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Awakenings
 
Chapter 1
 
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Chapter 1


Rage.

It was a constant hot ball constricting her throat, impeding her ability to speak. She was silent these days, not daring to say much in case that rage burst free, burned to a crisp whoever was standing next to her.

There were two ways to go once they had resurrected her, brought her back without her consent, without making any attempt to find out where she actually was. Two ways.

The first way was the one she had been in when she had first crawled out of her grave: apathy, numbness, a desperate need to return to the Heaven from which they had dragged her. She had tried that, but the world they had returned her to was already thrusting in upon her: the fires, the noise, the demons she had had to kill, Dawn.

Dawn. She would have jumped off that tower and returned to where she had been if it hadn’t been for Dawn and Dawn’s need. The die had been cast when she responded to that, but what else could she have done? She had to save Dawn. After that, she tried to recapture that comforting numbness. But the world was already impinging upon her, seeping in despite all her efforts to keep it out. Dawn helping her to shower off demon-blood and grave-dirt, to dress, talking to her all the time, an unending murmur of sound that she couldn’t shut out. The changes in the house. Spike’s voice.

Spike.

Dawn had forced her to accept that she had to remain in this world, pick up that burden again, carry the load she had thought she had put down once and for all. Spike gave her back her sense of herself.

It was the way he had looked at her—as if she were a miracle, in awe and wonder and gratitude and disbelief.

Buffy! his eyes had said and her consciousness of self had come back to her under that look, that gaze that was making her go through the slow steps of self-awareness, first as a being and then as a person and then as a woman. She suddenly became aware that her shirt was still almost open over her thin camisole and began fumblingly to button it up.

“Her hands,” he said suddenly, seeing the way they were torn up, and she thrust them behind her back, embarrassed both by their condition and his worry about them, again emotions that she did not want to feel. Dawn said something about not knowing how they got like that. “Clawed her way out of a coffin, that’s how. Isn’t that right?” he asked her.

She agreed and he said something else, but she wasn’t listening. Neither of them were listening to what he was saying. He was gazing at her again, just looking, as if he had forgotten about himself, as if he could have just stood there, staring at her, for a thousand years, just taking in the fact that she existed. Something moved inside her, a little spark of feeling awakening, a tiny seed of light coming to life within the black numbness.

Then he snapped out of it, looked sheepish.

“Um...We’ll take care of you.” He put out a hand, but hesitated, not touching her as if he felt he did not have the right, as if he were afraid that if he did touch her she would suddenly disappear. He glanced at Dawn. “Get some stuff, uh, mercurochrome, bandages...”

Dawn went. Buffy sat down on the couch and he came to sit on the coffee-table, facing her. He was looking at her hands. His lips tightened faintly and now he took them in his. She felt his cool, strong grip very gentle upon her fingers. She woke a little more. He looked up at her face and their gazes met. His eyes were like his hands, patient, gentle and supportive.

Words came back to her. Curiosity came back. “How long was I gone?”

“Hundred forty-seven days yesterday. Uh...hundred forty-eight today.” Back in the deep, blank stillness of her mind now, something made note that he had counted the days. A fact to consider later. He smiled a little. “‘Cept today doesn't count, does it?”

It wasn’t a question that required an answer, so she couldn’t remember how to respond to it. He accepted that, looked at her hands again, then back at her face.

“How long was it for you...where you were?”

“Longer,” she said after a pause.

Time hadn’t mattered there. Things just were. It could have been minutes, could have been eons. No way to explain. But he nodded and she saw that he understood.

Dawn came back into the room with the first-aid things. And the front door opened and people barged in, all yelling and shouting. The Scoobies.

They had done it. They had brought her back.

Two ways to go. The second one was rage. She pushed it down, wanting to remain passive, wanting to be without emotion, not wanting this world that they had dragged her into to thrust its way upon her any more than it did right now.

Spike was gone. She didn’t know when that had happened. She was vaguely sorry. He was the only one who seemed to understand, who didn’t push and shove at her as these people were doing. She looked up at them looming over her—too close, too loud, somehow menacing in the way they crowded her, seemed to want something from her. She felt...as if she were back in that coffin again, claustrophobic, panicked.

“Back off,” Dawn kept saying, but they wouldn’t. Too excited, too hyped with triumph at having brought her back. Xander was saying something about pizza and she couldn’t remember what that even was, then realized from what Tara was saying that it was something to eat. She didn’t want anything to eat. She just wanted quiet, peace, the silence of the grave.

“I...just wanna go to sleep,” she managed to say to them.

They looked taken aback, but nodded.

“But, Buffy...be happy,” Willow said and Buffy looked at her numbly, wondering what she was talking about. Willow gave her a wide, expectant smile. “We got you out! We really did it!”

They wanted her to be grateful. She clenched her hands till her ripped and broken nails dug into the already torn flesh of her palms.

“Tired,” she said apologetically and made her escape.

She had disappointed them. She didn’t care. The anger in her was rising again and it took the last of her energy to force it down. Anger was a feeling. Feeling brought her in contact with this world.

She went slowly up the stairs, hesitated on the landing. They were still talking below. She wished they would all leave. Leave her alone in silence and in peace. Anya and Xander did finally leave, but Willow and Tara stayed. She remembered abruptly that they lived here now.

Voices outside, some altercation. Spike’s name. She drifted to the window that overlooked the front yard. He had grabbed Xander and now slammed him against the tree. She saw the tiny flinch that told her that his chip had gone off. But he didn’t seem to care about the pain.

“You didn't tell me! You brought her back and you didn't tell me!”

She heard the odd, choked sound in his voice. Tears. He had been weeping, but now anger was burning that away.

“Well, now you know,” shrugged Xander indifferently.

Spike hadn’t known. Like Dawn, he was innocent.

“I worked beside you all summer.”

She heard the betrayal in his voice. Poor Spike. They had screwed him over too. He had honestly thought that he was part of the team, but they had used him. He was just a tool to them, a thing. And wasn’t that what they’d done to her, bringing her back like this without her consent? They had treated her as if she were only a tool as well.

“Willow knew there was a chance that she'd come back wrong,” Spike was saying to Xander. “So wrong that you'd have...that she would have to get rid of what came back. And I wouldn't let her. If any part of that was Buffy, I wouldn't let her. And that's why she shut me out.”

He wouldn’t have brought her back, but he would keep her here. She didn’t know how she felt about that, whether she should be angry at him too for that.

“Look me in the eyes,” Xander was saying, “and tell me when you saw Buffy alive, that wasn't the happiest moment of your entire existence.”

She saw the sudden stillness that betrayed that Xander’s last shot had struck home. He turned his head a little and the light reflected on the wetness in his eyes. She realized that she was empathizing with him, with both his anger and his tears. She didn’t dare think like that, feel like that. She moved hurriedly away from the window, trying to shut out their voices.

They hadn’t let her stay dead. She’d made the big gesture, the ultimate gesture. Given up her life. Thrown herself on the proverbial hand grenade. Got Heaven as a reward.

But that wasn’t enough for them. Had to rip her out of Heaven. Had to bring her back, make her pick up the pieces, keep on killing, keep on fighting. Forever and ever, amen.

And the worst thing was that they wouldn’t have been able to do it unless someone up there hadn’t allowed them to do it. Maybe even agreed with them. Some high almighty deciding that it was not her time. Let's have a little more fun with her, right? You’d think that saving the world from five apocalypses would be enough to earn her a rest.

She was getting angry again. Had to stop that. Mustn’t feel. They would win if she ended up feeling again, ended up letting the world get to her again.

Block out the anger. Block out the pain. Feel nothing. That was the trick.

***

She was suffocating.

She came up out of sleep, fighting and struggling, gasping for breath, too terrified even to make a sound. Something was wrapped around her, smothering her. She flailed at it.

Her conscious mind said that she was in her own bed, that it was several days later, that she had dealt with that demon hitchhiker that had come back with her, that there was nothing to threaten her. Her unconscious mind refused to believe it.

Then the smothering constraints were gone.

“Come on,” said Spike.

He scooped up her struggling form. She didn’t know how he got her out of the window and down the tree to the ground. But all of a sudden she was sitting between his legs, lying back against him while he leaned back against the oak, and his hands were under her ribcage, pushing at it lightly.

“Breathe, pet.”

He was breathing behind her. He didn’t need to breathe, but he was breathing, giving her the pattern, his hands gently lifting her ribcage in time to his breaths. She found herself falling into his rhythm, the constriction easing.

“Oh, God.”

“Nothing over you but sky, pet. Nothing around you but space. Breathe.”

She did, the cold night air flowing into her lungs. Even better was the sensation of space around her, nothing encumbering or constraining her. His hands were on her upper arms now, just lightly rubbing up and down, a soothing movement.

“I thought I was...”

“Back in the coffin. Yeah. Think you need a nightlight, pet. Just for a couple of weeks. It would show you where you are.”

She leaned back against him limply, her head in the curve of his shoulder. “You know. You’ve been there.”

“Yeah, luv. Clawed my way out, just like you. Panic attacks are nothing new. They’ll go away. It’ll all heal, just like your hands.” He lifted one of her hands, where her Slayer healing had already mended the broken nails and torn flesh.

She was breathing easier, the desperate, struggling gasps for air quieting to his steady rhythm.

“Clawed. You? I thought...didn’t Dru have you? Or did your family find you when you died? Coffin, headstone, the whole works?”

He laughed a little, wryly. “Nah. They didn’t even know I was dead. You have to understand the way Dru’s mind works. No logic. She’s a traditionalist. All she needed to do was throw some earth over me. I’d have risen easy. But she went the coffin and grave route. Tradition to have a vamp have to dig himself out. At least she stayed. Most sires don’t bother. If you can’t claw your way out of a grave all by yourself, you don’t deserve to be a vamp. I woke up to dark and horror, just like you. Panic makes you fight your way out. That and the Hunger. At least, she had a victim enthralled and waiting for me topside. Needed the blood.”

A transition even more frightening than hers, when she thought about it. Realizing what one was now. One’s first act in the new existence being to take a life.

“At least she was there for me. Mad, but not stupid, Dru. Unlike your friends.”

“They didn’t...mean to.”

He said nothing, just stroked her hair. But his silence was an accusation. They had abandoned her, out of ignorance, out of stupidity. Not thinking things through. Even now, not wanting to go the whole way, not wanting to deal with the fact that she might have problems adjusting. Wanting her to be perfectly all right just like that.

When Angel had come back feral, it hadn’t fazed her. She had dealt with it, bringing him back to himself gradually, knowing that it took time. Why couldn’t they understand that?

Spike did.

“Think you can go back into the house?” he asked. “Must be cold like that.”

She realized that all she was wearing was the oversized T-shirt and panties that she had gone to bed in. She flushed.

“Nice legs, pet. But getting kinda goosepimply.”

She saw that he wanted her to laugh. She smiled weakly. She wasn’t used to this gentle Spike. This must have been the way he was with Dru.

“Wait here,” he said and flowed back up the tree with that smooth vampire speed and disappeared into her window.

She put one hand on the trunk of the oak and leaned there, found herself looking down at a little pile of cigarette butts on the other side of the tree. So that was how he knew about her bout of claustrophobia. Stalking her again, just like last year. Except this time, it was watching out for her. She thought about that. Maybe, last year, it had been the same.

The front door opened for her. Once in the house, she couldn’t make herself go up the stairs. Back to that bed that only promised nightmares, back to that dark room that was beginning to feel like a tomb.

“I can’t,” she said. “I can’t.”

“Don’t have to,” he said easily and switched on a lamp in the livingroom. “Stay down here for a while. Watch a little TV.”

“It would wake the house.” She didn’t want anybody else down here, fussing at her. Spike’s presence was undemanding, but the others would worry at her, their eyes reproaching her for not being fine, not being perfect.

“Slayer hearing.” He turned the TV to the tiniest whisper. Some old black and white movie was on and the gabble of sound was soothing, just so prosaic and normal. “Just curl up on the couch and relax, pet. And if you fall asleep, that’s all to the good. I’ll get you a nightlight tomorrow. See if that helps.”

“Stay,” she said abruptly as he turned towards the door.

He looked at her in surprise, then nodded. “Okay.”

She didn’t want to be alone with the nightmare still reverberating through her head. His presence beside her on the couch was comforting. They watched TV for a while in silence. She found her eyes closing. Then she roused to find that her shoulder was on his lap and her head in the curve of his arm. Vaguely she realized that the position must be uncomfortable for him and tried to move.

“Sshh,” he said. “Go back to sleep, pet.”

“You’ll be stiff in the morning,” she mumbled and heard him laugh softly.

“My usual state around you.”

“Pig.” But even that was comforting and normal—sexual remarks from Spike. She slid back into sleep.

Spike was happy. This was a gift. Buffy trusting him like this, curled up on the couch, fast asleep across his lap. Had never happened before; would never happen again. He cherished the moment, held the fragile perfection of it delicately in his hands, the way he held her. He knew how to treasure moments, had no intention of asking for more.

He had intended to rouse her at daybreak, get her back up into her room so that no one would know that she had had a crisis during the night. She wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to know. But he fell asleep too and the next thing he knew Willow was standing there, glaring at him, and bright daylight was falling through the curtains.

“What are you doing?” Willow snapped.

He flung up a hand to silence her. But he had forgotten to lock the front door last night and now it was opening and Xander was coming in. As his brain staggered out of sleep, Spike remembered that the Scoobies were now making a habit of having breakfast here before Xander drove Dawn to school. Checking up on Buffy, who he knew hated it, wanting quiet not company in the mornings these days.

“What the hell is this?” Xander yelled. “You had to start up your little obsession again now that she's around again, didn’t you! Taking advantage of...”

“Shut up!” hissed Spike.

But it was too late. The noise had already woken Buffy. She sat up slowly, rubbing at her eyes.

“Just when she was finally getting some sleep,” he groaned. “Go up and catch some more zees, pet. You’re short on ‘em.”

“Yes, I will,” she sighed. She blinked at Xander and Willow, at Tara coming down the stairs, her eyes wide in bewilderment. “Is it that late? Sorry, guys. I really do need some more sleep. Had a bad night.”

“With him around, yeah!” Xander yelled.

Buffy frowned at him as she got to her feet. “Spike helped. I don’t want any of you giving him a hard time about this. He’s the only one of you who’s been there. He knows.”

“Knows what?” snarled Xander. “Knows how to get into your...?”

Then he quailed at the surge of rage that flared in Buffy’s eyes. She was shaking with it. All three Scoobies stepped back instinctively.

Then the anger was shoved back. But the force of it remained.

“Leave him alone,” Buffy said coldly and went up the stairs to her room, Tara flinching back to allow her to pass.

“Oh, you fools!” said Spike. “You bloody, bloody fools!”

They all stared at him.

“Couldn’t do it right, could you? Had to let her wake up in that coffin. What were you thinking of when you did that spell? That she was suddenly going to appear in front of you, poof, just like that?” He looked around at their embarrassed faces. “You did, didn’t you? Sodding morons!”

He headed for the foot of the stairs where Dawn, having heard his voice, was sensibly bringing him down a blanket, still in her jammies.

“Didn’t have the common sense to dig her coffin up and open it. She had to wake up in it, freaking out. Had to claw her way through solid wood and then six feet of earth. ‘Course she’s having nightmares! Wakes up every night bloody suffocating.”

There were tears in Willow’s eyes. “We didn’t...”

“You didn’t think, yeah! Stop pushing her, all of you. Give her...” He flung up his arms in exasperation. “Just give her some space, can’t you?”

He grabbed the blanket from Dawn, flung it around him and stormed out of the house.

She had been in Heaven!

Even days after hearing that, the shock of that hadn’t worn off for Spike. Not that she had been in Heaven. She was the Slayer. She had saved the world how many times? Of course that was where she would go when she died. He’d known that, which was why he had accepted her death, however agonizing it was for him. He could have brought her back if he wanted: he was a demon, he had contacts, he could have found someone to do that for him. But he had known that it was wrong, not what she would have wanted. She would never have forgiven him for it.

But then Willow had done it! Buffy had been in Heaven and Willow had pulled her out of it! Willow with her bloody arrogance about her powers, that had been growing more and more presumptuous and despotic all through the summer, to the point where she was even challenging Giles about it now. Thought she knew it all. Thought she was queen bee.

Hadn’t even thought to check where Buffy actually was. Would have taken such a small expenditure of power to do that compared to the massive amount required for a resurrection. Hell dimension? Why the fuck had they thought she would be there? Because of Angel? But Angel had deserved it.

And now Buffy might have to pay the price for it. There was always a price for magics and the greater the magic, the greater the price. Willow thought she had managed to cheat, that she had fixed it so that they wouldn’t have to pay a price. He had managed to find out how she had set up that spell. A fawn? A fawn’s death didn’t pay for that spell. And, worse, she had killed a creature that had come to her call, trusting her. The repercussions of that in wizardry were horrendous, the bad karma immeasurable. The psychic who had read that for him had been horrified.

A death was owed. The balance of things required it. He could feel payback coming in his very bones, like standing on metal rails and feeling the reverberations of an approaching train. He just had to make sure that he deflected it away from Buffy. When it came, let it strike Willow, whose debt it really was. He only hoped that the fallout would not affect some innocent around her.

