All About Spike

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What's It To Be?
By Herself

Sequel to Forgive Me; part of The Bittersweets Series

Rating: NC-17

Summary: Spike, Buffy and that old black magic.

Author Notes: This is the sixth in the BITTERSWEETS series, following "Forgive Me." The BITTERSWEETS are set in a AU season 6 verging off of "Wrecked."

Dedication: As always, for Kalima first and foremost. Also for the Bitches, and Deborah M.

Completed: Feb 2002.

Disclaimer: Joss creates, I borrow



“So. You’re back.”

“Yes precious, I am.”

Dawn eyed him, as he came down the stairs, with a sere face. She’d just come in from school, her book bag dangling from her shoulder. When he got to the bottom, she stepped back, and when he began to reach a hand towards her, she spun and went into the kitchen.

Spike followed slowly, and leaned in the doorway.

She was opening and closing cabinets, looking for a snack or else trying to cover up for herself.

“Where’s Buffy?”

“Upstairs. Be down shortly.”

“When will she throw you out again? Do you think it’ll happen right away, or will she give me time to get used to you again a little before she does it?”

She tore the cellophane off a packet of microwave popcorn with such force that the bag flew across the room.

Spike bent to pick it up, but didn’t move to bring it to her.

“I won’t tell you not to be angry at your sis. Wouldn’t do any good if I did.”

“Leave me alone.” She took a second packet from the box, opened it more carefully. Turned her back on him to put it into the microwave.

Couldn’t look at her, since the brouhaha over his box, without seeing Jemima superimposed. Quiet pale little Jem in her black bombazine dress with the sparse bit of lace and the jet mourning brooch at the neck. Poor thing had never gotten to wear colors since she emerged from the nursery, just perpetual weeds as her family disintegrated all around her, each death pulling away with it a big clump of her natural gaiety. They were all delicate, on Mamma’s side and papa’s both. He’d worn the same mourning suit himself, day in day out, for years, until the morning of the day he’d met Drusilla, when he’d arisen unable to bear the sight of it, and put on instead the only other thing he had to hand, papa’s old boating clothes. Neither of them had been to the river in years by then. Knew he looked absurd, but didn’t care whom he scandalized. Just couldn’t bear it.

Jem was already dead, of course.

Which was a blessing, because she’d have so hated to lose him.

And he hated the world without her in it, and proved it by falling in love with idiot girls and writing stinking verses about them.

“Little patience with her couldn’t hurt though.”

“Patience. Oh yeah, right.”

“She’s not angry with you. Whatever you might think.”

“She should be worrying about whether I’m angry at her. Does she think I’m a yo-yo? Does she think you are?”

This was easier when all he had to do was watch her fall asleep in front of the telly, and protect her from the Hellions.

“You two were having sex all day. Don’t think I can’t tell.”

“Well . . . we were, yeah.”

“She’s just using you, Spike. She hates everybody. She hates you. She’s crazy now, and she doesn’t know what she’s doing. What do you hang around for?”

“He hangs around for the digital cable and the free food. Just like any other man.” Buffy slipped under his arm and came into the kitchen. “Oh Dawnie, not popcorn. I was going to make dinner.”

It was clear she’d heard nothing but Dawn’s last remark, otherwise, Spike knew, she’d have stalked in with all defenses up.

“But I’m hungry now.”

“Then why should I bother to cook? I could live on popcorn too! You didn’t eat what I made the other night either.”

“I hate this! I’m getting a stomach ache! Why don’t you throw Spike out now and get it over with before The Simpsons comes on? I can’t take the suspense!”

Buffy tried to put a hand on Dawn’s shoulder, but she wasn’t having any, and jerked herself away.

“Dawn, I know you’re upset with me—“

“You don’t know anything, Buffy. You haven’t looked at me except to scold me for something or other ever since you got back. And you treat my friend like—“

“Dirt. I know,” Buffy said. “I know, and I’m sorry. I think Spike’s forgiven me. I hope you will. I’ll make it up to you, if you’ll give me some time. And a little space. Basically, a space-time continuum, is what I need here.”

Dawn looked past her at Spike. “Have you forgiven her?”

“Yeah. An’ I recommend you do the same. You don’t need to defend my honor, anyway, Little Bit. Buffy’s all right with me.”

Dawn glanced suspiciously from one to the other. “You’re going to make dinner?”

“Yes. Will you help me?”

“Is Spike going to stay?”

“He can if he likes.” Buffy was rummaging in the fridge now and didn’t look at him when she said this, so he wasn’t sure what she wanted. He wanted to stay, he wanted to see the two of them eat, their mouths shiny, hear them talk. Could pretend Joyce would come in at any moment and join them. But maybe he ought to go away for a while, leave the girls to their girl-talk.

But Dawn came and stood close to him then, not saying anything, and he knew she wanted him to remain. Probably because she was afraid to be left alone with her volatile sister.

So he stayed, to show her that he could. Perched on the counter, sipping from a glass of blood; watched them make hamburgers and salad. Buffy asked about school; they conversed in words of one syllable amid long silences.

Thought of what he’d be doing now, if not for them, these two skinny girls in a suburban American kitchen. Dancing in the long night of Reykjavik with Drusilla in velvets and fur, perhaps. Bellies full of nordic blood and eyes for nothing but each other. Like it always used to be.

No. Stupid.

And there was a pressure on the region of his still heart. He wouldn’t have that now if he could. Didn’t want Drusilla, didn’t want his freedom, not if it meant being separated from her.

They sat for a long while at the table after Dawn cleared it. Buffy turned over the mail. Dawn brought out her books, and after a while Spike found himself trying to call up what William remembered of the elemental calculus, to help her with her homework. No one had taught maths to Bella, Sophie and Jem. For them, he’d held skeins of yarn on his hands while they wrapped them into balls, prior to fashioning mufflers for all their weak chests. For them he’d read The Pickwick Papers out loud, and did the voices.

Sophie would laugh and laugh. Laugh herself into a coughing fit.

And Mamma would scold him for starting her, with terror in her eyes.

Sophie was the first to die.

“Spike. Hello. Spike? I still don’t get it,” Dawn said. “Explain it again?”

*******

“There’s something I’d like to do. That I’ve fantasized about for a long time. With your hair.”

He’d just brushed it, sitting up behind her in bed, one hundred good strokes, and now that it was one heavy silky mass falling over his hands, Spike brought his face alongside hers, so he could see into the corner of her eye.

Buffy turned her head and looked at him. For the inside of a week, since the business with his box, they’d barely gotten out of bed. Or, more accurate to state, barely taken their hands off each other—she’d had him in every room of the house while Dawn was at school, on practically every piece of furniture she owned, and on the grass in the cemeteries they’d patrolled.

Like her desire, Spike’s attention was larger than it seemed on the surface, it opened into whole new vistas every time she thought she’d grasped the extent of it. Once she’d been frightened of his love, and that was before she’d had more than a clue of what it encompassed. She dimly suspected a day might come when its bottomlessness could frighten her again. But now it was what she needed, to be thoroughly seen, courted, attended to. She’d dug her way out of her own grave into the maw of hell, a resurrection so horrific it unhinged her. Spike’s ministrations now were a gentler, subtler rebirthing.

The bites on his back and shoulders had almost healed. There were still faint red tracings of her teeth visible on his white skin, but no more bandages necessary, nothing at all to come between them. She hated putting on clothes, hated not being touched by him. He’d become a feverish necessity to her.

And hated the thought that when Giles arrived, very soon now, this grace period would end. Everything was on hold, waiting for that. She was on Lover Time, slower and faster and altogether more saturated than regular time. Everything was about Spike: his gaze, his hands, his cock, his cool weight on her, the conversation and kisses that came from his mouth. She found pleasure in heating blood for him, in soaping his back in the bath, in counting his eyelashes. When Giles was here, she would become a riddle to be solved, a disease to be diagnosed. But for now, she was nothing but the vampire’s entranced mistress.

“What? What do you fantasize?” What had once repulsed her, was now fascinating: herself in Spike’s thoughts.

She let him arrange her. When her head rested on his stomach, he drew her hair forward; she saw him through its veil wrap the satiny mass around his engorging cock. Watched as he stroked himself—slow, voluptuous strokes—with the shimmering sheath. Two weeks ago, the idea of this would’ve been revolting; now she was enraptured at the sight, slipping a finger between her own pussy lips to rub herself as she drank it in. “Your prick is so pretty like that,” she whispered. “So pretty, all white like the rest of you, and the pink head peeking out of my hair. Does that feel good, Spike?”

“Mmmm. Nearly as nice as your hot little cunny.”

“Come in my hair, Spike. Do it. I want you to.”

“Do you, Slayer? Tell me.”

Caressing herself, she murmured to him, to his cock, the dirty talk she knew he liked and that she liked too, although it still made her feel self-conscious. Telling his prick what she thought of its magnificence as he tossed off, until it burst forth, fat gobs of jism that she caught on her hand like raindrops. Brought her wet fingers to her mouth. Dead seed, but it didn’t taste dead to her, it was his. He wasn’t dead to her anymore, he was her lover. She no longer wanted to scrub him off.

The phone rang.

“Bloody hell. Who’d call at this hour, sun’s barely up.”

“You snooze. I’ll deal.” She grabbed up the portable and left the room with it.



While Spike waited, he worried. For almost a century he’d forgotten what worry was: William had had almost nothing else in his quarter-century, but The Bloody, with his Drusilla-darling, had been a positive stranger to the sickness. He’d been powerful, and ruthless, and entirely thoughtlessly happy. Until Prague. Their long idyll had ended there, and he was re-introduced to apprehension. His sweetheart was ill, weak, petulant, and there was nothing he could do for her. She might die, and what would he do, after all that devoted time, without her? Nothing was ever the same after that. Drusilla was cured only to fling herself almost at once back into her sire’s lechery, and after that into the arms of every nasty demon she could find to cuckold him with. Once she stopped loving him, his world went dim.

Thinking of Buffy, his thoughts slipped into the same channel. She wasn’t quite twenty-one and had already died twice. Three times for a thing was usually the charm, and he knew there wasn’t a slayer in the recorded chronicles who’d touched twenty-six. Even with his protection, which, face it, could be greater in the intent than the execution

. . . she was so vulnerable.

A million things could happen to take her away from him forever. Just because Sunnydale had been relatively quiet since the Hellions decamped didn’t mean the next Big Bad wasn’t just around the corner.

And just because she welcomed him into her now in every way, didn’t mean she wouldn’t reject him again tomorrow. Reject everything. The death-wish he’d seen in her eyes—in all the slayers’ eyes—was still there. He looked for it now with quite a different attitude. Wanting to see it gone.

Watcher might turn her against him. Friends still might. They had powers—of emotion and old loyalty and sheer humanity—that he couldn’t touch.

He’d move heaven and earth to save the world again . . . for her. In the absence of such a task, could his place at her side ever be secure?

So many perils.

And he still didn’t know what she really felt for him, except that whatever it was, its intensity, though it seemed to be growing, was only a sliver compared to the enormity of his love. She had friends, a sister, responsibilities, sadness and regrets. He had only her.

The loneliness of his unnumbered years weighed on him. Neutered as he was, the demon-world was shuttered to him. Without her he would be so alone.

Here she was. Buffy sprawled across the bed beside him.

“Giles is getting here late tomorrow.”

“Surprised he’s not here already. Thought he’d lose no time.”

“He’s been doing some research—consulting some books that don’t leave the country, aren’t on line. He was talking to some witchcraft experts he knows.”

“Any leads?”

“He said it was too soon to speculate and he needed to see me, talk to me. And to Willow.”

“Willow. Used to be a nice little girl, but I don’t trust her anymore.”

Buffy turned her head. He knew she agreed with him, but she wasn’t going to admit it. That was tantamount to airing dirty laundry in front of the enemy. He was still a vampire.

He slipped a hand under her chin and lifted her face. “Want to look at you, my queen. Sit on my lap.”

“Well, I’d like to,” she said, pushing a hand under the quilt, “but there’s this big hard thing in the way—what is that?”

Her smiles still damn near killed him.

Not to mention the way she handled his prick. The power of those small pretty hands.

She lowered herself slowly onto his quivering cock, teasing him by rising up and almost disengaging a few times before she settled herself on his crossed legs, with hers around his waist.

“So here I am. Look at me.”

The hot channel of her quim, the hot channel of her gaze. Her arms on his shoulders. He took her breasts in his hands and kissed her.

“You know,” he murmured, “I’m going to protect you.”

“Yeah? Who from?”

“Don’t joke.”

“But I’m so good at—. . . Sorry. What’s the matter?”

Buffy rested her forehead against his, and her eyes, taking him in, were just one big eye.

Now he was closer to her than he’d ever imagined he’d get, fear of her mortality dogged his every moment. Could never tell her, of course. That he could not stop thinking about it, its potential, its mystery, its empty finality. For a century he’d been just a Dealer in Death, wholesale and retail but never having to soil his own emotions with the stuff, even as he’d filled his hands with it night after night. He’d been protected for so long, long enough to forget that love involved suffering and doubt even in its most ecstatic consummation.

Folly and melancholy, to love a mortal woman, a Slayer. Five years out of his potential eternity? Perhaps less. Possible loopholes played through his head: protection and longevity spells worked by mages more puissant than Willow could ever dream of being—he knew where to find such, although the thought of drawing their attention to himself made him tremble. Turning her—would it be so terrible, if they could find some way for her to be chipped too?

What an idiot he was. She’d never accept any such suggestion, and he knew in his right mind he wouldn’t want her to. Maybe . . . maybe the resurrection really had altered her so that she was an immortal now. It was a notion to cling to. He could cling to it right up until the moment the life slipped out of her body, next time.

Buffy flexed around him then with such force that he groaned.

She giggled. “What, Spike? You’re all spooky.”

Her bits of laughter, snatches of smiles, were still rare enough to be noted and cherished. Mustn’t put her off them.

“You know I love you, Slayer, yeah?”

“I might have heard it mentioned, once or twice.”

He wanted to ask her, and dreaded her answer, or her silence. Words she might say at his prompting weren’t going to mean anything, anyway.

For a few moments they were quiet, moving together slowly, each in a separate bubble of the senses.

She paused. “I told Giles I’d pick him up at LAX so he doesn’t have to get on that other plane. I’m going to go up today and see Angel.” She said it as if announcing an appointment for a root canal. A root canal she knew he was going to try to talk her out of.

“My queen . . . what do you need to go running to him for?”

“I don’t want to keep this from him . . . especially now my other friends know. Willow might tell him. Anyway, he’s my friend. I want to be frank with him.”

“You won’t get his approval, and what we do is none of his business. Self-righteous pillock.”

“Spike, will you come with me?”

“To grovel in front of Angel? Not bloody likely.”

“I don’t want to go without you.” She put a hand to his face, traced the line of his eyebrow scar with her finger. “We could go out tonight. Go to a club.” She leaned in close, touched her lips to his cheekbones, to his mouth. “Don’t tell me you wouldn’t like to dance with me . . . you always used to ask me to dance, Spike.”

Oh God, she never had forgotten a single word he’d said to her. “Where would we stay? Rooms cost money, and you haven’t got any.”

“There’s fifty empty rooms at the Hyperion.”

“The fuck there are.”

“I need you. You know what a terrible driver I am. Or maybe you don’t . . . trust me. If you want me to come back alive . . . .”

“Hush. You’ll come back . . . .”

“Anyway . . . if you don’t, Angel might think it’s because you’re afraid of him.”

“Oh bloody hell! Afraid of that great poof! The only thing about him that scares me is the frightful way he sticks up his hair.”

The idea of Angel, of Buffy seeing him and talking to him, was not supportable on the slow gentle fuck they were engaged in. Spike tumbled her backwards and off his cock, pinning her wrists together over her head.

“Hey—give it back!”

“Say I’m the best you’ve ever had, and maybe I will.”

“Spike. Twelve years old much? I know what you’re thinking.”

“And I know what you’re thinking. Beg me for it.”

“No.”

Slayer.”

“Fuck you, Spike. And don’t call me that in bed, it’s getting to be a turn-off.” She kneed him hard in the belly and stood up. “I’ve got stuff to do before LA.”

From the floor where she’d sprawled him, he cursed at her. “If that’s the way you feel about it, maybe I won’t go along on your goddamn expedition!”

“Suit yourself, Spike.”

The bathroom door closed, and he heard the shower go on. Goddamn Angel. He’d always own her heart.



Buffy tottered a little on her skinny heels, walking up main street in the sunshine.

Odd to be out in the day, to be wearing clothes and moving normally among regular people, carrying Willow Rosenberg’s dry cleaning.

Why had she picked it up the other day? Because the ticket was in her wallet, and it had seemed petty beyond belief not to get it with her own. And now she was bringing it to the Magic Shop, where presumably Willow would come in and claim it. As for whether she wanted to see Willow, or indeed any of them, her watery ankles spoke for her.

The time was just after nine; Anya was inside, but there were no customers yet or sign of anybody else. Buffy couldn’t quite remember if Willow had a morning class that day, but earlier was probably better. She’d rush in, make the drop, and escape.

But when she saw Anya, who was caressing the money in the cash register with almost masturbatory intensity, her mouth betrayed her.

She stalked across the shop floor, the plasticwrapped clothes billowing behind her. “How—how could you guys have done that to Spike’s crypt? How could you have taken it upon yourselves—“

Anya glanced up, eyes wide. “Willow and Xander said this would make him go away. They were trying to protect you.”

“Well, it didn’t work. You burned him out and now he lives with me. Besides, protect me from what? From a little pleasure in my life? From my autonomy as an adult American citizen? And you—what, were you just following orders?”

“Xander said that Spike must have you in thrall, or else you would never—“

“Xander reads too many comic books. Spike doesn’t do thrall.” She paused. “He doesn’t need to, really.”

“You are enjoying him, aren’t you? That’s not surprising. He is very good in particular at the oral sex.”

Buffy stared. “You are—speaking, um, theoretically? Anya?”

“Oh, I don’t expect he remembers me. So long ago, and it was dark. You could ask him though, if he recalls that night in the caves above Palermo in . . . was it 1904? No—1906. Definitely the winter of 1906. I was doing some reconnaissance on a Cosa Nostra chieftain who’d tried to have his wife murdered, and he was there waiting out an angry mob.”

“And where was Drusilla?”

“Oh,” Anya said, running a stack of twenties through her fingers as if they were Xander’s hair, “she was there too.”

“Okay, I so don’t want to hear anything more about this ever ever ever. Anya—ever.”

“It’s a good story, but if you—“

“Ever.” She threw Willow’s clothes across the research table. “Look, I just came here to leave that, and let you know I’m going to get Giles at the airport. We’ll have to have a Scooby meeting when he gets here. Hopefully without gunshots being exchanged.”

Anya scowled. “If he asks to see the shop books, I’m not promising anything.”

“Well, that’s between you and—“

“You should just stand up to Xander, you know. He admires and hero-worships you very much. It’s just that he is afraid Spike will ruin things the way Angel did.”

