All About Spike

By Annie Sewell-Jennings

Sequel to Illumination

Rating: NC-17
Spoilers: AU Post-"Showtime", sequel to Illumination
Archival: Please request permission prior to archival.
Feedback: Would be lovely --
Disclaimer: Not mine. Wish they were, but alas, still not mine.
Thank you: To my lovely beta-readers: Alanna, harmonyfb, and elfgirl. And a special thank-you to Alanna for the beautiful artwork and webpage design -- you are truly lovely. :)

For Alanna.

It's never easy, of course.

She's not a stupid girl. Not a naÔve little innocent like her younger years. She knows that the world is a place full of beauty and violence. Knows it firsthand, through blood and ruins. So she didn't expect this to be simple.

But oh, must it be so hard?

It's almost closing time. The coffeehouse has slowly emptied out in the past twenty minutes, the quiet murmur of folk music disrupted only by an occasional hiss from the espresso machine. Everything feels slow and gentle. Tender and calm. It's only a moment of refuge. A stolen piece of time from the ever-emptying hourglass.

Another measured sip of her amaretto-spiced coffee, and she sighs. Closes her eyes, stretches out on the comfy velvet couch. She's alone up here, and extremely grateful for the solitude. The house has been crammed full of people lately, and chaos has reigned supreme. So when Giles suggested that she just get out for a while, Buffy jumped at the opportunity.

She thought she wanted to be alone tonight. Alone in her thoughts, away from the bustle and bite of the world around her. But as she sits here in the solitude of the coffeehouse, Buffy finds it wanting. Finds herself wanting.

Wanting Spike.

The splay of his hands on the pillow when he sleeps. The way that he's always moving. His eyes following me around a crowded room. His naked back. And oh, all of his wonderful words....

Every motion. Every word. It just sets it off all over again, like dominoes crashing. The love she feels for him constantly screams its presence inside of her. It's noisy and wild. It bubbles up inside of her and bursts out at inappropriate moments. One morning, she watched his fingers absently skim the circumference of his coffee cup, remembered how skilled his hands were, and accidentally spilled her own cup of tea all over her lap.

She falls in love with him a thousand times a day.

A thousand times. A thousand different ways. Just a glance at him and she finds herself plunging headfirst into love again, over and over again, until she's drowning in his eyes and stammering through sentences.

And of course, in true Buffy style, she still has no idea what to do about it.

She's fucked-up. She's smart enough to know that about herself. She's been sliced to shreds, brought back to life through fire and broken glass. When she thinks about some of the things she's done, some of the hateful words that have poured out of her blackened heart, she burns with shame and guilt. She's no good at this. At loving someone.

She's certainly no good at loving him.

The history that they have is dark and twisted, wrapped up in murder, hate and handcuffs. "Dysfunctional" doesn't even begin to cover it. She's tormented him to the point of insanity. How the hell do they come back from that? How can she possibly heal wounds that deep? She doesn't even know where to begin.

And God, how is she supposed to give him her heart without tearing him to pieces again?

The music stops for a moment on the loudspeaker, and Buffy closes her eyes. Tries to surround herself in the delicious normalcy of the world that whispers around her. The muffled chatter of the store employees as they clean the machines. The rich scent of percolating coffee. The aftertaste of amaretto and caramel lingering on her lips. The gentle butterscotch of Spike's voice as it purrs out an order downstairs.

Wait a minute....

Slowly, Buffy moves to the railing and glances downstairs. Sure enough, there's Spike, standing at the counter and murmuring out an order for a cup of ginseng tea. And of course, as soon as she sees him, it starts. The hammering of her heart. The tingle in her skin. Her knees feel weak, and there are all of those confusing, stupid words bubbling up in her throat.

Can I just gnaw on your fingertips for a while?

You're the most amazing person I've ever known.

Oh, Spike. I'm in love with you.

She has to get out of here before he sees her.

Desperately, Buffy looks around for an escape route, but finds nothing. The staircase will lead her right past him, and the coffeehouse is so abandoned that he'll certainly notice her exit. Another glance back down at him, and for a moment, she gets entranced just by the sight of him. The long-sleeved black tee he's wearing clings in all the right places, makes her hungry for his slender sinews. No one can wear a pair of jeans like him, and she remembers unbuttoning his fly with her teeth in a whip of memory that almost knocks her to the ground.

And oh no, he's coming upstairs....

Buffy hastily sits back down on the sofa, tries to look calm. Tries to be casual. Like it's all okay, she's not falling over herself, she's just fine. After all, it's not the first time she's seen him since this happened. Not the first time they've been alone. Hell, he lives in her basement, sleeps in that tiny little rollout cot that can't be very comfortable, and really, he should be in her bed, curled up in her arms, and she should run away very fast right now.

But the way that his eyes light up when he sees her steals her breath away again, and when they meet hers, she's frozen. Caught up in the way that he looks at her. At the way that he worships her with just a glance and a curl of his lips.

"Fancy meeting you here," he says, and Buffy somehow manages to smile.

"What can I say? It's a small Hellmouth after all."

There's an awkward moment. Spike stuffs a hand in his pocket, looks down at his feet. These shy moments of his puzzle her, make her wonder who he used to be. But somehow, they also make her love him even more. "Don't want to interrupt you if you'd like to be alone. Understand that, I do."

I don't want to be alone. I want to be with you.

Buffy just shrugs. Another weak attempt at a grin. "Company would be all right."

He sits down beside her on the sofa, sets his teacup down on the coffee table. Did he ever drink tea before? There was the whole British factor, but she'd always seen him with some kind of alcohol or blood, or even worse, the two mixed together. Oh, there's so much she doesn't know about him. Especially now. She's got a million questions she wants to ask him.

Why do you talk in your sleep? When did you start loving me? When did I start loving you? Again, can I gnaw on your fingertips for a while? And maybe your lower lip, too? Or the neck....

Spike cocks his head at her, frowns. "What is it?"

Buffy blinks, startled. "Huh?"

"You're gawking at me like I've got demon sludge on my forehead. And if I do, you'd better tell. Can't quite see it in a mirror, y'know."

