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Save the Last Dance For Me

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Chapter 1: Blackmail

 

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Buffy sat down hard on the back steps of her house, dropping the small, velvet bag down next to her.  The jewels within jangled together, almost musically, but she didn’t notice. The tears she’d been holding back exploded from her eyes and she buried her face against her knees, hands clasped around her ears as she sobbed.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Nothing was working.

Nothing was right.

The memory of heaven haunted her, every minute of every day. The world was harsh. It was bright and hard and cruel. She’d done her penance, hadn’t she? Her journey had been done. She’d made the ultimate sacrifice. She’d made it through this purgatory, saved the world, saved her friends, and been rewarded. Rewarded with warmth, and light and love … but her friends couldn’t stand it. They had to get her back. They had to yank her out of that warm, loving embrace and thrust her back into purgatory … or what they call ‘life’.

The only escape she’d found was Spike. God help her … Spike. Her sobs came harder at the thought, even as her body bloomed with lust and yearning. Her mind, her conscience, dripped with dark shame for taking solace in his arms, but her body rejoiced. Her heart … well, her heart was caught in the middle. Didn’t she deserve an escape? Didn’t she deserve a few moments of bliss in this horrid world? But he was evil. Always had been. Always would be. She knew that, but … but he knew her pain. And he knew how to take it away, at least for a while.

But her friends would never understand.

Never.

And that was the rub, wasn’t it? That’s why there was a bag of priceless diamonds next to her, black diamonds. She felt a kinship to them … dark on the inside, bright and shiny on the outside.  She fumbled with the string holding the bag closed and fished one out, holding it up in the moonlight, turning it back and forth to let the light catch the facets, sparkling. Exactly like her … a bright façade hiding a dark heart.

“No fondling the merch, Slayer,” came a male’s sarcastic voice from the dark.

Buffy didn’t start, she’d been waiting for it.  She quickly swiped a sleeve across her tear-streaked face and dropped the jewel back into the bag, pulling the string closed tightly.  She looked up, scowling, and tossed the bag in the direction of the voice.

“Fuck you,” she growled menacingly.

Warren laughed, plucking the bag out of the air with one hand.  “That’s what got you into this mess, isn’t it?” he asked sarcastically, opening the bag and examining the loot.

He licked his lips, keeping the drool from escaping his mouth. Having a Slayer under his thumb was better than having a Bot. And he might just have to take her up on that ‘fuck you’ offer one of these days, but priorities. He had priorities.

“There’s another shipment coming through tomorrow night. Rubies. Get them,” he ordered, smirking as he thought of fucking the Slayer in a bed of rubies, diamonds, and emeralds. His cock grew hard at the image of her blond hair fanned out over the jewels, her silken thighs spread wide for him. He could see it clearly now, just as he did every night as he watched the videos of her with the blond vampire. He could even hear her, screaming at him to fuck her harder, just as she did in the videos.

Warren’s eyes began to glaze as he relived the scenes in the videos he’d surreptitiously captured, and he gave himself a mental slap – priorities! Jewels first. Fucking the Slayer could wait. She wasn’t going anywhere, after all.

Buffy glared at him. “How long is this going to go on?” she demanded. “I’ve gotten you a small fortune in gems already!”

Warren shrugged. “Until you’ve gotten me a large fortune … an enormous fortune … for as long as I say, unless you want those videos broadcast all over the world,” he replied coldly, turning to go.

Buffy jumped up and had him in a choke-hold before she even knew what was happening.

“If … I … die …” Warren choked out, “you … will … be … exposed … vampire … whore.”

Buffy released him abruptly, and Warren dropped to one knee, staggering and rubbing his throat. He glared at her through narrowed eyes as he rose back to his feet. “Face it, Slayer, you’re my bitch. If you don’t want the world to know about your little … tête-à-tête with the vampire, then I need to stay alive and well, and you need to do as I say.”

Buffy clutched her hands into fists as her blood boiled. She needed to hit something. Hard. Now.  She took one step forward and drove her fist into the oak tree next to the geek. Splinters of bark and wood shot out in all directions as the whole tree shook, raining leaves and acorns down on them.

“Get. Out. Of. My. Sight,” she growled dangerously, her teeth clenched, barely containing her rage.

Warren did. Quickly.

Suddenly, all of Buffy’s strength waned and she dropped down onto her knees in the grass beneath the tree, her tears returning. How had she let herself get into this situation? HOW? If her friends knew … and Dawn … and Giles. Oh, God, if Giles found out, what would he say? What would he think of her? He’d been the closest thing to a father she’d had for a long time, and the thought of how he’d look at her if he knew, not only knew but SAW, ripped gashes of anguish in her heart.

**~**

“Slayer?” Spike’s voice was soft, but filled with confusion and concern as he approached the crumpled form beneath the oak tree.

He reached out and touched her shoulder, and she jumped, scrambling back from him, eyes wide with confusion.

Buffy tried to clear the cobwebs from her mind, looking around, trying to make sense of where she was. Then it all came back to her, she was in the backyard, she must’ve cried herself to sleep beneath the oak tree.

“Spike …” she muttered as her heartbeat slowed and her adrenaline subsided.

Spike quirked brow at her, taking in her disheveled look, the tear tracks and red blotched cheeks.  “Someone kick yer puppy, Slayer?”

Buffy rolled her eyes and got to her feet, brushing leaves and grass from her clothes. “Go away,” she demanded icily. “I’m not in the mood for your sarcastic tongue in this lifetime.”

“As I recall, seemed to like my sarcastic tongue fine the other night, you did,” Spike reminded her, running said tongue invitingly over his lips.

Spike thought Buffy’s eyes were gonna roll right out of her head at that. She huffed at him and moved to shove past him toward the house.

“What’s yer rush, luv? Not very neighborly of ya, not even offering a parched vampire a spot of tea,” he chided, grabbing hold of her arm.

“Let. Go,” Buffy snarled at him, teeth flashing in anger.

“Make me,” Spike countered, his voice low and serious, his lips curled in a smug smile.

Before Spike even knew she’d moved, her free hand came up and her fist smashed against his nose, splattering blood in all directions. He laughed maniacally and twisted the arm he still held, flipping her completely over and planting her back on the hard ground with a ‘whoosh’ of expelled breath.

In the next moment he was on her and they scrabbled against each other, rolling and grappling, strength matching strength, Buffy’s anger at the world lashing out against Spike’s demon, who reveled in the age-old battle: vampire and Slayer.

They rolled and punched, scratched and bit, first he on top and then her as they struggled, ripping clothes and flesh alike, both growling, sounding alarmingly like a pack of wolves in the back yard. Luckily, Dawn was spending the night at her friend’s house and Willow had an all-night cram session at the library for a test the next day. No one was home to hear.

And then, as if it were part of the fight, they were kissing, their mouths smashing against each other, demanding and fierce. Tongues and teeth clashing, lips bruising with the undeniable lust they both felt. Their clothes, already torn and bloody, were ripped away in a flurry of need, buttons popping, seams splitting. And then there was flesh, hot against cold, hard against soft, moonlit marble against a sun-kissed rose. In that moment of surrender as they joined, the world stopped spinning, the sun exploded, and the moon fell from the sky.

Buffy gasped and her back arched in ecstasy as Spike’s hardness entered her, driving home in one long, hard thrust, sending sparks of bliss searing through her shattered soul, filling in all the cracks left raw and bleeding by her resurrection.  She floated there, trembling, unable to breathe, unable to think, all of her internal wounds blissfully numbed with the passion of their coupling.

“Don’t … stop,” she gasped against his neck, pulling him into her hard with her heels digging against his marble-hard ass. “Never … stop.”

He didn’t.

He moved against her, her arms and legs wrapped around him, her soft walls slick and welcoming. Her warmth filled him, radiating through him, her beating pulse felt like his own heart was racing; in these moments with her he almost felt … human … alive.

Their bodies moved in unison, rising and falling, flesh meeting flesh, driving, lustful, blind. Needing all the other could give. Taking everything. Giving everything.  Demanding. Yielding. Floating. Flying. Exploding.

His mouth covered hers as their mutual ecstasy found its zenith and exploded, raining down blissful pleasure like a shower of tingling sparks over their quivering bodies.  Her scream and his growl of completion were both muffled against the other’s lips, swallowed by the night, lost in the darkness.

Darkness.

Buffy felt it. She felt the darkness seeping back in, the bright sparks of desire which had filled those fathomless crevices of emptiness began fading away again. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t hold them for longer than these fleeting moments with Spike.  She’d come back wrong, with a deep emptiness, and she didn’t know how to fix it.

The darkness brought reality back. Purgatory. Warren. Her friends. Her anger. Her sadness. Her despair.

“Get off me!” she demanded suddenly, pushing and kicking at Spike furiously.

She’d done it again! Wasn’t she in enough trouble already!? How could she do it AGAIN? Had Warren planted more cameras around here, she wondered in a panic, her eyes darting around the yard, searching as she tried to gather up her torn and tattered clothes.

“What the bloody hell, Slayer?!” Spike demanded, rolling away from her flailing fists and feet and standing up. He jerked his jeans up over his ass and tried to button them, but it was a lost cause, the buttons were long gone.

“Just … just leave me alone, Sp-p-pike,” Buffy tried to make it sound like a demand, but to her chagrin it came out as a plea, her voice cracking slightly on his name.

Buffy was standing now, too, trying to pull her coat back on over her torn sweater and jeans. He stepped forward and grabbed her upper arms and held her still, ducking his head to make her look at him. “Tell me,” he said simply, holding her gaze with his bottomless blue eyes.

“Tell you what?” Buffy countered, scowling.

Spike sighed. “Tell me who kicked yer bloody puppy.”

Buffy rolled her eyes and lifted her chin defiantly. “I don’t have a puppy. I am canine-free. You can ask anybody.”

“Right, then, tell me why you reek of gun powder, tears, an’ desolation,” he countered.

Stupid vampire smelling, she thought dourly, the memory of wresting the gun away from the security guard just as he fired returning to her at the mention of gunpowder. The bullet had gone wild, luckily striking a wall, harmlessly. She could still hear the shot ringing in her ears though, and it set her teeth on edge.

Not wanting to mention any of that to Spike, she settled on contending, “You can’t smell desolation,” in her best authoritative voice.

Spike cocked a brow, “Can’t I, then?”

Buffy remained silent. What was she supposed to say? I’m being blackmailed for sleeping with you? There’s video evidence. She knew what Spike would say, ‘Yeah? Let’s have a look, then!’  It didn’t hurt HIS reputation to be fucking a Slayer, but her friends would never understand. Never. She felt utterly alone and completely trapped.

Spike shook her gently, bringing her attention back to him. “Buffy?”

Buffy swallowed hard and looked down at the ground between them. She hated when he used her name. It was too … personal. It felt like … like they were friends or something. And they weren’t. They were far from friends. They were enemies. Enemies with benefits.

She snorted at her own joke, but looked back up into his eyes.

He was darkness. He never even tried to pretend he was anything else. She knew how that darkness felt. She was darkness parading around in bright, shiny armor saying, ‘Tis but a scratch,’ as she bled to death, slowly but surely. She was that black diamond. Glittering on the outside, but black as onyx within.

Spike raised his brows in question, but she shook her head, dismissing it.

“I’m fine,” she assured him in her best, bright, happy voice, forcing a smile.

“Just tired,” she continued, her fake smile cracking a bit as she pulled free from his grip. “Goodnight.”

Buffy turned and walked toward the house, leaving Spike standing in the yard staring after her, dazed and confused, as always.

 

 


 

End notes


 

Thank you so much for reading! I hope you’ll stop in with a review and let me know what you think! I love hearing from you!

Thanks also to my wonderful beta-reader, Paganbaby, without whom this would not have happened at all! All mistakes here are mine because I just can’t stop fiddling.

 

 

 

 

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The next night Spike stepped out from a downtown alley just as Buffy reached it, stopping her in her tracks. She let out a short, un-Slayer-like squeak of surprise, nearly running into him before she could stop.

“Where’s the fire, Slayer?” Spike inquired casually, tilting his head to the side as he studied her.  Her heart was racing, she’d been sweating, and her adrenaline was off the charts. Any other time that would be enough to rouse him to rock-hardness with just one whiff, but not tonight. He knew why she was in this state, and it wasn’t from fighting vampires or demons.

“Nothing … errr, I mean, nowhere. I’m just …” Buffy waved a hand vaguely down the dark street, “You know … Slayer stuff. Much Slayer stuff to be done. I’m being all Slayer-y.”

Spike cocked a brow at her and, before she knew he’d moved, reached into her jacket pocket and plucked out the small, velvet box hidden there.

“Known lots of Slayers, I have,” he informed her, turning to the side and holding the box out of her reach as she lurched for it, “But never known one t’ play Robin Hood.”

A stake suddenly appeared in Buffy’s hand – where the hell did she keep those? – and she pressed it against Spike’s chest, menacingly. 

“Give it back,” she demanded, reaching her other hand toward the small box that Spike held at arm’s length away from her.

“You won’t stake me, Slayer.”

“Try me,” Buffy growled, pressing a little harder on the stake, piercing his shirt and skin, and drawing a trickle of blood which welled up and soaked into his t-shirt.

“So, what is it? Realized that bright, shiny baubles were what was missin’ from yer life, did you?” he inquired calmly, still not relinquishing the jewels. “Girl’s best friend and all that rot?”

“I swear to God, Spike, I will dust you right now!”

“Right then … ‘ave at it, Slayer,” he invited, raising both hands over his head and thrusting his chest out, but still keeping a firm grip on the small box of jewels and holding them high and away from Buffy.

His eyes met hers in a challenge, his head tilted in that way that infuriated her, mocking her, as if he knew her better than she knew herself. Well, he damn well didn’t. Not by a long shot. He knew nothing. Why was she even having this conversation with him? She should just dust him and take the jewels and … and … and … and then what?  Her heart constricted, and she felt tears sting her eyes. And then she’d be alone. Again. In the darkness. With no escape at all.

“Arrgh!” she exclaimed, turning around and flinging her arms out in utter frustration. “You are the most irritating, annoying, infuriating vampire I’ve ever known!”

Spike smiled, proud of himself. “Surpassed the great poof, ‘ave I?”

Buffy made a growling sound as she turned back around to face him. “Just give me the box, Spike.”

“Ummmm … let me think …. No,” he retorted dryly. “You tell me why ya have these little baubles.”

“It’s none of your business. Give it to me,” she demanded again.

“In yer list of my finer qualities, you forgot ‘stubborn’ and ‘relentless’, Slayer. Might as well tell me, save me following you about every night till I figure it out, won’t it?”

“I need them. Please, Spike, just …”

“Tell me why.”

“I can’t.”

“Something wrong with yer tongue, cos it looks perfect t’ me,” Spike assured her, wagging his brows at her suggestively.

Buffy huffed out an exasperated breath and closed her eyes. Options. She needed to consider her options. She could stake him, that would be the easiest. Definitely the best option.  Except for the alone in the dark part of the program.  She could beat him up and take it. Not a bad option, except beating Spike up usually just lead to them having sex, which is what got her in this mess in the first place … and were there cameras here in the alley? She looked around but didn’t see any, but then she hadn’t seen them in her yard, either.

“Just tell me, Buffy,” Spike urged, his voice gentle now, all trace of sarcasm gone. His hand reached out to touch her face softly. “Maybe I can help.”

Buffy sighed and opened her eyes. His were just inches away from hers, their blue depths full of worry and concern, searching her face for some hint, some idea of what was going on. It looked … real. It looked genuine.

Since when do vampires show worry and concern for a Slayer? Since when do Slayers need vampires to keep them from drowning in the darkness?

Apparently, since now.

But it wasn’t ‘vampires’, was it? It was this vampire. And it wasn’t ‘Slayers’. It was just her.

“You aren’t alone, pet. Let me help you, yeah?” Spike coaxed, opening the small box to expose the brilliant rubies within to the dim light of the alleyway.

Buffy took a deep breath that seemed to come all the way from her toes and let it out slowly, her gaze moving from his eyes to the sparkling jewels. She would go down in the annals of Slayerdom as the worst Slayer ever, of that she had no doubt. 


** X-X-X-X-X **


 

Buffy unceremoniously dropped the unconscious Warren onto the sarcophagus in Spike’s crypt. His head thunked on the hard surface, but she barely noticed as she looked around for the vampire.  This was his stupid plan and he was freaking late for it!

“Spike!” she called sotto voce, as if she’d awaken their unconscious guest. “Spike! God damnit! Where are you!?”

“Behind you, Slayer,” he answered in a normal voice from literally a foot away, making her jump and whirl around, fists clenched and ready to strike.

“Wound a bit tight, are we?” he teased her, adding, “I’ll see if I can’t help ya with that later, luv,” while running his tongue salaciously across his lips.

“Damn it, you’re late! Where have you been?! Warren said if he wasn’t back on time, those videos would be distributed all over the internet!” she demanded, ignoring his flirtations.

“Just had to get a thing or two I’d need, yeah?” he answered, dropping a large, very dead-looking demon off his shoulder and onto the floor. 

Buffy stepped back to keep from being splattered in blood and other grossness, her brows furrowed in confusion. “What’s that?”

“Demon,” Spike answered unhelpfully as he pulled a long knife from a scabbard at his side and began to slice the demon open at the belly, letting the foul-smelling innards spill out.

“But … what …” Buffy tried again, backing up further and covering her nose and mouth with one hand to try and quell the stench.

Having spilled the demon’s guts – very literally – Spike grabbed an axe from its place behind the door and took careful aim. He swung down on the demon with swift, accurate, and amazingly effective blows. The first blow struck at the neck, decapitating it with a sickening gurgle and crunch, then Spike opened the chest cavity straight from the neck to the already open belly, sending globs of foul-smelling puke-green and puss-yellow goo flying in all directions.

Buffy backed up further, watching in a horrified trance as Spike removed not only the things guts, but its brain, and then deboned it, all with what looked like practiced ease. Buffy didn’t want to think about how Spike knew how to do that or how he was so skilled at it, but she did want to know WHY.

“Spike, don’t you think we should have the Demon Dissection and Evisceration 101 class later? Like, when we don’t have a ticking time bomb waiting to go off and ruin my life, for example?”

Spike snorted but kept working on the corpse. ‘Ruin her life, would it? To be seen with you, mate,’ he thought dourly as he lifted the demon skin up and away from the bones and guts with a squelching sound that turned Buffy’s stomach.

Spike’s stomach was already turned, but not from the gore. It had been in knots since she’d told him about Warren and his videos of them, and how it would ruin her life for any of her friends to find out that she’d turned to Spike for solace.

Spike had been a fool, he’d known it deep down all along, but somehow wouldn’t let the thought surface to be examined closely. She could never be with him, never love for him … not the way he wanted, not the way he loved her. But he’d kept hoping that, with time, she could come to see him as more. More than a vampire. More than an outlet for her lust and an escape from her darkness. More than … well, more than he was, if he was honest.

But no. That dream had been eviscerated just as quickly and cleanly as this demon had when she’d confided the blackmail to him. She must want to keep this secret very badly to actually pull-off these jewel heists, to risk harming humans, to use her powers for something other than good. He knew that would’ve gone against every fiber of her being, and yet, she’d done it, to keep him a secret. Which meant the thought of her friends finding out about their trysts turned her stomach even more.

Spike sighed and realized that Buffy was talking again, asking questions. God, couldn’t the bloody bint shut up for a minute?

The vampire picked up the demon’s head, which now looked more like a rubber Halloween mask than anything else, and carried it, along with the skin, over to where Warren lay. Without ceremony, Spike lifted the blackmailer up into a seated position and plopped the demon mask over Warren’s head, then proceeded to dress the now semi-conscious human in the demon skin suit.

Buffy felt bile rise to the back of her throat as Spike jammed the bloody demon head on over Warren’s. Liquids oozed from the mask and the stench had not lessened at all. She swallowed hard and managed, “Wha…” before her last meal returned with a vengeance and she turned to the side and puked.

“Bloody hell, Slayer! You’re cleanin’ that up!” Spike chastised.  “Didn’t take you for a poofter.”

“I’m not a poofter! Whatever that is!” Buffy retorted, keeping her eyes averted from the scene as Spike finished dressing Warren completely in the demon skin, head to toe. “But what the hell are you doing?”

Spike finally turned away from their captive and faced her, sighing deeply. He tapped his forehead meaningfully with a forefinger. “You want answers from the berk, I can get ‘em … but yer forgetting, Slayer … I can’t hurt a human. Just cuz I can hit you, doesn’t mean I can lay a hand on this soddin’ wanker! No matter how much of an evil arsehole he is.”

Buffy’s jaw dropped open in comprehension. “And now … you can?” she asked hesitantly.

Spike jabbed a fist at Warren’s jaw, quick as a flash of lightning and just as hard. The demon-suited human grunted in pain and fell to the side, rolling completely off the sarcophagus with a squishy thud as he landed on the floor beneath.

Buffy looked from the fallen figure and then back to Spike, who was standing there as if he’d just swatted a fly, her eyes wide in horror. “You’ve … you’ve thought of this … I mean … you … knew how to…”

“Blah, blah, blah,” Spike retorted, cutting her off. “Thought we were on the clock, eh?

“Best take your-green-tinged-self outside now, don’t want more puke on my clean floor,” he advised, kicking at the gore-soaked dirt on the ground as he moved over and lifted Warren back onto the hard tomb, laying him out flat on his back. “Got work t’ do here, don’t I?”

Buffy stood, transfixed, glued to the spot. The ramifications of this whirling through her mind. He could’ve … he could’ve killed her friends before, or now, or anytime. He could’ve been feeding … could’ve been hunting. He could’ve easily drugged their food to knock them out and then dressed them in a demon suit and …

“Slayer, get the hell out,” Spike demanded, pulling her from her spinning thoughts. His lips were pursed as he moved over to face her. “I don’t want you t’ see … me … see this … I mean …” Spike stammered before lowering his gaze and settling on, “Just go, pet … please.”

Buffy nodded absently and stumbled almost drunkenly toward the door. The thought, ‘Spike could’ve killed them all’, stuck in her mind on repeat, followed hesitantly by a single refrain of, ‘but he didn’t.’


End Notes


 

So many thanks to PaganBaby for her beta skills and all her support and inspiration! She also created the amazing Banner! So awesome! I'll have more soon! There's sooo much more to come! 

I'd love it if you'd stop in a leave me a note! They're like dark chocolate for my finicky, and sometimes evil, muse.

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Buffy paced back and forth in front of Spike’s crypt, trying to ignore the sounds that punctuated the night coming from within. She knew Spike was muffling most of it, she could tell by how strangled the noises were, but she could still hear it. She should stop this. Warren was a human. She shouldn’t be condoning – more than condoning, eliciting – this behavior from Spike. But, God damn it, Warren was dangerous, and not just to her reputation. He and his little gang of nerds had been wreaking havoc all over town for weeks, and heaven only knew why he wanted all those gemstones he’d been having her steal.

Buffy was so busy rationalizing her actions to herself that she didn’t notice that the sounds from the crypt had stopped until Spike stepped out into her path, wiping his hands on a towel. They had blood on them. Human blood. Buffy swallowed and looked away, wrapping her arms around her middle in an attempt to keep her stomach from lurching into her throat. It didn’t really work.

“What did you get out of him?” she asked, still looking away.

“Screams. Various fluids. And a location,” Spike replied dryly, dropping the towel as he strode purposely toward the gate of the cemetery. “His little cronies ‘ave them in that van o’ theirs,” he informed her as she hurried to catch up. “They’re waitin’ fer the tit in the alley behind the Bronze. If he doesn’t show, they’re supposed to ‘upload the files t’ the net’.

“We’ll just do a bit of a smash ‘n grab and have done with it,” he continued, his voice oddly flat and dry.

“Did you ... I mean, what did you do to him?” Buffy called after him, honestly fearing the answer. “Is he … alive?”

“Did what I had to, didn’t I? And yeah, alive as a gormless worm can get, I reckon.”

“Are you … okay?” Buffy asked as she caught him up. He was acting strangely; oddly distant and emotionless. Buffy had seen Spike in a myriad of situations and moods, but ‘emotionless’ had never been one of them.

“Right as rain,” Spike replied, still flat and cold. “On the clock though, eh? Let’s go,” he continued, breaking into a run, his leather duster billowing out behind him.

**~**


 

The van was, indeed, parked in the alley behind the Bronze. Buffy flushed slightly, remembering one particularly energetic evening with Spike that nearly caved in the brick wall on the opposite side of the alley. That was one that Warren had on tape; he had, to Buffy’s utter mortification, shown it to her.

Buffy grabbed Spike’s arm and stopped him from going into the alley, pointing up to the corner of the building where a not-so-hidden camera scanned the area. “They’ll see us coming,” she whispered.

Spike narrowed his eyes and calculated his chances of reaching the van before they actually saw him, and thought they were pretty good, but he knew that Buffy didn’t need even more video evidence of her nighttime gambits. He looked around the ground and found a stray street brick shoved against one of the dumpsters. Picking it up, he weighed it in his hand a moment before drawing back and flinging it at the camera. It hit with a sound of breaking plastic and a few sparks, and then the camera went still and dark.

“Have you ever thought of pitching for the Yankees?” Buffy wondered, impressed.

Spike shrugged. “Ate one or two back in ‘27. Must’a picked something up in the blood.”

“I don’t think that’s actually something you can catch from blood,” Buffy pointed out, but Spike just shrugged again.

“You’d be surprised. Let’s go,” he invited, ending the conversation abruptly and striding menacingly toward the van.

He reached the back doors of the van and flung them open, accidentally ripping one of them completely off in an explosion of screeching metal, and eliciting screams of terror from within.

Spike sighed and rolled his eyes as the two wanna-be tough guys huddled together as far away from him as they could get, sniveling and begging for their miserable little lives.

“Shut the bloody hell up,” Spike ordered as he began jerking out wires, smashing computers, and gathering up anything that looked like it could be a video, all while Andrew and Jonathan whimpered and cowered in one corner.

“Not that!” Andrew exclaimed when Spike picked up a framed and autographed picture of Timothy Dalton.  “Please, no!” the little blond begged reaching for his prized possession.

Spike frowned at it and held it in both hands, menacingly, like he might tear it in two, frame and all. “Give me all the copies o’ the Slayer sex tapes ya got, or this bloke is gone,” he threatened, eyeing the small, blond kid seriously.

“Okay! Okay! Please … just … don’t hurt him!” Andrew begged, holding his hands up in supplication. “There’s just one more … it’s…”

“Shut up, you idiot!” Jonathan growled. “It’s our only leverage!”

“You shut up!” Andrew shot back, scowling. “Do you know what I went through to get that autographed!? And, due to a slight misunderstanding, I’ll never get another one with that restraining order in place!”

“Moron!” Jonathan bellowed at his friend.

 “I know you are, but what am I?” Andrew retorted with a sneer.

The two boys began to scrabble and wrestle each other, rolling over the broken computer parts and other debris covering the floor of the van, screaming at each other,

“No, you shut up!”

“You shut up!”

“You!”

“You!”

“OI!” Spike interrupted, “Both of ya, shut yer gobs!” Spike grabbed Jonathan by the nape of the neck holding the small brunette up like a kitten, careful to not actually hurt him and set off the chip.

During the tussle with Andrew, Jonathan had managed to grab a bone which had glyphs and magical symbols carved into it. He began frantically stroking it and chanting an incantation as he dangled helplessly in Spike’s grip.

“Don’t be daft!” Spike advised the little weasel, grabbing the bone from his hand and smashing it with all this strength against the edge of the opening where the doors of the van had once been. It broke easily into several pieces with a loud ‘clang’ that rattled the whole van.  Dusty, red smoke emerged from the broken end of the bone that Spike still held, smelling slightly sulfuric. He tossed it far down the alley, well past Buffy, where it landed with a clatter, the red smoke disbursing harmlessly in the evening breeze. 

“My magic bone! You broke my magic bone!” Jonathan cried, horrified. “You … you, brute!”

Spike chuckled and rolled his eyes, then tossed the kid like a sack of potatoes out of the van toward the Slayer, who stood in the alley, watching.  “Hold on t’ that one. Lost his magic bone, he has. Shame,” he lamented sarcastically. “Must be right deflatin’, that.”

Spike then turned back to the other combatant to continue his interrogation.  “Now then,” Spike picked the framed photo up from where he’d dropped it and looked down at the inscription to get the kid’s name, “Andrew, is it? Let’s have that last copy, shall we? Then you and Timothy ‘ere can have a long and boring life together.”

Andrew nodded his head in wild agreement and reached behind one of the seats, opening a hidden compartment on the back. He extracted a box and handed it to Spike. “That’s it … those are the originals. You got all the rest,” Andrew assured him, waving a hand around at the devastated equipment and the bag of DVDs and videotapes Spike had gathered up.

Andrew reached for the picture in Spike’s hand. Spike pulled it back, keeping the boy from touching it, keeping it just out of his reach. “You wouldn’t be holdin’ anything back on me now, would ya?” Spike asked coolly.

Andrew looked horrified, his eyes darted around the van, trying to look anywhere but at Spike.

“Give it up, poof, or this bloke…” Spike finished his threat by beginning to break the frame around the photograph.

“Gah! No! Wait!! Here!! Take these too! Please don’t hurt him!” Andrew begged, moving and fumbling for another hidden compartment, this one in the floor beneath where he’d been sitting. He withdrew what looked like a small treasure chest, opening it up so Spike could see inside. All the jewels that Buffy had stolen glittered within, reds and greens and blues, blacks and sparkling white.

“That it, then?” Spike asked, reaching for the box.

Andrew nodded his head vehemently, “Yes! That’s all we have!! I swear! I … can I have him now? Pleeeease?” he stammered, eyes wide with fear and worry.

Spike studied him another few moments, concluding that the little git was telling the truth, and handed him the only slightly damaged framed photograph. Andrew clutched it to his breast and bent his head down, gently whispering assurances and endearments to the cherished Timothy.

“By the way, Timothy Dalton almost single-handedly destroyed the Bond franchise. Worst. Bond. Ever,” Spike informed him dryly.

Andrew gasped in horror, hugging the photo tighter and looking up, incredulous. “You don’t know anything! Philistine!”

Spike rolled his eyes again and stuffed the box of DVDs in the bag with the others he’d gathered up, then jumped down out of the van. “Got it,” he assured Buffy, holding up the booty – DVDs and gemstones.

Buffy nodded and let out a deep breath which she felt like she’d been holding for weeks now. Relief flooded over her and she let go of Jonathan, stepping around him to join Spike. “We need to burn those tapes … do they burn?” she asked, looking dubiously at all the plastic.

Spike shrugged. “Melts, I reckon.”

“Good ... good, melty sex tapes is of the good.”

Spike snorted a short laugh. “Can’t we just watch once, luv?” he asked, waggling his brows at her as they walked back toward his crypt. “Never seen how amazin’ I am on tape before.”

“You have a pretty high opinion of your skills,” Buffy countered with an eye roll.

“Based on how you react to my skills, I’d reckon you have a pretty high opinion of ‘em too, luv,” Spike retorted, leveling his smoldering gaze in her direction.

Buffy punched him in the jaw hard enough to make him stagger, but not fall. “The answer is a big, fat ‘no’, there will be no watching, only melting.”

“Oh … I could melt ya, Slayer,” Spike teased in a low, sexy voice, catching his balance, but staying just out of punching range.

Buffy bit her bottom lip and her throat tightened. She needed to end this now. Now before something else happened, and she was also gonna have to figure out how to deal with Spike now that she knew he could kill again.

“I … ummm ... think just melting the tapes is … all the melting I want.”

Buffy stopped and grabbed his arm, pulling him around to face her. “I mean … ever. I can’t do this anymore, Spike. I’m sorry, but … I just … it’s over. Whatever we were, it’s over.”

Spike smirked. “You’ve said that before, Slayer, never stuck.”

“It’s sticky … this time,” she assured him. “Not, like, Post-it Note sticky … Superglue sticky.

“Thank you for … this,” she waved her hand at the bag, “I’ll come by later and get Warren and the jewels … turn him over to the police with the gems, but, us, you and me, it’s over … William. I’m sorry.”

Their eyes met in that moment, green on blue – sparkling like the emeralds and sapphires in the treasure chest – locked together, both intense pools of emotion. Spike’s chest tightened, his dead heart realizing the truth of her words unlike all the times she’d said them before.  She meant it this time. She bloody meant it.

Buffy blinked first, and looked away, clearing the emotion from her throat with a short cough.  She took the bag of tapes, floppy discs, and DVDs from his hand and turned, walking off into the night, leaving him alone. Again. Dazed and confused. Staring after her.

 

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Buffy couldn’t remember feeling this light, this happy, since she’d been back, after being rudely yanked out of heaven, or even before she died, for that matter. She hummed a jaunty tune under her breath as she walked through the cemetery toward Spike’s crypt. The tapes, DVDs, and computer discs were not only melted, but crushed into teeny-tiny pieces and scattered in several dumpsters – she was taking no chances that someone could put Humpty Dumpty together again. She had double-checked Warren’s ‘lair’, aka: his mother’s basement, to make sure they’d gotten everything. As far as she could tell, they had. And, to top it off, she was confident that even the Sunnydale Police could solve the gem heists when she delivered Warren and the jewels to their doorstep.

And, she’d broken up with Spike.

Her happy tune ended abruptly, and her bouncing steps faltered. She took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Of course she was happy about that. It had to be done. That’s all there was to it. Happy. Happy as a ghost on Halloween. Happy as a witch with a new broom. Happy as a vamp in a blood bank. Happy as a Slayer in a stake factory. That was her. Happy, happy, happy.

Buffy rolled her eyes and picked up her pace. Once she retrieved Warren and the gems then she wouldn’t have to see Spike again. Ever. For some reason that thought, which in the past would’ve filled her with joy, seemed to fall flat now, leaving a little tinge of regret lingering somewhere deep inside. Of course, she promptly swept that feeling aside and ignored it, as she was very practiced at doing with such emotions.

As Buffy got near Spike’s crypt, all thoughts of her happiness vanished, replaced by confusion and concern when she heard angry, raised voices coming from the direction of the vampire’s humble abode. Even though she couldn’t make out the words, she recognized the voices at once: The Scoobies.

Buffy took off running the last few yards and crashed through the door in an explosion of dust and creaking hinges.

Everyone froze in that moment and she took in the scene:

Xander was standing in front of Spike, menacing him with a stake, ready to strike. Spike, who looked like he’d been beaten up, his eyes swollen nearly closed, was backed up against one wall.  Tara was pushing on Xander’s chest, trying to insert herself between the angry man and the helpless vampire. Dawn was pulling on Xander’s stake-free arm, trying to move him back, apparently to little effect.

On the other side of the crypt, Anya and Willow were bent over a semi-conscious, bloody and beaten, but demon-skin-less Warren, trying to assess his injuries and provide comfort.

In the next moment, everyone began speaking at once.

“Buffy!”

“Spike’s killing again!”

“Buffy! Stop him!”

“Warren’s hurt! We need a hospital!”

“This is the last straw!”

“I know Spike didn’t do it!”

Buffy held both of her hands up, palms facing the group, and yelled, “STOP!” at the top of her lungs, drowning out the cacophony of voices.

They all stopped. They stopped talking and stopped moving for an instant, which Buffy took advantage of.

She headed for Xander first, pushing him back several paces from Spike, then asked no one in particular, “What’s going on here? Why are you all here?”

Anya was the first one to recover. She stood up from kneeling near Warren and explained, “Well, Dawn came over for movie night with Spike. You know, the first Tuesday of every month? It started when you were gone, you know, when you were in heaven? Which we rudely dragged you out of. I think tonight was supposed to be a romcom – which I find odd, because I didn’t know vampires liked romcom – but I didn’t get a chance to ask which one yet.”

Buffy clenched her jaw in frustration. She’d completely forgotten about movie night, with everything going on, Spike probably had too.

“’When Harry Met Sally,’” Dawn interjected.

“Oh! I found that early example of the genre very entertaining! That scene in the deli when Meg Ryan performed a fake orgasm was extremely realistic…” Anya, continued.

“Anya! Focus!” Buffy interrupted.

“Oh! We’ll discuss it when Buffy’s done bossing everyone around,” Anya assured Dawn confidentially, before turning back to the Slayer. “Well, then Xander and I came by to just check on Dawn and walk her home – you know how Xander is about Spike! – at which time Xander discovered the human in the demon suit because he started moaning over here. Of course, that set off a series of expletives, exclamations, and a rather severe beating. The witches were passing by and heard the shouting, so they came to see what was going on. And, here we are! It would be a party, except the movie’s over and all the popcorn’s gone.”

“And not a bloody one of you knocked! Ill-bred clods, the lot of you!!” Spike interjected helpfully.

Dawn raised her hand timidly, just about shoulder height, and gave Spike a questioning look.

“’Cept the nibblet,” he amended. “She knocked.”

Buffy sighed, held up her hands again and turned to look directly at Tara. “Let’s skip the Miss Manners lesson and go right to the beating up Spike part. What happened?”

Before Tara could stammer out even the start of an explanation, Xander jumped in from behind Buffy, his righteous indignation restored. “Spike’s figured out a way to fool the chip!”

Buffy rolled her eyes and spun around to face her furious friend. Behind her, she could hear Tara and Dawn helping Spike to a chair.

“I know,” Buffy replied to Xander in a calm, matter-of-fact voice, folding her arms over her chest.

Xander didn’t seem to hear her. He gesticulated wildly with the stake, waving it between Spike and Warren.  “He dressed Warren in a dead demon skin!”

“I know.”

“He tortured him!”

“I know.”

“He could kill any of us at any time!”

“I know.”

“He’s … he’s evil!”

“I know.”

“He’s got all the stolen gems!”

“I know.”

“Look at Warren!” Xander insisted, her words still not registering with him as he moved toward the fallen villain.  “He’s beat to shit! He’s got a black eye, a broken nose, missing teeth!”

Buffy shrugged, moving over and peering down at the blackmailer. “Pretty sure I did that when I knocked him out.”

Xander’s face went through a myriad of emotions, from confusion to utter confusion, as he tried to process her words.

“What …? What do you mean, ‘I know’?”

“What part of ‘I know’ can’t you understand, Xan?” Buffy asked sarcastically as she planted her hands on her hips.

“I told you so,” Spike croaked indignantly from his chair. “Bloody git wouldn’t listen. Stake first, ask the Slayer later, that’s his bloody policy.”

Buffy sighed and opened the treasure chest that sat atop the tomb near Warren. She spread the gems out on top of it like a glittering table-runner ready for Christmas dinner. The group, including a bruised and battered Spike, assisted by Dawn and Tara, encircled the tomb to look.

“Warren’s been stealing jewels,” Buffy explained, thinking fast. “Spike and I found out and … I needed Warren to tell me where they were, but couldn’t get him to talk. Spike could and did.” She shrugged, as if it was an everyday occurrence.

“You …” Xander stared at her agape, unable to finish the thought.

“Shut your mouth, you’ll catch flies like that,” Buffy advised him with an innocent smile.

“How can you … defend him!? How can you condone this brutality?” Xander demanded, horrified.

“Actually, the torture was quite rudimentary and hastily done,” Anya contradicted her fiancé with a slight shrug. “On a ten-point scale of ‘brutal’, I’d give it a two and a half, maybe three. Certainly not up to William the Bloody’s previously exceptional standards,” she pointed out pragmatically.

At this, Spike scowled, his mouth set in a grim line. “Ta, ever so,” he grumbled to the ex-demon.

Anya, of course, didn’t notice, engrossed in her observations. “You do know how Spike got his name, don’t you? Railroad spikes. Back in France, or maybe it was Belgium, I heard of one banker who—"

“Oi! Enough o’ that, yeah?” Spike growled out through his swollen and bloodied lips, glaring daggers at her. He knew exactly the story she meant to tell, and that wasn’t the kind of thing he wanted Buffy hearing, let alone the bit.

Anya looked up at him then, surprised, but shrugged and desisted in her recollections. She looked back down at Warren, who remained dazed on the floor, and concentrated on cataloging his injuries, instead.

“As for this accused, but not convicted, jewel thief: a couple of extracted fingernails, some sharpened bamboo under the toenails, and a few miscellaneous bruises and abrasions. Nothing Spike did left any permanent damage, no dislocated joints, severed limbs, or brain damage. He didn’t even feed – no fang marks. Much more Hanoi Hilton than Spanish Inquisition,” Anya concluded with a judicious nod of her head.

In low whispers, both Dawn and Spike spoke almost with one voice, “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.” They both looked at each other, small, knowing smiles curving their lips.

Buffy caught this covert exchange and a bloom of warmth spread up through her heart. Spike had promised to protect Dawn, and he had – but he’d done much more. He’d become Dawn’s friend, her big brother, her guardian angel, while Buffy was dead, and even afterwards. What Dawn had been through had not been easy, Buffy knew. Dawn was plagued with guilt and loneliness and desolation, and Spike had helped her cope with it all – in fact he was still helping her. Romcom movie nights were certainly proof of that. He didn’t have to do that. He didn’t have to do any of it. He hadn’t had to help the Scoobies patrol, help keep Sunnydale safe in her absence, but he had. He could’ve left. He could’ve gone back to his evil ways, obviously he’d figured out how to fool the chip, but he hadn’t run off. He’d stayed. He’d made Buffy a promise and he’d kept it to the best of his abilities.

Buffy was pulled from her contemplation by a rough cough and throat-clearing from the floor on the other side of the sarcophagus. “That’s a lie,” Warren wheezed out through broken teeth. “She’s fucking Spi—”

Buffy, standing on the other side of the tomb, had just registered what Warren was about to reveal when the blackmailer’s words were cut off by a crunching sound as Spike’s fist connected with the fallen man’s jaw.

They both screamed in pain, Warren and Spike. Spike clutched his head as the chip fired and Warren reached for his jaw where the blow had landed, loosening a few more teeth. Spike dropped down to his knees, writhing in pain next to Warren as the vamp waited for the chip to stop shooting electrical barbs of fire into his brain.

“That’s it!” Xander exclaimed from his position next to Warren. “He needs to be staked! He’s a menace! And if you won’t do it, then I will!” he informed Buffy, stepping over Warren to get to Spike, raising the stake, preparing to strike.

“NO!” Buffy vaulted over the sarcophagus where the jewels were spread to block Xander’s way, but she couldn’t get there in time to completely stop him. Xander’s stake-hand came down hard, aiming right for Spike’s unbeating heart. Buffy kicked at Xander’s arm as she sailed over the tomb, sending the downward trajectory off-target, and Xander drove the stake into Spike’s shoulder instead.

Spike howled in renewed pain and clutched at his bleeding shoulder, scrabbling back away from the group to some relative safety a few feet away.

Buffy placed herself firmly between Xander and the fallen vamp. “I said, ‘no’! There will be no staking!”

“Have you lost your mind, Buffy?” Xander demanded, standing toe to toe with the Slayer, stake, dripping blood, clutched tightly in his right hand. “He’s a killer!”

“He’s NOT!” Buffy defended.

At Xander’s incredulous look, she wavered. “I mean … I know he has killed…”

“Which makes him a KILLER!” Xander pointed out, logically.

“No, not in the present-tense, past-tense only! He’s changed!” Buffy argued.

“I think Warren would disagree with you on that, Buff,” Xander chided sarcastically. “Spike hasn’t changed, he’ll never change! The chip forced him to play nice, and now he’s figured out how to out-smart it!”

“That’s not … this isn’t what it looks like. None of this is what it looks like,” Buffy argued, flinging her arms out in frustration.

Tara and Dawn had gone behind Buffy to try and help Spike again, Willow was checking on Warren, while Anya was dreamily fondling the jewels with unrestrained avarice gleaming in her eyes, completely ignoring everything else.

Xander and Buffy, however, were oblivious to any of that. They were focused wholly on each other; one intent on protecting the vampire who had protected her town, her friends and family, the other intent on destruction.

“No? Well, it seems pretty clear to me, Buff,” Xander assured her coldly. He used the stake again to make his point, blood dripping, waving it between Warren and Spike. “These two were in cahoots together to steal gemstones. Spike obviously felt like he wasn’t getting his fair share in the deal and decided to torture Warren to have him give them up. Which, apparently, worked,” Xander concluded, pointing at the pile of sparkling stones.

Buffy shook her head and rolled her eyes, but before she could argue, Spike’s voice, with a decidedly posh and aristocratic accent, came from behind her, “I say! Well done, Miss Marple. What are you doing just standing here when there are more mysteries waiting to be solved? Pip, pip, cheerio and all that rot!”

Buffy whirled around and hissed out, “You’re not helping, Spike,” before turning back to address Xander. “That’s NOT what happened. I told you! Warren stole the gems and I needed Spike to help me find them—”

“Then why did Spike have them and not you?” Xander asked logically. “If Spike was helping YOU find them, then where were you?”

“I was … doing … something,” Buffy began lamely.

Xander raised his brows at her, waiting.

“Slayer … stuff,” she concluded, equally as lamely.

Xander’s brows didn’t go down.

“Buff, look, I know you’ve been through a lot,” Xander began condescendingly, and Buffy snorted loudly, folding her arms over her chest. Xander pursed his lips a moment, then continued, “I think maybe it’s affected your judgement. Spike is—”

“Spike is someone who helped protect this town when I was dead!” Buffy filled in helpfully. “He protected Dawn, he helped you all patrol!”

“Yeah, and a fine job he did! Did you see those demons tearing the town apart when you … when … just before …” Xander’s voice trailed off.

“You mean when YOU GUYS brought me back from heaven? Yeah, as a matter of fact I did!” Buffy assured Xander, her voice cold as ice. “And I noticed that Spike was the one trying to protect Dawn, not YOU.”

‘And he protected me just now when he stopped Warren from spilling the beans, too, even though he knew the chip would fire,’ Buffy added silently, chewing on her bottom lip. 

“Buffy, I’m just not buying it. None of this tracks!” Xander insisted, throwing his hands out in frustration. “Maybe when Warren wakes up I can get a straight story out of him, because you, my FRIEND, are not giving it to me.

“And the only reason Spike has been undusty all this time is because of the chip. Well, he knows how to get around that now! Can’t you see the danger? You would’ve had no trouble dusting him before, you can’t stand there and say you would!”

Buffy looked around, feeling trapped and helpless – again. She was getting really tired of this feeling. She couldn’t get Warren out of here and leave Spike alone with Xander – Spike would be dust before the crypt door closed behind her. And she couldn’t take Spike away somewhere and leave Warren here with Xander and her friends either! It was clear he was ready to tell anyone who would listen what she had been doing behind closed doors … or, well … actually, just about anywhere, doors notwithstanding. They might not believe him, that was one consideration. He didn’t have any proof, after all. She’d destroyed it all, but … what if they did?

“It’s alright, Slayer,” Spike groaned from behind her, stumbling to his feet, clutching a towel to his shoulder to staunch the bleeding. “No need t’ protect me … I’m a big boy, I can take it. It’s like the git says … Warren and me … thick as thieves, we were. Tried to screw me over. Bad idea, yeah? Woulda gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for you meddling kids.

Spike waited a beat. “What, not even a chuckle?” he asked incredulously when no one laughed at his hilarious joke. “Scoobies? Meddling kids? Get it? Funny, that was.”

“It wasn’t that funny,” Buffy assured him, turning around to face him. “You don’t have to…”

“Pffft!” Spike interrupted her with a shrug. “I’ll just be on my way. I hear Rio’s nice this time o’ year.”

“What?” Dawn exclaimed. “You can’t leave! Spike! Please!”

Spike turned to the girl who he’d come to consider a little sis, if not a daughter, and gave her a small smile. “Time fer me to move on, little bit. You got your big sis back, you’ll be fine, luv.”

“Spike! Please…” Dawn cried, tears welling up and spilling from her eyes as she flung herself at him.

Spike caught her one-armed with a muffled ‘whoof’ of pain, and hugged her against himself tightly, dropping a gentle kiss atop her head. “You’ll be alright,” he assured her, or maybe he was assuring himself, before pressing her away and into Tara’s arms.

Spike began to wobble and stumble toward the crypt door and Buffy felt her stomach lurch in a most peculiar way, like someone was turning somersaults and cartwheels in her guts.

“Best get that one to the coppers, luv,” he whispered as he passed Buffy, nodding toward Warren, “’fore he wakes up and starts yammering again.”

“But … Spike … you didn’t do anything wrong,” Buffy argued.

Spike nodded but kept walking. “Story of my life, pet.”

Spike turned a cold gaze on Xander as he passed, challenging the boy to try and stop him. 

Xander looked from Buffy to Spike and back again. “You’re just gonna let him GO!?” he asked furiously. “How can you just let him go, Buff?! You know what he’s capable of!”

Buffy looked from Spike to Xander, then to Warren, who was beginning to come around again, and then back at Spike. The vamp kept walking toward the door, his steps becoming stronger as he went, his strength returning in slow measures.

Buffy’s head was spinning, Xander’s words roiling and colliding within, bouncing around in her skull like rubber bullets. 

You’re just gonna let him GO!?

You know what he’s capable of!

How can you just let him go, Buff?!

She DID know what he was capable of. She heard Dawn’s anguished sobs behind her and everything that Spike had done for her flooded through Buffy’s mind. Taking on Glory. Not revealing Dawn’s identity to the Bitch-God, even when he’d been tortured to within an inch of his life. Fighting at Buffy’s side to save Dawn, to save the world. Taking care of Dawn, and her friends, too.

And then Buffy’s mind shifted, and she realized it wasn’t just Dawn that he’d cared for, that he’d helped, that he’d been there for. It was her. He’d been there in the dark with her. He’d understood like no one else could. He’d never turned his back on her, even now, when she’d turned her back on him, he was trying to protect her.

He was the only one who could know what it felt like to be … dead. And then to be … not dead.

‘He knew.’

The thought hit her like an ocean wave, washing over her and making her take a staggering step back to keep from falling. HE KNEW. HE FUCKING KNEW!

“Spike! Stop! Wait!” Buffy called out, pushing past Xander toward the retreating vampire.

Spike halted but didn’t turn back. “I’m not worth it, luv, let me go,” he advised when she reached him, his voice low and husky, full of repressed emotion.

Buffy grabbed his arm and pulled him around to face her, their eyes locking as if drawn by magic.

“I’m not ready for you to not be here,” she pleaded in a whisper only he could hear.

Spike tilted his head, his eyes already narrow slits behind the mask of bruising, studying her. “What does that mean?”

“I … just … I …” Buffy stammered, not sure what it meant, it was just what she felt.

“Got yer mates, yeah? Don’t need a creature of the night sullying your good name, then, do ya?” he challenged, trying to sound angry but Buffy could hear the hurt behind the bravado.

“They don’t understand,” she admitted, shifting her gaze back over the waiting group before looking back at Spike.

“You know,” she whispered in a voice so low enough that even Spike had a hard time hearing her. “You died … you were in heaven before you … came back. You know,” Buffy insisted, not as a question but a statement of fact.

Spike’s gaze dropped down to the grimy floor of the crypt, breaking the connection between them. He tried to shake his head ‘no’, to dissuade her, but couldn’t get the message from his brain to his muscles. He felt like a bug skewered by a pin: caught, trapped, unable to move.

It was all the answer Buffy needed. He did know.

“You know,” she repeated firmly.

“Was easier for me, yeah?” he finally admitted, still not looking at her. “Easier t’ be evil, let the darkness take ya. Easier to forget the light and move on that way.”

Spike looked up then, his intense blue eyes meeting hers.  “Don’t know how ya do it, Buffy. Never known anyone stronger than you, luv, no one who tries harder or cares more, but still don’t know how you do it. How you … live in the light after ... that.”

Tears flowed down Buffy’s cheeks, but she wasn’t even aware of them. She just stared at Spike in astonishment. He did know.  He knew how hard it was for her to just live, he knew her struggle, her pain. He knew how harsh the world felt, how much she just wanted to lash out at everything and everyone. He knew the darkness that ate at her every minute of every day; he’d been living it for decades. He knew. He was someone who could actually understand everything she was feeling, everything she was fighting. No one else could possibly understand like he could.

“You,” she said, finally. “You’ve given me the strength to live in the light.”

Spike’s head tilted in question, his cerulean eyes awash in confusion.

Buffy nodded slowly, her eyes locked on his. “You.”

“Buffy! What the hell are you doing!? Are you gonna stake him or what?!” Xander demanded, losing patience and stepping up near the pair.

The spell had been broken between them, but Buffy could still feel it, feel the soul-deep connection. Spike knew.

The Slayer swiped the sleeve of her shirt across her face, sniffing away her tears, and took a deep breath, turning to face Xander. A thousand arguments about what she should do dashed through her mind in the space of a few moments. No matter how they began, they all came back to the realization that Spike had helped her when none of them could, and she was not ready to let him go. Now that she finally understood the connection, she wasn’t going to let him walk out that door and possibly lose it forever. Her friends would just have to deal. They’d certainly dealt with worse.

“I choose door number two: ‘Or what,’” Buffy finally replied confidently.

She turned back to Spike and touched a gentle kiss against his swollen and bloodied lips.  Spike pulled back, momentarily stunned, but then, within the space of a heartbeat, he reached for her. The vampire pulled her body against his, his lips crashing against hers in desperate need of that connection, all pain forgotten. 

Gasps and curses and even a couple of cheers went up from the gathered Scoobies, with an, “Oh, fuck,” moaned out from the dazed Warren. But neither Buffy nor Spike paid any attention, lost in the sense of each other, the joy of a connection so deep to be unfathomable to anyone else.

When the kiss broke, Buffy leaned her forehead against Spike’s, a smile curving her luscious lips. “I guess my Superglue dried out while I was gone.”

Spike chuckled. “Thank God for shoddy workmanship.”

 

 

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Buffy handed Spike a tumbler of whiskey, which he accepted gratefully, swirling the aromatic liquid around in the glass and just savoring the fragrance of it for the moment. 

Spike sat on the edge of his bed in his cozy nest below the crypt, clad just in jeans, his pale torso glowing in the candlelight, a stark contrast to the dark, rich colors of this cavern he’d made his home. He was freshly-showered, and mostly-recovered, but there were bruises still marring his face, mostly around the eyes and mouth, and the stake wound still looked red and angry on his shoulder, but was no longer bleeding.

Buffy could see quite a few more bruises and abrasions on his torso; Xander must’ve kicked the vamp when he had been down. Buffy’s lips drew into a hard line at the thought. Xander had no trouble meting out punishment to anyone or anything he judged to be ‘evil’, especially if said ‘evil’ couldn’t fight back. But, Buffy had learned the hard way that things just aren’t that black and white.

The Scoobies had eventually disbursed some time earlier, though some more willingly than others. Xander, of course, needed a bit more persuasion, but, with the help of the other Scoobies, had finally desisted and gone home.  Buffy had helped Spike down the ladder and settled him comfortably in his bedroom before she delivered Warren, and the jewels, to the police station’s doorstep. As a precaution while she was gone, she’d shoved a marble statue over the trap door that lead down to the lower level, effectively locking Spike in and Xander out. It was much too heavy for Xander to move, and she doubted Spike would have the energy to even try. She felt it was a prudent action to take, just in case her friend got a wild hair up his ass to come back and finish what he’d started with Spike.

She’d left Warren with a stern warning to take his punishment with regards to the thefts and keep his trap zipped about her involvement. Based on how pale and shaken he became at the mention of Spike’s name in that brief exchange, she felt fairly sure he would do as he was told. If he didn’t … well, she’d burn that bridge when she came to it.

Now though, she didn’t want to think about Scoobies or jewels or blackmail or demons, she just wanted to talk to someone who knew. She’d felt so alone, so isolated, these past weeks, she longed for a connection, a life raft that she could cling to in these turbulent seas she was trying to navigate. And she’d finally found it, in the guise of a vampire, in Spike.

She thought it quite ironic, but that was pretty much status-quo for her life. She was irony-girl, and it wasn’t Alanis Morissette irony, either. It was one of her strongest super-powers … along with temporary death and power-shopping.

“Tell me,” she asked quietly, still standing in front of him, watching him swirl the whiskey around in the glass.

Spike didn’t pretend to not know what she meant. He studied the glass of whiskey, but didn’t drink, instead rubbing a hand over the back of his neck, closing his eyes, and sighing.

Buffy sat down on the bed next to him and waited, not touching, but near enough that they both knew the other was there without looking.  After a while, Buffy thought maybe he wasn’t going to answer her, she fidgeted nervously with the end of a thread that had come loose from the quilt beneath them, wrapping it around her finger, then unwrapping, over and over until it left a mark in her skin, waiting. When Spike did finally break the silence, it startled her, making her yank her hand away, breaking the thin thread.

“Before …” he began, waving a hand to encompass everything, shrugging. “Before Dru, I was … well … I wasn’t quite as depraved as I might’ve led you to believe. A bit of a poofter, t’ be honest, an academic, a poet, a romantic,” he admitted before downing the whiskey in one long gulp.

“So, you haven’t always been a bad-boy, huh?” Buffy asked with a small smile, taking the empty glass from him and moving to the dresser to refill it.

Spike snorted softly. “If ya tell a soul, I’ll bloody kill ya, Slayer.”

Buffy’s smile widened, and she lifted three fingers in a pledge, “Slayer’s honor,” she promised. “What happens in the crypt, stays in the crypt.”

Spike took the second glass of whiskey from her and rolled it back and forth between his hands, gazing down into the amber liquid, but seeing something far away.

“Wasn’t entirely a choir-boy, had my moments of … well, just say, had reason to believe it wasn’t heaven I was in,” Spike revealed solemnly, remembering, still gazing down into the whiskey glass.

“Told m’self it was just hallucinations from Dru’s bite or from her blood, yeah? She’s bloody mad, ya know? Could’a passed it on t’ me. Didn’t feel like hallucinations, but that was easier. If I let myself think Dru had killed me, and I actually got into heaven by some mistake or miracle, only t’ be pulled back here…?” Spike shook his head, growing silent again.

“You would’ve killed her,” Buffy offered gently, reaching a hand out to touch his arm.

“I would’ve tried,” he corrected. “Probably why vamps get stronger the older they get, otherwise their gets would bloody stake them. But yer too weak and ravenous just then, and ya know it’s wrong, what you’re doing, but you can’t stop – least, that’s how it was fer me. Wild with hunger, you are. And the more ya feed the hunger, the further you fall into the darkness, and the less you remember the light.”

“But you remember … don’t you?” Buffy prompted gently.

Spike looked up finally and met Buffy’s eyes across the short distance between them. “I remember,” he admitted, his voice hoarse, his throat tight, then his eyes dropped, unable to hold her gaze another moment.

He felt like he was baring his soul with the admission, laying himself open for her to pick and prod at, completely defenseless and exposed.   He wanted desperately to stop talking about this, to back away, to go back to solid footing with the Slayer, but it was too late.  There was only one way out of this, and that was through. Through the emotions, through the memories, through the pain.

“I remember,” he continued softly. “It was warm. There was a soft light, but it wasn’t really a light that you could see, more like you could feel it. Like golden, late-summer sunshine, only coming from inside.”

Buffy nodded as he spoke, her eyes staring blindly, focused somewhere in the middle distance, but seeing something far, far away.

“And there was love – that’s all I can think t’ call it,” Spike continued, speaking softly. “Never felt anything like it before or since.” He wanted to say that what he felt for her was the closest he’d ever come, but bit that comment back. He knew she didn’t want to hear that, she’d surely run away again if he voiced it now. He didn’t want to chance that.

“I could feel my mom,” Buffy interjected. “I don’t know how I knew it was her, but … that’s what it felt like. Wrapped in unconditional love.”

Spike nodded slowly, reaching over and taking one of Buffy’s hands in his and squeezing tightly.

“Was like your whole soul floated in a soft, warm aurora of sparkling love, enveloped in euphoric colors that don’t even exist in this world,” Spike added.

Buffy smiled sadly, nodding, tears welling up in her eyes, and turned to look at him. “That’s very poetic,” she teased gently.

Spike’s eyes met hers cautiously, afraid of seeing mockery there. “Can’t bloody take it if ya laugh at me, Slayer.”

Buffy shook her head slowly. “I’m not laughing. It was perfect,” she assured him. “It’s so hard to explain, but … yeah, that’s close. As close as I’ve ever gotten.”

Spike nodded, and looked away, relief washing over him. She hadn’t reached in and yanked his heart out and stomped on it … and she could’ve so easily. “I’ve had a hundred years t’ think on it,” he pointed out.

“But then you’re snatched out,” he continued. “Feels like you’re being sucked under, drowned, spun around in a whirlpool, yeah? And the love and light is up above you, but you can’t reach it no matter how hard you try, you’re being pulled further and further away. Deeper into darkness, into cold and oblivion. Was it like that for you?” he asked.

Buffy nodded slowly. “Exactly like that…”

“And suddenly you’re in this grave, dirt fillin’ your nostrils, your eyes, your mouth, and all you can think is to get out, to find your way back to the light.”

“I was in a coffin,” Buffy interjected. “But, yeah. I just wanted to go back – back to the light.”

“But ya can’t,” Spike concluded quietly.

“But you can’t,” Buffy agreed, solemnly, sighing and leaning over sideways until her head rested on his shoulder.

Spike released her hand that he’d been holding, and wrapped an arm around her, holding her against him gently. The glass of whiskey was still in his other hand and he lifted it up, offering it to her.

Buffy took it from him and took a sip, scrunching up her face and shaking her head in revulsion as it burned its way down her gullet.

“Good stuff, eh?” Spike asked as he took the glass back from her and downed the rest in one large swallow.

“Very smooth,” Buffy wheezed out with a slight cough.


 

They sat in silence for a bit, each lost in their own memories and thoughts. Unlike most silences she found herself in lately, this one wasn’t uncomfortable, in fact, it was just the opposite. She felt no need to assure or posture or pretend, she could just sit here and be this Buffy. Back-from-the-dead-Buffy. She didn’t have to be the other Buffy that everyone wanted her to be.

Finally, Spike broke the silence, continuing his description of his own resurrection. “When the world stopped spinning, everything was dark. Not dark like someone forgot t’ pay the electric bill, but like the dark was planted inside ya, a seed growing. Felt like an emptiness taking over, it did.  An evil that spreads out like jagged furrows o’ black lava from yer soul. Eats away at ya, it does, consumes every glimmer of light inside.

“Figured it was the demon, just takin’ over, driving my soul out, but … you feel it too, dontcha?”

Buffy nodded against his shoulder, but didn’t speak.

“How do ya fight it, Buffy? I … couldn’t.”

Buffy sighed. “Well, in my favor, I don’t have to drink blood to live; I don’t have that bloodlust from the demon. It’s just a darkness trying to … take over, I guess.”

“I tried, Buffy … I bloody tried,” Spike admitted, his voice thick with emotion.

Buffy sat back up straight, pulling out of his embrace and chewing her bottom lip as tears stung her eyes. She shook her head slowly, lifting her eyes to meet his bewildered gaze. “And you have fought it, Spike – I see that now – and … you’ve shown me how to, too.”

Spike snorted and looked up at the ceiling. “Reckon there’s a lot o’ people that would disagree with you on that, pet, including that geek up there,” he countered, tilting his head toward the trap door and all that happened above in the last few hours.

“You … I shouldn’t have asked you to do that,” Buffy admitted, ashamed. “I’m sorry … I was … afraid … desperate. It wasn’t fair to you, I see that now. I was trying to hold on to the … the … façade of sparkling Slayer goodness … or at least only slightly tarnished Slayer. I never realized that you were trying to hold onto something, too.”

Spike opened his mouth to protest, but Buffy held her hand up. “You didn’t bite him – you didn’t feed. Spike, don’t you see? You are holding on, you are fighting it.”

“Wasn’t hungry,” Spike answered, sniffing dismissively as he got up to refill the whiskey glass again.

Buffy rolled her eyes. “That’s like saying if someone handed me a chocolate bar full of tasty goodness, I wouldn’t eat it because I wasn’t hungry.”

At the mention of chocolate, Buffy’s stomach growled loudly, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten since … sometime this morning, or was that yesterday?

Spike turned, cocking a brow at her, then set his empty glass down and opened one of the dresser drawers below his bar. To Buffy’s delight he pulled out a Baby Ruth, holding it up for her to see.

“Oh, my God, you’re an angel!” she exclaimed, jumping up and grabbing the chocolate from his hand.

“Don’ be rude, now, Slayer, no name calling!” Spike teased, watching her rip the wrapper off the Baby Ruth and begin to devour it. “Right sure Angel never kept candy bars fer ya in his lair.”

Buffy laughed through the moans of utter chocolate-covered ecstasy. “You’re my hero,” she amended, mumbling around the sticky caramel that clung to her teeth.

Buffy swallowed the bite in her mouth and turned serious again, standing facing him. “I mean it, Spike. You saved my life … or at least … my soul.” More irony. A soulless vampire saving her soul?

Buffy walked back over to the bed and plopped back down, bouncing slightly on the springy mattress. She began taking smaller, more contemplative bites of the candy as Spike watched, waiting for some explanation.

When she’d nearly finished the candy bar, she looked up at him and did explain, “You know those … ‘jagged furrows of black lava’”, she quoted, using his description of it, which was as good as any she could come up with. “I have them too. I can feel them inside me, radiating out like … like when a rock breaks your windshield, ya know? Like in a spider-web of …” Buffy hesitated, waving one hand feebly and shrugging.

“Torment, anguish, rage, despair, grief, anger?” Spike offered helpfully.

“Is there a word for all that, rolled up into one happy ball?” Buffy wondered, furrowing her brow in thought. “Tor-ra-ang-gri-pair?”

Spike snorted and nodded. Good enough.

“But, when I’m with you, when we’re … you know …” Buffy continued, once again waving a hand vaguely, this time toward the bed.

Spike raised both brows now. “If you can do it, then ya should be able to say it, Slayer.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “I-I’m not even sure what it is, Spike. It’s not ‘making love’. Fighting? Fornicating? Screwing?”

“Fucking,” Spike offered helpfully, moving back to sit back down on the bed next to her.

Buffy rolled her eyes again, but conceded, a bright pink blush rising to her cheeks, “Fucking…

“But, in those moments,” she continued. “When … you know …”

“When you cum under me like a bloody tornado, screaming and clawing and nearly tearing me apart, burning me to embers, begging me to never stop?” Spike filled in, running his tongue along his upper teeth in a salacious grin.

Buffy cleared her throat uncomfortably. “Errr … ummm, yeah, then, and … and before that too, and a little after – but those gashes inside me, they…” Buffy shook her head, staring out into nothing, looking for words.

Unfortunately, Spike didn’t fill any in for her this time, he just waited, watching her with a furrowed brow, the last bite of candy bar forgotten in her hand.

Finally, she blinked and looked back at him, her eyes meeting his. “The darkness, tor-ra-ang-gri-pair, is gone … at least temporarily. There’s light, there’s happiness, more than that, there’s hope.”

“Called ‘endorphins’, luv, dopamine and the like,” Spike offered. “The body’s own illicit drug lab.”

Buffy shook her head with certainty. “No … no, it’s not that. Well, it is partly, but that’s not all.

“Spike, I don’t know what it is exactly, but there’s something helping me fight it. Something from you ... and I need it. I need you.”

Spike swallowed hard and nodded, dropping his gaze to the floor. He wished he’d poured himself another glass of whiskey, he needed it now. He stood up abruptly and strode purposely back over to the bar, pouring himself a double … make that a triple. He downed it all in one long swallow and poured more.

“Spike, I know that’s not exactly what you want to hear,” Buffy offered sympathetically from behind him. “But, it’s all I have to give right now. Can it be enough?”

Spike hated himself, but knew that he would take any crumb she offered him. ‘Need’ wasn’t ‘love’, but it was something. It was also something that almost certainly would go away in time. But it was here now, and it was more emotion than she’d ever honestly offered him before, well, not counting hate, revulsion, and loathing.

Still, he had to ask, “Is there any chance of you having more t’ give later, Buffy?”

Spike stood motionless, facing away from her, unable to even look at her. He was so still he might’ve been part of the wall as he waited, fearing the answer. He heard her take in a deep breath and let it out slowly before answering, and he braced himself for the truth he knew he would hear: No. She had nothing more for an evil creature like him. She would use him as long as she needed him, but then he would be discarded, as he always had been before – as she’d just done earlier that night, in fact.

Buffy’s voice was soft and uncertain when the answer came, “I honestly don’t know. Can someone with a broken soul love?”

Spike turned around and met her eyes. The green depths were swirling, searching his for an answer, at the same time afraid of what it might be.

“Yes,” he replied quietly, but with complete conviction. “Deeply.”


 

Buffy smiled shyly and nodded. “Well, deeply is of the good,” she acknowledged, but then bit her lip, hesitant, dropping her eyes away from Spike’s penetrating gaze. “Angel couldn’t … not without his soul.”

“I’m not bloody Angel … and neither are you,” Spike assured her vehemently, bringing his glass of whiskey with him as he joined her sitting on the edge of his bed again.

“Hey, look at me, Buffy,” he requested softly, touching one finger to her chin to lift her eyes back to his. “I was alive a bit longer than you, and dead a lot longer than that. I've seen things you couldn't imagine, and done things I'd prefer you didn't … some of them just tonight. I don't exactly have a reputation for being a thinker; I follow my blood, which doesn't exactly rush in the direction of my brain. So I make a lot of mistakes. A lot of wrong bloody calls. A hundred plus years, and there's only one thing I've ever been sure of: you. You’re a hell of a woman, Buffy. The darkness won’t take you … you are not Angel.”

Buffy nodded, tears rolling down her cheeks. “And neither are you,” she whispered, barely loud enough for even Spike to hear, barely louder than a thought.

Spike pursed his lips and nodded. He didn’t think he could hate Angel more, but right now his loathing for his grandsire quadrupled. How horribly the wanker must’ve hurt her for her to still feel the sting of it all these years later. Spike could almost feel his own heart breaking at the thought of her anguish.

“I’d never hurt you, Buffy. I swear it,” Spike pledged, reaching up to gently brush away her tears. “I’d give my life a thousand times to keep you from pain.”

Buffy swallowed hard and sniffed back her emotions, then nodded. “I-I believe you … William. I’m sorry that I hurt you; it wasn’t fair.”

Spike smiled sadly at that and set his still-full glass on the night stand next to the bed. Spike slid back onto the bed and propped himself up against the pillows at the headboard, opening his arms to her in silent invitation to join him.

Buffy did. They curled together without words, Buffy’s damp, heated cheeks pressed against Spike’s cool chest, his arms wrapped around her as if to protect her from her demons, from the darkness within, gently stroking her back through her soft sweater.

Buffy felt a weight lift off her, as if every cell of her body was suddenly freed of a tremendous burden. Her whole body suddenly felt like jelly, as if the lifting of her burden, the sharing of her secret with someone who truly understood, finally allowed her to relax. She didn’t have to be Sparkly, Happy Slayer here with him, she could be what she was, and it was an immense relief to drop the pretense.  She let her eyes fall closed in the arms of her mortal enemy, never before feeling safer than she did in this moment.

Spike touched a gentle kiss atop her head and whispered, “I’ll always be your hero,” into her soft, blonde locks before exhaustion overtook him. His eyes fell closed as he held the Slayer close, and he let himself be drawn down into the arms of Morpheus with her.

Chapter Text

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Buffy woke with a languorous stretch and a wide yawn. For once she knew exactly where she was when she woke, something that had been a struggle since her resurrection.  She blinked her eyes to focus them in the dim light and reached out across the bed, only to find it empty. She frowned and sat up, looking around Spike’s bedroom cavern, but didn’t see Spike. Her frown deepened as she tossed off the covers, which she was sure she’d been on top of when she fell asleep in Spike’s arms, and got out of bed.

“Spike?” she called hesitantly, walking over to the one candle that still burned atop the bar/dresser. She reached for it, intending to use it to light her way around the cavern to find Spike. But, before her hand reached it, she saw a note on the bar next to it written in a flowing, old-fashioned hand:

Buffy,

Didn’t want to leave you, but I’ve heard tell that sweets aren’t a proper breakfast. Despite Dawn’s opinions on the matter, I thought you’d rather have something a bit more food-like.

Back soon.

-Spike

Buffy smiled and her stomach grumbled its agreement with Spike’s conclusion, however, it felt that a first breakfast of a candy bar would be perfectly proper. Spike’s more food-like contribution, whatever it was, would make a good second breakfast. 

She dug in the dresser drawer and found not only Baby Ruths in there, but several other kinds of candy and even a couple of bottles of water.  She had just decided on a Snickers bar for first breakfast when the trap door above her opened and her senses were flooded with the aroma of bacon and eggs and … waffles? Or was it pancakes? And, that nectar of the gods: coffee.

“Oh my God, Spike! I could marry you!” Buffy exclaimed, planting a celebratory kiss on his cheek as he reached the bottom of the ladder. She took the Styrofoam boxes, from which all those amazing aromas were emanating, out of his hands and practically skipped over to a small, square dining table in one corner.

Spike laid a hand over his cheek where her warmth still lingered and smiled, his heart jumping slightly at her words, which she’d flung out so casually. He drew a deep breath, reminding himself that they were just words, she didn’t mean it, and made himself reply just as flippantly.

“If I’d known pancakes and coffee were the way to yer heart, Slayer, I’da been drowning you in ‘em long ago.”

Buffy laughed through a mouthful of maple syrup drenched pancakes and pointed her plastic fork at him. “A hundred years and you never learned that a way to a Slayer’s heart is through her stomach?” she ‘tsked’ her tongue at him, shaking her head ruefully, before devouring a strip of bacon.

Spike laughed, lighting a couple more candles, and sat down in the chair to her right, picking up a sausage link and dunking it into some of her maple syrup before taking a bite of it.

Buffy watched him with interest. “Why do you do that?”

“Sweet an’ savory … one of my favorites,” he explained, double-dipping the rest of the sausage link in her syrup before eating it.

“No, I mean eat people-food … instead of just, eating … people?” she elaborated, barely stopping herself from saying that Angel never ate food.

Spike shrugged. “Tastes good, yeah? One of life’s many pleasures.”

“But … you aren’t alive.” The words were out of Buffy’s mouth before she could stop them.  She wanted to put them back in, but, as usual, her ability to un-say something remained on the fritz.

Spike’s brows rose up. “Aren’t I, then?” he questioned cordially, not seeming to take offense. “Back from the dead, yeah? Like you. Soul a bit dicey. Like you. Sitting in a crypt eatin’ breakfast. Like you.”

Buffy took a sip of coffee to keep herself from saying anything else rude to the man who had just brought her a four-course breakfast.

She would’ve most certainly argued that point with him before, but was he right? What made someone alive versus … not alive?

Buffy eyed Spike over the rim of the paper cup, contemplating. He wasn’t looking at her, but seemed overly engrossed in opening the other Styrofoam container of food that Buffy hadn’t gotten to yet.  It smelled like huevos rancheros … Mmmm, she could go for some of that!

Buffy shook her head a bit, refocusing.

What made someone ‘alive’? Maybe you needed a beating heart? But did that really matter so much? Weren’t there other things that mattered more? Like giving comfort to another being, as Spike had done last night? Like passion and pain? Spike was well acquainted with both. Like laughter and tears? She’d seen Spike at the highest of highs and lowest of lows. Like love? Spike had assured her that he could love, and so could she.  Like… enjoying sausage dipped in syrup?

Did you need to have a soul to be ‘alive’? She’d seen humans do some unspeakably horrible things to other humans. Did they have souls? She had her doubts, but was pretty sure everyone would agree they were alive, nonetheless.

Well, if her soul had come back with her, it was badly damaged, of that she had no doubt. She was pretty sure that was why the chip didn’t fire anymore when she fought Spike, no matter what Tara had said about it. Tara couldn’t feel what Buffy felt inside. And, she had to wonder what would have happened to her if not for her friends and Spike. What if she’d come back and been alone, or worse, with that nuttier-than-a-fruitcake vamp-bitch, Dru?

The description of his journey from death and back to life described her own so well that it was scary. Did Spike actually come back soulless, or had it been damaged like hers, and, over time, been engulfed in the darkness, covered up, repressed, beaten into submission by the demon? Was it there, but, like he said, a ‘bit dicey’?  Her only baseline for a souled vs. un-souled vampire had been Angel/Angelus, and, as Spike pointed out last night, he was no Angel … and he certainly wasn’t an Angelus.

After a few moments of contemplation, she asked, “Are all vampires the same? I mean … like you? Do they all,” Buffy waved a hand vaguely before continuing, “remember heaven and the whole aurora thing? Do vampires that were bad people come back from hell instead of heaven?”

Spike shook his head. “Dunno. Vamps typically don’t sit ‘round the campfire sharing their feelin’s, luv. No twelve-step meetings or therapy groups to explore our tragic pasts.”

Buffy rolled her eyes, but persisted. “You spent all those years with Dru and she never mentioned it?”

Spike huffed a laugh. “Dru saw the stars … named them all,” he began.

Buffy’s brows drew together, not sure what that had to do with anything, and she offered a hesitant, “Okaaay…”

“She saw the stars indoors,” Spike continued flatly, waving a hand at the ceiling of the cavern. “During the daytime. And she gave ‘em all the same name.” Spike paused and let that sink in a moment before continuing, “Let’s face it, Dru was a few bubbles off plumb. Couldn’t tell what she was talkin’ about half the bloody time.”

“Oh,” Buffy replied shortly.  “Well, did you ever make any … baby vampires?”

Spike blanched at that, turning even paler than normal, if that was possible, a vision of his mother washing through his mind unbidden. He’d tried fiercely to bury that memory over the years, and had mostly succeeded. Buffy had brought it crashing back in an instant. Most vampires killed their families, but not him. He wanted to save his mother, to restore her to strength and health. And, well, he had, hadn’t he? And she’d turned on him, callously and cruelly. 

“I mean, other than my so-called friend, Ford, who got very dusty, very quickly.”

Buffy could read his expression; he had been too surprised to mask it. “You did make some,” she asserted, eyeing him closely.

“One,” Spike admitted grudgingly. “And, for the record, I didn’t turn your little sickly friend, Ford, was it? Couldn’t stand the bloke. Bloody turncoat, he was. No honor. No loyalty.”

Buffy nodded solemnly. She was surprised to feel some relief roll over her with that revelation about her former friend and that it hadn’t been Spike who had turned him. Oddly, she completely understood the concept of honor among thieves, or demons, as it were, and she had to admit that Ford had not been the least bit honorable in the end.

“But apparently someone met your high moral standards. Did they say anything about…”

“NO! They didn’t say a bloody thing! Now, drop it, Slayer,” Spike growled, curling his hands into fists and meeting her eyes with a steely gaze that brooked no argument.

“O-ookay… sorry,” Buffy backed off cautiously. “Spike, you know, you can talk to me,” she offered kindly, reaching a hand out to touch his arm.

Spike closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, trying to calm down, trying to get the memories and visions of his mother out of his head. It didn’t really work.

“I-I don’ think she …” Spike shook his head, his eyes still closed. “She wasn’t the same … after.” It was all he was willing to say on the subject.

“But you were?” Buffy wondered, watching him carefully. “After Dru, I mean? You were the same … you were still William?”

Spike shook his head, forcibly unclenching his fists, and finally opened his eyes and looked at her. “I wasn’t the same, the demon was inside, part o’ me, yeah? But …” he hesitated again, looking deeply into her green eyes, searching for any sign of scorn or ridicule.

He didn’t see anything but compassion, so he took another breath and continued, “I was still William, I am still William, far as that goes,” he admitted a bit grudgingly. “But the demon is there inside me too, always tryin’ to take over, and mostly succeeding. It’s bloody strong, Buffy. I didn’t fight it for a long time, gave in t’ the darkness, let it run the show – it was just easier that way. It’s part of me, Buffy, but it’s not all of me. I don’t know how to explain it … it’s bloody complicated.”

Buffy nodded thoughtfully. She actually thought that description sounded a little like her when she was first Called. She was still ‘Buffy’, but the Slayer was inside her. She’d even tried to fight it for a while, but eventually had to accept it, to learn to live with it inside her, to coexist. The part of her that was the Slayer could be ruthless and primal – a dark huntress; it took constant vigilance to keep it from taking over. And, since she came back, it seemed stronger somehow, or darker or … or maybe her soul just wasn’t as strong as it had been before – she’d come back wrong.

“So, you can fight it,” Buffy observed. “But most vamps can’t … or won’t. Maybe they aren’t strong enough or … maybe you came back ‘wrong’, too. Like me.

“I mean, let’s face it, neither one of us are exactly poster-children for our missions just now,” Buffy pointed out judiciously.

Spike shrugged and sighed, shaking his head desolately and looking down at the floor. “Dunno, luv. Worked hard to be a magnificent vampire, didn’t I? William the Bloody, Slayer of Slayers. An’ look at me now? Giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Sharing breakfast with a Slayer, talkin’ about heaven and feelings. What respectable vampire would be doing that? How the mighty have fallen.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Don’t go getting too Eeyore on me, Spike,” Buffy chided, squeezing his arm gently where her hand rested. “And, for the record, I actually have a lot of respect for you.”

Spike looked up, his blue eyes full of hope. “Yeah?”

“I respect anyone who brings me food,” she assured him brightly, reaching for another strip of bacon. “Pizza delivery guys, waiters, flight attendants, the hawkers at the ballpark, the guys who refill the vending machines…”

Spike nodded, allowing his mood to lighten with her joke and his agitation to fade. “Have to remember that, then, won’t I?”

Buffy smiled and nodded as she reached her fork into the container in front of Spike, which not only smelled delicious, but looked it, too.

“Slayer Rule number ten: A well-fed Slayer is a happy Slayer,” she advised him.

Spike smiled. “What are rules one through nine, then?” he wondered.

Buffy returned the smile mischievously. “That’s for me to know and you to find out.”

“That a challenge, Slayer?” he asked, catching his bottom lip with his teeth as he studied her.

Buffy shrugged, adopting a serious expression. “Maybe. I guess we’ll see if you’re up to it, won’t we?”

Spike huffed a breath out in derision, leaning back in his chair and hooking his thumbs on either side of his belt buckle, splaying is fingers out across his groin to frame the bulge in his jeans. “I’m up for anything, anytime. You, of all people, should know that by now.”

Buffy followed his hands with her eyes, waggling her brows at him mischievously. “So I see. I guess we’ll find if you’ve got what it takes to break the Sacred Slayer Rules of Life and Death. But, for right now, we’ll stick with Rule Ten,” she laughed, before sliding the whole container of huevos rancheros over in front of herself and digging in with alacrity.


 

Buffy cursed when she finally thought to look at her watch, and jumped up, shoving one last piece of bacon in her mouth. “I’ve got to go!” she exclaimed, still chewing.

“What’s the rush, luv?” Spike asked, reaching for her arm, trying to pull her back down.

“I have to work! Time, tide, and Doublemeat Palace waits for no man … or fry cook,” she informed him, grabbing her coat from one of the chairs and shrugging into it.

“I hate seein’ ya workin’ at that dump, Buffy,” Spike lamented, not for the first time.

“Yeah, well, apparently being dead is costly. All the money is nearly gone, and I’ve got bills to pay, not to mention keeping Dawn in clothes and shoes, which takes a small fortune.”

Buffy started climbing up the ladder, but Spike deftly grasped her around the waist and lifted her back down before she got to the third rung.  He held her back against his front, wrapping his arms around her torso. His breath was cool against her ear as he leaned in and whispered, “Stay with me, Slayer. You know you want to.”

Buffy wriggled her ass against a growing hardness in his jeans, and tilted her head to the side, inviting his lips.

Spike eagerly obliged, kissing and nuzzling her neck gently, before tracing the shell of her ear with his talented and dexterous tongue.

Buffy moaned as she felt the sparks begin to tingle through her, directly from his touch to the deepest part of her being. She longed to fall into them, to drown in the fireworks he created in her, to dance among the stars and find the light and hope he could spark in her.

“I … can’t,” her brain protested feebly, but her body pressed back against him, melding to his, fitting to him as if they had been made for each other, two parts of an enigmatic puzzle.

“You can,” Spike urged, murmuring against her ear with cool, tickling breath that sent goose-flesh racing down her body.

Buffy moaned, her eyes fluttering closed in the pleasure of his touch, in the sound of his voice. The irresponsible part of her agreed with him, whole-heartedly! She could stay here all day, chasing the darkness away. But the adult in her knew that if she missed work or was late again, she’d be out pounding the pavement looking for another below-poverty-level job just to get by on.

Reluctantly, and with considerable Slayer-esque effort, the adult won out.

Buffy turned slowly in Spike’s arms and caught his face between her hands, forcing him to stop.

“Come by the Palace later … after dark. I’ll have a dinner break at eight. We can …” Buffy shrugged a shoulder and dropped one hand from his face to the bulge in his jeans, cupping it gently. “… do something about that swelling you’ve got there.”

Spike cocked a brow at her. “Could do something now,” he tried again. “And later.”

Buffy shook her head and touched her lips to his, almost chastely. “Just later,” she mumbled against his mouth, “I promise to burn you to embers.”

Spike swallowed audibly, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat, then deepened the kiss, pulling her body tightly against his, his tongue parting her lips and exploring her mouth deeply, tasting, teasing, needing.

When the kiss broke, he rested his forehead against hers and replied, “Ya know I won’t get a bit of rest all day, you leavin’ me in this condition. I’m gonna fuck you into next week fer making me wait, Slayer.”

Buffy chuckled softly and pulled back. “Is that a threat, or a promise?” she teased with a quick wink, before turning and scampering up the ladder and out of sight.

Spike bit his bottom lip, a smile curving his lips as he watched her ass disappear up the ladder, despite his uncomfortable condition. Had she actually been flirting with him? Teasing him? Who was that woman and what has she done with the real Buffy?

On second thought, he didn’t want to know.

Chapter Text

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Song Referenced: Magnet and Steel, Walter Eagan with Stevie Nicks 


 

Buffy stepped out the back door of the Doublemeat Palace at precisely eight o’clock that evening, pulling her stupid clown hat off and scanning the darkness for Spike. It only took a second for him to step out of the shadows at the edge of the parking lot, his thumbs hooked in his belt, his hands splayed out over his groin, drawing her eye to the bulge in his jeans.

“Lookin’ fer somethin’, Slayer?” he asked, running his tongue across his teeth invitingly.

Buffy bit her bottom lip when she saw him, her heart jumped in her chest and speed off at a gallop as her body tingled with pent-up desire.  She’d been thinking about this moment all day. Heaven knew her job didn’t actually require any part of her brain, so it was free to devote itself to imagining this moment in vivid detail as she served the masses their daily dose of heart disease and cholesterol. She may have been able to ignore the need he’d kindled in her earlier for the sake of putting food on her table and paying the bills, but it had not left her. If anything, it had grown with each passing hour, and now she was on the verge of a nuclear meltdown if this pressure wasn’t released, and fast.

With the knowledge that Warren was in jail and all the Trio’s computer equipment had been turned into very expensive scraps, Buffy’s worry about being recorded had vanished, and her hunger for what Spike could give her had redoubled. She was across the space between them in a flash, drawn like a magnet to steel. Buffy’s lips crashed against his, her hands gripping his shoulders, as she pressed him back into the dark shadows of the vacant lot behind the restaurant. Spike’s backward momentum finally stopped when his back slammed against the trunk of a tree, jarring both of them to a stop as they fumbled wildly at the fabric between them, trying to keep their lips from parting for more than a split-second in the process.

Zippers and buttons were pulled free and a few seams were strained to the breaking point in the frenzy of removal. Pants were kicked off and trampled in the melee, shirts nearly torn off, but finally Buffy’s soft, warm body molded to Spike’s cold hardness. They came together like puzzle pieces too long parted, and that same feeling of euphoric, tingling sparks began to spread over her. Her nipples hardened into pebbles as her supple breasts pressed against Spike’s firm, muscular chest, sparking a flicker of light deep within her, warming her from the inside out, pressing the darkness back.

“Tell me what you want, Slayer,” Spike gasped against her mouth as his cock sprang free of its denim prison, searching frantically for her soft sheath of heated flesh.

Her hand was around his marble-hard length, stroking him firmly with long, yearning pumps, the pearl of pre-cum silky and slick beneath her fingers.   In one motion, she lifted herself up with her other hand and wrapped her legs around his hips, eager to take his thick, hard cock into her slick, hot pussy.

Buffy mumbled something against him, incoherent and muffled as she began guiding his thick, hardness to her throbbing entrance, lowering herself onto him with single-minded determination. She needed him. Now.

“Tell me,” he demanded, his voice rough with passion and need.

His cock was at her entrance now, barely touching her pulsing opening, but one of Spike’s strong hands grasped her sweet ass and stopped her from lowering down further. “Tell me,” he demanded one more time, pulling back to look at her, his eyes locking with hers.

“You,” she gasped out, breathless, yearning. “I want you.”

Spike bit his bottom lip, still holding her poised just above his aching cock. God, he wanted her. But he wanted her to say it almost as much.

“Say it,” he urged her. “Tell me what you want me t’ do. Say it!”

Buffy groaned in frustration, wriggling to free herself so she could take control back from him, but he had the leverage now and all she was doing was getting further away from her goal: his cock pounding deep inside her.

“I know you can say it,” he prompted again, squeezing her ass with a bruising grip. “Tell me.”

“Fuck me, Spike … fuck me. God, please, I want you.”

“Want, or need?” Spike persisted, enjoying this now that he had her talking.

“What the fuck difference does it make!?” Buffy demanded, getting more frustrated and angry by the moment. “BOTH!

“Now keep your promise or I swear I’ll dust you!” she threatened, her green eyes flashing with furious hunger and desire.

Spike grinned lasciviously and in the next moment pulled her ass down as he thrust up with all his strength, driving into her, spreading her tight, throbbing walls around his thickness with every last drop of his rock-hard demonic power and lust.

Buffy felt a scream of ecstatic pleasure rise in her throat and buried her face against Spike’s neck to muffle it, her teeth digging brazenly into the flesh of his trapezius. The world fell away in that moment of connection, nothing else mattered but this feeling of rapture. A glowing warmth bloomed inside her, driving the darkness back, and that feeling of hope and joy rose up in her once again.

His corded arms around her were the ultimate definition of strength, his mouth, so near her carotid, the greatest danger any Slayer could face, and yet she yearned to surrender to him. Everyone looked to her to be the strong one, to be in charge, to protect them, but in these moments with Spike she didn’t have to be that person, she could give in to him, and he was strong enough for the both of them.

Spike turned them, putting Buffy’s back against the tree, giving even more power to his thrusts. He drove into her with a demonic passion that eclipsed even his hunger for her blood, each thrust punctuated by a rumbling grunt of effort. Buffy’s legs tightened around his waist, threatening to break him in two, but he barely noticed. His senses were overloaded with the sight, sound, smell, and feel of this woman who filled his every waking thought and unconscious dream.

She needed him, she wanted him, and, God help him, he needed, wanted, and loved her with every fiber of his being.

“Harder … Spike … more! Harder!” Buffy gasped against him, her breath hot against his neck, her body jerking and demanding in his arms, her hands clutching at his shoulders, digging into his hard flesh.

A deep, resonant growl rumbled up from deep within him in reply. In the next moment, Spike had her on her back on the ground, her legs spread wide and pressed up, her ankles near her ears, opening her to him completely. He pounded madly into her sweet, tight quim, his hard flesh slapping rhythmically against her softness, driving his need home with every brutal stroke.

Her lust matched his as she trembled and quaked beneath him, her slick walls throbbing and squeezing around his hard length, taking all he had to give and returning it ten-fold. His cock slammed into her in long, desperate strokes, then changed to shallow, fast thrusts, sending her flying and falling and soaring in the clouds. 

“Yes, yes, yes…” was all she could gasp out, all her mind could conjure, as she let him take her back to heaven again and again and again.

“Fuck, Buffy … never … anyone … like …you.” Spike punctuated each word with a long, deep thrust of his aching cock into her, and she shuddered with each blow, her body responding to his words and actions, blooming with heat and unrestrained passion.

“Don’t … stop … please … Spike,” she pleaded with him, her fingernails sinking into the smooth flesh of his ass, drawing blood.

He didn’t. He wouldn’t. In fact, he wasn’t sure he could now if he tried.

Buffy had never had a lover like Spike. He was her equal in every way. There was no holding back with him, nothing she could do or say would shock him or physically hurt him. And he was teaching her to do and say some impressively-naughty things, and she rejoiced in the freedom to do or say anything she felt with him, knowing there would be no judgement.

He could read her body like a book, seeming to know when to slow down, when to speed up, and the exact moments to drive her over the edge into rapture. Over. And over. And over again. Lifting her ever higher into oblivion with each searing orgasm that burned through her.

And oblivion, that place where the darkness was drowned out by light, was exactly where she longed to be.

“Buffy …” Spike moaned against her neck, fighting to keep his demon back. He wanted to taste her, wanted to sink his fangs deep into her flesh almost as much as he wanted to cum inside her in this instant.

“Yes, Spike … yes! Spike … cum now … now, Spike, now!!” Buffy urged, digging her nails even deeper into the hard globes of his ass as trickles of blood ran down his pale, perfect skin.

