All About Spike

What She Deserves
By Herself

Rating: NC-17

Summary: "This is something new,” she said. "Be quiet and find out what it is.”

Pairing: Spike/Buffy

Author Notes: Dedication: As always, for Kalima first and foremost. Also for the Bitches, Deborah M, and Chase.
Acknowledgement: Mucho thanks to Kalima and Chase, who gave generously that this story might be better than I could make it all alone. Also to everyone who has ever sent me feedback and egged me on to write more.

Completed: August 2002.

Story Notes: This story is a stand-alone, and NOT part of the "Bittersweets” series. Spoilers for all of season 6. Set a couple of months after the conclusion of "Grave.”

Disclaimer: Joss creates, I borrow

Of course nothing stops the cold,

black, curved blade
from hooking forward—
of course
loss is the great lesson.

But I also say this: that light
is an invitation
to happiness,
and that happiness,

when it's done right,
is a kind of holiness,
palpable and redemptive.
Inside the bright fields,

touched by their rough and spongy gold,
I am washed and washed
in the river
of earthly delight—

and what are you going to do—
what can you do
about it—
deep, blue night?

—Mary Oliver, from "Poppies"

Newsflash: it was good to be alone. And she found, to her surprise, that she was good at it, too—the hours of solitude in the car, hurtling east to the strains of country & western music she'd never have sat still for in Sunnydale, the wind ripping through her hair, sun burning her left arm, were hours of contentment. All that space, it was a cliche, Buffy thought, but it gave you perspective. Perspective on being alive again—really alive, not Dead Girl Walking. Perspective on what she'd done while she was all wacked out on the nostalgia for the grave. How far away she'd pushed people . . . how close she'd pulled others. In all the wrong ways.

Hurtling along at 75 miles per hour, she could think it all through without getting stuck on the self-flagellation part. Stuff happened, it was bad, but time moves on, and more stuff would happen. You could count on that: death, taxes, and stuff. She was only leery of the latter two.

The point was, she could steer it better from now on, because she was in her right mind again.

Plus she'd really never been out of Southern California, and here were mind-blowing mountains, stretches of desert that seemed to suck the very idea of moisture out of her head, and plains that made her feel somehow that the sky was where she was supposed to be, looking up at those vast expanses of wheat and corn.

Sometimes she drove through half the night, just for the sheer joy of hurtling into the unknown, able to see no further than the headlight beams, mesmerized by the oncoming yellow line. Just because she didn't want to have to shut off the radio. One good song after another.

When she'd stop, in small towns of grain elevators and church spires, fatigue enwrapped her like her mother's arms.

She never lacked for company when she wanted it. The sight of a pretty girl emerging from a black 1958 DeSoto attracted young men like flies. And the young men in these small places were . . . well, not like she'd have thought. A lot of them were really flirtable. And apart from paying for the gas, she barely had to drop a penny on keeping the old car up. The fellows were eager to get under the hood. Fan belts, oil top-ups, lube-jobs—shucks, they were on the house.

"Whoever takes care of this car sure keeps it nice," one mechanic told her, in Missouri. "It belong to your boyfriend?"

She'd grinned up at him through half-lowered eyelashes. He was a tall dark hottie, rangy and sweet-faced beneath his backwards baseball cap. "Why d'you think it doesn't belong to me?"

Spike abandoned it, and hell, it never really was his anyway. He had no title or registration. Mine now.

The guy returned her smile. "No boyfriend? You expect me to believe that, miss?"

He never was my boyfriend. He never was.

Sometimes, coming into the outskirts of some larger town, she'd sense them. Holed up in a poured-concrete box of a warehouse beside a railroad track. In a row of boarded-up store fronts on a street abandoned by prosperity decades ago. Or in a derelict house, forgotten between the electrical substation and the garbage depot. Vampires. In couples or threesomes, never more, not in such small places so far from the hellmouth. If she was feeling frisky, if the timing was right, she'd pause for public service and take them out.

It was fun again. A kick and a quip and the land was ours.

Slaying was one of the few times she gave Spike much conscious thought. Sometimes one of the creatures would remind her of him, and she'd think Thank God that's over. What a fiasco all that was. I was so crazy this year, I was out of my mind. Otherwise I'd never have let him get that close.

Even so, he showed up in her dreams. She'd awaken in her motel bed convinced she was still riding him, already halfway to the orgasm she'd bring to a finish with her hand before lying drowsily in the half-dark, immersed in memory of his power to move her through the depths of possible pleasure to touch the impossible. To take her away from herself.

But sex dreams didn't mean you actually wanted to have sex with the guy in the dream. That was pure Psych 101 stuff. Right?

She thought a lot more about Anya, struggling to get the shop back up and running again on her own, about Dawn, spending a few weeks with the nice cousins in Indiana, far from swords and big holes in the ground. About Willow, who was struggling painfully towards recovery in England, and Xander, who'd gone to support her there, though he could barely afford not to work all summer. She called them, and Giles, back home in Bath, every few days from wherever she was, using a phone card Giles had given her.

Giles had given her the money for this trip, as well. He'd promised to do what he could with the council to get her a salary. No more Doublemeat when she went back in the fall.

She'd always wanted to see New York. Or shop in it, anyway. Her first glimpse, caught in rush hour traffic in New Jersey, of the skyline she'd seen in movies and pictures, the skyline unanchored now by those two towers at the south end, startled her. She hadn't been quite sure of its reality, and the way it loomed up now atop the more prosaic structures of Weehawken, giving off that weird Emerald City vibe, like it was a consensual hallucination, she still wasn't sure. Buffy struggled to keep her eyes on the road.

Then she was in it, and finding out that knowing how to drive well enough to get all the way from California to New York was not the same as knowing how to drive on Ninth Avenue during the middle of the day.

By time she pulled into a parking garage near her hotel, she was on the edge of panic, ready to leap at the mere idea of a horn honking, and there was a big dent in the DeSoto's front end, right behind the right headlight. She felt grateful to be alive. No one had warned her that New York wasn't like LA—all the other drivers were demons or maniacs or something. No more. She'd leave the car here, nice and safe. From now on, she'd be Buffy-on-the-bus.

It was almost all good. Awesome championship shopping, check. Tall buildings with interesting geegaws stuck on to gawk at, check. Yummy eats from around the globe, check. Day spas, manicurists, masseuses, check. Hot and cold running cute guys in the clubs, check.

Exorbitantly priced but tiny hotel room near Gramercy Park that yet didn't have sufficient double-glazing to keep out the incessant all night blare of Lexington Avenue traffic, check.

Finally she gave up on sleep, dressed again, went out. Middle of the night was her time, after all. Maybe she'd find something to slay. Or maybe she'd go to that after hours club Marco told her about before she disappointed him so by saying good night and stepping into a cab alone. Or maybe, just take a stroll, enjoy those sidewalks when they weren't clogged with humanity.

She didn't really know where she was going. Nothing scared her. It felt like an enormous stage set, a backdrop for glamorous things to happen. She looked without guile into the faces of the few people she passed. Stopped in the glare of light from an all night bodega to check her lipstick. The night was so hot and close, it felt like it was melting off her mouth. Heat seemed to radiate off the sidewalk, off the stone fronts of the buildings.

Weird icky stinky smells, check.

She found refuge, two blocks further on, in a coffee shop, where she took the rear booth, right under the a/c vent. The place was tiny and narrow, a hole in the wall that nobody had bothered to update since it was fitted out sixty years before. Brushed chrome walls, mirrors over the booths, a grey counter with stools covered in red vinyl repaired with duct tape. Ceiling fan lazily swirling. Red linoleum on the floor. Quiet, just a couple of isolated people there. It was a little after three.

She'd been more than content, exploring the city on her own, but sitting here now, waiting for her coffee and toasted bagel, Buffy was hit with a sudden loneliness. Wouldn't this be better with . . . with whom? One by one, she tried placing people into the seat opposite: Dawn. Willow. Xander. Giles. She thought of Tara, somehow insufficiently mourned, although at her funeral—caught unawares by the force of her emotion—she'd cried spastically all through it. Tara had been her confessor. She'd been able to tell her things she could talk of to no one else—the coming back wrong. The sleeping with Spike. Tara hadn't judged her.

Do you love him? Because it's okay if you do. It's okay if you don't.

Was it, though? Was anything about loving ever going to be okay for her ever again? She'd started off so on the wrong foot, Angel, good God, when she thought of all that now, the whole slippery inexorable tragedy of it, she just wanted to cringe. Puppy love that led to a whole lot of dead puppies.

And then the affair with Riley, which was supposed to prove she could do it, she could be normal, she could be real with a man, a live man who loved her. Except that she couldn't. Failed utterly. Ended up running after him while he flew away, but knew now that even if she'd caught him, it would've been over. He wasn't written on her heart.

Next up, Spike. Not that that was about love. Not when she hadn't been capable of loving even the people she'd loved before.

No, it wasn't about love. It was anti-love. Fucking Spike, and proving . . . proving that slayer sexuality was an enormous, scary, devouring thing that she, Buffy, hadn't quite understood. None of the others had even begun to tap it. Yet when Spike touched her, up it whooshed, a boiling geyser. Her fathomless desire, her appetites . . . made her feel dirty. The things Spike had gotten her to do . . . wild depraved things, violent things, that she'd craved between times like crack, even as she nursed the bruises, the hickies, the soreness.

And the things he'd not been able to make her do, unless she was bound hand and foot first. Accept rains of soft kisses on her eyelids, her cheeks, her lips, her nipples. Each gust followed by the whispered tendresses she didn't permit him to say when she was free to jam her hand hard against his mouth. Shut up and fuck, Spike. Heading off his attempts to make love to her by slamming him back, taking before he could give what she was never going to accept. Not from a monster.

And then there was the handful of guys she'd imbibed on this trip. Not really like her to do that kind of thing, but this was supposed to be a get-away, and besides, she was feeling okay again—crawling out of that hole with Dawn was when she really departed the grave. A little physical celebration was in order.

And she'd enjoyed these cheerful, frank one-nighters—the mechanic in Missouri, who'd gotten off at least as much on the backseat of the DeSoto as on her; the guy in Pittsburgh she'd let pick her up in a movie line; and the one she'd met her first night here in New York, taking him back to her hotel room after four hours of perfect dancing.

They were all good, those men, all refreshingly unSpikelike in the being alive and warm department. They'd all tried their darndest to satisfy her, and they did. About a fifth of her, but, hey. They couldn't know what she really was. What she really needed. It wasn't their fault that they were exhausted when she was still raring to go.

She'd taken care not to be too rough with them.

Did you bruise the boy?

Spike liked her to bruise him. There was nothing she'd dished out that he wasn't glad to take. There was nothing she'd needed in bed that he couldn't bestow. Ten erections in a night: no problem. Two hours worshipping between her thighs, no need to come up for air: he was there. Every position, every flavor, every orifice: there was nothing Spike hadn't done before, nothing he wasn't masterful at, and happy to give her. All for nothing in return but an insult and a kick in the head.

Hello. Not going to start feeling sorry for him now. It was just a bad year. Bad badwoooWEE. Bad. But I'm better now.

She could stay here another couple of weeks if she wanted, maybe go take a gander at New England, before it would be time to make the return drive, pick Dawn up along the way, and make it back to Sunnydale in time for school to start. Xander and Willow would come back then from Devon, they'd be a threesome again. No more Tara, no more—probably—Anya. The original Scoobies, sewing up the gaping wounds. Dawn, ready for her to be a better sister, like she'd promised, like she would be. Things would be tough, they'd be picking their way across broken shards for a while. But it would be okay. They were family, and they would always, ultimately, be okay.

And who knew whom she'd meet. Somewhere out there, there'd have to be a match for her, right? Maybe Superman would come to the hellmouth—they could do a crossover, in more ways than one.

She'd have to talk him out of the royal blue and red thing, though. And please, that cape. So tacky. Wouldn't basic black be more debonair?

She caught herself smiling at that. Popped the last bit of bagel into her mouth, drained her coffee cup. A wave of drowsiness took her. Time to get back to her room, sleep some more until rush hour was done and Jeffrey was open. The Jimmy Choos awaited. She could blow a whole morning just trying them on and pretending she'd buy them all if she really wanted to.

Glancing up, she noticed the mirror that reflected her, in her booth, the four empty booths behind her, and the last one at the front, by the neoned window, where one solitary young guy sat doing something weird—his head turned at an odd angle, eyes shut, nibbling at the air. Blearily, she stared at this odd display for a few moments before craning around to get a first-hand look.

Oh sure.

Guy was sitting there necking with a vampire.

She left five dollars on the table and hauled herself to her feet, feeling in the pockets of her cargo pants for her stake. Walking slowly up the aisle between the booths and the empty row of stools, the stake gripped behind her back, she kept her eyes fixed on them. They were hugged together, side by side, the vamp's arm extended along the back of the booth, not quite claiming the prey, who anyway was giving himself, as least to kisses, with complete absorption.

They were both black-haired, white-skinned men, attenuated downtown types. The vampire in a leather jacket, his mark bare-armed in a white wife-beater, his bony muscled shoulders gleaming pink from the sign in the coffee-shop window.

Coming up just behind them, she tapped the young man on his neon-stained arm.

"You might want to find someone a little more alive to do that with."

His head whipped around. Looked her up and down with a sneer. "You mind? What are you, some kind of—"

The vampire let out a snort of laughter. "Ah, she means well. Don't you, pet?"

Of course she knew the voice from the first word—no, before that, from the sound of his laugh. And she'd have known him at once, despite the hair being black now, had she not been so focused on the other man, on the kissing. She met his eyes for the space of one searing heartbeat—his gaze was cool and knowing and careless, except that for a second, she was sure she saw him flinch. Then she shifted her attention to his hand on the booth back, near enough to her that he could've touched her side merely by outstretching his fingers. His rings were the same. He'd resumed the black nail polish.

She couldn't, with his companion glaring at her, ask what he was doing there. Neither, apparently, did he mean to ask her.

"This is a vampire," Buffy said. "He . . . he can kill you. If you get up and go now, it'll be all right."

"Didn't ask for your advice, girly, so fuck off."

"He knows, Slayer. He likes it. It's his kink. One of 'em."

Spike's hand moved, and she jumped a little, but he only dropped it possessively over the guy's shoulder, which was decorated all over in a delicate tattoo she noticed for the first time, something like fish scales or maybe a bird wing?—overlapping pinks and blues and greens. That movement brought her attention too to the large bandaid on the young man's neck, the healing marks of older bites on his pale fine skin. Oh God. She glanced then at his face. More had changed with him than his hair color since she'd seen him last. He looked scary in a way he hadn't since . . . well, since ever. Relaxed and cold and defiant. The chip was gone, or at least it worked no longer. He seemed quite satisfied with himself. The young man leaned closer against him, threaded his fingers in with Spike's dangling against his chest, even as he cast him an angry look. "You know her?"

"Yeah, I do." He chuckled. "From the west coast."

"Whatever. C'mon, man." He started to get up. Bumped her. "You still here?"

She ignored him, her eyes fixed on Spike. Spike who'd attacked her like a wild beast, who'd hurt her, God he'd hurt her when she trusted him—! Hurt her after saying I don't hurt you. Bastard! Horrible two-faced lying scum bastard who was supposed to understand the lines they didn't cross! And then he'd fucked off without a word and wasn't around when she so needed his help. Scary freaky black-haired Spike who was soul-kissing a man in public. Like a freak, which he was, a grotesque filthy freak she couldn't believe she'd ever touched.

She squeezed the stake in her sweaty palm.

"This is what you do now?" Her voice felt too loud in the quiet shop; she thought it sounded bruised, and bit her lip.

He pretended to glance around. "Grab a cup of joe at four in the morning? Yeah." He slid out of the booth, rose abruptly to stand too near to her. "Jack here's what I do now. Amongst other things. Lots to occupy me in the big city."

Standing side by side, the men were almost twins at first glance, spare and of a height. Under the leather motorcycle jacket, Spike too wore a white wifebeater, his usual black jeans and boots. Jack looked at him sidelong with a sullen hunger she comprehended all too well.

He was so beautiful. Vibrant beautiful dead thing. Who'd left her. Hurt and betrayed and left her like they all did. So he's being a fag now. Well, good. Fuck him and his skanky new squeeze. He always goes for the hollow-eyed, crazy-looking ones.

"Let's go, Spike," Jack said.

They turned away from her. She hefted the stake in her hand. He was de-chipped, he was active, the evidence was right here in front of her. Why didn't she slay him?

Jack leaned against the door, half-opened it. The sodden heat of the street pushed in against the stale cold of the air-conditioning, carrying with it a high, rank stink.

"Don't hurt him," she murmured.

"No more than he likes."

She stood fixed, confused, her heart burning in her chest, and watched them walk out and cross the avenue, Jack's pale arm thrown now over Spike's wide black shoulders. They paused in the middle of the empty street to swap spit again, Jack gripping the lapels of Spike's jacket tight in his fists, bending Spike's head back with the force of his kiss. Then they moved on and were gone, beyond the boundary of the window, into the dark.

Shit shit shit shit . . . Spike . . . .

Holding her breath, she waited for him to come back, to sail in through the door, telling her that was all just for show and Christ was he glad to see her and he was sorry he'd left Sunnydale without even saying anything. Counting her breaths, she waited, her pulse pounding.

The busboy mopped his way towards her, swabbed the floor around her feet. The waiter, leaning by the cash register, yawned. "Whazzup wit' you, meess?"