Oh, shit. She keeps doing that. Giving him moon eyes, zoning out. Giles caught her smiling at him during a training session the other day, and the exasperated expression on her Watcher's face was just humiliating. And now here she comes with the fourteen-year-old fluster and bluster. She must be blushing up a storm.

"Oh! No, no. Nothing like that. Just... uh... spaced out for a second. Tired. Kind of drunk. But not incapacitated, sick and gross drunk. Buzzed. Right."

Spike cocks an eyebrow at her. Looks amused. "How many of those have you thrown back tonight, luv?"

"Not enough."

He gives her a wry smile. "Know what you mean."

She frowns. "Then why are you drinking tea?"

Spike shrugs at her, fidgets with the hem of his shirt. He's always doing things like that. Picking at his clothes, toying with various objects. She remembers him playing with his lighter in bed once, and almost setting the bedsheets on fire. She'd laughed at him and he'd yelped and cursed. It's one of the better memories.

"Thought about going to the Bronze," he says, "but I'm not one for crowds these days."

A smile plays at her lips. She remembers this scene. Sitting on the front steps, right after her resurrection, when the only one she shared heaven with was him. Back before the disaster started, when she was too miserable to hate him. She elbows him a little, gives him a little grin, and recites her line. "Neither am I."

When he smiles, it's warmer than whiskey.

"Well, that works out nicely, then."

And for a moment, it's nice. It's easy. It's the two of them sitting here in the mostly abandoned coffeehouse, listening to the next folk album that the coffeehouse employees spin and replaying old dialogue for kicks and grins. Buffy sighs, closes her eyes, takes another measured sip of amaretto, and then hears Spike snort beside her.

"Tell me, is there some sort of rule that every bloody coffeehouse in existence has to play weepy girl rock?" he says, and Buffy opens her eyes. Cocks an eyebrow, amused.

"What, you expected them to serve lattes and play the Sex Petals?"

"Sex Pistols. Love of God, woman, you don't know a damned thing about music."

Buffy sniffs daintily, crosses her legs. "Oh, like you're much better. That stuff you listen to isn't even music. It's just a bunch of drunk guys banging drums and talking about punk revolutions through bad fashion decisions. Whatever."

"Yeah, well, least Sid Vicious didn't feel the need to bleat on and on about all of his bad romantic encounters. Give me a soddin' break. And let me tell you, Sid had his rough times in love."

It surprises her, how some things change and others just stay the same. They used to do this once upon a time. Argue about music. Down in the underbelly of his crypt, while he stood around wearing nothing but a cigarette and a scowl, blasting her in bed with punk music that made her skin crawl. And even though she never told him so, she liked those moments. Those less vicious seconds caught in between their chaos.

Without them, she doesn't know if she would've made it through last year.

The languid warmth of his smile makes her cheeks feel hot and her body curl and coil in those familiar, forbidden ways. She could just reach her hands out and wrap her little fingers around his wrists, pull his hands on her body, guide his palms over the curves and contours....

"So, you been here all night, then?"

Another hasty sip of coffee, and Buffy aches for a clear head. "Uh, yeah. Thought about going to the Bronze, but you like said. Too many people. Besides, after sharing a house with an butt-load of girls, it's nice to just get out of the house, you know? And if Kennedy doesn't stop stealing my eyeliner, I'm going to wring her neck."

"Ah, but she's a good one," Spike murmurs. "Good head on her shoulders, that girl. Tough, too. She'll make a damn fine Slayer one day." His voice softens then. Turns a little sad. "And she doesn't treat me like the others do."

She knows. She can see it. They look at him like a leper. Like something contagious and foul. Just the other day, he tried to look at a scratch that Chloe had received in a training session, and the girl had jerked away from him in a flash, all wide eyed and terrified. Buffy saw the expression on his face. The rejection wasn't what had hurt her so. It was the acceptance. Like he'd just come to expect being hated.

So she has her reasons for not telling him. She's fucked him up bad enough already.

"It's all right," he says. Takes another sip of tea. "Have to hate me, don't they. So that they can do their jobs."

"It doesn't make it right, Spike. And I don't like it. It's more of that Council-generated bullshit so that we don't ask too many questions. They leave out too much, and they don't explain everything right."

They never explained someone like you.

Suddenly, he gives her a serious look. Harder than usual, so much like the old him that it throws her off balance. "They're right for what they do, Slayer. We're mean and nasty, we vampires. Can do all sorts of terrible things." And then that darkness floods over him, that shadow of guilt and remorse, and he's not at all like he used to be. "All sorts of terrible...."

Before Buffy can stop herself, her hand reaches out and covers his. "Spike," she murmurs. "Don't."

Don't suffer. Please. I hate it when you suffer.

Spike sighs, shakes himself. "Anyway. They've got their reasons."

Buffy shakes her head and moves her hand away. Reaches for her coffee instead. Tries to lighten up the mood a bit. Bring things back to warm and fuzzy rather than dark and dangerous. "Well, it's not like I have to worry about it anymore. Council go boom, no more Council lies to perpetrate. So now Giles and I get to make up our own set of lies. I personally wanted to tell all of the girls that you can feasibly kill a vampire by playing the Macarena CD over and over again, but I got outvoted."

He flashes her a grin. "That's actually true, you know. Latin music and complaint rock."

"I'll keep that in mind."

And this kind of silence is a good one. Warm and full, not awkward and halting. They just sit here under the quiet sigh and murmur of acoustic guitar, and even though he professes to hate this kind of music, she tucks back a smile at the way his fingers tap out the rhythm on his saucer. When he closes his eyes, he looks so strangely innocent that it pulls at her heart, and for a moment, she's lost in him. In the spicy, smoky smell of him. That faint hint of orange rind. Is that from him or the tea? If she could just bury her nose in the crook of his neck....

"Look lovely tonight, you do."

It takes her back. Makes her heart tumble and flip, and her breath goes short and shallow. Just a little compliment, said with his eyes closed, the hint of a smile on his lips. Buffy's glad that he can't see her shrink down in the big, floppy collar of her sweater to hide the blush on her cheek.

"Thank you."

