Everything stank. Like, in about seventeen dimensions. Her eyes opened, only to show her about seventeen Spikeswhere had he come from?juggling around and around in a whirl that made her feel sick. Her ears were filled with some kind of grotesque scrabbling noise. She tossed her head, trying to see what it was, where it was coming from. Tried to spring up, but she couldn't.
Her body was criss-crossed with chains, holding her down tight.
Goddamn Spike. How many times was he going to try this on with her? She'd made it clear they were finished. She thought he'd got that. Stupid vampire.
The air was cool and stony but she could smell a lot of things, and they all stank like whoa: beer, wax, leather, spice, blood.
Blood. Oh, blood.
Spike was hovering over her, his big faces resolving down to ten, five, two, and finally one as she blinked and blinked.
"What the hell are you doing?" She strained. Nothing but cold clank for her trouble. The chains were doubled, tripled, bolted. No give. He wasn't taking any chances.
"Doin' my best, all right? Takin' care of you."
"You're dead, Spike."
What kind of sparkless response was that? He wouldn't quite look at her either, and now he was moving away, out of her line of sight.
The blood smell was even thicker now; so heavy that she had a weird sense that it was a shape and a pressure as well as an aroma. Which made no sense. None of this made any sense. She had no idea what she was doing hereshe hadn't seen Spike for days, not since she'd given him the gate. She'd been patrolling all the way on the other side of town from his crypt.
The scrabbling sound in her head wasn't going away, she was cold, and every time she heaved at the chains, she just felthungry.
"Here it is."
He hoved into view, holding something over her face, and the next thing she knew, a hot thickish splash hit her lips. She cried out "What the?" and knew.
"That's right," Spike said, his tone still strange and flat. "Open up an' let me pour it in." He tipped her head up, and then the flask was at her lips, she was swallowing, and the more she swallowed the more she needed, as the chains cut her and the scrabbling went on and the smell of it was a shape and a pressure and a texture and delicious and hot and MORE.
"There is no more. You've got enough."
Enough? There would never be enough.
"Let me up!" She struggled, incredulous that her strength, her need, wasn't enough. Both so huge, inadequate.
All so weird.
"Can't. Not 'til we talk over a thing or two."
He said that, but he didn't talk. He just stared into space.
Eyes like a sad mute dog's. He focused on her, looking looking looking like there was nothing else but her face, holding the empty flask in his lax hand.
"You need to understand, Slayer. Couldn't just leave you there."
"Leave me where?"
"With him who was having his one good day."
The words chopped through her. "No. NO."
"Got there too late for me to save your life." He glanced away then, just when she most wanted to see the expression in his eyes. "But I couldn't bear to put a stake in you. That ... that was too much."
He went on, like he was reading an ad off a matchbook. "Thought I'd better not bring you back to your friends, state you're in. They'd get more crazy ideas, magic you up again, try to call back your soul or somethin' not too like it." He lifted his shoulders, a motion like he was repressing the heaves. "But if you disagree, I'll go find Willow."
He paused, and the scrabbling sound that she was starting to understand was made by the worms and beetles in the dirt, the mice and rats and birds, the sewage and the water, everything all around them that she would have to learn to tune out and ignore, re-established itself as the center of her attention. Until the absence of his voice made her understand that he was waiting for an answer.
"I don't want to be fixed again."
"Yeah. That's what I thought, so"
She thought to ask him for more details, to fill in what she couldn't remember, but somehow it didn't seem very important or interesting. The smells in the air were more engrossing. Though she'd lost the last few hourswas it only hours, or longer?she recalled that there was a terrible heaviness she'd been carrying.
Which was gone.
Even wrapped in this hundredweight of chains, she was so light.
It didn't make any sense.
She'd always dreaded this, most. The worst thing that could happen to her.
And she wasn't happy about it. She wasn't really anything about it. Not yet.
Just: so light. The chains almost felt right now, needful anchoring.
"Still an' all, maybe I should fetch Willow. Might be she could"
"No." Then: "Spike. Please. Don't."
He blinked, and ducked his head so she had to crane her neck and still couldn't quite see him.
"Can't let you just run wild."
He didn't answer. It took her a little whilejust a second or two, but it felt like a separate little chunk of confused timeto recognize that he was weeping, not making any noise at it, but she could smell the tears running unrestrained down his face, feel how his whippish body shook.
When she began to laugh, it sounded like the bark of a seal, and shattered the cold air like glass.
The constant noiseeverywhere, even in places that she'd have called quiet in lifestruck her over and over with strangeness and unease, but the worse unease rose from the silence at her own core. She wanted to sleep but it was impossible, because her heart was still. When she tried to relax, to let go of consciousness, that absence inside her was too terrifying.
Fortunately, Spike didn't mind having the TV on all day. He slept through it himself.
He'd let her out of the caul of chains that first morning, finally. Had to, really, because they needed to get gone before Xander or Dawn or Willow came around to the crypt, looking for her when she didn't come home. He carried her out to the DeSoto, because even though he'd unwrapped the chains, he kept her ankles shackled together.
"I won't do anything," she'd said. "Don't you trust me, Spike?"
That earned her a painful look, and nothing else.
They spent the first day in an eighteen-dollar motel room four towns south of Sunnydale, saggy twin beds that smelled like thirty years of sex and death, divided by a cardboard night-stand. Spike kept his distance, and most of his silence, and drank steadily, when he wasn't dozing, from his flask. She took a taste, but the stuff was worse than ever. Brass and acid, not what she wanted at all. She experienced the unseen passage of the sun across the sky as a lowering threat bearing down, imagining the roof of the motel peeled away like the top of a sardine can, exposing her to fry. She forced herself to lie still. Not to scream. Not to break the shackles. Not to trace with her fingers the strange new contours of her face, which she couldn't yet control.
They drove all nightafter calling at a carniceria where Spike bought blood still warm from the hog, in plastic quart jars like Chinese take-out soupand went to ground the second day in the same motel, except this time it was in Mexico.
Now after another night of driving, they were in some little Pacific coast town down past Puerto Vallarta, not in a motel anymore but in some sleepy little nearly-empty hotel that was like something out of some old movie on TCM about Robert Mitchum's fists and Jane Russell's cleavage, all peeling white paint and slowly turning ceiling fans and every door and window louvered. When they entered just before dawn, Spike speaking Spanish to the man at the desk, she couldn't believe he didn't know they were vampires. Maybe he knew and didn't carewho else would want to pay money to stay where there was no A/C and no TV? Their room overlooked the courtyard, not the sea, and didn't get the direct sun. The layers of aroma, bodies and food and sex and decay, made her head swim. It was evening now; she still hadn't slept.
The shackles were still on ... except when they weren't. She'd begged for a bath the second day, and he couldn't refuse her, let her alone in the ticky-tacky bathroom, barring the other side of the door with his back, tacit acknowledgement that she could bust through if she tried, but then what would happen once she scrambled out of the room, into the baking glare of the day?
She didn't bother to say that she wouldn't try to get away. He wouldn't believe her, and she wasn't sure it would always be true.
Hunger licked at her constantly, itchy fire. She'd had plenty of pig blood, but that didn't seem to matter. It was worse at night. It was worse during the day.
She was almost sort of glad for the ankle chain. When she thought of hunting, of bringing down preysay, that maid scurrying now across the courtyard with a pile of linens in her armsshe bridled with the longing to seize, take, break. And at the same time it seemed disgusting to her, to sink her teeth into resistant skin, taste the stranger's funk, sweat, the tiny hairs, stringy muscle, to tear through it and
Seated at the little table near the louvered window, Buffy stared down into the courtyard with its fountain, a vague statue spouting vague seepage, palms in pots arrayed on cracked tiles, throwing long late-day shadows.
In front of her, a postcard, a pen.
Ten minutes ago, Spike had given them to her.
"Write a line to little sis. Tell her you're not de Tell her you had to go."
He was in the shower now. She stared at the white rectangle, already fixed with a rosy stamp. Tell her you're not dead. She couldn't even begin to count the ways in which that wasn't true, or accurate, or relevant. She'd been up and down so many times already, she didn't know what was real anymore about her state of being.
Which would be worse for Dawn, thinking her sister just disappeared without a trace, killed by something, her body dumped or hidden or eaten, but maybe could turn up. Wondering every day. Or to know she'd been abandoned, getting a card in a few days that, no matter how sweetly worded, apology-strewn, would still be a kiss-off. Dear Dawn, I didn't care as much about you as I do about myself. Sorry. Love, Buffy.
She didn't know if she still loved her sister. All her senses were so heightened, but she didn't know what had happened to her emotions.
Spike could weep, and sometimes he moaned in his sleep, and often he cursed behind the wheel. He looked at her very little, and spoke to her less, and she knew what that meant.
He was so full of feelings.
But hers: absent as her pulse.
"You didn't write anything."
He stood just behind her shoulder. She could feel him dripping, how the droplets rolled down from his sodden curls, off his cool skin, the bare board floor soaking it up beneath his feet.
A couple of weeks ago she'd been using him, invading like a battering ram, beating herself out against his strength.
And then she'd made up her mind to stop.
"I still can't remember. But you did this to me, right? Tell me the truth."
"You think I killed you?"
"Maybe. Or maybe ... you turned me. You couldn't just leave me there to, whatever, bleed out, so you"
"No. Said I couldn't put a stake in you, and that's what I meant."
"So you foiled my suicide-by-vamp?"
He stepped back when she said that; she felt him recoil, fade across the room, as far from her as he could get. "That's wrong too."
"You think I didn't want to die?" She toyed with the pen. Suddenly the topic lost all interest for her. What difference did it make? All those problems she'd had in Sunnydale weren't hers anymore. She was something else now, somewhere else, with all new problems.
Only he was the same.
"You should go back, Spike. You promised to look after Dawn. Don't you know she needs you now more than ever?" She glanced around then. He'd dropped to the side of the bed, his back to her, head in his hands. Bare skin still water-flecked.
"Can't leave you alone, can I?"
"Why not? You say you're not my sire."
He shot up then. Lots of others would've looked ridiculous, so much intensity with a damp towel looped around the hips, but not Spike.
Spike got more dignified with every layer he stripped off.
Crossed the distance between them in four long strides, seized her by the shoulders and lifted her out of the chair, shaking her so she rattled, the heavy shackle on her ankles clanging against the table leg. She struck out, a clapping punch to the ear so he dropped her, and she tumbled over the chair, head connecting with a crack to the floor.
She rolled to her side. "Get these off me before I break them."
She sat up, seizing the rigid bar in both hands. Began to work it. Spike watched her for a moment, then moved around the room, getting his clothes back on. Clink-clink-clink of his belt buckle, then he approached her again, squatting. Not offering to free her, but not preventing her either.
"Spike, you really should go."
"Takin' care of you."
"But you shouldn't. You know I'm not the girl you're in love with. And she rejected you, anyhow. You should stick with the good things you were doing, you know, in Sunnydale. Help Dawn. And the others, they'll need your muscle." As she spoke, she pulled at the shackle. Felt it slowly slowly changing shape as she bore down on it. It was easier to talk to him like this when she didn't have to look at him. In her peripheral vision she saw the frayed hems of his jeans, and his pale tensed feet, but that was all.
Then his hands seized her wrists. Tore her off the iron, held her in check. She could feel him breathing, aspirating the passion of his refusal.
She kept her voice level, light. "You know you can't be my prison guard. Not forever."
"You don't want to kill."
His grip on her wrists tightened. He tugged her forward, and she knew he expected her to look him in the eye, but she didn't. Stared instead at her captured hands. How white they were. Bloodless.
In a different voice, almost a whisper, he said, "Love, you don't have to kill."
She couldn't help it, she laughed.
Spike dragged her upright, shook her again, like he thought he could addle her to obedience.
"Don't tell me you don't wish you could," she said. "The chip doesn't change that. You always want it. Every night. Every hour."
"I did, yeah. But it gets less, longer I go ...."
She peeked at him then, and the confusion in his eyes, the sadness, piqued her. Was he sad for himself, for his thwarted violencebecause violence was his best beloved?or for her? She couldn't guess.
She whispered, just to see what he do. "I could rip them open for you. For us to devour together."
In the car, the back of her head ached, where she'd gone through the wall, and her face too, where he'd driven his fist into it.
Which come to think of it, was a pretty funny way for Spike to protest her offer, the gift of shared violence that, okay, he sincerely seemed not to want.
Of course they'd had to leave that hotel, and that town, but she was pretty sure, as they drove south, that they'd find another very much like it in a few hours. She still had the unwritten postcard, and the pen; she'd gathered them up as they were leaving. It wasn't like she had much other luggage, and it felt sort of necessary to have something to take out of there with her.
The moon was fat and high, riding along with them. She gazed up at it, feeling her pain and appetite, taking inventory of what else she wasn't feeling. Maybe she'd go on being numb like this if all she ever had was the blood of pigs and cows. Maybe to feel human again, she needed to feed human.
She wasn't sure if that was good or bad.
And it didn't account for Spike.
Who had been quiet for two hours, smoking cigarette after cigarette. Radio on to heavy metal music sung in Spanish, but so low that it just seeped in along with all the other ambient noise of barreling through the night, the engine's rumble, the echoing aromas of the road.
He popped the radio off. Cleared his throat, "You are Buffy."
"Because you say so?"
"No. Because you are."
"Everyoneincluding youhas always told me that a vampire is not the person who"
"You think you're so easy to destroy? Your spirit, your personality, your strength? You bloody wish."
The contempt bled into the night sounds, dopplered back and forth in her head.
"I guess I do. Wish."
"You're changed, but I refuse to call you ruined. Don't you dare think that. Doesn't have to be true if you don't let it."
"Shut up. You think you know everythin' about vampires but all you know is how to slay 'em. There's more to us than that."
"You don't have to be a monster."
"Oh Spike. Really?" She didn't bother to laugh this time, because her face ached, but it was there in the tinge of her voice.
Something like pity stirred in her for him. "I really fucked up your life, didn't I?"
"Not a bit of it."
God, he was a saddo. Being in love sucked. She was glad she wasn't in love with anyone or anything. It was so much easier.
"I didn't mean it. What I said about us sharing."
"No. Because I still want you to go home."
