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LA Is the Hell You Make It

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AN:  Alright; for everyone who is joining me here from Pt. 1: "The Ethnocentrism of Vampthropology", thank you from the bottom of my heart for continuing the journey with me! For anyone new to my schtick... Buckle up. I hope you enjoy.

Also, please note... Tho I tried hard, this fic is as yet without beta (because it's massive and finding someone willing to beta a beast like this and who is also into the post-AtS stuff is tough)... so if you notice any errors that are making your enjoyment jump the shark, feel free to let me know and I will fix away!


  • Month 1:


Buffy had just pushed him down to keep his head on—that swing would’ve taken it off for sure—and stabbed one of those buggering spider-demons over his shoulder, when everything changed.

All the sudden the rain cut off like someone had turned off a tap… and so did the night.  The skies went orange like some kind of nuclear sunset—what the sodding hell had that dragon done up there, anyway?—and, abruptly, all the noise of battle vanished like it had never been.

Spike’s flesh promptly started to go giddy.  Buzzing, like.  Energized in an odd way, and almost-burning, but not.  /What the bloody hell?/ 

Right buggered with it, he straightened.  Shoved ringlets of damp, irritating hair out of his eyes to glare around him, expecting as he did for some new menace come to harass them. 

And saw devastation. 

LA had turned into some sort of flaming hellscape.  The buildings looked right, but everything from the horizon on down was red-orange and burning from behind; broken, pitted.  It was hot as holy hell—hotter even than this sodding state had a right to be—and yet oddly humid.  Leftovers from the unseasonal rain, maybe?

Then he cast his eye to the skies.  And saw a sun. 

/Oh, fuck!/  The reality of his situation struck Spike as abruptly as if he had been hit by an anvil, and he cowered automatically.  Christ, was it daytime?  Where the bloody fuck was his duster?  /Christ; back at my sodding flat where it’s useful as shite, and why sodding hell am I not on fire?/

The odd, orange light danced over his bare arms, jittered in his blood.  Burned, yes… like being on a buggering beach in August.  If he were human, that was, and just what the fuck was going on?

The rest of the place was equally nonsensical.  The battle had vanished along with the dark.  All of the demon hordes that had been attacking them had gone pelting away under the rusty luminescence as if they were terrified of it—not that he blamed them in the slightest—to melt into the inexplicable background as if someone had dumped napalm on them and lit a match.  He thought he saw the spider-demons they had been fighting scattering up the sides of some nearby buildings, but they vanished literally before his eyes as he watched.  Which, well, good on them, and he had half a mind to do the same, but…

“What in the seven sodding hells?” he muttered; aloud this time.  Realized he was thoughtlessly patting his clothes, that he still expected at any moment to burst into flames.  “Did we fight all night?  When did the sun come up?”  The anxiety of it, of being out under what looked like daylight, was innate, and it made his newly-resurgent demon retreat as if it had never been out dancing.  His game face vanished, and along with it went the thrill of battle.  And yet…  There was no prickle of inborn alarm, no warning in the back of his skull that said to hide, to flee, to…

“You’re not burning.”  Buffy’s hand had lifted to tentatively to touch his arm; and the wonder in her eyes as they reflected the odd, rust-colored light, made it almost worse.  Christ, it was real then.  She saw it too. 

“Yeah.  Noticed that, pet.”  He let out a breath that felt far too bloody necessary.  /I should be burning./  He simply could not reconcile it, that paradoxical absence of sun-alarm in his blood, no terrifying scent of flaming death in the ozone.  There wasn’t even the built-in thrill here—though, no thrill for him anymore who had already gone that road—which meant he was at risk of turning to dust.  Nothing boiling in him; not a sodding thing prickling at his neck to tell him that he had found his third death, unwanted now with Buffy here at his side once more.

It was fucking odd as hell, and it drove him to a quick self-inventory.  Did one of Buffy while he was at it.  She didn’t smell of blood; only of sweat and effort, so there was that.  Could have done it quicker if his sodding vamp-equipment was in evidence, but any road he could have identified Buffy-blood if he was halfway to dust.  She was right enough to be going on with.

What the hell was on with his demon, though?  Had he tired the shiftless bugger, bringin’ it out for the first time in however bleeding long?  It did take effort, now, to call the wanker up, where once it had been the opposite, and an effort to keep the demon down and his human guise in place when things got too exciting or dangerous or inspiring or that.  Learning that skill was the first thing he had mastered as a wet fledge, so that he might be taken out aboveground to wander amidst the human snacks unnoticed.  Still, in those early days the bounder had slipped out at every opportunity; at the scent of a woman walking by with blood pumping away, called forth by the thunder of a heartbeat in his ears, come bounding out for the rushing of blood close to.  Just from the feel of Drusilla taking his arm and leaning close; Christ, anything. 

Wasn’t difficult, of course, by the time he’d come to Sunnyhell.  Wasn’t a fledge anymore, for one, and hadn’t been for ages.  Could keep himself under wraps; wasn’t even as obvious as his sodding grandsire when it came to that.  But now, with the soul topside…  Of late it had been a struggle to bring the demon up, rather than the other way about.  A matter for conscious focus.  Easy enough to dismiss the sod; and all too easy to simply sit about in his human face and watch the bloody world go by.  Even when his passions had been aroused, even when he thought of Buffy and wanked hopelessly off downstairs on that sodding cot, or in his shitehole of a flat… no demon.  Only when he’d fed had the bugger roused without conscious effort—and that because it was needful—but otherwise that side of himself had remained wholly submerged until called for. 

It felt different now, since the battle.  Like he should be able to get the demon to come up without undue effort; or that the sod might even rise on his own when needful?  He certainly felt as if that side of himself was there; close to.  Right under the bloody surface, really… but he also felt as if right now the bastard just couldn’t be fucked to wake up.

It was different, and it was damned nettling.  /Just got you back, you tosser.  Wake up!  Don’t half care if you want a kip!  That’s just too bloody bad, me lad, because I sodding need you right now!/  He needed the wildness, the ferocity in this fucking place, if he never had before.  He felt empty without the demon he had been, as he stared into the terrifyingly bright sky.  Naked, even. 

More so when something that looked like a flaming meteorite roared across the sky behind them, catching all their eyes.  He jumped a bit in spite of himself, turned with Buffy to watch it come down hard, crash into a skyscraper with a resounding boom.  The building exploded, the top sheared off.  /Holy bloody hell./  There were flying things in the air, and they sure as shite weren’t condors.  The air smelled of smoke, and burning things… but it also smelled wrong.  No scents of California; nothing he associated with LA at all.  No smog or brine or suntan lotion, no car exhaust or palm trees or distant brush.  Hot pavement and human sweat, yes, but really, mostly alien odors, and demonic ones, all in a difficult-to-parse muddle. 

It was bleedin’ confusing, made him feel like he was standing outside himself a bit.  And it bloody well made him want access to the fullness of his being; to the part of him that was right to cope with this sort of madness. 

He thoughtlessly prodded at his demon, rather like one might at a sore fang knocked loose in a brawl, but the bugger still wouldn’t stir.  /Just when I thought I might have the trick of it, can’t get you to rouse even as much as you’ve done of late.  Useless bastard./  Not even so much as the way he had drawn the prat up in what, throughout the last two years, had become standard circumstances.  /You can’t even manufacture a bloody facsimile of bloodlust right now; in this?

What the sodding shite was going on?

“It looks like a nuke went off.”  Buffy was staring around her, clearly as confused as he was.  Her eyes slid back to his, alarmed as hell.  “What kind of game are those Senior Partners playing, here?”

Spike absently patted a few more bits of himself, mystified and thoroughly unnerved with it.  “We both get knocked on the head, you reckon?  Or are we dead and we just missed it?”  He certainly didn’t feel at all right.  Not in the head, not in himself.  Odd.  Just bloody odd.

Buffy frowned fitfully.  “I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t look like the place I went to the last time I died.”

“Yeah, well…”  He swiveled his head around him, becoming more and more nervy with each detail he saw.  Like the flying, dragon-like demons flocking toward them in the distance.  /Oh, buggering hell./  “Bit worried, pet, that you might have hitched a ride on my trolley this time ‘round.  Maybe on account of you were touching me?  Because don’t know about you, but this looks more like hell than heaven, innit?”  /Christ, I hope I didn’t drag you with me to hell./ Buffy didn’t deserve what he did.  She deserved to go back.  Floating and peace and bloody harps.  /Shit, shit…/

Buffy shuddered a little as she took in her own eyeful, uncertainty coloring her lovely, smudged face and bold stance.  “You think?”

Another possibility had just occurred to him.  And since he didn’t recall having dusted in the fight, it all of a sudden seemed quite a bit more likely.

He suddenly badly wanted a fag.  “That, or we’re in your bog-standard demon-dimension.”  He cursed, scuffed a boot at the cracked, pitted, dry-as-a-bone concrete below their feet.  “Somebody really botched this all to bloody hell, didn’t they?”  Not that that would explain why he couldn’t seem to bring his own personal demon back out to play.  It hadn’t been this difficult to shift the prat when the he had been almost completely submerged after his little trip to Africa; shocked into hiding, and he’d been lolling about underneath a haunted bloody schoolhouse like a tosser, muttering to dead things.

Not what was important now, though.  Buffy was clearly in a state; standing at a loss, eyes closed.  “Demon dimension?” she repeated, sounding a bit shaken.  Not so as anyone who didn’t know her would hear it, but the note was there, just under her voice.  “Like… the kind where you go in, spend a hundred years, and come out and it’s been five minutes, you think, or… one where you’re there in real time?”  And her voice was a little too light, a little too high as she said it.

Which was when it hit him, all at once.  They were supposed to do battle and all that noble shite, and then she was supposed to get back to her people in Scotland.  Rally the troops against the soddin' Scourge, not be stuck here in some fucked-off version of LA.  “Oh, bleedin' hell; I’m sorry, luv.  I don’t know how it happened, but we’ll figure it out, get you back in time to make things right…”

“Those we fought were angered.  We were fighting well; doing much greater damage against their armies than they had expected.  So they punished you, and all you served.”  It was Illyria’s voice, as flat and frank as ever as she dropped from more or less nowhere to land in front and to one side of them.  She laid something down next to them; a long bundle that smelled very thoroughly of blood and death.  It also had a bit of a familiar bouquet; like…

/Oh, fucking God, you didn’t, did you Illyria?/ 

He saw Buffy lean away, wincing, and yeah.  It was what it looked like.  Illyria had vanished to go fetch Wesley’s body.  Why in the hell…

“The entirety of the city of the angels is here, now; in this realm which belongs to them.”  The big blue bloody demigod sank to a crouch over her sodden little trophy and looked around warily.  “This dimension smells of displacement; and of hunting, and of death.”

/Well, yeah, since you have a bit of the death right there under your bleedin’ nose./

Buffy looked away from the corpse, but her eyes were now troubled with an entirely other concern.  Not that he blamed her.  As the impact of the Smurf’s words struck him, Spike felt a hard slug of rage blossom in his chest, curl up into his throat.  “Well, that’s just bloody cheating, innit?” he exclaimed.  “That’s not playing the game by the bleedin’ rules!”

A quieting hand fell onto his forearm.  “Spike, I’m pretty sure these people don’t care too much about the rules.”  And she nodded up at the sky, where the winged dragon-looking beasties were circling a little too close for comfort. 

Though he had to scoff a little at her description of the Senior Partners as ‘people’, he let her tug him backward into the shade of the nearest building.  Illyria picked up her pet cadaver and followed them with what looked like only vague interest as they located some sort of crevice between doorways to use to get something solid at their backs and hide themselves for a bit.  At which point the Smurf laid her little prize alongside herself against the wall right the fuck next to Spike’s head, redolent of still-fairly-healthy blood.  It made him wish to God she’d find someplace else to put the thing.  For one, it was going to go off soon, and he wasn’t sure which would be worse; wanting to have a nibble at a former friend, or having to smell the bloke’s carcass slowly degrade.  For the other… it was sodding unwelcome for Buffy to have to continue to look at the corpse of her dead ex-Watcher.

They both looked resolutely away from the sight, if for very different reasons; set to sussing out the terrain in an automatic sweep for dangers.  The entire time, Spike found himself doing a repeated internal check.  Prodding at his somnolent demon… but no dice.  The bastard was fucking sleeping, was all. 

The parts of him he had come to identify as comprising his human side were on high alert, though, to make up for the useless prat; on the lookout for hazards which might threaten his survival.  How could he depend on that bit of him, though?  Had done for two years, sure, but he’d had at least a bit of help from his demon-side, even then.  And now… jack shit.  It was bizarre, frustrating, unnerving.  The comfortable side of him, the one he’d worn for most of his hundred-plus years, and on whom he was most used to relying for intelligence regarding his surroundings, the side of himself that had been so abruptly and wildly and gloriously reawakened by Buffy’s divine grace just hours ago…  That wanker seemed to have taken it upon himself to just completely skive off.  Like it was gone dormant, almost.   

And yet, it wasn’t as if the bugger was in hiding, per se.  No, the flavor of it was more, Spike had begun to realize, as if being here, in this place, had oddly relaxed the demonic bits of him, made them feel… replete, somehow.  As if, back home in their own dimension he had always felt ready for war, ready to fight to survive.  As if it had been made to be a weapon, and here… 

Here it was at rest.  At peace.  And it made not a whit of sense.

Spike found himself wondering how the place might be affecting Buffy.  Hell, it was his fault she was here at all; mostly human and trapped in a demon dimension of unknown flavor and texture.  She had a bit of demon in her, yeah, but how much of that bit of her might be keeping her going in a place like this?  And conversely, how much of her might be run down, here, or…

But so far she seemed awake and alert enough; eyeing the exit, tense and wary, galvanized by the exigencies of their current predicament.  /My fault you’re here, Buffy, but by Christ, I can’t bring myself to regret it.  Selfish bastard that I am…  Fuck; I should be wishing you far away, wishing you’d never come to me, but…/  All he could manage was awe, and a weight of gratitude like to bring him to his knees right here in the alley. 

She wanted him.  He still couldn’t fathom it.  Wanted all of him, no less.  By some bloody miracle, he had her back.  Really, had her at all; for the first time, when he really put himself to the screws and admitted it plain.  A revelation, that.  And by coming, she had in turn given him back all of himself.  Had handed him, of her free will, her own munificent, insane, incomparable trust, in every part of him. 

And by so doing, she had made him one, so that he could be, for the first time in his existence, truly whole in himself.  /If I can ever get the rest of me to stop going on the bloody blink, that is./  Complete again, possibly even more so than he had been prior.  For he was now at peace with William in a way he had never been before; not even in his nancy human existence.  Had been forced to become so; been forced to inhabit the prat, finally and for lack of any other persona… and in so doing he had found, all-unrealized, that his wet, poncy self had grown, in the interim, into a man he might even, in time, come to be a titch proud of.  A man someone like Buffy could even be proud of; a man his goddess had actually come back for, loved.  All that for which he had so long striven and toiled in vain...  He had once been sure he was equally undeserving as William; until he had had no other choice.  Had hidden that very human part of himself from her as unworthy, less than, too puny to be her match in any way, and dwelt full-on in the demon he had considered to be closer to her equal.  /And look how that panned out./

To think, then, that she had come back for both parts of him?  Even more astounding, that both his inadequate halves had, it seemed, somehow risen to the occasion and become, together over the years and via the crucible of his love for her, someone for whom she might sacrifice so much, give her heart, come to love.  Christ; that she might even find them, each, separately, worthy was beyond crediting. 

Because that in turn meant that, possibly, put together into a whole… he might even be a match for the woman he worshiped.

It was, at least, a start. 

Beyond the borders of the alley, one of the meteorite things came down directly into the middle of the squawking flock of dragon-creatures.  Sent the whole lot of them up in flames.  It damn near made Spike jump again.  Not that he hadn’t heard it first, and not that he hadn’t smelled it coming.  He still had all of his vampiric senses intact, but… his reactions were startlingly human, at the worst possible bloody time. 

Fuck.  This was so not a pleasant place to be; for friend or foe.

/Well.  Problem for another sodding moment.  Best not to allude to my bit of internal confusion, till I can figure it first./  Squaring his shoulders to shake off the irritating buzzing of the odd sun on his hide, Spike shot a glance toward Buffy.  She was still watching the much-altered city of her birth with, he thought, something that might have been very personal offense.  Her quiet pain brought a frown to his face as he turned his eyes on the preoccupied Illyria.  “Alright.  I suppose what we need to do is bodge some kind of way out of here, eh?  Any ideas?”

The predator’s gaze never ceased shifting out of the azure-tinged visage to cast around them.  “We are all here on sufferance.  Until we know how the gates are wrought, we will not escape this dimension.”

He had been afraid of that, and returned his attention to his love to gauge how she was taking the news.  And was arrested, for a moment, from all scenes of chaos and mayhem, by the stunning, breathtaking picture she presented.

Awe flooded him as he looked on her.  /That I get to stand here in the light with you.  Watch you glow…/  Christ, it was an incredible thing to look on her in the daylight; even such an odd light as this.  He remembered fighting her over the Gem of Amara—of course he bloody did, like it was sodding yesterday—all her limbs glowing in the lambent gold radiance, tawny and gleaming with a faint coat of sweat, eyes damn near as feral as his own.  Limber as a jungle cat with her hair flying, eyes enraged at his temerity in exiting the night to come into her territory in the day… and yet, enjoying the contest with him when he’d stepped back, given her the moment to join him in the dance that had always lain between them. 

He’d only ever seen her since in half-light and in shadow.  In dusk and coming dawn… and when she’d left and entered the liminal spaces where he could but hover at the edges of her broader existence like a dead thing was meant to do, and pray to be even a small part of her being.  /Bloody hell, Buffy, I love you.  And look at you.  I’m so bleeding bound to you.  You’re my All./

“I shouldn’t be here,” she whispered, as if kicked into speech by his regard.  “Dawn’s in the middle of so much.” 

The unspoken was easy to hear.  ‘And I left her alone.’ 

/Oh, Christ, she’s regretting it.  Regretting coming.  And why shouldn’t she?  How could you be anything like a trade for her life, for the Niblet, for…/  Not that he blamed her.  He didn’t want her here anymore than she did.  “We’ll… get you back soonest, Buffy,” he heard himself answer roughly.  “And till then, Bit’s not really alone, innit?  She has Harris, no doubt, right, or Red?  Or both?” 

Buffy frowned at nothing in particular.  “She’s a giant right now…”

That startled him enough to jerk him straight away from his lookout.  “The Niblet’s a what?”

His stunned exclamation broke her attention enough to shoot him a half-amused look.  “It’s a long story.  I’m pretty sure it’s because she lost her virginity with this kid she likes who’s a thricewise.  She won’t admit it, but…”

Spike groaned in spite of himself.  “Buffy, you have to keep an eye on the Platelet.  She’s a free-spirited little chit.  What the bleeding hell is she doing getting herself sorted out by a thricewise, of all things?”  He shuddered.  “It’d be like shagging a big ball of snot, and you couldn’t even rip its head off for doin’ it to her afterward, ‘cause it doesn’t really have one.  And it’d just grow back.  Of all the bleedin’…”

“Believe me, Spike, I tried to talk her out of dating Kenny…”

“Kenny?” he demanded incredulously.

“Tried to point her toward someone less dangerous.  If she was determined to prove she was a rebel by dating a demon, there was a nice Ano-Movic kid over in the next dorm.  Even I thought he was cute.  But no.  It had to be the…”

“Big ball of snot?”

She threw him a tolerant look, looking almost as if she’d completely regained her equanimity, here in the face of hell.  “Most days he looks like a normal kid.”

“Yeah, I bet he does.”  Spike clenched a fist.  “Remind me when we get out of here to strangle her, yeah?  And rip off the mollusk’s feelers?”  /We will get the bloody fuck out of here.  No fear!  And then…  Whatever you...  If you…/

Buffy’s expression turned amused and, he thought, almost affectionate, and her free hand dropped to brush his lightly; just a faint hint of a caress with her knuckles.  “I think she’ll like having you back in her life,” she murmured quietly.  “You know, once she gets over hating you for abusing her boyfriend.”  She looked out over the strangely-altered landscape, thus missing his entirely awed, no doubt utterly nancy expression.  “Though, I’m not sure if he counts anymore, since he’s back at Berkeley, and I had to take her out of school, because she doesn’t fit in the buildings.”  The irritation visibly flooded her, the outrage, and she swung on Spike, a rant clearly building.  “I just can’t with her,” she hissed, low but adorably intense.  “Do you know how much I would kill to go back to college?  And she didn’t even make it out of summer session!  She was there for like a month, and boom!  Giant.” 

Spike watched her in amazement, belatedly aware of two things.  One, Buffy hadn’t been thrown in the slightest, somehow, by this side-jaunt into an apparent hellscape, from her original stated goal; which was to drag him back into her life, by his hair if necessary (as if any such drastic measures would be needed).  For the second…  The Bit still drove big sis to distraction.

Buffy rubbed a bit between her eyes; a common reaction to things Niblet, in so doing smearing some unmentionables across her face.  “Xander thinks it might actually be some kind of subconscious thing, to get my attention, like the thing with locking us all in the house?  A literal visible way to be big enough to catch my eye; but I don’t think everything she does is all about me anymore.  Though… maybe this is… something.”  She sighed heavily, sounding abruptly weary.  Maybe even a hair bitter.  “One time she said she thought I hated her, or at least liked the Slayers better because I could relate to them more or something.  ‘They’re more your sisters than I ever was, blah blah blah’…  Like, seriously?  As if she could drive me this nuts if she wasn’t my sister!  Though I swear sometimes she’s more like my kid than my sister, the way she acts…”

Despite their situation and the terrain, the generally dangerous atmosphere, Spike was, truth be told, finding it very difficult not to chuckle; in relief and in recognition.  Buffy’s all-out exasperation with the Niblet was one of the constants in the universe.  Moreover it warmed his soul to know that the youngest Summers chit had not been beaten down by time and tide.  

He seemed to have been caught out despite his endeavors, though, for Buffy shot him a harsh glare.  “Don’t laugh at me, dammit!” she hissed.  “I just got her away from all this crap; and now she’s back in my lap again and I have to keep her safe; in the middle of a damn war, when she could’ve been so much safer over here in college!  And she’s so stupidly visible to our enemies now that I can’t hide either of us!”

Spike held up both free and mace-hand in a gesture of surrender.  “No offense intended, pet.”  Broke his gaze away, eyes and ears still alert for dangers around them, while he set his mind to puzzling it out.  After all, she seemed to be asking for his input… which was a wonder.  But then, if Buffy wanted to acknowledge that he’d gotten to know a side of Dawn she hadn’t…  The thought warmed him.  “I think you and the Bit are always gonna have a contentious relationship, Buffy.  Probably comes of her bein’ made from you.”

Her eyes flashed to his, full of a new, desperate hope.  “Maybe you can talk to her.  You always had some kind of special, weird bond with her that defied description.”

It made him scoff, since he rather thought that bit of snuggly, bosom-buddy interaction between him and the youngest Summers had died when he’d assaulted her sister.  Certainly it wouldn’t extend to the subject of her first sexual encounter; not when it came to talking to him, of all people. 

Especially considering…  “Yeah, well…”  He glared around them at the hideous mess that they’d made of LA.  “First we have to get out of here.”  Time to suss out this new madness.  Learn the rules so they could find the exits.  He shot a glance over at Illyria, who was still hanging on to her corpse of a teddy bear and casing their immediate vicinity like a hawk.  “You sure it’s not just us here?”

As if in answer to his question, the sounds began; a faint chorus of screaming, the off-beat patter of harried running that was fleeing feet, echoing all around him.  “While circling to return to your position, I witnessed several noncombatants attempting to hide from sub-level demons inside buildings and behind vehicles.”

/Bleeding hell./  That didn’t sound good, if she’d spotted enough pulsers around a dimension like this to qualify them as ‘several’.  And from the sound of it, most of them were already starting to wake up to the gravity of their situation.  He glanced over at Buffy, wondering if she had yet heard the growing susurrus of misery.  Once she had, this would be likely to become a crusade; one they no doubt would be hard-pressed to afford in their current disoriented state.  “See any of our people?”

Frightening, ultramarine eyes met his briefly.  “No.  We have been scattered.  But it would not be surprising if there were only four of us remaining.  Charles Gunn was down when the change occurred.  He had only seconds of breath left in his body.”

/Well, bugger me./  “I suppose we can try to find Peaches, then.”

“You could search the entire city and fail, but meet many demons who hungered for your demise in the interim.”  The crazed pupils darted around once more.  “It might be best to seek shelter.”

“I’m thinking a defensible position,” Buffy agreed.  She looked pained at the idea of leaving her old honey-boo alone to fend for herself in this wasteland, but she clearly thought the Smurf here was talking sense.  “Somewhere up high.”  She turned a little, as if trying to orient herself.  “Anyone see Mulholland from here?”

Spike shot her an interested look.  “You wanna head for the hills?”

She threw him a sweet smile.  “I’d like the advantage.  And besides.  There’s better shopping on the way toward Beverly Hills.  Don’t even get me started on the Valley.”  She shook her head as she eyed the spreading nomansland that was their current locale.  “Downtown is such a hellhole.”

***

Chapter Text

It was about ten miles from their position down by the Hyperion to get the higher elevations—as high as anything got in LA anyway, till you got to the West Hills—if you could even count Beverly “Hills” as elevated.  They topped out at couple hundred feet.  But he would have to agree, it would be an advantage to be out of the Downtown basin; get some visibility.

The only problem was water.  As in, the lack of it, anywhere.  They had just been in the hell of a battle before coming here, and here was as hot as… well, hell.  Buffy was tough as anyone Spike had ever met in his long century-plus, but she was still largely human, and she’d need to wet her whistle at some point, or she’d start to dehydrate.

He could already smell the signs.  In just the last hour she was sweating less, and said sweat was becoming thicker, saltier.  She was making fewer pit-stops, and not just because she was uncomfortable about them.  Her embarrassment over that sort of thing had swiftly vanished as the hours had passed, since their first encounter with a load of god-alone-knew-what-sort-of-demon defending their squatters’ rights had made it pretty damned clear that slipping into any of the buildings to use the loos was far too dangerous a proposition.  Sans any other likely options, he’d guarded the heads of the alleys for her while she overcame a lifetime’s inculcation to do the necessary… but dehydration was taking its toll there, too.  Not to mention that her blood had long since ceased oozing from that cut on her head. 

That, too, had smelled terribly thick by the end.  The kind of blood you thought twice about taking because the pulser would be like drinking a milkshake, not an easy pull at the fountain.  Unless you liked that sort of thing.  He knew a few who did; who liked the concentrated hemoglobin.  But he’d always found it too strong.  Full of body byproducts and waste as the person started to shut down, and who wanted all that in their systems?  And yeah; his brain still thought like a predator, even if he used the ability, now, to diagnose rather than to suss out who to eat.  He was a goddamned vampire.  So stake him. 

She was currently squinting into the unending, dull-orange brightness next to him, looking a bit like she had a headache.  Not that he blamed her.  Christ, the sun here was odd as hell.  Rusty.  You could look right at it, like.  It also had some sort of tangerine-stained moon riding directly next to it as if they’d been hitched together; a couple of teamed ponies.  Bleeding heater, and he’d suggest they travel by the sewers just to get out from under the fucking glare, but god only knew what was lurking down there.  Illyria had already downed five more giant spiders for them up here topside, Spike some dirty great lizard-thing, and Buffy something that might be classified as a horned demon, though it had had crab-claws as well.  These wee skirmishes were, by the way, the only time his sodding demon had seen fit to rouse and be any kind of help.  Slippery bastard would pop right back up the instant there was a fight to be had—and in full kit as well, none of that halfway nonsense of before—but he’d sink right the fuck back down and go back to his siesta the instant they seemed to be in the bloody clear. 

The trick seemed to be to keep hold of the bugger, and Spike, for the unlife of him, couldn’t manage to get the knack of it as yet.

Rotten bloody timing, that.

Any road, with the surface teeming like this, the normal highways had to be worse, right?  Unless everyone was all up here instead, but no way to prove that without risking lives.  Which meant the sewers were right out. 

Buffy couldn’t go on like this forever, though, skirmishes or no.  “Hey, Slayer.  How you holding up?”

She answered him without looking back, eyes still on the odd sky.  “I’m fine.”  But her mouth was open and the words came out dry and sandpapery.  And her eyes, previously darting sharply about the chaos seeking dangers, were moving slower now, as if she had the hell of a migraine shaping up.

Far worse, though the sounds of suffering had grown around them in a slowly-rising symphony, he was disturbed to note she barely seemed to notice it. 

That was totally unlike his goddess.

Bugger it.  “We’ve got to get you some water, pet.”

That got her attention.  She jerked her head around to glare tensely at him, and for a mo’ he thought she was going to pretend she was just as dandy as ever…  But then she more or less relaxed into the realization that she didn’t have to pretend with him.  “Yeah.  Problem is, who knows if there even is water in this dimension.  It’s not like it’s meant for humans.”  It was uttered flatly, and without the bleak despair that would accompany most human beings facing possible painful demise.  But then she was a tough nut, his Slayer. 

That, and fear of death wasn’t really in her wheelhouse anymore, after all she’d seen and done.  Died and come back already, hadn’t she?  What did she have to be afraid of, facing that? 

It was just, the process this time seemed a bit painful and ignominious; and hell if he’d let it happen to the woman he loved.  “Believe it or not, demons drink; some of ‘em.  Let’s have a look-see.”  He called ahead to Illyria, who was prowling around about fifteen feet ahead playing vanguard, still cradling that fucking body.  “Oi.  Illyria.  You smell any water lately?”  /Over the growing stench of sun-warmed corpse?/

Fred Sonja circled smoothly back like she meant to do it, tilted her head to eye Buffy with something like vague interest.  “This one is slowly dying,” she pointed out flatly.

“Thanks for the update,” Buffy answered grimly, at the same time as Spike said, “Well, yeah.  Kinda the point of me askin’.”

Those bizarre ultramarine eyes rose up to meet his in Fred’s stolen face.  “You wish to save her.”

Spike faced her head on.  Hell with it.  Let her have her Old One temper tantrum.  “I’ve watched her die once.  Not plannin’ on doin’ it again.” 

Buffy’s hand twitched against his own.  It was too hot, too limp, as it acknowledged his flat statement.  

The Blue Meanie tilted her head to study him like a hawk would a tasty mouselet.  “You are my pet.  Not hers.”

He sighed heavily.  He could really use another fag, but he didn’t want to draw attention to their position by the smell or the smoke trail.  “Illyria, let’s just say that if she dies, I’ll die, and leave it at that?  Maybe put it at that she’s my pet or summat, and see if we can find her some water?”

The crazy hell-bint eyed him for a moment longer, perfectly still… and then her eyes flickered down to the cadaver in her arms.  “I understand.”  And she moved off again, her attitude one of a huntress rather than a watchful border-keeper. 

Sodding fuck, he was amazed that the smell of her bitty toy there wasn’t bringing every other demon in the vicinity in for a look-see.  Though, he supposed there was probably plenty of other fish in this sea.  Not to mention that maybe the vast, imposing aura the Old One cast might be helping to warn everyone off.  He’d gotten so bloody used to it that he scarcely noticed anymore, but it was like a beacon, wasn’t it, bleating a warning to all nearby demons to stay the fuck away.

Buffy shook her head painfully as their companion departed, frowning.  “She’s pleasant.”

What the hell.  There was smoke all over this place, and the whole goddamned dimension stank.  Who would know his smoke was any different?  “She’s got a ways to go in the people-person department.”  He lit up blissfully.  Thank Christ he’d kept his Zippo and at least a few smokes in his back pocket when he’d left his duster behind, though damn-all if he wished he had that now as well.

His love turned a gimlet glare at him as he puffed out the first lungful of used nicotine.  “What was the thing with her saying you’re her ‘pet’?”

/Oh, hell./  “Long story, that.  Best leave it to another time.”

Despite her clear exhaustion, the Slayer favored him with a suspicious, narrow-eyed gaze.  “You didn’t..."  The gaze cleared out, consciously, he thought, and the heartbeat he knew so well began to race; even to flub a bit.  "Did you sleep with her?  I mean, not that I...  Not that you...”

She never had to finish restructuring her question from 'possessive Slayer' to 'civilized human'.  Spike was too busy choking on the thought; so hard he caught his smoke wrong and damn near dropped his fag.  “Christ no.  Tryin’ to sort that one out would probably kill me.”  With a snort of dark amusement he threw his half-smoked end on the cracked pavement and stubbed it out with his toe.  “No, Buffy, she just used me to train with; to get used to her new body.  Her ‘shell’, as she calls it.  I was her favorite toy because I was tough enough to take her on—or at least survive what she dished out—so now she thinks she bloody well owns me.”  And he wasn't at all going to grin at the clear bristling his girl had been doing just then.  Not a bit of it.  Would just put her back up, when she was trying so sodding hard to be a reasonable adult about their time apart.

He definitely appreciated her wanting to treat him as a partner rather than a bleeding lapdog, the way he had to admit now Dru had done.  Still.  Did a man proud to know a woman like Buffy wanted to keep him all to herself, like.

"Oh.”  The Slayer was, he noticed now with growing concern, frowning after the sapphire-toned demon-god, expression gone a bit dark.  “Did she hurt you?”

The grin managed to escape then, in spite of his best efforts.  The proprietary air had faded to something... a bit protective, which was a nice, if unnecessary, sop.  He well recognized the expression on Buffy's face.  He'd seen it often enough, after all.  She had on her ‘maybe I should kill the bitch anyway’ look about her.  Just he hadn't seen it before on his behalf.  On Dawn's, yeah, when it came to that Glory cunt, or when...

/You saw it with The First, after she came for you.  Cut you loose.  Set you to rights, saw the damage./

It sobered him up right quick.  Because that look?  It said he was hers.  And what Buffy did when someone hurt the ones she loved...  It was terrifying.  And right now...

/Christ./  “Not so’s I didn’t heal," he hurriedly assured her.  "You know me.  I’ve survived a hell of a lot of ass-kickings.  From a hell-god; and from you, even.  If I can live through those, I can take a few light slams from a top-flight demon trapped in a little bird’s body, yeah?”

He had apparently derailed her swift sidetrack into vengeance.  Her heart was going pit-a-pat again; but in some oddly strained way, and she was looking down at her feet now.  “There’s a lot from me you shouldn’t have had to survive,” she told him quietly.

/Oh bloody hell./  No way to win, was there?  Fuck.  

He got a couple fingers under her chin, lifted it up.  “Just stop that, alright?  I thought we were starting fresh?” 

She nodded acknowledgment, but he was pretty sure from her expression that this wouldn’t be the last he’d see of Buffy guilt over their past, and who knew he’d ever be in the position of forgiving her?  The very thought gave him the willies, considering all the sins could be laid at his own door. 

Best to move on.  “Now.  Back to getting you something to drink…”

Easier said than done, though, it appeared.  They went on dodging from doorway to doorway, alley to alley under the hot alter-dimensional sun without shade or relief, not a demon bar or water fountain in sight, and Buffy was moving slower and slower as the miles dragged on.  Heat beat up from the already-flaking concrete, sapped any remaining sweat from her body into the  shimmering air, pounded down on her defenseless head.  Spike couldn't even cool her with his flesh, as he was now the same sodding temperature as the day all round.  Hell; she was even stumbling a bit now and then, and Christ, Spike was starting to seriously worry about her.  No fun enjoying being under the sunlight for his first real day in a hundred-odd years when the love of his eternity was slowly expiring right next to him.  /Please, you’ve got to hang on, Buffy, till we can figure this.  I can’t bloody well lose you now!  Not again.  Not like this…/ 

The helplessness of it was like nothing he had ever felt.  The irregular percussion of meteor strikes began to grate, the distant roaring of unnamed demons jarred even worse on over-extended senses…

The scream that pierced the endless day was the capper.  Buffy reeled against him, clearly at the edge of her capacity.  He gritted his teeth and swung around to face this new threat, Illyria beside them in an instant to stare out from the scant shadows of the building into the streets.  And saw a nightmare.

Some hapless, sunburnt pulser in a white t-shirt—it had an Ocean Pacific logo on it—and blue swim trunks was making a mad dash across the intersection, on a diagonal from somewhere behind them toward god alone knew where, flip-flops clacking madly under his feet.  He was screaming his fool head off, lobster-red with exertion and heat.  And behind him, moving in great leaps, was some kind of bloody great four-legged hunting-type demon; a Verulga, Spike thought, or some other sort of brainless thing slavering along with nothing but a meal on its mind. 

Despite likely heat prostration Buffy reached onto her back, feeling around automatically for a crossbow that wasn’t there.  Spike caught her overwarm hand, held it.  Even if they had one, they didn’t dare call attention to themselves.  Not here.  Not when not a one of them was at the top of their game.

Besides.  The poor sod was a goner.  The demon was already on him.

The screams cut off abruptly as the vast, slavering mouth closed right over the pulser’s head… and approximately half of his torso.  The stained white t-shirt vanished, and blood squirted out from rows of serrated teeth as they scissored around the top of the blue shorts.

Buffy was struggling in his arms—ineffectually since she was at maybe half-strength—her fist tight around the axe where she had, previously, barely been holding it up any longer.  “Let me go, Spike…”

He opened his mouth to try to talk some sense into her, but someone else got there first.  “The man is dead, demon-slayer.  We must keep moving.”

Illyria’s calm appraisal seemed to shock Buffy out of her innate sense of duty.  “What do you care?” she demanded.  “You’re a demon, too!”

Illyria smiled; a slightly, inward expression, and tilted her indigo head.  “As is the one to whom you cling.”  Her arms twitched upward, tugging Wesley’s corpse a little closer to her breast.  “But like him, I have much that is human in me holding me back, and binding me to human concerns.  Now, come.  I think I smell your water.”

That riveted Buffy’s attention, dragged it straight away from the little luncheon going on over there in the middle of the street.  It reft Spike’s attention as well.  /Thank sodding God!/ 

Another few minutes’ walk past Crenshaw brought them to a doorway of what looked like a little hole-in-the-wall convenience store.  Apparently some enterprising demons had already taken it over and set up shop, to judge by the clear change in window displays and signage.  The slapdash new shingle hung over the top of the old neon was scrawled in some demon lingo he didn’t read, and he glanced at Illyria to see if she could afford them a translation.

“It indicates that there is refreshment within.”

“Oh.  Well.  Lovely.  How the hell are we supposed to get her some water without arousing suspicion, you think?”

Illyria looked like she’d lost interest, really.  “I have found it for you.  I will keep watch.”

Buffy, her skin shiny, red, and dry now, no longer sheened with sweat, looked beat all to hell, but she straightened determinedly.  “How many could there be in there?”  And she tightened her fists around her loosely-held axe.

It trembled in her shaky grasp. 

Oh, hell no. 

Casting about, Spike was seized with an idea.  She wasn’t going to like it, but…  “Hold on, there, Slayer.”  Bending down, he grabbed a hank of something looked like old twine off the littered ground…  /Well, fuck./  It was former entrails, dried in the sun.  No good.  Not bendy enough.  “Oi.  Illyria.  Mind lending us a bit of your kit, for just a mo’?”

Illyria lifted a brow.  “What do you mean?”

“Need a bit of leather.”  At her continued level look, “You know, some string or summat.”

Buffy was starting to look suspicious now.  “Spike, why do you want string?”

***



What, oh what diabolical plan does our Spikey have up his sleeve with that string?  Hmmm?
I'll let y'all fester on that one.  
I'm sorry this was a short chapter; it was just the way things broke up.  But if it helps any, I promise much smutty goodness next update.  Which should at least indicate that the quest for drinkables goes apace, lol.

Chapter Text

“I still think this is a bad idea, and we should just kill them.”

“Shh.  You’re going to bollix up the illusion.”

“Right.  That I’m your slave-girl…”

Spike winced as they made to duck into the darkened doorway of the repossessed convenience store.  “It’s a demon dimension, luv.  My guess is not many humans go runnin’ ‘round free, like, ‘less they’re under some demon’s protection.  So if we pretend you belong to me, and I’m seeing to your care and feeding…”

“Yeah.  I heard the whole story outside.  You better not let this go to your head once we’re done with this little charade, Spike, or I swear to God…”

/Christ./  Buffy stood at his side, gorgeous eyes flashing; a leather string tied loosely about her neck and about half-dead but still ready to tear his head off and shove it up his bung.  Made him bounce a bit on his heels and grin a little smugly.  “I promise I’ll let you take it out of my hide later, yeah?”

The door opened into a little bit of a glassed-in corridor between window-displays before emptying out into the main shop.  As they moved through that, something occurred to Spike, and he frowned.  “Hell.  Wonder what they use for dosh around here.”

“Oh God,” Buffy whispered back, “do you think it’s kittens?”  And her nose wrinkled up adorably in utter distaste.

Christ, he could eat her.  “I doubt it, luv.  I think they’ve got right tastier things to sup around here even than little fluffykins.  Now.”  He rattled the makeshift leash a little, though he had the good sense not to tug on it.  “I know it’s not in your nature, Slayer, but do us a favor and pretend to be the type who follows orders for just a few minutes, yeah?  Not for me, you understand, but for the water?”

She threw him a falsely innocent look, complete with downcast eyes and fluttering lashes.  “Whatever do you mean, my lord and master?”

He groaned.  “I’m gonna pay for this later on, is it?”

She smiled on him like the sun… but with a catch.  “Depends on if you get me water.”

He was so going to pay for this.

Was it bad that he was kind of looking forward to it?

They rounded the corner from the little entry corridor, saw what they were faced with.  Three demons; two behind the counter and one puttering around in the store.  The two behind the counter seemed your standard shopkeep types; one a hunched-over, hairy Graenek demon minding the till, and some other sort he didn’t know fussing with the smokes.  Tall, spindly type with long arms and not much to him, looked like a good stiff breeze would knock him down.  Though, never a good idea to judge based on outward appearance. 

The one on their side of the counter was a meathead; a dumb-as-a-jug Frugosh demon.  Probably wouldn’t fight because it would take it ten minutes to figure out what was going on.  It was standing back by a bunch of fridges glowing green with whatever stopgap they’d found to power ‘em, perusing the offerings in there.  The lights from the interiors flickered viridian off of his slimy hide, which was, incidentally, shiny enough to reflect the logos of the inside contents. 

A Frugosh’s main defense was it was fucking slippery.  That was all about it.  You couldn’t hold on to the damned things if you tried.  Even punches slid right off without doing the slightest bit of damage.  They were about as offensive as a greased post. 

Spike scanned the fridges quickly around the slimy bastard’s hide, and noted nothing that looked like water.  /Hell./  Tilted his head just slightly toward Buffy.  They moved on purposefully toward the counter, with the Slayer pacing along a step or so behind him and probably attempting to look demure.  It helped that she was exhausted, else she'd fool no one.

At best right now they were lucky heatstroke was making her tired.  Any other time she might be shooting everyone glares just for believing the mockery they were putting on.  /Just stand it for a few minutes, Buffy.  Just five minutes, yeah?/  “Oi," Spike called, and prayed he sounded filled with wary bonhomie.  "How’s this fine day in hell takin’ you, mates?”  Leaning against the glass, he pulled out a fag and lit it, striking his best ‘big bad’ pose.  Set one hand on the surface while maintaining the other at his side; the one with Buffy’s ‘leash’ wrapped loosely around his wrist.  

Buffy, hovering behind him, was doing her best to look ‘beat and anxious’, though she mostly just looked keyed up and thirsty with a side of deadly… because even half-offed from dehydration she really could still manage to tear most of these tossers in half, no doubt.

She really did make a man feel like a man.  He’d ravish her within an inch of her life if she wasn’t dying of thirst and they weren’t in a precarious spot.  And, well… 

Lot of reasons it was best to save the thought for later. 

The Graenek lifted its head high as it would go to eye Spike dubiously, spat on the floor.  “Vampire.”

“Yeah, what’s it to you?”  He pulled in a drag and narrowed his eyes, glanced over at the skinny one.  “You also got a problem, mate?  I’m bringin’ you business, same as the Frugosh over there.”

Frugosh didn’t even look up.  That’s how behind the times those things were.

The skinny demon just glanced over at him and then turned back to its cigarette-organizing, clearly ready to ignore the entire interaction.  Excellent.

“What’s with the human?”  Graenek lifted itself a little to peep over the counter.  

Spike followed his gaze, and noted with something between amusement and concern that Buffy had since stationed herself a few feet behind his heels, and was now leaning somewhat theatrically against a display counter empty of all but a few remnants of past sundries.  She appeared to be attempting to look 'cowed'.  It was really rather adorable.  Mostly she looked thoroughly bored and, he thought, tense under the edges, but he'd settle for that before 'ready to do everyone in out of desperation'.  Especially since, beneath the boredom was a clear, shaky exhaustion that was in no way feigned. 

“Don’t your kind just… you know?”  The Graenak waved its short, stubby, hairy digits around vaguely.  “Eat ‘em and drop ‘em?”

Spike grinned around his smoke and pulled it away to grin over at his ‘trophy’.  “Like how this one tastes.  Gonna keep her around a while.”  He shrugged in an offhanded way, as if he didn’t care really, one way or the other.  Inside, of course, he was thrumming with impatience at the necessity for all this palaver.  “Why I’m here, actually.  Gotta feed her up.  Blood gets too thick if you don’t water ‘em, thought I smelled some of that in here.  Was hoping to make a purchase from you fine gentlemen.”

Suspicion flooded the Graenak’s gray visage.  “She doesn’t look like she’s been bit in a while.”

Spike had worried about that, actually, and, wincing internally, gave an exceedingly minuscule tug on the leash.  Buffy moved up to stand beside him; nobly refraining, as she did so, from doing anything more than standing, really hard, on his instep.  “Yeah, well…”  Holding his fag between his fingers so it didn’t burn her, he fingered the old claim on her neck that his poofter grandsire had put there over the top of old Batface’s older marks.  The nearly invisible damage left by the poncy git with the perfect mane was there as well; all layered atop each other, but as distinguishable, to him, as if they were outlined in varying colors, in infrared.  “Like I said.  I like this one.  I’ve bitten her most recently in…”  He clicked his tongue, showed a meaningful leer.  “Other places.”

To his stunned amazement, instead of twisting in disgust at his broad innuendo, Buffy actually blushed in an incredibly fetching manner.  It made his cock twitch distractingly.  

Across the counter, the skinny demon turned around to stare at him in shock.  “You have sex with humans?”

Spike glared back in pugnacious challenge.  “What of it?”

The thing was clearly disgusted.  “Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to play with your food?  Or your sire or whatever the hell it is you people have?”

Spike grinned easily, hoping he looked a bit more confident than he was feeling at the current moment.  “You know us.  We like to blur the lines.”

Skinny looked utterly horrified.  “You vampires give real demons a bad name.”  Turning away in a huff, it slipped through the counter toward the back of the store and vanished through a side door.

“Touchy bastard, that one,” Spike commented, fingers still lightly stroking Buffy’s neck below the leather thong in silent apology for the stupidity of this entire thing.  “So,” he asked the Graenek; about that water?”

The Graenek bent over, lifted a case of shrink-wrapped water bottles onto the counter.  “Whaddya have to trade, vampire?”  It made a twisted face.  “Besides your human.  I don’t take sloppy seconds from a half-demon wannabe.”

/Oh, sod it; here we go./  “What’ll you take?”

“You got any Sulcranian ploi-dust?  A Molcan crystal?  A carton of Camel lights?  Almost out of those…”

He had to say no to each of those, feeling increasingly worried as Buffy eyed the water with a terrible, pained lust.  The truth was he had nothing to trade but blows.  Could they grab it and get out clean?  His fingers closed tighter around her axe in preparation, aware she’d see, or at least feel, the change in tension in his body.  “How about we just…”

“Hey, did someone say somethin’ to me?” the Frugosh broke in slowly, turning from the freezers.

Bloody hell, these things were nits.  “No, mate.  Go back to pickin’ a drink.”  Idjit.

But the distraction helped.  Best time anyway; the Graenek’s head had turned toward his other customer, the skinny guy was gone.  Grabbing the case of water one-handed, Spike turned with Buffy and made a break for the door. 

“Hey!  You have to pay for that!” 

As they hit the edge of the glassed-in corridor and made the turn toward the exit, the Graenek, hunched-over, hairy, and slow-moving, leaped to the top of his counter, flared his arms out, and humped up.  And turned into a swift, pissed-off gorilla of demon rage. 

And extruded eight-inch, curved and deadly claws.  Like a handful of fucking sickles.

Finally, as if smelling a fight had given the fucker due cause to wake up from his bloody nap, Spike’s demon decided to take this moment to rouse sleepily to consciousness.  As he fumbled to balance the water and the axe he found himself abruptly in full game face—Christ, he hadn’t even felt the thing come on!—and had to hold himself back from the utterly unexpected urge to turn round, roaring, and dive back into the fight with ferocious, unbridled glee.  To tear throats, rip the fucking sod limb-from-limb for daring to threaten his mate, to…

Oh, bloody Christ, now was so not the bleeding moment.  

They piled out of the doorway, Buffy panting, Spike turning with her to get room to wield the damn weapon, one arm still wrapped around the case of water-bottles.  The Graenek came pounding down the corridor behind them, roaring in his turn…

And then Illyria was in front of them, looking merely interested as it came on.  She shifted her pet corpse over one shoulder.  Tilted her head.  Held out one hand… and caught the Graenek it as it ran head-on into her fist.

It exploded into blue-edged fragments.  Hit the ground all sodding cored out, like a hairy, glowing apple.  Like things were wont to do when they ran afoul of the Old Ones; and hell, it looked like this dimension was tuning Illyria up a bit as well in some way.   

So much for not making a sodding scene.

At the far end of the store, the Frugosh blinked at the brouhaha, clearly still trying to figure out what had just happened.  “Where’d he go?” he asked dumbly.

“Sorry, mate,” Spike told the dripping remains of the Graenak, and bent to rip open the case.  Still fangs out and breathing hard and unnecessarily, he plucked out a bottle for Buffy and handed it gruffly over, senses on overdrive.  Fuck, he wanted a fight.  His had been stolen from him.  Illyria had taken his kill, and…

Buffy took the bottle from him.  As their hands touched, he felt hers tremble slightly with the heat, with dehydration...  In that contact, Spike's inner demon vanished as if it had never been awoken; dropped away to leave him shaken and open-mouthed.  /Fuck./

Bending blindly, he hefted the rest of the shifting bottles and tilted his head toward the exit.  No doubt they should leg it; a fact his oh-so-lazy demon-side had apparently already noted.  Crisis over, the git had already sunken back to beddy-bye and taken his game face with him.  /Truly, just what the everfucking hell?/  “Guess Skinny’s inherited the store, yeah?”

Buffy ignored him to crank open the bottle with shaking hands, single-minded in her intensity. 

“Slow sips at first, luv, or you’ll be sick.”  He remembered reading that in something.  Christ knew it had never happened to him, though he'd probably come bloody close a few times at Eton, what with fagging and all.  

She nodded sharp awareness of the proscription, every line of her somehow simultaneously amused, wearied, relieved, irritated, frantic, and grimly controlled.  It was a wonder she didn’t punch him.  No doubt she felt it a waste of energy to tell him she already knew how to take care of her human body and to shut his idiot gob.

They made tracks away from the store and got around a corner a few blocks away while Buffy worked slowly through her first bottle.  She was already looking better, smelling less like she was coagulating under the endlessly hot sun.  Speaking of which, why did it feel like it was always two in the afternoon here?

“You wanna stop here for a bit?” Spike asked, glancing around them.  “Dunno how long we’ve been traveling, but I’d say we’ve made five miles.  Think it’s another five and a bit to Beverly Hills.  That’ll give us two, three hundred feet in elevation to start with.”

“I will patrol,” Illyria told them, and, hefting Wes’ remains once more, promptly vanished around a corner. 

Buffy lifted her head from her second water bottle to watch the Old One do her thing, looking bemused.  “She’s a trip, isn’t she?”

“Oh, yeah,” Spike agreed darkly, “the Smurf’s a riot.”  Right handy at a time like this, too, but he’d give her up in a nonexistent heartbeat if it meant they might have Fred back.  /For one thing, that might mean travel about without a ripening bloody corpse./  Though no doubt that would also mean that bitty chit would be at the mercy of this place right now, which didn’t bear thinking. 

Granted, according to Angel’s lot, Fred had survived five years alone in another hell dimension called Pylea, so she might do alright at that.  Chit had always been tougher than she looked. 

“She seems… pretty attached to… Wesley.”  Buffy’s voice caught a little, there at the end.

“Yeah, well.”  He could hear his own voice tighten.  “Wes, ah… took care of her.  After.  I think she’s trying to return the favor, maybe.”  Christ, that hurt to watch.

“You alright, Spike?”

He was about to spout off a quick, facile answer, but Buffy deserved more from him at this point.  “Feel a bit odd.”  Understatement of the bloody century.  /Must not have the hang of the transition yet, is all.  Or maybe it’s something about this sodding dimension?  Wasn’t so hard back home.  Though, that, too, was in the heat of a bloody battle.  Would be a laugh, though, yeah, if it's the dimension, it being a demon’s paradise and that, and my own personal git’s too relaxed to pick his head up and look about unless there’s a nice brawl./  Angelus had always said he’d gotten a rum one.  What if the bastard had been right all along?  What if he had a poncy demon what just couldn’t cut it?  /After all, isn’t this is just the sort of place sods like my lot should want to come out to play?  If I’m any sort of proper demon at all, you’d think I’d be wide fucking awake.  Not that I’ve been anything like a proper demon for so bleedin’ long no doubt I’ve forgotten how to do it.  Probably why the prat’s glitching.  Can’t be a right menace anymore if it ever was one./

/Or maybe/ he supposed belatedly, /chalk it up to another black mark against soul-having?/  Except…  It felt more… organic than all that.  Like it had nothing to do with the soul at all, and entirely to do with the demon itself.  Tough to tell, though, since even after a hundred and twenty years living as the demon, and with the thing’s sensibilities shaping the better part of his being, with the soul as his current frontspiece he found it sodding difficult ofttimes to suss out the bugger’s motivations. 

Any road, sorting all that out wasn’t important at the moment.  What was was tending to Buffy.  “You, luv?  Place affecting you at all?  Aside from the water business?”

Her eyes on him were solemn.  Assessing.  And far brighter than they had been.  “I feel a little weird, too."  She shook her head slightly.  "Not sure how much of it is because..."  She shook the water bottle a little, and he noted as she did so that her grip on the thing seemed very much more certain.  "I feel...  It's hard to explain.  Kind of like I did before the Master got me, somehow.  And a little bit like I did before I was Called, sometimes."  A strange, alarmed expression touched her face, not that he bloody well blamed her, if she still felt like a Slayer but weakened somehow.  She'd been the hell of a fighter then, in that first year he'd seen her... but that had been after she'd done for Nest.  He hadn't seen her before then.  And he for damned sure hadn't seen her as a sodding Potential.  What that must feel like for her...  

/Seems I'm not the only one affected.  Christ, I sure the bloody hell didn't want that for you, pet.  Not in a place like this!  I can be as defective as I need to be in this shitehole, but you...  You need all the help you can get in a sodding demon dimension!/    

"Not like being fully human," she reassured him swiftly, as if reading mien.  "I have all my instincts.  More, even, than I had as a Potential."  She looked away from him briefly, an odd expression twisting her face.  "I...  I lost those, once.  You weren't there, but..."  

What the bloody hell?  How had she...

"I don't know what I'm saying.  It's like everything comes in waves.  Like my... Slayer side is..."

"Resting up?" Spike hazarded, and put the rest aside for now.

She made a face; almost in negation, he thought.  "No.  Distracted?"  

/The hell?/  That for damned sure was different to his experience.  His demon-bits weren't in any way distracted.  That bit of him was just fucking somnolent.

"But when there's a fight, it all comes roaring back."  She favored the half-empty water bottle with a protracted stare.  "And, you know, the heat-thing, and the water thing...  But I think it's... getting better.”  

He supposed they should all be grateful for that bit, at least.  /Everyone's demons will come out to play if there's a nice rumble in the offing, but that's all.  Dozy gits.  You lot figured, what?  You left your own dimension behind, thought, 'We're not at war here, so might as well have a lie-in', is it?  Well, there's still a war on in this one as well, innit?  Got things to do, so get off your arses and be useful!/

Buffy roused then, and a strange expression touched her lovely, shining countenance; one he wasn’t sure he’d ever seen from her before, and Spike had admittedly made something of a vocation out of memorizing Buffy Summers’ many expressions.  “I know you didn’t ask for this…”  She waved her hand, encompassing all that they were facing.  “It’s a lot of pressure, what we’re doing right now.”  She pushed herself to her feet.  “For what it’s worth, you’re impressing me with your leadership skills.”

He blinked at that, quite thoroughly taken aback.  “I’m not the bloody leader.”

Buffy regarded him blandly, but with a tiny smile playing at the corners of her gorgeous lips.  “I don’t know who you think has been leading us for the past hour, but it sure the heck hasn’t been me.  I’ve been out of it from sunstroke or whatever, and I’m no good at demon dimensions.  Illyria has actually been deferring to you for some reason—maybe because she’s feeling uncertain without the team or something—but you’re in your element right now, and you’re doing great.”  She sobered to look into his eyes with that same solid, blazing certainty that had blown him away down in the basement when she’d first told him she believed in hm.  “You’ve been leading us, Spike.”

He might have staggered if she hadn’t taken that moment to catch his unoccupied hand as she said it.  /Bloody losing it, for sure./  “We’ve got to get that leash off you, Slayer.  It’s starting to affect your thinking.”

She shrugged and knocked back a little more water with her free hand.  Gave his a squeeze and dropped it with an easy shrug.  “Probably should leave it on, if only for looks.  In case someone else asks why you have me around.  I get the feeling around here humans are only for food or…”  She stopped, blushed just a tad.

“Fucking?” he suggested wryly.

“Well.  When in Rome.  And I’ve been living in Rome, and they’re pretty serious about that there.”

He had no idea what to say to that, so he kept his gob tight shut.  After a minute or two he realized he had let his fag burn down to the nub, and dropped it in the street before it could start his fingers on fire.  He was too lost in thought to smoke anyway; not to mention that he only had about four smokes left and out.  Then he’d apparently need to come across some Sulcranian ploi-dust to trade for his next pack of Morleys, and who knew when he’d find any of that… 

Probably he’d just have to nick his next pack.

“We almost got found out because my bite-scars are so old, didn’t we?”

“What’s that pet?”

“My bite-scars,” she repeated patiently.  “You had to make up some garbage story about biting me wherever else to get your jollies, because the only visible bite-marks I have are years old.”

He leaned back against the wall at that, feeling the grin break out, and crossed his legs.  “Well, luv, if you were my toy, I for damn sure would be biting you while I fucked you.  You’d be marked along every bleedin’ blood vessel you had.  So it makes a convenient fiction.  But.”  He shrugged lightly.  “We can always pass off those buggering awful marks as mine.”  He felt his lips writhe with distaste.  “Though Christ knows I wouldn’t have made such a sodding mess of your pretty skin if it was me did it.”

She looked slightly offended.  “You can barely see Dracula’s…”

“Yeah, at least that ponce has some style.”

That took her aback.  “You mean Angel’s?”  His continued, judgmental silence appeared to sting her.  “He was dying!”

“Yeah?  And it looks like he damn near drained you.”  She blanched, which he hadn’t expected.  It jolted him, and he straightened up, the curl of belated dread coiling in his stomach.  “He did, didn’t he?”

“He didn’t know what he was doing,” she whispered.

“That sodding bastard.”  He was going to go find his grandsire and rip him in half with his own two hands.  What a fucking graceless…

“Look,” she flared through gritted teeth, “you weren’t there.  He was barely coherent.  He wasn’t trying to kill me, he was just…”

“Buffy,” Spike managed, though it came out through clenched teeth, “if you gave him the willing gift of your blood—Slayer’s blood—to keep him alive, he better have damn well kept a lid on himself.  But he’s never once tried to control the feed; not in his long life.  He’s eaten rats, bagged it, but when it comes to his demon and humans, he’s never tried to learn control.  That’s on him for being a cunt.” 

She flinched, started to her feet.  He didn’t let her begin.  “And he sodding well never learned to leave ‘em unmarked when he had a taste, did he?  Bet he hurt you, yeah?  Gnawing on you like that with every tooth he had, like a damn fledge; almost as sodding bad as old batface with his mouthful of daggers.  Bet it hurt like hell.”

She blinked, arrested mid-windup.  “Isn’t it supposed to hurt?”

The tragedy of it bubbled up in him, came out in a bark of sardonic laughter.  “If it always felt like that, luv, why do you think people like your soldier-boy kept coming back to get a taste, over and over again?”

“Because they like pain?” Buffy demanded, flinging her empty water bottle aside in exasperation.  “The same reason people cut themselves or whatever?  To feel alive?”  It all seemed to flare up in her like a boil being lanced.  “The same reason I hit you and you hit me and we kept coming back for more with each other even though it almost destroyed us?”

Low blow, and he winced, but forged on.  “No, Buffy,” he answered, low and intense.  “Because if you do it right; if you time it right and you really listen… you can get someone off so hard doin’ it they feel like they’re flying.  It’s the best rush since drugs, and you don’t even have to take anything.  And I get the rush and so do you, so everyone’s happy.”  He shook his head.  “The only reason Peaches didn’t make it feel good for you is he didn’t know how; because he’s never bothered to try to learn.  Because he spent a long unlife making it hurt for people; on purpose.  Because all he ever learned to enjoy was inflicting pain.”

She was shaking her head now, denial written all over her, in every line and pore of her being. 

He had to push it.  Not because he thought she’d ever let him have such grace, but because she had to know that she was wrong.  “Did it hurt when Drac bit you?  He’s a ponce, but reputation says he does it right.”

Her voice was low when she responded; pensive.  “No.  It felt…”  Her lips drew tight into a line.  “I didn’t want to feel what he wanted me to feel.”

It was a start.  “Yeah, and no doubt old Batface didn’t want it to feel good either, the quick and dirty bugger, so your comparisons are all off.  Sodding masher.  He was only in it to do you in.”  He shrugged and looked away, out toward the alley, fought back the frustrated tears.  “You know why you can always feel him, luv?”

Buffy was nonplussed at his abrupt change in conversational direction.  He could tell by the shaky, startled tone in her voice.  “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Angel,” Spike answered miserably.  He swiveled back to gesture accusingly at the side of her pretty throat.  “Why you can’t get away from him, no matter how long it’s been or how much you’ve sodding grown apart?”  And when she eyed him in surprise his fingers slid up along her neck to rub lightly over the bite marks resting there; a permanent emblazon of ownership.  “It’s because of this, pet.”  She blinked at him, clearly taken aback.  He pressed on before she could rustle up some kind of counter-protest.  “The blood-bond, yeah?  He’s marked you as his, good and proper.  He’ll always be able to call you back, keep you his, on some level.  Forever.  Unless someone else takes on the bond.”

Buffy started back away from his fingers, looking horrified.  “But…  No.  He didn’t…  I felt connected to him even before he…  And he didn’t do anything but bite me, to get better.  Didn’t say anything, or…”  She frowned, shaking her head in denial.  “And he wasn’t even the last one to bite me.  Dracula…”

“But you staked him,” Spike reminded her patiently.  “Doesn’t matter if the git evaded you in the end.  You broke that bond.  And you dusted old Batface, so he’s out; not that he was tryin’ to bond you, just put you down.  But words or no, Peaches would’ve claimed you; in his mind, in his actions, in his intent.”  He had to look away, down at his boots.  It just hurt too bloody much, knowing what he had never had, would never have with his woman, that his sodding grandsire had had the grace of and cast aside like it was shite.  /Fucking twice!  Dru, and now you./  “He took you and he kept you, Buffy, whether he intended it or not; or you’d’ve let him go long since.  And he’s still right here, holding on to you with all he’s got, innit?  For as long as he can.”

Her silence dragged his gaze back, and, oh hell.  Her expression both pained him and brought him a kind of surcease.  She had had no bloody clue.  And now it was dawning, finally; the realization that she’d been had.  That she’d been owned.  For years.  She looked down and away, and he thought he saw tears in her eyes.  And he abruptly felt regret, hated himself for even bringing it up.  “Oh, hell.  I’m sorry, luv.  I shouldn’t’ve…”

“Why didn’t you ever try?” she asked, still glaring off at her feet.

/Eh?/  “What’s that?”

Her head swiveled back, and she regarded him fiercely through the tears.  “To bite me?” she demanded.  “I know you wanted to.  Every time we…”  She cut off, clearly at the verge of some sniffles. 

/Well, sodding hell.  Of fucking course I did.  Want to every fucking second I’m around you, but what the hell kind of idiot question is that?/  Spike lifted a thumb to brush away a tear before it could fall.  “Wouldn’t do that, Buffy.  You think I’m that stupid?  Doesn’t matter how desperate bad I want to taste you, or how high on the moment I am when I’m buried in your quim or lost inside you and you’re cumming all around me like thunder, or how bloody damned much I’d love to erase any trace of those bastards on your body and make you mine.  You told me you weren’t.  It’s up to you, yeah?”

She closed her eyes, and he was alarmed to note that she was shaking.  “I always knew I could trust you.  I wouldn’t have been there with you if I couldn’t.  All that time, everyone thinking I was crazy, but you stopped yourself doing the one thing that would have been the worst breach of consent imaginable…”

Her insight, belated though it was, hit him hard.  It didn’t absolve him of his other sin—the other violation he had nearly taken of her, and would have done if she hadn’t brought him to his senses—but the fact that he had never let his slavering, starving demon do to her what was in his very nature to do…  “Buffy…”

“And everything in you was screaming at you to do it, every time.  Wasn’t it?”

“Buffy.”  She needed to stop.

“Wasn’t it?  Because it’s how you claim… a mate, right?”

/Sodding hell./  “Well, yeah.  I mean, when you nest with someone, or if you stay with your sire…  Dru bit me all the time.”

She watched him sadly.  “And you bit Dru?”

Spike snorted a harsh, pained laugh at that.  “Oh, no, pet.  That honor went strictly to her ‘Daddy’.”  At Buffy's confused blink, “You know.  The great and wonderful Angelus.”  Her expression cleared from confusion to dislike.  “Yeah.  Could call myself that all I wanted tryin’ to get her to believe it, but…”  He picked up some bit of debris from the street, pitched it away from himself, as if he could ever throw away that old hurt.  “Whatever I might’ve told myself, I was hers, but she was never mine.”

He saw it in her face, in her eyes; the recognition, and the regret.  Looked away.  After a moment she frowned a little.  “So… you never got to claim… anyone?”

He shrugged it off, tried to tell himself it didn’t actually matter.  “Wasn't the sort of...  Did I do that, I'd have to tend to them, yeah?  Dru was the sort to take on the occasional toy, only to toss them out after a day or two.  I was the one had to take care of all her sodding minions.  Clean up the messes.  Didn't want to make my own; not when it didn't mean...  If I didn't get to keep..."  He closed his eyes, shook his head.  "It wasn’t something I felt pulled to do until…”  He cut off abruptly, afraid to say any more and aware of how poncy and hoarse his voice had gotten.

She’d heard it anyway, and looked down at his shirt.  Moved a bit closer, voice going quiet.  “I didn’t understand what it meant.”

He scoffed into her neck, still rigid and defensive.  “Buffy, even if you had…”  Tried to push away.  “Let’s just let it go, yeah?  We have a lot to deal with right now, and…”  And yelped when her hands fumbled with his belt.  “What are you doing, you mad bint?”

“Shh.”  Her hands hadn’t stopped, had gotten the belt open, and now one was fumbling with the button and the other was on his neck, keeping him close…

He shoved at her, got her grip off his nape, pushed his palms against her shoulders.  “Sodding hell, Buffy; we’re in the middle of a demon hellscape, and you want to play hide the sausage, now?

“No,” she told him, and knocked his hands away to slide her arms back up around his neck.  Swung around to put her back up against the nearest alley wall, and pulled him against her.  “I want to make up for lost time.  Demon-style.”

He blinked owlishly at her.  “What?”

One of her hot, deft little hands slid under his shirt to tweak one of his nipples.  “Catch up, Spike, or this will take too long.”

You’d think he was a Frugosh demon, he was having such a tough time keeping up.  “Buffy, I…  Are you…”

One all-too-knowledgeable palm paused briefly mid-slide back south, and her eyes lifted to his.  Caught for a moment, glimmering a little with a parade of emotions; and so bloody verdant.  Wavered.  “I’m not… trying to take us back to a place we… shouldn’t be anymore.”  And her expression firmed.  Turned candid.  “I’m not trying to use you.  I really would rather take more time…”  A faint, ironic smile quirked her lips.  “But somehow I think it’s really not the venue.  So.”  Her hand headed rapidly south once more. 

He was still working through a cascade of near-impossible surmises to be gleaned from that bit of confessional, and so didn’t quite keep up till she… ah.  Got his attention again.  She had him inhaling in near-shock when she set about working her hand inside his half-undone zip, made herself a bit more room to work.  “Christ; oh Christ…  Since when… did you like taking so many damn chances getting caught?”

“Where have you been?”  Before he could exclaim that that wasn’t at all what he’d meant she had caught his cock roughly, began to stroke; and holy sodding fucking God, it had been way too goddamn long since she had had her hands on him.  Not since the night before he’d dusted, and that night had been so bloody confusing that…

Her eyes were focused, steady on his.  “Let me see you, Spike.”

“What?”  His brain had slid out through his ears.  Or, rather, dribbled down to settle into her hand, but, you know.  He should probably be forgiven for that.  Christ it had been ages.  His poor prick probably didn’t have a clue what was happening right now, though it seemed to be remembering right quick. 

“Let me see you, Spike.”

He couldn’t process that, wasn’t sure what she was asking.  Moved in instinctively… and by some miracle stopped just shy of putting his hands on her.  “You need to tell me you’re sure,” he managed, somehow, thickly.

“Are you?”

/What?/  “Buffy!” He was going to fall apart.  It came out half pleading, half demand.

“If I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t be here,” she whispered, hot in his ear.  So many meanings behind that, all of them things he couldn’t parse right now… and he gave in.  That final question had been all he’d had left.  Her mouth was moving on his neck, his face, and he ceased capacity for any other function; just came in for what he knew how to do.  Started kissing her; neck, mouth, whatever he could reach.  Hungrily, desperately; hopefully with some hint of his old finesse…

Oh, fuckit.  His hands went to her jeans.  Got snap and zip undone with shaking fingers while he worked at her throat with teeth and lips and felt her moving against him; and Christ, her hands on his cock hadn’t forgotten a trick, and she should probably slow down and give him time to catch her up, or he wasn’t going to be able to sort her out before he went off like a waterspout.