"Huh? Oh—" She shook her head. What the hell? Waiting for Spike to come back? Why would she want to do that? Why would she care what he was doing, or with whom? He'd burned whatever flimsy bridge there's ever been between them. God, he was foul. Seeing him with that creepy tattooed potty-mouthed guy just reminded her.

How could he go from her to—to Anya, okay, she got that now—but to him?

How could he touch anybody else after he'd been with her? He was supposed to love her. Supposed to be her lover. Devoted to her alone even though she kicked and despised him.

The heat must be softening her brain. She wasn't used to it, that sodden weight of air, even in the middle of the night. The air conditioning was somehow just a postponement of it. It crept in anyhow, fogging the brain.

She went out in it, walked back to her hotel.

The whole way, she looked for him.

He loved the smelliness of New York. The blood stink rising from the cobblestones on Gansevoort Street. The fetid odor of human despair in the burnt out husks of Harlem brownstones. The tang of garbage and piss, melting tar and overheated flesh on a steaming night down near the Manhattan Bridge, the tenements packed together like teeth, overflowing humanity and merengue onto the fire escapes and stoops. Gorgeous, all of it, gorgeous.

Well, not gorgeous the way it was the last time he was here, picking off tasty morsels right and left, no compunction. Good times then—the Mudd Club, CBGB, Paradise Garage. Developed a bit of a dependency on heroin addicts, easy to do, but no harm, no foul. Kept Drusilla like a queen in a huge loft, windows covered with aluminum foil. Danced the dance all over town with that luscious Nikki— . . . the thought of whose murder now put him off his feed.

Still, New York was a city with something for everyone—including a vampire with a fizzled chip in his head and a new soul constricting his every impulse.

There were plenty of men who understood the kinds of things he needed now.

He alternated. Some nights he wanted to be used. The hunter gets captured by the game. In certain subterranean clubs in the meat packing district, he'd give himself over to the leather boys and their practiced ways. Knew they'd never seen, or would see again, a man who could take as much as he could and not lose consciousness, not bleed to death. None of these human fetishists, not even the most ripped, the most practiced, could do as much damage to him as she'd done in that alley beside the police station. None could do what he'd nearly done to her, the abomination straight from his truest self. So submitting to them—to their whips, clamps, fists, cocks—didn't change anything. Except that for a little while, as it was happening and for an hour or two afterwards, he felt . . . released. Bondage made him feel free—that was the whole raison d'etre behind it, right? Yeah, whatever. Bound and gagged and blindfolded, he could spill tears and pretend it was about something else.

It was right that he allow himself to be raped.

Then there were the nights he wanted to dish it out, and that worked too. He appreciated the ease with which he could swing down Eighth Avenue at two o'clock on a Saturday morning and just let his nose show him which of these half-naked Chelsea boys would likely give him what he wanted—a wild bareback fuck, a drink straight from the fount.

Topping kept you so busy, no time to think much, and then afterwards you were tired, you might actually sleep through the long bright day. Might not dream anything too terrible, if you were played out enough.

Occasionally one of these tricks would ask first if he was safe. Flash a condom he'd pluck away and toss.

I take nothing in, I pass nothing on. Safe as houses, I am.

God, the sheer screaming headcockspinemindfuck of sinking his teeth into live pulsing flesh again, the potent velvet of real human blood coating his tongue, sliding down his throat, igniting him inside while his hips hammered them both to kingdom come

—but never too much. Never enough to feel good, to quiet the demon. Just as much as would bank the craving for a few lean hours.

He drank no animal blood. That would be too easy. No, he'd made up his mind: he was a vampire. He subsisted on human blood. But he would not thieve it, and he would not revel in it. He would not take it and give nothing in exchange. Each feeding would be a reminder that he'd gone too far before and could never do so again.

So afterwards they'd rise on trembling knees, these beautiful vulnerable boys with their muscled shoulders and eager clenching arses, hand clapped to the wound on the neck, cock wet and flaccid, and look at him. Sometimes smiling, sometimes troubled, or glassy-eyed from their pleasure, sometimes with an expression of glad or tremulous awe. Some thanked him, or kissed him, or stuffed a phone number into his pocket, but none asked him to stay.

He left them all sated. He let them all live.

That was, in fact, the point.

On one day of insomnia and torrential rain, he ventured out in the morning to the Public Library on Fifth Avenue, darting up the block from the subway exit to the side entrance, away from the grandeur of the lions, and found his way to the main reading room. Under the vast barrel ceiling, in defiance of the high deadly windows, he pored all day, while it poured outside, over bound back numbers of the Illustrated London News. Turning the friable pages of the last decades of the nineteenth century, Spike looked for his past. Found himself, found Angelus and the women, in small blind items crammed into corners by bigger stories of railway accidents, society balls, workhouse scandals. Saw himself in the accounts of navvies found dead in alleys, looking as though they'd been set upon by wild dogs. Virgins despoiled and drained in their beds—it was always the servants, afterwards fled, whom the police suspected. Potboys who never returned from their evening rounds, lamplighters snatched from the street. Dead prostitutes—God, so many of those! Angelus called them muffin-sellers, his private joke, saying their tits were little cakes served up ready to bite into. He liked to mutilate them, chew their bits off. Spike stuck to the more standard fuck-and-suck; liked to shoot just at the moment the poor cunt's heart exploded in terror, before the blood pressure dropped too low. Left most of 'em still breathing to bleed out on the greasy cobbles or their disordered sheets.

Closing his eyes against these memories didn't help. Staring at the tiny print of the old papers didn't either, but when it swam before his eyes, he could think about blinking. Anyway, this was a compulsion, and he'd never been proof against those.

He remembered reading these same pages when they were fresh from the newsagent, holding them in his same ageless hands, slumped comfortably in some pub snug with a pint in front of him. Or in bed with Angelus, having a postcoital smoke and cuddle, in some backstreet inn. Or in a railway carriage, ratcheting from London to Manchester, from Manchester to Glasgow, with Drusilla's head on his shoulder, her hand sneaking into his lap. Entertaining the others with reading out the police reports in funny voices. How they'd laugh! Darla's laugh was particularly high and shrill.

Angelus never did mind seeing his exploits written up, even anonymously as they were. We know who we are, he'd say.

Yeah, Spike thought, we knew who we bloody were.

He didn't really know anymore, now he'd gone and done this thing that tainted all his memories. That turned his remembered pleasures, the years of passion and wanderlust with Drusilla, all queasy and discolored. He didn't regret it exactly, all that reveling in violence and death that made him and Dru more alive than anybody else around them—more alive, he swore, even than other vampires, none of whom seemed to take the same kind of whoozy whimsical delight in it as he did, under his wicked darling's tutelage. Wouldn't, he thought, wish it different. It was fun, damnit, it was delirious fun, and Drusilla loved him, she did, and in her arms he'd been a king.

There was still a compartment in his mind where Drusilla's black star flared and dazzled.

It wasn't fair that he should have to regret that. His whole existence. He'd pay for it now, pay for it until he was dust, but he'd be damned—ha—if he'd wish it all undone.

Trouble was, he knew something now. The soul Lurky'd buggered him up with in that cave made him know it, made him know it so he couldn't close his eyes some afternoons, couldn't stop the tears from coming even as he swore he'd not go broody like that poxy Angel.

Couldn't help it, though, because he understood now. Might've felt alive, all those rampaging decades, but it wasn't a life. It wasn't a life, he wasn't alive, he added nothing. Gave nothing. Just subtracted. Every day of Spike was a day with a minus sign, minus this child, minus that family, marriage, birthday, good-night kiss. Take away, take away, take away, until there's nothing left. All those subtractions were a black hole seated on his heart, sucking at him, showing him that he'd been worse than nothing.

He'd asked to be put back the way he was, but sure as shit he'd never been like this.

And he'd thought, Mr Worse-Than-Nothing, that he could love a proper woman. That he loved that one, the slayer, Buffy. That he could do her a lick of good.

The obscenity of it filled his dreams now.

As the humid nights started to blend together, he kept his silence. There was no one to talk to anyway, and for once in his miserable unlife, he had no desire to brag or comment to anybody about anything. The tricks were—not speechless, God no—but the vocabulary of these encounters were so very limited, so monosyllabic. Fuck, shit, God, yes, stop, don't stop, you, me, do it, ah, take it, unh, ohhh, damn, harder, there, Christ, cum. Days, trying to sleep, his head filled up with other speech, dredged up by a memory more comprehensive than he'd known himself capable of. Cries of despair, pain, fear, rage. Terrified pleadings in twenty languages. Drusilla's mad soliloquies whispered in his ear. And over and over, everything she'd ever said to him. You're not a man. You're a thing. An evil, disgusting thing.

Oh, she knew, the Slayer. She knew right well. He was further than ever from being a man.

Sometimes he couldn't help re-experiencing her; he'd see some girl on the steamy street, her tank top stuck between her shoulderblades with sweat, skirt tight over a winsome ass, and suddenly he'd be hurtled back to his crypt, to the slayer's slick skin under his lips, the pebbles of her spine, the spread of her hips gripped tight in his hands as he hauled her up to his cock. Her mewling wordless cry as he impaled her, passion mixed with rage. The little hairs on the back of her neck, each one erect and quivering as he breathed behind her ear.

His head would flood with her, Buffy, and suddenly he'd be half hard, skin singing, and everything in him crying for her, the soul, the demon, and whatever it was that was neither of these, the part that was Spike in love.

Except he wasn't in love, he'd never been in love, not with her. If he'd really loved her, he'd never have touched her.

And to prove it to himself, he'd given up girls altogether. From now on, he'd keep to the men. Bed 'em and shed 'em, that was the way. Cocksucking suited him fine, and he wouldn't get stuck on any of them, wouldn't start hauling out the hearts and flowers. A beautiful man was entrancing enough, but had no particular power over him. Not the way her slim strength, her darling dangerous arms and thighs and mouth did him in.

There wasn't enough whiskey in the world to drown his sense memories of her, but that didn't mean he wasn't trying.

She was right. He was in love with pain.

He courted it now.

Then he met Jack. Jack, who like so many of the others, was ready to bind and punish him before he fucked him. Who took it in return too, offered up his neck willingly and came with a full-body jerk when Spike bit him.

But unlike the others, Jack didn't withdraw afterwards, or push him away. He looked into Spike's eyes with an amount of comprehension that unsettled him, and put his fingers through Spike's unruly hair.

Spike broke the eye contact. "What?"

"What what?" Jack's voice was low, gravely. Intense. "Tell me about it."

"Tell you—"

"I know what you are." He ran a hand lightly over the muscle of Spike's arm, up to the bones of his neck. "But I don't know who."

"Fucking hell."

"Always wanted to find one like you. Always knew it was a real thing." He smiled, slow, insinuating. He had high cheekbones, sultry eyes under dark brows. "The real thing."

"Not turning anybody, so don't take a bleeding number." Spike began to swing his legs around to get out of bed, but Jack caught him, drew him back.

"I'm not done with you." Suddenly he was steely again, as he'd been when he had Spike in the restraints. His air of melancholy concentrated into a hard point of pressure. Spike let Jack flip him halfway over on his stomach, push his thighs apart. Waited while he got slicked up, then pushed in, hard and slow.

"You sore?"

"Yeah," Spike admitted.


This was right—the needful thing—a fierce coring from a faceless assailant whose breathing sounded loud and insistent in his ears. Afterwards Jack stayed sprawled against Spike's back, pinning him, their legs tangled.

Stay with me, sleep with me.

He thought he didn't want to, he thought he never wanted again to be looked at the way Jack looked at him, as if he was interested in what might lie beyond the cock and the fangs and the strong arms. But the man's blood was smoky and satisfying, and he knew how to fuck, how to take without asking. Would be all right to have him again before parting.

So he slept, slept without dreams but without quite losing his awareness of the warm arm thrown across his still chest. When he awoke in the early afternoon, Spike found himself alone.

The apartment, somewhere in the warren of tenements east of Avenue A, consisted of two tiny rooms that felt taller than they were wide. The one he lay in was mostly filled with the queen-sized bed, and had a sliver of a window that looked onto a Kafkaesque air shaft and admitted no light whatsoever, even at noon. Perfect. The other had two windows blocked by gates and covered by red velvet drapes from some long ago amateur theatrical property trunk. Putting one cautiously aside, Spike gazed down into a tangled jungle, surrounded by a fence. Community garden. The trash-strewn empty lot it once was was replicated across the street, dirt and garbage baking in the sun. The buildings he could see beyond stood out like broken teeth in a hobo's mouth.

Turning away, he looked over the rest of Jack's realm. A tatty futon sofa, books piled high against one exposed brick wall. A dirty kitchenette against another. Milk crates holding clothes and oddments. Over the futon, a painting, a bit amateurish, but it grew on him as he stared at it. A man coalescing out of a sort of fog, his face half turned so sometimes he seemed furtive, and then sometimes lost. Spike found himself staring at it for quite some time, and had to tear his eyes forcefully away at last. The tiny fridge contained nothing but a bottle of vodka and a carton of leftover Chinese, furred with mold.

He turned to the books. Paperbacks, mostly, dog-eared. Celine, Gide, Beat poets. Proust, Firbank, Huysman. Baudelaire in French. Samuel Delaney, Auden, Hart Crane, Whitman.

There was nowhere to go until sundown. He sat and read. Let words in perfect strings like ropes of sheeny pearls run through his mind, run off him. He'd thought, back when he was alive and soft-headed, that beauty was cleansing, that beautiful ideas could purify all they touched.

Must not be true, after all, because now he was in a position to really know, he knew he was filthy in a way no soulful language could touch. His soul hung on him like a fine cloak wrapped around a reeking purulent corpse. Beneath it, he was eternally unclean.

Three days later, Buffy had to admit it to herself: seeing Spike had ruined her fun happy shiny time in New York.

No matter where she went, what she did or tried on or danced to, her thoughts kept circling back to the shock of seeing him. The strange way he'd looked in the coffee shop, what he'd said. How he'd touched that man, who leaned against him so familiarly, kissed him so trustingly. Well, he didn't know. Obviously he didn't know that Spike was a viper.

And then the whole past year flooded back on her, the slog of it, the agony of it, the boredom, the hopelessness. Spike in the middle of it all, stirring her ugly emotions up, making her feel. Bad. Only it was different now. Everything she'd been sure of—that he was disgusting, that her desire for him was deviant, that in the end he'd proven himself to be what she'd asserted all along, a vicious thing—had gone all wobbly in her mind. Words and actions she'd thrust from her thoughts, came forward now, clamored to be recognized.

Buffy, we have to talk.

How many times had he said that to her, and she'd rebuffed him? Now she wondered what exactly he'd have said, if she'd given him a chance, not been angry at the very idea that he might have a right to address her like a man who cared for her? What might have happened, if she'd brought him nearer, instead of pushing him away? Given him a place, a role, as he'd had when they were battling Glory. What then?

This place will kill you. Come with me now.

What if she had?

He was still what she'd always known him to be. He was still a vampire, unrepentant, unreformed. And really, since when was she supposed to be responsible for him? She didn't remember being appointed his moral guardian.

But her memory showed her what she'd refused to see before: he'd listened and seen and accepted her, when she came back, without scruple or exception. Accepted her depression, her craziness. Took her abuse, tried to diffuse it, and been slow—very slow—to anger at it. None of his snark or hurtful comments or blows came unprovoked. He'd started out with her mild as milk. Looked at her with such softness from his demon eyes, softness she didn't think even Angel could outmatch. Tried to offer her pleasure—which she took—and comfort—which she refused. No, not merely refused. Rejected with a harshness meant to wound and humiliate, because she had to deny the very idea that he could be tender with her. That his love might be real. That she was something a demon would love.

Why, good-natured as he'd been when she first came back, was she so angry at him? So virulent? Was it because he alone had nothing to do with her resurrection? Because she couldn't tell the others, her real friends, how much pain they'd plunged her into by bringing her back? Spike was handy for that. He was convenient.

It was as if she'd lived those months in a photographic negative—black for white, white for black—and now she was seeing the contact sheets. In full color it was something else entirely. Now she could look back and see all the points at which she could've been gentler with him, not manhandled him to such a state of desperation.

He'd loved her. She got that now. How could she have had no regard for so much love? Whether you accepted it or not, wasn't love like that worthy at least of respect?

She wasn't sure, though, whether she wished she'd never touched him. Probing her own heart as she walked the streets, as she danced in dark stroby clubs, or lay awake in her hotel bed, she honestly didn't know. Never touched him—or touched him differently. She couldn't tell. It was too confusing.

He tried to be good to me, and I wouldn't let him. But when I couldn't talk to anybody else, I could talk to him. Until I started with the sex, and then I thought I couldn't talk to him either.

I should've talked to him. He deserved that much at least.

She wanted to put this past horrible year behind her. The idea of happiness and being right with herself and the world made sense again. But she couldn't get it out of her head, that she owed something to Spike. Owed him at least a listen. An honest summing up.

If she could just find him again.

That night she went, deliberately, back to the coffee shop. Same time: three in the morning. She took the same rear booth, but this time put her back to the wall. If he came in, she wouldn't see him in the mirrored wall that reflected the restaurant's front door and window. Stayed for an hour, thinking, maybe they come here every night. He was kind of a creature of habit, wasn't he? She didn't know what she'd say to him, only that it felt imperative to say something, so that their encounter of the other night—and the one prior to that, in her bathroom—not be their last.

The only people to come through the door in the hour she sat there was a beat cop wanting take-out coffee, and a couple of women who may or may not have been streetwalkers.

This was stupid, she thought, walking back to her hotel. Of course he wouldn't go back there, and there was no way, in this enormous city, amongst these throngs, that she'd ever find him again.

