t all right.

“I’ll take care of you.” His lips brushed the bite mark he’d given her the night before. Buffy trembled and gasped, an unwanted but sorely-needed rush of lust making her already-wobbly knees even weaker. To her surprise, Spike didn’t purr in delight. Instead, he merely kissed the mark again and nuzzled his face against the curve of her neck. “I’ll take such good care of you.”

“Spike,” Buffy whimpered, her hand falling to his where it rested against her abdomen. Their fingers intertwined without hesitation. As though this was what they were built for. As though every move was purposefully synchronized, and her body knew it in spite of her head’s confusion and her heart’s objections.

His left hand fell from her waist, his right maintaining a possessive, near reverent clasp on hers. Perhaps subconsciously, his hips had begun a seductive dance against her backside, the sensual length of his cock rubbing her ass into a new kind of crazy. She had no idea how it was possible to collapse with desire with her heart and mind at such war—especially with her body sore and overly tender from last night. But god, at the softest touch, her insides liquefied into molten desire. She was at once aching and consumed with need. Wetness slicked the flesh between her thighs. Sparks of arousal had her every fiber blazing. Her conviction, fresh and painful as it was, surged and died. She knew then she wouldn’t be able to walk away without one more taste.

Without knowing exactly what she was leaving behind.

Buffy wasn’t accustomed to being so easily manipulated. So effortlessly aroused. Not once had Angel left her burning like this. His touches had always warmed her, made her feel precious and cherished, but not hot and desired. While his kisses had done their part to ignite an inner fire, Angel had never pursued her arousal. Not until the night she’d given him her virginity.

Spike didn’t just pursue her arousal—he hunted it down. He craved it. He drove her out of her mind and made no small noise about the magnitude of his rejoicing when his pursuit was met with success. Spike wasn’t the type to be content simply building a fire. No, he would caress her until her insides were burning, then encourage the flames to a roaring explosion.

The determination housed within her bones began to waver. How was she supposed to think about leaving him when he touched her so lovingly? Her set mind blanked completely as his free hand dipped between her thighs, nimble fingers caressing her tender folds with a flippancy which made the strokes seem almost accidental. Raw emotion spread through her body like a disease, and she sagged against him, weakened and powerless to fight.

Allow me this. God please, allow me this.

“Are you sore, baby?” Spike asked before sucking her earlobe between his teeth and giving it a seductive tug. “I wasn’t exactly gentle with you last night.”

Could he feel her indecisiveness? Did he know she was too much of a coward to stick this out? Did he know she was slipping away from him? Did he know she wouldn’t be with him this time tomorrow?

Tears threatened to spill down over her cheeks again. Buffy’s eyes fell shut and she trembled, her legs spreading in silent welcome. He didn’t question or allow her time to second-guess the invitation. Instead, he captured her clit between his thumb and forefinger, his mouth dropping again to the mark on her throat. His arm tightened around her middle when she gasped.

“Answer me,” Spike pleaded softly, his voice tight with need. “I want to be inside you so bloody badly, but if it’s gonna hurt—”

“I am a little sore,” she confessed and regretted the words immediately for the way he inhaled sharply and began to pull away. The decision she’d made was unmovable—her intentions undeterred. But she’d be damned if she didn’t leave him with memories of warmth and tenderness to coincide with the cold solace he’d provided her the night before.

She’d need memories of this to keep her warm when she was alone.

“I don’t wanna hurt you.”

Alarm seized her insides. No, she needed this. She needed him one last time. Before she sent herself into a self-imposed exile, she needed Spike. She needed to know exactly what she was leaving behind. She needed to try and convey everything she didn’t want to feel through touch—and in doing so, everything she wanted to give him. “Please.”

“Please?” he echoed, his teeth gently scraping the bite mark. “Please what?”

“Please, Spike…”

Spike squeezed her hand and tugged her against him so that her back was resting completely against his chest, her weight supported by his entirely. “Please what?” he echoed. “Hurt you? Sorry, sweetheart, no can do. I’m not angry now. I hurt you enough—”

“You didn’t—”

“And I’m not gonna.”

Buffy shook her head, hot sparks blazing across her skin. “Don’t hurt,” she managed between gasps, coherency mingling with desire. “Just…just love me.”

For a second she thought she’d said something to upset him. Spike went rigid, breaths crashing against her wet, trembling flesh and his body quaking so hard against hers she honestly didn’t know where he ended and she began. Perhaps she’d gotten ahead of herself—not that it mattered, of course. It wasn’t like she was going to see him again. Today would be her last with Spike. She was spiraling down a dark path where even he could not follow. She didn’t need any more demons whispering in her ear. She didn’t need another vampire lover.

Not when she couldn’t allow herself to love him.

The silence around them broke on a reverent gasp. “Oh Buffy,” Spike moaned, twisting her at once in his arms. And the thin veil keeping reality from fantasy shattered. He was there, drowning her in the crystal tide of his endless eyes, preventing her from hiding herself from the veracity of the world around her.

Her heart hammered hard against her chest, making her knees rattle and her bones shake. And when his lips fluttered over hers, a dam inside broke. His kiss was so soft. So tender. His tongue stroked hers, savoring her, his small whimpers rumbling against her mouth. He tasted so good—the perfect embodiment of the ever proverbial forbidden fruit. Buffy could kiss him forever and not want for anything. He was all male. He was danger personified. Yet in his arms, she felt safer than she had in all her life.

It was false security, she knew. The hands which caressed her had caused endless amounts of pain and suffering. How many mothers had wept over dead sons and daughters as a result of these hands? How many husbands had lost their wives? How many children had been left orphaned? How many times had Spike licked his victims’ blood off his fingers? How many tears had he left in the past?

Those were the sort of scars which could never be healed. Not with time. Not even with death. And she knew it wasn’t really Spike’s fault. Spike couldn’t be held accountable for being what he was—for doing what was natural to him. She couldn’t hate him for being a vampire. But she couldn’t lose herself in another killer’s arms. She couldn’t—not when she was still scrubbing Angel’s dust off her skin.

She couldn’t risk choking on darkness. Spike had already wormed his way deep into her heart. She hadn’t thought of what would come of it in the aftermath of slaying Angel. Perhaps, had Angel not come back in those fateful final seconds, she wouldn’t feel this way. She wouldn’t have been reminded of the prevailing responsibility on her shoulders. The calling she was fleeing from but could never escape.

Once the emptiness subsided she knew she would have to pick up the pieces. Her sense of duty would return. And if she stayed with Spike now, if she allowed their relationship to deepen even more, and if he one day betrayed her, there would be no recovery.

It was a dangerous supposition, she knew—living her life based on what ifs. She didn’t like it, but she couldn’t trust herself with anything absolute. As long as Spike was a demon he would always be evil. Always. He could promise her the sun and moon and stars and mean every word. It didn’t matter. His nature demanded blood and violence. Spike had no ties to her beyond the forged alliance they’d formed over the past few days and the passionate night they had shared together.

She cared for him. She truly did. And she hated knowing she’d used him. Even if Spike had known he was being used.

He had, too. He’d known he was being used. Last night, it had angered him. He didn’t seem angry now.

“You taste so good,” Spike murmured into her mouth, hiking her legs around his waist, the head of his cock rubbing along her aching slit. “So warm and sweet.”

Buffy mewled against his lips, her self-loathing deepening. She wanted to shut her mind off completely.

He stroked her clit almost lazily, his mouth breaking from hers to whisper small kisses down her throat. “You’re mine, you know,” he whispered, his teeth again grazing the bite mark he’d given her. “This here? This makes you mine. Forever.”

The words made her stomach clench but Buffy didn’t reply. She merely tightened her arms around him and rubbed herself against his hand.

“Say you’re mine, Buffy. Say it again.”

Her eyes blinked with new tears. “I’m yours,” she said, but the words rode out on a long, strangled sob as his cock sank deep into her pussy. Her vaginal walls clamped hard around him and tortured bliss spread through her veins. The water hitting her skin had long gone cold, but she didn’t care. Between the cold at her back and the cold body of the vampire moving inside her, she was surprised she hadn’t melted with heat.

Nothing in her life made sense. Nothing.

“Again,” Spike begged, burying his face in the crook of her neck. “Say it. Please, baby…”

Her heart wrenched. “Yours.”

Deeper and deeper. Buffy couldn’t keep herself from crying. Spike didn’t question her. Didn’t do anything but caress her face and kiss her lips as his cock slid rhythmically in and out of her body.

She wanted to freeze this moment. To forget the pain ripping her insides apart. To forget the world which defined them by what they were. She would never have this again. This was a moment she would bottle and carry with her wherever she went.

Because, with Spike or not, she was his. Somehow she knew she was his.

She just couldn’t stay.

“It’s all right,” Spike murmured, kissing her shoulder. “It’s all right.”

But it wasn’t. It wasn’t.

And try as she might, even as he made love to her with his words and his lips and his body, Buffy couldn’t stop weeping. She just prayed he didn’t look into her eyes. If he did, he’d know immediately this was their last time together. And he’d hate her for it. For using him. For making him believe something. For making him think she could give him something she didn’t have.

He’d be within his right to loathe her. God knows she loathed herself enough.

The very thought, however, left her feeling colder than before. And Buffy knew without question that she wouldn’t survive it. Even if she never saw him again, she couldn’t abide the thought of Spike existing in the world…and hating her.

 

Chapter Text

She wasn’t with him.

Spike watched her carefully, his body wrought with tension. He wanted to approach her even if he feared making things worse. He wanted to kiss her, but despite their tender lovemaking in the shower, he somehow knew physical comfort wasn’t something she needed. She’d whispered things that made his undead heart sing. She’d asked him to love her, and it had taken every facet of his tired being to keep from assuring her that love was the one thing she would never need to ask of him. Love was the one thing she would always have.

He just didn’t know if she wanted it—not in the way he wanted to love her, anyway. The Buffy he’d known in Sunnydale had vanished completely. The spark in her eyes had faded, along with the smile on her lips and the laughter in her throat. The life in her was gone, and he didn’t know what to do.

God, he didn’t know what to do.

So he watched. He stood quietly beside her, leaning against the wall with his arms folded as she fluffed her hair almost robotically. She couldn’t see him in the mirror, of course. The mirror reflected her and her alone.

But she wasn’t alone. Every rigid move she made was wrung with awareness. She felt his eyes on her as sure as she felt anything. Spike was certain of it.

His eyes fell almost reluctantly to the mark on her throat. The mark on her throat which declared her as his. They still hadn’t spoken about it. About what had happened the second he’d sunk his fangs into her luscious body. There wasn’t an inch of him that failed to hum. He was pulled to her and yet kept his distance. His arms ached to be around her. His body, unaccustomed to the tug of its mate’s call, was hard and desperate to be inside her again. Spike had never thought himself as one to claim or be claimed—not after the failed attempt to stake his claim on Drusilla.

His demon snarled at the thought of his maker, but even as his cells drew him near his mate, his mind couldn’t help but wander. It was easy to see now that Dru had never been his, and he supposed a part of him had even known it at the time. Still, it hadn’t made the burn of her rejection any less painful. He well remembered the endless sea of hurt—the wail consuming his insides had echoed through his body for years. He hadn’t understood then, even if her refusal hadn’t completely surprised him. He hadn’t understood how a woman who seemed to love him could refuse a man devoted to worshipping the very ground she walked on. A man who would dedicate his very existence to making her happy.

He hadn’t been good enough for Dru. It was a sad reality—one which had followed him in shadows for years. One he would have ignored until the end of time had it not been for Buffy. Had Buffy not led him into sunlight. He burned for Buffy but didn’t dust—she provided what no woman before her had or ever could. She’d made him see.

He’d left with her consciously. Dru was god-knows-where. Perhaps he’d been a sentimental fool in leaving her alive, but even with as much as the bitch had hurt him—even knowing of her intention to destroy him—the part of him that remained grateful to her refused to take her life.

She would not be so lucky a second time. If Dru attempted to break into his life again—if she came after him or Buffy—he would destroy her. His debt to her was repaid in full. He’d already granted clemency she didn’t deserve.

Buffy was his everything. He felt like he belonged after so many years of wandering through darkness. He felt as though the clouds had finally parted. He’d found in her what other men wasted lifetimes searching for, and he’d found her by accident. The love burning his chest was almost painful, but imagining a life without the warmth she gave him was strikingly unbearable. He’d only had her for a short while and he already knew he couldn’t manage without her. It was a stark rebuttal of whatever he’d thought he’d felt in the past. With Cecily. With Dru. He didn’t know how it was different, but god, it was. And it was wonderful.

He suspected it was wonderful because it was real. He’d been attracted to darkness in the past. He was, after all, a vampire. But even as a man, his heart had led him to women encased in shadows and too in love with themselves to ever give love to anyone else. Cecily had been pride wrapped in selfishness. She’d stood as wintry as any woman he’d ever known, and she’d sent him running into the arms of true blackness.

Buffy wasn’t dark. Not even now when she was broken could she hope to be dark. She was lost, doing her best to keep from completely shattering with every step. She was in need but she wouldn’t ask for it. She wanted so badly to be strong. She didn’t know how to move beyond this. She was hurting—god, she was hurting. But she wanted him to think she wasn’t. She didn’t know she wasn’t standing alone.

And he knew she was going to run.

Spike’s eyes darted to the ground, a long sigh commanding his body. It was damned hard staying quiet. Pretending not to know every wayward thought that crossed her beautiful head. His knowledge had nothing to do with the claim, though the feelings he felt rippling through her energy only substantiated what he already knew. He didn’t want her to know that he knew—he didn’t want her to think he would try to stop her.

He wanted to stop her. God knows he did. But he knew stopping her would forfeit the sacred trust between them. Stopping her would make her think he didn’t value her independence or her strength. Stopping her would compromise everything.

He would let her go because he loved her. He wouldn’t let her get far—just far enough. But he would let her go.

He had to if he had any hope of keeping her.

Any more distance between them would mean the end of them both. And he couldn’t let her leave him forever. He loved her too bloody much not to be near her. She didn’t know she belonged to him, or rather that he belonged to her. But she had given herself to him freely. She could have refuted his claim when his fangs found her throat. She could have laughed and shoved him off her. She could have refused him.

She hadn’t. And Spike’s love for her had deepened. Not because she hadn’t refused him—it had nothing to do with Buffy’s acceptance of a claim she didn’t know he’d placed on her and everything to do with her acceptance of him. In a moment of pure instinct, she’d said yes to him. She’d said yes. And while he’d already loved her with everything he was before the magical word crossed her gorgeous lips, his love had fused into something larger and more powerful than he’d thought possible. He was helplessly and hopelessly hers, and as long as he breathed air he didn’t need, he would bend reality to give her what she needed.

Even if what she needed was freedom.

A long, trembling sigh rolled off his lips. For now.

Just enough to give her a head start.

“I bloody hate mirrors,” Spike said, swallowing every emotion that crashed over her face at the intrusion of his voice. “Most of the time, anyway.”

Buffy nodded, her eyes shooting to the place in the mirror where he would be standing if he cast a reflection. He found it endearing, something that told him plainly that she was aware of him—even more so than she knew. That she didn’t consider him absent just because she couldn’t see him.

“Most of the time, I do, too,” she replied, her lips pulling into a half-smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “My hair never does what I want it to.”

“Your hair’s perfect.”

“It’s—”

“Looks like you’ve been well shagged, and I happen to find that look rather fetching.” He smirked, his eyes dropping to take in the delicious curves that composed her backside. “I’m also finding I like seeing your front and back at the same time.”

Buffy paused again, her eyes once more seeking him in the mirror. She locked gazes with him without knowing it, and the power behind her intuition stole unneeded breath from his lungs. “I don’t have much of a front,” she replied, casting a self-conscious glance to her succulent breasts. “I used to be able to fill a C-cup, but that was before the slayage started and my baby fat went away. Now it’s all B all the way.”

“You’re gorgeous.”

“So says the man who’s gotten lucky twice.”

“So says the man who’s had those delicious tits of yours in his mouth,” he countered, enjoying the blush that stretched across her milky skin. “You’re flawless.”

“You’re thinking with your penis.” In another woman’s voice, it would have sounded like an accusation. In Buffy’s, it was almost an endearment.

God, he loved her. He was going to miss her so bloody much. He missed her already and she hadn’t left yet. Spike honestly didn’t know how long he was going to be able to withstand the distance between them. He wanted to give her time but something told him he’d be lucky if he managed to hold off his instincts as long as a week, his first one being to be around her always. Letting her go at all went against everything he knew.

Throw in the claim and he was thoroughly lost. He was lost enough without the words and the sacred bond between them.

“Doesn’t make it any less true,” he replied, his eyes dipping to her breasts. Christ, now he wanted her again. He didn’t know why she was primping her hair, but something told him it wasn’t to shag him before she took off. “Trust me, love…there’s not a thing about you I’d dream of changing.”

Buffy’s eyes darted downward, her skin flushing a deeper red. “Stop,” she protested softly.

“Stop what? Telling you you’re beautiful? Sorry, love…I’m a man who appreciates beauty. Not gonna hush just because you’ve gotten some wonky complex.”

“I don’t feel beautiful.”

“That’s where the wonky complex comes in.” Spike swallowed hard and took a step forward. “Where we going, kitten? You hungry?”

She paused, visibly searching for words. “Yeah,” she agreed. “Actually. Yeah. I…I dunno, I didn’t think I’d be hungry after all we ate last night.”

“It was the first thing you’d eaten since we left Sunnydale,” he pointed out. The obvious response—an observation that they’d undoubtedly worked the meal off with the naked acrobatics the night before—remained lodged in his throat. He wasn’t going to use sex to dominate her because Buffy wasn’t the sort who could be dominated. Any attempt would only hurt her in the end.

Moreover, a submissive Buffy was the last thing he wanted. He wanted fight in her eyes and a smirk on her lips. He wanted her swinging and her body moving the way the Powers intended. He wanted his Buffy the way she was. Exactly as she was.

He wanted to fall to his knees and wrap his arms around her middle and beg her not to leave. He wanted to promise her a thousand things she wouldn’t know to believe until she got a taste of the freedom she craved. This thing she felt she needed to do.

“Well, pet?” Spike prompted. “You wanna stay here and let me grab something? Or do you need to get out?”

She was quiet for a long second, and when she licked her lips he had to choke back a moan. He wanted to lick them for her.

“Are you going back to the place we went last night?” she asked. “The diner?”

He shrugged a shoulder. “I’ll go wherever you want.”

A half grin tugged at Buffy’s lips. “The woman from the diner was lusting after you bad.”

Spike snickered. “You noticed that, huh?”

“The way she was drooling all over your…sausage?” Buffy unknowingly met his eyes again in the mirror’s reflection, and the ghost of her former cheekiness made his heart drop. It didn’t last long, but it was enough to give him hope. “No,” she continued, glancing down again. “I completely missed that.”

He smirked and stepped forward, his hands, possessing a mind of their own, slowly lifted to caress the soft, warm temptation of her bare skin. His lips ached to follow suit and brush against her shoulder. His body was wrought with tension and strangled with need—knowledge pressing down that these moments would be their last. Their last for now. Their last until the clouds around his mate parted and she returned to him.

“The bird didn’t notice I had everything a man could want right across the table,” he murmured before nipping at her earlobe with disobedient teeth. “That’d be you, baby.”

Buffy trembled beneath his fingers. “Ohhh…”

“Mmm…” Good intentions dove out the window. He needed to have her. Just one last time, he needed to have her. “Buffy…”

Fortunately, the quivering girl under his hands seemed to agree with him. Before he could blink, Buffy released a long moan of surrender and twisted in his arms, cupping his cheeks and angling him into her kiss, splitting every vein in his body with bittersweet bliss. She tasted so good. So fucking good. All lightness and purity and she was his. His beautiful, broken girl. Her mouth bruised him in hard desperation, her tongue whipping his, her lips owning him completely.

“Spike…”

He nodded urgently against her, his hands dropping to the hem of her camisole. “Can I?” he asked, already urging the fabric up her body. Buffy mewled her consent and dragged his mouth back to hers, rumbling harmonious moans against him as he filled his palms with her breasts. “Buffy…god…”

“Need you. Please.” Her shaking hands fell to his waistband, fumbling with his belt buckle. “Please. Please.”

“I’m here, love,” Spike replied, his voice impossibly calm in cool contrast to the heat ripping him apart. His cock ached and strained hard against his zipper, desperate for the feel of her warm hand around him. He needed her so much. So fucking much. He needed to feel her in his arms, her pussy wrapped around his cock. He just needed her, and he needed her now. “I’m right here.”

Buffy shook her head and gave up the conquest of his fly with a defeated sigh. Her eyes were wide and panicked, filled to the brim with tears. “Please,” she cried. “Please…”

It was almost funny the way things could drop. Without warning, Spike’s heart shattered. He knew what this was.

This was goodbye.

In her mind, probably forever.

But it wasn’t. It wasn’t forever. For them, forever was just that. The time they’d spend apart would be ultimately dwarfed by the millennia at their feet.

“I’m here,” Spike told her again, his voice achingly vacant. He reached between them to undo his fly, then took her wrist and guided her hand to where he needed her. “I’m right here.”

He’d say it over and over again if she liked. Whatever she wanted, he’d give.

“Please,” Buffy begged again and wrestled a kiss from his lips. “Please.”

Spike swallowed hard and bit back tears. “Whatever you need, baby,” he replied hoarsely, a low moan tearing through his body when his cock finally sprang free and into Buffy’s waiting hand. “Whatever you need.”

“I need you,” she whispered.

His heart melted. “You’ve got me,” he swore, dipping to capture one of her perfect nipples between his teeth as his hands tore at her jeans. “You’ve got me. I’m right here.”

“Spike…”

“I’m right here.”

He didn’t know if she truly heard him. He barely heard himself. All he knew was that she was asking him for something she already had—something she would always have—and no amount of swearing himself to her achieved the reassurance she so craved.

But if this was the last, he wouldn’t deny himself. He couldn’t. Not with her pussy soaked for him. Not with her hand wrapped around his cock. Not with the tears drowning her eyes or the gasps seizing her throat.

He would worship her body with his. He would shower her skin with kisses and pour his love into her however he could. However he could without frightening her with words.

He would love her now and hope she felt everything he didn’t say. Hope she’d feel just how much this wasn’t over between them.

Just beginning.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Buffy couldn’t stop crying.

Her hands trembled as she bunched the hotel’s complimentary toiletries into her worn school backpack. Her legs wobbled with every careful step she took across the blindingly-white-yet-worn carpet. Her cheeks were wet and cold, her nose a runny mess, and though her eyes were half-blinded with tears, she moved around the room as though she’d lived within its confines all her life.

Every cell in her body tugged her back to the bed. To the gorgeous vampire draped in linen sheets. He slept peacefully, murmuring every few seconds but never waking. He slept while she gathered what few things she had. The backpack she’d retrieved from the Desoto, the value-pack of underwear she’d purchased when they stopped for gas, and whatever free-accessories she could locate. And with every move she made, her body sank further into depression and her tears came harder. The ache in her chest had every nerve weeping for respite. She didn’t understand it—she barely understood herself.

What had happened between them had rocked her completely. It would be easy. God, it would be so easy. She could discard everything she felt—every tug of her soul in the wager between right and wrong and lose herself in Spike’s arms. She could. And at that moment, she wanted to.

But it would kill her. In the end, when the sting of cold finally melted into warmth and she returned entirely to herself, being with Spike would kill her. Not by his intent—by what he could not control. Her feelings for him were already too complex to name. Spike was so murky when it came to the definitions of good and evil. There was nothing evil about what he’d done for her thus far. He’d sworn his allegiance to her, nearly died because of her, saved the world with her, and helped her save her from herself by getting her away from the scene of the crime.

He’d been whatever she needed him to be. Last night when she needed to forget, he’d allowed her to use him as means to banish the world. He’d allowed her to bruise him with her body and had bruised her in turn. He’d given her pain because she’d wanted it. This morning and today, he’d given her peace.

He’d shown her the man inside all the while keeping the demon at bay. But the demon was as much a part of him as the man. It was something he couldn’t help, and would ultimately destroy her. His inherent evil couldn’t remain dormant for long. Once it showed its face, what little was left of her would be completely crushed.

Buffy sniffed hard and wiped at her eyes, her gaze reluctantly falling on Spike once more. He was so beautiful. So distant. Temptation wrapped in sin.

She wanted to stay. She wanted to stay so badly. But she couldn’t. If she did, she’d be right back where she started. She’d be a slayer in love with a vampire—one with nothing holding him back from destroying her.

Buffy inhaled sharply, slinging her backpack over her shoulder.

Go now.

Spike murmured again and stretched in his sleep.

Her feet carried her across the room before she could stop herself, her wet, tear-stained lips brushing his as she battled the prevailing need to break down completely. She reached into her left pocket and withdrew the hasty note she’d scribbled for his benefit. She’d hoped to leave him a prolific explanation, complete with her regrets and her reasoning. She’d hoped to leave him with something more than what she had.

In the end, though, her trembling hand could only manage two lines.

I’m so sorry. Goodbye.

She would be miles away before she delved into her other pocket. Before she discovered something that hadn’t been there before. A roll of cash, composed mainly of hundreds and fifties. A roll of cash and, in strikingly elegant penmanship, a note.

Only the best food and the best rooms for my slayer. Don’t think I won’t find you.                     

- Spike

Chapter Text

The note remained in her pocket for two weeks. She couldn’t bring herself to remove it—couldn’t stand the idea of any further separation from him, even if it was to leave behind the scrap of paper on which he’d written. She felt strangely close to him with his writing in her pocket.

The revolving door of emotion had finally landed on comfort. Discovering the note had left her numb for what felt like days, and in the immediate aftermath of shock, it was always natural to search for anger in place of cool, rational reasoning. Spike had known from the beginning what she was going to do—he hadn’t stopped her, he hadn’t even confronted her. He hadn’t done anything except what she’d told herself she wanted—he’d let her walk out the door.

He’d known all along. For some reason, it made her angry.

Anger never lasted, of course, especially when it was unfounded. In Buffy’s case, her anger stretched the length of perhaps thirty seconds before she dissolved into tears. And it seemed she hadn’t stopped crying since.

Spike had let her walk away. He hadn’t tried to stop her. He’d let her do what she felt she needed to do.

And now she ached. There wasn’t an inch of her that wasn’t sore. Pain stretched her every nerve, every cell. Her insides were consumed with hurt. She felt it with every step. Every time she tried to climb to her feet, all of her went rigid and she found herself sapped of the will to move.

It was as though her body had collapsed on her. Now she was lying in bed, her eyes blankly fixed on the cream-colored wall. The room she’d booked was nice, as per Spike’s instructions, and she still had plenty of money left even after two weeks and Los Angeles’ sky-high prices. She didn’t want to think about where he’d gotten it or when he’d had the time to place the cash in her pocket. She didn’t want to think about the decision she’d made at all.

She didn’t want to think about how alone she was.

The pain stretching through her worn body was unlike anything she’d felt. It had begun as a stomach ache—a vague annoyance. Nothing she would have expected to extend into all-out incapacitation. But for the past day and a half, Buffy had lacked the will-power to do much of anything. Hours were occupied on her hotel bed, watching the news as her thoughts wandered to the life she’d left behind.

To those in Sunnydale—faces she knew and loved. Faces she didn’t know when she’d be ready to see again. Any thought to a possible homecoming was far away—a distant speck of nothing on an endless timeline.

Buffy shivered, a dark shadow filling her veins. She tried telling herself that time healed all wounds. That the boulder resting on her heart would eventually erode into nothing. That she would awake one morning without feeling like every corner of her body was cracked. Her memories would wash into something painless and she would face the prospect of a new day without breaking.

She knew time healed all wounds, but even knowledge couldn’t provide clarity. All Buffy knew right now was she didn’t want to go back.

It wasn’t a matter of now.

It was a matter of never.

Buffy sighed heavily, wincing as she forced herself to sit up. Every move made her weakened body scream in protest. If the world wanted to end right now she’d be in no place to stop it. She couldn’t slay a fly, much less a vampire. Acathla’s jaw could drop and suck everything into the spiraling bowels of Hell and she’d be useless to do anything more than find something and hold on tight.

Something was wrong. Wrong and more than wrong. Buffy knew depression could debilitate people, but it wasn’t supposed to be like this. So consuming. So…

She wanted Spike.

The thought of him had her screaming nerves sighing with a small measure of relief. Spike. Spike would make everything better. His touch would cool the fire scorching her skin raw. The comfort of his arms would ease every screaming ache in her body. She wanted him so much.

Something was very wrong. Something had happened—changed. Something was different. He’d brought her body to life with pleasure. He’d held her and kissed her tears away. He’d been everything.

He’d bitten her.

Buffy’s eyes went wide, her hand shooting to the tender mark on her throat.

He’d bitten her. He’d bitten her, and something had changed. He’d said something.

His cock inside her, his eyes possessing her, his hands marking her. His fangs stained with her blood. His body worshipping hers, loving hers, in all the ways she couldn’t bear to let him.

Mine, he’d said.

And she’d said yes.

Not only that, she’d bitten him in turn. And she’d said the same. She’d staked her claim on Spike.

Blood. Vampires. Words. Oaths.

Something had happened that night. Something unprecedented. Something that had changed everything.

She just had to find out what.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

It felt very wrong stepping inside a public library without Giles over her shoulder. For a long second, Buffy stood motionless in the foyer, her eyes absorbing the bustling movement of readers moving from aisle to aisle of books. She was so unaccustomed to seeing the library—any library—filled with eager patrons that for a second she considered stepping outside to double-check that she was in the right building.

It wasn’t until she was standing in front of a stern-looking librarian that she really began to miss Giles. In Sunnydale, asking for books about demons and vampires wasn’t something that earned an arched-brow and a cleared throat. And while she was nearly certain the reaction she received from the librarian was all in her head, it didn’t make the effects resonate any less.

No, Buffy felt most assuredly alone.

“Vampires?” the librarian repeated. “Anne Rice, that sort of thing? Our paranormal romance section—”

“No,” Buffy replied quickly. “Not paranormal romance. I mean…like…non-fiction.”

“Oh.” A blink. “Certainly. This way, please.”

Ten minutes later, she was hidden away in a secluded area of the library, staring at a page of text she honestly hadn’t the first idea of how to decipher. And in seconds, she found herself sinking in her seat. This was so much not her area. The books. The knowledge. She was more a stake-in-hand-slaying-baddies person. Without someone to translate what the words meant, she might as well have been reading Greek.

Buffy really didn’t know what she was looking for. There wasn’t a word for what she was feeling. For the pain stabbing her heart with every breath. For the way her hand trembled every time she moved to turn the page. For the hurt consuming her chest.

For the way she craved Spike—craved the comfort of touch and silky touch of his kiss. Craved him like she’d craved nothing before.

“I’m getting nowhere,” she murmured, turning another yellow, aged page. Words meshed into a shapeless blur. “This is me…getting nowhere.”

How could she research something based on something she was feeling? Spike had said mine when he bit her. Mine. There wasn’t an index big enough to cover the implications that monosyllabic word.

If there were any implications.

If this wasn’t indeed all in her head.

Buffy sucked in a breath and turned another page. Nothing. Nothing. Garlic. Crosses. Holy water. Speculation on the earliest vampires in history. Words here and there about the ways vampires were born, a debate on whether or not they aged, and a few paragraphs from so-called experts as to the truth behind the Slayer myth.

“Nothing, nothing, nonsense, and more nothing. Good going, Buff. Way to crack the case.” Buffy sighed and surveyed her surroundings wearily. “I’m also talking to myself, which isn’t exactly the best of signs. I’m talking to myself and I’m learning nothing. This was definitely worth the trip.”

Her words died with an electric crackle of energy. A crackle which undeniably should not exist in a library. In a blink, she was shot back some three hundred miles, buried in a book in Sunnydale, where energy crackles and dimensional rips were something normal. Something not completely out of the ordinary.

Buffy didn’t know how she knew it was a dimensional rip—she just did. It was split-second recognition. Something she knew immediately, without fault. Without hesitation.

And just as quickly, the pain in her body hardened into a rush of determination. She shoved everything internal aside and jumped to her feet, instincts leading her toward the roar of the blast. Thoughts rushed alongside reason and collided in a jumbled mess. She didn’t know where she was running or what toward—she didn’t have anything with her but Spike’s note—and reality, it seemed, was on an indefinite hold.

The air split with a scream. Buffy turned a corner and saw it.

She didn’t have time to stop. She barely had time to hesitate. The light was blinding, a cloudy swirl of shapes and colors. Something in the distance bellowed but she didn’t allow herself a beat of hesitation. There was a girl with a book in her hands—a young girl whose face was stricken with terror.

“Help!” the girl screamed. “Oh god, please!”

The blinding cloud of light was growing wider. In a second it would consume the entire aisle, and the girl would be gone.

Buffy didn’t breathe. Didn’t think. She just moved, closed her hand around the girl’s wrist. Then she was running again in the other direction. The girl fell in clumsily behind her, a deadweight, but quickly gathered her bearings and broke off in a sprint.

“I—”

Buffy shook her head hard. “Don’t talk,” she said hurriedly. She shoved the girl behind a row of shelves and dropped instinctively to the ground, pain spearing through her body like thunder. Her heart hammered, her breaths crushed her chest, and every inch of her was aching beyond ache.

Beside her, the girl she’d rescued was shaking hard. “What was that?”

Buffy didn’t answer. Or rather, couldn’t. Even if her thoughts weren’t racing and her body wasn’t about to crack and shatter in a thousand indiscernible pieces, this wasn’t her area. This was so not her area. This was Giles’s area. Her area was saving the helpless. Her area ended now.

A few minutes went by—a few minutes that could have easily spanned a few hours for as much as her insides hurt. The roar of the dimensional rip rolled into a gentle rumble before dying out altogether, and the shadows it cast against the row of bookcases similarly faded into nothing. And then there was nothing. Nothing but her heart drumming hard against her breastbone and the terrified tremors of the girl at her side.

Nothing that Buffy could see, anyway.

“Stay put,” she said sharply.

The girl nodded and jerked her head forward, her eyes focusing on the carpet.

Every move she made cut deeper into her body, but Buffy forced herself to ignore it. Worrying a lip between her teeth, she raised herself onto her knees and peered around the shelf.

Nothing. Nothing at all. Not a hint of the rip which had torn through the barriers of reality just seconds before. No screams. No blank stares from a group of bystanders. In the distance, she heard conversation and the click of fingers against keyboards. She heard the scan of books being checked out and the recitation of due dates from the lips of librarians. It was all there—far away, of course, but there. People around her were continuing with their lives. On the surface, nothing had happened.

How was that possible?

Buffy thought immediately of Sunnydale, and she knew the answer. If it wasn’t right in front of some people, they didn’t see it. And she had been alone on this level of the library. She’d been alone other than the girl. She’d been alone with her book on vampires which provided no answers and a thousand additional questions. Life continued around them as though nothing had occurred, because ostensibly, nothing had.

“I-is anything there?” the girl asked. “S-s-sorry. I don’t mean—”

“I don’t see anything,” Buffy replied. “Lemme make sure…wait here.”

“Okay.”

Buffy climbed to her feet, fighting off a wince. “I’m gonna go check it out.”

“Be careful,” the girl whimpered, but she didn’t need to be told that.

The walk back to the aisle was long. Every step seemed to render her destination further away. She was panting hard, her breaths stabbing her lungs. And when she reached the row of books where the dimensional rip had opened, there was nothing to suggest anything extraordinary had occurred. No burnt carpet. No books on the floor. Nothing.

Well, nothing except for the green demon, whose eyes were so wide she was at first convinced that her presence had come as the greater shock.

“Great googly—”

Buffy’s hands flexed in need of a weapon. “Hey—”

“I’ll just…” The demon motioned in the other direction. “Be on my way.”

“Not so—”

The words barely had time to touch the air. The demon waved awkwardly, then turned on his heel and bolted. And while she commanded her legs to follow him, they had hardened completely into lead. She toppled forward before she could stop herself, her palms bracing her fall and the impact sending shockwaves of pain through every fiber of her being.

That was how the girl found her. Curled on the floor, gasping for air and needing Spike so badly that she was certain she wouldn’t make it through the night.

“Oh my god,” the girl cried, falling to her knees at her side. “Are…are you all right?”

Buffy whimpered, her voice clawing for escape.

“I’m gonna get you help,” the girl promised. “Just stay—”

“Uhhh…”

“I’m gonna—”

“No,” she managed at last, rolling onto her back. “No. I…” There was no one who could help her. No one but her vampire and she still didn’t know why. “No…I’m…I just need…”

There was a beat of silence. “Let’s get you out of here,” the girl said softly. “I’ll get you help.”

“No—”

“You saved my life. I’ll get you help.”

Buffy wanted to argue but found she hadn’t the strength. She hadn’t the strength to do anything. So she didn’t speak. She didn’t try something she knew she would do little more than zap what diminutive energy she had left. Instead, she allowed the girl to help her to her feet. She took her arm when offered and wobbled on unsteady legs to the nearest table.

“I’m Fred, by the way,” the girl said awkwardly. “Fred Burkle.”

“Buffy,” she replied in kind, though it came out as little more than a gasp.

“I’m gonna get you help.”

There was no way she could, but the point was very much moot.

Instead, she allowed Fred to escort her from the library, hoping the girl’s strength would be enough for both of them if she collapsed again.

Hoping Spike would be waiting for her when she left the library, ready to make good on his promise. Ready to find her.

She hadn’t even the strength to cry when she stepped outside at Fred’s guidance, and was greeted by the sight of nothing at all.

Spike wasn’t there. He wasn’t anywhere, and she couldn’t blame him. She’d left him. And in spite of whatever he’d told her, in spite of the note burning a hole in her pocket, there was no reason to expect him.

Not when she’d been the one to walk away.

And now her bones were diseased with pain. Her heart was sick. Her skin was tender. There was no part of her that didn’t hurt.

She was alone.

Chapter Text

Buffy wasn’t accustomed to relying on the kindness of strangers. In her experience, the notion itself was a living contradiction. And yet, here she sat in the welcomed comfort of a stranger’s home, sipping tea the same stranger had made her and awaiting a bowl of homemade soup. This was the sort of thing she would normally dismiss without much thought, but with her body aching at the slightest twitch, she was suddenly faced with the awareness that if it came down to it, she could be at the stranger’s mercy.

Buffy was either entirely fortunate or entirely foolish.

“What was that thing?” the girl called Fred asked. She had a charming Texan accent that Buffy hadn’t noticed at first, but was now prominent.

Though where to start with that question…

She was surprised it had taken Fred as long as it had to start asking, but even with the added time, Buffy hadn’t managed to find a suitable answer. And she realized this was because she didn’t want to. Her heart wasn’t in making up stories anymore. She shouldn’t be the only one burdened with knowledge. The Powers had chosen her, and now she was choosing someone else. There wasn’t enough will left in her to give a damn.

“It was a portal,” she said without ceremony and swallowed a mouthful of tea.

That went over about as well as one could reasonably expect.

“A…” Fred’s voice trembled. “A what?”

Buffy would like to think she would have been inclined to comfort the girl were she not hurting, but after everything she’d been through, she couldn’t muster much sympathy for people who got to live without the burden of knowledge.

“Yeah…a portal.”

“A portal to…to what?” Fred rounded the sofa with a cup of tomato soup in her hands. She placed the offering on her worn coffee table and took a seat in the rocker opposite Buffy. “It’s not some kinda code, is it?”

Buffy blinked. “A code?”

“You know. The government uses code words all the time.” The girl’s eyes brightened. “Is that what this is? Oh, wait, you couldn’t tell me if it was, could you. Or could you? We can come up with our own code. Something like…blink once for yes and twice for no.”

Buffy’s jaw went slack. The excuses people made to guard themselves against the truth were frightening at times. Then again, she could be cranky because she felt she’d been poisoned. If she didn’t know better, she’d swear her insides were diseased and rotting, chipping away until there would be nothing of her left.

She felt she was melting from the inside out.

Fred flushed and glanced down. “I guess not, then.”

“Chances are it was to another dimension,” Buffy said, reaching for the proffered cup of soup. It smelled wonderful, and even through the gnawing pain eating away at her, she could discern a good amount of it was due to hunger. “That…that demon…came out of it.”

Fred paled visibly. “D-demon?”

Buffy’s eyes fell shut and she suppressed an inner groan. After so many years fighting evil, there was no good way to cushion people from the truth of the world around them. Even if she wanted to, she hadn’t the slightest idea where she would begin.

She didn’t know how much Fred truly wanted to know and how much was just curiosity.

Oh, to hell with it. She asked.

“Demon. As in monsters.”

“L-like…werewolves? A-and zombies?”

“That and then some.”

Fred sat back, stunned. Insofar as reactions went, it was rather tame. Buffy took the opportunity to drink more soup.

After a moment, Fred drew in a huge breath and jerked forward, her eyes going wide. “Oh my god, is it actually possible to reanimate dead flesh? Because that sort of research could be incredibly beneficial to the medical community. Think of all the diseases we could cure. The milestones we could overcome. The…what?”

Buffy just stared at her. “I think you might be the only person I’ve ever met who’s gone from zombies to medical breakthrough.”

Fred flushed and glanced down. “Sorry,” she said self-consciously. “I’m…I’m a scientist. My brain just goes there.”

“You’re a scientist?”

“Well, I…yeah, I am. I majored in mathematics and physics and I’m working on my doctorate. My knowledge of other sciences is also…well, out there.” Her blush deepened and she glanced down, shaking her head. “I normally don’t brag, I promise. But I am…”

“Wow.” Buffy paused. For whatever reason, she’d thought Fred to be around her age, but admittedly learning the woman had a few years on her did put things in a clearer light. Like why she lived in not-a-slum and had credit cards. She cleared her throat. “Well…you’re, uhh, taking this really well. Like better than anyone ever has well.” A beat. “Except Oz, but he is super chill.”

And in Sunnydale. Damn, there was that pang again.

“Some of the theories I’ve studied are out there,” Fred explained, shrugging. “Plus, it’s kind of hard to ignore the fact that I saw a green guy with horns. A-and the portal.” She waited a moment. “So seriously? Zombies?”

Buffy couldn’t help it. She cracked a grin. “You really like zombies, huh?”

“Well, like is a strong word. It’s just…the idea of reanimating dead flesh is fascinating.” Fred’s eyes flashed with said fascination, adapting the sort of look Dr. Frankenstein might have worn before he created his monster. “I don’t suppose you’ve ever…seen a zombie, have you? Or do they prefer to be called Non-Living US Citizens?”

“I don’t think there’s a PC term for zombies, no. None that I’ve come across, anyway.”

“So you have seen one?”

She made a face. “I…ummm…well, a girl I know last year was…uhh…targeted by a zombie to be his undead eternal girlfriend. Really, from what I’ve seen, the whole thing is messy and icksome.”

Great. She’d used a standard Buffy-nonword in the presence of a scientist. She might as well go around telling people her age and her IQ were identical.

Fred nodded. “I’d imagine so,” she said, seemingly oblivious to Buffy’s discomfort. “That sort of knowledge in the wrong hands could go a long, long way. Wars never ending, the resurgence of dictatorships. We’d potentially have a world filled with Machiavellians.” The possibility seemed to alarm her. “This is definitely the sort of thing we should keep to ourselves.”

“I’ll have to go take down all my Fabulous-Job-Opportunities-For-Zombies signs, but I think we can manage.” Buffy shifted again, wincing as her body rebelled and surged with another wave of pain. “But…I think you get the idea. Zombies. Werewolves. Demons. Vampires—”

The poor girl looked horrified. “Vampires?”

Buffy had to bite back a grin. It always surprised her how vampires somehow warranted a larger reaction than the litany of other non-human creatures which prowled the night. “Yeah,” she agreed. “Vampires.”

“The kind that suck blood?”

“Do you know of another kind?”

Fred worried a lip between her teeth and appeared to give the query serious consideration. “I guess not.” She frowned. “It’s kind of funny, I guess.”

“Oh yeah. A regular barrel of laughs.”

“I just mean, I’m sitting here learning about vampires and Non-Living US Citizens and portals and…it should sound crazy, like you said.” Her eyes narrowed. “How do you know all of this?”

A soft, sad smile tickled Buffy’s lips. “Because I’m a part of the crazy.”

Fred blinked. “Which part of the crazy?”

“I’m the Slayer.” Buffy waited a beat, then winced. “It’s not as ominous as it sounds. Well, I guess it is if you’re a demon. Essentially, I’m the person the PTB tapped to keep all the ooglies from ending the world.”

Yeah, that didn’t sound nuts or anything.

Fred studied her for a moment. “Don’t take this the wrong way…but you don’t look like you’re up for saving the world at the moment.”

It was a fair observation, considering Buffy felt like her insides had liquefied and were looking for the nearest escape hatch. But for whatever reason, Fred’s words struck her as funny, and she couldn’t help but bark a laugh.

“Well, I’m allowed a certain amount of downtime after stopping an apocalypse,” she said. “You should have seen me after the last one. At least I didn’t literally bite the bullet this time.”

“Apocalypse. The last one? As in, there was more than one?”

Buffy winced.

Whups.

The look on Fred’s face became distant, almost hopeless. “I…wow…I think I…I think I need to sit down.”

“You are sitting down.”

“Oh.” A beat. “Good for me.”

“It’s okay,” Buffy offered lamely. “I…I might not look it right now, but I…I’ve gotten pretty good at stopping the end of the world.”

Fred glanced up again, wide-eyed.

Buffy waved her hand. “Professional world-endage stopper,” she asserted. At the girl’s blank look, she sighed and figured it was time to get comfortable. It looked as though she was going to be here for a while. “It’s why they call me the Slayer.”

“Who’s they?”

“The people who continually muck up my life,” she replied.

Then, hesitating, she decided to throw the girl a bone. It was only fair—Fred had brought her into her home. She’d fed her and gotten her comfortable, and had offered more than once to pull out the sofa fold-out bed.

Trouble was, the longer Buffy stayed, the slimmer her chances of leaving for the night became. And while she knew it was dangerous to form attachments, there was something about having someone to talk—someone she didn’t know but found herself liking nonetheless—which offered more than its fair share of comfort.

Fred deserved a chance to escape with only a few shocking revelations to mull over. Many people managed to accept the fact the world around them was a fake, covering for the subculture of demons, and continue with their lives relatively unbothered. The girl had already learned more than she should have, but there was still a chance for her to return to her normal without too much of her world turned upside down.

Buffy sighed. Maybe if she kept talking, she would forget how much she missed Spike.

Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, she slowly turned back to Fred and swallowed hard at the girl’s wide-eyed anticipation. “Do you…” she began slowly, “do you really wanna know?”

Fred didn’t hesitate. “Absolutely.”

“It’s gonna change things for you.”

“Things are changed for me anyway. I don’t think I could manage now knowing even this much without knowing all of it.”

A smile tickled her lips. “All right,” she agreed. “I…I might take you up on your offer, then.”

“My offer?”

“Unless it’s no good, which is fine. I just…this might take a while.” Buffy paused before clarifying, “The staying here thing. I thought—”

“Oh!” Fred jumped to her feet. “I’ll go get you blankets and pillows and…and…I have a teddy-bear you can borrow if you want. His name is Wilsbury and he’s…” She froze and the pink in her cheeks deepened. “I’ll just…you’re free to ignore that. The part where I still have a security blanket at the age of—”

Buffy held up a hand and smiled. “I have a pig,” she said softly. “He’s back at my hotel…so I’ll be glad for some company.”

Fred looked appalled. “A pig?”

“A stuffed pig.”

“Oh. Oh, right.” She glanced down self-consciously. “I’ll just…go get the stuff.”

“Don’t you want me to tell you?”

The girl nodded. “Oh yes. But we have all night, don’t we? I want to get you comfortable. I mean…you saved my life. The least I can do is get you a teddy-bear on loan.”

Buffy’s eyes bounced between the cup of soup and the half-consumed tea. “You’ve done a lot, Fred.”

“You saved my life.

“We don’t know that. You might have been taken to a fluffy bunny dimension.”

Fred waved a hand. “I’m getting you stuff. You just sit tight, all right? And let me know if there’s anything else I can get you.”

She disappeared down a hall and Buffy collapsed wearily against the sofa. She knew the helpful thing to do would entail climbing to her feet and setting up the pull-out bed, but she doubted she had the strength to make it to her feet, let alone do lifting of any kind—heavy or not.

God. Her life was such a wonderful mess. She was sitting in a stranger’s living room in the company of perhaps the last genuine person Buffy had ever known, and her heart felt like it was dying.

Spike.

Where was he tonight? Was he thinking about her? Did he even care anymore?

A long sigh rushed through her lips. Of course he didn’t care. She’d given him no reason to care.

After all, she’d left him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Touching her note gave him some comfort, but not much. Not enough to quell the resounding scream piercing his every nerve. For the first time since he’d fought to liberate himself from his own grave, he could feel his demon clawing at his insides as though trying to rip its way to freedom. He needed to touch her—he needed her skin beneath his hands and her taste in his mouth. His need for her eclipsed anything he’d ever experienced, burning a hole in his heart so deep the universe was in danger of falling inside.

He didn’t have a sodding clue what was wrong with him…except, no, he did. Only one thing had changed since they’d entered their motel room, and that was something he hadn’t planned on. Didn’t know much about, save from what he’d read in the few books that mentioned it. He’d known enough to know what it was but not enough to anticipate this.

Which was more than he could say for Buffy. She didn’t know at all—probably didn’t know anything about claims to begin with. Hell, he hadn’t known until Angelus had mocked him with it, and even then, finding reading material hadn’t been easy. Easier than swallowing his pride and asking about it, of course, but not a bloody sinch.

Turned out this century had something to offer, at least. Lots of those dusty old books had been put online. Once he’d found out how to look them up, he’d done all the reading he could.

So claims came with body pain. Would’ve been useful bloody information.

God, what a fool he’d been. He should have told her immediately—should have kept his trap shut to begin with. It had been bad enough when Dru had rejected him, but now he was staring down an eternity tied to a woman who was in love with someone else. He’d damned them both because of his petty fucking jealousy. Because the thought of her wanting Angel while he was inside her had ripped him to shreds.

He’d promised himself he wouldn’t hurt Buffy again. But he had. Spike had always been an impulsive git and love made him more so. Always going for the quick fixes to mend a heart too frequently broken. He hadn’t been thinking clearly.

It took being away from her to realize that.

If he had been thinking clearly, perhaps then he wouldn’t be where he was now. Standing outside the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, where Buffy had, until recently, been sleeping. Despite his frustration that she wasn’t still here, he was thankful that she had at least followed his request that she take care of herself.

Except if this pain was due to what he’d done in that motel room, she had to be hurting and she wouldn’t know why. He’d done that to her.

I’m so sorry. Goodbye.

The note remained in his duster pocket. He rubbed it between his fingers.

It had only taken him a day to catch up with her and from there an hour or so to discover where she’d checked-in. The money he’d given her wouldn’t last forever. Eventually, she would find herself without a roof over her head and a stomach begging to be fed. And as much as Spike wanted to respect her need for distance, the burning desire to touch her was too bloody painful to ignore.

He’d be inside the hotel now if he thought he’d find her. But she hadn’t come back here tonight.

Spike sighed and fished out his half-smoked carton of fags from his other pocket. Buffy’s scent was ripe around him; it wouldn’t take long to pick up a trail. He could find where she’d gone. He could track her down. He could.

Or he could wait. Gather strength. Give her more time.

And himself time to figure out what the hell to say to her. How to begin to explain himself. If he even could.

I’m so sorry. Goodbye.

His eyes fell shut, will battling need.

She was out there. She was somewhere. And she needed him.

He liked to believe she could feel he was near. If she could, she’d know he was coming for her. That he had found her as he’d promised.

He could only hope she was ready.

Chapter Text

Having known Fred less than twenty-four hours, it took surprisingly little for Buffy to deduce that her new acquaintance shared Willow’s view on playing hooky. One’s job was to be taken seriously—as seriously as homework and studying and separating one’s whites and coloreds when doing laundry.

Therefore, Buffy was more than surprised when Fred announced over their breakfast of Frosted Flakes that she was calling in a sick day.

“You are?”

Fred nodded. “I have a lot of vacation days saved up and they go to waste eventually.”

“But you…enjoy work.” It was true. Having listened to the girl ramble all night, Buffy had reached the startling conclusion that there was someone out there who was more library-dependent than Giles. She hesitated to think what would happen should her watcher and her new friend ever find themselves in the same room. Or worse, in the same corner of the same library, desperately needing the same book.

“There’s more to life than work.” Fred shrugged. “Besides…I don’t want to leave you by yourself.”

“You don’t even know me,” Buffy protested, forcing herself to her feet with a wince, jerking her empty bowl out of Fred’s reach.

She might feel like an invalid but that didn’t mean she was going to let a virtual stranger wait on her hand and foot. Fred could remind her about the saving-of-her-life thing all she wanted; Buffy had been raised under the rules that when a guest in someone’s house, she was supposed to pick up after herself. And for whatever reason, she couldn’t stand the thought of doing her mother’s parentage injustice by ignoring it now, no matter how hard her body complained.

And right on cue, Fred chirped in with what was now a familiar song. “You saved—”

“—your life. And as I explained again and again last night, it was…well I know it wasn’t nothing for you, but it’s just not that uncommon for me.”

“Do you know anyone in the city?”

Buffy blinked. “What?”

“You told me you’d lived in Los Angeles before. Do you know anyone in the city?”

The question took her completely off guard. Immediately, she flashed to the old Hemery yearbook buried in her closet back home, compiled with familiar faces and phone numbers from people she’d once called friends. People she could barely remember now. People who would laugh at her if she contacted them for help.

It didn’t help that almost everyone’s last memory of her involved arson.

The fact that she thought of her father after considering the list of nameless faces she’d once called friends drew upon itself how very much she couldn’t rely on him. Showing up on Hank Summers’s doorstep was as good as purchasing a bus ticket home, and home was the last place she wanted to be.

The only place she wanted to be was with Spike.

“I…I know people,” Buffy replied, trying and failing to ignore how small her voice sounded. “I know them. My friend Kimberly…she lives somewhere. I’m sure she lives somewhere.

Fred arched a brow. “Well, somewhere sounds a little ambiguous, especially when I’m right here,” she said. Then, softer, she added, “I know you don’t know me, but I’m nice and I shower every day and I have canned goods. Plus you—”

“Saved your life. I know.”

“I was gonna say, you have the super-strength going for you, so you could take me if you thought I was gonna ax-murder you.”

A wry smile tickled her mouth. The ache withering her muscles into complete uselessness begged to differ. “Well…I guess it’s to my advantage that you think that.”

“If what I saw last night was you when you’re not feeling good, I’d hate to be on your crap list when you’re at your best.”

Buffy withheld a snort. Either Fred’s imagination had run away with her, or she’d managed to keep herself from facing any real danger since moving to Los Angeles.

Of the two possibilities, the first was the most likely. Buffy hadn’t encountered much hero-worship since she was called, but she was certainly familiar with the concept. All she’d done last night was tackle the poor girl to the floor and somehow Fred had concocted this miraculous image of the Slayer and her powers. Never mind the portal or what else—last night hadn’t been about being the Slayer. It had been about being human. Human and aware of the world. The true world. Anyone with a heart would have done the same.

Still, undeserved hero-worship or not, Buffy couldn’t deny that it was nice having someone worry about her. Someone who wouldn’t hold her to unrealistic expectations and glare at her disapprovingly when she proved to be as human as the next person. Someone unlike the friends waiting for her back home.

The only other face she could conjure who would meet these guidelines was Spike.

Buffy honestly had no idea how long she would be in Los Angeles. For the moment, the idea of getting anywhere near the vicinity of Sunnydale made her diseased bones feel damn near brittle, no matter that logic told her homesickness would invariably set in and send her home before the summer was over. Loneliness, however, was something she could control. Only a fool would reject an unsolicited offer of friendship.

“I don’t want to be an inconvenience,” Buffy said.

“And you’re not,” Fred assured her. “It’s pretty much a win/win all around. Plus, if you stayed with me, you’d save loads of money—”

Somehow, Buffy managed to keep from dropping her bowl into the sink. “St…stay with you?”

“Unless you don’t want to…but…”

“You don’t know me, Fred. This is insane.”

“I know,” Fred replied brightly. She didn’t have the appearance of one who knew. She looked too cheery—too friendly—for her own good. “But I’m a pretty good judge of character.”

“There’s a difference between being a good judge of character and inviting a stranger to stay with you.”

“If you wanted me dead, you wouldn’t have hurt yourself saving my life last night.” She batted a hand. “No matter how long I’m here, I can’t get rid of my darn southern hospitality. You don’t have to stay if you don’t want, but it’ll save you money and I could use the company. Plus, if you’re looking to stay in town long, I can help you try and find a job.” Fred trailed off, her brow furrowing. “Actually…how long are you planning on staying?”

Buffy blanked. It was easy to think of that question in the abstract. The last thing she’d ever thought she’d be asked to do was estimate a timetable. When the journey home was admittedly far away, but not so far she couldn’t see the finish line.

“I’m…I dunno,” Buffy answered lamely. “I haven’t thought about it.”

“Oh,” Fred replied, shrugging. “I only ask because my neighbor, Mr. Binns, is moving out. His wife’s sick and their insurance won’t allow them to stay in the city anymore. It’s sad, really…but he’s always been very nice to me, and he wanted to give me first dibs on the apartment because it’s so much bigger than mine. But honestly, I don’t need space like that and I was gonna…” She worried a lip between her teeth. “I guess a point would be nice, huh? The point is I could talk to him…if you’re thinking about staying for a while. It’s a nice apartment and from what he told me, not too expensive. Just too much with medical bills piling up. I can see about getting you in before my landlord advertises a vacancy.”

The offer came from nowhere, thus it took Buffy a few long seconds to understand what Fred was saying. She didn’t know why, but she’d never imagined getting a place and paying actual rent. Rent for more than a room and a toilet and those funny chocolate mints housekeeping left on the pillow. Rent for a place to live.

A place to live.

In Los Angeles. In a city that wasn’t home.

“I’d…I’d need a job,” she said softly. “My…friend—he left me money. A lot of money. More money than…well, I don’t wanna know where he got it. It’s not important. But he left it for me.”

Fred nodded and didn’t ask questions.

“It’ll run out, though,” Buffy concluded, flattening a palm against her stomach. It didn’t help, pressing down upon her sore skin, but for whatever reason, touching where it hurt made her feel momentarily better. As though she were in charge. “Eventually it’ll run out.”

“I can get you a job,” Fred said again.

“Okay…so what are you, the Goodwill Fairy?”

The girl’s cheeks flooded with red. “I…uhhh, sorry. But I can get you a job. Truly. Assuming you don’t mind libraries.”

Buffy couldn’t help it—she laughed. It hurt to laugh, but she laughed anyway. The past two years of her life had been spent in libraries. She knew the Dewey Decimal System by heart. If there was one place she felt at home, it was a library. “No,” she clarified, waving at Fred’s confused look. “No, I—ummm. I don’t mind libraries. Not at all. I just…this seems surreal, you know? I show up and… You think you can get me a decent place to live and a steady income? This sort of stuff never happens. Not in the world I live in, anyway.”

Fred’s blush grew deeper. “I know it’s a logistical anomaly,” she replied self-consciously. “Even as I say this, my brain is scrambling to calculate the odds, and the probability is zero. And Buffy, if you’d rather not take the apartment or whatever job I can manage for you at the library, I won’t be offended. I know we just met and this is all very new for you. Or…no, it’s all very new for me. Not you. But I really do want to help. In any way I can. I can’t promise the job at the library would be anything exciting or beyond re-shelving misplaced books, but it’s better than flipping burgers, in my opinion.”

“Seconded.”

“A-and the room…well, like I said, it’s bigger than my place. Not that I live in the best neighborhood, but—”

“I’m sure it’s perfect.”

Fred flashed a bright, sincere smile and nodded enthusiastically. “It’s big,” she said again, as though that was the main selling point. “He had me over for tea once and it’s—”

“Big,” Buffy finished for her, warding off a flinch. Her legs didn’t seem to want to stand.

“Yes. And nice.”

“It’ll only be me if I get the place.” But already, Buffy was envisioning hanging up punching bags and setting mats along the floor—making the space she’d never seen livable for someone like her. Someone who would need the extra room for stretching and aerobics. For keeping herself in shape even if she didn’t plan to actively patrol while living in Los Angeles. Something told her she would need to exert at least a little energy while she was here or else she’d go mad with inactivity.

Her muscles, however, whined at the thought of exertion, and her stomach felt prone to chuck out the cereal she’d just finished eating.

Though it went against every natural instinct, not to mention what she’d told Fred last night, Buffy began to consider the wisdom of avoiding the doctor’s office, especially while she had money. She was damn near certain her body was betraying her on grounds of a mystical level, but there was ostensibly no harm in seeing if human painkillers could do any good.

However, this line of thought likely meant the hospital, and Buffy hated hospitals. The last one she’d been in had nearly killed her, that being literally, thanks to Der Kindestod. Had she been at home and surrounded by familiarity, she was certain she would fight to her last breath before succumbing to medical care. But here, there was no mom to worry about her or friends to annoy her or watcher to clean his glasses. She was in an unfamiliar place with a person she’d only just met, who only had a sincere desire to help.

“I’ll talk to my landlord,” Fred offered. “He likes me. I’m sure I can get you in.”

Buffy nodded and forced a smile to her lips. “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it. You—”

“Saved your life.”

Fred grinned. “I’ve been saying that a lot, huh?”

“It’s no big. I just…” Another wave of nausea crashed over her. Buffy bit her lip, willing her eyes shut as she rode it out. “I…”

“Buffy?” The smile was gone from the girl’s face. “What is it? Are you okay? Is it… Is there something I can get you?”

I need Spike.

These weren’t the words she said, however. Every nerve in her body screamed for him, but she couldn’t say it. She couldn’t make out why. Only that she needed him. She needed him now, and desperately. Spike would make everything better.

God, just thinking of him hurt. What had he done to her?

“I…”

“Okay, that’s it,” Fred said suddenly, her voice hardened with resolve. “I didn’t say anything all night or this morning, but this…this just isn’t normal. I’m taking you to the doctor.”

Even though Buffy had just reached the same conclusion, it was her instinct to protest.

“Ah, ah,” Fred cut Buffy off before she even had a chance to object, miming zipped lips with a stern, almost maternal look in her eyes. “No fightsies. We’re going to the doctor.”

The girl could give Willow a run for her money when it came to Resolve Face.

“Okay,” Buffy agreed. “Okay.”