At her words, Spike let go of every ounce of restraint he’d been exercising and slammed into her with such force that he plowed her body down, creating a Buffy-sized impression in the grassy, hard-packed ground beneath them. He heard her heart skip a beat, her breath catch in her chest, and felt her body begin to spasm and shudder beneath him yet again. Her heat and passion drifted off her body in waves, washing over him, engulfing him in her glowing embers. In that moment, he let go of all thought, all constraint, all control.

Buffy’s hips jerked up against him, her entire body and soul lost in the sensation of their mutual orgasm. With a guttural, savage roar of completion, Spike floated away with her into the ether. His cool seed spilled into her warm, welcoming body in blinding bursts of pure ecstasy, becoming part of her, if only for a while.

And then, he felt it. Or saw it. Or … experienced it. A flicker of light deep inside the darkness. Like someone had dropped a burning match into the bottomless depths of his hollowed-out soul. He hadn’t actually been sure it was still there, it had been so long since he’d even looked. But as he floated there with her among the stars, somehow removed from his body, he could feel it huddled in a corner, trying to hide from the darkness that surrounded it. Was that real? Or was it his imagination playing tricks on him?

Buffy finally remembered how to breathe, gulping air, as she gently drifted back to earth. She released the death-grip she had on his ass and slowly slid her arms up around his back to hold him to her, panting and trembling beneath his hard, beautiful body. Her warm breath heated his cool skin as she clung to him, her eyes still closed, still floating just above the ground, light as a feather, the darkness still driven back, those deep furrows inside her filled with a soft, glowing light.

Spike released her legs and they fell on either side of him like wet noodles, small electrical shocks still jerking them spasmodically. He collapsed atop her, allowing her to wrap her arms around him fully, reveling in the feel of her, her warmth, her softness and her strength, her power and passion.

As he lay there holding her, being held by her, he marveled at the light that still burned deep inside – maybe he hadn’t imagined it. Faint, flickering, barely there … but there, nonetheless. Could she be right? Had he come back ‘wrong’?  Had the Powers That Be accidentally left a small candle of humanity inside him, just waiting for the right person to light the wick?

And then he was kissing her, softly, reverently, covering her face and neck with adoration. If anyone could find it, kindle it, it would be this woman, this Slayer.

Buffy sild her arms up to his neck and caught Spike’s face between her hands, stopping his display of affection. She pulled his lips down to hers and kissed him as gently as dew on a rose petal, her lips like a ghost against his.

When the kiss broke, Buffy pressed her lips near his ear and whispered, “Did you feel it?”

Spike lifted up enough to look into her green eyes, his own blue orbs wide with astonishment and awe. He had felt it, whatever ‘it’ was.  How could she know?

Although it was dark there where they lay, he could see her perfectly, and he nodded slowly, knowing she could feel him move, if not actually see the depth of wonder and ardor in his eyes.

“I love you, Buffy,” he whispered as gently as his growl-hoarsened throat would allow, watching her expression closely.

She didn’t flinch or turn away.  She didn’t scowl or argue that a monster like him couldn’t love anyone. She didn’t hit him or kick him in the bollocks or run away. But she didn’t reply either, at least not immediately.

Buffy reached up to touch a thick lock of platinum hair that had fallen out of place, a curl that hung down over his forehead. She wrapped it gently around one finger, then pulled it straight and let it go, watching it spring back naturally against his soft skin.

She smiled then and said, “I didn’t even know you had curls.” Then added, hastily, “On your head, I mean.” A rose-pink blush bloomed over her cheeks and she bit her bottom lip in embarrassment.

Spike smiled and shook his head. How could she be a wild vixen one moment, riding him like a sex goddess bound for perdition, and an innocent, blushing girl the next?

“Reckon there’s a bit about me you don’t know,” Spike admitted. “But, I’m willin’ t’ show you my curls if you’re willin’ to let me in.”

“Pretty sure you’re as far in as humanly, or vampirely, possible,” Buffy teased, squeezing her deepest muscles around his softened flesh to demonstrate how far inside her he still was.

“Best be careful, Slayer,” Spike warned, shifting his hips invitingly, but being careful to not pull out of her soft, wet heat – God, he wanted to stay buried in her forever. “Round two might go past yer dinner break.”

Buffy raised her brows, partly dubious, partly curious.

“Don’ tempt me, luv,” Spike warned, and she could, indeed, feel his length begin to swell and harden again inside her.

“I live to tempt you,” Buffy continued teasing, her tone light. “And … I’d like to see your curls,” she added, lowering her lashes coquettishly before looking back up at him earnestly.

Buffy took the rebellious curl and smoothed it back into place on his head. “Maybe later tonight we could patrol, then, tomorrow night we could take the night off. You could … come over for a movie. A romcom. I hear you like them.”

“Like a date, Slayer?” Spike wondered, quirking his scared brow at her.

“Do you want it to be a date?” Buffy asked, chewing her full bottom lip adorably.

“You know I do,” he whispered, letting his eyes sweep slowly over her face, taking in every detail. He’d rarely seen her like this: relaxed, teasing, friendly, even happy. Certainly not with him – barring love spells – and lately not with anyone.

He took it all in like a breath of fresh, spring air, and, for the first time, he felt like there might be a chance for him, a chance for there to be a them.

Chapter Text

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Spike smoothed his hair back and checked to make sure there was no cemetery dirt on his boots, before approaching the kitchen door at the Summers’ residence. Why was he so bloody nervous? It’s not like he’d never been in this house before. Not like he hadn’t watched a hundred movies sitting on that couch with Dawn over the summer. Not like he hadn’t done nearly everything with the Slayer one could possibly do without permanent injury. So why did the thought of this night make his stomach writhe like a den of snakes?

Date.

He hadn’t been on a date in over 100 years, and even those he’d been on as a human were generally disastrous, or pathetic, at best. And the one time he’d tried to ‘date’ Buffy before could only be described as a catastrophically bad idea.

“Grow a bloody pair,” he admonished himself, pulling himself up to stand straight and forcing his feet to mount the steps to the reach the door.

He knocked tentatively, but no one apparently heard. Maybe he should’ve gone to the front door. But he wasn’t sure Buffy wanted anyone seeing him coming into the house. Steeling his nerve, he knocked again, harder.

This time Buffy appeared in the kitchen looking slightly confused, but then her expression lightened spotting him through the glass.

Buffy opened the door and Spike began to step in only to stop short when she began to speak.

“Spike? What are you—?” she began.

“Am I early? You said ‘tomorrow’ and that was yesterday, yeah? So today is tomorrow, best I can reckon,” he rambled nervously.

Buffy laughed and waved a hand. “No … I mean yes, today is tomorrow. I just meant what are you doing knocking at the back door?”

Spike drew in a relieved breath and looked back at the door a moment. “Well, didn’t want t’ make a fuss at the front,” he explained, turning back to look at her.

Buffy pursed her lips and nodded. “Well, I did invite you, so chances are fifty-fifty I wouldn’t punch you out for coming.”

Spike shrugged helplessly, completely missing her attempt at humor. What was she playin’ at? Did her friends know he was here? Dawn? Red? He doubted that seriously.

“Ummm, okay,” Buffy continued, breaking the awkward silence. “But, since when do you knock? Usually you run in like you own the place.”

“Different, innit? More … formal, I reckon. Tryin’ to be … proper,” Spike stammered nervously. He was out of his element. He felt like a landed guppy floundering around gasping for air on the dock, and he looked it, too.

Buffy chewed on her bottom lip, suppressing a grin. Who knew that inviting Spike on a date could throw him so far off his game? It was, dare she say? Cute.

“You look nice,” she offered, moving on. “New shirt?”

Spike reached up to tug nervously at the collar of his t-shirt before realizing he wasn’t wearing a t-shirt, but a button-down, Celtic blue dress shirt. He’d had a tie too, but felt weird wearing it, so he’d left it off, leaving the collar casual and open.

He nodded self-consciously, fidgeting with the buttons and the collar of the shirt.

“The blue brings out your eyes. I know black’s your go-to color, but I really like the blue on you.”

Spike nodded again, and mumbled something along the lines of, “Thanks.”

Suddenly realizing he was fidgeting, he deliberately lowered his hand and tucked his thumb into the pocket of his jeans to keep it still.

When he didn’t say anything more, Buffy waved a hand at the spray of gladiolas he held limply by his side in his other hand. “Are those for me?” she wondered, raising her brows in expectation.

“Oh! Errrr … right!” he stammered, lifting them up hastily and nearly smacking her in the face with them.

Buffy dodged the bouquet deftly, and grabbed it from his hand before he could do anything else dangerous with them.

“They’re lovely, thank you,” she offered sincerely, admiring the colorful spray of gladiolas. She hoped he hadn’t gotten them from one of the graves at the cemetery, but brushed the thought away – wherever he’d gotten them, it had been sweet of him to think of it.

Spike couldn’t help but smile now, the tension in him uncoiling slightly. “Always remind me o’ you, Slayer. Symbolize strength of character, faithfulness and honor, they do.”

Buffy looked up at him thoughtfully with a small hint of surprise in her expression. What a strange thing for Spike to know. Or maybe it wasn’t. He did spend a lot of time in cemeteries. But then, so did she and she didn’t know that. 

Buffy opened her mouth to remark on this, but couldn’t form the right words, so she settled on, “Let me just put them in water.”

Spike nodded and watched her turn and go to the sink. She retrieved a vase from one of the cabinets, filled it, and began arranging the flowers in it.  Spike took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to calm down. He was acting like a bumbling poofter, he needed to be ‘Spike’, not bloody ‘William’, he reminded himself.

“You know,” Buffy began off-handedly, still facing away from him. “Dawn mentioned that there was always a fresh, white gladiola on my grave … like every day, or at least every time she went there.”

Spike cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Did she, then?”

“Mmm-hmmm. I don’t suppose you’d know anything about that, would you?”

When Spike didn’t answer, Buffy turned back around to face him. He pressed his full bottom lip between his teeth, staring at her intently. Their eyes met and locked for a long moment, the silence nearly deafening in the cozy kitchen.

Finally, Spike cleared his throat and looked down at his shoes before admitting, “Never thought I’d ‘ave the chance t’ give you posies any other way. Couldn’t toss ‘em back at me from the grave, now could ya?”

Buffy stepped around the kitchen island, reaching him just as he looked back up. She took his face between her palms, resting her fingertips on his razor-sharp cheekbones, her green eyes delving tenderly into the cerulean blue of his.

“I’m not throwing them back at you now,” she assured him before touching a soft kiss on his lips.

Spike felt himself melting into her, and he pulled her closer, deepening the kiss. This he knew. This was solid ground where he felt comfortable with the Slayer. The heat of her flowed into him where their bodies touched. It was like the radiance of the mid-summer sun filling him with glowing coals of desire. He could get lost in that heat for a million years and still not have enough of it, still need just one more taste, one more drop of flame against his skin, one more …

Someone in the hallway behind them cleared their throat loudly and meaningfully.

“Pizza’s here,” Dawn announced. “I mean, unless you guys are just gonna neck in the kitchen all night.”

Spike and Buffy parted like a bucket of cold water had been poured over them, which it pretty-much had.

“Dawn! Didn’t anyone ever tell you that spying on people was rude?” Buffy demanded, her face burning red with more than just embarrassment.

“Uhh … you’re in the kitchen – in the house where I live,” Dawn pointed out, crossing her arms over her chest defiantly. “Doesn’t take any James Bond super-spy skills to see you. I just walked in to get some paper plates.”

Spike looked from Dawn to Buffy, a sinking realization coming over him. This wasn’t a date-date, it was a family movie night. He was such a fool! Again! How could he be so bloody stupid? He felt his own face begin to burn red, which was ridiculous, because it couldn’t, but somehow it did.

Spike whirled on his heel and started purposely for the door. “Ha-bloody-ha, Slayer. Guess you got me good with that one,” he growled, reaching for the doorknob.

“Spike! Wait!” Buffy called after him, catching his arm before he could open the back door. “I meant to tell you when you got here, but got distracted. I thought Dawn was going out with Wil. I didn’t know she already had plans to watch a movie with Clem tonight when I asked you. Honestly! I didn’t know,” she explained hurriedly.

Spike stopped with one hand on the doorknob, Buffy’s hand gripped tightly on his other elbow. “Please don’t go,” she requested gravely.

“We have pizza and wings,” Dawn offered brightly from behind the pair. “And onion blossoms,” she added temptingly.

Spike turned back and looked at Buffy, his eyes narrowed dangerously, the blue depths burning with hurt and anger. He searched her eyes, her expression, and her body language for any hint of mockery or deception, but couldn’t find any. Her eyes were soft, pleading; she looked genuinely upset about him leaving.

“Please,” she mouthed silently to him, her grip never lessening on his arm, her eyes locked, unwaveringly on his.

Spike looked up at Dawn, who was watching the pair with interest. “Onion from the Bronze?” he asked her with solemnity.

“Where else?” she assured him with a shrug.

“Got that spicy sauce, too?”

“Yup! Got a double order, just for you,” she offered, motioning with a tilt of her head for him to come back and join them.

Spike sniffed huffily and let go of the doorknob. “Well, since ya went to that trouble, I reckon…”

Buffy’s face broke out into a relieved smile. The grip she had on his arm lessened, but she didn’t let go, instead turning him and leading him toward the living room, as if he’d bolt if she released him completely.

“We rented ‘Monsters, Inc.’” Dawn called back. “I think it’s about Sunnydale, only with less death and destruction.”

“It’ll be fun … right?” Buffy whispered as they followed Dawn into the other room.

“A bloody laugh-riot, I reckon,” Spike replied sarcastically, rolling his eyes.


 

Clem was already there, waiting for them in the living room. Spike greeted his pale, saggy-skinned, floppy-eared, demon friend with a handshake and a genial slap on the back. “I see Dawn’s got ya missin’ poker night,” he joked.

“Oh, I’ll go later,” Clem explained. “But I thought I’d eat first to curb my appetite. Less tempted to snack, makes the kittens go further,” he explained confidentially, keeping his voice low.

Spike nodded knowingly. “Good plan, mate.”

Dawn had the food laid out on the coffee table in the living room like a buffet, and everyone dove in, filling up the good Chinet paper plates – only the best for company – with their first round of the fine cuisine on offer. Drinks were offered, beer for Clem and Spike, and Coke for Buffy and Dawn, with Dawn doing the fetching, being the youngest. As everyone settled in to eat and the conversation died, Dawn started the movie, sitting on the floor near one end of the couch. Spike and Buffy had taken up seats on the couch itself, and Clem was in the easy-chair to one side.

Everyone ate in companionable silence, with just sporadic conversation or comment, usually in the form of asking Dawn to get more drinks or more napkins, which she did with only minimal complaint, pausing the movie each time so she didn’t miss any of the riveting suspense.

When Spike and Buffy finally set their empty plates down on the equally-empty coffee table, Spike leaned back with a low, satisfied moan and got comfortable.  If he was gonna have to endure this group movie night thing, then at least he was gonna make the best of it.

He really didn’t pay much attention to the movie, but let his eyes wander over his companions. Dawn and Clem were kidding around in low tones, making editorial remarks about the monsters in Sunnydale not resembling the ones in the movie, and maybe those writers needed to come spend some time on the Hellmouth. Spike smiled to himself, watching Dawn, especially. She seemed in much better spirits since Buffy’s ‘lock in’ birthday party a couple of weeks ago, no doubt due, at least in part, to Buffy being home with her tonight instead of off dancing in the dark with him.

Spike let his eyes wander to Buffy, who had put her feet up on the coffee table and was leaning back comfortably, also watching Dawn rather than the movie. There was a small, satisfied smile on her lips that warmed Spike deep inside. Buffy and smiles – real smiles – hadn’t been on speaking terms of late.

Her gaze shifted, and she caught him watching her, but Spike didn’t look away or pretend he wasn’t doing just that. Instead, he motioned with one hand and a tilt of his head, inviting her to lean against him. 

Buffy looked back at Dawn and bit her lip, hesitating. It was her default setting with Spike: hide it; admit nothing; deny everything. Then Buffy rolled her eyes at herself. Dawn had seen them in the kitchen just a little while ago, and in the crypt the other night, of course she knows. Possibly the whole town knows by now. There could be billboards along the interstate announcing it for all Buffy knew.

Spike caught the hesitation and felt something inside himself contract. She’d invited him over here, now she was gonna play coy? Just as his indignation was about to surface, Buffy leaned into him, snuggling against his side, resting her head on his shoulder and pulling her feet up under her on the couch. Spike wrapped one arm around her and the coiled snake in his belly relaxed with a sigh of contentment.

Spike touched a soft kiss onto her temple, letting his lips linger there, taking in the scent of her. She smelled like bright sunshine and soothing vanilla, and, well, a little bit of Doublemeat Palace, but he ignored that. Buffy took one of his hands into hers, interlocking her fingers with his, and let out a sigh of her own, snuggling even closer against him, fitting her body against his perfectly.

Buffy let her eyes fall closed and felt a wave of serenity wash over her. All her friends and family were safe. There were no hell-gods or diabolical masterminds threatening to take over the world – well, as far as she knew. Angel, also as far as she knew, still had his soul and was not in danger of losing it. And she didn’t have to go back to work for another twenty-one and a half hours.

In that moment, all was right with the world.

Well, we all know that that just won’t do, don’t we?

 

 

Chapter Text

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“What did ya think, Buffy?” Dawn asked, turning to look at her sister, as the credits for the movie ran.

Buffy jerked awake at the sound of her name, sitting up abruptly away from Spike.

“Present!” she declared, raising one hand, then quickly lowering it as she realized she wasn’t in fifth-period algebra. Thank God.

Dawn quirked a brow at her as she rose from her seat on the floor. “I see the movie really held your attention,” her sister teased as she began gathering up all the empty take-out containers, paper plates, and cups from the coffee table.

“Oh, yeah … it was very … realistic,” Buffy replied, clearing the sleep from her brain. “I felt like I had a vampire and a demon right there in the room with me,” she joked.

“It was animated,” Dawn informed her, rolling her eyes. “And they were monsters, not demons.”

“You say potato, I say po-tah-to,” Buffy replied defensively, then shrugged and said, “Sorry, I guess I was more tired than I thought.”

Buffy then turned her apologies to Spike. “I guess that wasn’t what you had in mind for a date, huh?”

Spike shrugged. “Had worse,” he admitted. In fact, watching her peaceful face as she dreamed, feeling her relaxed body against him as she slept in his arms, was perhaps the best date he’d ever been on.

Buffy laughed. “Me too,” she agreed. “Plus, bonus points for no one dying,” she added, rolling her eyes. “That’s not pathetic at all, huh?”

Spike shrugged again and gave her a small smile. “Maybe together we’re less pathetic, luv. Just needed to find the right person t’ date, eh?”

Buffy returned the smile and tilted her head in acknowledgement before standing up and stretching her body, raising her arms over her head, arching her back, and coming up on her tiptoes with the effort. A peek of flesh showed around her middle, her shirt rising up, as she leaned her body from side to side, stretching her spine.

Spike watched her with growing interest … and growing other parts of his anatomy, too. He longed to touch that little swath of tanned skin that seemed to wink at him, teasing and taunting. Somehow it felt like the sexiest thing he’d ever seen.

“Maybe we should … patrol a bit?” he suggested, adjusting the fit of his jeans and giving her a smoldering look, which left no question as to what he had in mind by ‘patrolling’.

“There’s a poker game at Willy’s tonight I thought I’d catch,” Clem announced to the room at large, also standing up. Then, turning to Spike he added more quietly, “If you aren’t coming, could you loan me some kittens until Monday? I’ll pay ya back double.”

Buffy gave Spike a gimlet-eyed glare, reminding him of her aversion to kitten poker.

“Errr …” Spike wavered, looking from Buffy to Clem and then back to the Slayer as he also stood up. “No … no kittens. Not a one. Haven’t even seen one in days … weeks, maybe,” he rambled.

“The vampire doth protest too much, methinks,” Buffy chastised before rolling her eyes and shaking her head.

“Well, there might be one litter I been savin’ back behind the dumpster in the alley behind—,” Spike began.

“Spiiike,” Buffy threatened.

“Errr, sorry, mate … got no kittens,” Spike finished, shrugging helplessly at Clem.

“Kittens? Are we getting a kitten?” Dawn asked enthusiastically, catching the end of the conversation as she came back from the kitchen.

“No, no kittens,” Buffy replied firmly. “I can barely feed you, let alone a kitten.”

Dawn huffed and rolled her eyes, but didn’t argue further. “Clem, I have some of those super-spicy nacho chips you like. I forgot to put them out, they’re in the kitchen. You can take them home for later.”

“Oh! That would be wonderful! Maybe I can use those at the game since I don’t have any kittens,” he replied as he followed Dawn into the other room to retrieve them.

Spike gave him a doubtful look, but Clem shrugged, observing, “You never know.”

Just then, the doorbell rang, and someone began banging on it a second later.

Buffy looked at the clock. A bit late for visitors, and Willow wouldn’t knock. She frowned as the banging intensified and strode over to open it, already annoyed with whoever it was.

“Xander, I swear, if you’ve come to lecture—” she began angrily, pulling the door open to reveal a tall man with short-cropped brunette hair and mid-western, boy-next-door good looks. He was dressed in all black tactical gear, head-to-toe, and armed to the teeth.

“Buffy! Hi! Thank goodness, you’re home! We’ve been chasing a demon all the way from South America – badass sucker – I could really use your help with it,” the man proclaimed in an impatient rush of words.

“Riley?” Buffy questioned, her brows knit together in confusion, her voice disbelieving.

“Yeah, it’s me, Buffy. I’ll explain later, but there’s not much time,” he continued, looking back at a black Humvee that was parked in front of her house and then back at her, clearly expecting her to come with him.

“Riley Finn?” Buffy repeated, sounding shell-shocked, looking him up and down. “Have you always been so … tall?” she asked, a bit dazed.

During this time, Spike had made his way over to the door and stood next to Buffy, deliberately blocking most of the opening. He wrapped an arm around Buffy’s waist, protectively – or was that possessively? – before speaking.

“If there’s a new demon in town, then me and the Slayer’ll handle it. Don’t need any vampire-whore addicted tin soldier gettin’ in the way,” he snarled derisively at Finn.

Riley blinked, taking in the tableau. To Buffy’s credit, she didn’t pull away from Spike, but she didn’t return any sign of affection, either.

“Uhhh, Riley, you remember Spike, right? Spike … Riley Finn,” Buffy waved her hand between the two men, introducing them as if either one could ever forget the other.

“Awkward, much?” she muttered to herself, preparing for … what? World War Three, perhaps.

“What the … You’re with Spike now?” Riley asked, not missing Spike’s blatant display of possession. There was a war between confusion and revulsion fighting for prominence in the soldier’s expression – loathing disgust won out.

“Needed a little monster in ‘er man, I reckon,” Spike gloated, running his tongue along his teeth suggestively and pulling Buffy just the slightest bit closer.

Buffy plastered a fake smile on her lips as she elbowed the vamp in the ribs, making Spike flinch and let out a low grunt of pain. “Shut. Up,” she demanded through her clenched-tooth-smile, so low that Spike could barely hear her.

Of course, hearing her didn’t mean Spike would listen. The vamp recovered quickly and continued taunting Riley. “Slayer needs a man who don’t run off when the goin’ gets tough. Bloody coward … afraid to face a hell-god, are ya?”

“Spike, we actually all ran away from Glory, remember?” Buffy reminded him, turning an impatient glare on him.

Spike sniffed. “Yeah, well, we all came back, didn’t we? But Captain Cardboard was too busy polishin’ his—” Spike curled his free hand into a fist and began making a pumping motion, which might’ve been mimicking a Slayer repeatedly staking a demon, but wasn’t.

Buffy swatted at his hand, grabbing his wrist, pulling it across his body, and holding it down against her side in a death grip that would’ve cut off his circulation if he’d had any.

“—gun,” Spike finished with a satisfied grin, mocking Riley.

“What is it they say about blokes who need to play with guns?  Trying to compensate for somethin’? I hear, the bigger the gun, smaller their di—”

Buffy’s elbow in Spike’s ribs cut him off with an ‘oomph’ of expelled breath.

Riley glowered at Spike. “Can’t you shut him up?” he demanded, shifting his gaze to Buffy.

“No so far,” she muttered, giving Spike a glower of her own, twisting his wrist a bit to try and make her position clear to Spike.

Riley shook his head, dismissing Spike, and focused back on the Slayer. “What is this about a hell-god?”

Buffy waved a hand dismissively. “She was the big-bad du jour last year. We saved the world. Again. I died.”

She shrugged as bewilderment washed over Riley’s face as he stared at her, his mouth moved, opening and closing, but no words came out.

“It didn’t stick,” she explained, perhaps unnecessarily.

“You can even visit my grave,” she added brightly, giving Riley time to recover. “I understand it’s a hotspot for vampire raves on weekends and holidays. Every vampire wants to dance on the Slayer’s grave, apparently,” Buffy explained, her smile turning a little more genuine.  “I should charge admission,” she mused contemplatively, more to herself than Riley.

“You look … really good for being dead,” he stammered out finally. “And the hair’s different, I like it.”

“Oh, thanks!” Buffy replied cheerily, smoothing her free hand over her short hair. “It’s amazing what some sun and a good moisturizer will do to get rid of the pallor of the casket.

“You look good too,” Buffy reciprocated. “That scar across your eye is really impressive.”

“Oh, this?” Riley raised a hand to touch the long scar that cut vertically through his left eye. “Bonadari demon. They were barely able to save my eye. Had to fly to Switzerland for the operation.”

“Your insurance covers that?” Buffy wondered, shocked, finally dropping her hold of Spike’s hand.

“Oh yeah! We’ve got the best! No co-pays,” Riley confirmed.

“Dental, too? What about optometric?”

“Totally covered,” Riley assured her, waving a flat hand out, palm down, in demonstration.

“Oi!” Spike interrupted, releasing his grip on the Slayer’s waist and taking a small step away from Buffy in his annoyance so he could plant his hands on his hips. “Thought you were in a hurry, soldier-boy? Something ‘bout a demon?”

Buffy blinked. “Oh! Right! What’s the scoop on this demon?”

Riley reverted into commando mode, still standing in the doorway since Buffy never had invited him inside, and Spike certainly wasn’t going to.

“I've been up for 48 hours straight tracking something bad, and now it's come to Sunnydale. Suvolte demon. Rare, lethal ... nearly extinct, but not nearly enough. We've been tear-assing through every jungle from Paraguay up, taking out nests. As soon as we put one Suvolte down, a dozen take its place. They're breeders, Buffy. One turns into twenty, twenty becomes two hundred. They grow fast and are nothing but breeding and killing machines. This gets out of hand and there's a war with humans? Humans are gonna lose.”

“So they're like really mean tribbles,” Buffy observed, getting an amused snort from Spike and a blank look from Riley. Buffy waved a hand in dismissal. “Never mind.”

“We had a tracker on it, but it’s gone dark,” Riley continued, pulling a gadget from his belt and opening it up to show the blank screen in demonstration.

Buffy looked at it. “Your cute little James Bond gizmo isn’t doing anything,” she pointed out, tapping a finger on the screen as if that would fix it – hey, it worked on the TV sometimes.

“Exactly. We lost the signal last night, but it was heading straight for Sunnydale. I think it’s heading to the Hellmouth to spawn,” he explained clipping the gizmo back to his belt.

“Last night?” Buffy asked, giving Spike a meaningful glance. “Did this tribble happen to look something like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle crossed with the thing from ‘Alien’?”

“And stand ‘bout yea high,” Spike added, lifting his hand up as high as it would go.

Riley looked from one to the other of them. “Yesss,” he answered slowly. “Don’t tell me…”

Buffy shrugged and announced proudly, “We killed it last night. So, I guess that takes care of that.”

“Don’t see what the big bloody deal was. Maybe you lot ‘ave too many toys and not enough bollocks,” Spike suggested.

“Maybe if you had a few brain cells left in your bleached head you would’ve heard me say it was a tracking mission!” Riley retorted angrily. “Did you happen to check and see if it had already laid its eggs, smart guy?”

“Well, why the bloody hell didn’t you kill the bugger before it got knocked up, instead of just taggin’ it? Woulda’ saved a good bit o’ trouble, dontcha think?” Spike shot back.

“We shot it full of holes! It took out most of my men! Nothing brought it down!” Riley retorted, angrily.

“Ya know what I found effective in bringin’ it down?” Spike twisted his hands in a gesture mimicking breaking someone’s neck. “Oh, but I forgot, you’d have to get yer hands dirty like that, might chip a nail. Reckon mani-pedi nights are hard to come by in bloody Paraguay,” he sneered.

Before Riley could respond further, Dawn and Clem came back into the room from the kitchen, carrying bowls, spoons, and three half-gallon containers of assorted ice cream for dessert.

“I forgot we had ice cream!” Dawn began before seeing who was at the door. “Riley?” she questioned, her brows knit together in confusion. “What are you—”

Riley looked toward Dawn and Clem when she spoke, over Spike’s shoulder, but before she could finish her question his gun was drawn, and he was raising it in her direction. “DEMON!” he exclaimed. “DAWN! GET DOWN!”

Dawn stood, frozen, a half-step in front of Clem, just staring at Riley, completely confused.

In the next moment several things happened almost instantaneously:

Buffy lunged for the gun, yelling, “NOOO!” at the top of her lungs.

Spike whirled around and bounded several feet in the air over the coffee table toward Dawn and Clem. He spread his arms out and caught Dawn with one arm, Clem with the other, riding them both down to the floor with the power of his leap.

Riley’s gun fired, deafening in the small space.

The next instant was chaos in the Summers living room. Buffy slammed Riley’s hand against the door frame, dislodging the gun. It fell to the floor with a clatter and Riley gasped in pain as his fingers were crushed against the solid wood. But Buffy wasn’t done, she twisted his arm behind him and drove the soldier downward. She kicked hard against the side of his leg, eliciting a scream of pain from him and a satisfying crunching sound from his knee. He collapsed all the way down to the ground then, face down, writhing in pain. The soldier turned his head to the side to breathe, trying to get loose from her grip, and gasping for breath through the agony, but Buffy stopped all struggle when she pressed her booted-foot down on the side of his neck.

“Dawn! Are you hurt?” she screamed, looking at the tangle of humanity – and demonity –  sprawled on the floor on the other side of the room. “Dawn! Answer me! Spike! Clem!”

Clem disentangled himself from the other two first, patting up and down his flabby body, checking for wounds, but found none. He gave Buffy a thumbs-up and sat down heavily on the couch.

“Buffy!” Dawn screamed, scrabbling out from under a moaning and writhing Spike, bowls and silverware clattering as she moved. “Spike’s shot! Oh my God! Buffy! He’s bleeding! Help him! He’s dying!”

Spike finally rolled over and managed to sit back against one wall, a string of colorful curse words flowing freely from his lips. Ice cream ran down his neck, chest, and stomach where he had landed on it, smashing the cartons that Dawn and Clem had been holding. 

He cradled one arm against his chest with the other, wincing. “Not. Dying,” he finally gritted out between clenched teeth when the litany of expletives ended. “Bloody chip,” he cursed, his eyes clamped tightly closed, trying to hold his head and his arm at the same time, but having limited success. He couldn’t figure out why the chip had fired, usually it wouldn’t if he didn’t actually mean harm. But then, he had meant harm – to Riley Finn. The bloody thing just got confused about who he was aiming at, apparently.

“You son of a bitch!” Buffy screamed at Riley, pressing down harder with her foot against his neck wondering just how hard she’d have to press break it. Not much more, she thought.

“You could’ve killed Dawn! Clem is a friend of ours, he’s not a demon! …Well, he’s a demon, but not a demony-demon,” she amended. “He never hurt anyone … except maybe kittens, which I am firmly against, but it’s hard to be judgmental of other people’s dietary choices when you work at the Doublemeat Palace.” She shook herself and refocused. “He’s a guest in my house! You fucking shot Spike! And you ruined three cartons of premium ice cream! Those aren’t cheap, buddy!

“Guns are never helpful!” she finished, lifting her foot momentarily off Riley’s neck to bring it down on the gun in question and smashing it into little bits.

From the open doorway behind Buffy a woman’s voice asked calmly, “Sorry to interrupt, but what are you doing with my husband?”

Buffy’s head whirled around, but she didn’t loosen the grip on Riley’s arm. Buffy took in the woman’s appearance, doing a quick scan from head to toe: tall, athletic, long brunette hair pulled back into a tail, dark eyes, black outfit, gun, pretty face. She didn’t recognize the newcomer. It certainly wasn’t Dru, who was the only woman she could think of that might have some claim over the man she was ‘with’ these days. Maybe there were billboards up, after all.

“I’m not with anyone’s husband! Spike’s not married, for God’s sake!” The Slayer turned back to look at Spike, who was starting to recover, at least from the chip firing. “Tell me you’re not married!!”

Spike began to shake his head, but thought better of it. “Relatively sure I’d remember that, luv,” he wheezed out, still cradling his arm as Dawn tried to staunch the bleeding, which was coming from his upper back, with a roll of paper towels.

The brunette looked confused. “Not him,” she corrected, then pointed at Riley. “Him!”

“Huh?” Buffy replied, looking equally confused, but lessening the pressure on Riley’s neck a bit.

“Buffy, my wife, Sam. Sam, meet Buffy, the Slayer,” Riley gasped out from the floor as he tried to turn a bit to lessen the pressure on his shoulder joint where Buffy held his arm up behind him.

“You’re Buffy!” Riley’s wife enthused, extending her right hand out towards the Slayer in greeting.

Buffy’s brows seemed to be drawn together and stuck in a permanent furrow. She switched hands holding Riley’s arm and returned the gesture, reaching her right hand out toward the woman.

“I’ve heard so much about you!” Sam continued, pumping Buffy’s hand enthusiastically with both of hers. “Riley’s told me so many stories! I’ve been looking forward to meeting you!”

Sam stopped, suddenly remembering Riley. “Ummm … what did he do?” she inquired, looking down at her husband and finally releasing Buffy’s hand.

“He bloody shot me!” Spike replied, pushing himself to his feet gingerly, still cradling his left arm. “In the back. Again! Sick and bloody tired of you soldier-boys shooting me, I am! Grow a bloody pair and quit hiding behind yer toys, shootin’ people in the back!

“You ruined my bloody shirt, too,” he added belatedly, looking down at the ice-cream and blood-stained mess.

“And you would be Buffy’s unmarried … boyfriend?” Sam inquired, eying him.

“T-that’s Spike,” Riley choked out before either Buffy or Spike could react to the ‘boyfriend’ moniker.

“The vampire? As in Hostile 17?” Sam inquired, giving Buffy a quizzical look.

“That’s right,” Spike replied. “The hostile vampire who’s bleedin’ all over the carpet,” he added.

“Oh. Uhhh, okaaay,” Sam replied warily, taking in Buffy’s worried expression and Dawn’s attempts to stop the bleeding. “I have an A-130 Military Field Trauma Medical Kit in the Humvee,” the soldier offered, taking a step toward the door to retrieve it.

“I have a First Aid Kit from Allen’s Drug Store under the bathroom sink,” Buffy countered.

“Mine’s fully stocked with sterile instruments to treat injuries such as gunshot wounds, and for field surgery,” Sam continued.

“We use filet knives, pliers, and duct tape,” Buffy informed her casually, still holding Riley down. “Sometimes we pour alcohol on them.”

Sam wasn’t sure whether to look impressed or disgusted by this revelation, but continued, “I have military combat medic training; I’ve extracted bullets from men before.”

“You win,” Buffy assented, dropping Riley’s arm and removing her boot from his neck. She gave him one short kick in the ribs for good measure before stepping away from him, drawing a ‘whoof’ of expelled breath from the downed soldier.

Chapter Text

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Spike sat on the closed lid of the commode in the upstairs bathroom shirtless, facing the tank, his back, and the bullet wound, exposed. Two sets of female eyes examined it, and fingers delved gingerly around the wound, trying to determine the angle of entry.

“I don’t think it went into the bone,” Sam assured him as she reached into her kit for some disinfecting swabs.

Spike watched her over his shoulder and rolled his eyes. “Don’ need those, pet. Vampire, remember?” he pointed out.

“Oh … right,” she hesitated, putting them back down. “I’ve never actually worked on a vampire before.”

“Shock, that is,” Spike grunted, crossing his arms on the top of the tank and laying his forehead down on it. “Just get on with it.”

“Are you sure you don’t need some pain killers?” the brunette offered, reaching into the kit again.

“The only pain I need killed is that blighter downstairs,” he assured her.

Sam looked a little confused, then nodded, realizing his meaning. “Yeah, Finn can be a little … over-zealous.”

“Some things never change,” Buffy muttered from behind her, watching the proceedings over Sam’s shoulder.

The black ops soldier picked up some forceps from her kit, preparing to remove the bullet. “You might want to hold him still,” she suggested to Buffy.

“Don’t need t’ be held still, not a bloody poofter,” Spike assured her, waving Buffy off before returning to his former position with his head down on his folded arms.

Sam shot a questioning look at Buffy, but Buffy just shrugged and waved a hand indicating that the medic should continue.

Sam took a deep, steadying breath and opened the wound with the forefinger and thumb of one gloved hand before slipping the forceps in, following the trajectory of the bullet, which had entered a few inches below his left shoulder blade and traveled up toward his scapula. Spike tensed beneath her, but good to his word, did not move or even breathe as she searched for the projectile. 

His bleeding, which had slowed, began again in earnest as she probed deeper and deeper for the bullet. It had been deeper than she thought, but finally the end of the forceps touched metal.

“Got it,” she declared, opening the pinchers and gripping the flattened lead slug tightly. She tugged on it, but it didn’t budge. “Damn. It went through the cartilage, it is in the bone after all … this might hurt.”

Spike would’ve told the bint that it already DID bloody hurt, but didn’t trust himself to stop with that as a few other more malevolent thoughts roared through his mind, so he just kept quiet and remained still.

Sam tugged again more forcefully, pressing one hand on Spike’s back for leverage as she pulled with the other. In the end, she had to twist back and forth three times while pulling hard to get the slug free from the bone and cartilage in his shoulder where it had lodged.

Spike’s body went as rigid as stone beneath her, but, true to his word, he still did not move. With one last hard jerk, she pulled the bullet free, and even more blood streamed from the re-opened wound. Sam dropped the forceps and bullet into the sink and grabbed some gauze, pressing it against the wound to staunch the bleeding again.

Spike remained silent and still as a corpse as she finished, putting five neat stitches in his back to close the hole.  She dampened some more gauze and began to clean the blood off Spike’s back, but Buffy took it from her and, with a small nod of thanks, the Slayer dismissed the medic.

Buffy leaned down close to Spike’s ear and whispered, “She’s gone, you can breathe now, tough guy.”

The Slayer kept cleaning his back gently, getting all the blood off. Finally, she felt his ribs begin to move shallowly beneath her hand, slowly becoming deeper and more regular.

“Don’ need t’ breathe,” Spike reminded her after a minute or so.

“You do if you want to curse, moan, or scream,” she countered.

Spike began to snort a laugh, but stopped abruptly, his face twisting into a grimace of pain. “Fucking pillock,” he growled. There was no question to whom he referred.

“Can you stand up? I’ll clean the rest,” Buffy offered, tossing the bloody gauze away and reaching for a washcloth.

Spike did, very slowly, still holding the injured arm against his body and being careful not to jar it as he turned to face her.

“Hurts bad, huh?” Buffy asked as she began cleaning his neck and chest.

“Na, jus’ thought I looked hot this way,” Spike retorted, letting her move his arm a bit to clean under it.

Suddenly tears welled in Buffy’s eyes and she turned away abruptly, ostensibly to rinse the cloth in the sink.

“Hey,” Spike beckoned mildly, reaching his good arm out to touch her. “I’m fine, Buffy. No permanent damage, yeah?”

Buffy nodded jerkily, but didn’t turn around. “Thank you … Dawn … I …” she stammered, finally turning back to face him. “I face death every day … it’s jaded me. I sometimes forget how fragile life is. I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to Dawn. ‘Thank you’, isn’t enough, I know, but … it’s all I have.”

Spike gave her a small smile and cupped her cheek in his palm, brushing away a tear with his thumb. “You never have to thank me, Buffy. Told ya before I’d protect the bit, nothin’s changed. My promise is until the end of the world, yeah?”

Spike looked around the cheerful bathroom, taking it in. “Appears the world is still spinning,” he observed, looking back at her.

Buffy nodded, taking a deep breath to calm her roiling nerves, and began wiping the last of the sticky ice cream and blood mixture off his stomach.

“Not just the bit, Buffy,” Spike continued, reaching a hand out to lift her eyes up to his. “You too. Till the end of the world. I’ll be here for ya … whatever you need. You know that, eh?”

She couldn’t help but believe him. The depth of emotion and devotion in his blue eyes was bottomless. She found herself wanting to fall into them, to drown there in the ardor that welled up from his heart.

Buffy nodded again, a little more tentatively, before dropping her gaze back to the job at hand, her mind considering all that had happened and all that now needed to be done. They could have a serious problem out there if that demon had spawned, a problem that would need to be handled immediately, if not sooner.

With the last of the goo removed from Spike’s torso, Buffy tossed the dirty cloth into the sink and steeled herself, facing him – her mind made up.

“I need you to feed,” she announced without preamble. “From me.”

Spike’s brows hit his hairline. “What the bloody hell for? Told ya, I’m fine.”

“You are the definition of un-fine. I know you’ll be fine, but I need you fine now-ish, and there is no fine in that shoulder in the foreseeable future. We might have a whole horde of those blood-thirsty tribbles to put down and all I’ve got out there for backup is Mr. and Mrs. NRA. And he’s a little worse for wear; I might’ve broken his leg … and arm ... and a few fingers … maybe a rib or two.”

“Shame, that,” Spike interjected with mock remorse. 

Buff rolled her eyes, continuing, “I need you at 100%, sooner rather than later. Thus, the feeding. I know Slayer blood is a whole lot more powerful than pig’s blood – it’ll get you back in the game, which is where I need you,” she finished, holding her wrist up and out toward him.

“Bloody hell, Slayer. I’m not gonna …”

“Yes, you are. Spike, this is no time to be noble or honorable or decent or whatever you’re trying to be. I need the demon tonight, not the man, and I need him strong. You heard what Riley said about these demons – about how they multiply. It took both of us to get that one down, if there’s a horde of them out there, I’ll need your help with them.”

Spike just stared at her, his gaze hard and unwavering, his jaw set in stubborn defiance.

Buffy huffed out a breath. “Do you want me going to war with a bunch of tribbles with just those two backing me up?”

“I can fight,” he protested, but didn’t move his arm, which he still held protectively against his chest.

Buffy punched his injured shoulder with barely enough power to be considered a love tap between them, and he snarled and stepped back, doubling over in pain.

“Feed. Now,” she demanded. Stepping forward and again offering her wrist to him. “I know how to make you do it,” she informed him flatly. “But I’d rather not.”

Spike glared up at her from his bent-over position, then lowered his gaze to her offered wrist. He could smell the blood, sweet and hot, he could hear it thrumming through her veins, he could even feel the heat of it, and, heaven help him, he yearned for it.

He lifted his stubborn, blue gaze back up to hers. “Can’t make me, Slayer. I’m not Angel.”

Buffy screwed up her face in frustration, squeezing her eyes closed and clenching her fists. “I know that, Spike, but you’re still a vampire and I’m still the Slayer,” she ground out, her jaw clenched in exasperation.

Then she opened her eyes, let her expression relax, and met his steely gaze. “Please,” she implored, her voice tender. “For me. I need you beside me in this. If you’re going to stand by me until the end of the world, then I’d rather that not happen tonight.”

Spike pursed his lips, wanting to refuse, but she was right. He couldn’t fight like this, and he couldn’t send her out to fight with two-thirds of the Three Stooges as her only backup. He finally, reluctantly, nodded.

Buffy took a deep breath and let it out in a relieved sigh, then extended her wrist to him again.

Spike stood up slowly, and grasped her arm with his good one. “Do ya have a stake?” he asked, not taking his attention off the throbbing vein beneath her thin skin.

“No.”

Spike snorted. “That’s a bloody first,” he muttered mostly to himself, but his attention was still on her pulsing vein.

“I don’t need one,” Buffy contended.

Spike looked up at her then. “You do. I might not be able to stop in time. You might have to…”

“You’ll be able to stop,” she asserted confidently.

Spike scowled at her. “Did Finn hit you in the bloody head? Have you gone daft?”

“No and no. I … I just … I trust you. You could’ve … I mean … the chip. It’s not what’s stopped you from hurting us … it’s not what’s kept you here, it’s not what’s made you protect Dawn … or me. You could’ve hurt any of us any time if you’d wanted to – killed us. We had our guard down around you; it would’ve been easy. I was asleep in your crypt the other night, for heaven’s sake! If you wanted to drain me, you could’ve! But you didn’t, and you aren’t going to start now.”

“Pffft,” Spike spat, shaking his head in denial. He dropped her wrist, looking around the bathroom for … there! A plunger with a wooden handle. He picked it up and brought the end of it down against the edge of the tub, breaking off the plunger part and leaving a jagged end on the wooden dowel.

“Hey! New rule in this house: if you break it, you buy it!” Buffy chastised as he handed her the rounded end of the improvised stake.

She took it reluctantly. “I won’t need it.”

“You might.”

“I won’t stake you.”

“You will,” he assured her. “You’re still the Slayer, I’m still a vampire,” he threw the words back at her.

Buffy’s mouth pressed into a hard line, but she didn’t say anything further. Arguing with a fence post was more effective than arguing with Spike. Stubborn asshole.

“You might want t’ sit down,” he suggested.

“I’m not gonna faint, I’ve been bitten before,” Buffy protested indignantly.

“Not by me,” Spike purred, tilting his head and giving her a smoldering look.

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Modest much?”

Spike twitched his head in a sort of shrug, careful not to move his injured shoulder, a salacious smile curving his lips. “Just honest, pet.”

“Just get it over with, we’re wasting time,” she urged, again extending her left wrist to him, the stake held loosely in her right.

Spike stepped up close to her and once again took her arm in his good hand, lifting it to his lips. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, taking in the heady scent of Slayer with adrenaline still flowing through her blood. There was nothing else in the world like that scent, and it pulled at his demonic need, rousing his darkest desires.

His cool lips closed over her warm flesh, his tongue gently stroking over the throbbing vein there. He could feel every beat of her heart against his tongue, feel the heat of her, the power inside her. He felt every ounce of apprehension leave Buffy’s body as he suckled her skin gently with his soft lips and talented tongue, using all of his one hundred plus years of experience to mesmerize her, tangling her in his web like a spider would a fly.

He knew the exact moment to strike and he waited for it, weaving the spell of his touch around her, waiting for her surrender. They always surrendered in the end. He’d done it so many times, it was part of him now, second nature … or perhaps first nature.

In the split second he felt her defenses drop, his demon rose without bidding, and his fangs sank into her flesh, cutting through her like a knife through warm butter. He heard her gasp, felt her shudder in pleasure, and it filled him with a dark, bone-deep hunger.

The stake fell from her right hand, clattering on the tile floor, and his demon rejoiced. And then she fell, as he knew she would, her knees buckling beneath her. It was a slow descent to the bathroom floor, as if she were melting beneath him, and she was. He came with her, following her down, connected, part of her, her life flowing into him like the sweet nectar from a delicate flower.

The next notch on his Slayer belt was at hand, trembling and gasping with the sensuality of his invasion, floating with the pleasure of his saliva, now flowing through her veins as her blood flowed through his. Her life poured into him like manna from heaven, hot and sweet, with just the perfect tang of fear and anger from the altercation with Riley.

She would be his … forever his. He could feel her heart-rate beginning to slow and then race, and slow again. The demon moaned around her sweet flesh. Soon. She would be his soon.

“Spike …” Buffy groaned, regaining a modicum of conscious thought through the fog.

Spike purred a deep rumble against her skin like a contented tiger. Soon … his.

“William…” she moaned, before losing consciousness again.

Spike jerked back like he’d been shot – again – not retracting his fangs first and ripping her tender flesh in the process. His eyes were wild with terror and panic as he saw more of her blood flowing from the wound into a wide puddle on the tile beneath her hand.

“Buffy!” he exclaimed, clamping his mouth down on the wound again, but this time pressing his tongue against it hard to staunch the bleeding. Another trick he’d learned from Dru: his saliva would help heal wounds on humans, stop the flow of blood. It was how they kept victims alive for days to feed on again and again and again. 

When he felt the bleeding stop and the wound begin to close, he released her wrist and gathered her to him as he sat on the blood-soaked floor. He cradled her limp body against his chest, rocking gently and praying. Who would listen? No one, probably, not for his sake, but perhaps for hers. She was the Slayer, surely that meant something to the Powers.

“Buffy, please,” he begged, still rocking her in his arms despite the pain that still radiated from his shoulder. “I told you … told you to stake me. Told you this was a bad bloody idea, the worst idea you’ve had yet, I’d wager, and you’ve had some colossally bad ideas. Jumpin’ off a bloody tower built by numpties comes to mind.

“Please … please, Buffy,” he pleaded, dropping his face down next to hers, holding her against him, listening to her heart stutter, race, slow, and skip beats arrhythmically. “I’m so sorry, Buffy … please, please. I need you … Buffy, please don’t leave me.”

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Still rocking Buffy gently in his arms on the bathroom floor, Spike lifted his eyes toward the ceiling, tears beginning to spill down his cheeks. “Joyce, if yer there … please help ‘er. Please, help me,” he prayed, his voice cracking with emotion, tears dripping from his chin onto the unconscious Slayer in his arms. “Please, I’m beggin’ you, let her wake up,” he implored the unseen heavens.

Buffy’s heartbeat became steadier over the next few beats, her breathing more regular, as Spike kept beseeching any power, spirit, or saint that would listen to help her. After a few moments, her eyes fluttered and then opened, slowly focusing on him.

“I t-t-told you,” she murmured dazedly, her words slurring. “T-t-that you could s-s-stop in t-t-time. You’re n-not … A-angel.”

Spike nearly jumped out of his skin when she spoke, his eyes flying wide and his head jerking back down to stare at her. “Bloody hell! That what you call stoppin’ in time, is it?”

But his anger and shock was quickly replaced with relief, and he began raining kisses over her face, his tears actually coming harder, but now tears of relief. “Thank you, thank you,” he murmured against her skin, which was pale and cool beneath his lips, which had grown warm from her blood.

“Tickles…” she giggled, trying to escape the onslaught of kisses, pushing him back a bit. She caught sight of her bloody, wounded wrist and began waving it to and fro in front of her eyes. “Oh, look … baby fishes,” she observed dreamily.

Spike sniffed back his emotions, gathering his wits, and huffed out a breath as he watched her, taking in her dazed look, her dilated pupils, and her slurred speech. “Are you stoned?” he asked incredulously.

“Totally!” Buffy gushed with a giggle. “High as a kite!” Buffy furrowed her brows then. “Are we flying? That would make you Superman. Where’s your cape?”

“Thought you said you’d been bitten before … did it get ya high then?” Spike wondered, tightening his grip on her as he began to rise, his shoulder already feeling better.

“Noooo,” Buffy replied. “Kinda enthralled, in the hospital, and dead. High is soooo much better,” she assured him dreamily.

“Oh, bloody wonderful. Just how many times ‘ave you died, Slayer?”

Spike set her on her feet. She swayed drunkenly and nearly fell before he caught her. He decided sitting would be better and helped her to the toilet, setting her down and leaning her shoulder against the wall next to it for support.

Buffy furrowed her brows in thought, then held up one hand, counting off on her fingers. “One. Two.” She looked up at Spike, giving him a triumphant smile. “Two!” she pronounced, holding up her thumb and forefinger in an ‘L’ sign in front of her forehead, showing him.

Spike shook his head and began rinsing the washcloth out in the sink, removing the blood (and tears) from his face, arms, and torso – again. When he was done, he did the same with Buffy, getting as much blood as possible off her skin and clothes. He then used some bandages from Sam’s medical kit and wrapped up her wrist. It wasn’t bleeding, but still looked raw and a little gruesome. He didn’t want Dawn to see it.

“Well, you aren’t going demon huntin’ anytime soon, pet,” Spike declared. “I guess I’ll be going out with Larry and Moe, then. Brilliant plan, that. I bloody told ya, but would you listen to me? Bossy bint,” he grumbled.

Buffy shook her head. “I’m fine, see?” She stood up, swayed a bit, then reached down for the make-shift stake that lay on the floor, nearly toppling over onto her head in the process. Spike caught her again and lifted her up into his arms, carrying her like a child with one arm around her back and the other under her knees. His shoulder wasn’t back to 100% yet, but it was well on the way. The pain was easily bearable, and he could move it through a full range of motion.

“Yeah, right as rain, you are. No demon would stand a chance of escape. They’d all be rolling about on the ground in laughter, no doubt,” he chided.

Buffy frowned, her bottom lip sticking out like a shelf in a dour pout. She laid one hand on his chest, staring at the smooth, pearlescent expanse of flesh and her expression cleared. “Did I ever tell you, I really like your chest. It’s very …” Buffy patted her palm up and down jerkily against the bulge of his pectoral, searching for the word. “…firm,” she finished.

“You’re like a Ken doll,” she declared. “Only, you know, ana—anatom—ana-tom-ically correct,” she added, nodding with conviction.  “I like that part too,” she whispered confidentially, widening her eyes flirtatiously. 

Spike pursed his lips, controlling the laugh that burbled in his throat. “Glad ya like it, Barbie,” he replied, joggling her a bit in his arms as he reached for the doorknob.

“You should be a model … you’d make a great bathing suit model. You’d look ammazzzing in a Speedo … unlike some guys I’ve seen, let me tell you! Blech! Gotta wonder what they were thinking! Unless they wanted you to work in the sun. That would make you allll dusty,” she rambled. “Don’t do that, K?” she entreated, looking up to meet his eyes, her expression worried.

Spike nodded. “Try m’ best to stay clear of it, luv,” he assured her before opening the bathroom door.

“You’re also very …” Buffy furrowed her brow, concentrating hard as she slowly and deliberately touched her forefinger to the tip of Spike’s nose. “…cute.”

Spike stopped at the top of the stairs and narrowed his eyes at her. “Take that back. Am not cute. Cute is fer puppies an’ wee lads, not vampires,” he asserted.

Buffy smiled at him, and tapped her finger on the tip of his nose three times as she chanted, “Cute. Cute. Cute.”

“Break your bloody finger if ya do that again, Slayer,” Spike growled at her.

“Even cuter when you’re mad,” she giggled, tapping her finger on his nose one more time, but subsided, collapsing into squirming yelps when he jabbed a finger into her ribs where he held her.

“Gonna let off on the ‘cute’?”

“K!!” she gasped, half-laughing, half-strangled-scream as he tickled her ribs.

He stopped tickling her, and Buffy subsided into a limp bundle in his arms, her cheek resting against his very firm, and oddly warm, chest. “Still cute though,” she mumbled under her breath as he started down the stairs.

In the living room, Riley was sitting on the couch, his back resting against one arm, his legs straight out so his feet nearly touched the other end. His right arm was bent at the elbow and bound tightly against his chest, immobilized. In addition, his right leg had a large brace on it that seemed to be reinforced with some sort of carbon alloy, which kept his knee from bending – apparently, Sam had a lot of medical equipment in her Humvee. He had a deep bruise on the side of his neck that looked suspiciously like Buffy’s boot print, and three fingers of his right hand were splinted and taped together.

“What did you do to her!?” Finn demanded angrily, seeing the limp form in Spike’s arms. He started to slide his legs down off the couch, getting his left down easily, but struggling with the injured right. He grabbed at a crutch leaned up near him, apparently intending to rise and confront Spike.

Dawn, who had appointed herself Riley’s guard, kicked him in the left shin, hard. “He didn’t do anything to her,” she assured Riley vehemently.  “He loves her.”

Riley snorted derisively, but subsided back onto the couch, reaching down to rub his bruised shin, as he continued to glower at Spike.

“Dawnie! You’re so … sparkly,” Buffy declared, roused by the noise. She reached out toward her sister as Spike passed Dawn, heading for the recliner with his burden. “And tall! How did you get so tall?”

Dawn followed them and asked Spike in a low voice, “What’s wrong with her?”

“She’s bloody drunk.”

“Drunk? On what? Mouthwash?” Dawn questioned, eying her sister suspiciously.

“Love,” Spike retorted dryly.

“Were you guys … doing it in the bathroom?” Dawn asked, keeping her voice low as she scrunched her nose up in derision. “I have to use that bathroom, ya know!”

“What we were doin’ is above your pay grade,” Spike informed her shortly.

“I don’t have a pay grade,” Dawn pointed out.

“Exactly.”

“They weren’t having sex. Too quiet,” Riley piped up from his seat, wincing as he settled his shoulder back against the arm of the couch. “Trust me, you would know it if Buffy was having sex right above you. She’s—”

“LA, LA, LA, LA!” Dawn began chanting, putting her fingers in her ears. “That’s definitely above my pay grade!”

Riley rolled his eyes and stopped talking a moment. When Dawn took her fingers out of her ears he asserted, “He bit her, fed on her. Look how flushed he is – look at the wound on his back, it’s healed! Look at her wrist! I tried to warn you all about him! But would you listen to me? Nooo…”

At that Dawn turned, noticing the bandage on Buffy’s wrist for the first time, but instead of confronting Spike, she whirled back on Riley, her ire rising. “You dumbass! He can’t bite anyone, thanks to you! Or have you forgotten? He can’t even save me from getting shot without the chip firing! And he’s a vampire! He heals fast! How stupid can you be!?”

Dawn stepped back over to the soldier and punched him in the stomach. “Jerk.”

“Oww! When did you get so scary?” the soldier inquired, grimacing.

“When people I thought were my friends, who I cared for and I thought cared for me, left without a word in the middle of the night!” Dawn retorted with a meaningful glare at him.

“Oh…” Riley muttered, lowering his gaze, chastised. “I meant to apologize for that.”

Dawn ‘hmphed’ and turned back to her sister. Kneeling down in front of the chair where Buffy sat, Dawn touched a hand to the bandage. “What happened to your wrist, Buffy?” she asked soothingly.

Buffy’s eyes shifted to Dawn and she blinked a few times trying to focus, first on Dawn, then on the bandage on her wrist. The intoxicated Slayer lifted her hand up and began fluttering her fingers while slowly waving her whole hand back and forth in front of her eyes. “Fishes … effulgent baby fishes,” she murmured dreamily, watching her hand as it moved slowly to and fro. “So pretty!”

Dawn looked up at Spike who had suddenly gone very still, his brows drawn in a deep frown. “There are demon fish in the bathroom now? Effulgent Fish – is that a thing? Like demon piranhas or something?”

“Don’ be daft,” he scolded absently. “Somethin’ that’s effulgent radiates warmth and goodness, it shines brightly,” he informed her seriously, still staring unblinkingly at Buffy, gobsmacked. “She’s drunk, seeing things. There aren’t any bloody fishes.”

“Huh… weird,” Dawn replied, shrugging and standing back up.

“Yeah,” he agreed, his voice seeming to come from far away.

“So, what happened to her?” Dawn asked, looking at Spike.

Spike shook himself out of his spinning thoughts, his eyes coming back into focus. “Nothin’ permanent,” he assured her, avoiding actually answering the question. “She’ll be fine in a bit, I’d wager.

“Need ya to keep an eye on ‘er while I go look for these … tribbles, yeah? She could probably use something to drink—" he began but was cut off by Buffy suggesting, “Beer!” in a joyful tone, dropping her waving hand back to her lap.

“NO!” both Spike and Dawn said at once.

“Juice or water … maybe milk?” Spike finished, looking at Dawn for confirmation, which she gave with a nod, before he turned and headed for the door.

“You aren’t going alone, Spike,” Riley asserted, struggling again to try and stand up. “I don’t trust you.”

“That’s bloody rich! Not going with you, Rambo. Done being shot in the back, I am.” Turning to Dawn he instructed, “Make ‘im sit down and stay, like a good puppy.”

Dawn turned, took the couple of steps back to Riley, and punched him in the shoulder. The soldier screamed and dropped back down onto the couch, clutching his dislocated shoulder in agony.

“Serves you right for shooting Spike,” she proclaimed, standing firmly in front of him with her arms crossed, daring him to try and stand up again.

“I’m going with him,” Sam announced as she came back in the still-open front door. “We’ve got a new lead, it just came over the wire. Apparently, it had already spawned before you killed it.  The eggs are being trafficked on the black market. We need to be looking for someone going by the name of ‘The Doctor’,” she informed the room at large.

“Who would want demon tribble eggs?” Dawn wondered, wrinkling her nose.

“I’m hungry!” Buffy decreed. “Tribble egg omelets, all around!”

Dawn gave her sister an impatient glare, but Buffy didn’t notice, settling back in her chair and staring up at the ceiling, apparently seeing something absorbing there. Stars, perhaps?

Riley answered her. “Plenty of militant governments would pay big money for them. An army of Suvolte demons dropped in urban areas could wipe out the entire population of an enemy country.”

“Aaaand, then what?” Dawn questioned, looking at him, her brows drawn down in disdain. “Now you have all these killer tribbles running around making more and more baby tribbles, expanding exponentially, which would then just take over the whole world, including the people who let them go in the first place. I’m just a pretentious teen and even I know that’s ridiculous.”

Spike rolled his eyes. “The bit’s right. Where do you lot come up with these daft ideas? You and the Flat Earth Society should get together, ya both make about as much sense.

“Shamans and witches use ‘em in spells and such, black magic … very black,” he corrected Riley. “No good to ‘em if they’ve hatched, need the eggs, not the tribbles. To be of any value, the eggs have to be kept frozen, yeah?”

Spike turned to Dawn, one brow raised, and whispered, “Expanding exponentially?”

Dawn shrugged. “Biology II, third period,” she explained, sotto voce, grinning.

“Impressive,” he acknowledged, still low voiced. “Teacher must be a right dandy sprat.”

“So hot,” Dawn cooed, rolling her eyes heavenward and sighing dreamily.

“You s-should listen to Spike,” Buffy announced a bit too loudly in the small room, her words still slurring slightly. “He’s very, very, veerrry old, like … Yoda old,” she informed them solemnly. “He knows things,” she told them confidentially.

“Ta, ever so, but not that bloody old,” Spike protested.

“I need M&Ms! Dawn, do we have M&Ms?” Buffy suddenly proclaimed.

“Uhhh … yeah, I think so,” her sister replied, looking from Buffy to Spike, who just shrugged.

“Green M&Ms! I need green ones!” Buffy declared decisively.

“Can we go, Yoda?” Sam piped up, motioning toward the door.

Spike turned and eyed her grimly. “You gonna shoot me, too?”

Her mouth twisted into a lopsided smile, her dark eyes glittering. “Not unless you try to bite me,” she assured him. “Then, I’d probably save the ammo and just chop your head off.”

Spike snorted. “Good t’ know, but can’t bite ya, can I? Didn’t lover-boy tell ya about all his little lab-rats?”

Sam looked at Riley, who shook his head and rolled his eyes, and then back at Spike. “He told me a bit, Hostile 17, maybe you could fill in some blanks.”

Spike aimed a Cheshire cat grin at Riley and started for the door. “Be my pleasure,” he assured her, waving her to proceed him out the door as Riley glared daggers at him.

“Sam! Be careful. Don’t turn your back on him! Chip or not, don’t trust him,” Riley called after his wife.

“Roger that,” she called back casually, heading down the steps.

“Hey! Spike wouldn’t hurt anyone!” Dawn objected, glaring daggers at Finn. “And you’ve got a lot of glass in your house to be throwing stones!”

Spike smirked at her defense of his character. He paused in the doorway and looked back at the three who remained, a thought just occurring to him. “Where’s Clement?”

“He had that poker game, he said he needed to go,” Dawn explained.

Spike nodded, remembering. “You gonna be okay with this lot?” Spike asked Dawn seriously, waving a hand between Riley and Buffy.

She bobbed her head confidently. “I can handle it. Anyway, Willow will be home soon.”

Spike nodded, his gaze shifting between Buffy and Riley uneasily. “If ‘e tries anything, stab him, preferably in the back.”

Dawn frowned. “I don’t have a knife,” she pointed out, joking.

Spike strode back over to Riley, who tensed, curling his one good hand into a fist, ready to defend himself, but Spike was moving too fast, revved up on Slayer blood and now feeling no pain. The vamp drew a knife out of its sheath on the soldier’s belt before Riley even knew what he was about, and thunked it down on the coffee table. “Now you do.”

Dawn flinched a little, but picked the knife up, mostly to keep it out of Riley’s grasp. If the look on his face was any indication, he would’ve buried it in Spike’s skull given half a chance. “Okeydokey, then,” she consented tentatively, holding the knife behind her back, out of sight.

“And do not give ‘er …” Spike jabbed a finger at Buffy in case it wasn’t clear who he meant, “…any green M&Ms. Not a single bloody one,” he instructed Dawn sternly. “Got it?”

“Got it,” Dawn assured him with a firm nod. “No horny-inducing food for Buffy until you get back.”

Spike narrowed his eyes at her. “I don’t even want t’ know how you know that word,” he muttered, shaking his head before turning for the door to follow Sam.

Dawn grinned widely. “I am the product of our over-taxed and under-funded public-school system,” she called after him, haughtily.

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Spike climbed up into Sam’s black Humvee, which was parked at the curb behind Finn’s, and settled back into the passenger seat.

“Comfy,” he acknowledged, sinking into the soft leather. “Does it get its own postal code?” he wondered, looking around the spacious interior, which seemed approximately equivalent to a football field.

Sam laughed and turned the ignition, starting the monster up with a rumble. “Seat belt,” she instructed Spike, giving a meaningful glance at the belt hanging unused by his door.

Spike snorted. “Vampires don’t wear seatbelts,” he informed her.

“They do if they want to ride in my High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle,” she responded with a genial smile, waiting.

“Oh, bloody hell,” he moaned, grabbing the buckle and pulling it across his bare chest. “None o’ my friends better see me. Be drummed out of the Vampire o’ the Year competition, I would.”

“You’re a funny guy,” Sam observed, pulling away from the curb. “I never knew vampires had senses of humor.”

“Got all kinds o’ senses you’d never expect, I reckon,” Spike retorted, pointing for her to turn at the next street. “Gotta go by my crypt an’ get a shirt, since your honey bear ruined mine with his shiny bullet.”

“I’m sure he didn’t mean to,” Sam offered affably.

Spike snorted. “No, reckon he’d rather it went through my bloody skull. Right mess that woulda been.”

“So, you were gonna get even with him, weren’t you? What’s all the inside dirt you wanted to dish out on Finn?” Sam wondered as she drove.

Spike grunted and settled back into storytelling mode. “Did he tell ya he couldn’t tie ‘is own shoe laces when he was first with the Slayer? Buffy had to get him laced up for demon huntin’ every night like she was his mum. I suggested she get him boots with Velcro – reckoned he could suss that out – but she didn’t want to have the piss taken out of him by the other numpties.

“Does he still wear the Depends? Ya know, those poofter-sized diapers for big babies? From what I heard, after he had that scare with that Kantuchi demon and shat his pants, he started wearing ‘em all the time, even on dates with the Slayer. You could tell when he’d shit a load, apart from the stench, hung down like he had a bleedin’ cantaloupe in his knickers.

“And did ya know he had a big thing fer his boss … Walsh, was it? Been told by reliable sources that he hankered for her for ages ‘fore she finally gave him a taste. Right there in the holding cells, it was. Scarred my delicate eyeballs fer life, I tell ya,” Spike lamented, grimacing. “Obviously, a deep-seated, unresolved oedipal complex, if ya ask me.

“Then there was the vampapalooza just before he scampered off like a ponce. Let the blood whores at him, he did. Gave ‘em all chlamydia, or so I hear. Hope you’ve been tested, luv.”

“Spike,” Sam interrupted him, rolling her eyes. “I might’ve been born at night, but it wasn’t last night.”

“Sayin’ ya don’t believe me, then?”

“Uhhh. Yeah, not so much. You seem more Han Solo than Yoda to me: you spew a lot of BS.”

“Oi! I prefer poetic license,” he informed her, looking insulted. Then Spike shrugged nonchalantly and pointed at the next turn. “Worth a shot, yeah? Can see yer brighter than Captain Cardboard. Mind you, that’s not somethin’ to write home about, pet,” he cautioned.

Sam’s eyes rolled again, but she smiled reluctantly. “I guess that’s why I’m still functional and Riley’s wrapped up like a Christmas Cracker, care of the Slayer.”

Spike pursed his lips, enjoying the memory of Buffy giving the git a long-overdue beatdown.  “Bloody brilliant, that was,” he remarked shamelessly. “The Slayer was brutal. Gets me all tingly just thinkin’ about it,” he confided, running one hand down from his bare chest, over his six-pack abs and finally settling it with the other on the bulge in his jeans.

Sam cleared her throat uncomfortably, pulling her eyes back to the road and away from her chisel-chested passenger.

“So, the Slayer,” Sam picked up the lost thread of conversation, maneuvering the large vehicle expertly through the narrow streets. “You and her? How’d that happen?”

Spike huffed out a breath. “Tried to kill each other a few hundred times, figured out we couldn’t, decided if ya can’t beat ‘em, shag ‘em,” he summarized, leaving out only a few minor details.

One of Sam’s brows quirked up. “I think you left off the part about getting chipped and being the only Hostile to ever escape the Initiative.”

“Reader’s Digest version,” he explained. “Soldiers have a limited grasp of the Queen’s English and, without pictures to look at, they’ll lose the plot by the second act, usually just start shootin’ by the fourth. Just didn’t want to get shot. Again.”

Sam rolled her eyes, but ignored the jab. “And how many soldiers have you known to base this astute observation on?”

“Too bloody many,” Spike muttered, looking out the side window.

“You really annoy and infuriate Finn,” Sam disclosed, changing the subject slightly, and giving the vampire a sidelong glance.

“The feeling’s mutual,” Spike replied, his mouth set in a hard line.

“So … did you feed from Buffy?” Sam wondered, keeping her voice casual.

“Pffft!” Spike snorted. “Heard the bit. Got a chip, don’t I?” he replied without actually answering.

Sam huffed out a soft sound of acknowledgement. “I’ve never seen anyone, or anything, get under Finn’s skin and rattle him like you just did,” she continued.

“Flattery will get you nowhere,” Spike retorted, sniffing smugly and sitting up straighter in his seat. “Afraid I’m spoken for, luv. I could put the word out, if ya like, though. Plenty of eligible vampires about, I reckon. Be a lot livelier than Captain Cardboard, I’d wager.”

The soldier allowed amusement to steal over her features, curving her lips up and sparkling in her dark eyes.

“I can see how your sense of humor might not be fully appreciated by Finn,” Sam allowed. “But, I wonder if his obsession with you is because you’re the one who got away,” she mused thoughtfully.

“Yeah, well, I’m still taken, pet. He can just keep hankering away fer my hot, tight little body all he wants; he’ll never have a taste of it. Belongs to the Slayer till the end of time,” Spike informed her with deadpan seriousness. 

Sam’s mouth quirked into a full smile and she even let a small laugh burble out from her throat.

Spike looked at her then, really looked. Her face transformed when she smiled, her dark-chocolate eyes danced, her lips curved deliciously, and her cheeks flushed slightly. Not like most of the soldiers he’d known –okay, not like ANY of them.

“You’re a piece o’ work. I like you,” he announced unexpectedly. The words were out of his mouth before he’d really thought about it.

“I’m sure Finn will be thrilled to know that,” Sam joked, still smiling.

Spike’s stomach did a backflip as it dawned on him that he really did like the girl. And so did Riley Finn, apparently. The numptie had married her, after all. Spike scowled, becoming increasingly discomfited by the idea that he and White Bread could possibly have the same taste in women. How bloody twisted is that? Spike had to shake that thought off before he ruined the nice leather interior of Sam’s ride by puking Slayer blood all over it. Not to mention what a tragic waste of Slayer blood it would be.

Spike eyed her a moment longer as she drove, finally asking, “How does a girl, who obviously appreciates the finer points of snark and sarcasm, end up with a plonker like Finn?”

Sam shrugged. “He’s steady, solid, ya know?”

Spike’s brows went up. “So are rocks, an’ they’re a lot more fun, I’d wager.”

Sam kept smiling, but shook her head. “Riley’s dedicated to the mission, he wants to make a difference, he wants to help people – more than that, he needs to help people. And so do I,” she explained.

“Hate to break it to ya, but that don’t sound like love to me. And I have plenty of experience with that, pet. Sounds like ya married him so you could carpool to work … and you still have separate cars,” he pointed out with a glance around her Humvee.

“Carpooling would make more sense than you actually fallin’ for the gormless twat,” he added acerbically.

“You don’t understand. He’s what I need. I can depend on him. He’s always there for me,” Sam argued, getting a little defensive.

Spike snorted and turned to look out the window. “Yeah, until he isn’t,” he muttered, remembering Finn’s abrupt departure from the Summers’ lives. The blighter ran off just when Buffy was facing the biggest-bad yet, not to mention her mother’s mortality.  He hated Finn for being in her life in the first place, but he hated him even more for leaving as he did. Bloody coward.

“Careful who you put yer trust in, pet. Hate to see ya damaged,” Spike advised thoughtfully, still looking out the side window. “And I wasn’t lying about the vamp whores … let them feed off him, got off on it, he did. Not the crispiest cracker in the tin, your pet rock.”

Sam’s shoulders tensed, and her smile faded, she couldn’t keep the scorn out of her voice when she replied, “What do vampires know about love, anyway?”

Spike’s head snapped around, his blue eyes suddenly ablaze with fervor. “We love. Deeply, profoundly. Been around a good long time, I have. I’ve seen love, danced in love, been drowned by love, destroyed by it, burnt to embers and resurrected by it, and made better for it.

“Have you ever bore a love so deep it feels like you’ll be torn in two if ya can’t just touch them just one more time, see their eyes spark with fury, watch them move with deadly grace, hear their laugh echo through the night? I have. I do.

“Love isn't brains, it's blood. Blood screaming inside you to work its will. Love isn’t safe. It isn’t dependable. It’s jumping off the edge of the world and hopin’, praying, that she’ll be there to catch you before you crash against the jagged rocks and splinter into a million shards of heartbreak.

“There’s no sticking your toe in the water t’ see if it’s warm enough, it’s diving in, head first. It’s walking a high wire with no net. It’s rocketing to the moon without enough fuel t’ get back.

“There’s a reason they call it ‘falling in love’, not ‘parachuting into dependability’, pet. Think about it,” Spike finished his impassioned speech, his blue eyes still blazing intensely.

“Hoping she’ll be there to catch you?” Sam ask tentatively. “You mean Buffy.” It wasn’t really a question, but Spike answered anyway.

“Yeah, that’s right. I’m love’s bitch, and she’s the one. The only one. Till the end of time.”

“And has she … caught you?” Sam wondered, flashing him a keen, oblique glance before looking back at the road.

Spike swallowed hard and turned his gaze back out the side window, not answering right away. He felt the warmth and power of Slayer blood surging through him, the taste of it seared into his tongue as if it had been liquid fire. He could still see the flickering flame of light that she’d kindled deep inside him, pushing back the darkness.  Buffy’s laugh still rang in his ears, melodious and playful, from the shadows beneath him the night before as she asked him on a date. His skin still tingled where she’d gently laid her hand on his arm when she’d realized that he knew the darkness she was caught in all too well.

She hadn’t caught him. Not fully. Not yet. But she’d reached out and was keeping him from crashing against the rocks by the tips of her fingers, just barely linked with his. But she’d reached out. And she was holding on.

So was he.

“She hasn’t let me crash … this time,” Spike answered finally, still not looking at the brunette.

“But she did before … Finn told me when you were upstairs, she sort of … left…” Sam’s voice trailed off as she looked at her passenger, who did, indeed, look suddenly broken.

“Died,” Spike corrected harshly, the guilt and heartbreak washing back over him as if it had just happened as he stared blindly at the passing houses outside his window. “I couldn’t save her … wasn’t fast enough … strong enough … good enough,” he admitted forlornly.

The vampire sniffed and pulled himself together, turning his gaze back on the driver. “Slayer, yeah? The Chosen One. Hard to catch someone when yer sacrificing yourself t’ save the bloody world,” he pointed out.

“Listen, pet. If Finn doesn’t feel like his world will end if he loses you; if he doesn’t give you every drop o’ his blood, sweat and tears, if he doesn’t worship you down into the very marrow of his bones, then he doesn’t deserve you.”

Sam gave him an uncertain look, taking in his intensity, and the eloquent words, not really sure how to reply to all of his impassioned advice. She gave a small, uncertain nod, completely taken aback, and didn’t comment further on the subject.

They continued the rest of the way in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but contemplative as they traversed the suburban roads, the only sound being the hum of the tires on the pavement and the rumble of the big motor.

“Just pull in there,” Spike broke the silence at last, waving at the cemetery gate. “Mine’s third crypt on the left.”

Near Spike’s crypt, Sam stopped the Humvee, killed the engine, and climbed out, following Spike.

“What’re ya doing? Just be a minute,” he questioned as he strode purposely toward his crypt.

“Wouldn’t want anything to happen to you, would we?” she offered, smiling. “Who would give me advice on love?”

Spike made a guttural noise in his throat, doubting that was the reason for her close company.

“Not gonna bolt on ya, and if I was, not much you could do to stop me,” Spike informed her as he reached the door to his crypt.

Sam shrugged. “You’d be surprised what I can do.”

Spike snorted, looking her up and down. “I ‘aven’t stayed alive this long by underestimating people – or demons,” he advised her.

“Me either,” Sam replied genially, still smiling wryly.

Spike shrugged and opened the door of the crypt with a screech of rusty hinges.

“You know, I have some oil in the truck that could fix that,” Sam offered, eying the offending metal.

“Alarm system,” Spike informed her. “Took me three months to get ‘em to screech that well.”

Sam opened her mouth in an ‘O’, but didn’t say anything further as she followed him into the crypt. He lit a couple of candles so she could see, then lifted the trap door and started down the ladder.

“What’s down there?” she wondered, peering down after him.

“My boudoir,” he retorted. “Did ya want the bloody dollar tour?”

“Is that where your coffin is?” she wondered, still looking down into the darkness, but Spike didn’t light a candle down there, so she couldn’t really see anything beyond the pale blond of his head moving around.

“My what?” he wondered as he retrieved a clean t-shirt from a drawer and grabbed his duster from a peg on the wall, shrugging into both quickly.

Sam backed up as he emerged from the darkness, fully dressed and feeling much more himself.

“Your coffin … don’t vampires sleep in coffins?” she asked with complete solemnity.

Spike snorted out a laugh and dropped the trap door back into place. “What do you lot use for training videos? Old Bela Lugosi movies? Get yer intel from Anne Rice books?”

Sam stiffened, and a slight blush rose to her cheeks as she followed him back to the crypt door. “No, of course not. We have a lot of research from the Initiative about behaviors, strengths, and weakness for many classes of demons, including vampires. I just never thought to ask a vampire where they slept … or if they loved.”

“Stake first, ask questions later … oh, my mistake. Stake first. End of questions,” Spike surmised, raising his brows in question.

Sam shrugged. “Well, usually they’re attacking people, or getting ready to attack people, not riding around in my truck delivering impassioned dissertations about love,” she pointed out. “Where do you sleep then?”

“California King, pillow-top Beauty Rest with silk sheets, a down comforter, and loads o’ pillows,” he replied with a shrug. “Where do you sleep?”

Sam’s gaze flicked to the Humvee as they emerged from the crypt.

Spike snorted. “Sleepin’ in a cramped little box, eh? Sounds comfy, Drac.”

 

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After picking up that litter of kittens he’d been saving back for a rainy day, and stowing them in one of Sam’s duffel bags for transport, Spike had Sam take him to Willy’s, a demon bar in the seedier part of town. If anyone knew where the demon eggs might be, it would be someone here, most likely someone in the backroom poker game – the game where Clem had been headed.

Spike tried to get Sam to wait in the truck, but with no luck. “Just keep quiet then, yeah? And try not to shoot, stab, or stake anything,” he instructed her as he sauntered in ahead of her, the bag of meowing fur-balls slung over his shoulder. Several demons around the room recognized him and called out or lifted a glass in greeting as he entered, which he returned casually as he headed for the bar.

Sam took in the mish-mash of demon-kind present in the bar with surprise and more than a little apprehension.

“Buffy knows about this place?” she asked, keeping her voice low as she tried to watch all the demons at once, expecting an attack at any moment, her hand resting on her gun, ready to draw.

“’Course,” Spike answered, fist-bumping a very large hairy creature who could’ve been Cousin It’s father, or possibly cross between a wooly mammoth and a wookiee, sitting at the bar.

“How’s it hangin’, Joe?” he asked the hairy demon cordially.

“Straight and honey brown this week,” Joe replied in a rumbling mountain of a voice that matched his size.

“I like it. Didn’t really think last week’s burgundy red curls suited ya, too brash,” Spike observed. He reached out and took a long lock of the demon’s mane between a thumb and forefinger, sliding them down the long length of hair. “Very nice,” Spike approved, admiring the soft, shiny, brunette locks between his fingers. “You’ll have to get me what yer using for conditioner these days … fer my girl.”

Joe seemed to nod, his ruffling hair being the only indication. “Soon as they’re done testing it I’ll have some delivered to your crypt.”

“Brilliant. Just let me know what I owe ya,” Spike agreed, releasing Joe’s long hair.

Joe waved him off with a furry paw the size of a dinner plate. “It’s on me, Spike. You know I still owe you for that Bonaduce’t demon. I know it wasn’t easy getting it out from under the house.”

“No worries, always glad t’ help, mate.”

“How’s your supply of hair gel?” Joe asked, one coal-black eye gleaming out from between the thick, long hair to check Spike’s coif. “The super-hold looks like it’s working well for you.”

“Yeah, it’s brilliant,” Spike agreed, touching a hand to his hair. “Maybe need more middle o’ next month, yeah?”

“You got it,” Joe assured him.

Spike gave him a grateful nod and turned to the bored-looking, middle-aged, balding, human bartender who had appeared in front of them behind the bar.

Spike glanced at Sam. “What’s yer pleasure?”

Sam blinked. “I’m not drinking in a demon bar and sacrificing my reflexes and judgement,” she informed him sternly.

Spike quirked a brow at her but shrugged, turning back to the bartender. “Irish Coffee. I’ll have the Irish and give ‘er the coffee,” he instructed, jabbing a thumb towards Sam. “Light and sweet, I’m guessin’?”

Sam nodded, a little flustered about how he could divine her preference in coffee, but shook it off in favor of addressing more pressing matters.

“Buffy knows about this and she just lets it go on?” the soldier asked in a low voice, her eyes still trying to watch everything at once as they waited for the drinks.

Spike turned to face her, annoyed, one elbow leaning casually against the bar. “Look, Bat Girl, these demons are harmless. They live their lives, they ‘ave jobs, blow off a little steam here before heading home to their families. They don’t hurt anyone, they’re contributing members of society. The Slayer knows they’re here, she uses some for intel, she has some over for bloody movie nights. Despite what yer dearly beloved may say, the world is not black and white. Buffy’s learned to live in the grey, somethin’ most Slayers never live long enough to even realize exists. You’d do well to learn from that.”

Sam scowled at him. “What does Joe do for a living? Or is he your personal hair-care specialist?” she asked in a derogatory tone, as if Joe couldn’t possibly have any sort of real job.

“He’s a hair product tester, works fer several large hair product manufacturing companies. Makes in the six figures, he does,” Spike informed her dryly.

“Spike, oh, Spiiike,” a small, sweet, bell-like voice sing-songed from behind them, interrupting before Sam could reply. Spike turned to face a petite, feminine demon with blue-green skin. She was wearing an effervescent dress of light pink that appeared to be made of translucent fish scales. She stood just barely above his bellybutton, and seemed to be breathing soapsuds, with hair made of shimmering bubbles.

“Ariel, my little laundress. You’re looking lovely this evening. New washing-up liquid?”

The little demon ran a hand through the glistening rainbow of bubbles on her head and several floated off, popping softly in the air above her.

“You’re so sweet to notice, Spike,” she said shyly, her rippling, aquamarine eyes dropping coquettishly.

“You’ve been a very bad boy,” she chastised him, looking back up with those mesmerizing eyes. “I had a dreadful time getting that green demon slime out of your jeans, it was soaked through and ground in. You really should be more careful what you slay, Spike, or at least jump back faster … maybe an apron would help.”

“Good advice, that. Jus’ let me know what I owe ya for the extra trouble, luv,” he offered, reaching into his pocket and pulling out some bills.

The little, bubbly demon waved a dismissive hand. “It’s okay, just the usual, but do be careful, won’t you?”

Spike agreed, apologizing, and handed her a few bills which she tucked into a glistening bag on her shoulder which looked like it was made of … water? “I’ll drop it all off tomorrow, will I?”

Spike nodded. “Perfect, luv. Just leave ‘em on the chair if I’m not there.”

The little demon curtsied to him formally, a few more bubbles rising up from her head and floating away with the motion, and then turned away to join her friends at a table on the other side of the bar.

“The little mermaid does your laundry?” Sam questioned, watching the little thing move, almost floating, across the room.

“Her name’s Roberta … just looks like a landlocked mermaid, dontcha think?”

Sam made a non-committal noise in her throat as their drinks were set down on the bar.

“Now,” he said, picking up the tumbler of Irish Whiskey and dropping more bills on the bar. “Keep your gun holstered, yer gob shut, and let me do the talking,” he ordered, picking up the bag of kittens before sauntering toward the closed door at the back of the bar where the real dealings of Willy’s went on. Sam followed in his wake, her coffee in one hand, but her other hand hovering near her gun, still uncertain.


 

“Spike!” came a chorus of voices from the poker table as he entered the backroom of Willy’s.

“Boys, deal me in,” he replied cordially, before turning a cold glare on Sam, pointing a finger at her and ordering her to, “Stay.”

“You’re gonna play cards? Now!?” she hissed back in a low tone, keeping her eyes on the demons at the table and her back against the closed door.  “If they have information, why don’t we just beat it out of them?  Just tell me which one I can hurt or kill, and let’s get this done,” she insisted, reaching for her gun. “We’re wasting time!”

Spike sighed and rolled his eyes. “Bloody déjà vu all over again,” he muttered to himself, wondering if the brunette had missed her calling as a Slayer. She sounded just like Buffy when he’d brought her here to try and gather intel a few weeks ago. “And I thought females were supposed t’ be the gentler sex,” he groaned under his breath.

Spike stepped back close to the brunette and addressed her in a stern tone. “Trust me, this is how it’s done. I’ll get more info out of live demons than dead ones, right? I’ll have the info we need shortly, just stand there, don’t move, don’t talk, try not t’ breathe too loudly, yeah?”

“I don’t like it,” she argued.

“Not askin’ ya to like it. Just do it,” he insisted firmly, his blue eyes blazing, brooking no argument.

Sam glared at him, but dropped her hand from her gun and replied with a short, crisp, “Fine.”

“Fine,” Spike parroted back, just as crisply, before turning and taking a seat next to Clem at the table.

“Does Buffy know you’re out with another girl?” Clem asked, eying Sam critically.

“Ante up,” called the dealer, a many-eyed thing with green skin and orange tentacles that looked like dreadlocks curling around his shoulders and down his back.

Spike reached down in the bag he’d been carrying and retrieved one of the kittens, putting it in a basket in the center of the table before answering Clem. “Yeah, she knows.”

Clem’s pink eyes went wide. “Maybe I need to try dating some of those tight-skinned girls. I guess the ugly ones don’t mind so much if you fool around on ‘em, huh?”

Spike pursed his lips and picked his cards up. “Well, I wouldn’t go that far, mate,” he advised Clem. “Depends on the girl, I reckon.”

Clem nodded knowingly, picking up his own cards in his large, flabby fingers. “I just don’t know how you stand to look at them naked, Spike, let alone touch them. They’re just so … smooth and tight. Is it the same all over?”

Spike tossed two cards back and received two more from the dealer. “Yeah, pretty much,” he conceded. “Very tight … everywhere,” he admitted, a wicked grin curving his lips at the thought.

Clem made a disgusted sound, the wrinkles covering his face growing deeper as he scrunched it up in abhorrence. “Don’t know how you manage it, Spike,” he offered in a pitying tone, shaking his head. “All that shiny hair, and those teeth! They’re so straight … and white! Ugh! I mean, I guess if you made them keep most of their clothes on and covered up their faces while you did it. Still, I don’t know. They just don’t have enough skin on their bones.” Clem screwed up his mouth in a grimace and shook his head.

“Well, someone’s got to do it, I reckon. Ugly girls need a good shag now an’ then, too,” Spike pointed out, pulling three more kittens from his bag and upping the bet.

“Well, better you than me,” Clem declared, matching Spike’s bet.

Spike pulled the last two kittens out of his bag to up the bet one last time.

One of the other demons folded, but Clem and the other two at the table called his bet.

“Read ‘em and weep, boys,” Spike gloated, laying down a Royal Flush.

All the other demons at the table moaned, cursed, and complained in various languages, tossing their cards down crossly.

“Good thing you’re lucky at something, Spike,” Clem congratulated him as Spike gathered up all the kittens, putting them in his bag. “Heaven knows you deserve a reward for dating all those hideously grotesque women.”

Spike stood up, clapping his hands together and rubbing them briskly. “Right then, nice doin’ business with you blokes, but I need t’ be off,” he began, but was interrupted by protests from his comrades.

“Oh, you want a chance t’ win yer tabbies back, that it?” he asked, unnecessarily. “Well, here’s the thing, looking for some demon eggs, supposed to be a hot commodity around here the last couple of days. Anyone who knows something about their location can ‘ave all their little mousers back.”

Spike stood waiting expectantly, looking from one to the other. The other demons all shifted in their seats uneasily, looking everywhere but at him. “The Slayer’ll owe ya one,” he added, upping the ante. “Just need a location.”

Finally, a purple demon with what looked like a terrible acne condition and red, googly eyes that pointed in different directions cleared his throat. “I hear someone calling himself ‘The Doctor’ bought them from a dealer on the west side of town.”

“Not what I asked, but thank you for playing,” Spike dismissed him. “Anyone else? Current location is what we’re going for ‘ere.”

The green demon with the dreadlocks finally spoke up. “My kittens back, plus four more for the location,” he offered.

“One more,” Spike countered.

“Two,” the demon bartered.

“Done,” Spike accepted.

“Being kept in the underbelly of a human dwelling,” the demon revealed.

“Which one, got a few hundred o’ those around these parts,” Spike urged.

“Go one league magnetically north of the structure that smells of human blood and benzalkonium chloride,” he informed Spike.  “Turn on the hardened path that leads directly toward the Hellmouth, then go one league plus twenty-four paces past the chlorine spring.”

Spike narrowed his eyes at the demon, running this around in his mind a few moments. “About three miles north o’ the hospital – that should be Baker Street – turn west and go past the pool about three more miles, plus twenty-four paces? That’d be about the middle of the 600 block, I reckon.”

The demon shrugged, but Spike nodded to himself. He was pretty sure he could find it, but asked, “What color was the house?”

The green demon considered a moment before replying, “It is as a virgin lily, pure and chaste, touched along its borders by the first burst of spring upon the trees of the valley.”

Spike furrowed his brows a moment and nodded. “White with green trim, then.”

The demon shrugged again. “As you say.”

Spike handed over the kittens in payment, then left the rest in the care of Clem. He knew he’d never see those tabbies again, but Clem was good for it.

Spike strode purposely back toward the door where Sam was still waiting quietly, if not patiently.

“Ready to dance, pet?” he asked as he pulled the door open and surged past her, duster billowing in his wake.

“Dance?” she questioned, hurrying to catch him up. “What kind of dancing?”

“The best kind.” Spike replied, capturing his bottom lip with his teeth, and turning back to give her a wickedly evil leer.  “The dance of death.”

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“Ri says Buffy’s sleeping it off. They tried to wake her up, but she’s still out of it. Willow’s there now,” Sam informed Spike, putting the radio back down as she drove, following his directions to the house the demon had described. “I guess it’s just you and me.”

Spike pursed his lips but nodded as he motioned for her to stop behind a green and white house in the middle of the block.

“Whose house is this?” Sam asked as she pulled the big truck to a stop in the alley behind the house Spike indicated, and cut the engine.

“Well, judgin’ by that Empire o’ the Geeks van parked in the drive, I’d say a wanker named Warren Mears,” Spike replied as he surveyed the house from the passenger seat of the Humvee.  “Been a bloody thorn in the Slayer’s side for a bit now. He’s currently a guest o’ the state, but he had a couple of blighters workin’ with him.”

“Human?” Sam asked, making sure the straps on her Kevlar vest were snug and double-checking her weapons.

Spike shrugged. “Physically, yeah.”

“So, you can’t take them,” she observed. “Can you even get inside?”

“Not sure,” Spike admitted. “But I’m fairly sure this isn’t a proper home with a decent threshold. Look at the windows – no drapes, no blinds, no lights; looks empty up there. I’d wager they’re just using it for a hideout, their nerd lair. In that case, gettin’ in won’t be a problem.