Hearing this, Buffy couldn’t restrain a little smile. Lately she’d let other things distract her from what she knew about Xander, which was that he’d always been absolutely solid. “Spike may go on to ruin things . . . but it won’t be the way Angel did. And it won’t be in a let’s put on an apocalypse oooh I’ve got a barn we can use kind of way, either. Trust me.”

“I will be sure to tell him that before the meeting,” Anya said. “Have a nice time in LA.”

Buffy went to the door, congratulating herself on a not-ineffective encounter and an easy escape, when the bell jingled and there was Willow. For a moment they did the pardon me, no pardon me dance as if they were strangers, then Buffy stepped back and Willow came into the shop.

She looked, Buffy thought, terrible. Hair hanging in limp ringlets, circles under her eyes extending halfway down her nose, and a hangdog air that she’d not seen on her since Oz left.

“Um, hi,” Willow said, her voice weak. “I didn’t expect to see you.”

“Your drycleaning’s on the table.”

“Oh. Hey, thanks. What do I owe you?”

“You owe me an expla—ten dollars.”

Willow fished in her pocket, pulled out some crumpled bills. When she handed them to Buffy, their eyes caught. Willow’s eyebrows went up as she looked at her.

“What?” Buffy said.

“Nothing. Just . . . nothing.”

What?”

“You look . . . you look really beautiful. It’s . . . nice.” Suddenly she shrugged and moved past her. Buffy didn’t want to, but found herself following Willow back into the shop, to the research table. Anya had disappeared, probably to the stockroom.

“Willow, why did you do it?”

“We did it for you. We could see you were in trouble, so we acted. Don’t say you’re not better off now.”

“You really think—“

“Buffy, you’re my best friend. I don’t want to lose you. I don’t want terrible things to happen to you. Getting physical with Spike . . . that’s pretty terrible.”

“So you’ve appointed yourself my guardian? My judge and jury and executioner?”

“You didn’t know how far gone you were! If you could’ve heard yourself the other night, talking about Spike as if you were determined to just throw . . . throw yourself away. We could tell you were feeling miserable and trapped. I don’t know how he cornered you, but . . . . Anyway, I can see it’s for the best. You look so much better now.”

“Uh, right.” Suddenly Buffy didn’t have the energy for this battle, or even to point out that Willow’s assumptions were false. Willow wasn’t going to hear her anyway. She was in her own little world of self-righteous Willow-logic now, entirely disconnected from Buffy’s own reality. And uninterested in it, which was a hoot, since she was the one who’d set it going in the first place. “I’ve got to go now. See you soon.”

“Yeah! Maybe we could get together and hang—hey! How’s Dawn?”

Ooooh. Nice of her to remember at the last possible second. “She’s good. Arm’s getting better.”

Willow’s face fell again at this reminder. Buffy left the shop.

*****

“I hope I’m not in the way.”

“Dawnie! Never. I love having you here. Got the extra bed. S’all cool.”

Dawn dipped her gaze, and blushed. “I like being with you, Tara. I miss you.”

“I miss you too.” She wished she could make some reassuring suggestion to the girl, say Maybe we’ll be back on Revello Drive before long, Willow and me, in our old places, but she couldn’t do that because who knew if it would happen? As the days elapsed she thought more and more that it would not. And what with the evolution of Buffy’s circumstances, maybe there wouldn’t be room for them in the house anymore anyway.

“Things are sort of weird at home right now. More weird than usual, I guess I should say. I’m all kinds of glad that Buffy let Spike back in, but now . . . I know I’m a third wheel.”

“Oh, but—“

“I asked Spike once if he was going to live with us, and he got mad. But now . . . since that big fight they had, I think it’s different. Anyway, they’re always behind closed doors now. He comes down and talks to me when I get home from school, and that’s really nice of him, but I barely see Buffy at all. She forgets about making dinner, and I can’t knock on the door because I know what they’re doing in there.”

“They’re . . . adjusting. I hope you don’t feel like they’ve driven you out, or anything. I mean, I’m sure that’s not how they want you to feel. Buffy said they’d pick you up as soon as they get back from LA with Giles.”

“Oh, I know!” Again Dawn blushed. “And I know what they’re doing. I mean—not exactly! . . . but. They’re making up. I know they don’t want me to overhear, or or or be scarred for life or anything. But it’s okay. It’s not like Buffy was paying a lot of attention to me before, either. And I want Spike to stay with us. I don’t want us to lose him.”

“You love him,” Tara said.

“Yeah. Not!—not like I think he’s my Dad, or anything oogie like that . . . just

. . . he’s a friend. Like you’re a friend.” Dawn pushed a hand across the table and Tara squeezed it. “He stuck around for me.”

“I’ll stick around too.”

“I know. I need my friends . . . and so does Buffy. I . . . I wouldn’t want to be Buffy right now. I mean—“ and again she colored up, “not talking about the boinkage with Spike, which I guess is the one bright spot—I hope it is. But everything else. Everything else is so hard for her. I want her to pay attention to me, but then I think, she’s got enough problems without me getting in her face all the time.”

“You shouldn’t think that, though. You’re her whole family, Dawnie. She loves you. She’s just got a hard transition to make, coming back like that. We didn’t realize how hard, but we know a little better now, I guess.”

******

The Hyperion seemed deserted. She crossed the lobby.

“Hello?”

Angel appeared then, looming up behind the check-in desk. Seeing her, his mouth fell open.

“Buffy!”

She grinned and hopped up to sit on the counter. “Surprise!”

He hesitated for just a second, then pulled her across and into his arms. She embraced him, but when his mouth came near hers, she turned her head, and gently pushed him back.

He accepted that, even a little more readily than she’d have liked, and retreated to the desk. “Buffy . . . you look . . . beauti—better. You look well. Not like last time.”

“I am pretty well. Is that . . . do I hear a baby crying?”

Angel glanced over his shoulder. “There’s a couple of developments to tell you about.”

“I’ve got some news too.” She looked away from his face. “That’s why I came.”

“You’re alone?”

“No, I brought—“

“Someone is ready for his eight o’clock feed—oh my God. Is that Buffy? Buffy.” Cordelia, with a crying infant in her arms, ran to close the gap between them and grabbed her into a one-armed hug. “This is so great. You look so gorgeous! I hope you’re going to pay us a good visit, and—“

Buffy took her in: the short hair was new. The dress-down thing was new. And the offspring: totally new. “I didn’t know you’d had a baby, Cordy.”

“Oh! Oh, Connor isn’t my—

“Let’s get him fixed up,” Angel said.

Buffy watched the hand-over, saw the loving, awkward way Angel held the child. Not close to his chest like he should—but then, there was no soothing heartbeat to be felt there anyhow. Watched as he prepared a bottle with practiced one-handed skill, and got the baby started with it.

Weird.

“So you’re watching him? Angel Investigations and Daycare Service?”

“No,” Cordelia said, “he’s—“

“Buffy didn’t answer my question. You come here alone? Or is Willow with you?“

“No, not Willow. I . . . he’s parking the car.”

“Xander.” Angel made a little grimace before he caught himself. “Well, that’s good. How is old Xander keeping these days?”

“You could ask him yourself. Only he’s not here.” Spike appeared as if he’d risen up out of the floor; Buffy and Cordelia both jumped, but Angel only stared at him like he was a pool of cold sick someone had left on the counter. He passed the baby back to Cordelia.

“You’re not welcome here, Spike.”

“Haven’t seen you since the funeral. Had a spot of bother then, you thought I’d no right to mourn her. Tried to run me off from the gravesite.”

Angel just stared, his eyes two flints.

Spike shrugged, and slipped an arm around Buffy’s shoulders. “But I promised my girl I’d behave myself around you. Why don’t you promise the same, and we’ll have a nice little truce the while?”

Cordelia broke the stunned silence by a sort of yelp. “How dare you set foot in here again! You are so not wanted here!”

Angel grabbed Buffy’s arm and frog-marched her away from Spike, out into the courtyard whose air was heavy with the scent of nightblooming flowers.

“Buffy, what does this mean? Have you lost your mind?”

“No. No, I’ve found it—and it’s made up just fine, thank you.” The anger that was never very far from the surface anymore flared up. “He’s good to me, Angel, he sees me for how I really am. And—and—and—he’s always the same man in the morning.”

Angel’s face fell, and he half turned from her. “Don’t you think that’s a little low, Buffy?”

“No. I think it’s just the truth.”

“The truth, sure. Every morning, he’s the same. Undead, soulless, craven. Buffy, you know it kills me that I can’t have you, but I’ve always hoped you’d find someone worthy of what you are.”

She answered quietly. “Spike’s worked for me, faithfully and for a long time, and he’s earned me. Earned my trust, my—“

“Oh God, Buffy—! I hear you say these things, how can I think you’re in your right mind?”

“I’m not asking for your permission, Angel. I just didn’t want you to hear this from someone else, that’s why I came. As a courtesy.”

“But—do you understand what he is?” Angel began to pace. “What he’s been for a hundred and twenty years? What he’d still be except for what the Initiative did to him? He’s pure vampire, Buffy! A demon who revels in killing. A bloodthirsty, remorseless, depraved —“

“Listen to him, my queen, he’ll tell you, him who taught me everything I know about killing an’ depravity.” Spike stepped out into the courtyard and stood between them.

“—perverse—vile—unrepentant—“

“Give over mate. She’s seen the postcards.”

Angel stopped pacing. “Postcards? What, the cards Darla used to send back every time we’d laid waste to some mountain hamlet? So what. I told Buffy all about that.”

“Not those postcards. The interesting ones you an’ I sat for at Monsieur Lonval’s studio in the Place Pigalle. Paris, springtime of ’81. Dru was there too.”

“I don’t quite re—“

“Oh, you do. An’ you never have repented of that either, I know.”

Spike would’ve said it was impossible for Angel to go any paler than he’d been at Buffy’s grave, but now he saw that wasn’t so. The face his grand-sire turned to him was the color of a desiccated winding-sheet.

“You kept those pictures.”

“Oh yes, my lover. To remember you . . . and your tender attentions . . . by.”

“You . . . you showed them to her?”

“No. But due to circumstances beyond my control, she saw them all the same. And of course when she saw them, the girl had questions. Which I could not but answer. So don’t you come the lord over me now. Slayer chose neither of us for our lily-white escutcheons, mate. Your day with her’s done, and mine’s commenced.”

“Spike, enough with the gloating.”

“Just letting him know his place, my queen.”

“Well, one more word, and your queen is going to ask for a single.”

She focused on Angel again. “Giles is arriving tomorrow night, we’re here to get him at the airport, and go right back to Sunnydale. We can talk, Angel, but I didn’t come here to quarrel with you. We’d like to stay the night if we could, but if you don’t want—“

“You know you’re welcome here, Buffy. As for him—well, you’re free to share your room with whom you please.” To Spike he said, “The less I see of you, the better.”



Cordelia showed them upstairs. Angel had disappeared with the baby.

“We’re going out in a little while,” Buffy said. “Come with us, Cordy. We’ll get something to eat and go dancing. You must know where the good places are.”

“Yeah,” Spike said. “Call up your bloke, we’ll make a foursome.”

“Go dancing with you?” The way she said it, the suggestion might as well have been hack up puppies with you? “I . . . I mean, thanks, but . . . I don’t have a bloke. And . . . I’m bushed. Really long day.” She made a face at Spike. “Like torture.” Looking again at Buffy, she said, “Just want to go home and put my feet up. I’ll see you before you go tomorrow though.”

“Oh. Well . . . okay.” Buffy watched her hasty retreat down the corridor until Spike pulled her inside.

As soon as the door was locked, he herded her towards the sofa, tipped her face-first over the arm, and pulled up her dress.

“You know you’ve got unfinished business with me, love.”

Always. Even when they finished, they weren’t finished. She’d not put panties on since this began; they seemed, somehow, an affront. Wanted always to be available to him. The feeling of constant moist nakedness kept her from sliding back into absence.

Reminded her she was alive.

Alive and fucking.

Even in the midst of talking to Anya and Willow, running errands, worrying about what Giles would say, that interrupted fuck was in the forefront of her mind. All the way to LA, sitting tight up against him in the DeSoto, his arm around her neck, she’d wanted him. Wanted to make him pull over at every rest stop, every motel they passed. Wanted to attack his cock right there, suck him off on the freeway doing eighty-five. And he’d just drove, shut behind his black sunglasses, smoking and tapping out the bass lines of every song on the radio, and held her.

In thrall.

“Ah, you know it,” Spike whispered. “You’re always ready for me, aren’t you?” He’d freed his cock and rubbed its wet tip now against her ass, and then—too light, too shallow!—into the folds of her pussy, and then across her clit. “Your cunny is my love apple, innit Slayer? Always split open and dripping fragrant juice. Always weeping for my cock. Nobody else’s got one can satisfy you. Fill you up. Other men tire, I’m just getting into it. Isn’t that right, pet? Say it.”

“Oh God. Spike—just do it.”

“What? Can’t hear you.”

“Spike—!”

“What?”

“Fuck me. Fuck—“

But he went on teasing her; a little on the clit, a little between the lips, evading the nip of her inner muscles, his cool deliberate finger probing her ass. She wriggled and tried to thrust back at him, but he was elusive, and laughed.

“Gonna love fucking you here, Slayer, at Grand-Sire’s house. Gonna feast on your cunny until you scream, make sure Angel hears you. Want him to know I take good care of my girl. Over and over and over . . . .”

“Oh no.” She rolled away, stood up, tugged down her hem. “Spike . . . we can’t

. . . I won’t—“ How could this aspect of it have eluded her? She had no idea where Angel’s suite was, what he could or could not hear. Maybe he wasn’t even in the hotel, maybe he’d taken his disgust elsewhere for the night. But of course he’d be thinking of her, of what she was doing with Spike, hating her choice, grieving his own time with her.

“Ah, I get it. The thought of him being excluded . . . it troubles you. Poor Buffy. Shall we invite him to join us then? I bet he’s right outside this moment, peeping through the keyhole at us, rampant splitter in hand.” He started towards the door; she let out an eeep and grabbed his arm. Spike rounded on her, laughing. “It’ll be all right, pet. I’ll enjoy watching him devour your quim . . . watching you kiss him, and ride him . . . and when you’ve wrung the last bit out of him, and he’s as happy as ever he can be . . . fwooom! I’ll stake old Grand-Sire right through his black heart before he can harm the merest hair of your pretty head.”

“Not funny, Spike.”

He scowled. “Don’t imagine he wouldn’t trade another go with you for his life. I expect he’d think that fair.”

“No he wouldn’t. Anyway, since you’re where he’d like to be, you should have a little compassion.”

“For him? Not a chance. Would need a soul for that . . . let him have compassion for all of us, that’s his calling now, innit?” He rounded on her, picked her up, brought her to the bed. “Have compassion for you, that’s all. Poor girl whose little cunt is twitching for its fuck. Have it now.”

“You’re really not a nice person, are you Spike?” She hastened to pull up her dress before he tore it. “Sometimes I forget, but then you remind me.”

“I’m not a person, remember? As you keep telling me. I’m a thing. An evil thing.” He parted her knees and pushed them back towards her shoulders as he went into her. “When I’m good, I’m very very good, but when I’m bad, I’m horrid.”

He went at her hard and deep, with her legs over his shoulders, so that his cock touched the tip of her womb with every thrust, and his pubic bone mashed against her clit. She stared into his face, that she’d once merely loathed and which now represented a confusing melange of emotions and associations she still didn’t let herself examine too closely. Sometimes he looked like the most familiar, welcome, comforting presence in her world, and then a blink of the eye turned him back into the monster her mother had tried to brain with an axe.

She held him even tighter when he looked like that.

His wicked expression softened, and he came down close to kiss her. “I’m not so bad as all that. I’m nice to the woman I adore, an’t I?—and to her sweet little sis. And I’d be nice, a bit, to her stubborn bloody friends . . . if they’d stop being such a herd of lolloping wankers.”

She turned her head, leaving him alone without her gaze. “I know you’re still a killer, Spike. I know you always will be.”

This was not a playful remark. He froze, and an unfamiliar black sensation crashed over him, that he recognized only as it began to recede as despair.

Despair because he was neither the thing he was, nor any other. Not a real vampire. Not a real boy. Artificial and strange to himself and everyone around him.

Then Buffy took his face in her hands and kissed him. “You’re like me that way.”

He laid his cheek alongside hers, whispered into her ear. “No, precious. Don’t try that. I’m not like you at all. You’re still in the light, and I never shall be anymore.”

“But you remember what it is. That’s what makes you different than the other vampires, Spike. You remember so much, and you never stop thinking about it. You remember William’s dead, and you still mourn them. Don’t you? I know that’s true.”

She was struggling, trying to define him, herself, to make some room in her mind for their union. Neaten him up so he’d be admissible. The trouble was, neat was what their affair would never be.

He grieved his own dead, yes. He was nonetheless a killer. A paused killer. Maybe permanently paused, but he didn’t know that. Couldn’t trust himself to say, either that he was, or wanted to be. He still dreamed of the joys of killing—hot human body in his arms, hot human blood gushing up around his fangs, filling his mouth—and woke up as from a wet dream, the pleasure melting into nothing as he opened his eyes.

He loved her, he loved her, but he was not a good man, except wherein she might love him too.

Couldn’t, wouldn’t tell her that. “I think of them I care for, yes,” he murmured. “Every day.”

She kissed him, tongue and lips soft and insistent, went on kissing him for a long time, and he lay still in the saddle of her thighs, held tight in her cunt’s embrace, in her encircling arms. The kisses, wordless, nonetheless seemed to tell him things, and he listened avidly to what he thought he heard, and was comforted.



They never did go out. In the middle of the night, Spike asleep, Buffy rose, slipped her dress on over sweat-cooled skin, and let her empty belly steer her out of the room and back to the darkened lobby. Found nothing but a box left over from the morning with two stale-ish donuts in it, and a little milk in the small fridge. Taking it, and tucking the donut box under her arm, she rode the elevator to the top floor, climbed the stairs to the roof. Wanted to suck down some cool moving air with her food.

She’d expected to be alone, but wasn’t. Buffy walked across to him slowly, where he was leaning against the western parapet, looking out over the city towards the sea.

When she got close, she saw he wasn’t alone either.

“That baby’s still here? Why didn’t his mommy come and get him?”

“She’s dead.”

“Oh.” She peered into the child’s sleeping face. He was wrapped in a blanket, and Angel held him in the crook of his arm. “He’s pretty.” She held out the box. “Want a donut? Please say no because I’m ravenous and don’t want to share.”

He shook his head. “You know I don’t eat. Where’s Spike?”

She took a bite, sugar exploding on her tongue like a kiss. “Asleep. Probably not for long, though. It’s not his sleepy-time.”

“I can smell him on you. Smell what you’ve been doing. Has he made you as shameless as he is?” Angel sidled a few steps away, and gathered the baby closer.

“Y’know,” she said with a dry laugh, “it’s just the teensiest bit absurd, you and Spike flinging accusations of shamelessness and depravity against each other. Maybe that’s just me.”