"An' leave you to become Queen of the Damned?"
"If you believe that's what I'm going to do, you really should stake me now."
"Shut up about that."
"Or I could stake you. Either way, we'd part, which is the point."
"You don't want to do that."
"You think not?"
"You'd be too lonely."
Oh God. She scrunched down in the seat and closed her eyes. "Why do you still talk to me like I'm Buffy?"
"Because you are Buffy."
Second verse, same as the first. She opened her eyes again, and fixed them on the moon, and wished her face would quit aching and that he'd quit being so fucking nice.
She awoke to find him writing. It was her postcard.
"I don't want you to send that."
"Oh no? You don't even know who I might send it to."
"I guess I do." She sprang up, sack-race style with her ankles bound, and tried to snatch it from him, but he was too quick. She lunged at him again, and this time he darted around her and into the bathroom.
By time she wrenched the door openokay, off its hingeshe'd soaked the card so the writing was just a blue cloud. He tore it into bits and flushed it down the toilet.
"You're a jerk."
"Oh, that's very nice." He pushed past her, back into the room. All these little rooms, a succession of cells.
How long was this going to last? It was sort of incredible. She couldn't believe she was letting him keep her shackled. That she was letting him keep her at all.
"Would think you'd miss her," he said.
"Oh, you mean Dawn."
His brow shot up at that. She felt a kind of pleasure in getting these reactions out of him.
"You keep wanting me to have these feelings that ... I don't have."
"Don't buy that."
"Whatever." She started to turn away, then paused. "If you write to her, what's that gonna do? She's not going to keep that card to herself. They'd all see it, and then they'd track us down. You know they would."
He pretended to shrug.
"Right. As usual, you never think anything through."
"Think through plenty. Don't get to be as old as I am without"
"Anyhow, you're the one keeps tellin' me to go back there. Think that would have a similar effect."
"What, that you'd tell them what happened to me? They might believe you. But whether they did or not, they'd blame you for me being gone, and they'd kill you."
It was only when the words were out, and she saw him slowly react to them, his face opening and shutting like a drowner's, that she grasped what she'd said. Somehow it was worse than her previous threats to stake him herself. Those threats were just ornery, angryface it, they were the usual, and he knew how empty they were. (Were all her threats to him empty? Going way back to the very first ones? She shoved the idea away.) But this was telling him that no one cared about him, never had and never would, because he'd always been nothing.
It was: harsh.
Maybe too harsh.
"Yeah, well, we both know I was never goin' to go back to Sunnyhell."
He shoved past her, went to sit on the bed, reached for his flask. She waited a couple of beats, like that would be enough to change the tempo.
"I get that you still feel responsible for her. Dawn. That's ... that's good."
"Nothin' good about me, I thought."
"That isn't ... that isn't what I really believe."
"That so?" The TV came on. "How would you know, bein' a monster yourself?"
The next morning, when they stopped at another roadside motel, she got him to take off the shackle again, so she could bathe, and afterwards, he didn't put it back on. She paced around the room, wide-stanced, long strides, thinking maybe he'd just forgotten, and this way she would taunt him into remembering, at which point she fully intended to fight it out with him. She yearned for exercise, felt like a caged cougar, days of confinement to the car, to small rooms, and whatever she was now, she still wasn't someone who could sit still for long.
Spike, supine on the bed, watched TV right through her.
Even when she transformed her strides into actual tumbles, cartwheeling across the roomwhich was only big enough for about one and a half cartwheels, and on the second round trip she miscalculated and almost put a foot through the plasterboard doorhe didn't acknowledge her.
Finally she couldn't keep quiet. "What do vampires do all day? What did they do before TV was invented?"
"Sleep. Read. Write their memoirs. Fuck."
Well, she shouldn't have asked.
Not that he was asking either. He was still staring at the TV, his trusty silver flask cradled on his chest. She waited a few moments, but he didn't say anything else.
She realized she'd been waiting all this time for him to touch her, but he never did. He kept a wide expanse of seat between them. Days they were together in different rented rooms, but always with two beds. And it didn't feel like he was trying to hold off, like he was restraining himself.
He didn't act like a dog in the manger.
And yet she knew that he'd cried again, on at least a couple of separate occasions, in the shower, where he must've imagined she couldn't hear him, which was stupid because he ought to know she could hear everything now. And what was he crying about, if not how she was treating him?
He'd cried when she kicked him to the curb. When Buffy did.
She stood on her head, scissored her legs. It didn't really help.
A couple hours later, he was asleep.
She opened the motel room door. Outside the sky was cloudy, she could smell the sea a couple of miles away, and seventeen-hundred types of vegetation, some of it alive and some of it rotting, and she could smell the rain coming, and people.
She could smell people.
Resting her forehead against the door jamb, she breathed them in, they just perfumed the air, tantalizing as gingerbread baking, and sort of hoped Spike would wake up.
He didn't, and the hot wet air wrapped around her like a sweaty fist. She didn't sweat, though. Apparently her days of sweating were over.
The sky began to sweat though, a few big drops splotching down hard against the hood of the car, against the dusty tarmac in front of the motel, and then more and more.
Buffy fled out into the downpour.
Not running, flyingshe wasn't ready for her own speed, for how instantaneously the motel was gone and she was somewhere else, so fast she couldn't make out what was all around her.
The body in her armswhere had it come fromflailed and struggled, but like some little animal, weak and chanceless, just stirring up its own odor, beating up its pulse, making itself delicious to her. The aroma was overpowering, funk of hair and flesh, musty fabric and the high salty needful reek of blood. She couldn't even see what she'd gotten hold of, she was already sunk in, tight against the lean jaw, the flesh parting around her fangs like string, her mouth filling with liquid heat.
Eyes wide open, but she still couldn't really seethe rain so heavy it flattened the hot day around her, glued her hair to her skin to her clothes. Glued her to her prey.
She swallowed, and sucked and swallowed again.
Then she just couldn't go on doing it. It wasn't even a decision. She just let go. Dropped it, stepped back, trembling
She didn't know why. Didn't get either how she could tremble, when her heart was stopped, or why her knees should give way beneath her.
" ¡Huya ahora! ¡Huya!"
The preyonly now did she grasp whom she'd grasped, a boy of eleven or twelve in dirty clotheswas already scrambling up from the mud. He ran and was gone.
Spike offered his hand to her.
"Knew you wouldn't do it."
"But you stopped in plenty of time. Saw you."
"How much did you see?"
"Enough. You proved out my theory 'bout you. C'mon, Slayer."
She let him tug her up. Her haunches were caked in mud.
He let go of her.
The rain came down on her like a beating. She wished he'd put an arm around her, shelter from herself somehow, but he wasn't doing that. When had she ever remotely let him do that?
"Let's go," he said. "Could clear up fast, we'd get stuck."
He looked at her. He was soaked too, eyes scrunched up against the downpour, the flipped-up collar of his leather futile.
Being so patient.
"I was hungry." That didn't begin to explain it. Spike seemed to understand that it wasn't what she meantthat she didn't know what she meant. He nodded.
"I just ... " She gestured uselessly, towards the smear in the mud left by the boy. "I don't know what to do with myself." She was still trembling. Why couldn't she stop it?
He had the good grace not to say anything.
They started back, picking their way like normal bipeds, mud sucking at their feet. Spike led the way. Lost, she followed.
When she reached out and caught his arm, he let her keep it. She walked just one step behind him, her hand threaded through his elbow, and after a while he squeezed it against his side. The rain let up, then stopped. They hurried faster. The sky was brightening as they sprinted the last few hundred yards, coming to an abrupt stop at their door, beneath a dripping overhang. The storm left the air just as hot and choked as it was before.
Spike unlocked the door and handed her through.
"Gonna stay out here a bit, have a smoke."
She peeled out of her sodden clothes, dropped them in the bathtub, wrapped herself in a towel. Went back to the still-open door. Spike leaned against the upright, his extended foot a few inches from the dividing line between shade and glare.
"Can I?" She plucked the cigarette from his hand, inhaled the smoke deep into her lungs. It tasted rich and good, and didn't make her cough. As she let it out in a stream, she glanced at him. He was watching her intently, his face blank, but he couldn't blank his eyes.
"What would you have done if I hadn't let go of the kid?"
"Doesn't matter. Never doubted you would. You're no killer."
That was when something inside her cracked, and the tears flooded out.
It wasn't like how it had happened to him. She was nothing like him, never had been.
But he'd been waiting for this moment, knew it would come, though he'd expected it maybe a little sooner.
When it caught up to her, and the numbness broke, and the misery came up to drown her.
It was a sort of inside-out replay of a few months ago, wasn't it, when she'd been dragged back to life.
Transformed, against her will, into something she didn't want to be.
She perched, still emitting the occasional sob, on the edge of the bed, pale as death, staring. He'd wrapped a blanket around her, but that was all. The onslaught of grief and terror didn't make her confidential. She didn't speak at all, just cried for a very long time, shuddering, nearly voiceless. He sprawled in the chair near the door and let her get on with it.
Now she was still, he rose and got the last of the blood from the cooler. It was almost too thick to be any good; he'd have tossed it and gone for more, except for not wanting to leave her alone yet, or drag her out.
"Have a bit of this. You'll feel better."
"I thought it was gone."
"All theall the things that" Her lip quivered. "Oh, I felt so free. I mean: weightless. I don't understand it."
"And suddenly you don't?"
She turned, and her eyes were wild. "I thought I'd really escaped this time. I thought that maybe I'd really gotten away with it. I really didn't care. I was light."
"What are you saying, love?"
He offered the blood; she shifted away, hid her face.
"You tellin' me you're still Buffy. That's it, isn't it?"
"You should leave me, Spike. You really really should."
"Why? Never have yet, have I?"
She slept then, for the first time staying down for hours, motionless. He kept awake, slumped in his chair, watching over her. What she meant, when she told him to go, was that she still didn't love him, and never expected to.
Of course, he knew that. He wished it mattered, but it never would.
He must've dozed, because he awoke to her invading his lap, tugging on his flies.
"Stop that." He shoved her away, so she tumbled backwards onto her tailbone, and came up frowning. He stood up, stepped around her.
"C'mon, you're not turning me down."
"You're right on schedule, Slayer."
"I'm right on Oh."
"Yeah. Not playin' this tragedy second time. Because then it's"
"Farce," she supplied.
"Got it in one."
They didn't drive that night. Without discussion, he knew that neither of them could stomach the idea of being together in the car for any length of time. Both too bloody hinky. She shut herself in the bathroom for hours. He heard her splashing in the tub, and muttering to herself. When night fell they walked towards the waterfront.
"Give me a cigarette, Spike."
"You're gonna smoke now?"
"Why shouldn't I?"
"If you go through my whole supply and then pout when I steal more, because stealin's so very wrong."
"You think I still care about stuff like shoplifting?"
"Snaffle your own, then."
"Okay, I will. You think I don't know how to shoplift? I used to be a champ. I never paid for one single lipstick."
He started to answer, but she was already gone.
He postponed following. It was a relief, being on his own for a few moments. He wandered into a cantina whose door opened a few feet off, exuding music and enticing odors of beer and bodies. Got stuck into a cerveza, and then spirited into a flirting conversation with one of the local lovelies, who laughed at his Spanish and twinkled at him until she actually coaxed him onto the dancefloor. Ten minutes elapsed before he remembered with a start that he wasn't supposed to going solo.
Still, he didn't want to chase after her. Hadn't they already proved that he wasn't going to shadow her every momentthat he couldn't, anyhow?
And he was still sore about that stunt she'd tried earlier. Like she thought he'd forgotten how she'd sworn off him, put him off like a filthy habit.
Not that he hadn't half suspected it would happen, but he'd dared to hope she'd be a bit better than that, even now.
He adored her, but he always knew the girl was far from perfect. No matter what she used to like to pretend.
Whereas the girl right in front of him, whom he didn't know or care about one bit, was about as perfect as any girl could be, and why not stick around and improve their acquaintance?
He did, for another hour. At which point they were out back in a dark corner of the deserted beer-garden, and he had her wriggling like a belly-dancer, both hands up her dress, her heavy breathing making a counterpoint to the music. Backing her up to perch on the edge of a table, Spike dropped to a crouch, crawling up her skirt to taste her.
She wanted him to, there was no doubt about that. She made little chirping noises like a pretty bird as he nuzzled her thigh, her legs flexing open.
At least until she shrieked and went leap frog on his head, her skirt snagging for one dark moment on his nose before it tore and she ran, screaming all the way.
He looked up into Buffy's blazing eyes.
Her fang array was huge in her little face, distending her lips.
It looked painful.
And yet there was something beautiful about it too, which he felt in his body, an urge that he refused with force, springing up to grab her by the shoulders.
"The fuck? What are you doin'!"
There was no time for thisoutraged men were pouring out into the beer garden. He tugged her towards the wall, scrambling up the cement blocks, straining for the top. Buffy gruntedshe'd caught herself on the broken glass that edged it, but there was no helping that, they were both over and flying down the alley. She was still faster than him; he ended up the follower, pursuing her as she streaked ahead, through the town and out past it down a road with no lights.
When they finally stopped, they were all alone with the stars. Buffy's eyes still flashed, her new face in the waning moon glow alight with fury as she wheeled on him.
He was ready for her blow. Knew it would be coming. Gave it back to her double. She'd beat him down, there was no question of that, given time, but he'd get his licks in hard and early. Wouldn't spare her.
He meant to enjoy this, until she knocked him down and out.
But it wasn't the kind of Buffy fight he was used to.
Buffy never used to scream at him while she cleaned his clock. Not like she was now, calling him a prick and a fucker and a shit. He'd never heard words like that from her, not even when they were screwing.
She never used to snarl either while she punched him in the face, never rained down on him in staggering rage.
And never before did she just drop him in the middle of a beat-down to crawl into the underbrush and retch.
Or sit there afterwards and bawl like a little child whose mamma was struck down.
Stupid to think she'd cried herself out earlier. Nothing was ever that simple.
He went to her, laid a hand on her shoulder.
"What?" She shook him off.
"Am I to have nothin' at all then, 'neath your dispensation?"
"What?" Entirely different tone now.
He knelt beside her. "Not allowed to have my end off once in a while? Don't call that quite fair."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yes you do."
