Part of The Voicesverse
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Spoilers: Barely and for season 7 at that. After all, we've got a lot of room to move here.
Rating: It's cool for all.
Feedback: Please, with lots of cappacino and sugar...
Summary: Spike returns to Sunnydale...
Without Chris, editing this would have taken another two days. I wanted it tonight!
Colleen, this is for you...bless your shippery little heart!
Buffy knocked on the door of the crypt. Wouldn't do to spill any more of Clem's snacks.
Announcing herself felt kind of strange - or maybe it was just knowing that Clem would be on the other side of the door instead of Spike. She shook the strange feeling off, frowning. Not there. Well, she could always go in and wait. She needed to thank the floppy-eared demon for helping with Dawn like he had - and for everything else he'd done. Things had been pretty nuts since Giles had blown in. Sorting through the fallout of that nightmare 72 hours had taken quite a while.
Besides, she thought absently, it had been long enough by now that he might have heard from Spike.
Buffy had just about made up her mind to go inside when she heard the crinkle of plastic, hurried footsteps and wheezy breathing.
Instinctively, she turned toward the sound, stake in hand and confronted -
Clem jumped back a step, eyes widening at the wooden stake. Buffy palmed Mr. Pointy with a quick smile.
"Clem." She frowned as she realized the snacks all over the ground. "Clem, are you all right?"
Buffy thought she recognized a box of Ding Dongs, a bag of Bugles (must be a favorite) and a now-dented loaf of Pepperidge Farm rye bread. Clem's hand was over the place where a heart should be.
"Slayer!" He took a deep breath. "Whew! I thought - "
Buffy nodded apologetically and bent down to pick up the vast cacophony of packaged preservatives. "I'm so sorry, Clem. I made you spill your snacks again!"
"S'okay," Clem puffed as he squatted down and began stuffing items back into one of the bags. He handed Buffy the other. "A scare now and then is good for jump-starting the circulation."
"I'm glad then." Buffy held up a bag of cheetos. "Because if demons can have high cholesterol, you need all the jumpstart you can get. Spaghettios, too?" She asked wickedly, holding up a can.
"Uh, yeah." He took the proffered can.
"Chicken?" she asked, picking up a bucket that had rolled to one side.
He looked up and grinned. "No, they're - yeah, chicken."
Buffy sat back on her heels. Clem was suddenly very nervous.
"Clem, I am *really* sorry."
The demon stood up and put out a saggy hand to help Buffy up. She took it, still looking him in the eye.
"Really," he rambled, "it's okay. Don't know why I'm so jumpy tonight. Of course, this cemetery - great digs, but the bad element, well - "
"Oh, Clem!" Buffy slapped her forehead. "I'm so sorry. I guess I was used to Spike cleaning up around here. I'll start making sweeps again until - " Buffy stopped and then continued firmly. "Until Spike gets back."
"Uh, that would be - good?"
Buffy laughed. It was a genuine laugh and Clem stared at her in surprise. "Good," she said warmly.
Clem inched toward the door of the crypt. "Well. Nice to see you again. I - "
"Do you know when that'll be?" She stood looking at him, arms folded across her chest.
"What?" Clem turned and started fidgeting with the door.
"When Spike will be back."
Clem shook his head, still not turning back to look at her.
"Okay. Well, take care," she called out, already moving away.
Clem did turn back then. "You too, Slayer. Thanks for looking in on things."
"Anytime, Clem." Her answer was punctuated by the sharp sound of the door closing. She grinned at the thought of a spooked Clem and headed off to check out things.
Oh, wait! Thank him.
She went back to knock on the door and heard voices within.
Buffy hesitated. Poker buddies? Girlfriend? Uh, demon friend? Well, let him have his fun. For a crypt, Spike's place had been pretty neat. Not a bad spot to bring women. She shrugged. Catch him later.
She headed off with a giggle to reclaim the cemetery from the - bad elements.
Clem walked into the dark crypt and headed over to light a candle or twenty.
A hoarse voice croaked, "No. No light."
The demon froze. "Uh, okay. The Slayer, she," he began.
"Is she - ?" A sigh. "She's gone."
"Yeah. She's askin' about you. Askin' about when you're gonna be back." Clem started back over to the candles.
"No light," he reminded the demon. "You didn't - "
"No, I didn't. But don't you think you should - "
"No..." came the patient response. "I don't." The voice choked a little. "I can't. Not now."
"Aw, c'mon, buddy." Clem tried to cheer his friend up. "This isn't so bad. Silver linings and clouds and - "
A rude noise interrupted the pep talk.
"It'll get better. You'll see."
