The wind blew heavily off the river, blasting through the cemetery on the slope with bitter force, unbroken by the bare trees and shrubbery. A thin crust of snow crunched under the boots of the two young women who walked in tandem amongst the grave markers, and the shadows of markers on the whiteness. Above their heads the full moon hung cool and aloof.
"Spring is never coming," the taller one said, pulling her scarf up higher around her chin.
"It's March already. It'll come. The days are longer already."
"You're used to that endless summer of southern California. I thought you'd complain more about the winter here."
"Not so much into complaining." More into enduring. "But I guess you're used to it." Buffy paused to stamp her feet. After Rome, even after Vietnam, Cleveland bored her. She'd come here because it was a place of purpose, it was the Hellmouth. Her role, after what she'd endured with William, seemed clearknuckle down again to slaying, be part of the bigger project, try to be humble. It didn't make for a happy life, but she felt she was managing it with grace. Like taking yucky medicine without making a face.
"You don't get used to being cold," Julie said. "Even though I've lived here all my life, every year, come November, I'm all what the fuck?"
"Yeah, I guess. I like the seasons, in theory anyway." She wasn't looking forward to the summer nightsthey'd be too festive for her mood, too short for her purposes. She only really felt like herself when she was patrolling under the dark sky. When she was battling, inhaling the dust of her enemies. Even though she was taking two college courses and putting in a couple of afternoons a week at the battered women's shelter (also a good place to pick up occasional tid-bits of information on local demon movements), even though she was surrounded by ostensibly sympathetic sister slayers, the daylight hours left her too much time to wonder where her life was going. Where her life was.
The nights, though, long and dark, kept her focused, kept her busy.
William was right about that at least. Her body and mind were working together now in ways she'd forgotten while she was on hiatus: she needed to function as a slayer. She had energies that could be exerted no other way.
That winter, Cleveland teemed with vampires and demons. As best the slayers and their watcher could determine, a gathering of the clans was going on, all because of the approach of some obscure astrological convergence called the Fell of Seven that made the hellmouth seethe and bubble like soup left too long in the microwave.
It made for a party the soul-free crowd couldn't bear to miss, apparently.
And as long as master and wannabe master vampireswith their armies and entourages and hangers-onwere pouring in from all parts of the planet, why not forge new alliances, settle old scores, jockey for territorial power, and amass new minions? It never quite made the eleven o'clock local news, but despite the best efforts of more than a dozen slayers, the Cleveland underground was a free-for-all war zone, with hapless humans sucked down nightly. One slayer had already fallen victim to turning; Buffy's first job when she got to the city was hunting her down and dusting her. It was easier for hershe didn't know Tamika.
"I'm not getting used to this slaying thing either. It just keeps hitting me, this change, how big and strange it is. I still forget my own strength. I break jars getting them open. Slam car doors so hard they need to be fixed afterwards." Julie paused, as if debating whether to go on. "I scared off my boyfriend. We'd been together since ninth grade, I thought we were solid. But he couldn't cope with the super-strength, and my being out here every night."
Buffy glanced at her. Ninth grade, huh? Julie was about twenty-three; Buffy did the mental arithmetic, and felt a twinge of envy, even though Julie had just admitted she'd been dumped. "The thing that really freaked him, though ... sorry if this is TMI ... since I got called, my sex drive is like ... astronomical. I mean, I always used to want it, but now ...."
"It's not just you."
"I know. I've talked about it with the other girls." She hesitated. "I heard some scuttlebutt, about you ...."
"Get yourself a vibrator. Vampires are not sex toys."
Buffy stopped walking. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Talk about ... what? I thought you'd have some good tips on coping with the single life. I heard that you were, you know, very self-actualized. You've got the wisdom, you know, from being there first. I wanted to ask you about that. How you do it."
"I don't. Didn't. I don't know who told you that, but they're"
"Okay, okay. Sorry. But c'monvampires aren't sex toys? You've got to give me some follow-up on that!"
Could she really be so uninformed? Buffy always assumed that the gossip about her predilections must've reached the ears of every single slayer from Cleveland to Katmandu by now. Hell, all the demons knew. Since she'd been here, if she'd heard that Buffy the vampire layer quip they all thought was so original once, she'd heard it a hundred times. They obviously dished to each other more than B-list Hollywood blondes.
"No, I really really don'tJulie, incoming at five o'clock!"
Julie spun around; Buffy turned to answer her own back-of-the-neck tingle; five more vamps bearing down on her from behind.
Even as she dusted one and exchanged punches with the next, she heard Julie's own satisfied ungh as she drove a stake home. After a few minutes' dust-up, Buffy flipped the last rusher over her head; he landed directly on Julie's upheld stake and shivered into nothing with a low whoosh.
Julie bowed. Buffy smiled. That was always ... kinda neat.
She was turning in a slow arc to make sure there was nothing else coming when she heard the clapping. Measured, slow, ironic ... oddly familiar.
A figure stepped out from behind a mausoleum. Beneath a shock of white hair, golden eyes flashed and beamed. The grin showed fang. "Nice work, love."
The voice, the words, made her heart freeze. The cold of it coursed down her body, to her two planted feet. What is this? This can't be.
Julie was already starting towards him. The vampire held up a hand, white palm glowing in the moonlight. "Tell her to stand down, Slayer. Came to talk to you."
No. No, this is a trick.
"I don't want to hurt the girl. But I will, if she comes near me. You call her back, now." His stare, reflective, gleaming, held her.
"Julie, wait a sec'."
Julie took another step, then paused, glancing around at her, mouthing a question.
"Come back here. Let me."
The vampire nodded, the grin coaxing. "That's right, Slayer."
The voice ... the voice was perfect. The whole presentationfrom the hair to the flowing leather, to the lightness of his step in the big bootsit was uncanny, it was horrible. It was perfect. A perfect mockery. Meant to throw her off balance, to make her vulnerable.
Amazing, really, that none of them had tried this on her before.
She advanced on him, stake held tight in her gloved fist. "Nice trick, moron. But you're not fooling me."
"Fooling you how?" The fanged grimace, the fierce ridged brow, melted away into the angry smirk she'd once known so well. The blue eyes glittering with an intensity whose temperature she couldn't gauge.
For a moment that lasted too long, all she could do was stare, as a thrill of terror mounted her spine. Stare and try to understand if she was looking into the face of a friend or an enemy. How she could be looking into that face at all.
This just wasn't good. No matter who this vampire was ... it couldn't be good.
"What do you want? Scratch thatI know what you want. You want what all the other vamps playing King of the Hill around here want."
"Is that so?"
"Like I said, you're not fooling me with the cheap glamour."
"And you're not fooling me with the cheap bravado, Slayer. You know who I am."
Without otherwise shifting a muscle, his arm suddenly flew up in a backwards punch that sent Julie careening off into the mausoleum wall ten feet behind him. She crumpled to the ground and was still.
"Hey!" Buffy darted towards her, but he blocked her path.
"They don't listen to you like they ought, these new girls, do they? Didn't want to have to do that, but she shouldn't have come up behind me like that."
"Get out of my way!"
"She's all right. Just stunned. Can hear her heart beating, strong as ever. Leave her be, we don't want her hornin' in on our chat."
"Get. Out. Of. My. Way."
He stepped aside with a cheeky bow, and let her go to Julie, who was already coming back to herself.
"What's going on?" she whispered. "You know that vamp?"
"I ... might, yeah." God, I know nothing. Buffy knelt beside her. "Look, you'd better go. I'll be fine on my own."
"But" Julie craned to see past Buffy's shoulder, even as she was starting to scramble to her feet. "Tell me why you didn't just stake him? I really want to stake him."
"He ... he might have information. That could be useful. It's better if we talk."
Julie's eyes narrowed, as her gaze darted back and forth. "What information? He's just baiting you."
"I need to talk to him."
"We don't talk to vampires."
"We don't. Except when we do. This is one of those times. I have to find out why he's here."
"Why he's here? He's here because he's a vampire. What reason do any of them have to have?"
"Julie. I don't like to pull rank ...."
"Okay. Okay. But I don't like it. I mean ... look at him. And that move" She fingered her swelling jaw. "That was some move. How did he do that, without turning even a little bit?" She worked her arm up and down in imitation. "The leverage"
"Slayer! Night's a-wastin' here!"
"You can just shut up and wait!" She was so confusedand angryshe could barely see straight. The world pivoted and twirled as she rose again. Her exposed skin was so cold she couldn't feel her face. All at once, she wasn't sure if this was real. Since she'd come to Ohio, it seemed that grief and loneliness often made her dreamy and stupid.
"Go home, Julie. I can handle him. I'll text you later, okay."
As she approached him again, he dipped his head to light a cigarette; the Zippo sparked and for a moment the sight of the familiar face, its pallor bathed in a golden glow, made her knees go soft.
He exhaled a jet of smoke into the frigid air, and smiled a cool, arrogant smile. "Alone at last. Hello cutie."
She fisted her stake.
"You're adorable when you don't know what the fuck to say."
He was so like. Every detail was right. Every stitch of clothing. Every cadence. If this was one of the ambitious vamps scheming after prime hellmouth real estate, then he'd bought some incredible magic.
And if it wasn't ... if it wasn't ... well, that would be really really worse. "You'd better prove yourself to me right now, one way or the other, or you're dust."
That grin again, the one that always made her want to punch his lights out. "What, you really thought for a second I was some other bloke, doin' an impersonation? Never could be another, Slayer. Ought to know that well enough by now."
She did know. She just didn't want to. "What is this? You can't be ... I thought he'd be dead by now. That's what he was going to do!" All the time she'd struggled with him over his life, she'd never imagined he'd resort to anything like this.
"I am dead, pet. An' a good thing, too. You're lookin' well yourself."
This was unreal. This was just too too much. She'd thought, the first time she saw him living and breathing, that her world was pulled inside out. Yet that sickening wrong was nothing to this.
"What's the matter, Slayer? Cat got your tongue?"
"So why are you here? To throw it in my face? To reject me again? Believe me, I already got that message."
"Hellmouth's where the action is."
"The action. Sowhat? You've come like all the others, to throw your hat in the ring? To be Lord of the Vampires?"
His gaze, his nervy little smile, his wide stance, didn't falter. She waited for him to contradict her, while her heart shivered in her chest. Waited to see the Spike who had knelt at her feet in some stranger's bedroom and told her that she was the one.
He was the one. But she didn't see him here. All she saw was the cocky vamp who'd promised, in the alley behind the Bronze, to kill her on a Saturday night.
Stake poised, she looked up into his eyes. "Well, I hope you have more minions than that sorry bunch we just dusted, otherwise you're never going to make dog-catcher, let alone Master."
"Those idiots weren't mine."
"Oh, so they just happened to attack us while you just happened to observe?"
"Was watching you, sure, but didn't need to set up any attack. This city's lousy with my kind. Could count on one developin' on its own."
"Watching mefor how long?"
"I've always loved watching you, pet."
She brandished the stake. He caught her wrist and tossed her stake away before she wrenched free.
"Now now, no need to do that."
"I see a vampire. I slay vampires."
"Not me, love."
"Why not? You're telling me you're not evil?"
"I'm telling you I'm Spike."
Spike. Who was supposed to be gone, Shanshu'd away, never to reappear.
"I don't understand. You were trying to make a date with a shot gun. How ... how did this happen to you?"
"To me? Or to little man who used to be William the Bloody, 'til they clapped that buggerin' Shanshu down on his poor head? That fellow who was so tired of bein' the Powers' private little puppet, robbed of any say even over when he'd say goodnight? What happened to him was, he realized the answer was in front of him all the time. Figured out the way to be free, an' took it."
The world reeled. She remembered to breathe, as little dots marched around the edges of her vision. "Took? You're not telling me you chose?"
"Chose to be beautiful an' strong? Golly gee, who'd do that?"
"You call going backwardsfreedom?" His sneer, his stance, chilled her more than the crackling air. It was the face of bald-faced betrayal. Betrayal of all the trust she'd slowly built in him. Of the love she'd so painfully offered.
This was some sort of nightmare. Alive, he'd rebuffed her in every way he could. She'd never expected to see him again. That he should return to her in this form, all gloating and strange, was nearly unbearable. She blinked tears that went instantly from warm to cold as they slipped down her cheeks.
"Not tired now. Not sick, not weak, not half-blind an' deaf, gutted an' tormented." He thrust his arms back, chest out. "Anybody stakes me now, pretty damn sure I just blow away. Nothin' left. Nothin' to bring back. I call that freedom." He paused, studying her. "You want to go pick up your weapon, Slayer, I'll wait."
He held his undefended pose for a moment, then when she didn't move, relaxed, reaching into his pocket. He lit another smoke, chin tipped up. The lighter chinked, flared, died, snapped closed with a sharp click.
His smugness made her shiver. "But what about your soul?"
His lip curled then, the eyes smoldering dark with anger. "Seem to recall, few months back, girl who looked a lot like you, in a lather of tearful remorse, sayin' how Spike was worthy of her even when he had no soul, if only she'd been able to admit it. Thought she'd maybe sussed some things about herself, an' about him. Should've known, it was only the heat, gettin' to her. Makin' her soft in the head for what she thought she'd never have again."
"I can't believe this. I can't believe what you've done ... I mean, my God, you just took and threw it all away, didn't you? Your precious humanity, the soul you fought so hard for ... and now you came find me and ... what? What did you expect was going to happen? You let me know pretty clearly back in Vietnam that you were over me."
He strolled off to the side then, picking up her fallen stake from the snow. As he handed it to her, he said, "Wasn't the human man you wanted, pet. We both know that. He was as big a disappointment to you as to myself."
"I never said!"
"Didn't have to. As for bein' over youback in LA, thought I ought to be. But if there's one good thing I got out of that fiasco in Nam, was learnin' that I'd underestimated your intentions. You wanted Spike. Turned out, so did I. So here he is."
Inside her, one Buffy howled, another wept, a third laughed until tears spurted from her eyes. She'd tried to reconcile herself to the idea that he was deadhoped he was merely dead, rather than suffering some worse-than aftermath of a failed attempt to shoot himself. Never had it occurred to her that he'd do something so rash, so risky, so perverse, as this.
It was too much.
"You goddamn thoughtless arrogant prick. You are a piece of fucking work! How could you be so cruel! Don't you know I can'tI can't" Helplessly, furiously, she began to sob. As she sobbed, she struck, a boot in his gut, fists windmilling. At first he stumbled, head spun around by the force of her blow. But he was up again in half a breath, and then the attack became a fight.
He'd always been a fair match for her, always was able to hold his ownfor a while. But now, he was more. As if he'd learned some way to draw power from the hellmouth, he was stronger, faster. As strong and as fast as she was. Buffy's tears dried, her sobs transposed into tight dry rage, as she battled for her life.
From a fight, this was turning into a disaster.
He hooted as he pummeled her, the vamp-face a rictus of perverted joy. "That's it, pet! Punchin' me gets you hot! You're back in the game now!"
It was as if he could read her mindshe couldn't surprise him. Couldn't outmaneuver. He didn't flag, or misstep, or overreach. As the battle stretched out, her emotions made her sloppy; but not him. He wanted nothing from her but the pleasure of the struggle ... and seemed all too confident that his would be the kill.
When blood splattered from her nose, he crowed.
And then he picked her up and dashed her to the ground so hard she saw stars.
Before she could recover her breath, he dropped astride, snarling.
Here they were, she thought, right back where they started. He'd meant to murder her from the first, and now he would. She should never have trusted him. Trusting any vampire was a big big mistake. The prime mistake.
Inside her, something came uncoupled; she felt herself relax. All her hard-acquired trust and love were dashed, never to rise again. This was the end. She didn't even tense, awaiting the bite that would finish this. There was a kind of relief mixed with the despair of it.
Suddenly she was hauled up to a sitting position, the grave markers swirling around her head, and five of him kneeling in front of her. He gave her a hard shake, but with a difference. "Deep breaths. Breathe, damnit! You do not give up!" The five became four, then three, then resolved into one.
He reached towards her midriff; she cuffed at his hand. "Whatwhat are you doing?"
"Lookin' for tissues. Don't carry any myself. Your nose is dripping."
Confused, still dizzy, she fished in her pocket, dabbed at herself.
"Since when don't you defend the face?"
"Why didn't you bite me? Why are you jerking me around like this?" She punched him hard in the face and leapt up.
"Hey! Fight's over. Wanted to talk to you in the first place."
"No! No way! First you're suicidal, then you-you-you're a vamp again, which is just ... and one minute you're at my throat, then you're wiping my nose and wanting to talk? What the fuck?!"
"I'm myself again. Yeah. Thought you missed him. As for being at your throat, wasn't me who threw the first punch just now. But I'm not poor weak blighter I was, nor am I your lapdog anymore. We're equals, Slayer, or we're nothing."
"You don't get it! I can't do this!" She punched him again in the throat, wanting above all to shut him up, so she could walk away from him in silence.
"Vampire! Stand back or we shoot." Julie's shout startled them both. Four slayers, each with crossbow raised, advanced on them across the glowing snow.
Buffy held up a hand. "Guys! It's all right." Beside her, Spike took a stand just behind her left shoulder. "Julie, you didn't have to come back. I told you I'd be fine."
"I didn't want to leave you out here on your own. I had the idea this one was dangerous."
"Yeah, well, I'm still standing. So really, you guys can just"
"Holeeee shit!" Faith stepped out from behind the mausoleum, battle-axe slung over one shoulder, and advanced on them, gawking. "Julie said B was out here talkin' with a bleached bad ass in black, but I thought, no fuckin' way could it be! Last I heard, you were one of the L.A. dead."
"Guess I'm just too blond to die."
She laughed. "Shyeeit." Just short of arm's reach, Faith paused, suddenly serious. "Hey, no hard feelin's still, for that beat-down I gave you back in Sunny D?"
"All forgotten, pet. Good to see you still kickin'."
"And you, man."
Faith closed the distance between them, and then they were embracing, the axe lying in the snow, and Spike lifted her off the ground as she whooped. The other slayers, slack-mouthed, watched, cross-bows held at various levels of stunned attention. Buffy was astonished at Faith's display of emotion; she wasn't given to sentiment about fallen comrades, but apparently she felt things she seldom shared.
When he set her down, she beamed up at Spike, all leer and raw delight. "Well well, ain't this a turn-out for the books. Tasty-looking as ever." She poked a springy finger into his chest. "So maybe this time you an' me can do a little undercover work, ya think?"
Returning her come-hither smile, he proffered, then lit, her cigarette. "Always did tempt me"
"Yeah, yeah," she said. "Don't tell me. B's still got you whipped. Some things never change. So, what's the sitch?"
"Interested in helpin' your side if you can use another warrior."
"Can use all the help we can get. Vamps an' demons got us hoppin'." Her smile shaded into a squint. "You are still on our side, yeah? Not a double agent or somethin' like that?"
"Long as your team's got the better lookin' women, that's where I play."
This answer seemed to genuinely amuse Faith. She turned to the others. "Weapons down, kids." She tossed a grin at Buffy. "Can see why you didn't want any back-up. We'll get out of your hair. I'm freezin' my tits here, anyhow. C'mon, let's go to Denny's. I'm drivin'."
As they filed off, Buffy stared at the ground. Balked of her angry exit, she still couldn't quite bring herself to just follow them.
When they were out of earshot, Spike said, "We left off at 'fuck you.'"
"We sure did." She looked up. He was so beautifulentirely restored to that appearance that had stirred her even in the days when she'd only despised him. But she couldn't manage anything so simple as despising him anymore. His face had long since come to represent the visage of her desirebeloved and longed-for, the only one she wanted to engage with, to kiss, to be seen by. Her man. This yearning coexisted with her lively rage, lapping and overlapping. "Seems like that's where we always leave off."
That tilt of the head, that had the power to undo her. She responded to it by raising her own chin.
"S'true, Slayer. An' yet we're always drawn to each other. Spike an' Buffy, belong to each other."
Buffy couldn't quite bring herself to look at him. Instead she looked at the wood clamped in her fist, testing the point against her gloved palm. Whole scenes replayed in her head in the matter of a second: things he'd said to her, about her own darkness. About passion. About her nature, her desires and needs, what set her apart from her friends, apart from the self-image she cherished, even as that image grew more and more distant from reality. About his comprehension of her, his deep need for her. His satisfaction with himself, his shame. Scenes of other fights: in the abandoned house. In her bathroom. Win, lose. Draw. After he'd returned, wounded and souled, she'd set all that aside, an unfinished dialogue whose ugly truths she didn't have to consider anymore, because they'd both moved on from that place. The bad place of soullessness and soul-sickness they'd never return to together. It was only afterwards, when he was gone, and she'd quit the life, that she realized Spike's core ideas about them weren't necessarily wrong, or even so bad, if only ... if only.