He liked Willow; he truly did, when she was Willow and not SuperWitch. And Buffy being alive was a good thing. However she felt about it, as far as he was concerned, it was a good thing. But there was no way of escaping the fact that something was owed.

Buffy was already paying a price. Wanting to get back to Heaven, wanting to be back where she had been warm and loved and finished. She had her walls up and he knew how strong those walls could be, had them raised against him the whole time he had known her. But this time it was against all the world. And that was not healthy. Dawn had kept her from committing suicide that first night and that attempt would not happen again. Buffy had accepted the fact that she had to stay in the world. But shutting out all the world’s affects on her was a kind of death in itself.

He decided to take Dawn into his confidence. Dawn could help and the two of them had become close over the summer when he had taken care of her, had become co-conspirators against the Scoobies and their demands.

“Gotta keep them off her, Bit,” he said. “Gotta run interference.”

Dawn nodded. “They keep pushing her.”

“She’s not ready to be pushed. Too much coming at her right now. They keep doing that, she’ll just close off even more.”

“Even with me.” Dawn’s teary eyes told him how much that hurt her, that she felt Buffy didn’t love her anymore.

“She loves you, Niblet,” he said. “She wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t that she cared about you. She’d have jumped that very first night.”

There was a pause while Dawn thought about that. Then she smiled faintly. He stroked her smooth hair.

“Every sensation’s too strong for her right now. Too loud, too noisy, too bright. We’ve got to keep things calm around her for a while, until she’s strong enough to bear it.”

“But wouldn’t a hell dimension be loud and noisy and full of fire and...” Dawn’s eyes widened suddenly and she stopped short. “You don’t mean...you don’t mean...”

He didn’t answer, didn’t even look at her in case his eyes gave away Buffy’s secret. Dawn was smart. No one could say different. She picked up on even the tiniest clues.

“Just mean that we’ve got to make things pleasant for her for a while.”

“How could they...how could...?”

“Dawn. Don’t guess. Don’t make assumptions. Let’s just work with what we know right now and what we know is that she’s got to be coaxed back into the world.”

Dawn drew a deep breath. “Okay.”

“Gotta be the Big Sis now, yeah? Just for a while.”

“You’ll help.”

“Yeah.”

Had to change his dynamic with Buffy. He was used to treating her as his long-time sparring partner, always capable of taking care of herself. He had liked that she could match him blow for blow, admired her for being better than him in battle. There were very few that were better than him. What he had hoped for when he had fallen in love with her was for them to meet as equals, have a relationship that was open and honest and meaningful. That hope was gone now. He had relinquished it when she had found out how he felt about her and locked him out of her house.

All he wanted to do now was help. And now he could. Right now, Buffy needed someone to take care of her. He had known exactly how to take care of Dru. He had learned how to deal with that mess in Dru’s head, and he knew how to coax and comfort her and be there for her when she was lost or overwhelmed by it.

Now Buffy was lost in her own head. Had to coax her out. She needed stimulus, but the right kind of stimulus. Not the stress and the problems the Scoobies kept throwing at her.

He could feel the rage in her, the rage she was repressing so fiercely. It pleased him. That rage would work in his favor. She wasn’t completely numbed then, not while that rage worked in her like yeast. Whenever it broke out, even in the least little bit, the world came in. Encourage her to hit out at things. Let her hit out at him. He could take it.

“Hold out your hands.”

Buffy looked up at him in surprise from where she was sitting on the back steps. “Now what?”

He came lightly up the steps and dropped something into her hands, then sat down beside her.

“A waterlily? Where did you get that?”

“Place north of town has a pond full of them.”

“You stole it.”

He grinned. “They won’t miss one. Look at it.”

“Pretty.”

“No. Really look at it, pet.”

Surprised, she did. And suddenly saw what he meant—the crisp, precise shape of the petals, the sweet scent of it, the delicacy of the shading from hints of pink at the tips to glowing white and then to the golden heart.

“It’s lovely.”

“Yeah.”

“I know what you’re trying to do, Spike.”

It had been a campaign over the last couple of weeks. Bringing things that would engage her senses—a pair of mother-of-pearl earrings, a half bottle of sweet Hungarian dessert wine, an Abyssinian kitten that he had won at poker and which was now wreaking havoc throughout the house. He’d even got Dawn doing it, insisting on making her take fragrant bubble baths, insisting on being shown how to cook. The two of them, forcing sensory experiences on her. A couple of nights ago, Spike had brought her a box of Teuscher’s champagne truffles that must have cost him nearly a hundred dollars, but had been deliciously decadent on the tongue.

“So does knowing make that lily harsh and ugly?” He was laughing at her. “Know it’s not Heaven, but it’s not such a bad old world, is it?”

“Spike...”

“So everything’s hard and bright and violent,” said Spike quietly. “Does that mean you have to be hard and cold and violent?”

She flushed. He kept turning up on her patrols, helping her take out vamps and demons. She at once resented and was glad of his presence. She wanted to be alone and yet she was glad of his undemanding company, of his laughter and jokes that she couldn’t respond to, yet which somehow eased the tight bonds around her heart. She should have known that he would see the cold rage with which she dispatched demons these days. Spike always saw what you didn’t want him to see. She resented those demons, hated them. They were the reason she had been brought back, to kill them, and she hated them for existing. She should have hated him too, for being a demon. But even she knew that was unjust and couldn’t bring herself to do it.

It was a couple of weeks now since they had made their confessions to each other. She could still hear Spike’s low voice saying painfully, “Every night I save you.” He was the only one she could have told about having been in Heaven. With anyone else, the rage would have broken out. But Spike and Dawn were innocent of complicity in her resurrection.

“There’s so much anger in me,” she whispered. “It’s scary. Don’t dare let it out on anything else. Don’t dare let it be anything but cold and controlled.”

“Why not?” he asked, with a sideways glance that said he thought she should.

“They don’t deserve it.”

He knew who she was talking about. She saw a diagonal muscle in his cheek jump as his jaw clenched. He was gritting his teeth to keep from saying what he really wanted to say, that he thought the Scoobies did deserve it.

“They don’t, Spike. They were just trying to help.”

“Went about it bloody stupidly, didn’t they? You know what they say about good intentions.”

“Know what drives me crazy?” she muttered. “They all want me to just pull myself together. Like it’s so easy. Act grateful, get over it, be happy.”

“Sods.”

“You know what they really want? The Bot. The sunny one who lives to please. All happy and perky, never stops smiling. Take her out of the closet when she’s needed, shove her back in when she becomes inconvenient. Ironic really that she was the one to get ripped apart.”

“Good riddance,” he muttered.

“Your toy, wasn’t she?” she mocked. “Robogirls are easy.”

She saw the flash of intense pain that went across his face. She caught her breath. She hadn’t meant to hurt him. The jibe had just come out.

“Yeah, well,” he said vaguely and got to his feet. “Better get going.”

“Spike, I...”

“See you later, pet, yeah?” He smiled stiffly at her and went, black leather fading into the darkness in an instant.

Why did she keep doing that? Hitting out at him. He was innocent, just as Dawn was innocent. Trouble was that he was there. He offered himself to be hit. Because he knew she needed to hit something, needed an outlet for that rage. Sometimes she felt as if she were going to implode just from the tightness with which she was holding back the rage lest it explode and take half the town with it. Most times, Spike managed to turn her anger onto a handy demonic target, or deflect it with a joke or a laugh or a mocking comment. But sometimes it came out without warning, as it had tonight, and he was always the one to get burned. It was not fair. She kept sparing the ones who deserved to get hurt and hurting the one who didn’t. She was ashamed of herself.

Dawn was building a sandwich in the kitchen when Buffy let herself back in.

“Want a bite?” she asked.

“Uh, no, thanks,” said Buffy. The one bite she had once had of one of Dawn’s weird concoctions had been quite enough.

“Pretty,” said Dawn, seeing the waterlily. “Did Spike bring you that?”

“Yeah.” She found a container to hold it. “Spike’s awfully sensitive about that Bot, isn’t he?”

Dawn shot her an astute look. She knew that oblique comment meant that Buffy wanted to discuss it. Willow and Tara were out somewhere, so the sisters could relax and talk. Being around Tara was fine, because Tara never demanded anything of anyone. But Willow was starting to grate a little on both their nerves.

“He’s sensitive about it, yeah,” she said. “We had to use it to be able to fool people that you were still around. But it kept saying things...Well, you know its original programming.”

Buffy flushed. “Yes.”

“It kept saying things to Spike. About how hot he was and stuff. And he couldn’t stand that. Being reminded, y’know. Willow tried to reprogram it to stop acting like that, but nothing she did worked.” Dawn shook her head ruefully. “Even if she had managed to fix it, it wouldn’t have helped. Just looking at the Bot...hurt him.”

“What happened this summer?” She hadn’t asked anyone that so far. Had ducked it. Didn’t want to know.

Dawn sighed. “Nothing. A lot.”

What Buffy couldn’t understand was why Spike was still here. There had been nothing to hold him in Sunnydale. She had been dead. There was nothing in it for him. He should have left, could have gone anywhere in the world, could have gone back to Dru. Dru would have got him kills, got him the human blood which, as a vampire, he would always crave, but which the chip stopped him from getting for himself. Instead, he had stayed, fought beside the Scoobies, taken care of Dawn. It didn’t make sense.

“Why did he stay?” she muttered almost to herself and Dawn gave her an exasperated look.

“Well, duh. He loves you. You know that.”

“But I was dead and he didn’t know that Willow would resurrect me.”

“Buffy, what do you think real love is? His kind of love is unconditional. A conditional kind of love would have taken off once there was nothing in it for him. But Spike? He gave you his word that he’d take care of me. ‘Till the end of the world.’ And he kept his promise.”

“He told you about that.”

“Yeah. I asked. Good thing you made him promise,” Dawn muttered. “There was a time in the beginning there, I thought he’d go and dust himself.”

Buffy stared at her.

“Yeah, maybe I had better tell you about this summer,” Dawn said.

She went and got a carton of triple chocolate fudge ice cream out of the fridge and took it over to the kitchen table. She lifted her brows at Buffy. Buffy shrugged, then sat down opposite her and accepted the spoon Dawn held out. They both dug in.

“You jumped. That closed the portal. And then...and then your body was lying there on the ground. We all...we couldn’t move. Anya was hurt and Xander was carrying her. Giles was just standing there. I don’t think he believed it was happening. Willow and Tara and me, we were all crying. Spike cried. Didn’t care who was looking. Went straight down to the ground and cried.”

She looked down, then drew a deep, shuddering breath.

“I couldn’t have made it through the funeral without him. He was there for me. We kind of ... leaned on each other. After the funeral, he went and got wasted, of course.”

“Of course,” said Buffy in wry amusement.

“Stayed drunk for a week. I had to go to his crypt a couple of times and force him to drink blood. He was so out of it, y’know, he’d forget to eat. But then he remembered his promise and got himself together. Think that promise gave him something to hold on to. Kept on getting drunk every now and then the rest of the summer, but not like that first week. Always came back the next day.”

“The two of you seem to have gotten pretty close.”

“If it wasn’t for him...” Dawn shook her head. “Willow and Tara had moved in to take care of me by that time. But you know how it is. They’ve got things to do. Can’t be looking after me twenty-four hours a day. Spike? He was always there. Like a big brother. Babysitting me, helping me with my homework, helping me through...”

She looked at Buffy gravely.

“It was different for us than for the others, you see. They didn’t have the guilt we had.”

“Dawn...”

“I should have been the one to jump, Buffy.”

“Dawn, no!”

“That’s the way I felt. And Spike? He kept saying that if he had been faster, more clever, more anything, you wouldn’t have had to jump. Dreamed about it every night.”

Every night I save you.

“Both of us, we were really down lots of times. I mean, really. Luckily, it never happened at the same time. We’d pull each other out of it.” Dawn swallowed an extra-big spoonful of ice cream to ease the lump in her throat. “Yeah, we got pretty close.”

“I’ve seen him with you,” Buffy said gently. “He really cares for you.”

“He cared for Mom too. Something special, Spike is.” She gave Buffy a straight look. “He loves you.”

There was a long silence.

“Vamps can’t...”

“If you say that, Buffy, I’ll hit you! Maybe Angel can’t love without a soul, but Spike can! He loved Dru for a hundred and twenty years, didn’t he?”

There was another long silence. They both spooned up ice cream, avoiding each other’s eyes.

“What about Angel?” Buffy said suddenly. “Did he help with the Hellmouth?”

“No way! He came for the funeral. Spent it mostly glaring at Spike. Couldn’t understand why he was there, I suppose. Kind of zone Spike was in, he never noticed. Then I heard Angel had gone into a monastery for a while. To get over the trauma of your death.” Dawn’s voice dripped scorn. “We could have used his help. Just us and no Slayer. Having the Bot made a diff, but still, we were pretty desperate.”

Buffy digested this.

“If it hadn’t been for Spike...” Dawn shook her head. “We needed his strength and his speed and his knowledge of demons then. Don’t need him now that you’re back and, y’know? The others? All the time you were gone, they relied on him for so many things. With me, with patrolling, even with research. But now you’re back and they’re already starting to forget how much of a help he was. I wonder if they ever admitted it to themselves. They think of him just as extra muscle. And he was so much more than that. But now he’s back to being just a thing to them again.”

She glared at Buffy.

“Don’t you do that, Buffy!”

“I don’t think either of you will let me,” Buffy muttered.



TBC
 
Chapter 2
 
Chapter 2


“I can’t do this!”

“Hey!” Spike, coming in the front door, ducked a blindly flung cushion just before it hit him in the face. “That’s some hello. What the hell is going on, pet?”

“I don’t want to be here! Why couldn’t they have left me alone!”

“Whoa! Stop!” He caught her fist just before she punched it into the wall. “Gonna hurt your hand if you do that. And put a very expensive dent in the wall.”

He grinned. Buffy didn’t.

“Expensive! It all is!”

He caught her shoulders. “Okay. Calm down. Buffy, stop!” he yelled as she flailed furiously out at nothing. He thumped her hard against the wall, then held her there with his full weight on his straight arms, pinning her to the wall by her shoulders. “Get a grip, Slayer!”

“Can’t...breathe...” Her hands tore at her throat.

“Full scale panic attack, huh?” He scooped her up, set her on the couch and sat beside her, one hand on her back, the other on her ribcage, gently pushing. “Focus, pet. Focus just on breathing right now, okay?”

She gave him a wild look, then did.

“Slow, deep breaths. That’s right. Just like that. Better?”

“Yuh...” Her ribcage was starting to unfreeze and move properly. She sat limply, breathing through her open mouth.

“Dumped something else on you, did they?”

“Not their fault,” she wheezed. “Full copper re-pipe.”

“What?”

“Basement’s...flooded. We need a full copper re-pipe...all the plumbing...” She waved a hand at a piece of paper on the coffee table.

He picked it up and raised his brows at the estimate on the bottom. “Nasty.”

“I can’t do this, Spike!”

“Won’t have to, pet. This one’s gonna be easy.”

“Easy!” Her breath started to seize up again. “We don’t have that kind of money!”

“Ssh, ssh. Breathe.” He rubbed her back. “We’ll get to that, yeah? Where are the clowns?”

“D-Dawn and Tara went out to get a pizza. They’ll be back soon.” Her breathing steadied with the neutral subject. “Giles wanted to see exactly what Willow did with that spell. They’re going over her notes, p-probably at the Magic Shop. Xander took his friend, Tito, out for a beer because he did us a favor, fixing the leak in the basement. Don’t know where Anya is.”

“Least they’re out of your hair for a while,” he muttered.

“Held myself together while they were here. It hit me once I was alone. D-don’t have the money, Spike. Mom’s life insurance was eaten away by her medical bills. I can’t even get a loan. I tried today. They won’t give me one. No assets. House isn’t worth anything. It’s old and the market’s on a low. No equity. No job. Gotta get a job. Something. There has to be something available, even if it’s just flipping burgers.” She nodded firmly. “Quit college and get a job.”

He frowned. “You already got a job, Slayer.”

“And that really pays. Giles said he’d talk to the Council about getting me a salary or something, but from the look on his face I don’t think he’s very hopeful.”

“Slow down, pet. You’re getting ahead of yourself. Don’t need to go killing yourself flipping burgers for minimum wage, on top of school and Slaying.”

“It would put food on the table, pay the mortgage...”

“There’s no mortgage, pet.”

“Of course there is.” She put her head in her hands. “And the utilities. And the...”

“What have the clowns been doing while you were gone? Paying all that out of their pockets?”

“No, of course not. Mom set up something. They send all the bills to some lawyer and he looks after it. But Anya kept a list.” She waved a hand at a neatly clipped together sheaf of paper lying on the coffee table. “Running total at the bottom. Running, huh! Racing total.”

He flipped through the sheaf thoughtfully. “Who’s the lawyer?”

“Something Ambruster.”

“Claude Ambruster? Wolfram and Hart? No sweat then. Send Ambruster the cost for the re-pipe and let him pay it.”

“Spike, for Heaven’s sake! At some point, the chickens will all come home to roost! That will all have to be paid for and there’s no money to pay it!”

“It’s already paid for, pet.”

“How can...?” She stopped abruptly as something clicked. “What did you do?”