"How? How will it get better?" His words were bitter.
Clem decided changing the subject was a good idea. "I taped Passions while you were gone, so we could watch that. And I brought wings."
"Going back downstairs. You watch TV, mate."
"But you need to eat."
"Not now, Clem. You can let yourself out later - when you're done."
The weary voice echoed through the crypt as Clem heard shuffling footsteps going down the stairs to the lower level.
"Okay, but - " Oh, what was the use? He'd been down there for days. Ever since he'd come back. Just needed time. That was all. Time.
The footsteps stopped.
"See you tomorrow then?" he asked listlessly.
"Sure, Spike, sure. Anything for you, buddy," he answered brightly.
Clem hung his head, shaking it slowly from side to side. It was a shame. Just a shame.
Clem had been right. The old cemetery was seething with vamps. Taken nearly a month for her to whittle it down to something halfway manageable *and* deal with the rest of Sunnydale. It had been grim work, clearing out nests of fledglings with their pseudo-Master Vampires.
Not a Big Bad in the bunch.
She grinned. Spike would have laughed his ass off at their posturing.
There were a few demons in the mix though. Obviously, the 'bad element' Clem had mentioned. She giggled at the thought of Clem and his junk food habit. And really, a chocolaty Ding Dong would go down pretty well about now.
An hour and two dustings later, Buffy headed over to Spike's place. It was a dark night and the canopy of trees didn't help the visibility much, but she could get there with her eyes closed anyway.
Rounding the stand of trees near the crypt, she saw Clem leaving. Buffy started to call out to him, but the words stopped in her throat. Clem looked preoccupied. Sad even. His eyes were downcast, and he was shaking his head in exasperation - or something. With Clem, body language said it all. He was so transparent.
Her eyes narrowed as he disappeared around the side of the crypt.
Buffy stood in the trees, staring fixedly at the crypt. Twenty minutes, and Clem hadn't returned.
An hour later, he still wasn't back.
Buffy made a decision and walked to the door of the crypt.
The crypt felt deserted. The air had a stale, unused smell, mingled with the faint scent of soot.
She shook her head. Buffy had never asked Spike about the demon eggs. Hadn't seemed nearly as important at the time as breaking things off. Frankly, his eyes and the earnest look on his face when he'd said "I can get money" that first night at the Doublemeat had nagged at her since Riley had come and gone. If he had been doing it for her, she didn't want to know. And she wouldn't have taken money if he'd offered anyway. Giles was one thing. But Spike? Well, that would have been a lot different.
The space felt dead. Only a faint glow from the lights on the street outside the cemetery lit the grate. And the trees blocked most of that. She walked to the TV, turning it on and turning down the sound all in one practiced motion. Using the flickering light, she located candles and matches. The smell of sulphur split the air, as the candle guttered and caught.
Looking around the room, she had an urge to light more candles. She missed the glow that had filled the room with golden light the way it had when he lived here. In all the time she'd spent here, hiding herself away from all eyes but his, she'd never really just looked around. Or maybe she had and didn't realize it at the time. Because everything was familiar and still in its proper place. Clem was obviously just holding the place in abeyance.
A muffled sound crept up from the lower level. Frowning, Buffy grabbed the candle and headed down.
It was more croak than whisper.
And the niggling feeling that had been plaguing Buffy for weeks surged into full-blown realization. She wasn't even surprised.
"Spike?" She swung the candle around, almost putting it out in her nervousness.
Silence hung heavily until a voice broke the quiet. Actually, it was a laugh.
"*Spike* doesn't live here anymore, pet."
She tried to steady herself, sound normal. Her back was drawn up tight. Jeez, it was just Spike!
"When did you get back?"
His answering tone was thoughtful. "A night that's lasted weeks. Or weeks that lasted a night. Dunno, really." She could almost hear his shrug. "Clem knows."
Buffy couldn't really tell exactly where he was. And all of the familiar landmarks of the room were gone. A pungent mixture of scorched wood, burnt fabric and explosives hurt her nostrils. The cavern was blacker than black, the single candle did little to help.
"Where are you?" Her voice had dropped to a whisper like his. She didn't feel any threat here, only sadness that threatened to overwhelm her.
"Fat chance." She stepped gingerly in the direction of his voice.
That was a little more forceful. A little more Spike like. She moved on in the direction of the sound - below her, to the right. The candle surged briefly, revealing a glimpse of white skin.
He was huddled up against the wall, head down. She crouched down a few feet away. As her eyes adjusted to the thin light of the candle, she saw his hands in his hair. The roots of his hair were brown. Brown hair with white tips.