“Buffy . . . for you to come back, and be in the world again . . . is a miracle. But to see you making this mistake . . . knowing what I know. It scares me.”

“You know what you know, Angel. But you don’t know what I know. I admit I’d never have let Spike in before. But now I’m a member of the formerly-dead club, my priorities have shifted.”

“Mine have too. If I had the power to go back into the past and prevent it, I wouldn’t have let you look at me. Wouldn’t have touched you. Not for my sake, but for yours . . . . A slayer and a vampire, together, that should be an obscene idea to you. I feel responsible for what you’re doing now. You shouldn’t have anything to do with vampires, Buffy, except your job.”

His words blew through her, a dark gale. “I don’t think it was ever that simple, really. I don’t think I’m like the other Slayers, or ever was.” She drank down the milk, and stared out at the glittering carpet of lights for a few moments. “Certainly I’m not now. I’m not just human anymore, Angel. Spike can hit me and the chip doesn’t fire. That changed things. Giles is coming back to try to figure out what I’ve become.” She turned to him. “Hey, can I hold the baby?”

“Buffy. My God. Do you feel different?”

She laughed, a manic merry trill. “Pope. Shit. Woods. Give me the baby.”

She lifted it from his arms, and hugged the warm sleeping morsel against her chest. “He’s nice. So he’s not Cordy’s . . . ? Whose is he? Wesley get some nice girl in trouble?”

“No, not Wesley. And not a nice girl.”

“Oh. Well, it’s getting chilly out here. You should take him in and put him in his cozy crib.” She handed Connor back. “I want to go back to bed too.”

“I’m sure you do.”

She glanced up at his face, found it steely in the moonlight.

“Angel. I’m sorry this causes you pain. That’s not why I’m doing it.”

“Then why are you doing it?”

“Because a girl needs sex. And a girl who’s a slayer, needs a particular kind of—”

“Buffy, don’t. Don’t rub my nose—“

“Angel, listen. Even when I gave him no reason to hope, he put himself in danger for me, made sacrifices for me. And he kept faith with me even when I was dead. He wanted to rescue me, on the tower, and he couldn’t. I thought he deserved another chance to try.”

This answer was clearly not what he expected. Angel looked down for a time at the child in his arms, and then out at the cityscape.

“Angel . . . I don’t regret what we had. I hope you don’t either. It’s finished, but it’s a part of who I am, forever.”

“And do you love him now, Buffy?”

“I love the pleasure our bodies make together. And I love his constancy. Which is pretty good, considering I couldn’t find anything to love when they first brought me back here.”

“He’s a dangerous animal. Cunning. Worthless.”

“You’ve changed, and so has he.”

“He’s not capable of change.”

“You don’t know him anymore. Good night, Angel. Get that kid into his warm bed.”

“I know what he is, I made him!”

She walked away, feeling his eyes drill into her back, and as she wended her way back to the room where Spike waited, she felt a little sorry for Angel. He must be very lonely, clinging to that baby, solitary in the middle of the night. Holding onto ideas about Love that seemed just a bit naïve to her now. Or maybe it was his ideas about her that were naïve. Absolute. He put her on a pedestal.

He really didn’t know her anymore, either.

Nobody did.

Except Spike.

Who sat up when she stole in through the door, and switched on a small lamp by the bed. “Did he say hard things to you, my queen?”

“Yes, but he couldn’t help it. And at least we’ve gotten it over with. Another hurdle jumped. Only thirty kabillion more to go.” She shrugged off her dress and got beneath the quilt he held up for her, wriggling until he was spooned against her back. Good, she thought drowsily, to share a bed with someone so cool and dry. Riley had slept so hot, and she’d often awakened at four in the morning and had to peel herself off him. Icky.

There was nothing icky that way about Spike. By now she’d seen, kissed, tasted every inch of him, and even his game face, which slipped out sometimes when he was on the verge of orgasm, held no particular disquiet for her. It was merely a cicatrice, a disfigurement so familiar as to stop being one.

“He was still holding that baby. What is up with that?”

“Fattening it up for a nummy snack.”

“Yeah, right. Who’d leave a baby with Angel?”

“Didn’t you ask him?”

“He said its mother was dead. One of his hard luck cases, I suppose.” She wriggled her bottom against his groin and felt his cock begin to bestir itself. Lifted a leg and reached between her thighs to grasp it and help it along. How many times would this make today? Except that it was already tomorrow, had been for a few hours, and so really it was only the third time since midnight . . . that wasn’t too obsessive, was it? God, she just couldn’t leave him alone. Here she was so sleepy she could pass out, but needed just . . . one . . . more . . . there. Slipped him inside, and now he was following with his hand, rubbing her clit, which was already swollen from so much handling, while she ground herself back against him.

“My saucy unquenchable wench.”

“Ah—ah—where do you come up with these words?”

“Live and learn, pet.”



It was already noon when Buffy went down to the Hyperion lobby. Cordelia was in the office area, typing intently at the computer.

“Want to go out to lunch? Maybe do some shopping? If you’re not too busy.”

Cordelia turned a hard mouth and raised eyebrow on her. “Lunch?”

“Breakfast for me,” Buffy said. “Don’t worry, Spike’s not coming. Obviously. Sun’s blazing and all. Just us two girls.”

Cordelia brightened a little. “Schmooze and smoothies?”

“Yeah. Sounds perfect.”

“Let me just tell Angel I’m going out and I’ll be all set.” She got up and started for the stairs. “He’s with Connor.”

“Sure likes that baby,” Buffy remarked, drifting after her.

“He’s our little sunshine bunny,” Cordelia said. “Back in a sec’.”

Buffy watched her take the stairs like a dancer. Funny, she talked about the kid as if it was theirs. All attached to it. But surely, since they’d rescued it, they’d be giving it over to foster care soon, wouldn’t they?

Of course they would. It wasn’t theirs, after all, to keep.

Cordelia was gone a lot longer than she should’ve been just to tell her boss she was going out to lunch. When fifteen minutes had elapsed, Angel appeared, at a run, barely registered her presence, and whipped through the door that led to the cellar and the sewers. A few minutes later Cordelia followed, more slowly, carrying the baby.

“I’ve got to stay here. Gunn and Wesley are already out on a job, I had a vision, and now there’s no one else to look after Connor.”

“Oh. We could bring him with?”

“I’m feeling a little fragile. Headache. And—can’t leave the phones. We’ll order in.”

While they waited for lunch to be delivered, Cordelia changed the baby and pottered around the office, putting things away, or, as it looked to Buffy, moving them pointlessly from one location to the next. The few conversational gambits Buffy threw out fell flat.

Finally she said, “You know, you can still talk to me even though I used to be dead.”

Cordelia stopped. “I’m sorry. I just . . . I’m trying to be fair to you, Buffy. And yet somehow it doesn’t seem appropriate to just chitchat with the Slayer who comes breezing in to her ex’s place of business with Angel’s archfiend in tow and reeking of sex.”

“Excuse me?”

“No Buffy, excuse me. Excuse me for thinking that your judgment is just incredibly poor, on so many levels I don’t know where to start. Of all the possible men for you to take up with—I dunno, OJ Simpson, Ted Bundy, Osama Bin Laden—you pick the one who’s the most personally offensive to every single one of your acquaintance. What are you thinking? What possible circumstance could there be that makes what you’re doing less than completely disgusting? And don’t look at me that way—do you think Giles is going to say anything different? Do you think he’s going to pretend there’s any excuse for what you’re letting yourself become?”

“Do you feel better now you’ve delivered yourself of that, Miss Cordelia?”

Spike came down the stairs slowly, the leather stirring around him like wings, and lit a cigarette. “For the record, I was against this orgy of confession myself. No need to come here at all, way I saw it.” He shrugged. “But Slayer still has feelings for the poof, still wants him to smile on her. And I’m only her slave, so I’ve no say in it.”

His words, irritating and melodramatic, nonetheless sent a pang through Buffy that she didn’t want to feel.

Why must this be so difficult? Why must everyone go on torturing her? She just didn’t want to be alone, that was all. Just wanted to be made love to by this man she didn’t have to diminish herself for. She’d go on being the Slayer, go on doing everything the world expected of her, no gratitude expected, but she just wanted this one thing. Why did it have to be such a big deal? Hadn’t he proven himself, over and over—before she died, after she was gone, since?

“You’ve mistaken me for someone who gives a shit about anything you have to say,” Cordelia huffed. “I think you should leave. Don’t be here when Angel gets back.”

Buffy went to his side, dug her fingers into the leather of his sleeve. “Please don’t provoke her, Spike. She’s right, you’re right, we shouldn’t have come.”

“Sure, pet.” To Cordelia, he said, “Girl just wanted to see her friends. Misses them. It’s them she loves, anyway, not me. Have patience, I’m probably just a flash in the pan.” Then he grinned. “Flash in the sack too. But we all know that’s not so much, compared to other things, right?”

*****

“So do we just drive around and broil until its time to go to the airport, or what?”

“Sorry love. I don’t feel the heat. Crack the windows in the back if you want.”

Buffy climbed over the front seat and sprawled in the back of the blacked-out car, putting her nose to the little breeze that came through the window, like a dog. Five minutes later Spike turned off the freeway and parked. Dug some money out of his pocket and handed it back to her. “Get a room for a few hours. Fetch me when you’ve got the key.”

Buffy got out into the blinding sunlight and found herself in the parking lot of a really low-end motel, the kind where they probably had a corpse in the swimming pool at least twice a month. She jogged into the office, a small room, darkened by fake wood paneling that smelt of mildew. The day rate was . The Indian clerk who gave her the key never looked at her, his gaze fixed on the wavery picture of a TV on a shelf in the corner. The room, luckily, was adjacent to the car; under the blanket, Spike sprinted through a couple yards of perilous light and inside.

“Don’t look around,” Spike said, yanking the bedspread down, peeling his clothes off. “Don’t think about it. Just get naked and come to me, I want you.”

She sprawled with him across the scratchy sheet, tried not to inhale the acrid odors of the bed and the room but just to concentrate on his smooth cool skin touching her body at every point.

“God, I love you.” Spike caught her at once in a kiss, his hands extravagant of her hair, taking her deep between each gasping breath. Breaking away, she reversed herself on him and enclosed his cock in her hands and lips. Shut her eyes and focused on the slick velvety feel of its head against her pallet. The way he bucked into her mouth, the helpless sounds he made as she whirled her tongue around his cock head. No Angel, no Cordelia, nobody scolding her, just this, pure sensation. Spike grasped her hips and then his tongue was lapping up at her, soft but firm, like he was polishing her clit, shining it up.

Suddenly she imagined Giles. He’d be on the plane, probably with a book open in his lap, but not reading, maybe rubbing his weary eyes and wondering how she’d gone so thoroughly off the rails and when he’d ever be allowed to put her in the past.

He was going to hate this so much. It might even make him hate her. Why oh why had she summoned him?

Then she remembered: not her idea at all.

Spike’s. All Spike’s.

She let his cock slip out of her mouth. “Spike—“

“Yes, pet? Wrong spot? Little to the left better?”

“No, it’s fine. It’s fabulous. You . . . always do me so well.”

“Love your cunny, that’s why.”

“I know. Only listen. Spike. Why was it so important to get Giles back here? What’s that gonna do except make everything harder? For you, too.” She sat up, swung around so she could see him. His mouth was slick with her juice, and she couldn’t resist kissing it. Liked to see the way he closed his eyes when she kissed him.

“You need to know what’s happened to you. Otherwise it’ll always be in the back of your mind, that something’s wrong.” He gathered her in, her head on his shoulder. “I should never have said that, anyway. Nothing about you is wrong. Different now, but never wrong.”

“You know he’s going to try to separate us. He’s going to get with my friends, and they’ll . . . they’ll do God knows what. They hate you.”

“My queen . . . I don’t want you to be unhappy. If you were to say to me right now that this had to end, I’d let you go.”

She started, and got up on one elbow to look at him. “That’s not what you’ve been saying all along. All that you’ll crave me stuff. I’ve never been able to get rid of you, I’ve been trying for years.”

“That was before I found out what it was to really have you. You make me selfish, and possessive, and angry at everybody who’s not good to you . . . or who’s had you before, damn him . . . but I won’t hold you back if it’s time for us to part. I love you enough for that now.”

She trembled, and all kinds of things flashed through her mind: her mother’s body, Dawn on the tower, Angel turning his back on her in the glow of the red emergency lights, Giles saying she could and would manage on her own. Willow and Xander and Anya and Tara, all somehow gone so far away while she was otherwise occupied.

And memories of him: the first time she’d seen him in the school corridor, his sneering leering vamp face, the way he’d said he’d make it easy for her.

Never easy. Always hard.

How he’d looked after Glory was through with him. Oh, he’d surprised her then. She’d not believed in him before, not for a moment, but after that. Well, how could she not, after that?

His expression the first time they met on the night she came back . . . She’d never spoken of it, believed he thought she didn’t remember it. But she did. He’d taken her hands.

Should have known then. Should have guessed how it would go, between them.

The rush of feeling crashed in on her, her breath caught and she started to cry.

“Spike, if you let them talk you into going away—if you take it upon yourself to leave me because you think I’ll be better off—“

“No no, pet. No tricks. No one shall decide but you.”

She was caught in a storm of weeping. “Swear! Swear to me!”

“Don’t cry, precious. Didn’t want to upset you. Don’t you know I’d hate it if you sent me away?” His face concealed nothing. “Meant to reassure you, is all. Really.” He stroked her hair for a while. “Shall we finish? Let me make you happy. Give me back your pretty quim.”

“Come inside me instead. I want to see you while we do it.”

He rolled on top of her, and oh, that grateful feeling it gave her now, to have him inside. He smiled, propping himself up on his arms to give her the view she asked for.

Her eyes were still wet, and focused unswervingly on him as he started to move.

“Would it really be so terrible if I was to leave you?”

She didn’t answer.

“I guess you’re starting to like me a little.”

“I’ve never liked you,” she grumbled, and wrapped her legs tight around his waist.



He held her hand as they strode through the crowds in the airport. This was the first time she’d ever been anywhere with him in public as a couple, and they were attracting attention. Maybe it was just him, she thought, his cocky stride, the duster streaming behind him, or perhaps it was the thick trail of pheromones they left in their wake that made some people stop and stare after them.

He set a fast pace—they’d let their afterglow entrance them into forgetting the time, and now Giles was quite possibly already though customs and looking about for her. Buffy wanted to drag her feet; the closer to the Watcher they got, the more her heart filled up with dread.

Suddenly Spike let go of her hand, and she was sailing forward alone, and Giles was right there in front of her, twenty feet away, then ten, five, and he’d grabbed her into a hug that astonished her. He’d never embraced her like this—always before there was that layer of reserve that made even his most emotional moments slightly removed. But now he held her, tight, motionless, and for a long time—long enough for her to relax a little, to welcome the rub of his tweed against her cheek, and the familiar smell of him.

Finally she looked up into his face. “Giles—I’m so sorry you had to come—“ and he interrupted her, saying “Buffy, you look, forgive me, you look so beautiful.”

This seemed to startle him, and he let go of her.

While he polished his glasses, she peered around for Spike, but didn’t see him.

“It was kind of you to come and meet me here. I’ve had enough of the plane for a while.”

“I figured it would be like that.” She tried to determine, by his expression, when he was going to begin berating her.

“I’m all set,” he said, pointing to his bag.

“Okay, then we should go. You’ll be in my room this time, I think you’ll like it better than the couch. I’ve—we’ve—moved into Mom’s old room.”

“Ah,” Giles said, following her as she picked up his case and started walking back the way she’d come. “So . . . so Willow and Tara . . . not entirely kaput, I hope?”

“I don’t really know, but they’ve gone back to living on campus. Separately.”

“And you? Are there any residual effects . . . ? That is, do you notice any symptoms that . . . .”

“Maybe we could wait until we get into the car to talk about it.”

“Of course. Silly of me, I’ve been so anxious . . . you said so little on the phone. You said nothing at all, really. I . . . I did receive your letter, this morning in fact, before I set out. . . . It made the bulk of my airplane reading, in fact.”

She stopped, and turned to face him. “Giles. Spike is here now.”

“I assumed he was. You’ve never liked to drive alone for long stretches.”

“I know you hate this. Hate him. I just . . . can we all please be polite in the car, and you can rip me a new one when we get back to Sunnydale?”

He looked at her, the corners of his mouth twitching, but she couldn’t tell if it was up or down, or what he was thinking. He seemed befuddled, and very weary—wearier than the flight could have made him, weary of her and her endless endless missteps and neediness.

Suddenly he put a hand out and touched her hair. Tentative, drawing one lock down between two fingers. “You look— Never mind. Yes, yes, we shall be polite. I expect I’ll fall asleep as soon as we get on the freeway.”

Then Spike was there, as suddenly as he hadn’t been there a moment before.

“’Lo, Rupert. Pet, let me carry that.”

He went ahead with the bag, cutting a swathe through the moving crowds that Buffy and Giles followed in more slowly. She waited for Giles to say something, but he was quiet, his eyes on Spike’s back, and she still couldn’t tell what he was thinking.

When they reached the car, Giles did a little double take. “I was expecting to see Joyce’s . . .”

“You’ll be better off in the front,” Buffy said. “There’s no seatbelts in the back.”

Spike put Giles’ bag in the trunk and got behind the wheel with all the impersonality of a chauffeur; he was, Buffy recognized, trying to make this as painless as possible for her. He said not a word during the three hour trip, except to tell Giles he could do what he liked with the radio, and to ask once if they wanted to stop somewhere.

The night was warm, and they rode with all the windows down. Buffy knew Spike was watching her in the rearview mirror, but of course she couldn’t catch his eye there. Giles was quiet, although he didn’t sleep.

When they passed the long-suffering Welcome to Sunndaydale sign, he roused himself. “I’ve got a bit of good news, can’t think why I didn’t tell you sooner. Part of the delay in my getting here was that I was negotiating with the Council. And I’m happy to report that I’ve secured you quite a liberal annual salary. Which will, in recognition of your extraordinary accomplishments, be paid retroactively back to the time of your calling. I think that will enable you to meet your obligations concerning the house, clear your debts, and provide you with a good nest egg for the future. I’ve got the paperwork with me, I’ll go over it with you tomorrow.”

“Giles!” Buffy threw her arms around his neck from behind. “OhmyGod, that’s so—that’s so—retroactive? Really? You mean—I don’t have to wait tables, or, or—“

Spike’s voice cut across her. “There’s no caveats, are there, Watcher? No nasty little codicils in the will of the bleedin’ council?”

He was driving slowly now down a residential street, and able to give Giles almost his full attention. The men stared at each other, and for a moment Buffy thought that they weren’t going to make it to the end of the trip without an enormous disturbance erupting.

“What sort of caveat might there be, in your estimation, Spike?”

“I’m thinkin’ of some order that might restrict the Slayer’s freedom of association.”

Giles’ lip curdled, and he turned away. “There are no obligations attached at all. The council have learned to accept Buffy on her own terms, and . . . are most grateful for her services.”

