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“Do what you like,” Spike said. Still the dirty little secret, then. Fine. He felt the presence of a multitude of bodies as if they were a single mass, all that rich Slayer blood rushing through their veins, and had other things to worry about.
He’d spent the day under a blanket in the back of a moving vehicle, his world comprised of pinpricks of sunlight and the weave of the material, he was hungry as anything, and although Buffy straightened, she didn’t even have the stones to look at him when she said, “Wanna be Firewood Guy again?”
“Sure, yeah.” The scent of her arousal pissed him off to no end in lieu of the indifferent air she was putting on. “Thanks for entrusting me with such a difficult bloody task,” he threw out.
“Vi,” Buffy snapped. “Go with Spike. Please.”
“Whatever,” Vi said, and grabbed at his arm as she went to pass him just as if he were a wayward child. He thought about crushing her skull between his palms, the way you’d crush a piece of overripe fruit, and followed her.
There was the birdsong, the beating of wings, and then silence. They know what I am, Spike thought, and then he was holding Vi’s face, thumbs under her jawbone and digging in and he didn’t know how it had happened. She kicked him, hard, where the thigh connected to the calf, right in the right place, and he went down. By the time he came back up she was holding a makeshift stake, waiting for him. He supposed she’d had enough of running. Well, so had he.
But her blood was fairly screaming at him, and his plan of attack fell away like everything else at the sound of it. He lunged at her instinctively. She promptly kicked him in the face, and he lay there on the ground, seeing stars. Now wasn’t that familiar?
“I’m getting Buffy,” Vi announced unevenly, and immediately ran off. He guessed he’d been wrong about her.
“Likes to kick, that one,” Spike told Buffy, when she showed up with Xander, with Giles, with a pale-faced Vi. “I’m sorry,” he thought to say, and then suddenly he was awash with it, that feeling of ohnoohnoohno. “Was hungry—” Ravenous was what he was, and he rolled over into the leaves so none of them could see him in game-face.
“You should have said something before,” Giles said quietly.
“Not that we, you know, care,” Xander added.
“Didn’t want to say,” Spike muttered. Then Buffy knelt down beside him and started running her fingers through his hair, checking him over for wounds right in front of everyone. “You knew, then,” he said dully. In his eyes, her gentleness spoke only of her guilt. “You wanted something like this to happen?”
“Don’t be daft, Spike,” he heard Giles say.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Buffy contributed. “You’re so ridiculous.”
“Maybe,” Buffy informed the world in general in that superior way she had about her, “if there were less people around, I could calm him down.” There was a brief kerfuffle he gratefully ignored, and then it was just him and her, and she was speaking urgently into the curve of his ear, “I didn’t want this. I just wanted you to have to ask me for something—”
“I didn’t want to say,” he repeated. “Know you loathe this part of me, and I didn’t want to say, you—” Bitch. He didn’t cry, not really, just a few angry tears leaked out. He had no intention of calming the fuck down. “Dead tired of being at war with you, love.”
She brushed his tears away with the back of her hand, as if chagrined. But that couldn’t be. “We’ll go into the city.”
“Thought the cities were out,” he said tightly.
“They are. But we need supplies, not just for you, for everyone.”
“Won’t do much good anyway,” he said finally, sullenly. “Blood goes rancid, of course.”
“Willow will be able to do something about that. Why don’t you sit up, now?”
He did, because she said it in the same tone of voice she’d said you’re so ridiculous with.
“Lost myself for awhile, there.”
“I know,” she said, softer, and although it wasn’t her part to play: “It’s okay.”
He barked out a sharp laugh. “Right.”
He woke up and she was in his tent. Harris had set it up for him after all, which was decent of him, really. “Way to be nocturnal,” she said, thankfully drawing him away from his contemplation of the boy’s finer qualities.
He could hear the hiss and click of the fire, the rest of them out around it, the scent of cooking meat and the sound of laughter, everything carrying on as if none of them were counting down these days of relative peace.
“Yeah, well,” Spike said lamely. He was mad as a hatter with her. He was afraid to move. It wasn’t the best combination.
“Things will get better,” she told him then. “When we get to the East Coast, things will get—”
He sincerely doubted that. “Hmm. The Watcher tell you that?”