“Promised you I’d take care of Dawn. Couldn’t have the place repossessed and Social Services coming down to take her and put her in some foster home. There’s no mortgage anymore, Slayer. And the bills will be paid for. And there’s enough for both you and Dawn to go to college. If you want a job for pin money, you can get one if you like. But you don’t need to. Ambruster will okay an allowance for the both of you.”

“H-how...?”

“Remember where I found the Gem of Amara? Was a lot of treasure lying about there. Jewelry, crosses, reliquaries. I went back to take a look and it was still there. No one had touched it. Got Wolfram and Hart to auction it off. Even after they’d taken their cut, there’s enough left to keep the two of you going until you’re done with college and can get a proper job.”

“Spike...”

He grinned at her. “I don’t miss a trick, Slayer. Law regarding ‘treasure trove’ states that it belongs to the finder. I checked, just in case. You don’t have to have any qualms about it.”

“But you found it. It’s yours.”

“And if I want to set up a trust for the two of you, I can. Besides, I can always draw on it if I want to. Set it up that way in case of emergencies.”

“Spike...” She leaned her forehead against his shoulder, her breath shuddering in her throat.

He patted her back gently. “Don’t stop breathing again, for pity’s sake, Slayer.”

“No.” She sighed deeply. “This is such a relief. There’s no way I can thank you.”

“Don’t have to. It was there and you and Dawn could use it. No big.”

The front door opened and Dawn and Tara came in, then stopped, staring at Buffy leaning against Spike.

“What’s happened?” asked Dawn nervously.

Buffy explained. Dawn flung herself at Spike and hugged him madly.

“Aw, geez, Niblet! Quit that!” he exclaimed, trying to disentangle himself. “You’re ruining my rep!”

“Yeah, Big Bad.” She released him, laughing, and danced away.

“What are you looking at?” he growled at Tara who was smiling at him.

“Your aura.”

He squinted at her uneasily. “What’s it doing?”

“Kind of wrapping itself protectively around the two of them.” She jerked her chin towards Buffy and Dawn busy opening the pizza box. “It did that before with Dawn. Now it’s expanded.”

“Oh, well...” He looked away with relief at the red-brown fluffball less than the size of his hand that came bouncing into the room. “You’ve still got that thing, have you?”

“His name is Lion,” said Dawn reproachfully. “You weren’t really going to eat him, were you, Spike?”

“Demons do. What kind of a name is that for a kitten? Oh,” he finished as the minute creature flung itself at one of his Docs, snarling.

Buffy laughed. “He thinks he is.”

Spike scooped up the Abyssinian worrying his boot and held it up at chest-level. The Aby glared up at him, growling. Spike growled back and let his eyes go yellow. The Aby’s leaf-green eyes widened. It promptly and unexpectedly fell in love. It hooked itself to the front of Spike’s tee, purring like an outboard engine.

“It’s like a burr,” complained Spike, trying to detach it while the girls fell about laughing.

“You shouldn’t have growled at it,” Dawn giggled. “Hero worship. Clearly, you made an impact.”

“Impact!” exclaimed Buffy suddenly. “That’s what was bothering me! Spike, you thumped me against the wall!”

“Yeah, but...” He stopped, his eyes widening.

“Your chip didn’t go off!”

“I didn’t shove you that hard,” he said, frowning.

“Still. Hit me again. Just enough to set off the chip.”

“Yeah, okay.” He managed to detach the kitten and handed it off to Dawn.

Dawn and Tara were looking worried. Buffy was frowning. Spike couldn’t help looking hopeful. He reached out and flicked a hand at Buffy’s shoulder. Nothing happened.

“Harder,” said Buffy.

He hit her a little harder, unthinkingly raising a hand to his head in anticipation of the pain. Again nothing happened. He compressed his lips, then socked Buffy’s shoulder hard enough to rock her back on her heels. The chip didn’t fire.

“Did you do something to the chip?” Buffy demanded.

“No. Really.” Spike looked somewhere between elation and distress. He knew the problems that could arise if the chip had ceased to function, but he couldn’t help feeling as if chains were coming off.

“Hit me!” Dawn said suddenly.

“What? Oh. No,” he said, thinking it over. “You were the Key. An energy being. Chip might not work on you anyway.”

“Hit me,” said Tara. “It fired when you hit me that time with my family. So it should fire again.”

“That’s true.” He hesitated, not wanting to be disappointed. But they all needed to know. He flicked the back of his hand lightly at Tara’s shoulder. The chip fired. “Ow! Damn!”

“It’s me,” Buffy whispered. “There’s something wrong with me!”

“There’s nothing wrong with you!” snapped Spike. “It’s some side-effect of that damn spell!”

“The chip only fires if you hit humans. It doesn’t fire when you hit demons. I-I’m not human anymore!”

“No!” all three of them yelled.

“Tara!” Buffy whirled on her. “Tara, what could it be?”

“I don’t know! I don’t know!” stammered Tara, horrified. “I-I’ll check. I-I’ll go over every step of that spell. I will. I’ll find out.”

“It’s something small, pet,” said Spike desperately.“ It’s something unimportant. You’re as human as you need to be.”

“Like me,” said Dawn. “I’m a freaking green ball of energy, remember?”

Buffy stared at her. “Spike.”

“Ah, no!” groaned Spike. If the chip responded to Dawn, it would make Buffy feel worse.

“I need to know.”

Spike sighed and flicked Dawn’s shoulder. The chip fired. “Shit!”

“At least the monks did things right,” Buffy said bitterly. “Dawn’s human.”

“It’s not as black and white as that!” said Spike angrily. “Get a grip, Slayer. Let’s find out exactly what it is first before you go ballistic.”

Buffy drew a deep breath. “Okay. Tara, you will look into it?”

“Of course! Of course, I will!”

“I need...” Buffy looked around at them all. “I need to be alone for a while. I’ll just be up in my room, okay?”

Dawn looked as if she were going to protest, then said nothing when Spike closed his fingers upon her wrist, the movement hidden by the slant of his body.

“You do that, pet. Have a bit of a sleep, yeah? Been a kind of rough day for you today.”

She nodded. She needed to shut it all out for a while.

“She shouldn’t be alone!” Dawn protested fiercely when Buffy had gone upstairs.

“Too many shocks,” said Spike. “She has to recover. Don’t worry. I’ll keep a listen. I’ll know if something happens. Tara...”

Tara flinched from his gaze. “Spike, I d-don’t know what w-went wrong! Honestly I d-don’t!”

“Believe you, Glinda. This isn’t your fault, except in that you left it all up to Willow. She has the power, but you’re the true witch, servant of the Great Mother, grounded in the earth. You should have supervised her every step of the way.”

“S-she didn’t want...”

“Yeah, she didn’t want you seeing her bend the spell.”

“She wouldn’t!”

“You know she would. Something doesn’t fit, make it fit. That blood she used in the spell? You didn’t ask where it came from. She called a fawn, killed it when it came to her. Yeah,” he said, watching her eyes widen in horror. “Called it. You know the consequences of an action like that. And what ingredients did she substitute because she couldn’t find the right ones? Even something so small you’d think it wouldn’t matter might have a huge impact. You know that. Even Giles is worrying about that. That’s why he’s going over her notes right now.”

“Oh, Goddess!”

“She’s starting to abuse magic. Using it for silly, unimportant things. When you can break the natural laws—teleport or fly or make things into other things just by snapping your fingers—you think you’re all powerful. Think you’re a god. Power is what it’s all about for her. Power and control.”

“I-I’ll check. Maybe it’s something we can fix.”

“Don’t fix anything until you’re absolutely sure! Who knows how that might end up? Fix, and then another fix if that doesn’t go right, and then another, until the original creation is subverted and lost. Willow’s technique.”

“I wouldn’t do that,” said Tara clearly, not stammering at all in her seriousness. He nodded, acknowledging it.

“And don’t tell Willow there’s anything wrong. She’ll start that fix thing. Fix and fix and fix again, until Buffy’s the way Willow wants her to be. Not the way Buffy wants to be. And shouldn’t that be the priority? What Buffy wants. Not what you all want for her.”

“Yes.” Tara looked at him with wide, determined eyes. “You’re right, Spike. We can’t let that go on any longer.”

“Oh, good,” said Dawn. “Three of us on Buffy’s side now.” She looked down at the cooling pizza. “Should I take some of this up to her?”

“Leave her alone for a while, Bit.” He shook his head as she mutely offered him the box. “Don’t have the stomach for it right now. If she asks, tell Buffy I’m doing patrol for her. She should just take it easy tonight.”

“He’s really worried,” Dawn said, watching him go.

Tara was biting her lip. “H-he’s right to be. I don’t know how Buffy’s going to deal with this on top of everything else.”

“Yeah.” Dawn gave her an embarrassed glance. “I majorly spazzed when I found out I wasn’t human. I mean, totally. Got myself and everybody else into trouble. She must be feeling the same.”

But Buffy wasn’t freaking.

She was lying in bed in a cold rage. Not only had they brought her back without her consent, they had brought her back wrong!

It was no good trying to tell her that it could just be something small. Spike’s chip didn’t fire when he hit demons; Spike’s chip hadn’t fired when he hit her. Ergo, she was a demon. At the very least, something not completely human. Simple logic.

Right. She owed them nothing. No more worrying about their feelings. They hadn’t worried about hers. No more caring about their opinions, about what they thought about anything. They had never bothered to ask for her opinion anytime they wanted to do something. They just went ahead and did it. But, oh, they were so eager to judge her, tell her what to do, run her life for her.

No more.

Now she was going to do what she liked, not caring how they felt, what they wanted. For the first time since becoming a Slayer, she was going to do what she wanted. Not Faith’s ‘want, take, have.’ Not that. She was still the Slayer. And she wasn’t going to stop being the Slayer. That was who she was and she enjoyed kicking demon ass, especially with Spike at her side. Save the world on a regular basis? Sure, no sweat. Care about the Scoobies’ precious feelings? Not a chance in hell. Demon here, right? Not evil, but still. Demons did what they wanted. Humans did. And they were allowed to, as long as they didn’t harm anyone else. Why should she be held to a higher standard than any other creature in the universe? She was going to do what she wanted. And if the Scoobies objected? Well, fuck them all and the horse they rode in on!

Suddenly she felt free. Learn that she was a demon and she felt...free!

***

There was a recklessness about Buffy these days that worried Spike. Not that she was careless in the way she fought. There she was careful, thorough and precise, enthusiastic even. And she laughed with him now when he teased and taunted her on patrol. She even seemed to be enjoying life. Which was wonderful, exactly what he had been trying for.

But there was an edge to her that worried him. She was indifferent to any remark or warning that the Scoobies might give her, even Giles. Just blew them off with a wave of her hand.

“Polgara demon? Oh, don’t worry about that. Spike and I can handle it.”

“Another freaking prophecy? You’re too late. It was Nizeth demons trying to open the Hellmouth and Spike and I already took care of it.”

It was what he had wanted, to have her unaffected by Scooby opinion. But it was so unlike her that it made him nervous.

“Spending too much time with Spike? Why not? He helps. You don’t.”

He strolled into the Magic Box just in time to catch that one. The Scoobies all glowered at him. Giles frowned. Dawn grinned at him. Spike couldn’t help grinning himself, pleased that Buffy was acknowledging his help.

But it was unlike her to add that ‘You don’t’ comment. And she hadn’t even done it deliberately. She had just said it, not even thinking how they might feel about it. And that was unusual. And the fact that it all seemed to stem from that night when she had found that he could hit her made him even more uneasy. There was a mocking, dangerous edge to her these days that made him feel as if they were all playing bumper cars with a box of nitroglycerin.

“You keep forgetting that he’s the Evil Undead,” Xander snapped. “Wake up, Buffy! You can’t trust him.”

“You trusted him all the time I was gone.” Buffy gave him a knife-edged smile. “You used him then, didn’t you? Found him very useful. Well, I do too.”

“Buffy, this isn’t like you,” Willow said, frowning.

“Golly, did you bring me back wrong, Willow? I’m not acting the way I should? Thinking the way you want me to? Maybe I need to be re-programmed, like the Bot.”

“Buffy!” both Xander and Giles exclaimed, Xander in anger and Giles in shock. Willow looked wounded and Tara’s eyes were widening worriedly. Anya was frowning intently.

Spike put out a hand and drew Dawn behind him. “Trouble,” he muttered to her and she nodded.

“They never know when to stop pushing,” she whispered.

“Snap your fingers, Willow,” Buffy said coldly. “Re-program me. Why not? You’ve done everything else.”

“She did everything she could for you!” Xander yelled. “Damn it! You should be grateful!”

“Oh, bollocks!” muttered Spike under his breath.

“Grateful!” Buffy’s eyes flared with anger and Spike winced.

Xander was too angry himself to notice. “She pulled you out of that hell dimension! You could still be frying in there if it hadn’t been for her!”

“She pulled me out of Heaven! I was in Heaven!”

If a thunderbolt had hit them, it would not have had more impact. Everyone was struck dumb and motionless, their faces horrified.

“I was safe and protected and warm and loved and finished! But she pulled me out of there, to go on fighting and killing for you. This is hell. Being here is hell. So, no, don’t ask me to be grateful!”

She spun and slammed out of the Magic Box. Willow collapsed, weeping, and Tara reached for her. Xander and Giles sagged into chairs, shocked speechless. Anya was nodding thoughtfully, as if this had confirmed something she had suspected.

Spike looked down at Dawn. “Bit...”

She nodded, her cheeks wet. “Yes. Go after her. She’ll need you.”

He brushed her hair lightly, then went, sliding out of the store so quietly that no one noticed.

He caught up with Buffy just as she was rounding the corner by the coffee shop. She spun to face him.

“I shouldn’t have done that,” she said, biting her lip. “I didn’t mean to. It just came out.”

“Well, you had reason, pet.”

“All this time I’ve been so careful not to tell them about that. What’s happening to me, Spike?”

“You just got pushed a little too far, is all. Harris...” He gritted his teeth. “Harris needs to be kicked clear across the country.”

“You always wanted me to tell them.”

“They should know what they’ve done,” he said flatly, then gave her a crooked grin. “But maybe, if you’d told them about it earlier, when you weren’t quite so mad, you might have cushioned it for them a little bit.”

She laughed wryly. “Too late now. And, you know what? I don’t care. If they expect me to go back and apologize, try to make it up to them, they’re going to be disappointed. They should be trying to make it up to me.”

“They should.” He really thought so. But it was unlike Buffy not to care about the Scoobies’ feelings and that worried him.

“I want a drink. Something long and cool and alcoholic, but not too much.” She gave him a rueful look “Booze and Buffy don’t mix, and I’m so freaked right now, I’d probably get wasted on just one.”

He thought she was probably right, but she needed a diversion of some kind to settle her down.

“One won’t hurt. Bronze is right around the corner.”

He got her a wine cooler as the least alcoholic thing that he could think of without getting into soft drinks and to his relief she was satisfied with that, leaning back in her chair, watching him thoughtfully.

“What are you looking at?” he asked uneasily, taking his time with his beer so that it would last as long as her cooler. He didn’t want her suggesting a second round. Might insist on something stronger the next time, and the time after that. A drunk Buffy might blow off some steam, but the way her boiler was charged up, blowing off that steam might blow up all of Sunnydale with it. Not that he cared about Sunnydale, but Buffy would, even if she didn’t admit it right now.

“You.” She had never really looked at him before. Her mind had always put a big red X across him. Vampire. Demon. No soul. Evil. All the convenient labels. She had never really allowed herself to see him. Didn’t want to see him, because then she would have had to admit to herself how hot he was.

Beautiful, really. Sprawled in his chair like that, that lean, supple, powerful body relaxed as a cat’s but like a cat coiled-spring ready to flash into offensive or defensive action at any moment. The lights of the Bronze stressed the strong planes of his face, threw those spectacular cheekbones into high relief, lit his eyes into an incandescent, gas-flame blue. She hadn’t allowed herself to see before how handsome he was.

Or the way he was looking at her. That expression in those flame-blue eyes that she had resolutely refused to see. Tenderness.

She didn’t want to see that. He had insisted on breaking down the numbness that had been her defense against the world. She wouldn’t let him also break down the anger that had replaced it.

“Want to dance?” she asked. He’d made her aware of sensation again. So let’s concentrate on sensation, let sensation replace real feeling, keep emotion a long, long distance away. Emotion was what was really dangerous.

“Sure,” he said, a little startled. They had never danced before. The closest they had ever come to that was fighting. He was glad that it was a slow dance. Another moment he could store up and treasure, her lithe body against his, her arms about his neck, her hair soft against his jaw. He closed his eyes and leaned his head against hers, memorizing every second, knowing that it would probably never happen again.

Buffy found that she liked dancing with him, that cool, strong body moving against hers, the feel of his breath light against her temple, that scent of leather and cigarettes and whiskey and beneath it all that pleasant, particular, unique scent that was Spike himself.

“Why do you breathe?” she asked suddenly. “You’re a vamp. You don’t need to breathe.”

“Dunno,” he said. “Habit, I guess. Don’t normally.” He thought that over. “Feel things, I breathe. Can’t help it.”

Emotion again. An emotional creature, Spike, right from the beginning. Felt things. Loved. Cared. Wept. She had to admit it now. Couldn’t deny it any longer. Even Dru had tried to tell her that last year, but she hadn’t listened. Now that she was trying to shut out feelings, she could see how intense his were.