“Damn right.” Spike hit the accelerator, and the car jumped ahead. “As should we all be.”

*****

Spike disappeared upstairs as soon as they got into the house. Buffy brought Giles into the kitchen and made him a sandwich and some tea.

“So he lives here now?”

“Since I told the Scoobies that he was my lover, and they burnt him out of his crypt, yes, he’s been staying here.”

“Burnt him out of his crypt.”

Buffy climbed up on a stool.

“They might also have tried to set him on fire. I’m not entirely clear on that point. Spike won’t talk about it, and Dawn has a tendency to exaggerate.”

Dawn? Surely Xander and Willow wouldn’t have allowed her to participate in—“

“No, she wasn’t supposed to be there, but she was. And a good thing, too, or else something really irrevocable might have— Everything is all messed up around here. The Scoobies are in a shambles.”

“I see. This is most unfortunate.” He paused, started to take off his glasses, caught himself at it. “Buffy, while I realize that we must all derive comfort where we can, I must ask you, are you quite sure—“

“Look, I know it seems like I have a vampire problem. I know you’ve never liked him. But I really don’t think Spike is the issue here. The issue is whether I’m human anymore or not, and I don’t want him blamed for discovering that, or for . . . for what we do together. Which I really need right now. Really, really need.” Her eyes flooded with tears, but she sniffed them back. Once a day was her new rule, and she’d already cried that afternoon. It was painful enough to make this confession to Giles of all people without blubbering as well. Somehow crying in front of Spike was much easier. Feeling anything in front of Spike was much easier than with anyone else, although she couldn’t pinpoint when that had happened; just a couple of weeks ago he’d been a main part of the general hellishness of her renewed life. “Which I know is incredibly embarrassing for you, not to mention making you think I’m bad and stupid, but—“

“No Buffy, never that. I’m sorry you believe I judge you so harshly. Your frankness . . . is appreciated.”

“And there’s Willow. There’s all kinds of trouble in Willowworld, and right now she’s isolated. I’m sort of insanely angry at her, and she seems to be insanely angry at me too, but she needs help, or else she’s just going to get worse. She might listen to you. She certainly doesn’t take any of the rest of us seriously anymore.”

“I see.”

“I know you wanted us to take care of ourselves . . . we’re not doing a very good job of it.”

“True. Well, extraordinary circumstances.”

“And I really don’t get why everybody’s still so down on Spike. He did so much for us when we were fighting Glory. And I heard he was totally helpful while I was gone. Looking after Dawn, patrolling—“

Giles drained his mug and she refilled it. “Tell me how you discovered this circumstance with the chip.”

She shrugged. “Nothing unusual. He was dogging me around, getting on my nerves, so I whomped him, and he whomped me back, and there was no headache.”

“Perhaps a malfunction—“

“He says no. He tested it.”

“Tested it. You mean he attempted to attack a person.”

“Well . . . yes. But the chip went off.”

“And if it hadn’t?”

“But it did.” She looked away. “I think . . . even if it didn’t . . . I think he’d have let the woman go. Without hurting her.”

“Except for giving her a nightmarish fright.”

“I don’t think he wants to kill anymore.”

“Buffy, he is a vampire. Killing is what he does. That’s like saying a wolf could outgrow its urge to kill. It’s instinct.”

“Angel doesn’t kill. And don’t tell me that his soul prevents him—plenty of people with souls are remorseless murderers. And Spike does plenty of stuff without a soul that has surprised us all. He makes ethical choices. You know it, if you’d only admit it.”

“We’ll have to test the chip again. Under rigorous conditions.”

“Fine, I’m sure he’ll go along if we can all keep it polite.”

“Quite.” Giles rubbed his eyes. “And . . . perhaps this is none of my

business . . . I did read your letter, numerous times in fact, but . . . .”

“How it first happened for us is pretty private, okay?”

“Yes, yes of course. But I’m concerned that you’re in a highly delicate emotional state, and he’s moved in to take advantage of that. If he’s imposing his will on you while you’re in a vulnerable—“

Imposing his will? C’mon, this is me. Nobody imposes his will on me. Besides, what are you so afraid of? He can’t hurt any of you. And if he was going to hurt me, believe me, he’d have done it already. The last couple of weeks . . . I’ve given him plenty of provocation. I’ve been . . . miserable and crazy, Giles. I’ve taken a lot out on him, and he’s stuck by me where basically anybody else would’ve run screaming for the hills.” She peered at him with sudden suspicion. “You’re being mighty forbearing about this. When does the railing and scolding and ultimatum-making start?”

“Buffy. Don’t you think I know that if I were to abuse him to you, in your current frame of mind, I’d only drive you further into his arms?”

“There’s nothing wrong with his arms. His arms are a good place.”

When they parted at the top of the stairs, Giles hesitated.

“What?”

“I hope I’ll be able to help you, Buffy. I hope we all will.”

“Yes. I . . . .”

“I’ll attempt to keep an open mind.”

*******

Couldn’t sleep. Might as well walk. Nothing was good any more. Tara, so unreasonable. What was the big deal, a couple of little spells, it was all so petty, and didn’t Tara know she loved her? Missed her like hell? She didn’t deserve this punishment.

And everybody just expecting her to drop all her years of work, all her magical skill, and go back to being just a schnook with a book. What a bore. What a waste. Why must everybody be so self-righteous? Everyone made mistakes. She was genuinely sorry, but no one seemed to care about that.

Sunnydale needed a 24-hour diner downtown. Needed a 24-hour something. Willow walked straight down the middle of main street; there wasn’t a car to be seen at 5:30 a.m. Not sleeping, the days and nights were impossibly long—endless stretches of time and nothing to fill them with that she cared about at all. Staying on the wagon? Oh, fun. Course work? Um. Making new friends and cultivating new interests? Yeah, right. It might not be so terrible if she could hang with her best friends, but Xander was being really weird ever since the night at the cemetery, and Buffy. She just didn’t know Buffy anymore. Here she’d done so much for her, helped her save the world numerous times, taken care of Dawn and the house while she was gone, brought her back to life, and nothing she did seemed to make an impression. Buffy was so vague and far away now. That girl needed an intervention.

But this wasn’t her fault. How was she supposed to know Buffy was in heaven? The existence of heaven wasn’t even proven! Besides, it stood to reason, if you jumped into a thundering rent in the dimensional fiber, you’d end up someplace horrible. Murphy’s Law of the Universe, at the very least.

God, it was so sad. Mighty, fallen. Imagine—well, no, she didn’t want to imagine. The idea of getting up close and personal with Spike—not to be imagined. There was nothing romantic and star-crossed about him, not the way it was before with Angel. If boinking Spike wasn’t a sign of soul-sickness in Buffy, nothing was. Why had she come to the magic shop and told them all in that frantic way if she wasn’t really pleading with them to do something about it? At least they’d put the fear of God in him, with that fire. He’d not gone back to his crypt, she knew that; she’d checked. He’d be laying low somewhere, maybe cleared out of Sunnydale altogether.

Buffy would get back to normal now, without that incubus draining her. It was just a matter of time. Even if she couldn’t get Tara back, she’d get her best friend. Be like it was before.

Willow turned off Main Street and kicked through the dead leaves on the sidewalk, enjoying their crackle under her sneaker soles. The sky was just starting to lighten, and now, suddenly, a yawn overtook her.

She was closer to Buffy’s house than to the dorm. Might as well go try to catch the elusive nap there. Then maybe she could make breakfast for Buffy, and Dawn.

Needed to get back in Dawn’s good graces.

Important.

******

She’d noticed that he was always drowsy at dawn. Spending his time among the living as he’d been the last few years must have thrown him off his natural diurnal habits, but he didn’t seem to need much sleep. She couldn’t often catch him at it, and was getting used to waking up to find him quietly looking at her.

He was doing that now, that small smile on his lips, eyelids drooping, when she opened hers, and she pulled his head to her breast. “Go to sleep, Spike.” Her patterns were crazy too, had been for years, but especially since they’d brought her back. She only ever seemed to sleep for a couple of hours at a time, and her dreams were so vivid. The tip of morning always seemed to find her awake, too.

He was sweet when he was sleepy. Turned his head, started bestowing drowsy kisses on her nipple, nudging the underside of her breast with his nose, licking the crease.

“Your tits smell lovely. You smell lovely when you’ve just waked up. Smell like sleep an’ sweet dreams.” His hand went to her other breast, palm swirling softly on the nipple to make it rise up. As he moved half across her to take it into his mouth, his cock brushed against her thigh. Buffy spread her legs beneath the hard curve of his body, took his prick in her fingers and guided it in. She was already liquid, wanting to be filled up. Spike sighed and buried his head against her neck. His lips against her skin there sent a shudder down through her body that ignited in one of those slow out-blooming orgasms that just seemed to go on and on, the overlapping ripples in water made by a skipping stone. He barely moved, but each small shift was another shy into the pool of her. And she did her work on the sly, inside, the inner muscles nipping and pulsing around him.

His tongue whorled against her neck, up beneath the ear, making her shiver and stretch beneath him. She put her hands in his hair, turned his head to find his mouth. He gave her kisses that were small, shallow, and yet as satisfying as what was happening between their conjoined bodies, almost nothing at all, but everything.

Buffy hooked her feet around his ankles, shifted her hips a little, and oh! There—it was even better. Every bit of her pussy laid open now against him. Just barely rocking, almost no motion at all, just the gentle lapping of those radiating circles in the water, and it was so deep and clear, nothing at all between them, his mouth on hers so that she breathed between his lips.

“Sleepy delicious Buffy fuck,” he murmured.

“Mmmm. Spike . . . ? Thank you for yesterday. For driving, and being nice to Giles and all. For making love to me.”

“Nothing I didn’t want to do.”

“Why are you so good to me?” She rubbed her cheek against his, her mouth.

“You’re my reason to keep on. Life’s nothing without my girl.”

Everything he’d ever done was for some girl or other. When he was young, human, he’d lived for his sisters, his mother, and then that idiot, Cecily, who’d been the death of him. After that, it was Drusilla who made unlife make sense, who made it pungent. Bereft of her, he’d flailed around until everything coalesced again around Buffy. Or had it been Buffy all along, from that first moment he clapped eyes on her? In a way, yes. Her murder had bloomed in his head over and over as he fucked Dru, and made the fucking hotter.

He remembered this now without disquiet, even as he knew he’d twist Dru’s head off without hesitation if she were to appear now and threaten Buffy.

Unlike Angel, he accepted the way his demon mind worked.

“How do you feel, my queen? Tell me how you are.”

“I . . . I’m good.”

“Are you, pet?” He raised his head a little, but didn’t look at her, kept his mouth at her ear, and she closed her eyes, the better to just hear him, just feel him possessing her. “Your sweet legs are good, wrapped around mine. Little fingers in my hair, good. Your tight sopping pussy, very good, making my cock feel right at home.” His tongue swirled around the curve of her ear. “You like my cock inside you, love? Say it.”

“I like it.”

He began to move just a bit harder, pressing himself tight to her clit, pressing her against the mattress. Overpowering, in such a good way, she thought, making himself heavy on her, his hands going to her thighs under the sheet and pushing them gently up, opening her more, his face tight against her neck so that when he spoke his voice rumbled in her skin. Her body was pumping out heat now, he almost felt warm on her. She held tight to him, arms around his back now, letting him move her with the easy undulating rhythm he’d set up.

She whispered. “Do you love me, Spike?”

“You know I do.”

“Love me?”

“More every day.”

“Love me.”

“Yes my queen.”

“Ah—! Ah—oh. Spike . . . .”

She thought he’d speed up then, but he slowed instead, slowed almost to nothing, and somehow that was even better; the pleasure threatening to overflow in her receded a little and yet redoubled. It was the fucking she needed but more than that it was just him, having him all around her, sunk into her, his attention and the thick languid atmosphere their bodies made together. She still had her eyes closed, but knew when he lifted his head and looked at her, knew right before his mouth touched hers that he was going to kiss her. His voice was slow and low and lazy like the movement of their bodies.

******

The house was dim, slumbering, exhaling night and gathering morning as Willow let herself in the front door. Tiptoe, wouldn’t wake anyone. Just steal upstairs, into her room, stretch out on the bed, wouldn’t even take time to yank down the coverlet, take off her clothes. Sleep so elusive, not to be teased, not now when it was flirting with her so softly. Might not come at all, might cling close to Dawn and Buffy, jealous, capricious thing.

How she longed to lure it! To get away, from . . . everything. Willow went upstairs. Quiet . . . a noise startled her so she jumped. Oh! The furnace going on. Silly to be so jumpy. Exhausted.

Her hand was on the doorknob before she heard anything. A sound coming from inside, a gentle susurration. Then, voices. Willow put her ear to the keyhole. Who was in there, in her bed? Not Tara? Not Tara and another girl? She gave the knob a slow silent turn, let the door open half an inch. Enough to put her eye to the crack, to see in the brown dark of the shuttered room who was making love in her bed.

******

“Say I please you.”

“Oh God, you do. Oh Spike, this is so—don’t stop.”

“Say I’m the only lover you want.”

“Oh—oh—yes!”

“Do I belong to you, Buffy?”

“Yes . . . oh . . .”

“Say you like my cock in your quim.”

“I like it. I—I—ah—”

“Say it. Say the words. Need to hear your pretty tongue say them.”

She said the words, her eyes shut tight, and shuddered as he gnawed at her neck with his blunt teeth. Wanted this to go on forever. Just building and pausing and building again. He knew how. She’d just let him manage it, just go with him. Whatever he wanted to do to her. All night and all day and all night again.

“You know I love you,” he said.

“You love me.”

“Worship you. Protect you. Want you always.”

“Yes . . . have me . . . .”

“What am I? Tell me, pet.”

“Spike . . . my lover . . . my fucker . . . oh God . . . mine . . . you’re mine . . . .”

“That’s right, precious. I’m all your own. Does that please you?’

“Yes—!”

“And what are you?”

“Ah—ah—ohhhh . . . Spike—God, fuck . . .do that . . . oh—there—!”

“What are you, my queen?” he coaxed. “Tell me.”

“I—I am—oh God, Spike . . . I’m . . . I’m—”

“What . . . ?”

“Yours. I—I am—oh God—I am . . . Spike . . . I am . . . in love with—ah—oh God, Spike, I love you—!”

******

Willow drew the door shut as silently as she’d opened it, and sagged against the wall. Shit.

******

Buffy opened her eyes on the shadowed dimness, startled and not-startled, and realized she’d really said it, and not only that, but meant it. And after he’d stopped kissing her so devouringly, she would say it again, because he must not have believed her, or else why was his tongue probing her so minutely, as if chasing every corner of her mouth to find the elusive words he’d thought he heard. She slid her hands in his hair, tugged his head up and traced his swollen lips with her tongue. Whispered, “Did you hear me, Spike? Did you understand what I said to you?”

“. . . must be dreaming . . . thought you said you lo—”

Now she pressed her mouth against his ear, dropped the three words into it over and over, as if they were glistening beads of honey, heavy and sweet, rolling from her tongue. They moved him, quite literally, his body tensed, hips rolled, he was actually drawing ragged breaths, each ending in a strangled gasp. The words moved her too, grappling them together, welling up without forethought, sudden and fierce and felt.

True.

She was in love. She was in love with Spike. Had been—she couldn’t think, not now—but this wasn’t the first moment. This had been going on for a little while, and she wasn’t caught up to it. She’d have to figure out exactly how long, but later. Later.

This was completely different than before, not negating Angel or anything in the past, but layered over it, coloring every memory, every sensation.

Oh, she was so happy.

This one wasn’t afraid to break her. Wasn’t afraid of her. Wasn’t going to leave her.

And no matter how much she loved him—and it was so much—he would always love her more.

Spike. Whom she’d loathed, her enemy, her goad, her nemesis. Buffy remembered how that was, remembered, even as she wriggled around his cock, when he’d disgusted and appalled her, when all she’d wanted was to dust him. The words poured out of her—now she’d started, she couldn’t stop saying it, extraneous love lyrics tripping out with the tiny bubbling orgasms that fizzed all through her. He was holding her head now in his two hands, his face laid against her neck, and his whole body shook in her arms as if with a powerful fever. Shook so hard that she thought he was coming, but suddenly he raised his head, and showing her a saucy grin, said, “Oh my darling mistress, hold onto me, we have not even begun to fuck—“

And this too, was true.

So happy.

*****

Coming out into the hall with his sponge bag and towel, Giles heard Buffy cry out. In the first instance, the adrenaline exploding through his sleepy sensorium, he was ready to rush to her aid. Then he understood what was going on behind the closed door of Joyce’s room.

Buffy was so lost in her pleasure that she had no idea how much noise she was making.

I really really need this.

Why with him? Of all the possible, or impossible . . . Giles winced.

He’d always done his best to discourage the vampire’s hopes. Because they were wrong. Because they were fruitless. Buffy did not, could not, never would accept him.

But now they’d borne fruit.

Faint heart never won fair lady. Well, Giles thought, he’d have to give him that.



He heard them still going at it even after he was done with his bath and shave. Awkward to have to be so aware of them. It was still very early, his body dragging its way through the jet-lag, not knowing what it wanted. Cup of tea, always. He went down to the kitchen, hoping the sounds wouldn’t reach him there.

Turning off the stairs into the dining room, noises of love were replaced as uppermost in Giles’ mind by an acrid stink coming from the kitchen. His first thought was that someone had left something cooking overnight, and the pot was burning, but coming into the kitchen, he found the room cool, and nothing on the stove. But a faint haze of smoke hung against the ceiling, and Giles found a smear of something ashy in the sink. The smell was more like burnt weeds, now that he was closer to it, than an overcooked pot.

Odd. He looked out the window, and out the kitchen door, but saw no one.

Filled the teakettle.

Then from upstairs came a sound unlike what Giles had heard a few minutes ago—a bestial roaring that rattled the house windows.

Good God, he was killing her—!

He raced towards the stairs, the roar from above increasing all the time, becoming a bellow beyond language, and was joined then by Buffy’s voice, crying out in terror. Giles took the stairs three at a time and bumped into her at the top, where she was apparently fleeing, the sheet wrapped around her body.

“What’s happened—? Where is there a stake?”

“Not that—no stake! Oh God—he’s dying—something’s killing him—! This can’t be happening, not now! Help him! Giles, do something!”

He’d never seen her in such a panic, tears streaking down her face. She broke from him and dashed down the stairs, for what Giles could not imagine. To call an ambulance? For a vampire?

Giles found Spike hunched on the floor beside the bed, forehead almost touching the rug, the quilt yanked around him, rocking and clutching himself as if his belly was torn open and the guts tumbling out. He’d stopped roaring but the noises he made, seemingly without being aware of them, were still terrible, an animal in pain, without comprehension. When Giles touched his shoulder he spun around, snarling, and snapped at him.

Giles jumped back. Vamp-face, of course. And that reflex obviously cost him—the chip firing on top of the other agony so that he fell over onto his side, still curled around his middle, and screamed.

Well, there was the chip test done, anyway.

