They'd caught her taking chances. Out without a stake, on Avenue D at three in the morning. She'd been doing that more and more as the summer went onplaying chicken with herself in bad neighborhoods, neighborhoods where humans were more of a threat than demons, where she could be assaulted by the crack-addled, by street toughs.
These were vampires, which almost made a change. She'd been fighting them for a solid half hour, but they were many, and they'd managed to pull her by degrees into the dark vestibule of an abandoned walk-up, where in the reek of shit and urine and rotting garbage she was realizing that she'd probably just run out of luck. Her arms were pinned on either side by slavering vamps whose golden eyes were all she could see in the blackness. More formed a barrier between her and the exit, and the biggest one, the leader, was closing on her neck.
Then first one and then another was extinguishedeyes blinking out with the familiar whoosh. She took advantage of the distraction, used the wall she was backed against as a fulcrum to kick up and out. Another vamp was gone, even as she launched herself feet-first at the big one.
She couldn't see who was helping her, but now wasn't the time to worry about that. The floor was slippery, smeared with she didn't want to think what, and she had no weapon beyond her ownout of practicebody.
But even out of practice, she wasn't helpless. Jumping up on the tall leader, who roared when she grabbed his head, she twisted his jaw, hard and fast, and landed on her feet as he dissolved around her.
Two sets of boots clattered away in opposite directions and were gone. It was over.
She darted forward, towards the fresher outdoor air, and slammed into something. Something that grabbed her sweat-streaked arm with a hard wrench, as another set of reflective eyes ignited in the darkness. "Not so fast, Slayer."
She couldn't see him, but she knew that voice. Her stomach roiled in a queasy rush.
No one was supposed to know she was here.
She'd gone far far away from Sunnydale. From herself. Her name. Her calling.
She didn't want any contact with the old life. Much less him. That pain-in-the-ass vampire.
"Spike." She punched at the eyes floating before her; but he ducked and she pitched forward. He caught her before she fell face down in the filth.
"What is this?" She wrenched herself free. "Since when do you help?" She was still whoozy, from the close-call, death right up in her face. She needed to shake him off, she needed to disappear.
"Didn't know it was you right off." There was something odd in his tone, surly and also sheepish. He plucked at her again. "Lucky for you I came alongyou were never so sloppy back in SunnyD. What the hell are you doin' here?"
"You owe me an explanation."
"I owe you nothing. We're done here." She dived for the door, desperate to escape the stench. He caught her again at the curb. The block seemed deserted, the windows dark on the buildings that stood like rotted stumps of teeth between empty lots overrun with weeds and refuse.
"What did you do to me? You bloody little bitch, tell me!"
This time her punch landed true. He staggered. "Get away from me. I didn't do anything."
"We had a deal." He didn't back off, but at least now he was hands-off, arms akimbo in that stupid black leather coat that made her break into a fresh sweat just looking at it. It was so humid that she wanted to peel off even the thin cotton things she had on. The idea of leather against her skin was sickening.
She stepped around him. "Yeah. So? You took Dru and you vamoosed. That was the deal. Which I'm only gonna extend for another five seconds, so if you don't want me to stake you now, you'd better run."
"You ruined me."
He fanged out again. She blocked his next punch. Four quick blows and he was on his back. She dropped to one knee on his sternum, glancing around for something she could use to dispatch him.
"Pay attention! This is serious."
"Not to me." There was a piece of broken slat in the gutter but it was just out of reach.
"You know what you did. You're gonna reverse it. You have to reverse it."
"You're boring me. It's too hot for this." Even out here, this street stank. It was an open-air toilet. He must smell it even more than she did.
In fact, the high rank stink was making his eyes water.
She'd had enough of itand him. "I'll give you a pass. Get out of here, Spike."
But when she rose, he grabbed at her ankle. "Not givin' a pass to you!"
She kicked him off and sped away. Got as far as the corner of 7th and Second, when he was suddenly there again, at her elbow.
"Look, justjust tell me how you did it. Just gimme a damn hint, so I can try"
She wheeled, resisting her urge to punch him only because there were other people waiting for the light. The expression on his face startled her. He almost seemed ... distraught. "What? What are you talking about? I didn't do anything! Stop pestering me!"
"You really don't know."
"Clue train. In the station." The light changed, and she charged forward. The hell with him. Things were tough all over.
But Spike kept up.
"What the hell are you doing here, then?"
"What am I doing? I'm not the one who was supposed to leave the country."
"Did leave. ... Came back." He frowned. "Why're you in New York? An' walking around without a stake, too."
She was hoping he hadn't noticed that. A blush rose into her already heated cheeks. She wanted to be somewhere cool and quietnot that her place, two small rooms which she shared with two other girls, was air-conditioned, or ever quiet, but she'd be able to take a cold shower there, and maybe get a nap before she had to go out again to work. She detested this city, and she detested him, and she didn't understand why she was carrying on this conversation. "I was trying to get lost."
Spike's brows shot up. She turned on her heel, but before she could take a step, he'd grabbed her by the elbow. "You're gonna talk to me. Come in here." He started dragging her towards the all-night luncheonette on the corner.
She yanked herself free. "No way. We were done back on Crawford Street. I've got nothing to say to you. "
"Always had plenty to say to bloody Angel. Now I'm just like him, shouldn't be too good to talk to me."
Just like him? Angel was dead. Angel was gone. She'd run him through and sent him to some far-off irretrievable hell. Spike, who was standing too close, and hacking her off, was nothing like Angel.
She was on the point of attempting her neck-breaker move again, onlookers be damned, when a tendril of curiosity unfurled in the depths of her angry indifference. She'd been numb for so long, it startled her like a cold slap on the back of her neck, to want to know anything about anything. Much less anything about Spike. But he'd never before have admitted to any similarity with Angel. And those watery eyes beforehe was blinking fiercely even nowwere those tears? This was all too weird, and probably some sort of trap, but ... the luncheonette would be cool inside, and there would be ice-cold Coke.
"I'll give you fifteen minutes. But you pay the check."
The restaurant, where the air was so chill that she almost immediately went from feeling pleasantly cool to cold, was half full of East Village night hawks, eating mostly from the Ukrainian side of the menu. The waitress led them to a table in the back. Spike indicated that she should go ahead of hima polite, human, absolutely normal gesture that immediately filled her with suspicion.
"I'm not turning my back on you," she whispered. He shot her a look, but went on first.
It was beyond odd to sit down with him, like they were on a date, like they were friends. Especially since Angel had never taken her out for a mealnot even a carry-out at the burger stand. And Angel was all she'd thought about since she left Sunnydale. It felt like some kind of personal fuck-you from the Powers That Be that Spike should show up this way, when she was drowning in this hopeless sea of regret. She didn't like recalling how she'd brought him into her house, how she'd bargained with him. In the end their compromise was worthless and she lost everything she cared about.
The fluorescent light was bright and stark, so that across from her Spike's skin was chalky, each hair of his black brows and eyelashes distinct. She didn't want to look at him, but there was nowhere else to look; her back was to the room, and his to the wall. In the plate glass beside her was her own reflection, and all the other customers behind her, but not him. He looked thinner than she remembered, his lips pale, dark streaks under his eyes as though he hadn't been sleeping. If he'd been a man and not a vampire, she'd have thought he was getting sick.
The waitress was there before they found time to say anything to each other. Spike smirked at her, batting his eyes, and was rewarded with a warm flushing smile. Buffy wanted to yank on her apron and tell her that she was flirting with a vampire, and how could she be so dumb? Spike wasn't all that good-looking, was he? When she looked at him, all she saw was a skanky killer.
"My girl here will want a Coke, lots of ice. An' she's hungry, so feed her up withwhat'll you have, Slayer? Stuffed cabbage?"
"Yuck. And I'm so not your girl."
"Bring her the cheese blintzes. No, nothin' for me. Just a beer." He watched the waitress's legs as she walked away, before he focused on her again.
"I didn't say you could order for me like that."
"You resemble somethin' I'd use to pick my teeth. Won't hurt you to eat somethin', even on my dime."
"You've used up your first five minutes, so you'd better talk if you're talking." She knew it would take that long to get the food, but now they were in here, amidst the savoury smells of Eastern European cooking, she was ready to eat something. She seldom had anything hot or what could be called a real mealpartly because most of what little she earned went on rent, and partly because she never seemed to get hungry anymore. Slaying used to make her ravenous, but she'd stopped slaying.
Pressing the glass of ice water against first one then the other burning cheek, she stared him down. "So why are we here?"
Spike was slumped in his chair, drumming his fingers uneasily on the table edge, as if that was all that kept him from overturning it, and every other table in the room. But when he spoke, he sounded calm. Preternaturally calm. "Want you to undo it. Just undo it, an' I swear, nothin'll bring me back to these shores again."
"You know what."
She started to rise. "If you're just gonna talk in circles, I'm leaving."
Spike clapped a hand down on hers. His eyes were alight with a desperate bright pleading. "Why'd you do it, Slayer? I said I'd take Dru an' go, and I did!"
"For the seventeenth time, I didn't do anything!"
"Then whywhy can't I" He fell silent, and turned to look through the window, at a couple passing by. A man and woman, her age, entwined and kissing as they walked. Spike gazed at them with sorrowful hunger, blinking again as if to control some overwhelming impulse.
"Can't stand bein' all alone." His jittery fingers curled the edge of the paper placemat.
"Okay, none of this is remotely interesting or anything to do with me." She sprang up, and spun towards the front, only to immediately encounter the waitress, who had a platter of steaming sweet-smelling blintzes in one hand, and a can of Coke wedged into a plastic cup of ice in the other.
"Bathroom's the other way," she said, gesturing with her chin.
At the same time, Spike slipped a finger into the rear pocket of her jean shorts, and held her back. "Listen to me, Slayer. Listen. Gonna tell you what it did to my Dru." His tone was different than any she'd ever heard from him. Grave, with a stillness in it that belied the fidgetting of his hands. Impossible to ignore. She couldn't take her eyes off him.
She slipped back in her chair.
He stared blindishly at his outspread hands on the table, and his mouth barely moved as he spoke. "Dru cried for three days an' nights. Couldn't console her. In Mexico, when I stopped to put up somewhere, she ran off. Trailed her to the doorstep of a convent, where she was beatin' on the big wooden doors to be let in. Crying out that she needed to repent." He made two slow fists, then spread his fingers slowly out again, as if he wasn't used to being able to move his fingers. "She hammered on those doors and pleaded to be taken in. Weeping that she couldn't bear it, that she needed to be scourged and punished. I couldn't shift her. Her little fists streamed blood from banging on that door. But those canny nuns knew better than to open up in the night to the likes of her. When the dawn was beginning I tried again to drag her to the car, but she fought me like a little wildcat. Watched from the shadows across the way as she threw herself against that barred door, over an' over. Until the light reached her, and she went up in flames."
Buffy blinked. "Shewhat?
"You heard me, Slayer. She burned. Crying to the God of her girlhood for her sins, an' mine, she gave up an' burned."
She didn't want to believe it. There was no reason to believe itthis had to be some kind of ruse. Except that Spike looked so haunted. So completely emptied and sad.
He looked the way she felt.
Spike lifted the bottle of beer to his lips, took a long languid swallow. "That's when I figured it out, why I'd felt so queer since we left you, what you'd done to us. Why I can't feed, or sleep .... Know we're mortal enemies, Slayer, but that was a rotten trick to play on me, when we had a deal."
It played out again in her head, the swordfight, Angel's return to himself, his bewilderment and joy at seeing her. How she kept him from realizing what she knew: that it was too late, that he had to die. She'd protected him, made it easy for him, and skewered her own heart along with his. Nothing would ever be easy, or good, for her again. Her life was over. "I had nothing to do with it."
"Willow tried once to resoul Angel, and was interrupted. She must've been trying again."
"Willow?" Disgust reshaped his brow and lip. "Little bitch cast her net too wide." There was a strange lack of rancour in his tone. She almost laughed. They both sounded detached now, like they were on ether.
He took another swallow of beer, and made a face. "So where is His Broodiness? Ought to be lookin' after you, since you've forgotten how to take care of yourself. You were a goner if I hadn't come along."
She wasn't going to let him see her wince. So she dug into the paper cup of sour cream on the edge of her plate, started spreading it on the golden backs of the blintzes. "I sent him to hell."
Spike's jaw dropped. It was nearly funny. She took a bite, chewed thoughtfully. Mmm, cheesy. She liked cheese. Took another bite.
Spike was studying her now, his head at a tilt, eyes narrowed. "Oi ... you've gone AWOL, haven't you? That's why you're on the wrong side of the continent? Hidin'."
"We're not discussing that." Another bite. This was pretty good, but she was already starting to feel full. Or at least, restless and guilty. She wasn't supposed to sit and chat with vampires. She'd been a fool to ever talk turkey with Spike in the first place, and now he thought they were some kind of ... equals. "We're not discussing anything, in fact. I'm leaving in a minute, and you're not going to follow me."
"You can't walk out on methis is your fault!"
She shook her head. "If I see you again, Spike, I take you out. And don't think I can't, or won't."
He folded his arms, his eyes going sharp and taunting. "I do think you can't an' won't, because you're not gonna stake a man with a soul."
All up her arm and into her chest, she felt again the force of that sword thrust, driving the steel into Angel's belly. Now she did wince. If I had merely dusted him! That would be bad enough ... but because of me, he's in hell. Neverending hell. His soul and his body and his everything suffering forever.
He leaned forward then. The detached air had evaporated; his rage shimmered. "You did this, Slayer. You took my lady from me. Left me starving an' bored an' full of nightmares so I don't dare shut my eyes. I'm at the end of my bleeding tether."
Buffy set her knife and fork carefully down. "Boo hoo. Poor old Spike can't be a bloodsucking fiend anymore because he got his soul back. I feel just terrible."
"Little respect here! You were all po-faced about Angel bein' different because he had a soul. So now I'm the same, you ought to be"
"Nothing! I ought to be nothing! There's no comparison! He was good! Hehewas"
"was thoroughly pussy-whipped for the first time in all his existence, an' you found that quite charming and irresistible. I know all about it."
"You don't. Shut up."
Spike pulled some crumpled fives from his pocket and threw them on the table as he rose. His hand closedwith a gentleness she knew was deceptivearound her upper arm.
"Come on, Slayer. You're gonna undo my problem, or else you're gonna pay."
His grip told her that if she resisted now, he'd tear the whole restaurant apart. She let him steer her out onto the street. There was still an hour before it would start to get light; there was almost no one around, no buses in view on the avenue, barely any traffic. The air, at this hour that should've been the coolest of the twenty-four, was still laden and thick. In a moment she was once more coated in sweat.
And unless she slayed him right here on the sidewalk, there was no way she'd be able to go back to the apartment without him following her.
Spike put a hand out and stopped a solitary crawling cab. "My place'll be cool," he said, tipping his chin up and regarding her with half-shuttered eyes. "You can have a bath."
This was crazy, but these might as well have been magic words. He held the taxi door open and gestured her to get in. She met his eyes. "There's nothing I can do about your stupid 'problem'."
"We'll see about that."
The plastic seat was slippery and gross against the backs of her thighs, and the interior of the car stank of cheap incense. But there was no bathtub where she stayed. Just a rusty shower with lousy water pressure. And it wasn't like he'd be able to give her any troubleshe no longer believed this was a set-up. No one could be more solitary than Spike was now. And if she couldn't slay him, there was nothing that said she couldn't cripple him. Buffy slid all the way to the far side, and kept herself still, staring out the window, aware all the while of where the edge of Spike's leather coat just touched the side of her leg.
The driver caught every light; they raced uptown on the nearly deserted avenues, turning left at last off Madison Avenue to stop in front of a stiffly elegant bow-windowed townhouse, five stories tall. In the streetlight's yellow glow, Buffy saw intricate scrollwork on its smooth stone front, the parlor floor windows completely covered in heavy swagged billows, while those higher up were blocked by pale-colored wooden shutters with their slats closed tight. Similar houses, most just as closely guarded from the light of day, lined the block, which opened onto the facade of what she recognized from a postcard her dad once sent her, as the Metropolitan Museum. Spike sprang up the sharp flight of stone steps to the front door, which was also set with glass panels thoroughly curtained. She followed more slowly, steeped in suspicion.
"What are we doing here? Whose is this?"
"Never you mind." He rang the bell.
"I'm not going with you into some place you took over by killing the owner!"
"Told you you could have a bath. Now d'you want it or not?"
Just then, the door was opened by an unseen hand; Spike entered and she followed him into a nearly lightless entree made more obscure by its dark wood paneling. Immediately she was enveloped in air of the perfect temperature and dryness, and a delicious subtle aroma of figs. Overhead a magnificent chandelier came on, shedding a dim but crystalline light that revealed the subtle elegant curl of a wide staircase and the gleam of its bannisters. Spike shrugged out of his duster and tossed it across a delicate gilt-and-silk armchair against the wall.
A butlerhe looked like a butler, in a formal Edwardian kind of suit-uniform thing, white hair slicked back from a high forehead, and a bland non-expression, shut the door behind her and gathered up the duster over his arm without the slightest sign of annoyance. "Will there be anything else, sir?"
"You can draw the lady a bath, an' then make yourself scarce."
When the servant, his tread completely silent on the thick carpet, had left them, Buffy expelled the breath she hadn't realized she was holding. "Who was that?"
"Reese comes with the house."
"He's not a vamp." She knew because the only thing giving her that light tingle at the nape of her neck was Spike.
"He's not. What he is, is extremely well paid. Knows how to keep quiet."
Rebuked, Buffy bristled. "Who pays him? Not you."
"You seem to know all about it, so do shut up, there's a good Slayer."
This was a Through-the-Looking-Glass-level World of Weird. The house felt almost sepulchrally quiet. She wouldn't have been surprised if the houses on either side and across the street were nearly empty tooit was the time of year when rich people fled to breezier places, after all. But that didn't explain how muffled it all wasshe doubted she'd be able to hear a car alarm sounding right outside.
But this place seemed more preserved than shut up. When she trailed Spike into the large front parlor with its deep bowed window, just as deeply muffled, she noticed that everything that wasn't actually antique was just plain oldthe lamps had thick dun clothish cords that were plugged into round sockets that might've been installed around the turn of the century and never upgraded since. She saw no evidence of a TV, a stereo, not even a radio. The books in the glass cases had matched leather and gilt spines, and included nothing, apparently, published after World War I.
At a gleaming cart in one corner, he poured some kind of brown liquor from a cut-glass decanter into a cut glass tumbler and drank it down all in one shot as if he'd forgotten her presence. Buffy heard the lip of the decanter clink against the glass. Could Spike be nervous? When was he ever?
He took out a cigarette then. She watched as he tried and failed to get his silver Zippo to ignite.
She plucked it from his hand. The flame stood up proud for her. For a split-second she saw herself setting him on fire. His hair, with all that stuff he put it in it, would go up like that. He'd leave a smudge on the fine Asian carpet, and she'd turn around and walk out of here and walk all the way downtown into the humid beginning of the day. One old score for the ex-Vampire Slayer.
Instead she did something ticklish, naughty, like when she'd taken that lipstick at Bullock's. Making a pert face, she held the lighter out. His lip curled, like he was going to snarl, like he was going to fang out. But in the next moment he leaned in and let her light his smoke.
The lighter was heavy and shiny and felt right in her hands. She coveted as she toyed with it. Then she noticed that it was engraved; as she squinted, trying to make out what it said, Spike snatched it away from her and tucked it in his pocket. She wandered instead around the long room, almost skating on the thick silencing rugs.
The painting over the mantlepiece was so tall that, standing right beneath it, it took a few moments for her to puzzle out its subject in the twilight: a beautiful tall woman in a white evening gown that seemed to be made out of peppermint and which served up her bare shoulders and cleavage as if they were squeezed from a tube, was held by a man in evening clothes standing just behind her; her fair head was tossed back, as if she was laughing, and his dark one was buried in her pale pink neck, as if he was kissing her extravagantly beneath her ear.
Or as if he was biting her, and she was screaming. Buffy backed up to get a better look, but at that moment Spike switched off the one lamp and steered her back into the foyer. "I'll take you up."
She followed him up two flights to the threshold of the biggest most lushly-appointed bathroom she'd ever seen.
She didn't get itin Sunnydale, he'd taken up residence in an abandoned factory, so what was he doing here in a house that was probably on the Social Register?
Again she thought of leaving. Spike wasn't her problem, because she wasn't the slayer anymore.
She'd spent the last two months subsisting, always glancing backwards, at what she'd lost, how she'd failed, even as she shied from those memories, that made her crumble inside, made her flail. She couldn't even think of her mother, of Giles and her friends, without being overwhelmed. Remembering Angel was so painful unto suffocation. So she tried not to think about anything.
Still, why rush back to her lumpy futon on the floor of a too-small, too-hot, too-roach-ridden apartment, where in a couple of hours she'd have to jockey with two other girls she barely knew for use of the miniscule bathroom, and then head out to her disposable job as a checker at Gristedes? The impulse to go with Spike was the first impulse she'd experienced since the one that had taken her out of Sunnydale. She recognized that it was an even worse one than running away, but it didnt matter. Nothing she did mattered now.
The bath, a huge gleaming clawfoot tub, long and deep, was already filled with fragrant bubbles. As soon as she saw it, she yearned to be immersed.
"There you go," Spike said.
For a moment she was apprehensive lest he propose to share it with her, but when she glanced around to warn him off, he wasn't there, and she heard a light click as a door at the end of the landing gently shut.
Whatever kind of freak thing he was planning, he apparently wasn't going to interfere with this.
As she took off her clothes and sank into the scented water beneath the froth, she recalled the jarring thing she'd managed somehow to forget it in the cab. The whole reason why she was here.
Spike had his soul.
Willow's spellMiss Calendar's spell, reallyhad worked not just on Angel, but on all the vamps in the vicinity! A spark of excitement flaredWillow would be psyched when she heard, and Giles would probably want to consult a million booksor maybe at last write one. But the spark died at once. She wouldn't be telling them. They weren't a part of her life anymore.
She'd killed the man she loved. She'd left her friends forever. She gotten herself lost.
It hit her then, like a boot in the gutshe was back in that rancid dark vestibule, being forced against the wall, pinned, about to be devoured. Death had been so closeso close. All the airall the power and willhad escaped her, she'd been sure it was the end, and she'd slipped into a vacuum, wanting and needing nothing And it was all right.
Then it didn't happen.
Buffy shuddered, and had to scramble up fast out of the water. She couldn't see a toilet in the roomshe threw up into what she recognized only afterwards, as she subsided against it, shuddering, as a bidet.
Wiping her mouth with her hand, she staggered up. In the opposite corner was a large glassed in shower stall; she got the water running, deeply cold, and stepped in, turning her face up to the high pressure needles. Gasped, swallowed some with thirst, coughed, let it beat against her face, her chest. She cried because she didn't know if she was glad or sorry that Spike had come along and helped her. Maybe I want to die. Maybe I should.
After a few minutes, she turned on the hot water, and stayed beneath the warm stream until she'd cried herself out.
It was the first time she'd cried since ... since ....
Toiletries and things were set outshe wrapped herself in a fluffy white robe, brushed her teeth, combed her hair, breathing deep regular breaths. She was okay now. The vagueness, the numb distance that framed her existence now, was back. She needed that, like some gentle but inexorable drug, that helped her continue, from one minute to the next, without utterly collapsing.
The windows here too were covered in heavy swags. Buffy drew one up. The view was of the unadorned back of another fancy old house in the next block; the sky above was pink and limpid with the beginning of day.
Another day in which she'd never see Angel again.
She pushed the thought away. Thinking about him, especiallyabout anything prior to that moment when she'd kissed him and killed himfilled her with hot shame. Everything was her fault. Her fault for desiring, for loving, for taking him and letting herself be taken. She should have known that wasn't what she was supposed to do, to have, to be.
But ... it didn't matter anymore.
Her dirty clothes lay in a heap on the floor near the door. Buffy stepped over them, and into the hall. Reese appeared at once, moving silently. "Was everything satisfactory, miss?"
"Uhyeah." Except I'd like to put a bell on you. "Tell me, whose house is this?"
"It belongs to a gentleman."
Spike's no gentleman. "So it isn't Spike's?"
Reese was never anything more than perfectly bland. "Is there anything else I can do for you, miss?"
"Never mind that. She's got an appointment with me at the moment."
Buffy turned. Spike was leaning in the doorway at the end of the short hall. She couldn't see his faceit was too dark there.
Reese said, "Very good, sir." When she turned to speak to him again, he'd gone.
"Huh. He's sneaky, isn't he?"
"Come in here, Slayer."
Buffy stayed where she was. "What now?"
"Now we get to the part where you undo your dirty trick."
"I already told you, I had nothing to do with that. Magic's not my department, anyway."
"No, that's true. You're the Slayer. The one girl in all the world. Only you've gone all slacker, haven't you? You've run off an' let down the side. How do you live with yourself?"
"That's none of your business. Anyway, you should talk."
She sensed that he was going to retort, but then nothing came except a stretching silence, as if he was thinking twice, or three times.
He drew himself up, and held out a hand.
Without really meaning to, she drifted towards him. The carpeting was deep and lush under her bare feet. As she came closer, Spike retreated into the room.
She saw that it was a bedroom. Large and baronial, dominated by the biggest bed she'd ever seen, like something in the movies. The lamps on either endtable were lit, casting soft light from under their graceful stained glass shades on the expanse of white linen. Spike stood at the foot, one arm wrapped around one tall post. He was barefoot, and he'd taken off his shirts. The unexpected white shield of his chest drew her eyes. He was smaller without his black coverings, too lean, but smooth, cut, and so pale, like something from which the color had been deliberately drained. The sight of his uncovered flesh embarrassed her, but still she stared.
"Don't dawdle. Let's get this done." He spoke with his usual arrogance, but beneath it, was something else, which she felt the same way she felt that tingling at the back of her neck.
"Get what done? I'm not letting you do any spells, so you can just forget that." Even as she said the words, comprehension broke. She blushed. Geez. Stoooopid.
She stepped back. "You are not touching me. That's a big negatory. Nein. Nuh-uh. And all the other ways to say N. O. No."
Even from across the room she could see how his cheekbone twitched. He was reining himself in. "Not really givin' you a choice here."
"Like you could force me, anyway. I'm leaving." She went back to the bathroom, where, as she expected, she didn't find her clothes. Reese had borne them off somewhere. Well, so yeah, she'd be out on Fifth Avenue with nothing but a terry cloth robe, but there was something kind of mad-cappishly Breakfast At Tiffany's about that which she thought she'd be able to pull off. Anyway, it was better than getting into a tussle involving Spike's boy-parts.
He caught her at the top of the landing. "You can go. I'll let you go." His breath was cool against her neck. He was holding her the way the man in the portrait downstairs was holding the woman in the evening gown. Lightly but firmly. "And then I'll gohave another chat with your sweet mum. She'll be desperate for news of you, she'll ask me right in. Expect she an' I will have ourselves a real nice time."
Buffy froze. "You wouldn't. You said you couldn't"
"Why should I spare you? You've done nothing but hurt me since I clapped eyes on you! You unleashed Angelus who ruined my sweet set-up. Murdered my darling. I'll never get over her, never ... nothing's any good without Dru. Either you free me from this torment or I'll go back there an' do for everyone you love."
Buffy ducked forward and down, and then Spike was flying over her shoulders and tumbling noisily down the stairs. She followed at a leisurely pace, reaching him just as he sprang to his feet, and delivered a roundhouse kick that dropped him. Oww. Barefoot fighting's not like it looks in the Bruce Lee flicks. Before he could rise again, she pinned him down with one knee and planted a hard blow to his cheek that made his head snap to the side like a rubber bulb.
She hit him again, braced for his responding blow.
Somewhere in a recess of the landing, a grandfather clock began to sound. Idly Buffy counted the chimes. When they stopped, she let him up. Commence, round two.
Spike rose slowly, feeling his jaw.
"Slayerplease. Gotta help me. Just do this one thing"
She couldn't believe he wasn't fighting her. What was wrong with him?
Oh, right. The soul.
The soul made him this way.
She couldn't wrap her mind around it, around him having it. It was too much like thinking about Angel, too complicated and mysterious. Everything was her fault, but why should she have to be responsible for anything that happened to Spike? She wished she could slay him, but he was right, her conscience wouldn't allow that.
Conscience. It came to her then. His threat was totally empty. He wasn't going to go attack her mother. If he'd had any solid intention of doing that, he'd have done it already. If it ever occurred to him to come for her, he wouldn't be in New York. He'd had no reason to think she was anywhere but in Sunnydale.
They'd met by chancedidn't know it was you, that popped back into her headand he'd helped her because he thought she was a random girl in peril. Conscience. He had one now, and he'd just been bluffing her all along. Pretending to be his old dangerous sagacious self, when really ... well, she didn't know what he was now. And she so did not care.
"just this one thing, an' then I promise I'll bugger off where you'll never see me ever again."
He brightened as she came up to him. "I won't hurt you. I'll make it good. You'll see."
She plunged her hand into his front left jeans pocket. Felt the wad of money there, pulled it out. Backed off quickly as he protested; smoothed the bills until she found a twenty, (for the powder room, like Holly Golightly) and let the others fall.
Ignoring him, she descended to the foyer and let herself out. The morning was already overbright, the air a moist heated slap. She descended primly to the sidewalk on her bare feet, in her white toweling robe, and walked slowly to the corner, where a cab pulled up for her before she even raised her hand.
The marketit was to laugh to call it a super-market, because it was about the size of a saltine compared to the stores back in Sunnydale and LAwas quiet in the late afternoon. The rush, such as it was, would start up after five, when people came home from work, and needed groceries for dinner. Right now Buffy could lean against her station and daydream while she waited. The plate-glass front of the Gristedes gave her an excellent view of the streetfrom where she stood she saw the bushes and flower beds of a small community garden, the traffic where Hudson Street turned into Eighth Avenue, and on the other side, a city playground with trees, and an Art Deco apartment house. Though the store was in a tony part of the West Village, it was strangely downscalethe shelves sloppily stocked, floors dirty, and an absence of arugula and ciabatta rolls. There was a much nicer market, a D'Agostinos, right around the corner, which seemed to do a much better business. But Buffy didn't care about the businessshe got paid eight dollars an hour no matter how busy or quiet it was, and if she lost this job she was pretty sure she could get another, similar one, in a day. The discount on breakfast cereal, which, along with pizza slices, was about all she ate, was a plus too.
Since that morning she'd left Spike's housethe house that couldn't actually be Spike'sthe brutal weather had continued unabated, three days and nights of unrelenting heat and suffocating humidity. The pavements and buildings gave it off like the walls of an oven. The only relief she got was in the air-conditioned store and in the shower. At night she stayed out late, continuing her new habit of wandering around, not patrolling, but ... getting lost. Staying lost. When she returned to her rumpled futon, it was hard to sleep; she'd lie there and sweat, and that's when the things she didn't want to remember would intrude on her. Angel would be there, right next to her, kissing her hair and her neck with gentle worshipful lips, the way he used to. Smiling at her out of his big headhe'd had such a big head, sometimes it used to make her laugh when he was right up close to her and she'd take his face in her hands and look into his eyes. He was so old but when he was with her and they were just kissing and smiling, she could believe he was just like her, a beginner at love, full of tenderness and delight at what they were starting out on together.
And then she'd remember what it was like to lie underneath himhow excited she was, and how unsure of herself, and how itsexwas nothing like she'd imagined and also just like she'd imagined, and really really great and also somehow disappointing. Because it seemed to be over too soon, and her orgasm was sort of ... shy ... compared to the ones she gave herself, and then instead of doing it again, like she hoped and halfway feared, Angel settled her on his chest and murmured something to her and fell asleep. She'd waited for him to wake up so they could try it againwaited at least an hour, because she remembered checking the time, though she was also leery of moving lest she disturb him, because he had to be exhausted after all the fighting and the swimming and thinking they'd be parted for months and months. Then she'd fallen asleep, though how, in the midst of being so tense and alert and thinky was still a mystery to her. And then she woke up alone into the nightmare. That was just going on and on and on.