“Better if you don’t,” she muttered.

“Better if you don’t feel? Might as well be dead then, luv. Is that the idea?” he mocked and she looked away from that too penetrating gaze. “Never thought you’d be a coward, Slayer.”

“Don’t.”

“If you’re stuck here, pet, you might as well enjoy it.”

“Too easy.”

“Got it backwards. Too easy the other way.” His gaze was challenging. “They screwed you over? Well, screw them back, Slayer. Don’t let them win.”

He had a point.

She thought about that the next day while she was working out in the exercise room at the Magic Box. The door opened just as she was coming up from a slow-motion handstand and Tara came in, beckoning a puzzled Spike after her.

“Hey, Buffy. Is Willow with you?”

“No. She went somewhere with Xander. And that’s so not a good combination these days,” she added with a frown. “Anya’s downstairs putting away stuff and Giles is helping her. What’s up?”

“Um, I’ve got something for you I don’t want the others to know about.” Tara looked over her shoulder at the open door to the shop proper. “Spike, would you shut the door?”

Spike did so, then came over to join the two of them, tilting his head quizzically. “What’s with the secrecy?”

“I didn’t want anybody but the three of us knowing about this.” Tara held out a hand.

Buffy and Spike stared at the two rings lying on her palm, but made no move to take them.

“They’re charmed,” Tara explained.

“Guessed that,” muttered Spike. “Which is why we’d rather not touch ‘em.”

“It’s protection, Spike,” Tara said patiently. “I wouldn’t hurt you. These charms will keep you from having a spell put on you for any reason. Even I wouldn’t be able to put one on you and it’s my charm on the rings.”

Spike picked the heavy silver ring that was obviously meant for him out of her palm and looked it over warily. “Not anyone? Not even Willow?”

“Especially not Willow. I don’t have the power that she has, but my spells endure. She won’t get past them.”

“Grounded,” Spike nodded and slid the ring onto the middle finger of his right hand. Buffy took the more delicate silver ring that was left and put it on as well.

“Don’t tell anyone about it, not even Dawn, and don’t ever take it off.”

Spike put out his hand quickly and caught Tara’s wrist just as she began to turn away. “You’re wearing one too.”

Buffy saw that there was a silver ring on Tara’s middle finger. Tara flushed.

“W-Willow and I h-had a fight,” Tara said wretchedly. “J-just a lover’s quarrel. You know how it is. No big. I just wanted her to do less magic. But then she made me forget about the fight. By a spell. I found Lethe’s Bramble under my pillow and realized what she had done.”

“Oh, Tara! I’m so sorry!” Buffy said.

“After what Glory did to me! How can Willow play games with my mind like that? Just like Glory! It’s a violation and she doesn’t even see that. A...a kind of rape.”

“Her idea of fixing the problem,” Spike muttered. “Don’t take responsibility. Don’t try to change. Just take the easy way out. Make it never happen. Don’t deal with consequences. Just make the consequences go away. To come back and bite you in the ass later,” he added contemptuously. “At least that’s made you wake up to what’s going on now.”

“Yes.” Tara gave him a miserable look. “After Buffy told us about...about where she was, Willow started talking about making Buffy forget all about being in Heaven. She said Buffy would be happier that way.”

“No!” exclaimed Buffy. “I don’t want to forget that! No one would ever want to forget that!”

“I know. I told her that, but I don’t think I convinced her. Willow doesn’t listen to anyone these days, except people who agree with her. She doesn’t even listen to me. She thinks I’m jealous of her powers. As if I would be!”

“No.” Buffy put an arm around Tara’s trembling shoulders. “You were proud of her until she started misusing them.”

“So I thought I’d do something to keep her from doing that to you. From doing anything to you without your consent. And that made me think of Spike. She and Xander do blame him for encouraging you. It’s easier to blame him than themselves,” she said sadly. “So I thought I’d make a charm for him too.”

“Thanks, pet. Think I’m going to be needing that. Might start watching my back too,” Spike said thoughtfully. “Xander might make with the stakes when the bibbidi-bobbidi-boos don’t work.”

Tara gave him a watery grin. “F-funny. Come on, Spike. You’ve seen how powerful magic can be. Don’t you ever take anything seriously?”

“Why?” asked Spike with honest surprise.

Tara was smiling. Buffy walked her out of the shop and came back to find Spike working on the punching bag.

“You made her feel better. But that wasn’t exactly the truth, what you said. You do take things seriously, Spike.”

He was a weird combination of caution and recklessness. He would throw himself headlong into everything, but never stop looking for things that might give him an advantage. Oddly enough, it worked, unless he was blindsided by something like the Initiative. And even with that chip in his head, he had still managed to adapt. One had to admire someone who kept bouncing right back up whatever one threw at him. He had more courage than she did.

“To an extent,” he shrugged. “Take whatever precautions you can, but then forget about it. Deal with anything else that might turn up when it happens. Have fun in the meantime. You people make such a big deal about everything, Slayer.” He stopped hitting the punching bag suddenly. “Damn! I meant to ask her. Will Red know why her spells won’t work on us?”

“I asked. Tara thought of that too. The spells will just bounce off and vanish. Willow won’t know why. She’ll just think that something went wrong when she cooked them up. Tara wanted to avoid confrontations rather than create them.”

“Sensible.” Spike thought he might have a word with Giles about Willow. If Watcher would listen to a vampire.

“Spar with me,” Buffy said suddenly.

“What?”

“You can hit me now. The chip won’t go off. I can finally get a proper workout. I always enjoyed fighting with you, Spike.”

He grinned. “Likewise. Hey!” He ducked the punch she threw at him before he was ready. “That’s cheating, Slayer!”

But he was laughing. He hit back. Full strength, she realized to her satisfaction as she blocked it. Then they were in a whirl of motion, throwing punches and kicks at top speed, no holding back. It was immensely satisfying and they were both laughing delightedly as they fought. Several minutes went by in ferocious combat, with no lessening of speed or power on either side. They were evenly matched, equally fast and deadly, equally enduring.

She swung over the pommel horse, using it as a pivot, and got him in the chest with both feet. It knocked him down, but he just used his position on the floor to try to sweep her feet out from under her with his legs as she came down. She sprang up and over them, and he kipped back onto his feet while she landed, then used the impetus from that spring off his shoulders to strike her hard on the breastbone with the heel of his hand. She was flung backwards six feet to land cleanly on her back precisely in the center of the mats where he had wanted her to fall. She had only a second to react before he was on her, but in that second she got a foot up into his stomach and flipped him over her head to crash onto his back on the mat.

They both swung easily to their feet, laughing, started to circle. For a full two minutes, there was no actual contact. A dozen moves were begun, but never completed because each saw the counter coming. Then her heel was slamming at his throat. He barely jerked back in time, caught the back of her foot and flipped it upwards.

“Oh, nice move, pet! You almost got me with that one.”

She turned what would have been a fall onto her back into a somersault and landed on her feet.

“Missed though,” she said ruefully. “Wasn’t fast enough.”

“Would be with anybody else. Whoa!”

She had blocked the chop he made to the side of her neck by a strike of her elbow to his wrist and in that same moment hooked her foot about the back of his ankle and yanked. His leg went out from under him and he went down, but his hands grabbed her forearms and he pulled her with him as he went. They hit the mats and rolled, laughing.

They came to a stop with him heavy on top of her, covering her, his hands pinning her forearms to the mat on either side of her head. Laughter died as they both realized the position. She saw the bones of his face suddenly stand out with strain, saw the heat flare in his eyes as his pupils dilated. Fighting always turned both of them on. She could feel his arousal hard against her as he lay between her thighs, could feel herself all buttery and throbbing.

Their mouths were millimeters apart and she could feel the breath shuddering through his open mouth against her parted lips, felt him vibrating with intensity upon her. Then he caught his breath sharply, let her forearms go and began to jerk away.

In that millisecond, her decision was made. She wanted him. Her thighs locked around his hips and her arms dragged his head down to hers. She kissed him fiercely hard, her mouth demanding on his.

He made an agonized sound in his throat, then his mouth was devouring hers. They kissed avidly, mouths twisting on each other, just about eating each other alive. Their bodies moved, unable to keep still, dryhumping, grinding urgently against each other.

“Buffy,” he muttered, “Buffy.” A drowning gasp, going under for the last and final time, losing himself.

“Yes,” she said, losing herself in him too. In sensation. She had never been kissed this way before, not by Angel or Parker or Riley, as if nothing existed in the whole world except her, his tongue plundering her mouth, the desperation she saw in his face as her eyelids shuddered open for a second, the intensity. She had never been wanted this much before. It was hopelessly arousing, made her feel so special. And, oh, God, the way he felt—his mouth and his hands and his body moving insistent upon her.

Her arms clenched across his back. His hands tangled in her hair. They kissed and kissed again, forgetting where they were, not caring, aware of nothing but the blaze of desire between them.

Voices sounded outside the door, an ugly dissonance that grated on their sensitized nerves. Their mouths broke reluctantly apart. They stared at each other blankly in shock.

Then he flung himself onto his back, gasping. Buffy lay still for a moment, breathing hard herself, then pulled herself to her feet and went quickly to the door.

Her body ached, wanting him. And from the way his breath was rasping in his throat, he was in the same painful situation.

“You’d better go,” she said and he jerked his head once in acknowledgment.

“Yeah.”

He pulled himself to his feet and headed for the other door that led to the alley.

“Spike.”

He stopped, looked back at her, his lips tight and his eyelids tensing a little in strain, expecting to be told off. “Yeah, Slayer.”

“This isn’t over yet.”

He stared at her incredulously as she yanked the door open and went out to meet the Scoobies.



TBC
 
Chapter 3
 
Chapter 3



This wasn’t happening.

He lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. Outside the crypt, the sun was high in the sky. He should be asleep by now. But he couldn’t sleep. His mind was racing, going over and over again every second of what had happened last night.

She had kissed him. Of her own free will, not under a spell this time. She had wanted him. Him! Maybe miracles did happen.

It was wrong. Something was wrong. But he didn’t care. Something in the way they had brought her back...But what was he supposed to do? Turn her away, when this was what he had been dreaming about for years? He would have been happy with just a crumb, and this was so much more than that. This was like being handed the world on a silver platter. He couldn’t give that up, not if he turned to dust the very next second.

Her mouth and the way she moved under him and the way she held him. His mind played and replayed that over and over again—every touch, every taste, every sensation, on a loop of disbelief and helpless pleasure and amazement. Even if nothing came from it, even if it had been all some crazy mistake, he still had that moment stored up in his memory, to be taken out and cherished and held close forever.

Hope was painful, was agonizing. Hope was like a stake through his heart, a knife under his ribs. But he’d let her twist that knife, let her do whatever she wanted. What else could he do? He loved her.

He was shaky when he walked into the Magic Box that night. Too little sleep, too much emotion. To his relief, the store was empty of the Scoobies. He hadn’t thought Buffy would be here, but he had wanted to rule it out before starting to make a search of the graveyards. He was just turning away when Giles came out of the back room.

“Watcher. Wanted to talk to you. Anyone else around?”

“No.” Giles frowned at him. “I wanted to talk to you too, Spike.”

“Yeah? What about?”

“Buffy. She’s relying on you too much.”

“Can’t rely on you lot, can she? She needs someone.”

“She doesn’t need you!”

“She needs someone,” repeated Spike flatly. “And all you lot do is jerk her around.”

“If you’re talking about Willow pulling her out of...pulling her out of...”

“Heaven, Watcher. Say it. Understand it.”

“I do,” said Giles, very low.

“That could have been avoided, Watcher. One brief spell to determine where she was before pulling her out of it. That’s all it would have needed. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, isn’t that what they say? Don’t they teach you that in Watcher training?”

“Of course they...”

“Then why haven’t you passed on that essential knowledge, Rupert? Too busy ordering Buffy around to teach these stupid children the basics of logical thinking?”

“Willow has made some mistakes, but...”

“Damn right she has! And Willow is continuing to make mistakes! You make me sick,” Spike said with disgust. “All of you. Even you, Watcher. Too busy navel-gazing to see what’s going on around you. All of you so caught up in your own passions and egos to really care what happens to Buffy.”

“You’re one to talk!” snapped Giles. “We all know what you want from Buffy!”

“Haven’t acted on it, have I? Haven’t forced her to do what I want. But you all do.”

“How dare you say that!” exclaimed Giles, outraged. “We only want what’s best for Buffy!”

“And who decides that, Rupert? You, Willow, Xander, who? What about what Buffy wants? That’s the difference between all of you and me, Rupert. You all tell her what she should want. Willow forces her to do what you want. Me, I just do what Buffy wants.”

There was a silence while Giles tried to calm himself.

“What are you saying?” he said at last. “Willow did wrong in bringing Buffy back. I’d be the last to deny that, even though, like you, I can’t help being glad that Buffy is back. But Willow is not compelling Buffy to do anything.”

“You haven’t heard about Willow’s latest little bright idea, have you? Memories of Heaven are making Buffy miserable? So let’s remove all memories of Heaven. Buffy would be happy then, right?”

“I suppose. What? No! Wait.” Giles shook his head dazedly. “You’re confusing me! That would be wrong! Willow wouldn’t do something like that!”

“Her declared intention, Rupert. How do you define compulsion? Buffy isn’t the Bot. You don’t just re-program her like that. And where does it stop? Remembering her mother’s death makes her sad. So let’s remove her every memory of her mother. Things in her past might be painful. So let’s remove her memories of her past. Wouldn’t that make things nice and simple? Just wipe out her brain, reformat it, why don’t you, and program her to do exactly what you want.”

“Don’t exaggerate,” Giles said sternly. “I never thought I’d see you getting hysterical. No one is going to do anything like that to Buffy.”

“Wake up, Rupert! Willow has every intention of adjusting Buffy’s memories to suit herself. Ask Anya or Tara, if you don’t believe me. They were there when she said it. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Willow’s powertripping and you have to stop her.”

Giles sat down on the edge of a table and frowned at him. “I know that bringing Buffy back has given Willow an inflated opinion of her own abilities, but...”

“Inflated? The hell! That’s a very powerful witch you’ve got there, Watcher. Nothing inflated about that! And all these years you’ve done nothing to train her properly. You should have brought in an instructor for her long ago, someone to control her, teach her about consequences. But you couldn’t be bothered. I was out there on the back porch when you had your little run-in with her in the kitchen. Did that sound like a level-headed Wicca to you, a practitioner of the white arts? Sounded more like someone who was teetering on the edge of the black arts. And you know something about that, don’t you, Ripper?”

“No,” said Giles, almost to himself. “No. She can’t be going that way!”

‘Vaulting ambition, which o’er-leaps itself, and falls on th’ other.’ What?” said Spike at Giles’ amazed look. “I’ve been around a long time. I have read ‘MacBeth.’ Willow thinks she’s all-powerful. That arrogance and ambition are what draws someone to the black arts. You know that, Rupert. She’ll fall, and she’ll bring the lot of you down with her if you don’t do something. You’re a Watcher. You’ve got contacts. For God’s sake, get in touch with one of the covens in England and bring someone over who can control her.”

“She can’t have gone that far,” Giles muttered. “You’re exaggerating again, Spike. You’re the excitable type. You’re jumping at shadows.”

“Haven’t you been watching her all summer, telling us to do things instead of asking? Pushing us around? Shoving her way into our heads, whether we like it or not. You blind fool, Rupert!” Spike drew a long breath of exasperation and reined himself in with an effort. “Look. Look. You don’t have to believe me. Just get someone over here to suss her out. You’re not qualified. Get someone who can give her a proper evaluation. Is that too much to ask?”

Giles said nothing.

“Ah, the hell!” said Spike, spinning away towards the door. “Why do I even bother?”

“Why do you bother, vampire? You’re a demon. You should be egging her on. All this is just a diversion, casting aspersions on Willow to divert attention from your unhealthy obsession with Buffy.”

“It always comes back to that, doesn’t it?” Spike sighed. “You can’t see past that to...” He broke off abruptly as Willow and Xander came into the Magic Box.

“You again,” growled Xander. “Buffy’s not here. And she wouldn’t want you around if she were.”

“You wish.”

Xander scowled at him. “What I wish is that you’d get over that sick fixation you have on her.”

“Says the dog in heat,” muttered Spike.

“What did you say?” snarled Xander.

“You heard.” He lifted a mocking eyebrow at Giles. “See? I’m not the only one with fixations, Watcher. Got a pretty little bint of his own, but still salivating after the Slayer.”

“You...!” Xander made a violent movement towards him, but Spike just slid smoothly away, giving him a mocking smirk.

“Why don’t you adjust his memories, Red? I think he needs it just as much as Buffy does.”

Willow and Xander glanced involuntarily at each other.

Giles caught his breath. “You were going to do something to Buffy’s memory!”

“No, no,” said Willow unconvincingly. “I wouldn’t do that, Giles.”

“Sure you wouldn’t,” snapped Spike. “You know what you really should do? Remove her memories of you Scoobies! Then she really would be happier and healthier.”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” snarled Xander. “That would give you a clear field. I’ve got a better idea, Will. Why don’t you just remove Spike from the face of the planet?”