And then he opens his eyes, all wide and hasty. "Don't mean it in a... you know. Just wanted to tell you, is all." And then that almost-shy smile. The one that makes her lose her language. "You just look lovely."

She's captivated by him. Entranced, enchanted. Dazedly, Buffy shakes her head at him, squints to try and sharpen her view of him. She can't help it; she has to know if he's real, and so she extends her fingers to touch his cheek. Looks so sharp, but oh, he's really so soft. "Who are you sometimes?" she breathes.

A sigh, and his eyes close halfway. She has the insane urge to count his eyelashes. Add another piece of Spike trivia to her small but growing collection. "Just me, pet."

She'll never understand how he can sound so sad about that.

Her hands seem to have wills of their own. Her fingers curl and she strokes the angle of his cheek with the backs of her knuckles. Does it lightly, like his skin is made of paper and she can tear his flesh open with too dark of a touch.

"It's all so strange," she murmurs. "I used to think that I knew you so well, you know?"

"You know me," Spike says simply, and she feels her heart tug and ache at the way that he leans into her touch. Always so hungry for any piece of her that she's willing to give him.

Buffy shakes her head, frowns. "Sometimes. But then you do these things, or say these things, and it gets all confusing again." She traces the thin scar on his eyebrow with her fingernail. "Sometimes I don't think I know you at all."

He shudders, recoils, and she's left with nothing but thin air and the memory of his skin. "Some things, you don't want to know."

And that might be true. She remembers the basement, that night he was taken away from her. Chained to the wall, telling her awful things in the hopes that she might kill him.

"They're not the man you are now," she tries. "It's all in the past. Over. Done."

He grimaces, buries his face in his hands for a moment. When he finally tears his palms away from his eyes, he sighs and picks up his teacup but doesn't drink. Just wraps those long, talented fingers around the china. She's not helping. Maybe she's just making things even worse. "But it all comes back," he says softly. "Memory's hard like that. I dream about it. About them. The people I...."

He can't finish, and she aches for the right words. If she just knew what to say, if she could just think of something. "I know," she says, her words halting as she tries to construct something that could help him. "It's hard. But you can't get stuck on it. You're strong, Spike. You can do a world of good if you just let yourself try. There are others out there who need help, and--"

The smile that he gives her is sad and strained. "I always knew I wasn't meant to be a hero, luv." His hand reaches out and strokes her cheek, and oh, the intensity with which he looks at her. "Thought I was just meant to be yours."

Oh, God.

She just has a couple of inches. Just a little fraction of space and her lips could be on his. She could drink the words from the cup of his lips, get intoxicated on the strange but remarkable poetry that sometimes falls from his talented tongue. Buffy melts like chocolate under the warmth of his eyes, her fears and anxieties just slipping away....

But then his hand also slips away, and she's left trembling and aching. Left hollow and in need of his heart to fill her up. "But I was wrong," he sighs, and she wants to scream at him. No, no. You're right. You're meant to be mine, you're meant to touch me like a lover and oh, Spike, if only I could love you right.... "Been wrong all my bloody life."

She says nothing; he's made words impossible. All that she can do is stare at him as he keeps talking in a voice softer than the velvet they sit on.

"Told you lies, once. That night you asked me about the other Slayers I.... Well. Didn't tell you the truth. About who I'd been before I was turned. Christ, can't even remember what I said. Some rubbish about being a pickpocket, I think."

"I was a robber. Great at it, too. Stole everything from ladies' purses to girls' hearts. Yeah, you give me that look, but I was all sorts of bad, pet. Mark my words, the ladies of London still remember good old William the Bloody, even before I turned on the preternatural charms."

Buffy remembers every word he's ever said to her.

"Well, whatever I told you, it was rot. Truth is, I wasn't anything before I was turned. Just some little nothing, a blip on the radar of London society. An embarrassment to the family name, a fool, an object of ridicule."

And then he mumbles something under his breath, and Buffy swears that if vampires could blush, Spike's cheeks would be pink.

"Huh?" she asks, and he sighs.

"I was a poet, all right? Well, something of a poet." He shakes his head, winces at the memory. "Was terrible at it. Couldn't string together a proper phrase if my life depended on it."

"What's a word means glowing? Has to rhyme."

She's entranced. Captivated. Buffy just stares at him, wide-eyed and spellbound, as all of the pieces of him just fall into place. Every fractured glimpse, every moment of shyness, every spill of words that makes her feel weak and wonderful.

He sighs, licks his lips, takes another sip of his ginseng tea. She watches his mannerisms this time, the careful way that he holds the teacup. God, how did she never see these things before? How did she never notice?

Because all you wanted was something to hate, and to hell with all of the moments where he was beautiful.

"So when Dru came along, it was a blessing. She really loved me, you know. She might've been nuttier than elephant shit, but she loved me. Worshipped her with all my heart. Would've done anything for her. When she left me.... Well, you saw me. I was a mess."

"A drunken mess," she says weakly. Tries to make him smile. Because good God, he needs it.

And he does, though it's brief and fleeting. "Drunken mess, right. Can't forget that. Thing with Dru was, she knew. Knew that the minute I saw you, I was gone."

She closes her eyes. She doesn't want to see his face when he says these things. It'll be too much.

Quiet, it's all very quiet. Just the sigh of a piano, the whir of the espresso machine, the hush of Spike's voice. It's more than Buffy can take. "Dru loved me. She really did. But she also loved the dark she made of me. The bad in me. And you... you made me want to be a man again."

She opens her eyes then, because she can feel him staring at her. As soon as their eyes meet, Spike looks away. Winces, shakes his head. "Works like that every time," he sighs. "I try, you know. But I always muck it up in the end. Can't help it. Nothing I can do to stop it. Thought that getting a soul would... but you can't get rid of something inside you, can you now. Not when it's this...."

He can't finish. Just looks away, tries to cover up his flinch with a sip of tea. But Buffy knows.

The bathroom.

"It's all right," she says evenly. "I'm all right. I don't hold anything against you, Spike. I can't. We brought ourselves to that point, and I know that you would never intentionally...."