She went back again the next night.

The burn marks were long and narrow, dripping down his sternum, crossing each nipple, his belly, the insides of his thighs. Red itchy marks made by the tears of holy water Jack so delicately poured on him out of a little cruet. He felt them under his clothes as he moved; reminding him how Jack would pinch and scratch at them while he kissed him. Never quite letting them heal, always renewing them.

The pain was what kept him with Jack. It was what allowed him to accept a little of the tenderness too, because that was also pain. It hurt like a bitch to accept anything soft. Gentle kisses burned his mouth like a cross pressed to the flesh.

They didn't talk much. When he came in at the end of that afternoon Spike spent reading his poetry, Jack drew back the velvet curtains and opened the windows to the early evening air. He asked Spike where he stayed.

"Got a room at the Y."

"Could come here instead," Jack said, not looking at him as he drew a tray of take-out sushi out of a bag, sat on the edge of the futon sofa to pluck at it with chopsticks. Spike lounged opposite him on the floor, half turned away, smoking and watching him eat. Grains of rice fell to the floor between Jack's feet. He wolfed each piece from the tray whole. His thick black hair stood out in all directions, as if he was always running his hands through it, and his eyes were heavy-lidded. Spike noticed the adams apple bobbing in his long sinewy neck. He was all sinew—muscled but lean, not pumped. Just like him.

"What do you do?" He exhaled smoke. Wondered why he'd bothered to ask.

"I used to be a junkie. Now I'm a bike messenger. I go to an NA meeting most days." He looked at Spike, chewing. "You? I mean, I know you don't work. Been in New York long?"

Spike shook his head once. "Nah. Been traveling. Dunno how long I'll stay anywhere. Was in California for the last few years, but it's not a good place."

"No." Jack said the word as if he knew all about the not-goodness of California.

"Right." Spike flipped his cigarette out the window and rose. "Get your kit off, I'll have you now."

Their heat resided in the silence between them.

They traded submission back and forth. Spike bit him nearly every night, and though Jack would hold his head and murmur feed, feed, usually he took no more than a cursory gulp or two. The bite was about claiming territory—and he didn't want to weaken this man who understood so well how he was to be used. He still found others who'd give him the bare sustenance he allowed himself now.

Jack wore his bandaid over the wound with a perverse pride; when they went out together, he held his jaw high so other men could see it and know whom he'd given himself to, and how he'd done it.

And yet, as the hot days and nights succeeded one another, and he kept returning to the close little rooms on East Ninth Street, Spike began to feel that somehow Jack had him in thrall. He tasted, Spike thought, like despair. It was a taste he craved now more than blood.

It went on like that. Spike stayed for the nearly unbearably sweet, mournful ways Jack tortured him. He did it by slow unguarded looks, by holy water, by hands and mouth and cock, by clamps and leather restraints, by murmurings in his ear, by the gasp and clutch of his body when Spike bit into his neck. They rarely talked about anything deeper than whether to go shoot pool or stay in, but their sadnesses mingled and recognized and fed on each other.

"Hey Will, so how's it going in Merry Olde?"

Willow's words tumbled out, rushed and high-pitched. "Good. I mean . . . good. Okay! Y'know, it's weird. Living with myself. But . . . Buffy—! They have the most amazing chocolate here! I'm collecting them all. There's these things called Wispas, and Aeros, and Bounty bars, those are so good, and this amazing one with raisins and nuts in it, Galaxy, it's called and they're fabulous. We're gonna fill up a bag for you before we come back."

"Xander's digging the chocolately foreignness too?"

"Yeah, he's good. I think he misses Anya, but . . . she won't take his phone calls. She won't answer his e-mail."


"Yeah, it's sad. I feel so sad for them. I feel so sad for . . . everything. I'm so sorry, Buffy. You know that, right? I mean, you don't totally hate me, do you?'

"No, Will. I don't totally hateI mean, I don't hate you at all. I just want you to get well."

"How's Dawnie?"

"Good. She's good. Lots of swimming and flirting, apparently."

"I don't know if she's ever going to forgive me."

". . . yeah, well. I can't really speak for her."

"I know . . . . So! New York City! Watcha doing there? Are you having such a wild time that Marlin Perkins is following you around with a camera crew?"

"Yeah, it's good. The shoe stores alone. And heyguess who I ran into?"


". . . with the shoes, right. But no."

"I dunno then. Who else is there . . . ? Not . . . not Spike?"

". . . "


"Huh? Sorry, there was a big noise just now outside. No, actually. I ran intoremember that guy Riley was friends with, in the Initiative? What was his name?"



"You saw Graham?"

"Yeah . . . it's, y'know, Fleet Week here."

"Buffy, Graham wasn't in the Navy."

"Well, I guess he is now!"

Her hand trembled on the receiver after she set it down.

Spike weighed on her conscience. Unfinished business. She didn't like that. If she was going to tidy up the aftermath of the annus horriblis, he had to be dealt with. She told herself she'd give it a week. Seven nights. If he didn't turn up by then, she'd quit trying and leave the city. Drive up to the Berkshires for a few days, and then start back.

She just wanted . . . wanted to hear him admit he'd met all her lowest expectations of him. That he knew he was a monster and a betrayer and a thief of her confidence.

Just wanted to tell him she wished she'd done things differently.

By the third night, the waiter knew her name and was interested in her apparent fondness for the place. Told her they'd once filmed a segment there for Sex and the City. Pointed out the autographed picture of the four women hung up behind the cash register. Told her Samantha was his favorite, and Kim Cattrall wasn't at all stuck up.

Sex and the city. The image of Spike kissing that man was indelibly burned into her brain now; she had only to close her eyes and they were there. Only had to drop her guard a millisecond, and she could feel his mouth against her own. No one had ever kissed her like he had, his tongue and lips animated with supernatural desire. He'd rest his forehead against hers, gasping—not because he needed to breathe, but because of how she excited him. And then he'd begin again, working magic . . . .

No! It was not all right to still be having the lusty thoughts about someone who'd almost—

Please. Almost shmalmost. I knocked him across the room. Like I've done a billion times.

It was bad, but she wasn't the victim type. She was over it.

She shivered. The air conditioning must be making her cold.

It's just . . . I thought he'd stop. When I told him to. I thought I wouldn't have to hit him . . . .

That first time—in the alley behind the Bronze, with the rest of them singing inside. Oh God . . . what if she'd just told him then, that she knew what he was feeling and didn't want to hurt him? The idea never occurred to her until now. Suddenly her eyes stung, and as she looked into her coffee cup, filled with tears. She'd already thought about all the ways she'd failed her sister and her friends this past year, but Spike . . . Spike was no one. Spike didn't need to be thought of.

On the fourth, fifth and sixth nights, she brought a magazine along to her vigil. He wasn't going to show. If he was going to show, he'd have done it already—if he even wanted to see her again, he'd have guessed she was going to do this stakeout for him, and turned up.

But he wouldn't want to see her. Not after the way they'd parted back in California.

Seventh night. She stayed two hours, glancing at her watch every one and a half minutes. Of course there was no sign of him.

Did this mean she was never going to see him again? That he'd really left and meant never to come back?

No more thorn-in-her-side Spike in her life?

Leaving, she paused to say goodbye to the waiter. Left a big tip. Went back to the hotel and couldn't fall asleep until nearly seven. Kept thinking about how he'd looked—how he'd looked at her. The strange feeling she'd had, watching him be so inexplicably cool. Different, he was different and it wasn't just that he was into the super-fresh blood again. What was it?

Slept right through the eleven a.m. check out time. Damn it. Might as well stay in town another day. She still hadn't made it to the Metropolitan Museum, and Giles kept nagging her on the phone about not missing the Egyptian antiquities. So, okay. She'd go, she'd look at mummies or whatever, she'd be cultured, she'd be out of there. And then the band she'd liked last week were playing that night at a different club. She went. And afterwards, wending her way back to the hotel . . . well, she'd already said goodbye to the waiter, so she couldn't go in to the coffeeshop again. But passing the place was just as easy as not passing it.

He was there.

Sitting in the first booth, the same one as before; his head bent over a book opened on the table in front of him, the upper left corner anchored under a cup and saucer, a cigarette held loosely between his fingers. Buffy stood still, forgetting to breathe, unaware that her hands were clenched into fists, her knees locked. He knocked me down and . . . he was going to . . . I said no and still he . . .

What shall I call you, then? Sweetheart? Goldilocks?

I beat him up that night he was trying to help me, and I never said anything about it afterwards. I whaled on him until he was pulp, and I. Never. Referred. To. It. Again.

And . . . oh God . . . neither did he.

She threw herself against the heavy glass door. Spike glanced up as she came in; she couldn't bring herself to look directly at him, but she noted how he gathered the book closed and stuck it in the pocket of the leather jacket, as if he'd been waiting for her a while. He gazed at her, expressionless.

She didn't think she'd be able to speak. Suddenly it seemed like a good idea to just beat it out of there. Run to the hotel and not look back.

Thirty edgy terrible seconds passed. Then Spike said "What do you want, Slayer?"

And before she knew what she was going to say, her mouth opened and the words came out. "I want you to forgive me, Spike."

I want you to forgive me. Bad enough for the Slayer to be here of all places, but now she was insane too!

He couldn't make himself look at her. He shook his head. Once.

But she slipped into the seat opposite him. Her beating heart, her pulse, seemed to stir the air around him. He could hear them, could smell her familiar scent, strong gusts of it wafting across the table. No. No no no. It was right that he should suffer, that he should never again know peace, but this . . . this was not right.

Yet why had he come here? Plenty of other places he could have gone to be alone a bit, read his blinking book while Jack slept. He'd chosen this place, where he'd seen her before, thinking . . . fuck, she's talking again.

"I've thought about this a lot, since I saw you last week. I've stayed around hoping I'd see you again. So I could ask you to forgive me."

It took him a moment to find his voice again. "For what could you possibly need to be forgiven?"

Her eyes went wide. ". . . for . . . for using you. For not taking you seriously. I know I hurt you over and over. I was . . . I was wrong."

Everything in him was churning, yet when he parted his lips, his voice still sounded calm. "Stop it. Stop it, Slayer, don't—don't lower yourself anymore. You were always right about me."

He got up, started for the exit. Her hand shot out and caught his wrist. "Spike, no. I need to ask this. I need closure. I want to forgive you too."

He couldn't bear to look at her. The face he saw in his mind was hers contorted by terror and pain as she struggled against him. He closed his eyes hard, tried to pull away.

Her grip was as unyielding as Jack's leather restraints.

"Spike . . . what happened between us in the bathroom . . . I've thought about it a lot. I'm angry at you, but . . . . there's responsibility on both sides."


"If I'd given you the respect you deserved . . . the respect you earned when you took on Glory for us, when you kept your promise about Dawn after I was dead . . . when you showed up for me after I was back, the only one who'd listen without trying to fix me . . . Spike, if I'd treated you right then, we'd never have gotten to the point where . . . where you'd . . . ."

He realized then that his eyes were still shut. Opened them onto her uptilted face, the mouth ajar, eyes large. A tear tracked slowly down her thin cheek.

"Shut up, Slayer. That's no way for you to think. You're wrong."

"But it's true. I . . . should've been kinder to you, Spike, after you'd been kind to me. I should've . . . ."

"You're the slayer. I'm a vampire. Soulless, and foul. You made a mistake, touching me, that's all. You weren't yourself, you were still half dead. That's the only reason I could get my talons into you. Put it behind you. Don't cry over it, it's done." He paused. Wanted to stop looking at her, and couldn't. She was so beautiful. As beautiful as the first night he ever saw her, before she'd lost her innocence. "It's over. You're all bright, you're shining." Luminous. "You're all right now."

She tugged on him. "Spike. We need to forgive each other."

"You've done nothing that needs forgiveness. Nothing. I've none to give you."

Her face crumpled then, and he realized she misunderstood. Slowly he slid back into the booth. His wrist was still in her grip; their arms stretched across the table now between them.

"Slayer, don't you see? I've no right . . . the exterminator doesn't beg forgiveness of the rat."

She shook her head, hard. "What? Spike, what's—this isn't like you. Why are you talking this way?"

He sighed. "Because I know now, what I tried to deny before . . ." He forced himself to meet her eyes. "You were right all along. I wasn't in love with you. I'm not capable of love. Not capable of anything remotely like worthiness of a real live woman, let alone . . . let alone . . . ."

Her hand around his wrist was warm and moist; it didn't so much hold him prisoner anymore as just hold him. When she spoke next, her voice was so soft he could barely hear it.

"What's happened to you, Spike? I can feel you're not the same. You're not, are you?"

"I'm always the same, Slayer." He rose. "Always was, always will be."


"I'm not asking your forgiveness for any of it, Slayer. Not because I don't know what I did to you. Hurt you and used you and dragged you through my muck. I know how inexcusable it was. But because you mustn't . . . ever . . . even think of . . . . But I am sorry. I'm sorry I presumed to . . . that I added to your pain."

"I accept your apology."

He shook his head. "No. You're not listening. Never forgive what I did to you. But forget. Just forget it, don't dwell on it. It's finished. I've no intention of darkening your . . . your life . . . again, I promise that." He wrenched his arm from her grasp and started towards the door.

Her voice broke the quiet, but he ignored it. Hastened out of the coffee shop, into the stagnant night air that enwrapped him like his own shroud, and began to run.

He thought he was home free, zig-zagging the streets and avenues, but, battered and underfed, he didn't have all his usual speed. When she caught him six blocks away, dropping him from behind with a flying tackle, he hit the pavement hard. She was so tiny, the magnificent Summers, and yet this was nothing to her. She'd floored him over and over. He'd thought there was an end to it, but . . .

There must be an end to it. Now. He struggled to rise, but her knee was in the middle of his back. When he tried to flip her off, she hit him. He lay still for a moment; felt the rumble beneath his chest of the subway, heard a car turn the corner and pass slowly, the driver obviously rubbernecking them. Everything on this block shut up. No one passing.

She poked him. Her voice was steely. Full on valkyrie mode now. "You're different. I could feel it the second I saw you the other night. I really feel it now. You're going to explain yourself to me. I'm not just letting you go back to chewing that guy's neck."

"He's a consenting adult—"

"Screw that." Another sharp poke. "Tell me. Tell. Me. What. Happened."

"None of your business, Slayer."

"Tell me, or so help me, I'll—"

"What, stake me? I won't stop you. Beat me up? It's all good."

Then her knee was gone, and he was free to get to his feet, his back still to her. Wouldn't look at her. Couldn't bear it. This notion in her head, to beg his pardon, the devil only knew where she'd gotten it. Just needed to escape her.

He started off. Go back to Jack. Or maybe today was the day he'd just carry on wandering the streets until sun-up. Make a little item for tomorrow's tabs. Man in Spontaneous Combustion on Second Avenue.

"Spike, please. Please don't be like this."

Her voice, high-pitched, pleading. Edge of tears.

That made him turn.

Oh God, her whole face, her whole body, was open. Open and shining on the dark street as if she was made of that kind of coral that glows in the murky sea depths. Looking at her, her words floated into his mind, I have feelings for you, I do, but it's not love. What she'd said right before he savaged her. And there they were, radiating from her unguarded face, those feelings that hadn't been enough for him, that he thought to increase by forcing himself on—

"Please, Spike. I can't leave it like this. We didn't come across each other this weird way, so far from home, for us to leave it like this."

I don't trust you enough for it to be love.

And he'd mocked her, when she said that. The memory of his reply stabbed him now, sickened him in that moment more than the memory of what he'd done when he'd laid hands on her. Oh God, what if he'd chosen something else? What if he'd stepped back instead of stepping closer? What if he'd said I'll earn your trust. I love you and I'll earn your trust. What if he'd said that and not waited for her to answer, not waited for any validation from her eye or lip, just gone away and let her have her bloody bath, and waited for the next time he could help her, for all the times he'd be able to do something for her, for Dawn, and maybe eventually she'd have changed her mind . . . or not, but wasn't loving supposed to be its own reward? If it was pure, if it was real, oughtn't it to be enough merely to serve her?

The soulless undead thing he'd been couldn't know that, couldn't do it. What seemed so very simple and right to him now, would never have occurred to the monster.

Buffy stepped closer to him now. Her moist eyes gleamed in the streetlight glow, her pretty scent keen in his nostrils, mixture of sweet skin, and blood, breath and hair and perfume. She was near enough that if he was some other man and she some other woman, he'd put an arm around her waist and they'd melt together and not let go.

"I've nothing to give you, Slayer."

She stared.

"What must I say, to make you go away? You need to hear me say I forgive you? Are those the magic words of the day? Okay, I forgive you. Now bugger off."

Still she stood, her gaze soft and enveloping even as it eviscerated, even as it tortured him.

"Don't love you anymore, Slayer. Not one jot or tittle. What's more, I'm off pussy altogether, so there's no point hanging about here. It's just the lads for me now."

She stood fast. "You don't love me anymore, Spike? Ten minutes ago, you said you never had."

Since when was she so probing? Their usual roles reversed. A great urge blossomed in him then. To kill her. Twist her neck off her spine and leave her lying in the gutter. Why not? Wouldn't add so very much to the stone bitterness of his new existence, and at least then he could be sure she wouldn't pursue him again when he walked away, wouldn't turn up later when he couldn't bear to see her, and tear his heart apart.

The demon rose up and took his body, took his face. Through the demon's eyes the whole street was lit up as if it was day, every detail of the slayer's visage clear and vibrant—the glossy whites of her eyes, the curl of the lashes on her lower lid, small gleam of sweat on her upper lip, the stray hairs falling from her ponytail, gleaming. Her darling, maddening, hateful beautiful face, filling his sensorium, creating and answering and thwarting every desire.