“That would be far too permanent for Red,” Spike flung back. “She likes to play games with people. See them squirm. Pull their strings and make them dance. Stick pins in them. No fun if they’re not around to torment.”

Willow was horrified. “I’m not that kind of person!”

“Getting there, sweet. Won’t be much longer. You’re already the puppet master and we’re your puppets. Raping people of their memories? We demons call that evil. But we’re simple folk. You white hats know better, of course.”

“It’s not rape!”

“What do you call something that’s done to someone without their consent and against their will?” He sneered at Willow. “Don’t like what I say? Take away my voice then. Turn me into a worm. Teach me a lesson.”

Willow’s eyes had gone black. “Maybe I will.”

Spike deliberately flipped her the bird and turned his back on her provokingly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the angry gesture she made in return. He hoped to God that Tara’s deflection spell would hold. To his relief, it did. Whatever Willow had meant to do to him did not happen. Turning a little, he saw Willow look down, baffled, at her hand.

“Have I made my point?” he said quietly to Giles.

“Quite,” said Giles. He let out a long breath, then caught Spike’s upper arm and drew him towards the door, saying loudly, “Yes, well. I think you should leave now, Spike.”

“Yeah, Giles, throw him out,” said Xander, unaware of anything amiss. Willow was still frowning in puzzlement.

Spike turned and looked at the two of them in vast contempt, but said nothing when Giles’ grip tightened in warning.

“You took a risk,” Giles said softly when they got outside.

“Protected,” said Spike curtly. “Only way to show you.”

“You went and got protection against Willow?” Giles was shocked by the level of distrust that implied.

“Had reason, didn’t I? Might have been a beetle or worse by this time if I hadn’t. Or are you still denying that, Watcher?”

“She would have harmed you,” Giles admitted heavily. “I’ll get in touch with England.”

“Don’t let anything stop you from doing that.” Spike looked at him levelly. “You and I might disagree about Buffy. And, who knows, maybe you’ll end up wanting to stake me or turn me into a beetle, the way those two do. But whatever you think of me doesn’t change the fact that there’s something wrong with Willow and that you have to do something about it.”

Giles nodded and turned to go back into the shop. He was moving stiffly, as if he felt very old. Too many shocks over too short a time. Spike felt a fleeting moment of sympathy for him. But it was time the man woke up. He had started the ball rolling on this years ago, when he had allowed a fledgling witch to teach herself about magic without adequate supervision and discipline. Power unchecked and untaught was always dangerous. One only had to look at the differences between Tara and Willow to see that.

“You’ve been busy, haven’t you?” Buffy said behind him. He had been so preoccupied that he hadn’t even noticed her presence.

He spun to face her. She was standing at the mouth of the alley beside the store, her hands on her hips, watching him narrowly. She was wearing some scoop-necked top loose over white jeans and plimsolls, her arms bare, the light from the street lamps gleaming on the waves of that damn shampoo-commercial hair and the smooth satin of her skin. He wanted beyond anything to touch that hair, that skin. He knew what she would feel like against him now, and that knowledge was at once too much and too little. Nothing sexy about her outfit at all, yet it was driving him crazy, and he wanted...he wanted...God, he didn’t have one chance in hell against her!

“Buffy! When did you...?”

“Came in on the end of that.” She gave him a sardonic smile. “Look at you. Some demon you are. Trying to do good. They’ll drum you out of the corps.”

“Already have,” he muttered, shoving his hands into the pockets of his duster and trying to act as if nothing had happened last night. He knew her, knew from that casual tone of her voice that she didn’t want to discuss what happened last night and that, if he dared to bring it up, she would cut him off at the knees. Very possibly, never allow him near her again. Caught as he was between painful hope and painful resignation, he needed to talk about it. But it didn’t matter to her that this miserable suspense that he was in was tearing him to pieces. “And whose fault is that, Slayer?”

“Yours.” She laughed at him. “You care too much, Spike. Right from the beginning. I think Dru saw that. One of the reasons she picked you. Your ability to...care.” He saw how she avoided the word ‘love’. “She knew you’d keep it even after the turning.”

There was some truth in that. He frowned after her as she stepped lightly away from him, heading up the street towards the cemeteries. She was talking about his feelings? She had never admitted that he had feelings before. It was a step in the right direction. Even though what he really wanted to do was discuss her feelings rather than his.

“Most vamps,” she said conversationally over her shoulder as he automatically followed her, “the first thing they do is go eat their families. That’s what Angel did. What did you do to your family, Spike?”

“There was only my mother.”

“Did you eat her?”

“No.” He had turned her, hoping to keep her with him throughout the centuries. It hadn’t worked out that way, though; of course, it hadn’t. Which he would have known if he hadn’t been so new a fledgling, not understanding yet how things worked, that the demon would take over. He had never turned anyone since. Never would, not anybody he cared about, not after that one harsh lesson.

“Didn’t think so.” She smiled at him over her shoulder, skimming lightly along with that swift, Slayer lope that forced him to chase after her just to be able to keep up the conversation. Thing was, running her down like this was a turn-on. Slayer probably didn’t even know that. But he was all too aware of it. “You’re a rarity, Spike. I’m beginning to see that.”

Now what did that mean?

“Slayer, if you want to talk, stand still,” he growled bitterly. “This is irritating.”

“Don’t want to talk.” Her pace increased until he had to use all his vampire speed to stay even a few yards behind her. “Got to do better than that if you want to keep up with me, Spike.”

She couldn’t possibly have meant that the way it sounded. Her laughter trailed back to him as he chased the golden flag of her hair through the streets.

“Slayer, what the hell are you playing at?”

She turned in at the gates of Restfield cemetery. He ran after her, exasperated, but still unable to stop following her. When had he ever been able to stop following her?

“Who’s playing?” she laughed.

She pushed open the door of his crypt and candlelight spilled out. Had he left a candle burning? He normally didn’t do that, but he had left with his head in such a muddle that he might have. She turned to look at him, smiling oddly, as he reached the door. He put his hands on either side of the door frame and leaned there, wondering what the hell was going on.

“You’re panting,” she remarked. “Getting out of shape? Or is it what you said before? Emotion?”

He knew bloody well it was emotion, tried to cover that damn betraying tendency of his, frowning at the candle. “Did I leave that on?”

“No, I did, when I came looking for you.”

He stared at her. The last thing that he would have thought after last night was that she would come looking for him. Normally, after something like that, she wouldn’t let herself go anywhere near him. The trapdoor at the back of the crypt was open as well and lamplight was coming up from it. She’d even gone down there in search of him?

“Why?” he asked, puzzled.

“Wanted to talk to you.”

You wanted to talk? Are you feeling all right, Buffy?”

Buffy grinned. He looked really cute when he was confused like that, breathing hard, with his eyes all dark, their pupils dilated, and his face strained. He had looked like that last night and she found that she liked it, wanted to see more of it.

She grabbed his lapels, yanked him into the crypt, kicked the door shut behind him, then thumped him back against it.

“What...?” Spike was utterly bewildered.

She was laughing at him, her eyes shining and very green, a look he recognized, one that she had been wearing a lot lately, reckless and dangerous. Her arms stretched out on either side of him, reaching for the door. He felt her pull the bar down behind his back, locking them into the crypt, locking the world out. Then her arms closed around his sides.

“You’re right. I don’t want to talk. Want to do,” she said and kissed him.

He almost went straight down to the ground in shock and disbelief.

Buffy felt his whole body jerk against hers. Then he was kissing her desperately, drowningly, his arms crushing her to him. Her own arms clenched across his back. They kissed again and again, mouths twisting together, devouring each other. And, oh, the long slides of his tongue against hers, the feel of his body straining against her.

He tore his mouth away to allow her to breathe. “Buffy...”

She laughed. “Yes. More.”

She saw the incredulous look he gave her, his eyes almost black within a thin ring of blazing, intense blue, helpless behind eyelids heavy with passion.

“Don’t understand,” he muttered. “I don’t understand.”

“Nothing to understand. Gonna do what I want. Gonna have what I want. And I want you.”

“Oh, God...!”

She pushed at his duster. “Off.”

Spike tore it off, one arm at a time, the other arm holding her tightly to him, refusing to let her go, kissing her the whole while. His brain had stopped working, whited out in astonishment and incredulity, drowning in sensation, completely lost to everything but her.

“Boots,” she said and he heel-and-toed his way out of them, following her lead, afraid to do anything that might stop this miracle from happening. She was kicking off her own sneakers. Their bodies strained against each other, passion flaring, imperative and demanding. He bent her back over his arm and she laughed as his mouth raked down her throat. Then she twisted and he felt her mouth sucking down his throat.

“God, Buffy!”

She felt the racking tremor go through him. “One of your buttons, huh? Love it.” She did it again and he shivered helplessly against her.

“This isn’t happening,” he muttered, his open mouth sliding everywhere across her face, along her collarbone, over the bare skin of her shoulder.

This time, it was Buffy who shivered, up on her toes, trying to get as close to him as possible. Their bodies rubbed and strained together. She hooked a thigh across his hip, felt him impossibly hard against her. They both groaned.

“Bed, Spike!” she gasped. “Downstairs. Now.”

“Oh, yeah.” Vaguely, Spike remembered that he did have a downstairs and a bed which might be more comfortable for her than being pounded into the cold stone floor, which he was only one brain cell away from doing right now, with his control gone and his mind fried. He just hoped dimly that they would make it.

They moved towards the open trapdoor, falling over one another’s feet because they were both clinging to each other so tightly, eyes closed and mouths way too occupied with each other’s flesh for either of them to care about balance. At last he got some semblance of thought back, scooped her up and simply dropped through the trap. He landed smoothly without jarring her, stumbled over to the bed and would have laid her upon it except that she refused to let him go, her arms fierce about his head. They both lost their balance and fell onto the bed, wound in each other’s arms and twisting about each other like snakes.

Bed was good. Bed made their bodies more accessible to each other. His mouth found her breast, sucked at her nipple though the thin material of her top.

Buffy gasped as a lightning bolt of sheer pleasure shocked through her. She caught his head and held his mouth to her breast. ““Oh, God, yes...More.”

No bra, he realized in shock.

“You’re not wearing any underwear...”

“Well, neither are you,” Buffy retorted and laughed, yanking his T-shirt over his head. God, he was ripped under it, all hard, supple muscle and strong, clean bone, an utterly lickable sixpack. Grecian statue time. She had never known, never even looked. She couldn’t believe how stupid she had been!

“You planned...” he stuttered.

“Yes. Mm, you feel wonderful.” She ran her hands all over him, all that hard muscle and satin skin so fine against her, felt him shuddering with passion at every touch.

Her top was gone now. Skin against skin, and his mouth moving and suckling across her breasts, her nipples hardening painfully as his tongue rasped across and about them, pressing them against the roof of his mouth.

“God, you’re beautiful, luv!”

“Spike!” She was shuddering continuously too now, fingers digging into his thick hair, holding his mouth to her, her every nerve on fire.

Spike was whispering endearments, couldn’t help it, the words tumbling unbidden out of his parted lips as they moved over her—as, incredibly, her lips were moving over him.

Hands and mouths sliding and caressing and kneading every inch of bare flesh. Buffy’s hands, Buffy’s mouth. Buffy’s body arching and twisting under his. He had passed the point of wonder and gone into overload.

“Jeans...”

He didn’t know who said it, but after a few moments of struggle both pairs were gone, their bodies rubbing together now, freed of all constraints, friction building an unbearable spiral of agonizing sensation.

And, oh, God, she was wet for him. And so hot! He’d never been with a human before. Vamp skin was cool, room temperature. This heat was wondrous, exquisite. Her nails clawed his back, another unbearable stimulus. He gasped against her face, his eyes shuddering shut helplessly.

“Can’t...must...Oh, God, Spike, come on!” she growled, arching against him. “Can’t stand it any longer!”

Neither could he. This was beyond his wildest dreams: that moment of entrance, that permission.

He came into her hard, then froze, staring down at her in awe and disbelief, unable to believe that he was really inside her, her sheath clenching upon him, her body straining to his.

“Oh, God, so perfect!” she muttered. “No one else ever...Spike!”

His brain shorted right out. Nothing but sensation, their bodies thrusting urgently together, driving each other higher and higher, gasping against each other’s faces. Pure rapture, excruciating, exquisite, unbearable. Both of them striving up that hill, but still struggling to hold back, not wanting it to end, stretching the moment out unendurably.

He felt her convulse against him, her sheath clenching and rippling upon him as she came, and that sent him over the edge himself, his body seizing up, spurting into her in blind ecstasy.

He came back to himself to find her clinging to him, her arms fierce about his neck.

“Again, Slayer, oh, again,” he muttered. He couldn’t bear for it to be over, couldn’t bear to give this up so soon, still partially erect within her. Vamp recovery time and Slayer stamina made it possible.

“Insatiable,” she murmured. But she was smiling as their mouths fused together and her body responded as his hands slid across her.

He lost himself in her and if he never found himself again he wouldn’t have cared. This was all the heaven he ever wanted.



TBC
 
Chapter 4
 
Chapter 4


He didn’t want to wake up. He lay drifting in a haze of absolute contentment, unbelievably happy. Total exhaustion had knocked him out like a brick in the end. Too little sleep the night before, too much emotion last night. They had worn each other out, unable to stop, coming back again and again to each other like magnets.

He could smell her scent as she lay beside him, see the tumble of her golden hair through his fluttering eyelashes as he came slowly out of sleep, feel the warmth of her body an inch away from his.

An inch was too far. He turned onto his side, gathering her against him, burying his face in her hair. Her arms came around him and her leg hooked over his thigh. He felt her smile against his shoulder.

“What is it with you? You should be tired out. Is it a vamp thing or what?”

“Never get tired of you,” he muttered. “You tuckered out, Slayer? Thought you had more stamina than that.”

“Came to an end of it the fourth or fifth...How many times did we do it? I lost count.”

“No idea. We can just cuddle, can’t we? I like to cuddle.”

“That’s the way it starts,” she mumbled into his shoulder and he laughed against her hair. “I should get back to Dawn. I left her all night.”

“Half an hour more won’t hurt then, will it?”

“Well...”

“Witches are around, aren’t they? What’s the point of having them living with you otherwise?” He ran a hand down her back, from her shoulder to her thigh where it lay across his hip, pulled at the back of her knee to draw her tighter against him. She purred. “Does Dawn know you’re here?”

“Told her.”

He blinked. “You did?” That must have been some conversation.

“Spending the night with Spike, I said.”

“Musta been a shock. She still catatonic?”

Buffy giggled “Started jumping up and down, screaming, ‘Yes! Yes!’ She likes you.”

God, he loved the Bit! “Hope she doesn’t tell the others.”

“Too smart. But I don’t care if she does.”

His brows rose. “You don’t?”

“Fuck ‘em.”

“Rather fuck you.”

He went partially into gameface, just enough for his tongue to go raspy and his cock to thicken against her. She laughed and rubbed herself against him, her nails deliberately raking down his arms. Last night was all heat and desperate urgency. Today, the edge was off; they could just explore and play.

“God, that thing you do with your tongue,” she muttered, arching to him as he ran it over her. “So much better being with a vamp.”

That bothered him somehow. He didn’t know why. He was too busy investigating the different flavors of her skin, the slight but subtle variations on her breast or down her spine or along the inside of her thigh. It figured that Captain Cardboard hadn’t been enough for her; no human would ever be able to satisfy a Slayer. And he guessed Angel must have gone all Angelus right off. Wouldn’t have had time to play, even if he had that much imagination, which Spike doubted. But he wasn’t going to bring up Angel, wasn’t going to remind her of her fixation on the Great Poof. Wanted her thinking only of him.

Her hands were running over him as well, her mouth smiling as she kissed him. He drowned in the feel of her, every moment so intense that it bordered on pain, it meant that much to him. Feeling her body arch and twist beneath him, straining against his, her hands dragging him imperatively to her. Seeing her face taut with hunger and her eyes glazed over and her mouth panting as she moaned and gasped his name. Nothing better in the world.

He took her deeply and they both gasped, thrusting and striving demandingly together. He came hard and heard her shriek as she came with him, buried his face, panting, in the curve of her neck as he gentled her through the aftershocks.

They lay spinning down from the high. Then she sighed against his temple.

“Gotta go.”

“Yeah...”

“No, really.” She pushed him firmly away, but clenched upon him as he slid out of her. They both groaned, then laughed. “You know how the bunch of them turn up for breakfast.”

“You’ll make it. ‘S only six.” He rolled onto his back, sighing. “There’s a shower in the tunnel over there.”

“Oh, good.”

He lay on his back, staring up at the roots twisting through the ceiling, listening to the water running and wondering why he felt there was something missing.

She came out at last already dressed, having taken her top and jeans with her. “Where did I leave my sneakers?”

“Upstairs.”

“Oh, right.” She laughed. “I used your toothbrush. Figured you wouldn’t mind, we’ve been in each other’s mouths so much already tonight.”

He couldn’t help laughing, such an odd statement that made about this new intimacy of theirs. She grinned too. He started to get up, intending to walk her to the door, but she just came and pushed him flat again.

“No, don’t bother. Sun’s up and it’s your time to sleep.”

“Okay.”

She smelled only of his soap, all traces of him washed away from her. He was sorry; he had liked smelling himself upon her. He cherished the scent of her on him, wasn’t going to relinquish that all day.