Her consent was the cue her body needed. She felt the floor slip from under her, felt cool ceramic tile beneath her hands and watched the world spiral into an endless twist of color before blacking out completely.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Were Buffy in less pain, there was every chance she would have found Fred’s incredibly-tame-but-very-heartfelt curses even more amusing than she already did. As it was, the fact that it hurt to laugh took some of the merriment out—some, but not much. She refused to keep from giggling where giggling was appropriate. If this affliction took away her ability to find the funny, she would surely wither to nothing.

“Stupid, lousy, good-for-nothing doctors,” Fred cursed, seizing Buffy’s arm on a whim and dragging it around her neck. “Here…lean on me.”

Right, because I didn’t feel pitiful enough.

However, Buffy didn’t argue. She was grateful for the aid. Her legs felt as though they were about to give out.

The trip to the hospital had consumed the day, eating away at sunlight and casting the veil of night upon them before the staff ultimately decided there was nothing medically wrong with her and showed her the door. Without insurance or anything except the cold cash in Buffy’s pocket and what meager earnings Fred immediately offered to put forward, ignoring Buffy’s protests, there was no logical reason to keep her overnight.

“All in your head, my butt,” Fred all but snarled. “I swear, I have half a mind to go back there and give Dr. Jenkins a…piece of my mind.”

“That’s a lot of your mind going around,” Buffy observed. “Oh—ouch!”

“What?” the girl demanded, panicked. “What? Did I run you into something? I’m sorry—”

“No…it’s just… God, this thing is getting worse.”

“Are you okay? Should we go back?”

Going back wasn’t really an option. They’d already deduced her problem wasn’t a medical one, and after getting into some sticky questions about family history, had told her they were very sorry but there was nothing they could do.

She was homeless, after all. Another teen walking the street. Why should they worry about her?

“You wanna try the free clinic?” Fred asked. “We might—”

“No,” Buffy replied, sharper than she intended. “I…”

It was fitting, she supposed, that she only become truly aware of her surroundings when there was nothing to do about it. Her slayer senses were so fogged, it would take the world’s largest defroster to get her seeing clearly again. Otherwise, Buffy was certain she wouldn’t have allowed Fred to drag her down a poorly-lit street on a side of town which looked less than reputable.

This was bad.

“Oh god,” Buffy said.

“What?”

“Where are we?”

“Not far. About three blocks from the metro rail. We’ll be home soon.”

“We didn’t come this way.”

“Shortcut.”

Shortcuts. Always the shortcuts. Vamps dug the shortcuts. It was how most stragglers ended up dead.

“Fred…” Buffy sucked in a deep breath, summoned all her strength, and shoved her friend away. “Run.”

“What?”

“Run!”

The command was punctuated with a timely, familiar roar, and then the world around her fell to chaos. Buffy fell face-first onto the cement, her palms bracing her fall but her lack of vigor doing little to cushion her as she rolled into a useless lump beside the curb.

The sound of Fred’s screams filled the air. The dumb girl wasn’t running.

“Get out of here!”

“Buffy—”

Another vampiric snarl tore through the night. Buffy forced herself onto her back and attempted a flip-up to her feet. Every nerve in her body screamed in protest, but she forced herself to ignore the pain. She shoved everything aside—commanded her exhausted mind to focus. To regroup.

“Yes, yes, run,” a particularly nasty voice said encouragingly. “We’ll help your friend, here, home.”

“You sonofa—”

“Fred!”

Then something amazing happened. It was, perhaps, the most welcome feeling in the world. One second her body was about to collapse inward, and the next thing she knew, the pain began to recede. Not gone entirely, but the strain on her insides softened and the brittle feebleness of her aching muscles hardened with familiar strength and resolution. Buffy seized it, grasped it, and held on. She was on her feet in an instant, delivering a swift kick to the vamp charging at her left while rounding the other vamp with a punch strong enough to send him into the nearest waste bin.

Perhaps she was in so much pain she could no longer feel it. She didn’t know. All Buffy knew was she had to get Fred out of there.

Now.

“Oh my god,” Fred said. “Buffy…are you…?”

“I swear, if you don’t run, I will personally break all your bones so leaving the house is not an option.” Buffy pointed and flicked her brows. “Run. Don’t stop running.”

“I can’t leave you—”

“Did you not hear the breaking your bones thing? I’m fine.” This last point she demonstrated by kicking her leg backward just in time to send the vamp who had been creeping up on her back into the waste-bin. “Run.”

Buffy didn’t have time to determine whether the look on Fred’s face was relief at her apparent resurgence of strength or hurt at her callousness, and though it bothered her, she couldn’t let herself dwell. There would be time to apologize later.

“Dayum,” one of the vamps drawled, climbing wearily to his feet. “See that, Frank? She sent yours off runnin’.”

The vamp in the waste-bin said nothing, but he didn’t look pleased.

“All right, boys,” she said, “step on up. I’ve been itching for a good fight.”

And then everything around her fell deathly still, and the world became unglued.

“Be careful what you wish for.”

A hand seized her wrist and suddenly she was jerked around, tumbling hard and fast into familiar arms, her breasts suddenly pressed against a chest she knew well. She felt him gasp at the contact. And the second his eyes crashed with hers, every cell in her weary body burst into song.

“Spike…”

“’Cause if it’s a fight you’re itchin’ for, pet,” he said, his eyes lingering for a moment on her mouth, “I’d be more than happy to oblige.”

Then his lips crashed upon hers, and everything around her melted away.

Chapter Text

True, it wasn’t the longest kiss on record. Not even the most romantic, all things considered. They were locked together in a stolen moment, nipping at each other’s lips as the two fledgling vamps stared in confusion. For the world, Spike couldn’t think to complain. This wasn’t exactly how he’d pictured making his grand entrance, but his plans were typically shot to hell anyhow, and he wasn’t one to deny himself when the girl he loved was so willingly squirming in his arms and gasping into his mouth.

“Spike. Spike. Oh god…” He felt wetness against his skin and reared back in astonishment. Tears burned rivers down her cheeks. She was crying. “Are you real?” she demanded, then consumed his lips before he could reply. “Is this real?”

God, if he hadn’t been hard before, he was certain he could cut glass now. All he wanted to do was shove her against the nearest wall and lose himself in her body. The heat of her practically burned a hole in his jeans. She was everywhere, and he was drunk on her.

But they weren’t alone. He didn’t particularly fancy trying to shag her while avoiding blows from a couple of bystanders.

“Mhmm,” he agreed, kissing the corner of her mouth. “Real as the fangy bloke behind you.”

Buffy blinked but didn’t have time to react. Spike seized her by the shoulders and gently pushed her aside before sinking his fist into the attacking vampire’s gut. The fledging keeled over with a gasp only to be kicked to the ground the next second, the whole of him dissolving in dust from the force of a flying stake.

Spike glanced up. Buffy had regained her footing.

“I hate being interrupted,” she grumbled, breaking into a run toward him. Only it wasn’t for him and he knew it. Spike ducked in time for her to roll off his back, her body contorting so her legs could slam into the second vampire, who soared across the alleyway and smashed into the brick wall of the neighboring building. “Hello! Ruining a happy moment here!”

“I’ll bloody well say.” Spike flashed her a winning smile and dove his hand into his duster pocket, retrieving a stake. A quick flash and the second vamp joined the first, his ashes scattered along the pavement. “Serves him bloody right for interruptin’ a snog with my lady.”

He didn’t know whether to be surprised or disappointed at the fallen look on Buffy’s face. In truth, he’d expected their reunion to come with a quick punch to the jaw rather than what had happened. The past few weeks with Buffy had made him especially privy to the wide range of her emotional reactions. She either fell soft or hardened up on instinct, and it was a coin’s toss on which way the pendulum swung.

He frowned. He truly did have a problem mixing metaphors.

“What are you doing here, Spike?” she asked, her eyes heavy. Her lips wet and aching to be kissed. God, he just wanted to kiss her. He’d waited so long. The hurt was gone now and the rest didn’t matter. He just wanted to kiss her.

But he didn’t kiss her. The fact that he was able to keep both feet firmly planted on the ground was more than admirable. “You know what I’m doing here.”

“I left.”

“Yeah, and I said I’d come after you, pet. What? You think those were just words?”

She stiffened righteously and crossed her arms, her green eyes betraying conflict she couldn’t hide. “I didn’t ask you to come for me.”

Spike perked a brow. “And I didn’t ask you to leave. What of it?”

“Spike—”

“Don’t start by telling me you’re not happy to see me, love. I know better.” He took a step forward, unable to keep from sizing her up. “The way you kissed me…you’ve been pining for your Spike, haven’t you?”

“That’s none of your business.”

“Buffy…”

“I mean—” She cut off abruptly and rolled her eyes. “Oh for god’s sake, who am I kidding?” And without warning, she jumped into his arms, her hands framing his face and dragging his mouth down to hers. The second her lips brushed his, the world around him melted and the monster in his chest purred.

This was how it should have been. Every sodding second. Buffy was his. She was his, and he’d missed her so much the pain in his gut had trembled at the weight of the ache in his heart. There was nothing about her he didn’t love. The way she smelled of raspberry shower-wash, the way she moaned into his mouth when he sucked at her tongue, the way she subconsciously danced against his erection. The way she snarked at him while trying to contain giggles. The way she clung to him when she wept. The fire in her eyes. The witty retort on her lips. Her sodding holier-than-thou attitude and her perpetual martyr complex. He loved it all. She was bright and vivid and alive, and she was his.

He had her in his arms again. There would be no letting her go after this.

“What took you so long?” she demanded breathlessly, nibbling on his lower lip. “You…g’nah.”

His hand had found her breast. The small, fleshy roundness of it, her nipple hard against his palm. And when he massaged her—Christ, the sounds she made. It was nearly enough to make a grown man come in his trousers.

“You tell a girl…you’ll find her…and…and it’s been—”

“Too long.”

“Yes. Yes, too long.”

“Didn’t think you wanted to be found, love,” Spike told her truthfully, pressing a kiss to the corner of her mouth before his wandering lips began a southbound trek. If he wasn’t careful, he was going to end up fucking her against one of the alley walls, and though excusable given the circumstances, she deserved better. “You ran off.”

Buffy’s head rolled back, his mouth worshipping her throat. “I…I had to.”

“Mmm,” he hummed. “Why?”

“Because…I…oh god, I don’t even…ahhh!”

Spike grinned and licked the bite mark again. “You like that, baby?” he whispered. “Bet this pretty little neck has been achin’ for my fangs.”

“I’ve been aching all over,” she retorted, fisting his hair and jerking his head upward so she could kiss him again. And then she froze—she went positively rigid against his mouth—and he knew without needing to see her eyes narrow or her brow furrow in concentration that the tide had changed.

It didn’t stop him from whimpering in protest when she pulled away and quickly put herself out of kissing distance. “I’ve been aching all over, actually,” she said. “Until now.”

“I’d think that’d be a good thing, pet,” Spike replied weakly. “Unless you want the hurt to go on.”

“You don’t understand—”

He perked his brows. “Don’t I? That twisted feeling in your gut? The way your muscles cramp? How it hurts to bloody breathe? Got so used to breathing around you, I rightly forgot I had the option of not. Hurt to get up. Hurt to move. Hurt to eat. Hurt to…there wasn’t much that didn’t hurt, was there? Had to give up my smokes ’cause the whole process was a bloody nightmare.”

Buffy’s eyes were wide. “So it’s…it’s been that way for you, too?”

“Not exactly what I’d call a picnic, eh, Slayer?”

“But it’s gone now. I was…just a few minutes ago, and then you were…” She paused, every inch of her suddenly weighted with suspicion. He couldn’t say it was altogether unexpected. “What did you do?” she demanded. “What’s making me—”

“Us,” Spike corrected.

“Whatever. What did—”

“You’re mine, Buffy. That’s what I did. I made you mine. I claimed you.”

Off her look, he knew she had no idea about what he was talking, and while it didn’t surprise him—while he’d known to expect it—he found he was still irritated. If any human should be privy to ancient vampire rituals, it was the slayer.

Never mind that he hadn’t known himself until he’d looked it up in several old, dusty books, but it was the principle of the thing.

“You…claimed…what’s that?” She scrunched her nose adorably. “I’m not exactly free territory. You can’t just stake a flag in me and declare me Property of Spike.”

He warded off a grin. Something told him smiling at her would be a mistake. “Didn’t need a flag, pet,” he replied. “Got fangs.”

“So you…” Buffy inhaled sharply, her hand flying to the mark on her throat. “You…the bite. That’s what…you…”

“It was instinct. It wasn’t planned. You were…you were under me…surroundin’ me…” Spike sighed and forced himself to keep from falling back into the memory of her hot pussy gripping him, drenching him, marking his body forever. The lost look in her eyes—the venom in her voice in spite of her raucous need for what he offered. She’d wanted the memory of Angel fucked out of her, and the hint that Spike was nothing more than a stand-in for what she truly wanted had reared the possessive demon inside. He’d needed to make her his, and he had. “You were…you were around me. And I couldn’t…I couldn’t stand the thought that you were just fucking me to get him outta your head.”

Buffy wet her lips. “So you…claimed me.”

“Yeah.”

“And that’s why I’ve been sick?”

Something flashed in her eyes, and he knew then that she’d suspected. It wasn’t surprising—Buffy wasn’t dumb and she knew blood had power. Still, he supposed there was a difference between suspecting and knowing. Now she knew, and she was brassed.

Buffy shook her head as though trying to clear it. “You’ve made me physically crave you because you wanted me to—”

“I just said it wasn’t planned.”

“Well, okay then. So what now? How do you undo it?”

The question alone nearly brought him to tears. Spike’s jaw hardened, his pain shoved aside in the namesake of pride. He wouldn’t let her see how her words cut. “You don’t,” he ground out.

“Don’t what?”

“Undo it. There is no bloody undoing it. We call it claiming for a reason, honey. Vampires mate for life…or unlife. When they choose their mate, there’s no undoing it.” He flashed her a particularly ugly smile, spreading his arms wide. “You’re stuck with me.”

For long seconds, there was nothing but the heavy crash of her breaths and the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest. Her eyes shone, flecked with a warped fury of fear and horror. “But…you… You were with Dru—”

Spike laughed bitterly. “Well, I never claimed Dru, did I?”

“Why…why not?”

“She wasn’t mine, Slayer. She belonged to her precious daddy. Just like Darla. Every bint who so much as catches a whiff of that bastard all but throws herself…” He broke off, shaking his head. “You were…I couldn’t bear it. Not another woman I… Not you, Buffy. Not you, too. So I claimed you. Made sure you and Angel and the whole sodding world knew you were—are—mine, not his.”

And there it was. The anger bubbling beneath the surface of confusion finally touched the air. In a blink, all came thoroughly unwound. “You unbelievable bastard!” she screamed, her fist connecting with his jaw and sending him across the alleyway and into the front of a large trash dispenser. “I was grieving. I killed him. Do you get that? Do you understand? I killed him. This wasn’t a pissing contest—whose fangs are bigger. I’d killed Angel and you were jealous because I wasn’t overjoyed about that? What kind of person are you?”

Spike wiped his bleeding lip with his duster sleeve, ignoring the aches shooting through his tired body as he climbed to his feet. Honestly, he’d more or less expected this. In a relationship such as theirs, no heated conversation could go without a dose of violence.

“Not a person, love.”

Buffy stared at him, shaking. “I can’t believe you’d do this to me.”

“I just told you it wasn’t planned, you daft twig,” he growled. “It wasn’t planned. Hell, you’re the one who jumped me that night, remember? I’d tortured myself over you as it was. Kissing you. Touching you. All that song and dance we did back in Sunnyhell and you were so bloody far from me. Even when I was inside you, I couldn’t touch you. So I claimed you.”

“I didn’t ask for it!”

He huffed indignantly, throbbing with hurt. “Yeah, well, I didn’t ask to be claimed back, so we’re even.”

She blinked dumbly. “What? Did not!”

A self-satisfied smirk wormed its way to his lips. He hooked two fingers under the neckline of his tee and jerked the fabric down until his shoulder was bared. The shoulder marked with her teeth. “Claiming’s a simple ritual for what it does,” he said casually. “For vamps, at least…not sure for other demons. All we need is a taste of blood and two words. I say, ‘mine’ and you say—”

“Yours.”

The word rode out on a gasp—a small, breathless revelation. She remembered, then. She remembered the second it happened. The second she became his.

Spike nodded. “Right. If you hadn’t said that, we wouldn’t be here.”

“I didn’t know—”

“’Course not. Doesn’t matter if you knew it or not.” Spike broke, shaking his head. “The funny thing? The claim would’ve worn away if you hadn’t given me this.” His fingers grazed the bite mark before releasing the neckline altogether. “Claim’s gotta be accepted and reciprocated. It’s a…for lack of better words, a marriage of equals. I can’t take you by force and that’s why your consent is so important. And in claiming me back, we acknowledge that we’re the same. I’m yours, you’re mine.” Spike glanced down, unable to withstand the horror in her eyes anymore. “The pain…it goes away after a while. Took me a bit to remember that. Never planned on claiming anyone who wasn’t Dru, and I sure as bloody hell didn’t plan on not being with her when I did. But it’ll pass. The pain you’ve—we’ve been going through. It’ll pass. For now, the thing is, we’ve essentially bonded on the principle that we belong to each other, so it’s bloody unnatural for us to be apart.”

“Oh my god…”

“It won’t always be like this,” he said again. “It’s just…it’s too new now. Like a kid, right? Needs his mum all the time at first…but as he gets older, he becomes more self-reliant.”

Buffy was shaking so hard it was a wonder the ground beneath her didn’t quake. “Oh my god,” she said again. “And this…this can’t be…I can’t…” She looked up sharply, her eyes glistening with fresh tears. And Christ, all he wanted to do was take her in his arms and hold her until the pain went away. Until she realized he wasn’t the devil and he would be the one to stay at her side for all eternity. He would love her hard and well. He already did.

“You let me leave,” she said suddenly. “You let me come out here and…you let me be in such…in such pain—”

What?

“What?” Spike blinked, his hands coming up. “Slayer—”

“You knew I was going to leave! How could you let me leave without telling me this? Without—”

“I didn’t—”

“I have the note. Unless there was someone else named Spike staying in our room—”

“I didn’t know it’d be so bleeding painful!” he barked. “How could I? Never been claimed before. Never had a mate before. No one told me how this worked!”

“You seem pretty well-read—”

“And that’s just it, Buffy. Well-read. Had a little time, didn’t I? Caught up on my homework. I would’ve been here sooner if…” His voice trailed off on another cynical laugh, his arms going up, his mind railroading into a brick wall. “You know what? Sod it. Damned if I do and damned if I bloody don’t. You think this has been fun for me? Think again, kitten. I know you don’t love me. Know this isn’t what you wanted. Know you’d rather spend eternity with anyone but me.” Spike sighed and met her eyes. “I can’t change what we did. But…Buffy, we can…”

He didn’t finish the thought. He knew what she would say, and the thought was too painful to harden into reality.

Perhaps he was fortunate, then, that the air split with a timely scream.

“Oh god,” Buffy gasped, whirling around. “Fred.”

Then again, Spike mused wearily as he watched his girl tear down the alleyway. Maybe not.

 

Chapter Text

A thousand terrible images flashed through Buffy’s head as her suddenly rejuvenated body sprinted across an endless stretch of pavement. Visions of Fred on the ground. Fred in pain. Fred holding her bleeding stomach. Fred’s wide, brown eyes finding hers, wordlessly demanding how such a thing could happen. How, after all the kindness she’d shown a stranger, she could be repaid like this.

“Fred!”

A scream directed her feet. Buffy took a sharp turn to the right and found herself lost in another shadowy alley, chasing phantoms.

“Fred! Fred!”

There was a flurry of movement and she was suddenly road-blocked by a human wall. A gang of ten or so, dressed in street clothes barricaded her pathway, staring at her with intent which couldn’t be mistaken. Buffy jerked to a sudden halt, her chest heaving, her eyes stretching wide with confusion.

It took several minutes to register that she was on the business end of several crossbows. These kids wielded crossbows. There was something very much wrong here.

“Okay,” she said slowly, her lungs fighting for air. “You got my attention. Either you’re here to help or you’re keeping me from my friend. What’s the what?”

“The girl’s ours, vampire,” one of the kids spat, hoisting his crossbow higher to make sure it was seen. “She’s safe. Can’t say the same for you.”

Buffy’s eyebrows shot skyward. “Okay, what?”

“We saw you,” another voice supplied. “Can’t do much in this part of town we won’t see.”

“You saw me, what?” she retorted. “Dusting vamps? Yeah. That’s kind of what I do. Fred’s with me—and as comforting as those weapons might be, I promise she’ll be safer with the Slayer at her side.”

The first guy spoke again, the crossbow shifting slightly in his arms. “The Slayer?” he repeated. “What’s that? Some kinda demon?”

Buffy stared at him blankly. “Okay, how is it that the people on the Hellmouth are more in the know than you? Are you telling me I actually needed to move to a big city to have a secret identity?” Her hands found her hips, her head tilting. “Superman was right all along. Who knew?”

“What the fuck are you talkin’ about?”

“Where’s Fred?” she countered, her eyes blazing dangerously. “I need to see she’s okay. And believe me, if you don’t cooperate, you’ll see how very ineffective those weapons are in the face of a pissed-off slayer.”

The two apparent ringleaders exchanged a telling glance.

“We could stay here and chat this out until the sun comes up and then you can see how very much I don’t dust,” Buffy offered happily. “Just let me see my friend unless you want to see some violence.”

There was nothing for a few seconds. They simply stared at each other.

“It’s all right, Briggs,” a voice said from the left. Buffy whirled around—someone was emerging from a patch of shadows. Another kid, though kid was becoming a relative term in her mind. He was in his early twenties, perhaps, judging by looks alone. His skin was dark, his eyes heavy, carrying the weight of having grown up much too quickly—a feeling Buffy knew intimately. She knew without being told she was looking at the actual leader. His authority couldn’t be denied. His presence had the rest of the gang immediately at ease.        

“She ain’t no vamp,” the newcomer said.

Buffy nodded shakily. “Just now catching on, are you?”

“We were tailing those two you and your boy took out.”

“Tailing? In a big, silent way?”

“We’re good at keepin’ invisible if we want. Find it’s easier to kill vamps if we’re stealthy.” He held her gaze a minute longer before turning to address the one he’d called Briggs. “Go get the girl.”

Briggs wasn’t as easily convinced. “We don’t know jack about this, Gunn.”

“We know this chick ain’t no vamp,” came the retort. “Go get the girl.”

There was a long pause before anyone moved. Briggs didn’t draw his guarded eyes away from Buffy until it was physically impossible to keep staring at her. Then he was gone, and despite herself, Buffy found her shoulders slumping with relief and a sigh rolling off her lips. Briggs might not be the leader, but somehow she didn’t think he discriminated against whom he killed as long as the vamp toll was higher at the end of the day.

People like that terrified her. While she hadn’t run into any vigilante vamp hunters in the first year of her Calling, Merrick had warned her that certain areas of Los Angeles were riddled with displaced teens who took matters of supernatural law into their own hands. They weren’t to be trusted, for they trusted no one but themselves. Outsiders, even if the outsiders fought on the side of good, were only given slight favor above the society which had so often spat in their faces. She wasn’t supposed to interfere with their operation. There was no talking them down or enlightening them with reason and knowledge. She was going to do her duty, and wish the best for everyone else.

“Sorry ‘bout Briggs,” the other guy—Gunn—said, stepping forward. “We don’t see moves like yours that aren’t a vamp’s or a demon’s. But I saw it. You fought them.”

“Yeah,” Buffy agreed shortly. “I fought them. And funny thing, I didn’t see you at all.”

“Told you. We ain’t seen unless we wanna be seen. We were tailin’ those vamps. I was about to send two of mine in as bait, then you and the girl came along.”

She nodded, her eyes narrowing. “So you decided to use us.”

“We would’ve helped if help was needed. You had it under control.” Gunn motioned to the remaining vigilantes, and in one stroke they all lowered their weapons. They operated seamlessly—a machine that knew how to effectively use its parts.

“You grabbed Fred, then?”

“Fred the girl?”

She nodded.

“Girl was freaked,” Gunn confirmed. “Screamin’ things about vamps. She said you were doubled over in pain, so when we saw you tossing the vamps around like dolls…” He trailed off with a frown, his brown eyes growing wide as though only then realizing something wasn’t right. “Where is he?”

“Where’s who?” she asked quickly, her tone laced with faux-innocence.

“Your boy. The one you macked on before remembering there were demons in the alley.”

Buffy stiffened. Her racing mind attempted to recount the last few minutes—what had happened before she took off after Fred—and she couldn’t remember if Spike had gone into game face or not. She hadn’t noticed. She hadn’t cared. She’d just been relieved to see him. More than relieved—had she not regained her emotions, she would have begged him never to leave her again.

Then there was the revelation. The cause of her pain. The reason she’d felt, for the past few days, she was being gutted from the inside out. Like someone was dicing her up. Felt the need for him beyond anything she’d ever known. They were linked by blood. The night in the hotel—the night that had forever changed her life—had indeed forever changed her life. She’d thought just having him inside her was an awakening. Turned out the fangs he’d buried in her throat and the words he’d whispered meant more than fleeting, sexual possession. She should have known. With vamps, it was always biting and blood and if it wasn’t for food, there had to be a different reason Spike had staked his claim on her.

And she’d claimed him right back.

Buffy cleared her throat. “He’s not here.”

Even as she spoke the words, she knew she was lying. Spike wouldn’t leave her. Not now.

Not with this thing between them.

This was, of course, confirmed the next second. She felt him before she heard him—felt him before the telling hiss of a match lighting filled the alley. The warm glow of a cigarette burned in the shadows. She didn’t know how long he’d been there. Her nerves were still flamed from having touched him. Having kissed him. Having been near him at all. Everything was on overdrive.

“Almost right, pet,” Spike drawled, blowing out a cool stream of smoke. “Don’t think I’d let you run off and have all the fun, do you?”

Gunn started in surprise, and he didn’t look like a guy easily taken by surprise.

“What the fuck?” came from the crowd.

“Man, this night is fuckin’ crazy,” affirmed another.

Spike’s brows arched appraisingly as he strolled out of the shadows, situating himself firmly at Buffy’s side. The unspoken implication both warmed and irritated her. He was staking his territory—he was making it known that any quarrel they had with her, they had with him, as well. And while she appreciated the support, there was nothing here she couldn’t handle.

Especially with her body still buzzing from what had happened earlier. What she’d learned.

Gunn shot a warning glance to Buffy. “This your boy?”

She blinked. “I thought you saw him.”

“Thought I saw a lot. Can’t be too careful, can we?” He inhaled sharply and stepped forward, a dangerous gleam in his eyes. “Where’d he come from?”

Spike took his cigarette between his index and middle finger, rocking slightly on his heels, as he sized the other man up. “You think your lot’s the only ones good at slinking in the shadows, mate?” he asked. “Don’t feature letting my girl outta my sight too long. Rough neighborhood, and all that.”

“Think we both know she can handle herself.”

“Mhmmm,” Spike purred, taking another hit of nicotine. “With lots of little boys runnin’ around with crossbows and knives, thinking she’s a demon?”

Apparently, the idiot vampire had never taken the course in not pissing off people with pointy weapons. “Little what?” an angry voice demanded. “Does he know who the fuck we are?”

“I don’t think he cares,” Gunn answered, not taking his eyes off the Brit. “So, what’s the story? You one, too?”

“Depends,” Spike replied coolly. “One what?”

But Buffy knew exactly what Gunn meant, and she wasn’t about to let Spike dig himself an early grave. Not only would it be redundant, it was her job. If anyone got staking-Spike privilege, it was her.

“He is,” she confirmed with a nod. “He’s a slayer, too.”

She wisely ignored the half-shocked, half-amused look she earned with that particular lie. Meeting Spike’s eyes now would be very much of the bad. She just hoped he got over it fast enough to make the transition from vampire-to-slayer believable. If Gunn hadn’t seen Spike’s bumpies, they had every shot of getting out of this unscathed.

Especially since the gang seemed to have no knowledge whatsoever about slayers. If they could pass off the notion that slayers were chosen haphazardly by the PTB, Spike’s super-strength wouldn’t be nearly as difficult to explain.

To her relief, Spike didn’t rebuke the notion or openly question where she got off spreading things like that around. Instead, he offered a swift nod and said, “Yeah. That’s right. I’m a slayer. Buffy and me, we’re the slayers. The two in LA, or what all. We were just having a moment when those nasty, evil, disgusting buggers decided to interrupt.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. Lay it on thick much?

“—they came after us with their fangs, ‘cause that’s what vamps do, y’know, and—”

“Spike!” She elbowed him swiftly and flashed Gunn an apologetic smile. “He—umm. Gets a little…excited when we talk about the…the killing of…evil things.”

“It’s my bread and butter,” Spike agreed, his fingers absently caressing his ribs. “Bloody hell, Slayer, you forget your strength sometimes.”

Gunn’s eyes narrowed warily, and though it was more than obvious he was growing more uncomfortable with this by the second, he seemed strangely willing to let it slide. “So,” he said. “What’s the deal with slayers?”

“Yeah,” came a voice of unrest from the crowd. Several kids had raised their weapons again. “If you two ain’t demons—”

“We’re Chosen warriors,” Spike said proudly, puffing out his chest and tossing an arm around Buffy’s shoulder. “Me and my girl here. Chosen two. Selected by the wankers upstairs to even out the cosmic odds. Demon fighters with demon strength and all that.”

“It’s a thing,” Buffy said quickly, relieved beyond nothing else when Briggs stepped back into the alley by way of an open warehouse door, dragging Fred by the arm.

And suddenly there was an out. She had what she wanted. She had Fred.

They had to get out of here before Spike said something notably unsoulful and got them all in even more trouble.

“Oh thank god,” she breathed, tearing from Spike’s side. “Fred!”

The brunette’s eyes filled with tears the second they met hers, relief flooding her face. “Buffy!” she gasped, jerking free of Briggs’s hold to meet her halfway. And before she could blink, Buffy found herself with an armful of Fred, who trembled and clung to her as though they’d been separated for years. “I’m so sorry,” the girl swore. “I tried to explain. I tried to tell them you weren’t a vampire, but—”

“Buffy a vampire?” Spike drawled, snickering. “There’s a pretty thought.”

The comment earned an awkward pause and several wary glances.

“And by pretty,” he continued, “I mean…nasty and evil and not at all good, ’cause then I’d have to kill her, and—”

“How are you?” Fred demanded, releasing Buffy from her bear hug long enough to visually verify she wasn’t bleeding out of every pore or about to collapse on the pavement. “I didn’t wanna run. I didn’t—”

“I told you to run,” Buffy reminded her softly. “You did the right thing.”

“But you were hurt. You were—”

She shook her head. “It’s cool. I’m good now.”

“Gunn,” Briggs said suddenly, “who the fuck is that?”

Buffy whirled around, her instincts flaring. Spike stood more than ten feet away. If the gang was growing suspicious, they needed to make a quick exit. Quick meaning now. She had Fred and she didn’t exactly want to stick around and make conversation with a bunch of street-fighters who didn’t know vamps from non-vamps, ambiguities aside. It took Briggs’s voice to remind her he was the one she didn’t trust.

Well, the one she didn’t trust the most.

“A slayer,” Gunn replied, his voice weighted with doubt. “Like the girl.”

“Two slayers?”

“Apparently.”

Then Gunn turned back to Buffy, his eyes sharp and, for the first time, she became acutely aware of how intelligent he was. No matter the language he used or the group with which he ran, this man was not to be underestimated. He was sharp. He was suspicious. And for whatever reason, he was providing her an out.

Every inch of her filled with gratitude.

“So the two of you are slayers,” he said slowly, nodding to Spike. “Think you can handle yourselves? Me and mine got more sweeps to do. People who aren’t slayers.”

“Vamps to kill,” Spike agreed eagerly, his eyes bright.

Buffy groaned inwardly. There was no way he was going to get over this I’m-the-slayer thing.

Gunn tossed the vampire another glance, thickened with even more suspicion. “Right,” he said. “So take the girl and get gone. And some advice? Not the best area to be makin’ out, even if you two are slayers.” He turned sharply to his gang and jerked his chin up. “Let’s roll.”

“Whoa, wait,” Briggs protested. “We gonna let ’em go?”

“Not the enemy, bro,” Gunn replied. “We’re all on the same side, here.”

“And we’re gone,” Buffy agreed, grabbing Fred’s wrist. “We’re all kinds of gone.”

Briggs stared at her for a hard minute. “Right. Whatever. Don’t let us catch you down here again.”

“Oi! The Slayer’s gotta go where she—we—”

Buffy rolled her eyes and seized Spike by the scruff of the neck with her other hand. “Don’t worry,” she shouted over her shoulder, dragging her people along with her. “I think this town is sufficiently big enough for the…all of us.”

“Rough-housing, pet?” her vampire purred, wrenching free the second they turned a corner.

“That’s the last time you get to be a slayer,” Buffy muttered.

“I take it I missed something?” Fred asked meekly.

“Oh, so much.” Buffy sighed, reluctantly releasing the brunette’s wrist. “Fred, Spike,” she said, then returned in kind. “Spike, Fred. Fred’s my friend. She let me stay at her place. And Spike’s my…”

Spike swallowed audibly when she didn’t complete the thought and shot her a speculative glance, but neither broke stride.

Spike’s my…

Well, wasn’t that the question of the hour?

“Pleased to meet you,” Fred said quickly. “Can we do this somewhere that’s not outside? I think I’ve had my share of vampires tonight.”

A small smile tugged on Spike’s lips, but thankfully, he didn’t comment.

Instead, he laced his fingers through Buffy’s, his palm against hers.

And without warning, the walls in Buffy’s mind collapsed. Her heart flipped and the whole of her trembled. He could reduce her to nothing more than trembling female nerves with one little gesture. One little gesture which somehow meant the world.

I think I’ve had my share, too.

Not that it mattered. It didn’t, and she didn’t mean it anyway. Spike very clearly wasn’t going anywhere.

She’d have to kick his ass if he disappeared.

Especially now.

Not that he needed to know that.

Though something in his smile told her he already did.

Chapter Text

“You’ve got to be bloody kidding me.”

It took everything in him not to collapse to his knees. Not to wrap his arms around her middle. Not to turn into some simpering ninny right there at the doorstep of her little friend’s apartment. He’d only just found her again—there was no way he was going to walk away now. Not with the taste of her in his mouth and the warmth of her burning his hands. He knew she was confused, and Christ it wasn’t like he could blame her, but he couldn’t abide the thought of being shut away again.

He knew Buffy realized the importance of the claim. They were linked. His blood belonged to her. Everything he was belonged to her. Everything she was belonged to him. It was the way things were. The way they’d made things together.

He couldn’t walk away now. Not tonight. Not ever.

Every contour of her gorgeous body was wrought with tension. She was prepared to fight. She would not compromise.

“I can’t deal with this tonight,” Buffy whispered, her gaze trained pointedly on a spot on the floor. “Please, Spike.”

She wouldn’t even look at him. Did she fear breaking if she saw the desperation in his eyes? Was she trying to hide from him? Bloody hell, he was so buggering inept at feeling through the claim. All his research had indicated an immediate perception into his girl’s thoughts. Her blood was in him, linked to him, and he was supposed to know how to best care for her—what she felt, what she needed.

Though he hadn’t the foggiest idea how that was supposed to work. The texts he’d studied hadn’t said anything about sharing minds, and for that, he was glad. But he’d thought there would be something. Anything. A smidgeon as to what she felt. The tiniest trickle through their sacred connection allowing him to sense her emotions. Sense her anything.

He honestly didn’t know what he’d expected. And though it would be infinitely easier to know what to do had the window to her mind opened and fed him her every thought in a clear, crisp monolog, figuring her out was a part of the mystery. A part of the fun. And he knew as well as anyone that listening to voices in one’s head would eventually drive one batty.

Then again, the distance she insisted on placing between them was doing that all on its own.

“It’s too much to take in tonight,” she continued softly. “I can’t…”

He took a mad, desperate step forward, silently imploring her to meet his eyes. “Buffy…you know what…there’s no undoing it. We’re—”

“You can say it as often as you like, I still need time.”

“Forever, pet. You’re mine.”

Her head snapped up at that, her emerald eyes a gorgeous, tumultuous sea of confusion. “I’m not,” she said shortly. “I’m mine, Spike. I belong to me. You might’ve…put the whammy on me, but I’m still mine. I don’t know what you want—”

“Yes, you do,” he growled, seizing her by the chin. “You bloody well do, you—”

“I can’t do this tonight. You can’t just tell me everything’s changed and expect me to take it with a smile and a nod. You can’t.”

Spike’s eyes narrowed, desperation colliding with anger. “Everything changed for me, too, you know. I didn’t fuck you that night with a mind to claim you, you barmy twig. That was a mistake and you can’t expect me to pay for it for the rest of eternity just because you need your bloody space. You begged for it and I gave it to you. What more do you want from me?”

The harshness of his words was a slap. When her wounded eyes widened, he honestly didn’t know if it was regret or satisfaction cementing his gut. Perhaps a spiraled mixture of both.

“You’re right,” Buffy said, her voice clipped and, to her credit, fortified. That was his girl through and through. She refused to betray weakness. “I need space.”

“Space isn’t gonna do rot. We need each other.”

Her gaze flashed. “I don’t need—”

“Yeah? And what happens when the pain in your gut becomes so bloody terrible—”

Buffy help up a hand, trembling. The small weight of her resting against the doorframe made her seem so far from him. He couldn’t get into the apartment—couldn’t just barge his way inside to claim what was his. No, little Fred hadn’t extended an invite and based on the way the brunette purposefully strode behind Buffy every few seconds, it was more than clear one wasn’t forthcoming.

“It’s just for tonight,” Buffy said. And then, softer, “Let me have tonight. You’re not going to leave town, are you?”

It’d bloody well serve her right if he did.

“No,” Spike replied, his shoulders rolling back with the weight of a long sigh. “No, I’m not going anywhere. I’m on your leash, aren’t I? Can’t go anywhere without you.”

Her eyes narrowed. “And the reasons for not doing this tonight just keep coming.”

“Buffy—”

“You dumped this on me,” she said, her argumentative tone falling flat with defeat. “I know…look, Spike, I know nothing can be done about it. I get that. Contrary to what pretty much all my teachers back in Sunnydale will tell you, I’m a pretty smart cookie. Tell me something once and I get it.”

He shuffled. It was so much easier remaining angry with her when she was unreasonable. The sudden lack of quarrel in her voice drained him of his need to scream and throttle her. Rather, the hopelessness seeping into her eyes made his heart wither and his arms ache. She belonged with him. And if she was going to deny him his right, she needed to be a bitch about it so he wouldn’t feel like a prat for cutting her with words.

“Time’s not gonna do rot,” he said again, his voice smaller. “Won’t change anything.”

Buffy trembled with resolve. “This isn’t about changing anything,” she said softly, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. “But if you want me to get to a place where I understand and…I just can’t have you here. I’m sorry.” She paused, a harsh, humorless laugh. “I don’t know. I don’t know anything. I’ve been waiting for you to find me for so long and then you did and you slam me with…with this.

“I found you, though,” Spike replied, a pathetically hopeful smile tickling his lips. “Promised, didn’t I?”

“You promised. I didn’t…I believed you’d try, but…I dunno.” Another long sigh rippled down her spine. God, she looked so tired. “I left and I guess I thought you’d eventually think I wasn’t worth it and…I dunno…maybe you’d go find Dru and leave me to it.”

He would have been startled dumb if it weren’t for the hot anger that immediately commanded his veins. “Dru?” he spat. “You thought I’d go back…to Dru?”

To her credit, Buffy looked properly discomfited. “Well…I dunno.”

“Not only did the bitch try to kill you, love, but have you forgotten the tiny incident of her sodding nailing me to my bedroom wall?” He slammed an angry fist into the wall before he could help himself. “I told you before…before the fight, before we even left the Hellmouth, that me and Dru were through.”

“That was then,” she said softly. “That was…before…”

“Before what?” he growled. “Before I fucked you? Yeah, Slayer, you’re right. It was before then. It was well before I carted your ass out of Sunnyhell and before I claimed you. And if that didn’t bloody well seal it for me, then just being with you sure as hell did. There isn’t anything in this world or any other that could convince me back into her bed. She sodding killed me and she tried…and I’ve had you.” He sighed and glanced down. “I’ve had you. I’m spoiled for anyone else.”

He felt it the second the air changed. Felt it the second her defenses crashed. The stiffness in her shoulders rolled into a softness only a few ever got to see. The tenderness he’d enjoyed in the few minutes they’d had together which weren’t filled with confusion and arguing and hard fucking. He remembered taking her against the shower wall. Remembered the desperation with which she’d begged him to take her before she’d slipped out of his bed and run away from him.

She’d asked him to love her. She’d asked him, tugging at his fly, her eyes wide, to love her.

And now she was so far from him. She was so far. Thinking he could go back to Dru—that he could go to anyone.

He didn’t think he was being particularly secretive in the fact that he loved her. While the words were shy, he’d told her a thousand times with his hands and eyes and lips. He’d kissed her and moved inside her body and, even when they were miles apart, done his best to keep her properly cared for. He hadn’t had much, but he’d given her whatever he could.

“I’m sorry I left,” she whispered, startling him out of his reverie. “I should have tried…I dunno. But it felt like I needed to leave. I was scared. I’d killed him…he’d come back and I’d killed him and I didn’t know what to feel or how I should… And then there you were, being wonderful and confusing me even more, and I needed to get out.”

There was no way for her to know how her words cracked him, shattering whatever was inside. “I would’ve given you whatever you needed,” Spike told her softly.

“I know. But I needed to leave to… I needed…”

“Buffy—”

“I was sorry after I left. Almost immediately after I left.” She lifted her hand to her throat and tenderly massaged the bite mark gracing her skin. “And when I saw you again tonight, it…I was so happy. But Spike, this…this forever thing? I’m what, exactly? We’re linked by blood and I understand that, but it’s going to take me time to…” She sighed again, shaking. “I’m not the sort of person who can just accept these things. I don’t know what it means, for you or for me. I just got out of this thing with Angel. I don’t know if I’m ready for… I don’t think I’m ready. And if you want me to ever be ready, you’re going to need to give me time. I know I had time, but it’s different now. You changed everything with what you told me.”

  A poignant smile twitched Spike’s lips and he inhaled sharply, doing his level best to conceal how his unbeating heart constricted and withered with every word she spoke. It was all right. Sure. He understood. It was simple, really. Maybe if Angel hadn’t had that bloody soul of his stuffed up his righteous arse the last second, things would be different. But she’d seen it—she’d seen him, the bloke she loved—and everything had changed then. Well before Spike ushered her to his car. Well before she’d mauled his lips and taken his cock inside her perfect little body. Well before she climbed out of bed and left him for what she thought would be forever. Well before missing him. Well before the claim.

It had been easier for her when the boogeyman wasn’t someone she loved. She’d left her mum’s house after a rather nasty fight, prepared and bloody well content to be at Spike’s side. She’d verbally snapped at Angelus in ways no girl ever had, and it was Angelus she’d been prepared to fight in that last battle. To have her own defenses ripped away when the face she hated suddenly dissolved into the face she loved again had thrown her for a loop the likes of which no one else had suffered.

Buffy’s reality had crushed her fantasy. He knew it. He’d seen it happen. He’d watched as she stood torn between worlds—between the kisses she and Spike had shared, the flirtation, the intrigue…and Angel. The sodding white knight. She’d killed Angel but she hadn’t said goodbye. No, she’d carried him with her all the bloody way out of Sunnyhell. She’d tried to fuck him out of her system by fucking Spike instead, but it had only confused her young idealistic mind to the point where she’d taken off. She’d left him because he wasn’t the answer to her broken heart. No matter that she was the answer to his.

And perhaps she was sorry she’d gone now. Perhaps she truly had missed Spike. Perhaps she didn’t know he loved her, or couldn’t believe he loved her. Perhaps she’d arrived in Los Angeles and craved him because he replaced sorrow with pleasure. He could drive her body to heights she’d never before explored, and it was buggering hard to remember how miserable she was with his tongue lapping at her pussy. The harder he made her come, the longer she remained with him. She hadn’t left him until he slept.

The unforgiving truth was Buffy wasn’t prepared to be his. She didn’t want it. She might want him, sure, but she didn’t want his to be the face with which she awoke for the rest of forever.

It all came down to one central recognition—Buffy didn’t love him.

And thanks to his fangs, he had infinite time at her side. An eternity knowing Buffy could never love him back. He was locked inside forever with the woman he cherished, but he would never know the warmth of her heart. Even when they again took pleasure in each other’s bodies, she would remain out of arm’s reach.

“I don’t want to leave you,” Spike whispered, then winced inwardly. The words were so desperately pathetic.

“Believe me,” she said, her tone caught somewhere between compassion and irony, a small, sympathetic grin stretching her lips. “I’m really getting that.”

“The pain—”

“We already… You’re not going far. And I said it’s just for tonight.” She pressed her forehead against the door frame. “It’s just for tonight. If you come in here, I’m just going to want you to fix everything and I can’t let that happen.” A pause. “Plus this is Fred’s place and she said no more houseguests.”

“I could fix things,” he offered weakly.

She shrugged and continued, talking now to herself. “Could also be because she knows you’re a vamp now and has no reason at all to trust you.”

“I like fixing things.”

“No reason to trust except for my word, but my word got her kidnapped by wannabes and stored away in some warehouse while you and I traded smoochies.”

“It wouldn’t be so bad to let me fix things.”

Buffy leveled him with a glance. “Yes, it would. I can’t keep asking favors from people.”

“Suddenly taking care of you’s a bloody favor, is it?”

“Spike, please. If you care about me, you’ll just trust what I need right now is for you to go away.” She sighed. “Please don’t go far, but…I need to think. I need to think and I can’t with you here.”

He knew he was pathetic. He also knew he was an instant away from begging.

But no good would come from it. Buffy was resolved and she had been since they’d left the alley.

And it was, as she kept insisting, just one night.

God, there was no way she knew how long a night away from her lasted. But he wouldn’t beg. He wouldn’t. She had everything else from him as it was. She wasn’t about to get his pride.

Well, what was left of it, anyway.

“Right,” Spike said, drawing in a deep breath and throwing his shoulders back. “Space, then. And time.”

“You can come back tomorrow,” Buffy retorted quickly. “We’ll talk tomorrow.”

“Right. Tomorrow.” A nod. “Right.”

Spike turned and began down the hallway before he said sod-all to pride. One more night, she said. Just one more night. She needed time to think, and it was only a night.

To her, perhaps.

But he knew her. Spike knew her and he knew her well. And nothing in Buffy’s gorgeously thick skull could ever be settled easily when she was so conflicted.

This was the first night of their new separation. The first of many more they would spend apart. She’d know this in the morning. When she awoke and realized that sleep had done bugger all to fix her problems.

He just hoped she figured out what she wanted before the next apocalypse swallowed the world.

 

Chapter Text

In all honesty, Buffy didn’t know whether or not to be grateful when Fred neglected to demand answers. It was hard enough closing the door with Spike on the other side. Another a lengthy discussion would positively wear her out. This she knew from experience.

Though admittedly, a thousand years ago and under different circumstances, she and Fred likely would have bonded over fatty snacks as Buffy related the silky contours of Spike’s lips in full detail. But things had changed, and she was so much older now. So much older than she’d been just a few months ago. She was the mate of a vampire—the eternal mate of a vampire, from what Spike had said. She was tied to him forever through blood. Because of the night they’d shared. The night wherein she’d selfishly jumped his undead bones and used the feelings she knew he had for her.

She’d used him, and she’d been rather shameless about it. But it wasn’t as though she’d felt nothing for Spike—quite the contrary, she’d felt more than she should. Ever since he’d cornered her in the halls of Sunnydale High, no matter they’d both been under ghostly influence, a spark had ignited in her belly. A spark she’d done her best to ignore since he’d first stepped out of the shadows and into her life. He was gorgeous. He was dangerous. Compared to her roll in the sack with Angel, Spike had been warm and considerate. Not only that, he’d cared for—and about—her. He’d genuinely cared about her. She might have fucked him silly upon arriving at their motel, but he’d made love to her afterward. In the shower. On the bed. After violence came peace, and Spike had been there to provide it.

Now, however, her feelings for Spike were caught in a tangled web of confusion. Never had she thought his reentrance into her life would coincide with a crisis of this magnitude. Even before he reappeared, she’d wanted him back, she’d regretted leaving, and while every part of her ached for his touch, things were different now. Perhaps Buffy was feeling things due to the claim. She didn’t think so—she felt no less conflicted now than she had before leaving Sunnydale.

Buffy simply hadn’t been prepared for forever. She was only seventeen, for crying out loud. She barely knew how to reconcile her feelings for Spike with what she’d already been through, and now they had forever hanging over them. It was too soon for her healing heart to be tossed into another relationship, especially one twisted with passion and anger and fire. Everything she never wanted to touch again. Not so soon after killing Angel.

Not when she hadn’t yet determined if she was truly grieving him or if her pain came from being the one who killed him.

Either reality wasn’t pleasant. Every time Buffy thought she was on her way out of the hole in which she’d dug herself, her foot would catch and her hands would slip and she’d feel herself sliding further into darkness. She’d thought she was over killing Angel a couple times now only to be proven wrong by the way her stomach would churn every time she recalled the betrayal in his eyes. But that was it—guilt. She felt guilt. She didn’t think she actually missed him, and the strange thing was, it felt wrong not to pine for his arms or ache for his lips or the soothing reassurance he provided in…well, turning up cryptically to tell her she was about to die.

It felt wrong not missing him.

Almost as wrong as the unfair allegations she’d leveled at Spike tonight. Perhaps she had overreacted to killing Angel and under-reacted to what Dru had done to Spike because Spike had walked away. Mentioning Dru as a possibility for Spike had been a low blow—one she’d known to be impossible for reasons which had nothing to do with the insane vampire’s tendency to shish kabob her former lovers.

The way Spike looked at her before she’d left him, Buffy had known he wouldn’t go back to his crazy ex. He might not come after her for the sake of pride, but she’d known Drusilla would be at the very bottom of the last resorts.

And yet, she’d thrown that out there. She didn’t know why.

Buffy sighed. Perhaps it was because an angry Spike was a less confusing force than the Spike who looked at her like she was, well, everything. She knew how to respond to anger, but responding to affection was too difficult right now.

“So…” Fred said, startling her out of her musings. “The vampire…”

Buffy wet her lips. Apparently, that whole not asking questions thing had run its course. “Yeah,” she replied. “He’s a vampire.”

There was a slow nod as though Fred were carefully weighing the information. “And…you’re the Slayer.”

“This is very true.”

“And…he’s not slayed.”

“No, he’s not.”

“He’s Spike. The one who gave you money?”

She raised a hand to her throat and caressed the bite mark. “Yeah,” she agreed. “He’s the one who gave me money.”

Fred wet her lips. “Okay…are you going to elaborate or are we gonna just go over the facts until one of us falls asleep?”

“I don’t know what you want me to say,” Buffy replied, shuffling uncomfortably. “Spike’s a vampire. He…our relationship is complicated. And—”

“You said you were waiting for him.”

“I was.”

Fred frowned. “And you let him go? I thought…I don’t know, you hadn’t mentioned anything, but I got the impression that you were kinda looking for him.” She swallowed hard and wiggled. “Not that I’d know, or anything. But the way you talked about him when you mentioned the money he left you…it wasn’t much, but I…I thought you wanted him back.”

The reaction was instinctive. “I do.”

“And he went away?”

Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “I know you heard what was said,” she replied. “We weren’t exactly quiet, and he wasn’t—”

“He’s angry.”

Justifiably so, she thought with an inward sigh, but the words she said were, “It’s complicated.”

“He thought you were waiting for him, too.”

“Again with the ‘I was.’” Buffy shook her head, folding forward in despair. “I don’t know. I don’t know. We were enemies not too long ago.”

Fred nodded sympathetically. “’Cause he’s a vampire?”

The answer seemed more than obvious. “Well…” Buffy furrowed her brow. “Yeah. But more than…when we first met, he basically—no, not basically—he told me outright he was gonna kill me.” A pause. “He didn’t, obviously.”

“Obviously.”

“But…it got…” Angel’s face floated to the forefront of her thoughts only to be shoved him down again. She didn’t want to think about him any more than she already had, and though she suspected divulging her whole sordid history with Angel would give perspective to the complicated mess in which she’d entangled herself with Spike, she didn’t want advice. Even with as unconditionally understanding as Fred was proving to be, Buffy was too gun-shy and jaded from experience to wade intentionally into deeper waters. She didn’t want to be told where she’d gone wrong and where there was to go from here.

Namely because the option terrified her.

No matter their past, no matter what had brought them where they were, Buffy’s wounded heart knew it could fall easily again. And she wasn’t ready. She wasn’t ready for anything permanent. Anything which would truly have her falling in love again. And she knew—she knew—if she allowed Spike to care for her, she would end up losing herself all over again.

Which meant she might one day be forced to do to Spike what she’d done to Angel. She didn’t think she could kill someone she loved again, and it was insanely unfair of the PTB to get her into a situation where she might be asked to do just that.

Spike would never do anything intentionally to hurt her, but he might not have a choice. Angel had been harnessed with a soul; there was nothing harnessing Spike.

“Can I make a teeny observation?”

Buffy glanced up. Fred’s timid expression had her both tightening with tension and bubbling with laughter. There was nothing to lose, she supposed, thus gave her friend the go ahead with a nod.

“That Spike guy…if…I don’t know what any of the words he said meant, but it seems to be…something involving the both of you?”

Buffy swallowed hard and nodded. “Yeah. It is.”

“Well…wouldn’t it be better to figure it out together?” Fred suggested shyly, casting her eyes downward immediately. “If you try and do it separately, you might come to different conclusions and just open up the door to more trouble.” She paused. “He’s…ummm…vulgar, but there was a lot of hurt in his voice.”

The vulgarity to which she referred likely referenced Spike’s numerous descriptions of his night with Buffy as fucking—something which smarted but remained true to what had occurred. She hadn’t allowed for anything other than fucking at first. “The vulgarity came from the anger,” she said softly. “I hurt him. I didn’t want to hurt him.”

“So—”

“It’s complicated.”

“And it will continue to be complicated until you uncomplicate it.”

Buffy glared. “You will not fool me with your logic.”

“Well…you care about him. I care about you. By right of contrast, I guess…” Fred sighed. “I don’t wanna step on your toes, but you seemed…different with him. Can vampires…feel? ‘Cause I wouldn’t’ve known he was a vampire if you hadn’t said anything. He seemed to…feel a lot.”

A shiver settled over Buffy’s shoulders. “He does.”

“And about you.”

“He does.”

And Buffy cared about Spike. A lot.

Too much.

Too fast. Too soon. Her heart couldn’t take it. But there was nothing she could do about it. There was nowhere to hide.

And worst of all, Fred was right. Fred was absolutely right.

Space would bring peace. She and Spike needed to talk. She needed to understand what was happening. She needed him.

“Fred,” Buffy whispered softly. “When Spike comes back…don’t let me send him away, okay?”

“You—”

“Just don’t. He makes me go crazy with confusion. But the second I get away from him, I want him back.” She trembled and glanced up, worrying a lip between her teeth. “I left him and I’ve missed him. And then tonight…I just know I’m not ready for what he wants.”

“What he wants?”

A pause. “I’m not ready for that. But maybe we can…just until…”

Her voice trailed off, taking words with it. Her mind blanked. There was no way to finish a thought when she hadn’t yet decided how to proceed. How to go about the next day. And the day after. And the day after.

She needed Spike and she needed space. It was a classic Catch-22, and she didn’t even know what that meant.

Perhaps she could be with Spike if he allowed her time to heal. If he was with her without confusing her with sex.

She didn’t want to be without him in the interim. She just wanted time. So when she was ready to love him—truly—there would be no reservations.

She only hoped, when she tried to tell him, he would understand.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Though she anticipated his arrival like nothing else, Buffy was strangely unsurprised when Spike failed to show up the following day. She’d felt his decision to stay away the second he had reached it—nothing revolutionary, more a sudden understanding. A sense of knowledge she couldn’t explain but accepted as truth all the same.

She understood. After what had happened, she’d want to be away from herself as well.

Still, she couldn’t deny it hurt.

“I spoke with Mr. Binns,” Fred said over lunch. “This morning, when I stepped out to get the paper, I saw him. The apartment’s yours if you want it. He’s taking some furniture, but he’s willing to sell some to you.”

“His furniture?”

“His wife’s going to a home and he’s moving into a much smaller apartment. He says he can leave you with the bed, one of his sofas, and the kitchen table.” Fred shrugged and nibbled on the crust of her sandwich. “Not a dresser or a television, though. Or anything else. And he wants five hundred dollars.”

“Five hundred dollars?”

Fred nodded. “For the bed and sofa…and the table. Which, really, all things considered, not too much. I mean, yeah, secondhand, and you’ll have that old-person smell to get out, but for LA prices, it’s not too shabby. How much of Spike’s money do you have left?”

Buffy inhaled sharply. “Enough,” she said. “He left me with…a lot. More than… Well, a lot.”

“Where’d he get it, do you think?”

“I don’t know and I don’t wanna know. But he got it for me.” Of this, she had no doubt. Just as the sun would rise and the moon would glow, she knew Spike had procured the cash for her sake. He’d done it so she wouldn’t be left to herself when she walked out the door.

“And your landlord’s okay with this?” Buffy asked softly, her heart racing. The notion of renting her own apartment was so far beyond her, and yet somehow it didn’t seem strange to be sitting here, discussing it as though it was an actual possibility.

Namely because she knew it was.

She knew she was going to take it. She was going to be a grown up and sign a lease and everything. And the decision came so easily, Buffy knew she was going to be in Los Angeles for a while. A long while.

Time needed a chance to heal her heart. She was still broken from what had occurred in Sunnydale. Not only with Angel. A part of her felt so detached from it she wondered why he kept surfacing at all. And yet he did—the perpetual bad penny, Angel was the perfect mood-killer. If ever a party needed a pooper, one need look no further.

Perhaps Angel kept surfacing because he, alive or not, was the thing standing between her and Spike. Her permanent caution label. Buffy had already seen the worst love between slayers and vampires could do. She wasn’t eager to try again.

Not that warning herself did any good. The rest of her was thoroughly sickened with a need to see Spike. A need to throw herself into his arms and beg forgiveness for being so flighty and uncertain.

Right now—just right now—she needed to be friends. And if he understood that… God, she hoped he understood that.

“He’s fine with it,” Fred agreed, dragging Buffy from her cynical musings. “Really fine with it…as long as you can afford to give him two months’ rent in advance.”

“I can.”

There was a skeptical pause. “I…I haven’t even told you what the rent is.”

“Believe me, I can afford it.”

“Spike’s money?”

Buffy swallowed hard, ignored the twinge, and nodded. “Spike’s money.”

“Wow…he gave you a lot, didn’t he?”

That would be the understatement of the year.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

It wasn’t like she had anything to pack. In fact, the most strenuous part of moving into Mr. Binns’s apartment came with signing the lease. It required two forms of photo identification and her birth-certificate; three things Buffy had left in her mother’s possession. Her intermediate license, while had never been revoked, had been invalidated as she hadn’t passed the driving test or…any test. But it still had her picture beside her name in a secure, governmental fashion.

And it was still in Sunnydale. Along with her student ID, her social security card, and her birth certificate. And everything else identifying her as Buffy Summers.

Fortunately for her, Fred’s landlord was the sort who could be bought off. It cost a pretty penny, but thanks to the William the Bloody Foundation, she had money to spare.

Not a ton, but some.

So she had an apartment. An apartment she could hold for two months at least. An apartment, a bed, a couch, and a table. She’d need food and clothing and utilities. The sort of luxuries she’d taken for granted while under her mother’s roof.

Fred had assured her a job at the library. A job meant money, which was good. Money meant budgets, which were bad, as Buffy was something of a shopaholic. Plus she and math were unmixy forces.

This being-an-adult thing was really going to suck.

But the suffocating pressure of living in the real world was worth the freedom of being her own provider.

And then there was Spike. Spike, who while angry with her, would never leave her alone.

At the first knock on her front door, a sense of underlying peace filled her.

Buffy inhaled sharply, her pounding heart betraying her nerves. Her bare feet padded across the worn carpet floor. She was at once startlingly aware of what little she owned. The rooms were practically empty. She had nothing to offer guests.

But Spike wasn’t a guest. He was…she didn’t know what he was, except hers.

She inhaled deeply before opening the door and smiled when her eyes crashed with the sea of tumultuous blue. The soft eagerness on his face took her breath away.

She leaned against the doorway.

“Come in, Spike.”

Chapter Text

Spike had envisioned a thousand things upon knocking, but the soft, gentle promise of her smile had certainly not been among them. Nor had the lack of hesitation.

Thank fuck. Staying away as long as he had—giving her the extra time he’d been convinced she’d need—had all but killed him. Every second was plagued with doubts, overwrought with fears over the uncertain future.

“Just like that?” he softly asked, eyebrow quirked. Still, though, he quickly crossed the threshold before she could change her mind. Not that it mattered—once issued, the invitation could only be revoked one way, and Buffy was without her redheaded friend to cast any wonky mojo.

Though he wouldn’t put it past the mousy bird Buffy’d shacked up with. The Slayer had a knack for surrounding herself with smarties. Little Fred seemed no exception.

“Yeah,” Buffy agreed, stepping aside as he moved past her. She pushed the door closed with a heavy sigh. “Sorry about that.”

“’Bout what?”

“The…I don’t know. Lots of stuff, I guess.” She scrunched up her nose and turned, gesturing to the laughably empty room. “I’d say make yourself at home, but I’m without the essentials. Think I was lucky to get this much.”

This much evidently consisted of a couch and a kitchen table, secondhand by the smell. “Well,” Spike drawled, his hands worming awkwardly into the pockets of his duster. “Work with what you got.”

“Yeah.” A pause. “How’d you find me?”

He turned slowly on his heel, unable to mask his amusement. “Well, besides the fact you just moved down the hall, sweetness, a vamp’s nose always knows. Couldn’t hide from me if you tried.”

“I wasn’t trying.”

“I know. Just getting that out there.” He grinned at her grin, feeling slightly more at ease, or at least confident he wasn’t about to be escorted through the door by the scruff of the collar. “And your little friend told me where to find you.”

“Oh. So you didn’t just come here immediately?”