"What's wrong?" When he didn't speak, she inched forward, trying to see his face. He laughed. It was an ironic bark of a laugh that turned into a ragged hollow sound. Without thinking, she reached out and grabbed his shoulders. He was thin. Horribly, horribly thin. Frail. She gasped at the weakness she felt as he pulled away from her, pushing himself even further against the wall.
"Oh, God, Spike, what happened to you?"
"Been thinkin' about that," he mumbled.
He chuckled again, and the empty sound made her draw her arms to her and hug her body for warmth. She waited.
"Always thought he was such a bleedin' wanker after that. Lost all respect for him. We all did." He choked on the words.
"Spike, what have you done?" Fear rocked her. She already knew.
"I just wanted it to stop, Buffy," he said simply. "I wanted to be like I was. Before the chip."
Buffy felt a wave of relief wash over her. No, it wasn't that, it was just - "You got the chip out," she stated flatly.
The puzzled silence lasted years. Finally..."Dunno, really. Funny that. Maybe." He shook his head. "Dunno."
Buffy's fingernails dug into her arms. All she wanted to do was drag him to his feet and yell at him until he yelled back. Anything would be better than this.
He shook his head, finally looking up at Buffy. "Such a wanker, he was. I didn't understand." His voice dropped to a mutter, as he looked down. "Who's the poof now?"
"Spike!" Her voice sounded shrill. Even she could hear it. The walls of the cavern were beginning to close in on her along with the smell.
He reached out to touch her face. "So sorry, Buffy. Never wanted to hurt you."
She took a shuddering breath and sat stock-still until his hand dropped away. She put everything she could into her voice: all the things she'd never said, all the feelings she wouldn't feel. She poured her heart into her voice. "I know that. I knew it that night. I was angry. And then you were gone and - "
"Had to do something, didn't I?" he chided her gently. "Couldn't go on the way I was. And the chip? Well, that's when things started goin' wrong. I thought it was makin' me weak, makin' me - "
"Spike, please, stop."
He went on as if he hadn't noticed, musing. "You know what a MacGuffin is, Buffy? It's somethin' that seems important, but it's not. Not really. Just a red herring." He snorted. "Burning baby fishes."
Buffy was beginning to panic. Spike sounded crazy and he was driving her there right along with him. Her heart began to thud in her chest.
"Spike, come upstairs." She inched closer carefully, afraid he'd shy away again. She heard fear in her voice and stuffed it down. "Come on." That was better, but she still felt strangely desperate. "It's - dirty down here."
"All burnt up, innit?" he said thoughtfully, looking around. "I was burnt too, y'know." He heard her draw in a breath and misunderstood. "No, not here. Fought a demon with flamin' hands. He marked me up good, but I beat him, Buffy. You shoulda seen it."
She could hear his voice thickening with unshed tears. "I set em up and I knocked em down." He started laughing as tears rolled down his face. "And this is what I get for all my trouble. My reward. More hell." He sighed. "God, I feel for Angelus. What a curse. Being all alone, livin' this."
Buffy choked back a sob and reached for him, pulling him close. She felt the tension go out of him as his arms wound around her waist and he buried his wet face in her shoulder.
She smiled through her tears, hand in his hair, holding him close as he cried.
"Alone?" she murmured. "You're not alone."
Spike jumped out of his chair as the door banged against the wall. Buffy stomped inside, silhouetted by the bright sun outside, wearing a grim look and toting a bulky microwave under one arm.
Eyeing it, he curled his lip.
"Take it right back out. Don't want it."
The pissed off Slayer slammed the microwave down on the table near the refrigerator and rounded on him. Dark shadows under his eyes; skin transparent; and even thinner than the night she'd found him. He was wasting away in front of her. The fear that had made her stomach clench for days now changed into anger.
"You look like shit," she stated bluntly, hands on her hips. "You won't eat. You won't leave the crypt."
"My choice, right? Free will and all that."
"If you're trying to kill yourself, it won't work. I've seen The Hunger, you idiot. And I have no intention of coming here and catching up on things every few weeks with some living corpse."
"Maybe a walk outside would help clear my head," he said, levering himself up.
She shot over to the chair and pushed him back in it. "It's noon!"
"Alright, I've had it! The first few days of this was one thing, but this is getting ridiculous!"
"Of course, love. What could be more ridiculous than a vampire with a soul?"
She smiled dangerously. "How about a vampire with a soul getting his ass kicked?"
"Hmm. Yeah. Well, there's that," he said thoughtfully.
"Look, I salvaged this from what's left of the Magic Box. It works fine. I cleaned it up, lugged it over here. The least you can do is use it."