It was never going to be over. Angel was never coming back.
Days she managed not to think about the past, or home. The last few days, her mind was filled with Spike, and that house, and what he'd wanted from her. Even though she'd turned her back on All Things Slay-y, it was impossible not to be all whoa about the night she'd spent in that place, and the things Spike said, even though she didn't want to believe most of it.
Still, actions spoke, and his actions ... were not what she'd grown used to, from William The Bloody.
She didn't regret walking out. Even if she could do something about the soulshe flashed on the sight of him, half-naked, and fidgeted with her name tagshe wouldn't, because he was loathsome. Have sex with a stupid vampire so he could go be more evil afterwards? Uh, no! Even the prospect of dusting him wasn't particularly stirring.
She told herself that every day. He was ... well, he wasn't ugly, but he was repulsive. Knowing what he was.
Outside, the afternoon was getting darker and darker, the sky taking on the greeny-grey color of the overboiled green beans in an elementary school lunch. Inside, the fluorescent lights asserted themselves to give her the beginning of a headache. The store smelled musty, sort of meaty. No wonder the only people who came in here were the very old, or the poor, or distracted-seeming people in a hurry only buying two or three things. This place was broken. Which, for her, fit.
"Maybe the heat'll break," Emma said. She was the other checker on duty, two aisles down. "It's gonna storm. Glad I brought my umbrella."
"Yeah," Buffy sighed. She had no umbrella, and she was wearing vinyl sandals from Payless that would fall apart if she had to walk in them for long in a downpour. She'd noticed that in New York, when it rained, it always seemed to do it just when her shift ended. She stared out at the dreary windless street until the sound of someone dropping things onto the belt made her turn back to her register.
She rang up a six-pack of imported beer and a bag of beef jerky. Well, someone's going to have a repulsive evening. "Ten ninety. Cash or credit?"
"Don't I rate a courteous greetin'? Payin' customer, here."
She glanced up. A pair of dark sunglasses, almost like goggles, obscured the upper part of Spike's face, and the collar of his duster was flipped up.
He leered at her chest. "No way to treat a customer, Anne."
She gawked. "Howhow did you find me?"
Spike grinned his go-on-and-bat-me-in-the-chops grin, and tapped his nose.
"What, you tracked me by" She didn't want to say 'smell', but she was too flustered to think of another word. She didn't smell.
"Still a vampire. That's how we do it."
"There's likeninety kabillion people out there! And this is nowhere near"
"Talented vampire. Experienced. And your scent, Slayer ... is indelible."
She raised a hand to pop him, when something flashed, and the next second there was a boom that made her jump. On the other side of the plate glass, the sky let loose with a curtain of rain that immediately obscured the view. The few people walking by began to sprint along the streaming sidewalk. The tree limbs bent beneath the force of falling water. Lightning flashed again.
Maybe the atmosphere would change.
She shook open a paper bag. "Ten ninety. Cash, or credit?"
Now she looked at him again, she noticed that his mouth was bruised, the lip cut and only half healed. The bruise rose up his cheekbone and disappeared behind the big glasses, which she now suspected were more meant as a mask than as protection from that day's non-existent sun.
"Who beat you up?"
"Why do you care, Miss Anne?"
"I want to send a congratulatory telegram."
"Thought you'd come back to the house. Been expecting you every night."
"Yeah, about that, I thought I'd wait ... until the sun goes supernova."
Spike sidled closer to the moving belt, and leaned in. His voice dropped to a murmur. "What've you got to lose? No one'll ever know, an' like I said, I'll make it good for you. Show you a few things I know Angel didn't have time to"
He fell silent because she was bending his hand back so hard towards his wrist that all he could do was work his mouth in a soundless plea to be released.
"You're a pig," she said. "Now if you're a customer, you can pay and get out, and if you aren't, you can just get out."
"Into that? No fear." The rain was striking the window with a loud steady tattoo. He rubbed his wrist. "You're cruel. Mistreatin' a wounded animal that only wants your help."
"You're a vampire. As you just reminded me."
His shoulders drooped. "Only I'm not anymore. I can't .... S'intolerable. Unnatural!"
"I can't go on like this! It hurts. You could help me, if you weren't such a contrary little baggage, an' then I'd be gone to other side of the globe and you'd never have to see me again!"
She yawned. "Or, y'know, not."
"That's not the way to get me out of your hair though, is it?"
She put the beer and jerky into the bag, and scanned around behind him for more customers. If someone else would just get in line for her register, she could get him to go. But the store was deserted, as was the street outside.
"Come tonight. I'll make sure there's nice things for you to eat, yeah? Have another bath. Have two. Just let me have what I need, an' we'll be done an' done. You know you want to, Slayer."
His voice dropped another level, and he leaned in even closer. "I'll go down on you first. For long as you please. That'll be somethin' new for you. You'll like it, I wager. I know my way round, in that department. Never fail to please."
Her clit twitched, her pulse leapt; she knew he knew it, as she shoved him back. But immediately her brain took her to the inevitable imageryhis face buried between Drusilla's thighs. Eeeuuwww.
Even from behind his glasses she was aware of the intensity of his stare; her cheeks burned. She turned her face away. "You can take the stuff, okay? Just leave."
Quietly, he said, "You know, he did it too."
Shit, he was reading her mind now? Her jaw went tight to keep from opening in a scream. "Shut up."
"Everything I've ever done, Angel's done. Done first, done more, done worse. Not just talkin' about my darling's cunny now."
"You. Are. Disgusting."
"Just dunno why it is that you'll overlook every atrocity he ever did, but when it's me gets all souled up, you won't give me the time of day. Fair's fair, Miss Anne."
She faced him then. "That's easy, Spike. I don't like you. And quit calling me that."
His answer was immediate. "You don't know me. Might have hidden depths. Anyway, I don't much like you, either, but I'm willin' to do the necessary."
"You know just what to say to a girl."
"Isn't right. Me bein' like this, an' you like you are, missing your spark. I ought to be Big Bad, an' you ought to be the Slayer. It's in your power to put us both right, an'"
"What if I do the necessary?"
Slowly, he drew off the glasses. Both his eyes were ringed in lurid purple, and one cheekbone seemed to have a dent in it. She winced. He looked resigned. "You'll do what you'll do. Least then, it'll be true slayer-an'-vamp. It'll be proper."
To make him go away, she promised she would come to the house that night.
During the rest of her shift, Buffy tried to plan. He could find her anywhere in the city. Could he find her anywhere? She had to leave New York. If she flew, wouldn't that keep him from tracking her by scent? Except ... she had no credit card, and she was beyond broke. She'd just paid her rent, and it would be another two weeks until her next pay day. All she had on hand was walking-around money. She could barely afford a bus ticket to somewhere close, let alone a flight.
Could she borrow from her roommates? Unlikelythey were just as poor as she was, and she'd never bothered to try to make friends with them. She knew for a fact that Donna didn't like her, and Gigi was out so much that they'd never really talked except to have little spats about whose turn it was to buy toilet paper. Her boss at the store would just stare at her if she asked for an advance, or a loan.
She was stuck here.
It was still pattering as she left the market, and without an umbrella she was wet by time she reached the corner. The steambath atmosphere hadn't broken. She felt herself on the verge of panic. Except I don't do panic. There's got to be a way. Ducking into the Starbucks near the subway stop, she spent a third of her daily food money on an iced latte, and sat down to ponder her options.
A man at the next table was writing in a notebook; after staring at him unseeingly for a full minute, she leaned over and asked to borrow a pen and a sheet of paper.
She'd make a list. Her mother always used to do that, when she was stuck on a problem in her business. Everything was clearer, her mom said, when you laid it out on paper.
1. Spike! I hate him! He's never going to leave me alone!
2. I can't leave town because I'm broke.
3. He can't keep stalking me forever. If I just keep blowing him off, he'll give up. When I was Queen Bee at Hemery I blew off lots of boys.
4. Uh, this is Spike. He will never give up.
5. Hello, stalker! Sensible girls call the cops on stalkers!
6. The cops take him to jail!
7. ... and he eats the other prisoners.
8. Unless the soul will keep him from eating the other prisoners, and he'll just starve.
9. Or he'll dust in the sun when the cops move him from one place to another. End of problem!
But ... Buffy lowered the pen. that would just be sentencing him to death, only without the guts to do it myself. And if not him, the people I sic him on by getting him arrested. Gloomy, she let that thought settle in. I can't fob Spike off on the police. Demons aren't their job. They're mine.
Used to be mine.
C'mon, c'mon. You're up to number ten and you're still stuck! She drummed the pen on the table. Think, think think!
I could just stake him and get it over with. He was a mass-murderer until a couple months ago.
But like he'd said, it really wasn't fair, that she could see past all that in Angel, but not him. Just because I don't like him doesn't make that right. He did help me the other night, without knowing it was me. Maybe he goes out every night, looking for people to help.
What if ... what if I give him what he wants? Scrunching her nose, Buffy wrote:
10. Uh, obnoxious and gross?
11. More than thathe wants to be rid of his soul! Why should I help him with that?
Because you know it won't work anyway. It takes perfect happinessshe wrote down 'perfect happiness'to break the curse. Spike doesn't know that. She wrote down, 'unknown by S.' Then added a question mark. She wasn't sure what Angelus might have told, or known, or what other information Spike could've gleaned elsewhere since.
The little voice in the back of her head ... the little voice Buffy never liked to listen to, the one that said, 'Take the lipstick', the one that said, 'Finish the carton', the one that said, 'seventy-five pushups are just as good as one hundred', said, And you're lonely, and horny, and stop pretending you're not curious about him. You ARE.
I am not! He's grody and repulsive and just YUCK. And wrote:
12. I can just explain to him that it's not going to work!
13. Like he'd take your word for it.
14. And even if he did, he'd just go off and figure out how to break the curse by himself.
The only way through this was ... through this. She'd let him ... let him have sex with her ... her mind shied from the details ... and afterwards he'd either lose his soul and she'd stake him, or ... much more likely he wouldn't, and maybe he'd think then that there was no way out of the curse, and he'd go be a monk, or kill himself. At any event, they'd be finished.
This was all logical and sensibleas much as anything so insane could bebut.
She still didn't want to let Spike touch her. Be on top of her. Penetrate her.
She could just imagine how he'd look at her afterwards, how he'd speak to her, if it worked. Even if she could stake him at the same moment, it wouldn't be soon enough.
And when it didn't work, it would be the same ... he'd treat her like she was worthless. Nothing but the world's biggest disappointment.
Worked. Was that all that sex was ever going to be for her? Something that when she did it, she might be obliged to slay her partner afterwards?
Nobody had told her that opening her thighs for vampires was going to be part of the slaying thing.
Or that she'd have to feel so cornered and alone.
She tore the list up into tiny pieces and threw them into the remains of her latte.
She felt like a frog in a pot of water being over a high flame. She wasn't going to be able to get out. She was going to be boiled.
It was nine o'clock by time she emerged from the subway on Lexington at 86th Street and headed west and south to the house. Once she left the lively cross-street, the neighborhood had a hushed feel, the shops shut on Madison Avenue, their windows full of pricey merchandise lit up for no one. It seemed like all the apartments above were empty, their normal human inhabitants away at beaches and mountain lakes, and there was no one but the shop mannequins forming a gauntlet for her to walk through, taunting her.
She climbed the marble steps slowly to the house door, and rang the bell.
Reese opened the door. "Good evening, miss."
She offered him the shopping bag in her hand. "I brought back the robe."
"Thank you, miss, it was quite unnecessary."
"Whose house is this?"
"My employer is a Mr Vaux."
"Your friend is a guest here. Mr Vaux is abroad."
"Spike's not mywhere abroad?"
"Mr Vaux has various houses. He travels a great deal."
"He's another vampire, right?"
"This way, please. You're just in time for supper."
He led her into a room she hadn't visited before, a small glassed-in breakfast room that overlooked a walled garden, its flowers and shrubs illuminated by artfully-placed spotlights. A table was set for one with pretty gold-rimmed china and silver that glowed with the low burnish of the good and old.
"I thought you'd be more comfortable in here, miss, rather than in the dining room."
"You'll be joining him later."
That's what I'm dreading. The ... joining. She was going to say that she wanted to see him now, but Reese was pulling out the chair for her to sit.
A moment later he was back with a demi-baguette, a bowl of pale soup, and a large green salad. "Is there anything else you'd like?"
"I ... can't think of anything."
"Very good, miss. When you're ready, please step upstairs. Your bath will ready, and of course the clothes you left here the other evening will be awaiting you." Reese took a thin book from the sideboard, and set it down at her elbow. "I will leave you now, but there's one final thing. I was asked to give you thisyou might wish to turn these pages while you enjoy your meal."
When she was alone, Buffy sniffed suspiciously at the food, but the soupcold creamy potato with tiny herbs sprinkled on its surfacesmelled wonderful, and the salad was very fresh. Might as well eat. She'd need her intestinal fortitude in a little while.
The book looked hand-made, like something you'd find at an antiquarian's. It contained colored drawings, on rag paper. The drawings were very delicate and detailed and pretty. The first one showed a man and woman in evening clotheslike the people in the painting she'd seen the other night. The man was kissing the lady's hand. On the next page, he was in her arms, kissing her mouth. There was only one drawing on each set of two pagesthe back of each sheet of paper was blank. In the third, he'd drawn up the skirt of her long satin dress to caress her thigh, as he kissed her neck.
What the hell?
In the fourth drawing the woman was reclined in a chair, with the man kneeling between her parted legs. She clapped the book closed, and pushed herself away from the table. God, what was this? What was Spike thinking? She hated that Reese knew exactly why she was there. He probably thought she was some kind of call-girl, or
A moment later she snatched the book up again. In that fourth drawing, the woman's head lolled back against the cushion. Her small pink mouth was half open, as if she was gaspingshe looked tipsy and blissed out. Buffy turned a few more pagesthe couple went on from there, more naked and abandoned on each leaf. They did everything, in every position. She'd seen dirty pictures before, who hadn't?, but never quite like this. These were ... delicate, polite even, in an old-fashioned way, like even while they were fucking they were calling each other mister and miss. And the woman always looked so into it. In spite of herself, she went on looking, turning the pages back and forth. The expression on the woman's face as the man knelt to her, the languid lines of her body, her small tapered hands, one on his head and the other caressing her own breast, drew her eyes over and over, even as she flipped between that and a later drawing, where she lay on her side while he entered her from behind. Her legs were spread wide, one knee up, and the man's hand was starfished on her mons, her pink clit showing between two fingers. Her own was twitching now.
This was too much. She wouldn't let him manipulate her like this!
She tore out of the room, taking the stairs two at a time, up both flights.
She didn't have to search for Spike. He was standing, as before, in the doorway of the master bedroom.
Buffy lobbed the folio at his head.
"Whoa!" He snatched it out of the air. "Careful with that, it's rare, an' my host wouldn't like it if it got damaged." He smoothed the covers with his fingers. "Thought it might help put you in the mood." Spike sniffed delicately at the air. "It has."
"Don't do that. Pig."
"Can't help it. Come here, Slayer. I'll show you something."
Loathe to seem intimidated, she followed him into the room. This time she'd brought a stake; it was tucked into her waistband at the back; she felt for its reassuring bulk as she crossed the threshold.
All was as before in the room, with the lamps lit, the bed turned down, and Spike undressed down to his jeans. But this time, as he gestured, she noticed something she hadn't seen before.
There were bolts in the walls beside the headboard, and trailing from each, a stout chain ending in a shackle.
"Oh, no way! No way are you putting those on me!" She drew the stake, brandished it at him.
For a second, he looked surprised. "Slayer. Meant you to chain me up. So ... so you'll feel safe."
His voice went liquid. "Said I wouldn't hurt you." He turned his back.
Oh no, is he crying?
Her gorge rose. She hated this.
"Stopstop feeling sorry for yourself!"
"What do you know about it?" His back was still to her. "All those people ... the ones I hurt, killed ... they're here." He tapped the side of his head. "They're here." He threw an arm out, to indicate the room, all the space around him. "All the time, I feel them, every moment. It's hell. It's hell. Dunno how he stood it."
"You can't talk about him!" She almost shouted. Then more quietly, "I decided ... we're not going to talk about him."
"Yeah, well, I am feelin' sorry for myself. An' my Dru. Can't exist like this. Got to get shut of this scourge inside me." He thumped his chest.
Eyeing the chains, fingering the stake, she wailed, "Why can't you just live with it? Why can't you just be good, and"
At once, his energy changed. He came at her, frowning. "Would rather have five seconds of bein' myself again before you dust me, then go on like this."
When he laid a hand on her shoulder, she shivered. She shivered, and her nipples stood up hard. She knew he was aware of it. She punched him. He regarded her for a moment with an expression almost of tenderness, and a slight smile. "Seein' me suffer gets you hot, does it, Slayer? Well, well."
"No. It's not ... it isn't that. I mean ... I'm not!" She prodded a finger against his cheek. "How did you get these?" The bruises were a little less than that afternoon, but still livid; she could see that he was half-starved and not healing.
"What do you care? Aren't they what I deserve?"
"Yes." But she was still dissatisfied. "How did you get them?"
Spike's lip curled, and he laughed. " ... like ... like when I ran into you, the other night."
"And did you save her?"
He hesitated, and she could see that he hated the word 'saved', hated admitting he'd done a thing to help a stranger. "No." His eyes flashed again. "No! An' what's more, I finished the dregs they'd left. I was so hungry ...."
"Oh God." She couldn't do this. She couldn't. She was in over her head. He was out helping people ... but then he'd drunk from the victim ... how was she supposed to judge him, decide about him?
It still wasn't too late to leave.
"Disgusts me as much you. Soul makes things cloudy an' pathetic. Which is why you've got to put me right."
His hands were on her shoulders again, barely touching, and he nudged her backwards, not towards the bed, but towards a low deep armchair in the corner. Before she could stop him, he'd reached up under her skirt and pulled away her panties; they snapped between his fingers like bubble gum. "Sit."
She sat. He seemed to melt to the floor; one second he towered over her and the next he was at the level of her knees, gently coaxing them apart. The pictures from the book flashed in her mind; already she felt whoozy. "Let me. You'll see. An' when you're ready, we'll clap me in irons and get on with it."
"N-n-no." She sprang up. Felt again for her weapon.
Maybe, if she asked him, he'd want to be dusted? She could do it, couldn't she, soul or not, if he wanted it?
He seemed miserable enough, maybe he'd say yes.
Spike raised a scolding finger. "Ah, ah, pet. Not ready to die just yet."
"Did you get a mind-reading power too?"
"Got quite a tell. You keep handlin' that stake like it's"
"Okay, okay!" She held up her hands. "Leaving it alone now."
"Spike! Do you have to be so ... so one-track?" She didn't quite know why she was stallingshe certainly had meant to get this over with quicklythe sooner it was done, the sooner she could add it to all the other things she was working so hard to blot out of her mind.
"What, you want me to get out my Spanish guitar an' serenade you first? Take you out on a date? Drinks an' a show? You want to be romanced, Slayer?"
"You ... you play the guitar?"
He rolled his eyes. "No."
"Well, how was I to know? You said I didn't know you. I don't." She hesitated. "Pardon me for not just wanting to get Down Tonight with someone I don't even know."
"You said we were mortal enemies."
"Like that's any better!"
"Looknot gonna fill out a questionnaire for you! Told you I'd lick out your cunny long as you like, an' then believe me, all you'll want to know then is how quick we can do the other thing. Ought to be glad of a chance to have a good time with no strings an' no risk."
"You're proposing to maybe put your fangs that close to my ... down there ... and that's no risk?"
"Can't put you up the spout, can I? Can't give you the clap. An' I already promised not to hurt you once you've put me right. Ought to be glad of a chance like that, to learn a thing or two."
Oh God. She froze. "He ... Angel ... he told you about me. Didn't he?"
Spike backed up a little, jammed his hands in his pockets. "You said he wasn't to be mentioned."
"Well ... yeah."
"What did he say?"
"D'you really want to know?"
"Slayer ... Angelus an' me, we never saw eye to eye where women were concerned."
"What does that mean?"
"It means if you sit yourself back in that chair an' open your girlish dimpled knees for me, you won't be sorry."
The chair. She glanced at it, and almost instinctively moved off in the other direction. The room was a generous size, but the bed was large, and she wasn't ready to go there either, so she ended up drifting towards a door in the opposite wall. Spike kept up with her, at a distance. She could feel his mounting impatience, but there was nothing she could do about that.
She halfway expected the door, with its ornate glass knob, to be locked, but it opened easily, into a small dark room that smelled of cedar and sandalwood. She felt for a lightswitch, and found the two-button kind, like in her mom's bedroom, that lit up a small convolvulous fixture in the ceiling. The room appeared to be lined with wood panels, etched with art nouveau designs.
"That's only the dressing room," Spike said from behind her. "Nothin' in there for you."
"Mr Vaux's dressing room? Who is this Mr Vaux?" She felt along the edges of the panels.
"An' old old comrade."
"Someone you used to rip throats with?"
"Hosts fabulous parties for our sort. Always admired Druher style, how she'd dance. He was kind enough to offer me refuge when he heard about her bein' no more."
"Kind?" When were vampires kind? "So you told him you had a soul? Was he kind about that?" The panel opened; it was a closet. Inside it, dark suits hung in transparent plastic garment bags; highly polished shoes, each containing a cedar shoe-tree, were lined up on slanted shelves beneath. She opened another. It was like a dresser inside, lots of drawers, but no mirror. She started to go through them. They were beautifully neat: a drawer of white handkerchiefs, another of pocket squares, another of undershirts, snowy and pressed.
"Told him I'd lost her. He didn't ask for the details. He's not a details man. But he understands the things of the heart."
"The things of the heart? Geez Spike, you sound like a soap opera promo!" She made a deep voice, like a TV announcer: "Next on The Young & Restless: explore the Things Of The Heart."
"You don't know about devotion, an' loss."
She wheeled around. "Wha-aa-at? How can you say that?"
Spike leaned against the doorjamb, arms crossed, eyes narrowed. "You're a child, you are. You an' Angel, what was that, maybe six months of kissy-face among the grave markers? Teeny-bopper stuff. Me an' Dru were together for more'n a century. We ranged over five continents ...."
"You said yourself she was a slut!"
Spike's growl seemed to circle the tiny room before climbing right up her spine. "She made me. I belong to her. That's real love." Gingerly, he fingered the bruises on his face. "Real tragedy."
"You're sick." She threw a punch that he dodged, but his return caught her in the cheek.
"That's it. I knew this was a lousy idea! I'm out of here."
He blocked the dressing room doorway. "Tsk tsk. Slayer in hiding. Slayer on the run. You want them back in Sunnydale to know where you are?"
He ticked them off on his fingers. "Can write a letter. Can send an email. Can make a phone call. Giles an' those watcher types'd be down on you like a ton of bricks for walkin' out on your calling. Am I right?"
"I hate you."
"Keep your side of the bargain, an' I'll keep mine. Go sit in the chair an' we'll get on with it."
She was halfway across the room again when she stopped. "No. No chair. I don't want to be here all night. I don't want to be here at all. Let's do it quick before I change my mind."
He shrugged. "Suit yourself." Matter-of-factly, he skinned out of his jeans. She tried not to look, to keep focused on his face, or at least his shoulders, but her curiosity betrayed her. She'd never really seen a naked man beforewith Angel it had been dark, and were under the covers all the time anyhow.
In the low light his slim body was the color of the pages in the folio, parchment. He almost glowed. The bruises were everywhere, his chest, his belly, arms and thighs, like he'd been pummeled and kicked over and over. He wasn't aroused; her gaze skirted the dark patch of hair, took in the dangling length and width of him, made hasty comparisons that brought up her blushes.
Calm, and deliberate, Spike snapped one shackle on his right wrist, climbed onto the bed, and held out his other arm. "Key's in the bedstand drawer if you need it later."
She stepped to him, laid her stake on the table, and secured the other shackle. He was half-lying, half-sitting now, against the plump pillows, his arms out on either side. There was enough play for him to move some, but not enough to bring his hands up more than six or seven inches from the mattress, nor to hold her, or attack her, when she was astride him.
Astride him. That's what she'd have to be, to get this done. She wanted it to be over, but she didn't know how to begin.
To get it done, he'd need to be erect. Which he completely wasn't.
He was watching her with amusement, taking in her hesitation. "Show me your tits, Slayer. Or could do a little dance, maybe."
Didn't want to undress, or be naked, in front of him. And wasn't in a whole lot of hurry to touch him either. Maybe she could turn out the lamps. Though she knew he could see in the dark.
Spike gestured towards his groin. "Might give him a kiss hello. Would be the friendly thing to do."
"No! No friendly. This isn't friendly."
"You climb up here, then. Just as you are, can keep your clothes on." He slid down until he was supine. "Come sit on my"
"Ugh, don't say it."
"Fine. Come on now. Need the taste of you to get started. An' you need to be juicy for me."
This was beyond embarrassing. She didn't want him to see her from that angle. Well, from any angle, but especially that one. Still, there was one thing to be said for straddling his faceshe didn't have to look at it.
"View's great, but my tongue's not that long. Just relax, said I'd make you like it, remember?"
Okay. Let's just do this. It's just one of those demon-related tasks that you motor through until it's complete. You've made it through worse. Eyes screwed shut, heart racing, Buffy firmly rejected her own mental image of what she must look like kneeling over him, and what he must be seeing ditto, gripped the headboard and let herself down until she made contact. Her imagination was serving her up big scoops of vamp-face, teeth teeth teeth tearing at her; her whole body was so tense it hurt. But what she felt was completely different.
He laughed. The chains rattled as he tried and failed to reach for her. He did the same thing again, his tongue, slithering ... and this time she sank into it, felt his lips moving against her, and the rumble of his amusement vibrating through her.
Glancing over her shoulder, she saw his cock filling out, lifting. Result!
"Okay, stop!" She scooted back.
Spike's mouth was all slick, like he'd been into the lipgloss; he waggled his tongue and made eyes at her. "Was just getting interested."
"I see that. So, we can get this over with now."
Again, she realized, she'd have to do this herself. Would have to climb across him, and put him inside. And then she'd have to
"Lemme bring you off first. It'll go easier then. C'mon, Slayer."
"Don't call me that."
"All right, Miss Anne. Come back here. Was gettin' into it, your sweet little notch."
"Stop that." The way he talked, made her so self-conscious. Her skin was fiery. Avoiding looking at this face, Buffy stared at his cock. It was ... it was ... erect. It was there. That was all she was going to think about it. It was there, and that was all.
She did it then, in one swift movement, threw her leg across, like getting on a bikethat's what this was, just like riding a biketook his erection in her hand, and sank down on it.
She hadn't remembered Angel's skin feeling so ... tepid. Maybe because they'd been under a blanket, and she'd been so warm.
Spike felt inert. Like a big doll she was fooling around with.
But then he stirred under her, and grunted, and she could no longer pretend this wasn't real. She started to move. It felt awkwardshe wasn't wet enough. Couldn't find an angle that didn't ache. It didn't matter how it felt to her. She just wanted it to be over. Squeezing him with her thighs, she shifted forward, trying to get more comfortable.
"Oicareful there! Bruise."
She stopped. "Am I hurting you?"
He grimaced, but it turned into a grin. "Yeah, an' it's not bad for a beginner. Go on, then."
He was looking at her. Taking her in, like she was wide open, like she was naked. A straight-on gaze that evaluated her.
It made her squirm inside.
"Yeahso warm an' tight. That's lovely. Now just keep up the pace. Set me free."
"I said, be quiet. And stopstoplooking at me!"
"Nothin' to be ashamed of, Miss Anne. Know you like to be checked out. Seen you at the Bronze, switchin' your little tail at the boys. Like to pretend you're all demure, but you're a hot one, you are."
Buffy stripped the case from a pillow and threw it across his face. Like putting the cover on a parrot's cageto shut him up, shut him out.
It worked. She didn't have to endure his gaze, and he didn't speak anymorethough he breathed, and grunted, straining at the chains, and once made a noise that was sort of like a sob.
The effect on her was immediate. The urgency, the anxiety, eased. She could sort out what she was doing.
She could look.
At Spike's body, which was kinda whoa without a face, and with the chains, but ... intriguing too.
And at what they were doing. She lifted her skirt to get a peek.
She was starting to feel a little overdressed.
Spike wriggled then, groaned.
"Losin' focus, Slayer. Come on, do your worst."
"I saidbe quiet."
There was something kind of silly about him talking from behind the pillow case. She wished she'd thought to blindfold him before they started. Maybe gag him too.
That would, in general, be ... an improvement.
She moved faster, working the long muscles in her thighs, up and down, up and down, remembered to squeeze with her inner musclesin Cosmo she'd read that that was keyand counted down silently from one hundred. She'd make him come before she reached one. And then she'd leave.
Beneath her, Spike bucked and rippled; inside her, his cock seemed to expand. That had to be good. He'd come soon. She speeded up, lost count. Do it hard, do it hard, and then you can leave.
Spike's head snapped back, he seized up, and ...
... it was over.
She scrambled off himthere was a smeary sensation that made her wrinkle up her noseand grabbed the stake from the table before she lifted the pillow case away.
She wasn't sure what she expected to see. Spike's eyes had been closed; he opened themin the glow of the bedside lamps, they were so blue; had she ever noticed their color before? Azure. Like the sea in those commercials for Caribbean cruises. He narrowed them, his nostrils flaring.
"Get these shackles off me."
She drew herself up. Between her legs, something softly squished. "Why?"
He closed his eyes again. Spent, pale, bloodlesshe seemed on the edge of a faint, but there was a fury in all his lines and sinews that reminded her of what he was. The monster.
"Didn't do it right. Still got this thing inside me."
"I told you"
He roared. "Didn't do it right! You didn't come. An' was no good, me bein' chained upgot to run it. That'll be the ticket. I fuck you, good an' proper, so you spend, an' then I'll be all right. That's it, isn't it? Get these off me, an' get your kit off, an' we do it again."
Do it again? It was going to take days of scrubbing and soaking and exfoliating and possibly douching to get over having done it once.
No no no. She had to get out of here.
Buffy picked Spike's jeans up from the floor. Felt in all the pockets while Spike struggled with the shackles, imploring her to unlock them. Where was that nice big wad of money he'd had before? It wasn't stealing, really, was it, to take money from a vampire? Who'd certainly stolen it himself? It would take him a little while to pull those chains out of the wall. With money she could get away from Manhattan meanwhile, so that by the time Spike tipped Giles off, she'd be gone.
The pockets were empty.
Spike made a frantic rattling ineffectual grab in her direction. "Think again, Miss Anne. Either I'll find you, or they will. You'll never be able to relax."
Again with the mind-reading! She threw the jeans at his face.
"So you're stuck in a situation you hate! Join the club! Suck it up. That's what people do, they quit crying about it and they deal!"
"Oh yeah, like you are. You're a cheat, Slayer! When are you gonna quit screwing me over?"
"No one asked you to come to Sunnydale." She glanced around the room. What could she steal, and pawn for ticket money? There was a clock and ornaments on the mantel, some small gilt-framed pictures on the walls.
"Had no choice! Dru was sick. Had to fix her."
"See how I care. It's your fault, for being all moony over someone so ... unreliable." Going to the mantel, she hefted the clock. Was heavier than it looked, not that that was a problem for her. She tucked it under her arm.
"What the hell're you doing?"
He threw himself against the chains. "Slayer." The muscles stood out on his arms and chest. "You mind me!" He reset his expression. A smile appeared, that didn't reach his eyes. "Pet. Come back here. There's a good girl."
As if. She tugged at her skirt, which was feeling too short. His spunk was dripping out of her now, it was disgusting. She needed a quick wash before she fledmaybe she could find her clothes from the other night.