“Well, I would’ve, but that would’ve been presumptive.” Spike forced an awkward laugh, his shoulders tightening. Every inch of his body tugged him forward, imploring him to take her in his arms and pepper her face with kisses. Being this close was bloody intoxicating enough as it was. “This is okay, right?” he asked, swallowing hard. “My being here? You said you wanted a day—”

“Yeah. I’m sorry about that.”

“’Bout wanting a day?”

“No—yeah. Ummm…all of the above?” Buffy held his gaze for a minute before slumping into a pout. “When did this become so weird?”

Spike frowned thoughtfully. “Think it’s been weird a while, pet.”

“Well, unweird it. I can’t handle you all—normal and stuff.” She paused. “That so didn’t come out the way I intended.”

“There’s no bloody normal for me, Slayer. I’m just tryin’ to keep on your good side so you don’t kick me to the curb again.”

Buffy shook her head. “There will be no kicking of you to the curb. I kinda regretted that the minute I did it. That and…all the stupid crap I said.”

Spike tilted his head. She seemed hell-bent on surprising him. They might not have known each other long, but in the time in which they’d been a part of each other’s lives, he’d become rather privy to the fact that apologies and Buffy weren’t concepts which went hand-in-hand.

It wasn’t like he didn’t know she was confused. There was only so much she could take. Fuck all, if he weren’t so desperate in his need, he might be exactly where she was. Where she stood. Things for him were so much clearer since he knew he loved her. He knew the claim, while not planned, was something he now wanted more than anything. There was no future if Buffy wasn’t at his side. He already felt he’d waded through the darkness for centuries in order to find her. Now that he stood before her—open, vulnerable, and thoroughly hers—it took all of him not to beg her never to let him out of her sight again.

Still, the eggshells he’d expected to walk across were mysteriously absent. He didn’t take for granted the very real possibility that things could change at the drop of a pin, but for the moment, he allowed himself to fall complacent. “Mind clarifying for a bloke, love?” he asked. “You said quite a bit.”

To his astonishment, she didn’t object. Rather, the red in her cheeks deepened and she humbled him with a nod. “Mainly—urrr—the stuff about Dru.”

“Going back to her, you mean.”

“Right.”

“When there’s no way on bloody earth I—”

“Yeah, that’d be the thing. I was dumb.”

“Bloody nuts,” he agreed without shame or apology. “The bint—”

Buffy held up a hand. “I know. I know. I’m just… God, my mind’s all over the place, you know? I start thinking one thing and then it gets all confused and I…” She trailed off with a hopeless sigh, meeting his eyes in a manner that begged for understanding. “I’ve figured some things out.”

The certainty in her voice threw him. “Oh?”

“I’m not ready.”

Spike willed his mouth to keep from running. No matter how his will cried at the calm firmness harbored in her tone, he would let her say her piece. “Right,” he managed, only because saying nothing went against his nature. Words were his bread and butter.

To her credit, Buffy sensed his incredulity. “I know, right?” she said, forcing a shrill laugh. “Big surprise. Big…whatever. Buffy’s not ready. But at least I know, now.” She paused and fortified herself with a deep breath. “Spike…my last relationship was the end of the world…literally.”

“Slayer—”

“And I’m still… I’m gun-shy. I’m extremely, incredibly, one-hundred-percent gun-shy. And I know I really don’t have a choice. With the…” She paused and raised a hand to her throat, her lethal but somehow delicate fingers tracing the bite he’d given her. “The forever thing. But I’m just not ready to be what…what you need.”

A long, tempered beat passed. “And what,” he said cautiously, “is it you think I need?”

“I’m not going to spout off a list,” Buffy replied wisely, her eyes narrowing. “But sex. I can’t do sex right now. Sex…complicates things. And my life is already complicated. If it was any more complicated, I’d need my own talk-show special.”

Spike sniggered appreciatively. “‘Slayers and the Vamps That Love Them’?” he suggested, only to backtrack in the thereafter and mentally curse himself for revealing so much.

If she picked up on his blunder, however, she didn’t betray a thing. Instead, she offered a halfhearted chuckle and nodded.

“Something to that effect. But…point.” She forced a smile. “I have one. A point.”

“Always reassuring,” Spike teased.

“And it’s a good one.”

“I have no doubt.”

Buffy cast her gaze downward and inhaled sharply. “There are things I know but am not ready to…I dunno… I know that when you leave, a part of me goes with you. That when I left you, I regretted it…like I regretted sending you away the other night.”

The darkness which had clouded his insides speared with growing rays of light. He knew, from her tone, not to grasp hope too tightly. Buffy’s mind had a way of turning itself around the second she approached something that faintly resembled a decision. “Can’t say it was a picnic for me.”

“I’m just confused.”

“Believe me, baby, I’m getting that.”

“And I’m not ready.”

He drew in a deep breath. “And you already said that.”

“It’s just as true now as it was two minutes ago.” She flashed him an awkward smile without quite meeting his eyes. “But here’s the thing…here’s where it gets a little weird and complicated.”

He snorted appreciatively. “Oh good. I was wonderin’ when we’d hit that snag.”

“I’m not ready to be with you with-you. I mean, with you like…like that. But I know I’ll want it some day.” Buffy huffed out a breath as though preparing for a marathon. “I have feelings for you.”

It was truly a testament to his willpower that he didn’t fall over in astonishment. While he knew it was the truth—there was nothing her kisses could keep from him—hearing the words actually breathe air was something he’d never thought to touch. And were it not for her guarded poise and the haunted look in her eyes, he would have lost any semblance of restraint and shoved her against the nearest flat surface: wall or table, it didn’t matter to him. He just wanted her. Wanted her body against his and her mouth sucking his tongue. Wanted her pussy bucking against his hand as his fingers pried her swollen lips apart to explore her molten warmth. He wanted to take those feelings and mold them until they blossomed into love.

Until she loved him as desperately as he loved her.

“I need time,” Buffy continued. “I need time to get over what happened in Sunnydale. I need to be ready. I know when I…when we start with the actual—when we’re actually together, it’s forever. And I’ll want it to be forever. But I can’t have this thing weighing me down. I need time to get to know you.”

“You don’t know me?”

She winced. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

There was a pause. She worried her lower lip between her teeth. He wondered how she would react if he offered to do that for her. “Since we met,” she began cautiously, “our lives have been…well, not normal.”

Spike perked a brow. “Sorry to point out the obvious, pet, but me vamp, you slayer. Survey says our lives are never gonna qualify as normal.

“Give me some credit.”

“I think history shows I’m willing to give you whatever you want.”

The red in her cheeks deepened, and he was satisfied when she didn’t argue the point.

“Okay,” she agreed softly, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. “Well…when we met, you threatened to kill me.”

“And I suppose you’re gonna be lordin’ that over me for the rest of my days?”

She ignored him. “We didn’t start until that night at Sunnydale High. And everything that happened after that was to defeat Angel and Dru. And after that…” She cleared her throat, her eyes fixing on a point on the wall behind him. “Well, you know everything I’m gonna say.”

Spike hesitated, then nodded.

“My point is, every time we’ve… Ever since we became whatever it is we are, things have been crazy beyond crazy.” At last, she looked directly at him, her open palm pressing hard against her brow. “I haven’t had a chance to slow down and take things in at all. It’s either been the end of the world or killing my first boyfriend or what happened with you in the hotel and now we’re mated and I can’t be with you because it’s too much, but I can’t be without you because it kills me.”

“Buffy—”

“I’m only seventeen years old, Spike. How the hell am I supposed to be okay with forever? With having my future laid out for me more than it already was?” An ironic laugh tumbled from her lips and she gestured wildly at the room. “I’m supposed to be grateful I’ve made it this far as it is with my birthright chasing me down every alley. And now with you…I’m so muddled.”

Spike sighed softly. “I know, precious.”

“And I can’t leap into just being with you with my head like this.” Buffy ran a hand through her hair, a long sigh rolling off her shoulders. “It’s not fair to you. And I can’t start confusing my feelings for you with everything else that’s happened in the last few weeks. When I’m with you, I want it to be because I know for sure that I’m ready. Not because you’re the only one I can have because you got all bitey and possessive.”

“I—”

“I know,” she said, holding up a hand. “I know. But even if you didn’t mean to, that just proves my point. Everything’s happened so fast. If we’re going to be together, I want it to be real. I don’t want it to be because you were mad at me for using you and made a snap decision. I want it to be because it’s what I want. And I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

If her words didn’t render him completely and thoroughly hers, the tears shining in her eyes certainly did. All at once, the weight that had seated itself upon his heart alleviated. The fears that had plagued him since he barraged his way back into her life had untangled. He didn’t know how a period of just a few minutes could clear stormy skies. How he could go from being convinced he was doomed to a loveless life—to being perpetually the victim of unrequited affection—to surging with something he hesitated to call hope.

“It’s not too much, love.”

She attempted something that might charitably be called a smile. “I didn’t think so.”

“I hate being away from you,” he heard himself say. “The distance thing bloody kills me.”

“Me too,” Buffy agreed. “But we won’t be apart if you agree to my plan. It’s kinda against the point.”

“The point?”

“I can’t become ready to be with you if you’re not here. So…here’s my incredibly bad plan for the moment, but work with me, it’s the only one I got.” Buffy puffed out a breath. “You move in.”

Spike blinked. A floorboard creaked. A door slammed down the hall. He waited for his brain to kick in with a translation, but none came. Apparently, she meant it. “You want me to move in,” he repeated. “You want us to…live together?”

“Yes.”

“That’s inviting danger, love, if space is what you need.”

“No, it’s not. Because this is important to you, too. I just need…can we just be friends for a while?” She glanced down again. “If that’s not something you think you can do, I understand, but—”

“Friends?”

A pause. She nodded. “Just until…until… This is the best I can do now, Spike. I want to be what you need, but I also need to do what’s right for me. I know the being apart thing kills us both. But if we could just be together without the head games that comes with tossing me into another live-or-die relationship at the moment. I need a friend right now. I need to know you can be that for me, too, along with the other thing.”

Spike blinked numbly and stared at her. He didn’t realize, of course, that he was staring until she shuffled self-consciously.

“Well,” she prompted softly. “Is that—”

“I’ll do it.”

It was her turn to stare. “You will?”

“Well, I’m not bloody well letting you outta my sight again, if that’s the alternative.” Spike sucked in his cheeks and gave the apartment a once-around. “Not that being with you and not touching you’s gonna be a right treat for me, but sweetheart, I…I know things are buggered for you. Things are a little topsy for me, too…and if this is what it takes to be close, I’ll do whatever you ask.”

A small smile tickled her gorgeous face. “I keep forgetting this is also new for you.”

“You’re nothing if not self-centered.”

She made a face. “Hey! At least you have some experience in this whole forever thing.”

He snorted. “Right. A hundred years is a go at eternity. I forget you youngsters are rotten at math.”

“You have more than seventeen years, at least,” she shot back, though her eyes were dancing. The air fell to brief companionable silence. “But it’s…it’s something we can do? This…friends thing.”

He tried to rein in his eagerness, but the hurried bob of his head refused to cooperate. “I’ll do it,” Spike promised. “I’ll give you what you need, kitten. If this is it, then consider it yours.”

“It won’t be easy.”

That was the bloody understatement of the year, but he wasn’t about to talk himself out of this. Now that he knew where he stood. Now that he knew how she felt. Now that he knew how she wanted to feel.

It wouldn’t be easy, but he didn’t mind. Nothing worth having ever came easy.

And for all her flaws and virtues, Buffy was the only thing in his world worth having. 

Chapter Text

“With the way you go through cash, I suppose one of us is gonna need a job.”

Buffy perked an eyebrow, selecting a piece of cheese-drenched pepperoni pizza, and stared at him. “You know, I don’t know you nearly as well as I should, considering you’ve seen me naked…”

Spike’s eyes twinkled and his tongue did something to his lips that ought to have been downright sinful.

“…but somehow, I feel that you’re the kettle and I’m the pot in this scenario.”

“Just sayin’…” He lifted his bottle of beer to his lips and took a hard swig. Spike had officially been living in Buffy’s apartment for an hour and a half, and they’d already done a run for junk food, beer, and placed an order for a fried Italian pie. “Eventually, I’m gonna be broke, and then what will you do?”

She shrugged easily. “Ask Fred to move in and mooch off her.”

“Clever.”

“Actually, Fred mentioned something about me, a job, and the library.” She nodded when Spike’s eyes narrowed skeptically. “I know. Me plus job is bad enough. And like I haven’t spent enough time in libraries. But hey, it’s a job…and you raise a reasonable point.”

“Bugger that.”

“Bugger what?”

He shrugged a shoulder. “I was just poking fun. I got cash, love. Lots more where this”—he gestured at the apartment with his pizza hand, ignoring the two globs of cheese which splattered against the already imperfect carpet—“came from.”

A grateful smile tickled Buffy’s lips. Things between them had been cordial, comfortable, since she’d put everything on the table. While the tension remained very palpable, she felt, for the first time in the past few weeks, that she could breathe. “I can’t keep taking cash from you,” she said softly. “It’s not fair.”

“Not fair?”

“You shouldn’t have to fund me, Spike.”

“Way I figure it, if we’re mated for all eternity, you don’t have much of a choice, kitten.”

She arched a brow, shoving another bite of pizza into her mouth to buy time. The future was one topic she’d hoped to dance around a little while longer, even if she knew it was inevitable. There was no denying how comforted she was simply in knowing he was beside her. That he was with her at all. It was dangerous putting anything else on the table right now—even if her path was chosen for her, even if what lay ahead was inevitable, the lack of choice made her feel cold and isolated.

Made her life feel like nothing more than a stage play, and everyone save her got to write a part.

“I don’t want…you shouldn’t have to…”

“I take care of what’s mine,” he replied with a careless shrug. “Get used to it.”

“Spike…”

He paused and glanced up. “Too fast?”

“You remember what we talked about?”

“The thing where I give you space ’cause you’re not ready?”

She nodded. “That would be it.”

“Yeah, but I don’t remember you telling me I couldn’t take care of you. Bein’ just friends and not shagging you doesn’t mean I can’t provide.” He gestured to the room. “You’re letting me live here.”

“Yes. I’m very gracious to offer you a room in the place your money provided.”

Spike smiled softly. “Well, a good part about livin’ forever is learning how to invest.”

“You invest?”

“I could learn.” He shrugged. “What I got now I have from playin’ a mean hand of cards.”

Buffy arched a brow.

“A few may end up my sleeve,” he admitted with a gracious nod, earning a bubbly giggle from her. “I’ll admit, the years have taught me a few tricks.”

“You swindle.”

“It’s paying for the roof over your head, sweetheart. Wouldn’t knock it.”

Buffy smirked, raising her bottle of Diet Coke to her lips. “I guess I can’t get ethical on the issue of demons stealing from demons.”

He grinned devilishly. “Who said it was demons?” His eyes dropped from hers before she could get indignant—not that she was going to get indignant, rather she thought she should for appearances’ sake—and took a long sweep of the rather empty room. “So the old bloke who let you have the place only left you with the table…the sofa…”

“And a bed.”

“How much?”

“Five hundred. Fred loaned me some sheets and pillows and stuff…but…yeah.” She shifted. “Five hundred.”

He nodded stoically, betraying nothing. It was the response she wanted. Buffy had absolutely no idea what the market value was for old furniture. She’d simply found it easier to take the offer and have something immediately at her disposal than worry about acquiring a bed.

“We need a telly,” Spike observed, his gaze fixed on a rather notable spot along the wall where the previous tenant’s television had likely sat. “And a fridge for blood.” He held up his bottle. “Blood and booze.”

There was no reason to be surprised at his suggestion, yet Buffy couldn’t help the way her breath caught in her throat. And before she could help herself, words had tumbled off her lips, “You’re not biting people?”

Spike paused, capturing her eyes with his again. Dragging her into an endless abyss of blue and wonder, sending shivers across her body and making her feel—for a frozen second—as though he could touch her no matter how far apart they were. Continents could separate them and she would still feel his hands. “You know the answer, love,” he said softly. “You saw the blood.”

She nodded numbly. She’d never questioned it—not really. In the motel room back in Sunnydale, in the room where Drusilla had pinned him to the wall and waited for him to bleed out, there had been bagged blood. Blood that had, alongside hers, had saved his life. Blood that had fueled his emptying veins and given him the strength to face Angelus and Drusilla. Blood that had helped him save the world.

“I know,” she agreed. Then, sheepishly, she added, “I just had to ask.”

He grinned. “’Course you did. You’re the Slayer, aren’t you?”

“Now and forever.”

The word made her shiver. No. She didn’t want to think about that right now. She’d much rather get back to the game of all they needed to acquire to make the apartment livable. “We should get a dresser, too,” Buffy said, her voice strained. She knew he heard it and was more than relieved when he neglected to tie her to a conversation she wasn’t ready to have. The forever thing required major adjusting to and possibly more than one breakdown. It was all too much to digest in one simple night. “’Cause if we’re going on this idea that I get to live on whatever you swindle from demons…

Spike smirked at the word. “If they’re fool enough to lose their money, they don’t bloody deserve it,” he reasoned. “Doesn’t matter what sort’ve blood’s pumpin’, demon or not.”

“I don’t want to live off money that—”

“Buffy, this city’s a haven for sinners. The blokes I play against aren’t parishioners. Most of them drink so much they’d kill their mother if she looked at them funny.” His brows pointed upward. “Not to mention, it’s not becoming to favor one race above another. There’s a word for that, pet.”

She made a face at him. “Well, the Slayer can’t afford to stop and be picky, now can she?”

“Absolutely not. We definitely wouldn’t want her demonstrating reason.”

“The point is, I’ll want clothes.”

He paused. “The point of your problem with demons is wanting clothes?”

“No, the point of money coming from you is that it’s going to me to fund my wardrobe.”

“A minute ago you were hesitant to take rent money from me.”

Buffy shrugged and reached for another piece of pizza. She nibbled at the strings of melted cheese dribbling over the crust before taking a proper bite. “That was before you were swindling from demons.”

“And the occasional—”

“Please, Spike, as long as it remains demons in my head, the happier we’ll all be.”

A soft smile crossed his face. “All right, love. Whatever you say. So you fancy a dresser for your frilly girly things. A fridge, a telly… You want a phone?”

She waved a hand. “That’s just an extra bill. And the only person I know lives down the hall.”

He was quiet for a second. “You don’t feature yourself ringing your mum anytime soon, then?”

“No.”

“Buff—”

“No. And if I had a phone in here, I’d just be tempted.” Buffy shook her head firmly. “I’m too confused to even know what to tell myself, Spike. Imagine me trying to hold a conversation with my mom, who won’t care why I went away so much as she cares when I come back. You’re the only person in the world who understands what happened that night and why I needed…why I need to not be in Sunnydale.” She paused. “And it’s…it’s not only because of what happened with Angel.”

The flicker of pain in Spike’s eyes nearly gutted her, but he masked it in a flash. “It’s all right. You don’t have to—”

“It’s not only because of what happened with Angel,” Buffy said again, firmer this time. “I’m having to deal with that, yes, but…Spike, my feelings for him were already kablooey when he got his soul back. I’m confused as all get out over what happened…and you’re…my feelings for you were all…and then that happened…and then what happened after that just made for a big happy mess in the head of Buffy. I can’t go home until I clear this up. Until I reconcile what happened with how I feel about what happened. I know how I’m supposed to feel about killing Angel. I know part of me hurts but not enough. And then there’s you.” She smiled softly. “How I feel about you…well, that’s going to be a jungle. And then there’s the whole dealing with being of the mated and living forever… I can’t have a phone here. If I cave and call Mom, she won’t care about any of that, and then I’ll never have it sorted. It’ll be back to for me Sunnydale and I’ll wind up under video surveillance for the rest of my life.”

Spike was quiet for a long minute, his expression unreadable. “All right,” he said, shifting. “So we need a telly and a dresser.”

“Do we need another bed?”

“No.”

Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “One bed between the two of us? Do we need to go over the rules again?”

“It’s a big bed,” he reasoned. “I can be a gentleman when it’s needed.”

“But isn’t it just—”

“Buffy…” His voice grew soft, his eyes heavy. And without warning, she felt her heart twist and invisible hands close around her throat. He had a way of changing the tone of conversations without trying. Of reminding her with a look how much was riding on this for him. “I can handle not touching you. Not kissing you. Not feeling you. But please…please, just let me sleep beside you. Please?”

If there was a beat of hesitation, she didn’t feel it. The lump in her throat forced its way downwards and she nodded before she could help herself.

She didn’t want to help herself. Not then.

“Okay,” she whispered. “Okay. One bed.”

With the way every molecule in her body trembled at his smile, she knew she was in trouble.

Not for want of his body. For want of him.

Anyone who could smile like that at the mere promise of sleeping beside her was someone she could definitely love. And her bruised heart was too tired, too worn, too afraid. She wasn’t ready for this yet.

And yet here she was—ready to leap with eyes closed and arms bound into the fire.

She just hoped this was one she could survive.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The mattress might as well have been charted with mileage markers with the distance between them, but he felt every shift of her body as though she was pressed against him. For the first time in weeks, he felt completely at rest. The circumstances weren’t ideal—he would much rather have her in his arms than across the bed—but he could see her. Touch her. If he inhaled, he would breathe her in.

There was no way he could have anticipated anything like this to come from tonight. He’d thought, at best, he’d get in a few words edgewise before she showed him the door. The soft smile on her face had floored him, as had the invitation.

As had her proposition. Friendship. No sex. Not right now. Not until she was ready.

A long breath rolled off his lips. In all honesty, Spike had fuck-all idea how he was going to be able to keep his paws to himself. The battle was over for him and he knew what he wanted. It seemed he’d found himself in love with her so long ago, regardless of what logic told him. From the first time their eyes had clashed in the alley outside the Bronze, he’d been hers. It had just taken him nine long months to realize he was a goner.

The last time they had shared a bed, his cock had been sheathed in her wet, molten flesh. Her body hadn’t been closed to him then. No, she hadn’t been closed, but she had been breaking. It was a miracle she hadn’t shattered completely. And wonderful as it had been, sex hadn’t helped matters.

No, sex had led to his fangs thinking for him.

Sex had led to the claim.

And while Spike would never begrudge having Buffy tied to him for eternity, there was no mistaking what it had done to her.

How he’d taken her from one prewritten destiny to another.

Still, in everything they’d discussed, her words gave him hope. She wasn’t ready to be what he wanted her to be—she wasn’t ready to be his. She wasn’t ready to be touched like a lover. She wasn’t ready for a relationship.

The promise resided in the words unspoken. Not yet. She might be one day—she sounded like she might be one day—but not yet. Not yet. Not with everything else.

And Spike could respect that.

He cast his treacherous cock a wary glance. It was his smaller head he’d have to look out. He’d been erect and ready to go from the moment Buffy showed him into the bedroom, and while it most certainly hadn’t escaped her notice, she’d been good enough to trust him to behave. To respect her boundaries.

Buffy’s trust was precious. He wasn’t about to break it.

He, too, could be good. He could refrain from touching her.

It would be worth it in the end.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Buffy was accustomed to waking at all hours of the night, especially when sleeping in an unfamiliar place. She had no idea how long she’d slept, but it was still dark out when her dream faded to reality, and the fantasy monsters she fought dissolved into the soft blanket of tangible night.

She was in bed. In her apartment.

And she wasn’t alone.

Something hard was poking her butt. Something hard but not unfamiliar. Having shared a bed with Spike before, Buffy had experienced his body’s—ummm—enthusiasm firsthand and, to be honest, had anticipated waking up much closer to him than she’d been upon retiring. There was no questioning his proximity, the arm which had curled over her body, drawing her to his chest, or even the temptation of his erection as it nudged her ass. No questioning.

It had been a risk she’d taken willingly, knowing full well there was no way he’d ever platonically shared a bed with a woman in the years since he’d been sired. Simply lying next to her was novel for him.

Novel for him. Dangerous for her.

Buffy sighed, shifted a bit, and closed her eyes. She’d been prepared for this. She’d been prepared for Spike to cuddle her, even craved it despite her self-imposed “hands off” rule.

Spike’s hands on her reminded her she wasn’t alone. His skin against hers enabled her to maintain connection she needed desperately, even if she wasn’t ready to explore him again. Physical need was one thing. She was much too fragile, she knew, to indulge in sex while separating it from her emotions. She’d thought about this. A lot. She’d thought about it, shared her conclusions, and he’d agreed.

But she loved the way he felt. She loved the way his few breaths tickled her ear and drew wisps of hair across the back of her neck. She loved the way he mumbled and tugged her closer. She loved the way his cock felt against her. She loved everything.

And if she wasn’t careful, it’d be very easy to forget herself and indulge in what he offered.

Go back to sleep. If this was going to work—this living arrangement—she’d need to get used to Spike and snuggling.

I get the one guy in the world who likes to cuddle and it’s a problem.

The thought made her snort.

“Mmm…” Spike murmured, his fingers lazily gliding back and forth across her belly. “Buffy…”

Her heart thundered. Every nerve was suddenly ablaze.

“Buffy…oh god…”

“Okay,” she said loudly, though evidently not loud enough to wake him. Buffy sighed and sat up, untangling herself from his embrace and kicking her legs over the side of the bed. “Yeah. This was definitely a dumb idea.”

There was no way she was going to be able to sleep next to Spike and not jump his sexy bones. And that would be bad. That would be very much of the bad.

Her heart wasn’t ready for the risk.

Thus, as quietly as possible, Buffy drew her pillow into her arms and padded out of the room.

No sense in bothering Spike with this.

She would simply sleep on the sofa. In the morning, they would come up with an alternate sleeping plan.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It didn’t take long for Spike to miss her heat.

He wasn’t surprised to find himself alone. Not surprised, but a little hurt.

Still, there was no sodding way he was going to let his girl shiver in the next room while he had the comfy bed all to himself. He didn’t feel cold like she did. Daft chit hadn’t even taken a sodding blanket.

There would obviously be more conversation come morning. Though he wouldn’t sleep nearly as well without her, he was comforted in knowing he’d done right by her.

After carrying the Slayer back to bed, Spike closed the blinds in the front room to ensure he didn’t have a toasty morning, and assumed her place on the sofa.

The distance was going to be a bloody bitch.

But he knew, he trusted, it would be worth it in the end.

For Buffy, anything was.

Chapter Text

She was powerless to do anything but stare.

She hadn’t felt the move. Hadn’t felt Spike come into the living room, lift her in his arms and carry her back to bed. It had only taken a blink to fall asleep after lying down on the sofa. How long she’d actually slept in the other room, she didn’t know. The only thing she knew was the living room wasn’t where she awoke. She awoke in the bed she’d purchased from Mr. Binns—a bed she evidently had all to herself.

Spike had assumed the space on the sofa.

A frown depressed her lips, a long sigh rushing through her body. This wasn’t the way she’d wanted to discuss the sleeping arrangements. At worst, she suspected Spike would be a little offended that she hadn’t slept through the night at his side. He’d promised he would behave himself, and he had as well as he could. There was no sense in blaming his subconscious for acting like any man would in his situation. A man who didn’t hide how much he wanted her and how he was determined to have her again, even if it meant waiting until she was ready to embrace a relationship of that magnitude.

He’d said please last night. He’d pleaded for the right to sleep beside her.

“I should’ve just woken him up,” Buffy muttered as she circled the sofa, irritated with herself. They had finally reached a point where she felt they understood each other. She was determined to work through whatever it was they had to work through, as long as she was allowed to tackle her own problems before addressing the issue of being claimed.

Lord knew what reasoning Spike had concocted to explain her leaving the bed.

Buffy wet her lips. She had nothing on except a Slayer-the-band T-shirt—on loan from Fred, though how Fred and Slayer mixed, she didn’t know—and her cotton panties. It was the same attire she’d worn to bed, but she’d already been under the covers by the time Spike emerged from the bath in his jeans…his very—umm—crotch-bulgy jeans. He’d done little more than grin sheepishly, wave a dismissive hand at his predicament, and slip into bed beside her with a soft, “’Night, sweetheart.” Not a peek under the covers.

Not that he would have seen anything novel. Nothing he hadn’t thoroughly explored.

Her treacherous mind flashed to their passionate night in the motel: Spike perched between her legs, his tongue lapping at her pussy as she writhed against him. And without warning, heat rushed to her groin. Perhaps it would be to her benefit to put on some clothes.

Buffy sighed, deciding, for better or worse, against it. She was throwing herself into the metaphoric frying pan, but she didn’t feel like being anyone but herself while in her own home. If she and Spike were expected to live together, platonically as it was, they would have to get used to seeing each other in various states of undress. It was the norm when two people occupied such small quarters.

It was the norm in a relationship.

She frowned and shook off that last thought. She very much wasn’t ready to consider the ins and outs of their agreement. Relationship though they had, the implication of the word was too heavy to bear at the moment. She preferred to compartmentalize the situation.

Sometimes the difference was all the difference.

Spike was on his back, his left arm strewn over his eyes, his other curved over his bare chest, fingertips resting on his crotch. Unlike other vampires she’d known while sleeping—the one other vampire—he indulged in oxygen every few minutes. There was no rhyme or rhythm to the breaths he stole. No pattern. It simply occurred. One second he was perfectly still—the next, his sculptured chest rose and fell, a cool sigh lifting off his lips.

It was the first time she’d ever stopped to simply look at him. For all they’d been through—all the fights, the bitterness, the kisses, the earth-shattering sex—she’d never paused to take him in. He was such a strange vampire. He defied convention, eradicating the norm of what she’d learned and replacing her knowledge with a new school of thought.

Physically, he was a work of art, though it didn’t take serious contemplation to arrive at that conclusion. Buffy had always thought him to be sinfully gorgeous in a manner that struck her as thoroughly unfair. Right from the beginning of their twisted, complicated acquaintance, he’d presented himself as something above the understood. He hadn’t lunged for her; he’d teased her. He hadn’t fought her; he’d danced with her. And when he defied the unspoken boundary between slayer and slayee, he’d become a more powerful ally than any she’d had before.

He was everything she was supposed to hate. He’d killed with those hands. He’d maimed with that mouth. He’d looked at good people with cold indifference, destroyed them, and gone on with his business. It was his nature—it was who he was. It was what the world had taught him to be. And yet, he’d helped her when no one else would. He’d helped her in ways no one else could have.

Now he was in this apartment with her. Wanting her. Smiling at her. Feeding her pizza and discussing things like what furniture they should buy. Acting like he was something other than what he was.

Acting like he wasn’t a vampire at all.

Spike was very strange.

Buffy wet her lips and shook her head. She couldn’t do this now. Not now. They had things to discuss. Thus with a step forward, she lowered her hand to his pale shoulder and gave him a hard tap.

“Spike?”

Nothing. Not even a grunt.

Figured he would sleep like the dead. Buffy rolled her eyes and edged closer. “Spike,” she said again, her voice louder and accompanied with another hard prod against his shoulder. “Wakey wakey?”

This time she got a response. Granted, it was little more than a long, “Graaaaummmphh,” but it was a definite improvement.

“Spike, I need you to wake up now.”

He yawned loudly. “Well…” he murmured, not opening his eyes. “I need merry bushels of cash and one of those little fried onion things. I’ll give you yours if you gimme mine.”

“You have merry bushels of cash.”

“No, I have a century of memorizing card tricks, some that turn into cash.” Spike flashed her a sleepy grin, the muscles in his scrumptious body rippling like a big cat. “You learn how to play.”

“You mean cheat.”

“That too. But I’ll learn the market. See if that’s not easier.”

“The market?” She only knew of one market. “Like…”

“Stock market. Wankers in New York can do it, so can I.”

Buffy blinked. “I didn’t know you were serious about that. Having trouble picturing you as a stock market kinda guy.”

He shrugged easily. “What can I say, I’m a puzzle.” His eyes fell to the scraggly writing splattered across her T-shirt. “Slayer?” he drawled, cocking a brow. “Cute.”

“It’s Fred’s.”

“It’s appropriate.”

Buffy shrugged. “I’ve never listened to the band. Are they any good?”

“Not really your cuppa, I’d imagine.” Spike ran his fingers along his jaw. “You sleep well?”

“You didn’t have to move me back.”

“It’s your bed, kitten. I’m just a houseguest.”

“No, you’re not,” Buffy argued, frowning. “And it’s not my bed. I bought it with your money.”

“Money I gave you.”

“Yes.”

Spike stared at her for a minute, then waved a hand as though she was supposed to follow him to an obvious conclusion. “My giving it to you makes it yours, not mine.”

“Spike—”

“I shouldn’t’ve pushed you to sleep beside me, love. That was bloody stupid. I wanted it and I didn’t care—”

“No, that’s not—”

“—that it made you feel like you needed to…get away from me was—”

“I didn’t. It was nice.” A warm blush spread across her skin. “It was really nice. You just…in the middle of the night, you kinda got cuddly.”

His endless eyes absorbed her. “Cuddly?” he asked, his voice slightly choked.

“Yeah,” she replied. “Cuddly. And… there was some touching. Not much, and nowhere…umm…naughty, but touching. And you might’ve said my name.”

The subject was having a notable physical effect on Spike. He ignored his swelling cock as apathetic parents might ignore their annoying child. His eyes remained locked on her. “I was having a very nice dream,” he said softly.

The blush grew deeper. “Yeah.”

“And I was…touching you.”

“Cuddly-like.”

“And that’s bad.”

No. “Yeah. Because we’re not… You know, we’re just doing the friends thing right now. Friends…no benefits. And this was our first night trying this. And…” She waved to roll over the words she didn’t want to say. “We need a different thing. A different sleeping arrangement.”

“Because you didn’t like me dreaming and touching you at the same time.”

“No, that’s not it.”

Spike’s perked brow stretched higher. “Yeah?”

“It’s because I really, really did…you know, like it…and I can’t.”

“You can’t.”

“I can’t.”

“Like it.”

She nodded. “That’s right.”

A small, sweet smile tugged at Spike’s lips. “You don’t make a lick of sense, pet. You know this, right?”

“I had a hunch.” Buffy licked her lips and heaved a sigh, her legs carrying her to the empty cushion beside him. It was likely very dangerous having this conversation while literally at his side—her naked legs rubbing against his jeans and his drool-worthy chest even closer for girly appraisal—but she didn’t care. “It’s going to be weird getting used to this.”

“When all I wanna do is shag you silly?”

Her blush deepened. “Well, there’s that.”

“I didn’t mean to touch you, kitten. I can’t vouch for what happens when I dream. That being said, I love touching you.” Spike’s eyes warmed when she shyly ducked her head. “I always want to touch you. Always.” He raised a hand as though to caress her shoulder, then thought the better of it. “But…this is important to me. You being comfortable with this thing we have.”

There was a beat, and a long, hard sigh rolled off her back. “We need to come up with a new sleeping arrangement,” she said again.

Spike shrugged. “I take the couch. End of story.”

“No, not end of story.”

“I told you, the cash stopped being mine the second I gave it to you.”

“Yeah, but it’s not an endless pit. Eventually, we’re going to need to rely on your…umm…investment skills. And the swindling you do from demons.”

“And if that’s the case, I want my money spent the way I want it spent.”

Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “So basically, you get your way regardless.”

“Now you’re gettin’ it!” Spike agreed with a broad grin. Then he sobered, his expression falling soft. “I take the couch, love. That’s the way it goes.”

A pause. Buffy sighed hard and rolled her shoulders. “Your strategy, then, is to be completely wonderful?”

He winked. “Hasn’t failed yet.”

“I’ll bet.” She shifted slightly, crossing her arms. “I am sorry. You were so…ever since you got here last night, you’ve been unusually nice and understanding.”

“Unusually?”

“Well, considering you’re a vampire with a rap sheet longer than Mussolini’s, you came in here, were nice to me, bought me food, said you wanted to sleep beside me, and then put me back in the bed after I…” She broke off, shaking with uncertainty. “I don’t get you.”

Spike shrugged. “Not much to get, from where I’m sittin’. Gimme a fridge with blood, a telly, a spot a violence, toss me a shag and I’m satisfied.”

“But just a few weeks ago—”

“That was before, kitten. Bugger if I understand it.” A beat settled between them, then he exhaled and met her eyes. “I’m not blind. I’ve been around for sodding ever, Buffy. I’ve gutted people for looking at me funny, and I enjoyed every ruby red moment. But since you, I’ve wanted…more. I’ve never wanted more until you. And yeah, that might be in part because of the claim…feeling more because of what we did, but it started before we shagged. It started back in that bloody school. When we first snogged. When I first got a taste of you. I didn’t know it then but…it started, love, and I don’t know where it’s going, but I know I wanna follow it till we get there. So yeah, if it means shackin’ up with you as friends… I can do it. Anything you give me is more than the whole of living the way I was until this. It’s worth it to me.”

Then, hesitating a beat, Spike’s eyes fell to her lips before he leaned inward to caress her with a tender kiss.

While not a connoisseur of the art, Buffy had been kissed enough to tell the difference between a friend kiss and a lover’s kiss. She and Spike had locked lips many times now, each more explosive than the last, each touch making her rattle with electricity. He’d loved her mouth thoroughly as his body rocked inside hers. He’d kissed her breathless in the shower of the motel. In the alley where he’d found her, he’d taken her in his arms and just about fucked her mouth with his. He’d never kissed her in a manner to indicate sex wasn’t the objective.

Not until now.

The way his lips touched hers had her warming in places she never thought she would again feel heat. The hollowed chambers of her heart that hadn’t known anything but arctic cold since the Desoto had blasted out of Sunnydale and took her away from herself. His kiss was beautiful and chaste, and left her all but starving.

It wasn’t meant to be anything more than a kiss, and yet she couldn’t stop her tongue from pushing past his lips. She couldn’t stop her hands from slipping up his bare arms. She couldn’t keep herself from pulling him closer. Needing to taste him. Needing his tongue in her mouth and his hands on her. Needing so much. So much.

Needing things she’d told herself she couldn’t have.

Stop.

Spike had caved without a fight, attacking her mouth with fervor. He gobbled her lips like a man who’d wandered forty years just for this. She was devoured. Consumed.  She was lost, and in those few seconds, she didn’t care to ever be found.

“Buffy,” he moaned, fingers tunneling through her hair. “Slayer…”

Her head tilted back, her eyes rolling to the ceiling as his mouth began wandering down her throat.

“Christ, how I’ve missed you,” Spike murmured as his teeth scraped the claim mark. “You taste like honey, you do. Need to feel you, kitten. Need to feel you under me. Surrounding me.”

Somewhere in the back of her head, coherent thought was making a steady return. But god, how she wanted to ignore it. She wanted to lose herself. Now. Right now. With Spike’s kisses burning her skin, his hands abandoning her hair to slowly scale down her arms until he had her clothed breasts cupped in each palm.

“So warm,” he gasped. “Slayer…” His thumbs perched over her nipples, gently rubbing them back and forth. “My slayer.”

It wasn’t until one of his hands slipped between her legs that the coherent thought started screeching and loud. Realization slammed into her and before she could help herself, she’d braced her hands against his chest and shoved him back. Hard.

Then she was up. Up and moving. Moving fast. Moving because if she didn’t put space between them, she would be in his lap, ripping at his jeans and impaling herself on his cock. And she couldn’t do that. She couldn’t. She refused to use Spike like that.

She refused to lose herself.

“I’m sorry,” she babbled, unable to meet his eyes. “I’m so sorry, Spike. I shouldn’t have done that.”

“Buffy?”

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I just…I have to…” A moment of weakness. Their eyes clashed. He looked so lost. So confused. He sat bare-chested on the sofa, panting, his erection strained against his jeans, drinking her in with his eyes, not knowing what had happened or why.

“I’m sorry,” Buffy said again, her eyes misting. Air thinned. Walls closed. She needed to get out. “Spike, god…I didn’t mean…I’m sorry.”

He swallowed hard. “I didn’t mean to…I thought you…wanted… God, I buggered this up.”

“No. No, you didn’t, Spike. I did. I lost…but I can’t. I can’t. Not now.”

And then she was moving again. She was moving fast, and she couldn’t look back.

Couldn’t stop. Couldn’t risk meet his eyes a second time. Couldn’t look at what she’d done to him.

Not lest she drown in shame.

She needed Fred. Now.

Chapter Text

Let no one say Fred didn’t have a knack for stating the obvious.

“You’re not wearing pants.”

Buffy wiggled, anxiously shifting her weight from one leg to another. “Let me in?”

“You have to pee?”

“No, I’m not wearing pants!”

Fred’s eyes widened and she threw the door open without another beat. “Oh right,” she said. “Why aren’t you wearing pants?”

“Because I forgot to put them on,” Buffy explained hurriedly, rushing over the threshold. “God, I’ve never been particularly modest, but I swear if Mrs. Hatfield saw me without pants, she’d give me another lecture against premarital sex.”

Fred blinked.

“She saw me and Spike leaving last night for our junk food run and jumped to conclusions that were, while not incorrect, certainly presumptuous.”

“See, this is why I always remember to put on pants before leaving the house.”

“This isn’t something that happens often.”

“I’d certainly hope not.”

“Fred?”

She smiled softly. “Want me to get you some pants?”

“That’d be nice.”

Three minutes later, a very clothed Buffy was helping herself to a bowl of Frosted Flakes, trying to look as though she hadn’t bolted down the hallway half-dressed and wholly panicked. She hadn’t given much thought as to what she wanted to say before leaving Spike and the sinful temptation that was his mouth. All she’d known was she desperately needed perspective. She needed a female ear to bend.

“Either I need to lose weight or you need to gain weight,” Buffy said, sucking in her stomach as she retrieved the milk from the refrigerator. “I always thought my baby fat was kinda cute.”

Fred waved a hand, taking a seat at the counter by the kitchen. “I’m just really bony.”

“Thank god these are elastic in the waist.”

“They look fine.” A pause. “Buffy…is everything okay? I didn’t make a mistake by telling Spike where you were, did I? I really thought that was what you wanted. You told me not to let you send him away again, so when he showed up looking for you, I—”

“No,” Buffy assured her quickly, “it was very good that you told Spike where I was.”

Fred blinked. “Then why are you running around without pants?”

“That’s a perfectly fair question.” She cast her head downward and rubbed her arms. “Spike and I…we came to an understanding. We have an arrangement now.”

“An arrangement?”

Buffy nodded. “We’re living together.”

A pause. “Wow.” Fred blinked again. “Considering you shoved him out just a couple days ago, I’d consider that…well, either progress or slayers and vamps just have a way of moving really fast.”

An appreciative grin tugged at the corners of Buffy’s mouth. “I’ve been a little hormonal recently,” she agreed. “Like a nonstop stretch of PMS.”

Fred’s nose wrinkled. “Okay.”

“Believe me, I’m not normally this… Well, I’m not normally this.

“It’s been rough on you.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Like that’s an excuse,” she replied. “Spike’s been nothing but wonderful and I treat him like… Well, he did want me dead a few months ago, but things are very different now.”

“Your life is so strange.”

She snickered. “You’re telling me.”

“What happened that sent you out of your apartment without pants?”

“You’re really going to hammer on the ‘Buffy has no pants’ thing, aren’t you?”

“It’s just not something you see every day. And considering I live in Los Angeles, that’s saying a lot.”

Buffy swallowed hard and nodded, shoving a spoonful of Frosted Flakes into her mouth to buy herself at least thirty seconds during which to consider how best to phrase what she wanted to say. She knew she needed to talk, and if it were Willow rather than Fred, she knew exactly how she would begin. But Fred wasn’t Willow, and it wouldn’t be fair to either friend to utilize one in place of the other.

With Fred, she needed to start at the beginning. She needed to tell her everything.

The spoonful was chewed to the point of being liquefied. No more stalling. After swallowing hard and downing the sugary taste with a gulp of milk, Buffy sighed, nodded, and began with a quick confession. “Spike isn’t the first vampire I’ve…had a relationship with.”

Perhaps she was expecting an earthquake based on past experience. It didn’t come. Not the judgmental eyes or the shocked expression or anything to suggest she was tainted by association. Fred did nothing but shrug and reach for the milk. “Okay,” she said, shrugging. “Could you get me a glass?”

Buffy nodded blankly, moving around the kitchen in an almost robotic fashion. “His name was Angel,” she continued. “I met him…god, a year and a half ago? It was…nothing at first. I thought he was cute but annoying. Just some random twenty-something who popped out of nowhere to tell me I was going to die some horrible death or the world was ending. He made with the extreme vague when I asked for help, saved my butt a time or two, and when we kissed…it was fangs ahoy.”

Fred didn’t say anything until she had a glass of milk in hand. “You didn’t know he was a vampire?”

“He didn’t act like one.”

“Spike doesn’t act like one.”

“Fred, you really don’t know how vamps act.”

The other girl shrugged. “I know those guys who attacked us the other night were very ‘bite-first-ask-questions-later.’”

Buffy nodded, pointing at her as though catching a faux pas. “There you go.”

“What?”

“Vamps very rarely ask questions later.” She smirked, continuing, “Angel and I…we didn’t really get together until about a year after first smoochies, and it was hard knowing if we were together or if we were patrolling-buddies-with benefits. He was…different, Angel was.”

“Like Spike is?”

Buffy shook her head. “No. No, I…Spike doesn’t have a soul. When you become a vampire, the soul leaves the body and a demon goes in instead. Spike is pure demon. Angel had a soul.”

Fred paused, arching a brow. “How’d that work?”

“Something involving a curse with a really lame escape-hatch.” Buffy exhaled. Despite however much she didn’t want to discuss this, there was something undeniably liberating in getting the words out. “Angel had a soul, meaning he was just like a person but on an extremely limited diet and very much allergic to sunlight. Oh, and he’d live forever. But he didn’t bite people. He didn’t hurt anyone. He wasn’t a conventional vampire.” She grew quiet, her eyes focusing on a spot on the counter. “I loved him. He was…it happened so fast. We were just…and then I loved him. Then Spike and Dru came to town and everything changed.”

“Dru?”

Buffy nodded. “You know…the girl I mentioned when Spike was here a couple nights ago?”

“I tried not to listen.”

“We weren’t quiet.”

The look in Fred’s eyes betrayed her efforts to not listen had been entirely in vain. “The woman who…umm…nailed him to the wall?”

“That’d be the one.”

“She sounds…umm…nice.”

Buffy snickered. “Yeah, a real prize. But Spike was totally about Dru. He came to town to make her get better. She was some vampire version of sick, and the Hellmouth could make her better.”

“Hellmouth?”

“Sunnydale.”

“Oh.” Fred’s brows perked. “There are better nicknames, you know. The City of Angels, for example. The Big Apple. The Windy City. But the Hellmouth?”

“Well, it’s not so much a nickname as it is…what it is. The mouth to Hell. Or one of the many mouths to Hell.”

“Ummm…”

“I know. Comforting.” Buffy waved a hand. “Spike brought Dru there to heal her. Things happened. He tried to kill me, it didn’t take. I tried to kill him, and he ended up in a wheelchair. Then Angel and I grew…umm…pelvic, and suddenly he wasn’t Angel anymore.” A pause. “That escape hatch I mentioned? It only activates if he gets happy. When we had sex, he got really happy, and the soul was ejected. And soulless Angel? Nothing like Spike. He was sadistic. Came after me through my friends…through my mother…he killed my watcher’s—girlfriend. And he tried to end the world.”

Fred just stared at her for a second. “Wow,” she said. “And I thought my breakup with Pete was bad.”

“Pete?”

“My last boyfriend.”

“What happened?”

A beat. Fred glanced down, blushing. “Okay, so it was in high school. I told him I was going to LA for college and since he was still into Nirvana and pot, it was over. And he took it bad to the extreme of…toilet-papering my house. But in my hometown, that was like, front-page news.”

Buffy bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. “Oh man.”

“Yeah. And we had some tall trees in our yard.”

“I really wish my life was that simple at times. Other times I think I’d be bored.” Buffy cast a wistful glance to the door. “But Angel turning the way he did, broke my heart. And Spike wasn’t happy, either. With Angel back on the side of evil, Dru was on him like white on rice, forgetting how much Spike…” She paused at the bad taste in her mouth. It wasn’t fair to be jealous of the past, but god save her, she couldn’t help herself. “Spike came to me in very bizarre circumstances. Let’s just say…we weren’t ourselves. Kissage happened. And it threw us both. We teamed up to stop Angel from ending the world, only Angel got his soul back but I had to kill him anyway.”

She paused for comments, but none were forthcoming. Likewise, it struck her as a good idea to ignore how easily it was to say those words. How much truth it brought to her own hypothesis. Sometime between Angel losing his soul and Spike coming to her aid, Buffy had fallen out of love with Angel. The little girl whose kisses he’d stolen, whose naiveté he’d taken for granted, had grown up. She wasn’t that child anymore.

However, getting over Angel didn’t mean she’d forgotten the hard-learned wisdom their relationship had imparted. Vampires and slayers were a messy, sloppy deal. She might have fallen out of love, but she hadn’t forgotten the pain. The pain was still very much alive.

And killing him had killed her in ways she couldn’t even explain to herself.

“Spike took me away when it was over,” Buffy said softly. “I was so lost, but I needed to feel. And I…I jumped him in our motel room and we had sex. Hard, painful sex. But it was more to him than that. More to me, too, but I didn’t want it to be. And then by accident claimage happened.” Anticipating Fred’s question, she pulled her hair back to reveal the bite mark on her throat. “Shorthand, we’re linked now forever. And as it turns out, unless something kills me, I won’t die. Ever.”

Fred blinked. “Wow.”

“Yeah.”

“So you get to be seventeen forever? I can’t decide if that’s awful or terrible.” She wrinkled her nose. “In my case, terrible.”

Buffy forced a smile that she didn’t feel. “This blood bondy thing is why I was sick not too long ago. Since it’s new, it needs time to develop. To be claimed basically means that we’re one, therefore to be apart makes our connection spaz. It’s also why we decided to try this living-together thing.” She paused again. “The thing is, even if Angel and I are very much of the past, I’m just not ready to go from one emotional train wreck to whatever Spike and I are. I care about him a lot…really, it freaks me out, considering he has no soul whatsoever—except maybe he’s sharing mine now, but the jury’s still out on that—and whatever we have wouldn’t be a rebound. It’d be another live-or-die relationship that I can never get out of. And god, all I wanna do is throw myself at him but I can’t because if I start confusing…I don’t even know him all that well. I mean, I do, but the circumstances have always been extreme and…well, they always will be but I can’t control that and I rushed things with Angel and that killed me and if Spike and I fail at being claimed-people then there won’t be anything left of me to kill ’cause I’ll be devastated. I’m just not ready for that…and this alone is scaring me but I have no choice.”

There was nothing for a long minute. Fred just looked at her, her hand wrapped around her barely-touched milk. Then, blinking, she shook her head as though forcing her thoughts to fall in place. “Wow,” she said.

“Yeah,” Buffy agreed dryly.

“You have a lot going on.”

A beat, then Buffy laughed. Hard. “Now that,” she said, covering her mouth, “is an understatement.”

Fred grinned. “Well, it’s…I do that. Why with the no pants again?”

“Spike and I were trying to sleep in the same bed. It didn’t take. He got snuggly and then we played musical-sofas and this morning when we started talking about…stuff…he kissed me.” Buffy held up a hand. “A friend kiss. I’ve kissed Spike a lot, and this was definitely a supportive friend kiss. I’m the one who turned all whorey on him. Massive lip-attack. And since I’m the one who put the boundaries…I just… I left him confused and I needed to get out.”

The empathy in Fred’s eyes grounded her completely. “I get that,” the girl said. “And I’m betting, even with the confusion and stuff worse than confusion, that Spike will, too. This thing is…well, over my head, but he cares about you. A lot. I’m just this bystander person and I can see that.”

Buffy nodded, her heart clenching, her mind flashing back to the soft smile on his face and the way his words cascaded over her like a waterfall. He did care about her—more than she likely knew. Perhaps even more than he knew. And that was terrifying.

But not so much as the idea of facing him now—of facing him after what she’d done to him. After asking for space and then jumping his sexy bones, only to pull away when he began to lead one thing to another as any man—living or dead—would.

“You wanna go shopping?” Buffy asked suddenly. “Or…job hunting? I’ll swing by the library and fill out an application, but we should probably hit other places. And I can get pants that don’t make my ass look so big and…well, my cash is in my apartment, but I have enough that I can pay you back for—”

Fred held up a hand. “You need to get out?”

“Yes. I can’t face him right now. Not after…that.”

She shrugged. “Then we’ll go shopping.”

“You sure?”

“Absolutely.” Fred smiled warmly. “We’re friends, right? This is what friends do. They’re there for the boy trouble and the shopping therapy. Or so I’ve heard. I never…had…you know, friends who weren’t total geeks.”

Buffy grinned, spontaneously leaning over the counter to throw her arms around Fred and hug her as best she could. “Well, all my friends are,” she said. “At least the ones I had before I left.”

“Then you might have a decent chance at putting up with me.”

“I definitely wouldn’t rule it out.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Oh my god.”

“Calm down.”

Buffy glanced up to aim at Fred a well-deserved glare, but she couldn’t see for the mess of tears in her eyes. Nor could she trust her feet to walk, even if it meant closing a gap of no more than four feet. The day had been going so well, too. Full of shoppage and girlish giggles and the unspoken hope that maybe, just maybe, things would work themselves out.

Two hours had passed since sunset, and Spike wasn’t home.

Spike had left. No note. No explanation. No nothing. He was just gone.

Gone.

“I chased him away,” Buffy said, wiping at her eyes. She couldn’t stop crying. She’d been crying now for a half hour, pacing when she could trust her legs and doing her best to not let all the inner-crazy out, though with zero success. “I did. I was so…stupid. I was so stupid.

Fred’s hands were up, trying unsuccessfully to coax Buffy onto the sofa. “He probably just wanted to give you time,” she said, her voice all too reasonable. “Maybe he needed time. You said he likes killing things. Maybe he went to…kill things.”

Buffy shook her head. “He’s gone. He left.”

“This would be the non-stop PMS you were talking about earlier.”

“Not. Helping.”

“I just think you’re jumping to conclusions.”

“I never jump to conclusions!” Buffy paused, realizing belatedly the words had ridden out on a scream. She cast Fred an apologetic glance, then amended her statement with a softer, but no less tearful, “Except I sometimes do, but I’m not now. I’m not. I feel it. I feel it…I felt it earlier, but I thought it was just…nerves. I didn’t…something’s wrong. He left. He’s left. He left because—”

“Buffy—”

“He’s gone.”

Three swift knocks to the front door stole whatever fruitless comfort Fred was about to offer right off the girl’s tongue. They exchanged a quick glance before Buffy bolted to answer it.

“Oh god.”

“See?” Fred replied calmly. “He just—”

“No.”

“What?”

But there was nothing to say. No words to follow. Nothing that could hope to explain what Buffy knew. The trepidation squeezing her stomach. The knowledge crashing against her chest.

“It’s not him.”

Fred frowned. “Don’t be silly,” she returned, though her voice was shaky.

Then she opened the door. And froze.

Buffy was right. It wasn’t Spike.

It was Gunn. 

Chapter Text

It was suddenly very apparent to Buffy why Spike paced so frequently. Pacing kept her moving—kept her occupied. Pacing allowed her body to speed alongside her mind. Pacing made her feel like she was doing something, if only wearing down the floorboards beneath her feet.

“Again,” she snapped mindlessly, not bothering to glance upward. “Tell me again.”

Fred worried a lip between her teeth. “Buffy?”

“I need to hear it again.” A long breath rolled off her shoulders. Her heels dug into the linoleum as she spun to aim her glare at Gunn. “Talk.”

There was no hesitation. “We’ve been tailin’ him for a few days…your boy. Briggs was convinced he was a vamp, and was none too thrilled about lettin’ a vamp walk away like we did. We got a rep, see. Word gets out that we were outsmarted by a vamp and his woman, and shit hits the fan.”

“Who the hell would we tell?” Buffy shouted. “We just wanted to be left alone!”

“I keep tellin’ you, it was Briggs, not me.”

“You can imagine how much that matters to me right now.”

Gunn glared at her for a minute longer before ultimately releasing a long sigh and glancing down. “Look, I came here to help, okay? I came to tell you what I know, and what I know is my men grabbed your boy outside a bar outside a bar on Crenshaw. You weren’t there to come up with some bull story ’bout him being a slayer and it didn’t take much for him to flash some fang. So we—”

Buffy’s eyes darkened dangerously. “What did you do to him?”

“I did nothin’, I keep telling you! He was buyin’ blood.”

The revelation that Spike hadn’t fed on a live person was surprisingly anticlimactic, and not only because he’d told her as much the day before. The alternative hadn’t even occurred to Buffy until she noted the astonishment in Gunn’s voice. If her vampire was out to get sustenance, it would be bagged. Spike had stopped hunting a long time ago. Spike had stopped hunting for her, and no matter what had happened earlier, no matter how she might have screwed up everything, he wouldn’t do anything to hurt her now.

“So you decided to take out the world’s only vampire who gets his supply from bags rather than necks.” Buffy crossed her arms and barked out a derisive laugh. “You guys really couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you?”

“You said you were both slayers,” Gunn retorted, “and while you two definitely need to work on your act, I was willin’ to buy it. I was willin’ to leave well enough alone. You took out the vamps in the alley and you didn’t look to be hurtin’ nobody. Plus you got a tan. Not much of one, but more than a vamp. It wasn’t me who decided to hunt ya’ll down, all right?”

Buffy frowned and rubbed her arms self-consciously.

“I didn’t get into this to be as bad as what’s out there. I ain’t seen a vamp worth saving yet, but I’ve seen a fucking lot, so I was willin’ to let you walk. It’s my gang.” He paused. “It was my gang. Briggs thinks he’d be a better leader ’cause he doesn’t use his head.”

Fred’s nose wrinkled. “Charming gang you’ve got there.”

“On the streets, it’s act before you think. If you don’t, you could find yourself at the wrong end of some ugly’s fangs,” Gunn retorted shortly. “Briggs doesn’t think. He just acts. And havin’ a vamp walk away had his shit all in a fury. It wasn’t hard to track your boy down. We found and grabbed him, and now they’re after you.”

“Because I’m the Slayer and they think that’s some sort of demon?”

Gunn grinned wryly. “No. They don’t got no idea what a slayer is.”

“And you do?”

“Let’s just say I did my homework.”

Buffy blinked in surprise. “You looked me up?”

Gunn favored her with a sideways glance. “Do I look like I got a library card?” he asked, spreading his arms. “No. I just talked up the few vamps I found between meeting you and grabbin’ him. Said the Slayer was a girl—a few said her name was Buffy—”

Another surprised beat. She had no idea anyone out there—especially in the demon underground—knew her name. “What?”

The renegade demon hunter offered a lazy shrug. “Apparently, girl, you’re all famous and shit. Word has it you took out somethin’ called the Master…and while I got no idea what that is, it sounded like it needed taking out.”

A small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth but she killed just as quickly.

“Also said,” Gunn continued, “that you stopped some other asshole from endin’ the world.”

“They knew that?”

“Not all, but a few. Like I said, you’re famous.” He smiled grimly. “But your boy is not. Not as a slayer, anyway. Word is there can only be one at a time, and they never have dicks.”

Buffy’s surprise hardened into revulsion. “You’re disgusting.”

“Call it like I see it,” Gunn retorted. “And as I’ve said, even if I ain’t right ’bout all slayers bein’ girls, there ain’t no sense tellin’ me your boy’s a slayer. Slayers don’t got fangs from what I’ve heard.”

“I still don’t understand why you guys even care about Spike,” Fred offered before Buffy’s growing outrage could pour into words. “If you knew what Buffy is, then why not leave this one vampire to her?”

“For the thousandth time, it wasn’t me!” Gunn’s eyes shifted back to Buffy. “I had it figured out that night. Briggs did, too, but he wasn’t so calm about it, was he? We trailed your vamp, saw him buyin’ blood, and got him to flash his uglies. I don’t get it, but he wasn’t hurtin’ nobody, so I figured he was on your leash.” He paused. “Once again: you’re the Slayer. Your vamp wasn’t committing a crime. I guessed he was housetrained. Briggs thought differently.”

“So he grabbed him.”

“That’s right.”

“Spike is being held by a bunch of vampire hunters who are just waiting for me to do something stupid so they can stick something pointy in his chest.”

“And you’re here,” Fred intervened, “’cause you think Briggs is wrong.”

Gunn rolled his eyes. “I’m glad I’m finally getting through to you. Didn’t realize I’d need a translator. I know I don’t look it, but I’m pretty smart. The girl is what she says she is…” He waved generally at Buffy. “I figure if she says he’s okay, then he’s okay. And that, yet again, is why I’m here.” A pause. “Spike told me where to find you.”

Buffy nodded. “Yeah? And you know where to find him.”

“He said he wants you to stay away. Don’t wanna put you in danger and shit.”

“Right,” she agreed, rolling her eyes. “That’s happening.”

Gunn snickered. “He said you’d say that. He just wanted me to warn you. Briggs tossed me over officially before I left, using the cock idea that I ain’t tough enough. He got backing ’cause he was right about blondie bein’ a vamp. Letting you go cost me.” He shifted. “So now they’re all hot to string you up beside him. They just don’t know where to look for you.” A brief pause. “Your vamp hasn’t told nobody but me where you are.”

“Spike wouldn’t give that information over lightly,” Fred insisted, her voice shaking. “I mean, I don’t know him well, but—”

“Yeah, he was stubborn as all hell,” Gunn agreed, “but he also saw me and Briggs throwin’ it down on what to do about her”—he pointed to Buffy—“if we saw her. Guess the vamp thought I was trustworthy, but he strictly said you ain’t to come after him.”

“Like hell,” Buffy all but growled. “Spike wanted you to warn me. Well, you did. Briggs or whoever can come at me with whatever he wants. I don’t give a crap. Spike is mine and I am sure as hell not leaving him there to be staked or tortured or god knows what else your men are doing to him.”

“My men don’t torture.”

A placidly frightening smile split her lips. “Right now the fact that you know where Spike is and how many people stand between me and him is the only thing saving your ass from being thoroughly kicked, so let’s not argue over semantics. You know I’m going after him.”

Gunn glared at her for a long beat before breaking off with a nod. “Yeah.”

“And if I find Briggs, I’ll put him on life support.”

“He’s gonna have muscle.”

“Wow. I’m terrified.” Buffy shook her head hard, her legs breaking for the bedroom, her voice carrying into the living area as she began a frantic gathering of her limited resources. For a vampire slayer in a big city, she was low on stakes and even lower on assets so far as weaponry. There were a few stakes and a long carving knife she honestly had no recollection of owning—but it was there in her stash, and she would use it. “As you mentioned, I killed the Master. I’ve stopped the apocalypse—twice, I might add. And I lived on the mouth of Hell for two years. A few little boys with weapons—”

“Hey!”