A pause. "Yes I do." She snuffled. "I offered"
"Yeah, well, don't want that anymore, do I? Your offers."
"But I was trying" She swallowed, choked, stopped. "Okay, I didn't like seeing you with that girl."
"So you should've walked away."
"I ... I brought you some cigarettes. I wanted to give them to you."
"So where are they?"
"I ... I lost them." She looked up. Still in game-face, a mess of wrinklies distended by the rictus of her misery. The yellow eyes puffy and half-shut.
"This isn't about me fucking that girl."
Her head shook, yes, no, refutation, agreement. Body tensed with resistance. "This is ... it's too much."
"Yeah, can be." He tugged her up. "Come away from here, Slayer."
He drew her off, downwind of the place where she'd thrown up a sticky bolus of clotted blood, and lifted his nose to the fresher air. "This way." He broke into a trot, pulling her along after.
"Where?" She still breathed in sobs, but she kept up. They entered a meadow, wide and grassy and looking, in the starlight, like it went on forever to meet up with the distant mountains, purple and dark. Spike sucked in the airit was cooler here than in the town, and smelledhe thought of the word innocent. Okay, it smelled innocent.
He drew Buffy around to the left, coaxing her to move faster. "There," he breathed. "Use your nose. Got it?"
"What?" She was impatient, still angry and embarrassed now too. But he could feel her get it the next moment, picking up the scent he'd fixed on before. She glanced around at him. "Can we? I mean"
"Run him down, yeah. Go on."
Buffy hesitated, then broke. It was a few moments before they saw hima huge ochre stallion, all on his own in the night-cloaked meadow. He'd trampled his way out of his enclosure, that was what made the cuts on his chest, the blood dried now but enough for Spike to scent him all that way away. Buffy gasped at the sight, and gasped again when the horse, catching wind of them, arched his neck, began first to dance and then to gallop.
"Oh God" Buffy gave him one incredulous look.
Spike nodded. "Go."
It was beautiful to watch her. Like two mythical creatures, enacting some primordial ritual of pursuit. Pretending at first like there was any possibility the outcome could be in doubt. The stallion running, then doubling on herknowing his size, his power to overrun and crush. She moved like wind, bending the grass in her path, faster than the animal could track, and between one blink and the next, she had hold of the mane, the stallion rising up on his hind legs, kicking out even as she scrambled up to claim his back. She was so small on him, her hair flying, and Spike knew from experience how it was to be ridden by her, those hard thighs gripping and rippling.
She did ride for a little while, hands sunk tight in the mane, her head down low over the tensed neck, as the horse spun and shook, wanting rid of her.
That gave him time to catch up, to be near enough to see the glance she gave him out of her orange eyes, meeting his, before she swung low and forward, clinging with one leg to the animal's spine, and seized on its silky throat where the flesh was thin.
The released blood scented the air. Spike took grateful snuffs, and began to grin. The horse shuddered and bucked, spinning and whinneying wild objections. But she was stronger, and by time Spike sidled close enough to reach out and grab at the mane itself, the great beast had slowed to a tight bewildered sway as she fed on him.
He was subdued already, there was almost no need to seize his head, to look into his big panicked eyes. But Spike did, because it was a pleasure, stroking and gentling the long soft nose, cooing into the wide nostrils, listening to Buffy's ravenous gorging gulps, before he darted in himself to bite into the soft smooth place just beneath the jaw.
The wind picked up and washed through his hair as he fed, stirring the hem of his leather, carrying the meaty grassy coppery smells up to his nose like offerings. The immense horse was a fountain, limitless, delicious.
After a while Buffy made a small sound, like a sated child, full of sugar. She stayed where she was, sprawled companionably on the broad back, her cheek, smooth again, cradled against the bunched shoulder, her little hand caressing the foamy flank where a little while ago it had commanded.
Spike let his fangs go, wiped his lips with the back of his sleeve. When he met her eyes now, she smiled. She seemed half asleep, and all happy.
"He followed me home. Can I keep him, Daddy?"
"Liked that, did you?"
Her eyes brightened, like two fireflies in the gloaming. "He's so warm and comfy." She touched her lips. "Alive."
"Yeah. That's the thing."
"It's what we want." She sounded dazzled. The 'we' fell on his ear like a seductive lie. "Why did you keep this from me so long?"
"Didn't think of it, that's all." He had to move to keep abreast of the dazed horse, a gentle two step. He liked this, standing so close to the big radiant beast, its heat more cheering than any fire, fingers threaded in its mane, seeing her relaxed at last, talking to her this way, which was new and uncertain but good in a way he couldn't resist. It was good that he'd found something that really pleased her.
"I'd like to just stay out here forever. Wouldn't that be nice?"
She knew as well as he that the morning was coming. After another minute, in which she pressed her lips again to the horse's flank, this time for a long National Velvet sort of kiss, she slid off. As soon as she was down, the horse pricked up its head, neighed, and moved decisively away, breaking into a half-speed gallop.
Buffy watched him go. "We tuckered him out."
"He's down a few pints, but he'll be all right."
"I feel better."
She smiled again, and he was able to pretend that this smile was for him, and not just for her own satisfaction. An apology would've gone down well too, but he knew better than to get his hopes up.
Saying sorry to the likes of him was never the Buffy way.
"I am worried about Dawn."
Spike opened his eyes. Lethal morning brightness was outlined against the motel room's nylon drapes. After returning to the room from their country night, he'd dropped into sleep almost at once, but not before being certain that she, in her bed, was there already.
She was awake now. She sat up in the imperfect dark.
"She's got no one to protect her anymore. I'm stupid. I didn't try hard enough to stay alive."
"That couldn't be true."
"Were you there? Did you see it?"
"Your fight with him that got you? Told you no." He hated to admit it. Hated that he hadn't been there, dogging her even though she'd banished him, so that he could save her. She'd fallen to one lousy vamp. Just one. And he'd come upon it just too late to do one lick of good. "But I don't think you wanted"
Her eyes flashed. "Last year you told me every slayer has a death wish. You knew what you were talking about. You wanted to be the one who killed me. So don't tell me goddamn lies."
"Love, there's no point layin' blame on yourself."
"Dawn has no one now. When I was dead before, she had you to keep her from harm. I knew she'd get to grow up, at least. But now she's all alone."
"The witch will"
"Oh please. Do you think I don't know Willow could finish her off? Hell, she could do it by accident. She can't be trusted." She leaned forward then with a little grunt, rubbing her eyes.
"Giles went back to England."
"Could ring him."
"And then what? He's a watcher from a long line of watchers. He'd have no choice but to put out an APB on me. Do you know what the Council does to slayers who get turned?"
"Not so much."
"Well, me neither, but I'm sure they do something. They came after Faith like the Ride of the Valkyries when she went off the reservation."
"Well, what do you want to do?"
She didn't answer right away. In the silence Spike thought of the Little Bit more vividly than he had in a long time. Getting mixed up with her sister, even though they'd kept it secret, still put a damper on their friendship, if you could call it a friendship. Their best timesif you could call them that eitherhad all been when the slayer was dead, and no one questioned the hours he spent with Niblet, because in those days grief was general and made allowances for just about anything. They'd been a comfort to each other then, but it hadn't really lasted.
He had gradually let his sense of responsability for the kid slip after Buffy came back. He'd felt less welcome in every sense. And more interested, face it, in the older sister.
Which was still the case, though it brought him no ease.
Buffy made a noise between a sigh and a groan. "I thought this was over."
"Me giving a damn. That it all went away with my soul."
"Trauma of the change, numbs you."
"I expected to feel more evil."
She sounded disappointed.
"A lot of that" he heard himself sound consolatory ''has got to be taught. When I Well, no use talkin' about that. Point is, you don't have to"
She jumped out of the bed, rushing towards the door. "But it's stupid! I can't go back there and do my duty! I'm not the slayer anymore. So I might as well"
"Might as well what?" He got up, caught at her hand that scrabbled at the door fastenings.
"Might as well be really evil. Full tilt. Go for the gusto! Except I end up with you, No Balls Spike, Chip In The Head Dumbass Spike. Who is too much of a moron to get that I'm not the goody two shoes slayer anymore! Why did you have to kill my sire? He was probably fun. He'd have taught me"
She really wasn't ready for his full-on slap. Her head snapped back like a rubber bulb; she staggered.
He followed it with a swipe to her ankles that toppled her to the floor, and dropped with her, pinning her to the rough smelly carpet.
"No more of this shite."
She struggled. "You are pathetic. You are"
"I'm what you were teachin' me to be. Tryin' to be that, anyway."
"A fangless loser who pretends he's worth anything because he can't kill?"
"What, then?" She'd stopped trying to pull free, and for the moment seemed actually interested. "Oh I know!" Her voice went high and sweet and fake. "Worthy of Buffy's precious love?"
The urge to punch her againto cave her face inwas almost too much. That expression, of arch concern, wanted to be squashed out with a fist.
"Not worthy of Buffy's love. Knew I wasn't ever goin' to have that. But would like to be worthy of my love for her. Can't be all filthy, vessel that contains such a thing."
She blinked. Aha, he'd managed to surprise her for one little second. But she scrambled over it. "The Buffy you loved is dead. I'm worse than dead. I'm this now."
"You don't love me like this. All right, all right, let me up." She wriggled, pushed a knee up into his belly, and sprang free.
He stared into the dirty nylon pile, the color of shit. "I told youyou're still Buffy. You can still be Buffy. You just told me you care about Dawn. You care about everything."
She gave off a groan of disgust. "Get up. You look like you're groveling."
"You had a demon in you before. You've traded it for anotheror added anotherwho knows? But you're still Buffy, always Buffy, an' you know well as I do that you're strong enough to be Buffy if you please. You've met challenges bigger'n this before."
"Oh, shut up. I liked you better when you were evil." Dropping to the side of the bed, she cradled her head in her hands. "This sucks."
"All I used to want was to be a normal girl! But: oh no! I had a sacred duty, a calling. Then all I wanted was to be at peace. Oh no again! Drag her out of heaven, we need her down below! And now I'd just like to be a regular, evil vampire. Chomp chomp chomp, die die die. But I can't even have that."
"Stake me then, an' go an have it."
"No. You want rid of meI'm in your bloody way" Grabbing up the chair, Spike cracked it in two, yanked one jagged leg away and held it out to her. "I'll give you a clear shot. You want to be wicked, fuckin' do it. You will be Queen of the Damned. Best bloody queen the damned ever had. Go on."
She took the leg, hefted it in her standard stake-wielding stance. eyeing his out-thrust chest.
"Kill me. Then you can kill 'em all. Whole bloody town out there you can suck dry."
She lunged; he flinched. The stake clattered against the wall.
"Do you ever stop talking?"
He was still braced for her follow-through; it took a few seconds, as he registered her new pose, the change in her expression, her hands opening, to recognize that he'd been spared.
He lit up a cigarette. "Was you woke me up, to talk."
"Well, that's all you do. Talk talk talk. Like it's all you're good for." She was close to him suddenly, right up close, her tip-toe feet touching his, her body too. Close enough to be reminded that she was no longer warm, no longer busy with hot pulse, the quick incessant beating of her heart that he'd once listened to with such helpless passionate longing. She didn't quite smell like herself anymore either.
But her fingers worming into his waistband were still small and strong and insistent, her lips still soft and craving where they burrowed against his jaw. "I remember some other stuff you were good for."
"I know. I know, but I think we should hold each other now. Please? Just ... let me hold you."
"What part of me you fixin' to hold?" He captured her wriggling fingers, popped them out of his waistband. Then couldn't resist keeping them, as she didn't pull away.
Didn't pull away, and rested her forehead against his chest.
She mumbled against his skin. "miss this."
"Missokay, I miss you." She looked up, right into his face. Her eyes were wide and apparently guile-less. "Let's not be angry at each other. At least, not right now."
"Sez me. Uh ... Buffy. Buffy the vampire." She pressed against him, swaying a little, like she was trying to coax him into a dance. A dance he knew full well. "C'mon. You said I'd be lonely. Well, I am. We are."
"Ooooh, that's persuasive."
"Well, what do you want to hear?"
She knew what he wanted to hear, knew that he wouldn't tell her, because what was the point if you had to say? He'd been angry at her a little while ago, but he couldn't sustain it; his anger always melted away like a snowball on a warm grate.
But even without anger, he wasn't doing what she wanted. Not taking her in his arms, erasing her consciousness, her conscience, with hard kisses.
"Look, it's true, I don't love you. But I don't love anything anymore. I can't."
His pliant lip lifted in a sneer. "You're no less capable of lovin' than you ever were."
"Yeah, well ... that's the thing. Since I came back. From heaven or wherever I was. That's how it's been."
"Bullshit. You've been sad, that's what it is. Doesn't mean you can't love. You're chockful of love."
"I'm telling you, Spike. It's true. Even before I died, last year ... I was losing it."
"But it doesn't mean we can't ... look, I just want a little ... comfort. So do you. Don't pretend."
"Was tryin' to get myself some last night, when you"
She put a hand to his mouth. "Not with that girl. With me. You want it with me." Now her fingers were on his lips, she knew her power would exert itself. He'd bend, he'd comply, he'd make the time pass.
"Go back to bed, Slayer."
"By yourself." He stepped away from her now, walked around her and threw himself down on his own bed, rolling the sheet around himself, scrunching down. "Now's when we sleep, yeah?"
"We'll get you laid tonight. That'll be easy to find, believe me. Now, sleep."
She was inclined to argue, to goad, but a little tingle at her core, raw squirming anxiety, said He might leave you, if you push him too far. He might leave you, and you really don't want him to do that.
So she lay down again and waited for dark.
Spike handed her a bottle of beer. "Now, you go wriggle your sweet little box on the dancefloor, and in ten minutes you'll have your pick of punters. Can fuck anyone in this place you fancy."
She didn't like how he was managing her. How, in spite of her escalating levels of obnoxiousnessthe verbal cuts she'd dealt kept reverberating back at her, putting the lie again to her notion that vampires had no remorsehe stayed on the whole magnanimous. A demon magnanimity that drew blood, left bruises, but then it wasn't all that different from the slayer variety.