He got the sodding jeans half off of her finally, her helping to get one leg out by some complicated magic he couldn’t fathom, and why she had to wear such tight clothing was beyond him.  Not that he didn’t enjoy it when it came to looking.  Had her up against the cinder blocks, one now-freed hand under her shirt to attend to her nipples while the other was plunging in to make for her juices so he could ready her.  Christ, her clit was like a cherry, swollen in his hand, and to hear her moan again in his ear when he worked her over was like the best music; the finest he had ever heard, and one he had thought he might never hear again.  Fuck the Ramones, this was like God’s own choir of hellbound angels, and did he have time to get his mouth on her, here?  It likely wasn't safe, but Christ, he wanted…  Had missed her like life, like...

“Inside me,” she whispered, and her eyes were blazing on his with demand.

"Buffy, I..."  He started to slide down her body; just for a moment, just...

Her hand did not relinquish his cock, squeezed a little too tightly, oh Christ.  "Next time.  No time.  Come here." 

It was a chant, and oh fuck, oh god, he was torn, so torn, but she was probably right, this was probably not the sodding venue, fucking hell.  And his hand was back where he wanted his mouth and, yes, alright, next time, because there would be a next time, not in some sodding alley...  /Where?  Anywhere; fuck.../  

But she was working him over and he was rapidly losing focus, his fingers essentially echoing her movements by this point, and...  "Inside me," she insisted again, and her eyes burned on him like the sun.

“Fuck yes.”  She was already halfway lost when he slipped in, and she was murmuring things about missing him, and too long, and oh fuck, being inside her hot depths again was the only heaven he’d ever need.  And she was slamming against the wall, and staring hard into his eyes, and he was fighting, fighting against the demon that was suddenly abruptly, madly awake, the sod; badly wanted to rise.  Of course, now, after a whole sodding day of trying to rouse the bastard he found himself in the awkward position of trying to keep the bugger down.  It had felt so fucking good to have him come up in the fights, so right; but this

But Buffy would want William, she’d want…

Her thumb caressed his eyebrows, gaze locked on his.  “Let me see you, Spike.”

He stilled, startled.  She couldn’t mean…  She had never wanted…

Her eyes on him, sure and certain as she had ever been.  “Now.”

It was command, and he could not but obey. 

He let the demon rise.  And Christ, but did the prat ever come roaring back to wakefulness.  Came to throbbing, boisterous life in her arms, like he’d never been napping.  It was a thunderous, snarling resurgence, so that Spike half expected her to turn him away when it came to the surface. 

He fought to keep it merely to the visage.  Fought to keep contained the glee, the ferocity; to keep the bugger carefully-leashed and bound.  He'd never had her like this for a reason, and this was it.  Bloody hell, just the smell of her, intensified now with his stronger olfactory organs in play and so close to her neck, her arteries, her skin, was sweet torture.  She dazzled his brain; smelled sweetly of her efforts, perfuming them both, the slick of her body like a hot baptism.  Like forgiveness, and home, and how was it that he could have this again, when… 

He might have wept, except Christ, it was so good; so primal to bury himself in her, hand on her clit and fingers working while she strained against him.  So near to her end, closing around him while he slid, in and out and tightened, tightened, drew ever closer…

And fought not to lose control.  Fought with everything he had not to let the demon he had been for most of his life to take over completely; as it had last night, during the battle.  For whatever reason, here, this new balance was all fucked off, and he was not the demon when Buffy needed him; was William again.  And now, when she’d want William…

But sod it, it was difficult.  Right now, with her so close, and the blood…

He almost lost it.  Thought to just put the bugger safely away…

“No.  Look at me.  Keep your game face on.”

He groaned and buried his face back in her neck.  She was trying to torture him, she was trying to kill him, she was…

She was going to cum around him with him like this, and bring him off with the demon laying by…  /And you’re going to have to stand it./  Hell; it was going to be like dying again, like going up in flames and turning to dust, but if this was the price to pay…

Her breath was catching, oh Christ…

And then she tilted her neck.

He stopped dead.  No.  She couldn’t be offering what she seemed to be offering.

But then she opened her bright green eyes to look him straight in his.  And they were clear with decision.  Shining, even; and her voice, if husky with need, was certain.  “You said there was a right time?”

He started shaking.  Oh bloody, buggering, bleeding Christ, this wasn’t happening.

“Spike?”

He lowered his forehead to hers, breathing hard and unnecessarily and unable to move as the profoundness of the moment hit him, hard.  Sod trusting him back in her bed again.  Sod even just giving him blood, letting him bite her.  She wanted him to claim her.  To take the bond over.  To make her his.  Oh, fucking hell; the gift she was giving him right now was so unbelievably important and powerful and… intimate that it was almost beyond his comprehension, because it was made in full knowledge this time, and in full trust that he wouldn’t misuse it. 

And it was Buffy.

The leather thong sat loosely enough on her neck, that mockery of a claim, that it was now riding up a little to expose her carotid just so, and it would be so easy to just dip in and…  And did she really want him to…

“I want you to.  If you want to.”

“If I…”  He choked on it, the emotion flooding him.  “Bloody hell, Slayer…  Oh, Buffy…” 

He held her face.  Kissed her, gently as he could with his fangs out, so he wouldn’t hurt her mouth, and hoped that it wouldn’t horrify her with his game face on.  Lowered his forehead back to her shoulder, slipped his fingers back to her clit, and went back to his work; readying her.  Making it right.  Oh, god, it had better be right.  So right that she’d never knew what hit her… till it hit her.  Then, by god, he’d make her cum so hard she’d want him to do it again and again and again until that’s all they ever did.

“Oh. My. God. Spike. PLEASE!”

Her heart was stuttering.  Her quim was starting to quiver around him; the warning just before she came, to clench around him like a lovely, punishing fist.  He could smell the rushing tide of hormones rising from her skin, from the drop about to start.  It was time.  He was shaking as he turned her head, tilted it away so he didn’t have to look at Angel’s mark, and all the others.  And, ignoring her inhale of surprise at this unexpected move, slipped his fangs into virgin flesh. 

And convulsed, fighting not to cum immediately, at the raging, living taste of Buffy Summers’ vibrant Slayer blood.  /Fucking sodding Christ!/

His demon-self bellowed his claim to the entirety of universe and time as she came on his cock, in his hand, like a goddamned vise; and she was screaming too.  So loud he had to cover her mouth with the other so that they didn’t draw unwanted crowds, as she clamped down hard enough on him he was going to be bruised… but in that fucking good way.  And the rush of tasting blood from a pumping heart was always sodamngood—and after so long, Christ!—but from one pumping full of sex was even better.  Stir in that it was a Slayer—The Slayer; his Slayer—and fuck, this was the best he had ever…

Circulation or no, he came so hard he damn near passed out.  And the entire time, he knew he was chanting her name.

***



Don't worry.  They'll take the time for some more... ah... thorough reacquaintance when time and circumstances are more friendly.  There were reasons, both thematic and, obviously, environmental... (and, plotty) for this particular, ah, type of liaison at this particular moment.  

Heh.  Besides.  Nothing wrong with breaking a few bricks, right?

Chapter Text

“You didn’t bite the same side.”

He was never going to move again. 

He felt like he could get up and rip down a mountain, and he was never going to move again.  It was a peculiar juxtaposition, but when you had a sated Slayer on your chest, curled up like a cat and playing cute finger-games with your nipples, you stayed where you were and wrestled the mountains tomorrow.

Maybe a nice horde of hungry demons would come along presently and he could tear their heads off single-handedly; just to show off for her.  The thought made him growl in anticipation… which was when he realized that his demon was still well up, fangs and all.  Git.

Christ, he’d forgotten what Slayer blood was like.  “Hmmm?  You should drink more water, pet.”  Any other time he might’ve fought to send the sodding mercurial prat of a demon to beddy-bye, so as not to offend his love by hanging about in game face… but it seemed foolish to look a gift horse in the mouth at mo’, considering the circumstances.  If the bugger was awake, best to keep him that way.  /Fighting and feeding and fucking, is it?  Running true to form, then./ 

Primal creatures, demons. 

Putting aside the battle last night, Spike had not felt well and truly primal in a long bloody time.  It was… really goddamned nice.  Simple.  Like breathing.  Just to be, without too much thought, while he stared up into the weird orange sun and idly pondered the phenomenon that was a star that did not burn vamps to dust.  It did burn, of course; but as it burnt humans.  His skin felt almost… hot, here, between that ruddy odd globe and Buffy's blood, raging through him.  The sweat she had shared with him remained damp on his shirt, but drying now.  Took away with it some of the heat but leaving behind the glory of her scent, filled with the smells of satisfied sex.  Christ, he must never lose this shirt.  It ought to go in a museum.  “Then,” he rambled on, feeling quite the sated prat, “we should find you some food.  I didn’t take much from you—just a mouthful—and from a vein instead of an artery so you’d have the benefit of the oxygen.  Wouldn’t want to leave you lightheaded, but still.  Probably leave you peckish, maybe a bit dehydrated...”

“Such a gentleman,” she murmured, and fingered the marks.  Gave a little shudder, her heart racing a little, deliciously, to his ears, at the sensation. 

He fought the urge to go back there.  Spend a little time just licking the mark.  Fondling it with mouth and tongue for, oh, the next week, say.  “My mother raised me to be one.”  And in his nest he had never exactly gotten to do a whole sodding lot of nuzzling of bites, and, well… the thought that he might actually get to bury his face in one of his own for a change was…  It was…

Bloody fuck.

Buffy let that one go by without comment, perhaps aware it was a possible minefield.  “You barely left a mark, too.  I think it’s already healing.  And you were right about…”  Her skin heated against his, and her heart stuttered briefly.  “How it would feel.”  She seemed utterly undisturbed by his ongoing demonic visage, which was… really bleeding new for them, and she really must have meant it when she said that she accepted the whole package of him. 

What a bloody revelation.  “When you care enough to give the very best…” he managed, and told his undead heart to give over soaring like a ninny. 

The content of her original question finally dawned, then, bringing him down a notch or two, and he frowned darkly at the crimson clouds.  “To answer your question, I didn’t bite where the poofter bit ‘cause I don’t want to taste his leavings.”  /Never even wanted to have to smell them up close again; not that I can avoid it.  Not after Dru, and…/  “Though I wouldn’t mind pissin’ on his fire hydrant, as it were; but I don’t need to mark the exact same spot to do that.”  Spike made a sour face.  “It’d be like kissin’ Peaches, and I don’t mind sayin’ we’re not exactly close that way.”

There was a short silence from the girl in question, who had gone a little tense.  “Did you just call me a fire hydrant?”

Sometimes his mouth was just a bleeding hazard.  “I meant the spot, luv, not…  Oh, hell.  Just forget I said anything.”  /Way to ruin the moment, you tosser./

He half-expected her to get up and kick him or something, but she just lay there against him and looked out at the mouth of the alley, clearly thinking of other things.  “Does this mean I’ll feel you, now?  If we get separated here?”

He tensed at the very thought of her going out of his sight for even a moment… and then realized, quite belatedly, that there might have been more than a few practical aspects to her having decided to allow him to claim her, here and now, in this place.  “Yeah.  Should do.”  That was his Buffy.  Pragmatic as all get out.  And it shouldn’t feel a bit of a let-down that she had had some calculated reasons for what had been the most romantic moment of his entire existence to date.  It didn’t negate what she had given him, did it?  Still, it would have been nice if it was entirely spur-of-the-moment and motivated by a wish to recommit entirely to their relationship and all that rigmarole…

“I hope so.  Because I haven’t felt Angel since we landed here in this place.  I mean, I feel you, now, right here when I’m laying here touching you; but unless he got dropped super far away from us, you’d think…” 

Spike sat up a little to regard her, frowning.  “You didn’t feel anything?  Before I took the bond over?”  She should have done.  Prat ought to have been close enough, unless they’d all been scattered to hell and back by whatever magicks had brought them here.

She shook her head solemnly, and he felt the twinge of fear in her.  “You don’t think that means he’s…”  She clearly couldn’t bring herself to say it.

/Dust.  Could be./  Best not to suggest that to her right now, though.  He surprised himself by feeling a mild regret at the possibility himself.  “Could be that it just doesn’t work over the same distances here that it does in our world, yeah?  I wouldn’t worry about it, pet.  Let’s just focus on staying alive for now.”  He set her gently aside and pushed himself reluctantly to his feet, zipping up as he did so.  They should end the siesta, get back to their ramble.  That was, if Illyria ever returned from her “patrol”. 

With a regretful sound, Buffy moved to rise.  He paused in his belting-job to hold out a hand for her.  She took it and let herself be hoisted to her feet, struggled back into her jeans and fastened them, and Christ, she looked wonderfully disheveled and just plain fucked good and proper right now.  And she smelled of him.  Her crimson blouse, dusty and marked all along the back, dipped low so that he could glimpse his bite, standing proudly on her neck, which, just… Christ.  His leavings in her dark trousers, soaking into her pretty pink panties…  His cock was swelling again just looking at her.

“Calm down,” she told him with a knowing look, and threw the leather thong purposefully over her shoulder.  Bent down to grab another water and crack it open, and her jeans were already damp with him, and he could have her back against the wall again in a trice; oh Christ, he was going to get them killed if he couldn’t control himself, but it had been way too fucking long. 

He pressed his palm hard against his prick in desperate admonition, feeling like a dog in heat.  “Slayer, you’re gonna be the death of me.”

She threw a flirtatious glance over her shoulder at him as she sipped from the bottle; just daring him not to explode looking at her, and it was gonna be a long day in hell.  If this place ever had nights, that was. 

Before he could lose his head completely, Illyria broke the tension by falling from the sky like a meteor, corpse and all.  “You must cease your sex-play.  A troop of warriors outfitted much like those we have recently fought approach within a block of this position.  They appear to be a patrol unit of some kind.  We should depart and find a new route.”

End of idyll.

Spike found himself, inanely, composing new odes to Buffy Summers as they resumed their line of march toward the demon-version of Beverly Hills.  It couldn’t be helped, though.  Her blood was singing in his veins, and her just there to make of him a right buggered Ulysses, lusting madly after his own personal siren.  Not to mention he could smell the ambrosia of her continued arousal as the new bond worked its ways with her, attuned her to his body, made the blood thrum between them.  On top of which, he was high as fucking a kite, as well.  He could have taken on whole troops single-handed if it weren’t for the business of sticking to a sodding plan.  Denied in his urges to continue, ah, consummating the linkage between them in a repeated and celebratory manner for the foreseeable future, his now very thoroughly awake demon berserker really just wanted to party right now. 

Truly.  Punk rock style. 

Problem being, they had something to protect now. 

Turned out to be a good thing they'd got the water, because they started to pick up refugees on the trek, along about La Brea.  Garnered a couple more hovering about Cedars Sinai as if the sods were hoping some medicos were still hanging about to help them get along; quite a number moaning about loved ones dying inside, who wouldn’t leave because they couldn’t.  That bit damn near broke Buffy.  No doubt she’d been thinking of her mum.  Hadn’t been his favorite moment either; not only because of Joyce, but because he knew what it was like to pray for a person who oughtn’t to die and was going to without help for it, and Christ, this was most definitely hell. 

Leaving that lot behind had been the worst, but they’d gleaned a few followers.  A few more as they’d gone on.  By the time they neared their goal they had accumulated a round half-dozen ducklings, or nearabouts.  All human, all terrified—of Illyria, of his face and fangs, of their changed circumstances in general—and thank Christ they had the Slayer around to convince the lot that these two demons, at least, were friendlies, or this bitty flock of theirs would have gone like a covey of scared quail; all of them, into the woodwork before it could collect into the ragtag little band it was becoming.

Hell, when had he ever become a sodding Pied Piper, much less an Old One?  Buffy, he understood, but what the bloody hell was going on in this place?

As it was, not a few of the stragglers scarpered right off at the sight of them; probably to their doom, and maybe he should send the sodding demon back under again if this was the result.  Except, they were still running into skirmishes every few blocks.  Six of one and that; no way to win.  /Whatever way the damned I Ching falls, bein’ in full kit or no, somehow there’s a liability.  Best to just pick one and roll with it for the nonce./

As if losing a load of hapless pulsers to the wilderness wasn’t enough, on top of the business with the hospital, and watching Buffy’s despair over their likely fates… Illyria was starting to go on the blink. 

The first time it happened was around La Cienega Park.  They were all taking a breather; them and their crew of, at that point, three spare pulsers.  He and Buffy, it must be said, were doing a damn fine job of not jumping one another’s bones, like very proper and respectable persons who had other things to think about besides shagging the leaves off the trees.  Which would have been, honestly, as much at this point to help her stop thinking about the ones as had gotten away as because the bond was just shimmering between them like an unseen tether made of lust and want and…  And halting wasn’t necessarily the best thing for self-restraint when it came to testing out a new claim.  Though, Spike liked to think he was doing a damn fine job of controlling his instincts, considering he’d never had a claimed mate before; and this was Buffy who’d allowed him to...

He might eventually have dragged her around one of the heat-shocked boles and sod the audience, the way she was looking at him, and definitely considering the way she had to go about smelling aroused as fuck… save that one of the survivors—who, he had to admit, looked a fair bit like Wes—came walking up right then to ask if he could have some of the water.  Which was when the Smurf grabbed at her head as if it were trying to come off, shrieked a bit, shouted, “No, no, no, no, no,” about fifteen times... and then dropped her rotting teddy and began flopping like a boned fish.

Scared the shite out of him, and he didn’t mind admitting it.  “Illyria.  You alright?” 

He recoiled then, because she was draining of color, and…  Bloody fuck.  That was Fred, lying there; bitty brown sundress and all, and Christ, this wasn’t happening. 

“I’m…  Spike?”

Oh, bugger it; she even sounded like Fred, all shaky and uncertain and with the accent.  “What the hell is going on?” he demanded of no one in particular, and yeah, he probably sounded harsh, but it was a real pisser to see a copy of a bird he’d liked so much after she’d died in such a bloody awful way. 

Definitely enough to put him off his libido. 

The bint looked confused as all hell, and this wasn’t supposed to be possible.  /In our dimension, maybe, but…/ 

Hell.  It wasn’t meant to be possible anywhere.  Fred was gone, and no use pretending otherwise.  This was a trick and it was brassing him right the fuck off.  “'No' is sodding right!”

“Is she okay?” Buffy asked, looking mildly concerned.  “Her blue’s all gone.”

Spike realized only then that his fists were clenched at his sides, his arms trembling with fury and frustration.  “I don’t know, Slayer.  She’s gone and turned back into Fred.”  /Not fucking fair, not fucking right, not fucking real.  Just, no./

Buffy looked more than a little thrown at that.  “I thought Fred was dead.”

He might just punch something.  Badly needed to punch something.  “Supposed to be,” he managed shortly; because it hurt like hell to see the chit again, he didn’t mind saying.  Not especially knowing it had to be some sort of cruel trick, or…

If it wasn’t… 

/No.  Don’t dare think it.  Don’t fucking dare, Spike.  Don’t bloody go there!/ 

The Wes lookalike who had triggered all this was standing there with his water bottle, clearly afraid to move.  Spike waved him irritably away.  “Bugger off, boy, before you do any more damage.”

Blinking, the bloodied, tousle-headed creature buggered off. 

Buffy watched him go with a frown, glanced back at Illyria-Fred.  “You think it triggered something because…  What?  That guy looked a little like…”  She hesitated.  “Wesley?”

“Might be.  No idea.”  On impulse he moved to grab the confused Old One by the shoulders.  /Has to be.  Can’t be anything other than…/  “Oi!  Illyria!  Snap out of it!  You can’t be human right now.  Not with all this shite going on, so get your Smurf hair back in place and go to work!”

“Spike?”  Light brown eyes looking up at him, reading nothing but utter confusion.  Sweet Texan twang on her voice.  “What are you…  Why are you mad at me?”  Back to clutching her head and huddling up, and just a whole lot more bloody rocking. 

He damn near dropped her, cast her away from him, hearing it, but it hurt him so bloody badly, made him so ruddy angry that…  “Right.” It was going to pain him like anything to hit someone wearing Fred’s face, and when she snapped back Illyria she would probably turn him into a little pile of cinders, but it needed doing.  He pulled back an arm to slap her… and was forestalled when Buffy caught his arm at full extension. 

“Don’t.”

“She can’t stay like this, Slayer.  She’s vulnerable.”  Christ, his voice was shaking.  He hardened it up fast.  “And if I’ve learned anything about Illyria, it’s that a threat brings her up full-force; all Old One, all the bloody time.”

Buffy’s eyes on his were hard, uncompromising.  “We don’t even know what’s causing it.  If she can even control it.  What’s even happening.”  Her hand tightened on his taut bicep.  “That might not even be Illyria right now.”

/Jesus fuck, I bloody can’t with this./  Thing of it was, if Buffy was in any way right…  No way he could damage that little bird.  Ever. 

At a sodding loss, he lowered his hand slowly with a heavy sigh.  He supposed the Slayer was right.  It could be some kind of outside force.  A spell, or…  Lifted the hand instead to rub it anxiously through his hair.  And with a sigh, gently lowered the chit to the ground.  Turned away, stalked off a short distance to stand, hands behind his head, fingers laced together, aware he was thrumming with tension and not at all sure what the bleeding hell to do about it.  “I mention I hate this dimension?” 

Buffy followed.  Glanced around them as if assessing the place.  “I’ve seen more charming neighborhoods,” she agreed.  She then surprised the hell out of him by laying a gentle hand on his shoulder, as if to soothe him.  Wholly unexpected, that.  It had the effect of smoothing his shoulders as if by magic, and he lowered his arms abruptly to stare at her in amazement. 

With a faint half-smile, she let her hand drop, but only so far as to slide it down his arm, squeeze his hand lightly.  With him still watching her to see what she’d do next—hell, he couldn’t imagine her acting like this with him when he was all fanged out; had barely done so before, in those last few months, when he was being incredibly careful, in her basement—she cocked a brief, appreciative eye his direction.  Squeezed his hand again, her eyes warm.   “Though I have to admit you look nice in sunlight,” she informed him softly.

Oh.  Well.  So, she was taking a page out of his own book to jolly him along.  Bit of innuendo, bit of admiration…  Usually his gambit, when she was feeling stressed or down.  /That how it is now, Slayer?/ 

A’ course, didn’t hurt that she was willing show him he wasn’t the only one having a tough time concentrating on business, no matter how dire, with their blood mingling and the new bond dancing between them on a vibrating umbilicus of want. 

Closing his eyes briefly, Spike clenched his teeth together, feeling a bit like he was coming apart at the seams.  Squeezed her hand back, in thanks, and pulled in a fortifying breath to remind himself he had things to do, damnitall.  Business to attend to, no time to let himself fall apart.  “Thanks, luv,” he told her softly.  “Right nice of you to say.”

“No charge,” she told him softly.   

/Right, then./  “Bloody hell.”  Turning, he headed back for Fred (?).  Slid an arm under each end of the chit and, with an unnecessary grunt, hefted her arse over teakettle to carry her along.  “Right, you lot,” he bellowed to the other three pulsers.  “We’re moving out.”  Lucky for him right now the slight girl weighed less even than Dru had. 

“I’ll take your mace,” Buffy told him, plucking it out of his hand before he could protest.  “I know it’s gonna screw up the image, me all loaded for bear—or demon—while you’re Mr. Unarmed Guy with the wilted maiden in your arms…”

He snorted.  Great sodding load she knew about his image, deep down.

“But you don’t have any free hands right now, and I felt naked for long enough without the stupid axe.  Double-barreled sounds fun for a while.”  She made a belligerent face.  “I could really get down with killing something right now.”

He just grunted and gave over.  He rather knew the feeling.

They were three streets past the park when Illyria came stooping back in to retake her ‘shell’; an occasion she announced with a sharp, “Release me, my pet, or I will be forced to damage you.  I would not wish to do that.”

Spike swore as he half-dropped her back to her feet.  She was definitely not Fred anymore.  Freakish cobalt eyes, indigo forehead, the works.  The swooping, half-terrifying, barely-to-be-whispered hope that Fred might somehow have returned to them sputtered, died a-borning, and his dead heart clenched with it.  “Welcome back, Big Blue,” he greeted her dryly. 

Christ, it hurt to be right. 

“I have been invaded.” 

“Something sure happened.”

“It was uncomfortable.”

“I’ll wager it was.  You should try not to let it happen again.  It makes you vulnerable out here.”  /Never be human again.  Fred’s gone and you bleeding knew it, you nancy./

“I will endeavor.”  The overbright eyes jerked around, seeking.  “Where is Wes?”

/Oh, fucking…/  “He’s dead, Illyria.  You’re gonna have to let it go.  I can’t be bothered with carrying a corpse around…”

Without another word their bonus demigod turned and marched off the way they had come, clearly intent on retrieving her prize. 

Fuck.

Upon her return to their growing column the Leather Queen took point, cadaver and all, much to the clear chagrin of their accumulated pulsers, and this was going to be a bloody problem, wasn’t it.

The ripening odors of the carcass was like to put him right off of his libido; and that took some bloody doing for a bloke who had just claimed the love of his fucking life, a thing he never thought he might ever get to do in any dimension, and was smelling her right there beside him, wanting him. 

Christing killjoy, that Illyria.  Couldn’t even enjoy the bloody illusion.

Illyria seemed right teed off about her little problem, and determined to keep it from happening again.  Whatever her intentions, however, they didn’t seem to help.  Her bitty identity crisis continued.  She switched over twice more before they began heading seriously uphill, and each transition seemed to take longer to come unstuck.  It was starting to make Spike truly anxious; not a little because each time she bounced back, she always insisted on heading back the way they had come to fetch her fucking pet body. 

He hadn’t realized till she started to go all unstable and shifty on him how much he was depending on Blue’s abilities out here to keep them alive if it came down to a fight, but she was clearly losing her shit in this place.  Thank Christ he had Buffy’s solid presence here with him, or what the bloody fuck would he be doing along about now?

Buffy’s eyes, every time they met his, shared his concern. 

They reached Sunset Boulevard, finally, at what felt like should have been late evening, though he could swear that damned sun hadn’t moved more than an inch or two in that fucking unchanging, sweltering sky.  By quick, unspoken consensus they called a halt there, in the middle of what must have been Will Rogers Park, though of course there weren’t any working fountains to speak of or anything useful like that.  Not at all unexpected, since every city water fountain and the like along the way had had no water in it, and seemed stained with some sort of thick, dark liquid sludge that smelled of sulfur and rot. 

No reason to think things would get better on a higher water table.  /Fare the well, San Fernando Aquifer./

The seven spare humans they’d acquired by that point sort of threw themselves down in an abandonment of exhaustion, directly into the remains of the pond in the center of the park, reveling in the lukewarm algae and clearly uncaring that they were likely to get salmonella or some shite if they happened to get any of it in their mouths.  Buffy did a bit of splashing herself, truth be told, and Spike supposed he couldn’t particularly blame her.  The place was so sodding hot that all the bloody grass in the place had gone brown already, what there was of it.  Large stretches of the park even sported streaks of something that looked suspiciously like ash and old cinders. 

Well, any road, the place was cooler than any other stopping point.  A few desiccated palm trees for shade, this pond-y bit.  The flock seemed grateful.  The last few water bottles were passed around.  The groaning commenced. 

“We’re in trouble,” Buffy pointed out unnecessarily, swiping at her newly-dampened forehead with one dust-streaked arm.  Spike would never in this life tell her that it had the effect of marking her face all over again with smudges.  Christ, she was gorgeous.  “I don’t think we’re ever going to get cover of darkness here… though I guess that might be a good thing in a dimension like this.  We’ve got too many civilians to protect if we get rushed, and we’re out of supplies.”

Spike glanced sourly over at the gaggle of gasping pulsers making water angels in four inches of overwarm bilgewater.  In the old days he’d have collected them for snackies and maybe, if he took to one, a minion for a mo’ till he tired of the prat.  Now he was busy doing the right thing, trying to save the fools.  And yeah, they had been lucky so far.  Just a few light skirmishes; nothing major.  But their luck had to change soon, right?

Well, best to get on as they had been till then, he supposed.  “Next order of business is find them some water, yeah?  See if we can scrounge something edible, even?”

Buffy sighed and shook out her shoulders wearily.  “I’m starving,” she admitted.  “That sandwich at the airport was forever ago.  Wish I’d kept my churro.”

He winced and threw an arm over her shoulder.  “You look knackered, luv.”

“I’ll live.”  She glanced up at him, smiling a little.  “For some reason you look like you could wrestle a tiger.”

“Hardly fair, is it.”  He shook his head.  “If I could give you back some of what I got, I would.”  /Fuck.  Look at her, you git./  “It was probably terrible timing, Buffy, seeing as it looks like you lot’ll be on short rations for a spell.”

“Yeah, well…”  She startled him anew when she closed her eyes against his shoulder and relaxed briefly but absolutely against his side.  “I don’t regret it.  This way if anything happens…”

As if her words had called down the thunder, a loud screech resounded from the heavens.  They jerked apart and brandished their weapons skyward, prepared for battle and armed with a new surge of adrenaline…

And saw a dragon bearing down on them, shrieking like a runaway steam engine as it barreled in for the kill.  /Hell./

“Doesn’t that look like the one…”

“Does, doesn’t it?”  He set himself, taking back the mace she handed him.  “You ready?”

“You know it.” 

It swooped low over their heads.  They did their best to strike at it, while the cowering humans scattered behind them, streaming tepid water and bits of algae and screaming bloody murder.  Illyria came up behind them, deadly supernatural fists at the ready.

Buffy’s left shoulder nudged his right.  “You think it found us by scent?”

“All too bloody likely.”  /Which means the poofter is probably…/  The last they’d seen of his heroic tosser of a grandsire, he’d been heading off after this thing, to take it down.  Clearly, he’d been bloody well unsuccessful.

The wing’ed thing swooped again, coming back in for the kill.  One talon grazed Spike’s shoulder before he could react to swing; but strangely, it was the blunt side of the digit and not the point.  He ducked and tried for another stab, saw Illyria doing the same beside him, though without a weapon her deadly fists had not the reach to manage a killing blow…

“No, wait!  Don’t kill it!”

At Buffy’s unexpected shout, Spike checked himself mid-swing.  “Slayer, what the…”

Hostilities briefly suspended, the thing pulled up to sort of hang about awkwardly above them.  Illyria joined Spike in turning on the Slayer, who had very obviously lost her sodding mind. 

Buffy, though, was watching the hovering monster with an odd expression on her face.  “No, I know, but…  I don’t think it’s here to kill us.”

Alright, that was just…  “What the buggering hell brought you to that conclusion, Buffy?  It looks pretty lethal to me at mo’…”

She shook her head and lowered her axe like a madwoman.  “It came with a message.  It wants one of us to go with it.”

“You’ve gone barmy.”  Spike was thoroughly convinced of his pronouncement.

“Maybe.  Probably, but…”

Above them, the creature began to circle lazily in a clear indication of intent to land.  At which point, to Spike’s stunned amazement, Buffy slapped a palm to his chest and pushed him back to make room for the fucking thing.  “Slayer, what in the name of…”

“The demon-slayer is correct,” Illyria intoned suddenly from Buffy’s other side.  “This beast is currently inoffensive.  It comes to parley and has no intent to harm.”

/Well… hell./

The dragon had settled to earth before them; a massive creature, perhaps thirty fucking feet in length or some sodding thing.  Great lump of galvanic flesh and wings and muscle; could kill every single damned one of them with a twitch of that ruddy massive tail, might be able to breathe fire for all he fucking knew, if it really was the same one and that battle was any indication.  And yet it just sat there eyeing them like a damned collie or somesuch, eyes intent and earnest.  “So, what the bloody fuck does it want?  We supposed to pull a thorn from its soddin’ paw, like a modern-day Androcles?  Only that’s no bleedin’ lion, yeah?”

Buffy frowned beside him.  “Who’s Androc…”

“Never mind, pet.  I just meant, what’s the thing’s agenda?  And how the hell are we supposed to figure it out, if it can’t talk?”

Buffy shook her head a little as if she’d got water in her ear or something.  The movement dragged Spike’s gaze briefly away from the dangerous tableau, and…  /Fuck./  Her eyes, he only now noticed, were cloudy; hazel rather than their usual bright emerald; and they seemed exceedingly distant, like she was tuned into something he couldn’t rightly hear.  “Watch.  It’s…  I think it’s trying to communicate…”

What the bleeding hell was happening to his Slayer?  She’d gone directly off her sodding trolley; and at the worst possible fucking time.  “You okay, luv?  Is the damn thing… doing something to you, or…”

Buffy shook her head again.  “No, but it’s like…  There’s this urgency in my brain.  It’s beating at me like a hammer or something.  It says we need to…  I don’t know.  Pay attention.  That this moment’s important.”  Her eyes cleared and she straightened, filled with a sudden intensity.  “Look!”

He turned his gaze back to the beast, frowning in utter confusion.  “What’s it doing?”

Illyria, too, seemed to have altered her focus beside him.  She tilted her head in that way she had that meant she was studying something beneath her; like a scientist cataloging behavior of ants who’d suddenly started acting like bees.  “It appears to be indicating a wish for a rider.”

Spike stared at the dragon.  It was inching its head along the ground toward them in the most conciliating manner imaginable; had it practically flattened to the dirt as it scooted along in their direction, every tuft of hide and horny projection lowered damn near parallel to the soil.  “Well.  That’s just bloody perfect, innit.  How many times in your life you get offered a spin in the air by a dirty great flying lizard, yeah?”  He stepped back a bit to avoid getting kissed by the scaly monstrosity.  “Any road, don’t know which of us it wants, but it’s not as if we have to take it up on it.  Not that I want to brass the thing off, but…”

Buffy still had that note in her voice; that quality that made a shiver work its way up his spine.  “It wants you,” she murmured.  “And I think the quicker you go, the quicker it’ll leave us alone, and the faster you’ll come back…”

Spike gaped at her, aghast.  “Are you off your fucking bird, Buffy?”

She shook her head, oddly slowly.  “No, I don’t think I am.”

This was a bad dream.  Or a strange test.  Or some sort of bloody bizarre torment devised by the rulers of this dimension, or…

The dragon huffed at him, hot breath wafting through his filthy jeans to tickle his legs in a highly unpleasant manner.  Any hotter and the thing might singe off his leg hair.  Christ. 

Then it, no shit, nudged his boot lightly with its horny beak.

Fuck.

“Illyria and I’ll stay with them.  Keep them safe till you get back…”

Spike skipped back a little from the insistent monster.  “Buffy, you’re not making a single sodding bit of sense; can you hear yourself?”  He wasn’t going to say it aloud, but for one fucking thing, they couldn’t count on Illyria right now to hold up her end on a sodding thing.  To make matters worse, the Old One didn’t know his Slayer from Eve.  If she went off half-cocked on Buffy without him about, and the whole operation was like to go tits-up in an instant.

Verdant eyes found his, earnest and frighteningly certain.  “Spike… it’s not gonna take no for an answer.”

As if to illustrate her words, the dragon nudged close again; peaceful but relentless.  And caught a nip of his trousers in its mouth, for fucksake.  “Jesus!  What the fuck is going on here?  Buffy, we don’t know who sent it or why.  Our business is keepin’ these soddin’ pulsers safe, not findin’ out what the hell this thing wants!  I can’t just go wander off with some…  Some random buggerin’ dragon when we have people to protect here…”

“I’ve got them.”

How the hell could she sound so fucking blasé about this?

“You don’t understand,” Buffy whispered to him.  “It’s like a pulse in my head.  This is supposed to happen…”

She was possessed.  The fucking dragon was in her mind—or some bloody thing was—and she needed to come out of it.  Right fucking now. 

He tried to shake her.  Lifted his fist to punch her, even.  Didn’t want to, but he was terrified he was losing her to something.  ‘Cept… he didn’t get nearly that far.  Instead, her hand caught his.  Lowered it.  And, of all things, she pried his fingers open, kissed the center of his palm.  “Trust me, Spike.”

It broke something in him.  “Buffy…  Oh, bloody hell, luv, please.  Snap out of it.  Whatever it is…”

She was the center of his universe when she met his eyes.  “I don’t know why.  But it’s necessary.”

No.  Just no.  This wasn’t right, and it wasn’t happening. 

He reached out; on the blood this time.  Felt for her along their new linkage.  Why he hadn’t thought of this before was beyond him, save that it was new enough that he’d gone first for the familiar; but if she was being held somehow—held away from him—he should be able to get a grasp on her with the claim, one-sided as it was.  They had always had the most astounding physical connection, and this was part of it.  Now, with her touching him, he should be able to manage it no matter what might be standing in the way.  The blood-bond was, after all, something visceral and real and controllable.  He could use it to find his way, hand-over-metaphorical-hand to the center of her, where her heart was now bound inextricably to his life-force, and help her to shake off whatever was trying right now to use her or…

Something massively powerful shouldered him off, knocked him aside as it roared through her; like a bright, insane cyclone.  And in that brief instant, light filled him.  Just the briefest corner of the certainty she must be feeling. 

His game face fled instantly, his demon submerged utterly as if it had gone into hiding.  He stared back at Buffy in amazement, his human guise awed.  “Oh.”

“Yeah,” she whispered.

“Oh,” he repeated again, dumbly.  “I’m s’posed to… do this.”

“Yeah,” she answered, and lifted her hand to tug his face down to hers.  “Come back to me soon?”

“Yeah.”  He felt drunk; more so than he ever had.  Staggered; and yet never so upright as he did in this moment.  “Right.  Back soonest, pet.  You know I’d never leave you long.”

Her lips found his.  Pulled him into a kiss that was both loving and bracing; a setting of him on his paths.  “I know.  Only when you have to.”  As she pushed him away, a knowing smile touched her incomparable mouth and eyes.  “Go on.  I’ll take the next dragon out.”

“Okay, yeah.”  He felt like he was talking through a kind of wet muslin had settled over his brain as he turned, hand dropping reluctantly from her face.  “Right, then.  Keep the kiddies safe for us, pet.”

“Obviously.”

“You wish to depart with the beast?” Illyria demanded coldly.  She sounded as surprised as she ever got.

“Looks that way.  Will you help Buffy take care of our bitty flock, Queen Bee?”

The Blue Meanie was clearly displeased, but she did not interfere as he mounted up on the back of the dragon’s lowered skull.  “You have been hijacked by an outside entity to act in Their interests.  It is not the first time you have bowed to Their importunings, but it is the first time you have been in direct contact with Their messages.  It is disconcerting that a once-lower-being could be reached directly in this dimension.  I must consider this.”  And chill, ultramarine eyes turned to Buffy, a strange, almost reptilian consideration touching them.  “You are interesting, demon-slayer.  You have been invested with a power, here, which I had not considered.”

“Okay?”  Buffy’s voice still sounded distant, off.  As well she might, with all that… whatever it was that was flowing through her. 

The sense of purpose flooding Spike now filled him with equal urgency.  “Well… I’m off.  See you when I get back, luv?”

Buffy’s eyes cleared briefly, and she turned her radiant smile on him.  “Don’t be gone long, William.”

He shivered at the sound of his given name on her lips. 

And then he was rising above the skeletal trees, with the loud, slow downdraft of flapping wings in a dusty whirl around him.

The ground, and his flock, dropped away.  His mate dwindled to a speck below.

It wasn’t until she vanished from his sight that the insanity cleared from his head and he started to curse again.  ‘Course, by then it wasn’t as if he could do a fucking thing about it but settle in for the ride.

***



I'm horrible.
But there are reasons.  I swear.

I plead the fifth.

Chapter Text

B:

/No./  What the hell even was that?  What the hell was going on?  “Did he just… leave?  Did I just tell him to leave?”

“You have been used.”

The Old One was eyeing her with chill interest.  It was almost as unnerving as the feeling inside of her; like she had been filled with some kind of insane energy, and it had been abruptly removed, leaving her empty and shaking.  “What...  Who…”

“You are unexpected.”

“Okay?”

The shrewd, glittering gaze took her in over crossed arms.  “I understand why he wishes to mate with you.  You are as light to a moth.  He has no control over this.  You conduct the Power which has drawn him to your side.”  Then Xena the Warrior Hellgod stepped back to regard Buffy with something that might even have been… regret.  “His interest in my well-being is due in part to my strength, for he is attracted to strength, and his demon to my power; but like all the rest his regard is largely built upon his affection for my shell.”  A strange, predatory head-tilt.  “Always, the shell.  So much power and deference, afforded to such a weak container…”  Turning, Illyria wandered off again, like a completely useless wierdo.

/Okay, helpful, much?/ 

Buffy had less than zero time to deal with whatever the hell the caged Old One was ranting about.  She needed to get Spike back and pronto.  This was all nuts.  Just crazypants nutso stuff and none of it made sense… but she could feel him getting further and further away from her with every second, and that was one hundred percent of the not-okay. 

What was even going on today?  She felt like part of her should have been shouting in her own face a minute ago, or into his.  Pulling him back by his shirt; screaming, even… but it had been like she couldn’t even hear herself over the…  The…

It had been like being filled with a tsunami of bizarre certainty that had taken over her every other impulse; a formless, omnipresent light like the kind she encountered in her Slayer dreams, only it had emanated from inside herself.  She had been helpless to ignore it.  It was impossible to disobey the summons it gave her, and like last night in Spike’s apartment it had been as if words had just popped out of her face…

/Oh.  Oh God./

“You have been used.”

/By what though?  By who?/ 

“You have been hijacked by an outside entity to act in Their interests…”

/Ohmygod./  Whatever it had been, it had used her to get to Spike.  She needed to fix this.  And she hadn’t even been able to stop it, the thrumming in her head had been so stupidly loud. 

She needed to fix this.  She needed to go after him, find him somehow before that stupid dragon took him god knew where and did god knew what to him because she had stupidly allowed some… entity to take her over here in this hellhole and…

The memory of Spike’s gaze haunted her; terrified for her.  “Snap out of it!” 

/Oh God…/

The love, the worry in his eyes, as always, nearly bowled her over.  And then…

/I sent him away.  I always send him away, to go try to die for me.  And this time I don’t even know why, or what…/

Just, no.  There was just no way she was going to lose him now.

Not now.  “Illyria.  Get them under cover.  I’ll be back as soon as I can.  I’ve got to go find Spike; before I lose sight of that thing.”  The dragon was still visible; a seagull-sized blip on the scarlet-ocher eastern horizon.

“You’re leaving?  You’re leaving us?  He told you to stay!”  The incredulously outraged voice was that of Jeremy Johns, one of the more recent civilians they’d picked up.  He seemed an okay enough guy; even decently capable.  Rattled right now, of course, like everyone; and because of that he had quickly become totally enamored of Spike.  Like, total man-crush. 

Not that she blamed him.  “I won’t be gone long.  I have to bring him back.”

“But he ordered you to stay!”

“Look!”  She swung around to meet the dude, eyes blazing.  “You’re new, so I’m going to ignore that you said that, because you don’t know how things work around here, but Spike and I are partners.  He doesn’t order me around.  We give each other advice based on who’s got the best go-to at the time.  That person’s the general.  He’s been in charge here because he has the demon know-how, but most of the time I’m his go-to.  Got it?”

Johns shrank back, looking stunned at her expression, her vehemence.  “Now, I’m going to go get my guy, because he and I have been fighting side-by-side since before you ever even heard of demons, and I’d sell you all over in a second to save him.  You obey Illyria or you all die.  Got it?”

Johns stared back at her, his cohorts looking nauseous behind him.  “But…  She’s nuts!  She’s got that weird obsession with that fucking body, and she keeps turning into that scared woman...”

“If she does it again, take care of her till she turns blue again.”  Turning, Buffy tightened her grip on the axe and loped off without another word.

Spike really had been restraining himself by not eating some of them.

***

B:

She got rid of the leather thong around her neck first thing.  She didn’t need it in her way, and the fiction was obviously no longer necessary now she was on her own. 

Her survival no longer depended on theater, but on stealth.  She had to do her best not to be seen… and she had to be quietly lethal when she was seen.  Accordingly, she dodged and darted her way back through the city with dogged speed, more or less the way they’d come, eyes always on the path the dragon had taken when it had carried off her lover and stopping only to keep to cover.  It was a hellish irony to be marching back over the same eleven-plus miles she had just covered in this damn oven, but this place was probably hell for a reason, and she didn’t have time to feel sorry for herself. 

At least she knew the tricks of the place now.  Stick to the shadows of buildings.  Avoid patrols of demon soldiers and lone predators; ignore the sounds of suffering all around her.  She couldn’t do anything about them anyway, and she had a mission.  Couldn’t let anything distract her from said mission, no matter how much it pained her to pass by the agonies, the potential deaths of humans along her line of march.  Mostly she just had to hope she didn’t run across anything that sniffed her out and thought she, too, smelled tasty, or wanted to make her their own personal slave. 

She was exhausted.  She felt like she hadn’t slept in days—which to be fair, according to her bio-clock she hadn’t; not since whatever power nap she’d gotten on the plane, and what had passed for crap sleep in that shitty Florentine hotel—and she was freaking starving.  Also, the last water she’d had had been a couple hours ago.  But, she had been worse off earlier.  She’d live.  Even though she was starting to wonder about her staying power in this dimension.  She felt different here; more human.  Like maybe something about being here was accenting the parts of her that were solely human, rather than the parts that had been infused with demon or whatever; the parts that had been strengthened by her multiple deaths.  Which seemed kind of back-assward, considering that if she was going to spend time in a demon dimension, one might think it would be the demon-y bits of her that would be accentuated; but maybe not? 

Sans the high that was Spike’s direct presence, perking in her blood like a drug, she didn’t really feel like herself right now.  Not super weak, like she had when she had been through the Cruciamentum, at least, and maybe some of that had a little to do with having done that bonding thing with Spike.  /And, you know, all the constant heat and sun and the low rations./  But her instincts, her inner, Slayer-y sense of self told her plainly that there was more to it than than blood-loss or hunger or weariness.  She had been through worse; lost more blood, been wearier, and survived to fight on with less of a physical toll. 

No.  This was something otherworldly.  Something niggling and… different.

For one thing, the few little wounds she had taken during their various skirmishes should have healed by now.  They were all shallow.  And they were healing, but just… well.  A hair slower than normal.  Like, they were closed… but they should totally be gone by this point.  And for another…

The sex had been very much wanted, but it had been, due to circumstance and in the end, mutual preference, somewhat sudden; and thus mildly rough.  Nothing unusual in that from a Spike-and-Buffy perspective, and normally she wouldn’t be feeling it past an hour, if that, no matter how long she had been on, ah, bread and water as it were.  However… their little assignation had been hours ago.  More than half a day, and she was still a little sore.  That was just really not of the norm for her. 

/I’ll take it/ she reminded herself grimly as she dodged from the shadow of one building to the next.  For one thing, it had been way too incredibly long since her body had felt so wonderfully used.  Pretty much since…  Well, Spike, and thus despite the circumstances, her nice little swoosh of endorphins was making it kind of tough for her to feel super concerned about anything, really, beyond the whole getting him back next to her stat.  Which was not necessarily of the good, and she needed to keep her head in the game and stop feeling like she’d already ‘won’, because she really was feeling just a hair too relaxed for her own good right now. 

Luckily that was just one level.  Separation-worry kept her alert.  And, well… the physical, ah, reminders helped with the edginess that had plagued her ever since their little alleyway encounter; the feeling that really, in the grand scheme of things, they should have thereafter devoted, oh, say, the next twenty-four hours straight to some continuous, serious sexual rediscovery.  Boy howdy.  And not just because she had missed him like woah, but because that whole blood-link thing thrumming between them was like some kind of crazed magnet that somehow, impossibly, made her even more nuts for him. 

That, by the way, was a thing she wouldn’t have thought it was possible before.  And while not necessarily a bad thing on a normal day, right now…  /Not as much fun when you can’t, you know, act on it… because some weird force took you over and used you to send him off on some weird, wild goose-chase on a dragon!

She was going to get him back.  And then…

Jumping his bones on the regular with that in between them was going to be pretty A-OK in her book.  As if Spike needed any bonus material to make getting down with him even better than it already was.    

/Stop wool-gathering about sex and focus, Buffy./  It didn’t matter if she was not at full Slayer-healing-strength in this dimension.  Being thirsty and hungry and tired—and let’s not forget horny—didn’t matter.  None of it mattered, really.  What mattered was the mission.  She had a job to do and she would do it.  She would just have to adapt.  Which meant taking care of business so that she could complete said mission.

Somewhere back along about San Vincente, near the hospital, she broke into some little market that had only one demon minding the store, killed the thing, stole some water and something that looked vaguely like edible food; stuffed it all in a knapsack that she thought for sure was made out of some kind of creepy hide, but beggars couldn’t be choosers and she couldn’t afford to end up dehydrated again.  It would slow the mission. 

By that point she was relying entirely on gut instinct, since her last sighting of the dragon had been about a half-hour after she’d left camp, winging away down just south of east toward, for all she knew, Wolfram and Hart or some lair somewhere to eat her vamp.  Clearly somewhere Downtown, before it had vanished in the orange haze. 

Thank god she’d let Spike bite her.  He hadn’t been lying when he’d said that it would create a bond or a link or whatever between them.  It felt super-similar to the draw she had always felt with Angel.  More immediate, of course, since it was so recent—and, you know, she hadn’t died since it happened—and more visceral.  More… sensual.  Probably because her connection with Spike was so utterly physical.  But she could sense him in the same way; feel that he was far away from her, and could zone in on a general direction.  Could practically point toward him; and she knew for a fact right now that he was still alive. 

That helped.  Helped to keep her from going crazy as she made tracks in the direction the linkage drew her.

Clearly blood-bonds did work in this dimension, distances be damned.  She didn’t even want to think about what that meant for Angel right now; didn’t want to think about the abrupt vanishment of her link to her ex when they had first arrived here.  She had more pressing concerns at the moment.  Like putting one foot in front of the other and avoiding getting herself killed before she could find Spike and rescue him from whatever. 

/Why am I always having to save your ass?/

***

S: 

Being carried about by a demonic dragon like some sodding faerie-tale princess was bad enough.  Hovering hundreds of feet above a burning Los Angeles was worse.  A fall like that would possibly kill even a vampire tough as he, should he happen to land in some burning, meteor-ridden wreckage.  Then there was the whole question of where the thing was taking him. 

Of course, should he struggle he’d just be dooming himself, so he had to just go with it.  After all, it wasn’t like he particularly wanted to try to time a jump off the bloody thing’s neck onto the top of a sodding skyscraper as they swept along. 

Memories still tickled his mind.  That light, flooding him from touching his link with Buffy.  The certitude of it all.  ‘Everything will be fine.  This is right’ and all that rot.   

Likely story.  Buggerin’ dragon was probably was taking him off somewhere to eat him, and it hypnotized all its meals this way. 

Buffy was somewhere behind him, going mad over it.  He could feel her, which didn’t help, of course.  Made him feel a right git for letting himself be carried off like that, but what could he do?  He’d been thralled or some damned thing.  Recognized it well enough.  Been pushed about in that way often enough, after all, by Dru.

The excuse didn’t make him feel any better, though.  Or any less vulnerable, swinging about loosely on the beast’s neck and clinging to horny projections for his unlife as they dove and glided over the city, dodging the occasional attack from other wing’ed things.  If he had had a working heart, it would have stopped a dozen times during that reckless, insane career of a flight.

Least the exercise had his sodding lazy git of a demon clawing back up to the surface again.  Prat. 

It was the hell of a thing to realize he was finally able to access the whole of his inner monster once more; at will, now.  Bit late to the party, learning the trick of it, but…  /Just have to psyche the bugger out, as it were./ 

Had taken a long day in hell for training wheels; and no doubt, making an honest demon of the cad so as he could set a bit of a handle to his wild-side.  All he had to do now was grab on tight to the link between himself and his love, and he could tug up the sot any old time he wanted.  Convenient, if a bit slippery still, here and there.

He practiced as they flew, as he had little else to do but hang on and hope he didn’t dust.

It was kind of incredible to be able to make himself whole again whenever he wished.  Made him all the more thunderstruck to be leaving his mate; now of all times.  She who loved all of him, and had set him so inexplicably free.  That moment, in the battle behind the Hyperion, with Buffy looking at him with shining eyes as if she were proud of him, of all sodding things—as if she’d continue to be proud, either way—and telling him she wanted the fucking thing back, if he could find it…

That had been one of the most crystalline, incredible, and indescribable moments of his existence.  He had thought nothing would ever beat it.  Certainly nothing ever had before then, though it had had competition since.  But in knowing that he not only had her permission but her blessing; that she truly wanted him, whole and with no part of him bound away, was beyond any words he knew in any language to describe it. 

He hadn’t even known till that moment how much he himself had participated in keeping his wild half buried till he’d cut the bugger loose to sit up beside his poncy wee soul.  Course, upon resumption of relations he found the sod wasn’t like he used to be anymore.  Of course, he wouldn’t be the same happy-go-lucky demon he’d had once been, burdened as he was with the soul’s conscience and a lot of human-style inhibitions.  There’d be a bit of negotiating every day on that rot, Spike supposed… but at least his demonic nature, held back before only by desperate, suicidal guilt from being the vicious, trammeled, angry thing it should have been at having been voluntarily bound, wasn’t resentful; nor yet angry.  Wasn’t lashing out.  It stretched happily at its having been freed; relaxed and mated and pleased as hell. 

And all this, only because Buffy wanted it.  If his Slayer hadn’t been the one to say, ‘Come on back, then’, the sod would’ve stayed hidden, quavering in the dark, and never seen the low light of evening again.

Spike had thought that by going off to retrieve the bloody soul, the thing would eclipse his demon; as it had for Angelus.  It had been, after all, what he’d wanted.  Even the demon had wanted it by then; wanted to flay itself in obeisance for doing that which was unforgivable.  He had offended the one to whom he had given his allegiance, wholly.  He’d spilled blood and named it hers.  Even if she had never claimed it, even if she left the leash of his being dragging in the dust and ever called it worthless as excrement… still it belonged to her.  And then, against all the laws of his being, his kind… he had raised his hand to the one who owned him. 

If he must eclipse himself, destroy himself in penance, why not do as had been done to his grandsire?  In the end, if he’d hurt her as badly.  Why oughtn’t he?

But… the demon had remained; to beweep his outcast state, and trouble deaf heaven and all that rot.  And he’d been able to find the sod, when needed, that once back in Sunnyhell.  It had taken serious fucking effort, of course, to dig the bounder out and set him anything like up front even for a moment; even for the joy of combat.  And yeah, the wanker had relished the moment, of course, as a chance to take out his sodding aggressions, but it had been as much an exercise in self-despite as anything, after which he’d immediately sunk again into misery and regret.  If he’d ever been anything like a proper demon and not just a louder, more brash reflection of his old, nancy self, here was the proving moment.

All Spikey had ever really done was protest too sodding much.

One might think having the soul had destroyed his ability to be a right demon, but no.  That had happened long since.  It was Buffy had done that.  Loving Buffy.  All the soul had done was help him to recognize everything.  What he had done.  What she had done.  What they’d done to each other, and what they could have been if they’d had half a working fucking heart in between them.  And all that in technicolor, without the roar of constant, inchoate, sensate information that drove the demon ever and impulsively on in search of belonging, of mated wholeness, of safety and home, and... 

/In the quiet of the soul lies madness, sometimes, Willie-boy./

Turned out… maybe the magick of the sodding cave and that bastard Lloyd wasn’t as set in stone as Lloyd himself.  He’d thought he’d killed his inner bugger and could move on.  Be what he’d thought Buffy wanted him to be; the antithesis of everything he’d striven to be for the greater part of his existence.  Self-destruction as penance, since slow reformation hadn’t been the ticket, in the end.  /But I didn’t destroy a sodding thing, did I, then?  Just retreated like a bloody coward.  As much a one as my bleedin’ grandsire…/ 

He’d always wondered if it was perhaps as much personal will as anything that bound Angelus beneath his poncy grandsire’s new persona.  ‘Angel’ was a construct, no matter how heartily the git inhabited the thing by now.  And anyway, Spike knew his sire-in-all-but-deed.  Angel as he was now feared his demon; would help the soul fight to keep the sod under wraps.  He was a personality built between the Scylla of his demon’s bound and starving, gnashing, many-headed rage, and the black-hole-pit, the Charybdis of his first life.  Whatever ‘Angel’ was now, it was a man built on terror and guilt more than out of any positive attribute; a creature made out of so many ‘must nots’ rather than ‘I am’s. 

/Not that I’m much better.  I know what it’s like to start building up a new identity from scratch, yeah?  To look on her and…/

Thing was, Spike had never thought the business with his own hard-won, chosen soul would be the same… but perhaps it was.  Current evidence seemed in keeping with that hypothesis.  /No sop to the ego to find out you’ve turned out so sodding much like your elder, after spending twenty years trying to live up to the prick, and then a hundred years trying to find your own bloody road./  But here he was; a composite of William Pratt and William the Bloody, collaborating to keep the latter submerged once the former had been brought into the limelight.

Until. 

Hell.  Finding that Buffy did not hate that part of him had been a revelation in and of itself.  That she loved the blighter enough not only to ask the demon back but to mate him knowing full well what he was, call him up while they shagged, look at him the way she had… and then spend the day with him the way they had?  Christ, she’d caressed him, touched him willingly in game face, comforted him when he was in pain while he was all-out be-demoned and acting a right vicious, impulsive wreck. 

And she’d been understanding about his shortcomings the entire fucking time.

What an impossible, unlooked-for gift.  Whatever she had done to him in the last twenty-four hours had given him permission to do… something.  He wasn’t sure what.  Shake some yoke, slip some shackles inside himself since last night’s battle; to give over grimly toiling away in chains somewhere beneath the surface of his being with only the visage showing, as ever. 

Now it was as if he could prod that part of himself; call him up whenever he needed him.   Collaborate, rather.  It was a wonder.  No more submersion out of some terrible sense of horror and regret.  Perhaps that had been half the reason for all the quiet, there, for a bit.  /Maybe given the divine grace of Buffy’s forgiveness—of her love, even—and then a sort of curative of reunion into my full being, the bastard’s been so overwrought, or so grateful to finally be able to rest or somesuch that it had had to have a nice little healing nap./

/Did you process, then?  Alright, is it?  Good on you; now stay awake, here on in, yeah?  We’ve shite to do./  For one thing, he was honestly shocked to find that the dragon, with a bit of a squawk, had started to spiral down.  And, upon a bit of inspection, a little mental adjustment for aerial perspective…

Hell.  He definitely recognized the building it was honing in on.  “You’re sodding joking!”

It was the Christing lawyers’ nest.

The dragon sort of back-winged into a gap in the necro-tinted glass somewhere at one of the wrecked upper floors.  As it landed it smoothly ducked its shoulder so that he was, of all bloody things, dropped lightly to roll off of it; unfolded automatically out of the tuck-and-roll to come to rest in a gap between a set of offices and a stairway.  Easy as you please.  The beast then sat back and turned its head over its shoulder to start preening its wings like a creature congratulating itself on a job well done, and, just, what the fuck?

Shaking his head, Spike rubbed his shoulders where even a vamp’s muscles could get a bit tense from clinging for dear unlife to a bunch of spines for an hour or what-have-you while dodging about in midair, then pushed through into the demented hellscape version of Wolfram and Hart.  He wished he still had his mace on hand.  That’d be a helpful bit of something to hold onto right now.  Thought of calling out to see if anyone was home, but that seemed a wankerish thing to do, considering what he might bring down on himself if the place wasn’t filled with friendlies.  For instance, what if those Black Thorn pricks had left some of minions alive in here to joust with yours truly?

Wary and alert, he pushed through into the closest open space.  It was littered with debris from what looked like a bloody earthquake; a broken column here, a fallen concrete buttress there.  He stepped over a beam… and stopped dead. 

Some berk was lying in a crumpled heap on the floor in the middle of the vast room, in a circle of what looked like jars and books.  The smell of blood was all about him, some fresh and some old.  Occasionally the figure writhed a smidge, looking to be in quite a bit of agony.  Interesting.

He didn’t recognize the person at first.  /Draconic lunch, perhaps?  And it invited me all the way back across the bleeding city to join in?/

Except…  There was something oddly familiar about the smell of the busted-up sod.  Familiar, if at the same time not.  It bore investigation. 

He took a single step closer, drawn by his idiot curiosity.  Really what he should be doing is leaving right quick, to head back to Buffy and his pulsers, but surely one swift glance wouldn’t hurt, yeah?  /Came all this way./

A low, pained moan put paid to every thought of a swift departure, and sent a chill through him that would have stopped his heart if the thing hadn’t already quit beating a century and change back. 

That was, sod it all, a thoroughly familiar noise, and it brought an answering groan to his own lips.  “Bloody Angel.  What the hell happened to you?” 

No response, and why the hell hadn’t his grandsire felt him coming? 

Now then; for that matter, why hadn’t he felt Angel?  He hadn’t felt the tingle in his short hairs that said ‘family’ at all, actually; nor yet that heavy weight the ponce always brought to bear on his being whenever he came near.  “Oi!  Prat!  What’s got you so drained you can’t even get up?”

More writhing. 

With a grunt, Spike moved a bit closer to regard the broken mass that was his nest-sire, looked down to regard the man with interest.  Ol’ Broodypants looked to be in a hell of a lot of pain, which, to be fair, was a bit of alright by him.  “What’s goin’ on, Peaches?  Why're you just lyin about?”  He frowned then as he noted that Angel was actually, it seemed, pillowed on some sort of lightly-glowing cushion of what looked like magicks, an inch or two above the floor. 

He also looked thoroughly twisted up, and smelled of pungent herbs and spellwork.  It drew a grunt from Spike.  Christ, that offended the nose.  And hell; why’d the prat's blood smell all off, like?  “You just come over all floaty this morning?  And anyway, what got its teeth in you?”

Angel groaned soundlessly at him.  Twitched a little.  Scrabbled with one hand at the broken and buckled floor.  Even that movement caused him to exhale; a high whistle of sheer agony.

More interestingly, not one other bit of him moved a hair from where he lay crumpled just above the dusty surface like a ruin.   

Well, hell.  “Don’t mind sayin’ you look bloody awful.”

His grandsire winced and let out a slow, gasping sort of breath.  “I jumped… off a building.  Broke… my back… my legs…  Wrist.”

Spike grunted and bent over a little to inspect the git.  “That’s unfortunate.  Should take you, what?  Couple of days to get over that?”  He reconsidered then, remembering that bloody awful organ and those endless months bound to that fucking wheelchair.  “Maybe longer, if there aren’t enough rats in this dimension…”

“Not… a vampire here.  Human… again.”

It set Spike back on his heels with a nasty shock, though he didn’t precisely wish to betray how hard the news had struck him.  /Well, that’s somewhat more unfortunate, yeah?  And definitely unexpected./  Though, it did explain the hell of a lot.  “What the bloody hell?”

“Don’t know.  Maybe… Senior Partners… messing with me.”

Spike squatted on his boots, considering that.  Answered the one great hovering question as to why Buffy had lost the feel of Angel’s bond the second they’d hit this dimension.  Also explained his inability to sense his relative when he stepped into the room; not to mention the odd smell of the blood, the off-kilter scent of the sod’s all-too-human bod.  All of it.  /Huh./  “Well.  Reckon it’s going to take you a helluva lot longer to heal, then.” 

Angel threw him a disgusted look through his anguish; one that said, essentially, ‘Oh, ya think?’

Something struck Spike then.  A realization.  “So, what?  You sent the bleedin' dragon to fetch me to you?  I’m guessing you two are fast friends or summat?”

“Been bringing me… food.  Wes’ ghost is here.  Got it to… bring up some… books to do… incantations.  Help… some healing… spells.  Searching for… specific one.  Thought you could… bring it for me.  Column of light and fire…  Heal faster…”  A pained wince.  “Wes can’t…  Incorporeal.  Dragon can’t fit where…”

/Well, that’s a sucks for Wes./  “Know how that goes.  Frustrating mess, comin’ over all spectral.”  Spike frowned fitfully and gave in to plop down in full next to his fragrant wreck of a grandsire.  /Christ./  “Since when are you best mates with the dragon?  And Wes is a soddin’ ghost, then?  Poor bugger.”  Piss-poor bit of luck, that.  God knew he remembered that bit of frustration.  “Well.  S’pose I can do that much for you before I push off.  Since you took so much trouble an’ that, to invite me.” 

“Where…”

Spike hardened his voice, fought to keep his equanimity.  He didn’t feature leaving family like this, precisely… but he had responsibilities, damnitall!  “Got pulsers to care for, innit?  Whole bleedin’ flock of ‘em in Beverly Hills.  Buffy’s got ‘em in hand, and the Smurf can help long as she’s in fine fettle, but don’t mind sayin’ I don’t wanna be gone long…”  /'Specially considering the last bit's questionable at best of late./

Peaches’ face twisted, agony huffing out of on one truncated breath.  “Just…  Help Wes.”

Spike sighed and stuffed down his impatience, the feeling of anxiety tugging on him through the bond that said Buffy was losing her damn mind and needed him.  “Yeah.  Sure.”  He pushed himself up with palms to thighs.  “Where is the blighter, anyway?”

Turned out Wes was down in the bowels of the building, poking about in some file or other with hands that went right through everything.  Poor ghostly git.  “Oi.  See you’ve taken a turn at the incorporeal.  Rum go.” 

Wes turned to face him.  It gave Spike a bit of a start right off, seeing as how the lad looked nothing like he ought, what with the nancy, downy cheeks, and the suit and tie bit.  “What the bloody hell happened to you, then?”

“Long story.  Good to see you, Spike.”

Spike squinted at the wraith.  “This some sort of idiot ‘residual self-image’ shite?”

That sparked something familiar from the man, finally.  A little sideways half-smile from the ghosty bloke in the specs and the rest.  “Might have been, I’d imagine, a few years back, but no.  Not anymore.  No, this is because the Senior Partners deemed me a turncoat-in-waiting.  Bit hacked off at me, I’m afraid, for what I fully intend on being; which is, as you’ve no doubt guessed, a thorn in Their sides as much as possible, for all that I’ve a contract says I belong to them for eternity.”

“Christ, man, I’m that sorry.”  What a bloody bitch of a way to spend your afterlife; working for the pricks against whom you’d spent your human life fighting.

Wes shrugged it off as if it were nothing at all that dire.  “Yes, well.  Be that as it may, best to get on with it.  Angel sent you down to help bring up what’s needful, I’d imagine?”

Spike stuffed the pity.  Man didn’t want it, far be it from him to hand it out.  After all, someday he’d dust and be sent to hell, locked away from his Slayer for all eternity, and have to be happy knowing she was harping away up in heaven.  And damn right.  /We make the best of the time we have, and sod the rest./  “Yeah.  Somethin’ about a book and a spell and fire and light and healing and a load of other rubbish.”

“We have high hopes; though it might take a rather long time.”

Spike nodded as he stepped in close to the ghost, pulled the drawer out a little further.  The file they were in was listed as ‘H’.  For ‘Healing’, he supposed.  “Weeks, is it?”

“Months, more like.  If at all.  He’s lucky he didn’t die right off.  Most do, with injuries like that and no hospital available.  What we’ve done so far has kept the gangrene off.  He’s been doing meditations, talking to Cordelia to keep the pain and shock from shutting down his system…”

“The bird who died in the coma a bit ago, innit?  Vision-girl?”

Something crossed Wes’ ghostly features, tightening up his face.  “Yes, precisely.”

“Hm.”  He’d long suspected his git of a grandsire had had a bit of an affair with that one, though he kept his mouth shut about it.  Sod thought it was fine to string Buffy along for years, was it, while he moved on to someone he loved enough to talk to her in the extremity of mortal agony, but sure.  /No skin off mine that you thought to keep Buffy for yourself, and no one else ought ever to get a crack at her.  Hell; how you still thought you could read our girl the riot act at every turn for having chosen to pick up the pieces and get on with it with yours truly is beyond me./ 

It rather tore him in two, truth be told.  But that was a normal state of affairs, to be stuck somewhere between massive resentment and family loyalty, when it came to his asshole of a progenitor.  /You always were a prat, Angel, whatever you like to call yourself./

For all he ultimately owed his demonic existence and a hundred-plus years to Angel, Spike found himself feeling quite a bit less charitable toward his elder at mo', and hardened his tones.  “Alright, Wes.  What am I looking for?  I wanna get this spell for the poof and get the bloody hell out of here.  I’ve got Buffy and a whole troop of defenseless humanity to see to.  And Illyria; remember her?  Got a lot more people dependin’ on me than just Angel, so let’s get a bloody move on.”

Wes eyed him sadly for a moment, then nodded.  “Right.  Look for a card that says ‘bhA RjIka sandhAna’.”

“Sanskrit, is it?”

That earned him a startled look; one which faded quickly into something assessing.  “Yes, it is.  Well done.”

Spike grunted, but volunteered nothing further as he went about shuffling through the file.

***

S: 

“Well, looks like you have things well in hand, then.”  Spike laid the broken balusters and the book beside his crumpled grandsire, next to the jars and things he’d brought up.  Splints, the former would be, for the legs.  He’d torn them from a nearby stair what was made of wood and not metal.  The book…  Well.  That was a bit more outside his ken.  /I’m no sodding magician./ 

He made quick work of the splinting, ignoring the git’s moaning and groaning as he jerked the limbs roughly straight.  He was nice enough not to jar the spine, could he manage it, since he didn’t want to cause permanent damage—human and that, so he wouldn’t want the prat to end up wheelchair-bound for life—but frustration made it tough to keep his movements gentle. 

When it was over he pushed away from the sweating, feverish form to nod at the hovering ghostie.  Stepped back, dusting his hands, and did his best to harden his heart.  “Have someone to do your magicks for you.  Got willing hands, if a bit dragonish…  And I’ve got a party to get back to.  Lot of scared humans looking to me to keep them alive, so if you don’t mind…”

“Need you.  Can’t protect myself… here.”

His temper flared.  Was the big, stupid-haired poofter serious?  “What do you want me to do about it?  Cart you back with me?  You’re a bloody liability, and you can barely move without dying!”

“Need you to… stay.  Dragon’s good… protection, but need… help till… I can heal.”