She frowned at him. “He’s been in contact with the Coven. You know, the ones that helped Willow when she— Anyway, they got all mind-meldy. They’re going to meet up with us once we hit the coast.”
Spike was weary. “Can’t they just magic us on over?”
“I’m through with magic,” Buffy said darkly. She ran a hand down his naked back, and he just lay there on his stomach and wondered what the hell she was playing at now. “You’re cold,” she murmured.
“I’m dead, aren’t I?”
“Are you, Spike? Are you really?” And she peered at him as if she could discern something elemental from him, from his fuzzy awareness of what he was, what he could be.
“I know all about guilt now, love. You think I don’t know what this is?”
“Maybe so,” she agreed, which he never would have expected. He looked up at her, her thin little face, her hair that was everywhere that he wanted to smooth down or muss up proper more than anything. She was wearing a tank top and short shorts, just like a girl. But she was more than just a girl, and he didn’t reach out for her, not yet. He saw her swallow, heard her throat work. She said, “But. I don’t want to, like, you know.”
“Like, no,” Spike mocked, and her fingers bit into his shoulder, a little.
“This is hard,” she said. “So stop it, okay?” Pause. “I am sorry, about before. I know that you’re right: there’s no use in pretending, no use in playing games, not at this point. But— it’s hard.”
“Yeah,” he agreed, watching her cagily.
“So, I’ve been thinking. And I don’t want to pretend. Anymore. I feel things for you, but the things that I feel - they scare me. You scare me. But, see, I can’t do that anymore, be afraid. Because this is it.”
“So this is what, an epiphany?” Skeptical.
“It’s- whatever, it’s what I’ve decided. It’s my decision. Effective immediately.”
“Okay,” he said, though his muscles were still taut, tensed to attack.
“Okay,” she repeated.
He paused. “I scare you?”
“Don’t I scare you?”
He rolled over at that, and kept watching her face as she slid her palm down his belly, to that dip of hunger. “Kiss me,” he said then, and it was almost like an answer.
Giles words were indistinct, even to Spike’s ears, but his voice was easily discernable, and Buffy hesitated at it. Then she kissed him, slowly and heavily. Or maybe it was his head that felt heavy, weightless and heavy and pounding, and then her mouth was gone and replaced with- oh.
He wanted to stop, he did, but her grip was steely. She held his head and her weeping wrist in place expertly, and he drank that sweet nectar because there was nothing else.
“That’s enough,” she said presently, taking her arm back as her own and snatching some gauze and tape from her backpack. She frowned. “Isn’t it?”
He blinked up at her dazedly.
“Spike?” she prodded. “You can wait until tomorrow? The city?”
“I love you,” he whispered. He felt idiotic, re-born and stunned into saying such meaningless, overused words. His demon cringed.
“My condolences,” she said, and it was supposed to be a joke, but her lips looked like they couldn’t decide whether or not to try for a smile. She cleaned out the incision with antiseptic, taped everything up. She was efficient and precise, as she could be in certain matters, but she’d ceased to meet his gaze.
“That scares you. Me saying that.”
“It doesn’t scare me.”
Their eyes met. All at once, she lay her head down on the slope of his stomach, pressed her face into the skin there, and wept.
There just might actually have been something, as she’d suggested, that had changed between them. There was certainly something that was at once new and not new in her tears.
Whatever it was, it had him positively on edge. He was unable to decide if he trusted her in such a way, or even if he trusted himself. Stricken down by emotion as if by a blow, he was able to do nothing but lay his hand on her bare, animal shoulder.
In the morning Andrew concernedly watched him, while everyone else looked at anything else. Except for Vi, who didn’t take her eyes off of him, not once. And Buffy.
“The sun could come out at any moment,” Andrew informed him on the bus. He looked as if he were about the start wringing his hands. “You should be more careful.”
“’M fine,” he said, and squinted up at that angry looking sky. “Protected.”
This, of course, meant reckless, which meant stupid, according to Angelus and Darla and Buffy and that stick-up-the-arse Watcher of hers and probably just about everyone, but he was feeling more than a bit reckless. He wanted the two of them to stop watching him, wanted to bash their skulls in and didn’t. But he would, if he had to. If they came at him, if they— He felt as if he was perhaps slipping into delirium, as sick with hunger as he was.