"If you're so bloody hot for it, *you* use it!"
"Fine," she said angrily.
"Fine," he shot back.
She wrenched open the refrigerator and grabbed one of the jars Clem had brought, sloshed some blood into a mug and almost tossed it in the microwave. Putting it on for two minutes, she swung back around to see Spike's stiff shoulders. She let out a frustrated breath.
Buffy had spent two days trying to get him upstairs and out of that hellhole in the lower cavern. When she'd tried all the understanding, all the coaxing, all the rational reasoning she could come up with, she'd turned to bullying him. In dealing with Spike, frustration was the Mother of Invention.
Throwing a pair of Dawn's old sweats at him (hers weren't long enough and he'd lost so much weight that at least he wouldn't get lost in Dawn's), she'd all but dragged him up the stairs and tapped her foot until he'd changed out of those smelly clothes. Of course, with the hair and the now wrinkled sweats, he looked more like a weekend guy than a vampire, but that was okay too.
She'd been slipping around trying to get his jeans clean. Or at least, not smelly. At least, *he* wasn't smelly.
She leaned against the table, grinning in spite of herself. One step at a time. When the two minutes were up, she handed him the mug, readying herself for the next argument.
He looked up at her, not taking it. His nostrils flared. "What's this?"
"What?" She clamped down on her temper. Oh, she was going to kill him! "Pig's blood," she said levelly.
"So now because of me, a pig is dead, too?"
She counted to ten. "You're really cruisin' for that ass-kickin', aren't you?" she said menacingly. "Well, right now, it wouldn't be much trouble, even if you *did* fight back." She sighed. "Okay, well, I guess I'll have to haul your beaten and unconscious body over to Sunnydale Memorial and see if they'll force feed you. That is, if they don't stake you first. Where's that blanket anyway?"
Spike made a disgusted noise and took the mug.
"Drink it or I'll pour it down your throat. Flyweight." Her eyes were glinting with determination.
Spike turned up the mug and took a mouthful. He gagged and tried to hand the mug back.
"Uh-uh, Big Bad. I don't care if you can't keep it down as long as you get *some* of it in you. In fact, by the time I get back, you're gonna have finished the whole jar. You get that?"
"Buffy, I can't..."
"Don't Buffy me. If I wanted to deal with an Angel, I'd go to L.A."
Spike's eyes darkened. "Is that what this is all about?"
"No. Angel never acted this *stupid*. You've been a royal pain in the ass. Quit playing the martyr."
"Martyr?" he drew himself up to a standing position. "I wouldn't be in this mess if it wasn't for you."
"Oh, yeah, that's right, I looked at the menu and said, 'okay, I think I'll have this. Soul a la Spike. Can I get it delivered?' You're the one who went off half-cocked!"
"I *never* go off half-cocked," he said in outrage, looking a bit wounded.
"That is *so* not what I meant."
"S'what you *said*!"
She sighed. "Fine. I'm going to the butcher. What Clem brought isn't even gonna get you started. Drink up or I'll take you with me and put you on the block myself. And add Filet of Souled to the menu." She rubbed her stomach with one hand. "Mmm, Slayer food."
Spike looked at her suspiciously. "Since when did you start joking around about eating people?"
"Since I got my sense of humor back." She headed toward the door, talking over her shoulder off-handedly. "Humor. Think about it. Embrace it. Share it. And drink the damn blood!" she bellowed.
She walked through the door and pulled it to, pausing to look through the crack.
Spike stood there a moment, pissed off and a little bewildered. She almost giggled.
"Fine. Bitch." He drained the mug and walked over to the refrigerator. "Bloody slayer," he mumbled. The whole jar went in the microwave with a thump.
Buffy grinned and quietly shut the door the rest of the way.
Maybe she could write a how-to book. 'The Care and Feeding of Spike.'
She started to head to the butcher shop and ran smack into Clem.
"Clem, you are the jumpiest demon I've ever seen in my life!"
"Yeah, well, true. How's he doin'?" Clem nodded in the direction of the crypt.
"Pissed off and eating. Which is better than not, that's for sure."
"Yay." Clem almost did the happy dance. "I was gettin' really worried. He was eating a little when he first got back and then he just stopped. Stopped eating, stopped coming upstairs. Stopped doing everything. He doesn't look so good, Slayer."
"No, he doesn't. It's really beginning to scare me. One minute, he's snarky and kind of Spikey and the next minute he's dead quiet." Buffy's face reflected her puzzlement. "You know, I can't believe he went all that way to get the chip out, and ended up right back here anyway."