/Oh for fuck’s sake./  “Look, much as I’d love to coddle you, Peaches, I have things to do.  I have people depending on me, yeah?”  He worked up a sneer, fighting down the guilty feeling that he’d be abandoning his nest-sire.  It was all blood-guilt anyway; a magickally-induced loyalty, and he didn’t have to obey it anymore, did he?  For the first time in his sodding unlife, he didn’t have to do something Angel wanted him to do.  He had the freedom to tell the bastard to piss off.  And yeah.  He supposed he could stay and help, for old times’ sake… but this wasn’t an emergency, and he had one waiting. 

Besides; to his mind, the rotter deserved a bit of pain, what he’d done to Spike through his long life, and for bringing them all here.  For the way he’d gloated and chuckled over the time in the wheelchair, and feeding and fucking Dru in front of Spike while he half-starved, waiting for them to maybe remember to let him nosh a bit on the gone-over leftovers.  For what the git had done to Buffy when she was just a girl, and kept on doing, right until practically bloody yesterday.  /Hell; you never even had the grace to stop when you fell for someone else, you nit!  You left it to some other vamp to free her!  If you ever loved her, you’d’ve spoken the words and let her go!  Fucking sod!  But you wanted to hang onto her like a buggerin’ insurance policy, didn’t you?  Didn’t care what it did to her, what it did to me—course you didn’t, just like with Dru—what it did to us!  You just kept on; and now you want me to stay with you?/ 

For that, most of all, the ponce deserved what came to him.  For hurting Buffy.  For crippling her, emotionally, starting when she’d been scarce out of nappies, for Chrissakes, so that they’d all had to pay, in the end.  “Like Buffy.  You remember Buffy?  Bird you claim to love; the one you dragged me away from with your pet dragon so you could snooker me down here to watch you wriggle around on the floor like a toothless ponce?”

Angel sort of winced.  “Buffy can… take care of… herself.”

Was he for real?  “Yeah, a’ course she can, but if you hadn’t noticed, this is a bleedin’ hell-dimension.  The regular rules are a bit off; and I left her in a right precarious situation!  Not sure why you’d even call me away from her, leave her in the lurch like that…”  Belatedly he saw the shifty look in the git’s eyes, grimaced in recognition.  /Oh, you cagey bastard./ 

All guilt, all vestiges of regret fled in a new flood of rage; one so strong he had to fight himself back, for just one very brief instant, from the demon’s urge to strike.  To end this one’s life, who had indirectly threatened his mate; just put the fucker out of his misery and call it a sodding mercy-killing or some shite. 

He stuffed the impulse with serious effort.  It was a near thing, though, for a moment, now his demon-side was wakeful.  Lucky for Angel he’d spent years now keeping control of that part of himself for Buffy’s sake; because that was all that was holding him back in this moment.

Buffy wouldn’t want him to kill the prat.  That was the only thing stayed his hand.  “Right.  I get it.  Wanted to get me away from her, was it?”

Dead silence. 

Wes’ voice broke the stalemate, echoing hollowly throughout the room.  “Angel?”  The wraith sounded fairly alarmed. 

Both current and ex-vampires ignored the spook, locked in a combat of wills.  Angel’s eyes were focused, dark and intent on Spike’s.  “Not that.  Need… your help…”

Soul or no, his grandsire was still an utter cad.  And Spike, like Buffy, was well shut of the bastard. 

/I’ve nothing holding me here.  I owe him nothing./

The glory of having that brutal weight of disappointment lifted was like a sodding choir singing.  To feel it gone, that once-yearned-for need for approval, too long become a yoke and mixed with dread, with pain, now vanished. 

He’d stayed long enough, before.  Fought the fight.  He was done.  He had other loyalties.  And his blood…  It was no longer bound to this fucker.  /You’re human now.  You’ve no bleedin’ hold over me./  “Well, she needs me too, so I’ve got to go.  Best of luck, Grandad.”

Angel looked alarmed now that his ploy was falling apart before his eyes.  “…Can’t just… leave me like… this!”

/Oho!/  “You just bet I can, Peaches.  Like you left Dru, and me to care for her when I was scarce more than a sodding fledge.”  The arse had the grace to wince.  “Like you left me to swim for it during the war, yeah?”  /Because you could, innit?  The blood doesn’t go both ways, so you felt no responsibility for me, for Dru.  None for Lawson…  Well, now I feel sod all for you.  Fare thee bloody well./

“That was… different.  No soul, then.”

His old irritation flared into a conflagration.  “That’s a load of codswallop.  You didn’t do it because I was a soulless killer and you know it.  Nor her.  You only did it because you couldn’t look on her without knowing what you’d done to her… and with me, because you just didn’t like me.  Never had.  I was a burden, and on top of it you didn’t like that I was a mirror; a mirror to remind you of what you’d created.  What you used to be.  You wanted me to dust so you didn’t have to remember what you’d been for all those years.”  It caught in his throat, hardened.  Made his loyalties entirely clear.  “What you did to me, to Dru; to all of us.”

Pushing himself to his feet, he shot a quick nod at the specter.  “Look; done what I could, for Buffy’s sake…”  /And I guess for my own worthless fucking conscience.  Didn’t even kill the bastard./  “Left you set for a while, yeah?  Lot of food close by.  Supplies and the like.  Your healing spells and that; legs all set right.  Not sure what else you want from me.”  Turned his eyes to the broken heap on the floor.  “But that’s where we end, Angel; and know I only did it because she’d hate me if I didn’t.”  /Even then, more’n I should’ve done for you, you prick.  Should kill you.  Should…/  He bit down hard on the instinct, tasted blood in his mouth.  “Any road, between that and the dragon and your sodding ghost, you should do alright.”  He ignored the pitiful gurgles coming from the disaster that was his sire’s sire, steeled his undead heart.  “But I’m not stayin’.”  /I don’t owe you this./  “It’ll take time I don’t have.  Already have done.  I have my own responsibilities… and you’re not it.”

He turned away.  “You’re a big boy, Angel.  It’s time you grow up and learn to lie in the bed you make.”

***



You know, I try to be broad-minded and write Angel-sympathetic stuff, but the older I get, the less patience I have for his shenanigans, and the more I just... can't.
He's a great sodding git.
I firmly stand by that statement, and will till the end of time.

Chapter Text

B:

She was getting closer.  She could feel it.  And the closer she got to Spike, the more… well, hot and bothered the link between them seemed to get; heavy with a feeling of anticipation, or expectation, or just a feeling of something striving toward completion.

Buffy recognized that feeling, now and with context, from her early days with Angel.  How hard it had been to be apart from him, and how much better, more right it had felt whenever they had been close.  Near.  Especially touching.  Like he had been her missing piece, somehow. 

/It would have been nice if you’d told me why/ she thought grimly as she crept and darted from building to building, fighting her way ever closer to Downtown and her goal.  

She was maybe a few blocks from where they’d started their journey at the beginning of this interminable day—God, she needed sleep—when she saw the dragon; squawking and flapping as it curvetted around midair above a very recognizable, weirdly-shaped and glassy structure in the middle of a cluster of others about a half-mile ahead of her.  The building, with its laid-back steps-levels, clay-buff coloration, and metro-black-tinted glass, was distinctive as hell.  /Oh, you’re kidding me!  Of course a dragon would make that place its nest!/

The giant beast seemed to be quartering the ground below the building as if in search of something, but then, oddly, it halted mid-search to hover briefly.  Swung around to key in very directly on Buffy’s approach-vector—Buffy could swear in that instant that the thing had smelled her somehow—and it gave a loud squawk and promptly fluttered in through what looked to be a big, broken gap the windows of one of the upper floors.

/Well, crap.  I guess I’ve been announced to… whoever./ 

At least she knew who had taken Spike, and who the damn dragon served.  God alone knew what these Senior Partners guys were doing to him down there, but it at least gave her greater certitude that she was on the right track, and a burst of energy to help her to push on for the last gasp.  Nothing like a nice shot of adrenaline to drive one on at the end of the hell of a long day, because, dammit; even Slayers got tired sometimes. 

Upon reaching the vast edifice she immediately started up; a slow but steady job without elevators.  Moved warily as she did so, since god only knew what else was living in this place, eyes and ears and every other sense wide open for possible ambush and focused almost wholly on the task of staying alive in an enemy lair.  What with all the concentration and the effort on top of the heat and the near-dehydration—Hell, Buffy had long since decided, could really use some air conditioning—it was probably not surprising that she missed it at first, though later on she would be thoroughly pissed off at herself for even this rookie mistake.  But to be fair, she was new at this; at the using of a bond with a vampire for a sort of… echolocation. 

To be honest, though, she was just putting one foot in front of the other by that point, and probably on her last stair-climbing legs when, upon gaining some ridiculously high floor… something shifted, breaking her failing concentration.  Her awareness of her surroundings splintered, and she swung around like a compass needle, thrown off her game.

The pull inside her told her that Spike was now behind her.  /Okay, that doesn’t make any sense!/

She started back the way she had come, cursing inwardly, but was held back by a low, pained moan drifting down a hallway on the other side of the stairwell door.  An utterly familiar one. 

“Angel?”

“Cor…delia, can you… come back and… push that book… closer to my hand?  Please… I can’t…” 

The agony in his voice dragged her on, and, what the hell?  Cordelia?

When she pushed through the door, she saw him right away.  Across the vast open space littered with earthquake debris; just another broken heap on the floor.  So broken in fact that at first she thought he was just a pile of old clothes, till she saw a pale flash of face, an untidy, dusty mop of brown hair.  “Oh my God; Angel!”

“Buffy?”

Exhaustion forgotten, Buffy crossed the intervening space in seconds to fall to her knees beside him.  Reached out… and pulled back when he winced in anticipation of her touch.  “Angel, what happened to you?”

“That’s… a long story.”  He tried a little smile, but the agony in his eyes made the attempt a miserable failure.  “Let’s just say… I tried something… and it didn’t… work out.”

She scanned his body.  He had splints on his legs; ones that looked like they’d been torn from the railing of a stairway.  A stack of books around him with titles like, ‘Ye Eldest Healing Artes’.  Some containers of food, and a few wrappers.  She had never seen him look so unbelievably pale…

She reached out again, more gently, and very lightly touched his face.  And only then realized, when she felt his warmish, clammy skin, something—or rather a distinct lack of something—that had registered at the back of her mind since she had entered the room, but of which she had not fully been aware until this very instant.

Angel was not a vampire right now.

He was completely and utterly human.

***

B:

“I’m telling… you, you’ll get… yourself killed if… you try to catch… him now.  You’ve been… on the go… for hours.  Exhausted.  Need… to stay where… there’s cover and… food for a… while and you’re… safe.  Get some rest.  Then maybe… you can take… the dragon…”

“You mean ‘Cordelia’?” Buffy asked archly.  She hated that he was in such anguish, of course, but did he really have to name his winged demon pet after her high school rival?

“I was having… fever dreams… about her… and it thought… I was talking… to it.  Thought that was… its name.  It… stuck.”

She was thoroughly torn.  She was, admittedly, dying for a catnap.  The idea of trekking back across that hellish eleven or whatever miles for a third time under that blistering, endless sun while the screams of the pursued and the dying echoed around her gave her a truly harsh wiggins, and as for hitching a ride?  Well.  She sort of got the feeling that Cordelia the dragon wasn’t going to leave Angel’s side without his express command.  It was over there in a nearby office right now—one with a broken window to provide egress—looking in on him through a crazily-hanging, broken set of double doors with a sort of moony, worshipful expression, like some kind of giant, dopey Labrador that was too big to be a lapdog but really, really wanted to try it out anyway.  

“Alright.  I’ll stay with you for a little bit.  Try to help get you comfortable.  Maybe we can even figure out a spell to transport you to where we’ve set up camp in Beverly Hills without killing you.  But at some point I’m gonna have to head back to check on Spike; before I lose track of where the group is headed.”  She frowned fitfully at him, irritated by the whole damn thing.  “I just wish we would’ve known you were here.  We could’ve forted up here instead of making that stupid trek halfway across the city…”

“Good idea… making for high… ground,” he commended her spur-of-the-moment thought. 

“Yeah, well…”  She pulled at her lip for a moment.  “Now we’re all spread too thin.”  /And God, I already miss my guy./  It was stupid how much.  It was like a pulse-beat in her head, in her body.  She could feel him, somewhere off to her left in the direction of Beverly Hills; a pulse-beat made up of unwonted distance and a strange urgency that was eleven parts of concern and one part a faint sense of general wrongness, like it was just incorrect to be so far from him.  It was a super-physical feeling, too; one that said that when she found him again she should close the distance between them in the—ahem—most physical way possible, in the swiftest manner available, and that foreplay was not strictly required.  Which was…  Well.  Not anything to which she was entirely opposed, since she’d basically been horny as hell ever since he’d bitten her, but the way the feeling entwined with that sense of deep, pulling, attenuated connection was just strange.

Damn, this blood-bond thing was weird.  And it super-highlighted for Buffy how much she had always, previously, been linked to Angel.  Helped to identify for her, in retrospect, all the ways in which she had once felt wrong when he was gone.  /Was there some kind of hold over me even before he bit me?  I felt connected to him even then./  She had been left mentally and emotionally wrecked when Angel had been in denial of said connection as Angelus, and when he had been torn away from her to exist in a hell dimension; all things that had occurred long before he had ever bitten her.  Devastated and depressed when he’d broken up with her, told her that it wasn’t going to happen, on a very deep level, and could all of that have been about childish dreams going unfulfilled?  Had there been some other connection, before the blood?

Well, maybe she could lay all that at the feet of her demon-side.  Now she was done denying that part of herself…  /It’s time I admit that that part of me that really needs that monster, the part of me that’s so freaking happy right now?  I guess maybe that part of me… wanted Angel as a mate, or whatever?  Imprinted on him first or some damn thing./  To be fair, he’d been right there when she’d been, in effect, ‘born again’ into her full power.  /So maybe when it didn’t work out that part of me got all mopey?/

It would make a sort of sense, she supposed.  She had only just been reawakened from her first death when she had gone from ‘oh, mysterious bad-boy, mmm-cute’ to ‘holyfuck I want him, I need to put him in my mouth’… which had been, one, frighteningly overwhelming for her young, sixteen-year-old mind, the way all those young, Slayer-y urges had gotten all mad-fixated on Angel, and the way he fought, and the way he…  Well.  /Looking for a matchy partner, much?/  Two, it had probably been the most utterly visceral experience of her life.  No wonder she’d just gone with it, flipped to total instinct.  And, no wonder it had made an impression she hadn’t been able to eschew for so damn long.  

Compound all that with a long-untended blood-link, attenuated by space and time, and…

It would explain a hell of a lot.  The indelible draw, the utter, bone-deep betrayal when his demon had cast her aside; much more painful and lingering an agony than merely the fading sting of a deflowering gone wrong.  /God, which side of me was more in love with you?/

Anyway, it had definitely been different ever since he had gone to live in LA.  She had been left confused and torn ever since; like a piece of her had been missing. 

Either way, her thing with Angel had never felt quite like her bond with Spike.  Angel had been more… oddly dark and cerebral, and weirdly filled with strains of guilt.  This felt… vital and physical and powerful and dynamic as it thrummed through her, demanding her attention and her attendance, and…

/And I can’t come to you right now.  And you know what?  I kind of resent that I feel so dragged around by all these damn vampires!/  But that was kind of an infantile reaction, and she knew it, since at least this time around she’d chosen the stupid thing.  /Anyway, there’s nothing you can do about it in this particular instant, so deal, Buffy./  She shook her head briskly.  “He’s there and we’re here.  It’s lame, but it is what it is.”  She moved to start looking through Angel’s mess of magickal texts and food garbage, apparently largely fetched to him by the dragon and directed by some unnamed Wolfram and Hart ghost (because sure, why not), and, later, by Spike (it still burned that she had just missed him by like a half-hour or something).  “What happened to that Gunn guy, anyway?”

Angel winced mightily for about the fifth time in the last twenty minutes.  “He got… dragged away from… me right when… we got here.  Blood everywhere.  Think… it attracted vamps.  Don’t know…”   He subsided, but it was clear that he didn’t think much of his long-time associate’s chances.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, laying a hand with extreme gentleness on Angel’s shoulder; the one part of him that had, miraculously, survived being shattered by his leap from a tall building.  /Stupid idiot, trying to literally be Superman./

Angel gave the impression of a person who was shaking his head to dismiss something, though he did not move.  “Get… some sleep.  Look like… you need it.”

She snorted out a laugh.  “Look who’s talking.” 

“Haven’t… slept since… accident.  Hurts too much.  Go ahead.  Be okay.”

She frowned at him.  “You okay with what you just ate?”  It had hurt to watch him eat; the anguish that it had clearly caused him, even, to swallow.  And, yeah, Spike had apparently straightened out the legs before he’d left, which was nice of him, and Buffy had been able to find some instructions in the spellbooks lying around to mix up and smear some weird salves on some of Angel’s other wounds.  She had even managed to chant an incantation that seemed to be helping him a little, though she was no Willow; but this was just really awful. 

Buffy hated to think of him just laying here like this, suffering, while she went off to sleep, and…  /Oh, man./  He was human now.   He’d need to, like, pee and stuff, wouldn’t he? 

Okay, she was so not that intimate with Angel anymore.  If she ever had been, which was doubtful.  “What about when you, um, need to…”  She did her own little bit of wincing.  “You know… go?”

He shot her a wry look and twitched his fingers at a book next to him.  “Been a while… but already thought… of that earlier.  Got a spell here… for that… too, courtesy of… Wes.  Be all… right.”

Well, wow.  There was literally a spell for everything!  Talk about full service! 

/Wait./  “Did you say ‘Wes’?”

Another regretful sort of flinch.  “He’s a ghost.  Bound to… the building, I think?  Helping.”

/Oh man, that’s so awful and weird and…/  Buffy darted glances around her, feeling unnerved.  “Where is he?” 

Angel frowned a little.  “I think… he’s avoiding you?”

“Um, okay.  I know I smell bad right now, but you’d think a ghost wouldn’t…”

Despite his clear agony, his lips twitched in faint amusement.  “Something about… trouble if he… came too close… to you.  Seemed… worried that… you were here.”

Buffy had no idea what to make of that.  “Um, okay?”

“No clue.”

Well, it would really suck to chat with the ghost of a person she might have saved if she had made other choices, anyway, so…  “Okay, well, um, glad you asked him and not me, to help you with...”  She waved a hand vaguely.  “So, I guess I’ll just, um…”

Angel sort of grunted at her, eyes looking inward.  Probably trying to control the pain.

She patted his shoulder again.  “I’ll be close,” she whispered, and moved away across the buckled, broken tiles of the shattered office to the nearest padded bench-thing, where, with a grateful sigh, she curled up with her back to the wall facing her broken ex and, despite the urgency of the pulling inside her, fell almost immediately into an exhausted slumber.

***

S:

“What do you mean, she’s gone?”

“What I said.  She took off after you, Boss.  She’s been gone since right after you left.”

Cursing madly, Spike whirled and stared out over the terrain he had just covered.  A’ course, the prat was right.  He could feel her; away that way.  Had thought he could, as he’d left, but he’d dismissed it.  Not before him but abruptly behind him, and what the bloody fuck was his problem, that he hadn’t listened to his blood?  /Just because you’ve never bonded anyone before doesn’t mean you don’t know how to pay sodding attention!

Inside him, his demon, once more wide fucking awake, growled, shifting restlessly near the surface.  Which it had been doing since he’d started to feel Buffy too close… then too far off again. 

His buggering instincts had been trying to tell him all the way back that his mate was near.  That he had been moving away from her, but he had been so certain; and why the fuck had he been?  It was Buffy, of course she’d do exactly fucking this!  Only he’d told himself she’d do ‘the responsible thing’ and stay with the people they’d gathered, because she was a leader, when…  /Fuck./  When they’d only just bonded, and…  /Christ, she’s said nothing since she’s come to this sodding city but that she’s binned everything else for your worthless arse, Spike!  She’s got nothing left at this point; given it all over in trade for you.  Her Slayers, her shite friends—Christing Dawn!—and you thought she was going to tamely stay behind and do ‘the right thing’, the leaderly thing like she once would have?  Jesus fuck, Spike, where’s your head?/

She’d told him.  More than once; that she wasn’t going to lose him again.  And he’d been so sodding used to her doing the noble thing, the right bloody thing, that he’d ignored it.  Hadn’t taken it seriously.  After all, it was him.  And it was her.  And he was still incapable of believing that Buffy Summers—both the Slayer and the woman—would chuck it all in, identity and Calling and the rest… for him.  Not with everything.  Would never have thought in a million bloody years that she would have…

/And you’ve gotten too bleeding used to not bein’ able to access your demon, m’lad.  Gotten used to ignoring your instincts.  And look what it’s got you.  Git./  “She just marched off out into that without any kit or anything?”  He still prayed it was some sort of lie, somehow; a bad joke, or…

“Yeah, she told us to obey the blue woman and then she bailed.”  Johns sounded like he was half-afraid Spike was going to blame him. 

Not ruddy likely, though.  Wasn’t that blighter’s fault.  Fool couldn’t have stopped Buffy if he’d tried.  Half-dead she could have cracked him in threes and done whatever the hell she’d wanted.

/And apparently what she wanted was you.  Enough to go sodding traipsing off into that, on her own, with not a supply one.  Like a bleeding idjit…/

Christ she was admirable.  And she really did love him.  It was enough to drive him to his knees.  Made him want to sob like a fucking prat, but there was no time for that. 

/Sodding think, Spike!  Use your bleeding head for once!/  Usually the Slayer had a plan.  What would she have... 

Hell.  Usually she worked with a team.  Except… here and now, he was her team.  And she had always come for him.  So of course she had gone after him.  And he wished to fuck he didn’t feel so warmed by that as he did, because she might just have gone and gotten herself fucking slaughtered for her pains. 

Except she hadn’t yet.  The blood-bond was still active, thick as an umbilicus between them and throbbing with life. 

He followed it, desperately, blindly, hand-over-hand in the dark, and…  She was resting now, actually, which he didn’t think she’d allow herself to do if she wasn’t safe.  It felt… heartening.  Kept him from going mad, wondering if she was alright.  Kept him from dashing right off after her in that exact instant, like they were on some sort of mad carousel, chasing one another back and forth across the sodding city, over and over again. 

Which was well enough, since it seemed he had another fucking fire to put out right now.  “And Illyria’s switched how many times since I was gone?”

“You mean to the other girl?  The little wisp of a thing who just says ‘no’ and holds her head in her hands like she’s nuts?”  Johns looked frustrated to have been saddled with Fred/Illyria, and in all honesty, Spike couldn’t blame the sod.  In the absence of anyone in the know and considering that his previous knowledge of things supernatural had been, before the endlessness that was today, fuck all, Jerry here was doing a bang-up job of keeping everyone together and holding his own ass on the line. 

He might actually do for a lieutenant, given all that.  “Yeah, her.”

“Three.”  Johns grimaced.  “She’s back to doing that crap, actually.  Been there for the last coupla hours.  Also, she did some weird thing the last time where I think she made us…”  The pulser winced and shuddered, and an abrupt smell of fear washed over the nearby area, strong and vital.  “I swear.  It sounds nuts, but for a sec I swear to God we all went… back in time.  I was sitting with my girl in her place in SD, eating pizza and watching TV, and then we were back here.  And then I was…”  He trembled again, looking all wild-eyed.  “I think I was dead, okay?”  He looked absolutely haunted at that, and the fear-smell dialed up to about a ten on the Richter-scale of edible humanity.  Spike did his best not to flare his nostrils.  Good bloody thing he was used to humans smelling of terror around him and not taking a nip, and that his sodding stomach was full at the moment.  “Everyone’s staying the hell away from her, man, I’ll tell you that much.”

Spike scrubbed his hand through his hair for a mo’, feeling the frustration of it all mount in him.  /Never wanted to be a bloody leader.  Didn’t ask for this.  That’s Buffy’s job./  “What’d you do before this, Jerry?”  He had to find a way to distract the bloke before he sodding fell apart. 

The tired-looking pulser shrugged, clearly too wiped to care anymore what happened, even if it was strange as hell, as long as he had some orders to follow.  “It’s Jeremy.  I was headed out to propose to my girlfriend when all this went down...” 

/Poor sod./  “No, I mean what did you do?  Have any military training or summat?  You’re right enough at organizing.”

Johns wearily rolled his head on his neck.  “Did some JROTC.  Never joined up though.  Took organizational studies at UCLA, junior management at an office called Griffon and Associates.  Do some mixed martial arts…”

Basically just your standard pulser.  But somehow it was working for him here in the wild, wild hell.  “Well, whatever you’re doin’, Jerry, keep doing it.”

“Appreciate that, Boss.”  Squaring his shoulders, he turned and headed back to their little bivouac, now secreted beneath the eaves of a defunct public restroom that sported a little copse of skeletal “trees” around its southern edge.  Most of Spike’s flock of nutters were sprawled under the tangle of naked limbs there, striving to find shade or someplace to hide, feel less naked. 

Illyria was there among them, though she had a decent bit of space all to herself and Wes’ all-too-fragrant body.  She was currently in her Fred guise, and rocking as she stared down at the corpse, like seeing it was the worst horror she could imagine.  Her keening, monotonous wail of “…Nonononono…” could be heard drifting out from under the branches even from where he stood at the other end of the structure.  /I need to start keeping her away from the humans/ he decided.  /Try to distract her so she can keep hold of herself.  And I need to find a way to get rid of that goddamned corpse in case that’s what’s setting her the fuck off./  Though how he was going to manage the former and still keep tabs on the pulsers was a hell of a question.  /Maybe get some of ‘em to make a run to scavenge for food and water.  Though, that would either mean leaving Illyria behind, addled an’ thinkin’ she’s Fred, or sending the flock off to their bloody doom, sans protection.  Hell.  Need to split my sodding self in two, yeah?/ 

It was going to be the hell of a trick hiding the cadaver, if every time he did so Illyria made her reappearance and then kept toddling off to grab the thing again.  Probably she could sniff it out wherever they might think to stash it.  God knew he could, much as he’d rather not.  Thing was bloating long since, likely to burst like an overripe tomato at any moment, and he sure the bloody hell didn’t want to be nearby when it happened. 

/Fuck, how am I going to manage all this and still figure out how to communicate with Buffy, get her back?  I don’t need this headache!  This lot needs a real sodding leader, not my worthless arse!/

Answer was most likely that he must needs wait for the Slayer to come back in her own time.   Meantime, Christ, he could use an assistant or something.  Probably he was going to have to rely on this Johns bloke, for lack of anyone better.

“Oi; Jerry,” he called, moving a little closer to the screen of useless brush, “we should get the group moving.”  They needed some place to hide, get the worst-off ones out of the heat somewhat, make up an HQ.  Then maybe once the poor fools were out of sight he could organize some sort of looting party with the few as were in decent enough shape for the exercise.  “Maybe find a building we can use to fort up…”

He was interrupted by the roar of a truck, and swung around in time to see a tricked out vehicle heading straight for them, full of whooping women.  And by the smell of them, not a one was wholly human.

“Scatter!” he roared, and let his demon slip gloriously free.

***

B:

“The problem with most of these healing spells is, they’re in some kind of demon language.  You get, like, ‘ye healinge spelle to mende ye broken thinge’… and then the spell you actually need is in a bunch of symbols no one could ever possibly read.  And even if you could,” Buffy went on, exasperation peaking, “it would probably all be a bunch of growls and mumbles and stuff that I couldn’t even say!  And we all know what happens if you say a spell wrong!  I could turn you into a broken-backed toad…”  She threw the book down in disgust.  “Or, you know, it could just do nothing.  Like the last five did.”

It was her fourth day here.  Regular day, by her count.  Though, the days here in this literal hell were a lot longer.  There had finally been a night.  Sort of.  Finally.  After about two and a half days worth of day. 

Seriously.

Not that it had made it any cooler.  No wonder people went on and on about hell being all hot and burn-y.

It also really sucked that there was no running water.  Though, at least there were toilets in this building.  If she never again had to hunker down behind a Dumpster like an urban camper and hunt for lightly-used McDonalds bags for TP, it would be a good day, whatever kind of sludge came up when you flushed in this nasty-ass dimension.  For one thing, paper bags, not so much with the comfortable.  For another, neither was knowing your guy was guarding the alleyway and pretending he couldn’t hear what was going on like a total gentleman—and when had she ever thought of Spike and that word in the same sentence?—and, just, ugh.

The no lights thing, she could handle.  Apparently whatever power stations supplied the city hadn’t come with them, or at least not all of them.  Or maybe they couldn’t run without people on the job?  Anyway, maybe some parts of town had power, but not this one.  

Of course, that wasn’t such a big deal when it was light out for like ever… but she could truly use some climate-control.  And, like, a microwave.  This building had about fifty vending machines and a couple breakrooms on every floor, with fridges full of slowly-dying snack food.  She and Angel hadn’t starved yet, but at some point, scavenging was going to be a thing.  Like, outside of the building.  /Talk about putting your ‘feeding the Potentials’ lessons to good use./

She had learned to loot, back in those awful final days in deserted Sunnydale.  Her hard lines about stealing and starvation?  Kind of blurry these days. 

Meanwhile, hell could seriously be improved with a nice meal and a bath.  Just changing clothes into whatever ugly-ass suit-blouse-pinstripe thing she could scrounge in this place that remotely fit… so not the same as actually getting clean.  And, for the record, as far as she could tell, the ratio of female lawyers to male in this jerkoff place seemed to have been about twenty-to-one.  The clothing options in the building were therefore severely limited. 

She had half a mind to go looting just for a better-fitting wardrobe.

“Here, let me… see it.” 

Buffy looked pointedly at the prostrate Angel over the top of the heavy book.  He couldn’t even lift his own arms right now, much less hold up a huge, heavy book like one of these things.

“You can… hold it for me.  No offense… but you were… always less research… oriented than… the rest of… the group.”

/Okay, you know what?  When you last worked with us I was in high school.  You have no idea what I’ve been doing!/  Granted she still wasn’t Ancient Sumerian girl, but she was better with chipping in with the research than she used to be.  She’d had to be, what with Giles leaving and stuff.  /I’ve even been to college!/

But, if only to humor him, she handed the book over.  Even held it for him, since she had long since given up trying to keep her distance from him out of the self-conscious concern that she, well…  Okay.  Smelled like a whole lot of sex and sweat and blood, and just basically stank.  Between the fact that he was human now and gratefully didn’t have a vampire’s overly-sensitive sense of smell anymore, and the fact that there wasn’t really much she could do about it at this point, if he was bugged by the stench of her he was just going to have to live with it.  She was pretty much all he had.

Maybe she could figure out how to whip up a sponge bath.  Not that it wouldn’t be crazy-profligate to waste the water-bottles Wolfram and Hart had in storage, all neatly labeled for ‘Earthquake Preparedness’.  /No, probably a bad plan./ 

Hm.  /Maybe there’s a spell in one of these paint-by-numbers Wolfram and Hart spellbooks to conjure up a shower or something./ 

She had honestly never heard of spells that could be done by any chump, regardless of magickal ability, but apparently the nasty lawyers’ guild had a whole trade in these beginner-type, preset spells where the magick was half-loaded into the ink or something, so they worked just by reading them off the page.  Something about how since everyone who had worked in the place had had to sign everything in blood and spy on each other with magicks and whatever, they had hired a bunch of mages and sorcerers to come up with a bunch of chintzy, easy-bake spells for the completely-inept to heal all their pinpricks and to ward their offices against eavesdropping.  Or, she supposed, to make it easier to eavesdrop.  Either way, this place sounded like it had been a real pleasant working environment.  But for sure it was helping their boss-man now; or would, if Buffy could find him the right spell to heal his butt.

/Also, someone had to have worked overtime in here sometime.  There has to be a spell around somewhere to freshen up before a big meeting, right?/

“This one’s… no good,” Angel pronounced almost immediately, with the quickest of dismissive glances; almost before she had even put the book in front of his nose.

“Wow.  That was fast.”

“Yeah, well… it calls for…  The translation’s… a bit rough, but…”  He shook his head a little, moaned with it.  “Where’s the… Groosalugg when you… need him?”

“The what?”

His face closed up.  “Never… mind.  We’ve got… to keep looking.”

Buffy started to turn, shifting the book with her, heart sinking as she stared at the two piles of magickal tomes; one, much taller, through which they’d already sifted, and the much smaller one they had left.  Their hopes of a fast cure for Angel’s damaged body were dwindling rapidly.  Which was so not of the good, because she just really couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something going seriously wrong for Spike right now.  That he needed her. 

Which meant she needed to get back.  Like, yesterday.  /Dammit!/

“…Born of… human…  Part of… demon…” Angel whispered from somewhere behind her elbow.  “Groosalugg… probably wouldn’t… have helped… anyway.  Unless there’s… a reverse clause…” 

Buffy straightened slowly from where she was bent all despairingly over the dwindling stack of options.  “Is that what the spell said?”

“Yeah.  Have to use… blood of someone… born out of… human but… magickally tied to… demon world.  ‘Taint of the… blood of the… thousand realms...”  He made a twisted sort of face.  “You know… these things.  The language is… always so…”

Certitude struck.  Doubt assailed her.  Waves of them; rushing and receding.  /The magick is in my ‘essence’, whatever the hell that means, not my blood, or Dawn wouldn’t be totally human.  She would’ve been activated when all the Potentials were.  So will it still work?/ 

Heck; would it still work if a total magickal dullard did the spell part?  /Wil always said that the energy comes just as much from need, from emotion, as from ability.  And these spellbooks here are all… spelled to work for anyone.  Just… tell him and don’t worry.  It’ll work./

“Angel,” she interrupted him tensely, “let me tell you a little story about how the first Slayer was made.  And then a little more about the conversation I had with the Scourge.”

***

S:

That whole thing had been a debacle.  You couldn’t fight when you were trying to protect a bunch of exhausted civilians.  He’d lost every damn one of them.  They were all grabbed up and thrown onto one truck—including Fred/Illyria—while another played chicken with him. 

At least maybe they’d be done with the damned corpse after this.

Spike had gone head-on with the second vehicle, struggling with all he had to wreck the bitch and get to his folk.  In the end their attackers had quite literally thrown Illyria, still screaming in Fred’s terrified voice, off their little slave-wagon, right in front of his attacker’s rig. 

When it had impacted her she’d exploded back into the Blue Meanie.  But it had been too late by that point, as all their humans were being driven off like cattle. 

They’d fought, of course.  A nice little melee, him and Illyria taking out a good, round half-dozen of the bitches… but in the end the distraction of watching his charges being turned into some kind of zombies had proven his downfall, and he was knocked out good and proper. 

He woke up in some sort of fucking dungeon, shackled to a damn wall, with all his people around him.  Excepting Illyria, of course.  They’d apparently come up with some other arrangements for her, being as she was clearly a special case. 

All his other people, the pulsers?  Were sort of crawling about looking half-dead; or rather, even more dead than they’d already looked from all their wounds and things before the bitches had shown up.  And not a one could talk anymore… except to hiss his name.  Haunting him with his failure, which was nice, yeah?

Their vacant stares and sucked-dry forms and drooling mouths told the story.  The demon who had led the sortie was some sort of life-sucking psychic vampire of the zombie-making sort.  Who the hell knew what kind, but people called him bad?  /Look at these poor blighters!  At least in my day I killed ‘em clean when I’d done with ‘em./

Luckily, as far as he could tell, Johns wasn’t one of the lost causes, because seemed like these ones were done for.  It was a slow death for the lot, rotting while their bodies were still alive.  Fucking ironic considering all the bloody effort he’d been to trying to keep them in one piece.

Bleedin’ slags, rendering all his hard work useless.

And what in the name of sodding Saint George were they going to do to him, since apparently they couldn’t suck his unlife out his navel or his bung or whatever the hell it was they did?  Else, he supposed, they would have done it already.

Well, whatever it was, he couldn’t do much about it now.  For the mo’ it was back to his standard when he was dangling about by his wrists in a dungeon.  Think of Buffy.  He’d more or less perfected that art when The bloody First had had him down in those caverns last year.  /Nothing new, Spike m’lad.  Not half-bad, even, when you have thoughts like the most recent to keep you company./  Though, of course, such thoughts tended to come accompanied with a frustrating renewal of certain energies that he had thought well-spent in battle.  Not so much, it seemed, sod it.

Christ, he could still feel Buffy rolling around underneath his flesh like a lion roaring.  Only reason he wasn’t running down like a used-up battery.  Even a vampire needed downtime eventually, and he’d been going non-stop for probably the equivalent of a couple of days now on only the blood he’d slugged down before the battle behind the Hyperion; or had been till recent events. 

Hell.  How the bitches had managed to subdue him in the first place was beyond him, when he had Slayer blood flooding his being.  Buffy’s blood.  Didn’t matter that it wasn’t much; the thing was still beyond his comprehension.  Unless it was that fact had caused the distraction, thrown him off his game, with him that worried about her. 

He could feel that she was well, right enough, but not having her close enough to smell her, know for certain she wasn’t in any kind of jeopardy, was enough to drive a bloke mad.  /Though, considering current circumstances, probably best if you’re not about at mo’, my Love.  Much as I’d prefer to have you come tear-assin’ in any second and cut me loose the way you did when The soddin’ First had me bound up like a chew toy…/

/Least I’m not bein’ tortured yet/ he thought grimly; though obviously there was a time for everything in a place like this.  /’Less you count bein’ kept from goin’ after your missing mate as torture./  Which it did, but as long as he could feel her and know she was alive and not currently fighting for her life, he supposed he’d do. Meantime, as dungeons went, this was like Club Med.  Especially compared to out there, stuck with being in charge and all that rubbish.

Buffy could have it, that leadership bollocks.  He’d rather just knock heads together.  /In here you can just kick back.  Thoughts of Buffy’s hot little quim, her letting you bite her, claim and bond her…/

He realized abruptly that he had been wrong.  There was, in fact, torture.  He had the hell of a stiffy right now and no way to toss off. 

Well.  Fuck.  He supposed it must be divine intervention, then, that he wasn’t afforded much time to enjoy the nice scrolling of NC-17 memories—tough to sink into them, for one thing, with a load of twisted up zombies about, moaning one’s name in a less-than-attractive manner and assaulting one’s nose in a highly insulting fashion—before he was interrupted. 

The door to his prison opened.  Light assailed his dark-adjusted pupils.  His fellow prisoners made hissing noises and scurried into the dark corners. 

Some rail-thin, imperious-looking minger entered the room, a retinue of other bitches arrayed behind her.  The whole lot of them appeared to be wearing, as his eyes adapted, some sort of bloody catsuits; all except for the one in the lead.  That one had pointy bumps all up the backs of her arms, and seemed to have stitched herself together some sort of frock made of the skins of a whole load of other demons’ hides. 

Attractive.  “Like the dress, pet,” he informed the standout tersely.  “Very haute couture.”

“Thanks.”  Sarcasm for days, this one.  “Huh.  You’re awfully peppy, for a guy in chains.”

“Yeah, well, you know.  With every new day comes an opportunity.”  He tried a nonchalant shrug, though it didn’t take, considering his situation. 

The natty bitch squatted in front of him, looked him up and down with interest.  “See, that’s what I thought.  So when the change of management happened, I took my shot.”  She waved her hand around.  “You like my place?”

“Wouldn’t mind having a better room.  You know, maybe one with a bed…”

That one earned him a snort of disdain.  “Oh, we thought we were being real accommodating, considering this one’s light-tight.  Won’t do to have our guest turning to dust…”

Spike let his voice harden, dropped the banter.  “Pull the other one, sweetheart.  Haven’t dusted under this sun yet, and I’ve been here damn near a whole day.  Let’s get to it.  What the bloody hell do you want from me?” 

Queen-bitch hardened right back at him.  “You’re stepping on my lines, vampire.”

/Sure./  “I don’t want a soddin’ thing from you, you nutter.  You attacked me.  I was just standin’ about.”

Something about his pronouncement seemed to really brass her off.  “Listen, Swizzle-Stick.  I’m trying to build something here.  A nice, cohesive, women-power kind of place, you get me?  And you come traipsing along into my territory, obviously building your own little mobile kingdom…”

/Right, okay./  He was starting to get a picture of the problem, here.  “Wasn’t buildin’ anything, you mad bint.  Just mindin’ my own bloody business.  How was I to know you’d claimed the spot?  Just passin’ through.”

“Yeah, well, you got in my way.  And one thing I don’t need clogging up the works when I start over is some stuck-up master vamp with a flock of human blood-cows, trying to use Beverly Hills as a start-up.”  She leaned forward; got right into his face.  Spike was briefly arrested by the way her arm-bumps caught the light from the open door to stand out in relief.  “You’re in my way, vamp-boy.  You’ll pay for it.  I was at the bottom in the other world.  Here I’m at the top; and I’m gonna stay up top, capisce?”

/Yeah, yeah.  Bluster an’ that./  If he’d heard one baby demon rant about the power structure, he’d heard them all.  Self included./  “So, what?  You gonna bore me to death with small-talk?”

She leaned back, a smirk on her face.  “No, I was thinking about torture.  You know, to take out my aggressions.”

Spike tamped down on the rising swirl of dread, the ‘Oh, Christ, not agains’ clamoring for space in his mind.  Set himself firmly.  “Yeah, well, you wouldn’t be the first.  Probably won’t be the last.  Been gone at by some master craftsmen…”  /And women.  And sires.  And grandsires…/  “…So you’ll have to work bloody hard to make me cry.”  What he wouldn’t give for a sodding fag about now, though.

“Oh?”  The crazy bint tilted her head a bit, looking interested.  “Like who?  Anyone I’d know?” 

Spike shrugged nonchalantly.  “You know.  Hellgods.  My own sire.  My grandsire, the great and mighty sodding Angelus.  The First bloody Evil.  Hell; my mate, once upon a time.  And, I’ve lived with Xander Harris.  You don’t know the git, but he could bore the skin off of a Thurgald just by talkin’, so if you wanna have a bit of palaver about the many ways you can torture a bloke, you might as well start there…”

A clawed hand swung, caught him hard across the cheekbone.  “You talk too much, vampire.  Shut him up, Noelle.”

Well, hell.  That was actually a decent enough strike.  Stung a bit.  When he turned back, some bird behind the slag was squinting at him.  Finally she shook her head, frowning.  “Doesn’t seem to work on vamps, Non.”

“Well.  That sucks.  Guess we’ll stick to torture, then.”

Another bitch behind the first two made a pouty sort of face under a halo of brown curls.  “Do you have to mess him up?  He’s kind of pretty.”

“Shut up, Spider.  We don’t play with the guests.”

“Right.  Sorry.  Just saying.”

Spike turned his gaze briefly on the brunette, fixing her face in his mind’s eye in case he saw her again.  /They always go for the Spike charm./  Maybe he could use that. 

‘Spider’ saw him looking, smiled invitingly at him. 

Yeah.  Strong maybe there. 

Filing the information away for future reference, Spike dragged his eyes back to ‘Non’ in her skins and lifted his scarred brow in challenge.  “Right party-pooper, aren’t you?  All work, no play?”

Behind Non, Spider threw him a winning sort of look.  Clearly interested.  Definitely something he could capitalize on.

“I don’t consider your sort interesting the way Spider does, vampire.  Torture, though…”  Non’s entire being brightened.  “Now, that’s a good time.” 

/Well, fuck./  “So, you gonna start by talking me to death, or are we gonna get on with it?”  It fell out of his face before he could put a stop to it, because sometimes he had the self-preservation skills of a sodding infant.  But for fucksake, if there was one thing Spike hated worse than torture, it was waiting around in anticipation of the thing.  He inevitably made it worse by popping off about it, but, well.  Thems were the breaks, as they said. 

Non laughed then, clearly entertained by his bravado.  “You know what?  I kind of like you, vampire.  Not enough to leave you alone.  You invaded my property and I’m going to make you suffer for it… but I like you.  So I’ll maybe make you my favorite new hobby…” 

He couldn’t help it.  He managed a two-finger-salute through his shackles. 

“Was that supposed to mean something?”

“It’s British for fuck off,” Spike explained helpfully.

“Oh.  Well, that’s nice.  Jeez; anyone would think you almost want to be tortured.  Are you a masochist or something?”

/Not for you./  Didn’t think telling her yes would make her give up her plan to ruin his sodding life, so he just got on with it, doggedly.  “Whatever keeps me on my feet after a long bloody day.  You gonna press on, or just sneer at me up there from on high?”

“Oh, you don’t want to goad me, pretty boy.”  The bitch smiled in a way that was definitely less than confidence-boosting, then stood.  “Esmerelda will prepare some special implements just for you.  We’ll be back soon.”

/Oh.  Joy./  “I’ll be here.”

The harlot rose and made tracks out of his haunted cell, her retinue falling in behind her.  Spike did his best to keep up the confident façade till they were all out and the door had shut.  Bint had an inferiority complex.  And it seemed she was gonna work it through on him.  Bloody fuck. 

Spike prepped himself for a nice spot of hot irons or whatever the hell was in store.  /Buffy… Christ, pet, come back, yeah?/

***



If y'all are already upset with me...  Save it for the next one.  
All I can say is all of this really is for good reasons...  And I'm sorry. 

Chapter Text

S:

The threatened torture didn’t come about anytime soon, though.  Waiting for it was almost worse than having it done to him.  Damn near made him mental, waiting for the sodding door to open and the sentence to be carried out.  In the end, the only thing he could think to do to keep his nonexistent blood pressure from going through the roof was to go back to his self-abusive meditations.  Any road, it kept him from going mad listening to the zombies hovering about, hissing his name and touching his ankles like a bunch of nasty bootlickers.

Another kind of madness entirely, of course, to think of Buffy, but at least it was a more pleasant sort.  Nice daydream to think of her near to, helping him to pass the time in the most pleasant of ways, and alternate those with nice, gory fantasies of revenge and escape.  The carousel was an all-too-natural one, considering he knew quite well Buffy was nowhere closer to him. 

The bond told him she hadn’t moved from her station somewhere off to the east.  His blood roiled with the anxiety of it, his inner demon awake and anxious from the unwonted distance between self and mate and unable to find rest with the remains of battle-lust and claiming tolling through his being in a crashing ebb and flow.  The threat of danger hovering all round, of course, couldn’t but help to keep a nice edge on. 

Spike was on a high, and was like to remain on red alert for the forseeable future, with no way to tuck his demon safe away anytime soon.  The inner monster would hang about just so, jangling, till he found some way to calm himself; which meant of course that he badly needed some sort of fucking release.  Another fight; something.  Vengeance.  Whatever came in handy.  One needn’t think of one’s mate in such circumstances to have the hell of a stiffy, though of course it was quite difficult in same to avoid doing so. 

And nothing to be done about any of it, being as he was likely to remain in chains for who knew how long, until the events which had him so keyed up were paid off in the most painful way possible. 

Christ knew he’d been here before; standing about in pained anticipation.  With how many damnable times he’d hung about like this in some stress position till Angelus could walk in and comment on his agonized state, one might think vamps enjoyed abuse for the sake of it, lusted after pain as an end in and of itself rather than a means to.  Really though, the whole bloody thing was the demon’s way of preparing himself for an upcoming ordeal.  Setting itself to endure.  Fight or fuck, until the entire thing became scrambled in the neural pathways, because there was no flight in that equation for one’s demon-side.

The problem being… until one got to the fighting or fucking, then, it was a damned inconvenient way to spend one’s time.  Especially considering his shackled state, and the unbelievably foul company while he did it. 

Right useful state to be in, seeing as the only sods around him were brain-dead zombies, he was about to be tormented any moment, and his hands were not anything like helpful right now.  “You’re a right brainless little sot, you know that?” he informed his prick darkly.  “The girl’s nowhere near you, yeah?  Mind your own.”

“Is that for me?”

He opened his eyes with a start, aware very belatedly that the door had opened again.  /Christ, you could end up dead without even knowing it, paying fuck-all attention!/  He’d been working so hard to drown out the local stimuli—zombies and the lot—that he’d stopped listening for the approach of his torturers.  Hell.

The brown-haired girl—Spider, was it?—was approaching him, looking him up and down as she did so.

She was alone, carrying nothing that looked remotely like an implement worthy of torture.  And, well; he recognized a blatant appraisal when he saw one, knew right off that he was on the receiving end of a sexual assessment.  Which, alright, tended to make one feel a bit vulnerable, dangling about by one’s wrists and all.  He had the urge to yelp, ‘Oi!  My eyes are up here!’  Instead he did his best to relax into an indolent pose, despite the fact it was tough to manage that sort of thing in his position.  Rustled up a grin.  /Remember; this is the chit was eyeing you up.  Didn’t want you spoilt.  Make the most of the chance, yeah?/  “Who’s askin’, pet?”

“My name’s Maria.  Maria Harley.”    

He looked her up and down in turn, assessing.  Well enough to be going on with, if he were interested.  Pixyish.  Fair rack, pert arse, nice hair, bit of a halo of brunette ringlets.  In general, the sort he’d always preferred, actually, AB (that being, ante-Buffy).  And putting off enough vibes to let him know her intent was entirely a matter of carnal avarice.  Which put him in a damned precarious position, considering.  /Step lightly, my lad.  You have to promise just enough here to get out of this mess without promisin’ too much, innit?/  “Alright, Maria Harley.  What’s it to you?” he enquired, pleasantly enough considering demon etiquette.  No telling if the chit was a demon, but odds on she was at least partly so if she was in the soul-sucker’s retinue.  For his money anyone human had probably already been reduced to kibble by now.  Any road, she didn’t smell entirely human.

The pixie shot him a coy sort of look from under her fringe as she made her slow, deliberate approach.  “You look like you could use some help, there.”  And to his everlasting startlement, something what looked like spider’s legs shot out from behind her back.  

He did his best not to flinch away.  After all, he’d seen crazier things in the demon world.  “Bloody hell, girl, those are some appendages,” he managed in an admiring tone.  /Not so much a pixie, then, as a widow-maker.  Explains the nickname.  Still; might warn a fellow, eh?/

“They come in handy.”  She moved a little closer still, her multitude of chitinous legs carelessly shoving his zombified charges aside as she did so.  Once she’d attained a certain proximity, she eyed him up and down.  “So.  Need a hand?”

He blinked at the openly lascivious way in which she eyed him.  Thought about telling her, ‘No no, I’m fine, thanks all the same,’ but figured that probably would be impolitic considering his circumstance.  He settled instead for eying her warily as she moved ever closer.  As he did so, something clicked.  A spot of recognition.  “Oi, I know you.  You’re the bird was driving the truck that kept trying to run straight over me.”

The spider-bint blushed fetchingly.  “Sorry.  Just following orders.  Noelle says jump, we say yes ma’am.”  She tilted her head, watching him with interest, as if waiting for an answer to her question.  It took him a moment to realize why.

He had forgotten he was being propositioned.  And he had forgotten demon ways enough that he was being quite thoroughly loutish by this point.  He should have indicated enthusiasm by now; or, alternatively, a slavering intent to murder her. 

Those were really the only two responses to a sexual advance in polite demon society.  And he had done neither.  Because he had become a socially inept moron after years of living amongst humans.  “Name’s Spike,” he interjected instead, still watching her slow advance cautiously, and hoped she’d think he’d misconstrued her patient wait as one for his return introduction rather than for reply to her importunings.

“Spike.”  She seemed to be tasting the word.  “You fight like a champ… Spike.”  And her entire mien exuded warmth. 

/Oh bloody hell./  “Ta, luv.”  /Wasn’t meant to get you all hot and bothered though, spider-girl./  Though, to be fair, he had led her on a bit earlier.  /Christ knows I have to take any openings I can in this place, and fuck; I’ve put myself in between a bloody rock and a hard place here.  Shit./

She smiled broadly at him, looking tickled pink at what had no doubt appeared to be a friendly interchange.  Moved a step closer, and how the hell was he supposed to wangle his way out of this, while yet still managing some sort of bid for freedom? 

His options were rapidly dwindling from two to one.  /Fuck./

Her eyes flicked south as she neared him, though, and she pouted a little when she saw his stiffy had gone.  “Aw.  What happened?  I thought maybe we could play.”

Bleeding Christ.  The bird was off her trolley.  “Listen, Maria is it?  I dunno about you, but I gave up on my whips and chains days a while back.  Ta ever so.”

It was not entirely unexpected, but it surely added to his thorough discomfort when she moved very abruptly into his personal bubble, on her spider legs, onto the wall, and just hung there in front of him with her face directly in his.  “Bet I could get it to come back.”

He was absolutely not feeling this.  Not with Buffy still fading on his tongue and in his veins, and memories of her smell, her taste there, sacred and meant to remain untainted by any other.  Christ; beyond that, his head was entirely not in this game, and maybe if he hadn’t just had his love again, maybe if she hadn’t come back into his life, then for the sake of his survival, the price of his freedom, he might even have enjoyed the encounter.  But now… 

Problem was, he was no sodding diplomat, and there was no good way to get out of this.  The demon world didn’t really have any easy way to say, ‘No thanks, don’t want to fuck you’ without it ending in someone being killed.  And he couldn’t kill her.  Not shackled to a wall.  Didn’t particularly want to anyway.  She was his first contact from within this Non bitch’s court.  Could he use the chit, he needed to; to help anything left of his flock escape, help get himself out at the least.  Locate Illyria, since she’d been no doubt somehow turned back into Fred in the interim, or they’d all already have been freed long since.  

He needed to do something with this moment if he was going to make good his escape, get back to Buffy; even avoid a nice spot of torture.  But at what fucking cost? 

Christ, he needed to figure out some way he could use the bint without having to fuck her to do it.  Buffy would never forgive him if… 

Hell; he’d never forgive himself.  “No offense, Maria.  I think you’re lovely, but…”  /Oh!/  He dashed it out in a sudden flash of last-ditch inspiration.  Something that just might work.  An out, demon-etiquette-wise.  “I’m someone else’s property…”

The mad bint was kissing him before he had the chance to finish his sentence, and hell.  That hadn’t worked.  Because she had way too many limbs, and she was paying fuck-all attention, and Christ, this was a bad dream.  A bad demon dream, because he knew exactly what she was doing, had done much the same himself in another life, and this?  This was what passed in the demon world for courtship.  ‘I want.  You want?  Let’s fuck.’ 

It had a certain straightforward charm to it, but it was really not his speed anymore.  He tried his best to pull away, but he had only so much space between his head and the wall, so he only managed to succeed in banging his skull hard against thick, badly-poured concrete.  “Oi!” he managed around her assaulting mouth.  “No offense, Maria, but aside from belonging to someone, I’m really not in the mood, what with being in a dungeon, and…”

“So I’ll put you in the mood.”  And without another word she dropped from the wall to the floor and started to unzip his jeans.

Oh hell no.  This was not happening.  For Chrissakes, this was not…  “Maria, he managed, fighting for dignity, and her mouth was hovering just above his deflated cock, and he really did not want this right now.  “You can obviously do whatever you want to do to me, since I’m chained to a wall.  But I’m not going to enjoy it.  Dunno if you care about that, or if you’re just in it for you, but just in case you wanted this to be the sort of entertainment that’s mutual…”

She lifted her eyes to meet his.  “I could unshackle you.  It would be defying orders, but…”

Well, now.  There was a thought.  If he played this right he could knock her over the head with minimal interference with his bits, and get the fuck out of here.  He would just have to let her… 

He would just have to shove down the part of him, the souled part, that was repulsed, and that felt as if he would be cheating on Buffy, because right now this was about survival.  And he could always shove Willie-boy back, out of the way, and drag his demon up to the fore.  It would take some damnable work, since this chit wasn’t rousing him in that way.  But he’d have to manage it.  Let the Mr. The Bloody have at it and survive the encounter in that way.  It would be an emotional cushion.  The demon would know how to handle the situation.  It would be right up his alley, and then everything should be…

Of course, he knew he was fooling himself.  His demon was just as bloody much of a one-woman-man as he had ever been in his first life.  That was how his demon had become a one-woman man; by taking on everything he had been as William Pratt and making it his own as William the Bloody, Slayer-killer.  Not to mention, as far as said demon was concerned he was essentially a newlywed right now, which meant he was truly conning himself with the idea that any part of his psyche would be any more capable of standing this unwonted violation intact. 

Besides; even if he could get his inner demon to swallow the thing from a matter of expedience, he knew from recent experience all about how these things filtered through the sodding soul nowadays.  Guilt, when it came to Buffy, was a whole other affair.  Even if it were something he might have been able to justify to himself when he’d been with Dru, now it was just not in it for him.  Front row seat or no, in charge of the body or no, Willie-boy would be there.  Would know; just as some remaining poncy shreds of him had always felt, experienced, known everything that Spike-the-demon had ever gone through, throughout a hundred and damn near twenty-five long years.  His humanity had suffered through it all in silence the entire sodding time, crying out all his tortured, nancyboy angst over every moment of his unlife, even while he’d reveled in being freed of his old principles.  Made the demon weak, even as it made him strong enough to love.  And now that part of him was in the driver’s seat most of the time, the two echoing each other? 

This would devastate him.  He was made of fidelity in every part of him, only wanted to be owned.  And if his softer side was tougher than he had once been in his first genteel life—if only by virtue of having survived intact at all—still he was no demon.  He sat there balancing out the demonic tendencies with a man’s sensibilities.  He would want vengeance, perhaps, for what had been done to him… but he would also be conflicted about killing a woman…

All of Spike would come headlong into confrontation when it came to that.  Because from a demon's perspective, he really couldn’t kill the bitch for it later; not when from her standpoint Maria wasn’t even doing something all that evil.  She was just doing what came naturally.  Want, take, have.  Consent… didn’t really enter into it when you were a demon. 

He’d just have to let her have her way with him for a bit, then crack her over the head the minute he had a hand free and get the bloody fuck out.  /Just have to force the words out, Willie-boy, and then…/  “Yeah, why don’t you do that.  Then we can have a lot of fun.”

Arachne-lite watched him for a moment, looking pleased… and then settled back on her heels, and fuck.  Something in his eyes had betrayed him, hadn’t they.  Shit. 

“No.  You’re going to try to get away, aren’t you?”

/Bloody buggering…/

“This would've been a lot more fun if you could use your hands.  Oh well,” she went on philosophically, and bent back to start fiddling around with his cock, and he couldn’t stop her any more than he could stop himself getting hard from it.  All he could do was endure, and hope that was all she wanted to do to him, because with those spider legs of hers she could have him any way she wanted him and there was piss all he could do about it. 

As he endured, he fought to forget another time he had stood against a wall, his hands stilled by implicit threat of violence and overwhelming strength, and let someone who wanted him have her way with him directly after he’d told her to leave him be.  And fought not to let that uncomfortable mix of pain-pleasure-love-hate color what was happening to him now.

***

S:

“So… Maria tells me you’re a real tasty treat.”

Spike endured the mocking as stoically as he had endured the rape, eyes front and looking more or less at Non’s right ear.  “Yeah, I’m a right lolly.”  His eyes flickered to Spider, and he frowned uncertainly.  The girl was avoiding his eyes, looked nothing like the self-assured bint who’d had at him in the cell the other day.  What the bloody hell had happened to her, then?

Non leaned back in her throne, fingering her lip.  Her short-cropped reddish hair glinted in the orange light from the windows of the hotel to set fingers of blood on her face.  “She said you were kind of inhibited, though.”

“Yeah, well… contrary to popular belief, not all blokes are up for it all the time.  Without consent it doesn’t really count as sex, yeah?  And it’s a bit tough to consent when you’re tied to a wall.”  /Bit tough to consent to anything when you’re tryin’ to get out of bein’ tortured.  Not that it helped me at all in the long run./  Spike was doing his best to hold very fucking still.  It helped with the pain.  He wasn’t healing all that fast.  Maybe something to do with the fact there wasn’t any real nightfall here to speak of—or was there?  He hadn’t seen one yet—and definitely a lot to do with the fact that he was, by this point, running lean, blood-wise. 

It had been a few days since he’d had Buffy, and Slayer-blood or no, that had been but a mouthful.  A promise and a bonding, and nothing at all to do with the other.  /Never about feeding, from her.  An exchange.  A sacrament, but not a feed./  Even when it might be that he got fed from it as a side-benefit, as well, that would never be… what it was about.  /I promise.  Only ever about her; no matter what./  That was, if he ever got to see her again, sod it all. 

/A few days since Buffy.  Longer than that since that O-positive from Lawyerville.  Running short, Spike./ 

His mouth tasted dangerously dry, and his muscles weren’t much to speak of already.  Needed them, too, about now. 

Was easy enough to keep Willie-boy submerged right now, between hunger and the rest.  /Nothing like a spot of torture to retrain a bloke in how to bury himself to the eyebrows in his demon./  Was a bit late in coming, but it had kept him placid for the most part during the torture itself; kept his wit close to hand, helped him manage the pain.

Non’s eyebrow lifted as his dramatic little, brassed off speech percolated.  “Consent?”  She said it like it was a foreign word.  As well she might, he supposed, since she, too, was a demon.  “You’re an odd one, vampire.  Been spending a lot of time with humans, have you?”

Best not to tell them that he also had his soul back in the driver’s seat.  “Something like that.”  

The silence lengthened.  He tried to catch spider-bint’s eye again.  Got nothing from her.  Well.  What the fuck, then.  “Why’m I up here?  Wanted to have a go at me in public?  Put on a nice show?”

Non eyed him for a moment, then shook her head.  “Wanted to see your reaction to this.”  She gave a nod to someone—he wasn’t sure who, exactly—and some bint behind Maria reached round to drag the chit’s jumpsuit open. 

Spider-bint had burn marks all over her breasts and shoulders. 

She’d been tortured as well.  Bloody fuck.

“My girls know better than to entertain themselves with the prisoners.  No one touches my toys but me.  Maria, apologize please, or I’ll have to kill you.”

Horror curled in Spike’s stomach.  He’d not wanted what had happened, but this was a bit much.  “Oh, hell; she doesn’t have to apologize.  Christ!”

Non laughed then; a maniacal screech.  “Not to you, idiot!  To me!  Spider, tell me you’re sorry!”

To Spike’s stunned amazement, the brunette fell to her knees, curls bouncing, tears streaming down her cheeks.  “I’m sorry, Non!  Please, don’t…”

“Was he worth it?”

“I’m so sorry, I’m so…”

“Get out of my sight.  Touch him again and I’ll have Esmerelda cut off your head.  You’re lucky I think you’re a good fighter.”

Maria fled.

/Christ./

Inhaling deeply to settle his nerves and wishing like hell he had a fag, Spike did his best to shoot for unmoved.  He was still up here—out of the sodding dungeon, up in the throne room—still had to find out why. 

 Might as well make good on the time he had here.  “So.”  He waved one hand a little, to the accompaniment of clinking chains.  “Why you keeping me around, then, anyway?  You can’t eat me, or whatever the hell it is you did to my people, or you’d’ve done it already.”  He winced a little when the injudicious movement caught one of his burn-scars just so, the taut, shiny skin over his right pectoral ripping a little with the strain.  The torture had been… manageable, but on top of other recent violations, he was a bit at the end of his rope.

Christ, he could use some blood.  Any day now and he’d start thinking the rats were looking fetching. 

Stress would do that.  /Buffy, where are you?/ 

Still off to the sodding east.  Hadn’t moved a tic.  Was she, too, being held captive by someone?  If so, her captivity was a sight easier than his own.  Nothing in their link made him think she was in any distress, which was both relieving and a bit frustrating.  /If you’re alright, pet, then get your pert arse back here!/

“True,” Non was saying, a slight frown marring her sharp features.  “Though I’ll admit you’re fun to play with.  But you said something interesting when we were making that nice cross-shaped burn on you earlier…”

/Oh, bloody hell.  What did I say?/  “Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah.  You said ‘Charlie-boy’ hit harder than me, and he’s human.  And it got me to thinking about something your girlfriend said a little bit ago.”

The shiver was back, this time with reinforcements.  “What’d she say, then?”  Maybe he could suss out from the conversation if Illyria was Illyria right now, or Fred.

“She asked me if I knew where someone named Wesley was—which is, I’m guessing, that gross-ass, rotting body she was carting around, and really, what kind of hobby is that?—or at least, he matches the description.  I mean, as much as anyone can after rotting in the sun for a few days.  You’d think he was prince charming, the way she rhapsodized about him…”

“Yeah, well; they had a thing.”

“I guess.  Anyway, then she asked me if I’d seen ‘Charles’.  I played along and asked her who Charles was, and she described ‘Charles Gunn’.  Nice young Black man, good at fighting vampires?  Looks great in a suit, blah blah.  Some kind of love triangle, I’m guessing?”

“Long time ago, I think.  Way before my time.”

“Well.  Anyway.  It got me to thinking.  Rumor has it there’s a new player in town.  Vampire.  Strongest one in south LA.  Killed off the leader of the pack and took over; already making waves.  Those vamps were already setting up to run all of of South LA, but this guy straight-up took over his territory in one fell swoop.  Pretty fancy for some fanger who just started up.  Rumor has it he has it in for all of us who’re building kingdoms; though why he’d bother anyone else if he’s already got the whole southern half of the city is beyond me...”

Spike was at a loss.  “Why the bloody hell are you tellin’ me this?  If you think all us vamps know each other, I’d hate to burst your bubble, but we don’t.  And even if we did, I’m not exactly chummy with most vamps, so…”

  “I think you’d know this vamp.  A human we caught running from him said he was called ‘Gunn’.”

Spike staggered back a bit, in spite of himself.  /Oh, Christ no.  Oh, Charlie-boy.  Oh, bloody hell./  That lad would hate being turned worse than anything.  Spike didn’t know what it was, but the kid had a real personal issue with vampirism.  Probably something to do with family, judging from his uneasiness around even Angel.  Bred-in-the-bone, like.  It was the kind of deep-seated hate never went away, no matter how comfy you got with an ally life had thrown at you.  

He rather thought that lad would rather have bled out than be sired. 

No wonder he’d risen quickly in the ranks, though.  Kid had been a talented fighter.  Slap a demon on him and he’d be a right terror, and no mistake. 

“So you do know him.”

Spike pulled himself up with an effort.  “I knew a man named Gunn.  No telling who this is.”

Non grinned; a venal, mirthless expression, and leaned forward.  “I’m sure there’s something real metaphysical and vampiric in there, but I don’t care.  See, here’s what I’m thinking.  You have ties to what’s turning out to be the strongest vampire leader in the area.  So I’m thinking maybe I trade you and the weird shapeshifter chick to him in exchange for a partnership.” 

Spike snorted dismissively.  “You know sod-all about vampires, if you think someone newly-turned is gonna care a whit about people he used to know.  Most of us, first thing we wanna do is kill everyone we ever loved.”  He jerked his chin at the bitch, much more worried at the moment about his mutable companion’s current state.  “What about Illyria?  What have you done with her, then?”

Non smiled at him and gestured with one hand to a spot behind and to one side of her ‘throne area’.  One of her girls bowed and pulled aside a curtain with a flourish.

The curtain had concealed a freestanding item; something metal, like a massive sodding safe.  Probably the hotel’s vault, dragged into this room for whatever reason.  It had a bit of a window. 

As Spike stared at it, a face in appeared; was framed there for a mo’, cold and brassed off. 

Inside that titanium cell, ferocious and raging, was the azure Leather Queen.

***




We'll find out what Buffy's been up to during all this insanity next time.  
I'm sorry about it.  *throws flowers at Spike*

This, by the way, has been a really crap week for me writing-wise, when it comes to hurting Spike, and I'm not happy at all about it, if it makes anyone feel any better.

Anyone needs me, I'll be in the pub drowning myself in lemon schweppes and gin.

Chapter Text

B:

Buffy returned to the main room and set aside the book with the now-familiar ‘cleansing’ spell.  It never actually made her feel ‘clean’, per se, but it did at least make her smell less like a person who hadn’t had a shower in two weeks, and lifted the stains and odors from her clothes.  One hoped it also removed all the things from said clothes which caused those odors, because evil law firm?  Not exactly Rodeo Drive when it came to changes of wardrobe, and she had pretty much run out of options.  “I don’t mind helping you, Angel, it’s just that I have people to take care of back in Beverly Hills.  I’ve left Spike and Illyria kind of in the lurch, you know?”  /Like for real./

“Don’t leave me.”

It tore her to pieces.  She didn’t want to leave him, but her loyalties were in shreds right now.  She had no idea what was going on with Spike and their little covey of terrified human refugees across town; and how was he managing right now with Illyria doing her switch-back-and-forth thing, plus the water thing, plus…  Just everything.  But she knew something was up.  Okay right now, but Something Had Been Bad.  Things felt… a little more settled on the bond for the last several days, but it had been… bad for a while.  She could tell. 

The urgency thrummed in her almost constantly now, like a toothache.  A tattoo in brain and body, drumming inside, driving her insane.  Spike needed her.  Everything in her urged her to be gone, yesterday.  It was like a coiled spring of unspent energy inside her, raging; like a constant, pounding message at the back of her brain that held her, sleepless and throbbing.  ‘Go.  Go.  GO.’

And yet, how could she just up and bail on Angel like this, utterly defenseless and still mostly totally helpless, except for a dragon—who, granted, had the fire thing, but no opposable thumbs—and a (reported) ghost who couldn’t pick up anything?  (She was taking the so-called ghost on faith, since she’d never met it... and didn'treally want to, honestly.   She still felt pretty damned guilty over Wesley's death as it was.) 

The thing was… Angel was getting better.  As in, she should be able to leave soon.  But he still couldn’t really do or get anything for himself without the aid of magick; not yet.  Like, at least he could more or less eat without help nowadays, but he still could barely move on his own.  So unless the dragon could figure out what he wanted and could fit in wherever to fetch it like a ginormous collie, he was still kind of stuck needing a nurse. 

/Let me tell you the ways Buffy Summers has so never dreamed of being a nurse, by the way.  Naughty or otherwise./

With a sigh, Buffy set aside the book with the cleansing spell as she approached, and eyed the prone figure.  While the one that made her a little less not-so-fresh seemed to be pretty dependable, the spell they had used on Angel had had mixed results.  As in, with something that had had Slayer blood in it, she had kind of been hoping for more shocking and sudden responsiveness; a big, vigorous brunet guy leaping to his feet and shouting, ‘I’m healed!’ maybe.  Not so much, though.  More, he was maybe healing at vamp-speed now, instead of human, was his guess, like she’d lent him some of her demon-y side, and…

Probably she’d done something wrong… or it would simply have worked better with a more competent wicca to do the spellcasting.  Who knew.  The fact was, he said he felt better, could feel the bones knitting.  Also promising, the external bruising was gone; which was, to be honest, a relief not to have to look at them anymore—he’d looked awful—and he could, you know, move.  But wasn’t magick supposed to either just work or… not? 