“See you this evening on patrol, okay?” she said. She bent and brushed her lips across his lightly. He reached up involuntarily to draw her head down for a deeper kiss, but she pushed him away, her eyes cool and smiling. “Later.”

Cool. That was it. No involvement. That was what was missing.

He hadn’t seen it until now. Only felt that something was wrong. Now he understood and caught his breath in pain.

What she wanted from him and what she was willing to give him was only sensation. Not real emotional involvement.

It was bitter.

He listened to her putting on her sneakers upstairs and then leaving, closing the door behind her. He lay flat on the bed, an arm across his eyes, hurt to the quick, way down deep where his most painful vulnerabilities lay.

He was used to being used. Dru had used him for a hundred and twenty years. But he had hoped for so much more from Buffy. She knew that he loved her. To use him so casually like that was cruel.

Payback time for the Bot, he supposed, wiping a hand across his eyes. But even there, the analogy failed. What he had tried to recreate with the Bot was Buffy. Not just a sex toy, but the person. Except saying the things he wanted Buffy to say, doing the things he wished Buffy would do. He had even unthinkingly tried to please the Bot the same way he would have tried to please Buffy. He had known he was a fool right from the beginning. Of course it hadn’t been the same, only a fantasy. And that fantasy had turned to horror, when Buffy had been dead and there was only the Bot left. But back then, in the beginning, he hadn’t been able to stop.

Couldn’t stop right now either. This was Buffy. Real and wanting him. Didn’t matter that it was only for sensation. Whatever she wanted from him he would give. That was the way he was made. Would take anything, any crumb, no matter how much it cut him up. Would do anything, just for the touch of her hand. And here he was getting so much more than that.

But, oh, God, it hurt.

***

He had never realized that it was possible to be in Heaven and Hell at the same time, until now with Buffy. Making love to her while she was just having sex. Enjoying the sex, mind you; enjoying him. And that was more than he would have dreamed of a while back, so, God, he couldn’t give it up.

He was learning how to repress the pain, shove it back where it wouldn’t spoil the joy, learning how to concentrate on what he had and not think of what he wanted. And there were other compensations, like watching the Scoobies’ faces when they saw him and Buffy together. Unlike him, Buffy was never overt about her emotions; she tended to keep things to herself. Protective of her, he never acted the lover around her where the Scoobies could see it, not wanting to give them the slightest excuse to harass her.

But even though she did not display the true extent of their intimacy, she also did not bother to hide her ease with him. She would quite casually dance with him at the Bronze, tease him as they were leaving the Magic Box to go on patrol, pull her chair to one side so that he could fit a chair in beside her when the Scoobies were trying to keep him out of the group at either the Bronze or the Magic Box, lean on his shoulder while talking and not notice or care that Xander’s face was rapidly turning purple and everyone else was looking flummoxed.

He sometimes wanted to laugh hysterically at the looks on their faces, but he never let it show. Better to pretend to be oblivious and watch the lot of them go into cardiac arrest, not knowing whether anything they saw was just in their imaginations or not.

Things finally got too much for Xander a couple of weeks later. Spike had just got his hair cut. His hair did grow—very, very slowly, but it did grow. He hadn’t cared about the way he looked all the time that Buffy was gone, so it had ended up a tumbled mess. Dawn and Tara both said they liked it that way, but, now that he was starting to feel himself again, it bothered him and he went to a demon barber he knew to get it cut shorter.

Buffy laughed when she saw him, but half-lidded her eyes teasingly and gave him a come-hither look. “Wicked.”

They were all alone in the Magic Box at the moment, so he could laugh back.

“Does it give you ideas?”

“Oh, yeah.” She shoved him down into a chair and scrubbed her hand forward over the top of his head, destroying the careful slick-back the barber had left and sending it falling into strands over his forehead. “Bed hair.”

Oh, well, if she thought of it that way, he didn’t care what she did to it.

He wrapped his arms about her waist and pulled her against him. “And when do we get to that bed?”

“After patrol.” She teased him with her open mouth a breath away from his.

“Too long.”

She drew back, laughing, as he tried to catch her mouth with his. “Scoobies will be here any moment and Giles is in the back room. No chance of a quickie on the mats.”

His brows quirked. “Thinking about it, are you?”

She grinned. “Oh, yeah.”

He laughed with satisfaction, then let her go hurriedly as he heard the Scoobies outside. Buffy either didn’t hear them or didn’t care, and was scrubbing her hands over his head again when Willow, Xander and Anya walked in.

“What the hell are you doing?” Xander exploded and Buffy raised her brows at him.

“Spike got his hair cut.”

“I like it,” said Anya. “Sexy.”

Spike grinned. “Thanks, luv. That’s what I like to hear.”

“And that’s a reason for you to get all cuddly and cosy?” snarled Xander.

“What’s your damage, Xander?” asked Buffy scornfully. “It’s none of your business what I do.”

“Yes, it is! After all we’ve done, you have to go taking up with that disgusting...!”

“After all you’ve done?” Buffy’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “What you’ve done is exactly why you should stay out of my affairs!”

“What’s going on out here?” demanded Giles, coming out of the back room at the sound of voices and looking around in bewilderment.

No one paid attention to him. Anya was looking at Xander, a tiny frown on her face, and Willow was tugging at his arm, trying to distract him. Xander and Buffy were glaring at each other. Spike was on his feet, standing lightly balanced to jump in any direction and watching Xander intently.

“That’s the right word, isn’t it?” Xander said bitterly. “Affair. Don’t think we haven’t noticed you crawling all over him the last couple of weeks!”

“You do love to use ugly words, don’t you?” said Buffy. “And what business is it of yours if I do?”

“He’s a vamp! He doesn’t have a soul! He’s evil! Have you forgotten all of that?”

“He helps me. He doesn’t tell me what to do. He doesn’t try to jerk me around like you all do.”

“We don’t...” blurted Willow and Buffy gave her a scornful look.

“Stop lying to yourself, Willow. What do you think this is?”

“An intervention!” yelled Xander. “For God’s sake, Buffy! How can you bear to touch him?”

“Control yourself, Xander!” Giles said strongly. “Will someone please tell me what’s going on and how it started?”

“Buffy ran her hand over my head,” said Spike dryly.

Giles gaped at him. “That’s all? All these histrionics because she ra...?”

“You don’t fool me!” Xander yelled. “That’s not all!”

“No, that’s not all,” growled Spike. “The real problem is that he has the hots for the Slayer and can’t stand to see anybody else getting close to her.”

“Liar!”

“You people are wonderful at denial, aren’t you?”

Buffy stepped in between as Xander made a furious movement towards Spike.

“See!” Xander yelled. “See what I mean? She keeps protecting him!”

“Well, he can’t protect himself, can he?” said Buffy. “I’d like to see you go up against him when he doesn’t have that chip in his head that keeps him from hurting you.”

Xander went white. “Are you calling me a coward?”

“And a bully. Yes.”

“What has he done to you?” Xander whispered.

“Nothing that I haven’t wanted him to do.”

“It’s a thrall, isn’t it?” He looked beseechingly at Giles and Willow. “You’ve got to do something. We’ve got to fix this!”

“I’ve tried,” said Willow plaintively. “But something keeps going wrong. I don’t know what.”

Everyone except Xander turned to stare at her.

“You’ve tried?” said Buffy dangerously. “You’ve tried to do something to me without my consent? Again?”

“I’m only trying to help!”

“With friends like you, who needs enemies?” She looked at Spike. “My enemy treats me with more respect.”

Willow looked wounded. “Buffy! It’s for your own good. You must see that.”

“I don’t. You’re trying to do things to me without my knowledge or my consent. I call that evil.”

“It’s not!”

“It is,” said Giles sternly. “And you don’t even see it. Willow, I’m becoming severely concerned about you.”

“She’s doing what needs to be done,” Xander snapped at him. “What you refuse to do. Helping Buffy!”

“Helping,” said Buffy bitterly. “Right. Willow, I want you out of my house.”

Willow fell back against a chair. “W-what?”

“I can’t trust you anymore.”

“But...but...”

“Consequences,” said Giles softly with a glance at Spike’s tense face. “It’s time you learned that there are repercussions to every action, Willow. If you continue to try to do things to Buffy against her will, why are you surprised that she doesn’t want you around?”

“But I was just trying to help!”

“You’re not helping,” said Buffy wearily. “You’re trying to run my life. I want to do things my way. Even if I make mistakes, they’re my mistakes and I have a right to them. Just leave me alone, why can’t you? Why do you keep on trying to interfere? If I want to sleep with Spike, I will. If...”

“No!” Xander yelled furiously. “You can’t!”

“Can’t what? Sleep with Spike? Well, I am.”

“Ouch,” muttered Spike under his breath, but couldn’t help grinning. Everybody else looked pole-axed.

“You’re...you’re...” Xander seemed to be unable to breathe.

Buffy gave him an utterly cold and contemptuous look. “I’m. Fucking. Spike. And I’m enjoying every second of it. He’s bloody fantastic in bed.”

“Thanks, pet,” murmured Spike, unable to keep from relishing that, even though he knew there would be trouble coming. “Bloody fantastic, huh?”

“Even starting to sound like you, aren’t I? We really are spending too much time together.”

They grinned at each other.

“Xander, no!” Giles shouted.

Xander had jerked a stake out of his pocket and flung himself at Spike. Spike, who had been expecting it, simply swung smoothly out of his path. Giles grabbed Xander, pinning his arms to his sides, and Buffy reached out and twisted the collar of his shirt about his throat hard enough to get his attention.

“You hurt Spike in any way,” she said softly, but so dangerously that even Xander listened, “and I’ll hurt you ten times worse.”

She waited until Xander sagged in Giles’ grip, then let him go with a emphatic nod of her head.

“I mean it,” she said. “I’ve had it with this. Understand this, Xander. I choose who I sleep with and I will not have you harming him, whoever it is. And whoever it is, it won’t be you. You’ll never be more to me than a friend. Never. I’m sorry if that sounds cruel, but I’m fed up with you interfering with my personal life. I’ve run out of patience.”

“So have I,” said Anya suddenly and everybody looked around, surprised. They had forgotten her presence in the room. “I always wondered, you know. It was always Buffy, Buffy, Buffy with you. I’m tired of being second-best. You’ve never treated me right. Always blown me off. I’m done.”

“Anya!” exclaimed Xander, horrified.

“Used.” Anya glanced at Spike and they exchanged a rueful, sympathetic look, understanding each other. “Well, I deserve better. And I’m going to get it.”

She turned and walked out of the Magic Box.

“Anya, wait!” Xander tore free from Giles’ loosening grip and ran after her.

“She has a point,” remarked Buffy. “I think he’ll have to do a lot of crawling himself for the next little while. Hopefully , that’ll make him appreciate her a little more.”

“Consequences,” muttered Giles, glancing at Willow walking numbly out the door. “Looking back, I’m beginning to see how good those two have become at avoiding responsibility for their actions.”

“Time they learned not to,” said Buffy shortly. “I’m going on patrol. Coming, Spike?”

“In a minute,” said Spike, his gaze also following Willow. “Watcher...”

Giles waited until Buffy had left as well before saying quietly, “I made contact with the covens and one of their best is coming. But she has a couple of loose ends to tie up, so it might take a little while.”

“Tell her to get a move on. Don’t know how Red’s gonna react to being ordered out of the house like that. She’s kinda stunned right now, but it might turn to anger in a little while. You know how good she is at sluffing off her part in anything. Never her fault. Oh, no. People are just unreasonable for resenting her fucking with their lives.”

“I’ll call Tara and warn her. Maybe she can get through to Willow.”

“Hope so,” muttered Spike. But he sounded doubtful.

“Spike. About your relationship with Buffy...”

Spike looked around at the frown on Giles’ face and gave him a twisted smile.

“Don’t sweat it, Watcher. It’s only sensation. Nothing for you to worry about. No emotion involved.”

“Ah.” Giles was polishing his glasses. “Well, I can’t deny that I’m relieved to hear that. No emotion on your side either?”

“Come on, Watcher.” Spike turned away and headed for the door. “Demons can’t love. Isn’t that what your Council tells you?”

“Yes. Spike?”

“Yeah, what?”

“I’m sorry.”

Spike looked around in surprise and saw Giles watching him with unexpected compassion, not as Watcher to demon, but as man to man. He nodded wryly, acknowledging that.

“So am I, Watcher.”

He caught up with Buffy in Shady Rest cemetery, where she was whaling the stuffing out of a vamp. Spike lit a cigarette and leaned back against a tombstone, watching her thoughtfully. Anya and he. They were a pair, weren’t they? Demon and former demon, and both hurt far more by humans than they had ever been by other demons. Weird that—that humans could be more hurtful than demons. At least Anya had decided to call Xander on it. And that was fair. That wanker deserved the kick in the pants.

But Buffy didn’t deserve it. This had all been done to her and she was just struggling to cope. He wasn’t a masochist. He didn’t enjoy pain. But he could endure it, hoping that she would come back to herself at last. Trouble was, when she did come back to herself, would she still need him?

“Feeling better, pet?” he asked when Buffy finally dusted the vamp.

“I’m so angry,” she said. She hammered the stake into a tree, yanked it out, then hammered it in again. “Willow and Xander. We’ve been together over five years. They’re my best friends, Spike. How could they...how could they...I feel...”

“Betrayed. It isn’t your fault. Nothing you did. They’re just going through something right now. Once they come out of it, they’ll be your friends again.”

“Feeling hurts! I don’t want to feel. I thought when you’re a demon, you don’t feel.”

“Ah, but you’re not a demon, are you, Slayer?”

“You can hit me.”

Oh, so that was what was going through her head. Things were starting to make sense.

“Demons can feel, pet. Know the Council tells you different, but they’re wrong. Can’t get away from feeling. Anything that’s got a brain will feel. Even animals feel. Haven’t you noticed? Kittens and puppies and little birds and, dammit, even snakes, cold-blooded as they are.”

“Well, I don’t want to,” she growled.

“Want to be the Bot?” he mocked.

“Yes!”

The walls were coming back up. She was closing herself off again. He caught her face in his hands and kissed her painfully hard, felt her mouth answer his and her hands clench on his T-shirt.

“Skip patrol tonight.”

“I shouldn’t...”

“Who’s it gonna hurt? We’ll do double tomorrow.”

“All right.”

He took her back to the crypt, made love to her over and over again, deliberately drowning her in sensation.

“Still want to be the Bot?”

“No,” she sighed. “But that’s just evading the issue.”

“In what way?”

“Physical sensation. That’s a cop-out.”

“It’s a start.”

“No. Not a start. The end. I don’t want more.”

“Missing out on the best of life, Slayer.”

“Pain?” she mocked.

“Joy,” he said quietly.

She rolled him onto his back, looked down at him, frowning. He looked back, smiling a little, his gaze challenging.

“I don’t like those choices. Both pain and joy or nothing? Well, I’ll take nothing.”

“Cheating yourself, Slayer.”

She sat up angrily, kneeling beside him. “I’m cheating you, Spike. Think I don’t know that? I’m not going to give you what you want. I won’t. Why do you put up with it?”

He tilted his head a little on the pillow, watching her with interest. It was the first time she had cared about what he felt.

“I love you, Buffy,” he said simply. “I’ll take anything you want to give me.”

“I’m hurting you.”

“So? With the pain, there’s also joy. Worth it.”

She shook her head helplessly, frowning down at him in frustration as he lay there, one arm flung above his head, casually surrendered to her. “It’s not. It’s not. You should leave.”

A flash of fear went through his eyes. “Do you want me to?”

“No.” She bent and kissed him fiercely hard. “I’m selfish. I don’t want you to.”

He relaxed. “Well, then, that’s all right, innit?”

“Would you leave if I told you to?”

“No.” He shrugged when she looked at him. “You’d have to dust me.”

“I’m using you.”

He smiled faintly. “Use or abuse, it doesn’t matter. I’m yours.”

“It’s not right,” she muttered.

“That’s progress, you thinking like that.”

She looked at him resentfully and he laughed. He reached out and pulled her across him so that she was straddling his stomach, then ran his hands up and down her thighs.

“Like that, don’t you, pet?”

“Sure. But that’s just sensation.”

“Yeah.” He ran his hands up her stomach and across her breasts, pressing hard. She arched back involuntarily, pushing into his hands. “What if it was someone else?”

“What?”

“Some guy off the street. Would you like it as much?”

“No,” she said immediately, unthinkingly, then caught her breath, her eyes widening.

His face was very still as he looked up at her, eyes vulnerable.

“It has to be you,” she breathed and watched his face soften into tenderness. “Progress, huh? Guess I’m getting there.”

“Don’t slip back.”

“Can’t promise that.” She bent and kissed him, ran her hands caressingly over his shoulders and chest and stomach, felt the deep tremor run through his body beneath her. She wanted to give him something for all that he was giving her. But she had nothing to give except sensation.

And gentleness, she realized. He had taught her that. She could do that, give him the illusion of caring, if not the reality.

Well, maybe not that much of an illusion, she thought, feeling his arms tighten about her and his mouth respond helplessly to hers. Maybe she did care, just a little, even though she didn’t want to. It was him, the way he gave so much. She couldn’t shut him out completely, the way she did the others.