“Now Spike, it’s only me. I’m not going to hurt you. Can’t you speak? What’s the matter?”

He snarled again, curling tighter, and there were tears streaming from his yellow eyes. To Giles’ amazement, Spike sank his fangs into his own arm and tore, keening, at the flesh.

Suddenly Buffy was back; as soon as she appeared in the doorway Spike started to bellow and crawl piteously around the bed, a wounded animal looking for escape. He seemed unable to stand up, unable to communicate at all. Hugging the quilt against his belly, curved around it, protecting it.

As Buffy closed the distance between them, reaching to touch him, Spike’s howl climbed into a deafening scream, cut off only when he tore again at his own flesh.

“Spike—oh fuck, what you doing?”

Giles sprang up and pushed her back, driving her towards the stairs and down while she struggled to get past him. “Let me go, let me go to him, he’s not going to hurt me—! Spike!”

“Buffy—it’s a spell! And I think you’re hurting him, it seems to get worse the nearer you are—come away.”

“You’re saying I did a spell—?”

“No, of course not you. But someone did, just now in the kitchen. I smelt it when I came down.”

She was half-choked with sobs as he dragged her through the dining room.

“Please get calm and tell me exactly what happened.”

“We . . . we were . . . you know . . . and then he was . . . was . . . .”

“For heaven’s sake, just tell me. We’ve all done it. It’s not a secret.”

She turned her back. Obviously couldn’t speak of it and look at him too. “We’d been making love for . . . for quite a while. He can go . . . amazingly long . . . anyway. All of a sudden he seemed harder, and—and—even bigger than I’d ever . . . and then he hissed, and rolled away from me, and when I asked him what was wrong he said it felt like it was on fire, burning up, and like it was in a vise, too, and the skin was being peeled off, and then his face changed and he couldn’t talk anymore—and—you saw what—Oh God. Giles, he’s in so much pain.”

There was nothing remaining of the spell casting but the now faint smell and a tiny bit of wet ash caught in the drain; Giles maneuvered it out with a spoon and slipped it into a plastic bag while Buffy paced at his back, wringing her hands.

“This has Willow’s M.O. all over it. Why is she fucking with me like this? Why can’t she leave me and mine alone now? Who gave her the right?”

“All excellent questions we’ll have to address, but right now—“ Giles paused, and they both listened to the sounds Spike was making upstairs. The pain, he thought, must indeed be total and unremitting; he’d never been a demonstrative sufferer. When he’d brought Spike back to his crypt after the beating Glory gave him, Spike had said not a word about it, or made a single moan, though he was half dead. This torment bit too deep to be born in silence.

“We may not find Willow so quickly. Where’s Tara? Let’s hope she can help while you try to track Willow down.”

“She’s at the dorm. Dawn is staying with her. We were going to pick her up later.”

“You go fetch her,” Giles said. “I’ll see what I can do for Spike in the meanwhile.”

“Yes—no—I don’t want Dawn to come back here, and hear him, he’d hate that—Oh God. Can’t you go, and let me try to comfort him?”

“Buffy. The spell is linked to your proximity. The best way for you to comfort him is to put some distance between you.”

“When I find Willow, I’m going to kill her.”

Go.”

It was then that they both realized she was clad in nothing but a sheet.

Giles glanced up at the ceiling. “I’ll run up and get—“

“No. I’ll call Tara and tell her I’m on my way. I’ll drop her off here and take Dawn with me to find Willow. I’ll call later.” Buffy twisted the sheet tighter around her body, picked up her cell phone and purse, and was gone.

******

When Giles heard the car recede up Revello Drive, he returned to the bedroom. Empty handed—not sure what he could bring that would ease the pain. Compresses, hot or cold? Those could be prepared in the bathroom, if necessary.

He found Spike lying half on his side, half on his back, the quilt still bunched around him, staring glassy-eyed at the ceiling. Still vamped, and not just vamped but grimacing. His arms and shoulders torn and bleeding from self-inflicted bites. But quieter now, the roar reduced to a growl as he panted around the pain. Funny, Giles thought, how hard the habit of breathing was to break.

“Is it easing at all now?” He wasn’t sure if Spike could hear, or understand him. He seemed to be in some glazed otherplace, his whole body twitching. He didn’t answer.

Giles knelt beside him, and was able to track the progress of Buffy’s drive across town in the vampire’s body. Little by little the twitching stopped, then the breathing, and his face changed back to its human shape, although much paler than normal, which hardly seemed possible, the eyes sunken and the dark brows tar-black against all that pallor. He went on lying in the same unnatural looking position, a broken mannequin.

“Spike, can you hear me now? Tara will try to undo this, whatever it is. Meanwhile, is there anything—blood? A fag? Cup of tea?”

Eyes closed, he shook his head. “Just lemme rest.”

“Is the pain gone?”

“No, but I can bear it now without blubbing like a big girl’s blouse.”

“It’s all right, you know. No one expects you to endure this without—“

“Good witch’s coming, you say? Don’t let her see me. My knob, I mean.”

“Well, she may need to—“

“Keep her away. Probably never seen one before, oughtn’t to expose her to . . . especially now. Scare the poor thing to death. Anyway, she won’t be able to break Bad Witch’s spell.” He was quiet for a moment, then started, eyes opened wide. “She’s not gonna bring Dawn back in the house, is she?”

“No no. Don’t worry about that. Buffy thought of that.”

“She’s a good girl, our Buffy, Rupes,” Spike said, subsiding again, eyes closing.

“I know it,” Giles said.

“Been so sweet to me. I always knew that was there, her sweetness, if I could only find it. If I could love her right. Just wanted her to be all right, now they’ve dragged her back. But never asked them to do it.”

“No, of course, Spike.”

“But now she’s here again . . . got to look after her, don’t we? Cherish her. Keep her safe.”

“You shouldn’t try to talk if you—Why not get up off the floor? More comfortable in bed, I expect.“

“Bed’s too soft right now. Tell me about something . . . tell me about home.”

“Home?”

“England. Bath, is it?”

“Yes. Been there?”

“There’s few places I haven’t been, mate. But tell me about it. Distract me.”

*****

Driving towards the university, Buffy was very aware of herself as sticky, sweaty, still on the edge of panic, and naked except for a sheet. She’d reached Tara, told her to get Dawn out of bed and be outside the dorm in ten minutes. And to lend her some clothes.

All she wanted was to get back to Spike. She kept having to remind herself, as if the information just couldn’t stick in her brain, that her presence would make his suffering worse.

The crypt-burning had been very bad, but at least it hadn’t involved magic. This

. . . this was beyond the beyond. What had Willow turned into, that she could cast a spell like that on anyone? It was nothing but torture, pure sadism. As she waited for a maddeningly long light, bare foot mashed on the brake so tight she got a cramp in her ankle, Buffy felt again how Spike had seized up on her, his expression shifting in an instant from the easy lascivious half-smile as they rocked together, to a rictus of agony. At first she’d thought she’d hurt him—how, she couldn’t possibly think—and the rush of sorrow she’d felt almost choked her. Now she gritted her teeth, gripping the steering wheel nearly hard enough to crush it, imagining it was Willow’s wrists she held. Imagined breaking them. She wouldn’t be able to do so much damage if she couldn’t wave her hands around anymore.

Dawn and Tara were waiting, Tara with a few thick books under one arm, and a bag over the other shoulder; Buffy put her behind the wheel and clambered around to the backseat of the SUV to put on the draw-string pants and sweater she’d brought down. Dawn wanted to know what was wrong and what kind of spell it was, but Buffy stayed tight-lipped. Three blocks from 1630 Tara stopped the car and got out. “Stay out of the area until I call you.” She leaned in the window and whispered to Buffy. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to do anything. It’s probably a spell only Willow can break.”

“I’m going to find her.”

Buffy took off fast. Dawn braced herself on the dashboard and shot an apprehensive glance at her sister.

“Where are we going?”

“To Xander’s. And I’m going to have to ask you to cooperate, Dawn. I need to talk to him alone, and yes I’m keeping things from you, but I need you to be grown up about it.”

“Is Spike going to die?”

“Nobody’s going to die. Well, maybe Willow.”



She tried to catch Xander’s expression in the first moment that he opened the door to her. If he was hiding something, Buffy thought, maybe she’d be able to tell before he composed himself.

But he already looked anxious—not furtive, just alarmed, with that little frown he got, and the way his lower lip plumped when he wasn’t sure what was going on. Which could be ascribed to the earliness of the hour, the state of her unbrushed hair, the whiff she was no doubt giving off, and the expression on her face. Oh, she had no idea what he was thinking, and it was stupid to play these mind games with herself. He’d do the right thing by her, or he wouldn’t. Either way, she’d find out where she stood.

Anya agreed to take Dawn out to breakfast and bring her to the shop, and then she was alone with Xander.

“So, Buff.”

She gave him credit for meeting her eyes, because it was obviously an effort for him.

“Look, I don’t have a lot of time, so I’m just gonna say this. Burning Spike’s stuff was a really bad thing, Xander. Serious badness. And it didn’t do any good, because I haven’t changed my mind about him. But I’ll overlook that if you’ll help me now to find Willow. She’s done a spell on Spike. A very very bad spell.”

Xander closed his eyes for a moment and pinched the top of his nose. “Why is it lately that when I hear the word ‘Willow’ and the word ‘spell’ in the same sentence, I want to move to Minnesota?”

“Where would she be? Have you heard from her this morning?”

“No, but it’s barely seven. She should be in her room.”

Buffy sprang up. “Which I doubt, since she just did an unspeakable thing to my man, and she’d got to know I’m totally gunning for her now.” Sitting still was impossible. She needed to be moving. She’d drive around Sunnydale until she found her. Willow didn’t have a car, and unless she’d gone straight to the bus station and skipped town, she’d have to be around somewhere.

“Library’s not open yet,” Xander said, following her to the door. “What . . . um what is this unspeakable thing of which you speak?”

Buffy told him.

Xander heard her with his mouth open, went pale, then shook his head.

“What?” Buffy said.

“I just saw Willow’s whole life flash before my eyes. But I still don’t see how she got to the point of doing that. To anybody. Let’s go.”

They split up, Xander to check the dorm and the dining hall at the university, Buffy to scope the downtown.

******

Giles found himself describing to Spike his flat, his local, the Saturday market, the recent by-election, then going on to the prospects of Man United, and England’s chances for the World Cup. Spike lay in the same awkward broken pose, eyes shut, the pain making his upper lip tremble. Giles had no idea if he was really listening, or lost in repressing the worst of the sensation. He found it difficult to look at him, the bites and scratches marring the white skin.

He talked on, and tried at the same time to think of what was to become of Willow, who had done this. Out of—what? Some misguided sense of the right, or jealousy, or hatred? Had she come into the house, and finding them, been overcome by revulsion? No matter how he turned it in his mind, Giles could find no rationale for this terrible thing.

There simply was none.

After a while it got bad again. Spike folded around himself, his face contorting, body shaking. When he started gnawing again at his arms, Giles knew Buffy was approaching with Tara. A few minutes later he heard the front door open, and went to intercept her.

In the kitchen, he told her Spike’s symptoms—she winced, then blushed and lowered her eyes as she listened—and showed her the bit of wet ash in the plastic bag. “This is all we have to go on. Can you tell what this might be?”

Tara sniffed it. “If it wasn’t already sopping . . . it could be a few different things. But it doesn’t matter. This kind of spell, a burnt offering, an incantation, it’s personal. The witch that set it has to break it.”

“I thought so,” Giles muttered. “How long will it last before it disperses on its own?”

“A specific, concentrated spell like this? Weeks.”



Xander had called to say that Willow was not, as far as he could discern, on campus. Buffy was cruising past the municipal park, still quiet at this hour except for dog walkers and joggers. But as soon as she pressed the end button on the phone, Buffy spotted her, sitting at a distance on a park bench with a latte in a paper cup, eating something out of a bag. Reading the paper in the sun, as if she had nothing at all on her conscience. Buffy slammed into a parking space and ran.

She started shouting before she’d closed half the distance.

“What have you done? Just what the fuck have you done to Spike!”

Willow looked up slowly, the coffee still at her lips. “Nothing.”

“Don’t lie to me on top of this, Willow! You’ve run out of lies! I know you did a spell in my kitchen!” Buffy grabbed her arm, sending the coffee in an arc through the air to explode on the pavement. “You are going to undo it right now!”

Willow yanked her arm away, and suddenly her eyes were dark. “Overreact much? I did you a favor, Buffy. You’re too weak right now to resist him yourself. I’m just making it easier.”

“Easier? Jesus—“

“I mean, listen to yourself! You’re hysterical over a little— He’s got you in thrall, Buffy. Vampires bad, remember?”

“Why do you hate me, Willow? What gives you the right to manipulate me this way? Again and again and again!” Willow wavered in her sight, and Buffy realized then that her eyes were flooded, as her hoarse voice shredded the morning quiet. “My life—which I did not want back again—has been hell, Willow! 3D sensurround smellovision hell! And then I finally find my way—across fucking broken glass—! to a man who loves me—I peel away my armor for him—not easy— and finally taste some excitement, some satisfaction— But I can’t have that, because it’s not in your plan! So you punish me. You punish me by making him suffer! In a really gross way! How low is that?”

While Buffy railed, Willow had risen and put the bench between them. Her eyes were shimmering now. “If it’s so real and right with Spike, you should still love him even if he can’t get it up for you.”

“Can’t . . . get . . . what are you talking about?”

“Will you chill, Buffy? It’s just a little impotence spell. It won’t hurt him. And it only affects him with you. I could see you were never going to come to your senses with him pawing at you all the—“

Buffy vaulted over the bench and grabbed Willow by the shoulders, shoving her back against a tree. “Whatever you did to him is not ‘a little impotence spell’! You’ve hexed him up so he’s hard as a rock and in so much pain he’s gnawing his arms and screaming!”

The insouciant look Willow had worn all along hardened then; Buffy stared at her, at the eyes full of angry magic, and thought I don’t know this woman at all.

“Screaming, Willow! Tearing his own flesh and writhing on the floor! Who the hell do you think you are, to do that to him?”

A flutter seemed to pass over her face, and Buffy felt her hands, where they grasped Willow’s shoulders, tingle. A surge of something dark and intangible flowed up between them. Buffy wasn’t letting go, wasn’t backing down. She gave Willow a shake.

Then Willow gasped. “. . . screaming?”

“You are so out of control you don’t even know what you’re doing anymore, do you? But you’re going to fix it! Or so help me, I’ll knock you into next week!”

Her face collapsed. All the shimmering righteousness drained out, and it was just Willow again, goggle-eyed and wibble-mouthed. “Oh God, Buffy, I didn’t mean to—he’s screaming—? But I swear, it was just a little impo—“

Buffy dragged her to the car. They drove back to Revello Drive in a silence thick as cheddar cheese.



The house was quiet when they walked in. Buffy didn’t know whether that was a good sign or a bad one. In the first seconds as she stepped over the threshold everything looked strange, the light seemed to quaver, and her head filled up with scenarios. Spike was unconscious. Or maybe the pain had become so intense that he’d attacked Giles and run out into the sun and burst into final flame. Or maybe the spell had worn off on its own, and she’d find him upstairs taking a bath, his usual self, smoking and reading the Racing Form.

Then Tara appeared at the top of the stairs, and she stared at Willow in a way that said that nothing was all right: not Spike, and not them.

“You found her.”

“I wasn’t hiding!” Willow said.

Buffy shoved her towards the steps. She was past caring about being polite.

The eerie quiet was explained by the balled-up dish towel in Spike’s mouth, and the twisted sheet that bound his wrists.

“The last twenty minutes or so, he kept tearing at himself with his fangs. His arms are already shredded. And Giles was afraid the neighbors would hear him and call the police,” Tara said. “I tried a light trance spell, but I guess it doesn’t work on vampires.”

“Oh fuck.” Willow took in the scene: the disordered room, the writhing white figure on the floor beneath the bunched quilt, his arms and chest and shoulders gashed in red.

Giles was kneeling beside him. He glanced up, gave her a look that was perfectly blank, decimating. “Willow. Behold your handiwork.”

“Oh God, I’m so sor—“

“Do not waste any more time,” Giles said, rising. At his feet Spike twisted and made a sound through the gag like a jigsaw cutting metal.

Buffy. You shouldn’t be here—” Giles crossed to her, jostling Willow aside without a glance, and backed her away.

She couldn’t bear to tear her eyes from Spike, although the sight of his agony was so shocking and piteous, but she let Giles press her back, downstairs and out the door.

“Walk with me.”

“But—you should stay and make sure Willow—“

“Willow will do what’s right. Tara will help her. But let’s not make the last minutes of this any worse for him than they have to be.”

Buffy put her hands into the pockets of Tara’s unfamiliar pants. “Giles, I’m in love with Spike.”

She didn’t know what she expected him to do. His measured walking pace didn’t change. He didn’t even take off his glasses.

“Did it take this to make you realize?”

“No. I found it out . . . this morning. Early this morning. That’s why Willow did it. She must have been listening at the door while I was telling him.”

Giles was quiet for a few moments.

“He is quite clever. His depth of experience . . . invaluable, really. He knows quite a bit about the potential perils you will face. Other things, that he doesn’t know, he can, with the right books at his disposal, easily learn.”

Buffy glanced up at him. Giles was looking ahead with a sort of thousand yard stare. Looking into her future.

“He will shield you with his life. I no longer have any doubt about that.”

“Giles . . .” It came out as a whisper, a tiny baby rabbit whisper that only she could hear.

“He thinks only of you. If his history with Drusilla is any indication, his loyalty to you will be unswerving, absolute. As long as the chip remains in place, he should be quite safe. I still don’t believe he can overcome his demon nature without it . . . there’s always a risk. But then, that’s just part of your job description, isn’t it? Always a risk. Despite that, you may go on to accomplish great things together.”

She let this just sink in for a few moments. Giles being strategic. Giles taking lemons and making lemonade.

“I . . . thank you. Thank you for this.”

“But?”

“But what?” She glanced up at him, saw him waiting to hear the words she was afraid to say. If she didn’t speak of them, her doubts, they could go on not being real.

Fuck. Too late. “. . . I love him, and he’s there, and it’s . . . intense. It’s so basic and dumb, I melt when he looks at me, when he touches me. I care about his opinion and I want to do things for him. I know I didn’t feel that for Riley. But at the same time I keep thinking what the fuck? I’m in love with an undead creature who’s steeped in carnage? Again? Angel said Spike was incapable of change. That he represents unrepentant evil.”

They’d reached the corner. Giles polished his glasses, and held them up in the light to check for fingerprints. “All of that’s not to be gainsaid. Not by me, at any rate.”

“Oh God.” She squinted down the empty street, into the sun. “Last night, Giles, I was so happy. We were so happy. I don’t think I can remember feeling that way since

. . . since before things with Angel went wrong. And even while that was happening I thought, this can’t be right. This can’t last. Goddamn. Maybe Willow did the right thing. In the wrong way, but the right thing.”

“Do you really want to push him away?”