At the door she glanced back. "Have fun with those shackles, Spike."
The knob wouldn't turn.
She tugged at it. Nothing. Stepped back, and gave it a sharp kick that should've sent it swinging on its hinges. Her sandaled foot crashed into what might as well have been solid rock. Over her own harsh gasp she heard Spike chuckle. Grabbing her ankle, she hopped. Should've worn her patrolling shoes.
"Didn't think I'd just give you the run of the house, did you? Now you get back here an' keep your bloody promise!"
The rattling, and his face, his abject nakedness, would've been funny, if she wasn't so angry. How dare he lock her in? She'd come here willingly, they'd had an agreement!
A phone? There was none. A bell to ring, to call Reese? She looked in all the places she could imaginebased on her extensive viewing of movies and TV shows where servants were so summoned. Abandoning the clock, she went back to check the dressing room. The panels all opened up to closetsenough clothing for five Beau Brummelsand the last one let into a bathroom, only a little smaller than the one she'd visited the other night. She scanned for a window, but there was nothing.
Back to the bedroom, then. There had to be windows here.
She dragged back the thick velvet drapes.
The windows here was triple-thick, sealed, unopenable. She threw herself against the glass, and got nothing but a sharp pain in her shoulder. Next she grabbed up the chair.
"Forget it, Slayer. Mr Vaux's thought of everything."
"No." Suddenly she was on the verge of tears, not that she was going to let Spike see her break down. She drew a deep breath, counted five. There had to be a way out. There had to be.
"Unlock these, an' I'll open the door."
He was so calm. His voice sounded almost ... almost soothing. When she looked at him, he'd stopped straining, was sitting up, the sheet pulled across his groin, watching her with eyes that were ... sympathetic.
"Let me out of these, and I'll let you out of here."
"Just do it."
She approached him slowly. Undid one shackle, and put the key in his hand. "Ta." He rubbed his wrist.
"Even with a soul, you're a shit."
He freed himself, and immediately wriggled back into the jeans she'd thrown at him before.
"That I am." He didn't seem annoyed. He went to the door. It opened easily at his touchshe couldn't see how he did it. But it was wide open now, and Spike was standing back from it.
"Go on then, Slayer."
"I don't trust you."
"An' right you are. Not lettin' you off your promise. But go on, you're no-one's prisoner in this room anymore."
She walked past him, onto the landing. All around her, the house was silentit dripped with silence. As if it was suspended, from the street, from the city, maybe from the whole universe.
She glanced back at him. "Newsflash, Spike. We can go to bed together a million times, but it's not going to work. It's never going to work." She needed to pee. She needed to run away. Why am I talking to him? But now she'd said this much, she was rooted to the spot. A chill ran through her.
She could flee from here, but then what?
Go back to her grotty shared flat, her job at the market, and then what?
Oh God, then what, then what? What is my life? What am I doing???
He was leaning on the doorknob now, watching her out of his bruise-ringed eyes, his fatigue apparent in every lineament of his body.
"Sure it will, it's got to, when we do it right."
His voice, and her own, echoed in her head. They both sounded so tired. Detached, like the other night.
"You're missing the whole point." She hesitated.
The point. She'd shied away from thinking about it very much, because it was like stabbing herself repeatedly with a rusty knife. In her mind the scene played backJenny telling her and Giles about the curse. How just one moment of perfect happiness would pull the soul out of Angel.
She still didn't know exactly how it happened. At what moment. They'd barely said five words to each other while Angel made love to her. It just happened, in a way that felt inevitable, because they were both aching for each other. She'd been too excited, too scared and eager and, yes, happy, to do anything but follow his lead. They'd wanted this for weeks, and it was her birthday, and she'd almost lost him that night. All she wanted was to be his, and that seemed to be all he wanted too. He'd been so gentle, so smiling and tender and sort of worshipful of her, but it felt like everything they needed to say was said in kisses, in caresses. And then they'd gone to sleep. And when she woke up she was alone, and the next time she saw him, he was horrible. Her mind still shied from retrieving that first post-bed meetinghow he'd surprised her in his apartment, the callous words, the easy, mocking expression on his face. I'll call you, he'd said. Like she was trash.
And ever since then, that's what her life had felt like. Something gone down the crapper.
But what did it? Exactly what combination of sex and pleasure and acceptance and love had the fatal effect? All she knew was that it was her fault. She'd caused Jenny's death, and the deaths of she still didn't know how many others. She'd unleashed that menace on the world.
Why tell Spike?
Well ... telling him wouldn't give him any advantage. He was no more likely to have that moment of happiness with her if he knew that was required. Less likely, in fact. Like when you heard 'Don't think of a white elephant' and of course couldn't think of anything else. No one could be happy on demand.
He sighed, and for a moment she thought he might just shut the door in her face. "What point?"
"You still don't get what it was that made Angel lose his soul."
"Yeah, well, think I've got it figured. Angelus told us all about his one night of bliss with the Slayer. You just let me out of these chains"
One night of bliss. Could Spike know? Had Angel known? About the happiness clause? She didn't think so ... some instinct told her he'd have mentioned it in their subsequent clashes. That was the kind of thing Angelus would find ripe for the taunting, wasn't it?
No ... he couldn't have known. Spike was just talking. Spike thought it was sex with her, in some particular way ... he wasn't thinking about emotion, he was thinking about positions. Climaxes. How many times, in how many ways ....
A little voice, that sounded remarkably likes Giles, popped into her head: If you tell him the truth, he may go seek happiness elsewhere, and succeed.
But if I tell him only part of the truth, he never will. "The curse is very specific. It's not just having sex with me. There has to be a moment of perfect happiness." A further inspiration took her. Why not? She realized she was smiling. "It has to be simultaneous. In order for you to lose your soul, Spike, we both have to be perfectly happy at the same time."
His expression then was anything but happy. His eyes flashed gold, the ridges started to rise in his forehead. Then abruptly, as if something inside him had snapped, his face fell into defeat. "Fucking hell."
"It really really will be. For both of us."
He'd let her go and shut herself in the bathroom after that.
Beneath the hot shower spray it came to her, with the same sort of surprise she always felt when she did well on a test at school, or noticed that she'd gotten away with something with her mother, that she was in no hurry to leave Mr Vaux's house.
Maybe she'd just stay on here indefinitely. Cool air, no rent to scrounge or bad smells to endure, and no annoying roommates or customers to deal withjust Spike, who transcended annoying to the point where she could start to tell herself that dealing with him was, after her monumental FUBAR at home, just about what she deserved.
When she'd emerged from the bathroom after an hour's dawdling, wrapped once more in a fluffy robe, Buffy began wandering through the house, trying to make up her mind about what she was going to do next, trying to still her anxiety about the indeterminate futurewhich would start in the morning and stretch on indefinitely, lonely and alone.
She encountered Spike again in the library, where he was sprawled in a chair, still bare-chested in jeans, staring into space, a crystal tumbler containing a finger of scotch dangling from his hand as if he'd forgotten about it. He'd washed toohis hair was wet, and his bruises seemed revived by scrubbing. His pale bare feet were stretched out before him, looking strangely naked against the intricately patterned rug.
When he saw her, he seemed mildly surprised. "Thought you were goin'."
She continued to explore, trailed by a disconsolate, watchful Spike, peering into all the dark, neat, dustless rooms. In the basement kitchen she helped herself to a banana and a glass of milk. There was no sign of Reese, but the huge stainless steel refrigerator contained an unmarked bottle of what she assumed was not beet soup. Spike didn't go near it, but collapsed again into a chair.
"What're you doin' here, anyway?"
"I'm here because you'll just stalk me if I leave, remember?"
"Here. New York."
"It was as far as I could get without falling off the edge. Or needing a passport."
"Ought to go home. No place for a girl all alone, without money."
"Oh, now you're giving me survival tips?"
Rolling his shoulders, he craned his neck, one way and then the other, rubbing at it with his hands. He wasn't looking at her. He looked like he wished he was dead, or dead-drunk. Now she thought of it, she wondered that he wasn't drinking. It seemed like the kind of thing a vamp like Spike would do. Maybe he'd done it alreadyif vamps could get drunkbeen blotto all June and July and come to the end of what drink could do. She thought of how her father used to get drunk after those fights with her mother. And then he stopped doing it.
And then he moved out.
"S'sad here, is the thing," he said, as if making a concession.
"Everywhere's sad when you're sad."
"Don't I know it." He threw his head back, sighed. "Shouldn't have ditched your friends an' family over Angelus. Even with a soul he was never any good for you. Your mum's worth more in her little fingernail than Angelus or Angel ever would be. Don't you miss her?"
"I get what you're doing. Don't try to make me go all Stockholm Syndrome, with the probing sympathetic questions."
Even as she said it, Buffy knew it was already too late for that. Her comfort-level had subtly shifted in the last hour; whereas before it was directed only at getting outside, now she dreaded returning to the wild, overpopulated, overheated city. Here in this quiet deserted place she had company. A mortal enemy, but one who would at least look her in the eye.
"Never heard of a slayer before had people like you do. Leavin' them behind'll get you killed. Bloody hell, you'd be dead right now on Avenue D if I hadn't come along."
"Don't pretend to care."
"Why not? You're a fool is what you are, leavin' a sweet mum like that. An' your watcherhe's a stout fellow, all in all."
"Oh, shut up. Quit pretending to be sincere." She peeled another banana, and willed away the tears that threatened to well up. She'd been doing so well, not thinking about her mother, not specifically, longingly. Why did Spike have to go mention her little finger, so that now all she could see in her mind's eye was her mom's hands, those soft, caressing, careful, capable hands, and along with them, everything else came back in 3-D and full color, sensurround, the worksthe soft cologney smell of her hair, and the different, sort of floury scent of her neck when they cuddled together on the sofa.
She'd made such a mess at home. Telling her mother off, shoving her.
She could never recover from that. Never return.
"Just chatting to you, Slayer. Passin' the time. No need to get your back up."
"What about you? As long as we're having this sincere chat. What's it like, huh? Getting your soul back. I'd really like to know."
"So far it's a bad acid trip that just. does. not. stop." He paused, staring at his hands. "It's all gone. Everything I relish, an' need. My girl, an' ... my self."
"So start fresh." Huh. Vamps have acid trips?
"Oh, ta. You first an' I'll be right behind you."
She wolfed down the last of the banana, avoiding his eye. It was not fair that Spike could tease her about what they had in common. They had nothing in common.
God, we have everything in common right now. She got it then, what he was saying about needing to get things back in their proper linehim pure evil, with nothing to interfere with his nefarious urges, and her pure righteousness, dedicated to taking him down. That was always, as Angel once said to her, simple.
"What's in here?" A door at the other end of the kitchen gave onto a downward flight of stairs. "I thought we were already in the basement."
She descended, expecting to find at last the dungeon this wealthy vampire's house must certainly contain, with all the whips and restraints and harnesses she imagined as the playthings of the ancient undead.
But instead the air grew moist as she went down, and she was aware of a gentle susurration, an echo of non-sound, that affected the resonance of her own tread, and Spike's, on the stairs. She came out into a vast chamber, the same size as the footprint of the whole house, whose walls and ceiling and floor were covered in glimmering tiles inlaid with mosaic designs of Grecian maidens playing lyres and dancing in groves, all surrounding a pool faced in gold, gently glowing with undulant underwater lights.
"Oh my God."
Buffy stared, then turned to confront Spike.
"Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you tell me this was here?"
He gestured. "Other things on my mind."
"Wow. This brings a whole new meaning to flooding the cellar."
"Have a dip, Slayer."
She glanced around at him.
"You going to try to drown me?"
"If I wanted to kill you, I'd have done it already, and not by drowning. I'd have drunk you dry."
True. She wasn't seriously worried, but challenging him seemed like the thing to do, even as in her imagination she was already immersed in the glittering, tempting water.
"Turn your back."
"Just fucked you, think it's a little late for you to be clutchin' your modesty."
"Turn your back."
He sneered, but he turned. She went to the lip of the pool, dropped the robe, and slipped into the water.
It was perfect. Not cold, not warm. Deep. She swam out to the middle, in calm, deliberative strokes, and looked up at the ceiling, which featured more intricate designs from antiquity.
This was the height, the pinnacle, of luxury.
How weird was it, to find herself in a place like this, at the same time she was dangling over the abyss, empty-hearted, empty-pocketed? Weird.
Then Spike was in the water, cutting close to her, rounding and splashing.
She threw up an arm. "No! Don't do that. Let's just ... let's just swim, okay?"
Again he gave her that narrow-eyed, assessing look. "Yeah, all right. Just swim."
She kept her distance from him, but after a while it got boring, just paddling around.
How 'bout a race," Spike said, "will you condescend to race?"
She was on the verge of saying and the winner gets? when she realized it was probably better not to open that subject. "Okay. To the end and back."
Head down, she surged forward.
Spike won, so they had to race again. And then she won, so he had to change the racetwice up and back, with a different stroke.
After the seventh race and many lengths, Buffy called time out. She'd forgotten to worry about concealing her body, and floated on her back, even though he could see her breasts that way, and her ... everything. After the exertion, her limbs were just pleasantly numb. Spike treaded water nearby; she felt him watching her, always watching her, but tried not to show that she knew it.
"So ... what's it take to make you happy, Miss Anne? Gimme some pointers."
The question was the blade sinking into the chink in her armor. It blasted through the lovely numbness with a queasy headrush. She headed for the edge.
Spike swam lazily closer. "Know what made my Dru happy. Simple things, really. Pretty dresses, presents, dances in the moonlight, an'"
"Yeah, well, I will never be happy again."
He moved to her, where she clung to the edge. "There's different kinds of happy, though."
She understood just a moment too late what he was going to do; by then he was already submerged in a barrage of bubbles as he expelled the air from his lungs.
She could've kicked him away, kicked herself away.
But no one had ever done this to her before, and she wanted to experience it. What better way than in this underground chamber in this secret hidden house, in the water where she could hold her head above what was going on under the surface, where no one would ever know that she was giving herself, again, to a vampire?
It wasn't like anything she knewit wasn't like fingers, her own, or his, or Angel's. It wasn't like a cock. It wasn'tyetlike her fantasies. At first she had to fight against her own pesky squeamishnessThat's Spike's tongue down there! His TONGUE!
Then it began to feel good. Her legs were over his shoulders, and he held her in place with his hands, exploring her in a way that felt first delicate, then hungry. As her excitement grew, he set to licking over and over, inexorably, at the one hot spot. She forgot about it being Spike, it was just this amazing sensation going on under the water line. With her eyes closed, she could let this be Angelwho so would've done this for her, and more, if only they'd had time.
She thrashed, but he kept her in place, and then her own loud moan startled her, and it all began to rushshe couldn't hold back anymoreall the reasons for holding back evaporated. It didn't matter.
Didn't matter. She was humping his ever-moving mouth. He stayed with her, never pausing, never coming up for air. She came all at once, before she was ready, her breath sawing the air, her body snapping, water slapping up her chest.
He didn't let her go. His hands shifted; she felt his fingers slide inside her, probing at her vaginal walls as she squirmed and gasped, and now he was sucking on her clit, and it happened for her again, from there and from inside.
Finally she screamed no more! and dragged him up by his hair.
Spike surfaced in front of her, his eyes a little red, his nervy smile replete with I-showed-you satisfaction. Mind reeling from what her body could do, from the wildness of it, she tugged him in, pressed her mouth to his.
He slapped her aside so hard she went under, her nose filling up with water.
"The fuck you thinkin', Slayer? We don't do thatmy kisses are only for Dru."
In one sleek movement he vaulted out of the pool.
Her vision clouded, heart hammering even as she couldn't feel the rest of her body, didn't know if she was right side up, breathing air or inhaling water. She needed to make him know that she hadn't meant to kiss himit was reflex. But what came out when she screamed was, "That's not the way to make me happy!"
He rounded then, tall and oddly dignified above her in his stark nudity, the water streaming off him. "Don't really want to make you happy, do I? All I want is to want to kill you! But you took even that away from me. Devious bitch."
Going to the wall, he drove a fist against the beautiful mosaics until they cracked. Then sank to his knees, bowed his head, and howled. The cry reverberated off the tile, the water, the curved ceiling. It chilled Buffy to the bone.
She crawled out of the pool, and approached him.
She wanted to slam him into the wall for what he'd just done. The humiliation of it filled her with stinging irrepressable shame. Every time she got to feel good that way, it was followed by something ugly, that ruined it.
He glanced around. She planted her punch square in his face, and had the satisfaction of feeling his nose crunch before his head bounced against the wall.
He snarled. They exchanged a flurry of blows before she lost her footing on the slippery floor, and went down.
Spike let this opportunity go. Turning his back on her, he stood staring at the broken wall, as if his off-switch had been thrown.
Buffy rose, aware again of being naked, and found her robe. When she came back, Spike hadn't moved.
She struck at a piece of broken mosaic with her toe. "Mr Vaux isn't gonna let you house-sit again after this."
His eyes were closed. Blood trickled from his nose.
"Just nowlet's be clearI wasn't reallyI never even wanted to"
"You an' me, Slayer, we're never going to be happy at the same time."
She couldn't think of any reply to this.
"Said, I'm sorry. Wasn't ready for ... overreacted."
She wasn't sure how to take this. Was he really apologizing. "Oh."
"It's just ... that was our thing. How I thought of it. That we kept that for each other." He glanced at her then. "Know you don't care, Slayer, but I loved her. Don't remember the last time I snogged anybody else."
"Uh ... okay."
Spike ran a hand down the wall he'd damaged, as if assessing his work. He spoke in a musing way. "Think I'm done now. It'll be light out soon. Think I'll go for a walk in the park. See the sun-up from the Sheep's Meadow."
Good. Best idea I've heard all night. I'll come along and watch. She was going to say that, when an image flashed into her mind. The Crawford Street garden. Angel on his knees, trembling, looking up at her with tears in his uncomprehending eyes. Wanting to know what was happeningoverwhelmed at seeing her again. His soul returned, but too late for him to have a second chance. She'd had to send him and his soul to hell forever.
No one knew that but her.
And now here was Spike, with his soul back, part of the enormous mess she'd made.
"I can't let you do that. While you have this soul ... you're something real. Don't you see it would be wrong, to kill yourself?"
"My Dru did."
"She was crazy. You aren't."
"Was plenty real before. Was a real vampire. Real killer, real monster. Was real happy then. Could get happy twenty times a night, easy-peasy. Jesus fuck, it's all gone forever."
"Something else could take the place of all that. Something should."
"You sound like those poncey Jehovah's Witnesses I used to eat." He turned to look at her then. To sneer at her. "Don't tell me you're not burnin' to see me back in my real state, so you can put your fist through my face an' your stake through my heart."
I'm not saying I wouldn't enjoy that. She struggled with herself. Enjoy. Did she enjoy it? Should she? She never wanted to think about that muchslaying was what she did because she had to, and yeah, she was good at itat the actual slaying. Not so much at the mind games required to keep her clever enemies from picking off her associates one by one.
"You told me you've been going out looking for people to help."
"Told yourself that."
"You helped me. You said there were others." All her arguments, her reasons, were a twirling jumble she couldn't express. And since when was it her job, to be Sob Sister to a souled vampire?
She laid a hand on his arm. "Don't ... don't destroy yourself. Not yet."
"An' why shouldn't I?"
"I just said. Because you have something now, that means you're"
"What? What am I, Miss Anne? Want me to be your next pet? Quite a thing for a young girl, innit, havin' a big strapping vampire man, with his fangs an' his muscles an' his cock all subdued to her bidding. Makes her feel all queenly, like ridin' a half-broken stallion. 'Spect you miss that."
"No!" She pulled back. "You're not listening. I'm not saying that at all."
"Right, 'cause you've walked off the pitch. Quit bein' the slayer. So you don't need any help, from defanged vamps or anyone else."
"Don't you understand? It would be more murder. Your soul ... makes it murder." She blinked back the sudden onrush of tears. "I can't let you murder anyone else, Spike."
He cocked his head. "Can't let me?"
"I'm asking you. Not to."
"What will you do to make it worth my while to go on? Gonna make me happy?"
Her cheek ached where he'd struck her, and yet for the first time he seemed different to her. Still irritating and unpredictable, but ... not a thing any longer. A person.
"Spike." She said it gently, quietly, like reminding him of something.
"Can't do it, can you? Can't make you happy, an' you can't do it for me. So I ask you, what then?"
She saw Angel disappearing into the maw of Acathla, with all that death on him, and she hadn't saved anyone, not his victims, not him. "I ... I can keep you company. For a little while. Until ... until you stop wanting to go out in the sun."
He was looking at her now, scanning her face with those hot-cool eyes of his. His gaze took her apart; it took all her strength not to avert her own. Spike looked and looked, as if he could see right down into her soul. See all her failings and insecurities, all the ways she lied to herself. But she held steady. Met his eyes, let him see.
He went on looking as his clean right hand came softly around her neck, drawing her in. His gaze narrowed, extinguished. She felt his cool considering breath against her lips. And then he kissed her.
It was a slow kiss, gentle, contemplative, and when it broke, Spike stayed close, as if warming his lips at hers. Confusion, relief, pleasure, reluctance, anger popped up like whack-a-moles as she tasted his mouth. She hadn't been touched like this in a long time. She thought again of how Spike had apologized to her just now. The last thing she'd ever expected to hear from Spike was an apologyfor anything.
He murmured, "An' good company you can be, too."
The remark, friendly, approving, made her cheeks heat. Why should I care what he thinks of me?
Yet she liked this moment. She nudged his mouth again with hers, to make him be quiet, and also to see if this time he would let her. He kissed her again, readily, steadily, his hand heavier on the back of her neck. He was a good kisser, not sloppy, not too wet or, amazingly, aggressive. She liked sitting in the circle of his arm, exchanging soft tonguey kisses that didn't probe too far.
Something else he'd just said came back into her mind. That challenge about being her pet. Big strapping vampire man, with his fangs an' his muscles an' his cock. Okay, he wasn't so big and strapping himself, but he was ... he was right next to her, without a stitch on, and his smooth skin, the undulant lines of him, seemed to call out to her palms. She kept her hands to herself, even as their kissing grew more urgent. If he thought that was all her love with Angel was aboutwell, he didn't know them. And she didn't want anything remotely like that with him. Even if she could ever love again.
Which she never could or would.
"I still don't like you."
"Right. It's just that I've got this inconvenient soul, makes you so sure I shouldn't be thrown out with the rest of the trash." He laughed. "Same as makes me so sure I should."
"I know." Except she didn't know. Even with what Angel had told her about himself, she couldn't fathom it, the horrible acts committed as terrible deep pleasures, and then the horrible torment of constant remorse.
She didn't understand the soul, couldn't define it, except that it was everything, because without it one was nothing, a pestilence to be cleared away. But put a soul into a vampire, and the rules changed. That she knew. She'd learned it with pain and suffering.
He pulled her in closer, and she felt that he wanted to be taken into her arms. An answering urge took her over with a tremor, powerful as thirst, to gather him in, to hold and be held.
Everything had changed in the last few minutes. Butnot that much. She might forget herself, but Spike wouldn'tinstinct warned her not to yield too much. She sprang to her feet. "I ... I need a little alone time. I promise I'll come back, but you have to let me out now."
He looked up at her. His left hand was coated in dried blood; his cock was half erect. Would he go on keeping her prisoner, or had they really crossed back over that line?
"When will you come back?"
She tried not to let him see the relief that flooded her. The fine skein of trust that had sprung up between them in the last minutes would support her over the next few steps. "By the end of the day."
"You're not goin' back to that job, are you?"
"I ... I don't think so." Gristedes seemed impossibly far away now. She could find another job the same way she'd found that one, once this ... period ... with Spike was over. "I just ... I need to get my things, andI need to see the sky."
"Thought I needed to see it too." He bowed his head. "Still do."
"But you won't, because you keep your promises. And you're promising to wait for me, just like I'm promising to be here later." She felt almost like she was talking to a child, and there was something in the way he looked at her, with a hunger in his eyes that, despite his physical excitment, was like a child's too, revealing more loneliness than lust.
"Got my honor there, yeah," he allowed.
You ... you sleep in the day, don't you?"
"Used to do. Have barely slept a wink all summer."
"Maybe you will now. Go to bed, and I'll be back when you wake up."
She thought he might remind her again, of how he could track her down, how she couldn't really escape him. But he only nodded. She went to the stairs, and he didn't follow her; didn't follow her up through the house to the bathroom where she showered again and put on the set of clothes she'd first worn to this place.
When she went back down to the foyer, Reese was there, sketching a slight bow of good morning, opening the door to let her out into the soft morning sun. "Another warm one today, miss," he said.
"I'll see you later," Buffy said, not wanting him to see her take the high flight of steps at a single jump. She waited until she was a couple of doors down before she broke into a run, the plastic soles of her sandals sounding a thwock thwock thwock as she careened around the corner onto Madison, then decided to forego the subway for a clean airy run instead south through the park.
In the park, beneath the trees, there was still a tinge of cool freshness to the air. The paths were filling up with walkers and joggers, people with dogs and strollers, people on skates and scooters and bikes, regular grown-ups going to their work with briefcases and backpacks. As she ran in and out among them, Buffy felt as if months had passed since she'd been abroad in normal daylight, among normal mortals. None of it felt quite real, and she herself, running and runningit was such a relief to move, after the house's stillnesscouldn't shake off a dizzy sense of displacement.
Finally she just let herself fall, on the damp grass in the middle of the Great Lawn, and squinted up at the sky. A pale blue that foreshadowed the gathering humidity, the airlessness of the mature day. She lay still, breathing and sweating in the glare, and finally put an arm across her eyes, to block it out.
That's when Angel started talking to her.
He's nothing like me.
You don't know. You don't know anything about him.
I don't know anything about anyone. Except what they tell me. What can I know? I'm only seventeen. Her chest tightened. It was true, it was true, how was this fair, that she should have so much responsibility, have to fend for herself alone, when she was still barely done being a child?
He wasn't the kind of man I was.
What does that mean?
I had to teach him. I taught him everything. He was a prodigy. He was a creation.
Evil, right. You always said he was one of the very worst. I KNOW.
You're not listening.
I don't know what you're saying. Anyway, you're not even here.
When she woke with a start, the sun was high in the sky, and she had to pee. Hours had gone byit was late afternoon. She was slick with sweat, heart hammering. When she passed a trash basket, Buffy threw up into it.
A voice behind her said, "Hey, are you okay?"
She turned. A girl around her own age, looking concerned. "I fell asleep in the sun."
"That's bad. Look, you're all burned. You need some water."
"II'll get some." She couldn't exactly remember what had happened, but it was something she wanted to forget, get away from. "I'm okay, really. Thanks for stopping."
She had a twenty and two ones, which was all the money she owned. At a cart just outside the park Buffy bought a bottle of water and two hot dogs, and ate them as she walked to the subway. Her thoughts were spotty, like her brain was blinking in a too-bright light. On the train she wanted to close her eyes again, but she didn't feel safe. There was nothing odd going onthe car was full of late-afternoon commuters. The sense of menace came from within, and she couldn't pinpoint it. It dogged her when she exited in Brooklyn, walking the few blocks to the shared apartment, where at this hour, her two roommates were out.
Inside the cramped, dirty apartment, she couldn't believe she'd stayed here. Knew she'd never come back.
She washed, examined her pinkened skin, changed her clothes, and threw her things into a shopping bag. Her wardrobe was small, and except for her hair brush, it didn't seem necessary to bring other toiletries along.
She wrote a note. "I'm moving on. Rent's paid for the month." She considered adding an apology or a thank you or something, but really, why? Those girls weren't her friends.
She had no friends.
All she had now was Spike. She was his semi-hostage, and he was ... well, he was her hiding place, now.
No one would ever find her, with him. She'd lose even herself.
She walked back into Manhattan, across the Williamsburg Bridge, and up First Avenue. When she passed the UN, the sun was setting, casting long golden beams down the side-streets. When she reached the Upper East Side, it was the early blue hour of the night, and she was tired, hot, her shirt stuck to her back, the shopping bag handle digging into her palm. No one she passed seemed to see her. Maybe I'm already inivisible. She liked the idea.
Spike, in his full regalia of black leather duster and big boots, was sitting on the steps of Mr Vaux's house. His cigarette glowed, and his eyes did too. The museum was closed, and on this one side-street, there were no other pedestrians.
"An' here she is, with all her gimcracks in a paper bag."
"Did you sleep?" she said.
He took a drag of the cigarette, and blew the smoke out in one long stream. "You're a lucky girl, Slayer. To be in possession of a light conscience. Never done nothin' you can't be forgiven for."
"You are so wrong."
"Wrong about most things, but not that." He laughed softly. "Used to have such a guilty conscience once-upon-a-time. But now I know was nothin' but innocent fancy brought on by too much religion."
She climbed the steps, sat beside him.
"Any religion is too much. Have a smoke?"
"No. So you didn't sleep because your conscience is heavy. Like it shouldn't be."
"Not sayin' it shouldn't be. You think I'm takin' all this pretty coolly, don't you, Miss Anne?"
"I don't know." I don't know you. Though ... I know a bit more than I used to.
"You missed my fireworks show. After Dru ... let herself immolate, I ... I ran mad. For weeks, an' hundreds of miles. Made everythin' worse before it got better, 'cept of course that it isn't better. Just ... quieter."
"I've been learning about that myself," she said.
Spike flicked his cigarette end out to the gutter, and rose. "Come inside. Reese has your supper for you, an' if it dries out he'll be cross."
"He won't care. He's paid too much to care about that, right? I want pizza. Can we get a pizza?" Buffy pulled her pocket inside out. "This is the only money I have left, so you'll have to buy."
He gave her a looka soft, strange look. "Oh, Miss Anne. When you start to trust a fellow ...."
"I don't," she said, avoiding his gaze. "I'm just hungry. And I don't care."
"You'd better not care about anchovies either."
"I'm not afraid of the anchovy."
"All right then. Come inside."
In the small back sitting room on the second floor, a television was tuned to an old black and white movie that she'd never seen before and Spike claimed to have seen a dozen times. In the final bit, when the shooting was done and the chips had fallen, the heroine's eyes brimmed, and her lip trembled; the hero looked at her with an expression of passionate renunciation, but couldn't leave her without first taking her in his arms. Buffy stared, transfixed, until the screen faded to black, then hit mute on the remote.
Nothing remained of the pizza but a few gnawed crusts, and Spike, sitting on the floor in front of the deep sofa she was curled up on, had finished four bottles of Heinecken to her almost-one-and-a-half, which made his eyes sleepy when he tipped his head all the way back against her knees, and his cool mouth taste pleasantly earthy when she leaned forward to taste it.
Her hair fell down around his face. Spike's fingers combed through it as he kissed her. Trippy, warm-bellied, floating, she gnawed at his lower lip, then drew away.
"You're upside down."
He turned to kneel before her, and slipped an arm around her waist. "This better?"
She showed him her tongue. "You think you're good-looking, don't you?"
"I know it."
"Like this better, pet?" The game face came on with a soft sound like a slow-motion crunching of cartilage.
"I'm not afraid of vampires."
"That's not what I asked you."
"I don't care."
"You keep saying that. You keep saying you don't care, or that it doesn't matter."
"Well ... duh."
He looked at her close-to, leaning against her knees.
"What?" Buffy demanded, when he'd let the silence lengthen.
"Just wonder at you, Miss Anne."
"I'm only here at all because it doesn't matter. You want me to be here, don't you? You think I'm going to sleep with you, and that's all you care about."
"Do I? Is it?"
"I will. I don't care."
He dropped his gaze then; his hand caressed her kneecap, and when she parted her legs, his fingers traveled up her thigh. "You don't care if you do," he said, lightly mocking. "It's all the same to you, whether big vampire man makes you come 'til you scream."
His words excited her despite herself. She could smell her response, her dried sweat and the aroma of her pussy.
"Because," she said, "it's not going to have any effect on your soul."