But that was before Vietnam. She didn't know what to make of his treatment of her now. All this whirling and changing, could make you tired, and sick, and angry, and sad.
Buffy slipped the stake into her coat pocket. She was chilled through, numb to the bone, and still facing a long walk back to where she'd left her car. Without another word, she turned and started off. Spike didn't follow; she could feel him watching her go, feel his gaze bore into her back.
Only when she reached the cemetery gate did she start to cry.
Without the slightest intention to stop, Buffy found herself pulling into the flood-lit parking lot at Denny's ten minutes later. She wasn't hungry, knew she barely looked presentable, didn't want any company, yet the idea of going home to her empty apartmentwhy didn't she have a cat?she should get a cathorrified her.
And it didn't help that she knew Faith and the girls would be talking about Spike, and about her. She didn't like the idea of that going on behind her back. It felt necessary to do some damage control.
Still, it was one thing to want to intervene, and another to just break in on their little circle, already in progress. Buffy stopped off in the ladies room. In the overheated air of the restaurant, her thawing cheeks burned and stung. She still had dried blood crusted around her nostrils, and an expression, when she confronted herself in the mirror, that was very deer-in-the-headlights.
Being pulled backwards in time was beyond unnerving. That's what it felt like, encountering old-school Spike again. Losing a fight with him was always unnerving too. She wasn't sure exactly why she'd lost this one, although there were plenty of non-mystical reasons she could line up.
Such as that she was in shock.
Such as that she was afraid.
Such as that she was in love.
He didn't start the fight. He never meant to kill you, she reminded herself as she splashed her face. He was showing you ... What? That he wasn't, as he'd warned her, her pussycat.
"Buffy!" Faith swung into the mirror behind her. "Saw you come in an' then you disappeared."
"I don't know what I'm doing here."
"I bailed on him." Shutting off the tap, Buffy dashed the water from her face. Faith tore off a paper towel and handed it to her.
"Sure. I just, you know ... couldn't really deal right now." She was glad Faith and the other girls hadn't witnessed her defeat.
Faith wore what passed with her as a 'concerned girlfriend' expression. They were still learning to get along, learning to care for each as more than comrades in arms. Buffy was aware of all the other slayer's good efforts since she'd come to Clevelandshe could've been territorial and exclusionary, but instead she'd welcomed Buffy and showed the other slayers that they should too. The two of them still didn't have many interests in common outside the slaying, but they hung out sometimes. Faith wanted to learn how friendship workedBuffy tried to show her. In the months since she'd arrived, they'd not only gone over their old conflicts, but shared their pasts.
There were plenty of times Buffy had been glad for a sympathetic, but ungushy listener. Without quite setting out to, Buffy had told her about the miscarriageshe had to tell someoneand sketched in a story, set in Vietnam, of an affair gone horribly wrong. Faith was good at expressing genuine compassion with nothing but a grunt. But Buffy hadn't been able to bring herself to connect those events with Spike. It was dishonest, but it was as much as she could bring herself to confide. Telling the whole truth felt tantamount to confessing a terrible weakness, a shameful failure.
"Want me to drive you home? The girls can call a cab when they're done guzzling."
This, from Faith, was extraordinary. Buffy straightened up, forced herself to smile. "Not until I've had my grand slam breakfast and gallon of coffee."
"Okay. C'mon then."
Sliding into the banquette, Buffy tried not to be spooked by the four pairs of eyes fixed on her. Pre-empting the first remark, she said, "You guys are lucky. You can say you met the vampire who saved the world."
It turned out that Faith had filled them in on at least that muchSpike's role in the apocalyptic struggle that made them all slayersbut they weren't inclined to be overawed. Buffy recognized that brand of nonchalance. Not for the first time, it struck her how little the girls were ever taught about the history of slayers gone by. There ought to be a text book; there ought to be a quiz. Amazing that she'd never been more curious herself, when she was starting out. Even now, she didn't know the name of the girl who'd immediately preceded her, or how she'd died. That was something she really should look up.
"Except we didn't meet him," Leora said. "You didn't introduce us."
"He's handsome," Annie sighed. "Why can't all the vamps be handsome like that?"
"Because then you wouldn't want to stake their ugly hides," Julie said. "And you wouldn't be all swoony if he'd hit you the way he hit me. He didn't even turn around. Not even a little bit. I never sawor feltanything like it."
"I ... I bet, if you asked him, he'd teach you how to do that." Self-conscious, Buffy wondered if that came out sounding inappropriately perky. She sure didn't feel anything close to perky now that she was here, she was convinced what she really wanted was to go home, get into a hot bath, and try to sort out the barrage of overwhelming feelings going off inside like fireworks. "He helped train the first wave of potentialsthe ones who lived at my house, before we closed the Sunnydale hellmouth. He was the first vamp most of them ever saw."
"So we're going to see a lot of him?" Julie asked.
"I ... I don't know. Maybe."
"You said he was going to give you information. So what did he say?"
"He ... well, not much. I mean ... " Buffy took a deep breath. Just then the waitress came, her outstretched arm laden with six heaped platters, and began to dole them out. The slayers dug into their food like linebackers.
Twirling a rasher of bacon in her fingers, Faith caught Buffy's eye across the table. She mouthed two words. Fess up.
Dara looked up. "Sothe information. Are you gonna share it with us?"
Okay, deep breath. "I didn't get any information. Look, the thing with Spikeis complicated. Some of it is private. We have a long history. As enemies, and as"
Julie leaned forward, brandishing a pointing finger. "Vampires aren't sex toys, huh? Holy shit. You've been with him!"
Why, even now, did the accusation make her blush? She should be far past that. "Spike and I have been ... intimate, yes." The girls stared; a couple gasped. Buffy's grip on her fork tightened; she felt the metal start to bend in her hand. Intimate. That was a funny word. It wasn't really the right word, either. Spike and I have tried to communicate and mostly failed, because we don't have the same semaphore flags at the same time. But we were successful at fucking like rabid bunnies. That was more like it.
"Can you do that?" Kima said. "I meanyou're a slayer! That's like ... that's like ... lying down with the oppressors, man. It's not cool. ... is it?"
"He used to be in love with me. I don't exactly know if he still is. But ... I'm in love with him. I don't know if anything is going to come of it. Probably not. We're ... there are issues." She set down the fork. "That's it. Full disclosure. Or ... as full, anyway, as I'm going to go with you guys." It was all she could do not to bolt. Instead she made herself look at them. "Any questions? Ask 'em now, or keep 'em forever to yourself."
Leora's squinched up face might've been inquiry, might've been constipation. "Umm ... vampires don't have a heart beat, right? So, uh ... they don't have a circulation, either. Which makes me wonder ... you know ... umm ... how does a vamp guy get a boner?"
"They don't," Kima said. "I mean, how could they?"
"But Buffy says she slept with him. Why would she sleep with him if he didn't"
"Maybe they can only ... you know," Dara said, sticking her tongue out to give the air a long sensuous lick, "like I saw this movie once, where Jon Voight was like this paraplegic war veteran, and Jane Fonda was his nurse or something, and when they went to bed he did her with his tongue and she was all Oh my God! because her real husband was this ramrod-up-the-ass kinda guy who never would. And afterwards she stopped setting her hair, and started wearing love beads."
Faith's laughter drowned out the next few remarks. Buffy rapped on the table. "Guys! Shut up!"
Julie was smiling now, a rather nasty little smile. She pointed a finger at Buffy. "I think this Spike was quite the stud for you. Isn't that true?"
"I don't like your tone," Buffy said. "Don't you play gotcha with me."
"Why not? You're all butter-wouldn't-melt, when all the time!"
"All the time what? It's none of your business!"
"So they do get hard-ons," Kima said. "Okay, that's just ... disturbing."
"Why is it that any time more than two slayers are in a room together, the conversation devolves into this ... this crude I don't know what?" Buffy said.
"Because we're lusty super-hero chicks who're always horny," Faith said, slurping up her orange juice loudly through a straw. "An' you're the only one who's still so up-tight about it, B."
"I'm not up-tight, I just ... this is a Denny's, for heaven's sake. Grannies eat here. You can't talk about erections in Denny's."
"So they get them? The vampires?"
"Hell, they're even lustier than us slayers," Faith said.
"You sleep with vampires too?" Leora said. "What is this?"
"Nah, I never have. That's B's thing."
"It is not a thing! There is nothing. There's ... there was Spike. And there was Angel. And that's all. ANDboth of them were on our side before I ever touched them!"
Buffy subsided after that, letting Faith answer the next barrage of questions in her own brash way. Her food was cold, but she couldn't eat it anyway. She was lost in their encounter in the cemetery, puzzling over the path he must've taken, from leaving the plane at Saigon, to turning up here stripped of heat and heartbeat. Even though she'd seen him, touched him, part of her couldn't become convinced Spike's reappearance was real. Part of her didn't want it to be. Part of her was desperate to find him again, right now, though it was unclear whether she wanted more to kill or to kiss him.
Suddenly they were all rising. "Julie, you drive mine," Faith said. "I'm ridin' with B."
Faith and Buffy lived on the same block of old brownstone rowhouses in a section that was only half-gentrified. Buffy let her have the wheel. Neither spoke during the twenty minute ride.
Gliding into a parking space, Faith said, "Never thought I'd hear you say it."
"I thought you loved him back then. Sure looked like it to me. But I figured you were both bein' discreet."
Buffy shook her head.
"I'm glad he didn't go down in the LA battle. Maybe ... maybe that means others survived too, an' might turn up."
"I don't think so. I mean, we'd have heard."
"We didn't hear from him. Why'd it take him so long to track you down?"
"Because he wasn't. He had no intention of ... he didn't know I wanted him. I thought he understood, back in Sunnydale, but ... I left it too late to tell him. When I did, he didn't believe me."
"No way he didn't know. He must've just been workin' through some shit. He wouldn't have come here if it wasn't for you, B."
"I'm not sure. This is the hellmouth. You want to fight the Big Evil, or be the Big Evil, this is the place to be."
"He's not evil. Don't be a dope. He came because it's where you are." She shut off the ignition. In the sudden silence, they both sat still, looking out through the windshield.
"Faith, there's something I've been withholding. About me. And Spike."
"Withholding something about Spike? You? Never."
"After the LA apocalypse ... he got the Shanshu. D'you know what that is? He was made human."
"Shit." Faith frowned, then glanced at her, almost shyly. "He sure didn't look human just now."
"Listen ... the man I told you about, whom I was with in Vietnam, who was so strung out and self-destructive ...."
"Was him." Faith popped a fist off the steering wheel. "Well, shit B. That ... that adds some dimensions to the story."
"Yeah. It does." She resisted an urge to apologize. She didn't owe Faith all her intimacies, and Faith never expected them.
"So he was the father of?"
"Yes. Indirectly. I mean ... he wouldn't actually ...." Tears welled up. Poor poor thing. That was how she thought of it, the sexless baby who really was better off never having been born. Better off, but which she sometimes imagined holding, nursing, when she drowsed late in bed on Sunday mornings. "When we parted I never expected to see him again. Especially not like this."
"Alive, huh? I can't really see it. How'd that work?"
"It didn't," Buffy said, opening the door and starting to get out. "It just really really didn't."
The next day at Slayer Central, she arrived early and sought out her watcher. No matter what time she got there, Hugh always seemed to be there already. He was conscientious and involved, like early Giles, and frequently unshaven and rather slovenly, unlike early middle or late Giles.
"There's something you need to be aware of."
"And a lovely morning to you too, Buffy."
"Right, hello, hi, etc. Are you familiar with the backstory on Spike, aka William The Bloody?"
"Am I familiar with ...?" Hugh had a sleepy habit of repeating questions in order to give himself time to gather his thoughts.
"Former very bad seed vamp, subsequently much reformed, souled, sacrificed himself in Sunnydale to save the world? Well, he's back. I'm not entirely sure what he's up to, but I'm hereby putting a No Stake APB out on him."
Hugh blinked. "Spike? Ah ... yes. Rupert Giles has told me about him."
"Has he? Okay, good. I'm going to tell all the girls when they get here"
"Rupert also told me something about you and this Spike."
"Yes. You don't have to be cryptic about it. We were lovers. Did Giles also tell you that he schemed behind my back to murder Spike? Because that's kind of a bone of contention he and I still have, and I don't want you to get any ideas."
"He did mention that, yes. Not in quite the same"
"There's a possibilitycurrently very small because I'm furious at himthat we may be an item. Spike, I mean, not Giles. If that's going to be a Watchery problem for you, say so now."
Hugh turned slowly in his chair. "Buffy"
"Look, I'm just telling you. No secrets, okay? But mainly, he's on the No Kill list. If anyone kills him, it'll be me. The rest of it is our business."
"Buffy. Sit down for a minute."
She didn't want to sit, didn't want to be questioned. She wanted to punch the bag until her arms were sore. She wanted to punch Spike, to scream at him.
"You haven't been happy since you came to us," Hugh said.
"No. I cannot have this conversation. I meanit's nice of you to notice, but no."
Hugh sighed. "I have a lot of girls to look after. I haven't had a chance to ...."
"You're not my camp counselor. And you're not responsible for my state of mind. No one is. I've been a slayer for ten years now, I'm all grown up."
"Of course, only"
"Save it. Really. I get that you're reaching out, but ... just back me on the No Slay My Possible Boyfriend thing, and we're cool. Lemme work out my own life."
"Faith already alerted me about Spike, actually. She seems to think he's joined forces with us."
"When did she call you, at four in the morning?"
Hugh rubbed his eyes for answer.
"Yeah, he says he wants to be on the team. That remains to be seen. But I don't think he's on any other team. Hence"
"No Kill. I heard you. Yes. I'll mention it in the daily email."
For the inside of a week she patrolled on tenterhooks, half an eye always out for where he'd appear, stepping out from behind something, leaping down into the midst of her fray.
He didn't show.
She wanted to look for him, but where to start? The city was too big, there were too many hotels, motels, SROs, apartment houses, warehouses ... she had no idea what his living arrangements were.
As the time slipped by without a sighting, as her life's mundane obligations continued, she began to wonder if he'd changed his mind. She'd berated him, she'd walked away ... had he taken that so seriously that he'd skipped town?
Hadn't she meant it to be taken seriously?
She was still angry after allangry at his repeated rejections and maddening self-destructiveness; angry about his triumphalism in the cemetery, as if becoming a vampire again really solved anything. She was angry that he'd said nothing to her about the miscarried child. That he'd given her such a trouncing.
That he hadn't tried to kiss her.
Not only were her feelings overwhelming, they weren't even consistent.
But how could she expect to be consistent when he was the King of Inconsistency? After keeping her at a distance for so long ... after being so cruel to her when she showed him her heart ... did he really expect she'd accept him back without a flinch? Why did he want her again, after finding her so resistible for so long? It hurt that he'd spent almost a year with Angel in LA and never got in touch with her.
Where the hell was he?
And what was he up to? The level of nighttime carnage was way out of proportion to the number of vamps they ever managed to chase down and dust. Something was weird, and she couldn't help suspecting he was part of it.
Another night patrolling in the freezing cold, another night that turned up no new nests, that caught only a few random vampires, out on their own. At quarter to three a.m., she stopped off for a quart of milk on her way towards a hot bath and her bed.
She'd parked right in front of the Seven-Eleven and was switching off the ignition when she spotted a distinctive blond head inside. Behind its wide expanse of plate-glass, the store was lit up like a stage-set. Spike was the only customer. She saw him wend his way from the fridge cases at the back, pausing to grab a couple packages of Slim Jims before he swung a six-pack of beer onto the counter. The clerk, a red-headed teenaged boy in a striped teeshirt, was doing something with the Slurpee machine, but stepped over when Spike spokeBuffy could read his lips: carton of Marlboro, mate.
As the kid reached up to the overhead cigarette display, Spike vamped, seized him by the neck, and dragged him across the counter.
I fucking knew it! Buffy rushed the door, fisting the stake out of her coat pocket. She was through it, shouting, when
the clerk exploded into dust.
"Slayerbehind you!" Three big vamps in varsity jackets were coming in the door. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Spike take on the three who poured out of the back storeroomall teenboys like the clerk. He dispatched them fastpowf, powf, powfbut not before half the junkfood in the place was strewn in the aisle.
Hers taken care of, she scouted the back, past the frozen food cases and the cold sodas. The store-room door yawned open. Inside, among the piled crates of beer and Beer Nuts, the room was littered with empties and crumpled Cheetos bags. Three bedrolls lay in a corner. There was no one else there. When she threw open the door leading out to the dumpsters, something fell on her head.
A short strip of leather, with three glass beads knotted on it.
"What's that?" Spike said.
"Not sure yet. I suspect it's not purely decorative."
"What'd you come here for?"
Spike yanked open the rear door of the dairy fridge. "Grab it an' go. Guessin' cops'll be here in a minute."
She'd never realized that the milk and beer was stocked in from the back. For the first time since that lipstick at Bullock's, Buffy took something without paying for it.
They piled out through the rear, jumped into her car, and were already down the road before Spike heard the siren approaching from the opposite direction. "Slow down, Slayer, you're all right."
"I thought ...."
"You thought I was gettin' beer, smokes, an' blood fresh from the tap."
"That's how it looked. If I'd been just a little faster, I might've" She didn't want to think what she might've.
"It's all right. You were on your toes, per usual." He glanced around. "Well looky look, you're at the wheel. Your first car?"
"Uh ... yeah, believe it or not. It's only a used one." Cleveland was a city; you couldn't cover it on foot, and the public transportation here was for shit. She'd bought this eminently impractical bright yellow convertible even before she'd found her apartment.
"Looks like fun."
"You don't have one?"
"Not at the moment." He pulled a bottle from the floor at his feet. She hadn't even noticed him leaving with the six-pack. The coat hid a variety of things. "Want one?"
"You're such a goody two-shoes." He took a long swallow. "That's something about you that always got me hot."
"Since when do vamps run convenience stores?"
"Since they slaughtered the Pakistani family that runs the place, an' used the store as bait. It doesn't sell gas an' it's just out of the way enough that there's seldom many people in there at once. The punters who wander in in ones an' twos become vamp food. Their cars get driven off an' turned over to their sire. It's quite a neat little operation."
"You sound pretty familiar with it."
"The Stop'n'Chomp's an old American tradition among vamps."
"Been there, done that, huh?"
"Thing that would've really amused you back in the day, was one time on the outskirts of AtlantaDru in a car-hop's uniform. Had good legs, though she seldom showed 'em off, an' she was fetchin' in the little cap. The skatin' was a bit of a challenge for her, but she rolled with it."
"Only because ... okay, I'm smiling."
"An' a sweet sight it is," he said, taking another long swallow.
"Was it Drusilla who turned you?"
"She was my sire, yeah, you know that. Though was Angelus who really"
"I meant, just now. It was her, wasn't it? She found you, and you couldn't"
"It's important to you, is it, that I was vamped again 'gainst my will?"
It was true. She stared straight ahead.
"Except it's not so. I sought it out. Wanted to be myself again. Only way I ever felt right was bein' Spike."
"You always talk about 'Spike' and 'William' as if they've barely got anything to do with each other. Which we both know is so bogus. They're just you. You're just you."
He was quiet, sipping at the beer.
"You make me so angry with all this bullshit! When I think of what you hadand you couldn't wait to throw it away with both hands! The Shanshu was a gift! Do you really think Angel would've begrudged it to you, if you'd really gone out and lived?"
"Could only do what I could do."
"That's no answer!"
"This's how I live, right? This is how I feel alive! Always have!"
"That's not an excuse for what you've done!"
"Not makin' excuses, all right? No more excuses. This is just how it is."
"I don't know why I should talk to you, much less trust you."
"Bloody hell! I'm here, aren't I? Didn't blow my head off. An 'stead of New York or New Orleans or the bloody City of Lights, I've come to this borin' Midwestern hole that's got no interestin' night-life. What does that tell you?"
"So far it tells me that you're another vampire drawn to the Hellmouth. Sunnydale didn't have much interesting night-life either. You came there to murder me and be the Master."