“—are not going to intimidate me.” Buffy stormed back into the living room with a bag of lethal goodies over her shoulder. She met Gunn’s glare with a look of cold indifference.

“We’re not little boys.

“Well, your friends sure as hell are acting like it,” she snapped. “Spike wasn’t hurting anyone—”

“And that’s why I’m here!”

“And that’s why you’re going to take me to him.” She drew to a sudden halt by the door, her hand diving into her jeans pocket to ensure she had her key. “Let’s go, hotshot.” She glanced to Fred, who stood eagerly by the place on the wall where the previous tenant’s television had stood. “You’re staying here.”

“Buffy!”

Gunn nodded. “She’s right. You ain’t goin’.”

“Ahab here is gonna take me to Spike. He knows where he is, and while personally I could give a crap if I lose him, if I lost you, I’d be very upset.”

“Anyone ever told you you’re one hell of a people person?” Gunn grumbled, moving to open the door. “I didn’t hafta come here at all, y’know. I’m doin’ you a favor.”

“And after Spike is back here—back home—I’m sure we’ll be the bestest of friends. Right now, you’re the guy I’d shove in front of a bus if it’d help me get to my vampire.” Buffy plastered on a brilliant smile. “Lead the way, Ahab.”

“I’m not gonna like you, am I?”

Buffy shrugged. “You gotta get to know me. Let’s go! Fred…” She leveled a warning glare at her friend. “You follow us and—”

“No. No following. Staying. I’ll…umm…I’ll be here…though if you’re not back by tomorrow, I will call the cops.”

“Fair enough.”

Buffy glanced back to Gunn, waiting for him to shuffle his way through the door. When he was a safe distance ahead of her, she turned to follow.

Watching him carefully with every step he took.

Hoping against hope they weren’t too late.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was largely rewarding to know he could still make grown men shake with fear simply by glaring, even if his yellow eyes were puffed and swollen. Briggs was a sadistic git, but he didn’t like dealing with prey that could look at him. He wasn’t the sort for long, drawn out torture sessions, even with creatures he considered subhuman. Several times already, he’d had to refrain from shoving a stake into Spike’s chest. It was easier dealing with vamps when they were nothing but dust. When they were alive—or in a position to mimic life—they ran the risk of seeming human.

Honestly, Spike had gotten himself into hairier situations than this, and he always managed to escape. If not by cunning and wit, then most certainly by dumb luck. Last time, he’d had Buffy to draw the sword from his gut and thicken his blood with her rich taste.

Buffy.

She was coming after him. He knew it, of course. Knew telling her to stay away would fix her beautifully stubborn head to do the opposite. Knew because, even if she weren’t linked to his blood, she cared for him. She cared deeply…even more than she realized.

The look in her eyes before she bolted down the hallway had told him as much. It was burning her from the inside—the need to touch and feel, to taste and savor. She wanted him. She wanted him desperately, but she feared getting hurt. She feared what would happen if she threw herself into the fray again. She feared him—not because of what he was, rather what he could do to her.

“Your girlfriend is comin’, ain’t she?”

Spike forced open his left eye, centering on the hazy form addressing him. “Not rightly soon enough,” he drawled.

“You know what we’re gonna do to her, don’t you?”

There was no need to reply. Briggs was trying to bait him, and he wasn’t going to allow the wanker the satisfaction.

Though if he went into gruesome detail of his plans involving Buffy, he might find himself with his brains leaking out of a smashed skull the second Spike was freed. But from where he was—strung up on the prongs of a forklift, held in place by handcuffs that had been dipped in holy water—there was little he could do. Every inch of his body ached. His jaw was sore from clenching and his gums tingled with the need to fasten around a nice, ripe, juicy human throat.

He knew he was in bad shape. A few broken bones. A few scars courtesy of lazy swings with rusty knives. Large knots and welts doctored his legs and arms, and his chest likely resembled a patchwork quilt. He hadn’t screamed, though. Not once. While it hurt like a bitch, the children had done little more to him than Angelus had in the early days.

“I know what you think you’re gonna do,” Spike replied with a bloody, lopsided grin. “Gonna be fun to have a front-row seat.”

Briggs’s eyes narrowed. “She’s gonna—”

“Be fuckin’ fury in motion. And she’s gonna kick every inch of your ass.”

“No little girl ain’t gonna get the better end of me.”

“Call her that,” Spike replied, breathing hard, “and you’ll just make her angrier.”

“Think that worries me?”

There was no sense in offering a retort. None at all. Not with Briggs’s eyes filling with fear. Not with his pulse leaping, his heart thundering just a bit harder. Likewise, there was no sense in talking up Buffy’s legend.

She would be here soon. She would.

And she would tear these walls apart.

Chapter Text

“Slow down.” 

“Bite me.” 

Fingers skimmed her arm, and before she could help herself, Buffy had Gunn sprawled on cold pavement. She balked in surprise but didn’t allow for apologies. As it was, she wasn't sorry. 

She was pissed at the delay. 

“Fuck, girl,” Gunn grumbled, climbing to his feet. “Do I really gotta remind you again that I’m helping you?” 

“Grabbing me is not helping,” she spat, rolling her shoulders back and marching onward. “Getting me in and to Spike? That, on the other hand…” 

“You can’t just march in there and grab him.” 

“Yeah? Watch me.”

“They’re not dumb, you know!” Gunn snapped, jogging to catch up with her. “They know you’re comin’.”

“Good for them.”

“You’ve heard of a trap before, haven’t you? This one’s not exactly subtle.”

Buffy rolled her shoulders, a bitter smirk crossing her lips. “Neither am I.”

“Yeah. Gettin’ that.” Gunn pounded out a deep breath, and out of her peripheral, Buffy saw him reach for her again. Only this time he seemed to think the better of it and withdrew his hand almost immediately.

The boy caught on quick—she’d give him that much credit.

“Problem is,” Gunn continued, “Briggs ain’t subtle, either. They know you’re gonna try something and they know that something’s probably gonna involve you bustin’ in all John Wayne like.”

At that, Buffy paused. She couldn’t help herself. “John Wayne?” she repeated, favoring him with an arched eyebrow. “Really?”

“If John Wayne was young, hot, and had a thing for vamps, sure.” Gunn took a step forward, his hands coming up in a semblance of surrender. “You do it like this and you give Briggs and the rest of ’em exactly what they want.”

“Which is?”

“To kill you.”

Buffy rolled her eyes at that. “Oh, if that’s all.” And she started forward again, shaking her head. “You had me worried there for a sec.”

“Hold up! You didn’t let me finish.” Gunn jogged to catch up with her again. “They know you ain’t no vamp. This slayer stuff is new.”

“And?”

“And I know my boys. My boys are following Briggs ’cause to him, not being human’s as good as being a demon.”

Buffy came to a fierce halt at that and whirled on her heel. “Excuse me?” she snapped. “Who said anything about me not being human?”

Gunn paused, his brow furrowing. “I thought you were a slayer.”

“Yeah. And slayers happen to be human, thank you very much.”

“Really? You got them superpowers and you still get to play for the home team?” Gunn gave his head a shake. “That ain’t fair.”

“Not fair? Not fair is me being seventeen freaking years old and have the weight of the literal world on my shoulders.” Buffy balled her hands into fists, willing herself not to launch at Gunn and beat the tar out of him. “Not fair is the fact that I’ve stopped the world from ending a tally of two times now, and the last time came at the expense of running my boyfriend through with a freaking sword.”

“Okay. Okay.” There was that gesture of surrender again. “My bad.”

On some level, Buffy recognized what he was trying to do. She did. But she already knew that marching into an unknown situation with no plan and no weapons might not be the world’s best plan. Reminders weren’t of the needed.

Plus she hadn’t asked for this—any of it. She’d thrown herself at Spike this morning when he was doing his damndest to give her the space she’d told him she needed.

If she’d been with him, he wouldn’t have been grabbed. Instead she’d been wallowing in self-pity, bemoaning the fact that she had a gorgeous man essentially at her beck and call. A man who wasn’t really a man, but who was trying to be one. For her.

Tears stung her eyes. Buffy inhaled a deep breath and shook her head. She couldn’t go down this road now. There would be plenty of time for her to reflect later—mull over where she was now and where she wanted to go. Right now, she had to get Spike back.

“So,” Buffy said, her jaw tightening, “do you have any better ideas?”

“Better ideas than guns a-blazin’, you mean?” Gunn nodded. “Yeah. You come in as my prisoner.”

She stared at him for a long moment, then rolled her eyes and shook her head.

“Look, Briggs don’t know nothing about slayers and he wants to. You do your John Wayne thing and he’ll feel cornered—feel like he’s got no choice but to stake your boyfriend and put you down.” Gunn held up a hand. “But he ain’t dumb, either. He knows the only way to get to know what he wants to know is to make you think he’s gonna let your boy live. If he dusts the vamp the second you show, he ain’t gonna get shit.”

“So your solution is…”

“To make it look like you’ve been caught too. Let him think he’s in control. He won’t be expectin’ nothing.”

Warning bells began blaring in her head, but Buffy did her best to quiet them. There was a chance—and she’d call it a good one—that Gunn was trying to pull one over on her. That this was his way to turn one captive into two, reassert his authority over the group of slayer wannabes. Hell, she had no guarantee that Spike was still alive at all.

Except she was certain she’d know if he’d been dusted. She’d have felt it.

Even if Gunn was trying to earn favor with his crew, that didn’t make what he said wrong. Going in with a mind to put everyone who stood between her and Spike in the ground would only get them both killed. Plus, despite how piping mad she was, Buffy knew she’d never forgive herself if her actions claimed anyone’s life.

Going in as Gunn’s prisoner—whether for real or for show—was her best bet for getting Spike out of there.

Still, she wasn’t about to go in with her eyes closed.

Buffy inhaled a deep breath. “Fine,” she said and held up her wrists. “Take me to your leader.”

Gunn blanched, but reached into his back pocket and withdrew a length of rope. The fact that he was this prepared should have been more alarming, but Buffy forced herself not to react. If he tried anything, she’d feed him to Spike herself.

“He ain’t my leader, blondie.”

“Yeah, save it for someone who cares.” Buffy stood still, her heart thumping. Allowing herself to be tied up was new territory for her—the instinct to smash her leg into his gut then kick him in the head was so strong she worried her body might do so on autopilot.

After Gunn had her wrists tied, he stood back, his eyes wide and filled with enough reservation to make the part of her that worried this might be a trap take a figurative breath.

But she figured it was polite to warn him, anyway.

“Just to let you know,” Buffy said matter-of-factly, “if we get in there and you have a change of heart, decide to give me to your friends, this smiling face”—she flashed a brief smile for emphasis—“will be the last thing you see.”

Gunn snorted. “Yeah. Like I don’t know that.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Nothing good ever happened at the docks.

“You guys couldn’t come up with a place any more cliché, could you?” Buffy snapped as Gunn led her toward the warehouse-looking building—something straight out of an 80s crime drama. The building seemed about three seconds from falling to the ground. “Seriously.”

“Shut up,” he hissed, prodding her forward with the blunt end of his stake.

Buffy inhaled a deep breath—one that tasted of salt and seaweed—and did her best to keep her head down. She hadn’t anticipated, truly, just how much she’d hate having her wrists tied behind her back while approaching enemy territory until this moment. It had been a damn long time since she’d felt physically helpless, and while she didn’t consider herself without options—being that she could totally kick her way to freedom if she needed to—being denied an extension of herself was a total pain.

Eyes on the prize, Summers.

And the prize was Spike.

“Showtime, blondie,” Gunn murmured next to her ear. Then, without ceremony, he gave her a good shove.

Buffy stumbled a few steps forward and made a mental note to kick Gunn’s ass after this was over.

“Yo!” Gunn called. “Anyone here order a slayer?”

A horrible sound rent the air—a long roar filled with fury and pain. Buffy’s chest tightened and her heart began to race with a surge of adrenaline. Her legs twitched, the need to run overcoming her so fiercely she had to dig her heels into the dock area to keep herself from doing something stupid.

The door to the port building opened. “That you, Gunn?” someone called.

“Me and my plus one here,” Gunn replied, shoving Buffy again. “Briggs in?”

Another one of those terrible roars tore through the air, this time punctuated by the unmistakable smack of flesh striking flesh.

“Briggs is busy,” Gunn’s anonymous friend answered.

Buffy was about to get real busy, herself. Busy kicking someone’s face in.

As though sensing that thought, Gunn dug the butt of his stake into the small of her back and paraded her forward. In seconds, the pale face of their greeter came into view. Long nose. Prominent brow. Greedy eyes. A mess of dirty blond hair. He grinned, revealing crooked yellow teeth.

“This the vamp’s girlfriend?” he asked, eying Buffy up and down. And though his attention made her uncomfortable, there wasn’t anything threatening behind it. No hint of sexual violence or thoughts that would really warrant the relocation of his teeth to his anus. Rather, he appraised her as she would a demon. A demon he was about to decapitate.

It wasn’t a nice feeling.

“She don’t look like no slayer.”

“The fuck you know what a slayer looks like?” Gunn replied. “Shit, Jerry, you ain’t even heard of one till the other night.”

“Just sayin’. She don’t look like much, does she?”

“Yeah, and how many vamps exactly have we dusted who didn’t look like much?”

The lackey—Jerry—gave a jerky nod. “She’s just so little. Sure she needs to be tied up?”

“She doesn’t,” Buffy agreed brightly. “If you’d do the honors—”

Gunn snorted gave her another push, and then she was inside the port building proper, where the stench from the outside met with the stink of sweat and neglect. She could barely draw in the will to breathe.

“She got spunk,” Jerry said, laughing. “I’ll give her that. Yeah, Briggs is interviewing her boyfriend.”

“Alone? Where’s everyone at?”

“Lookin’ for you and our friend here.” Jerry nudged his chin in Buffy’s direction with another leer before turning his attention back to Gunn. “I knew you’d come around. Always. Told ’em that Charles Gunn does not go soft for no vamp. Or his pretty piece of ass.”

“Fuckin’ A,” Gunn agreed with a tight nod. “Alonna? She out there?”

“Naw. Briggs grounded her. Precaution. Y’know.”

Buffy did her best to keep her expression neutral while the rest of her sighed in relief. That had been the largest variable in Gunn’s dumbass plan—whether or not his sister was out with the others or at home base. He’d speculated that Briggs wouldn’t want Alonna on a hunt because she’d be a wild card after what had happened earlier. It had been a gamble, but one that had paid off.

“Shit, she must be goin’ nuts,” Gunn replied, chuckling.

“You ain’t wrong. Good to have you back, man.”

“Back? Man, I never left. Just let a pretty face fuck with my head.” He reached around and patted Buffy’s cheeks and was fortunate, in her opinion, that he was able to pull away with all fingers intact. “Won’t happen again.”

“Can’t say I blame you,” Jerry said, and this time the look he gave Buffy was entirely sexual. “She does look tasty.”

Buffy tensed, her body tightening in that familiar way that preceded issuing out a thorough ass-kicking. If he so much as sniffed her hair—

But Gunn broke through those thoughts, pressing the stake’s point further into her spine. And then she remembered she couldn’t do anything. Not yet—not if she wanted to get Spike out of here alive.

“Tasty and dying to see her boy toy,” Gunn agreed, then jerked his chin to indicate a wall comprised of fencing and stacked boxes that gave way to a passage. “He this way?”

Jerry dipped his head and stood aside. “I’d get the tissues ready if I was you, sweetheart,” he told Buffy, a twisted smile stretching his lips. “What you see back there ain’t gonna be pretty.”

The roar came again, and trapped within the confines of the walls, it seemed to go on forever. This time, it was followed by an awful hiss Buffy knew all too well, and the scent of cooking flesh thickened the air.

Okay, Gunn had exactly three minutes before she went John Wayne on his ass.

Fortunately, he seemed to know it. “Briggs!” he yelled. “Got somethin’ you want.”

Gunn walked her around the wall, where she got a good view of discarded bicycles and yard equipment. The second he navigated her around the corner, Buffy slammed her teeth into her tongue to keep herself from screaming.

Spike was strung up what looked to be a forklift, his wrists cuffed against either prong. A thick gash ran the length of one cheek and his left eye had all but swollen shut. He was in full on game face, but his lip had been split and an angry, purplish mass consumed most of his right cheek. He’d also been stripped of clothing—completely—though it took her a moment to realize it because his skin was a patchwork of cuts and burns. His right side had discolored so dramatically that it seemed to blend into his surroundings, giving him the appearance of missing part of his body.

She remembered how he’d looked in the motel, run through with a sword courtesy of his crazy ex. He’d looked dead then—so much so she’d thought he might be. But even then, aside from the blood drenching his pale skin, he hadn’t looked broken.

Not the way he did now.

Hot, angry tears stung her eyes, the adrenaline from before charging through her system so hard her bones trembled.

“What have you done to him?”

At her voice, Spike seemed to stir. He growled and jerked forward violently. Again the air crackled and hissed, and she realized that the cuffs that held him in place were smoking. Like they had been dipped in holy water.

A flame erupted in her gut and began to burn.

“No!” Spike snarled, his yellow eyes finding her as he strained against the cuffs, which gave an awful hiss and smoked harder still. “Slayer!”

“Well hot damn, Gunn. Didn’t think you’d actually do it.”

The guy Buffy recognized as Briggs strolled leisurely from around the back of the forklift. He held a bottle of liquor in one hand and nothing in the other, though from how his fingers twitched, it was obvious he had a weapon at the ready.

It took Buffy all of three seconds to decide she would start by kicking the asshole’s self-satisfied smile off his ugly mug. If he had any teeth left after that, she’d knock them down his throat, then knee him in the gut so hard he threw them up again. Should he still be conscious at that point…

Well, she’d figure it out. Gotta leave some room for spontaneity.

“Yeah,” Buffy drawled, “here’s the thing about slayers…”

She flexed her wrists and felt the threads strain. In a second she was free—hallelujah—and she had a human shield courtesy of the stranglehold she had on Gunn.

“We’re kinda hard to wrangle.”

The smirk faded from Briggs’s face almost immediately. Pity. She’d been kinda looking forward to the kicking it off him thing.

“Fuck!” he yelled. “She’s loose!”

“Shit!” Gunn gasped. A nice gasp. Full of fear and disbelief. If this hadn’t been planned, she might have thought he was genuinely surprised.

Of course, she had his back bent toward her at an angle that couldn’t be comfortable, forcing his long legs to stretch out farther, lest something valuable break. Maybe he didn’t need to dig too far in his bank of acting chops to find the fear.

Footsteps echoed from behind. That had to be Jerry, coming to the rescue. Buffy dragged Gunn around like a limp doll. She released him for an instant—just barely a blink—twisted and greeted her new assailant with a hard kick to the chest. Jerry’s eyes widened in shock, his mouth falling open and wheezing hard gasps of air between those yellow teeth. She reached back and let her fist fly, and the next instant he was on the ground, unconscious.

Then Gunn was against her again, her forearm pressed against his throat and the stake he’d held at her back poised and waiting at his heaving chest.

“Now,” she said cheerily, “where were we?”

Spike made a sound that might have been a cough or a chuckle, but she didn’t look at him. She couldn’t afford to.

“Whoa!” Briggs said, holding up his hands, the bottle of beer shattering in an explosion of gas and amber liquid.

“Fuuuuck,” Gunn wheezed, grasping her forearm. “Do you…gotta…do it…so tight?”

She didn’t think he meant others to hear that, but she didn’t care. She jerked back, applying just enough pressure on his windpipe to knock him out should the need arise. The result was a belly-deep gasp that made her own chest tingle with sympathy-pain.

“Now,” she said, aiming a sweet smile at Briggs, “let me tell you what’s going to happen. The vampire? You’re going to release him. Slowly. Then Charlie and I”—she tightened her hold on Gunn again, earning the theatrics of another gasping breath—“are gonna go for a walk. You try to stop us, follow us? You’ll find out just how strong a seriously pissed off slayer really is.” Buffy narrowed her eyes, tilting her head. “Questions?”

Briggs was still for a long moment—long enough to have uncertainty shoot down her spine and her heart start to jack-rabbit. But then he shook his head and stretched his hands into the air above him and nodded.

“All right,” Briggs said, his eyes never leaving Buffy’s. “I’m gonna back up now real slow like. No sudden movements, the full nine yards.”

Buffy dug the tip of the stake into Gunn chest. Not hard enough to draw blood, but more than enough to earn another whimper. “No,” she said. “I don’t think so. Is there an Alonna in the house?”

Briggs’s eyes flashed and at last, he looked away from her, shifting his attention to Gunn. “You told her about—”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Buffy drawled. “Can’t tell you how many bad guys have been taken down due to over sharing. You guys should really work on that.”

“We are not the bad guys,” Briggs all but snarled, though his hands remained over his head. “You fuckin’ fang-banging groupie.”

“Not the bad guys? I don’t remember torture showing up in the How to Be a Hero guidelines.” Buffy nodded toward Spike but still refused to look at him again. Every inch of her body throbbed with awareness, with the need to rip heads from necks for what they had done to him. It was primal, bone-deep, and one good slip away from slipping out of her control. “So yeah. Gonna go with bad guys. But even bad guys have family, which is why Alonna will make sure that her hand doesn’t slip when she’s releasing my vampire.”

Briggs’s lips curled. “You’re sick, lady.”

“Pot, meet kettle.” Buffy shifted her attention to the wall of black behind the forklift. “Alonna Gunn, come on down, unless you wanna be scraping bits of big brother off the pavement.”

Briggs didn’t say anything else, just glared daggers.

There was a beat of silence, then another, then a frightened face emerged from the shadows, her hands up, her wide brown eyes filled with gritty determination. She looked to Buffy, then Gunn and then to Buffy again and her jaw hardened.

Buffy drew in a deep breath and willed herself not to falter now. Threatening the jackass that had been torturing her vampire was one thing—ransoming a girl’s brother was something else entirely. But she couldn’t blink. Not now. She was too damn close.

“Free Spike,” she said. “Walk him over to me. Anything happens, and I break your brother’s neck. Nod if you understand.”

Alonna nodded, her eyes unblinking and shining with hatred.

“Good,” Buffy said. “We all understand each other. Briggs, where are the keys to Spike’s cuffs?”

“Pocket.” He began to lower his hands.

“Umm, no.” Buffy nodded to Alonna. “She can get them for you. Front or back?”

Briggs hesitated. “Front.”

“You know what happens if you try anything.”

“Yeah, message got.”

“Good.” Buffy nodded at Alonna again, this time to get moving. And the girl thankfully didn’t need to be told twice. She moved forward, eyes never leaving Buffy, and dipped one hand into Briggs’s front right pocket.

“Slowly,” Buffy said. “Pull it out and show me.”

Alonna sent her another glare but obliged. She put a space between her and Briggs, then lifted the keys into the air high enough for Buffy to see them.

“Good. We’re almost there. Now for the big finish. You let Spike go and walk him over to me.”

It seemed to take forever, and maybe it did. Now that they were so close to having the vampire back, Buffy would have sworn her heart was vying for freedom for the way it thundered against her chest. She knew Gunn could feel it, and a part of her thought Briggs might, too. Every nerve stood on edge, waiting, gambling for the moment when something went wrong. When Briggs made a move or Alonna decided to play the hero herself, but it didn’t come.

Instead, Alonna uncuffed one wrist, then the next, and Spike fell to the ground with a hard thud.

Buffy’s throat tightened. “Spike?”

“All good, Slayer.”

He rose to his feet the next moment, and she couldn’t help herself now. The need to see him, feel him, know that he was all right overpowered the part of her that knew better than to get distracted now, and her attention shifted.

Spike was a walking bruise. The marks she’d seen earlier were nothing but the highlight reel. The closer he got to her, the worse the picture became. Until the logical, plan-having Buffy side of her brain couldn’t take it and the primal mate part started growling. Primal hunger bloomed in her chest, reared its head and gave a vicious roar.

They had hurt Spike. Her mate.

Impulse and instinct overpowered rationale, and in that moment, she wanted to taste blood.

Gunn must have felt her slip, as his body went tight. “Stay cool,” he whispered. “Almost out.”

Yes, that made sense.

So did impaling Briggs on one of the forks of the forklift.

The monster that lived in her chest purred at the thought. A hungry purr that stoked the fire pumping through her veins. Buffy blinked hard, trembling. The more distance Spike closed between them, the more she could see, the more that bloodthirsty voice screamed.

“Buffy,” Gunn said, louder this time.

Loud enough that, behind Spike, Alonna stilled and the stony hatred in her eyes blinked into confusion.

Spike must have seen it, too, for he began to hurry toward her, wincing each time his feet—which she saw now were raw and bleeding—hit the ground.

“Stay cool, stay cool,” Gunn urged.

“I’m…trying.

But the next thing she knew, she was no longer holding Gunn. He was holding her—or rather, holding her back. The line in her head separating instinct from logic had snapped and she needed blood. She needed to tear into Briggs. Put him down. She needed to dig her fingers into his chest and rip and shred until every wound he’d dealt her vampire—her mate—was repaid tenfold.

“The fuck, Gunn!” Briggs was rushing forward now, a blade drawn in his hand, his face contorted in rage. “You motherfucking traitor!”

And Buffy saw what would happen if he got any nearer. Saw it unfold like a movie. Or a nightmare. She saw herself bursting free of Gunn, leaping over him and smashing her feet into Briggs’s chest. She saw him thrown back on the ground, his eyes wide, the knife clattering beside him. She saw herself straddling his chest as her fists swung down in bloody arcs, hammering him into the cement floor until his face was nothing more than a mask of ripped skin and broken bone. Until her hands were drenched in red.

No, the part of her that was real—that was Buffy—cried out.

The wounded animal had no use for human sentiment. It just knew its mate had been hurt and the only way to make that better was to eliminate the person that had caused the pain.

Then she was free, bursting away from Gunn and tearing toward Briggs. Time to put that asshole in the ground.

“Buffy!” Gunn screamed. “Buff—”

Arms closed around her—strong arms, arms she knew. “Slayer,” came a raspy, familiar voice. “I got you, love. Time to go.”

But Buffy didn’t want to go now. She wanted blood.

“Sweetheart,” Spike murmured, lowering his head until his mouth was over the mark at her throat, “we gotta move.”

Then she felt his tongue on her skin, and raging animal trapped in her body immediately calmed. The angry throb in her chest waned, her head cleared, and the world around her came back into view. She looked up then and met Spike’s good eye. Whatever he’d done had done the trick. She felt completely in control again.

“Thanks,” she said.

He blinked at her, but she didn’t have time to explain, because Briggs was not going to let them go without a fight. And though she knew not to doubt Spike’s strength, she also knew he’d need whatever he had left to get home.

However, when she swung around to deal with Briggs, she found he wasn’t even gazing in their direction. He was too busy with Gunn, looking at him like he didn’t recognize him. “You put a vamp above family?” he said, holding up the blade. “What the fuck happened to you, man?”

“You know this ain’t right,” Gunn said, panting, shaking his head. “We go after killers. This girl wasn’t a threat until you made her one. We got enough enemies around here without worrying about makin’ new ones. You saw what she did to Jerry. She’s not a vamp, bro. You mess with her and she’s gonna take all of us down.”

“One little girl ain’t gonna take shit from me!”

Gunn looked at Buffy, who offered a weak smile.

“She ain’t no little girl and she ain’t no monster, either. And I dunno, but I think the only thing holding her back from killin’ you now is the vamp you decided to string up and torture.” Gunn spread his hands. “We’re gonna let them go. We’re not gonna follow and you’re gonna let the others know that the Slayer and her honey vamp are off limits.”

Briggs’s eyebrows shot skyward. “Is that what’s going to happen?”

“That’s right.”

“Interesting. Wanna hear how it’s actually gonna happen?” Briggs nodded at the knife. “This? This here goes in your stomach. Spent too much time with that monster lover, brother. She rubbed off on you.”

“So you’re gonna kill me. Because I—”

“Because you side with monster lovers over your family. Over us. That makes you a monster.” Briggs shook his head. “You wanna die for them? You start here. They’ll get away, sure, but me and the boys’ll hunt ’em down. And—”

A hard crack broke through the air, and Briggs collapsed to the ground in a heap. Behind him stood Alonna, her chest heaving, her eyes wide and wild, the piece of plank board she’d smacked over Briggs’s skull still suspended above her. She stared at the tangle of limps sprawled before her, blinking rapidly, then slowly raised her gaze to Gunn.

“Is it just me,” she said slowly, “or is he a little unbalanced?”

Gunn grinned and took his sister in a bear hug. “Nobody ever messes with the home team, little sis.” He turned to Buffy, and she winced when she saw the thick bruise swelling at his throat. “Promise is a promise, right?”

“I told you not to bring her here,” Spike said, resting his hand on her shoulder. “Bloody—”

“Don’t even try to tell me you didn’t see this coming, dude.” Gunn shook his head, grinning. “Couldn’t keep her still if I tried.”

“I gotta say,” Alonna drawled, “next time you got a master plan like that, you need to tell me. I about had a heart attack when I came out here.”

“Had to be real.” Gunn shrugged, then turned his gaze back to Buffy. “Get your boy home, Slayer. We’ll take it from here.”

Buffy wet her lips and spared Spike a glance, that pang in her chest resurfacing when she took in his swollen and cut face. But the bloodlust didn’t return—thank god—and she’d call that a win for the moment. Or at least until she could process what had come over her and figure out how she felt about it.

“What are you going to do?” she asked, looking back to Gunn. “I mean, he’s just gonna come after us again.”

“Gonna tie him up then give the boys a talkin’ to. Remind them why we do what we do.”

“You think that’ll work?”

Gunn shrugged. “Dunno. We’ll give it a shot.”

Buffy pressed her lips together, her gaze falling to Briggs once more. “You know them better than I do, so maybe you’re right and they will listen. But smart money says he won’t. What happens when he comes looking to dish some payback?”

“He does and he’s a dead man,” Spike muttered. When she looked at him, he offered only a soft smile. “Not gonna hold back, love. Can’t ask me to, especially if he’s after you. Won’t stand for it. He gets within ten feet of us again and I’m gonna rip out his sodding throat.”

Buffy stared at him a long moment, her mind swimming, adrenaline fading in favor of relief and exhaustion. These were things she didn’t want to think about just now. She didn’t trust herself to make good decisions, or any decisions at all. Not without processing what had just happened—what she’d seen. What she’d nearly done herself.

So she turned it off, nodded, and filed it away for future consideration.

What mattered was Spike was alive. He was with her. Whatever conversations they needed to have would come later. Right now, she needed to get him home.

Everything else could wait until tomorrow. 

Chapter Text

Buffy didn’t know how she found her way back. The time between leaving the dock and entering her building was a blur. She was too consumed with the feel of Spike’s arm around her shoulder, too aware of the limping steps he took, the hard grunts that spilled from his mouth whenever his wounded feet landed on something hard or sharp. She’d offered to carry him back, but he’d declined, saying it’d look too bloody weird and they didn’t need to draw more attention to themselves.

Which she could appreciate, even if she didn’t agree. The threshold for visual weirdness had already been passed, given Spike was a mess of purple and red, plus naked to boot. That on top of being in LA gave them more cushion for weird than they might have experienced elsewhere.

At any rate, they didn’t have any trouble. Thank god for that. If anything kept her from getting Spike to safety, she might lose what tenuous hold she’d managed to maintain on her control.

“Almost there,” Buffy said as she navigated Spike around the corner to their hallway. “Sure you don’t want me to carry you the rest of the way?”

He snickered but tightened his arm around her shoulder. “Cart me over the threshold and all? Not exactly a blushing bride.” He shook his head. “I told you, I’ve had it worse.”

“And that’s supposed to make me feel better.” Buffy shook her head and drew to a stop outside their apartment door, then frowned. “Uhh, do you think we’d get the security deposit back if I kick this open? I think I forgot my key.”

He chuckled. The fact that he could laugh at all filled her with astonishment, never mind that the laugh turned into a hard cough. Spike had just had his body used as a knife sharpener, punching bag, and god knows what else, but he could crack jokes and freaking laugh.

She wished she knew how to do that. All she wanted to do was cry.

But before she could do anything, the door to her apartment swung open of its own accord, a very pale Fred on the other side.

“Thank god,” her friend said, her face flooding with relief. That was until she shifted her attention to Spike. Then she looked like she might be sick. “Oh holy fish nuggets.”

That seemed strangely appropriate.

“Explanations later,” Buffy said, pushing inside. “I don’t think wandering the halls naked and looking like you just lost a fight with a lawnmower is the best first impression to make to my landlord.”

“Eep!” Fred said, slapping her hand over her eyes. “He is naked!”

“Bloody hell,” Spike murmured with a wince. “She always this shrill?”

There was a brief pause. “Sorry. I…I just wasn’t expecting nakedness.”

“Vampires have very sensitive ears,” Buffy said as she walked Spike to the sofa. The same one where she’d all but mauled him earlier that day, which felt roughly like a thousand years ago. “Might try to stick to our indoor voices.”

Spike collapsed against the cushions with a hard sigh and rolled his head back. God, he looked even worse here. The winding trails of red that had been carved into his skin stood out against the overly bright light beaming from the overhead, but not nearly as much as the pattern of purplish-black bruises. The rage that had flooded her body earlier that night came roaring back with a vengeance.

If she ever saw Briggs again, she might just kill him.

And yes, that thought was in fact terrifying.

“Umm,” Fred said. She remained by the door, staring at the back of the sofa and looking nearly as pale as Spike. “I think I might just…let you two… Unless there’s something I can do?” A pause. “There’s not, is there?”

Buffy shook her head. “No. I’ll—”

“Yeah,” Spike said suddenly, jolting forward so hard he winced. He started to turn to look over his shoulder, then seemed to think the better of it and focused his attention instead on Buffy. “There is, since you’re offerin’. Gonna need to juice up before I start attacking the neighbors.”

Fred wrinkled her nose and, as though remembering she was a neighbor, inched closer to the door. “Huh?”

“Blood,” Spike said, eyes still on Buffy. “That’s what I was—”

“Doing when Briggs n’ friends decided to make you their personal piñata. I know. Gunn told me.” Buffy pressed her lips together.

“Right,” he agreed slowly, brow furrowing, which looked downright painful given the massive bruise that had swollen his eye shut. “So if your chum’s offerin’, I could use a pick-me-up.”

Yes. That made sense. All kinds of sense. What didn’t make sense was the way Buffy’s throat went dry and her heart leaped. What didn’t make sense was the burning sting of disappointment, or the need to shout at him that he had all the blood he needed right here. It was so quick, so natural that it scared her.

The mark on her throat twinged in agreement, and that scared her even more. Being pierced by vamp fang wasn’t something she’d ever wanted—hell, up until Angel had redefined the word nightmare, her recurring bad dreams had all centered around being bitten or drained. Or worse, being turned. Yet Spike had bitten her twice and neither time had those old fears surfaced.

The first time, she’d been in shock.

The second time, she’d been…well, preoccupied. Those bites hadn’t been planned bites and, aside from the oodles of post-claim pain that had followed bite number two; she hadn’t given either much thought.

But Spike needed blood. And her first thought was take mine.

“Umm,” Fred said, at last, breaking Buffy from her thoughts, “you’ve been quiet a long time. A-and he just said he needed blood, but I don’t particularly want to be dinner.”

Buffy kept her gaze on Spike. “Drink me,” she said.

Fred made another squeaking sound.

“No need,” Spike replied, not breaking eye contact. “Might not be as filling, but pig’s blood’ll do the trick.”

“Spike—”

“Is there a place to get blood?” Fred asked loudly, rushing forward, then turning away again with a blush. She must have forgotten Spike was naked.

“Spike, this is dumb. I’m standing right here with all this slayer blood and you know that’ll do more for you than whatever—”

“Just bloody shut your gob. I’m not drinking from you, all right?”

“Why not?”

Spike didn’t answer. He didn’t even look at her. His gaze had dropped to the ground, and god, he looked so broken that her eyes were suddenly stinging and a wealth of things she had been quite keen on not thinking stormed her already overfilled mind.

“Fred,” Buffy said hoarsely without looking away from her vampire, “you should be able to find blood at any butcher shop. Get a lot of it, okay? I’ll—we’ll pay you back.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Fred give an enthusiastic nod. “Blood. Butcher. Got it. Will you… Will you guys be okay until I get back?”

At that, Buffy couldn’t help but shift her attention to her friend. Worry creased every line of Fred’s face, and though she clearly felt uncomfortable, she was also hesitant to leave Buffy alone. Something Buffy would have appreciated had she not needed Fred to be somewhere else right now.

“We’ll be fine,” she replied and tried for a smile. “Thanks.”

“All right.” Fred pressed her lips together, nodded as though agreeing to an internal pep talk, then turned and bolted out the door without another word.

The second they were alone, Buffy turned back to Spike, crossing her arms. “Why?”

He stared at her, his one good eye unblinking. “Too much to hope you’d drop it, then.”

“I’m serious. You look like…” Her jaw tightened and the tears she’d managed to fight back before returned with gusto. “Drinking from me would help, right?”

Spike swallowed but didn’t respond.

“Did…did you not like my blood? Is that it?”

“Are you off your rocker?”

“Well—”

“I don’t wanna drink from you because the last time I had my fangs in you it was nothing short of a sodding miracle that I stopped. Satisfied?”

Buffy frowned and felt her cheeks heat. That wasn’t quite how she remembered it. “The last time…”

“Not talking about that,” he replied, his voice having grown thick. She watched as he eyed the mark on her throat—the one that had tied them together. It seemed to burn under his scrutiny. “That was something else.”

She shifted her weight between her feet, her skin prickling with awareness.

“When I bit you then,” Spike continued, his gaze still on her throat, “it wasn’t outta need. It was…” He trailed off, then shook his head and huffed. “Way my body needs it now, there’s no tellin’ if I’d have the sense to—”

“Stop.”

“Right.”

“No, stop with the excuses.” Buffy uncrossed her arms, then crossed them again, trying to fight back the sting of hurt. “You won’t hurt me. I know you won’t.”

“You can’t—”

“Yes, I can. You won’t drain me because, hello, mated.” She indicated the bite mark on her throat. “If you didn’t drain me after your ex decided to make you a human pin cushion, then you won’t now because…well, see above, re: mated.”

Spike stared at her a long moment, his throat working, his expression unreadable. At last, he sighed and looked down, shaking his head. “It’ll hurt, love,” he said softly. “And that’s one thing I don’t wanna do. My bones’ll mend just fine on their own. I don’t need… You don’t need to get yourself in a state over me. So thanks but no thanks. I’ll wait for the bloody swine.”

“So your excuses are you don’t think you can stop, which is baloney, and that it’ll hurt.” Buffy narrowed her eyes. “Again, didn’t really hurt the last time.”

And that seemed to trigger something.

“The last time I bit you was in mid-fuck,” Spike snapped, balling his hands into fists. “Of course it didn’t hurt. You were on fire. It doesn’t hurt then. If you’re hot and burning like that, like you were, it feels bloody amazing. But if I did it now… Fuck, Summers, you remember what it felt like back in Sunnyhell, don’t you?”

At that, she licked her lips, looked down. Truth of the matter was, she didn’t really remember much about that night beyond finding Spike pinned to the wall and killing Angel. Well, remember much insofar as Sunnydale went, at least. The rest of it seemed divided into someone else’s life—what had happened in that motel room. The way he’d pounded into her, whispering things that would make Tracy Lords blush. The way she’d bitten him back and…

Buffy shifted again. There had been so much wrong in the way they’d come together, but she’d be lying if she said the memory was unpleasant.

Spike inhaled a deep breath and the blue of his good eye darkened a shade. “Slayer,” he said softly. “You gotta give me a bloody inch here. But if you look at me like that, if you smell like you want it, I’m gonna want to give it to you.”

Oh god. How did he know she was turned on?

The question must have been all over her face because he grinned. “Briggs mighta fancied himself Picasso, but he didn’t rearrange me so bad that I can’t smell you.” Spike lowered his gaze so that he was staring at her crotch. “You want me even like this? Beaten and bloody?”

“I… I was just thinking about the bite.” Buffy looked away, her cheeks burning. “You’re right. It was…uhh…I was…”

“It was brilliant,” he murmured. “Can’t say I regret it.”

“E-even the claim?”

Spike lifted his head. “No. Can’t say I regret that either. Maybe the way it happened. That you didn’t know what it was and it got us in this mess. And even if you never…” He trailed off, his jaw tightening. “Slayer…”

“So now your main reason for not drinking from me is thinking it’ll hurt.” Buffy neared him on shaky legs, her mind screaming at her that this was a bad idea but the rest of her not really caring. “What if… What if I’m…”

Spike stared at her in that unnerving way of his. “This is gonna be one of those things we don’t talk about tomorrow, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know.” She worried a lip between her teeth. “Would that be so bad?”

He studied her for a long moment before looking away again, his nostrils flared and—yes—she let herself look, let herself see that the conversation was having a definitive effect on him. His cock was swollen, thick, curved toward the ceiling. Even amid all his injuries, he wanted her.

The knowledge made her tremble.

“Think I’d rather not,” he said at last, still not looking at her.

“You say that, but…” She waited until he met her eyes, then nodded at his erection. “Seems like—”

“I can’t do this back and forth with you, love,” Spike said. “I want you so much it hurts. More than anything that wanker did to me. But getting you and not having you isn’t gonna cut it. When I touch you, I don’t wanna stop and I gotta. Because that’s what you said you wanted.”

And just like that, the spell lifted. Buffy gave her head a shake and stepped back, a swell of both remorse and guilt flooding her system. She pressed her lips together and nodded. “I’m sorry,” she said. “You’re right. That is a bad idea. And for the record, I wasn’t suggesting anything…err, intense. Just enough to get me to a place where you can bite me without it hurting.”

“With us, pet, it’ll always be intense.”

“At least let me help you clean up?”

He hesitated a moment, then nodded. “Yeah,” he said, wincing and edging toward the end of the sofa. “All right.”

Buffy released the breath she’d been holding and moved forward to help him to his feet. She was entirely too aware of him, even now. The weight of his arm over her shoulder, the feel of his skin against hers, the smell of him joined forces and stormed the beach that was her mind. He was right—it was weird that she wanted him like this. Weird and a little sick. And combined with what had happened earlier—the thing she was not yet thinking about—she could only hope that was the claim talking.

If it was the claim talking, she needed to figure out how to get it under control. Because beyond random and somewhat icky bouts of horniness, this wasn’t fair to him. As much as she hadn’t asked for what had happened, neither had he, really. And he was doing everything he could to give her what she needed as she adjusted.

She needed to give him what he needed in return.

She just hoped she could figure out what that was.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He was a stupid sod.

Spike gritted his teeth as he stepped under the water spray, doing his best to ignore the pounding in his veins and the primal roar in his chest. Fuck, even his fangs hurt. Saying no to Buffy’s offer was the most bloody difficult thing he’d ever done, and with her so near and her scent flooding his nostrils, he was having a hell of a time remembering just why exactly it was a bad idea.

Except, no, he remembered her face that morning after they had pulled apart. How she’d looked after he’d been so ready to strip her panties down her legs and bury his face between her thighs. There had been a healthy dose of want there, but confusion as well. Confusion and self-loathing.

And yeah, that last thing had hurt. A lot. Almost enough to make a man say sod it and stalk out, except that wasn’t exactly an option and even if it were, he’d never make it more than a few feet. He was in the love with the girl. He’d follow her until she loved him back or staked him nice and proper.

The worst of it was he knew he was being unfair. But she wasn’t playing fair, either. Snogging him, moaning into him, offering him her body and blood but knowing it couldn’t be more than that right now.

The scent of tears brought him out of his head. He turned and saw a fully clothed Buffy sliding the shower door closed behind her, her gaze locked on his body. Yeah, he knew he looked like hell. Felt like it too. And he knew she wanted to help. He also knew she was shaken, and wouldn’t forget how she’d almost gone feral on Briggs back there.

And that was how he was being unfair. So much of what Buffy was experiencing was tied to a fresh set of instincts he’d given her. Couldn’t really expect a slayer to adapt to a vampire custom in a few days, especially one so old most modern vamps hadn’t heard of it. If she’d felt anything like what he’d felt the moment he’d seen Gunn waltz her into view—even knowing that the bloke was on his side—then it was no wonder she was so turned around.

And now she was crying over him.

Fuck.

“I’m sorry if this stings,” she said, her voice choked. She made no move to wipe her tears away, instead turned rather methodically to collect a bar of soap from the shelf. “But…”

“Buffy…”

“A…human did this.” She shook her head, not looking at his face. “I can’t…”

“It’s all right, pet,” he said, trying for a smile. “Had it worse, haven’t I? Told you as much.”

“That doesn’t make it all right.” She lathered up a washcloth then gently scrubbed at his aching skin. “I’m so sorry, Spike.”

His chest twisted. “Huh?”

“For…earlier. This morning.” Buffy met his eyes briefly before looking away again, her face flushing. “And for being Miss Insensitive a few minutes ago. I-if I hadn’t done that, you wouldn’t have—”

“Stop that.”

“Why? It’s true. We would’ve spent the day together like we’d planned.” She barked a laugh, the hopeless kind of laugh, and he experienced another punch to the gut. “I would’ve gone with you to get blood. We could’ve mopped the floor with them.”

“Or they could’ve nabbed us both and we’d be in a right pickle.”

Buffy shook her head, her gaze following a stream of dirt and blood as it slid off his skin and circled the drain. “You don’t believe that. We kick all kinds of ass together.”

Spike couldn’t help but grin. “One hot power couple, we are.”

She met his eyes again. “I’m going to try to be better. I was trying to be better, but that kinda blew up in my face. And I know it’s not fair to you. I know you didn’t ask for this any more than I did—”

“Buffy—”

“And you’re trying so hard to be what I said I needed and I still think I do need it, Spike. I need to figure out who I am and what happens from this point on and all that stuff.” She swallowed and looked again to his chest. “But part of that is not being a total shit when I mess up. I shouldn’t have run from you this morning. It just wigs me out—all these things I’m feeling that are new things and old things mixed with other stuff and it’s not like the sitch in my head was the most stable place to be before this. But if we’re gonna…be together in any way, the State of Buffy needs to be good enough to build something real on. And I’m totally babbling, aren’t I?”

He felt the corner of his mouth kick up in a grin he couldn’t help. “I like it when you babble.”

Buffy looked at him with those wide, soulful eyes of hers. “I…” Her face began to crumble again. “I don’t care if it hurts. I just want to make you better.”

Spike drew in a breath, sucker-punched. “Buffy—”

“I don’t care. This hurts more.” Now those soulful eyes were swimming in tears again. Hard to tell through the shower water, but he knew the way those tears smelled and tasted, and fuck, he hated being the one that had put them there. “Please drink me.”

He tipped his head back. “Bollocks.”

“Spike—”

“We do this, we’re gonna do it right.” He looked back at her, then down the length of her sodden body. Her nipples were hard, poking through her T-shirt, which was plastered to her flat stomach. Further down, the fabric of her sweats clung to her legs. He swallowed, hard, then jutted his chin toward her waistband. “Slip your hand inside your pants, love.”

He heard her inhale sharply, but she didn’t protest. Barely hesitated. Just obeyed.

Fuck, he thought again.

“Cup yourself for me,” he said, his chest even tighter now. Christ, this was going to be torture, but he wasn’t sure he cared anymore. “Right. Tell me what you feel.”

Buffy’s gaze shot to his as though needing to make sure she’d heard right. Her cheeks flushed a pretty pink. “Uhh…hot.”

Spike closed his good eye, forced his throat to work. “Yeah? That’s good. Real good. Now run one of your fingers over that pussy for me. You feel wet?”

He knew she did. He could smell it. She was hot for him.

His cock pulsed angrily; his fangs began to tingle. He swore and braced a hand on the wall behind her head, trying to focus on the water hitting his skin, but fuck if he felt it. All he could feel was her, even like this. Not touching her, just watching as her lips went slack, those cheeks even redder, her eyes glossy with want.

Still, he wanted the words.

“Tell me, Slayer,” he murmured, “do you feel how wet you are?”

She jerked as though coming out of a daze and offered a hard nod.

“No. I want the words.” Because, apparently, he was a masochist. “Say, ‘Spike gets me wet.’ Let me know who does that to you.”

Buffy inhaled and rolled her head back, bearing that luscious throat to him. “Spike…gets me…wet.”

He growled, pounded the shower wall with one hand and fisted his cock with the other. “Now I want you to push a finger inside that pussy for me. Can you do that?”

She made a sound somewhere between a whimper and a moan, but nodded, her face still pointed at the ceiling.

That didn’t sit well with him.

“Look at me.”

Buffy released a trembling sigh but did as she was asked, her brilliant green eyes fixing on him.

“Tell me again,” he said, his voice rough. He began pumping his cock in slow strokes—slow both to prolong and torment, because he was ready to fucking blow. The second her blood hit his tongue he’d be a goner. “Tell me who gets you wet.”

“You do.”

Spike sighed and pressed his brow to hers. “Another finger. Stretch yourself as much as you can, all right?”

She dragged her teeth over her lower lip just to torture him—he was sure—but obeyed. He knew she obeyed, even if he couldn’t see what was happening behind her slacks. The sounds she made were indication enough. Buffy reached with her free hand and seized his right biceps to steady herself, and fuck if her touch didn’t make him burn.

“Now fuck that pussy for me, Slayer. Fuck it with your fingers.”

“Oh god.”

“Mmm,” he agreed, his fist working furiously at his dick. “Tell me how it feels.”

“Hot,” she said, the word riding out on a gasp that he felt in his balls. “Slippery.”

“Is it enough?”

Buffy pressed her lips together, then shook her head.

“I know. Not enough for me, either.” Spike squeezed his erection at the base, changing tempo. Needing this to last because it might be a long bloody time before he got to see her like this again. So he made a show of it, dragging his hand up the length of his shaft, then down again. Then again and again until she had no choice but to look and watch what he was doing. The scent of her arousal intensified, a damp smell fragranced by the water spilling from the nozzle.

“Now,” he continued, then dropped a kiss on her cheek before he could help himself. “Now, I want you to touch your clit. Keep your fingers doin’ what they’re doing, but press down on your clit with your thumb. Can you do that?”

Buffy whimpered but gave him yet another nod before a hard gasp road through her lips and her eyes squeezed shut.

“Again.”

“Spike, I’m so—”

“I know,” he replied and kissed her properly this time because fuck it. He missed kissing her. Missed every part of this—of her. The simple pleasure of tasting her mouth with his. But it wasn’t what she wanted, not really, so he pulled away before he could lose himself, and nudged her head. “Buffy…give me your throat.”

It humbled him how quickly she did this. How there was no hesitation, no fear or second-guessing. In a flash, she had presented him with the creamy line of her neck, the area unmarred, save for the prominent mark he’d given her. The one that would never fade.

“Press down on your clit again,” he murmured as his fangs slid into his mouth, the bones in his face shifting. The scent of her intensified, arousal now competing with the delicious rush of her blood. “And again. Keep doing it, love. As long as you can until those glorious legs of yours go out.”

“Spike…please…

He brushed his lips across her throat. The thought surfaced that now would be a good time to tell her he loved her—that was if it wasn’t the first time he was saying it. While he was more or less certain Buffy knew how he felt about her, he didn’t want to risk it now when so much was still up in the bloody air. Because no matter what happened in here, out there was the world set up by her rules, barmy or not. Throwing love at her now would just bollocks things up even more.

Still, he wanted her to have the words on the off chance she didn’t know what she’d done to him. So she’d appreciate just how much this meant.

But he didn’t say them. Instead, he kissed her skin again, then bit down and drank.

And Buffy shuddered hard, his name tumbling from her lips as her blood hit his tongue, and holy fuck. Spike growled and jerked her to him, his fangs sliding deeper into her neck, his dick throbbing and his head pounding and she tasted so fucking good. Hell, he could feel his muscles relax. Could feel the pain in his joints receding, the welts on his skin shrinking, the pain fading until it was nothing more than a dull buzz. His bad eye cleared and he could see her properly now. But beyond that, all he could feel was Buffy. Buffy’s body pressed to his, her breaths at his ear, her heat and softness and purity and everything that made her his slayer.

Spike thought pulling away from her throat would be hard, but it wasn’t. He licked the bite mark once, twice, then dragged his head up so he could meet her eyes.

They were closed again.

“Buffy.”

“Mmm?”

“Buffy…” Spike nudged her brow with his. “Baby, I need you.” He thrust his hips forward, his still-hard cock desperate for attention. “Touch me. Just touch me. Just tonight. Please.”

He thought she’d protest, but praise god, she didn’t. The next second, her hot hand was around his cock, pulling, stroking, squeezing and making his legs tremble all over again. Then she dragged her fingers over the head—fingers that had just been inside her pussy—and he couldn’t take it. He barked a curse and ejaculated, white ropes of semen hitting her stomach. And she didn’t stop. She continued pumping his shaft until the tremors began to recede and the pounding in his veins calmed to a low hum.

At last, seconds, minutes, centuries later, Spike returned to himself. Buffy was pressed against him, her face buried in his shoulder, her hands balled into fists at her sides. Spike swore under his breath and switched off the shower, submerging them both into deafening quiet.

Then Buffy stiffened and started to draw back. “I keep doing the wrong thing, don’t I?”

“Hush,” he said, hesitated, then drew his arms around her to hold her to his chest. “Look, I haven’t forgotten what we talked about. I know the last thing you need right now is to muck with all this. And I’m not gonna ask you to.” He pressed his lips to her brow. “Knew this was a one off going in.”

“But—”

“But nothin’.” He clenched his jaw, then pulled back to meet her eyes. “Funny thing about being strung up by that bloke is it gives a fella time to think. Mind does wonky things when it thinks it might not be around come tomorrow.”

“But in the living room… You said—”

“Sod what I said. I was a prat.”

Buffy shook her head. “You were right. I keep going back and forth and everything makes sense when I think it but then I try to… It’s like I can’t control myself. You’re trying and I’m being a doofus. But tonight, and this morning… Something comes over me and I…”

“Part of you can’t help it.” Spike tucked a lock of her damp hair behind her ear. “Much as I’d like to think it’s because I’m irresistible, I wager a lot of what you’re feelin’ is there because we put it there that night. Like the bloody stomach ache the both of us had when weren’t together. And yeah, I’m ready to get to the part where we’re shagging ourselves raw and sod the rest, but it’s not as clear for you as it is for me. Forever doesn’t scare me. I already got the wiring for it. Forever’s a whole other bloody thing for you. Bleeding selfish of me to think you could…”

He didn’t know how to finish that, so he fixed his gaze on the corner of the shower and swallowed.

“If it makes any difference,” Buffy said a moment later, “I’d really like to be okay with it right now. But it’s so big.”

“I know, love. It’s not for me ’cause it’s in my blood already. Thinking the other way’s what would blow me over.” He paused, raised his gaze to hers again. “Goin’ a little mad because some wanker is cutting up your mate’s in my wiring too. And even though you didn’t get to the sod, I know you wanted to. And I know that scares you.”

She pressed her lips together and looked away. “I’m trying not to think about it.”

“But you will is what I’m saying. Not thinkin’ about it’s gonna do you no good, either.” Spike inhaled a lungful of her scent before forcing himself to put a space between them. “Reckon a slip here or there’s gonna happen. Instincts, and what all.”

“A slip that involves giving each other happies, you mean.”

The corners of his mouth tugged. “Right. But I… You wanted to be what I needed tonight. I want to be what you need. Always. And for now, that means doing this all hands off like.” Another beat. “Still like to sleep next to you, though. If you’re up for tryin’ that again. Can’t promise my hands’ll stay on my side of the bed but if they don’t, just give me a good wallop and that oughta do the trick.”

Buffy stared at him for a long moment, long enough for quiet that settled to feel endless all over again. Then a gentle smile spread across her lips.

“I want that too. Sleeping next to you, that is.”

“Thank Christ.” He barked a laugh and tore his hand through his wet hair. “The rest we’ll suss out as we go, yeah?”

“Even if there are slip-ups.”

“By god, we’ll find some way to endure it.”

Buffy laughed outright at that, and it reached her eyes, and he thought if he could get her to do that once a day for the rest of his years, he’d be a happy bloke.

He just had to wait until she was on the same page—body, mind, and that glorious soul of hers tossed in as well. Until he could have all three, he’d never really have her.

And she was worth the wait.

Chapter Text

“Umm, why are you wet?”

Buffy skidded to a halt, blinking at Fred as her frazzled brain did its best to piece together why her friend was standing in her doorway. Said brain came up with nothing, being somewhat drunk thanks to the intensity of her orgasm. Hell, Buffy was amazed she could still feel her legs.

Thus, the best response she could come up with was a slightly drunken, “Huh?”

“You’re wet.”

That hardly seemed appropriate or any of Fred’s business. Buffy scowled, then remembered her drenched clothes and felt herself flush. “Oh, I was in the shower.”

“You shower without getting undressed? Is that a slayer thing?”

“Ahh, umm, knew I was forgetting something.” Buffy pressed her lips together. “Uhh, what are you doing here?”

It was Fred’s turn to look confused. She wrinkled her brow and held up her hands which, Buffy only just then saw, were wrapped around bags of blood. And the conversation they’d had before the shower she’d shared with Spike came rushing back, cutting through the fog that had settled around her mind.

Right.

“Everything okay?” Fred placed the blood bags on the counter. “You look a little…” Her gaze wandered south, then widened. “Oh! Umm, sorry. I should’ve…knocked?”

Buffy frowned and looked down…right at the telling spot where Spike had, err, unloaded. She hesitated for a moment and debated whether or not Fred would know what it was, decided that she would because—duh, Fred was an actual adult—and then pondered the virtues of throwing oneself out the nearest window.

“Well, that… I guess you guys are getting along now?” Fred said a moment later. “And…is that normal for vampires? To be all banged up and—”

“I’ll wager a guess my takeout order’s come in,” came Spike’s voice. “Would figure we don’t have any ice to put it on for the mo’. Don’t think I can swallow a drop now.”

Buffy whirled around as Spike came out of the bathroom. Thankfully, he’d had the presence of mind to throw on a towel at the very least. He paused and looked at her before shifting his attention to Fred. “What?”

“I see you’re…feeling better,” Fred said.

“Uh, yeah. Thanks, pidge.”

“Buffy…” Fred swallowed loud enough for the sound to echo through the small room. “Are…are you okay?”

Spike blinked, flicked his gaze back to Buffy. “Why wouldn’t she be okay?”

Buffy fisted the material of her soaked tee and stretched out the stain, her cheeks on fire. It took a moment for understanding to flicker across Spike’s face, and then he looked like he didn’t know whether it was more appropriate to be abashed or pleased with himself.

“Guess nothin’ gets passed your friend, does it?” he drawled, turning his eyes back to Fred. “She was just helping me.”

“In the shower?”

“I washed him off,” Buffy said lamely, forcing herself to turn around to face her friend again, her skin still on fire. “It’s not what it looks like.”

Spike snorted. “It’s not?”

“Well…” Buffy looked down at the semen stain again. “Would you believe it was to get him to eat me?”

Spike barked a laugh at that.

Fred’s eyes went wide.

Buffy whimpered and dropped her face into her hands. “I’m never talking again.”

“You’re cute when you blush, love,” Spike murmured, still chuckling. Buffy heard him shuffle forward. “As for this…” He touched the place on her shirt where the stain had set. “Dunno about you, but I find the look rather fetching, myself.”

Buffy dropped her hands to glare at him. “You’re not funny.”

“I don’t mean,” Fred said, “I mean, it’s none of my business. Because, well, it’s not. But Buffy, this morning, you were—”

“This morning was a million years ago,” Buffy said. “But thank you for worrying. I’m good. We’ve…talked and there’s an understanding and I’ll fill you in on everything when he’s not standing right here.”

Spike chuckled again. “You gab to your girlfriends about me?”

He sounded way too pleased with that.

“Girlfriend in the singular sense,” she replied. “And of course I do. I may be the Chosen One and I may be the mate of a vampire, but hello, still seventeen.”

“No need to wait on my account then,” he replied, crossing his arms and leaning against the hallway wall. “Think I oughta make sure you don’t leave out the good stuff.”

“No,” Buffy and Fred chorused at the same time.

Spike pouted.

“Some things are sacred,” Buffy continued, doing her best not to stare at his lips, which was difficult. Even more so because he seemed to know she was struggling. “Girl talk is among them.” She turned back to Fred. “Thanks for getting the blood.”

“It was a learning experience,” Fred said, seemingly relieved for a reason to change the subject, her normally pale face burning with a bright blush. “I didn’t even know blood could be ordered like that.” She looked to Spike. “But I guess you don’t need it as bad as you did before I left. You look…like, a lot better.”

He threw his arm around Buffy and steered her into his side. “Slayer wore me down,” he said, casually brushing his fingers along the fresh bite mark on her throat, making Buffy shiver with awareness and more than awareness—more of what she’d left behind in the shower. “Shoulda known better than to try and say no to her.”

Fred’s gaze lingered on Buffy’s throat for a long beat. “And…that made you all better?” She shook her head. “Sorry, I mean, you looked like a walking corpse before I left.” She paused. “Well, I guess you are a walking corpse, but I mean a really dead-looking one.”

“Thanks ever so.”

“I mean—”

Spike held up his free hand. “Know what you meant, pet. Slayer blood’s like the bloody elixir of life to my kind. Few swallows fixed me proper, but I’ll need a pick-me-up tomorrow. Make sure the rest of my bones set right and the like.”

“Except we don’t have a place to put it,” Buffy said, eyeing the spot along the wall in the kitchen where the refrigerator should be. “Fred, can you… Would it be okay if we store the blood in your fridge until tomorrow? Or until we get a fridge of our own? And then Spike really should get some rest. And I should change.”

“Dunno,” Spike replied, eyeing her up and down. “Rather the like the sight of you like this.”

“You’re gross.”

“Just being honest.”

“Sure,” Fred replied and seized the blood bags off the counter again. “I’ll, uhh, leave you guys to it.”

Buffy arched an eyebrow. While she’d trusted that her friend wouldn’t put up much of a fight, she’d expected at least a wrinkled nose or a moment of hesitation. After all, blood wasn’t something one typically kept on hand and seeing it first thing in the morning next to a carton of OJ could be a little alarming. “You really don’t mind just…keeping blood in your fridge?”

Fred shrugged. “I’m a scientist. Trust me, I’ve had weirder.”

“And never tell me about that.”

Spike chuckled again, and she felt it against her. His arm was still around her shoulder, and it felt so right—so natural—it was almost easy to forget this wasn’t the way it was with them right now.

Except maybe it was. They were just on hold.