"What effect'll it have on yours?" He raised his eyes to hers again. The game-face was gone, and his gaze was very soft and blue in the shifting TV light.
She frowned. What was he talking about? Why was he talking at all? Grabbing his head, she yanked him in, pressed her mouth again to his. Spike chuckled, and kissed her hard, his other arm tightening around her body as his hand teased at the sensitive skin high up on her thighs.
"Always wanted to fuck a slayer. Always knew I'd get around to it sooner or later."
She gasped. "You talk too much. Kiss."
"When I first saw you in the Bronze, I thought, 'maybe that one. Maybe I'll have her'. Tasty piece you are."
She gave his hair a sharp tug. "Shut. UP."
"You like it. Gets. You. Hot." At that moment he discovered that she wasn't wearing any panties. He grinned.
She squirmed against his gently invading fingers, and let her legs drop open wider. "I'm not a slayer anymore."
"That's not how it works. You're the slayer 'til some lucky vampire does for you an' all."
She caught his wrist, and squeezed it until the cocky grin faded, and became a grimace.
And then they were just staring at each other.
"You want to kill me."
"I did. I don't now."
"Now I want to see your face when I fuck you. Want to see how you look when you come for me."
She searched his expression. She didn't exactly disbelieve that he'd stopped wanting to destroy her, but she couldn't quite understand why. What was a soul, that it could turn purpose on and off like that? It seemed too easy. Plenty of murder happened every day among the souled. Her mind coasted, far far above the sensation that even now rippled through her, as he flexed his hand once more against her sex.
Spike cocked his head. "What about it? Does that matter? Do you care?"
She blushed, and pushed him away. Rose to her feet. "Stop it." The words came out on a whisper.
For a moment she just stood there, while the room spun around her and she wished she'd never tasted the beer. She'd never been drunk before.
With the deliberation of a gourmet over a fine piece of cheese or fruit, Spike took in the aroma on his fingers, and one by one, ran them into his mouth. "There was a moment, the split-second before I did for each of my two slayers ... when each one stopped caring. I saw it, in their faces, in their eyes. It was when they let me in. It was when they were ready. An' I was ready too, an' I snatched their lives."
She wished she'd drunk more, because if she'd drunk more she could go and be sick. But she was nowhere near that. Just high. High and skimming along above herself like a bird.
"You were a murderer."
"I was a great vampire. One of the greatest ever. Slayer of slayers. An' now ... I'm not. Now I'm nothing."
" 'I'm nobody! Who are you? Are you nobody, too? Then there's a pair of usdon't tell! They'd banish us, you know.'" Buffy hiccuped. "I memorized that for school. Emily Dickinson. Except it's the opposite. You're not nobody anymore. You have to be a person. That's your curse."
"An' you have to be the slayer, that's yours."
"You can't bloody quit." He tugged on her skirt; she sat down again abruptly, and held her head.
"Why'd you run away, Miss Anne?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Why'd you leave home? A nice home, it was."
"I ... I had to."
"Had to leave your dear Mum? Because of that Angelus?"
"Don't talk about my mother!"
"She must be so lonely without you."
"You don't know! You don't understand!"
"So tell me."
"Why should I? You're not my friend."
"Ditched your friends, haven't you? Might as well talk to an enemy, then."
His questions were tiresome, and confusing. Why should he want to remind her of her mother? Particularly now. Buffy gripped his belt buckle, undid it and started on his fly. His jeans bulged over his erection; why would he want to talk when he was hard? Stupid vampire. She slid down onto her side, a less dizzy place to be amongst the sofa's soft cushions, a place where she could more easily confront the part of him that most interested her at the moment.
She was far from jaded yet about cocks, especially erect ones. Especially erect ones that belonged to very experienced, very talented, quite old vampires whose motives were unclear and whose conversation was maddening. Buffy put her tongue out and licked the slick tip. Spike sighed, and edged closer. She opened her mouth to take in the head. The skin was as soft as her own inner arm, the knob plump and sort of friendly on her tongue. She sucked on it softly, and Spike made another sound, more like a low groan, and his hand was back in her hair.
"That's lovely, pet. Do that."
Wrapping a hand around the shaft, licking all around the head, in and out, she wondered if he knew she'd never done this before. At school she'd always been the girl who didn't, and with Angel ... it was another thing there hadn't seemingly been time for. She was curious, and it felt good, felt good between her own legs when the round head of his prick rubbed against the roof of her mouth.
"Use your teeth a bit. Won't hurt me," Spike encouraged. "Ahahsweet. Good."
It was kind of amazing, she thought, how she could do this, and he'd say that. Sort of like playing a musical instrumentone you didn't know how to play, so you couldn't really control what came out, but it was fun to find out.
"Could go at it harder," Spike said. "Use your hand."
She saw that he was tugging on his ballsac in rhythm with her own movements, and she could feel him building, hastening. Her own nipples were hard, and the base of her tongue felt ticklish in a good way. She closed her eyes, thinking of how it would feel, how it would taste, when he came. Spike was grunting now, not in a loud gross way, but just enough so she could tell that she was doing it right, that he was getting there. Then he seized up, she felt his flesh convulse in her mouth, and the thick sour-tasting stuff was there. She held it on her tongue for a moment, contemplating it, and swallowed.
First time. She wondered if it all tasted like that, or if vampire spunk was different.
She let him go, fell back against the deep cushions, letting one bent knee drop away from the arch of the other. The cottony feeling of the beer suffused her excitement, so her whole body felt warm and sensitive. Spike's hand was already back on her thigh. "Got you all wet, that did."
"Yeah," he repeated, leaning in to look. "What a hot twitchy little snatch it is."
"Gonna eat you up."
With his face buried in her, she arched and mewed, stretching her arms up, doubling them under her head, pushing up at him with her hips. He devoured her with slow deep kisses, long languid sweeps of his tongue, and fingers that made gentle yet possessive inroads into her pussy, into her ass. She was simmering, but he was, apparently, in no hurry, and kept her from falling into a rhythm, making her feel instead only the swollen juiciness of her own flesh. She threaded fingers into his hair, pushed him in closer. He hummed into her so everything vibrated, and laughed when she tried to fuck his mouth. Her other wandering hand found his open flies; his cock was hard again already, wet at the tip; it jerked when she gripped it.
"Am I good?"
He answered by nodding into her, and then his fingers stroking inside her found a place that made her start up and shudder. She cried out, and he laughed. He was stroking her clit now with hard regular licks that made her frantic; she thrashed up into his face; he held her down with one hand. And then everything went rushing and shaking, an avalanche off a height, into a huge crashshe heard herself gulping air and groaning. She was crying, her hips heaving, long shuddering sobs.
They went on and on, aftershocks of terrible pleasure washing through her. Spike climbed her body, and then he was stroking her hair and kissing her with his slick mouth, and his cock was there against her convulsing folds; she tugged him and he was inside. "Fuck," she whispered, sobbing. "Fuck me." She gripped him tight, clutching his shirt, yanking it up to connect with his skin.
"Right here, Slayer. Right here. Fuck you long as you need."
"I hate you."
"I know. I know."
"Stay with me."
He covered her, slow and heavy, languid and powerful, like a big kingly leopard. She squeezed her eyes shut and imagined him that way, a sleek animal covering her. Memories of the other time, the first time, Angel's bed, Angel's body, wanted to intrude, but this wasn't that, there was no love here so it was all right. It didn't matter what she did or said. She could just get what she needed.
She needed this fucking, this covering, this sinuous male body in her arms, so much.
"We are nothing to each other."
"S'all right, Slayer. Take it as read." She opened her eyes and saw him just above her, entirely focused on her, an interested half-smile on his lips, eyes foggy. "Pair of nobodies we are, right now."
When she'd come three times, and he'd spent himself in her and collapsed, his face buried in her neck, Buffy tensed. This was the always-terrible moment, which she'd already well learned to dread. She counted backwards from twenty, thinking that then she'd push him off.
"Can relax. Not goin' to turn mean."
"You have to stop doing that."
"Can't help knowin' what you're thinking. You have to stop bein' so transparent. Got too many tells, Slayer. Got to learn finesse if you expect to survive long."
"I told you, I'm out of that."
"Right, right. Anyway, just want to have a bit of a cuddle. You shift a bit, an' you can rest your head on my arm."
She wondered, as she let him arrange her in a more comfortable pose, whether she was getting a glimpse into what he'd been like with Drusilla. She'd never really thought about vampiresvampires who weren't Angel, who was so much more than a vampireas boyfriends. Vampires were bloodsucking killing machines, and that was all she'd really ever thought about them. Socially they were nowhere.
"Who said we were going to cuddle?"
"You did. Said you meant to comfort me."
"I said, during a momentary lapse in sanity, that I'd keep you company. It's not remotely the same thing." Even as she complained, she was scooching in beside him, one leg caught between his two, her cheek on his chest. His skin had a welcome tinge of coolness after their exertions.
"Company, comfort. Promised you'd give me a reason not to top myself. Now admit it, Slayer, I'm a good lay. I'm teachin' you right, for which you'll thank me later."
"You need to talk less. A lot less."
"Yeah. Could maybe get a bit of kip now. If you'll stay put. Will you stay put?"
She realized with an uneasy twinge in the belly that he was asking her to hold him while he slept. Which, again, was a boyfriendy-girlfriendy thing that was ... assuming.
Assuming too much.
Anyway, she needed to pee now, and she was all sticky, and ... thirsty. There was definitely unignorable thirst.
He looked disappointedbut she only just glanced at himand said nothing, as she trundled across him and found her feet, like a baby foal standing up for the first time. There was still residual dizziness, and residual excitement, her clit twitching as she shifted around, pulling her clothes straight.
Up a flight of stairs, she succumbed to the temptation of the big tub, and ran a bath.
As she was climbing into it, a knock sounded on the door.
His voice sounded through the closed door. "Thought you were comin' back."
"Go away, Spike."
"Don't call this company. I give you my horizontal all, an' you get up after an' run off."
"I'm still here." She hesitated, a foot in and one foot out of the tub. I'm not your girl, it's not my job to comfort you. She didn't want to have to say it.
"Let me in."
"Won't splash. C'mon, it'll be nice."
"Newsflash, Spike. You're not nice. So why would I want to take a bath with you?"
"Got dirty with me, so stands to reason."
She hadn't locked the door, but he made no attempt to open it. She could just feel him standing there on the other side, abject.
"I thought you wanted to sleep."
"You know I can't sleep, Slayer."
Something in this, in his tone, the restraint of his pleading, nicked her.
"All right, come on." She sank into the water as he opened the door.
"Don't like bein' alone," he muttered, as he stepped into the other end of the bath. The tub was so long and large that they were able to share it without needing to touch. Buffy sank down so even her chin was in the water.
"Needn't frown at me like that."
"You're pathetic. What are you doing?" She waved an arm, then plunged it back into the warmth. "I mean, here."
"Was ... tryin' to figure that out. An' then came across you, and made a new plan. Could very well ask you the same, anyway. What are you doing here? You know you can't quit your life."
"I already did."
"An' do what?"
"I'm fine on my own. I can manage."
He laughed then, and after a moment, threw his head back and laughed more, so that the water rippled. He prodded her with his foot. "Never was a one like you, I don't think. We're both up the fuckin' no thoroughfare, aren't we? You won't go be the slayer, an' I can't kill you. Pathetic indeed."
"You could learn to meditate or something."
"Or something." He sank all the way down until the water bifurcated his face, and prodded at her with his foot.
"I don't know why you care. I'd think you'd like it, one less slayer."
"Care because you made me care."
Buffy lobbed a sponge at his face. "Don't try to tell me you're in love with me!"
Spike surfaced then, staring. "Meant that I got this soul shoved in me on your account. That's all."
Buffy didn't know where to look. " ... oh."
"God, Slayer. Think a bit much of yourself, don't you?"
The temperature plummeted. Buffy shivered. She couldn't believe she'd let things go so farthat she was taking a bath with William the Bloody, and that for even a split second she might've thought Only she didn't thinkshe'd nevernever ever
Grabbing up a cake of soap, she threw it point blank at his head, clambered out of the tub, and ran.
Even in the heart of the park, she couldn't find complete darkness, or total solitude. Even this late at night, there were strollers, and roaming groups of teens who should've been home in bed but who steered clear when they saw her coming. She heard people having sex in the bushes, and, though she didn't want to be, stayed on alert for that tingle at the base of her neck that said vampire.
She didn't feel it though, not until she'd been sitting for a few minutes at the edge of the Meer, letting herself be hypnotized by the shimmer of the water, and the rhythmic pulsing of her own misery. The trees all around her were completely still in the close breezeless night.
He came up on her from behind, but she didn't move.
"Shouldn't have said it. I'm sorry."
"Fuck off." She winced. Since when do I talk like that? Immediately the answer came, Since everything stopped mattering.
Except the not mattering seemed less easy than it had a little while ago. I hate everything, she thought. But she was coming to hate even that.
Spike leaned on the back of the bench, beside her shoulder.
"Come now, Slayer. That's not you."
"You don't know me!"
"Know you a bit now, an' I'm sorry to make you cry."
"I wouldn't cry over you."
"Don't be angry with me. At any rate, not for stupid remark like that."
"We're not supposed to be doing this. Apologizing. Talking. Any of it."
"You said I'm a person now. An' you're too good a girl to leave a fellow just hanging when he's all souled up an' alone."
"I'm not good."
"Who says so?"
She sprang up and rounded on him. "Don't try to be nice to me! What is that? That's not how you are!"
"You don't know how I am. Let me be a little nice to you, Slayer. Everythin' hurts a bit less when I'm"
"When you're getting laid?"
"When I'm not just all on my own."
She swallowed around the knot in her throat. But when he offered her his arm, she put her hand through it, and walked beside him.
A few blocks south of the meer, they came across a pitched battle between two armed gangs of teens.
When she'd finished with them, Buffy was barefoot, bloody, bruised, exhausted. Off in the distance, a siren dopplered, and a car alarm sounded, like a faint reverberation of what she'd just been put through. Resting her hands on her knees, she gulped air. Her heart was racketing, and with every eye-blink she saw all over again each of the half-dozen moments in which she'd just almost lost her life.
She felt alone.
"Spike?" She limped around the area of the battle, a rocky grassy area fringed with low twisted trees. Found part of her shirt clinging to a branch, and a big man's sneaker caught between stones. "Spike?"
The next hour was a blur she could only sort out in retrospect. Increasingly frantic hunting for some sign of him. Wonder that he'd might've left hermight've even set her up to be killed by the ganginterspersed with conviction that that couldn't be right. That he'd fought with herthat he'd been dusted. Which was so hard to imagineshe'd come to think of him as indestructable.
Then, attracted by a faint moist groan, finding him in a dark by-way, pinned to the ground by a stout wooden stave driven through his chest and well into the soil. He muttered feverishly as she circled him, that she could just finish him off now, or leave him there for the sun to take. She freed him slowly, wary lest in shifting the spear she'd dust him. Spike cried out when she pulled it free. He could barely speak, and yet he kept babbling the whole time as she supported him, sometimes dragging, sometimes half-carrying, his legs barely working, the long blocks back to the house.
When she got him in, Spike collapsed on the foyer floor. The hole in his chest was still bleeding; his face was the color of chalk, the eyes sunken and shut. He was silent now, and didn't answer when she said his name.
Buffy hastened down to the kitchen, looking in the refrigerator for the dark bottle she'd seen there before. But it wasn't there. She checked the freezer. Shouted for Reese. Nothing.
Returning to him, her knees trembling as she took the stairs three at a time, Buffy's mind was flooded with thoughts of Angel. All her love, so large and pulsing and desperate, hadn't been enough to save him. All summer she'd fought a looming sense of shame at having let herself fall so far, become so engrossed. Because it just made things go wrong, made her go weak. Made everything she had to do so much harder.
Love just made a mess. Love unleashed Angelus.
Spike too was a mess, because of love.
Standing over him again, she wavered. She'd hauled him back hereno question in her mind of leaving him in the parkbut now.
Now she hesitated.
Her strongest urge was to run. Leave him to Reesewho would have to turn up soon, right?escape New York City, leave leave leave and never look back. Go to Florida, maybe, where she could get another job, avoid the coming winter, disappear. Remember never to let herself feel too much.
Spike coughed. Blood spattered his drawn lips. "Buffy"
Where the hell was Reese? She called out for him again, her voice echoing in the marble entryway, up the staircase, against the closed doors of the many rooms. But the house was empty.
"Buffy, please. Just ... send me off."
Standing over him, it struck her for the first time how small he was. With the force of his personality quenched, he was just a compact young man in a big coat.
Bleeding out from a chest wound.
What would happen to his soul now, if he died? What would her responsibility be?
His voice, querulous, pleading, threw her into a perverse rage. "Shut up." She wasn't going to take this, him giving up. She wasn't going to be the dispatcher for another soul sent to hell. She couldn't stand any more death.
In the parlor she grabbed up one of the heavy crystal tumblers from the drinks cart, smashed it against the stone mantle, and cut herself on a shard. Back in the foyer, she thrust her bleeding wrist against Spike's mouth.
"I'm not letting you go. Drink me."
His eyes opened, frowned, and were fixed on hers, the blue gone a dark intense grey.
"Quick before I change my mind."
The next thing she knew, she was on her back, his fangs in her throat, his weight on her chest. She'd never been bitten like this before. It hurt, it hurt at the point where his teeth were sunk in; it hurt at her wristnot the cut onethat he was squeezing and pinning against the hard floor, and it hurt through her sinews, like her whole essence was being wicked hard up into her neck, out into his sucking, swallowing mouth. She heard her own heart thubbing hard, and a low dirty slurping that sounded like the end.
For a long moment she just let it happen.
It felt like what ought to happen.
Then she thought of Angel again. Angel asking her what she had left.
I don't know, I don't know. Even as she flailed at the memory, she was pushing, surging up. Shoving at Spike, but he was already letting go, pushing her off as she pushed him. They rolled in opposite directions. He pulled himself upright on the marble commode. She heard him breathingwhy?deep and labored, as she scrambled to her feet, a hand clapped to her bleeding neck. The room reeled.
He caught her before she toppled.
She wanted to punch him, to tell him offshe'd offered her wrist, and he'd gone for her throat! But she felt too sick. Could only put up token resistence when he swung her up. Couldn't tell the ceiling from the floor from the walls.
"Not a pet dog to be fed from your hand," he was saying, his tone argumentative even as he bore her quickly but gently up the stairs. "But I'll see you all right now."
He cleaned her wounds, ran her a fresh bath and handed her into it. Woozy, she felt curiously like a child, and Spike like her mother, taking care of her, firm and maybe a little annoyed with her, but always kind and easy. The place where he'd bitten her throbbed; she tried to take it in, what he'd done, how she'd almost surrendered. If she hadn't struggled, would he have let her go? If he hadn't let her go, would she have managed to throw him off?
"Did it happen?"
"Losin' your mind, are you, slayer? Everythin' happened."
"No ... when you bit me? Did it happen?"
He eyed her, narrow and suspicious. Then his brows rose. "Did I lose my soul?" A smile, sardonic, amused, but tender too, formed on his lips. "No, pet."
She subsided into the pink-tinged water, half-asleep, blinking slowly, thinking slowly. Spike went away. When he came back, he had a bottle of water and a plate of cold chicken.
"Lemme see you eat this." He was still disheveled, streaked with grime and blood. The hole in his chest was a moist scab now, visible through the torn, blackened shirtshe saw it move, like a bubble, when he inhaled to speak. He knelt beside the tub.
"So how did I taste?"
"Wasn't exactly gourmandisin' just now."
"How did I taste?"
He sat back on his heels. "All smooth an' silky an' full of power. Lovely." His eyes lit. "You're lovely, slayer."
His praise embarrassed her. Still angry, but also relieved, that he was still with her, she nibbled at a chicken leg. He watched her eat, urging her with gestures to take more.
She took the plate from his hand, set it on the floor.
"You're filthy. Come in here with me."
Later he stood patiently, clean and dripping, as she bandaged his chest. "Be all gone by tomorrow."
"So will this." She touched her throat. She'd forgotten to be shy with him. They were both nude, leaning against the wide marble sink. She looked down at their paired bodieshis skin milky, only the head of the penis tinged with pink, hers more various, tanned on the legs, her belly pale. They were both bruised everywhere. Her feet were covered in cuts and blisters.
His hand still at her neck, he caressed the line of her jaw with his thumb. She swallowed, forcing herself to stand still, and raised her eyes to his.
He touched it too, his fingers covering hers. "I the first?"
"No." She made a face. "Besides, this wasn't some rite of passage. I didn't want to be bitten. I wasn't looking forward to it."
"But you permitted it."
Did I? She still wasn't sure she had. Was he assuming a polite fiction? "We're not going to talk about it."
"No? Was against all your nature, an' teaching. To help me. I call it generous."
"It's only that I didn't want to be all alone."
"Ah. Well ... fair enough." He went on caressing her jaw, a touch so light she barely felt it, except that it ran all through her. Made her warm and shivery at the same time.
"You fought like ten valkyries back there. Magnificent. That's what you are."
"I don't want you telling me my business."
"Miss Anne, I am the business."
"Just don't. All right? Don't spoil this."
She shook her head. She didn't knowcouldn't saywhat this was. A moment. A moment she was hyper-aware of, that she wanted to remain in. She brought a quivering hand up to thread into his hair. Gently tugged his face down to hers. He parted his lips when she kissed him, met her tongue with his. She shivered as she tasted his mouth. Back and forth, without pressure.
"I like how you kiss me."
"You do all right yourself," he said.
She wanted then to question him, to make him tell her all about herself. What am I like, to fuck, to bite, to hold, to fight with and talk to? He must know her nowmust know her as she wasn't sure she knew herself. Must know all kinds of thingswhat it was to be soulless, and souled, dead and alive and in-between, loved and abandoned, contented and miserable. She longed to bury herself in his arms and hear him tell her her story.
He kissed her some more. "Think you're asleep on your feet, slayer. Better go to bed."
"You come too. I think you'll sleep now."
His lips twitched in a pensive smile. "Do you?"
"You have to."
He let go of her slowly. "You go on. I'll join you in a minute." He shrugged into one of the robes hanging on the back of the door.
"Where are you going?"
"Just to have a word with Reese. He's come in. You go on, Slayer. Be back in a minute."
Head swimming, throat throbbing beneath the bandage, muscles singing with fatigue, she sank gratefully into Mr Vaux's big bed. Their argument, the hours in the park, the battle, were receding now. The bite starting to feel not like an invasion but something they'd been through together, and survived.
When she woke, Buffy was alone. She could tell from the state of the bed that he'd never joined her.
Disarranging the layers of heavy drapes, she looked down into the sunny street. A few people walked on the opposite side towards the museum; a UPS man worked at the back of his truck. She blinked. The days, the nights, were losing meaning. She wasn't sure what the date was, what day of the weekonly that it couldn't be Sunday, because there was no UPS on a Sunday.
Slowly she peeled the bandage off her neck. The skin was nearly healed; the scabs rolled off under her probing fingers. Beneath that were bumps that might or might not become scars. The Master hadn't left one, not on her flesh, but he hadn't gone as deep or held on as long as Spike.
Spike's motives weren't those of the Master. Which didn't mean they were better, just ... not the same.
Staring out at the still, dusty sidewalk trees, feeling her neck, she experienced it again, his pounce, being knocked back flat, and then the bite. The pressure, suction, pain, force of it. Not at all as it was with the Master. Different sensations, different duration, different kind of terror.
Before she went to bed, she'd begun to feel like it was almost a good thing, a bond. After the bite, things between them were changed.
Now she wondered if that wasn't the definition of thrall.
She faced herself in the dresser mirror. Am I in thrall? How would I even know?Buffy asked herself the question, and looked into her own eyes, waiting to feel some resonance within her that would tell her what had happened to her, what she was turning into. Maybe because I'd rather stay here in this closed house with a vampire than run away like a normal girl would? But I felt this way before, too.
She remembered then the things she'd wanted to ask him about, except that she'd been too tired, after fighting and biting and bath, to go on to anything else.
Remembered that in going at last to bed, she'd wanted him to be there with her. That she'd thought, before she fell asleep herself, that maybe now Spike would sleep too, and with that came a sense of anticipatory satisfaction. She had healed him with her blood, they'd attended to each other's wounds, and she would influence his rest.
Had she started to think that he was hers?
Forgotten why she was here? She was here because he was more or less holding her prisoner, and she was supposed to be relieving him of his soul, or at least going through the motions of doing that apparently impossible thing, until she could figure out what else to do, or he got tired of trying and flitted off.
Anyway, where was he?
Staring at the smooth sheets where he hadn't been, she prodded her own feelings as she'd just prodded her neck. Had to make sure she hadn't gone really soft, gone native, fallen down the rabbit hole. Forgotten he was still a killer. She wasn't supposed to like him. She was staying on here for many reasons, but liking Spike was absolutely not one of them.
Now she was wide awake again, lucid and fresh, she could recall that.
No one, anyhow, could like Spike. It really wasn't even a question.
Though ... he had a good body, and knew what to do with it. She'd liked the things he'd done to her yesterday ... was it only yesterday? I could've been out of it for days. She wanted more of that. Wanted to learn. Like he'd said, going to bed with him was no risk. She wasn't going to catch anything, and he wasn't ... he wasn't going to change.
Slipping on a robe, she went out into the hall. The other rooms were empty. She went down one flight, and was drawn by the low chuckle of the TV.
Sprawled on the sofa, a nearly empty bottle of Jim Beam in his slack hand, Spike stared at the old movie flickering on the screen. His face was slick with tears; he barely blinked, and even when she stirred in the doorway, he seemed unaware of her presence.
She went up to him, tapped his arm. "What happened?"
Without taking his eyes from it, he raised the bottle to his mouth, swallowed the dregs, and let it fall among the cushions.
"Spike, what happened?"
"S'almost over now. No point tellin' you. Ought to see it someday though, s'a good 'un."
"Not the movie! To you. You were supposed to ...." She stopped. Her words played back in her ears, like an echo over the phone, and she blushed. What, now I'm complaining because my mortal enemy didn't come to bed? She realized she was again touching her neck. "Did you do something to me?"
"You ought to know." He sniffled, and wiped at his eyes with the heels of his hands. "Christ. Be a good girl, an' fetch us a fresh bottle."
"I asked you what you did to me!"
"Need to be drunker. Go on, there'll be more in the pantry."
"You're blotto already. What did you do to me?"
Spike shook his head. "Not blotto. Can't get there."
"Will you listen!"
"Hear you all right. I fucking bit you, yeah? As you obviously recall." He rose, faster than she'd have thought possible, given how drunk he lookedand smelledand reached for her throat. Raising defensive fists, she started back, hitting the doorjamb. But he didn't squeeze her neck. Just touched it, tipping her head up. "You heal fast. Could bite you every night an' you'd be right as rain in the morning." His thumb caressed the mark he'd left, sending a shudder through her. "Wouldn't that be something? Slayer elixir on tap." He coughed out a laugh. "I'd be king of the bloody vampires." He dropped his hand, and his eyes. "Wish I could."
She knew then that whatever was going on with her, it wasn't due to any hocus-pocus of his. She shoved him. Spike tripped, tipped over the arm of the sofa and sprawled on his back. His robe opened over his chest. At some point he'd discarded the bandage she'd carefully fixed there, and done something to tear at the wound; it was raw, angry, the edges blood-flecked.
He'd had quite a session, after she'd gone to bed.
She wrinkled her nose. "What did you do to yourself?"
"S'called mortifyin' the flesh. Not that I know much about thatthat's a Catholic thing. Old Angelus could've told you all about it. Though the flesh he liked to mortify was never his own."
"We're not talking about Angel. Why did you tear this wound open?"
He squinted at her. "You almost liked it, last night. Could feel you, startin' to start to let go. That's how it begins."
She traced the line of her neck with a finger, realized she was doing it, stopped. "I didn't like it. I pushed you off."
"Not too quick."
"So why did you let me go?"
"Need you alive, don't I? And ...."
He shook his head. "Need you alive, gonna get myself out of this mess."
She gestured again at his chest. "Why did you"
Spike caught her wrist, gave it a jerk. "Because feels better here" he pointed at his temple, "when I hurt here."
"So what, this is how you make up for biting me?"
"What do you care?"
"I ... " She didn't want to say she felt responsible. That wasn't exactly true. He confused her. He could cloud her mind. "I offered to let you drink me."
Spike's grin was bright and bitter. "Gettin' soft on me. Ah, I know what you like, Miss Anne. Sufferin' bad boys get you hot. James Dean with fangs. Like danger in your fuck, like to feel a little bit afraid. Stands to reason. What's to be afraid of in a regular bloke? You can kill a man with your pinky. Takes some of the fun out of the mystery dance."
"It's not true. Stop analyzing me!"
"We fell about over you, Dru an' me. Little slayer girl all misty for Angel. You had no idea, did you? No idea what he'd done. Oh, if you'd only ever seen him in his glory. Would've pulled your own lips off 'fore you'd have let him kiss you." He rolled off onto the floor, his shoulders shaking, except now she wasn't sure if it was mirth or tears. "Oh oh ohthe lot of us, we laughed ourselves sick over The Ballad of Angel an' Miss Anne. S'all in the timing, see? Why you were all ga-ga over him ... an' why you'll never care for me, though I'm bunged up exact same way, an' a better lover." He crawled to the TV, hit the off button, and sat up to face her, his back against the screen. "Not that I care two pins for you. Not really."
"Angel was good."
"Angel was good," he mimicked. "What, in bed? Ahhh ... when it comes to him, you're all wet." He chuckled. "Both senses of the word."
Here was what she'd run from Sunnydale to escape confronting. The reminder that she'd been able to love Angel and just not really think about his past. Even after he'd told her, she hadn't so much come to terms with it as just turned her back on what she'd learned. Stuck with the immediate evidencehow he was right then and there. The reminder that even after he'd killed Jenny and who knew how many more, she'd still yearned to have him backstill thought it might be possible. Thought it would be all right if he could just get his soul back.
That was why she'd left. Why she couldn't be the slayer anymore.
She was all mixed up.
Full of wrong thoughts, wrong desires. Her mind shied from them, on waves of shame.
"He was inactive for almost a century. He was helping us. You can't tell me that doesn't mean"
"What does it mean? Think you know him better than I do? Wasn't exactly a choir boy all century, I can tell you that. Ran into him a time or three when he had blood on his breath. Was this one time, on a submarine"
"Don't you make that face at me. Was a German sub, in '43. Long story, but there was your good good Angel, an' he turned a little sailor boy. Didn't see him weepin' over it, either."
"Why do I get the feeling there's more to the story than you're telling me?"
Spike shrugged. "There's stories plenty I could tell. Angel wasn't good, so much as tortured an' harried an' haunted. Wanted to hunt an' feed just as much as ever, only couldn't stand the mental torment when he fell off the wagon. Just like I am now." He thumped his chest, where the wound gaped, and winced. "Just like me. An' I know how foul I am, so he was worse."
"God, Spike, you're too much." She sank onto the sofa. "You shouldn't do this. I mean, what's the point?"
"What's the point, she asks? Christ almighty."
"You said you'd come to bed. You need to sleep. Nothing's going to make any sense to you while you're strung out."
"Don't pretend to care."
"I ... I'm not pretending."
"If you're not pretending, find me another bottle."
"You don't need more liquor. I'll get you some blood."
He gave her a hard stare. "Here's what, Slayer. You can go."
"Go. Won't come after you. You're not the solution to my problem. I release you. Go home."
She got up. His gaze gripped her like a fist.
She imagined herself leaving. Going out into the sunny street, walking to the subway. It probably wasn't too late to reclaim her futon in Brooklyn, and she'd be able to find another job, or maybe even get the Gristedes job back, if she apologized for not showing up. She could work until she had enough money for a bus ticket south, and leave the city before the weather turned cold. Was there someplace she could go that had no vampires? None at all? Where she could really start to forget about being the slayer. Were there vampires at Disneyland?