“But, yer right, can’t do anything directly to any humans in there, but I know a few o’ their weaknesses that I can exploit.”

“With your BS? Errr… excuse me, poetic license?” she wondered, a teasing note in her voice.

Spike grinned confidently at her. “Exactly, luv.”

“Is one of them a doctor?” Sam wondered, all her preparations completed.

Spike snorted. “Not even close. They’re bloody Whovians,” he explained.

Sam gave him a quizzical look, shaking her head.

“It’s a cult, they follow a bloke called ‘The Doctor’.”

“Doctor who?” Sam asked.

“Exactly,” Spike replied, reaching for the door handle. “Ready, then?”

Sam shook her head uncomprehendingly, but let it go since Spike was already opening the door. “Don’t you want some weapons?”

“I’ve already got mine,” he explained curtly, turning back to her and bringing his demon up to demonstrate.

Sam gasped and reached instinctively for the gun at her belt, but Spike shook the demon down before she could even get it pulled.

“Hope yer faster than that when it matters, luv. Cos right now, you’d be dinner.”

Spike stepped out of the truck without waiting for an answer from Sam, though he could fairly feel her scowl burning a hole in his back. He closed the door with barely a ‘click’ of the latch, and stalked soundlessly toward the exterior basement door, keeping to the shadows. He was sure there were cameras around, he’d like to avoid being detected before entering the wankers’ clubhouse, if possible.

Within a few moments, he felt Sam behind him, a few paces back, following in his footsteps. It made him uneasy having G.I. Jane behind him. He still didn’t put it past her to not shoot him in the back, despite her appreciation of his snark and sarcasm.

When he was within a few yards of the door, Spike stopped and crouched down in the shadows of an oak tree, waiting for Sam. She mimicked him, moving silently, and squatting down right next to him.

“That looks like the door to the basement,” he whispered in low tones. “If they’re here, that’s where they’ll be. Best to take ‘em by surprise. They’re bloody incompetent blighters, but even numpties get lucky sometimes.”

Sam nodded. “Do you think it’s locked?”

Spike shrugged. “Can’t say. I can kick it down if it is. Ready?”

Sam put a hand on his arm. “Wait. If it’s locked, I can pick it. If you kick it down, and any of those eggs have hatched, we won’t have any possible containment on them. If those demons get out, they could lay waste to Sunnydale, and just keep going. They grow fast, multiply like—"

“Tribbles,” Spike interjected.

Sam rolled her eyes. “—rabbits, and their bloodlust is insatiable.”

“Killer rabbits now, is it? The ‘Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch’ should do the trick then,” Spike suggested.

Sam looked at him blankly, as if he’d just spoken in Chinese or ancient Etruscan.

“’Monty Python and the Holy Grail’? ‘Death awaits you all with nasty, big, pointy teeth’,” he prompted, holding his index fingers down from his mouth like fangs, waiting for her to get it.

When she just continued to stare at him, a deep furrow of confusion creasing her brow, Spike dropped his hands and rolled his eyes.

“Ya really need t’ get out more, luv. Know it must be embarrassing to be seen with a gormless tit like Finn in public, but ya can rent movies these days, and keep him hidden in the basement,” he advised.

“I … what?” Sam questioned, still utterly confused.

“Forget it, pet.  Can see you couldn’t spot a pop culture reference if it skittered up and implanted an embryo down your bloody throat,” Spike conceded with another sigh.

“So – keep the killer rabbits contained,” Spike picked up a thread of the conversation that Sam could grasp. “Good plan, that.”

“It’s not my first day at demon camp,” Sam advised, still looking a bit confused.

Spike gave her a tilt of the head in acknowledgement. “Ladies first, then,” he invited, waving a hand, allowing her to go ahead.

She pulled a little gadget from her belt and then crossed the last few yards to the door, keeping low and moving fast.

Spike waited a couple of beats and followed. The door, it turned out, was locked, but Sam and her gizmo had it opened within seconds. They both looked at each other, silently counting to three, and burst in as one, weapons drawn.

Luckily, Spike did not run face-first into a threshold. It was as he’d imagined, not a properly established home, but a lair for the little twerps to stay hidden from the Slayer. Evil lairs did not rate a threshold, even if the evil-doers were more nerdy evil-wannabes than actual demonic masterminds of destruction.

Inside, it sounded like Stormtroopers were attacking a small village, with screams of pain, shouts of triumph, and the whizzing of blasters exploding all around. It made both Sam and Spike duck, but no enemy was immediately visible from the top of the stairs. They both froze there a beat, but no blaster fire, or any other projectiles, ricocheted off the walls near them, so they started down the stairs. Sam, her Glock drawn and ready, took the lead, slipping silently down the wooden staircase to the main room with Spike just a step behind. 

At the bottom of the stairs, Spike rolled his eyes and let his demon fade as he pointed to two large chairs that were facing away from them. The chairs sat in front of a large television screen from which the sounds of intergalactic battle were coming. He motioned for Sam to circle around on one side, and he would go to the other. She nodded understanding and skulked around, keeping low and silent. Spike did the same, pausing only momentarily to pick up a few action figures from a shelf as he passed. They both reached their rendezvous point at the same time, appearing, as if by magic, next to Andrew and Jonathan, who occupied the chairs.

“Stop doing that! Let go of my joystick!” Jonathan whined, yanking his game controller out of Andrew’s reach.

“Well, stop shooting the Ewoks, you brute! They’re cute! And cuddly!” Andrew argued.

“I say shoot everything and let the Force sort them out!” Jonathan argued boldly, laughing maniacally, and firing another blast of white fire at the cute little teddy-bear cousins on the screen.

“Big talk for a little plonker,” Spike interjected from right next to Jonathan. “Maybe we should make that our mantra, eh? Whaddya say, soldier?”

Jonathan and Andrew both jerked convulsively in their seats and squealed in surprise. They nearly toppled their chairs over in their haste to get away from Spike, joysticks falling to the floor with a clatter as Ewoks screamed from the speakers in front of them.

“Sounds like a good plan to me,” Sam replied flatly, making the two boys jump and scramble again, this time back towards Spike, to get away from her.

“W-w-what do you want now?” Andrew asked, his eyes flashing with terror. “We gave you everything the other night, I swear!”

“YOU gave him everything,” Jonathan corrected. “I told you not to give him the originals, that was our only—”

“SHUT YOUR PIE HOLE!” Andrew cut in. “I did what I had to do to save Timothy, and I won’t apologize for it!”

“Right then,” Spike cut off whatever Jonathan was going to say next. “What say we save a few more deserving individuals, then?  Let’s see what we ‘ave here…” Spike began holding up the various figures he had in his hands, reading the names off them. “… Oh, my old friend Boba Fett, and Han Solo, and ‘is sweetie pie, Princess Leia … and…” he continued, bringing another figure forth, but ‘accidentally’ dropping it.

“Oh, dear,” he pouted in mock despair. “I do believe our hero’s taken a bit of a tumble,” he reported solemnly, lifting his foot and bringing his heel down slowly and deliberately on Luke Skywalker, smashing the figure into dust beneath his boot. “May the Force be with ‘im.”

“ARRRGH!” both Jonathan and Andrew screamed in horror. Their hands shot up to cover their gape-jawed mouths, and their eyes bugged out, going as wide as saucers as they watched the annihilation of their idol.

“Now then,” Spike continued conversationally. “Shall any more of your little band o’ brothers meet the same fate, or you wanna tell us where the demon eggs are?”

“Eggs? What eggs? We don’t know anything about any eggs! Do you know about any eggs?” Jonathan stammered, looking at Andrew, then back at Spike. “Nope, no eggs here. We’re vegans!”

“We could run to the store and get some, though. It’ll only take a minute! I make a Denver omelet to die for! I guarantee you’ll love it. I’m an excellent cook,” Andrew offered eagerly.

Spike glared at him for a long moment, holding a Yoda figure up threateningly. “Ta ever so, Rain Man, but it’s demon eggs we’re after, not a bleedin’ brunch. I reckon Yoda won’t mind dying for the cause though, will he?”

“No … please! We don’t know anything!” Jonathan begged, dropping down onto his knees in front of Spike and pressing his palms together in supplication.

“We should just kill them and search the place,” Sam suggested. “We’re wasting time.”

Spike wasn’t entirely sure if she was kidding or not, but he shrugged, looking helplessly at the two boys. “Well, been nice doin’ business with ya, but you heard the lady,” he said in a commiserating tone, and began to turn away.

“Wait! Spike! You can’t just walk away and let her shoot us!” Jonathan argued.

“Can’t I, then?” he questioned looking back over his shoulder.

“No! We go way back! We’re buds! Pals! Comrades in arms! We were gonna let you into our gang!” Jonathan continued. “We’re taking over Sunnydale,” he offered confidentially, rising from his kneeling position.

“That right?” Spike prompted, turning back around fully to face the little nerd.

“Totally!” Andrew piped in, also standing up from where he’d fallen out of his chair.

“How ya plannin’ on doing that, then?” Spike wondered.

Jonathan and Andrew looked at each other, wide-eyed and nervous, trying to figure out an answer other than the truth, which was that they were taking out the Slayer.

“Shoot ‘em!” Spike ordered when they didn’t answer, turning away from the two nerds.

“No! Wait!” Jonathan begged, taking a halting step toward the vampire. “It’s just … well … Can I ask you something? How do you feel about the Slayer?”

Spike turned back and quirked a brow at the small brunette, studying him for a moment before answering. “Mortal enemies, aren’t we?”

Andrew giggled nervously. “Yeah, but we saw you … well … you weren’t exactly fighting. Well, sometimes you were fighting, but mostly you were … definitely not fighting,” the blond pointed out with a small shiver of pleasure from the memory.

Spike narrowed his eyes at the boy, and touched the tip of his tongue to his top teeth a moment before answering. “Ever hear the saying, ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer?’ Can’t get much closer to the Slayer than a good shag, can ya?”

“I told you it was a diabolical plan! That he was just using her!” Jonathan announced triumphantly, punching Andrew hard in the arm. “You owe me a Funko Pop Darth Vader bobblehead – N.I.B!”

Andrew yipped in pain and rubbed the spot, wincing and mumbling angrily under his breath.

“We’re taking over Sunnydale by taking out the Slayer,” Jonathan confided now, confident in Spike being down with this plan. “We’ve been toying with her for a while, summoning demons and setting them on her, trapping her in time loops, Warren even had her thinking she’d killed Katrina!”

Spike quirked an interested brow at the boy. “Is that so? Brilliant, that.”

Andrew and Jonathan nodded eagerly, now standing shoulder to shoulder facing Spike. “And now we’re gonna take her down for good,” Jonathan assured Spike. “And then Sunnydale will be ours!”

Jonathan didn’t actually throw his head back and laugh diabolically, but Spike imagined the plonker wanted to, badly.

“And then we can get Warren back. I miss him,” Andrew added wistfully.

“We have a plan! Fool-proof!” Andrew continued more eagerly, with a confident nod of his head. “We were gonna let you in on it … until the whole not-fighting with the Slayer thing. Warren even said your crypt would be the perfect place for us to hide the eg—”

Jonathan poked Andrew in the ribs with his elbow, cutting him off. “Ixnay on the eggsyay,” Johnathan growled under his breath to his compatriot, before turning back to Spike. “You can still be in on it! You can be the fourth member of The Trio!” he offered eagerly.

“Fourth member of The Trio, is it? Wouldn’t that make it a Quartet?”

Andrew and Jonathan frowned. “Yeah, I guess …” Jonathan admitted slowly. “But, there’s no singing.”

Andrew shook his head vehemently. “No singing. I can’t sing. I had mumps when I was a kid, it was really awful, like I seriously almost died. I actually think it was misdiagnosed small pox or maybe Dengue Fever. My mother was just beside herself! But it ruined my singing voice, now it just cracks—”

Spike looked up at Sam. “Shoot ‘em,” he ordered before dropping the rest of the action figures and turning away to begin searching for the eggs.

Sam cocked the gun and pointed it at Andrew. “NOOO! Spike! Wait!” Andrew swung around and held his hands up and repeated, “WAIT!” to the soldier, as well.

“Eggs,” she demanded in a flat tone, taking careful aim at his head. “Or bullet to the brain. Your choice.”

“They’re in the cabinets over there!” Andrew blurted out hurriedly, pointing to a corner of the basement where there were several tall, steel storage cabinets against the wall.

“YOU IDIOT!” Jonathan chastised, elbowing Andrew in the ribs again.

“Oh, sure, Lara Croft didn’t have the gun pointed at YOUR head!” Andrew shot back, retaliating by poking Jonathan in the side with a finger.

“I’m sure it wouldn’t have done any damage. Your brain is so small even Deadshot wouldn’t be able to hit it,” Jonathan retorted, returning the poke.

“What are you talking about? Deadshot never misses!” Andrew argued, his hand shooting out for another jab at his partner-in-crime’s stomach. “Or have you forgotten? ‘He doesn’t get paid to waste bullets’!”

While the master-villains were bickering and giving each other pokes, Sam and Spike both hurried over to the darkened corner of the basement. There were several well-built, metal, floor-to-ceiling storage cabinets lined up along the wall. With Sam aiming her gun at one of the middle cabinets, Spike slowly opened one side of the double door. Sure enough, inside, lined up in neat rows along each of the many shelves were gooey, bumpy, grey-green egg-shaped objects, completely filling the cabinet.

“They cocked it up,” Spike pointed out, seeing the eggs undulating, quite alive. “They didn’t keep ‘em frozen.”

From the other side of the room, Jonathan and Andrew stopped bickering and slapping at each other a moment, hearing this.

Jonathan observed, “Oh, that’s what Warren meant by ‘keep them on ice’. Humph.”

“I told you that, but you said I was delusional!” Andrew started again. “’Oh, it’s just code’, you said. Well, I guess that makes you Sith Lord Darth Vader, burning in the deadly lava of Mustafar, and it makes me Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Master,” Andrew proclaimed triumphantly, raising his chin in victory.

In the next instant the eggs began to open with gurgling pops, and football-sized demons, each with four spider-like legs, began emerging from the eggs. Sam opened fire, her aim true. Blue-grey blood bloomed from tribble bodies in founts of gore that reeked like nothing Sam had ever smelled before, making her gag with each breath. Despite her skill, there were just too many of them and they were already too agile and fast to hit them all. When her Glock ran empty, Spike slammed the cabinet door closed and put his back against it, containing them inside.

“Get the bloody nits outta here!” he yelled at her, seeing that the two idiots were still just standing there, slapping and poking each other. They didn’t even seem to realize what was happening as they argued about whose fault it was that the demon spawn wasn’t on ice and, therefore, who was the geekiest Geek in all of Geeksville.

“But …” Sam looked from the writhing cabinet to the boys, and then back at Spike who was straining to hold it.

“GO!” he bellowed, in a tone that no one over the past century had ever argued with, and Sam was no exception.

She went quickly, reloading her gun as she ran, ushering the two master criminals ahead of her up the stairs and out the door.

Spike struggled to hold the doors closed, trying to contain the demons, allowing the humans to escape. He could feel more and more of the eggs hatching within the cabinet he had his back against, the press against him growing with each passing moment. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only cabinet with eggs. A few moments after Sam exited with two-thirds of The Trio, the doors on the cabinets to the right and left of Spike exploded open, overfilled with hatching tribbles. Ravenous, newborn demons swarmed out of the cabinets like a hive of hornets that had just been kicked, and the only available meal was Spike.

Spike kicked at them as they surged toward him, jagged, razor-sharp teeth snapping at his flesh. His blows sent them flying back and crashing into video game equipment, computers, and action figures alike, but it wasn’t killing them. He caught one in mid-air as it leapt toward his throat, and he ripped it in two with his bare hands, growling and snarling as his demon joined the fight.

It was a frenzy of fists and fangs and snapping jaws, utter mayhem and pandemonium. This dance of death was no elegant, graceful ballet, but a maelstrom of blood and guts, a duel of wills contested in complete and utter bedlam.

Spike punched at the bloodthirsty creatures, shredding his knuckles, sending fragments of their shattered teeth flying. They struck his face and neck like shards of glass, cutting his flesh and impairing his vision. He ripped them apart, kicked them, stomped them, and even bit them if they got close enough to his fangs. Despite a herculean effort to stop them, they seemed to just keep coming, proving difficult, if not impossible to kill. They clambered up the walls to escape his boots, seeming to defy gravity, and leapt or dropped down on him from above.  One of the newborn monsters attached itself to his shoulder, its teeth searing his flesh, tearing at him, sending bright red blood spurting in all directions.

The vamp screamed in rage and agony, slamming his whole body back against the cabinet behind him over and over, smashing the attacker into a gory, blue-grey puddle of twisted bones and entrails. The strategy worked except for one thing: he bent the metal door of the cabinet he’d been guarding. There was now a gap between the doors that he couldn’t close or defend. The equally-ravenous inhabitants of that cabinet found the opening immediately, and began streaming out to join their brethren in the search for flesh.

Spike turned and began backing away from the tumult of snapping, attacking creatures, trying to wipe the streams of blood from his eyes as he did. A rumbling growl radiated from deep within him, vibrating the air like rolling thunder. It was a warning, one that ninety-nine percent of sentient life on Earth would take heed of. Unfortunately, the Suvolte demons were part of the other one percent. They did not stop or even hesitate.

As they came at him, Spike fended them off in a flurry of fists, feet, and fangs as he tried to get his back against another wall to slightly reduce their avenues of attack. He snarled and roared and howled in pain as their sharp teeth and long claws tore at his clothes and flesh. The small-but-mighty demons ripped out chunks of meat from his body, leaving spurting gouts of blood streaming like gory, hellish fountains in their wake.

He would never surrender, never submit, but it became increasingly clear to him that he would not make it out of this room. Not alive, or in one undead piece, at any rate. There were just too many of them, and they were doing more damage to him than he was to them.

He’d heard, of course, the term ‘having your life flash before your eyes,’ before, but for him, what flashed before his eyes was the one thing, the one woman, that made his life worth living: Buffy.

In that moment he saw every dance that William the Bloody had shared with the Slayer who he could not kill. Every step, every turn, every sway, dip, and twirl, from the first moment he laid eyes on her until the last, it was all there swirling like a misty dream within his mind, within his heart. She had been the only one in over a hundred years of darkness who ever thought there might be light inside him. She had been the only one who had made him desperately want to be better; to be a man, not a monster, to be worthy of her.

The realization that he would not be able to keep his promise, ‘Till the end of the world,’ tore at him as surely as the ravenous demons did. The thought made him fight even harder, blocking out the searing pain and fatigue that threatened to overtake him. He flailed wildly at the mob of demon spawn that was on the verge of overrunning him. Cursing and roaring, Spike fought with his heart; it was all he had left.

He didn’t break his promises. He just didn’t.

The swarm converged then, and he couldn’t keep them all at bay. Two of the relentless demons attached themselves to Spike’s right leg, worrying his hamstring between their vise-like jaws, ripping tendons and muscle alike.

Spike dropped to one knee, screaming in anguish, his body flexing like a bow as the blinding pain knifed through him like a bolt of lightning. He reached back and tore the two attackers off his leg in a desperate effort to survive one more minute, one more second. Blood spurted, and his flesh shredded painfully as it came away with them, still clamped in the demons’ clutching jaws. The downed vampire screamed again – part agony, part infuriated frustration – and crushed the two snapping, snarling demons, one in each hand, with a sickening squelch and a spray of reeking gore.

But it wasn’t enough. They just kept coming. He wasn’t enough.

Maybe he did break his promises. Maybe this time, he did.

“Buffy!” he keened as he tried unsuccessfully to regain his feet, staggering and falling back to one knee.

“Please forgive me,” he begged, a final, desperate, heart wrenching plea as he realized he’d danced the last dance with the woman who was his soul.

In the next instant there was a deafening ‘boom’ behind him, and another, and another, each coming in rapid succession.

If that bint shoots me in the back I’ll bloody kill ‘er if it’s the last thing I do’, he thought as he tried again to get to his feet while still fending off the attacking swarm. The gunfire moved closer and closer with each shot, and attacking demons fell by ones and twos into quivering heaps of rancid, bloody pulp. Their life force bubbled and gurgled out of the holes in their bodies like sea foam, covering the floor with a slippery, grey-green stinking goo, making footing ridiculously treacherous.

Spike was still trying to regain his feet when he was pulled up and backwards by a strong hand gripped on the collar of his duster. Within just a few staggering steps his back hit a wall with a bone-jarring thud. He turned and glanced quickly at his unlikely ally who had a demon-blood-splattered Glock in each hand. She seemed to fire with pinpoint accuracy from either side, hitting her target much more often than not. Not every shot was lethal, though, and the demons were relentless and insatiable. Even injured and bleeding, dragging limbs, some barely able to move, they would return, drawn by the ravenous hunger for blood.

The two unlikely allies stood, shoulder to shoulder, their backs against the wall, fighting for their lives, and the lives of everyone in Sunnydale and beyond. But Spike fought for even more than his life, he fought for his honor. He’d made a promise to a lady, and, right now, in the putrid bowels of hell, it was his honor that kept him battling beyond the capacity of his body.

Spike heard both of Sam’s guns go empty with a ‘click’ and the demons seemed to realize it – they were learning and growing at an alarming rate. In the few seconds it took her to reload, what remained of the demon horde surged toward them, clambering along the walls, ceiling, and floor, swarming toward them from all angles.

Sam had no choice but to abandon her guns and pull her knife. The demons were on them too quickly, she couldn’t get the fresh clips into the guns in time.

As he fought next to her, Spike could tell she was well trained and skilled, but she was also tired, and injured. Bright, red blood ran down her black combat gear in streams from bites and cuts inflicted by the Suvolte offspring that had gotten past her gunshots. Even her Kevlar had been no match for the razor-sharp teeth and talons. He could see several deep, blood-soaked slashes down her chest and across her abdomen, the vest hanging in tatters.  She was fading, and her knife missed its mark nearly as often as it hit, and even when it hit, it was often only a glancing blow now.

He longed for it to be Buffy beside him. This was what they were made for, the two of them fighting in a deadly ballet. They’d done nothing but dance since the first night they’d met. They knew each other’s moves as well as they knew their own names. They could anticipate each other’s strategy, and cover each other’s weaknesses.

But it wasn’t Buffy. It was just a girl. A girl with bloody tragic taste in men, it had to be said, but that wasn’t relevant right now. She was just a human with no special powers, trying her best to beat back the darkness. In the past, that darkness could well have been him she was battling, but now he stood beside her, trying to push the evil back, trying to defeat the darkness.

In that moment, he felt that flicker of light deep inside his chest that Buffy had sparked pulse and grow just that much larger, that much brighter. He knew he had to help this girl, this soldier. He had to save her, no matter the cost. It was the only honorable thing to do.

Spike felt a protective rage blossom deep inside him the likes of which he’d only previously felt for those he loved deeply. It reignited his resolve with a red-hot glow of furious anger and he directed it all at the voracious killing machines surrounding them.

He moved in front of Sam, gritting his teeth against the pain, hobbling jerkily on his hamstrung right leg. He shielded her as much as he could with his body, trying to keep the Suvolte off her. Despite the pain, his boots stomped down on the horrid creatures with sickening crunches, splattering discolored blood and bowels in all directions. Any tribbles that got near his hands were ripped apart like melons, their two halves tossed away, rolling like gory, drunken bowling balls across the floor. He kicked and punched them away when too many came at once, fending them off, waiting for his chance to inflict real damage when only one or two attacked at a time.

One dropped down from the ceiling onto his back and clamped its razor-sharp teeth into his trapezius, tearing a chunk out of his flesh. He roared in pain and reached for it, but then felt Sam stabbing and gutting it from behind him. The dead tribble slid down his back and plopped lifelessly to the floor, and she kicked it away furiously.

She was still fighting with him, she had not given up, and that fueled his tenacity. He would not give up either.

The floor and walls were slick with pungent viscera and fluids of every description. Vampire, demon, and human blood merged into one slimy mass, making even standing up a challenge. It was like walking on a sheet of ice covered in oil, perilous and slick.

Sam slipped as she lunged for one of the vicious demons that was coming down the wall, falling hard on the slimy floor. Her knife was jarred from her hand with the impact, and, in her attempt to regain her feet, she took Spike down with her. They sprawled in a gooey tangle of limbs, unable to get traction to rise. Their hands and feet slid out from under them as exhaustion, injury, and blood-loss collected its long-awaited toll.

They had nearly done it. Nearly won. Nearly, but not nearly enough.

There were only four of the ravenous spawn left uninjured, but in just the short time since hatching, they’d already doubled in size and also in cunning. The creatures were working together now, two acting as a distraction while the other two would strike, then back away, like a pack of wolves.

Spike swung and kicked at them from his position on the floor, but with little effect, unable to get any leverage. Each time one charged in it would take a bite of flesh, either from him or Sam, who was now just fighting to stay conscious. Each bite seemed to make the demons bolder and stronger, while making the heroes weaker and more alarmed.

Spike spotted a possible refuge and began dragging himself and Sam toward a large steamer trunk beneath the stairs while also trying to fend off the growing Suvolte. It was slow going, the slippery floor making traction difficult for them, but, unfortunately, it was not a problem for the demon spawn and their nimble spider-like legs and sharp claws.

“Don’t give up on me now, pet. Finn’ll bloody lecture me t’ death if ya don’t make it,” he encouraged her.  “Can endure a lot, I can, but not one of his sanctimonious lectures.”

All Sam could do was wheeze out a wet splatter of blood from her broken nose in reply, but she didn’t give up. She crawled, when she couldn’t crawl, she clung to Spike and let him drag her, she kicked and fought with everything she had, with more than she had. The two battered, gore-splattered heroes would move a foot or two, and then kick and punch at the demons, driving them off, move, and punch, move and punch. It seemed to take forever to reach the trunk. Perhaps it did.

The trunk was large and made solidly of thick wood and iron strapping. Definitely not one of the new reproductions, but something, Spike thought, that might’ve been from his actual lifetime – back when quality meant something, and things were made to last. What it was lacking ornamentation it made up for in durability and solidity, which is exactly what he needed now.

“Open it!” he instructed her as he continued to fend off the demon spawn, enduring bites to his arms and legs as they shot in but backed off before he could inflict any real damage to them.

Sam struggled with the latch, her fingers battered, swollen, and slick with blood, but she finally got it open. In a semi-daze, she dragged out blankets and quilts, a few faded baby clothes and a wedding dress, tossing it all on the gooey floor.

“Not sure we’ll both fit,” she wheezed out, her voice muffled from her swollen and blood-crusted nasal passages.

“GET IN!” he ordered, turning a hard, blue glare on her.

She didn’t have the energy to argue and she knew they didn’t have much time left. She thought she could actually see the demons growing larger and stronger before her eyes. She dragged herself into the trunk, curling her body into a painful ball to try and make room for Spike.

“Is there room? I can’t … I’m too big,” she gasped out, doing her damnedest to transform her long, tall, strong body into something smaller with just the force of her will.

Spike gave her a weak smile. “You’re perfect, pet. No worries,” he assured her as he dropped the lid and clicked the latch shut over her, cutting off her scream of protest.

“Got ‘em just where I want ‘em now, don’t I?” he muttered as all four demons charged him at once.

Chapter Text

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“Buffy!”

“SPIKE! WHERE ARE YOU?”

“Buffy!”

“SPIKE! ANSWER ME!”

“Buffy, wake up! Buffy!”

Buffy woke with a jerk, her heart racing, pulse thundering in her ears, her eyes wide with confusion and fear. “Where’s Spike?” she demanded of the bewildered Willow who had just shaken her screaming friend from a nightmare.

Buffy was still in the chair where Spike had placed her before he left. Riley was still on the couch looking even more dour than before. His right arm was still strapped against his chest, several splinted fingers rested against his shoulder, and he had a heavy brace on his right leg.  Dawn and Willow were standing over the Slayer, looking worried.

“He went with Sam to find the tribbles, remember?” Dawn offered.

“How long ago? How long have I been out?” Buffy asked, rubbing her head, which she just noticed was pounding like a jack-hammer and on the verge of a really impressive implosion.

“About three hours,” Dawn informed her, offering her a bottle of Gatorade and a couple of ibuprofens.

Buffy looked at it dazedly, but took them both. “How did you know I’d need that?”

Dawn smiled innocently and shrugged. “Sisterly intuition.”

“Have you heard from Spike… or Sam?” Buffy asked, looking from Willow to Dawn to Riley.

They all shook their heads solemnly.

“She missed the last scheduled check in. I haven’t been able to raise her on the coms,” Riley offered sourly. A worried line creased his strong features, making him look much older than he had just a few hours ago.

“Something’s wrong, isn’t it? She should’ve checked in, at least,” Buffy suspected.

The concerned look in Riley’s eyes confirmed her pronouncement without him saying anything.

“We need to go,” Buffy announced, standing up abruptly. The Slayer swayed on her feet a bit from the sudden change in position, and Willow caught her arm to help steady her.

“I don’t think you should be going anywhere. They said you were…” Willow hesitated, trying to find a tactful word, but Riley and Dawn both filled in at once with different words:

“High.”

“Drunk.”

Buffy closed her eyes and waited a few moments to let her head stop swimming. Feeling steadier, she headed for the weapons trunk, walking purposely. “I’m fine. Spike and Sam aren’t. I can feel it,” she informed them. “I’m going. You can come or not.”

“Finally,” Riley grumbled. “The Slayer does her job.”

Buffy looked up from the open trunk and turned a steely gaze on him, a straight, short sword in her hand. “As I recall, it was me being strong and doing my job that you had a problem with. You gave up all rights to judge me when you ran off into the night. If you don’t want your other arm broken, I suggest you shut the hell up.”

“If you hadn’t been cavorting with demons and vampires, none of this would’ve happened!” Riley countered, struggling to stand up.

“ME?! This is MY FAULT?” Buffy whirled on him, the razor-sharp blade raised menacingly toward his throat as he painfully gained his feet. “You shot a fucking gun at my sister right here in my house,” she reminded him in a terrifyingly calm voice.

“I shot at a demon, and I would’ve killed the demon if Spike hadn’t got in the way. That’s MY JOB, Slayer! It’s your job too, but apparently you’ve forgotten that, too busy screwing them instead of dusting them,” Riley countered, standing his ground, almost daring her to cut him.

“How dare you! You don’t know anything about me! You ran off! You know who stayed? Who fought? Who protected Dawn? That vampire!” Buffy raged at him, the blade moving forward a fraction of an inch more, the tip just barely touching Riley’s Adam’s apple. “You know who’s never asked me to be anything but who and what I am? Spike.”

Willow gave a nervous laugh and stepped carefully between the two angry ex-lovers, gingerly pressing the sword off to the side, away from Riley’s throat. “Aren’t reunions fun? This is just the funnest with all the pent-up hostility and betrayal boiling out. Maybe we should just take a breath now. Plenty of time for bloodshed later, right?” she asked a little nervously, looking between Riley and Buffy.

“Remember Sam? No communication?” the witch reminded Riley, who was still staring daggers at Buffy.

Willow turned to Buffy, who was returning Riley’s glare with interest. “And Spike? Slayer dream? In trouble? Remember?” she asked hopefully.

Finally, the two combatants seemed to take a breath at once, their eyes shifting to Willow, who gave them a nervous smile. “See? Fun.”

Buffy and Riley both rolled their eyes, but turned away from each other. Buffy went back to the trunk and grabbed a couple of smaller knives to go with the sword, along with a stake, tucking them all into the waistband of her jeans.

“Can I have a weapon?” Dawn asked, peering into the trunk curiously. She reached for a crossbow, but Buffy shoved a can of pepper spray into her hand.

“Well, this will be helpful if we get mugged by an unarmed human,” she muttered, putting it in her pocket. “Demons probably use this stuff on their food to give it some extra ‘oomph.’”

“You aren’t fighting demons,” Buffy informed her flatly.

Buffy stood up and met Dawn’s eyes, her own shimmering with emotion. “I know I’m not the best big sister, and I’m no replacement for Mom, but this isn’t a rule I’ll let you break. I can’t lose you. I don’t ever want you hurt. Period.”

Dawn wanted to argue, but the resolute look in Buffy’s eyes stopped her. Instead, she pulled her top lip between her teeth to stop the rebuttal that hovered on the tip of her tongue, and nodded slowly.

“Can we go?” Riley asked impatiently, hobbling awkwardly toward the door with the limbs on his right side both injured. He had a crutch in his left arm, but it did little good being on the opposite side from his torn-out knee, and he winced, trying to smother grunts of pain, with each step.

“You aren’t going,” Buffy informed him. “You’re injured, a liability.”

“Pretty sure you aren’t in charge of me,” Riley retorted. “Plus, I’m the only one who has their last known twenty. I’m going.”

** X-X-X-X-X **

Despite side-swiping a tree, bouncing over several curbs, bumping one or two parked cars, and narrowly missing a few light poles, Willow pulled Riley’s Humvee up behind Sam’s in the much-too-narrow alley behind Warren Mears’ rented hideout and thankfully cut the rumbling engine. She let out a long breath, wondering if she’d been holding it all the way from Buffy’s.

Riley couldn’t drive with his mangled knee, and had reluctantly handed the keys over to the witch, being, in his opinion, the least likely to get them killed, despite her objection that she’d never driven a house before.

“You all stay here, I’ll go check it out,” Buffy ordered, opening the passenger door.

“Are you sure you’re alright now? No leftover fishies swimming around?” Dawn asked from the back next to Riley. “Maybe I should come with … or Will.”

Buffy shook her head. “I’m fine,” she assured them. To demonstrate, she held up both hands in front of her face, fingers spread wide. “Ten, right?”

Buffy jumped down from the high truck and picked up the short sword from the floorboard, “You guys stay here and be ready to shoot anything that comes out of that door,” she instructed, jabbing a thumb toward the basement entrance. She started to close the door of the truck, but hesitated, turning back.

“Except me … or Spike … or Sam,” she amended. “Or, you know, any other humanoids.”

“We should have Riley shoot any escaping demon tribbles, since he’s the only one actually armed,” Dawn clarified huffily. “Got it.”

“That’s what I said,” Buffy agreed before closing the door firmly but quietly, and starting toward the house.

She didn’t even try to be stealthy. Spike and Sam were already here, so presumably whatever element of surprise there had been was gone. Images of the nightmare she’d been trapped in before Willow woke up her flashed through her mind unbidden: Spike broken and bleeding, large gashes of flesh ripped away, demons tearing at him, a large puddle of blood and gore covering the floor.

Her stomach tightened and lurched, and she felt bile rise to the back of her throat. She’d seen plenty of gruesome things in her young life, but seeing Spike like that, even in a dream, was the worst. She prayed that it was only a dream, not a premonition. She prayed she’d go in and find Sam and Spike calmly cracking demon eggs or having a beer after finishing the job.

Her prayers were not answered.

The door to the basement was locked when she tried the knob. Buffy backed up a step and kicked it hard with the flat of her boot. The doorjamb splintered as the heavy metal door flung open, banging on the wall behind it and nearly bouncing back into her face. Pressing the door open more slowly, she stopped then and listened, but didn’t hear anything. She could, however, smell something and it reeked like nothing she’d ever experienced before, some combination of sewage and skunk, with a hint of rotting fish and dead rat for flavor.

Buffy turned her head to take a deep breath of fresh air and held it as she slowly entered the basement, sword at the ready. She was forced to breathe finally as she reached the bottom of the stairs, but tried to do so only through her mouth, although she wasn’t sure if tasting the stench was any better than smelling it.

Stopping at the bottom of the stairs, she scanned the room as best she could. It was only dimly lit, making it hard to see into the darker corners. The normally bright, overhead lights were coated with thick, blue-grey demon blood, which oozed down like a viscous, syrupy rain in places, and cast a disturbing pallor over the whole basement.

There were demon bodies strewn everywhere, some clearly dead, torn in half or gutted, others clinging to life. She stabbed her sword into any that might be alive as she began to move carefully through the space. Her boots slipped in the slick gore on the floor – it was like walking on a sheet of ice covered in a thick layer of slimy algae with a snail snot dressing poured liberally over top. She nearly lost her balance twice – slipping and sliding in the reeking goo – only saving herself by using her sword like a ski-pole to catch her balance.

As she moved further into the basement, she became increasingly more frantic. There was no sign of Spike or Sam, apart from blotches of red blood, which stood out alarmingly from the blue-grey blood and entrails of the demons.

In the center of the room, Buffy stopped and drew in a shallow, cautious breath. “Spike?” she hissed out, her voice low as she turned in a complete circle amid the destruction. She wasn’t sure why she felt the need to keep her voice low, other than the overwhelming sense of death that permeated the room.

“Spike?” she tried again.

Nothing. No reply.

“God dammit, Spike, where are you?” she muttered more to herself than him, but suddenly heard a faint rustling in the inky black shadows beneath the stairs.

Buffy’s heart seized in pain and pleasure at the sight of him – pain from his condition, but pleasure that he at least wasn’t dust.

His limp body was draped face-down over a large box. Both he and the box were coated in the same ooze as the rest of the basement, but it was mixed in with a disturbing amount of bright red blood. He looked very much like she had seen in her dream, and it was horrific. There didn’t seem to be a single part of him that wasn’t bloody and covered with demon slime. Large portions of his flesh were torn away, leaving raw, ragged-edged, gaping holes in his arms, legs, and back. Glistening white bone shone through the gore in places and she thought she could see striations on some of it, as if it had been gnawed on.  To complete the horrid tableau, muscle, tendons, and veins dangled loosely from the edges of the ravaged gashes in grotesque chunks.

It was like nothing she’d ever seen before and hoped she’d never have to see again. As her eyes traveled over the scene in shock and horror, she saw a nest of snakes coiled the floor beneath him and she took an involuntary step back in renewed alarm. But, no, not snakes, intestines, she realized after a moment.

Buffy puked. Suddenly and violently.

She was still dry-heaving when she heard the rustling again, very near. She looked up to see one of the injured demon spawn gnawing on Spike’s foot, his boot having been chewed completely through, exposing his bloody, half-eaten foot. His toes were gone, as was part of his foot, and the horrid creature was working on devouring the remainder as Buffy watched.

Rage exploded inside Buffy like an atom bomb. She raised her sword and brought it down on the demon again and again and again, pulverizing it, chopping it into little julienne shards of demon flesh.  Blue-grey blood flew everywhere, along with slivers of bone and chunks of flesh and entrails, covering her and everything else nearby that wasn’t already soaked. She forgot about the stench as she swung the blade down on the thing, taking deep breaths as she hurled obscenities at it, its mother, father, siblings, and entire family tree.

Finally, her adrenaline and fury dwindled, and she subsided, her chest heaving, her breath coming in ragged gasps, and catching painfully in her throat. She turned back to Spike, sword hanging limply by her side, and tried to figure out what to do, how to move him … and where was Sam? If she was as badly injured as Spike, she wouldn’t have survived. Could the demons have eaten her entirely?

Buffy took one long, shaky breath before stepping up close to the vampire and laying her palm against his ravaged, blood-and-gore-coated cheek. She jerked her hand away suddenly as shards of broken Suvolte teeth pricked her palm and fingers.

“What the…” she breathed, confused, looking at her hand where blood welled from several small pinpricks, and then back down at Spike’s face. She could see dozens of small projectiles imbedded in the flesh of his face and neck, each one as sharp as a tiny razor.  She sighed heavily and blinked back dampness that suddenly sprang to her eyes. Was there any part of him that hadn’t been ravaged?

“Spike … can you hear me?” she asked softly, leaning down near his ear.

There was no response, which Buffy thought was just as well. Unconsciousness was a blessing now.

The Slayer found a relatively clean quilt beside the box Spike was draped over, and laid it out on the floor. Swallowing the bile back that continued to rise into her mouth and resolutely blinking back tears, Buffy gently pulled Spike off the box and laid him down flat on his back on the open quilt.

As soon as she stood back up, something jumped out from the shadows behind the box, straight at her. She yelped in surprise and ducked. The fast, agile Suvolte sailed over her head, hitting the wall behind her with a squelching sound.  That barely slowed the demon down as it sprang back away from the wall and hurtled at Buffy again. The Slayer grabbed her weapon and whirled around, sword whistling through the air as she swung on instinct alone. She caught the thing right in the middle, the razor-sharp sword slicing through it cleanly, sending blood and guts flying in all directions.

The reeking stench of demon blood and entrails rose anew from the severed body as it plopped down in two pieces at her feet, splashing even more goo up on her.

“Why can’t demons smell like … roses or … chocolate? Why is it always sewers and spoiled sushi?” Buffy complained wrinkling her nose.

She took a moment to look around for more possible attackers, but didn’t see anything else moving, or at least nothing else jumped out at her.

Feeling slightly uneasy, the Slayer took a deep breath to steady herself for the next task. She realized too late that had been a mistake. Her stomach clenched and her gorge rose, bile exploding from her throat again. She turned her head, trying not to add to the gore covering Spike, and waited for the convulsions in her stomach to subside.

This time, trying to not breathe at all, Buffy gathered up all of Spike’s insides which were currently outside his body and did her best to put them generally back where they belonged. She had no idea if vampires actually used or needed all their entrails, but she wasn’t taking any chances. Buffy wrapped Spike up like a burrito in the quilt, trying to pull it around him tightly to help keep everything in place, before gathering him up in her arms as gently as possible and carrying him up the stairs and outside.

On the back lawn a few yards from the house, Buffy’s friends – and Riley – were waiting anxiously for her.

“Sam!” Riley exclaimed, trying to hobble forward quickly to meet Buffy.

“No, it’s Spike,” she corrected him, kneeling down and placing her bundle down gently on the cool, dew-damp grass.

Spike!? What the hell, Buffy!? Have you lost your mind? Where’s Sam!?” Riley thundered at her, grabbing her arm and yanking her back up to her feet.

“I don’t know! But if you’ll let go of me, I’ll go try to find her!” Buffy seethed, yanking her arm from his grasp.

She turned to Willow and Dawn, who were gape-jawed, staring from the still form on the grass and back up at the gore-covered Slayer.

“He’s bad,” Buffy told them. “Don’t unwrap him; I’m not sure how to fix it. It’s… really bad,” she repeated, just then realizing that tears were leaking from her eyes, running down through the splatters of demon blood, and dripping from her chin.

She blinked back her emotions and took a couple of deep breaths of fresh air, steeling her nerve, before turning determinedly back toward the house.

“I’ll find Sam,” she assured them as she strode away, sounding much more confident than she felt.

Chapter Text

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Buffy stood at the top of the stairs and scanned the floor of the basement below, looking for Sam or anything that seemed to be human at all. Debris was strung everywhere, tables were toppled over, cabinets and shelves knocked to the floor, their contents strewn from one end of the basement to the other. To make the search harder, everything was covered in blood or guts or both, including the light fixtures, casting a gloomy pallor over the room. It was as if the whole place had been painted a sickly blue-grey and then splotched with red. Sam, or parts of Sam, might be any of the nondescript, gory lumps that were scattered across the basement floor.

There was nothing else Buffy could do but to dive into the gruesome mess and search, inch-by-inch until she found Riley’s wife. Or found parts of her, her mind added unhelpfully as she descended the stairs.

“Sam?” she called out as she went, stopping a moment to listen. There was no sound in the basement except for the occasional, soft ‘plop, plop, plop’ of the thick, reeking Suvolte blood as it dripped from the ceiling like rain from a sewer. Apart from that, the room was deathly still. “Sam?!” she tried again louder, but still nothing.

Buffy started searching at the bottom of the stairs, following the wall, righting chairs and tables as she went. She picked up, or at least turned over, anything that she couldn’t immediately identify as ‘not Sam’ that lay in her path. When she reached the wall at the end of the room, she turned around and began going back, searching another swath of floor next to the one she’d just completed.

Her hands and arms were completely soaked in blood and stinking goo of all descriptions, as were her boots and lower legs from wading through it.  The rest of her was merely ‘splattered’ with the gunk – that wasn’t really a huge improvement. She slipped and slid in the mess; she could not recall ever walking on anything as slippery as this in her life – and she’d been an ice skater for years. Things crunched under her feet, and she tried not to think about what they might be as she kicked lifeless demon bodies out of her way.

Maybe Sam hadn’t come in with Spike, she thought as she continued searching, but she knew that wasn’t true. She’d seen shell casings on the floor and some of the dead tribbles had obviously been shot.

Maybe she got out, Buffy thought hopefully. But if she’d gotten out, surely, she would’ve radioed Riley.

Suddenly, a piece of the gore near Buffy’s feet detached itself and leapt at the Slayer’s face, strings of rancid, mucus-like liquid trailing like snotty tails in its wake. Buffy yelped and jerked back, instinctively putting her hands up to block it.  She fell hard onto her back in the slippery fluids that covered the floor, cracking her head against the cement.

Colorful stars burst in front of her eyes from the impact, but she had no time to admire them now. The injured demon spawn snapped at Buffy’s hands and face, taking a chunk out of the fleshy mound at the base of her left thumb. Buffy shrieked in pain, trying to get a grip on the squirming, slippery demon as it clawed her forearms, leaving deep lacerations from wrist to elbow on both arms. She finally managed to get a grip on one if its insectoid legs and she flung it as hard as she could against the closest wall. It hit with a sickening squelch against the solid brick and slid down, seeming to deflate as it slithered to the floor, another pile of reeking goo.

Buffy muttered a long string of expletives as she sat up looking like a monster emerging from a muddy, stinking swamp. Blue-grey tendrils of muck oozed from her hair onto her shoulders and covered her entire body, as if she’d bathed in the mess. She touched a hand to the back of her head and pulled it away to check for blood – her blood. There wasn’t anything red on her fingers, only demon blood. Just a bump then – she’d live.

The Slayer jerked again in surprise when the Suvolte spawn she’d just ‘killed’ began to move again, pulling itself forward toward her with its one unbroken leg.

“You have got to be kidding me!” she exclaimed, reaching into the waistband of her jeans and pulling out one of the knives she’d brought as backup to the sword. As soon as the thing crept into reach of her, she stabbed the knife down between what she hoped were its eyes. It was so broken and beaten and covered in slime that she wasn’t completely sure she’d hit her intended target until it went limp. She twisted the knife a couple of times before pulling it out, just to make sure. She looked at the knife then and decided that it was just not worth cleaning, and she dropped it on the floor next to the creature.

“Now, be a good bug and stay dead,” she ordered it as she began to push herself up, but her feet slipped again, and she fell back hard onto her ass. She tried to grab hold of a toppled chair near her for support, but couldn’t keep her grip on it through the sewage-like sludge. Time and again she attempted to rise, only to slip and fall back into the pool of stinking viscera and blood.

“I am not amused,” she announced sarcastically to the room at large, starting to feel like she was on an episode of Candid Camera, half expecting Allen Funt to pop out of the goo at any moment pointing a camera at her.

She sighed, wiping the grotesque sludge away from her eyes with an equally grungy hand. She needed a new strategy, this was obviously not working. She got to her hands and knees and crawled cautiously over to the stairs.  She’d found that relatively clean quilt beneath them when she’d found Spike, and she’d left her sword leaning against the wall there too.  Digging in the furthest corner under the stairs, she found a blanket with only minimal goop on it and used it to wipe her face, hair, arms and hands. She then retrieved her sword and, sticking the point of it into the floor for traction, used it to rise back to her feet.

She needed a new plan. This was taking too long and getting her nothing but exhausted and covered in stinking grunge.

“What would Spike do…” she muttered to herself, scanning the room and trying to reconstruct the battle in her mind. Her eyes settled on the cabinets in the far corner, all their doors flung open and dented or smashed. Her mind conjured the sight, the tribbles emerging, Spike and Sam fighting them. Based on the carnage in the basement, she knew there would have been too many for Spike and Sam to fight at once, they would’ve been overrun. Buffy’s eyes caught the outline of two handguns sunk in the sludge on the floor a few feet away from where she stood, close to the wall next to her.

Buffy bit her lip, Sam had made it that far, obviously. She looked from that spot to where Spike had been draped over that big wooden box, her eyes fixing on it, realization dawning. She huffed out a breath and rolled her eyes.

“What would Spike do?” she muttered to herself. “Be the big, fucking hero: save the girl,” she answered, pulling at the latch anxiously.

Buffy swung the top of the trunk up and found a battered and bloodied Sam curled into a ball inside, her knees tucked up under her chin, her arms wrapped around them like a fetus. She, too, was covered in scratches, bites, bruises, blood, and the stench of demon guts, but nothing like Spike had been.

“Sam! Sam! Can you hear me?” Buffy asked worriedly, reaching down to touch the woman. Buffy let out a relieved breath when Sam stirred and moaned, her eyes blinking against the dim light.

“Are you okay? Can you move?” Buffy continued, reaching down to help her.

“What … where?” Sam muttered uncertainly, her voice thick with blood from her broken nose, as she started to sit up, grasping the edge of the trunk for support.

Buffy frowned worriedly when Sam sat up. The soldier’s tattered vest revealed deep, bloody cuts across her chest and stomach. Buffy looked down in the bottom of the trunk and saw a disturbingly large puddle of blood – Sam’s blood. That’s probably what that one demon was after that had jumped out from behind the box at her – it had been trying to get to that blood, to Sam.

“It’s me, Buffy,” the Slayer reminded her, trying to sound untroubled. “Do you remember? You came to find the eggs with Spike.”

Sam closed her eyes, pressing a hand to her forehead, then nodded slowly, re-orienting herself, trying to get her spinning head to at least slowdown from Tilt-a-Whirl to Merry-Go-Round speed. She tried to clear her throat, which felt as dry as a Mojave sandstorm in the middle of a hundred-year drought, to answer Buffy, but all Sam could taste was blood – hers and the demons’. It was revolting beyond measure or darkest imagination, and her stomach quailed painfully as she swallowed back the bloody bile that rose into her throat.

She choked and coughed a few moments as Buffy waited, keeping an eye out for more not-quite-dead demons to show up. None did.

“Where’s Spike?” Sam rasped out when the coughing fit subsided, looking up at Buffy with swollen, blackened, but concerned eyes.

“He’s outside,” Buffy assured her. “Can you stand up?”

Sam shook her head negatively, but said, “I think so,” and began to try to unfold her stiff, injured limbs from the cramped space.

Buffy helped the soldier, putting an arm around Sam’s back, beneath her arms, and lifting her slowly up to her feet.

“Did he … win?” Sam asked, still dazed and shaky but her memory of what had happened returning to her as she looked around the blood-soaked battlefield.

“Well, he didn’t dust, but not sure I’d call it a win. I guess you could say he didn’t lose,” Buffy assured her, helping the woman step out of the trunk onto the slippery floor.

Sam’s feet slid, and she gasped in surprise, clutching at Buffy for support. “I gotcha,” Buffy assured her, as the Slayer bent down and pressed her shoulder into Sam’s mid-section, lifting the larger woman easily into a fireman’s carry.

A stifled moan came from the brunette’s throat, but no further complaint was heard, despite having the gashes in her stomach pressed painfully into the Slayer’s shoulder. Buffy kept one hand on Sam, pinning the soldier in place, while using the sword in the other hand to keep from slipping as she came out from the alcove beneath the stairs and started up them.

Outside on the lawn, it took Buffy a moment to process the scene in front of her. First, she saw Spike laying on his back, unrolled from his blanket, still unconscious, the snakes of his intestines spilling out from his abdomen again. Beside the vampire’s prone and unmoving body, Dawn and Willow were both on the ground sitting atop a struggling Riley. Dawn had her pepper spray out and, based on Riley’s swollen, watering eyes, she’d used it on him at least once.

“What the hell?” Buffy demanded as she reached them, bending over and gently setting Sam on her feet.

“He was trying to get Spike to wake up!” Dawn answered, still threatening Riley with the pepper spray. “He was hitting him and yelling at him! Wanting Spike to tell him where Sam was.

“We stopped him,” the girl finished, proudly. “I also puked on him. It was his own fault for unwrapping Spike like that.”

“Oh my God, Spike,” Sam’s voice was barely a rough whisper, but it could be heard clearly above Riley’s grunts of indignation at being held captive by the two girls.

Sam sunk down onto her knees next to the vampire, her eyes unbelieving. The soldier couldn’t fully process what she was seeing as her eyes wandered over him, head to foot. The damage was so massive it overwhelmed her senses, her emotions, and her mind, leaving her feeling weak and dizzy – or, well, weaker and dizzier. Tears welled in her swollen eyes and she touched a hand down on the vamp’s neck as if to feel for a pulse.

“He saved me,” she muttered thickly, more to herself than the others, her eyes glued to his battered and bloodied face.

Buffy shot Riley a sharp glare. “Of course he did, because that’s what Spike does. He. Saves. People.”

Buffy knelt beside Sam and pulled her hand away from Spike’s neck. “He’s not dead … or not … completely dead,” she assured Sam in a gentle tone. “He’ll ... he’ll be okay. I’ve seen him come back from worse.” She wasn’t sure if that was true or not, but she had seen him come back from some horrific things.

“Oh, that’s so true,” Willow agreed optimistically from her seat on top of Riley’s legs. “Buffy dropped an organ on him once, it broke his back! Paralyzed him from the waist down for a while. And Glory dug bits of his guts out, beat him senseless head-to-toe, but he got over it. And he fell off that tower, it killed Buffy, but Spike was fine.”

“I don’t think we have time for more fun stories of ‘How Spike’s Suffered at Buffy’s Hands’ just now, but thanks for all those reminders,” Buffy cut her friend off. “It’ll be dawn soon, and that will kill him. We need to get going.”

“An organ?” Sam questioned, looking at Buffy with confusion. Sam thought it sounded more like something that would happen in a Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner cartoon than real-life, even in Sunnydale.

“Long story. We need to get you to the hospital and Spike indoors,” Buffy replied as she started wrapping Spike back up in the quilt, swallowing back the bile that surged insistently at the back of her throat.

Sam shook her head, looking down at herself, assessing the damage. “I’m okay,” she assured Buffy, drawing a dubious look from the Slayer.

“But your arms! You’re bleeding,” Sam noticed for the first time, reaching out to grasp one of the Slayer’s arms and turn it over to examine the deep, ragged lacerations.

“I’ll live,” Buffy assured her as she pulled her arm away and finished tucking the quilt tightly around Spike. “But you need to get looked at. Some of those cuts are pretty deep, you’ve lost a lot of blood, and your nose…” Buffy grimaced, looking at it. “It needs to be set or it’ll be all Wicked Witch of the West. Not really a great look.”

“Really, I’ve had worse,” Sam argued, touching a tentative finger to her bloodied nose. “You’re gonna need a trained medic to fix all that,” Sam pointed out, waving a hand at Spike. “I don’t think duct tape will do it.”

“Are you out of your mind?” Riley objected, sitting up as Dawn and Willow rose off him. “Spike doesn’t need your help. He’s a vampire!”

Sam looked at her husband with a mixture of pity and impatience washing over her battered face. “The world isn’t black and white, Riley. We need to start seeing the shades of gray. Spike tracked down the eggs, he fought the demons right beside me, he saved my life, literally. I owe him at least this much.”

Riley hmphed out an indignant breath as he tried to stand without bending his injured leg with little success. Dawn and Willow finally took mercy on him and helped him up to a standing position, handing him his crutch. 

“Well, need a hospital, and from the looks of it, so do you, and we need to get this called in and get a clean-up crew here. So, you can stay with me and do your duty, soldier, or go with them and work on a soulless vampire. You choose,” Riley challenged resentfully.

Buffy huffed out a breath as she stood up, turning a cold, hard gaze on Riley. “Like I said, some things never change. Still giving ultimatums, huh, Finn? Everything has to be about you.  Just because your mom called you ‘Sunshine,’ it doesn’t make you the center of the universe, ya know.”

“He saved my life, Ri,” Sam interjected as Buffy helped her back to her feet, steadying the soldier a moment until she was able to get her balance. Sam winced and wrapped a protective arm around her middle, but continued talking to her husband earnestly, “Surely you can at least give him that much credit. And those two little geeks – he had me get them out. Where are they?” she asked, looking toward her Humvee. “I handcuffed them to the bumper.”

The group all looked that direction, but the two evil ‘masterminds’ were nowhere to be seen.

“They’re slippery little freakazoids,” Buffy admitted, frowning.

Riley turned his gaze back to his wife, glaring at her a moment through his burning, blood-shot, watering eyes, then at Buffy, and shook his head. “I don’t understand what’s wrong with you … all of you,” he finished, including Willow and Dawn with a glance. “What part of ‘evil vampire’ do you not understand? Anything he did was purely selfish. Spike always has an ulterior motive, an angle, something up his sleeve.”

“Like what?” Sam wondered, indignantly, standing up straighter but still keeping an arm pressed against her ravaged stomach. “Did you see him? What ulterior motive could possibly be worth that?”

“To get your sympathy,” Riley shot back. “And it worked!”

“Oh, right. Let’s see,” Dawn interjected, holding both palms face up in front of her as if weighing the options. “Get my guts torn out, literally, and half my body eaten by tribbles,” she weighed on one hand. “Get sympathy from a complete stranger,” she weighed on the other hand. Dawn dropped her hands and glared at Riley. “Yeah, totally worth it,” she agreed acerbically, rolling her eyes as only a Summers girl could.

“Forget it, Dawn,” Buffy advised, shaking her head in dismay. “Not worth wasting your breath.”

The Slayer picked up her dropped, goo-covered sword from the lawn and handed the hilt to Dawn, who scrunched up her face and took it with just two fingers, holding it as far away from her body as humanly possible. Buffy then squatted down and picked Spike up as carefully as she could, trying not to do more damage than there already was. She began to turn away and start for the truck, but stopped short and turned back to face Riley Finn. Tears shimmered in her eyes, but her gaze was fierce, locking with the soldier’s and holding it as she spoke.

“You know what this evil, selfish vampire has never once told me, Riley? That if I don’t give him all my love, all my attention, if I don’t share everything with him, if I don’t need him more, that he’ll stop caring about me, that he’ll leave. He’s never once suggested I was too strong, or too independent, or too … too anything! NEVER. ONCE. Hell, I couldn’t get him to leave if I wanted to. And believe me, I’ve tried.”

Riley huffed out a put-upon sigh, shaking his head. “Buffy, that’s not what I—”

“Don’t even,” Buffy interrupted him, turning again to leave.

Sam put a hand lightly on Buffy’s arm, stopping her. “Ri’s right about one thing: we do need to call this in and get a clean-up crew here,” the brunette admitted apologetically, looking back at the open basement door. “We don’t want any civilians stumbling on that scene. And we need to make sure they’re all dead. But I’ll be right behind you, maybe just a couple of hours or so, and I promise I’ll help Spike.”

“Go with your husband, Sam, do your duty. He certainly needs you more than Spike does. Spike will eventually heal. As far as I can tell, trying to get Riley Finn to see shades of gray is like trying to teach a rock to float.”

“Buffy,” Riley began pleadingly, as if she didn’t understand him at all, but she was already walking away.

“Get the keys, Will,” Buffy called back, heading for Riley’s Humvee.

“I still have them!” Willow replied, holding them up as she and Dawn, still carrying the sword like it was a dirty-bomb, followed quickly. “I think my driving was improving, don’t you? I definitely won’t hit anymore trees,” Willow predicted confidently. “Curbs ... eh,” she shrugged, tilting one hand back and forth in a ‘maybe/maybe not’ gesture.

“I’ll be happy if you don’t crash it into my house,” Buffy assured her, waiting by the back of the Humvee for someone to open it for her so she could lay Spike down in the ‘way-back’ of the huge truck.

“Then you are in for a happy night,” Willow assured her friend with a smile, trying to lighten the mood, as she opened the back of the truck for her.

Buffy laid Spike down as gently as possible and climbed in after him. She grasped his shoulders and slid him carefully forward until he was completely inside, letting Willow close the back door behind them.

“Happy,” the Slayer repeated after Willow in a small voice, collapsing her gore-covered body down next to Spike’s unmoving one, as tears filled her eyes. “I’m so sorry, Spike. This is my fault. I should’ve been there, I should’ve …” Buffy’s voice cracked, her words dying on her lips, and her tears spilled over, washing salty streaks through the blue-grey gore on her face.

Feeling the need to touch him, to somehow assure herself that he was really still Spike, she laid a hand gently atop his head, the only place that seemed relatively uninjured. He looked like he’d spent the last hours in a slaughterhouse, and he was the slaughter-ee. She couldn’t imagine what would’ve been left of him if he’d lost the fight, and she didn’t want to.  

“Why did you go in there without me? You stubborn fucking vampire. You should’ve waited.”

Buffy sighed then, knowing that if he had waited, it almost certainly would've been even worse. Guilt and shame for not being able to help him, not being there to fight with him, washed over her in a sickening wave. She pressed her forehead against his quilt-wrapped, motionless shoulder, her tears turning into sobs as the Humvee rumbled to life and began to move.

“I knew I shouldn’t have mentioned no one getting killed on our date. That was like challenging fate to a duel,” she confessed through her tears.

“I’m horrible at duels with fate. I’m like ‘0’ for nine hundred and thirty-six … nine hundred and thirty-seven counting tonight.

“I’m so sorry, Spike. Please forgive me.”

Chapter Text

banner


 

Buffy didn’t stir when the soothing, rumbling purr of the big truck’s engine died. She felt bone-tired, even though she really hadn’t done that much physically in the last few hours. It was a tiredness borne from hopelessness and despair and having no idea how she’d get through the next few hours, let alone the next few days or weeks.

Would Spike really be able to recover from this? It seemed incomprehensible, but he had come back from some bad injuries before, as Willow had so helpfully pointed out. Still … huge chunks of muscle were missing from his thighs, his calves, and his arms. His intestines were currently living outside his body due to a huge hole in his abdomen large enough for Buffy’s head to fit into. And the toes on one foot, along with part of the foot, were just gone. How could anyone, even a vampire, come back from this?

The back door of the Humvee opened, and Dawn’s tentative voice came to her through her grief and worry. “He’ll be okay, Buffy. He will.”

Buffy sniffed back her tears and wiped her face, only then remembering that she was still covered in the oozing blue-grey blood of the demons.

“I’m not so sure about Riley’s truck though,” Dawn added, putting a hand over her nose and mouth as the stench wafted out.

She and Willow had kept the windows open while they drove, sticking their noses into the fresh air to breathe. Now that they had stopped, the odor just hung there, an overpowering, olfactory demon in the small space.

Buffy snorted softly and pushed herself up to a sitting position. “Riley’s got his head so far up his ass, I doubt he’d notice,” she muttered, trying to find something clean to wipe her face on, but failing.

Dawn gave her sister a sad smile. “I think he did love you once,” the brunette offered sympathetically.

Buffy shook her head slowly. “He loved the idea of me. He loved that I was strong, but he resented it at the same time. He loved the idea of a bright, shiny Slayer, the Chosen One, always fighting on the side of good,” Buffy corrected, meeting Dawn’s eyes.  “The reality was a bit more … tarnished.”

Dawn dropped her gaze and fiddled with a chrome cargo-hook on the black floor of the truck bed. “What tarnished you? Was it Angel?” she asked finally, looking back up.

Buffy smiled sadly and shook her head slowly, her eyes focused somewhere in the past. After a few moments she looked back at Dawn, who was still standing behind the truck. “Life. Living,” Buffy answered, finally, giving a small shrug. “Slayers aren’t supposed to live long enough to tarnish.”

Dawn nodded solemnly. “Well, I think Spike loves you, tarnish, warts, and all,” she pointed out.

Buffy cocked a brow at her sister. “I don’t go around kissing toads. I don’t have any warts,” she refuted vehemently. “I am wart-less. Ask anybody.”

Dawn’s lips curved in a genuine smile. “No, you just go around kissing vampires who were probably Abercrombie models in a previous life. What do you catch from that?”

“Good fashion sense,” Buffy advised her sister haughtily, as she began to slide out of the truck on her butt, leaving a trail of reeking ooze in her wake, like a giant, smelly snail.

** X-X-X-X-X **

Willow met Buffy at the front door of the house, holding her hands up and stopping the Slayer from entering with her fragile cargo.

“Strip,” the witch ordered in no uncertain terms.

“Strip what?” Buffy asked, confused.

“Strip you! ‘Stink’ doesn’t begin to describe it. You smell like a sewer puked all over you, and then dunked you in a vat of dead eels.”

“Dead eels?” Buffy questioned, looking down at her dripping clothes.

“Dead eels,” Willow confirmed. “Now, strip.”

“On the porch?” Buffy asked, looking around the front of the house.

“You’re not coming in the house tracking that goo all over and stinking it up. Strip,” Willow instructed again.

Buffy huffed out an indignant breath but didn’t move.

“Think about how much it will cost to get the carpets cleaned,” Willow prodded, raising her brows at her friend knowingly.

Buffy frowned at that and rolled her eyes. She walked over and laid Spike – she refused to think of her bundle as Spike’s body, but that’s what it felt like – down on the swing. Unburdened, she started to strip out of her clothes, kicking her boots off, tugging at her socks, then trying to wriggle out of her goo-soaked jeans with moderate success. Willow held out a large plastic garbage bag and, as each garment was removed, she had Buffy drop it into the bag.

“What are you gonna do with my clothes?” Buffy asked, finally getting her jeans free.

“I’m thinking of the industrial hazmat waste site outside of town,” the witch replied, keeping her face turned away from the stench.

Buffy frowned. “Damn it, I liked those boots,” she complained. “Maybe they could be cleaned?”

Willow turned to face her friend and gave her a dubious look.  “Dead eels and sewer puke,” she reminded her.

Buffy sighed heavily. “I guess not,” she acquiesced, pulling her shirt off over her head. “Maybe I can write it off on my taxes,” she mused to herself as she dropped the grimy clothing into the bag.

She was left in just her underclothes, which were stinky, but not technically dripping with anything nasty. 

“Here, now wrap Spike in this,” Willow directed, handing Buffy a plastic drop cloth that had been left over from one of the numerous repair jobs the Summers’ house had endured over the years.

Buffy sighed and did her best to cover the stinking, gore-soaked burrito that was Spike in the plastic, at least enough to keep any of it from dripping on the carpet.

“Okay now? Can we go in?” Buffy asked, holding her arms out to encompass herself and Spike. She’d stopped bleeding, but the lacerations on her forearms were deep and nasty looking and caked with a mixture of red and blue-grey blood. The sight made Willow quail a bit, but she remained resolute. 

“What’s that?” Willow asked, eyeing the bandage still on Buffy’s wrist.

Buffy looked down at it and her face flushed crimson beneath the splatters of gore. “Oh, ummm … It’s nothing,” she stammered, turning to pick Spike back up.

“It’s super stinky,” Willow pointed out.

“Right,” Buffy agreed. Facing away from her friend, she unwound the bandage quickly, tossing it into the proffered garbage bag. She swiftly slid her arms under Spike’s quilt-wrapped body before anyone could see what was beneath the wrapping.

“Okay? Can I go up now?” Buffy asked, turning to face Willow with the lifeless bundle of vampire in her arms.

Willow nodded. “Be careful not to touch the walls with that … I mean, him,” she warned. “I’ll bring you another hazmat bag for his stuff once you get in the bathroom.”

Buffy nodded and let out a small sigh before heading into the house and up the stairs. It was kind of like déjà vu in reverse. Hadn’t it just been a few minutes ago that Spike had carried her down these same steps, just like this?

No, it had been a lifetime ago.

** X-X-X-X-X **

In the upstairs bath, Buffy laid Spike out on the tile floor, reaching over him to turn on the water in the tub as hot as she could stand it.

“Do you want me to help you?” Willow asked, coming in behind her with another plastic garbage bag.

Buffy shook her head slowly, suddenly feeling guilty again. Tears welled up in her eyes, but she blinked them back quickly. “No, I can manage. Maybe … can you see if you can get some human blood for him? I don’t think pig’s blood is going to be enough. I think Willy sells it, he pays people to be donors.”

Willow nodded, stepping back out of the door. “Yeah, sure. One keg of O positive, coming up,” she assured Buffy, closing the door with a soft ‘click’.

“Willow! Wait!” Buffy called, and the door opened again. “His duster … I can’t throw it away. He’d kill me, for real.” ‘If he ever recovers,’ her mind added unhelpfully.

“But…” Willow began to object.

Knowing her objection, Buffy explained, “There’s a girl – a demon, I mean – she does his laundry. She’s a soap demon or something. He always meets her at Willy’s. Take it to her, if anyone can get it cleaned and repaired, it will be her. Her name’s … ummm …” Buffy pounded the palm of her hand on her forehead, trying to think, then looked up in triumph. “Ariel!”

Willow looked unconvinced but nodded. “Ariel, the little mermaid soap demon. Sounds reasonable,” she muttered, waiting.

Buffy carefully unwrapped Spike from his plastic and quilt burrito. She tried to avert her eyes from the intestines that writhed and twisted every time she moved him, like a slippery, glistening tangle of snakes. She heard Willow heave and choke back bile behind her, and Buffy instructed the witch to get another plastic bag and just wait in the hall a minute. Willow did, without argument.

Getting his duster off was incredibly hard. It was stuck to his raw and ravaged body, covered in three types of dried or drying blood: demon, vampire, and human, which made it stiff and unyielding while, at the same time, slippery in places and hard to grip firmly. There were numerous rips and tears in it too, but Buffy thought they could be repaired, or at least hoped so, if she could just get it off him.

It was like trying to push a rope uphill. His body was limp, like a ragdoll, and the coat was molded to his shape, rigid with the dried blood and gore. Buffy pulled and tugged, trying to be gentle, but it barely moved. Tears of frustration burned her eyes and she must’ve started cursing or screaming because suddenly Dawn and Willow were there on the floor next to her. They were talking, cooing with soothing words that had no meaning to her, and helping her get the duster off the lifeless body of her vampire lover.

Finally, it pulled free with a squelch of re-opening half-closed wounds where the coat had stuck to his gashed and lacerated flesh. All the girls flopped back onto their asses on the tile floor as it came free. Their butts made an audible ‘splat’ when they landed on the tile. A thin puddle of the reeking gore now covered the bathroom floor, having been spread around from wrestling with Spike and the duster.

There was a moment of stunned silence, as if disbelieving that they’d actually done it, then they all started moaning and groaning out ‘ewww’ sounds, with Dawn muttering, “So gross,” under their breath as they looked down at the mess.

“I think we need more hazmat bags,” Willow observed, looking at Dawn, and then down at her own clothes. “And some Lysol to bathe in.”

Buffy wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry as she sat there, once again nearly completely covered in the sewage-stench of demon viscera. Her nerves were frayed, her emotions were tattered, her arms and hand stung and throbbed where the demon had taken chunks out, and she felt like her sanity was slowly but surely unraveling.

The joy from the small victory of getting Spike’s duster off was counter-balanced by the sight of his mangled, lifeless body. At once tears welled in her eyes, and a sobbing, hysterical laugh rippled from her throat, both emotions fighting for dominance.

She wished Spike would wake up and make some kind of lewd remark, leer at her sitting there in just her underwear, or say something sarcastic – she desperately just wanted him here with her. But, at the same time, she worried terribly that he would wake up in the middle of this and feel the agony of his massive injuries. She’d never heard of a vampire dusting just from pain or shock, but she wasn’t entirely sure it was out of the realm of possibilities.

Buffy felt torn in two. She felt lost and afraid. She felt guilty and angry. She felt a thousand other emotions, all boiling up at once, raging inside her demanding release. Perhaps worst of all, she felt helpless.

Holding onto Spike’s ravaged duster, she laughed and sobbed simultaneously and hysterically, teetering on the edge of a complete and utter meltdown. Her knotted, overwrought emotions flooded out via any possible path – tears, laughter, screams, curses, it didn’t matter – simply needing to escape the too-small confines of her soul.

In the next moment, Willow and Dawn were doing the same as they all sat splattered with the gory mess. All the tension of the night was suddenly released from the three girls like the popping of a too-full balloon. It felt like a tsunami of overwhelming emotion washing over them, cleansing the strain and pressure from their hearts and bodies so they could simply breathe again, function again, and keep going.

The last, to keep going, being the hardest part.

Chapter Text

bANNER


 

Buffy sat in a chair next to her bed, leaning forward, resting her head on her folded arms on the edge of the mattress, her eyes closed. Though it was midday, the room was dark, the windows covered with heavy blankets to keep the sun out. The only illumination was the glow that trickled in around the edges of the window coverings. She was clean, she had scrubbed every inch of her body three times, but she could still smell the stench from the dead demons in the back of her nose. She wondered if it would ever go away.

Spike lay in the bed in front of her, also clean, at least as clean as she could get him. After getting his duster and clothes off, she’d used tweezers to remove all the shards of tribble teeth from his face, neck, and hands. There had been forty-seven of them – yes, she’d counted – small, jagged, and razor sharp. She hoped she’d gotten them all. Some had been imbedded deeply in Spike’s cheek where Riley had punched the vamp when the soldier had tried to wake him up out on the lawn. She got angry all over again at Finn as she worked to get those out of the vampire’s flesh. She worried about hurting Spike more, of him waking up in the middle of it, but he hadn’t. 

Buffy had then filled and emptied the tub five times with Spike in it, doing it until the water stayed clean. As she waited for the tub to fill each time, she’d cleaned up the bathroom, trying to get all the demonic sewer puke off the floor and where it had splattered on the walls. She’d mostly succeeded. Willow or Dawn would finish it for her, she was sure.

After that, she’d used soap and gently washed Spike, cleaning him up as well as humanly possible. She’d even rinsed off all the inside bits that were now outside; it took all her Slayer strength to keep her gorge down during that, but she’d done it. At the end, she let the shower rain down on him, rinsing away the soap and all of the stench of tribble blood – she hoped.

After getting him clean, she’d wrapped him up like a burrito again to hold everything in place, this time in a clean sheet, and brought him to her room. She’d settled him onto her bed, thinking it a shame he couldn’t see himself now. He’d be so smug, making snarky remarks about finally getting between her Egyptian cotton sheets. As much as it had annoyed her in the past, she missed his snark now that it was gone.

After she’d gotten him settled, a panic had risen in her as she’d looked down at him lying there with his head on her pillow. His hair! It was all wet and curly. Spike wouldn’t want people to see the curls. He’d promised to show her, to let her in, but not the world at large. She had suddenly felt an overwhelming and irrational need to brush them out, to mousse them into submission, to hide them, to keep them only for herself to see. And she had, at least as well as she could with him still unconscious. Finally, with his hair brushed, held straight beneath a thick layer of mousse and hair spray, that irrational, rising panic inside her had relinquished its hold on her chest.

He looked like Spike. Abused, bruised, broken, bleeding, scratched, mauled, completely thrashed, beaten, and battered, but Spike.

She had subsided into the chair then, the Slayer sitting vigil over a vampire, praying for him to heal, to wake up, to be okay. Her arms and hands hurt where she’d been attacked, but they weren’t bleeding, and she’d scrubbed all the demon-goo out of the lacerations. The demon’s talons had been sharp but jagged, and they’d ripped deeply into her flesh, but they were nothing compared to what Spike had endured. As much as she hurt, she knew that he had to hurt a thousand, ten-thousand times worse. As much as she wished he would wake up, she prayed that he didn’t until he had healed enough to not be in constant agony. She wasn’t sure she could handle seeing him in that much pain.

There was a soft knock on the door and it opened without Buffy’s bidding. Sam entered the darkened room carrying a large khaki bag with a red cross on the side. The soldier flicked the light on as she entered, making Buffy blink against the sudden brightness.

“You came,” Buffy murmured, her voice rough from all her tears. She sat back in her chair, her eyes adjusting to the light, and took in the soldier’s appearance. Sam was also clean, her long brunette hair tied back in a tail, and she was dressed in fresh tactical gear – all black, of course. There were cuts, scrapes, bruises, and bites visible on her face, neck, and hands, and both eyes were blackened. Her broken nose had been set, as Buffy had suggested, and there was tape across it, Buffy supposed to help keep it in place until it healed. The soldier walked with a stiff limp and moved tentatively, alluding to her other injuries, but they couldn’t be seen.

“Are you okay?” Buffy asked, watching her cross the short distance to the bed with halting steps.

Sam gave her a smile that might’ve been hiding a grimace. “Better than I would’ve been if Spike hadn’t been there.”

“Still, I saw your injuries. You’ve got to be a seven-thousand on that one to ten pain scale they use at the hospital. I’m not sure even I would be walking around right now,” Buffy commented, studying the other woman closely.

Sam started to shrug, but cut it off abruptly, grimacing. “I told you, I’ve had worse. I wasn’t kidding. Plus, codeine: very helpful. Brings it down to a two-thousand easily.”

Buffy laughed softly. “Even with codeine, that’s impressive, like ‘The Black Knight’ impressive.”

“Oh, I …umm, thank you,” Sam stammered, feeling at once flattered and confused. “Is that something you’ve fought before?”

Buffy’s brows went up. “No. ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail?’” she prompted.

“‘Tis but a scratch! I’ve had worse,’” Buffy quoted in a terrible attempt at an English accent.

“Oh! Is there something in there about rabbits?” Sam wondered, remembering Spike’s comments before the Suvolte battle.

“Not rabbits, a killer bunny,” Buffy corrected.

Sam frowned, but it was hard to tell with all the swelling and bruises covering her face. “So … a black knight gets attacked by a killer bunny and gets a scratch? And that’s …impressive?”

Buffy laughed and shook her head. “Remind me to give you the video when you leave. Watch it. You’ll see. But trust me, you? I’m impressed.”

Sam swelled with pride. “Thanks, Buffy. That means a lot coming from you.

“But you thought I wouldn’t come?” the soldier asked, changing the subject as she looked down at the unconscious vampire.

Buffy shrugged. “Well, beyond the beating you took and the blood loss, I figured there would be more ultimatums. Riley’s not what you’d call ‘fond’ of Spike.”

Sam snorted softly, asking with a motion of her hand if she could remove the sheet wrapped around Spike’s body. Buffy nodded her assent. 

“There were,” Sam acknowledged, pulling the sheet off gently to expose the extent of the damage Spike had endured. “But I told you I’d come. I don’t say things I don’t mean. Spike saved my life. He helped keep all those Suvolte from escaping, which would’ve been devastating to the populace for miles around, if not the whole western seaboard. Not because he had to. Not because of the chip. As far as I can see, he did it because it was the right thing to do.”

“Spike can be an idiot sometimes,” Buffy agreed flatly, her eyes locked on the damaged vampire laying in front of her.

Sam’s smile turned more genuine, but she didn’t comment.

“Did you tell Riley all that?” Buffy wondered after a moment, looking up at the brunette.

Sam nodded. “I did.”

“I’ll bet that went over like a Sex Pistols concert in Vatican City.”

Sam’s smile widened. “Finn does seem to have a bit of a bias against Spike.”

Buffy huffed out a derisive breath. “That’s like saying a hydrogen bomb is a little noisy.”

Sam rolled her eyes and shrugged slightly in acknowledgement. “He’s usually zealous about his job, it’s one thing that drew me to him, but this is different,” Sam observed.

“This is personal,” Buffy interjected.

Sam shrugged again. “Yeah, but it’s more. I think… I think you take him out of his comfort zone,” the brunette explained. “And seeing you with Spike, well, it sort of rocketed him past uncomfortable to unnerving.”

“Riley’s comfortable killing demons,” Buffy offered, shrugging. “That’s his raison d'être.”

“Exactly,” the soldier agreed. “But you make him see more than black and white, good and evil. And that makes him uneasy. He gets lost in the grey area, like a ship lost in the fog with no lighthouse to guide him.”

“Too bad he didn’t stay lost,” Buffy muttered under her breath, looking away from Sam and back to Spike. If Riley hadn’t shot Spike, none of this would’ve happened. Buffy would’ve been there to fight at Spike’s side and he wouldn’t be mangled practically beyond recognition right now. She let out a low growl under her breath as she thought all that through, wishing Riley was here right now so she could beat him to a bloody pulp and shove that gun up his ass.

“Did you know there’s still a ‘Kill or Capture’ order out for Hostile 17?” Sam asked, pulling the Slayer from her dark thoughts.

Buffy looked up sharply then, her green eyes burning, her hands curling automatically into fists.

Sam held her hands up as if in surrender or placation. “Don’t worry. We aren’t going to do either, but that’s part of what makes Ri a little crazy. On one hand he has a duty to bring Spike in, on the other … there’s you and shades of grey.”

Buffy relaxed a fraction of an inch as Sam began looking in her medical bag, clearly trying to decide what she had that would best serve the purpose of trying to patch Spike up.

“Oh,” Sam said, pulling Buffy’s knife out of the bag. “This must be yours.” She handed Buffy the knife the Slayer had used on the demon that had knocked her down into the muck, sparkling clean and odor-free.

Buffy’s eyes widened as she took it, examining it for any trace of sewer puke. Finding none, she put it in the drawer of the bedside table.  “How …?” she began to ask.

“The cleaners … they’re really good – like a cross of Mr. Clean, Felix Unger, and Joan Crawford,” Sam explained as she turned and began looking through her bag again.

“That’s quite a threesome,” Buffy commented dryly, drawing a huff of laughter from Sam as she continued looking through her bag, considering options.

Buffy pursed her lips, watching the woman. The brunette was beat to shit, she was clearly in terrible pain, and she’d probably had to endure a huge fight with her husband just to come here, but she was here, trying to help a vampire. Buffy found it hard to reconcile Sam’s actions with her job, which, theoretically, was the same job Riley had: kill demons.

“How did you and Riley meet, anyway?” Buffy asked, trying to suss out this discrepancy in her mind.

“I was with the Peace Corps in Central America,” Sam explained, looking up from her bag and back to Buffy. “One night, my entire infirmary got slaughtered by... I didn't know what they were – things, monsters. It was … horrific, like nothing I’d ever seen. I got saved by these people … Black Ops. I was a mess … my whole life had been turned upside down, again.”

Sam sighed heavily, dropping her eyes away from Buffy’s, looking uncomfortable. “I … well, I had been through some stuff back home and I’d joined the Corps to get away from …umm, I mean, to start over, to rediscover my purpose in life. I just wanted to help people, to feel like I made a difference.

“That experience with those demons really spun my head, ya know?” she continued, looking back up at Buffy.  “I thought my great life reboot had failed miserably. I started feeling sorry for myself, berating myself as useless, worthless. But one night I just got angry about the whole thing and pulled myself out of my pity-party. I realized then that I had just been sent down a new road. I could still help people, I could still find a purpose for my life. I quit the Corps and joined the squad. My first firefight, I met Riley.”

“And he was what you needed then,” Buffy surmised. “Strong and solid and stable, full of confidence and purpose, with a corn-fed smile and really nice arms.”

Sam smiled then. “He does have pretty nice arms,” she agreed.

Buffy nodded her understanding. Wasn’t that a big part of what had first drawn her to Riley, too? Strong, solid, stable, and normal? Picnics in the daylight and talks of driving up the coast like regular people?

But she wasn’t a regular person. Turned out, neither was Riley, despite his really nice arms.

Buffy also realized why Sam was here, now, ministering to a vampire. She chose this life to help people, to save them from the things that go bump in the night, like she had been saved. Riley chose this life to kill demons; if people were helped in the process, fine, but that was not his main motivation.

Buffy sighed. “Can you help him?” she asked, changing the subject. “Spike, I mean. Riley’s un-help-able.”

The soldier took a deep breath as she studied the damage, and let it out slowly, not saying anything for a long time.

Buffy thought it sounded like she was deflating, giving up, and looked at her worriedly. “Sam?”

The medic nodded slowly. “I think so. I told you earlier, I’ve never worked on a vamp before, but from what you told me earlier about how he can heal…” She let her voice trail off and shrugged a little.

“The clean-up crew found these near the trunk I was in,” Sam continued, reaching into her bag and pulling out a small Ziploc baggie that had several small bones in it. “I think they’re his toes.”

Buffy’s face scrunched up, partly in revulsion, partly in amazement that they’d find such a small thing in that mess – Joan, Felix, and Mr. Clean made quite the OCD ménage à trois. But she wasn’t really sure how that would help Spike.

“We have some … well, we call it Silly-Putty, but it’s really advanced med-tech. Professor Walsh developed it back when … well, you know,” Sam explained, pulling out a sealed, foil package, about the size of an egg carton, from the bag. “It was formulated from various demon DNA for reattaching lost digits without surgery. It wasn’t really meant for damage as extensive as Spike’s foot, but, I was thinking since he’s a vampire, maybe it would help it regrow if I formed it into shape with the bones.”

Buffy’s eyes went to Spike’s ravaged foot, her brows raising with surprise and a touch of hope.

“I also brought some sheets of artificial skin – they use it on burn victims,” Sam continued.  “It functions like ‘scaffolding’ around which new skin cells can grow. I thought it would work on the larger perforations and gashes, to cover them while he heals and allow his body to use them to build new tissue. Will his body regenerate muscle tissue?”

Buffy shrugged. “I’m not sure,” she admitted, reaching a hand out to touch Spike’s. “I hope so.”

The red gash on Buffy’s wrist showed for a moment when she moved, and Sam caught sight of it. She reached out and turned Buffy’s wrist back over, revealing the healing bite. “Riley was right, Spike bit you.”

“Yeah, well, even a stopped clock is right twice a day,” Buffy retorted gruffly, pulling her arm away from the soldier.

“Why? How? I thought the chip didn’t allow something like that,” Sam wondered, not sounding judgmental, but just curious.

“I let him … I insisted, really. He was hurt. He couldn’t fight. I needed him whole to fight the demons with me. Slayer blood helps more than pig’s blood or regular people blood. And the chip doesn’t fire unless he’s intending harm,” Buffy explained accurately, if not completely truthfully. “Lot of good it did. It screwed me up so I couldn’t fight … this is my fault. It should’ve been me down there, not him,” she concluded, looking at the battered vampire.

“Finn said you acted like you were high or drunk,” Sam observed.

Buffy nodded. “Nothing seems to work quite the same since I came back. That’s never happened before.”

“You’ve been bitten before?” Sam asked as she began unpacking more supplies from her bag.

“Three times. It was never like that,” Buffy admitted, a pleasant shiver running down her spine in memory of the joining with Spike. ‘Joining’ was the only way she could describe what happened between them – it wasn’t taking or even giving, it was sharing. That had never happened before either. She’d learned more about him in those moments than she ever had before, and she was more convinced than ever that he had ‘come back wrong’, just like she had.

Sam had begun applying the layers of artificial skin over the worst of Spike’s injuries. The skin came in sheets which looked like clear plastic wrap on the top. The back of each sheet was a sticky mesh made of some sort of living tissue which adhered strongly to Spike’s wounds, covering them, protecting them, and providing a starting point for healing.

“Did he take too much? Hemorrhagic shock can cause confusion,” Sam wondered as she worked.

“I wasn’t confused. I was stoned,” Buffy retorted curtly. “And, no, he didn’t take too much. I doubt he even took a pint. Once the weirdness wore off, I was perfectly fine. I mean, I had a blinding hangover, but I wasn’t weak or shaky or anything. I’ve had too much taken before … this wasn’t the same.”

“How did you get him to stop at a pint? I’ve seen vampire attacks before and … well, I’m sure you know, they don’t stop without being dusty… or when the victim is dead,” Sam observed as she motioned for Buffy to help her turn Spike over so she could work on his back.

“I asked him to,” Buffy replied as she rose and helped the medic turn him gently. She was glad to see that the fake skin was strong enough to hold all of Spike’s insides inside, even when they turned him. He was, however, beginning to look more like a plastic-wrap mummy than a vampire, with so much of his body covered in the artificial skin.

“You asked him to,” Sam parroted back, a note of disbelief in her tone, looking up from her work.

Buffy shrugged and sat back down in her chair. “I asked him to stop. He stopped.”

“That’s far from the norm,” Sam observed.

Buffy rumbled out a short laugh. She dropped her head forward and ran both hands over her face and back through her short hair before looking back at the mummy-vampire on her bed. “Yeah, Spike’s what you might call a little abby-normal.”

“I sort of noticed that myself,” Sam acknowledged, still working on Spike. She’d opened the Silly-Putty and began molding it into the approximate size and shape of the missing part of Spike’s foot and toes. It was grey and looked just like plain, ole clay to Buffy, like the kind they’d used in elementary school to make ashtrays and spoon holders for their parents.

“He gave me advice on love,” Sam admitted as she worked, inserting the bones into the clay in what she hoped were their proper places. Some looked almost identical, so it was hard to know for sure, but she thought it should be okay.

Buffy’s mouth quirked into a genuine smile. “He’s been known to do that,” she agreed. “He’s like the Dr. Phil of the Hellmouth.”

Sam smiled. “I didn’t even know vampires could love,” she continued as she set her masterpiece down on the bed and removed several small packs of what looked like wet-wipes from a pocket on the side of the foil package the clay had come in.

Buffy’s eyes settled on Spike’s hand and she took it in hers. “He can,” she whispered, stroking his mangled fingers gently.

Sam nodded thoughtfully and opened one of the wet-wipe packs. She began rubbing the clay model of Spike’s foot with the wet, disposable cloth. Buffy turned to watch her, curious. Sam opened another of the little packages and swabbed the end of Spike’s raw and ravaged foot with it.

“Germs won’t hurt him,” Buffy reminded the medic.

Sam shook her head. “This is activation serum,” she explained. “Watch.”

Buffy watched, fascinated.

With the clay model and Spike’s flesh both coated in the activation serum, Sam carefully lined the model up with the damaged end of his foot. As soon as the two touched, tendrils began shooting out of the clay, wrapping around Spike’s foot, pulling the two pieces – vampire flesh and demonic clay – together as if they were one.

The tendrils sunk into his skin, spreading out like the roots of a growing plant, imbedding themselves into their source of nutrients: Spike’s flesh. When it had stopped moving, the tangle of ‘roots’ covered all of Spike’s foot and part of his ankle, and the clay had changed color from dull grey to a smooth, porcelain white, just like Spike’s skin. The clay seemed to be pulsing, alive, already working its magic, trying to restore the missing pieces.

“Well, that’s something you don’t see every day,” Buffy remarked, looking up at Sam.

Sam gave her a smile and nodded. “I know the Initiative did a lot of … questionable things,” she admitted. “But they did do some good, too. Maybe …” she shrugged, looking down at Spike. “Maybe this is a little bit of restitution for the damage they did.”

Buffy took a deep breath and let it out slowly, still holding Spike’s hand gently in hers. She hoped this would work … all of this. She had no idea how long it would take for him to heal, but she’d be here, right here at his side, waiting until he did.

Sam looked down at their joined hands, and a soft shimmer of affection momentarily blurred her vision. “Spike said love is like jumping off the edge of the world and hoping someone is there to catch you, to keep your heart from smashing on the rocks,” she told Buffy.

Buffy considered that a moment, then pondered, “Are there rocks on the edge of the world? I would think, just, I don’t know … empty space. For that matter, isn’t the world roundish? Where is this edge that all the lovers fall off? Someone should really put up some yellow caution tape and a safety railing.”

Sam gave her a small smile and waited until Buffy finally looked up to meet her eyes before continuing. “He’s waiting for you to catch him.”

Tears welled in Buffy’s eyes for the hundredth time today and spilled down her cheeks. She bit her bottom lip and nodded slowly, looking back down, but said, very softly, “I don’t know if I can.”

Sam knelt down to the blonde’s level and put one of her battered hands over Buffy’s and Spike’s where they rested on the bed.

“Do you want to?”

Buffy closed her eyes and tried unsuccessfully to hold back her tears. She bit her bottom lip hard enough that she tasted blood in her mouth, the question swirling around in her damaged, battered, and exhausted soul. She was silent for a long while, her chest and throat constricted so much that she wasn’t sure she could even speak when the word finally formed deep in the dark recesses of her heart.

“Yes,” she rasped out, blinking her eyes open and looking at Sam through her tears.

“Then you can,” the soldier assured her. “Trust your heart – follow it, it won’t let you down.”

Buffy shook her head, her eyes clamping closed again against the flood of emotion. “My heart … it’s … just shattered … ruined … lost,” she stuttered out through her constricted throat.

“Let him heal it, Buffy,” Sam advised. “He wants to so badly. You didn’t hear how … how fervent he was. Let him in. You can catch each other.”

Chapter Text

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The phone rang on the bedside table next to Buffy, but she didn’t make a move to get it. Someone else could pick it up.  She still sat next to Spike’s prone, motionless body, now almost completely covered in wrappings of artificial skin along with regular bandages which covered wounds that were small enough to be sutured closed. His right foot was encased in the demonic DNA Silly-Putty, which seemed to be growing out of the healthy flesh of his foot and ankle, attached with odd-looking, pulsing roots. Sam had assured her that it wasn’t painful, that they’d used it before to reattach Black Ops soldiers’ fingers that had gotten sliced off; the patient she’d used it on said it just tingled a bit.

Buffy had placed a folded sheet discreetly over her patient’s hips, leaving the rest of his body exposed to the air, which Sam thought might help promote healing.

The soldier had also bandaged up a few of Buffy’s deeper wounds, pulling them closed with butterfly bandages and superglue. And Sam had scoffed earlier at Buffy’s duct tape as a medical device. Hmph.