"Yeah," he says, his voice dark and strained. "Know what they say about that road to hell, don't you, luv? Paved with all sorts of good intentions. See, doesn't matter what I want. Doesn't matter if I love you, if I try to be good. Try to be gentle. What matters is the end result. And in the end, I'll do you nothing but wrong."

Oh, no. "Spike, that's not...."

"Do you want to know the truth?" he asks softly. Voice sounds so soft then. So supple and rich. But she can hear the tear in it. Knows that he's as thin as paper now. "The reason why I did what I did that night? Because I wanted you to love me. Because I couldn't take the thought of you not loving me. So that was my solution. I'd fuck you 'til you loved me."

"I'll make you feel it!"

She's tried not to think about that night. Oh, she can say that it's all said and done, that it's buried in the past, and she really has forgiven him, but God. She doesn't like to think about it. When everything was over, she'd cleaned the bathroom up and down. Scrubbed it with Lysol, sprayed it with perfumes. Burned candles and incense.

Buffy couldn't stand that lingering stench of desperation.

Now here she is, sitting on this couch in a coffeehouse with the vampire who tried to rape her. And when she holds his hand in hers, she can remember the bruise on her thigh from where his knee had forced her legs apart. She can feel the slender, smooth surface of his fingernails and recall the scratches on her breasts, his crushing palms surrounding her face.

But for the first time, it makes sense.

"You're beneath me."

"You're not a man. You're a thing."

"You were just... convenient."

"I could never trust you enough for it to be love."

"I'm a monster."

For a moment, Buffy doesn't know who said the words: him or her.

But it's him. They're his words, and as he continues, he slips his hand out of hers. Quietly lays his teacup on the coffee table and stands up. Gives her a look that's sadder than a funeral. "Thought I could change, you know," he says softly. "It's why I did it. Why I left. Thought I could change, be something more than what I was, and then you'd see. You'd see that I was...." A rueful grin. "Something I'll never be."

Her voice feels weak. Speaking is too difficult. Her vision is blurry and her world is sheathed in liquid. "Spike...."

But he just gives her a quiet, resigned smile. Reaches out to touch her hair, so feather-wispy that she can't be sure he's even touched her at all, and before she can reach out and grab at his skin, he shoves his hands in his pockets. Nods his head once. "It's all right, luv."

And then he turns to go.

Dazedly, Buffy stares at him from the sofa. Stares numbly at the shape of his body as he moves away from her, at the slump in his shoulders. The pain in his slender back. She's trapped in the ebb and flow of memory's tide, like a film that's been spliced with old, worn fragments. She looks at Spike and sees every mistake that she's ever made.

It's Angel all over again. It's Riley, and Giles, and the friends that she dangles at arm's length. The sister who once tearfully asked her if she was disappointed that the world didn't end. The platform on the edge of morning and apocalypse, when everything became so clear, and she could--

"I can see it."

The words are weak. Barely above a whisper. But all that matters is that he hears them, and he stops. Turns around, confused and startled.

She tries again.

"I can see it." A little louder. A little stronger. "I can. You say that it's not there. But it is. I think it's always been there. I just didn't want to see it."

She doesn't know what she's doing. Doesn't know what she's saying, or what's going to happen because of this. But she knows that the look on his face is beautiful, and that's enough to make her say more.

"I lied to you, too. In the bathroom that night. When I told you that I couldn't trust you enough to love you. That wasn't it at all, and I didn't know it until... until it was too late. I couldn't trust myself enough to love you." She laughs then, desperate and wild, because she's tired of crying. "Because I'm a mess, Spike. I'm a real awful mess."

He sighs, steps forward. Tilts his head at her in that painfully emotive way of his. "Luv, that's not--"

"I'm in love with you."

It's silent. All of those sounds, those normal noises, have disappeared. All that exists in her world is Spike and his absolute stillness. His eyes are bluer than winter. Skin paler than eggshell. And oh, he's more radiant than a thousand starry nights.

I should've told him the moment I knew. Because oh, God, it's so good.

"I'm in love with you." Has to say it again. Has to say it a million times. "I can't stop thinking about you. I dream about you at night. Sometimes, I'll start looking at your hands and can't make myself stop, and you smell really good right now, and you make me ramble...." She looks up at him and catches her breath. Gets a little awestruck. "And then you look at me like that and I can't remember my own name."

You look at me like I'm good.

"So there you have it. I'll understand if you don't want this, don't want to.... After what I did to you last time.... I mean, I really am a mess. I say all the wrong things at all the wrong times. I hurt the people I love. I'll probably be nothing but bad for you, and I'll do you wrong in the end, and--"

And then his mouth is on hers and she forgets everything else.

He's down on his knees before her, his hands surrounding her face, mouth crushing away all of her insecurities and fears. It's still chaos, and it's still madness, but when she tastes the orange peel and ginseng on his talented tongue, Buffy doesn't give two shits. None of it matters. The passionate pull of his velveteen mouth, the love that tastes like merlot. When he kisses her, she can taste the spice of his soul, and to hell with the consequences.

All she cares about is him.

When he pulls away, she's gasping for air. Drowning in him, and that delicious, adoring smile that makes him radiant. "You silly bint," he says affectionately, stroking her hair with his hand. "Don't you know by now? I'll always want you."

Oh, God.

It's then that everything just starts to spill out of her. All of those words that she kept bottled up tightly inside, afraid of the mess she would make if she let them bubble out. "Oh, God, Spike, I'm really in love with you, like hopelessly," she gasps. Her hands move like hurricanes over his skin, fast and furious. "I want you, all of you, even the parts that are scary. And I'm scared, and I'm really fucked-up, but I can't help it. It just happened, and--"

Mouth crashing on mouth, like waves on a shore during high tide. Eating away at the sandy surface of all of her reservations and fears. Because this can't be wrong. Nothing that makes her this happy, nothing that makes her this blissful, could possibly be wrong. It hurts to kiss him. Hurts to touch him. Every little caress is so overwhelming. The power of what lies between them. The sheer intensity of it all.

Her hands attack his skin. She digs her fingers into the scruff of his neck and feels him tense and arch, his head tipping back with ecstasy as Buffy bends her head down and catches his earlobe between her teeth. "Christ, oh, Buffy, your mouth...."