"That's it," Spike muttered. "Go on, get out."
She knocked him out with a single kick.
Spike out cold was an easy-to-deal-with Spike. It was no problem to drag him up to the third floor. Clean and bind his wound again, and get him into bed.
When she descended to the kitchen, Buffy found Reese there, playing solitaire on the big wooden table. "The, uh, TV room could maybe use some tidying up."
"Yes, miss. Allow me to prepare your breakfast first." He swept the cards away, and made no objection when she sat down instead of retreating. "Three eggs, or four?"
"I think miss must be a hearty eater."
"Two eggs are enough. But if there's bacon"
Buffy watched him cook. All his movements were controlled and precise. He spilled nothing. "Does Mr Vaux return soon?"
"That's doubtful, miss."
"But you hear from him?"
"When he has any instructions, of course."
"How long have you known Spike?"
"Would you like a slice of melon?"
"Maybe later. How long have you known Spike, Mr Reese?"
"The coffee is nearly ready."
Buffy sat back in her chair and sighed. "What's Mr Vaux's first name?"
He brought the coffee to the table in a silver pot, and set out a large painted china cup and saucer. "Do you take milk, miss? Sugar?"
"No, this is fine. I've learned to like it black. How did you learn to like working for the undead?"
Reese turned then from the stove, the spatula in his hand. "Miss, it is my goal in service to give all possible satisfaction, but I do not think I am required to answer such questions of Mr Vaux's guests, or indeed of any but my own conscience."
"Then you have a conscience."
"I will leave you to enjoy your meal, while I attend to the other matter you mentioned."
Buffy stuck her tongue out at his retreating back, and as the door swung behind him, murmured, "Hey, I don't know what happened to my conscience either."
This time when she looked, there were two large bottles of not-beet-soup in the refrigerator. She wondered, as she poured some out and heated it up, if it was human. Then if Mr Vaux got all his blood this way, neatly bottled. Maybe he never killed people. Though that still left a question about where this came from. Were there people who regularly sold their blood to vampires? She looked around in the vast pantry for a thermos. The place was kitted out with enough china and silver, arranged on shelves all the way up to the ceiling, to serve dinner to a cotillion. At last she found what she needed, poured the blood in, and started back upstairs. Maybe there was a syndicate of secret blood farms run for wealthy vamps like Vaux. Giles would know how to look into this. But she wasn't going to be asking him, because she'd burned that bridge. She'd burned the whole river.
Maybe Spike knew. Spike seemed to know a lot of things. And to be quite willing to tell them to her.
But not yet. He was still out when she came into the room. But not, she realized as she went closer, unconscious. Now he was asleep. His head twitched on the pillow; she could see the movement of his eyes under the closed lids, and puffs of breath, not quite words, escaped his lips every few moments. Watching him, she could practically see the nightmare coalesced above his head.
Was Angel's sleep like that? She'd only seen him asleep that oncethe night he'd awakened out of his soul. He'd had a quiet sleep then, apparently deep and limpid.
Spike lurched suddenly, emitting a croak, and then he was awake. "Fucking hell." He curled forward, cradling his head, and only gradually noticed where he was, and that she was there.
"I pressed your reset button. Here, drink this." She poured out some hot blood into the thermos cup, and held it out to him, breathing through her mouth so the aroma wouldn't reach her.
Spike squinted suspiciously. "What're you playing at? Now it comes back to me ... I told you you could go."
"Maybe I'll go when I'm ready."
He took the cup. Sniffed at it.
"I didn't do anything to it. Drink it."
He drank, and poked at his chest, feeling along the edges of the tape.
"Don't you pull that off until it's healed."
"Oh ho. Playin' at doll hospital, were you?"
"Don't be stupid. You think it was fun, dragging you around while you were limp?"
"I'm better when I'm hard, yeah."
He flashed her the eye, but she could see that he wasn't feeling it; he looked tired and small; demoralized.
"I didn't feel like going yet." She sat on the side of the bed, offered him more blood. "What do you dream?"
He sighed, staring past her. "Don't ask me that. Oughtn't to have a bit of it in your head."
"Like I don't have horrors in my head already."
"Is it always the same dream?"
"No. Got all sorts."
She crawled up onto the bed, arranged herself beside him. "Go back to sleep. I'll stay with you."
Spike gave her a hard look. "What're you on about now?"
"Don't talk it to death. I'm keeping you company. Lie down."
She realized she was holding her breath. She was nearly as bemused as he was, at this fit of care-taking.
It was what she would've done for Angel, if he was here. But he never would be. And she had no where else to go, no one else to spend this reckless burst of nurturance on, but Spike. Who, as he'd maintained before, was surely as entitledor unentitledto consideration, on account of his soul, as Angel was. She couldn't pick that apart, and she didn't want to. She just wanted to follow her impulses.
Little by little, Spike laid back. Turned to face her. He still smelled liquorish. His eyes were ringed in dark circles.
"What an odd girl you are."
"Don't talk. Sleep." Clumsily, she snugged in closer. Spike slipped an arm around her, and all at once she was blinking back tears. She didn't want him to see, but it was too late; he touched her face with his finger tips.
"Poor lonely little slayer."
"II'm not. Ssssh."
"You are. Two lonely misfits, we are."
"Thisthisthisisn't about you!" She couldn't stop herself anymore from crying. It was as if his just saying the word lonely ripped all her defenses down, made her miss everything she'd given up, everyone she'd lost.
"I know, pet. We never will cry over one another. But it's all rightwon't tell on you. No one'll ever know you were kind to William The Bloody."
She didn't stop him when he pulled her in close, and kissed her wet eyes.
"Please," she said, as Spike's lips touched her wet cheeks, and headed for her mouth, "please go to sleep."
He stopped, and looked at her. They were so close together, their legs tangled, his arm circling her, and her hands were nestled in the small space between their bodies. In this position it was so easy to forget everything except her own unhappiness and the animal comfort of being held. If he kissed her mouth she knew her control would slip altogether.
"I want you to sleep."
"All right, odd girl," Spike whispered. "You close your eyes, an' I'll close mine."
"And no bad dreams," she said. "I'm here, and I say no bad dreams."
Spike chuckled, and wriggled her in a little closer. His cheek rested against her hair. His body wasn't a big bulwark like Angel's, but it was solid.
"You're all warm. That's not bad."
"Sssh. Do what I say."
She didn't go to sleep herself, so she knew when it happened for him, when the last air sighed out of his lungs, the last tension subsided from his limbs. The encircling arm went heavy, he felt settled.
And there, with her head tucked under his chin, she lay, thinking about Drusilla.
Or not Drusilla so much as Spike with Drusilla.
Remembering, in particular, that night in the stupid goth club, when Spike had dropped everything he was doing, made everything stop, because she'd had a stake at Drusilla's breast.
No hesitation, no doubt, no two ways about it.
And later on, he'd risked his own life, coming to her to make their pact. Again, to save Drusilla. Even though he already knew she wasn't faithful to him.
What made a man be that way?
Her father wasn't loyal, not to her mother, not to her. Teenage boys, by definition, weren't. And she couldn't know what Angel would've been like, if he wasn't taken away from her, but nowadays it felt sort of inevitable that she wasn't supposed to have been able to keep anyone she wanted that hard.
But Spike, without a soul, loved like a romantic hero.
Which didn't make him, or even his love, a good. It did though, as she thought about it, make him seem a little more ... human. She thought of vampires as barely more than animalsokay, animals who could talk, and drivebut finding out that they could remain consistently interested in a lover for more than a hundred yearsand mourn her so extravagantlywas one of those details that just forced you to recall they weren't all that simple.
Simple. That was Angel's word.
Every time Angel came into her mind, she ached. A real, palpable ache, a stone weighing on her chest.
Beside her, Spike rippled suddenly, and groaned.
Buffy put a hand up and laid it against his face. He quieted at once, though he was obviously in a deep sleep; not shifting or reacting to her touch.
Lonely. That was what those stupid kids Ford was mixed up with called the vampires. The lonely ones.
Spike hadn't seemed lonely then. With Drusilla and those minions, who'd obeyed his every order. And later, the word she'd have used to describe him would've been: angry. Vindictive. Scheming. Not lonely.
She'd never admitted to being lonely before. Lonely was for losers, and she'd always known, in her school world, who the losers were. They weren't her or anyone remotely like her.
Even when she got called to be the slayer, and her parents split up and they had to move, she'd never have described herself as lonely. Lonely was pathetic. Spike was pathetic. She wasn't.
She didn't like it now. Didn't like Spike pointing out how much they were in the same boat. Didn't like that they'd come to a point where he was kissing her eyelids and she was begging him not to lest she get so lost in her grief she'd never ever ever stop crying.
He groaned again, shoving her with his arm, rolling away. She heard him murmur some words she couldn't discern.
Buffy wriggled up close behind him. Put her lips near his ear.
"Spike," she whispered, "you hush. Rest. Dream about ... dream about when you were a little boy, and it was a sunny day and you were playing outside and there was absolutely nothing wrong, nothing to worry about."
He sighed. For a moment she was certain he was awake, about to make some cutting remark about her dream suggestion, but no; he trembled, and relaxed again into motionless silence.
She tried to imagine Spike as a little boy. What popped into her head were those colorful urchins from the Oliver! movie she'd seen once on TV, all rags and dirty red cheeks. The bad guy in that movie, a murderer and a thief and probably a pimp too though that wasn't so clear ... she struggled to recall the character's name. Sikes. Bill Sikes. Huh. That was kind of like Spike. William. Was that the sort of man he was when he got turned? A London street thug. Made sense. What else could he have been, to become the leering leather punk she'd met in Sunnydale?
Yet something about that didn't satisfy her.
Anyhow, real life wasn't a movie. Especially not a singing movie.
Another groan broke from him. His body arched, an arm shot up. He shouted, but again she couldn't make out the words.
He dealt her a rolling blow, that brought him on top of her. She pushed him off, shook him. "Okay, quit! Wake up!"
Eyes opening with a start, she could see how surprised he was to find her there, a surprise he quickly erased. "Told you, slayer. Me an' sleep had a parting of the ways."
"You got some, anyway."
"What you been doing?"
Spike blinked; his expression resolved slowly into a wicked grin. "Like what you saw?"
"Oh yeah, it's loads of fun to watch some bleached bozo snort and twitch."
The grin went mild, curious; he propped his head up on his hand to regard her. "That really how I look to you?"
"How ... how do I look to you?"
His eyes narrowed. The teasing smile was gone. "You're asking me what exactly?"
"What was I like? To ... you know ...."
"To be into?"
" ... yeah. Am I?"
Spike leaned in closer, looking at her with that all-seeing gaze she'd already come to ... not to like, not to crave, no, nothing like that, but ....
"You didn't buy it, did you?"
"Buy ... what?"
"What Angelus told you? That you were a bit of trash he was toying with?"
Gooseflesh rose on her arms. "II don't"
"Know what he did to you, what he said to you. How he tricked you into believin' he'd only ever despised you. But think. You fucked his bloody soul out of him. All right, don't make that face. Not fucked. You loved it out. That's power, an' not the dark kind, either. And with an' without his soul, yeah, you were all he ever thought about. His universe." Spike took hold of her chin, made her face him. "Slayer, don't you know there isn't a man sees you doesn't know you're the finest thing there is? I knew it when I first laid eyes on younever was a one like you, an' I wanted like blazes to take you on. Take you down. And Angelhe'd never loved a single blessed thing in all his unlife an' probably his life besidesand one look at you laid his heart open like a knife through butter."
She hadn't thought of it like this. She'd never thought at all, amid her storm of emotion about Angel, from the first to the last, about why he loved her, what he loved about her, what specific effect she had on him. He'd so moved her, every day, every minute, that that was all she could focus on.
And now Spike was telling her ... things difficult to hear. Flattering things her mind instinctively rejected, because they were too large, too over-the-top, to take in, to own.
She squirmed back. "I've gotta ask myselfwhat do you know? I mean, you were stuck on Drusilla for all that time. I don't think you're a terrific judge on the question of lovability."
Spike winced. Buffy wasn't sure she'd seen itthe lamps were lowbut it sure looked like it. He was quiet for a long moment, and passed a hand across his face. "My princess. Yeah. Big reason I want quit of this soulbein' all conscience-ridden, interferes with my mournin' for her. My memories. Curdles me all up inside, knowin' I was devoted, all that time, to ... look, she was my sire! An' our thing was mutualshe did her best. Couldn't help it that Angelus had already broken her. Was my pleasure, my honor, to see to her. We saw each other all right, Dru an' me."
His eyes, when she could glimpse themthey were cast downwere black now, and there was such woe in his voice she was almost sorry she'd brought it up.
She almost pitied him, for his loss, and his inability to simply mourn. It was almost terrible to her, that anyone should suffer so much that they couldn't even mourn without guilt and reservations.
"Thought we were talking about you," Spike said. "Can't believe you're in any doubt about what a special little girl you are."
"Special, yeah. I'm the slayer."
"Seen plenty of slayers, but none of 'em come close to you. You ... you do things to a fellow."
"Bring out the most in a man, whatever that most is. Do you really not know?"
"Don't ... don't pretend you have feelings for me."
"Got feelings for you. Always have. No, I'm not in love with you, slayer. There's plenty of feelin's, aside from that."
"I ... I know." She thought, I don't know. I don't know anything. "You wanted to kill me. You were going to get a big charge out of killing me."
"I was. But told you I don't want that now." The smile was back, soft now. "You want to know what a sweet little lay you are? Could show you."
Why did he have this effect on her, so stark and immediatethe suggestive gaze, the murmured wordsimmediately her skin was hot, her clit throbbed, and there was no hiding it.
In the back of her mind, when she'd refused to leave hours ago, was this. Anticipating this. That he'd touch her again. Make her feelso crazy and frantic and high
"First time I saw you, got a hard-on for you. Got one now." He took her hand and brought it to his groin. And while a little voice in the back of her head gave the predictable response: Oh, gross!, when her hand closed around it, she was excited, and a little awed, to feel the effect she had on him.
She felt it, and drew her hand back. "Hey. Do you think I'm just completely teen-girl stupid? I've been to the movies, Spike. I've read some books. I know when my mind's being messed with."
"It's not me manipulating you, love. It's Angelus who's still movin' you round the board from the great beyond."
"Last time I saw you in Sunnydale, Angelus had you on your knees. I was sure you were a goner. Yet here you are, an' he seems to be done. Which means you were mighty. You won. An' yet you're acting like the vanquished."
"Stop it. I don't want to hear this."
"You listen. Angelus wanted to make you suffer, an' make everyone who loves you suffer. He wanted to triumph over you. To murder your spirit. Long as you're on the run, hiding from your friends, hiding from your calling, he's done it. Even though you killed him, you're givin' Angelus just what he wanted."
Oh God. Every fibre of her fought against what Spike was saying, even as the truth of it suffused her, a hot flush that rose up from her belly, rushed through her like the most fearsome news, tearing her up.
But still Spike had it wrong. Because he didn't know everything that happened in that courtyard.
" ... it ... it wasn't Ang"
"Tellin' you, I should bloody know. Was captive audience to him bragging on for weeks 'bout all his plans for you."
"Spike. It wasn't Angelus I killed."
When she said it, his eyes blazed up, like he wanted to fight her. He seized her shoulders. She jerked free. "Don't you get it? Why you have a soul? Willow's spell worked! It worked ... on all of you."
"All of us. On Angel." Awe made Spike look for a moment like a choir boy. Then the effect was spoiled. "So you did for him anyway?" His sharp laugh was like a bark. "Yeah, I like it! Good on you, slayer! Didn't think you had it in you! An' all the more reason you shouldn't"
"No! He came back. He came back, and we were together again, and it wasit was ... " The whole scene rushed back on her, the room spun, a wave of nausea kicked her in the belly.
Spike took hold of her again. "Just spit it out."
It emerged, not like spit, but like bile, thick and black and bitter. "He was so glad to see me, and he couldn't remember what was happening ... but he'd opened the portal. Only his blood would close it. Only his life. So I had to send AngelAngel into hell." She got the words out, each one falling from her lips, the edge of a cliff crumbling away, so that when she was done she was plummeting, through the dark, through the cold, into a vast bottomless pit. She'd cried before, but not like this. Not without a speck of light.
Not in a vacuum without air.
When she came back to herself, aching all over, her head was in Spike's lap, and he was stroking her hair, slow and rhythmic, along with her shuddering sobs.
"Sssh, sssh. Brave girl. Nothin' braver than that. You're the bravest there is."
"I'm dead. I'm dead. I'm dead."
"You just think that, but it's not so. Sad, yeah, but you'll round the bend soon. You'll go home. Still got your home waiting for you."
"No." She squeezed her eyes shut, because she couldn't look up into his blue eyes, so full of compassion and interest. He was her enemy. She couldn't be looked at like that by her enemy. Her heart was a knot. "My mother said that if I walked out, I could never come back. I had to walk outI had to go fight. But now I'm nowhere. I'll always be nowhere." Another gust came over her, shaking her to her core. Spike's palm was cool on the back of her neck.
"I know nowhere, Miss Anne, know it like the back of my hand, an' you're not there. You'll never be. You'll be all right."
"Let me stay with you. I don't love you or even like youso nothing matters here. I need to rest."
"Makes you tired, gettin' your heart busted."
"Slayer, I do."
Buffy's foot traveled reflexively up and down the smooth bedpost, toes curling and flexing. With her head thrown back over the edge, and the sheet twisted over her eyes, all she could see was a suffusion of whiteness that let her pretend she was everyplace and noplace, while somewhere far far away Spike was doing things to her pussy and her clit and her ass that made her flush and jerk and keen.
First he'd made her come fast, with just his clever fingers worming between her thighs. Next he'd made her come hard, with his swarming tongue. Then, holding her wriggling legs open, he'd brought her off soft, again and again and again, and now he was teasing her with nothing but breath and glancing touches on her slick sodden flesh, making her arch and moan, while he told her in a low lascivious voice how hard his prick was and how many times and how many ways he would fuck her, in a little while, and how she would like it.
Before all that, he'd kissed her breasts, and her belly, her armpits and the insides of her elbows, her legs and feet and the palms of her hands, in ways that made her writhe and flail. He'd already told her she was beautiful, told her about her eyes and her eyelashes and the curve of her nose and the pillow of her lips and the line of her neck and her pretty tits. That her cunnya word she'd never heard beforewas lovely and smelled all luscious and tasted better. She stayed hidden behind the veil of sheet all the while, because as long as she couldn't see him, she could feel what he was doing, hear what he was telling her, without having to remember who he was. What he was. And what being here with him was turning her into.
She'd never known she could respond this way, lose herself so completely, to someone she didn't love. Who didn't love her.
Angel had never given her this. Hadn't touched and tasted and praised every inch of her, hadn't told her about her intimate self. He'd always been so quiet, and when she was kissing him she hadn't felt anything was missing. Some time in the future, the infinite future, they would get around to everything together. Their love would be endless and huge and contain everything.
But it never happened, and now she was being taken on this tour of herself with quite a different guide.
After an infinity of light licks and kisses, Spike's tongue sworled with luxuriant thoroughness around the pucker of her anus. She cried out, dragging at the bedclothes. He pushed in, wet and feeling impossibly thick. An hour ago she'd have refused this, but he'd broken through her last bit of physical reserve, and as he began with maddening languour to fuck her ass with his tongue, she wondered only how she'd lived for seventeen years without this sensation, without his fingers creeping into her pussy, brushing maddeningly across her clit. The noises she was making, without volition or control, came back on her ears like the strange cries of tropical birds.
This time when she came, the convulsion arose from a gelid depth she'd never known before, and rippled on for a long long time.
The sheet was lifted away. Spike was at her side now, head propped on one bent arm. His mouth and face and hair were smeary. He smiled at her like a sleepy tiger. His body was lax, relaxed, but his cock was hard, the tip just touching her collapsed thigh. He seemed to be in no rush. She didn't want to meet his eyes.
Spike had had everything from her. Seen her naked. Touched her, fucked her, bitten her. Had her secrets, her confession.
And now he'd coaxed forth her most elemental self.
She'd shared so little with Angel, compared to all that.
"You're an astonishment, Slayer. You're a discernin' demon's dream. All thisyour power, your splendorwas wasted on the big poof."
She was too tired to move. After the emotional storm, and this long jag, she was played out and drowsy. If he fanged out and grabbed her, she thought, she'd just melt like cotton-candy.
"Why do you keep trying to build me up?"
"Appreciate you. You're not like the other slayers. You're more." He shifted a little closer, so the eye of his cock painted a liquid dab on her leg. "Suspected it when I first saw you, but now I know."
She wished he'd be quiet now. She wanted to drop off to sleep, or possibly cease to exist altogether. A numbness was starting to flow up from her extremities. "You talk too much. You assume too much. You don't know all about me."
"I'm old an' I'm canny, an' I do."
"Don't spoil this."
He cocked his head. "Best you ever had, yeah? Well, you've barely had any, 'til me. An' you'll never have it this good again. Better than you ever even dreamed of, right?"
She didn't answer. It was true. What he'd just done to her went way beyond what the sex articles in Glamour and her own imagination had ever led her to expect. It made her feel like she was running up a big debt on her mom's credit card. Like sooner or latersoonershe was going to be in trouble. Would have to work and work to pay it back.
"When the time comes," Spike murmured, "I'll be glad I had you. When the time comes, we'll remember we had this, and it'll feel sweet."
"What are you talking about? What time?"
He molded a hand around her breast, weighing it gently, caressing the nipple with his thumb. It was a gesture full of familiarity and easy affection, and it made her uneasy. She dragged her own hand up from the heavy depths to push his away.
"When things're different." His tongue appeared between his lips. "You know things'll be different some time."
"Still a'wishin' and a-hopin', Spike? It's not going to happen. You're stuck with it. But hey, you've got a lucrative career path ahead of you as a call-boy."
His hand was on her nose and mouth, cutting off her air, quicker than she could see him move. "You cunt, don't talk that waydon't you pretend you don't know what's goin' on here. What's between us, what this is about!"
She tore free, the adrenaline rush surging life into her punch. Spike tumbled off the bed. When he reappeared, wearing a lopsided smile, his lip was bleeding. He licked up the blood with the point of his tongue. "Ah ah, slayer, watch out, or I'll start to be really fond of you."
All at once he was frowning again. "Don't do this for every bird I bed. This ... is special. Ought to have the proper respect for it."
"You're crazy." Even as she said it, Buffy thought she understood him. Understood, but rejected, because what he was implyingthat this meant something, that they were somehow moving towards something together, some kind of alchemy, that neither of them would've even thought about on their ownwell, she couldn't go there. N. O. No. Spike was nothing to her, and vice versa.
He crawled back onto the bed. His cock was so hard now that the tip touched his belly. She had to drag her eyes away. "C'mon. Not done with you yet."
He wasn't the only one who could move fast. She grabbed a dangling shackle and clapped it on his left wrist, then sprang away, scrabbled for the key in the drawer, and stood back triumphantly.
Spike's eyes flashed yellow. "You want to play it like this, should've just said so."
"I'm going out for a while. When I come back, you'd better be waiting for me just like that."
"And when'll that be?"
"I don't know. It depends" she picked up his discarded jeans, turning out the pockets, "on what I find here" Spike had plenty of money. She didn't want to think, as she appropriated it, about where it came from. "and what's going on outside."
"Slayerdon't you leave me like this!"
"Don't make me come back over there, Spike, or I'll just lock up your other hand and you won't even be able to scratch."
She was a little surprised, when she left the house after a quick shower, to find it was broad day. Her mood soared when the sun touched her bare arms and face, and brought with it a heady sense of freedom. She was footloose in the big city, absolutely unfettered. Money in her pocket, time on her hands.
The light was bright and intense, but the air was less humid, and as she walked to the corner, Buffy noticed puddles here and thereit had rained.
In the coffee shop on Madison Avenue she took the table in the corner and ordered an enormous breakfast. Coffee and food would substitute for sleepthey often had before. At the next table, a mother and her sub-teen daughter were arguing in fierce whispers about a purchase the mother had refused to make at a nearby boutique. Beside them, a fat man paged through the New York Post while eating a sandwich.
The whole place was steeped in normal and regular. Out here, in the light-drenched restaurant that smelled of fries and charbroil and coffee, it was easy to imagine that she was not the same girl who'd just chained a fiercely aroused vampire to a bed and walked out on him.
Out here, she wasn't the same girl, the lapsed slayer, who'd submitted to that vampire, whose slick spendings he'd licked up like pudding off the sides of a bowl.
Out here, she was an unsupervised seventeen-year-old with an afternoon ahead of her and some money in her pocket.
Full of eggs and bacon and toast, she walked up to 86th Street. Bought a new pair of sneakers. Listened to some CDs in Tower Records. Drank an Orange Julius.
A half hour after she wandered again into the park, Buffy was playing shortstop in a pick-up softball game with a bunch of twenty-something guys. It started as a joke, but after her first at-bat, they wouldn't let her leave. She told them her name was Cordelia.
She played for hours, all through the golden hours of late afternoon and early evening, and while she did, Spike was gone from the forefront of her thoughts. She went along with some of them at dusk out of the park on the west side. No one carded her at the bar, so she had a couple glasses of beer with her burger platter, and when the check finally came, they told her to put away her money; the home-run queen didn't pay. At parting, she had three napkins with phone numbers on them in her pocket, but she dropped these into a trash can in the park as she made her way slowly back to the east side.
Reese opened the door to her. "Welcome back, miss."
"Spike's probably pretty hungry. I think I should take some blood up with me."
Reese had a way of looking always politely just over her head. "I brought some up an hour ago. Is there anything else, miss?"
She supposed he'd seen stranger things, serving in this house, so she just said no thank you and started up the stairs.
"Where've you been all this time?"
He was right where she'd left him. A tall glass with lees of blood sat on the bedstand; Reese had indeed come in and served him and left him there.
"Out playing." She went to the dresser, began to comb her hair.
"Wasn't funny, leavin' me like this so long."
"I lost track of the time."
"For ten hours? I'm not your slave."
"Reese was here. He brought you blood. Why didn't you get him to free you?"
"That's not his role. Could've gotten free myself, for the matter of it. Not the point."
"The point?" Taking the key from her pocket, she went to him, reached for the shackle. Spike caught her arm with his free hand. Looked into her eyes, in a way she couldn't take. For the first time, uncertainty uncurled in her belly.
"Slayer. Stayed put because you told me to."
Uncertainty lit the fuse of shame.
"An' because I want you to trust me."
Okay, shame or not, this was to laugh! "Trust you? Earth to Spikewhy would I ever trust you? You're a vampire who always wanted to kill me."
"Never kept it a secret, did I? Never lied to you 'bout any of my intentions. Never been anythin' but straight with you right up to this moment. It's you, Slayer, who dissembles, an' backtracks, an' conveniently forgets her own promises."
Her throat closed up tight. Her voice sounded in her own ears like the squeak of a kitten. "You only want to get over on me."
He was looking at her again in that way that made her feel she was naked and transparent to boot.
"Playin' Miss Victim doesn't become you. What do you think I'm gonna do to you in here, Slayer? We both know you're stronger than I am. You could kill me with your bare hands if you needed to. An' there's no pleasure or return for me forcin' you."
The fuse ran out, shame exploding into anger. "You ... you keep saying you know all about me! You act all superior, you keep telling me what I'm supposed to be doing, like you're Mr Wise and All-Knowing, when youyou Let's be real, Spike, you're a filthy killer who just got his soul back a month ago and all you've wanted ever since was to get rid of it!"
"Well, just bein' honest about that, too. Told you I wouldn't hurt you even so."
"It doesn't feel honest, when you sweet talk me. When you pry and pry until I tell you tell you"
"Never said I had your best interests at heart. Not your friend. But you needed to spill it, Slayer, you know you did. An' then I made you feel good, better than you ever have in all your little girlie life, an' what do you do?" He rattled the chain. "The other day you told me I was a person, but you still don't treat me like one."
Her own convictions about the soul were plenty coherent when applied to Angel, her lovewho was and was supposed to be the only ever one-time-is-all ensouled vampire. But with Spike ... why did she have to be responsible for him?
It was something thrust on her, when she wasn't ready or willinglike being called as a slayer in the first place. She didn't want to have to own any of that anymore.
Still avoiding his gaze, she went to unlock the shackle, but again he stayed her hand. "You want to punish me for what I am?" His tone was different now. Small. Raw.
"I ... I'm not the Vampire Punisher."
"This is how to do it. Lock me up somewhere and leave me alone. That's what'll do me in. Loneliness. Can't abide it. Never could."
"Then why do you stay here alone? Why don't you go hang out with your Mr Vaux? I've got to think he's got a posse."
"They don't know me anymore. No one knows me, or can know me ... only you."
"I don't! You're not making sense."
"You know me best, Miss Anne, of anyone. If you don't think that's a punishment, think again. But we've got plenty in common now, you an' me."
His pleading shouldn't affect her. She didn't want it to. "Spike. Let me unlock this."
"Wait. What do you really wantin your heart of hearts? Want to take out all your anger at Angelus on me? Beat me down 'til I bleed out? He's all gone but I'm here, next best thing. Full of sin an' choked up with a soul makes me writhe over every one. Put that other shackle on me, an' I'll be at your mercy. Go on. Do it. You recall how pretty I bruise up. Leastways I won't be alone."
Her first instinct was to tell him to stop being pathetic, but that gave way at once. "I don't want to beat you. That isn't ... that isn't what I do."
"What do you do, Miss Anne? What else, I mean, than what you've shown me already?"
She fitted the key into the lock, but Spike jerked his arm away.
"Hey!" This time, when she looked into his face, she saw what had eluded her, or what he'd been hiding, since she'd come in. The franticness he'd desperately controlled. For the first time she was aware of the past ten hours as he must've experienced them. Not just bored and annoyed, not just playing an irritating waiting game.
He'd waited for her, first in anticipation, and then ... when she hadn't come back, and hadn't come back ....
"Why won't you let me take this off?"
"You've cut yourself off from everythin' else. If you can't be a little good to me, hidden up in here, what hope do you have anymore?"
Oh God. She imagined herself, dissolving into tears. Imagined herself fleeing, never coming back. Calling up the Council in London, turning herself in.
But she knew she had to face the music here. He was right at least about that muchshe wasn't being honest with herself. And she had to deal with that, and with him. He was inextricably entwined with it all.
Deal with him somehow. Somehow that was different than what she'd been doing so far.
"I'm sorry." She reached again for the shackle. He let her take it. Her hand brushed the skin of his forearm, and Spike shivered. She could feel now how very close he was to breaking down. The realization scared her, and awed her, and secondarily filled her with a compassion she'd have liked to deny, but couldn't.
They did have that much, anyway, in common.
"I'm sorry," she said again, and pulled the metal cuff away. "I ... I get confused around you. I get angry, and ... uncertain."
Spike rubbed his wrist; she saw the lines incised in the skin, where the cuff bit in. "We're havin' a confusing time."
He rose slowly, stretched. He had, she noticed, no physical modesty, didn't hold himself or move any differently because he was naked.
"It ... it doesn't seem just, that you ... that you should have to suffer for what you did when you had no conscience. I don't always get it. It's not ... simple."
"Want to get outside. Need some air. Need to move."
"Right. So ... you should do that."
He turned back to her, took her chin in his hand. She saw, when she met his eyes, that he'd moved back from the edge, regained his equalibrium. "Don't pout anymore, Miss Anne, I'm not one to hold a grudge. Know you won't be so unkind again. You're not that sort."
""Spike" Why did he have to let this go so easily? It would be easier if he tried to take it out of her.
"Would rather see you cheerful, yeah? As much as you can be."
"Cheerful. Oh yeah."
"Could happen, if you let it. Let's see if we can find somewhere to go that'll amuse you. I'll just have a wash, an' we'll be off."
Spike's 'having a wash' lasted a very long time. When Buffy overcame her hesitation and went to check on him, he was crouched in a corner of the large glass-enclosed shower, his face to the wall.