“Deal,” Fred said at last. “All right. Goodnight. Buffy, tomorrow?”

“I’ll fill you in,” she promised. “And thanks.”

The second she and Spike were alone once more, Buffy wasn’t sure what to do with herself. And she wasn’t sure she had the strength to worry at the moment. The intimacy they had shared in the shower had her mind running in circles, combined with the things he’d said and the other things she knew she needed to think about—the primal urges that might have claimed the life of another human being tonight being among them—but she hadn’t been lying when she told Fred that her problems that morning seemed like forever ago. The Buffy that had been so concerned with over-analyzing kisses had been shoved side, and she wasn’t too eager to bring her back.

It seemed dumb now. So much of the past few days seemed dumb to her.

“I really do need to change,” Buffy said at last, meeting his gaze. “Aside from the fact that you Lewinsky’d my shirt, I am all soggy.”

Spike smirked and gave the stain a pointed look. “Know I put up a fight, but I can’t say I’m sorry that happened.”

She offered a small smile. “I’m not, either. But—”

“I know, love. Meant what I said back there.” He looked away then. “Still good with me sleepin’ beside you? Could take the couch, I suppose, if you think it’ll—”

“No. You’re not taking the couch.” Buffy inched forward a step. “If we’re gonna take any good out of what happened to you tonight, it’s that I’m all kinds of done with running away.” She swallowed. “I have enough to work out without adding in angsting over sleeping arrangements.”

Spike met her gaze again and smiled softly. “Then you best pop back and get changed,” he said. “You look ready to bloody drop.”

“It’s been a long day,” she agreed. “Are you even gonna be able to sleep? I mean, I think you should, but my blood’s probably like coffee on steroids.”

He chuckled. “Maybe if I hadn’t had the stuffin’ beat outta me earlier. Think a bit of kip is just what the doctor ordered.”

“And kip is British for sleep, right?” She held her hands up when he gave her a narrow look. “Hey. One of these days I’ll understand you without needing a translator.”

“English to English translation a thing now?”

“British English is not English, thank you very much.”

“Kinda think it’s the other way around, pet. You Yanks are the ones who butchered it.”

“We’ll have to agree to disagree.” Buffy paused, considered, then lifted on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek before she could talk herself out of it. The touchy-feely phase would have to stop tomorrow, but for now—this moment—she could hold on.

Though the way he looked at her when she drew back, she wondered just how long she could stand it.

“I almost lost it when Gunn told me what happened tonight,” she said softly, her throat suddenly tight. “Before I even saw… And maybe I did a little. Lose it, I mean. But I…I wanted you to know. That I feel things. Big things.”

Spike inhaled, his nostrils flaring. “I know, love.”

“Scary things, even.”

“Scary?”

“There’s little about what I’m feeling that doesn’t scare the snot out of me.” Buffy tried for a weak smile. “How much of that do you think is the claim?”

He held her gaze for a moment, his own unreadable. There was so much want in his eyes—furious want that only served to terrify her more, but also had her blood ablaze like little else she had experienced. And this was how Spike had always looked at her, she realized. Even before any of this had happened—from the moment he’d stepped out of the shadows at the Bronze, clapping at her performance, telling her that she had until Saturday to live. Granted, it hadn’t been nearly as obvious then, and she’d lumped it in with bloodlust, but it had been there. Just as it had been the night she’d awakened in her body to find Spike pressed against her, his mouth fused to hers, confusion and arousal and anger and more confusion burning in every glare he aimed her way.

The attraction part had been there longer than the claim.

The claim had been born because of it.

“Think I knew what I was feelin’ when I bit you the first time,” he said at last. “Or I was on my way there, at least.”

“On your way where?”

Spike hesitated. “To where I am now, I suppose.”

Buffy swallowed, her heart thudding. There was something else there, she knew, something she might be able to uncover if she picked at it enough, but likewise knew she shouldn’t. Because what good would it do her to hear the words I love you come from Spike’s mouth now? He might have been on his way to love then—if that was what it was—but she hadn’t been. She’d been knee-deep in thinking he was the most confusing, sexiest guy on two legs, but also swimming to her eyeballs in the apocalypse and killing Angel. That plus losing her mom, her friends, and the only home she’d ever felt at home. Spike had confused the crap out of her, sure, and while she’d been in deep lust, she hadn’t been in the zip code of love. She hadn’t had the emotional or mental capacity to dissect the way he made her feel. If what she felt was something, anything, more than her own loneliness and desperation combined with the first guy who had stoked feelings and sensations that weren’t platonic since the night she’d turned her lover into a monster.

She’d liked Spike. Relied on him. Enjoyed kissing him—really enjoyed kissing him. There had been feelings, but they hadn’t been love. They were too new to be love.

The way she felt now was different enough to wig her out, but how much of it was real? How much of it was there because she really felt it and not the byproduct of something she didn’t understand? Buffy might not be learned in blood magic, but anything having to do with blood was powerful stuff.

After she and Spike settled in—got the fridge and everything else he needed to make the apartment habitable—she really needed to dive into research mode. Learn what she could about the claim and what influence it had, if any, on her emotions. She knew it had had an effect—from the stomach aches to the way she would have ripped Briggs to shreds. That hadn’t been her—well, not all her. It had been true anger amplified beyond anything she’d experienced. So who was to say that the warm feelings she had for Spike were not similarly amplified?

Or worse, not real at all. What if the claim could fabricate feelings the way Xander had fabricated feelings with his stupid spell around Valentine’s Day. After all, if magic could do that, couldn’t a magical bond do the same?

“I told myself not to think tonight. Thinking can come tomorrow,” Buffy said a moment later, caressing her brow. “Head hurty.”

Spike slid an arm around her shoulders and steered her into his side. “Pop on back and change, love,” he said. “I’ll wait out here.”

“I desperately need more clothes. My backpack didn’t hold much and as hard as I am on them, whatever I have won’t last long.”

“We can get you new threads.”

“And a fridge.”

He nodded, gave her a little shove so she crossed the threshold into their bedroom solo. “And a fridge. And a telly. Can’t forget that.”

Buffy nodded and turned, catching his eyes before she closed the door. And she allowed herself a moment to look—really look. Not for the first time, she found herself astounded by the change her blood had provided. The scars that had mapped his chest were all but faded, and the bruises that had welted his skin were likewise little more than shadows. His face no longer looked like an abstractionist painting. Both eyes were open.

Yeah, blood was powerful. Especially in their world.

She just needed to know where the limit was. If a limit existed.

She needed to know that this was real.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

He became aware of her touch at first. It was soft, light and tender. Her fingers roamed his arm before skating over the skin of his shoulder, then his throat. By the time she had funneled her way into his hair, Spike was fully awake and enjoying himself too damn much to end the charade.

Also somewhat convinced that he was imagining the whole bloody thing, because Buffy didn’t touch him. Not like this.

“Spike,” she prodded, and the way her voice formed his name informed him that it wasn’t the first time she’d said it. “I’m not above punching you awake.”

He snorted at that and cracked an eye open. “Gettin’ some mixed signals here, love.”

“Well, you sleep like the dead.”

“I’ll refrain from pointin’ out the obvious there.” He blinked and stifled a yawn, his bleary eyes taking her in. Weak sunlight filtered through the closed blinds—too weak for the hour to be late, which meant it was too early for him to be awake. Buffy too, given the last couple days they’d had.

Yet not only was she awake—she was dressed. Well, if one could call shorts and a tank top dressed. Not that Spike was complaining, as it gave him a fantastic view of her legs.

“I just wanted to tell you that I am not sneaking off to the couch. Or...sneaking anywhere, really.” She graced him with a soft smile that had him thinking things he knew, for the sake of his sanity, he was better off not thinking. Things he also knew he couldn’t help but think when she was around. Buffy licked her lips and continued, “I’m gonna go get some of the stuff we talked about last night.”

Spike could barely remember last night beyond the pain and the feel of her hand around his cock, and a bunch of other foggy thoughts he didn’t care to explore too closely. “Stuff?”

“Fridge, for one. Freakishly okay with it as Fred might be, I don’t want her to worry about adding blood to her shopping list.”

He eyed the sun-lit window again. “And this can’t wait? Not gonna be in much of a state to help you, pet.”

“I don’t need help.”

“You may be tough, but a bloody fridge is pushin’ it. Also, don’t you reckon it’ll look a mite weird to anyone who sees tiny you hauling a massive appliance all by her lonesome?”

“No weirder than it looked carrying the bloody and bruised body that was you home last night.”

Spike considered, then shook his head. “Definitely weirder.”

“I’ll get help if I need it. I just want to get a jump on these things. I’ve been waiting around for people to do stuff for me and that’s not fair.” Buffy smiled softly. “Plus, you’re still recovery-guy.”

He sat up a bit, frowning. “Think you saw to it that I recovered right nicely last night.”

A charming shade of pink colored her cheeks and the air thickened with a scent that was fast on its way to becoming his favorite. Spike inhaled a sharp breath and forced himself to bite back the impulsive need to make her blush darker. Make her remember just why last night had been so bloody good and see if she was ready for one of those slip-ups he’d mentioned.

Except no. That wasn’t what he was doing. Not now.

“Err, well.” Buffy sucked her luscious lower lip into her mouth. “I’m just…not ready for you to be…well, out there. Doing things.”

Spike’s brows shot skyward. “Is that a fact?”

“You scared the crap out of me yesterday.”

“To be fair, you returned the favor.”

“Well, I, for one, am looking forward to a quiet night in with no insane rescue missions or beaten up vampires. So I’m gonna go get the fridge for your blood now.”

He bit back a grin. “Cozy evenin’ in for two?”

“Is it too much to ask? Really?”

“You know I won’t say no. ‘Cept I think you’re bein’ a spot stubborn about this fridge business.”

“It’s broad daylight and I can bench press…well, I dunno how much ’cause I’ve never actually bench pressed anything, but let’s just say I can take care of myself. Especially across human jerkwads who wanna mess with me.” She paused and tucked a lock of blonde behind her ear. “Don’t worry.”

He wasn’t worried, just a little baffled. “You sure this isn’t a handy excuse to ignore what happened in the shower?”

At that, Buffy scowled. “I’m not ignoring what happened in the shower. Don’t think I’d be suggesting a night in with just us if I wanted to ignore anything.”

Fair point. Spike blew out another breath and dragged his hand through his hair. “Don’t do anythin’ I wouldn’t, then.”

“That’s not a very impressive list.”

“Right, so it should be easy to follow.”

Buffy gave him a faint smile, then leaned in and, before he could register what had happened, brushed a light kiss across his lips. It was too brief to be passionate but with just enough something that his chest tightened with impossible hope.

“Stay inside,” she said, straightening up again. “Don’t open the door for strangers.”

Spike grinned, feeling somewhat drunk. “Yes, Mum.”

She poked her tongue out at him then rose to her feet. “Also, make sure you’re fully clothed when Fred comes by to drop off blood. Think we mighta scarred her last night.”

“I’ll be a bloody choir boy.”

“You have it in you?”

He hesitated, then decided that this honesty thing was a two-way street. “Ate one once. Coulda been catching.”

He prepared for a frown or a look of outright disgust—or worse, a speech about the sanctity of human life and all that rot. What he received was an eye-roll and a light, playful punch to the shoulder. “And to that I say eww.”

So it wasn’t a ringing endorsement. Wasn’t like he’d expected different. The fact that she’d said it with a grin still counted as a win in his bloody book.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He awoke feeling about as rested as a bloke could get. Spike blinked at the ceiling for a few seconds as his brain kicked back online. He hadn’t thought he’d get much sleep after Buffy left but his body had protested the thought of getting up, reminding him the sun was out and there wasn’t a blessed lot he could do. Without Buffy here or a telly to keep him entertained, sleep was the best option. Would at least keep him from thinking things he ought not think—like how he’d noticed, day before last, that the lady down the hall had a particularly juicy-looking throat just begging to be bitten.

Actually, that was rather pleasant to think of, even if it made his fangs ache. It was better than the other stuff he’d put on the table last night. The things he knew Buffy was probably thinking out there right now. Things she couldn’t help but think because of what she’d done yesterday.

He didn’t know if she’d tell him those thoughts—if she’d feel she could share. If he could understand how unsettling it had to be for her to go from protecting humankind to wanting to rip out some bloke’s intestines. And hell, he wondered that too. If he could really be here for her while she sussed out everything that needed sussing, because there wasn’t much to figure from where he was sitting. Everything made a clear, dangerous sort of sense. Such that he didn’t even mind that he wasn’t burying his fangs in the flabby neck of a tenant a few doors down. Sure, that’d taste sweeter than the stuff he got from the butcher’s, but it wasn’t worth the price. That much seemed easy enough to figure. Case bloody closed.

Maybe he owed it to the Slayer to do some research on his own. Wasn’t like he was an endless source of information. If she asked him something about the claim, he couldn’t say he’d know how to answer without making things up as he went along.

Spike dragged himself out of bed and to the shower, had a nice wank to memories of the previous night under the nozzle, then pulled on jeans and a tee so as not to disturb the Slayer’s virtue when she returned. He wasn’t sure what the time was, only that noon was at least an hour behind him. His stomach, spoiled thing that it was, what with the slayer blood from last night, gave a low growl. Probably time to toddle down to Fred’s to raid her fridge before his fangs did the thinking for him.

Only when he went to open the door, he found Buffy on the other side, panting hard, golden tendrils of hair plastered to her sweat-soaked skin. She gave him a small smile and planted her hand on her side. “Anyone ever tell you that you have good timing?”

Spike blinked. He’d been trying hard not to stare at her tits, which were—yes, thank you—pressed against her tank top, nipples proud and erect. Had she gone outside looking like that? A growl climbed up his throat. Good thing he hadn’t been with her—he’d have ripped the eyeballs out of any bloke who so much as twitched in her direction.

“Spike?” Buffy waved a hand in front of his face, then gestured to the monstrosity parked in the hall beside her that he had somehow overlooked. He blamed her breasts. “Wanna give me a hand?”

He wanted to do something, all right. “What?”

“Help?” she prompted. “With the fridge?”

He blinked again then turned to the monstrosity. “How the bloody hell’d you get that thing up here?”

“Slayer muscles plus some well-timed flirtage.” She fanned her face. “Bryan went to go get the dolly.”

“Who the sodding hell is Bryan?”

“The guy who sold me the fridge.” Buffy blinked slowly. “Come on. Help me get this thing in here before he thinks to ask how I got it up the stairs without him.”

“Right,” Spike snapped, an uncomfortable pressure making its presence known in the center of his chest. “Wouldn’t wanna spook the strays you bring home.”

Nevertheless, he moved forward and braced his hands against the beast of a refrigerator, then tipped it back to angle it into the apartment.

Buffy had the gall to roll her eyes at him. “I work with what I’ve got, all right? Besides, he knows about you.”

“Ah huh. And what’s it he knows about me?”

“Enough to not be a jerk but still think he has chance. How else was I supposed to get this thing back?”

Spike bit back a growl and lifted on his end.

“Are you seriously jealous of Bryan the Sales Boy?”

“Jealous of anyone who sees you lookin’ the way you do right now,” he replied, the angry beast in his chest roaring anew. On some level, he knew he was being a berk but the logical part of his noggin wasn’t strong enough to overpower his mouth at the moment. All he knew was Buffy in any state of undress was for his bloody eyes only, and he wanted to rip the spine out of any wanker who’d been privy to what was his. “Fancy a bra the next time you go out?”

Buffy looked down. “Oh. Oh jeez.”

“Think I figured out why he thinks he has a chance.”

Buffy blinked at her boobs a moment longer, then snorted a laugh and rolled her eyes again. “Oh well. Got the job done, at least.”

At that moment, the bloke who could only be Bryan turned the corner at the opposite end of the hall, a somewhat lost-puppy look about him. Still, Spike didn’t miss the way the wanker’s eyes darted to the Slayer’s chest anymore than he did the whiff of horny human male. Another growl tickled his throat.

“Buffy!” Bryan called, waving as though the git could be missed and pulling a metal dolly with his free hand. “I thought I was losing my mind. How did you get this up...” He trailed off, his eyes finding Spike. “Umm, hello.”

Buffy flashed a small smile. “This would be the boyfriend I mentioned.”

“Oh.” The light faded from Bryan’s face almost immediately. Not before he could steal another peek of her nipples though.

Spike felt the slits in his mouth where his canines belonged start to tingle.

“Yeah. But thanks. I think we got it from here.” Buffy delved a hand into her pocket, withdrew a ten, and slapped it into Bryan’s hand. “Thanks for helping me get it home.”

“I...” Bryan looked at Hamilton’s portrait dully, then up again. “Okay.”

It took every ounce of strength Spike had not to flash the kid some fang. “Yeah, Bryan,” he said slowly. “Piss off.”

“Spike!” Buffy aimed a glare in his direction, but he couldn’t be bothered to care. Instead, he turned his attention back to the fridge and pulled it over the threshold.

The beast in his chest recoiled a bit—but just a bit. Yes, he was a prat. Yes, there was no harm in requesting help from human gits in a pinch, no matter where their eyes wanted to land. Buffy hadn’t done anything wrong. Neither had the walking blood bag she’d brought home with her.

But the part of him that had spent too many years pretending not to notice when Dru chatted up some demon for the fun of it refused to be muzzled. Jealousy had always been one of his vices, but never quite like this. Not as potent or demanding. He’d postured and made threats before—hell, he’d gutted assholes who had so much as looked at Dru in a way he hadn’t liked, much to her enjoyment.

This was different and he didn’t know why.

Except he did and that made it worse.

This guy had been there to help her when he couldn’t. And yeah, that smarted. It smarted even more because it was a bloody ridiculous thought to have in the first place—the kind Angel might have entertained in some other world where he hadn’t lost his soul.

Buffy had been scolding him for some minutes by the time his brain clued back into the conversation, and as always, she looked magnificent. Bright eyes. Heated cheeks. Fast-moving mouth. And fuck, he wanted to forget everything for a while—for right now—and press her against the sodding fridge and fuck her until she forgot there were other blokes in the world at all. Until the thought of her being in the sun where he couldn’t follow, where she needed him, didn’t make him want to roar himself hoarse.

“Are you even listening to me?” she demanded. “Spike—”

Then there was a knock at the door—several, hard pounding knocks that made the walls seem to shake.

Buffy broke off, looking at the door askance. She drew in a deep breath and gave her head a shake. “If that’s Bryan, you’re going to apologize.”

It wasn’t—he could tell from here—but that didn’t stop his mouth. “The hell I am.”

“Spike, I swear, I’m going to—”

But she didn’t get around to telling him what she swore, because now the door was open and Gunn was on the other side. Only this wasn’t the Gunn that Spike had met the day before, and that was enough to make his insides run cold.

“Oh,” she said, deflating. “I, umm, come in? I didn’t think we’d see...” Buffy paused, apparently seeing what Spike saw. “Gunn?”

There was nothing for a long moment. Then he shook his head, choked something close to a sob, and said, “It’s Alonna. She’s missing.”

 

Chapter Text

The universe was not in the mood to hand out breaks. And despite having the rug yanked out from under her a few hundred times, Buffy didn’t think she’d ever get used to the sensation of her stomach falling as her heart twisted and pumped her veins full of dread. 

“She’s missing?” she echoed, her voice sounding far away even to her. 

Gunn nodded and pushed his way into the apartment without awaiting an invitation. He threw Spike a quick glance in greeting, blinked, then shook his head and fixed his attention back on Buffy. “Went out last night with the guys. They came back this mornin’. She didn’t.” 

“These are the same guys who answer to the guy who your sister happened to attack with a two by four, right?” 

“Believe me, I’ve already been there. You think somethin’ I haven’t thought of already and the world might just end.” 

“Not as unusual an occurrence as you might think, mate,” Spike said, leaning against the fridge that now stood in the middle of their living room. “You let kid sis go out last night after everythin’?” 

“You have any sisters, man?” Gunn all but growled. “Let isn’t a word I’d use. Particularly with one that could kick your ass.” He turned back to Buffy. “Callin’ in a favor, Slayer. I did yours.” 

Buffy crossed her arms. “First you need to tell me everything that happened after we left last night.” 

“I ain’t got that kinda time.” He scrubbed a hand over his bald scalp and broke into a pace. “We tied Briggs up after you left and put him somewhere outta sight. The boys got back and I told them what went down, more or less.” 

Spike snorted. “There’s your problem.” 

“Not like I could hide it, right?” Gunn fired back. “Briggs ain’t gonna suddenly forget that I helped you escape. They could hear it from me or from him. I decided to get ahead of it. Said we don’t torture, and while our policy on vamps ain’t changin’, we gotta respect those that have been claimed.” 

Buffy jerked, the word hitting her like a sucker punch. “That have been what?” 

“You know, dibs or whatever.” He motioned between her and Spike. “He’s on your leash, ain’t he?” 

She swallowed and shifted her gaze to Spike, who, despite appearing annoyed at being described as on anyone’s leash, said more with a simple look than most people said in a lifetime. He’d told her that he was hers a number of times, but it was moments like these, looks like these, that hammered it home. Spike might not love being reined in, but he did love her. 

Or that’s at least how it felt when he met her eyes. Her heart did that skippy thing again and her mind took her back to those blissful moments in the shower. 

Does he love me? 

“Yeah, mate,” Spike said at last, not looking away from her. “I’m hers.” 

She felt those words all the way to her bones. 

“Yeah,” Gunn agreed with a nod, either missing or ignoring the charged nature behind that statement. “Anyway, I laid it down that this was the way things are. A few guys weren’t happy but they’re my boys. They know I know what’s what and they know Briggs ain’t the leadin’ type.” He paused, a look of thorough disgust washing over his face. “Apparently I’m a bigger idiot than I thought.”

Buffy placed a hand on his arm. “When was the last time you saw Alonna?” 

“This morning before sunup,” Gunn replied, his voice growing thick. “She and a few others—Smith, Jax, and Wynn—got a lead on a group of vamps we’ve been tracking for the past four months. Real nasty SOBs who are snatchin’ up runaways and the homeless and the like and sellin’ them off to the highest bidder.” 

Buffy blinked. “Selling them…?” 

“Some vamps been around long enough to have real deep pockets.” 

“But…” She looked to Spike for help, expecting to see her disbelief mirrored in his eyes, but Spike didn’t look confused, which only served to confuse her more. “Why would a vampire buy someone? Sense is not being made here.” 

“Blood, of course,” Spike said. 

“Which they can get pretty much anywhere, right?” 

“Right, but a bloke can get choosey as he gets older, can’t he?” he said. His expression was unreadable when she looked back at him—carefully neutral in a way she’d come to expect. A way that told her he was trying. “Number of reasons a fella might fancy keepin’ an open tap close. Keeps the older vamps off the Slayer’s radar.” 

“And ours,” Gunn agreed, favoring Spike with a glower. “And any other vamp hunters in the city.” 

“Also, some of our kind gets lazy as they age,” Spike said. If he noticed the look Gunn was giving him, he didn’t acknowledge it. “Saves them the hunt if they have a living donor under their roof.” 

“Only they’re not donors,” Gunn said shortly. “They’re blood slaves.” 

A pause. “Right.” 

“All in all,” Buffy said, tearing her gaze from Spike and giving her head a shake, “sounds like some jerks who need to meet dust in a big ole way. And I’m guessing Alonna and friends never came back from the hunt?” 

At that, Gunn’s eyes darkened. “No. The others got back just fine. I…” He broke off, trembling. For the first time, Buffy saw just how close he was to losing his cool altogether. And hell, she couldn’t blame him one bit. The fact that he’d held on this long was a miracle. “They left her there. Because of me.” He stiffened and aimed a glare at Spike. “’Cause I put a vamp before the family.” 

Her spine went ramrod straight and her throat dried. “This isn’t Spike’s fault.” 

“Isn’t it? Your boy’s gotta mouth on him, Slayer. Maybe if he hadn’t run it so hard he woulda flown under the fuckin’ radar a bit more.” 

“Never much cared for layin’ low,” Spike replied. “Your men got a jump on me ’cause my guard wasn’t up. Wager I could level the lot of you in a decent tussle.” 

Buffy rolled her eyes and shot him a glare. “Not helping.” 

“Didn’t know I was supposed to.” 

“And fuck you,” Gunn snarled, his nostrils flared and his eyes wide. “I stuck my neck out for you. I risked my sister’s neck for you. The fuck was I thinking?” 

“No one asked you to do that,” Buffy shot back, though she heard the lie in her voice and knew Gunn could too. She hadn’t asked him to help her save Spike from his men—she hadn’t given him a choice. But Gunn hadn’t put up a fight, either. He’d come to her on his own, knowing full well what he was getting himself in to. 

“That’s bull and you know it,” he snapped. “You woulda put me in the fucking ground if I hadn’t offered to help get your boy back.” 

“You’re right,” she replied hotly. “I would have burned down the whole damn city to find him. And I’m not going to apologize because I’m not sorry. But you already know that or you wouldn’t be here.” 

“You owe me.” 

A low growl sounded from Spike, and though she couldn’t be sure, Buffy figured smart money was on the bet he wouldn’t be able to hold onto his control forever. She was kind of floored he’d managed this long. 

“I never said I didn’t owe you,” Buffy threw back. “But let’s get this straight—if you ask me to be sorry that Spike’s standing here and not being used as a vamp piñata, you’re gonna be waiting a hell of a long time.” 

“She’s my sister!” 

“And he’s my—” She caught herself and broke off, looking fleetingly to Spike and then away again. “He’s mine. Whatever the hell that means, it’s true. So back the hell off or I’m gonna be a whole lot less helpful.” 

Gunn eyed her up and down, an unpleasant sneer twisting his lips. “Some vamp slayer you turned out to be, huh? You always make a habit of bonin’ the enemy?” 

That remark cut to the quick. Buffy flinched and looked away, the fire in her bones dying almost immediately. But the next second she didn’t have time to worry about hurt feelings—a roar she was becoming increasingly familiar with ripped through the air. And then Spike was in motion. In one fluid move, he had Gunn against the fridge. 

“Seems someone needs an attitude adjustment,” Spike snarled through his fangs, his yellow eyes blazing. “You wanna apologize to the lady?"

Buffy’s stomach tightened into a ball. “Spike, no—” 

“This git—” 

“Is the reason you’re alive. Let him go.” 

Spike threw her an exasperated look—another one she was becoming used to—but the bones in his face shifted back to normal and the tension in his muscles seemed to uncoil. “Fine,” he said tersely, straightening with visible effort. But not before he leveled another glare at Gunn. “She’s all that keeps me on that leash, you hear?” 

To his credit, Gunn didn’t so much as flinch, though he also didn’t look nearly as cocky as he had just seconds ago. “I hear. Do you hear when I say I’m pretty damn good at puttin’ your kind down? Don’t even need super-strength. It’s all me.” 

“And all you are doing is wasting time,” Buffy snapped. “You came here for my help. I’m giving it to you.” She looked back to Spike. “You wanna come with me?” 

He smirked. “Just try to keep me here.” 

That smirk did things to her. “I meant—to the back. I need to change and you are so staying here because…” She pointed to the window, where a steady stream of sun glistened in through the blinds. “Outside conditions may be hazardous to your health.” 

The smirk faded, as she’d known it would. “Slayer, you’re not goin’ out there on your own.” 

“Yes, I am. I am more than capable of handling myself. Besides, I won’t be alone.” She hitched a thumb in Gunn’s direction without looking at him. “And you’re certainly in no state to come with.” 

He spread his arms, inviting her to look. Which she did, because it was nice to look at him and nicer having an excuse. “All healed up, aren’t I?” 

“Yeah…how, exactly?” Gunn asked. “’Cause the last time I saw you, you were all but a walkin’ corpse.” 

“None of your business,” Buffy snapped. 

Which, of course, was all but a written confession. 

“You let him feed off you?” Gunn demanded. “Are you a special kinda crazy?” 

“Obviously not. I’m fine, he’s healed, and again with how much of your business this is not.” Buffy shook her head and turned on her heel, seizing Spike by the wrist. “I’ll be back in a moment.” 

By no small miracle, Spike managed to keep his mouth shut until there was a door between them and Gunn. Not that the door was soundproof or anything, but Buffy appreciated the illusion of privacy. The situation here had fast spiraled out of control and she was doing her best to keep up with it, but she knew she needed a moment. Just one. If she didn’t get a breather between crisis hopping she might end up causing a crisis of her own. 

The second the door was closed, though, Spike wasted no time laying into her. 

“The fuck you’re thinking going off with that prat,” he snapped. “Have you forgotten I took a good chunk outta you yesterday?” 

“Umm, who hauled the refrigerator up here? I drank my OJ and had a power bar. I’m good to go. Plus…” Buffy drew her tank top over her head, baring her breasts to him in a way all but guaranteed to get a guy’s attention. Just as she predicted, Spike went quiet and his eyes round. “You can’t make me stay here.” 

He didn’t respond. He was too busy staring at her. “Slayer… What are you doing?” 

“Getting changed. And may I add, duh.” She ignored the flush of heat that bloomed over her body, even if she knew there was no way he could. He could also hear how hard her heart was thundering. 

This was beyond poking the bear. This was poking the bear while drenched in honey. 

But she was feeling braver today than she had yesterday or the day before. Something about waking up in bed with him had triggered a deeper need that she no longer felt comfortable ignoring. Maybe distance wasn’t the answer if the result of distance was the maddening throb that had taken residence between her thighs. In the end, nothing changed. She was still mated to him for the rest of forever—what did it matter if they started fooling around now or later? 

The only thing keeping her from putting that on the table was the knowledge that it wouldn’t be fooling around for him and she wasn’t sure she could say the same. Not yet. 

There were still miles to go before she got that much sorted out. 

Still, the part of her that was drawn to him was tired of being restrained by the rest of her. Something had snapped yesterday and again this morning. And right now, with the real world barging in on her solitude again, all she had was a plateful of reminder that her life would never be easier than it was right now. 

Which, yes, depressing. But there was also power in that knowledge. Like if this was as simple as it got, she could take her cues and run with it. 

Buffy pressed her lips together and pulled a sports bra out of her duffle. She pretended not to hear Spike’s sigh as she covered her breasts again, just as she pretended not to see the hunger on his face or the way his jeans looked really tight in the crotch area. Aside from the fact that she wasn’t ready to address it, she didn’t have time right now. 

“Do you know anything about these vamps?” 

He was still staring at her chest. “Wuh’sat?” 

“The vamps that nabbed Alonna.” She slid on the Slayer T-shirt she’d borrowed from Fred what felt like a lifetime ago, then plucked yesterday’s sweats off the floor. They were still a bit damp from the shower, but would do in a pinch. “You know anything about them? Have the vamp 4-1-1? Anything that might be useful?” 

Spike swallowed and shook his head. “No more than I told you. Most likely an older lot. They’ll be strong, I’d wager, but outta practice. And if you wait—” 

“Waiting equals nighttime equals more vampires equals bad news for Alonna. I got this.” 

“That git out there’s not gonna have your back.” 

“He did just fine last night, and this is his sister.” 

“Precisely my point, Slayer. Last night it wasn’t personal for him. It is now. Think he’s going in with a clear head? That boy’ll throw you under the sodding bus the second he gets a chance.” Spike edged a step closer. “You know I’m right. It’s what I’d do. If it was you out there.” 

Buffy released a long, ragged breath and shook her head. No, no, she couldn’t afford to go there now. “But it’s not. I kick all kinds of ass and believe me when I say I’m going to be on my guard.” 

“Buf—” 

“This is part of the gig, Spike. You wanna be the Slayer’s boyfriend? You gotta deal when I can’t wait around for you to come with me. I don’t get to wait for the sun to set.” 

His eyes softened. “Is that what I am, then?” he asked somewhat hoarsely. 

Buffy paused and gulped inwardly. Not the best time for word vomit, but her mouth had no filter. “Conversations for when I get back. There’s… I don’t know yet. But I think I might soon.” She paused, then stepped forward and pressed a quick kiss to his lips before she could change her mind. “Now, I gotta run. Damsels to save.” 

Spike exhaled slowly, nodded. “Watch your back, love.” 

“Always do.” Buffy pulled back before she could do something stupid and more signal mixy—like kiss him again—and returned once more to her duffle bag for Mr. Pointy, which she slid between the waistband of her pants and the small of her back. 

It was the first time she’d gone out with the intention of hunting vamps since leaving Sunnydale. And despite everything, despite the pain she still had to outrun and the ghosts of all she’d left behind, haunting the peripheral of her new life, she couldn’t deny this felt right. 

At least when it came to her sacred duty, she knew where she stood. 

“All right,” she said loudly as she rejoined Gunn in the front living room. “Let’s go see some vamps about a girl, shall we?”

Chapter Text

If Gunn truly was in the vampire-hunting business, he had skipped the lesson on stealth. With the sounds he was making, he might as well have taken out advertisements to let these guys know he was coming.

And were an innocent girl’s life not on the line, Buffy might not have cared. But there was, so she did, and no matter how much the man at her side aggravated her, she didn’t want to see anything happen to his sister.

“You wanna dial it down a notch or twelve?” she barked as Gunn tore down yet another debris-littered sidewalk toward a destination he had yet to share with her. Thankfully, this stretch of LA seemed more or less abandoned now. She figured it’d be a different story come nightfall. “Or do I need to remind you that vamps have super hearing?”

“There ain’t no way they’re not gonna know I’m coming,” he fired back, not bothering to look at her. “So naw, I’m not gonna dial it down.”

“Sounds like a good way to end up nice and dead.”

Gunn whipped his head around then, his eyes fixed into a glare. “Look, Slayer,” he all but snarled. “If I want your opinion, you’ll know. One, I’ll ask. Two? Hell would be frozen solid. You’re here for muscle.”

Buffy opened her mouth to retort, then shook her head and decided to drop it. This was not the guy who had helped her last night, and aggravating as it was, she recognized it. She’d become the all-business-bitch when Spike had been the one in need of a rescue, and she’d fought plenty of times too outraged to see straight. And at the root of that was fear—the fear she knew Gunn wasn’t voicing, the fear she knew informed every hard step he took.

And though it was the last topic in the world she felt like broaching, she knew he’d already had the thought so pretending neither of them were thinking it seemed dumb.

“What happens if she—”

“No,” Gunn barked, not even flinching. “Don’t say it.”

Or there was denial. Yes, that seemed perfectly healthy, thanks for asking.

“Vampires aren’t exactly known for their impulse control,” she said, ignoring him when he resumed his glaring. “I need to know you can handle it.”

“Handle what?”

“If we go in there and we don’t find Alonna.”

At last, Gunn came to a halt, tight with tension. He turned, locked his dark brown eyes on hers. “Then we keep lookin’.”

“That’s not what I mean and you know it.”

“No. I don’t. Tell me what you mean.”

Buffy balled her fists and rolled her eyes. “I—”

“You mean if Alonna’s there but it ain’t Alonna, is that it?”

“If she’s—”

“If she’s suddenly like your boy, am I gonna be okay with you turnin’ her to dust? That’s what you’re askin’, right?”

Gunn took a step forward, and to anyone else, he would certainly look menacing. But Buffy wasn’t anyone else, and she didn’t blink.

“Yes,” she said. “That’s what I’m asking.”

“So you bein’ this slayer person means you get to pick who gets slayed and who gets laid, huh?”

It took every molecule in her body to keep from introducing her fist to his nose. Instead, she channeled all her anger into the mother of all glares and hoped it left a mark.

“If Alonna has turned, I’m taking her out,” she said, fighting for control. “Even if I have to go through you to do it.”

Gunn closed another space between them, his eyes flaring. “You just try it. I might not be a slayer, but I ain’t some little boy, neither. You wanna put me down, you’re gonna have a fight on your hands.”

“I’m sure you believe that,” Buffy replied. “But believe me when I say that will not end well for you. So stay out of my way, and we’ll be peachy.”

Gunn’s upper lip curled and he drew his arm back, but his punch didn’t go far. The second his fist curved toward her head, she caught it and gave it a twist that sent him to his knees, a yowl tearing from his lips.

“I didn’t want to say I told you so but, well, that.” She smirked and shoved him back. “So again, if your sister is all fangy, I’ll shove something sharp and pointy into her chest. You wanna try and stop me? Be prepared to become real familiar with pain.”

Buffy stepped back to give him room to climb to his feet, tense and ready for another swing to head her way, because things were rarely that simple. With or without the practical demonstration, Gunn didn’t seem the type to let something go.

As it was, be it pride or that brain of his had finally kicked on, he didn’t say a word, just aimed another glare at her before turning and resuming his hard stride. And hey, if he didn’t want to talk, that was more than okay with her. They were burning daylight as it was.

At last, Gunn drew to a halt and pointed—with, she saw, a rather swollen hand—at a rundown warehouse-looking building across the street. “That’s it,” he said. “I’ll go in and check—”

Buffy rolled her eyes and stomped past him. A few wooden crates were stacked along the building’s side, and that was her first destination. It was a thoughtful group of bloodsuckers that left handy-dandy stake-making supplies out for their friendly neighborhood slayer. She had Mr. Pointy, yes, but a girl could never have too many weapons.

“Hey—”

“I’m not going to stake everything that moves. Believe it or not, I’m hoping for a happy ending here.” She picked up a crate, then lobbed it against the side of the building. The result was a lot of useless splinters, but two or three pieces she could reasonably shove into a vamp’s chest. Buffy gathered as much as she could before turning to face Gunn, who was staring at her in a different way now—a way she was less comfortable with, but had known to expect.

“Just how strong are you?” he asked.

“Pretty damn,” she replied dryly. “And if you’re impressed because I can smash things, you have a stupid low bar.”

She didn’t wait for a response, rather whirled on her feet, marched to the door, and kicked it open. The resulting bang echoed through what sounded like endlessly empty halls.

“So loud noises are cool when you do it, huh?” Gunn drawled, coming up behind her.

He had a point there, but she chose to not acknowledge it. Instead, she aimed her focus on the room ahead of her. Not that there was much to see. The weak daylight filtering in through the windows lit upon a table shoved against the far wall and a pattern of dust on the ground that suggested they had just missed the occupants. Well, dust plus darkened splotches of blood, which she forced herself not to take as a bad sign.

On the table sat a cardboard box, overflowing with something that, unwittingly, had Buffy fighting back a pang of homesickness.

Books. Specifically, old books. The kind of old that would make Giles downright giddy and extra British.

A long sigh rattled through her body. “Looks like they took this party elsewhere.”

“It’s still daylight out,” Gunn barked, storming past her. “Where they gonna go, huh?”

“You’d be surprised. Some vamps are really inventive when it comes to moving while the sun’s out.”

“Vamps like your boy?”

Buffy turned and leveled a glare at him. “Wanna try focusing a little less on Spike and more on your sister?”

Though it was clear he was itching for another fight, it seemed Gunn had learned his lesson the first time. He pulled his gaze from her, glowering, and stalked toward the right. The warehouse’s layout was open, so pretty much every corner of the adjoining room was visible. Buffy turned her attention to the door on the left, which she bet housed the smaller offices—ideal hiding spots for any lingering bloodsuckers.

Yet though she intended to go straight there, something had her pointing her feet toward the box on the table.

The book resting on top carried a very familiar title—the same one Giles had pulled out from under the desk the first day she’d set foot in the Sunnydale High library.

Vampyr.

Buffy’s breath caught, and she shivered despite the humidity. If she were the kind of person who believed in signs…

Well, maybe she should.

She swallowed, set her makeshift stake on the table, then gingerly lifted the book from the box. It looked older than Giles’s copy—or perhaps more worn. And she’d never so much as thumbed through it before, or relied on any of the infinite amount of information Giles had at his disposal to learn more about the creatures she’d been nominated by the PTB to make her life’s mission. All she needed to know, after all, was how to kill them. Not even after she and Angel had gotten serious had she bothered to commit any time to book learning. After all, Angel was different. Special. He was a human trapped in a vampire’s body, so he practically didn’t count.

And now…

Now she was mated to a vampire. A very soulless, not-humany vampire, who had not once acted the way a vampire should. Even when he’d hated her, the way they’d fought had been…different. That he’d come to her at all, offered to team up in the first place, was supposed to be counter to his nature.

Now he was sleeping beside her, worrying about her, telling people he belonged to her, and looking at her as though she was…well, she didn’t know. No one had ever looked at her the way Spike did.

Buffy tossed a glance over her shoulder. Gunn hadn’t returned, and she didn’t hear anything out of the ordinary—at least, nothing to suggest he’d found a nest of something that needed exterminating. She turned her attention back to the book and cracked it open—not at the start, but somewhere in the middle.

There were times when the universe seemed to be on her side, or at the very least reading her mind. It didn’t happen often, but when it did, it scared the crap out of her.

The words heading the page read: The Vampyr and His Mate.

Buffy sucked in a deep breath, her heart skipping.

No. Way.

But it was there—right there in front of her in black and white. A bunch of tiny words smushed together on the page, none of which made sense because her gaze kept roaming and jumping all over the place.

Footstep sounded behind her, dragging her attention from the blocks of paragraphs. This was not the place to discover her inner book nerd. She flipped to the next page, then the next, then stopped when she encountered a new header.

“Nothin’ back there,” Gunn said. “You?”

Buffy didn’t let herself think. She fisted the pages she needed then ripped them from the binding.

The footsteps slowed. “What the fuck was that?”

“Nothing,” she replied, folding the newly-liberated sheets and stuffing them into the waistband of her pants. She whipped around just as Gunn came into view, and did her best not to look guilty.

Though why she should feel guilty, she didn’t know. Giles was the only one who’d give her grief about ruining an old book. Well, Giles and Willow.

There was that pang again.

Gunn narrowed his eyes. “You haven’t even checked, have you? This ain’t no library. What—”

“Enough.” Buffy held up her hands, shoving the lingering feelings of guilt to the back of her mind. “You want to argue or do you want to see what’s behind Door Number One?”

He glowered a moment longer before stalking toward the office. Buffy released a deep breath and snatched her makeshift stake off the table, then turned to follow.

The second the door opened, she knew they’d hit paydirt. Large slabs of cardboard had been propped against the windows, and the air stank of the unwashed undead. There was a desk in the middle of the room, a few file cabinets along the walls, and another door that led to what she could only assume was a bathroom. But she kept her gaze focused on the desk—the chair behind it wobbled just enough to tell her it had recently been disturbed.

She glanced at Gunn before stalking forward with intent. She braced her hands on the edge of the desk, waited a beat, then thrust upward. The wood whined against the concrete floor as it tipped back and crashed in a glorious cacophony of sound and scattered papers. The vampire who had been cowering under it gave a yelp and covered his face, shaking like a fledgling.

“P-p-please don’t k-kill me. I didn’t do nothing!”

A snarling sound tore through Gunn’s throat. “Where the fuck’s my sister, you piece of—”

“Hold your horses,” Buffy said, holding up her stake hand. “We’re doing this my way.”

“The fuck—”

She rolled her eyes, fisted the material of whiny-vamp’s shirt, and lifted him a good five inches off the ground. “You,” she said, staring into the yellow, panic-filled eyes and bringing up her stake. “Talk. Now.”

“What do you wanna know?” he asked quickly, hands still in front of his face. Which left his heart all kinds of wide open.

Yeah, this guy had been a vampire all of five minutes. Not a good five minutes, either.

“Seems my friend has misplaced his sister,” Buffy said. “We’re trying to find her.”

“I haven’t seen her,” cried the fledgling, honest tears welling in his eyes. “I haven’t been outside this room.”

She arched an eyebrow. “Ever? That doesn’t seem likely.”

“Slayer,” Gunn all but growled. “Speed this up before I lose my patience.”

“You had patience? News to me.” Buffy didn’t take her eyes off the fledgling. “Why don’t you describe your sister for my friend?”

But something changed the next moment. Newbie the Wonder Vamp finally looked to Gunn, and a hard squeak pealed through his fanged mouth. “You’re Charles, aren’t you?”

Gunn stormed forward so fast the building seemed to shake. He fisted the fledgling’s shirt and tried to jerk him into his own custody. His eyes widened when Buffy’s grip proved too firm to break, but he shook off his shock fast and fixed the vamp with a glare that could stake.

“My sister been here?” he snarled. “What did you do to her?”

“Nothin’!” the fledgling wailed, waving his arms. “I did nothin’. Man, I fuckin’ hid from that crazy bitch.”

Buffy winced. “Not the best choice of words, buddy.”

“What the—”

“She tore the place apart, man. One second I was on the ground and the next, people were screaming and there was so much dust, and that bitch was laughing the entire time.” The fledgling fixed his stricken eyes on Buffy again. “I haven’t been a vamp all that long—”

“You’re kidding,” Buffy drawled.

“But I’ve seen them turn. And they’ve never been like that.” He rolled his head back. “I am so not cut out for this life. I took cover the first chance I got and… Well, it went quiet and I wasn’t sure if it was safe to come out so I just…bunked up in here.”

Buffy swallowed, the flicker of hope she knew she’d been foolish to hold onto officially blinking out. She turned her gaze to Gunn, whose face was a stoic mask. “It sounds like—”

“I know what it sounds like,” he snapped, not looking at her. His cold, steely eyes remained pinned on the fledgling. “You catch where she was goin’?”

“N-no.”

“Then you’re officially of no use to us.” He pulled a stake out of his back pocket and plunged it into the newbie’s chest before Buffy could register the action. The poor baby vamp gasped and fixed her with a haunting, pleading look before his face melted into a cloud of dust.

Buffy hopped back, wiping her hands and trying to ignore the odd lurch in her chest. “Dammit,” she snapped. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“You miss the fangs, Slayer? I just did your job for you.”

“He was terrified.”

“He was a fuckin’ monster. And here I thought you just went baby soft for the blonds.”

Somehow she managed to stifle the urge to punch Gunn through a wall or three, but only just. She wasn’t even sure why the fledgling’s dusty ending had unnerved her, only that the adrenaline rush that typically accompanied a good staking hadn’t come. Instead, she found herself staring at the debris that had been their witness, and wondering how far removed he had been from the human who had once lived under his skin.

“You comin’ or what?” Gunn yelled, and she realized with a start that he was halfway out the door.

“Where are we going?”

“Only one place Alonna would go if she busted outta here. Back to home base.”

 

Chapter Text

She knew before they stepped onto the dock what they would find. The air was thick with the smell of the sea, yes, but tinged with another scent she knew all too well. From the way Gunn picked up the pace, she figured he knew it too.

“She’s in there,” he said. “I know she is.”

“Look, you heard what that vamp said—”

“Vamps say a lot of things when they know they’re about to be dust.”

“Yeah. And if they’re trying to get someone to not stick them with something pointy, they’re more likely to go with things you want to hear.”

Gunn threw her a scathing look but didn’t slow down. “Can’t say I’d know, Slayer. I never let them get too chummy before you came into my life.”

They were at the entrance now, the smell of blood hanging heavy in the air like a physical thing. Every one of Buffy’s slayer instincts was on high alert, screaming at her to push the civilian out of the way so she could fulfill her duty. But the part of her that she was desperate to understand begged for patience—told her that he needed to see what was on the other side of the door before she took out the threat. Otherwise, she’d have a different problem on her hands, and one she was far less thrilled about addressing.

Slaying a vamped girl was one thing—dealing with her grieving human brother was something else entirely.

“You know how this is going to end,” she said. “I’m so sorry, Gunn, but—”

“Fuck you.” He bumped her shoulder as he passed.

Buffy stood still for a long moment, then released a long breath, and turned to follow.

Her imagination had painted a truly terrible picture of what they would find inside. The reality, though, was worse.

The bodies were fanned across the ground in a deceptively artful way—bloodied limbs stretched and positioned into unnatural angles, so each dead man was touching his equally dead neighbor. Buffy could see that it formed some sort of pattern—the type best viewed from above, like a macabre flower composed of human remains. Alonna Gunn stood in the center of her creation, her eyes blazing and her mouth pulled into a delighted smile. It was clear she had been waiting.

“Big brother!” the Alonna-thing bellowed in welcome. “I’ve missed you.”

Buffy didn’t look at Gunn—she didn’t think she could. The ring of his strangled cry was bad enough.

“Alonna… God…”

“God? Where?” Alonna made a show of looking over her shoulder. “He wasn’t on the invite list, but I am nothing if not adaptable.” She flashed her brother another fangy grin and stretched her arms. “As you can see. Not bad, huh?”

“Alonna, I’m so sor—”

“Stop. Just stop right there. What is there to be sorry for?” The smile on her face lost some of its menace, and she started forward, carefully navigating around her human collateral. “Charles, I feel amazing. Ah-mazing. We had this so backwards. This is such a rush.”

“You stay right there,” Gunn said. “Don’t come any closer.”

Alonna didn’t so much as blink, rather kept moving toward him with slow, methodical steps. “Don’t worry. I get it. I really, really get it. It’s weird, seeing me like this, but I promise it’s okay. Hell, it’s awesome. And I want to share that with you.”

Gunn moaned—a pitiful sound that hurt the ears. And that was all Buffy could take. She stepped forward, pulling Mr. Pointy out of the waistband of her sweats. “All right. You really gonna make me do this in front of your brother?”

“What?” Gunn inhaled sharply. “No, wait.”

Alonna just perked an eyebrow. “Really?” she asked dryly, motioning at the stake. “That’s gratitude for ya. Wasn’t it just last night big bro and I were busting your boyfriend outta here?”

“Slayer, don’t.” Footsteps, then Gunn had his hand around Buffy’s upper arm and whirled her around to look at him.

“Are you crazy?” Buffy jerked out of his grip. “You know what she is.”

“I knew what your boy was too. She’s right. We gave him a pass.”

Buffy gritted her teeth, irritation warring with unease. Putting down Alonna without Gunn’s help was going to be difficult enough, but if he really was going to be fool enough to fight her, she couldn’t guarantee he’d make it to the other side—not with her instincts askew. Last night she had tried to rip Briggs apart when she’d seen the extent of Spike’s injuries, and while Spike wasn’t here, she wasn’t sure how much she wanted to gamble that these new impulses were tied to him alone.

“Gunn,” she said, trying hard to hold onto her patience. “We talked about this.”

“Yeah. And I seem to remember telling you that you gotta go through me. I wasn’t bluffin’.”

Buffy stared at him, doing her best to keep an eye on Alonna out of her periphery. This kind of chaos was what got smart people killed around vampires, and Alonna wasn’t your average fledgling. This was a monster who had been hunting monsters for years. She knew how to seize a tactical advantage.

“That is not your sister,” Buffy said, her voice low and final. “Your sister died in that warehouse.”

“How can you say that? How can you say that with who you chose to keep your bed warm?”

“Spike is different,” she replied, her heart speeding up. It was part truth, part wish, and part lie. Spike was a very different sort of vampire from any other vampire she’d encountered, but she couldn’t forget what he was. If she allowed herself to fall the rest of the way, it needed to be with all parts of him. “Spike is mine.”

“And Alonna’s mine.”

“No. Spike is mine.” She tossed Alonna a glance, then reached up with her free hand and tugged down the collar of her shirt. “We’re bonded by blood. And he’s not killing anymore.”

“Anymore,” Gunn repeated, snorting. “Like that matters.”

“Of course it matters! Do you have any idea what a vampire’s hunger is like?”

“Do you?”

“Yes!” Buffy spat, and was darkly satisfied when surprised flashed across Gunn’s face. “Got sucked into a kid’s nightmarescape last year and turned all fangy.”

“What the huh?”

“Our worst nightmares—everyone’s started coming true. Guess what the vampire slayer’s worst nightmare was?” She didn’t wait. “All of my friends smelled like dinner. I thought I might lose control and…” Buffy broke off, gave her head a shake. “But to your point, yes, I know what a vampire’s hunger is like. And Alonna—”

“Owes big bro a massive thank you for getting you on that tangent.”

Buffy jerked around, or rather, tried to, but Alonna was already on her, knocking her off her feet and sending Mr. Pointy across the dusty concrete floor. Damn, damn, damn, she’d known that was going to happen—she’d known but she’d let Gunn suck her in anyway. If she didn’t need to keep her wits about her, she’d give herself a thorough mental scolding.

“Whoa, Alonna.” Gunn raised his hands. “No, no. It doesn’t need to go this way.”

“Who are you kidding?” Alonna tilted her head and pulled Buffy tighter against her chest. “There’s only one way this goes, and it involves me opening one of her veins and drinking every ruby red drop. Did you know slayer blood is apparently a bag of chips and then some? Found that out when I was having my own throat torn out. And I gotta tell you…” She lowered her mouth to Buffy’s neck and drew in an exaggerated breath. “You smell…delicious.”

Buffy hissed and made to headbutt her way to freedom, but Alonna was smarter than the average newb and jerked her head to the side.

“Ah ah ah, blondie. Not nice.”

“Alonna…” Gunn was breathing hard. “Please. I’m begging you.”

“I know. You’d think this would be a little weird for me, but it’s not. It feels right.”

“Gunn.” Buffy waited until she had his eyes. “You know what I’m going to have to do. Okay? I’m sorry but I have to.”

A delighted cackle pealed through the air. “Well, someone has an ego on her.”

“Someone has experience on her.” Buffy pounded her foot on top of Alonna’s, and this move the vampire hadn’t anticipated. Her grip went slack and then Buffy was free, snatching Mr. Pointy off the floor and regaining her balance. Gunn started screaming again but Buffy wasn’t listening. She couldn’t. She just needed one good shot.

Except Gunn was there, his arms spread and his eyes wild, standing between her and Alonna. “Please,” he was saying, his eyes sparkling with tears. “Please. Why shouldn’t she get a chance? The same chance he got?”

Buffy opened her mouth to scream at him—then didn’t. The tension coiled through her body gave way without warning. It wasn’t until he was close enough for her to smell that she understood why.

Spike.

“You gotta want it, mate. And I can tell you just lookin’ at her. Kid sis doesn’t want it.”

Gunn jumped. “The hell—”

Spike drew up beside Buffy, and it took everything in her power not to turn and look at him. “I thought I told you to stay home.”

“Sun went down. Bloke’s gotta eat.”

“There’s literally a fridge full of blood in our apartment.”

“Not quite full yet, love. Besides, you couldn’t really expect me to miss the fun.”

“Fuck you!” Gunn spat, spittle flying everywhere. “You think this is fun?”

Spike rocked on his heels. “Yeah, actually. My kinda fun. And it’s hers, too. Think that’s the point.” He shifted his gaze to Alonna. “What do you say, ducks? You havin’ fun?”

Alonna favored him with a grin, then shook her head and allowed her bumpies to emerge. Again, Gunn released a sound somewhere between a moan and a cry, as though a part of him had been holding out hope that this was some elaborate prank. But those were real yellow eyes shining out of her face and real fangs protruding from her smiling mouth. And in a few seconds, she’d be a very real pile of dust.

Though Buffy really hoped she didn’t have to be the one to make her so. Gunn would never forgive her, and she didn’t think it would do her any favors to have a pissed off demon hunter dogging her every step. He might have lost the manpower he’d had when they’d first met, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t be a threat. A very human threat.

“Gotta say, bro. He’s right.” Alonna shrugged. “This is the most fun I’ve had in ages. It’ll be even more fun when it’s you and me. Think about it, Charles. We can rule this town. Demons were afraid of us before—wait until they get a load of us now. I want that for you.”

Gunn shook his head, tears spilling down his cheeks. “I can’t let you. I’m sorry.”

“What else are you gonna do?” Alonna replied. “Kill me? We both know you don’t wanna do that.”

“He won’t have to,” Buffy said calmly, flicking her gaze to Gunn. “This can be over real fast.”

“She can be like him.” A pleading note hit Gunn’s voice. He jerked his head toward Spike. “We can make her like him. She’s not like the others—she woulda killed me by now if she was. Don’t tell me there ain’t a chance.”

Buffy glanced to Spike, whose face was—for once—rather closed off. And she thought of the newbie vamp Gunn had dusted before they’d come this way, how he’d also seemed extra human to her. How she’d felt watching him disintegrate.

But god, that was dangerous thinking. Way dangerous. Practically a blueprint for people who were looking to end up dead.

Spike spoke at last, his voice measured. “Like I said, she’s gotta want it. She’s gotta have a reason.” He met Buffy’s eyes briefly before looking back to Gunn. “It’s not natural, what I’ve done. Goes against every bloody instinct I’ve got. I wanna keep in line for her, so I will. Be the kinda bloke who won’t hurt her. But it’s a struggle every day, you hear. Every sodding day. You can’t make someone want that.”

Buffy didn’t realize her own eyes had filled with tears until she sniffed, but this was so not the time or place to make with the emotional outbursts. Or to really unpack everything Spike had just said and all the things he wasn’t saying. Another thing added to the mountain of thinking she needed to do, and sooner rather than later.

But when Gunn spoke, it was clear he hadn’t heard a word.

“She has me.” He kept his gaze steadfast on Alonna. “Let me be your reason.”

“This is so sweet, I think I might throw up.” Alonna sighed and regarded her brother with a long look. “This one’s pussy-whipped and for the wrong pussy.”

At that, Spike growled and stepped forward, then stopped when Buffy put a hand on his arm.

“See what I mean?” Alonna asked, waving at them. “Well. Probably not now, but you will here in a bit.”

Buffy had known it was coming, of course. There was only one way this could end. Alonna became a blur of motion, pouncing onto Gunn with a snarl, her legs going around his waist and her face into the crook of his neck. Gunn sputtered a startled cry as he fell back and landed amid the bodies of his former friends. Then the cry became a scream, and Buffy was moving—running toward the struggling heap, her gaze fixed on the bullseye on Alonna’s back where she needed to bury her stake. Spike was moving too, circling in the opposite direction. And she understood—he would pull Gunn away when she yanked Alonna off him. He’d—

But then there was an explosion of dust, and Alonna disappeared, Gunn coughing and sobbing from where he’d fallen, his own stake still positioned where her heart had been.

Buffy forced herself to a stop, panting, though not from exertion. She met Spike’s eyes again and motioned him back before he could also get within staking distance. Gunn must have seen it, because the next second he was on his feet and in her face, cold hatred shining in his eyes.

“Get him,” he said, his voice shaking, “and get the fuck outta here. I see either one of you again and I’m putting you in the ground.”

Buffy held up a hand to Spike to show she was fine. He’d started growling again.

“I’m sorry, Gunn,” she replied calmly. “Let me know if you need anything. You know where to find us.”

“I said get the fuck out!”

It surprised her, how little his animosity hurt. She’d always understood it, on some intellectual level, when survivors turned their anger on her, but a part of her had also resented it. But not now. Not this time.

In fact, as she fell into step alongside Spike, she wondered if that could be attributed to the claim, too. If it meant she was indifferent or perhaps she was just growing up.

She didn’t want to know what it meant that she found neither prospect particularly frightening.

Chapter Text

When she didn’t immediately lay into him on the walk home, Spike figured he could expect an explosion the second they were over the threshold. That was fine, he told himself. He had a nice list of counterarguments at the ready. Things she needed to hear and he needed to say, because fuck it, he wouldn’t be waiting around at home again. He’d never been the type of bloke to watch from the sidelines.

Still, he could do without another argument, especially since he wasn’t sure if Buffy was open to his brand of making up. The past forty-eight hours had been a sodding roller coaster.

Spike stopped at their flat and began fiddling with the lock, but Buffy stalked right on past him and knocked on Fred’s door. A second later, the door cracked open, but only as far as the chain would allow, and Fred’s face appeared in the gap.

“Hey,” Buffy said in one of those maddeningly unreadable tones. “You have the blood?”

Fred tossed Spike an uncertain look, but nodded. “I thought you’d be over earlier.”

“A lot of things happened.”

“Again?”

At that, Buffy barked a laugh and shook her head. “Welcome to what it’s like being friends with the Slayer. Never a dull moment.”

“I’m seeing that.” Fred closed the door again to unlatch the chain lock before opening it in earnest. “Come on in. I was just about to order some Chinese.”

“Actually, and I hate to do this again, but this is gonna be one of those grab-and-go things.” Buffy offered an apologetic smile and leaned against the doorframe. “Today was supposed to be a mellow day and I’m feeling all kinds of antisocial.”

She still hadn’t looked at him. Spike wasn’t sure what to make of that.

“Oh, okay.”

The disappointment on the girl’s face was hard to miss, and for a moment, Spike thought Buffy might change her mind. She pressed her lips together, but said nothing as Fred disappeared back into the apartment or when she returned a few seconds later, plastic bag in tow.

“You realize I’m going to have even more questions,” Fred said as she handed it over.

“I figured. Hopefully, I can sneak in a few hours of sleep without having to run out and resolve another crisis between now and tomorrow.”

Spike cleared his throat. “With your luck, pet, I wouldn’t hold your breath.”

Buffy flicked her gaze to him at last but didn’t respond. That couldn’t be a good sign. She turned back to Fred. “Long day. I’ll catch you up tomorrow.”

“You keep saying that,” Fred replied, but she was smiling. “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

Buffy nodded and muttered a quick good night, then turned back to him. It wasn’t until she was practically on top of him that Spike remembered he had yet to unlock the door, and hurried to do so. He got it open just as she reached him and stepped aside, hoping to catch her eyes, but she didn’t look at him. Rather, she strode by without a word, marched with intent toward the fridge she’d hauled up here on her lonesome and deposited the grocery sack full of blood bags on one of its empty shelves.

Well, bugger. Might as well get this part over with.

“So, you gonna let me have it, then?”

Buffy stiffened, then straightened, a bag of blood in hand. He could practically see the wheels in her head turning, feel the sparks of argument in the air between them. He drew the strongest of his counterarguments to the surface and waited for her to let loose.

Instead, Buffy turned and popped the blood bag into the microwave. “How long should I set this for?”

“Huh?”

“I assume if I leave it in there too long, it’ll burn, and then I’ll spend the night gagging because of the smell.”

Spike blinked. “Why aren’t you screamin’ at me?”

Buffy glanced over her shoulder, meeting his eyes at last. “Should I be?”

“Come on, Slayer. I know it’s comin’. Just get on with it.”

“Get on with it. Why exactly do you want me to scream at you?”

“Sun was down. You weren’t home. I wasn’t gonna just wait around like some bloody housewife,” he blurted. Apparently, his mind had skipped right on past the point of trying to get her to admit her upset and proceeded as though she had, in fact, just given him a verbal undressing. “That’s not who I am and never will be.”

She stared at him with the most maddeningly unreadable look on her face. Again, Spike braced for an explosion.

Again, she surprised him.

“I know.”

He blinked. “You…know.”

Buffy nodded, turned and tossed the bag of blood in the microwave. “I’m going to do a minute. Does that sound good?”

“Pidge, I’ll smell it before it has a chance to burn. What do you mean you know?”

“Just that,” she replied, punching in the numbers.