“No,” she said, pulling his hands away when he tried to roll them over. She pressed his hands onto the bed on either side of his head. “We’re going to do this slow. I want to take my time.”

“Okay,” he said, a little puzzled, but giving her anything she wanted, as always.

She stroked her fingertips down the inside of his wrists, then trailed her fingernails along the satin skin of his inner arms, feeling him shiver under her.

“Like the way you feel,” she explained and brushed her lips across his face, exploring the planes and hollows of strong bone, then pushed his head back for her mouth to work its way down his throat. He made a wordless sound of pleasure and arched his throat to her lips. His eyes were glazing over, his focus only on the way she felt, drowning himself in her. It made her feel so special, so cherished. She wanted to give that back to him—at least physically if nothing more.

She ran her hands down his torso, kneading and caressing the strong, supple muscles, tongued the flat coin of his nipple and felt his stomach jolt under her. His hands were on the front of her thighs, pressing lightly, moving her fractionally backwards with every push. She laughed softly and let him, feeling him hardening behind, then under her. They both caught their breath sharply when he had her exactly where he wanted her, astride his groin. She laughed, deliberately clawed his stomach with her nails in retaliation and heard him gasp as she rubbed herself against him, then lifted herself up and took him into her.

His hips came off the bed, thrusting into her even as she sank down on him, and his throat arched back.

“Buffy...”

“No.” She caught his hands as they clenched on her hips, pulled them away and pressed them to the bed, their fingers interlinked. “My way.”

“Sure...Oh, God!”

Her internal muscles had started a ripple effect, her sheath clenching upon his cock from tip to base again and again. He was so thick within her, she so tight about him, that every squeeze was an agonizing, rapturous stimulus for both of them. His eyes went yellow and completely blind; his mouth open and panting; tongue curled and pressed hard to the back of his teeth. Beneath her, his hips quivered and tried to rise, needing to thrust into her. She pressed her weight onto him and held him where he was, laughing, watched his eyelids open and shudder shut, his lips snarl back, gasping, from clenched teeth.

“Buffy...”

“Just a little longer.”

“Can’t...Gonna come...”

She could feel him starting to seize up, fell flat upon him, deliberately biting at the junction between his neck and his shoulder.

Oh, Christ!

“Drink,” she whispered. It was the only thing she could think to give him as compensation for everything she could not.

The word set off an explosion. The next second, she was on her back and he was completely in gameface, beyond control, his body pistoning violently into her, his parted lips gasping over the vein at the side of her neck.

“Shouldn’t...”

Still trying to do the right thing.

“Do it,” she insisted, pulling his mouth harder to her neck.

“Oh, God...”

He was beyond thought now, unable to stop. She felt his fangs sink into her flesh, braced herself for pain, then was totally taken by surprise by the sensation that flooded through her as he drank. The voluptuous pleasure, the absolute mind-blowing rapture.

“Spike!”

Her whole body seized up. She convulsed and convulsed again, clenching helplessly on him, felt him shudder and pulse within her violently as he too came.

“Oh, wow! Oh, wow!” she gasped, coming back to herself an eon later. “I never knew...Spike, is it always like that when someone drinks from you?”

“Oh, yeah.” He was heavy and limp upon her. She liked it, held him fast when he tried to move. He sighed in pleasure and licked at the bite mark on her neck to seal it. “Thass why people pay for it. In the bite-shops. Y’know?”

His voice was blurry with repletion. She smiled, holding him. He was purring. She could feel the vibrations running through her own body as he lay upon her. It felt marvelous.

“You didn’t have to do that,” he murmured.

“Wanted to. In fact,” she said honestly, “I want to do it again.”

She felt him smile against her neck. “Liked it, did you? No objections here.”

“Somehow figured that.”

They both laughed.

“Love you,” he whispered.

“Spike...”

“Sorry. Can’t help saying it. Don’t have to respond, pet.”

“I want to,” she said suddenly. “But...”

“That’s something, innit?” he murmured, burrowing his face deeper into her.

Another step forward. But not enough. She knew it.


TBC
 
Chapter 5
 
Chapter 5


“Tara’s looking for you,” Spike said. He had rolled the Abyssinian kitten onto its back and was playing with it. The kitten was just about giggling with delight, squirming and swatting with velvet paws at the fingers tickling its ribs so deliciously. Buffy grinned at the two of them.

“You wouldn’t really eat that kitten. Big softy.”

“Hey! If I could bite anything, I wouldn’t waste time biting kittens.”

“Or people?”

He grinned at her. “Just Slayers. One sip of that blood’s all I need for the day.”

She laughed. “Big turn on for you.”

He came and ran his tongue teasingly over the bite mark on her neck. “And for you too, isn’t that right, Slayer?”

She shivered and leaned against him. “Oh, yeah.”

He looked down at her, his eyes smiling and very tender. But she saw the darkness behind them, the sadness that never went away despite everything she tried to do.

“I wish...”

He kissed her softly. “Doesn’t matter, Slayer.”

They broke apart when they heard Tara and Dawn coming down the stairs.

“Hey, Spike,” said Dawn, nimbly avoiding the kitten racing up the stairs. “Would you mind taking me over to Janice’s place? Buffy said I could spend the night.”

“Yeah, sure.” Spike headed towards the front door, glancing back at Buffy over his shoulder as he went. “This won’t take long. Wait for me before you go on patrol.”

“Okay.”

Buffy looked at Tara as the door closed behind Spike and Dawn. Tara looked very sad and tired, and had done the last couple of days, ever since Willow moved out of Revello Drive and back into her parents’ house.

“How are you, Tara?”

“Coping.”

“And Willow?”

“Not coping.” Tara sat down on the couch. “She wanted me to move into the Rosenbergs’ with her, but I said I would only if she stopped using magic so much. I-I kinda gave her an ultimatum. Stop using magic for a week and then we’ll see.”

“That sounds fair,” said Buffy, sitting down beside her.

“She said a week would be easy. She’d suggested a month. It was her idea to stop like that. But today I felt a surge on the ring.” She held out her hand with the silver ring on her middle finger. “I could feel the charm repelling a spell. I think she may have tried one on you and Spike as well.”

“It’s a good thing you gave us these rings.”

“N-not even two days. Oh, Buffy, what are we going to do?”

“I don’t know. I think Giles is up to something though. I caught the tail-end of a conversation he and Spike were having.”

“Giles doesn’t have any powers.”

“But he knows people who do.”

“And Anya’s disappeared too,” Tara sighed. “Xander’s going crazy looking for her. And the more crazy he gets, the more he blames Spike for everything.”

“Not himself. Oh, no.”

“He keeps saying that Spike has you under a thrall. I told him it wasn’t so. I mean, I’d be able to tell. But he won’t listen.”

“Willow and he are both very good at not listening to anything they don’t want to hear, aren’t they?”

Tara nodded sadly, then glanced up with a happier look on her face. “What I wanted to talk to you about though...I’ve got some good news.”

“We can sure use that.”

“I did those tests on you that you asked me to. There’s nothing wrong with you.”

“What!”

Tara smiled at her. “Nothing important. I’ve done every test possible. I’m sorry it took so long, but I knew you’d want to be certain. But, truly, there’s nothing wrong with you.”

Buffy jerked to her feet. “Then why can Spike hit me without his chip going off? Why can he bite me? ”

Tara’s mouth dropped open. “Spike bit you?”

“Well, uh, during, uh...”

“Oh!” Tara turned bright red. “Willow said you two were...but I thought it was just Xander being...”

“Tara! How can Spike hit me unless there’s something wrong with me?”

“Well, you are different. Just slightly. Not enough to matter.” Tara wrung her hands, trying to find some way to explain properly. “Shifting you out of...from where you were...funneling your essence back into your body...i-it altered you on a basic molecular level. Just enough to confuse the sensors or whatever in Spike’s chip. But it’s all surfacey physical stuff. It wouldn’t have any more effect than a...than a bad sunburn.”

“I didn’t come back wrong?”

“No, you’re the same Buffy. With a deep tropical cellular tan,” she finished lightly and smiled.

“Oh, no!” Buffy fell into a chair and put her head in her hands.

Tara stared at her. “I thought you’d be happy!”

“I am! But...Oh, Tara! I’ve messed things up so bad!”

“I don’t understand.”

“I thought if Spike could hurt me, well, I had to be a demon. And...and demons don’t feel, so it was okay for me to act so unfeeling and uncaring to you all. But it was me all the time. It was me being so mad at all of you for bringing me back.”

“Well, you had a right to be,” said Tara ruefully. “We messed up, not you.”

“Oh, I messed up! I didn’t want to feel, because feeling meant that I was alive. And Spike kept insisting on doing things to make me feel. And I was angry with him for that. So I used him, Tara. And told myself it was okay to do that because I was a demon and that’s what demons do.”

“Buffy...”

“Willow and Xander and me. We’re so good at rationalizing things. So good at living on that river in Egypt! What’s wrong with the three of us? I was angry at Spike for insisting on bringing me back into the world and so I used him. I slept with him and I gave him nothing back but sensation and I didn’t care. Didn’t care for him at all. Just used him. And he loves me.”

“He does,” said Tara gently. “He really does, Buffy.”

“I know! He loves me and I treated him like that. It was...it was...cruel.”

“Yes,” said Tara painfully, out of her own experience with Willow.

Buffy saw her face. “It’s like that for you, isn’t it? But you drew the line. Spike won’t. He should, but he won’t.”

“No, he won’t. Because it’s not exactly the same, Buffy. Willow needs to be pulled up short. You don’t. You just have to wake up.”

“This thing with him...I have to stop it.”

“How will that help? It will only cut him up more.”

“Oh, God!” Buffy put a hand over her eyes. “He’s been waiting for me to do it. Bracing himself for the pain. I can see it. It will hurt him and I don’t know how bad. Maybe too much...But I can’t...I have to...”

“Do you want to stop, Buffy?”

“The truth? No. I don’t want to. But how can I keep on using him like this? I have to stop.”

“Do you care for him?”

“I...” But Buffy wouldn’t answer, wouldn’t meet Tara’s grave eyes.

“Don’t think of anybody else’s opinion. Don’t think of us Scoobies or Dawn or Giles. What’s right for you is what matters. Consider carefully what you want. What you are and what he is. What others are.”

“I’m a Slayer. And he’s a vampire. And others are human or demon. What are you saying, Tara?”

“I’m not sure.” Tara frowned down at her hands. “This Slayer-vampire business. You were willing to overlook it when it was Angel.” Then she caught her breath at Buffy’s reproachful look and flushed vividly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring that up.”

“Angel has a soul,” said Buffy almost under her breath.

“Spike acts as if he does.”

They looked at each other.

“It doesn’t make sense.” Buffy muttered. “How does Spike do that? He shouldn’t be like that.”

“How does Angel act without a soul?”

Buffy laughed bitterly. “You know the answer. He turns into Angelus.”

“Spike doesn’t go around being Spikelus.”

Buffy flung her arms up helplessly. “He acts as if he has a soul and he doesn’t.”

“He’s got something that takes the place of one. The ability to love, maybe. Profoundly, unselfishly, unconditionally.”

Buffy looked away. Tara sighed.

“That’s so important, you know,” Tara said sadly and Buffy saw that she was thinking of Willow. “Love that comes to you from the outside, unsought, unasked for...You can’t force it. You can’t compel it. And if it means something to you when it comes, you keep it. You don’t throw it away. It’s too precious.”

“How does one keep it?” Buffy whispered.

“Deserve it.”

“I don’t deserve it,” said Buffy.

“You don’t, ” said Anya from the kitchen doorway. Apparently she had come in through the back.

“Anya!” both Buffy and Tara exclaimed. “Where have you been?”

“Xander’s been worried about you,” Tara added and Anya shrugged.

“Do him good. Was he really worried about me? Or was he worried about what he’d do without me? No more orgasms. Only got his ashes hauled once before me. That crazy Slayer, what was her name, Faith? Bust his cherry for him. Then I came along like an idiot and gave him all the orgasms he wanted. Well, it’s going to be a long, long time before he has another. Not orgasm material, Xander. He’s had it too easy. Human girls like to be courted, praised, made to feel good. They don’t like being put down and stepped on. Which is what he’s used to doing with me.”

“You sound very bitter,” Tara said gently. She didn’t sound like Anya at all, so scornful and angry.

“I am! I was a demon for a thousand years. I’ve seen every type of human and demon condition there is. Turn human and get treated like dirt, get all hung up on a silly little boy who wouldn’t have been worth a second of my time if I had still been what I was! Stupid freaking human hormones! You’d think I would have learned my lesson with Olaf.”

“Anya...”

“Get treated like dirt by all of you. Not you, Tara. You were decent. But by all the others. Even you, Buffy.” She glared at Buffy. “I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t have a soul for a thousand years. What is it with you humans and this soul thing? You think it makes you so special, think it excuses everything. Spike and me, we try and we try. But it’s never enough. We’re just dirt. Several billion humans on this planet and every single one of them is better than us. Every serial killer and murderer and rapist and wino on the planet is better than us, aren’t they? Because they have a soul! Doesn’t matter what they do with that freaking soul.”

There were tears running down Buffy’s cheeks. Was this the way she made Spike feel?

“Anya, I’m so sorry!”

“You should be.” She turned suddenly, her eyes sparkling. “Ooo! Now we’re going to have fun! Witchy and her puppy-dog have arrived. I can hear them at the front door.”

A thunderous banging had begun. Xander was shouting, “Buffy! We know he’s in there! Let us in!”

“What’s Michelin Man making such a fuss about?” asked Spike in surprise, coming through from the kitchen, having apparently come through the back yard as Anya had.

“God alone knows,” muttered Buffy, heading for the front door. “Did you get Dawn to Janice’s okay?”

“Yeah. Well, hey, look who’s back!” He grinned at Anya. “Lost a little something, have you?”

Anya scowled at where Buffy was letting Xander and Willow in. “And it’s going to stay that way. Got my head together at last. And I’m going to keep it that way.”

“Can’t really blame you, pet.”

“There he is!” Xander stormed into the livingroom, then stopped short. “Anya!”

Anya raised a scornful brow at him.

“Anya, where have you been? I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”

“With friends. Which you’re not.”

“Anya, I love you!”

“You’re an emotionally stunted adolescent who doesn’t know the meaning of the word. Why have you brought the Wicked Witch of the West? Are you going to adjust my memories too? Turn me into your sex slave as well as Buffy? You’d like that. Two of us at your beck and call. Your every moronic teenage fantasy come true.”

“Anya!”

Anya daintily gave him the finger.

Willow was frowning at Tara. “What did you do?”

Tara looked back steadily. “How would you know I did something unless you tried to throw a spell? A week, Willow? You didn’t even last two days.”

Willow flushed. “It wasn’t like that!”

“Was it for my own good? Making me forget about our fight. That’s for your good, Willow, not mine. You’re trying to use me and you don’t even see that.”

“I’m not! I’d never...!”

“You are.” Tara shook her head sadly. “This isn’t going to work.”

“Don’t say that! Sweetie, it will work! I’ll make it work!”

“By another spell? No. And don’t bother trying anything against Buffy or Spike. I’ve protected them too. But you know that. You’ve already tried to change Buffy’s memories. Tried to make both of them forget about each other.”

“It didn’t work,” growled Xander.

Tara nodded. “I’m not as powerful as Willow. But I do have some talent.”

“We’ll do this the hard way then.” Xander whipped a stake out of his pocket and advanced on Spike.

“Xander!” Buffy leaped forward, trying to get between him and Spike.

“It’s his fault. All of it! Things would go back to normal if he’s not there. You’ll see once he’s gone and the thrall’s off, Buffy. You’ll understand.”

“There is no thrall!” Buffy and Tara shouted at the same time. Spike just slid smoothly away from Xander.

“All because of you,” Xander was muttering. “Even Anya. Because of you. But you won’t be able to hide behind Buffy’s skirts forever.”

“God, I wish I didn’t have this chip in my head!” said Spike bitterly. “I’d rip you to shreds, you wanker. They’d be finding your body for weeks!”

“Done!” said Anya. There was a tinkle as a tiny piece of metal and silicon fell onto the floor in between Spike and Xander. Everybody stared at it, then turned to stare at Anya. For a second, her face still remained all skinless and veiny from when she did the spell, then it morphed back to her regular features. She smiled smugly at all of them and lifted the green amulet she was wearing out from where it had lain hidden under the cloth of her top.

“You’re a vengeance demon again?” exclaimed Buffy incredulously.

“Finally!” said Anya with immense satisfaction. “D’Hoffryn wouldn’t let me be one before because I wasn’t angry enough. This time, I was angry enough.”

“Soul’s gone,” Spike nodded. “Told you she’d lost something.”

“That’s why you made the wish,” said Buffy blankly.

“Actually, no. Wasn’t even thinking about that when I said it. But now...” His gaze rose from the chip lying on the floor to Xander’s stunned face and he started to smile slowly. The smile made the growing fangs, ridges and yellow eyes look even more vicious.

Xander went white.

“Can’t play kick-the-Spike anymore, can ya, yella belly?”

He made a move towards a cringing Xander. But Buffy hit Xander first. He sailed across the room and crashed onto the couch.

“Oh, bollocks, pet!” Spike protested. “I wanted to do that!”

