When Buffy had been a child, after whatever holiday provided her with a pile of candy—Halloween and all her trick-or-treating, or Christmas and the net bag of gold-foil covered chocolate coins, Easter with its chocolate eggs and bunnies—she had hoarded it carefully.
She’d known exactly how many pieces or packages of each kind of candy she had, and she’d savored each one, doling them out slowly to make them last.
It was probably a crappy metaphor that broke down upon too much scrutiny, but she felt like her time with Spike was exactly like her candy stash.
She wanted to hoard it, to treasure each moment he was with her—and she didn’t want to share him with anybody.
Buffy wasn’t ashamed of Spike, or of their relationship. She didn’t want to hide it from her friends because of that; they had dealt with it well enough before he’d left Sunnydale the last time.
Spike was hers, though, and she wanted to savor him. He was one of the few parts of her life that felt like it belonged to her alone, and was an unadulterated good. She had to parcel out so much of herself, felt like so much of herself was missing, that she didn’t want to share him, too.
And she knew she would have to tell everybody someday, because Dawn was Dawn, and Slaying was Slaying, and there would be another apocalypse—but that day was not today, and she would hold off as long as possible.
Buffy didn’t sleep deeply very often, and so she woke when Spike did. He sat up suddenly, dragging the sheet off of her as he did.
He took in a deep, audible breath, and then another, and Buffy remained silent. They were at her place, but Spike had climbed in her window after Willow and Dawn were in bed, silent as a ghost.
He hadn’t had a nightmare in the two weeks he’d been back that she knew of, but Buffy knew that bad dreams weren’t so easily banished.
She was silent, sympathetic to his need to project strength even when weak, even though she hadn’t been before. Finally, when he didn’t say anything, she put a cautious hand over his. “Spike?”
“Sorry to wake you,” he muttered, his voice rough with sleep. “I know you don’t sleep all that well.”
But he turned his hand over and interlaced their fingers, and Buffy took that as a good sign. “What do you need?” she asked, because she’d wished a hundred times that someone would ask her that question since she’d been resurrected.
“You,” he said simply.
She felt her lips curve up in a smile, noting that it came a little easier these days. They were still learning how to be together, relearning their desire for each other, but Spike had been a respite for her in the past, and so he was again.
He turned and kissed her, lightly at first, and then deepening it, and Buffy clutched his bare shoulders, unafraid of bruising him.
In her bed, they had to be quiet, but there was a certain thrill to that as well, the illicit pleasure of stifled gasps and moans, the titillation of possible discovery, not unwelcome but unwanted at this stage.
Spike slid into her with ease, his fingers teasing her clit, pushing her over the edge again.
She wondered if sex did the same thing for Spike that it did for her, reminding her that she was alive, and that it wasn’t always a bad thing. Or maybe their lovemaking grounded him in the present, reminding him that he was no longer in the Initiative labs, that his body was his own again.
And then all thought was banished by the pleasure rolling through her.
Spike probably should have minded more that Buffy was keeping him a secret, but he didn’t. He didn’t particularly want to share her either, and in their moments together, she clung to him possessively. She seldom talked about her friends or Dawn, although he’d picked up on a few things.
Since he wanted to do anything he could to support her, he was on board.
“I have to go,” he whispered reluctantly, waking her gently just before the sun began its ascent.
“Mm, really?” Buffy asked.
“Sun’s nearly up, and I’m not sure you want me stuck here all day,” Spike replied. “If I’m going to leave, it has to be now.”
Buffy pouted and pulled him in for another kiss. “You’d better get going then.”
“See you soon,” Spike promised and then found his scattered clothing and pulled it on. He paused to give her one more kiss and departed through the window.
He took a deep breath once he was outside, standing on the front lawn of the Summers’ residence, and quickly shook out a cigarette and lit it. The pre-dawn sky was just beginning to lighten, and he tipped his head back as he exhaled smoke.
Spike didn’t regret returning to Sunnydale, if only to be with Buffy, but that didn’t mean he was comfortable here. Leaving Sunnydale the last time had helped, just to prove that he could. Getting the chip out of his head had helped more. Returning to Sunnydale of his own volition, because he wanted to see Buffy, had also helped.