"Been some water under the bridge since then, hasn't there?"
"I don't know! I don't know what you think you're doing, what direction you're pointing! It sure looks backwards to me!"
"You don't even bloody know what a soul is, do you? Dunno why you set such prim store by 'emthat wanker Warren had one, as you may recall."
"I don't know what to make of you."
"Got no certificate to hand you, Slayer. Got to make of me same as anybody else. By my actions. By your gut. Same as I do you."
"Yeah, but what do I have to go on? You beat me down in a cemetery, then you disappear for a week. If you're courting me, you've got a funny way of going about it."
Of course, he'd always had a funny way of going about it.
"You were the one struck first, that night. An' walked away first, too. I was for having a conversation."
"A man who wants to have a conversation calls a woman on the phone. Or, or, rings her doorbell at some socially acceptable time. God, Spike. You can't just ... you can't just put me through the wringer, drop out of my life for so much time, and then show up all fangy again and ... "
"You can also only do what you can do. That's why I let you walk away."
"Instead of what? Jumping me?"
"Instead of tryin' to make you stay an' talk. Was givin' you a bit of time to get used to the idea of me. To make up your bloody mind, so you'd know it when you saw me next."
"You're being too reasonable now. Stop that!"
"Can drop me off here."
Here was a quiet stretch of street with boarded up warehouses on both sides, near the river.
"Don't tell me this is where you live."
"It's a fine place to let me out," he said.
She speeded up instead. "Do you know where I live?"
"You're not in the phone book."
"No, I'm not."
"232 Spencer Place. Flat 3B. Faith lives cross the street. It's walkin' distance from the Church of the Holy Slayers, so was easy for me to scent your trail there an' back. Faith likes to linger outside the pawnbroker's window an eye up the flick-knives. You always pause by the vintage shop." He smiled into the beer bottle. "You'd look right nice, come summer, in that dress."
"I ... I don't know which one you mean."
"Yes you do, pet. On the right-most mannequinthat one with the tight bodice an full skirt, that's all over roses. You eye it up every time you go by."
Her face felt fiery. She didn't know how to take it, this nocturnal stalking of her by her scent. Had he even concealed himself on her block, to watch her comings and goings? Buffy yanked the car to the curb, put it in park.
"I think you should get out."
Even as she spoke, her hands reached for him, grabbing two big fistsful of leather, hauling him in to her mouth. At first touch, his lips were icy and tasted sourly of beer. But they parted and then she tasted him, the old flavor of Spike she used to batten on, cool but not cold, a little coppery. His firm pliable lips, his surging tongue, were a homecoming. Everything in her rose towards it, doubt eclipsed by the wild excitement and joy that came spiraling up. She groaned, the press of his mouth against hers going straight to her clit, making her tremble all over. Her seatbelt was still on; she fumbled one-handed at the catch, ready to surge onto his lap.
Then he pulled back. Opening the car door, he threw the bottle out; she heard it shatter a ways off. Frigid air blasted her hot face. His hands on her arms gently but firmly put her back.
"I'll see you." He had one foot on the ground. She held on.
"No! Where are you going?"
"Better I hop it now."
It was like a slap. "You want it as much as I do. I could feel it."
"I'll see you soon," he repeated. He swung up and out, grabbing the beer carton as he did.
She grasped for the meaning. "Spike! Oh, okay, not here, I get that. Let's go to my apartment." That had to be what he wanted. It was what he'd always wanted, to make love to her in her own bed. She'd known throughout the months of their desperate affair, though he'd never dared to say so straight out. And then on that last night before the battle, she'd had nowhere to be with him but a grungy cot in the basement, her own room upstairs being wall-to-wall with potentials.
He started to slam the door between them, but she cried out. "Why ... why are you hiding from me?"
He stooped to peer in at her. "You're beautiful when you hate me. But I won't have this."
Oh. "I don't hate you. I am experiencing some anger. You were cruel to me in Vietnam. And it seems like I have no right to kick about it, because God knows I was cruel to you first. But ... you keep throwing me for loop after loop, you never say anything about ... anything that I can grab on to. I don't even know how to contact you when I want to."
"An' yet you'd like me to fuck you tonight."
"I ... you ...."
"Get you all excited. Yeah, I know. Feelin's entirely mutual, pet."
"Spike, you know, it's not a secret, how I feel about you. I told the other slayers. Our watcher knows."
Clearly he hadn't expected this. His face opened a little. "That must've been a job of work for you, Slayer." He paused. "Thank you for that."
"So why go? Get back in the car. If you don't want to ... if you don't want to be with me tonight, at least let me take you back to wherever it is you stay."
"Drive safe, there's black ice up ahead." He closed the doorgently, without a slam, and was gone. It was too dark for her to tell where.
She felt naked. Stripped naked when it was 25 degrees and windy, which it was. She hated having her desire shoved back at her. Made her feel ashamed to want.
He'd brought up Drusilla. That was odd enough, his referring to her like that. And then when she asked him about her, he'd left the question hanging.
Was Drusilla here? Was he beholden to her? That would explain a lot. It would explain ... just about everything. She might have power over himreal supernatural power. Or it might be the power of sentimentwith Spike, that could be just as strong. He'd loved her for a hundred years; if she'd sired him again, he'd feel bound.
She wished she had Spike's tracking abilities. If she could only follow him now, she'd know the truth. But the sixth sense that warned her of the presence of vampires didn't extend that far.
At home, after neither the vibrator nor the bath worked off the stymied tension, she skipped bed and went to Slayer Central, where she punched the bag until it was time to go to her morning class.
The next afternoon, while they were gathered in the darkened nave of Slayer Central listening to another one of Hugh's Powerpoint presentations about vampire sociology, a voice spoke up from the back.
"Your info on the Order of Magog's a good two decades out of date, mate. Anyway, the slayers don't need to know who begat whom or who's in bed with whom."
All heads turned. Spike advanced with a leisurely swagger up the aisle, hands in duster pockets, and came to a stop next to Buffy, who was sitting on the end of the fifth pew back. Hugh hastened down from the altar.
"Y'know, any vamp can just stroll on in here. Don't think you want that, really, even with all the girls about. Although it's a nice touchwittymakin' your clubhouse out of a deconsecrated church. An' the stained glass is pretty, though not today so much. It's snowin' again."
Some of them groaned at this news. Buffy noticed the ice crusted on his boots. He'd come on foot, from ... somewhere. Walked out in the broad day, under cover of bad weather.
He glanced around at the assembly of young women, and smiled. "Hello cuties." Fixing his attention back on Hugh, he said, "You must be Piper. Borin' for Britain. Thought all you lot were blown up, an' yet there's always someone tweedy an' weedy standin' by with advice for the ones who actually do the work." Suddenly he turned to her. "What do you think of him as a Watcher, pet? Any candle on old Rupert? Course I like him better already, since he hasn't tried to have me killed."
"He's good. But I don't know him very well."
"You wouldn't, would you? One man lookin' after so many. It's not the same as it was. Still, I expect he knows his business. Knows there's three or four baddies in town tryin' to consolidate power an' be the undisputed Master." He pointed towards the projected list, "He spells it Herkules with a bloody 'k', by the way, an' you should also add bird name of Belledame to the list, thinks she's all that an' has a bit of a followingbut what you need to know is where they're holed up, what bigger battle-demons they've got on tap, an' what kind of magic they're usin' to ward you lot off, because whatever it is, it's big, lettin' 'em hide in plain sight like they are. You need a sort of forensic magician of your own."
"Please," Hugh said. "Would you like to make the presentation in my place? I'll step aside."
"Nah, I'm no scholar. Just stopped by to pay my respects." Everyone was staring at himat both of them. Buffy felt the curiosity in their staresknew that every one of the girls who wasn't at Denny's the other night had heard about it from those who were. They all knew she was in love with a vampire, and they were waiting to see ... something.
But Spike did not mean to give them a show, not now anyway. Taking a step back, he nodded to the assembly. "Be careful out there in the snow tonight. Slippery underfoot, an' raw. Us vamps don't feel the cold." He nodded then to her, showing an ambiguous half-smile but not quite catching her eyes, and withdrew.
After he was gone, the talk turned to what he'd saida lot of nothing, Julie asserted. A couple of names that might or might not have been real. Nothing useful. How did they know he wasn't one of the Master wannabes himself? Coming in bold as brass to get a look at them, at their outpost, to figure out what they knew?
Voices were raisedwhy wasn't the clubhouse warded? And why exactly were they trusting this Spike? So far he'd done nothing to demonstrate his allegiance. All they had was Buffy's word.
More stares. "Maybe you want to tell us what he's up to," Dara said. "You've been seeing him, haven't you?"
She rose. "I haven't. And I don't know anythingyou're right, he might be an enemy. I believe he's on our side, but I don't have any proof."
"You're not exactly objective, are you, Buffy?" Julie said.
"Hey!" Faith was up, taking a stance in the center of the aisle, passing a quelling look around at the gathering. "I know Buffy. An' I know there's no reason for you all to be gettin' your paranoia on. Chill."
The group broke up, an uneasy feeling in the air. No one spoke to Buffy as they filed out. When they were alone, Faith laughed. "Poor Spike. What're you doing to him?"
"Poor Spike? He's the one who"
"Now you're bein' dumb. He came onto your territory, in broad day, hat in hand. And you barely said 'bo' to him. What, did you expect him to drop to his knees for a chorus of Mammy?"
"C'mon, B. That whole performance was a big cry of Jesus Fuck. What, didn't you see that? He's completely nervous ... about you, about all of us. Where's he gonna fit in? But mostly about you."
"So why didn't he stay and talk to me?"
"How do you know he wasn't hanging around in the porch for ten minutes waitin' for you to slip out and join him?"
Faith's suggestion stung. It had never occurred to her.
"The thing is ..." She didn't know how to put this to Faith, who'd been plenty evil herself. "I want him, I do. God, do I. But ... he's out there without a soul, without a chip, unrestrainedhow do I know what he's doing? How can I love him and trust him when he's"
Faith frowned. "You ask me, you worry too damn much."
"You want to put off happiness forever, keep picking this to bits. One thing I learned in prison, you have to pay your dues, but you also have to keep fit, you know? Take care of yourself. You keep pushin' away what nourishes you, you're never going to feel right, B."
That afternoon, Dawn called.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I heard from Spike."
"Buffy ... I can't believe it."
"How did you hear from Spike?"
"He said he got my number from Andrew. He called me, just now. We talked for an hour. Well, we were on the phone for an hour. I cried for the first thirty minutes."
"I can't believe it," Dawn repeated. Buffy felt her sister was waiting for some signal from her, but she wasn't sure what that was. Her own feelings were so diffused. She didn't think of Spike as a guy who used the telephone. She never imagined he'd try to connect again with anyone else who ... well, who wasn't her.
"So ... uh ... what did he say, Dawnie?"
"That he would always love me for trusting him when he most needed to be trusted by someone innocent. That he was sorry for hurting me. And that if I couldn't be his friend again, he'd understand, but if I would, he'd be so glad."
"Huh. And what did you say?"
"What do you think I said! ... Buffy, are you all right?"
"I don't know."
"He said he didn't know if you were. We didn't really talk about youhe wanted to talk about me. But of course I asked if you two were ... he was kind of ambiguous about it. Soare you?"
"I don't know." Suddenly she wanted to cry. Why didn't she know? Why was everything so hard? Why was he being so aloof? Why was she the only one who was tormenting herself over Spike's lack of a soul?
"Buffy, what's going on? You sound so sad."
"He did mention the Being A Vampire again part, didn't he?"
"Yeah. That accounted for about twenty minutes of the crying. But it's better than ... than him being gone altogether, isn't it? Maybe it's even better than ... he always just was a vampire, Buffy. I never knew him any other way. And he was always good to me. When he asked me if I was angry at him I started to laugh even though I was still crying. Who could go on being angry after?"
"I'm really glad you got to talk to him. To tell him all that stuff you"
"I want you to be happy, Buffy. I don't really know what's going on there, but I hope you two manage to get together. I think you need each other."
"Did he say that?"
" ... no. I told you, we mostly talked about me. This is just me talking to you, sister to sister. I want you to"
"Be happy. Check."
Spike continued elusive. The next night, checking in at Slayer Central after patrol, Buffy was surprised to learn from an ebullient group of younger slayers that he'd turned up on their round, tipped them off to the presence of a huge nest in a slum apartment house, and helped them clean it out.
"I dusted eight vamps tonight," one of them boasted. "Eight. That's my personal best." She was grinning from ear to ear. "We'd never have found the place without him."
"So where is he? Didn't he come back here with you?"
"He asked us to go have a drink with him, but none of us has a fake ID, so he took off. I think he was a little surprised when we told him we're all seventeen."
She understood then how he was playing it. Couldn't blame him really. It was smart, to demonstrate himself to the other slayers without going through her. Showed themand herthat he was serious about the mission.
It was the same story for the next four nights. He'd come out of nowhere, lead a party of other slayers to some place they'd never have discovered on their own, and join in the vamp massacre. Afterwards he'd say good night and vanish.
Buffy was keyed up, spilling over with things she wanted to say to him, questions demanding to be asked, resentments to be aired, grey areas to be cleared up.
It wasn't only that. Her body shared none of her mind's ambivalence about the re-made Spike. Desire was constant, naggingand came with a large dose of shame, because she wanted him despite his strange behavior and ambiguous status. She was running through a fresh set of batteries for her vibrator every day, but coming that way just made her hungrier for what she craved and wasn't getting. Sitting in class, she'd find herself thinking about his cock, about its heft and thickness and how it felt in her mouth. She took to masturbating in the toilet between Rome Under the Caesars and Intermediate French II. She kicked a lot of male vampires in the groin and staked them through their backs when they doubled over. All the men she encountered noticed her ornery arousalshe'd never had so many offers.
But it wasn't just the physical yearning that ate at her while he made her wait. The time without him felt squandered. She wanted his company. Knowing he was around, staying out of her sight, pushed her loneliness up to fever pitch; no-one else could assuage it. Being with the other slayers, or with Faith, or her few college pals, just made it worse. At least when she was alone at home she could think of him without distraction.
He was making her mental.
The next time she found out that he'd patrolled with other slayers, she barely made it into the bathroom at Slayer Central before she burst into burning tears.
She wasn't used to feeling such jealous helplessness. This wasn't what she'd experienced in Dai Phuongit was so much pettier, yet for all that, she thought it was harder to endure. It affected her pride. Made her wonder how much he could really want her, if he could bear to postpone her this way.
Returning home from her evening class laden with textbooks and groceries, she almost tripped over something on the mat outside her apartment door.
A flattish rectangular box, gift-wrapped. After briefly considering whether she should immerse it in water and or bring it to Hugh, Buffy just opened it.
Inside, neatly folded, was the rose-print dress from the vintage shop window. When she lifted it out, the shop owner's card fluttered to the floor. On the back was written Pretty frock for prettiest girl. Be patient with me a little longer. S. P.S. Haven't seen D in years.
The night time body count was climbing, even as the vampires were elusive as ever. All the slayers were on edge. Suddenly there was no sign of Spike. At one of the daily meetings, Julie threw out the idea that the so-called help he'd been giving them up 'til now was instead him using the slayers to consolidate his own power. To Buffy's disquiet, the others were thoughtful at this suggestion; everyone looked at her. What was she going to say? No, it can't be true, because he bought me a dress?
Slowly, she got to her feet. "Spike's way of doing things was never subtle. When he was evil, he was good at making plans, sure, but he wasn't good at seeing them to fruition, because he's impatient, and impulsive. He likes to boast. He jumps the gun. I'm convinced that if he really was working to become Master here, we'd know it."
"You're convinced," Julie drawled.
Faith slammed a hand on a pew back. "You're outta line."
"No, she isn't," Buffy said, suppressing her urge to tell Julie she was full of shit. "Just because we're the old timers, doesn't mean we can't be questioned. It's important that we can rely on each other, but we're all slayerswe all have to rely first and foremost on our own judgments and instincts." Even as she said the words, Buffy felt she was turning a crank. It wasn't that she didn't believe what she was sayingjust that she was utterly bored with the whole situation. She hated this group work. Faith was one thing, but all these other girls felt inauthentic to her ... and unimportant. She'd really tried since arriving in Cleveland, to be part of them, but it just wasn't taking.
Dara put a hand up. "I don't think we have enough evidence to suspect him. He's helped a bunch of us in the last few weeks, and didn't want anything in return. We have no evidence that he's hurt anybody. I have to wonder what Julie's so sore about."
"I'm not sore!"
"Just because some of us are uncomfortable with the sleeping with a vampire thing doesn't mean we have the right to tell Buffy what to do."
"I'm not telling her!"
Hugh intervened. "All right, ladies, all right. Let's table this for now. We functioned here before Spike came along, and we'll function whether he's helping or hindering or gone away again."
Afterwards, Faith took her aside. "What do you think's going on?"
"Julie has issues."
"I meant with him."
"Hugh is right. We don't need him, and if he's part of the baddie mix, we'll figure that out and we'll take him down."
"Look, I don't know! I haven't seen him. I don't know what he's up to!"
That was Buffy's last chance to brood. Willow arrived that day, dispatched along with two other witches, by Giles, to do what Spike had dubbed 'forensic magics'. Nights were turning into pitched battles, with hordes of vampires appearing out of nowhere and disappearing just as seamlessly. In the space of a week, three slayers were killed, and three more maimed. Willow described the pall of magic over Cleveland as A Perfect Storm. Spring was coming, which seemed to make things worsemore people outside in the evenings meant more victims.
Then, after being gone for so long Buffy had about given up on him, Spike chose another stormy day to make a morning call on Slayer Central, this time with a proposition.
Two of the four big contenders were newly dead; the other twoHerakles and Belledame, had joined forces in uneasy alliance, behind the magical cloak, to rule the Hellmouth. Having made himself indispensable to them, he could now get some slayers into the seat of power, and help them fight their way back out, taking the vamp leadership down in the process.
"Get us inhow?" Faith asked.
"Well, as my prisoners."
"Belle an' Herakles are stupid, but they're not stupid. Not gonna let me parade slayers into their playroom just because I say so."
"So we'd have to trust you," Julie said. "Which we should dowhy, exactly?"
Spike looked at her then. "Since when is this a bloody democracy, Slayer?"
"Since they're all slayers too," Buffy said, on a sigh. This whole situation was maddening, on so many levels. She had no energy for the struggle that would ensue.
Willow stepped forward. "You know what kind of magic they're using? Where it's centered?"
"Know where the powerhouse is, yeah. Not up on the particular species, though. They've got a few shamen on round-the-clock duty, keepin' it up."
"You've seen them?" Willow was giving Spike what Buffy thought of as the bug-eye; that penetrating stare that made people squirm, and got some girls, apparently, out of their clothes PDQ. Spike though, just looked back at her, cool as could be.
"I've seen 'em, yeah."
"If you can get me in there, I can crush them."
"What, just you? Don't think so, darlin'. There's too many of 'emvamps I mean. We'd never get out alive. Needs a slayer's touch, an' the more the better."
Most of the slayersled by Julie, who was vocally skepticalwere inclined to smell a trap. As the discussion went back and forth, Buffy kept mostly silent, watching Spike, looking for the little clues to his sincerity or the opposite, though she had no serious doubts that he meant to betray them. Doubts about everything else were rife. Like, how had he gone from the broken man she'd been with before to this meta-Spike? Spike perfected, all suave and confident and take-charge. He made her yearn; he made her feel sick. She didn't know what to feel, and missed the old days, when she'd managed for long periods of time not to feel at all.
"So how do you take us prisoner, exactly?" Faith asked.
"Some of my boys 'n' me will ambush you. You'll pretend to fight, maybe slay a couple for the show of itand then you'll be subdued."
"Your boys?" Willow said. "You have boys again?"
"Got lots of things again, balls among 'em. Don't look at me like thatyou lot need me."
Faith didn't look happy. "How exactly are we going to be subdued?"
Spike smiled. "Know you've never been subdued in your whole life, pet, so just watch the others an' do it like they do." He turned to Willow. "Looks like I'll get a taste of you at long last. But don't worryI'll be gentle. An' I won't let any of the others touch you."
"Wait a minuteyou're going to bite me?"
Buffy sighed. "For the show of it. To put usand the 'boys'in our places."