He didn't react to her presence, even when she shut off the water. In the sudden silence she heard his sobbing breaths.
Buffy took a towel from the rack, held it out to him.
No move. He was curled up small, head low. His spine made a row of graduated pebbles under the white white skin.
More hesitation, but she pushed it aside, stepped into the stall, draped the towel around him.
"Please get up." Her own voice surprised hershe spoke low, soft, like even regular volume would shatter him to pieces.
After a long moment, she put her hands on him. Tugged gently on his shoulders. "Spike, please. We were going out, remember? You'll feel better outdoors."
It took a few tries to raise him; she was leary of being too forceful. Ashamed of how forceful she'd already been. Her own belly had gone light and tetchy, like she'd just vomited and might again.
"C'mon, dry off and put your clothes on."
He let her draw him clumsily out of the stall, then pulled away from her touch. She expected him to let loose some rain of invective, or self-pity, but he only said, "All right. Can manage this."
She stood by in a state of bobbing dread she associated with dentist office waiting rooms. She'd almost stopped questioning why she felt this way over anything to do with him. She couldn't get rid of it; her mind kept playing back to her the moment she'd picked up her hairbrush and said she was out playing. The act, the words, the studied nonchalance, steeped her again in shame. Some bit of her conscience that she associated with her mother stung and stung at her, for being mean and thoughtless. I take it back. she thought, over and over. But she couldn't say it out loud.
She expected him to reproach her, or to ignite into some further deranged display of grief, but Spike said nothing at all as he dressed, laying a shirt over his teeshirt, and fixed his haira process she watched with blinking incredulity. The edges of his eyelids were still pink from the crying jag, when he shrugged into the leather duster and gestured to her that he was ready. She followed him down the stairs and out into the night street, wondering if she ought to lead the way, ought to suggest some destination. But he seemed to know where he was heading.
They ended up, half an hour later, in a small crummy bar on First Avenue in Spanish Harlem, side by side in a dark booth, where Spike knocked back a double JD and a glass of beer within a minute, and she was sure the barman and the other patrons, bleary middle-aged men who'd stared at her with hungry resentment as they'd come inside, took her for a street-walker.
She was served with beer and not carded.
The jukebox played merengue, and the TV over the bar was tuned to an infomercial about some kitchen gadget.
She was certain this wasn't what Spike had had in mind when he'd suggested they find something to amuse her, but there was no way now that she was going to bring that up. He hadn't known what kind of horror storm was waiting for him in the shower stall.
When Spike had downed three beers and three shots of JD, she said, "Are you okay?"
"You really think it's not fair that I suffer for what I've done?"
She wasn't ready for this question, this return, after such fraught speechlessness, to her earlier offering, and answered what came to her first, without thinking: "I don't know. It's too complicated. Who am I to say?"
"You're the slayer. All this is in your hands."
"Not souls. Souls aren't ... my department. But it doesn't feel fair."
"Wrong question. Should ask yourself, did he choose?"
"Choose? I know you didn't choose to get your soul back."
"Did he choose to be a vampire." Spike swallowed more beer.
This was, indeed, a question she'd never asked herself. She didn't think much about vampires, just like she didn't think much about rats and roaches. She'd never actually seen anyone turned. The closest she'd comeXander's friend Jesse, and that girl on parent-teacher nightit had happened elsewhere, out of her control. She knew the mechanics of how vampires were made, because her first watcher had taught her, but that was all.
At the point of death, with their last breath, the victim had to swallow some of the vampire's blood, in order to rise again.
That didn't seem like an exactly voluntary act. It was difficult to imagine what one could consent to, or refuse, in the moment of dying. "You sought it out? You asked Drusilla to turn you?"
"No. Had no idea who she was or what she was up to. But there's a moment ... never turned any myself, but I've seen it plenty, watchin' Dru, an' Angelus, an' Darla. When the prey chooses." The whole time they'd been walking, and since they'd sat down, he'd stared straight ahead, never turned to her. He regarded his beer glass as if he was talking to it.
"You're saying you chose. Did you even know what was happening?"
Spike squeezed his eyes shut, pinched the bridge of his nose. Like the question was a stunner, something he couldn't bear to face.
"Did you even know what a vampire was?" she asked. "Before you saw Dru?"
"No. Could feel my heart goin' all crazy in my chest, an' I couldn't catch my breath. I was so afraid, an' felt like she had all of life in her, an' nothing but her kiss would save me."
Trying to picture what he was saying, to sort it out, overwhelmed her. She had no context. Where, how? Spike swallowed the rest of his beer, gestured at the barman, who immediately brought another, having already been well-tipped. When he was gone, Spike held the base of the glass like a safety-line.
"Have you ever seen anyone who didn't take it?" How, she wondered, could one be expected, as life was rushing away, to actively refuse any liquid dropped between one's lips? Never before had it occurred to her, with all the instinctive disdain she felt for vampires, to hold responsible the people they'd once been. Sure, you could be stupid and put yourself in danger, but once you were bitten, once you were dying ....
"When I rose, that was the first time I was ever really alive." He looked at her then, his eyes half-lidded, dark-circled. "First time I ever felt happy. Free."
"You want me to blame you, is that it? For how you were killed?" Her own heart was racing. The air conditioning was too cold, or else there was something else in the air here that made the gooseflesh race up and down her arms, her neck. Spike watched her, silent, expressionless.
"Spike, everyone tries to stay alive. You ... you were being murdered, and you couldn't help"
"How sweet you are." He leaned back, and put an arm around her. Buffy tensed up, then, as his fingertips brushed against her cheek, the tension released. She shifted closer to him. His other hand, on the table, touched hers. "Deep down, still innocent, an' sweet."
She wasn't sure if she made the first move, or he did, but all at once they were kissing, her fingers digging into his leather sleeve, her tongue in his mouth. Beneath the table, she went liquid. The next thing she knew they were in a tiny bathroom, she was bare-assed on the edge of the sink, her dress hiked up, Spike's hands holding her knees wide, and he was inside her. She heard her own sobbing frantic cries, felt the cold metal of the tap against the small of her back, his leather crunching beneath her grasping hands, but all of it was secondary to the needy congested wet immediacy of fucking. She shook in helpless waves, the back of her head striking the mirror, her breath sawing. Biting the leather collar, biting at his neck, blindly seeking for his mouth, his tongue. She sucked his tongue, and Spike took her harder, filled her up, and she wanted to tell him that she was sorry she'd hurt him, sorry he hurt, and that she hurt too, unbearably, but this was helping helping helping, she needed it, she needed him. But there was no speech, she could only return his rhythm to him with deep reverberant thrusts that made them both gasp and swear.
She never could remember how they got out of the bathroom, or the bar; she recalled a short cab ride in which her mouth was glued to his, his hand up her skirt, and she was glad she couldn't see the driver watching her in the rearview mirror. In the house they stumbled into the front parlor, dropping clothes as they went, and she took him astride, at a gallop, on the hard upholstered settee by the fireplace. This time she couldn't take her eyes from his face, needed to see him watching her, her reflection in the wide black of his blown pupils. His slick thumb rode tight against her clit; pleas and pleases and moans fell from her as she writhed up and down on him. But it was when he caught the base of her skull in his hand and pulled her in close, breathing against her lips and then kissing her, kissing her slowly even though she was fucking him fast, that everything shimmered into chaos, and she was lost.
She didn't know if she'd been dozing or unconscious when she returned to herself to find she was still splayed against Spike's boneless languid body. His arms clasped loosely around her waist, his cock, not exactly hard, but still long and full, inside her.
They were drenched, but she hadn't felt this limp and comfortable since ... since that night in Angel's apartment.
Her mind shied.
Spike inhaled. "Never let it be said Slayer doesn't know how to make it up to a fellow."
His hand stroked lightly down her back.
"No more yet. Buffy tired."
"You were magnificent just now."
"Guess I'm learning."
"You were really feelin' it. Went for what you wanted." He stroked her again, light, with the fingertips. "Had what you wanted, didn't I?"
"Yeah, you did." She shivered. "Is it better now? You, I mean."
"I'm all right. Just you stay put. Keepin' me nice 'n'warm this way."
"I'm not going anywhere." Her fingers brushed the soft hairs at the base of his neck. "I want ... to be held."
"I've got you, little lost girl."
She let her eyes close again, cheek resting on his bony shoulder. Drifting, unthinking, easy.
After a while Spike's cock stirred inside her, filling again.
"You're insatiable," she whispered.
"It's your lovely pussy. No rush to do anythin' about it."
After a few moments, she said, "Is it?"
"Is it ... lovely?"
"Like compliments, do you, minx?"
"No, I just need to know, if I ... am I really ...."
"As if by now you're not sure." His hand was moving again, lulling, exciting, hypnotic, up and down her back. She sighed. This was an aspect of her powerher woman's powershe was only now getting a glimpse of. Her clit was beginning to throb, she loved how it felt to sit on his lap, on his cock, to be so full.
"You get me so hard," Spike said. "Could hold a stake to my heart, an' I'd still be hard for you. Would fuck you with a sword at my throat."
"Don't ... don't talk like that. I don't want to hurt you. Let's not be that way."
"Not now, maybe."
"Not now. Really. Spike ...?"
His hand never stopped stroking. "What is it, Miss Anne?"
She contracted around him, watching for his eyes to go unfocused, for him to pull in a breath. When he did, she whispered, "Does this feel good?"
"Yeah, a bit."
"A bit?" She squeezed again.
"You want it again, Miss Anne?"
"Me. Want me?"
"Yes." She raised her head to look at him. Spike's hair was wild from her pulling. His neck was marked where she'd sucked the skin.
"Kiss us, then."
She kissed his mouth, and sighed as he kissed his way down her jaw, tonguing at her throat. She offered her breasts to his lips; he mouthed the nipples, traced their roundness in wet lines, breathing her in. She bore down on his unfurling cock, pressing in on it in time with his licks on her right nipple, and when she came, small and neat and surprising from her breast, he looked up and smiled at her. "See what you can do?"
"I didn't know."
"I didn't either. Glad to be finding out." He eased her beneath him then, began to fuck her in tight little jabs, barely moving at all, but she was so sensitive now, as if her clit was opened out to encompass her whole groin. Every tiny move he made brought a moan out of her. "You'll never forget this, will you?" Spike murmured. "Every other man you have, you'll compare to me."
Buffy hugged him closer. "Don't worry about that. This is now. Let's just be now."
"This good, Slayer?"
"It's good. Yes. Oh God. Spike! Ohthere. There. There."
Later, when they were lying bonelessly entwined on the floor, she said, "What you were talking about before. Do you really think you chose to be undead?"
"Need a better line in pillow talk."
"I want to understand."
"I think so, yeah." Bitterness overrode his tone.
"I don't see how. If you're telling me the truth, that you didn't know what was happening to you"
"A strong man, in charge of himself ... wouldn't have let it happen. Any of it. Even down to ... even down to the last moment."
"Is that what you really think? Because I think that's wrong. We are in charge of ourselves, I know thatbut when your life is about to wink outin that little secondI don't believe you can control that."
He got up on one elbow to regard her from above. "That what you need to be sure of, in order to be with me like this?"
"I just don't think you have to make it any worse for yourself than it is. It was a misfortune, that you were murdered by a vampire. That's all. I'm talking to youthe you that's your soul. You're suffering for what the demon did who took over your body and your memories and"
"Angel liked you to think he was two separate entities, with an' without. But that was a bit of a tall tale he told himself, so's he'd be able to sleep. Know I'm same fellow I always was before the demon took up residence'cept the demon set me free. Everythin' I feared and worried about, everythin' kept me small and absurd, didn't matter anymore, and I went in for what I fancied. It's that simple, pet. An' now I miss havin' my way, an' I feel the fires of hell at my heels ... an' I want my soul an' my self parted again. That's all."
"I don't believe it."
"Tellin' you it's true."
"So you weren't a strong man." She paused. "Huh. How weak could you have been, if you"
"If I what?"
"Well, I meanto get along like that, in the slums, with"
His sudden smile was mocking, ready to trip her up. She stopped.
"Right. Was plenty enough of a man to make my way. Real tough. 'Til I had my moment of truth."
"So you're saying"
"Leave it alone, Slayer."
"You had things on your conscience before you died? Is that why you keep insisting you're guilty just because you got turned? What were youa murderer?"
"Big thug, me."
She poked his shoulder. "You know, all of a sudden, I don't believe a word of this. I think I'm all wrong about you. You were never some O.G. You were probably, what, a milkman? Chimney sweep? Stable hand?"
"Met my fate in a stable."
"So I guessed right."
"Whatever you like."
"I like the truth. Tell me the truth, Spike."
"Why should I?"
"I told you my truth." A flush spread over her, one she knew he could see and smell and feel. "No one knows it but us two. You could make up for all the patronizing me you've done so far and at least tell me who you were when you died."
Spike closed his eyes. Dropped back to the floor, and when he spoke, it was to the ceiling. "I was a gentleman, if you please. Member of a prominent City family. That's City of London to you. My people had a banking house, goin' back a century an' a half from when I met my Dru. All that was most profitable an' respectable. An' dull. I was the youngest son, last child, an' mother's darling." He looked at her then, his gaze boring into hers, daring her to laugh, or mock, or disbelieve. "Never had dirty fingers or a dirty thought in all my days. Least, not 'til I was let loose."
"Okay. Thank you."
He stared at her for another long moment, then sprang to his feet just as she reached a tentative hand towards him, grabbed up his jeans and put them on, and began to pace the room. "Not goin' back to being that milksop, d'you hear me?"
"I hear why you trying so hard to convince both of us that you choose to be damned."
"You hated yourself."
Buffy shrugged. "Hey, high school is full of kids who hate themselves. I know what it looks like."
"I bet you do."
"Spike ... do you really think you'll ever be the same person you were in eighteen-hundred-whatever? Why can't you take what happened to you as a second chance?"
"Second chance for what? To bore myself to death?"
"To be a good man."
He laughed. "What twaddle you little girls talk." Dropping to his knees, he snatched her up by the shoulders. "Still a vampire, right? Creature of the nightblood-drinkin' fiend. Not a man, not good. Got nowhere to go. Just like you, remember? We're two bad peas without a goddamned pod."
"You don't have to be."
"You don't have to stay here, either. You could go home. Yet you won't."
"I think I'd like to swim a little before I go to sleep." She got up, resisting the urge to cover herself up, and started with all her dignity for the door. If she ran into Reece in the foyer, she'd just have to streak.
"Yeah, you do that!" Spike called after. "Anythin' to change the subject, when it comes back around. If I'm supposed to be so good, what about you?"
"Here." Even as Spike opened his eyes, Buffy thrust the stake at him.
"Whoa! What're you doing?" He scrambled out of the way.
"Wake up. We're going to patrol."
"I know you were out tangling with your kind before you ran into me."
"Don't have a kind anymore. That's my tragedy."
"You are tragic. Get dressed. I figure you know where the vamps play in this city."
"I do." He gave her a head-tilted once-over. "My my. What brought on this sudden attack of wantin' to do your sacred duty?"
"Shut up. I want some exercise. There's more to life than sex and sleep."
"But not much more. All right, let's have at it. I fancy a bit of a knees-up myself." He took up the stake she'd dropped in the bedclothes. "Where'd this come from?"
"I made them. In the park. This afternoon."
"What a pretty sight you must've been, too, lovely slayer girl whittlin' beneath a tree."
"Yeah, I'm always pretty. Let's go."
"So where are we going?"
The night was a little cooler than it had been, but still cloying. She had to hurry to follow his long strides up the block.
"You'll find out." He turned in at the entrance to an underground parking garage, whose attendent came forward with a smile, as if knew him. "They'll bring the car out in a minute."
"Why don't we just take the subway?"
"Got reasons for not caring to take the subway with the likes of you."
"And those reasons are?"
"You'll like the car, the car's all right."
"I saw your car." She remembered vaguely something long and black and sleek.
Which appeared in the next moment, driven slowly up from the bowels of the garage by the attendent, who seemed reluctant to relinquish it. Spike opened the passenger side door with a flourish.
She hung back. "Where are you proposing to take me?"
"Where there's vamps for you to get your exercise on." He gave her a shove; she climbed in, and cranked down the window. The interior was musty and smelled like tequila. When he slid in, she prodded his arm. "Those reasons about the subway are?"
"Never you mind."
They sped along past the overhanging greenery of the park on the right, and the upright blank-fronted apartment houses on the left.
When they ran out of park, and she saw the tall equestrian statue and the fountain in front of the Plaza Hotel, which held a vague schoolish association in her mind with something to do with F Scott Fitzgerald, Buffy said, "Did you sleep well?"
"I said, did you sleep well?"
Spike turned slowly and blinked at her. "... yeah. Guess I did. Thanks. You wore me out good an' proper. First decent kip I've had all summer."
She let him slip an arm around her. Even with all the windows down, it was warm inside the car. But Spike himself, in just a teeshirt, was slightly cool, his skin dry and smooth against hers. He cuddled her close, slipping fingers through her hair, and cut east, steering with one hand.
"Do you like me?" Buffy said, as they turned down second.
"Like you? Nah. You're warm, an' you smell good, is all."
"Not even a little?"
"You wouldn't want me to."
She shoved away from him.
He gave her the eyebrow. "Don't ask me questions you don't want to hear the answers to."
"I don't believe you, anyway."
"Thought I made it clear that whatever else I am, I'm not a liar."
"I don't mean that you're lying. But I think you like me more than you want to admit."
"What good'll liking you do me? Already got my leg over."
"I don't know." She sulked. Why had she started this conversation? And yet she really wanted to be able to think that he ... was at least fond of her. They'd put in so much time together, and he was ... he'd turned out to be kind of interesting. Much more than she'd have ever given him credit for, back in Sunnydale. So.
"Does it go the other way?"
"What? Do I like you?" She shrugged. "You're not so bad. I mean ... to hang with. In the present-tense. While you have a soul."
"Cut it a bit finer, do."
"I have to cut it fine." She shifted back to lean against him. Spike hesitated for a palpable moment, then drew her close. When she put her mouth up to be kissed, he obliged her.
She'd come to like his kisses.
"Not gonna fall for you, though," he said.
"Wouldn't want you to."
Buffy looked up and down the midway, with its rows of skeeball booths and four-shots-for-a-dollar, and just beyond it the big Cyclone wheel turning. It was all lit up like Christmas, but everything was grubby and rusty and lopsided. The air smelled like cotton candy and piss, and more faintly, of the ocean. "Wow, Coney Island is kind of a dump. Not quite what I imagined."
"Yeah. Nothin' like when we first saw it. Was enchantin' then."
"When was this?"
"Nineteen four. First year of Dreamland. Luna Park was new too. Was a gaudy glowin' vision, Dru an' me thought it was better'n anything we'd left behind in Europe. All those lights just intoxicated her. An' those places were just an all-we-could-eat buffetconstant roiling crowd, people arrivin' by train an' boat every minute, gettin' separated from their friends in the crush, careless an' off their guard. No vamp came away hungry from Coney Island."
"If it was such a free-for-all, how'd you hide the bodies? How'd you get away with killing all those people without word getting out?"
"Mostly didn't kill 'em. Fed an' let 'em gothe crowds were huge, we could sample a dozen a night, sate ourselves. No bodies, an' the authorities were in no hurry to publicize complaints about vamp attacksanyway, there's no such thing as vampires."
"We don't always kill. Leastways, not once we've been at it long enough to get wise. Vamps who live long learn to get along."
"So you want me to believe you're not guilty of mass murder."
"No. Just cluein' you in to how things really work."
"It doesn't make it all right."
"Not claiming it does!" He turned his back, started to walk away. "Know it doesn't. Always killed when I knew I could get away with it."
His bluntness still had the power to startle. She followed him towards the boardwalk. Three different kinds of tinny music came at her, along with the eerie sound of canned laughter. There were plenty of people around, mostly young, all different colors. Spike stood out for being so white and blond, and for his purposeful stride. She caught up to him on the boards. The wide beach was dotted with people too, and far away she could see the edge of the surf. The air was curiously still. Cooler than in the city, but not by much.
"So where are they?"
"Could start by checkin' under this." He tapped the boardwalk with his foot. "C'mon."
She followed Spike under the planks, where the darkness was slatted with thin streaks of orangey light from the lamps that lit up the boardwalk. The air was salty, tangy, with overtones of things rotting, of fish and feet. Three different hip-hop tracks booming from ghetto blasters competed with the muffled skirl from Astroland and shouting and laughter from up above. The boards overhead resonated with footsteps. Clumps of young people dotted the sheltered sand, often made semi-belligerant by beer or drugssome shouted come-ons or insults at her as they passed, but she noticed that everyone gave Spike a wide berth.
He was unaccustomedly quiet, giving her a lot of space.
When they'd been walking for a while, she came up close to him. "Hey. It's ... well, it's not okay, but it's okay. For right now. All right?"
"Coherent as always, Slayer." But he sounded mollified.
"You know, I've been thinking. Today, while I was making the stakes in the park. I figured some stuff out, and I wanted to tell you"
Before she could begin, a muffled cry and a scuffle broke out in the dark distance, and they took off towards it.
The vamps came at them like a hailstormjust a couple at first, then more and more, finally tapering off to a couple of stragglers she picked off easy.
Almost two hours later, emerging onto the open beach couple of miles beyond where they'd gone in, Buffy took a deep long breath of the night sea air. Coated in sweat and sand, she was all tuned up, the blood zinging in her veins.
"That was beautiful," Spike said, slinging an arm around her shoulders, "Can take the girl out of the hellmouth, but can't take the hell"
A tremor of misgiving ran through her, that made her pull away. "Y'know, praise from you, not so much."
"Not so much what?" Spike demanded.
"Not so ... praisey." She didn't want to admit how in sync they were in the fight. How natural it felt. Or how all through it she'd been stoked by his enthusiasm, the fierce light in his eye, how he chuckled when she made a particularly agile move.
"Who better to praise your slaying skills than a master vampire? Connoisseur, here."
"Please. You're not a master vampire." She snatched at the slimmest excuse to steer him off.
Spike stepped in front of her, so he could see her face. His own was completely serious. "How d'you reckon, Slayer?"
"You'reyou're just not. I mean, come on."
"What kind of answer is that? Do you know how old I am? If I'm such a slouch, why didn't you ever slay me?"
She rolled her eyes.
"We had a deal."
"I would have"
His eyes lit, and his lips curved into a nervy grin. "Was it because you secretly fancied me all along?"
She gave him a shove, hard, against the railing. Spike stumbled, then, laughing, sprang at her; they tussled, whirling from one railing of the boardwalk to the other; she pushed him off again. He caught her, pressed her down on a bench.
She let him bend her back, opened her mouth to his. She was laughing now too. It was easier to just laugh and smooch than to pick her every last feeling apart. A brisk wind passed through her, blowing everything loose. She'd rid Brooklyn of a dozen vampires, which somehow put her firmly in the right now, out of the shadow of past and future. In the right now, she was tuned up. She was getting kissed, and groped, and in a second she'd yank her hands free and do some groping of her own.
He broke the kiss before she was ready. "He was one, an' I'm another. No good kidding youself, Miss Anne. You've got a taste for fang, an' no new-born will do for you. You need a demon with a history to scratch your itch. Only the bestmeanin' the worstfor you."
"Do you think you're the only one? Plenty of slayers have done the dance with a vampire or two! That's what it is. Passioncompulsiondesire. For sex. For death."
"You always do this. Whenever we start to have a moment, you"
"You make a virtue of bein' ignorant. Does you no good. Do you even know the name of the girl who came before you?"
She didn't. It had never occurred to her to wonder, though she'd had plenty of nights of wondering why me?
"Thought not." Spike sneered.
"Why do I need to know that?"
"Why do you need to know anything? Because stayin' innocent keeps you a child. An' any girl fucks like you do is way past bein' a child."
Buffy turned away from his penetrating gaze.
He wasn't even as old as Angel, and he was often, even mostly, a momentous jerk Yet she had to admit that now she knew him better, Spike often seemed like more of a grown man than Angel had. Not just grown up, but tired out by existing for so long.
Spike took out a cigarette, and lit it. She wished she could have one too; envied him the way he could busy himself with the pack, the lighter.
"Okay," she said. "Maybe you have something there."
"Damn right I do."
He smoked, and she listened to the distant surf and brushed at the sand stuck to her legs.
Finally Spike slapped his knees and rose. "All right, Slayer. Want to take a spin on The Wonder Wheel, while we're here?"
"Not really. Could we just drive? Not back to the city, just somewhere."
"Could do. Come on."
They set off the way they'd come. After a while, she slipped her hand into his. Spike squeezed and held on. Her throat went tight. She wished she hadn't said that, about him not being a master. She wished he'd kept his mouth shut too. He was okay when he wasn't mouthing off at her about heavy stuff.
Angel had been so much more circumspect. He'd seldom made a point of tweaking her with his idea of home truths. Spike could never stop, even when speaking out interfered with his pleasures.
The wind kicked up, blew her hair around her face. At first his silence felt heavy, and she searched frantically for some remark she could make to break it, to get him chatting. But by time they reached the car, she was glad for the quiet, which had begun to feel companionable, as his hand, closed in hers, had begun to feel warm. When he let her go to open the car door, it was all she could do to keep from grabbing it again.
As he drove off, she rolled down the window, let the wind catch and pull at her hair.
Spike turned on the radio. After a moment she reached over and shut it off.
"Listen. I was thinking today, while I made the stakes. About what we were going to do."
Whittling stakes was the kind of activity that just naturally led to sorting out one's thoughts. No matter how much you wanted to avoid yourself, you couldn't really stop yourself, when you were sat there with just a knife and a a bunch of tree branches.
Apparently slaying wasn't something she could just quit. It wasn't just a dutyit was a need. She needed to do it, and the more she put it off, the more the urge, the itch, pervaded her thoughts and sang through her sinews, to the point where she thought she could understand what it was like to have St Vitus dance or maybe the kind of DTs that made you run around waving your arms and gnashing your teeth.
So okay, just because she never could or would go back to Sunnydale, she'd still slay. Freelance, under-the-radar. It was what she'd been born for.
That was relatively easy to settle her mind about. The other looming issue that twined in and out of it like a writhing serpent, was more confusing and depressing. What Spike had thrown in her face beforethe question of her goodness.
She was sure she'd left goodthe comfortable, rock-solid sense of being all right with everythingbehind a while ago. It didn't feel like she'd ever be able to pick it up againit was just gone, like being eight years old and living in Los Angeles was gone. But that wasn't the same as embracing being bad. She had to figure out how to live.
How to live when her only companion was Spike. She was sort of responsible for him ... it was due to her that he had a soul.
She had no intention of leaving him, even though, on the Scales of Big Right And Wrong, leaving Spike would almost certainly put her down on the side of Right. But she didn't think she could bear being alone anymore. Alone, unfucked, unteased, untalked to, unheld.
Spike appreciated her, and that might not be as good as love, but it was a whole lot less complicated. And dangerous.
So, she was going to become the Morally Ambiguous Entirely Freelance Slayer, and Spike would be her ... not sidekick. Not partner. Certainly not friend, boyfriend, lover.
She didn't know what. He'd be her Souled Vampire Companion. With benefits. Together they'd ... manage. When the weather got cool or when Mr Vaux came back they'd leave New York and head south to where it was still warm. Maybe they could go to New Orleans, which was supposed to be packed with vampires and mild in the winter time. They could get work and some little place to live and patrol every night and fuck afterwards; no one would ever find her there, and it would be an okay way to be since she was never again going to be the way she was back home.
This felt like a workable, if not joyous, scheme. Anyhow, it wasn't like, as the slayer, she had to figure out a whole lifetime. There was never going to be a college degree, a career, a marriage, kids. Her luck would run out, as Kendra's did, she'd die fighting, some other girl would be called. The end.
She still didn't want to die, but it was kind of a relief to not have to worry about grades or graduating or pretending to her mom that she was going to forge a full and fruitful adulthood. She supposed she'd never feel good and right again, so it was probably better not to obsess about it too much. She'd just try not to be bad and let that be enough.
She sketched it out for him, mentioning the heading south and finding work and keeping up the patrols, and leaving out most of the rest about what they'd be to each other, and her mother's expectations, and how soon she expected to be dead. By now they were speeding along a mostly deserted highway with the water on their right. Spike kept his hands on the wheel and his eyes on the road.
"So what do you think?"
"Think it's time for you to go home."
"I don't have a home, remember? We've been over this. I'm not that person anymore. That's done with."
He slowed a little, lit another cigarette.
"Well then, I say stay away from New Orleans, Slayer."
"What's wrong with New Orleans?"
"You can't just go in there an' start taking out vamps willy-nilly. There's a reason it's pretty much always been a free-fire zone for demons. You go there, you won't last a week."
"That's a vote of confidence."
"Not sayin' you wouldn't take plenty down with you, but the facts're the facts. You could look it upyou'll see they've always kept the slayer out of that neck of the woods."
"I'm not going to look it up."
"Just sayin'. It's no place for you. Goin' there wouldn't do anybody any good. If you won't go home like a sensible girl, I say head to Mexico. It's cheap an' cheerful, weather's good, and you'll find work an' vamps aplenty."
"Mexico, huh? Maybe. I do like tacos."
"Sure you do. Mexican riviera's a fine place."
"Wait a secondyou keep saying 'you'. I was saying 'we'."
"So you do. It's a pretty story, Miss Anne."
"Huh? What's a pretty story?"
"You an' me takin' off together. It's sweet."
"It's not a story. It's what we're going to do." She sighed, and gathered her blowing hair into her fist. "Why do you have to quarrel with me about everything? Aren't we getting along all right? We agreed we were going to keep each other company."
"Don't believe you mean it."
The road they were on was perfectly straight, with grassy dunes on either side. The wooden street lights burned orange, and once in a while, a rabbit sped out into the headlights, eye glowing like a bike reflector, leaping for the other side.
Spike turned the radio on.
She slapped it off. "I mean it. I need you. Okay? I know I need you."
He veered off suddenly, bringing the car to a smooth quick stop. When he cut the engine, the chirruping of insects filled her ears. Equidistant between two pools of orange light, Spike's face and hands were a pale gold. He turned in his seat to look at her.
After a moment she put her hands out, and took hold of his. "Listen to me. I'm telling the truth."
He studied not her face, but her hands, rubbing her fingers softly with his thumbs.
"Will you let me take care of you, then?"
Her first instinct was to assert that she could take care of herself. But she knew what he meant, and hadn't she just said she needed him? By now there was no one else who could give her anything, no one else she could stand to be around.
"You'll have to do all the driving because I don't have a license, but I'll let you pick the radio station."
She felt him hesitate, the tension of his misgiving. Understood how much he wanted what she promisedthe wanting so full that his doubt was almost too heavy to overcome. Her hands went moist in his.
At last he looked up. His gaze was clear and calm, and she knew she'd won her way.
He pressed a kiss into her palm. "Will keep you alive," he murmured, "for long as I can."
In three more hours, they ran out of road. At Montauk, with the open ocean spread out on three sides, Spike parked by the beach.
"Gotta find ourselves a room soon. Sun'll be up before we know it."
"This is pretty though. Thanks for taking me."
She averted her gaze, embarrassed at her own gratitude, but not quite in time to see Spike's almost equally embarrassed look. They'd barely spoken while they tooled along, rock and roll on the radio. They'd paused at a Burger King drive-thru, where she loaded up on french fries and an enormous soda.
When she returned from the comfort station, Spike was sprawled on the hood of the car. She climbed up beside him. The metal was warm but not too warm. A snapping breeze blew. The stars out here were bright and sharp, and so many more than she could ever see in the city, even in the middle of Central Park.
She felt for his hand, and once more he gave it a firm squeeze.
"We'll have to stay here all day."
"I don't care. What time is it?"
How romantic this ought to be, she thought. She wanted to reimagine this scenethe ocean, the huge night sky, the car hood, with Angel's hand wrapped around hers. Why hadn't they ever done anything like this? The sweet memories they'd made weren't enough. They felt too small now.