There were times Spike reckoned he could fill entire notebooks writing verses about how beautiful she was when she moved. Right now, though, every move was bloody difficult to read. A bit like she was trying to lure him into a false sense of calm before letting the hammer drop.

Then she turned back to him, crossed her arms, and leaned that gorgeous ass of hers against the counter.

“Was I annoyed that you showed up? Yeah, a bit.” She lifted a shoulder as though she couldn’t possibly be less bothered. “But then I thought…about what I’d do in that situation. About yesterday, when Gunn told me that you said not to come. You knew there was no way in hell I’d listen to that.”

He felt his mouth quirk into a grin. “’Course not. Knew you’d knock the bloody place down if you had to.”

“Right.” Buffy nodded and offered a smile of her own—a tired but genuine smile that lit up her eyes. “And I figure if this is gonna work, then we’re going to need to get used to each other not listening when we tell them not to do something.”

Spike drew in a sharp breath before edging forward a step. “Is that something you want, then? For this to work?” He paused, then nodded at the microwave. “It’s ready.”

Buffy whirled around without a word and stopped the countdown. He watched her play hot-potato with the bag until it found a place on the counter before she turned and opened the nearest cabinet. What she was looking for, he couldn’t say, because they hadn’t purchased flatware or the like. A conclusion Buffy seemed to reach the next second when her shoulders slumped.

“I keep thinking we have everything and then I find we’ve missed something obvious.” She didn’t turn around, rather rested her brow against the cabinet door. “I am so not cut out to be a grown-up.”

“Slayer—”

“And yes,” she said, spinning to face him, “of course I want this to work. I want my thoughts to become magically clear and everything that has happened to stop playing on repeat in my head.” Buffy sighed and let said head fall into her waiting hand. “I haven’t had the chance to take a breath. But I wouldn’t have agreed to this…” She gestured to the apartment. “With you if I didn’t want it. I told you last night in the shower…”

At that, her cheeks went beet red and she looked away.

“Had a right old time, myself.”

“Yeah. That was…intense.” She scrunched up her face in a look that was so thoroughly Buffy it made his chest ache.

“It was more than intense.” And he’d told himself then that the wait to have her, however long it was, was worth it. But then she’d mucked with his head earlier—flashing her tits when she’d changed before going out with Gunn, leaving him with a kiss. Neither of those things by themselves meant anything, but a fella couldn’t help but want to ask if he had it wrong.

But Buffy wasn’t the type to feel something and not make it known in one way or another. And for something as important as what they were to each other, she wouldn’t leave that to interpretation.

“Yeah.” She released a deep breath, crossed her arms and nodded at the bag of blood. “Until we get glasses, are you good just—”

The bones in his face shifted as he snatched the bag off the countertop. He had his fangs in it before she could finish her thought. Spike watched her as he drained it—the way her nose wrinkled, her wince of disgust—and felt something within him clench. She was trying, bless her. She was really trying. And without waiting for his permission, his mind dragged him back to those moments in the shower, when she’d stared at the wounds on his body, tears in her eyes, begging him to bite her even if it hurt because she hated seeing him in pain.

That wasn’t the claim. That had been her. All her.

“Still need a telly, too,” Spike said, tossing the drained bag onto the counter and wiping his mouth.

“We’ll get a TV.”

“You know you promised me a night at home, all quiet-like.”

“I’m sure we’ll have one of those eventually.” Buffy sighed and leaned against the back counter again. “Do you think Gunn is okay?”

The question lent him pause. She was too clever to be asking something with such an obvious answer.

“Think what you mean is did we make the right call back there,” he replied softly. “You think you mighta gotten it wrong, that the girl could’ve turned it around all on her own.”

To her credit, Buffy didn’t respond immediately. She stared at the empty blood bag, her lips pressed into a line. “I never thought vampires could be like you and here you are. Drinking bagged stuff just for me. Living in a freaking apartment for me. We need dishes and a television and probably a bunch of other stuff that I’m forgetting—and if you weren’t with me, you’d probably be off with Drusilla somewhere, stealing and killing and doing whatever else it is vampires do for fun.”

Spike swallowed. “Forgettin’ Dru tried to make me a wall ornament.”

“And that kind of stuff isn’t foreplay to you guys?”

“Not sayin’ it can’t be—she gets off on it.” He shook his head. “I’d play the role, do the dance, but it wasn’t really my thing, real torture. Don’t much have the patience for it. I’ve forgiven her for a lot over the years, but I’ve never fancied being a kabob.” A pause. “Don’t have the answer, either. It’s not like I saw you coming. Woulda run hard the other way if I had. I’ve been all over the sodding world, love. Met every kinda vamp you can imagine. A few were softer types, but all with a yen for making big, bloody messes. Can’t say I’ve ever met one who decided to go off the good stuff. I figure that girl would’ve killed ole Charlie if he hadn’t done her in first. That’s the way it usually goes.”

“So…I shouldn’t feel guilty about not starting a Rehab for Bloodsuckers support group.”

Spike barked a laugh. “Don’t see that goin’ over too well.”

“The only reason you’re here is because of me. Not because…of anything else.”

There it was again—a question disguised as a statement, and with two answers. The truth and the thing she wanted to hear. It was so bloody tempting to go with the latter, but he knew, even before he opened his mouth, that he couldn’t lie. They needed to be honest, whatever else they were.

“For you,” he agreed. “Just for you. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? That I don’t want it for myself?”

“It’s not a problem, but it would be easier for me if you did.” She hugged herself, not meeting his gaze. “Because what you’re telling me is that I’m your conscience. And that…is a lot to put on a person. You can go through the motions but you don’t get why they’re important.”

“I know why they’re important to you. That makes them important to me.”

“But it doesn’t. They’re not important to you if they can change on the fly depending on my mood.”

Spike opened his mouth to reply, but words weren’t forthcoming. He wasn’t entirely sure how they’d gotten here in the first place—it seemed less stable ground than what he’d stood on just a few moments ago. At length, he thought fuck it and decided to go from his gut. Might not be wise, but it was better than silence.

“I love you.”

Buffy whipped her head up, her eyes going wide. “What?”

Well, he was in it now. Couldn’t stop.

“I love you,” he said again, trying to keep his tone measured. “You’re more than a mood, Slayer. You’re bright and good and everything. And despite what this buggered world has thrown at you, you care about everythin’ and everyone. And I love you, so I love that. I love every crazy thing about you, even the stuff I don’t understand. So yeah, it’s important to me. The things that make you you are important to me. Without you, they wouldn’t be. But there’s no without you for me anymore, no matter what happens.”

The scent of salt stung the air. Buffy’s eyes were glistening. He wasn’t sure how to interpret that, but his throat suddenly felt tight. He knew what he wanted—to leap over the counter and pull her into him—but that didn’t seem the wisest move with the tug-and-pull they’d done over the past couple of days. Still, a bloke couldn’t help but feel exposed after such a declaration.

Never in his life had he imagined saying those words to anyone but Dru. Yet here he was, standing with the Slayer in the apartment they shared, and she was looking at him like—

A succession of three knocks exploded through the room, making both of them jump.

Spike snarled and whipped his head toward the door. “What bloody now?”

“Slayer, it’s Gunn,” came a familiar voice. He sounded the way Spike felt—lost and vulnerable.

And maybe he was a bastard, but Spike wanted to scream at him to sod off. This was one moment that no man should interrupt.

But it was too late. Buffy was someone who would always answer the bloody door, no matter what. She’d put herself last until it killed her. Drawing in a long breath, she favored Spike an apologetic look, then exited the kitchen and crossed the room to greet their guest.

The man on the other side was a ghost of the one they’d left in that warehouse. The area around his eyes was puffy and swollen, tear tracks visible on his dark brown skin. All of the piss and vinegar that had been there before was gone, though. Every inch of him looked weighted down, as though gravity itself was trying to drive him into the ground.

“I’ll be quick,” Gunn said, his gaze on the floor. “I know I…wasn’t at my best today.”

“Gunn, your sister—”

“Alonna died tryin’ to bust up some sicko vamp trafficking ring. They took her away from me, so I wanna bring the pain to them.” He drew his eyes upward, and Spike saw they were bloodshot. “I can’t do that shit alone.”

“You haven’t had any time to process what happened.”

“I know. Fuck process. I want to send these fuckers back to Hell. Accordin’ to what your boy said, they’re vamps. Sounds like your territory.”

Buffy didn’t move for a long moment, but she didn’t need to. Spike knew what her answer would be—what her answer would always be. And since he’d just told her he loved her for it, he knew what his answer would be too.

“Spike?” she said at last.

“You’re not leavin’ me behind, love.”

“No. If we do this, we do it as a team.”

Gunn nodded, his eyes welling with tears again. If he noticed the same on Buffy’s face, he didn’t say anything. “There’s a contact Alonna had just made,” he replied hoarsely. “I only met him once, but if anyone would know anythin’, it’d be him.”

Buffy nodded. “Sounds like a place to start.”

“Thank you. I know you don’t have to do it, but—”

“But she does, mate,” Spike said, coming up behind Buffy and placing a hand at the small of her back. “That’s the thing about the Slayer—she’s always in for a good fight.”

She nodded, not looking at him. “And Spike’s with me.”

Hopefully, she was a bit closer to understanding exactly what that meant.

Chapter Text

Spike loved her.

Spike loved her.

Holy cow.

Buffy shook her head and tried, for the fourth or fifth time, to focus on the conversation occurring around her, but it had progressed light-years beyond the last thing she remembered talking about. Right now, Fred—who had insisted upon tagging along—was talking animatedly with the demon Gunn had introduced them to.

Though the jury was still out on whether one could technically be introduced to someone that had practically run them over in the library, leaving nothing but a sparkly portal behind. Granted, Buffy’s memory of that time, recent as it was, was all kinds of foggy. The only thing she remembered clearly was the pain ratcheting through her body, tackling Fred so she didn’t go on a magical mystery tour, and a flash of green.

The green was a guy. A guy who was super friendly, insofar as demons went, and all kinds of jazzed to see them.

“From the library!” he’d bellowed upon seeing Fred, right before pulling her into a monstrous hug. “I’d recognize your pretty little face anywhere.”

Fred, unaccustomed as she was to interacting with demons, had given Buffy a bewildered look. One matching Spike and Gunn’s.

“There was a portal,” she’d said, waving dismissively. “That’s how I met Fred.”

“She kept me from being sucked in,” Fred had agreed, beaming.

The green guy, who had introduced himself as The Host with the Most in lieu of an actual name, had released a low whistle. “And tootles, let me tell you. They say there’s no place like home, and boy oh boy do I ever hope they’re right. Because the world doesn’t need more Pylea.”

The Host had ushered them inside what looked to be a nightclub—or something that would resemble a nightclub once the renovations were finished—given them the nickel tour, poured a round of drinks, then finally led them to the only table in the joint.

“It’s not much,” the Host said as they all settled. “I hope to get her up and running sometime next month, but chil’en, I won’t lie—there’s a lot of work to do.”

Buffy gave the room a dubious look, thinking a lot of work was being rather generous. The place looked one inspection way from being condemned. Aside from the vague stage-shaped thing against the far wall and fully stocked bar, the inside yielded nothing remotely recognizable as a functional business. The floor was littered with various debris and the odd over-turned chair, and the table at which they sat seemed to be of the card-variety.

But what did she know? She was just the Slayer, living with a vampire who was in love with her, attempting to figure out the tangle of emotions that had plagued her since she’d slain her ex-boyfriend.

She swallowed and stole a glance at Spike. Though he didn’t look at her, his jaw ticked in such a way she was certain he felt her eyes on him.

“And it’ll be a…bar?” Fred asked the Host, dragging Buffy back to the present.

“A sanctuary,” the Host said, nodding. “With a strict no-violence policy. Door’s open to all creatures so long as they play nice.”

“How you gonna manage that?” Spike drawled, lighting a cigarette and ignoring the scowl he earned as a result. “Some sorts can’t so much as sniff each other without declarin’ war.”

“Two words, my platinum poodle. Transuding Furies.” The Host sat back with what could only be called a smug grin. “Contract’s signed and the deposit has been made. Once they work their mojo, no demon will be able to so much as throw a dirty look in this place.”

“Sounds dull,” Spike replied bluntly. “No point in gettin’ sloshed if a bloke can’t even get in a decent bar fight.”

The Host favored him with a narrow look. “You. You’re the sort who’d do well in Pylea.”

“Am I supposed to know what Pylea is?” Fred asked. “That’s the second time you’ve mentioned it.”

“Pardon my rudeness, buttercup.” He placed a hand on his chest and fluttered his eyes. “Pylea would be my home world. Also the last place anyone would want to build a summer home.”

And just like that, the conversation went off the rails again. Fred, learning of the existence of another world, launched into uber-geek mode, intent on learning as much as she could about the Host’s native land.

Which was fine, Buffy supposed, seeing as she couldn’t focus on the conversation long enough to be of any use. Not with Spike sitting so close to her, acting as normal as she imagined he got, even after having dropped the bombshell news that he loved her.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t a bombshell. Maybe she’d felt the words in the air between them, just waiting to be given life. That didn’t mean hearing them hadn’t rattled her. Love unspoken was a different beast from love spoken. It made her heart do funky things, though it whined in protest, still too sore from the last time it had tangled with emotions that significant.

“Fascinatin’ though this is,” Spike said, startling Buffy out of her thoughts, “think we might outta get to the reason we’re here?”

Fred’s cheeks flushed pink and she cast her gaze down. “Sorry,” she said. “I’m just…still so new to all of this.”

Buffy shook her head, giving herself a mental slap. Spike was right—this was so not the time for tangents, verbal or otherwise. “So, you knew Alonna,” she said to the Host, careful not to look at Gunn, who had been staring at a spot at the table since making the introductions.

The Host’s affable grin faded, and he offered a somber nod. “Not well. Haven’t been in the neighborhood long, but she was a nice kid.” He sighed and threw back the rest of his drink, then gestured at their surroundings. “Little thing wandered in here last week. Heard me going at the karaoke and, what can I say, the girl had an ear for good music. Might’ve been what kept me alive, actually. Guess she figured anyone with a set of pipes like mine couldn’t be all bad.”

Gunn sniffed but didn’t say anything.

“That’s what you do, then? Sing?” Spike asked, snuffing out the last of his cigarette.

“Blondie, in this big bad beautiful world, I can do whatever I like.” He grinned and stood. “Including getting another drink. Anyone else?”

Spike nodded and waved at Gunn. “Spot of whiskey would do us both fine.”

“I don’t need no whiskey,” Gunn said without looking up. “Don’t need karaoke. What I do need is to ash those motherfuckers who vamped my sister.” At that, he raised his head and aimed a glare at the Host. “So if you and Little Miss Gabby are through braidin’ each other’s hair, could we get to the reason we’re here?”

The cheery expression on Fred’s face fell without ceremony, and her cheeks went red. “Sorry,” she said, casting her gaze to the table. “I… I got over-excited.” She hesitated, then raised her eyes to Buffy’s and mouthed the word, “Sorry,” again.

“Don’t apologize, babykins,” the Host said, scowling at Gunn. “Some people just have no tact.”

“Some people just wanna get to the fucking point,” Gunn snapped. “Why don’t you tell us what you know?”

The Host glared a moment longer, then sighed and sank back into his seat. “Listen, gumshoe, I only know what I’ve heard and that isn’t much. No one shares with the new guy in town more than he needs to know, and I told your sister the same.”

Spike snickered. “Considerin’ how that shook out, gotta figure you know more than you think.”

“Or just enough to get people killed,” Gunn said. “Either way. Talk.”

The Host looked between the two of them. “You know the highlights already—human trafficking ring for lazy bloodsuckers who can’t find the energy to do their own hunting. They move product through a few warehouses around town, but word on the street is the base of operations is a little joint called Dusk.”

Fred released an inelegant squeak.

The green demon favored her with a nod. “I take it you know the place?”

“I-it’s a popular night club.” The red in Fred’s cheeks burned a bit brighter. “I’ve been once, but it… I didn’t like the vibe.”

“That’d be your survival instinct,” the Host said dryly. “You’ve been? Sweetie-pie, do you have any idea how lucky you are to be alive right now? That club is a vamp free-for-all.”

“A vamp only club?” Buffy wrinkled her brow and looked to Spike. “Have you ever heard of anything like this?”

“A few in Europe. Dru and me popped into one once, but she didn’t take a shine to it. Half the fun’s in the hunt.” He shifted, ignoring the daggers Gunn glared at him. “It’s what I said before, love. Older vamps who don’t relish the chase anymore. Blokes aimin’ to keep outta your crosshairs. The club’s a front. Real business goes on downstairs, I’d wager.”

Buffy swallowed, not sure she wanted to know. “The real…business?”

“The auction,” the Host said. “For the fresh blood the club lures in. Once bought, they’re packed off to one of the warehouses to be shipped to their new owner.”

“Meals on wheels,” Spike muttered.

It took a moment to unpack what was being said. Once she did, though, it seemed likely she was going to be sick. In her experience, vampires were nuisances—murderous, yes, but not much with the grand schemes. The Master’s plan had been rather straightforward—escape and be evil. Same for Angel, except he’d had more apocalyptic aspirations. But an honest-to-god slave trade? That seemed bigger for some reason, and almost worse than ending the world.

“So we go to this club,” she said at last, her voice scratchy. “And shut them down. Then we hit the other warehouses.”

The Host gave a loud, harsh laugh. “You say that like it’s easy, sister.”

Buffy glanced to Spike, and he flashed her a slight, knowing grin. One that filled her with confidence.

“It might not be easy,” she agreed. “But it won’t be hard.”

“You have a lot of experience in this sort of thing, then?” The Host snickered again, tossing Fred an incredulous look with which she was clearly supposed to commiserate. “I’d heard Caesar was short, but I thought he’d be at least a little butch.”

Spike outright laughed at that. “Better watch what you say, mate. If there’s one thing the Slayer knows how to do, it’s bollix up some honest vamp’s idea of a good time.”

It was hard to tell, being that he was green and all, but the Host seemed to pale a bit at that. His eyes definitely grew wider—enough so that Buffy knew he was familiar with what a slayer was. Hell, for a guy who’d only been in this dimension a handful of days, he was rather industrious. Like a big green sponge with plans and a budget. And an ear for pop-culture. Los Angeles was truly the perfect place for him.

“The Slayer,” the Host said. “Y-you’re the Slayer.” He whipped his head to Gunn. “Funny how that didn’t come up during the introduction portion of the evening.”

Gunn didn’t so much as blink. “You really thought I was gonna take on the bastards who got my sister killed with a vampire, a cheerleader, and a librarian? What the fuck do you take me for, man?”

Buffy scowled. “Hey!”

“Don’t even try to tell me you wasn’t a cheerleader, blondie,” Gunn said without looking at her.

“I-I didn’t know,” the Host said, his hands coming up in a placating gesture. “I just thought you had interesting…friends.” He paused, then frowned at Spike. “You’re a vampire and you’re paling around with a slayer. Color me intrigued.”

“Fun story for another time,” Gunn snapped. “You know we got the muscle now. You gonna help out or what?”

The Host looked from him to Buffy, to Spike, then to Gunn again. At length, he released a long sigh and turned to Fred, plastering on a great, fake smile. “I don’t suppose you’re a lion, a witch, or a wardrobe, are you, poodle? I’ll take any or all.”

“Sorry,” Fred replied with a wince. “Just a librarian.”

“She can be bait,” Gunn said simply.

Buffy whipped her head to face him. “What? Are you crazy?”

“Naw. Practical.”

“Practical. You want to get Fred killed?”

He shrugged. “Trust you to do your job. Done all you can to keep your boy from becomin’ some kid’s hay fever. Think you can manage for a neighbor.”

“Can I say I really, really don’t like the idea of being bait?” Fred’s voice shook a little. “I want to help, but…come on. I’m a bit boney to appeal to a hungry vamp, aren’t I?”

“You got blood, pidge,” Spike replied. “Doesn’t matter how much meat’s on the bone. And I’d wager these wankers do more than just eat their nosh. Some like to play with their food.”

Buffy wrinkled her nose and tried really hard not to think about Spike being one of those vampires, though some part of her didn’t need to be convinced. A side-by-side with Spike and a soulless Angel had been more than she’d needed to illustrate the many ways her ex-boyfriend had been epically more monstrous than any of the other vamps she’d slain. And Spike wasn’t like that anymore—or she was desperate to believe.

Because he loved her and he was her future.

Which dragged her mind back to the pages that remained folded up in her pocket. She hadn’t had time to think about them since she’d ripped them from the book’s binding. Maybe one day her life would slow down.

“Buffy?”

She shook her head and forced herself out of her thoughts. Fred was staring at her with wide, pleading eyes.

Right. Priorities.

“Exnay on the ait-bay,” Buffy said, leveling a glare at Gunn. “We don’t know what kind of numbers we’ll be against and we can’t promise to keep her safe. I didn’t save her life just to get her killed. Okay?”

Gunn appeared unmoved and glared right back at her. “You got any bright ideas then, Slayer?”

“Yes,” she replied, more out of defiance than truth. But then she was used to thinking herself out of tough places, and pulling attack plans out of her ass, so she wasn’t surprised when her mind provided her an answer. “Me. I’m the bait.”

Spike jerked his head toward her, his eyes narrowing. “Huss’at?”

“There’s no better blood than Slayer’s blood, right? What better way to get directly to the ringleader?” She looked to Spike and arched her eyebrows. “You’ll be with me. No, even better, you’re the one who brings me in.”

“You’re off your rocker. I’m not gonna parade you into the bleeding lion’s den.”

“So in your version of me handling this, I sit on the sidelines. A minute ago you understood that I’m an army of one.”

“A minute ago you weren’t bait.”

“How does my being bait change anything? And you know I can take care of myself and will wipe the floor with their asses.”

“Operation like this isn’t gonna be small, love. Place’ll be crawlin’ with vamps. One thing to fight your way in. Fighting out’s a horse of a different color. You won’t have an exit at your back. They’ll swarm you.”

Yeah, that sounded all kinds of not cool, but it did bupkis to change her mind. “All the more for Mr. Pointy to stake, my dear.”

Spike scowled. “How you wager this plays out, then?”

“You’re known for being weirdly obsessed with slayers. You decided to use me to cash in.”

“No one who knows me would figure I’d just hand over a slayer for cash.”

“Are we banking that these vamps have taken a crash course on William the Bloody?” Buffy fired back. “’Cause I’m not. At most, they know your name, know you have a history with slayers, and don’t have a reason to ask more questions than that.”

“What history with slayers?” Gunn asked.

She ignored him, keeping her focus on Spike. “Tell me I’m wrong.”

“You’re wrong,” he fired back. “These vamps don’t get to a point where they can be served hand and foot by bein’ thick. Anyone claims to have a slayer trussed up’s gonna be given the third bloody degree, ’specially before they let you meet the gits.”

“So you insist on staying with me until the transaction is complete. Have me drugged or something—tell them you roofied my soda.”

“Not my style,” Spike gritted through his teeth.

“Well, dammit, Spike, you’re just being difficult.”

“Right shame, that.”

Buffy rolled her eyes and rolled to her feet. “Look, I’m doing this with you or without you. We need to get someone in there and it’s not going to be Fred. You know as well as I do that the demons responsible for this aren’t going to be impressed by some rando off the street.” She hesitated, then threw Fred an apologetic glance. “No offense.”

Fred shook her head. “None taken. But I don’t like this idea, either.”

“I can handle myself.” She turned back to Spike, crossing her arms. “Something the boyfriend of the Slayer should get over right the hell now, because this? This is my life. This is what it means to be with me. I don’t stop doing and survey says I never will. That’s just the way it is. It’s what loving me means. So get with the program or prepare for a really uncomfortable eternity.”

Okay, so that contained a bit more verbal diarrhea than she’d intended, but there was no taking back the words now that they were out. As it was, the fight seemed to leave Spike, his face falling slack. And she wondered, not for the first time, if she would ever become accustomed to those soft, awestruck looks he favored her with. The sort that had the power to zap the strength from her legs and make her heart do funky back-flips.

“Whoa nelly,” the Host said, holding up his hands before pointing between her and Spike. “You two are a thing? How very Shakespearean of you.”

“Not a bloke known for his happy endings, mate,” Spike said, not taking his eyes off her. “So you’ll understand if I’m not so keen on that comparison.”

Buffy squirmed, crossing her arms as her cheeks flamed. “We good, then? You understand?”

A pause, then he nodded, looking like he was fighting off a grin. “We’re good, love.”

That should have ended the conversation, but it didn’t. Not the one out loud, at least. The ongoing dialogue she’d had with herself since sneaking out on him reached decibel levels she hadn’t known could exist, and the silence that existed outside of her head didn’t help matters either. No one said anything after that, and she so needed them to. Needed anyone to give her a reason to drag her gaze from his, because it so wasn’t doing it on its own. And the longer he looked at her…

Focus, dammit.

“Well,” the Host drew out the word, “is it hot in here or is it just those two?”

“Slayer,” Gunn snapped. “The plan?”

At last, Buffy blinked and jerked her focus back to where it belonged. “Yeah, a plan,” she agreed, her voice all breathy like she’d just run a marathon. She was certain if she looked his way, she’d find Spike with a satisfied smirk, but she wasn’t falling for that again. “Host…guy. Is there anything else we can call you?”

The Host’s affable expression melted into a grimace, and it was his turn to shift. “Krevlornswath of the Deathwok Clan is my actual name.”

“Krevla-what?”

“Exactly. Which is why the Host is easier.” He paused. “Or Lorne. But I’m telling you—”

“Ha! Like Lorne Green!” Fred said brightly, clapping.

The Host—Lorne—lifted a hand and favored her with a patient smile. “Yeah. My first day here, I heard about a million of those jokes. All equally bad.”

The smile of Fred’s face faded just as quickly. “Sorry. But come on, how easy is that to remember?”

“I’m going to regret telling you that, aren’t I?”

“Lorne,” Buffy said, her voice carrying enough authority that everyone looked at her. “You’re going to take Gunn prisoner.”

“I’m what?” Lorne echoed.

“He’s what?” Gunn demanded at the same time.

“There’s no other way to get you in,” Buffy said, shrugging. “Lorne already said these vamps have it out for him for directing your sister their way. So he brings you as a peace offering. Spike brings me as his meal-ticket into the joint. We Trojan their asses.”

Gunn’s eyes went so wide they nearly consumed his whole face. “We do what now?”

“Horse,” Spike said on a laugh. “Trojan Horse.”

“What did I say?”

“You left off the horse.”

Lorne raised his hand. “I haven’t been in this dimension long enough to follow. Are you saying we’re going to use horse condoms? Because that’s where this demon draws the line.”

Buffy narrowed her eyes. “You already know every pop culture reference under the sun, but you don’t know about the Trojan Horse?”

“Don’t expect perfection, doll.”

“Whatever.” She sighed, shook her head, and looked back to Gunn, preparing for a fight and having none of the energy for it. “Make sense to you? Or is this going to be a problem?”

To her surprise and relief, he didn’t respond by snapping her head off. Instead, he gave a thoughtful nod. “Yeah. That could work. Won’t see either of us comin’.” He flicked a glance to Spike. “How you gonna say you bested the Slayer?”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Spike replied. Then, when she glared at him, sat up a bit straighter. “My ex had some wonky mental powers and the like. Anyone asks, I’ll say I picked a bit of that up myself. Slayer’ll pretend to be under my thrall.” He spared Buffy another glance. “That work, love?”

Yeah. It would. Except now she was thinking about him and Dru, and wasn’t sure her stomach could handle it.

The claim would become more manageable with time, he’d said. Well, she was ready for it.

The pages she’d stuffed in her back pocket seemed to heat up at that. Buffy jolted and nodded, making a snap decision. “All right. So, that’s figured out. You guys decide when we move. I need to talk to Fred.”

She didn’t wait around to see if there were any objections, rather bolted from her seat and stalked toward where she presumed the ladies room would be when and if this place ever became an actual business.

Thankfully, Fred was not so socially awkward that she hadn’t recognized the need for girl talk. When she turned the corner, her expression was furtive and concerned. “What’s up?” she whispered.

Buffy reached behind her and drew out the papers. “I found this at the warehouse,” she whispered back. “Information from a book on vampires and…claims.” A pause. “Can you look into this for me?”

Fred frowned and squinted at the tiny print. “Oh, my prescription needs to be adjusted. What are you hoping to find?”

“Anything. Maybe nothing. I dunno, but…it can’t hurt, can it?”

“I’m so not the person to ask.” Fred brought the page closer, scrunching up her face as though that would help. “But…yeah. I’ll give it a look. Not sure I’ll know what any of it means or understand it, but homework is this girl’s specialty.”

Another pang hit, this one of profound homesickness, but dammit, Buffy wouldn’t cry. She’d had reason to leave Sunnydale—her mother had kicked her out of the house, for one. She didn’t have a home to return to. And as much as she liked Fred, she missed Willow so much it was almost a physical ache. Willow and Xander and Giles and everyone who had helped her navigate two of the worst years of her life. The people who had helped her discover who she was.

Going back wasn’t in the cards. Not now, at least. How could she return when she still didn’t understand what had happened to her?

How could she expect her friends to accept that Spike was in her life, for better or worse, forever? They’d barely tolerated Angel. Returning with the announcement that she had a new vampire boyfriend, this one sans soul, and hey, it was forever because he’d gotten possessive and bitten her during sex?

God, she might not have friends to return to if that truth came out.

But if she discovered something about herself, about the new existence she led, something they couldn’t argue with, maybe there was hope of going home after all.

“Thank you,” Buffy said, plastering on a smile so fake it hurt. “I appreciate it, Fred.”

“And I appreciate not being bait,” Fred replied. “Happy to help.”

Buffy nodded and released a long, steady breath. Then turned and to rejoin the demon, the hunter, and the vampire who loved her.

Chapter Text

When they were a block away from the entrance to Dusk, Spike gave up the fight, locked an arm around Buffy’s waist, and tugged her into an alley. She didn’t resist—couldn’t much without drawing attention to herself. Plus, he’d cuffed her wrists before they’d left. The Slayer, all trussed up and ready to enter the sodding lion’s den. Trusting him to get her in and to help fight their way out.

Once they were on the other side of this barmy plan, he’d take a moment to appreciate what that meant for him. For them.

“Just checkin’ this,” he said, pulling on the chain that linked her wrists together.

“Checking for what?” Buffy asked, laughter in her voice. That was all well and good for her. Add find this amusing to his list of things to do after.

“Just checking,” he replied. “Make sure it’s convincing.”

“Convincing. A thing that you’re not.”

“Forgive a guy for worrying.”

“I’m going to be fine.”

“Right, well, I wanna see you do it again. Look at me, love.” When she raised her green eyes to his, he felt his chest tighten on reflex. “Let’s see it, the stare. Like I said. Outta focus, yeah? Try not to blink.”

Buffy arched an eyebrow and blinked.

“Slayer, they won’t buy you’re under anyone’s thrall if you look even halfway alert.”

“Spike.”

“Yeah?”

“I think I’m as ready as I’m going to be.”

He released a hard breath, nodding and tugging on the cuffs again. “You’re gonna see a lot at the first, if this joint is anythin’ like the one I…” He paused, swallowing. “Can’t react to any of it, you hear? They see life behind your eyes and that’s the bloody game.”

She gave him one of those nods that spoke plainly for just how much she didn’t truly understand the world they were about to enter. There was one thing his Slayer didn’t have, and that was a poker face. They’d gone over this a time or twenty before leaving—what she’d see when he paraded her over the threshold, what to expect. The club itself would be fine, probably, just window-dressing. But once she saw the humans being trafficked… Well, the plan could go belly-up right quick if she so much as flinched.

Spike cleared his throat, running a finger along one of the cuffs. “You sure you can snap these? Don’t wanna find out at the wrong time that they’re stronger than they look.”

“I’d show you but then we’d be out a pair of cuffs.”

He raised his gaze to hers, unable to stop his grin. “Right shame, that. We mighta had some fun with these, given enough time.”

The delicate blush that lit her cheeks was enough to make a bloke forget his heart hadn’t beat in more than a century. Buffy pressed her lips together and looked away. “Spike…”

“I know, I know.” He stole a kiss before she could berate him again, then pressed his brow to hers. “Have I mentioned how much I hate this plan?”

“A time or two,” Buffy replied. “You have Mr. Pointy?”

He grinned in spite of himself. “Mhmm,” he said, and thrust his hips forward, reveling in the small sigh that tore off her lips. “And you can have him anytime you fancy.”

“Spike—”

“Sorry, love. It’s the cuffs. Gives a bloke ideas.” He stepped back and pulled his duster open so she could see where he’d hung her trusty stake on his belt. “Got another in my pocket just in case.”

She nodded, her gaze lingering on the stake for a moment before she met his eyes again. “I know you’re worried that I’m going to… I dunno, scream, ‘I’m the Slayer’ at the top of my lungs the second we get in there. But I know what’s riding on this. I’ll be fine.”

“Easy to say now. You haven’t been to a place like this. Unless your Watcher was less button-up than I thought.”

A small, sad smile played across her lips at that, and some of the light in her eyes dimmed. The girl was getting homesick, whether she knew it or not. And though Spike had known to expect it, he couldn’t help the rush of irritation that he had to notice it now when he didn’t have the luxury of time to explore it properly. The number of conversations they needed to have was already intimidating enough.

“I’ll be fine,” Buffy promised, then tipped up to brush a soft kiss against his lips. “But thank you for worrying.”

Yeah, moments like that were happening more often too. He ached to ask what they meant, especially since she now knew that he loved her.

“Right,” Spike said, straightening his shoulders. “Then let’s get this bloody show on the bloody road, shall we?”

Like any decent nightclub, Dusk had a line that curved around the block, jammed full of blokes trying not to be overly obvious as they salivated over the girls who wore practically nothing. Spike remembered marveling at the simplicity of the set-up when he’d visited the joint in Europe—how bloodsuckers had gamed the system and tricked their prey into begging to be victimized. It had struck him as funny then, but now, it just left him feeling hollow and anxious, and he wasn’t sure how much of that was the Slayer’s influence and how much was him turning into a docile housecat.

Though the bloke posing as a bouncer could pass as human, Spike’s nose told him he wasn’t. He steeled himself and approached, tugging the Slayer along like a piece of luggage, and shoved his way to the front of the line without bothering to acknowledge the complaints that arose from behind him.

The bouncer favored him with a narrow, unreadable look but didn’t say anything. Then he shifted his attention to Buffy, and Spike had to kill the urge to rip the git’s eyes right out of his sodding head for how they lit up.

“Got me some primo merchandise here,” Spike said low enough for any decent demon to hear. He jostled the cuffs. “Heard this might be the right place to shop her around.”

The demon hadn’t removed his gaze from Buffy, the greed on his face unmistakable. At length, he leaned forward and replied in a low undertone, “What is she?”

He felt Buffy tense, but thankfully she didn’t otherwise react. If they got out of this alive, he could look forward to an earful about that remark.

Spike plastered on a cocky grin and threw an arm around the Slayer’s shoulders. “I’ll tell you, but information’s not free.” When the demon responded to this with a scowl, Spike threw up his free hand and steered Buffy back a step. “Perfectly happy to take my goods elsewhere, mate. Though I wager your boss might just lop your head off when he learns what he missed out on.”

The demon’s lip curled and his eyes flashed red. Spike answered with a growl of his own, letting his fangs partially descend. While he didn’t think he’d have to throw any punches, the key to skating by in these places was to always be ready to brawl.

A second later, the demon backed down and jerked his head to the club. “Bar,” he grunted. “Ask for Dareth.”

Spike held his gaze a moment longer before nodding. “Come on, pet,” he said, steering the Slayer to the entrance. “Let’s go make a bloody deal.”

* * * * *

Yeah, this was harder than she’d anticipated. Staring straight ahead when every instinct in her body screamed danger and her extra slayer-granted spidey-senses were on full blast. The air itself seemed to pulse with otherworldly energy, the sort she was best at smashing to pieces, and she couldn’t so much as steal a glance at what sort of baddies might have her surrounded.

Spike didn’t glance at her until he reached the bar, though his movements were stiff and she could tell how tense he was. His expression remained casual, perhaps a bit impatient, but his eyes burned with concern when they met hers.

“All right, Slayer?” that look said.

But she couldn’t respond. There was no telling who might be watching.

Spike knew this, of course. He gave a clipped nod and turned to wave down the bartender. “Oi! Got some business with a bloke called Dareth. Mind pointin’ a fella in the right direction?”

From her peripheral, she saw the bartender aim a glare their way, his posture unnaturally rigid. After a moment, he slung a dishrag over his shoulder and shuffled over. Buffy concentrated on keeping her expression slack and hoped to whatever was out there that this guy couldn’t hear her heart thundering.

“No one comes in here and demands to see Dareth,” the guy snarled in a low undertone. “Not unless he has a death wish.”

“Guess today’s a day for the books then, innit?” Spike replied, unconcerned. He struck a match and lit a cigarette, drew in a puff, and blew a line of smoke into the bartender’s face. “Got him somethin’ he’s gonna want to see. Wager she’ll fetch a pretty price, but I promise she’ll be worth every penny.”

Buffy tried not to bristle when she felt the bartender’s gaze roam over her. She’d dressed provocatively on purpose—Spike’s jaw had probably left a mark in the floor from where he’d dropped it. Fred had loaned her a criminally short skirt, even by Buffy’s standards, and a see-through mesh top that might as well have been painted on. The point had been to attract attention, but at the moment, she felt little more than naked.

“We don’t discuss business up here,” the bartender said at last. “And you don’t decide what Dareth wants. Dareth decides. Your hot piece ain’t any hotter than the ones we get for free.”

Spike rocked on his heels. “That so? So you get slayers in here on the regular?”

The bartender was silent for a moment. When he spoke again, his voice was an octave lower than before, trembling. “What’d you say?”

Her vampire leaned in. “This here’s the Slayer. Chosen bird. She who makes life a right nuisance for blokes like you and me.”

“You brought the Vampire Slayer into—”

“Ah, ah, ah.” Spike held up his hands, flashing a winning grin. “No need to draw attention. We’re just talking, you and I.”

“If she’s the one I’ve heard about, then you got more than a death wish, buddy.”

“It’s a sorry state of things when just mentioning the bloody Slayer gets otherwise respectable gents wetting their britches. She look threatenin’ to you?” Spike turned to her and snapped his fingers in front of her face. Then lowered those fingers and pinched her nipple through her top. It took every ounce of willpower not to squirm. Or sigh. Or smack him. Or all of the above. “See?” he said, turning back to the bartender. “Safe as houses.”

The bartender coughed. “You drugged the Slayer?”

“Oi. Not that kinda guy.”

“Then how—”

“You gonna get me Dareth or what? I got night to burn and don’t fancy spendin’ it making my sale’s pitch to the help.”

The bartender’s lip curled and he leaned forward. “What say I lop off that shiny head of yours and keep the Slayer for myself, huh?”

“Try it, mate,” Spike replied calmly. “See what happens when yours truly isn’t around to keep her under. I’ll laugh myself all the way to Hell.”

“You really think she’d make it out alive?”

“Maybe not, but you definitely wouldn’t.”

There was a long, tense beat in which the bartender just glared, and a jolt of panic shot through Buffy’s system. She knew Spike sensed it, for he curled his fist around the handcuff chain, but otherwise didn’t take his gaze off the man in front of him.

At last, the bartender inclined his head, the movement so subtle she almost missed it. Then he straightened and said, “There’s a door by the johns that says staff only. Shave and a haircut. Tell ’em you talked to Pink.”

If that was supposed to make sense, well, she was in trouble. But Spike nodded and steered her away all the same.

A few seconds later, they were at the door in question. Spike raised his fist and rapped his knuckles against it in a familiar rat-tatat-tat-tat.

Oh, right. Shave and a haircut.

The door opened by a sliver, a blood-red eye taking up the gap.

“Pink sent me over to see if Dareth was in the market for a slayer,” Spike drawled.

The eye widened. “The Vampire Slayer?”

“You know of any other?”

The eye disappeared, then the door opened fully to reveal a gnarly-faced demon with slate-gray skin, two narrow slits for nostrils, and a head full of tentacles.

“Is that really the Slayer?” it rasped in a deep, greedy voice.

“If the price is right,” Spike replied, running a hand down her bare arm, making her skin tingle and perhaps the most poorly timed thrill of arousal twinge inside her. He must have sensed that too, for he dropped that hand to her ass and gave it a squeeze.

The demon’s eyes went saucer-shaped and he nodded his big ugly head. “Follow me.”

It wasn’t until Buffy had been led down a third flight of stairs that the hard second-thoughts started to hit. Followed by the third and fourth thoughts. She inhaled deeply, sweat beginning to gather at her temples and her pulse suddenly thumping. She’d never thought of herself as claustrophobic, but the farther she got from the world above, the tighter her skin seemed, as though she might burst out of it.

“You understand,” the demon ahead said to Spike, “that a demonstration will be in order to prove she is what you say she is before I let you meet the committee.”

The demonstration part they’d prepared for—had a nice little routine choreographed and everything.

“I try to make it a point not to do business with complete berks, so I’d bloody well hope so,” Spike replied. “Who all’s on this committee?”

The demon glanced over his shoulder. “How much do you know about our operation?”

“Enough to know you lot would appreciate what I have to offer.”

“We are the only operation of this size on the west coast,” the demon agreed, leading them around another corner. “Merchandise is typically filtered through a quality control system, then priced and auctioned accordingly. But for premium product, the committee is allowed first right of refusal. It’s possible the Slayer won’t leave the building.”

“Ever had a slayer before?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

“Then she won’t.” 

The demon hummed low in his throat. “How did you catch her?”

“Hunting slayers is what I do, mate,” Spike replied. “Usually don’t have much wiggle left to them once I’m done, but something about this one’s too feisty to kill without having a spot of fun first.”

A hard chill shot down Buffy’s spine, her heart beginning a mad pound against her chest and her vision went a bit sideways. Those words, just a short time ago, would have been entirely true rather than just mostly. While it seemed like a lifetime had passed since she’d left Sunnydale for everything that had happened since, it had been a handful of days at best. Since Angel had attempted to awaken Acathla, and she’d been forced to run him through with a sword. And before that, she and Spike had been enemies in every sense. Bitter enemies.

“I’d rather be fightin’ you, anyway,” he’d told her the night she’d broken his back. And she’d seen it in his eyes—the rush, the urgency, the thrill of the hunt. He’d wanted her dead, yes, but it had never been personal. Just another bragging right. Spike, the slayer of Slayers, bagging number three.

He’d killed and enjoyed it. And he’d stopped because he loved her.

“All right,” the demon said, leading them into a small, empty room. “Let’s see what she can do, shall we?”

Spike nodded and dragged her around so she was in front of him, then lowered his head just a fraction to catch her eyes. “Slayer,” he murmured, and in spite of everything, the low rumble of his voice made her body react. “Be in my eyes. Look at me.”

This man who had wanted her dead now looked at her with worry and love.

“Now wake up.”

Buffy jerked her head back, her body singing with relief at being allowed to move. She forced her face into a sneer and smashed her leg into his gut, sending him across the room in a blur of black leather, before turning her attention to the demon by the door, who looked both delighted and terrified.

“It is the Slayer!” the thing cried.

“Wanna demo?” Buffy spat, then flipped toward them—a feat she’d never attempted while handcuffed and was grateful to discover she could in fact pull it off. She delivered another hard kick and he joined Spike on the floor with a hard crash.

“Control her!” he yelped. “Before she—”

Spike snarled and tackled her to the ground, then chuckled when she squirmed beneath him. “Oh, baby,” he purred in her ear. “Harder. Just like that.”

“Control her, you maniac!”

He flipped her over so her back was pressed to the floor, and damn, she didn’t know what it said about her that the sight of him above her, fangs out, made her clit throb. Spike snagged her flailing hands and lowered his head so they were eye-to-eye.

“Look at me now, dove.”

Buffy bucked again and started when she felt his cock pressing down against her. His eyes flashed and a look of pure want stormed over his face.

“Be in me,” he murmured, holding her gaze. Again, she seemed to feel the words down to her bones. “Be in my eyes.”

He’d told her to do it slow to make it believable. That most people struggled when they went under—at least, the strong ones did. So for a few seconds, she put up a modicum of resistance telegraphed through increasingly sluggish jerks of her arms and rolls of her hips. By the time she fell completely still, he was panting and staring at her in a way that made her feel stripped bare.

“There’s a good love,” he murmured, then leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her brow. “Nice and easy.”

He nipped at her lips before lifting his head again, and she wasn’t sure if that was for her benefit or their audience.

“That’s incredible,” the demon said, also breathless though likely for very different reasons. “Are you a hypnotist?”

Spike chuckled, rising to his feet and pulling Buffy to hers. “Somethin’ like that.”

“Can you teach others to do what you just did?”

“Can, but they got to have a bit of the touch for it to work.”

“The touch?”

He tapped his head. “My lady sees things. Things that have happened or will soon. That’s how she found me, point of fact. The dollies she talks to told her the best thing in her unlife would be in some miserable alley one night. Get wonky visions myself sometimes. It’s what brought us together.”

The heat that had suffused her just seconds ago was chased away by sudden cold. It was such a dumb, small thing to focus on, but her brain hiccupped upon hearing Spike refer to Drusilla like they were still a thing. Except it was more than a hiccup—it was a feeling. An ache in her gut that clenched and squeezed before spreading outward, through her arms and legs until she thought she might burst if she didn’t get to move. Not just move—scream. Lash out. Seize Spike by the shoulders and sink her teeth into his throat. The impulse, the need, startled her so much she might have fallen over had he not steadied a hand around her waist.

“And you can do”—the demon dragged his eyes up and down her body—“anything to her when she’s like this?”

“Yeah,” Spike said, and unless she was imagining things, his voice sounded tenser than it had before. “Wanna see?”

The demon nodded, and Spike whirled around again, and the roar inside her became a purr when their eyes locked.

“Spread your legs, Slayer.”

Her heart performed another somersault. He couldn’t be serious.

He arched an eyebrow. Crap, he was.

Buffy parted her legs and widened her stance, forcing herself to swallow a gasp when he moved into her space. Then he was everywhere, overpowering her senses in a way that angry, primal part of her liked very, very much.

“Wider,” Spike murmured and slipped a hand under the hem of her skirt. “She won’t move a muscle unless I want her to,” he said loudly, eyes burning into hers. “I’ll show you.”

This hadn’t been part of the plan. Buffy took advantage of the fact that Spike was blocking the demon’s line of sight and let out a small sigh and arched an eyebrow at him. The corners of his mouth tugged up in a smirk but fell again and he scowled back in warning. Then his fingers edged under the fabric at her crotch and drew a line up the seam of her slick pussy. It took every ounce of willpower not to twitch or gasp, her legs beginning to shake.

Spike inhaled deeply and leaned close. “Naughty,” he breathed.

Buffy wasn’t sure if he was referring to the fact that she was turned on right now or what he was doing. And she didn’t get much time to wonder before he dipped his index and middle finger inside of her.

“See how still she is,” Spike said as the pad of his thumb settled over her clit. “Could bring her out now. Make her scream for you. Make her do anything you fancy. She’s bloody helpless.”

Good god, she was so going to let him have it when this was over.

The demon released a long sigh. “That is…umm. Good. Yes, very good. Please wait here. The committee is currently overseeing another matter, but they will definitely want to talk with you. I’ll return shortly.”

A door opened and closed, and then they were alone.

Buffy parted her lips to say something, though she had no idea what. Either to snap at him for taking advantage of the situation or demand he finish what he’d started. Spike then covered her mouth with his, and the part of her gearing up to fight surrendered. Her heart hadn’t been in it anyway—not after the last few minutes. The soft touches, stolen looks, and grinding they’d done during their mock-fight had decided the battle for her.

She was tired of fighting him and herself. What did it matter if she didn’t know how she felt? So many things in this world were uncertain, but that she wanted Spike was not one of them.

“Buffy,” Spike growled against her lips, thrusting his fingers into her harder, faster. “Fuck, I’d forgotten how tight you are.” He grinned when she gasped, twisting his wrist and pressing down on something inside of her. “You can’t scream, love. They’ll hear you.”

White hot heat shot through her at lightning-speed, racing toward an explosion. “Spike—”

“So bite your tongue when you come, all right?” And without waiting for a reply, he sank to his knees, hiked one of her legs over his shoulder, and sucked her clit between his lips.

Buffy bit her tongue so hard blood filled her mouth. Spike growled, the bones in his face shifting, and tongued her clit as she spasmed around his fingers. He waited until the tremors began to subside before pulling back and lapping at her drenched flesh with throaty groans that nearly had her tumbling over the edge again.

“Fuck, I love you,” he whispered against her. “Buffy…”

If he expected a reply, she had none to give him. She could barely string two words together in her head, let alone attempt to voice the jumble of emotion she hadn’t yet named. But the moment passed and he didn’t press her. Instead, he hooked his hand under the leg on his shoulder and guided her foot back to the ground. Then he rose to his feet, yellow eyes still blazing, and claimed her mouth again.

They didn’t have time, so Buffy gave up trying to frame her thoughts into words. Instead, she seized him by the lapels of his duster and poured every confused thought into her kiss. And, god yes, she’d missed this. Missed the way he felt against her, how he threw himself into every move and stroke. How he seemed to need this like she needed air. It was intense and inconvenient and a lot of other things, but it was theirs, and she hadn’t realized how much she’d missed it until that moment.

How much she’d missed him.

But it couldn’t last forever. Not here. Too soon, Spike groaned, sucked at her still-bleeding tongue, before doing what she couldn’t and pulling back.

“I know,” he said, pressing his ridged brow against her smooth one. “You don’t have to say it.”

Good. Because she didn’t know.

“Didn’t mean to take it that far. Puttin’ on a show…” He shook his head and pulled back, his face shifting back to human. “I know. And it’s fine.”

Buffy frowned and, for the second time, tried to open her mouth and demand answers. But he pressed his fingers to her lips and shook his head.

“Later,” he said.

Then the door behind him opened, and she understood.

“The committee will see you now,” the demon announced.

Chapter Text

That had either been bloody brilliant or the stupidest thing a bloke could’ve done. Spike couldn’t keep from licking his lips, savoring the taste of her that lingered there, even if it went straight to his cock and made concentrating on the present something of a challenge.

He’d meant what he said, but fuck, a man could hope. After the play-acting that had gotten her pressed up against him, after the shine he’d seen in her eyes, maybe their days of being platonic roomies were coming to an end.

First, though, he needed to get her out of the building alive.

Spike stopped short when the snake-headed demon came to a halt. The nasty little bugger took a moment to turn and appraise Buffy from head to toe—and not that Spike could blame the guy, but if this git so much as sniffed at her, he was tearing his foul head right off. Cover or no cover. Granted, he’d gotten himself into the situation by the show he’d put on—touching the Slayer like that hadn’t been a part of the bloody plan, but fuck, Spike knew wankers like these and if seeing her in pain didn’t do it for them, seeing her in pleasure sure as hell would. Still, that was where it ended. Unless Buffy got her jollies from exhibitionism, but he somewhat doubted this was the case.

“She is an exquisite creature,” the demon intoned.

Right. Like he needed to be told.

“The best one I’ve had,” Spike agreed.

“Yet you wish to sell her. I know it’s not my place, but I’m not sure I could make the same choice if given the chance.” The demon licked its lips—or the space lips would be if he’d had any.

The primal part of Spike that he had come to accept as being tied to the claim gave a tremulous roar. Mine!

Somehow, Spike managed to push that back and shrugged a shoulder instead. “If it gets me in, I reckon I’ll earn more than my fair share of reward over time. Slayers come and go, after all. Could be fun to try and catch the next one.”

He felt Buffy stiffen and was thankful he stood between her and the slimy lackey. Though she wore her bloody emotions on her sleeve, he had to admit she’d done an admirable job thus far. But he could hear her heart hammering, felt the way it skipped when he talked about his past with slayers. He wondered if she was thinking about the first time they’d met, how he’d stepped out of the shadows, all balls and swagger, and declared with complete confidence that he’d kill her over the coming weekend. Or what had happened after—how he’d gotten close then and so many times. When she’d been a trembling little girl on Halloween or the night she’d crashed an organ on his back. Incidents and encounters that seemed like a lifetime ago, yet recent enough that he recalled the things he’d thought then. How real those threats had been—how badly he’d wanted to fight her because it was as close to fucking another woman as he’d ever gotten. How badly he’d wanted to fuck her even then, and how much that had scared him because, as far as he’d been concerned, Dru was the only woman for him. Sure, he’d gotten off on killing slayers before—with Dru. But since arriving in Sunnydale, his fantasies involving sex and the Slayer had had little to do with Dru. Well, truthfully, nothing to do with Dru. In those fantasies, it had been just him and the Slayer, fighting hard and fucking harder. It had bothered him then but he understood it now. Part of him, from that first night, had wanted Buffy. Maybe that was why it had been so easy for him to make the switch—the second he’d kissed her in that bloody school, his path had been chosen for him.

She probably didn’t think about those times the same way he did. But if the way her heart was hammering was any indication, that mind of hers had been working nonstop since they’d stepped inside. And if he could hear it then the other vamps would be able to too. If he was lucky, maybe they’d figure that she was still coming down from the orgasm they’d be able to smell on her.

But if this went the way it ought to, Buffy need not keep the act up much longer. Then they could go home and suss everything out properly. Preferably sans clothing.

“Don’t hold me to this,” the little bugger said before knocking on the door, “but Dareth has been a little less than pleased with Viktor the Butcher’s performance.”

“Oh, really?” Spike drawled as though he knew or cared who this Viktor person was.

“Viktor was instrumental in the expansion plans,” the demon continued. “The favorite to head setting up the east coast operation and become Master of New York.”

Master of New York? These wankers really thought they were tough shit. If he weren’t so keen on playing this straight, he’d laugh himself silly.

“Love New York,” he said honestly. “Killed my second slayer there. Bloody brilliant night that was.”

Again, he felt Buffy stiffen, and she didn’t relax so easily this time. Maybe because she sensed the truth in those words—most of what he’d said tonight had been all bluster, but there were certain realities he couldn’t run away from. That night had been brilliant and he couldn’t say he regretted it—something he bizarrely regretted. Because he wasn’t an idiot—he knew how much easier all of this would be if he could muster up a real human conscience. The sort that had driven Angel all screwy, only without the escape clause.

Perhaps that was what kept the Slayer at arm’s length. Hell, he knew it had to be part of it at least. The idea that he might decide he liked chasing, hunting, and killing too much to stop on anyone’s account, even hers. And he wasn’t sure what he could do or offer to make that worry go away.

“Play your cards right, and it could be yours,” the demon chum said, then wrapped his scaly knuckles on what looked like an ordinary piece of wall. Except walls typically didn’t knock back or open, but this section did. Blink and you miss it, a door appearing from nowhere.

Spike swallowed and tugged on the cuffs as the demon disappeared into a dark corridor. This was bloody it.

The hallway was a short one, and he could see almost immediately that it led to an auditorium-type room. This had to be it—there were a total of five vamps sitting in a semicircle, scowling and doing what they could to look rich and important.  And, he was surprised to see, they weren’t as old as he would have guessed. Not that he could really tell a vamp’s age from across the room, but the older lot had a different feel about them. Heavier, less to prove, so they didn’t waste much time with intimidation tactics. Their very presence was intimidation enough.

These five were all bedecked in black with a black goatees and long, stringy black hair. Like a sodding KISS tribute band without the makeup.

For the second time in less than three minutes, Spike fought the urge to laugh.

In the center of the room stood the Host, Lorne, who was gabbing a mile a minute and holding onto a very rigid Charles Gunn. Better yet, the crossbow was within easy grabbing distance at the hunter’s feet. The green fella didn’t so much as flinch or turn around when tentacle-head stomped in behind him, which was good because Lorne and Gunn being in the room at the same time had been a best-case pie-in-the-sky scenario, and Spike was feeling giddy enough to gloat. Looked like Christmas was indeed coming early this year.

The git in the middle of the Goth-rejects lineup abruptly shifted his attention to Spike, then to Buffy, and lingered there. He waited a minute before holding up a hand, signaling Lorne to stop babbling. “Marvin,” he said in a very important voice, “I take it this is the Slayer.”

“The Slayer?” Lorne flinched and whirled around, dragging Gunn with him. Gunn, who had a ball gag in his mouth and a very sour expression on his face.

This time, Spike couldn’t swallow his laughter if he tried, but the others in the room seemed to share his amusement and chuckled along with him.

Gunn’s eyes narrowed into slits.

“Seems I might be interruptin’ a party,” Spike said loudly. “This one for eats or for fun?”

“This one,” the Middle Goth said in a very important voice, “is our green friend’s way of apologizing for an unfortunate incident that occurred earlier this week. One thing you will learn if you get into this business… Spike, was it?”

Spike felt Buffy tremble just by virtue of standing so near her. Either she was getting properly nervous or found his as amusing as he did. Knowing her, the latter.

“Yeah, Spike,” he agreed. “Take it you’re the Dareth who makes everyone soil their knickers around here.”

A slow, confident smile was his answer. “That would be me. Spike, you’ll find that some of our playthings like to play the hero. This meat sack calls himself a vamp hunter. Guess he missed the memo about slayers not having dicks to swing around and thought he’d try out for the part. We sent him a message earlier this week by way of his sister and would have been happy to let sleeping dogs lie. But he seems determined to join her, and we are nothing if not accommodating.”

Spike was certain that Dareth fancied himself big and intimidating, but he just looked like a kid playing dress-up.

Lorne brought his hands up, and either he was a very good actor or he was scared pissless. “I made a mistake,” he said to the vamp-in-charge. “I know that.”

“You told the girl where to find us. You brought a hunter into our den. She nearly cost us five and a quarter that night.”

Spike perked his brows. “You lot do that well, then?”

Dareth nodded slowly, looking back to him. “Business is very good,” he agreed. “Very…very good. And it’s about to get better. Marvin tells us your girl passed the test with flying colors. Pretty ripe, too, from the smell of things. Tell me…how does she taste?”

Again, Spike felt Buffy go stiff. He wasn’t sure how long she intended to keep the act up, but this entire thing was her show. Until she gave the cue, he’d play the part.

“Decadent,” he replied. “Peaches and cream. So much so I’m starting to get second thoughts. Puss this hot and tight might be outta your price range.”

Dareth curled his lip back. The leer on his face bloody well advertised all the things he intended to do to Buffy before putting her on the market. And something in Spike clicked, his stake in what was about to happen shifting from impersonal to personal. He was going to kill this wanker, and he would enjoy every bloody second.

“I think you’ll find,” Dareth said, running his eyes up and down Buffy in a way that pretty much said he didn’t care much for those eyes, “that we can be…quite generous. Did Marvin discuss the partnership? Our operation is expanding. We could use someone of your…particular talent to acquire other high-end products for our clientele.”

Oh yeah. He was killing this guy. And if Buffy didn’t make the first move here soon, he definitely would.

She must still be waiting for something.

Then it hit him.

“Expanding,” he said. “Where all are we now?”

Dareth’s smile turned a tad smugger at the word we. Bloke was much too confident for his health.

“Today, Los Angeles. New York is next. Once we set up market there, I do believe the world will be our oyster. Now, show us how you get her to perform for you. From the smell of things, she enjoyed herself.”

Spike tightened his jaw, the reins he had on his temper snapping. And either Buffy sensed it or had arrived at the same decision, because the next instant, he heard the telltale snap of the cuffs and nearly swore his relief.

“Sorry,” Buffy said in that bright, peppy way of hers that made Spike wonder just how long he’d had a schoolgirl fetish. “I so did not sign up for a fang bang.”

It took Dareth and the others a full two seconds to realize what had happened. Those two seconds, more than anything, was what decided how the next thirty went. By the time outrage had conquered Dareth’s lust, Buffy had seized her favorite stake out from where Spike had stashed it on his belt and it was flying across the room in a bloody perfect spiral. It hit the git to Dareth’s right, who barely had time to look down in shock before he crumbled into dust.

Dareth gawked for a moment, his face a moving portrait of fury. “Marvin!” he screamed, but that was as far as he got before Spike tackled him to the ground, the back-up stake pressed against his chest.

The room descended into chaos.

*~*~*

After the vamp seated next to the head honcho went up in a cloud of dust, everyone lost their collective minds, no more so than Spike. Buffy had barely had time to whirl around before she saw him practically fly across the room in what could only be called a blind rage, having apparently taken Dareth’s leers to heart. In a blink, the two collided, tumbling over each other on the ground until Spike, leveraging his strength and experience, straddled the creep and began raining down punches on his pallid Goth face. A solid strategy, except it left his back exposed and suddenly the room was a frenzy of chaotic movement.

Buffy leap-frogged over Lorne, who was cowering near the floor and frantically handing Gunn the arrows he’d smuggled in under his shirt. Mr. Pointy lay near the pile of ash formerly known as Vamp Crony Number One, and until she got her hands on it, she felt much too vulnerable for her liking.

“Spike!” she snapped, dropping to the ground and sliding toward her stake. “Watch—”

But a pair of hands seized her by the shoulder and swung her around. Vamp Crony Number Two snarled down at her in full game face.

“Where do you think you’re off to, Slayer?”

“Dropped something of mine,” she replied, smashing her foot against his ugly nose. The vamp cried out and released her, stumbling back a few blind steps. When she whirled around again, Mr. Pointy was no longer where she’d left it—another crony had snatched it up and was barreling down on Spike at a speed she wouldn’t be able to match.

“Spike!” she screamed, her heart in her throat. And for a second, she thought this was the end. She was certain. Spike had his back was to her, his fists flying in blind fury, his lips curled over his fangs in a wild snarl.

She was thrown back to the mansion without her mind’s permission, to the second she’d thrust the sword through Angel’s chest and watched as Hell gobbled him up. And yeah, only days had passed, but right then, that moment seemed so long ago, so distant—like it had happened to another person. But here she was, and this was somehow worse. Watching as time slowed to a crawl but sped by at the same time. Watching as Spike, oblivious, made himself the perfect target for some nobody who was about to tear him out of this world.

“Spike!” she screamed again, fighting to her feet. Then an arrow whizzed by her head, close enough that it caused a tuft of hair to flutter after it, and embedded itself into the chest of the vamp at Spike’s back. And just like that, the threat went up in a shower of dust.

It seemed impossible that the worst second of her life could be so anticlimactic. That it would happen from nowhere, without an apocalypse as the backdrop, without a larger-than-life Big Bad. In a blink, Spike could have been dust. Here one second and gone the next.

She might have never gotten to tell him…

What? Tell him what?