"That's right, Slayer. This whole op depends on convincin' performances. The other vamps have got to buy my linean' buy your weaknessso I can get you into the soft underbelly, so to say."
There was more back and forth, but the other two finally agreed, and Hugh raised no objection.
Once they'd finished the arrangements, she followed Spike out to the porch, and grabbed his arm before he plunged out into the downpour.
"I was waiting for someone else to ask this, but amazingly, no one did. So I have to. How many?"
He raised an eyebrow. "How many what?"
"Goddamnit, Spike! How many people have you killed to get in with Herakles and Belledame? They must've known you used to be a white hat."
"I like that used to be."
She hit him. "Do not joke about this! If they consider you one of them, it's because you've shown them you are. How many lives have you taken to set this up?"
Frowning, he freed his arm. "You lot are breakin' your backs here, an' getting nowhere. This city's nearly theirsthey're killing slayers now. Way they're going, they'll massacre the whole lot of you by summer. You needed someone on the inside if you were ever goin' to make a difference. I'm the only way you could have that."
"So you admit it." Of course he was killing again. He had no soul. She should've known, the moment he showed up, that all bets were off.
"Trust me, an' I'll keep you safe. No one but me'll lay a tooth on Willow, or you. You'll get inside, an' you'll take 'em all down."
What he was saying was perfectly sensible. They were getting creamed. He was uniquely placed to double-cross the bad vamps. But that didn't mean she was easy with it. It was one thing to use an ally whose morals were questionablebut for her to take a Spike who was actively feeding and killing into her bed, into her heart ... went against everything she was. It was another roadblock, of the many he'd set up for her.
He had to know he was putting her in an untenable position. But then, there could be no better way to torment her, if that was his intention. Providing indispensable help ... help which put him, at the same time, morally off limits to her, if she was going to cleave to her standards of self-respect. Resentment that approached hatred rushed over her, harsh as a bath of bile. "You really are a thorough bastard. Don't you know this changes everything? By rights I should"
"Gotta be pragmatic, yeah? There's such a thing as collateral damage. War isn't tiddley-winks, Slayer." He glanced down, then back up into her eyes. She could barely look at him. "Coming here, knew I could just be your fangy teddy bear, or I could really make a difference on the side of the Big Good. Chose"
"I get it." It was unbearable that he lecture her, let alone try to give her a lesson about strategic battle planning.
He shook his head. "Look ... when you've got 'em all on the run, an' are laying about you left an' right with your stake, you'll know what to do about me. You'll know, an' you'll do it."
"I'm not completing your suicide for you, you shit." She wanted to howl, to punch his face into a pulp the way she once had. After all her effort to pull him back from the brink, to make him want his life, here he was making her responsible for whether he'd live or die.
"'S'not suicide I'm after here, Slayer. Far from it. Spike's a lover, an' a warrior. I'm yours for both, but you've got to have me as I am, or not at all."
Pulling his duster collar up, hunching his shoulders, Spike pushed out into the heavy rain without goodbye.
"So Katrinka's no more, huh?" Buffy took another bite of pizza. She and Willow were squeezing a catching-up session in between their respective bouts of preparation for the big event, but for such old friends, separated for so long, it was pretty desultory. She found she wasn't inclined to talk much about what was heaviest on her mind, and neither, apparently, was Willow, who just nodded and shrugged.
"There was love there, but it got so competitive, ya know? Last time I try to have a thing with a fellow witch."
"Did it get scary?"
"Do you mean, did either of us vaporize anyone before it was all over? No. Trinka was more of the passive-aggressive type."
Buffy wondered if that described Spike, or if he was more aggressive-aggressive. For a moment she considered putting the question of what to do about Spike to Willow, but then realized she really didn't care about her friend's answer. If she brought it up, she'd have to say how she felt, and if she did that, she'd cry, or possibly smash the big oak library table where they sat.
Willow glanced up. "What?"
You killed people. And I forgave you. We're still friends. At least ... on paper. So why not?
Because it wasn't the same, wasn't the same, wasn't the same. And what Spike had done to her, since she'd learned he didn't perish in Sunnydale, was just ... cruel. Whether he loved her or not, wanted to help her or not ... it was only cruel. Putting his fate back in her hands to decide was the cruelest of all.
"We're all freaks," Buffy said. "We're such freaks we can't even pair off successfully with our fellow freaks. We're freaks' freaks, the freakiest. None more freaky. Qui es mas freako."
"Huh? What brought that on?"
"What do you think? Oh, I know! If I got a cliterectomy, and a lobotomy, I could just be, y'know, a slaying machine. And when I wasn't slaying, I could knit for the troops or something. It would make everything so simple."
"Or you could do me a spell. A de-sexing spell. You must have that one down by now. Just cancel all my sex drive and consciousness of romantic love. It would mean I could never sit through another Reese Witherspoon vehicle again, but I'm willing to make that sacri"
Despite her resolve, here she was talking, and here she was crying, the tears slipping down her cheeks and falling onto her pizza slice.
"Or just make me hate him! I hate him already, but not enough! Just make it so I hate and loathe and detest and revile him as much as he deserves, and then!"
Willow came around the table, and put her arms around her, but Buffy didn't really feel the comfort; it was as if there was some thick cloud between them. She wasn't in the mood to be comforted, anyway. She needed her rage to get her through the raid that night. One way or the other, it would be necessary.
Still, she spent the last couple of hours meditating, or trying to. It was harder than usual to clear her mind. Questions kept pouring in, questions that went beyond Spike, questions like, why am I even doing this? What's the point? There are always more vamps, more demons, it's just an endless cycle, isn't it? When do I get to rest? When do I get to love and be loved? By the time she rose to go, she didn't know anymore what she wanted for her life, except just to get through this night alive, kill all the vamps and make sure the slayers survived.
It was as good an attitude as any, she figured.
It went down as Spike described. Pretending to be on their way home from a girls' night out, they encountered him and a posse of male vamps in an alley behind a downtown movie theater; in the fracas, she and Faith, protecting Willow, killed half the minions, then let themselves be overpowered by the others. Then Spike made a showor was it a show?of tasting their blood. The other vamps watched hungrily as he snatched Faith to him, pulling her hair back tight so they could all see him fasten on her neck. She winced when he bit, but otherwise was stoic; when he let her go after a few seconds, she crumpled convincingly between the two who held her arms. When he turned to Willow, she seemed to panic, or maybe it was real panic: her jerking and struggling made Buffy fear she'd unleash a whoosh of magic that would ultimately blow the whole thing. Of course, it was she whom Spike had once captured and menaced with a broken bottle and threat of rapeWillow had told her all about that, more than once. She had plenty of reasons to find this tough.
Seeing her eyes go big and black, Spike hesitated. Would he spare her? But then he grinned. "Yours'll make me high for days."
The minions holding her stirred as Spike went for her throat; one nosed her neck on the other side. Spike rabbit punched him so hard he screamed. "This lot are mine. You wankers remember that, or it'll be the last thing you know."
Willow's expression when he buried his face in her neck showed that she hadn't believed, until this moment, that he'd really bite her. He lingered with her longer than with Faith, but Buffy got the sense he was doing this more to show off, and irritate Willow, than to actually feed; when he pulled back, the wound on her pale neck looked slight.
Turning next to her, he smiled again, a different smile, soft, menacing, triumphant. She didn't want to respond to what was private in his look. Still, she couldn't help but watch for the message, listen for it so she could reject it. "Slayer. Little while, gonna make you all mine. Possess you every way I know howan believe me, that's more than you've got fingers to count 'em on." As he loomed in, his hand cupped her breast, squeezing with a soft encompassing possessiveness that might have been gentle, or threatening. She wasn't sure how to take it, and while her rational mind was angry at this whole business, she was suddenly, sharply aroused. All at once she knew how much she wanted this bite. How desperately she'd been anticipating it all day. Her desire to give herself to him overlaid every other thought about the operationincluding her disgust and anger.
She wanted it, not like thisnot with her arms held back, in front of witnesses; not in a stinky alley. But she wanted it. Wanted to belong to Spike in that way that must mean most to a blood-obsessed vampire.
The idea flitted through her mind, that if he was to take and turn her now, she could love him and be with him and there would be no conscience to prick her. She'd be free, like he was. God, I am fucked up.
"I hope you choke."
He answered this with a stroke of his thumb across her nipple, which was hard and tender. As his mouth brushed the thin skin of her throat, she closed her eyes. The minions, Faith, Willow, the alley, all disappeared. Emotion flooded her like a drugshe couldn't even put a name to it, didn't know if it was joy or its opposite.
"Oh yeah," he breathed against her neck, his hand still holding her breast. "You're all mine. You'll belong to no one but me. An you'll like it so bloody much." He drew back far enough to look into her eyes. "Gonna save it for when I can savor you." He dropped into a whisper, audible only to herand the minions who held her. "My cock'll be buried in you to the hilt when I take you, Slayer."
When he drew back, there was nothing for a long moment but her intense disappointment. Then, remembering herself, she kicked out hard. "Get away from me, you filthy shit!"
He backhanded herhard enough to make her stagger. She was stunned, then realized this was her signal to fall back, to pretend to be overpowered. The show was over. The minions tightened their hold on her arms.
Spike gestured. "Bring them."
There were hairy moments in what followed, but Spike hadn't misled them. He was treated by Herakles and Belledame with trust, almost as an equal. They were pleased and unsuspicious when he presented the three women as his prisoners, and entirely surprised when Spike opened the assault by suddenly garroting their largest flunky, and producing stakes from the depths of his leather duster, tossing them to her and Faith.
The battle begun, Buffy was so revved that success was never in doubt. She barely thought about what she was seeing or doingHerakles and Belledame just didn't seem very important to her. She let Faith slay them, in payment for the murdered slayers whom she'd led, and concentrated her efforts on protecting Willow from the melee so she could overcome the shaman. Spike seemed to be everywhere at once; he'd secreted bigger weapons for them, and obviously bribed some of the vamps into loyalty, so that for a while vamps were killing one another, before they completely understood that Spike had sold them all out. But by then the shaman was down, the magic cloak broken, and other slayers were pouring in. By two a.m. the complex of derelict factories was in flame, and the slayers who surrounded it could pick off the last fleeing vamps almost at their leisure, until the sirens of approaching firetrucks signaled it was time for the slayers to melt away. They did so, in all directions, in triumph.
Buffy looked around for Faith, who greeted her with a high-five and a grin.
"The utter rout of my enemy always makes me hungry. Grab Spike an' let's get some breakfast."
"That did go well. But I'll pass on the eggs."
Faith smiled with one corner of her mouth. "I knew he'd do right by us."
Buffy shrugged. She wasn't sure why she was so unwilling to share Faith's satisfaction in what was, after all, a thoroughly satisfying battle. But now the fighting was over, she was curiously let down. She hadn't seen Spike in the last half hour at least. It occurred to her that he might feasibly have been dusted. The idea brought no twinge of anxiety. She was still angry.
"I'll see you later, okay?" Buffy cut through an alley, into the next deserted, cobble-stoned street.
She wheeled around. Spike was pacing behind her. The heat and light from the burning buildings outlined his figure, made his tufted hair orange. He was in vamp-face, the eyes glowing like two cigarette ends.
"Yeah. You too." Couldn't have done it without you. She couldn't bring herself to say it. Suddenly she remembered the fight they'd had that night she thought she'd murdered Warren's ex-girlfriend. He'd harangued her: So you made a mistake and killed someone! How many have you saved? How many are alive now because of you? How many were alive tonight in Cleveland, because Spike had come there and done what he had to do to get them this inside advantage? It was an argument that enraged her that night; now she felt her attraction to it was a sign of encroaching moral weakness. The older she got, the more confused she became about right and wrong and the big no-man's land that existed in between. Loving this new Spike would mean always having to make excuses to herself, always having to juggle rationalizations. Faith had told her to stop resisting happiness, stop pushing away what she needed. But Faith was herself a killer. For a moment, Buffy wished she was one too; it seemed to be a club with some pretty attractive members, and one where the living was easier.
"C'mon, I'll take you home."
"I'll walk." She felt that if she didn't escape him now, she'd explode somehow. She could imagine swinging the axe she carried, catching him with it just where his sleek jaw met the neck. His dust would stick to her sweat-streaked face.
He caught her hand. "Got some spry wheels. Come see."
"I don't give a shit about"
"No, this is a really fine ride. Look."
She let him draw her into an alley beside a nondescript warehouse building. The dark green car parked in back wasn't like the DeSotoit was some ten years newerthe phrase muscle car floated into her head, she wasn't sure where from. It was the sort he'd relish, shiny, flash and fast.
"Was the previous owner one of the people you strategically ate?"
"The previous owner was some poor fuck who fell foul of Herackles, but I wasn't 'round to see that. Anyway, it's mine now, I've got the keys an' all." He held the passenger-side door open for her.
She wanted to say, You really think I'm going to get into this car? With you? But then she was getting in, tossing the axe into the back, feeling around for the seatbelt as he crossed to the driver's side door. He smiled as the car roared to life, orange light reflecting off his incisors.
"Why're you still fanged out?" she asked.
"Am I?" The bumps slid away, and it was the face that existed so perfectly on the line between pretty and completely masculine that turned to regard her full-on. Having met William, she no longer thought of this visage as quite a human one. It was one side of Spike the monster, as the demon face was another, and really no more or less benign. "You're still wearing your game face, Slayer."
"Mine doesn't slip on and off so easily as yours."
For a moment he looked a question at her, then he put the car in gear. Backing out at fifty miles per hour, turning with a screech, he barreled through the empty early morning streets towards her neighborhood, barely touching the brake at intersections. Buffy sat with her hands deliberately open in her lap, trying to keep her jaw and shoulders loose, willing her tension away. It wasn't working. She was tired, not exhausted, but too tired to think, unwilling to think. All her thinking never got her anywhere. The vein in her neck throbbed and jumped. She touched it, and was startled to find the skin unbroken. I'm nothing but one big open wound.
"You didn't slay me back there."
"Oh, fuck you." He had no idea how close he'd just come to losing his head.
"Did you think I wanted you to? That time's past."
"I don't care. I don't care what you want or don't want. I can't care. You've forfeited any" She couldn't look at him. The window glass was cool against her fevered cheek.
"Any what? Any claim I ever had on your respect? Your affection?"
She nodded, but confirming it sounded like a lie she was telling to herself. Riding next to him, she felt so completely ... present. Here, in Spike's car, with Spike, exuding smells of vamp dust and tobacco, felt like where she belonged. Like what she wanted. But she wasn't sure she had the fight in her now, to resist her own scruples, to let this ruthless Spike in. It was ruthless of him, to demand she accept him so, with blood in his teeth.
"If I believed that was all you felt 'bout me, I'd drop you off an' go. But we both know it's not quite like that, is it?"
She wanted to say he was wrong. Wanted, and didn't want. She yearned for something she didn't quite dare define. She could've told him to just keep driving. Take them away somewhere where nothing mattered, wherever that might be.
But it was almost morning; he couldn't drive into the day. And they were almost home. He slid into an empty spot right in front of her building.
"There's never anyplace to park on this street," she grumbled. "I had to leave my car three blocks away."
"Guess it's meant that I should see you up to your door."
She could've said no. Instead she said nothing as she got out, leaving the axe behind, feeling in her pocket for her housekeys. Spike followed her up to the top of the stoop. As she unlocked the double doors with their etched-glass panels, she felt him standing just behind her, close enough to breathe on her neck except that he wasn't breathing. He tailed her up the two flights to her apartment. A sudden wave of irritation took her, like the chill called someone walking on my grave. Staring at the doorknob, she willed him away.
Of course, that never worked.
In a clipped voice, she said, "I have nothing for you."
"No blood. And I'm out of liquor. I don't think you're interested in low-fat cherry yogurt."
"Open the door, slayer."
"It's almost sunrise. You'd better leave now."
"You don't want me to."
"God Spike, why do you have to make everything so complicated? Don't tell me what I don't want. You're lucky I'm talking to you at all." She unlocked the door without glancing back, and was starting to walk in when he seized her elbow.
"You have to leave now. You'll just have enough time to get back to wherever you stay before it gets light."
His grip tightened. "Invite me, Buffy, or else I'll do it out here."
It? She was about to pull free when his other hand went around her, and she was lifted off her feet. "Put me down, you stupid vampire!"
"I will do, inside. Say the words."
All at once she found herself swung up, slung across his shoulder to dangle down his back. She heard his face change against her hip; felt the graze of fang through the cloth. "Always did crave some monster in your man. Know you're really ready for it, at last. So I'm gonna make it easy for you."
Oh God. She kicked, but they both knew it didn't mean anything. If she really wanted to get free, she could make him put her down. She didn't. "All right, all right. We'll talk. Although I'm about out of things to say to you. Come in, Spike."
He laughed and slapped her on the behind. She expected he'd bear her into the living room and dump her unceremoniously head first onto the sofa, since he was suddenly acting like an overgrown teenager. So she was startled to find herself spilled down on her back across the kitchen table, skirt yanked up, tights torn down the middle, panties pulled away with a stinging snap of elastic, and the cock she'd thought so much about already riding into her.
"what the hell are youthe door! The door's wide open!"
"Neighbors're all asleepChristBuffywe've both been needin' this"
Pulling her legs up beneath his arms, he started to fuck her in deep sawing strokes. She was already wet and trembling. Rearing up, she grabbed him by the neck, pulled him down on top of her. The table jumped, banged rhythmically against the wall, knocking over the salt and pepper shakers so they spilled into her outspread hair. She licked wildly at his teary eyelids, then fastened on his gasping mouth, trading moaning breaths back and forth. Together they wriggled higher; he was up on the table with her. His body in the bulky leather filled her arms. A pile of mail near her shoulder sifted to the floor. She came fast, shaking, crying out, clutching at his back. He didn't last much longer. They shuddered in long aftershocks as he subsided on her, his face buried in her neck.
"Baby," she murmured, "I have to breathe." He raised his head, looking like he had no idea where he was or how he'd gotten there; then he shifted a very little, jealous of letting go, his cock, still half hard, buried inside her, pulling her hips askew. Though his clothes were bulky, his zipper scratching her in a tender place, she didn't want to be uncovered, uncoupled. He kissed the corner of her panting mouth, her cheek, the side of her nose. Kissing back, she thought, I never knew I'd call him Baby.
"Fucking hell, that was a bit of all right. How're you, pet?"
"Good. I'm good." The hot blister of rage and resistance was blown open, leaving her drenched and floating on a calm, warm sea. Her prickling conscience was, for the moment anyway, if not silenced, so far submerged that she could ignore it. He'd promised to make it easy for her, and he had. "Wow. You really ... I wasn't expecting that. I'm glad you justtook charge. I was dreading the ... y'know ... negotiations."
"Could smell your cunny all juicy an' twitching in the car just now."
This brought her out in blushes. It was true; she'd been aroused since the biting business in the alley, had fought the whole battle with a vague awareness of congested energy between her thighs. She was still trembling, as if another orgasm was building, though they were both lying still and spent.
"Figured you'd only refuse me if I just asked you for it. Decided to take a chance on your wrath. Knew you wanted me."
"Because when I think about you, when I'm with you, even when you make me so angry ... I get all wet." This admission couldn't be news to himit wasn't to herbut saying it out loud made her feel so exposed. All at once she felt her face crumpling into the ugly grimace that always made her so self-conscious. She hit him, an ineffectual slap, and then again, a slayer blow that made him grunt. "You're cruel to me, I can't trust you, I don't know what you are anymoreand I think about you all the time!" Her crying, jagged and loud, was a freak lightning storm after a long sultry build-up.
He gathered her in, relieving her of his weight, holding her tight. Caressed her with light touches on her face, her hair. Even as he gentled her, she felt his cock rise and expand inside her. Her teary anger excited him. "It's all right, Slayer. It's all right. Have your cry, you've earned it. I've got you."
"I love you. I love you, you bastard! Spike. You've put me through too much! Don't leave me."
"Not going to."
He rocked her, and it didn't feel childish or silly, it was what she needed, even as she knew he was consoling her for the very wounds he'd inflicted.