Heck, Buffy’s new wound had healed faster than he was, and she kind of had the sneaking suspicion that the rules of this world were kind of working against her human side, pitting it against her Slayer-demon side so that she was feeling kind of… splitty-at-the-seams.  She didn’t really feel very ‘working together-y’ right now, and her normal healing rate was observably south of standard. 

But not that slow.  The cut on her hand was down to a thin white line, no scabs attached.  And that thing had been deep.

To speed things along she was still mixing up those weird-smelling salves for him, applying them all over his thighs and shins and back, massaging him regularly; and sure, it was probably helping, but God knew how long it was going to take to get him on his feet.  And he was human right now.  If someone came in here and found him like this, without her… he’d be toast. 

But however much Angel had improved, she sure couldn’t move him.  Not when just rolling him over made him groan like he was being murdered.  And being able to do that was an improvement.  So clearly she couldn’t get him and Spike in the same place to help them both, and, just…  Argh.

/Dammit, Spike, why do you have to be completely in trouble when there’s nothing I can do about it?/  Every day led him further away from her, made it tougher to figure out where he was and what he was doing…

Also, her libido was going to strangle her in her sleep.  And while she was awake.  She had thought it was bad living alone with her hand and a vibrator for the last couple of years, but that was pre-bite.  Apparently that turned the already cray-cray Slayer sex-drive up to, like, mach-ninety; as if she had needed the upgrade.  There wasn’t even anything to kill around here.  She was basically just playing nurse to a broken guy, who, by the way, smelled disturbingly like someone she had once had sex with—though, also, weirdly not, and just how much did having a demon in them make a person smell a certain way?—and yet also, smelled like a broken and damaged person, which was of the weird and confusing and thankfully not so attractive, because otherwise the taboo was not helpful…  And, just, any second now and she was going to lose her hold on reality and start cuddling up to the dragon.   

God, the timing of all this had been horrible. 

It had been two weeks.  She was losing her damn mind. 

How long did it take a person to heal from a broken back?  If they had magickal help?  They had the backup incantations and stuff for sedative use; not to mention the crazy glowing floaty traction thing.  The wrist was good, and he was right that the legs seemed to be for sure knitting.  She thought.  No more grinding noises when he moved them, and the broken skin had healed to tender scars, so that was something.  The bones had to be going back together too, right, under the splints?  So she should be able to leave soon, right?

It didn’t help that the Slayer instinct on its own was making her nuts.  All that enforced idleness.  She couldn’t call attention to Angel’s position by going out to patrol (i.e., loot for supplies and kill things) outside Wolfram and Hart; couldn’t even really leave his side for too long without risking too much, even to make her exercise circuit of the ruined building.  She’d made it into a decent routine, sure, what with all the busted doorways for chin-ups and stairwells for makeshift gymnastics exercises and just general laps-running up and down the shattered structure… but it was getting repetitive and dull.  She was an athlete at heart, but she also craved change, excitement, adrenaline…  /Okay, violence.  Let’s be real.  It’s either violence or sex for you, and we all know option two is out of the question./  And she hadn’t seen any real action since her last skirmish on the way in. 

She was starting to have some very vivid dreams about Spike.  On replay.  Waking dreams, no less.  Because, alright; both the skirmish and the sex had been fifteen days ago. 

She was going to crack any minute now, just start sparring with the damn dragon.

‘Cordelia’. 

There was another thing.  If Angel was even remotely grateful about all she was doing, that would help too… and verbally he was.  When he was conscious.  Totally grateful, if in that weird way that said he kind of half-expected her to stay.  Like he couldn’t imagine she wouldn’t.  Not that she would leave him like this, but…

But whenever he was in one of his magickally-induced trances, who did he talk to? 

Cordelia. 

Jeez, you’d think the girl who had supposedly been the love of his life and, you know, was the one who was right here nursing his butt back to health would at least merit a few fever-dream-mentions.  But no.  Up here at Wolfram and Hart it was all Cordelia, all the time.

Did a girl have to die to get that kind of attention from Angel?

“Buffy… can I have some water?”

She fought down another sigh and shuffled to his side to uncap a bottle.  Lifted it to his lips.  “Here you go.”

He drank, waited till she had set aside the container, then, “I’m not just asking for me.  It’s still not safe for you to head back across town anyway.  Especially when you have no idea where he is…”

/That’s all you know.  I can find him./ 

Angel hadn’t seen her new scar.  What with the fact that he spent all his time lying on the floor, and the fact that she was mostly facing him from her right side so that she could use her dominant hand to change bandages and all that stuff meant he hadn’t really seen her left.  /Spike’s side./

“…You’d be like a red flag out there to all those hungry demons looking for a snack.”  He shifted uncomfortably, voice intensifying, eyes darkening to catch hers with that old concern-fear-worry she had loved so fiercely in her younger years.  “You can’t leave.  Not right now.  There are petty demon lords setting themselves up all over the city, taking territory…”

She made a face.  “At some point I’m gonna have to take my chances.”  She hated that she felt so guilty about that.  After all, he could go back into the glowing thingy—the ‘stasis column’—anytime to finish up this spell-induced healing process, and he’d be okay with the dragon to protect him and fetch him things.  She could set him up really well, make sure he and the dragon were all ready to go, check in on them regularly…  But she seriously needed to find Spike. 

Like, needed to.

Angel’s face twisted as if that was the worst idea he had ever heard.  “W…"  He caught her wince, switched it up.  "My ghost’s told me a few things.  I wasn’t going to tell you, but…  I’ve heard about Spike.”

Her heart thrilled, and she leapt to her feet.  “Is he okay?  Wait.”  She glared down at him, hands on her hips.  “If you’ve heard something, why haven’t you told me?”  /And just how much do you actually talk to this ghost of yours when I’m not around?/  Not that she wasn't glad to miss those meetings.

Angel looked away, like he regretted what he was about to tell her.  “He’s become one of them.  The Demon Lord of Beverly Hills.”  

She noticed that he had totally ignored the last question.  Still, the import of what he had imparted took precedence.  It took her a minute to sort it out, but then a broad smile struck her lips.  /Oh, wow.  You would land on your feet./  She could see it now; her Spike, lounging around somewhere like a king, just demoning it up…

“You can’t trust him,” Angel was saying, watching her with serious eyes.  “Word on the street is he’s got a whole harem of demon girls, like a complete playboy.  That he’s taking human prisoners…”

She had to admit that the ‘whole harem of demon girls’ part gave her a little bit of pause, but really, it had to be a front if it was true.  And the rest…  She snorted in laughter.  Sometimes Angel could be so dense.  “You’ve gotta know there’s an angle.  Spike would no more do that now than he would go back to hunting.  He’s probably helping them.  Using the playboy demon lord thing as cover to be a safehouse, or…”  /It would totally be your style, wouldn’t it?  To act cooler than you really are in front of the other demons so that no one knew how smooshy you really are under the surface…/

Angel was shaking his head grimly.  “You and I both saw him in the battle.  I don’t know if the spell that put his soul back was faulty, or if it was something the amulet did to him or what, but he let his demon back out full force.  What if he never got it back under control?  What if he’s been lying the entire time he’s been out here in LA, and the soul’s been gone?”  Dark eyes pinned hers, intent.  “You don’t know how he’s acted out here.  Definitely not like a vamp with a soul.  Not a whole heck of a lot different than he used to when he was in my nest as an uppity fledgling…”

/Oh for God’s sake; seriously?/  Was Angel really trying to undermine her with Spike right now?  And why?  /I thought you two have been working together all year?  That you were allies!/  “Okay.  One, the soul’s still there.  However he’s been acting around you probably has a lot to do with the fact that you guys have some seriously rancid history.  I don’t know much of it and I probably don’t wanna know, but I can tell that from a mile off.  You ever think of that, Angel?  That you just bring out the worst in him?”

Angel jerked back a little, then winced as the tiny motion jarred his healing spine.  And the metaphorical defenses came back up in his eyes.  “Two,” she pressed on without pause, “even if he had lost it, it wouldn’t change anything for me.”  That earned her a stare of stunned horror.  “And three, yes, he did let his demon out to play.  Because I asked him to.  Told him to have fun, because he fights better that way, and I missed his demon.”  Angel jerked again at that, clearly stunned, but she ignored him to push on blandly.  “But you wouldn’t understand that, because your demon hates me and wants to torture and kill me.”  This time he winced not from physical pain but from the lash of memory.  She ignored him to shake her head grimly.  “His loves me, Angel, would rather kill himself than ever hurt me again, so I know I can trust him.”

She should have expected the lash to come back, she supposed.  A ricochet.  “Oh, right.  So you think, what?  That he’s not gonna get into too much trouble, or backslide, because he’s going to try to impress you?”

It was really, really bad form to punch a guy with a broken back, right? 

Pushing away, Buffy came to her feet.  It was better than resorting to violence on a helpless—and currently human—being, even if he really, really kind of deserved it right now.  “I think,” Buffy managed tightly, “you missed the part where he went to get the soul for me…”  /God; you were there for that conversation, even if I’m never in a million years gonna tell you why he did it.  “Or the part where he was fighting at my side without the soul for years…”

“If I’d’ve known how long he was there, you for damn sure know I’d’ve had something to say about it, Buffy…”

Something in her flared, and she whirled.  “And I’d have told you to go back to LA!  Sunnydale was mine, and what and who I did there was none of your damn business!  Just like you in LA!” 

He winced, flinching away from her, which, alright, maybe that was a low blow, but it kind of felt good to say it finally.  Letting out a slow breath, Buffy forced herself back to station-keeping.  “Spike isn’t doing anything to impress me anymore, or get in my pants, okay?  Even his demon-side cares about doing the right thing, in his own way, as long as he can figure out what that is.  About saving the world…”  Which he had since done, more than once, dammit.  She felt that little smile touch her lips again.  “Because snacks and more things to kill.”  /‘Little Happy Meals with legs…’  And that one soccer team, even though at the time I didn’t even know what you were talking about./  “He never cared too much what he got to kill as long as he got to kill something, so you know; fighting baddies with me or killing humans, whatever.  Long as the tummy’s full and he gets, how would he put it?  ‘A spot of murder in’ here and there, he’s good.” 

Angel winced again, this time on behalf of the absent Spike; and yeah, she knew her impression of her guy was awful, but whatever.  What Spike didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.  “And he cares that I care, which is more important.  Which is not as much about impressing me, Angel, as it is figuring out how to do it right.  Which you’d get if your demon ever cared about doing anything right…”  She eyed her ex steadily.  “But Angelus is all about doing it as wrong as possible, isn’t he?”

Another guilty flinch from her ex.

“Also, you know, soul,” she pushed on, and shrugged, returning to squat next to the broken man.  “Yeah, how he deals with any moment kind of still depends on his mood, but he’s not going to go back to killing.  He’d have to give up everything; not just in my eyes, but also in his own, to go back to that life.  He wouldn’t do that just to snack on a bunch of messed-up refugees…”

“Buffy, you don’t know how powerful it is.  Fear-scent…  When your demon is in charge…”

She exhaled heavily and struggled with the urge to slam his fragile fingers in the closest tome, since they were an unbroken part of him.  Or, you know, go punch a wall.  “No.  He won’t do that,” she reminded the dope patiently.  “He’d be haunted by it.  You of all people should know, the soul has to live with what the demon does.”  She shrugged and tossed a book aside onto the pile.  “And his demon always has to live with knowing what I’d want.  Because he loves me.”  She felt the little smile crease her lips once more.  “He’s a good guy, at heart.  A little slow and dumb sometimes, and he’s only learned to have a conscience by trial and error… but he’s more or less a good man these days, that demon.”

Angel was staring at her like she was a psycho.  “It was you,” he breathed.  “You brought some spell with you or…  You’ve released him somehow.  He’s…”  Dark eyes, once beloved, now incredibly dramatic on hers.  “Buffy, he’s a soulless monster.”

/Really?  After the conversation we just had about all this before we went to hell?/

It took her maybe almost a full minute of studying her ex before she finally put it together.  /Oh.  This isn’t about Spike at all, is it?  All this, ‘What if he never got it back under control?’ and ‘He’s a soulless monster’ crap…  It’s about you./ 

It was a stunning realization.  /You’re scared of your demon, aren’t you.  Scared to death, as scared as everyone else is.  Because… he hurt you, just like he hurt everyone else./  She’d been right about why Angel was who he was, but she hadn’t fully understood it until this moment; how really deep it went.  /He terrorized you, didn’t he?  The human parts of you?  Because they made him feel, and he hated that; just like as he hated me for making him feel./  It was a revelation.  /Liam’s very existence had intimidated Angelus, but Angelus couldn't kill Liam.  He needed Liam to survive.  /So he did to you, for all those hundreds of years, what he did to me for those few months… God, what a thought; till you almost didn’t recognize yourself, right?  Till you had to pretty much become someone else; to deal./ 

It was heady to finally understand; and painful.  Painful to realize, finally, just how very broken her first love truly was.  And scary, how close she might have come to doing the same to herself, after her own death.  /If you pretend to be someone else long enough, to forget the pain, if you lie to yourself enough…/ 

It was why Angel wasn’t Liam!  Why he hid, why…  /Why you stay still, why you’re so afraid… and why Spike never is.  Spike changed William; but William loved it, embraced it… and they never hurt each other./  The only people who ever hurt them were outside them.  /You, Dru, me; but they keep on, because they both have that zest for life.  William does it with quiet stuff like poetry, Spike does it by just living balls-out, but they both love the world./  They just had different poetry for the same love.  And Spike…  /He only shows me all of it now; those parts of himself he couldn’t before, because I used to be one of those outside things.  The real demons.  And because his William-ness slows him down enough to see it when he hurts others; even himself.  But he never hid his feelings from the demon, because the demon didn’t hate him for it like yours did.  He hid them from me, because would’ve hurt him.  Because I did, before.  Because Dru did, and Angelus did.  Everyone did.  The demon has always protected William, though./

/And Angelus.../

Angelus had always been at war within himself.  Spike’s demon worked with the man he used to be, because he owed the human side of him for his personality, his life.  Spike was a whole person because his demon and his man had always worked well together, always accepted that they owed each other their existence.  /But you…/

Angelus had never been able to feel emotions.  Liam could, if poorly.  They had been a terrible match.  They had hated each other from the start, even as they had needed each other.  Resented each other, because…  /Because an infant vampire doesn’t know anything when it comes here, does it?  It’s all spanking new, right?  They come here from some demon-dimension where everything works by different rules?/  God, it all made sense to her now.  /So if it’s gonna survive this world it needs to learn from the human it takes over.  How to work the body, how to work the world.  And with the human comes… everything.  The mind.  Any talents, any faults, any damage, any passions…  That’s why the demon considers itself the same person… because it takes on the human’s personality; mixes it with its own./ 

Food for thought, and it gave her pause, because surely the demon had some inherent traits of its own to bring to the table aside from impulsiveness, a whole truckload of instinct, and crazy senses.  /Or, like, whatever one it ends up developing, because doesn’t a baby kind of get its personality from nature and nurture all mixed together?/ 

It explained why Angelus had slaughtered his whole family upon his rebirth; to drive away any emotional connections Liam might have felt to the world.  Probably he had gotten the human side of himself to join in out of revenge for whatever slights humans always had with their families.  But inside, where Liam would still have loved them…  Angelus would have hated that.  Despised any grief, any lingering remorse; and punished the humanity in him for it until he destroyed it. 

And if Angelus had needed Liam, Liam had needed Angelus too.  As with all vampires, the only way the remaining bits of the human could survive at all was if they came into some kind of agreement with the lodger who had taken up residence inside their body.  But in this case it had been a hostile takeover.  No quarter.  His two sides had been interdependent, but they hadn’t wanted to share their body, and in the end they had fractured under the constant tug-of-war for control over his psyche.  Angelus had destroyed all but a few shreds of Liam; kept what it wanted of the persona, but left whatever discarded remained of human Liam as some wailing wreck.  The cracks had probably begun from the very moment a completely sociopathic demon had taken over a human who had already been, she suspected, probably saddled with his own issues with love or acceptance or whatever.  In retrospect, it was kind of easy to tell that her ex had some issues in that department, but either way a demon like that was never going to be able to offer their human side the slightest bit of acceptance. 

As vampires went, Angelus was about as full-on demon as they came.  Which of course meant that once the curse had put what was left of Liam back in the driver’s seat, there hadn’t been enough of a functional person to drive the wreck.  Not after two hundred years of Angelus’ abusive machinations.  A buffering personality had had to be built from the quivering shards.  /But who is Angel made up of, then?/  Buffy had never really asked herself that question.  Something self-hating, self-denying; something put in place to keep Angelus in check in tandem with the curse.  Something ready to insist that it was different.  /And you've been a work in progress ever since, I guess, till the day we met.  And probably after./ 

It made sense that Angel would be terrified of the very idea of letting the demon out, for any vamp.  /Because to him, they’re all like Angelus.  Raging at being held prisoner; starving, full of terrible urges, and kept under wraps as much by his own will as by his curse./ 

It was a revelation to recognize that her ex feared being freed in the same way everybody else feared it.  Feared being under the control of a terrifying, unfeeling monster who would force him to participate in terrible crimes that he would have to feel.  /You don’t get it, do you Angel.  It’s different with Spike, because it was a good match.  That it was and still is a freeing experience for him, not a cage.  Even now, as long as his soul doesn’t have to participate in anything that makes him feel like he’s murdering at… what’s the term?  Cross-purposes or whatever.  Pitting his human side against his demon side or vice-versa, he can still enjoy his whole existence without the kind of internal struggle you have to live with every day./

She kind of pitied Angel, actually.  He’d gotten a really crappy demon.  It rode all over him till it was dragging him, exhausted, flayed, half-dead.  For him… the soul was a choke-chain on a true monster.

Spike, though?  He’d long since learned to ride demon and human in tandem.  Whichever side of him held the reins at the moment, they held one another to the same gait.  It never seemed to matter all that much to him if it was soul or demon holding him in tandem yoke.  He adapted.  He surpassed.  He found a way. 

And Buffy desperately loved him for it.  “No,” she murmured softly, “he’s a hybrid being who loves with his whole heart and just wants to have fun.  Revel in the carnage, and live life to its fullest.  As long as he has an outlet for his passions, he’s fine.”  She shot her ex a sad little glance.  “And I’m a part of that, Angel; one of his outlets, so at some point you’re going to have to forgive me and let me go.”

He stared at her for a long moment, then seemed to just… let it go as a conversational topic.  “But you’ll stay till I’m better, right?”

She sighed gustily.  /Apparently we’re agreeing to disagree about Spike?  “I’ll stay for a little while longer, if what you say is true and he’s alright.”  It was a relief to know her guy was okay, though Angel could have told her sooner what he knew.  Another black mark to put in his book.  /Probably he thought he was sparing me bad news.  Why does he always do that?  Try to protect me?  I’m not a little high school girl anymore./

It was weirdly easier to get frustrated with Angel nowadays than it had been before Spike had taken over the blood-bond… and after she had died.

Everything had changed after she had died.  It kind of made her wonder how much of the bond had already been snapped by that event.  Her meeting with him after her resurrection had been strained, too, and… she hadn’t liked how he had tried to compare himself to Spike that night after Caleb.  It had seemed so… juvenile.

As if he could read her mind, he tried to flash some charm back at her.  “Good.  Because I’m thinking we should take this time to get to know each other again.”  He struggled a little to re-situate himself a little more comfortably against the small cushions that lay to either side of his face to keep his head stable, watching her earnestly.  “I know you don’t really trust me anymore, what with the Wolfram and Hart stuff…”

Buffy found herself staring at him in chagrin.  He couldn’t actually be trying to use his literal paralysis to get close to her again right now, could he? 

This had to be a misread, or a joke.  He knew she was with Spike, what was wrong with him?

“…But Buffy, you’ve got to understand, that was all a ploy to get inside so I could destroy the Senior Partners from within.  If you could just trust that I’m still the guy you loved before, then maybe…” 

Wow.  Not a misread, or a joke, and this could not be happening.  It didn’t even make sense that he would be doing this right now.  She couldn’t even think of an explanation, except maybe…

Could he be doing this because she was with Spike?  Because it was kind of like when he had started feeling her out again, relationship-wise right before they’d fought The First, after years of practically no contact, and right after his… girlfriend? was in a coma.  Which… was that just because he’d smelled Spike on her?  Because the timing of that was just so weird, now that she thought about the Cordelia thing; like he’d just been lonely, or looking for some kind of… insurance or something. 

/Not to mention that you’ve spent every not-completely-waking-moment since then talking to yourself about that very specific other woman.  Not that I’m not glad you’re, you know, otherwise focused, now, but it just makes this whole thing so bizarre!/  “You cannot be serious.”

“What?  I’m human now.  I mean, I’ve essentially Shanshu’d.  By accident, but…  I’ll be back to myself soon.  Good as new.  We’ll get out of here someday, and…”

She could only stare at him for a long minute and contemplate whether he had actually lost his mind from the pain.  Maybe he had.  “Angel, you have got to be kidding me.  I mean…”  She had to laugh at the irony of it.  “Yeah, a few years ago I’d’ve wanted nothing more than for you to turn human so I could be with you, but…”  She shook her head.  “I feel like I don’t even know you anymore, sometimes.  You lie to me, you move on to Cordelia but keep me on the hook just in case…”

“Buffy, I’d never…”

She held up a hand to forestall him, ire starting to rise inside her.  “You didn’t tell me about Spike; that he was alive then, or that he’s okay now.  I consider that a betrayal.”  At his stricken look she jerked her eyes away.

“It’s not like he called you himself,” Angel muttered truculently.  “There were phones all over the place.”

Buffy bit her lip.  /Oh, low blow./  Did he want to hurt her? 

Curling her hands into fists, she fought a now seriously vicious urge to punch him, if only because he was the one speaking words she had tried not to think of for a while now.  Hot tears flooded her eyes unbidden.  She blinked them back with an effort.  /Don’t even try to undermine…  Not now.  Not when…/  Did he think this was some kind of… trump card, or…  “If anyone knows what it’s like to come back from the dead and be all screwed up over it, it’s me.  He gets a pass.  You don’t.”  God, she was shaking with rage; so much it sickened her.  She might vomit, actually, and had to fight down that core of misplaced wrath.  “You didn’t like what we were, fine; but it wasn’t your call.  He was one of my people.  I deserved to know.”  She spat it, voice vibrating with fury.  “You betrayed me.”

“Buffy…”

Her only excuse for her next words were that he had hurt her—had used Spike, a lover she had thought dead, to do it—and dammit, she wanted to hit him back.  “You know if Cordelia was still alive I would have heard about him being here with you right away.”  That girl had never taken orders from anyone.  Whatever the rest of his crew had thought about the whole apparent gag-order over Spike’s being alive, Cordy would have called her up right away.  ‘Hey, by the way, Buffy?  Vamp number two?  Not so dead.  Just thought you should know.’

Angel’s reaction was immediate.  “Don’t talk to me about Cordy to me.  Just… Don’t.” 

And there it was.  The pain on his face, in his voice…  They clouded his everything; far more than his injuries had. 

She knew him well enough, still, to read him like a book.  Always had.  It was true. Angel and Cordelia had had something.  Something… big.  Profound.  Profound, maybe, as what she had with Spike, if maybe less confusing, to judge by his clenched fists, the agony in his eyes and voice. 

She was surprised to find that though she didn’t get it, she was oddly unaffected by it.  You would think she would be; disturbed by the idea of him having so thoroughly moved on.  But right now she just felt tired… and oddly relieved to have left the question of his soul and possible future soullessness in someone else’s hands besides her own for a change.   

Still.  That just made it even more inexplicable.  Because even though he was here talking to Cordy all the time in his fever, he was still half-coming on to her right now, trying to keep her here for himself when he knew Buffy was with Spike… and just after Cordy was out of the picture last year he had come over to try to fit himself back into her life before her battle with the Turok-Han; which was… what even?  What was she, a consolation prize?  A backup plan for him in case he Shanshu’d or whatever?  

It was like he had been trying to get her to tell him she would still choose him over Spike, if the circumstances were right or whatever; like he hadn’t heard a thing she had said to the guy before they’d come here, like she wasn’t allowed to move on even though he totally had, which just…

/Who would you have picked, between us, if Cordy had lived?/

Not that it mattered who he would have chosen.  Not anymore.  Buffy had, and Angel needed to accept it.  /You’re not who I need anymore; not human, not vampire.  Either way…/  But the only way he was going to accept it was… if he found out she had gone beyond his ‘touch’.

Lifting her fingers to her new, barely-there bite-scar, she brushed the marks slightly.  Angel would know it wasn’t a feeding bite.  That Spike would most definitely have claimed her, if she had even once permitted him to have a sip.  “How about we make a deal, Angel,” she told him softly.  “I won’t talk about Cordy if you don’t talk to me about Spike, okay?”

He blinked at her, eyes following her movement.  “I…  Buffy, what are you doing?”

She eyed him for a moment, wondering if it would be too cruel right now to let him know that what had been between them was gone forever.  As a human he couldn’t know.  Couldn’t smell Spike’s claim or sense the change any more than he could lean on the thing to push her around; though he’d been doing a damn fine job of pushing her buttons without it these last couple of weeks, and about time she admitted it to herself.  And since it wasn’t something he could know right now by smell or sense, it was something she should tell him.  After all, and she had just flared up at him for not telling her something pertinent to the overall picture. 

It would be rude of her not to follow her own rules, right?  “It might not matter anymore, since you’re human now, but your blood-bond with me is gone.”

His response was immediate.  He tried to shoot up onto his elbows.  Jolted his healing back like an idiot, groaned, and subsided back to the floor, moaning.  But his eyes never closed, filling with horror as they fixed on the left side of her neck.  “You let him…”  He sounded like it was his worst nightmare come true. 

“I told you I’d be able to find him,” she answered a little sadly.

Angel closed his eyes and groaned again, this time from a far more metaphysical pain.  “Oh, God, Buffy, why did you do that?  You can’t trust him!  Spike isn’t…”

She tightened her lips, let the one word slip out between her teeth.  “You?”

He stared, stunned into silence by her flat delivery.  “I was going to say someone you can trust to…  To…”

“Well, for one thing,” she interrupted, quiet and sad, “he made it feel very good.  And he came nowhere near draining me.  Which, to be fair, I know wasn’t your fault, since you were dying, but…”  She didn’t need to say it to let him know that of the two experiences, he had suffered by comparison.

He grimaced and looked away.  “I can only say I’m sorry about that so many times.”

“I know.”  She shook her head, dismissing it.  “The past is the past, Angel, okay?  I was your girl… in another life.  But we’ve both moved on.  You can’t expect me to wait when you didn’t, right?”

A small, pained noise.

“Especially,” she whispered, “when we both know it was something that could never happen…”

“I’m human now,” he pointed out, a little pathetically from where he lay broken on the corporate carpet of an evil law firm.

“Yeah,” she answered him sadly.  “And maybe someday you’ll do this Shanshu thing.  And maybe life will be wonderful for you when you do.  But…”  She trailed off, unable to say it flat out.  And let the silence speak the words for her.

Their time had passed. 

He percolated on that for a minute, then, “It wasn’t an accident, was it?  Or a spur-of-the moment thing.  He didn’t… take advantage of you, or…”

She scoffed.  “I could throw Spike off like a fly if I wanted to.”  /Unless I’m hurt.  And he’ll never come at me like that again unless he knows he has my full consent.  Soul or no soul.  Ever./  She would never for a moment doubt that. 

She had seen the sudden horror and the self-loathing in his unsouled eyes.  She knew.

Angel looked down at his own chest, gaze distant and pained.  He had heard the unspoken corollary.  She had wanted it when Spike had bitten her.  She had invited it.   “You really meant it, didn’t you?” he whispered. 

Her fingers found her neck again, touched the two tiny puncture marks; this time sans even the faintest ring of tooth impressions.  She knew what he meant.  All of it.  “Yeah, I did.”

“And you know… what it means.”

She didn’t have to clarify what he was actually asking.  He wanted to know if Spike had given her the fine print; the legalese that he, Angel, had not.  /Yes, I know what it meant when I did it.  For us… and for you and me./

She kept her gaze on his, unblinking, until he had the grace to look away.  Because they both knew he had never given her the 411 to which she had been entitled, once upon a time.  /Just another way to protect me?  Your sweet, unassuming little girlfriend?/  It felt grating, now.

“You know that….  That it’s permanent.”  It wasn’t a question this time.

He was asking if she had known that it would permanently remove his mark from her.  Their twisted, attenuated bond.  /The one I never even knew was there, because you didn't bother to tell me./ 

She shot him an even look, fought down the spur of anger that wanted to climb into her throat.  “Angel… don’t you think it’s about time that we moved on?  You’ve had other loves.  I have mine.  I’m sorry yours died… but mine hasn’t.”  She drew in a deep breath.  “And I’d like to keep it that way.  If I can.”

He closed his eyes, aware as no other could be that he couldn’t keep her there if another’s bond was calling to her.  When he spoke again, she could see defeat etched over every inch of his frame, sinking him down in a way even his pain had not done.  “I’m… probably okay for you to go now,” he breathed.  “I think the spell is about half-done.”  He closed his eyes grimly.  “Another week in the stasis column should do it.  And I’ll have the dragon to protect me till I can protect myself.  I’ll be fine.”

Buffy stared at him in surprise, thoroughly thrown.  “What?”

“It’s working,” he admitted softly.  “Slowly but surely.  I think being out here moving around is slowing it down, but I wanted to be with you.  Keep you safe here, have us get to know each other again…” 

“Keep me away from Spike?” she demanded sharply, almost afraid to hear the answer… and was floored when he didn’t immediately refute the assertion. 

He just looked… tired.  “If I’m in the stasis spell I doubt it’ll take as long to finish up.”  His eyes were no longer on hers.

Hardcore, open fury was a new emotion for her when it came to Angel… but she was feeling it now.  It pushed her to her feet, and right now she was so not trusting herself to speak.  She had to just… focus on acting.  On movement.

She swung around to grab a couple of water bottles.  Shoved them into the shoulder bag she had scrounged for her building-wide ‘patrols’.  Shoved some scraps of food in there too, in sharp, angry movements.  Turned to go without another word.

“At least take the dragon.  It’ll make the journey safer than going overland again, and you can quarter for Spike’s… accommodations easier that way.”

And just with that generous offer… he redeemed himself slightly.  “Thank you.”  She managed it tightly, hurt; but she managed it, and moved to Cordelia.  Patted the scaly neck and, when it slithered its head around to regard her solemnly, swung aboard.  “I’ll send your dragon back as soon as I can.”  /Though I’m not sure anymore that I can trust myself to check in on you./

He didn’t answer.  But then, she hadn’t expected him to.

***





chant with me.  ONE, TWO, THREE... "MANIPULATIVE ASS!"

okay.  Now that we have that out of our systems, let us look fwd to some nice reunionage in the next chapter.  Though, of course, not without some kerfuffle, because, you know, two weeks, and when does Angel not cause problems for our kids?

Chapter Text

Buffy followed the feel of her…  Well, her mate, she supposed, as she coursed west and slightly north over the burning city.  The bond drew her on, tightening up and reeling her in with an ever-increasing expectation that felt almost like a building orgasm the closer she drew to Beverly Hills.  It made her jittery, made her want to fight, to explode…

She had to focus, increasingly, on the wreckage of the city below her to keep from leaping off the back of the dragon.  The land of her birth looked… well, like hell as she looked over the frighteningly altered landscape from the shoulders of the swift-moving creature. 

‘Cordelia’ seemed intelligent and responsive as they flew along, avoiding other airborne menaces both alive and flaming and tilting for her to get a look at the devastation below them every time Buffy leaned over to get a closer look at some building with an octopus-demon clinging to the side of it or a crater in an avenue with a gang of who-knew-what kind of creatures gathered around it, stabbing some other hapless thing with spears.

This dimension was major with the suckage.

And she had been here so long.  Everything that was going to happen with her people and the Scourge had probably long since happened, for better or worse.  She had been fretting about that, too, while she was with Angel; enough that it had left her edgy as heck, but it wasn’t like she could do anything about it.  She just had to pray that they were all okay.  That her warning had come in time and that those inhuman bastards hadn’t cleaned out the new site in Scotland and then headed straight to St. Petersburg to go after Giles and his bunch, or to Rome and then the Azores, then Cleveland and Robin Wood...

It was a balm to her antsy soul how much faster she covered the ground as the crow—uh, dragon—flew than when darting and slogging and tussling her way across the burning city on foot.  They got to Sunset Boulevard in a few minutes, covering ground it had taken her hours to cross before, by dint of blood and sweat and stress.  (It was also a lot nicer covering that ground from this far away, where she couldn’t hear all the screaming.)  Once over their last known location, the dusty triangle that was all that remained of Will Rogers Memorial Park, she patted Cordy’s shoulder to signal her to circle, then closed her eyes and reached out, feeling for Spike.  Tried to zero in, wondering just where a ‘demon lord’ would fort up around here. 

And could swear the bond was dragging her just about straight downward.  Her blood was literally singing; the way it had used to do whenever Angel got closer, but… more physical.  Perking along every limb like she had joyous little soda bubbles running along under her skin, pulling her eyes along a line of march…

There.  Almost directly below them there was a large structure.  A hotel or something…  She couldn’t quite place it in her mental map of the area from this bizarre overhead angle, especially since she hadn’t exactly been a driver when she’d lived in LA.  “That one,” she told the dragon firmly, and patted her neck.  “It’s the only thing big enough nearby.”

She swore Cordelia nodded before beginning to spiral downward toward the sort of quadrangle made by the two wide wings of the structure. 

They landed in between the center building and a sort of huge, round, gazebo-looking deal, only bigger, attached to it by a walkway, which was where Buffy half slid, half tumbled off.  She felt kind of stiff from the long ride astride, clenching without moving, her skin chafed my rough scales.  Even Slayer-muscles weren’t complete proof against that much enforced stillness and single-use-type exertion for long periods against g-forces and swerving and stuff.  A regular person would probably have fallen off halfway, without some kind of saddle.  /Not used to riding horses, much less dragons./  A rough scale caught on her now-torn slacks, making her stumble on the dismount, and she righted herself by dint of her preternatural balance… and looked up just in time to see a flash of white-blond hair and cheekbones and wine-red shirt flying at her.

And then she was in his arms, and he felt like home; and holy crap he smelled good.  Less smoke than usual, no leather.  /No duster/ her brain inanely reminded her, and she felt a pang for it.  But Spike smell, and that was all she needed to know this was real; and she never wanted him to let go.  Actually, she was kind of inspired to climb right up into him right now, and build a nest in his body, and…

“BuffyBuffyBuffy,” he chanted, face in her hair, and his arms were wrapped around her so tight that she almost couldn’t breathe, and she was holding him as tightly, and okay, so she was crying a little, so shoot her; but the relief was real.

She really wasn’t sure who started the kissing first, but then they had always been better at showing how they felt with their bodies, wordlessly.  She because she was not large with the articulate, and he because his much more articulate self tended to strangle into wordlessness whenever she was around; and his hands were on her face, and they were kissing like the world was ending and it was the only thing left to do, and oh my god, she had missed him so badly.  “I was so… worried about you,” she managed, gasps interspersed between the harried, inelegant meetings of mouths too overwhelmed for finesse.

“Bloody Christ, Slayer!”  More insane kisses, and he was buried in her neck, sniffing long and deep, probably doing some vampire thing, and it was entirely unfair that he was taking his mouth away.  “You had me clean off my trolley; you with your blood telling me you’re alright, but no way to be sure, and weeks…”  It was half-moan, half-growl, keened into the juncture of neck and shoulder, and oh.  He was sniffing her bite-scar. 

/The smell of us./  And it was doing things to his body, that scent.  He was unbelievably hard against her belly, and yet he was also trembling so that she thought maybe he might just shake apart.  Not that it wasn’t also giving her a little zing, as well, now that she was paying attention; his cool breath tickling over the sensitive spot, his lips brushing.  It made things inside her curl up and jump and tremble.  But not as hard as he was.

She slipped a hand free of his grip to lay it lightly on the back of his neck, aware from the ridged feel of his face against her skin that he had vamped.  “I’m okay,” she told him gently.  “I’m here.”

“Where the fuck have you been?” he lisped, still growling.  “Sodding Christ, Buffy…”

She opened her mouth to answer, but before she could get a word out he was up and staring into her with golden eyes blazing, his body taut with a terrible need.  “Never mind.  To hell with it.  You want to go to bed with the demon lord of Beverly Hills?”

She kept her eyes steady on his as she answered quite firmly.  “You bet your ass.”

He caught her hand and turned promptly to pull her toward the interior of the hotel.  “Go now,” he informed her urgently.  “Catch up later.”

The pent-up energy of the last couple of weeks thought this was a fantastic idea.  The way he felt against her set everything in her humming like a nuclear power plant.  “Sounds like a plan.”  

His eyes, as he swung back to grin at her, still in full game face, were amber and feral and full of longing need.  And then, in an instant, they changed.  Lifted to take in the dragon behind her.  “That Angel’s beast?”

She glanced back at Cordelia.  “Yeah.  Oh, I should probably send it home.”  She twisted half back to wave at the dragon-demon.  “Go ahead back, Cordy.  He needs you.  And thank you!”

With a happy sound and, Buffy could swear, another little nod, the large beast turned and lumbered away to make an awkward little hop-skip, caught the edge of the gazebo roof, and used it to launch herself heavily into the air.  With one voluminous downsweep that almost caught the ground beneath its pinions and kicked up huge, twin swirls of dust from the denuded former garden area, it took flight and, regaining its elegance, arced over the roofs of the buildings to arrow off back toward Downtown. 

Turning back to her guy, Buffy was startled to find him regarding her now with all vestiges of the heat that had once been in his eyes now gone, along with his game face.  He had a mask over his expressions now; the one he had worn all too often when she had somehow wounded him without even trying.  William’s face; vulnerable and covered over only with the thin, armored veneer of sneers and insolence that was Spike.  “What?” she demanded, taken aback.

“You were with Angel?”

It took her a sec to figure out what the problem was.  /Oh for God’s sake/ was followed very swiftly by, /Huh, I guess that ‘cleansing’ spell really does work, or we’d be having this conversation right off the bat./  “Yeah.  I got there by following you.  Got there right after you, actually, but then I couldn’t just leave him like that, could I…”

“Why not?  I did.”

Her mouth tightened.  “I noticed.  But I couldn’t.” 

His hand released hers to drop to his side.  “I see.”

She was already starting to feel very tired.  “Are you kidding me right now, with this?”

Rage boiled up into his voice, on preset.  “Do you know what we were going through, up here, while you were down there coddling Peaches?  I coulda used your help!  And I’m sure he was enjoying every minute of getting it from your hands instead!”

She could tear out her hair.  Really she could.  Or punch him in the face.  She really, really missed the days when she could just punch him in the face when she was mad at him.  It was a simpler time. 

Maybe he did too.  He was practically goading her into it, and the belligerent look on his stupid mug almost made her do it… but it was also the thing that stayed her hand, made her clench her fists to her sides with supreme effort. 

Instead she walked away for a moment and just stood facing out toward the big round structure in the center of the quadrangle, breathing hard.  Counted down from ten.  Tried to tell herself all the myriad reasons she had come back for this man.  Why her life was so much better with him in it, even though right now it seemed like the dumbest idea in the world; a stupid idea that had gotten her stuck in a stupid hell dimension with a stupid vampire she should be punching, and... 

“He’s human again.”

She whirled back, confused and still on the verge of violence.  “Hence the broken bones,” she spat, truly at her wits’ end.  “Spike, what…”

She really was pissed off, to have missed the implications he was throwing at her. 

“So.  Didn’t take much to make you stay.  Probably batted the old puppy dog eyes at you and you fell for the routine just like you always do.  Wipe his bum for him too, did you?”

Just what?  “Spike, he was helpless.  He needed me!”  What even was his trauma right now?

“Yeah?  And I’m sure the fact that you don’t have to worry about Angelus making an appearance anymore had nothing to do with it!”

It hit her, finally and extremely belatedly, just what the hell he was getting at.  And holy fuck, did it make her furious.  She ripped her satchel of supplies off her shoulder and threw it to the ground, so livid that she was sure she was going to swing it at his idiot head.  Maybe even take it off for him.  “Oh, you are the absolute limit, do you know that?  Both of you!  Him for keeping me there when he didn’t need me anymore so you couldn’t have me, and you for thinking I’d leave him like that when he did!  And for not trusting me with him when you know for a fact that I’m with you now; though at the moment I can’t for the life of me remember why!”  He flinched, but her dander was well and truly up, and she barreled on without a single thought for the damage her words might do.  “What, do you think I’d jump his bones the second he turned human, no matter what you and I just did and what we are to each other?”  Another flinch.  “All two hundred and six broken ones?  With your bite running through me every second so that I spend every moment of every day worried stiff about you?”  A third wince.  “Yeah,” she finished off brusquely, ire finally spent.  “I almost couldn’t wait till you were gone, as a matter of fact.  Thanks for getting out of there so I could ride the only bone he had left that wasn’t…”

A pale hand shot up to stop her.  “Alright, Buffy!  Just sodding stop!”  He closed his eyes and sagged against the nearest dead tree, looking completely undone.  “Bloody buggering Christ, Slayer.  I’m sorry.  I just…”

“You better be,” she hissed.  “You absolute asshole.  Do you know how much I’ve worried about you?  And to have him back there talking to me the whole time about how ‘it’s not safe for me to cross back on my own’…  And then to find out the spell I did to heal him actually worked, and he’s been getting better this whole time and I could’ve come back a week ago…”

“Yeah,” Spike answered ruefully, and flicked his fingers like he really wanted a cigarette.  Scrubbed one hand ruefully through his hair, disrupting its carefully-organized state.  “That sounds like Angel.  He called me over at first to get me away from you.  Didn’t expect you to follow, but I guess that was a nice bonus for him, yeah?”

She still couldn’t believe it of him.  She’d heard it from the source, and yet…

Putting aside Angel, though, what the hell was going on with Spike?  How could he think that she’d just turn around and…

And then she remembered sleeping curled up with him in a deserted house.  Stripping herself figuratively naked before him, throughout a long night.  Him stripping himself naked the next night to let her know what it had meant to him.  And her, telling him in no uncertain terms that it had meant as much to her, as well.

And then turning around to greet Angel with an enthusiastic kiss of gratitude when he’d visited, only an hour or so later.  So not what Spike had thought it had meant, with Angel promptly acting like a jealous twelve-year-old when he smelled Spike all over her, but still.  From Spike’s perspective, he was probably always going to think that he would forever measure up as second-best in her mind next to a man who had done god alone knew what to him when he’d raised him up in the vamp world, and…  And why had it never occurred to her to wonder what that had been like?  Being raised by a sociopath like Angelus?  Who was, now that she thought about it, also screwing Drusilla the whole time; a woman with whom Spike had also been also in love, and who incidentally was also the cray-cray, mercurial vamp who had sired him, and, just…

Wow.  /It might not even be all about us.  But the past with Angel… probably doesn’t help much.  And what you’ve done to Spike for years, tearing him down every time he’s told you he loves you, and then running to Angel like he’s some kind of god…/

It was going to take him a long time to believe it.  /So just breathe, Buffy.  Try to remember how insecure you’ve made him about us./

It was that thought that kept her sane enough to face him down calmly, made the part of her that still wanted to strangle him slowly drain away.  “I can understand why you’d be a little… uncertain about me and Angel, Spike, with our history, but…”  She stretched out with one hand to catch his wrist.  “I was kind of hoping that you and I had gotten past our history.  At least a little.  Enough that you could maybe trust me.”

His eyes opened and he stared at her for a moment brokenly.  “It’s not even just that, luv,” he whispered softly.  “It’s that…  Some things… happened… while you were gone that… maybe you aren’t gonna like…”

/Oh, man…/  “What happened?  I know it was something bad.  I could feel it.  It was driving me crazy.  It’s why I knew I had to get back.”  When he didn’t answer she moved a little closer, concerned enough by the haunted look in his eyes, the gauntness about his cheekbones, the hunched way he held his body and the uncertainty in the blood-bond that she abruptly forgot all her ire.  It was gone as if it had never been.  “Spike.  Tell me.”

“I didn’t want it to happen,” he told her quietly, and his tones were those of a desperate man.  “I was in a sort of a dungeon they’d made up down in the basement of the hotel.  ‘The Palace’, Non called it, here.  Chained to the wall, yeah?”

She closed her eyes briefly, remembering what Spike had looked like once before, shackled to a stone wall and tormented by The First.  “This ‘Non’ is dead?”

“Yeah,” he answered softly.

She digested it for a moment.  “How’d she even get you there?”

His lips twisted.  “She caught us all right after I got back.  She was the demon lord here by virtue of she could drain the life force out of folk.  Drained all our people in a moment; save Illyria and me, and Johns…”

/Oh, jeez…/  That mega sucked.  All those people…

“Kept Blue in a cage and me down below; to try to parlay with Gunn.”  His eyes cut over to hers.  “Seems like Charlie-boy’s a vamp now.”

It wrenched something inside her to hear it.  “Oh.”  Not ‘dead’, then, in the standard way of things.  But not the same anymore. 

“Yeah.”  He lifted one shoulder and dropped it uneasily.  “Anyway, while they had me down there, one of Non’s girls took a fancy to me…”

Buffy tensed.  “Oh?”

He cut his eyes away again, looked down.  “She wanted me.  And in the demon world, there’re only two ways to answer that.  You say yeah, or you kill ‘em to say no.  Fight ‘em off, at least.  And I could hardly do that, chained to a wall.  So I thought maybe I could get her to unchain me; use it to get away, like?  Escape?” 

His continued confession, made to the dirt between his feet, was having an effect on her.  One of ever-increasing horror.  She didn’t want to hear anymore, and yet she almost felt like he needed to tell her.  /Oh God…/  “Spike…  Did she…”

“I couldn’t stop her, Buffy,” he whispered, his voice almost nonexistent.  “And in the end she never did unchain me anyway.  So I guess I didn’t play my cards right after all.”

Oh.  Oh god.  The way he was standing, not looking at her…  It was like he thought she’d think he cheated, or… 

Oh god.  He’d been raped.  And he was scared she’d be mad about it.

Well, she was mad.  But not at him.  And she needed him to know that, first off.  “It doesn’t count,” she whispered around a throat swollen and tight.  /Don’t cry.  Not now.  He needs you not to./  “You know that, right?  I mean, that isn’t… sex, right?  Whatever she thought it was?”

Something tightened in his face.  “She got me off.”

It hurt, yeah, but still.  That was just mechanics.  He had been violated.  He had said no, and someone who had the power over him had come up on him and ignored his ‘no’ and had had her way with him when he was powerless to stop it from happening and…

It hit her like a ton of bricks then, hard and heavy, nearly bringing her to her knees.  His voice, telling her ‘No’ in no uncertain terms, only a few years ago.  ‘I think you need to leave.  Because if I can’t have all of you, then…’  And her completely ignoring him and just…

Taking what she had wanted from him anyway.  Because she had had all the power in that relationship.  He could have said all the ‘nos’ in the world.  He could have tried to push her off.  He could have tried to throw her off, even.  But she was, and unless there was an injury or a spell, would always be, stronger than him.  She wouldn’t have believed his ‘nos’, because his ‘I love yous’ had been carte blanche to her and she had thought that meant he was her property to do with as she pleased.  Because she had treated him like a thing and not a person.  She would not have treated his physical protests as such; would simply have slammed his body up against the nearest wall and continued taking what she had wanted from him until she was satisfied, up to and including satisfying herself on his body once she had gotten him sufficiently aroused.  She in fact remembered doing exactly that, more than once, when he had not been interested in playing their usual game of violent, abusive sex… and when she hadn’t wanted his tentative attempts at lovemaking.  Had repudiated them with more violence, and turned them back on him with sex-as-abuse, and...

Nausea assaulted her, so that she pushed both her fists to her stomach, against the horrible churning there.  /I’ve done that.  I’ve raped him.  And he was a vampire who was raised with that kind of twisted… whatever… /  Yes, she remembered exactly how he had meant to get Drusilla to fall in love with him again.  /So he just thought that was…  That was love, and…/ 

/And he still loved me./  When she had used and abused him to make herself feel without actually feeling…

The second assault hit even harder; like a baseball bat to the gut.  /Oh God; and then I considered it a completely different thing and a total betrayal when his demon completely lost it and tried to do the same to me to get me to love him the only way he knew how… when I’d already done it to him and used it to tell him I didn’t; over and over and over again.  Except that wasn’t even the same, because I was actually trying to just get sex, and use him like… like a thing…  And you always just wanted me to see you, right?  It wasn’t even about sex for you, was it?  It was about getting me to feel you, connect with you…/

And he had realized right away.  He’d been so sorry that he’d…  /And I never even realized, much less…/

“Oh, God, Spike…” she whispered, appalled, and held a shaking hand out toward him.  Hesitated halfway.  “How can you even be with me after…”

He lifted his head.  Met her eyes.  And she saw that he knew exactly what she meant.  That he had been thinking of it.  Maybe even when that other girl had been…

Oh god…

“The same way that you can be with me, after,” he answered her, frank as a house falling.

They just stood there, staring at one another while the world came crashing to a halt.  Because the difference was, when he had, he had acknowledged his debt to her immediately and with full regret, and began to repay it in the most self-flagellating way he could possibly imagine.  Had gone so far, even, as to attempt to murder the part of himself that had done the harm.  But in turn she had never even recognized, much less acknowledged hers to him, till now. 

She had the hell of a lot to make up for.  If she could even get past what she had done to him.  He apparently had.  Or had he?

His eyes on hers demanded it now; that she get to work on it.  Could she?

The first step came today.  “Maria still works for me,” he informed her bluntly.

She was shocked to her marrow by that, uttered the first words that came to her mouth.  “You didn’t kill her?”  It didn’t occur to her until after she heard herself how judgmental they probably sounded.  /Double standard much?/

His eyes on hers challenged her assumptions.  Challenged her willingness to make restitution, now, by leaving him to decide the fate of another of his rapists.  “She proved useful when we overthrew Non.  And in her mind she didn’t do anything wrong.”  His lips twitched wryly.  “I know it doesn’t make any sense in the human world, pet, but in the demon world, what we had was… a nice first date.”

“So she thinks you’re dating, now?” Buffy demanded incredulously, because her mouth seriously didn’t know how to quit, and fought not to double her fists.  She could get behind the idea that she could start making amends for what she had done to him by, maybe, just maybe not killing this Maria—it would be, after all, pretty petty of her to murder someone for doing to him something she had also done, especially since the murder part was kind of Spike’s prerogative—and, okay.  Maybe she could see finding some use in a member of a former court as a sort of info-dump or something.  But if the girl still had feelings for him, was confused about their relationship…

“I’ve more or less convinced her,” Spike answered quietly, “that it was a one-time thing.  She’s a bit put out about it, since she can’t quite understand why we don’t suit, but she’s agreed to just be friends.  Allies with a common goal and all that rot.  She’s proved a useful member of the court; helped a lot when we had the big battle here.”

Buffy sighed and bent over to pick up her torn satchel.  And hit the reset button on her mouth.  “You want to tell me about this big battle?  ‘Cause I have to admit I’m pretty confused about how you went from dungeon-guy to demon lord in two weeks.”  And, it seemed that she desperately needed context for all that had gone down over here in the Hills while she had been sitting on her duff rubbing salves on Angel’s busted-up bod for fifteen stupid days while Spike had been over here being…

Maybe someday when he was all healed up she would go back and punch Angel in the face for that.  A lot; for knowingly keeping her away from her mate while Spike was being… abused, so she wasn’t here to help him.  /God… and I let him do it.  I fell for it hook, line, and sinker, let him wangle me into it./  Guilt swamped her, and she opened her mouth to say something, though god knew she’d probably say it wrong, that bringing up Angel again might be the worst idea in the universe right now… But she was forestalled by a change in the air between herself and Spike. 

Her vampire had relaxed a little.  His arm entered her field of vision as he tentatively poked out an elbow in her direction.  “I think it’s a good story, pet.  Wish I could get any of it in before court.”

/Okay, save it for later./  They had a tentative peace for now.  Best not to screw it up when things were already kind of wobbly.  “Court?” she inquired, nonplussed, and absently took the arm; partly to humor him and partly because she wondered if this was some holdover of his Victorian upbringing that was peeping out from behind his hundred-plus demon-y years, and it was only slipping loose right now because he was as rattled as she, wasn’t paying any attention at all to what he was doing. 

They made their way onto a patio full of overturned white tables and white metal chairs with beautiful, leaf-patterned, wrought-iron curlicues and scattered dusty green cushions as he answered.  “Yeah.  You know, where they bring in the next batch of human refugees, Illyria and I pretend to herd them off to eat them and instead filter them out to the safehouses..."

/Ha, I knew it!/

"...We’ve got a nice underground railroad set up between here and this place run by Kate Lockley, this ex-cop friend of Peaches.  Human; and a couple of others.  Conner herds the people in between since he’s got the daywalker strength…”  Then, out of nowhere he clamped his teeth shut tight and looked decidedly awkward. 

Buffy glanced over at him as they stepped under the walkway and in between tall, pinkish arches, wondering at the abrupt cutoff.  “Who’s Conner?”  He’d said the name with an odd, sardonic lilt to it that made her curious as heck. 

Something rippled through his skin where her hand was threaded through his elbow, and through the blood-bond.  “Sodding hell.  Guess it doesn’t matter if you know, since we’re all stuck here, now.  Not like you’re gonna go running off to tell the Scourge or anyone else who’s his enemy, yeah?  Conner is Angel’s son.  Technically with dear departed Darla, though he was mostly raised by Peaches and that Cordelia woman, I think…”

Buffy came to a screeching halt and stared at him in shock.  “Angel has a…  Wha…”  That didn’t even compute; so much so that she had to fight for words.  “How?”

“No idea,” he admitted, and his tone made it clear that he honestly didn’t care.  “Dear grandmama always was an odd duck; even for a vamp.”  He opened the door to the main part of the hotel for her, expression, as she glanced over at him, clearly anticipatory of her reaction to his latest digs.  “Welcome to your home away from home, luv.”

She stared around her, briefly sidetracked from the bizarre conversation about vampires magically managing to make babies…  Okay, she had heard via Willow that Darla had somehow come back and gone rampaging around with Drusilla for a while last year, but how in the heck had she managed to get pregnant? 

Wait; did that mean that she and Angel had… 

Ugh.  Just, no.  Better to simply let herself be awed by the opulence of the beautiful hotel Spike and Illyria had turned into their joint noble abode.  Better not to think at all about Angel, and things he had apparently decided not to tell her about yet another liaison—with his evil sire this time!—while still nitpicking her being with his not-so-evil scion.  Definitely best not to remotely consider vampire (?) children (what was a daywalker, anyway?)… much less some kind of timeline where someone who couldn’t have been born more than a year or two ago was old enough to…

/Stop thinking, Buffy.  Look at the pretty things./ 

She was in a wide, green room filled with shining, if cracked glass and honey-colored, wood accents.  The dusty carpets were green and expensively patterned to look like some sort of eye-dazzling mirage.  The dim orange light from outside shining dully across every polished surface of the vast space, making her wonder how amazing it must have looked when it wasn’t… you know.  Trapped in a hell dimension.  “Wow.”

Spike grinned and snaked his tongue behind his teeth all suggestively.  Clearly he was proud of his newest accommodations.  “Wait till you see the Crystal Ballroom.”

“The…”

“It’s where we hold court.  I think it’s gonna be right up your alley, Slayer.  Like somethin’ right out of one of your girly little fantasies…”

She lifted a brow at him, pinned him with a half-glare, half-demand.  “What makes you think I have any girly fantasies left?”

He was practically bouncing on his toes.  “Guess we’ll find out, yeah?  C’mon, pet.”  And he tugged her, practically bubbling with anticipation, across the room toward the exit.

She let herself be towed, wondering just what the hell had gotten into him.  He really was being an incredible showoff right now.  What was this?

They passed through long stretches of beautiful hotel-ness—the place really was like a palace—through stretches of tall, white columns and white walls, and past sections of wall with interesting wallpaper that had some tall, frondy-looking tropical plant design on it.  They went down a very long section of echoingly empty hall, turned through two wide double doors made of some really beautiful wood with gorgeous beveled glass and crystal inlays—god, she’d have killed for something like that in any part of her house in Sunnydale, even if it would have lasted exactly five seconds—and stepped into a wonderland.

There were tall, mirrored windows in threes in the walls, everywhere; beautiful ivory walls, and each mirrored window had beveled crystal arches over the tops of them, sectioned off in gorgeous, French-cut amazingness.  The ceiling had this huge light fixture in it that, if there was any electricity, probably would have set the room ablaze, the amount of glass and crystal that was everywhere, but since there wasn’t electricity in hell, it just hung up there looking profound and looming in its weird, multifariousness; like some kind of bulging, beautiful insect’s eye staring benevolently down on proceedings and catching faint glints of ochre light from whatever sources poked their way in from the outside. 

Whatever tables had used to be in here had all been moved to line the walls or had been moved out, but there were dozens of chairs set up all along one side of the room; beautiful spindly things with a sort of ivory-brass finish that almost looked pearlescent.  The room still smelled like the ghosts of former roses that had used to decorate the space.  White ones, she didn’t doubt.

But one whole side of the room, in front of three of the mirror-windows, was taken up by a sort of platform made out of who knew what, but covered in what she assumed were old tablecloths, based on their pearly-bronze color.  On that platform were two chairs; big, heavy things with silken cushions that had clearly been dragged in from another room.  One was sort of bronze-colored and covered in a kind of royal blue velvet, and sat to the far right of the stage thing if you were facing it.  The other was honey-gold wood with blood blood-red cushions. 

No one would mistake them for anything but thrones. 

She was still taking it all in, feeling distinctly nonplussed, when Spike abruptly let go of her arm and bent to kiss her hurriedly on her neck, right on her bite scar—which, shiver, much?—pulled in a long, deep inhalation of her scent, and murmured in her ear, “Showtime, luv.  Find a good vantage.  ‘S gonna be something to see.”  A seeming hesitance entered his voice then, and his tone went strangely…  Well, for Spike, almost tentative.  “And… remember that I’m on stage, yeah?”  With a peck on her cheek he was gone, striding purposefully—one might say swaggering—up to the blood-red chair.  Whereat he took a seat—if that was what you could call it when the person in question literally flung themselves onto a piece of furniture and then slung their legs over one arm and propped themselves up on the other like a decadent piece of lazy man-candy, and of course the red one was his.  And of course he would sit like that on it.  If you could even use a word like ‘sit’ for what he was doing.  Lounging, maybe. 

He was basically on display. 

Nnngh.

/Okay, you lasted two years with and without him around.  You can handle a few more minutes, jeez./  Firmly instructing her long-restrained libido to take it down a notch, Buffy moved to locate a seat across from her theatrical vampire. 

She was just installing herself in one of the few chairs still extant in the room when his eyes caught hers, flashing her a quick blue warning.  And then Illyria was sweeping into the room, a retinue of six or seven multicolored demon-y-looking girls trailing behind her like eager sycophants in a Cordelia Chase reunion.  Though, none of Cordelia’s hangers-on had never looked so utterly dwarfed by her aura as these demons were by Illyria’s sheer, crackling presence.  It had for sure impressed Buffy when she had first met the Old One, but she had never really stopped to think what kind of impression a demonic demigod would make on little sub-demons like these. 

Apparently it was a big one. 

Illyria didn’t see her as she swept up to her azure throne.  In fact she looked to neither the right nor the left, nor at anything but Spike as she moved toward the raised area of the room (Buffy had a vague memory from some high school class or something that it was called something like a dais) and took her seat. 

Then about half the demon-girls broke off from Illyria to trot away toward Spike.  Moved over behind his throne.  Started to lean over the arms and the back.  Laid their hands on him.  Caressed his biceps.  Got their fingers in his hair.  Slid them over his chest.  

/Oh hell no./

Buffy started to rise, murder on her mind… and was arrested by a sharp sapphire glance that indicated she should wait, that there was more to this than met the eye. 

/What the actual fuck?/

Illyria’s head turned very slowly to regard her apparent co-ruler.  Her very weird eyes seemed to spark with possessive intent as she watched the sexy vampire lounging next to her throne with his… his harem touching him all over, and why was he making her watch this?  /After you got all pissed about me taking care of Angel for all this time, you have the… the stones to…/ 

“You appear pleased about something on this day, my pet.”

/Oh, I bet he is!/  

“The anxiety which has distracted you for these weeks is now gone.”

Buffy bristled even harder at the affectionately possessive mien the demon queen still had around her man.  This was all just not even happening.  What was Spike trying to show her?  That he was a free vamp?  Was he trying to punish her for being gone for so long?  Was he…

Spike’s eyes did not move toward her, but she felt something that she might almost qualify as a warning through the perking in her blood that was her sense of him.  “Yeah,” he answered in his most smug and self-congratulatory tones.  “I’m feeling less off my game, it’s true.”  He tilted his head across the room, eyes leading the way to where Buffy fumed just to one side of the bank of audience chairs.  “Buffy’s back.  Been taking care of Angel back at Wolfram and Hart this whole time.  I told you how he was laid up with a broken back?”

Confusion reigned as Illyria followed Spike’s gaze.  Arrowed in on Buffy with almost invasive attention.  “I considered this one to be a distraction for you before.  I will reassess now, as it seems your focus is in fact better when she is present.”

/Um, okay?  Maybe if you weren’t letting yourself get petted all the time by a bunch of skanky demon-girl hos, you wouldn’t be distracted…/  Though it was nice to hear that Illyria thought her presence would ensure that Spike would be more on his game.  /I’ll show you less distracted if I have to kill every chick in this whole fucking hotel, and then you, you dick./

Also, what was up with Illyria reading her guy this well?

Out of her periphery, Buffy noticed that the demon chicks hovering around Spike had stopped sliding their boobs all over him to stare at Buffy as if they had just seen a walking, talking, five-foot rat come marching into their palace and take a dump on the floor.  Which, wow. 

“And I find myself,” Illyria went on.  Paused, tilted her head oddly, as if made curious by a sensation.  “…Pleased,” she finally selected, “to hear that Angel is recovering, though it is strange to know that he is no longer the home of a proper demon.”

Buffy swore she could feel Spike relax a little, and wondered at the obviously weird politics of his relationship with this Illyria chick.  “Yeah, Peaches and his very proper demon are always some topic of conversation or another,” Spike answered in a totally ironic tone.

Buffy found herself, once more, in the position of trying very hard not murder a guy with whom she was, paradoxically, very deeply in love.  /Why is this my life?  Always?/ 

What the hell was going on here?  Spike wouldn’t do this to her.  Wouldn’t cheat on her, for one, and wouldn’t bring her in here and rub it in her face if he was, so what the hell…

‘Remember that I’m on stage, yeah?’ 

Fuck, this had better be some kind of… act, or…

“It is a topic, however, which must wait for another time,” Illyria cautioned, having completely missed the irony.  “Our servants approach with today’s catch of human detritus.”

“They’re called refugees, Illyria.”

“As you say.”

Any other time Buffy would have choked back a snort of laughter at what had apparently been a longstanding exchange.  Right now she was too confused and pissed off to feel a whole lot of mirth.

Off to the right, the big double doors opened again, and a couple more skanky demon girls entered, this time leading a really ragtag bunch of the sorriest looking broken, terrified human beings Buffy had ever encountered in her entire life.

There were about a dozen of them, give or take.  All kinds of people; men and women, boys and girls and a couple whose genders she couldn’t quite pin down right now; all colors and all ages, though she thought they really clustered in the middle, age-wise, and she really didn’t want to think about why there were so few older ones… and so few kids.  Because she truly, definitely did not want to think about how hard it would be for someone at either end of the age spectrum to stay alive in a place like this. 

All of them had some kind of wound, some of them in truly terrible states, though it also looked like they had had at least the benefit of some basic First Aid.  At least she thought she saw a few bandages here and there, evidence of blood clean-up, a crutch or two, some splints.  Being here without Slayer healing was of the suck, clearly.  All of them were wearing basically rags at this point; not that she herself was doing much better, to be fair.  Literally every single one of them looked like they were in some stage of starvation, or dehydration, or both, though if they’d had First Aid no doubt they’d also been given some water and a snack or two at least.  If they hadn’t, they wouldn’t be walking in here, some of them.  They stank; like BO and pee and a lot of other unmentionable things, and they were, every one of them, sunburnt and chapped and chafed and footsore and looked positively petrified.

The worst were the children.  They just looked shell-shocked.  Like they had seen so much at this point that the trauma had settled into their bones, and they were never going to close their too-wide eyes again. 

Like it would be a kindness to just make it all go away. 

Oh god.

“You have come before the Demon Lords of Beverly Hills, seeking asylum,” Illyria intoned as the gaggle of terrified refugees straggled to a halt in front of the two thrones.

The sound of scared and labored breathing was heavy in the silence.  Eventually it was broken by one very small voice; a little Latina girl with long, wavy hair, snarled dirty and with the remains of some wilted flower—Buffy thought it was a dandelion—still tangled up over one ear.  “Are you gonna eat us, Señora?”

All remaining ire fled from her mind, and Buffy felt her throat bind up with tears she could not shed.  /Oh, poor baby…/

Spike sat up at that and abruptly launched himself from his throne, utterly ignoring everything about his previous languorous, playboy-y image to kneel in front of the tiny girl (she couldn’t have been more than five or six).  Smiled down at her.  Tilted his head a little.  “Here’s the thing, little bit.  I may be a monster.  Big Blue up there, too.  But we’re not the bad kind, alright?  So we’re not gonna eat you.”  He stood then, and waved an arm to encompass the rest of the straggling group… though his eyes lingered longest on the man to whom the little girl clung with such clear desperation.  “What we are going to do is send you on with a friend of ours, name of Conner.  He’ll escort you to a safehouse we know about, where a few friends of ours will see to you.  Make you as comfortable as can be done in this special corner of hell.  Get you cleaned up.  Maybe find you some new clothes, if they can.  Help you if you’re looking for anyone you’ve lost.  And meantime, know we’re workin’ to put all this to rights, yeah?”

A too-thin blonde woman with a maybe second-degree freaking sunburn stepped forward, and it was clear from her expression that she was shocked at her own temerity, but it was just as clear that Spike’s expansive speech had given her the courage to speak up.  “Why… are you helping us?  If you’re a demon?  Or are you… human, and just…”  Her eyes shot from his face to Illyria’s clearly inhuman visage, shuddered away.

Spike smiled at her too, and pushed himself to his feet.  “Ducks, I’m as much a demon as that one, but I made a promise to a girl.  Learned a few things since then about the kind of monster I can be, versus the kind of monster I have been, before.  And the thing is, while it might be fun to run around out there tearin’ up the countryside…”  His eyes sought over the tops of a dozen heads, caught Buffy’s gaze.  Twinkled a little before they sobered.  “I’ve been there.  Done it all; for a hundred-plus years.  Got boring.  Thought I’d give bein’ a white hat a try for a bit.”

“You’re no monster,” a pre-teen boy piped up, sounding if anything, let down.  “I seen some monsters out there.  You’re just a guy.  How’re you supposed to protect us if you’re just some skinny white guy?”

Spike sighed and turned a little toward Illyria.  “It always happens, yeah?”

“They always seem to require a demonstration,” she agreed from her mostly-silent vantage. 

Spike turned back to the crowd and tilted his head at the crowd.  “Brace yourselves, then,” he informed them a little sadly.  “And remember.  The tyke asked for this.”  And, with no further ado, he vamped.

Predictably, the crowd went from a slightly-controlled group of anxious refugees to a squealing, panicked mob of terrified cattle who had seen just one demon too many in the past few days.

Spike slumped for a second; just a little.  Straightened wearily.  And everything about the act he’d been playing up to that moment vanished.  “Ladies, can you see to it that the refugees are taken care of with our usual brand of hospitality?”

“All bloody hail!” the girls chorused, and every single one of them scampered out after the fleeing humans.  Even the three who’d been hanging all over his throne. 

/It was all for show./  It was such a relief that Buffy almost fell to her knees.  /Just an act…/

As Spike waved his demonic harem off to chase the broken evacuees down the halls and round them up, Buffy felt herself moving toward him of her own accord.  There was a hint of uncertainty between them on the blood-bond, and…  /All bloody hail?  Really, Spike?/ 

He was nodding at Illyria when she rose all majestically from her own throne to depart the room. 

“The humans have been dispatched.  I will return to my chambers and continue my attempts to coax life from the plant-life which dwells therein.”

“Yeah.  You do that.”

Taking a deep breath in the hopes it would keep her voice steady, Buffy waited till they were alone before she approached her love across the now-empty ‘throne room’.  “She’s going to talk to a plant?”

A pained sort of look crossed Spike’s face as he watched his co-ruler depart.  “It’s a hobby of hers.”

She was really going to let that go.  Honestly she could care less about what an ancient demon demigod did for a hobby anyway.  “Big production,” she managed in the lightest tone she could possibly rustle up.

“Yeah, well…”  He scrubbed one hand behind his neck, looking deeply embarrassed.  “I would’ve given the girls orders to act a little more… uh, circumspect, but there wasn’t time.  Didn’t know you were gonna be here, yeah?”  He winced then, as if he’d just then realized how that sounded.  “Not that I go around takin’ ‘em up on any of it, but it looks good on paper.  Demon lord, livin’ it up…”

Buffy bit her lip and decided to just let that one fly right on by.  “So,” she asked softly, pointing with her chin in the direction of the vanished herd of humanity, “it always happens that way?”

He sighed and looked down.  “Buffy…”

/Oh, the hell with it./  She didn’t know half of what he’d been through here, or what he’d had to do to survive it.  She needed to cut him some slack. 

Reaching out, she laid a hand on her beautiful vampire’s upper arm.  And something broke in him.  Turning, he flung an arm over her shoulder, buried his face in the top of her head; half as if he were seeking comfort from her presence and half as if he simply wanted to prove to himself that she was actually there.  “Always got to show them the demon,” he muttered, and his head tilted till his cheekbone settled on her crown.  She felt the shiver run through him.

Turning her head a little, she followed his regretful gaze down the hall, frowning a little.  It was too bad, because otherwise things had gone really well.  The way he had handled that whole thing had been pretty awesome, actually; and to be real, he had been the main point-person for the handling.  Illyria hadn’t done much at all except sit there and supervise; which was probably by design.  She wasn’t exactly a people-person, that one.

Pulling back a little, Buffy turned her gaze back on her love, eyed him for a moment in an objective assessment.  He looked too pale.  Too thin, like he was losing muscle.  He was a little red around the eyes… and he looked tired.  Like being king up here was aging him. 