"Quit pouting. Petulence doesn't suit you." He turned away from her, his lip curling as he raised his own beer bottle.
She didn't want to have sex with some random guy, either. But she'd run down her capital with himhe needed to drink beer and talk to women who weren't her, and she had to let him.
There were a lot of young men in this dance-hall/bartourists, locals, she heard a jumble of languages spoken. Some of the guys were cuteat least, they'd have been cute to the old Buffy, high-school Buffy. Right now they just looked like food, the kind you weren't eating because you were on some kind of crazy drop-dead serious diet.
But she danced, and as Spike promised, they came to her. Then she got caught up in dancingshe needed the movement, it wasn't as good as fucking or feeding but it was in the ballpark. Once in a while she'd look around for him, see him at the bar, chatting to some girl or other. Then she looked for him and he wasn't there. The man she was dancing with by then had managed to discourage other comers. He'd bought her drinks, given her long looks and smileshe spoke neither English nor Spanish, so they hadn't had to talkand now he was trying to lead her off into the shadows.
She didn't understand his whispered words, but she knew what they meant.
Knew that if they began kissing, she would end in devouring him. The certainty of this made her feel sick at herself, and tired, and desperate to just give in.
It took a little while to get rid of himshe had to act her sudden change of mind out big, and finish it off with a pointed shove before he really got the message. Then she had to endure his hollered curses as she walked away unencumbered, threading through the crowd, feeling along the air for the whiff of Spike. His scent was subtle, compared to that of the humans, but she was needy enough to parse it, to follow it out of the bar, across the square with its trickling fountain, down some narrow lanes to the water front.
Of course he wasn't alone. She could smell the girl, and when she got closer she could hear her, how she gasped, and giggled.
She sounded like she was being very well taken care of.
They were in a rowboat among a score of similar boats, pulled up on the rocky beach well clear of high tide. Buffy caught sight of Spike's yellow hair in the starlight, could see his head and shoulders, but not the girl he was covering, lying beneath him. She gave off a continuous trill of happy sounds. Sometimes he laughed too, low in his throat, and she could hear him murmuring, but not the words.
Though she knew what those were likely to be.
He knew how to give pleasure, and receive it.
How to do that without causing pain at the end. He'd let that girl go when they were finished, because of the chip, yes, but also because she was part of the world he didn't want to see ripped up and ruined.
The smell of his lovemaking, the sound, the sight of his head rising and sinking, brought her out in fangs. For a long minute she couldn't control her face; couldn't control the tight stab of sheer starved misery.
She fled back to the square, sank onto a bench, let her head sink down to her knees. She wasn't going to interrupt again, wasn't going to make a scene. That hadn't worked before, and it was pathetic, to act that way. Especially with Spike.
Spike. God, what was going to happen to them? How long could they go on like this, drifting around Central America, getting her from one nonlethal feed, one fitful sleep, to the next? Night upon night upon night of it, with nothing to look forward to.
Closing her eyes, stopping her breath, Buffy brought her focus inside. It was still there if she forced her mind to be quiet: that last little sliver of heaven. It was real.
But she couldn't inhabit it. And now she was separated from her soulwasn't she?she'd never go back there again.
Maybe her soul was there already.
Would Giles say that? If he was telling her sister what had happened to her, would he console her that way? That Buffy's body, her consciousness, was a monster, but her eternal soul was in heaven?
This whole soul racket seemed different, now she was viewing it from the other side. She'd been pretty sure before, what it was, what it did. Who had one and who went without.
Idiot. Who knew what a soul was? She didn't really feel any different since hers was supposedly goneat least, not in the way she'd thought it would be at first. Freed of conscience. Free of everything except survival, the moment, like an animal. That could've been all right.
Instead, everything was still just hard, and weird, and bad. She wanted things she couldn't have and didn't want the good things that were offered to her.
Maybe that meant she'd lost her soul long ago. Maybe she'd lost it when she jumped off Glory's tower. Maybe even before that. It could have been leeched out of her bit by bit since she was called, by all the death. The death she made every day. With her hands. Like Spike described it.
Or maybe her soul was right where it always was. Maybe this was just the person, the soul, she'd grown up to be. A warrior, numbed out where she wasn't angry, cold where she wasn't cruel. Just a slayer who'd gone on doing the job too long. Been brought back from the dead too many times to be anything real anymore.
That seemed plausible. And being a vampire was beside the point.
When he dropped down at the other end of her bench, Buffy raised her head. "Where's your friend?"
"Saw her home." He frowned. "Where's yours?"
She nixed the inquiry with a jab of the hand.
"Want another beer or two before we go back?"
"Spike, I can't do this."
"You gonna pitch another fit at me because I got my dick wet?"
"Ugh. Crude much? No. This. The undead thing. I can't stay here with you.."
He cocked his head, regarding her through narrowed eyes. "If you really meant to fuck off into the night, you'd have done it. Not stuck around to convince me. C'mon. I could do with another drink before bedtime." He rose, holding a hand out to her.
She punched it away. "You think you know everything about me! You have all these wacked-out ideas about my eternal goodness and worth, like I'm some sort of goddess, and you are just nothing but wrong!"
"You want to pretend I'm not the same kind of thing you are!"
He darted his face close to hers. She flinched, hit out, but he was already back in his place, just out arm's reach, and her blow got nothing but air. "No blood on your breath. So didn't eat yours, close as you think you came, did you?"
The little smile playing on his lips maddened her. "It's coming, though! The night when I rip someone's beating heart out and swallow it whole. It's close. It's going to happen."
"I won't leave you on your own 'til you're over these shakes. You'll get beyond this, an' remember yourself again."
His mild stubborn look made her itch to roundhouse him. "Are you crazy? What is this insane fantasy you have about me? I'm dead, Spike. I'm undead. I'm this." She flashed fangs, making it ugly, sticking out her tongue. "Anyway, you wanted me to come to you, in the dark. Is that why you didn't stake me? Because you wanted"
"Was just a line. Never meant anything by it except to get you to let me in. Wanted you, an' you pissed me off. But all I really wanted was to make love to you an' ease your heart."
"What we made wasn't love, and you didn't ease anything."
He barely winced. "I know it."
"This is over. We're done."
"Don't come after me!" She turned her back on him. She'd already picked out her first onea young man with bare arms, lounging by the fountain, part of a group of loiterers who were spectating their argument, though they were too far off, and speaking the wrong language, to make a first-class show. She knew she could separate him from the others. She'd draw him into the lanes, where it was dark, and drain every hearty drop. Afterwards, all this dumb suspense would be finished. She'd be a monster good and proper, and then
"You're goin' to give up on yourself just to prove that I'm never right about anything?" He'd done one of those lightning moves, placing himself in her path so fast that she saw him a second before she felt the backdraft of his rush. "Didn't know you cared so much 'bout what I think."
"You do. Or you wouldn't be so furious with me. So bent on makin' me wrong."
"Go die, Spike."
She started past him, but he blocked her again. "Better idea. Use this."
He pulled something from his duster pocket.
The chair leg stake.
The sight of it staggered her. "Didn't we play this game already?"
"Don't use it on me. Do I have to remind you we're not the only vamps in this burg?"
She still had it. Her grace, strength, the way she could anticipate an opponent's moves, cross his signals, screw him up. And she had moreheightened speed, agilityand, Spike thought, a new sort of wicked will to not just slay, but play.
The vampires they attacked weren't expecting to be disturbed. She could've popped them fast, almost without their knowing, but that wasn't what she wanted. She wanted a melee, and she forced ittogether they forced ita chase, an ambush, a routand a massacre. Though he helped in the round-up, the cornering, Spike let her do the slaying. With each vamp that exploded off her stake, her grin widened, her eyes blazed up full of manic glee.
All through it, she kept her human facethey both did.
"They didn't know what we are," Buffy said, when they'd brought the population of the blind alley that was the scene of their last stand, down to two. Her smile was fang-sharp, and included him in her sudden merriment like a friend.
"They didn't know a bloody thing," he agreed.
"I wish there were more. I could go for hours. Why didn't I think of this?"
"You had other things on your mind."
"Whereas you" She stepped up to him, taking the two lapels of his duster in her hands, to snug him in close, "you have thought about nothing but what I needed, all this time. SpikeI want you to know I get that."
Her mouth touched his before he could pull away, though he meant to. Meant to detach her keen little fingers from his leather, and tell her that was fine but they'd better get back. Only her lips were so soft, and beckoningnot warm, not fragrant with her breath, but so sweet still on histhat he could do nothing at all.
"Aren't you going to brush me off?" Her whisper, like her lips, was gentle and coaxing and opposite in every way to everything she'd been for the last ten days and more.
"I will, in a bit."
"After one more," she murmured, going up again on tiptoe to press it on him, another kiss that was not like any of the kisses she'd ever given him, not angry, possessive, combative, competitive, contemptuous.
Just a kiss: a little friendly, encouraging. Grateful, even? She tugged on his coat, but not the way she used to do when she was simultaneously pressing him into service and shutting him up. This tugging asked only to be gathered in, and when he put his arms around her, Buffy sighed and dropped her forehead against his chest. "Maybe I'm no good for you anymore, like this. I'm cool to the touch, I don't haveI don't have what you used to like."
"I love you just the same." It was more than he'd said if he'd time to consider. It was just the unalloyed truth, and he'd never been good at keeping that to himself.
"But you're sorry for me."
"I know you are. I've seen how you feel pity for us when we're hard up. Not just me. Dawn. Tara. Anya, Giles ... you've had your little moments of being kind to all my people. My ... former ... people. I never could figure out why. But it's what you're like, just as much as you're like mayhem and violence, and .... You must've been that way when you were a man."
He'd have blushed if he was capable of it. "Dunno. Was a foolish fellow, that's all."
"A lonely fellow?" Before he could answer, she walked over her own question. "We should go back to the room now, it'll be light soon." She pulled back, letting go of him except for one finger hooked into his buttonhole, as if she couldn't quite bear to be entirely unmoored. "Tell me something, Spike."
"When we get into the room. Will you come into my bed, and let me hold you and kiss you some more? Tell me now, because if the answer is no, I won't touch you again. We'll just go back, and drink our blood, and brush our teeth, and get into our beds, and go to sleep."
Her greeny eyes seemed to reflect the stars. "For now, yes. If you say."
"Though you were goin' to set off an' leave me."
"No. Not actually."
"I was just with that other girl."
"It doesn't matter. Take a shower."
"What are you offerin' me, Buffy?"
She tugged a little on his buttonhole, as if she had to think this through before she spoke. "As much as I've got. Will that be okay?"
She took his arm as they walked back through the quiet pre-dawn streets, quiet and decorous as a Victorian couple. He didn't say anything, and neither did she, but he could feel her contentment, how that good slay had cooled her off and warmed her up, both.
She kissed him again at the bathroom door, and then sketched a funny little wave goodbye as he closed it between them. In the shower, Spike scrubbed at himself, and frettedwhy should he let her do this to him again? What had really changed?
He'd regret it. Worse, so would she.
And he'd gone with that dratted girl, and wished now he hadn't, though maybe it was that as much as anything else that night that had turned the slayer so suddenly sweet. She'd let hers alonehadn't bit him, hadn't even touched him, probably.
He didn't like to think that meant anything, but maybe she thought so.
When he came out of the bathroom, wearing a towel, holding his clothes, she was sitting up in the middle of her bed. The lamp was on, a teeshirt draped over the shade to make the light dim and pink, but the TV was off, and she was nude, her hair hanging loose around her shoulders and breasts.
"Put that stuff down." She held her arms out.
He dropped the clothes on the other bed, and then stood there in the damp towel, seized with stupid uncertainty.
She came to him. "You think I'm playing a trick on you."
"Poor Spike. I'm so mean to you." She came a little nearer, but not touching. He could smell her though, the scent of her shampoo, her skin, her budding arousal. It wasn't like he remembered, all volcanic heat, but it was still her, still stirring. He'd gotten his end off a couple hours ago but it might as well have been days for all it mattered.
She looked down at their feet and then up into his face. "I'm mean to myself, too, though. I'm a regular tatar."
He was going to answer, with something witless no doubt, but she darted up to claim his mouth again, her hands seizing on the towel at the same time, using it to draw him along as she backed up towards her bed. She let herself tumble, pulling him down on top of her.
"I want to be nice to you, to make up for it. I mean, as much as I can make up for it."
"Buffy, you don't"
"No, I'm not teasing. This isn't a set-up. Spike, I need to be nice to you. Please just let me."
"Right." He assumed that what she was really after was another serving of the usual, but this time with a bit of sugar on top. To be attended to, pleasured, comforted, and forgiven the taunts she was so lightly admitting to. And he would do it, because now he was right up against her, he was all out of No.
But he was wrong. When he tried to lay her back, prepatory to giving her the sort of seeing-to she'd demanded those nights she'd blown into his crypt like a gale, Buffy wasn't having it.
"Uh-uh," she whispered. "You. Spike. You. Let me. Okay?" She rolled him over, gently pressed his wrists back against the pillow. "Lie still. I'm going to give you some kisses. You like kisses, don't you? On your mouth, and other places."
Her lack of hurry gave him difficultieshe was used to getting things done with her fasteven on those nights when she'd stayed with him for hours, she'd always been all about quantityhasty, frantic, nearly manic.
It was as if he hadn't been touched in weeks, or monthsher patient leisurely kisses tensed him up, sending his mind racing ahead, past the climax, the one-minute afterglow she might permit, straight on to the next brutal thing she'd say that would erase this and make him feel like a fool for submitting to her.
Once, twice, again, she put his hands back, pressed him down. "Relax. I'm not going to cheat you."
"You always cheat me. Was what you were born to do."
She got up on one elbow and regarded him, blinking. "I don't mean to now."
"You don't even think of me as a person. You don't believe in what I feel about you."
"That's not true. That's ... " Her lip fluttered, and her eyes went swimmy. The sight of it gave him a certain nasty satisfaction. He pulled her back to him, and now she made no resistance when he rolled her underneath, trapping her head in his two hands, her body opened beneath his. Tears were streaming from her eyes now, though she made no sound. He kissed them, and her wet open mouth, and she clung to him, kissing back, her hips already twisting.
When he let her mouth go, she gasped. "Please don't give up on me. I need you."