"I love your mouth," she blurts, her thumb passing over the lush silk of his lower lip. She doesn't care how silly or girlish she sounds. Not when he's making those urgent, growling noises in his chest. All shallow, hitching breaths and moans. "And your noises, God, you make the yummiest noises. I love the way your hair feels right here, at the back of your neck. Touch me, just touch me, you're the only one who's ever done it right, Spike, Spike...."

Kisses his eyelashes, kisses his mouth. His hands scour down her sides, palms brushing the sides of her aching breasts. Spike gets to his feet and pushes her back into the couch cushions, and Buffy slides her thighs apart, wraps her legs around his and pulls him close. He's so hard against her, so good, and when she grinds her own swollen sex against his, Spike gasps and buries his face in her shoulder.

"Too much," he whispers. "Christ, you're too much, and luv, it's just...."

She can sense it. The level of control he's trying to exert. So careful, he's trying to be so careful. Because of what happened the night that he left. Oh, he's so fucked-up and tortured, her beautiful lynx of a vampire. Buffy threads her fingers through his slicked-back locks, feels the curls he tries to fight springing up under her touch. Closes her eyes. Kisses his cheek. "It's all right. I trust you. Love all of you, remember?"

Buffy jerks his head back then and slams her mouth against his with all of the intensity of her burning heart. Sensibility says that she should be careful with him. Treat him like glass, because of the thousands of ways that she broke him last year. But she's not going to do that. Not going to hold back. She wants all of him, even the parts that bruised her, because that's Spike. It's who he is.

And the darkness, the violence, the fever and rush.... That's who she is, too.

When she pulls away from his mouth, leaves him gasping for breath and all wild-eyed and tense, Buffy gives him a forceful look. "No holds barred. If you're going to love me, then you're going to love me honestly. Give it to me, Spike. Every last piece."

She holds his gaze. Watches the uncertainty and the fright fight for control on that too-expressive face of his, and then his eyelashes lower. Gives her the bedroom eyes that have always rocked her world, and when he smirks, she feels her heart skip and flutter.

"As you please, Slayer."

Spike growls into her mouth, his hands moving underneath the hem of her sweater, cool palms dancing over her belly, teeth nipping hungrily at her lip. Buffy gasps and writhes when he covers her satin-clad breast with his hand, and she rakes her fingernails down his back. Feels him tense and shudder, and then he attacks her neck with an assortment of kisses. Some lighter than feathers. Some sharp and scraping, full of blunt teeth.

"Oh, oh, yes," she gasps, her blood singing and screaming. "Closer, get closer. Too far away, and clothes suck, and your hips really shouldn't move like that because wow...."

Another liquid swivel, his erection grinding against her denim-covered cunt, and Buffy wants him so bad that she could scream. Wants him inside her, wants all of him, and the seam of her jeans is rubbing painfully right against her hard clit. When his fingers slide between her legs and stroke her rough and good, Buffy moans and grunts in frustration. "Spike...."

His hands circle her waist and then he moves them both as he collapses onto the couch. Pulls her onto his lap and oh yes, that's the right angle. "This is a very bad idea," Spike says roughly, and Buffy nods her head.

"Totally," she agrees, and then Buffy grinds against his crotch, drinks him up in a butterscotch kiss. She slides her hands under his shirt and scrapes her nails down his chest, watches his eyes roll back in his head as he sucks in fistfuls of breath. "It's a very, very bad idea. We're only going to end up... oh God, like that, yes... in all kinds of awful trouble...."

"Very bad trouble, indeed." But he obviously doesn't care about the consequences any more than she does. Not when his hands move like that, not when he tilts his head so that her mouth can have better access to his throat. She's wanted to nibble on his pretty neck for days. "Oh, yeah, luv, just like that...."

Oh, she knows. She remembers. Every little quirk. Every little vulnerability. She knows that if she wants to see Spike shiver and whimper, all that she has to do is just suck right there on the juncture of his neck and shoulder. And sure enough, he's convulsing and gasping, arms wrapped around her so tight. Mmm, there's that fine rainwater smell of his, and underneath it, the burning matches smell of Spike, aroused.

"Oh, God, I love you, Spike."

"Um, excuse me?"

They both freeze at the same time, and Buffy slowly turns her head, wide-eyed like a deer in headlights. At the foot of the stairs is a rather uncomfortable-looking cashier, giving the two of them the irritated eye. Oh, yeah. They're still in the coffeehouse. Somehow, in the midst of all of the deep confessions and heavy petting, Buffy forgot where she was.

And then there's Spike's voice, cool and smooth like caramel. "There a problem, luv?" He's still got his hand up her shirt, fingers hooked around the clasp of her bra. She's not sure, but she thinks that he might have already gotten it partially unfastened. And when she takes a glance at his face, she sees that sly, cat-who-ate-the-canary smile on his face that she hasn't seen since before he left.

Oh, how I missed you, Spike.

The girl gets flustered then, and a blush rises to her cheeks. She giggles. "Uh, no, no problem," she says. "Just... we're closing in ten minutes, so...."

Buffy nods, tries to look innocent. Oh, sure. Everything's fine. And I'm really not sitting on his lap and trying to keep my hands from toying with his nipples. "Sure," she croaks. "Um... thanks?"

The cashier can't say anything else. Just flashes one more red-cheeked look at Spike, who's just oh-so-indecent with all of his casual sexuality, and then darts down the stairs faster than lightning.

As soon as she's gone, they both collapse in laughter. Buffy bends her head down and buries her giggles in his shoulder, and then laughs even harder when her suspicions are confirmed by Spike's subtle refastening of her bra. "Oh my God," she giggles. "I think we scarred her for life."

She loves it when he chuckles like this, all dark and rumbling like a tiger's growl, and the sound reverberates against her cheek and spreads like an orgasm throughout her body. "Made quite a scene, didn't we."

Once upon a time, she would've been humiliated. Embarrassed. Ashamed. But tonight, as she looks down at his wolfish grin and eyes that spark like firecrackers....

Buffy chuckles. "Some things never change."