Sam was gone, but had been able to insert a feeding tube running up into Spike’s nose, and then down his throat to his stomach. A bag of human blood from Willy’s hung on a hook next to him, slowly dripping sustenance into him.  Someone had brought Buffy a tray of food, too, but it sat untouched on the floor next to her chair.

Buffy had tried to get Spike to feed from her, but to no avail. She’d pricked her finger and dripped Slayer blood into his mouth, coating his lips and tongue, but he never stirred, the demon never rose.

Although Buffy was certain it wasn’t more than a pint, she wasn’t entirely sure how much blood Spike had taken from her just the night before. Therefore, Buffy had Sam draw just a few vials from her and she’d added it to the first unit of blood he’d been given. Sam had also mixed a large ration of her awesome pain meds into the blood and left more for later. Sam wasn’t sure they would help a vampire, but Buffy agreed it couldn’t hurt.

So far, none of that had been enough to wake him from his coma. Buffy was extremely conflicted about that. She wanted so badly for him to wake up and tell her he would be okay, but at the same time she didn’t want him suffering unduly. She knew it was selfish to want him back, awake and talking, but she couldn’t help it. She did. Desperately.

A knock on the door made Buffy look up just as Willow stuck her head in. “Sorry, did I interrupt your staring into nothingness?”

“I was just about at my quota, anyway,” Buffy replied, rubbing at her tired, swollen eyes.

“The Doublemeat Palace is on the phone, they said you were supposed to be at work ten minutes ago,” the witch conveyed.

Buffy sighed. “Tell them I’m sick; I’ll be in for my shift tomorrow.”

Willow nodded, giving her friend a sympathetic look. “Don’t overdo the nothingness stare. You should break it up with self-recriminations and flagellations,” she advised. “Take it from the voice of experience.”

Buffy nodded and gave the witch a tired smile. “I’ll be sure to schedule that in to my calendar.”

Willow smiled back sadly before retreating and closing the door, leaving Buffy alone again.

Within just a few moments, another knock came on the door, and Buffy’s ire ignited as if gasoline were poured on a fire. “I can’t stomach Doublemeat today, Will! Tell them to deal with it or fire me! I don’t care which!”

Dawn’s head poked in and she opened the door a little wider. “Ummm … not Willow, but I can call them back if you want.”

Buffy closed her eyes and shook her head, taking a deep breath to calm down. “Sorry. No … I still need that stupid job. I just can’t take that smell today. I’ll puke into the secret ingredient,” she confessed.

Buffy felt a shudder go down her spine at the thought. “Not that anyone would notice,” she added confidentially.

Dawn gave the attempt at what she hoped was levity a brief smile, then turned her attention to the stricken vampire.

“Any change?” the brunette asked, walking up to the bed and looking down at Spike, who looked more like a corpse than some corpses she’d seen.

“No,” Buffy answered morosely.

Dawn reached out a tentative hand and touched a spot on his left foot that was undamaged. He felt like a corpse, too: cold, flaccid, lifeless; so un-Spike-like. Even the sarcasm seemed to have leached from his body.

The girl bit her bottom lip and pulled her other hand out from behind her back, presenting Buffy with a bag of blood.

“He hasn’t finished the one he’s got,” Buffy pointed out, looking at the bag of O-Neg hanging next to the bed, which was still half-full.

“This is mine, freshly sucked from my tender veins,” Dawn informed her.

Buffy gave her an alarmed look, and Dawn added quickly, “By a phlebotomist at the blood bank and a needle, not an actual sucky vampire.”

Buffy let out a breath and rolled her eyes, relaxing a bit before Dawn explained, “I thought … maybe … well, Sam said you already gave as much as you could for a while. Glory seemed to think there was something special about my blood, and you closed the portal with your blood, so I thought, maybe … well, maybe my blood would be like yours,” she rambled. “I thought maybe it would help more than the stuff from Willy’s.”

Buffy blinked back grateful tears and nodded, reaching for the bag of freshly-drawn mystical Key blood.

“You’re pretty smart for a kid,” Buffy acknowledged, unhooking the regular blood from the tube and hooking up Dawn’s.

“Can I get that in writing?” Dawn kidded, making Buffy smile.

“Plausible deniability is built around never putting anything in writing and leaving no credible witnesses alive. Lucky you’re not credible, or I’d have to kill you,” Buffy informed her lightly, sitting back down, her eyes locked on Spike as Dawn’s blood began to flow down the tube.

Dawn pulled a stool out from under Buffy’s makeup table and sat down next to her sister. “Where did you learn that? Slayer School?”

“Tenth grade, Principles of US Government,” Buffy replied, giving her sister a sidelong glance and a quick smile, before turning back to watch Spike.

Dawn chuckled as she, also, turned to watch Spike for a few silent moments. “So …” Dawn began tentatively. “Are you gonna, you know, try to find Dru? You know, to heal Spike?”

Buffy’s frown returned, deepening the worry lines on her face. “I don’t even know where to start to look for Dru … and I think that DuLac book that had the ceremony in it got burned up in the church, anyway,” Buffy admitted. “Even if we had the book, that decoder dagger thing is long gone. The only one who might remember the ceremony is Spike … and he can’t come to the phone right now.”

Buffy had thought about that already – thought about the ceremony that Spike had done to heal Dru using her sire, Angel, so long ago. But even if Buffy knew the ceremony and could find Dru, she wasn’t sure Spike would want her to do it.  Despite everything, Buffy was sure Spike would not want Dru sacrificed for him … not even a little bit. Now, if it was a matter of sacrificing Angel, that would be a different story … but not Dru.

Dawn nodded solemnly. “What about Willow and Tara?” she suggested next.

Buffy shook her head. “I seriously hope neither of them knows any of the ceremonies in that book. DuLac was not fluffy bunnies and unicorns.”

“No,” Dawn corrected her. “I mean, just a healing spell of some kind. Not the dark, deadly sire-can-heal-me thing.”

Buffy shrugged. “Willow and magic are unmixy right now, you know that better than anyone. I don’t even want to ask her; it’s not fair to her. Tara …” Buffy sighed heavily, considering. “Yeah, maybe … I’ll ask her to see what she can find.”

Dawn nodded then sat chewing her bottom lip for several long moments before venturing tentatively, “So … you and Spike are a thing? Like … an actual two-way serious thing? Like with Angel?”

Buffy cringed a little but just gave a small shrug in reply.

“I wondered, cos, after Glory beat and tortured him, we just dropped him back in his crypt and left him – we didn’t bring him home or get him any blood or anything,” Dawn reminded her.

“He wasn’t in a coma from that,” Buffy pointed out.

Dawn shrugged. “He wasn’t too much better off. And you didn’t answer my original question. Stop being evasive-girl.”

Buffy remained silent, staring at Spike’s mangled body, but not really seeing it.  There were so many reasons this being an ‘actual two-way serious thing’ would be a mountain of wrong – the Everest of wrongness. She knew that in some part of her brain, but at the moment she was having a hard time remembering what those reasons were.

What she did remember were the moments when this supposedly soulless, evil creature acted with compassion and humanity toward her, her sister, her mother, and even her friends who abused and despised him. She remembered his promise, “Till the end of the world,” and how he’d continued to keep it, even now.  She remembered, “Hundred forty-seven days yesterday.” She remembered the look in his eyes when he asked, “How long was it for you?”

Buffy’s throat tightened, and she swallowed hard. Even then he knew, or at least suspected, where she’d been, and what coming back would be like for her. He knew why her hands were bleeding and broken, because he’d experienced it himself at one time.

He hadn’t been involved in her resurrection. Although they’d not talked about it, she was sure he wouldn’t have allowed it, regardless of his feelings. He wouldn’t have put her through this, through fighting the darkness, but he would help her now, of that she was certain. If he recovered.

And she remembered what she’d seen when he’d fed from her – when they’d joined. There had been evil there, darkness darker than anything she’d ever seen – and it had tried to pull her under, to keep her for its own. But there had been light, as well, and, with nurturing, she knew that light could grow. There was no doubt in her mind.

Then Sam’s words from earlier that day came back to her when Buffy had admitted how shattered her heart was. “Let him heal it, Buffy. He wants to so badly. You didn’t hear how … how emotional he was. Let him in. You can catch each other.”

Buffy felt tears slide down her cheeks and drip from her chin. She swiped at them with her sleeve and sniffed, blinking the flood back.

“Not like Angel,” Buffy admitted finally, her voice a hoarse, heartrending whisper.

She turned shimmering eyes to look at Dawn, who had been watching with uneasy trepidation as her sister struggled to answer the question, fearing the answer on behalf of Spike. Dawn looked heartbroken, tears welling in her own eyes as she flicked a glance at the vampire’s lifeless form, hoping he hadn’t heard Buffy.

“It’s … I think it’s an ‘actual two-way serious thing’, but not like Angel,” Buffy clarified, seeing her sister’s distress. Buffy swiped at tears spilling slowly from her own sunken, worried eyes before explaining, “Spike won’t give up. He won’t leave. He won’t hurt us. He’s not Angel.”

Dawn felt a weight lift off her shoulders, and gave her sister a tender smile, nodding slowly. The brunette leaned over and hugged Buffy tightly, relief washing over her in waves. The gesture was returned gratefully. The Slayer’s tears began to fall in earnest as the two held each other, sitting vigil beside the broken vampire who would sacrifice anything for them.

“Spike loves you, Buffy,” Dawn whispered against her sister’s shoulder. “He really does.”

Chapter Text

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The room around her was dark when Buffy heard muffled voices coming from downstairs. Xander. She could tell that he was demanding to know what was going on and where Buffy was; Willow seemed to be trying to stop him from coming upstairs. The Slayer sighed heavily, rubbing at her swollen, reddened eyes, and stood up, stretching her aching, stiff body.  She wasn’t sure she’d ever actually sat that long at a single stretch ever. Even when they’d gone to the all-day / all-night monster movie marathon that one Halloween, she’d gotten up for popcorn, Twizzlers, and Coke refills. 

Just as she was starting for the door to the room, it burst open. Xander’s form filled the doorway, blocking most of the light that spilled in from the hallway. Still, she blinked against it, her eyes having grown used to the gloomy darkness she’d been sitting in.

“Buff! What’s going on? Riley was at the Magic Box getting some supplies and he said Spike was up to his old tricks again!”

Xander flipped on the light, making Buffy shade her eyes against the sudden brightness.

Buffy cleared her throat roughly, scowling at her friend, her arms automatically crossing over her chest in annoyance as she squinted against the light.  Her ire rose and she came fully awake in an instant, her desire to shove Finn’s gun up his ass so far that it shot out his nose redoubling.

Old tricks?” she repeated derisively, making no attempt to conceal her agitation. “Oh … you mean getting torn limb from limb and having his guts literally ripped out while trying to stop a nest of sewer-puke demons so they didn’t escape and lay waste to this stupid town … oh, and save Finn’s wife in the process?

“I’m sorry, I apparently missed that ‘old trick’ in Spike’s repertoire. I must’ve been sick that day,” she growled sarcastically.

“I … uh … huh?” Xander stammered, looking from her to Spike’s motionless, mummy-wrapped form on the bed and then back again. “Why is Spike in your bed?!” he demanded, wide-eyed and horrified.

“Because I put him there,” Buffy answered logically. “Just what old trick does Finn think Spike is up to?” she wondered as Xander stepped further into the room.

“He … ummm … Jesus,” Xander swore, looking back down at Spike, the big man’s brows furrowed in confusion and revulsion.

Buffy stepped back a little to give Xander the full view of Spike’s battered, bruised body. Most of the horror of it was tempered by the bandages and the fact that he was cleaned up, but Spike’s face was swollen and blackened so badly that he was barely recognizable as Spike. Even his razor-sharp cheekbones were no where to be seen, hidden beneath swollen, black and purple mottled flesh which was crisscrossed with bright red slashes.

Xander looked back at Buffy then, confusion warring with the original look of indignation on his features.

“Spike,” Xander stuttered, wide-eyed. “In the bed of Buff. On the sheets where Buffy … where you … uh ... sleep and … and… stuff. He’s getting his filthy, evil vampire stench all over them.”

Buffy sighed heavily and rolled her eyes. Miss the point much? she wondered silently. “There is no stench,” she assured him. “He smells kinda … spicy and tangy and earthy. A little bit like oak whiskey barrels and hot wings, with a little hint of Irish Spring underneath.”

Xander’s eyes went as wide as saucers. “You … smelled him?”

Buffy huffed out an impatient laugh. “Among other things, yes.”

“I am not hearing this. This is a nightmare, right? I’ll wake up and … and it’ll be a funny – a crazy funny nightmare,” Xander droned. “I’ll tell you about it and you’ll get grossed out and hit me and tell me I shouldn’t eat beans and Spam before bed.”

“I’m sure Anya would prefer that,” Buffy sighed. “Focus, Xander. What the hell did Finn say about Spike?”

Xander blinked, recalled to his original mission here. “Oh, ummm … he … he said that Spike was in cahoots with Warren and Jonathan and that other one. He said Spike and The Trio were dealing in some kind of black-market demon eggs and he led Finn’s wife right into a deadly trap.

“Finn said it was supposed to be you – that Spike was trying to kill you, bag his third Slayer – but you couldn’t go cos you were … drunk? He thought Spike had bitten you.”

Buffy huffed out a derisive breath. “I guess it totally slipped Spike’s mind to get out of the trap before it sprung,” she surmised, rolling her eyes, ignoring the part about getting bitten.

“Well, Spike isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed,” Xander offered, but even he sounded a little unsure.

“Well, he must really be a dull tool – like a potato or a pillow or something – cos he totally forgot to kill Sam, too … protected her, actually – saved her, if you must know.”

“Maybe … maybe he just saved her by accident,” Xander suggested. “See above re: the unsharp state of Spike’s brain.”

“Xander, are you even listening to yourself? Spike can be impatient, he can be hotheaded – I’ll even go as far as rash, but Spike is not stupid.” Buffy arched a brow at him and Xander deflated a bit, his righteous indignation fading slightly.

“So, what do you think happened?” he asked then.

Buffy sighed heavily and began to recount what Sam had told her about the night, from getting the information from the demon at Willy’s to confronting the two little nerds, to finding the improperly stored eggs, and the subsequent battle – defeating the Suvolte and saving the girl.

“So, you’re saying … Spike’s a …” Xander choked a bit, swallowing back a little vomit that had risen into his mouth, “… hero?”

Buffy shrugged. “If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck… or, you know, a hero,” she pointed out, arching another brow at him.

“But … but … you weren’t there the whole time,” Xander tried to argue.

“Fine. I’m just telling you what Riley’s wife said and what I saw when I got there. Ask her if you don’t believe me.”

“I … she … wasn’t with Finn,” Xander admitted. “I haven’t met her yet.”

“Of course she wasn’t, because she was probably here patching up Spike. Does that sound like she thought he’d tricked her into an ambush? Come on, Xander … even you aren’t that gullible,” Buffy asserted.

Xander scowled at her. “You don’t know that! I’m perfectly capable of being gulled! I am a gully! Plus, we’re talking about Spike here! You remember him? Bypassed the chip? Tortured Warren!

“He was working with The Trio – those jewels they stole, remember? It makes perfect sense that he’d be in on the eggs, too!” Xander insisted.

“He wasn’t working with them! I told you before, he was helping me stop them! Plus, in what world does it make sense for him to sacrifice himself to stop these demons and save Sam if he was working with those nerds? The Topsy-Turvy Cuckoo Clock World?” Buffy wondered. “If he was in on it, he wouldn’t have taken her there in the first place! Geez! What is wrong with you? Have you been hit on the head too many times?”

Xander opened his mouth to answer, looking down at Spike, really taking in all the bandages and bruises and cuts for the first time.

Buffy waited and watched her friend’s face contort through a myriad of emotions, confusion and denial seemed most pronounced. Once in a while Xander scratched his head, apparently trying to get his brain to work. His face would clear a moment, as if some rational explanation for Spike’s behavior would occur to him, but then it would fade again back into perplexity and dismay.

“Well?” she asked after a couple of minutes.

Xander shook his head. “I … there’s something not computing here.”

“Maybe your brain is missing a transistor or something … or some of the wires got fried,” Buffy suggested.

“Ha. Ha,” the big man replied flatly, still shaking his head in confusion. “Spike is … Spike!” he asserted confidently, as if that explained everything.

“And I am Buffy. And you are Xander,” she added helpfully. “Now that we have that sorted out, I guess that solves it!”

“You know what I mean,” Xander argued. “It’s Spike! Spike is not a …” he choked again on the word, “…hero. He’s a vampire! He’s a soulless monster! They literally make monster movies about things like him!”

“Well, you’ve got me there, Xan,” Buffy agreed, rubbing at her eyes again. She was exhausted and arguing with Xander was like ramming her head into a brick wall. She’d have more luck arguing with the wall, for that matter.

“Tell you what,” Buffy suggested, taking Xander’s arm and turning him back toward the door. “You go home and ponder this some more and let me know what you come up with later … like … oh, I don’t know, in ten or twenty … years? I’ll just be here waiting.”

“But … it’s Spike,” he said again a bit dazedly, walking with her toward the door.

“That’s a very good start. Now say, ‘Spike’s a hero,’” Buffy suggested as she got him into the hallway.

Xander choked again. “I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.”

“Keep practicing, you’ll get the hang of it,” Buffy advised with false brightness before turning back into the bedroom and closing the door behind herself, leaving Xander in the hallway. She leaned on the door and closed her eyes. There was a headache forming right between her eyebrows – a Xander headache if ever she’d felt one. It was shockingly similar to the ones he used to give her when she’d been with Angel, only worse.

“But … wait, I still don’t get why is Spike in your bed!” the brunette called through the door.

“He won’t be unconscious and immobile forever. Ask Anya to explain it to you, Xan – she probably has some visual aids that will help you get it,” Buffy snarked back, still annoyed, rubbing at her forehead, utterly exasperated and exhausted.

“Buffy, you can’t be serious! You … he … it’s Spi—” The name was cut off as Xander retched and she heard his heavy footsteps racing for the bathroom.

Buffy rolled her eyes and sighed heavily, but the corners of her mouth quirked up in a small, wry smile.

That wasn’t so bad. Why had she thought telling her friends about her and Spike would be so hard? A few fried braincells, blown transistors, and lost lunches, and then everything would be fine. Right?

Chapter Text

A while after Xander left, Dawn had come back up to sit with Buffy. She brought the Slayer some dinner, but Buffy only picked at it despondently. She just wasn’t hungry. Her stomach felt like a den of giant centipedes had taken up residence and food only made them squirm and writhe more. She needed to do something! Anything! Sitting and waiting was not her strong suit. She needed something to hit or some cure to track down, but she didn’t know where to begin tracking or who to hit, other than Riley Finn.

She knew that, even though it might make her feel better to break Riley’s other arm and leg, it wouldn’t really solve anything, and it would likely piss off Sam, who Spike may still need. Buffy could feel the coiled tension building up inside again, fueled by worry and guilt and more than a little anger. Sitting here waiting was just making that spring wind tighter and tighter inside, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave Spike’s side.

She’d called Tara earlier and told her the situation. The white witch said she’d see what healing spells she could find. The more powerful the better, Buffy had requested, and Tara agreed. For now, that was all Buffy knew to do.

Buffy wasn’t sure how long she and Dawn sat there, but the sun had been down a very long time. The golden glow that had shown in around edges of the blankets on the windows that day had faded to inky black. The room was nearly dark, just the lights from the various electronics provided a soft, green, artificial luminosity. Buffy guessed it was nearing dawn, but she was too tired to look at the clock to verify it. Both girls were exhausted, their eyes drooping, their reserves spent as they waited for any sign of life from the vampire.

Dawn yawned in the darkness, stretching her arms overhead and trying to wake herself back up. She wanted to be here for her sister and for Spike, to help any way she could. She wasn’t certain if sitting here for hours on end was helping, but she didn’t know what else to do, either.

Buffy was just about to tell Dawn that she should go get some sleep when something moved in the darkness.

Both girls jerked fully awake, immediately alert, sitting up in their seats, eyes wide.

“Did you see that?” Buffy asked.

“I think so. What did you see?”

“I’m not sure. But, I think something moved on the bed,” Buffy replied.

“Is there anything on the bed except Spike?” Dawn wondered, trying to force her eyes to see better in the dim light.

“There’s not supposed to be,” Buffy hedged – you never know on the Hellmouth. She reached over to turn on the bedside lamp to make sure.

The small lamp was almost blinding after the nearly-full darkness, and both girls blinked against it, getting their eyes to adjust.

“There! Look!” Dawn exclaimed, pointing at Spike’s right hand, which lay across his bandaged stomach. “Was that up there before?”

Buffy shook her head, not remembering for certain how Sam had left it after she’d bandaged him up earlier. It seemed like hours ago, and for good reason! It was hours and hours ago!

They both sat like statues in their chairs, their eyes locked on Spike’s bruised, ripped and swollen hand, waiting. They were afraid to blink or breathe for fear of missing something, praying for any sign of life.

Then, just when they both thought it had been their imagination, his fingers twitched. A barely-there movement that might’ve been unconscious and simply reflexive. They didn’t care, it was something.

They both squealed with joy at the sight of it. Buffy grabbed Spike’s other hand, the one nearest her, and squeezed it, then let go, hoping to get a squeeze back like she’d seen in movies and on TV.

It worked! His fingers curled around her hand, slowly, gently, but they moved.

She nearly exploded with relief and joy and a thousand other emotions all held captive inside. She’d kept them fairly well in check, only cracking once or twice since waking from her horrific dream of Spike, which seemed a lifetime ago. Little did she know at that time, that she’d be plunged into a waking nightmare that was even worse.

Right now though, the only emotion she felt was hope, and she clung to it like a life raft on a churning sea.

“Spike! Spike! Can you hear me? Are you awake?” Buffy asked eagerly, standing up and leaning over very near his head, still holding his hand tightly in both of hers.

An unintelligible mumble came from his parched lips. Both girls looked at each other in excitement and uncertainty, but simultaneous head shakes indicated that neither had understood him.

“Get some water!” Buffy instructed Dawn.

Dawn grabbed a glass from the tray of food Buffy hadn’t eaten and thrust it toward her sister. Buffy dipped her fingers into it and dribbled some water into Spike’s mouth, gently rubbing the dampness across his lips.

His throat bobbed, swallowing, and both girls laughed with giddy joy.

“Spike, I’m here, what is it? What can I do?” Buffy asked, leaning even closer and putting her ear next to his lips, still holding his hand in one of hers.

Spike’s tongue touched his lips numbly, trying to get more of the dampness into his dry mouth, but with little effect.

“Here … I have more,” Buffy offered, dipping the fingers of her free hand into the water again and dribbling more onto his tongue.

Spike licked his lips and swallowed once more, moistening his tongue and throat.

Buffy repeated the procedure several times before Spike was able to force any sound through his blood-clogged throat.

“Ow.” It was barely audible but enunciated slowly and succinctly.

“Ow?” Buffy echoed. “You’re hurting! I know … Spike, I’m sorry…the tribbles.”

“Ow.”

“There’s codeine in the blood…”

“Ow.”

“I don’t know what else to give…”

“Ow.”

“…you for the pain.”

“Breaking m’ hand.”

“OH! GOD! I’m sorry!” Buffy cried, releasing his hand immediately and letting it fall to the mattress next to him. “I’m so sorry!” she repeated, stroking his fingers tentatively, as if they might bite her or simply fall off.

“Nice going! Break more of him,” Dawn admonished her sister tersely, moving around to the other side of the bed. “Spike, are you okay?”

“That’s a ridiculous question! Of course he’s not okay!” Buffy rebuked her sister.

“Can I get you anything? Do anything?” Buffy asked him, looking at his bruised and battered face. She wished he’d open his eyes, but doubted he even could, they were so swollen and blackened.

“Bollocks,” he rasped, his lips barely moving, half-choking on the dried blood which had clotted in his swollen windpipe. The feeding tube that snaked down into his stomach wasn’t helping with air flow, either.

“I’m sorry … God, Spike. We put pain killers in the blood—”

Spike shook his head negatively in very short and jerky motions, and then gingerly moved his right arm down from his stomach toward his crotch.

“Dangly bits,” he clarified, barely audible.

“OH! Your bollocks and bits!” Buffy realized. “They’re fine! They’re good! Well, better than good, really, exceptional, I’d say. The demons didn’t eat them, despite their yumminess,” Buffy rambled, until she caught a raised eyebrow from her sister, stopping her short. 

“Ummm, I mean, they’re still there being all dangly,” the Slayer finished, turning pink.

Spike seemed to let out a sigh, his whole body relaxing fractionally.

“Y'know,” Dawn put in, reaching her hand out toward the sheet covering the bits in question. “It never hurts to get a second opinion.  I'd better check, too.”

Buffy slapped her sister’s hand away before she’d gotten within a foot of the sheet. “I’m perfectly capable of being the dangly bits inspector. They’re fine,” she assured her sister with a glare.

Dawn hmphed and rolled her eyes. “You get all the fun jobs.”

“When you’re Slayer, I’ll let you have all the fun that is my life, until then, hands off,” Buffy retorted, narrowing her eyes at Dawn.

“W-w-whiskey,” Spike gasped out next, ignoring or not hearing the spat between the sisters.

“I’m not sure that’s the best idea,” Dawn put in, still giving her sister a stifling glare. “There’s no nutrition in whiskey, plus, there’s codeine in the blood. You aren’t supposed to mix pain killers with alcohol,” she advised sagely. “You should have protein to help you heal. How about a protein shake? With fresh fruit and peanut butter. Wouldn’t that be better? Definitely healthier.”

To Buffy’s surprise, Spike did manage to open one eye. It was barely a slit, but it was enough to show the unmitigated contempt for Dawn’s suggestion in the glare that shot daggers at the younger Summers girl like a blue laser beam.

“I’ll get you some whiskey,” Buffy promised, touching a hand lightly on his shoulder. Then, to Dawn, “Go get some whiskey!”

“Where am I supposed to get whiskey?” Dawn wondered obstinately.

“The store?” Buffy suggested tersely.

“It’s five in the morning!” Dawn pointed out.

“There’s a twenty-four-hour package store a block down from the Bronze,” Buffy reminded her.

“My fake id hasn’t arrived in the mail yet,” the younger Summers informed her sister, crossing her arms over her chest in defiance.

“Get Willow and go get some damn whiskey! Now!” Buffy ordered her.

“Hmph!” Dawn grunted, stomping a foot. “Why do I have to go? Why don’t you go? You want to get it for him so much!”

“Because. I. Said. So,” Buffy gritted out between clenched teeth.

“This hell?” Spike wondered groggily from between the two arguing girls, his voice as rough and dry as a gravel road in August. “Is, innit?”

“Yes, Spike, you’ve died and gone to your own personal hell where there is no whiskey and all the Summers women do is stand over you and argue about it for all eternity. I’m sure Mom will be here any minute to make the experience complete,” Buffy snarked, glaring pointedly at Dawn the whole time.

“Fine,” Dawn acquiesced tersely, turning on her heel and heading for the door. “But I’m putting protein powder in it,” she added as a final rebuke before slamming the door behind her.

Buffy sighed and rolled her eyes, but as soon as the door closed, her full attention was back on Spike.

“Here, maybe a little more water will help until the whiskey gets here,” she offered, retrieving an ice cube from the glass of water and touching it to his lips.

“Cold,” Spike muttered as the ice melted, trickling chilly water into his mouth and down his throat.

“I know, I’m sorry. But this is what they gave Mom when she was in the hospital, so it must be good for you,” Buffy assured him.

Spike shook his head slightly and lifted one hand up jerkily, touching his plastic-wrapped chest and stomach in turn. “Cold,” he repeated a little stronger as the melting ice helped clear his throat and rehydrate his tongue and lips.

“Oh!” Buffy exclaimed. “Here, suck on this and I’ll get a blanket,” she instructed him, letting the rest of the ice cube slip into his mouth. “And shut up.”

Spike grunted a wordless objection or perhaps a question but managed to hold the ice cube between his tongue and the roof of his mouth as it melted and trickled down his throat.

“Don’t give me that,” Buffy retorted, grabbing a thick comforter that had been hastily tossed on the floor. “I can hear all the lewd remarks swirling around in your warped little brain, so just shut up and suck it.”

Buffy thought he laughed then. It wasn’t much, barely a blubbered snigger, but another flood of relief washed over her at the sound. He was in there, somewhere under all the bandages and wrapping, under the scrapes and bites and bruises, he was there. And he would come back to her.

She tossed the comforter over him, tucking it in very gingerly around his feet and pulling it up under his chin.

“Is that better?” she asked, watching him worriedly.

“Cold,” he repeated, the ice cube gone, painfully lifting a hand out from under the cover toward her.

Buffy took his hand and kicked her shoes off hurriedly before crawling into the bed and under the cover with him. She pressed herself against his side as gently as possible, trying to help warm him with her body heat. Spike slid a hand beneath her shirt, touching the warm flesh of her stomach, and moaned a wordless appeal.

“Cold,” he repeated yet again, pushing clumsily at her shirt, trying to reach more of the warm flesh beneath.

Buffy slid away from him for a few moments, pulling her shirt off hastily and wriggling out of her jeans, kicking them off the bed and onto the floor. As quickly, but gently, as she could, she slipped back under the cover and sidled up against him, her warm flesh pressed against his cold, ravaged body.

“Is this okay? Is it better? I’m not hurting you, am I?” she asked, snuggling against him tightly. She heard Spike sigh as he slid one hand up onto her hip, slipping his fingers beneath the lacy strap of her panties, using the elastic to hold it in place against her warm, tender skin without any effort on his part.

The two lay in silence, eyes closed, warm against cold, soft against hard, as Buffy’s body-heat warmed the covers, the bed, and Spike. Buffy touched a soft kiss against his shoulder and whispered, “I’m sorry,” into the damp spot left by her lips. She rested her forehead against the spot and let out a long, slow sigh of relief, holding back her tears, and telling herself that he’d be okay, everything would be okay.

Then something occurred to her, hitting her like a flash from the dark.

“Hey! Since when do you get cold?” she demanded indignantly, lifting up on one elbow so she could see his battered face.

The barest hint of a smile quirked the corners of his mouth.

“Since now,” he breathed softly, forcing one eye open enough that she could see the salacious gleam in it.

“You’re a jerk, you know that, right?” she reprimanded him. “You’re a pervert and a sex fiend and I think you went and got yourself nearly killed just so you could get into my bed! That’s just the kind of half-witted plan you’d come up with! Save the girl! Save Sunnydale! Get eaten by tribbles! Just for this!”   

“Cute when yer mad,” Spike rasped out, the smile widening fractionally, only because it would hurt too much to smile much wider.

“I’m not cute! And I’m not mad. I’m … I’m … I’m furious!” Buffy retorted, flinging the cover to the side and jumping up out of the bed. “Why would you do that? Why would you go in there and fight all those sewer-puke demons without me?”

Spike started to say something but was cut off before anything could come out.

“Because you’re an idiot! That’s why!” she answered for him, pacing back and forth at the foot of the bed in nothing but her bra and panties, the slight chill in the air completely forgotten. “Did you want to get yourself killed? Do you have some kind of death wish, you bastard!? You PROMISED me – until the end of the world! Do you remember that?”

That spring that had been coiled up in her belly had finally snapped, sending her into a tailspin of clashing emotions – fear and anger, hopelessness and helplessness, guilt and remorse, frustration and heartache.  The relief of having him awake and ‘still Spike’ was simply overwhelmed with all the feelings she’d kept pent-up over the last hours, and they crashed over her in a tidal-wave, sending her spiraling out of control.

It was painful for Spike to try and follow her agitated pacing with his one, barely-open eye, but he was afraid to close it. He wasn’t sure he’d ever seen her quite this angry with him, and that was saying a lot.

Once again, Spike opened his mouth to reply to her question, but was cut off by Buffy’s angry rant.

“I remember! You said you wouldn’t leave! You said you’d help me fight the darkness! You said … you said you were different, that you understood! Everyone leaves me – Dad, Angel, Mom, Giles, even fucking Riley left me! – but you … I tried for years to get rid of you, but would you go? Nooooo! You stayed. You just kept niggling your way under my skin. You keep telling me that you love me, but just when I let you in, the first thing you do is go try to get yourself killed!

“If you were gonna jump on the ‘Ditch Buffy Bandwagon’, then I wish you would’ve done it before I … before I fell …”

The ‘L-word’ stuck in her throat, unable to escape past all the high, thick walls she’d built around it, and her rant languished. Silence hung heavy in the room around them for several moments, a palpable, almost electric, tension.  Tears of grief and anger and fear streamed down Buffy’s crimson face, her chest heaving with breath that didn’t seem to reach all the way into her lungs.

As she struggled to find words – or the word to complete her tirade –  all her pent-up fear, anger, frustration, and guilt continued to boil inside. It churned and roiled in the Slayer like a cauldron of plutonium, hovering on the verge of a nuclear explosion. 

“Buf—” Spike began softly, trying to diffuse the bomb, breaking the silent tension.

It had been a mistake.

She cut him off with a screech that sounded more like a wounded animal than anything a human could produce.

You promised, Spike!” she wailed at him, her tone bitter, resentful, and full of blatant accusation.

Suddenly Buffy shrieked again, a wordless wail of frustration, anger, and heartache, and flung herself atop his prone, battered body. Her hips straddled him, pinning him to the bed, as if he could escape otherwise. She began punching blindly around his face and shoulders, overwrought with emotion, but with little actual power. She hit the pillow and bed beneath him more than her target, and even the ones that struck flesh were glancing blows, inflicting little damage, although still abundantly painful atop his already abused countenance.

Almost as suddenly as her rage had bloomed, her temper guttered and faded into hysterical weeping. Spike managed to grasp her wrists with his battered hands and completely stop her feeble assault then, pulling her down atop him with no resistance. He carefully wrapped his bandaged, lacerated, and bruised arms around her as she sobbed uncontrollably against his shoulder, draining the last of her pent-up emotions out in rivers of salty despair.

“Why? Why? Why?” she repeated morosely, her voice barely audible as she cried against him, her tears falling like shattered glass against his shoulder, her body shaking with sobs and grief.

“I’m sorry, Buffy,” Spike rasped out against her ear, the bit of water having cleared most of the obstructions in his throat. “Gettin’ killed wasn’t the plan, pet. Take more than a few tribbles t’ keep me away from you. Spike keeps his promises, yeah?”

“You’re an idiot,” Buffy choked out between her sobs.

“Reckon so,” Spike agreed, trying to soothe her.

“You didn’t have to get half-eaten by tribbles. I was gonna ask you if you wanted to spend the night here after the movie,” she revealed, half-choked on tears.

“Were ya, then? ’Preciate that, luv,” he whispered, his heart swelling with joy in his battered chest, chasing away all the pain of her weight atop him that the codeine hadn’t muted.

“But I never want to see your entrails on my bathroom floor again.”

“Can’t blame ya fer that, pet.”

“They clash with the tile,” she explained.

“Can’t ‘ave that, can we?”

“You saved Sam.”

“Did I, then?”

“She thinks you’re a big, fat hero,” she spat, sounding more like a recalcitrant six-year-old than the Slayer.

“Does she? What d’ you think, luv?”

“I think you’re an idiot and you’re not forgiven.”

“That’s fair, then,” Spike assured her, patting one of his bruised and battered hands down on her back gently.

“Riley still hates you,” Buffy revealed.

“Feelin’s still mutual.”

“He’s a jerk,” she admitted. “And I’m cold,” she added as a shiver shook her body.

“Me too, pet,” Spike agreed, reaching over to retrieve the discarded comforter, grimacing with pain and pulling it clumsily toward them, trying to get her covered.

Buffy saw his struggle and sat up, sniffing and swiping her tears away, even as they continued to stream from her eyes. She grabbed the cover from his battered hand, and unfurled it above them like a parachute, letting it float down like a cloud, enveloping them in its soft warmth.

“Better?” Spike asked as she snuggled back down atop him, her warmth already returning beneath the down comforter.

She nodded against his shoulder, letting her body relax atop his as he wrapped his battered arms loosely around her once more.

“Please, please don’t do that again,” Buffy beseeched him, her voice soft and forlorn.

“I promise.”

Chapter Text

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“Okay, you sent two people to get whiskey who don’t know anything about whiskey. Therefore, we got Scotch Whiskey from Scotland, Tennessee Whiskey from – wait for it! – Tennessee, and Blended Whiskey from … neither of those places,” Dawn announced after entering Buffy’s bedroom with only a perfunctory knock, fully expecting to find Buffy sitting in her chair next to the bed where she’d been for hours. “Pick your poison.”

Buffy and Spike both jerked awake at the intrusion. Spike grimaced and cursed in pain as Buffy sat bolt-upright from her position straddling his hips, jerking free from his arms which were draped over her, and letting the comforter that had been covering them fall away.

“Oh my God! What are you doing? NO! STOP! Don’t answer that!” Dawn exclaimed, nearly concussing herself with one of the bottles she and Willow had just procured as she raised a hand impulsively to cover her eyes.

“Extreme TMI! I’ll never be able to un-see this!” she cried, turning her back on the two nearly-nude people in the bed. “That image is gonna be seared into my retinas for life, like watching an eclipse without those weird glasses.”

“I was just warming him up!” Buffy objected, wrapping the comforter around herself as she tried to gently, but quickly, get off Spike.

“I can see that!” Dawn retorted. “That’s the problem! I saw it! Can you hit me over the head with something very heavy and induce amnesia now?”

“We weren’t doing anything!” Buffy defended. “He’s half-dead ... I mean more dead, like deader than normal, he couldn’t do anything right now if he—” Buffy’s gaze was drawn unconsciously to the tent pole beneath the increasingly immodest sheet that covered Spike’s hips, and her eyes went wide.

Spike shrugged helplessly. What did she expect him to do about it? His naughty bits had a mind of their own. They couldn’t be expected to just ignore her when she was laying right on top of them, no matter how trashed and battered he was.

“I mean … he’s hurt – and he was cold, and then I was cold, so we were cold together and then I got warm and he got warm, and next thing you know it’s ‘Wake Up Little Susie’!” Buffy rambled, tossing the comforter back over him hastily while glaring daggers at him.

“Who the hell is Susie? You had a ménage à trois? Here?! Now!?” Dawn demanded, appalled, turning her head back slightly to glance at her sister with wide eyes.  “Oh, my God, I’m so gonna need therapy … or some of this whiskey.”

“No!” Buffy exclaimed. “Gah! There was no trois! There was no dos! We weren’t doing anything!” Buffy repeated, throwing her hands up in frustration before bending and gathering up her jeans and shirt from the floor.

“Deux,” Spike interjected, correcting her.

“What?” Buffy demanded, standing up abruptly and giving him a confused look.

“Dos is Spanish; deux is French,” he explained reasonably.

Buffy rolled her eyes and tossed her hands up. “Whatever! There was no ménage-ing! We weren’t doing anything! We just fell asleep!”

“In the nude. On top of Spike. I’m not ten, Buffy!” Dawn argued, frowning. “At least you could’ve locked the door! Or, you know, barricaded it with a Sherman tank.”

“I’m not nude! I’m … undressed,” the Slayer argued feebly, pulling her clothes back on quickly.

Dawn snorted. “Riiight,” she agreed, drawing the word out sarcastically. “Completely different things.”

Buffy scowled at Dawn’s back. “What is it with everyone just barging into my room, anyway!? It’s your own stupid fault!”

“You sent me for the whiskey – I was just doing what you said! I didn’t think you were playing ‘naughty nurse’ in here … just, you know, regular nurse!” Dawn defended.

“There was no naughty anything here! Gah!” Buffy exclaimed in frustration.

For his part, Spike simply seemed bemused by the whole scene, lifting one bruised and battered arm and tucking it behind his head to raise up a bit for a better view. The swelling had started to diminish around his eyes and nose, possibly due to the Key blood dripping into him, possibly due to all the blood in his body suddenly taking a southbound train. Now both blue orbs leered out at Buffy in amusement as she scrabbled back into her shirt and jeans.

“Start with the Scotch, then, Nibblet,” he told Dawn, his lips curved into a small but lascivious grin. “Won’t warm me up as much as a naughty nurse trois with yer sister and Susie, but reckon it will ‘ave to do … for now.”

“Please stop talking about trois and deux! You are damaging me permanently! And, again I ask: who the hell is Susie?” Dawn demanded, still facing the door.

“You brought it up, pet,” Spike reminded her. “And don’t think I won’t be expectin’ an explanation of how you know what a ménage à trois even is.”

“I read,” Dawn explained practically. “It’s one of the side-effects of making me go to school, which makes everything I know the fault of the authority figures in my life.”

“Remind me t’ start censoring what you read,” Spike put in.

“That’s against my constitutional rights and I’m firmly against it. If you didn’t want me to read trashy romances, you should’ve kept me locked in the basement all this time,” Dawn advised, finally realizing it was safe to turn around when Buffy snatched the bottle of Scotch from her hand.

“Now there’s a brilliant plan. We’ll start t’morrow, shall we?” Spike suggested.

Dawn huffed derisively, crossing her arms over her chest and stepping forward to glare down at him. “If I’d known you were gonna go all Annie Wilkes on me, I wouldn’t have given you my super-special, miraculous Key blood.”

Spike tilted his head, gazing at her, an expression of wonderment and gratitude washing over his battered face. “You did that fer me, eh?”

Dawn stuck out her bottom lip in a pout, rolling her eyes away from him, still huffy, but she nodded with one short bob of her head.

“Well, reckon we can forgo the basement if you’ll take this hosepipe outta my nose, then.”

“It’s not a hosepipe, it’s a tube,” Dawn corrected him, looking back at him finally, and unfolding her arms. Moving another step forward, she reached for the little clamp that stopped the flow of blood, pressing it closed so it wouldn’t leak.

“That like being nude versus undressed, then, is it?” he wondered, grinning wider – it was getting less painful.

Dawn smiled and nodded. “Yeah, kinda like that,” she agreed, relief welling up inside her and shimmering in her eyes. The snark, the sarcasm, the irreverence was back. Spike was gonna be okay. Her friend, her protector, her rock – the one person she could always count on, who never left her – was going to be okay.


 

Song referenced: Wake Up Little Susie, by the Everly Brothers

Chapter Text

Later that day, Buffy waited across the street from the motel where Riley and Sam were staying, watching their room. Finally, Sam emerged and headed for her Humvee, leaving Riley’s parked beside it. As Mrs. Finn rumbled out of the parking lot in her house on wheels, Buffy crossed the street and knocked on the door.

“Did you forget your key?” Riley called from inside.

“Yeah,” Buffy replied, coughing slightly and muffling her voice, trying to sound at least a little like Sam. Buffy could hear Riley struggling to rise and then hobble on his painful knee over to the door.

“Where did you last see—” he started to ask as he swung the door open. His words stopped in mid-sentence, his eyes going wide with surprise when he saw Buffy instead of his wife.

“We need to talk,” Buffy informed the stunned soldier, pushing past him into the room.

Riley stumbled, but caught himself on the open door. A grunt of pain fell from his lips as his bad leg took more weight than it could stand.

“Why are you feeding Xander lies about Spike?” she asked as she whirled around to face him, ignoring his struggle to regain his balance and his grunts of pain.

“What are you talking about?” he asked through gritted teeth, standing in his army-green boxers and a t-shirt in the open doorway, leaning heavily against the door, his injured arm still strapped against his chest.

“I’m talking about telling Xander that Spike is trying to kill me, that he was in on that whole egg thing with the nerds! That he led Sam into a trap!” Buffy explained impatiently. “You know very well that’s all bullshit!”

“I don’t know that and neither do you!” Riley contended as he began to hobble back to a chair to get off his mangled knee.

“Are you delusional?” Buffy demanded, utterly exasperated.

“Are you?” Finn retorted, sitting down gingerly, a grimace of pain washing over his face. “Have you forgotten who Spike is? William the Bloody? A member in good standing of The Scourge of Europe! Yeah, he’s chipped, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t still dangerous.”

“Oh. My. God!” Buffy spat out. “Yes! You’re right! He’s dangerous! And, guess what? He hasn’t tried to kill me or my friends, not even once – I can prove it because – ta-da! – I’m still here, and so are they.

“You know what isn’t still here? Suvolte spawn!” Buffy reminded him adamantly.

Riley shook his head either in disagreement or dismay. “He just hasn’t gotten lucky yet.”

“Are you even listening to yourself?” Buffy wondered, getting more and more frustrated. “What are you, one of those conspiracy theorists?  Did they film the moon landing on a Hollywood set? Was there more than one person on that grassy knoll? Is Hitler still living in South America cloning himself?”

Riley snorted and rolled his eyes, shifting his leg to a slightly less painful position. “I’m a realist,” he contended. “I don’t know where Hitler may be, but Spike is right here, and he’s just as evil.”

Buffy sighed and looked at him with a mixture of contempt and pity. “What happened to you, Riley?”

“Me? What happened to you? You let him feed off you!” Riley accused.

“Well, I guess you’d know all about that, wouldn’t you?” Buffy spat back. “’Pot, kettle, black’ much?”

“That was different!” Finn insisted.

“Oh, well, you’re right about that! He’s not some random vampire whore in a filthy brothel that I pay to feed off me for a freaking rush! He’s a goddamned warrior who needed his strength restored because you shot him! You remember that part, right? You and your stupid gun!?”

“I did my job! Which, if you’d been doing yours, I wouldn’t have had to do!” Finn shot back. “It’s clear that he’s got you in some kind of thrall! What other possible reason could there be for the way you’re acting?”  

“Oh! Please! Don’t be ridiculous!” Buffy argued.

“I remember Dracula,” Riley reminded her.

“So do I, and Spike is not Dracula! There is no freaking thrall! You just can’t accept the fact that he’s changed. He’s actually fighting the darkness, becoming a better man, while you’re just getting pulled down deeper into the muck,” Buffy contended. “Spike’s a hero!”

Riley snorted loudly and derisively.

“You don’t believe me?” Buffy continued. “Fine. What about your wife!? I suppose she’s under a thrall, too?”

Riley opened his mouth to speak and she could tell it was going to be another one of his sanctimonious diatribes and she’d heard enough. Buffy cut him off with a slash of her hand through the air.  “I should’ve known this was useless,” she grumbled more to herself than him.

“When are you leaving my town?” she asked him then, crossing her arms over her chest impatiently.

Riley waved his good hand at his mangled knee and shoulder. “We’re on medical leave. Thanks to you, I have to do rehab on my knee; thanks to Spike, Sam has to recover from being shredded by Suvolte spawn. We’ve been ordered to stay here until we’re cleared … a month maybe.”

“Thanks to Spike, Sam is able to recover rather than being shipped back home in little pieces!” Buffy pointed out.  

“Or, maybe …” Riley began.

“OR MAYBE NOTHING!” Buffy screamed at him, cutting him off, flinging her arms out in agitation. “You listen to me and you listen good!” she demanded, jabbing her index finger at him angrily.  “You need to keep all your little delusional theories and remarks about me and Spike to yourself. Stop feeding Xander on your bullshit – he’s like a big, ugly tofu mushroom. He just sucks it all up until his brain explodes and he starts leaking your sewage from his mouth.

“You are not to come to my house. You are not to go to Spike’s crypt. You are not to bother Spike in any way, form, or fashion. If you see him, you are to turn around and walk the fuck away. This is my town. Keep your gun holstered. You are not to kill any demons without my express, written permission.

“Got all that, soldier?” she finished, planting her hands on her hips and glaring daggers at him.

“Sir, yes sir,” Riley replied sarcastically.

Buffy closed the short distance between them and clamped her hand down hard on his dislocated shoulder as she leaned in very close to his ear. “I. Am. Not. Kidding. I will shove your gun up your ass and pull it out your nose if you so much as sneeze in Spike’s direction.”

Riley grunted, his face contorting in pain. “O.K,” he gasped out. “Okay … fine,” he panted when she released him.

Buffy’s hands curled in fists, her body fairly vibrating with fury, urging her to drive her point home by bludgeoning the soldier into one massive purple bruise.  Buffy took a deep breath and forced her hands to relax, to uncurl and she worked hard to unclench her jaw.

She skewered him with a searing scowl as he rubbed at his shoulder and tried to get his breath back. She reminded herself that he was a human and she was in no immediate danger. She didn’t slay or hurt humans, certainly not humans that were just sitting there groaning in pain. That wasn’t what she been given her strength and power for. In fact, just the opposite! She was the thing that protected humans, that stood between them and the darkness. The few times she’d thought she’d seriously hurt a human had been some of the most shameful and heart-wrenching times of her life. It just wasn’t done! It was … wrong.

“Fuck it,” she growled, drawing her fist back and slamming it forward toward Riley’s jaw.

Riley’s head snapped to the side and a grunt of surprised pain exploded from his lips.  She’d pulled the punch at the last moment – not using her full power – he’d be bruised, but his jaw wasn’t broken and his teeth should still be attached. He’d recover.

“That was from Spike,” she informed the dazed soldier before storming out the door and slamming it closed behind herself with a boom.

** X-X-X-X-X **

Buffy came back into her room later that evening with one of Dawn’s protein-smoothie concoctions. Spike had fallen asleep early that morning, soon after downing about half the bottle of scotch that Dawn had brought. He’d used it to wash down a handful of Sam’s codeine, much to Dawn’s dismay, and the combination had left him literally feeling no pain and unable to keep his eyes open.

So, they’d left him alone to rest for most of the day, and hopefully keep healing. The minor wounds – the bruises and scrapes – were already looking better. The deep lacerations and missing chunks of muscle would take much longer, assuming they could regenerate.

It honestly was a miracle how quickly he was healing, but Buffy wasn’t complaining! It was about time something went their way.

Buffy placed the glass of thick, green liquid down on the bedside table and pulled her chair up near the bed again, trying to be quiet and not wake the sleeping vampire.

“You sound like a herd o’ hippos, pet,” Spike informed her drowsily, not opening his eyes.

Buffy hmphed. “I do not. I’m Slayer stealthy … it’s a thing.”

Spike snorted and opened his eyes. “Yeah, like American English is a thing – nice in theory, but unhappily pedestrian in execution.”

Buffy rolled her eyes and reached for the protein shake. “Dawn sent you some … liquid grass,” she informed him. “It’s good for you, she says.”

“Why don’t you drink it then, pet? Looks like you need it,” he replied, looking at the long cuts on her arms, and scrapes on her face. He gingerly pushed himself into a more upright position in the bed, trying to not groan with pain, but his face contorted as daggers shot through his stomach with the effort. He propped his back up against the pillows and the headboard in order to get a better look at her. The pain subsided when he stopped moving and he relaxed again.

Buffy took a sip of Dawn’s concoction and her face screwed up into a grimace of disgust. “That’s okay,” she choked out, trying to force the liquid down her throat. “You need it more.”

“One of the perks of being a vampire: don’t actually need liquid grass t’ heal. Just blood,” he reminded her.

“Lucky you,” Buffy groaned, taking another sip of the drink with no better results. It was probably fine if you were a rabbit, but it was not fit for human consumption, she was sure.

“And whiskey,” he added belatedly, reaching a mangled hand out toward the half-empty bottle of scotch sitting on the table next to the bed.

Buffy put the smoothie down and grabbed the bottle of whiskey before Spike did. She twisted the cap off and took a swig directly from the bottle to wash the taste of liquefied grass from her mouth.

“Oi! Don’t get that rot in my whiskey,” Spike objected, reaching for the bottle. 

Buffy let him take it from her hand without demur. She made a face as she swallowed the whiskey which was strikingly similar to the one she made when she drank the smoothie. The only difference being that the whiskey-face seemed to travel down her whole body in a shiver of liquid fire.

Spike smiled in amusement as he watched her, wiping the mouth of the bottle with the sheet before taking long swig himself.

“Hey, I don’t have cooties,” Buffy objected, seeing him cleaning the bottle before drinking after her.

“Got smoothie-breath, and ya smell like Captain Cardboard,” he informed her, crinkling his nose in disgust before taking a swig of the amber fire.

“Did I ever mention how creepy that whole super-smelling thing is?” Buffy asked him.

“Once or twice,” Spike replied casually. “So, what does the git want now? Got a nest of Godzilla spawn t’ take out? Great white sharks in the pool need t’ be slain?”

Buffy snorted a laugh. “No, we just had a little chat.”

Spike lifted his brows fractionally, unable to get them to rise further through the swelling and bruises still on his face.

Buffy shrugged. “I told him to leave you alone. I might’ve … slugged him in the jaw a little.”

Spike barked out a deep, rumbling laugh. “Again? Bloody priceless! Don’t suppose ya filmed it so I could see, eh?”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “I think I’ve been filmed enough for one lifetime,” she said, smiling.

Spike shook his head in disbelief. “Would drink a gallon of that liquified grass if I could’ve seen that. Bloody hell…” he muttered again, envisioning it in his mind.

“It felt pretty good,” she admitted. “I said it was from you.”

“If you’re trying to turn me on, it’s bloody workin’, pet,” Spike declared reverently.

“Watching paint dry turns you on, Spike,” she accused.

Spike shrugged, a smile still playing on his lips. “Paint’s bloody sexy, innit?”

Buffy laughed then and took his free hand in hers, turning it over slowly, examining it. “The bruises are fading already, and the swelling’s going down. Isn’t that fast, even for you?” she wondered, looking up at him.

Spike shrugged, pulling his hand back, holding it up and turning it back and forth to examine for himself. “Had Slayer blood ‘fore I went in,” he remarked, still looking a bit puzzled. “But, relatively sure I used that up in the fight.”

Even as they both watched, one shallow cut on his wrist began to slowly mend, new tissue growing together from each side to bridge the gap and close the wound.

Spike looked up at the nearly-empty bag of blood that still hung beside his bed. Dawn’s blood. Key blood. Made from Slayer and white magic. The girl had stopped the flow of it and removed the feeding tube from him several hours ago when he’d asked, before he’d had it all. Then he’d fallen asleep and the girls had left him alone, leaving the blood hanging there, unused.

“Be a pet and heat that up for me, would ya?” Spike asked Buffy, tilting his head up toward the remaining blood.

Buffy stood automatically to comply, reaching for the bag. “You hungry?” she wondered, removing the bag from the hook it hung on.

“Well, yeah, but not really a matter o’ hungry … just a theory. Ninety-eight point six, if ya don’t mind. Don’t overheat it. Cooked blood’s disgusting, an’ doesn’t do me any good.”

Buffy quirked a brow at him. “I don’t think the microwave has a ‘blood’ setting.”

“Put a pot o’ water on a hob on low, put the bag in it. There’s a thermometer in the second drawer to the right o’ the sink,” he advised her.

“I didn’t know we had a ‘hob.’ Is that a special blood-heater-upper?” Buffy questioned.

Spike rolled his eyes, which was getting less painful to do, despite the swelling around them. “Bloody colonists,” he muttered. “The round things that heat up when ya turn the electric on?”

Buffy pursed her lips, thinking.

“In the kitchen. Where yer mom cooked stuff? I saw ya using one at Rupert’s when you made the bleedin’ bear and got me shot full of arrows.”

Buffy’s brows furrowed, then cleared. “Oh, you mean the stove.”

Spike rolled his eyes again. “Right then, off ya go.”

“How do you know there’s a thermometer in the second drawer from the sink?” Buffy wondered.

Spike dropped his gaze, remembering. “Spent a bit o’ time here when you were …” The word ‘dead’ sticking in his throat, unable to be voiced.

“Oh. Right,” Buffy acknowledged solemnly, turning to go. “I’ll be right back.”

** X-X-X-X-X **

Spike sipped the Key blood, savoring the flavor of it. There was definitely Slayer in there, and not just any Slayer, but Buffy. He would know her essence anywhere now, he’d never forget it. Bright, fiery, liquid sunshine that burned him deliciously, like no whiskey ever could. But there was more. Something ancient and electric and bloody powerful, sparkling bursts of lightning against his tongue.

Spike finished the blood, setting the empty mug down on the table next to the bed. He held one hand up, watching carefully. Nothing new happened immediately, and he thought perhaps he was wrong, but then, slowly, more of the bruises began to fade and the cuts began mending a little more quickly. One finger that had been broken and bent over into a mangled ‘C’ began to straighten.

“Holy shit,” Buffy gasped, watching along with him. “It’s Dawn’s blood doing it. It’s … it’s the magic … the Key or something in it, isn’t it?”

Spike looked up at her, just as amazed as she was. “Appears we’ve got another secret t’ keep, luv. If Angelus found out—”

“He won’t ever be Angelus again,” Buffy cut him off decisively.

Spike shook his head. “You don’t know that, pet.”

Buffy rolled her eyes to the ceiling, clenching her jaw. Of course she didn’t know that. But she hoped it every single day.

“Well, he doesn’t know. No one knows but us, and it will stay that way,” Buffy assured him, meeting his serious gaze again. “We’re not gonna mention it to anyone, including Dawn. We’ll just say it’s the Slayer blood you had.”

Spike nodded. “Our secret. Till the end of the world.”

Buffy gave him a sad, but grateful smile and nodded.

 

Chapter Text

Still sitting up against the headboard, Spike pulled his bottom lip between his teeth thoughtfully, considering all the possible dangers having special blood posed to Dawn. It wasn’t a complete panacea for him, but it certainly appeared to heal vampires much more quickly than even Slayer blood. But what else might it do? Was there anyone left, other than Buffy’s friends, who knew what Dawn was, how she was made?

He regretted biting his lip immediately, as a once-deep, nearly-closed cut was reopened with the familiar gesture.

“Bloody hell, might be healing, but everything still hurts,” he muttered, putting a hand up to touch the cut, which had begun to bleed again.

Buffy grimaced in sympathy. She got up hastily from her seat next to the bed and pulled a tissue from the box on her dresser.

“It would probably hurt a lot more without all the codeine you’ve had,” Buffy advised him. “I think you took enough to fell a mule.”

“Vampire constitution, more stubborn than mules,” he informed her.

Buffy laughed. “Not telling me anything I didn’t already know.

“Unfortunately, Sam didn’t leave enough for a mule. Do you want me to call her and try to get more?” Buffy offered, turning back to face him.

Spike shrugged. Honestly, he wouldn’t mind more, but he really didn’t want Buffy to leave. “I’ll do with the whiskey,” he assured her, taking another drink from the bottle he still held in his hand, trying not to get the potent potable into the cut.

Returning to the bed, Buffy dabbed the cut softly with the tissue, absorbing the blood.  “I’m sorry, Spike,” she whispered, her eyes growing concerned again, all levity drained away.

“Tis but a scratch,” he assured her.

His joke brought a small, but still sad, smile to her lips.

“I wish … I wish I could do something more, Spike. I just don’t know what,” she admitted, sitting down on the edge of the bed next to him, still dabbing at the spots of blood that welled on his lip. “I can’t ask Dawn for more blood this soon, that would make everyone suspicious. She already gave a pint.”

Spike nodded in agreement. “Could kiss it and make it better,” he suggested, his eyes dancing with sudden mischief.

Buffy let out a small snigger, shaking her head in disbelief.

“Do you ever stop?” she wondered, dropping her hand from his split lip. It was starting to close again, but blood still rose up from the deep laceration.

Spike smiled, hindering the healing process, breaking the split open even more, and shook his head. “Never,” he admitted, touching his tongue to the blood that welled on his lip. “Nothing could stop me wanting you.”

Buffy’s eyes met his and locked for a long, profound moment. She laid her palm gently against his bruised and tattered cheek as she leaned in slowly. Their lips touched so softly that they might’ve been kissing apparitions, ethereal and chaste. She tasted the metallic tang of his blood, but didn’t recoil, instead touching her own tongue to the spot with a gentle pressure. She felt his hand come up and brush her cheek, his touch radiating desire, need, and longing. And she felt all the same emotions flare in her blood, penetrating all the way to her very marrow.

The kiss broke as gently and naturally as it had started, but Buffy didn’t pull back, instead resting her forehead against his, their eyes closed. Her hand slid down from his cheek to his shoulder, but instead of strong, cool flesh, it found only the plastic bandages that covered most of his body, and she felt a pang of remorse for the loss.

“I love you,” Spike murmured, his bruised, but healing, fingers slipping back behind her neck to tangle in her short, soft locks.

“I…” Buffy’s throat tightened, and the next words stuck in her chest next to her heart, as if they’d gotten tangled in the razor-wire surrounding it.

‘…love you, too.’ She could hear them inside, crashing around within the high, protective walls, unable to escape past the razor-wire atop the thick, stone battlements. She fought to try and release them for what seemed forever in her mind, but was only a moment, finally relinquishing her struggle and finishing with a soft, “…know.”

Buffy pulled back then and stood up slowly. She turned away, and Spike silently cursed himself. He couldn’t keep his gob shut, could he? Now she was gonna run again, leave him in her bed – one place he dearly longed to be – but alone. Utterly and completely alone.

To his surprise, she stopped at the door and locked it. She turned back around then, and her eyes met his. Without a word, Buffy pulled her shirt off, tossing it aside. Then her jeans slid down her strong, shapely, tanned legs to form a puddle at her feet, leaving her in just bra and panties. Again.

She bit her lip, feeling a bit self-conscious with him watching her so intently – his blue eyes seemed to bore into her like a laser beam. Usually, their intimate moments were a harried frenzy in the dark of night. Clothes were shed, and sometimes shredded, in feverish rushes, there was no time to watch the other undress, or examine every nook and cranny of the other’s body in the light.

“The bit?” he somehow managed to ask through his growing desire. He looked worriedly toward the door, then back at Buffy. Riley had been right about one thing: having sex with Buffy was not easily concealed or mistaken for anything else, and he wanted nothing more than to have her right now.

“There’s a Scooby meeting at the Magic Box with Riley and Sam to let everyone know the whole deal with the stinky demons. They’ll be gone a while, especially if Sam tells the story of your heroism again,” Buffy assured him giving him a small smile. “I guess we’ll find out if my chat with Riley had any effect. I’m sure Dawn will give me a full report.

“Plus, if Sam does do that, it’s fairly likely that Xander’s and Riley’s heads will explode and there will be a huge mess to clean up,” she only half-joked.

“Hero, is it?” Spike asked, quirking a brow at her. He wished he could see the two wankers’ heads explode. He’d pay real money to witness that.

“Big. Fat. Hero,” Buffy retorted sardonically, repeating the words she’d said to him earlier.

Spike looked down at his body, then back up at her, questioning, she knew, the ‘fat’ part.

Buffy shrugged, still smiling. “Fat headed,” she clarified, and Spike snorted a short laugh in reply.

She stepped toward him and her eyes found his again, losing herself in their blue depths. Within them, she found adoration, now tinged with amusement; it buoyed her and calmed her nerves. ‘Warts and all,’ she remembered Dawn’s words. Still, Buffy was glad she didn’t have any actual warts. She reached back and unhooked her bra, letting it fall away, joining her other clothes on the floor. She then hooked her fingers beneath the lacy straps of her panties and wriggled them down her legs, leaving her standing before him naked, in more ways than one.

If she couldn’t say the words, then maybe she could at least show him how she felt. How much he meant to her. How much his loyalty, dedication, and love meant to her. How much she cared about him.

Spike set the whiskey bottle down and reached out for her; Buffy took the last step closer, so his hand touched her glowing flesh. Goose bumps danced over her body as his fingers caressed her breast gently, circling the dark areola with a feathery touch. Her nipples hardened beneath his fingers, her heart raced, and her core throbbed in need of his hardness pressing deep inside her.

Spike began to try and sit up further, to pull her closer, but Buffy shook her head and silently, gently pressed him back.

“This is my dance,” she whispered, “Let me lead.” 

She gently removed some of the pillows from behind him, so he was no longer propped up. Spike settled back willingly, taking his cues from her, watching her with his intense, blue gaze.

Buffy pulled the comforter off him, and the sheet beneath that, exposing his abused, battered, nearly destroyed body. She had to swallow back tears as she saw it again. It hadn’t gotten any easier, even though it was healing at an accelerated rate. It was much better than when she’d first brought him home, but it still hurt her to know all that he’d suffered and that he was still hurting. But she didn’t want to cry now; she just wanted him to know, wanted him to understand the words she couldn’t say, wanted to take some of the pain away.

Buffy began at the end of the bed with his feet, touching, kissing, caressing any skin that was undamaged or looked healed enough to not be painful. The healing putty-demon-plant-thing was still on his right foot, its roots still pulsing slowly; she didn’t touch that at all, not wanting to interrupt whatever it was doing.

She crawled up the bed slowly on hands and knees, straddling him. She moved deliberately up his body, touching kisses to every square inch of him that was unharmed and unbandaged. She looked up from time to time to see him watching her. Each time her green eyes met his blue ones, a shiver of yearning went through her, and not just for his body, but for all of him – mind, body, and damaged soul.

When Buffy reached Spike’s cock, which stood waving at attention above a small forest of curls, she stopped her ascent of his body and settled in for a long, slow seduction. Her tongue darted out, licking the salty pearl of precum from the slit and drawing it between her lips alluringly, making Spike moan in appreciation.

Buffy dropped her warm, wet lips down slowly over his cock, letting her tongue swirl heat around and around the column of stone, tasting him, teasing him. She felt his flesh react to her, swelling even larger, hardening to honed steel beneath her touch. She slowly took him into her, inch by tantalizing inch, until his glans was poised at the back of her velvety throat. She stayed there, teasing him with her tongue and lips for many long moments before she dropped down in one swift motion, taking all of him.

Her face buried itself in his curls, and she swallowed frantically around the intrusion of his glans deep in her throat. Her eyes watered involuntarily as his cock jumped and jerked in rapture between her lips. Her throat undulated around the sensitive head of his manhood, trying desperately to swallow him completely, to have him all.

“Bloody fuck,” she heard him mutter above her, and she smiled around his thick rod, pulling back slightly and releasing his cock from the tightness of her undulating throat.  

Her tongue took up the cause again, swirling back and forth over the soft skin which covered the rock-hardness of his desire. She tightened her lips around his yearning flesh suddenly, sucking hard enough to raise Spike’s hips up off the mattress, then just as suddenly released the pressure, and he dropped back.

“Jesus, God… Buffy…” he groaned, reaching down to touch her. He couldn’t keep from touching her now. He had to feel her warm flesh beneath his fingers as she took him.

Buffy began pumping her warm, wet mouth up and down his length slowly, her tongue tracing rivers of burning desire over his marble-hard prick with each movement up and down … up and down. One of her hands cupped his heavy balls, her thumb caressing the soft flesh gently. She teased and roused every last bit of desire that lived within those jewels into a passionate frenzy, driving Spike to the edge of reason.

Just when he thought he wouldn’t be able to hold back another moment, she stopped moving. Her warm mouth hovered around his cock, but nothing touched him except for the very tip of her tongue, which darted out and flicked repeatedly, wickedly against his frenulum.

“Bloody fucking shit, son of a fucking …” Spike’s words degenerated into groans and gasps of pleasure so intense it was painful. His body went completely rigid, his uninjured toes curling, and all conscious thought left him.

Buffy felt his balls tighten in her hand, and she took him deep and hard, slamming the head of his cock into her undulating throat, which constricted around him wildly. She sucked down on him fiercely, as if to pull the cool, sweet seed from his balls by force.

But no force was needed. Spike was lost in her touch, lost in the heat of her, in the feel of her, in the lust she roused deep inside him. All pain in his body suddenly vanished, burned to dust in the passion of her touch. He could not have held back another moment if his un-life depended on it. He was hers. And she could have all of him.

His spunk erupted from his constricting balls in a volcanic explosion of unbridled release. His cock filled with bursts of white-hot passion which surged into her urgently, desperately. There was no pain in his broken finger as his hand clamped down on Buffy’s shoulder involuntarily. There was nothing except the cloud of ecstasy that he floated in with the woman he loved.

Buffy could feel his cock surge beneath her lips and pulled back enough so his cum shot into her mouth, not directly down her throat. She had to taste him. She needed his seed to fill her mouth, coat her tongue, touch her lips. She needed to feel that part of him within her, cool and slick, tangy and sweet, with just the barest burn of whiskey beneath it all.

She licked and moaned around his cock, sucking insistently, urging every drop of the nectar from his balls. Not until she felt Spike’s whole body relax, his cock begin to soften, and the constriction in his balls lessen, did she slowly, somewhat reluctantly, release him, licking every drop of his spunk from his flesh as she pulled away.

She looked up his body and into his face then. His eyes were just flickering open, returning from heaven, and filled with a dazed joy which swelled her own heart. When he focused on her, she was just licking some escaping semen from her lips and dabbing it off her chin with a finger. It was the single most erotic thing Spike thought he’d ever seen: his spunk coating the Slayer’s lips, running down her chin, marking her as his. Bloody. Fucking. Hell.

He pulled her up his body then, crushing her lips against his, the pain a long-forgotten memory in the lust-filled moment. She came willingly, her lips parting for him eagerly, their tongues dancing wildly. He tasted himself there, inside her warm, wet mouth, and it made him want her again. Would he ever get enough of her? He thought it highly unlikely.

He moaned against her lips, desperate and yearning. God, he needed more of her. All of her. He had to taste her.

He pushed her back abruptly, the kiss parting with a wet, sucking ‘pop’. Her chest was heaving, her breath short and rapid, and he could smell her desire, her need. He had to have it. Now.

“Give us a taste, pet. Bloody hell, Buffy … I need to taste you,” he begged as he began trying to wriggle down further in the bed to reach that sweet scent that drifted to him from her honey pot.

At first Buffy didn’t realize what he was trying to do, but it only took a moment for it to dawn on her. She lifted up off him and helped him slide down in the bed a bit more, then carefully returned to her position straddling him, but much further up.

“Oh, God … Buffy,” Spike moaned as her sweet, glistening pussy hovered above his mouth. He pulled her hips down just that much closer and buried his tongue between her sweet pussy lips, moaning in rhapsody as her juices flowed into him. There was only one word he could conjure to describe what she tasted like: effulgent.

Buffy’s body jerked, and she moaned with him, her hands gripping the headboard fiercely as his tongue found her clit.  Another flood of nectar gushed from her throbbing channel and bolts of pleasure shot through her as he began to gently make love to her with his clever, gifted tongue and lips.

He circled her clit, teasing, then flicked the tip of his tongue over the hard, little bundle of nerves. Buffy’s legs twitched and shuddered involuntarily with each touch, her hips gently thrusting against him. Spike’s hands gripped her round, sweet ass and he let one finger slip between the fleshy mounds to tease her puckered hole, making her gasp.

He kept teasing her relentlessly, coaxing more and more sweet nectar from her. His tongue tantalizing and sweetly-torturing her clit, using the knowledge gained over a century to make her moan in pleasure and tremble against him. His finger played lightly with the sensitive opening of her ass, only flirting, not demanding or taking. He lifted her to the edge, time and again, but didn’t let her fall, building up the need in her to heights she’d never before imagined existed.   

“Please … please … Spike,” Buffy begged, her body trembling now with the pent-up lust and passion, yearning desperately for release.

He too, was near a breaking point. He wanted to taste her as she came, wanted to feel her slick ecstasy coating his lips and tongue, as his had coated hers. He needed her to explode just as much as she did at this moment, and he readily gave in to her desperate pleas.

He thrust his tongue deep into her throbbing channel, curling it and pressing the tip hard against the front of her vagina, expertly finding that spot that made her wild. His nose pressed hard against her clit, sending shards of brilliant light exploding through her body from the spot, and his finger slipped gently into her tight ass.

Buffy gasped, then screamed and convulsed above him, her body arching into a tight bow, her hips driving against his mouth, taking everything he had to give and demanding more.  Her body seemed to explode into a million shards of bright, hot, ecstasy, flying out into the heavens to dance among the stars. She never wanted this feeling to end, and at the same time thought she would literally explode if it continued one more second.

It was pain. It was pleasure. How could it be both? How could it not?

She wanted to scream at him to stop – that it was too much, she was too high – but, at the same time, she wanted him to give her more, take her higher – higher than heaven, to the very edge of the universe. In the end, no words formed. She just screamed, primal and passionate. Stars danced and burst brightly behind her closed lids as she floated in the place where nothing mattered but them. Her and Spike. There was nothing else.

Her cum exploded from her channel in eruptions of hot, sweet passion, coating Spike’s tongue and lips, filling his mouth with the shimmering brilliance of her. He swallowed eagerly, greedily, sucking against her hot, slick skin. The vampire thrust his tongue into her tight channel over and over, fucking her into oblivion, coaxing more and more sweet essence from her. He could never get enough of her. Never. Not in a hundred years. Not in a million. He thought he could live forever on her intoxicating nectar; he wanted nothing more than to try.

When some coherent thought returned, Buffy reached a hand behind her and found what she was looking for instantly: his cock, a hard column of cold steel, yearning for her yet again. She had to appreciate vampire stamina, even damaged and drugged, Spike’s desire for her seemed unhindered.

With her body still quivering and yearning, still teetering on the highest ledge ready to fall again, she pulled away from Spike’s amazing tongue, and slid back down his body. She was careful to not put weight on his ravaged stomach or accidentally rip off any of the bandages as she moved, but at the same time, she didn’t dawdle. She needed him inside her, deep and hard, and now.

With her hips poised over his, Buffy looked down at him, wanting to see the yearning in his eyes, see the pleasure when she took him inside her. His face glistened with her juices. His lips and chin dripped with her cum, and it was fucking hot. She couldn’t stop herself from leaning down and kissing him then, tasting herself on his lips, his tongue. It made her body quiver, her heart skitter, and her yearning redouble. Beads of white hot-pleasure ricocheted through her veins, fierce and insistent, and growing by the second.

Holy fuck … was she as big a perv as he was?

Well, duh,’ came the answer inside her mind, and she kissed him harder, desperately thrusting her tongue against his in a silent demand for more.

She suddenly pulled back, breathless, her eyes locked on his. “Need you,” she gasped out. “Cum with me … if you … can?” she added lamely at the end, suddenly realizing that his recovery might not be that complete given his injuries, Key blood or not.

Spike’s hooded gaze darkened with blatant need to do just that. He sucked his bottom lip behind his teeth again, tasting the blood there, but nodded earnestly. He could. He always could with her.

His eyes didn’t leave hers as she lowered down. He guided his yearning prick into her throbbing, slick hole, and they both gasped at once as the head of his cock slipped inside her channel. The supple corona of skin surrounding her opening stretched wide around the glans, and then snapped back tight around his hard shaft, holding him within, her willing prisoner.

They both stopped moving there for a moment, lost in that first moment of connection. No matter how many times they joined, this first moment was always magical, and this time they actually took a little time to bask in the exquisite ecstasy of it.  With their gazes locked, their bodies joined, the world fell away, leaving nothing but this moment of perfect bliss between them.

But the need was too great on both of their parts to linger here overlong. There was more magic to be conjured, an even deeper bliss to dive into.

They moved as one, somehow knowing just the right moment to begin. Spike lifted his hips carefully, desperate for her, but not wanting to tear anything vital in the process, and Buffy lowered down. She took him inside slowly, her slick walls opening for him, then molding tightly to his girth. A living, burning sheath made just for his sword, fitting together perfectly.

Their eyes remained locked on each other, drinking in the desire and luxuriating in the passion flowing between them. Hard and soft, warm and cold, Slayer and vampire. Could they be any more different on the outside? Could they be any more alike deep within? They swayed together to the slow beat of a sweet love song, their bodies joining then nearly parting, then joining again as violins serenaded them tenderly.  There were no words between them, none were needed; their eyes, their bodies, their hearts were speaking for them.

And then, as if a silent signal passed between them, the dance changed. The ballad of slow, gentle coupling ended, ushering in screaming guitars and thumping drums. Rock-n-roll would take them where they needed to go, into the dance that seemed always to call to them. Frenetic. Feverish. Frantic. Primal.

“Buffy… harder. Fuck me … bloody hell, harder,” Spike begged with a desperate groan, unable to do more than shallow thrusts up into her without fear of his insides becoming ‘outsides’ again. “Fuck me like ya mean it, Slayer! Do it! Fuck me!”

She couldn’t agree more! She needed more, harder, deeper. “Give it to me, you bastard!” she roared at him, suddenly wild and wanton in her desire to have him, to have all of him, to feel his seed spill inside her, to drive the darkness away from their hearts, to float in the light with him.

He wanted nothing more than to give it to her good, to fuck her until the house collapsed around them, to give her everything she deserved and desired. Spike wanted to fuck her until she split in two, until she shattered beneath him, and still begged him for more. But he could only give so much, she had to take it, and all he could do now was make her.

“Take it, you bitch! Both know what you are, don’t we?! Bloody freak o’ nature, you are! Call me a sex fiend? You’re one to bloody talk! You want me? You want my cock poundin’ into you? Want my spunk fillin’ your hot quim? You want more!? You’re the Slayer! You can just fucking take it!”

Buffy actually growled. It wasn’t the deep resonate growl she’d heard so often from Spike, but it was a growl, beastly and feral, and she felt it to her bones. A need, carnal and primal, to take what he had, to use him, to fuck him until he begged for mercy, bloomed inside the Slayer. She slammed her hips down on his prick furiously, brutally thrusting against him, heedless of his injuries, driving his cock deep and hard into her yearning channel.  She couldn’t think, she could only feel. And what she felt was an urgent, unmitigated, primal hunger that only Spike could quell.

Their bodies moved to the new rhythm, faster, harder, louder. They pounded together to the beat of Buffy’s heart, hammering at a frantic pace, building to a soul-shattering crescendo. They took all that the other had to give, and gave everything back, lifting each other higher and higher, floating on the cascading notes of the sizzling guitar.

“Spike … cumming … now … now, God … cum now! Cum in me!!” Buffy demanded breathlessly, her body teetering on the razor’s edge yet again. The promise of heaven floated out before her like a sea of bright, gleaming rapture – the place where the darkness that had come back with her from the grave cowered and dwindled.

And then Spike did growl, a leonine rumble filling the room like rolling thunder. And, like the Suvolte, the Slayer was one of the one percent who didn’t cower from that sound. She dove into it, riding the thunder over the edge of reason, beyond the reach of the darkness, and into the glimmering light of heaven.

His spunk exploded into her, surging through his cock in an urgent, brutal need to mark her, to make her his, to be part of her. Buffy’s body jerked and bowed, and a scream of orgasmic release joined Spike’s growl, reverberating in the small room. Her hot, wet sheath tightened and spasmed around him with a power that would crush a weaker man as she exploded with him. Holding him deep within her, her body convulsed wildly around him, atop him, burgeoning with the escape from the darkness that he always brought her.

Outside her body, she found Spike waiting for her in a field of glittering stars. They danced in each other’s arms, stepping lightly from star to gleaming star in a heavenly waltz. They both glowed, brilliant and dazzling, the darkness driven out, or at least pressed back. She kissed him as they twirled and spun in each other’s arms, their feet touching down, nimble and sure, on the astral diamonds that dotted the dark heavens.

It wasn’t until they began to drift slowly back to their bodies that Buffy realized that they were stars themselves, now falling stars, heated and glowing brightly as they returned to their place on Earth. She wrapped her arms around Spike as they floated back down, holding onto the twinkling light, bringing it with them to use when the darkness threatened to overwhelm them.

When she came back to herself, she was still clinging to Spike, kissing him deeply, but gently. His arms were around her, his cock still buried deep inside her body. Their combined release slowly trickled from their joined bodies, cooling as it coated his balls and puddled on the sheet beneath.

“Did I hurt you?” Buffy panted against him, trying to sit back and check his wounds. “Oh, God, I’m sorry.”

Spike discouraged her moving by tightening his hold fractionally. “No. Well… nothin’ I mind,” he assured her.

“God, Spike, I’m really sorry. It wasn’t supposed to be like that,” Buffy admitted quietly, relaxing back against his chest, her breath coming a little more easily now.

“Wasn’t it, then?”

Buffy shook her head, sighing, resting her head on his shoulder. “It was supposed to be … gentle and caring. I wanted … I wanted to show you how much I … I … How much you mean to me.”

Spike stroked her back gently with his still slightly battered fingers. “You showed me, pet,” he assured her. “Always show me, you do. Always fill me with light and ...” Spike hesitated, his Adam’s apple bobbing nervously before he added, “… love.”

To his relief, Buffy didn’t seem to take exception to the word. “But why can’t I be gentle and caring?” she wondered solemnly. He could tell it wasn’t a rhetorical question.

Spike snorted softly beneath her, shaking her body slightly. “You are, pet. I’ve seen your kindness and your strength. I’ve seen how much you care, how much you give. I’ve seen the best and the worst of you, Buffy, and I love the woman you are. 

“Never apologize for your passion. Never dull that fire inside. Let it burn, Buffy, let it rage; it won’t scare me or shock me or singe me. It just makes my fire burn brighter, it makes me love you more.”

She again tried to steel her nerve, to release the words that were trapped deep inside her defenses, but they simply couldn’t scale the high castle walls that kept her heart safe. Tears stung her eyes, but she blinked them back resolutely, sighing. She let it go, at least for now, not wanting to ruin this peaceful moment as she relaxed even more heavily against him.

Spike caressed her back with his fingertips, running them up and down either side of her spine as they lay in a peaceful hush for a long while, just being.

After a relative eternity by their standards, Buffy broke the silence, asking quietly, “Did you call me a bitch?”

Spike’s fingers froze in their path up and down her spine and he held his breath beneath her. 

Buffy sat up, looking down and quirking a brow at him in question. “And a freak?”

“Well, in fairness, you did call me a bastard first,” he reminded her.

“And a sex fiend,” she added, folding her bandaged arms over her bare breasts, and giving him a gimlet glare.

“Yeah, well, pet, ya see … I can explain,” he began defensively.

“You know what’s cute?” she asked, cutting him off. “You, when you’re trying to squirm out of trouble.”

Spike’s brows went up marginally, only because it still hurt for them to go up more. “Am I, then?”

“Cute,” Buffy confirmed, tapping a finger very gently on the tip of his nose.

‘Is she drunk again?’ Spike wondered, studying her closely. It reminded him that they needed to have a chat about that later. But no, she wasn’t.

Buffy leaned down to touch a soft kiss to his lips. “You’re also very hot when you get all growly and talk dirty,” she revealed confidentially, sitting back up. “Don’t stop.”

Spike ran his tongue along his top lip tantalizingly. “Not easy bein’ this hot and cute, but, we all have our crosses to bear, pet,” he declared, a small smile curving his lips.

Buffy laughed, her eyes sparkling, and Spike melted at the sight. Of all her looks, of all her moods, he would take this above all else, even the wild, sex-crazed vixen. All was right with the world when Buffy smiled at him.

Spike clicked off the bedside lamp and then opened his arms, inviting her to lay back down atop him. She gladly accepted, pulling the comforter over them, creating a little cocoon of serenity in the darkness.

“I love you, Buffy,” he whispered into her blonde locks, wrapping his bandaged arms around her lightly.

‘I love you too,’ echoed in her mind, but the words didn’t reach her lips. Instead she touched a soft kiss against his neck and snuggled against him tighter. It was all she could give. She hoped it was enough.

Chapter Text

Two days later…

“Breakfast is served,” Buffy announced, entering her dimly-lit bedroom with a mug of perfectly heated blood. “Ninety-eight point six, just like you like it.”

It was the crack of noon, technically the middle of the night for Spike, but he’d been doing little more than eating, resting, and, well, shagging the Slayer when the opportunity arose, for the last couple of days. He didn’t mind his beauty sleep being interrupted at odd hours. He welcomed it, actually.

Buffy was still in her fluffy pink bathrobe, freshly showered, and ready to spend a whole day doing absolutely nothing productive. She’d worked double-shifts the last two days as an underpaid minion at the DoubleMeat Palace and had also patrolled afterwards. She was ready for a break. She didn’t want to think about that horrid place for another twenty-four hours, when her turn at the grindstone came up again. Patrolling wasn’t as horrible as serving secret ingredients to hangry families, but it, too, was many hours away ... if she went at all.

As rumors flew regarding the Terrible Tribble Tumult, as she liked to call it, the demons and vampires of Sunnydale seemed to be keeping a low profile, and new demons seemed to be steering clear of the area. Apparently, no one was exactly sure who had slaughtered all those Suvolte demons, but, whoever it was lived in Sunnydale, and the evil of the world didn’t want to meet them.

In other good news, Riley seemed to have taken Buffy’s threat to heart, because he let Sam do most of the talking at the Scooby meeting the other night. Dawn reported that he sighed dramatically and coughed loudly at key moments as Sam recounted how the vampire had sacrificed himself, letting her get the two humans out of there, and then saving her at the end, but he didn’t otherwise interrupt her. Even when Sam told them that Spike was a hero for keeping those Suvolte spawn from escaping, Finn only rolled his eyes and sighed, never actually saying anything derogatory about the vampire. Dawn, of course, helpfully slapped her hand down on Riley’s back when he coughed, right against his injured shoulder, to help clear the bullshit he was choking on from his windpipe.

Spike pushed up to a seated position in the bed, leaning back against the pillow and headboard. It was getting easier to do, but he still felt things writhe and shift in his belly every time he moved very much. Most of his body was still covered in the wrappings and bandages that Sam had applied. Still, things seemed to be getting better, the large hollows of missing flesh were starting to fill back in beneath the plastic-wrapped artificial skin, and the small cuts, bruises, and abrasions were well on their way to being fully healed.

The cast of living clay on his foot tingled and itched, but Buffy threatened to make him drink nothing but Dawn’s liquified grass health-food smoothies if he touched it, so he refrained. He thought he could feel something squirming within it up near the toes now and then, and it was a little disconcerting. He had visions of an alien exploding out of it and scuttling away, but he dared not lay a finger on it, taking Buffy’s threat to heart.

It was amazing how much faster he healed with human blood than the pig’s blood he normally survived on. Not to mention the Slayer blood he’d had, which was like jet fuel for a vampire. And Dawn’s blood – he’d never before considered what extra kick magically created Key blood would contain, but he was certainly grateful for it.

“Thanks, luv,” he replied, reaching to take the mug from her hand, giving her a grateful smile.

“You do know there will be a quid-pro-quo for all this, right?” Buffy asked, taking a seat in the chair next to the bed.

Spike quirked a brow at her. “Will there, then? Seems like ya been takin’ all the ‘quo’ outta me that ya need of late,” he teased, dropping a hand down to the sheet over his crotch and giving her a smoldering look. “Be happy t’ provide more, though.”

A bright pink flush, which matched her bathrobe, rose over Buffy’s cheeks. “Not that!” she hissed, looking back to make sure she’d closed the door. She’d had. She’d also locked it, which had become a habit lately, too.

“I meant you’re gonna have to bring me breakfast in bed when you’re better.”

“Could give ya some breakfast in bed right now, pet,” he offered, a wickedly hot gleam in his blue eyes, his hips shifting fractionally beneath the covers.

Buffy’s tongue ran over her lips, as if she could taste the breakfast he was offering, and her eyes slipped down to where his hand rested on the bulge in the sheets.

She might’ve drooled a little.

But then she cleared her throat and shook her head. “Dawn’s home … and Willow,” she informed him regretfully.

Spike shrugged, looking at her thoughtfully. “Can I ask ya a question?”

“You just did,” she replied, smiling. Then, after a beat, “Sure.”

“How in bloody hell did Finn survive you, pet?”

The pink flush on Buffy’s cheeks turned pomegranate red, and embarrassed heat rolled off her in waves. “Well … errr … I mean … That’s a little personal, isn’t it?” she stammered.

“Ya don’t think what we’ve been doin’ is personal, luv? Is for me.”

Buffy opened her mouth and then closed it, considering. “I just meant … for Riley. It wouldn’t be … fair to, you know, kiss and tell,” she replied, crinkling her nose. Her voice rose a little at the end, almost turning it into a question.

Spike nodded slowly, also considering. “He didn’t have to survive you,” he concluded thoughtfully. “You never gave him all of Buffy … you smothered the fire.”

Buffy bit her lip and looked away from Spike, studying a very interesting spot on the carpet beside the bed.

“I’m sorry, pet.” And Spike meant it, not for asking the question, but for her. He hated to think of her with the plonker, but he hated to think of her fire being extinguished, or restrained, even more.

Buffy looked up then and shook her head, giving him a small smile and a shrug. “I didn’t … I mean … I did some, but,” she broke off, trying to find the words. “Since I’ve come back, it’s different. I’m different. The fire … it’s like an inferno now rather than a cute little bar-b-que in the hibachi,” she admitted.

“And you’re like … gasoline,” she added, meeting his eyes.

Spike smirked. “Thought I was more like rocket fuel.”

Buffy chuckled and rolled her eyes. “There you go with the modesty again.”

Spike gave her a wicked smile, which was getting easier to do. At least his lip didn’t crack any longer when he did that. He lifted the mug of blood up and breathed in the aroma of it. When the scent hit him, he jerked back as if he’d been shot, nearly sloshing some of it out of the mug and onto the sheets covering him.

“What the bloody hell is this?” he demanded, looking up at the Slayer.

“Slayer blood,” she replied evenly.

“Knew that, didn’t I?” he retorted. “Whose?”

“Faith’s. I had Angel…”

“Angel?” Spike growled angrily.

“Calm down,” Buffy insisted, raising her hands up in placation. “I had Angel get it. Faith doesn’t like me … or trust me. Gotta say, the feeling’s mutual. She’s a body-stealing psycho with major daddy issues.”

Spike quirked an inquiring brow at her, but Buffy ignored it.

“Anyway, he and Faith are …” Buffy shrugged, not really sure what they were. “She shot him with poison here that time, then they tried to kill each other for a while down in L.A, now they’re BFFs or something ... you know, the usual. Anyway, he knows her, and she trusts him enough to give him her blood.”

Spike sniffed it again. “Did he know it was for me? Might’a poisoned it.”

Buffy snorted. “It’s not poisoned. He thought it was for me … I told him Willow was doing some kind of magic thing and needed it.”

“Lyin’ to the ex now, eh? I like it,” he smirked, taking a small, cautious sip.

“Not lying. It is for me … in a round-about way,” she defended with a small pout.

Buffy watched him carefully. “Is it okay?”

“Tastes like … boredom,” he observed. “And prison food.”

Buffy’s brows drew together. “How would you know what prison food tastes like?”

Spike shrugged nonchalantly. “Ate some escaped cons that, unluckily for them, tried t’ break into the house me and Dru were occupyin’ at the time.

“Kinda like doin’ my civic duty, yeah?” he observed, lifting his chin a bit with pride.

Buffy rolled her eyes. “You’re a regular Captain America.”

“Too right,” he agreed, taking a long swallow of the blood. It was nothing like Buffy’s, which was like shimmering, liquid sunshine, but there was power in this – and darkness. He could feel it surge through him and go to work, speeding up his natural healing process. At this rate, he might feel well enough to hobble downstairs and watch Passions on the telly this afternoon.

“Speakin’ of Slayer blood,” he began, finishing the mug and setting it down on the bedside table. “We need to talk, you and me.”

“Were we speaking of Slayer blood?” Buffy wondered, furrowing her brows, trying to concentrate on that part of what he said instead of the ‘we need to talk’ part. Those are four words no one ever wants to hear from their … boyfriend? Lover? What the hell should she call Spike? Neither of those sounded sufficient to cover it.

Spike shrugged, reaching out to grasp Buffy’s wrist and turn it up, revealing the now faint, barely noticeable mark from his bite. He rubbed a thumb over the soft skin gently, then looked up, meeting her eyes.

“Tell me what happened,” he requested in a serious tone.

“You were there,” she hedged, pulling her hand back.

Spike gave her an impatient look, quirking his scarred brow at her.

Buffy sighed and looked down at her wrist, before covering the faint scar with her other hand.

“I don’t really know,” she admitted with a sigh. “I mean … it was like an out-of-body experience. I was out of my body and … into yours.”

Spike raised both brows at that, waiting for her to continue.

“It was like I was the blood, and I could feel myself flow into you. I could feel your demon, even see it – very scary, by the way. Kudos to your FX artist –  but I could feel your heart … your soul too.”

Spike opened his mouth, clearly to protest, but Buffy held a hand up, stopping him.

The vampire clamped his teeth over his lower lip to cut off whatever he was about to say and let her continue.

“I could feel the bloodlust, Spike, the demon, and the darkness. There was evil there, but there was more. There was a light deep inside, and I was drawn to it like a moth to flame. I’m telling you: your soul didn’t leave you – you came back wrong – but it’s damaged, just like mine – only worse,” she confided, her eyes locked on his in an effort to force him to accept the truth of it.

“It looked like a little brown bird, like a sparrow, with a broken wing – or two broken wings, maybe a broken leg too, some cracked ribs, a black eye, and probably croup, and malnutrition – possibly a vitamin D deficiency,” she rambled. 

Spike pursed his lips together to keep from laughing at her. The corners of his eyes crinkled in amusement, but he managed to remain silent.

Buffy waved a hand, dismissing the bird’s many maladies. “I found it huddled in the glow of a tiny flame, trying to stay out of the darkness. I touched it, Spike. I picked it up and held it against me and it just … glowed. It was so fragile and so afraid, but it trusted me, and it seemed to heal a little as I held it.”

Spike’s brows raised in a doubtful expression.

“I touched it. It’s there,” she insisted firmly at his dubious look.

