“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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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.”
“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.”
“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.
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.”
“If you’re stuck here, pet, you might as well enjoy it.”
“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.
“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.
He pulled himself to his feet and headed for the other door that led to the alley.
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.
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