After a minute or two, the rocking grew more purposeful. Clenching around him, stirring her hips, she whined a little as he began a deeper thrusting; she was already sore from her frantic bouts with the vibrator. She told him about it; he listened with a solemn attention that was nonetheless a little mocking. "Poor girl. Could feel your pussy was all swollen, when I first went into you. 'Fraid it'll be sorer still though, before I'm satisfied. Gonna fuck you all night, every way I can. But then I'll kiss it better, yeah?" She nodded wildly, bucking under him. The calm that enveloped her a little while ago was gone. He laughed, pinching her taut nipples hard through her bra; she came hard, grunting and writhing. "Look at you, insatiable little cunt. Look at you, so eager for me. Gaggin' for it, you are, little cat in heat. That's youpretty little wet Buffy cunny, just for me to fuck." These remarks made her toes curl, made her strain.
They were still rattling the table when they heard a door open and shut above, followed by a slow tread starting down the stairs.
"Shit!" Buffy hissed. "The door!"
Spike scrambled up, kicked it shut.
She sat up, and reached out to twist the lock. Maybe it was the abrupt withdrawal, the fast change of posture, but she was suddenly plunged back into self-consciousness. It was the sad feeling that used to descend on her after visiting Spike's crypt, when she put her clothes back on and made her solitary way home, the product of her excitement and release pooling in the crotch of her panties (if she could find them afterwards), as her conscience nagged at her for taking solace with a demon whom she should've long since slain.
Would she never be free of that?
Sex had always left her feeling sad, but she'd always blamed that less on sex than on her unique circumstances. Her fuck history was pretty bleak, after all, and even when the men weren't actually evil before during or afterwards, being with them tended to leave her feeling weirdly scooped out and vulnerable.
Spike was shrugging out of his clothes. When he was bare from the waist up, his erect cock jutting out from his peeled-back fly, he clunked one booted foot on the table between her knees. "Tug that off."
He'd never addressed her in this peremptory way before, at once lordly and familiar; she wasn't sure how she felt about itit was ballsy and unexpected, just like everything he'd done so far in Cleveland. What was he thinking? That he'd conquered her completely, that everything was going to be fine now, all the dilemmas he'd raised laid to rest by one good lay? Avoiding his eyes, she grabbed onto the boot and sock and pulled them away together, letting them drop to the floor. When she'd freed both feet, he stepped out of his jeans, kicking them under the table, and stood back, slowly milking his cock with one hand, looking at her. As always when he was nude, he was completely self-possessed. There was something almost regal he seemed to put on, when he wore nothing but his skin. No trace remained, in his tightly muscled body, his confident little smirk, his smooth white skin, of the man she'd sat vigil by for all those suffocatingly sultry weeks. The man who'd coughed and vomited and pissed and swore at her as he tried to die. The man she still didn't understand, about whom there were still so many questions she needed to ask. A little corner of her mind missed William, and something she couldn't quite pinpoint, as if she was the victim of a shell-game, not yet quite aware of how and how badly she'd been cheated.
"Get your kit off, Slayer, 'fore I tear it off."
"Don't call me that."
He cocked his head. "What's wrong now?"
She wanted to hear him apologizefor Dai Phuong, for deciding to be a vampire again, for the Clevelanders he'd killed. But she was pretty sure he had no intention of doing that, now or later. She could take the moral high ground, and occupy it alone, or she could haveat lasther ... demon lover, her man, her mysterious old/new Spike.
Why did it have to be this way? All her doubts rushed back in on her. Without entirely intending to, she said, "I don't think we can do this."
Not at all nonplussed, Spike actually smiled a little. "Still determined to rehearse that song, are you?"
She didn't want to look at his unrepentant face, or his erection, or anything. She'd pulled her skirt down over her legs; she stared at that. "Why did you have to do it this way? You must've known I'd have to That it couldn't be Why couldn't youoh shit." She waved a peremptory hand in the air. "I know. I knowIknowIknow, you explained it, and I understand. But that's not the same for me as ... why can't I just accept"
He came to her then, standing between her knees, taking her shoulders in his hands. The smile was gone; he looked very kind and wise, which seemed like another one of his unfair advantages, when he was naked. "Because you're the once an' future, Original-Wrath-of-God Slayer, an' I'm an old vampire who's been very wicked in my time. Ask me a harder one."
"Don't try to make this into a joke. This is about who I am" She couldn't find words to express the war going on in her mind. She wanted to suppress it, ignore it, force it to silence, but wanting and achieving were so far apart! And she felt guilty for the wanting in the first place.
"Who you are. Buffy, I know who you are. How far you've come, poor girl. Your misgivings do credit to you, head an'heart, as they used to say when I was a lad. But it's time to lay 'em aside."
"Don't call me 'poor girl' either." She grabbed two fistfuls of skirt, to prevent herself from putting her arms around him.
"Back in Dai Phuong, remember that night near the end, when you helped me wash my hair?"
She nodded. It was something she'd thought about every day since.
"Even though I asked you to, I was half eaten up with humiliation. Wanted to disappearwanted you to disappear. Think I was at my lowest of the low ebbs, that night."
"Yeah ... and?"
"Didn't know it at the time, either of us ... but that was my turning point. First time you really permitted me to make love to you, versus being your stud, was that final night in your Sunnydale basement, right? An' it was a sweet thing for me to have, to carry to my so-called death. But that filthy DP baththat was when you made love to me, Slayer. Even though I was nothing anymore that you could possibly want, you went full out with it. Were in an ecstasycould see that, feel it, well enough, an' knew it was all for me. You said, 'this is my big romance,' an' you shone. You shone with it like a star, an' even through my misery I felt it an' knew what a mistake I'd made. Being too proud an' stupid in California to figure out in time when you loved me back."
She'd been happy in that disgusting bathroom, pregnant and spending her love out without reserve; also without hope, but there was something crazy and good about having no hope and yet making the most of the moment anyhow. The humid intensity of it, her quivering jelly of happiness at being allowed to lavish him with touch, came back to her with specific vividness now where she was perched on the table. Her skin burned with a consuming embarrassment. Words poured out of her mouth that felt futile and somehow petty even as she said them. She was angry at him, but angrier at herself for being stuck here.
"You could've decided to live! That's what you were supposed to do, why you got the shanshu. God, Spike, why why why did you have to walk away from your soul? Now you're a demon again, you've killed people, and here I am having to somehow justify"
He stepped back, so he wasn't touching her anymore. "We've both been warriors long enough to know how these things go, Buffy. A few people, including slayers, had to die, so more could be spared, an' the Good could bob up tops in the end. That's what they call realpolitik, yeah?"
"As for how I mean to go on ... may not be the bleedin' heart I was, but know right from wrong in my head, an' know whose side I'm proud to be on. I've got my balls again, yeah, but I'm not on the spree."
"That's it, is it? That's all you're going to say about it."
"Uh, yeah. Pretty much all there is, without repeatin'. No purpose in givin' you a run-down on the what when who. Either take me as I am, Slayer, or I'll get in my pretty car an' take off from here."
She could tell, from the suppressed emotion behind his matter-of-fact tone, that he meant it. And really, it was true: what would be the point of demanding a blow-by-blow of his adventures with Herakles and Belledame? What point going round and round on anything he'd done, either in Ohio or Dai Phuong or back in Sunnydale? She'd made plenty of mistakes too, and anyway, they hadn't started from the same point. In so many ways, his had been the longer and more arduous journey, to the place they both rested this moment.
Spike wasn't a human being, but he was a man, and at long last, an adult.
Forcing herself to focus, to see him, Buffy brought her hand up to touch his lips, and trace the line of one cheekbone. The tender gesture evoked a welling of tenderness inside her. Impossible to imagine losing him again.
"Where would you go?" she whispered.
"There's slayers all over the world could probably use a bit of the old Spike brio. Though what other could give me such a cockstand as I get, just thinkin' about you an' your dear little pussy?"
"I don't know."
"None. None I'd want to fuck, an' please, an' cherish like I do you. None who could teach me to forget what being lonely feels like." He moved in between her legs again.
A full-body shiver took her; she couldn't keep anymore from reaching for him. "Spike ...."
"Buffy, love ... be my mistress. Promise not to disappoint you, an' I'll make it worth your while."
"Your mistress ... would that involve lunchtime assignations and me in lingerie?"
"Wouldn't say no."
"But I want more than that. After everything ... all the shit and the waiting ... I want"
His mouth took on a sympathetic pout. "Can't marry a dead man, pet. An' we're not the marrying type, you an' me. Not really."
"No, I know. But ...." She was thinking of the bite she couldn't bring herself to ask for yet, burying her nose and lips against his throat, screwing her eyes shut. "I love you. So much. Please please don't kill any more people."
"Not without checking with you first, anyhow."
He lifted her off the table. "Think we've done justice to this roomlet's see what else you've got." Spike took her hand, and led her down the dark narrow corridor that led to the bedroom. She switched on the light. There wasn't much to the rooma black-out shade on the single window (so she could sleep in after late patrols), a bureau, a rug, a rocking chair, some framed prints on the walls. How common and unimaginative Spike would think it.
"That's your bed, is it?" He put a knee up on the edge, as if testing the firmness of the mattress.
He nodded. "Gonna fuck you in it. Sometime before tomorrow morning." He seized her by the waist then, backing and pinning her against the wall, so high she had to strain to keep her toes on the floor as he went into her.
"Not like that," he said. "Let me hold you. I've got you."
She understood at once, catching onto what she was sure he was thinking of: their first time. Long since changed from a memory she shied away from, to one that bore the golden glow of destiny. When she wrapped her legs around his waist, letting him take all her weight, Spike sighed into her neck. "That's it. That's it, pet. Gonna have you, love. Gonna fill you up an' have you all I like. Make you do all the things that'll please me. Say it. Say it for me."
" ... fuck ... Spike ... yes ... fuck me ...!"
They did it all over the apartment. Spike kept moving her from one place to the other, changing positions. It took her a little while to realize he wasn't letting her come; every time she got close, when her breathing went ragged and she began to keen, he'd move her.
She was bent inelegantly over the sofa arm, her cheek and neck and chest half buried in the cushion, her thighs high and spread as he rode into her from behind. It was a position that let him get in deep, but left her understimulatedsomething he had to be aware of. He kept talking, telling her what a good fuck she was. There was an edge to his voice, almost of contempt; she couldn't tell if it was real or just part of the dirty talking that was wringing her to such a pitch of frantic excitement she could barely think. She heard herself speak too, but she didn't know what she was saying. Pleading and cursing. Begging him not to stop, begging him to let her come. She'd never felt so full, so fully possessed. He controlled her, holding her hips, dragging her up to meet his thrusts. She'd never let him rule her like this before when they fucked; she'd always been the one in charge, even when she'd permitted him to bind her. From the moment he'd laid her out on the table, she'd understood that everything between them was differenthe was different. He was taking her for the first time. All the other times, in Sunnydale, she was the one who'd taken, who'd ruled him with her smallest glance.
Her happiness, like her orgasm, hovering high up inside her, just out of reach, entirely in his power to bestow. She was frantic, and struggling to hide it. Frantic because she finally understood things she hadn't known before, and the understandingthe experiencewas already tearing her apart. This desperate wild need, yawning and insatiable, this was what he'd endured, while she'd held him at a distance. While she'd hated and used him, refused to treat him like a man and a friend, beat and kicked him, he'd stayed with her because he felt this. Oh, she thought, oh, I get it now. It was like a religious revelation, terrifying and awe-inspiring. A part of herself she'd never known was there was wide open, he was fucking that part, which cried and keened and wailed to be filled up. She knew now, he could do anything to her, and she would revel in it. He could ask her to crawl, and she would crawl. She was fixated, it was like hypnotism, or a spell: fixated on his cock, his undulant body, his grasping hands, his face, his eyes. With hers screwed shut she could see them, that blue gaze that had the power now to gut or reward her, by their mere expression. She yearned for the bite. If he didn't vamp out and devour her soon, she would offer it, she would offer and offer until he accepted, because it was suddenly terrible to her that she not give him everything of herself, over and over and over, as much as he could take. She wanted to cry because she was afraid he would leave some part of her unclaimed.
All of this was what he'd felt, she was sure of that now, he'd existed in that constant restless agony of wanting and needing and giving and luxuriating even in her abuse, because it was attention, it was something she gave to him alone.
Once, in his crypt, after the brutal punishing sex she'd come to him for, he'd talked about his desire. No one had ever spoken to her the way he did that night; she'd never even imagined anyone would. Told her in a crude specific way that disgusted and thrilled her, about her cunt, how it fascinated him. How he couldn't think about anything anymore but fucking it, eating her out, carrying her aroma, her flavor, on his own skin. Pleasuring her so she might smile at him, or even not at him, but at anything at all. How he dreamed about her and woke up aching and hard and furious and at the same time filled with happiness, with hope, because he loved a wonderful woman, who might come to him that day and let him have her.
At the time she'd thought he only talked that way because he was a demon, but she understood now. More than understoodshe inhabited that same place, where wanting and having were mixed up together in an impossible mélange of fulfillment and fear that at any moment the fulfillment might be torn away. Spike might go. He might take his attention and his hard body and that beautiful cock away from her, he might take himself to Faith or one of the other slayers, or he might disappear altogether. This might be a trickhis ultimate punishment for her. Or it might be a dream.
He withdrew suddenly, his slick cock sliding out, splattering their juices against her thighs. She cried out. Flipping her over onto her back, so her hips lying on the sofa arm were still higher than her head, he drew her legs up tight beneath his arms, pushed inside again. She wanted to hold him, to bury her tongue in his mouth, but he was too far above her to reach. She stretched her arms, flailed amongst the sofa pillows, dug her hands into the cushions. The way he was holding her gave him complete control. She could only grapple his back, her ankles hooked together, heels digging in against his spine when she flexed.
"Please, Spike. Please."
"Please what? What d'you want?"
"I need you nearer. I need to kiss you."
This seemed to please him; he reached a hand out to her. She caught it, he hauled her up. When her arms were around his neck, she sighed, writhed, riding his pelvic bone, trying to come.
"You hungry little minx. Not yet. Didn't I tell you, not yet?"
"But I need you! I need"
"Hush, Buffy. I know what you need. Gonna give it to you, in my own sweet time."
This made her shiver. He could be unkind to her now, humiliate her and shame her, he could do anything, and not only wouldn't she stop it, she would like it. She'd hate it but she'd like it too. He was watching her, and she couldn't hide anything from him. He was as aware as she that it was all changed. He was no longer her supplicant, she was no longer the queen.
"Kiss me then," he said, his tone indulgent and a little condescending. "Let's have your sweet kisses."
He sank with her into the armchair as she pressed her mouth to his, taking wild frantic gulps of him. With her knees beneath her again, straddling his thighs, she started to fuck herself on him, but he caught her hips and stopped her.
"No." He pinched her nipples. "I ought to get a nice little pair of clamps for these. Wear 'em under your shirt as you go about in the daylight, an' think of what I'll do to you when we're together."
A twinge of fear took her at this, even as she nodded. "Oh ... yes."
His smile was smug. "Yeah, you'd really like that, pet. God, Buffy, you're really something. When you come around, you really come around."
"Because I need you. I need" As much as she wanted to hide this new desperation, she also wanted to tell it to him. He knew it already, she could see that clearly in his face, the way he looked at her.
The lazy way he touched her now, as if he didn't care when they started fucking again, didn't care when he'd come. His hands traveled over her, proprietary and confident, pausing here and there to caress, to inspect. He traced the undersides of her breasts with the rough side of his finger. "These lovelies have been lonely, need a bit of attention, don't they?" Ran his fingertips along the lines of her ribs, explored the hollow of her belly, poked a pinky into her navel. "You're not so thin as you were. That's good. Don't be too thin, love. Like you with a bit of flesh. Like to see you tuck into your food." Traced the lines of her collarbones, dusted them with kisses, so she gasped and winced, even as she surged up to meet his mouth. He looked carefully at her face, turning it this way and that. "You look so good to me. But there's too much winter in your little face, too much sadness. You don't like it here. You've been lonesome."
"What else could I be but lonesome? I thought you were dead!"
"Poor sad little Buffy. We'll fuck that out of you, yeah? Make you rosy an' sleek, like you were when we first met."
She wanted to ask for the bite then, but she didn't quite dare. She was afraid that he'd refuse. It seemed strange to her, that he'd abstained earlier, in the alley. But he must have meant it, that he was saving it for later.
"My lovely slayer. My pretty darling. Whose tight little cunt is wet for me, is mine to fuck. Who looks at me with such eyes. Such eyes."
She shivered, tears tracking helplessly down her face. Smiling, Spike lifted one off on his fingertip, slipped the finger between his lips. "Here she sits all trembling an' proud an' delicious, on William the Bloody's big hard cock."
"Here I sit," she nodded, then, overcome with a sudden shyness that made her spine curl, she buried her face in his neck. "Here I sit, in all my glory."
He let her move then. Let her do what she liked, which was to fuck herself on him, tight and slow, her inner muscles rippling. She rested her head against his chest, so she could watch what she was doing, and because she thought that if she saw his face now, it would be too much for her. He stroked her hair, lifted it over and over off her shoulders, where it kept falling back. Gently now he pinched her nipples, rolled them between his fingers, rubbing them with his palms. She couldn't remember when her breasts were so exquisitely sensitivethe pleasure rippled through her, made her wriggle and shake. He didn't stop her anymore from touching herself, it seemed to please him to watch her strum at her clit, to hear her escalating gasps. His hands moved down to her behind, squeezing and stroking. He brought a wet finger to her asshole, slipped it inside. She grunted.
"Gonna fuck your sweet little ass, Slayer," he whispered. "Pretty soon now."
He'd wanted to do that back in Sunnydale, and she hadn't let him. It seemed like a strange thing to her, a thing she didn't think women liked, that she didn't think she'd like. Especially with him. It would be too much of a surrender, with him.
Now the idea of his cock in her ass made her desperately excited. Sensing that, he chuckled, pushing his finger in further. She arched, wriggled. "Oh please. Please." She didn't even know what she was pleading for anymore. Spike's finger penetrated higher, crooked a little. She cried out. She could feel it through the thin membrane, rubbing against his cock inside her.
"You want everything, don't you, Slayer?"
"Yes. I want you everywhere. Need you to stay with me."
"Sssh, not goin' anywhere. How could I? Go, an' miss this? Miss you?"
His voice, his words, so full of tenderness, pushed her over the edge. Somehow she'd forgotten, in the midst of her frenzied hunger for him, and his lordly conduct, that he also loved her. She'd felt curiously alone, but he was there now, holding her steadily, his hands cherishing her as she shook and wailed. "That's it, pet, that's it. Go on an' come now. You're lovely when you spend. That's it. Come on me. Come, Buffy." In a little while he jerked up into her, once, twice, and then she felt him start to spurt.
"Oh Spike. Oh lover lover lover" She rocked into him until he went soft, until he subsided, his head lolling on the chair back. He drew her head to rest on his shoulder, and for a few minutes, they were quiet.
When the phone rang, she was so startled, she realized she'd been asleep. Spike half-rose, still holding her, and grabbed it up, handing it to her before collapsing back into the armchair.
"Debrief at Slayer Central at two o'clock," Faith said, without hello. "We have a lot to go over about last night. And we have to start talking about the memorial services. Shandra's family are flying in tomorrow, and"
"Oh. What time is it now?"
"Almost noon. See you there, okay?"
"Uhno. I think ... I'm going to stay in today. Have some me time."
"Yes. I think you can spare me."
"Okay. By the way ... have you seen Spike? Because after the battle, he kinda disappeared. Some of the girls were worried, but I figured"
"You know he's here. He's with me. We want to be alone."
"All right, why didn't you say?" The tone of Faith's voice changed. "Sorry I interrupted. I'll let Hugh know that you're off duty."
"Tell the others that they did a great job."
"Tell Spike we couldn't have done it without him."
Letting the phone drop to the rug, she said, "Faith says hello."
He caressed her sweat-streaked back. "Faith said to tell me they couldn't have done it without me."
"She's not exactly the whispering maiden."
"I guess not."
"Glad to know there's a bit of gratitude going."
"Spike ... I'm grateful." Her body was pleasantly numb, yet she felt strangely defensive and closed.
Sex with Spike always had been easier than talking with him. Somehow the talking was harder now that they were unopposedly together. No one was objecting, trying to part them. There were no secrets. Yet she found herself feeling shy, and as if Spike was, in many ways, a stranger. She knew such a very little about him, really. Even their fucking had stayed in a narrow groove, because she'd so stringently kept him from expressing his affection, and had reined in her own softer impulses too.
"Not fishing," he said. "Did it for mostly selfish reasons, anyway."