"Get the..." Clem smiled and looked at her curiously. He fastened on the other part of her sentence. "Was there somewhere else he would have gone? After all, this is his home, right? Even if it isn't, well, you know... quite like it used to be."
Buffy stared at him and began to turn red.
"What are those?" Dawn looked over Buffy's shoulder and into the sink.
Dawn rolled her eyes. "I *know* that! Why are they in the sink?"
"And that helps 'em not be smelly?"
"It does if you put lots of weird stuff in there with 'em. So yes, putting them in the sink makes 'em not be smelly. You're home early."
"And you're not at work."
"Later. I changed my shift, so Clem..."
Dawn stared at her. "Clem? What's Clem got to do with it?"
Taking a deep breath, Buffy looked at Dawn. She couldn't function like this. "Dawn, we need to talk."
"But I didn't *do* anything! I mean, yeah, I made Clem take me to Rack's but that's over and done with and has been for weeks and if I'm gonna get punished now I really don't think that's very fair cause I helped you and all..."
"Dawn," she said, grabbing her sister's shoulders, "you're not in trouble. For anything." Buffy's eyes narrowed. "Right?"
Dawn nodded with wide eyes and big nods. "Right."
"Good. Now sit down while I let those jeans soak some more." She turned Dawn around where her back was to Buffy and pushed her once. Dawn dragged her feet.
Propelling Dawn by her shoulders, Buffy put her in a chair and sat down beside her. This just wasn't going to work unless she was honest about everything. And she thought she might be able to answer Dawn's questions now. Maybe.
"Dawn, I've got something to tell you." In spite of herself, Buffy smiled.
Dawn grinned back. "Hey, I just noticed. You're all glowy. Sure you're not a mystical key, or somethin'?"
"No, no key." Buffy twisted her face into an evil snarl to postpone the inevitable conversation. "Not glowy. Just the evil sister ready to do some damage."
Sitting up in excitement, Dawn looked at Buffy expectantly. "I cleaned out the basement already. There was still some stuff in the training room? Where is it? I'll take it down right now." The girl grinned. "We'll go a few rounds."
Buffy snorted. "I haven't even made it to the training room yet. And it's not like we can call a cleaning crew."
"I know. Poor Giles. Poor Anya! Her inventory is up in smoke."
"Well, there's a lot of stuff, one of a kind texts, rare stuff, that's gone forever, yeah. But Anya's coping. She was *heavily* insured."
Dawn's delighted laugh rang out.
Buffy sobered. "Okay, family meeting."
"You lost your job."
"Unfortunately no, so the supply of Doublemeat burgers goes on."
"Giles lost *his* job. Which is like, hooray, cause he can stay here now. Can we keep him?"
"Just Dawn now please. I'm way too cool, being a Slayerette and all, to be a 'Dawnie.'"
"Settle for Scooby?"
Dawn bit her lip. "But a full-fledged Scoob, right? No Scoobie in Training for my job title."
"Fine. Now listen. This is important. We need to talk. About Spike."
"Why?" Dawn's voice went flat.
Buffy had thought a lot about how she was going to explain this and she still hadn't had any easy answers. She'd decided to wing it.
"Because he's back."
There was a firm knock on the door. Grunting, Spike woke up instantly, almost knocking over the mug he'd gone to sleep holding.
"Oh, for pity's sake, Slayer, come in! And stop with the knockin' already! I'm sorry I said anythin' about it!"
The door opened and Dawn walked in, inching over to shut the door softly.
As she walked slowly toward him, her eyes narrowed. "You *do* look like shit. And hey. Your hair's brown."
"Is it? Haven't looked in a mirror lately."
"You bleach your hair? That is so cool! Will you do mine sometime?"
"Bloody hell no," he growled. "And you'd better not go cuttin' it either."
"Buffy said you were back." The words dropped like a lead weight. Spike saw that Dawn looked very uncertain of how to proceed.
"What else did Buffy say?" he asked in a neutral tone.
Dawn took her time answering. Finally, she decided vague was of the good. "A lot of stuff. So I guess she decided I'm not a little kid anymore cause some of it was kinda R rated."
Spike closed his eyes and sighed. He'd dreaded this.
"She said you've got a soul now. Got it in Africa."
Mouth twitching slightly at one corner, he marveled at how much the little girl she still was. Dawn made it sound like he'd picked it up at the mall. "Well, yeah, I do. And it's a bloody nuisance, too."
"Well," she said setting her chin, "you don't look any different to me."