"You need this?" He let her feel his erection prodding her belly.
"I need you. My friend."
"Yes. Please. Just let me show you"
"Know what you've got to show." What did it mean, anything he got her to say when she was in this state of arousal?
"You don't. You don't, because I've never given it to you before. Let me. Let me now."
He crushed her pleading out in another kiss. She opened wide, rippling under him, grappling him with her hands. He took what he'd always wanted from her mouth, imposing on her a slow thorough exploration, and she let him. Bit by bit the tension went out of her, ratcheting down instead of up, until a few minutes later they were almost still, except for caressing tongues, and her hands making long soothing sweeps up his back. She waited on his pleasure, advancing nothing, letting him take his time, all the time he'd ever wanted. Once in a while she rocked a little, reminding them both that his hard cock rode against her wet curly mons, open between her wide-spread thighs.
He almost lost himself in it, but not quite far enough that it didn't occur to him that he could get a bit of revenge on her for past humiliations, if he got up now and went back to his own bed. Left her to stew, to find out what it felt like to be rejected. Once admitted, the idea bloomed into a lush temptation. Didn't she deserve that? To be treated like the bitch she was?
But then she brought a hand up to his face, touching her fingers to his cheekbone, tracing the scar along his brow. He drew back a little, to see the expression that went with this touch. Buffy's eyes were once more awash in tears. She nodded to himhe didn't really know what the nod meant, but it broke his anger.
He kissed her tears again, and as he did, she began to sob, and drew him in tighter. He put a hand down between their bodies, and she made an assent, crying out as he pushed inside her, flowing up to meet him.
They rocked together, slowly, sometimes almost stopping, for a long time, amidst the ongoing conversation of kisses, sighs, sobs. She resisted her climax, as if that would somehow show the new leaf she'd turned. He brought her there, once, again, with his hand, with a gentle dominance that she seemed to want; her surrender coming with little wails, like contrition. Then she coaxed him to his own, whispering his name as he climbed. Afterwards he expected her to tense, resisting her old urge to separate, to spring up right away and negate it all. But she stayed put, half melted beneath him, her pussy giving off the occasional belated ripplet around his cock, returning his sated kisses until all sensation was lost in fog.
Sleep gave way to Buffy talking.
"can't tell them. It'll make trouble. You have to promise. Oh God. Don't cry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry about everything. I ... I'll try to call again in a few days. But you can't tell"
Spike pulled the phone receiver from her hand. "What in hell you doin', Slayer?" He didn't have to ask who she was on with. He could hear Dawn's anxious squeak perfectly well. It was all he could do not to commandeer the conversation himself. But he threw the phone back onto its cradle. "You out of your mind?"
She was so white, her lips paler than her face. "I had a dream about her, she was so sad and so angry at me because I just disappeared. I just had to tell her, you know, that I'm not .... That I didn't just abandon her."
"So you called the bloody house."
"I knew she'd be alone. She gets in from school around four, and no one else comes in until just before six. I told her not to tell the others"
"Oh, that'll be all right then. An' no one'll notice that she's hidin' anything either."
Buffy missed the irony entirely, thick as it was. "They barely notice her at all. She said ... she said she's been alone a lot. Because they're supposedly all working on figuring out what happened to me, but .... She said she's been sitting in your crypt every night, waiting for you to come back, and" Buffy's hands flexed on the sheet, and suddenly tore through it, and the blanket. Fanging out, she attacked the bedding, flaying it until the air was filled with flying fibers. Her violence crackled the air, and Spike braced to be nextthe beating he'd been expecting all along might well come now, and he supposed he might as well get it over with. He'd earned a crippler, after the morning they'd had. It was too much sweetness to go unpaid-for.
But the blows didn't come. Buffy spat out a piece of bedspread, the wrinklies melting back into that too-pale strained face. Springing up, she grabbed her bag, started stuffing their few clothes into it.
"I can't just leave her there alone. I have to go back."
"Are you out of your mind?"
She stopped, and the look she gave him was more naked than any he'd seen since this began.
"Spike. Please take me home."
For a soulless vampire with no moral compass, Spike was a good driver. He kept his eyes on the road, seemed to know when he could get away with speeding and when he couldn'tthey never got pulled overand his reflexes were perfect. He steered with just one hand, the other usually dangling out the open window in the slipstream of cool night air. Sometimes he smoked, or drummed the wheel along with the music on the radio.
She knew he was worried. That he was undertaking this reverse journey against his judgment. But he was content, too; he liked to drive, and a job to do for her gave him a kind of pride exceeding his usual macho.
They'd been on the reverse journey north for two nights now, hastening back up to the Mexican border. The intervening day they'd spent at the same sort of cheap motel they'd been using all alongalike in their air of poverty and rawness, and the smells, so keen to her new senses, of human life on the knife's edge.
But she hadn't had much occasion to dwell on those smells during the day just past, because she'd spent most of the time making love with Spike.
She thought of it by that word, because it wasn't like anything they'd done back in Sunnydale.
She was different. Not just in the being undead way. Not just in the being-undead-not-getting-her-out-of-the-slayage way. And not just in the still-needing-to-take-care-of-her-sister-even-though-she-was-undead-way.
She was Buffy Summers. That was the difference, because she knew she hadn't been Buffy Summers in a long time. Buffy wasn't who had crawled out of that grave on the night of the biker demons. Buffy had jumped off the tower to close the rift, but that leap had brought an end to someone who'd already been half gone weeks before her death.
And nownowBuffy was coming back.
Spike seemed to know it, maybe before she did. She imagined there was a kind of recognition in his eyes when he looked at her close-to. Like he was seeing the girl he'd first fallen for, back when the last thing he wanted was to want the slayer like that. The girl who hadn't done anything yet to spoil his desire, because she hadn't even known about it.
That was different toohow she wanted him, and what his wanting her felt like. Before it was an imposition, an insult, a dirty little lie. Now
"How can I feel so much like myself again at the same time I'm this ..." She didn't say thing, because he was one too.
"Happened to me," he said.
That was mid-afternoon, when they'd come to rest a while, and she found herself talking to him the way she never had yet. Lying easy beside him on the pillow, sharing a cigarette, watching the smoke skirl up to stain the low ceiling already grey with it.
"How did it happen to you?"
"Like I told you that time at the Bronze. Came into myself when I came to be a vampire. Wasn't afraid anymore, with that fear you take on as you go up through your twenties an' find out how much shite there is to life."
"How is that I'm still human? That we ... we're both still human? Most vampires aren't. I know they aren't."
"Could say the same of people. Depends what day you catch 'em, doesn't it?"
"No. I can't believe that. Yes, lots of people are bad, but demons ... they can't be equivalent. They aren't."
Spike frowned. "Well, that's so. We prey on the live ones, there's no denying that. Though not all of us kill. I used to think there were two kinds of vampiresthe poncey kind, an' my kind."
"And now you're the poncey kind."
"Perforce. But there's a long an' respectable tradition of vampires an' demons who coexist, an' don't kill, unless you count killings on the financial markets. They've got other interests, so slayer doesn't meet them. Suppose the main distinction between those an' humans is you could say they're all Id. They do as they please every single time. Some may be benign enough, but they're selfish."
"Is that why you help me? For selfish reasons."
"Must be. You said so, plenty of times."
"What did you think you were going to get out of not betraying us to Glory?"
He gave her breast a gentle squeeze. "Got this, didn't I?"
The gesture, the sweetness and lack of presumption of it, made her throat tighten. "You knew then you were never going to get me. You were never ever going to get anything from me and mine. And yet you let her hurt you and you held your tongue."
"Well, we love. An' love's selfish, innit? It's exquisite, even when it's only pain. An' it's yours an' no one else's."
This was pretty stunning. "But isn't it awful, to be so hopeless, to"
"Told you. Lost all that fear when I crossed over. Gained daring, I did, an' never looked back. In your case, maybe now your very worst has happened ... you can just get on with it now, an' not be so dark in your mind. You see you're all right."
"I'm all right." She said it to the ceiling, trying it out. Could it be that easy? She still felt it, that mysterious lightness that at first she'd taken for the end of her soul and with it, all caring and conscience. But she didn't trust it. "If I'm all right, then why ... why did you shed all those tears?"
"Ah, love. Never mind me an' my foolishness."
"No, I do mind. I meanI don't mind, I'm interested. Not interested, I mean ... I care."
He put out the stub of the cigarette, and turned to her. "Needn't say anythin', sweet. I get you."
She reached for him, and he pulled her in close. For a minute they just stayed that way, quiet. She knew he wanted to say something else, and that whatever his boast about having lost all compunctions, he needed a space to screw up his courage. She waited, even though she was pretty sure what it would be.
He hadn't said it for a long while, and now his voice was a little hoarse, like he was expecting a smackdown, or at least an argument. She'd told him so many times that his love wasn't real, that he wasn't real.
But he went on telling it anyway. He told it now.
She listened, making her eyes soft for him to look into, and when he stopped she laid a fingertip to his lips, not a rebuke, but a caress. "I know you do. I get what it means. Thank you. Thank you for taking care of me."
Now Spike speeded up as they passed the outskirts of the last town and entered another long desert straightaway. The wind beat through her hair, and she went back over their conversation, wishing she could have given back something more than she had. She couldn't tell him she loved himit wasn't true, not yet anyway. She'd finished their afternoon with more kisses, with a last slow grinding fuck, riding astride to give him the view he liked, hoping that somehow that and her smiles and her cries and the way she handled him would show that she devalued him no more.
It was so lopsided. She knew it, and it irked her.
Spike reached across and smoothed her whipping hair, held his hand to her head for a moment as it furled and snapped around his fingers.
"A horse would be nice."
"We'll find a horse. You find one ... use your nose. There'll be ranches comin' up in another few miles."
"I'm sorry we can't just do this forever. Driving, and ...."
"I'm not." He let his hand drop. "It's time for us both to face the music."
"None of this was your fault."
"I wouldn't let you go back there on your own."
She took his hand, and squeezed it.
Later, they found a field where six horses woke, whinnying, as they ghosted in among them. When they were back in the car, speeding into the last hours of night with bellies full, Spike turned the radio down and glanced at her.
"We'll be back in Sunnyhell by this comin' midnight if we don't tarry." He was off-hand, like they were debating whether to stop for coffee.
"Not far now from the border."
She'd insisted on making this return, yet at the same time she'd wanted the journey to be long. Not quite aimless, but indefinite. Enough time for her to gather the strength she didn't yet feel, and to reward Spike, if that wasn't an absurd notion, for all his loyalty. She'd seen no map, and paid no attention to the signs; Mexico was a vast undifferentiated landscape, and seen only at night, like one in a dream. She'd let herself believe it could take forever to cross back.
Spike pressed the button on the cigarette lighter on the dash. She stared at it until it popped out, then reached for it herself, and lit his smoke.
He inhaled and let a stream escape out the side of his mouth, out the open window and away. "Tah."
She held up a hand, and he passed the cigarette back to her. "Better not make a habit of that, little sis won't like you smellin' of tobacco."
"Do you really think that's what's going to bother her, out of all this?"
Spike shrugged. "Never know."
"I'm not gonna worry about that, if it's okay with you."
"Sure." He took the cigarette back, and said, "So, you have a plan?"
"I'm forming one."
Still diffident, he said, "Seems to me we ought to take Dawn away somewhere far off. You got any relatives she could live with?"
"We have an aunt in Evanston. We haven't seen them in years and years. They weren't really close, there's a big age gap."
"Your mum's sister? Close or not, she'll take Dawn in if we bring her there, keep her until she finishes high school."
"Wait a minute, you're saying we should kidnap Dawn?" She recaptured the cigarette.
"It's not kidnapping. She'll want to come with us. I'm sayin' we should get her away from there quick an' quiet before we run into Willow an' Xander an' find ourselves in a situation we can't get out of."
"That isn't what I meant when I said I had to go back and take care of her."
"Buffy, you're not going to be able to just live on Revello an' go on like before."
"They're my friends. They're not irrational, they're notthey're not going to do anything crazy, if I talk to them. Explain what happened, and that I'm still"
"Nothin's changed from what it was when we set out from there, except you found out you're not such a monster as you thought you'd be. But all they'll know is that you're a slayer turned vampire, an' they won't believe a word out of your mouth." He took back the cigarette, sucked in a big lungful. "Know it's not what you want to hear."
"I'm going to call ahead. Talk to Willow. Explain everything. We'll have a meet somewhere neutral, the Espresso Pump, or the mall. They'll understand that I'm still me, I'm still the slayer. Still their friend." She paused. "They need me. They know that."
Spike let the spent cigarette fly out the window, and turned the volume back up on the radio. He said nothing, and she didn't have the heart to press him. His opinion of her plan was plain enough.
But he didn't know her friends the way she did. They weren't hishe had no friends, so how could he know what she knewthat they'd meet this crisis, like all the past crises? It would come right. It would. Communication was key. Communication and honesty. They'd know when they saw her, spoke to her.
They'd know her.
"This is soyes. Yes. Ohhh. Ohhh, Spike." She arched, wuffed, eyes squeezed shut, head thrown back, rubbing against his wet mouth, which suddenly wasn't there. "What? Don't stop!"
When she checked he was staring at her, hair-pulled, lip-swollen, a little spacey, hands still gripping her doubled knees.
Something was happening in him, that was clear. As she watched, his eyes went filmy, he winced and turned his head.
She sat uphe was kneeling on the floor at the foot of the bed. His shoulders and chest were marked where she'd scratched him earlier during a thrashing rolling fuck, but otherwise he was a starved kind of pale.
"Spike? What is it?"
He seized her too fast, so their heads clacked, his mouth grinding against hers so her teeth cut the inside of her lip. His face was streaked with her juices, and with tears she could feel sliding into their fused mouths. Her first instinct, the old instinct, was to shove him awayquit that!but she took hold of him instead, detaching him gently. He gasped, his forehead rolling against hers, and kissed her again, too needy to be held off.
"Don't cry," she whispered. "Oh Spike. Don't. We're having such a nice afternoon." The last afternoon, the last motel room, before Sunnydale.
"You don't love me."
She didn't know what she'd expected him to say, but it wasn't this.