“I shouldn’t be doing . . .”

“Buffy. Do you want—“

Startled, she looked right at him. Her first thought was that he looked so sad, sad because she was always making the wrong choice, repeating the same venal mistake. But as she took that on, she understood it was something else. It was Giles feeling sorry for the weight of responsibility she had to bear, for her own melancholy uncertainty.

“What do I want? The Slayer . . . or . . . or me?”

“You are the Slayer, Buffy. You’re not, you never will be like other girls. Or have what they have.”

“Don’t you think I know that?” she murmured.

“But you have corresponding compensations that other girls cannot even dream of. At this stage of your history, I’ve come to believe that you should take your allies—and your satisfaction—where you find them.”

Xander appeared, cruising slowly, and spotting them, pulled over.

“Oh, I forgot to call you,” Buffy said. How much time had gone by? She felt as if she’d just awakened out of a dream, a surreal dream full of sunlight, in which Giles had given her his blessing. It seemed like days since she’d been with Xander. “I found her. She’s at the house.”

“What’s the situation?”

“I’ll go back and see. Perhaps it’s all over by now.” Giles opened the passenger side door for her, and she got into the car. Xander began to drive.

Buffy didn’t pay attention to where they were going, or to what Xander was saying to her, except that she liked the sound of his voice, the old steady Xander-voice. Xander was all right.

She stared out the window at the houses and trees going by in the wintery morning light, and plucked at the hem of Tara’s teeshirt. The clothes were too big for her. She could smell herself, a heady compound of spunk, old sweat, the newer sweat of adrenalined desperation. The skin of her face felt too tight, her teeth were furry. She chewed on a strand of hair. Everything looked as if she was peering through the wrong end of binoculars, and suddenly, from the window of the moving car, she saw Sunnydale again as she’d first seen it, sitting behind her mother as they followed the moving van off the freeway and into town. Everything strange and bright and new, full of possibility and portent. What stores were on the main drag? She’d looked out to see where she’d be buying her CDs, getting her manicures. Scoped the girls to see if the really cool shoes had made it here yet from the city. Wondered who her friends would be, hoped, in a furtive discouraged way, that she could just be Buffy Summers here, that the whole slaying idea hadn’t followed her from LA.

She remembered Dawn sitting beside her, bouncing against the seat belt, babbling about whether they could stop for ice cream before going to the new house. Of course, she hadn’t really been there, even though Buffy could feel her, the way she’d jounced the seat until Buffy had wanted to pop her one. Sunny day, sunny town, Sunnydale, full of vampires and terror at nightfall.

Xander was still talking, and she was still not listening, watching the scenery moving by. But her mouth opened and she said “Sometimes I can’t believe what we’ve all become. We were just kids a minute ago.”

At that he fell silent.

She turned and looked at him for the first time since she’d stepped into the car.

“Xander, I love you, and I don’t want to lose you, not the way we’ve just lost Willow. But I’m not going to give Spike up. Because I love him too.”

He drove with an exaggerated care, eyes fixed on the street.

“I want my friends and I want my lover. I have to be the Slayer, I have no choice, but there are things I can choose.”

“Buffy. Yes. Choices. Good choices . . . and not so good choices.”

“I think I have to be the sole judge of that right now, Xander. I’m just asking you to deal. Because I think you can.”

He didn’t say anything, and after a moment she returned to her contemplation of the passing streetscape. Everything looked weirdly normal. Or normally weird. What was weird, anyway? What was normal?

She felt stoned.

Xander went to the drive through at McDonald’s, and then they were parking in front of the Magic Box. She followed him in, followed the enticing smell of hot meat and watched with greedy intensity as he unpacked an enormous sack of things wrapped in greasy paper onto the research table. Dawn and Anya turned their noses up, but Buffy was ravenous now, and ate with two hands. Her cell phone rang; she handled it with slick fingers.

“It’s over,” Tara said. “He’s sleeping now. You can come back anytime.” She took a breath. “He kept asking for you, Buffy. Said he wanted to wait up for you to come back. But Giles made him take some sleeping pills. He’s really depleted.”

“Depleted.”

“Probably take a few days to be himself again. The pain will linger too, in the . . . in the tissues.”

“Tara— Thank you.”

“I didn’t do anything. I tried, but . . . ”

“And Willow?”

“Giles is with her. They’re not in the house. So really, you can come back anytime. But don’t rush if you’re . . . Spike will sleep all day, I think. The pills pretty much knocked him out.”

“Did you remember to give him some blood first?”

“Yes. He drank two cups.”

“Did you heat it up?”

Yes.”

“Tara, I love him.” She was just going to tell everybody. Everybody, one at a time. Imagined herself wandering around Sunnydale, telling people.

“I know. I’ve known that for a while. It’s good.”

“I’m so sorry for you about Willow.”

There was silence, and Buffy wondered if she’d said the wrong thing, except that it seemed wrong not to acknowledge what Tara had lost.

Then Tara said, “Dawn can stay with me in the dorm for a few more nights if you want.”

“I’ll ask her. But I dunno, I think maybe she would like to be at home.”

“Well, let me know. I’ll stay here until you get back. In case he wakes up or anything.”

“Thanks.”

“But I don’t think he will.”

When she put the phone away, Buffy looked at the food, now cold, and shoved it back into the paper bag. Looked around for her sister. Anya, who could be more thoughtful than Buffy gave her credit for, had spirited Dawn up to the loft out of earshot, and put her to work alphabetizing books.

“Dawnie, hey.” Buffy sat on the floor beside her.

“Hey.”

“I feel like I haven’t seen you in a really long time.”

“Maybe because you haven’t.” Dawn looked at the spine of the book in her hand, and then at Buffy. “You want me to go back to Tara’s tonight?”

“I want you to do what makes you comfortable. It’s your house too.”

“Is Spike all right?”

“Tara says he will be. I need to go home and see.”

“I want to see him too.”

“I know, and he’ll want to see you, but maybe you could wait until he says so. He’s . . . not a hundred percent.”

“What’s going to happen?”

Dawn’s question, so earnest, snapped Buffy out of her dreamy state, and she gave off a laugh. “Well, tonight the sun will go down, and tomorrow it’ll come up again, and people will walk their dogs. Some people will die, and others will be born, and taxes will get paid. That’s as much detail as I’m willing to commit to, Dawnie.”

“You know that’s not what I meant.”

“Yeah, but really, that’s all I can promise you. Well, and . . . that you’ll be okay. We’ll both be okay. Okay?”

“But stuff keeps happening. And we have no money.”

Buffy remembered. The salary! She was going to have a salary, a retroactive salary! “But the council is going to pay me! They’re going to give me a large lump sum, too.”

“How large?”

“I don’t know yet. Giles was going to tell me this morning, but then shit happened. But it’s going to be enough, supposedly. To fix the house, pay the debts. We’ll be fine.”

“I’ll stay with Tara a couple more nights.”

“I promise I’ll make it up to you.”

“At the mall.”

“What?”

“You’ll make it up to me at the mall. I want everything. New clothes, new shoes, a Discman. Because we’re rich now, right?”

“I don’t know. We’ll see. But sure,” Buffy said, getting up, “there can be presents.”

*****

It was still just mid-morning when Buffy let herself back into the house, although she felt as if days had gone by since she’d told herself to Spike, and years were somehow piled up behind that, between who she was now and the Buffy who’d so unstintingly resisted him. Time was weird that way.

Mid morning, but she was so tired. Ready just to look at him, and then join him in sleep.

But first there was Tara. Who emerged from the kitchen, holding her books and her bag, ready to leave.

Buffy embraced her. She loved Tara too. Another thing that had been going on for a while, only she hadn’t known it before now.

“Thank you.”

“What’s Dawn going to do?”

“A couple more nights with you? Is that really okay? Until Spike feels presentable again?”

“Sure.”

“Tara—listen. Do you . . . I mean . . . you’ve been living here. You should go on living here. If you want.”

“Oh! No, that’s okay—“

“I’d like you to. And not just for the babysitting. I mean—not at all for the babysitting. But because I like you. We like you. Dawn and me. I want Dawn to have the people she likes near her. I think she deserves that, especially since . . . .”

Buffy watched Tara blush, watched thoughts flit behind her eyes. “Willow isn’t coming back here, if that’s what you’re wondering.”

“I didn’t think that . . . I just don’t want to be in the way . . . .”

“What, because of Spike? Well, if it bothers you that he’s always going to be underfoot and talking back to the TV, then I guess—“

Tara laughed. “No no! I meant, maybe you just want your private space with him.”

“Our private space is the bedroom. Which, I’m sorry, we’re kicking you out of. I’ve got to pack Willow’s stuff up. I don’t know where she’s going to go and right now I really don’t care. But we could put yours in my old room and that could be yours.“

Tara gave her an assessing glance. Then, “Okay. Yes. Yes, I’d like that.”

Good.” Buffy smiled. “This weekend, then, you’ll come, when I pick Dawn up. I’ll help you haul your stuff over from the dorm.”



Walking into the dark room felt like stepping behind a curtain into some alternate world. No sound or movement came from the sleeper in the bed. He wasn’t breathing, of course. No rapid-eye movement. But that was just normal for him. Buffy switched on a dim lamp.

The sight of him brought the indignation back. It was a good thing Giles had whisked Willow away; because the urge was still fierce inside her to break her wrists, to break her face, to pound her down until she screamed out remorse.

Spike lay on his side beneath the quilt pulled up to his waist, still curled as if the pain was yet present, arms stretched in front of him. Each one was bandaged from the hand up to the shoulder; against the bright white of the gauze, his fingers were the color of a peeled banana. She saw Tara’s care in the neatness of the dressings, and her gratitude resurged. Who knew, when Willow first started bringing her around, that Tara would turn out to be so dear?

Spike’s face still contained the shadow of what he’d endured; grey under the eyes, the line of the cheekbone and brow starker than they usually were. Buffy resisted the urge to touch her mouth to each place. Let him rest.

After a shower, she got into bed, cleaving to his cool back, slipping an arm around his waist. He didn’t stir. Those pills, whatever they were, had him down deep.

He was still sleeping when she woke up at dusk, and went downstairs to find Giles drinking tea in the kitchen.

“Where’s Willow?”

“I’ve had a long talk with her, and she’s agreed to the only course of action that seems feasible at this point.”

“So she’s never going to do magic again? Where have I heard that before?”

“No. She’s going to refrain for the time being—I believe she really will, today’s incident having frightened her a great deal, I’m heartened to say—and she will help with our inquiries into your situation. She’s at Xander’s now. Under a sort of house arrest. Until Edwina arrives.”

“Edwina?”

“A friend of mine back home, a Master Witch. She’s taken an interest in all this—your resurrection, and Willow’s subsequent antics. I’ve spoken to her this afternoon, and she’s agreed to come assist with our current problem, and afterwards to take Willow on. Willow will return with us to England, where Edwina will teach her to channel her powers properly. It’s past time she had the appropriate training . . . and the appropriate discipline. Edwina is very strong, and very severe, and very knowledgeable. She will see Willow’s potential, and she will mold her.”

“Do you really think that’s a good idea? Encouraging Willow to keep on when she’s—“

“Buffy, Willow’s powers will not just go away with a promise not to use them. She must be taught to take the path of right, or else we will lose her entirely to the darkness. I’m a fool for not seeing this coming years ago, but I was so taken up with you, and the change in Willow . . . well, it seems quite obvious now, but at the time, it was so gradual.”

“Please, Giles, this is not your fault.”

“Of course it is. Who else was in a position to assess what she was doing? I should have been responsible, and instead I leaned on her too much. I’m a fool. How’s Spike?”

“Still sleeping.”

“And you?”

“Tell me about the money, Giles. How soon can I get it?”

At this he smiled. “I’ll fetch the paperwork, shall I?”



It was with a considerably lightened heart that Buffy took a mug of warm blood upstairs an hour later.

She found Spike sitting up, paging through a book he’d found on the night table.

“Ah, there you are, Slayer. Getting lonely. Sat here brooding over why I always go for the perilous girls.”

She sat beside him on the edge of the bed. His confession of loneliness startled her. She’d never thought of him that way before, but now she recognized that loneliness must have been the seed of his love for her. Set apart as he was from his kind.

Just like she was.

“Spike, I’m sorry. If I could’ve known—“

“Well, you couldn’t, so don’t make that face.”

“I know you’re angry.”

“You’re bleedin’ right I’m angry. Not at you, though. S’not your fault Red’s lost the plot. Glinda told me she hadn’t meant her spell to be quite what it was, as if I care what she really intended. Would bugger her up a treat if I could get at her, chip or no. Arrogant cow.”

Buffy couldn’t bring herself to scold him for saying that. She still itched for some kind of satisfying physical revenge, herself.

“Drink your drink while it’s hot.”

Giles might be optimistic for Willow’s reclamation, but as far as their friendship was concerned, Buffy thought, watching him sip at the blood, that was beyond recall. It was all so sad and stupid, but that’s the way it was now. Her best friend. She was glad Xander was left to her. She thought he’d stick, despite his misgivings. And Tara. And even weird Anya.

Lost the plot. Spike always had such a good way of putting things. She liked to hear him talk. The things he said and the way he said them. The timbre of his voice that went straight to her groin. She’d liked all that for a long time, but now she didn’t have to pretend not to.

“How do you feel?”

“Bloody sore, if you must know. No rumpy pumpy for me for a day or three, I expect.” He held up an arm. “And this hurts like a bitch, I don’t mind telling you. My fangs’re sharp, disused as they are.”

She touched his bandaged wrist. “You’d just healed from what I did . . . .”

“Jealous, pet? I know, I used to hate it when anybody else wanted the torturing of Dru. That was my privilege.”

“Um, Spike, that’s not quite where that thought was going.” She paused, considering, then decided to come out with it. “Spike, Anya told me something—“

“Palermo in ought six. I knew she hadn’t forgotten. Women never do forget me.”

She laughed despite the flutter in her belly. “Vain much? But listen, Spike . . . .”

“I know what you’re trying to ask. Bloody great time you pick to come at me with it, too.”

“You’re right. Sorry. Forget it. I’ll—“

“I was faithful to Drusilla, for a hundred years. Just like I’m faithful to you.”

“Okay, so—uh—“

“Dru’s definition of faith is different from yours, is all. I’m with yours now, so you don’t have to worry.”

“What was hers?”

“I tell you about this, it’s just gonna make you unhappy, my queen.”

“I want to know. I mean, c’mon, I’ve seen those postcards, how much do you think I haven’t figured out?”

“Well . . . it’s like this. Fists and fangs, the big fight, I like that in a hunt. Liked it, I mean, back in the day. But there’s another aspect . . . equally nice . . . the seduction. Drinking from a person who’s all aroused, who you’re fucking, or just fucked . . . the blood’s so spicy, heady, with, what is it, endorphins . . . we didn’t use to know that word, we just knew it was a different taste than blood that’s full of fear . . . different, sometimes better. Dru liked it best of all. Angelus did too. That kind of sex wasn’t at all the same as what was between me an’ Dru, it didn’t count the same way. Nor did the times, like what we done with Anyanka, when we was in it all together, a little fun to pass the time. But going behind Dru’s back, with other demons, or humans, or ever going with the same one twice . . . that was off the rulebook. I never did it. Then she did. And that’s when I knew she didn’t love me anymore.”

Well, Buffy thought, I asked. “So I don’t have to worry about you stepping out on me only because you can’t hunt anymore?”

Spike frowned. “Buffy . . . if I was hunting again . . . you’d be hunting me, taking me out. Not worrying whether I was two-timing you. So don’t look so tragic.”

“If the chip were gone, would you hunt?”

“Don’t change the subject. You wanted to know if I was yours alone, and I am.”

“Good. But now I want to know whether you’d hunt again if you could.”

“Why’re you busting my balls now of all times? I can’t even take a piss without seein’ stars and you’re worried about me going on the hunt!”

“Would you? Spike! Would you?”

“ . . . I really don’t know.” He paused. “Sometimes I dream of it. Vivid wonderful dreams they are, chip’s out and I can be myself again, go anywhere, take anyone . . . it’s not like the blood-lust’s not still there. Chip’s forced me to learn to control it, is all.” He shook his head. “I can’t say more than that. You know I’m not going to tell you pretty lies. Never have done.”

“No . . . I know you haven’t.”

He drained the cup and set it down. “One thing that’s true . . . blood-lust aside, I never want to disappoint you.”

She let him gather her into his arms. The bandages made them a bit rigid, and scratchy against her own bared skin. He spoke low against her ear. “Have you eaten?”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Fed Rupes? He’s in the house, I heard you talking before.”

“He just had some tea. Are you trying to get rid of me?”

“No. Well, you’re getting me hard, and it’s—“

She pulled away. “So why did you—“

“You know me . . . I like a bit of pain, when it’s you dishing it out.”



She did go downstairs and eat, talked more with Giles, about managing the money. About Willow. About Dawn . . . this part difficult for her to hear, but she let him say his piece. The care and feeding of the teenaged girl. Never guessed he’d know so much about it. Forgetting that she’d ever been one herself . . . that he’d looked out for the girl as much as he had for The Slayer.

When she went back to check on him, Spike was sleeping again. He’d pretended, she realized, to be feeling better than he was. The conversation they’d had two hours ago—too soon. Too much. Why was she worrying about all that anyway? Him hunting. Probably because otherwise she’d have to admit to herself that she was just happy, and that still felt irresponsible and so very very wrong.

So she went over to the university, and found Tara and Dawn about to go to the movies. Went along and held her sister’s hand through some idiot teen flick she didn’t even pretend to follow; her head full of Spike. How long before he’d be ready to fuck again? God, what’s happened to me? I used to have other kinds of thoughts. Didn’t I?

Tara gave her a commiserating look in the lobby afterwards as Dawn chattered about what they’d just seen. Buffy realized it wasn’t her type of movie either, and how long had this been going on, Tara stepping in for absent Joyce, absent Buffy?

On patrol, still thinking of Spike, she dusted three newly-risen vamps in one cemetery, and two more in another. Hmm, looked like the lull was over.

She enjoyed it. Spinning, kicking, striking, jumping back from the dust explosion. The familiar dance of slayage felt fresh, exciting. Slay ‘em out here, lay the one at home. And hey, getting paid for it now. She breathed deep of the night air.



“I see you’re feeling better,” Giles said when Spike, moving slowly but back in his clothes and his smirk, stepped into the kitchen late that evening.

“Bed’s no fun on my own.”

“Cup of tea? I’m just brewing up.”

“Wouldn’t say no.” Spike climbed onto a stool; Giles watched him pour sugar and milk into the mug with abandon, and take the first appreciative sip with eyes closed.

“Always an Englishman, bloodsucking fiend or no,” Spike murmured.

“Mmm.” Giles polished his glasses. “Spike. Might I talk with you for a few minutes, while we have the house to ourselves?”

Spike cocked his head. “Ah . . . I smell something serious.”

“Well, yes. Buffy’s father is not in the picture, of course, and her mother . . . I think that if Joyce was here now, she’d be asking you what I’m about to ask you.”