“You’d have killed him. I just wanted to teach him a lesson.” She looked down at Xander where he lay on the couch, rubbing his jaw. “Am I getting through yet, Xander? You make a move on Spike, I hurt you. Got it?”

“You wouldn’t do that if Angel were here,” Xander flung at her. “You wouldn’t even look at him if Angel were here.”

Spike turned away. Buffy put out a hand to him quickly and he looked at her, his face back to his human features again. His eyes were very dark and still.

“Spike, that’s not true.”

“Your one true love. I’m only sensation, pet. I know that.”

“You’re more than that.”

She didn’t even know how to explain what he was to her. She kept thinking of what would have happened if Xander had been even a little faster, if he had managed to dust Spike before she could stop him. No more love and devotion. No more cool hands holding her so tenderly, that body worshiping hers, those eyes looking at her as if she were the only thing that mattered in the whole world. Without him...She didn’t know what she would do without him.

“Can’t stand Angel, but anything’s better than Spike,” Xander was muttering. “I wish he was here. He’d fix Spike. Why don’t you grant me my wish if you’re granting his?” he yelled at Anya.

“Wish for boils on your penis,” retorted Anya scornfully. “That I’d grant.”

I wish Angel were here,” said Willow suddenly and Xander beamed at her.

“No!” said Buffy sharply.

“No,” Anya agreed. “The only time I’m ever going to grant anything Xander Harris wants is if it’s excruciatingly painful to him.”

She smiled sweetly at Xander and he cringed.

“Angel is who you really love, Buffy,” Willow was arguing. “If he were here, you’d see that. It’s only because he’s not here that you’ve let yourself fall into this unhealthy relationship with Spike.”

Buffy looked at her, frowning. She thought of what it would be like to have Angel back. All that brooding and her constantly trying to figure out a way to get him out of it, constantly worrying about him. All that angst and agony all over again. No more of that. No.

And what else would there be no more of?

No more steady, wordless support. There wasn’t a second of the day that she didn’t feel Spike with her, even when he wasn’t physically present. Not a second when she couldn’t figuratively put out a hand and lean against his unwavering strength. Instead, she would be holding Angel up, constantly coaxing him through all his numerous issues of guilt and redemption.

No more laughter and teasing and help on patrol. Angel never had helped with her patrols; he would tell her about a threat, but never fight the fight with her. She had never realized how much of a partnership patrols with Spike had become—until now when she thought of his not being there.

No more cool body in bed, loving her. Angel’s curse prevented that. No more joy and rapture and laughter in bed.

No more Spike.

She couldn’t do without Spike.

Was it selfish to be thinking only of herself like this? But the fact that she was even thinking like this meant that anything she had with Angel was over. She would never have thought like that before, hadn’t thought to count the cost. She did now. It came to her that she wasn’t counting the cost with Spike. She didn’t care about the cost.

She had let Angel go a long time ago, but had never realized it. Angel was a stranger. He had his own life in L.A., just as she had hers here in Sunnydale. Their paths had diverged. There would be no coming back together again and she didn’t even want that.

“I don’t want Angel. I want Spike,” she said wonderingly.

Spike turned and stared at her.

Willow’s mouth opened to say something angrily and Xander jerked to his feet with a yell of frustration.

The front door opened and Giles came in, accompanied by a little, white-haired lady. Everybody gaped at them.

“Too much power,” said the little lady to Giles. She looked like a Disney grandmother; all she needed was an apron and a wooden spoon. “Barely contained. Oh, there’s a vengeance demon here as well. That’s the extra. Just won your trinket, have you, dear?” she said to Anya. “I know how tempting it is to use it, but I really can’t allow you to do that. Let’s just mute it a little, shall we?”

“No!” exclaimed Anya, cupping her hands protectively around her amulet. “I’ll just be leaving. I’ve got some catching up to do with a lot of old and...true friends. And I’m going to get some real orgasms. There’s these couple of vamps I know who just love to party and I’ve really missed that vamp staying power!”

She cast a scornful glance at Xander and vanished.

“No!” howled Xander. “Anya!”

“Congratulations, boy,” said the old lady. “I must say, it’s quite an achievement to drive someone into giving up their soul and going back to being a vengeance demon again, all because of the way you treated her.”

“I didn’t...!”

“Oh, yes, you did. You’re responsible and no one else. Make no mistake about that. Take heart.” She patted his shoulder. “She might forgive you. In a couple of years. Or decades. However long it takes you to grow up.”

“W-who...?”

“Rose Poole, from a coven in Berkshire.” She looked around at all of them, smiling. “But call me Rose.”

Tara was staring at her with wide eyes. “How do you hold so much?”

“Power?” She smiled at Tara. “You accept. You’re well on the way there yourself, child.” Her gaze went over Tara’s shoulder to a scowling Willow. “You don’t like my saying that. You resent competition, don’t you? That’s a bad sign.”

“There is no competition!” Willow flung at her.

“No one is as strong as you are. You’re quite right. But strength isn’t everything. Strength is only good for making people afraid of you. Is that what you want? To have everyone terrified of you?”

“Of course not!”

“You’re going about it the wrong way then, my dear. Forcing people to do what you want.”

“It’s not what I want! It’s what’s right!”

“Who decides what’s right? Just you? Whatever you might think, might is not right.”

Willow’s lips compressed as she bit back an angry answer.

“Any opposition angers you. You’re losing yourself, child. You’re becoming a tyrant. What if someone forced you to do things? Forced their will on you? How would that make you feel?”

Willow smiled tightly. “No one can. I’ve got more power than anybody.”

“Power like a club. You don’t understand. Being is more important than doing. You see, there’s always someone or something stronger.”

“No one is stronger than I am,” said Willow scornfully.

Rose smiled gently at her. “Strength doesn’t matter.”

“God, you’re smug! Of course it matters!” Willow’s eyes had gone completely black. She smiled nastily. “Let me show you.”

She flung out a hand at Rose, power blazing from it in a sizzling beam. Rose was thrown back against the wall.

“Willow, no!” everyone yelled in horror.

“She is strong,” Rose remarked to Giles. A pale green, translucent shield had formed in front of her.

“Stronger than you,” said Willow with satisfaction. Her beam was slowly eating through Rose’s shield.

“Oh, yes,” Rose agreed. “I don’t deny that. But it doesn’t matter, dear.”

Spike caught Buffy and drew her back against the wall with him.

“A wizard’s duel right in middle of your own home,” he muttered. “That’s all we need. Hey, look.”

A translucent, green bell had appeared over Willow’s head and was now sliding down over her.

“It’s like a candle-snuffer,” remarked Spike, fascinated.

“Very perceptive,” said Rose. “That’s exactly what it does. Puts out the fire.”

Willow’s beam had blinked out as the bell slid down past her hand. She had both her hands flung out now, trying to penetrate the translucent field of the bell. It reached her feet, sliding past her toes into the floor, then started to constrict.

“No!” Willow was starting to panic. “How...?”

“It’s not just me, you see, child. It’s all the coven, drawing strength from the earth and feeding that to one focus point. However strong you might be, you’re not as strong as the earth.”

“Don’t hurt her!” Tara gasped. “Rose!”

Rose smiled at her. “We don’t hurt people. Like you, we heal. We nurture.”

The glowing bell had reached Willow and was shaping itself to her. Now it started to sink itself into her, for a second making an intricate green pattern like a net that glimmered briefly, then faded into her skin and vanished.

“What have you done?” Willow gasped, flailing about her. “What have you done?”

“We’ve bound your power. It’s still there within you, but you won’t be able to use it for a while. It’s a time-out, that’s all. You’re like a two-year-old, my dear. Throwing tantrums and wanting your own way. Time-outs are useful with two-year-olds. If you come with me to England and learn to use your power responsibly, you’ll get it back.”

“You can’t coerce...!”

“But you were going to coerce us, Willow,” said Giles sternly. “You wanted to hurt Rose who’d done nothing to you. You have two choices. Learn how to use your power properly or live without it.”

“I didn’t mean...It’s not fair!”

“Did you have to do it this way?” Tara cried. “Couldn’t you have talked to her about it first?”

“We would have,” said Rose. “But why would she listen to us if she wouldn’t listen to you? And time is short. There’s a death coming, because of that resurrection spell that she did. We want to prevent that.”

“I knew it,” Spike muttered. “I felt it.”

“But I took care of that!” Willow cried. “I fixed it!”

“You only delayed it a little bit. A death is owed.”

“Not Buffy!” Spike caught her to him.

“No,” said Rose. “She is what that death was supposed to buy. Someone else.”

“Not Spike!” Buffy had one arm around Spike’s neck, the other about his waist, holding him fiercely. “He didn’t ask for any of this!”

Spike looked down at her tenderly and tried to move her away. “If that’s what’s needed, pet, to keep you alive...”

“No!”

Rose smiled at both of them gently. “It’s all right, children. You don’t understand. It’s Willow’s debt. She’s the buyer. She has to pay the price.”

“Oh, no!” Willow exclaimed, seeing who Rose was looking at now. “Not Tara!”

Rose said nothing.

“Please, no!” Willow was crying hopelessly. “I’ll do anything! Please, not Tara!”

Rose came and put her arms around her reassuringly. “We’ll find a way. We have a little time. All of us in the coven, we’ll find a way to avert it.”

“I’ll go to England. I’ll do anything you want. It’s not Tara’s fault. It’s mine! We’ve got to stop it!”

“We will.”

Willow flung a hand out to Tara. “You’ll come too, won’t you, Tara? You’ll come with me.”

Tara caught her hand and they clung together. “Of course I will, sweetie. Anywhere. You know that.”

“Even choosing to come to England might change things,” said Rose thoughtfully. “Where do you live, Willow?”

“M-Marshall Street.”

“We’ll start there. We’ve got to make sure any spells you may have set running are deactivated.” She moved them gently towards the door, then stopped short suddenly. “Haven’t you learned your lesson yet, boy?”

Xander jumped. “What?”

“He’s still thinking of calling in this other vampire. What’s his name? Angel?”

Xander jerked away guiltily. “I wasn’t!”

Rose looked at Buffy and Spike. “This one doesn’t give up. You two really should claim each other. That would put a stop to all these nasty machinations.”

“Rose!” gasped Giles.

“They’re already linked, Rupert. That would just make it official and avoid a great deal of trouble.”

“He’s a vampire! He doesn’t have a soul! And she’s a Slayer!”

“Fiddlesticks. She’ll be his soul once they’re claimed.”

“What’s a claim?” asked Xander, bewildered.

“They really don’t know anything about vampires, do they? Really, Rupert. What have you been teaching them all these years? They should know their enemy. Come along, dear,” she said to Xander, drawing him along with the rest of them, “and let me explain the facts of life.”

“The Council...” Giles was muttering as they went out the door.

“Don’t tell them,” shrugged Rose.

Buffy turned to Spike who was staring at the closing door, his mouth open. “What’s a claim?”

He snapped his mouth shut, then rubbed his face ruefully with both hands, as if trying to wake up. “You wouldn’t want that.”

“Wouldn’t I? How would I know that unless you tell me what it is.”

“It’s a...it’s like a marriage.”

“Oh!”

“It would bind us together. Permanently. Forever. A claim’s irreversible, pet. Only death breaks the link. You wouldn’t want that.”

“Would you?”

He reached out and just shaped the curve of her face with his hand, but without touching her, his fingers trembling a fraction of an inch from her skin. His gaze slid wistfully over her face, his eyes helpless.

“I’d give anything for it. To belong utterly to you? For you to belong utterly to me? God, yes! I want it. But then I love you, Buffy. You don’t love me.”

“I love you, Spike.”

He was shocked into absolute stillness, his hand frozen in the air, his eyes wide, lips parted on a lost, disbelieving breath.

She stepped forward, leaned into him, her arms closing tightly around him under his duster. He made an odd, little, inarticulate sound in his throat. Then his arms fell about her, crushing her to him.

She kissed that astonished mouth.

“What? How...?” he mumbled.

“Step by step, ever since they resurrected me. Fighting it all the way. But you were the only one I could rely on. The only one I could laugh with and fight with and trust with anything. You made me feel, even when I didn’t want to. You made me care, even when I didn’t want to care. I care about you, Spike. I love you.”

She kissed him and he kissed her back helplessly, his hands drifting over her hair, her face, her shoulders, with rigidly controlled delicacy, as if he were afraid to touch her in case she vanished under his hands.

“And then when Xander said that thing about Angel? I realized that I didn’t want Angel. Hadn’t wanted him for ages. I wanted you.”

“I’m dreaming,” he whispered.

“No.”

They kissed, his mouth eating her alive while his hands slid delicately, disbelievingly over her. She leaned against him, her hands clenching over his back, drowning in the long slides of his tongue against hers.

“The way you feel,” she sighed. “Want you to claim me.”

She felt the racking shudder that went through him. He leaned his forehead against hers, looking at her earnestly, his eyes flaring with heat and intensity.

“Buffy, be sure. There’s no going back. Only death breaks the claim. And the death of one always means the death of the other. That’s why Rose said it would put a stop to Xander’s plans about contacting Angel. Wouldn’t matter if he did.”

“Angel or Xander can’t kill you without killing me? Good!”

“No, pet, think. You’re a Slayer. I’m a vampire...”

Trying to do the right thing again. She kissed him, smiling.

“Don’t care. We’ll work around it.”

“Giles, the Council...”

“I want to be yours,” she said simply. “I want you to be mine.”

“Oh, God!”

All resistance vanished, as she had known it would. She laughed softly and pushed at his duster.

He let it fall onto the ground behind him. “Never could hold out against you,” he muttered.

“Don’t try.”

She drew him up the stairs and into her room. As she closed the door behind them, he stopped, staring at the bed.

“Your bed.”

“Makes a change, right?” They had always made love in his bed before.

Then she saw the awed look on his face. No, she was wrong. He had made love; she had had sex. Now she was letting him in. Into her room, into her bed, into her life...

“Into my heart,” she whispered.

“Buffy!”

They kissed fiercely, hands running delicately over each other, stroking away each other’s clothes, drifting with pleasure over each other’s skin. His eyes were dazed when he looked down at her, his eyelids heavy, his mind somewhere off in a haze of wonder.

She ran her hands over his naked body, relishing that beautiful musculature, caught the firm globes of his ass and pulled him demandingly against her.

“Could bounce a quarter off your ass.”

He blinked, then his eyes flared wide with laughter. Suddenly he was all there, vivid and wicked and laughing.

“There you are,” she said with satisfaction.

“Raunchy bint, aren’t you?”

“Yes. No frigging perfect Slayer up on a pedestal. This is me, Buffy. Kickass, earthy, raw, make-tons-of-mistakes Buffy, who is freaking in love with you and gonna eat you alive!”

“Not if I get there first.”

He picked her up and threw her onto the bed, fell on top of her. They coiled around each other like snakes, laughing. She arched to him, loving his weight upon her, the way his body covered her, moved against hers, friction building a rapturous spiral of rising sensation.

“More than sensation,” she said fiercely and saw by the absolute joy in his eyes that he knew it. No more sadness. “God! Love you so much, Spike!”

She had never let it be more than sensation before. But now every touch, every glance, every muttered word of endearment went deeper than the body and caught at the heart. And, oh, God, how much sweeter it was!

His tongue had gone raspy. She saw his eyes dancing with laughter as he worked her with it, breasts and belly and pelvis, deliberately teasing her, driving her crazy.

“Claim,” she groaned. “Want you to...”

His lips slid across her throat, then she felt his fangs lightly on her neck over the bitemark already on the vein. His fangs slid into her and she felt that singing rapture start as he drew delicately at her blood.

“Mine,” he whispered.

“Oh, yes, yours!”

He turned his head a little, allowing her access to his neck. She hadn’t known how to make a claim, but this just seemed so simple and natural and right. She bit him at the junction of his neck and his shoulder, sucked at the blood that welled up.

“Mine,” she said firmly.

“Always yours,” he sighed and came into her, deep and smooth.

Something flared, locked into place between them, the same way their bodies fused. She could feel him suddenly, all that love and passion and tenderness, felt him feel her loving him and the blaze of pure joy that went through him. Their mouths locked and their bodies locked and their minds locked. She understood dimly now why Rose had said that she would be his soul once they were claimed. They were one being, sharing everything.

They drove each other higher and higher, bodies thrusting and straining together, while the claim threw every sensation back and forth in mind-blowing passes, fusing them together until she didn’t know where she stopped and he began. She felt him shudder and pulse within her as he came, fell over the edge herself, both their minds blanking right out in helpless ecstasy.

“I’m so happy,” she whispered, holding him tightly as he was holding her. “Don’t need Heaven any more. Got it right here.”

“Oh, pet.” His face pressed hard against hers. “Me too.”

“Finally woke up.”

Woke up to what they were—partners, lovers, the dearest of friends. He was the other side of herself. They fit like hand in glove and the claim only made that official. As Rose had said, they had already been linked.

She could feel him picking up that thought, felt him smile against her cheek.

“I was always yours,” he said.

She had fought that idea. But now it seemed so absolutely right. They were meant for each other, two halves of one transcendent whole.

“This is perfection,” he said and she wrapped her arms even tighter about him.

“Yes,” she said, kissing him lovingly.

It was.


The End