She started to speak, but he cut her off. "All this I'm tryin' to show yougive youan' it's still not enough, is it? Can never comfort you, can never be your home, not like you're mine. An' now I'm supposed to just take you back there .... And there's nothing else for it. I know there isn't. You want to go back an' face them, an' I have to go with you. But it's a bloody shame and a waste, to go out like that. That's all."
She knew what he meanthe was certain they'd be slain, or worse, that he'd be dust and she'd be subject to some spell of Willow's meant to fix her. The very thing they'd run away from in the first place.
He wouldn't meet her eyes. He wept, and he was like a little child who knew he had to part from his mother, who had no power to keep her from going. She'd seen him cry before, seen him plunged in self-pity, but Buffy had never seen him quite like this, so distraught, almost unhinged.
Tugging him up onto the bed, she wrapped her arms around him. His body was cool and bony against hers. He shuddered over and over, even as she tried to ease him, stroking his whip-tense back.
"And if I did love you? Would that make what's going to happen in Sunnydale different?"
He lifted his face to hers. "Love's what makes you strong, yeah?"
She was confused, but the urging in his eyes, the sorrow, broke the meaning upon her. His distress wasn't all for himself, but for herhe was sorry for her because she couldn't return his love, and that meant she was going into her next struggle unarmed. All alone.
Spike lowered his eyes. "Sorry. Should've kept this to myself. Puts you on the spot. You don't an' that's as it should be, an' what do I know about what'll happen back there. Maybe they'll see reason and bobs yer uncle." He started to move back to his previous position on his knees, but she caught and stopped him.
"You do comfort me, and strengthen me, and you are so good to me, and I'm not made of stone." Her throat went tight, and her vision swam so he disappeared, everything disappeared, and the idea that they might both soon cease to be, that she wouldn't have time to be his friend and his mistress, choked her. A cry tore from her throat, like a beast escaping through the flesh.
When she could see again he was holding her, rocking her a little, her head tucked beneath his chin.
"Well well, there's you an' me having our little tantrums, grizzling like a couple of brats."
"I never want to leave you," she said, whispering into his breastbone. "I can't imagine anymore being without you."
"I swear it is. I swear. I know it's not enough, but I swear it's true."
"Needn't swear. A simple yes will do."
"Yes." She looked up into his face. He was grave and calm now, taking her in with an acceptance in his blue gaze that moved her. "And to prove it, I'll heed your advice. I'm not going to risk you by just going back there in broad daylight."
"It's the risk to you I can't stand."
She pressed a kiss to his brow. "I know. But you're right, it's too uncertain, and maybe I'm overconfident. We'll figure out a better way."
She waited for his nod, realizing with a mounting comprehension that she needed for him to agree. Needed him to trust her.
"Got something in mind?"
"Maybe. Let me sleep on it, and then I'll tell you."
He was still regarding her with that deep pensive look, but the trust she wanted was there. He smoothed her hair back with both hands, softly, like she was an animal he was petting. With a sigh she let her head fall onto his shoulder.
Spike said, "Sleep? You goin' to sleep now?"
"No." She let her hands travel down his body. "Not right this second." His cock rose to meet her fingers, and she smiled as she caressed it.
He smiled back. "Ah, that's pretty. An' it's pretty what you do to him."
She rolled the foreskin with her thumb, watching as the head pinkened and gave off a tear of fluid. "My hands aren't warm."
"They're all my delight, warm or not. As is all of you, and your cunny in particular. Lie back an' I'll finish my feast on it." He slipped off the side of the bed, and pulled her again towards the edge.
"Okay, but I want to kiss you first. Like that, that's good." She captured him with her legs and scooched close. "I never get to be taller than you except like this." She tipped his head back, to press her mouth to his face, making a slow circuit of hairline, brow, eyes and cheeks and nose, and finally the lips, going deeper and deeper. Spike's hands worked through her hair, stroking and tugging, harder as his excitement grew. She eased back a little, sticking her tongue out to trace the line of his mouth with the tip. "I think I could make you come just by kissing you."
"You could. You will."
"Would you like that?"
"I like everything you do to me. But you're distractin' me from my purpose. Show me your quim." He knelt back, evading her squeezing knees, prodding them open. "Wide. That's it."
She was already so wrought up that she shook when he touched her clit. He held his tongue there for a motionless moment, pressing her knees open with gentle insistance. She'd meant to remain sitting up, but her body moved on its own; she fell back, hips surging, rubbing herself against his mouth. She came hard, and Spike laughed into her open flesh, merciless, teasing her up again even as she writhed and gasped. Her hands dug into his scalp, and she rode up against his face, frantic, her own head thrown back. She heard herself moaning, heard the headboard clack against the wall over and over.
He was still with her when she'd spent three times, his ministrations languid now, his mouth covering her throbbing clit, letting her recover.
She got up on her elbows, with a feeling that this was where she'd come in. "You're too far away now. Come here."
He crawled up to meet her. Catching his face in her hands, she kissed his slimey mouth, tasting herself, sucking his tongue. His cock prodded her belly, then slipped inside, entering big and slow and heavy as he seated himself in the saddle of her thighs.
"That's good," she said, whispering into his mouth.
"Yeah it is. Like being on you like this, like it more when your sweet legs go round me like this." He lifted one knee up over his arm, up to his shoulder. He bounced gently, slow and teasing, filling her up. "Sweet girl."
"Your sweet girl."
"Yes. I'm your girl now."
"Now that you're gettin' seen to? Or now an' later an' tomorrow?"
She could see that he wished he'd held his tongue, that the question embarrassed him.
"Now and later and tomorrow, and not a secret. Not to Dawn, or to ... anyone."
"They'll believe I turned you no matter what we say."
"Spike, I don't care." Maybe I wish you had. She hugged him tighter, her hands star-fished on the sharp bones of his back. "You helped me make the best of it, and that's ... that's all that matters to me."
You don't want to see how the sausage gets made, do you pet? It was still true, she didn't. She'd never really thought, or wanted to think, about how Spike got money, especially since the chip. So she'd consented to wait in the motel room while he went out alone.
She needed to be alone a little too, to detach herself from the pleasureable fog of sex and start to really grapple with what was coming next.
Her sister was human. Her sister was delicate. She had to be careful with her.
She phoned Dawn, by pre-arrangement, at Janice's, where she could go in the evening, and get calls from her undead sister, without rousing suspicion among the Scoobies. Yesterday she'd prepared her for the idea that she had to leave Sunnydale. Now she explained that she'd wire her enough money for a train ticket and something over, and meet her the next night at Union Station in Los Angeles.
Dawn didn't say much, and Buffy wasn't sure if that was because Janice was listening, or for some other reason.
"You understand everything, right? How to claim the money, and get on the train?"
"I'm not stupid."
"I never said you were. I just want to make sure you get there all right, that we find each other."
"I'll get there!"
Buffy could hear the eye-rolling through the phone. Okay, time to wind this up. "Good. So I'll see you tomorrow night. Good-bye for now."
"GoodbBuffy, are you going to kill me?"
"Xander told me that vampires always kill their families first and"
"Did you tell Xander about me?"
"No! No! I didn't tell anyone! I just ...."
"If I was going to kill you, wouldn't I just show up and do it? I think I've pretty much forfeited the element of surprise, don't you?"
Her sister was quiet. Buffy realized she had her eyes squeezed shut, and opened them. Her head started to ache. It didn't seem fair that she should still get headaches. "Dawn. Dawnie. It's going to be all right. If you're worried, you can wear my good crucifix."
"The one Angel gave you?"
"It's in the box on my dresser. I give you permission to take it. It's yours now, okay? And there's supplies in that trunk under my bedholy water, stakes. Bring whatever you think you need to feel safe."
Dawn whispered. "Is Spike going to be there too?"
"Yes. We'll both meet your train."
"You're really giving me your necklace?"
"Yes. You can have ... anything you want from my room, take it. But don't overpack, okay? You don't want to get caught. Use that roller bag that's in mom's closet."
Is there anything you want? Any of your stuff? Because I guess neither of us will be going back to Revello Drive again."
Buffy opened her mouth to answer, but nothing came out. Suddenly she was in her room, all her things around her, each object sharp and distinct. The bed-spread she'd had since junior high. The lamp with the upside-down shade. Her mirror with all the photos stuck in the frame. Her old diaries.
She heard Spike pull up outside, touching the De Soto's horn with a light gentlemanly summons.
"You need the space in the suitcase for yourself. I need to go now, Dawn. I'll see you tomorrow."
She put the phone down a little too fast. Why should she care about any of those things? Stuff. Stuff wasn't important. She was getting her sister out. What else could possibly matter?
Grabbing up her bag, she went out to the car. Spike leaned across to open the door for her. When she got in, he pressed a wad of bills into her hand. "This'll be plenty, yeah? I know where we can wire it." He was already backing out as she started countingthe notes were old, jumbled front and back and upside down, twenties and some tens, and there was a fifty.
She was going to ask him what he'd donewhom he'd done it tobut realized, with a little frisson of surprise, maybe pleasurethat she didn't care. She'd have given a shit before, but now it was too abstract. She needed money to take care of Dawn, and here it was, The End.
"Everythin' set with the bit?"
"Yes. She knows what to do."
"Be good to see her again," Spike said, pulling out. "Miss her."
Spike liked a good train terminushe was as susceptible as ever to the air of romance and new beginnings that train journeys presaged. Most of his travel in the last century and a half was by rail, and he'd had plenty of good times, with Drusilla and otherwise, on trains and in stations. A large busy train terminus like Union Station in LA was everything to a vampireany-time shelter from the light, food and drink, company, rest, amusement.
So he was feeling pretty cheerful when they walked in that night, a little after seven. Dawn's train was due to arrive in ten minutes. Buffy had been nervous all day, sleepless in their hotel room. She'd taken a long bath, kept turning the TV on and off while he tried to doze. She'd brushed her hair to a high shine, and fiddled discontentedly with her clothes, complaining that she didn't like how she must look.
She looked fine now, striding along at his side, glancing around noticingly at the bustle of the people passing in all directions, eyes and ears and nose alert. Crowds always roused his appetite; he supposed she was experiencing the same thing.
The train from up the coast was announced. Arriving on track three. Buffy broke into a run without waiting for him. Spike caught her up, took her hand. "All right, Slayer."
They watched the passengers stream through the doors from the platform. The younger, more lightly-encumbered came first; then the older people, the families dragging small children and luggage.
"Where is she?"
Buffy darted towards the door. People were still coming throughDawn would be one of them, any moment now. Spike followed her, out onto the platform. A Red Cap piled bags on a luggage trolley, two conducters conferred. The last of the riders were straggling up towards the station.
"Spike, where is she?" Buffy glanced around at him, but she was already darting into the first open car door, running up the aisle of the empty train, searching. He kept up with her, hastening up the platform as she swept through car after car. At the last door she emerged looking frantic.
"She's not there."
"Maybe we missed her. Let's look in the waiting room."
"I don't think she was on the train. I don't smell her at all."
Spike didn't either, but he took Buffy's hand and drew her on.
"She wouldn't change her mind," Buffy babbled. "She must've gotten caught. And she had no way to reach us"
The leather chairs in the waiting area were pretty full. They walked up and down among them, though Spike was already pretty sure the girl wasn't there.
Through the echoing noise of the high-ceilinged spacevoices, piped music, clatter of footstepsone low murmur sounded curiously loud. "Buffy."
They both glanced around.
He stood there like he'd materialized out of the air, hair and coat black and stiff as the frown on his face.
"Angel!" Buffy started towards him, one step, then froze.
"Bloody hell." What was he doing here? Spike resisted his urge to drag Buffy back behind him; Angel acted like he wasn't even there, and besides, she wouldn't stand for that.
"I didn't want to believe it," Angel said.
Buffy put her chin up. "It's true. In a way it's just as well."
A black look like the black hair and black coat, passed across Angel's face, leaving it as adamantine as before.
Buffy said, "What is this?"
"Dawn called him," Spike said. This was suddenly obvious. Stupid girl. She'd been scared. Hadn't wanted to betray Buffy altogether, by telling Willow or Giles, so she tipped off the old boyfriend. Clever really. Pain in the arse, but smart.
"She's safe," Angel said. "She arrived on an earlier train. Cordy met her and brought her back to the Hyperion."
"You're not going to keep her from me," Buffy said.
"He's not going to, pet," Spike said. "He"
"Youshut up." Angel spared him one iota of a glance, meant to be crushing, before focusing back on Buffy. "Why is he even here?"
"He's with me."
I should slay you both."
Buffy drew herself up. "Oh please. You are so not doing anything of the sort. Let's just skip the empty threats part. I want to see my sister."
Angel looked disinclined to skip that part. His eyes went black and cold. Spike could guess well enough what he was thinkingwhen he was turned, he'd done the worst to his family, hell, to his entire village. He assumed that all vampires wanted nothing else but to do the same.
"She's clean. Good as she ever was, mate."
"You're not my mate."
"All right, but she's still Buffy."
"Is she? Then what's she doing with you?"
"Hello, she is standing right here."
Drawing back his lapel with a subtle gesture, Angel showed he was armed. Spike wasn't worriedhad Angel really intended to slay her, he figured, he wouldn't be having this confrontation here in the train station, with a cast of thousands surging all around them. He'd have made nice, taken them away from here to someplace quiet, and hit them by surprise.
A move he was supremely good at.
That he hadn't played it that way meant that he didn't quite believe what he'd been told about Buffy. Needed to see for himself. And most of all, longed for it to be all right.
Buffy raised a handopen, seemingly relaxed. But Angel knew well enough what she could do with her bare hands. And how fast. "I thought we were skipping the empty threat part. Yes, I'm a vampire now. Yes I'm with Spike. And yes, I'm still Buffy Summers, I'm still the slayer, and I'm here to square things with my sister, so stop wasting my time."
"You have nothing but time, now. I'll take you to Dawn, but he's not invited."
"I told you, Spike's with me."
"He shouldn't be! The last time I saw him, Spike stole from me, and tortured me."
"Oh, like you haven't stolen from and tortured him? I'm not so naive as I used to be, Angel. Don't expect me to believe you didn't teach Spike everything he knows on that front."
"You don't have to stay with him just because he turned you."