But there were still nightmares, and Spike still found himself looking over his shoulder for any sign of soldiers trailing him. Occasionally, he would lose track of where he was, or something would remind him of the Initiative labs, and he’d be back there again.
The difference now was that Spike could keep it together; Buffy needed him to be strong, so he’d be strong.
Spike had remade himself for someone he loved before, and he could do it again. When Buffy needed something other than his strength, he’d offer that up as well.
Spike didn’t bother trying to sleep, knowing from experience that he was likely to drop back into a nightmare. Instead, he took to the tunnels.
He’d never really had a chance to establish a network here in Sunnydale, but he knew it was necessary. He couldn’t rely on Buffy for blood and smokes, because money was tight. Eventually, she might need money from him, and Spike wanted to be prepared.
Spike had a certain cachet in the demon community for spending so long in the Initiative labs and emerging unscathed—at least so far as they knew. Those who knew about his relationship with the Slayer thought he was being opportunistic at best. Or perhaps they thought he’d had his brain scrambled.
Not that it mattered, as long as Spike could get what he needed. He was a decent poker player, and there was occasionally paid work for a vampire willing to run a few errands. He knew just where to look, too.
Willy’s bar was deserted this early in the day, but Spike poked his head in long enough to see who was around, then headed out again. The next spot was a place he didn’t think the Slayer knew about, a demon hideout for those who don’t want trouble.
Since Spike didn’t want trouble, that suited him just fine.
“Well, if it isn’t the great Houdini,” Maris said as Spike swaggered in. “I heard you left town.”
Spike shrugged. “I left, I came back. How’s business, Maris?”
“Same as it always is,” she replied, her oddly shaped, two-tone eyes giving evidence of her mixed parentage. “You know I don’t like trouble here, Spike, and you’re nothing but.”
“I’ve turned over a new leaf,” Spike protested. “I’m reformed.”
Maris raised her eyebrows. “The rumors are that you and the Slayer are hooking up.”
“I don’t kiss and tell,” Spike replied, leaning against the counter. “You have any poker games I can get in on?”
“For the right price,” Maris admitted. “I also have some errands you can run for me if you’re hard up for cash, and assuming you can take care of yourself.”
Spike gave her a hard look. “The rumors of my neutering have been greatly exaggerated.”
“What are you up to, Spike?” Maris demanded.
“I’m sticking around Sunnydale,” Spike replied. “And I’d like to have a source of income now that I’ve turned over a new leaf. Doesn’t have to be legal, but it does need to be something that won’t get me staked.”
“You’re sleeping with the enemy,” Maris pointed out. “But I’ll admit that she’s better than most. She shut down the Initiative.”
Spike hitched a shoulder. “She’s had a rough go of things. I want to make things easier, not harder.”
Maris shook her head. “You always were a romantic.”
“Guilty as charged,” Spike replied. “So, we have a deal?”
Maris hesitated. “You give your word that the Slayer doesn’t darken my door, and you’ve got a deal.”
“She doesn’t even know about you or this place,” Spike said. “And I have no intention of telling her.”
Maris shook his hand. “Done. Come by tomorrow, and I’ll have your first delivery.”
Spike had returned to Sunnydale for Buffy, it was true, but he also knew that he had to be his own man, too.
Buffy had the weight of the world on her shoulders, and Spike wouldn’t be responsible for adding to her burden.
He didn’t want to see her shatter.
Buffy made certain that Dawn got off to school the next morning, and while she might be a barely adequate parent, she was holding it together. Dawn went to school, and her grades were good, and Buffy had managed to keep a roof over their heads this long.
She would need to get a job soon if she was going to keep the house, though.
Buffy spent the day collecting applications from various places, and quickly discovered that the job options in a town like Sunnydale were pretty sparse. There were a couple of medical and law offices that had advertised in the classifieds that paid well, but required an early start, which didn’t exactly fit with her lifestyle.
Retail jobs and food service seemed to be better options from a scheduling perspective, but they didn’t pay much. There was a little money coming in for Dawn from their mom’s Social Security benefits, and Dawn qualified for health insurance through the state since their dad was AWOL.
All of that had been worked out shortly after their mom’s death with the assistance of the social worker, one of the really useful things that she’d done to actually help.
Still, that money didn’t stretch far, and Buffy needed to supplement it somehow. Too bad there weren’t a lot of job options for a college dropout with a sacred calling.