"Selfish reasons ... uh huh. You wanted to strut your stuff in front of all those slayers ... and you wanted a free pass to bite Willow after all these years."
"Bite did her good. If some vamp bit her properly, say, once a month, she'd remember a bit that she's a person like other people when she gets up in the morning. Would improve her."
Buffy found she agreed with this idea, but decided to let it pass unseconded.
Spike smiled then. "And I got off on taking those stupid buggers downnothin's more irritating than the vanity of vamps when they clump together into families an' start putting on airs. And since they were startin' to get lucky with other slayers, didn't want ... didn't want you to get hurt."
"No one was going to kill me."
He gathered her in. "Don't say that. Want you confident, yeah, but hubris is no good. You forget you're mortal, you get careless"
"Okay, coach. End of pep talk."
"It's not a pep talk. Just me bein' selfish again. I want my pretty mistress sound of wind an' limb, so I can fuck her every day."
"Is that what I have to look forward to?"
"Bloody right. An' don't pretend it's not what you're hankering for." He squeezed her nipple. "You're on fire for me."
"I wouldn't dream of it." Even as she smiled and bantered, Buffy wondered how they were going to do this. If they could do it.
Combine how they'd begunthat wild, nearly senseless passionthat passion that was almost nothing but the senseswith what came later. The feelings that developed ... festered ... when the touching was over. When the bruises had faded beneath the skin, into the bone, into the invisible webbing that connected them.
They'd never been lovers or friends in any conventional sense. Never gone out on a date. Never eaten a meal together. The conversations they'd shared were always full of silences, awkwardness, ideas censored on both sides, choked off. The whole thingher unease, her silences, her manner of being demanding and stand-offish at the exact same timeall of that was sustained entirely by Spike's devotion, by his tacit agreement to take whatever she dished out.
How could they find their way now? There was so much that was undefined.
She realized that she was afraid of him now, which she'd never been before. But it was a fear that she wouldn't have dispensed with even if she could. She'd never felt it for any other man before, it seemed to be as much a part of real love as desire was, and inextricably bound up in it. It didn't seem to have much to do with trust, oddly. She trusted that he wouldn't double-cross her or deliver her into the hands of her enemies. The fear was completely personal, and titillating, and in a strange way, entirely beside the point. He ruled her with his hands and cock, ruled her with a look. He might hurt her, physically or emotionally. She wouldn't be able to stop him. She didn't want any more to stop him. That was part of what was different about herself. The end of her defenses.
Still snuggled together in the armchair, the juices of their fuck drying on their skin, she said, "This is so strange. It feels ...."
"Feels bloody fucking fantastic, to me."
"Yes! To me too. Only" She struggled to figure out what she wanted to say. "I barely know you. The little things about you ... details ... I don't know."
"An' whose fault is that?" He said it without provocation, almost like a real question. His hand was on her breast. "Shift a bit, pet." He pulled her up so her back rested against his chest. "Now spread your legs."
He slipped the hand not holding her breast down between her thighs. Curled his palm around her pussy, the fingers going inside her, the heel of his hand seated tight against her still twitching clit. The other hand went on kneading her breast, teasing the nipple.
She hadn't known she needed to be held this way, but she did.
Having arranged her to his liking, Spike glanced around. "Nice flat this is."
He obviously wasn't worried right now that she didn't know the little things about him.
"It's my first real place. Where I had to think about what I really wanted, and shop for it. The flat in Rome came furnished."
"Never saw your bedroom there anyway. Just the front room. An' bloody Andrew."
"Oh, Andrew. He absolutely worships you."
"Oh, he's turned out all right. I mean, as all right as any of us. He does good work."
"Yeah, he did a good bait an' switch on old Angel back in L.A. Spiriting away that demented slayer who maimed me. Suppose he's all right. Though don't think I'll ever forget what it was, riding out with him after that clue 'bout The First, having his little boy boner pressed into my back the whole trip down. Then bein' stuck there for a whole day, while he prattled on, an' all I wanted was to get back to you."
"You should've fucked him," Buffy said, amazed at herself. Her head was so light, she felt as if her brain had floated up to the ceiling and was stuck there like a lost balloon. "That would've shut him up, I think."
"What, him? He'd have yakked all through it."
"Not if he was sucking you off. He'd have liked that."
"Why Buffy." He tightened his grip on her pussy. "Are you havin' a naughty little fantasy?"
"About you popping Andrew's cherry on the floor of a church? Noooo ... I would never think about such things."
"No, not you. Wasn't you just now, either, sayin' all sorts about me an' my cock. Like it when you talk dirty. Like it when you talk sweet. An' both together is best of all."
She blushed. "I meant all of it. Even when I didn't know what I was saying"
"You're so damn beautiful when I'm fucking you. You show how much you like it. Makes a fellow proud."
"You've got a lot to be proud of." Everything she'd once thoughtlessly relied on him for was here and accounted for. The incredible body with its stamina ... the seemingly telepathic understanding of what got her off ... the pain that turned into pleasure ... and the tenderness she'd once punished him so severely for displaying.
Spike really was back.
She craned her head to look at him. "This ... this is really happening, isn't it?"
"Course it is. What, you think you're hallucinating?"
"This is something I wanted so much. It might be a dream. What if it was like that time that demon scratched me, and I was this mental patient who only thought she was the slayer? That seemed so real."
"No delusion, pet."
"There's things I can't get my head around, though ... I mean, it's like the man I spent those months with in Dai Phuong never existed. The hair. The coat ... you're Spike Classic again, as if you never were anything else."
He let go of her. Took her shoulders and turned her. His face was cloudy, suspicious. Buffy's heart dipped and raced. She wished she'd kept this to herself.
"You know it's not the same coat."
"I don't care if it's the same coat! Look! This is coming out wrong. I'm trying to say"
"Wish you'd never found me in Dai Phuong. Wasn't meant for public consumption."
"If I hadn't found you, you wouldn't be here now."
"Suppose that's true." He frowned more. "Guess I've you to thank, after all, for getting me back to being Spike. How's that for a tasty bit of irony?"
"A little more bitter than tasty," she said, thoughtlessly.
He pinched her. "I'm no one's whipped boy now, not The Powers', an' not yours."
"I know! I ... I like it." Her clit twitched, she knew she was blushing.
"Can see you do." His gaze was locked on hers. She was certain he knew everything about how he'd conquered her. How entirely his she'd become.
But he surprised her again. "You like it, yeah. But I know that you think a little worse of me, for failin' at being human. You'll always wonder about the man, won't you? About how it would've been if I'd been strongerby your lightsan' done my bloody duty."
"Duty? That's not a you-word."
A low rueful laugh rolled from his throat. "When I was a lad, back in the 1850s an' '60s, everyone in England spoke about their duty, the way people now talk about tryin' to be happy. The duty of a man, of a son, of a brother, a husband. Duty was a solemn thing, a public an' private thing, an' everyone knew theirs, because was inculcated in all of us from the time we were babes in arms, in the world I was brought up in. World I couldn't really live in an' couldn't escape. Well, 'til Dru popped up an' freed me."
This was a window on Spike's personality she'd never thought to see open. "So, what was William's duty?"
"To do what was hardest, what was least pleasant, least natural to me, because that was what my father, my family, my school, my church, my peers, everyone, expected." He shook his head. "I tried so bloody hard to wear that strait-jacket, but it all felt like a charade. Wasn't like you, invested with special strength to meet special circumstances. I lacked what it took to be a proper gentleman in my world. 'Course, plenty did, but I suspect most of 'em weren't so writhingly aware of it as I was. Could never go back to bein' that desperate little man."
"What would you have preferred? If you could've done anything?"
He shook his head impatiently.
"No, tell me. C'mon. Tell me, and I'll keep it to myself. Also, I'll tell you something embarrassing about me."
" ... fancied myself a poet. Was always scribbling verses. Thought I was damn good at it, an' ought to be the poet laureate. Wanted to be celebrated like Mr Wordsworth, to live in Italy in a splendid villa full of antiquities, have other clever men for friends, an' a beautiful, worshipful wife who'd give me a passel of pretty children playing about my feet." As he spoke his voice got softer and softer, his mouth curdling in disgust. "Was so damn wet it's amazing I didn't drown myself."
The picture this presented stunned her. She'd always had a half-formed notion that Spike came from some rough, low background, that he was, in life, the same sort of ruffian he was as a vampire. She hadn't observed him closely enough in the years he hung around the Scoobies to realize just how much his persona was an invention, an inversion of his personal truth. Even learning that he'd killed and turned his mother didn't quite dispel that amorphous idea from her mind. "Spike, it's all right." She held his face in her hands, breathed a kiss across his mouth. "You shouldn't be so angry at him. He's only you. The one who was sorry for me because my mother was sick. The one who proved to her family that Tara wasn't a demon. The one who notices that Dawn and Xander are sweet on each otherwhich you were right about. Don't talk of him as if he's someone else. William is you. And I love you."
"But it bothers you, that I threw my humanity away, as you put it. Not as much as it bothered you that you loved me when I had no soul. But it's something like that."
He sounded angry, sore, offended. Yet she wasn't sure he was angry at her, exactly.
"I'll always wonder about the man I met in Vietnam. And, yeah ... I think it's going to be a challenge for me to really accept you as you are. Which is my problem, not your problem, okay? And I will work on it. But the last thing I think of you as, is a failure. The last thing. I knew you were courageous, back when you didn't give Dawn up to Glory, and I never stopped relying on you for that. You've shown me over and over how brave and willing you are."
"Really?" He'd always, even at his mightiest, had that streak of doubt just beneath the surface. It was that, she was certain, that made him different from the other vampires. That made him changeable. Maybe it was even what had helped him survive for a century and a half. As lordly as he'd been a little while ago, he still needed her reassurance. She took pleasure now in smoothing it away, with kisses and whispers, but she didn't think it would ever be entirely gone. After a little coaxing he returned her kisses, deepened them. Then suddenly his mouth changed beneath hers. She was confronted by his game face.
Caressing the hard ridges of his cheeks with her thumbs, she went on kissing him with barely a pause. A growl started in his throat. Beneath her thigh she felt his cock harden. She felt she'd passed a test.
His hand wormed between her thighs, seized hold of her again. She shimmied, shifted to give him more room. Her whole body was quivering with anticipation. When he slid his mouth down her neck, she arched and whimpered. She was liquid between her thighs. At last, at lastthey were getting to it, the great thing she yearned for.
"Can feel your blood beatin' here," he murmured, giving her a lick where jaw melted into neck. "All that power an' life just beneath the skin."
"It's yours," she gasped, shifting so she could curl her hand around his cock. "Oh God, I need youtake it, take it!"
He rose then, holding her by the waist, guiding her out of the chair, down onto the floor, positioning her on her elbows and knees, his body curled tightly over and around hers. Cock bumping and gliding against her grasping pussy, one hand groping at her dangling breasts. She felt him breathing gently against her back, against her shoulder. The breath parting her hair, and then as his prick slid into her, his lips closed on her neck. The sharp fangs brushed tantalizingly against her goose-bumped flesh as he nipped and licked the place just below her ear, the place that was somehow connected directly to her clit, so that it throbbed as he sucked on the tender skin. All the while he was fucking her in long slow strokes. Strokes that made her arch and shudder, that bent her head closer and closer to the floor. She began to sob, shivering hard. The sharp teeth brushed again and again over her neck, without fastening. With every deep, slow thrust, she moaned, begged.
"Oh please. Oh please. Oh please. Please"
"Hush love. Hush an' get fucked."
"I want you to"
"Hush." The hand that was on her breasts moved to her mouth, covered it. Everything he was doing was so gentle, hypnotically slow and gentle. She felt like the priestess of some indolent god. His skin against her lips tasted like her sex; she licked the fingers, panting. His fangs still grazed her skin.
"Feel me fucking you. Full up, you are. Beautiful slayer gettin' fucked by her vampire."
His mouth fastened on her then; the fangs sharp against her tender flesh. Mouthing and holding her like a cat dominating another cat. Coming close to breaking through, but not breaking through. Her forehead was almost touching the rug now. She keened with every breath, her pussy fluttering hard around his cock. Spike lifted his hand from her mouth, and then his fingers were on her clit, a sudden sharp pinching that made her spasm, scream, shake. He kept her coming for long moments, fucking her faster now, murmuring his filthy encouragement.
Finally she couldn't support herself anymore, and collapsed to her belly. Spike took his last thrusts and spilled; his come oozing thickly out of her already overflowing cunt even before he tumbled to her side.
When she raised her head, expecting to see the blue eyes again, he was still vamped. She pressed her mouth to his, taking a long deep kiss.
"You're amazing," he gasped when she broke the kiss, stroking her hair back from her flushed cheeks. "You've never been like this before. You're magnificent."
"I'm in love." She threw an arm across him, snuggled in tight. "I'm in love with my old enemy."
The next time she noticed, it was evening. She said, "We should probably get dressed and go patrol."
"Not lettin' you get dressed any time soon. But I'm a bit peckish."
"There's blood! I'll"
"Thought you said you had nothing for me."
"I ... lied. I got some back when I thought ... when I hoped you'd visit me. I can defrost it."
He looked pleased. "Stay put. You hungry? Must be. An' thirsty too."
"Are you going to fix me a snack?" She watched him rise elegantly to his feet. Even from the severely foreshortened vantage of the floor where she was still sprawled, he looked good.
"Will do if you've got any food in your fridge. I'm expecting to find half a lemon an' some month-old chicken chow mein."
"That is so not the case. I have food. I'm an accomplished practitioner of the domestic arts. I clean, and I cook nutritious and tasty soups that I freeze, and I make my bed every morning, and if you'd fix me a fried egg on toast with just a little butter I will be your best friend forever."
"Thought you were my best friend forever already."
"Yes. That's exactly what I want you to think, because it's so so so what I am." She expelled a frisson of pleasure in spangled laughter. "Do you know how to fry an egg?"
"What kind of idiot do you take me for? 'Course I do."
"Don't break the yolk."
"Intact yolk, check."
"And the blood's in the freezer, you'll see it. You can heat it up in the microwave, or I have a double-boiler"
"A double-boiler! Slayer, don't need a ruddy double-boiler."
"And if you want some eggs, have some. Have anything you like. Also, there's tea. I got that kind you used to drink when you were living in my basement."
"Make a pot. I am thirsty. Orlet me help you, it'll go faster"
"Don't you move. When I come back in here, first thing I want to see is you lyin' there with dimpled knees akimbo."
He gave her a wink before disappearing towards the kitchen.
She stayed obediently in place during the twenty minutes he was gone. It would've been easy to doze; she couldn't remember the last time she'd been so agreeably fucked out, so utterly relaxed and happy. But she didn't want him to find her asleep. She was looking forward to sleepingbut laterin his arms. In her bed. Sooner or later they'd have to make it to her bed. For now, she concentrated on holding still. Letting her eyes lose focus as she stared up at the ceiling fan. Letting her knees loll open, her hands lie unflexed, palms up. She counted her breaths, and smiled to herself, until he came back into the room, carrying a tray. The aroma of the fried egg made her stomach gurgle.
"Good girl," he said, seeing how carefully she'd followed his directive.
"You know you don't get to tell me what to do when we have our clothes on, right?"
"'Course I don't. An' not when we're naked either, if you don't agree." He descended as smoothly as he'd risen, without unbalancing the tray. "You know I'd never try again to force you. You do know, don't you, Buffy?"
"Yes. May I sit up now and eat my supper, or would you like to stare at my crotch some more?"
"Don't say crotch. Say, my pretty pinky quim."
"Uh ... I'm not gonna say that." She reached for the plate. Spike poured out two cups from the flowered tea pot.
"Where's your blood?"
"Didn't think you'd fancy smell of hot blood while you ate your eggs, so I drank it while yours was cookin'. D'you think you could get such a thing in this burg as a bit of Berba weed?"
"I thought of that! But ... I couldn't remember the name of it. I'll get you some, yes, of course. Hugh will know where. Oh, this is good. This ... this is like my mother used to make it for me. With the toast cut up into strips."
"Soldiers, we called those, when I was a little fellow."
She smiled, dipping a strip into the yolk. "When you were a little fellow ... I can't imagine you as a child."
"Well, I was one, once. With a governess I detested, a Papa who beat me with a switch when the governess told him to, an' a Mamma who could do no wrong."
"That ... that doesn't sound too good."
"Was paradise, Slayer. Home was a paradise, 'til I was seven."
"What happened when you were seven?"
"They packed me off to school. Harrow. Which is called that, 'cause it's harrowing."
"But you didn't like it."
"I was a very little fellow. Rather timid. I was the youngest, you know."
"I didn't know."
"My mother was forty-three when I came. My next oldest sister was already ten."
"So why did they send you to school when you were so young? Was it a punishment?"
"Seemed that way to me. But that's just how it was done in those days. I had a hard time of it for a while, but I found out I wasn't bad at games, and then it was all right. Games were all that really mattered at school."
"Spiketell me how you got turned again. It must've been difficult, you were so ill ...."
She could see that the question unnerved him. His smile faded; he stiffened. "Buffy, is it really so important? You know how vamps're made."
"I just want to understand about you."
"Understand what, pet? What happened to my soul? That's what's worryin' you."
She shook her head. She wasn't going to ask him about that. "Please. I don't want you to be ashamed."
"Just not really ... not anything to brag about."
"Then don't brag it, just tell it. Or ... " She colored, wondering if she was being insensitive and self-absorbed. "Maybe it was painful? Humiliating."
"Not ... not exactly. Could've been, but ...."
"But what?" She knew she'd snagged him now, and settled in with her hands wrapped around the hot mug to listen.
"Well, once I'd made up my mind, had to weigh a few options. Couldn't just stride into the nearest demon bar, like you sayI was too fragile for that. Finally thought my best chance was with a bird I used to know back in the 1920s, in Paris. The madam of a vamp brothel. Probably the greatest vamp brothel on the planet."
"Like that place you took me oncewhere the vampires bite people for money?" She made a face, she couldn't help it. That filthy sordid hole.
"No. Anouk's place was very high class, exclusive an' select, situated in an old house on one of the best avenues in the fifth arrondisement. More'n half of her whores are human, most of the johns're vampires. The sort of vampires you slayers never see, because they don't prowl the streets. They're old, an' rich, got their own opulent world. Angelus first took me to Chez Anouk, 'round 1895. Her girlsan' boys toowere the prettiest an' most skilled you could imagineshe paid 'em handsomely too, for what they could do, an' what they'd allow to be done to them."
"Done to them. Sowhat? The vampires would bite them?"
"Fuck an' suck, yeah. Which makes it sound crude, but there was nothin' crude about a night at Anouk's. A willing, beautiful woman who'll show you every elaborate attention, give you a fantastic ride, an' beg to be bitten at the height of itlot of fangy fellows are glad to pay for that, an' don't need to kill to be satisfied. Anyway, I didn't start really frequenting her place 'til after the Great War. Was in the Twenties that she became known in certain circles for her partiesorgies, reallythat was a time and a city for parties like you wouldn't believejazz was new, an' cocaine, an' in some quarters it was like sex an' bloodlust were brand new too. Anouk wanted the most beautiful, uninhibited guests, the best dancers, the shining stars, whether they were demons or humans. Me an' Dru were always welcome because of how we looked, an' we did a mean tango, tooDarla used to say we were like the Castles."
"Famous dancin' pair at the time. Vern an' Irene Castle. They were superstars in those days. Anyway, Anouk always fancied me, an' I never did slip it to her as much as she wanted, so she never had a chance to get tired of me. Thought she'd remember me still, so I went to Paris an' sent word to her. Her house was in the same place as always. She was intrigued enough to consent to a meeting."
"You paid her to turn you?"
"She's richer'n'Croesus already. So rich that she's more interested in gossipanything that'll relieve the boredomthan she is in money. She was appalled when she saw me. But she remembered what I was like before, an' agreed to what I wanted, in exchange for ... well, call it an agreement of indentured servitude."
"You sold yourself to her."
"For her personal use, an' the use of a selected clientele, for a period of time not to exceed seven years. Yeah. That's what I had to sign up for."
"I guess you broke the contract."
"'Course I broke the bloody contractI'm no one's fuck slave. Never again."
She wanted to probe that never again, but he was already going on. "Her mistake was underestimating me. Don't think she had much experience with makin' other vampsthought I'd rise weak an' meek an' besotted with my sire. She locked me in her bedroom without my clothes, an' watched over me 'til I rose, thinkin' she'd sample first fruits while I was still tender an' pliant."