"He didn't turn me. It was someone else. But he's helped keep me from ... from disaster, and despair, ever since. And he's Dawn's friend. And you're taking us to her right now."
He might've gone a little whoozy with the shock, except that she slipped her hand into his then, and squeezed it hard.
Angel's lip curled, but he turned on his heel without another remark, and led the way.
Four people weilding crossbows met them in the Hyperion lobby. Two of them Buffy didn't know, one seemed vaguely familiar but she couldn't place him. And then there was Cordelia, with a big sneer on, at the head of the phalanx.
"Well, I guess it's what I'd do in your place," she said. "Hello Cordy."
"I told Angel he shouldn't bring you here."
"Right. Well, see how he listens? Where's Dawn? Dawn!"
Her voice echoed around the wide marble space. There was no answer, but somewhere in the distance, through a couple of closed doors, Buffy thought she heard a baby crying.
"He can't come in here."
The man she couldn't place gestured towards Spike with his bow. She got it now: her failed watcher, Wesley. He looked different, but it was the same accent.
"Spike goes where I go. We're not here to make mischief."
At her side, Spike chuckled. "Speak for yerself, Slayer."
"Shut up. I don't want trouble. Dawn!"
"I still don't get why we're not slaying these two. Slayer turned vamp? That's supposed to be bad, right?" The speaker this time was a tall, shaven-headed black guy, still pointing his arrow at her heart.
"I get it," Buffy said. "I do. But since you're working with Angel in the first place, I figure you've got to understand the concept of exceptions to the rule. DAWN!" She wasn't sure by now but that she wouldn't wring her sister's neck after all. Dragging them into Angel's sphere: how was that really any better than just telling Willow and Giles what had happened?
Buffy looked up. Dawn's voicewobbly and softcame from above. She leaned over the balcony two floors up, her hair dangling, looking sheepish.
"You're not afraid of me, are you?" This wasn't exactly what she meant to start off with.
Spike administered a little kick to her ankle. "'Lo, Bit. Nothin' to be scared of. C'mon down and say hello to your sister."
"Maybe I'll get caught in the cross-fire," Dawn said. It was only then that Angel nodded at this troops, and the bows went down. Not that that did much to relax the atmosphere. Buffy gave herself a moment, as Dawn made a rather stately procession down the stairs, to wish she'd ignored her urges towards her sister, towards her calling, and just stayed put with Spike in Mexico. Let him go on doing all the driving. Have herself a little honeymoon, a little fun, a little time to just not care about much of anything except getting Spike to give her that sated, sleepy smile of his.
She didn't know him well enough yet. And suddenly she understood that if something bad, something stupid happened to him here, she'd never forgive herself for it.
"Look, I'm sorry," Dawn said, pausing six steps up. "I didn't know what to do. I was ... I tried to think what you'd want me to do. If you were still ... you."
"I am still me." A flash of rage passed through her, like an electric shock; Buffy wasn't sure if she wanted to hug her sister or smack her.
"I know. I know, I justI'm sorry."
"Nothin' to be sorry for," Spike said.
Dawn was looking towards Angel now. "I'm really sorry."
His face was granite. "We've been over this already. I told you it's okay."
He'd always been like that with Dawn. Sort of formal and rigid, like she was the only child he'd ever seen. Except that in reality he'd never known Dawn at all, and how Buffy remembered him with her wasn't real. And he was like that because in his reality, children like Dawn were for raping and draining.
Buffy realized that while she'd known that about Angel for a long long time, she hadn't really known it, not like she did now. From her new perspective. The idea was still disgusting, but in an altered way. No time to pull that apart now, but she promised herself to ponder it later.
Dawn came to her then, her shoulders hunched, face pale and misery-stricken. Buffy attributed it to her sheepishness over involving Angel, until Dawn put a hand up and touched her cheek. Feeling the coolness of her skin, Dawn's eyes filled, and she snatched her hand down. Only then did Buffy recognize that in her sister's eyes she was dead, and this was a disaster. She sobbed, starting to crumple, and it was just like when their mother died.
Only this time Spike stepped forward and caught her into his arms. "All right Niblet, all right. It's not so bad as all that."
"Oh Spike!" Dawn wailed. Buffy got a kick of surprise, seeing how comfortable Dawn was with him, how she welcomed his touch, clinging to him. She hadn't quite understood before, how close Dawn had become to him, while she was gone.
The others didn't like it eitherAngel stepped forward, looming beside them, clearly wanting to snatch Dawn clear. Cordy re-hefted her crossbow.
From the support of Spike's encircling arm, Dawn turned back to her. "Buffy. Buffy, I didn'tI" She detached herself from him, lurching like a baby taking its first steps, and launched herself into her arms. "Buffy I'm so sorry!"
This time it wasn't an apology but a cry of sympathy and woe. Buffy pulled her close. Dawn's aroma filled her senses; her form throbbed, pumping out heat. The proximity of all that hot live blood made the cartilage itch under Buffy's skin; she felt the urge to fang out like the old urge to sneeze, and had to repress it hard.
"Dawn, it's okay."
"Is it? How can it be? What are we going to do now?"
"Yeah," Angel said. "What are you planning to do?" There was an undertone, if I let you, that made Buffy long to snarl at him.
"Is there somewhere I can talk to my sister alone?"
"You don't really think we're going to leave her alone with you?" Cordelia said.
Buffy ignored her. "Angel?"
When she met his eyes, they flashed gold, just for a split-second, promise of a future challenge. But he stepped back. "Go into the office. There." He pointed behind the hotel desk. "We'll be right out here."
"Fine. ... Thanks. Dawn, is it okay if Spike joins us?"
The question surprised everyone, for different reasons. Angel's people looked like someone had belched and farted at the same time.
Dawn actually laughed. "I think I kind of insist on it, actually."
Buffy was aware not just of passing into the other room but of marching through a crowdamazing how five people could make a crowdlike a militant. It was a feeling she was pretty used to, actually, and it kind of bucked her up. Spike shut the door, and then there they were, the three of them, gathered around a desk with some papers and files and a computer on it. Spike folded his arms and leaned against the wall, his stance saying he knew he wasn't leading this meeting. Dawn, after her little up-burst of confidence, was small again.
"First of all," Buffy said, "I am SO glad to see you."
"Me too. When you disappeared, I ... I didn't know what to think. I was afraid and I didn't know what to be afraid of, and then Spike was gone too and"
"I should've contacted you sooner. But it was complicated. There was ... a transition period."
Dawn stared at her. "Are you okay?"
"I am now."
"God, it's ..."
"It's weird, I know. You have to understand, it wasn't anything I wanted to happen. It just ... happened. Spike found me, not in time to save my life, but to"
"Kept your sis from goin' off the way I knew she wouldn't wish to go. When she had her strength of mind back. Which she does, good as ever."
Dawn glanced between them, and a little smile formed on her lips. "I can't believe you two are"
"I sort of can't either," Buffy said. A laugh burst from her, embarrassing for a second, but Spike didn't take it wrong, he smiled too.
And then the atmosphere amongst them was easier somehow. Dawn was still fraught, but she began to talk more easily. Wanting to go home. Wanting things to just go back to normal.
Buffy explained to her how that wasn't possible, and Spike backed it up, until Dawn finally fell silent, her arguments exhausted. "I want to stay with you. We can't be separated, Buffy!"
"I don't want that. But for a little while, I think it's best. I want you to call Aunt Arlene, and ask her to take you in. Of course she will."
"Aunt Arlene lives in Illinois."
"I know. You'll go there, you'll finish high school, and go to college. Spike and I will keep tabs on you. But I can't live with you, it's too dangerous. Once you're of age, and you're on your way to taking care of yourself, then we can talk about how to be in closer touch."
"I barely know Aunt Arlene! I haven't seen her sinceI've never seen her, really have I?"
"Uh ... I guess not. But she doesn't know that."
"What am I supposed to tell her about you?"
"Tell her I've disappeared. I'm not officially dead, and I never officially came back, so you can say I disappeared last spring, you've been staying with some friends of mine, maybe hoping Dad would show up for you, but now you need your family. After a while you can get me declared dead, and then you'll be able to sell the house and keep the proceeds. I know it feels awful, but you'll be eighteen before you know it, and then you'll be freer."
"And where will you be while I'm in Evanston? Can't you come with me?"
"We'll see you as often as possible. But we'll have to keep moving, and keep a low profile, especially where you're concerned." She glanced at Spike, who nodded his agreement. "You know we can't let Willow and the others find out what happened to methey wouldn't just let it go."
"I'm so stupid. Angel willCordelia"
"There's no love lost twixt Cordelia and that Sunnydale lot," Spike said. "She hates vampires, but she won't tell, not if Angel doesn't like it."
Buffy nodded. "You didn't do too badly, coming here. I think we can trust Angel. That far, anyway." Talking this out, making arrangements, filled her with sadnessfor Dawn, who should have had enough upheaval, and for herself, because somehow she felt better now she was an undead homeless fugitive than she had before at home amongst her friends. "And Aunt Arlene will be good to you. She was always bummed that Mom moved out to California and that we didn't visit more. She'll probably be thrilled to have you. I know this sucks, but I know you'll be okay. You're strong and smart and you're so close to being all grown up."
Dawn nodded, and then her eyes filled with tears. "I'm not. I'm really not."
This time when she took her in her arms, Buffy didn't feel that physical urging. Just compassion for Dawn, and the beginning of hope that maybe they'd manage to pull this off. Dawn sniffed and drew back, plucking tissues from the box on the desk. "I'm not going to be a big whiny baby about this, I promise. I just ... have to get used to it."
"We all do."
"What's going to happen to you?"
Buffy glanced at Spike again. "I don't know yet. I meanwho ever knows what's going to happen?"
"How did this happen?"
She didn't want to have this conversation, or really, any conversation, with Angel. But it seemed impossible to duck, while they were in his house. While she owed him, for being responsive to Dawn. Spike had disappeared somewhere, Dawn was on the phone with their aunt and didn't want her present in case that somehow made her "give away" the lies she had to tell. So Angel was able to corner her in the kitchen.
"I don't know."
"You don't know?"
"These things happen. To people. To vampire slayers."
"Had nothing to do with it!"
"Oh, you believe that?"
Buffy looked up from her mug of hot blood. "I do. Not that it even matters."
"It matters!" Angel's face suddenly softened up. It was kind of amazing, like watching something melt in a high flame. "Buffy. You don't want to spend time with him. You don't have to."
"What would you prefer? That I spend time with you?"
"Wellyes. I meanyou could stay here. You should stay here."
"That ship has sailed."
"I'm not talking about ships. I'm talking about what use you could be on the team."
She shot him a look. "Please. You're talking about ships."
She shook her head. "Nothing's changed in how I feel about you, Angel. But a lot of other things have changed, just not enough to ... to change us. There is no us." The convolution of her words annoyed her.
"I turns out Spike suits me."
"Oh, is that what we're callin' it now?"
A sort of cringe rode up Buffy's spine at the sound of his voice; she turned. A weird assortment of feelings came over her, at the sight of Spike's undisguised jealousy. Angel couldn't disguise either how Spike made him bristle. Some time, she thought, she'd get him to tell her some stories. Maybe now she'd be able to hear them.
"You want to click a bit with the old man, Slayer?" Spike said. "I'll give you some privacy. After I kick his ass."
He moved so fast that despite the warning even Angel wasn't prepared to be driven against the wall, which gave off a booming crack as his head hit it. Buffy flew in between them, intercepting a bone-crunching head-butt, but managing to fling Spike away before the fight could really get started.
She still had the power of authority over them; the men glowered and feinted, deadly beams criss-crossing the air in their glances, but they held their separate corners.
"There will be no fighting. There will be no clicking. Spike and I are getting out of here, as soon as Dawn is squared away. We'll take her to her flight."
Angel stared. "Why did you do it, William?"
Buffy thought he was referring to the attack, but Spike just shook his head, a quick stubborn shake that was as good as a fuck you.
"It's not even your style," Angel said, with a sneer.
"That's right, you great prat. Don't go round makin' more, an' didn't make her."
"But you let her rise. You should have"
"Oh should I? I suppose you would've." The face Spike pulled made Buffy wince, even before he lifted a finger to his neck, to pantomime her beheading. "You would've, yeah."
"Because I love her."
"Oh, let's not have a contest over that. 'Fore you met her, you wouldn't have known the article if you tripped over it in a well-lit room. Sayin' you'd have put a stake in her proves it."
"She never wanted this to happen to her. It was her worst fear."
"I knew that."
"Yet you let it happen."
Buffy parted her lips to protest being discussed like this again, but realized she wanted to hear the argument out. The two of them confronted each other with all their pasts riding their shoulders, their faces, the curls of their lips and brows, and she might as well have been absent, except that they showed too, in everything they said and did, that she was completely present to them both, of supreme importance.
"Wasn't goin' to give up on her without a chance. There's always a chance, 'cept ... Deathreal deathis the end of chances."
There was almost a sob in Spike's voice. Angel's retort didn't come, as if he was shamed to silence.
Buffy stepped up to Spike. "How could you have known? That it wouldn't be a disasterthat I wouldn't be the worst kind of disaster?"
"I didn't. But I've been 'round you long enough to know that relyin' on you generally answers." He glanced past her then, at Angel. "She comes through, doesn't she, Our Liam? Isn't that her distinguishin' characteristic, that no matter what, the Slayer comes through?"
Slowly, Angel gave a nod.
"An' you'd have had me snuff her, even knowin' that?"
Angel couldn't look at them then. With a lumbering move, he walked out of the office.
Buffy sidled over to the desk chair, and sat. She was too emotional to speak, but she wanted to hide it if she could.
Spike stayed where he was, behind her where she couldn't see him. A long pause ensued, before he said, "You want to throw your lot in with him an' his people?"
She stared at the desk, at the rows of files, the spindled bills. "Of course not." She flung out the words, but there was a catch in her voice.
That seemed to fetch him. The next moment he was kneeling at her feet, looking at her with an intensity that seemed to open her right up.
"You sure? Be less lonely for you. Be certain of the whiteness of your hat, any road, with that lot."
She resisted her hard urge to evade his gaze, forcing herself to meet his eyes.