By the time she’d collected half a dozen applications, Buffy was exhausted, and she returned home to an empty house and a note from Dawn saying she’d gone out with Willow. She fanned the applications out on the counter, picked up a pen, and stopped.
She just couldn’t deal with it right now, weariness dragging her down, and she shuffled the papers into a pile and pushed them aside, putting her head down on the counter on top of her folded arms.
Buffy fell asleep there, waking up as the sun was setting, and heard noises from upstairs. She frowned, not expecting Dawn or Willow back for hours; Tara wouldn’t have gone upstairs without saying something.
She went up the stairs, moving quietly in case it was a threat. The noise was coming from Willow’s room, and when she peeked around the corner, she saw Amy rooting through the magical supplies.
“What are you doing?” Buffy demanded. She really didn’t have the energy to deal with a home invasion.
Amy looked up from her rifling. “Buffy. Hi.”
Buffy crossed the room and grabbed her arm, hauling her to her feet. “Let’s go, Amy.”
“No, you don’t understand!” Amy protested. “I need the supplies. I have to get back to Rack.”
“I don’t really care,” Buffy replied. “I have a list of problems as long as my arm, and you don’t make the list.”
“I know where Willow went!” Amy said desperately.
Buffy rolled her eyes. “I do, too. She’s at the movies. Nice try, though.”
“No, she’s not,” Amy said, trying to pull away. “She went to see Rack!”
Buffy had no idea who “Rack” was, but she’d known that Willow’s magic use was getting out of control for a while now. Given how Amy clutched at the various supplies still in her hands, Buffy was betting it had something to do with that.
“Spill,” Buffy said, shaking her.
Amy pulled free, apparently sensing her chance. “I need those supplies.”
Buffy didn’t care what she took, but she knew she wanted Amy out of her house. “You have one minute to explain, and thirty seconds to get what you need.”
“Rack takes magic in exchange for making you feel good,” Amy explained. “He’s a big deal—a real bad guy.”
“Then what is Willow doing there?” Buffy asked.
“He makes you feel good,” Amy replied. “But now that he has Willow, he doesn’t want anything to do with me.”
Buffy felt nothing but disgust. “So, you’re telling me this because you want back in with Rack, not because you want to help Willow.”
Amy snarled, “You don’t understand!”
“No, I guess I don’t,” Buffy replied. “But honestly, I don’t care. Get out.”
Buffy knew that Amy had a rough life, and that she’d spent a long time as a rat, and hadn’t been adjusting well. Maybe before Buffy had been in heaven and had been resurrected, Buffy would have mustered some sympathy. Right now, she couldn’t muster it.
She forced Amy out of the house, and then almost immediately thought better of it. If Willow was really with this Rack person, if he was as dangerous as Amy indicated, and if Dawn was with her…
Buffy rubbed her eyes, feeling despair wash over her. She didn’t have the time or energy for this, to hunt down her friends, or save them from themselves.
She didn’t have the resources to deal with her own problems or with Dawn; how the hell was she supposed to deal with this?
His voice was smoke-roughened and low, her name on his lips a caress. She felt relief as soon as she heard him, and she wasn’t about to question it.
Buffy was his sole focus, and god forgive her, but it was nice to know that someone thought her that important—not her calling, not her role, not what she could do for him.
Spike had seen her at her worst in Los Angeles, and he had shown her a sort of rough kindness that had given her strength enough to go back. When he’d returned to Sunnydale this time, she felt as though it was in the nick of time to breathe some life back into her.
“I think Dawn and Willow might be in trouble,” Buffy admitted. “And I don’t—I don’t know what to do.”
Spike closed the back door behind him and stepped closer. “What can I do?”
“I don’t know,” Buffy admitted. “Do you know who Rack is?”
Spike’s face was expressionless. “Can I make a phone call?”
“Sure,” Buffy replied. “Why?”
“There’s someone I know who might be able to help, but she runs a sanctuary, and she made me swear that you wouldn’t darken her door,” Spike replied, and she could hear the honesty in his voice.
Buffy hesitated. “Do you trust her?”
“I trust her not to make trouble for you,” Spike replied.