“My intentions.”

“In a word . . . yes.”

“Joyce . . . I’m sorry she’s gone. Would’ve been a pleasure to me to make much of her, bein’ in the position I find myself with her eldest. She was always kind to me, after that first time Buffy brought me home. Never occurred to her to be afraid of me. Never occurred to me to threaten her. A lovely lady.”

“If it’s more palatable to imagine my question coming from her—“

“What shall my intentions be, Rupes? You’re not asking me to marry the girl and get children on her.”

Giles raised an eyebrow but otherwise let this remark pass.

“I mean to look after her.”

“And what does that encompass, by your lights?”

“Way I see it, Slayer needs a consort. Man with power but who knows his place. Who’s got no agenda except hers. That’s me. Helping her with the slaying. Protecting her, getting her back. That’s important. And the other thing that’s important . . . seeing to her. In bed. But not just that. Listening to her. Telling her the truth. Seeing her. The others don’t do that anymore, if they ever did. She hides from them, and they don’t want to know what’s in her, not really. Maybe you do, now, but you’re not staying, and anyway, you’re not enough. I’m going to be the one who stays.”

“Watching over her.”

“Right.”

“So you will be her Watcher now.”

Spike was turning his mug slowly round and round beneath his hand; he stopped and met Giles’ eyes with his sharp ones. “What’re you saying?”

“I expect I’m saying what you’re saying. Buffy needs a Watcher. Perhaps more now than ever. I cannot fill that role any longer. I’ve done all I can for her. She will never accept another from the Council, I don’t care whom they might send. She is a master Slayer now, and isn’t going to take orders from anyone. But she respects you, and what you know; she’ll take advice from you.” Giles looked carefully at Spike. “Will that advice be sound?”

Spike let out with a sudden laugh. “Bloody hell! What do you think? I’m a mad bastard sometimes, going off half-cocked—but have you ever seen me do less than my utmost for her?”

“No, I have not. Which is why we’re having this talk at all.”

“The bleedin’ Council’s not gonna hire me on.”

“Of course not. But it’s not necessary that they do.”

“Is this to be my redemption, then?”

“I don’t know, Spike. Is it?”

******

When she came into the bedroom at three in the morning, all aglow and panting, he saw right away what she wanted. Let the book drop from his hand, crossed to her in a wink and shoved her up against the door.

Covered her mouth with his own, hands tugging at clothes. Something tore. Never mind, she’d buy a new one. There was money now. Tore more. She made a strangled eager sound, grabbing at his hair.

He dropped to his knees, pulled aside the slip of silk that covered her, and plunged at her with his tongue. Swimming in her scent and heat , he was hard at once, just like always, but it hurt. Hurt like a bitch. Goddamn spell was broken, but the after effects—!

She yanked at his hair. “Get inside me.”

Spike glanced up at her and saw the ferocity in her eyes. For a moment he thought of begging off. Then she tugged again, harder, and he rose.

As he lifted her and dipped his knees a little to enter, he couldn’t repress the gasp. She was slick and hot, taking him in, but her cunt felt like sandpaper.

She whispered. “This is painful for you, isn’t it, Spike?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re not really ready to do this yet, are you?” Statement of fact, that was all he heard in her voice.

“No.”

“I slew five newborn vamps tonight. Fuck me.”

He could smell those demon deaths on her. Heat and dust.

Buffy grabbed the door lintel and wrapped her legs around him, and there she was, like the first time. Her expression avid and proud—she was feeling her power. Over him, over his arousal, over life and death.

His cock was exquisitely tender. Painpleasurepain. Like . . . like when Angelus used to bind it and the balls up tight in a long leather ribbon, leave him the night through sprawled in his bed, wrists caught back and tied. Leave him to think, to throb, to hunger, to hate and rage and wait. Darla and Dru might pop in and look at him, Dru giggling wildly at the sight, Darla inspecting his trussed-up erection like some sadistic Lower School matron. They’d tease and handle him, ride his face—but never never did they interfere with Angelus’ devices. Knew he’d come in before dawn sated with blood from the hunt, wanting to spend his energy on the boy. In the boy.

Kissing her, Spike pressed Buffy into the door, his hands in her armpits. When Angelus took him like that, against the wall, he’d held him up off the floor by the throat. Crushing his windless windpipe against the plaster with one big hand. Knowing he didn’t need to breathe but couldn’t easily come either without air to pant and gasp. Took his pounding pleasure of him with the leather bindings still straining in place. Sometimes, if he was feeling friendly, he’d yank the cleverly-knotted ribbon off at the crucial moment, and not even scold him for spurting all over his sire’s good black clothes. But usually he’d be made to wait. To wait until after Angelus was fucked out, until he’d coaxed forth the last of his sire’s seed into his mouth and swallowed it down. And then all he’d be allowed was his own hand, and had to do even that at Angelus’ direction, under his hot mocking eye. Humiliation and ecstasy in a perpetual soixante-neuf.

Did Buffy ever think of Angel while he fucked her? The man who’d initiated them both. Spike couldn’t imagine him making tender gentle love to a trembling virgin—he’d seen him take plenty of both sexes, but he never made it easy for them.

He knew too much—knew Angel’s body from top to toe, the heft and heaviness of him, knew how he kissed, how he fucked. The thought of him tearing her open, of her pussy impaled on his great ravening splitter made Spike want to kill the beast. Should have done it just now in LA—dusted the self-righteous ponce for good and all.

Especially because he knew it wasn’t like that between them. Knew he’d have treated her like something sacred, because loving her had remade him, and nothing he’d been before came with him into her arms.

No, at least not until afterwards.

Why was he thinking about this now? Tormenting himself, ugly thoughts ricocheting. God, this hurt and not in a good way. This was the last thing he should be doing.

“More,” she panted.

Clamping him tight between her steely legs, she ground herself hard against him, panting and growling. He stayed hard for her, but it was like scraping himself over ground glass.

He stumbled around with her to fall onto the bed. What if the spell had left him permanently injured? What if it was never going to get any better than this, his cock a hard tight pillar of fire in her?

She rolled him beneath her, pinned and rode him.

He struggled to keep his pain out his face. She perfectly well knew it—but she’d slain, she was worked up, she was taking what she wanted.

This was Buffy now, come-back-from-the-dead-Buffy, and what else did he expect? He was a demon and so, probably, was she.

What she wanted, he’d give her. Be for her. His love.

Would he ever hear her say it again? Maybe he never had at all—maybe he’d imagined it, dreamed it. He had so many vivid dreams, dreams in which he was with Dru, in the good old way, her madness and his adoring lust perfectly synched; with Angelus, disporting themselves in a merry bath of blood; with Bella, Sophie and Jem, pulling Christmas crackers and singing before the fire. All so real, his dreams, other lives, all his. And everything before those hours of terrible pain could have been hallucination. He wasn’t sure anymore.

Looking at her fucking him, her gaze fierce and far-off, he was pretty sure he must have imagined it. This girl, the Slayer, who was pounding him into the bed—she’d never told him any such thing. She never would.

Then between one eye blink and the next she just rolled off.

At first all he knew was the sheer blessed relief of nothing touching him. Then he registered her. Curled away and dissolved in tears.

“Buffy?”

Fuck! Again! I did it again.” She started up, but he caught her wrist before she could escape.

“Why do I do it?” she snarled. “Why do you let me?”

Her brow and mouth were misshapen with crying and she wouldn’t look at him.

“Buffy, love—“

She tore her hand from his. “Why should you ever trust me? I only use you. I’m all fucked up inside! Goddamnit, it’s just no good!”

She left the room, and a couple of minutes later, the house. He heard in the night silence the sharp sound of her boot soles striking the sidewalk as she fled up the street.

Why should he ever trust her? Oh, how he did not want to think about that. Luckily Giles’ bottle of sleeping pills wasn’t yet empty.



When he woke up, unable to tell how much time had passed, his arms covered in itchy bandages, and his empty belly growling for blood, she was curved at his back, warm legs tangled with his, warm arm snugged around him, and her breath made a moist hot patch on the nape of his neck. He lay still and listened to her breathe. Thought he could almost listen to her dream, too.

Why did she do it? Why did he let her?

It wasn’t the treating him like a fuck bot. That could be a bit of all right, most of the time.

It was how she walled herself off. Taking her pleasure of him without pleasure. Denying them their joy. Dealing him pain yet holding hers apart. Like he wasn’t good enough to share that with her. When it was that he wanted the most, access to her sorrow, so he could take it on, dispel it.

Like he used to take on poor Dru’s madnesses, and comfort her. It was what he was good at, good for. His demon was a stone killer, but it had taught him too how to dispose of grief.

If mad Red’s spell had worked as intended, what then? Unable to fuck, would they have found any other comfort to take in each other? Would they have talked?

She never wanted to talk much to him, he realized. She’d banter, but that wasn’t the same. She’d listen, between bouts of fucking, while he told her all the nubby little details of William’s youth, asking questions and pressing for more, a child hearing a story. But about herself she said so little, and he sensed fear in her inhibition—fear of what? That he’d hate the true exhibition of her inner self? Be bored with it? Use it against her?

Or did she believe that he was, even now, her enemy, who must be guarded against in all things?

She’d let him sip the blood from her cunny, but wouldn’t, even when he’d asked her, tell him how old she’d been, or what she’d thought and felt the first time it flowed.



He woke again, and this time found their positions reversed; she was spooned tight against his chest, and now it was his arm that held her in place. He felt her sigh, and tense a little.

“Spike.” She didn’t so much say his name as exhale it into the air.

“I’m here.” He thought abstractedly of warm blood and cigarettes and bathwater, but his cheek lay on her soft hair, and she smelt like languor and regret, so he didn’t move.

“Sometimes . . . I’m not so brave as I ought to be. As I think I am.”

He waited to hear what this was going to be. It sounded like the beginning of a renunciation.

I don’t, can’t, won’t . . . a mistake. So sorry. He closed his eyes and breathed her. Maybe the last.

“I’m afraid of this, what’s happening between us.”

Did he sense a shift in the tension of her body resting against his, as if she expected him to rise quietly and depart?

Except that he couldn’t move, not now. With grief rising up to meet him, the way the ground did in dreams of falling. The way it did not in a dream, beneath the tower.

Her arm shifted, and she brought her hand to rest on the arm he held her with. He braced himself to be lifted off. Gentle, but firm.

“Spike, tell me not to disappear inside every time I start to feel anything good.”

She rolled over then, and her movement released the bouquet of her body; he inhaled it greedily, and the glimmer of her eyes in the crepuscular gloom.

“I was always telling you not to leave me, but I’m the one who goes, inside, and then what’s left does terrible things. I check out when—“

“When what, Buffy?”

“When things get too real.”

Of course.

“Do you trust me?” he asked.

He sought her gaze, but she withheld it now, and he could feel her holding her breath. Then an outrush. “I . . . I think so.”

“Then I won’t let you go. I’ll stop you when you try.”

She made a little gurgling sound it took him a moment to recognize for a laugh.

“But do you trust me?” she murmured. “Should you? I don’t know if I trust myself.”

“Let me worry about that, pet.”

Her hand came out and began to caress him, and something ignited inside him. He rose to her touch and there was no pain at all.

But he lifted her hand off and held it.

“Do you know why I like it that we can hurt each other?” he said.

He could feel the heat of her blush. Of her questioning eyes on him.

“Because we can decide to do it . . . and decide not to. And when and where and why. That’s the duet we sing, love, what makes us good together. We trust each other, yeah, and we’re just getting in tune.”

“Uh-huh. Want me to hurt you a little now, Spike?” She tried to free her hand again, but he held on.

“Save that for later. Talk to me now, pet.”

He could feel her nervous smile, her hesitation; her hand in his wanting to resume its grip on him. “What about?”

“What’s it to be?”

“What’s what to be?”

“This.” He shrugged to indicate the bed, the room. “Am I camping out here until the next time you panic about me being a bad influence, or—“

She was quiet for a moment, then she laughed. “What is this? You’re fishing for a proposal? Now I’ve got money I guess I’ll be fighting ‘em off with a chainsaw. How will I ever know who loves me for myself?”

“I don’t want your bleeding money.”

“As long as I pay the cable bill.”

Buffy.”

“What?”

“Look, I can move back into the crypt. Nothing they burned I can’t scrounge up again. We can—“

“No. What are you talking about? How many times have I asked you not to leave me?”

“Not-to-leave-me isn’t the same as stay with me. Live with me.”

“Spike. Jeez.” She sat up then and turned on the light. “Sometimes you get so weirdly . . . formal.”

“When I was a young man, pet, a gentleman didn’t even leave a card on a lady without calling on her mother first.”

“You’ve . . . you’ve called on my mother. She kept those little marshmallows just for you ever after that.”

“Did she? Well, so I have, then.”

“You want me to ask . . .” He saw that little frown form on her brow, that indicated not anger but thought, and she lay down again beside him, her cheek on the same pillow. “Okay. Fine. If that’s what you need. Here goes. Spike, here we are in our bed. In our room. In—okay, my house—but our home. Okay? No more crypt. You’re going to stay with me, and you’re going to live above ground. We’ll get better shades. You want to change this room, we’ll change it. We can do whatever we want, it’s ours now. This is totally crazy, but we’re going to live together. Okay?”

Even though he’d prompted this, it still caught him slightly unaware; he hadn’t thought she was yet so sure. To cover his uprush of pleasure he pretended to glance around and sneer. “Could do with less of the wiccan foofaraws in here, that’s for sure. And this headboard’s no good—can’t tie you to it. Your own bed’s better for that.”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you. I gave it to Tara.”

“The bed?”

“The whole room. She’s going to live in it.”

He turned this over in his head for a moment. William the Bloody, the Big Bad, Slayer of Slayers, residing in a nice little craftsman house in suburban California with a passel of girls.

Which, while not tending to increase his rep for being large with the Raw Evil, would cut way down on the Lonely-Alienated-and-Bitter factor.

“Good.”

“So can we not talk anymore?”

She grabbed for him again. And again he pulled her hand away.

“Not so fast there, Slayer. Things don’t mean so much if you don’t earn them.”



He glanced up and saw that she was reflected in the mirror on the half-open closet door. On her knees beside the bed, hands and mouth working on empty air. When he put his fingers through her hair, pulled it back, the hair on mirror-Buffy moved of its own accord. For a few moments he amused himself by alternating his view of her; the real girl with the head of his cock between her lips, and the reflection, miming. Then he shifted a little, and pointed.

“Look, love.”

She stared, and he wasn’t sure at first if she would be amused or appalled; her mirrored eyes widened as she took herself in, and then she turned to look up at him.

“Do you ever get used to that, Spike?”

He’d not really thought about it, and realized, by that fact, that, no, he never had gotten used to it.

“C’mere.” She pulled him down to the floor, and crawled towards the mirror. “I want to see what I look like when—“

He took her from behind, and they knelt up. His hands on her shoulders, he watched Buffy stare at her pussy stretched around—nothing. Reached down and held her open with two fingers, the middle one rubbing her hard clit round and round. They saw it move. It twitched beneath his touch.

Buffy gasped. “God, that’s weird.”

She leaned against him, her hair cascading down his chest, cunt muscles flexing tight, and watched herself, transfixed, as he brought her off with his hands.

“I’m your invisible ravisher, an’t I?”

She nodded, but then turned away from the reflection and looked at him. “Except you’re not. Because I told everybody. How I feel about you.”



“We should get ready,” Buffy said. Still sprawled on the floor, she watched herself in the mirror speaking to the empty room, or at least to the cigarette that bobbed a few inches off the floor. Spike was lying beside her, one arm beneath her head. “Big night tonight. I’m going to find out just what sort of mutant Willow made me into.”

“Don’t talk rubbish.” He stayed where he was, enjoying the view as she stood over him. “You’re not frightened, are you, love?”

“Want me to take those bandages off?”

“Could do.”

She got the cuticle scissors and knelt beside him. He sat up.

“Like unwinding a mummy.”

“I’m all kinds of dead nasties,” he’d remarked, lipping his cigarette as he watched her work.

“God, you heal even faster than I do.”

The gashes and scratches were still visible, but all closed. She kissed the crook of his arm.

******

“Spike!”

Someone ought to point out to her, he thought, catching Dawn’s shoulders, that she was getting a little too old to just fling herself against a bloke in that wee girlie way.

Not that it wasn’t flattering, or that he wasn’t glad—always—to see the little bit, although he was surprised to find her here at the magic shop, this night of all nights. He looked past her to see Tara and Xander hovering near the research table. Xander glared at him, and he tried to move Dawn off, murmuring to her that Buffy was the one she ought to hug.

A voice, speaking at his back, startled him. One of those lush, low, male voices some women had, that made you wonder about who they were or used to be.

“Here they are, the interesting couple. The slayer and her vampire beau.”

Instinctively he reached for Buffy, turning and putting her behind him in one motion. Not best pleased with the whole idea of witches now.

What he saw was just as startling as the voice. A woman—a girl, he couldn’t help thinking, she barely seemed to be twenty-five—with a great mass of dreadlocks bound up in a clean white rag, a wide face of an oddly drained whiteness and covered all over with pale brown freckles. Eyes green, squinched with humor, or was that satire? Flirtatious. Enormous grinning mouth. Taller than him, and round, bosomy in a white teeshirt, with hands poised in the pockets of her raggedy jeans and red cowboy boots on her feet. Her fingers, when she did show them, were bedecked in rings.

And the accent, he realized, was pure Brixton.

So, not from central witch-casting.

“An’ both so pretty!” she said now. “This’ll be fun.” She stuck a hand out towards Buffy, who moved cautiously to accept it. “Edwina. I’ve heard all about you from Our Rupes.”

Someone else got away with calling him Rupes. Huh.

The witch’s attention shifted abruptly from Buffy, and he found himself caught in her scrutiny. That smile of hers was somehow scathing too, it made him feel all laid open. Now he saw that she wasn’t any twenty-five either—more like twice that, and there was something spooky about her youthful effervescence.

“Spoike.”

For a moment he almost thought she knew Drusilla and was mocking her, or channeling . . . but the illusion only lasted a second.

“Ah, you inspire strong passions, Mr Vampire, you do. Of all sorts.” She made a gesture, and then he saw, past her shoulder, Giles and Willow hovering near the door.

The mere sight of her orange hair and stony face seized him by the throat. Before he quite knew what he was about, he’d vamped and closed the space between them.

Willow let out a low yelp when he stood toe to toe with her, and started back.

“That’s right you Magical Cunt, you should cower. I may not be able to touch you but I’ve got ways to fuck you up good and proper, you ever even think of interfering with me or my woman again.”

There was nothing else he wanted to say; he saw his words take their effect on Willow’s face just as Buffy grabbed his arm and yanked him away.

“Spike, we are not going to do that.”

But he was gratified to see that she cast no glance at Willow at all. Willow was on the ice floe, pushed out to sea. Not even Xander moved to acknowledge her presence, and Giles stood by her more like a prison guard than anything else.