It was clearly weighing on him, this whole thing, and also, what had he been eating?  Because it clearly hadn’t been enough.  /Which makes sense, since, you know, no hospitals anymore, no butcher shops even./  And obviously it would terrify people like those if he asked if he could… well, take it out in trade by asking for a light snack from one or two of them in passing before they headed off to wherever this safehouse was. 

Besides; to be real, most of them were probably too depleted to have given him much to go on anyway. 

God, had he had any blood, aside from the one quick dip into her, since they’d gotten here?

She needed to feed him, stat; and then she needed to figure out how she could help him.  Help support him without taking anything away from him, because what he had accomplished here was amazing, and…  And if it were her, she wouldn’t want someone to come along and undermine her or try to take over, take credit for her accomplishments.  He deserved to own what he’d earned, here.  It really was incredible, and he’d done it all on his own; without her, and with a partner who was maybe possibly not the most dependable, and certainly not the most sociable when it came to politics, and…

And then she recalled how excited Spike had been to show her his ‘court’.  How bouncy he had been about it when he had been bringing her here, and it hit her belatedly.  He was super proud of his current situation.  Of what he had achieved.  He knew she was used to seeing him beaten down and kicked, starved and alone; the oddball of the vampire world.  But she knew, somewhere in the back of her head, that at one point he had been a hotshot master vampire; had had a retinue and minions, freedom to roam, and all that.  That being so isolated had been tough on him. 

Now he had something, finally, to show for his efforts.  A real achievement.  And, honestly, he deserved to be proud of what he had built here.

She hated to admit it, but the fact that he had only managed to do so without her present might actually have said a lot about her influence in his life lately.  Which, ouch.  Kind of smarted.  /How bad have you been for him these past few years?  Holding him back, making him be just love’s bitch and not the vamp he could have been?/

“I’m really proud of you,” she told him softly, and kept her eyes on him as she said it.

His head jerked around to stare at her, apparently deeply surprised by the unexpected kudos.  “You…”

“Are really proud.  Of you.  Of all that you’ve accomplished here.  It must’ve been pretty tough.  Still must be; pretending to be some cruel, evil, skanky Demon Lord to hold your own with whatever other ones are springing up all over the city—Angel said he heard from the ghost that there are like a dozen by now—and still manage to keep this refugee thing happening behind the front.  And you’re doing it; keeping up this amazing juggling act, and I don’t know how you’re doing it, but I want you to know that I…”

His mouth was on hers before she could finish; a kiss full of so many different emotions she at first couldn’t quite sort them all out.  Desperation, she thought, was there; she diagnosed that one right away, since she shared it.  A cell-deep yearning toward completion that she recognized now, in context, from her years in blood-thrall to another vampire, combined with the pounding physical connection that she had with this one; mutual and thundering through the blood link between them.  And wonder.  A shocked wonder and pride that she would see him.  See him and recognize all that he had done.  That she had found him worthy.

And, underneath it all, she could feel his weakness; his painful, famished hunger, his trembling need.  A purely physical thing… and knew for a fact then that he had been starving himself. 

She pulled away then, something turning inside a worry that might very shortly spin itself up into rage.  “Spike,” she asked very quietly, “what have you been eating?”

He jerked up and went ramrod straight.  Leaned away and tried to affect a casual slouch; but with a stiltedness that was painfully obvious to her.  It was, after all, a familiar move from long ago; as if she had slapped him, or slugged him in the nose, said something incredibly hurtful.  And everything in him armored up, closed down.  “I’m fine, Buffy.”

/Oh, no you don’t./  “No,” she came back firmly, “you’re not.  You look almost as bad as you did when you were living with Giles.”  And how insane was it that a vampire was having a tough time staying fed in a demon dimension?  But those were the breaks when said vampire had a conscience, she supposed, feeling grim and belatedly self-recriminating that she hadn’t thought of it before.  Because as hard as it had been for her to scavenge some kind of sustenance in this idiotic place, clearly for him it had been even more difficult.

He looked like hammered shit right now.  “Tell me.  What have you had since me?  Since we got separated?  Rats or something?  Because I know the hospital down the road is probably not a going concern anymore, based off of how those people all looked, and I know from how you were with those refugees that you’re not trying to convince them to let you have a sip here and there…” 

He winced and tried even harder to pull away.  “Wouldn’t do that.  Know you wouldn’t…”

“What?”  She hardened her voice and ruthlessly stifled her old sensibilities, feeling belligerent.  /This is hell, dammit.  Literally hell./  “Want you to survive?  I’ve experienced it now, and I know you can take enough to live off of without killing someone.  Do you think I want you to starve to death because of some high and mighty idea that if you bite someone who’s offering it because you saved them, that means you’ve gone back over to the dark side or something?”

He blinked at her like an owl, clearly stunned.  “Well, Buffy, with the way you were about the suckhouses and that, I thought…”

/Oh for God’s sake./  Did he really think she was such a judgmental bitch about what he needed to live? 

And yet… she had been in the past.  A totally inflexible, intolerant and immovable jerk about the subject even when he had been an ally; to the point that it stung to think of it now, the way she had so consistently invalidated his very right to exist. 

Knowing that, she made her answer low and quiet in the hopes that at least the time since they had started over might have penetrated his thick skull to override…  /What?  Years of abuse?/  “And I thought,” she reminded him softly, “I told you I’ve reassessed, and I don’t care about that anymore.  That I’d rather you be alive and not starving yourself.”

He turned away a little, so clearly a shell of himself that it hurt to look at him.  “I have had… one or two…”  He trailed off, the picture of misery.  It was uttered like a confession.

/Okay?/  She couldn’t but be glad for that, reached out to touch his shoulder, wondering why, now that she had given him retroactive carte blanche to do what he needed to do to survive, he should look so pained and so guilty.  Unless he had lost control and drained them out of hunger, but she kind of doubted that, after the way he’d been so devastated about what had happened in that cellar when he’d been under the control of The First. 

Also, why, if he had eaten, did he look so damn hollow?  “Spike, what…”

“Sometimes the people they bring in aren’t gonna make it, yeah?” he told her thickly, and he was still looking away from her; toward the far wall and some distant image only he could see.  “The first one was a bloke who’d had his guts half-torn out.  That’s a rubbish way to die, Buffy.”  He seemed to hunch in on himself further.  “Now’s a lot like back in my day.  No medical care to speak of when it comes to septic shock and that.  Would take days to kick off and be the hell of a way to go with somethin’ like that, and he knew it.  And I knew if I didn’t get to him fast his blood’d be spoilt, so I asked him…”  He faltered.  Hitched.  Picked up again.  “Did he want me to end it fast for him.” 

“Oh,” Buffy answered, very softly.  /Oh, Spike./

“Yeah.”  He still couldn’t look at her.  “I did him quick.  Tried not to hurt him.  Wasn’t much blood left in him anyway, but I got to him before it was poisoned.  Did my best to make it fast so he’d just feel like he was goin’ to sleep.  Poor bugger probably felt comfortable for the first time since he got gored by that Verulga demon, but still felt like a right arse for kicking someone when they were down…”

“Spike.”

He kept going, like floodgates had been opened in him; making his confession to her who was his sole source of conscience.  “That was… right after we took over.  The other one was beginning of this week.  They brought her in with her legs busted up right proper; in loads of places.  Torn through the flesh; the kind of break where you know you’d need orthopedics and all that rot to get the person back together again.  Like that git Angel, yeah?” he asked her, still without looking at her.

“Yeah,” she whispered.  She understood.  All too well.

“No spells here or any of that rubbish, and she was in agony.  Soon there’d be gangrene.  She was going to die and she knew it.  And I had that same window.  Not much left in her either, but…”  Another hitched breath, necessary only for speech… and pain.  “A lot of ‘em…  They’ve been too far gone for me to… help.  The blood’s been poisoned, yeah?  Couldn’t ease ‘em off this merry mortal coil…”  From the choked sound of his voice it was uncertain whether he felt greater guilt for the ones he had euthanized... or for the ones he had not been able to put out of their misery.  “She asked me to do it.  So I… did her quick, right and proper, just like the bloke.  Swear she looked peaceful, right after I done it.”  His eyes jerked over his shoulder briefly to meet hers, and they were blue wells of misery.  “But I was still killing, Buffy, and I…”

God.  He was shaking.  Desperately needed an absolution that she prayed she could give him.  “You were saving them a horrible fate.”

His eyes shuttered once more.  She could see it even from here; the terrible movie of what he had had to do to survive still playing on a constant loop behind his eyelids.  “I haven’t stopped a single heart since before the chip.  Not ‘cept the ones where The First was at the wheel, and that…”

She caught him hard by the shoulder, yanked him around and into her arms.  And felt him shudder as he sank, piecemeal, into her embrace.  “It’s not the same, Spike.  It’s not the same at all.  And I’m here now.  I’m not going anywhere again…”  /Why did I stay away so long?  I’m such an idiot…/

He trembled against her body, half coming undone.  “Buffy, you’re not…”

/Food.  I know.  It’s different./  “I get that.  It’s… a side-benefit.  But…”  /I’m not about to let you starve, dammit./

The tremors in him increased; as if he were having a war in himself.  The shaking spread to his voice.  She had never heard him like this.  “Don’t need much anymore.  Old enough not to need to feed all the time like a damn fledge, but couldn’t live off of you, luv, no matter how powerful your blood is.  You kept me goin’ for days, sure… but that was on top of what I’d had before the battle.  You’d be weak as a kitten ‘f you were tryin’ to manage me all on your own.  I’d still need to find… another source…”

It hurt, but facts were facts; especially considering that neither of them were exactly their old selves here.  Who knew if Buffy’s blood would even have the same overall effect as in their home dimension?  /I don’t heal as fast.  I don’t react quite the same way.  Maybe…/ 

God knew she couldn’t stand to be debilitated in a dimension like this.  Especially since they had no idea how long-term their stay was going to be.  For all they knew, this was home now, no matter how godawful that thought might be.  

She swallowed against the lump in her throat, tried not to think of Dawn, left all alone in Scotland and trying to manage as a steadily-expanding giant.  To focus on the here and now and the current problem.  “Then we’ll figure it out,” she whispered fervently.  “Find a way to supplement you; keep you fed somehow, between me and any volunteers we can find for you...”

“Buffy…”

She hated that it had torn him up so much, what he had had to do, but in a way he had been performing a real social service with the euthanizing thing.  In a place like this it was a necessary one.  Maybe…  Maybe there was something she could say that would possibly, someday, make it alright for him.  But maybe not.  Not with William up front, now.  He was a really sensitive guy, that William. 

His demon-side was no doubt fine with it.  It was William who was the hang-up.  This dimension was no damn place for what she was beginning to suspect was, hiding deep inside her vampire, a far more genteel—and apparently poetic—Victorian than they had once believed, no matter what he had been forced to witness in the interim.

Well; they’d work around it. 

In the meantime, both William and Spike needed some comfort… and the reminder that she was there and she loved both sides of her guy, unconditionally.  Whatever awkwardness might have lain between them before Court had vanished with the realization of the emotional weight he had been carrying this entire time.  She had a job to do right now and she would do it.  It was, in fact, something that was long overdue between them.

It was high time she made love to this beautiful vampire who loved her so desperately.  She had never done it—not really—but there was a first time for everything… and a lot of lost time to make up for between the 'three' of them.  “Hey.” 

He lifted red-rimmed, agonized eyes to meet hers, jerked a little when she caught his hand.  “Where’s a Demon Lord keep his bedroom in a place like this?”

When he just sort of regarded her like she was crazy she smiled and, turning, began to tow him out of the crystalline throne room.  “It’s okay.  I’ll find it.  I’m sure it’s the biggest suite, knowing you.  You have an eye for a fancy nest.” 

That seemed to shake him awake.  “You don’t have to be such a cocky bird,” he protested as she dragged him through the big double doors and, when she flipped a mental coin and took a decisive turn to the right, he sighed and tugged her to the left instead.  “This way.  It’s the Presidential Suite.”

She threw him a pointed, if gentle, smile over her shoulder and continued her forward progression in the direction indicated.  “What’d I say.”


TBC...







So...

Next week, commencing a whole slew of smutty making up for lost time (in more ways than one).  
Basically, that's gonna be the name of the game for a few upcoming posts.  Because once these two get started...  

Yanno.

Chapter Text

The suite in question turned out to be up on the top floor, and required a trip up four flights of stairs and down a bunch of halls all decorated pink with those big, green, frondy plants wallpapered beneath it.  (“It’s called the Pink Palace for a reason, yeah?”)  But it was worth it.  When they reached his door—a couple of his demon-minion-girls (and why all girls, by the way?  A question to ask later)—opened it up for them with a few askance looks in her direction and they stepped in… to what was clearly paradise.

The room was by far the most palatial thing Buffy had ever seen.  Talk about living it up in style.  There was a completely unnecessary white marble fireplace, a big balcony stretching across what looked like the entire length of the suite overlooking the back of the hotel grounds—must have been a heck of a view when there was actual greenery and things to see—and really plush, gorgeous furniture everywhere.  Plump, ecru chairs, sexy glass-and-brass tables, thick black Oriental rug with a spectacular orchid pattern on it…

For all that, the main room looked hardly lived in.  It was just a hotel room, if a really fantastic one, and devoid of that sense of… ‘Spikeness’.  Just like that godawful apartment.  Like, there were a few articles of clothing strewn around, over the backs of chairs and things like that, shirts that smelled like him and stuff like that, but nothing that screamed, “Spike lives here!”. 

Slightly concerned about possible shades of that hideous tank of an apartment, Buffy made a face and turned, seeking the bedroom, her hand still locked in his.  Caught a glimpse of a bed through one doorway, and tugged him purposefully in that direction.  He followed willingly enough, though with an odd halt in his step as if he was unsure how she might react to what she saw.  But what she saw… 

Okay, this room was his.  Everywhere in it there were touches of Spike.  From a vast, wine-red, embroidered duvet he had scrounged from god knew where to hang from the ceiling like a canopy and cover the ivory back of the bed—she could see it peeping out, just barely, like a hint of a past life—to the bronze candelabra he had somehow gathered up and scattered around the room to fill to give the place light whenever the orange glow of the insanely long days faded, to the chandelier in same, dripping red wax to the thick, curlicued Oriental carpet on the floor.  She thought she vaguely remembered this building from her younger years, passing by on Sunset on the way to Rodeo Drive with her mom for shopping trips—mostly window-shopping trips, but shopping trips nonetheless—and based on the shape of the little arched windows high up in the wall she thought this room must be up in the part of the building that was styled to look like an old mission. The window-slits let in some modicum of the orange light from outside, which highlighted the crimson and scarlet of her lover’s little additions—especially the ones draped around the boudoir—and made the room even more of a classic vampire's haven.

It even smelled like him in here.  Smelled lived-in by him, in a way that apartment had not.  Just standing here she caught the faint hint whiskey—there.  He’d found a new flask.  It peeped out behind the candelabra on the nightstand—and of Morleys—there.  Also on the nightstand, behind the flask, the battered old Zippo currently snugged inside the plastic wrapper till he deigned to go out again—and the slightest hint of stale smoke, though it didn’t seem like he smoked inside a lot.  He’d never liked that smell in his stuff, generally tended to smoke upstairs where everything was stone or outside even when he’d lived in his crypt, and only ever lit up after sex if he had completely forgot himself.  Or if they’d done something so…

Well.  Anyway; here he probably smoked out on that balcony thing. 

She caught the hints of other scents, underneath the tobacco, the faint touch of whiskey.  Expensive sheets; there, where the comforter was turned down.  Thick, cream-colored, and from here, probably about a zillion-thread-count.  Those were going to feel hella nice on the skin after months of over-washed, thin ones done in cold water up in Scotland, and before that, the used-and-abused linens of Revello. 

Old paper, too.  The faintest scent of books that had always bewildered her, whenever she had been down in his bedroom in the crypt.  She had never been able to pinpoint the source, then.  But in here…  There, against one wall, on a small shelf, there were a little slew of them, scrounged from somewhere.  They looked like classics, because of course they were.  They weren’t even carefully-hidden, like they had been when she had been coming to call all the time at his last place.

And under it all; the scent of him.  His skin, which even without the faint touch of whatever that slightly-spicy-smelling thing he liked to wear, was as familiar to her as her own flesh.  It made her move closer to him, bump his shoulder with her own in approval.  “Wow,” she murmured, feeling nothing less than relieved by this glimpse into his private world.  “Only you, Spike.  Only you could make a bright hotel room look like your underground crypt in Sunnydale.”  Though why he had done it in a place where the sun couldn’t hurt him…

/Maybe being in the light all the time bugs him.  Maybe it’s overwhelming, and he wants some dark colors just to, like, rest his eyes.  Or maybe…/

Maybe he was just being sentimental?  Though why he’d be sentimental for that time was a puzzler.   

Spike just shrugged a little, as if uncertain what she’d think.  She had to shake her head at that, because at this point, was he still so unsure of himself around her that she had to remind him that she had thought of his place, before, as “comfy”?  /Well, seedy on top and comfy underneath, but we all have our reps to keep up./  Spike probably more than most, considering all he had lost in his time in that town they had shared that was now, gratefully, mostly a crater.  And, the aboveground part of the crypt had been sort of the recipient of a lot of random collateral damage over the years—quite a bit of it, honestly, from her hands as much as from anyone else—so keeping it seedy had probably kept expenses down.  Whereas the underground part…  That had been where his real investment had lain.

Anyway, this room was ‘him’, and that was enough for her.  “I’m glad,” she told him softly.  “That stupid apartment you had when you were working with Angel had about zero personality.”

“Yeah, well…”  He sort of grunted as he picked up one currently unlit candelabra and examined it with undue interest.  “Figured we might be here awhile.  Wanted to make it a home.  Settle in a bit.”  He shrugged and set the thing down, still determinedly not looking her way at all.  “And, you know, vampire.”  He not-quite leered at her, but his heart clearly wasn’t in it.

“I like it,” she informed him quietly, and pulled his head down to kiss him, very gently, on the lips.

When he pulled away, it was to eye her in clear surprise.  She wasn’t sure if it was for the gentleness or for the sentiment.  “Yeah?” he asked, and one eyebrow was up. 

“Yeah.”  She tugged his head down again.  Held his mouth a hairsbreadth from her own.  “Spike, if I were to make love to you on your big, presidential bed over there, would it ruin your reputation as the local demon lord?”

She felt the tremble, then.  Full-bodied against her.  “You…  Buffy…”

“Want to make love to you.”  She smiled into his eyes, aware she was blazing at him with certainty.  “That okay with you?”

She could swear that, despite his overall chill, he warmed somehow against her.  “Christ, yeah.”

/We started out against a wall the first time, and I used you.  This time…  We’ve already fixed that.  Then—before—we went to bed—the only time we went to bed—and it was because I wasn’t really there.  But I’m going to be here this time, Spike.  And we’ll…  We’ll start over./

Per their previous pattern, she would have kicked things off by shoving him unceremoniously onto said bed, even if it meant he’d end up there by dint of flying halfway across the room and probably cracking the headboard, if not the frame of the thing.  This time, though, she pulled him around to lead him there, shoving the dark button-down off of his shoulders as they went.  “Where’d you get the clothes?”  The ones he’d been wearing when they’d parted had been in tatters, much like her own.  These were relatively new.

He was looking at her with awe, eyes glowing.  “The girls.  Go out to fetch what we need.  Not that the Smurf ever wears…”  He cut off abruptly when she tugged his crimson tee up over his torso; lifted his arms obediently, eyes steady and surprised on hers as she stripped the garment over his head.  And shivered when she slid her fingers with slow, deliberate, gentle care down along his too-thin abdomen—he had new scars, dammit—and, in passing, grazed her fingertips lightly over his nipples.  God, she had always loved his body.  Once upon a time she had thought she preferred bulkier men, but in the end they had just made her feel more… hulked-over than supported or complemented in any way.  Their strength had never matched her own no matter what their size, so what was the point in all that extraneous muscle and height?

In comparison Spike’s lithe, feline grace and his insane speed—not to mention his insouciant, chaotic fighting style—had always more than made up for any differential in their comparative strengths.  And she could look him in the eye, which she really enjoyed.

And… he just truly looked unbelievably good with his shirt off. 

But he desperately needed feeding up.  He was looking almost as thin now as he had after he’d escaped the Initiative, and she could swear that before they’d come here he had felt way more muscular under her hands.  She knew for a fact that his arms had had more going on, then, when he’d been eating more regularly… and watching him fight, like that…  It had recalled to her their early days, squaring off against each other, when the thrill of fighting him had been spectacular; arousing, because his strength had been damn near equal to her own.

Not now, though, in his weakened state.  She couldn’t let this go on.  Not here in this dangerous place.  She had let it continue for far too long in Sunnydale.  It was a mistake she would rectify, now she knew the source of her sins.

It was alright, though.  They could start with that today, and figure out the rest from there. 

One thing she needed to ask first; in light of what he had told her, and in view of the past.  “Do you want this?  Right now?”

His whole body seemed to tremble in front of her eyes; so hard that she could swear she felt the ripple of it through the blood-bond, a rolling tide in her own veins.  “Buffy,” he told her with firm patience, and his eyes, fixed on hers like sapphires in an amber light, had taken on a mildly sardonic air, “If you hadn’t caught it before, I’d think my answer was loud and clear.”

She supposed she would be mildly perturbed right now if their roles were reversed and he had asked her more than once.  /End of consent discussion./ 

Except… he should know why.  Settling her hands on the waistband of his black jeans, she toyed with the button a little.  “The reason I’m asking is, I don’t want you to do anything.  Just this time, okay?  I want you to just let me… take care of you.  And I don’t know if that’s…”

His shoulder muscles strained visibly and his neck corded with abrupt tension.  “Bloody hell, Slayer; if you don’t get these trousers off of me soon, I’m gonna make a mess of myself just hearin’ you say it.”

Well.  That was explicit enough.  And heartening, to know that… she was different.  Different to him, now, than before; and different to him than…  The other girl had been.  “Okay.  Don’t move.”

“You’re a hard taskmistress, but I’m all yours, pet.”  His voice was hoarse and strained and wow.  She had never heard him like this.  

Time to hurry up and get him on the bed.

Suiting action to words, she undid the jeans… and wow.  His cock, as it sprang free, was seriously in need of attention.  His foreskin had drawn back already and the tender glans, normally never exposed to the roughness of jeans or other stimulation, was already glistening and slick.  “Hm.  Missed me?”

“Buffy, are you trying to dust me where I stand?”

With a perky grin, she nudged the jeans down and gave him a tiny shove backward.  He toppled to the bed without complaint and walked backwards on his hands as she prowled over him, eyeing him with possessive enjoyment as she surveyed his sexy body. 

He was still wearing too many clothes.  They encumbered his movement. 

Once upon a time she would have been peremptory.  Said something short and command-y, like, ‘Lose the boots’.  Now she just moved to yank them off and out of the way, and was grateful he’d been wearing them lazily unlaced so she could make quick work of them; so she could pull his jeans the rest of the way off with eyes still locked on his, while he watched her with a kind of awed hunger that made her feel like she’d had a screw loose all that last couple of years not to have given him this and more before now. 

Then she perched on her knees between his legs to survey his naked form—he shivered under her gaze, wonder still the main expression on his face—and just smiled for a moment before pulling off her slightly overlarge, borrowed blouse one smooth motion.  And watched his body react, as it had always done, to her.  The way his every muscle stood out as if carven from alabaster, the way his eyes went up in blue flames at the sight of her. 

She swore she could smell the arousal beating off of him, and since when could she…

Well.  Blood-bond, much? 

It would add an interesting new dimension to things. 

Tilting her head a little, she held the shirt off to one side and shrugged a little.  “You think your people can find me something else to wear?  Because I think we need to burn this.  They were really short on stylish changes of clothes at Wolfram and Hart.”  She glanced over at the white object dangling from her fingers, striped by dragon exhaust, and shrugged dispassionately.  “A lot of suits.  Not a lot of ‘em in my size.”  She kept the smirk on as she dropped the damaged material to the floor and lifted up, began the process of stripping her lower half.  Spike’s glittering gaze followed her every move like a man who had been lost in a desert or something, and she was a sparkling mirage of a gorgeous fountain.  “Really sucks to clean up and then put the same things back on…”  She got a leg out horizontal to her body in an old ballet maneuver from her elementary school days—ballet had been excellent training for cheerleading… and had been even better as a precursor for slaying.  Muscle control, balance, all that—and watched her lover suck in a deep, unnecessary breath at the move. 

Granted her underwear had long since been sacrificed to the evil gods of this hell dimension, so that probably had something to do with his reaction.  He’d seen her stretch before, after all.  Seen her go through her entire morning calisthenics routine, naked, for that matter.  Though, he’d never let her finish it, come to that.

By the time she was in the process of duplicating the move with the other leg he was clenching every muscle in his body to keep from touching her, which was really excellent for her ego.  This barely counted as a striptease.  She kicked off the charcoal-gray pinstripe, all tattered by scales, dropped them to the floor.  “Of course, I suppose I could just go around naked, since to the rest of this dimension I probably only count as some kind of human concubine…”

“Slayer, if you don’t touch me soon I’m gonna pop like champagne.”  He was fighting not to go into game face.  She could see it in the amber light kindling in his eyes. 

She’d take care of that.  She wanted the demon too… but not just yet. 

Lying full-length on his body so that his cock was trapped between her legs, if nowhere near where it wanted to be just yet, she held him still and, propping herself up, looked him straight in those gold-tinged azure eyes.  “I love you,” she told him softly.

“Buffy…” he whispered, the way he always did when he was completely undone.  And his face

She didn’t wait for him to try to find the words.  Just bent her head to his mouth.

It was easy enough to start with kissing him.  She could pour everything she was feeling into that exercise; could communicate with that familiar action everything he needed to know.  Could control the situation as well; let him know what her intentions were, set the tone from the outset.  Arched over his body when his arms came around her, trying to pull her close; caught his wrists and set him down, flat and away.  And continued to kiss him; long and slow and gentle, exploring his mouth unhurriedly and without demand in a way that she had never done before with him, throughout their entire association.

Well.  Except for that one time.  But they had been under a spell, then.  

Spike had always been an excellent kisser.  Half the time she had had to use fire and hunger and pure instinct just to keep up.  This was, in many ways, a test for her; but at least she felt on safe ground here, mouth to mouth with him.  Unnerving as it was to attempt to let him know everything he needed to know in this way… it was a hell of a lot easier to contemplate telling him by kissing him than it was to face, just yet, the slightly more daunting prospect of showing him with the rest of his body. 

He seemed floored enough by just this part.  Which helped, she had to admit, with her confidence issues going forward.  Because… she had tried this already and failed, the night before the end of the world.  Obviously it had failed, or he would have believed her when she had told him she loved him.  But then, maybe there had been too much baggage that night.  Too many assumptions.  Too much weariness, and blame, and too many old wounds not yet cleansed by fire.  Too many expectations, or not enough left anymore, between them; too many old patterns to overcome in one short night to contemplate starting over, then, at the end of things. 

That night, she had come to him, after thinking long and hard about just letting it be, and going gentle into that good night.  Just sleeping in his arms again, alone together in their cowardice.  But she had never been a coward.  And the thought of never touching him again, after everything, while the world crumbled around them…

The next day, they might all be dead. 

So she had gone.  Faced him.  Pushed the amulet from his pillow and tried to show him; for the first time, between them, with gentle hands and soft eyes.  

He had gone with her, of course, in the end, after a few startled protestations.  Gone with her as always, full in the wonder that she would touch him at all, and that he was permitted the grace to touch her in return.  But… somehow she had failed to communicate to him then the one thing that had been most imperative that he take into tomorrow.  ‘I’m here with you, Spike.’  That he was in her heart.  That she did in fact love him, in whatever form that might take, going forward; as far, at that point, as she could look to see. 

She supposed now, that two people could in fact know each other’s bodies too well sometimes to hear each other’s hearts.

But the world was not ending anymore.  They were long past that; and she could not fail him this time.  So she stayed aware; of everything.  Stayed conscious of every move, every sound, every twitch.  Did nothing on autopilot, took nothing for granted.  Kept things forcibly slow and continued to lavish attention on every little part of him—worrying at his lips with her own, and lightly with her teeth, nudging his mouth where she wanted it to go with her tongue and settling back in for longer forays, until he was groaning, arching up beneath her, his hips setting up an already-insistent rhythm sort of midair between her thighs. 

“Shh,” she told him gently, and gave him an admonitory nip on his lower lip.  “Slow down.  This is going to take a while.”

He groaned and let his head fall back, panting a little.  “Bloody hell, Buffy, you’re trying to kill me.”

“No,” she whispered back, and leaned over to look into his eyes.  Caught both wrists in one hand so she could loose the other to run a caressing hand along his cheek.  “I’m trying to love you.”

His eyes opened on hers; softened from desperation to glow like blue lamps in the dim light.  She thought they might be suspiciously wet.  “Christ, Buffy, I…”

She laid a finger lightly over his lips to quiet him and dipped lower, kissing his jaw as she went.  Settled herself into his neck, continued down toward his shoulder.  “Let me love you,” she whispered low, and prayed she could do this right.  That she could live up to advertising. 

That she would not completely fail. 

“Oh…  Sodding…  God.”  As she released his wrists he clenched them once in the sheets and then relaxed utterly to her ministrations. 

The problem was, she realized as she ran her hands tentatively over his shoulders, her lips over his throat, she wasn’t entirely confident in how to proceed.  Like, she kind of thought that Spike would be pretty okay with just about anything she wanted to do to, or with, him.  He always had been before, and to be fair he had always seemed hungry for anything she might ever do that remotely seemed like she wanted to touch him, do more with him than just use him to make her own body feel good (a memory that ashamed her, now, in retrospect).  But the fact remained that her past history with attempts at making love to guys was sort of… stifled. 

There had been Angel, who had pretty much made sure she knew that it was his job to do things to her (though in hindsight the things he had done had pretty much focused on her breasts and upward).  They had spent a lot of time on kissing, touching, and he had let her touch him all over, yeah, but he had kept her mouth focused on his mouth, his shoulders maybe, and that was about it.  There had been a clear expectation that she was to let him make love to her.  Maybe if they had had more time…  /But we all know what happened with that./

And Parker…  Well.  Parker had been fun, yeah, and more mutual, but…  Mostly about fun.  She’d done things to and with him, but it had been a one-night stand.  She hadn’t known him well enough to get adventurous.  And, the less said about that the better. 

Riley.  Well, she had done a lot more exploring of Riley’s body.  And he had let her.  He had been sweet, and earnest, and had been willing to allow for much mutual lovemaking.  He had, after all, loved her very much.  She could admit that now without undue regret.  But.  He had had kind of a hang-up about things after a certain point; a sort of, ‘guys make love to women’ thing.  It had been like he’d thought that women could definitely touch guys, for sure use their mouths in certain proscribed zones—he had never had a problem with blow jobs, not that she knew any guys who did—but he had been lukewarm about nipple stuff.  He’d been fine with hands in places, mouths in the general neck/torso area… but too much more than that and it was like he thought a guy just became… unmanly or something from the excess attention. 

In comparison…  Well.  She had already long since done things with Spike that she couldn’t imagine doing with the vanilla Riley.  Done things that, as Spike put it, she couldn’t spell—probably couldn’t pronounce, even—and would probably blush about if they ever got down to actually discussing them.  She had had her hands in places on him that were best not mentioned in polite company—and vice versa—and good times were had by all.  And yet there were places on him she had for sure not kissed, or stroked, or…

She probably hadn’t even done this much with him before now.  And judging by the way he was responding to just her gentle little nipping kisses to his neck and throat, she could do a lot more and he’d be fine with it. 

And so would she, for that matter.  Because whether she once would have admitted it or not, there was not an inch of him that she did not find attractive.  Not to mention that, based on current indications, she somehow thought she could probably kiss just about every centimeter of his long, lovely body and he would not particularly mind.  However…  “How do you want me to love you, Spike?”  Sometimes a girl’s confidence needed a boost.

“Slayer,” he groaned, arching a little beneath her in search of pressure, “you can do any bloody thing you want to me.  I’m all fucking yours.  Have been all bloody yours since the first bleeding day I ever saw you, yeah?  Just… Christ…  Touch me…”

/Interesting./  “Since the first day?” she asked, cocking her head at him.

“Buffy!”

Smiling, feeling entirely better about this whole thing, she filed that one away for future conversation and, with a slightly more playful nip to his now-corded neck that made him buck and curse, slid down to kiss her way further along his wonderfully sleek body; over the dip of his sternum and down along his (really amazing) chest.  Kind of fun to ignore his groans as she mashed his cock down between them in doing so.  She had to slap his butt lightly in remonstration when his hips started up on their own, trying to get in a few bonus thrusts edgewise against her hip. 

He subsided then, muttering things about evil, cruel women, and went so still it turned into one of those unnerving vampire things where he didn’t even pretend to breathe for, like, ten minutes straight except when he was muttering stuff.  Which would’ve been distracting if it was the first time, but she was used to it by now and just ignored him to run her tongue along his nipples, flicking and twisting the way she knew for a fact he liked.  (Past history really did help, sometimes.)  Enjoyed his very vocal noises of appreciation—nice of him to let her know what he liked; it was almost like he knew she needed the encouragement—and allowing her fingernails to trace with just the slightest pressure over each rib so that he finally sucked in his breath as she counted them. 

The way he arched beneath her touch and kick-started back into the totally unnecessary breathing thing defined the muscles of his abdomen in remarkable fashion, and she paused for a moment to admire the declivity between ribcage and belly, pondering the miracle of this supposedly dead man under her hands and lips who was and had always been so much more alive to her touch than anyone she had ever known.  Her lips, lost in the dip of his solar plexus, listening to the silence of this heart that still, somehow, inexplicably beat for only her, her hands found his arms…

And she was arrested, for possibly the first time, by the contrast between the (by comparison) darker skin on his forearms and the pale, almost translucent flesh on the tender undersides.  She turned her cheek to his abdomen for a moment to pull one arm over closer—the right, since that was the one she could reach—ran the backs of her fingernails lightly along the soft skin there.  Felt him shiver and his flesh contract under her touch.  Watched the normally-still, borrowed blood purl and hasten in vessels clearly seen through layers of pale, vulnerable-looking flesh, like it was chasing her palpations. 

He had a little scar she had never seen before; just below his elbow, that ran around from the underside to lead through into the sparse hair of his upper arm, and it made her wonder what could have damaged a vampire so, or if that had occurred before, in his human life.  She traced it with one finger; a touch so light it was barely there, and felt him shake from it.  “That’s you,” she whispered softly, and then ran her fingertips down again; in a long sweep from wrist to elbow.  “Tough vampire hide.  But underneath still so soft and beautiful…”

He arched a little under her, shivering.  “Don’t tell anyone, Slayer.”

Smiling again, she lifted to kiss him there, on the scar, on the sensitive skin of his vulnerable inner arm.  Felt him tremble.  Liked it enough to pull the other arm over and trace it the same way, just to see another delicious twin to that little tremor before she turned her attention back to his abdomen, and that amazing… God, whatever-pack he had.  Went on kissing her way downward, and truly she was just enjoying herself at this point.  But in contrast to other times, she was paying attention as much to his reactions as to her own explorations so that she could linger where he seemed to react most. 

She also dallied just for the hell of it in places that were not at all goal-oriented, which would have been anathema before.  The arms were one.  Admiring him just for the sake of admiring him.  But the playful ‘pfft’ she made into his navel (which, she had to admit, was totally unfair and made him curl up in shock and, yes, squeal, try to bat her away as if he had been violated, cursing and making improper comments about insane females) would have been entirely outside of her permissible repertoire with him in their previous iteration. 

Hell.  She would never have tried that with Riley, even.  It would have cut too much into his manly, soldierly dignity.  She might have tried it with Angel, someday, if they had ever had the chance to continue being all loverly, but best not to think of Angel right now.  “So,” she inquired innocently, “belly-button is a no-fly zone?”

He uncurled a little to eye her warily.  “Nothing’s a no-go with you, Buffy, but you bloody well surprised me!  What the hell was that?”

She grinned at him and blew lightly across the area once more, enjoying the shivers her warm breath produced; the goosebumps she could see popping up all over his belly skin.  “I dunno.  I think it’s cute.”  She poked a finger at his neat little knot of a navel, regarded it with interest.  “They did it different back then, huh?”

“Bloody hell!” he half-shouted, jumping again, and batted once more at her finger, clearly sensitive and acting on instinct.  “Yeah, they didn’t have hospitals and all that rot, you just tied it off and went on with life…”

She set herself up on her elbows to regard the tiny little outie with an affectionate smirk.  “Well, it’s cute.”  Deciding to have mercy, she picked up her trek once more to move ever lower on his body, his breath catching as she did so.

“Cute,” he grumbled.  His breath hitched again as her hair tickled down along his flanks.  But then, his too-swollen cock had basically been bouncing and crashing along her body the entire time she’d been headed lazily south in her slow mission to poke and prod at all the places she’d never bothered to check out before, so she supposed he could be forgiven for being a little over-tense by now. 

She thought it might be fun to make it worse.  Besides; she wasn’t done exploring a body she had somehow managed to look at very little despite making very thorough use of it over the course of almost a half a year a while back.  “You know, I think I’ve never…”  She dipped her head, skirting around his now exceedingly stressed-looking cock.  In passing she smiled up at the poor, bobbing thing.  “You should get that looked at.  It looks painful.”

“Slayer, you’re a fucking menace.”  His voice was strained.

“What?  I’m just loving you.”  She did her best to use her most innocent-sounding voice as she dipped her head to taste that lovely cut between his thigh and flank…

“Oh, fuck!” he shouted, and arched up to her mouth.  She lifted her head just enough to glance up, saw the tension humming in his body, the way he had fisted the blankets, and felt vindicated.

He’d done that to her often enough.  Nice to know he was as sensitive there as she was. 

Sliding one hand free of the sheets, she cupped his balls contemplatively—he jerked spasmodically as she did so, for which she did not blame him, since she had not always been so gentle to his tender bits in past assignations—and dipped her head around to the other flank.  Both inguinal curves needed attention, clearly.  As did his perineum, because it was kind of fun to hear him make those noises he made when she prodded him there.  Just a gentle little caress though, because she still wanted a little more time to... 

He shuddered some more as her hair brushed ticklishly over his thighs… and then, out of nowhere, he was grating out the words, hips rocking against her fingertips.  “Fucking Christ, Buffy, I don’t know how much more of this I can…  Fuck.”

She stilled her fingers and lifted her head to watch him, actually surprised.  His human countenance was a rictus almost as ridged as if he were in game face.  His knuckles were whiter than even a vampire’s had a right to be, his cock an impressive shade of scarlet-edging-on-plum; in and of itself a feat considering how little blood he had to have left in reserve in his body.  Every single muscle in said body—and God knew he had plenty—was exquisitely defined and hard as a rock.  You could bounce a quarter off of him.  “Spike, you’ve been on this Earth for how many years?  And you can’t take a little foreplay?”

His head jerked up to regard her balefully, blue eyes flickering back and forth between azure and amber to tell her who she was talking to.  Both man and demon.  “Haven’t had you.  Never had you.  Doing this to me.”  His head dropped back to the decadent bed, tossed a little from side to side.  “Never had anyone love me like this.”

Her heart sank like a rock.  /Oh./  He’d been with Drusilla for over a hundred years and they’d never…  She’d never…

Well, she supposed they hadn’t, if their vamp idea of love was tying someone up and torturing them.  And she had seen a lot of what passed for good sex from his demon side.  Not that that hadn’t been fun, and definitely exciting.  But there was clearly a side of Spike that had always wanted this; this kind of loving.

And had, apparently, never gotten it.  Even as the physical urgency beat off of him in palpable waves, he was eating this up.  His eyes were glowing, his pupils dilated so wide she could barely see the ring of blue amid the dark, amber-washed hunger of his gaze.  “Don’t worry,” she told him very softly.  “I’m almost done.  And then I’ll take care of you.”

“Oh, sodding Christ.”  He took another sizable handful of the bedclothes and bore down for the ride.

Reaching out with her left—she might as well give him a helping hand—she gripped the base of his cock for a second, gave him a (by her standards) gentle squeeze that despite all that wrung a groan out of him even as it managed to make his body subside somewhat back to the bed, and moved down to survey his thighs.  Which were, like the rest of him, utterly gorgeous… and ultimately defined at the moment.  Mmm. 

Lifting one leg with her right hand, she kissed the tender inside curve of flesh, smiling at the way his uber-tense muscle literally fluttered under her lips.  No pulse, of course, but what did that matter when you had a person’s entire body literally falling apart at your every touch?  It was enough, and she trailed the muscular vibrations down to the inside of his knee.  Tickled the back of said knee with her fingertips, so that he produced a fascinating sound—suspiciously like a ‘yip!’ of protest—as she prodded lightly at the sensitive zone, then with a light kiss to the inside edge of his calf—his toes were at this point lightly paddling the sheets, his toes clenching and unclenching on the bed and, as she glanced up to survey the terrain, so was his ass, and God, he was exquisitely on the edge—trailed her fingernails lightly along the arch of one really beautifully-made foot. 

He shuddered again.  And started chanting.  Her name, mixed in with a lot of other stuff, as she started up from the opposite foot.  Curses in other languages?  She thought she recognized some Fyarl in there, maybe… and something that sounded like… Chinese?

By the time she made it back up to his groin, and, fascinated by his gyrations, dug her nails just a little into his flexing buttocks, he was muttering something very repetitive in what she knew for sure was Latin.  “What are you saying?” she asked, fascinated.

“Conjugating bloody verbs,” he told her tightly, through clenched teeth.  “Backward, forward, any way I can remember ‘em.  I’d do the sodding Lord’s Prayer if I could get away with it without bursting into flames, but I’m a sodding vampire, so I don’t have that bleeding option.”  His eyes were closed tight, and he sounded like he was dying.  His long-unattended cock was weeping, almost purple, and damn near screaming for attention.  She had, in fact, never seen it like this; how did he have that much blood left in his body, with the starvation diet he’d been on?  “Buffy, for Chrissakes!”  His entire body was arched up toward her, and incoherent noises escaped his throat in little huffs between his words.

She was amazed he was making any sense at all, actually. 

She’d had her fun.  Time to take pity on him. 

He didn’t realize what she was about at first, so sunk was he in his own little world of simple rules like, ‘Don’t come yet’ and ‘Just wait’ and ‘Stand it long as you can’.  Which was why he jerked up and let out a roar like she’d shocked him with a cattle prod when she, without further ceremony, caught him once more by the pulsing base of his cock and impaled herself in one swift motion.

It was amazing how sopping wet and ready you could get by spending all that time working over another person.

She knew he wouldn’t last long, and that was fine.  He’d get his revenge on her next time.  He’d never not taken care of her, so she wasn’t even worried about it.  This was about him, right now, so she just watched him, rocking as she did, drawing him slowly in and out of her body on long, regular strokes coordinated by her strong, toned thighs, hands on her knees so that she could keep her eyes on his face.  Didn’t lean back to take her own pleasure; not yet. 

She wanted to see him.

He had no rhythm.  Not right now.  He just jerked spasmodically up, seeking, muttering things like, “Oh Christ, Buffy,” and “Oh bloody hell, Slayer” and other things that she was sure meant basically the same thing in the other fourteen or whatever languages he spoke.  And God, she’d forgotten how much she loved the feel of him.  The glide and slide of him; so much better than it had been with Riley, or Parker.  Though, granted, with Parker there had been a condom, so it probably wasn’t a good comparison; but after a while when she and Riley had been together for long enough they had stopped using condoms, since she was always on birth control—a Slayer wandering around bleeding once a month was just a bad plan in general, not to mention the pesky fatigue and cramps and all that—and it had given her plenty of opportunity to recognize something for which, at that point in her life, she had had only one night’s basis of comparison.

She preferred intact guys.  Maybe it was just an imprinting thing, since her first time had been with a guy from another century, when circumcision wasn’t really the norm except if you were Jewish or whatever, but Angel had been the same way, the one time they had been together.  Which had really helped with the whole virgin thing, when it came to making things easier.  Because, friction-wise, the extra skin, the slip and glide of it, was just so much nicer.  Especially if sex went on for a longish time—and god knew some of the times she had had sex with both Riley—though that had been under a spell—and Spike—which had so not required a spell, by the way—that little added reduction in friction had meant no need for lube, because intact guys’ bodies helped with that.  And just the way their bodies worked, the way they moved was different; they thrust more like a flow-y shark in the water, low and intent instead of all hard and ramming like they needed all the impact they could get just to get off.

And when it came to giving them head…  The difference in sensitivity was off the charts.  Something, she figured, about having the head of the cock covered in skin most of the time so it wasn’t rubbing on pants and stuff, getting desensitized.  When it did get attention it was always soft and slick and ready for action.  Spike had always reacted like she was ripping his guts out whenever she got her mouth on him; just putting her tongue on his intact frenulum always made him half-fall apart. 

You could get a guy off in half the time and with a lot less effort, more with your mouth and tongue and with a lot less neck and body action, she’d found, when they were intact.  Riley had taken so much more time, and had required so much more bobbing and hand-work and sucking and swallowing to give him a happy, whereas Spike…

Spike spent half his time controlling himself in the midst of what appeared to be a whirlwind of sensation.  Kind of like her, when he was down there making sure to get her off.  And, he was never ashamed of it. 

Right now he looked like he was on some kind of teeter-totter between life and death, inside her.  “Buffy, Buffy, Buffy,” he chanted, every muscle tense.  Surged up…  Went taut…

And fought to wait.

“Go ahead,” she whispered to him.  “I want to watch you.”

“Oh, Christ,” he whispered back, and lost it, the familiar cool rush of a vampire’s orgasm filling her in impressively long and repeated spurts that wrung a juddering, broken moan from his throat. 

A moan that came out, yet again, in the shape of her name.

She went on moving till he was done before she lay back down on along his cool body.  She was still heated and throbbing, her own body demanding he finish what they’d started but ready to wait for her own turn.  /Calm down/ she told herself sternly.  /There’s plenty of time./ 

Plenty of time in a hell that was feeling remarkably like heaven right now, and wasn’t it just like them that they had finally figured out how to be a couple here, in a place like this, when they had never managed it back home?  “Hey.  You okay?”

He looked utterly and completely blissed out.  “Mmmm.”

Well.  That was a first.  Reducing William the Bloody to monosyllables.  “Guess that’s a yes.”

He made a sort of mumble-noise and then, with a faint rustle-grumble of effort, flung one arm up over his eyes like he was shading them from some bizarre radiance only he could see.  Pried one eye open to squint at her.  He kind of looked like he had a hangover.  “Only you, Buffy.”

/Okay?/  “Only me what?” she asked warily.  What if he told her, now, after everything, that she’d done something wrong, or…

“Can make a bloke who’s meant to go to hell feel like he’s in heaven.”  He propped himself up on one elbow then to shoot her a faintly sardonic look.  The movement shook her a little off of his chest so that she sort of fell to one side… but such was her relief that she barely even noticed.  “Got to have a screw loose if we could only manage to get on this well in a hell dimension, yeah?”

Relief filled her despite the ironic tone of his observation.  He’d liked it.  That was enough to make her feel sort of… accomplished.  /And, now we’re on the same page enough to think like each other./  She had to admit that was kind of freaky; had to put aside for a moment wondering just exactly  how she felt about that little detail.  “Yeah, well,” she managed, and pushed herself up a little into a sort of a kneeling position over him… which had the unfortunate side-effect of making him slither out of her, and god, she hated that feeling.  Like losing a limb.  “Clearly I’m not the best at staying in heaven anyway.  The closest I’ve ever found to being back there in the last couple of years is when you’ve…”  She stopped, blushing.

“Oho!”  That got him up on his other elbow.  “When I have my tongue in your lovely little quim, is it?” he asked astutely, and reached out one hand to brush her cheek.  His other arm, now cocked lazily across his knee, opened to cup her thigh suggestively.  “You want me to sort you out, luv?”

“I want you,” she answered huskily.  “God, yes.”

He surged closer, catching her around her waist to pull her in.  She went with it, unfolding her arms to slide them around his neck.  And caught a slightly uncertain look in his eyes as she neared him, a hint of wariness about his movements.  “What?”

“I’d love to…”  He halted, and the uncertainty built to a pitch that made her frankly anxious.  

“What, Spike?  Spit it out.”  Which was a little harsh, but he was making her feel belatedly nervous, now that they were well into uncharted relationship territory.

He looked away a little, not quite meeting her eyes.  “I’d love to make love to you, too, Buffy, if you’ll have me.  I know you’ve never wanted me to do that before, but you’ve just…  What you’ve just done for me…  Christ, I’d just really… love to give you that.  I dunno if anyone’s ever really shown you what you’re worth, but I’ve always wanted to let you know how much I…  I treasure you, and…”

Her heart melted.  He was taking a chance, really laying it all out there; a big deal for him since in their past she would no doubt have used his show of vulnerability as another stick to beat him with. 

He was taking a ton on faith right now, based on the last months of their time together on the hellmouth, and on their last few days together here in LA, and, just…  “Spike, please.  I’d actually really love it if you would…”  She could say it, even if it sounded completely alien to her, the words like a foreign language.  He needed to hear it.  “…Make love to me.  I’d really…”

She never got to finish what she was saying—which, thank god—before he had her flat on her back with her head down by the footboard somewhere, eyes blazing blue-gold on hers.  “Christ, I love you, you brave chit.”  And then he was there, mouth on her, hungry and yet somehow loving, setting her on fire. 

He had always been able to set her on fire; no matter how frozen she had been.  Something about his cool touch had made flames lick up her skin from the start; a crazed juxtaposition to their roles.  He was a vampire.  Her job was to turn him to ashes; and yet, though cool under her hands he could make her burst into flames when nothing else left on Earth could kindle her passions.  And though his job was to turn her cold, send her into the ground, end it all... she had known somehow that he never would.  Because the fact was… all he ever seemed to do was to light her on fire.  With rage, first, then irritation, like a constant burr under her skin… and then with wanting; a burning, endless need that rampaged through her flesh like a conflagration that could never be spent.  It was a flame that could never be slaked save with the coolth that came when he was inside her, and they were completed; when he came in her and she was still embers from the fires he had set in her flesh.  When, for a moment, she knew for sure that she was alive, and would never die.

But the problem had once been that he had been able to make her feel that way within her heart, as well; with the look in his eyes.  With a simple word, or a touch.  And that had not been permitted.  Not once.  Not then.  Because he shouldn’t be the one.  It could never be real.  Not him.  Not someone so cold.  Not someone without the spark.

And he knew it.  So he had gone out and gotten that damn spark for her… and set himself afire.  Until he had burned to ashes.  For her. 

So she had turned him to ashes, in the end; not with an actual stake through the heart but with a figurative one that was her twisted, unforgiving love.  And yet somehow he was back; back here with her anyway.  Because he was never free of her; and she had no idea how she deserved him.  But she had been cold again, and needed his fire to go on.  The scar on her hand was incomplete without the matching one on his… and she had been wandering around in the dark, looking for the light in his eyes.  

Without him in her heart she would never find her way back to the sun. 

She reached out, desperately, caught his scarred hand in hers.  Gripped it, hard, startling him as he loomed over her, eyes dazzlingly bright in the low, orange light from outside.  “You can be in my day, here,” she told him quietly.

“Yeah,” he answered, curious but willing to go with it.  “It’s a bloody strange dimension, but I’m not complaining.”  He leaned to one side, reached out with his free hand to stroke her hair away from her face.  “Sodding gift to look at you in the light; walk beside you here.  For however long it lasts.”

“I came to you because no matter how dark it was, when you looked at me you always saw the sun.  And I knew I wasn’t cold.”

Something in his face broke, and he lowered his forehead to hers.  “Slayer…  Bloody hell.”

“How can you give me so much more when your heart doesn’t even beat, than I ever gave you?”

His right hand tightened in hers, his left sliding down from hair to shoulder to cup under her waist and pull her close.  “Always did have to be a bleeding rebel.”  He kissed her shoulder, stared urgently into her eyes.  “You’ve no idea what you give me, pet.”

She reached up with her free hand to push the stray curls away from his forehead, gently nudging his face up into her view.  “You started mine again.”

He watched her for a moment, eyes searching hers, and then…  “Oh, Christ, Buffy.”  And then his arms were around her, pulling her close; holding her like she was the most precious thing on Earth. 

She knew she would cry now if he kissed her.  Tried to turn away; because she had been too open.  She had let too much out, had shown too much of herself.  She could feel the panic rising, had to turn away, had to hide…

He abruptly let go of their clasped hands to catch her face between his palms.  Held her eyes still with his so that she was forced to meet his gaze.  “No, Slayer,” he whispered, staring into her; and kept doing it until the tears welled.  “I’m here; same as you were for me.”

“Dammit, Spike.”  Her breath hitched. 

“Yeah, I know.  But turnabout’s fair play, yeah?”  And, taking pity on her, he brought his mouth to hers, lifted her bodily, arms sliding around her… and began to kiss her in a way he had never done before.  Slow, languorous, sinking into her mouth, and god, he had to hate this; he could probably taste her tears, she was a silly, stupid mess waiting to happen, she had to get away…

“Shh.  Stop hiding.  You think you can scare me off, luv?”

Her first instinct was to fight.  To shove him away, escape at all costs.  But…

/But we don’t do that anymore.  I don’t do that anymore./  Except… 

What did that leave her? 

She honestly had no idea.  How to be vulnerable, how to let him see her like this, how to…

These were all parts of herself that had died long ago.  Before him.  When she had sent Angel to hell with Acathla.  So long ago it seemed…  Well, it really was another life.  Another her.  A much younger her who could cry, and confess to a lover, and seek comfort, and…

And he wanted that.  Wanted to be that for her.  She knew that Spike had only ever wanted to love her.  

It was the one crime he had ever committed which was unpardonable.  And the one sin which she wished to commit above all others was to let him.  It cracked her heart open over and over again to hear him say it; to ask for the one thing she could not do, and survive.  “Let me love you, Buffy.”  Murmuring it, lips trailing over her cheeks, over her lips, over her jaw.  “Just let me love you the way you did me, and it’ll be alright.  I promise…”

The very thought terrified her to her marrow.  But without fight, without flight, what was left? 

She couldn’t freeze.  That would be unfair.  Couldn’t swing.  They’d gone past that.  Couldn’t take this back, or flee. 

And that left only one course of action.  To go deeper.  Become even more vulnerable.  “Spike…”  And she could hear her voice shaking.  “I don’t know how.  I need help, here.”

His head rose immediately from his ministrations, and he was meeting her eyes and lightly stroking her face once more.  Listening. 

She had to be fair.  Do this right.  “This is why Riley left.  This is…”  Oh God.  “This is why I hurt you.  This is why… all of it.  Fight, or flight… or freeze.  But never let anyone in.  Never…”  She felt so broken, cut her eyes away.  “Because I don’t know how.  I don’t know how to be with you.”  She felt like such a monster; so much more the monster than he had ever been, admitting it now, after all she had done to him, but…  “It’s not you.  It was never you.  It was always me.  God, Spike; I’m so messed up…”  She sniffled, terribly embarrassed, sure he would kick her out of the bed, sure he would say he didn’t have time for this kind of baggage…

And then his arms were around her again and he had her up against his chest… and he was…  Oh, wow.  Rocking her against him.  “Oh, sodding God, Buffy, of course you don’t.  What with everything, it’s amazing you even managed to keep the friends you had and all that rubbish.  Anyone else would be fitted for a tin hat by now, but you’re too bleeding strong, innit?  So you just armored up and got stronger.”

“Something like that,” she mumbled into his chest, and god this was humiliating.  Why couldn’t she just find a way to run away?

He was silent for a moment, still rocking her slowly against his chest.  When he spoke up again, she thought she heard a faint smile in his voice.  “I’ve got time, Slayer.  You might’ve noticed I’m not going anywhere…”

She had to half-laugh at that, because if she didn’t she’d start crying.  God knew he’d proven that over the years.  Even when he’d hidden himself away from her he’d gone on loving her, all stupidly alone in some dumb green cell like a monk, the idiot.  /You didn’t do it very well, but it wasn’t like I gave you a ton of choices that came out real well for you before that.  And you’ve never been the best at making good choices on the best days, anyway.  You doof./  But he had always excelled at loving her, for better or worse. 

It was the one thing he’d always been good at.  No matter whatever else he had failed at, or whether she deserved…

Her breath hitched again.

“How about,” the low, rumbling voice went on inexorably, and now his hand was caressing her hair; long, even strokes that calmed her like she was some sort of cat being petted, “we remember that it’s just the two of us here, and lay here, no pressure.  Then we can just be how we’ve always been; and if you wanna give this another go sometime, maybe we can take off some of that armor.  Bit by bit, like, till we get down to where the real Buffy is, underneath?”

He was giving her the option to back down.  And dammit, she really wanted to take it.  But something about the offer pissed her off, suddenly; put her back up.  Like he was saying she was too much of a coward to power through this, or… 

Which was dumb, and she knew it.  This was not about powering through something.  This was an emotional thing, not something she could wrestle with Slayer strength or defeat with combat skills or spar with until she beat it down into the dirt.  She couldn’t dust her own issues.  But. 

Dammit.  “Can we just try?”

He pulled away from her a little to look her straight in the eye, as ridiculously patient and loving with her as ever.  “There’s no hurry, luv.”

She closed her eyes briefly.  Drew in and let out a breath.  Opened them to meet his gaze, feeling a little better about her decision.  “I know.  But I want…”  She stumbled a little over it, but she also knew it to be true.  “I want to try to take off some of my armor with you.”

She felt the tremor run through him.  “If you’re sure, pet.  If you change your mind at all, even in the middle of things, that’s fine, yeah?”

She nodded, well aware he’d never push her; ever again.  He’d always let her lead before, except that one time.  And that...  “I know.”

“Alright.”  He lifted one hand to caress her hair away from her face, expression a little conflicted.  Hesitated.  “If…   If I feel you freeze up, though, I’m going to stop.”  His face tightened a little.  “I can’t risk…”

She nodded once, fast, to cut him off before he said it.  “I get it.  I’ll try to speak up.”

He tugged her closer then, familiar cool hands sliding around to catch her thighs and sling them gently around his hips.  The sheets had somehow become thoroughly entangled with their bodies; a mildly irritating wedge between them.  She reached down to tear them away in a fit of impatience, tossed them aside, and caught his grin of acknowledgment at her frustrated attempt at regaining some modicum of control.  With a sigh for his tolerant amusement she flung her arms around his neck and just sat expectantly, waiting for his next move with eyebrows raised.

“Put enough bleeding pressure on a bloke, will you?” he asked, but it was a rhetorical question, and spoken with that faint tilt to his head and that tiny half-smile tugging at the corners of his lips that said he was busy admiring her forthrightness or something similar at the moment.  “You’re a right brilliant bint, anyone ever tell you that?”

Buffy smiled back, exasperated.  He always glowed at her like this, when she’d done nothing to deserve it.  “In a way I’ll actually believe it?  Just you.  I wish to God I knew why.”

His expression turned equally exasperated.  “Because you’re bloody courageous as hell, you daft bird,” he informed her seriously, and tugged her face down so that he could kiss her.

She felt on familiar enough ground, with these jocular compliments delivered in half-insulting, backhanded Spike verbiage, to accept the kiss and settle in for the ride.  Except that once he had her where he wanted her, he once more and almost immediately tamed the kiss to something slow, appreciative; nudging her up and open, tilting his head to draw her in…  Bringing her closer.  Deeper.  Making it last.  It was like he had taken one of his old records of one of their heated, fierce kisses from the past, and slowed it down from the tiny 45 rpms to one of those slow, romantic 78s you saw in movies like ‘Dirty Dancing’.  Something you’d slow-dance to, and oh, god, she’d known he was good with his mouth—she had, after all, been the recipient of all the incredible things that mouth could do further south and on numerous occasions—but give Spike the time to really spend on kissing and he could make a girl very happy just with that. 

And then to her almost-regret his lips were moving away, down along her cheek; up to kiss over her eyelids.  Behind her ear; down behind and along her jaw.  Her neck…  So many times they’d done this; but fast.  Fast enough for her not to think.  Right now she could think.  She could think too much; about what she deserved and what she did not, and…

“Just feel it, pet.  Don’t think.  Just feel.”

“What even is that?  Can you read my mind?”

He laughed against her throat; a smug vampire chuckle, the jerk, and nibbled lightly at the tender flesh in the dip behind her collarbone.  “Your body.  Hear your heartbeat.  Smell your pheromones.  Right useful side-effect of hunting instincts when you use ‘em for sex.”

“Damn…”  He found his bite mark then and did something really impossibly hot with his tongue and teeth just that scrambled her brain and sent fireworks in a direct line to her clit, and she forgot what she was about to say.  Accuse him of.  Whatever.  “Nnnn…  Vampire…”

“Guilty.”  Was he sniffing her?

Whatever. 

She was losing track of what was happening.  Somewhere along the way he was laying her back down, and his mouth was making its torturous way south with excruciating slowness; past her collarbones now, and her nipples were really confused as to what the holdup was, and his hands were being incredibly, confusingly gentle as they stroked up and down the insides of her arms; just two fingers trailing lightly along the tender flesh.  Up, down, and up… and oh god, she’d been here for two weeks.  What if he got turned off by her being all… fluffy?  After all, she wasn’t exactly herself, here, after two weeks away from regular hygiene equipment like razors and loofahs.  She’d done her best with weird spells and sparing sponge baths and stuff, but… 

And then there was the whole thing where she knew what he loved best to do with her, too, speaking of, and what if…

“Hush.”  His fingertips drifted through the hair under her arm while his lips trailed along the side of her breast, and she trembled, fighting the urge to clamp her arm shut. 

“I’m…”

To her complete shock, he shoved his face right up in there and nuzzled; and now he was actually sounding exasperated.  “Buffy, women have been shaving things for less than sixty years.  You’re daft if you think I haven’t seen this before.  Enjoyed it even.”

His cool breath was unexpectedly making her toes curl.  The ticklish feel of it, and…  “I…”

“Understand you bein’ self-conscious about it, but it’s gonna be a long damn life in hell if you’re gonna worry about it, yeah?  Doesn’t worry me.”  But he had mercy enough to move away, slip back down to somewhere in the vicinity of her throat. 

It was, however, food for thought enough to distract her long enough that she barely noticed at first the way his fingers were now brushing at the insides of her elbows.  Until they tickled, making her jump.  The sensation brought her back out of her half-daze, and her eyes zeroed in on his nails.  “When did you find nail polish again?” she demanded, stunned at his scavenging ability.

He lifted away to eye her with a gimlet glare.  “Am I gonna have to bite you to calm you down?”

That earned him a return glare.  “Shut up.  I said I was having a hard time.”  She felt inadequate enough without…

He just shook his head and, pulling one arm toward him very firmly, he settled himself down across her body and moved his lips into the tender pocket of her inner elbow.  She jumped again.  Was he actually going to bite her already?  “Spike?”

“Relax.”  And paradoxically, her heart slowed obediently even as he began to do things with his mouth—there, of all places—that had exactly nothing to do with biting but felt…

/Oh God./  She was pretty sure no one had done anything remotely like that to that part of her anatomy.  “Spike, what are you…”

“Hush.  Just feel, remember?”

It was ticklish, and yet so sensitive that she…  She was going to climb out of her skin, and yet…

No way her hips should be going from that!  No way at all, and she cursed at herself for her lack of discipline.  And her eyes caught sight again of the bizarre image of his newly-painted, black nails against the pale skin of her inner arm…  “Seriously, though, where did you get the…”

He lifted his head away to sigh at her.  “The girls found me some, alright?  They can find you some as well, and we can have a night in and paint each other’s nails if you like, yeah?  Only let me finish seeing to you first, you daft bint, before you drive me straight off my trolley?”

She felt a sharp retort rise in her.  It escaped before she could manage to grab onto it.  “You’re going to drive me off mine if you keep doing weird, ticklish things to parts of me that aren’t…”  She waved her free hand around to encompass all that she couldn’t think to say about all this.  After all, she wasn’t used to… well, really, any of this with him.  He usually just got right down to business with her.  He had spent a good half their mutual sex lives with his face cheerfully buried between her legs, and a girl got used to that sort of thing really quickly.  It made all this… extraneous exploration seem…

Well, kind of superfluous.  And weird.  “I mean, it’s my arm!” 

He lifted a brow and, with a growl, dove very abruptly to pin her down.  Caught the other arm and pulled it firmly toward him, turned the wrist over, and drove in toward the underside.  “You liked it.  Felt your hips goin’.  Smelled you warmin’ up to me…”

/Okay, goddammit!/  She squirmed in some kind of bizarre mix of discomfort and pleasure as he kissed his way doggedly up from wrist to elbow, struggling with it.  Struggling to feel, because he was right, and what was her hang-up?  “You’re totally unfair with your stupid vampire senses,” she accused finally, and gave in, gasping and arching up in startlement as his lips latched on firmly and he suckled, hard, at the space just over her median cubital vein.

“Mmmm…”  Lifting away again he pulled her arms abruptly over her head and leaned over to look directly into her eyes.  “I fucking love you, you infuriating woman.  You know that?”

She did.  And squirmed a little in confusion over it, as always.  “I…”  /Don’t deflect./  “Yeah.  I do.  And same goes.  You irritating vampire.”

“Good.”  And then he was heading south again, ignoring her mutters about jerks who couldn’t follow simple instructions to murmur things to her body.  Clearly his conversation right now was reserved for parts of her that were not in her head, but at least he was returning to activities that made a great deal more sense to her.  Worrying at her neck, moving toward her breasts, all the while saying things like, “Just feel,” and “Let me love you, Buffy.  Just let me love you, let me make you feel…”  Which made her tense briefly, because his mouth was doing things that were, to his usual standard, amazing, were lighting her body on fire; but his words, she realized belatedly, were dangerously close to ones that should freeze her, throw her back to another time, another night in another room, where she had been too hurt to make him listen, and he had been too damaged to hear; pushed beyond the limits of patience and love. 

His hands though, were, in juxtaposition, so unbelievably gentle in their urging as they slid along her sides, doing things she had never felt from him, that somehow the words… sounded like an entirely different vocabulary.  It shifted her perceptions subtly, and for the first time she heard the words for what they were now.  Not what they once had been—the demands of a demon in love who had been driven beyond the edges of his tenuous control—but promises of love while she fought to find her way beyond her own. 

This time it was she who feared to be pushed over her erstwhile limits.  

As he said the words again and again a memory assailed her; not of that awful moment in the bathroom… but of Spike looking up at her from the bottom of the stairs at her old house at Revello.  Expecting nothing, hoping for nothing at all.  Grateful just to be permitted back into her home, allowed within her sphere.  Watching her, as always, with that expression of awed amazement and wonder that she had never once been able to acknowledge, then, because to do so would be to recognize that love, coming from him, was real.  That he could feel it. 

That he was real.  ‘I know you’ll never love me.  I know I’m a monster.  But you treat me like a man, and that’s…’  The sorrow in his eyes, the pain, and yet the fulfillment he had gotten just from her…  god; treating him remotely decently, broke her heart now.  And even more so when she realized, all too belatedly, that it was because of something as simple as what he was, something he could never change, that he thought she could never love him… when it was what he was that loved her with all he had ever been. 

“Christ, I love you, Buffy.  Let me show you…”

And he was.  He was; always had been, then and now.  Spike—the person who had loved her family, watched her back, striven to love her to the best of his ability for years, and held her undamaged through every possible sex act despite all their differences—Spike was a demon.  And he was a demon who loved her.  But he had fought to be human, for her sake; to the point where he had opened up, sought help from the man he had once been.  Set free, first in chains but ever more free-range, every day, the man he had been before his first death; the shackled human soul in bondage.  Loosened his chains, ungagged him—if he had, in fact, ever been gagged—and begged him for guidance in how to pretend to be a mockery of a human lover, so that she might perhaps accept him.  Until the day he had finally freed that man entirely and set him back in the driver’s seat of his being; set him before even the demon he had been for over a hundred years of his existence.  Changed his entire identity. 

For her.

“‘…Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast…’  Oh, bloody hell, luv, look at you…” 

And so, yes.  His demon had fought back, once or twice; roaring out, struggling against the duality of this unexpected body-sharing, this reordering of his being.  Against the unwilling, unsatisfactory situation that he had created by loosing the man he had held in bondage for a hundred-plus years; seeking help but instead, by accident, turning himself into a shadow of the demon he had been.  /Your soul was already half-free before you even left/ she thought, and arched up against his mouth.  Clutched at his hair.  /Wasn’t it, Spike?/

He had inadvertently placed himself in mutual, tandem yoke to a souled creature, out of the mere hope of reaching her.  And it had not worked.  No wonder that once in a while he had lashed out in rage at her incapacity to respond to his tentative overtures, his overwrought declarations of devotion.  They were all he had had, when he had given up more than everything for her. 

“Christ, yes, Buffy, like that…”

Yes, once or twice he had snapped.  And she had judged him for that, as if he were a human and lived according to human social mores, when all that had been but a veneer created for her benefit; drawn out from a past life and tendered to her with both hands held open in the hopes that she might, just maybe, take all of him.

/You have to remember/ she admonished herself, running her hands up and down his smooth, sleek back, /Always remember—that you’re in a relationship with…  No/ she corrected herself.  /You’ve fallen in love with a member of another species.  There’s gonna be communication glitches.  He’s gonna say ‘I love you’ in different ways./  Sometimes he did it with his body, sometimes with his mouth or his eyes… and sometimes in ways that had been utterly untranslatable to her.

Her body bucked up in inarticulate response when his fingers stroked down, brushed lightly against the bud of her anus; a quick, flirtatious tease while his mouth tantalized everywhere but her nipples; kissing under and beside her breasts and around her ribs and making her damn glad she had had what passed for a bath at Wolfram and Hart before she’d come back here, because how distracting would that have been?  Not that he had ever seemed to mind getting all up in her no matter how gross they had been after a fight.  She could not count the number of times they’d gone at it sweaty, covered in slime and blood (or Doublemeat Palace stink, for that matter) and…

“That’s right, luv, just feel…”  It came out softly, but with a low growl now rumbling under the words.  Man and demon; both of them making love to her.  Making her crazy. 

Some languages were, in fact, universal.  Which was why he had always tried to default, with her, to sex.

/You didn’t have communication glitches the first time around because with Angel… it wasn’t the demon who loved you./  She hadn’t even remotely been in a relationship with Angelus, save when he had been doing his version of flirting with her; that sociopathic, slow, stalking that had ended in the emotional maiming and even the deaths of so many people she had loved. 