One of the nice things about living in a small town like Sunnydale is the fact that everything is within walking distance. Considering her general aversion to automobiles, this works out nicely for Buffy. Fifteen minutes to the Magic Box. Twenty to the university. Only ten minutes to the Espresso Pump.

It takes them a half an hour to get home.

It's all her fault, of course. She can't keep her hands off of him. She dragged Spike out of the coffeehouse hand-in-hand and laughing, and then found him so stunning under the streetlights that she had to push him against a wall and kiss him deep and electric. It happened again by the Bronze when she saw him looking at her, and then when she caught a whiff of his delicious, charred scent on the January wind, she had to take a moment to devour his neck with her mouth.

Now they stand underneath that familiar tree in her front yard, the one where he once convinced her to forget responsibility and give herself to him against the hard bark. She has him pinned against the sturdy trunk of the oak tree, her hands all up under his shirt, fingers toying with his nipples while makes all sorts of delicious groaning noises. There's a lingering scent of cigarettes, like all of those wistful Marlboros he planted beneath her window have blossomed. And in a way, she supposes that they have.

Broken glass leftover from all of her window trouble crunches under her boot as Buffy shifts her weight, arcing against Spike's slender body. His tongue flutters over the sensitive cartilage of her ear, and Buffy hisses in a breath and kisses the hollow of his throat. She's on fire, like a thousand candles burn below the surface of her skin, all kinds of hot for him.

And then she slips a hand between his legs, cups the tell-tale bulge at the front of his jeans, and makes him writhe against the rough bark of the tree. Frantically, Spike pushes her hand away, gives her the big blue eyes that make her knees feel like jelly. "Christ, Slayer, keep that up and I'm not going to be able to hold off," he mutters, and Buffy arches a wicked eyebrow at him.

"That's kind of the idea," she says, and he gives her a sloe-eyed look. Puts his hands firmly on her shoulders and pushes her back a couple of inches.

"In case you've forgotten, pet, there's a house full of junior Slayers waiting for us, not to mention the Watcher and the rest of your little crew," he says. "Doubt they'd be thrilled to see the two of us going at it like rabbits."

Ah, yes. The inevitable intrusion of reality into this fantasy of frothy kisses and fingernails. All of her friends with their doubtless disapproval. She can practically hear them arguing with her to come to her senses and just let him go. But when she looks at him, she sees the preparation. Sees his eyes go dark as he steels himself for the rejection that he's become so accustomed to over the years.

Silently, she takes his hands off of her shoulders. Gives him an even look as she raises his left to her mouth and plants a kiss on his palm, and then repeats her action with his other hand. She twines her fingers through his, and then pulls him towards the door.

"I don't care what they think. I want you. So come inside."

They've been taking turns on lookout, trying to keep from exhausting everyone in the house. Apparently, tonight is Willow's night for lookout duty, and the redhead is stretched out on the sofa, surrounded by books and notebooks. She's scribbling furiously in a notebook when Buffy and Spike walk in the door, and when she looks up, she gives a little strangled laugh. "Buffy! And... Spike. Um... good night off?"

She can feel the hesitation in his hand. The way that he wants to pull his fingers away from her, the awkward shifting in his body. But she grips his hand firmly. Keeps him close. "Very good night," she says, and it's impossible to keep a smile from creeping across her face.

Willow blushes furiously and averts her eyes. "Uh, yeah. Could kinda tell that by the major smoochies by the tree which, in case you forgot, is right smack dab in front of this big old window."

Oops. She hears Spike mutter a curse under his breath, and she thinks that her cheeks must be as red as Willow's are at the moment. When she said that she didn't care who saw what, she certainly didn't intend on putting on a big show for whoever was at the lookout post. "Oh. Um. Sorry about that."

"Just be glad that Xander switched off of rotation twenty minutes ago," Willow says wisely, and Buffy is suddenly very glad that she decided to take pit stops on the way home. Dealing with the rage of Xander's hatred for Spike would have put a big damper on the glow of tonight.

"Definitely," Buffy agrees, and Spike winces, tries again to pull his hand out of hers. But she grips his fingers firmly within hers and grabs his other hand. Holds on tight to keep him from slipping away. When she looks up into his eyes, she smiles at him warmly. Tells him that everything's still good. That she still wants him here. "Mind waiting for me in the kitchen? Need to have a word with my Willow."

"Of course, luv," Spike says, and then she does something bold. Something different. It's a little gesture, but it's important. Not to her, but to him. She closes her eyes and whispers her mouth across his. Just a small kiss. Just a hint of what she wants to give him.

When she pulls away, she smiles at him. "Don't go anywhere," she says softly, and he shakes his head, a little dazed. A little breathless. And a lot of amazed.

"Wouldn't dream of it."

As soon as he slips into the shadows of the dim kitchen, Willow arches an eyebrow. "It's not any of my business, you know," she says, trying to keep casual, "but are you sure you know what you're doing?"

Buffy sighs. "Nope," she admits. "Not a clue. But I know... I know that I love him, Will."

Willow gives her a look. Not stern, not warm, just.... "I could kind of tell. And there's no judging, because I don't know all of the fuzzy-weird details, and I don't want to know the fuzzy-weird details, but... I just... I don't want to see you get hurt, Buffy."

Buffy gives her a skewed smile. "I think I'm more worried about him getting hurt." Then she bites on her lower lip. Shuffles her feet. "Um... well, this is kind of really awkward, but...."

"There's nobody in the basement tonight."

Willow says it in a hushed voice, and Buffy gives her friend a curious look. No more blush or frown, but there's no real stamp of approval, either. Instead, she just looks rather... resigned. But that's all right. She doesn't expect everyone to roll out the red carpet and have a parade in celebration of this. All that she wants is a little understanding.

Buffy nods her head at her. "Thank you," she says quietly, and Willow smiles back. For a moment, they connect, and she thinks that everything might be all right, after all. It'll be hard, telling everyone, but it won't be impossible. And it'll be worth it. Worth it to be able to hold his hand whenever she pleases, or smile at him when there are others looking, or just share a dance with him under the electric glow of colored lights.

It'll be worth everything.