"You dusted her, didn't you? With your bare hands."
"Sure weren't any stakes in that roomnot so much as a wooden bedpost. 'Course I had to fight a couple of her flunkies firstshe'd brought them into the room with her, she wasn't a complete fool. Still, they were nothing I couldn't handlethey didn't know I'd once won out over a guy with flaming brands for fists. Was a good spot of fun, actually. In the end, twisted her head off to preserve my honor. Was savin' myself for you."
"I'm ... touched." In one way the story was funny. In another, horrifying. But what it overwhelmingly was, was all Spike. The Spike who was determined to be himself. Who was devoted to her.
"After that, gettin' out of there was more a question of cunning than strength. Turned out there were half a dozen of Anouk's underlings were well anxious to be first to take over the establishment, an' quite happy to have her out of the way. None of 'em was half so interested in keepin' me on the premises as in consolidating their power while the situation was in flux. I dressed myself in what I could find an' scarpered pronto."
"Huh. That's ... that's really something." She didn't like to think of the reality behind what he'd done. The frail, disease-wracked William she'd left in Vietnam, giving himself up to be bitten, drained. Murdered. Having to trust that the vampire would keep her word. And then not keeping his. Knowing he made his choice at the almost certain cost of his soul. Having to hope that that dire sacrifice would get him the death, the finality, the complicated sort of freedom from the influence of the Powers that he desired. Had he trembled at the solemnity of that renunciation? Had he doubted then? Had he been at peace with the idea that he might well awaken as an unreconstructed monster?
Resolutely, she pushed her doubts away. They'd bob up againit seemed like they always would. "So, did you bring me anything from Paris?"
She thought he'd laugh and tease her for asking, but he gave her a sly smile. "I did, actually. Snaffled you a souvenir from Madame Anouk's."
"What is it?" She found herself feeling a little sorry for Anouk, who must've been quite a character. "It's not something that's got an evil spell on it, is it?"
"No. Aren't you a greedy little baggage? An' here I still wait to hear a word from you about that dress."
"The dress! Oh SpikeI can't believe I forgotit's a wonderful dress!"
"You look nice in it, do you?"
"I look delicious in it. Thank you."
"Hold on, I'll get your petit cadeau." He rose.
"You have it here?"
"Deep pockets in my coat." Leaving the room, he returned a moment later with a flat box. It was black leather, old and shabby, the edges crumbling. She took it with a lick of misgiving, remembering all of a sudden the horrible silver skull ring he'd given her that time he'd proposed. Would this be some ghastly piece of old tat that she'd have to pretend to like?
Spike sat beside her, watching her face intently as she lifted the hinged lid.
"You won't mind that I stole 'em," he said. "Was more'n past time for 'em to go to a living beauty."
The inside of the box was lined in satin, faded with age from white to the palest kind of brown, like old ivory. Resting on the satin was a long necklace of pearls, with an elaborate diamond and sapphire clasp.
Buffy stared. "Thisis this real?"
"Oh yes my pet, it certainly is. These pearls're famous. Once upon a time, in the 1770s, when Madame Anouk was a young danseuse in St Petersburg, she was taken up by a wealthy Russian nobleman, name of Count Pyotr Shinzhov. He gave her these stunners, an' much else besides."
"My God. I've never seen such a"
Spike lifted the necklace out of the box. "He was also her sire."
She was reaching to touch, but let her hand drop. "Did he give her the pearls before he turned her, or afterwards?"
Spike was undoing the clasp, although the necklace was so long that wasn't necessary to putting it on. He paused, and looked into her face.
"Anouk told the story in my hearing many timesShinzhov was, she always said, the great love of her life. He sent her this necklace the morning after he took her virginity, when she was just fourteen. The pearls arrived wrapped 'round three dozen hothouse roses. Quite a triumph for an opera girl to so thoroughly conquer the heart of a great fellow like that. When he called on her later, and saw her in them, they were both so overcome with desire that he had her again right there on the carpet, an' bit her besides. Which was, she always liked to say, her introduction to ecstasy, an' to a solid business model besides, though that was well in the future. But he only turned her four years later, when she was, according to the count, at the peak of her beauty. An' she was a beauty." He looked nostalgic, then shrugged philosophically. "Ah, she had a good innings. Not many people realize that whole swathes of the old Russian aristocracy were undead, long before Rasputin came along." He held the necklace up. "So, will I put this on you?"
Buffy hesitated. The pearls were madly beautiful and precious, glowing like living things; even with her unschooled eye, she could see that, and she, like any woman, instinctively wanted them. But there was so much freight of meaning attached to them: the brutal seductiveness of the male demon, overwhelming a young girl whose only power was in her beautypassion that led the little dancer to her deathobscene wealth and theft; it gave her pause, and sent her mind shooting off on strange tangents.
"So if I accept these from you ... wear them ... will you turn me too?"
Spike started to laugh, then realized belatedlyas she didthat the question wasn't exactly a joke. There was a is that a threat or a promise vibe hanging between them as her words dissolved on the air. Buffy blushed, and stared at her knees. "I didn't mean"
"Would break my heart if that were to happen to you. Pet ... you know I'd never hurt you."
"Even if I wanted you to? Notnot hurt me" The words escaped her in a rush, just ahead of her burgeoning confusion and chagrin, "but have meI want your bite, I want you to enjoy my blood the way you do my body, I want to be joined to you that way, to feel that pleasure, pride, abandonyou know what I meandon't make me plead!"
Head on one side, he gave her a deep assessing look. Little by little she was able to meet his gaze, and answer the question she saw there with her own. They held each other's eyes for a long time. Buffy finally remembered to breathe.
Leaning into her, Spike fastened the pearls around her neck in a solemn gesture. "Way these glimmer an' glow, remind me of you. That's why I took 'em. These are yours for your life, Buffy. Your life." The heavy rope hung down between her bare breasts, cool at first against her skin, then warming as she touched them.
She understood the exhortation, the caution, in his words, but still she was far more excited about the implied agreement than she was about the priceless necklace. "When, Spike? Now?"
"Not yet, Buffy. Soon."
"But you will?"
He picked up her hand, pressed the palm against his mouth. His lips, like the pearls, warmed gradually in contact with her skin. "Oh, I will, love. I will."
"The anticipation ... that's a pleasure too, isn't it?"
In the bathroom after peeing, Buffy faced her disheveled self in the mirror. She might as well have been pulled through a hedge backwards, but despite the ravages to hair and skin attendant on hours of fucking directly after hours of fighting, she saw in herself the vibrant beauty Spike praised. The pearls, hanging with unaccustomed heaviness on her bare skin, made her look exotic and a little savage. She smiled down at them. A present. My boyfriend gave me a present. Dreamily, she rolled the strand back and forth across her nipples, which tightened more than they were already, and poked the bottom-most pearl into her belly button. My vampire boyfriend gave me two hundred fifty year old pearls from Russia. Because I. Am. His. Mistress. Giggling, she admired the brightness of her own eyes in the mirror.
She was sure that Anouk must have often worn this necklace as her only garment; they seemed to go with nakedness. It already bothered her less to think that they were stolen; if not to her, to whom then should they belong? Spike's instinct that it was fitting for them to pass from a vampire to a slayer pleased her sense of good order.
As she surveyed herself, she was aware of her body's humming, like a struck tuning fork. Breath she didn't know she'd held was at last exhaled. After all this time of wanting and missing him, of trying to get her mind around the idea that she wouldn't be able to have a life with the man she wanted, he was here. Though he was utterly free to resume evil, to seek out old loves and old haunts, to go anywhere, he'd chosen her. All at once she understood, fully and deeply, what Spike meant when he talked about his freedomhow for him, even the soul had become an intolerable yoke.
And his goodness was a more meaningful choice without that stinger galling him, wasn't it? The imperfect goodness of a demon making an informed decision about his conduct.
That made her think of Angel. Angelus nevernever!could've acted as Spike was acting now. He wasn't capable, sans soul, of even making such a choice.
She still couldn't remember Angel without a pang. The habit of caring for him would never die out in her. She hoped he'd made a good death; hoped his soul was at peace wherever it was now. Hoped, most of all, as she reached for a comb, that he could find it in himself to appreciate what she was doing now.
When she returned to the sitting room, Spike was back in the armchair, legs stretched out, head tipped back. Coming alongside him, she saw he was asleep. His lips were parted, but no air passed through them, or his nose. He was entirely still, but his prick stood up hard and red-tipped. Was he dreaming about her?
Kneeling between his feet, Buffy took the velvety cockhead into her mouth. After a few seconds, Spike woke with a little start, then sighed appreciatively and stayed still as she went on. The knob was all she could manage, but she'd learned before, how to make the most of that, how to use her hands besides to make him moan, fist her hair, babble her name. She could taste herself on him. The press of his heft on her tongue excited her so that she moaned too. Greedily she thought that in a little while they'd fuck some more; they'd talk and laugh and sleep together, and be a couple. The demon that animated his body and his spirit, that made him so beautiful and potent, would satisfy the deepest darkest part of her, the demon part that she could lay bare only to a fellow demon. It was to this he referred, when he said she liked him best this way. Her cheeks burned; shame at her penchant for the undead was a potent habit, but the penchant was real, and what point anymore to deny or feel sorry about it?
He preferred to be this instead of being a live man. And the truth was, she could not teach herself to prefer what was supposed to be more worthy over the mysterious powerful thing that called out to her own mystery, to her own power, that attracted her at a level beyondbeneaththe rational. Here was the Spike she'd come to love, untransmogrified into anything tamer, anything less, and she wanted him, he was perfect to her.
When he shot, with a cry that echoed through her own frame, she held the spunk on her tongue before she swallowed, savoring the flavor of it, a taste she'd struggled to recall on many late sleepless nights, when she'd believed him to be irrevocably dead.
Rising from her crouch, she crawled up into his beckoning arms, to give him a taste of himself in a kiss. "I don't suppose you socked any of that stuff away in a freezer somewhere, before you got yourself vamped again?"
Instantly she regretted the words, and began kissing him again, hoping to hurry him past them.
But Spike put her back gently, and looked at her with calm serious eyes. "Buffy, I'm sorry you had a miscarriage. Sorry for all that business."
"We don't have to talk about it now."
"Thought you were out of your mind, wantin' my child, an' thought I'd punish you more by givin' it to you."
"You wanted to punish me." This wasn't a surprise, but still it was startling, to hear him say it so baldly.
"I did. I ... I don't know what I wanted. Was so bloody angry at everyone an' everything. I wasn't myself, an' didn't know how to get myself back. Worst feelin' in the world."
"I know I gave you plenty of reason to be angry at me, after my resurrection. I was really depressed then, but I have a lot of regrets from that couple of years." Sliding an arm around his neck, she settled herself against his shoulder. Spike responded with a squeeze. This position had the advantage of making it impossible to see his face. "Are you still angry with me? Tell me the truth."
"... I don't know. Mostly not. Statute of limitations on some things're are long enough an' no longer. Right now, I just want to be with you."
"The whole time in Vietnam, I thought you weren't in love with me anymore. I couldn't believe it. It was like a bad dream I kept thinking I was waking from, only I'd just wake into the same bad dream." She touched his hair, soft under the gelled crispness. It occurred to her that she could be angry at him, for abandoning her, for making her suffer in Dai Phuong. The Buffy she'd been a couple of years ago would probably have mustered that rage, but she couldn't really get there now. "I don't think I understood until then how much I'd come to rely on your love. I felt ... stripped without it. I felt so alone. When I began to cramp and bleed that night, I thought, of course, of course I'm not going to be allowed to get away with this. It looked then like I wasn't going to be allowed anything, and I didn't know how I could go on with my life."
An anguished sound issued from Spike's throat. He pulled her closer. "All the time I loved you, never thought you'd care for me. Just wasn't part of my picture. I tried to make it happen, but I never deep-down believed"
"Because I was the slayer?"
"Yes, an' because you were good an' I knew I wasn't. I always knewlong before I was a vampirethat I wouldn't be able to draw a woman to me, who was worth having. Not sayin' this to make you feel sorry for me. I'm sayin' it to explain ... apologize ... I really never thought I'd have the power to effect you with what I wanted. D'you see?"
"Spike ... oh my lonesome lonely Spike ..." A wave of sentiment overtook her, that she had to expend in blushes and kisses on his cheeks and mouth. She felt very silly, but the feeling was real.
"But then you turned up in Dai Phuong, actin' like a woman in love, which I never thought to see from you to me. 'Cept at that point, was just the thing to scare the buggering fuck out of me."
"So it was true then, when you said you didn't love me anymore?"
He shifted uneasily beneath her. "Love was beyond me, state I was in. I wanted you to go home and leave me be."
" ... I guess I felt that, finally. Somehow, though, it made me love you more. I thoughthopedI could love you back to ... " She was going to say, 'to life', so she didn't say anything.
"Well, an' you did. William couldn't stay so hard-hearted as he tried to be, in the face of your goodness to me, an' your disappointment."
"Oh ...." The backs of her eyes fizzed and burned. She didn't like to think that it was her love that directly inspired William Merrit-Smith to give up his mortal life a second time. She hadn't meant to kill him.
Even as they both knew full well that neither of them preferred that man to the vampire he would become.
It was difficult to think about, the skeins so tangled, so fraught. So much blame to go around, so much gratitude. All the time they'd known each other, when one left off following, the other turned and became the follower. Buffy couldn't help but believe now, that it was always meant for them to find one another. There must've been some nudging from The Powers here and thereor else the thing really would've been impossible.
"Anyway, don't blame yourself about the baby. I can't say I'm sorry it didn't come to pass. But If the child had been born, you'd have been good to it, I know. An' I suppose I'd have done the same, if positions were reversed. If you were the vamp I loved 'gainst all reason, come back to life an' longing for death. I'd have done my best to knock you up while I could. I'd have wanted to try that way to make you take an interest ... an' to have something of you if the interest wouldn't come."
There was something terribly funny about this, and poignant. She'd never imagined their roles reversed like that. Buffy began to cry. Mourning the normality she'd long known she didn't really want, but still held in a place of yearning nostalgia. Trying to stop her tears, she gave him a hard thump in the chest. "I don't think I have the mothering bone," she mumbled, "or whatever you call it." She could imagine herself, living here with a crib beside her bed, a babysitter coming in every night so she could go out patrolling. The sitter would think she worked in one of the clubs downtown, as a cocktail waitress if not a stripper, though she'd wonder why Buffy didn't have implants. That would account for her work hours, anyway. As the baby grew, she'd look for him in the small evolving face, in his little mannerisms. She'd love him and hate how he tied her down, hate the bargain she'd made. Hate that she'd brought a life into being solely because she couldn't have what she'd really wanted. It felt like such a lonely thing ... lonely for her, lonely for the child. Then the tears gave way to rueful laughter, and she told him what she was thinking.
Spike stroked her hair. "Love's a terrible thing."
"It is. Absolutely terrible."
As if to seal their agreement on this point, they kissed, kisses rolling one into the next, as they squirmed together, clasping each other closer.
After a while, she pulled back to breathe. He ventured, "You're still so young. There's many twists in the road. We both know that. Never say never."
"I can't imagine us as parents. I don't want to think about children now."
" ... no. Me neither. But just wanted you to know, don't have to sweep the whole thing under the rug. You want to talk about it, we'll talk about it. Mourn it."
She wondered if he mourned the people he'd killed in Cleveland, even as she murmured, "I mourned you more."
This is it. This is what it's like. They'd made it to her bed finally, had another slow rocking fuck, starting with her on the top and finishing the other way around, because she wanted Spike to cover her, to fill her mouth with kisses. This was followed by a sleep that Buffy was amazed to wake from, sometime in the night, to find herself not bereft, but still lying in Spike's arms. For a long moment she held her breath, just feeling what it was like, this combination of My Bed and My Lover. Then she inhaled, bringing the mingled scent of her sheets and Spike's hair deep into her lungs. He stirred and woke, his arm tightening around her.
She felt his lips trace the line of her neck, then hover at her ear. "Buffy," he whispered. "Buffy Anne Summers."
"Present." She snuggled back against him, fitting her behind against his pelvis, mingling her legs with his. His feet were icy. For a moment that sent her mind to a sad place, until she remembered that she'd had affairs with other men whose feet were cold in bed; men who were completely human. She smiled into the dark. " . . . You've finally won, you know."
His soft cool breath touched her cheek, followed by his lips. "It's you who's done the conquerin'. You took an' slayed bad old Spike, an' made him into something brand new."
I did, she thought. No, he did. No, both. We made ourselves, we made each other, into different people.
"Spike. Do you know what I think would be good?"
"Oh Slayer. So many things."
She laughed, lacing her fingers in with his.
"What I think would be good ... what I would like ... is for you to tell me your life story."
He was quiet; she twisted around to face him, but with the shade down, it was too dark, so she snapped on the little bedside lamp. Spike blinked, his eyes narrowing.
"Everything you'd want me to know about you. I'd like to hear it. I'd like to hear it right here in bed, like The Arabian Nights. Only I promise I won't slay my Scheherazade when you finish."
"Bloody hell. Wouldn't know where to start."
"At the beginning would be good. I want to hear about your mother and your father and your governess."
"You still owe me one embarrassing anecdote from the early life of the slayer."
"I'll tell you as many as you can standthere's an almost infinite numberif you'll tell me your story."
"Want you to respect me. Don't think detailin' my worst excesses is the way to go about it."
"Then don't detail them. But tell me where you traveled, and who you met, and what you thought. Tell me ... tell me what you and Drusilla wore, and how you danced and what you saw. Tell me what it was like for you after you parted from her. Tell me about what happened to you in The Initiative. Tell me about what you did the summer I was dead, and after Sunnydale, when you were with Angel."
"What, now?" He squinted at the clock.
"No. I'd like to hear it ... over time. I'd like to learn about what you were like, at the same time as I learn what you're like now." She traced his full lower lip with her thumb. "I want to live with you and know you."
Spike looked uncertain, but out of the corner of her eye, Buffy saw the sheet starting to tent further downhe was excited by what she was saying, even if he was dubious. "I know you enjoy telling stories, Spike. And I know you think I'm very ignorant, even for an American. Be ... be my teacher."
At this he laughed, and pulled her against him, kissing her hard. "All right, Adorable Girl, I will. You give me a little time to collect my thoughts, though, yeah? Go back to sleep now."
"But I'm not sleepy. There's other things you can do with your tongue besides talking." She dipped a hand between her thighs, wetting the fingers, and brought them up to his nose and mouth. Spike groaned, like a famished man, and thrashed free of the sheets.
In a moment she was sprawled across the mattress, one leg hanging over the side, the other foot propped high against the window frame, while Spike went down on her.
He'd done this to her so many times back in Sunnydale, when she was sad, or enraged, or being stubbornly oblique, wanting to escape, wanting to obliterate her numbness. And later, on their last night together, with a kind of worship that made her, even in the midst of her pleasure, a little uneasy. But she'd never experienced it this way. Somehow it transcended sex; it was an exchange of happiness. They were holding hands, signaling each other with squeezes, with smiles.
She was already so het up that she came fast, bucking up to grind herself against his swarming tongue, but even after she subsided into sobs and helpless giggles, he went on, letting her oversensitive clit cool down a little as he explored further down, lips and tongue and fingers delving into her slick pussy, teasing the sensitive bud of her ass. He kept pausing to talk to her, little remarks that made her laugh. She realized, listening to him, that she'd never heard him laugh before. Not in this open delighted way, that was at no-one's expense.
When he brought her off next, he had two fingers buried in her ass, and she saw stars. He laughed again when she seized up, shaking and crying outa laugh full of delight, as if she was some intricate delicate mechanism he'd thoroughly mastered.
"You're abso-fucking-lutely amazing when you come."
"I feel abso-fucking-lutely amazing when you make me come. Oh God. I feel like I have about thirty million backed-up orgasms that have to come out."
"Funny, so do I."
"I like it when it's a win-win." She sighed happily. "You can bring your things over tomorrow night. You can just move in. That'll be so good. I can't wait to live with you. I want to be good to you. I want to give you lots of blowjobs, and cook things for you."
"Pet ... about that ... don't think it's such a good idea."
"Whawhat?" She sat up to face him. "What's not good about it? I told you I can cook!"