With Angel she had loved only the much-amended man buried beneath the onus of the demon’s deeds.  But this time around it was the demon who had loved her first, and the man who had bridged the gap for them, helped the demon to speak the language for her that allowed her to understand that that love was genuine, whether she had wanted to believe it or no.

So now, when she heard the words, murmur-growled against her heated flesh, “Let me love you; oh, God, Buffy, let me make you feel…” she didn’t freeze; and when the memories flirted at the edges of her vision…

She chose to trust.

Unfortunately, that was the moment in which he heard himself.  And stopped dead.  “Oh, Christ, Buffy, I…”  His eyes, staring into hers, were full of panic.  Of horror.

“Shh…”  She pulled his head back down, shook her own, eyes warm on his.  “I am.  I’m busy feeling, right now.  Don’t mess it up for me.”  Dug her fingers deeply into his hair, messing it up the way she privately loved to do when they were in bed.  Got it out of whatever remained of its disciplined, gelled state—he’d apparently found hair products somewhere in this hell, or ‘his girls’ had.  They should have a talk about him and these ‘girls’ of his—and tugged his oh-so-talented mouth down to where her nipples waited, aching, for his touch.  He’d teased her long enough.

He looked up at her along her body, undone for the moment and uncertain.  “Buffy…”

“Please,” she whispered.  “You’re killing me, here.”

“Sodding hell,” he muttered, and taking a stronger grip of her waist with his right hand, he wrapped the left around her unattended breast, fingers dampened already—God, he moved fast—and sank his mouth hungrily around her yearning nipple. 

She surged up to him with a cry as he went to work, mouth and hand working in concert, because, God, he always knew how to do this so amazingly well…  She was shuddering already, everywhere; sometimes he got her off just from this, and she wasn’t ready, she wasn’t…  “Please,” she whispered again.  “Make me wait.”

“Oh,” he answered, satisfied again as he lifted away, and sent her a little smile.  “I’ll attend to you Buffy.  Don’t you worry.”  And he was back at it; merciless and slow and cruel… and wonderful.

The thing about being with someone who knew your body so well was…  They knew your body.  What made it tick… and how to make it tick.  And exactly when.  “Oh God…”  He was, they both knew, capable of keeping her on edge for literally hours; the time with the handcuffs having been the singular memorable occasion.  Singular because, of course, she had never permitted it again, once she had realized how much power he had over her; no matter the shuddering completion he’d brought her… because power had been by far the more important thing to her in those days even than blistering, mind-melting satisfaction.  /Idiot./ 

Major idiot.  Because when, in that one time, he had finally let her come, blistering barely covered it.  Spurred by her furious, taunting verbal abuse, he had driven her violently over the edge, over and over again, a half-dozen times in the space of minutes, in a way that she probably wouldn’t have been able to handle at all if it hadn’t been for her Slayer constitution.  He was exhausting, talented, brilliant, had pretty much ruined sex for her with anyone else…

Fuck, she had missed him.

He took his sweet time with her nipples, attending to each breast with what she now recognized as a tenderness that had been disguised under a mere mask of savagery in their previous assignations; because she had allowed him that latitude when it came to this part of her body.  Allowed him to lose himself briefly in gentleness as long as he didn’t talk about it, didn’t let her know what he was thinking.  Now, though, they had opened the floodgates of speech, and he was saying everything she had never permitted him to express before in some kind of eloquently sexual stream-of-consciousness.  It was an awakening.  “…Get your pert nipples ripe as cherries, won’t I, and then when I get there your sweet cunny will be so ready for me, won’t she, she’ll be dying for me, she’ll let me do whatever I want.  …Love how you let me be soft with you here, Buffy, love how then you let me take my time buried in your quim for ages and it never has to end; Christ… never want it to end…”

God, he’d always wanted to make it last, make love to her for hours… and she’d always wanted the quick heat, the thunderous mating so she could have it done and leave him.  Had always taken advantage of his preferences, pushed him down, let him get her off quick and dirty and then shoved him away before she could ever think about letting him get too close to loving her for anything other than the mechanics of need.  Had done her best to make sure he didn’t even get to fully enjoy the thing he loved the most; when he was face down between her legs and losing himself…  As if any woman shouldn’t be grateful as hell to have a guy who wanted to be there, like he always was; first, last, forever.  

God, what the hell was wrong with her before? 

She would for sure let him take his time now.  She would let him enjoy whatever he wanted of her.  She would…

His questing fingers brushed, incredibly lightly, against her clit, and she lost all ability to wait.  Forgot about considerations like sponge-baths and what state of depilation she might currently enjoy.  Bucked hard against him, seeking greater pressure; but he was already gone like a damn ghost.  Asshole.  “You’re going to kill me,” she whispered to him, arching up repeatedly, and as uselessly as a moth at a lamp, against his hovering form.  “Spike!”  It had been years since she’d had his mouth.

Years.

“Got plenty of time, Slayer,” he informed, her, and moved up to scrape a nipple lightly with his teeth.  “Gonna make you so ready for me…”

/Dammit!/  She caught his ass with both hands, dug her nails in.  Pressed up fervently.  “You’ve done that already.  Can you take your time down here?  For God’s sake!”  /Do you know how many times I’ve dreamed about you?  Woke myself up thinking it was you and it was just me and wanted to cry myself back to sleep, and now you’re…/

He lifted up to grin at her, mouth reddened and looking way too pleased with himself.  “Always so bloody impatient.  Can’t give a bloke a little time to work his way around a bird.”  Curling his tongue smugly around his teeth, he brushed her clit again, because he was a complete bastard, and watched her rock helplessly against nothing but air. 

Goddamn zephyr.  “You’re evil!”

“Yeah.  Where’ve you been?”

“I’m going to murder you after this,” she promised grimly, and had to hold back the urge to unload a stress-reducing punch at his smug-ass face when he just smirked, undaunted, and lowered his head back down to torture her with kisses down her fluttering belly.

Well, she supposed that was, at least, progress. 

Though, he was still taking his sweet damn time.  He seemed to be tracing every stupid muscle in her stomach, his fingers following along behind to tickle every rib, to run down her heaving sides; and then he had her legs up over his shoulders—oh thank god!—and every part of her that lived between her thighs was swollen and begging for his touch. 

Except of course he had to take a page out of her book and veer to the left, to sink his lips into the curve between thigh and flank; tickle with his tongue, suck, and he had too firm a grip on her leg for her to kick him in the head, so all she could do was fumble for a pillow and maybe try to throw it at him.  Except he of course evaded it easily, still grinning, went right back to what he was doing, the bastard, and he was literally going to kill her.

Call her spoiled, but she had never had to wait this long for him to go down on her.  That was usually his first damn stop!  It was like his favorite thing to do, what the hell was this?

His head was up again, cool breath in passing sliding over her now-desperate clit to make her tremble.  “Turnabout’s fair play, pet.”

/Oh.  Shit./

His head was already back down… this time on the other side, to play with the curve inside her other thigh, and she was out of pillows to throw at him.

She fought to free a leg, now desperate to fight back, kick him, knock him over, get him inside of her; something!  But he had her in a steady grip, hands locked determinedly over her ankles so that she could only free herself if she actually wanted to hurt him. 

And Buffy had a new rule.  No hurting Spike in bed.  No more of that.  No more hurting Spike at all, ever.  Not unless they were sparring… which she did kind of hope was a thing that would happen again someday, because she had never gotten as much enjoyment out of fighting anyone as she had with him.  He had ever been her match; with the rough and tumble… and with the rough and tumble. 

But if she couldn’t kick him in the head to get out of this, that meant…  She had to endure. 

Damn him.

He was kissing his way up along her thigh now, ignoring her jerking attempts at freedom, and oh hell no!  It dawned on her, only now, that he was actually retracing her course, the cruel bastard.  Down her leg, a kiss to the inside of her knee; but his eyes, as he did so, were full of wonder that she was allowing him so much room to touch her.  To explore.

It was at great expense, she had to admit.  She was a quivering mess. 

It slowed her growing problem only a little, worrying about the light dusting of hair on her legs; but only for a moment, since it didn’t slow him down at all.  Which meant that she was back up to speed before he’d gotten to her left ankle, and had completely forgotten about such blindingly unimportant considerations by the time he had kissed the arch of her left foot.  Eventually he started back up the other side, at which point she was at least ninety percent sure she was going to disintegrate before he made it back to where she needed him.  “Spike,” she whispered; horrified to hear the pleading note in her own voice and yet still fairly certain nothing would shake him from his determined path. 

“Not long now, luv,” he told her softly, and continued kissing his way lovingly up along her right thigh, interspersed with little, sucking bites, and oh, god… he was right over her pulse there, he was so close, she could feel him almost humming along with her speedy heartbeat…

“Christ, your heart sounds like music when you’re here, luv,” he murmured, and slid up to pause, just breathing as he hovered over her now desperately needy pussy.  She was throbbing, had never been so wet for him, achingly empty, practically clenching; just the air of his breath hurt as he drew in long lungfuls of her scent and exhaled over her.  “And this.  Bloody hell.  The best perfume in the universe, right here…  In any dimension…”

She couldn’t handle it anymore.  Reached down and seized a sizable handful of his hair.  “I am going to stake you if you do not fix this right now.”

He slipped his hands up, apparently wholly unconcerned with her threat or the status of his near-depilation.  Slid his palms under her ass, his thumbs into the hollows of her thighs.  “You do that, pet, and I won’t be able to do this.”  And he lowered his head—God, finally—to nuzzle at her clit.

She bucked up against him, already half-mindless with need.  “God, Spike, please, just…”

“Not yet.”  Pressing down firmly, he shifted his grip and bore her down onto the bed.  Totally ignored her disappointed noises—she could fight back, push up against him, but she couldn’t force him to use that incredible tongue on her, so she had to play nice if she wanted—was that her making that sound?

And then he was spreading her open.  Settling back so that she had to sit up a little in shocked dismay, because, No!  And there he was, face damp and eyes bright with some indefinable emotion that looked like wonder and joy, and…  And the smug, tongue-curling, devil-may-care demon was gone, replaced with awe.  “Christ, Buffy, you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.  Like a hothouse orchid in a lord’s garden; special-bred, exotic, one-of-a-kind.  Petals and texture and scent just made to order for one man… and that man is me.  ‘Cept I’m no soddin’ lord, and someone’s surely botched the bloody paperwork…”

Sometimes she had no idea what the hell he was talking about, but she knew one thing.  Spike was just as much of a poet as William had ever been.  Too much of his poetry had been about killing and the chaos and glee of battle, because she had truncated his ability to speak of love.  At least to her, anyway.  But if she but allowed him to make love, he could do it just as well with his words as with the poetry of his body. 

It was kind of embarrassing, actually, to know that he thought of her that way.  But… she couldn’t take this away from him.  Not if she wanted to know all of him. 

She was still dying, though.  “Spike,” she whispered, arching up. 

“Sorry, pet,” he grinned… and buried his face back in her folds.  And went to work.

His tongue was an incredible work of mobile art; inexhaustible, creative, effortlessly capable, and unerring at finding every place on her that could not stand just… another…

/No!/

“Not yet.”

She flung her head back and forth, pounded on the bed.  Heard something tear.  Thought she heard him laugh in glee, the asshole, as he slipped from one spot, one rhythm, back to the other—yes!—and then, maddeningly, away again, the fucking bastard!

She was going to kill him, she was going to literally murder…  She was making embarrassingly inarticulate noises, could hear him making some kind of fascinating, animalistic ones from somewhere in the far distance…  And then his blunt nails dug, hard, into the junction of her thighs and buttocks, and he surged in fiercely against her, bearing down abruptly against the spot, and, ohgodohgodohgod…

“Now, Slayer.”

Somehow, as she surged up to meet him, she could tell that he had slipped a little away, his face turned just a hair so that his mouth was now at an oblique angle to her; only his tongue working her and his lips a little further away; knew from some deeply instinctive place in her gut, as he slipped two fingers inside her, folded them in the come-hither gesture that always made it so damn good, that he had moved away to avoid nicking her with his fangs because he had lost control, his half-starved demon was out…

She wanted him to.  She didn’t even feel an ounce of shame about it anymore.  “Now,” she managed to pant it out, as she ground down on his fingers, and the lights flickered behind her eyes.  “Do it.  Please.”  Heard his startled moan, felt, almost as if it were happening from some attenuated place on some distant zone of her body, the slicing burn at her thigh where she quivered on his fingers like a worm on a hook…  And then he was matching the pulsing in her clit and inside her, the pulling of his mouth and the thrusting of his hand, the tapping of his thumb; and it was all the same, and she thought she was convulsing, had her legs clamped so tight around his neck and shoulder and arm that he could no longer move and it would have killed anyone who actually needed to breathe to live…  And she couldn’t hear the sounds she was making, but she knew it had never been like… 

The world whirled.  Time and space shrank to a dark point, all clenching and pulsing, and the sucking pull… 

And then blackout.

***

 

 

Alright, we'll leave it at that till next week's smut-with-conversational-breaks, heh.

Chapter Text

She came back to the low, russet light shining through sealed eyelids; to the feeling of his lips on her throat.  Darkness fell briefly as he ran little kisses over her closed eyes.  “Didn’t take enough to knock you out, pet.  Wasn’t that desperate.  You’re gonna give me a complex.”

She smiled lazily and lifted an arm to drape it blindly over his neck.  “Mmmmm…” she managed, and hoped the syllable conveyed enough meaning to relieve his concerns.

“Oh.  Yeah?”  She felt his weight shift beside her and deducted he had settled down on his elbow to survey her with interest.  “Well, now you’re going to puff up my ego, luv.”

She made a halfhearted moue and flung out an arm to fumble at the nightstand, wondering vaguely if she could reach the flask she was sure she had seen over there somewhere when she had first surveyed the room.  It wouldn’t be water, but she’d only take a sip.  It’d be better than nothing.

A hand caught hers, held it tightly.  “Nu-uh, pet.  You need real sustenance after that bit of rough and tumble.”  She felt him shift again, sit up.  Heard a bell ring. 

“Did you just ring for the butler?” she managed, though it felt like lifting weights to move her mouth.

“One of the girls is always hanging about.  I’ll ask ‘em to bring you something to eat; get you a nip to drink.  Seeing as you already saw to me.”

With massive effort she propped open one eye to pin him with a glare.  “Do we need to talk about this gaggle of demon-girls you seem to have at your beck and call?”

His scarred brow went up, and he smirked at her.  “Oh, yeah?  You jealous?”

She let the eye fall closed, feeling mildly disgruntled… or rather, feeling as much disgruntlement as she could muster considering her current state of bonelessness.  “Depends.”

The bed shifted, and then he was slithering over to lay on top of her again; a nice contrast to her overheated flesh.  Cool-ish air wafted over her body as he shifted the sheets aside to get them out of the way… and then he was rubbing his apparently permanently-hard cock along her still-sensitive clit, sending sparks of half-uncomfortable, half-needy stimulation into the center of her belly.  “The goods are all yours.”

She squirmed against him, abruptly achingly empty once more.  “Dammit, Spike…  I’m still jelly.”

“Bet I could wake you up…”

Her body was perking to consciousness in spite of herself.  Without consulting her brain in the slightest her right leg had already slid up to rub along his hip… and, oh hell.  She flung it over his taut ass, pulling him in close.  “Damn you.”

He arched up, leaned over on his supporting hand.  She shifted to accommodate him as he caught hold of himself, held her breath… and let it out on a low moan when he slipped into her. 

“Sodding hell, Buffy, you’re so bleeding wet for me…”

“Whose…  Oh God!”  She surged up, pulled hard with her heel to the cleft of his ass, fighting to drag him in deeper.  “Whose fault is that?”

His forehead dropped to hers, and they spent a moment just moving.  Her mouth was open, and she reflected that she while she was, yes, very thirsty and certainly more than a little hungry, god, she could do this all day.  Just move with him, on the shining edge of perfection, feel him sliding in and out of her like some inexhaustible source of renewable energy…

“You needed something, Boss…  Oh.”

Buffy froze.  Spike didn’t, really.  Just flexed, turning only the upper half of his body, while the lower drove deeper into her, his hips pinning her flat (which, just, god).  It was a move she recognized from when she had been invisible and Xander had walked in… only this time she wasn’t quite the exhibitionist she had been when no one could see her.  /Damn, damn, damn…/  She had completely forgotten the fact that he had called for someone to come and bring her something. 

“Who is that?”

“Never you mind,” Spike answered the inquiring—and jealous-sounding?—voice with total aplomb, considering he was in mid-naked-tango.  “I need you to run out and get her something.  Water, some food what’s good for humans, yeah?” 

Instead of taking orders and leaving them to it, this girl, whoever she was, decided to take this incredibly bad time to start an interrogation.  “Why are you with a human?  Is she one of the refugees?”  

Spike was clearly losing his patience, judging by the abrupt frayed note in his voice.  “Just get the water, will you, and the food?  There’s a good girl.”

A short silence, pregnant with some sort of heavy emotional weight Buffy couldn’t read, then, “She’s not… the one you said owned you, is she?”

/He said I what, now?/  Intrigued almost enough at this point for it to overcome her seriously dented modesty, Buffy found herself struggling between the impulse to shove Spike out of the way to have a look at the girl who was so inordinately interested in her and the urge to remain where she was, mostly invisible behind his looming body. 

Curiosity won out in the end—because, propriety be damned, that note of surging jealousy in the girl’s voice was just the limit, really—and she lifted up a little to peep just a hair around Spike’s naked shoulder.  Caught a glimpse of a short, perky brunette with a mop of shoulder-length, curly hair and a seriously put out expression painted across her face.  She looked human enough, Buffy supposed, though there was something… a little off about her back. 

Spike sighed and tilted a little further away, though this did negative things to their, ah, intimate connection, eyes flickering to meet Buffy’s briefly.  “She is.  I’d be obliged if you’d consider her the lady of the house from here on out.”

The brunette looked aghast.  “The Azure Queen is the lady of the house,” she pointed out.  No doubt she was talking about Illyria.  Of course, being a demon girl, she’d all but worship one of those Old Ones or whatever Illyria was.  With her around, Spike was going have an uphill battle if he was going to try to get these demon chicks of his to treat Buffy like she was anything but lowly human chattel.  He would probably have had a rough time with that even without the weird blue woman around, in a dimension like this.  His inborn respect for her came from having spent years going toe-to-toe with the Slayer.  They knew nothing of such matters in this dimension.  As far as the locals knew she was just another piece of human flotsam adrift in whatever hellstorm had brought them all to this shithole they called home. 

Accordingly…  “I’m not your human concubine?” she asked Spike with a faint smile.

“Buffy,” he hissed warningly, and turned back to his little demon servant.  “Wherever Illyria is in the palace, she’s the queen, yeah.  But in my part of the house, Buffy’s it.  You got it?”

“Whatever you say, Boss,” the girl answered.  “All bloody hail.”  Still, she clearly found this an onerous demand. 

“Now do us a favor and run and get the water and that lot; or have someone else do it if you’re busy, yeah?  My girl needs feeding up.”

Demon chick looked irritated as hell, but she nodded once, sharply, and turned to leave. 

“Thank you, Maria.”

The name hit Buffy like a bolt of lightning.  She was moving before she knew it; uncoupling them almost as an afterthought as she struggled out of Spike’s grip and fully intent on leaving the bed to go after the chick.  She would have words with the little bitch, right now.  She would…

She was arrested by Spike’s hand on her shoulder… and by the sight of what looked like spider’s legs peeping out of the funny hump on the girl’s back as she exited the room, the door thumping closed behind her. 

That was… not right.

“Don’t,” Spike was saying from somewhere half over her head and partly behind her.  “Buffy…”

“What the hell was that on her back?”

He sighed heavily.  “They call her ‘Spider’.  Gave me the hell of a turn when they popped out all at once down where they used to keep the dungeon bit of the place.”

Buffy tore her gaze away from the now-closed door to stare at him in shock.  “They…  She…”

“Made it a bit tough to get away, yeah?  She had ten arms and I had none.”

Buffy made to move again, hand on his shoulder to shove him away.  He stilled her with a single word.  “Please.”

Her eyes jerked back to his, demanding.  “Why?  When she…”

“I told you why.”  It was spoken quietly… but with a hard, firm edge that demanded attention. 

Spike very seldom drew a hard line with her.  Almost never.  When he did… it was incumbent on her to listen.  Really listen, because usually it was a matter of supreme importance; possibly a matter of survival, certainly a matter he held very near and dear to his heart.  Once upon a time she might have stomped all over the latter consideration… but not now.  She had never, ever discounted the former.  She had always taken him seriously, both as a combatant, and later as a knowledgeable comrade-in-arms.

It was harder than she had thought it would be, however, to clamp down on the raging tide of emotions; even though she knew he was entirely justified in asking this of her.  She wanted to rip that girl’s head off and feed it to her.  To do, as Illyria had put it that night back behind the Hyperion, more violence.  To take the vengeance that Spike would not take for himself.  But…

He didn’t want her to.  And, if she had to think of why… 

He was a leader now.  Trapped between two necessities, forced to be a diplomat.  His power depended on the buy-in of the court he had somehow taken over from the previous tenant of this place; the one who had originally captured him (and someday really soon she was totally going to need to get the full story of how he’d managed to go from ‘guy in dungeon’ to ‘new co-demon lord’).  She knew all about putting aside the personal need for vengeance in order to satisfy the mission, knew Spike knew that lesson very well too, or he would have killed Robin Wood. 

More importantly, Spike was a leader in a demon dimension.  And, she realized now, that meant being a demon lord; willing, to a certain extent, to uphold demon law, at least in public.  No doubt he had to walk a pretty fine line between two worlds, if he was to keep his precarious throne so that he could protect the humans he was quietly shuffling off to safehouses.  And he had already said that according to demon standards, what this girl had done to him wasn’t anything wrong.  Which was just ridiculous, and what was even wrong with demons, but…

And then there was the personal level.  Because if Maria had to die, then why should she, Buffy, get off so easily when she had done the same?  “I’m sorry.  I just…”

His fingers slid under her chin, lifting her head.  And he smiled sadly into her eyes.  “I understand, you know.  You think I don’t want to dust my git of a grandsire for what he did to you?  But you’d hate me if I did.”

She blinked, nonplussed.  “What Angel…  I don’t…  What?”

Spike sighed and shook his head.  “Never mind, pet.  It was a long time ago.  Another life, yeah?  Just sayin’… I get it.  But I don’t and I won’t.  Because that’s up to you.  And Maria’s up to me.  Alright?”

Buffy was utterly sidetracked.  “You mean because of the blood-bond thing?  Because he didn’t tell me?  Let it go on for however long, and…”

“Oh, sodding hell.  No, Buffy.”  Spike looked abruptly at the end of his tether with her.  “Because of what he did with you when you were barely out of Pampers, for Chrissakes.  Followed you about, didn’t he, all dark and mysterious; made you think you needed him, had to know what he was about.  Showed up in your room, no doubt, and made loads of protests about how he shouldn’t be with you, how it couldn’t be, then let himself go right on and snog you anyway, yeah?”

She was stung.  “We were in love!”  He was twisting it all up…  

Spike’s expression was hard, though, and uncompromising.  “Love, is it?  Made you promise you wouldn’t stop loving him before he told you what he was, didn’t he, I’ll warrant?”

Buffy jerked, stunned at the way he’d framed the not-quite-question.  “It wasn’t like that!  There was… a lot going on.  And he…”

“Followed you around, didn’t he?  Followed you all the way from LA, Dru told me.  She said he was on your trail from the time you were fifteen.”  He leaned back a little, carefully removing himself from her orbit to watch her with that shrewd gaze she sometimes hated; the one he used when he was putting things into a perspective for her that she did not want to face in the slightest.  “Just a tot, Buffy; not even old enough to truly understand what he was thinking.  At that age you wouldn’t even let Dawn drink coffee or do research, and he was lookin’ at you like his next meal…”

She jerked away from him completely, feeling violated by the comparison.  She couldn’t think of herself, ever, as having been as young as Dawn had been only last year or the year before, or—god—the year before that, when she and Angel had been…  “It wasn’t like that,” she insisted again, and fought the tide of grossness the comparison foisted on her.  “He wanted to help me.  He just…  We fell in love, and then things…”

Spike shook his head grimly.  “He always had an eye for the sweet, young, untouched virgins.  They were his favorites, because they didn’t know enough yet to know what he was on about.  He could manipulate them into thinking anything he liked, and then once he’d had his way with ‘em he could drop ‘em cold.  Why do you think he did what he did to Dru?  Or the Romany girl he did so young; their most precious virgin?  Earned him his curse, yeah?”  He tilted his head toward her, eyes glittering in a way that felt distinctly uncomfortable.  “When did he leave, Buffy?  Was it when you started to be capable?  Grown up enough to handle things on your own?”  Each quiet, cynical phrase was like a hammer blow.  “Did you still need him?  Really need him?  And when you visited him, or he visited you… did he seem the same with you?  As hot for you as he used to be?”

She closed her eyes, her breath strangling in her throat as the memories assaulted her in spite of her resistance.  “I don’t get you.”

“No you don’t.  Not anymore.”

/Oh God…/

“You let me worry about the needy.”

And it had been so easy for him to hold off.  She had thought it had been because he had had so much practice, but what if…

And then there was that unusually uncomfortable meeting in between cities after she had come back from the dead; one that she had started to suspect in the interim had been instigated by Willow just to get her to show some ‘human emotion’.

“Why didn't you tell me you were alive, Buffy?”  Like she needed to feel guilty for more stuff, when she had had so damn much going on that she had barely been able to keep her head afloat.  Why hadn’t Willow told him?  She had been the official Sunnydale-LA go-between, hadn’t she?

And he had acted so weird.  Almost angry about it for the rest of the meeting, till she had finally demanded, “Why are you being so standoffish?  I drove all the way here, and you know how I hate driving.  I have so much going on back in Sunnydale; I could’ve used…”

“I need to understand.  Needed to see you.  To be close enough to make sure that…  That I could still feel… what I did before.  When you died… it was almost like… I was numb.  Like I didn’t feel anything.”

“Wow.  That… warms a girl’s heart.”

“I didn’t mean…  I think there’s something wrong.  With me.  You were the love of my life.  I thought maybe there was something about how you died that… maybe messed up…”

That pause now made sense.  /Messed up the blood-bond, you meant./

The rest still didn’t make sense, though.  Because Angel was still trying.  Trying to get her to choose him, trying to…

“He doesn’t like losing to his own childer,” Spike interrupted her thoughts quietly.  “Especially me, because he still thinks of me as a pale imitation of him.  And now he’s jealous, because he’s afraid I’m doin’ the soul thing better than he ever did.  Even though he tells himself it’s because I don’t deserve you; because I’m not ashamed enough of my time with the bloody Whirlwind.”  He shook his head grimly, flipped an arm so that his hand jerked, casting the past away.  “But the truth is, he made me into what I was, and he knows it.  He deserves all the guilt he carries, yeah?  He never bothered to know the real me.  And you do.”  He leaned forward then, forearms on his knees, facing her square.  “He can’t stand that, luv.  If it weren’t for us, he’d have let you go a long time ago, because he needs to be needed.  And you haven’t needed him for years.”  And his eyes hardened into dark, glittering sapphires.  “You’ve outgrown him, Buffy.”

She closed her eyes.  Looked away.  She just couldn’t…  “I can’t talk about this right now.”

The silence dragged on between them, uncomfortable and tense.  Spike, of course, was the first to break it, because he was always the best of the two of them at trying to make peace.  “I’m sorry, pet.  I’ve kept my mouth shut for this long and I should’ve kept it shut longer.  He’s a right tosser, but I know better than to say word one about the prat in front of you.”

She closed her eyes and shook her head, unable to formulate a reply.  “I guess I just didn’t realize till now how much of you hating him had to do with… me.  Not… jealousy or… stuff from your past with… Angelus, but…  Trying to protect me.  Because back when you were with Drusilla, you always seemed…”  She waved her hand vaguely.  “Just, whatever.  Like you didn’t care.  And you said you thought Angel and I would never be friends.  That we’d always love each other…”

“I said,” he corrected so grimly that it drew her eyes up in spite of herself to stare at him, “that you’d fight and you’d shag—though I forgot there were extenuating circumstances about that last bit, didn’t I—but I was right about that never be friends bit, yeah?  Have you been able to come ‘round to being friends, really?”

In a way, he was right.  And how twisted was that, that the man who had at the time hated them both had seen into them, seen their future so damn clearly.  And yet.  “You also said that we’d hate each other till it made us…”  She frowned, but couldn’t quite dredge up the overwrought memory.  “Shake, or something, and I can’t imagine actually hating him.”

“Well,” Spike answered flatly, and reached out to grab a cigarette from the nightstand where they’d been hiding behind the flask.  Yanked his battered silver Zippo out of the pack with swift economy of movement, but also with a sort of hard jerk at the end that bespoke fierce emotion kept carefully in check.  “I also said you’ll be in love till it kills you both.  Here’s hoping I was wrong about that one, too, and in the end the best you’ll both manage is a lukewarm sort of nodding acquaintance in honor of the past.”  He held the cigarette for a moment as if he was seriously considering lighting up right there in bed, entire body tense.  Glanced at the closet window, all captain jittery.  “God knows love and hate are both about passion.  If you can’t manage to hate him…”

Buffy reached out, covered his hand, cigarette and all, to calm him.  “I’m really not sure how I feel about him at all anymore,” she admitted; more to herself than to Spike.  “A few years ago I couldn’t imagine anything else.  I used to think everything would stay as passionate as it was then… but I’m not sixteen anymore, and everything’s changed so much.  I’ve changed so much that loving him just seems like… too much work, sometimes.  So much drama…”  She heard the hissing intake of breath from Spike, the sudden, long absence of respiration that said she had somehow hurt him, completely inexplicably with her words.  /What now?/ 

It hit her after a long moment’s consideration.  /Oh./  “That kind of drama; the kind that feels like dying all the time?”  She lifted her eyes to meet his now-hard blue ones, and sighed heavily.  “None of that felt like life.  Like it made me… stronger, you know?  Like it fed me.  It just made me tired.  Distracted me, even, sometimes.  And…”  She looked away from his softening gaze, shaking her head in regret she hadn’t realized she felt till precisely that instant.  “The core of trust that we had under it all?  That steady thing I always insisted was the key, the reason you and I couldn’t be?”  Another tightening from the still-breathless man sharing the bed with her.  “He and I don’t have that anymore.  Not after I found out about you; and not after he kept me at Wolfram and Hart, and lied about why he was keeping me there.  So I just don’t know.” 

He still wasn’t breathing; a sure sign he had nothing to say, or was afraid to say anything.  A vampire didn’t need to breath unless it was to speak.  The air in their lungs went nowhere sans a beating heart, the oxygen exhaled in the exact same state as it had entered; unless they were smoking, of course.  It was just dead motion; a reflex.  Enough to pass over vocal cords and, apparently, send nicotine to the brain. 

And to communicate, if doing so didn’t end up causing more pain than the effort was worth. 

She dropped her hand from his then and reached out, needing on some deep level to heal the gulf that had sprung up between them.  Laid her palm tentatively on his knee, where he sat a foot and a half and miles away.  “But you.  Us.  I never would have thought, a couple of years ago, that I would ever say this, but the trust we’ve built between us?  I’d put that up against what I had with Angel any day.  And I know you said…”  She bit her lip, skirting around her memories of that one, awful night she would prefer not to recall.  Saw him wince, knew he remembered too.  What he’d said about trust, as if it canceled out all the burning and consuming they’d managed to do over the years.  Till she’d literally burnt him to dust.

And yet he was still here; keeping his promise, refusing to leave her.  “But I’m glad we have this too.  Because we also have the passion.  I mean, obviously I’ve hated you…”  A faint smile twitched at her lips in spite of herself.  “Or at least you’ve definitely driven me nuts, to the point where I couldn’t stop thinking about why it was that I couldn’t stop thinking about you.  So if obsessing about someone counts as passion…”

He was breathing again.  “Buffy…”

She pinned him with her gaze.  “And I can’t imagine not loving you now, since it almost killed me, not having you with me.  I don’t think I was really alive until I found you again…”

He flinched and looked away, guilt coating his features. 

“And I know it almost killed you to stay away, because you’re an idiot.  Trying to kill yourself because you’re dumb enough to think I’d want that…”  She could still, honestly, slap the shit out of him for that, knew he was aware of how hard she was fighting not to do it by the way her muscles vibrated against his leg, her skin humming with the intense need to take some action.

The guilty expression intensified, and she twitched her fingers on his knee to bring his attention back.  “I know… we’ll fight again…”  It was kind of a given, considering how she felt just talking about the dumb shit he could do sometimes.  And knowing how easy it was for her to say things that wrecked his soul, god knew…

His eyes snapped back to hers and he snorted sarcastically in acknowledgment.  They were both wholeheartedly aware that they still had many fights on their horizon, if only because their communication was sometimes just completely nonexistent.  At least… it was whenever they ventured outside of the physical.

Physically, whether it was fighting or fucking, they had always gotten along like gangbusters.  And she only now realized… he could have been talking about them, not her and Angel, that night so long ago in the basement of what would become the Magic Box.  If they had only known, had only been able to see the future…

/Except that, we’ve also managed to be friends, too, in there./ 

It was a strange world.  “And I know that when you touch me…  It’s impossible that there will ever be a time when you touch me that it doesn’t set me on fire.” 

That about did it.  His eyes on hers were wide and bright now, his pupils dilated dark and sparking.  “Sodding hell, Buffy.”

“That part isn’t brains,” she told him, and met that wondering, azure gaze squarely.  “Coming to you when the Scourge was at my back and I should have been headed to Scotland…  That wasn’t brains.”  He flinched again, but she forestalled whatever he had been about to say with another firm squeeze to his knee.  It was past; whatever had happened there, in those places.  They were here, now, in this one.  “It was blood.  Blood screaming inside me to work its will.”  She managed a little smile and hoped that throwing those words back at him would have the desired effect.  That he would hear what she was trying to tell him.  Given her own usual state of ‘Buffy trying to talk equals bad’, using her eloquent vampire against himself had been working for her so far.  “And I have no problem anymore admitting it.” 

“Oh, Christ pet…”  And then he was up against her, the unused cigarette cast aside into the nearest candelabra.  His arms were around her, and his face was in her neck, buried against her bite scar.  His bite scar.  “Buffy, Buffy…”

She knew what to do then.  Moved up to return to her previous position in his lap, caught his half-stiffy in her hand (it had probably deflated somewhat during that whole conversation about Angel, and she supposed she couldn’t blame him for that).  Focused on his eyes when, with a startled inhale, his snapped up to meet hers.  Nudged his mouth open with a little butt of her lips against his.  “Come here,” she whispered.

That was all it took.  About one-quarter of a handjob, the faintest hint of a kiss, and he was there; ready and waiting.  Because he belonged to her, as surely as his bite had made her his. 

She slipped onto him, shuddering a little, because, god; settled down with slow, even precision that made the low groan catch in his throat.  He was watching her, once more, with awe, as she slid both arms back around his neck; as she arranged her legs around his and dropped her mouth back to attend to the suspended business of the kissing.

She could honestly make out with Spike for a year and be okay with it.  She had learned that really early on.

They settled into an excruciatingly slow rhythm, his slick, recently-painted nails digging into her lower back and releasing, over and over again in time with the carefully-spaced squeezing of internal muscles that had always rendered him mute and writhing with pain-pleasure.  Riley had never liked it much; hadn’t been able to handle it at all after his monster-making meds had worn off.  Sometimes she had even crushed his fingers a little when they’d tried that instead, later… and by the time she had gotten around to sex with Spike she’d had a serious inhibition about her internal musculature, about her orgasms; all of it.  An inhibition that had lasted exactly five seconds, since his reaction to her first unstoppable, uncaring orgasm with him, in the bowels of that wrecked house, had actually sufficed only to make him come harder, groaning her name and saying half-sensible things about how fucking amazing she was.  Begging for ‘more, again, Christ, more’ in a way that had instantly rebuilt her confidence, made her want him again and again and again despite everything that told her this was a mistake, this was wrong, this was…

She had needed so badly to just get off without worrying, without thinking; had needed just to feel.  And he had loved it, what she could do.  What she did do, needed to do; growled and howled his encouragement to her with every thrust, every orgasm; through the second time, the fourth, the…

That, at first, had been what had kept her coming back, as much as anything, and despite her shame and self-disgust.  Because she clearly needed a little monster in her man just to have sex at all.  And, now…

Now, she welcomed it.  Welcomed every moan, treasured every, “Christfuck, Slayer, do it to me harder, bleeding yeah, oh, hell…”  Loved the way he spasmed against her, fell back against the hidden headboard between strokes, thrusting up with everything he had, his face flickering with pain-pleasure and on the edge of sliding into game-face with every clash between them, every consciously-calculated clench of her muscles on his needy cock. 

He was whispering things now, the low growl dominating; the one that said he was losing himself.  She loved it when he did this; was always torn between leaning back to take her own pleasure and just… watching him.  She even knew why, now that she could admit she loved it.

Because this?  This was Spike’s poetry. 

To judge from the one she had heard in the bar, William had whispered of love in his poems; shy and sweet and hopeless.  Spike roared his sentiments in tones that bespoke fire, and violence, and sex…  But it was poetry all the same.  And both parts of her man shared an equal belief in their incapacity to inspire love in return that made her heart clench. 

“Buffy, your quim is like fallen angels weeping tears of fire; Christ, you hold me safe as houses; you’re going to wreck me, destroy me, bloody burn me alive.  Burn me, oh hell; beat me down, sodding take me and make me your bitch, Christ, I’m yours; whatever you need from me…”  It was poetry, still, if too long banished by her inability to accept this love.  She had turned a verbose vampire’s prose to blood, and fire, curses… and finally silence.  But now…

“Christ, I love you.”  His left hand, rising to cup her cheek, brush errant hair away from her face, eyes cleared for a moment.  His fingers slipped into her mouth.  She took them in, sucked them hard, watching him as he groaned again.  “Lean back, luv.  Take your pleasure.  Take everything you need from me.  I’ve got you.”  His right hand, at the small of her back, steady as a rock now as she took him at his word and leaned back on her hands; god, she needed to, if he was going to…

And then his fingers were on her clit, doing what he knew so well to do, and he was murmuring words of love, now.  “So bloody beautiful, your perky tits like golden domes erected to the sun in some exotic foreign land.  And you let me worship there, in the temple of your body; sodding Christ, a bloke’s lucky to be permitted even to prostrate himself at the…  Oh hell; the bleedin’ gates of you.  To watch you break like waters over clear stones under the sun; you’re my golden goddess, Buffy...”  On and on, and now he could also show his softer side.  William’s influence on an already passionate demon… and she couldn’t stop.  Now she was the one jerking spasmodically on him, unable to keep the pace while he did…  /Oh GodThat, with his fingers, and found her deep, again and again, unraveling the ache of his loss once more. 

“Just like that, luv; come for me, come all over me and let me feel you.  Crush me, bring me off like a bloody fountain; Christ, you’re the One, Buffy, you’re the only one…”

She had gotten two men who loved her for the price of one.  One who loved ferociously and one who loved gently, but both generous and passionate… and both wholly hers.

And oh my god, they were good in bed. 

She came with a triumphant shout that she did not bother to quell, clenching hard on him.  Heard him growl-groan as he pulled her down hard; his fingers, the damp and the dry, crushing in their turn on her hips to yank her close as he folded up, buried his abruptly-demon-y face in her neck, and lost himself in her.

When the scratching knock came at the door, some uncounted time later, she realized only in that moment that she was literally dying of thirst, and her stomach was going to eat itself, and oh my god, was that food?  /Please say they found water?  Real water?  And, like, maybe a burrito or a quiche or something?/  She had no idea what was available in this ‘palace’ of Spike’s for the humanfolk, but she had been living on vending machine junk food interspersed with some kind of gross Wolfram and Hart emergency rations they’d had stored away according to some kind of earthquake code.  They had been large with the protein bars and stuff.  Which, while they worked, had gotten super old real fast, with the chalky and dull. 

She wanted actual food like woah.

Spike shot her a quick glance; a check-in that asked in not-so-many words was she ready for company, accompanied by an amused glance in the general direction of her now volubly-loud belly. 

With a put-upon sigh for the vagaries of her human constitution—stupid interrupt-y stomach—she rolled reluctantly off of him—his cock slid out of her, making them both grunt in protest—and scrunched down beside him on the bed to pull up the now thoroughly-rumpled, dampened sheet. 

He smirked at her in that smug way that said she looked like she’d been really just laid so hard it wasn’t even funny, then turned his attention back to the door, sheet only barely half-covering his goodies and the rest of him displayed like some kind of prize against the headboard.  Showoff.  He knew he looked hot… and wow.  He already looked a lot better, she noticed in passing as the door creaked open and the rustling noises struck her ears of someone entering.  Her blood had clearly done him a lot of good.  The red was gone from around his eyes, he was a hell of a lot less pale, and she could swear his muscles had plumped up from ‘way too lean’ to ‘still a little spare but just pumped some iron’, which…

She was really, really okay with how his arms looked right now, and they definitely needed to make sure he stayed fed.  Human-fed, not butcher-pig-fed.  For the rest of forever, if this was the difference.  Plump him up a little more; get rid of the rest of the pale.  And keep those arms looking like that, because, mmmm. 

“You want, um…”

“Just put it over there, by the lady, thanks Rinne.  There’s a good girl.”

Buffy shot a glance at the newcomer, noted with some relief that this was a different member of the court.  Some redhead with serious boobs and…

Okay, she was green.  And had little horns.

But those boobs though.  And she was really not wearing much more than Buffy was right now, and how hard were these demon girls working to try to get in Spike’s, um, good graces?  Because unless that was standard demon-girl attire, or they were going for a bikini-belly-dancer-style uniform code here at the hotel…

“Ta, ducks.  Be off, will you?  Got to feed up my bird.”

The green girl shot Buffy a look of pure venom laced with some serious confusion, and fled, door slamming behind her with some pretty impressive frustration.

In the subsequent silence Spike nonchalantly leaned over her to tug the tray further up from the foot of the bed.  “Oh, good.  They brought you the nice stuff.  Had them nick this from a sporting goods place down the way that has better than the standard run of emergency food, yeah?  Throw in a bit of the bread from that little bakery-café next door and we’ve been keeping the humans in good fettle, though the pastries are bound to run out or go off soon.  Bit passé already, I’m thinking.”  He lifted a little loaf of something that looked, she thought, like a vaguely-desiccated cinnamon roll and sniffed it.  “Dunno, luv.  Up to you what you think.  I tend to take mine dipped in blood when I eat this sort of thing back home, so it doesn’t matter as much at that point is it stale or not, though I won’t eat it if it’s got mold…  What?”

“Am I going to mess up your demon politics by being here?”

He leaned back to regard her with a faint smile.  “You worried about all the sour grapes from that lot, is it?”  He shook his head and jerked his chin at the tray.  “Don’t worry, pet.  I’ll manage.  You’ve burst their bubbles, yeah, but I wasn’t gonna sleep with any of ‘em anyway.  All’s happened is they’ve been forced to admit it to themselves now.  Though…”  He frowned a little.  “You might have to watch your back in case one of ‘em tries to off you in the corridors.”

Buffy lifted an eyebrow and, unable to wait anymore, darted a hand out to grab at the carafe of water—it was actually dewy on the outside, how were they keeping it cold?—poured herself a glass and chugged it with one finger upheld to signal a halt in conversation.  Damn, that was good water, by the way, didn't even taste like bottle.  That consideration dealt with for the moment, she set the glass aside and turned back to regard him plainly.  “I can handle that, though I don’t think your human concubine knifing your girls-in-waiting is going to make you any more popular with the demon court…”

“Bloody hell, Buffy, you’re a wonder, you know that?”

She tilted her head and made a grab for the cinnamon roll.  She knew she should eat the protein first, whatever it was, but it looked like some kind of reconstituted MRE stuff, and she was really just dying for the pastry, whatever hardened state it was in. 

She’d basically been living on protein lately.  “I care about keeping you where you’re at.  Your position protects all of us.  The people you’re helping, you, me.  Even Illyria, I guess, if she’s still doing that shifting-back-and-forth thing.”  It was reasonable enough, she thought.  Eminently practical, even.  And when things were practical, she’d play her part, whether she liked it or not.  Besides, this role came with considerable perks.  “Is she?”

Spike’s face twisted a little.  “A bit, though the less human contact she has the better.  And I wasn’t talking about your grasp of demon politics, pet.”  His hand rose to brush at her hair again, expression filled from eyes to jaw with that steady beacon of adoration that had once made her feel so endlessly uncomfortable, and now filled her with strength, hope.  “I told the girl you’re no concubine, yeah?  You’re my lady.”

She shrugged and tugged an admittedly tough, if not necessarily rock-hard, shred of cinnamon roll off the bun, sniffed suspiciously at it, and felt her eyes roll up a little at the scent of spices and dried-out frosting.  /Oh God./  This was going to be so worth the stale.  “I just feel like it’d be better for all of us if you called me your property instead of trying to, you know, elevate me above them.”  She couldn’t take it anymore, shoved the wedge of hardened pastry into her mouth… and moaned a little at the still-buttery flavor.  It rocked her, and she had to lean back on the bed.  God, it was almost as good as sex.

It took a minute to work through it, get it soft enough to chew.  Luckily Spike was too busy watching her performance with amused desire to interrupt her thoughts. 

After a minute or two of hard work she got it down enough to clear her mouth, sighed.  “Wow.  Okay.  All I’m saying is, I don’t know the demon politics of you saying I own you or whatever, but I figure if I’m your human concubine, maybe it might rock the boat less?  Since, you know, what they don’t know won’t hurt them, about what I actually am…”  And she tore off another ruthless chunk of half-dead cinnamon roll and shoved it unceremoniously into her mouth.  She’d never come near something this out of date in her regular life, but holy cow; right now it was just this side of the heaven she’d experienced before her resurrection, and… just, yeah.

Spike was eying her with considerable interest.  “That what you wanna be?  I can understand not wantin’ ‘em to know you’re the Slayer.  That’s just diplomacy.  Sure as bloody hell would help me keep the peace if they were in the dark about that… but it doesn’t much seem your style, luv.  Playing second fiddle.  You’re a leader.  Don’t even know how to stand back in the shadows, if I know you.”

Once upon a time, Buffy had watched some made-for-TV movie sequel to ‘Alice In Wonderland' where Alice stepped through a mirror into bizarro-world.  For Buffy’s money, this dimension was kind of like that.  Everything was a little backward, a little topsy-turvy.  Here, Spike was currently the leader.  It wouldn’t change who and what Buffy was at core, but... it would give her guy a chance to test himself.  Believe in himself.  Already had, far as she could tell.  If she tried to take over, she’d take so much away from him; so much he’d accomplished on his own, with hard work and sacrifice.  Who knew what he could achieve on top of that if she didn’t rip it all out of his hands? 

It would be interesting to watch what Spike could do, in this demon-world in which they had found themselves, with support but without being controlled or used for a change.  And it wasn’t like she was the expert here, so maybe it was time she sat back and admitted she could maybe learn something instead of taking everything on herself, trying to make things worse by taking over a situation where she wouldn’t see half of the subtle undercurrents.  /Because let’s be real, Buffy.  You’re good at a lot of things, but subtle isn’t really one of ‘em./

That had always been Spike’s jam.

Not to mention, if she told everyone here what she was, she’d make herself a bigger target than she’d been even on the hellmouth, here in a world entirely made up of demons.  That just really sounded super exhausting.  And if she didn’t, no one here would have any reason to take her remotely seriously, much less accept her as powerful and with any right to lead.  In a dimension like this it was basically ‘no demon, no dice’.  Fighting for any kind of respect while masquerading as a totally human piece of ass was probably impossible here, so it basically came down to two choices.  Out herself and fight off the endless parade of assassins… or sit back, watch, and relax for now. 

Heck; the former sounded like so much damn work.  /And God, after The First and the Potentials, and now all the baby Slayers and playing general and all that crap… I could use some time off from being ‘the leader’ for a damn change./  Who knew how long that mood would last.  /Probably exactly as long as our first fight over it, or till I see something going down I can’t stand to put up with without marching in to fix it myself.  But till then…/  “Sounds like a nice little vacation, actually.”  She grinned at him around a piece of tough bread.  Wrapped her lips around it to suck off the crinkly, dried frosting and slowly pulled the damp offering out.  “What do you think, Spike?  Girl on a leash by day, power behind the throne by night?”

She swore she could hear him get a hardon.  He shifted a little in the sheet and rubbed a hand through his already-disastrous hair, and she saw that the limb was shaking a little.  “Bloody hell, woman, you make a man wanna eat you alive.”

“You already did that,” she pointed out with a saucy smile, and turned back to the food with a gesture that invited… assistance.  “Now feed me up, or a girl might think twice about sticking around to be ravished by the lord of Beverly Hills.”

She really, really enjoyed making him groan like that.

***




Next chapter = moar nekkid catching up and general mutual-appreciation-with-important-filling-in-the-blanks.

Chapter Text

The bathroom of the Presidential Suite—or, she supposed it was now the Demon-Lord Suite—of the Beverly Hills Hotel (and current Palace) was just really amazingly palatial, and she was going to move in.  To hell with the bedroom.  She could live in here. 

Everything was in either black or a sort of rose-colored marble, which she supposed was kind of in keeping with the overall ‘pink palace’ theme they had going on in this place before the city had fallen into hell.  There were big, wide, beautiful ‘his and hers’ sinks, a jacuzzi tub, a glassed-in shower practically the size of her old bedroom back home.  It even had some of those multi-headed hydra jet things she had only ever seen in movies, and how effing unfair was it to have all this and not have water-pressure?

That was when Buffy knew she was in hell. 

At least the toilets flushed, by some miracle.  She had been grateful for that joyful news when she’d been at Wolfram and Hart.  Apparently when you moved a city to a hell dimension, you brought the sewer system with you, but not the incoming water lines.  You left those behind in LA proper, because why not live up to your standards as a hell, but still have decent sanitation or something?

She didn’t really want to know where the stuff from the toilets was going right now.  She was just glad it was going, because talk about a logistics problem!  Though, granted, the stuff that was coming back up from under wherever LA was now couldn’t really be classified as ‘water’ by any normal standards.  Just like the stuff in the fountains it was dark brown, almost sludgy, it moved so slow, and was definitely not something you wanted to investigate too closely.  Keeping the bowls clean was out of the question.  It left a heck of a slick of slime at the bottom of the tank and any sink you tried to use, and it didn’t smell great—kind of like the water in some kind of swamp—but it made the stuff in the toilets depart for other zones, so that was really all anyone could ask, right?

Hopefully it wouldn’t end up clogging the lines, because not having working toilets would be a sad day in, well, hell.  “We can get someone to cart up some actual water for me to have a bath in here, right?” she asked longingly, staring into the dry-as-a-bone tub.  Tub being a total misnomer.  It was like something from a soap opera.  It had jets.  And was about seven feet long.  You could stretch out your entire body in that thing.  Like, completely.  Submerge every inch of yourself in steamy wetness.  Wring out every muscle…

“I might be convinced to ration out the water,” Spike answered, leaning naked against the doorjamb behind her.  “There’s still quite a bit left in the pool we could heat up.  Folk have been using it for bathing.  Depends on whether you wanna share.”  And he leered companionably at her butt so that, when she turned back to him she caught his eyes darting back up all lascivious, his tongue curling behind his teeth.  No real calculation behind the look, though. 

“You just want to get me wet and on top of you,” she accused blandly, testing the figurative waters.  This was relatively… uneven ground for them.

His expression cleared out, turned to what she’d privately termed his ‘duh’ face.  “Well, yeah.  But that doesn’t mean I meant it.”  He nodded at the room, chin pointing at the tub with every ounce of the lewd vanished from his face and frame as if it had never been, replaced now with a faint, self-mocking smile.  “I’ll see what I can do, Buffy.” 

She had to give him credit.  He was endlessly good for her ego.  But he was also being extremely careful.  Not that she blamed him.  This would probably always be a tender area between them.

Coming back around, she idly fingered one useless faucet and sighed.  “I know it probably seems like a serious overuse of resources, but I can only stand so many sponge-baths before I just feel totally unclean.  And I’m not sure if I can handle walking around smelling like sex forever…”

“Smell like a treat,” he answered in a low, appreciative growl as she passed him in the doorway, and sniffed her neck suggestively.  He seemed hella relieved, honestly, to have her out of the bathroom.  And, she noticed, he had come nowhere near crossing the threshold while she had been in there.

She fought to keep it light.  “Well, not everyone’s a perma-horny vamp, so.” 

“Your fault, Slayer.”  He followed her, probably grinning again judging from his voice, as she paced through the rooms of the suite, touching things here and there.  The place had a full kitchen, jeez.  Not that any of it would work, sans electricity and running anything, but still.  Also a den…  “If you can’t get cleaned up, ‘spose the only thing to do is keep shagging, yeah?  Since you don’t feel right parading around in the buff?  And you said you’re tired of the togs you had on…”

She shot him a tolerant glance.  “You’re going to hold my new clothes hostage till when, exactly?” 

Seemingly fully recovered, he surged forward, caught her around the waist, and…  Since when had he ever been so exuberantly playful with her?  “Christ, Buffy; I would keep you naked and in this room for the rest of our mutual lives if I could and you know it.”  He had his face buried back in her neck again, drawing in long draughts of her scent.  “‘S not just the shagging, yeah?  Just knowing you’re safe…”

She slid a hand over his hair.  “I know.  I was scared for you, too.  Every second.”  And then she shoved him firmly away to look him in the eye.  “But I know you have work to do.  And so do I.  Work that’ll probably get done a lot easier if I don’t smell like some vampire’s sex toy…”

He blinked as he reluctantly released her, looking taken aback.  “Not suggesting I’d ever keep you a woman of leisure, Buffy, since I like my bollocks where they are, but…  Might a bloke inquire as to just what work you’re plannin’ on doing out here in this hellhole?”

She tilted her head thoughtfully in his general direction.  “The people out there need protection, right?  And I should probably know how they’re finding their way here…”

He groaned abruptly like she’d cut his legs off at the knee, and fell into the nearest chair.  “Oh, bloody hell.”

“Which means I should probably know how this all works.”  She waved a hand around her, then reached out for the plate she’d carried with her and set aside during her peregrinations.  Popped another bite of something that had been labeled ‘cheese’ into her mouth, and ignored the overly ‘cheddery’ flavor.  “I’m also dying to find out you ended up here in the Presidential Suite in the first place, if you started out in the basement.  Who was involved and all that.  It would really help me to navigate the politics of the place.”

He groaned again and laid his head back against the soft, poofy cushion-top of the ivory chair.  “Buffy, I just got you back.  Now you wanna go out there in a city full of hungry demons—hungry in more ways than one—all spoiling for a fight, and act like the good shepherd for all these bloody stupid pulsers as they toddle in lookin’ for a place to land…”

“Spike,” she intoned warningly; a clear reminder that she’d back him in public, but he would never control her in private.

He lifted his head briefly to eye her with a slightly wary look, sighed, and settled back into the chair.  “I’m just sayin’.  God knows I know you can handle yourself, but you don’t even know what it’s like out there.  I mean, you’ve seen it, yeah; but things are changing so fast that I can’t even keep up…”

“So tell me.  What do I need to know?”

“Oh, bleeding, sodding hell.”  He leaned forward, one of those snake-fast, striking motions of his, and sat staring up at her with elbows on his knees and an entreating expression on his mobile face.  “I’ll tell you.  And you decide.  But Christ, Buffy; I’d like it the hell of a lot better if we at least went at it together, yeah?  So I could watch your back?”

She was startled at that.  “You’ve been out there gathering in survivors?”

“Every night,” he told her grimly.  “Some of the days too, since they’re so bloody long here.  God knows I get plenty of bleeding down-time here.”   He shot a glare out the window.  “Bein’ able to be up in the daytime sets my whole clock off half-cocked; dunno when to rest.”  He rubbed one hand over his face, looking suddenly weary, and worn.  “Between that and thinkin’ about what happened downstairs and worryin’ about you I haven’t half slept since we got here, yeah?  Patrolling for survivors has kept me sane.”

/Oh, man./  She moved to squat in front of him.  Cupped a hand around his wrist.  “Tell me?” she asked, softly.

He nodded.  “Yeah.”

***

“…So then she had me brought up again.  Charlie-boy was there…  Christ, Buffy; he’s a sodding bastard of a fledge.  You know how some vamps come in with some self-possession, yeah?  Stay a bit in control, don’t let the demon take over, keep a lot of themselves?  Happens a lot when they’re capable.  Tough… or just know who they are, and do or don’t wanna be…”

She nodded from her seat, remembering Holden from high school and his love of psychology.  Wondered just which one William had been.

“Gunn’s like that.  He knew enough to keep it under wraps, and he’s the hell of a brawler, yeah?  So he’s ahead of the game.  He’s no thoughtless bloodsucker.  He’s made himself the local vamp king almost without trying; already has a nest of minions the size of what I hear old Batface had in Sunnyhell when you came to town…”

/Oh, man; that’s fast work in two weeks./  

“And because he knows himself… he thinks he’s kept himself together, but…”  Spike shook his head, looking more pained than she thought she had seen from him in a while.  “His demon’s got him twisted up.  I can already tell.  He thinks what he’s doing is for the good of everyone, or the demon wouldn’t get it past what’s left of his old Charlie-boy conscience, but he’s just foolin’ himself.  And that’s worse sometimes, yeah, when the demon works what’s left of the man?  Makes him think he’s still something he’s not anymore, then gets him to do things he never would’ve, if he was still the one in charge.”  Spike looked away, out through the sliding glass onto the balcony and into the orange light of the perpetual sunset here.  “You sometimes can’t come back from that, once you realize… all the things you did, thinking they were the right things, and knowing finally they were all the wrong ones in the end.”

He’d better not be thinking about them.  About things he’d done between them that had been… the few times he hadn’t loved her well.  About that one room, and that one night…  “Spike.”

His gaze jerked back to hers, and he shook it off.  “Anyway, Charlie-boy’s not really Charlie-boy anymore.  He just thinks he is.  So he didn’t want me.  Not unless I was gonna join him in wreaking hell and killing Angel.  And don’t get me wrong; my grandsire’s a right git, but he’s also a broken-backed human right now who’s responsible for not a whit of this but gettin’ us here, maybe.  So I’m not gonna join up with a mission like that with some prat of a fledge, just because he got it in his head all this is Angel’s fault, and killin’ him’s gonna set it all right again somehow.”

Buffy looked down between her feet where she had finally pulled up a chair.  Spared a moment of regret for the bright-eyed, optimistic guy she’d only barely met.  Sometime they’d probably have to dust him, now.  Maybe not, of course.  She had learned that not all vamps needed dusting, but…

Most still did, sadly.

“Anyway,” Spike went on regretfully, “After he turned her down and beat her at her own game, Non decided I wasn’t worth anything to her anymore, so she was about to off me an’ what was left of our little group.  Maria tried to stop her…”

/Oh./  She supposed maybe she owed the little bitch after all.  Damn it.

“Course, all Non did was rake the girl over the coals about her mixed loyalties…”

And, Buffy was tense again. 

“…Then got all brassed off and tried to behead Big Blue…”

“Wow.”

“Yeah.  I couldn’t watch, since she was in Fred-mode right then and I was sure she was a deader.  But she did another shift right then—think danger brings it out in her, yeah?—and the axe shattered when it hit her.  Fred Sonja broke out and started tearin’ through every demon Non had in her little army.  Don’t mind sayin’ I was ready to give a cheer…”

Buffy nodded briskly.  She also owed Illyria something.  Would an ex-demon-god-thing accept, like, a drink, or a coupon for a free sparring match or something?  Spike had said she liked a good tussle now and then.

The weight of a tug on the blood-bond caught her attention.  Spike’s eyes, she noticed, were on hers once more, full of some undefinable emotion.  “I think Blue didn’t like hearing what went on between me and Spider-girl, ‘cause she kissed me during all this ruckus, like I was her property and I’d strayed or summat…”

/Okay, maybe cancel the coffee date with Illyria./  “Is this ‘pet’ thing going to be a problem?” Buffy ground out, because just exactly how many demon women was she going to have to fight to keep her damned vampire?

Spike sighed and shook his head.  “I’ll keep on it, luv.  Do me a favor and don’t try to fight her, yeah?  I’d prefer your head without a pretty blue hole through the middle of it.  Not that I don’t have all the bloody faith in the world in your skills… but on the off-chance you ever died again, fair warning, I’m comin’ right after you.”

She stared at him in shock.  “What, you mean if I…”

He met her gaze steadily.  “Not gonna stay in the world one more time without you in it, Buffy.  I lose you again and I’m out of it.”

/Oh, God…/

“Anyway,” he went on briskly as if nothing momentous had just happened, “Non was about to suck the soul out of the last of our humans when Conner waltzes in pretty as you please…”

“Wait.”  She was still fighting to get her brain back on track.  “Conner is… this kid Angel has with…”  She shuddered internally.  “Darla…”

“Yeah.”

/But that’s…/  “How old can he be?” she demanded.  “Didn’t Darla get brought back like, what?  Just a couple years ago…”  /And how the heck did I never hear about this?/  Though, now that she thought about it, it would be something Angel would maybe try to avoid telling her, since letting her know he’d slept with Darla and had a kid with her wouldn’t necessarily do his image any good in her eyes. 

It was a worse blow to said image to think that he would omit something so vastly important simply because he didn’t want her to think ill of him.  She would have, maybe, but by then…  Well, hell.  That was around when she’d been sleeping with Spike, so, yeah.  Two could play at the game of ‘guess who’s doing things that might not make an ex jump for joy’, but did Angel see her hiding things? 

She hadn’t, like, called him and informed him that she’d been fucking his grandchilde, okay; but she hadn’t gotten pregnant by Spike either.  Not to mention that there had been no reason to inform Angel of that affair; not in any official capacity, whereas when it came to something like two vampires capable of making a baby who had abruptly grown up and become some sort of ‘daywalking’ whatever…  That did impinge on the professional for her, and merited at least, like, a courtesy-call.  Hiding it because judgment and Darla was…

Life went on, shit happened, and when it came to informing her about things that impacted her as the Slayer, she had thought they had long since agreed to be professionals, and leave the personal out of it.

“Apparently,” Spike was telling her, “he got raised in a hell dimension himself, the poor tosser.  Some right shithole called Quor’toth.  Came prancing back when he was a teenager.  Bit of a prat for a while, I hear, but then he’s got reason, considering who his father is…”

“Spike…” Buffy interrupted wearily, though honestly she could understand his perennial irritation with his grandsire by this point.  She was starting to become more than a little annoyed with Angel herself. 

It interrupted the story, though.

Spike reined it in with obvious effort.  “Anyway, I suppose it can’t have been easy being brought up in hell with some vampire-hating bastard raising you what has a grudge against your parents, so it’s amazing the little git is even sane.  It’s like spending time with Dawn a few years ago, if she’d been raised in hell and told you were everything she was supposed to hate.”

/God, what a thought./  Actually, Buffy really didn’t want to contemplate that.  Dawn was tough enough on a good day without… 

Jeez.

“So, give credit; he comes in and does the right thing.  Tossed out some lines about how he’d heard Non was taking a lot of human captives, said he’d come to investigate.  Guess he and some human woman and a couple of allies you don’t know have been setting up a bit of an underground railroad.  Good lad.  Any road, he was spyin’ about, saw us about to be executed; stepped in.  Saved the lot of us… even if he babbles his head off while he fights like a little ponce.”  Spike shrugged and rubbed his fingers together like he was dying for a cigarette.  “Brassed Non off enough she tried to feed off him, but he’s the child of two vamps.  Couldn’t get a thing off him.  So she sent her telepath after us all.”

It sounded like a confusing mess.  God, she wished she’d been there to help.  She could have just lopped off this bitch Non’s head for them all and they could have had breakfast in that gorgeous dining room, after.  Maybe there wouldn’t have been so many human casualties…  /Dammit, Angel!/

She knew Spike could read her like a book, from the wry expression on his face.  “Noelle was a Sadecki; Non was using the slag to control her entire flock of girls, yeah?  Noelle tried to mind-control Illyria… and earned herself the hell of headache when she found out that whatever they kept seein’, there’s no human girl in there to control.”

So maybe things might have been a bit more complicated than she’d thought, between the life-sucker and the mind-controller.

Still.  It was hella frustrating in retrospect. 

“Havin’ her try knocked Illyria back into Fred-state for a bit, though,” he went on reflectively.  “Took her some time to gather herself and kill the Sadecki.  Got myself free in that time, though, with Maria’s help, since all the girls were free of Noelle’s influence…”  He shrugged and spread his hands.  “Then Ms. Clean took my part…”

“Ms. Clean?”

Spike looked mildly amused.  “Actual name’s Esmerelda Gerralk, but the other fits her better.  Statuesque and bald, yeah?  Sleek sort.  Half-Dahrekhi.  She stays down at Hef’s Bungalow; you haven’t seen her yet, most like.”  Buffy blinked at the picture.  “She liked the look of me too, I reckon; or maybe she just didn’t want to keep puttin’ up with Noelle, so she backed me…”

The words burst out before Buffy could censor them.  “I mean, God knows you’re pretty, but how many of these girls am I gonna have to fight to keep them off of your bod?”

Spike just smirked at her and went on without pause.  “She and Maria led the charge while I took out Non.  I beat the shite out of her.”  He looked down.  “She was dyin’, so she went after Jerry Johns.  Started turnin’ him into a zombie.  And Blue thought it best to keep her from powerin’ up, is all I can guess, so she… did him.”

Buffy was floored.  “Oh.  God.”

“Yeah.  I mean, I dunno.  Maybe he couldn’t’ve been saved by then, but who knows.”  His tones had gone quiet with regret.  “Nothing to be done about it after that, I suppose.  Gave me the time to kill Non, while she was still reeling; and since Conner was there while we were finishing our little coup, we set up our leg of the underground railroad with him before he scarpered back to wherever the hell he’s been hiding out.”  He looked down between his hands where they dangled over his knees.  “I had Ms. Clean do away with the zombies Non made.  Locked ‘em all up down in the dungeon where they’d kept me.  Burned ‘em.  Thought to burn the whole bloody place and move somewhere else, but I wanted to stay close so you could find me…”

/Oh God…/

“And any road, this is a nice enough headquarters, so long as you don’t go down to the dungeons.  Isn’t pretty.  Was a kindness to do away with that lot, with no cure for ‘em."  His mouth tightened a little.  "That bitch barely started making inroads here.  In a month or so the place would’ve been full of the fucking things.  We’d’ve been up to our necks in her victims and would’ve had to move on, but instead there was just our flock and about ten others.  Manageable…”

/Oh man./  He was trying to blow it off, but she could see he was shaken by the losses.  More, maybe, by how they’d had to dispose of them.  Burning anything alive, even life-sucked zombies, was just no fun for anyone. 

He shook it off then and straightened up.  “We buried the remains so they didn’t stink up the place.”  Oh, crap, he was really letting her see his emotions, now, biting his lower lip and looking away for a second.  “I buried Johns out there, by the pool.”  His voice had a faint tremble to it; one only she could hear.  Anyone else would have thought he was recovering really well from what he’d been through, but really, he just really, really wasn’t.  Every line of his body betrayed to her that he was not nearly so sanguine about that man’s painful death as he liked to pretend.  “And here we are.”   

/And there I was, being absolutely zero help./  She sat back in her chair, impressed and depressed and just about everything in between.  “Oh man...”

He waved a quick hand to cut off any apologies she might make.  “Yeah.”  His voice was rough as he very quickly changed the subject.  “Now it’s all about appearances.  I keep the girls about for the look of it…”  He actually squirmed a little and looked slightly embarrassed.  “You know; the playboy image helps, politically-speaking, when it comes to the other demon-lords.  They’d never know the lot are actually fighters, yeah, if all they do is loll about lookin’ like snacks.  Hidden army, right under their noses…”

/Oh!/  Buffy hadn’t thought of that angle, but it explained a lot about the wardrobe, or lack thereof, around the place.  /Crap, does this mean I’m gonna have to dress up like…/ 

/Well, when in Rome.  And, to be fair, Buffy, it’s not far from what you did all through high school with the whole demon-bait-and-switch deal./  She so wasn’t going to do mostly-naked, though.  Tastefully sexy with a touch of slutty, she had done and would do again.  That could even be fun, but it was as far as she was prepared to go.

And no catsuits.

“…But if we ever get a visit from some other jumped-up ponce, they’ll just think I like havin’ a harem,” Spike continued and winced visibly, straightening to glare at her in fierce defensiveness.

It was cute.  He was so totally worried that she might think he was screwing around.  It was almost funny, because he’d half not wanted to even after they’d broken up, before.  Hadn’t for all those months at her house, when he’d certainly been at perfect liberty to do whatever, because they had been… who even knew. 

The thought that he would now was ludicrous.  “I can see that,” she answered calmly, and sipped her water to avoid leaking a smile.   

He shifted a little, looking slightly less uneasy.  “And, havin’ ‘em keeps the Smurf on guard enough she doesn’t flit back and forth between faces too much.”  His face darkened slightly.  “A’ course, that means they’ve all got a bit of dirt on us, since I’ve got to try not to let anyone outside of here know she’s still snuggling up to a human corpse upstairs…”

“Oh my God, she still has that thing?”  Disgust flooded every part of Buffy’s being.  She could understand not being able to let go, sure.  And yeah, she knew demons had different standards when it came to… stuff… but that was so not Wesley anymore, and by now the body must be just…  /Ugh./

Spike clearly shared her disgust by this point.  “She went out and picked it up again after we liberated the place.  We keep tryin’ to get rid of it, but she just goes and finds it again.  Thank Christ at this point it’s startin’ to mummify a bit.”

“Oh my God,” Buffy whispered again, and note to self to never go anywhere near that room.

“It’s a trial,” Spike murmured, “tryin’ to protect her too.  I don’t mind sayin’ it’s a big gamble, since we can’t let anyone know.  Havin’ her up there all Old One an’ that is all that keeps the other Demon Lords away.  They’re a mite scared of her, so I doubt they’ll attack as long as she’s on top.  But…”  He shrugged, flicked his fingers as if casting aside the weight.