Spike had decades and decades of memories of Drusilla.
Probably he'd done this very thing with her. Probably he was thinking about her right now.
"Once went on a walkin' tour in Wales, an' there was a night when we stayed out, on the shingle of a deserted beach, an' did nothin' but watch the sky wheel round, 'til the sun come up."
"How could you have done that?"
"Was long ago, pet. When I was a student. Perfectly able to wait up for the dawn, 'cept I'd been so ringed in by governesses an' prefects an' so on that I'd never done it before. Sky went from black to dark blue an' then a pinkness crept into it, an' the air that all night smelled of the sea went fresh an' grassy. I've never forgotten that. Was the freest thing I ever did while I lived. We were giddy on that air."
"Was there with my friend." When she glanced at him, he was smiling a small, nostalgic smile. "Haven't thought of that trip in ages."
"Did you ... did you kill him, after you were turned?" As the words came out, she winced; why did that have to be the first thing she thought of? Or at least ... why did she have to say it out loud?
She expected a sharp reply, but Spike only sighed. "I had no true friends when I was turned. Jolyon died the spring after that foray into Wales. He'd always been a delicate fellow with a weak chest. Got pneumonia and never got over it. That was in our last year at Cambridge. I'd known him since we were little fellows. Missed him terribly." He paused. "Won't pretend I didn't kill a good deal of my acquaintance ... but I know I'd have let Jolyon be, if he hadn't already been gathered to his Fathers."
"If you were so close to him, wouldn't you have wanted to turn him?"
"Pretty certain the answer to that's no."
She got up on one elbow to see his face. She expected Spike to get angry, or at least want to change the subject, but he remained amiable. "Why?"
"Tried it and found it didn't answer."
"Tried it withwho?"
A strange expression passed over his face, and then he was up on his elbows too. Frowning, he stared out at the gleaming ocean.
"Spike," she whispered. He'd said he never made another vampire, but she knew now that it wasn't true. Not so much a lie, as something he kept back even from himself. "Who did you turn?"
He curled forward, hugging his knees. She imagined her query making him smaller and smaller, like a salted snail.
"Forget I asked. Really." This chat wasn't going to go anywhere from here, and it was time to find somewhere to stay.
She was sliding off the hood when he said: "My mother."
She froze, half on, half off. She would've said that nothing could shock her anymore, but this did.
"Didn't want to be parted from her, and thought she'd never want to lose me either. Was a mistake. Never tried the like again."
Before she could reply, Spike sprang up, wrenched open the driver's side door. "Like they say, you can't go home again."
"I ... I know about that."
He squinted at her across the car roof. "You think you do. But I expect you're wrong."
"We should really get moving." No way did she want this to come back around to her mother.
The first couple of motels they tried were full up.
"Beach resort in August," Spike grumbled. "Keep your eye out, don't fancy spending the day in the trunk."
A few miles back they found a lit up Vacancy sign and swung into the parking lot of an old motel, pink stucco cottages strung out around a gravel parking lot. Spike went into the office; she waited outside, scuffing a toe in the pebbles, trying to imagine the truth of what he'd intimated. Turned his mother. Didn't want to be parted from her. That suggested affection, not anger ... so it couldn't have been anything like what Angel admitted to doing to his family. How had it gone wrong?
She wouldn't ask. Surprising enough that Spike confided that ... she was certain he'd never told anyone. Maybe even kept Drusilla in the dark about it.
She didn't know whether to feel sorry for him or disgusted, or what.
Good thing they wouldn't talk about it anymore.
Spike emerged from the office, tossed her a key on a ring. "Go onit's last one on the left. Be with you in a little bit."
The cabin smelled of must, and like everything that night, salty. She flipped on the air conditioner, looked aroundthere wasn't muchdresser, bed, bathroom, table, chairs, TV. Yanking down the bedspread, she was seized with a sense of deja vu. The first night in the new house in Sunnydale, her mom had come up to her room with her, and pulled the covers down just that way. Saying she knew Buffy was too old to be scared of going to sleep in a new place, but she wouldn't mind if she put her to bed, like when she was little? They'd sat up late talking, Buffy under the quilt and her mother perched at the foot of the bed, a hand on her ankle.
She'd kissed her good night three times before she finally left the room.
The tears came fast. She hurried into the bathroom to drown them in a rush of cold water, and ended up in the shower, letting the weak stream of warm water course over her face until it started to run cool.
When she came out Spike was in bed, the blue TV light flickering over his white chest and face, sipping out of a flask. He held it out to her.
"I think we should sleep for a while. It's almost dawn." She went to the window, but he'd already adjusted the drapes.
When she crawled between the cool rough sheets, he stretched an arm out, and she slid in close to him, her wet hair splattering his skin. His shoulder was as cool as the linen. He turned off the TV, and she was out.
In yesterday's clothes, and perilously sans sunscreen, Buffy shambled along the weedy road-side towards the strip of stores she'd been told was a couple of miles west. Mid-morning it was already hot, the tarmac starting to melt under her sandal soles. She was roaringly hungry, sweat was beading ticklishly down her back, she'd lost track of the day and date, and she couldn't remember the last time she'd been so light-hearted and pleased with herself.
Back in the dark chilled room, Spike was still asleep. She'd slept well herself. Everything felt new and fresh. Absolutely no reason why it should, but on the other hand, why not? A hot breeze kicked up, stirring the tree tops, turning the light sides of the leaves up, driving grit against her legs. She broke into a run. Some boys shouted at her from a passing Camaro. She gave them the finger. They didn't know anything about her, and they never would.
The shabby strip had a dollar store where she chose fresh underwear, shampoo and some playing cards, and after rejecting a series of badly-screen-printed teeshirts and stifling-looking velour sweat pants, got a white terry sun suit. At the deli she scarfed down a fried egg on a roll right there, then bought sandwiches and bottled water and a six-pack of beeronly thinking afterwards about how odd it was that she wasn't carded. She must look older. Experienced. A grown woman who could hold the interest of a really experienced older man like Spike. She noted the phone number of the pizza placenot open yetfor later.
There was no place to get any blood.
Walking back in the nearly-noontime sun, she carried her purchases in one hand and licked a popsicle in the other, tossing the orange-stained stick away as she turned in at the gravel parking lot.
She let herself in, closing the door quickly to keep the chilled air inside. She put the heavy bag down quietly. Spike didn't stir.
He'd kicked off the sheet, and was stretched, pale and naked, diagonally across the bed, his arms wrapped around the pillow where his face was buried.
He had, as he'd probably call it himself, a nice little bum. Switching on the light over the table, Buffy looked at him. She hadn't asked to get into this situation, but now ... now she couldn't help the sort of greedy fascinated satisfaction that welled up around being in possession of such a virile ... lover. (Someone you slept with repeatedly, whether you loved them or not, was a lover, this she was pretty sure of, though there was no dictionary handy.) She wasn't going to get tired of sex with Spike, not any time soon. As piggy and irritating as he was on his feet with his clothes on, he was something else naked and lying down. There was nothing he'd done to her she didn't like. Some of it was, yeah, weird at first ... but there was no bad.
She hadn't realized before how much she was going to like fucking. How necessary it was going to be. Now it was hard to believe she'd made do with just her hand all summer. Of course, she'd been sad all that time, which didn't make her less hornyshe needed to come most nights before she could fall asleep, despite how hot and sticky it was the un-airconditioned apartment. But the sour whirl of regrets she'd contended with since leaving home kept down any other kinds of feelings, and in the weeks before Spike turned up, she'd just been numb.
Numb was over with now.
Spike groaned, and rolled over. She thought he must be waking, but once on his back he lay still, and when she crept closer, she could see his eyes moving back and forth beneath the lids. He groaned again, his features gathered in a grimace.
"Hey." She put a hand out, touched his shoulder. He sprang up with a cry, but seeing her, the fear dispersed into a self-conscious smile.
"Thanks for gettin' me out of that."
She wondered if he'd want her to ask about the dream, but decided not. Taking her hand, he tugged her down beside him and kissed her. "You taste like ice lollies. Don't suppose you brought me one."
"It would've melted. It was kind of a long walk. I'm all sweaty and yick."
"I like you in a lather." As if to prove it, he raised her arm and pressed his lips into the moist pit, licking the soft stubbly skin. She giggled and tried to pull away, but he held her down. "Let me."
She'd never really thought of her arm pit as a very exciting place, but in a few moments he had her writhing. He reached up her skirt, his fingers tangling in the elastic of her panties. She kicked off her sandals, pushed the panties down.
Spike slid off onto the floor, kneeling between her thighs.
"Ask for it, Slayer."
"Ask for what?" Prodded his shoulder with her bare foot.
"Can smell how wet you are. Been thinkin' of me."
"I want your mouth on me."
She rolled her eyes. "You know, I'm not going to be one of those girls who talks dirty. That's really just going to have to stay your department."
"You like it. When I talk about your twitchy little cunny. Gets you all randy."
"Yeah ... but I'm not gonna say stuff."
"You will sooner or later. Lookin' forward to it."
"I don't think so."
"You want me to lick you out? Gonna hump my mouth 'til you get off? That it, Miss Anne?"
He moved to bury his head between her thighs, but a flicker of misgiving made her twist out of the way. "Wait a minute."
She wriggled forward to hold him, cool and smooth, between her knees. Now they were face to face. "There's time, right?"
"Stuck in here all day." His expression was puzzled, a little suspicious.
"What would you like us to do?"
"Thought I was gonna lick out your pretty cunt."
"Is there something you'd like from me?" Goose-flesh rose up on her arms as she spoke. "If there's anything you want ... want to teach me ... or do with me ... we can."
Spike's eyes lit with surprise. He chuckled, tracing his fingers down her flanks. "What brought this on?"
"I just ... I'm not really a totally awful selfish person."
"Who said you were?"
"I don't want to be."
"Made it up to me already, for leavin' me shackled up the other day. That's over with."
"I hope it is. Only ...."
"You think I don't like going down on you? Can you really be that silly?"
"No. I just don't want you to think that I think you're always supposed to ... to you know ...."
"What? Service you like the cunt-struck fool I am?"
She blushed. "I don't want to act like I think I'm better than you."
He gave her a long solemn look. "Slayer, you are better than me."
Oh God, she thought, if we go there, we'll never get back to this. "You're deliberately not understanding! I meanwhen we're in bed ... I want to be as good for you as you are for me."
He showed her an off-kilter smile. "You mean you're worried that you're not suckin' my cock as much as you should be."
The blush turned into a burn. "Okay, you know, we can stop this chat any time. I think I've made my point."
"Can have at me any time you like." He said, tumbling her back and pushing up her knees. "An' that's my point. So yeah, end of chat."
When she reminded him later, after the that she was willing to do something he wanted, she expected him to describe something perverse. Super-kinky. Maybe something humiliating for her. Or painful. She was prepared, if not to just completely give in, to negotiate. Depending on what it was. The secret desire of this old and jaded vampire.
He regarded her with an expression she couldn't read. She began to be nervous.
"Just want you to look at me while we fuck."
"You mean like I just did? Twice?" He'd made her forget her bones. She was boneless. Filet of Buffy. And he looked pretty well boned too. They'd boned each other's bones out. Hee.
"You're a little imp when you laugh."
"I'm not laughing at you. You know that right?"
"I'll take your word for it."
"I just meantis that all? That you want? Because ...."
"Like to see that you like it. Kiss me while we do it, that's good too. Hold onto me a while afterwards."
"Uh ... like I am right now?"
"Yeah. Aren't we getting along?"
"Yes, but ...."
"What're you fishin' for? You want to be tied up? Be called filthy names? Maybe you'd like me to fuck you in the ass while you pretend you're afraid you can't take it?"
"Is that what you want?"
"We'll get around to everything, if we stick to it. But what I like best is just"
"For me to look at you. Like I just did. Like I am."
"You wouldn't at first, would you? Blotted out my face, an' then your own. But you're over that now."
He passed a finger down her nose, brushed her lips. "Know what surprised me, 'bout you?"
"I can't imagine."
"Turns out you're just the opposite of what I imagined you'd be. You're easy."
"Easy to get you hot. Easy to make you come. Don't frown, that's a wonder." He brought her hand to his mouth, bit gently on her fingertips.
"I don't like easy."
"Loose! Is worse!"
"You're not hearin' me. Tellin' you you're a treat. Not difficult to please. I look at you, touch you, an' you're all excited."
"Well ... okay. Yeah. Is that ... so mysterious?"
"Fierce an' moody little queenie that you are, I never expected that."
It wasn't until she got up to go to the bathroom, that it occurred to her that Spike was telling her something about his experience ... that maybe he might not have realized he was revealing.
Maybe the sex with Drusilla wasn't always so satisfying. Maybe Drusilla was hard to please, and frustrating. Maybe the amazingness of the sex with her was really about her, and not just about sex. Or even sex with a slayer.
She regarded herself in the mirror, all wild hair and love bites and reddened cheeks. Me. He gets off on me. On me getting off on him.
Up until then, she'd just assumed that Spike was like that all the time.
Which, even though the thought of him doing that with Drusilla was all yuck, was still ... a very interesting revelation.
"You really like cock, Slayer. That's admirable."
I do, she thought. It is.
Spike sighed. He was splayed on his back like a sated tiger, and she was splayed on top of him, giving him what he called a good view, and convenient access to her pussy, which he caressed with wet languid fingers as she played her tongue and lips and teeth on him. A drop of liquid oozed from the tip. She licked it up, took the spongy velvety head again into her mouth.
"No rush. Take your time. I'm all right for a bit."
He'd come twice in the last hour and he was hard again. It could make a girl dizzy. It made a girlherfeel stupidly lucky, because she'd come a whole bunch of times and wasn't tired yet. With some other guy she might feel like her desire, her capacity, was too much, but Spike was right there with it. Spike had what she needed.
The crazy sexual potency was a vampire trait. Angel would've been the same way, if they'd had time to .... She shoved the thought away. Couldn't keep dragging Angel into every single experience she had. And she wasn't going to dwell on what Spike said about her craving vampires. Just because she'd slept with two vampires ... and with no real live guys at all ... didn't mean she had a thing. It was just how life was unfolding, that's all. She wasn't going to obsess. That way lay madness.
Whereas in front of her laystood, actuallySpike's erection, all glistening with her saliva.
He imparted some suggestions about what would feel good, about what she might like to try.
After a while though, it started to sound, like he knew a lot about sucking guys off.
She craned around at him. "You've done this."
He raised his head to make eyes at her. "Well, yeah."
"Is there a good story to this? Because I wouldn't mind hearing a good sexy story about you. As long as it doesn't involve brutality or"
"Leave it alone, Slayer. I've sucked cock, took it up the arse, done all sorts. All you need to know. Let's have your sweet tongue back to work."
"Where was Dru while you were doing ... this?"
"Sometimes she was there an' sometimes she wasn't."
"Did you do it a lot?"
"It's just ... kind of exciting. To think of you like that."
"Oh, is it?"
"Yeah. I don't know why. I never ... really thought about that kind of thing before."
"Always liked it all right, but it's a nice cunny such as yours I think of when I let my mind wander." He flexed his fingers inside her, his thumb bearing down on her clit so she gave a little jump. "Go on and finish me, there's a good girl."
Afterwards, when she lay in his arms, he said, "Of course it was Angelus who first put me on my knees."
"What?" The name, when Spike said it, always sent a quiver through her. She raised her head.
"Angelus taught me to service him. Angelus fucked me in the arse to teach me my place. Me an' Dru both were pretty toys to him, for a long time."
She sat up. "Why are you telling me this?"
"Why shouldn't I?"
"Not nice? Well no, sometimes it wasn't. But other times it was very nice indeed."
"I wasn't going to say nice. I was going to say it's hostile."
"You keep doing that. Prodding at me whenever we start to have a good time. Like you don't want us to get along."
Spike rolled over, punched the pillow. "We're each other's natural prey. What's unnatural, is us billing an' cooing in bed together."
"We are not billing and cooing. Besides, you put an awful lot of energy into seducing me if that's how you feel. And you claim lots of vamps and slayers have done it."
"Done it yeah, but then they have it out to the death after. That's proper."
"You have a soul. I guess that's not natural either, but it's the only reason I'm here with you at all."
"I know it."
"And you still wish you didn't. You think I don't have a problem with that? But we made plans, right? You're not backing out, are you? We've got an arrangement."
He squinted at her. "Ah, Slayer. When you decide a thing, you decide it."
Now she was the one who thumped the pillow. Why did they keep having to get so heavy? She liked it when she could just course along on a sex high, let her skin and muscles do the thinking, be in the now. But he wouldn't let her. "I have to do something. We have to do something. We agreed."
"We did, yeah."
"So why do you keep trying to piss me off? Didn't I just show you a very nice time?"
"Not tryin' to piss you off. An' yeah, you did. But can't turn myself off, can I? Can't stop bein' myself. Bloody soul makes it all more so."
She was on the verge of saying she wouldn't sleep with him anymore if he couldn't keep a lid on the uncomfortable truths, but she realized that it was a threat she wouldn't carry out. Good sex, now she had it, felt as necessary as food and showers; punishing him by withholding it would be too hard. She couldn't be with Spike and keep her hands off him. He'd have to make her angry enough to leave him altogether. Which she doubted he'd do. He needed her companionship more than she needed his.
But she needed his. The idea of separation shot a bolt of preemptive loneliness through her. She'd been so lonely before he turned up. Even if she'd had anyone to talk to ... she could never tell a new acquaintance the truth about who she was, what she'd done, lost, run away from. But he already knew, and understood.
Getting along with him was about more than sex.
"I guess we both keep having to make our peace with this. It doesn't really stay made, does it?"
"An' it won't, long as we're both so out of our elements."
"Because, like you said, it's not really ... natural."
"Look at you, all insightful."
"Am I? I suppose."
"Fucking agrees with you. Tunes you up." Spike turned back to her with a rueful smile. "Not tryin' to drive you off, you know."
He put out a caressing hand. When he stroked her hair, she shivered, with animal pleasure, and a kind of reluctant gratitude.
"So ... you and Angel."
"You think you know all about Angelusyou think you know the real him. Just can't help pointin' out that I can say the same, an' with more to go on."
" ... okay. I also get that it bugs you that I feel about him ... stuff I'm not going to feel about you."
He paused before he answered, his gaze disconnected from hers. "Manner of speakin'."
"... don't fall for me, Spike. If we fall for each other, we won't be able to do this. We're good together, as long as we ... don't get sloppy."
"Fall for you? Couldn't happen, pet. You keep a look-out over your own heart, if you're worried."
She opened her mouth to tell him there was no way she'd ever be in love with him, but decided there was no need to say it. It would fall into her own category of hostile remarks. And he knew, he knew full well, that he was never going to get that from her.
He wouldn't want it. It wasn't that long ago that he'd nearly punched her ticket, just for kissing him on the mouth ....
The knock on the door made her jump straight out of a doze to her feet, heart hammering.
But it was only the maid, wanting to make up the room. Buffy was going to send her away, but Spike said, "Let her come. Could use fresh sheets."
There was a deep overhang outside, with old metal porch chairs lined up affording a view of the gravel-strewn parking lot. Sprawled in one, drinking a beer, squinting against the bright reflection of the late afternoon sun off a nearby windshield, Spike might've been a real live man, taking his ease in the shade on a hot day. Except for the exceptional paleness of his bare chest, and his bare feet emerging from the dark blue jeans.
The air was thick and hot, and smelled like weeds and motor oil. Wandering up and down in the shadow of the overhang, walking off that jolt of adrenaline, she unwrapped one of the sandwiches she'd bought that morning and began to eat. Hunger roared up to meet the first bite.
On her third pass, Spike pulled her down onto his knee. She'd put her dress on, but wore nothing underneath. She was all wet, her juices soaking into his jeans, but she knew he liked that. She smelled her own sex, and fresh sweat, drying now she'd calmed down. It felt silly, to worry that she was going to be caught. Who'd find her, all the way out here?
Spike smelled like sex too, mostly hers.
"Why don't vampires smell bad?"
"Most don't. Believe me, I'd notice. The ones that do, it's like they've deliberately rolled around in something nasty. You never seem to sweat, even when we ... and you barely smell like anything. Even your upside-down places."
He laughed. "My upside-down places? What a coy maid you are."
"You know what I mean."
"Oh, I do. An' someday I'll teach you to say what you mean. As for your question, dunno. We can smell each other well enough, but then vamps can smell everything. Ought to smell dead, you'd think." He pulled her closer, his arms going around her waist, and took a deep breath of her. "You, on t'other hand, have a lovely funk when you're all het up."
The urge to contradict him, to tell him that was gross, had become vestigial; she let it pass.
"I also don't get why you have no pulse and yet you get erections. How does that work?"
"Nary a clue, but would be a good deal duller if it was other way 'round." He offered her the beer. She took a polite sip. Music poured from the open windows of a passing car; Spike jogged her to the beat until it was gone. When he stopped she continued to wriggle on his leg.
"Oh ho. You greedy little thing. That's it. Work yourself off. Let me see you. God, you're a sublime bitch. All on fire for it. That's it. That's it. Sweet little cunt."
Aware that the maid might come out at any moment and see her, or that anyone might be watching her from one of the parked cars, or the other rooms, she writhed harder, her toes curling against the cement floor, all her muscles tensing, urging towards release. Spike watched her intently, as if she was giving him a lesson that required considerable attention, his lip curled in a half-smile. He brought her hand to the bulge in his lap; she cupped and squeezed it and shuddered and came, sucking her lip, repressing a cry. The maid emerged; Spike sprang up, waltzing her through the door, slamming it behind her. The next moment she was pressed up against it by the full force of his rippling body, all muscle and supernatural strength despite its slenderness. Her toes caught on the bunched denim of his jeans, as he lifted her thighs, opening her to his jutting cock. She slid down on it with a hiss and a sighshe was sore, but it felt so so good to be filled up again, pressure once more applied to the unstanchable itch. Her back sawed up and down the door, her breath sawed in and out in big gulps, as he fucked up into her. She hung on his shoulders, eyes screwed shut, everything flexing and clenching around him. Spike's face was in her hair, in her neck. She heard herself babbling, plaintive mewing pleading nonsense. Her body shook in a long rushing spasm; she hit her head against the door, and for a moment saw stars even as he went on stroking hard, up and in, up and in, up and in, grinding against her clit, uhn uhn uhn.
When she could see again it was his game-face that came into focus. Eyes bright orange in the room's dark, the grinning fangs below registering like an afterimage following a bright flash. When their eyes met, he went for her neck, mouth burrowing through hair, finding skin. She shuddered, grabbing for the back of his neck.
He froze. It was only then, pinned by his hardness, everything completely still except for her racketing heart, that she heard her words' echo.
She'd immobilized him with nothing but a whisper.
"Want to taste you."
"Please, no. Not that."
He stood transfixed for another few seconds that stretched into an unknowable distance as she held her breath. Then, gathering himself, he began again slowly to fuck. Astonishment bloomed through her, a hot flush. She drew his face around, found his mouth with hers. She'd kissed Angel's fang-face, but not deep like this, recognition, reward. Aware of the sharp cutting fangs so close, risking them at any event with her tongue. The lips were leathery, taut, but went soft under hers with the transforming crunch she felt against her cheek. He pressed back into her kiss, a low needful keening in his throat. She made sure she wasn't the one to break it.
A little while later, when he set her down and she clung dizzily to his shoulders, finding her balance again, he murmured, "You angry at me, Slayer?"
"No." She'd left that type of hot indignation with him behind, she didn't know when. On her unsteady way across the room, she switched on a lamp, then caught herself on the bathroom doorjamb. She was wobbly as a toddler.
"It'll be dark soon," she said, "we'll get you some blood."
"Yeah. Wasn't ... wasn't just to feed, what I wanted."
" ... I know." Glancing back, she caught his soft blue look, a look that didn't entirely conceal a yellow yearning glint.
"I guess we're going back to the city?" They were in the car, the windows rolled down all around, the darkening sky overhead still shot through with pink.
"Don't have to. Could stay another night."
"What, more frantic noisy sex in a stinky anonymous motel room? I don't know if I could stand it."
"You think it stinks, ought to smell it with my sniffer. Leastways by now we've got it smellin' like you, mostly."
"I don't even know the name of this place." She inhaled the soft dark air, redolent of stirring leaves and the more distant tang of the ocean. "I like that." She laid an arm along the window edge, rested her head on it. The wind took her hair. As they got closer to the shore, traffic picked up. They were caught in a tangle of expensive foreign cars, slowed to a creep. "I am getting kind of sore down there, though. You're going to have to be gentle with me, for a while."
"You're makin' me all rampant, just thinkin' of how quiet an' easy I can make it for you. Will slip into your gossamer cunny smooth as glass. Your pleasure'll just flutter on you like a butterfly."
Oh God. Her new panties were already wet. Better change the subject.
"Where'd all these cars come from?"
"If I told you, you'd know where we are."
"No no. Don't do that. Let's stay lost."
The people in the next car were listening to some kind of smoky late-night jazz, like she'd heard in old black and white movies that she'd watch sometimes when she came in from patrolling and couldn't get to sleep. She gave herself to it now, and to the play of fresh air on her face, letting her eyelids droop.
"Where are we going to get blood."
"I know where."
"Please tell me you're not going to drain somebody's dog in somebody's back yard."
He didn't answer. She was almost dozing, just minimally aware of their starts and stops. Until they turned, and speeded up. When they stopped, she saw what might've been a low rambling shack of unpainted weathered grey boards, set amongst marshy reeds, except that there was a beer sign in one of its dark windows, and some vehicles parked around itmostly, she noticed, pick-ups and older domestic cars. None of the fancy kind they'd gotten in among before.
"They sell blood here?"
"In a manner of speakin'. So I'm told."
"So this is Willie's-By-The-Sea?"
"Not quite. You could just wait in the car."
She opened her mouth to protest, but then waiting out here in the soft scented air, amidst the rustle of the reeds, didn't seem like a bad idea, compared to going in and standing around, while Spike made his purchase, being stared at by dubious characters.
"I'll be fine. I'll play the radio."
"You won't." He snatched the keys out of the ignition. "Run down the battery, that's no joke."
"Okay, okay. Go. Hurry up. I want to get dinner."
She stretched out on the car's long black hood, to gaze up at the stars. They appeared, at first one by one, and then as her eyes adjusted and her concentration deepened, more and more, a twinkling field. The marsh behind the bar gave off the chig chig chig of insects; from inside she heards The Allman Brothers playing out of tinny speakers. That and the breeze lulled her for long minutes together, so she was content in her body, relaxed against the warm metal, aware of her easy breaths of the salty air, of her pleasant recessive arousal.
For the first time since leaving Sunnydale, she was feeling free.
When five long songs had played out, the Allmans turning into Lynyrd Skynyrd, Spike still wasn't back. Her stomach was growling now.
How long could it take to buy a bottle of blood? She slid off the car hood.
It was dark inside, the only light coming from the beer signs, none of which seemed to be working right, flickering or half-dead, supplemented only by a few light bulbs smeared with black paint. The stagnant air smelled of beer and also like a butcher shop. Her senses immediately pinged the presence of vampires. The booths against the wall were mostly occupied by shadowed couples, hugged together as if they were whispering secrets. She glanced around, searching for the white shock of Spike's hair that made him visible even in near total darkness. She didn't spot him.
Then a shriek of girlish laughter drew her attention. There were more booths tucked off to the other side, and in the one furthest away from the light, and the door, a young woman was giggling, and being hushed. A stray whispered syllable reached herpet. She started forward.
"Spike? What's going on?"
She felt and heard, rather than saw, the girl move; her eye-whites gave off a low gleam for a second as she rose, then Buffy saw Spike's pale hair like a lick of phosphorescence in the cave of dark.
"Looks like you have another taker," the girl said, lumbering out of the booth. "Bye bye, Sugar-tooth. That was fun." She sounded drunk and pleased with herself, and stumbled against Buffy as she tried to pass. Steadying her, Buffy realized the girl had a hand clapped to her throat. She spun out of the way, giggling again, and disappeared.
"What the hell is going on here?"
"Keep your voice down, not the place for you to be mixin' it up. Anyhow, I'm done. Let's go." He grasped her elbow to draw her towards the door. She wrenched free.
"What did you do to that girl? I have to see if she's all right."
"She's fine. She's right where she wants to be. Don't you get it?" Spike blocked her, steering her bodily towards the exit. "Out."
He was able to make himself strangely large while she was trying to dodge him. Before he hustled her outside she noticed a few pairs of yellow eyes in the murky gloaming, watching the progress of her exit. Then the door slammed and when she turned, the winking lights she saw were fireflies in the weeds.
"Let go of me. What the hell was that?"
"That was a consensual barter of goods'n'services 'tween consenting adults. Get in the car. We'll get you fed next."
"What? You bit that girl"
"You really still so naive, Slayer? Do you really not know this goes on all over? She wanted it. That's why she was there. I feed, she gets her big thrill. Both got what we come for."
"No. I didn't know."
"Well, you live an' learn." He was in the car now, starting the engine. She climbed in slowly. He might as well have picked her up by her ankles and shaken her around.
"I don't understand."
"There's people who get off on bein' bitten. Makes 'em feel light, high. Sometimes it's mixed up with sex, an' sometimes not. But they like it, an' they come to crave it, an' they're willin' to pay for it."
"Wait a minuteshe gave you money?"
"Which I will now use to treat you to dinner."
"Stop. Stop the car!" She had the door open and jumped out while the car was still moving, stumbling, skinning a knee against the warm blacktop. They were on a narrow stretch of marshy road, and when Spike cut the engine, there was nothing to hear but that chig chig chig.
She went around to his side. "You can't do that. Don't you know you can't do that?"
"She asked me to. Didn't hurt her." He swung his legs out and gazed impatiently up at her in the faint moonlight, elbows propped on his knees. "Could've snuck into the local hospital an' stole, would you've preferred that?"
"You shouldn't be drinking human blood anymore."
"In the city, you were"
"You think that wasn't human because it came in a neat bottle? Silly girl."
"It's wrong. Why can't you drink animal blood?"
"Listen to youyou're not even a vegetarian."
"I don't eat people!"
"An' neither do I, anymore. Not so's they die. Not so's they're hurt. Nor terrified, though that's when they taste best. Makin' my compromises, aren't I?"
"As compromises go, it doesn't feel very compromisey to me!"
"Do you think that your precious huggybear of a boyfriend back in Sunnyhell was subsisting on animal blood? Happen to know he was not. He bought it, stead of stealin' it, an' wouldn't feed off anyone alive 'cause he thought that'd make him fall off the wagon. That's straight from the blood-flecked lips of Angelus, by the way. Told me an' Dru the whole tale of what he called his Degradation by Soul An' Slayer."
"I don't believe you." She turned her head away, hoping to hide her blush, hoping to hide the sullen fact that she did believe him. The way Angel had looked at her in the band room in the school, when he came back to himself in the midst of their kiss ... the revulsion with which he'd pushed her away ... she had no choice but to believe it.
" ... I keep the worst of the demon down, Slayer. Keep it down best I can, but I won't starve. I won't live on rats an' filth. Got my self-respect."
"Can't feed a wolf on bloody cabbage. Soul or no, got my hunger to assuage. My strength to keep up."
"God, Spike. You're not a wolf, you're a"
"Not a man. That's what you're makin' your ongoing efforts at peace with, remember?" Grasping her wrist, he pulled her down suddenly into his lap. She slapped at him, pulled away.
"Not my problem if you're too childish to take in the truth."
"Is this because I wouldn't let you bite me before?"
"No. Was because I was hungry. Just like you are, right now."
Her stomach was still growling; she willed it to be quiet.
Spike stood up and stretched. When he came close to her, she stood her ground.
"That girl back there, she walked up to me. She paid her money, an' got satisfaction good as she gave. No crime to feedin' the hungry, is there?"