“My soul is a … sparrow? Not a bloody falcon or an eagle … an osprey, maybe?”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Little, brown, timid, kinda cute … yeah, that’s it.”

He frowned at her, looking unconvinced, especially about the sparrow part.

He’d felt that flame glowing inside, it was true, and he’d always felt just a bit ‘off’ for a vampire. He’d had to work doubly-hard to be the badass-iest vampire he could be to keep Dru, Darla, and Angelus from suspecting anything was amiss.

After the debacle with his mother, he’d begun inciting riots and bloody fists-and-fangs brawls. Those had annoyed Angelus to no end, an extra bonus! But then he’d learned about Slayers. After that, Spike had used them as his focus, as the way to be the evilest vampire in Evilville, by hunting them down and killing as many Slayers as he could.  Even if he had ‘come back wrong’, could there really be a soul in there after all he’d done? Even a broken one? It sounded crazy.

“I know this sounds crazy … it is crazy!” Buffy insisted, as if reading his mind. “But you asked me what happened, so I’m telling you. I was inside you, not just my blood, my … my …” she waved a hand helplessly around her head, searching for a word. “… brainy bits,” she finished.

“Brainy bits, is it?” he asked teasingly.

“I have brainy bits – lots of them. They keep my skull from shrinking,” she insisted, pouting.

Spike smiled then and nodded. “You do, pet. I love yer brainy bits.”

“But you still don’t believe me?”

Spike shrugged. “It’s a nice thought, pet, but it sounds like a bad acid trip, t’ me. You sure you aren’t dropping? I’ve had one or two o’ those wild rides, and—”

“It’s not nineteen-seventy and I’m not dropping acid!” she declared vehemently.

“Wait, there was more!” she added hastily in an attempt to make him believe her. “When I put the bird back down, I started moving around, away from the flame.

“I got further from the light and deeper into the darkness. Near the darkest parts I saw these little, like … bright, burning fish swimming around in there too. I’m not sure what that was about. You weren’t a fisherman or ...?”

Spike snorted and shook his head. “Dru.”

“Dru was a fisherman? Fisher-woman … fisher-person?” Buffy asked, her brows furrowing.

Spike laughed. “Dru was…” Spike twirled a finger near his temple, the universal sign for crazy.

“Oh, well … yeah,” Buffy agreed, rolling her eyes.

“There was one other thing I remember,” Buffy continued. “I couldn’t see it really … it was just a word that came to me before I left the light of the flame: effulgent.”

Spike started, looking at her sharply.

“That means something to you, doesn’t it? What is it?”

Spike shook his head dismissively, averting his eyes from hers. “Just twaddle from … before.”

“Before Dru?”

Spike nodded solemnly. “Back when I thought I knew what it was,” he breathed out quietly.

“What what was?”

“What love was. What effulgent was,” Spike admitted.

Buffy frowned. “What is it?”

Spike looked up into her eyes then, holding her gaze as he answered. “You.”

Chapter Text

“What what was?” she asked.

“What love was. What effulgent was,” Spike admitted.

Buffy frowned. “What is it?”

Spike looked up into her eyes then, holding her gaze as he answered. “You.”

** X-X-X-X-X **


 

Buffy melted a little at his words, sighing dreamily, and reached out to take Spike’s hand in hers.

“You must’ve been quite the romantic poet, William,” she surmised. “Must’ve had the ladies swooning left and right, huh?”

Spike snorted. “I’ve learned a bit since then, luv. Learned t’ keep my poems to myself, for one thing. Your imagination o’ my romantic prowess makes me a better poet than I could ever be in truth,” he admitted.

“I doubt that,” Buffy argued, standing up and letting her robe fall open, revealing nothing but bare skin beneath. Her skin was tan but for the bikini-shaped, ivory silhouette around her breasts and hips, seeming to spotlight those areas in Spike’s vision, drawing his gaze like magnets.

She climbed on the bed and swung one leg over Spike’s hips, facing him, settling down gently in his lap, atop the sheet. “I bet you can be poetic now,” she urged, lifting one of his hands to her bare breast.

Spike cupped the warm, soft roundness, letting his thumb gently caress the nipple. Her body responded immediately, the little pebble hardening under his touch. He dropped his mouth down and suckled her, letting his tongue dance around and around the erect, yearning nub.

“God, Spike,” Buffy moaned, her back arching, pressing her breasts against him. “That’s the most beautiful poem I’ve ever …” Her words were cut off by a gasp as his fingers pinched her other nipple, twisting lightly, making her squirm atop him.

“Thought the bit was home,” he murmured against her soft skin, switching his mouth to the other breast.

“You’ll just have to ... ooooooo … keep … mmmmmm … me quiet,” Buffy breathed, her hands reaching behind her to tug the sheet from between their bodies.

Spike’s lips roamed up from her tender breast to her neck, kissing, licking, suckling all the while. Gooseflesh erupted over her skin, sparks of desire radiating from his touch directly to her aching core, consuming her with need.

“How d’ ya propose I do that, luv? Killin’ ya would be the only way,” he informed her.

Buffy pulled back slightly, taking his face between her hands so he would look at her.

“Bite me,” she suggested, tilting her head to one side slightly, a silent invitation. “That was quiet, right?”

“What?” Spike cried, more than a little shocked. “Nearly killed ya the last time,” he reminded her.

“No, you didn’t. You didn’t take too much, that wasn’t why I … why I had a hard time getting back. It was the darkness. I got caught up in it, tangled and a little lost. It tried to hold me there, not let me come back. But I won’t go there this time, I’ll stay in the light. I just want to show you – the light is there,” she insisted.

“No,” Spike refused flatly, taking her hands in his and removing them from his face. He kissed her knuckles gently but kept shaking his head in denial.

“William was a good man,” Buffy announced, changing tactics. “You are a good man.”

“No,” he repeated.

“Yes, you are. I’ve seen it,” she insisted, extracting one of her hands from his and placing a gentle finger beneath his chin, raising his eyes back to hers. “I can prove it.

“Do you trust me?” she asked him gravely.

“You know I do, with my life,” Spike replied, just as solemnly.

“Then do this for me so I can show you. William will not let the demon hurt me.

“Make love to me.  I want to feel you inside me, Spike. I want to be inside you, to show you the light is still there and it’s growing,” Buffy pleaded, her eyes searching his, beseeching him to trust her.

“William’s a bloody ponce,” Spike argued.

“He’s a good man,” Buffy insisted.

Spike’s eyes searched hers for some clue to guide him. He wanted so badly to believe her, but so many years in the dark was too hard to ignore. He had felt that flame, though, when he was with her. And she seemed to know things that she had no way to know. Could she be right? Could it be kindled? Could he be a good man, and not a monster? Could he really be worthy of her?

There was the slightest nod of Spike’s head, so small Buffy wasn’t certain that she’d seen it. Then he leaned forward and kissed her, softly, gently, languorously.

When their lips parted, Spike trailed a line of butterfly-kisses from her lips, along her jaw and up to her ear.  “I trust you,” he whispered against her, his breath a tickle of silk against her flesh.

“I trust you, too,” she murmured as she lifted up and guided his hardness into her aching womanhood.

They both gasped as she pressed down, taking his yearning flesh into her soft, slick depths. She lowered down gently, her supple walls opening for him, then molding to his girth, embracing his hardness rapturously with strength and desire.

Spike continued his rain of kisses and suckles down from her ear to the spot on her neck where the pulse pounded. There, he stopped, letting his lips and tongue make love to her blood, thrumming just below the surface. Her heart galloped beneath his mouth, while her hips moved gently atop him, riding his cock in a slow, erotic motion. 

He waited. Getting lost in the feel of her body against his. Her tits pressing against his chest. Her ass sliding in his lap. Her quim quivering and throbbing around his prick. Her blood boiling beneath his tongue. 

And still he waited. Waited for the surrender. They always surrendered. There was nothing sweeter than the blood of a woman who had surrendered.

His fangs sunk into her flesh with no warning, sharp and swift. The moment he felt her give herself over, the demon struck, soft lips replaced on her tender flesh with razor-sharp fangs.

Buffy gasped and stiffened against him, her body consumed with the deadly pleasure of his invasion.

“Cum for me,” the demon purred against her bloody skin. “Cum while I drain you.”

Buffy was lost in the rapture of him. Penetrated by his fangs and his cock, he took everything she had to give, and she gave it willingly. Her hips jerked madly against his, impaling herself on his sword. She thrust against him, demanding and fervent. Her lifeblood flowed into him until stars exploded all around her, sending sparks of rapture cascading like fireworks over her body.

And then she was there, in that hollow cavern with the little, injured bird. The flame had grown, as she knew it would. It was now a good-sized fire, on its way to becoming a roaring inferno. It burned warm and bright, spreading its light out further and further with each passing moment, driving the darkness back.

She reached a hand out toward the little sparrow and it fluttered gently up to meet her, its broken wing mended.

Buffy laughed, watching it spread its tiny wings as it perched upon her hand. “I told you, William,” she whispered to it, touching a soft kiss to the little brown beak. “You can fly … you’re stronger than the darkness. I know it. Together, we’re stronger than the darkness inside us.”

And with those words she stepped directly into the center of the raging fire.

Sparks flew like dragon’s breath, filling her vision with a billowing spray of sizzling flames. The darkness retreated from around them, clinging to the shadows, watching warily as the light bloomed. Buffy felt the flames licking her body, dancing over her skin like the touch of Spike’s hands, passionate and yearning.  Yearning for the spark of her touch, the fuel of her belief, the flame of her love.

Next to her, the sparrow rose up from the flames, twirling and writhing like a tornado, emerging from the ashes like a Phoenix. Then the rising figure morphed within the effulgent, dancing flames, transforming into the man Buffy had realized must still be inside.

He was Spike, but not. Wavy, light brown hair framed his face, which, at first glance, was a mirror of Spike’s. Then Buffy looked closer. His eyes seemed more tender, more tentative somehow, as they regarded her with awe and wonder. His mouth, too, seemed softer, perhaps less prone to smirking than Spike’s. The corners of it tugged slowly into a breathless smile as he took her in, utterly astonished.

“William,” she breathed, stepping forward and wrapping her arms around him fervently.

Their lips met as the bright, glowing flames blazed around them, encompassing them in the dazzling light they both sought so desperately. They were engulfed by it fully, though fleetingly, as the inferno that she had ignited began to slowly flicker and wane – but not die. It wouldn’t die now; it would only grow. Spike didn’t have to hide it or deny it, didn’t have to snuff it out, didn’t have to be what he wasn’t. He could feed the light with her, stoke the flames, and let it hold the darkness at bay.

The darkness and the light would always be there, yin and yang.  Spike could choose which path to follow, which side to stand on. And for him there was only one path now – the one upon which Buffy tread.

Buffy came back to herself in Spike’s arms, sharing a tender but ardent kiss. She was breathless and glistening, her body filled with little electric shocks of pleasure and release which rippled through her. She still tingled from the touch of the dancing flames and from Spike’s … ahem … double penetration – hard flesh and sharp fangs.

As the kiss broke, she leaned her forehead on his, her eyes closed, panting for air that suddenly seemed in short supply.

“Tell me … you … felt that,” she gasped out, finally pulling back to look into his eyes.

He had. It was written all over his handsome, expressive face, his blue eyes wide with wonder.

A slow smile spread over her lips.

“You stopped … on your own,” she pointed out, catching her breath and touching a finger to her neck. It wasn’t even bleeding. He’d not only stopped but healed it over also.

“I think this deserves a ‘You were right, I was wrong,’ apology,” she proposed. “In writing would be nice so I can hang it on the fridge.”

A breathless, “Bloody hell,” was the best he could do.

“Exactly,” she laughed.

“That was fun! Let’s do it again!” she suggested, suddenly, inexplicably giddy. She began bouncing up and down atop him, making the mattress springs squeak loudly.

“Oh! Bouncy!” she exclaimed, her eyes growing large as saucers with excitement. The Slayer stood up on the mattress then and began jumping enthusiastically, like a kid with a new trampoline on Christmas morning. Her head nearly hit the ceiling with every Slayer-strength jump on the mattress. She pushed back down with her arms, and sprang up with her strong legs, making herself a high-velocity bouncy-ball between the bed and the ceiling.

“Slay—” He was going to tell her to stop, to be careful, but it was too late. He was cut off by the bed collapsing beneath him with a deafening crash.

Buffy fell, bumping her head on the headboard, which was now being held only partially upright by Spike’s back against it.

“Owwww…” she whined, rubbing her head and pouting. “Bad bed!”

“Bloody hell,” Spike repeated, but with a completely different meaning and tone than his earlier declaration. “You’re stoned again.”

“Am not! I’m … I’m … I’m …  hooked on a feeling… high on believing, that you’re in love with meee,” she crooned, badly offkey.

 “Lips are sweet as candy, its taste stays on my mind, boy, you got me thirsty, for another cup of wine,” she continued, standing up and jumping off the downed bed and onto the floor. The Slayer grabbed a hairbrush off the dresser and used it as a microphone, swaying to the unheard music as she sang. Her pink, fluffy bathrobe was still on her shoulders, barely, and it swung around her calves as she moved.

 “Ooga-chaka, ooga-ooga, ooga-chaka, ooga-ooga, ooga-ooga, ooga-ooga, ooga-ooga,” she continued, swirling around to make her bathrobe plume out around her like a cape.

“The bloody needle’s stuck. And had t’ be on that rot Blue Swede added,” Spike groaned, reaching out a hand to poke her in the ribs.

She immediately switched back to,  “I’m hooked on a feeling, high on believing, that you’re in love with meeee.

 “I said, I’m … HOOKED ON A FEELIN’! HIGH ON BELIVIN’! THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH MEEEEEEEEE!” she bellowed, putting her whole body into the performance, doubling over at the waist and pumping one fist as she sang into the hairbrush.

When Buffy took a much-needed breath, the pounding on the door could finally be heard, at least by Spike. Buffy was starting to get back into the ooga-chakas again.

“Hold your piss!” he yelled at the door, sliding away from the headboard, letting it crash down the rest of the way onto the mattress.

“What’s going on? Are you okay? What’s that noise? Is that Buffy? Singing?” Dawn’s voice came from the other side of the door.

“All fine,” Spike replied, trying his best to get to his feet. He hadn’t actually stood up since the Suvolte war and he wasn’t having a good time of it now. He wasn’t entirely sure the clay demonic cast thing could stand his weight or not, or how painful it would be to try.

“Just a little …uh, community theatre. Buffy’s thinking o’ trying out for a rock opera,” he called back, grimacing as he got to a seated position on the side of the now abnormally-low mattress, which was resting on the box springs, which were resting the floor.

“What was all that banging?”

“Just … the drums. You know … gotta ‘ave drums. Rock opera, yeah? Can’t rightly have rock without banging on the ol’ skins,” Spike explained logically.

 “Lips are sweet as candy, its taste stays on my mind, boy, you got me thirsty, for another cup of wine,” Buffy continued singing as if Dawn and Spike weren’t talking at all.

“Are you sure you guys are okay?” Dawn asked again, clearly not believing a word of what Spike was saying. “Can I come in?”

“Errr … not just now, pet. Buffy’s just gettin’ to the finale … can’t be disturbed, yeah? Bad for the circulation, getting cut off right at the finish like that. Could cause some damage.”

 “All the good love when we're all alone, keep it up boy, yeah, you turn me on,” she sang, sauntering in a half-circle around him like a seductress, swinging her hips and letting her fingers trace lightly over his shoulders, still holding the hairbrush-microphone.

With her within reach, Spike grabbed the Slayer around the middle and tossed her down onto the bed on her back next to him. He rolled over atop her with a cursed oath of pain before clamping one hand over her mouth.

“Let’s play a new game, shall we?” he whispered, his face right above hers, his blue eyes boring into hers.

She smiled behind his hand, her green eyes alight with interest.

“Let’s play ‘shut the bloody hell up’, yeah?”

Buffy frowned and stuck her tongue out of her mouth, licking Spike’s palm.

“Disgusting, that is,” he informed her sternly. “And I should know. Got a bloody PhD in disgusting, I do.”

Buffy giggled behind his palm and then licked it again.

“Cheeky little duck!” he growled in a low voice. “If ya do that again, I’ll bloody…” Spike searched his mind for something to threaten her with. Biting was obviously not a punishment or even remotely scary for her any longer. And fighting? Well … they just did that for fun. He needed something that fit her current mindset.

“… spank your bum!” he finished, glaring at her threateningly.

Buffy’s eyes went wide and she nodded giddily, then her tongue licked his palm again, with extra saliva this time.

“Spike? Are you sure you guys are okay?” Dawn asked after not hearing anything for a few moments.

“I think Buffy just needs a rest now, pet,” he called back. “Rock opera is bloody exhausting.”

“Oh … uhhhh … if you’re sure,” Dawn replied doubtfully.

“No worries!” Spike called back. “She’ll be down in a bit, just gotta have a nip o’ rest,” he assured her.

“Okaayyy,” Dawn agreed grudgingly, and he finally heard her turn and walk away from the door.

“Stop doing that!” he growled at Buffy, pulling his hand away and wiping the spittle on her robe.

“You’re cute when you’re mad,” she informed him, bopping him on the nose with her finger.

Spike glared at her. “Not cute! Don’t do that!”

“Are you going to spank me now?” she wondered, an eager gleam in her green eyes. She started wriggling under him, trying to get free.  “Do I get to spank you, too?

“I don’t have to call you ‘daddy’, do I? Cos that’s just weird. Like, Faith would totally be into that, but—”

“No, no, and no!” Spike admonished her sternly.  

“Not now, at any rate,” he added more quietly. He’d file that little tidbit away for another day.

“So, tell me ‘bout this feeling you’re hooked on,” he prompted, hopefully.

 “Hooked on a feeling,” Buffy began singing again and Spike covered her mouth again.

“None o’ that caterwauling, just tell me,” he instructed, pulling his hand away before she could lick it again.

“You have a bird inside you. A lark! It looks like a sparrow, but it told me: lark. That’s a funny name for a bird, isn’t it? We burned up and turned into a great big bonfire and all the fishies swam off!

“Dru’s not a very good fisher-person. I’m a better bird burner,” she informed him proudly. “So that skinny bitch can just kiss my f-f-fine, fat ass!”

Spike quirked a brow at her, slipping off to one side of her since she seemed to be winding down a bit.

“Pay money t’ see that, I would,” he muttered under his breath before asking, “And that fire in there, it makes you feel … what?”

“Hot! Oh, my God! It was soooo hot! Fire’s like that, ya know? Even meta- meta-phor … make-believe fire. Weird, huh?

“And you’re hot! Did you ever model for Abercrombie? Dawn says maybe, ‘cos you totally could. You are so fucking hot.”

“And all that hotness … it makes you feel?” he prodded again.

“Horny. I just want to fuck you. Can we do it again now? You’re really good at it.”

“In a minute, pet. First, tell me what else … maybe … there’s more than my hot, tight little body that you fancy?”

“Your eyes … they’re so blue. And your hair … it’s so yellow. And your duster … it’s black. So fucking cool!”

“So, hot and cool, eh? And that makes you feel …??”

“Lukewarm?” Buffy answered, brows furrowed, unsure.

Spike sighed and flopped over onto his back, eyes closed, utterly exasperated.

Buffy suddenly yawned widely and turned on her side.

“Was that wrong?” she asked, her voice forlorn.

“No, pet, not wrong,” he assured her.

She curled and snuggled against him where he lay across the demolished bed, his lower legs hanging off the edge, feet on the floor. Spike wrapped one arm around her automatically, and she settled her head on his shoulder with a sigh of her own.

“G’night, Spike,” she muttered, suddenly exhausted, her voice slurring. “I love you.”

Spike’s eyes flew open wide and he lifted up slightly to look down at her face, but she’d already fallen asleep. He stared at her for a long time, wondering if he had been imagining it. Had she really said it?

The words echoed in his mind, over and over, the needle stuck.

I love you.

Chapter Text

Buffy stretched languidly, letting out a little moan as she woke a couple of hours later.

“Sleep well, then, pet?” Spike asked, stirred to wakefulness by her movement next to him.

Buffy just moaned something vaguely affirmative in reply. After a few moments, she sat up gingerly muttering, “My head … ow.”

Buffy dropped her head into her hands and waited for the pounding to stop. It didn’t.

“Ow,” she repeated.

“Hangover or concussion?” Spike wondered, also sitting up slowly, trying not to jostle anything too much.

Buffy made a pitiful noise in her throat, still holding her head in her hands.

“Why have one when I can have both?” she lamented, turning her head slowly to look at him.

Her eyes narrowed as her vision focused. “What’s wrong with you?”

Spike shrugged, looking innocent. “Why? Something look wrong with me?”

“You look … different … happy.”

“Not allowed t’ look happy now?”

“Too happy. Did I do something I don’t remember?”

“Ya sang a lovely ballad, demolished the bed, told me I was lukewarm, and I had yellow hair.” He shrugged. “Oh, invited Dru to kiss your fine, fat arse,” he added brightly.

“My ass is not fat,” she protested, pouting. “Who said my ass was fat?”

“You did, luv.”

“Do you think my ass is fat?” she demanded.

“Your ass is bloody perfect, pet,” he assured her. “Just right fer spanking.”

Buffy’s brows furrowed angrily. “You wouldn’t dare,” she threatened as she reached back to touch her backside, making sure it was un-spanked.

“I would, but I didn’t … yet. Said I could, though, if I let ya spank mine.” Spike wagged his brows at her suggestively. “Just say when, pet. I’m yours.”

Hmph,” she muttered, sliding out of the demolished bed.

“Why do I feel like you’re not telling me everything?”

Spike shrugged again, giving her his most innocent, school-boy look.

Buffy flipped on the overhead light, nearly blinding Spike. She surveyed the damage as he put one hand over his eyes to let them adjust.

She sighed. “I guess that’s not fixable, even with the almighty power of duct tape,” she muttered, seeing the demolished legs at the head and foot of the bed that once supported the bed frame.

“I’ll buy ya a new one soon as I can, luv,” he offered, sliding to the edge of the mattress, but not attempting to get up.

Buffy shook her head and rolled her eyes. “Maybe Xander can build something more … Slayer-proof,” she suggested.

“Can I be there when ya ask him?”  Spike wondered brightly. “Can’t wait to see his brains dribble out o’ his ears.”

Buffy snorted a laugh and began rummaging in the dresser for something to put on. Finding her ‘Yummy Sushi’ PJs, she tossed the bottoms at Spike.

“Here … see if these will fit. You can go down to the couch while I clean this up,” she instructed, pulling out underclothes, jeans, and a shirt for herself.

Spike held them up and examined them with a frown.

“Don’t be a baby,” Buffy chastised as she pulled her shirt on. “Your dangly bits won’t shrivel up if you put on my pajamas.”

Spike hmphed, unconvinced. “Be your loss if they do.”

Buffy smothered a smile and came over to help him. She knelt in front of him and held the garment in question down near his feet, opening the waistband wide so he could step into them.

“One foot in here,” she cooed, as if talking to a five-year-old, “And the other in here … see? Isn’t that fun?

“Now, let’s see if we can stand you up,” she continued, pulling the elastic waist up above his knees before standing up to help him rise. “Maybe you better just try it on one foot … I’m not sure about that … thing,” she suggested, tilting her head to indicate the pulsing demonic cast on his foot.

Spike nodded, holding his breath in anticipation … or trepidation.

“This will probably hurt you more than it hurts me,” she told him helpfully, grasping him beneath the arms and lifting straight up.

“Bloody fucking hell,” Spike cursed, stooping over and wrapping his arms around his stomach, which currently had about a dozen knives stuck in it.

“Are you okay?” Buffy asked, wincing, still holding him basically upright … or at least balanced on his good, left foot.

Spike glared up at her without raising up. “What do you think?”

“Sorry,” she muttered, reaching down to pull the PJ bottoms the rest of the way up over his hips.

“Do you want me to carry you?” she asked as she waited for him to get a grip on the pain.

“No, I do not want you to bloody carry me,” Spike growled, taking deep, if unnecessary, breaths.

With each breath, he straightened up a little more. The newly-formed tissue in his abdomen stretching out a bit more with each fractional lift of his torso.

“Can I help?” Buffy wondered, chewing her lip worriedly as she waited.

“No!” came the curt and definite reply from the vampire.

“I wasn’t gonna yank you up straight,” she defended. “I can be slow and gentle.”

Spike gave her another dubious glare.

“Sometimes … maybe,” she added with a pout. “You said I could, remember?”

“Let’s not test the theory just yet, pet,” he breathed, finally reaching his full height.

Buffy gripped his arm to help steady him while he took a few more deep breaths, letting all the muscles in his torso, which had been growing back beneath the plastic-wrap skin, stretch out.

“I guess we should’ve been doing yoga or something,” Buffy observed.

Spike opened his eyes and quirked a brow at her. “Vampires don’t do yoga,” he informed her flatly.

“Well, they probably don’t wear their girlfriend’s yummy sushi pajamas either, but that doesn’t seem to have dusted you yet,” she pointed out.

Spike’s expression changed in an instant, softening into a look of wonder as his eyes met hers. “Girlfriend, is it?”

Buffy rolled her eyes away from his and huffed a breath out, crossing her arms defensively over her chest, but then shrugged. “Well, I’m a girl … and your friend, so …” she hedged.

“Slayerrr,” Spike drawled, challenging her.

Buffy huffed again but looked back to meet his eyes. “I don’t know what we are, Spike. You’re like a hundred years old, so it seems really weird to call you my boyfriend, I’m sure that’s another vampire rule—”

“I don’t mind,” he interjected quickly, cutting her off.

They stood in silence for a long moment, their eyes locked. Spike sucked his bottom lip behind his teeth, waiting, breathless.

Then Buffy nodded, and gave him a small smile. “Okay … then I guess …”

Spike cut her off again with a fervent kiss, certain that this day could not get any better.

**~**

Spike had managed to make it down the stairs without the indignity of being carried, but it was a close thing. He discovered that he could put weight on the clay pot on his right foot without pain or damage. Still, he had to lean heavily on the Slayer as his hamstring on the same leg had not yet healed fully, and he still felt like his guts were gonna burst forth from his abdomen, Alien-style, with each jarring step.

He was more than a little relieved when she helped him ease down onto the couch with all his insides still inside and the clay toes still attached, if squirming inside more than ever before.

Buffy went back upstairs to try and do something with the bed. As far as she could see the only thing to do now was just leave the box springs and mattress directly on the floor and toss the headboard and frame in the trash. While she was at it, she stripped the bed and put the sheets in for a badly-needed wash downstairs in the basement. She was pretty sure if she shone one of those ultraviolet black lights on them, the whole room would light up like a disco.

While she was doing that, Spike turned on the TV and found Passions, his favorite soap, which he’d been missing while recuperating upstairs.

The day did get better! Dawn voluntarily brought him a glass of whiskey, sans protein powder, before she headed out to her friend’s house to study. She didn’t even grill him about the rock opera or demolished bed. She did seem to flush pink a few times when he met her eyes, he noticed. Perhaps his ‘rock opera’ excuse had been less than convincing.

It was starting to get a little scary, honestly, so much was going so well. He wondered if the world was set to end tomorrow, but he hadn’t seen a big ‘apocalypse’ appointment marked on Buffy’s calendar, so he assumed not.

Just as Passions was going off, there was a knock on the door. Buffy was still banging around upstairs and didn’t hear it.

“Who is it?” Spike called, turning the TV off.

“Sam.”

Spike frowned. “Captain Cardboard with ya?” he asked through the door.

“Who? Oh! No, Finn … ummm … couldn’t make it. I just came to check your bandages and see how you’re doing.”

“Bloody shame that. Maybe Buffy could’a beat him up a bit more, knocked a few teeth out, improve his looks,” Spike muttered sarcastically under his breath before calling for her to come on in.

The soldier still looked like a tank had flattened her. Her chocolate-brown eyes were surrounded with mottled, purplish-black bruises with some green and yellow discoloration starting to show around the edges. Her nose was still swollen and taped up from being broken. Her lips had more than one painful-looking, swollen split, and crusty lacerations marred her jawline. There were more scabbed-over slashes and dark bruises on her neck that he could see above her commando outfit, and her hands were scratched, bruised, and swollen.

Spike frowned at her as she entered, limping visibly and bent a bit at the waist, unable to straighten up to her full height.

“You alright, pet?” he asked, concerned, sitting up a bit straighter on the couch as he watched her.

“I was going to ask you the same thing, but you look … amazing,” the soldier replied, stepping between the coffee table and the couch and sitting down on the table to face him. “Buffy said you were awake, but … wow, I didn’t expect this!”

Spike reached out a hand and touched her right cheek lightly, just below her swollen, discolored eyes. “I’m sorry,” he breathed.

Sam shook her head, giving him a wan smile. “It’s not your fault. If not for you, I wouldn’t be here at all, so, thank you. I know it’s not enough, but …”

“It’s everything,” Spike assured her, returning her smile.

“I’m … I’m sorry about Riley, too … things he said, he—” she began, but Spike stopped her with a wave of his hand.

“’S alright, pet. Known him longer than you have, I’d wager. I’m used t’ him over-compensating for his … shortcomings,” Spike assured her with a smirk. “Gotta feel a bit o’ pity for the dick-less prat, I reckon.”

Sam started to roll her eyes, but the pain around her eye sockets stopped the automatic motion. “Well, still … I … I talked to him. I don’t think he’ll bother you again … well, I hope not.”

Spike nodded. “Appreciate that, luv. Won’t hold it against ya if he does. Reckon Buffy’ll have a bit to say in that happy circumstance though,” he predicted, half-hoping the git was stupid enough to try something so he could see Buffy beat Finn up again. Bloody delicious.

“So, how long will ya be staying in Sunnyhell, the vacation hotspot of demon-dom, then?” he asked, changing the subject.

“Probably another couple of weeks, at least,” she replied, thankful that Spike had shrugged off the whole Riley thing so easily.  She was afraid Spike would hold her husband’s actions against her. “We got medical leave until we’re cleared for duty again,” the soldier explained. “Might take Finn a bit longer to get over what the Slayer did than for me to get over the demons.”

“Ironic, that, eh?” Spike observed. “I’ll take battling Suvolte over Slayer any day.”

Sam snorted a laugh through her broken nose. That hurt too. “Thought fighting Slayers was your thing, William the Bloody, Slayer of Slayers.”

“Met my match in Buffy, I reckon,” Spike admitted.  “Like I said—”

“’If you can’t beat them, shag them,’” Sam filled in with a chuckle, remembering his story.

Spike laughed with her. “Turns out, it’s a bit less lethal for both parties.”

Sam laughed again. “Only a bit?”

Spike shrugged. “If it was safe, the dance wouldn’t be any fun, now would it, pet?” he asked, giving her a wicked smile.

Sam laughed lightly and shook her head.  “Is everything a dance to you?”

Spike gave a small shrug, but nodded, his eyes gleaming. “Life, death, love, hate. Every deep feeling is a dangerous dance, can shred ya, shatter ya, but it’s the only way to live. If ya don’t take chances, step onto the floor, face the perils of this world, and feel it all deep in your bones, then you aren’t livin’, you’re just surviving.”

Sam nodded, tucking a strand of her long, brunette hair back behind one ear. “I’ll remember that,” she assured him.

“So … do you actually dance?” the medic wondered, lowering her gaze from his and chewing her split bottom lip adorably.

Spike tilted his head, his gaze softening with her nervous gesture, which looked incongruous on the soldier’s battered face.

“Been known to,” he admitted.

“I just wondered because … the wedding next week. You know? Xander and Anya? Well … I mean, Xander invited us – me and Riley. Xander said something about needing more actual humans on his side of the aisle or something,” she revealed with a nervous laugh. “So, I just thought, since you look so much better … and … and if you were going, maybe I could have a dance?”

“Will Finn have any guns or stakes with ‘im?” Spike wondered, not completely in jest.

Sam laughed, looking back up at the vampire. “I’m pretty sure they’d clash with formal attire,” she assured him.

“In that case, I could probably pencil ya in on my dance card, pet,” Spike agreed, catching and holding her eyes with his for just a moment longer than was comfortable for her.

Sam cleared her throat and looked away. “I’ll look forward to it.”

“The pleasure will be mine, I’m sure,” Spike replied, gallantly.

Sam cleared her throat again and turned her eyes toward the bandages covering Spike’s chest and arms. “I thought I’d check your wounds, see if any of the bandages need removing or changing,” she offered, waving a hand at her medical bag on the table next to her.

“Think the little stuff’s nearly healed,” he told her, touching a hand to some of the lesser wounds. “Stomach’s still a bitch, and m’ leg … and that bloody foot.”

“Can I check?” she asked.

Spike shrugged. “Yer the doc. Have at it, pet.”

Sam began with his foot, lifting it up and examining the pulsing demonic clay closely. “I think it’s working,” she said after a bit. “Have you felt anything moving near your toes?”

“Yeah, felt bloody queer, it did,” Spike told her, wrinkling his nose a bit remembering it.

She nodded, running her hands over the smooth, white cocoon that was incubating new flesh beneath. “When it’s ready, the hard shell will start to crack and it’ll fall off. Don’t freak out, that’s what it’s supposed to do. It’s amazing … it’s working so fast.”

“No little alien’s gonna come skittering out, then, is it?” Spike wondered.

Sam laughed and shook her head. “I’m fairly confident that will not happen.”

Fairly confident?” Spike questioned with an arched brow.

Sam shrugged. “Did I mention that I’ve never actually tried this on a vampire before?”

Spike frowned and looked dubiously at his foot, which Sam had placed gently on the coffee table beside her. The squirming seemed to suddenly intensify and become much more disturbing. “Bloody rich, that is,” he muttered as Sam turned her attention to his other wounds.

Sam began removing the bandages off Spike’s arms and torso that were no longer needed. On the deeper wounds, she pressed against the artificial skin tentatively with her fingers, checking to see if it still hurt and if the tissue beneath had filled in. Most of them had, except for the huge wound in his abdomen, which was still extremely tender and clearly not fully healed.

She removed the layer of plastic from the outside of the artificial skin grafts on the areas that had healed, exposing new, bright pink skin and fully-formed muscle tissue beneath.

“This is amazing,” she murmured, running her hand lightly over a patch of new flesh on his chest. “It’s so smooth … and pink. Why is it pink like that?”

Spike looked down at it and shrugged. “Slayer blood, I reckon. Probably fade back t’ my natural fine porcelain when the diet changes.”

“Is that what you call your complexion? I was thinking … Tuscan marble, you know, like Michelangelo’s David?”

Spike quirked a brow at her. “Gave it some thought, have you?” he teased.

Sam blushed bright red and tucked another strand of hair behind her ear, not meeting his eyes. “Well … no, I mean … it was just … what it reminded me of.”

“My skin? Or my hot, tight little body?” Spike continued teasing, curling his tongue against his teeth.

The medic spluttered and coughed, trying to continue checking his wounds. “Well … errr … both, I guess,” she finally answered.

Spike smirked. “Think it’ll get back to ‘David’ quality anytime soon, then?” he wondered.

“Seems well on the way,” she muttered under her breath, still not meeting his eyes.

Sam prodded gently against the last and largest wound on his torso. It was located on the right side of his lower stomach and had started off the size of a bowling ball. The demons had chewed all the way through to his peritoneal cavity, and literally spilled the vampire’s guts.

“It’s healing, it’s definitely smaller,” she announced, tracing her fingers in from the original edges.

Spike grimaced in pain when she hit a particularly tender spot.

“Oh! Sorry,” she apologized, pulling her hand back.

“I just … wanted to see …” she began, her voice trailing off as her fingers dropped down to the lower edge of the wound, slipping beneath the yummy sushi pajamas, not too far from Spike’s dangly bits.

Buffy cleared her throat loudly as she reached the bottom of the stairs behind Sam. “Can I ask what you’re doing with my boyfriend?”

Sam jumped, yanking her hand out of Spike’s pants, standing up, and whirling around in surprise.

“Nothing! Just … checking him out,” Sam explained.

Buffy’s brows went up, and she crossed her arms over her chest. “Like what you see?”

“Yes, it’s amazing …” Sam began, but then saw Buffy’s gaze harden. “I mean, no! I mean … I was just checking his wounds. I wasn’t checking him out, I was checking … umm … them out,” she spluttered.

“I could see that,” the Slayer snarled. “With your hands down his pants. Trust me, I’ve checked that particular area thoroughly, everything there is in perfect working order … so far.”

“Buffy, wasn’t like that, pet,” Spike interrupted, pleading Sam’s case. 

“You don’t want to talk right now,” she warned him, shooting him a death glare. “I heard you puking charm all over her.”

Puking charm?” Spike retorted indignantly. “Is that even possible?”

“It is. And you were doing it,” Buffy assured him, before turning her attention back to the puke-ee.

Sam took a deep breath and spread her hands out in a conciliatory gesture. “I was just seeing how he was healing. I was able to take off some of the plastic and the bandages. It’s really amazing what you’ve been able to do for him,” the soldier explained in a placatory tone.

“Pretty sure there were no bandages between his legs … but he might need some before this is over,” Buffy pointed out.

“Between his …” Sam looked back at Spike and then to Buffy, the medic’s face returning to the bright red she’d sported earlier. “I wasn’t … no! I was just checking that abdominal wound to see how much it had healed.”

When Buffy didn’t immediately reply, Sam stepped back near Spike and demonstrated, but this time on the outside of the yummy sushi. “Here … see? It’s definitely smaller,” she announced, looking up at the Slayer. “There’s still about a six-inch gap though, right through to the viscera, so we can’t take this bandage off yet.

“Also, what has grown back seems abnormally stiff and inflexible compared to the other tissue, which could be a problem. I can suggest some stretches that I think might help with that,” Sam offered.

Buffy quirked a brow at Spike, looking past Sam. “Like yoga?”

“Yeah, exactly,” Sam agreed.

“Bloody hell,” Spike groaned. “You birds are gonna turn me into a right ponce. Won’t be fit t’ fight a bloody gnat.”

“Have you ever done yoga?” Sam asked, looking down at him. “It’s not for sissies.”

“Does Finn do it?” Spike wondered, narrowing his eyes at the soldier.

“No. Well, he tried it once and said he was gonna die afterwards. He won’t do it anymore,” Sam explained.

“Well, yoga might not be all bad then,” Spike acquiesced, sniffing.

“Great! I can come by whenever you want and show you…”

“That’s okay, I can show him. Just send a note and let me know the poses you think will help most,” Buffy cut in.

“Oh. Right. Sure,” Sam agreed, nervously tucking another strand of hair back. “Ummm, I didn’t get to check his legs yet.”

“I think you’ve checked Spike out enough,” Buffy insisted, walking toward the door.

“Uh, okay,” Sam stammered, leaning over and gathering up her bag. “I’m really glad you’re doing so well,” she said to Spike, catching his eyes with hers. “Really glad,” she added sincerely.

“Thanks for the concern, pet,” Spike replied, holding her gaze for the space of three of her heartbeats, enough to make her uncomfortable again.

Buffy cleared her throat meaningfully as she opened the front door. “Thanks,” she offered flatly as Sam hurried out, but the Slayer closed the door before the medic could reply.

“I’m not sure how it was with you and Dru, but I’m not the sharing type,” Buffy announced, giving Spike a scorching glare.

“You’re cute when you’re jealous,” Spike teased, his blue eyes glittering with mischief.

“I’m not jealous.”

“Bloody hell you aren’t. We weren’t doin’ anything but havin’ a civil conversation and examining my very heroic wounds.”

“You puked all that sinister vampire charm all over her. She’s probably squishing as she walks right now,” Buffy accused.

“Again with the puking?! I was just bein’ nice. And you’re jealous. Admit it.”

“She had her hand down your fucking pants, Spike! You know, that place where you’re supposed to keep your dick to yourself?”

“Was nothing more than a medical professional examining a patient,” he sniffed.  “Her hand wasn’t anywhere near my jewels. My dick can barely keep up with you. What would I do with Xena?” Spike argued.

“Oh, you’ve got a pet name for her now? She’s a Warrior Princess? More like Mata Hari.  Hmph.”

“I actually knew Mata Hari. Met ‘er in Paris, and I can assure you there’s no comparison, luv.”

Buffy glared daggers at him. “I’m sure I don’t want to know how you knew Mata Hari.”

Spike considered for a moment, his lips pursed. “Probably not,” he agreed.

“Buffy,” Spike cajoled softly, lowering his foot off the table and reaching a hand out for her to sit down next to him. “Me callin’ the girl Xena – I’ve got names for everyone. You know that. Doesn’t mean anything.”

She grudgingly stepped around the table to the couch and petulantly plopped down next to him. Reluctantly, she let him pull her against him, holding her close with one arm around her shoulders.

“I love you,” he whispered. “I love only you. I want only you. Need only you. If I’ve got a soul, it’s you, Buffy. You’re my heart, my world, my everything.”

Buffy blinked back tears that suddenly stung her eyes and she nodded. “Sorry. I guess I … overreacted. I just … you were there with the smiling and the head tilting and the charm. And I swear it looked like she was feeling you up.”

“She wasn’t,” Spike assured her, touching a kiss to her temple. “And, if she was, do ya think I’d just sit here and let her?”

“You couldn’t really stop her … with the chip and all,” Buffy reasoned. “She could have her way with you and you wouldn’t be able to stop her.”

“I’d scream like a nancy-boy so you could come rescue my virtue, pet,” he assured her, holding back a grin.

Buffy hmphed again, but leaned back against Spike, relaxing a bit.

“And I wasn’t tryin’ to puke charm on her, I was just being nice,” Spike explained. “She did patch me up pretty good, yeah?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Buffy admitted, grudgingly.

“Didn’t know it’d bother ya, pet. Reckoned she’d seen it all before, yeah? When she made me into a mummy?” he pointed out.

Buffy shrugged noncommittally. “But you weren’t … charming then. You were all chewed up and spit out. Honestly, your dangly bits were the least of our concern.”

“Pfffft!” Spike disagreed. “The way you make use of ‘em, my dangly bits should be your first concern.”

“So, are you saying I’m overtaxing your resources?” she wondered, reaching a hand down to gently cup his danglies through the PJs.

“Never, luv. Always have enough for you,” he assured her. “Now admit it, you were jealous,” Spike prompted, nuzzling against her neck gently.

Buffy huffed out an exasperated breath, but whispered, “Maybe. A little.”

“Cute when you’re jealous, you are,” he asserted again, smiling, his heart warming at the thought of the Slayer being jealous over him.

“Yeah, sure, it’s all green-eyed cuteness until someone gets their balls ripped off,” she warned, possibly teasing, possibly not.

“See above regarding dangly usage. Be your loss as much as mine, pet, just keep that in mind,” Spike replied, still smiling.

Buffy snorted a laugh and turned her face to his. “I guess I’ll just need to make sure they’re drained regularly and thoroughly then, won’t I? Just to make sure you aren’t forced into any compromising situations.”

Spike touched his lips to hers and murmured, “Brilliant plan, luv,” before kissing her deeply.

This day was definitely the best day of his unlife.

Chapter Text

A few days later. The Bison’s Lodge. Anya and Xander’s Wedding.

Together, Buffy and Spike dragged the dead demon that had attacked the bride out of the main hall where Anya and Xander’s wedding was about to be performed at the Bison’s Lodge. It had been decided by Anya that leaving it on the floor and covering the body with flowers wouldn’t really make it blend in any better. Plus, Willow had pointed out it would become a tripping hazard when the reception began.

They stashed it in one of the side rooms of the lodge and pulled the door closed, both of them leaning on it heavily, trying to catch their breath. Or, well … Buffy trying to catch her breath, Spike trying to get the pain in his stomach and leg to subside back to a dull ache.

“Are you okay?” she asked him, as he grimaced against the stabbing knives that still shot through his two worst injuries if he moved wrong. And, fighting a giant, time-traveling demon then dragging the corpse away definitely qualified.

“Brilliant,” Spike replied, grinning despite the pain. “Haven’t ‘ad a good brawl in an age.”

Buffy snorted a short laugh, looking down at her bridesmaids’ dress in some dismay.

“Sorry ‘bout the dress, luv,” he offered, seeing the direction of her gaze. “It’s not too bad though, just a rip on the seam.”

Buffy looked up then, brows raised. “Yeah, that’s the problem. No blood. No guts. I actually could’ve changed into something less radioactive if that stupid demon had had the decency to bleed on me.”

Spike finally stood up straight, the pain subsiding, and stepped in front of her. He still walked a little tentatively on his right foot, only because he still felt things squirming around in there from time to time and it was a little stiff.  The demonic clay cast had cracked and fell off two days ago. His foot looked … normal. No alien emerged. Go team!

 “I think you look lovely. You’re glowing. Dress brings out the green in your eyes, it does,” he observed, running the back of his freshly-bruised knuckles lightly down her cheek.

“Yeah, pretty sure that’s the radiation emanating from it,” she joked, giving him a smile.

“You look quite dapper, though,” Buffy observed, brightening. She lovingly smoothed the lapels of his dark blue dress jacket and straightened his tie, which was the same blue but with small triangles of yellow dotted across it.

“Sharp dressed men turn me on,” she admitted. “And you in blue?” she rolled her eyes heavenward with a dreamy sigh, placing her right hand flat on the French blue dress shirt beneath the jacket. “Irresistible.”

Spike smirked. “Turning ya on, am I? Well, we’ll just have to see what we can do about that, won’t we?”

Buffy bit her bottom lip, smiling, and lifting her eyes back to meet his. “We will. If we survive this wedding,” she agreed.

They stood in silence a moment, lost in each other’s eyes, as they waited for the wedding music to begin, their cue to rejoin the gathering.

“Somethin’s amiss,” Spike observed when nothing happened for a few moments.

Buffy sighed and rolled her eyes. “Of course it is. I’ll go see. Can you look for Dawn and make sure she’s okay after that brawl?”

“No worries, pet,” he agreed, as they both turned and headed different ways out of the corridor.


 

Buffy hurried out of the hallway, searching the large room for her friends: the bride and groom. This wedding was a long time coming. Having been rudely interrupted by the annual apocalypse and her untimely death several months before. She wasn’t going to let anything stop it now. Not demons. Not apocalypses – apocalyp-ti?  Nothing. Her friends were getting married today, goddamn it, come hell or high water or wedding-crashing demons.

She heard their voices before she saw them, and the tone of it sent up bright, red flags for the Slayer. Xander and Anya were standing in the vestibule, near the front entrance, talking solemnly. Buffy stopped just to the side of the alcove and listened a moment.

“Hey. It's okay. It's all over now, he's dead, and it was just smoke and mirrors,” Anya assured her husband-to-be. “He was a demon. He wanted to hurt me by making you hate me. Whatever he showed you, it wasn’t real.”

“I know,” Xander replied desolately.

“So ... we're ready now. Let's get married!” Anya prompted brightly.

Buffy peeked around the corner of the vestibule in time to see Xander pull his lovely bride back as Anya tried to turn toward the main hall, the big man shaking his head miserably. The grim look on her friend’s face sent those red flags waving madly, like a cape before a bull.

The Slayer wasted no time. She turned, lifted her radioactive skirt, and plunged into the wedding hall, immediately finding Spike standing with Dawn and a young male demon with black ram’s horns growing from his forehead.

“SPIKE! I need you! Now!” she called urgently.

Spike looked up sharply and – ignoring the pain in his leg and abdomen, and the fear that his foot might squirm out of his shoe – ran the short distance to her side.

“Hurry!” she ordered, grabbing his hand and hauling him bodily back to the vestibule where her friends still stood talking.

She didn’t wait to hear what was being said as she entered. She could tell by the look on both of their faces that it wasn’t good, so she just plowed ahead, bull in a china shop, Slayer-style.

Skidding to a stop next to the unhappy couple, she ordered, “Both of you stop talking! Not another word!”

Then, turning to her boyfriend – oh, that still sounded strange even inside her own head, “Spike, you know that thing you do? I need you to do it with Xander. Right now!”

Anya and Xander did both stop talking – more from shock than because she told them to – looking up in surprise at the blondes’ uninvited intrusion on their private conversation.

Spike caught himself on Buffy’s shoulder, his skid halted abruptly, sending daggers through his belly and leg. Putting the pain aside with considerable effort, he stood up straight, looking from Buffy to Xander and back again, one brow raised.

“Sorry, luv, don’t really have a taste fer doing my thing with chunky brunettes this year,” he pronounced, pursing his lips and hooking his thumbs over his belt smugly.

A red flush rose in Buffy’s cheeks, clashing harshly with her green dress. “Not that thing!” she hissed. “The talking about love thing! You know, the Dr. Phil thing you do where you butt into everyone’s love life and offer unsolicited advice which is usually painfully accurate and disturbingly perceptive?”

“I don’t need advice on love from an evil, soulless, monst—” Xander’s words were cut off by a sharp slap across the cheek from the Slayer.

Despite her not using anything near her full strength, Xander’s head snapped to the side violently. He cupped his cheek reflexively with one hand, and cursed in pain, bent over at the waist as stars swam before his eyes.

“Nice! Do it again,” Spike urged Buffy, his eyes gleaming.

“Shut up, Spike,” Buffy warned before turning back to Xander who was now standing back up and glaring at her, most of the stars having floated away from his vision.

“This man knows more about living and more about love than everyone in this building put together!” Buffy asserted. “And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll listen to him! You’re about to do something very, very stupid, I can see it in your eyes, Alexander Harris!”

Xander opened his mouth to protest, but Buffy cut him off. “I know because I’ve seen it before too many times – usually looking right back at me from the mirror.

“Now, you need to just shut up and listen to Spike,” she ordered, taking a light grip on Anya’s arm and turning to go.

“What if I need ya t’ slap him again, pet?” Spike asked hopefully as the two women began to walk away.

Buffy turned a sharp gaze on Xander. “He won’t, will he?” she demanded.

The brunette glowered at her and then at Spike, still rubbing his stinging cheek, but finally shook his head, outnumbered and outgunned.

Buffy nodded sharply and led Anya away, assuring the distraught ex-demon that everything would be alright.

“There’s nothing you can say to change my mind,” Xander stated resolutely before Spike could even start. “I’m not marrying Anya today … or … or any day.”

Spike shrugged. “Don’t really care, do I? But Buffy does. She cares about you for some unfathomable reason.”

Xander gave him a sharp look, eyes narrowed into slits. “I could say the same thing about you, apparently, Mr. Plus-One.”

Spike smirked. “Not unfathomable. I can tell ya exactly why: I keep my bleedin’ promises, you stupid git.”

Xander jerked back as if he’d been slapped again, and Spike took a step closer to the larger man.

“When you put that ring on her finger, you promised the demon girl … errr … Anya, that you’d give her your heart, freshly ripped from yer chest, still warm, beating, and bloody. What’s stopping you from making good on that?”

“I didn’t exactly promise anything quite that Hannibal Lecter-y,” Xander argued, his eyes flicking to his mother and father, still arguing by the bar. His father getting more and more drunk and insolent by the moment.

Spike pursed his lips, following Xander’s gaze, then looked back.

“Worried about the future, are you? Think you’re a chip off the old block? And what if you are?”

“Then I don’t want to hurt Anya that way … I don’t want her to be … doomed and trapped with … with a nasty, horrible drunk, like my mother is,” Xander admitted, still watching his parents with disdain.

“Did it ever occur to you that you need Anya to keep you from becoming your father? What if you’re tossing away your one chance to be a better man?”

Xander looked back at Spike then, doubt creasing his brows. “Whaddya mean?”

Spike sighed. “You and me, we’re not that different, mate,” he asserted.

“We’re nothing alike—” Xander began to object, venom in his tone.

“Don’t make me get the Slayer!” the vampire growled sternly, pointing a warning finger in the larger man’s face.

Xander slapped Spike’s hand away but subsided with a glower.

“We need a light in the darkness to guide us,” Spike continued fervently. “We need a life raft to cling to or we’ll sink into the inky blackness, into the bottle, into … into evil.”

“Well, you’d know all about that, being an evil monster and all,” Xander spat.

“You’re bloody right I would,” Spike retorted sharply, glaring at the bigger man. “And that…” Spike lifted his arm out and jabbed a finger toward Mr. Harris without turning his eyes from Xander. “… is an evil monster. At least I know what I am … That monster you call a father doesn’t even know what he is. He can’t see the bloody light cos he doesn’t know he needs to look for it.”

Xander opened his mouth to protest, but stopped as he looked over at his parents again. His mother looked horrified, mortified, teetering on the verge of tears by something his father was saying. Xander’s heart seemed to rise up into his throat, choking off whatever he’d been ready to fire back at Spike. He never wanted that to be him and Anya. He never wanted to do that to her. Never wanted to be … an evil monster, lost in the dark not knowing he should be looking for the light.

“Anya is your light. It’s clear to all yer friends. Why can’t you let yourself see it? Can’t ya feel it in your bones? In your blood? In your heart? In that spot in the pit of yer stomach that yearns for her touch, her smile, her soft sigh against ya in the dark?”

Xander blinked back moisture that had suddenly sprung to his eyes and turned to look in the direction Buffy and Anya had gone. Willow, Tara, Buffy, and Dawn were gathered around the bride-to-be, consoling and calming her. His lover, his best friend, stood like a white beacon in a sea of radioactive green, calling to him, tightening that spot in his gut like a spring coiling to the breaking point.

The big man swallowed hard, turning back to Spike. “What if I’m beyond saving?” he rasped out in a raw whisper.

“If I’m not beyond saving, then you’re not, and the Slayer believes in both of us,” Spike assured him. “Our women are strong. They’re filled with light and goodness and a single-minded stubbornness that would make a mule bow down at their feet.”

Xander let out a small chuckle at that, swiping hastily at his glistening eyes.

“They won’t give up on us,” Spike continued. “We owe it to them to not give up on ourselves.”

Spike took one step closer to the bigger man, getting right in his face, and lowered his voice to a rumbling whisper. “You’ve got the bloody world by the balls. I’d give anything t’ be standing in your shoes, on the verge of marrying the woman that I love. Stop being a coward, grow up, and keep your soddin’ promises. Be a man.”

Spike took one small step back, staring hard into Xander’s shimmering brown eyes, challenging him to grow up in that single, pivotal, life-defining moment. Be a man.

Xander’s head swam with Spike’s words. Could Anya save him? Could he save himself? Could he be a man worthy of her light?  Or was he a monster, doomed to repeat the mistakes of his parents? His eyes shifted between his parents and Anya, thoughts colliding and careening around his worried, frightened heart.

“Jump. She’ll catch you. She’s your light,” Spike implored him after a few silent moments.

Xander looked back at the vampire and took a deep, cleansing breath, letting it out slowly. Finally, he nodded once. He was a man, not a monster.

Spike gave a curt nod back, clasped the brunette’s elbow firmly and guided him out of the entryway and into the main room. When he caught Buffy’s eye across the room, he raised one hand above his head, circling a finger in the air to indicate lift off.

She nodded understanding, and hastily began making sure Anya’s dress, makeup, and hair were perfect, as they should be on this once-in-a-lifetime day.

Spike led the groom up the aisle side-by-side, as if he were giving the git away, and the Wedding March began to play.

“Just look into her eyes. You’ll see everything you need in them,” Spike advised in a low voice, reaching the altar and positioning a slightly dazed, but resolute, Xander in his proper place.

Spike stayed next to him, even though he was not part of the wedding party and not dressed in Chernobyl green. Xander felt an odd sense of assurance from the vamp’s presence. Jump. She’ll catch you.

He jumped.


 

“I had seen what love could do to people, and it was ... hurt and sadness. Alone was better. And then, suddenly there was you, and ... you knew me,” Anya vowed at the altar, gazing deeply into Xander’s dark eyes, their hands clasped in front of the minister.

Buffy’s eyes met Spike’s across the short distance from her bridesmaid’s position, which was on the other side of the happy couple from where the vampire stood next to Xander. Their gazes never wavered as Anya continued, sometimes rambling, sometimes funny, but, in the end, always heartfelt.

“You saw me, and it was this ... thing I couldn’t explain. You make me feel safe and warm. So, I get it now. I finally get love, Xander. I really do.

“I entrust you with my heart. Take care of my heart, won't you please? Take care of it because, it's all that I have. And, if you let me, I'll take care of your heart, too. Forever and ever, amen.”

The gathered friends and family chuckled, but also wiped a tear or two, feeling her words in their hearts.

“Your turn,” she prompted giddily, bouncing a little on her toes, when Xander didn’t immediately begin speaking the second she was done.

Spike and Buffy chortled too, the corners of their eyes crinkling, and their locked gazes gleaming with the emotion flowing between them across the short distance.

Spike wondered if this could be them one day. Would Buffy ever be his bride? His heart swelled at the images the thought conjured, of how beautiful she’d be, of how she would glow with happiness, and he felt like he might melt right there where he stood.

 Xander cleared his throat, his eyes still locked with Anya’s.

“I’m probably not a very good man,” he began, squeezing her hands tighter in his.

Anya shook her head slightly in denial, and Xander gave her a small smile of gratitude.

“I’m not the man I want to be, but you make me believe I can be better. You give me the strength to endeavor to be a good man, a strong man, a brave man. Without you, I’d be lost in the darkness. You’re my light, my sun and moon, and I trust you with my heart. It’s all I’ve got. Please take care of it, and I’ll take care of yours. Forever and ever, amen,” he finished with a smile, echoing her words back to her.

Spike’s eyes blurred for a moment as he looked into Buffy’s. Did she know those were his words, as well? He’s not a good man, he knew, but she made him want to be better. Her light kept him from the darkness, kept him from drowning. Her light was the only thing that could save him.

Buffy gave Spike a knowing smile as the happy couple kissed and the crowd cheered. Then the music was playing again, and Xander and Anya retreated down the aisle as husband and wife.

Spike and Buffy, standing next in line beside the newlyweds, followed them in the bridal parade back down the aisle. He offered her his elbow, and she took it, smiling up at him, glowing really. Her hand curled around his arm and she gave him a gentle squeeze conveying appreciation and pride and affection all at once.

Spike looked up at Xander in his tux and Anya in her gown and felt a dream bloom inside his unbeating, romantic-fool, love’s bitch of a heart. Could that ever be him and Buffy? Would he ever be the man she deserved? He didn’t know, but he owed it to himself, and to her, to try.

Chapter Text

 

banner

 

I Wanna Sex You Up, Color Me Badd

Girl you make me feel real good
We can do it ‘til we both wake up
Girl you know I'm hooked on you
And this is what I'll do

I wanna sex you
All night
You make me feel good
I wanna rub you down
I wanna sex you up

Let me take off all your clothes
Disconnect the phone so nobody knows
Let me light a candle
So we can make it better
Makin' love until we drown

Girl you know it feels real good
We can do it ‘til we both wake up
Girl you know I'm hooked on you
And this is what I'll do

I wanna sex you up
Makin' love until we drown
I wanna sex you up

All I wanna do is
I wanna sex you up
All night
Girl you make me feel good
I wanna rub you down
I wanna sex you up

Make sweet lovin' all night long
I wanna sex you up
Feels so right it can't be wrong
Don't be shy girl rescue me
I wanna sex you up
Open up your heart and I'll set you free

 

Spike stood on the edge of the dance floor with Buffy, holding her back to his front, his arms wrapped loosely around her, as the newlyweds danced their first dance as Mr. and Mrs. Harris.

“’I Want to Sex You Up’ wouldn’t exactly be my top choice for our first dance,” Buffy commented, despite swaying gently with Spike to the slow, sexy groove.

“Why not, pet? After all, you do it any chance ya get.”

Buffy elbowed him in the ribs, but not too hard. He was still healing, after all.

Spike ‘whoofed’ out a breath and bent over a bit at the waist, leaning into her, over-acting just a little.

“I don’t hear you complaining about it,” Buffy countered, turning her face to look up at him over her shoulder.

Spike smirked. “Never will, either,” he assured her.

“Reckon ya can’t accuse the demon girl o’ being subtle,” Spike offered. “’Course, can’t say it’s cliché. Not like the song I recall someone – who definitely wasn’t me— chose for our wedding.”

Buffy laughed. “It was the spell,” she claimed.

“Yeah, keep tellin’ yourself that, pet,” Spike teased.

“I still have your ring,” Buffy admitted, watching Anya and Xander dance alone on the floor. It did her heart good to see them together. She just felt in her heart that they belonged together.

“Not exactly your style, pet. Why’d ya save it?”

Buffy shrugged. “I don’t know … souvenir I guess.”

“Had the taste of Buffy in my mouth for days after that,” Spike revealed.

Buffy laughed. “I bet you tried really hard to get rid of it, too, didn’t you?”

Spike shrugged. “Not too hard,” he confessed. “Souvenir, I reckon.”

Buffy laughed again and turned in his arms to face him. “Thank you for what you did for Xander and Anya. What did you say to him?”

Spike shrugged again. “Just the truth: he’s a wanker and he better marry the bird while he had the chance, or he’d be sleeping with nothing but his fist for company till he went blind.”

Buffy chuckled. “You did not,” she countered, shaking her head.

Spike sniffed. “Well, can’t be givin’ away my secrets, can I? Doctor-patient privilege, and all.”

“Well, thank you,” Buffy whispered, coming up onto her toes to kiss him softly. “You’re my hero.”

“Not the wind beneath your wings?” he teased.

Buffy grinned. “That too.”

** X-X-X-X-X **

Xander ducked into one of the private dressing rooms at the Bison’s Lodge and closed the door behind himself quickly and silently. He leaned his forehead against it, holding his breath as he waited for Halfrek to walk past. He’d been avoiding her most of the night. He’d spent fifteen minutes hearing, in painfully gruesome detail, about how she’d cursed a cheating husband with pestilent boils in a place that made Xander’s balls pull up into his body. Since then, he’d run the opposite direction every time he saw her. He had no desire to hear more – his balls were still in hiding, and he really thought he’d need them later tonight for the honeymoon.

“Hidin’ from the missus already?” a deep voice came from behind the big man, making Xander squeak like a mouse and spin around.

“Spike! You scared the shit out of me! What are you doing in here!?”

Spike smirked from the chair he was sprawled in and held up a bottle of Laphroaig scotch whiskey. “On my break. Ya know, you are getting a bill for my services t’night. Bouncer and therapist.”

Xander rolled his eyes, but relaxed a bit. “That’s a fifty-dollar bottle of whiskey – I think that should cover it,” he asserted, taking a seat next to Spike.

Spike looked at the bottle and shrugged, lifting it to his lips and taking a long swallow. Lowering the bottle, Spike wiped his lips with the back of his hand and looked back at the younger man. “Who ya hidin’ from, then?”

Xander sighed and reached for the bottle, pulling it from Spike’s grip. “That Halfrek woman. You know her?”

Spike let Xander take the bottle and shrugged. “We’re … acquainted.”

“She’s freakin’ scary,” Xander confided, wiping the mouth of the bottle with the hem of his jacket before taking a much shorter swallow of the potent potable than Spike had. “She really likes to tell me about how she’s cursed all these guys – castrated them! Jesus! It makes my balls hurt and my dick shrivel up. Not exactly the thing you want to happen on your wedding day!”

Spike shifted uncomfortably in his seat, adjusted things below his belt, and took the bottle back from Xander. “She’s a bloody bitch,” Spike agreed, mimicking Xander by wiping the mouth of the bottle with the hem of his jacket. “And I should know...” he muttered before taking another long drink.

“Huh?” Xander asked, turning confused eyes on the vampire.

Spike waved it off, handing the bottle back to Xander. “Nothin’.”

Xander took another drink, forgetting to wipe the bottle off, and handed it back to Spike.

The two sat in silence for a while, handing the bottle back and forth until it was nearly empty. While Spike had consumed most of it, Xander had drunk enough to at least let his balls relax a little.

The brunette looked up at Spike as he handed the bottle back and asked, “Do you really believe what you said before? About … being worth saving?”

Spike shrugged, tipping the bottle up and taking a small sip, trying to conserve what remained. “Have to, don’t I? Love her. If I’m not worth savin’ then …” he sighed. “Then I got no chance, do I?”

“I wasn’t actually talking about you, Evil Dead,” Xander scowled, reaching for the bottle. “I meant me.”

“Oh,” Spike sniffed. “Yeah, I reckon. Best be careful with that rot, though,” he advised, tilting his head toward the bottle in Xander’s hand. “Seen it take decent men and turn ‘em into monsters … so have you, I’d wager.”

Xander contemplated that a moment, looking down at the bottle in his hand. After a long silence he nodded and handed it back to Spike without taking another swig of it. “Yeah,” he agreed softly.

Spike downed the last of it and made to rise. Xander looked up at him, his expression serious.

“Ya know, Angel said he loved her, too … You know where that got her,” the big man said.

Spike had started to take a step toward the door, but stopped in mid-step and turned back to face the brunette, scowling. “I’m. Not. Bloody. Angel,” he ground out in a low growl.

“Because you have a chip?” Xander asked. “We all know you can get around that, don’t we?”

“Got nothin’ to do with the bloody chip, ya git!  Has nothing to do with me at all. Has to do with her. Her passion, her strength, her kindness and humanity. Has to do with how she gives, how she always tries, never quits. Has to do with the depth and breadth of her very soul. Has to do with her renegade heart, how she defies the bloody rules at every turn.

“Has to do with how she’s a girl and a woman and a bloody force of nature all rolled into one,” Spike continued passionately.  “How she never does anything by half-measures. How she laughs. How she cries. How she screams. How she would give everything for people she loves – her very life! Has to do with the way she can walk in the darkness and live in the light. 

“How can anyone know her – know her true heart – and not love her? You tellin’ me you don’t love her?” he challenged the younger man.

Xander swallowed hard, staring at the vampire, feeling a bit dazed – or maybe he was just buzzed. No, it wasn’t that … or not only that. He felt like he’d just been outed. Like Spike had somehow reached into his heart and pulled out several Buffy-shaped pieces for examination – pieces that he’d kept hidden for a good long while.

“I …” the brunette stuttered. “I thought you just wanted the crazy-monkey Slayer sex. Buffy wanted a new ‘Slayer-proof’ bed …”

Spike snorted and turned back toward the door. “You’re a bloody moron.”

“No, I’m not – my parents had me tested,” Xander snarked back. “I’m a fully functional dullard.”

Spike rolled his eyes and reached for the doorknob.

“But, Spike,” Xander called, making the vampire stop again before opening the door. “I still don’t understand how any of that makes you different than Angel.”

Spike turned back to face Xander, looking exasperated. “Angel thought he was doin’ her a favor, doing what the Powers wanted so he could be rewarded, forgiven or some rot. Coming here, gonna help her, protect her, be her guardian bloody angel – was never about her. When he found out she didn’t need him, he scarpered off like a mangy dog.

“Ya see now? It was never about her. It was about him! Poor tortured Angel’s got his soul, gotta make amends, protect the little girl, make up for his evil past. Cry me a bloody river,” Spike scoffed.

She’s the Slayer,” the vampire continued in earnest. “She doesn’t need someone t’ stand in front of her! She needs someone t’ stand with her, to follow her unconditionally, to walk into the flames at her side. If ya stand in front of her, you shackle her, ya hold her back, snuff her fire. Ya gotta be willing to burn in her wake, mate. Angel wasn’t.”

“But you are?” Xander asked, his brows drawn together considering this.

Spike arched a brow at the younger man. “Didn’t Xena fill ya in on the demon spawn?”

“You mean Sam? Yeah…” Xander replied a little warily. “But, Finn said—"

“Did she seem like she was off her bird or lying about it?” Spike wondered, cutting Xander off.

“No … I guess not,” Xander conceded.

“And, didn’t ya see me shortly after that little spat with the tribbles?”

“Yeah,” Xander admitted.

“Well then, dullard, what do you think?” Spike posited before turning, opening the door, and striding out.

Xander frowned, staring after Spike for a long while, even after the vamp had turned a corner and disappeared, considering everything. Finally, he stood up too, shaking his head a bit, trying to get all the conflicting thoughts and feelings to stop careening around inside his skull like too many Super Mega Bouncy Balls all zooming in different directions.

Spike made his brain hurt. Or maybe it was the whiskey.

Xander lifted one foot up, closed his eyes, and touched his index fingers to the tip of his nose, testing his sobriety.

Not drunk. It was definitely Spike making his brain hurt.

 

** X-X-X-X-X **

 

Buffy sat down at the table where her name was printed on a little placard, glad to finally get off her feet. Between keeping Xander’s father away from the bar, with limited success, keeping the rest of his family from fighting with Anya’s demon friends, giving Riley Finn the stink-eye every chance she got to make sure he kept his distance from Spike, and fighting a giant, Anya-hating monster, her feet were killing her.  She took a long swallow of champagne, immediately regretting that she hadn’t brought two glasses. Maybe Spike would get her another one … or two – or maybe a whiskey from the bar.

She looked around to find him, but he was where he’d been for the last hour or so: on the dance floor. Apparently, a guy who actually knew how to dance – rather than jump up and down like a loon and call it dancing – was pretty popular with the women, demon and human alike. Maybe when this song ended she could get his attention…

“Do you mind if I sit down?” came a female voice from behind Buffy.

The Slayer turned to find Sam standing behind her, looking quite different than the soldier that Buffy had come to know, like, respect, and be just slightly jealous of.

Mrs. Finn was dressed in a sea-green, chiffon, floor-length, flowing dress with a high neckline, and long sleeves. Although technically not revealing at all, the bodice clung to her figure perfectly, accenting all her curves, and there was something sparkly in the material that glittered when she moved. The skirt cascaded around her legs to the floor like a graceful waterfall, soft and elegant.  Her long, brunette locks hung down in soft curls over her shoulders. She looked more like she was ready for a walk down a red carpet than a demon fight.

The effect was slightly marred by the soldier’s blackened eyes, split lip, and swollen nose – but only slightly.

The woman really was lovely. It made Buffy feel just a little self-conscious in her hideous, radioactive bridesmaid dress. Despite that, Buffy nodded, swallowing the gulp of bubbly she’d just taken.

“You look great. I love that dress! How are you feeling?” the blonde asked, turning in her chair to face Sam more directly.

“Thanks, I’m better. Not as good as Spike, but better.” Sam smiled, tucking a lock of hair back behind her ear as she looked across the dance floor to where Spike was now dancing with Dawn.

“Yeah, well … vampire constitutions. I guess there has to be some advantage to not being able to sunbathe,” Buffy joked.

Sam laughed and looked back at the Slayer. “About the other day…” she started, but Buffy waved her off.

“It was my bad,” Buffy admitted. “I’m sorry for going all Othello on you.”

Sam nodded and waved a hand dismissively. “I understand. He’s pretty special, isn’t he?”

Buffy let her eyes drift to the dance floor where Spike was trying to lead Dawn in a waltz, with a dear price being paid by his toes under her feet. Buffy winced and hoped he was fast enough to at least keep his newly-grown toes out from under Dawn’s clomping feet.

The Slayer nodded, looking back at Sam. “He is.”

“I sent a report on the Suvolte nest to HQ,” Sam told her. “I said that you fought with me and defeated them.”

Buffy lifted a brow. “Why?”

Sam tilted her head in a hint of a shrug. “I wasn’t sure how to tell them a vampire helped me. Plus, if they started asking questions, they might discover who he is … Hostile 17 and all. It just seemed less complicated and dangerous for Spike that way.”

“I’m a little surprised that Riley backed that up,” the Slayer observed.

“Riley’s very ‘by the book’, so it took some convincing, but in the end, he hated giving Spike any credit whatsoever, so he let me … embellish it.”

Buffy laughed acerbically and rolled her eyes. “I’m surprised he didn’t just have you say that you two took them out and left us out of it completely.”

“His injuries didn’t jibe with being attacked by demons. It would’ve raised flags,” Sam explained.

Buffy nodded and shrugged. “Okay … but why are you telling me?”

Sam pulled an envelope and a velvet box out of her purse and placed them on the table near Buffy. “There’s a reward … and a couple of medals.”

Buffy’s brows went up and she reached for the items Sam had offered her.

“Secretary of the Army Award for Valor, and the Exceptional Civilian Service Award,” Sam explained as Buffy opened the velvet box to reveal the medals.

“They’re pretty distinguished. The first is awarded when a civilian voluntarily goes above and beyond the call of duty, and the other is for them demonstrating great courage and voluntary risk of life in performing an act that benefits the populace,” Sam continued as Buffy touched a finger to one of the golden medals in the velvet case.

“Wow…shiny,” she muttered. “I never got a medal. And I actually died benefiting the populace – twice.”

Sam smiled. “Well, it has to be witnessed by someone in the Army during an active hostile engagement,” she explained.

Buffy frowned. “Remind me to invite the army to the next apocalypse. Do you need formal, engraved invitations six weeks in advance, or should we just send up a Bat signal the night before?”

Sam laughed and shrugged at the same time. “I’m just a phone call and a cargo plane ride away. Of course, I’d have to bring Ri, too.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. Probably not worth it, then.

Buffy reached for the envelope next, pulling out a sizeable check. “Holy zeroes, Batman,” she gaped, looking up at Sam. “Is this after tax?”

Sam nodded happily. “Income tax and FICA have been withheld.”

“I need to go to work for the Army,” Buffy concluded dazedly, trying to keep her eyes from popping out of her head. “I could work ten years at the DoubleMeat Palace and not take home this much.”

“Well, we don’t get anything near that much. It’s the voluntary risk of life by a civilian that warrants it,” Sam clarified.

Buffy hmphed, still shocked, and looked back up at Sam. “You will most certainly be invited to the next apocalypse, even if I have to tie Riley up and stuff him in a trunk while we handle it.”

Sam gave her another smile and nodded, then began to rise to go, but Buffy put a hand on her arm to stop her.

“I can’t accept these,” she told the soldier flatly, pushing them back across the table.

“What? Why? Is it because you’re the Slayer? It is, isn’t it? The Chosen One can’t receive remuneration.  I wondered if that would be a problem. You’re like Spiderman, right? Action is your reward. Oh, man, I’ve insulted you now, haven’t I? I should have known you couldn’t take the money—”

“Sam! Stop! That’s not it,” Buffy interrupted her, grabbing the taller woman by the shoulders to get her to focus and stop rambling.

“It’s not? Then why?” Sam asked, perplexed.

“Because it’s not mine. It’s Spike’s. I want you to give these to him. I’ll … I’ll sign the check over to him, so you don’t have to change your report, but I want you and Riley to present him with all this in front of the Scoobies,” Buffy explained.

Sam’s mouth opened and closed a couple of times like a landed fish, before asking, “Are you sure you want Riley there?”

“Beyond sure,” Buffy replied confidently.

“Do you think that’s … wise?”

“Definitely not, but I’m still sure,” Buffy declared.

“Uh … well, okay. When?”

Buffy frowned at that. Anya and Xander would be gone on their honeymoon, but it would only be a long weekend – Anya refused to close the shop longer than that, citing all the lost profits she would suffer.

“Can you do it next week? Will you still be in town?” Buffy wondered.

Sam nodded. “Sure, Ri hasn’t been cleared yet. He’s still doing rehab on his knee.”

Buffy nodded. “Okay, I’ll set up a meeting at the Magic Box and let you know when to be there.”

Sam agreed with a nod of her own.

“Hurry, put that away! Spike’s coming. I want him to be surprised at the meeting,” Buffy told her, covertly shoving the envelope and box into the soldier’s hands.

Sam just got them put back into her bag when Spike stepped up between them.

“And, what would two beautiful birds be chattin’ about then? Maybe singing the praises of their favorite heroic vampire?” Spike wondered, setting a glass of champagne down for each of them.

“It’s okay, don’t stop on my account,” he invited, looking expectantly from one to the other.

Buffy smiled up at him innocently. “No, actually, we weren’t talking about our favorite vampire, we were talking about you,” Buffy countered, making Spike frown and deflate a bit.

“Sam was just telling me that you promised her a dance,” Buffy improvised. “You haven’t forgotten, have you?”

Spike perked up a bit at that. “Indeed, I have not,” he assured the Slayer, sounding a bit more Giles-y than Spike-y. He extended his hand gallantly toward Sam. “May I have the pleasure?”

“Uhhh … y-yes, that’d be l-lovely,” the soldier stuttered, looking around the nearby tables worriedly.

Buffy laid a hand on Sam’s arm and leaned in close to whisper, “I’ll find Riley and keep him from making a fool of himself. Go dance.”

Sam gave the Slayer a relieved and grateful look before standing up and following Spike back to the dance floor.

Buffy quickly downed both glasses of champagne that Spike brought before standing up and looking around for the big lummox. Keeping Riley from making a fool of himself was gonna take all the liquid courage she could get.

** X-X-X-X-X **

 Al Green- Let's Stay Together

Let me say that since, baby, since we've been together
Loving you forever
Is what I need
Let me, be the one you come running to
I'll never be untrue

Oh, baby
Let's, let's stay together (gether)
Lovin' you whether, whether
Times are good or bad, happy or sad
Oh, oh, oh, oh, yeah
Whether times are good or bad, happy or sad

 

“We need to talk,” Buffy announced when she found Riley leaning on the bar sipping an amber liquid that looked like whiskey.

When he turned and breathed noxious fumes in her direction, the assumption of whiskey was confirmed. “I’ve been right here all night, minding my own business. I haven’t so much as spoken to any of these … unusual wedding guests. Therefore, I don’t think we have anything to talk about,” he told her flatly, turning back to the bar.

“If by ‘minding your own business’ you mean getting drunk on cheap whiskey, then I’d say you’re right. As far as not having anything to talk about, as usual, you’re wrong. Come with me. I can’t have a conversation with you with ‘Let’s Stay Together’ as the background music.”

When Riley made no move to come with her, Buffy stepped up to the bar next to him and said, “Wasn’t really a request, Finn.”

Riley snorted more alcoholic fumes at her. “What are you gonna do, break my other knee?”

“I’d rather not, but, hey – whatever turns you on. I’m not judge-y. Did you want it fast and painful, or slow and extra painful?” she offered generously, giving him a sweet smile.

Riley rolled his eyes and picked up his drink, turning and waving an inviting hand at her. “After you, bitch.”

“Oh, that hurts,” Buffy mocked, holding a hand to her heart. “I see you’ve really grown and matured in the Army. Being all you can be, I guess.

“Let’s go,” she commanded, taking hold of his elbow and guiding him out of the main hall toward the empty side-rooms. Riley still had a noticeable limp, but he managed to keep up with her without being physically dragged. Too bad.

Buffy avoided the room with the dead demon in it, and instead chose the one that had been Anya’s dressing room, escorting the soldier inside and closing the door behind them.

“What?” he demanded, turning to face her as soon as they were inside.

“I need you to do something for me… for Spike,” Buffy informed him, getting right to the point.

Riley laughed caustically and took another drink of whiskey.  “Yeah? About the only thing I’m inclined to do for Spike is shoot him again … with wooden bullets.”

“He saved Sam,” Buffy reminded him. “You owe him.”

“I owe him a beat down,” he groused.

“Riley, you need to face it: Spike is not the evil creature that you – or I – thought he was. He risked his life to stop those demons. He risked his life to save Sam. You remember her, right? Your wife?! The wife you’re gonna lose if you don’t get your head out of your ass!”

“What are you talking about!? Sam loves me,” he argued, taking another drink from his glass.

“Yeah, well, maybe she does, but she’s seen something here that you refuse to see, and it will drive a wedge between you if you don’t open your fucking eyes,” Buffy informed him gravely.

“Okay, I’ll bite. Just what has she seen that I haven’t?”

“Grey – the world is made up of shades of grey, Finn. It is not all good or evil. It is not all black and white. I thought you’d started seeing that before … before you left. But you’re right back to whistling that same old Initiative tune. You know the one where your evil boss tries to kill me because I’m the threat?”

“Maybe she was right,” Riley muttered dourly.

Buffy nodded grimly. “Maybe she was. And maybe the world being overrun by demons from another dimension would be fun. Who really knows, after all? They might’ve been Tickle-Me-Elmo demons who just go around poking you in the ribs for a laugh. Or Happy-Puppy demons who lick you and wag their tails enthusiastically.”

Riley rolled his eyes and plopped down into one of the chairs. He downed the rest of his whiskey and set the glass down before dropping his head into his hands.

Buff pulled up a chair across from him and sat down, too. “Riley,” she began gently. “Why are you so … angry?”

He shook his head, which was still resting in his palms, his elbows propped on his knees, but didn’t answer immediately. Finally, he took a deep breath and looked up at her earnestly. “You’re fucking Spike.”

Buffy gave him a wan smile. “You noticed, huh?”

“Buffy … you’re better than—”

The Slayer cut him off with a hand on his arm. “No, I’m really not. You just thought the Slayer should be. I’ve actually had the unusual pleasure of meeting two other Slayers, and I can tell you we’re just people. Some good, some bad, some horrible at algebra, some idealistic, some psychotic. We aren’t better than anyone else, we’re just Chosen, apparently out of the blue with a cosmic dartboard, to stand between everyone else and evil.”

Riley sighed and leaned back, looking up at the ceiling. “But Spike is the evil,” he argued, still looking up.

“And I’m standing between him and everyone else,” Buffy replied brightly. “Especially other women who he seems to puke charm all over without even knowing it.”

“Puke charm?” Riley asked, looking back at her in confusion. “Is that even possible?”

Buffy laughed. “That’s what Spike said.”

Riley groaned. “Please don’t tell me things like that.”

“Another fun fact: Spike has a soul.”

“What?” Riley asked incredulously.

“I’ve seen it. It’s a little bird with a broken wing, well, actually, the wing healed. But I burned it up and it rose up out of the flames and turned into William, who is just so sweet, you just want to cuddle him, and we made the fishies swim off, and Dru can kiss my not-at-all-fat ass,” Buffy rambled, cheerily.

“What?” Riley repeated, baffled. Maybe it was the whiskey, but he thought she said something about a little bird and fishies.

Buffy waved a hand, dismissing it. “The point is, there’s a soul inside him, and, little by little it’s been coming out of the darkness – for years now. It has to go slow or it’ll go flying over the cuckoo’s nest and right down the rabbit hole, but it’s there and he listens to it.

“He’s not a monster, he’s a man.”

Riley rolled his eyes away from her and shook his head, refuting her. “He’s got you fooled or thralled or … something. Buffy, it’s Spike.”

“Okay, fine,  you don’t believe me. What about Sam? What did Sam tell you about him? Did he go all ‘grr-argh’ on her, or leave her to fend off the Suvolte alone? Or did he sacrifice himself to save her – your wife. He fucking hates you with a burning passion, Finn. Why would an evil vampire with no soul give a shit about saving your wife? If anything, he should’ve let her go in there alone and just walked away.

“But. He. Didn’t,” Buffy finished decisively.

Riley jumped up from his seat and began pacing back and forth in agitation, shaking his head negatively.

“Riley,” Buffy tried again, still seated. “There’s something coming. I’ve been feeling like … little tremors of it, flashes of dreams warning me. It’s something big. Bigger than Suvolte, bigger than the God of Bad Home Perms, bigger than all the anger you’ve got inside you.”

“And?” Riley shot back, stopping to glare at her.

“And, I need Spike to help me fight it.”

Buffy held up a hand, stopping the soldier’s objection. “It’s just something I know, I feel in my Spidey-senses, not something I can explain. I’m going to need Spike to win next time.”

“Fine – whatever,” he shot back. “Say I believe any of this, what does that have to do with me?”

“I want you to get Hostile 17 marked as dusted, or purged, or nullified or whatever you call it in soldier-speak. I want him off the FBI’s ‘Most Wanted Vampires’ list,” Buffy revealed.

Riley stopped pacing. Standing with his hands on his hips, he slowly shook his head, looking over Buffy’s head, his eyes fixed on the spot where the wall met the ceiling in the small room.

“Fine,” he agreed curtly. “Anything else?” he asked sarcastically, certainly not expecting an answer.

“I want the chip removed.”

Riley’s horrified gaze dropped to meet her eyes. “Are you out of your mind? Maybe it’s you who’s drunk!”

“No … well … maybe a little, but I’m not wrong about this,” Buffy asserted.

“You’re just gonna unleash William the Bloody on your friends and family, on the world?! I wonder what they’d have to say about it!”

Buffy shrugged. “If they didn’t want me doing the right thing, then they should’ve left me rotting six feet under.

“Actually, it was over eight feet – as if I really needed the extra challenge of digging out of two more feet of packed earth? Was that a test or something? Like, if you can’t get out of here, then you aren’t worthy of being resurrected. They couldn’t have just put me in a crypt above ground? It would’ve been so much easier and less muddy,” the Slayer digressed slightly.

Riley shook his head, bewildered. “They resurrected you, but made you dig yourself out?”

Buffy waved a dismissive hand. “It was a thing; demons, and motorcycles, and zombie Buffy, oh my!”

Then, turning serious again, she asserted, “I’m the Slayer, it’s my call. It’s the right thing to do. And you owe Spike – big time.”

Chapter Text

 Wonderful Tonight - Eric Clapton

 It's late in the evening; she's wondering what clothes to wear
She puts on her make-up and brushes her long blonde hair
And then she asks me, “Do I look all right?”
And I say, "Yes, you look wonderful tonight.”

We go to a party and everyone turns to see
This beautiful lady that's walking around with me
And then she asks me, “Do you feel all right?”
And I say, "Yes, I feel wonderful tonight."

 

“It’s really amazing how well you’re doing,” Sam commented as Spike led her to the dance floor, just as Eric Clapton began to sing from the DJ’s speakers. “If I didn’t know your leg and foot were hurt, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell. How’s your stomach?”

“Comin’ along,” Spike assured her, turning gracefully to take her into his arms. “Still hurts when I throw a punch, or get punched, or twist, bend, run, cough, sit down, stand up…”

Sam laughed lightly. “You seem to be handling it pretty well. You guys put that demon down without much trouble. Ri and I couldn’t even get across the floor to help before you’d finished it.”

“The Slayer did most o’ the heavy lifting. I just kept it distracted. Appreciate the thought, though, Xena. Maybe next time, yeah?”

Sam smiled and nodded, tucking a strand of soft curls behind her ear before replacing her hand on Spike’s shoulder.

Spike was especially careful to keep his hands in G-rated, dance-appropriate places: his right hand on her left hip, and his left hand holding her right hand up at a slight angle away from their bodies. He also made sure there was space between their bodies. He didn’t need the Slayer thinking he was puking charm, or anything else, on the soldier again. Regardless of how flattering he found Buffy’s jealousy, he valued his balls more.

“You look lovely t’day. The chiffon suits ya,” Spike remarked sincerely. “Too bad they don’t make commando gear out of it. You’d have all the demons bowing at yer feet, offering their lives to the Goddess of Grace and Beauty.”

Sam blushed brightly and chuckled, lowering her lashes shyly. “Maybe it’s worth a try,” she joked. “You clean up pretty nicely too, I have to say.”

“Much better without demon guts as garters, I’ll admit.”

“I still can’t say how grateful I am,” Sam continued, looking back up, but Spike shook his head, stopping her.

“No need, pet. Maybe one day I’ll need my bacon pulled outta the fire, and you can repay the service,” he suggested.

“I’ll leave you guys some cards with my number – just say the word, we’ll be here,” she assured him, swaying gently with him to the slow rhythm.

Spike cocked a brow, and Sam shrugged. “I’d have to bring Riley. We’re sort of a package deal,” she admitted.

“He’d be more likely to toss my bacon into the fire. Did he ever tell ya about the time he staked me?”

“What? But …” Sam looked confused, her brows drawn together in a tight frown as she looked at Spike.

“Was a plastic stake but looked like wood. Scared the bloody bejesus outta me, gotta say.” Then, more sharply he added, “Don’t you dare breathe a word o’ that to anyone!”

Sam chuckled and shook her head, still following the slow dance that Spike led them in. “Our secret.

“So, a fake staking, an organ getting dropped on you,” she began. “It sounds like you and Wile E. Coyote have some things in common. Did anyone ever drop an anvil on you after you’d run off the edge of a cliff? Or blow you up with dynamite? Or paint a black tunnel on a rock to have you smash into it?”

Spike laughed. “Not yet, but don’t give ‘em any ideas, yeah? Although, the Slayer did blow up an associate of mine with a rocket launcher, and we used a Winnebago t’ take out some medieval knights that were chasin’ us on horseback,” he admitted.

Sam laughed again, shaking her head. “She’s not your typical Slayer, is she?”

Spike’s eyes grew soft, his expression filled with awe. “No, she’s not your typical anything.”

Looking back at Sam, he smiled softly. “There is one difference between me and Wile,” he informed her.

“Yeah? What’s that?” she wondered as they danced.

“My bird stopped running away.”

** X-X-X-X-X **

As Buffy and Riley reentered the main reception hall, the soldier stopped abruptly, catching sight of his wife dancing with Spike. Buffy followed the large man’s gaze and reached out to grip his upper arm.

“Don’t be an idiot,” she advised him sternly.

Riley didn’t reply, but just kept watching and seething as Spike and Sam swayed to the slow beat of the music, talking and laughing.

Buffy tightened her grip on his arm, feeling the soldier’s body tense, like a tiger ready to spring.

“Rileyyy,” she warned. “Don’t.”

“He’s dancing with my wife,” Finn growled, sounding very much like a tiger, as well.

“Yes. They’re dancing. Oh, and talking. My goodness! Look, he made her laugh. Outrageous! What a scandal!” Buffy mocked.

“Get a grip,” she demanded firmly, squeezing his arm until he was forced to gasp in pain and look down at her.

“It’s just a dance,” Buffy pointed out. “My limited knowledge of this pagan ritual is, if you’d like to dance with your wife before the song ends, you walk up behind the man and tap him gently on the shoulder – key word being gently! – and politely ask if you can cut in.

“Here, I’ll tag along and help you with it, just in case that gets too confusing,” Buffy offered, taking a step forward, her fingers digging painfully into the large man’s biceps.

Riley walked along beside her somewhat reluctantly, but with little choice if he didn’t want his shoulder pulled out of place again.

As the pair approached behind Spike, Buffy saw Sam look up and stiffen slightly, which made Spike tense. Buffy cleared her throat, just to make sure Spike knew she was there, then signaled with her head for Riley to go ahead and do as she’d instructed.

Riley scowled at her but reached his free hand out and tapped Spike on the shoulder – gently … well, it wasn’t a punch, at least.

“May I cut in and dance with my wife?” he asked in as polite a tone as he could muster, which wasn’t really very polite at all, to be honest.

Spike released Sam, and stepped deftly back and to the side, so Sam stood facing Riley.

“Someone’s been readin’ Emily Post,” Spike mocked, meeting Riley’s icy glare with one of his own. “Did Sam have to help you with the big words?”

Buffy kicked the vampire lightly on the shin, and Spike scowled, but relinquished. “Since ya asked so nicely, and as long as the lady doesn’t object,” Spike agreed grudgingly, looking to Sam for permission.

Sam tilted her head in agreement, a small smile on her lips, her long hair falling in cascading waves of loose curls over her shoulders.

“Thank you for the dance and the conversation, Wile,” she said to Spike before stepping toward her husband.

“Pleasure was all mine, Samantha,” Spike replied, bowing slightly and taking a step back from the pair.

He took another step away from them, then turned towards Buffy before remarking, “And they say ya can’t teach dimwitted twits proper manners.”

Buffy laughed as she settled her hand in the crook of his elbow.

“You must really like her,” she remarked, giving Spike a questioning look. “’Samantha?’”

Spike shrugged. “She’ll do. Too bad she’s attached to that wanker Finn. Could trade her out for Xander in the Scooby gang. Now, there’s an idea!” he said excitedly, his eyes widening hopefully as he looked at Buffy. “Send Xander off with Finn and keep the chiffon commando!”

Buffy laughed again. “I’m not sure how Anya would feel about that.”

“Probably be forever in our debt,” Spike suggested, but Buffy just shook her head, still smiling.

Spike huffed dejectedly as they started back toward their table, Buffy’s stomach rumbling unhappily.

“I’m starving. I never did get to eat anything,” she complained. “I even missed the cake!”

“Got some cute little pigs in blankets that look edible. Shall I get ya some?” Spike offered.

Buffy nodded thankfully. “Dough-encased piggies sound perfect – just make sure you get it from the human side of the buffet. I think the demon version might be actual baby piggies under those blankets.

“And some more champagne … or maybe some whiskey. I could really use a drink.”

Spike looked back at Sam and Riley on the dance floor. “Don’t blame ya. How did you manage to keep the git from blowing a gasket, then?” 

Buffy smiled. “With my ingenious wile, clever cunning, and artful charm … and the threat of breaking his other knee.”

Spike laughed. “Brilliant, you are, luv.”

“And hungry,” she reminded him. “Feed meeeee,, Seymour!”

“Your wish is my command, Twoey. Sit. Stay. Be back directly,” he assured her, pulling her chair out for her at their table before he continued on toward the buffet table.

“You may regret that later,” Buffy called after him. When he turned a confused look back on her over his shoulder, she clarified, “The ‘my wish is your command’ part.”

Spike smirked and wagged his brows at her suggestively. “Never happen, luv. No regrets,” he assured her, turning and striding purposely toward the food table, only limping slightly.

** X-X-X-X-X **

“Oh, that was so good,” Buffy sighed, washing the last of the little, dough-blanketed, metaphorical piggies down with a sip of whiskey.

