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Buffy is coming (reluctantly and secretly) to the conclusion she's accepted a lot of things about vampires that are, to put it mildly, bull.

Or at least that vampires are more complex and varied than anyone is willing to admit. That some of them (or one of them, it's not like she's done an exhaustive study here) can be startlingly human under the right circumstances. It goes against everything she's ever been taught.

She's always been more inclined to trust what she's seen than what she's been told, but what she's seen recently has turned a lot of received wisdom so far on its head, it's kind of hard to wrap her brain around it, despite the evidence of her own eyes.

Spike comforting her sister. Spike grieving with them, sharing memories of Joyce, of "She was a proper classy woman, you know, always treated me right, always ready to listen. Really special bird, your mum was. Nice lady." A fond smile. "Made a cracking cuppa."

(He's also been sweet with Tara and sympathetic toward Willow, which is way more difficult to write off as 'trying to get in Buffy's underwear'.)

He's actually made Dawn smile, even laugh. Given Dawn's being pursued by a hellgod who wants to use her blood for inter-dimensional travel and a bunch of mediaeval knights who want to kill her, not to mention they're both still reeling from Mom's death, Buffy's grudgingly impressed. If it didn't sound completely ridiculous to say such a thing about a vampire, she'd be inclined to think he had a soft spot for Summers women in general, not just some weird crush on her. And maybe it's true even though it's ridiculous.

She's not sure what happened exactly, but she knows he helped Dawn, helped and comforted her (and was probably a horrible influence on her) back when Buffy was clinging alternately to all the distractions of burying her mother and to Angel.

(The fact Spike hasn't boasted about it suggests it was either something nefarious or something done genuinely for Dawn's sake. Possibly both.)

The idea he's in love with her, well... it's nonsense, Buffy's still holding on to that. But she can't deny he's got some kind of... of genuine affection for her? And for Dawn? God, she can't begin to make sense of it, and it's really strange, but it's something, something she can't ignore any longer, however much she'd like to, however much it goes against everything she was so sure about.

Trying to outrun a severely demented and scary powerful Glory is taking up most of her attention, because she does have a little common sense, but her mind is point blank refusing to give the Spike thing a rest. There are too many things she can't explain except by admitting that what she thought she knew was wrong, and it's not that she's especially bothered by 'being wrong' (well okay, maybe just a bit), but she doesn't know what it means or how to handle it if she is.

Spike is nothing but a vampire, without real emotions, supposedly. So how is it that he instantly understood what Willow was thinking and feeling when Tara got brain-sucked? Understood so much better and more clearly than Buffy, who's known Willow for years?

Willow's her best friend. The First Slayer said Buffy loves with all her soul. Buffy doesn't understand how her soul can mean very much if she missed something so vital, and Spike - Spike of all people - knew, as if by instinct.

'I'd do it. Right person. Person I loved. I'd do it.'

The memory makes her wince. Spike's not great with the whole subtlety thing; his heart is on his sleeve and all over his face even when he's a walking bruise. (She still can't quite get over the beating he took.) The subtext wasn't very subtexty. She knew exactly what he was saying, and it's getting harder to discount. (Though she hasn't stopped trying, not yet.)

She's found herself relying on him without meaning to, trusting him to help her even as she dismisses him as 'just a vampire'. Taking Dawn to him was... automatic. Just like she'd taken her mom and Dawn to him before.

And then he went and got all insightful about Willow, and now he's helping her again, helping her keep Dawn safe, helping her run away. The chip stops him biting them, but it wouldn't stop him hurting them indirectly if he really wanted to, and it definitely doesn't explain him helping them, putting himself in danger for them.

So the next logical step is to conclude she was wrong, that vampires may be a lot more complicated than she thought. And that is... kind of a pain. It's not likely to help with the whole slaying gig if she starts worrying about the monsters she's supposed to be turning into piles of dust.