/He’s caught between protecting weakness from within and from without.  His own demon retinue knows there’s vulnerability on the inside.  Any one of them could blab to these other demon lords.  And he’s out every few hours rescuing humans, barely sleeping… 

/I could have been here.  I could have…/ 

Instead she’d been stuck there, completely safe at Wolfram and Hart, for a whole extra week, because Angel hadn’t bothered to tell her that that spell had worked, and… just…

/Breathe, Buffy.  Start from now.  You can’t fix then./  That had been one of her hardest lessons in life; learning to walk away from the past.  She still had a tough time with it, when it came to certain transgressions.  /Stick to what you can do to help./ 

“I was about to leave,” Spike informed her quietly, breaking into her thoughts.  “Go and look for you, now that things are getting stable.” 

God, could he read her mind, really?  Was the bond that strong on his side?  Or was he really just that good at reading her? 

“It’s just… each time I go out, seems like, somethin’ goes pear-shaped with Illyria, or…”  His face twisted then, with remembered agony, and his fingers tightened on his thighs.  And something wrenched on the bond between them; a tearing feeling. 

/Oh God./  “Don’t.  Spike.”  It would have completely destabilized everything he’d built, trying to come after her.  He had been torn between two poles, two priorities; the personal need to be whole… and the mission.  She knew exactly how that felt.  /God knows I do./  “You did what you had to.  I… should’ve found a way to come back to you sooner.”  Him, trapped down there by the Seal, tormented by The First, for weeks, while that goddamned Turok-Han…

He’d been tortured again, here.  She knew it without asking.  The new scars…  /I could’ve stopped it./  “I should never have stayed away so long.”

“Buffy, don’t.  If you do, I’ll…”

She waved a hand, staving off the tears, the lump in her throat.  “We can’t, can we?  It’ll just… get too big.”

“Yeah,” he answered softly. 

“I promise you,” she told him quietly, and took his hands in hers.  “Never again.  You come first…”

To her shock, he recoiled.  “Buffy, you can’t say that!  You of all people…”

It pissed her off; that he would shrug away the gift once more; the wholehearted gift of her love.  “Hey!  Dammit; you don’t get to tell me…”  It would all crash down, now, if he denied her again.  The bare thought of it flooded her with naked fear; the kind that had always turned, for her, to wrath.  /Anger is always easier./  “Just, no.  Everything else is over.”  It would hurt him for her to say it so straight-up, but it was fucking true, okay?  “This is all.  It’s just us.  For you, for me…  So this has got to work, do you get it?  I’m not letting you get away!  Do you get that I almost lost you again because I stupidly let Angel split my focus?  You are the mission now!”

She had never seen him look so stunned… or so stricken.  “Buffy,” he whispered weakly.  “Christ, I’m so sorry.  That you had to give up… so much…”

“Don’t.”  /As if that’s even the point./  She wasn’t going to let this happen.  /I made my choice, you idiot./  Wouldn’t let the tears fall.  “I don’t regret it, Spike, okay?  You don’t know what it was like without you.  I’m not gonna take it back.”  She couldn’t.  Regret it would kill her, and taking it back would mean comparing; the living cold, and the dying heat.  It would mean admitting that…  That the sacrifices might even have been worth it.  Her mind had to shy away from that thought. 

Her voice went deadly low.  “And I thought I already told you, if you ever tell me what I do and don’t feel again…”

He looked away, hands trembling.  When he spoke, it was with the quiet of confessional.  “I didn’t say it for the reason that you think.”

/God; don’t lie to me, William!  Not now!/  “I know you didn’t believe me.”

“Yeah, you’re right.  I didn’t.  I couldn’t.  But that wasn’t why I said it, for all that.  Know how badly you wanted me to believe it then, say it back.  But…”

It rose in her, trembling.  Moment of truth.  /Oh God, what if he really was just… done?  What if he’d wanted to leave?  What if… in that moment, he was glad it was killing him?  It would make sense./  Except… he seemed to be telling her that that hadn’t been the reason.  “Then… why?” she whispered, and tried not to recoil from the words that hung between them in the oven-like air.

Clear, sapphire eyes pierced her, miserable and insistent… and knowing her.  “Because I realized in that moment that I was goin’.  And if I let you love me—right then, down there—it would mean that I was leaving you.  And I’d promised myself that I’d be the one git who never would.”

It broke her.  The sobs came.  The tears.  She wiped them impatiently away with the back of her hand as the relief cascaded through her.  “Oh. God.  Oh God, Spike…”

“Shh…  Shh, pet, oh Love…”

She had never heard him say it that way before, as he tugged her into his arms.  She could swear she could almost hear the capital letter on the word; the new, careful lilt that said this was no relaxed, easy endearment.  “Please,” she whispered.  “Don’t ever do it again… and I promise I won’t ever… push you away.  Not anymore.”

He scoffed slightly into her hair, but lovingly.  “Pet, don’t make promises you can’t keep.  But don’t worry.  I sure as bloody hell haven’t let you chase me off yet, and I’m not about to start now.”

It made the old shards of fear-anger come back; just the edges, but they could still cut.  “But you did.  I did.  You stayed away finally because you were afraid of what I…  Of what we…”  She pushed out of his arms to grab his hands, bore down hard and tight.  “Please, Spike.  I don’t want to ever hurt you like that again.  I promise to try to… stay open, and to keep you in my heart, if you promise to believe in us, and not to let me be stupid.  I don’t ever want…”

“It’s a deal, Love.”

Her eyes fell closed, and she concentrated on breathing.  On some level she was aware that she was kind of a mess again, but she also knew that he wouldn’t hold it against her.  He never had.  Spike was basically the only person who had seen her cry since, like, whenever, and she was pretty sure he treasured it for some stupid reason.  She’d used to think it was because he’d liked feeling powerful, or liked seeing her weak, or broken down or something; but that had been her own pride and fear talking. 

She knew what it was now.  He was honored by her trust.  “I love you so much,” she whispered, because he needed to know it; as often as possible, from the bottom of her heart. 

His hand rose, brushed her cheek.  Cupped it.  “Love you so bloody much, Buffy.  You’re the One.”

It made her shake.  “So are you.”

The tremors in her traveled to him.  Slid into his voice.  “Say that to me and I’ll give you anything.  The soddin’ world.”

She could breathe.  She could.  “I’m going to be here,” she told him fiercely, and opened her eyes, burning on his.  “One hundred percent, okay?  Partners.  In all of it.  You’re not gonna stop me.  I’m helping, alright?  What can I do?  Because I’m in.”

His eyes kindled.  Glowed into hers.  “Christ, Love, to have you say that, look at me like that…”

She caught his hand fiercely away from her cheek; gripped it tight between hers.  “Okay, dammit.  Tell me how it is.  How are things, really?  What’s… um…"  She floundered for a second, fighting to kick her brain back into working order.  "What’s the water situation?”

He blinked at her abrupt change of tack.  "The…"

"You had some that was even a little cold, when I needed it."  /Help me out, here, Spike.  Help me focus so I don't get all… fall-apart-y./  There wasn't time for it.

"Oh.  Yeah.  Well, we've a few batteries gathered up for one of the refrigerators, though no doubt they'll fail soon…"  He sat back a little, looking a hair scattered.  "And the hotel had this bloody great filter called a Nikken down in the lobby, full of charcoal and the like, though no telling how long it’ll last before it stops working.  Filters the pool water for drinking, the unused toilet tanks and the spas and the like.”  His shaken voice steadied a little as he recounted the current state of affairs for her.  “Still got a good bit of that, since there’s only about fifteen people here, not counting the refugees as come through.  We ration it, though, when it comes to other uses, as there’re no water heaters in the place.  Whole sodding establishment was fitted with those heating coils to conserve resources during the drought.  The girls raid around for potables and food what's easy to eat without heating it…”

Buffy nodded, filing all this away.  Talking logistics definitely helped with emotional stability.  “We’ll have to cast a wider net one the pool runs down.  There’s probably no shortage of pools around here, even if half of Beverly Hills probably did the same conversion in the last couple of years…”  Thoughts of raiding, of course, couldn’t but bring to mind memories of those last desperate months at Revello, and Spike at her side when no one else was, to the point of dusting for her; and damn, damn, damn, she was so not going to cry, thinking about how she had really just not held up her end this time around, dammit.

She switched it up on him again.  /Stick to business, and fix it./  “What about those refugees?  Right now you just go out and find people, what?  By smell or whatever, and gather them up here like you’re finding animals for the ark…”

He seemed bemused by her now, watching her with an oddly admiring expression in his eyes and on his lips.  “Sure.  Humans and the occasional demon who isn’t likely to hurt anyone.  Folk like Clem, yeah, and Lorne?”

“Right.”  That wasn’t even a question.  Not that she’d known the green guy, but she’d gotten no grr argh vibes from him.  Quite the opposite.  She’d practically wanted to hug him, like he was some kind of viridian, horned teddy bear. 

She pulled in a deep breath, forced her brain back together so she could work her way piecemeal through the problem.  “And then you just… pass them on to this Connor kid and his friends, and the demon girls who decided to hang around… tend your wounds…”  She did her best not to bristle over that part of it.  “…And help you act like this is a normal demon court, just like Non’s was, and you’re bringing them all in for snackies?  And Illyria, if you can keep her stable, what?  Lends super-demon weight to the show by throwing her Old One vibe around whenever other big-time demons come to visit, and obliterates anyone who looks at either of you cross-eyed?”

Spike seemed to have regained his own equanimity, was now clearly amused by her summary.  “That’s about the size of it, pet.  We try our best to keep her interactions limited to the demons.  It keeps her from snapping back to Fred.  Which would probably ruin the illusion,” he admitted a little grimly.  “Old Ones are supposed to be a bit more imposing than a slip of a girl with a Texas drawl.  Don’t wanna know what the other demon lords would think, they saw her lose control like that.”

"Yeah.”  Another breath, while Buffy pondered the situation from all sides.  It had possibilities.  /I can make this work.  I can fit in here.  I can… find a place in this dimension and… be useful.  For one thing, here I can be part of a hidden army.  A champion again, if quietly; helping people, not cooped up being a nurse./  “Anya said these guys were all huge, and normally weren’t the types to be smushed down into human bodies.  She’s probably, what?  Diminished by it?  ‘Cause I know when the Mayor ascended he wasn’t someone you could just fold back up and stick back into his little human shell like he was some snaky accordion.”

Spike just sat there looking at her like she was an alien.  “What?”

“Only you, Buffy.”

“Only me what?” she demanded, still a little emotionally stormy, and maybe worried that he might be judging her. 

“Nothing.  I just reckon you’ve been on that bloody hellmouth for too long.  Been through one too many apocalypses if you can talk about an ascended Old One like he was one of those pop-snakes you get in a can at a joke shop.”

She shot him a faint glare.  “He so wasn’t.  It took plastic explosives to get rid of him.  And you saw what it did to the school.”

“Yeah, I did.”  And his expression, glowing on her face, was full of sheer pride in her accomplishments; even the ones he had not seen, that it made her almost want to blush.  “One of the things I love best about you, you crazy bint; when you go to war, you go balls-out, yeah?”  He grinned then.  “Something we have in common, I think.”

His clear admiration did a lot to restore her composure.  She sighed theatrically, but did not refute his claim, because, okay… he was right.  When it came to fighting, you could train and practice and be as disciplined as you wanted… but in the end, when you were in it, and you had to make decisions on the fly?  That was all instinct, and gut, and heart, and flying by the seat of your pants, and blood.  And it was then that, fighting side-by-side, she and Spike had always become a single unit; because their styles dovetailed completely in that arena, and…  “I can’t wait to fight with you again now that we have this.”  She lifted her hand from his, touched her neck where his bite—one of them and the most visible—lay on her skin to join them.  And her veins sang in acclaim to this idea.

“Yeah?” he asked, and a slow smile came back to his face.  “You fancy a bit of rough and tumble, luv?”  He glanced around the room, his entire being lit up with expectation.  “I can move the furniture.  Wouldn’t take half a tic.”

Her hand dropped again, fingers catching in his.  Folded them together.  “Go out now,” she told him softly, and with what she hoped registered as smoldering promise.  It was better than looking all weepy.  “Fight side-by-side.  Come back later; spar when I’m ready for more sex.  Because we both know that’s how that’ll end.”

His eyes took the promise and ran with it.  Then he scrubbed his free hand through his hair and sighed, but nodded, subsiding readily enough.  “Now you’re all fueled up…”  He tilted his head at her.  “You had any sleep of late, pet?”

“Enough.”

“Alright.”  He was not about to question or micromanage her.  Not if he wanted to keep all his parts in place, and they both knew it. 

His nostrils flared, then.  “We’re gonna go out and patrol, Buffy, we’re gonna have to get you cleaned up first.”  He glanced down at his own long, naked form, smiled slightly.  “And me too, I suppose, since I smell like your delectable self; or we’ll draw every demon in a mile looking for a taste.”

He was struggling to get back to business with her.  Catharsis, between them, was still new; for the both of them.

Buffy felt the beginnings of a smile tremble on her lips.  Not to reopen the painful subject, but if they were going to be living together, it was bound to come up.  “I get the rationing thing, and I won’t abuse it from here on out, but if we can get enough warm water to make it a bath just this time…” she tried a winsome look, “there’s serious rewards in it for you.”

He was on his feet before she had really fully finished the sentence.  “I won’t be half a second.  Just relax, Buffy.  Be right back.”

He was, she concluded as she watched his truly beautiful ass disappear to be framed in the main door of the suite, pretty whipped when it came to her.  Which, you know… she had basically known for years, so why was she surprised?  /I can so fit in here.  This is going to work./  For one thing, whatever their relative positions would look like on the surface, they both knew who was on top when they came home at night… and that Spike would never want it any other way.  

Actually, when you got down to it, she was in a really nice, satisfactory position right now, considering she was technically in hell.  Maybe later they’d sit out on the deck together and soak up what passed for sun in this place, and...  /Is it bad that I’m kind of okay with being here?  What does it say about me that I was so damn miserable in my own dimension, and I’m feeling so unbelievably comfortable here, in this one?/

Probably it was just as much relief that she was back with him again.  Probably soon it would all wear off and they’d be fighting.  Or…  /God, it’s scary how good I feel, and I just don’t want to feel guilty.  Not for a minute.  Maybe five?  Just five minutes.  About what I left behind, about finding happy moments…/

A heretical thought touched her brain, almost made her shy away.  /Do I… deserve to be happy?/

Terrifying concept, and it was probably best not to look too closely at that one right now.  At any of it.  That she felt something that might be contentment right now.  /Is that what this is?/  And why.  Any of it. 

Or, if it came back to haunt her too often…  Just blame it on the excess Spike-ness.  After all, sufficient naked Spike, when they weren’t fighting and life was working out okay, was yummy in plenty to make any place feel like heaven.

“That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”  Lifting her half-empty glass of water, she made a silent toast to hell, and smirked at the toned ass of her own private demon-lord.

***




a Nikken filter back then, especially the floor models, was a beautiful monster with a gorgeous, transparent central core holding about ten layers of serious, doomsday filtration you could use in straight-up survival mode, and held two or three gallons of water. They were hundreds of dollars and I LUSTED for one. Anyway, a rich hotel like this probably had one; those things made water taste like you were drinking pure ozone and were perfectly suited to the end of the bloody world besides.

I want to thank everyone for bearing with Month One of Spuffy's journey in Hell-A.  Things will be both easier... and more complicated as we march on into their second month in Hell, and settle into their new iteration, as co-leaders and as a functional, loving couple.  

I'm excited to see how people react to our kids as things progress.  See you next week!

Chapter Text

Month II: 

It was stunningly easy to fit herself into the routine of things at the Pink Palace in Beverly Hills.  For all her first two weeks in hell had dragged on as if they would never end, the next two literally flew by; a bizarrely wonderful pastiche of actually highly-satisfying days spent rounding up terrified humans and hapless, harmless demonfolk and herding them into the various rooms and basement storage areas of the hotel for triage, and ‘nights’ of…

Let it be said that the ‘nights’ were more than satisfying too.  /Let’s just put it that way./  When you spent your days fighting side-by-side as much as they did…  Well, they’d pretty much done that math years ago.  And they were out together as much as possible now; really as much as Spike felt he could spare himself.  Which was, honestly, most of the time now that he felt he and Illyria had pretty much consolidated their hold on the area.  He only stayed at home base whenever he felt like a public appearance was necessary for some high mucky-muck demon-visit or something, which was also less and less common of late as the various petty demon-lets around the area stopped offing each other, consolidated power under three or five pretty mondo critters, and settled themselves into something approaching solid little city-states. 

Buffy tended to make herself scarce when the DL visits went down.  She really wasn’t sure she could control herself when faced with the choice to either play politics or just assassinate whatever mini baby-eating kinglet had dropped in this time to see if an Old One really was part of the duo running Beverly Hills.  Spike had assured her that while most of the current demon lords were little more than opportunistic bottom-feeders they could take out easily enough when the situation warranted, some of them might need a little more careful handling, so she figured she should do her part in the whole diplomacy department by just being absent.  After all… she was pretty sure she couldn’t do diplomatic to their faces. 

More importantly, it seemed the better part of valor right now not to show their hands too soon.  If they were going to start killing off other DLs, they had to be able to command the strength to hold those DLs’ territories, or else it would look pretty suspect to make a move like that.  Someone might suspect they were just offing lords for no reason, and that might end up looking bad for their little underground people-saving enterprise. 

They needed the front if they were going to keep helping refugees.

The underground railroad out to Conner and Gwen and Nina’s place saw constant traffic, now Spike had less sporadic backup outside.  Conner seemed a nice enough kid.  Shaggy, brown-haired teen, looked nothing like Angel.  Maybe a little like Darla, though Buffy barely remembered the crazy cheerleader-wannabe blonde from her first year in Sunnydale.  The kid did however have some mannerisms that had to be inherited that reminded Buffy remarkably of Angel; and which, quite honestly, freaked her right the hell out, seeing them on some random kid. 

She did her best to avoid Conner after that. 

Angel’s son was dating the lightning-fingered girl, Gwen Raiden.  She ran the safehouse with a human ex-cop—Kate—another blonde, incidentally, who had some kind of bizarre, contentious relationship with Angel (she really didn’t want to know) and who had apparently saved Conner’s butt when the place had first fallen into hell.  Their other partner was a werewolf girl—Nina—who really didn’t seem like one here in what they were all beginning to affectionately refer to as ‘Hell-A’.  After all, with the constant sun-and-moon thing happening, she never actually turned, per se; just spent a lot of time being moody and full of fight.  Which, Buffy supposed, was probably helpful when you had to take other demons out all the time, and…

And if Buffy had always been able to differentiate between and even have empathy for a werewolf who just had the affliction of a demon placed on them, un-asked-for, which took them over and forced them to kill once a month without their soul knowing or having any control over the situation whatsoever, why had she never been able to feel the same for a vampire, who had, too, been removed from their daily life by a demon’s bite, unasked-for.  The only real difference was, they didn’t switch back.  Their new status was just the stuff of daily life.  Was that why she had always felt it acceptable to hold the vamps responsible for their situation?  Or was it because the werewolf didn’t have to kill to survive and she had believed that vampires did (however erroneous that belief had turned out to be)?  Or was it because, once she had known that not all vamps had to kill to survive, she found it even more appalling that so many did so anyway, and reveled in it? 

That did still appall her, yes, but then she didn’t hold it against hawks that they killed mice, or cats that they murdered more than their fair share of songbirds even when they were fed plenty of kibble; so why be angry at a creature who actually had no other food source?  And why had she, most especially, taken out that rage on one individual who had chosen not to murder, and had in fact done everything she had asked instead?  And yet he had remained, somehow, in her eyes, the kneejerk evil she most needed to denigrate and destroy.  Considered unnatural, felt he had no place in the universe.

Was it because he had always seemed so human, that she had unconsciously held him to human standards, when really he had been behaving better by far than the standard she should have held him to, which was, essentially, the Angelus standard?  Or was it only because she had been bred to protect the population they were designed to hunt for food?  Were vampires the cats and she, bred from the mice, indeed some kind of cat-mouse-hybrid? 

Was she really, as the Scourge leader had implied, little more than a sheepdog, mindless as a fledge and running on mere instinct; reacting without higher thought to a supposed threat… whether it was behaving like one or not?

“A little more on top, luv.”

She pulled in a tight breath and held it, impatient.  “Spike, you can’t even see yourself in a mirror.  How the hell do you know if it’s enough or not?”

He shot her a patient look under unfairly sexy eyelashes.  “Been wearing eyeliner since before you were born, Slayer.  Know how it feels when its right.  Just a bit more up top, yeah, and we can get out there and kick some demon ass.”  He was thrumming with energy, practically jittering under her hands. 

It was kind of like trying to put make-up on a pent-up toddler, and she sighed as she leaned forward to add yet another meticulous layer of guyliner to his lids.  She would not admit that it looked unbelievably hot on him.  He was already too damned smug as it was. 

She was going to screw his brains out later on while he was wearing it, but she was not going to admit that it was hot.  “Somehow I’m pretty sure I didn’t sign on for make-up duty when I accepted the role of ‘favored concubine’.  I mean, you have a whole harem out there.”  She waved her free hand vaguely at the suite door.

“I let one of the other girls do this and you’d gut every one of them.  Then you’d gut me.”

He had a point.  “There.  I think it’s good.”

He lifted a brow as she leaned away, pencil held at the ready.  “Yeah?  You like how it looks?”

She did not deign to dignify that with a response, instead turning away to cap the pencil with its little translucent plastic holder.  “You ready to go now?”

“Hang on a tic.”  And then his arms were around her like a cool, corded vice, and he was pulling her close.  “You’re not fooling anyone, Slayer,” he growled into her neck, and the silver bracelets he had picked up from somewhere and now wore like some kind of armor pressed, hard into her shoulders like a chill brand.

She did her best not to shudder as the low rumble worked its way up her spine, as his hands slid into her hair.  They had things to do, dammit.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”  /Stupid blood-bondy-ness./  “C’mon.  Let’s get out of here.”

His fingers pressed at the nape of her neck, prodding at spots only he knew about.  Uber-sensitive ones.  “You wanna put it off for a mo’?”

She leaned back to eye him with, she hoped, something approaching dignity… and did her best to breathe slowly through her nose.  With pants this thin his erection felt pretty much like it was right there.  Which, you know, was not helping at all with the pretending to be the reasonable adult in the crowd.  “You’re insatiable.”

“I’m not the one wearing tight leather looks painted on, luv.  You don’t want a bloke to get distracted, don’t wear trousers where I can tell where your soddin’ knickers end and I’m gonna spend the entire fight waiting for ‘em to tear open in front of me.  It’s a mite distracting, yeah?”

She grinned at him.  “Got nothing to say about my top?”

He groaned and held her away from him.  “Buffy, you could wear a frilly, flowered frock to battle and I’d want to shag you senseless in the middle of it.  You don’t need to ask me if this is winding me up.”  And he looked her up and down with a light in his eye that said he was about one permissive word shy of tearing the halter-top away and settling in for the remainder of the evening.

“We just got cleaned up,” she pointed out, and tried a theatrical pout.  “I thought the whole point was to go out there smelling a little less like sex.”

He groaned and lowered his forehead briefly to her neck, spent a moment breathing in the scent of her recently-renewed bite.  “Let’s get out of here before you ruin me for life, you bleedin’ vixen.”

It took some doing, and a lot of willpower, but they managed to extricate themselves from each other and eventually headed out of their suite with some semblance of their public persona, which consisted nowadays of:  ‘Spike; self-possessed Demon Lord’, pacing ahead in a gorgeous swagger, and ‘Buffy; human concubine’, following demurely a half-step behind at his right, gripping her axe—she really, really liked that axe by now—and casting her eyes about her as they paced the pink-and-green halls.  It actually made her feel a little like a bodyguard; which was kind of funny in its own way, since Spike could totally handle himself.  But, yeah.  No way anyone was ever hurting him again on her watch, and with the politics around here… you never knew. 

Besides.  With the way things had been by the time she had come back, she felt like she really had to be on her guard.  Every demon woman in the damn hotel had it in for her; and, by virtue of her presence, might be a bit miffed at the Boss as well.  

Spike had had to train with all of them since the coup, because this Noelle who’d been controlling them all had apparently been the one giving them most of their fighting skills.  It seemed they’d all taken the one-on-one fighting lessons very personally—/Like ya do…/—and now took certain exception to Spike’s having chosen to ditch them all and, relieved at an alternative to the all-too-mutable Illyria—go out exclusively with Buffy on rescues and all that.  To his having gone back, like water flowing downstream, to training exclusively with her.  Which was probably not the most politic thing for him to have done, and maybe he should have kept it up with the rest of them on a schedule or something, for diplomacy’s sake, but he didn’t seem interested even if Buffy would have been able to stand by and grate her teeth together and not kill them while they had their hands all over her guy. 

Especially that Maria. 

One of the green demon girls, the dark-haired Gris, was slowly coming around, along with her sister, the redheaded, horned ‘Rinne, but the rest were still being super wary; even prickly.  And, to be fair, Buffy wasn’t going out of her way to be crazy friendly either.  The best she could manage right now was ‘superficially pleasant’.  But to be fair, she had literally only been away from her guy for what he called “a fortnight”, and all these chicks thought they had some kind of claim on him.  Coming back had been this insane revelation; like, ‘Let me get this straight, you've only been set up here for a week and you've already got a demon-girl harem?’ 

She needed to get this thing figured out right now and then keep it figured.  Stay on top of that food chain.  It was kind of a ‘Who do I need to kill?’ sort of situation in the Pink Palace right now. 

Spike really didn’t get it, why she was always so on her toes around his little gaggle of gropey girls.  Captain Innocent, all, “Seriously, Buffy; I didn't have my way with any of ‘em."

As if that was even…  /That is so not the point!/

The point was… they had been taking care of him and keeping him fit and generally playing her role with him while she’d been off wasting time indulging Angel’s manipulative ass—part of her couldn’t quite believe she was thinking of her ex in those terms, but he had, really, honestly, been working her there in that last week, and that was the week in which Spike was up here cavorting with demon girls and getting abused by one of them, and, just…  If the shoe fit—and besides.  It was about time she faced the fact that she never actually had taken care of Spike the way a partner should.  Hadn’t even been able to admit that, for all intents and purposes he had been her partner, in all things, for a very long time now. 

It was about time she started fixing that mess, and she had resolved to do it posthaste; before one of these other girls jumped in to fill the gap.  Because God knew they were all standing around ready and willing—especially that little spider-bitch Maria, who was literally hanging around every corner like she was just waiting for Buffy to vanish and give her an in—and just, hell no.

She knew she was being possessive and ridiculous and totally letting her pride get in the way and being stupidly competitive, but… she was feeling a little inadequate.  For one thing… Spike had never not taken care of her.  He would never not.  She was the one who was bad at this stuff, and that meant if she didn’t do her part, publicly and privately, then that meant that she had failed; that she didn’t deserve this second chance with him, and maybe he deserved to run off with some handsy demon girl with big boobs, and that was just…

“Hey, Boss.”

She tensed immediately.  Maria had stopped in front of them, literally oozing sex appeal and flirtatious energy in her man’s direction, and in the process utterly ignoring Buffy’s presence, and holy wow her hand was itching on the axe-handle right now.

/Must not kill spider-bitch.  Must not kill…/

“Maria.”  Spike gave the perky little brunette a genial nod, stopping politely, but otherwise handed her nothing more. 

Of course, Spider-girl took this mere acknowledgement as encouragement, if not straight-up invitation.  Her eyes got all glowy, the stupid cunt, and she sidled a half-step closer, because she seriously wanted to die.  “Heading out for another roundup?” 

“It is the sport we take up every day.”  Spike sounded, at best, tolerant.  But Maria was cheesing like she was in a spotlight just at having been granted the honor of a conversation with him, and okay; Buffy got it.  When you had a crush—and yeah, she could see how Spike could be super-crushable, especially from a demon perspective.  Heck, he was hot as hell from her own—things weren’t easy to turn off.  Maybe the little bitch was even in love.  But she had still completely abused him, and that was just…

/Double standard, Buffy/ she reminded herself grimly for the ninth time that day.  Still, she had to fight incredibly hard against the impulse to step in front of her vampire and just really get in a good swing. 

Which was, of course, why they had not had anything like a showdown yet.  She had bowed to Spike’s sensibilities thus far, was letting him handle the whole Maria situation.  It was, after all, his deal; something Buffy had walked into halfway through the story.  And it was, she supposed, kind of touchy, politically. 

The other demon harem girls had apparently accepted their whole ‘favored concubine’ story, but the thing with Maria was a little more complex.  For one thing… she had heard the truth from Spike down in the so-called dungeon, knew there was more to it from the start.  Knew that Buffy ‘owned’ Spike.  That he was bought and paid for, apparently.  Which… logistically…

How did one purchase the services of a vampire, anyway, she wondered idly as Spike continued murmuring drawn-out pleasantries with the demon girl she had yet to kill.  And just how many kittens would someone like Spike cost; a Master vampire fallen on hard times? 

At least thirty kittens, she figured.  Easily, with that bod, and his fighting skills, and that incredibly talented… 

/Okay, ew.  Buffy, you have really been here in this dimension for too long.  It’s affecting your thinking./

“…So great at watching your back.  I could…”

Buffy tuned back in on autopilot, because oh hell no.  But before she could just say fuckit and lop off the bitch’s head right then and there, Spike’s hand shot up to cut her off midsentence.  “That’s the end of it, Maria.  Look; you’re a skilled fighter, yeah?  You and I both know it.  But Buffy and I’ve been fighting side-by-side, and before that, against each other, since before you were even a twinkle in the demon-meter.  She could take your head off soon as look at you.  There’s a reason she only spars with me; ‘cause we don’t want to cause an inter-demon incident if she forgets to pull her punches and murders half the court just gettin’ her exercise in.  So yeah.  I go out with her.  And you watch my door, right?”

Maria finally took this moment to acknowledge Buffy’s presence, eyes blazing, and wow.  That kind of jealous rage was really just not going to end well.  Girl to girl, Spike was so not going to be able to manage this much longer. 

One of these endless hell-days soon she and Spider-woman were going to have to have a pretty serious showdown, whether her vampire wanted it to happen or not.  Things were just way too tense with her. 

Buffy just hoped she could handle the thing diplomatically.  Or at least without too much bloodshed.  You know, in the name of politics and stuff.

“Fine,” the spider-bitch spat finally.  “Whatever.  Get your rocks off rescuing the leftovers with your…”  She sneered over his shoulder at Buffy.  “Pet.  I’ll be here waiting when you get bored playing with the human.”  And she slipped away, extra arms darting out of her back in her agitation to swing her around the nearest corner in one smooth, arachnid motion.

That kind of maneuver always gave Buffy a shiver, no matter how many times she had seen it now, and just, ugh.  Would Spike really have gone for that if they weren’t…  God.  Would he see it as… kinky?  Because to her it just sounded hella scary.  Like being in a cage while you…

Beside her, Spike sighed.  “That’s gonna be a problem, isn’t it, luv?”

“Glad you finally caught up,” she answered dryly.  /That’s my guy.  Really good at reading people… unless they’re women who are into him.  Then he’s dumb as a post./

He winced a little as they resumed their line of march.  “Rotten luck.  Need her on our side when things go down, yeah?  She is the hell of a fighter.”

/Good to know./  She knew Spike’s skills, obviously, and would take his assessment into consideration in view of future combat prep for the upcoming faceoff.  After all, it wouldn’t do to underestimate spider-girl when they threw down. 

They exited the hotel, out into the not-so-bright orange “sunshine” that had become so commonplace after nearly a month in this oddly-comfortable hell.  Spike nonchalantly spun the matching axe he’d found somewhere; a lazy twiddling of the fingers of his left hand, as if he were twirling a baton as they strode across the denuded grounds of the ‘palace’, and god, how had she ever denied to herself that his casual competence was unutterably sexy to her? 

She missed his duster, though; his second skin, even if she was enjoying the hell out of watching him flexing around in a t-shirt these days.  That thing had been such a part of him, it was weird to see him fight without it.  /But... hence the eyeliner./  About which she was not really complaining, so...  

“So.  You think we’ll get a decent haul tonight?”  He sounded… oddly distracted.  Even jittery, which was… interesting.

She shot him a glance, assessing his mood.  And caught on, belatedly, to what might be going on. 

He was hungry.

This happened every time they went out; more and more so as the week had dragged on.  He wasn’t getting enough just dipping into her every few days.  For one thing, he had to wait till she replenished herself on enough protein and carbs to catch up before he could take more—she swore something about this dimension made her re-up a little slower—and potent Slayer blood or no, he had already been playing catch-up before she’d come back.  He was still looking a little hollow, badly needed a decent infusion from someone besides her.

The other day he’d lain back in bed, a particular intensity in his eyes that she hadn’t been able to read, and a hesitant tension she hadn’t seen since their early days.  It wasn’t something she liked at all to see in him anymore, and it had made her feel naked under his gaze; had driven her to turn to him with a slightly hunted, “What?”

“I was just wondering, Buffy… how long it’s been since you last had your courses.”  

His voice had been oddly stilted, almost diffident.  And she for sure had no clue what he’d been talking about.  “My what now?”

She had almost been able to see him screw up his courage to be more pointed about… whatever it had been.  And then he’d lifted his eyes to hers, frank as day.  “Your monthly, pet.”

/Oh./  Well, that was a question.  Or would have been, if she hadn’t had a certain amount of expedient foresight a few years back to jump on the experimental birth control bandwagon.  Because she for sure hadn’t had time or safe passage to nip back to his apartment for her little backpack.  And even if she had, her previous cycle of pills wouldn’t have done her much good anymore after this long a hiatus.  Not that she would have brought months or whatever worth—god alone knew how long they’d be trapped here—so that point would have been moot. 

“I, ah… don’t have that problem anymore.  Back, um, right before we…”  She had felt almost oddly shy discussing the matter with him, since she had managed to be one of the lucky few who never had to deal with the damned thing again, now beyond a few spotty days here and there.  Which was the opposite of some people who’d tried her approach, or so she’d heard.  But then, maybe that was another Slayer perk.  “In college, they had a kind of cheap medical insurance for students.  It supplemented Mom’s, so I got on a trial of this new hormonal birth control.  It’s… um, inside my uterus.  It worked for me.  It doesn’t work for everyone—actually, for some people it makes things worse—but it did for me.  And it lasts for four or five years, so…”  

Which, thank god, considering this place was an even worse venue for random bleeding and fatigue than living on a hellmouth had been.  Not to mention the lack of available showers, and the whole sponge-bathing thing, and, well…  Back when they had first started their previous affair she had been incredibly grateful not to have to worry about it.  To have the question in the air, even unspoken, would have been unacceptable.  To have him leering about it while they were on such consistently uneven, mutable ground; or to have had to stay away, and hear his snide commentary about the reasons why. 

But it hadn’t been a problem, and she hadn’t had to think about it.  “You must’ve noticed.”

“Yeah.  Thought there was something odd.”  He’d slumped a little, as if a hopeful expectation had abruptly given way on him.  “Seemed that whatever you might normally use should’ve run out by now.”  He’d appeared somehow both relieved and crestfallen, and… was he sad about it? 

/Does that surprise you?/ her mind had chimed back at her.  /Is that any kinkier than any of the other things you’ve done with him?  He’s a vampire, for God’s sake, of course he’d…/

And suddenly she had felt an irrational impulse to apologize.  “Would that even… help?  It’s not… the same, is it?”

That had brought his gaze up, a smile to light the sapphire with a hint of his old, devilishly instigating flair.  “Not the same, no.  More of a choice confection.” 

“Seriously?” 

“What?”  He’d rolled his tongue at her, now actually daring her to wig.  “Everyone likes a nice snack.  Like… eating cake in bed.  Doesn’t keep you healthy, but it satisfies that… sweet tooth.”  He’d paused briefly, as if considering his words.  “‘Cept in this case it’s more like cheese or a fine wine has been aged a bit… but when you put it together with that incredible quim of yours, I’d imagine…” 

“Oh God,” she’d groaned, half-horrified by his pun and half-tolerantly-amused.  “You’re comparing me to a wine-tasting?” 

He’d only waggled his brows at her, inviting her to let her kinky side out to play.  “Oh, yeah.  Everything’s an acquired taste…”  At her rolled eyes, his grin had faded to a thoughtful expression.  “Think of it this way, pet.  You get free cleanup, a personal massage, you feel right nice after.  I’m a bit taken care of, and it’s not blood you’re using anyway.  Good bargain all ‘round, innit?”

It wasn’t something she would have even contemplated in their past incarnation; would no doubt have punched him in the face for even hinting at such an arrangement.  Probably would have called him ‘disgusting’, even while part of her would have been traitorously intrigued.  No doubt because she would have been, and she would have blamed him, somehow, for her own impulses.  But now…  Well.  She had gone far past the limits of anything that looked remotely like embarrassment or modesty with him… and she never felt any revulsion anymore when it came to matters of diet.  “Maybe someday,” she’d told him quietly.  “Not much I can do about it now.”

“Yeah.”  He’d looked more than a little regretful, if resigned.  “Probably best, in a place like this.”

Not necessarily from his perspective, but then, he’d always been damned good at thinking of her safety before his own comfort, so…  They stuck to a nip every three days.  And he went on being hungry. 

And the problem was, there was tension built into his private meal-search.  If he found someone who was otherwise available, it came with the added concern that he either had to terrorize someone who was already traumatized—and, volunteer or no, there would be added trauma—or he would have to hope for a fatal wounding and the opportunity to cast himself, yet again, as an angel of mercy. 

His body needed it.  His soul quailed at the idea of facing that option again.

She hated like hell that she, with all her vaunted healing ability, could not be enough for him.  “We’ve got to figure something out for you.”

His answer was immediate.  “I’ll do, Buffy.”

She could push, but the way he looked… 

He really, really didn’t want to talk about it.  Didn’t even want to think about it.  Which sucked, because the tension in him was setting her blood to jangling in her veins, which was going to be, had already proved to be, way distracting in a fight. 

Having such a super-intensified blood-bond was crazy, by the way.  It had never occurred to her how much more aware she could become of a person—of their presence, of their moods—just by renewing the bite every three or so days, but, just, damn.  She swore she could literally point to right where he was in any part of the hotel at any given time, like she was a Spike-compass.  She could smell him and know how he was feeling—which would be decidedly creepy if it didn’t at least make her feel like he didn’t have such a stupid edge over her anymore with his idiotic vampire senses—and the prickles at the back of her neck?  The Slayer-sense that screamed ‘OMG, Vampire! Fight!’ had always been more of a full-body tingle-thing around older vamps like Spike and Angel, much less ancient ones like Drac and Kakistos and the Master, where it was overwhelming, made it hard for her to think, easier for them to distract her, thrall her if they had that capacity. 

But now…  When you added in the bond, it was like being plunged into a profound, beyond-physical awareness of Spike that was on a level past innate.  The feel of him the way it was now so completely out-competed the inborn Slayer instinct that she no longer experienced that edginess that said ‘Fight!’ when he was near.  She just felt… aroused.  Which, yeah; originally her brain had long since translated ‘Fight!’ to ‘fight-means-fuck’ with him, and later, more specifically, ‘Spike! means fighter means back is safe (plus also still urge to fuck, always there, okay?)’… and yeah.  Her Slayer-sense had long since become completely and utterly confused about him.  Now, though, with the blood-bond involved, the tingles awash along her spine and limbs chanted arousal, while her entire being otherwise chanted that he was a part of her.  That she was a part of him; the way the old bond with Angel had done; but in all mixed in with that completely physical sense of Spike that she had never developed with Angel, because…  Well, probably for obvious reasons.  And now…

Now when she was anywhere remotely close to Spike it was ‘arousal-life-partofme-partofhim-godneedtoshowit-safealwayssafe’… and when he wasn’t nearby it became ‘got to get close; too far away from arousal-life-partofme-partofhim-safe-toofaraway’.

Which, yeah.  Kind of drove her insane, sometimes.  Made her feel super codependent, and reminded her way too much of the way she had felt at first when Angel leaving had torn her to pieces.   /And now we know why that had hurt so bad; and we’d only had sex the one time!/  But at the same time…  She wouldn’t trade it.  Not when she could feel when Spike was safe.  Feel when he was calm or anxious.  Feel if he was okay or not.  Even if it was invasive that he could do the same… because it wasn’t like it was anything new that that damn vampire could read her like a stupid book. 

At least having a bead on him had given her a leg up so she could compete in the ‘reading each other’ Olympics.

He was super-stressed lately, which didn’t help with the whole not eating enough thing.  The whole thing with Illyria, she thought, wasn’t helping much, for one thing, since he had to spend so much time hiding that the demigod demon was, like, basically falling apart.  She was reportedly doing weird little time-skips here and there now, sending people into brief jaunts into their pasts and futures on a regular basis so that everyone was basically avoiding her for the most part.  The Old One therefore spent most of her time isolated up in her suite cooing over her mummified ex-Wesley and a bunch of dried-out ferns, and/or turning into Fred on the regular when she did have company.  

Spike had come back downstairs to where Buffy was doing a supply inventory one day actually fuming, so flipped out she’d had to pull him aside to get the full story.  It had finally come to light, after some serious interrogation, that his co-ruler had sent him back into some ruffle-shirted moment in his childhood when he’d been at a funeral, crying on his mother’s lap or something, which…  Well.  Buffy didn’t really blame him for being pissed off about such an unwelcome blast from the past.

It was all deeply unsettling stuff, for more than one reason.  Illyria was their big trump card keeping the other demon lords from invading or whatever, and maybe it was even Buffy’s fault, since she was (more or less) a human (or at least smelled like one, or thought like one or whatever was the blue woman’s ish), and she was basically around all the time with Spike invading the demons-only bubble and covering Spike with her scent or something.  Spike was able to spend less and less of what, they both knew, counted as down-time for him, outside patrolling for survivors with her, because he had to spend so much time babysitting “The Azure Queen” and trying to nudge her back into full demon-Old One mode.

He had even taken to sponge-bathing first before going to hang with Illyria, so he didn’t smell all Buffied up, since apparently that got Illyria all hot and bothered, and just, why did this all have to be so complicated?  It really was a rotten fly in the ointment of what, otherwise, was almost like a neat little vacation from their lives.  /And yes, I do not miss how ironic it is that I am, overall, actually enjoying living in hell with my vampire boo.  And no, I am not going to admit that to Dawn, much less Giles or Xander, if I ever get out of this mess./

She really was starting to wonder about herself, though, because if she did not actually really have some serious demon in her, then all indications were she was just a total adrenaline junkie at this point.  /One more point for Faith’s side, dammit./  Though how much of that was her almost fighting to feel some of that same drive, here, that she had felt in fights in their own world, and wouldn’t it be doubly ironic if being in a demon dimension affected her so that it brought out more of her human side than her demon essence or whatever, made her what she had used to wish she could be back home?

God, that whole thing was a mess.  If they ever did get out of here, she was going to have to drag Spike over to St. Petersburg, wasn’t she, to confront Giles once and for all about the true nature of the Slayer line.  Just, ugh.  That all sounded really painful and hurty and just…  She was really, really tired of Giles letting her down.  She felt a world of denial over the thought of dealing with that little conversation, but she supposed that had never stopped these things from coming down the pike.  She would face it when it came and deal with it then.

/No wonder I’m happier in hell right now.  At least here I don’t have to face crap like disappointing father-figures and a bunch of metaphysical questions about whether I’m a wolfy sheepdog who really, really likes boning the wolves.  Because, you know, once you start boning the wolves, then you start getting all sympathetic about wolfy natures, and it makes questions about sheep-tending kind of muddy.  Which is probably why the Watchers Council really, really went out of their way to keep their sheepdogs from getting too cozy with said wolves.  You don’t get to know ‘em too well when you’re trained from the start to just stick to killing ‘em, so you don’t find out that they really flip your switch.  Keep ‘em young and tearing out throats before the wolves can talk back, and let ‘em die in the fight before they really learn that their libidos lean toward…/

As they walked, Spike’s cool right hand drifted up along her overwarm left arm; a slow, unconscious caress that tickled lightly along her tricep, then back down to find her matching burn scar.  Folded into her hand, stilling the automatic shivers his touch had always produced; a shudder once brought on by ironic heat chasing away ironic cold, and which was now merely… them. 

/Well, the Watchers were all always pretty much stuffed-shirt pricks anyway./  Not for the first time, Buffy found herself profoundly grateful that the assholes had not gotten to her in time to isolate her and turn her into some mindless killing machine the way they had done with Kendra.  She knew her life had been tough, filled with a lot of DIY issues; and she had missed a bunch of perks, like living off of some kind of Watcher stipend—because really, that would have come in so handy after she’d come back from the dead—but no way she would have given up her autonomy, her freedom of thought, her rebel of a Watcher (no matter how that had turned out), her friends (ditto), her mother (God, Mom), and, eventually, sister (so hard not to worry about Dawn).  And really, she had gotten more out of the bargain than, say, Faith, so…

Her eyes lifted to Spike, thought of her other loves.  Of Angel, and how maybe, just maybe, that past love had been, in a way, but a primer for how to love a vampire, if she could just eventually let go of all the misinformation she had somehow picked up along the way about how vampires were supposed to work, and how they felt.  How they loved, or not.  Because…  /I wouldn’t give it up.  Any of it, if it meant giving up myself.  Giving up you.  Giving up this./

He caught the squeeze of her hand, the intensity of her gaze, and turned back to lift a scarred brow at her.  “What’s up, pet?”

“Nothing,” she answered quietly.  “I’m just really glad to be here, with you.”

A slow, pleased, genuine smile crossed his mobile lips.  “Yeah?”  The smile slid into a grin, chasing away the shadows.  “Ta, luv.  Same goes.”

They rounded the long line of bungalows at the far end of the grounds, listening already for the ever-present, painful music of pursuit and death, and exited the edges of Spike and Illyria’s carefully-held main territory. From here on out they would be on contested ground, though technically all of Beverly Hills belonged to the vampire and the Old One. 

As ever, here on the verge, they paused, and Spike sampled the air, nostrils flaring.  A quick check for nearby humanity-in-distress.  Excellent use of hunting skills, now warped and reshaped to accommodate current rescue-tactics, and was it possible for her to be prouder of her guy than she had been before?  She kept thinking he’d topped himself, and then he’d do something like this.  He was freaking starving, but still, he would willingly torture himself with this.  Eyes closed, using every sense to save people. 

“This way.”

They struck off to the southeast, and she couldn’t help but squeeze his hand, because his face looked even more drawn now, and he was just…  She was torn.  Half of her wanted to cry, leap on him, hug him to death.  Half of her wanted to put a medal on him or something.  Hang his picture on the wall of the hotel in the empty little museum among the rest of the visiting celebrities, with a plaque that said ‘hero’.  A leader, part of the history of this place now; as much as anybody who had ever stayed in these bungalows.  And he didn’t even have his picture up anywhere like the famous actors did.

/God.  Once upon a time I told him he was dumb for expecting kudos for not taking even, like, a lick of wasted blood from people who were bleeding freely all over the floor, like a total bitch, when what it must’ve done to him…  Jesus, Buffy, he was starving, just like now, and…/ 

“Useful,” she managed, through a tight throat, because he wouldn’t want her to thank him for the self-sacrifice.

He flashed her a quick, tight grin before turning back to their line of march.  He looked determined, implacable. 

/I love you so much sometimes I feel like I’m gonna die from it./

As always before they slipped between the last two buildings, Buffy touched the corner of the Marilyn Monroe cottage in silent homage.  These bungalows were history, torn now from the world.  It was one of the great tragedies of this whole Hell-A thing that they had been ravaged by demonic forces. 

Little private suites that had been occupied by people like Marilyn, Howard Hughes, and Rita Hayworth, had been taken over by various members of Spike’s little retinue.  They now disported themselves in the iconic rooms where Hollywood royalty had once stayed.  Even more blasphemous, in Buffy’s mind… all of the gorgeous dresses once on display in the hotel museum—dresses that had been worn by movie stars over the last century, priceless silver screen artifacts, diamond necklaces and earrings and studded evening gowns—had been pillaged by his demon women and turned into their own private dress-up game.  They were gone forever.  If this hell was ever fixed, there were damages that could never be repaired; pieces of history that could never be replaced.

It might really count as nothing when you looked into the eyes of the children they rescued and saw the horrors there, but it still counted on the scales, for her.  Made her feel doubly guilty every day when she lay in Spike’s arms or fought at his side and felt actual peace in this godawful dimension, because, what the hell was wrong with her?  And yet… that was all and everything that made her believe it would somehow all balance out.  Because sometimes when she looked into Spike’s eyes just glowing into her own, she felt like everything was going to be okay somehow.  She knew it sounded dumb, and probably it was just chemistry—blood-bond chemistry chanting at her that everything was wonderful as long as she had her vampire here, close by.  Just drugs, and she should be wary, she should be concerned about her own ridiculous calm—but it was hard to think like that.  Everything was going so crazy well with them that it scared her.  She had almost given up waiting for the other shoe to drop between them, which she knew was super dangerous… but she had kind of stopped fearing their next fight, even. 

She knew that it would no longer shake them.  Which was as mind-blowing a revelation as she had ever had in her life, to realize that she could fight with Spike, and… it wouldn’t change anything. 

Nothing would change.  Not anymore.  As long as they got to be by each other sides, this was it.  They were done.  No more flames.  No more dust.  No more ashes.

No more cold.

They were alive… and they were together.  Fighting as one.

“Heads up, Slayer.”

She jerked around in time to see the Vorgun loping up toward a little huddle of terrified humans like a hairy, open-mouthed case of incoming doom. 

She limbered up her axe.  “Sorry.  Was woolgathering.”

“Must’ve been some trip.”  Spike was already advancing, eyes glancing back periodically to her side of their duo, feeling her out.

She pulled up even and spread out a little to afford him combat space.  This one was going to take a concerted attack from both sides.  It was a big bastard.  Lucky there was only one, and not a whole pack like the other night.

She hated the ones that split them up.  “Ready?”

“Ready.”

All told, they made pretty short work of the lone Vorgun.  They were really very stupid things, especially like this; starving and alone.  It was a pack-hunter native to this dimension, and never did very well without backup.  Probably it had thought the squishy little troop of humans would be easy pickings, though once it had identified the incoming half-demon and—well, who knew what it had thought Buffy to be.  All bets were apparently still off, there—it had swung round to engage the more formidable, armed threat first, leaving the snacks till later. 

It had been as surprised as they were when, while they were still at work with their axes, two of the more enterprising (or maybe the more traumatized) of the humans started screaming and, picking up some kind of clubs or something, leapt into the fray and began to whale on the back of the thing. 

It had, of course, whirled around to go after the things banging on its ass.  Which had perforce necessitated a change in tactics, since she and Spike couldn’t exactly just keep right on swinging.  They might have accidentally maimed the civilians. 

Stupid, courageous civvies.

In the end, the woman with the longer branch had come out without much more than a couple of scratches from the thing’s long, spiny growths.  The man had a big rip, though, in his bicep, the dufus, which necessitated a longer stopover out in the stupid open while Buffy went through her limited First Aid supplies seeking something to use to stop the bleeding.  Which was really just awfully profuse, and God, was she going to have to figure out how to make a tourniquet?  Did she even remember how to make one of those?  

Panic fluttered at the back of her mind as she fought to recall long-ago memories of health class and pictures in a book while her fingers scrabbled on the ground for a small stick to twist in the makeshift bandage and she tried really hard not to remember another time when she couldn’t remember First Aid and CPR and there was a cold face under her hands and cold lips and no breath and…

/Don’t think.  Not about how it probably doesn’t matter if he dies, because we don’t have a surgeon to fix it if it’s torn, and he might lose the arm if we just keep the thing on.  Don’t think about how many you’ve lost and about how you can’t save them all.  Think about now.  Right now you just have to find…/

“It didn’t get the artery.  Nor yet any veins.”  Standing back a little, Spike uttered his pronouncement flatly enough that it jerked her out of her autonomic shuffle. 

“Wh…  Are you sure?”  Which was, she knew the moment she said it, the dumbest thing in the world to ask a vampire, and was she really questioning him, of all people, about blood loss?  “Sorry, I just…” 

His lips twitched a little, wryly, at her acknowledgment.  “If it got a major vessel the blood’d be spurting out with his heartbeat, innit?”  He pointed with his chin at the pad of bandage she was pressing with automatic fierceness over the top of the wound.  “It’s bled out enough to be clean of the thing’s saliva.  Wrap it up tight before the blighter goes faint on us, and I’ll carry him out.”

She complied blindly, her panic slowly began to subside in relief.  And turned back as the import of his words began to sink in.  “Spike, are you sure you’re…”  The fight may have been easier than it could have been, but he had gotten a few nicks himself, and he had that red tinge about his eyes.  He had thinned out again in the last day or so, and he was too pale. 

She was in no way concerned about his losing control.  She just didn’t want him to put himself through the torture.

His eyes on hers were steady, though.  “You need your hands free, luv, in case our friend there has neighbors.”  And, as if proving something to her, he leaned over to sling the man’s good arm over his shoulder—though she saw his nostrils flare at the scent of fresh blood, he stood stoic as he took gentle hold of the damaged human and settled his grip, straightened.  “I’ll do.”

His muscles were quivering, though, he held them so taut.  She could see them; in his arms, in his belly, under his shirt.  Certainly not from effort, though god knew he had to be relatively low on energy.  Even at his lowest he could still block some of her best punches or throw her across the room, and had done, more than once in the past, though he tired easily and certainly was not at his best speed… and god, he needed to eat.

Held across his filthy chest, the man’s mangled arm twitched, and trickle of blood escaped the hastily-contrived pressure-bandage to slither down the front of Spike’s shirt.  And the link between them rocked with a pained, hollow feeling that made Buffy’s stomach clench in desperate sympathy.  “Can we go now?” Spike hissed, and Buffy could swear she saw the red circles deepen around his eyes, his skin grow paler and his cheekbones hollow in that very instant, though he did not so much as wet his lips.

She closed her eyes briefly to stop herself from embarrassing him.  He did not want her to go marching over there and rip the guy out of his arms.  He said he could handle it and he would. 

All she had to do was ignore the heavy tattoo of his suffering as it beat through the blood-bond; the way it made her own stomach churn with the awareness of his dreadful, starving hunger and the way the demon inside him literally screamed at him to feed.

Right.  Easy enough.  Just keep your mind on business, and not on the vampire back there being a stubborn, bullheaded, idiotic… hero.  “Okay, on your feet, folks.  I know you’re tired and scared, but we’re actually pretty close to a place where you can be safe and rest.” 

The people hovering around the site of the makeshift hospital drama shifted, moved to rise.  They all seemed more than a little shell-shocked.  Understandably, she supposed, considering the idea of safety probably sounded like a fairy tale after a month in Hell-A running from who knew how many types of man-eating demons and rapey who-knew-whats and scavenging for water and food and…

Spike was losing his patience.  “You heard the lady,” he grated.  Time to move out, folks, before all this blood brings us any extra visitors, yeah?” 

Something in his voice seemed to scare their anxious little audience into action.  Maybe it was the underlying note of starving demon that set their innate faculties buzzing into fight-or-flight, which… good on them.  If they had survived this long in hell, they must have developed some instincts, right?

Falling in automatically to the sound of reason, coming as it did from one of the strange duo who had saved their butts, the half-dozen or so people they’d netted came to their feet and settled in uneasily behind Buffy, with much shuffling of feet and clearing of throats.  She eyed them for a moment and then sighed.  “Alright.  I’ve got point.  You.”  And she pointed with her bloody axe at the woman who had jumped in on the fight, who was still clutching her branch like it was a sword or something.  “Hang back with Spike and help watch our rear.  If anything comes up behind us you’ll switch with me and lead the party due southeast...”  She slung the axe out, dripping, in the direction of the weirdly-out-of-place, bizarrely tandem moon and sun.  “When you see the big huddle of pinkish buildings that looks like a mission, that’s our objective.  Got it?  I’ll hang back and guard the rear if we’re attacked.”

The woman looked thoroughly anxious to be thus called upon, but then she glanced down at the kid attached to her hand; a boy of about eleven who was clearly doing his best to look older than he was and like he didn’t need the help… but he wasn’t letting go of his mother, either.  As she did so, an expression Buffy recognized crossed her face.  It was that same sheer determination that had lit her own heart when Dawn had been in danger and she had had to choose.  Fight, even die, or let whatever it was hurt her baby girl. 

And that would never happen.

This woman would get these people to safety if it killed her.  Because her kid was part of the group.  The end.

They struck out wordlessly for the hotel, Spike with the moaning guy bleeding in his arms, his expression as set and wordless as she had ever seen it.  He was going to see this through if it killed them both. 

She didn’t even want to know how hard this was on him.

Thank God it wasn’t too far of a hike.  The ambush had happened no more than a half-mile from the bungalows, and they had the area pretty well cleaned out so close to the hotel, so luckily nothing else attacked, either.

Which, to be real, begged the question.  “Where were you guys headed?” Buffy asked, making conversation if only to keep their spirits up on the march.

“We heard… somewhere up here in this area was… a safe place.”  Her backup rearguard chick was the one who spoke up.  She sounded tired beyond belief; like someone who had no hope left but the vaguest prayer that the faintest rumor might be real.  She glanced down toward the filthy child at her side, still clinging to her hand, like he was her reason for living.  “Don’t know if it’s here or just if someone up here helps you find it, but it’s all we have, so…”

She exchanged quick glances with Spike, concerned.  It was possibly not of the good that word was getting around.  It could be helpful if it was only spreading among the humans, since it wasn’t like demons tended to talk to their food before they ate it.  All in all that would actually cut down on the work for them, if the herds of humanity started literally coming to them. 

On the other hand, if the other demon lords actually started getting wind of human refugees thinking of Beverly Hills as a ‘safe zone’, Spike and Illyria’s little cover story would get blown really damn fast. 

Depending on what some of their more demon-y rescues might say about the rumor-mill, some serious damage control might be in order, like, soon.

Speaking of demon-rescues, on the way back they picked up one seriously terrified-looking loose-skinned demon who just broke Buffy’s heart, because she really looked like she could be Clem’s niece or something.  She was so scared she could barely walk, kept tripping over her own thigh-skin.  Buffy ended up practically carrying her, too, for that last few hundred yards, and the fact that she was so close to safety really begged the question of how much news was getting out, and to whom.

They made a motley crew as they made their way through the eerie cacophony of orange sunset to trail back onto hotel grounds.  Nothing new about that, of course, and practice made maneuvers easier as they nudged their little troupe of footsore civilians into the east wing of the Pink Palace and settled them into the Polo Private Room with its mellow wood paneling and white-pillared doorways and green carpets, all overlooking the spacious—if denuded—grounds through wide, curtained windows.  The calm, warm atmosphere of the room had had the effect on previous groups of settling down even the most anxious refugee… and there was enough space to lay people out on what was a relatively soft surface for triage. 

Their more trusted demons—the ones who had stayed on instead of moving on to the safehouse, and some of the girls who were better with humans—knew to be on watch for their returns from these forays, and swept in as soon as they entered to get to work offering food, water, to start on the First Aid.  Buffy had to admit feeling a little let down that no one in this group appeared to be on the brink of death.  It was a guilty feeling, but real, because even their bleeder, once Spike had gratefully relinquished him to a couple of attendants and stepped aside, was looking a little less wilted under their ministrations.  Which, you know, was good and everything from a numbers point of view, but…

God, she needed to get her guy fed. 

She was really worried about him.  Worried about his protracted stare at the bandaged arm, still seeping blood.  At the way he brushed at his damp shirt, blood still on it; repeatedly now, as if he had no idea he was still doing it, the stain wet on the backs of his fingers.  He was biting his lip, and…

The crew was trailing out now.  In a few moments they would be replaced by what they called, tongue-in-cheek, the concierge group; a few of the girls who were specifically good at slotting people into available spaces, where they remain until the Beverly Hills contingent could collect enough of a party to make it worth Conner’s while to guide them over to the safehouse.  This made it a good time.  Less witnesses among the staff, as it were. 

Of course she could go room to room and ask around, but it would seem weird.  She didn’t know any of them, and the last bunch had just been sent off with Conner.  Who knew when they’d get another party in, and Spike needed something now.  He’d never negotiate for himself…

Best to do it all at once.  It would save time.

She was stepping forward before she even knew she had made a decision.  Certainly before Spike could realize what she was about to do and stop her.  “People, could I have your attention before you go?”

The refugees, looking calm and a lot better off than they had when they first entered the room, glanced up at her with varying degrees of wariness and trust.  Here went nothing.  “You’ve all got rooms waiting for you.  You can let the staff here know if you have preferences to bunk together or whatever.  We don’t know what kind of relationships anyone has built out here.  But before you go… I need to make a request.”

“Buffy.”  Spike’s one word carried a vast weight of limits and remonstrance.

And, for the first time since she had come here to join him, she flat-out ignored him. 

They would fight about this later.  Especially since she was, right now, overriding him in public.  But ‘in front of the humans’ didn’t so much count, in her mind, as the same kind of ‘in public’ as ‘in front of the court’… and he couldn’t go on like this.  Not and keep on with what he needed to do; in actual public, for all of them.  “If any of you are feeling particularly strong, and are willing to offer an exchange, Spike here is in need of assistance...”

 

TBC






Well, she made it two weeks without stepping all over his toes... and they made it two weeks without a fight.  And better if it's about her taking care of him than for some other reason?

The fight, I promise, is (one hopes) sexy as hell, when we get to it.  Because, Spuffy.  


Chapter Text

Spike was pissed.  Buffy could feel his frustration rising behind her into a sudden, growling rage, and okay, fine.  She could match his mad, later, in private.  /But you know what?  You can not show weakness till you dwindle away to nothing, you idiot, but this is the only way, and you know it!/ 

To her complete lack of surprise it was the woman with the preteen son who spoke up.  “What do you mean, assistance?” she asked, glancing at their pale rescuer out of the corner of her eye.  Her gaze darted back to Buffy’s, curious and uncertain but willing to speak up, at least. 

No one else was even daring to open their mouths, so Buffy addressed the woman dead on.  “Don’t get scared, but Spike’s a vampire.  A good one,” she hurriedly amended when the woman instantly blanched and made to draw back, pulling her son against her body.  Tried to ignore the fact that this was probably the first time in their entire association that her lover was too livid to snort out a disclaimer or a rebuttal or to try to blurt out some of his, ‘I so am not, I’m evil!’ credentials. 

He might actually try to strangle her for this, later, upstairs. 

If she had her way, he’d be as close as possible to full strength again when they threw down over this.  “Back home he lived off of hospital blood and stuff from the butcher's, but we all know that’s out, here…”

“If the hospital was working I’d be living in that damn place,” one of the guys in the back of the group muttered grimly.  “Sure wouldn’t be in a freakshow like this.  Damn vampires, green women like on ‘Star Trek’, crazy monsters…”

The little Loose-Skinned demon sort of huddled in on herself in the corner, poor kid.

Buffy ignored the guy.  “The thing is… if he was one of the bad ones, he’d be fine here.  But since he’s not… he’s starving.  And we haven’t been able to find a solution for that…”

“Buffy…”  Spike’s voice was literally shaking with a combination of balls-out rage and world of flat pleading; begging for her to stop. 

But it was too late.  “You want one of us… to let him…”  The woman was no dummy.  She had cottoned on before anyone else in the group, and was staring in stunned incredulity. 

“Just a little.  If any of you are willing.  Like a blood donation, you know?”  When she paled, Buffy shrugged.  “I’d say we’d offer to do it, you know, with needles and all that, but we don’t have any of that stuff…”

Behind her, Spike sat down abruptly and heavily in the nearest chair and dropped his head into his hands as if her negotiations on his behalf had drained him of any remaining will to live or something.  /I’m so sorry, Spike.  I’m not trying to, whatever.  Emasculate you or take your choices away, but…  God.  You aren’t doing anything about it, and I can’t stand this anymore!/

There was a short silence from the crowd, then…  “Are you seriously asking for payment for saving us?” a guy in the back demanded harshly.

Buffy shook her head immediately.  “No.  Not at all.  I’m asking for volunteers, because a person I care about who has helped a lot of people and will continue to help a lot more is literally starving to death while doing it… and I can’t stand to watch it anymore.”  /And I love him.  Please.  I love him./

The group digested that for a moment, and then, to her surprise, the kid stepped forward, if only as far as his mother’s grip allowed.  Her hand tightened involuntarily on his wrist as he did so, trying to pull him back, but he only tilted his head with interest, eyes on Spike.  “Are you really a vampire?”

/Oh wow.  Why is it always the kids?/

Spike roused briefly from his black study to eye the boy with a gaze clouded with pain; like a patch of blue sky covered in storm clouds.  “Yeah.  Have been for a bloody century and more.”  And he shot Buffy a look that was one of the more venomous he had ever directed toward her, if tempered by a vast weariness.  “Been through droughts before, will do again.  Survived ‘em all, too.”

/So sue me if I care./

The kid shot his mother a glance, looked back at Spike in clear fascination.  “Can I see your teeth?”

Spike sighed heavily and tilted his head back on his neck to view the onlookers from under his hooded eyelids.  It was clear he was hoping in this moment that showing his game face would scare off any takers.  “Yeah.  Sure.  Why the hell not?”  And without further ado he vamped out.

A couple of the jumpier refugees took a few steps back.  Most of them did double-takes, or at least gasped involuntarily, including mom.  But the kid?  He just looked inspired.  “Wow.  Cool!  And if one of us let you drink our blood, you’d feel better?”

“Oh, bloody hell.”  Dropping his miserably feral countenance back into his hands, Spike shook his head grimly.  “My body might, lad, but my soul wouldn’t, yeah?”

The kid looked confused.  “But, if it’s just a donation, and you’re a good vampire, you’re not going to kill anyone if you do it, right?”

He had a remarkable grasp of the situation.  A far better one, honestly, than Buffy had had for the past, oh, damn near ten years.  /There’s something to be said for coming at the world without prejudice./  But then, this was a kid who had probably already been faced any number of demon-beasties.  In his eyes, Spike was no doubt some kind of toothy teddy bear in comparison, and familiar as a tiger or something you’d see in a zoo.  Your standard storybook monster, after a month of facing the really real thing. 

She glanced back at her guy, and was concerned to see his shoulders shaking.  God, was he…

Then she heard the dark chuckle.  “Yeah.  I’m a bloody saint of a vamp.  That’s me.  Everyone’s safe as houses.  Go tell everyone…”

/Oh for fuck’s sake./  “Spike, stop it.  No one else is even in here.”  She turned back to the crowd.  “Again, this is entirely voluntary, so if you guys want to sleep on it, think about it, we’d be really grateful…”

“I don’t need to think about it,” the boy interrupted.  “I’ll do it.”

Spike was on his feet in an instant, backing away before even the mother could gasp out her denials.  “Sodding hell no!”

“Dustin, no!  Are you kidding me?”

“Why not, Mom?  He and her saved us, and they’re helping us get somewhere even safer, and he needs this.  He can’t eat anything else, and I’m pretty healthy!  They’ll make sure to give us snacks after, and remember?  I gave that blood when cousin Gina was in the hospital…”

“They let you give like an ounce, and even that made you woozy!  There’s no way I’m gonna let…”

Spike had controlled himself with an effort, was back in his human guise as he knelt a careful six feet away—no doubt to avoid alarming the mother—in order to interrupt her with the quiet grace he saved for children.  “Your mum’s right, Dustin.  You don’t have enough blood in your body to give me what I need without me doin’ you harm.  But you’re a right brave lad and I want you to know how much I appreciate the offer, yeah?  Thank you.”

Dustin actually looked crushed.  “But I wanna help.”

Spike shook his head and started to rise, if slowly.  “You already have.  I’ll be fine.”

Buffy watched his chances for survival slowly circling the drain, fists clenched so hard that her fingernails punched holes in her palms.  She would not interfere.  Would not ask them again.  If none of them volunteered—if none of them could be as brave as an eleven, twelve-year-old kid—then to hell with all of them!

Spike was moving so slowly now, so wearily, that she could only turn away a little, fighting down the lump in her throat.  What if…

“You can have me.”

Buffy whirled back, staring.  It was the mother’s voice.  She had stepped forward, still clinging hard to her son’s wrist to hold him to her side.  Her face was pale but set, eyes wide but firm on Spike.  Buffy opened her mouth, awed and feeling the stirrings of hope inside her for the first time in she didn’t know how long… but Spike beat her to the punch.  “Beg pardon, mum?”

"I said…”  She lifted her chin a little, looking like she was working hard at turning whim into determination.  “You can have… what you need from me.  Since you… wouldn’t take it from my son.  Which shows me that you… are a man of honor.  Because I can tell you’re…”  She swallowed.  “You really are pretty desperate.  And you did save us.  And you carried that man all the way here, and he was bleeding on you, and you didn’t… do anything to him.  So I’m going to trust you that you’ll… stop.  Before you hurt me.  Because you know I have a child.”

Buffy saw the tremor run through his body.  Saw the pain and the relief of it in the way he ran his shaking left hand through his hair, messing it up a little.  “I…  What’s your name, mum?”

She looked startled at that.  “My…”  She seemed a little confused by the question.  “Uh, Joan.”

He jerked, eyes flashing briefly to Buffy’s before jerking away just shy of meeting her startled glance.  “Joan,” he began, very formally.  “I can’t say I’m glad that you volunteered, but… I’m very grateful.  Because I’m not in a position to say no.”  It was the first time Buffy had ever heard Spike speak in quite that way before; in tones that, slowed down and less clipped, sounded almost…

Almost like Giles, and wow.  Was that what William had sounded like, once upon a time? 

Clearly he was really, really moved by this woman’s sacrifice.  And just as clearly, he deeply did not want to have to do this.  Especially not in front of an audience composed of her son, and, just…

But if he was going to do it again someday—and if he was going to survive this place, he would need to do it again someday—then they would need witnesses.  Witnesses to attest that he didn’t harm her.  Witnesses that everything had gone well.  And Spike knew that as well as Buffy did, for he in no way asked anyone to leave, or be shuffled off to their rooms… and jeez.  For him this must almost feel like fucking in public, with an audience…

And, oh man.  It just occurred to Buffy right in that moment that…  How bad was this going to hurt Joan?  Because without the sex part, was he going to be able to make it feel any less than painful?  Or…

/God, is he going to…  Can you thrall people, Spike?/  Did he even know how?  She’d never asked.  Though, if he did, why he’d never tried it on her in his more desperate days as a way to win her over was beyond her.

“Could… one of you blokes, ah, walk over to the side a bit with Dustin, please?” he asked, and his voice was a rusty, hoarse, as if he hadn’t used it in a very long time. 

“Go ahead, baby.  Go with Ricki.  Over there, to the other side of the room.  I don’t want you to watch…” 

“But I wanna watch, Mom…”

“Don’t!  Don’t argue with me, Dustin!  Just… go, okay?”