She heard it again, the young woman's happy giggling. She'd called him Sugar-tooth. She'd looked and sounded so satisfied.
Jeez. Every time I think I've seen it all ....
"Just because she asked for it doesn't mean it's for the good! Junkies ask for heroin!"
"Takin' a pint out of a girl's nothing like shootin' her up. She wasn't using anything, either. I'd have tasted it."
"I still think it's wrong."
Spike's eyes gleamed in the moonlight. "Well now, Miss Anne, what's it to be? Shall I send you home at last, where you belong? Or will you stay with your wolf, knowin' he is a wolf, an' will never wholly be tamed?"
"Wolves mate for life." The words slipped out past her intentionshe'd meant to scold him for bringing up home again like a broken record. She winced, but it was too late.
His eyes flared yellow. "You feelin' a little sorry you refused me earlier?"
"I am not." She shivered, reliving that moment when he'd fanged out, and how she'd been able to stay him with a whisper.
His self-control at her bidding was ... impressive. A burning flush ran through her. She forced herself not to squirm. "Look. Ififif you'll promise to stick to animal blood, which you will purchase, then ... I'll let you bite me. At an interval to be determined later, but not exceeding, uh" She touched her neck, the sharp stinging pressure of his bite back in the city uneasily recurring, "maybe once a week. Twice at the most."
Spike cocked his head and stared at her, a stare that went on past the point of comfort. With a calm shrug, he said "No thanks."
"You heard me."
"When I bite you, Miss Anne, there won't be any poncy haggling about it, no bargains an' compromises. It won't be about me needin' a pint to keep my strength up, either. When I next taste you it'll be for the real reason, that you want it, which you know right well though you're pretendin' you don't. Meanwhile, I'll wait. Expect it won't be long."
Spike's head spun back off her snapping fist. She couldn't answer his words, his smug smokey leer, with anything but a blow. She went into him sharp and hard, left, right, right, and a kick that brought him low. He was up at once, they circled, silent, watching each other. Fuck you, Spike, fuck you. She couldn't bring herself to say it out loud. Any more than she could bring herself to say out loud that she was buying his arguments.
Of course, if she was still a good slayer, she wouldn't be putting up with any of this. If she was a good slayer she'd never have left her post, never hooked up with a vampire again. She'd be alone in her narrow solitary bed, answering to her mother, answering to Giles. But the Buffy who'd been that pure and simple was long gone.
She was used to Spike now. She was ... let's not call it fond .... Caught up. She was caught up with him, caught up in him. He was all there was between her and complete solitude, celibacy, walking as a stranger in the world, with no one to tell her secret to.
After he got in a jab to the body that made her gasp, she spun an elbow into his face with a crunch that sent him down. She pinned him with one knee to the chest.
Spike dropped his fists, and the gold from his eyes. His blue ones were fixed on hers, as the seconds slipped by. The argument, the slugging, his expression, all had her razzed up past eleven. She knew he knew it, too.
She was in too deep. She couldn't walk away.
Spike's hand slid up her leg, cool and ghostly. "Feel better?"
"I'm gonna be watching you. This is not over."
"Like you just said, pet, you an' me, we're for the long haul." He sat up, caught her shoulders to keep her close. "Give us a kiss now?"
She thought, You don't deserve to be kissed, but her mouth was already opening against his.
They fucked, hot and frantic and sloppy, in the back seat. Spike gnawed at her neck with blunt teeth as he rammed into her, rocking the car on its shocks; she pulled his hair and scratched and came hard twice before he finished, seizing up with a harsh prolonged groan. When they'd both collapsed into a boneless goo, an SUV was approaching, its bright beams lighting up the interior of Spike's car as it passed at rubbernecker speed.
Buffy thumped him. "Get up. We can't stay here. It's almost morning." When she shoved him he didn't move on his own, just toppled off onto the floor, laughing soundlessly like he was stoned.
"... magical cunny ... can shag a fellow out of his senses ...."
She tugged at his arm. "C'mon. The sky is getting pinkyou have to drive us back to the motel."
Logy and sloe-eyed, Spike did up his fly and poured himself into the front seat. While she pulled herself together and scrambled after, he sat motionless, except for his shoulders still shaking with mirth.
"Earth to Spike?"
"You're something else, Miss Anne. You've got talents an' abilities ...."
"Start the car. Come on."
He turned with a robotic slowness, to look at her. His smile was goofy. He waggled his tongue at her, then pulled her in, his fingers in the tangle of her hair, for a probing, possessive kiss.
She probed and possessed too, for a few seconds, then pushed him back. "Are you high? Spikeit's time"
"All sweet an' spoony too, you are, after a good bout." His voice was teasing, velvety. Like there was all the time in the world.
She gave him a sharp prod. "I just prefer you don't ignite, okay, since I don't know how to drive this car. When we're in out of the light, I'll be sweet."
The engine turned over with a roar. They shot forward.
She grabbed the dashboard. "Spike, jeez!" Of course there were no seatbelts.
"Will I what?"
"Be sweet to me?"
"What are you talking about?"
"You just said you would. Were you fibbing?" Doing sixty on the narrow leafy street, he gunned around a corner onto the main drag and went even faster. There was little trafficthe whole town was mostly still asleep.
"I ... no. Just now ... was really ... really ..." She didn't know how to describe what sex was like with him. It kept getting more and moremore. It wasn't just physical. Every time they came together, she became less and less certain that he was alien to her. Less and less certain that being with him was a wrong turn, an anomaly. "But the sun is coming up."
"Still got time to get you fed." He swerved off into a McDonald's drive-thru lane. Buffy listened with half an ear as he ordered an enormous amount of food and coffee; she was keeping an eye on the gradually lightening sky, and allowing herself, while his attention was elsewhere, to reverberate with the after-effects of her resounding orgasms. No wonder he was acting all spazzyshe doubted she'd be able to walk any time soon. When they got back to the motel she just might have to wriggle on her belly from the car to the room. She'd never known she could feel this way. Never known how much she'd need to.
Handing her the fragrant bags, he pulled out again at whiplash speed.
Laughing, Spike snapped his fingers under her nose. "Pay attention, Slayer."
She couldn't wait, and was already inspecting his purchases, cramming hot hash browns into her mouth with her left hand while fumbling the wrapper off an egg sandwich with her right.
"How will you be sweet to me?"
""I ... I don't know."
"You'll think of something, I expect."
She nodded, mouth full.
The sandwich went flying out the window when he screeched into the parking spot in front of their door.
"Darn! I was eating that! There better be another one of those, with the biscuit." She rooted around in the bag.
"You can stop calling me that anytime."
"Okay." When she gave him her attention, she found that Spike was regarding her with a wholly serious, intent expression. She struggled to match it, even as she was still distracted by the burgeoning dawn, and her own famished appetite.
"I'm not like him. You got that now, yeah?"
"Likeoh." She could've told him that now he was the one who was being all obsessive about Angel. But yeah, they'd been talking about him just a little while ago, before their wild fuck that had practically erased her mind. A little while ago, when she'd told him that she was going to keep an eye on him.
Right. Because it ISN'T over.
"I get it. So?"
"So, want to know you remember that."
"Uh, yeah. I do. Let's go inside. I want to drink this coffee while it's hot."
He squeezed her arm. "'Cause I said I'd look after you. An' I keep my promises, yeah? He didn't treat you right, but I'm not like him."
"You can maybe let this go now."
"Right. Forget him. He's gone." Spike's solemnity cracked, and he laughed again as he got out of the car, came around and grabbed the bags of food. It was a laugh that got her giggling too. He winked at her over his shoulder as they went inside.
"Gone gone gone. S'just Spike an' the Slayer now. Just you an' me."
Against the low steady hum of the air conditioning unit, and the baffle of the drawn drapes, Buffy could feel the stifling heat and stark light of the rising morning outside. She'd taken a long shower, expecting Spike to join her, but when she was done and opened the door to let the steam escape, she caught him at the door of the room, handing out money and accepting a paper bag from someone on the other side.
Now he was in the shower. She snoopedwhoever it was had brought a filled ice bucket, a bottle of Jack Daniels, and a couple cold Diet Cokes from the machine. She sipped one while her wet hair dripped down her wet breasts, and the TV chattered, then opened the bottle of whiskey and swallowed one burning mouthful.
Miss Anne Winters, this is your life. She wouldn't use her real name anymore. While they traveled, and wherever they ended up. In case they were looking for her. She'd be someone else from now. The Freelance, Under-The-Radar Slayer with the Vampire Consigliere.
Yeah. She smiled at that. Never mind that she wasn't sure how to pronounce consigliere, she didn't think Spike would want to be called that anyhow, so she'd keep it to herself.
It struck her how something like a hot shower, a nap, a fuck, a car trip, could almost wipe the slate. Whatever happened before it receded so quickly she had to make an effort to keep up with the continuity. She'd been outraged at Spike. She'd promised him their argument wasn't over. And before that ... back in the city ... back in the remote past of the day-before-yesterday ... so much had happened. Already she was starting to run it all together. Elide it. She hadn't seen or talked to anyone else in such a long time. She'd let him become her world. So being angry at him, or remembering the limits she set on himshe'd never feel with him the way she did with Angelbecame just another part of the washy stream of sensations.
Maybe this is what it's like for grown-ups. Everything runs together? It was the kind of question she might once have asked her mom ... except that before right now, she didn't think she'd ever have thought to ask it. Does this mean I'm a grown-up now? She wouldn't ask Spike. First of all, he'd laugh at her. Second of all, what did he know about being a grown-up? And third of all ... she suspected if you had to ask, the answer was no.
She shut off the television, and toweled at her hair.
Spike appeared in the bathroom doorway, wet and naked.
"We should go back to the city tonight," she said. "Get started with our plans."
"Plans, right. Was just thinkin' that myself. Hit the road."
He was looking at her with a hungry intensity. She came up to him, aware of his nudity, and her license to take hold of him, even as she folded her hands behind her back.
"We still have to talk."
"Got plenty of time to talk. Can talk in the car."
In the car. Right. The drive back to the city would take three hours. And then there would be all those nights in the car on the way down to Mexico. Hours and hours to argue with him. She'd get him to agree, eventually, to quit human blood. She'd find the reasoning that would make him really see.
He touched her breast, curled his hand around it. Instantly, her nipple went warm and hard, standing up against his palm. "You little cunt," he whispered, his smile wicked, gloating, "you're really mine now, aren't you? In heat for me. All I've got to do is touch you, an' there you are."
Instead of protesting and pushing him off, she seized one of his nipples and gave it a sharp pinch. "Like you could walk away."
Spike's eyes went hazy, his lips parted. Encouraged, she pinched again, harder, leaning into him, opening her teeth against his shoulder. He shuddered, and now his cock was hardening against her belly. Gnawing at the sinews of his neck, she backed him up against the wall.
She went up on tiptoe so she could whisper in turn to him. "I think you've got it backwards," she whispered. "You're my dog. Isn't that right, Spike? You just think about me, about my touch, and you're all crazy for it."
He peeled her hand away, squeezing a gasp out of her. "I'm no one's bloody dog."
"But feel how hard you get when I say you are."
"It's the best thing that's ever happened to you, getting to be with the Slayer, right? You can't believe how lucky you are."
"You don't even care anymore about getting rid of your soulyou just want me. Admit it."
"When you admit how you'd cry without my cock."
They tussled their way across the room, thumping at each other, not real punches, not a real fight, but struggling for the upper hand. Spike's fingers went everywhere, taking possession; instead of defending her own body, she did the same, handling him as she liked, ungently. They spilled across the bed. He began to laugh again, calling her a bitch and a cunt in a tone that brought her out in answering giggles.
Once in a while ... he could be fun.
They both gave way at once, subsiding into chuckles. His hands went slow and caressing on her flank, down her leg. They stilled, mutual concentration centered on his erection, on the parting of her thighs, and their spiraling desire.
He slid his hand between her legs, taking gentle hold of her congested sex, weighing it.
"This is it, yeah," he whispered, "cock an' cunt, the great mystery of things. Works even here, 'twixt demon an' slayer." His murmur seemed to wrap them up in a warm contented cocoon.
Buffy wrapped a hand around his prick. "Yeah. This happens, and ... we get all ... and then it's all screwy." It makes everything that's supposed to be one way feel another way. And that's all I'm gonna think about that.
"Sometimes wish I had a reflection. Would like to watch us in a mirror."
"That would be cool, but look." She inched closer, up on her knees, throwing a leg across his body. Arching over him, so he could see, when he gathered her hair out of the way, past the points of her breasts and the slope of her belly, where she began to take him in. Just the proud head, enfolding it, squeezing it with the inner muscles before sinking down bit by bit and back up in a slow sweep. Spike sighed. Her long muscles trembled, skin hot, pebbling in the wake of his wandering hands.
"C'mere," he whispered, sitting up, gathering her around him. "Let's kiss you."
"Kiss me." Her hair fell over her eyes, so she could only feel him, the bulwark of his arms and chest, his long thighs beneath her ass, his mouth firm against hers. They rocked very slowly. Everything was as slow and syrupy as, in the car before, it had been frantic, tangy. "You feel huge this way," she confided. "I'm all full. It's good."
She wondered if she'd have gotten to this point with Angel, if they'd had time. But she didn't wonder for long. As when memory confronted her with thoughts of her friends, and her mother, and home, she pushed that away. The past was the past.
She thought of what he'd said, about the mystery. He was supposed to be her enemy, he still was really, but she'd come to rely on him. He'd simultaneously acquainted her with her own previously unroused appetites, and satisfied them. He'd shown her her own powers of satisfaction, which dizzied her to contemplatehow she could make him rampant, how she could roll him flat. She couldn't imagine going back to her old girly, daughterly life anymore. This powerful male creature she could dominate and concede to, punch and pinch and handle, his cock and his muscles and his fresh mouth, his fresh remarks, were necessary now. It was necessary to have the freedom of him, the freedom of herself. They'd find some other hellmouth down south, she'd slay every night, and every night afterwards there would be this.
Spike was whispering into her hair, into her ear, dirty words that thrilled her like his cool breath against her neck. She rippled around him, beginning to pant, listening for the catch in his throat as he narrated what they were doing between sipping kisses.
"Slayer. Cunt. Hot slick cunny. So good. Fuck, Slayer. Fuck me."
A memory flashed into her mind, of the time she'd emerged from a spell to find him at her throat. He'd been nearly as close to her then, just as intent, not for their pleasure but for her death. She'd never imagined then or any of the other times she'd fought him that they would ever come to this.
"Do you remember" She didn't mean to speak, bit the sentence off on a groan, buried her mouth against his neck, hoping he wouldn't take it up.
"Remember every tussle we ever had? Every time I almost did for you? Course I do. Makes us hot, don't it, Slayer?"
"It was different then. We were different."
"Different, right." He was holding her now, his hands splayed wide around her ribs, supporting her, restraining her from going faster. She shook her hair back, looked at him.
"You didn't think of fucking me then."
"Not exactly. Did you?"
"No. I only" Again she stopped herself. There was nothing else to offershe'd never hated him, he wasn't scary or important enough for hatred, though she was pretty sure she had hated Drusilla. She didn't love him, because there was no space in her for loving anyone but Angel, and that would never change.
"Didn't know me," he said, as if to dismiss her doubts. "That's changed a bit now."
"Yeah ... you think you know me now."
"Not ... not everything." Even in the midst of an exquisite fuck, every bit of her lit up, she was trying to be fair to the truth. "But ... more than ... more than I used to."
"You don't know everythin'."
"No. Oh God. Spikethere. Oh there. Ohplease. Please. Please." They'd changed the rhythm somehow, she wasn't sure if it was her or him, but suddenly the bulk of him rubbed her inside so she writhed.
"Beg. Yeah. Beg for my cock."
She pressed her mouth to his to shut him up. They were moving now in short hard stabs, she was on the verge of exploding. Spike was rumbling, a choked triumphant laugh that made her want to hit him. Instead she worked to bring him to where she was, so he'd remember she wasn't the only one who needed this.
Not the only one who was going off like fireworks.
"Don't look so smug. This is me, my power. My body, my orgasm. Zums. As in more than one."
"Right, because comin' like you just did was old hat to you 'fore we started up."
Okay, he had her there. She'd have said she was doing fine with her own hand before, but she hadn't realized. What she was going to be capable of. The heights she'd scale. With ... with the right partner. "I'm maturing. I'm at the age where that happens."
"Tonight, when we get back to New York."
"This is me changing the subject. Tonight, when we get back to New York. We're going to find something big and horrid, and we're going to kill it. We're going to save some innocent lives. Where would we go for that, in Manhattan?"
"Know a place or two where evil lurks."
"That's what I want to do. Something large and statement-y, before we leave for Mexico."
"You didn't forget about Mexico?"
"You just made me about forget my name, pet."
Spike was asleep, one hand loosely curled against his chest. His cock in its thatch of pale brown curls lay across one thigh, similarly relaxed. He didn't move, or breathe. He was handsome that way, his face free then of sneers and wickedness. She watched him for a few moments, feeling possessive. Not possessive in a that's my man way, but in the way she felt about her powers. Something that was hers, special to her, for her use. This came with a twinge of consciencehe may not be a real man, she recognized, but he was a sentient being, and not really evil anymore, more Evil Lite, or even ... even less evil than that. The girl in the bar, she had consented. It was wrong, for her to go around doing that to herself, but Spike hadn't forced her. Spike didn't do that kind of thing anymore. He was ... he wanted to be ... a person. That was why he'd agreed to fight at her right hand.
Well, he also wanted to be in her pants.
But she wanted to be in his too, so it was fine. Getting 'regular seeings to' as Spike called it, was going to make her a better slayer.
And since she was the slayer, destined to snuff it young, she'd have her pleasure while she could.
After another quick shower, she put on the terry sundress she'd rinsed earlier, and slipped outside into the late afternoon. The air was still and shimmery, smelling of weeds and grass and the melting tarmac, the sky overhead a heat-washed blue. There were a few cars in the motel lot, but no one around she could see. She did some stretches, some moves. It was time to get back in trainingshe wasn't sure how she'd do that while they were on the road, but she'd make a point of ita couple of hours a day, before or after patrolling. She was going to kill vampires every night, all the way to Mexico.
She felt a plump sense of future accomplishment. It was good and grown-up of her, to get back to being what she was. Slaying wasn't just a calling it was in her.
And she was okay with that again. Life wasn't going to be what it was ever again. But she'd been away from her life so long now that it didn't really feel like hers anymore.
This one, now, was what she had.
She stayed outdoors, getting a slice of pizza, taking a long walk, imagining the road trip they were about to undertake, the states they'd pass through, all those places she'd never been before, until the shadows were long, and the air starting to get cool.
When she came quietly back into the room, Spike was still asleep. His arms flung out on either side, a pleased little smile at the corners of his mouth. He had an erection now.
His eyes opened as she stood at the foot of the bed, taking him in.
"Mmmm, Slayer." He arched into a stretch, then relaxed, taking himself in hand. "Let's see your pretty tits."
"Looks like you were sleeping really well."
"Can't complain." He stripped his cock, showing himself off.
"When we first got together you couldn't sleep at all. Now look at you."
"Now look at me. Yeah." His eyes flickered gold. "You do a fellow good."
He sat up, lunged to catch her before she could dance back, and pulled her down beside him. His fingers traveled under her hem, up her thigh, and went slow and gentle against the sensitive overworked flesh, stroking her again into flickering arousal.
Seizing his wrist, she pried him off. "Do I?"
"Am I making you ... good? Really? I mean, is it helping?"
His gaze, intense and challenging, burned her; she had to force herself not to look away. "What do you think?"
"I ... I don't know yet."
"Have to see, yeah? Proof's in the pudding an' all that."
She wanted him to say something more definite, more passionate, committed, about how being with her had already changed him.
He eased her backwards, pulling off her panties.
"I really am kind of sore."
"Just give you a bit of tongue. Light as you please. You'll like that."
"Don't tell me what I'll like," she groused, even as her clit twitched and she opened her legs.
"Want the taste of you on my lips all the time we're ridin' back to town."
In the car she was all set to start a serious conversation, hash out some things about their trip, and what they were going to do and how, as soon as they got onto the highway. But the next thing she knew she was opening her eyes, with a crick in her neck, and they were in a tunnel.
"We're here already? Why did you let me sleep all this time?"
"Catch me wakin' up the Slayer when she's got her little paws made of fist."
Her hands were balled into fists. Do I always do that in my sleep? She struggled to remember a dream, and then to remember how she was used to sleeping, but nothing came to her. The cool fluorescent light in the tunnel was eerie and headachey. They weren't going very fast, there was lots of traffic.
"C'mere." Spike held an arm out, and tucked it around her neck when she scooted in close to him. He pressed a kiss into her hair. "Been a good time, this."
"Yeah." The part of her that would've instantaneously gainsaid him was still, apparently, taking a nap. She was starting to think about Mr Vaux's house againthe bathtub, the swimming pool. She wanted to get a little more use out of both between patrolling and lighting out for the southlands.
She liked riding like this.
Why hadn't Angel had a car? He should've taken her driving. On the Pacific Coast Highway, during the full moon.
Everytime they were stopped in the tangle of traffic, Spike kissed her.
By time they'd progressed, inch by inch, as far as 40th Street, she was rubbing the bulge in his jeans.
But when she starting undoing his buttons, he peeled her hand back.
"What? I'm offering to blow you and you're stopping me?"
"Keep it for me, for later."
"I might not feel like it later."
"You will. Just lay your head on my shoulder, meanwhile." He was talking in his kind-and-reasonable tone, so she decided not to argue. In a little while he murmured, "Like the smell of your hair."
The traffic let up when they cleared midtown, and it was just a few minutes before they were turning off Third Avenue.
At the corner of Madison, he pulled over. "Get out here and go on in. Gonna put the car in the garage."
"Reese'll have some supper waitin' for you. I'll be along in a little while." He reached across her to open the door.
She didn't want to get out, didn't want this cozy drive to end.
But they'd be setting out again tomorrow, driving and driving for many nights. They'd build up even more between them that was secret and just their own.
She grabbed his jaw, dragged him close to kiss, opening his mouth with her tongue, making him grunt.
"Okay. See you in a little while."
"Count on it, Miss Anne."
Buffy trotted up the block, up the steep flight of steps to Mr Vaux's tall dark door. She hadn't thought about Reese at all since they'd left, but now she recalled that they'd had a little tiff. Well, she'd just face him down. She gave the bell pull a sharp tug. Her heart started thrubbing so hard she had to swallow to keep steady. As the bolt clicked, she threw her shoulders back and tipped up her chin. Reese would be polite, and she'd just be polite right back, so there. This was, after all, the last 24 hours of Reese in her life.
The door opened. Reese wasn't there.
"Oh thank God," Joyce cried, snatching her in, "Buffy, I was so worried!"
"Mom? What are you doing here?"
"I'm here to find you! Buffy, are you all right?" Her mother drew back, framing Buffy's face in her hands, then clasping her shoulders, arms and hands, doing the head-to-toe inspection before pulling her close again. "Sweetheart, it's so good to see you! I was afraid you were gone forever!"
"Howhow did you know" The heart-beaty thing she'd started on the stoop, at the prospect of seeing Reese, was now in a whole other league. She could barely breathe. It took a few moments to recognize that this was due to the thundering rage building up in her, a physical force that made her tremble to keep from lashing out. And at the same time it was so wonderful to be in her mother's arms, she could scarcely believe it. Her ears went hot, tears sprang into her eyes.
She held on until Joyce drew gently back to regard her with that helpless querying expression that haunted her conscience.
"I got a call. Yesterday. A man, claiming to be that vampire you had in the houseSpike." The way she said vampire implied she still wasn't convinced they were real. "He said I should get on a plane to New York, and that I'd find you here this evening. He gave me this address and hung up before I could ask him any questions. It sounded crazy but of course I got on the first flight I could. And when I got here there was a man who let me in and said he expected you soon ... I've been waiting here about an hour. Oh Buffy, I've been absolutely frantic all summer! The police said they were trying to find you, but there's so little they can do about runaways, and after the first couple of weeks I really think they stopped working on the case altogether! What happened? Where have you been? Are you all right?"
Her mind curled up like a salted slug at the prospect of explanation. "I ... I'm fine. We ... we just went away for a few days, that's all. To, you know, the beach. He dropped me at the corner just now and went to park ...." Her head was spinning. Spike. Spike. Had called her mother. How could he? Why? She couldn't believe he wanted to get rid of her ... not after the last few days. They'd made a plan. He'd been so solemn when he kissed her hand and promised to look out for her.
He couldn't have meant this.
The heat under her anger jumped up a few notches, from severe to intense. She'd been played.
"Who is 'we'? Have you been with that man all this time? Diddid he kidnap you?"
"Kidnap? No! We met up hereI mean, we came across each other in the city, just ... a couple of weeks ago, I forget. Totally by accident. I ... I came east by myself."
"Is that true? You can tell me the truth."
"You sound so scattered. I don't know what to think anymore! You're not on anything, are you?"
"On? Mom, I'm fine. Slow down, okay?"
"Slow down? Buffy, for the last three months I didn't know if you were alive or dead!"
"I ... I thought you wanted it that way. You told me not to come back"
At this, Joyce froze. "Oh Buffy. All summer I was afraid you thought I meant it. Of course I never did. I've been furious at myself for saying that. I was angry at you, you were being willful and disobedient but I never ever should have said I blame myself."
Somewhere in the midst of her mother's outpouring, Buffy pulled her close again. The familiar mother-smell, mingled with anxious sweat and the staleness of lengthy travel, clung to Joyce's hair and skin. She breathed it in, her heart catching in its race. All this time she hadn't let herself dwell too much on the memory of this, the exquisite comfort of being up close to her mother. And now all that longing tumbled out of the mind-closet she'd packed it into.
Plus, when they were hugging, Joyce wasn't flailing her with questions. Buffy held on as long as she could.
But Joyce couldn't stay silent for long. "Buffy, please tell me"
"Mom, it wasn't just you. That made me have to leave."
"I should never have said it. I know I shouldn't." Joyce sagged, and Buffy realized how exhausted she must be.
"Let's sit down. I'll get Reese to make you some tea. You haven't slept since you got the call, have you?"
"I'm not sure I've slept since I realized you'd run away."
Buffy led her into the front parlor. She saw that Reese hadn't in fact neglected his charge; a tray of tea things was set out, with some little sandwiches and a plate of cookies, untouched. Of course Joyce had been too nervous, waiting, to eat or drink.
Her mother looked around with beseeching unseeing eyes. "What is this place? What you doing here?"
"It's kinda Masterpiece Theater, right?," Buffy said, trying to sound light, to put Joyce at ease. "But it's okay. I'll get us some fresh hot water." She steered her mother to a sofa, then went to ring for Reese. Ringing for a servant had become second nature to her, she realized. Here, anyhow. She hadn't thought about it while they were in the motel. Now she was glad she didn't have to leave Joyce to go to the kitchen.
Reese appeared with his usual calm promptitude, apparently unfazed by this new visitor. Buffy asked for more boiling water, and a pitcher of ice water. Joyce stared palely from sofa as these instructions were given, then started up. "Buffy, we're not staying here. Get your things together. We're going now."
"Well ... I suppose to a hotel. Then we can fly home in the morning."
Whoa whoa whoa.
"I can't just leave."
"School starts next week. And I can't leave the gallery closed more than a couple of days." Joyce's expression gave way from practicality to uncertainty. "I assumedit never occurred to me that you wouldn't want to come home now."
Where was Spike? Not that this would be any easier if he was here. She had plans for punching him until his nose was pulp, and then maybe ... maybe punching him some more.
Duh. He was keeping away on purpose. He'd put all this in motion, and ... she still couldn't believe this meant he was abandoning her. After she'd promised not to abandon him.
And after the groove they'd gotten into over the last week, the ease of their companionship, the absolutely amazing effect they had on each other in bed. How could he just walk away from that?
Was this because she didn't want him biting people?
It couldn't be. This didn't make sense.
"Who else knows I'm here?"
Joyce blinked. "Who else?"
"Did you come alone? Did you bring Giles?"
"I didn't tell anyone. Who is Gioh, the librarian at your school. Why would I tell him?"
"He's my watcher." How could she expect her mom to know any of this? She'd never had a chance to explain. "Or he was. I don't want him to know where I am."
"Buffy, what is going on?"
She could do it again. Just walk out. Disappear once more into the big city, the big country. Her mother wouldn't be able to find her, and Spike ... Spike, apparently, was through with her.
Joyce rose and came to her, taking her hands again. "Buffy. He said you'd be this way."
"That ... Spike. He said you wouldn't like it, but he didn't like thinking of me not knowing where you were."
Oh, I could kill him. "What else did he say?"
"That's all. I told youhe didn't let me ask questions. What were you doing with him?"
You're never gonna find out, if I can possibly help it. "Just ... hanging out. Like I said, I wasn't planning to run into him."
"What were you planning?"
She couldn't answer. Couldn't tell the truth, and wasn't ready for the big interrogation to start. "Mom"
"I still don't understand what it all means. About you being the slayer. I don't know how to find out, unless you tell me. I'm ready to listen."
She could bolt out of here. Get back to what she'd been doing before Spike turned up to completely shatter any trust she would ever have in men ever again ever ever ever.
But her mother was drawing her gently towards the sofa, was looking at her with such tenderness, such fiercely repressed dread. A hot flush ran all through her, sending spots dancing in her field of vision. She wouldn't be able to do it again, wound her mother like this a second time.
Even as she sank down beside her, she was listening out for the door to open. Maybe Spike would come in. Maybe he intended to help her break it to her Mom that she wasn't in fact going back to Sunnydale anymore. Maybe he'd tell her how he'd sworn to take care of her daughter, and ... and ....
Joyce took her chin gently in her fingers, lifted it so their eyes met. "Sweetheart, you can tell me anything. I'm not going to punish you for leaving, I just want you back where you belong."
Her bout of rebellion and perfect freedom was over.
Walking into the old familiar house again felt supremely strangeit seemed so much smaller, and every little thing Buffy laid her eye on embarrassed her, even the newel post and a library book her mother had left on the stair. That night she lay wide awake in the narrow girlish bed she'd sworn she'd never return to, staring at the ceiling, breathing quietly in and out around a sensation that her tongue was heavy as a huge barbell, impossible to shift.
She'd answered her mother's questions half the night in the New York hotelmost of them were about being the slayer and things that had happened at home, Joyce tacitly admitting that she didn't want to know too much about what Buffy had done all summer on her own. After that, and the trip back to California which included a slaying incident in the ladies room at LAX, they'd run out of much to say to each other, and made the drive from Los Angeles to Sunnydale in near silence, except for a few brief remarks about shopping for back to school.
The doorbell rang while they were eating a first breakfast in the sunny kitchen, the radio's cheerful chatter making up for their mutual reticence.
"I'll go," Buffy said. No one should know she was back, but even so she dreaded seeing Willow or Xander or worst of all, Giles on the doorstep.
And it was far far too bright, at 8:34 a.m., for it to possibly be Spike, though she was disgusted at the surge of excitement that accompanied the thought. If it was him, he'd be saying hello to both her fists, and her boot heel too.
A postman held out an ExpressMail envelope requiring the signature of Buffy Summers. Sent from New York City.
She tore it open with fingers that were suddenly stiff and unsteady.
Hello Miss Anne,
Thanks for fixing my little soul dilemma.
Thought you might twig to it that you'd put me right, but seems you're not all that clever when you're in heat.
Meanwhile I'm on to all your fighting moves and tricks. And I know your heart.
So I advise you to train yourself up. Get strong, and sleep with one eye open. I'll be keeping my promise. I mean to come back soon, and take good care of you.
"Buffy, who's there? Oh," Joyce said, spotting the envelope on the floor, and the note in her hand. "What is it?"
She crumpled the paper and shoved it into her pocket before her mother got close enough to see. "It's nothing. Just Spike writing to say goodbye."
Return to Herself's Fic.