She'd ruined him. Ruined his entire unlife. Robbed him of his ripe wicked plum, put the cuckold's horns on his head, humiliated him over and over. Not feared him enough to even kill him. Fucked him but wouldn't lie in his arms afterwards. How he hated her! How he wanted her! How distant she always always was!

Then everything around him convulsed, made him shake all over, a great roar blotted out everything, sight, sense. The subway rumble deafened him, his knees stung, insides churning, gripped by sickness. And then there was something soft against his face, and against the back of his head, and his face was wet, and it wasn't the subway making that noise, it was him, him with his face pressed to her midriff, sobbing. Her with her little hand in his hair.

Never forgive me, never forgive me, never forgive me, never forgive, never forgive . . . never . . . forgive . . . forgive . . . me . . .

She bent over him, her hands on his head, and her lips were near his ear. "Spike. You . . . oh my God . . . I can feel it."

He shook his head, no no no, don't feel it, don't touch me, filth, I'm filthy, wanted to rise, to push her away, but couldn't, couldn't stop crying. She wasn't to know it, she mustn't know it, because then she might think that . . . and she mustn't think it, she mustn't think anything about him anymore, just go away and forget.

But he couldn't let go of her hips, her dear little hips in his hands. Powerless, fluttering against her like paper in the wind, sobbing into her belly, and she not pushing him away. She ought to push him away.

"Spike. You have a soul."

Let himself into Jack's flat, trembling all over. Felt him breathing, sleeping, in the next room. Shucked his clothes, nearly fell over as he yanked off his boots. Dropped his jeans. Slip of paper in the pocket with the slayer's cell phone number on it. He'd meant, at every trashcan he passed, to toss it in. Amazed he'd escaped from her in the end—she'd tried to drag him back to her hotel. Begged him—the slayer! begging him!—not to disappear. Christ, why? So he had a soul, so fucking what? Why should that make any difference to her?

Why'd he ever imagine that would make any difference to her?

It made no difference to himself. Just gave him a better view of all the ways in which he was a piece of excrement.

Naked now, he passed through the narrow hall, skirting the closet door that would never close, stepping over the pile of shoes that blocked the doorway. Knelt by the bed and pulled out the metal footlocker.

Jack stirred then, sat up. Switched on the shaded lamp and blinked at him. "You came back."

What he always said. This sad beautiful man who was always alone.

"Yeah, regular boomerang I am."

Spike rose, the restraints and ball gag in one hand, and tossed him the whip.

"Now then, pet. Need you to hurt me. Need it a lot."

Jack gave him even more than usual. Laid fresh deep marks over the web of scars that did not heal as they would if he fed properly. Burned him with water and cigarettes. But the worst of the punishment was when Jack thought it was over. When the gag that restrained his bellow at the fist—the goddamn forearm—in his ass, was removed, the whip cuts front and back starting to close. That was when it was most unbearable, because Jack would kiss him. The compassion that flavored the other man's mouth, the rough bristle surrounding the warm moist lips probing his, were more invasive than fist or flail. Jack said nothing in words, but his kiss asked questions, made sad generous offers, that dragged at Spike's new soul like a rusty nail through flesh. Yet he couldn't help kissing back, couldn't help cleaving tight to the lean body so like his own. Couldn't help imagining years spent with this quiet passionate man, exchanges of blood and melancholy, punishment and consolation, in these two tiny dark rooms.

He thought he could live with that for a while. That there might be some small sweetness to it. Which was why he had to make love to Jack all day, rocking with him in the tangled sheets, gasping and moaning into the still stale air of their cocoon, grappling him closer. And why, when at last Jack offered himself, helpless, speechless, he bit and filled his belly for the first time in weeks.

Why he heated a can of soup for him at dusk, and brought it to where Jack lay in bed, glassy-eyed, sweat-filmed, his breathing as ragged as the wound on his neck. Smoothed his hair back, lifted him up against the pillows.

Jack showed him a faraway smile. "Man . . . when you do that . . . the rush, it's like the first time I . . . ."

"I know, pet. We all trade one addiction for another." Watched him eat and then kissed him over and over on his tomato-scented mouth. Wanted to suck him off one last time, but there was nothing stirring down below. Jack was half empty and already half asleep.

One last time.

Because he'd promised the Slayer. Promised, though the words cut his lips like glass. She'd asked for him to meet her that evening, and he must keep his promise, though his chest burned with dread of her. He could only hope she'd choose to quickly grind him beneath her heel.

Whatever happened with the Slayer, he knew he wouldn't be coming back here again. Jack was a refuge. He wasn't supposed to have anything like that.

She'd just had a pedicure four days ago, but here she was getting another one. It felt so damn good, the chair vibrated, there were cute guys in the chairs across from her getting their feet done and talking on teensy weensy cell phones to other cute guys elsewhere, and besides, she really couldn't look at anything else. She'd done the looking. Mummies, paintings, photographs, famous tall buildings, famous short buildings, parks, monuments. And shoes. She could report back to Giles on that score with complete confidence.

Besides, the Fishnet Stockings red was better than the Diva pink.

Spike, of course, responded better to red. For really gross reasons, let's not forget!—and. This was not about Spike.

Neither was the bikini wax or the new mascara. She just wanted to look her best. Like everybody else in this bustling salon.

Do you think this is a date!?

This was not a date. She'd persuaded him to meet her tonight because . . . because there was still stuff she had to say to him, to ask him, and after he'd fallen to his knees sobbing at her feet, there was no way to bridge from that to any other coherent anything.

It occurred to her that she should tell somebody about this—appointment. Giles, maybe. Call him up first and tell him that she'd found Spike, that she was talking to him. Just in case . . . not that anything would happen, she was more than sure of that. No repeat of the bathroom scene was remotely in the offing. Not after the wiggins he'd had yesterday.

But in case, later on, it came out that she'd kept it a secret. Somebody might get sore about that.

Giles had laughed when she told him about sleeping with Spike. But somehow she didn't think he'd find it so funny, when she told him that Spike had a soul, and yet was active with the bloodletting again. She didn't think he was killing—not and macking with a live man at the same time—but she still didn't relish describing it all to Giles, or anybody.

At least not until she found out more.

Like how on earth he'd obtained a soul, and why—he was the last vampire, Angelus' whelp-with-a-complex—who'd ever want one.

If he'd shown up back on her doorstep in Sunnydale with it, all bashful and contrite, she'd have assumed it was about her. Because everything was, wasn't it? That's the way she'd been thinking . . . for too long. But he'd not come back. He'd gone to the last place he probably ever expected to see her. And didn't give off the air, she thought now, of passing through. No, he hadn't meant to go back to Sunnydale.

Which, any other time, would've struck her as a good thing.

So why didn't it? Why were there so many feelings? She thought less and less of how he'd assaulted her, and more of what she'd seen on the troika's spy cameras—Spike with Anya. Remembered what he'd said in the bathroom, about wanting a spell. To make his anguish stop.

She knew that feeling. That was a perfectly . . . human . . . feeling.

The manicurist, a Korean girl even tinier than she, wrapped a twisted bit of paper towel in and out between her toes, gave the bottle of Fishnet Stockings a shake, and began on her naked big toe. Buffy stared. This wasn't just a red she'd chosen. It was the exact red of arterial blood.

The blood Spike drank from that man's neck, the man who kissed him so intensely. The blood he'd never, since he'd fallen for her, tried to take from her.

Oh yeah, that was another thing. All that insane violent head-banging sex they'd had: he'd never vamped out in the throes. Never even mimed biting her.

She wondered now if it was because he hadn't wanted to, or if he'd just maintained some really exquisite control.

Trying to be what she might want.

What this was, he thought, was another test. The ordeals Lurky set for him weren't over yet. That had to explain it. In order to keep the soul he hadn't quite meant to ask for, he was being subjected to this ongoing battery of challenges.

How else to explain his presence on a subway car under the East River, heading towards Brooklyn, sitting opposite the Slayer, who avoided his eyes and glanced around nervously at the overhead ads for tech schools, torn earlobe repairs and laser eye surgery.

The car rattled and swayed. This line was pretty behind the times. Spike could've sworn this was the same car where he'd done for Nikki—it was of the same vintage, anyroad. Probably another in the series of object lessons from The Powers That Be.

At least the air conditioning worked. Not that he perspired, which was lucky, because otherwise he'd be sodden. He'd have started to sweat even before reaching the meeting place she'd specified, merely from the memory of how he'd broken down in front of her—weeping like a big girl's blouse, entirely undone. But he'd really have begun to reek when she greeted him with "I thought we could patrol. There's an enormous swath of boneyards in Queens. I found out how to get there by subway."

"You . . . you want to . . . ."

"I think it'll be easier for us to talk if we're not parked at some table. Anyway, I'm the slayer, I've been here over two weeks, and I haven't taken out any nasties yet."

"You haven't?" Then what the bleeding heck was she doing here? He'd assumed she was on the track of some International Nasty.

"Hey, I'm entitled to a vacation once in a while!"

She pouted. She almost sounded normal, almost looked normal, except that she never met his eyes, and her body language was all about avoidance. Not to mention that there was absolutely nothing normal to her faking this chipper and friendly thing with him, except that it was her usual modus operandi to do his head in.

Going down into the subway station at 23rd Street, they took opposite sides of the stairs. On the platform, they stood at oblique angles to each other. When the train came in, he chose to sit across from her, lest his leg touch hers. They didn't talk at all as the train stopped and started. Buffy blinked at the unfamiliar station names: Delancey, Marcy, Hewes.

If this whole thing was a ploy to make him relive Nikki's murder, to make him regret it . . . it was working. He tried closing his eyes but it didn't help.

When they emerged at the end of the line onto a nondescript commercial street lined with drab two-story shopfronts, he thrust his hands into his jeans pockets and glanced at her. "Hope you know where you're going, Slayer, because I sure don't."

But she did; she had it written on a piece of paper. He trailed her dispiritedly until they reached the south cemetery fence some fifteen minutes later. The place was enormous, bordered on the north by a busy expressway and stretching away in long vistas. Spike knew it more by reputation than anything else. Vampires generally didn't nest there; like every other sort of night-lover in the city, they all wanted to be in Manhattan. And neither did many new vamps rise here—the place was nearly full, most of the plots already occupied by the long dead. He wasn't going to tell her this; maybe she already knew. Maybe she just wanted the familiar setting of grass and mausoleums and headstones for whatever she was going to say. Maybe she thought he wouldn't get the wrong idea that way—wouldn't think this was a date.

She leapt to the top of the stone fence, her weapons bag slung across her back, glanced at him for a moment, and alit on the other side. He bounded after her. Together, they paused to listen. All the sounds came either from the expressway in the distance—a dull roar—or the street they'd just left. Nothing seemed to be afoot among the graves. Buffy set off strolling, a stake in her hand. He caught her up in three long strides.

"Look, what is this? What do you want with me? I don't think there's—"

She rounded suddenly. "Dawn's fine, thanks. She's visiting our cousins in Indiana. There's a big flooded quarry nearby where all the kids swim. She's having a great time."

Christ on a crutch. She was making up the rules as she went along.

Then her expression changed. "You don't know that Tara was murdered."

He was just looking at her, his mouth slightly open, as if he really wasn't following what this was about. Buffy sighed. As usual, she was handling him wrong.

"Look, I just wanted to tell you what happened, after . . . after . . . . It seemed important. Except, I guess, not to you. Anymore."

"It's important, but there's something at the moment, more—" Suddenly he shoved her aside, and surged past her. She whirled around to see an enormous—object—advancing on them. A thing the size of a garbage truck, that—hell!—smelled like a garbage truck, and moved like an enormous jello mold with fifty trillion volts through it. Boy, even the demons in New York were singular and bigger than anyplace else. Before she could react, it reared up nearly two stories tall, gathering like a wave of greasy grey stink, and—absorbed Spike. One moment he was there, hitting at it, and the next he was gone. Squashed, swallowed, she didn't know. It was advancing on her now, making a noise like muck backing up in a drain.

Buffy yanked the sword out of her bag, and made an evasive maneuver. Demons like this usually had an eye, or a heart, or something you could pierce, but it wasn't usually where you'd first suspect. She leapt a couple of tombstones, working her way around to the side, trying to see the detailing—it was a rippling gelid form, like the world's biggest amoeba. In the dark it was easier to smell it than see it.


No answer. The thing was coming around slowly in her direction. She kept circling, looking for some likely place to plunge the sword. The shape of the monster kept changing, spreading and shifting to cover a lot of ground, and it was too dark for her to make out much.

She scrabbled to the top of a mausoleum to see if that view was any better. From there, as the demon oozed itself around towards her, she saw a dark spot on its—back?—about the size of a teatray. Well, that was as good a target as any. Buffy launched herself sword first. The blade pierced the spot, which was tough like rubber, splattering her with—something—and then she was hanging on to the sword with both gunk-covered hands, sliding, not off, but in. The clammy grey matter of the thing swallowed her legs, sucked at her torso. She jammed the sword in and out again—more flying crud, the stink of which was unimaginably high—and then she felt the ground beneath her feet.

The demon was deflating like a ruptured beachball, liquefying around her. She wiped the crud from her eyes. As the demon deliquesced, so did the stuff it had spewed on her. A slight stickiness remained on her skin. She looked around for Spike, saw him lying on his face a few yards away.

His leather jacket was gone, as was most of his teeshirt, and his jeans were . . . partially dissolved. The thing had been starting to digest his clothing, on its way, apparently, to digesting him.

Oh no. This didn't look good. She fumbled in her pocket for her small flashlight. In its narrow beam, Spike's shockingly white back glowed like the moon. The skin was criss-crossed with long narrow weals, some pale and nearly healed, others black as if they'd been reopened numerous times, but most of them fresh, red-edged and weeping. The cuts covered him from the shoulders down past the waistband of his jeans.

What the—? "Spike!"

He didn't move. She flipped him onto his back. His chest was worse. The demon hadn't done this. These were whip marks. And . . . she looked closer. Burns. They'd made the skin bubble and scar.

When she shone the flashlight beam on his face, he stirred, squinted, and raised a hand to shield his eyes.

"Good, you're awake. What is this!"

"What happened? Where's it gone?"

"I killed it. It's . . . all around here. Soaking into the ground. C'mon, let's move somewhere . . . cleaner."

She watched him pick himself up with gingerly movements. Shone the light on him mercilessly, saw him flinch.

Oh, he hadn't wanted her to see this.

And she wished she hadn't seen it either. His beautiful silky skin, that she used to gnaw and scratch with so little lasting effect. The sight of it made her gag.

"You're cut to ribbons. Why?"

"Told you before. Been playing with the big boys an' their big toys."


"Bloody hell. Where'd my leather get to?"

"Eaten. Spike. What is this?" Stepping close to him, she shone the flashlight on his chest. His nipples were lacerated. She could see the outline of his ribs. "Are you telling me you submitted to this?"

"Really wasn't planning on telling you anything about it, Slayer." He started to wander off, grumbling about his jacket, his jeans.

"Do not walk away, Spike. I want to know what happened to you."

He didn't turn. "You happened, Slayer. Since then, s'all been one big miserable blur."

She lunged after him, grabbed his arm, yanked him around. "No! I'm not taking that for an answer, Spike! You owe me the truth now. From now on, you and me both, we're gonna speak the truth here."

"Get that light out of my eyes."

He led her to the broad steps of a large mausoleum. They sat, and he extricated a pack of cigarettes and the zippo she'd once pocketed, from what remained of his jeans. Lighting up, he took a long drag while her heart fluttered in her throat.

She waited a count of ten. "Where did you go, Spike? To get your soul?"


"Kenya? In Africa?"

"Demon there's got a rep for being able to fix things for . . . for a price." His cigarette end glowed as he inhaled. "Didn't go to him for a soul. Just came away with one, that's all."

"How . . . I mean, why?"

"Meant to get my chip out. Wanted . . . wanted to come back and rain hot vengeance on your head. Because I couldn't make you fancy me as I thought you should. Pausing now for you to tell me—tell me I'm a—"

"Just say what happened."

"Told the glowy-eyed fellow I wanted to be put back the way I used to be, so I could give the slayer what she deserved."

"Oh Spike."

"Yeah. Well, that's about what you'd expect from me, isn't it?"

"I guess. What then?"

"Then, I passed the tests—involved killing things, mostly, never a problem for yours truly. And then Old Glow Eyes said he'd give me what I came for, so I could give you what you deserved."

"So . . . so what I deserve, according to this demon guy in Kenya . . . is another vampire with a soul?" This was unbelievable. "Let's do the time warp again."

"Fucker had quite a sense of humor. And an agenda of his own, which he didn't share with me." Spike got to his feet. "What you deserve, Slayer, far as I'm concerned, is to be let alone. Should have never touched you. Took advantage of you when you weren't right in the head." He held a hand out to her. "C'mon. Let's get you back to your hotel. There I'll leave you."

She ignored the proferred hand. "So—what? You're gonna go back to that guy and let him flay you some more? That's your innovative solution to becoming a vampire with a soul? I'd think you wouldn't want to do things the Angel way, Spike. He spent ninety-odd years in the gutter, no good to himself or others."

"Right, and then he found you. And we all know how well that turned out." He paused. "I'm going back to Manhattan. You want to give me an escort, or shall I go alone? Dunno if I can give you the chance to save my hide twice in one night."