“Slayer!” Gunn yelled, running past her. “Snap out of it!”

Buffy shook her head and refocused. He was right—this was not the time to reflect. She needed to dust these jerks, grab her vampire, and get the hell out of Dodge.

Thankfully, Spike was no longer trying to punch his way to China, starting with Dareth’s skull. The ringleader had been reduced to ash and Spike was on his feet again, swinging at someone else, apparently none the wiser that he’d almost been dust, himself. Damn, she was so going to kick his ass later.

Lorne flew by her with a loud squeal, slipping on the ground and grabbing one of the now-vacated seats for balance. The vamp on his tail snarled and made to lunge, but the Host hefted the chair into his arms and braced it as a shield. “We don’t have to do this,” he said, taking tentative steps backward and keeping the seat legs pointed at the vamp’s chest. “Let’s all...come together and give peace a chance.”

The vampire blinked. Behind him, Gunn fired another arrow bolt, and Buffy saw with growing horror more vampires fighting their way into the room. Apparently, Marvin had been successful in calling for reinforcements. Buffy swore and made a break for the stake Spike’s would-be assassin had dropped when he’d dusted. Once she had it, something in her calmed, and she jumped into the fray, moving on instinct.

Somehow, even as the air was rent with roars and snarls, she still heard Lorne’s irrational babbling.

“Imagine all the people. Uhh…Eleanor Rigby, Sergeant Pepper…even Lucy, all able to just admire some Norwegian wood in a yellow submarine.”

Gunn fired the last of his arrows, then cursed and brought the crossbow down on the head of the nearest vamp.

“I wanna hold everyone’s hand and simply say, ‘Love me do. You know I love you.’”

“Sure know how to throw a party, Slayer,” came from her back. Buffy turned in time to catch Spike wink at her. And again she acted on instinct, grabbing him by the lapels of his duster and dragging him down for a brief but fierce kiss, fangs and all.

Sure, she was going to let him have it later, but at the moment, she was just too happy he was alive.

“More where that comes from, love,” he murmured against her lips. “Glad to give it to you anytime.” The asshole winked again, then swung around and shoved his stake into the chest of the nearest attacker.

The jerk was enjoying this. He’d nearly gotten himself killed and he was enjoying this.

Buffy tightened her fist around Mr. Pointy and began swinging without mercy—kicking here, ducking there, and was soon breathing nothing but dust. While Dareth and his friends definitely won the numbers game, the cavalry was comprised of a bunch of sloppy underlings who likely had never been in a fight like this. They were clumsy and confused, which made for a lethal combination. She fell into a rhythm that was both easy and natural, like it had been choreographed and she wasn’t the only one who knew the steps. Spike was with her, laughing and jeering and taking out lackeys left and right. Even Gunn seemed to have gotten the moves down, and though he didn’t look nearly as elated, Buffy could tell he wasn’t having a bad time, either.

Not once had she considered fights like this fun. Even if they included a green demon spouting off song lyrics like it was his job. Which, yeah, was a first.

“I got a ticket to ride,” Lorne went on, only he wasn’t speaking to just one vamp anymore. In fact, he seemed to have snared the attention of each remaining member of Dareth’s backup, who were either too befuddled by what he was saying to realize their companions had dusted or all extremely determined to shut the green guy up. Maybe both. “Yesterday, life was such an easy game to play. Now we are grown and we want to be doctors and lawyers and paperback writers. But we need to stop in the name of love and twist and shout.”

“Oi!” Spike yelled from across the room, a mad grin on his face. “That doesn’t fit! You can’t’ve run outta Beatles material already, mate.”

Lorne threw him a death glare, which Gunn punctuated by thrusting an arrow he’d collected off the floor into the back of the nearest lackey. This jump-started the fight again, but by this time, it was so much shooting fish in a barrel. Those who were left made themselves easy targets. Almost took the sport out of it.

How this could be true when just minutes earlier, a stake had nearly stolen Spike’s life, Buffy didn’t know. And she didn’t want to think about it—how negligible and random the universe was, how life-changing moments could happen in the middle of a fight that was, at its core, not dissimilar from most of the other fights she’d found herself in.

“If we could do that we could all achieve our inner walrus,” Lorne was saying when Buffy seized Spike’s stake out of his hands, twirled midair, and launched it into the chest of an advancing enemy, “have diamonds in the sky and life would go on. It would be a good day sunshine.”

“Trust me,” Spike continued jovially. “No day in the sunshine’s a good one for me.”

“So simply praise the lord and let it be,” Lorne concluded as Buffy plunged her stake into the last lackey standing, and just like that, the room pitched to silence again.

For a long moment, no one said anything. Buffy kept twisting around, looking for signs of movement, but there were no hiding places left. The chairs had toppled over and the floor was covered in a layer of dust. Spike stood where she’d left him, wiping off his duster, still in game face, his lips pulled into a smirk. He seemed to vibrate with energy. If she hadn’t known better, she might have believed the concern that had shadowed him earlier had been a figment of her imagination. But Spike wasn’t beholden to those kinds of moods—he’d worried, yes, but when he was in action, he threw himself all in. And enjoyed it.

“What the hell,” Gunn said finally, panting and wiping a heaping of vamp remains off his face, “was that about?”

“I know, right?” Spike agreed, shaking the last bit of dust from his duster. “Really expected more security here. Seemed a bit too easy, didn’t it?”

“Too easy?” Buffy echoed. “You were almost one of these dust piles, Spike. Gunn saved your ass.”

Spike snorted and rolled his eyes. “Always had it handled, love. Have some bloody faith.”

Okay, now she was worried for his health again, because she might just stake the bastard herself.

Gunn shook his head. “I was talking about him.” He pointed at Lorne. “Was any of that supposed to make sense?”

“No,” Lorne said slowly, drawing the word out. “It was supposed to keep as many vampires distracted as possible. Slow them down, let the blond duo level the playing field as much as possible. You’re welcome, by the way.”

“Welcome? ‘Cause you rambled on like a lunatic for five minutes?”

Lorne spread his arms. “I’m a lover, not a fighter! I panicked!” He shuddered and shook his head, turning to Buffy. “No offense, doll, but please don’t make me a part of your plans going forward. I’ll serve the victory drinks but, line? That’s where I’m drawing it.” He panted a few breaths. “It’s drinks time now, right?”

“First we need to get all the humans out of here safely,” she replied, the rush of adrenaline finally starting to slow. “Then you can drink as much as you want.”

Lorne shook his head, slapping a hand over his chest. “I think I’ll just…wait here. You guys go on.”

Spike snorted and, when Buffy turned to glare at him, just waggled his eyebrows and gestured for the door. “After you, Slayer.”

Yeah. Once they were alone, she would let him have it.

Chapter Text

Spike was in such a jubilant mood that Buffy almost hated to wreck it for him. Almost. Every time she felt her conviction waver, she’d close her eyes and imagine his exposed back and the stake that had almost been buried there. How just a second here or there had spared her from watching another man she cared about die.

He stopped when they were almost to their building, whirled around and rocked excitedly on his heels. “Fancy a run through the cemetery? Still got some energy to burn.”

Buffy shook her head. “We need to talk. Keep walking.”

He sighed, his shoulders dropping. “Sounds more like you need to yell. What’s got your knickers all twisted, Slayer? We fought the good fight and won. Best case scenario, that. Charlie got to do in the dolts who killed kid sis, and I lost count of how many little humans you sent home to their own beddy-bys tonight.”

“Not here,” Buffy said, taking him by the elbow and steering him home.

Spike didn’t say anything else on the walk, though his mood change couldn’t have been more apparent. Gone were the wicked smirks and self-indulgent chuckles. No, he’d swung the pendulum so hard he’d landed on sulky teenager, which both amused and annoyed her because that was so her role.

Once they were safely on the other side of the door, Spike sighed and turned to face her, stretching his arms wide. “Let me have it, then. But before you get started, you oughta know that you were givin’ pretty good yourself, love.”

What the hell did that mean?

“Huh?” she asked before she could stop herself.

“That tussle in front of the tentacled-bloke, and don’t play bloody coy. You were bein’ downright naughty.”

Buffy blinked, her temples beginning to pound. “Wait—you’re talking about the audition room?”

“You’re not?” Some of the fight in him vanished. “I knew I took it too far in there. But I also know the kind of show wankers like that want to see.”

This was so not what she’d intended to yell at him over, but now that they were on the subject, she decided to go with it. “So getting me to spread my legs when he hadn’t said a word about that had nothing to do with the fact that you were horny.”

“Wouldn’t throw stones, love. You nearly melted my skin off when I touched you. Could smell it all over you and he could too. I guarantee it.”

“Because you—” Buffy stopped, gathering control of herself, and shook her head. That was a road they didn’t need to go down. Not right now, and particularly not when even talking about it had parts of her shaking for reasons completely unrelated to anger. “You know what? No. I’m not fighting with you about this, even though, yes. Skeezy.”

“That I made you come or that you enjoyed it?”

“That you nearly died tonight, Spike!”

That seemed to take the wind out of his sails. Spike, who had been open-mouthed, ready to fire back at her, blinked and somewhat deflated. “I what now?”

“You. Nearly. Died.”

“Did not.”

“You went all Cave Spike on Dareth and even after he was very much dead, you were punching him like a maniac.”

“So you’re saying I was hitting his dust, then? Think I woulda remembered that.”

“You had him. You had him and that wasn’t enough for you.”

Spike stared at her, started to say something, stopped, and shook his head. “Fine. Fine. I got a mite carried away. Couldn’t stand the way the wanker was eyeballing you. But I hardly think—”

“He was eyeballing me because you made me reek of sex before we got in there. And that’s not even the point!” Buffy took a deep breath, willing herself to calm. “The point is, while you were losing your mind on Dareth, one of the other vamps got Mr. Pointy and almost made you very dusty.”

“Pretty sure I would have noticed that.”

“Gunn saved your ass. You’re here because he knows how to wield a crossbow.”

Spike frowned and shrugged. “What’s it matter, then? It all worked out, didn’t it?”

If she got any angrier, she might just explode. “It all worked out? So…just ignore that, were it for a guy who could have just as easily decided that letting you stake would’ve been a clean way to get one more vamp off this world forever. Because it all worked out.”

“Not really sure what you want me to say.”

“I want you to say you’ll be more careful! I want you to say things like that won’t happen again! And I want you to mean it.” Buffy shook her head, clenching her fists tight, not certain she could keep from hitting the big idiot otherwise. “I almost lost you tonight. And…and…”

Spike arched an eyebrow, though his expression had softened a bit. “And what, love?”

Buffy stared at him, breathing hard, her mind racing a thousand miles a second. “And I’m done,” she said.

Then launched herself at him.

Spike stumbled back when she hit his chest, his arms going around her on what had to be instinct. She didn’t give him time to react, or herself time to think, before seizing his face and bringing him down to pour her fear and fury and desperation into a kiss that lit her from the inside out. The second his lips were on hers, the screaming in her head stopped, as did the pounding in her veins, the terror that had kept her moving since she’d realized how close she’d come to losing him tonight. Everything else in the world faded except for him.

Spike was stock still for half a second before melting into her, moaning into her mouth and pulling her flush against him. And yes, she needed this. She’d missed it—missed the way he kissed with his whole damn body, missed how he seemed to need her like she needed air, missed the soft growls that scratched at his throat. How he came alive in ways no vampire should.

Breathing became an issue, but she didn’t want to pull away. She wanted to crawl inside him and stay there forever. Still, her lungs eventually overpowered her brain, and she wrenched her lips back with a hard gasp.

Spike panted against her, and she’d missed that too. How he breathed.

“Slayer,” he murmured, nudging her brow with his. “Almost afraid to ask…”

“I’m done.”

Spike nodded, pulling back just enough to catch her eyes. The need, the hope she saw there made her tremble. “Said as much. What’s it you’re done with?”

“Waiting.” Buffy fisted the material of his duster before shoving it off his shoulders. “I’m done waiting. I want you.”

“God yes.”

Then he was kissing her again, hot and hard as he tugged on the scrap of fabric that had functioned as a top tonight. Buffy raised her arms and allowed him to pull it over her head. The second the air hit her skin, Spike’s mouth was there, peppering a line of kisses down her throat and over her collarbone. When he reached her bra, he growled, fisted the knot where the cups met and tore the garment off of her.

“That,” Buffy said, throwing back her head as Spike wrapped his lips around one of her nipples, “seemed…drastic.”

“You remember when you flashed your tits at me the other day?” Spike asked, kissing his way to her other breast. “Have any idea how hard it was to just pretend like it was nothing?”

Buffy giggled, but the sound became a whimper when he tugged on her nipple with his teeth. “Ahh…are you talking about when I changed in front of you?” she asked, torn between amused and exasperated. “Thought you’d…have more control over yourself than that.”

“Oh, I did.” Spike dragged his mouth back up her chest, over her throat, and captured her in another desperate kiss. “Loads of restraint. How else do you figure you got out the sodding door? Point is…” He dropped his hands to her skirt and began to tug. “I’m a starvin’ man and you just gave me permission to devour.”

“Don’t break the skirt! It’s not mine.”

An impatient growl tickled the air and he immediately began searching for the zipper. “Might see if you can keep this,” he murmured, dropping to his knees to drag the material down her legs. “Reminds me of those dainty skirts you wore when I first saw you.”

She snorted. “You say that like it was forever ago.”

He looked up then, arching his scarred eyebrow. “It was for me. For all that’s changed.”

Buffy held his gaze and released a trembling breath. Her body was buzzing and her emotions were going haywire, but she knew what he was doing. Telling her again that he loved her—that the vampire he’d been that night at the Bronze and the vampire currently on his knees before her were so far removed they wouldn’t recognize each other. And yeah, that was heady, particularly since all she’d managed to work out for herself was…

Oh no.

She stood suspended between two worlds, one foot in Sunnydale and one right here with Spike. Sunnydale wasn’t so far back that she couldn’t see it in her rearview mirror, but she felt ages older than the girl she’d been when Spike had ushered her into his car and taken off. Even the night he’d claimed her out of anger and jealousy—then, she’d felt broken. Shattered. And not just because of Angel, though he’d been a big part of it. The weight of everything she’d shouldered up until that point had come crashing down on her. The reasons she’d left had been good ones but strange as it was, that headspace seemed inaccessible now.

Because that girl had been broken. This girl was not.

This girl was in love with Spike.

She barely registered the sensation of the skirt sliding down her legs until Spike lifted each foot in turn to divest her of her shoes. He dropped a kiss on her ankle before situating her foot back on the ground, then raked his eyes up her body in a way that almost felt like a caress in itself.

“Second thoughts?” he asked, his voice rough.

Buffy shook her head, her throat tight. “I’m done,” she said for the third time. Hoping he’d understand what it meant and terrified that he would at the same time.

“Not nearly.”

The next thing she knew, Spike was on his feet again and she was flush against his chest, and yes, he was kissing her. Hard and fierce and hot enough to melt her skin right off her bones. He plundered her mouth with his tongue, licking and caressing and consuming, and it was all so good. She barely registered the little whimpers tickling her throat, the call of something deeper and primal stirring from a place she’d tried to keep locked away. It was too much and not enough—she needed more.

She needed…

“Spike,” she whimpered against his lips when he broke away again. “Please.”

Spike studied her for a moment, yellow flickering beneath the blue. “Dunno what you want, Slayer…but if it’s sweet and tender, not sure I’m your bloke tonight. Between wanting you so bloody badly and that brawl, feelin’ more animal than man.”

“Just be you.”

He moaned and crushed her to him again, and this time she felt it. Spike unleashed. She hadn’t even considered that he might have been holding back before, but he had to have been because the way he kissed her almost stung. It took a moment and a split lip for her to realize he’d vamped out, but hell if that didn’t make her hotter. Both the sensation of his fangs against her skin and the knowledge that, monster though he was, he was entirely hers.

Spike cupped her ass and pulled her against his cock, which she realized was still behind the zipper of his fly. He’d gotten her naked, except for her panties, and he was still mostly dressed.

That was twelve kinds of unfair.

“Wrap your legs around me,” he growled into her mouth.

She’d worry about fair later. Buffy locked her arms behind his neck and did as he said, letting out a small cry when the wet flesh of her sex connected with the rough denim of his jeans. She threw her head back and pressed herself harder against him, feeling his answering growl in the biting kisses he left upon her throat as the world shifted around them.

The next instant, though, her feet were back on the floor. The scenery had changed, but not much. He’d taken her as far as the couch before stopping.

“Clothes,” Buffy said, tugging at his shirt.

“Later.” Spike whirled her around, then dragged a hand down her spine. “Grab the back of the sofa and show me that pretty little arse of yours.”

Her heart did a funny flip but she obeyed, feeling a mixture of turned on beyond belief and on display as she thrust back her hips.

“Spread your legs.”

Damn, his voice alone might do the job before he had the chance. “Spike, touch me. Please.”

She thought he might tease her—he didn’t. The next second, his hand was between her legs, fingers running between her soaked folds. And when he spoke, his voice was right at her ear. “Fuck, Slayer. You’re drenched.”

“I need—”

“I know what you need.”

Spike pulled his hand back and she would have whimpered in protest had she not heard him tearing at his belt. But it was the sound of the zipper lowering that had her knees suddenly shaking, her heart ratcheting up its hard thumps. And then he was there again, rubbing up and down her slit, first with his fingers and then with the head of his cock. He nudged her clit once, twice, and just when she was about scream at him, he plunged inside her.

“Fuck yes,” he whispered against her neck. His hands found her hips and gripped hard enough to hurt.

The first time they’d had sex had been rough and angry, but there had been some time between then and when she’d left the motel where he’d been soft, even sweet. Worried that he’d been too hard on her, left her bruised. And part of her, a very small part but a real part nonetheless, had wondered if she could expect the near fury of their first time again, or if it had been circumstance. If perhaps Spike worried that the way he’d fucked her that night had been some of the motivation behind her decision to leave, and would therefore treat her with kiddie gloves if they were ever together like that again. And she’d kept wondering it, even after he’d vamped on her a few minutes earlier, even after he’d told her he wouldn’t be gentle.

He hadn’t been lying or holding back. He pulled back, then slammed his cock inside her again, and began to pound. Hard, fast, and desperate, his fingers digging into her hips, his balls slapping against her flesh, a growl erupting through his throat every time he thrust back inside her. Something clawed at her throat and hit the air in a pitch she hadn’t known she could hit. Buffy bucked back against him, needing more, demanding more, but not sure she could handle it all the same. She gripped the back of the couch so tight she felt the material begin to give under her hands, but she didn’t care.

“Fuck, Slayer, fuck,” Spike babbled into her ear. “Feel so good. So fucking good. Missed this. Missed your juicy cunt. Missed the sounds you make, the way you feel. You feel me, love? Feel how hard you make me?”

One of the hands on her hips moved before she could reply, and then she felt him between her legs, teasing her where they were joined.

“Oh god!”

“Just you. Buffy. My Buffy. Squeezing me like that.”

She hadn’t even realized she was squeezing him until then—it seemed natural. Every time he pushed inside, some part of her contracted, desperate and needy. Trying to clamp around him so he’d stay but also needing him to move so badly she might combust if he didn’t.

“Spike—”

“Tell me you missed me. Missed this.” He dragged his hand up her slippery flesh until he had her clit under the pad of his finger. “Tell me you’ve been craving my cock.”

“Yes, yes,” she panted, nodding. Though, to be fair, she was pretty sure she would have agreed to pretty much anything at that moment.

“Wanna hear you say it.” He pressed down on her clit, pounding into her so hard the couch had started edging along the floor. “Tell me.”

What had he wanted to know again? Buffy’s mind was a fog of sensation alone—the feel of him pushing in and out of her, the hard smacks of their bodies colliding, the sparks that shot from her center every time he pressed down on her clit. She was chasing something and it kept slipping away from her, but damn, the pursuit was so sweet she almost didn’t mind. Almost.

“Say it!”

Oh yeah. She remembered.

“Missed you. Missed this,” Buffy cried, barely recognizing her own voice.

“And my cock? Missed that, did you?”

“Yes. Missed your cock.”

It was only by virtue that he was fucking her shyness right out of her that she managed to say that without succumbing to embarrassment.

Spike moaned and buried his face in the crook of her neck, pressing his vampiric ridges into her sweaty skin.

“Fuck, Buffy. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.”

The rasp of his voice around his fangs was what did it. Another thrill, hot and pure, rocketed through her body, and she knew what she needed. “Missed your…fangs.”

He moaned again, the sound raw and guttural, almost as though he were in pain. But then he was there, piercing her throat and rumbling against her flesh, and it was over. Buffy released a sound she was sure she’d never made before, her pussy clenching around his cock as the fire inside her coalesced and exploded. Spike growled into her throat, slamming his hips against her before she felt him tense and spill inside her. He kept moving long after the last waves had begun to recede, the strokes almost desperate, before he collapsed against her back. His cool body pressed to her burning one and drew his fangs from her throat.

For a long moment, Buffy remained in limbo, gulping air and waiting for the feeling to return to her legs. Spike was shaking against her, his arm wrapped around her middle, holding her to him, and she felt the desperation there, too. Felt his mind spinning, the questions he wanted to ask but didn’t out of fear of their answers. As though if he held her tight enough, they could stay as they were forever.

Buffy released a low breath, searching for something to say. Something like, “I love you,” because if that hadn’t been clear before he’d screwed her brains out, it was definitely clear now.

But god, did those words ever terrify her. The last time she’d said them to someone, they’d been thrown back in her face. Angel, freshly soulless and relishing her pain, laughing his way out of his apartment as tears streamed down her cheeks and her heart shattered.

This was the part she wasn’t good at—the feelings part. Or sex of any kind that didn’t involve some level of hurt. What she’d shared with Angel on her birthday had been, she’d thought, beautiful, but forever tarnished in what had come after. And the night after Acathla awakened, the night she’d thrown herself at Spike—that had been pain too. Pain and hurt and loss and grief and confusion and a bunch of other things, and all she’d wanted to do was turn those feelings off.

For the first time, she’d experienced sex without pain. And call her a coward, but she didn’t want to risk it. So she didn’t say the words. Scary enough that she felt them, especially with so much of her life still being pieced back together.

“Slayer,” Spike murmured at last, tightening his hold around her middle. “Please tell me you don’t regret this. Or if you’re gonna, just let me enjoy this a mo’ longer.”

“Spike—”

“Just a moment.”

“Spike, I don’t regret it.” Those words, at least, were easy. “I wanted you, too. I meant it when I said I was done.”

He didn’t reply at first but pulled back so his cock, which had begun to harden again, slipped out of her. Then he turned her around and took her mouth in a soft kiss, tentative and gentle in all the ways he hadn’t been just a few minutes ago.

“What does done mean?” he asked, tugging on a tendril of her hair. The hope, the need in his voice had her pressing her thighs together. Had her sliding harder into love. “Done just tonight?”

Relief burned her chest. These words were easy too. “No. Not just tonight. I’m done…not being with you. Or not…doing this.”

The corner of his mouth kicked up. “This?”

“Being with you…like this.” Well, that sounded nice and lame. “I don’t want to be platonic roomies anymore.”

“Was never platonic on my end, pet.”

“I know.”

“This all because you got brassed at me tonight?”

“Because you almost died and that can happen any time.”

Spike arched an eyebrow. “Gotten pretty good at survivin’. Whatever you thought almost happened tonight was a one-off.”

“Are you seriously trying to talk me out of having more hot monkey sex, because that was a plot twist I didn’t see coming.”

His gaze darkened and he took a step forward, bracing his arms on either side of her on the couch, caging her in. “Just tryin’ to make sure I follow the new rules,” he said before nipping at her mouth. “’Cause I want you all the sodding time. Being close to you, not touching you… It’s been bloody torture. And I’m a bloke who knows a thing or two about torture. You tell me you’re done… Does that mean you’re ready to be with me? Really be with me? Be sure, Buffy. Not sure I can stand it if we do this and you take it away again.”

The answer was immediate and solid. Buffy answered him with a kiss, wrapping her arms around his neck and pressing herself flush against his chest. “I’m all in. Completely, one-hundred-percent in.”

Spike was grinning now, sliding his hands down her back to cup her ass. “So if I wanted to take you back to that room and make it so you can’t walk straight tomorrow…”

“I’d say you’d have a challenge on your hands because, well, slayer.”

That was a total bluff and she knew he knew it. Her legs had yet to stop shaking and she was pretty sure, if he weren’t standing so close, she’d have melted into a puddle of slayer goo. Because while she was the Slayer, he had vamp strength plus years of experience on his side, and the last time he’d had her in bed, he’d made it hurt in all the right ways.

The fact that his grin turned into a smirk confirmed that he knew her mouth had just written a check her body couldn’t cash but would have a hell of a time trying.

“Never been known to back down from a challenge.”

Before she could blink, Spike had scooped her into his arms and was moving in thunderous strides toward the bedroom. They were barely over the threshold when he tossed her onto the mattress so he could rip off his shirt. Buffy regained her equilibrium just in time to appreciate the sight of Spike sliding his jeans down his legs. He’d wanted her so badly he hadn’t even taken the time to undress earlier—for whatever reason, that thought had the parts of her that had been happily satiated just a second ago roaring back to life. Fresh longing had her pressing her thighs together, needing friction.

He knew, of course, smug bastard that he was. “Don’t you worry, love,” he said before dragging his tongue across his teeth. “Daddy’s gonna take care of it.”

Then he dropped to his knees at the foot of the bed, grabbed her by the hips, and jerked her down until her ass was hanging off the side.

“Spike!”

“Mhmm,” he replied as he took one of her legs and positioned it over her shoulder. “As much fun as it was, I didn’t get to really enjoy this earlier. Gonna do it proper now. Take my time.” Spike draped her other leg over his other shoulder and buried his face in her sex. “Then I’m gonna fuck your pretty little brains out.”

Buffy trembled, and his grin turned lascivious.

“And after that, Slayer?” He rubbed a finger up and down her slit. “After that, I’m gonna do it all over again.”

She liked to think she would have replied, said something sultry if he hadn’t sucked her clit between his lips.

As it was, the second his mouth was on her, the noise in her head dissolved into pure white bliss.

* * * * *

If it hadn’t been for the pounding on the door, Buffy could have slept until next week. Lord knew she had no motivation to move. When it became clear the sound wasn’t just in her head, she managed to convince one of her eyes to peek open and was instantly treated to the view of a shirtless Spike, who looked dead to the world in every sense of the phrase. This sight joined forces with the tenderness between her legs, and everything from the previous twenty-four hours came roaring back.

The club. The audition room. Spike nearly dusting. Coming home. Arguing. Then…

Buffy flushed hot and rolled over, more muscles announcing themselves at the movement. Yeah, he’d made good on his promise, and she felt it all over. A delicious kind of hurt that a girl could fast grow addicted to.

At the thought, an explosion of giddiness jolted her from drowsy to wide awake.

A morning after. A real morning after. That’s what she had to look forward to—Spike waking up later, giving her one of those lazy smiles, saying something to make her melt and then pulling her under him. Or on top of him. Or perhaps telling her to get on all fours or straddle his face or—

The knocks came again, harsher this time. Either there was an incredibly persistent salesperson desperate to make a quota or someone was here to share news of another emergency. Buffy stifled a groan and forced her legs over the side of the bed, except her legs didn’t want to work for the first few steps. She plucked Spike’s discarded T-shirt off the floor, hoping that’d be enough because she didn’t trust herself to try and negotiate her way into pants at the moment.

More knocking, this time accompanied by a voice.

“Buffy! Are you okay?”

Oh good. It was Fred. No need for modesty. Well, not much, anyway.

Buffy cracked the door open and flashed her friend a tired smile. “Hey. Sorry we didn’t check in last night. Things…umm…got intense.”

Fred arched an eyebrow, pointedly looking down to where bare-Buffy leg was clearly visible. “Yeah. Word of caution unless you’re into that sort of thing—these walls? Paper-thin.”

“Oh.” She tried for apologetic but figured her grin was too giddy to fool anyone. “Well…things went well. Better than we…” The sad, anxious look on Fred’s face had the party in Buffy’s head coming to a screeching halt. “What is it?”

Fred released a deep breath. “Is Spike…?”

“Asleep. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. I just…did the reading. From the pages you gave me. And…I think you need to hear this.”

There it was. The other shoe—the thing that inevitably dropped after she’d landed somewhere safe. Her giddiness vanished without warning, launching her back into the real world. The one where Buffy didn’t get loving morning afters. Buffy didn’t get breaks. Buffy didn’t get this.

“It’s bad?” she asked, then realized she didn’t want to have this conversation here. “Wait. Let me put on pants and I’ll come to you.”

“It’s not bad,” Fred said, though her expression didn’t change. “I just…don’t know if it’s good.”

Five minutes later, Buffy was in Fred’s apartment, grimacing into the coffee Fred had brewed—she’d accepted to be polite—and trying not to spiral into a tangle of anxiety. It was so far from where she’d been just ten minutes ago that she wasn’t sure she hadn’t dreamed that happy place. But god, it had felt real. If only for a moment.

“Okay, so, here’s the deal,” Fred said, spreading the pages across the kitchen table. “Vampire claiming happened a lot back in the day but not anymore. There were dedicated families—kinda like Romeo and Juliet? Several names were mentioned a lot—Augustus, Vespasian, Pius, Aurelius, Trejan, Anthony. Really a who’s who of Roman families, and I think that’s because the book you took this from was written in Rome. I mean, best guess. All the names were very Roman Empire-y so there’s a good chance that if you looked at the text from any other region, you’d find other family names and histories and—”

“Fred?”

“I know I’m rambling,” she said without missing a beat. “Sorry. So these families—or clans, or whatever you want to call them—were vying for power, particularly in who got to control Rome. The Aurelius family reached out to a coven of witches, who agreed to provide blood magic in exchange for their protection if they won the Roman territory. The Aurelians decided the best way to claim territory was to absorb the other families, by force if necessary. That would keep them from going to war, something they knew they couldn’t survive because the other clans would turn on them. They essentially claimed other vampires as Aurelians, which would more or less make them Aurelian. There’s really no way to know if Spike is Aurelian, but odds are—”

“He is,” Buffy said, her thoughts racing. Angel had gone over his lineage one night almost a year ago after she’d returned from Los Angeles and crushed the Master’s bones to dust. If Angel had been Aurelian, then Spike had to be too. “So it was about…territory. Not mating after all.”

Though that wasn’t the most pleasant thought, she found herself relaxing all the same. Spike had said otherwise, of course, when they had talked about it, but he’d also admitted his knowledge on the subject was fairly limited. He’d once wanted to claim Drusilla and she’d refused him. Perhaps this was why—perhaps Dru, crazy as she was, had known what it meant better than he did. That it had nothing to do with love or devotion after all.

Buffy could almost convince herself of this, except for the look on Fred’s face.

“Well,” Fred said a moment later, “the other clans grew wise and…kinda turned it into that. Mates, rather than territory. They waged war on the Aurelians and the witches until the coven decided to curse the Aurelian line in retaliation for not keeping their end of the bargain. Instead of just claiming vampires into the clan… Well, it essentially tied that vampire to the vampire they’d claimed. Unable to do it to anyone else and completely dedicated to the one they’d done it to. Pain if they wandered too far away. And if they tried to kill the vampire they’d claimed to get out of it, they’d die too. It was kinda the perfect revenge.”

The sick feeling was back, and this time it took no prisoners.

Completely dedicated. Dedicated like the primal urge that had taken Spike back at the club—had made him blind and deaf to anything beyond the minuscule threat presented by a wannabe undead crime boss. Dedicated like slipping her a bunch of cash and not walking away when she’d given him an out, coming after her—the Slayer. Saying, even believing, that he loved her when it should be impossible.

Buffy closed her eyes, which had started to burn. “So…it’s a spell. Whatever Spike feels for me, it’s because he claimed me?”

“I don’t know,” Fred said. “The text didn’t go into that—if the claim could make you feel things. But I guess it’s possible. It’s definitely…not something that happens often. And I’m not even sure if it’s only for Aurelian vampires or if any vampire can do it. I’d need to read more of the book to be sure.” A pause. “There’s more.”

Of course.

“Once the Aurelians discovered they’d been betrayed, they abducted two of the witches—a mother and daughter. They tortured the daughter until the mother agreed to help, to give them a way to prevent members of their family from going mad by claiming the wrong person. The magic couldn’t be completely undone—blood magic is apparently too powerful—but with more blood magic, the effects could be…reversed.”

Buffy’s heart had stopped thumping, trapped as it was in her throat. “Fred…”

“So there’s a way to get out of the claim,” Fred said, glancing at the ripped pages. “And…I think I can do it.”

Chapter Text

“I’d like to be…under the sea…in an octopus’s garden in the shade.” Fred winced and, for the third time since Lorne had ushered her onto the stage, shot Buffy a look that could only mean please kill me“He’d let us in. Knows where we’ve been…in an octopus’s garden…in the shade.”

The accompanying music kicked in with the telltale drumroll, which had Fred about jumping out of her skin. She swore loudly into the mic, flashed a pained smile, and stumbled to keep up with the lyrics scrawling across the screen.

“I’d ask my friends to come and see…an octopus’s garden with me. Ba dum dum dum. I’d like to be…under the sea…in an octopus’s garden in the shade.”

Lorne, who was seated to Buffy’s right—Spike to her left, his arm around her shoulders—let out a long wolf whistle and clapped enthusiastically. “You’re killin’ it, doll! Just killin’ it!” Lorne’s bright, exuberant smile remained in place until he turned his face from the stage, and it fell into a grimace. “And by it, I mean my ears. This, kids, might just be the day the music died.”

While Buffy’s bleeding ears couldn’t help but agree with him, she was loyal enough to Fred to shoot Lorne her patented if-looks-could-stake glare before smacking his shoulder. “You’re the bully who made her go up there.”

“Owie!” Lorne pouted and rubbed the place where she’d hit him. “Girlie, how many times do I have to tell you to remember you have super strength? One more of those and you’ll have volunteered yourself as my mic holder for opening night.”

“Don’t make fun of her again or I’ll really make it hurt.”

At that, Spike chuckled, dragging his fingers lightly up and down the exposed skin of her upper arm. She squirmed and turned to glare at him. It wasn’t much of a glare, more a silent admonition to behave himself in public—an admonition he was more likely to ignore than respect if his answering smirk was anything to judge by.

Since the night they’d liberated the prisoners of Dusk a few weeks back—the night that Buffy had come close enough to losing Spike to realize what he meant to her—they’d, well, the term like bunnies came to mind. It was like Spike had some bet with himself as to how quickly he could get her naked and screaming once they were alone. Or, as had been the case a night last week, in a place secluded enough so as not to attract attention.

The answer to both questions was within seconds.

“Got a lotta lost time to make up for, pet,” he’d whispered against her skin sometime during the third week, barely ten seconds after Fred had bid them adieu for the evening. “Went too bloody long not bein’ inside your cunt. Hell, you’re lucky I let you stop for nosh.”

Buffy had wanted to argue that, in actuality, it hadn’t been all that long since that night at the motel that had changed the trajectory of her life, but then his lips had been around her clit and she’d decided he had a point.

The past few weeks with Spike had been just short of blissful, so much so that it seemed stupid that she’d hesitated at all when he’d plowed back into her life. The drive to be with him was a constant that hadn’t changed.

And if she tried really hard, she could forget the finer points of the truth bomb Fred had dropped on her the morning after the raid on Dusk.

Forget that the claim, which seemed to grow stronger with every touch, might be responsible for the way Spike felt about her.

Except she couldn’t forget about it. It crowded every dark corner of her head, the thing that kept all the moments she’d shared with him from being well and truly blissful. Because if the claim was responsible for the way Spike felt about her, then there was no way she could keep him.

Part of her hoped she never found out either way. That she never had to take Fred up on the offer to undo it. After everything that had happened with Angel… Well, the thought alone of losing Spike was too large and terrible to entertain.

 “We would be warm…below the storm…in our little hideaway beneath the waves,” Fred went on, her wince deepening. “Resting our head…on the sea bed…in an octopus' garden near a cave.”

The worst was, there was no happy medium. She couldn’t just undo the claim and see if that answered the question of whether or not he genuinely loved her. The ritual would boot Spike out of her life for good. As in, they wouldn’t be able to stay in the same room, speak, touch, or even look at each other ever again. That was the way blood magic worked, according to Fred’s research. There was no way for things to simply go back to status quo—the bond itself was too strong and required too much mystical firepower to untangle.

Buffy’s heart performed a somersault, as it often did when her thoughts led her down this path. She knew Spike felt it, some of what was going through her head. When he wasn’t tugging her into dark corners or testing the resilience of their bedsprings at home, he’d ask if everything was all right. She’d smile and say yes, knowing he didn’t believe her.

 “We would sing and dance around. Because we know we can't be found. I'd like to be…under the sea…in an octopus' garden in the shade.”

Her immediate instinct had been to shrug off everything Fred had uncovered and return to life as she knew it. Pretend she’d never seen those pages and live with the new understanding that she was indeed in love with another vampire. She knew what Spike would say, after all, if she told him he’d been wrong, that there was a way to undo what he’d done that night. She could almost see the hurt in his eyes, how his face would contort with pain, and how he’d beg her not to do it. To not even consider it, even if he was under the influence of a spell he’d unwittingly put himself under. He wouldn’t care.

But if it was the claim that made him not care, then his feelings on the matter couldn’t be trusted.

“We would shout…and swim about…the coral that lies beneath the waves,” Fred went on. “Oh what joy…for every girl and boy…knowing they're happy and they're safe…”

Spike turned and grinned at her as the music began to wind down. “You’re goin’ up next, right, pet?”

“We would be so happy you and me. No one there to tell us what to do. I'd like to be…under the sea…in an octopus's garden with you. In an octopus’s garden with you.”

Buffy’s chest constricted and she forced a smile of her own. “A world of no.”

“Come on. We promised the sod to be his test dummies.”

“And you wanted to know your fortune, honey-britches,” Lorne said, tossing her a look. “Come on. I bet the Slayer has a killer set of pipes.”

“Yeah, after listening to you tease poor Fred, I think I’ll pass.”

“Buff muffin,” Lorne said, twisting to face her. “Trust me when I tell you that you want to sing for me.” He gestured at her, then started picking at the air around her head as though chasing stray hairs. “Your aura’s been all over the place the last few times I’ve seen you. Get your cutie little booty up there.”

Buffy inhaled and flicked her gaze to Spike. “My aura’s all over the place?”

“Not the vamp to ask, m’afraid,” he replied, shrugging. “Got something on your mind, Slayer? Besides what we talked about?”

Oh, right. There was that other thing. Like her life wasn’t heavy enough.

“No,” she said a bit too quickly. Spike’s eyes narrowed, concern leaking in.

“Follow me, honey,” Lorne said, scooting his way out of the booth. “Think I got the perfect song for you. And I promise, you’ll feel better. There will be an answer if you let it be.”

Spike snickered. “When do you figure you’ll be off this Beatles kick? Feels like the bleeding sixties all over again.”

He wasn’t wrong. Ever since Lorne’s impromptu speech at Dusk, the green demon seemed to be obsessed with the legends from Liverpool.

“And don’t think I’m not jealous that you got to be there while they were changing the world,” Lorne said to Spike, placing a hand at the small of Buffy’s back. “You still haven’t told me about the time you had dinner with John and Yoko.”

Buffy blinked and threw her vampire a surprised look. “You did what now?”

Spike shrugged, though his grin betrayed just how much he was enjoying himself. “Spent a good part of the seventies in good ole New York. A fella gets around.”

“But…you met John Lenn—

“Buffalicious,” Lorne said, “I promise I won’t keep you from this story, but time is money. Opening night’s in a few days and I need to make sure the system works.”

Buffy whimpered as the Host pushed her to the stage. She didn’t even like the way her voice sounded when she sang in the shower—something that had only solidified the day Spike had sneaked in to see what was dying in the bathroom. His words.

When she’d told him she had a Madonna song stuck in her head, he’d laughed so hard he would have passed out had he been human.

Also, she was terrified of what Lorne would see when she sang. That he’d confirm the darkest of the thoughts she’d entertained regarding the claim. That he’d tell her the only moral thing to do would be to give Spike up and to do it now—now while she had a chance of recovering.

“It’s not natural, Buffarino,” he’d say. “A vampire hanging up his fangs to cozy up with the Slayer? Tell me you didn’t think that was weird. That something a little more mystical and a little less Harlequin was going through that platinum brain of his?”

But this thing between us started before the claim, she told herselfIt was an easy go-to when she felt overwhelmed, when her spiraling thoughts threaten to drown her. It started the night the ghosts took over the high school. It started and it didn’t stop.

“There’s a mighty fine line between lust and love, sugarbritches,” Lorne would reply, a sad smile on his face. “That primal feeling inside you is inside him too. You feel his demon and he feels your heart—and romantic as it is, it ain’t real.”

“Shut up,” Buffy muttered, causing the real Lorne to start and favor her with a frown.

“Something wrong, blossom?”

“No.” She plastered on a smile. “Just…telling my inner critic to shut up. You know. Before I make with the singing.”

Lorne looked like he didn’t believe her. The next instant, he took a step toward her and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Slayer mine, everything will be okay. You know that hunka burnin’ vamp thinks you’re his world, right?”

Buffy’s throat tightened and tears stung her eyes, but she managed a nod all the same. “Yeah.”

“We’ll get this all figured out once I get a good look at your noggin’.” He lightly rapped his knuckles against her brow. “Now…let’s get you all set up.”

* * * * *

Spike tried not to look too bloody eager when the Host made his way back to the booth, but fuck it, his nerves were shot to pieces and he had no sodding idea why.

Except that wasn’t entirely true—he knew Buffy was the cause. When wasn’t she?

He’d lived every sodding second since the night she’d told him she was done waiting for her to backtrack, change her mind. Tell him she was barmy for rushing in and that she still had more thinking to do. Instead, the past few weeks, she’d all but jumped his bones every time they were alone. Well, he’d done his fair share of bone-jumping, unable to get enough of her as he was. And love it though he did, something seemed off.

She seemed off. Or maybe that was his head. Maybe he just wasn’t used to actually having everything he wanted. Seemed about right, given how quickly things had turned around for him.

The one time he’d asked, the Slayer had fed him some line about realizing how far into the summer they were.

“School supplies were out at the store,” she’d said, stocking the fridge full of blood and a few of those microwave dinners. He’d told her she needn’t waste any dosh on that rot, but she’d been adamant that eating out wasn’t much of a long-term plan. She didn’t know how to cook for rubbish and neither did he, though he fancied the idea of learning. Dru had never been much for human food so there’d been little reason to know his way around a kitchen. But he found he wanted to prepare meals for Buffy—give her what she needed, since she was so bloody good about doing the same for him.

“School supplies?” he’d repeated, not getting it.

“Yeah. It won’t be long before school starts.” She’d pressed her lips together, considering the contents of their fridge. “And I’m here.”

The sadness in her voice had nearly done him in. “We can head back anytime, Slayer. Just say the word and Sunnyhell awaits.”

There had been nothing for a moment. She’d just stood there, awash in cool air, her eyes a thousand miles away.

Eventually, though, she’d swallowed and closed the door, stepped back and wrapped her arms around herself.

“Too much has changed,” she’d said. “Plus I’m still wanted for questioning in Kendra’s death, my mom kicked me out of the house, and I’m pretty sure being of the claimed with a vampire who used to kill slayers for fun would secure my place as the worst slayer in history, and that’s one Giles lecture I don’t need.” She’d released a breath, trembling. “But I miss them sometimes.”

He’d wanted to press the issue, not because he fancied going back to the Hellmouth because he didn’t, but he could tell that she was more bothered than she’d let on. Though he’d been all too happy to whisk her away after that business with old Stony, he wagered she’d never intended to stay on the lam for long. Her mum had kicked her out, yes, but even Spike had guessed that much had been hot air. As for the other slayer, yeah, it was likely that Buffy disappearing right after the girl snuffed it made her the prime suspect, ridiculous as that was. But that was what the Wankers Council was there for, right? Getting the Chosen bird out of all kinds of topsy-turvy situations. There had to be some kind of plan in place, particularly in these modern times, for what happened when a slayer’s duty had her tangling with human law enforcement.

And he hadn’t missed his role in the play. A vampire who used to kill slayers for fun. He’d never gotten around to talking to her after the incident at Dusk about the things he’d said when he’d been parading her around under the noses of vamps, relying heavily on his reputation of being a monstrous thing in search of a good time. But he also hadn’t forgotten the way she’d stiffened then, or how he’d known her heart had started thumping in double-time.

He wondered just how often that thought occurred to her—that she was sharing her space with a man who had been hell-bent on killing her less than a year ago. Who had blown into town and would have ripped out her pretty little throat if her mum hadn’t had an ax handy. That he had come that close to not knowing her, not having this, didn’t sit well with him. Granted, he was a vampire, and killing things—particularly slayers—was what vampires did. Or what he’d done, at least. He knew that, accepted it, but what if she never could? Sure, she was with him now, in his bed and under his hands every night, but Spike had done the dance with a woman who could never truly love him before. And yeah, he’d do it again to stay with Buffy, but that wasn’t what he wanted. He’d seen firsthand how fiercely and passionately she’d loved Angel, and call him a selfish git but he’d never be satisfied knowing that sort of love was possible, but not for him.

Later in bed, when she was curled in his arms, soft and pliant after the fourth orgasm of the night, she’d whispered, “I failed at being the Slayer. And I’m pretty sure I failed at being a daughter. There’s nothing to go back to.”

He’d opened his mouth to protest, but she’d asked him not to talk, and not knowing whether or not that had been one of the times where it was better to ignore her or listen, he’d erred on the side of caution. There was plenty of time to disabuse her of the nonsense that she’d failed at anything.

Only in the days that had passed, he hadn’t found a way to bring the subject up again. But he’d had plenty of time to think on it, and none of his conclusions had been good ones.

Perhaps Buffy couldn’t love him without abandon because of rot like his lack of a soul. Perhaps what he was, as much as what had happened, was what kept her from making a phone call home. What had her thinking she’d failed on any level. After all, what sort of slayer fell in love with a vampire?

Realizing his feelings for the Slayer, for Buffy, had been hard enough on him, though he’d more or less rolled with the punches. He’d known it was wrong from the offset, but wrong was something Spike had plenty of experience accepting. What it was for her, though, with her shiny conscience and her pure fucking soul, might be worse.

“Does Buffy sing well?” Fred asked, piercing through the fog that had settled inside his head. She’d made her way to the booth after finishing up her number, and for all he knew, had been prattling on in his ear for the last five minutes.

A grin tugged at Spike’s lips and, happily, he pulled himself out of his thoughts. “She can carry a tune just fine, but she doesn’t make much effort. Caught her bleatin’ her pretty little head off in the shower and had to beg her to quiet up—take some pity on poor blokes with sensitive hearin’.”

Fred went pink. “I think I’d die of mortification if the guy I was with said anything like that to me. Also, I’m sorry for whatever pain I caused your ears a few minutes ago. It was not my idea.”

“Whaddya talk?” Lorne asked, sliding back into his seat with a broad, showman’s smile. “You’re sweet as an angel and sing like one too.”

Right. A tone-deaf angel. Much like the actual tone-deaf Angel. The thought made him snicker, but he covered it with a cough when both Fred and Lorne glanced at him.

“Truth be told, pet,” Spike said, nodding to Buffy as she edged onto the stage, “when I said it, I was aimin’ to be punished. Never know what’s gonna set her off and she tastes that much sweeter when she’s brassed.”

If possible, Fred’s blush deepened. She glanced at the Host for help and he just brought up his hands, grinning. “Don’t look at me. It’s a vamp thing.”

“Like…her blood tastes better or…?”

Spike grinned and fired up a cigarette. “The answer is yes.”

The chords to the song Lorne had chosen for the Slayer burst through the air before Fred could make heads or tails of what he’d said, and then Buffy’s sweet voice—bugger what he’d said, he liked how she sang—followed.

“Don’t let me down… Don’t let me down… Don’t let me down… Don’t let me down.” A breath. She seemed shaken, and he couldn’t tell if it was nerves or something else. He didn’t have time to wonder, because then she was singing again. “Nobody ever love me like he does. Oh, he does. Yes, he does.”

She met his eyes, flushed, and looked back to the prompter where the lyrics were being fed. “And if somebody loved me like he do me. Oh, he do me. Yes, he does.”

“She has a nice voice!” Fred whispered, smacking Spike’s arm. “How could you let her think she doesn’t?”

He didn’t so much as glance at the twig, too enraptured by the sight of the Slayer. “Easy. I’m evil.”

“You’re mean.”

“Still evil.”

“Don’t let me down… Don’t let me down… Don’t let me down… Don’t let me down.”

“You’ll apologize to her when she’s done,” Fred said decisively. “Tell her that you love it.”

Spike smirked but still didn’t take his gaze off the stage, his throat tight at what he saw. Maybe his mind was playing tricks on him, but the Slayer’s eyes looked rounder than usual, and each line she sang came choked out with more emotion. He didn’t know what to think of it—if he was even seeing what he thought he saw, but it had him too distracted to engage.

“Oh, I’m in love for the first time,” Buffy went on, her voice sounding thicker still. “Don’t you know it’s gonna last? It’s the love that lasts forever. It’s the love that has no past.”

No, he definitely wasn’t imagining it. Those were tears in her eyes.

Bloody hell.

“Oh, sugarplum,” Lorne breathed out, slapping a hand to his chest. “You poor little soul.”

“What?” Spike demanded, practically lurching across the table. “Something’s wrong? What’s wrong?”

But Lorne just made a face and waved him off, turning his attention back to the stage.

“And from the first time that he really done me. Oh, he done me, he done me good. I guess nobody ever really done me. Oh, he done me. He done me good.” Buffy shook her head and straightened her shoulders, adopting what Spike knew as her own version of game face. Soldiering on through the very last. “Don’t let me down… Don’t let me down… Don’t let me down… Don’t let me down.”

The music faded and Buffy lowly lowered the microphone. She flashed Fred a grateful smile when the girl bounced to her feet in applause but made to leave right quick. And Lorne was after her almost at once, Spike on his heels, making his way toward the back area where performers warmed up for their turns at the mic.

Before they reached the Slayer, though, Lorne whirled around and held up a hand. “Easy there, tiger. Have some respect for client/empath demon confidentiality.”

Spike tightened his jaw and his fist. “Slayer’s business is my business.”

“And I’m sure if she feels that way, she’ll tell you everything.” The Host flashed a patronizing grin and patted Spike’s shoulder. “Park your booty back in your seat and I’ll be out in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”

The urge to take a swing at the wanker was almost impossible to ignore, except that there was a sanctuary spell on the place and Spike didn’t exactly fancy the thought of being tossed across the room. He glared a moment longer, for lack of any other option, then jerked his chin up before prowling back to the table.

Fred greeted him with a wince. “Something wrong?”

Spike barely kept himself from snarling a response. “Git won’t let me know what he saw when he read her. Not like it involves me, or anything.” This part he yelled toward the stage, the sound thick and guttural. “Just my bloody mate, is all. Bound blood and all that.”

He hadn’t really expected this outburst to have an effect, but that didn’t stop him from pouting at the lack of response. Seconds ticked by, maturing into minutes, each of which had the demon at his chest clawing for action. When at last Buffy appeared from around the back, wiping at her eyes, it was all he could do to keep himself from plowing her down in his haste to close the distance between them.

“What’s the matter, love?” he asked, cupping her cheek and searching her eyes. “That green git say somethin’?”

Buffy smiled a smile that told him answers would not be forthcoming anytime soon. “Later,” she said and pressed a kiss to his mouth. “It’s your turn.”

“Slayer—”

“I’m fine, Spike,” the little bitch lied. “Go on.”

She pulled away from him and was making her way to join Fred before he could protest. He stared after her, torn between the need to shake the truth out of her and rip the so-called Host’s ugly head from his body. But he knew the Slayer well enough to know that hounding her to talk to him would do nothing but put more distance between them, so he swore and stalked backstage, settling on Plan B.

Lorne greeted him with a smile that betrayed just how little respect he had for Spike’s patience. “What’s your poison from Abbey Road?” he asked, holding up the CD case. “Not really seeing anything for you on Let it Be and all the other discs are still in my office.”

“What the bleeding hell did you say to her?”

The smile didn’t so much as wither. “Poodle, if she wants you to know, she’ll tell you. But enough about Buff. Onto platinum things.”

“Bugger that.”

Lorne sighed and held up a hand. “Listen, Romeo, the girl’s been through a whole mess of a lot. I know you think you know that, but this isn’t the sort of thing you can know unless you’ve lived it. Or, in my case, had an all-access pass to her head.” He tapped his temple. “The most I can tell you is there is nothing she’s not thinking about right now. The whole big bad world is on her tender seventeen-year-old shoulders and she’s staring down an eternity of the same. Just talk to her when this is done and I’m sure everything will be right as rain. Now.” He waggled the CD. “I’d suggest ‘Here Comes the Sun’ but that seems a little mean-spirited. How about—”

“‘Oh! Darling,’” Spike said. His anger had drained, replaced with more of that worry from before. Just how long had she been feeling like this? He hadn’t noticed a change in her until after she’d welcomed him back into her bed, and if that had something to do with it—if what had her in this state was him… Bloody hell, he didn’t know what he’d do with himself. Except love her. “That’s on that one, yeah?”

“Thought you, you big cream puff, would go for ‘Something.’ Color me shocked.” Lorne teased, nodding to the stage. “But if you’re set on making a statement…”

Spike just blinked at him.

“All right. Get on up there.”

So he did. He made his way to the stage where Buffy had stood just moments before, when she’d sung “Don’t Let Me Down”—something he hadn’t thought at the time had been aimed at him necessarily, but fuck. Maybe it had been.

Nothing terrified him more than the thought that he could let her down. Because he knew if he did, he’d lose her.

The opening key cued him in, and he didn’t have any more time to think on the matter.

Oh, darlin’,” he began, keeping his eyes pinned on the Slayer, “please believe me. I’ll never do you no harm. Believe me when I tell you…I’ll never do you no harm.”

Over the sound of the accompaniment, he heard Fred whimper, “Not fair.”

“Oh, darlin’…if you leave me.” Spike’s throat tightened and he swallowed. “I’ll never make it alone. Believe me when I beg you…don’t ever leave me alone.”

He was still holding her gaze and didn’t know whether to be relieved or dismayed when Buffy offered him a watery smile.

“When you told me…you didn't need me anymore… Well you know I nearly broke down…and cried. When you told me…you didn't need me anymore… Well you know I nearly broke down…and died.”

He watched as little Fred leaned across the booth. When she spoke, she made no attempt to lower her voice. “Did you know he sang like this? Because, oh my.”

“Oh, darlin’…if you leave me. I’ll never make it alone. Believe me when I tell you…I’ll never do you no harm.”

Buffy didn’t respond at first, rather kept her gaze on him, which was fortunate because he needed her to know just how much he meant every bloody word.

“When you told me…you didn't need me anymore… Well you know I nearly broke down…and cried. When you told me…you didn't need me anymore… Well you know I nearly broke down…and died.”

“Buffy? Did you hear me? Has he sung to you like this before?”

Buffy shook her head, not looking away from him. “Nope. Hadn’t heard him sing. This is a first.”

Fred gaped, then, as though he had committed some terrible offense, cupped her mouth and yelled, “Spike! You need to sing for Buffy! A lot! You big derp.”

He snickered in spite of himself before the music cued him back in. “Oh, darlin’…please believe me…I'll never let you down! Oh, believe me, darlin’. Believe me when I tell you…” Spike drew in an unneeded breath, then threw his head back and belted out the song’s conclusion. “I'll never do you no harm.”

And that was it. The music faded and he was met with a smattering of applause. Fred had decided to favor him with a standing ovation. And, when the girl nudged her shoulder, Buffy rose to her feet and joined in. He wanted to rush directly to her, but before he could put thought into action, a hand clamped on his shoulder and steered him back to the backstage area.

“Bit on the nose, but if your girlie doesn’t get the message, I think she’s hopeless,” Lorne said, fanning himself. “Also? You must lend us those pipes of yours on a regular basis.”

Spike’s patience had run out well before he’d taken the stage, so it was a sodding miracle he managed to not roar at the prat. “See anythin’ of use at all?”

Lorne studied him for a moment before releasing a deep sigh and patting him on the back. “You really do have your head all in a twist about this girl,” he said. “I don’t know much about vampires, to be frank. They’re not exactly falling out of the sky back home and I haven’t been in this world long enough to do more than catch up on the pop culture. I get the basics, mind you—fangs, grr, and sunlight’s a no-no—but the whole soul-no soul thing.” He waved his hands and faked a scream. “Not my specialty.”

The fact that he’d brought up souls at all had Spike’s stomach tightening.

“What I can tell you, my fair-leathered friend, is you’re doing all the right things. Be there when she needs you. Tell her every day what you have going on in that big ole bruiser of a heart of yours.” Lorne felt it necessary, apparently, to pat said bruiser. “From everything I saw, you’re good for her. She just might not really know it yet.”

Spike jerked his head back. “What?”

But Lorne was shaking his head, his hands up. “And that’s all I’m gonna say. You want more, you talk to her. But more than talk, pumpkin. Try and listen. With more than just your ears.”

Well, if this was the sort of service the git aimed to give everyone who came to him to have their fortunes read, this place would be filing for Chapter 7 before the end of the month.

Spike gave himself a moment to calm down—or try to, at least—before making his way back to the booth, where the Slayer and Fred were chatting animatedly. The little librarian saw him first, and her eyes lit up almost enough to have him wincing.

“Seriously!” Fred said by way of greeting. “You had never sung to her before? You’re right—you are evil.”

He tried to summon a grin, but his heart wasn’t in it. Instead, he looked to Buffy. Could be his imagination but she did look a bit better than she had before. Some of the heaviness around her eyes had lifted and the smile she gave him was a warm one.

“It was, I admit, the kind of hot that ought to come with a warning label,” she said. “And I’m so glad I went first because, following that? I’m never singing in front of you again.”

“He likes your singing,” Fred said, smirking. “He told me so.”

“You little tattle,” Spike replied, rolling his eyes.

But Buffy was shaking her head. “Um, I dunno what he told you, but if you’d heard the things he said—”

“Yeah, he told me. Also told me he liked getting you riled up because…I dunno, angry sex or something.” She flapped a hand and hitched her purse onto her shoulder. “And yes, I am tattling, because I am not evil and Buffy deserves to know these things.” Fred beamed and gave a little wave. “I’m off. Buffy has the spare key in case you run out of blood.”

This made no sense, but Spike wasn’t too keen on asking after it—he liked the bird all right, but at the moment, he wanted her gone. He needed the Slayer alone.

“Have fun,” Buffy said, and watched as her friend made her way to the door. When she looked back to Spike, she said, “That science-y conference she mentioned yesterday. She’s driving to San Diego tonight.”

He nodded as though he gave a fuck. “Slayer, what’s wrong?”

Buffy’s face fell a fraction. “What?”

“When you were up there, the green guy…” He swallowed, at once hating himself. This required more finesse than he was capable of giving at the moment—not that he was capable of a lot to begin with. But fuck, he needed to know. “The past few weeks have been the best of my unlife, love,” he said, dropping his shoulders. “I mean it. But a bloke can tell when something’s off. Can’t do rot to fix it if you don’t talk to me.”

For a moment, he was terrified she’d deny it. Shake her head and ask what in the world he was talking about when they both knew better. The Slayer was good at keeping things close to the vest when she put a mind to it, which was right infuriating, considering he usually had such a good read on her. But when she wanted to slam the doors closed, she did, and good luck to the man who tried to pry them open.

But then Buffy sighed and looked down, and he felt a rush of relief. She was going to talk about it.

“I…have been thinking. A lot. Mostly trying not to but some things just…won’t stay quiet.” She scuffed her foot along the floor. “About a lot of things, actually. The future, you and me, what it…all means.”

“What what means, love?”

“The claim. We still don’t know much about it. I mean, you knew enough to do it and…” She paused, and the rest came out in a rush, as though she feared saying it but had to at the same time. “I found some pages in a book. A book Giles has, actually. That talk about claims more.”

Spike frowned. “When was this?”

“A…while ago.” She winced. “Right before everything went down at Dusk, actually. I found it in the warehouse where Gunn’s sister went missing.”

A ripple of anger inched up his spine. “Any reason I’m just hearin’ about it now?”

“Because now’s when I’m telling you. I… Look, I opened to a random page, saw that it talked about claims, and ripped it out before I could read it. Then I gave it to Fred because we were all with the mission and it just seemed like something she’d understand better than I would.”

So Fred knew about this. Better and better. “And it got you thinkin’ what, exactly, about claims?”

Buffy shook her head, still not looking at him. “I don’t know. The history’s…weird. According to the book at least. I thought maybe…” She drew in a deep breath, swallowed, then finally raised her eyes to his. “I thought maybe you just…felt the way you did about me might have something to do with…that.”

“With the claim? That it was, what? Makin’ me love you?”

“Maybe.”

Spike stared at her for a moment, then shook his head and barked out a laugh. “Slayer, I was halfway in love with you when we left Sunnyhell. You know that, right?”

From the look she gave him, she had, in fact, not known that. Or hadn’t believed it. “You were?”

“Why the sodding hell would I have made off with you if that wasn’t the case, you daft twig! Got what I wanted, didn’t I?”

“What you wanted was Dru.”

“What I wanted was the sodding wanker to sodding snuff it!” he roared back, his demon dangerously close to the surface. “How many times do I have to say it before it gets through that thick skull of yours? Dru wanted me dead. She ran me through with a sword and left me there to suffer until the sun could finish me off. That isn’t the sort of thing a man just walks off, vamp or not.” He paused, considered, and decided it was better to be honest with himself. “All right, yeah, maybe if I hadn’t been so over the moon for you, I woulda tossed her in the trunk. See if I could undo whatever the big git had done. But not because it woulda worked—because I’m bloody hopeless for the women I love. And since I was over the bloody moon and you were hurtin’, my thought was just to get you as far away from all that as possible. And if it was just about shagging you, pet, I gotta let you know, that bite I took outta you would’ve been a different kinda permanent. I would’ve drained you dry. But that’s not what happened, is it? All I knew once I got my fangs in you was that you were mine.”

He broke off, panting hard, having gotten himself nice and worked up without fully realizing it, but blast it all, the daft girl had no bloody idea what she did to him.

Or maybe she did because the next thing he knew, she seized him by the face and her mouth was against his. Soft and sweet and familiar, so familiar now, but the second he began to melt into her, she practically dissolved, like a dam had been broken.