Spike watched her with a warm glow in his heart. She looked so happy, now resplendent with a little whiskey and food. There was nothing he loved more than seeing her happy, smiling, and content.  Not that her other moods and looks didn’t light some fires, but when Buffy was happy, he felt her joy deep in his bones.

The DJ announced the last dance for the evening. The newlyweds would be leaving soon, heading off to their short honeymoon in Big Sur. Buffy sighed in relief. It was almost over, and they had survived. They just needed to make it a little while longer.

Spike stood up and extended a hand toward Buffy. “May I have this dance, m’lady?” he asked graciously.

Buffy laughed, taking his hand and standing up. “Why certainly, my dear sir,” she replied in as hoity-toity an accent as she could manage.

As they made it onto the dance floor, the final dance began to play. Buffy looked at Spike with a mix of disbelief, embarrassment, and amusement.

“You didn’t,” she breathed as he pulled her into his strong arms, holding her close. He touched a soft kiss to her lips as they began to sway to the slow song.

“I did,” he admitted, his breath cool against her lips, his body strong and solid against hers.

 

 Wind Beneath My Wings, Bette Midler

 Ohhhh, oh, oh, oh, ohhh.
It must have been cold there in my shadow,
To never have sunlight on your face.
You were content to let me shine, that's your way.
You always walked a step behind.

So I was the one with all the glory,
While you were the one with all the strength.
A beautiful face without a name for so long.
A beautiful smile to hide the pain.

Did you ever know that you're my hero,
And everything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
For you are the wind beneath my wings.

It might have appeared to go unnoticed,
But I've got it all here in my heart.
I want you to know I know the truth, of course I know it.
I would be nothing without you.

Buffy laughed against his shoulder, but also felt tears sting her eyes as she moved with him. The words to the song seemed to take on new meaning given recent events. He was the hero, but no one wanted to give him the credit he deserved. Even Sam, who Buffy was sure would’ve liked to give Spike the credit, couldn’t do it without putting him, and possibly her career, in jeopardy.

Well, that was going to change and soon. Next week, when Xander and Anya came back, Spike was going to get the credit and recognition he deserved for what he’d done defeating the Suvolte, and the sacrifice he’d made to save Sam. And, as a final expression of her trust, of her belief in him and the expanding fiery soul within, he would be made whole. The chip would be removed. And ‘Hostile 17’ would be gone for good.

“Didn’t mean t’ make ya cry, pet,” Spike murmured against her ear as they danced, their bodies moving in perfect synchronicity, as if one being.

Buffy shook her head, looking up to give him a smile. “It’s okay, happy tears,” she explained. “But I think I’m leaving salt stains on your jacket.”

Spike chuckled. “Had worse. Reckon a few tears won’t do too much damage,” he assured her. 

Buffy settled back against him, still swaying to the music, delighting in the day. Seeing her friends finally joined in wedded bliss, having Spike mostly whole again, the reward she knew he’d soon receive from Sam and Riley, and in just being in his arms at this moment – it all filled her with joy.

“You purposely had them save this for the last dance,” she remarked, looking back up to see his eyes.

He looked down, meeting her shimmering green gaze with his soft blue. “I did. Always save the last dance for you, Buffy. Always.”

As the song ended, Buffy cupped his face in her hands and pulled his lips to hers, kissing him deeply, ardently, fully, letting the world fall away around them. Everything was perfect in this moment, and she wanted to relish it, to float in the happiness as long as they could.

Their little bubble of serenity was broken abruptly when Dawn grabbed her sister’s arm and tugged. “Buffy! C’mon! They’re leaving, Anya’s tossing the bouquet!”

Buffy laughed and allowed her sister to pull her from Spike’s arms, giving her boyfriend an apologetic look. Spike followed behind, standing on the outskirts of the gathering. The earlier rain had stopped, and the sun had set, early evening was upon them.

Someone handed Spike a small bag of birdseed, which he’d been informed by Dawn had replaced rice as the thing to pelt the newlyweds with. He considered leaving it in the little bag and hurling it at the git’s head, maybe knock a bit o’ sense into him, but thought that might set off the chip, so abandoned the tempting idea.

Spike watched as the happy couple emerged from the reception. Anya was radiant, simply glowing with giddy happiness. Her joy seemed infectious, even making Spike smile as he watched. Xander was also laughing and joking with people and demons alike as they passed down the steps of the venue, between the well-wishers, toward the waiting limo. The previously-reluctant groom caught Spike’s eye in the crowd and gave the vampire a short nod of acknowledgement and maybe even … appreciation? Spike returned the nod, trying to suss out just what that meant. He shrugged, not really sure – not wanting to read more into the small gesture than was really there – before joining the rest of the guests in tossing the seed, removed from the little bag, in the air over the happy couple’s heads.

At the limo, Anya held up her untraditional bouquet, a flowery-spray of sparkling, white crystals, to all the single ladies who had gathered in the couple’s wake.  The bride turned her back and flung the glittering posies high into the air toward the eligible bachelorettes. Spike watched it arc into the night sky and fall like a glittering star into the middle of the eager ladies. He couldn’t immediately tell who had snagged the coveted prophet of impending marriage, but then the sea of bodies parted.

Buffy’s sparkling, smiling eyes met his, the crystal posies in her hand. His chest constricted tightly and then expanded with hope and joy the likes of which he’d never felt before. A bubbling laugh rose up from the depths of his being as he imagined what the portent might mean. Would she ever stand next to him, looking radiantly happy in a white dress, and vow to be his forever in front of her friends and family? He was almost afraid to imagine it, but he couldn’t stop the euphoria that filled his heart with the thought.   

He was still chortling softly when she made her way to him through the disbursing crowd of humans and demons. The newlyweds having finally escaped the melee, heading off in the limo to their wedding night bliss.

Buffy put her arms around his neck, still holding the bouquet, and kissed him lightheartedly.

“You know what this means, don’t you?” she asked, her eyes still glittering with happiness.

“What, pet?” he wondered, smiling down at her.

“The next wedding we’re at, I get the first dance and the last,” she informed him brightly.

Spike laughed and wrapped his arms around her, lifting her up and twirling her in a giddy circle there in the night.

“Every dance is yours, Buffy.”

 

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Chapter Text

A few days later…

Buffy and Spike walked into the Magic Box a few nights later just before closing time. Spike was nearly completely healed now. All the bandages had been removed. Muscle tissue, tendons, and skin had all regenerated, almost as if nothing had happened. There were still some tender spots, especially on his abdomen, but mostly he was whole and well. His foot had even stopped squirming under the skin with no alien emerging. Some of the new tissue was still more pink than the surrounding alabaster, but Buffy assumed that would fade with time.

The Scoobies –Willow, Tara, Anya, Xander and Dawn – were already there waiting. Anya was ringing up the last customer in the store, while the others sat around the research table at the back of the shop chatting. It did Buffy’s heart good to see Tara back in the group, sitting meaningfully close to Willow – they looked genuinely happy. She hoped beyond hope that the two witches could make it work; Buffy wasn’t sure she’d ever seen two people more meant for each other.

Xander was showing Dawn some pictures from the honeymoon in Big Sur. Buffy hoped they were just landscapes or pictures from dinners out at restaurants – in other words, nothing Anya had taken. Xander also looked joyously happy. He seemed to beam every time he looked up at his wife, who was currently grinning widely as she encouraged the departing customer to come back soon and leave more of their money.

The group looked up at the blondes as they approached the table, Buffy’s hand linked with Spike’s. A slight frown washed over Xander’s face at the sight – an old, habitual pang of disapproval washing over him – but he masked it quickly back into neutrality. The ladies at the table, by contrast, were all smiles.

“Your duster!” Willow exclaimed, taking in Spike’s appearance. “The soapy mini-demon fixed it!”

Spike shrugged his shoulders under the leather, as if settling it into place. “Took a bit o’ doing, and a few extra shillings, but she got it mended.”

“And got the stink out,” Buffy added, passing her nose close to his shoulder and inhaling. “Smells like saddle soap now.”

“Just need t’ get it worn back in. A few nights out patrolling, a tumble or two in the grass, should have it back to normal, I reckon,” Spike put in, smirking at Buffy, leaving the term ‘tumble’ open for interpretation.

Buffy blushed slightly and cleared her throat. Even after everything, she still felt slightly uncomfortable with the not-so-subtle sexual innuendos that Spike dropped around her friends. Of course, they all knew she was with Spike and that they were sleeping together. Tara had known for a while, and Willow and Dawn couldn’t have helped but figure it out, living in the same house. Plus, Xander was building a new Slayer-proof bedframe for her … for them.

Lighten up and get over yourself,’ Buffy told herself. ‘You like Spike’s snark and teasing when you’re alone, why are you suddenly uptight around your friends?

‘Habit,’ came back the reply from her brain, making her roll her eyes at herself.

“So, is there a new big-bad in town we need to beat down?” Willow asked brightly. “Not that I’m up for the beating … but I’m ready for all the research-y fun!”

“No,” Buffy explained. “Apparently, turning a full nest of tribbles into sewer puke has made the Hellmouth less appealing. I called this meeting for another reason. Just waiting for …”

Just then the little bell over the door tinkled, and Sam and Riley entered. Riley’s limp seemed to be getting better, it wasn’t quite as noticeable as it had been at the wedding. Sam still had some healing bruises on her face around her eyes, but she looked almost normal again. They were dressed, as usual, in their matching, black commando gear. Spike did notice, however, that Sam’s hair was tied back in a tail with a bit of seafoam green chiffon, like the dress she’d worn to the wedding, and it fluttered gently behind her as she walked.

He smiled at her as the two approached, pointedly looking at the bit of non-military adornment. “It’s a good start, pet,” he commented. “Won’t be long ‘fore you have the demons just fallin’ at yer feet.”

Sam reached up to touch the soft ends of the fabric hanging down with her ponytail, giving Spike a small smile in return, but before she could reply, her husband interposed himself between the two, verbally and physically. 

“She already does. It’s called putting a bullet in their brains,” Riley returned shortly, glaring at Spike. “Or a stake in the heart,” he added pointedly. Pointedly – get it?

“Wasn’t actually talkin’ to you, White Bread,” Spike retorted, stepping up closer to the bigger man in challenge.

“Can’t be happy screwing my ex-girlfriend? Need to try and worm your way into my wife’s pants, too?” Riley shot back, taking another step closer to the vamp, closing the gap between the two even further.

Spike’s brows went up. “Can’t help it if your women jump ship an’ come running when they see a real man, can I?”

Riley pulled back his clenched fist, preparing to unleash many days’ worth of pent-up frustration on the Slayer’s little protected fuck-toy.  

“You son-of-a-bit—” Riley’s words, and his blow, were stopped when Sam grabbed his arm and yanked him backwards, unexpectedly pulling him off balance.

Buffy stepped between the two men, facing Spike, and pushed him backwards as well. She backed him up away from Riley until the vampire’s butt hit the back of a chair at the research table.

“Enough!” the Slayer growled at both of them, turning to shoot warning glares in both directions. “Let’s just dial back the testosterone overdose and put your dicks back in your pants, both of you!

“And you too!” Buffy added as a preemptive strike, glaring at Xander.

Xander held his hands up in surrender. “Whoa! I’m testosterone-free! Trust me! Three days of wedded, honeymooner bliss with Anya, hardly ever leaving our room? She has every last drop. I can barely even find my dick to pee.”

“TMI,” Dawn moaned, closing her eyes and shaking her head to clear the mental imagery.

Buffy rolled her eyes and forced her mouth into a grimace to hide the smile that threatened to emerge.

Anya joined the group at the back of the store, having finished with the last customer, and caught the last of the discussion.

“I’m very hopeful my Xander will recover his virility soon. The honeymoon phase should last at least a year. I don’t want to waste a minute of it. We’re having oyster stew, oysters on the half-shell, and garlic oyster linguine for dinner tonight, with deep-fried oysters for dessert. Do you think that will work?” she asked, looking at Willow and Tara.

The two witches looked at each other, then back at Anya. “We don’t really have that problem,” Willow reminded the newlywed.

“Oh, sure, rub it in,” Anya huffed. “Why couldn’t I have been a lesbian?”

“I hear they make a little blue pill fer that now,” Spike added helpfully. “Could get ya a few hundred, maybe he could at least find it then – no promises, o’ course.”

Anya’s eyes went wide and hopeful, but before she could accept Spike’s offer Buffy cleared her throat loudly. “There is actually a reason I called this meeting, other than to discuss male reproductive parts,” she informed them. 

“Thank goodness,” Dawn moaned, rolling her eyes.

Buffy gave her sister a sympathetic look, then turned to the business at hand.

“Anya, if you’d sit down next to your sexually depleted husband, please,” Buffy requested, pulling a chair out for the ex-demon. “And Spike, if you’d just stand here,” she directed, pulling him away from the table a couple of feet, and turning him to face it, so everyone at the table could see him.

“Sam?” she prompted, looking at the soldier, who had now positioned herself in front of her perpetually-angry husband.

Buffy moved back, strategically standing behind Xander, and relinquishing the floor to the soldier.

Sam cleared her throat and stepped forward toward Spike as she pulled a blue, velvet case from her pocket, along with an envelope.

“On behalf of the United States Army and the citizens of these United States, I am honored to present you with the Secretary of the Army Award for Valor, and the Exceptional Civilian Service Award,” she pronounced formally.

Sam removed the medals one at a time from the case and began ceremoniously pinning them to the left breast of Spike’s duster.

Each medal was a bright, golden, round medallion which was suspended from a triangle of silk ribbon. The award for valor, appropriately, had the word ‘VALOR’ in raised letters on its face above a raised, five-pointed star, and hung on a red ribbon with a blue and white stripe. The service award had a raised presidential seal on its face and hung from a blue ribbon with three narrow white stripes.

“The Award for Valor commemorates voluntarily going above and beyond the call of duty as a private citizen. It’s the highest award for bravery and heroism by a non-combatant, awarded in cases where someone knowingly places his life in peril while saving, or attempting to save, the lives of others,” she explained as she pinned them on.  

“And the Exceptional Civilian Award is for demonstrating great courage and voluntary risk of life in performing an act that benefits the populace at large, performed by a civilian.”

Spike stood stock-still. Stunned into silence for perhaps the first time ever … certainly since Buffy’d known him. He looked down as the soldier pinned the medals on, completely gobsmacked.

Dawn, Willow, and Tara whispered words of awe and amazement among themselves at the honor being bestowed on the vampire. Riley stood back where Sam had yanked him, several feet from the others, glowering like an angry toad.

“Ummm, not to be unpatriotic-guy,” Xander commented when Sam had stepped back. “But shouldn’t Buffy have a truck-load of those by now?”

“Turns out, the Army has to be invited to the party for them to dole out the bling,” Buffy explained from behind him.

“Are they real gold? Like 99.99% pure or …” Anya wondered, sitting forward and eyeing them critically.

Sam laughed. “No, I think they’re just gold plated.”

Anya huffed, sitting back and folding her arms over her chest. “Not much reward for all that risk. Definitely not a good investment.”

“The value is in the rarity of the medals and the honor,” Sam admitted. “There are only a handful of recipients who’ve received even one of those, let alone both.”

“H-h-how is Spike a ‘non-combatant?’” Tara wondered. “H-he looked pretty … combated,” she pointed out.

“It just means he isn’t in the armed services; a civilian versus a soldier,” Sam explained. “Soldiers are expected to do those things. Although there are medals for valor in the military, for going above and beyond, they’re different than these.”

“Well, I think it’s super cool!” Dawn piped up, jumping up from her seat and darting over to give Spike a tight hug. His arms went around her dazedly, an automatic reflex, but he was still in too much shock to fully participate in the gesture.

“Look at you, all hero-y!” the younger Summers girl gushed, touching the medals with a finger as she pulled back. “You’ve always been my hero. I’m so proud of you.”

Spike focused on her then, everything beginning to register, and gave her a shy smile, before looking down at the medals. “Thanks, Nibblet. Means a lot from you, pet.”

“There’s more,” Sam announced. “On behalf of the US Army, and the citizens of … well, the world, really, this is for you.”

Sam handed him the envelope with the check in it. Spike quirked a brow at her in question, but then opened it.

Buffy nearly laughed out loud as Spike’s eyes widened to the size of saucers, and he was once again left speechless. He looked up then and found her eyes. “Buffy …”

“It’s yours. You did it, not me,” she assured him. “You deserve it.”

“What is it?” Willow asked, looking between Sam, Buffy, and Spike.

“A monetary reward for voluntary risk of life by a citizen,” Sam explained.

“How much reward?” Anya wondered, suddenly interested again. “Are we talking a ‘tank of gas’ reward, or a ‘vacation condo in Tahoe’ reward?”

“A ‘not enough for him to ever do something that idiotic again’ reward,” Buffy offered, meeting Spike’s eyes again. “Right?”

Spike nodded absently, stuffing the check and the envelope into the pocket of his jeans.

“And, one last thing,” Sam announced, stepping back and looking at her husband. “Ri?”

Buffy tensed, suddenly more alert, as she watched Riley pull some papers from his pocket. The soldier covered the distance between himself and Spike in just a few long strides and slapped the folded papers against Spike’s chest hard enough to rock the vamp back on his heels.

The vampire growled, but reflexively grabbed them as the soldier turned on his heel and stalked away again. “Congratulations. Hostile 17 is dead,” he called back, heading for the door. “And William the Bloody’s chip will be removed tomorrow. Be down in the old Initiative bunker at nineteen hundred hours.”

There were gasps and murmurs from the Scoobies, all of them looking around the table at each other with wide eyes, wondering if they’d heard correctly. Before any of them could speak, though, Riley had whirled back around, and strode back across the floor until he was looming over Spike threateningly.

The soldier poked a finger against Spike’s chest, emphasizing every word. “If you spill one single drop of human blood, I will hunt you down and make you wish for a stake in the heart.”

Spike glared back at the soldier, the meaning of everything Finn had said before having finally sunk in. “Only blood I’ll be spillin’ is yours, you big, gormless tit.”

“Bring. It. On,” Riley challenged, leaning in even closer.

“There will be no shedding of blood, unless I do it,” Buffy cut in, stepping forward and yanking on Riley’s shoulder, pulling him back from Spike and turning him around to face her in one motion.

“Maybe you should thank Spike for what he’s done,” she suggested sanguinely.

“When hell freezes over,” the soldier snarled at her. “Although, maybe it has. The Slayer unleashing a member in good standing of the Scourge of Europe on the world again? Screwing that dead, vile creature!?” Riley waved his hand back toward Spike, in case there was any question about who he meant.

“Don’t worry, Buffy. When he kills you and your friends, I promise to hunt him down and make him sorry he ever heard of Sunnydale.”

“Get. Out,” Buffy ordered sharply, returning the soldier’s glare.

Riley narrowed his eyes, glaring down at her a moment longer, but then took a step back and whirled on his heel. He strode back toward the front door of the shop, anger billowing off him in palpable waves. As he passed, he grabbed Sam’s arm and tugged her along in his considerable wake. She shot Buffy an apologetic look over her shoulder, yanking her arm out of Riley’s grasp, but followed her husband from the shop.

At the door, the angry soldier called back, “Been nice knowing you all. I’ll be sure to send flowers to your funerals.”

The next moment the bell over the door tinkled brightly, incongruous with the mood in the room. Then the door slammed behind the soldiers, leaving a deafening silence in the shop. Muffled, angry words exploded outside, but they moved away too quickly for any, save perhaps for Spike, to make them out.

Buffy closed her eyes a moment, drawing in a deep breath of the tension-filled air. No one spoke immediately, or even moved. ‘That could’ve gone better,’ she thought, drawing in another calming breath before turning to face her friends. ‘Of course, it could’ve gone worse, too.’

She held up her hands to keep her friends from speaking, and moved to the head of the table, standing between them and Spike.

“No, I have not lost my mind,” she assured everyone, but directed her gaze at Xander. “Spike has a soul.”

Everyone started to speak at once, but she waved one hand sharply through the air and cut them off. “You’re just going to have to trust me on this. Spike came back wrong … when he was turned, I mean, he came back wrong. Part of his soul stayed with him … part of his humanity. It’s still inside him, and it’s been growing stronger all this time that he’s been around us.”

“That’s the chip, Buff,” Xander argued, but she shook her head.

“No, it’s not. You guys saw … you saw Warren. Spike could’ve gotten around the chip at any time and hurt or killed any or all of us. He. Didn’t,” she reminded them. “He didn’t have to help Sam with those demons – he could’ve just walked away and let her die. He. Didn’t.

“I’ve seen his soul, you have to trust me on this. It’s not right to leave that chip in him and I won’t do it. I know you won’t all agree with me, and that’s fine, you don’t have to. I’m the Slayer, it’s my call. I’ve taken a vote, and I am unanimous in this.”

“But we’ll all be the ones paying the price for it if you’re wrong!” Xander argued.

“I’m not wrong,” Buffy stated flatly. “You guys have trusted me in all kinds of dangerous situations before. You’ve followed me into battles that we had no right to win, but we did. All I’m asking is that you trust me when I say this isn’t one of those. Spike is not going to hurt anyone after the chip is removed.”

“Except Riley,” Anya pointed out with a shrug. When everyone turned their worried eyes to her, she defended, “I mean, he just said so.”

Buffy turned around and looked at Spike, who was still standing silently behind her. “He’s not going to hurt Riley, or anyone else, isn’t that right, Spike?”

Spike scowled at her, but then sighed and rolled his eyes. “I’ll break his bloody finger if it pokes it in my chest again, I’ll tell ya that much.”

Buffy turned back around to face her friends. “He’ll be able to defend himself against humans this way. And, as we’ve just seen in the last few months with The Trio of Nerds, humans can be just as dangerous as demons. This is the right thing to do,” she asserted again.

“Can I have a word, Slayer?” Spike requested before anyone else could speak.

“In private, if ya please.” He grabbed her arm and pulled her toward the door at the back of the store which led to the training room.

With the door closed behind them, Spike opened up the papers that Riley had slapped against his chest and began to pace across the floor and read at the same time. Buffy stood silently, watching him, waiting for whatever it was he was going to say.

The first paper was a copy of an official report signed by both Riley and Sam that swore an oath that the escaped vampire, Hostile 17, had been ‘neutralized with extreme prejudice,’ and ‘no longer posed a threat against humanity.’

Spike snorted at that and shifted the other paper to the top to read.

The second was an official order from Riley Finn instructing the medical division to remove the chip from Spike’s brain. Only, he wasn’t identified as Spike, or William the Bloody, or even Hostile 17, but by a code name of ‘Sleeper.’

According to the request, Sleeper was a vampire with a soul who had been implanted with the chip so he could reasonably be trusted by the Slayer. His mission was to infiltrate her inner circle and report back on her activities to the Initiative. At this time, his services were no longer required, so the chip should be removed, and the vampire released from duty.

“Bloody fucking wanker,” Spike growled.

“What?” Buffy wondered, not having seen these particular papers before.

Spike looked up at her then, almost having forgotten she was there. “Gave me a bloody medal, then turned me into Benedict Arnold! Says I was a turncoat, working for him, spying on you lot.”

Buffy smirked and took the paper from his hand, reading it over quickly.

“Riley had to provide some reason for removing the chip,” she reasoned.

Spike snorted. “So he made sure I’d look like a bloody, two-faced git in the process.”

Buffy looked up at him. “You know, you have been known to play both sides against the middle before,” she reminded him.   

Spike frowned and looked down. “Yeah, but not against you, Buffy. Not even then,” he admitted.

“What about Adam?”

Spike scoffed. “Knew you’d crush Mr. Bits, pet. Was just making it a little more interesting, yeah? A bloke gets bored. Came through for ya in the end, didn’t I?”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Sort of…” she acquiesced. “Spike, it doesn’t matter what’s on that report. The important thing is we can have that chip removed tomorrow night with it,” she reminded him.

Spike turned around and walked a few feet away, facing the wall. “Not sure that’s the most brilliant plan you’ve ever had, luv,” he declared, leaning one hand heavily against the wall and letting his head fall despondently.

“What? Why? I thought you’d be all peachy-keen and cherry pie about it. It’s what you’ve always wanted ever since they put it in you.”

Spike turned around slowly and looked at her gravely. “What if you’re wrong, Buffy?”

Buffy shook her head, taking a step toward him. “Were you not listening to my speech? That was a good speech! I practiced that speech. Cliff’s Notes version: I’m not wrong.”

“But what if you are?” Spike argued. “What if I hurt you, or Dawn … You don’t know the things I’ve done, Buffy.”

“I know who you were,” Buffy declared with certainty, crossing her arms over her chest.

“You don’t know the half of it!” Spike raged at her, suddenly furious. He moved toward her like a wraith, silent and fleet. His fingers wrapped around her throat before she could blink, lifting her onto her tiptoes with an iron-fisted chokehold.

“Do you know how much blood you can drink from a girl before she'll die? I do. You see, the trick is to drink just enough, to know how to damage them just enough, so that they'll still cry when you –“

Spike dropped the unresisting Slayer, pushing her away, and buried his face in his hands, dropping to his knees in front of her.

“'Cause it's not worth it if they don't cry,” he choked out, sobbing.

“Spike,” Buffy cooed softly, dropping down onto her knees on the floor and putting her arms around him.

“I know who you were, and I know why you did those things. I’ve seen the demon inside you; I’ve seen the darkness, but I’ve seen the light, too. I know the darkness is deep and strong, but the light is bright and growing. I know who you are now, and you’re not the same person.

“I can see it now, looking back, how you’ve changed. Maybe it was the chip that started it, maybe it started before that – when you helped me save the world when Angelus wanted to destroy it, or when Dru left and you didn’t have to be that Spike anymore – but you are not him anymore. You’ve fought against the darkness and you’ve been winning, slowly but surely.

“Your soul is damaged, but so is mine. We can get through this together. But I need you with me; I need you to be able to protect yourself against all threats, human or demon. I can’t lose you, don’t you understand that yet? You may not see how much you’ve changed, but I do.

“I believe in you, Spike.”

Spike collapsed against her, letting her hold him like a child, still sobbing and shaking his head negatively against her shoulder.

“I’m afraid, Buffy. I’ve never been afraid of anything in a hundred years, not Slayers or monsters or gods.” He looked up at her then, his blue eyes shimmering with tears. “But I’m afraid of me!”

Buffy gave him a small smile and gently kissed the tears from his eyes, cupping his damp cheeks in her palms. “Don’t you see? That only proves my point, Spike. You’ve changed. The old Spike would be jumping at this chance to be free, not fighting me on it. You’re afraid that the light inside you can’t defeat the darkness, but it can. I know it can! If you don’t trust yourself, then trust me.

“I promise, Spike, you’re strong enough. Do you believe in me?” she asked gently, her eyes searching his for the trust she knew was there.

Finally, Spike closed his eyes, more tears spilling out beneath his lashes with the gesture, and nodded slightly. “You’re the only thing I’ve ever believed in.”

Buffy pulled him against her again, hugging him tight and rocking gently on the floor of the training room.

“And I believe in you,” she whispered against his ear.  “You’re a good man, William.”

Chapter Text

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The next night.

Spike blinked his eyes, trying to get his bearings. His head was swimming, and there was a throbbing pain behind his eyes which stabbed up into his sinuses.

Two pairs of worried eyes looked down at him, one brown, one green. He blinked again, and the faces came into focus: Buffy and Sam. Riley, thankfully, had not attended the chip-removal procedure; Sam had made sure of that.

“Are you okay?” Buffy asked, laying her palm gently over his forehead.

Spike widened his eyes a moment, trying to clear his vision, then shook himself, trying to shake off the fog of anesthesia. “Yeah, reckon so,” he rasped out, beginning to sit up.

Buffy and Sam each grabbed an arm and helped him sit up, swinging his legs to the side of the narrow table that the Initiative had once used for their vampire implant trials, among other things.

Spike shook his head again and the dizziness and fog lifted a little further.

“Didn’t rumple m’ hair, did they?” he asked, running a hand back over his blond locks.

Buffy laughed. “You have army doctors operating on your brain, and what you’re worried about is your hair?”

Spike sniffed and sat up straighter. “Some would argue there’s not much they could do t’ damage my brain,” he asserted.

Buffy rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Well, don’t worry. They went up through your nose. Your hair is untouched.”

Spike grimaced at that, touching his nose gingerly. “Sick bastards,” he muttered. “Bloody disgusting, that is.”

“We should probably go, if you can,” Sam suggested, smothering a smile at Spike’s remarks. “I’m not sure how long they’ll leave the power on down here.”

Buffy looked around the large, empty space, clearly creeped out. “Yeah, heaven only knows what creepy-crawlies will come slithering out when the power goes off,” she added.

Spike slid off the table and onto his feet. He swayed a little and both Buffy and Sam steadied him, one on each side. “Bloke could get used t’ this,” he teased, wrapping an arm over each of their shoulders.

“Yeah, well, don’t,” Buffy warned, giving him a sharp glance as the three of them began making their way toward the elevator and the outside world.


 

“Where are we goin’?” Spike finally asked when they didn’t take the turn that led to his crypt or to Buffy’s house. He was still letting the girls help him walk, but more for the pleasure of having his arms around two lovely ladies than from necessity.

“Magic Box,” Buffy replied.

He quirked a brow at her. “All yer friends throwing a ‘Scourge o’ Europe’s Unleashed’ party, just fer me, are they?”

“Something like that,” Buffy hedged, as they turned into the alley behind the store. Buffy pulled out her key to the back door and opened it. The shop was closed, silent, dark, and empty. She flicked on the light in the training room and entered, followed by Sam, still assisting Spike.

“So … where’s the party, then?” Spike asked, looking around at the empty space as he took his arm off the brunette’s shoulders.

“Right here,” Buffy smirked. “Although it may be more of a ‘Let’s make sure the doctors did what they were supposed to do’ party,” she explained.

Spike’s brows furrowed. “How ya intend t’ do that? Not sticking anything up my nose, I hope!” he exclaimed, covering his nose protectively with one hand.

Buffy laughed. “No. Just need you to fight with Sam.”

“What?!” Spike exclaimed, dropping his hand and looking at the brunette.

“Always wanted to take on a legendary vamp,” she beamed at him. “Now’s my chance!”

“Yeah? Well my grandsire’s down in L.A, sure he’d love to have a go, pet,” Spike suggested, taking a step back from both of the clearly delusional women.

“Spike, we need to make sure it’s really gone, completely, not partially, or temporarily. Sam volunteered to … well … help test it,” Buffy explained.

The Slayer went over to the weapon’s wall and picked out two bōs, six-foot-long staffs made of semi-flexible hardwood, from the rack. She tossed one to Spike, which he caught deftly with one hand.

“Do you need me to warm you up, or are you okay now?” she asked, twirling the long, slender staff gracefully in her hand as if it was an extension of her body.

“Neither,” Spike shot back. “Not fighting with the girl.”

“You fight with me all the time,” Buffy reminded him. “Aren’t I a girl?” she pouted.

“You’re the bloody Slayer,” Spike retorted.

“Yeah, and she’s a soldier … I think you called her Xena, Warrior Princess?” Buffy retorted, tossing the bō in her hand to Sam.

Spike tossed his weapon back to Buffy, playing musical weapons. “Why don’t you cuties start without me, yeah? I’ll just watch the deed – maybe join in later?” he suggested, wagging his brows suggestively. “If ya feel the need t’ remove any clothing during the fracas, ya won’t hear any objections from me.”

“Nice fantasy. Just keep dreaming, Spike,” Buffy retorted, tossing the bō right back to him as soon as she caught it.

The moment Spike had the weapon back in his hand, Sam whirled her whole body around, whipping the long staff in a wide arc, straight at Spike’s face. Spike reacted instinctively, raising his own weapon to block the blow.

In the next moment, there was a rapid ‘click-clack’ as the two warriors sparred with the weapons, striking and blocking in rapid succession. Spike backed away from Sam as she advanced, moving in a large circle in the training room to keep from being cornered. After a minute or so of this banter, Sam took a more offensive tact, feigning at Spike’s legs, but bringing the bō up instead and striking at his abdomen. Spike adjusted quickly, but not quickly enough. 

Sam was able to get inside the reach of Spike’s weapon with her feint. She ducked down below his block and swept a leg out at Spike’s ankles for a take-down. The vampire jumped over them, automatically whirling in the air and kicking one leg out at her mid-section at the same time. His boot landed solidly against her Kevlar vest at nearly the exact moment she’d sprung back up, creating a loud ‘thud’ in the nearly-empty room.

Sam stumbled back but didn’t fall. Grinning madly, she taunted, “You kick like—”

“A girl?” Spike filled in, looking at Buffy, then back at Sam. “Not even an insult, that.”

“I was gonna say like Finn,” she finished, stepping forward and whirling the bō over her head, smashing it straight down at Spike’s head.

Spike dodged back, just out of reach, and the staff bounced down on the padded floor, but Sam was ready for that. She used the upward momentum of the bounce to lift the staff up and jab the end directly into Spike’s stomach, right where he’d been so badly injured by the Suvolte.

Spike screamed in pain, clutching his stomach and doubling over. Sam launched herself at him, knocking him onto his back on the padded floor with a ‘whoof’ of expelled breath, the bō jarred from his hand.

In the next moment Sam was pressing the blunt end of her weapon against Spike’s chest as she straddled his prone form.

“You aren’t even trying,” she accused angrily. “Fight! Defend yourself! I thought you were some kind of hero, not a little coward who runs away from a challenge! Shit! I’ve had better fights with Ri!”

“Then go beat his bloody arse! Pay real money t’ see that!” Spike retorted, wrapping his hand around the staff to keep her from pressing it down any harder. Even though the end was blunt, if she pushed hard enough … well, it could get dusty in here.

Sam snorted derisively. “You know, Riley says you’re just a rebound fuck for the Slayer, taking sloppy seconds after him. Finn said she was practically a virgin when he first screwed her, but he made sure she was like a used-up whore when he was done with her. Seemed reasonable since she always begged him to fuck her like one—”

Spike growled, his demon rising in sudden rage. It sounded like a rumbling roll of thunder filling the room as he lost control. He yanked the bō from Sam’s hand with his left and flung it against the nearest wall, where it splintered into toothpicks. At nearly the same time, he punched her hard in the face with his right.

The blow whipped her head to the side, filling her mouth with blood and lifting her completely up and off him. She dropped onto mat with a thud, stars flashing behind her lids as pain exploded through her skull. Sam shook the stunned feeling off, spitting out the blood that threatened to choke her, and blindly rolled away from the angry vampire.

Spike pounced on the spot where she’d been a moment before, snarling and raging in fury. She kicked a booted-foot out at him, catching him in the temple, slowing him down a fraction of a second as he scrambled toward her. He was on her in the next moment, though, his growl vibrating the air palpably.  Both of them punched and kicked at the other with fists, elbows, knees and feet. Spike’s fangs raked at her flesh as she lifted her arms to block his lunge toward her neck. They wrestled for leverage, one getting a slight advantage, then the other, rolling over the mats like two lone wolves fighting to take over the pack, but neither gaining full control.

With another blow to Spike’s injured stomach, resulting in a frozen moment of pain, Sam finally scrambled free of his grasp. She kicked him hard in the jaw with the heel of her boot as she went, stunning him for another moment, and made it up to her feet before he could recover. As he made to rise, she drew back and kicked him hard in the ribs while he was on hands and knees, drawing another growl of rage and pain from the vamp. She kicked him again, and again, each harder and more vicious than the last. On the fourth kick, Spike grabbed her foot and twisted fiercely, pulling her off her feet as her whole body rotated in the air to keep from having her ankle, knee or hip dislocated.

She hit the mat again with a deafening thump but managed to kick him in the chin with her free foot, making him drop his hold on her. She rolled back to her feet neatly, picking up Spike’s dropped staff in one motion. By the time she gained her balance and turned back to him, Spike was also on his feet, crouched, ready to spring on her like a tiger on a deer.

Sam twirled the staff once, then swung at Spike’s face. He blocked the blow with a forearm, but Sam was ready, jabbing it at his stomach again. Ready for that tack, Spike knocked the blow aside, then grabbed the weapon with a steely grip before she could pull it back. He jerked it toward himself brutally, then shoved it back toward her just as violently. The end of the staff thrust hard against her solar plexus, but the vest she wore kept it from being the debilitating blow it might’ve otherwise been.

Spike roared in frustration and yanked the weapon from her hands with overwhelming strength, sending it sailing across the room to join the other one as a pile of kindling against the wall.

“Still ‘ave my weapon, don’t I?” he taunted, prowling slowly forward towards her, his golden eyes gleaming in fury. “Let’s ‘ave a little taste, shall we? You as hot and spicy as you smell, pet?”

Gasping for breath, Sam turned then, looking for something else to use as a weapon. She reached for a rack of dumbbells on the wall near her, intending to use one as a club, but Spike was faster. The vamp yanked her backwards by her ponytail, spinning her around, and away from the impromptu weapons. He pulled her back to his front and wrapped one leg around both of hers. Then he shoved her forward.

Unable to take a step because of her pinned legs, Sam fell face-first onto the mat. Spike followed her down, slamming his body against hers and knocking her breath out in a grunt of pain. He pinned her down with his body as she gasped and squirmed and tried to roll him off.  Spike slipped an iron-corded forearm around her throat and pulled tight, putting a stop to further gasps from the soldier for much-needed air.

“Show bloody Finn sloppy seconds,” he growled, his fangs hovering dangerously close to Sam’s carotid artery as the soldier tried vainly to pry, claw, scratch, pull, wrench, or otherwise remove his arm from her windpipe.

Buffy watched, taking a step forward toward them, biting her lip worriedly, ready to step in if things went too far … or well … way, way, way too far.

Maybe she shouldn’t have had Sam get quite so graphic with the taunting, but she was sure Spike wouldn’t have given his all otherwise. If he had no intent to do harm, then the chip wouldn’t have fired; she needed him enraged, intent on inflicting pain, to make sure it was really, truly gone. Buffy had to be certain he could fight a human freely if he needed to, without any Initiative leash stopping him. She just didn’t trust the bastards to not double-cross them and implant something else without her seeing it.

She wanted him to be able to defend himself from all threats, human and demon. But now the only leash he had was his battered and bruised soul, that glint of humanity, that small fire within the darkness. Would it be enough?

“Come on, William, you can do it … fight it,” she muttered under her breath, her chest tight with nervous apprehension, her fists curled, ready to act. Had she been wrong? Was William not strong enough yet?

Suddenly, Spike loosened his grip on the soldier and the brunette gasped for air, taking in great lungsful with each breath. Spike released her completely then, his demon withdrawing as he rolled off and away from her. He ended in a seated position with his back against the nearest wall, his knees drawn up near his chest.

“Sorry … I’m sorry … bloody hell,” Spike muttered, hugging his legs to his chest, and dropping his head against his knees disconsolately.

Sam rolled over onto her back, rubbing her throat, still gasping for air like a landed fish, blood burbling from her lips as she gulped for much-needed oxygen.

Buffy let out a sigh of relief, feeling almost as winded as Sam just from watching and worrying. She quickly knelt next to the soldier, checking to make sure she was okay, or at least not seriously hurt.

“Tis but …  a … scratch,” the brunette rasped out between gasps, wiping the blood from her mouth with her already-bloodied sleeve, before waving Buffy off.

Buffy huffed out a small laugh of relief and touched a consolatory hand down on the soldier’s shoulder. “Good fight,” she complimented the brunette. “I’ve seen Spike take demons out with less trouble.”

Sam snorted, getting her wind back fractionally, trying to sit up.

Buffy helped her to a seated position, pulling her injured arm out straight to check it. Spike hadn’t actually bitten down on it, there were just a couple of deep scratches from his fangs, bloody and painful, but not life-threatening.

“Remind me to never … mention Ri’s name … around him … again,” Sam gasped out as she got her breath back a bit more.

Buffy laughed then and nodded. “I support that plan.”

“You’ll tell him that Ri didn’t … really say that stuff, right? And I didn’t … mean any of it,” the soldier implored, looking up at Buffy.

“I think he’s already figured that out,” the Slayer assured her.

Sure that Sam was okay, Buffy turned her attention to Spike, who was still sitting with his head against his knees, his back against the brick wall.

“Spike, it’s okay. She’s fine-ish,” Buffy assured him, squatting down next to him and laying a hand on his shoulder. “It worked, they really took it out.”

Spike looked up at her then, shaking his head miserably. “I hurt the girl. Didn’t mean to,” he admitted woefully.

“Spike, you defended yourself, and she’s fine. You stopped. You didn’t need the chip. William stopped the demon. Just like I said would happen,” Buffy assured him, sending a silent prayer to the saint of broken souls for the assist on that.

“You’re free, Spike. And you don’t need the chip anymore. This is of the good!

“Plus, if he-who-shall-not-be-named pokes a finger in your chest now, you can break it,” she offered brightly.

Spike looked up at her then, scowling. “Finn’s not fit to lick Voldemort’s boots,” he asserted dryly.

“I … uh … huh? Who’s Voldemort?” Buffy asked, frowning in confusion.

Spike rolled his eyes. “Demon … don’t like his name used,” he lied.

Sam had gotten up and walked over to the pair, still rubbing her throat, but with her breath mostly back. “Voldemort is the arch nemesis of Harry Potter, you know from the novels?” she outed Spike in a raspy voice. “No one uses his name in fear of bringing his wrath down upon them.”

Spike scowled up at her. “You know Harry Potter but not Monty Python? Pffft! Bloody soldiers!”

Sam grated out a chortle through her ravaged throat. “You know what they say about war? Interminable boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. It’s the same fighting and chasing demons. Lots of time to read whatever books are handy, even young adult fantasy.”

Buffy raised her brows, looking at Spike. “Young adult fantasy?” she asked, giving him a scandalous look.

Spike rolled his eyes. “Not that kinda fantasy, Slayer. Witchcraft an’ the like. What muggles think of as fantasy. What we call ‘life’ on the Hellmouth.”

“Muggles? Man, I need to catch up on my pop culture references.” Buffy laughed and stood up, offering Spike a hand, which he took, joining her and Sam on his feet.

Spike winced a little when he straightened up, touching a hand to his stomach where Sam had jabbed the staff and kicked him a few times.

“Sorry about the cheap shots,” Sam grimaced. “I didn’t reopen anything, did I?”

Spike shook his head. “No such thing as a cheap shot against a vamp, pet,” he assured her. “Gotta take every advantage ya can. I’ll do.

“You okay? Didn’t damage ya, did I?” he asked, looking her over with concern.

“Nothing that won’t feel better in a day or two,” she assured him. Then almost as one voice, Sam and Buffy said:

“I’ve had worse.”

“She’s had worse.”

The two women looked at each other and laughed convivially, any residual tension from the fight drifting off on the wings of their shared mirth.

“Well, I best be going. Ri and I are heading to Nepal tomorrow, got our orders this morning,” she told the blondes.

“Be careful out there,” Buffy offered sincerely, stepping forward and giving the brunette a tight hug, which the soldier returned heartily, only wincing slightly from the pain in her bruised and battered ribs.

“Thank you for everything,” Buffy whispered thickly.

Sam returned the hug and nodded. “Anytime,” she replied, as Buffy released her. “If we can help with anything, just call or email. I’m serious. We can usually get some sort of transport within a day or two.”

Buffy nodded. “Got it,” she assured the soldier.

Sam turned to Spike with a sad smile, and Buffy took a step back.

“I can’t thank you enough…” she began, and Spike cut her off with a shake of his head.

“Thought we’d covered that, pet,” he rebuked lightly. “You watch your back, yeah? Hate to see anything happen to it, I would.”

Sam felt a bloom of tenderness in her chest with his words and his look of concern. She smiled and nodded, acknowledging his warning with a warm, grateful, “Copy that.”

Sam stepped forward and laid her palm gently on Spike’s cheek, touching a soft kiss to the other. “She’ll catch you,” she whispered to him, her misty eyes locking with his for a moment as she pulled back.

She turned away then, took a deep breath, and headed for the door, not looking back, Spike and Buffy watching her go in silence.

“Xena,” Spike called after her, suddenly in motion, striding across the short distance to her.

Sam turned back and was immediately caught up in another tight hug, this time by the unleashed vampire. “Thank you for everything, pet,” he rasped out from a tight throat. “Can’t ever repay ya.”

Sam was still smiling as he released her, her glimmering brown eyes locking on his again. “I guess we’re even, then, huh?”

Spike nodded slowly. “Even, then,” he agreed.

Sam leaned forward and touched a soft kiss to his lips, tasting him just a fraction too long for it to be completely chaste. Pulling back, her glimmering, dark eyes met his one last time before she turned abruptly and was out the door.

The soldier was lost in the night before Spike could even react. He stood, dumbstruck, staring after her, his fingers lightly exploring the warmth left by her lips against his. Buffy stepped up beside him, hooking her arm in his, and looking out the door in the direction Sam had gone.

“I think you have another admirer,” the Slayer observed coolly, pulling the door closed with her free hand. “That was quite the goodbye kiss, you know, for friends. Was there tongue involved?”

“NO!” Spike shrieked as a sudden, overwhelming fear for the safely of his naughty bits washed over him. “No tongue! I … didn’t …” he stammered, looking at Buffy with wide eyes. “I mean, wasn’t me, pet. I didn’t puke on her! Bloody hell, I beat her up!”

Buffy shrugged nonchalantly. “Seems to be how you make all the really hot girls want to kiss you.”

Spike looked at her warily. Was this some kind of trick? “That so?” he asked cautiously, still suspicious.

“Mmm-hmmm,” she agreed in a sing-song tone.

“So … if I beat you up, you’d kiss me?” he wondered, turning to face her.

“Well, you could try to beat me up,” she countered. “And I might kiss you.”

Try, is it?”

“Let’s face it, Spike, I’m just better than you.”

“That right?” he challenged, narrowing his eyes dangerously at her.

“That’s right,” she agreed, tightening her grip on his arm and suddenly flipping him backwards, through a full somersault in the air, and dropping him onto his back on the mat a few feet away.

Spike laughed maniacally as she dove at him. He caught her in midair with his hands on her shoulders and one foot in her middle and flipped her like an acrobat over his head so she, too, landed hard on the mat.

“That all ya got, Slayer?” Spike rumbled jubilantly, as he sprang back to his feet.

“Not by a long shot!” Buffy retorted, launching herself at him amidst a chorus of wicked laughter and raucous shrieks of exultation. 

Chapter Text

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The next night.

At work, Buffy sighed heavily, waiting for the family of five to make up their minds about what they wanted for dinner. She leaned against the counter and just closed her eyes a moment, dreaming of a different life, one that didn’t include smelling like fried flesh, scraping gum off the undersides of the tables after closing, or dealing with other people’s bratty kids squirting packets of ketchup at her.

“Are you even listening?” the father demanded, shaking Buffy from her dream of escape, and back to reality.

“Of course I am,” she snapped back, opening her eyes. “Ummm …could you just repeat that?”

The man rolled his eyes and sighed derisively. “Three Doublemeat Medleys. Two with extra pickle, and one with no pickle. Add cheese to one of the ones with extra pickle, and tomato to the one with no pickle. Two Doublemeat Kids Medleys. One with cheese, one with no tomato but extra pickle…”

Buffy’s brain zoned out as the man rambled, and she punched the buttons on the register, it now having become something she could do by rote. ‘God, please get me out of here’, she prayed silently, pushing the button for extra pickles plus cheese.

“Slayer? Are you even listening to me?”

Buffy snapped her attention back, centering on the customer standing in front of her. She looked around, but the family of five were already sitting down eating their meal. She didn’t even remember taking their money or giving them their food. For a moment she wondered if she’d been hit with some kind of whammy, like that thing the Trio did to make time jump on her, but then she decided it was just utter and complete tedium that had done it.

“Spike?! I don’t have a break for another three hours,” she informed him, focusing her attention back to the here and now. She looked around for her boss, but he wasn’t in sight, so she relaxed a little.

“Not ‘ere for a break, pet,” he replied, squinting up at the too-bright menu on the board behind her. “Can I get one of those thick ice creams in a cup with the chunks o’ candy in them?” he requested. “Large. Butterfinger, if ya please.”

Buffy sighed. “That’s Dairy Queen, Spike. What are you doing?”

Spike frowned. “Then one of those thick chocolate ones – a Chilly, or a Freezie … err …that Snowman-y thing. Large,” he tried.

Frosty.” Buffy rolled her eyes. “Wendy’s.”

“Right then, how about one of those orange slushy things, tastes like an orange creamsicle?” he continued.

“Spike! That’s Orange Julius! What are you doing?” she hissed at him.

Spike’s frown deepened as he looked away from the menu and focused on her. “What do you ‘ave here, then?”

“Nothing good,” she admitted.

“Right, give me one o’ those, then. Large,” he ordered. “Hold the pickles. They give me gas.”

Buffy rubbed her eyes in frustration. “Spike, what are you doing?” she beseeched him again, on the verge of begging.

“Trying to order something. Which you’re supposed to get for me, if I’m understandin’ this whole process correctly,” he replied logically, giving her a patient smile.

“Also, you’re supposed t’ smile, and be polite and cheerful. Maybe ya need to get a refresher course in customer service from Anya,” he suggested, still smiling pleasantly.

“Spiiiike,” she growled, low and threatening, but was cut off when her latest boss and recent college-grad, Rory, walked up behind her and asked, “Is there something wrong, Buffy?”

Buffy jumped and gave Spike a wide-eyed, ‘look what you’ve done now!’ glare.

“You know we have a high-performance standard to maintain,” Rory continued in a grating, saccharine tone, stepping closer to the counter as he put all the skills he’d learned while earning his ‘Bowling Industry Management and Technology’ degree to best use. “Taking orders and providing, hot, fast, delicious, nutritious meals in under five minutes to satisfied, happy, and contented guests is not only our goal, but our pledge.”

The enthusiasm in his voice almost made Buffy puke, but she turned a bright, Colgate-smile on her boss. “No problem, I was just helping him decide. So, that’ll be one Doublemeat Medley, extra pickles,” she stated, turning her fake smile toward her customer.

Spike gave her boss a satisfied nod, and the git in the bright clown outfit wandered away to be sickeningly enthusiastic elsewhere.

“You’ll pay the price, not me, pet,” Spike remarked with a smirk, turning back to Buffy.

“Five dollars and twenty-eight cents,” she told him flatly, holding out her hand for the money.

“Bloody hell, when did inedible, food-like products get t’ be so ruddy expensive? Don’t tell me, it’s the pickles, innit?”

“Yes, we import them from Siberia. They’re special ice-grown pickles, cultivated by political exiles in the Ural Mountains. They require storing in a layer of permafrost during their long and movie-less flight back to civilization, so they stay full of gassy-goodness,” Buffy mocked, her hand still held out, waiting impatiently for the payment.

Spike cocked a brow at her. “Didn’t realize you knew where the Ural Mountains were.”

“I know lots of things. Such as, if you don’t stop screwing around with me at work, I’m going to drive a stake through your heart,” she informed him, keeping her bright, quite fake, smile in place.

“Not screwing around – save that for your breaks, luv,” he reminded her, wagging his brows at her suggestively while digging in the pocket of his jeans for some money.

“Here we go. Five dollars and twenty-eight cents, give or take a few zeros,” he announced, placing the check from the Army into her palm. “You keep the change. Call it a tip, yeah?” 

He nodded, satisfied, then added, “Oh, could ya make that to-go? These fluorescent lights give me the heebie-jeebies.”

“Spike … I … can’t,” Buffy stammered, trying to hand the check back to him.

“’Course you can,” he objected. “Just take the grub off the tray and put it in a bag. To-go.”

“That’s not what I mean, and you know it,” Buffy insisted, trying to give the check back to him, but he’d clasped his hands behind his back and stepped away from the counter, so she couldn’t shove it into any of his pockets.

“Customer’s always right,” he informed her smugly. “Reckon your boss would agree.”

Spike raised a hand and signaled at her boss to come back to the counter.

“Yes, sir, how may I help you?” the man asked, sounding completely professional, but looking like an idiotic orange traffic-cone with a chicken on his head in his uniform.

“Yeah, just wanted t’ let you know that this woman here is the best employee you got or will ever have. And she quits.”

“Spike!” Buffy hissed at him, then turning to her boss she added, “I don’t know him, and I don’t quit.”

“She does quit. Straightaway. She’ll bring yer clown costume back and pick up her last check at the end of the week,” Spike informed the man in no uncertain terms.

Then, looking back at Buffy, he added earnestly. “You’re better than this, Buffy, and I can finally do something to really help ya. Let’s go, pet. This isn’t you. You’re not made for this. You’re a warrior! You save the world! You’re a bright light, not a bloody tool in a burger joint that doesn’t even have candy creams.”

Tears sprang to Buffy’s eyes and she closed them, trying desperately to keep them back. “Spike, I can’t… it’s yours,” she tried again, her voice wavering.

“Don’t tell me you haven’t wished and prayed for a way outta here,” Spike replied sincerely. “Wish granted,” he announced smugly.

Buffy opened her eyes and looked at him, her unshed tears released from the damn of her lids and trickled down her cheeks. “You’re not a genie in a bottle.”

Spike grinned at her haughtily. “No, I’m a bloody hero,” he reminded her, touching the medals that still hung on his duster in illustration. He became more serious then, nearly pleading with her, “Let me actually save you for once, instead a’ just dreamin’ about it. Let me keep my promise, Buffy. Please.”

Buffy looked down at the check, her vision shimmering with tears, then back up at Spike. He extended his hand to her, silently inviting her to come with him.

Buffy blinked back her tears and looked at her very confused, chicken-headed boss.

“The customer’s always right,” she informed Rory with a wavering smile. “I quit.”

Apparently, Rory wasn't at the top of his class while getting that Bowling Industry Management and Technology degree, as it hadn’t quite prepared him for this situation. He just stared at her blankly, frozen in place like a statute.

Buffy pulled her stupid hat off and took Spike’s hand, launching herself over the counter in one powerful leap. Spike caught her in mid-air and swung her around, his duster billowing out behind him like Superman’s cape, fit for a hero.

“Thank you … I …” Buffy stammered when he set her down on her feet, his arms still around her, holding her close.

Spike shook his head. “It’s me should be thankin’ you, Buffy.”

She shook her head, not understanding, and pulled back to look into his eyes.

“All those nights I dreamed of savin’ you … after you … when you were gone. But when it mattered, I didn’t. Wasn’t fast enough, clever enough, strong enough.” Spike shook his head, blinking back his emotions. “Now I can. Finally. I can at least save you from this death of a thousand cuts. I can keep my promise.”

Buffy caressed his cheek gently, her eyes locked with his. “I know you always keep your promises, Spike. You save me every day. Believe me, you pull me out of the darkness and keep me sane. I’m proud of you. You are a hero – you’re my hero.”

Buffy smiled and looked down at his medals. “Says so right here,” she teased lovingly, touching a finger to one of the shiny, golden medallions.

Spike bit his bottom lip and nodded. “Thank you for that. Means more than I can say, comin’ from you.”

Buffy kissed him deeply and passionately, long enough for the father she’d served earlier to suggest they, “Get a room!”

Buffy giggled, breaking the kiss, and whispered, “Good idea,” against Spike’s lips. “I want to do some very heroic things to you.”

Spike rumbled a rich, luscious laugh against her lips in reply. The two turned as one, clasping hands, and together they seemed to float out of the Doublemeat Palace on a cloud of kept promises and genuine trust, the fumes of ‘secret ingredient’ fading like a bad dream.

Chapter Text

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Buffy and Dawn stopped in at the Magic Box the next evening feeling happier than they had in a very long time. Everything was right with the world. That afternoon they’d gone to the bank with the check Spike had given Buffy and she opened a savings account, filled up her pitiful checking account with enough money to actually pay the bills, and the two had done a small bit of frivolous shopping afterwards. They’d even bought Spike a couple of new CDs for his music collection – ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols’ and ‘Combat Rock’ by The Clash –  and a CD player for his crypt.

Ignoring the ‘Closed’ sign on the door, they walked into Anya’s shop, laughing and chattering brightly. The mood in the shop, however, was quite different than the Summers girls’ upbeat levity. Buffy could feel it the moment they walked in. Dawn, however, didn’t seem to notice as she continued talking animatedly about the new shoes she’d gotten and how Doris Demeter was going to totally turn green when she saw them at school on Monday.

Dawn stopped to look at a new display of crystal dragons Anya had just gotten in as Buffy continued to the back of the room and the research table where her friends sat, looking nervous, worried and stony-faced.

“What’s with the tragedy masks?” Buffy asked apprehensively, setting her shopping bags down on a chair and looking from Xander to Willow to Tara. Buffy remained standing. She could hear Anya doing something down in the storeroom and thought maybe they needed her, Buffy, to stab a mummy hand or something down there, perhaps that’s why they’d asked her to stop by.

“Buffy,” Willow began carefully. “Xander wanted … umm, I mean … I feel …”

“Oh, God,” Buffy groaned, cutting her off. “Is this another intervention? Demons Anonymous has reconvened?”

They all looked a little guilty, their eyes shifting around the room, unable to meet Buffy’s.

“Buff, look … it’s just … Spike,” Xander took over, finally looking at her. “Setting him free is just asking for trouble! He’s dangerous! Have you forgotten?”

“Use ‘I feel’ statements,” Willow hissed at him under her breath.

I feel,” Xander began again, “that removing the chip from Spike is a ginormous-ly awful idea! It’s like a cliché horror movie come to life! All we need to do now is start walking backwards through doors, tripping over thin air, and chanting ‘Bloody Mary’ into the mirror three times!”

Buffy sighed and crossed her arms over her chest, glaring at Xander. “How many times do we need to have this conversation, Xan?”

“As many times as it takes for you to see that an un-chipped and un-dusty Spike is a ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ waiting to happen, only, you know, less funny,” Xander contended.

“Okay. Fine,” Buffy replied flatly. “Tell me then, what has he done to you? I mean, of everyone here, it seems like you’d be top on his hit list. You know, since Riley’s gone to play with Yetis in Nepal, that leaves you as the Grand Poohbah of the National Anti-Spike Brotherhood Outpost and Stake Factory. I must say, you look good for having been attacked by a vampire… very animated, almost like you still had all your blood.”

“Well… he hasn’t done that yet,” Xander admitted, clamping a hand protectively over the side of his neck.

“Oh … then maybe he threatened you?” Buffy suggested. “Made his scary face?”

“Well … no, not yet.”

“Burned your apartment building down with you in it?”

“No…”

“Ran your car off the road.”

“No…”

“Poisoned your pizza? Drowned you in a bowl of Fruit Loops? Buried you in an ant hill? Tied you to the train tracks? Dropped you into a vat of acid? Replaced your Viagra with cyanide?”

“I don’t take Viagra!” Xander objected angrily. “Well … just that once.”

Buffy arched a brow at him.

“Okay, twice …”

“Xanderrr,” she drawled warningly.

“Fine – no, he hasn’t done any of that … yet!” he acquiesced. 

“Ahhh … okay … so, what? He flung angry thoughts at you?” Buffy suggested next.

“Buffy… you have to see this from our side of the supernatural fence!” Xander insisted.

“Oh! Wow … really? I have to see it from your side of the fence? How about you see it from my side of the fence once in a while, Xander!” the Slayer demanded. “Where should I begin? Oh, how about: Spike’s changed. Spike’s on our side. Spike’s proven it over and over! You really don’t want to make me list it all for you again! I get cranky when I have to keep repeating myself.

“Spike is a strong warrior who can help me stay alive, which, I might point out, will help you stay alive. So, just what is on your side of the fence?” Buffy asked, glaring at him.

“Spike is a killer,” Xander replied angrily. “He’s a vampire! He’s double-crossed us before. He’s a murderer! How do the few good things he’s done make up for all the vile things he’s done in the past?”

“Anya!” Buffy called down toward the storeroom. “Could you come up here, please?”

Xander looked worried as Anya appeared at the door to the storeroom a moment later. She looked a little disheveled and exasperated, there was a streak of dirt across her cheek, and she held her hands out away from her body, as if they were covered in something nasty. “What do you want? I’m incredibly busy. The crate of frog legs broke open and they’re hopping and leaping all over everything! I believe they were packed in Astroglide, which makes it nearly impossible for me to recapture the slippery bastards, on top of being just a terrible misuse of quality lube.”

“Uh … right,” Buffy stammered a moment before regaining her composure. “Just a quick question: How long were you a Vengeance Demon?”

Buffy…” Xander tried to object, but she shot him a death glare and pointed a threatening finger at him and he shut up.

“A thousand years,” Anya answered, trying to brush a bit of hair out of her eyes with the back of her wrist.

“And, in those thousand years, how many people would you say you killed, or, you know, otherwise maimed and mutilated?” Buffy wondered.

Anya shrugged. “I didn’t really keep count, but I was D’Hoffryn’s very favorite,” she admitted brightly. “I was awarded ‘Vengeance Demon of the Year’ at the Christmas party a hundred years in a row! Then they set a new rule that you couldn’t win it more than a hundred times. It was completely unfair. They were just jealous little babies who couldn’t stand to lose,” she grumbled.

“Yeah, that would totally suck,” Buffy agreed. “So … round estimates, a thousand years, if you cursed say, five people a year, even with my limited math skills, I figure that would be five thousand.”

Anya scowled. “Oh, no, I wouldn’t win Demon of the Year for that! What do you think I am? An underachiever?”

“Right … of course not. So … double that?”

Anya shrugged. “Closer.”

“And, um, when you first came to Sunnydale, it was to …?” Buffy prompted.

“Grant a wish for a girl Xander scorned, of course! Cordelia Chase – she wanted to keep you from ever coming to Sunnydale,” Anya explained to the Slayer.

Suddenly something crashed down below in the storeroom and Anya jumped and let out a curse before turning around and hurrying back down to try and corral the fleeing, slippery frog’s legs.

Buffy turned back to Xander. She arched a brow at him, lowered her silencing finger and re-crossed her arms huffily over her chest.

Xander sighed and rolled his eyes.

“Xander, I’m not going to say this again: get over it,” Buffy demanded. “Get off your high horse, because, honestly, it’s not that high. You’re riding an old, worn-out, blind nag with a broken leg – the same one you’ve been riding since high school – and I, for one, am tired of seeing you beat the poor thing. I keep hearing how dangerous Spike is, but I see you all sitting here in perfect health. I keep hearing how he was a murderer, and yet, you’re married to the Vengeance Demon of the Year times a hundred. Daddy’s favorite little murdering monster!

“You seem to want me to live in a black and white world, and to always stay in the light like I live on The Good Ship Lollipop instead of the Hellmouth! All the while, you get to dance around in the gray areas. Well, it doesn’t work that way.  You get to love whoever you want, regardless of their past. Well, here’s a news flash: So. Do. I,” Buffy informed him in no uncertain terms.

“You … you’re … saying … you … love Spike?!” Xander stammered, his eyes as wide as saucers.

“What? No … I didn’t say that!” Buffy backtracked.

“You kinda did,” Willow interjected, finally able to get a word in as Xander spluttered and choked.

“No, I didn’t! I just meant that … cos, you know, Xan’s married to an ex-demon, that … obviously pasts can be forgiven, and I can … date ... whoever I want,” Buffy stammered. “And … that’s so not the point! Spike’s not hurting anyone! He won’t hurt anyone!”

“B-Buffy, it’s okay if you do love him,” Tara soothed, trying to smooth things over.

“I know that!” Buffy snapped. “It’s just … not what I meant. So, get over it and stop trying to shove words in my mouth and intervention me!”

Buffy grabbed up her shopping bags and whirled on her heels, heading back for the door of the shop, her good mood ruined.

“Let’s go!” she barked at Dawn, who had been standing back listening to the exchange. “I need to … buy something that I don’t need.”

Dawn hesitated, waiting until the bell tinkled above the door with Buffy’s departure before taking a few steps back toward the intervention group. “If you want to keep Buffy as a friend, you better start figuring out that butting into her life like this is way uncool,” the girl informed them. “She loves Spike … even if she’s still standing knee-deep in the waters of ‘de Nile’. Anyone with half a brain can see it – which I guess leaves you out, Xander, but I’m surprised at you two,” Dawn insisted, looking at Willow and Tara.

Xander exclaimed, “Hey! I have half a brain!” in an offended tone while Willow and Tara both looked abashed. This whole thing had been Xander's idea; they'd let him badger them into it and were regretting it now.

“W-we didn’t mean … we weren’t … saying…” Tara began defending meekly, but Dawn cut her off.

“Good. Then it won’t be a problem to stop saying whatever it is you weren’t saying. She loves him, he loves her. So, grow up and start acting like her friends instead of the Spanish Inquisition, or you’ll have me to answer to. And I’m way scarier than Spike. I know all your secrets.”

They all looked at her with confused, wary eyes, wondering just what secrets Dawn might know, all feeling suitably rebuked. Dawn lifted her chin defiantly before twirling on her heel, her long hair flying out in a curtain of chestnut silk, and followed her sister outside for more retail therapy to restore their good moods.

** X-X-X-X-X **

 

Several nights later.

Buffy pushed open the creaky door of Spike’s crypt at nine p.m. sharp, as it had stated on the written invitation that Clem had delivered to her house that morning. The handwritten note had invited her to join Spike for dinner here, formal attire requested.

As the days went by and Chipless-Spike hadn’t actually killed anyone or even made his scary face in their direction, the Scoobies seemed to relax more around both Buffy and Spike. Even Xander had been, if not exactly friendly, at least not surly or openly hostile to Spike, and he hadn’t brought up anything more to Buffy about her relationship status.

Buffy had been alternating between sleeping at her house or at Spike’s crypt, depending on what was going on with Dawn and Willow. Buffy made sure Dawn wasn’t left alone in the house overnight, but having Spike stay over when Dawn or Willow were there generally hadn’t been the best idea, since ‘stealth’ wasn’t really one of their finer qualities when it came to the bedroom.

When Buffy knew Willow, and now sometimes Tara, who had started staying over more often, would be home with Dawn, or if Dawn would be out for the night, the lovers would stay at Spike’s for the privacy it offered. Spike knew that Dawn was attending a sleepover at her friend Janice’s house tonight, so Buffy wouldn’t be missed, and it would give Willow and Tara a little more privacy, too.

Buffy wasn’t entirely sure what degree of ‘formal’ Spike intended for tonight. Prom formal? Having to go to court formal? Red carpet formal? Meet the Queen formal? Funeral formal?  There were so many levels of formal to choose from! Since she wasn’t really sure, she went with the fallback that works for nearly any occasion: the little black dress.

She’d splurged again and gone shopping after receiving his invitation, buying a new dress for the night. She knew she needed to be careful with the money Spike had given her. It looked like a lot – it was a lot – but it needed to last since she had no current above-poverty-level job prospects. She knew that frivolous spending would cut into it quickly if she wasn’t careful. But, she figured since Spike had given her the money, that buying a dress to wear at his invitation wasn’t really that frivolous, it was almost an obligation. She was actually acting responsibly.

This little black dress was a halter top, which left her shoulders and back bare. The straps that went from the bodice up and around her neck were studded with large, emerald-cut diamonds – or, well, sparkly rhinestones, anyway. The bodice was form-fitting, showing her curves, and cut low enough to tease but not reveal too much. The skirt was an above-the-knee, gentle A-line that flowed around her like a soft cloud when she walked. If she twirled – okay, yes, she might’ve done that in front of the mirror at home – it floated out and up, revealing a lacy, red thong beneath. She had not splurged on new shoes but had some that looked like they were made for the dress. Sexy black sandals with three-inch stiletto heels, which had the exact same bright rhinestones that were on her dress along the straps which encircled her ankles.

She’d continued the diamondy-theme in her hair, pulling it back from her face and holding it there with sparkling, intricate, rhinestone combs on each side. Beyond the combs, her short, blonde locks flowed into a cloud of soft curls at the back.

“Spike?” she called, pushing the screeching door closed behind herself and looking around. There was a path of white rose petals leading from the front door to the trapdoor which stood open to his bedroom below. Lining each side of the path were several red pillar candles, all flickering from the light breeze that came in with her.

Buffy smiled at the sight, a warm glow blooming in her chest. What had Spike said about who he had been? A poet and a romantic? Well, she still hadn’t gotten him to share any poetry with her, but the romantic was certainly in evidence tonight.

As Buffy drew closer to the open trapdoor, walking slowly along the rose-petal path, just to make it last longer, she heard soft music coming from below.  Buffy’s smile turned into an irrepressible grin when Marvin Gaye singing, ‘Let’s Get It On’ drifted up to meet her. She stopped near the open entrance and looked down into the cozy room where she had spent so much time since coming back from the dead.

Spike stepped into view, lighting a few more candles, apparently unaware that she was there, or at least pretending that he didn’t know a Slayer was standing right above him. Buffy rolled her eyes at the pretense but continued to watch in silence.

As she watched and listened, he sang along softly to the Motown song, moving gracefully to the slow music, as he completed his final preparations for their dinner. The song ended and a new one began, another Motown love song which proclaimed, ‘I believe when I fall in love with you, it will be forever.’

(Stevie Wonder, I Believe )

Shattered dreams, worthless years
Here am I encased inside a hollow shell
Life began, then was done
Now I stare into a cold and empty well

The many sounds that meet our ears
The sights our eyes behold
Will open up our merging hearts
And feed our empty souls

Come on, let's fall in love
You're the woman I've been waiting for
Come on, let's fall in love
You're the girl that I really adore

I believe when I fall in love with you, it will be forever

Buffy bit her lip and blinked back the emotions that rose up from her chest. She remembered her near-admission to her friends at their so-called intervention the other day.  It had flustered her at the time and she’d denied it but, in her heart, she knew that they were right – she had meant it – she did love Spike. She also knew he needed to hear it from her, more than that, he deserved to hear it. She just didn’t know if she could say it. Saying those particular words seemed to always signal the beginning of the end, and she wasn’t sure if she could take even one more tragic ending without completely unraveling.

I believe when I fall in love with you, it will be forever.

Buffy took a deep breath and dabbed gently at the corners of her eyes, blotting away all the emotions that had suddenly stirred up. She looked back at the rose-petal path, and let her heart fill with warmth again, the smile returning to her face. This was Spike. He would catch her … he wouldn’t let her crash on the rocks. He just wouldn’t. This time, Romeo and Juliet, the star-crossed lovers, would live happily ever after, even if it killed them both.

“Spike?” she called again, feeling more centered, surer of her heart than ever before. He wouldn’t break his promise. He wouldn’t leave her. He wouldn’t betray her. He wouldn’t let her unravel.

“Down here, pet,” he called back, walking back into view below the open door and looking up.

“Ummm … could you turn around maybe? Look the other way?” she asked, peering down at him.

Spike’s brows went up. “Reckon so, any particular reason?” he wondered, even as he turned away from the door and the ladder leading down.

“Well, it’s just … you could look right up my dress from there,” she explained, starting down the ladder.

“Nothing I haven’t seen before,” he pointed out with a smirk.

“But you haven’t seen it tonight,” she countered, touching down on the soft carpets below the ladder.

Spike turned around, hearing her behind him, and his eyes softened into that awestruck look he sometimes gave her, his head tilting in that irresistible way he had as he drank her in.

That look made Buffy feel equal parts sex goddess and vestal virgin. She tried to channel the sex goddess, and not fidget uncomfortably under his scrutiny, but it took most of her Slayer power to do it.

“Do you like it?” she asked at last, turning in a slow circle, careful to not twirl and reveal too much too early in the evening. Dinner had been promised, after all.

Spike bit his bottom lip, his eyes traveling over her almost like a physical caress.  “You’re ravishing, Buffy. A goddess,” he said at last, his eyes finally coming to rest upon hers when she was facing him again.

The warm glow in her heart bloomed again and rose up, tinging her chest, neck, and cheeks with a pink blush.

“Thank you. You look pretty hot yourself,” she observed, touching a hand down lightly on his lapel.

It was the same suit he’d worn to the Harris wedding – dark blue slacks and jacket, and a French-blue dress shirt— but with a different tie. This one was dark blue, like his suit, but with a paisley design that matched his shirt. He had a white rose in the boutonniere on his left breast, matching the other dozen that Buffy could see in a vase on the table beyond.

Spike looked down at himself, smoothing a non-existent wrinkle from his jacket. “A bit out of practice in the art of formal attire,” he admitted, feeling a little self-conscious.

“Well, you couldn’t prove it by me,” she assured him. “You look very handsome.”

“Yeah?” he asked, genuinely touched.

“Yeah,” she confirmed, pressing a soft kiss to his lips.

Spike cleared his throat, attempting to remain a gentleman, and stepped back from her, turning to invite her to the table. Buffy walked over the few feet and took in the spread on the small, square table.

The first thing she noticed was the new, formal white tablecloth that covered the dated, chipped, pink Formica. She immediately hoped she didn’t spill anything on it over the course of the evening and stain it. A vase of long-stemmed white roses adorned the center of the table, with two formal, bone china place-settings at right angles to each other, all set out and ready for them. White pillar candles in varying heights filled one of the other two places at the table, and a bottle of champagne cooled in an ice bucket at the other.

Spike pulled her chair out for her and Buffy took a seat, allowing him to help her slide it back in. Before he sat down, he popped the cork on the champagne, sending it flying across the large, literally cavernous, room, and poured them each a glass. Taking his seat next to her, Spike held his glass up for a toast.

“To the most beautiful woman in the world,” he declared, eyes soft with unhindered adoration.

“Wherever she may be,” Buffy added with a smile, touching her glass to his with a small ‘tink’, before taking a sip of the sweet bubbly.

Spike chuckled but drank wither her, never taking his eyes off her.

“Dress is new, innit?” he asked reaching out a finger to touch the rhinestones on the straps. He allowed his fingers to slip off them casually and linger on the warm, bare skin of her shoulder.

“Do you know every piece of clothing I own?” she wondered, keeping her voice casual as little sparks danced across her skin where he was touching her.

Spike shook his head negatively, but then admitted, “Intimately.”

“I’m not going to ask what that means,” Buffy laughed, taking another sip of bubbly and looking around the underground cavern. There were candles on nearly every flat surface, casting a soft glow over the entire space. Their scent mingled with the roses on the table, creating a sweet, romantic cocktail for the senses. The music was still playing softly, more Motown love songs floating gently through the air, adding to the mood. She could also smell food but couldn’t immediately tell where the savory aroma was coming from.

“It’s beautiful down here, Spike. The roses are amazing, and all the candles. It’s almost like a different place,” she observed, looking back at him. “And the rose petal path upstairs was a nice touch.”

Spike smiled in pleasure at knowing his efforts had been successful. He was a bit out of practice in the art of romance, as well.

“Glad you like it, pet,” he acknowledged sincerely. “Are you ravenous? Or would you honor me with a dance before dinner?”

“Well, Slayer here, so pretty much always ravenous,” she admitted, pulling her bottom lip between her teeth a moment, and then releasing it flirtatiously, conveying that food wasn’t the only thing she was ravenous for. “But I’d love a dance with you.”

Spike rose and was behind her, pulling her chair out, before Buffy could push her back on her own. She made an ‘oops’ face. “Sorry, I just … never. I don’t think anyone ever did that for me before.”

“Bloody shame that, luv,” he declared truthfully, extending one hand, palm up, for her to take as she rose. 

“I could get used to it,” she admitted, smiling, as she took his hand and he led her away from the table a couple of feet. He turned to her then, pulling the woman he loved into his arms as Gladys Knight began to sing, ‘You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.’

(You're the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me)

I've had my share of life's ups and downs
But fate's been kind, the downs have been few
I guess you could say that I've been lucky
Well, I guess you could say that it's all because of you

If anyone should ever write my life story
For whatever reason there might be
Oh, you'll be there between each line of pain and glory
Cause you're the best thing that ever happened to me
Ah, you're the best thing that ever happened to me

Oh, there have been times when times were hard
But always somehow I made it, I made it through
Cause for every moment that I've spent hurting
There was a moment that I spent, ah, just loving you

The lovers swayed gently to the slow music, their bodies moving as one, liquid and graceful. Spike held her right hand in his, close against his chest, while his left roamed gently up and down the soft, bare skin along her spine, making her body tingle beneath his touch.

They didn’t speak, just letting the song and their bodies do the talking for them, getting lost in both, in each other. They’d had so many ‘dances’ over the years, dances of life and death, of Slayer and vampire, of ally and protector, of lustful lovers, and now, she had to admit, that their dance had evolved yet again into even more than lovers. There was a bond, a trust, a deep understanding borne from shared experience. They could depend on each other to be there, to have each other’s backs, to provide a buttress against whatever challenges leapt into their paths.

In short, it had evolved into love, on both sides.

Buffy felt the walls around her heart begin to crack and crumble, his arms around her an anchor for her to hold on to, knowing that she’d be safe here. Safe to tell him, safe to say the words.

She looked up and their eyes met and held. She opened her mouth, the words ready to tumble out, when his lips closed over hers, swallowing them in a soft moan.

“Thank you, Buffy,” Spike whispered against her lips when the kiss broke.

“For what?” she wondered, pulling back to look into his beautiful blue eyes.

“For being the best thing that ever happened to me,” he professed, before kissing her again, deeply, ardently.

As the kiss broke, Spike slipped a hand into his pocket and pulled out a small, black velvet box. Releasing Buffy, he took a half a step back and held the box up on the palm of his hand for her to see.

Buffy’s brows knit as she looked from the box to his eyes and back again. “For me? What is it?”

“Probably not an elephant in a pink tutu and tap shoes,” he pointed out, smirking.

Buffy rolled her eyes but smiled.

“Open it and see,” he suggested, his expression intent again.

Buffy held her breath as she took the small box and flipped the lid open. Inside was a delicate necklace with a golden, infinity pendant. It was in the shape of a figure eight, a symbol of eternal, unbreakable love and unbounded strength. In the loop on one end of the ‘8’ was a black diamond, dark and sparkling in a delicate setting, in the other loop was a brilliant white diamond, glittering bright in the candlelight. Between the two, on the front, downward slant of the ‘8’ were more, smaller black diamonds inset into the gold.

necklace

 

“Oh, Spike … it’s beautiful!” Buffy exclaimed, touching a finger down gently on the gleaming jewels.

She looked back up at him then, her gaze softening. “But how … you gave me the money,” she wondered.

“Not polite t’ ask questions like that, Slayer,” he rebuked her lightly.

“Spiiike?” she drawled out suspiciously.

Spike sighed. “Might’ve held back one or two little baubles from the jewel heists,” he admitted. “Call it a reward.”

Buffy rolled her eyes, but couldn’t help but smile, looking back down at the necklace.

“It’s us … you and me,” Spike explained. “The darkness and the light, together for infinity. It’s my promise, pet, till the end of the world – and beyond.”

Buffy’s mouth dropped open, and she looked back up at him. “It’s beautiful,” she breathed, touched as much by the sentiment as the jewels themselves.

“You’re my light, Buffy. I’m forever fighting the darkness, but you’re my sun, you drive it back. You make me less of a monster, more of a man,” Spike told her solemnly, his eyes shimmering with emotion.

Buffy shook her head, her gaze still locked with his. “It’s you who is my light, Spike. You push back the darkness in my soul, you pulled me out of the hell my friends dropped me into. You showed me that we can find happiness here, and even a little slice of heaven.” 

Buffy pulled the necklace from the box and held it up for him, silently asking him to put it on her. When he took it from her hands, she turned around and lifted her short hair up off her neck for him. His fingers grazed her skin as he encircled her neck with the delicate chain and deftly snapped it together at the back.

Buffy turned back around, her eyes finding his. “How does it look?”

“You make it radiant, Buffy, just like you.”

Chapter Text

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Seated at the table again after giving her the infinity necklace, the embodiment of his promise to her, Spike rang a small bell that Buffy hadn’t even noticed next to his place setting.

Buffy turned around in time to see a small demon emerge from behind a screen in the furthest corner of the cavern. He had teal skin, and long, deep green hair, that seemed to be made of seaweed.  As he came closer, she saw that he had bright, aquamarine eyes that shimmered like sunlight glinting through crystal-blue water, and two short horns protruding from his forehead that might’ve been white coral. He couldn’t have been more than four feet tall, and was dressed in a handsome black tux, complete with a bowtie and tails.

He bowed perfunctorily when he reached them, then pulled Buffy’s folded napkin from its place on the table and settled it neatly onto her lap. Buffy looked at Spike, her eyes wide, her lips pressed together to suppress a grin. The little demon did the same with Spike’s napkin, then turned on his heel and disappeared behind the screen again.

Before Buffy could ask any questions, the fellow was back with two plates of Caesar salad, which he placed gently down atop the larger plate already on the table in front of each of them.

“Cheese?” he offered Buffy, holding out a small block of parmesan and a cheese grater.

“Ummm ... sure … I mean, yes, please,” she replied, sitting back in her chair, watching.

The little demon grated cheese atop her salad, and grated, and grated, and kept grating.

“I think yer supposed t’ say ‘when’, pet,” Spike told her with a small smile.

“Oh! When!” Buffy exclaimed. “Thanks.”

The demon then turned to Spike, who accepted the offer of cheese, but stopped him before the lettuce was completely consumed by it.

Their small waiter then offered salt and pepper, both also freshly ground atop the salad, until both diners said ‘when’. He then bowed again, and retreated behind the screen, out of sight.

“I didn’t know you had a manservant,” Buffy teased in a low voice.

Spike smirked. “Name’s Tobias. He’s a headwaiter at The Venomous Unicorn, actually. Just moonlightin’ for me tonight.”

“The Venomous Unicorn?” Buffy questioned, widening her eyes.

“Very exclusive restaurant near the coast – demons only, very posh,” Spike explained.

“They don’t actually serve unicorn there, do they?”

Spike rolled his eyes. “No such thing, pet.”

Buffy quirked a brow at him. “You never know,” she pointed out. “Do you know every demon joint in California?”

“P-lease!” he scoffed. “I know every demon joint from Prudhoe Bay to Tierra del Fuego.”

“Oh, pardon me,” Buffy laughed. “Didn’t mean to insult your demon bar acumen.”

Spike sniffed. “Apology accepted, just don’t let it happen again.”

“You should start a Zagat’s-type guide for demon bars. You’d make a million,” Buffy suggested, her eyes glittering with humor.

“Got all the treasure I need right here, luv … right here,” he clarified, lifting his hand to touch her face gently.

Buffy bit her lip and looked down coquettishly, a small blush rising up her neck to color her face. “Who knew you were so sweet?” she asked, covering his hand with hers.

“Well-guarded secret, that is,” Spike scoffed. “Might have t’ kill ya now,” he teased, pulling his hand away.

Buffy laughed and held up three fingers in a pledge. “What happens in the crypt, stays in the crypt, remember?”

Spike pulled his bottom lip between his teeth and tilted his head in agreement. Oh, the things he had planned for tonight in the crypt. He had to adjust the napkin over his lap just thinking about it.

“He looks a little familiar. Have I met him before?” she wondered, changing subject as she glanced back in the direction the demon had gone.

“Don’t think so. Met his second cousin, though, Ariel,” he reminded her.

“Oh! The soap demon,” Buffy confirmed. “The eyes, that’s what it is. They have the same eyes.”

Spike nodded agreement, and then straightened the napkin in his lap again, waiting.

Buffy looked down at her pile of cheese-topped lettuce, considering all the various utensils around her plate, and then back at Spike. “Aren’t you going to eat?” she asked him, waiting to see which fork he used.

“Guests first, luv,” he advised her gallantly.

“Oh … umm… right,” she muttered, once again considering the different forks around her plate, chewing her bottom lip in contemplation.

Spike watched her, amused and utterly charmed. “Something wrong, pet?” he prompted, quirking a brow at her. “Too much cheese?”

Buffy looked up, pulled from her deliberations. “Oh! No … you can never have too much cheese,” she assured him, deciding to just go for it.

She reached for the fork above the plate, and Spike shook his head negatively, so she pulled her hand back quickly. She then went for the one next to her plate, which drew another negative shake of Spike’s head. She rolled her eyes and picked up the last fork on the table.

“A girl could starve figuring out what fork to use,” she muttered dourly before digging into the cheese … err, the salad.

Spike laughed and picked up his own salad fork and began to eat with her. “When faced with a bevy of flatware, remember to work from the outside in,” he advised her. “The one above the plate’s for dessert.”

“Well, it’s good to know there will be dessert,” she offered, brightening.

“I love you, Buffy,” he announced suddenly and naturally. “You’re bloody adorable, in a deadly sort o’ way.”

The words formed in her mind again and she thought they were willing to be voiced, but her mouth was full of cheesy salad. Although she didn’t think Spike would care too much if she talked with her mouth full, she thought it would ruin the effect, so she once again put the words back in their gilded cage.

“Good?” he asked, watching her.

Buffy nodded, swallowing. “Very cheesy.”

Spike laughed. “Reckon you’ll know when to say ‘when’ next time, pet.”

** X-X-X-X-X **

Before long, Tobias returned to remove the salad plates, refill their champagne glasses, and then serve the main course: Roasted lamb chops with herby new potatoes, and roasted leeks with bacon.

Buffy looked at the small chops suspiciously. “What is it?” she asked, touching it with what she now knew was her dinner fork. “It’s not demon, is it?”

Spike laughed, amused. “Lamb chops, pet.”

Buffy’s brows knit together. “They’re really small,” she observed, cutting a tender piece off one.

“Wouldn’t be lamb if they were big, be mutton,” he told her, also cutting and taking a bite of the meat.

“I thought lambs grew into sheep, not muttons,” Buffy observed, lifting the tidbit to her mouth. Her eyes went wide as she tasted the rich, tender, savory meat, and she moaned in pleasure.

“That’s so good!” she exclaimed before Spike could explain mutton to her. “How have I not had this before?” she wondered, looking at Spike.

“Too busy annihilating your taste buds with Doublemeat Medleys, I reckon,” Spike replied, smiling at her enthusiasm for his menu.

“Even the green stuff is good,” she continued, taking a bite of the leeks. “Dawn should use this in her smoothies instead of grass.”

Spike chuckled, his eyes glinting with joy as he watched her. She was so guileless, so pure, and vibrant – sunbeams and seashells and summer days wrapped in raw silk. She filled in the cracks of his heart with brilliance when she smiled, making him want nothing more than to be the man she thought he was.

“Oh, my God, Spike. I love this,” she gushed as she ate. “This is the best meal I’ve had, possibly ever!”

Buffy stopped her fork halfway to her mouth and looked up at him then. “And the best company, too,” she added, her tone soft and serious.

Spike’s eyes sparkled back at her and he reached out and took her free hand in his, squeezing gently. “Me too, Buffy. Ever.”

 

** X-X-X-X-X **

 

 “I figured someone had highjacked yer body that time – didn’t know it was another Slayer. What she said makes a bit more sense, knowing that.

“But Joyce and Rupert doing the deed on the hood of a police car? Yer just making stuff up now, Slayer,” Spike insisted as they finished the dessert: double death by chocolate molten lava cake.

Buffy shook her head, laughing as she swallowed the last bite. “I swear on the god of chocolate. They did it! Twice! My mom described Giles as a ‘stevedore’! Oh, my God, I thought my brain would explode when I found out!” Buffy vowed, still laughing as she set her fork down.

“Didn’t know Rupert had it in ‘im. Actually got shagged this decade.” Spike shook his head in disbelief. “Sorry I missed that,” he admitted, still chuckling.

“Oh no you’re not. It was horrible,” she assured him. “When I’m the most responsible person in town, you know the world is doomed!” she laughed.

Buffy turned serious then, a faraway look in her eyes. “Mom really liked you, ya know?”

“I could tell by the way she hit me with that axe,” he replied, smirking at the memory.

Buffy smiled. “You never hurt her … you could’ve.”

Spike shook his head. “Joyce was a good lady. Put those little marshmallows in my hot chocolate. Treated me nice.”

“Unlike me,” Buffy admitted, looking down.

“Buffy,” Spike cajoled, taking her hand in his. “We both made mistakes, yeah? We did what we were made to do, followed our callings. It’s behind us, it’s the past. Only thing that matters is now. And right now, I’d love t’ dance with you.”

“You told me once that’s all we’ve ever done.”

“I remember,” Spike assured her softly. “But right now I was thinking something a little more literal.”

Buffy smiled and nodded. “I’d love that.”

Spike released her hand and stood up, this time not having to use vampire speed to help her with her chair, she waited for him. Buffy took his proffered hand, rising and following him to the small ‘dance floor’ as the soft music continued to play.

Spike turned and took her in his arms again, so gracefully and gently that it made Buffy wonder how someone so powerful, and capable of such violence, could even manage it. Another of the dichotomies that was Spike. Fierce and tender. Primal and refined. Snarky and sweet. Dangerous and protective. Sarcastic and gracious. 

Buffy smiled to herself as she moved with him, realizing that she loved all those contradictions because she had so many of them herself. She was what she needed to be depending on the circumstances, but with Spike she could just be what she was, she didn’t have to wear those masks, he wouldn’t take jabs at her true heart, even if it was silly or naïve, wicked or wanton. He would understand. He would love her anyway.

( The Four Tops - I Believe in You And Me)

 

I believe in you and me
I believe that we will be
In love eternally
As far as I can see
You will always be
The one for me
Oh, yes you will

I believe in dreams again
I believe that love will never end
And like the river finds the sea
I was lost now I'm free
I believe in you and me

Buffy leaned into him, their bodies again melding into one with the slow music, the words flowing over them as if reading their minds.

I will never leave your side
I will never hurt your pride
When all the chips are down
I will always be around
Just to be right there where you are, my love
Oh, I love you girl

I will never leave you out
I will always let you in
To places no one's ever been
Deep inside can't you see
I believe in you and me

Buffy felt tears prickle her eyes and she closed them tight, not wanting anything to spoil this moment. Spike had opened up to her, he’d let her in to places she was sure no one else had ever been, into the deepest recesses of his battered soul. She knew that hadn’t been easy for him, but he’d trusted her to understand, to catch him, to not let him crash on the rocks.  It was time for her to make good on that, to catch him, to let him in fully.

Maybe I'm a fool
To feel the way I do
But I would play the fool forever
Just to be with you forever

I believe in miracles
Love's a miracle
And, baby, you're a dream come true
I was lost, now I'm free
I believe in you and me
I was lost now I'm free, girl
I believe in you and me

 

As the song came to an end, Buffy blinked back her emotions, looking up to meet his eyes. “Spike, I…” she began but was interrupted by someone clearing their throat behind her.

She spun from Spike’s embrace, startled, to find their waiter standing at attention, hands clasped behind his back, waiting patiently. She’d totally forgotten he was there.

“If that will be all, sir, I shall take my leave,” Tobias announced formally.

Spike nodded. “Was perfect, Alfred. Much obliged,” he acknowledged.

“It’s Tobias, sir,” the small demon corrected stoically. He then bowed smartly and turned on his heel, heading for the ladder, the tails of his tux fluttering behind him. After reaching the crypt above, their waiter closed the trapdoor above them, leaving them alone with the flickering candles and soft music.

As soon as the door closed, Buffy let out the burbling laugh she’d been holding in. “I guess he’s not a Batman fan,” she observed, her glittering green eyes looking up at Spike.

Spike chuckled. “No accountin’ fer taste, I reckon,” he agreed with a shrug.

Spike gently pulled her back around to face him fully. “Were you saying something ‘fore Alfred interrupted?”

Buffy smiled shyly and nodded. “I was …” she hesitated, then cleared her throat. “I was just thinking how good that suit would look hanging on that chair over there.”

Spike arched a brow at her. “Thought you liked how I looked in it.”

“I do, but I like how you look out of it even better,” she admitted, with a suggestive smile.

Buffy reached up and gently pulled the knot of his tie loose, then began to unbutton his shirt. Spike stood still, allowing her to undress him. When her fingers grazed his skin, a breath of warm fire billowed over his body, heating him with each gentle touch. She unfastened his belt and the button at the top of his trousers, then slowly pulled the tail of his shirt from them.

With his shirt open and tails out, she ran her hands up from his waist to his shoulders, then let them hook beneath his dress jacket and slide it off his shoulders. She caught it deftly in one hand before it hit the floor behind him. Buffy folded it neatly and laid it across the back of his chair before returning to her task. Lifting each of his wrists, she unbuttoned the cuffs of his shirt and again ran her hands up his torso, beneath the fabric. With her hands resting on his pectorals, she paused and gazed up into his eyes for a long, silent moment.

“I really do like you in blue,” she revealed. “It makes your eyes shine.”

Spike shook his head. “You do that, pet, not the shirt.”

Buffy bit her bottom lip shyly, then finished what she’d started, sliding her hands down his arms to remove his shirt. As with his jacket, she folded it neatly and laid it over the back of the chair before returning to him.

Spike stood, waiting, watching her move, listening to her heartbeat, drowning in her warmth, her scent, the very essence of her. There was no hurry, no frantic rush to have her, and she had read his mind, taking her time with a slow, gentle seduction.

Buffy returned, but instead of continuing with his trousers, she ran her hands slowly over his shoulders, chest, and torso, taking in every curve of muscle and rise of his body beneath her fingers. She traced the lingering scar on his lower right abdomen, the new skin there still tinged with pink in contrast to the marblesque radiance of the rest of his body.