“Aw, man…”

“C’mon, Dusty, let’s just…”  Ricki caught him by the shoulder and tugged him away, eyeing Spike warily and looking completely dubious about all of this.

“Oh, Jesus,” the complainer from earlier groaned.  “Don’t do it, Joan; seriously…”

Buffy really kind of wanted to get him out of here.  That, or gag him.  Joan ignored him though, eyes on Spike.  “Will it hurt?”

Spike sighed heavily and squatted in front of her, much as he had done when talking to her son.  “I’ll be as gentle about it as I know how to be, mum.  You have my word on that.  And…  To be honest, there are some blighters as pay for the privilege, back where we all come from… so it can feel good.  Same as some folks get to likin’ the feeling of gettin’ a tattoo or a piercing an’ that, yeah?  Dunno how you are with that sort of thing, but…  I’ll do my best to make it tolerable for you.”

Buffy supposed that could have sent it either way.  Their subject could have fled for the hills right then, depending on how she felt about needles and stuff like that.  But they must have gotten a winner, for Joan looked, if anything, a little thoughtful as she lifted her arm, pushed up one tattered sleeve to reveal a tattoo across the back of one bony wrist.  Ran two forefingers over the faded pattern of leaves and some smudged lettering.  “Have three tattoos.  Would have gotten more, but after Dusty…”  She shrugged, her entire pose seeming to relax a hair.  “I felt kind of like it was… weird to keep getting ‘em, now I’m a mom.  But I still get the itch sometimes.  And getting poked never bugged me the way it bugs some people, so…”  When she turned her gaze back to Spike she was now clear-eyed and as ready as she would ever be.  “Am I gonna get hooked on this?” she asked candidly.

/She’s not dumb/ Buffy thought grimly.  /Just don’t get hooked on my guy, ‘cause he’s the only vamp around handing out bites that don’t come with the fatal… and you’re not gonna be in Beverly Hills that long./  Picking up a bitee addiction here in Hell-A might end with a very quick case of dead, whereas back in good old LA it might just end with a case of perma-anemia. 

 “I’ll try to keep it… impersonal,” Spike answered quietly.  Buffy had to admit he was doing an admirable job of that so far, what with his whole hands-off approach.  God knew he had to be dying for a nip by now, what with a willing person on offer who was reasonably attractive, not wounded or smelling like death, relatively decently-nourished…  And yet here he was, finding the delicate balance between grr and pleasant.  Being practically gentlemanly, so as not to scare off the donor, without turning on too much of the ridiculous charm she knew he had in abundance and which would make the experience really just A-OK for Joan here—hell, they both knew he could quite easily make the woman forget her own name doing this, probably without even skirting too far over the boundaries into the land of cheating—but he also didn’t want to make enough of an impression to end up with yet another woman dangling off his butt at every turn, either.  Much less one with an eleven-year-old kid in tow who was already infatuated with vamps.

Buffy had to admit that she hadn’t thought of the whole blood-ho wrinkle, though.  What if they found some feeder people for Spike who couldn’t get enough, wouldn’t leave him alone…  /Or, you know, what if someone developed a one-sided blood-bond with him and got all… moony?  Or does it even work that way if there’s no sex?  Or is it all about his intent when he does it, or…/

Too many unknowns, and she winced, clenching her fingers tighter into her palms.  /You ask him, later, how it works.  And then you deal.  Because these are the perils of keeping your vamp fed, Buffy, so deal with it.  You either navigate the deep, swirly waters of jealousy, or you help him cope with becoming a killer again… or he starves./  And since she knew neither of them could handle options B or C…

Option A it was. 

“So…  How do you want to, um, do this?” Joan asked almost conversationally, but with nervousness showing through her voice and with jitters in her hands. 

Moment of truth.  Spike exhaled uselessly and, with a nod, pushed himself to his feet and made a gesture that could almost be classified as courtly, in the direction of the nearest chair.  “Probably best if I do it from behind, so you don’t have to look at me, yeah?”

/So, obviously no thralling up in here, then./  Buffy wasn’t sure why that made her feel so much better. 

Joan gave a little shudder as she headed in the direction indicated.  “Do you, um, have to make that… face?”

Buffy held in the snort with considerable effort.  /If he wants the teeth to work, yeah./  The amount of facial infrastructure required to support the entire bloodletting process was kind of profound.  Actually, the whole vampire anatomy thing was one of the few parts of her ‘Vampyre’ lessons she had really paid attention to in her less dedicated high school years.  She was glad of it now, of course, since all those anatomy lessons had paid off in the end… if in a rather more intimate fashion than she had ever imagined at fifteen or sixteen. 

She had been spurred on to much deeper research in the general vicinity of her seventeenth birthday.  Had gone even further down said research rabbit-hole on that one subject when she was twenty.  Giles would have been thoroughly impressed at how good a student she had become by that point, had he still been around.  Of course, he would have been deeply disappointed at the reason behind her very anxious, personal motivations, but…  There it was. 

“You won’t have to see it, mum,” Spike was saying as he stepped behind the chair, and he couldn’t help it now.  As he slipped into game face he had begun to move like a predator; also very clearly he couldn’t look at Buffy.  And in that moment she knew why he had chosen that particular chair for his donor.  Because when he took what he needed, his back would also be to her

He would not have to see her watching him feed. 

She wanted to turn away, so deep was his shame over this.  Badly wanted to give him that much privacy, though part of her was unsure why he needed it, now, at this point in their relationship.  Was it because of the intimacy of an act that had become very much their own now being shared, perforce, with another?  Or because he simply did not like her to see him doing this; this parody of the hunt, in her face while knowing that deep inside it still must trigger her instinct to stake him, save the woman in the chair? 

It didn’t though.  Only on the deepest possible level did she feel the vamp-tingle, watching him move; when she saw him tilt and slide in that particular way that bespoke danger.  But it was only from a place so primitive that she almost failed to notice it; in part because she trusted him utterly to control his thirst, and in part because… God.  It was hard.  Harder than she had thought it would be to watch him do this to someone else.  And yes, she badly wanted him to do it.  Badly needed him to, so he could be alright.  

But, oh my God, she wanted to punch through a wall right now, it hurt so badly to know that she couldn’t give him enough to make this fucking unnecessary. 

Still, she couldn’t turn away.  Not when she knew to do so would only be to confirm all of it to him.  That she denied his basic right to live.  To do what he needed to do to survive.  That she felt he was wrong to do it.  That she felt he was somehow cheating by taking what he needed.  She wanted to watch, if it meant supporting him.

And yet, she had to somehow signal that by her watching she was not the Slayer right now, was not lying in wait to save him from himself.  That she never once believed, on any level, that he was an evil predator who might slip up at any moment, or that she might need to jump in and relieve him of his access to this woman. 

So she did the one thing she could think of.  She moved to one side… and took a seat. 

And felt him relax.

/Oh.  Oh, God./  Had he really thought that she…  /Oh, Spike.  No matter how hungry you are, I know you’ll never…/ 

“I’m gonna move your hair, Joan,” he murmured now to the woman on the chair.  Joan nodded, eyes closed and hands tightly clenched on her knees. 

“Think back to when you got your last tattoo, yeah?  What it felt like.  Think… what it’d feel like to get one here, on your neck.”  His fingers rose to stroke along the vein, and Buffy shivered, knowing exactly how that cool touch would feel, caressing lightly along skin protecting vulnerable vessels, raising gooseflesh and calling the anxious blood to rush to the surface to the tune of a more rapidly-beating heart. 

“That’s right.  Just there.”  He would be smelling her adrenaline now, a helpless response to the presence of a predator sweet-talking her from behind her lizard-brain.  His voice was becoming lower, more gravelly by the second, his lisp more and more pronounced as his fangs descended.

She saw him rake his nails a little harder over the area; dug her own nails deeper into her palms.  She knew he was trying his best to make it okay for Joan, but…  Goddamn it.  She really was going to punch something after this was over.  She needed a workout bag here, or…

“Just breathe, Joan, let the air flow in through your nose, out through your mouth.  Remember the burn when the needle comes…”

Joan’s hands were flexing now, in tune to the low, hypnotic murmurs of a predatory vampire singing songs of surrender, and God, would he just do it and be done?  It was like he was trying to work himself up to it or something.

It occurred to Buffy only then that that was exactly what he was trying to do, and a pang of almost perfect agony struck her heart.  /Oh, Spike; oh God…/ 

“That’s right; just like that.  Keep breathing…”

She could tell by the tone in his voice that he was reaching breaking point.  Clenched her own fists so hard she was pretty sure she had just drawn blood.  And heard Joan gasp, almost before she caught the movement of his head, dipping.

And then Joan’s hands were gripping her own thighs, just above the knee, and Spike was clinging to Joan’s shoulder with his left hand, the back of the chair with his right, and Buffy had to fight to control her own breathing, because she could feel him.  Feel the fight to control himself, his hand clamped so hard on the back of the chair that the upholstery ripped.  Feel the surge of desperate need, of incredible, crystalline perfection. A sense of almost ragged lust; of bright satiety just out of reach… and a moment of decision.  And then he was tearing himself away; turning, hunched and shuddering and incapable of anything other than holding himself statue-still so that he did not go back and finish. 

Shaking with him, Buffy forced herself to her feet.  Went to Joan, because if she touched Spike right now…  “Thank you,” she whispered quietly.

Joan was…  Okay, Buffy really didn’t need to see that look in the woman’s face.  Joan was kind of a mess right now.  She had tears standing in her eyes, and her hand was pressed to her neck, but it was clear that she was also ten kinds of aroused, a fine tremor running all along her body.  She shivered when Buffy entered her view, and her eyes, blinking away the moisture, unerringly found the marks Buffy never bothered to hide anymore just above the juncture of her own neck and shoulder.  “Do you…  Does he…”  Then she seemed to shake herself.  Swallowed hard and raggedly.  And sagged against the chair, breathing hard. 

“I’ll make sure they get you some extra food and water.  We might even be able to find you some reconstituted juice from the bar…”  Buffy really couldn’t trust herself to speak to anything more than the necessary logistics right now.  This woman had done her man a serious favor, and she would be charitable.  And not think.  Not even a little bit, about the price. 

“Can…”  Joan shook herself.  “I need a minute to get myself together,” she whispered.  “Without Dustin.”

She wouldn’t.  She couldn’t.  “I’ll let the staff know.”  She turned away before she could say or do anything she would regret.  Kept her back to the woman until she could breathe again.  “Thank you,” she managed again, softly.  And walked to Spike without another word. 

He straightened when she approached, pulling himself together in much the same way as Joan had.  “We should… get the concierge staff in here to tend to them…”

Buffy pulled in another deep breath, to steel herself.  And took his arm.  “We’ll send them in when we go out.  C’mon.”

He was still avoiding looking at her.  “Where’re we going?”  His voice came out rough, taut.

“Upstairs.”  She could literally smell his arousal.  It was almost as strong as his guilt, written across him loud as the shouting lines of self-denigration and inward-turning rage.

He went without further comment, the staff entering at his nod to go about their regularly scheduled duties.  They exited among the throng, made their way all the way upstairs without saying a word… and got to the other side of their suite door before Spike slammed it shut, hard and decisively enough to make her jump.  And was in her face, raging, nostrils flaring, arms slammed out, palms flat, to either side of her head.  “Bloody. Fucking. Christ, Buffy…”

“It worked, didn’t it?” she demanded, cutting him off ruthlessly, and slid a hand up to squeeze one already-healthier bicep.  “You got fed.”  If he thought he could shake her up doing this, after all their years of fighting as foreplay, he was straight-up stupid.  Besides; right now he needed to get off a lot more than he needed to fight.  He could yell at her later, or they could hit each other, or whatever.  After. 

His eyes flashed on hers, a furious sapphire so dark they were almost black, and burning with need.  Well.  First things first.  She moved her hands to his belt. 

And was more than a little surprised when he jerked away like she had burned him.  “What the bloody fuck do you think you’re doing, you crazy bint?”

It stung her into words she’d probably avoid any other time.  “What the hell do you think, you idiot?  I’m finishing what you started downstairs!”

It was the wrong thing to say.  He froze, eyes turning cold as ice… and punched the door so hard he put a hole in it before he stalked away. 

Okay, she supposed if he really wanted to fight first she could get down with that too.  It appeared she had her own dumb things to scream into the world of the inevitable before they could get past this.  Might as well get the hurting each other part over with before they moved on to the healing each other portion of festivities.  “So, are we going to do this?” she asked his back, almost calmly.

“Do what, Buffy?” he breathed, and to her surprise he just sounded tired.  He was standing a little across the room from her; head hanging down, looking defeated.  “I’m so brassed off at you I can’t even…”

“And I’m mad to.  Obviously that was no fun for me either…”

He whirled, all helpless rage once more.  “Then why the bloody hell did you make me do it?” he roared.

“Because I don’t want you to waste away, you stupid asshole!” she shrieked back.  “Because I fucking love you, okay?”

“Well, you have a really sodding hideous way of showing it, peddling me off to whatever bleeding wench comes along waving her neck about…”

/Oh, are you serious!/  “You incredible dick!  You were starving to death!”

“I could do for another month, easy…”

“You’re such a goddamn liar!  You were barely holding on and you know it.  I could knock you on your ass…”

“I’ll show you knock you on your…”  He started for her. 

She laughed in his face.  “Yeah.  Now you will.  Now you’ve eaten.  What the hell is wrong with you?  You’ve fed on me how many times since we got here?  What; are you so scared I’m going to leave you if I see you do what you’re made to do, even after…”

He stopped mid-stalk, fists clenched.  “Yeah,” he said simply.

“What?”  It came out at high volume still, because she hadn’t yet modulated to his lower frequency. 

“I’m scared to death that you’ll leave once you remember what I really am, Buffy.”

He stood there, fully clothed and naked as she had ever seen him, and oh.  Oh, God.  What the hell had she done to him for all those years in Sunnydale?  “Spike,” she whispered, shaken to her core, “don’t you know by now that I’m not going anywhere?”

“Not when…”  He shook his head, looking broken.  She thought she saw a suspicious wetness peeping through around the inside edges of kohl-black eyes; the soft inside the hard.  “What we do is… what we do.  Special dispensation from my own personal goddess.  But it’s only us.”  His voice ground down to a grating whisper.  “You put me between the rock and the hard place today; between the hammer and the bloody anvil.”  His shoulders hunched again in memory.  “Had to make it alright for her.  Had to let you see me do it.  Had to know that you were back there, watchin’.  Any moment, you might realize… what I am.  Might remember… I’ve a killer in me.  Might leave.  And I’m…  I can’t…”

/No, no, no…/  “Spike,” she whispered, starting forward.  Caught his arms in her bloodied hands.  Held tight.  “Do you see me going anywhere?”

He refused to look her in the eye. 

/Oh, hell./  “Yeah,” she whispered.  “It was hard for me to watch.  But not because I was afraid you’d go too far, and not because I was worried about you losing control.”  She opened her hands then, let him see the bloody row of crescents in her palms.  “Because I know you had to make it alright for her, and I knew that I had to share you, even that much.  Because I can’t give you enough to keep you going, and that makes me feel so inadequate that I wanted to break the world.  Still do, and if I had a heavy bag in this place I’d be in there working it for an hour.  But it’s not because of what you need to do.  It’s because of how you need to do it.”  She shook it off, and let him see her do it.  “I’m a big girl.  I’ll deal.”

His eyes had lifted to meet hers somewhere along about the middle of this little confession, wide with shocked surmise.  “I can stick to blokes, you know.  If it makes it easier for you.  I don’t give a toss if it makes ‘em uncomfortable if I give them a stiffy, doin’ what the demon does natural, yeah, long as I get fed.  If it was me touchin’ the bird that bothered you…”

Buffy shook her head again, briskly, and choked back the lump in her throat.  Muscled back the tears that threatened.  “I highly doubt we can afford to be choosy in this place.  You take whoever offers, or I’ll have your ears.”

He was glowing again, now, eyes bright and shining on hers.  “You’re a wonder, Buffy.”

“I’m yours,” she answered simply.  “I kinda thought you would’ve picked that up by now.  And you’re mine, so I’m gonna take care of you…”  She grunted in surprise when she found herself back against the door. 

“Say it again.” 

She smirked a little at him, glad they were back on an even keel.  “Which part?” she teased.

His eyes blazed on hers, a perfect mix of distraught and pleading.  “Don’t be like that, damn you.  Just say it.”

“What?” she asked innocently.  “That you’re mine?”  He leaned closer into her face, a tiny growl hovering in his throat.  “Or that I’m yours?”

All the fight went out of him.  Still clinging to her shirt, his head dropped to hers, turned a little, and she felt him tremble.  “Oh, Christ, Buffy…”

“Are you going to let me take care of you now?  Because I know you still have that little leftover problem…”  Little might be the wrong description, judging from what she could feel of him pressing into her belly. 

He was kind of a mess. 

Her suggestion was taken favorably, judging by the way he shivered against her.  “I’m not gonna last long, luv,” he warned quietly.

“That’s okay.  I’m not going anywhere.”  God knew he’d done this for her enough times without reciprocation over the course of their time together.  She owed him a freebie on credit without the slightest concern that he would do anything less than pay very gleefully, in full and with interest, the immediate soonest he could possibly manage it. 

His capitulation was made evident by the sudden relaxation of his body against her own.  It was all she needed, and without another word she turned him; pushed him firmly against the door.  Slid her hands up under his shirt to touch his abs; an exploratory gesture.  Found with relief that they were coming back full force, already, just with that, which…  God that was nice.  And alarming, the ebb and flow of his muscles with every meal.  He was on the ragged edge of his intake.  They needed to get him on a better diet, stat.  Slipped from thence down to undo his half-threaded belt.  The pants undone next and without further ado, while he breathed hard above her, through his nose, fingers clinging to the cracked wood of the door like it was a lifeline. 

She had the jeans down and her hand on him before he could rock into her grip; stilled him with a quick squeeze that made him groan.  “Shh.”

“Bloody fuck.”

“I’m right here.”

“You’re a bloody tease, is what you are.”

She shook her head, eyes on him.  Knelt.  “No.”  And took him in her mouth.

He was almost as warm as life right now, so soon after feeding, which was… bizarre.  He had been the last lover she’d had, and was again, and she was just simply not used to humans anymore.  Vampire was her norm for a lover; but vampire with an unnatural diet.  She realized now there were parts to being with a vamp that she had never considered, having spent all her intimate moments with two such who had chosen or been lowered to drinking garbage warmed up in a microwave, if not straight from a fridge; who had learned to tolerate that which was, in comparison to their normal diet, no doubt like eating cold, coagulated fast food leftovers that had sat open and stale on the counter for a week.

She had never felt the effects of a vampire on his true diet... or at least, not when she had been capable, of late, of paying the remotest bit of attention.  Had never realized what it did to his body, his libido.  Spike was warm, turgid, harder than she had ever seen him… and scrabbling at the door for purchase with every flick of her tongue.  She had also never heard sounds like that from him before.  Fierce, growling, keening like a wild animal, his hips making abortive thrusts that had a snapping wildness to them that she could tell were held in check only for her sake, and…

He wasn’t kidding that he wouldn’t be able to wait this time.  Fascinated, she flattened her tongue on his frenum, tugged his foreskin down hard… and sucked.

He gave a massive jerk, throbbed like he was about to die or something, and came with an abrupt roar that shocked even her.  And his fingers punched right through the wood of the door. 

“Fuck!” he bellowed… and to her stunned amazement he had her up by her shoulders before she had even swallowed; whirled them around, was pushing her back against the panel.  Was in front of her, fingers flying, tearing at her pants like there was literally no tomorrow. 

“Spike, I just got these…” she protested weakly… but it was too late.  The thin leather was shredded.  Gone.  Dead, and her underwear were shoved aside, probably torn, like she had many of those to spare in this place… and she barely noticed the sharp weals on her hips from the abrupt pressure because he already had his mouth on her, her partially-clad leg over his shoulder, and she didn’t even know what was happening anymore.  Fumbled with her hand for the doorknob to try to keep her balance, because he was moving so hard in her he was rocking her whole body, and it was impossibly difficult to stand up, and her head was whirling, oh god!

He was making the most incredibly animalistic, feral sounds, somewhere down there below, where they rumbled through her entire being; up through her clit and inside her till they seemed to touch her somewhere in maybe her solar plexus?  And she was going to disintegrate, she was going to fall apart; and her free hand was on his head, just trying to keep her balance, but she wasn’t going to be able to…  “Spike, please,” she breathed, “get me down onto the floor, or I’m going to fall when I come.”

He moved, so fast again she couldn’t quite follow it, and she was on her back on the carpet in front of the door.  Her head would have bounced, but somehow he had a hand up there to cradle it; just briefly, but then he was under her hips again, and he was back to making those sounds, and okay, he was pretty much one hundred percent inarticulate demon right now, and she was pretty much one hundred percent on board with that as long as he…  As long as he kept…  Doing…  /Oh God…/  That!

“Just, yes, just keep…”  Things inside her were already fluttering, and for the record, the best part about having a vampire for a lover was… they didn’t have to come up for air.  “Don’t stop…”

He wasn’t listening at all.  Thank god he knew her, because he was captain instinct right now, a ravenous animal who just happened to know exactly how to get her off, and she was going to fall apart.  She needed something to hold on to, needed something to cling to…  And she didn’t want to go back to who they had been before; before the lovemaking and before they’d stopped using each other, but he was driving her there as surely as body memory, his voice echoing in her head while everything inside her started to thrum and shine.  ‘No, it’s your calling.  You gave me a run for my money, pet.’  And the fluttering was hovering on the verge of clenching already, and her legs were quivering with the need to clamp around him so hard it hurt, and her fingers ached to dig into him with everything she had, and did it really matter if they went back there as long as she wasn’t using him?  He seemed to want it.  His demon had always liked that she could join him there, and if…

He growled, loud against her clit, his tongue doing that thing that always drove her right over the edge, and—okay, let’s not be shy—she screamed a little at the vibration of it.  And lost everything.  Sitting up, her nails dug in, tearing hard into the material of his torn shirt.  And through. 

He roared again; she thought her name.  And plunged his fingers hard into her while his tongue drove against that spot, again and again, until the world went black and she unraveled. 

She came back to herself with her legs clamped tight around his head and shoulder, one arm still trapped against her so that his fingers could stay safely where they were for the remainder of recorded time, and if he was a human he’d be suffocated right now.  Instead he was just…

Laughing.  “Bleeding Christ, Buffy, I love you.”

It took a few seriously firm instructions to her legs before she could convince them it was a good idea to let him go.  They unwound, albeit reluctantly, and he sat up, though he kept his digits where they belonged, because he knew what was good for him.  Leaned over a little on his occupied elbow, curling his tongue behind his teeth, face gleaming with moisture.  And lightly touched her clit with his index finger and a little interrogatory sound.

She made an ‘eep!’ noise and tried an abortive kick in his general direction that made him chuckle.  “Good.  Saw to you proper, then.”

“You touch me again for at least twenty minutes and I’ll kill you.”

Grinning, he laid his head down safely in the cup of her pelvis and, with exquisite gentleness, extricated his fingers, to the tune of her regretful sound, then snugged both hands happily under her ass.  “Mmmm.  Worse ways to die, pet.”

“Hm.”  She shifted a little to get her head away from the door—her neck was kind of at a weird angle—and frowned.  “Since when did you start talking again?”

“Demon got what he wanted.  Sent him back to beddy-bye.”  His lips were still really uncomfortably close to places that weren’t really ready for lips yet.

Best to keep him talking so he didn’t get any funny ideas.  “Is it always like that after you’ve… fed?”

He just sort of hummed against her, which was really just totally unfair, and he needed to get away from some parts of her right now if he was going to be making noises like that, or she really was going to have to kick him.  She lifted her head, which took some serious effort, preparatory to yanking his head up a little further up toward her belly-ish…  Which was when she saw his shoulder blades, his neck, and the long red gouges peering out from between the rents she’d put in his shirt.  And, yeah, they were already healing because he’d had blood; human blood, which he had so not been afforded way back when they first started this, and obviously there was a big difference in his healing factor, but that just highlighted what she had done to him before, when he hadn’t been able to heal as easily. 

And she saw it all in her mind’s eye again; those dozens of gouges and tears as she’d put in him when they’d broken a house the first time they were together and then just left him there, in the sun, unable to move or heal till nightfall.  And then done it again and again; bruised and torn and beaten him before she could take her pleasure, because that meant that she was justified in having what she wanted; because she’d put him in his place first, by letting him know he was a thing.  Not a person, definitely not worthy, even though he had been the only one who had ever

Shame flooded her as she reached out with a shaking hand to touch one of the gouges.  “I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have…”

Catching her hand he chuckled roughly.  Pulled her fingers over to his lips and kissed the blood away, lifting up from her crotch to grin at her and looking thoroughly sated.  “Course you should’ve.  Bleeding fuck, Buffy, that was fantastic.”  He rolled over on his back so that the back of his head was now cradled in the cup of her pelvis and sighed.  “Christ, I need a fag.”  Clearly completely unaware of her descent into self-disgust he rolled away and limped out of his jeans, dug in them for a moment and pulled out his most recent lighter and whatever cigarettes he’d managed to scrounge.  He then leaned over, holding out his hand to her. 

She caught it, let herself be drawn to her feet.  Drew her fingers up, lingered over the already-fading scratches on his shoulder. 

He caught her hand again.  Pulled it up, kissed her fingertips once more; one at a time, slowly, eyes focused on hers to the exclusion of all else.  “Sodding fantastic,” he told her firmly.

She let out a breath.  “Okay.”

“C’mon, luv.”  He gave her a tug toward the balcony, and she followed readily enough; out to stand together on the wide deck.  There were chaise lounges and things, but they stood in silence instead, him half-naked in her in her tattered remnants of clothes, and watched as the endless sunset finally fell off the teeter-totter into night here in hell.  And finally, she asked the question that had plagued her mind for much of the evening. 

“Why didn’t you just thrall her?”

He remained quiet for a long moment.  “‘S not one of my gifts, Buffy, to do the whole dog and pony show.  Could probably have thrummed her into a bit of a stupor—more than I did to get her comfortable, any road—but then she’d go all dependent on me.  Would want to keep coming back.”

That answered that.  “So... you can.”

“‘M old enough, yeah.  Can do it, a bit.”  He played a little with his cigarettes, let out a tiny snort.  He did that a lot, she noticed.  Sighed, snorted, made all these little exhalations that were probably holdovers or affectations from his human life.  She wondered if he did them more around her than around other vamps.  Weird thought.  “Did do, in a way, guess you could say.  To calm her.  But…”

“That… humming noise?”

“Heard it, did you?”

She looked away a little.  “It sounded…”  Predatory wasn’t even the right word.  Subsonic.  “Instinctive?”  Which begged the question.  “Why haven’t you ever done that… with me, if it’s…  I mean, if it’s not…”

A faint smirk touched his lips in the lowering light; beautiful and mysterious.  “Have done.  You’ve heard me purrin’ along to your heartbeat, yeah?”

God yes, she had.  Usually when she was half-asleep, or about to come.  It was… sexy as hell, actually, in a strangely primitive way; like he was talking to a part of her brain that was older than words.

“Calms you down, innit, if you’re anxious, or brassed off?”

/Oh./  “But that’s not…”  She would know. 

He snorted again, this time darkly.  “Wouldn’t do that, and you know it.”

It was all so confusing.  “So… if you can… then why didn’t you ever do it to me, you know; before?  We know I’m not immune, if Dracula could thrall me.  And you wanted me.  Wanted me to tell you… how I really felt, later.  And I always turned you down…”

He stared at her through the gloaming as if she had lost her damn mind.  “I wanted you, Buffy.  Not a bloody zombie.”  Tugged out his as-yet-unlit cigarette to speak more clearly.  “If I wanted you to be the bloody bot, I’d’ve gone looking for that git and had him build me another.”  His face twisted a little.  “Not that it would’ve likely worked, since at best all I can do is quiet a part of the mind a bit.  Like I said; the rest isn’t one of my gifts.  Even with us bonded, you’re too strong-willed for it to do much to you than get you a bit relaxed; and that only when you’re willing.  But then…”  He shrugged fatalistically.  “Once you’d kissed me and I knew what the real thing was like…”  His eyes found hers, firm and frank.  “Why the bloody hell would I want anything but all of you?  No matter what the cost?”

Warmth flowed through her.  It was just another advantage he might have had over her that he had never employed, no matter how desperate he had become, no matter how twisted the power differential had lain between them.  No matter how much he might have wanted to even the score between them, put them on level ground.  Because he was an honorable man, and lived the very essence of fair play.  Even when the other party did no such thing, and God, she didn’t deserve him.  /But I’m sure the hell gonna try./ 

She slipped her hand into his.  Held on tight as the sun-moon dyad turned to slivers before them, and the sounds began outside.  And waited.  Waited for the night.  It had been theirs, for a lot longer than these days here had been.  Their time, in a way, if only because they had never had to share it with anyone else. 

Though, actually, when she thought about it, it was the calm before the storm, when the night was still coming on, when they had ever met.  Before the hunt, with no one else around.  Now, when the sun was setting, and he could leave the shadows and step out into the dusk.  Wait with her for the light to disappear completely so that she could join him.  They had worked together after… but they had always met before, in the twilight before darkness fell.

The cool hand in hers twitched before it slipped away.  Spike finally lit up as the last light disappeared from the sky, moon and sun vanishing in tandem so that only the tiny flame lit his face, made the little green Bic glow.  So weird to see him using something that wasn’t the Zippo, but that had long since run out of fuel, and now sat in a place of permanent worship, like a shrine, on the nightstand. 

The Bic flickered out, leaving behind only the coal-bright light at the end of his cigarette, and the fragrance of the burning tobacco; familiar as the smell of his body.  In the distance, in the last fringes of rusty orange light, bat-winged, demonic monstrosities winged across the fading horizon and painted the night dark and starless; a silent, lightless oven.

His hand found hers once more in the stillness.  She folded hers into his, and they stood together in the pitch black, blocking out the sounds they could not help…

And found comfort in one another.

***




Tell you what; these two know how to rough and tumble... and how to rough and tumble.  They've just revised some rules in the contact sport game of late.  *g*

Chapter Text

It was becoming a bit of a problem, this business of their notoriety spreading about the township.  It appeared thus far that the rumors of their general benevolence were mostly circulating through human channels… but a few of the more cuddly demons were starting to get wind of there being a relatively magnanimous demon-lord or two thereabouts who might look kindly on types who didn’t necessarily do any useful mayhem or weren’t skilled in maiming the peasantry.  Not necessarily the best reputation to have in the wider political world, though the rumors seemed to get continually lost in the shuffle.  Lords were rising and falling all over the damned city at the drop of hat in petty little wars for territory, of attrition over unmentionable slights, whole sodding place was at sixes and sevens most of the time. 

In comparison, Beverly Hills was sitting fairly pretty, what with their ongoing, stable management.  One coup and one alone was a some damned good bragging rights, to be right honest about it, and it said something about their strength and cohesiveness that they had managed to stay on top of their territory for so long without being overthrown from within or overtaken from without.

That fact alone made them seem powerful, and warned off the little kinglets passing land back and forth as Los Angeles proper continually changed hands outside their borders.  Everyone was caught up in their own struggles, for the most part.  Meanwhile, one might consider it a nice perk to start seeing the ‘chattel’ flocking toward them.  Any rate, saved some effort in the whole coordinating roundups portion of festivities, and made the jittery castoffs a bit easier when it came to convincing them that he wasn’t likely to rip out their throats for them when Buffy went about recruiting blood donors for him—Christ, that was a twist, yeah?—but still it made him anxious as bleeding hell that they were becoming known as a bloody Olly-Olly-In-Free.

Luckily, they weren’t the only ones with that kind of reputation.  Rumor had it a green demon with the hell of a singing voice had taken up residence over by Silver Lake and was welcoming just about anyone willing to behave in a cooperative fashion.  /Should’ve known Greenie would land on his feet./  The poofter was a damn genius at getting folk to work together, witchy peace spells or no, and his open-door policy was doing the trick right now of distracting attention away from Illyria-with-Spike-and-an-undercover-Buffy’s slightly more clandestine operation here in Beverly Hills.

The clock was ticking, though.  They might need to start making some territorial moves or summat, and the very thought put Spike right off his blood.  Christ, he was having enough trouble managing the territory he had, what with Fred Sonja in a twist half the time and either huddling upstairs with her bleedin’ corpse, or switching from girl to Blue Meanie and back again without warning four, five times a week—what the bloody hell was he going to do if she ever did it in the middle of a parlay with one of these other tossers holding territory round the way?—and dealing with his ever more restive lot of chits, who were becoming more and more fractious by the day since his Slayer’s arrival.

Christ; he loved having Buffy here.  God alone knew what kind of mess he’d be in by now without her about.  Half-starved by now, most like, or half-mad and most of a demon again.  Hell; probably gone frig with Maria or summat just to keep the damn thing busy so he could focus on the business at hand.  That, or huddled up in the basement eating rats in secret and wondering where all his barely-scrabbled-together power and influence had gone.  Tough to save face in a demon dimension once everyone else found out you had a hitch in your ability to eat like a demon.  He’d lose half his court in a day, Old One or no Old One.  And once the other lords got wind of what a wanker he’d become…

Bloody hell. 

He’d never been more brassed off against Buffy in his long unlife as when she’d forced him to take a nip from that woman, Joan, with her kid looking on.  But Christ; feeling life flowing into him again, straight from a beating heart, without any other distractions…

He’d fucking forgotten, it had been so bleeding long.  Forgotten what it could be like to feel his fingers come alive; to feel awake to his toes.  To feel the power rush through his body, enlivening every muscle, bringing him to roaring goodwill and the sense of the enormous power he could bring to bear with the simple flexing of his fingers or the snap of his shoulders.  Or hips.  Bloody fuck.

When it was with Buffy it was to be expected.  After all, that was Slayer blood.  And, caught up as it was in the midst of sex and mating and all that, it was different.  Changed.  Not about the feed at all, it was turned to something both bigger, and muted; a rush like nothing else and yet softened by what they shared into an emotional high that confused him into a state of rest.  It distracted, focused, made the rush simmer, last longer. 

But then, taking what he needed from Buffy; it was never about getting himself set right in that way.  It was about them, first; about the bonding.  Getting himself topped off was a damned nice side-benefit, but that was by far the more secondary matter. 

Of course, if he wasn’t taking her blood, it would have long since rendered the whole sodding thing moot, since having her blood was the reason he had her bond as well… but hell if he was about to start making human thralls out of any of these wankers he fed from otherwise.  They were food, if he was gentle about it these days.  And they were different altogether anyway.

The human feed…  It hit fast, died quick.  It was standard.  And, without sex it was unmasked.  He was able to remain suspended in the moment without distraction, feel the sensations and the primal insanity of blood flowing down his throat and all the rest of it.  There were no emotions, only sensations. 

The sex…  That came after.  Which was a whole other reward; not to mention, Christ, being inside Buffy during the high, cumming in her while he came down, was…

Fucking, bloody Christ.  That was like nothing he had ever experienced in his century and a quarter on Earth.  Nothing at all like fucking Dru while they both came down from the hunt, even.  Because now, with Buffy looking at him the way she did anymore—not even as if he wasn’t a monster, but as if she knew his monster, and didn’t care!  As if she loved his monster, even!—and holding him safe while he lost himself, and joining him with her heat, cumming around him while he came undone…

Christ; a man could dust happily in that moment and to sodding hell with any other consideration.

There was something truly bizarre about this dimension.  He and Buffy made love now, as often as they fucked.  Fucked instead of fought.  Fought… and got past it same day, and went on like there was nothing about it.  Sparred and fucked like a couple of laughing children.  She brought him sodding blood donors.  The goddamned Slayer!  They spent every ‘night’ together—every bleeding one, like clockwork—talking like they had those few precious weeks in his crypt before everything had gone to hell, or like they had down in the basement at Revello; getting to know one another all over again, and Christ, it was more precious to him than the century he had spent with his sire.  But it all seemed like some kind of topsy-turvy dream. 

This couldn’t be real, could it?  Him being the bloody leader, up there on a throne like a tosser next to the Smurf, acting like he knew what the buggering hell he was doing, with Buffy, of all people, pretending to be his cute little human piece of ass and private bloodbag and looking as vapid as the cheerleader she had used to be… when they both knew that fifteen minutes before she had had him tied to the headboard upstairs and had just rogered him within an inch of his life while he’d begged for more.  

Her using the bonds on him; that had been a right revelation.  Not that she hadn’t held him down before, with all her unbelievable, mind-melting strength.  Had held him helpless any number of times while she had her way with him; but she had never stooped to actual bonds before now, no matter how he had yearned to submit himself to her in that way.  She had let herself go with him in that fashion a time or two, and reveled in the loss of control (after, of course, well establishing that she wasn’t in any way his and that it was entirely a fit of temporary insanity).  But the other way about?  It had been a freedom she had never permitted herself before things had changed between them; he knew because she hadn’t wanted to claim him, and moreover hadn’t trusted herself not to go too far.  To hurt him too badly, or even to dust him while he was helpless, when he had never harmed her, chip or no; out of her own self-despite. 

But now…  Now she could give herself that leeway.  To render him all hers… and love him till he screamed and pleaded for her tender mercies.  And smile saucily at him all the while, and Christ, maybe he was in a coma?  Or maybe this was all some very elaborate dream.  The sort a person had when they were still suspended in a crystal amulet.  Though why he would first dream that he’d spent a bleedin’ year pandering to Angel in an evil sodding law firm was beyond his comprehension.

Through the bloody looking glass, if it wasn’t through the amulet and into Wonderland that way.  Any road, everything was bizarrely backward; almost as if he and Buffy had switched places in some ways.  Him, doing the leader bit—or trying to do it justice, at least—and her standing back just that much, offering him council.  It bothered him a bit, he didn’t mind saying.  Niggled at him more each day; unnerved him even, that she continued to hide her light under a bushel like this.  He worried it would dim her radiance somehow.  But when he brought it up all she’d say, with a little, mysterious smile, was that she was having “a nice vacation”, and that she was “proud of him”.

God knew she’d earned the former.  And as to the latter…  Christ, he hoped like hell he could continue to earn it in her eyes.  He might do, just perhaps, if she remained at his side to hold him up, guide him, jolly him along when he lost his way, his focus, got a bit overwhelmed, or just ran true to form and turned into an impatient git.  Even with the soul on to ride herd on his demon he had a tendency to prefer Alexander’s solution to Gordian problems.  Why not just slice through the sodding thing with the sharpest axe you could find and move right the bloody hell on?  You even had two ropes afterward instead of the one, if frayed and a bit shorter, maybe somewhat the worse for wear.

Buffy, though, had done what he was now doing since she was a sodding child, and knew how to keep ropes whole, how to patiently pick at complicated knots till they came apart.  And she had the patience for even a pillock like him, when he lost focus.  “I don’t know what the bloody fuck I’m doing, Slayer,” he’d told her just the other day in exasperation.  “You’d better not go anywhere, or I’ll lose my bleeding mind, yeah?  Just start guttin’ everybody to simplify things.” 

She’d merely smiled in response.  Even managed to look fond, or at least tolerant.  “No, you won’t.  Too messy.”

He’d snorted, darkly dismissive.  “Been cleaning up entrails m’whole life, pet.  Don’t even need a hose here.  Have minions.”

She’d merely favored him with little head-shake.  “That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”

He had, of course.  She’d meant for his resurgent conscience.  Bugger the thing.  It meant doing everything the long way ‘round.  Sod it all. 

Her soft voice had penetrated his bleak study.  “Anyway, you’re being a dope.  I’m not going anywhere, William.  After all, you didn’t.” 

It always took him a moment to get his nancy arse together whenever she called him by his given name.  Brought him to his sodding knees when she did it; especially now, without the bite of knowing it was a sop, and her leaving.  Nothing in it anymore saying he was only a man to her when she wasn’t using his body.  Now, when she said it, it meant he was always, all of him, wholly hers, and that she saw—and more than that, wanted—all of him; no matter whether she was asking him to fight or riding his cock or recognizing the part of him who might just as soon have to fight back an unmanly tide of emotion.  She didn’t hold that against him either, it seemed, and never hit him when he was down anymore, so that he was coming to trust that… he was safe to feel with her. 

Spike, she called him, when they were in a fight.  Her comrade-in-arms.  But William… 

Christ, when she called him that he thought sometimes he might fall down and worship her on the spot. 

At his blink of confusion, she’d expanded patiently.  “You were my councilor all that last year, when you had absolutely zero reason to stay…”

That assertion had earned her a disbelieving scoff. 

She’d laid a hand to his cheek.  “I’m just returning the favor.”

“That all, is it?”

“Well, that, and you’re really good in bed.  I’ve been pretty horny since a certain vamp stopped putting out sometime last year.”

Stung, he’d leaned away to eye her narrowly.  “Wasn’t aware you wanted me to put out, yeah?”

She’d shrugged.  “Yeah, well.  Maybe I wasn’t either.  By the time I got clear on that in my own head and figured out how to word about it, it was a little late, huh?”

/Bloody woman./  “Was a little slow on the uptake, too, maybe.  Though, to be fair, considerin’…”

She’d shrugged, dismissing it.  “I probably should have just let you in on some of my more vivid dreams about you.  It would’ve saved time.”

“Oh, yeah?”  He’d been fairly interested in that subject, to be sure. 

She’d gone down a whole other tack, though, looking strangely preoccupied.  “Not as vivid as the ones I had right before I came here to get you, though.  Those ones almost felt… Slayer-y.  The all-night-long, ‘actually felt like you were there trying to tell me something’ type of dream.  Really vivid in that… ‘really felt like you were there’ kind of way that isn’t…”  

She’d frowned then.  “You know, it’s weird.  I haven’t had a single Slayer dream since we came here.  They were coming thick as thieves right before, like something huge was building.  Dreams about a starless night sky with a single what-do-you-call-it; morning-star on the horizon, and one with just the sound of marching feet…  And the ones with you.  The Scourge, maybe, one of ‘em.  Don’t know about the other one.”  Eyes like forests, guileless on his.  “The third one’s obvious, but I thought with everything building—that feeling that stuff was coming—that I just really missed you, because that was basically all I was having; Slayer-dreams and dreams of you.”  She’d smiled at him, troubled but radiant; the kind of smile that tended to have him at her feet.  “Clearly I didn’t want to face another apocalypse without my left hand.” 

/Oh, Christ, Love…/

Her expression had turned troubled.  “But… I think sometimes they crossed, because the old dreams of you were mostly made up of memories, but the ones of you at the end there were more… image-y and symbol-y and less… physical, if that makes sense.”

Interesting, that, if in an entirely other way than the other.  Made him wonder if that might’ve been half the reason she’d come.  The chit was nothing if not driven by her sodding visions; though the thought that he might have ranked enough to star in any of the things, even fleetingly, was almost worrying. 

 “And now…  Just… nothing.”

“Yeah, well,” he’d temporized, “could be you’re blocked off here, yeah?  Dreams are a Powers deal, innit?  Like those soddin’ Visions they used to send to whoever was guidin’ Peaches around by the nose before…”

“Yeah; lucky him,” Buffy had murmured, and frowned petulantly.  “He’s part demon, but he didn’t have to have his own visions.  He just had to do the champion-y part.  Someone else got to have his visions for him and just hand over the instructions.  Because let me tell you; interpreting that Powers crap is no joke.”

It did beg the question, didn’t it.  “Maybe They thought he wasn’t up to the task.  Bit shaky sometimes, our boy Angel.”

“Mm.”

“Consider it a compliment?”

“Feh.”  She’d sat up straight in his lap for a moment, dislodging him from nuzzling into her palm.  “You know what?  Why didn’t I realize before now that I was part-demon when we heard about that Doyle guy who was getting visions for Angel?  Or at least when we found out about Cordelia needing to be part-demon to handle them?  I mean, it would’ve made things a lot easier for us if I’d’ve recognized that that meant I’m…”

Onerous thing, not to smirk at her.  Difficult in the extreme to be anything less than gentle in hindsight.  “You were a bit distracted along about then, pet.”

She’d eyed him in something like disbelief.  “You’re so chill sometimes about how I treated you that it completely defies description.”

“Tough to be brassed, luv, when you’re practically nesting with me now.  Makes every damn bit of it seem worth it in retrospect.”

“Masochist.”

“Yeah, well.  Puttin’ that aside…”

“Because you can’t deny it…”

They both knew he couldn’t.  “Nice break for you, any road, yeah, if They can’t find you here?  Bonus for being stuck in Hell and under the Partners’ thumbs an’ that.”

“Yeah, I guess.”  She’d turned in his arms to bury her face in his neck.  “As if this isn’t vacation enough.  I mean, no army to lead, nobody backtalking me all the time.”  Nuzzled him a little in a way that always made him sit up and take notice.  “Plenty of sex, somehow magically mostly angst-free for, like, the first time in my life; which, by the way, thank you…”

“No charge.”  His voice had gone a bit rough for a patch, there.

“No hellmouth…”

He’d snorted again, this time in disbelief, because was she really listing that as a plus when she was in one of the dimensions from which hellmouths issued their wee gifts? 

“You know what I mean.  It’s like we’re off the clock.  It’s already, what?  July or something, and no apocalypse…”

“We’re inside the bloody thing, Buffy.  It’s a great, thundering, ongoing, long-term, massive sodding apocalypse.”

“Yeah, well.  Best one I’ve ever had.  It’s like a summer in Borneo.”

Sometimes her blasé attitude could make even a vampire incredulous.  “You’ve been twisted by youthful abuses.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.”  She’d exhaled; a bitty little sigh that had pleasantly tickled his neck with her warm breath.  “But I mean it; this is like a vacation in a way.  Like… being human without the stress.”

“Alright, Love, you’re gonna have to explain that one to me.”

She’d lifted her head briefly to stare off into the distance, seeming vaguely troubled.  “I gave up a long time ago on thinking that being totally human would be any kind of blessing for me.  Knowing what I know, it would just make me crazy, not being able to help.  Losing my abilities once taught me that.” 

/Losing…/  When had she... 

“I’d just feel weak and helpless.”  Pressing away from him a tad, she’d met his eyes thoughtfully.  “Kinda like you were, I guess, with the chip, huh?”   

Alright, this was a story he needed to hear at some bloody point.  “Never any fun being diminished.”

“No,” she’d agreed pensively.  “Even being a little less with the speed-healing here is weird.  But here at least I’m not… I dunno; on-call?  I don’t have to freak, ‘cause I’m still me, I can handle myself if I need to; but no one knows me.  I’m not the only point-person, not even the leader for a change.  It’s… relaxing.”

He could sure the bloody hell see how it might be, after all she’d had to sodding do in her short life.  God knew he wasn’t finding the place all that relaxing from that standpoint, and he’d be stressed as hell if she weren’t here to offer advice, give a hand… and to assist with the tension relief, as it were, on a regular basis.  Which she had recently told him was only fair, since he had been her sounding board and personal masseuse for four months and change back in good old Sunnyhell once upon a time, and had remained the former, if not the latter, for the better part of that whole last year. 

What Red didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her about how very little her birthday gift had seen any use.  They gave each other back-rubs now, and no one missed the bitty, battery-operated massager.  Nor yet any other battery-operated item Buffy might have had tossed in any drawer back where she had been living, or so she assured him.  Nice to know one’s talents had always rated higher than the finest technology known to modern man.  Heh.

“I’m just one in a crowd; really this time.  Like what was promised with the whole Scythe spell, but that never really worked out according to advertising, ‘cause they still needed a general, and I was It.  But here…”

He’d stroked her hair, loving that this got to be even a tiny bit of heaven for her, in trade for having followed his worthless arse into hell.  Worth it, his taking on the whole bloody disaster of leading.  “You get to just be you.”  /I’ll take it on and keep it, Love.  Forever, if need be, if this is what it means for you.  You bloody well deserve it./

She’d nodded and lain her head against him once more.  “Yeah.  That.”  A little shrug, more seen than felt.  “Even though it feels weird for me, not to have the Visions, you know?  I’m so used to having them; to taking orders, I guess.  I’m not sure how to just… live my own life.” 

Spike’s heart had squeezed in agony for his love, so weighted down by such massive responsibility from such a young age.  Christ, had coming for him been the first thing she had ever done for her own reasons in…

Hell, when had Buffy ever done anything solely for her own preferences, her own comfort, her own heart; at least since sleeping with his sod of a grandsire had no doubt taught her never to take such a bleeding risk again?  /Fuck, when has she ever had that sodding luxury?  She’s had the whole goddamned world on her shoulders since she was a wee chit!/  Bloody hell, no wonder she was fighting so damnably hard to own her choice to come, no matter what way it had turned out. 

“I feel… disconnected,” she’d gone on.  “Like I’m flying blind.”  And she’d lifted her head abruptly to regard him with candid intent.  “Is this what it’s like to have normal dreams?”

The question had caught him unawares, caused him to eye her in surprise.  “Wouldn’t know, would I, Slayer?  Don’t reckon a vamp has what counts as normal dreams, yeah?”  At her startled look, he’d shrugged slightly.  “Don’t rightly recall what my human dreams were like…”

“You think they’re so different?”  Open curiosity was the watchword of the day.

He’d lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug, since god knew he had no real basis for comparison anymore.  As he’d indicated, he had no real recollection of what his dreams had been like before his siring.  It had, after all, been a bloody century and more behind him; another life, another consciousness, another way of processing the world and everything in it.

“What’re vamp dreams like?” she’d inquired, clearly diverted. 

/Oh, bloody hell…/  “Sensations, yeah?  Urges.  All sex and blood and violence and the lot.  Course, they changed a bit when I got the soul back in charge, innit?  Less wild sometimes, more disjointed and emotional…  Less sex and more symbolism…”

“Oh, yeah?”  She’d sounded frankly interested at this point, if a bit amused.  Which made sense, he supposed, since putting them on a continuum from the earthbound demon he’d been with his wholly physical concerns, to the human emotional dreamscape, to her demon-gifted Slayer dreams made it sound as if humanity was some sort of way-station in between two types of demonkind, somehow, which to be blunt about it was odd as hell.

He’d caught the instigating expression a bit too late to see the danger he was in.  “You have a lot of sex dreams?”

/Oh, sod off, Slayer./  “The demon bit of me does.”  And the less said about that, the better.

“Hm.  Any main stars?” she’d asked, almost coquettishly. 

/Hell./  “No need to fish about, pet.  You’ve been the only star in my dreams—and my fantasies—since I fell for you.”  He’d ground it out, forehead to hers.  “God help me; since before, and you know it.”

The short pause told him somehow, maybe she hadn’t.  “I didn’t know that.”  It exited her lips softly, and she’d even managed to sound surprised, of all sodding things. 

He’d favored her with a lifted brow.  “You don’t think I’d toss off thinkin’ about anyone else, do you?”  It’d come out gruffly, but he’d softened at her amazed look.  Honest to Christ, she was actually surprised.  “I told you, Buffy.  It’s only ever been about you.  Has been since the start.”

She’d closed her eyes, looked away.  “Yeah, but I didn’t think you’d…  I mean, you didn’t even have to be… you know… faithful in person, much less…”

He’d rolled his eyes, exasperated.  “Don’t be daft, Buffy.  It’s not about that.  It’s just, no one else could hold one tenth the fascination for me that you do.”  He’d stroked her cheek till her eyes lifted to meet his.  “No one holds a candle to you, pet.  Why even bother thinkin’ about anyone else?  It’s not even about tryin’.  It just is.” 

She’d met his eyes solemnly, verdant and earnest in the low light of their suite.  “I only think of you, you know.  Since us.  I hope you know that.  Even when I tried not to, when I tried to think of someone else; even just some faceless…” 

/When she was grieving, and thinking of me hurt too much.  Christ./

“It didn’t matter.  You always showed up.  Memories of us always took over; even when I didn’t want them to, even when they made me feel so guilty sometimes that I…”

/Oh, bloody hell./  “Buffy…”  She needed to stop.  She needed to absolve herself of all that shite, if she wanted him to do the sodding same.

She’d lifted her eyes to meet his, half-ashamed, half-burning.  “Even before…this… you ruined me for anyone else.  Ever.”

Thrown from his previous track, he hadn’t been able to halt the soft, slow, gentle smile that touched his lips; and if he was a nancy for it, he’d be one and proud.  “Good to know it, Love.”

He came back to the present at the sound of Illyria’s emotionless tones, passing judgment on some poor fool.  Straightened in his throne and fought to erase the soft smile from his lips.  It wasn’t befitting a sodding demon-lord, for one bloody thing. 

“We must find the source of the rumors,” his co-ruler announced flatly to the wide room.  Her odd ultramarine eyes focused unblinking on the Loose-Skinned demon they’d rescued last week, piercing.  “You.  How did you find us?”

The little Clem-alike shivered like she was about to be eaten.  “I…  I… Just heard, Your Worship.  Th…through the grapevine…”

“I do not understand the reference.  Explain.”

“I…”

If he didn’t break in the inoffensive little thing was liable to just fall apart in front of them; and then they’d get nothing out of her.  Illyria was just too bloody imposing for a squishy little bit like this one.  “It’s alright, pet.  Just breathe.  What we’re tryin’ to get at is, how long do you think this bit of information has been circulating, like?  And is it something you got from the humans, or is it common knowledge among the quieter demons like yourself?”

The flabby little creature relaxed a bit and composed herself.  She kept her eyes focused on Spike, as if looking at a vampire—probably an altogether more familiar sight than an Old One all sodding mashed down into a human shell—was far less unnerving an experience when it came to an audience in hell.  “I…  Um, yeah.  You know…  I heard about it only… the other day.  Maybe… two days before I started coming this way?  From a human.  B…but I know others have… heard.  About it too.  Not… specifics, you know; but that somewhere in this part of town there’s a place where… no one will make you do the deadly or… you know.  Kill you if you don’t… wanna eat people or whatever.”  She tried a nervous, toothy little smile.

/Bloody hell./  “Alright, bit.  Why don’t you head on back down to your nest, yeah, while we figure this one out.  Get yourself summat to eat.  Ask one of the girls.”

The little demon gave them both a quick, clumsy bow and fled.  Clearly she didn’t need to be asked twice.

“Well,” Spike commented blandly.  “That’s discomfiting.”

“It must be dealt with,” Illyria agreed.  “I shall ponder the difficulty.”  She rose.  “If we do not have other business?”  She was already making for the door.

“No.  You alright?”

“I am functional.”  Without another word, the demigod swept out of the Crystal Ballroom to head back to her suite.  Probably to work on reviving yet another moribund plant, or to moon at her bloody awful cadaver.  There really was no shortage of the former in this dimension, what with the lack of potable water.  No shortage of corpses, either, but she was really only interested in the one, so he couldn’t even talk her into binning the old one for a new, fresher sort.

Honestly, Spike had the sinking feeling of late that Illyria believed somehow that if she could bring a plant back, maybe she might be able to reanimate Wes, which was…

/Christ, we don’t need a rotten sodding zombie around, on top of everything./ 

He understood loneliness, though.  And if he didn’t have Buffy…

Off to one side, Spike could feel the Slayer’s approval wafting off of her in waves to bathe him.  They’d talked about this before court today; about how to handle this little interrogation.  He’d been anxious about it; about how to draw the little beast out.  “I’m not saying you can’t do it, Spike,” she had told him quietly, poking at the arm of her chair.  “You’re actually more of a people-person than you give yourself credit for, and you have miles of charisma.  Your problem is you need to remember when you were confident about it.”

“Yeah.  Been on my own for a bit too long, I reckon.”

She’d looked away with a little shrug.  “That’s partially my fault…”

“Oi.  I don’t recall you shootin’ me with a dart gun and strappin’ me to a table to stick that bloody chip in my head…”

“No,” she’d told him softly, “but I didn’t go out of my way to help you integrate while you tried to find your way afterward.”  A little shrug.  “Never gave you the benefit of the doubt, no matter how hard you tried.  Probably made it a lot harder to turn over a new leaf, huh?  Find your way?”

He’d managed a faint smile, dismissing it all in retrospect.  “Wasn’t like I was expecting any special treatment, Buffy.  I was a Master vamp, slayer of Slayers to boot, fallen on hard times and beggin’ the soddin’ Slayer for table scraps.  Every day you didn’t just stake me was a bloody win.” 

To his surprise and ultimate discomfort, though, she had shaken her head, casting off his bland acceptance of the past.  “No, I’ve given this a lot of thought lately.  I always adopt the castoffs; right away.  Make them my own.  But just like everything else, somehow you were the exception.”  She’d met his eyes, and he’d been shocked to see shame there.  “You were an outcast demon who couldn’t hurt any of us.  Like little Clemette downstairs; but instead of dealing with that, I just took that as an excuse to bully and abuse you.  To get my own back at you while you were defenseless, couldn’t even fight back.  Made you pay for all the things any vamp had ever done to me.  For not being the vamp I wanted in my life… or you know.  For whatever I was mad about that day.  And you let me because you needed sanctuary and we were all you had… and then because you went crazy and fell for me…”

Humor was all he had to fight the growing uneasiness.  “Sorry.  Bit twisted, I guess.”

She’d managed a quiet, regretful laugh.  “I’m being serious, though, Spike.  You told me… after I came back?  That you weren’t much for crowds.  But I think maybe that was a lie.  That you were just making yourself into whatever I needed you to be, all over again.  Because while I was gone you got to belong.  You got to have a family; or at least, you got to have friends again.  You were part of the group.”  He’d started, gaping, but she’d just gone on like he hadn’t even moved.  “I finally asked Dawn; mostly because I didn’t understand.  Why she’s been so broken up over losing you, and because I needed to hear.  About you.  Anything about you.  I couldn’t hear it before, but now…”  She’d shrugged again, looking away.  “She told me; about how you two were, then.  How you were with the Scoobies.  And I guess I only realized just then all that you lost when I…”

“I wouldn’t trade it for an instant, Buffy,” he’d told her insistently, leaning forward.  “You know that, right?  To have you back, alive…”

“But you were alone again,” she’d interrupted, eyes solemn and pained on his.  “The instant I came back you were pushed out.  The place you’d carved out in the group.  In the house, with Dawn.  All of it was just… gone.  You went back to being the outsider looking in, and the Scoobies just… let it happen.  I mean, of course Dawn did; she was a kid.  She had to go with the flow.  But my friends…”  She’d looked away again.  “We were always really great at letting anyone drift off who wasn’t currently attached to a core member.  Like when Willow and Tara broke up, or when Anya and Xander fell apart.  We became crappy friends to them, completely forgot to be there for their lives.  Everything became totally one-sided.” 

Her eyes had locked back onto his.  “You were there every day for five months, weren’t you?  Taking care of Dawn every night.  Fighting at their sides.  Saving their lives, watching their backs.  And then all the sudden… boom.  You were back to being the outcast vampire in the crypt.  Untouchable guy with the bad crush.  And the only connection you had to anyone was… me.  Broken Buffy.  So you did whatever you needed to do, became whatever you needed to become to hang onto that…”

/No, no, no…/  She was starting to worry him, to be honest.  “I kept you broken, Buffy, so I could keep you mine.”  And the self-disgust he still felt for that had twisted in him. 

“No,” she’d answered, shaking her head solemnly.  “Not at first.  At first… you were there for me.  And for a minute it was okay, right?  Because I made you my sole confessor.  I came to you when I couldn’t come to anyone else.  I opened up…”

“Buffy…”  She had been getting too close to things that he had never wanted her to see.  Things he hated that he had done, now, in hindsight.  But she wasn’t about to stop.  Not now.  Not when she was so ready, after all this time, to drain every wound. 

“I kept you mine.  Only mine, and didn’t tell anyone what you did for me…  You were trying to be better, but I needed you to be bad so I could be dirty.  I dragged you back down with me…” 

“Buffy, don’t…”

“I kept you mine,” she’d repeated.  Drawn a deep breath, like someone about to jump off a cliff.  And faced him squarely.  “And then I cut you off.  Shut you out, started treating you like you were just my info-dump again.  I left you with nothing.”

“Buffy…”  He sounded like a bloody doll on a string, but he couldn’t even speak anymore, he’d been so at a loss.

“So of course you broke a little,” she’d gone on grimly.  “I would.  You sat there and gave me everything of yourself, and I couldn’t accept it.  I wasn’t in that place.  I hated myself too much…”

Panic flooding his very being.  /Fight back!  Fight back.  Don’t let her take it all on!/  “I threw it in your face, luv.  I told you you came back wrong…”

She’d smiled into his eyes.  “For all we know I did.  Tara said I got a deep cosmic suntan, but I’m starting to think that cosmic suntan was my cells changing.  The human parts burning away a little, and the parts that are all Slayer getting concentrated.  The parts they infused with demon or whatever?”  She’d shrugged it off nonchalantly.  “There’s got to be a reason for why I am the way I am.  I’m not going to sweat it anymore.  What matters is, I couldn’t deal.  I started treating you like all I wanted from you was just your body and not your heart.  Just whatever, depending on the day.  How could you be expected to keep up?”

He hadn’t been able to keep up today.  When the hell had she become so bloody insightful?

“And, you know, I’ve always been the queen of saying stupid things first without thinking them through.  Action-girl here, right?”  She’d lifted her hand ruefully.  “Trying to change that.  But back then I was on autopilot.  Living in the lizard brain; probably worse than I ever was.  So I just blurted out stupid stuff that was totally calculated to drive you over the edge, or completely shut you out so that the only way you could even reach me was to get me to fight with you.  Or I pushed you away when you came to me with your heart on your sleeve, just so I could prove that I wasn’t that into you before I could allow myself to give in to what I really wanted.  Which was you.” 

Her eyes had glowed on his, shocking him with their intensity.  “It was you all along, Spike, whatever I said.  When I said things about ‘convenient’ and…”  She’d looked down, shaking her head.  “Called you a ‘disgusting thing’…”  Shame had dripped from her voice.  “I was trying so hard to convince myself that I didn’t want you more than I’d ever wanted anything in my life.  That I didn’t need you.  Because I thought I shouldn’t.  Because that would mean I really was wrong… and because I knew you loved me.”  She’d lifted one shoulder, dropped it like a lead weight.  “Before I died it was because if I admitted it it would mean that everything was a lie; because if you could love, that meant that Angel never really did.  Not the way I believed he did, anyway, and I couldn’t believe that."  The agony for her, admitting it.  "But after I came back…”  A tiny shift of her shoulders that wasn’t quite a shrug, more of an acceptance of weight; of culpability.  “Because I didn’t deserve love; and also what kind of person was I if someone without a soul loved me, and around and around and around…”

“Oh, bloody hell, Buffy…”

“I told myself I was just using you, when really what I was doing was abusing you.  Because you were the mirror I looked into to see the dark side of myself, and I hated that it was even there.  And if I could tell myself that if you weren’t real, then maybe I wasn’t either, right?  The dark parts of me?  I could lie to myself and say it was all imaginary, what we were doing.”  She’d sighed.  “And if you weren’t real—if none of it was real—then it didn’t matter what I did to you.”  The shame oozing from her tones alarmed him terribly.  “And then I cut you away from even that contact, as twisted as it was.  Told you it was because it was killing me… when really, I was killing you, wasn’t I?  I really missed the mark on that one…”

“Buffy; please, Christ, don’t…”

“So you eventually snapped,” she’d informed him sadly, lifting her gaze from her open palms… and he’d been shocked to see actual tears sitting un-shed in her eyes.  “And I see now why.  Watching you here, with all your court around you.  Watching you thrive.  You’re not meant to be alone, are you?  Isolated like you were in Sunnydale.  Like I made you be.”

He’d moved before he’d even known he’d started; ended up before her chair and kneeling with her hands in his.  Pleading, because it wrecked him to see her in pain, and because he couldn’t handle it if she spoke of it.  “Buffy, don’t.  I…”  /Please don’t./

But she’d ridden right over him as if he hadn’t spoken at all.  “Don’t deny it.  You were a part of something, before I came back and ruined it for you.”

“Buffy, for Chrissake…”

“You can say all you wanted to that you were all I had… but the reality was I was all you had.  And I took even that away; over and over and over again.  I just kept stripping you down to nothing, till you were just so desperate to… I don’t know.  Provoke some kind of emotional response from me that you just… completely reverted.  Because you needed me.  And I was empty.  I wasn’t there.  And then I took away even my body; took away all contact.  Left you completely alone, when I’d made myself all you had…”

It was a horror; made him pull away in self-disgust.  “Just bloody stop it, alright, Slayer!  You need to stop excusing me for what I did that night!  Never, ever do that!  Do you understand me?  Don’t you know I relive that nightmare on loop every second I touch you?  Every bleeding…”

“Don’t.”  Her eyes had met his.  “And I’m not excusing it.  Anymore than I excuse myself for all the times I did it to you.  Neither of us ever should.  And I’m not saying I don’t have to avoid remembering it whenever we’re together; just like I’m sure you have to avoid thinking, sometimes, about the times I’ve hurt you.  I’m just saying… that I finally understand.  And I’m so, so sorry, Spike.”

He hadn’t been able to form words at this utterly overwhelming upheaval that was the retread of that awful, illuminating turning point of a year in their lives.  So he hadn’t said anything.  And when she pulled him up by the hands, he had gone, and joined her in her chair.  Folded his arms around her shoulders, let her slide a hand against his head to pull him close to her.  They had remained together for a moment while he’d murmured her name. 

“You can do this,” she’d finally told him, a statement filled with confidence.  “You don’t need my advice.  You’ve been leading groups and controlling territories for decades.  A lot longer than I’ve even been alive.  You just lost faith in yourself.  You wanna bounce ideas off me, obviously I’m down.  But I don’t think you should sweat this one.”

And it had gone down just fine, in the end.  He supposed he wasn’t sure what he had been so concerned about.  Maybe she was right, and his confidence had been torn all to bits by his time in dear old Sunnyhell.  But.  Just what the hell was being here in Hell-A doing to his golden goddess? 

He definitely did not want her to diminish herself in the name of demonic political expedience, nor yet out of some bizarre effort to keep herself from eclipsing him or some sodding thing.  Not that anyone would listen to a court with a supposed human sitting on it; not here where being the Slayer carried precisely zero weight.  But being here where the only action she got was their nightly forays to gather up survivors was having its effect on her.  She was stewing too much in the past, dredging up too much guilt over things they couldn’t change.  Not that he didn’t appreciate her efforts to set things right between them, but he was starting to think this unaccustomed broodiness on the Slayer’s part might have something to do with a hell dimension’s effects on the human mind. 

Vacation or no and nice bit of nesting aside, they needed to get her the fuck out of here and back to where she could be her sodding self again. 

Not that he minded having her at his back as a quiet counselor while he worked out how to rule, or whatever the hell he was attempting to do in this bizarre hell-realm.  But aside from his concerns about her mental health, having her here came with its own set of complications.  Like… his girls were all in a tizzy about his having a favorite; especially a purported ‘human’, and one brought in from the outside.  Made them feel inadequate to his needs, he thought, and maybe made them wonder what his malfunction was.  Whether maybe he was some kind of self-hating demon, that he was so taken with a human bird and that.  And, well, maybe it had, in fact, begun that way, but… they didn’t know all the history.  That there was more to it than that. 

They could never realize that there was just no possibility of any other order to the universe if he had the remotest chance of lying with Buffy, and earning her love.  None at all in the fucking nine hundred hells.  

And Maria…  He liked the chit’s spirit, but she was going to be a sodding problem.  She somehow clearly felt supplanted—as if she had ever owned the top spot—and never ceased hovering around corners to pop up and try to seduce him, as if he weren’t owned as a bleeding notch-eared pig.  Buffy might as well have his balls in a jar on the drawing room shelf; had for years, whatever he might like to pretend.  The Slayer was showing enormous restraint in deference to his carefully-carved-out position, actually, in not having sliced the nosy little bint’s head off by now, the way Maria wandered about needling her at every turn.  But knowing his bird, at some point Buffy was going to take matters into her own hands. 

Was it dead piggish of him that he hoped he’d be there for the fight?  Wouldn’t half turn him on to watch his woman take Maria apart.  Not that he wouldn’t mourn the girl.  She was a useful fighter, and loyal.  But when it came to sides, it was clearly Buffy every time… and God knew it wasn’t a question who’d win in a fight.  Maria might have fifteen legs and Buffy could still take her with one arm trussed up behind her and her eyes bound up. 

“What are you thinking about?”

“Hmm?”  He glanced over at his goddess, walking beside him looking like death and sex incarnate as she stalked purposely at his shoulder, and Christ, what had he ever done to earn even half what they had right now?  “Oh.  Nothing.  Political rubbish.”  Speaking of which, he had heard a few more interesting rumors of late, but one of them he wasn’t sure he wanted to share with her.  It might help her to relax a bit about the fates of certain of their fellow maroons out here, but it might also be cause for concern, or even ultimately distract from their current relations. 

This latter was always, by his reckoning, a terrible notion.

Still, best not to go down the paternalistic road with one Buffy Summers.  For one thing, he respected her far too much for all that.  She was his partner, not someone to be protected from life.  And if the way she’d had balls for breakfast with that bloody Council of Wankers was any indication, a man had to step lightly with her before giving her anything but full disclosure on any subject. 

As if he’d ever try.  He wanted her exactly the way she was, no matter how worried he was about the pressure it might put on her already troubled mind.  He just had to trust in what they were building here.  That he wouldn’t lose her to the prat, knowing what he was about to tell her. 

Her low, mischievous voice interrupted his thoughts.  “C’mon.  I found this in a store down the road when we patrolled last.”  As they slipped into their suite and Spike closed the door behind them, Buffy held up a small, dark object she had held concealed in the palm of her hand and shot him a tiny, challenging smile.  “I know I’m not Dawn, but if you dare to put yourself in my hands…”

He groaned a little, briefly but utterly distracted.  “Always, pet.”

A few minutes later and a little preparation and he was stretched out on the bed with his arms behind his head, surveying her with fascination while she hovered near his knees, an expression of endearing concentration on her face that was, interestingly, not unlike the Bit’s, as she carefully swiped and wiped at his nails with the bitty brush.  It was, for the record, loads more soothing and significantly less ticklish than when Dawn did it… and he felt bizarrely pampered to be reclining here while the Slayer did him so.

He almost hated to ruin it, but if he didn’t he’d lose all relationship credit.  He prized what they were building far more than he prized this little slice of weird domesticity, so…  /Fuck you anyway, you ponce/ he cursed inwardly, and waded into the fray.  “Did you hear the latest?” 

And prayed that she would still be with him come the morning.

***

 

 

What ever could Spike be talking about, one wonders...
Find out next week in the ongoing adventures in 'will they end up living in this damned place', hehe.