Buffy decided that would be enough for her. She didn’t have the energy to inquire more, and she had to trust Spike—she could trust him or stake him. There was no middle ground for them now.
“Make the call,” she said. “I need to find Dawn.”
Spike appreciated the show of faith Buffy offered, and the opportunity to keep his promises. He would help Buffy find Dawn, and he wouldn’t betray Maris’ confidence.
He dialed the number and waited for Maris to pick up. “It’s me,” he said. “I need some information on someone named Rack.”
“He’s bad news,” Maris replied. “And if you killed him, you’d be doing us a favor.”
“Those of us who wish to remain anonymous and stay off the Slayer’s radar,” Maris replied. “But be careful. He’s a sneaky son of a bitch.”
Spike sighs. “How do I find him?”
“Only supernatural creatures and those connected to the supernatural can find him,” Maris replied. “Open your senses, and find the disturbance in the Force. Start three blocks west of Main on Second Street.”
She hung up, and Spike muttered, “Bleeding hippies.”
“What was that?” Buffy asked, sounding tense.
“She said to use the Force,” Spike replied. “But I think I know what she means.” Her face was tense and worried, and Spike moved to comfort her. He put his hands on her shoulders, then caressed her face with one hand. “We’ll find them, Summers. Don’t worry about that.”
“I shouldn’t need to worry about it in the first place!” Buffy burst out. “I trusted Willow, and this is what she does?”
Spike wanted to reassure her, but if Maris thought Rack was bad news, he undoubtedly was. “We’ll deal with that when we find them,” Spike replied. He had no idea what else to say, powerless to do more.
“I wish it was just us,” Buffy blurted out. “I wish I didn’t have to worry about the rest of it, that we could leave. I wish I wasn’t stuck here.”
Spike wanted that, too. He wanted to bundle her up and whisk her away from all of this, from Sunnydale and its problems, but he knew she wouldn’t willingly leave her sister.
Even if they left, Buffy would come to regret it.
Spike kissed her tenderly, knowing that she wouldn’t always accept that tenderness, but wanting to gift it to her. He wanted to wrap her in cotton wool until she was better.
She wouldn’t accept that, so he would offer what he could.
“We should go,” Buffy said, pulling back.
Spike nodded. “Do you want to drive or walk?”
“Drive then walk,” Buffy replies. “It’ll be faster.”
At some point, Spike thought, Buffy had learned how to drive, and while she didn’t appear particularly comfortable behind the wheel, she drove defensively, cautiously. She didn’t drive the same way she fought; she drove like a different person entirely.
She drove like a little old lady, not that Spike was about to bring that up.
Buffy found a spot to park off of Main, close to where Maris had told Spike to start his search, and Spike got out and took a deep breath.
Rack’s setup was unusual, but not unheard of. Spike had known of those who basically set up psychic calling cards, where only those who were in touch with the darkness could sense the location—and by darkness, Spike meant the kind of energy that came from either having a demon, or using black magic.
“How do you want to handle this once we’re inside?” Spike asked absently, still following the faint trace of wrongness he was trying to find.
“What do you mean?” Buffy asked.
Spike glanced at her. “If he’s a threat, and he’s human, do you want me to handle it?”
She grimaced. “Let’s play it by ear for now.”
He knew she didn’t want to confront the fact that he could kill a human now, and he was no longer defanged. Spike didn’t mind so much; after all, he had come back to Sunnydale for her, and he didn’t want to give her a reason to stake him, or to force him to leave town.
“Do you want me to stay out of sight, or do you care?” he asked, trying to sound nonchalant, and not feeling it in the least.
Buffy gave him a swift glance and a sheepish smile. “I guess I’m used to keeping you to myself, and I don’t want to share. But, no, I don’t care if Willow or Dawn sees you. Tara already knows you’re back, and—it’s fine.”
Spike understood what she meant. “Right, then. Let’s save your little sister.”
He didn’t care about Willow, not really. She wasn’t important to him, and she’d hurt Buffy by bringing her back.
Spike couldn’t be sorry that Buffy was alive, but he’d seen the despair in her eyes when he’d first returned to Sunnydale, and he wouldn’t forgive that easily—or perhaps ever.
He found the place by feel, sensing a void. Spike wondered if this was a side effect of his wish; he’d wanted to be enough for her.