"You're welcome. Not that it looks like so much, your hide. Jeez, Spike. How can you—"

"You know. In love with pain, yadda yadda. Been worked on lately by experts." He held his hand out again. "C'mon Slayer."

She rose. They walked side by side back to the stone fence. This time, it took Spike two tries to get over it. When he landed, staggering, in a pool of streetlamp glow, she frowned. "You are weak. I thought so last night, but I wasn't sure."

She drew closer to him, looked up into his face. There were dark circles under his eyes. His paleness against the new dark hair was chalky. He glanced away.

"You haven't been eating enough, have you? Yet you've been biting that man I saw you with. Others? Have you killed?"

"If I tell you I've killed, will you kill me?" He said it as if he was offering a good bargain.

She'd been pretty certain he hadn't killed, but now she was absolutely sure. Just as she was sure that if she'd raised the stake, he'd have stood there and made no move to stop her using it.

Quietly, she said, "Who's got the death wish now?"

He didn't speak. Suddenly she had to resist an overwhelming desire to take him in her arms. Whoa. She stepped back.

"Let's get you out of here."

She led him back towards the subway stop, looking for someplace to get cleaned up along the main drag. At first he was almost limping, but when she glanced back at him he set his shoulders and speeded up. Walking into a 24-hour diner, she expected Spike, shirtless and disheveled, would be pitched out, but he set off so brashly towards the bathrooms that no one had a chance to stop him. When she emerged from the ladies room, washed and combed, he was still inside. She bought two take out coffees and phoned a car service.

The cab they took in from Queens dropped them on Lex and 21th St. Spike, who'd spent the trip slumped silently against the car door, smoking and staring through the open window, while she tried not to stare too hard at the angry raised welts and burns all over his torso, climbed out and rocked a little on his heels.

Buffy paid the driver. "Okay, c'mon."

"Let me go now, Slayer. This hurts me. Not that I don't deserve every hurt there is, but it's not doing you any good, consorting with me like this. I've got nothing you need, and you owe me nothing. Go on with your holiday, and don't concern yourself with me. I'm quite tamed, as far as your duties about my kind are concerned."

"Spike . . . " She hadn't yet consciously recognized all she felt, but as she began to speak, she knew, with a pang that resonated through her whole body, that her feelings about him were large, and spiny, and multi-limbed, and hard and soft and weird. And weren't going away. She didn't even want them to go away anymore.

Seeing him in the coffeeshop, she'd known she was lonely for him.

Seeing him splayed out on the ground just now, covered in someone else's marks, she'd thought, he's mine.

Like the DeSoto, he was abandoned, needing to be taken over. Put to rights. Then driven.

"My car's in here." She pointed to the brightly lit entrance of a parking garage across the street. "My luggage is already in the trunk. We'll head out now."

"Wait a minute. You have a bleeding car, and yet we had to drag ass all the way out to Queens on the bloody subway?"

"I . . . I can't really drive in this city. But it'll be okay now, it's late, there's very little traffic. And once we're in New Jersey I'll be fine."

"Once we're—"

"You're coming back to Sunnydale with me."

A firetruck blared by the garage. In the cushion of its racket, he looked at her gape-mouthed. Beneath the harsh fluorescents he looked more than dead, he seemed ghostly, only partly there . He threw up his hands. "Slayer, don't you get it? I'm no good for you. I hurt you."

She grabbed his biceps and shook him. "SHUT UP! Don't argue with me, Spike! Yeah, you hurt me, so now you owe me! After what you did to me, and fucking off afterwards without leaving so much as a note, you owe me bigtime! You're gonna come back to Sunnydale and make yourself useful!"

"Vampires don't go to New Jersey, Slayer. It's just . . . not . . . part of our image."

"Yeah, right. C'mon." She set off down the ramp, confident that he'd follow her, if only to keep haranguing her. She gave her ticket to the attendant, and a couple minutes later the car was brought down in the elevator.

"Bloody hell! It's my Old Faithful! What are you doing with—"

"The car's mine, Spike. Registered to me. But c'mon, I'll drive you home."

He gave her a look. "For ten days. Us together. In a car."

"I'm picking up Dawn along the way. She's in Indiana with our cousins."

"For feck's sake— Look—"

"No Spike, you look. You owe her too. She knows what you did—tried to do—to me."

"Oh Christ."

"—but she loved you, Spike. Last year, and while I was gone. And I think you loved her, too. But then something happened—we happened, right, and you barely spoke to her all winter. And then . . . You need to round things off with her. Y'know, in our lives, mine and Dawn's . . . men leave. They just pphhtt. She's angry and hurt, but that's all the more reason why you can't do that to her."

She gave him a sidelong glance. He was walking slowly around the DeSoto as she talked. "And don't say you're not a man, because I don't want to hear—"

"Oh FUCK! Slayer, what did you do to my car? Jesus God, woman, the whole front here is banged in!"

She circled slowly around to where he stood.

"There was this cab, and I didn't—"

"Give me the keys."


"Give me the keys. Maybe I can't keep you from dragging me back there, but I'm buggered if I'm letting you drive."

"You can wear this until we find a mall and get you some new duds."

Standing behind her at the open trunk, which was stuffed to capacity with glitzy shopping bags as well as her luggage, he took the teeshirt she was holding out, and held it up to the light.

"Mt Horeb Mustard Museum. What in bleeding heck is the Mt Horeb Mustard Museum?"

"It's a museum. About mustard. It was in Mt Horeb. I stopped. They had a gift shop. Just put it on, Spike." Her gaze pinged off his skin, so close now where he stood right behind her. God, his nipples were burned. "You're not so pretty right now as you should be."

Neither of them spoke until they were amongst the refineries along the Turnpike. Buffy's nose wrinkled then. "Yee-uck."

"Easy for you to say. I started smelling it ten miles back."

The weird nighttime landscape of pipes and cylinders and open flames and exhaust twirling up in the air, connected by a net of glittering lights, had its fascination, even as it made him think of that poem by the Auden chappie he'd read the other day. Nothing to eat, nowhere to sit down.

With the tag of verse came a strong sense of dread. With Buffy, here, now, in the days ahead, what would he eat, where would he sit down? What was she going to do to him? What was she going to expect? His thin curtain wall of confidence shivered as if to collapse.

New York had been so easy. The constant round of physical activity, courting his body's exhaustion, its mortification, in sex and punishment and sleep, round and round. Feeding only from the living, but never enough to fill him up, to feel his true strength. Walking the tightrope of temptation. He'd not had to think too much, his revulsion at himself was a barrier against deep consideration, against planning for the future.

He was still immortal, yet couldn't bear to think beyond the next sunset.

And now he was trapped in this car with his great enemy, his nemesis, whom he'd hated these last weeks because he knew he'd done wrong by her.

There were flavors of hate, and that one . . . the one that arose from one's own shame . . . was, he thought, the worst.

He didn't hate her now, but he was afraid of her. Because she was so powerful, and the quality of what he felt for her rendered him unable to resist her. He'd been unable to refuse this trip, yet the idea that she might so much as touch his arm with the tips of her fingers filled him with horror.

"So go on telling me what I missed. We left off at poor Glinda."

She talked, and he listened, keeping eyes on the road. It was worse than he'd have guessed. Added to his anguish at having hurt her was the knowledge that he'd deprived her also of his help in the crisis.

He thought of Warren, his skin stripped off. Clever Warren who'd built him his beautiful wretched toy. Warren had a soul, which had protected him not at all from doing execrable things. What if his own soul wouldn't protect him either? How unaccountably worse, to fail again now he had it thrust upon him.

He thought of Willow. Buffy spoke of her neutrally, with an edge of doubt—she too had done amazing wrong in her craze for vengeance, but she was, apparently, to be forgiven. Just because of who she was. Time would be allowed to make a patch. Poor Red. How lonely she must have felt, when her darling collapsed and died. Loneliness was the fuel for all kinds of mayhem, as well he knew. Maybe . . . sometime . . . he'd get to talk to her about that.

And Xander. Useless old Xander was the one to save the world this time. Pulling the old turn-the-other-cheek, unconditional love trick. Well, good on him, the hateful bastard. Maybe he'd be so suffused with the milk of human kindness, he'd refrain from staking him on sight the next time they met.

". . . so our cousins invited Dawn, because they hadn't seen her in a long time, and then Giles said I should have a vacation too."

"These cousins—they'd seen Dawn before?"

"Yeah, when we were little, we . . . oh. That's so weird. I don't think they can have . . . not really . . . ."

Checking her from the corners of his eyes, he saw her frown.

"I don't think about that too much. Except then something reminds me, like Willow wanting to turn her back into a ball of energy. The memories I have of her, going all the way back, they're just like all my other memories. Just as real. Except that I know they're not." She glanced at him. "What's your first memory of seeing my sister?"

"She was there when you brought me home that time—when we were striking our bargain about me helping you do for Angelus."

"Yeah. I remember that. Mom sent her right upstairs."

"But she took a good look at me out of those hubcaps of hers before she went. I can see her now. She was wearing pajamas with kittens on."

"They were really thorough, those monks."

"They were." He paused, debated with himself, then decided to say what he was thinking. "I had a lot of time to ponder, since . . . since . . . I wondered if they didn't do me too, the monks."

She turned slowly to gaze at him full-face. Her eyes shone in the passing roadlight beams. "What do you mean, do you?"

"They made her out of you, made her your sister, so you'd love and protect her. Sometimes I think those monks put it in me to fall for you . . . so I'd protect your sister too."

He was glad he had to substantially keep his eyes on the road, because the expression on her face wasn't one he wanted to contemplate too closely. Her mouth opened, almost as if she was going to shout. Then she shut it.

"I mean, maybe they looked inside me. Looked inside us all, didn't they? Looked inside me and saw that there was . . . desire. For you. That was always there, from the first moment I saw you five years ago. Maybe the monks shaped that to their purposes. I know I started to love you around the time Dawn really came among us. And it began with a dream."

Again her mouth opened and shut.

Then— "You're saying it's fake?"

"Oh yeah, Slayer. Fake as how you feel about her yourself. Fake as how Joyce did. About that fake."

She turned away and looked out her right hand window. He stared at his hands on the steering wheel.

"There's a rest stop coming up. Pull in, I want to pee."

While the Slayer was in the loo, Spike picked out a postcard from the rack: a view of the Vince Lombardi Rest Stop itself, all parking lot and low-slung 1960s architecture. He bought it and a stamp, and filled in Jack's name and address.

What to say? This wasn't his way, sending back mash notes after he'd had to scarper. But then, he didn't know anymore what his ways were going to be, now he had a soul. Was it the soul that made him think, with yearning and pity, of Jack lying depleted and alone in the bed they'd shared for those few weeks?

You've twigged by now that I'm off. With the girl who accosted us that night in the coffee shopthe one I said I knew. Sorry to leave you, truly sorry. He went back and underlined the truly. But as it happens I'm her slave, long story, and must crawl to her side when she bids me. Believe me, it wasn't so much my choice. I shall think of, though not see you. He paused here, pondering what else he could add to this decidedly unsatisfactory valedictory. He missed Jack already. Be careful, the others aren't so much like me. S.

When the sky began its first faint lightening, they were already in Pennsylvania. Spike exited the turnpike, pulled into the parking lot of the first motel off the exit. Left her in the car while he went in and engaged two rooms at opposite ends of the place, paying cash. His money wouldn't last long, but he didn't want to sponge off the Slayer all the way back to California. Coming back to the car, he gave her one key.

"Sunset's at 8:37 tonight. Knock me up at eight, I'm in 211. Unless you want to get started again earlier, but you'll have to black the car windows. Don't fancy riding in the back under a blanket."

She seemed startled. What was she expecting? Not this, apparently.

"I . . . I'll do that. What do you use?"

"Spray paint works. Put it on the inside of the glass." He dropped a couple of twenties in her lap. "Get me a pair of dark glasses while you're at it. So, what do you think—set off again four-ish?"

"Uh . . . yeah. I don't know how long I'll sleep."

"Room 211. Ring me when you're ready. Sweet dreams, Slayer." He handed her the car keys.

She meant to thrust the money back at him, but ended up just crumpling it in her fist and watching him swing up the outside stairs and along the second floor balcony to his room. The door closed on him without a backward glance. Her room was on the ground floor, in the back.

She ran a bath. Tepid water, shallow tub. Unsatisfying. But sleep seemed remote . . . as remote as the idea that they would get through all those hundreds of miles together.

She imagined walking up to his room. Going in, pressing him against the wall with kisses. He'd succumb, he always did. Imagined his cock rising up to meet her grasping hand, his arms closing around her, lifting her. The way he'd grunt when he entered her, when she slid all the way down on him and she felt so full, as if the head of his cock touched the very back of her throat. And then just rocking on him, rocking to oblivion.

Oblivion. That was the problem. That was his problem. That the more she fucked him, the less he had of her. He'd thought when he was inside her, that they were really connected. Only they weren't.

Now, now that he was at the other end of the building and wouldn't, she was sure, open his door to her if she went and knocked on it. Now the connection was there, firmly rooted inside her so she could tug and tug on it and it wouldn't come loose. Rooted tight enough that you could dangle your life from it, and not fall.

Now I know. Now. When it's probably too late.

She drove around the local streets that afternoon, getting directions at service stations, getting lost, getting more directions. Found an Army/Navy store that sold her jeans and tee-shirts in Spike's size. Looked at the motorcycle jackets, but decided that kind of outlay would only embarrass him, or piss him off, or something. Anyway, his duster was waiting for him back on Revello. She chose him a new belt though, as like the one she remembered as she find. His boots had seemed fairly intact, and anyway, choosing footwear for someone else was out of her league.

Bought a cooler chest and dry ice. A couple cartons of Marlboros. Sunglasses. Found a pork butcher, an Italian one full of sausages and spicy smells, where the fat old counterman winked and flirted with her and sold her quarts of blood with no questions asked. She was going to make him drink—drink a lot. Put the light back in his eyes. Make those hideous marks heal up. Thinking of them made her gorge rise again.

The day was steamy and close, the sky almost white. The interior of the car baked every time she braked for a light.

Back at the motel parking lot, she sprayed the insides of the windows black, leaving a view hole over the steering wheel. Wondered if this would make the car feel cooler inside, or hotter. Her hair stuck to her neck as she worked her way around all four sides. A man parked near her and stared at her as he walked slowly to the motel office.

At four-thirty, with his things in a shopping bag, she climbed the stairs and knocked on Spike's door.

He didn't open it. She heard him through the open window, through the patched screen and drawn drape. "Bring the car around to the foot of the stairs and leave the door open. I'll be down."

"But I brought you some clothes."

"Leave 'em here. I'll be down."

Okay. She put the bag down against the door and went to get the car.

He came bounding down the stairs five minutes later, holding the motel bedspread over himself. Dropped it at the curb before jumping into the car and slamming the door, throwing the bag in the back. Put the car in drive and hit the gas.

"You're going to just leave it there?"

"Cleaning staff'll find it soon enough."

"Spike—" She held out the blood she'd prepared, by pouring it into an empty liter-size Evian bottle. "You need to have this."

He didn't seem to see it. Behind the dark glasses his eyes were invisible. "Have you eaten?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm good."

He pulled out then, too fast, into the service road traffic, changed lanes, sped up. She kept her hands clenched in her lap around the bottle. Spike was a crazy driver, but skillful. Just let him drive.

Once they were back on the turnpike heading west, he lit a cigarette.

She held the bottle out again. "You have to drink this."

"Don't fancy it, Slayer."

"You'd better start, because you're not going to be biting anybody on my watch."

"I'm all right."

"You're not. You're starving." Suddenly her eyes were humid, and she felt like she wanted to sneeze. Damn him. Damn him for making me care.

He glanced at her. "Don't dehydrate yourself on my account."

I'm not crying over you, you bastard. "Drink!" She thrust the bottle at him; had he not grabbed it, it would've spilled half-congealed pig blood all over them both. He shied the bottle out the window.

"Goddamnit Spike—!"

"Said I didn't fancy it."

"I went to a lot of trouble to get that for you."

"You're a responsible pet owner." He smoked in silence for a couple of minutes, then said, "Thanks for the kit, Slayer. What do I owe you?"

"I dunno. We can settle up later."

He was wearing one of the white wifebeaters from the pack of three she'd bought. He'd never worn them back in Sunnydale, but obviously he liked them now. His arms and shoulders were unmarked, white and creamy. The black hair, carefully slicked back, still startled her. She tried not to look at him so obviously. Closed her eyes and saw instead his ripped-up body in the flashlight glare.

He was hers to mark, not anybody else's. She fought an urge to grab the hem of his shirt, yank it up and look again at the cuts and burns on his flesh. The impulse was so strong, her hands twitched.

Oh God. How were they going to get through this trip?

Classic rock on the radio, Steve Miller Band, "Keep on rockin' me baby . . ." Fought the desire to shut it off. There'd be too much silence, otherwise. Watched the stark whiteness of the long afternoon gradually shade down into blue, into dark. Good. He always found everything easier in the dark.

"Do you really think it was the monks?"

"Light's gone. Roll your window down now, Slayer."

She did. He punched the cigarette lighter in, counted to himself until it popped out again.

"Well, do you?"

"Sometimes I think one thing. Sometimes another. Sometimes I don't think at all."

He was aware of her observing him. Had that bug-under-glass feeling the whole time, the miles slipping by not fast enough.

Punishment, punishment to fit the crime. Trapped with her in this small space, nowhere to hide, no way to deflect her gaze. No way not to smell her heady girlsmell, to feel the minute vibration her pulse put into the air between them.