"You are being too fair. It's not like you."
"Takin' care of you. Got to do it right."
Leaning forward, she put a hand on his hair; it felt silly at first, like she was pretending to be a queen, knighting him. But he expanded a little beneath her palm, as a cat does when caressed; she slid her hand down along his cheek. The muscle flexed beneath his fingers; he pressed into her touch.
He rose then, and she rose with him, coming into his arms. His kiss tasted of all the cigarettes he'd smoked, in the alley behind the hotel, forcing himself to wait out her audience with Angel. Knowing he'd done that, and how hard it must've been, made her pull him closer.
It occurred to her, what she usually managed to overlook, how much he allowed himself to need her. How little she had to do or say to keep him on her string.
And then that he had his string now too, and she was on it.
She was on it.
The light knock on the door parted them. Her sister looked in. "It's all set with Aunt Arlene. She said she'd fix it so there's a ticket waiting for me tomorrow at the Northwest counter at LAX. I just have to ask for it."
Before Buffy could answer, Dawn disappeared, closing the door again with a sharp clack, denoting her realization that she'd interrupted something.
"Raincheck on this, okay?" Buffy said. "I need to hang with her in her room, until she goes. Sister stuff."
"We'll take Dawnie to the plane, and we'll get out of here."
Spike nodded. She couldn't make herself break away, even as she was completely aware of Dawn standing just outside the room; her erratic heartbeat, her audible breathing, the aroma of her simmering misery. She just had a few hours to reassure her sister that her world really wasn't coming to an end.
"Plenty of time for us," Spike said, with a little smile that showed he'd plucked her thought out of the ether. "I'll make myself scarce for a bit."
But as he walked out, Dawn caught his arm. "Tell me"
Spike stopped. He looked at her sister with a little smile, almost vague, like he couldn't quite think who she was, though he'd seen her before.
Dawn's expression was grave. "Tell me, Spike. Like ... like you used to."
Buffy couldn't help it. "What are you talking about?"
Her sister hung stubbornly on Spike's arm, wouldn't look away from him. "I want you to tell me."
"What, sweet bit?"
"You know" Clearly she didn't want to have to prompt him too far.
He seemed to cast back. "That these hard times won't last forever? That you'll grow up all right, an' be a happy woman?"
This was stunning. "Is that what you used to say to her?"
"I'd say all sorts, to buck her up." Spike turned his distant smile on her now. "We used to be so sad, both of us, when you were gone. We talked about it a good deal, didn't we, Dawnie?"
Dawn shook her head. She'd dropped Spike's arm, and now she turned away, as if she'd accosted him by mistake. She looked embarrassed.
Spike moved around in front of her. "Not so much to be sad about now, though. Things're different. Better, in a way, if you'll look at it."
Dawn's expression darkened. It was hard to look at her, at her gathering rage. She turned away from Spike again, her motion deliberate, snubbing. Only then did Buffy notice that Dawn was wearing the silver crucifx, hanging down inside her blouse, glinting between the buttons. "For you."
Buffy stepped forward. "Dawn, I know it seems"
"There's no way I don't just get left behind, is there? By myself. You're together now, and I ... have to do this all alone. In a place I don't know, with people I don't know."
Buffy struggled to find the right words to contradict this, even though it was true.
"I thought you understood that it's the only way. The only way that all of us can hope to stay safe."
Dawn gave her a look of quite adult contempt. "Oh, I understand."
Even though it was mid-morning by the time they went up, Buffy hoped that Dawn would sleep. She'd admitted to not having slept for a couple of days. But she didn'twouldn'tand neither did she seem to want to talk. She smouldered, with the TV on, in the room with its hotel bed and musty hotel drapes that Angel had lent them.
Buffy's few attempts to talkto create a space they could nestle into together, by offering up reminiscences of their shared childhood, memories of their mother, that even as she pronounced them felt flat and inauthenticwent nowhere. Dawn didn't say so, but they both knew most of the memories were false, and hanging over them was a new feeling, that Dawn gave off like an odor, that now she was undead, Buffy was false tooa false sister, a false friend.
At one point, Buffy went into the bathroom. She was glad she couldn't see herself in the mirror; in her imagination, her eyes were too black holes, her face the grey of old ash. She turned the water on full to mask her crying.
Dawn burst through the door without knocking. Buffy glanced around; she hadn't meant to milk sympathy, but if that was the result
But Dawn's face was rigid with disgust. "Tell me you didn't do this on purpose."
"Not that I'm going to believe you!" She surged forward, hands upraised. Shoved Buffy back against the sink. "You hate me and you hated your life and all you wanted to do was leave!"
This assault, though it was so miniscule and human, still stirred her demon, which was ever on the alert for violence. The cartilage crunched beneath her skin as it rushed up, and she flexed to repress it. Dawn saw the eyes flash, the brow thicken and retractshe gasped, and hit out again. This time the demon surged. Buffy heard a scream, and the glass behind her smashed. Shards penetrated her neck and scalp, as her vision was obscured altogether by something brown whipping across her eyes.
When she could see again, Dawn was on her knees, holding up a hand cupped around a red offering. She thrust her hand against Buffy's mouth; she tasted the blood. It rushed through her, a bolt of brightness.
Dawn was crying. "Bite me. Go on. Just do it." Her tall body pinned her against the sink; her bleeding hand pressing into Buffy's mouth like a gag. She tasted her sister, swallowed her, her own hands gathering the sharp mirror shards, squeezing them so the glass shredded the skin.
It seemed like forever before Dawn fell back, holding her wrist, staring wide-eyed at her torn hand, the broken glass, and finally at her. Buffy wasn't sure what she was seeingshe couldn't feel her own status; all her sight was suffused with red, all her strength bound up in just staying still.
Then Dawn was gone, and Angel and Wesley were there. Neither one spoke to her, or if they did, she couldn't hear. Her head pounded from the insidehow could it pound like that, when her heart was still? She wished she could drink acid, to erase the flavor in her mouth. Angel pressed her down to sit on the side of the bed. He took her hands, uncurling the fingers that were scored and sticky with blood; more blood welled, and a sort of answering roar of hunger swelled in her belly. She struggled against the cloud in her mindit was like being drunk, it was worse than that.
Her hands throbbed. They looked wrong in Angel's. She wanted to say so. She could hear, in the other room, the glass crunching.
Then Spike said, in an oddly equable tone, "All right then, fuck off, you." And there he was, kneeling before her, taking her hands. That had happened before.
"You didn't do it," he said. "Let it go now."
"Let it?" Only then did she feel that her demon was up, her lip ground against her fangs. She tasted her own blood more than her vanished sister's.
Spike tsked, over her hands, her face, the rivulets running down her neck. "You're like an hors d'ouevre platter. How'd that happen?" With a fingertip, he drew up a drop from beneath her ear, and sampled it. She stared at him.
"Dawn's all right," he said, pitching his voice as if he was on a bad phone line.
She managed to nod. Her sense and senses were coming back now, the fog clearing. She felt each individual sliver of glass, could see clearly the mess of her hands.
Wesley emerged from the bathroom, with a dustpan. "You two will leave at dusk. We'll see that Dawn gets to the airport."
Buffy leapt up, went for the door. But Angel was still there, out in the corridor, and he blocked her like a wall. "Don't you think you've had enough for now?"
She could hear her sister, sobbing. Smell her griefit was close, it was behind one of these doors. But as she felt it, Buffy knew the others were right.
"It was a mistake."
"What was?" Spike was once more at the wheel, driving them into the night. Buffy looked out the window. They were pointed south, away from LA. Maybe back to Mexico; she didn't much care, she'd let Spike decide where to go. In imagination she was seated beside Dawn on the coach cabin if the plane, middle seat, holding her hand. They were both going to live with Aunt Arlene. Maybe that's what she should've done from the first. If she had, everything would be different. Buffy's heart was raw as if their mother had only just died that morning, as if there was all that horror and grief still to go through, to endure all over again.
"I shouldn't have contacted her."
"You think it would've been better if she never knew what became of you? An' who would look after launching her? That Sunnydale lot can barely see to themselves. Your aunt, at least, is a proper grown-up. If she's anything like yer mum."
Buffy glanced at him. "I never figured you for caring about who's a grown-up."
"World needs a few, for special cases like this." Spike put his hand out, wanting to draw her against him. The traffic was rush-hour heavy, leaving LA; he had to ride on the brake.
Buffy wasn't ready to allow herself the easy comfort of his embrace. She stared at her cut-up hands. They were already half healed, and she wished they hurt more. "She might have been safer, all the same ... if I'd left her alone."
"Safer. In Sunnyhell?"
Angel hadn't let her see Dawn again, after their last encounter. Apparently Dawn hadn't objected to that separation.
"At least she was used to it, she knew how to navigate." The whole thing kept playing out in her mind. Dawn's anger, how she'd come at her. Broken the mirror, thrust the blood-slick arch of her hand into Buffy's fangs. Goading. Was that really deliberate? Or just the tantrum of a frightened kid, perversely demanding what she feared the most?
She didn't want to tell Spike what she was thinking.
Spike was quiet for a while, his arm still stretched out, undemandingly, across the seat back, the hand resting relaxed behind her bowed head.
After a while, he said, "She won't."
Buffy jerked. "Won't what?"
"Won'tdo what you're worryin' about."
"Really." She'd already become accustomed to his ability to guess her mind.
"Hardly anyone does."
She focused at the red taillights ahead of them. "Is that true? That can't be true."
"I've compared notes with enough of our kind to know," he said. She felt grateful for his tone, which was genial, gentle. Unalarmed. "She won't put her head in any lion's mouth."
"You and I aren't ... too glamorous to her? Too much of a draw?" Buffy tried to laugh. She could hear Dawn's strident plea again, like it was trapped inside her head: Bite me. Go on. Go on.
"To join us? D'you really think that's what she wants, all else aside, to be an undead kid sister for the next hundred years?"
"Is that what she'd be?"
Spike glanced at her then. "Whatyou think I'd ever lay so much as my little finger on her? Like I lay it on you? Oh, sweet. Your poor mind's racin'. Better give yourself a rest. Promise you, things won't seem so pear-shaped tomorrow."
"You never thought of her that way? While I was dead? I mean ... for the future. You knew she wasn't always going to be fifteen."
Spike didn't reply. She realized that this meant not that he wouldn't admit thinking of it, but that he was insulted she could even ask the question.
"You're right," she murmured. "My mind is racing. My mind is ... it's wild fire."
"Dawn's young, yeah, and you an' me will never get old. So we've all got the luxury of time. You'll reconcile. Year or twowill be like nothing, 'cept she'll be wiser, an' steadier. An' you, love, will be cooler too."
It occurred to Buffy, hearing him, seeing how confidently he handled the car, handled her distress, and both their futures, that he was happy. Not at her misfortune. But happy that events, which he'd already amply and sincerely mourned, had brought the Summers sisters under his protection, a protection he felt equal to bestowing. It was a purpose equal to his particular abilities, to the sharp focus of his limited ability to be kind, which, while not wide, went so very deep.
It was more than many people managed, souls and all.
She was still afraid that her sister would try to get herself turned. Afraid that Cordelia would, after all, call up Xander, or that Wesley would contact Giles. Afraid that Dawn's disappearance would somehow lead to them being found out by Willow. Afraid that no matter what, Dawn would always blame her for what she'd become. That, despite Spike's assurances, she'd crossed over to this on purpose. Let herself be turned: sought it, even.
Her worst fear, always. Maybe that meant it was actually her greatest wish?
Fearful too that she wouldn't be able to do what she'd undertaken, stay on the right side of the line, go on into a future that added potential infinity to the uncertain.
She turned back to him. Spike's profile was tinged yellow from the lights curved high above the roadway. He looked out straight ahead, chin up. "Is that what happens? Is it what happened to you? That you cooled?" Even as she said it, she felt the absurdity of the question. "You? Never cool."
"Always burnin' me," he acknowledged, nodding as if he was glad she'd guessed some riddle he'd posed her. "I only meant, you'll control it better."
"I don't want to stop being on fire for you."
That earned her a sidelong double-take, but no remark. Surprised at herself, she reached back for his hand, brought it down over her shoulder. Spike curled his cool fingers caressingly around hers.
For the rest of the night as they rode, Spike let her keep up her thoughtful silence. An hour before sun-rise, he pulled in to a motel parking lot. In the room, with the a/c cranked up high, they drank blood from the supply Angel gave them, with whiskey chasers. Buffy kicked off her boots and stretched back on the bed. Spike undressed for her. He was waxy pale in the dark. She reached for him, drew him down on top of her, liking the smooth rub of his nakedness against her clothed skin. His mouth tasted of their meal, and of his own particular flavor, which she'd come to crave. Buffy kissed him slowly, moving her head to try different angles, different depths. He stretched over her like a big cat, languid in its perfect control. She prodded his thighs apart with her knees, so his lengthening cock was pressed between their bellies. All around her, she could scent the past presences of the people who'd used this room, their sleep and sex and worries, like a ghost cloud hovering over the much-used bed.
She drew back from Spike's plaint mouth. "Do vampires ever have homes? Or do they always just roam, forever and ever?"
"Want to put down somewhere an' stay?"
"I'd like a place that smelled like ... just us."
"Where could we have that?"
"We'll look around. Find it soon."
She kissed him some more. A neediness washed over and over her, threatening to swamp her with grief. Her eyes prickled. Spike felt the emotion plucking at the corners of her mouth, tugging them down. "Don't you get scared, Spike?"
"Yeah. Have my moments." He nuzzled her cheek. "It'll be right, Slayer."
"What if it isn't?"
"Think the worst has already happened to you. More than once, yeah? To us both. Still here, aren't we? Survivors."
Buffy let herself dive down on that, pulling up her dress, opening her mouth, submerging into desire. He went into her slow and full, pulling her in close, covering her.
Did Dawn believe she'd done it on purpose? In order, without conscience, to have just this?
And was it true?
Afterwards he lay in her arms, his head pillowed on her breast, and she could feel his fatigue. It wasn't so easy for him as he made it look, to keep it all up.
What if she couldn't love Spike enough?
That wasn't a question she could ask him. Buffy stroked his tensed back, until at length he released a sigh, and slept.
Return to Herself's Fic.