And worse, or at least a lot more confusing, is Spike himself. And maybe he's the oddity (part of her hopes so, because she'd like to keep vampires in general in the column marked 'always evil, slay on sight'), maybe it's just that Spike is kind of weird (she can totally believe that), but either way... it's really not the point. The point is that maybe he has real feelings, and certainly he believes he does, and she's been stomping all over them.

Which... well, it's Spike, and he's a royal pain in her backside, and his behaviour was twelve kinds of creepy, so she can't feel too bad about it, but she does feel a little bad. She doesn't like being actively cruel, and although he's not her favourite person, her hatred for him has long since turned into more of a tolerant disdain, and... she could so do with not thinking about this right now.

So she tells herself she'll put it off, that she'll think about it when they've dealt with Glory. Maybe when she's got a tiny bit of emotional energy to spare, she'll be able to figure out what it means. And maybe figure out what the hell she's going to do about it.

In the meantime, she's trying not to let anyone know what's going on in her mind. She's pretty sure they'd all want to have Words with her (it's not like they were exactly wild about accepting Spike as part of the escape plan in the first place), and she's just so tired right now, and if one of them tries it, she's liable to commit her very first intentional homicide.

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When he's asleep, she can almost fool herself he's an ordinary guy. A regular, soul-having, non-evildoing man she happens to be sleeping with, rather than a soulless evil killer she should've staked long since.

The bleach blonde, heavily tamed hair has gotten teased into its natural curls around his forehead, the colour warmed by the candlelight which also softens the angles of his face, his heavy brows, his ridiculous cheekbones. He looks positively angelic, which is - well, she's not sure if she's using the word right, or if Willow would tell her off, but as far as Buffy's concerned, Spike looking the picture of innocence is pure irony.

She's strangely touched he's so at ease.

They pretend she's at risk here, but she's not. His chip may not still leash him where she's concerned, but she knows he won't kill her. Even if she still can't quite bring herself to believe in the emotions he expresses so insistently and consistently, she's reluctantly convinced they're true to him, and where Spike loves, he loves without limit or reason. She's known that since long before she cared to admit it.

Spending a century looking after Dru can hardly have been a picnic. Being beaten to a pulp by Glory for Dawn's sake... like she told him, it was real. She won't forget. She's not sure she could even if she tried. Nor how hard he tried to save Dawn, like he'd promised, and got himself flung from the tower for his trouble.

He's the one who shows his trust when he sleeps; it would be so easy for her to grab a stake, or any sufficiently pointy piece of wood broken off of the nearest piece of furniture. She'd hardly even have to move. She could turn him into a pile of dust before he knew what was happening; an instant end to all her conflicting emotions.

(She could sweep him under the rug, she realises, with a mad little giggle she thinks even Drusilla would be proud of.)

The fact she can is part of the reason she doesn't, hasn't - won't - even though he's been so vulnerable for so long now.

It's... she can't explain it satisfactorily even to herself. Part of it, she thinks, is a predator/prey thing. Spike may be proud of his status at the top of the food chain, but Buffy knows in her bones that she is the predator here. And killing someone who couldn't fight back even if he wanted to? That's just... it would be wrong, down to those same bones.

But now he can fight back - now he could try to kill her. And he won't, and he trusts her. And somehow she won't, can't, take advantage of that trust. She's not sure she even wants to.

She shakes her head, watches him sleep some more. God, he looks so peaceful. Part of her wants to wake him up, to break the illusion of peace and innocence, to goad him into something for which she could retaliate. Blue and clear as his eyes may be, the moment they're open, he no longer looks angelic in the least. He looks mischievous and wicked and altogether too damn sexy, and that makes it way easy to punch him and fuck him and tell him he's an evil bloodsucking thing she should just get rid of.

Another, much scarier part of her wants to curl into his side and sleep, take comfort in his undemanding presence.

(Neither part has the common sense she was born with or the enhanced survival instincts that come with the slayer package.)