What if he stopped the car? Just pulled over, stopped, got out, on his knees? Begged her to end it. Slay me. For pity's sake, for your own sake, for whatever reason seems best to you. Slay me. End me.

She would refuse. She had other plans. He didn't know what they were, but plans bristled out of the set of her shoulders, the unconscious half-frown on her face.

And there was Nothing for him to pray to.

He ought not to be sitting opposite her this way. Ought to kneel instead at her side, like a patient dog, a trained slave. Abject. Or at least wait outside in the car. The chauffeur doesn't join the lady at table.

She was reading the enormous multi-paged menu as if it was a holiday brochure. He flipped through the selections on the tableside jukebox. Every song was about love. Wanting it, having it, losing it, regretting it. Wanting it again.

I love the Slayer. Same as I ever did. Except now I don't want to. Really wish I didn't.

He stuck two quarters in the slot, punched the buttons.

The Righteous Brothers. You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling.

She didn't notice.

"So what happened to the chip?"

She was driving now, after midnight, mostly semis around them, but she handled the car with more confidence than he'd ever have thought likely. One hand on the wheel, the other arm in the open window. Of course he'd noticed that first night that her left arm was more tan than the rest of her—just hadn't thought about why. She'd come all this way by herself.

"Lurky shorted it out, I suppose. Side-effect."

"And you found this out how?"

"Couple of blokes tried to rob me in Nairobi. Found I could defend myself. Not that I had anything much for them to steal, but they'd have stripped me naked if I'd not fought 'em off. Levi's are like gold there."

"How the hell did you get to Africa, anyway?"


"And is that how you got back?"


"So what's with the biting? How can you have a soul and be biting people."

"Some people like it. Seek it, even." Even some people you know. That ass-wipe Finn, so fucking high and mighty. Better not cross his path again, because soul or no soul, he'd do for him for sure.

"I guess some people like to drink strychnine too."

"You've been bitten. You know what it's like."

Oh. Wrong thing to say. Far-away-look alert.

"So, that guy. Jack."

"Just a guy."

"Did you have feelings for him?" Her voice was high and tight.

"Liked the way he felt, if that's what you mean."

"You know it isn't." Pause. "You let him . . . you let him do stuff to you. Kiss you. Mark you."

He was quiet for a minute. "Anybody who's any good, Slayer, leaves marks."

She sighed. "We can't really talk to each other, can we? I mean . . . you always used to want to. And now I want to. But this isn't talking, it's dueling."

He felt the justice of this remark. "Fair enough. Yeah, I had feelings for him. Specific, situational feelings. Bound up tight the way we bound each other up. Get it, Slayer? He was able to give me what little I needed. Wanted what little I had to give. We fit together pretty well, for the purpose of mortifying the flesh."

"Mortifying—? You're sick, you know that?"

"Yeah. S'why I left, remember?"

"I can't believe you wanted anyone to do that to you. That's not just pain, Spike, it's—"

"What? What d'you think it is?"

She couldn't say. It was something far deeper and truer and more desperate than mere pain. Passionate, but careful, deliberate. A wave of jealousy passed through her, roiling her stomach. "So if I hadn't come along—?"

"I don't know. I don't know how long I'd have stayed with him. Not . . . not long, I guess. He was . . . he was too kind."

She reached out and turned up the volume on the radio.

For a night and a day and into the next night they took turns driving and sleeping in the backseat, stopping only when Buffy needed a toilet or a meal, and then keeping right on. By common consent, they avoided the interstates. Whoever was driving controlled the radio. They talked very little, and when they did, it was about things that had nothing to do with themselves or Sunnydale. Suicide bombers in Jerusalem. Corporate accounting scandals. Spike thought she was testing him, wanting to hear him make the right moral noises. He didn't really care about any of these things. They were far away from his existence, from hers.

He thought they were supposed to be heading straight west, towards Indiana and Dawn. But every time she surrendered the wheel he found she'd taken them hundreds of miles out of the way—south. Like she didn't want to get where they were going.

Spike said nothing about it. He was in no hurry to confront Dawn, who'd been so bitter towards him the last time they met, and who knew now how he'd sinned against her sister. But he was afraid to ask Buffy what she was doing, or thinking. There was, between them, a banked fire that might flare up out of all control if either of them made the slightest wrong move.

This is my ordeal, driving with the Slayer through landscapes we don't stop to look at. All we look at is each other.

At four in the morning, cruising slowly on a dark two-lane country road, a rain soft as down suffusing through the open window, he hummed to the music on the radio tuned so low even he could barely hear it. Slayer sleeping in the back. Trusting him not to rape her or kill her while she softly exhaled and sighed.

She popped up behind him suddenly, words spilling out of her as if from a dream. "If it was the monks, why didn't they put it in my head too? Wouldn't that make sense? To make me love you also? So together we'd make a safe place for Dawn? Stupid monks."

He couldn't bring himself to speak. His eyes stung, and he blinked, keeping his gaze fixed on the road lit up before him. After a few seconds in which she hung in the rear-view mirror, swaying like a cobra, she disappeared again. Made a little snort and subsided.

She hadn't really been awake.

Buffy pulled into a motel parking lot. The sudden stop woke him. For a moment he lay where he was, staring up at the roof light. Then he sat up and glanced out through a chink in the black paint. Every motel parking lot in America looked like every other one—this he'd known since 1909 when he'd first driven with Drusilla from San Francisco to New Orleans in a stolen Dusenberg. This one was baking and quiet in the Southern sun. He could see from the shadows that it was only about ten in the morning.

His head was cloudy. He'd been sleeping sound—the steady movement of the car put him under. He was rubbing his eyes when she jumped out of the car and disappeared into the motel office. Then she was back, moving the car, and dragging him out, shoving him into the shade of an overhang, and then into a room that smelled as if it had been cleaned for robots rather than people.

"Okay, see you later," he murmured, and staggered to the bed.

She walked out, and he began at once to doze again, but she returned almost at once, lugging the cooler and her bag.

"You are going to eat." She waved the container of pig blood in front of his face. He rolled over and buried his head in a pillow.

Then her sharp little fingers were in his hair, yanking his head up whiplash-quick. "EAT, you stupid vampire!"

"Don't want—"

"I don't care what you want! This is not how you atone! This is how you be stupid, and I hate you stupid! You're not stupid! You're Spike! BE SPIKE!"

He'd retreated, unfed, into the bathroom, but she walked in without knocking while he was in the shower. Just like he'd walked in on her—did she realize it, he wondered? She was still in a passion, emotion giving to her face a blindish look when she yanked the curtain back.

He didn't bother to protest. She was going to look, and he was going to hate her looking, but nothing would stop her, so why try? No use even turning his back, he was thoroughly marked on both sides, as far down as his thighs. Jack's last wounds were still raw, as he'd intended them to remain.

"This is disgusting."

"It's my business."

"I hate this."

Her hand snaked out; he danced back to avoid it and nearly slipped.

"Hate me. Better all 'round."

"There was a microwave in the motel office. I heated some of it for you. Now you are going to drink."

He followed her out, one of the thin white towels looped around his hips. She'd poured the hot blood into one of the coffee mugs supplied with the room. The smell of it, rich hog blood, so close to the real thing, went to his head. He wanted to refuse it, tried to turn his back, hating how her expression shamed him, but she held the mug up to his face, and when the blood touched his lips he couldn't help himself. He drank it all down in one shot. She poured out more from the steaming container. The whole room stank of it, he saw the way she wrinkled her nose at the aroma. Helpless, under her hard eye, he drank it all.

"Good. Now you're gonna do that every few hours until you look like yourself again."

She stomped over to her bag and began rummaging for something. God, she was grim. Grim Righteousness. And here he was, trapped with her. Trapped with her looking at him and trying to force him to be—what? He didn't even know. What he was before, the monster she'd loathed?

Yeah, he could be that. He could be that for another sixty seconds.

He threw the thick china mug into the dresser mirror. The glass exploded, Buffy cried out and jumped. She grabbed for him, but he eluded her, yanked the door open and threw himself out, rolling past the shade of the overhang onto the seering oily tarmac of an empty parking spot in the bright sun.

Every cell of his dead body jumped at the touch of the sun—his skin fizzed—and he had time to think no more no more—and then something slammed down on him.

She'd tackled him so hard she knocked the breath out of herself, and for a moment could only lie there, panting, terrified, the unfurled bedspread between her and his bony splayed body. Dizzy in the glare of the sun, the stink of puddled motor oil, she half sat up. Under the muffling quilt, he was unmoving. Careful to keep him covered, she dragged him back up onto the curb, into the shade, and then into the room.

When he raised his head, and slowly got up onto his hands and knees, she burst into tears and hit him in the face.

"Goddamn you goddamn you goddamn you! DON'T you leave me again, Spike! Don't you fucking dare leave me . . . ."

They took off soon after into the afternoon glare, although Buffy was under no illusions that she'd evade paying for that mirror. The motel people had her credit card and license plate numbers. For thirty miles she kept watching in the side mirrors for cop cars, convinced they'd send a posse out after them. Her heart raced, and her mouth was parched. Spike was in the backseat, stretched out with an arm folded across his face as if asleep, but she knew he wasn't. Nonetheless he stayed quiet. Not smoking, not moving. He'd said nothing while she wailed at him, made no move either towards her or away from her. Neither had she touched him. She'd clamped down on her upsurge of grief, and brought the car up close to the room door.

Hair and hands singed, but freshly washed and dressed, Spike got back in the car without a murmur or a sigh, his face turned away so she couldn't see his expression.

As she drove, radio off, she replayed it all in her head. Her incredulity at what he'd done didn't die down with the waning afternoon. He—Spike, for God's sake, the last vamp, the last person, she'd ever think would—had attempted suicide. Right in front of her. And she'd been so shocked that she'd wasted—Christ, it felt like five minutes although obviously it wasn't—wasted time gaping before she grabbed the bedspread and leapt after him.

She gripped the wheel tight, kept eyes riveted on the road. In her head, she was holding him. In her head, his head was on her shoulder, and her arms around him.

She kept driving until dusk. They were in Northern Alabama now, a place they had no business being, but she didn't care. She wanted—not time, exactly, because she couldn't answer the question time for what?—but perhaps a space outside of time, in which not to think. In New York she'd seen him, and found out a need she'd been unaware of. She'd taken him, and had him now, but didn't know what that was going to mean, what she could make it mean by her will, or what fate would do with it. The need was nothing she could feel proud of, or justified in. She'd not phoned Giles or any of the others since leaving Manhattan. Dawn was expecting her in a few days, but they'd always kept that open. She'd call the night before she expected to arrive.

Now she was arrived in a no-place, a rural road where woods crowded down to the asphalt, and chiggers sounded loud in the underbrush. A cloud of gnats entered the car; before she knew it she was inhaling them, and waved an arm to get rid of them. Amongst the trees it was already night, but the sky above was still a precious saturated blue. The air didn't move; her clothes stuck to her. Behind her, Spike, unbreathing, made no sound.

Three miles on, the road widened into a town, a quaint cluster of white buildings around a green with a War Memorial and a bandstand. Tall trees ringed it without whispering. She parked next to one.

"I need a rest."

He sat up then. They got out of the car, leaned against the hood, but not too close to each other. Spike lit a cigarette. There were people around, lighted shops, cars passing slowly. A young couple walking by looked at them, at their car. The woman, as they drew abreast, nodded. "Evenin'."

"Hi," Buffy murmured. "Um . . . hey—excuse me?"

The couple turned back.

"Is there someplace to stay here? Someplace nice?"

Lucky, the innkeeper told them. Usually she had nothing at all on such short notice at this time of year, but just that morning a couple had had to check out early to get home to a sick child.

Spike drew Buffy aside. Spoke low, but didn't get close to her, didn't put his mouth near her ear. "We need a room each, Slayer."

She pressed her lips into a thin line. Shook her head. "She's only got one, and I want to stay here."

Of course she did, he thought, glancing from the big stone hearth filled up with a bursting arrangement of dried flowers, to the polished brass lamps, the thick Persian carpet and facing chintz sofas of the public room. Everything here studied and antique and comfortable. Diametrical opposite of all those motels.

He nodded. No reason he couldn't kip in the car, or spend the dark hours prowling about while she slept.

She engaged the room. He sent her up alone. "Come down when you want dinner. I'll be in the bar."

She didn't really mean it. It was shock, instinctual reaction. She couldn't mean it. It was absurd. Don't leave me. She didn't even like him.

And she couldn't understand how exquisite every moment was—how just looking at her tormented him. How he was surrounded on all sides, all the time, by the memory of his victims, all those people he'd destroyed, staring at him. They stared, in silence, and they did not blink or turn away. She was at their head, she held them all concentrated in one determined little frame, one strong consciousness. When she looked at him, all the others gazed through her eyes. When she looked at him, he felt again how'd he grabbed her, pushed her, made her cry and struggle. How he'd ruined even his own love. Staring into his glass of beer, he wondered if he dare try to end himself again. Looked towards the exit—he could slip out now. Cover some distance out of this little burg before morning, steal a car somewhere, get away. He didn't know how much more of this he could stand. But that would frighten her. Anger her. And she'd catch up with him, she'd make him feel it. As long as they were both conscious, she'd have him.

He was no longer under any illusion that she couldn't know where he was if she wanted to. Her hook was in his heart.

He was the only man in the dark mahogany barroom who wasn't wearing some sort of polo shirt or neat cotton button down and khaki trousers. Half of them wore blue blazers. Little groups talking and laughing in an understated manner, those soft Southern voices that slipped into the ear without catching on anything. From his place, the last and darkest seat at the bar, he could hear all the conversations. Could hear as well the kitchen staff moving about their duties behind the swinging door in the back of the bar, and knew there were women in a couple of the rooms on the floor above, bathing and dressing for the evening. Buffy was another flight up, he couldn't catch her scent, except wherein some of her molecules still clung to his own.

All the time they'd spent together, so close, so uninterrupted—what ecstasy this would've been for him, before. He'd dreamed of this, taking off with Buffy on some long dreamlike trip, driving with her tucked against his side, his arm around her, her head nestled against his neck. Hearing her laugh and sing along with the radio. Talking pretty prattle into his ear.

Amazing the fantasies he could cook up. Had he ever heard the Slayer talk the way she did in his mind? Ever really heard her laugh in the way he dreamt of?

A touch on his arm made him turn. It was the innkeeper, the smiling middle-aged lady in the cashmere twinset. "Sir, your girlfriend asked me to tell you she's almost ready but she'd like you just to come up for a moment."


"Up to the room. She said she'd like you just to step upstairs for a moment before she comes down."

Spike gaped at her.

"Room 301. Right at the top of the stairs." She smiled, encouraging, yet impersonal. This was just part of her job, prying men out of the bar, sending them to their wives.

Slowly he walked back to the lobby. The stairs were there, with their intricate carved newel posts, made when he was a boy. The innkeeper was still with him. Her smiling voice behind him said, "Right at the top of the stairs, sir, two flights up."

The front door of the inn opened then, a smiling couple entered. Behind them Spike caught a glimpse of the night, hot, soft, ready to envelop him if he'd just step out into it. Night, his place. His refuge.

He could have one more night, and then meet the sunrise.

No. The moment for that was gone.

The stair carpet was thick. He grabbed the rail to steady himself. Though he had more blood in him than there'd been for many weeks, he felt weak and off-balance.

He knocked.

"It's open."

He didn't know what he expected to see when he opened the door, but it certainly wasn't to find the Slayer sitting at the fancy dressing table in the midst of all those ruffles and cabbage roses, with a pocket knife in her hand.

"Spike, come here."

"What is it?"

"I need you to heal. I need you to live."

He took a step towards her, then froze. With an impossible ease, she'd raised the knife and drawn the blade across the fleshy part of her palm. She didn't wince.

"Come here, Spike." She held her hand out then, slightly cupped, the blood oozing up and filling her palm, the scent of it, the magical gorgeous scent of Slayer blood, filling the room. The demon inside him howled. He reached back blindly for the doorknob.

"This is for you." She rose then. Her voice was quiet, sounded impossibly gentle. Yet almost emotionless, as if she was running through something she'd memorized and would put the feeling into later. She stepped to him, the hand held out. When it was within six inches of his face, his trembling legs failed him, he dropped to his knees.

She pressed her palm to his mouth, and he sucked the blood from the clean lips of the wound.

Sucked in also her scent, the feel of her body, so well-known and so distant, as she bent over him, her other arm going around his shoulders, her face near his ear. "Forgive me Spike. Forgive yourself. It's okay. You made a bad mistake but it's not irretrievable. I don't want to lose you."

The Slayer's blood was bright on his tongue. He could feel it suffusing him, supplanting the meager hog blood, making him hard, making him strong. He'd only tasted the Chinese girl's, a century ago, and its puissance had lasted him for weeks. Buffy's, freely given, was an elixir. He felt almost ready to burst into life—as if his heart would begin to beat, his skin to warm. She held her hand steadily against his mouth, and murmured to him as he swallowed. About how he'd saved her life, when she would have danced herself to death, and now it was his turn.

Time stopped. He couldn't say how long it lasted, or how much he drank. But when she gently drew her hand away and straightened up, she looked nearly as composed as before, not at all weakened. She went back to the dressing table, and he noticed then that she'd prepared in advance—there was a bandage laid out ready. She must've gone out to a store while he was in the bar. He watched as she calmly wrapped her hand. In the mirror he could see her face, quiet, intent. Smug. She sucked her lower lip under her teeth as she worked, awkward, one-handed. He ought to help. Rose, too quickly, and nearly lost his balance. She hastened back to him.