“Does it still hurt very much?” she wondered, looking up to meet his eyes.

Spike shook his head. “Not as long as you’re touching me,” he replied, pressing his hand over hers and holding it against the most tender spot. “All I can feel is heaven.”

Buffy gave him a loving smile, pulling her hand away slowly, and touched a soft kiss to the spot he had covered.

It was all Spike could do to keep from pulling her to him then, to ravish her sweet lips with a fervid kiss, but this is what he’d wanted for tonight, and she’d seemed to know that. He didn’t want to ruin it now.

Buffy then turned her attention to his slacks. The belt hung loose, the ends dangling against his groin, the button of his waistband undone from earlier. She slowly slid the nylon zipper down, being sure to pull it out away from his body at the same time, since clearly it was barely containing his burgeoning need.

As soon as she released the zipper, his slacks slipped off his slender hips, the weight of the belt pulling them to the earth. It was only then that she realized she hadn’t removed his shoes, but Spike took care of it with a couple of adept moves, toeing them off within the puddle of blue fabric.

Buffy smiled up at him, acknowledging the help, as she knelt down before him. She pulled shoes and slacks free as he took one step back to stand bare and exposed before her in the soft glow of the flickering candles.

Buffy carefully folded the slacks and placed them on the chair with his other clothes, tucking the shoes on the floor beneath, before turning back to face him again. No matter how often she saw him like this, it never failed to take her breath away.

“You’re beautiful,” she murmured, returning to him. She trailed her fingers over his chest, then down and around one hip, walking in a slow circle around him. She let her fingers travel over his strong back, tracing the lines of muscle that stood out like a sculpture, smooth and powerful.

“Your ass is perfect,” she observed dreamily, using the flat of her palm to gently caress the tight, round globes. 

Buffy continued her slow tour, coming back around to the front, completing her circle. She then allowed her fingers to tickle over his six-pack abs, touching each bulging muscle with a different finger, as if playing a keyboard.

“Anything else strike yer fancy?” Spike wondered, watching her intently, using all his considerable strength to keep from reaching out and ripping her dress off with one vicious jerk.

Buffy smiled and wrapped her hand around his thick, hard column of steely flesh. “Like this, maybe?” she replied, tightening her grip.

Spike’s eyes fluttered closed and the unneeded breath he’d been inhaling caught in his throat.

“You could say I’m pretty fond of it,” Buffy admitted, stroking slowly up and down the long length. “I’d say you were the model for Michelangelo, except for this part,” she grinned up at him. “Or maybe they just didn’t have enough marble in Italy to do it justice.”

Spike chuckled, opening his eyes and finding hers looking up at him. “Glad you like it, pet. I can assure you, he’s right fond of you, too.”

Buffy laughed, releasing her grip. “Why do guys do that? Refer to their dicks as a separate person?”

Spike snorted. “Cos it has a bloody mind of its own, is why. Doesn’t listen to a bit o’ reason, grows and shrinks without consultin’ its owner, sucks the blood from your brain so you can’t even think straight. Like having a little alien parasite attached to ya, down there doing as it pleases, sucking up your blood, leadin’ you around like a bloody puppet.”

Buffy’s peal of amused laughter sounded like sweet bells to Spike’s ear. “That sounds kind of painful,” she remarked, still laughing.

Spike snorted again. “Not exactly,” he clarified. “More like rapturous bliss, it is, at least when it gets its way. Worth the other small annoyances, I reckon.”

Buffy was still smiling as she bent over and touched a soft kiss to the very tip of Spike’s ‘alien parasite’. “Well, I, for one, think he’s a really cute little alien. Does he have a name?”

“Been known t’ call him a daft bugger, but, no, haven’t gone quite that far,” Spike admitted.

“Maybe his name is Merlin, cos he’s magical,” Buffy suggested. Her face was starting to hurt from grinning, but she couldn’t stop.

Spike quirked a brow, considering. “Sounds like a poofter,” he declined.

“The Rock?” she suggested.

“Think that name’s taken, pet.”

“Hercules? Loverboy? Conan the Barbarian? Atlas? Thor’s Hammer?” Buffy suggested, still laughing.

Spike pulled her against him and kissed her fiercely, drowning her laughter and turning it into a moan of pleasure. His tongue pressed between her sweet lips, tasting her amusement and infectious laughter, drowning in the feel of her, in the utter joy of her.

When he finally released her, Buffy gasped for air, breathless and panting, but still smiling.

“How about ‘Yours’?” Spike suggested. “All yours.”

Buffy bit her bottom lip and nodded. “I like the sound of that.”

Spike touched another soft kiss to her lips, murmuring, “Me too.”

His hands slid up her arms, slowly, gently, above her elbows, skimming lightly across her strong biceps and round deltoids, to her bare shoulders. He let his fingers linger there, tracing random designs of fire onto the skin covering her collarbones. He paused a moment, touching the infinity necklace. No matter what she said, it was she who was the bright, sparkling diamond. He would always be the darkness, but he had hope that, with her as his beacon, someday he could be the man she needed.

Moving again, his fingertips danced over her skin, following the line of the halter straps from her neck down to the curve of her breasts, dipping between them with the cut of the top, then back up the other side.

“So beautiful, Buffy,” he whispered as she stood shivering with pleasure in front of him.

God, she wanted him. Badly. She wished he would rip the dress from her body, throw her down and take her in a fit of lust and ravenous hunger, but she knew that was not what he had in mind tonight. The formal invitation, the roses, the fancy dinner, the soft music, the dancing. No, that was not what this night would be. It would be different, yet another dance for them to experience, soft and loving and tender.

“You cold, pet?” Spike asked, his fingers still tracing the edge of her dress with a velvet touch.

“No,” Buffy managed in a raspy whisper.

Spike smiled, looking up from his task to meet her eyes. “Do I make you shiver?” he wondered, biting his lip in anticipation of her answer.

“To my bones.”

“Never shivered in fear o’ me,” he observed, his fingers still delicate, now traveling slowly up her neck, following her blood which was pounding like a drum just below the surface.

“No,” Buffy agreed.

“You make me shiver, too,” Spike admitted. “In desire of your body, your soul, your … heart.”

Buffy swallowed hard beneath his fingers, which were tracing back down her throat now.

“You have them,” she replied honestly, her voice a low rasp beneath his touch.

Spike stopped moving then, his head tilting, gazing into her eyes. “Do I?”

Buffy nodded, small, earnest bobs of her head. “You do.”

Spike’s fingers deftly unhooked the snap at the back of Buffy’s neck, letting the straps of her dress slide down her skin, revealing her bare breasts. Her nipples were hard pebbles of desire. Gooseflesh rippled over her body, tingling her skin deliciously. The shivers of her desire were burgeoning inside her, threatening to split her into slivers of sweet, silver lightning.   

Spike leaned down and kissed each nipple in turn, slowly drawing each bud past his wet lips. He teased each with his tongue until Buffy had to grasp his shoulders for support, her knees having turned to water. His fingers traced more tracks of fire over the round curves of her breasts as she clung to him, her eyes closed, utterly lost in the pleasure of his touch.

“Such pure passion,” Spike whispered against her, his breath cool against her damp areola.  “Never anyone like you, Buffy.”

Spike slipped his fingers beneath the waist of the dress and pressed it the rest of the way down her body. It slid easily over the luscious curve of her hips and down her legs, his hands following the entire way.

Buffy took a steadying breath and stepped free of the fabric, then watched as Spike slowly and carefully laid it over his clothes on the back of the chair. Spike returned to her, moving like a tiger stalking its prey, silent and sure, pure powerful grace. His fingers began to trace the red lace of her thong, from her hip down into the crack of her ass, lingering there, teasing her tight rosebud, before lifting back up and continuing around her.

He stopped directly in front of her, his tickling touch lingering on her lower stomach, just above the soft lace. Her skin prickled, and more shivers ran through her, quivering the skin beneath his fingers.

“Love how your body answers mine,” Spike whispered, sliding his finger down over the lacy, red fabric, pressing gently between her thighs. “So wet, you are.”

He demonstrated by bringing his finger up to her lips, touching the dampness there against them. Buffy opened her mouth and pulled his finger inside seductively. The taste of her juices unmistakable on his skin as she licked and sucked her own desire from his cool flesh.

He slowly pulled his finger from her luscious lips, sliding it back down her body, between her breasts, over her quivering stomach, and back between her shapely thighs. He rubbed the wet fabric against her clit, gently teasing her, the slickness gliding over her bundle of nerves silkily.

“Cum for me, Buffy. Let me feel your fire,” he begged, circling her clit with the damp fabric between them. Spike touched his lips to one breast, biting down gently with his teeth on the hard pebble. After a moment, he sucked her sensitive skin between his lips and flicked his tongue against the nub mercilessly.

Buffy’s eyes fluttered closed and her legs quivered under her, threatening to give way. Bolts of pleasure shot through her, pulsing like a white-hot fire in her core, ready to explode. She suddenly forgot how to breathe, unable to inhale, as her body shuddered in the pleasure of Spike’s touch. She felt like she was floating there, then falling, then rising again, higher and higher, up to the top of the world.

How high could he take her? Higher. Always higher.

How deep could she fall into the sea of rapture? Miles and miles.

Spike’s fingers slipped beneath the fabric of her panties, touching her hot, yearning nubbin directly, then circling her throbbing opening. Buffy’s body bucked against him, yearning for more. He slipped a finger inside her hot channel, feeling her body throb and pulse around him, but only for a moment. Pulling out, Spike slid his soaked fingers along her dewy petals, back to her clit, circling gently, teasing, lifting, arousing, tantalizing her to the very fringe of lunacy.

Buffy’s heart raced, jumping and lurching in her chest. Her blood boiled in her veins, sparkling with brilliant fires that spread out from her core to consume her. A thin sheen of perspiration dotted her flushed skin from the heat Spike was pouring over her. Quivers of pleasure danced down her legs and up her body, making her knees watery and her breath shallow and raspy. Her yes fluttered closed, lost in his touch, lost in the pleasure sweeping through her, lost in the sweet scents of candles and roses, lost in love.

Feeling her hovering on the precipice, Spike pressed down hard on her clit, as if pressing the button that would end the world, ignite her like a missile, send her rocketing into heaven.

And she did.

Her body arched and bowed with the rapture Spike was pouring over her, and then the world fell away from beneath her. Buffy’s knees gave way. The electrical shocks of quivering pleasure exploded from her center and burned through every nerve ending, every muscle, every fiber of her being, severing them from her control. Buffy heard someone screaming but it seemed far away, unable to comprehend that it was her own voice.  The universe rocketed past, engulfing her in the euphoria of a blinding, astral freefall. She surrendered completely to the ecstasy, letting it rain down on her like a monsoon, coating her entire being in bliss.

When Buffy came back to herself, she was lying on her back on the bed, Spike next to her, propped up on one elbow, his other hand tracing the quivers that continued to shiver across her abdomen.

He looked up to her eyes, feeling her gaze upon him, and smiled tenderly. “Love watching you cum, Buffy. Could spend eternity just watching that, hearing you lose yourself, feeling your body surrender to the ecstasy, knowing I gave that to you.”

Buffy reached out and touched his face, caressing his smooth skin with the back of her hand. “Sort of leaves you a little short, though, doesn’t it?”

Spike shook his head slowly. “Don’t mind. All I ever want is you to be happy. That’s all I ever need.”

“And all I want is for you to be happy,” Buffy replied sincerely. “Let’s be happy together, Spike. Make love to me.”

Spike’s gaze softened as he rolled atop her, her body warm and soft beneath his. Her arms went around his neck, and his arms slid beneath her, so his fingers could tangle in her soft, golden tresses. He kissed her then, deeply, gently, sensuously, letting the moment linger on, languorous and sweet. Their tongues danced, tasting, tempting, tantalizing the other, getting lost in the feeling, lost in each other.

The kiss parted, slowly, gently, their need for each other expanding, blooming into leaping flames of desire. Spike slid down her body, touching cool kisses against her heated skin. Her neck, her collarbone, her breasts, her trembling stomach, stopping only when he reached the lace of her red thong. He sat back onto his heels between her thighs, breathing in the scent of her, growing harder and hungrier by the moment.

Buffy lifted her hips as he slipped his fingers beneath the lacy straps, and he slid them slowly down her thighs. She lifted her legs up in front of him and Spike removed the small bit of damp fabric completely, stretching it over her stiletto heels, and dropping the bit of wet lace on the floor next to the bed.

Buffy bent her knees and pressed both feet against his chest in invitation for him to finish the process of disrobing her. Her stilettos dug lightly into his pectorals as he unhooked the sparkling straps one by one, and tossed the sandals onto the floor, as well.

Spike moved back up her body then, her legs slipping down his sides to wrap around his hips. Buffy reached between them and guided his hardness to her slick opening as his hips lined up with hers. Spike stopped moving when his cock pressed against her heat tight enough to not move, but not quite hard enough to penetrate her slick channel.

Holding himself up on strong arms above her, he gazed into the heaven of her green eyes, ready to fall into them, to drown in their depths. Buffy, too, felt ready to fall, fall into the intense blue love that shone down on her like shimmering pools of desire.

She wrapped her arms gently around his neck, pulling his mouth down to hers. In the instant before his lips touched hers, she whispered, “I love you, Spike.”

Spike froze, their lips barely touching. Nothing moved between them except the beating of Buffy’s heart. He stayed frozen there for two strong beats, savoring the words, letting them echo in his mind, and seep into his damaged soul.

Then, on the third beat of her heart, he whispered, “I know.”

His lips covered hers then, capturing them in a gentle, sensuous kiss as he pressed his hardness into her slick desire. Their bodies moved together in a slow, sumptuous dance. Pressing together and pulling apart, teeth nipping lightly against lips, her warmth sliding smoothly against his coolness.

And still the music played, a slow rhythm to match theirs. Even though she’d tried before, when he’d been so badly injured, it had never been like this before between them. Tender. Loving. Gentle.  But the yearning was no less intense.  The pleasure no less rapturous. The hunger no less ravenous.

 

 (Minnie Riperton- Could it Be I’m in Love?)

 

You move me... I'm burning
Such passion I'm yearning
One thought keeps returning
Could it be... I'm in love?

 

“Feel so good, Buffy,” Spike murmured against her lips, dropping down onto his elbows above her and grinding this pubic bone against her clit in a slow, deliberate motion. He lifted his head to gaze down into her eyes, watching them flutter with pleasure each time he ground against her.

“Oh, Spike, baby … God, don’t stop,” she moaned, allowing her fingers to dance down along his spine, feeling every swell and wave of muscle beneath her hands as he moved.

You touch a place in me that feels so divine
I can't recall the pain that once was mine
Since we kissed I am not the same
I've blossomed in desire
Could it be... I'm in love?

 

Unfortunately, her words had the opposite effect. Spike stopped dead, stunned into immobility.

Buffy opened her eyes then, looking up at him curiously. “Are you okay?” she asked, immediately concerned that he’d done something to reinjure himself.   

Spike shook his head dazedly. “’Baby’?” he repeated dreamily.

Buffy smiled up at him, cupping his cheek in her palm. “I tell you ‘I love you’ and you say, ‘I know,’, but calling you ‘baby’ gets your attention?”

“You’ve never …” Spike shook his head, finding himself falling more in love with her with each passing moment.

Buffy sucked her bottom lip between her teeth, suddenly worried. “Is it okay? I mean, I won’t if…”

Spike smothered her words with an ardent kiss, dropping his body against hers fully, wanting to feel every inch of her warmth pressed against him. He wanted to inhale her, to melt into her, to blur into nothingness and seep into her soul. He couldn’t get close enough to her, couldn’t touch enough of her warmth, couldn’t pour enough of himself over her.

“I’ll be your baby till the end of time,” Spike murmured against her lips, then touched soft kisses against each of her eyelids.

“Always your baby,” he whispered, wrapping his arms beneath her and holding her tight, resting his head next to hers on the pillow, just basking in the emotions she’d stirred inside him and in the feel of her body beneath him.

Falling. I'm flying
I'm laughing now I'm crying
I'm born but it's like dying
Could it be... I'm in love?

After a time, their bodies began to move as one, slowly, sensuously. They started building the pleasure again, lifting each other up. Higher and higher they danced, sparking rapture deep in their hearts.

Spike released his tight hold on her, taking his weight back onto his elbows above her, resuming the slow grind of his hips against her. His pubic bone pressed blissfully against her clit, sending sparks of electricity cascading out in all directions, drawing renewed murmurs of ‘baby’ from her lips. His cock slipped in and out of her sweet, hot channel, and they began again to float in the deep river of love that they’d now both leapt into.

Buffy’s body began to tremble beneath him, her hands slipping down to the globes of his perfect ass. The muscles beneath her palms grew hard with each press against her, then relaxed a moment, then hard again. The feel of his body, so powerful and resplendent atop her, fueled her passion, stoking the fires within.

I tremble... it's thrilling
It scares me but I'm willing
It drains me but it's filling
Could it be... I'm in love?

 

“Spike, baby, need you,” Buffy breathed, her hands stroking up and down his back.

“Tell me… again,” he begged in a deep, intense rumble.

“Love you,” Buffy replied breathlessly. “I love you.”

Spike’s heart seemed to come alive for a moment, swelling and clenching in his chest. Despite his apparent nonchalance at her words earlier, he couldn’t continue to pretend he didn’t feel them as they settled deep in inside his own chest. “I love you, Buffy … so bloody much.”

“Spike … God … Need you to cum inside me. Need to feel you deep inside me. Please, baby … cum in me.”

Spike moaned in pleasure, her words fanning the flames of his desire. Rising up onto his hands above her, his eyes locked with hers, he changed rhythms again. He thrust into her deep and hard, but not with the violence that was their norm. This was deliberate and unhurried, not frantic and fevered. He could feel her channel constrict around his cock, feel her heartbeat reverberate around his hard, sensitive flesh. Her supple walls opened for him with each thrust, closing around his steely column as he buried his length deep inside her core.

“So good, Buffy … my sweet Slayer. Heaven, you are … bloody heaven – my heaven,” he rasped, letting the feel of her consume him with an undeniable, primal need to fill her, to mark her as his once again.

Buffy’s hips found his rhythm and matched it, rising up to meet him with each powerful thrust. Gasps and moans of pleasure were driven from her throat, rising directly from her core where his cock plunged into her, hard and deep.

She could feel the rising rapture building inside her like a tsunami, ready to wash her away with its powerful waves of bliss.

“Harder … just a little … more,” she begged, digging her heels into his ass to propel him just a smidge past sweetness into ferventness.

Spike willingly obliged her, drawing back and thrusting into her powerfully, time and time again. He watched her face contort into rapture as her body began to quake beneath him. Her eyes would flash open and meet his before fluttering closed again when another wave of intense pleasure hit her as he thrust forward, washing over her, pulling her under the surface of bliss.  

“Cum, my baby … cum for me. Jesus, Buffy … love t’ feel you cum,” he begged, plunging into her with passion fueled by love and a bottomless yearning to join her in heaven.

“Yes, yes, yes … Spike! Cumming! Fuck! … God … yesssss!” she gasped and hissed, her hips jerking against him, her channel tightening like a vise around his pounding cock, her hands clinging desperately to his shoulders, her toes curling with the intensity of her burgeoning orgasm.

“Buffy … fu—” was all he could utter before his leonine roar filled the chamber, his control lost along with hers. With two final, hard thrusts, his cold seed spilled into her slick, welcoming channel in white-hot bursts of rapture, surging from his body urgently, eager to fill her, to join her in heaven.

Her slick walls spasmed around his column in wild abandon, milking him, urging every drop of sweet spunk from his balls. Buffy’s body arched and quivered in pleasure beneath him, lost in waves of golden bliss that washed over her.

Spike gave it all eagerly, feeling himself being swept away with her, drowned in the glowing fire of their combined passion; drowned in her, in sunshine and moonbeams and eternal love.

 

It’s madness…I know it

I love it, do I show it?

It’s too late now, I glow it

Could it be I’m in love?

Chapter Text

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Later that night.

Buffy stretched languidly, arching her back and lifting her arms overhead, pressing her body against Spike as she woke from a strange, but oddly happy dream some time later.

“Sleep well, pet?” Spike asked, trailing the back of his fingers down her side from under her arm to her hip as she stretched like a contented feline.

Buffy moaned a dreamy affirmative, blinking her eyes open to look at him. He lay on his side on the bed next to her, his head propped up in one hand, watching her.

“I dreamed aliens abducted us and took us far away to another Earth,” she recounted sleepily, turning on her side to face him like a mirror. “It looked just like this one, except the sun was different, and it wouldn’t turn you into dust motes. There were humans and demons living there in peace; somehow they’d found a way to get along,” she continued.

“Did they? Where did that leave you hero-types, then?” he wondered.

Buffy smiled. “We hero-types,” she explained, emphasizing the ‘we’, “were brought in to be the law, like in those old westerns. Even though everyone mostly got along, there were still bad people, and bad demons. We were like … Marshall Dillon and Festus, keeping the peace in Dodge City.”

Spike quirked a brow at her. “You’re Festus,” he insisted.

Buffy laughed, and leaned forward, touching a soft kiss to his lips. “Be careful or I’ll make you Miss Kitty,” she warned, pulling back from him, her eyes sparkling with humor.

“Not sure red’s my best color, luv,” he countered. “Would clash with my delicate complexion.”

Buffy laughed again, flopping over onto her back right next to him. “Well, I’m sure we’ll work something out, but you know you’ll always be the eye-candy sidekick, right?”

Spike raised a brow, looking down at her. “Will I, then?”

“Yup,” Buffy confirmed. “Robin to my Batman, Tonto to my Lone Ranger, Clark Kent to my Superman—”

“You do know that Clark Kent is Superman, yeah?” Spike wondered patiently, cutting her off.

Buffy waved a dismissive hand. “The point is, I’ll be all hero-y, and you’ll be there looking pretty, shirtless, wearing tight jeans, making all the onlookers swoon. Then, I’ll capture the bad guy, you’ll kiss me, and I’ll pinch your sweet ass, and everyone will cheer and sweep us away to buy us drinks at the saloon.”

“Got it all figured out, have you?”

“Uh-huh,” she confirmed. “How else am I gonna get to pinch your sweet ass?”

Spike turned his head, casting his gaze back over his shoulder at the subject of conversation, then looked back at Buffy. “Could just ask, I reckon,” he suggested casually. “’Course, there’s always a quid pro quo.”

Buffy raised her brows. “Yeah, Dr. Lecter, and what would be the quo? … The quid? Or is it the pro? Which comes first?”

Spike smirked at her. “Whichever you want, pet.”

Spike rolled away from her, turning onto his stomach, and reached down off the edge of the bed to the floor. Rolling back over to face her, he held up two sets of gleaming, silver handcuffs and matching manacles. They hung loosely from his thumb by their chains, clinking together almost musically and shining in the glow of the candles.

“Do you trust me, Slayer?”

Buffy bit her bottom lip, her eyes growing wide, but then gave him the slightest of nods.

** X-X-X-X-X **

Spike’s demeanor changed like the flipping of a switch as he fastened the last handcuff with a soft ‘click’ of locking metal. A wicked gleam surfaced in his eyes as he surveyed his handiwork – the Slayer, nude and defenseless, spread-eagle in his bed, and not a single annoying Scooby would come lookin’ for her for hours, perhaps days.

“Spike?” Buffy asked hesitantly, seeing the sudden change in him.

The vampire gave her a malevolent grin. “Been waitin’ a long time for this,” he admitted. “Don’t worry, Slayer, I’ll take my time, make sure ya scream real good before it ends for you.”

“Spike?” Buffy asked again, tugging on the chains, her trepidation growing.

Spike stalked around to the other side of the bed and began removing candles from the top of a wooden trunk. “No need to fight, pet. I assure you, my bed is already Slayer-proof… as are those chains. Special-made by the Svartalves, yeah? Just fer you.”

Buffy hmphed, disbelieving, tugging on them with all her considerable strength to absolutely no effect.

“What’s in there?” Buffy asked nervously, giving up momentarily on her struggles and lifting her head up to see what he was doing.

Spike chuckled, deep and wicked. “You got your toy chest, I got mine,” he explained, lifting the lid.

“Mine’s a weapons’ chest,” Buffy corrected.

Spike shrugged. “You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to.”

Buffy saw gleaming metal blades and chains and other things that she didn’t even want to know the names of inside the trunk. She watched as the vampire picked out two rusty railroad spikes and set them down almost lovingly on the bedside table.

“Not yet, my precious, soon,” he murmured to them, turning his attention back to the chest.

Spike pulled a small, twin-edged dagger from the chest and held it up, considering it. He touched the sharp tip to the end of his finger and blood immediately welled up around the gleaming blade. Spike sucked his finger between his lips and sighed in pleasure.

“Still tastes like you,” he breathed blissfully, looking back at Buffy. “’Course, I got an all-you-can-eat Slayer buffet now, don’t I? Wonder how long I can keep you alive to sup on?”

“Spiiike, this isn’t funny now … or cute or BDSM-y or whatever you think—”

Buffy’s words were cut off by the blade being pressed against her throat, not quite hard enough to draw blood, but enough to make her stop moving.

“Not tryin’ to be anything but what I am. You’ve heard o’ me, yeah? William the Bloody? Slayer o’ Slayers?” he growled against her ear.

Buffy swallowed hard, but otherwise didn’t move, her heart racing, the sound of it pounding in her ears in a deafening staccato rhythm.

“Now be a good little Slayer – struggle, scream, bleed, cry –  but don’t yammer on like a scared little bint,” he advised her, pulling back and returning to the chest.

“Remember what Finn said?” Buffy continued, not taking his advice. “He’ll come after you if you spill one drop of human blood,” Buffy reminded him, warningly.

Spike grinned deviously. “Can’t bloody wait,” he purred. “Look forward t’ ripping his intestines out with my bare hands and stuffing them down his sanctimonious throat.

“Hope he brings the little trollop, too. Show her what a real man is before I drain ‘er … Very. Slowly.”

Buffy growled, pulling and yanking against the restraints in earnest.

“Oh, I’m sorry, pet. Did ya want t’ watch the deed? Should’a said so before.

“She gets as wet as you when she’s fighting, did ya know? Could’ve had those long, lean legs wrapped around my hot, tight, little body that night in the Magic Box. You really should’ve said, Buffy,” he told her with a cloying tone of mock concern.

Buffy shrieked in frustration, still pulling against the chains, but she was doing nothing more than raising bruises on her wrists and ankles. They were not giving, and neither was the bed.

The next element of torture Spike pulled from the chest made Buffy’s eyes go wide in pure, heart-wrenching horror.

“No … no, no … Spi—William, William, listen to me. You don’t want to do this. I know you, and you don’t want—”

Spike chuckled, low and melodious. Buffy wasn’t sure she ever heard anything more frightening.

“William’s not here, is he? Gone off t’ write a poem ‘bout a lark, I reckon. Hidin’ in the corner like a nancy-boy,” Spike informed her, stalking closer, his instrument of torture held up for her to see in all its glory.

“Spike, baby, remember ‘eternity’, and till the end of the world’, and … and ‘I love you’?” Buffy cajoled, pulling frantically at her bonds. They didn’t give an inch.

Spike’s alabaster skin glowed in the candlelight, the pink wound on his abdomen still visible. His muscles rippled and quivered with pleasure in anticipation of what was to come as he felt the fear surge off her body in waves. His cock stood at full attention, tightly pressed against his lower stomach, apparently also quite enthusiastic about having the Slayer at his complete and utter mercy. 

“Spike, please, this isn’t you,” Buffy tried again, still tugging at her bonds, trying to get free.

“That’s where you’re wrong, pet. This is me. This is Spike. Vampire, remember? Evil,” he reminded her as the hand holding the long, thin torture device hovered dangerously over her torso, deciding just where to begin.

Without further warning, he struck, dropping it to her flushed skin, and drawing an excruciating line down her middle, from her breasts to her pubic bone.

Buffy’s anguished shriek filled the chamber and tears sprang to her eyes unbidden. She writhed and struggled beneath him, her body arching in a bow as she tried in vain to escape.

Spike closed his eyes and breathed in deeply as she trembled and writhed on the bed, soaking in the utter nirvana of her struggles and screams.

“Now that’s bloody heaven,” he groaned in rapture, his eyes still closed, soaking in the bliss of fear rolling off her.

“Smells like … terror,” he told her, looking back down at her as she struggled to get free.

“Scream for me, Slayer … scream,” he hissed, mercilessly bringing the feather down again.

She did.

Chapter Text

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“Please! Spike! Just stop!” Buffy shrieked, laughing and crying and writhing beneath him.

He straddled her hips, her hands and feet still bound to the bed, the feather held menacingly above her ticklish right side, having tortured the left into submission.

“Say it again,” he demanded in a low rumble.

“I love you! I love you! I love you! Please stop now!”

Spike chuckled, tracing the soft feather over her breasts and watching goose-flesh prickle her skin in its wake.

“Say it again,” he whispered, his eyes looking up to meet hers.

“I love you,” Buffy replied softly. “I’m going to kill you, but I love you.”

A low rumble of laughter rolled from his chest, flowing over her like rich, warm honey. He leaned down, and kissed her deeply, but gently. “I love you, Buffy,” he murmured against her lips.

“I can tell by the way you love to torture me,” she teased, lifting her head up and taking his lower lip between her teeth and biting down gently.

“You’re quite good at it,” she observed, releasing his lip.

“Vampire, remember?” he replied, smirking down at her.

“I do … and if that stiffy is any indication, I do believe you enjoy your work immensely.”

“Understatement, that is,” he admitted, his eyes burning with the flame of blue avarice.

“So, is it time for the ‘quid’ part now? When do I get my turn?” Buffy wondered, looking up at him with a dangerous gleam in her eye.

“As soon as I take care of one little thing,” he assured her.

He shifted his position, sliding down her body, leaving a trail of slick pre-cum on her skin as he moved between her thighs. Spike turned first to the right and to the left, unlocking the shackles that held her ankles, leaving the chains still hooked on the bedposts.

“Hard t’ fuck you properly like that,” he explained, lifting her legs up and out. He folded her in half, hooking her feet beneath her still-shackled arms, to open her glistening pussy to him fully.

Spike dipped his mouth to her sweet quim, which was wet and dripping with her desire. He trailed his tongue from her taint to her clit in one long, languorous motion, then circled her clit, teasing her right to the edge of reason.

Buffy bit her bottom lip and moaned in pleasure, her body quivering as the already-burning fires were stoked ever higher. God, she needed to cum. Badly! She had to admit that there was something about being completely under his control that turned her on way more than she’d ever thought was possible.

It wasn’t something she’d ever allowed herself to experience with anyone else, and it went against her Slayer nature – which could be what made it so exciting and taboo. Even feigned fear and anger seemed to boost her adrenaline, though the way he’d growled and threatened her with that dagger, combined with some things he said that touched her inner-green-eyed-monster, it wasn’t that hard to feign it.

It all combined to stir a deliciously dark and dangerous desire in her – to be controlled and to control. Both held equal allure deep inside her, in the murky corners of herself that she was used to ignoring, hiding, smothering. She didn’t have to smother them with Spike, though. He knew her, he’d uncovered those places within her, brought them to the surface, let them be okay … natural, accepted, even embraced.

She didn’t have to hide those parts of herself anymore. Not with Spike. He wouldn’t let her crash against the rocks. He might torture her to the edge of sanity, but he’d never betray her trust.

Whether they were whirling in the darkness or floating in the light, there was no judgment, only acceptance.

“God, Spike, please…” she begged, lifting her hips up to press against his mouth.

“Please what, Slayer?” he taunted before pulling her swollen button of desire between his teeth and biting down gently.

“Arrrgh! Fuck! Yes … please! I need more!” Buffy demanded, her body writhing and wriggling beneath him.

“Do ya, then?” he asked casually, slipping one finger just barely into her throbbing channel. “That do?”

“NO! FUCK!”

“Think yer forgetin’ who’s in charge here, Slayer,” Spike continued taunting her, swirling his tongue around her clit delicately as he slid that one finger slowly in and out of her wet, slick channel. “Who’s in charge?”

“Argggggghhh!” Buffy screamed in frustration, starting to thrash.

“Wrong answer,” Spike purred against her burning skin. “Two more guesses. Who’s in charge?”

“YOU! FUCK! YOU ARE!” she gave in, still trying to move enough to make what he was doing to her less torturous.

“And who do you belong to?” he continued, sliding his dripping finger down over her taint to her puckered rosebud.

“FUCK! SPIKE! PLEASE!”

“Try that again, Slayer. Who do you belong to?” he asked again, slipping his finger into her tight, puckered hole.

Buffy gasped, her body trembling as bolts of hot lightning shot through her. “You, you fucking vampire! YOU!”

“Mmmmmmm …” Spike purred, probing deeper with his slick finger in her ass. “That sounds delicious. Say it again. Say, ‘I belong to you, you fucking vampire.’”

Buffy bit back another scream of frustration and ground out, “I belong to you. You mother-fucking sick son-of-a-bitch vampire.”

Spike chuckled against her clit, cool air tickling over her wet, hot skin, sending shivers of lust washing through her.

“Now, then … what is it you wanted, my slutty little Slayer?” he asked before touching the tip of his tongue down on her clit again, just hard enough to remind her of how good it would feel to have him pounding into her, slamming against it, fucking her hard and deep.

“Please … you’re killing me,” she moaned, tugging against the restraints on her wrists. They didn’t budge. What the fuck were they made of?!

“I haven’t even begun to kill you, pet,” he assured her, his voice deep, resounding with desire.  “And it will hurt. And you’ll love it. You’ll beg me to hurt you again.”

Buffy squirmed beneath him, her heart rate beginning to gallop, her adrenaline pumping again. “No, I won’t … I—”

“No lies, Slayer,” Spike stopped her, sitting back to look into her eyes, but leaving that one finger pumping slowly in and out of her tight ass.

“You love the pain, you need it,” he asserted, adding another finger to the one, delving deeper and deeper into her sweet rosebud, stretching her tight ring of muscle open wider, coating her opening with the slick nectar that poured from her pussy.

Buffy gasped and stopped moving, not sure she really wanted to drive those digits deeper. She could feel him stretching her and her body resisting. She could feel the silver ring on his index finger catch on her opening with each slow pump in and out of her. God help her, it hurt just a little … and it felt delicious.

Buffy’s head was swimming, her heart speeding along at a gallop and she was starting to have a hard time breathing. Part of her wanted him to keep doing what he was doing, another part wanted him to stop. She felt herself whirling in a tornado of desire tinged with fear, with a good dose of what her old, ingrained ideas of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ were mixed in to muddy the waters even more.

Spike kept talking in a calm, resonant voice as he fucked her ass slowly, spreading his slick fingers wider every few strokes, making her gasp and shudder beneath him. “When you’re fighting, you use the pain, gather the force of it in, mold it into power, and unleash it like a weapon.

“When you’re fucking, you use it to propel you higher, make your zenith that much sharper, make the painful pleasure of it that much more piercing. Give in to the pain, Buffy. It’s your nature,” Spike reminded her.

He dipped his mouth back to her pussy and slid his tongue inside her deep and hard, but only once, before pulling back out.

Buffy’s body arched in pleasure, in anticipation of the fall, but it wasn’t enough. She groaned in frustration, her body hovering over the precipice, but unable to fall.

“Can anyone else balance you on that razor’s edge like I can? On the fringe between ecstasy and agony?” he asked her, slipping his thumb into her quim and letting it fuck her gently as his fingers continued delving into her ass.

“No,” Buffy gasped, barely a whisper, as her heart pounded in her chest and her breath suddenly became shallow and reedy.

“No…? No, what?” Spike asked, glaring down at her with a hard, blue gaze.

“Umm … No … sir?” she tried, her mind muddled by all the sensations he was pouring over her.

“Do you think I’m a gentleman?” Spike wondered, cocking a brow at her.

Buffy shook her head quickly. “No.”

“What am I, then?” Spike purred, lifting his other hand up to tease one nipple to rock-hardness.

“A mother-fucking sick son-of-a-bitch vampire,” Buffy replied hoarsely.

Spike nodded slowly. “That’s right,” he agreed. “And you are my Slayer. Mine,” he breathed, as his fingers suddenly shoved deeper inside her, a sharp contrast to the gentle rhythmic pumping he’d been employing before.

Buffy’s body reacted to his painful invasion by releasing another flood of slick heat from her throbbing pussy, and making her heart skip several beats. Her whole body felt poised on pins and needles, her need for him growing by leaps and bounds, her lust a barely-bridled thoroughbred, ready to break free.

“Love how wet you are for me, Slayer. How your heart does that little dance when I’m about to fuck you. How your stomach quivers just there …” He touched a finger down on the trembling flesh between her pubic bone and belly button. “How your lips swell.” He gave her a knowing smile. “Both sets of them.

“Love how your pupils dilate, and your eyes turn the most amazing shade of hazel. Did ya know that? Almost looks golden in the candlelight, like there’s a demon inside you trying to get out. Does it feel like that? Like I’m about to release the Kraken?”

“You’ll probably be the first to know – when your head leaves your shoulders,” Buffy challenged in breathless anticipation.

“Mmmm … I can’t bloody wait,” Spike purred, his eyes widening in delight.  “But … I will – wait that is, and so will you,” he teased, going back to the slow, sensual, but torturous pumping of his fingers into her.

“You fucking bastard!” Buffy screamed, bucking against him, not caring any longer if it hurt, she just needed MORE! NOW!

“Oh, I’m sorry. Isn’t that what you wanted, Slayer?” he asked conversationally. “No pain?

“Tell me what you want. Truth. No lies, Buffy,” Spike demanded in a warning tone as his ring caught on her tight band of muscle and tugged as he pulled out of her ass once again.

“I … I want to stake you, you fucking vampire,” she gasped out, glaring at him.

Spike smirked and thrust his fingers into her, hard and deep.

Buffy screamed out in simultaneous pain and pleasure as he stretched her, took her. Her body arched and trembled beneath him, her hips jerking against his fingers, fucking him in desperate reply.

“What else, Slayer? Just gonna stake me, are you? No foreplay?” he asked, his voice little more than a growling rumble in his chest.

Buffy forced her eyes open to look at him and shook her head. “No … I’m gonna hurt you.”

Spike’s eyes flashed momentarily golden, gleaming with demonic power, and he nodded. “Yeah … you promised t’ hurt me in our first fight. Said it was gonna hurt a lot, as I recall. Any idea how hard that got me, Slayer? How much I wanted to feel you hurt me? How much I wanted to hurt you?

“Knew then, you were no ordinary Slayer … you’d puzzled it out. Some never do, ya know? Never learn how t’ use the pain, how to mete it out, how to take it. You do. You know how to use it, you just don’t like to admit it … or you didn’t before.”

Spike pulled his fingers out of her and seemingly in the next moment he was on top of her, crushing her with his weight, his cock poised at the slick, sweet opening of her quim.

“Open your eyes! Look at me!” he demanded, hovering just above her.

When her eyes opened and locked with his, he slammed forward, burying his cock into her spasming pussy with one brutal, bone-jarring stroke. His pubic bone hammered against her clit and the head of his cock pounded painfully against the opening of her womb. Her yearning, hot channel throbbed around his thick cock, clenching and un-clenching around his shaft, threatening to emasculate him, as a long-needed orgasm shook her body.

Her whole body lurched and shuddered beneath him, shards of biting bliss exploding out in all directions as she came. A long, delirious scream was driven from her throat, emanating from deep inside her, releasing all the pent-up need with ear-shattering force.

“That what ya had in mind, Slayer? Shoving yer pointy stick into me, hard and deep, like this?”

“No, vampire … I was gonna make you … hurt much worse,” Buffy challenged, panting for breath. “You haven’t even … gotten my attention yet.”

“Haven’t I, then? Well, have t’ work on that, won’t I?” Spike taunted, reaching a hand between them and clamping his strong fingers down on her tit roughly. He squeezed and kneaded her soft flesh violently, bruisingly, before focusing on her sensitive nipple, pulling and twisting as he began pounding his cock into her with ruthless, merciless power.

Buffy gasped, her body responding to him – to the pain and the pleasure – trembling and spasming beneath him, betraying her words – he had most assuredly gotten her attention. The razor’s edge that he was so good at balancing her on was fast approaching again as he slammed into her, forceful and demanding.

“Beg me, Slayer. Beg me for the pain,” Spike growled before leaning forward and biting down on one erect nipple with his human teeth, his cock still thrusting into her, brutal and relentless.

His hips slapped against hers, echoing in the cavernous room. The insistent rhythm was joined by the slick, squelching sound of his cock driving into that wet, hot channel of hers. God, she was so fucking tight – her pussy wrapped around him like a vise, threatening to trap him deep inside. And so hot – Jesus, she might dust him any moment, her fire was so intense. And so goddamned wicked – the demon inside her was filled with a lust the likes of which he’d never felt before, and the woman … oh, the bloody woman, she had even more.

Spike was as wild with lust as she was. He was bent on fucking her in half, on breaking her, on making her scream in tantalizing torture, and beg him to fuck her that much more.

Buffy drew in a long, raspy breath and Spike drove it out of her in short, squeaking grunts of rapture with every thrust. The sounds bursting from her lips nearly drowned out the rhythmic slapping and squishing wetness created by their bodies slamming together.  Her body shuddered in frenzied bliss, her toes curling, her arms taught, pulling against her restraints, and just like that she was standing at the precipice again, balanced on the edge of pain and pleasure, caught somewhere in the middle of both.

Buffy hovered there, the razor’s edge cutting into her with torturous rapture, unable to fall into the dark abyss or slip back off the bittersweet blade that held her prisoner. Trapped. Trapped between worlds. Trapped between human and demon – walking the tightrope that was a Slayer. Dwelling in death and pain every night, while still living in the light of day, unable to fully embrace either. Death was her gift, but life was her destiny. There was no relief from the constant pressure of both, tugging at her, pulling her apart – human soul and demonic power trapped in an eternal struggle that was a Slayer.

Except here. With Spike she could choose. She could be either – she could be the human, she could be the Slayer – she didn’t have to live between them. He would accept either one, she knew. He wouldn’t love her less if she made him stop now; he wouldn’t love her more if she begged him to hurt her just a little more. He just loved her. Period. Full stop. No matter which road her heart and body took, he would follow.

“Tell me! Tell me what you want, Slayer,” he begged her, desperate to take her wherever she wanted to go – waiting for her to tell him what her body and soul needed in this moment.

“Please … hurt me … fuck … Spike! Hurt me! Harder! Please! I need it! Do it, vampire! HURT ME!” she begged, trashing beneath him like a wild animal, bent on … what? Escape? No, that wasn’t it at all. Attack? Yes, perhaps that was it. Bent on violence, on pain, on destruction, on devastation.

Release the fucking Kraken!

Spike growled, a thunderous rumbling that shook sand loose from the cavern ceiling. It showered down on them like a gentle mist of parched rain, coating the whole room in a layer of dust.

Spike pulled out of her quivering channel and slid his cock down over her taint to her tight, slick rosebud. He pressed ever-so-slightly against her, just enough to feel her body resist the threatened invasion. His prick was slick with her juices, and they’d been dripping down the crack of her ass for hours, it seemed. He could slide in so easily, but there would be no easy – not now. There would be brutal. There would be pain. And she had to want it.

“Tell me … what you … want,” he ground out, barely containing his lust to keep his hips from slamming forward and taking it.

Buffy’s heart raced, threatening to pound right out of her chest. She gulped air, as if she’d suddenly been transported to the top of the world, where there simply was no oxygen to be had. After a moment of stillness, the words he said finally registered in her spinning mind, and she opened her eyes.

Her eyes were wild with desire, her whole body flushed with the heat Spike had been pouring over her, her breath was short and shallow, but her words were unmistakable. “Hurt me, vampire … I fucking dare you.”

Spike thought he was going to cum in that moment, spill his seed all over her sweet, round ass before ever plowing inside her slick walls.

“Fuck…” he growled, low and deep, and then jerked his hips forward, powering through her body’s resistance in one forceful, lust-filled thrust. His cock drove into her, stretching her tight ring of muscle with no mercy, plowing deep inside her, opening her slick walls to his girth, intent on inflicting pain.

Buffy shrieked, her body quivering uncontrollably beneath him as a cacophony of bright, blinding fireworks exploded behind her eyes. She felt herself sliding lengthwise down that razor’s edge at warp speed, half consumed by beautiful bliss, half by agony, balancing precariously between the two. Each sensation heightened the rapture of the other, each playing off the other, ricocheting undiluted passion through her as pain and pleasure fought each other for dominance.

Spike slammed into her wildly, taking everything from her, giving her everything she’d asked for, keeping her floating there between worlds, between darkness and light, between life and death, between heaven and hell. She couldn’t fall into either and wasn’t sure she wanted to. It was like nothing she’d ever experienced before. How long could she stay here, suspended in such agonizing bliss, before her body shattered into slivers of utter euphoria? She wanted nothing more than to find out.

This place was hers – it was where she belonged – forever living in the cracks between worlds.

She let go then, fully and completely, giving over to the pain, to the pleasure, to the vampire who knew her better than she knew herself. The sharp bliss sliced into her, exposing her soul to the rapturous agony, as she rocketed beyond the edge of the universe into utter oblivion.

Her body convulsed under Spike, her tight ass spasming around his thrusting hardness, trying to pull him deeper, to consume him. She gasped and sucked air in, as if there wasn’t enough oxygen in the world to fill her lungs, suddenly forgetting how to exhale. He fought through her body’s zenith, determined to keep her on that razor’s edge, holding his own release so long that he, too, was in that place between pain and pleasure with her.

Finally, Buffy remembered how to exhale, the air coming out from her lungs in stuttering gasps and squeaks of pleasure, and the blinding lights that had been bursting behind her eyes began to slowly lessen. She remembered how to breathe again as she floated slowly back to Earth as jerking, spasmodic aftershocks shook her body.

“Spike … please … my hands. Need to … touch you! Please, baby!” she begged, rattling the chains that bound her still as she came back to herself.

Drunk on her lust, on her passion, on the very sound of her pleas, Spike quickly found the discarded key that had slid beneath her sweet ass and moved up her body to comply. He reached over to each of the handcuffs in turn and released them, letting her legs fall quivering to the bed on either side of him as her hands came free.

He slid his body back down between her spasming legs and kissed her fervently as their hips shifted, re-aligning. But, before he could find his bliss deep inside her again, Buffy flipped them both over and pinned him beneath her. In the next instant he felt his left hand being snapped into the cuff.

“Bloody hell,” he muttered as she grabbed his other wrist and likewise secured it.

“You were right about the pain,” Buffy admitted breathlessly, her body still trembling from the trip to the dark side of the moon. She turned and cuffed his ankles, as well, then collapsed atop him bonelessly, her arms and legs having exhausted their ability to function properly for the moment. “I think I want to experiment with that a little … in a minute … or ten.”

“Slaaaayer,” Spike growled warningly, tugging on the restraints with no better luck than Buffy had had.

“Now, now,” she slurred drunkenly, relaxing against his hard, cool body. “You’ll get your turn … when my legs start working again.”

Spike groaned, lifting his hips in a desperate attempt to find his release which was long overdue.

“Stop moving,” Buffy ordered sternly, lifting up to look into his eyes. “I’m in charge now and I say no moving.”

Spike glowered at her but subsided as she collapsed back down atop him with a soft sigh, her body heating him all the way to his bones. Spike tried to think of something else, something other than the woman on top of him, other than his painfully, desperately hard cock, other than how much he needed to fill her with his spunk; something other than her screams and gasps, of the way her body jerked and convulsed in pleasure, something other than the sound of her giving herself to him fully, trusting him unconditionally.

It was impossible.

“Bloody hell! Get on with it, then! I’m dyin’ here, Slayer!” Spike asserted after a couple of minutes, yanking at the chains again to no avail.

“So impatient to face the Kraken you released,” Buffy taunted, blinking her eyes open, still feeling a bit dazed and wobbly as she pushed up to look down at him. “Are you sure you know what you’re asking for?”

“Seems like you’re stallin’. If ya can’t handle it, maybe you should leave it to me, then,” Spike taunted, smirking.

“Oh, I can handle it,” she asserted, unable to ignore the challenge in his voice, getting down off the bed tentatively, making sure her legs were actually working again, before walking over to the toy chest.

“Let’s see now …” she mused, digging through the box of torture devices, weapons, and other, less deadly implements.

She pulled out a riding crop and smacked it down on her palm a couple of times. “Nice. I bet this would leave a mark on that alabaster ass of yours, huh?” she asked. “Would it make you jump when it stung you? Make you beg me to spank you one more time?”

Spike growled and tugged harder at the chains, but to little effect.

“But, then I’d have to turn you over, and I’m really liking the look of your cock all hard and angry like that. I have a couple of ideas – want to put it to good use,” she told him, laying the riding crop down.

She dug in the box a bit more, finally pulling out a long, thin strap of leather that was studded with metal snaps all along its length and holding it up for him to see.

“Don’t muck around with stuff ya’ don’t understand, pet,” he advised, glaring daggers at her.

“Dawn’s not the only one who can read trashy novels,” Buffy informed him, stepping back up to the bed. “And Willow isn’t the only one who knows how to Google.

“Just how long can a vampire stay hard without his balls turning blue? Do a vampire’s balls turn blue? And how do you get such a hard dick in the first place without any circulation?” she wondered, standing over him, dangling the leather cock strap from her fingers threateningly.

“Same way we change our mask from vamp to human and back again, same way we walk and talk and do bloody cartwheels. Demon magic!” Spike informed her. “And, to answer your other question, yes!”

“You do cartwheels?” she asked, amused.

“Not me personally … well, just that once, but that was with that acrobat in Moscow. Bloody amazin’ she was. She could touch her—” Spike stopped abruptly and glared at her. “No, I don’t do bloody cartwheels!”

Buffy laughed wickedly. “I can’t wait to tell Xander that you do cartwheels… and Finn! Do you think I could get a photo to send out with the Christmas cards?”

Spike growled at her, low and dangerous.

“You know, that ‘grr-argh’ stuff would be a lot more scary if you weren’t chained to a bed naked as a jaybird,” she informed him still dangling the cock strap above him. She loved how it made him squirm and made his cock twitch. Fucking scrumptious!

“What does that even mean, ‘naked as a jaybird’? I mean, I don’t think any birds wear clothes in the first place, do they? Not even Big Bird does! So, why a jaybird?” she rambled as she began wrapping the leather around the base of his scrotum and then around his cock, pulling it tight.

“Ow! Yer cutting off my circulation!” he complained, tugging on his bonds vainly.

Buffy snorted. “I think we just established that you don’t have any circulation, Spike.”

“Well, it pinches,” he amended, shifting his hips to try and dissuade her from her task.

“I think that’s the point,” she informed him, snapping the last of the fasteners in place, then stepping back to admire her work.

His cock stood up like a flagpole, hard and thick, making Buffy’s channel throb just at the sight of it. She reached out and grasped the thick column of steely flesh, stroking gently up and down the length of it. Although her hands-on experience with the male reproductive organ could be described as ‘limited’, she was very sure that Spike’s dick would blow the grading curve for the rest of mankind.

And it was hers. He’d said so. All hers. And she intended to put it to good use.

Spike moaned, his hips rising up to meet her hand as it slid slowly back down the hard shaft. “Fuck, Buffy … please,” he begged, though it was unclear exactly what he was begging for.

She wondered how long he could stand her fucking him before he succumbed and screamed their safe word at her? She grinned wickedly. One way to find out.

Buffy mounted the bed, throwing one leg over his slim hips, her hot channel poised just above the object of her desire. She leaned down over him, her hands splayed out on his muscular chest, as she gazed deeply into his blue eyes.

“Don’t be afraid to scream,” she whispered as she plunged down, impaling her body on his sword, with a grunt of effort and a moan of pleasure.

“Bloody fuck…” Spike growled, his hips lifting up of their own accord to meet hers.

His balls constricted painfully but found no avenue for release. He’d been holding back, on the edge of cumming for much, much too long, and her pussy pulsing and squeezing around his prick now was not helping at all.

“Cum, bleed, or blister,” Buffy taunted as she began riding him at a gallop, merciless and frantic.

“Oh! Wait! I forgot … I guess your only choices are bleed or blister,” she mocked, slamming down on him bruisingly time and again.

“What did you tell me Faith said to you?” Buffy asked rhetorically as she rode his cock like a prized stallion.  “’Ride you at a gallop until your legs buckle and your eyes roll up?  Squeeze you until you pop like warm champagne, and make you beg me to hurt you just a little bit more?’ Was that it?”

“Fuck, Slayer … You’re bloody killin’ me here!” Spike complained, jerking on the chains around his wrists.

“I haven’t even begun to kill you, Spike,” Buffy replied, tossing his own words back at him, slowing her movements, her hips grinding in slow, deliberate circles against his.

“Are you ready to beg me to hurt you just a little bit more yet?” she wondered, lifting up and slamming down hard, then squeezing her throbbing, supple walls tight around his aching flesh.

“Arrrrgh! Fuck! Yes … hurt me … more,” Spike growled out, his demon rising. Spike’s hands clenched into fists, his eyes closed against the painful pleasure of her torture, and the demon bellowed wordless snarls of rage.

“I bet I can do one better than Faith. I can make you beg me to stop,” Buffy challenged breathlessly as she began building the tempo, squeezing her inner muscles hard around Spike’s yearning cock. She slid her hot, slick channel up and down his thick shaft, faster and faster, plunging down on him like a jack-hammer.

“Never happen, you bloody, evil bitch!” Spike roared at her through his fangs, fighting against his chains, trying to buck her off his hips, but that only fueled her desire – and his.

“Yeah, Slayer, remember? Evil. I eat vampire dust for breakfast!”

She slid her hands from his hard abdomen to his pecs and rolled his nipples painfully between her fingers.

“Beg me!” Buffy demanded, slamming against him.

“Not. Bloody. Likely!” Spike growled between clenched teeth, his yellow demon-eyes flashing with fury.  Despite his bravado, one small, still-functioning part of his brain was afraid that his balls would explode, and not in a good way.

“Tell me what it feels like to be inside me,” she commanded, squeezing her channel even harder around his shaft as she plowed down on him.

“Bloody … fuck …” Spike gasped.

“Tell me!”

“Hell … heaven … fire … ice … death … life … Arrrgghhhh! Fuck! Buffy! Effulgent!” he shrieked past his fangs in tortured rapture, feeling like he was going to be ripped apart, blown into a million little pieces, any moment if he couldn’t empty his aching balls and shoot his spunk into her.

“Oooo, I like that, Spike. I’m gonna fuck you all night, all day. Take you to heaven and hell over and over,” Buffy moaned, squeezing around his thick cock and pumping her hips against him, building her own lust back up, rising back to the edge of the world so she could jump off again.

“How many times do you think I can cum in one day? And just how many times can you? Oh, wait! I know the answer to that one – zero. Zero cums for the evil vampire. Just frustration and pain.

“You’re right, Spike … I do like pain,” she taunted, letting her head loll back and her eyes flutter closed as she rode him up to heaven.

“I’m gonna fuck you in half, you bitch!” he growled at her. “Fill every one of you holes with my jizz, leave you drippin’ like a bloody fuck toy when I get loose!”

“Oh, yeah … talk dirty to me, Spike. Tell me how you’re gonna hurt me, how you’re gonna fuck me … that makes me so hot,” she moaned, letting herself get lost in the pleasure of his body beneath hers, in the sound of his growling rumble, and the bliss of his cock filling her.

God, she loved his cock … the rest of him was pretty damn hot too, but that cock was divine. A work of art. A masterpiece. He could be hard in an instant and stay that way seemingly at will. And, God, did he know how to use it. His spunk was sweet and spicy, and burned her to her core – just like him. She couldn’t get enough of it. She loved tasting their combined cum on his flesh, it was like tasting heaven. More than once she’d eagerly sucked him dry just a short while after he’d spilled his nuts into her pussy, and having his spunk sliding down her throat just made her want him again.

Buffy bucked against him, impaling herself on his hard, thick shaft, hammering her hips down to pound her clit against his pubic bone. She reached back behind her and cupped his swollen, tortured balls in her palm as she announced, “Cumming … God … fuck … cumming! Yessssssss!”

Her hips jerked against him of their own accord, driving his cock into her deep and fast as she felt the world explode and fall away, leaving her floating among the stars again, the sound of his growling frustration immersing her in trembling waves of pleasure.

She squeezed and pinched her nipples as she came, heightening the sensation. Her back bowed into an impossible arch, every muscle in her body constricting in excruciating pleasure. Buffy’s long cry of release echoed off the walls as her hips churned down, fucking him, taking him. She used every inch of that amazing column of cold, hard flesh to build her fires into erupting volcanos that threatened to consume her.

When the spasm of rapture released her, she fell forward, catching herself with her hands braced against Spike’s chest. Her head lolled forward as she gasped for air to replenish the oxygen in her trembling muscles. Her short, disheveled hair hung down across her face, the sparkling combs that had been holding it back when the night began having been long lost. Her body continued to quake in pleasure atop him as she gulped air, her hips slowing, riding his dick gently now, but not stopping.

“You want more? Beg me for it…” she breathed, her eyes turned to that shade of hazel that made Spike see the demon in her and a delicious quiver of fear raced down his spine.

When he didn’t answer, she clamped her channel down around him painfully. “BEG ME!” she demanded.

“FUCK! BUFFY … MORE! YOU GODDAMNED BITCH! MORE!”

Buffy shivered, her body trembling with need just from his words. More. Fucking vampire. He wanted pain? She’d show him pain. She’d break him, he would beg her to stop. He would fucking beg.

Buffy lifted up off him and then slowly slid forward just the slightest bit, his cock slipping over her slick taint and coming to rest at the opening of her ass again.

Buffy bit her bottom lip and pressed down slowly, feeling his cum-slick cock stretch her again, opening her, filling her with trembling ecstasy. She gasped as his glans slipped inside, her tight ring of muscle closing around it, squeezing around the base of his knob like a vise.

“Fuck … Buffy … fucking Christ,” he moaned, not sure if he wanted her to stop or keep going. His balls were aching – no, it was more than that, a lot more. They felt like someone had stomped on them, put them through a meat grinder, stuffed them inside a thimble, and then set them on fire.

He had to cum. Oh, God, he needed to cum. It wasn’t optional; it wasn’t a superficial desire. It was a basic, fundamental necessity.  If she fucked him like this again – up that tight ass of hers – he would burst into flames and dust on the spot. On the plus side, his balls would stop hurting.

“You like that? Does it hurt?” she asked him, pressing down more, slowly taking him into her, making sure he felt every quiver of her body, every throb of desire, every pulse of her heart. His rock-hard cock swept her body’s resistance aside, once again opening her slick, hot walls to his invading desire. “Don’t you want to cum in my ass, Spike? Wouldn’t that feel good? To fill me up with your spunk?”

“FUCK…” Spike groaned, his arms and legs pulling desperately against the restraints, muscles bulging with the effort.

“Oh, poor baby, you need me to fuck you harder? Is that it? You need to be deeper inside me, don’t you? Need to feel my body surrender to you again? Beg me…” she taunted him.

Buffy began to pump up and down on his shaft, slowly at first, but taking him deeper and deeper with each thrust until the globes of her ass hit his lap. The pain remained extraordinary; the pleasure divine. Her body reveled in both, now fully aware of where it could take her and wanting nothing more than to return to that nirvana that existed between worlds.

Release the fucking Kraken … again.

Buffy lifted up and slammed back down on him, sending shards of painful pleasure shooting out in all directions. “Fuck! Yes!” she screamed, raising up again and coming down, driving his cock into her brutally.

“Arrrggghhh! Fuck!” she shrieked as she lifted up once again, ready to send herself hurtling back into the rapturous depths of the pain that he’d shown her.

“Pickles! Fucking pickles!” Spike screamed before she took him again. His yellow eyes actually rolling back in his head as she pushed him beyond anything he’d ever felt before. Pain and pleasure meshed into a fog of complete and utter euphoria that he was sure would end him right there.

His demon retreated then, defeated, leaving the man to face this madness alone.

Buffy reached back to quickly unsnap the strap that had pinched off his means of release, freeing his balls and cock from the restraint. In the next instant, she plunged back down on him, driving a scream of rapturous agony from her own lips. Then she began fucking him hard and fast, driving through the pain into the ecstasy, her resisting, spasming walls throbbing with need around his prick.

“Cum … cum … cum in me. Fill my ass up, you bastard,” she demanded, but it wasn’t necessary.

Spike screamed – not growled, not roared, screamed— exploding into her burning inferno of lust. His cold, desperate seed rocketed out, battering her ass in a frantic surge of orgasmic bliss as his balls erupted like a long dormant volcano. And it just kept coming – a seemingly never-ending torrent of bliss, lifting him higher and higher into the stratosphere. The relief was overwhelming, overpowering almost to the point of being unbearable. He shuddered and jerked beneath her, his body completely out of his control and fully in hers. He’d never been rocked so hard, never hurt so much, never burned so passionately in the fires of rapture.

Spike felt like he was whirling through space, spinning out of control, falling and soaring, being consumed from the inside by a burning sun. He’d never before felt anything more unbearably, horribly, catastrophically blissful. The darkness within seemed to vanish completely for an instant, burned away by the passion of the woman who tortured him into submission.

Never before. Never had he completely submitted to anyone or anything in a century of unlife. Not like this. Not Dru. Not Darla. Not even Angelus had driven him to complete and utter surrender.

Only his Slayer. Only Buffy. She made him want to surrender, to give himself to her, to bow at her feet and be her willing slave. Forever.

Slowly returning to Earth, Spike’s eyes finally fluttered open, gradually focusing on the angel above him. Her eyes were soft, concerned, but still dark and dilated with pleasure, that small glow of hazel just barely visible at the edges. Her face was flushed bright pink, and heat radiated off her like a blazing fire.

“God, that was fucking incredible,” she approved breathlessly, before asking, “Are you okay?” as she gently laid her palm on his cheek.

Spike closed his eyes and leaned into her touch, nodding slowly. “Brilliant,” he mumbled dazedly.

“The word was ‘Siberian Pickles’,” she reminded him with a small smile.

Spike nodded again, his eyelids too heavy to lift open. “Not enough blood in m’ brain t’ remember it,” he admitted. “Best find somethin’ shorter in the future.”

“You scream like a girl,” she continued teasing him lightly.

Spike opened one eye, all he had energy for, and glared at her. “You would too if someone had yer balls in a bloody vise,” he retorted bitterly.

A sympathetic laugh rumbled in her chest, as she laid her body down atop him. She rested her head on his shoulder and snuggled her over-heated skin against his coolness. She could feel his spunk beginning to slip past his spent, softening cock, leaking from her blissfully battered ass. The pain still lingered – she was sure it would for a while – tingling her body with the carnality of it, and she shivered with pleasure.

“You eat vampire dust for breakfast?” he teased. “That go on yer Wheaties or—?”

Buffy chuckled, her body jiggling lightly atop his. She definitely needed to work on her vampire torturing taunts. “It sounded more sinister and way less gross in my head,” she admitted.

“I love you,” she whispered, letting her eyes fall closed.

“Good thing. Hate t’ see what you’d do to me if ya still hated me,” he replied, trying to wrap his arms around her, but being thwarted by the chains.

Buffy tittered a muffled laugh. “Pain and torture and mind-blowing sex is really exhausting,” she mumbled dreamily, relaxing fully atop him.

“Uhh … Slayer?” Spike questioned, rattling the chains. “Little help here.”

There was no reply from the prone form atop him.

“Buffy? The chains.”

Nothing but slow, steady breathing met him in response.

“Siberian Pickles?” he tried.

Buffy might’ve snored a little then.

Spike rolled his eyes and stopped rattling the chains.

“I love you, too, you bloody wicked woman,” he sighed, closing his eyes and getting lost in the warmth of her body against him, which almost made up for leaving him in chains.

Almost.

Okay, that’s a lie. Spike would lay chained on a bed of nails with fire ants crawling all over him, and Angelus singing Barry Manilow’s greatest hits at the top of his lungs in the next room if it meant being with Buffy. He only wished he could wrap her in his arms and hold her through the night now, but he relished every moment with her – every second of pain, every rapturous epoch of pleasure, every gentle kiss and tender touch, every ‘I love you’ – and wouldn’t trade it for anything, no matter what.

She knew him like no one else ever had or would; and he knew her to the depths of her soul – her darkness and her light. He was convinced that they were made for each other, two puzzle pieces, which fit together perfectly, seamlessly, inseparably.

Two pieces of one whole that nothing in heaven or Earth could pull asunder.

Chapter Text

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A Few Days Later:

Spike had just finished watching Passions, and had clicked off the TV when he heard Xander enter through the back door of Buffy’s house. Today was the day that the carpenter was supposed to be delivering the new and improved, Slayer-proof bedframe that he’d been working on, so Buffy had been waiting for him in the kitchen.

Although Xander had been relatively civil to Spike since the doctor-patient consultation and their shared bottle of whiskey at the wedding, Spike could still feel some undertones of animosity in the git – and, honestly, the feeling was mutual. For Buffy’s sake, Spike tried to just avoid him.

Spike knew that Buffy cared for the whelp, so he was doing his level best to not stir up trouble by taunting the wanker … too much. It was bloody torture. Possibly worse than any torture Buffy had, or ever would, inflict on him. And there was no safe word to get it to stop, either.

Hearing the two friends talking amiably in the kitchen, Spike got up and headed upstairs. If they needed his muscle for anything, Buffy would find him. He had something he wanted to talk to the witches about, anyway. Despite their involvement in the ‘intervention’, which Buffy had told him about, they both seemed to have accepted him in Buffy’s life and had been friendly toward him.

Spike knocked on Willow’s bedroom door – well, actually, it was now back to being Willow and Tara’s bedroom. Tara had officially moved back in a couple of days ago. He was glad to see the witches back together. He generally liked both of them, despite Willow’s penchant for casting of wayward spells, and was genuinely happy they were happy.

Behind the door he heard whispers and muffled laughter as someone jumped out of bed. There were thumps and steps and more giggling laughter, and then finally the door opened a crack and a disheveled, but mostly-dressed, Willow peered out at him.

“Spike! Hi! Uh, what’s up?” she asked trying to sound casual, running her fingers through her hair in an effort to comb it into some semblance of neatness.

“Need t’ have a word with you ladies,” he informed her, pushing the door open fully.

“Hey! I didn’t invite you in!” Willow objected, stepping back from necessity, it was either that or get bowled down.

“Don’t actually need an invite t’ enter a room after I’ve been invited into the house, Red,” he informed her, walking past.

“Yeah, well, it’s rude,” she advised him, closing the door behind the vampire.

“I’ll make a note o’ that,” Spike replied to her, but kept on walking.

“Glinda,” Spike greeted the second witch causally as he strolled across the room and over near the window.

Tara was in the bed, and had hastily pulled the covers up discreetly when he entered. “S-S-Spike,” she replied shyly, giving Willow a wide-eyed, emphatic, ‘Oh, my God, get rid of him!’ look.

It was late afternoon and the sun was shielded from this window by a tree, so Spike could get right up to the window with no chance of getting burned. He looked out and saw Buffy and Xander bringing in the pieces of the bedframe from the carpenter’s truck, which was parked in the alley, into the backyard. It looked like it was made from thick, sturdy hardwood, but, since it was disassembled, each piece wasn’t too heavy, they were managing well enough.

“Red lost the rock, paper, scissors battle, eh?” Spike asked, turning his back to the window, and giving Tara a knowing smirk.

Tara turned a lovely shade of pink, nodding timidly, and pulled the sheet she was holding even tighter beneath her chin.

“No worries, I won’t be long, then ya can get back to your afternoon delight,” he assured them, leaning back against the windowsill nonchalantly. “Actually, that’s what I wanted t’ talk to you about.”

“No – there will be no afternoon delighting! The answer is a big, fat ‘not on your life!’” Willow told him in no uncertain terms, her ‘resolve face’ emerging.

“What’s the big hairy deal with the apparently universal male fantasy of being with two lesbian women? Why would a guy want to be with two women who have absolutely no interest in his penis?” the red witch asked crossly, moving to interpose herself between Spike and Tara.

Spike’s brows went up in surprise, but a smile tugged the corners of his mouth up. “Well, not what I was suggesting, pet, but if you really want to know, I’ll tell ya.  The actual fantasy is to be with two very hot, very horny, young, supple, penis-adoring sex kittens – porn star contortionists are preferred – who are so bloody turned on by said penis that they lose all control and just ravish the nearest living thing, which may be each other.

“It’s really all about us and our amazing naughty bits,” Spike revealed with a shrug. “The way it would go is: the two sexy kittens fall under our spell as we stand with hands on our hips, our lordly sex organ inspiring awe and ravenous sexual desire. We throw our heads back with a wicked, conquering laugh, penis wavin’ like a lust-inspiring beacon in the breeze. And then the two birds proceed to please us in many and sundry ways for hours on end, which may include performing naughty lesbian sex for our kingly amusement. 

“Besides, two mouths and four hands can do a bloody sight more to our godly bodies than one woman alone,” Spike finished with a smirk.  

Willow frowned at him. “So … you don’t want to watch us have sex?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say ‘no’ if yer offerin’, Red,” Spike admitted, still smirking.

“No! Not offering! There is no offering! We are offer-less,” Willow replied hastily.

“Shame that,” Spike said with regret, his mind wandering off on naughty paths that Buffy might not exactly approve of. Then again … maybe she would. Or not. Spike’s balls tried to retreat inside his body, thinking of Buffy’s previously stated position on sharing. Still, might be worth a query, at least.

“S-s-so, what is it you wanted, then?” Tara asked from behind Willow, bringing Spike’s attention back to the here and now.

“Huh? Oh, right,” Spike shook his head, refocusing.  “Was wonderin’ if you lovely witches had some kind of sound-dampening spell that one might use to keep the afternoon delight contained a bit better?” Spike requested.

“On both sides of the wall,” he clarified, quirking a brow at them. “Not that I mind hearin’ it, bloody hot, to be honest, but I think between the four of us, we might be doin’ some permanent damage t’ the bit.”

“Oh,” Tara whispered, her lovely pink blush turning to bright red.

“Oh,” Willow echoed her, not turning quite so red, but still becoming uncomfortably warm. “Ummm, yeah, I mean, I’m off the magics but maybe Tara…?” she looked back at the other witch questioningly.

Tara nodded. “I’m s-s-sure I can—”

Tara’s words were cut off by five loud popping noises from outside in the back yard. Before anyone could look outside or even question the sounds, Spike screamed in pain, and bright red blood splattered in a fine mist all over Willow’s face, neck, and shirt.

“Spike!” Willow exclaimed, moving forward to help him as he doubled over in agony, clutching at a wound on the right side of his chest.

“What is it! What happened?” she asked frantically, trying to find the source of the blood.

“Been. Bloody. Shot,” Spike ground out, dropping to his knees and trying to fight through the pain. “What is it with this house and guns!? Does Dirty Harry live next door?”

“Shot?! By who? How?” Willow questioned, standing up and looking out the window into the backyard to try and find the source of the bullet.

“Oh, my God! Buffy!” the red witch exclaimed in horror. “Tara! Call 9-1-1! Buffy’s been shot, too!”

“Buffy!?” Spike screamed, stumbling back to his feet and lurching for the window. He looked down to see Buffy on her back on the ground, a bright red stain of blood spreading alarmingly over her chest, and Xander screaming for help over her. Spike spun around, heading for the door.

“Spike! You can’t! The sun!” Willow reminded him, trying to grab his arm and stop him.

“Fuck the sun!” Spike growled, pulling free of her, yanking the door open, and staggering into the hallway.

Willow followed right on his heels as Tara phoned for help, the redhead trying to convince the vampire to wait.

“Xander’s with her! I’ll go too,” she reasoned with him. “I’m sure it will be fine,” she assured the vampire, but he was having none of it.

Still bleeding and clutching his chest, Spike half-rolled, half-slid down the stairs. In the foyer, he found his feet again and grabbed his duster from the coat stand. He continued through the house to the back door, leaving a trail of blood in his wake.

“Spike! Don’t!” Willow warned as he opened the kitchen door and saw Xander kneeling next to the prone body of the Slayer, still screaming for help. The carpenter’s big hands were pressing hard on a wound in her chest, trying to staunch the bleeding, but with little effect.

Spike ignored the witch. Releasing the pressure he had on his wound, he swung his duster over his head and lurched forward, almost falling again as he went down the few stairs to the yard. He began to smoke and sizzle almost immediately as the late afternoon sun found his undead flesh.

“Buffy! Jesus! Buffy!” he exclaimed, ignoring the burning sun, which heated his skin painfully. He made it to her in an instant, and dropped down on his knees across from Xander.

“What the bloody fuck happened!? Buffy!” Spike reached a blood-soaked hand out and touched her cheek. Her eyes were distant, dazed and unfocused, but they slowly shifted toward him then. The exposed flesh of Spike’s hand began to crackle and burn in the sun, but he didn’t remove it from her skin, afraid that if he stopped touching her, she would vanish into the ether. Again.

“It was Warren!” Xander explained breathlessly, making Spike look up sharply.

“How? … He’s…” Spike began.

“Out on bail!” Xander filled in. “Apparently Thing 1 and Thing 2 scrounged up enough money to get him out. At least that’s what he said before he shot Buffy … along with other clichéd, villain-y things.

“Spike! You’re burning!” Xander noticed then. “And bleeding! Get inside!”

“Spike, please!” Willow agreed, tugging on his arm with little effect. “You won’t be any good to Buffy if you’re all dust in the wind! I mean, it’s great if you’re in Kansas, but not so much on the Hellmouth!”

Spike looked down at his Slayer then, her eyes blinked slowly, he wasn’t sure if she could even see him, but he couldn’t leave her. He wouldn’t leave her. Not again.

“The paramedics are here!” Willow told him, trying to get him to come with her. “It’ll be okay! Help is here!” But Spike didn’t seem to even hear her.

Buffy opened her mouth then, a trickle of blood escaping her lips as she tried to speak.

“Don’t try to talk, Buffy!” Xander advised frantically, still pressing down hard on the bullet wound, but it didn’t seem to be doing anything to staunch the flow. Blood seemed to be pouring out at an alarming rate, soaking her shirt, his hands, and the ground.

Buffy swallowed hard and tried again. “S-sorry,” was barely audible, but sounded like an air horn blaring against Spike’s ear. “Keep … promise. Pickles.”

“No, Buffy … no, no, no!” Spike exclaimed, shaking his head, tears burning his eyes as if they were made of acid. “You keep your bloody promise! Don’t you dare leave me again!”

Buffy coughed, strangled and wet, blood droplets flying from her lips to coat her chin and neck with her lifeblood. Then her eyes fluttered closed as she slipped into unconsciousness.

“SLAYER! DON’T YOU BLOODY DIE ON ME!” Spike screamed at her as the paramedics got to them.

Xander stepped back to let them in, moving around Buffy’s prone form to grab Spike’s other arm and together he and Willow bodily dragged the screaming, smoldering vampire back into the safety of the house.

Inside, Tara quickly draped wet towels over him, cooling the scorched flesh and extinguishing any remaining spots that might burst into flame, but Spike barely noticed.

“No, Buffy, no … no, no, no,” he cried, writhing on the floor in agony, only a small part of which was physical.

“Spike, she’ll be okay!” Willow tried to assure him, kneeling down near him. “I promise!”

Spike growled then, his furious demon surfacing in an instant. He wrapped his good hand around Willow’s throat and squeezed. “Don’t promise things ya can’t bloody deliver!” he roared at her, tossing her back into the kitchen cabinets with a hollow thud.

“Hey!” Xander intervened, standing over Spike menacingly. “We’re not the enemy here! You want to get your vampire back on? Want some nice warm, fresh blood, straight from the tap? I support that! Get it from fucking Warren!”

Spike sprang up to his feet, blood still flowing from the forgotten bullet wound in his chest. “Brilliant bloody idea,” he growled, his saffron eyes flashing with blood-thirsty fury.

“S-Spike, noooo…” Tara cajoled gently, stepping in front of him and placing a hand on his bloodied chest, as if she could actually stop him. “T-That’s not what Buffy would want. He’s not a d-demon! He’s human … it’s a matter for the p-police,” the white witch urged. “Buffy needs you now more than ever … y-you s-should be there when she wakes up. You should go to the hospital.”

Spike did not push her aside or growl at the gentle witch, but simply stared at her with barely-contained rage flashing in his monstrous eyes. Her eyes were soulful and compassionate, but there was steel in them too, imploring him to listen. His demon flared and seethed inside him, intent on finding the nerd who had brought so much pain into his life and showing him what real pain was. Another part of him knew that if he did that, if he gave into his fury now and hurt a human, Buffy would never trust him again. She was his light, she was his impetus to change. She’d given him her trust, had his chip removed, he’d promised that he would not hurt anyone.

She’d believed in him and he’d promised.

He’d promised Buffy.

‘ARRRRGGHHHHH!’ his demon snarled inside his mind. Spike closed his eyes and beat his forehead with his fists, trying to rattle the cacophony of thoughts and voices in there into something he could wrest back under his control. He felt like he was being torn in half, the struggle to contain the furious monster within him was so overwhelming in its intensity. How could he walk away from this? How could he leave it for the police? Hadn’t they done that already? And look where that got them!

But, he’d promised Buffy.

“If you want to go with Buffy, you need to get your shit together and now!” Xander demanded then, nudging Spike sharply in the shoulder, jerking the vampire back into the moment and away from his internal struggle.

Spike’s eyes flashed opened and he glared daggers at Xander, a low rumbling growl vibrating in his chest.

“S-spike … Buffy needs you to be strong now,” Tara said gently, drawing his gaze to her as his growl subsided.

“Drop the scary-face and chill the fuck out. Can you do that!?” Xander demanded impatiently.

Spike squeezed his eyes closed tightly, clenching his jaw until he thought his teeth would shatter, and nodded. Within a few moments, his human features resolved into an anguished, contorted version of his usual handsome appearance.

“Okay, Will, can you and Tara go find Dawn?” Xander asked, looking at the witch who had risen and come back over to them. “Spike and I will go to the hospital with Buffy.”

“But how?” Willow asked, still rubbing her throat and glaring angrily at the vampire. “Spike’s half fried already!”

“Not half… had worse,” Spike interjected determinedly.

“Hurry up, they’re leaving! Let’s try to get you in that ambulance,” Xander suggested, pulling the wet towels off that still clung to Spike. “You’re shot, too, they shouldn’t mind,” he pointed out. “Just keep the fangs stashed! And … and don’t let them take your damn pulse!

“Get Dawn now! We’ll meet at the hospital, okay?” Xander directed at Willow and Tara as he and Spike, again covered in his duster, headed for the door.

“W-we’ll be there soon,” Tara promised, looking and sounding worried.

** X-X-X-X-X **

At the hospital, Spike and Xander hurried after the paramedics as they wheeled Buffy into the emergency room. Nurses and doctors swarmed over her. They began attaching wires, monitors, and IVs, taking vitals, typing her blood, all while still rolling her down the hall to an emergency operating theatre.

A couple of nurses tried to help Spike, but he brushed them off brusquely, following Buffy.

The door to the small operating room closed in Spike’s face. He started to push it open, to follow, but Xander caught up with him then and tugged him away and to the side where there were windows that looked into the room.

“Don’t. Pretty sure you aren’t an actual doctor. Let them work,” he told Spike, as he pressed against the glass to see what was happening.

Spike reluctantly acquiesced, standing next to the larger man, peering in helplessly as the staff worked. A heart monitor was attached to Buffy, and a thin, green line bumped slowly and erratically, a soft ‘beep’ sounding with each beat of her heart. Spike didn’t need that to tell him that her heart was struggling.

He also didn’t need to see the nurse quickly attach a bag of plasma and blood to the IV to know that Buffy’s body was dangerously, ominously low on the life-sustaining liquid.

You took too much, my darling, deadly boy,’ Dru’s voice flashed in his mind. ‘She won’t sing now. No tears to water my garden. My daisies will all die … they always die. No more dancing under the stars. All’s the shame. Oh, don’t pout, my sweet Spike, we have more little birdies. Practice is its own delicious reward. I wonder what song her mummy will sing when they find her body?’

Spike clenched his jaw, forcing the memory back into the deep recesses of his mind. This wasn’t just a girl, it was Buffy, it was the Slayer. She was strong. She was supernatural. She can survive. She would survive.

Suddenly, the green line on the heart monitor went flat and a long, dire ‘beeeep’ began, deafening in its urgency even to Xander.

“Buffy! Jesus, Buffy!” the young man cried, pounding his fists lightly on the glass, willing his friend to fight, to live.

“Slayer! Fight! Damn it! Buffy!” Spike’s frantic voice joined Xander’s in exhorting her to live, in willing it with every fiber of their beings.

The doctors shocked her heart with electric paddles, making her body arch and jerk painfully. Xander and Spike both jerked as well, feeling the pain of it as if the electricity ran from Buffy straight into them.

Her heart beat began again, once, twice, three times … then the flat ‘beeeep’ returned like a recurring nightmare.

Another shock.

Nothing.

Another.

The long, ominous beep continued.

“BUFFY!” Xander and Spike both screamed, one voice of anguish and fright.

Then the doctors and nurses stopped. Everything seemed to stop. The whole world stopped. The urgency inside the room was gone in that instant, like someone had flipped a switch.

“Time of death,” one of the female doctors announced, pulling a sheet up over Buffy’s face. “Fifteen fifty-five.”

“NOOOOOOOOO!” Spike wailed, turning and striding purposely for the door to the small room.

Xander was nearer to it and placed himself in front of it, blocking Spike’s way.

“Don’t want t’ hurt you,” Spike growled menacingly.

“And I offer my full and hearty support of that plan,” Xander agreed, his voice steady despite the tears streaming down his face. “But I know what you’re about to do and I can’t let you.”

“I can save her!” Spike argued vehemently, bringing his demon up and ripping at his wrist with his fangs, opening a vein. His anguish was overwhelming him, blinding him to anything but the thought of saving his Slayer, saving the only person who had ever really believed in him. Saving Buffy. He could see nothing else. Think of nothing else. Feel nothing but determination to bring her back to him, by any means necessary.

“I can’t let you do that, Spike. She wouldn’t ….” Xander choked on a sob, swallowing hard and blinking back his tears. “She’s the Slayer … you can’t turn her into….” His voice broke again, and another sob wracked his whole body.

“Can and will!” Spike insisted, preparing to push past the larger man.

“If you love her like you say you do, then you know that she wouldn’t want that!” Xander insisted, growing as determined to stop Spike as Spike was to save Buffy. “What was the promise she wanted you to keep?”

Spike looked at him sharply, his golden eyes bright, shimmering with tears, but filled with anger and determination.

“Yeah, I heard her, too. You aren’t the only one with ears. What was it? And what the hell was ‘pickles’? That has to mean something to you!” Xander contended vehemently.

Spike seemed to deflate then, like a slashed tire losing air. His legs gave way and he sunk slowly to the blood-stained floor onto his knees before the brunette. The vampire buried his face in his hands as sobs began to ripple through him like anguished earthquakes.

Xander knelt down next to him. “What does it mean?” he asked again, more softly.

Spike shook his head in denial, not that he didn’t know, but that he didn’t want to know.

“Spike? What does ‘pickles’ mean?” Xander insisted gently.

“Let ‘er go,” the vampire answered finally, his voice barely audible, quavering with grief. “It means let ‘er go.”

“And the promise?” Xander prodded.

Spike continued to shake his head, blood dripping from his wrist and the bullet wound, tears streaming down his face in a torrent of tortured grief.

The morning of his chip-ecotmy flashed in his mind, transporting him back in time …

** X-X-X-X-X **

“Spike, can we talk a minute?” Buffy asked after she’d gotten dressed that morning.

“’Course, pet. Want t’ tell me again how good I make ya feel?” he teased from the bed. “Could show ya again if your memory’s foggy.”

Buffy smiled but shook her head, pulling the chair up next to the bed to face him. “Rain check on that. I need to talk to you about the chip and… and why I insisted on Riley getting it out of you.”

Spike quirked brow at her, and sat up on the edge of the bed to face her directly, suddenly serious. “Ya said it was the ‘right thing to do’, got a sliver of a soul or whatnot and….”

“I know,” Buffy cut him off. “And that’s true, but there’s more,” she admitted. “There’s something coming, something big. I can feel it. I don’t know what yet, but… it’s gonna take both of us to defeat it, Spike. And… well, I’m not sure we’ll both—” Buffy’s throat tightened up and tears sprang to her eyes. She blinked frantically, willing them not to fall as she cleared the emotion from her windpipe.

“I’m not sure we’ll both make it,” she finished, failing to keep her tears at bay.

Spike looked at her, suddenly grave, his blue eyes boring into her with uncomfortable intensity. “Which one is it, then?”

Buffy shook her head. “I don’t know, and maybe I’m wrong. It’s just this feeling, a spidey-sense and… well, I’ve kinda learned to listen to them. They’re not often wrong.”

“But sometimes?” Spike prodded.

Buffy nodded and gave him a watery smile. “Sometimes.”

“Then this will be that time,” Spike insisted, as if saying it would make it so.

Buffy nodded again, unwilling to disagree, hoping he was right. “The thing is, Spike, I need another promise from you.”

“Anything, luv, you know that,” he agreed immediately.

“If it’s me, don’t try to save me. Spike, let me go. Please, please don’t…” Buffy’s voice broke, and her tears fell harder, completely out of her control now.

“Don’t turn you into a monster,” Spike finished softly, looking down. “Like me.”

“Not like you, Spike!” Buffy rallied, standing up suddenly and tipping the chair over backwards. She began pacing agitatedly back and forth across the small space by the bed. “Like Dru, like Angelus, like Darla, like the million other piles of dust in that cemetery! I just can’t… I can’t do it. I can’t be that. Please promise me you won’t.”

Spike clenched his jaw and squeezed his eyes shut, his hands curled into fists at his sides, his whole body rigid with too many emotions to even begin to sort them out and name them.

“Promise me,” she asked again in a throaty whisper, stopping her pacing and standing in front of him. She laid her palm gently on his cheek, imploring. “Promise.”

Spike swallowed hard and opened his eyes to meet hers. “Only if you promise t’ not leave me. Till the end of the world. Can’t do this without you, Buffy. I bloody can’t.”

Buffy bit her bottom lip, closing her eyes against the renewed flood of tears that surfaced.

She blinked her eyes open, and swallowed again, trying to find her voice, then conceded, “I can only promise to try, Spike. I can promise to fight, to … to not walk into the light if I have a choice.

“I’ll stay forever, if I can,” she promised huskily.

Tears sprang to Spike’s eyes, turning her into a shimmering angel of light and goodness in front of him. They sat in a deafening silence for what seemed a lifetime before Spike finally nodded.

“I promise.”

** X-X-X-X-X **

“Spike?” Xander prompted after a moment. “What was the promise?”

Spike wiped his eyes brusquely and clenched his jaw, looking up at the brunette. “T’ kill her murderer,” he growled, rising back to his feet.

Xander rose also, looking at the vampire worriedly. “What will you do?”

“Tear his bloody heart out and feed it to him,” Spike answered angrily, glaring at the boy, daring him to try and stop him. “Like he did mine.”

Xander nodded solemnly. “Could you start with his guts … for me?”

Spike looked through the window at Buffy’s silent, unmoving, shrouded body. His light. His love. His heart. His soul. His everything. Gone. Forever lost to him.

No more smiles. No more rambling monologues. No more bad puns. No more ‘I love you’s’ as she fell asleep in his arms. No more screams of rapture. No more soft kisses in the dark. No more dances. The music had stopped. All the music in the entire universe had stopped.

In one instant his world was shattered into shards of razor-sharp grief, casting him into purgatory, on his way straight to hell.

Spike felt something inside him burst, like a damn filled to overflowing by a torrential monsoon of sorrow. The darkness inside him rejoiced, freed from its bonds, careening off the cavern walls of his battered soul and flooding it with inky blackness. The light guttered and wavered within, and his soul relinquished the light once again to the evil borne of the overwhelming hatred and grief that filled him.

His eyes shifted back to the boy, though all Spike could see was the darkness – black and inky and filled with pure hatred.

“Be my pleasure,” Spike snarled hoarsely.

“Make it hurt … a lot,” Xander rasped back, his voice thick with pain and grief.

“Wouldn’t ‘ave it any other way,” Spike assured him, before turning on his heel and striding toward the back of the hospital and the sewer entrance he knew was there.

The shattered vampire strode deliberately into the deepest darkness, into hell, with his demon firmly at the helm.

Chapter Text

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Spike leapt effortlessly up onto the bar at Willy’s, the local demon hangout, fueled by pure adrenaline and unrestrained darkness. His injuries – the bullet wound in his chest, lacerated wrist, his burned hand, and scorched back – were little more than a mosquito buzzing near his ear, a minor annoyance. He couldn’t feel anything but pure, unadulterated hatred. Nothing would stop him until he had his vengeance.

“Listen up! I’m callin’ in all my markers!” he announced to the patrons at large. The chatter in the bar lessened then grew completely silent as all eyes and ears turned to him.

“Anyone who brings me a human named Warren Mears gets their debt cleared and a sparkly bobble or two in reward.

“Wanker’s ‘bout yea high,” Spike held his hand up about even with the top of his own head. “Short, brown hair, nose like a Durante demon. Been in jail, so smells like desperation and bland food. Builds robots. Thinks he’s evil. He don’t know evil... yet. Likes t’ say he’s in charge of a club o’ gits called ‘The Trio.’”

“Is that the one who shot the Slayer?” a male vampire at the bar asked, looking up at Spike. The vamp looked like a preppy straight out of the 80s wearing a white, Lacoste polo shirt with the collar turned up and khaki-colored chinos. To complete the stereotype, he had a pink sweater draped over is shoulders and tied casually in the front. There was not a single short, brown hair on his head that was out of place or a speck of dirt on his white shirt. He was drinking a Cape Codder.

Spike turned a sharp, blue gaze down on the vamp. “Yeah, that’s the one. You know ‘im?”

“I’ve seen him,” the vamp acknowledged. “He was just in here a little while ago, offering to buy everyone drinks to celebrate. Said he’d killed the Slayer.”

Spike’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “And did you partake in the merriments, then?”

The preppy vamp’s yellow eyes went wide as he held his hands up in surrender. “OMG! No! We all know she’s your girl, Spike! We told him you and the Slayer would be coming for him. Slayers aren’t that easy to kill – especially that one! – and they heal fast, ya know? Figured it wouldn’t be long. He didn’t seem to know you were … errr … with the Slayer. Tried to tell us it was some double-agent ploy you had going on. What a lamebrain. Think he soiled his pants a little before he ran outta here.”

“Good, then it won’t be hard for ya to follow the scent, will it?” Spike suggested, lifting his penetrating gaze to the room at large.

“Bring him to my crypt. NOW!” he roared at them all, his demon rising back to the surface in response to the throbbing fury running through him.

Nearly everyone in the bar jumped up at once at his demand, toppling over chairs, tables, and drinks in their haste to comply.

“What’s wrong with you?” he asked the vamp who had given him the information. He was the only one in the bar who hadn’t moved.

“Sun’s still up and I haven’t finished my drink,” the vamp explained with a shrug, taking another sip of his Codder.

Spike jumped down onto the floor behind him, grabbed the back of the vamp’s pristine, preppy Polo shirt and hauled him bodily toward the door. “It’s nearly sundown. Grow a bloody pair and get that bastard for me or I’ll dust ya myself!” Spike threatened, shoving the vamp out into the street, directly through a shaft of early evening sunlight.

The vampire screamed and rolled into the shadows, patting frantically at his burning, despoiled shirt, yanking the sweater off and using it to smother the scorches on his clothes and skin. “You’re sick to the max, man! Fucking epically twisted!”

Spike growled and stepped out into the stream of deadly light, letting it burn and blister his skin. He threw his head back and laughed in guttural, malevolent, painful exultance as his face, neck, and hands blistered and his body began to smoke. In the split second before he would’ve burst into flames he took another step out of the deadly ray and into the shadows next to the other vamp, smoke still billowing from his ravaged body.

The preppy looked at him with wide, frightened, disbelieving eyes, scrabbling back away from his crazed elder. “There is something tragically wrong with you, dude.”

“Yeah, I’m a bloody vampire,” Spike snarled at him. The blond was behind the trembling prep-school-wanna-be demon in an instant, hauling him back up to his feet. “Get. The. Fucking. Human,” Spike growled at him, shoving him down the street. “NOW.”

** X-X-X-X-X **

“SPIKE! WE GOT HIM! SPIKE!” a chorus of voices flooded down into the cavern below Spike’s crypt some time later.

Spike looked up from his task and smiled wickedly, his blackened, burned face splitting open and oozing blood from the cracks with the gesture. Spike practically flew up the ladder to the main crypt, still holding the short, double-edged dagger he’d been sharpening.

“Brilliant, boys,” he congratulated the various demons surrounding the human. “Knew I could count on you.”

A small, tinkling sound came from the crowd as the petite soap demon cleared her throat and stepped from behind the larger ones.

Spike saw her and tilted his head in acknowledgement. “And ladies,” he added, bowing gallantly.