“I love you, Slayer,” Spike murmured against her lips, grasping her by the upper arms. “You drive me outta my sodding mind, but fuck, I love you. Think I did since the moment I saw you on that dance floor, movin’ like sin and so full of fire you could set me ablaze. And it’s never gonna stop, you hear me? Never.”

Buffy nodded against him, her eyes shining. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“I should’ve… I was just scared it was true. I didn’t want it to be true.”

Spike blinked. “You…didn’t want what to be true?”

“That the claim was what made you love me. I…I wanted this to be real.”

That she could send him from one extreme to the next without bloody blinking was something he reckoned he’d never get used to. Ready to rip her head off one second and desperate to fuck her raw the next—overwhelmed, stunned, nearly in tears because, fuck, did she realize what she was saying? What that meant?

Telling Buffy he loved her had been a lot like dying—taking his last breath in one life and not knowing if he’d open his eyes in the next. Though he’d told her he loved her plenty over the last few weeks, and though she seemed to like hearing it, he’d never gotten the inkling that the words meant anything more to her than… Well, any of the times he’d ever given them to Dru. Something she fancied hearing, sure, but didn’t need.

That Buffy wanted the words, that she needed them to be real…

“I love you,” he said again, because fuck, he could say nothing else. “I love you more than my unlife is worth.”

Buffy nodded, smiling at him so brightly he thought he might just dust. “Okay. Okay. Okay.”

Then she was kissing him again, and though the words he wanted weren’t the words he got, he thought he might have felt them all the same.

Someday, he thought.

And for now, that would be enough.

Chapter Text

On the day that Sunnydale High welcomed its students back for the first day of school, Buffy started patrolling again, like that was what she’d been waiting for. Spike didn’t question it, couldn’t—life in Los Angeles had become somewhat mellow. Well, blissful was the word he’d use, except he did miss the action. The hunt and the chase, the feel of some sorry sod’s bones cracking under his swinging fists or the feel of flesh dangling from between his fangs. The monster in him that needed to be let out every now and then.

Without saying anything to the Slayer, he’d started taking the scenic route to the butcher’s just so he could skulk around alleyways and thrash any miscreant he came across. Mostly what he got was the odd mugger, but he’d pummeled more than one rapist and stopped a bloke from blowing out some kid’s head off. Of course, leaving human criminals alive was a struggle, particularly because he wasn’t sure what the point was of not killing those who would kill others, but he’d made a promise to Buffy and by god, he’d keep it.

The best nights were those when he found other vampires snacking on tourists. Then he could really let go, and he did with relish.

So when Buffy had told him she wanted to patrol, find a cemetery and put her slayer muscles to good use, he’d all but tripped over himself in his excitement to make that happen.

That night, the first night he’d fought alongside her since the battle at Dusk, she told him she wanted to look into getting her GED.

“So we’re stayin’, then?” he asked, watching as she bashed the head of a fledgling against the sharp corner of a gravestone. Poor little sod hadn’t stood a chance. “You’re sure?”

They hadn’t talked much about the long-term plans since the night at Caritas where she’d told him about the book she’d found and he’d helped clear up the nonsense she’d been fed about the claim making him feel things that weren’t real. At the time, and every night since then, he hadn’t much wanted to revisit the subject of her family and friends. She’d already given him her list of reasons for not heading back, though he suspected there was still a bit more there than she’d shared. Maybe things tied to the claim, maybe not. Still, happy as he was to have her all to himself, he wagered he wouldn’t be doing the best by her if he didn’t check to make sure she hadn’t changed her mind.

That much was likely the claim’s doing. The Spike of old had been a bit too selfish to wonder about things like that. Or maybe it was her—being with her, thinking things through as he hadn’t before. Trying to view the world through her eyes, hard as it was at times.

With a final smash against the headstone, Buffy succeeded in tearing the fledgling’s head clean off his body and up into a cloud of dust he went. She wrinkled her nose, stepping back and coughing.

“Did you say something?” she asked, brushing herself off.

“Reckon we’re stayin’ here for some time if you’re thinkin’ you’ll do your studying here. Sure you wanna do that?”

Buffy arched an eyebrow and fell into step beside him. “Get my GED? Yeah. Not sure when we’ll go back…and I really don’t think I wanna do the high school scene again, now or in the future. I feel…beyond it, if that makes sense.”

It did. Trial by fire, the Slayer had grown up, which would make it hard to go back to a world of tests and dances and other childish things. He could get behind that.

But there was something else—something they hadn’t talked about at all. The fact that Sunnydale sat on the Hellmouth meant that the day would come when returning became a thing she had to do, bloody do-gooder that she was. One day, probably sooner than she’d like, she’d catch wind of some big evil and need to rush in and save the sorry gits that had never deserved her to begin with.

Still, he knew she missed home and all its familiarity. Though she’d been an LA girl once, it wasn’t really the sort of place you got all weepy-eyed for unless you were keen on trying to make it big. Then there was her mum, who, though she had booted the Slayer from the house, was still her mum. Just last week, he’d found balls of discarded paper in the wastebin, each filled with the attempts of a letter home.

He hadn’t mentioned those. Wagered it wasn’t his place. He hadn’t had a mum in over a century, after all, and given how that had gone, he reckoned he wasn’t the best bloke to be doling out advice. Especially since he didn’t know their dynamic all that well—not enough to presume much of anything.

Sometimes he thought about it, though. Heading out one night to find a payphone, let the woman know that Buffy was all right, if nothing else. That was the sort of thing his mum would have wanted had she lived—and been herself throughout.

Except thinking things like that only reminded him of the bloody terrible decision he’d made once upon a time, believing wholeheartedly it was the right thing to do. That had blown up in his face and he didn’t want what he had with the Slayer to take a hit due to his idiocy. Because while she hadn’t told him she loved him, there were times he believed she did.

And even if she didn’t love him, he knew she could. That if he was patient enough, gave her what she needed, she’d fall the rest of the way.

“Fred can help me with the science and math stuff,” Buffy said. “I already asked her and she said she would—got all kinds of geeky about it, actually.” A soft, wistful smile fell across her face, the sort that made him think she was thinking of that redheaded chum of hers. She didn’t talk about the friends she’d left behind all that much, as though discussing them would make her miss them more, but he knew she thought of them often. Probably more than she even realized.

Spike nodded. “Good. Be a bit useless at that myself.”

“Do you think you could help with things like history? I mean, since you lived it. And I can just wing the English.”

“Not sure how much help I’ll be in history. When you’re livin’ it, you don’t know what’s gonna make the books, and it gets written down wrong anyway. But yeah, Slayer, I’ll lend a hand.” He paused, hesitated. Strange no matter how many years he put between himself and the bloody awful poet, thinking about that period never became easier. Still, to make Buffy happy, anything was worth the price of admission.  “Can help with English, too.”

Buffy stopped patting herself down and looked up with wide, incredulous eyes. “English? You?”

“Was a man once, you know. Had a Masters and everything.”

“You…went to college?”

“Did at that. Obscure place, not many have heard of, unless Cambridge rings a bell.” He found keeping her gaze a bit difficult then and glanced away, rubbing at the back of his head. “Fancied the study of natural and moral sciences, if you can believe it, but I excelled in modern language. Read as much as I could then and whatever I didn’t read, I wrote.”

“You…wrote?”

He nodded, still unable to look at her. Instead, he pretended to be fascinated a tuft of wild grass growing by a nearby headstone. “Guess you’d call them essays these days,” he muttered. “On whatever I was thinkin’ at the time. The bollocks I read and the like. And then…” He swallowed hard. “Poetry.”

“You. Spike. You wrote poetry.”

There was no sneer in her tone, nothing to make him self-conscious, but the words had him wincing just the same. “Worst bloody stuff you’d ever read, pet. I was awful at it. Loved reading it and wanted to create something, really anything, worth reading. But wantin’ to be a writer or a poet doesn’t mean you’re any good. It was all rubbish.”

He felt her move closer and tried not to react when she ran a hand down his arm.

“I bet it was better than you thought,” she said softly. “Hell, good, even.”

Something in his chest warmed. “Kind of you to say, kitten, but—”

“Did you keep any of it? Could I see it?”

Yeah, he had all of it locked between his ears all right, but he wasn’t about to let her hear a word. “Nothing written down. Reckon that got lost after I kicked it.”

Or rather after his mum had kicked it—after he’d made the mistake of thinking the salvation he’d been given could be shared.

And hell, hadn’t that been the first sign that he wasn’t the right sort of vamp? That he’d only vamped his mother to save her life, and that staking her had nearly torn him apart?

Fuck, why was he thinking about his mother so much?

Then he looked at the Slayer, remembered the mum she’d left behind, the wadded up letters in the trash, and understood.

“Would you write more, then?” she asked, resting her head on his shoulder. “For me? I mean, I wouldn’t know bad poetry if it came up and introduced itself, but knowing you wrote it at all? Kinda hot.”

Spike stared at her a moment before barking a laugh. Of all the things she could have said, that about knocked him off his feet. “Yeah? Hot, is it?”

“Did Angel…when he was evil and all, ever tell you about Owen?”

“Name doesn’t ring a bell.”

She nodded, chewing on the inside of her cheek. “Well, Owen was this guy I had a crush on last year. Or almost two years ago now, I guess. Regular, human boy-type. Really into poetry and stuff. Also into morgues, which is why that didn’t work more than the one date—you never wanna be in a place where you’re not sure if your boyfriend is into you for you or because you hang out with corpses.”

This earned another laugh. Fuck, in a thousand sodding years, he would never have thought he could feel light while talking about his nancy-boy past. Like it was something other than a massive bloody embarrassment. And maybe the Slayer was humoring him, but he didn’t think so. He felt he knew her well enough now to suss out the difference between when she was being authentic and when she was holding back. That night at the green demon’s club a few weeks back had proved it.

“So, what do you say?” She wiggled a bit, favoring him with one of those looks that cemented him as her bitch for sodding life. “Will you write more? Share it with me?”

Spike studied her for a long moment, then chuckled and tilted his head back. “Slayer, startin’ to think there’s nothin’ you couldn’t ask me to do that I wouldn’t with a bloody smile.”

“Is that a yes then?”

“I get the itch, then yeah, love. I’ll write for you. But you can’t wallop me if the stuff makes your ears and eyes bleed. You bloody well asked for it.”

Buffy cupped his cheeks and drew his mouth down to hers, and when he felt her lips curl into a smile, the last of his reservations melted. Because he’d been right—there was nothing he wouldn’t do for this girl. Even put his pride on the line. Maybe especially.

“And you’ll be my study buddy?” she asked when she pulled back. “History and English?”

He laughed again, feeling a bit dizzy. “Anything else you fancy? Might as well go shopping for a nice dog collar and a leash while we’re at it.”

“Not exactly the fashion statement I was thinking to make.”

“Truly might be rubbish at history, pet. Like I said, not sure I was payin’ attention to the rot your academics wager was worth remembering. Hard to read the label when you’re inside the bottle, and all that.” He ran his fingers through her hair. “But if I can help, I will.”

Buffy beamed and kissed him again, and seemed content to just keep on kissing him until the air broke with the sound of a clearing throat. The scent hit Spike a moment too late, but in time to keep him from flashing fang when he whirled around.

Charles Gunn stood by a nearby headstone, his hands up and fingers splayed. “Hold up. I come in peace.”

Spike stared at the bloke for a tick, then glanced to the Slayer, whose expression was unreadable. At length, he slid his hands into his pockets and nodded a greeting. “Charlie,” he said. “It’s been a spell.”

It had. Neither he nor Buffy had so much as seen or heard from Gunn since the night at Dusk. He’d rather figured the man had decided to pack up and leave town, since he had nothing holding him here any longer. Had rather hoped that was the case, too. The last thing he needed was a vamp hunter with a vendetta and no one to point it at anymore.

“Yeah. Though I’ve seen you.” Gunn jerked his chin at Spike. “Hitting some of my normal haunts. Nice work last week, by the way. I couldn’t have gotten to her in time.”

Well, that was right embarrassing. Being seen by his own kind while in full white-hat garb was bad enough, but apparently he’d been tracked by a hunter while doing the bit of rescue. And here he’d thought his senses were sharper than that. Spike reached up to rub the back of his neck, aware now that Buffy was studying him, waiting for an explanation. “Vamp speed, and what all,” he muttered, casting his gaze to the ground. “Put it to use on some nights.”

“What is he talking about?” Buffy asked. “What happened last week?”

“Street gang had this gal cornered,” Gunn supplied before Spike could think of what to say. “They managed to get her underwear off but not much else. Your boy knocked them all out.”

Spike kicked along the ground, his jaw tight.

Buffy touched his shoulder. “You did? When was this? Where was I?”

He hesitated, glanced up to Gunn, then heaved another sigh. “Been makin’ the rounds these last few weeks when I go out for nosh,” he muttered. “I’m a vampire, love. Need me a spot of violence to keep the demon from losin’ its marbles. Haven’t killed anyone—human, at least—if that’s what you’re worried—”

“No. I’m not.”

At that, he looked up, and while she wasn’t smiling at him, the look in her eyes was kind.

Buffy lifted a shoulder. “I just…didn’t know. Is that why you were so psyched to go patrol tonight?”

He nodded. “That and you need it too, whether you know it or not. Wired too bloody much like us.”

“Well, that would explain why I’ve been going stir-crazy.” Buffy took his hand and squeezed before turning back to Gunn. The softness in her tone fell away without ceremony. “So you’ve been keeping tabs on Spike? Just waiting for him to slip up so you can stake him and make with the I-told-you-so? Or am I reading this situation wrong?”

Gunn looked down and released a long breath. “Yeah, it started that way,” he said in a voice so low Spike strained to hear it above the noises of the city. “Didn’t set out to follow him or nothin’, but saw him in my neighborhood. Looked like he was on the hunt and I thought maybe he’d broken off your leash.”

Spike fought back a snarl, because fuck if everything about that didn’t rub him the wrong way. Were it not for the death-grip the Slayer had on his hand, he might have done something stupid.

“I was wrong, though,” Gunn said, nodding at Spike, still not lifting his gaze off the ground. “Didn’t wanna be, Slayer. Not after… But I was.” He sniffed. “Look, I… I got no one now. The boys are dead. Alonna… It was always me and her, right? And yeah, I was lookin’ to put the hurt on the people who killed her and yeah, I found out that wasn’t enough. ‘Cause it don’t stop.”

At that, Spike felt Buffy relax. Not all the way, but enough that he knew how the conversation was going to go from here. Because that was the sort of person Buffy was, through and through. It was what made her who she was. It was why she’d never outrun being the Slayer, no matter which direction she pointed her feet.

“Fuck, I don’t even know what I’m doing here,” Gunn said a moment later, not-so-discretely wiping at his eyes. “But I guess you and your boy are the only people in this stupid city I know anymore. Have some sources and the like, but they’re not the sorta people you’d wanna put on your emergency contact list, if you catch my drift. Guess I’m askin’ if it’s all right if…”

“Gunn,” Buffy said softly. “We’ll be your friends.”

Spike scoffed—he couldn’t help it. Much like he wagered Buffy couldn’t help giving him a kick.

“Man, that sounds weak,” Gunn said, but his face had brightened. “But yeah, I guess I could use ‘em right now.”

“As long as we understand one thing.” At this, Buffy released Spike’s hand and took a step forward. “Spike is mine. I don’t care what he does—what you see him do. If he kills, I handle it. If he maims, I handle it. If anything, I handle it. That is not and never will be your call to make. Do we understand each other?”

Gunn glanced to Spike. “Yeah. We understand it.”

“Good.” Buffy reached behind her blindly for Spike’s hand, and he gave it with a firm squeeze. There were a lot of things he wanted to say, but still he held his tongue. He figured he and Gunn would never be chums, no matter how much the bloke ended up hanging around, but it’d put the Slayer in a sour mood if he voiced any of what he was thinking.

Later though, when they were home again and he was peeling her shirt over her head, he found himself asking, “You mean it, love?”

Buffy, who was busy tugging on his fly at the moment, didn’t look up for a full three count. When she did, her eyes were confused. “Huh?”

“What you said out there to Charlie. ‘Bout him not puttin’ me down if I…”

“Absolutely,” she said, pulling his belt free. “That will always be my call.”

“Thanks ever so.”

“And… It’s different, isn’t it? If something happens, if you…” She looked away, swallowing. “If something happens and you lose control or something, that’s not the same as going out with the intention of hurting someone. I don’t think you’d do that.”

It was a bloody small thing, but also something he’d taken for granted. That she could feel any other way now, with everything they’d been through and all the promises he’d made, hadn’t been a blip on his sodding radar until her little speech. Thing like that made a fella wonder. “You don’t?” he asked, his throat tight.

“No. Of course, I don’t.” She dropped her hands to her sides. “But Gunn doesn’t know that. He doesn’t trust you and he might never. And… Spike, I’m not stupid. We’re both stronger than the average bear and… I hate this, but I have to remember that mistakes are possible no matter who you are. The entire concept of manslaughter exists because people unintentionally cause the deaths of other people every day. You…have all these instincts and you’re going against them, but you might not be able to always. I don’t want Gunn finding you on a day where you had to kill to save yourself or just used too much force and broke the wrong bone. Because if he saw that, he would jump to the worst conclusion. And then I’d have to kill him, which would be a mess of ick that I do not want to get in to.”

This last bit she said to the floor. Spike slid his fingers under her chin to guide her eyes back to him.

“I love you, Slayer. Fuck, I think I love you more every day.”

She gave him one of those smiles that made him think he’d kissed the sun. “There are…feelings on my end too.”

“Feelings, huh?”

“Yeah. I’m sorry I can’t…just yet.”

He wouldn’t say that much didn’t hurt—it did, but she was a better woman Dru could have ever hoped to be just for the fact that she didn’t mince words. More than that, he was almost bloody certain she did love him. The way she looked at him these days, even what she’d said to Charlie earlier, was enough to convince the most hardened skeptic. But something held her back, kept her from giving him that much. He didn’t know if it had anything to do with her homesickness or the sodding book she’d found or, worse yet, lingering feelings for Angel, but he reckoned she was aware of it. The Slayer had a piss-poor poker face.

“Are you mad?”

Spike blinked and jerked his head, refocusing on her. “’Course not, pet,” he murmured, then kissed her because he could. And when she whimpered and melted into him, he decided it didn’t matter for rot when she said what, because he felt it in the way her mouth moved against his. How she gasped and sighed and arched into him. How bloody wet she always was, and how she clung to him when he was inside her.

Sometimes they went at it hard and rough. Other times, like tonight, he fancied taking his time. Dragging his mouth over her skin, teasing her nipples, strumming her clit like a harp to get her hot and writhing and so near the edge that all he’d need to do to feel those amazing muscles of hers milking his cock was push inside. Getting her there gave him permission to be a bit selfish after, focus on how fucking incredible she felt. The first few pumps would be entirely self-indulgent, then he’d return to himself, get an eyeful of Buffy panting and writhing beneath him, and be possessed with the need to feel her come all over again. His unlife had never been better.

He just hoped whatever barriers kept her from trusting him with the parts of her he didn’t yet have would fall soon, if only so he could prove he’d always be there to catch her.

Chapter Text

“I can’t look.” Buffy thrust the envelope into Fred’s hands and barreled her way into her friend’s apartment. “You have to do it for me.”

Fred favored the envelope with a bemused look before dragging her gaze upward. “Buffy, I’m sure you did fine. You nailed all the practice exams.”

“Just…open it and put me out of my misery.” Buffy rocked on her heels. “And do it before Spike comes looking for me.”

“He’s home?”

“Yes, I just stepped out to check the mail.”

“He’s home and…you don’t want him to do the ceremonial opening?”

God, just the thought made her stomach twist. Yeah, he might be a bit peeved that she’d shared her scores with someone else ahead of him, but it was one thing to look like an idiot in front of a friend. In front of your boyfriend? No thank you. If she was indeed as dumb as she felt most days, then the GED scores would conveniently never arrive and she’d never mention them again.

“I don’t need him knowing I’m an idiot. He can figure that out on his own if he hasn’t already.”

“Buffy, you’re not an—”

“Just open the damn thing!”

Fred blinked a bit at her tone, but didn’t scold her because Fred was, at the end of the day, just the very best. She tore the envelope open and slid out the sheets of paper that could very well determine Buffy’s academic future.

If there was such a thing. Buffy was still undecided on college, not knowing whether or not it made sense to pursue higher education as an immortal being—of the claimed with her vampire. But every time she had this thought, she flashed back to the night she and Spike had started patrolling together again and he’d let slip that he was a graduate of freaking Cambridge. Sure, that had all been before he’d become undead, but just knowing he had that amount of knowledge in his already too-sexy head was intimidating as hell.

She’d never asked Angel about his education, if he’d ever received a formal one, and he’d never volunteered much information about his human life. That Spike had admitted to being a poet—even if he still refused to pen her anything—was more than she’d ever gotten from her other vampire boyfriend. And though she’d appreciated all the coaching and encouragement he’d given her over the last few weeks as she’d prepared to take the exam, she couldn’t deny that she felt a little intellectually challenged in his presence. Which was so not something she’d have ever thought possible with Spike. He played the idiot savant so well.

“Okay,” Fred said in a way-too-calm voice, “so, you have to score at least one hundred and forty-five on each subject to pass.”

“Oh god, I am so dead.”

“I’ll start with your lowest score. Mathematical reasoning. You scored one-sixty-six.”

Buffy blinked. “Umm…that’s more than one-forty-five.”

Fred beamed at her. “Hey, look at you, using that math in the real world!”

“I scored one-sixty-six in math? And that was my lowest subject?” Buffy yanked the paper from Fred’s hands without ceremony, her heart in her throat. First, she checked the name at the top to ensure it was indeed her own. Then she scoured the scores, vaguely aware of the beat of her pulse at her temple.

  • Reasoning Through Language Arts: 194
  • Mathematical Reasoning: 166
  • Social Studies: 181
  • Science: 172

“I passed,” she said numbly. “I…passed.”

“You rocked it!” Fred threw her arms around the thoroughly stunned Buffy, nearly knocking her off her feet. “And, by the way, I freaking told you so.”

Buffy’s brain was still buzzing to catch up with the information it had just received. “I…passed.” She glanced at the page again over Fred’s shoulder. She’d passed science. Science. The two subjects she’d been most apprehensive about had been math and science, and not only had she passed, but…

“Buffy,” Fred said, pulling back, a happy smile fixed to her beaming face, “not only did you pass, but anything over one-seventy-five can get you college credit some places. One-sixty-five means you’re college-ready. You nailed this thing!”

That was rather charitable, considering her worst subjects had been the ones Fred had done the legwork in helping her study. Numbers and formulas were very much non-mixy things in the brain of Buffy. Understanding literature, grammar, and history had come much more easily.

“I passed.” Buffy released a deep breath, the reality of that statement setting in.

The past few weeks had been crammed full of studying and slaying in equal order—she’d never approached any academic achievement with more dedication than she had the GED. It had really hit her that she wasn’t going back as the summer had matured into fall, when the thought of calling home had grown beyond a wayward inkling and into an actual urge. When she’d bought a spiral notebook for the sole purpose of drafting a note home to test the waters…though she wasn’t sure where to begin. What she could say. How she could hope to condense what her life had become since her mother had kicked her out of the house.

In the end, she’d half-started more than two dozen letters only to pitch each in the trash. There wasn’t an appropriate level of contrition in any of them, because when push came to shove, she wasn’t sorry. Actually, she was pretty damn pissed. Parents were supposed to be the people who stood by you no matter what, especially during the bad times, and the night she’d left Sunnydale had been one of the worst of her life. Missing her mother—which she did—did not magically make that anger go away.

The only letter she’d completed had been full of snark. It was also the only letter she hadn’t trashed. She found keeping it around helped remind her, in moments of weakness, why staying in Los Angeles was the wiser decision on multiple fronts.

 

Dear Mom,

It’s the daughter you don’t want. Yes, still slaying vampires. I know you’re disappointed, and I did try to quit, but it didn’t take. If it’s any consolation, I am a bad slayer. Remember Spike? He and I are mated. This is a vampire thing that basically means my life is tied to his for the rest of forever. My Watcher and I never got around to discussing the levels of acceptable fraternization with vampires, but he wasn’t wild about Angel and boy did he ever have his reasons.

As I write this, I realize you have no idea what a Watcher is. Every Slayer has one. The Watcher’s job is to, well, watch and make sure the Slayer knows how to kill things and not die. I had a good Watcher but since my ex killed his girlfriend, I’m guessing the whole “mated to a vampire” thing would go down about as well as it would with you.

Though I know you wanted me out of the house, I figure you’re probably worried about me. I am too. I don’t know what I’m doing and I’d love to have my mom around. Would have loved to have had her around last year when the vampy ex started stalking me and my friends. I think about what I could have done different, if I should have clued you in that Angel wasn’t some college guy but the reanimated undead, but then I’d think about how well you handled the whole Hemery situation and realized that being in my corner when I needed you is really not your thing. So all in all, your comfort was definitely more important than my ex-boyfriend trying to suck the world into Hell.

I made it out alive. I had to kill the ex to do it but I made it out.

 I still love you. I miss you. I hope you’re okay. I hope you don’t hate me. But I’m not sure I’ll ever not be mad at you.

This Buffy had dutifully folded up and slid into an old tampon box that she kept in the back of the bathroom cabinet drawer. It was entirely possible Spike would discover it—perhaps he already had—but if he had, he hadn’t mentioned it. She imagined there would be a big talk and he’d make some noise about heading back to Sunnydale. And yeah, there were times when the urge was so strong she could almost feel her mom’s arms around her, but then she’d remember the look on her face, the way she’d screamed at Buffy to never come home again if she left to go save the world, and how that had hurt more than everything Angel had thrown at her.

Taking the GED—passing the GED—had at least felt like a step toward reasserting control over her life. No more standing in one place, hoping things would eventually make sense and she’d have some idea of where she wanted to go. And now with that one achievement nailed, she could look onto other things.

“Buffy?” Fred gave her shoulder a little shove. “You okay?”

She shook her head and forced herself to refocus on the present. “Yeah. Yeah. Just kinda… Well, that happened, so what comes next?”

“College?”

College meant applications, which meant putting her name on documents and looking into financial aid, because no matter how talented he was at swindling demons, Spike couldn’t put her through college on it. Or however it was he kept them afloat. She trusted him enough to know his methods weren’t dangerous but was also cognizant enough to realize they were probably were ethically ambiguous. The one time she’d asked, she’d only gotten far enough to confirm that he wasn’t robbing or hurting people to keep his pockets lined, and that was as much as she cared to know.

“I’d need a license, or some kind of identification,” Buffy muttered. “A social security number. All kinds of things that I don’t have here.” Plus, applying for financial aid would make her traceable. Probably. She wasn’t sure if that made this prospect more or less attractive.

"True, but we can get those things done, easy peasy." Fred made a sound low in her throat. “Mmm.  So, how are things with Spike?”

The question succeeded in throwing Buffy off her mental tangent on higher education. “Huh?”

“Just…doing my check-in on all things claimy.”

Oh. Right. She should have expected as much. Fred had agreed to lay off the questions about the book and the claim while Buffy had been in study-mode, so now that the results were in, it made sense that she’d started up again.

She understood Fred’s concern came from a good place. Her friend had followed her cues through everything relationship-related since determining what the book said about claims and undoing them, asking only here and there if Buffy was happy. Which was code for, “Just making sure you haven’t changed your mind.”

Because, while the trip to Caritas—Lorne's newly named karaoke club—had done wonders to ease her concerns regarding Spike’s feelings for her, the brain of Buffy had no shame and couldn’t stop looking for trouble when she was otherwise happy. There had been no certainties that night, just what Lorne could or couldn’t see, combined with what Spike had told her.

The good news was Lorne hadn’t seen anything in her psyche that would indicate someone had put a magical whammy on her or Spike. And every time they’d seen him since that night, the showy, green demon made a point to reiterate that fact.

“You’re still finding yourself, sugarplum,” he’d said. “This big bad world just threw a whole mess of awful at you and you’re working through it. Don’t be too hard on yourself or others. The people who love you will understand and the people you love are worth the wait. And Spike-a-licious? That boy is nuts about you. Nuts like his ex, only coherent and without the daddy issues.”

“And me?”

“You got a big bruiser of a heart there, Buffykins. It’s all over the place, but it knows what it wants. Learn to trust it without this thing”—he’d tapped her temples—“clouding things up too much.”

“Still with the good,” Buffy replied now. “The very good.”

Good was accurate without telling the full story. While she was eons removed from the place she’d been in the first night at Caritas, she knew she was holding back. More to the point, she knew why. She knew she was in love with Spike, but the words wouldn’t come, restrained by the fear that someday she might have to give it up. She’d love to blame it all on the wackiness involving what she’d learned about the claim, but the truth was more nuanced. The panic she felt at giving those words to anyone wasn’t tied to a mystical bond—it was a byproduct of everything else. Every time she thought she might be able to do it, look at Spike and tell him how she felt, she flashed to that night on Angel’s bed, soaked through with rain and as close as she’d thought she’d ever be with a man. And the endless bad that had followed—going from what should have been the best night of her life to the worst period of it. Then she’d think about the last time she’d seen him, how Angel had told her he loved her right before she’d shoved a sword through his gut, and the bad mental place where she’d landed.

And yeah, maybe she was afraid of letting go of Angel altogether. Something she couldn’t really explain to herself, let alone other people. Because Buffy didn’t miss Angel—hadn’t for a long time. Honestly, there were times when she struggled to remember what had brought them together to begin with. How he’d leap-frogged from being the creepy-stalker-portent-of-Buffy’s-death guy to someone she’d been willing to throw everything away for. What she missed was who she’d been then, how her girlish love for her creature-of-the-night boyfriend had seemed dangerous and fun and kind of forbidden but in a fairytale way. How, despite the dark world of monsters and death, she’d been able to embrace her inner teenager and just go with it.

There was that, which, when combined with the lingering doubts about the claim and its influence that she couldn’t shut up—no matter what Lorne or Spike said—had her convinced that speaking up was the worst of all bad ideas. At least right now. At least until she was ready to move out of idle and discover what it was she wanted to do with her life. All if it seemed interlinked.

A series of hard knocks sounded against the door, jarring Buffy from her thoughts. Half a second later, Spike bellowed, “Slayer? You get lost?”

Fred gave her a smile and moved to let the vampire in. “She was being a chicken,” she said by way of greeting. “Her scores came in.”

Spike had done little to master the subtle art of pleasantries, so when he barreled right into Fred’s apartment without so much as looking at the woman, Buffy wasn’t surprised. It was part of who he was. Also, she couldn’t deny the rush that came from knowing he only had eyes for her—something he reinforced every day. Though this time he was reinforcing it with an arched eyebrow and a frown.

“Scores came in and you didn’t share with me first?” He jutted out his lower lip. “Anyone ever tell you it’s not nice to do a fella like that?”

“I was afraid I’d flunked.” She handed him the results.

“Piffle,” he replied, wrenching the sheet open. She watched his eyes move over the information at a pace that seemed too fast to retain anything. Something he confirmed the next second when he looked up. “Well?”

“She passed,” Fred said, sneaking past Spike with a grin. “Scores are out of two hundred. One-forty-five is required to pass each course. Actually, she really rocked your subjects. Like she might be able to get college credit.”

Spike kept his eyes on Buffy, a wide grin splitting his face. “Well done, love!” The results sheet fell from his hands as he scooped her up and spun her around in a hug. “And I bloody told you.”

“No,” Buffy replied, though she was unable to keep the laugh from her voice, “you told me that tests are bogus and no one needs to know any of this crap to get on in the real world.”

“Meant it, too. But you insisted. And you did brilliantly.” He pulled back and beamed at her for a few seconds before the light in his gaze faded and irritation set in. “But I’m gonna tan your hide for not sharin’ with me first.”

“Sorry,” she said. “I just… You and Cambridge kinda intimidated the crap out of me. Didn’t want to see the look on your face when you realized you’re mated to a dummy.”

The irritation there softened a tad. “Slayer,” he said, cupping her cheeks and tipping her head back so she had to look at him. “I spent the last sodding century with a bird who got her news from the stars and took advice from dolls. More to the point, there isn’t a dumb bone in your body.”

“Oh no. I am sure that many of my bones are dumb. They just have you fooled. And the people who grade the GED exam. Completely snowed by Buffy bones.” She paused, replayed that much, then shook her head. “See what I mean? I make the kind of sense that doesn’t.”

Spike chuckled, the sound deep. “Well, I won’t argue with that.”

“Jerk.”

“Bite your tongue or I will.” He kissed her before she could offer back a retort, and damn, it was hard to think when his mouth was on hers. Every kiss somehow managed to feel like a completely new experience yet warm and familiar at the same time. There were the growly and feral kisses that came out right after patrol, when he was high on the fight and closer to his baser instincts. Those kisses usually led to her being thrown against a wall or table and fucked within an inch of her life. There were soft and sweet kisses when they were about to be apart for any period of time, just because kisses that happened at any time. There were the worshipful, hungry kisses, like he was so overwhelmed by what he felt for her and didn’t trust words to do the sensation justice. Like the growly kisses, these typically led to hot and sweaty goodness, though with an entirely different type of need and urgency. Then there were kisses like this. Affectionate and tender, not quite naughty but close enough that she knew what he was thinking.

“How you wanna celebrate, Slayer?” Spike asked softly, his blue eyes positively burning when she pulled back. “I’m yours to command.”

“Ooh, power rush.” Buffy rocked on her heels and tossed Fred a grin. “Sing for me at Caritas?”

He heaved a sigh and rolled his head back. “Could give you the bloody moon and you want a song and dance?”

“Song and dance is sexier than the moon.” She favored him with the coy look she knew drove him nuts and enjoyed the way his eyes darkened, even more when they fell to her mouth. She poked out her lower lip right on cue. “Please?”

“Bloody hell, you don’t fight fair.”

“Nope.”

“Right, Slayer. I’ll give you a song or two.” Spike smirked and hiked her into his arms. “And whatever else you want.”

“Ooh, don’t give me that kind of power.”

“Like you don’t know it’s yours.”

Yeah, she did. Spike showed her every day in a thousand ways, large and small, just how much she meant to him. He was one of the most physically demonstrative people—or vamps—she’d ever met. There was no guessing around him, no wondering about how he felt. Everything was in the open in ways it never had been before.

And she loved him. She knew she did. It wasn’t the same kind of love she’d felt for Angel, either. That had been all-consuming, almost obsessive, to the point it had made her miserable. There had been so much uncertainty, which at the time had added to the excitement. Thinking about it now—returning to something like it—filled her with dread. It hadn’t been stable, as most things with children weren’t. And in all the ways that mattered, that was what she had been with Angel. A child.

The love she felt for Spike made her burn but also gave her a safe place to land. While it was also all-consuming, there was stability there that she hadn’t experienced before. She always knew exactly where she was with Spike. He was the one constant in her changing world.

He deserved to know this, know everything. And she wanted to tell him.

One day, when she trusted that her world wouldn’t fall apart all over again, she would.

Chapter Text

There weren’t many ways available to him anymore to get his evil in, so Spike had to take what he could. And since any good celebration should come with spirits, he hadn’t hesitated when Buffy had mentioned throwing back a few drinks. Demon bars being what they were, getting his hands on something he thought his Slayer might find palatable had been rather easy. The bartender couldn’t possibly care less who imbibed—likely hoping that some human would get nice and sloshed so the clientele could woo them outside for a nibble. The sanctuary spell was a good lure for that—attract all manner of creatures inside the door under the guise of playing nice so they could do their hunting in the open.

Spike hadn’t mentioned that to the Host, though, or Buffy or Fred, for that matter. He might be on a leash these days, but that didn’t mean he’d deny others easy access to a quick meal. Figured pulsers who wandered into places like this were asking to be taken for a ride. Might be one of those ethical gray areas he was navigating so frequently, he knew, but there was a logical component to it, as well. No matter how brilliant she was at what she did, Buffy would never be able to save everyone, and she didn’t need to lengthen the list of things she felt guilty over when it was the circle of bloody life.

Little Fred had given Spike a hard glare when he’d returned from the bar with a frilly pink concoction in hand for Buffy, which was right hilarious of her, given that she’d shared with them both the kind of party girl she’d been just a few years back. Underage drinking hardly seemed like a major crime, and sod it, the Slayer deserved her kicks. Though she hadn’t mentioned it in so many words, Spike knew she’d been on edge waiting for her results to come in.

Granted, she’d been on edge for any number of things. Things she didn’t talk about, things he didn’t press her on but knew were there anyway. He hadn’t mentioned Sunnyhell or her mum since right before she’d dived into studying for the sodding GED, but a blind man could see the subject was never far from her thoughts. Now that the test was behind her and she’d relaxed, he might have to see about bringing it up again. Just to let her know that if the day came that she decided she wanted to go home, he’d do whatever it was she needed without complaint.

Spike wagered he could stay in Los Angeles like this, with her, forever. But he wasn’t daft enough to believe this would be enough for Buffy, especially given how withdrawn she remained from him on certain days. The life she’d left behind was too much a part of her, and as long as she avoided returning to it—for closure if nothing else—the more it would weigh her down, steal her light, and he couldn’t abide the thought.

But that was a conversation for another day. Not when they were celebrating her academic victory.

The first shot of alcohol to go down the Slayer’s throat was met with the expected cough and watery eyes, which Spike didn’t even bother to pretend wasn’t adorable.

“Wow, that’s…different,” she said, shaking her head and blinking hard. “And my throat feels like it’s on fire.”

“Just how strong did you make that thing?” Fred demanded, stealing the glass to take a sniff. “Spike, she’s seventeen years old!”

“She’s the bloody Slayer,” he shot back, repositioning the glass in front of his ladylove. “Bird’s old enough to tussle with the undead, stop the sodding world from ending, but not throw back a few at the end of the day?”

“And I kinda like it,” Buffy added, her brow scrunched up. “Again with the burny, but not a bad burny. What is this?”

Spike shrugged, reaching into his duster pocket for his ciggies. “Not sure, all told. Told the bloke to make somethin’ sweet and fruity. Didn’t pay much attention to what he put in it.”

“So this could be roofied for all we know,” Fred said primly.

“When’d you become such a tight-arse? Not like you weren’t getting very stoned at her age, way you’ve told it.”

At this, Fred looked down and flushed a bit. “I just… This is a demon bar and it seems reasonable to think that evil things might be happening, even if Lorne has gone out of his way to keep the peace.”

“Only evil thing that’s happenin’ now is that cry for help on the stage,” Spike shot back, holding back a grin when he saw Buffy take another sip out of his peripheral. “Speakin’ of which, love, you volunteered me to have a go at the mic. Any requests?”

Buffy shook her head, giggling. “You’re hot no matter what you sing.”

There was no holding back his grin this time. Spike closed the couple of inches separating them at the booth to nudge her brow with his. “Don’t be shy. Drink up. Wanna hear the other things I’m good at.”

This was typically the time when she’d turn bright red and change the subject, sweet little thing that she was. But alcohol worked wonders on inhibitions, and it seemed the Slayer was no exception. Even with the few small sips she’d taken—girl had no tolerance built up, so it figured the stuff would hit her system with all the subtlety of an oncoming train.

“Well,” she said, drawing out the word, a thoroughly sexual smirk twisting the artwork she called a mouth. “There is that thing you do with your tongue. Very, very good.”

Spike waggled his eyebrows and ran said tongue over his teeth. “Find a dark corner, kitten, and I’ll do it right now.”

“You two both remember I’m here, right?” Fred asked loudly. “And also celibate.”

“You aim to change as much, pidge, I’m sure there are decent enough blokes around here that’d be keen to lend a hand,” Spike said. “See one you fancy and I’ll let you know if he’s the sort of nasty to do you right or the kind you’re better off avoiding.”

“My wing-vamp!” Buffy beamed and pressed a hot kiss to his cheek before scooping up her drink and throwing back a heartier mouthful. She favored him with a goofy smile before turning to Fred. “Monster-lovin’ is gooooood so long as you find the right monster. Like I did.”

Spike growled and nipped at her lips. “I’ll be whatever you want me to be.”

“I thought you were gonna sing for me.” She waved toward the stage. “Go get ’em.”

“Whatever my lady asks.” He kissed her again, and fuck, he’d never get tired of this. Though they’d been together now for several weeks—ever since they’d liberated the nightclub—the time before was never far from his mind. And worse still, the time before that, that detached state she’d been in the night they’d first had sex, and how she’d left him right after. Then, and even though he’d known he’d find her again, it had seemed a bit too much to hope that things would be like this between them. Fun, flirty, and simple. That he could kiss her in full sight of who the bloody hell cared, and she’d respond with enthusiasm.

Yeah, there were times he didn’t trust it, how much he was enjoying the unlife these days. Even when he and Dru had been at their happiest, there’d always been the shadow of something over him, and as much and as deeply as he’d loved her, the thing he felt now was in a league of its own. Like he’d been playing around with the kiddy stuff then, which was right disturbing. That it could be more intense than whatever he’d felt before was something he doubted he’d ever really understand.

“Someone’s in a good mood,” Lorne said as Spike strutted toward the stage. “All’s still well in the world of the Platinum Double-Threat?”

“Aces,” Spike replied, and nodded at the wanker who was currently butchering Zeppelin. “Slayer passed her big test, asked me to reward her with my vocals. Hook a bloke up?”

“Darling, I’ll take it anytime you wish to grace the stage with your pipes.” The Host made some sort of kill-it motion to whoever was manning the karaoke and the music pumping out toward the roomful of hostages died an abrupt death. “Have something in mind, sugarplum?”

“Think I’ll go for something soft and sentimental-like tonight.” He winked. “Gets her in the right kinda mood.”

“Things I so did not need to know, but considering I’m going to have a front-row pass into your cranium, I guess it’s unavoidable.” Lorne clapped his shoulder and steered him toward the back, where all the acts got ready for their numbers. “Need to go make nice with the Shoshuna demon I just pissed off, so you tell Billy which song you want and he’ll get you all set up.”

Spike rifled through the song collection while Lorne made his excuses for cutting the last bloke’s turn short. The green git still didn’t have much of a range of things—a few Pink Floyd albums, which were all right, some Zeppelin, the Monkeys, a few compilation tracks, some eighties hair bands, and the entire bloody Beatles library. Supposed he could be a bit limited on the offering when the clientele came here to have their fortunes read rather than exercise their vocals. And it was still relatively close to opening, but the sod better expand his library soon or his regulars were going to bloody riot.

“Here,” he said, tossing a CD at Billy, the timid Ptydol demon the Host had wrangled into working as a stagehand. “Number five on this one, yeah?”

Billy nodded, closed his scaly blue hands around the CD, blinked his sickly yellow eyes, then began working the equipment.

A few minutes later, Spike was on stage—a place he’d gotten rather familiar with over the past few weeks. He grinned at the smattering of applause he received from those who recognized him—Lorne had said he’d quickly become a favorite, and given how territorial the Slayer became after he’d performed, he found this to be very fortunate. The female demons in the crowd were definitely giving him eyes, and Buffy had noticed. Already the pretty smile that had been on her face had dropped into a scowl.

Yeah, it was petty, but Spike couldn’t bring himself to care. He liked seeing her all green for him. Made him feel a bit more even in terms of where they stood.

The music cued in with the familiar chords of an acoustic guitar, and Spike neared the mic. “I give her all my love. That’s all I do. And if you saw my love, you’d love her too. And I love her.”

Fred, as was normal for these outings, made one of those swooning girl noises that never ceased to tickle him. Though he never quite knew where he stood with the girl—if she was in his corner or just tolerated him for the Slayer’s benefit—he wagered he got as close as a bloke could to approval when he was crooning into the mic.

But as nice for the ego as that was, the one person whose opinion really mattered was Buffy’s. And right now, Buffy had her face planted in her hands and was grinning her secret, just-for-him grin. Suddenly, he couldn’t wait to be home.

“She gives me everything, and tenderly. The kiss my lover brings, she brings to me. And I love her.”

Yeah, maybe he was being an emotional sod tonight. What of it? Wasn’t like the Slayer didn’t know just how indelibly wrapped around her finger he was.

“A love like ours…could never die…as long as I have you near me.”

That much, he knew, was wishful thinking, though that was the only sort of thinking he let himself entertain these days. Buffy hadn’t come closer to telling him she loved him beyond the bit she’d spoken some weeks back about there being feelings on her end, and he was trying like hell not to push her. Most days he managed just fine because being here at all—being with her—was its own reward. But there were other days—just moments, really—when the need to be loved the way he loved threatened to consume him from within. He wagered he could live like this just fine if it was all he ever got and be thankful for it, but it didn’t seem much to ask, having the girl he loved, the girl he was mated to for all eternity, love him back just a little.

“Bright are the stars that shine. Dark is the sky.” Spike leveled his gaze on Buffy once more and tried not to melt like a sappy wanker when she smiled at him again. “I know this love of mine…will never die. And I love her.”

The music broke for the acoustic guitar solo. This was always his least favorite part of performing—sitting through lyricless music as a bunch of gits stared at him and he stared right back, waiting for his cue. The seconds in between performance and spectatorship, when he was completely alone. Always reminded him a bit of the silence that would follow any reading he’d done as a bloody awful poet. He suspected part of him would always be waiting for someone to crack wise or start laughing at his expense. Some ghosts were harder to outrun than others.

“Bright are the stars that shine. Dark is the sky. I know this love of mine…will never die. And I love her.”

And that was it, folks. All she wrote—she, being in this case, Lennon and McCartney. Spike grinned and gave the dutiful bow once the room exploded into applause, then reaffixed the mic on its stand and made to head off for the Slayer’s table.

Jolly Green popped up in his line of vision before he could make it more than a few steps.

“Just…just all the feels, my delicious vampire creampuff, all the feels,” he said. “I don’t know how you do it, but man, you always know what note to hit.”

“Reckon that’s a bit of a relief, seein’ as the same can’t be said for most of your customers.”

Lorne gave him a look that was somewhat scolding and somewhat commiserating at the same time, then threw an arm around his shoulder and situated himself at Spike’s side. “Were you wanting a reading tonight, Snickerdoodle? Saw all kinds of interesting things.”

Well, now that he’d mentioned that, what kind of berk would say no? “Wasn’t why I did it, but yeah, share with the class.”

“Okay, well. Take the bad but remember the good. The next little bit is going to be hard for you,” Lorne said, patting his shoulder. “Make that somewhat excruciating.”

Spike stopped short and turned to him, almost certain there for a tick he’d felt his dead heart thump. “Sorry?” he said, knowing damn well he’d heard just fine.

Lorne winced. “Yeah, buddy. Just remember—me messenger. What I can tell you is that there is an end to it. Do what comes naturally for you and everything will be peaches and cream, you get me?”

No, and now his temper was on the rise. “What the bleeding hell did you see?”

“Telling you the what would change it, and that’s not something anyone wants.”

“If whatever’s in my future is excruciating, then yeah. Fancy skippin’ that.”

“But you don’t, Spike, that’s what I’m trying to tell you. With the bad and the ugly comes the good, too.”

“Is it the Slayer? Somethin’ happen to her?” Or had the green bugger seen her leaving him again? The thought alone was painful enough. If he woke up tomorrow and found Buffy had scarpered off, especially after all they’d shared, that might well be the end for him.

“There’s no good way to give a man bad news,” Lorne said with a long sigh. “Just remember what I said when the going gets rough—do what comes naturally. Those instincts of yours will keep you on the path of the beam.”

What the bleeding blazes did that mean? “Listen here, you’re gonna tell me everythin’ you saw or one of these nights you’ll find me lurkin’ outside and those ugly horns of yours will pop right off.”

“Ow. Do you have any idea how much of a pain in the ass they are to grow back?” Lorne delicately patted at his horns. “Seriously, man. The only reason I’m giving you a head’s up at all is I know you’re prone to the occasional bout of melodrama and it could be very, very easy to find yourself going todash if you don’t watch out. Do what comes naturally. And in the words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I’m gonna say about that. Now go over there, lay a big smackaroo on your lady, and keep your eyes on the prize.”

And without another word, the infuriating git spun on his heels and disappeared into the crowd.

It was a minute before Spike could calm—a long minute. Every time he thought he might have himself under control, the gargle of riddle-talk the bugger had thrown at him roared back to the top of his mind, begging his demon to go and do something about it. But he knew chasing the Host down and trying to beat straighter information out of him wouldn’t work, namely because the Slayer would catch wise and then he’d really be in for it. What was worse was the fucker knew it. Knew as long as Buffy found him entertaining, he had a ticket that couldn’t be punched. And what would Spike say to her, anyway? Lorne had read him, warned him, and walked off? Didn’t seem like the sort of excuse that would garner him much sympathy.

Spike decided to buy time by ordering his girl another drink and himself three fingers of whiskey—his home remedy to dull the roaring in his head. Odds were high, though, he’d snatch a bottle of something before the night was out.

When he finally negotiated his way back to the table, he found a slightly slaphappy slayer who grinned up at him with wide, guileless eyes.

“There you are!” Buffy threw her arms around him and released a tipsy little titter that went further to quell his anger than all the bloody liquor in the world. “My sexy singing man.”

And that was it. He was officially smiling. “Sexy, huh?”

“Like you don’t know you’re sexy, you doof,” she said, maneuvering so she was on her knees, practically hanging out of the booth. “It made me wanna do naughty things.”

“Buffy!” Fred whispered furiously, her cheeks flushed. When she met Spike’s eyes, she rolled her own. “Apparently, she’s a horny drunk.”

Yeah, he could see that. Might have to cut the night early, see what kind of shagging she preferred when three sheets to the wind. “That little drink I brought her did this?”

“She might have gone to the bartender to get a refill. Or…or I went to the bartender to get her a refill because, celebrations, and I didn’t want to be the lame adult.” Fred sighed, rested her hand on her chin. “I seemed so much older to me when I was her age than she does right now. And it wasn’t that long ago! When did I become the lame adult? I’m too young to be the lame adult, Spike!”

Spike brought up his hands, which were full. “Not throwin’ stones, pidge. No harm done.”

“Oooh, I like these!” Buffy said when she saw the pink concoction he’d brought her. “Gimme, gimme!”

He chuckled and handed it to her. “Might wanna take it easy. Get some nosh in your belly. Too fast and it’ll come right back up.”

“Whatever.” Buffy threw back a slayer-sized gulp, her eyes somewhat glassy. “I am super strong and stuff. I can handle a little liquid.”

He opted not to bring up the fact that she’d drowned the year before. Seemed unsportsmanlike. Also, he knew as much because of Angelus, and that wasn’t a door he was keen on opening at the moment. He wanted to keep her light and happy, her focus all on him. There was never any telling what bringing up the old sod would do to her mood.

Which was now downright sultry. Buffy polished off the rest of her drink like a champ before favoring him with the sort of grin that made him want to spread her out on the table and sink between her thighs. If he thought she wouldn’t punish him for it in the morning, he might do just that.

“Spike,” she said, her voice low enough that he knew she was trying to whisper but loud enough that she failed miserably. “I’m all hot and squirmy.”

He waggled his brows at her. “You’re definitely hot, love.”

“And squirmy.” She edged closer to him, so close he prepared himself to catch her should she topple out of the booth. “I’m squirmy.”

“Are you now?”

“Uh huh.” She laid her hands on his chest, dragging her teeth over her lower lip. “Aaaaand I wanna be squirmy on you.”

A low growl tickled at his throat. “Give any thought to that dark corner I mentioned?” he murmured. “Might be fun if you’re feelin’ adventurous.”

“Ooookay,” Fred said, and started scooting her way to freedom. “I just got a major case of the third wheels. Buffy, congrats again on your awesome GED performance. Spike, she’s underage and drunk. Throw in public indecency and you might actually get her arrested, which will look the opposite of good when applying to colleges.” She rose to her feet, slung her purse over her shoulder. “Just something to keep in mind.”

Spike rolled his eyes but couldn’t contain his grin. “Spoilsport. Not like Lorne’s gonna call the coppers on us, anyway. He’d have a bit of a time explainin’ why some of his customers have antlers.”

“Still. Principle.” Fred offered a small smile, then waved. “If you manage to make it back to the apartment, please remember your friends with thin walls and no boyfriend.”

Buffy, who had clearly not been following a word of the conversation, chose that moment to run her hand over the bulge in his jeans and start nibbling on his neck.

It took herculean effort, but Spike swallowed and croaked, “No promises.”

* * * * *

Somehow, he did manage to get her home before he lost control. It wasn’t easy. More than once, he had to fight the urge to drag her down some alley and fuck her pretty little brains out. Wasn’t enough that she was touching him all over—no, apparently the Slayer, when sloshed, was quite the dirty talker. He didn’t know too many blokes who could keep it together when the woman they loved beyond reason was whispering how much she loved his cock and how badly she wanted it in her mouth.

The second the door was closed, Spike tugged Buffy into his arms and smashed his lips over hers. She whimpered and wrapped herself around him, her soft, sweet mouth moving against his with an urgency that had him worried he might not make it out of his trousers before he busted a nut. Buffy kissing him was one thing—Buffy starved for him, making those addictive little sounds, pulling at his belt, and rubbing herself all over him was a whole universe apart. He’d never felt like this—not once in all the years he and Dru had torn it up, and he’d been mad for her. Utterly mad.

But Buffy redefined everything he’d thought he’d known about himself. About how much he could feel, how deeply.

“This is right,” she whispered against his lips, and though he had no idea which this she was referring to, he couldn’t help but agree. Everything with her was just right.

“More than right, love.” He shoved off his duster, letting it fall to the ground by the door. “It’s bloody perfect.”

She tugged down the zipper to his fly. “I wanna suck it,” she said. “See if I’m any better.”

Spike groaned as she wrapped her hand around his cock, not having the mental fortitude at the moment to scold her for doubting herself. The girl had some silly notion that she wasn’t good at giving blowies. Granted, he had been her first—and fuck what a night that had been—but no matter how much he told her that she set him on fire in the good, not-fatal way, she came back to this idea that she was doing something wrong. He wagered it had to do with inexperience—he’d made some fool comment early on after they’d started shagging again, in response to her asking how he’d gotten so good at eating pussy, that he’d had plenty of practice. A daft thing to say, even if it happened to be true, because Buffy was still very young and had only been with one man before him.

“I love how hard you get,” she continued, pumping the length of him. “How you feel.”

Fuck. If a bit of sauce was all it took to get the Slayer saying things like this on the regular, he saw a lot more alcohol in their future. “Buffy… So hot. You’re so bloody hot.”

“And wet,” she agreed, grinning up at him.

Yeah, he knew. “Want your Spike to lick you up? Say the word.”

“Maybe in a minute.” She released his cock, braced her hands on his chest and began walking him back, and bloody hell if her take-charge attitude didn’t do it for him. It reminded him a bit of when they’d fucked for the first time, painful as what had come after had been. She’d been wild that night, too, and he’d been rough with her. Rougher than he’d likely had any right to, but they’d both needed it.

This Buffy wasn’t hurting, wasn’t detaching herself from the world around her. She was enjoying it.

When she pushed him, Spike tumbled onto the sofa without complaint before setting out to help her drag his jeans the rest of the way down his legs. She tugged at his shoes and pulled his socks off his feet, paused just long enough to tickle his toes, then settled between his legs and dragged her tongue from the base of his cock to the tip.

“Fuck, that’s good,” he said, throwing his head back. “My hot, sweet Slayer.”

“I like doing this,” Buffy said, then sucked him into her mouth with an honest-to-fuck moan. She pulled at him a few times, perhaps a bit harder than she had before, then released him with a wet plop and grinned up at him.

That fucking grin…

“Good, ‘cause I fucking love you doing it.” He wrapped his own hand around his cock to direct it back to her mouth, rubbing the head across her lips. “Suck me, baby. Please.”

There were times she enjoyed teasing him, and times he enjoyed being teased. Right now, though, he just wanted to feel her, and thank his lucky stars she was on the same page. Buffy licked the tip once, twice, then took him all the way in. The sight of her sitting there, blinking up at him with those vivid green eyes, mouth stuffed full of his cock was about enough to send him over the edge, but then he’d miss the best part. How her cheeks hollowed out and the way her head bobbed, the image of his dick, slick with her saliva, pumping between her lips. How she took him in a little deeper with each move, working herself up to deep throating him—something she’d insisted she learn after he’d described how amazing it felt.

“I wanna give you everything you had before,” she’d said. “So you don’t miss it.”

It had either been astonishment or selfishness that had kept him from blurting that he could have her in plain missionary for the rest of his days and not miss a thing. Because while he would be happy with whatever she gave him, the fact that she wanted to give him more—give him anything—was the sort of thing that could have an otherwise together bloke bawling like a baby.

Dru hadn’t been selfish in bed, necessarily, but she had been more singularly focused on what brought her pleasure. She’d taught him just enough to get him wrapped around her dainty little pinky. Every experience with Buffy was magnified for how different it was, that it was her, that she wanted to learn how he best liked to be fucked was its own aphrodisiac.

“You can grab my head,” Buffy said. “It won’t hurt.”

Oh yeah, they were investing in more liquor. Spike groaned and threaded his fingers through her hair, and then he couldn’t help himself. He began guiding her strokes, slowly at first to give her the option of moving away, then harder when he realized she wouldn’t. It would be over quickly now, he knew. Watching Buffy as Buffy watched him, the open, earnest look in her eyes—the honest desire to please. Every time his cock struck home, she sucked harder and contracted her throat muscles the way he liked, and bugger, that was it. He was a goner.

“Slayer…” Spike bucked, tightened his grip on her hair and growled as he began to shoot down her throat. Pleasure sparked and jolted, and it seemed to have no end because she was still there. Still pulling on him, making those bloody noises that could fool a bloke into thinking she was getting off on this, too. At last, the situation in his head began to calm and he fell back to the ground, panting and satisfied but still somehow in so much need he could barely see straight.

When he peeked his eyes open—eyes he hadn’t realized he’d shut—he saw her resting her cheek against his thigh, a kittenish smile on her face. Like she’d truly enjoyed herself just now—a thought that had his dick stirring all over again.

“Fuck, Slayer, I love you,” he heard himself babbling. “Love you so much. Your mouth. Your sweet mouth.” He traced a finger around the mouth in question, and growled when she nipped at it. “How brilliantly you suck me with it. So good to me, you are. Could stay here forever.”

“Mmm,” she said before kissing the head of his swelling cock. “Forever. I think I like that. Forever here. No going back.”

It would have been easy to barrel right over that thought, but fuck, Spike had never done anything easy. Especially since getting her to talk about this was next to impossible. “No? Don’t wanna see your mum again? Your mates?”

“They’d just ruin everything.” She sniffed, and the scent of tears hit the air, hard and cutting. So at odds with the little sexy kitten she’d been just seconds ago. “Mom kicked me out. And Giles…Giles would definitely hate you.”

Spike sat there for a moment, staring at her, the high he’d just reached taking a rather spectacular nose-dive. After a beat, he leaned forward and seized her by the shoulders to drag her onto his lap. Felt bloody foolish having this conversation starkers, especially if she was upset. “Your mum was brassed,” he said, wrapping his arms around her as she tucked her head under his chin. “Scared stupid, too, I’d reckon. Most mums are when it comes to their kids. Guessin’ your watcher’s had more than one talk with her since then, made her see that you were tellin’ her the truth about everything.”

“She should have believed me,” Buffy whispered hoarsely. “She should’ve known. All the times I nearly died. The time I did. All the dirt and blood on my clothes and she never asked. Never once even checked in to make sure I was okay. And then she thought I might’ve had something to do with what happened to Kendra.” She started crying harder now. “That was the worst night of my life, Spike. The worst. And she…she took my home away.”

Fuck. Spike released a long, tempered breath, doing his best to keep his own raging emotions under control, because he was an unworthy sod. That had been the worst night of her life—the night Dru had left him for dead in his dumpy little motel room, the night the other slayer had kicked it, the night Buffy had run a sword through her ex-honey’s gut right after he’d been returned to her. Which part of it made it the worst night?

And how was it he could have her like this and feel just this side of blissful but still manage to be jealous of a dead man?

“And Giles would just try to undo it.”

He swallowed hard, not knowing if he wanted to hear but certain he needed to. “Undo what, pet?”

“The claim. He’d try to undo it the second we got there.”

At this, some of the pressure in his chest alleviated. Spike gave a soft snort. “Reckon he could try all he liked, but it’s not goin’ anywhere, pet.”

“He has the same book—the one where I learned about claims. He has it. I know he does. Which means he knows how they can be undone.”

“What’s this?”

“They can be undone.”

“You…you found a way to undo it?”

“Not me—Fred did. She keeps asking if I wanna undo it and I’ve thought about it and I decided I don’t. I like things the way they are.”

Bloody hell, the revelations just kept coming. Spike pulled his head back, his lungs filling with lead. “You thought about it? About breaking the claim?”

“I like the way things are, though. I decided I like it here.” She snuggled into him again and relaxed. “I like this with you.”

The words were sweet and all, but he couldn’t focus on them. All he heard, all he could hear, was that the Slayer had discovered a way to break their bond and had considered doing it.

When was this? How long ago? How often? And little Fred knew? Kept asking if Buffy wanted an out? The pretty picture in his head of everything they’d been doing for the past few weeks—months, really—abruptly shattered, taking his heart with it. All this time she’d been smiling at him when he told her he loved her, teasing him that she felt something, though what was anyone’s guess, and she’d had an escape hatch at the ready just in case?

She didn’t jump through it, though, he told himself, fighting the burn of his own tears now. She’s here. She decided she likes things the way they are.

Well, wasn’t that fine and bloody dandy? He was over here bleeding from the heart and she was okay with that. String old Spike along as long as it was fun, and ever the day came when it wasn’t anymore, or when she decided to stop playing house, she’d just have to toddle on over to her friend’s flat and then she could skip merrily back to her old life. Never mind what happened to him.

The rational side of his mind, the William side, implored him for patience. Let the girl sober up a bit so they could discuss this properly because he had to be missing something, right? That couldn’t be all of it.

Except why hadn’t she told him about the escape clause when she’d mentioned the bloody book? Why keep that in her back pocket unless she wanted it around to use one day?

Spike sighed, his heart too heavy and mind too torn to delve into this tonight. He swung her into his arms. “Let’s go, pet.”

“Mmm…bedtime?” She yawned against his throat, blissfully unaware of how she’d just upended his world. Girl was good at that—the doing and the not knowing. Or maybe not caring. “Sorry I’m pooping out on you, but my head’s a bit fuzzy. I think I need sleep.”

I think I need a drink.

“We’ll get you all tucked in.”

“You’re good to me. So good, Spike.”

Yeah, he was a regular prince. Just not the kind the girl wanted for keeps.

Story of his life.