With a sigh more reluctant than she's willing to admit even to herself, she sits up and runs her knuckles lightly over his cheek. He stirs under her hand, and she freezes for a second, filled with dread at being caught doing something so affectionate. She hurriedly gets up and tugs her clothes on. She has to get out of here before she does anything too stupid.

If someone had told her a few years ago - hell, a few months ago - that she'd spend even a fraction of a second wistfully watching Spike sleep, she would've laughed. Told them they were certifiable.

And here she is. Maybe she's the crazy one after all.

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She would never admit it to anyone, but her greatest regret about the night they brought a house down around their heads is how it changed their tentative almost-friendship into something else, something... less.

She shouldn't have done this in the first place, and repeat performances were most definitely not supposed to be on the cards, but sex with Spike has happened often enough now that it's getting to look like a habit, one she's not sure she can break. She needs this, even when she doesn't want to need it, and he's more than willing, and yet...

It isn't as if they were ever close, but she'd gotten used to his presence in her life, relied more on him for longer than she'd consciously realised. He listened - often giving sarcastic commentary and ridiculing her life choices at the same time, sure, but at least he listened - and he made her laugh. He was... there. He took her to kitten poker and inflicted his stupid punk music on her. He teased Dawn and baited Xander, he flirted and cracked jokes and tag-teamed the slaying of demons. (Occasionally all at the same time.) Without ever meaning to, she started to depend on him.

It wasn't easy or simple, of course.

There were his weird, messy, inappropriate feelings, and her tendency to use him like some kind of walking, talking undeadconfessional for things she couldn't talk about with her actual friends, rather than her almost-not-really-soulless-thing friend. There was the way she relied on him to keep the people she loved safe without ever being able to say please or thank you, without ever quite trusting him at the same time as entrusting her nearest and dearest to him. It was already pretty twisted and confusing, and it only got worse after Willow brought her back. She did sometimes think it would be easier if she could just stop their peculiar codependency.

But he was there. He was always there. And however strange it was, she... liked it. And now she misses it. The more sex they have, the less they actually do anything else, even talk, and the more it all seems to revolve around getting naked.

What makes her most uncomfortable is that she's not sure she can entirely blame it on him. Did he stop taking her to gamble with kittens so he could have more time to tear her clothes off, or did she give him and Clem and the rest of them the impression it was beneath her? Did he stop spending time with his Niblet because he would rather spend time nibbling on Buffy, or is it that Buffy is desperate to keep Dawn from ever finding out about this secret double life she's leading? He knows she's keeping him, keeping this, hidden from her friends. Has he finally given up ever being more than a guilty secret?

(And isn't she supposed to be glad if that means he's no longer so likely to out her?)

She's sure there must be a way for the naked and the talking to coexist, but maybe that would make this an actual relationship, and... no. She isn't sure she'd be capable of a real relationship with anyone right now, not even a guy of the living, breathing, soul-having persuasion. Even if she wanted a relationship with Spike, which she doesn't, of course, because hello, Slayer. Her life is complicated enough already, thank you.

Still, she misses what they had, even though she's almost as disgusted with herself for being wistful about kitten poker as she is for engaging in no holds barred naked fun times with a vampire. She doesn't want a relationship, but if she could figure out another way of having the talking and the sex and the fun all at the same time...

She needs the way he makes her actually feel things, even though what he makes her feel is often seriously messed up, but she wishes she didn't, wishes she could take it back and not need it and go back to... whatever it was they had. Even though what they had was plenty painful and lopsided and more than confusing enough in its own way... she misses it. A lot.

Not that she'd ever tell him so.

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When she's asleep, or pretending to be, he fawns over her in ways she'd never, ever allow out loud. He runs his fingers lightly over her hair, sings snatches of what she thinks might either be lullabies or love songs or both, whispers lines of poetry.

She imagines he looked after Drusilla like this, with this kind of care and attention, and the thought strikes her as both sweet and a total wigfest. Either way, though, it forces her to wonder again about the party line she's had drummed into her head since the age of fifteen: that vampires are nothing but the memory of a person.