"Hmm," he closed his eyes to hide his amusement. "Guess it didn't take then." Opening his eyes, he saw a hostile Dawn staring at him. "Okay, enough of the small talk. Why are you really here?"
Dawn sat down in the smaller chair and looked at Spike appraisingly. "To hear your side."
The vampire sighed heavily. "Dawn, I don't have a side. Don't *deserve* to have a side. I did something unforgivable. She tell you that?"
"Um, Xander did..."
Spike's eyes flashed with a little of his old fire. "Harris? Harris told you? What? Cameras in the bathroom too?"
"Xander found Buffy...after. And your coat was..."
Spike put his head in his hands.
"So, yeah, Xander kinda told me, but you know Xander, and I asked Buffy as soon as I could but she didn't really answer me - what with saving the world and all." She rushed on, trying to say it before the words stuck in her throat. "Today, she told me what she did to you. About beatin' you up cause you wouldn't let her go to the police when she thought she killed that girl and that the reason you looked like you did on her birthday is because of what she did to you..."
"Dawn." The muscle in Spike's jaw jumped. "I could have stopped Buffy any time that night."
"Maybe. But Spike, she could have kicked your ass that other time, too. I mean, you're bad, Spike, as vampires go, but she's still the Slayer..."
Spike smiled at her, but it was a sad smile, full of pain. "Not a question of ass kickin', Nibblet. Comes down to trust. She trusted me not to hurt her, Dawn."
"But she was *already* hurt. She said..."
"Dawn," Spike said firmly, cutting her off. "Listen to me. There is no excuse for what I did. None. Nothing Buffy did or didn't do can change that. Me and Buffy, well, it just wasn't meant to work out. She broke it off weeks before and I didn't listen. I was selfish and I stayed after her.
"The fact that I could - do what I did - well, there's nothing for it. Betraying a trust is a terrible, terrible thing." He tilted his head and Dawn realized his eyes were filling with tears. He looked at her lovingly. "You remember that. Let this be a lesson. Think carefully about what you do. *Before* you do it. Some things you just can't come back from."
Dawn's eyes were wet. She realized she was crying. "But Spike...you're sorry you did it. I mean, you're sorry so - "
He closed his eyes on the unshed tears. "I'm tired, Little Bit. Run along home now and be there waitin' for Big Sis when she gets in. She likes that."
Smothering a sob, Dawn fled the crypt. What had happened to *her* Spike? She felt the same way she had when she lost her mother, her sister, Tara. Pressing her hand against her mouth, she ran home to grieve alone.
Buffy was at the refrigerator, loading in three more jars of blood when Spike came upstairs barefoot, rubbing his hand through his newly-spiked and two-toned hair. Her jaw went slack.
"Who are you and what have you done with Spike?"
He stopped and stared at her, as a smirk started tugging at the corner of his mouth. His hair was freshly cut. The old white-blond color was confined to the tips of a brown hair shaft. It was a little longer than he normally wore it. Hard to believe anyone's hair, even a vampire's, could grow that much in two months. There was more brown than blond.
"What the hell have you done to your hair?"
"Me? No, not me. Bit did it. What? Don't like it?"
Buffy's tilted her head and pursed her lips. "You look like a guitar player."
"Yeah?" He grinned.
"Oh, grunge. Well, it's a thing."
Shrugging, Spike walked to the refrigerator and peeped in. Buffy reached up and touched his hair. Drew her hand back. "Hmmph. What's in it?"
Spike went to the bookcase and picked up a bottle that looked like Elmer's Glue, silently handing it to Buffy.
"This is glue," she said, turning it over in her hand.
"S'not. It just *looks* like glue. It's for your hair. You rub it together with other stuff, too. Clever, eh?"
"If you were gonna do it, why didn't you put it back the way it was?"
"The Nibblet liked it this way. She cut it, too."
"Dawn has you so whipped," she said in exasperation. "She's given you a makeover. But - well, okay, I'm kinda getting' used to it. Not so eighties. I like." She squinted. "I think. You changed," she said taking in the looser sweat-shirt.
"Yep. More sweats. Clem brought 'em by. New uniform for the former Big Bad. Dawn's had gotten a bit tight. Couldn't even wear the shirt anymore without feelin' like I was in a straitjacket or somethin'," he said easily.
"As one who has hallucinated the whole straitjacket thing, I get it." She eyed the sweats. "Gray again."
"Well, yeah. Sweats are gray," he said flatly
His lips had tightened, and he sounded miffed. Buffy chose to ignore the mood swing.
"Not all sweats," she pointed out.
"All *my* sweats. Only poofs wear - "
Somehow this conversation had headed off to take up residence in a life of its own. She hoped it would do it in the next county. Deciding to capitulate graciously, she changed the subject.