Then they were gathered around the research table, and Willow was seated on the steps to the loft, like a prisoner in the dock. He noticed that Tara took the chair that put her back to her ex, and when he caught her eye, she gave him a shy flicker of smile. Dawn slipped into the chair at his left, and Buffy was on his right. He wanted to curl her hand in his, but she’d gone stiff and absent again under Edwina’s bright scrutiny.

“Don’t look so sad, girlie, no one’s gonna hurt you,” Edwina said. “I unnerstand you’ve been hurt plenty already.” She came to Buffy’s side and looked down into her upturned face. “May I?”

She pressed her hand to Buffy’s forehead, like a mother taking a child’s temperature. Then she turned and fixed her laughing scalpel eyes on Willow. “You got quite a bit right here, amateur that you are. She’s warm to the touch as she ought to be—not always the case, when you bring ‘em back.” She gave Spike a sudden wink. “You find her nice an’ warm, don’t you? Not like yourself.” Then to Willow again, “No bits crumbling off. That’s good. Hard to achieve with such a desiccated corpse.” To Buffy she said, “Troubled by dry skin, are you? Flaky scalp? Hangnails? How’s your appetite? Your libido? Getting your period regular?”

Buffy grimaced at her. “What is this?”

“Oh, it’s all just a show.” Edwina laughed and made a dancey gesture with her hands. “Just trying to impress the punters.”

“We’re not here for a show,” Spike said. “Nor for a lot of witchy mockery. If you’ve anything useful to say, say it.”

Giles approached her then. “Edwina—“

She scowled then, and her nest of dreadlocks shook around her head. She looked again at Willow. “Jus’ tryin’ to impress my new star pupil here with the seriousness of what she’s gone an’ done, calling back a retired warrior of the people.”

She glanced around at them all. “I’ve heard all about this technologically challenged vamp, but I’d like to see a demonstration. A positive an’ a negative.” She came around to Spike’s back, laid her hands on his shoulders. He expected to feel something coursing through her touch, some evidence of power and mastery, but it was just a woman’s hands. A woman unafraid of him.

“Go on, vampire. I irritate you, I can tell. Show me.”

Suddenly Willow was on her feet. “No! If he’s got to hit anyone, let it be me. I . . . I deserve it.”

Spike rose. “She said demonstrate, not murder, so that leaves you out, you fucking bint.” He rounded on the witch, but his fist connected instead with Giles, standing just behind her, and sent them both reeling.

Giles recovered first; straightening his glasses and feeling tentatively of his chin. Spike took a little longer to pick himself up from his knees.

“Sorry, Rupes. Didn’t want to strike the lady.”

“No, of course . . . it’s . . . just what was necessary.”

“Well well,” Edwina said, her smile widening as she glanced among them. “Very good. An’ now let’s see the other.”

Buffy got slowly to her feet, and stepped away from the table. Checked that she wouldn’t, in falling, knock anything over.

“You’ve seen enough,” Spike said. “I don’t want to hit her.”

“And lose the chance to kiss it better afterwards?” Edwina said. “Oh no. Go on now. She’s waiting.”

Spike looked at Buffy. Her brow knit, lips parted. Absence in her eyes. What was she thinking? Her great fear, that she was a demon now, an unclean thing brought to life in an unclean way. For a moment, as he brought his arm back, he thought maybe he could fake it.

Except that he’d never fool her. Not after their night in the abandoned house.

And she wouldn’t want him to.

Oh, her eyes. They seared him, and he knew she wasn’t even seeing him. What, then, did she see? Where did she go, when she rolled back into herself like that?

He couldn’t bring himself to throw a punch.

Instead he took her in his arms. Smoothed the hair back from her ear and murmured his love into it. She shivered, but was otherwise still, and he believed she knew what he was going to do. He turned her a little so that Edwina, but not the Scoobies sitting around the table, could see. See him slide into game face, see his fangs slide smooth as hypodermics into Buffy’s neck. Right at the place where she wore Angel’s permanent kiss. She shuddered, made a tiny sound, and her hand curled around his arm.

No struggle, no recoil.

He knew in that moment that she’d stand here, without resistance, and let him drain her.

Even now.

The mere taste of her salt on his tongue awoke a wild hunger in him, and a terrible sorrow. Would she ever really want to live?

Then she whispered, “See? My lover, I trust you.” Her hand tightened on his arm. “Drink. I know you won’t take too much.”

He forced the demon down then; the fangs retracted until all that was left was his lips against her skin. She’d never moved. He kissed the tiny wounds. She raised her face then, and smiled at him.

“You know when to be gentle with me.”

Xander started up and slammed out of the room.

Edwina, sparkling, had her hands clasped over her heart. “That was beautiful. Just beautiful. And after you said we weren’t here for a show.”

Spike let Buffy go and stepped towards her. “Said I didn’t want to strike you. But don’t push your luck.”

“You are charming,” Edwina said. “The only charming vampire I’ve ever met. I didn’t think they came that way, but you’ve forced me to reassess. And do you

know . . . if it wasn’t for you, no one would have any idea there was anything different about this young lady.” She looked at Giles, and then at all of them. “You all should thank him.”

“Will you just stop?” Willow cried. “If you know what I did wrong, just say it!”

Edwina rounded on her. “If I know? If? Oh, I know, little girl! I know all about what you’ve done wrong, believe me! I know your tricks, an’ your manners too!”

Willow was in tears now. “I didn’t want to harm her! I was trying to do right by my friend! I thought she was in hell!”

Edwina ignored this, and faced Buffy. “Rupert tells me you’re afraid that you’ve come back as a demon.”

“I’m not a demon. I never was a—“

“Do you know what a Slayer is?”

“Not a demon.”

“Not entirely, no. Well, the First Slayer was.” Edwina raised an eyebrow when Buffy paled. “That’s right, you’ve met her. Rupert told me. The First Slayer was unique. Pure vengeance she was, without a drop of love in her. She slew, and she danced to the drums, and she fucked whom she wanted, and that was all. She lived for centuries. But hers was a force too powerful for her mission—anything she did, she didn’t do it for. An’ without a focus on the for—you have a monster. After her, the Powers That Be tempered the others by making them human. Human wrapped around the pure core of Slayer-demon that brings the strength, the purpose, the absence of hesitation. You know,” Edwina said, walking around Buffy, touching her lightly on the hair and cheek and shoulder, “that hesitation can be fatal.”

“I . . . I’ve hesitated.”

“That’s right, dearie, you have. A time or two. Not much.”

Spike saw Buffy dissolving under the witch’s words, her scrutiny. The fear rising up in her eyes to devour her.

“Here, you’re not saying Buffy’s not human anymore,” he said. “Won’t none of us believe that. It’s not so.”

“You can’t hurt a human. As you’ve so amply demonstrated to us.”

Spike blinked. “She . . . she’s Buffy. Not some unclean . . . undead . . . not like me.”

“No, not like you.” Edwina laughed out, and her green eyes went very wide. “Ah, it’s important to you that she not be that! You need her to be so much above you, you curious love-struck vampire.”

“Of course she’s far above me. She’s the Slayer. She’s Buffy.”

“That’s right, she’s the Slayer. I know there’s another yet living, and there’ll be more when that one dies. But Buffy’s the one, unique Slayer. Not immortal, but stronger than she was before. Not inhuman, but harder than she was before. You’ve come back, my dear, purer. Purer, sharper, more deadly. There’s been no other slayer like you since the first one. None have been what you were, or what you are now. Honed.”

Buffy stared at her. “Honed? Honed into . . . what?”

Edwina closed her eyes for a moment, then she shrugged. “Does it help you to know that the archangels, the powers and principalities—all them in the angelic order—are each a sort of demon too?”

Edwina raised a hand then, and her eyes went large and dark. “Look. Look at yourself.”

The magic shop went dark, and a tall mirror appeared, or not a mirror exactly, Spike thought, more a shimmering reflective plane, ephemeral and dimensionless, pretending to be a mirror. It hovered between Buffy and the straining witch, and in its reflection Buffy hovered too.

And she was made of light.

Spike wrenched his gaze from the apparition, but when he looked at Buffy, the real Buffy standing beside him, she was light too, it was her illuminating the mirror and casting a glow on all the staring faces surrounding her. She moved, stepping towards the reflection, and the light poured from her hair and skin in a rain of phosphorescence.

What was this trick? He reached for her, caught her shoulders, and they were substantial in his hands, but then he looked again at the luminous reflection, and it streamed off her, glowing and changing and enfolding everything that it touched. Enfolding him.

He saw himself in the mirror. The glow she cast off lit up the planes of his face, his yellow hair, the astonished eyes and open mouth. Her small hand reaching up to caress his cheek.

Then there was a flash, and a thump, and the mirror was gone, the darkness and the light gone too, and Giles was picking Edwina up, calling out for someone to bring a glass of water. Xander, who’d seen it all from the door to the back room, disappeared to fetch it, and then they were all gathered around her, watching anxiously for the witch to stir.

When she did, she laughed before she spoke. Glanced up at Buffy, her eyes restored to their strange but usual green, and nodded. “Don’t you get carried away on that. Just because the Powers That Be have gone and distilled you in answer to that call for the warrior of the people—doesn’t mean you don’t still put your jeans on one leg at a time. You’re still subject to hemorrhoids too, an’ stormy Mondays, just like the rest of us, if you’re not careful. Give us that, ta very much.” She drank off the water, pushed the glass back into Xander’s hand, and got to her feet.

“So . . . “ Buffy was touching herself now, frowning as she skimmed her hands over her cheeks and hair and arms. “ . . . was this my destiny all along? Was I never supposed to be in heaven at all?”

“I can show you things, explicate spells, but I’m no swami. I don’t have all the answers, girl.”

“Perhaps . . .” Giles said, “perhaps you were not meant merely to stay there.”

Spike glanced at Willow then, expecting to see her looking smug, because after all her selfish harebrained plot had been recast as Doing the Will of the Powers That Be.

But instead her eyes were bright with tears. She stared at Buffy, and held her wrist to her mouth as if trying to keep in a scream.

And Buffy herself had gone still, and inward again in that way that made Spike feel powerless and apprehensive, and she put her own hand to her mouth. “My soul—do I still have my soul?”

“Girlie, you’re all soul. Don’t you feel that?”

“I don’t know . . . And does this mean . . . does this mean I have to be here forever? Do this forever?” She rounded on Edwina. “I’m not—I don’t have to be immortal, do I? You said I wasn’t—“

Slowly, the witch shook her head. “No. Not yet, anyway.”

“Oh God, not yet . . . ?”

The others—Xander, Anya, Tara, Dawn, had gathered around her now, were watching her as her expression rippled and changed. Christ, Spike thought, this could go either way for her. None of them touched her.

She glanced past them and caught his eye. “Because . . . it would be . . . so terrible. To never die. To never be finished.”

“Didn’t say you were immortal. Just stronger, less vulnerable. Why so glum? You’re all good things now, dearie! Now listen . . . you all know what you saw, yeah? Answered your questions, I hope. Because by tomorrow morning, I don’t care if you stay up all night and chat about it, you won’t remember any of this. But you won’t be wondering any more either. Well, no more than why women button on the right, and gents on the left.”

“I never have wondered about that,” Xander said.

“Well, there ya go.”

Dawn was staring at her sister as if she was looking into the sun. “So—she’s an angel now? Does that mean she’s pure goodness?”

Pure goodness, Spike thought. Course she is, my queen.

“No,” Edwina said. “She’s not precisely an angel, angels don’t walk the earth in tank tops an’ lipgloss, shaggin’ vampires, and she’s not pure anything. Goodness? Don’t be simple. She’s righteous. But then, she always was that.”

“I . . . I don’t understand.”

“Sleep on it, kiddo, and you won’t have to.”

Buffy shook her head. “I . . . I want to forget this. You said we’d forget? Spike, take me somewhere, I want to get drunk!”

But before he could move to her, Xander had caught her in his arms, and then they all piled on her, embracing. She didn’t seem sorry to be enfolded by them, so Spike hung back.

Then they all let her go, and Willow was there facing her.

“Buffy, I’m sorry. Maybe . . . some day, I hope, years from now, when I’m less stupid . . . we’ll be friends again?”

“I . . . I’m not sure . . .” Buffy looked at the floor, and then at Willow, but they didn’t touch each other. Xander stood between them, hanging his head, but made no attempt to bring them closer.

Then Dawn was beside him, gazing up into his face. She pitched her voice low. “Spike . . . I saw you in the mirror just now. You saw yourself. What do you think that meant?”

“Only that it wasn’t a normal mirror, that’s all, precious.”

But this time when she threaded her arms around him, he didn’t put her off.



Then Edwina, with Giles and Willow, were gone, and the rest of them were left standing around the research table, not quite looking at each other, wondering how and how quickly the knowledge of this would fade from their minds, and what they should do in the meantime. Buffy came and leaned against him.

I had my fangs in her, and she’s a demon, and an angel, and she would’ve let me drink her and she’s been in heaven and she’s in love with me. Spike pulled her tight. Her heartbeat was making her whole body vibrate.

“Get me drunk, Spike?”

“Writing it down. Shouldn’t we be writing it down?” Xander said. “Before it’s gone?”

“No. No, let it be, like Edwina said.” Tara was eyeing the door the others had gone through a minute ago, and Spike thought she must be envying Willow, whose punishment was going to leave her so much wiser.

“Drunk,” Buffy said again. “Go to Bronze, drinkie drinkie.”

“When’s the last time you ate anything? No drink. Let’s feed you up.” He glanced up at the others. “Buffy’s hungry. Let’s go.”



He awoke at dawn with Buffy’s head on his chest, and the image of her all streaming light still in his head. He could see it all just as clearly as the evening before, remembered everything the witch had said, including that he wasn’t supposed to remember any of it.

He gave her a shake. “Buffy love. Listen—“

“Huhhh . . . What? Go to sleep.”

“No, listen—when you saw yourself in that mirror, all glowing—you could see me too. Didn’t that seem, well . . . odd?”

“No I couldn’t,” she murmured. “That’s why it was interesting to do it like that

. . . we can again later. Sleep now.”

“I don’t mean in here, pet. I mean, in the magic shop.”

“I’m so not fucking you in the magic shop.”

“No—damnit, wake up. I’m talking about when that witch put up the mirror, to show you being all luminous—“

“You’re having a dream, silly Spike.”

“Not dreaming pet. Talking about why I can hit you, and no one else.”

“It’s always been that way, why are you worrying about it now?” She opened her eyes at this and raised her head. “What’s the matter?”

“Where were we last night?”

“We were here . . . for a while . . . playing with the mirror. Then went to the magic shop, there was a Scoobie meeting. And then we went out for Chinese. Well, not Giles and his friend. And not Willow. The rest of us. And then we came back here.” She frowned. “Can’t you remember?”

“All that MSG makes my head swim. What happened with the Scoobies?”

“Oh, there was a lot of back and forth about what Willow did and Giles’ friend was going to bring her to London. I didn’t listen too closely.” She laid her cheek back against his shoulder. “I was mostly thinking about you.”

He was going to ask her why she had a fresh bite mark on her neck, but decided there was no point. Anyway, the holes, which he’d not so much as sipped through, were small and would be closed by now.

As for why he alone could remember what they’d been shown, there was no point asking about that either. But somehow he’d nicked the memory, as he nicked so many other things. He hoped he’d never forget it.

*****

Buffy was out almost all day, with Giles, with Dawn, and going back and forth to the university with her and Tara. Giles stopped in to say goodbye to him; he was flying back with Edwina and Willow that afternoon.

“You’ll let me hear from you,” he said to Spike. “I’m always there to be consulted.”

“Suppose the weather will change shortly,” Spike said, cocking his head towards the window as though that was the kind of weather he meant. “It always does.”

“Whatever it does, she’ll do well to have you at her back.”

“Yeah. Anything for a quiet life.”

They exchanged tight smiles.



At dusk he went to Willie’s. He drank a couple of pints and shot a round of pool, thought about looking in on his regular poker game and trying to win back some of what he’d lost last time. But all the while he knew what he really wanted was to go back to the house. He stuck it out for a couple of hours . . . out of, what? Pride? Habit? Sheer perversity?

When he got back to Revello Drive he stole up onto the porch and peered in the window. Three shiny heads peeked above the sofa back in the shifting blue light from the TV.

In the shifting orange glow of a good coal fire, three girls long ago dried their freshly-washed hair, drank warm milk and roasted chestnuts, snatching them hot from the embers and tossing them about. Jem, laughing, turned and lobbed one at him in the doorway, saying he shouldn’t look in on them in their nightgowns, and she would call Mamma to chase him away.

Then he turned and there at the end of the path, leaning against the white lamppost, was Drusilla in her red velvet dress. She smiled her wicked grin when he looked at her, and held out her arms. “Don’t go in there where I can’t follow . . . come to me, my naughty Spoike . . . your girl’s missed you. Did you think I’d forgotten about you? You’re still mine . . . .”

The demon in him rose up and roared; it wanted cold white breasts, cold wet quim beneath long red skirts, it wanted terror in the blood and icy nights beneath the full moon, moans and pleadings and cries it could stop with its hands and mouth. Drinking deep from broken flesh and sleeping long in a tangle of pale still limbs.

He blinked and no one stood in the puddle of yellow light at the end of Buffy’s walk. He heard a laugh track, and a burst of music.

They were all laughing when he stepped in; he didn’t know at what. Dawn’s head was on her sister’s shoulder, and her right hand in Tara’s, who was painting her nails. The coffee table was strewn with little bottles of lacquer, bits of cotton, cookie boxes and soda cans.

They sat up very late on the sofa in the blue light. Buffy curled against him on his left side, and Dawn cuddled between him and Tara. Like a wolf pack, him and these fierce, affectionate girls.



He made love to her, and only left her to sail out onto the rippled surface of sleep. Lying beside him, waiting to follow, Buffy thought how simple loving made you, and at the same time how observant of incredibly small meaningless things, and how idiotically happy. She thought with quiet avidity of how good it was going to be, tomorrow and every day after that, patrolling with Spike, having all-out gorgeous victorious fights with whole nestsful of slavering vamps, followed by all-out gorgeous victorious sex. There were so many things they hadn’t done together yet, and others that needed to be done again, again and again and a thousand times again. And she’d buy new clothes, and heaps of shoes and lipsticks and dangerous lingerie, and— A present! A present for Spike . . . what could that be? What would he like? There was nothing he’d lost in the fire that wasn’t already here in her house. The things he wore, jeans, boots, duster, were just him, she didn’t want to change them. He had a silver lighter, a silver flask. He had everything he needed, really. Traveled light.

He had her.

She’d taken so long to come to him. Never thought she’d come at all. Yet couldn’t imagine, resting her forehead against the smooth cool nape of his neck, being without him.

Going over the weeks since her resurrection, and the months and years before it, she recognized that things had happened just as they would. Everything she’d done, was only what she could have done at the time. Every little piece fit into the next, towards struggle, sorrow and death, and then away from it, until here she was, holding her old mortal enemy in her arms.

This might be, she suspected, what people meant when they talked about grace.

~END~

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