“It’s here,” Spike said. “You might want to let me go in first.”
Buffy hesitated, and then nodded her agreement. “Agreed.”
Spike reached for the door he could sense but couldn’t see, and the knob turned easily under his hand. He stepped inside what looked like a living room turned into a lobby with threadbare furniture.
A young woman looked up when he entered. “Hey, you’re going to have to wait in line,” she protested. “Somebody already cut once tonight, and I need my fix.”
“Buffy!” Dawn says, leaping to her feet. “What are you doing here?”
“I ran into Amy,” Buffy replied. “Where’s Willow?”
Dawn waved at the closed door. “In there, with some guy. The movie already started!”
“The movie is the least of your worries,” Spike muttered. “Do we leave Willow here or not?”
“You can’t go in!” the other girl protested.
Dawn glared at Spike. “What is he doing here?”
Buffy sighed. “First off, Spike is here to help. Second, he’s my backup in case things get out of hand. How long has Willow been in there?”
Dawn shrugged. “An hour? We got here a little before 9.”
Spike could see Buffy’s indecision—did she leave Willow to her fate or actually pull her out? From her expression, he knew when she’d made up her mind.
“We can wait outside,” Buffy said.
Dawn crossed her arms. “We’re supposed to be at the movies.”
Buffy sighed and rubbed her eyes, and said, “Dawn, please. We’re not safe here, and I don’t want a fight. Not right now. Take it up with Willow when we get home.”
So, they waited outside in uncomfortable silence—Spike chain smokin, Buffy with her arms crossed tightly over her chest, her face tight with tension, and Dawn unconsciously mirroring her sister’s expression and posture, unhappy to have her night out ruined.
With Dawn present, Spike thought, they were like three islands of misery, separate in their disappointment with what life had thrown at them, unable to bridge the gap.
Spike wanted to say something, to break the silence, but he had no idea what that might be. His priority was Buffy; his interest in Dawn was limited to her relationship with her sister, and how he might ease Buffy’s way.
He wasn’t sure how long he would have let the silence hang, but only about fifteen minutes passed before Willow stumbled out, her eyes completely black. “Buffy? What are you doing here?”
“I’m looking out for my sister,” Buffy replied. “What the hell are you doing?”
“I just needed a little pick me up,” Willow protested.
Buffy rubbed her eyes. “Spike? I need a minute with Willow. Will you get Dawn home?”
“Happy to,” Spike replied reluctantly. He didn’t want to leave Buffy alone with Dawn, nor did he want to be alone with the Slayer’s sister.
He didn’t know her, not really. Their contact had been sporadic and always brief. He’d barely been able to stand the company of Buffy’s friends after his time in the Initiative labs; having any sort of patience with a child had been beyond him.
Dawn glared at him with frank hostility, and Spike met her expression with a bored look. He’d spent a hundred years with Drusilla, and had spent months being tortured by Initiative soldiers. One teenager didn’t scare him.
“Spike,” Buffy called as he turned to leave, and tossed the keys to the Jeep at him. “Take the car. Dawn has school tomorrow.”
Spike nodded. “You going to patrol after?”
“I’ll stop by the house first,” she promised.
“Can you even drive?” Dawn asked snidely as they approached the Jeep.
Spike gave her a look. “I’ll have you know that I’ve been driving motor cars since they were first produced.”
“So, you’re old, then,” Dawn replied. “Too old for my sister.”
“Younger than Angel,” Spike said, stung.
Dawn managed a respectable sneer. “That’s not saying much.”
Spike hitched a shoulder. “Yeah, I suppose just about anybody would be an improvement on Peaches.”
There was a hint of a smirk on Dawn’s face, and Spike felt as though he’d built something of a bridge.
“She really missed you,” Dawn said out of the blue. “After you left. If you’re going to leave again, you should just go. Buffy doesn’t need anybody else abandoning her.”
Spike was a little surprised. “I don’t plan on it. I want to stay as long as she’ll let me.”
Dawn sniffed. “We’ll see.”
Spike wasn’t interested in impressing Buffy’s sister, but he figured they should probably at least be friendly. “I promise you I’m going to stick around.”
Dawn gave him a long, assessing look, and somehow, Spike felt like he came up wanting. “If you do, that will be more than any other man has ever done, including our father.”