"Lie down. You should rest."

He thought of protesting, but no words emerged from his mouth. He kept his eyes on her, feeling even as he did that he was like a stray dog grateful to be brought in off the street, ready to belong to the girl who fed him. He let her back him up to the bed. She knelt to yank off his boots. Funny how, though he felt so much better, he was suddenly so tired and jelly-limbed.

He stretched out in the bed, still in his clothes. And then the strangest thing happened. She began to behave as if he wasn't there. Sat down again at the dressing table. Brushed her hair. Paged through a couple of fashion magazines. Called room service. Turned on the television. Ate a bowl of soup and a salad and a large piece of very sticky looking cake. Watched Will and Grace. All the time seemingly unaware of how intensely he watched her through half-lidded eyes, his brain heavy with sleep yet not willing to lose a moment of her. Then she turned off the TV and the lights, and went into the bathroom.

The next thing he knew, her hand was again pressed to his mouth, the cut opened once more. He could tell it was hours later, the middle of the night. She'd been sleeping too, and roused herself to feed him. They'd been sharing the king-size bed, he realized; she sat cross-legged beside him in her pajama bottoms and tank shirt. In the dim light from the far bedside lamp, he saw her looking stern, absorbed, as he sipped her life.

Then she put her fingers through his hair. "Go back to sleep," she whispered. "Get strong, Spike." She shifted back to her place at the opposite edge, settled down with her back to him. He closed his eyes and was gone.

Opening them, feeling the encroachment of morning, he saw she'd rolled over in her sleep, lay now with her left arm stretched out towards him, the bandaged hand open as if in offering. Asleep, she looked both serious and childish. Beautiful mysterious Buffy.

He rose and showered as quietly as he could. Saw that his open wounds had closed, his older scars begun to dissipate.

What she wanted.

As he started to dress, she stirred and woke. "Where are you going?"

"Give you your privacy. Wait for you downstairs. Go back to sleep. It's barely five."

"Come here."

"No, I'm all right, Slayer. You sleep."

"Spike. Come here."

Her voice tugged him as surely as a lasso.

"Once more."

Again he found himself kneeling at her feet. Kneeling in front of the Slayer in her sushi pajamas, drawing down sustenance from her who ought to hate him, who ought to kill him. And she bent over his head and sighed.

"Are you better? Let me see."

Oh God, her hand. Her little hand on his chest, touching the whip cuts. They were already so much less, and seemed to heal even as she made contact with them. She'd never touched him like this before. Her fingers gentle, undemanding. Brushing softly against the lines and burns. Touching—ah!—each nipple, and then tracing the line down towards his navel. He watched her hand move, until she whispered his name, and then he looked up.

"I think you're better. You look better." She was looking right at him. Good God, she was looking right into his eyes.


She drew her hands back, swung around him to roll off the bed. "Okay, I guess we're done here. Go on." She walked towards the bathroom.

At that, he stumbled to his feet. He'd thought, maybe—no. She made his head spin. Grabbing a fresh shirt from amongst the luggage, he escaped.

They left before breakfast. He pointed the car north. The morning was cloudy, lowering with promised rain, and clammy. Beside him Buffy sat fidgeting with the bandage that enwrapped her hand.

"Did you sleep all right?"

His still heart swelled. "You made me very comfortable."

"That was a nice place."

"Yeah, it was."

"Although I guess there can be too much chintz."

"Wouldn't know about that."

"Need to find a butcher shop, we're all out," she said.

"Plenty of time for that. Let's find you something to eat first."

"Yeah. . . . We should go to Indiana now."

You are my queen, my darling, my heart's delight. I am entirely yours. I am yours in ways you cannot begin to comprehend. Oh my love, you cannot begin to know what I would give you, but even if you take none of it, I'll always have it ready for you. I'll always be ready for you.

"Right you are, Slayer."

He drove all day. It rained. They opened the windows and let it rain in; Buffy hung out and let the wind and water scour her. The air smelled like champagne, supercharged. Cool and breathable.

"I love this car!" She pulled her head in. "Where did you get it?"

"Do you really want to hear the answer to that?"

"Um . . . I guess not."

"So—Giles got you some money?"

She recognized his tactful reminder that the past would get them nowhere. "Yeah. He says it's almost fixed for the Council to pay me a salary."

"He coming back again to watcher you?"

"He'll be bringing Willow home. I don't think he's going to stay."

"Shouldn't ever have left you. Not when you were in so much trouble."

"He did what he thought was right."

"Bullshit. It was selfish. Like me getting over on you when you were too low in your mind to know what you should do. Just wanted what he wanted."

Her head swung around at that. "What? You think that? Hey, I was completely making my own decisions there. You didn't force me—force . . . ." She fell silent.

"Should've resisted temptation. For your good. Didn't, because I'm a no-good bounder."

A no-good bounder? She almost laughed, but the humor of the phrase was more than overshadowed by his tone.

"But . . . Spike, do you really wish we'd never—do you really regret—"

"Regret hurting you, using you, abusing your trust. Regret not having the chance to—"

"To what?"

"Never mind, Slayer. Let's talk about something else. Or—put the radio on."

"Spike, I think we regret the same things."

He sighed. "Sometimes you're so naive I wonder you don't run your trike off a cliff. There's no 'we,' Slayer. There's you, who are righteous, and there's me, who is a demon in a cage. Just traded one cage for another. A smaller one, with a bed of nails in it, that's all."

She turned all the way in her seat to face him. "But—there was hurt, and usage, on both sides. And I chose to do what I did with you. We were both there, Spike, so now we both regret—"

"Yeah? Well, let's compare. I regret, with all my soul, never getting the chance to make love to you. To comfort you and hold you. Share my strength with you. Give you a bit of hope. Like a proper man, in a way that would've made you happy. That's not what you regret, is it? Missing out on that? So shut up."

A knot of pain seized her throat. She couldn't look at him now, but still felt the sadness coming off him in waves. Knew she still did it, was doing it now, touch and withdraw. And she was supposedly doing her best.

She scrunched down in her seat and stared out at the grey sky.

"You don't know what I regret."

"Listen Slayer, never mind what I said earlier. Can't seem to open my gob around you without saying what I shouldn't."

She dipped her head. They were standing in front of her motel room door, hours later, making their goodnights. They'd crossed into Indiana. She'd call her sister in the morning, and they'd be with her by afternoon. "The only thing I don't want to hear is lies."

"Never have lied to you about what I feel."

"I know. But you always thought I did."

He shook his head. "I'd say all sorts when I was desperate. Pathetic fantasies."

She opened the door. Laid her hand on his chest. Longed to lift the black teeshirt he wore today and see how the scars looked now. She'd been thinking about them all day, those marks. As if thinking would make them hers. Thinking of how his mouth fit into her palm as he drank from her, and how her whole body thrilled at it. Not the same way as when Angel bit her and she pulled him back from his end. That bite was an end, a sad coda, she'd felt it at the time. Whereas last night had seemed like a beginning, something gentle burgeoning. "Spike . . . why don't you come in."

He stiffened and stepped back. "Don't want a pity fuck from you, Slayer."

She dropped her eyes, but just for a moment. In the next, she was looking right at him. "My name is Buffy. You haven't called me by my name since—"

He smiled, a tense smile that made her heart race. "Your name. Ah, but . . . you can't know what your name does to me . . . is to me . . . here." Touched himself lightly on the chest, and turned away. "I may be yours to command, Slayer, but I'm nearly as flayed as that Warren wanker. So have a care."

Again, he'd taken a room at the other end of the motel. He walked off, and she couldn't bring herself to call him back. Why? She'd wanted him—imagined him taking her in his arms and kissing her. Remembered the helpless insistence of his kisses, under the stairs in the Bronze, under the ground in his Crypt. Wanting that, never thinking he'd refuse.

Going inside, she opened her case and took a few things out. Brushed her hair. Plugged the cell phone in to recharge.

Pity fuck. How could he say that? How could he think that was what she'd offered?

Suddenly she was blazing with anger. How dare he? She'd forgiven him. Saved his life in the Queens cemetery. And again outside that motel. Fed him her own blood so that he would get well, so that he would take heart. And after all that he could still hold himself apart from her, and speak of a pity fuck.

Fuck you, Spike! It's not a pity fuck! I don't do pity fucks!

She slammed out of the room, raced along the breezeway, and banged on his door. "Let me in, you stupid vampire!"

He opened the door. His black hair was disordered as if he'd been raking his fingers through it; he'd stripped off his shirt, and had a toothglass full of butcher's blood in his hand.

"How have I offended you now, Slayer?"

The words burst from her unrehearsed. "I can't believe you don't want me!"

He stepped back. His eyes and mouth went slack. "You know that's not true."

She followed him into the room, shut the door behind her. He kept moving away, sipping the blood, then set the glass down.

At least he's eating. His chest was almost smooth again. Her fingers itched to touch it, to trace the remaining scars, to pinch the nipples, make them taut. His hair—she could forget he had curly hair. She darted to him, reached up and put her fingers through it. Spike started back, but she gripped his arm. "No, let me." And then she had both hands buried in his hair, drawing his head down. "Just let me, Spike. Okay?" Her lips touched his temple, a butterfly kiss. "I like the way your hair curls when you don't stop it."

He drew back, looked at her with that what the fuck expression she knew so well. "Yeah?"

"Yeah." She smiled. "I liked it better blond though. This color . . . I dunno, it's harsh. But I like . . ." she was touching his face now, ". . . I like this scar here on your brow . . . though I don't want to know how you got it, because it must be one of those stories that I won't appreciate." She kissed it softly, like the kiss on the temple. And I like your two eyes, because they are so beautiful, and expressive, but also because they always see me when they look at me. Other people see ideas of me, but you . . . you see Buffy. You always know stuff about me no one else figures out. I don't always like that," she added, "but I respect you for it." She kissed his eyelids, felt the orbs beneath move under her lips. "I like your big English nose . . . " another kiss ". . . and your nasty, tasty, talented mouth." She paused. "Which I'm going to save for later."


"Sssh." She was still holding his head. She tilted it, touching her lips to the hollow of the cheek, the line of the jaw. "I like it when you tilt your head like this and look at me, because then I know you're thinking about nothing else besides me."



". . . Don't. The banging our bodies together—it just hurts us. . . . let it be over."

"That. . . that is over. This is something else." She pushed him slowly towards the bed, pressured him until he sat down, then lay back. "This is something new. Be quiet and find out what it is."

Her fingers splayed on his chest. His eyes, full of anxiety and kindling desire, stayed fixed on her as she knelt over him. She looked into them for a moment, then lowered her head to his neck. "I've always liked the way your neck fits into your shoulders," she murmured, dipping her tongue into the hollow of his throat. "Every part of you fits together so nicely, neatly. And fits together with my parts . . . . I like your shoulders, your arms, your skin is like spun glass. I like your hands, you know so well what to do with them," she said, catching them in hers as they rose up to touch her and pinning them back. "Do I need to tie you down, Spike, or will you be good?"

He let his hands drop back to the pillow on either side of his head. "Mmm. I like the undersides of your arms, the way the muscle bulges here. I like your armpits, which are never stinky." She traced their contour with her tongue. Spike gasped. "I really like your nipples . . . I didn't know boy nipples were a thing until I met you. You taught me . . . I didn't know it was good to kiss them . . . like this . . . or lick them . . . or pinch them—" He gasped again, and his body rippled beneath her. She rubbed the tip of her nose against first one, then the other, feeling him shiver, and giggled.

"I like how there's never been a part of you I wasn't allowed to touch and explore and maul . . . how you trust me with your body. I like how you're always present to me, solid, even when I didn't return the favor. I like your hard belly, your silly little belly button—" Her tongue darted in here as well, "where you were connected to your mother in—when?"


"1852. You are old, Spike." She bit lightly into the flesh, nipping along the sacral arch, one hand already undoing his jeans. "Old, but fresh. I like the way you're sharp all over, but afterwards you sort of melt and you're like a long piece of taffy. You think I never noticed these things but I did. I just couldn't say them. Listen, I'm saying them now."

"I'm listening, Slayer. Oh—"

She'd tugged his jeans down past his hips, and his cock sprang free, already erect, the head glistening. She grabbed his patch of pubic hair and tugged on it. "I like the way you always stand up when you see me. I like the way you can't hide your desire for me. I like your cock." She breathed against the tip, saw it jump and quiver. "It's the prettiest one I ever saw. It's just the right size here—" She gnawed delicately at the slit, and he groaned, "—here—" She made a ring with her fingers just beneath the head, and pulled on it lightly, "—here—" sliding her hand down to grip the base, squeezing until he gasped and growled. "I like these too," she said, cupping her hands around his balls that were tight and high as his excitement grew. "Full of eager little swimmers who don't know they're dead. Sssh, don't tell them. They're in a hurry, they want to go places."


"Hush. I'm not done. I like your smooth strong thighs. I like your loyalty . . . which has nothing to do with your thighs. I like the way you look at me when I'm kneeling over you like this, as if I was the most precious creature that ever walked. I like your strength, and your persistence, your good nature. Did you know you were pretty good-natured, Spike? Evil things can be, I guess. I like the way you fuck, and how you know—ninety-nine times out of a hundred—when no means yes."

"Oh God—Slayer—" His face collapsed. All at once he was crying, big clear tears welling up and spilling over the suddenly red edges of his eyelids. He tried to roll over, but she was straddling him, and pushed him back, wouldn't let him hide his face.

"Spike . . . shhh. It's okay. I didn't mean for you to—"

He turned his head on the pillow like a patient with fever, struggling powerlessly against her scrutiny. The tears came as if being forced out with a dropper. "I can't do this. I can't hold these feelings—I'm not big enough to hold all this. Everyone I ever hurt—they're all around me all the time and I can't stand it—! Can't stand what I did to you. No matter what else I ever do, I'll still always have done that." He gasped as the words came out, as if he'd never quite thought them before.

Buffy's throat closed, listening to him, watching him suffer. The backs of her eyes burned with sympathetic tears. But she knew he was experiencing only what he deserved. A fraction of the anguish he truly deserved. But then, she thought, maybe that's all any of us really get—a sample of the right torment for our sins. Because if we felt the full force of our old misdeeds, we would just stop.

"Sssh . . . sshh . . . you'll learn. You'll learn. That's how it works. Don't give up. Remembering your fuck-ups makes you . . . makes you human." She bent over him and kissed his wet eyes, licked at the cool salt tears. His arms went around her then, he sobbed. She held him while he shook, held him tight, and realized that she'd wanted this—him in her arms—for days. Longer. A long long time. She'd wanted it and denied it to herself—shoved him away after every fuck like he was radioactive—and he'd known that. He'd known she felt things she wouldn't admit.

Then she pulled away softly and began to take off her clothes. Still quaking with choked sobs, he watched her. His erection was still there, bobbing with every inhalation, but he lay the way she'd left him, as if he felt himself bound, unable to move.

Naked now, she pulled Spike's jeans all the way off, and crawled across him again. "Put your arms around me. Don't let go."

This wasn't like all the other times. All the other times when it was fast, and violent, done in positions that let her wring pleasure from him while yet remaining distant. Bodies banging together, like he'd said.

But not now. Now they lay on their sides, her leg drawn over his hip, arms encircling, foreheads pressed together. Both breathing hard, between kisses. Rocking slowly, not yet building towards anything. Just enmeshed, skin sliding against skin from head to toe. So good to have him inside again. She slipped a hand down to feel the base of his cock where it went into her. Spike's arm grappled her to him like a steel cable. He was so strong—nearly as strong as she was. He understood how hard he could work her, what she could take, what she needed. But she'd given so little thought to what he wanted.

Saw that right now he wanted just this. To melt against her, bury himself in her to the hilt, to kiss her over and over, helplessly, deep and soft and thorough, his hand passing up and down her back, to her hair, to the curve of her rump, as if he couldn't believe she wouldn't disappear. His hand seemed to leave a trail of phosphorescence where it passed, she curled and sighed under its touch.

She'd never permitted this before.

Comfort you and hold you. Like a proper man, in a way that would make you happy.

He wasn't the only one who'd tried to starve.

He'd spoken to her of darkness, that place where he hungered and pined. Tried to lure her in to share it. As if it was all or nothing.

"It's not all or nothing," she whispered.

"What isn't, Slayer?"

"The dark. Being in the dark, or the light. You see that now, right?"

He drew his head back a little and regarded her.

"It's just that you were so lonely. And I wasn't helping. It was a tug of war. But that's finished now. Okay, Spike? A lot of things are finished."

He nodded, mute, his lips on her face.

Pulling him closer with her leg, she whispered into his mouth. "Is this good, Spike? Is there anything missing from this? Tell me."

He paused for a moment, his eyes closed. Then he pressed a kiss on her forehead. "Nothing."

And she knew as he said it that he wished to hear her tell him that she loved him. And that he'd never ask again. He'd tried to force it from her once, and now he would take only what she freely gave.

She thought again of Angel. The night she'd persuaded him to live on, even though it was only to leave her. Her love had nearly split her open, yet there was no way they could be together, no way they could follow their hearts' desiring for each other.

There was no such impediment here. Spike was gifted with a soul, a permanent soul, on the authority of only The Powers Knew whom. To give her what she deserved.

So this is what I deserve. . . a second chance to love a vampire. One who understand me far better than the first one did, who'll make unbelievable sacrifices for me. But still undead, still a member of the tribe I'm sworn to defend against. Can I do this? The First Slayer, bobbing and weaving behind her flames, had told her she must Love, Give, Forgive. That was the same day she'd seen the 'bot for the first time, her greatest glimpse into the depth of Spike's obsession with her. Not a good basis to build on.