“Any trouble, then?” he wondered, making mental notes of all the demons who were there. There were seven of them, including the trembling, nancy-boy vampire he’d shoved into the ray of sun. His clothes were no longer pristine or preppy-looking, nor was his hair.

Ariel spoke, stepping forward. “He has tricks and magics,” she warned Spike. “Jalon, Duggo, and Lucrezia were killed. Micheletto was injured, but should recover.”

Spike looked at the nerd, who looked only a little less beat up than the last time Spike had seen him – after he’d tortured information out of him. “Magics, is it? Got some magic myself,” he remarked, sliding the razor-sharp blade slowly down the big brunette’s cheek.

Blood welled in the blade’s path, searing pain slithered down Warren’s cheek as his skin split beneath the blade. The prisoner moaned and jerked back, trying to get away, but he was held too tightly by the vampires and demons around him. His hands and feet were bound, and a gag had been tied tightly around his mouth to keep him from speaking.

“Gonna enjoy makin’ magic with you for a very, very long time,” Spike purred, pulling the knife away and licking the blood from it in a slow, sensuous motion.

Warren tried to scream or talk, it was hard to tell, still jerking and writhing against his captors, but to little effect.

“Oh yeah, screaming will be part of the curriculum,” Spike assured him maliciously. “Lots of delicious screaming.”

Spike turned his attention back to the group who had captured the human. “Be a pet and drop him down the hole for me,” he requested of no one in particular.

The group as a whole, except for Ariel, dragged the struggling man to the trapdoor and simply dropped him the ten or so feet to the floor below. Warren landed with a loud thud and a muffled scream of pain. After that all that could be heard were his vain attempts to get free of his bonds.

Spike pulled a handful of sparkling jewels from his pocket and gave each demon one of their choosing, also acknowledging any debts or favors they owed him to be fulfilled.

Finally, he turned to the little soap demon, giving her her choice of gems. After that he dropped the rest of the jewels, about twelve in all, into her palm. “Duggo and Lucrezia had families, yeah?  You’ll pass these along to them for me? And one for Micheletto.”

The little demon bowed her head and curtsied regally, sending a rainbow of sparkling bubbles floating up from her hair with the motion. “It shall be done.”

She looked back up at him then, her rippling aquamarine eyes shimmering even more than normal. “We’re sorry for your loss, Spike. She was … special. She could see what many can’t, what they won’t.”

Spike nodded curtly, refusing to let his grief surface, choosing instead to embrace only his fury and anger. “Ta, ever so, pet. She’ll have her vengeance, I bloody promise that.”

Ariel gave him a bleak smile and nodded before turning to follow the others out of the crypt, leaving Spike alone with the murdering bastard that had killed his light.

** X-X-X-X-X **

Spike dropped down into the lower level of his crypt without using the ladder, his duster billowing out behind him like a cape. But this was no Superman’s cape tonight; it was the shroud of the Grim Reaper come to call. 

The vampire landed on his feet lightly, just inches from Warren’s face, making the nerd squirm back in fear.

“Nowhere t’ run, nowhere t’ hide,” Spike chided, yanking the terrified man to his feet by the rope binding his wrists.

Warren gasped against the gag from the pain, trying to put no weight on his right leg, which had been broken in his fall.

“Oh, sorry … does that hurt?” Spike asked with mock compassion, kicking his boot at the break in the large man’s lower leg.

Warren screamed behind the gag, tears welling in his eyes and spilling down his cheeks in rivers of agony, and Spike smirked. “Now, that hits the spot. Like treacle tart on bloody Christmas, that is. I’ll ‘ave more o’ that, if you please,” he taunted, roughly dragging Warren to the far wall as the man continued to scream in pain behind the gag, dragging his broken leg as he tried to keep weight off it.

The handcuffs and manacles that Buffy and Spike had used in their sex games had been repurposed into more sinister functionality. They were each attached to large eye-bolts that had been drilled into the solid rock of the wall. By hand. By Spike while he had waited for his prey to be brought to him.

Spike jerked the rope binding Warren’s wrists off roughly, leaving bruises and scrapes on the man’s hands and wrists, and drawing more gagged protests from his prisoner. Spike raised Warren’s right arm and locked his wrist in a handcuff, then pulled his left over to reach the other. It left the large brunette just barely touching the floor with his toes, his arms stretched out and up from his body.

“Might not even need the others,” Spike observed, stepping back to survey his work. Then he shrugged. “Hate t’ waste ‘em though. Went to all that trouble getting ‘em ready for ya.”

Spike stepped back up to the trembling human and pulled his left leg out to snap into the manacle on that side, then did the same with his broken right, eliciting more gagged screams and shuddering sobs from the murderer.

The vampire stepped back again and nodded, satisfied with the ‘X’ shape in which his quarry now hung. “Haven’t made art like this in an age,” he remarked casually, picking up the razor-sharp short dagger again. “Wonder if I’ve still got a knack for it. Angelus was the master, o’ course … but I picked up a trick or two over the years. Never was much for pre-show like the incredible git, but I made some special exceptions … and you bloody qualify.”

Spike placed the dagger near Warren’s cheek again, making the man convulse in fear. “Does it make ya tingly knowing yer all special-like?” Spike purred dangerously near his prisoner’s ear.

Sweat mingled with tears and coursed from the brunette’s chin in rivers as Warren clamped his eyes closed against the nightmare he’d been cast into … the nightmare he’d cast himself into. His body shivered uncontrollably, rippling with terror and already consumed with pain.

Spike chuckled and slid the dagger beneath the gag, cutting it neatly and letting the fabric fall from Warren’s mouth. “No good if I can’t actually hear ya scream,” Spike explained patiently.

Warren’s eyes flashed open, hope blossoming in his chest, sending pain-numbing adrenaline coursing through him. He had a chance! He could get out of this just like he’d gotten out of every other pinch he’d ever gotten into, with his wiles and cunning and Machiavellian resourcefulness.

“Spike! You don’t have to do this! I can pay you, man! I’ve got loads of money! I can set you up for life!” Warren offered eagerly. “No matter how long that is!”

“Is that so?” Spike asked, looking thoughtful as he rolled the handle of the blade back and forth in his fingers.

“Yes! And I can … I can make you another sex bot or two! Just like Buffy, only, you know … more amenable to all your kinks. I’d never actually heard of some of those before you had me put them in that first one. You are one sick dude! Mad respect, man!”

Spike nodded, apparently considering this generous offer. “What if I want three bots?”

Warren nodded earnestly. “Sure! As many as you want! Five! Ten! You could have a different one for each day of the year! I know they could fuck you better than that stuck-up bitch of a Slayer, and be less mouthy, too! Hell, I might just make one for myself. Have her in a little sexy maid outfit, at my beck and call, taking it up the ass and cooking dinner at the same time, all the while begging like a little cunt, ‘May I have more, please, daddy?’”

Spike raised his brows in interest. “That’s quite an offer, mate. Can ya make one that has a cherry that I can pop every time I fuck her?”

Warren nodded vigorously. “Dude! I hadn’t even thought of that! I can totally do that! Oh man! It’s like we’re brothers or something, you and me! Out of the same cloth! We could rule the world together! Have anything we want, anyone we want. You work with me and I’ll lay the world, and every little blonde whore in it, at your feet!”

Spike nodded again, considering. “And, what if I wanted to be the one in charge, and you work for me?”

“Oh, man … well, I mean, yeah, totally doable. It’s just that I’ve got mad leadership skills, but if you want to give it a shot, sure, we can do that.”

Spike smiled at him, his fangs glistening in the candlelight, opening more cracks on his charred face. “What if I bugger you up the ass with a cattle prod while you make me dinner? Would ya beg me for more? Or just scream like a little girl?”

Warren blanched, jerking his head back until it banged against the stone behind him.

“Hmmm? Cat got yer tongue? I guess we’ll find out, then, shall we?” Spike purred smoothly as he began flipping buttons off the large man’s shirt with the tip of his blade.

“Powers of high, listen to my plea,” Warren began chanting in earnest. “Three aspects of the Divine I invoke thee. This magic time, this magic hour. I ask you to lend me your power. Hear my—”

Spike wrapped his fingers bruisingly around the conjurer’s throat, cutting off his words but careful not to break his neck or crush his windpipe, that would be too good for him. “Not on the menu, mate,” Spike informed him coolly, squeezing his throat until Warren’s tongue stuck out of his mouth, his face turning red, then blue, then a deep puce, eyes bulging, threatening to pop out of their sockets.

“Now, there’s a good lad,” Spike cajoled, lifting the blade up with his other hand and neatly slicing Warren’s tongue down the middle. Warren tried to scream, but had no breath. His stomach convulsed in pain and shock as blood spurted everywhere, running down the prisoner’s body in a river of red gore. 

“Hard t’ conjure with a forked tongue, innit? Can still scream though,” Spike told him calmly, releasing him and stepping back. “I got a few ‘mad skills’ myself, mate. Plan on showin’ them all to you in good time.”

Warren gagged and choked. Bile that had risen up and been damned against his closed throat flooded his mouth, burning his already searing tongue with yellow acid. Blood and bile splattered everywhere, running down his chin, as the two ends of his tongue flapped loosely, out of his control. And then the big man passed out, his body hanging like a ragdoll from the chains, his head lolling forward as if his neck were broken.

“Oh, bloody hell,” Spike groaned. “Pass out at the first sight o’ blood? What kinda evil villain are you, anyway!?” he demanded of the unconscious man. “Bugger.”

“Well, that’s fun of the non-fun variety. Really rude of him to pass out like that.”

Spike whirled, his eyes wide, to come face to face with … “Buffy?”

Buffy smiled and walked closer to Warren to examine the damage. “Looks like you’re back in black, baby. It always was the best color for you.”

She turned bright, shimmering green eyes to the vampire. “I knew you’d avenge me. I tried to stay, I really did. I tried to keep my promise, Spike. I’m sorry.”

Spike took a shocked, tentative step forward, but Buffy backed away, holding up a hand to stop him.

“I can’t stay too long,” she told him, looking over her shoulder as if waiting for a bus to arrive. “I just wanted to remind you that I love you and I know you’ll make me proud.”

“Buffy, please … don’t go. Can we … is there a way… please, pet … stay,” he stammered.

Buffy shook her head. “Not this time. Death by human hands. Doesn’t qualify for the frequent-dying bonus miles.”

“But even … like this,” he pleaded, taking another step forward. “Even if I can’t touch you… Buffy … I need you so bloody much. I love you more than life. Please, luv … please,” he begged, his voice cracking with emotion.

Buffy gave him a sad smile, tears welling in her eyes and sliding slowly down her cheeks. “I’m sorry, Spike. I really do love you, baby.” Buffy looked back at Warren, who was starting to come back around. “I know you’ll give him everything he deserves before you send him to hell. For me.”

She turned back to Spike then, looking heartbroken, her tears flowing in rivers of pain down her cheeks. She reached out to touch him, but in the moment before her hand reached his cheek, she was gone. Vanished. Lost. Again.

Spike collapsed down hard on the floor on his ass, his knees unable to hold him upright another second. “Buffy … come back to me, please,” he begged, looking up at the ceiling, up to heaven where he knew she’d gone. “Buffy! Please! I love you, I need you so bloody much! Please!!!!!”

But nothing happened, she didn’t return. He was alone again. Just him and the murdering bastard that took her from him.

** X-X-X-X-X **

Warren’s clothes lay in tattered heaps on the floor beneath him, soaking up the blood that ran in rivulets down his body and dripped to pool in puddles of excruciating pain beneath him.

“Haven’t actually used these in the last century,” Spike explained to Warren casually, holding up four rust-stained – or was that blood? – railroad spikes. “I recall they were quite the party favor in London … all the blithering prats were just dying t’ have one back in the day.”

Warren spluttered and coughed, his eyes rolling around wildly in their sockets, blood still pouring from his split tongue. He hung limply from the chains around his wrists, the metal digging into his flesh agonizingly. His shoulders felt like a thousand fiery daggers were stabbing into the sockets as they bore his full weight. His broken leg was grotesquely swollen and blackened from his knee to his ankle, and it throbbed with the pain of a thousand baseball bats slamming into it with every beat of his heart.

But that was just the blank canvas, Spike had just begun making his art.

“What? Not even a chuckle?” Spike asked mockingly. “That’s bloody funny … ‘dying t’ have one’ … get it?”

Warren grunted and his head lolled forward, his chin hitting his chest. Spike grabbed a handful of bloody, sweaty, greasy hair and jerked his head back up. “None o’ that!” he growled. “I watched her die! You don’t get t’ shut your eyes now!”

Spike drew back and slammed one of the spikes into Warren’s hip, embedding it to the head in his soft flesh and driving the tip into his pelvic bone, splintering the bone with an explosion of white-hot agony  inside his body.

Warren’s body jerked in paroxysms of pain and his scream rattled glasses on the bar before his eyes rolled back into his skull and he passed out. 

More vengeful blood swelled the growing puddle of agony on the floor.

** X-X-X-X-X **

“I have to say, Spike. I really expected better from you. I’m very disappointed.”

Spike turned from his work to come face to face with Joyce Summers. A rather upset-looking Joyce, at that, judging by her scowl and crossed arms.

“Joyce, I … I tried, I bloody tried! I couldn’t protect her. I couldn’t save her,” he beseeched Buffy’s mother, moving away from Warren toward the apparition.

“Well, that’s clear,” she rebuked him. “I hope you’re planning on getting my baby justice, at least.”

Spike turned halfway back towards Warren, waving a blood-stained hand out toward the man, then looked back at Joyce.

“I will. I swear, I will,” Spike declared earnestly. “Every drop of blood will be shed for her, every scream in his soul will be for her, every scrap of torn flesh. It’s all for Buffy.”

Joyce nodded, taking a step closer to the bound man, carefully stepping around Spike. “What are these for?” she asked, pointing to blood-soaked carvings of an ‘X’ inside a circle done on the man’s chest and abdomen.

Spike smiled maliciously. “Safe zones, for now. That’s the final act of the play.”

Joyce raised her brows, looking back at Spike. “Heart and bowels?” She nodded thoughtfully, approving. “Make sure it hurts. A lot,” she demanded. “For my baby girl.”

“I promise. With all my heart,” Spike assured her before she, too, vanished.

“No tha I mine,” Warren spoke painfully to Spike, enunciating from the back of his throat, trying not to use his tongue at all. “Bu who are you talkin to? Yer lothing it, man.”

“Mind yer Ps and Qs!” Spike snapped at him, taking two long strides to be in the big man’s face once again. Spike grabbed the brunette’s hair and jerked his head up, banging it against the stone at his back. “When I want your opinion, I’ll bloody cut it outta ya!”

“Jus thayin,” Warren muttered, before losing consciousness again.

** X-X-X-X-X **

Warren moaned and twitched as Spike turned his body into a work of gory blood art, carving deep gashes and glyphs into every square inch of his skin from head to toe. He peeled back flaps of skin to create three-dimensional pictographs and intricate designs. He burned the flesh to seal the cuts, slow the bleeding, and even to add depth and color to his creations.  

The human was beyond screams, which was a rotten shame, but that didn’t stop Spike from wanting to create a blindingly horrific masterpiece of pain before destroying it utterly.

Blood dripped in a pitter-pat rhythm onto the clothes and carpet beneath the murderer’s feet, pooling into a puddle of licentious vengeance. Every drop for Buffy. Every scream, every moan, every tear and whimper, for Buffy.

“You always were the most delicious artist with blood, my sweet William, but this is the finest by far,” Dru purred near his left elbow, twirling away in layers of black and red lace before he could turn. “You make the devils dance in the ashen embers and the angels weep tears of wine.”

Spike looked up from his work, no longer startled by the spectral visits. He was starting to think the murdering bastard was right. He was losing it. But it didn’t matter. Nothing really mattered now but exacting the maximum pain and suffering on the monster that stole Buffy from him.

“Red or white?” he wondered indifferently, turning from his work to face his sire.

“Sangria!” Dru giggled, stopping mid-twirl to face him with dark, wide eyes that danced in amusement.

Spike quirked a brow at her. “That sounds like a pun not even Buffy would make, luv,” he remarked dryly.

Dru scowled at him. “You dare speak that name to me?!”

Spike rolled his eyes. “I dare, ya barmy bint.”

Dru pouted, her lower lip protruding impishly. “Wasn’t it I who first tasted your tender heart of curry spice and wove a dark tapestry of wicked magnificence for your frock? Aren’t I your forever love, your dark fairy-plum princess?”

Spike pursed his lips together. “Were, until you left me for that bloody chaos demon.”

Spike sighed and turned back to the carving he was working on on Warren’s chest. “Whaddya want, Dru?”

“I felt you return to my womb, my deep, dark, evil boy,” she replied, laying her hands over her stomach and dancing closer to him, swaying to music only she could hear. “Felt you burst again from my loins – the pain! the rapture!” she exclaimed, flinging her arms out and her head back as she spun around in a wild pirouette, her long, dark hair flying out as she twirled. “Flowing like black currant fire, cracking the tea cups and spoiling the banquet. It stained the good linen. Shhhh! Daddy will be displeased,” she revealed, stopping to face Spike.

“Oh, demon enough for ya now, am I?” he snarled. “And daddy can kiss my sweet arse.”

“Daddy will have you over his knee! Smashing and bashing! Feasting on sweet, little charms and sipping golden apples, all plump and juicy!”  

“Daddy’ll have a stake up his bloody arse is what he’ll have,” Spike grumbled, slicing a deep, curved line into Warren’s hairy chest. Blood oozed from the wound, barely flowing now, so low was he on the life-giving liquid. “Bugger off, Dru. Got work t’ do.”

“The lark is hushed, my Spike … its glittering heart’s been ripped out, still beating. Her name shall never spill ‘twixt its wee beak again. She was an imposter, my dark knight, a sun flaring into life and then gone in a shower of glitter and frilly ribbons.  I am your eternity, your molten core of fire and brimstone and honied blackbird pudding.

“We are what dances between the suns where the pixies dare not tread, my Spike. Infinite darkness. Eternal life.”

Spike turned around and glowered at her. “Get. The. Fuck. Out.”  

Dru pouted again as he turned back to his work, her bottom lip sticking out like a shelf. “You are my black rose, sweet and tart and wicked. I’ll wait for you in the garden, snip, snip, snipping off the petals until only the thorn remains.”

Spike rolled his eyes and looked back at her, blood dripping from his hands. “Careful what ya snip, Morticia. Got some bits that might not grow back properly.”

“Grrr … rawrrrr … grrrr-ufff!” she growled, snapping her teeth at him, before she was gone in a flash of light.

Spike shook his head, glowering, as he put the final touches on the carving of the lark in Warren’s flesh.

“Bloody lark’s hushed alright,” he muttered. “And burned t’ ashes.”

Spike sighed deeply, exhaustion suddenly flowing over him like a drowning wave of bone-deep fatigue. His chest hurt where he’d been shot, and the burned flesh of his face and hands were cracked and raw – but that physical pain was nothing compared to the shattered pieces of his heart that stabbed into him with every thought, every memory, every tear.

Warren’s screams had not healed him, nor had his tears, or his blood. They had not softened Spike’s brutal crash against the jagged rocks, they had not stopped the agony that pulsed like cold, icy daggers into every cell of his body, they had not lifted the oppressive shroud of anguished misery from his shoulders. Nothing was helping.

He walked over to the bar and downed the last half of the whiskey bottle in one long swallow, letting it burn him to his core. It could never burn him like Buffy had. She burned like sunbeams, right to his heart. She’d never burn him again.

Never …

Buffy

His eyes drooped then, and he stumbled toward his bed. The final touches on his masterpiece would have to wait a bit longer, oblivion was tugging the vampire under.

Chapter Text

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At the hospital earlier.

Xander rose, looking at Spike worriedly. “What will you do?”

“Tear his bloody heart out and feed it to him,” Spike answered angrily, glaring at the boy, daring him to try and stop him. “Like he did mine.”

Xander nodded solemnly. “Could you start with his guts … for me?”

“Be my pleasure,” Spike snarled hoarsely.

“Make it hurt … a lot,” Xander rasped back, his voice thick with pain and grief.

“Wouldn’t ‘ave it any other way,” Spike assured him, before turning on his heel and striding toward the back of the hospital and the sewer entrance he knew was there.

Spike had only just turned the corner and was out of sight when Tara and Willow came rushing into the emergency room, Dawn in tow.

“Xander! How’s Buffy!?” Willow called, seeing him and hurrying over to where he stood holding vigil over the body of the Slayer.

Xander turned bleak, forsaken eyes on the witches, and Willow jerked to a halt as if physically slapped.

“No, no … no!” Will screamed, running past him into the small, now empty room. The only thing left there was the shrouded, still body of her best friend.

“How long?” she demanded as Xander, Tara, and Dawn followed her inside.

Xander shook his head. He honestly didn’t know.

“HOW LONG?!” she repeated, shaking him physically.

“Just … a minute or three?” he guessed.

Willow turned to Buffy, pulling the shroud back. The Slayer was still hooked up to all the wires, tubes, and equipment, but it had all been turned off. The electric shock paddles still sat in their place near the table.

Willow took a deep breath and closed her eyes, letting it out slowly, focusing.

“W-WILLOW! NO!” Tara demanded, shaking her girlfriend and breaking her concentration. “You c-can’t!”

“I can! I will!” Willow insisted, yanking free of her girlfriend.

“N-no! Not you … I-I w-will,” Tara persisted. “I need c-candles! As many as you can f-find! Hurry!”

They all looked at her in bewilderment a moment, then all three of the others were in motion, out the door and in search of candles.

Within a minute, Xander had returned with a couple of boxes of birthday candles from the breakroom and Willow had found a small votive in the ladies’ restroom. Dawn returned with two disposable lighters and a pack of cigarettes.

Tara shook her head at the woeful assortment, but there was no choice. “L-Light them, put them around her on the f-floor! Hurry!”

As soon as the candles and cigarettes were burning, Tara began chanting slowly, her hand resting on the bullet wound on Buffy’s chest. “Aceso. G-Goddess hear my plea, magic mend while the c-candle burns, injury will mend, and health will return, harm to n-none, my will be done. So m-mote it be.”

The candles flickered slightly, but Buffy remained motionless, unbreathing.

“I d-don’t have enough p-power!” Tara cried, reaching her other hand out to Willow.

Willow took it, holding tight, and Tara began her chant again. She’d not too long ago found this incantation while searching for a powerful healing spell for Spike after the Suvolte battle. She hadn’t used it then, it ended up not being needed, but it was still clear in her mind. Of course, there were supposed to be more candles, white candles for the purity of healing, black candles to help absorb the pain, and a cleansing ceremony before, but there was no time for any of that now.

Tara hadn’t even thought of performing the spell back at the house. Because of her childhood, with a father and brother who saw magic as the mark of a demon, it had never been her first response to any given situation. And then, with the problems Willow had gone through and how it had ended their relationship some months before, it was even further out of her mind now that they were back together. Add to that the panic, trying to nervously stutter through calling 9-1-1, and an overwrought Spike, and it just never came to her mind. It hadn’t even occurred to her here until she realized what Willow was about to do.

As Tara completed the chant again, the candles flickered, and the witch felt movement beneath her palm. When she lifted her hand, the bullet was laying on Buffy’s chest, free of her body. Tara flicked it aside and began again in earnest, but still Buffy didn’t stir.

“Form a circle around her! Everyone join hands!” Willow instructed urgently.

Xander guided a dazed and sobbing Dawn around the gurney and clasped her hand, Willow taking the other. Xander put his other, blood-stained hand over Tara’s on Buffy’s chest, completing the circle.

Once again Tara chanted, almost screaming the incantation, no trace of a stutter in her determined voice. “Aceso!! Goddess, I beg you! Hear my plea! Magic mend while the candle burns! Injury will mend, and health will return! Harm to none, my will be done! So mote it be!”

All the candle flames fluttered, then surged high and bright, and then went out as a magical wind whipped through the small room, swirling with mystical power. The lit cigarettes laying on the floor suddenly burned down to embers, leaving nothing but spots of ash on the tile next to the melted, extinguished candles.

Buffy’s body jerked and bowed on the table, convulsing as if being shocked by the defibrillators as the doctors had done earlier. At the same moment, the circle of friends and family standing around her were all hurtled back by an unseen force, sent crashing into the walls of the small room with painful thuds against the drywall.

And then Buffy coughed, wet and strangled. Blood came up from her lungs as she fought for air, choking on the liquid in her lungs and airways.

“HELP! SOMEBODY! HELP!” Xander screamed, scrambling to his feet. He slammed the door of the room open and kept yelling frantically, trying to get someone’s attention. “SHE’S ALIVE! HELP HER!”

Nurses again came running, doctors were paged, the machines turned back on, and the frantic race to save a life began again. But this time the damaged arteries and blood vessels, which had been hemorrhaging uncontrollably into her lungs, had been sealed, the bullet removed. There was no new blood leaking into Buffy’s lungs, but she was still in danger of drowning – again – on what was there already.

Tara sat slumped against the wall, her energy drained. Willow and Dawn helped her to her feet and out of the room, making way for the doctors and nurses. The four magical saviors stood at the window to watch, worry and trepidation still creasing their features. Had they been in time? It hadn’t been a resurrection spell, it had been a healing spell – and it hadn’t really been done with all the proper accoutrements. If Buffy’s brain had been without oxygen for too long.…

No one voiced that as they watched and waited and prayed.

Finally, one of the doctors came out of the room, peeling off her blood-stained gown and gloves.

“Is she going to be alright?” Willow asked frantically.

The doctor looked at the clock. It was four-fifteen. “I don’t know. I didn’t notice the time when … when she …” The doctor hesitated, searching for words, still disbelieving, “… spontaneously revived. It’s been twenty minutes now since she … stopped breathing.”

“T-that’s a long time,” Tara observed, still leaning on her lover for support. “B-but you’ve been working a while. M-Maybe … it wasn’t t-too long?”

None of the others had noticed the time either. It hadn’t been foremost in their minds at the time.

The doctor shook her head. “I don’t know. Only time will tell. She’s unconscious, but breathing on her own. We’ll just have to see if she wakes up in the next few hours. If not, we’ll run more tests and see.”

The four of them nodded their understanding, solemn and worried.

“Can we go in?” Dawn asked, her eyes bloodshot and swollen from crying.

The doctor nodded. “Just try to stay quiet, no loud noises or anything. She needs to rest and heal now, if she can.”

They all nodded again and went into the room. An orderly was just finishing up the job of cleaning up the floor, removing all the dropped bloody wads of gauze, gloves, and … melted wax? She frowned at that, but put them in the biological hazard bag with everything else before exiting the room.

Dawn hurried over to her sister’s prone form, the soft, ‘beep, beep, beep,’ of the heart monitor confirming Buffy’s status among the living once again – well, her body, anyway. The girl took Buffy’s hand in hers and leaned in very close to her sister’s ear before speaking softly through her tears.

“I love you, Buffy. I know I’m not the best sister in the world, but please … don’t leave me. Please be okay. I can’t lose you again. Please, please just be okay.

“I need you. We all need you. We all love you. Please wake up,” Dawn entreated her desperately, but there was no response, no flicker or twitch, from the Slayer.

“She’ll be okay,” Dawn said softly, standing back up and looking at the others through her shimmering tears, still holding Buffy’s hand. “It’s Buffy, she can heal. Even if it was a little longer than a normal person could go, it’s Buffy. You revived her before, right, Xan?”

Xander nodded solemnly.

“How long had she been dead then?” Dawn wondered.

Xander shook his head. “I’m not sure, but not long I don’t think. But it’s Buffy, you guys.”

The other three nodded their agreement. It was Buffy. She could heal. She had to. She just had to. It was their only hope.

“Where’s Spike?” Dawn asked after a few moments, suddenly realizing that he was missing from the gathered vigil. “I thought Willow said he came to the hospital with you?”

Xander cleared his throat. “He did, he was pretty upset about ….” Xander’s voice trailed off and he waved a hand at Buffy. “He needed some space … and probably lots of … um … whiskey.”

“We need to tell him!” Dawn insisted, suddenly animated, but not dropping her grip on Buffy’s hand.

“No, Dawnie, we really shouldn’t,” Willow advised her. “Not until … we know. It would only make it worse to get his hopes up and then.…” Willow bit her lip as she looked down at Buffy sadly.  “We don’t know what he’d do if … something’s wrong. He’s chip-less.”

Dawn frowned at the witch. “You’re afraid Spike would … what? Hurt us? He would never do that. Didn’t you hear Buffy? He has a soul.”

Willow sighed, feeling the bruise spread across her back from Spike throwing her against the cabinets earlier. “I know, but … even people with souls can be unpredictable. Spike’s really … passionate and vampire-strong, and if he gets upset he might not even realize what he’s doing.”

“I’ll call Anya and have her look for him. If she finds him she can send him back,” Xander offered as a compromise.

Dawn was still unhappy, but nodded, giving Willow a glower of resentment.

Xander gave Willow a meaningful look as he passed, heading for the door.

“She’ll be okay, Dawnie. I prom—” Willow stopped mid-word. “I’m sure of it,” she amended. “Then, when she wakes up, if Spike’s still not here, we’ll all go find him, okay?

“I’m just gonna … go get some coffee and sodas for everyone. We could be here a while.”

Dawn watched the red witch hurry to follow Xander from the room. “Well, that was subtle. As in ‘not,’” the teen observed, watching through the room’s windows as the two old friends talked earnestly outside in the hallway.

“What do you think that’s about?” the girl asked Tara, who had finally gotten most of her strength back, though she was still a bit woozy from the magic that had flowed through her.

Tara was watching too and looking worried. She shook her head slowly. “I’m not s-sure,” she answered truthfully.

** X-X-X-X-X **

The three friends and Dawn had collapsed onto the floor of the small emergency operating room as they waited for any sign of waking up from Buffy. They weren’t allowed to bring chairs in there, and the doctors didn’t want to move Buffy to a regular room until they were certain of her condition.

The minutes turned into hours and the hours dragged on. Buffy was breathing. She wasn’t choking any longer. But she didn’t wake. Sodas and coffees were consumed by the gallons. Chips and perplexingly bright-orange crackers with peanut butter were eaten by the ton. And they waited. The police came by and interviewed Xander, Willow, and Tara, leaving their cards and asking them to call when Buffy woke up. And still they waited. They played cards. And waited. Spike never showed up.

Dawn heard it first. A barely audible moan from above her uncomfortable seat on the floor. She jumped up, suddenly fully awake, rousing the others.

“Buffy?” she asked softly, clutching her sister’s hand and leaning in close. “Can you hear me?”

Buffy moaned again and lifted her free hand to her head. “Ow,” she muttered, her eyes still closed.

“Buffy? It’s Dawn. Can you talk?”

“Ow.”

The other three had gathered around Buffy’s bed now, waiting hopefully … and worriedly.

“What’s hurting?” Dawn asked.

“Ow.”

“I’m sure they’ll give you something, but you need to talk to us,” Dawn coaxed.

Buffy blinked her eyes partially open, squinting against the blinding, dim light in the room, and looked at her sister. “You’re breaking my hand,” the Slayer rasped out through her blood-clogged throat.

Dawn dropped Buffy’s hand as if it were on fire, then scowled. “I was not!” she contended. “You just think you’re being funny.”

The corners of Buffy’s mouth quirked slightly before she closed her eyes again, grimacing with the pain of moving her eyelids.

Then in the next moment Dawn exclaimed in a completely different tone, one of relief and joy, “Oh, my God! Buffy! You think you’re being funny! You’re okay!” as she flung her arms around her sister, covering her in a desperate hug.

“Dawnie…” Buffy groaned out, lifting an IV-laden hand up to try and return the painful embrace. “Ow,” she repeated, truly meaning it this time.

“Oh, God … sorry!” Dawn exclaimed, tears of relief streaking from her eyes as she released the hold she had on Buffy and stood back up. “But … you’re okay? Please say you’re okay!”

“Head … killing,” the Slayer muttered, rubbing her forehead lightly.

“Do you remember what happened?” Willow prodded from the other side of the bed, touching a hand down gently on Buffy’s shoulder.

“Shot. In head?” Buffy asked, still rubbing gently.

“No, in the chest … the lungs,” Willow corrected. “It just missed your heart.”

“P-probably the magics giving you the headache,” Tara offered. “Or m-maybe the lack of oxygen to the brain for so long.”

Buffy opened one eye and found Tara standing next to Dawn. “’Splainy,” she rasped out.

“Well,” Xander began from her other side next to Willow, “you might’ve died, just a little … again.”

“For just like a minute … o-or ten?” Dawn interjected.

Buffy’s brows went up, despite the pain, and she opened her other eye.

“We didn’t resurrect you exactly,” Willow assured her quickly. “We just ... um … healed you … more of a magical resuscitation than a resurrection … like witchy CPR.”

“You did the resurrecting on your own,” Xander offered. “After the … healing … with birthday candles and cigarettes. You may need to change your birth date now.”

“Or just take up smoking,” Dawn suggested.

Buffy closed her eyes again with a long-suffering sigh.

Memories swept over her then, fleeting and misty. Those indescribable flowing, swirling, ethereal colors that had surrounded her in heaven had been there, waiting for her once again. She remembered the light pulling her toward them, toward the peace and love and exquisite joy that awaited her. Part of her wanted to go so badly, to be surrounded by that again, to be done, to be at peace, to not fight any longer.

But she’d made a promise. She promised Spike she wouldn’t go. Not if she had a choice. Did she have a choice? She didn’t know, but she would fight. She’d promised.

She tried to turn away, to go back toward the dark oblivion from whence she’d come. She grappled to find something to hold onto in the emptiness that surrounded her, but there was nothing. She closed her eyes so she couldn’t see the light, couldn’t see the colors, as she fought to break out of the inexorable pull of that power. She reached back for life, back for Spike, for Dawn, for her friends. They were there, she knew it! But they seemed just out of reach as she was dragged, now literally kicking and screaming, away from them.

And then, suddenly, a strong hand shot out of the darkness and grasped hers, pulling her away from those swirling, diaphanous colors that promised tranquility, serenity, unconditional love. The darkness engulfed her again, and she floated there for what seemed forever. It wasn’t serene or tranquil, it was tumultuous and frightening, with alarming sounds coming from the dark that she couldn’t identify. But there was one thing she recognized – the love that had pulled her back. She clung to that in the darkness, waiting for that strong hand to pull her the rest of the way back into his world, back into his strong arms, back into life, for there was only one love that could have kept her from heaven: Spike’s.

“I’ll go get a nurse so they can give you something for the pain,” Xander offered, pulling Buffy from her thoughts, before he slipped from the room.

Buffy blinked her eyes open, the memory fading back into the realm of dreams. “Where’s Spike?”  Buffy asked in a rough croak, looking around.

“He, ummm …” Willow stammered, looking at Tara and Dawn, but getting no help from either of them. “Well, see, he left before you … recovered from … being … dead.”

“And no one went to get him or tell him that you weren’t dead anymore,” Dawn put in, scowling at Willow.

Buffy’s eyes fastened on the witch, suddenly much more alert despite the pain piercing her eyes and throbbing like daggers through her brain. “Why?” she rasped.

“Well, he was pretty upset, and we weren’t sure if you would … recover fully, and…”

“They were afraid Spike would tear their arms off and beat them over the head with them to crack their skulls and eat their brains if you weren’t 100% old Buffy when you woke up,” Dawn filled in helpfully, the words coming out in a rush, in one long breath.

Willow scowled back at Dawn. “That’s not what I said!”

Dawn shrugged, folding her arms over her chest. “It’s what you were thinking.”

“Where’s Warren?” Buffy asked, still in a throaty whisper, temporarily ignoring the jibes between the two, though starting to understand pretty clearly what had happened.

The three girls all shook their heads. “He got away, I guess. I don’t know,” Willow answered. “We gave his name and info to the police, but we don’t know if they found him.”

Buffy cleared her throat loudly and painfully, dislodging clotted blood from her airway so she could speak more easily. She had way too much to say for one or two words to cover it. Still, her voice was thin and raspy when she finally spoke.

“So, you’re saying Spike thinks I’m dead and Warren is in the wind?” she asked, her growing anger and surging adrenaline fueling her rant. “Does this not seem like a very predictable horror-movie script to you guys? Like, hey! Let’s run into the deep, dark woods instead of to the brightly-lit police station to get away from the ax murderer?

“What the hell were you thinking not telling Spike?!” Buffy demanded furiously, her voice becoming stronger as she struggled to a sitting position and began pulling wires and tubes and IVs off.

“Buffy, you shouldn’t!” Willow protested, trying to stop her.

“And you shouldn’t have sent Spike out to kill Warren!” the Slayer growled.

“We didn’t!” Willow insisted.

“You did so!” Dawn joined in. “I saw you talking to Xander! He never sent Anya to look for him, did he?”

“He … I … we…” Willow stammered, looking between Dawn and Buffy.

Buffy gasped then, stopping her frantic movement immediately. She clamped her eyes closed and clutched her head with both hands. “Fuuuckkk,” she groaned as bright bursts of pain flashed like electric eels wriggling around in her head, brilliant and blinding.

Xander returned with the nurse then, and the woman hurriedly eased Buffy back down flat, then began reattaching wires and tubes.

“What happened?” Xander asked, looking from Willow to Tara and then Dawn.

“She’s mad about Spike,” Willow told him gravely.

“Oh.”

“Yeah, oh,” Dawn mocked, glaring at him. “How could you do that, Xander?”

“Me? I’m not the one who shot Buffy! Whatever Warren gets he deserves!” the carpenter retorted.

“So, you just decided that it was fine to use Spike like your own loaded gun so Warren got what he deserves?” Dawn continued angrily.

“I didn’t make Spike do anything. Spike is just doing what comes naturally to him. He’s. A. Vampire,” Xander reminded her harshly.

The nurse looked up sharply then and Xander smiled nervously. “In the … metaphorical, ‘sleep all day, party all night’ sense,” he added. “And who am I to poop on his party?”

Dawn opened her mouth to retort, but Tara cut in. “M-maybe we should give Buffy some quiet? I think she might need some more rest.”

Outside in the hall, Tara asked Willow, “D-Dawn was right. That is what you and Xander were talking about, isn’t it? Whether to t-try and find S-Spike? So, you knew.”

Willow sighed. “Yes. And I agree with Xan. Whatever Warren gets, he deserves.”

“B-But what about Spike? Didn’t you consider what it might d-do to him?”

Willow chewed her bottom lip a moment, frowning. “I just figured one more guilty victim on top of the thousands of innocents, wouldn’t really make that much difference.”

“That’s kinda cold, Will. D-Didn’t you see how h-hard he was fighting to not let the d-demon take over?” Tara wondered, her brows drawn down into a worried frown.

Willow unconsciously rubbed at the aching bruise across her back where Spike had tossed her against the cabinets. “Yeah, well, what would be colder would be for Warren to come back and finish the job, which he would! This way, it’s over.”

Tara shook her head and looked away, still frowning. “I g-guess we’ll have to agree to d-disagree then.”

** X-X-X-X-X **

It was around three a.m. when Buffy checked herself out of the hospital, against the advice of several doctors.  Her headache had receded to unbearable, with only intermittent bursts of blinding pain. She and Dawn headed back home with her friends following at a semi-safe distance. She wanted to change into something less blood-stained and see if maybe Spike was there, waiting. She doubted it, but there was a small spark of hope that maybe, somehow, he hadn’t found Warren and had just come home.

The spark died immediately when they entered the dark, deserted house.

Buffy washed up a little and changed into a shirt that didn’t have a bullet hole in it and wasn’t covered in blood. When she came back downstairs, the others were waiting for her.

“Do you want us to come with?” Xander asked.

She stared at him for a long, uncomfortable minute, long enough to make him wonder if she’d heard him.

Buffy felt like her world was imploding. She prayed to any saint, sinner, ghost, or god who would listen for Spike to just be drunk and forlorn, not down the dark rabbit hole of evil. The light inside him had been growing slowly, but it had taken years for it to become strong enough to fight the darkness of the demon.  Would the light be enough to battle the black, blinding rage of heartbreak now? Now that she’d let him in? Now that she’d said the words.

Those three horrible, cursed words! Why did she have to say them? Why did terrible things happen when she said those words? She was cursed, and she knew in her heart that Spike was going to be the one to pay for that. Just like Angel had paid with his soul, Spike, she feared, would pay with his. He would pay for loving a Slayer. Everyone paid for loving her.

Finally, she looked away, blinking away her tears, letting her gaze travel over the others, then back to the tall brunette. “I’m really pissed with you right now,” she said, finally. “I knew you didn’t like Spike, but I didn’t think you’d purposely—”

“There was no purpose! I was purposeless!” Xander argued. “He was distraught. He left! How was I supposed to stop him? He’s like a thousand times stronger than me, with fangs!”

Buffy tilted her head in a semi-nod. “But you didn’t go find him when I was … undead again.”

Xander jerked a little at the turn of phrase, then looked down, abashed. “No.”

“So, whatever’s happened over the last … many hours…” Buffy really had no idea how many hours it had been, “…I lay at your feet. So, you might as well help me clean up your mess.”

“I’m coming, too,” Dawn insisted, lifting her chin defiantly, daring anyone to try and stop her.

Buffy’s frown deepened, if that was possible, and she looked back to Xander, who met her gaze and gave a small tilt of his head. A nod? A shake? A shrug?

Willow and Tara watched the silent exchange, concerned and confused, then Buffy nodded. “Yeah, fine,” she agreed.

Willow and Tara looked at each other in surprise. “Are you sure, Buffy?” Willow asked.

“Yeah, she.… Yeah, I’m sure,” Buffy replied, not explaining further.

Buffy walked over to the weapons chest and opened it, considering. She rubbed her aching head as she tried to figure out what she was going to find when she found Spike. Maybe he was just drunk and sleeping it off somewhere. She snorted to herself, not bloody likely.

Images raced through her mind of Angelus, of how he had so completely changed from the man she loved into a monster, into a killer … or back into a killer. Spike had been no less deadly when the demon was in command – perhaps even more dangerous than Angelus. Spike was straightforward, going right for the kill; he didn’t play with his food before he struck.

There was no reason to think that the Powers That Be would let her off any easier with this vampire that she loved than they had the last. She wasn’t following their rules. They would make her pay dearly for that, she just knew it.

She’d had to kill Angel … not even Angelus, but Angel, soul restored. She had no idea what she’d have to do when she found Spike, but one thing was certain: the PTB had a fucking sick sense of humor and, if she ever had the displeasure of meeting them, she was going to tell them so … with her fists.

She picked up a stake and tucked it into her waistband, then took another and handed it to Dawn.

Dawn’s eyes went wide, taking the smooth wood from her sister’s hands. “What’s this for?”

Buffy gave Xander a sharp, unforgiving glare. “Protection … against Spike.”

“Buffy, he wouldn’t…”

“We don’t know what he’ll do now,” Buffy interrupted Dawn. “We don’t know how far he’s gone or if we can get him back.”

“What about us?” Xander asked worriedly, eying the weapons chest.

Buffy slammed it closed. “You set him on this path, you take your chances.”

 

Chapter Text

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Spike’s Crypt.

“I told you I’d come for you if you spilled one drop of human blood,” Riley remarked casually, leaning on the dresser his arms crossed over his chest.

“Bloody rich, that is,” Spike snarled, whirling on him. “He killed the Slayer! You remember? Buffy? Girl you once professed t’ love!? You should be helpin’ me, ya git!”

“A promise is a promise, right, Spike? I hear you never break yours. Oh. Oops – until now, I guess. Didn’t you promise Buffy you wouldn’t hurt anyone if we removed the chip? That makes her a liar, too. What a legacy she’ll leave. I’m sure the Council will use her as a cautionary tale rather than a heroic example for all future Slayer training. She’ll be the Benedict Arnold of Slayers. Falling in love with the enemy and fucking them like a blood whore.”

Spike’s growl rumbled low and dangerous in his chest, vibrating the air palpably, but Riley ignored it, continuing his goading taunt.

“I know she let you bite her. Now that’s fucking rich after everything she said to me about letting vamps feed on me. Made me a pathetic, needy little loser. Probably just makes her hornier, huh? Did you fuck her and suck her at the same time, Spike? I bet she really liked that. She could really scream… did you make her scream, Spike?

“And that so-called soul of yours. What a joke!” Riley continued, pushing himself off the dresser and standing up, still ignoring Spike’s warning growl of impending doom. “Buffy sure can find all the monsters with souls. Funny how the ones she wants to fuck miraculously have souls, isn’t it? Two in one town? Seems a little convenient, if you ask me.

“Speaking of monsters with souls – you and Angel? Did you ever, you know, make a bitch sandwich out of her? Seems like something she’d beg for. She’s still really hot for Angel, you know that, right?”

Spike’s growl intensified, the small knife he’d been using to carve designs into Warren’s flesh clutched tightly in his blood-soaked, badly-scorched hand.  “Hope you brought your bloody army with ya, cos you’re gonna need ‘em to pick up the pieces when I’m done with you,” Spike warned.

Riley smiled, his white teeth flashing smugly. “Brought a few friends,” he agreed, waving a hand around the room.

Spike looked around as more Riley Finns – not other soldiers, literally more Riley Finns – emerged from the shadows around him, each armed to the teeth, each with that same smug, self-righteous smirk. Every one of them needing it to be wiped off their faces, viciously and permanently.

Spike roared, leaping at the one that had been talking. The furious vamp ended up careening painfully off the dresser, that particular Riley having vanished into thin air. Then they were all on Spike, punching, kicking, and stabbing him with brutal ruthlessness. They pulled his arms and legs in different directions, and Spike was sure they were going to tear him apart in the middle.  His demon roared in fury and yanked hard, pulling his arms from their grasp, sending several of them careening into each other, knocking some of them down.

He twisted and kicked, dislodging one leg from their grasp. He then used his free foot to boot the two holding his other leg directly in the teeth, one right after the other. Then he was free of their grasp and scrabbling back to his feet, ready to take the rest of them on.

He fought like a demon possessed, using every weapon he had to inflict pain and suffering on the soldiers that surrounded him, roaring and ripping flesh with the knife, claws and fangs. Blood flew. Soldiers screamed and fell, but others came to take their place. There seemed to be a never-ending stream of sanctimonious, self-appointed vampire slayers set on beating Spike into a bloody pulp before they dusted him.

** X-X-X-X-X **

“I’ll go down first, Xander – you’re next,” Buffy whispered as they crouched at the top of the ladder that led to the underground cavern in Spike’s crypt. She hadn’t heard anything from below but a slight moaning for the last couple of minutes, but she knew Spike was there – she could feel the tingle at the base of her spine that was singularly Spike’s.

Xander took a deep breath and nodded, ready to face whatever happened. He was 99.9% sure Buffy wouldn’t let anything happen to him, but there was that small sliver of doubt in there that made his stomach churn. She was pretty pissed off.

Buffy sent one last desperate prayer up to the firmament before silently descending the ladder. She touched down on the soft carpets without a sound, but before she could even turn around, the strong stench of blood and B.O. and other, unknown, but equally pungent, scents hit her. She felt her head spin and closed her eyes, clutching the ladder to keep from falling.

Warren’s voice flooded her mind, words she’d never forget ringing in her ears as his face and the barrel of the gun, huge and terrifying, filled her vision. And then he laughed, nasty, cruel, and ominous. In the next moment, the sound of the shot rang in her mind, drowning him out, filling her ears with the clarion call of death.

She gasped as the bullet struck her, more painful than anything she’d ever felt before, tearing at her flesh, her bone, hurtling into her chest, lodging in her lung, set on destruction. She felt her body jerk convulsively and fall back, knocked to the ground by the force, though she was actually still clinging tightly to the ladder, unable to let go, frozen in place.

Pain.

Blood.

Drowning.

Cold. So, cold.

Promise. Pickles.

Spike.

“Buffy?” Xander whispered down from above when she did not move.

The Slayer jerked, her hands trembling on the ladder, sweat beading her skin; her heart raced in her chest, and tears flowed down her face as she was pulled out of the flashback. She looked up toward the sound, then looked around, trying to get her bearings. She wasn’t in the back yard. She wasn’t dying. She wasn’t leaving Spike again. She was here to find him, to save him. The hard wood of the stake pressed against her back and she closed her eyes. ‘Please let me save him,’ she prayed silently, but she had no idea who to send the prayer to.

She opened her eyes and took a deep breath of the stagnant stench of blood and sweat and bile mixed with the sweet scent of candles, and retched. She covered her mouth and swallowed back the vomit, trying to get her mind and body back under her control. Her head was on the verge of splitting open, and, to make matters worse, her chest suddenly felt like it might burst at any moment, also.

“Are you okay?” Xander whispered again, his voice more frantic now.

She held a hand up to him, trying to convey to him that she was okay, and he needed to give her a minute. Apparently, it worked because he stopped whispering shouts down at her.

Standing on wobbly legs, her hands still trembling, and trying not to breathe more than absolutely necessary, she turned and lifted her gaze to examine the candlelit room.

The first thing she saw was Warren chained to the wall, completely nude. His whole body, or at least the parts that she could see, was covered with hieroglyphs and runes carved directly into his skin. It looked as if he was more carving than untouched skin; the white skin just a highlight against the multitude of crimson patterns. Blood ran down his body in rivers, obscuring some of the designs, while others she could make out clearly.

In contrast to the neat, clean lines of the carvings, there were a few deep, large, ragged gouges in the fleshier parts of his body, mostly on his thighs and abdomen. In those spots, skin, fat, and muscle had been ripped out, as if Spike had dug his claws into the man’s body and just torn his flesh away. Buffy could see meaty clumps of gore littering the carpet at Warren’s feet mixed in with the coagulating blood – the man’s missing flesh, she surmised. There were burns all over him also, everything from the bright red of a bad sunburn to the dark black of scorched flesh. Warren’s head lolled forward like a ragdoll, but he was alive. He was the source of the moaning she’d heard.

Buffy stared at him for what seemed a lifetime, taking in the gruesome tableau, her heart beating a painful tattoo against her ribs. Her stomach lurched and churned again at the gruesome sight, but her gorge did not rise. Instead, she began to relax a bit, her breath coming easier, her heart slowing, the pain in her chest receding.  Deep inside she knew it was wrong – so very wrong – to feel what she did, but she simply couldn’t help it. She felt relieved. Warren wasn’t running around loose, plotting on finishing what he’d started. He was here, and he most assuredly was in no condition to hurt anyone.

The next strongest emotion to hit her was annoyance that Spike had used the handcuffs and manacles that he’d had made for her on the nerd. Those were hers, damn it! Now they were all covered in nerd blood. That shit just doesn’t come out.

Buffy bit her bottom lip, trying to come to grips with her raw, unfiltered emotions, but she was simply too exhausted, and her head hurt too much, to spend a lot of time dwelling on it all right now. She could feel bad for Warren some other time, like in twenty-five-to-life when he got out jail. Could they charge him with first degree murder if she only died a little while?

She turned her gaze away from the gory sight of her attempted-murderer and saw Spike on the bed, sprawled face down, asleep or passed out. An empty whiskey bottle lay on the floor next to the bed. She knew it took more than that to get him drunk enough to actually pass out, so probably just asleep, exhausted beyond even his capacity to remain upright.

Xander stepped off the ladder next to her and Buffy suddenly remembered the others that were with her. “Dawn! Stay up there!” she called in a hushed but emphatic whisper, as Willow began to descend the ladder.

Dawn did not listen. She touched down on the carpet after Tara and swept her gaze over the cavern. The girl gasped, then covered her mouth, keeping the bile back, when she saw Warren. Her eyes were wide, shocked, and unable to move from the horrific scene.

Buffy whirled around when she heard her and glared at her sister, who had turned ten shades of green within a few moments.

“Damn it,” Buffy growled angrily under her breath, but it was too late to do anything about it now. Dawn had seen it … seen what Spike could do. Buffy stepped back over to her and physically turned Dawn away from Warren, making her focus on her instead. Buffy had no idea what to say to her to calm the girl down and make it any better. “He was really angry … he … it …” Buffy sighed and gave up. “Just stay here, look down and don’t move, okay?”

Dawn nodded, shifting her gaze to the floor and began thinking about puppies. Cute, fluffy puppies. Happy puppies. Nothing but puppies. ‘Don’t look, don’t look, oh, God, don’t look.’

Buffy signaled for them all to remain there and she moved forward silently, easing toward the bed. When she got close enough to see Spike’s hands and face, Buffy had to put her hand over her mouth again as bile suddenly rose into her throat. She was sure her face had turned the same shades of green as Dawn’s.

What the hell had happened to Spike today? His face and hands were horribly burned, blackened and cracked with blood seeping from the splits that had opened in his skin. She’d never seen a vamp burned so badly and still walking around. How did that not dust him?

She took a deep breath and swallowed back her horror, assuring herself that he would be okay. That his body would heal. She glanced back over at Warren and her heart clenched in pain, not for Warren, but for Spike. The vamp may be able to physically heal, but what about his soul? Was William even still in there? Was there any light left at all? Would he be the man she loved when she woke him up? Or would he be a wild, feral monster? Would she be able to talk to him, to offer comfort and help him heal? Or would she have to stake him to keep him from killing her and her friends?

Well, there was only one way to find out. She stepped forward and laid gentle a hand on his shoulder. “Spi—"

All hell broke loose.

Spike roared and leapt on the nearest soldier, his fangs sinking into flesh like a knife through butter. Hot, sweet blood flowed into him and he drank ravenously. He plunged his fangs deeper into the muscle, brutally ripping at the vein as the blood filled him with a primal need to kill, to destroy, to massacre, feeding his demon with the nectar of life.

“Spike! Stop! Spike! It’s me! Buffy!” a voice came through the fog of his dream.

The ghost. She wouldn’t stay – she’d said as much – so why was she back. Just to torture him with what he couldn’t have? Couldn’t she just leave him to rest in peace?

“NO! SPIKE! STOP!” came another voice, familiar but somehow distant from him now, the name of its owner lost in the shroud of grief and fury surrounding him. Suddenly, he was flying through the air, light as a feather, until he crashed into the stone wall and tumbled bonelessly to the floor.

Spike shook himself, scrabbling back to his feet, ready to resume the fight with the soldiers, but he was stopped by what he saw. He froze in place, unable to move, trying to puzzle out what was happening.

There were no soldiers. No Riley Finns. There were four sets of wide, frightened eyes looking back at him, heartbeats thunderous in the cavern, deafening in his ears.

“What the fuck, Spike!?” Xander exclaimed, glaring, but still wary of the crazed vampire. “It’s Buffy! You fucking attacked Buffy!”

Spike’s eyes moved to the two other sets of dazed expressions that peered up at him, frightened and shaken. Willow and Tara were at Buffy’s side, trying to staunch the bleeding.

He looked up then and saw Dawn standing near the ladder, a stake clutched in her trembling hands, her face ashen with fear. Fear of the demon, fear of him, he knew – he could recognize it in an instant.

He looked back to where Buffy lay bleeding, writhing in pain, clutching at her head and neck simultaneously. He watched as Tara laid a hand on the jagged wound on the Slayer’s neck and closed her eyes, drawing in a deep, cleansing breath. Willow quickly retrieved two, thick pillar candles that hadn’t been knocked over in the brawl, and placed them on either side of Tara. Willow took Tara’s free hand in hers, laid her other hand down atop the wound in Buffy’s neck, and closed her eyes as she, also, took a deep breath.

Then Tara chanted, “Aceso, Goddess hear my plea, magic mend while the candle burns, injury will end, and health will return, harm to none, my will be done. So mote it be.”

Buffy moaned and writhed under the witches’ hands as the stabbing pain in her brain redoubled with the new influx of magical power. “Damn it, my headache had almost gotten down to oppressive,” she muttered after a few moments, trying to sit up, the gash in her neck healing like, well, magic.

Spike widened his eyes, then blinked, trying to clear his vision. The scene didn’t change. He blinked again. Ghosts. A trick. Warren had found a way to trick him. It wasn’t real. It had to be an illusion.

“Warren’s alive!” Xander announced, working to free Warren from the bonds that held him to the wall. “Unfortunately,” he added under his breath. “Jesus … there are … actual railroad spikes …” Xander began, his voice trailing off in a tone of awed revulsion.

“Should I try to heal him?” Tara asked, looking over at the bloody man.

“NO!” came the unanimous decision from Xander, Willow, and Buffy.

“These chains are locked,” Xander told them, tugging on them with absolutely no effect.

“Key should be hanging in that trunk over there. Open it up and look on the right side – there’s a hook,” Buffy advised the carpenter, drawing curious looks from her friends.

“Oh, get over it,” Buffy sighed, as she started to roll her eyes, but it made her head hurt worse, so she stopped. Instead she pushed up to her feet, Willow and Tara mirroring her. They helped to steady Buffy when she swayed, pain gouging furrows of searing agony in the Slayer’s brain.

Spike crept closer, wary, watching as the three women stood up. The Slayer swayed, but her two friends steadied her. A trick … it had to be a trick. Buffy was gone. He’d seen it with his own eyes. He’d heard it with his ears. He’d felt it with his soul. Her ghost had been here. Couldn’t stay. Wouldn’t stay. Joyce and Dru … they’d told him, too. Gone. His light was gone. His sun … just glitter and frilly ribbons.

Buffy got her balance and her head resumed pounding unbearably, which she could tolerate.

“Spike, it’s me,” she offered softly, reaching a tentative hand out toward him like you would an unknown dog.

Spike’s eyes narrowed suspiciously, but he reached a hesitant, blood-stained, charred hand out to touch her. When his fingers met hers a tangible spark bolted through him and he jerked back, suddenly wild-eyed and terrified. He looked from Buffy to the mangled body that Xander was trying to get down from the chains, and back again.

He started shaking his head slowly back and forth, his eyes still wide and looking more crazed by the moment.

“No, no, no … promised. Promised I wouldn’t. Finn’s right … broke the promise. Promised the lady … broke it,” he rambled, covering his ears with his hands. “Monster. Not a man. Lark’s dead, not coming back. No more fire. Screaming … make it stop … so much … screaming!”

“Spike, it’ll be okay,” Buffy tried to assure him, taking a step towards him. “Let me help you.”

Spike jerked back, his eyes feral, on the verge of demented. They shone unnaturally bright against the scorched, blackened skin of his face. He held his hands up, as if to shield his face from view.  “No … no, can’t let her see. No light. Hide the demon. The darkness … can’t let her… no. Dark between the suns. Pixies don’t dare. Won’t understand. Lost her. Not dead, just lost, so lost,” he muttered.

“Finn’s in my head! Oh, that’s bloody rich! Wanker dribbling his piss all over my soddin’ brain! GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT!” he yelled. He began bang his fists against his blackened forehead, peeling off burned skin and exposing red, bloody flesh beneath.

“Spike!” Buffy began again, alarmed and wincing in sympathetic pain at the sight of him as she took another step forward.

“STOP LOOKING AT ME!” he screamed at her suddenly, darting for the ladder.

“SPIKE!” Buffy called after him, taking a step to try and block his path, but he was by her in a flash.

He came to a skidding stop in front of Dawn, who was still standing at the bottom of the ladder with her stake.

“Spike?” she tried gently. “It’s Dawn … you remember me, right? Just wait, okay? Buffy’s here. She’s okay now. They … they fixed her. It’ll be okay.”

Spike shook his head. “Till the end of the world … protect. But world’s done. Gone pear-shaped. That’s a problem, innit? Well, yeah, obviously. Promised. Lost. Bloody lark’s dead. Pixies can piss off. Bad man. Bad, bad man,” he rambled.

He stared at Dawn for a long moment then, his eyes softening, a small hint of recognition showing in them. Dawn reached a tentative hand out toward him then, but Spike jumped back out of reach. In the next instant he was gone, leaping over her, landing half-way up the ladder and darting up the rest of the way.

“SPIKE!” Buffy and Dawn both yelled as he disappeared out the trap door in a flutter of black leather. Buffy mounted the ladder and followed but he was out and gone from the crypt before she could even reach the top.

Buffy half-climbed, half-slid back down and collapsed heavily on the rugs beneath the ladder, clutching her throbbing head. Dawn knelt next to her, wrapping her arms around her sister.

“He’ll come back, we’ll find him, it’ll be okay,” Dawn assured her sister.

Buffy shook her head. “No, it won’t,” she sobbed, leaning into the hug. “There was no fire … he’s gone.”

Dawn shook her head, not understanding. “What do you mean?”

Pain radiated out from the back of Buffy’s eyes, stabbing into her brain like burning icepicks, but she wasn’t sure it was from the lack of oxygen, the magic, or what she’d seen when Spike bit her: William, lying dead in the deep, dark cavern, the fire she’d helped him build completely extinguished. His still-beating, blood-soaked heart had been torn from his chest and it was being slowly consumed by the darkness, turned to dust, bit by agonizing bit.

She’d picked it up and held it in her hands for just a moment before she’d been hurtled out of the cavern, straight through the deepest web of the darkness. Claws reached out for her as she was pulled back out, snagging at her soul, trying to trap her, to rip her apart. And then she was free, torn away from the vampire when Tara flung him across the room with her magic.

Buffy shook her head again. “He’s gone,” was all she could say before heartbreak overwhelmed her and she could only sob, grief wracking her body. It was Angel all over again. She’d lost him. She was cursed, and now Spike had paid the price. There was always a price for her love. Always. How could she have forgotten that?

Xander, Willow, and Tara all looked at each other in silence for a long moment as Warren slumped like a bloody rag doll on the floor, but still breathing, still alive.

“Well, that could’ve gone better,” Xander observed dourly, drawing grim nods of agreement from Tara and Willow.

Chapter Text

BANNER

 

Buffy sat in the comfy chair in Spike’s crypt, waiting. The TV sat in front of her, but she didn’t bother turning it on. She couldn’t concentrate on it; nothing really made any sense.

It had been two weeks since her latest death experience, and she’d sat right here for most of those fourteen days. Once in a while a friend of Spike’s would come by. Sometimes she told them he was on vacation – what a joke! Other times she said he was down in L.A. visiting Angel – an even bigger joke! She pretended to take their names and she told them all that she’d let him know they’d stopped by when he got back.

The first few days she was here she’d spent cleaning up. Cleaning up the blood. Removing the crime-scene tape the police had put up when they’d taken the badly injured, but alive, Warren away. Straightening up everything that had gotten knocked over. Putting everything back in its place, washing the linens, tossing food and blood out of the fridge that had gone bad – anything she could think of to make it feel ‘right’ again. For being an evil vampire, Spike had been amazingly tidy. She put it back into tidiness, into readiness for his return.

And she waited for William the Bloody. With her stake.

But he hadn’t returned.

The door of the crypt creaked behind her and she turned to look. The witches. Come to tell her their locator spell had failed. Again. They came every day after their classes.

“Hey!” Willow greeted her with a false brightness that nearly made Buffy wince. “Brought ya some coffee from that really expensive place near campus, ‘Java the Hutt’. It should taste twice as good as Espresso Pump’s, it cost twice as much!”

Buffy snorted in fake amusement and took the coffee, but didn’t drink. “Thanks.”

“We were thinking of going to a movie this afternoon,” Willow continued. “Maybe you’d like to come?”

“What’s playing?” Buffy asked impassively.

“’Resident Evil,’” Willow replied cheerfully, as if she’d announced it was the new ‘Scooby-Doo’ movie or something else equally light-hearted.

Buffy arched an ironic brow at the witch. “Sounds fun, but I think I’ll pass on that. Pretty sure I can just sit here and wait for the resident evil to show up and I don’t even have to pay admission.”

Willow chewed her bottom lip and looked at Tara for help.

“M-maybe we could just go for c-coffee?” the white witch suggested.

Buffy held the cup up that they’d brought her. “All coffee’d up.”

“O-or the Bronze?” Tara tried.

A flash of the first time Buffy had ever seen Spike, in the alley behind the Bronze, blurred through her mind. ‘What happens Saturday?’ she’d asked. ‘I kill you.’

A sad smile curved the Slayer’s lips but she shook her head. “Sorry, I’m just not fun-sized-girl right now. Maybe another time.”

“S-sure,” Tara agreed, giving Willow a small shrug, unsure what else to try.

“We tried the locator spell again,” Willow told her.

“And it fizzled,” Buffy finished.

Willow looked dismayed. “Yeah,” she confirmed.

“He’s gotten a charm or something to keep from being found,” Buffy told them, not for the first time.

Willow shrugged. “It might wear off,” she suggested hopefully.

“Or he’s dust,” Buffy added despondently, looking down at the stake in her hand.

“Don’t say that, Buffy. I’m sure he’s fine-ish. He’s undusty, for sure, just a little rattled. He just needs some time to, you know, un-rattle, he’ll be back,” Willow assured her.

‘Rattled,’ Buffy thought, scoffing to herself. The knot in her stomach tightened, her anger at Willow and Xander churning in her guts. Tara, she’d quickly realized, hadn’t been in on the whole ‘use Spike as a weapon’ idea. Buffy had already yelled and screamed at her friends until she had turned blue and her head felt like it was going to split open. They’d begged forgiveness. They said they didn’t know it would do this to Spike. They admitted they were wrong over and over and apologized a gazillion times already. She didn’t know how to forgive them, but she knew how to stuff emotions down into little gilded boxes in her soul, and so she’d done that. Killing them wouldn’t bring Spike back, after all … though the thought had occurred to her more than once.

“I guess no one down at Willy’s has heard from him, huh?” Willow continued, trying to look hopeful.

Buffy shook her head. “I’ve offered money, I’ve promised to not beat them up, I’ve beaten them up, I’ve begged, cajoled, and demanded, I even offered kittens! No one there has seen him. Not even Clem knows where he is. Tobias is asking around for me … any new demons that come in the Unicorn he asks. No one’s seen him, though.”

“D-did you try Angel again, to see if he can find S-Spike with his bloodline link?” Tara asked.

Buffy shook her head. “No point. Fred doesn’t know where he is, doesn’t know where Cordy is, doesn’t know where Wes is! It’s like they all just decided L.A. was lame and it was a good time to go terrorize the Martians that live on the dark side of the moon.

“She said if he came back in my lifetime, she’d call.”

“I thought Martians lived on, you know, Mars,” Willow tried to joke.

“Yeah, mostly, but you know, everyone wants a McMansion in the ‘burbs,” Buffy replied, her tone flat despite the witticism.

Willow and Tara laughed lightly, but it sounded hollow in the quiet crypt.

After a few moments of awkward silence, the witches excused themselves, leaving Buffy alone. Again. Where she always seemed to end up. It was the best place for her. No one else could get hurt if she just stayed alone.

Tears welled up and overflowed, following in the path of the millions that had come before. Was it the curse of being the Slayer that always made sure she was alone? That gave her the barest taste of happiness only to cruelly rip it away? Or was it just ‘Buffy’? Was she just undeserving? What had she done that was so horrible? What was wrong with her? Why did she, and everyone she loved, get punished so severely?

God, why hadn’t they just left her in the ground? Why did her friends insist on killing her by degrees instead of just letting her rest in peace? The hope and joy that had bloomed with her love of Spike seemed like a cruel joke now. Something to remind her of what she didn’t have. Of what she would never have. It was the universe’s version of Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown.

Everyone in her life had found someone. They had someone to hold in the dark of night. They had someone to laugh with, to cry with, to just be with. They were happy. They were in love.

Everyone but her. She’d never have that. She realized it now.

How could her heart be so broken and still keep beating? Didn’t it know it was broken? Hadn’t it gotten the memo? It really should read its damn mail instead of letting it pile up on the coffee table. She could feel the shattered pieces stabbing into her chest with every breath. How could it not notice?

And now she sat waiting. Waiting to kill another vampire that she loved. She’d released him from his leash, and it would be her job to stop him. She couldn’t imagine what kind of monster was in charge of the universe, but they were a sick, cruel son-of-a-bitch. If she ever met them, she would rip their heart out, still beating, and stomp on it, just like the universe was so fond of doing to hers.

Buffy stood up, wiping her eyes with her fingers, brushing away the tears, suddenly resolved, knowing exactly what she had to do. She tucked her stake away then reached behind her neck and unhooked the clasp of the delicate chain that held the infinity pendant that Spike had given her. With a heavy heart, she set it down on the table next to the chair, letting the chain slowly spiral down atop it in a small heap.

“I guess forever just got a lot shorter,” she whispered taking a deep breath and heading resolutely for the door.

She’d given up her hope of ever being ‘normal’, of having a normal life, a long time ago. Now it was time to give up her hope of ever being with someone she loved, too. All she was doing was torturing her own soul with crazy hopes and dreams. At some point she had to face the truth, and the hard truth was that love and relationships were something that Slayers didn’t get to have. At least not this Slayer.

She pulled the door of the crypt closed behind herself, laying her palm against it in a final farewell.

“Goodbye, Spike. You sure picked the wrong girl to love. I’m cursed. I’m sorry.”

 


 ******* FOUR MONTHS LATER ********


 

“Hello?” Willow answered the phone, pausing the movie she and Tara were watching in the living room at Buffy’s.

Things had been going well for the couple romantically. Although the atmosphere had been very chilly between Willow and the two Summers girls for a while, it seemed like Dawn, at least, had begun to forgive the witch for her part in Spike’s unraveling and disappearance. Willow had done all she could to apologize for what happened immediately after Buffy’s revival, and tried everything she knew to help find Spike after he disappeared. Despite that, Buffy remained detached, practically emotionless, which worried Tara a lot. Willow agreed and tried to talk to Buffy about it, but she didn’t know of any other ways to say she was sorry and that she’d been wrong. She’d even suggested Buffy should beat her up – anything to get some real emotion out of the Slayer – but Buffy had just rolled her eyes at that idea. When the two witches suggested moving out of the house, Buffy asked them not to.  Even though Buffy didn’t need help with the mortgage and other expenses anymore, it seemed silly to have such a big house with just her and Dawn in it. She knew that Tara didn’t have any monetary support from her family, plus she’d rather Dawn not be alone when Buffy went out to patrol or was at work.

“No, she’s not here right now. Can I ask who’s calling?” Willow continued, reaching for a pen and pad of paper that sat next to the phone.

“Oh! Sam! Hi! It’s Willow …. Oh … really? Uhhhh, are you sure?” Willow looked at Tara with wide eyes and the white witch sat up and put her ear near the receiver next to Willow’s.

“Umm, well, he’s hard to mistake for anyone else,” Sam was saying. “I thought I should talk to Buffy. I’m not sure what’s going on. He says he wants us to ‘chip him up,’” the soldier continued.

“’Chip him up’? But Buffy said … well … he … ummmm,” Willow stammered. “Don’t do that. Don’t do anything, okay? What’s your number, again? I’ll have Buffy call you when she gets home from work.”

“Please have her hurry. I’ve got him hidden in a disused barrack, but if Finn finds him, or any of the other soldiers … well … it could be bad,” Sam urged the witch.

“It shouldn’t be too late. She’s teaching self-defense and martial arts classes at the ‘Y’ now. She’s usually home by seven. I’ll have her call you right away,” Willow promised.

Willow hung up the phone, having written the number down and confirmed it back to Sam. She looked up at Tara with hopeful, wide eyes. “Spike’s okay! He’s in San Juan Capistrano! Buffy can go get him!”

** X-X-X-X-X **

Later that evening.

Buffy was still on the couch where the witches had made her sit to hear the ‘big news’. She looked from Willow to Tara, both of them beaming, bouncing and giddy with excitement with their announcement.

“Aaand, this concerns me how?” Buffy wondered, giving them a questioning look. “I’m not Spike’s keeper. If he wants them to ‘chip him up’, then fine. It’ll save me from having to stake him.”

Willow and Tara both frowned, deflating like someone letting the air out of a balloon.

“But, Buffy … it’s Spike – like, ‘grr-argh’ Spike,” Willow pointed out, as if the Slayer had not understood.

“Yeah, I get it. Spike. Who left four months ago. Apparently, he’s capable of taking care of himself. He doesn’t need a chaperone.”

“Buffy,” Willow pleaded, her voice softening as she took a seat next to her friend. “I know you’re hurt and—"

“I’m not hurt. Hurt’s in my rearview mirror,” Buffy argued flatly. “He’s a big boy. If he wants a chip, then let them put one in him. They can give him dip to go with it for all I care. Who am I to tell him what to do?”

Willow frowned. “You don’t even want to see him?”

Buffy shrugged. “Not really. So, is that the big news?” she asked, looking from Willow to Tara.

They both nodded dejectedly.

“Great, I’ll get dinner started. You guys eating in or out?” Buffy asked, standing up.

“Ummm, in I guess,” Willow answered, getting a confirming nod from Tara.

** X-X-X-X-X **

Buffy headed out on patrol a little before midnight. Instead of her normal route, she headed the other way to the cemetery on the outskirts of town. Her cemetery. Well, not hers, exactly, but the one where she was buried … or had been buried.

As she came over the rise, she found what she was looking for: a large group of vamps partying on and around her grave. Most of them were just standing around talking and drinking, some were actually dancing, some were metaphorically ‘dancing’ off in the shadows of an elm, and a couple were taking pictures of each other as they lounged against her tombstone.

She pulled her stake out and twirled it once in her hand. Oh, this was gonna be good.

“Hey, guys,” she called when she got close to them. “Who’s bad-ass enough to try and put me back in there?” she taunted with an innocent smile.

The vamps turned to her as one, surprise slowly being replaced by whiskey-fueled bravado and bloodlust as, one by one, fangs emerged, and growls began to roll through the gentle hills.

Buffy smiled invitingly. “Let’s dance.”

They swarmed her as one, fangs and fists flying. She dusted the first one that got to her with a brutal blow of her stake to its chest, hitting the second one with a round-house kick and sending him stumbling back to bowl two more down. The next nearest her melted into dust at the end of her stake one instant later, then another kick and a jab to the jaw held more off as she dusted another. Three had fallen in a pile of tangled limbs and Buffy swiftly dispatched them, bam, bam, bam. Pretty maids, all in a row. Some ran, leaving just one more, who approached her cautiously.

“What’s the matter? I’m right here. Don’t you want some of this, hot, sweet, Slayer blood?” she taunted, tilting her head to the side to expose her jugular.

The vamp roared and leapt at her, and another pile of dust rained down, leaving the cemetery silent and empty.

“That was quite a show.”

Buffy whirled to find Xander standing a few yards back.  “Just doing my job,” she replied casually. “What are you doing?”

Xander held up a bag from the all-night grocer. “My job – Anya wanted pistachio almond and all we had was rocky road.”

Xander walked closer to her, surveying the copious piles of vampire dust at her feet. “This little display wouldn’t have anything to do with Spike, would it?”

Buffy tucked her stake back into her jeans and snorted derisively. “Why would it have anything to do with Spike?” she asked as she began walking beside the brunette in the direction of his and Anya’s apartment.

“Because the last time I saw you dust that many vamps at once, you were having another romantic crisis.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “I’m not having a crisis, romantic or otherwise. I’m just doing—”

“Your job,” Xander finished. “I know.

“Except those vamps have been partying there for months. Mostly the same ones all the time. I walk by here a lot and they’ve never even given me a glance,” he pointed out. “You’re usually a bad vampire Slayer, Buff.”

Buffy raised her brows, looking decidedly insulted.

“No, no, no! I don’t mean you’re a bad vampire Slayer, but that you are a Slayer of bad vampires,” he clarified quickly.

“I’m just a vampire Slayer … good, bad or indifferent,” Buffy contended.

“Yeah, not so much,” Xander disagreed.

“And since when did you care what kind of vampires I slay, Xander? You’re not president of the Vampires of America Fan Club, you aren’t even a member – you don’t even know where the meetings are!”

“There are meetings? Do they serve donuts?” he asked, giving her a teasing glance.

“Why don’t you just come out with whatever it is you want to say, Xan?” Buffy suggested irritably as they exited the cemetery and began walking down the sidewalk.

“All I’m saying is, I may not have super strength, a mystical calling, witchy-mojo, or blood that opens portals to hell dimensions … I don’t even have very good judgement sometimes.”

Buffy gave him an ironic lift of her brows, her lips pressed into a hard, thin line.

Xander rolled his eyes. “Fine … maybe I don’t have ‘good judgement’ bone in my body. But I know you.

“You’re in Slayer-bot mode. I don’t think I’ve seen a real smile or laugh from you since that night. I can’t pretend to understand what you see in Spike, and he and I aren’t exactly on each other’s Christmas card lists, but I hate seeing you like this.”

Buffy opened her mouth to say something, but Xander held a hand up to stop her. “I know it’s my fault. I swear I didn’t know this would happen. I just thought … well, it doesn’t matter now. I know I was wrong to not go find him, and I’m sorry … for the eleventy-millionth time. I heard Dawn’s ear-piercing lecture loud and clear – my burst eardrums are living proof – and I get it, I do. But, that’s not the point.”

“Oh, you have an actual point?” Buffy scoffed, still scowling at him.

“A very pointy point,” he assured her. “As much as it pains me, I’m man enough to admit that you seemed a lot happier when Spike was around. Also, I’ve noticed the quality of your puns has really fallen off, which I think is one of the signs of an impending apocalypse, and is quite disturbing to me, personally.

“So, maybe you should think about going down and at least seeing him,” Xander finished with a shrug. “What can it hurt?”

“What can it help? It’s certainly not gonna improve the quality of my puns,” Buffy retorted tersely. “Whatever Spike and I had is history. Buried six feet deep.”

“Yeah,” Xander agreed, stopping in front of his building and turning to face her. “That’s what I’m afraid of.” He touched a finger lightly to her chest, just above her heart, ironically right where Warren’s bullet had struck her. “It’s buried deep in there, but it’s not dead … and it’s eating you up from the inside out.”

He turned then and headed inside, leaving her standing on the sidewalk alone. She looked up at his apartment and saw Anya greet him eagerly, taking the bag from his hand as she planted a kiss on his lips. They sat at the breakfast bar and began scooping out portions into bowls, laughing and talking all the while.

Buffy closed her eyes and clenched her jaw.

“It’s dead,” she stated convincingly, though she was unsure who she was trying to convince.

** X-X-X-X-X **

Buffy came in the front door, closing it silently behind her, careful to not wake the other inhabitants of the house after her patrol. The house was dark and silent in the small hours of the morning, and she didn’t bother to turn on any lights, getting ready to head up for a shower and bed.  When she turned to start upstairs, though, she jumped in alarm, pulling her stake in reflex when she saw movement on the stairs.

“Dawn!” she realized, stopping her forward advance on the ‘intruder’ a split-second later.

“Buffy,” Dawn replied impassively, not moving from where she sat on the fifth stair up from the foyer. She had something in her hand which she was tapping on her thigh in a slow, ominous rhythm.

“What are you doing? I could’ve hurt you!” Buffy flipped on the light so she could see her sister.

“Well, that’s what you’re best at,” Dawn accused coldly, tapping a stack of letters against her leg.

Buffy froze when she saw what her sister had, the stake she’d pulled falling from her numbed fingers and clattering to the floor, unnoticed. There were a dozen letters tied up in a string, drumming ominously against the girl’s leg. “Where did you get those? You were snooping in my room! You are sooo grounded!”

“I wasn’t snooping. I was looking for my sweater that you borrowed. These fell off the shelf in the closet when I moved some clothes,” Dawn defended.

“You didn’t even open them,” the younger girl observed gravely, holding the stack up and flipping her fingers through them like playing cards.

“You knew where he was all this time. He wrote all these letters, and you didn’t even open them!” the girl seethed, her hurt and anger beginning to boil out.

“It’s not any of your business!” Buffy insisted, reaching for the stack.

Dawn, pulled it back, out of the Slayer’s reach. “He was my friend, too! Maybe I would’ve liked to have known that he was okay! Where he was! What he was doing! Maybe I would’ve liked to… to…”

“Do what, Dawn? Look at them! They’re from unpronounceable towns half a world away! Greyhound doesn’t have a Middle East-Africa line!” Buffy argued vehemently, reaching for them again.

Dawn flung them at her, furious. “Did you ever even love him? Are you even capable of love, Buffy!? Or do you just think the world owes you a lapdog to use when you want and kick in the teeth when you’re done with them?!”

“I never kicked him! I didn’t make him leave! He left! All on his own! I tried to stop him! You were there!” Buffy snarled back at her sister.

“He was scared! Even I could see that! He was scared of what you’d think, what you’d say about … about your murderer!”

“Warren didn’t murder me,” Buffy pointed out.

“Spike didn’t know that! Not until we showed up there. He panicked, and you didn’t go after him to tell him you forgave him, that you still loved him! You didn’t even try!”

“I tried!” Buffy argued vehemently. “Willow and Tara did spells, they had the Coven in England do spells to find him. I talked to every demon in Willy’s a hundred times! I offered rewards, I threatened, I begged! I put out word to other demon hangouts all up and down the coast! I waited for him! I even called fucking Angel!”

Dawn waved her hand at the stack of neatly bound letters that Buffy now gripped fiercely in her hand. “Sure, but when you actually had some evidence, some idea of where he was, some way to maybe reach him, you didn’t even open the fucking letters!”

“Language, young lady!”

“Fuck you!” Dawn spat back. “I wish Willow had never brought you back! At least Spike would’ve only gotten his heart ripped out once!

“And now you know exactly where he is, and there is a bus line there, and you won’t even go see him! What kind of fucking cold-hearted bitch are you? You used to say Spike was a monster, but you were wrong. Look in the mirror, Buffy. Even at his worst he was never the monster you are.”

Dawn stood up abruptly, whirled, and stomped up the stairs, elbowing past the two witches who now stood on the landing above, stunned into immobility. Dawn’s door slammed, the sound reverberating through the now-silent house, making Buffy jump.

Buffy closed her eyes, trying to get her breathing and emotions in check. Checked emotions were her special talent, developed over many dark, lonely nights of practice. They were the only way she could survive this world, the only way she could get out of bed in the morning, the only way she could endure the long, empty nights. It was her life now, Xander had been right about that, she was an automaton, emotions just got in the way.

“Buffy?” Willow’s soft voice drifted down the staircase to her. “Are you okay?”

Buffy opened her eyes then, letting her breath out slowly. “Peachy with a side of keen,” she confirmed flatly, flipping the light off and starting up the stairs.

“Oh, uh, cos it sounded like maybe not so much,” Willow prompted. She and Tara backed up as the Slayer reached the top of the staircase to let her pass.

“Yeah, well, that’s the thing about trying to read other people’s minds, Will: you suck at it,” Buffy growled angrily, going into her own room and closing the door with a soft click, which was actually much scarier than if she’d slammed it.

Willow looked at Tara, deep worry lines creasing her features. “I’m no Kreskin, but I’m pretty sure ‘peachy’ is not even in the same state as Buffy.”

Tara nodded gravely. “And ‘keen’ took the last train out of town.”

** X-X-X-X-X **

Buffy leaned heavily against her dresser, her head dropping forward as tears threatened, stinging her eyes behind her closed lids. She looked up slowly, gazing into her own eyes in the mirror. The image shimmered, blurred by her tear-filled eyes, then finally coalesced into a cloaked figure that stared back at her. The angry eyes in the mirror revealed a dark, tortured soul beneath, chained and left to suffer alone in the depths of the dungeon she built around it.

The apparition smiled then, revealing jagged, rotting, yellow teeth. “Slayer,” it purred in a deep, gravelly voice. “The glittering ball of energy understands much. You are the monster.”  

Buffy closed her eyes and roared a scream of anger and frustration, sweeping her arms across the dresser and sending everything atop it crashing against the far wall. Glass bottles smashed and burst against the wall, splattering their contents on the floor in a spray of perfume and nail polish. She took Spike’s letters, still in her hand, and ripped them in two, still bundled together, then flung the two stacks across the room to flutter down in a small cloud of misery.

“Buffy? Are you okay?” Willow called through the door.

Buffy flung the door open and elbowed past the witch without a word. She was down the stairs in a heartbeat and the front door slammed behind her the next.

“I’m gonna take that as a definite ‘no’,” Willow mumbled to herself as she looked down the stairs at the still reverberating door.

 

Chapter Text

 

Buffy pushed the door to Spike’s crypt open with some effort, the hinges having become stiff with lack of use.  She clicked her flashlight on and surveyed the dark interior. She’d put the word out when Spike first left that the place was off-limits to squatters, that Spike would be back, and anyone trespassing here would answer to her. Apparently, that warning had spread and had been heeded. The place was untouched, exactly as she’d left it four months ago, apart from a thick layer of dust.

Buffy found a lighter, just where it had been left, and lit several candles, giving the room a soft glow. She walked slowly around the empty crypt, trying to remember how it used to be, when Spike was here. It was cozy and filled with life, which seemed a contradiction, being that the owner was dead, but Spike was nothing if not a contradiction.

She stopped at the comfy chair and reached for the small pile of dust that sat on the table next to it. The dust fell away as she lifted the end of chain which held the infinity necklace slowly up, uncoiling it, awakening it from its long sleep. The diamonds, black and white, still sparkled, glimmering in the candlelight. Buffy felt a pang of jealousy – her heart had once sparkled like that, when Spike was here.

She palmed the glittering jewels, closing her fist over them tightly, as if to try and absorb some of their spark. It didn’t seem to be working, no matter how much she wished it. Her heart felt like it had died along with William’s, falling away to dust in her chest.

She tucked the necklace into her pocket as she walked over to the trapdoor and opened it. She shone her light into the lower section, looking around for any unwanted visitors. Everything there seemed empty and untouched, as well. She slowly descended the ladder and shone the light around again, just to make sure, but the bedroom was empty. She lit a few candles around the lower level and then just sat down on the bed.

She really didn’t even know what she was doing here. She couldn’t think, she couldn’t even feel anything. She was just numb. There was a haze of exhausted despair surrounding her, making everything seem foggy, inside and out. She’d worked hard on becoming numb over the last couple of months; it was the only way to survive this world. Everything hurt too much. Just like when she’d first come back from heaven, the world seemed too harsh, too bright, too loud, just too much in every way.

She crawled under the covers and snuggled down in the bed, hugging Spike’s pillow to her chest, and curling into a ball of utter emptiness.

“How did I get here?” she whispered into the pillow, which still had the musky scent of Spike held deep in the soft filling.

No answer was forthcoming from the empty room.

“How do I get back?” she wondered, tears welling in her eyes and spilling over, unable to be contained another moment. “I’m so lost.”

** X-X-X-X-X **

Buffy straggled back to the house in early evening of the next day. She didn’t have any classes to teach at the ‘Y’ that day, so she’d just thrown herself a huge pity-party at Spike’s and wallowed in it for hours on end. Oddly, she really didn’t feel any better for all that revelry. Possibly the half-bottle of vodka and three stale Milky Way bars she’d consumed hadn’t really helped much, either.

“Buffy! You’re home!” Willow greeted her, much too loudly and much too brightly.

“Please stop yelling,” the Slayer requested, wincing a little.

“Look who’s here,” Willow continued yelling, at least in Buffy’s estimation. The witch grabbed Buffy by the hand and dragged the Slayer toward the kitchen.

Buffy felt an unexpected jolt of elation spring from deep inside her, her mind immediately picturing Spike sitting there, smug and sarcastic, having a drink, ready to take the piss out of her. Her whole body tingled suddenly, and her heart raced in anticipation as they crossed the dining room and entered the kitchen. Spike’s name was on the tip of her tongue when she saw him.

“Giles,” she whispered in shock, her throat tightening with the sudden turn of emotion.

“Oh, God, Giles,” she cried, tears welling in her eyes at the sight of him. She launched herself at her ex-Watcher and hugged him tightly, nearly knocking him over.

“Buffy, I believe you’ve gotten stronger, my dear, or I’ve gotten weaker,” Giles teased, wrapping his arms around her and only wincing slightly as she squeezed him.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot you were old and decrepit,” she apologized, releasing her hold a little, but not letting go.

Giles snorted a laugh and hugged her tighter. “It’s so good to see you, too, Buffy. I missed you so much.”

“Oh, Giles,” Buffy moaned against his shoulder. “I’m so lost.”

“Well then, it’s good that I’m here with breadcrumbs and old-person wisdom, isn’t it?” he smiled sadly, holding her against him, stroking her hair reassuringly. “You’ve cut your hair.”

Buffy laughed through her tears and nodded. “That’s the least of my problems,” she admitted, weeping harder.

** X-X-X-X-X **

“Tell me, Buffy,” Giles urged, guiding her to a chair at the breakfast bar. He went around and set to making a couple of cups of tea for them as she gathered herself. 

Buffy wiped her eyes and took some deep breaths to calm down. She had not really cried that hard in a very long time. She’d been holding it all in, pretending it didn’t hurt, convincing herself she didn’t care. To finally let it out made her soul feel a little lighter, but the pain still churned and raked at her like daggers across her heart.

“I don’t even know where to start,” she admitted, running a hand back through her hair, which, while still shorter than it had been at one time, had grown out considerably since she’d cut it last year.

“Well, the beginning, then,” Giles suggested, waiting for the water to heat. “That’s generally recognized as an excellent place to start by most experts in the field.”

Buffy shook her head, biting her lip. What was the beginning? She propped her elbows on the counter and dropped her forehead into her hands, trying to sort through her jumbled mind. She spoke to the countertop, not daring to look at Giles.

“I’m in love with Spike,” she blurted out, making Giles turn around and face her, his brows raised.

“He … helped me after … I came back – the first time, or, well, I guess it was the second time. If I keep dying and coming back, I’m gonna need a score card,” she rambled. “Did Willow tell you I died again? Warren shot me, I died for like, ten minutes or something crazy, Tara healed me and gave me a bitch of a hangover for like four days. I don’t recommend it.

“Anyway, Spike thought I was dead, cos my amazingly stupid friends thought it would be fun to have their own little vengeance vampire or something. I don’t know. I was dead, so, obviously my opinion didn’t matter.  Anyway, Spike embraced his evilness again and got a little creative with the nerd and, when Spike realized that I wasn’t actually dead, his brain exploded and he ran off and, well, I guess that’s when I really got lost.

“We couldn’t find him – and I really tried, I did! No matter what Dawn thinks! – but he didn’t come back and then I just realized that I truly am cursed. That’s the only explanation for it. The Slayer isn’t meant to be happy. I’m not meant to find love or be with someone who’ll go get ice cream for me at midnight and sit up watching stupid old movies while we eat it all. Death is my gift. So, I just shut it off. I gave up on love, just like I gave up on normal, and embraced the slaying, cos it hurt too much, and I was so very tired of hurting.

“Then I got the letters, but it was too late, I had built the walls back up. I was too lost in the maze of hopelessness I’d built trying to keep the pain away. But Dawn can’t understand that. She just thinks I’m a cold-hearted bitch, and I swear I’m not … I don’t think I am. I don’t know, maybe I am,” she admitted morosely, still looking down at the countertop.  

“But now I don’t know how to get back from bitch-ville. I just want … I just want things to be like they were with Spike before Warren and his stupid gun. I just want to be happy. Is that really too much to ask?”

Buffy took a breath and then sighed it out, finally looking up at Giles, who was looking a little shell-shocked.

“You’re in love with Spike?” he asked.

Buffy barked out a short, incredulous laugh. “Is that the only part you heard?”

Giles took his glasses off and cleaned them thoughtfully. “Well, no, I heard the words, but that’s the only part I grasped,” he admitted, putting his spectacles back on and looking up at her.

“May I ask if perhaps Willow has been dabbling in the magics again?” Giles wondered.

Buffy gave him a knowing smile but shook her head. “No, it’s not a spell.”

“Well, then, you’re in love with Spike, errr … I assume his brain didn’t literally explode?” he clarified.

“No, he just started channeling Dru or something … like, off the deep end, cuckoo bird,” Buffy confirmed, twirling her finger next to her temple. “And then he ran off.

“Did I mention that Spike has …or had, a soul?” Buffy added.

Giles’ brows lifted more. “You must’ve left that out in the Reader’s Digest version of events.”

“But … I think – well, I think it was killed, or at least mortally wounded, when he went all ‘grr-argh’ on Warren, so I’m not super-sure how great it’s functioning, if at all. I don’t know if he’s turned totally Angelus or not.

“Oh, did I mention I had Spike’s chip removed, too?”

Giles opened his mouth, then closed it again. “Another small omission.

“So, Spike, whom you love, is soulless and chip-less, missing, and presumed armed and dangerous?” Giles summarized.

“Well, we know where he is now. He’s in San Juan Capistrano at the Army base there. Sam – that’s Finn’s wife – called and said he came in there and asked her to put the chip back in,” Buffy provided. “I don’t know about the dangerous part,” she admitted. “Maybe not? Since if he’d gone totally over to the dark side, he wouldn’t be asking anyone to put the chip back in. I mean, could you see Angelus asking someone to ‘chip him up’? I really don’t know what’s going on. I’m just so confused.”

Giles closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead, as if trying to improve the blood circulation. If she was confused, he was utterly baffled. “I believe tea will not be adequate in this situation. Do you have any scotch, by chance?”

“As a matter of fact…” Buffy got up and opened an upper cabinet in the corner, pulling out a full bottle of Glenkinchie and holding it up. “Will this do?”

“Brilliantly,” Giles agreed, finding a couple of glasses for them.

** X-X-X-X-X **

“Do you remember when I told you that life was terribly easy, and things simply w