When she walks into the kitchen, she finds Spike standing in the shadows of the kitchen, leaning against the fridge in that criminally graceful manner of his. All liquid litheness, arms crossed over his chest, one foot propped up against the refrigerator door. Dark shirt clinging to all of the right places, and his face is hidden in shadows. "Things go all right, then?" he asks.

She doesn't say anything. Slowly, Buffy walks across the kitchen, skimming her fingertips along the countertops, imagining the hard contours of his body. A smile sparks on her lips, dark and sensuous, and he reflects it back at her with a curve of his own delicious mouth. She steps up close to him, so close that she could move just a fraction of an inch and be kissing him, but instead, she just keeps smiling.

"Come downstairs with me and I'll make things even better."

The shadows of the basement wrap around her like a blanket as she descends the staircase. It smells of must from last year's flood, and her eyes pass over the various belongings stored away down here. It's a mess of contradictions, but a fairly accurate description of her life. Manacles and photographs. A bloodstained floor and above it, her senior prom dress. Weapons and vinyl records.

Buffy smiles at him. Tugs his hand sweetly. "Maybe it does make a kind of sense," she murmurs. "Me falling in love with you. It kind of figures, you know?"

When Spike laughs back, it's short and a little unsteady. "Actually, I don't. Don't quite understand why all this is happening." She frowns, and he sighs. Pushes her hair away from her shoulder with the light whisper of his quiet hand. "Didn't expect this. Always figured, after I got back, that you would never.... well, after what happened...."

"I didn't expect it, either. Believe me, I didn't. But sometimes, these things, they just...." Buffy smiles at him, pulls his hand close. "People change."

I just hope that I've changed enough to be good for you this time.

He opens up his mouth to say more, but Buffy doesn't let him get that far. She shuts him up with a kiss, deep enough to steal his words. Tries to drink the poetry in his soul. When Spike arches against her, she pulls away and watches him groan at the sudden absence of her kiss.

But Buffy just arches a devilish eyebrow. Tries his smirk on for size. Just to see if it has the same effect on him that it has on her. Sure enough, his eyes darken and he licks his lips like a ravenous wolf. A shiver of pleasure runs through her. Oh, yes. She remembers this. Remembers the way that he would look at her whenever she took the reigns. Like she was the sun. A thrill. A slice of scrumptious sin.

"Oh," she murmurs, wrapping her hand around his neck. "This is going to be so good."

Their mouths meet in a flurry, a fury, a hurricane. A forest fire is brewing in her belly, and Spike throws oil on the flames when he catches her lower lip between his teeth and tugs just so.... Hisses and moans, and Buffy arches and writhes against him. Her hands are out of control, tugging desperately at his shirt, and she gasps when she has to separate long enough to get the damn thing over his head.

Denim and cotton, and oh fuck but he's gorgeous. Ravenously, Buffy devours him with one predatory swoop of her eyes. Sinews and cords, rich muscles that will twitch and shimmy if she uses her hands the way he likes it. Mm, long legs and lovely cock, and all of a sudden, the power's flipped. She's the one who's standing here gawking at him, skin on fire, practically twitching with arousal. Wetter than spring; hotter than summer.

Hastily, Buffy pulls at her sweater, and she can feel his hands on her jeans. "Get them off me," she gasps between kisses. She can't stand not being next to his skin. And then Spike buries his face in her neck, nipping and licking at her skin, and she gasps and grabs at him as her knees go weak. "Fuck, you're so not helping...."

Even though she can't see him, Buffy can feel his grin. "I'd apologize, but I don't really feel very sorry."

And she can't feel very sorry about it either, not when his hands snake up under her sweater and cup her breasts. His thumbs move over the silk, circling her hard nipples over the fabric. She's aching, gasping for breath, and her hips buck when Spike pulls up her bra and runs his fingers across her sensitive areoles.

"Love your breasts, I do," he murmurs. "Mm, all hot and pert. Hard little nipples, make me want to bite at your skin for a few hours. Like that, wouldn't you, luv?" He scrapes his teeth against her collarbone and it sends shivers down her spine. "Know how you like it, you know. Still remember, though Christ, it's been so long...." His voice goes all rough.

"Still know how to love you, Buffy."

She thinks that she might actually be whimpering, but she'll never admit to that in the morning.

Finally, their efforts are rewarded, and she's naked against him. Nothing but skin now, and his hands circle her waist. He's touching everything, so fast, every motion sizzling and scorching. She can't breathe; she doesn't want to breathe. Not if it means she has to leave his mouth. Hands move everywhere, and somehow they manage to make it onto the rollout cot. Gasping, grunting, groaning. His cock against her belly, and his lips moving down her breast, and she's hot and wet and wanting him....

Yet in the middle of all of this, Buffy somehow manages to catch Spike's gaze, and everything stops.

Raw. Naked. Vulnerable. Beautiful.

This is the first time.

Not the first time for this, no. Not the first time she's laid beneath him, hot and wanting. But it's the first time that she's been in this position and under love's spell. The first time that she's ever been surrounded by Spike in all of the ways she's not supposed to have him.

This is supposed to be special. Supposed to be memorable. Something to pin down in a scrapbook one day. So I should take this slow. Take this sweet. We've got all night, and if we're lucky, we'll have a thousand more nights. Don't rush this, Buffy. Just....

"Relax," she says softly. Strokes his cotton-soft cheek with the back of her hand. "We just have to relax."

Because when this happens, she wants to feel it.

Spike sighs. Smiles at her. "Right," he breathes. "Relax." His fingertips trail over her face. Traces her mouth, the odd shape of her nose. "Got carried away. Always get carried away when it comes to you, though."

A faint smile. "I've kind of noticed that. But tonight... I want to appreciate this."

I want to appreciate you.

All of him. The vampire with the hungry wolf-grin, the poet with the words of fool's gold, and the man who's just the right blend of light and dark to make her feel less than broken. Touches his face, every feature that she's been lingering on this past week. Runs a fingertip over the fringe of his lashes. Kisses the scar on his eyebrow like it's not too late to heal him. And maybe itís not.

Maybe there's still time for the both of them.