It's a thought she's had before, but life has gotten in the way of pursuing it, and until this... whatever this is between them started, she'd been too busy trying to cope with this too bright, too harsh world to worry much about anything beyond the end of her nose. Keeping herself and Dawn clothed, fed and not homeless took everything she has.

She doesn't like to think about it too much, anyway; slaying's not a job for the introspective, and it's not like she can interview every fledging before staking to see if it has the capacity to be more than just a killer. She's not even sure whether she wholly believes that of Spike, even when she's here in his bed listening to him murmur his appreciation into her skin.

How much is real, and how much is just some twisted reaction to his true nature being chained by a government chip? She doesn't dare trust it too hard. (Man and vampire both, experience screams at her to be wary.)

Even with her doubts, though, she can't help herself; there's part of her so in need of being loved, cared for, doted on, and even if it's an illusion, one she pretends to ignore... sometimes it's a nice illusion. And hey, reality hasn't been her friend since she was dragged back into this life. Exhibit A: her willing presence in the bed of a soulless, unrepentant vampire.

It's beyond weird that Spike, who indulges and encourages the darkness she can no longer seem to escape, who goads her into violence and sex so intertwined she can no longer figure out where one stops and the other begins, is also the one who murmurs in her ear that she's okay, that it's going to be all right.

When she's awake, she's sexy, an animal, the Slayer. He lets her use and abuse his body, gives as good as he gets, poking and prodding her higher and harder. He urges her deeper into the shadows, hurting and being hurt, rejoicing in the pleasure and the pain and the depravity of it all.

When she's asleep, she's Buffy, she's beautiful - his golden sunshine girl - and he's gentle, tender, achingly sweet to her. There's a reverence in his voice as he croons soft words in her ear, as he touches her so delicately, presses his lips to her shoulder in an inexplicably chaste kiss.

It's confusing and strange and she's pretty sure she should stop it, but it's also alluring and comforting and oddly safe. Usually she disappears from his arms long before he gets a chance to actually love her. When she stays, when she allows this to start... somehow she never wants it to end, never wants to leave.

He's not, despite her words to the contrary, stupid. He must know, must realise how often she's faking it, and must realise she knows he knows. He can hear her heartbeat, sense the tiniest fluctuations in her pulse; he is minutely aware of everything and doubly so of her. He has to know his words don't always go unheard.

But neither of them will ever admit it.

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She secretly wishes she could share out her forgiveness, dose them all up on it so she won't get so many peculiar looks and disapproving glances and outright lectures on how she's wrong or crazy or deluded or a bad example to the Potentials. It's tiring to be forever defending herself when she's the one who was almost raped.

... okay, maybe she should care a bit more about them forgiving Spike so he gets to be, you know, forgiven, and no one else decides he should be put down like a rabid animal, but she's tired, and it's been a really long few months. And she's honest enough to know that her reasons for wishing the Scoobies weren't so great at holding grudges are not exactly selfless.

So she's human. (Mostly.) Sue her. 'Should' can go fuck itself. She's giving selfish a try.

In some strange and possibly twisted kind of way, she long since came to rely on Spike as a constant (if constantly irritating) presence in her life, and now he's become as vital to her as if they hadn't started out as mortal, bitter enemies. (It's weird, sure, but hello, her life has been in a constant state of weird since she was fifteen. She's over it.) She's finally coming to terms with a mutual reliance she tried too hard to deny for far too long. The one thing she knows for certain in this fight is that she doesn't want to face whatever's coming without him at her side.

Of course she'd like him to get forgiven for his own sake, too, not just so he would be slightly more likely to make it through May alive. But her most pressing concern right now is that Giles would stop giving her dark looks and Dawn would stop giving Spike dark looks, and she would stop having to wonder who's most likely to try and dust him when she's not paying attention. (And God, she's paying attention all the time now; she doesn't trust any of them to let him be, and it's exhausting.)