"Don't mean the cooking. Sure I'll like that. But think you ought to have your own space. An' so should I."
She hated the panicky feeling that rose up at this. Was this what her earlier premonitionsabout how he could do anything to her now, hurt her any way he pleasedwas coming to? "You're joking. I meanwhat is your space? Some crypt furnished with things you find at the dump? I don't want you to be living in a graveyard!"
"Sweet ... I'm not. Got a little flat of my own, on the south side. Not so nice as this, but it's all right, an' nothin' in it comes from any dump. Got a bit of dosh, remember? Angel left it to me. Sees me all right."
"But why won't you move in here? Or if you don't like this place, we could get something else together. Spike, I want"
"You want me not to slip off an' leave you. An' I won't."
"I want to sleep with you every night in my bed. I need that."
"I'll be here an' sleep with you, you see if I don't. But there's gonna be an evening when you find you want to be on your own, and then you'll be glad I've got somewhere else to kip."
"Why would I want to be on my own?"
"Well ... if you were just a bit tired, say. Or if we had a spat. Could happen. We always were at each other's throats, weren't we? That's not gonna change. You're all lovey-dovey now, pet, but you've still got your temper on you. Let's not mix ourselves up about what an' who we are, yeah? Never gonna be part of the young married set. We're perverse. We're passionate an' wild an' free."
"Passionate and wild and free. But ... but monogamously passionate and wild and free. Right?"
"You want to see me rip a man's head off an' quaff his brainstem, all you've got to do is sleep with him."
"Uh ... right. It was more you I was worried about, than me."
"What, you think I'd"
"Well ... I ... no. I mean ...."
"Thing with Anya was a long time ago, pet. An' it was only after you'd"
"Kicked you to the curb, yes yes I know. Oh, I'm not seriously worried, but ...."
He chuckled. "But you know there's twenty other slayers about, an' some of 'em are right beddable, so you think my eye'll wander."
She tried to laugh. "Being in love does make you stupid."
"If you really can imagine for more'n a second that any other woman could interest me like you do, you are stupid."
She pinched him. "Thanks."
"Buffy, how many times have I told you ... you're the one."
"So, why can't I be the one who gets to play house with you? C'mon, Spike. Keep your apartment, okay, but I just want us both to be here together for a while. I've never had that before. The man I love, living with me."
His eyes softened.
"When you say 'man I love', can do anything with me."
"I should hope so."
Buffy finally left Spike sleeping in her bed, to go to class. It was hard to pay attention. She was convinced, as she stepped into the lecture theatre, that everyone would know what she'd been doing; she was a klieg-light of love, lit up hot and bright from almost two solid days of being adored. She was hyper-aware of her body; both sore and still aroused. Taking it up the ass had turned out to be wonderfulnothing like she'd imagined. And Spike's pleasure at fucking her that way, the praise and gratitude he rained into her ears ... was a whole additional dimension of goodness. But now she was walking funny.
Afterwards she went to Slayer Central, wondering if any of the others would notice her radiance. She wouldn't mind attracting a little bit of feminine envy. The other slayers tended to see her as someone who had been unlucky, whose life was sad, maybe even, especially in the eyes of the youngest ones, over. She shouldn't care what people thought, especially ones she barely knew, but this suspicion offended her Queen Bee-ness.
It wasn't easy, this Being One of Many thing. Sure, she was the one who decided to share her power, and she'd done a pretty good job since coming to Cleveland of being all humble and part of the crowd. But whose psyche was so healthy that she could go from being the One Girl In All The World to The Twenty-First Girl In Cleveland Ohio without it rubbing her the wrong way from time to time?
She reminded herself, as she hauled open the big front door, that this was a place of mourning today, even as it was a place of triumph. She didn't know the dead slayers very well, and it wasn't easy to focus on them when she was buzzing with fresh happiness. But she tried to assume a sober expression when she entered the sanctuary.
A few girls were there, sitting on the backs of the pews, chatting, doing schoolwork, peering intently at their Blackberries. They greeted her in the usual way. Faith wasn't around.
Dana blew a big pink bubble with her gum, and when it burst, peeled it from her chin, saying, "Oh, Buffy, Hugh wants to see you."
Heading down the underlit corridor towards the office in the former sacristy, she could see through the frosted glass that Hugh wasn't alone. She put her head around the door.
"Hey. I'm sorry if I missed some important post-mortems, but"
"Buffy." It was Giles who rose from Hugh's guest chair. "My dear, how very good to see you."
He folded her in his arms before she could compose a stance.
"I was hoping to hear from you," Giles said, giving her an assessing squeeze before letting her go to resume his chair.
But you didn't, she thought, taking the chair opposite, glancing at the other watcher. You heard it from Hugh instead, so here you are, come to meddle.
"I've meant to call ... the time difference ...."
The undertone of old mistrust crackled between them, ambient static. She'd forgiven, but she could never actually forget that he'd plotted to murder Spike.
So the next thing he said surprised her. "I understand why you weren't eager to contact me after Spike turned up here."
"Hugh tells me Spike helped turn the tide here. Made what was starting to look like a complete rout into a stunning victory."
Now Hugh spoke up. "If he continues as he's begun, he'll be a definite asset to the work here. I'm hoping that we can"
Giles interrupted, in that way he had that managed to seem polite, even as he was cutting the other man off. "Which is why, now that the vamp cabal here has been broken up, I'm proposing to take him away from you."
"Wait a minute!" Buffy bounced to her feet. "Taking himwhere? He's not yours to take! Or yours" she whirled on Hugh, "to give away!"
"Excuse me," Giles said, "that was worded badly. I've come here to make an offer. To Spike and to you."
"Having so many slayers creates its own headachesI don't have enough experienced watchers to help all these girls. Sometimes in their inexperience, they create more problems than they solve. I need a smart, independent team I can dispatch to put out fires anywhere in the world they crop up. Which they do with relentless regularity. How would you feel about giving up Cleveland? I realize you've only just gotten settled in your new home here"
She felt like leaping up in the air and clicking her heels togetherbut she kept her cool. "I don't know if Spike wants to take orders from you. I don't know if he'll be able to trust you."
She waited while Giles did the wiping his glasses thingwhen was he going to get a different tic? This one was so predictable.
"Of course, I'm aware that Spike and I have baggage that we'll have to"
"And another thing, which you might as well know right off the bat. Spike doesn't have a soul now. In order to help us take down the cabal, he killed some innocent people. I don't know how many. I don't like it. I do understand that it was the lesser of two evils. But if you're going to make a big fuss about it, then we're not going to be able to work with you."
Hugh's eyes widened; she wondered if this was really news to him. Giles sighed. "Buffy, I'm not here to 'make a big fuss', as you so vividly put it. I'm here to persuade the two best fighters I know to take their rightful, most useful, positions on the Council of Watchers. Positions of trust and responsibility. Positions, I might add, which will be amply remunerated."
"That means 'paid'," Hugh murmured.
"I know what it means," Buffy said. She had every intention of asking about the expense account, too.
Giles glanced at Hugh, and then at the floor, and when his eyes met hers again, they had softened into tenderness. "I know you've been unhappy in Cleveland, Buffyyou've been unhappy for a very long time. I know you miss being near your sister and your friends. And while you've done an excellent job here, I'd like to see you using your skills in the way you've always done bestwhich isn't as part of a large group. And if Spike is going to lend us his skills as wellwhich I very much hope to persuade him to dothe Council mustn't squander them either. I'm convinced you'll make an able team. And I trust that, paired with you, Spike will keep his demonic exuberances in check."
Buffy crossed her arms. "I'm sleeping with him, you know. Just to be clear."
"Well, of course, my dear."
"All right. Come to dinner tonight, at eight. I'll cook. You can talk to him. If he agrees, I agree."
Buffy looked up from her drink. "Oh my God. Who are you, and what've you done with my punk-ass vampire?"
Stood in front of her table, he smiled, hands in his pockets, rocking back a little on his heels in the universal gesture of male self-satisfaction.
"Was in New York that I put that on ... guess it's fitting that I put it aside here too."
It wasn't like she'd never seen him try to change his look. But he'd never departed from it very far, or very sincerely. So his appearance now ... was kind of mind-blowing. It wasn't just the slim-cut black suitthough she'd never remotely imagined she'd ever see him in a decent suitor the sleek black shoesnothing like those big boots he'd always wornor the well-cut black shirt that looked so unobtrusively expensive. It wasn't even the hair, which, still slicked back in the usual way, had gone from bleached white to a very William Merrit-Smith soft brown. It was the air about himan attitude she'd never seen before.
"Do I still call you Spike?" The question was only half a joke.
He slid into the banquette beside her, and took her hand.
"Course you still call me Spike." Though he'd left off his indicators of menace, he appeared no less tough. It was a different sort of tough now. An I-can-kill-you-with-my-cuff-link tough.
The waiter came up. Buffy wondered if Spike was going to order something equally out of charactermaybe a martini, shaken not stirred. But he asked, as usual, what the beers were on tap, and ordered the one he always plumbed for. "An' the lady will have another of whatever that is she's sipping."
When they were alone, she fingered his lapel. "So"
"Hope you approve."
"Do you really?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Course I do."
She wondered if he thought of the suit, the hair, as another costume, another performance, or if in his mind this was an end of that. He looked very adult. Confident, but no longer defiant. In these clothes, which he clearly knew full well how to carry himself in, he could go ... anywhere. Attracting only the right sort of attention.
It occurred to her that the way Angel had dressed in LA wasn't miles different from this. He too had sported jeans and leather when she first met him. She didn't think this was something Spike would want to talk about, even though it was obvious that it was the inheritance from Angel that paid for the makeover.
"I wonder how long it will take before my mental image of you matches up with ... this."
He smiled, and took a grateful swallow of the glass of beer just set down in front of him. "Sometimes I still think of you as the apple-cheeked girl I first came gunnin' for. She's so burned into my brain ... but then I see you as you are, an' all's I feel is glad."
She let her head drop against his shoulder for a moment. "Is this for me? Are you changing for me?"
"Was time for me to change. I've always done it, Slayer. Was past due lately, that's all." He spoke gently, as if letting her down easy on some bad news. "'Course I like to be a suitable arm for my sweet bit of candy to rest on."
They had another couple of drinks, and Buffy ate dinner. She noticed that Spike attracted attention in the restaurant, from other women, and men as well. The waiter seemed to be waiting only for some oblique signal to drop to his knees. Sometimes Spike gave a smile to the women who stared at him as they passed the table, but even when he did, he always turned his attention right back to her.
At eleven, a car arrived to take them to the airport, to meet the small Council jet Giles had sent from London. As they rode along in the enclosed silence of the town car, Spike said, "You still haven't told me that you approve."
"What would you do if I didn't? Would you change back?" She smiled, watching his eyes in the orange light.
"Well do you?"
Sliding down against the corner of the seat, parting her knees, she hooked a finger into her evening bag on the floor, and pulled something out. "What do you think?" The panties she'd taken off in the ladies' room dangled from her hand for a moment, before Spike snatched them out of the air, and pulled her to him.
It was early the next morning when the jet landed at Luton airport. They'd both slept during the flight, but Buffy was still looking forward to stretching out in a real bed for a few hours before she did anything requiring effort.
The plane taxied into a hangar before letting them off, well away from the rays of the rising sun. The Council obviously still enjoyed certain privilegesthey were admitted to the UK with only the most polite and perfunctory check of their passports, and directed towards another dark-glassed limousine waiting beneath an overhang outside, which would take them to the new Council headquarters in a remote house outside of London.
Buffy fell behind Spike, answering the driver's question about luggagewas there anything, madam, she wished to keep with her inside the car?when she heard her sister's voice. Dawn emerged from the back of the black car, unfolding herself to stand up surprisingly tall, the brisk morning breeze tugging at her long hair.
"Oh my God. Oh my Godyou're really here!" She reached a hand towards Spike, the gesture tentative and wary, as if she was trying to sneak a touch of an artwork in a museum. Spike stopped just out of her reach.
Dawn peered at him. "Oh look at you!" With a sudden lunge and squeal, she tugged Spike into her arms. For a moment he was stiff and stunned, his arms rising warily, before he recovered, and greeted her as he had greeted Faith weeks ago in the nighttime cemeterylifting her off her feet.
"My friend, my friendyou are, aren't you? We're friends again, please say we are!" Dawn was still coltish even now, and in her anxiety, seemed years younger than she was. "Oh Spike, I never thought!"
He put her back to look at herand really looked, Buffy noticed, as if he was seeing some long-lost sister, drinking her in with big eyes. Then he pulled her into another long hug.
"I'm sorry," Dawn was babbling, "I'm sorry I was such a pill, so hard-hearted, and I never even said goodbye to youbecause I so know you saved my life, more than once, and took care of me, and loved meoh SpikeI'msogladyou'rehere!"
He still hadn't said anything, and now Dawn searched his face for some response. "Tell me it's all rightif it isn't all right I won't get in the car with you, I won't make you sit with me for"
"'Course it's all right, silly girl. Didn't we talk about that already?"
"On the phone. I dunno, somehow the phone doesn't seem to count. It's not quite real."
"Was real to me. I've never changed my mind about you, Platelet."
"Platelet! I used to love when you called me that! And Snack-size, and" She turned to Buffy suddenly. "What were the other names?"
She was startled. Spike's nicknames for her sister in those days were just part of everything she'd found revolting about him, which was ... everything. Or so she'd tried to teach herself at the time. And whatever pet names and jokes they'd had the summer she was dead, had never been imparted to her afterwards.
"Oh, you wouldn't know," Dawn cried, her nervousness spilling over into arm flapping, "why am I asking you? Oh Buffy, hello!" Now it was her turn to be grabbed into a tight embrace. "This is so good! That you're both here! I missed you so much! And we have so much to talk about!"
Buffy tried to peer over her sister's shoulder at the car. "Is ... did Xander come too?" The reunion of Spike and Xander was something she'd been dreading ever since Giles proposed they come to England; so terrible was the prospect that she couldn't even imagine how it might go.
Her fiance's name had a bracing effect. Dawn shook her head. "No, I came alone. I wanted you two to myself for a little while, before everyone else got a chance. Ohlook, look!"
Suddenly she was waving a hand in Buffy's face. Something gleamed there; Buffy grabbed her fingers to make her be still.
The engagement ring Dawn wore had a diamond considerably bigger than the one Xander had given to Anya. "Isn't it beautiful? He chose it himself, but it's just what I like. Spike, look." She presented her hand to him more calmly, and Spike, calmly, admired the ring. Buffy wondered what he was thinking. She'd meant to discuss the Xander question on the plane, but then they somehow hadn't gotten around to it.
"Are you happy then, Niblet?"
"I am. I'm very happy. Having you back, and with my sister ... that's the crowning touch."
"It means you're free to be silly and all a-squee, because you don't have to worry about old maid Buffy being mopey and celibate during your shining time," she said, pulling Dawn to her for a sisterly kiss.
"No!" Dawn protested. "That's not what I meant!"
"But it'll do," Spike said. "C'mon, let's not keep the man waiting."
"Xander Harris, International Man of Mystery."
As different as Spike had made himself appear, the change in Xander more than matched him, as he rose from an armchair in the old house's library to greet his old enemy. Buffy didn't realize she was holding her breath until the shock of seeing Xander extend his hand to Spike, with all the suave ease of a natural clubman. He too wore a suit, and his hair, cropped close to the head, was lighter from living in the sub-equatorial sun. He was deeply tanned, and the eye patch seemed now less a sign of affliction, and more an element of personal style. Xander had grown into himself. Africa, being a watcher, loving Dawn, had changed him.
"William the Bloody." He gave Spike his name without malice, looking mild and agreeable as they shook hands. "So much water under the bridge, I hear, to bring you back to us."
"Floods," Spike agreed with a shrug. "Deluges."
"And now we're the accepted lovers of a pair of sisters"
"best sisters in all the world"
"I guess we'd better bury the hatchet."
Buffy's knees went liquid. Dawn's lips were suddenly at her ear. "I thought this would be the waybut I didn't want to say anything to you beforehand. Just in case."
"He's being magnificent. And look at him. You got a handsome one."
Spike smiled a close-lipped smile, his gaze fixed on his hand joined in Xander's. "I guess we'd better, at that. Seein' as we're the happiest two fellows out."
There wasn't time for anything more, because the doors opened to admit the other inmates of the house, new and surviving watchers, including Andrew, some slayers, and members of the coven Giles had allied to them, gathering for drinks before dinner. Buffy got a second surprise when Willow came in hand in hand with Oz.
After the greetings and introductionsSpike seemed not to remember whatever encounter he'd had with Oz in Dai Phuong, or else preferred to pretend soBuffy took him aside. "I want to thank you."
"Nothing to thank me for." Oz squinted at her. "You look better."
"I am better. So's he. And you? Your travels just happen to bring you here now, in time for the engagement festivities?"
"Willow brings me here."
Oz's face took on that ethereal expression it sometimes had, that made him look like a wise old monkey. "Turned out after all ... she's the one."
"She? But Oh. Oh, wow. She didn't tell me."
"We were keeping it on the down-low for a while." Oz winked. "She says she's gonna have to turn in her Lesbo League membership card. But I think it's good to hang onto all the cards."
Buffy laughed. She'd forgotten Oz's dry humor; there wasn't much of that going when she'd been with him last. "So the person you went to meet in Bangkokthat's off?"
Oz grinned. "That was Will."
"Love's a terrible thing," Spike said, having come up silently behind her during the conversation.
Oz nodded a deep agreement. "Rotten. Rotten as hell."
"It's funny," Buffy said, when they were up in their room later, getting ready for bed after the good dinner and conversation on topics both demon and non-, over brandy around a baronial fireplace. She slipped out of her dressthe rose-print one Spike had bought herdraped it over a chair, and stood in her bra and panties and pearls on the center of the threadbare oriental rug. "How we all find ourselves paired with people we first loved in Sunnydale. As if noone elsenowhere elsecould be quite real for us since. Even Giles. Olivia came to visit him there once. Afterwards we never thought we'd see her again. But then they gravitated together in the end."
"There is no end." Spike slipped his arms around her from behind, as she stood at the window. With the lights off in the room, she could see across meadows in the moonlight, clear across the valley. "Was a magical, romantic spot, old Sunnydale."
"Me tease? That town was the makin' of me." His lips brushed her nape, then fluttered at the side of her neck.
Buffy pressed herself back against him, luxuriating. "Are you hungry, baby?"
He replied by nuzzling her closer, his tongue tracing the line of her artery, as one hand slipped inside her panties.
There was great surprise for himand for her, a wild strange pride and rapture she knew she could never discuss with anyone elsethe first time he bit and drank from her. The effect of some half a pint of her blood on him was both immediate and long-lastinghe'd wanted no other for a week afterwards, and was stronger and harder both in bed and on the battlefield. Buffy wondered at his astonishmenthe'd done in two slayers, after all. Finally he told her, without bragging or exaggeration, about those killings. How he'd only just tasted the Chinese slayer, and how his adversarial respect for Nikki precluded breaking her skin at all. "Never drank deep from any slayer before now. An' am glad of that."
She'd brought Angel back from the brink of agonized death with her blood. That was a special caseshe hadn't quite realized it would be so potent in the absence of that poison. She told Spike the story, even though she doubted he'd really want to hear it. But he listened with an equable mien, as she described how, crushed beneath Angel's big body, her terror and doubt gave way to a profound mystery and pleasure she'd never known before or since.
"You wanted to recapture that. Is that why you offered me?"
"I didn't want to recapture anything. I wanted us to have everything we could have together. Every closeness, every pleasure. I knew it would be something special, beyond what regular people can have. We're not regular, and we might as well live that to the hilt, no?"
That was the beginning. Tonight would make the fifth time in as many weeks that she'd offered herself. So far Spike had never asked, much less intimated, his desire to feed, waiting always for her signal, though he never hesitated once she gave it. She hoped eventually he would be so at his ease that he'd just take her in the heat of lovemaking, with the same mastery that he already exhibited when it came to everything else. She knew she could tolerate much moreshe never felt depleted afterwards, and the bites themselves healed in a day.
But for now, this was good. She reached back and closed her hand around the bulge in his trousers. "Take off your clothes. I want you naked and fanged out and fucking me."
"My filthy little slayer."
Buffy smiled. She turned, moving aside from the window, to watch him, standing in the strip of moonlight on the carpet, disclose himself to her.