"Okay, okay. I'm done making with the criticism," she said in apology. "So, what'd you do all day? Play guitar?"
Buffy winced. Now where did that come from?
Spike blew out a disgusted breath. "Fine. If you don't like it, toddle off to the five and dime and put my bleedin' hair back the way it was. Or shave my soddin' head. It's not like I can see it or anythin'."
"Five and dime?" She frowned, momentarily forgetting that they were headed toward another argument.
"Drug store. Oh, wait." His tone became sarcastic. "Let me put it in words you can understand. Hold on. Almost got the slayer translation. Yeah, that's it: Target."
Spike threw himself into the chair and switched on the TV, turning the sound up a little louder than usual. Fuming, Buffy straightened the refrigerator and slammed a couple of mugs around for no reason except her own frustration.
This was gonna be a long night.
Buffy leaned against the table. The television was still on. She wasn't watching it, and she suspected Spike wasn't either. The few times she'd looked over at him he'd seemed preoccupied. And he was still mad. Obviously. He hadn't said a word to her in two hours. The television flickered with the only source of light in the room. What had happened to the ritual candle lighting?
"You know I'll never go to Africa, right? Or really anywhere," she said conversationally.
Spike's mouth tightened as he dug his fingers into the arm of the chair.
Noticing the fresh onslaught of tension, Buffy sighed. "You know, you barely tolerate me these days."
Spike's jaw dropped slightly. Turning his head in surprise, he looked into her soft, sad eyes.
"What? You think I wouldn't notice? Hello, self-absorbed here, but not so completely unobservy." She went on quickly, glad to have finally gotten his attention. "You never look me in the eye anymore, unless you're mad at me. We barely talk. Not that we'd done much of that for a while, but - anyway, I yell, you yell back. And then, it's like this."
Buffy laughed ruefully as she looked down at his whitening knuckles. "See, you're doin' it again. Makin' with the strangle-hold. One of these days, you're gonna put your fingers right through the arm of that chair."
He continued to look at her in astonishment as a muscle spasmed in his jaw.
"I know I was horrible to you. Knew it even then. It was killing me to know I was hurting you like that - hurting *me* like that. The asylum was looking *really* attractive. Nice vacation spot for over-worked, death-challenged slayers."
As his eyes began to redden and itch, he swung his head back around in the direction of the tv. The naked honesty in her eyes was more than he could bear.
"I know you don't love me anymore," she said softly. "And I get that. Kind of a match made in hell - or the Hellmouth anyway. But could you at least try to like me a little? I'm not going anywhere, you know. Not until you're better. Not unless you ask me to."
"I'm not askin' you for anything," he grated out.
It was a vague answer, but it was better than the silence. She sighed. "Okay. Just thought we could talk."
He turned back to her with hardened eyes and got up out of the chair, barely leashing his rage. "Oh, so now you want to talk. What is it you want to talk about, Buffy? Because if you want to talk, rather belatedly I might add, I'm sure I can oblige you and listen," he said curtly.
Buffy took a deep breath. "I meant, talk *together*."
"Oh, to each other, you mean? Instead of *at* each other? Fine. Me first then. Why are you here?"
"What?" It was Buffy's turn to look at him in astonishment.
"You heard me. I don't stutter. Once again, then: Why are you here?"
"I thought - "
"You thought what? That we could throw a pity party? No thanks. Got a lot to sort through."
"I thought you might need me."
"I needed you *before* I went to Africa. Clem's good enough for an ex-Big Bad like me. He's calm, good. Being with him doesn't dredge up - Oh, sod it. I don't need your pity, Buffy. I'll get through this. S'no worse than being in love with you was."
"So you *don't* love me anymore. See, that makes it easy. We can be friends."
Spike stalked over to Buffy. His voice was breaking, as his eyes glistened with angry tears. "Friends? We'll never be friends! We'll -"
The triumphant look on her face confused him. He stopped and thought about what he was saying. And in his mind, he finished it.
You'll be in love till it kills you both. You'll fight, and you'll shag, and you'll hate each other till it makes you quiver, but you'll never be friends.
He tilted his head to one side and looked at her in puzzlement.
She smiled. "I love you, Spike."
"So what? You were gonna get the chip out and come after me? Start killing my friends?"
Spike got up on one elbow and looked over Buffy's naked shoulder to catch a glimpse of her expression. "Well, not kill all of 'em," he confessed. "I was gonna turn Red. Vamp her. Do it up right."
Flopping over on her back, she looked at him with narrow eyes. "You've got a thing for Willow?"