If she could dole out the ability to forgive along with the morning cereal... it would be one less thing that's pissing her off.

She's not really sure why Spike is apparently still guilty for the things he did before he got his soul when Angel has managed to distance himself from Angelus' behaviour to the point where almost everyone is convinced he and Angelus share nothing but a body. (All despite his continuous guilty brooding over what Angelus did. Yeah, she doesn't get the logic either.)

It seems unfair. It's not as if souled Angel was so perfect anyway, no matter what she'd thought at the time; he made his fair share of missteps and mistakes, was occasionally downright manipulative. Then there's the whole studied man of mystery bit, which with hindsight she's certain was totally designed to make her go all gooey and irrational over him before he had to admit who and what he was.

(The fact it worked does not make her feel any more charitable about it.)

She has many fond memories, and part of her will always be sixteen, will always be in love with the tall, dark and yummy stranger who made her heart pound, who has a hold on her even now.

But she's not a child anymore, and the part of her that's more or less a grownup (and is no longer distracted by the kind of infatuation only a teenager can maintain) also remembers how often he made her mad or made her cry, even before he reverted to Angelus, let alone after; how confused she was so much of the time. How Angel always had the final say, and her decisions hardly ever seemed to matter.

She's not sure he made her much less miserable by being her boyfriend than she and Spike made each other last year, which... well, that was some Olympic standard misery making.

(And she's absolutely certain no teenager should ever have to be the responsible, sensible adult, not even once, in a relationship with a guy who had a freaking bicentennial.)

It's a shame there's no book, Ensouled Vampires for Dummies (or maybe just Ensouled Vampires Are Dummies) she could've consulted to figure Angel out a bit better. To understand the ways he was and wasn't different from a human or from a vampire, to get some idea of what made him tick.

Unfortunately, she's fairly sure she knows the only two souled vamps ever to have existed, knows them both as well as anyone living, and if anybody is going to write such a handbook, it would probably have to be her. Not much use to her sixteen year old self unless she found a way to send it back in time, and totally useless to her now since she already knows everything it could tell her. If she can't figure out why Angel manages to get forgiven for his evil deeds and Spike doesn't, well... no one else ever will.

She suspects Spike was just too good at playing human, acting against his nature, almost as if he already had a soul; too good at doing an impression of a (kinda sorta) good guy. Too capable of love and loyalty and sacrifice. He was too convincing, and the good he did before the soul has backfired on him.

He wasn't evil enough then - he kept making them forget what he was - so he isn't different enough now. Buffy is confident in the changes she sees, but her friends apparently require a more dramatic personality transplant.

(In fairness, Xander was never Team Angel even before the unfortunate soul-losing incident, and Giles has never quite forgiven Angel for Jenny, even though he insists on the value and meaning of a soul, so those two are at least being fairly consistent when it comes to the whole 'We Hate Spike' dealio.)

It's not like it's easy for her, either. Spike's still the same in many ways, and even if he weren't, it's not as if he got a new face to go along with his shiny new soul (or battered old soul, as he describes it, a bit worse for lack of use). It's just as strange to get to know him with the soul as it was to have Angelus look like someone she loved and trusted even as he hurt her, hurt her friends. It's hard, harder than they seem to realise.

It took an effort to get to this point. She still has days when a casual touch makes her flinch. It's in those small moments she sees it the most, his soul, his conscience, how it's changed him. Spike of old might not even have noticed if he made her uncomfortable, often didn't understand at all when something he did veered off into supercreep territory. Even when he did notice, there'd be a fifty-fifty chance of him smirking and ribbing her about her discomfort. (Okay, who's she kidding? Seventy-thirty at best.)

What happened in the bathroom... she's pretty sure he knew, in his head at least, that it was wrong - after all, he did what he thought he should to make things right. (There's another startling contrast. Angel killed to avoid getting his soul back. Spike nearly died earning his. Another mystery she can't solve except by admitting he's a better man than she ever let herself believe, and has been for far longer than she knew.)