But he'd changed, and so had she. Seen so much this year—seen into herself, to depths of darkness she'd tried to ignore before. Into her friends, who also contained unknown levels of night. All of which made the light more needful, more precious. Loved ones needed to be cherished, because they could be gone or transformed in a moment. Love treasured, not defended against.

She knew that now, she got that, crawling out of the hole with her sister. Learning how Xander had saved their world.

But then there was this kind of love, sexual, intimate, barrierless. the kind Spike believed she had for him. The kind that came armored in pain, yet could not be handled in armor of one's own.

Lay down the armor? Walk through the cemetery with no stake in her hand? She shuddered. He was as close to her as he'd ever been, skin on skin, gazes entwined, and it was so good, and she did trust him, and there was no one else.

But she couldn't say the words. Not those.

"Spike . . . lover . . . more . . . ."

He made an indeterminate sound, and grasping the crook of her knee, rolled her onto her back. He was heavy on her then, his prick touching the mouth of her womb, making her whimper and curl. His mouth engulfed hers. No more conversation—nothing but sensation, his body moving on hers, smooth, dry, neither cool nor warm, covering her, encompassing her, worshipping her. Racing them now to their pleasure.

Afterwards he tucked her head into the crook of his neck, held her in the loose curve of his arm. She snuggled closer and felt him smile. The first time. To just lie in his arms.

"D'you know you give off the most captivating scent when you come?"


"You always smell tasty, Slayer, but when you let go, there's this—indescribable—extra something. It's not just the scent of your pretty cunny, it's—"

"I'm not sure I'm feeling the compliment here."

"Americans are absurd about smells. Everything's got to be made to smell of something else. Especially bodies. When I was young—before I was turned—women smelt like women. They might wear a bit of Cologne Water or Attar of Roses on their handkerchiefs, or a flower in their hair, but that was all. When you stood close to a pretty girl, you could smell her. Used to drive me crazy. Drove us all crazy—dancing with those untouchable ladies, trying to get a feel of them through whalebone and layers of petticoats, the scent rising up from between their breasts like warm honey . . . . And then, after I became a vampire . . . well, I can smell everything. I can smell in colors, and shapes, and . . . an' when I'm with you, it's not just how you feel, Slayer, it's not just listening to the sounds you make while I have you, watching you react to me . . . it's your smell, how it changes and radiates and . . . it's like music to me. A whole symphony of meanings." He squeezed her then, so sudden and sharp that she squeaked. "You fill up every one of my senses, and there's nothing else, nothing else but seeing to you—"

She listened to this, amazed. The things he'd wanted to tell her! She'd had no idea. What else might he say?

But Spike was already seized with a new idea; he sat up, scrambled around. "See to you now."

He turned her so the bedside light shown on her opened thighs. And suddenly the idea that he was looking at her there so intensely, that she was laid open, undefended, to him, to all those senses of his that were so much more intense than her own, filled Buffy with a sensation she couldn't parse—was it fear, or yearning? Her clitoris throbbed, thighs trembled, and before she could stop herself, she moaned.

He snatched his hand from her knee as if it burned him, scooted back. "What's the matter, love?" he murmured. "Haven't even touched you yet."

No, it wasn't that. His withdrawal made her want to cry. "Come back. Come back and look at me. Do whatever you want."

Oh God. Before, he'd had to tie her down for this. The only way she'd permit him to go this slow, this deep. To tease her, to set her rippling and wriggling but keep her from the big denouement, just make her a slave to his tongue, his lips, his fingers. To feel every sensation and thought and impulse and desire centered in her clitoris, in the channel where his fingers stroked and probed. To murmur to her as he changed the depth, the angle, the rhythm. Tell her dirty magical things that made her shiver, sent fire racing through her brain. How her quim entranced him, how he got a cockstand just thinking about it. How the taste and smell of her, the way her flesh pulsed around his tongue, made him wild.

He did all that now, and she lay with legs akimbo, panting, eyes staring up unseeing.

"Come for me, sweetheart. Come in my mouth. God you're so wet, delicious, come on, let it come . . . ."

She sighed, and then sobbed, clutching at the sheets, toes curling, kicking at his back. He grasped her knees, pushed them back, opening her wider, and then he slipped one hand inside her, four fingers all the way inside her, his tongue licking, steady, maddening, inexorable. Words spilling out of her, God knew what, pleadings, praises. She shook, and spent, and he went right on.

He was so patient. He did not tire. The first few orgasms, he'd once explained to her, were just to warm her up, loosen the muscles, tune the instrument. Once gotten over, the real fun could begin. It was then that she was super-sensitive, then that she was drenched and musky and rare. Then that he could make her come not from the surface, but from the place deep within her that no one else even knew about.

No one else knew this, he'd say. This wasn't for regular people. No one but the one mighty Slayer, giving herself to the Big Bad Vampire, experienced the extremes of pleasure she'd experience. No one would ever pleasure her the way he could.

Oh he liked to brag—but he was right. Again. She screamed.

In the bathroom, she gulped down four glasses of water, and looked at herself in the mirror. For a moment her usual critical faculty slipped, and she saw just what Spike did: the sexy disheveled hair, eyes large and bright, lips swollen and pink, neck and breasts marked with bruising kisses. Flushed and glistening with sweat and the remnants of his spunk and hers, where he'd spread it on her breasts and throat to lick it off again.

The beauty that came from being thoroughly fucked.

What I deserve. No one else could be all the things he could be for her.

And yet . . . how could she go home and say Here is my lover. A vampire who once hated me, who hated all of you. She pictured them: Xander's expression of incredulous disgust, Willow's bewildered disappointment. Saw Giles laughing again—that was how seriously he took Spike as a man for her! A joke . . . Dawn cringing from the news that she'd brought her would-be rapist to her bed.

Heard herself telling them, But he has a soul now. A fixed soul, not like Angel . . . And the mistrust in their eyes. There goes Buffy with her vampire problem again. They'd never liked him, any of them.

She'd never liked him. He was, what was that phrase? An attractive nuisance.

She met her eyes in the mirror, interrogated herself. What do you feel? Heard Tara's questions again, her gentle voice: It's okay if you do. It's okay if you don't. Now she'd jettisoned her assumptions—I could NEVER be your girl!—she was left with . . . with complete uncertainty. At that moment she couldn't have decided between vanilla and chocolate, let alone known for sure what she felt for the man waiting for her outside the door.

Except that he must not die, must not disappear, must not be allowed to punish himself too much. Must be there when she needed him, to coax her to ecstasy.

Emerging, she poured blood into a mug and brought it to him. As he took it, she fought a desire to once again offer him her hand. Or even her neck. Oh, if he would just hold her, hold her tight and close—how good it would feel, to give him—

"What is it, love?"

She blinked. "Nothing. Spike, what are we going to do now? It's morning. I have to call Dawn in a few hours."

He went solemn. "Yeah. Been thinking about that just now while you were having your pee."

"Yeah? And what were you thinking?"

Spike drank, and his eyes went distant. "Well . . . all this . . . s'been a revelation. I mean, another one. Even bigger than the first—last fall. You know?"

"I know." She got back into bed beside him, but didn't touch. This was serious. This was a conversation.

"And what with so much being revealed here . . . an' you being so good, reclaiming me, rescuing me . . . ."

What? Oh God, what? Tell me Spike, tell me what this is! Sort it out for me!

His eyes met hers, and he smiled, a small, wistful smile. "You can be so sweet when you want to be, Slayer. The sweetness in you, could send a pachyderm into insulin shock."

"Uh . . . okay."

"But you don't love me."

She flinched. Opened her mouth. But he put his hand out, touched the backs of his fingers to her cheek. "It's all right. Would be very surprised if you did. Why should you? If you fell in love with every fellow that shagged you into heaven's annex, you'd be in a right fix, wouldn't you?"

At this, she felt herself blush. His smile widened. "You don't love me, but you couldn't bear it if anyone else did. Couldn't bear it that I'd have anyone else. You want me to come back to the hellmouth with you and be your pet vampire, stand at your right hand against the forces of darkness. Crawl into your bed on the sly, wear your bites and scratches under my clothes. Keep me a semi-secret. Yeah?"

She couldn't help nodding. "But Spike . . . I don't . . . I can't imagine wanting anybody more than you . . . in place of you . . . ."

"That's a start, anyway. It's blood in the bank."

She put her hand on his then. "Spike, no matter what. Be my friend. I know you can be a good one. Last fall, you were . . . And I don't have enough of those. No one does."

He was quiet for a moment. "I haven't got any."

"Let me be yours, then. No matter what else we do."

A number of expressions flashed across his mobile features: doubt, pleasure, sadness. "Yeah? It's a lovely thought, pet. You an' me being friends. 'Til we get back to SunnyD, and the others get a look at us and start to squawk. You know they will. You know they've never accepted me before. Got all the more reason, since, not to—"

"I know. But—"

"Didn't respect me, didn't like me. Nobody ever has. Well, Dru did, but not after you come into my life. Her respect for me flew out the window when you came in the door.

"I thought—I wanted to believe you lot might take to me after I'd helped you. I mean, cripes, you're such a pack of barmy misfits yourselves, and you accept each other. What's one more damaged goods to add to the inventory? But that's just me being stupid. Which I always have been.


"Spike . . . not always." She hesitated. Then—why not? It was the truth, and she could say this much. "I . . . do like you. Very much. And I definitely respect you."

He smiled, glanced up at the ceiling as if checking this out with The Powers. Get a load of my slayer, all respect-having.

When he looked at her again, a little of the smile remained. "Listen, Pet. This here has been good. But you need to think a bit, and I . . . I need to think a bit more than that. All the time I was in New York, was dedicated to avoiding thought at all costs, right?"

Again she nodded. She'd seen that, mapped out on his body.

"Being near you . . . it's such a powerful thing for me. My emotions . . . not really rational when it comes to you. I need to find out what I can bear. Tune myself up to go back there, and face . . . face the lot of you. And you need to find out what you want to offer. How near you can let me get. I need to know where the boundary line lies, Slayer, or else I'd better not get too close to you at all. Don't want any more misunderstandings, right?"

He was looking at her closely now, his eyes bright and sad. She shook her head, and gasped a little, and put her hand to his face. He kissed her palm and gave it back to her.

"And we can't just drive up to your cousins' house today and spring me on the Niblet. Not when she regards me as a one-man horror show. She needs to be prepared. Scoobies too. If I'm to come back . . . can't just pop in on you lot out of the blue."

The soul, she saw, came with a new patience. A temperedness. The old Spike would never have spoken this way, thought ahead, not just about himself, but about her and the Scoobies too. "So . . . what are you saying? You want to leave me again?" She couldn't keep her voice from sounding dejected, childish.

"Just for a little while. We'll go up to your cousins today. I'll drop you there. You and sis can fly home, yeah? And I'll come along in a couple weeks."

"But . . . but how will I know you'll really come back?"

"Well, it's your car, innit Slayer? You made that pretty clear to me. I borrow it for a while, I got to bring it back, don't I?"

"So . . . what do you think you'll decide?"

At that he laughed. "Just like a woman—wants the answer before the question."

She wriggled against him, and he passed his arm around her. After a late start—neither of them wanted to be the first to get out of bed, to cover up with clothes—they were doing a steady seventy, no one else on the road in the early evening, the sun slanting low, passing cornfields he could see through the gap in the black paint, through his dark glasses. She had no view, didn't seem to want one.

"Want me to light you a cigarette?"

"No, baby. I'm good."

She sighed. "This is nice. This is what you're supposed to do in high school, ride around hugged up with a boy you liked. But I never did."

The Great Poof fails again. He didn't say it. They only had another half hour before they'd reach the cousins' town.

"Are you happy, Spike? Right this minute?"

He snuck a feel of her breast with his right hand, the nipple standing up all friendly and warm under his palm, and she covered his hand with hers.

Yeah, they'd have to think. And maybe, once he left her and drove away, once she was back in the company of her sister, everything would turn right side up for her, and she'd realize: no. No more of the vampire, soul or no soul. What purpose, since they'd mended what was torn between them? They could only fuck it up again.

Or maybe, though he doubted it, he'd find his attitude changed too, once he was left alone. Find himself thinking it would be better after all to leave her be, to get off clean. Not go back to Jack, but just . . . go. Elsewhere. Remake himself into something different, something that would form around the soul into a better shape than the shape he was.

Maybe. Well, probably not. Even if all she'd give him for the rest of her life was bits and bobs of herself, he'd be there to take them, hope for more.

Meanwhile, they were driving, and she was nestled against his shoulder.

"Yeah, I'm happy, Slayer. Love. Sweetheart."

"You forgot Goldilocks."

"Ah, you really don't want me to call you that one."

"Y'know, apart from bringing me back my car . . . your duster is in my house. I can't think how you've been getting along without it all this time."

He almost drove off the road. She caught at the steering wheel, straightened it. Turned to stare at him. "What? Spike—?"

His head ached as if the chip had fired in it. "I took that coat off Nikki's corpse. I broke her neck, and I took her coat for my trophy."

"Oh—oh my God."

And then she wasn't nestled up against him, and she wasn't smiling, and the scent she put out was turned bitter and aggravating. She crouched against the opposite door, and her eyes were daggers.

"Stop the car."

He didn't need to be told twice. His vision was too clouded to see. The car bumped off the road and came to rest against the rustling corn.

The sudden silence was terrible.

"I'm sorry, Slayer. I'm sorry for Nikki, an' the girl in China whose name I never learned, and—and every other poor sod I did for—" He took off the sunglasses and rubbed his eyes. "And it doesn't mean anything. Sorrow . . . it just doesn't mean anything. Brings nobody back." He'd said this often before, when bragging of how he felt no sorrow and never would. The words sounded differently in his ears now. He had no end of sorrow stuffed inside him, clawing at him, and yeah—it didn't matter, because he couldn't make any of it right.

"Spike, I can't—"

"I know, Slayer. I'll . . . sun's almost gone. I'll walk back to town from—"

"No, listen. That's not what I was going to say." Her voice was choked, she cleared her throat. He couldn't make himself look at her. He thought her face would be Nikki's.

"I can't . . . I can't put myself above you anymore, Spike. That's what's changed. You have a soul now, you have empathy, and you're hurting for what you did. You've got the consequences now. And that makes us equal." She moved a little nearer. "I hate it that you killed those slayers." Her whole face closed into a frown, he felt her feeling it. The reality of it. Imagining him snapping her neck. Stripping a trophy from her body. "I hate it that all the time I've known you you've been wearing my sister's coat."

He knew it wasn't Dawn she meant by sister.

"But we need to find ways to live with the past, because we have to live into the future. We both have stuff we have to do. We're not just people who can drift along watching TV and eating Cheetos. We have jobs."

"I don't know my job yet, Slayer."

"Yeah you do." She settled back into her seat and crossed her arms. "Let's get going."

Spike pulled up beside a mailbox that said Colegate. A long macadam drive led up to a white house with a wrap-around porch. There was still enough light in the sky that the house seemed to glow. The front windows were lit too. A couple of cars and a pick-up were parked nearby—everybody home.

"Would drive you up there, but sis's likely to come popping out."

"No, this is okay. I'm just taking my small bag."

They got out, and he retrieved her overnighter from the trunk.

She took it from him and slung it over her shoulder. Got up on tiptoe then to look into his face. "This'll work out, Spike. You wouldn't have the soul if it didn't mean . . . ."


"Something. A soul—a soul always means something." She paused, fingered the placket of his shirt. "Maybe . . . maybe you didn't so much get your soul all at once, like you say . . . maybe it came on gradually. And it's been growing for a couple of years now. Maybe those stupid monks planted the seed . . . and the demon-guy in Africa just made sure you knew it."

He shook his head. Amazing. She was an amazing girl, and every time he thought he had her pegged, she—

"Anyway, you were right, Spike. I do like a little monster in my man. And I need someone who likes a little of it in his woman too, because . . . well, this past year was a learning experience."

"You're not a monster, Buffy."

She kicked at some loose pebbles. "Everything breaks."

In the distance he heard a screen door slam open, footsteps echo on wooden boards, and then a shout audible to her too: "Buffy! Buffy's here!"

"There you go then, Slayer. I'd better scarper."

"You are gonna bring me all my New York booty in a week or two, right? There are very important shoes in that car trunk, and I'm entrusting them—"

"Yeah, I'll be along, ready or not. Meanwhile, don't wash."


"Napoleon to his empress, Josephine. When he wrote to tell her he was on his way home from some war. Should read a book once in a while, Buffy, learn a thing or two."

She watched the DeSoto move off. The land was flat enough that she could see the red taillights for a long time before the road curved into the corn and he was gone. Dawn reached her at the same moment, tackling her with a squeal. Buffy grabbed her and danced her around in a circle.

It was a few minutes before Dawn looked around, then said, "Hey! Where's the car?"

"We're gonna fly home, okay? In a day or two. After I get to try out that swimming hole."

"But where's the car? I saw it from the porch."

"The car's okay. I . . . I lent it to someone—"

"Lent it to . . . Spike! That was Spike! Oh my God! Buffy, you came here with Spike!" Dawn grabbed her, and Buffy looked to see the indignation in her face.

And saw only curiosity and disappointment. "So where'd he go?"

"We'll see him soon. Back home. C'mon, let's go in, I'll tell you about it."

Arms around each other, the girls walked up to the house.


Herself wishes also to thank everyone who has read her stories and sent feedback. Please don't hesitate to feed the muse. Your pleasure has given me the most immense writerly delight.

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