He's touching her, too. Touching her with shaking fingers, like he's a starving man and she's his banquet. Touches her so slow. Just fingers caressing those intimate places that she never let him have without fingernails or nasty words. Tracing her features with his thumb. Following the arc of her eyebrow with his lips. His eyes drink her in, and it slams her suddenly: there's nothing that Spike ignores when he looks at her.

He sees everything.

"Oh," Buffy sighs, leaning into every touch, "you love me so well."

Slowly, Spike bends down, plants a kiss in the soft flesh of her underarm. "Try to. Try to love you as best I can. You know how important this is to me? What you've given me?"

She can hear the tears in his voice, and when she kisses his mouth, she can taste the salt of his words. "Is it enough?" she whispers, and he sighs.

"It's everything."

The first touch of him between her legs, and oh, she's dying for this. Wants him to be so far inside of her that she won't be able to tell where she ends and he begins. That first, gentle push, and she hisses and arches her back. "Yes," she whispers. Touches his neck, kisses his shoulder. "You're so beautiful, Spike. You've always been beautiful."

A groan, and he's a little deeper. She's clenching around him, wants to take him in all at once, but this slow drink of him is much, much better. "Gonna do things right," he whispers to her. "Not gonna... bollix it up like...."

"Shh, Spike, donít think about it, I love you...."

Another push, and then something just... clicks. Like a piece of the all-consuming puzzle of Spike just falls into place, and she can feel him. Can feel the intensity and incredulity of him. Flavors and tastes. Scents carried over from conquered continents. Coal. Chinese lanterns. Gasoline. History burns as he slides inside of her, and Buffy gasps, clutches at his shoulders.

Her vision is blurring; she sees double. Sees a thousand different versions of himself that he's concocted over the years. Dazedly, Buffy drags a thumb under his eye and thinks that she can feel the oil of dark eyeliner. His hair seems to be changing color underneath her hands, white and brown and blonde and black. She gasps, feels herself shimmy and writhe, arousal bubbling up inside of her as he makes love in the millions of ways that only Spike knows.

But underneath all of that satin surface and cool skin, she can feel the man that he really is. The man he's always been. Every caress begs for a sliver of love. A splinter of affection. Doesn't matter if it bruises him in the process, just as long as someone sees him. Just as long as someone knows who he is, and loves him honestly.

Just as long as someone loves him.

Thrust, arch, cry, moan. Hands moving slowly over bodies, a finger on her swollen clit and she doesn't know if it's hers or his. Doesn't matter, because he's the one who's making her feel this way. Making her feel loved, cherished, adored. Spike worships her with every gentle caress, every tender word that he breathes into her neck.

"Love your skin, love your spirit, love your words, love your heart, love you, love you...."

She can't hold on much longer. Can't make it slow. Can't make it last. Because he overwhelms her. Every touch. Every inch of his golden-cream skin. She's falling in love with him all over again, with every little nip of his teeth on her shoulder, every strangled sound, every sensuous touch.

"Love you," she gasps. "Love you so much, oh, Spike, yes, love you...."

"Buffy," Spike rasps into her skin. "You're my dream."

And then everything just comes together so fast, and she sees him in all of those different lights that make him beautiful today, and this time, when she falls in love with him, she falls.

Ecstasy. Bliss. Rapture. Joy. It's a thousand different exquisite words, all of them stolen from his heart of darkest poetry, and Buffy cries out her own unique sonnets in shades of gold as she gasps and writhes beneath him. She can't understand everything that she says. Knows that she's rambling on and on in wispy tones about what kind of a lovely man he is, and oh how much she loves him, but her mind works in simpler terms.

It's better.

Not just the sex. Not just the way that she feels. The world is a little brighter. The grass is a little greener. The sun burns a little gentler, and the moon makes everything more radiant. She's never experienced joy like this. Never experienced happiness like the way that she feels as Spike comes inside of her and she gasps and sighs in the beginnings of afterglow.

Life is better just because she's in love with him.

Everything feels so slow afterwards. The languid rise and fall of his hand down her bare thigh. Soft, murmuring kisses trailing down the slope of her neck. And it's funny, but that want that she had ever since she fell in love with him, that desire to do everything all at once, just slips away. Instead of forcing it, instead of making it happen, she just lets everything be.

So Buffy closes her eyes. Inhales the smoke of his skin. Lets her fingers wander over the continent of his skin. And she feels him basking in her presence, too. For the first time, she lets him have his afterglow, and he's absolutely incandescent in it.

"I should've loved you years ago," she murmurs, and Spike shakes his head at her. Strokes the slope of her cheek.

"Just tell me again," he whispers. So hungry, his eyes. Starved for anything other than rejection. "Give me those words."

And she smiles. Runs her index finger down the bridge of his nose. When she says it again, the words are easier than breathing.

"I love you, Spike."

She'll tell it to him a thousand times in the years to come, if they have them. She'll make him glow like a candelabra and make him spark like a Roman candle. They'll fuck in all of those decadent, sinful ways. They'll make love in the tender places of the heart. All of this before the sands of the hourglass empty out into nothing, and all of this before they run out of time and she's left with ashen palms and another tower to fall from.

But she knows now, doesn't she? Knows that there are better places than heaven. Knows that death won't fill up that hole inside of her heart.

Living is the only thing that will do the trick.

"You're alive, you know," she whispers to him. Strokes his eyebrow. Kisses lighter than air. "Not literally, all right. But it's one of the reasons why I always hated you. You were more alive than me." Before he can protest, before he can give her a pretty lie or a word of worship, she places an index finger on his lips. "But now... I just have to catch up with you."

I just have to burn as bright as you do, and then maybe everything will be all right.

"Everything will be all right."

It doesn't matter who said it. Doesn't matter at all. All that matters is that his hands are creeping over her body and his mouth is whispering silent poetry across her breasts. All that matters is the knowledge of impending bliss, and it does not matter if all of this breaks in the morning. Doesn't matter if everything ends in horror and bloodshed, like he once predicted.

Because at least they have tonight.

When Spike speaks, his lips brush her still-swollen nipple. "Again," he murmurs, and she smiles.

"I love you."


So she repeats it over and over, tells it straight to his soul with her hands and her eyes, and he makes love to her until she laughs from joy.

the end

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