But even with how he'd already changed, for the demon inside him, 'want take have' was what he knew, what he understood. He was confused by what he hadn't done as much as horrified by what he had.

Ensouled Spike sees, reacts; his face falls, he looks guilty, and his hands drop to his sides. He's not the gibbering wreck he was when she first found him, or alternately hiding behind false bravado and begging to be staked, but she knows he's still struggling, still adjusting. A century of taking what he wanted has left its mark; it's just that these days he's angry with himself rather than with her.

(She knows the feeling. Memories of her own ugly behaviour still haunt her, and she sometimes wonders if he realises how much guilt she carries for heaping all her self-hatred onto him. She was depressed and in pain and aching with her loss... but it still makes her queasy. She's still sorry. It still wasn't right. She'd tell him so if she could figure out how.

He has forgiven her so much more easily than he can forgive himself. She doesn't know how to feel about that.)

For the most part, though, he's kept his sense of humour, his personality, his ability to annoy the crap out of her. Despite the way bad memories sometimes catch her unawares, she's glad he hasn't turned into Angel part two, has retained more of his former self. She doesn't think she could deal with another dose of brooding melancholy right now.

Spike is still Spike, soul or not; he can still make her smile sometimes (not a talent she takes for granted, of late), even occasionally laugh. In an uncertain, stilted way, they've inched back to something she has to call friendship, for want of a better word, and she's glad of it; of his support, the way he stubbornly keeps on loving her when she's not at all sure she deserves it.

She's awed by what he did, and that he did it for her, but it's too big to get her head around. Friendship is something she understands, and she's more grateful for it than she can put into words.

She tries not to let anyone know how exhausting it is to explain herself, defend herself for how she's accepted his presence in her life. How tiring it is to cope when she wonders if it was all her fault anyway, because it feels like most things are her fault at the moment, and why should this be any different? How other times she can't look at him without remembering, without shuddering.

The way she feels so very alone even as she shares her home with more and more people; the responsibility of being a leader and having all these expectations placed on her shoulders until she's sure she's the one who will crumble into dust, and and and all the day to day shit of this sacred duty which feels more and more like a sacred prison sentence.

Maybe it makes her a fool, but she no longer cares what anyone else thinks, no longer cares about 'should'. They can think what they like as long as they don't come at her vampire with anything pointy and wooden. She's forgiven him, she trusts him, and she's more than okay with that. He's a demon, sure, but hey, it turns out she's not completely human herself. It's not like she can throw stones.

More to the point, he's about the only person in this house who doesn't act like she's failing to live up to his expectations. He's the one who unreservedly believes in her - who forgives and trusts her in his turn. Who makes her feel like she can do this.

It's... comforting and reassuring, it gives her strength, and damnit, she needs that right now. Needs him. She has to keep him safe. The idea she could still lose him to well-meaning interference is... terrifying.

In her heart of hearts she thinks that if the two of them can be friends after everything that happened, after what they put each other through, then everyone else should just get the hell over it already.

She's trying so hard to act like she's not bitter about their failure. She's not at all sure she's succeeding.

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There were so many things she tried to hide, tried to pretend weren't true, weren't happening. Confusing things, surprising things. Inexplicable things. Things about herself and about Spike, and about the two of them together. Things she promised herself she'd think about properly when the mythical 'one day' arrived and she had time and energy and wasn't trying to stop the world from ending. They'd finally talk properly, how they should've years ago. They'd figure out who Spike and Buffy were when they weren't trying to avert an apocalypse, how they fit into each other's lives. Then maybe...

She always thought she'd have time. That they would have time.

Now he's gone, and she grieves, and she doesn't bother trying to hide it at all, from anyone. She's in pain, she's hurting, and everyone knows it. Well-

Almost everyone.

The person she most wants to know how much she misses him is dust.


~ fin ~

"The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid
and deeds left undone." - Harriet Beecher Stowe