"Always thought she'd make an interestin' little demon," he teased.
Turning back over in a huff, Buffy muttered, "Well, you were right on that one."
Spike laughed silently as he kissed her shoulder. "And besides, didn't go to Africa to get the chip out anyway."
Buffy froze. "What?"
"You assumed I went to Africa to majick the chip out. Didn't."
She turned over, sitting up in surprise. "You didn't?"
"But I thought - "
"And that," Spike punched a finger at her nose as her eyes crossed involuntarily, "is your biggest problem, Slayer. Always thinkin' the worst." He held her eyes solemnly. "I realized that night I hurt you that you deserved better than a soulless demon. However, since you *do* need a little monster in your man, I decided it was the soulless part had to go."
"You went to Africa to get a soul?"
"Well, it started out that way, but I got over it. No, Slayer, I got it for me. And as I told the Bit, it's a bloody nuisance sometimes."
Buffy snuggled in closer and sighed. "Good thing there were no strings attached. Like hidden - clauses."
"You mean the sex thing." He grinned mischievously. "Nope, no strings attached. When I set out to do somethin', I do it right."
"Oh, yeah. You do." She turned back over with a glint of amusement in her eye. "Do it again."
They marched through the door, Dawn reaching into a sack, and Buffy winding up for the pitch.
"Ow!" Spike looked at the t-shirt and jeans he was suddenly holding. "What the hell - "
"Find your boots. Get dressed. We've got trouble," Buffy said in a hard Slayer-like voice.
Spike took a deep breath, looking at each of them in turn. He jumped up and started to come out of the sweat pants. At Buffy's throat clearing, he looked at Dawn guiltily and headed downstairs, delivering a running monologue the whole time.
"Somethin' else gone to bloody hell, has it? Can't leave a simple vampire in peace, can ya - neither of you?
"Well, what is it this time? Nest gone out of control? Is it that soddin' Naxos demon Clem keeps natterin' on about? Thin-lipped bloody Slayer doesn't ask for help until the apocalypse is comin' down. And now you're even draggin' the Bit into it. Guess I'll be expected to save her, too!"
Dawn looked at her sister and grinned with delight.
"Blah, blah, blah." Buffy rolled her eyes at Dawn, whose widening smile was threatening to split her face wide open. "Less talk, more dressage. And yeah, it's the Naxos. Six of 'em. *And* a spell to open the Hellmouth. Can you say 'Apocalypse Now?' Oh, and there's a few vampire worshipper-type flunkies. You know the kind that say 'yes, master?' Old minions of yours maybe?"
Spike appeared at the top of the steps, pulling his belt into place with a puzzled look on his face. Buffy didn't know if she'd ever get used to the white tipped ends on brown hair, but the short, spiked grunge look seemed to suit him.
"Jesus, Slayer, couldn't you have figured this out sooner? Who you got doin' research now? Monkey-boy Harris? And who's backup?"
"Figured if we've got you, we're pretty well covered."
"Oh, right." He rolled his eyes toward heaven. "I'll be spot on if you want me to talk 'em to death. This is the fastest I've moved in months - I need a nap!"
"Get over it! We've got vamps to slay and demons to kill!"
Spike stared at her as the slow wolfish grin spread across her face. In spite of himself, he felt himself matching it as the old blood lust surged.
"Bloody hell! For puppies and Christmas then."
"Kittens and hugs," sang out Dawn.
The Slayer and the Vampire looked at Dawn.
"What? I can't say something cool?"
They rolled their eyes. Dawn stormed out of the crypt.
Buffy smiled a secret smile at Spike. "Good to have you back."
"And it'll be good to have you *on* yours. That is, if I'm still here when we're done," he sighed dramatically.
Buffy grinned. "Well, I might have exaggerated a little."
"What? How little?"
"Well, two of the Naxos demons split town last night."
"And the vamps aren't your old minions, they're some of Harmony's rejects."
Spike was shocked. "Can't believe any of those lack-wits lasted this long."
"And the spell?"
"Bad translation. Probably won't do any more than give the Hellmouth a hickey. It's kind of a dry run for Dawn," she explained.
"Hmm. Won't take long then. You tricked me, pet. Got me all dressed and pumped up."
"Yep. Can't keep a good vamp down."
"Doesn't sound like it's gonna be much of a night for slaying though. Say, you got any vids at your house?"
"Dawn probably neglected to take back a couple. Or six."
"Movie later? Popcorn? Snog a bit?"
She shrugged. "Why not? But I've got work tomorrow."
"S'okay. I'll get you to bed on time."