As much as his demon had been a construction: everything he’d been perverted and calling itself by a different name, putting on a different voice; he nevertheless recognized it as his own voice now, soul and everything. He was a killer, and that was all there was to it. And in that moment he wanted them dead. Shit.
He kept himself very, very still. He remembered her wrist, her offering, and how he’d loved her then and it calmed him, though left him feeling like an arse over his wanting nature.
In the city, shattered windows lined the sidewalks. People ran, but didn’t walk. Buffy and Faith did the blood-run.
Buffy brought it to him and watched impassively and with a blank countenance as he tore the bag open with his teeth, and drank deep. The blood was cold, thick. He got only a dull kind of satisfaction from it.
When he was finished she threw a blanket atop of him, and his world went dark once again. They drove on.
Lying there, he thought of that time after he’d escaped from the Initiative labs, feeling like nothing more than a hunted animal. Feeling dead already, and of course, he was. He’d hated the Slayer then, because of what she was to his kind, because of what she’d taken from him, but most of all he’d hated her because she was alive.
He hadn’t fed for days. Bloodlust had consumed him. And as his teeth had pierced the soft flesh on the underbelly of his arm, he’d thought of her.
When the bus finally slowed down, he silently thanked an absent God.
They set up camp next to a river that night, and the girls washed each other’s hair in the moonlight. They could have been mermaids.
“Well,” Xander announced eventually. “I feel like a bit of a pervert.”
There was a general consensus, and then Giles started off towards the bus. Xander and Andrew stayed put. “Gotta talk to you, Harris,” Spike announced then. He felt desperate and at loose ends. “Alone.”
Xander just looked at him. “Um. What?”
Buffy chose that moment to duck under water, and he caught a glimpse of ankle, one slender foot, and said, “Now.” Dragged the boy by the arm over the crest of the embankment, until it was just them, the leaves in the trees. Xander jerked his arm away, but didn’t protest as such, and Spike took that as the go-ahead.
“The thing is, I’m not safe. She knows that I’m not, but she’s letting herself think that I am, you know?”
“Okay,” Xander began, once he’d sorted that out. “Firstly, I’m not your camp counselor, Spike. I don’t want to have anything to do with this. Secondly. I don’t want to have anything to do with this! At all! Ever!”
“She thinks that I can take all of her fears into myself and just negate them, right? But I can’t. I mean, I would if I could.”
“Yeah,” Xander said flatly, resigned. “Fine. Stop talking now?”
I killed a man and I liked it, Spike wanted to say, with the bluntness with which he said everything else. And today, I wanted—
Didn’t matter whether or not if it was in self-defense if you were just looking for an excuse, right? Confusion swarmed. He couldn’t even finish a thought.
“Since when have you ever listened to me, anyway?” Xander was asking, and Spike swiped a hand across his eyes.
“She’s afraid?” he continued, shoving his hands under his arms. He didn’t know what to do with them all of a sudden. “You’d be a fool not to be. I’m afraid. I’m afraid of all kinds of things.”
Xander shook his head, as if in disbelief. “What are you afraid of?”
“Xander?” Buffy stood above them, wringing her hair out. She looked small and plain, and she said, “Andrew’s creeping us out.” And Xander laughed a bit, and said fine, fine, he’d take care of it, and then he went off to do just that, shooting quick little looks in Spike’s direction as he did so. “What was that?” Buffy asked when he’d gone. “You two, like, talk now?”
“We communicate,” Spike allowed.
“Curious,” Buffy said. She came over and kissed him quickly on the mouth in a way he supposed could be termed affectionate. That was new. “And curiouser. You’ve been quiet. And I just made a literary reference, I think.”
“I’ve been thinking,” he managed. “I’m not safe.”
“No, I know,” she agreed eventually, sighing a bit.
“Fuck it all,” he muttered to himself.
“Well, what am I supposed to do?” she threw at him then. “Hate you? After everything? I’ve hated you before, and it wasn’t any easier.”
“I would have killed Vi.”
“You were— you needed—”
“I’ll always need such things, Slayer. You know that. I’ll always be hungry and I’ll always need—”
“Shut up. I do know that, yes, so just shut up.”
She took his hand then, and her palm was damp and warm and sent a chill right through him. If she could let this go, where would she draw the line? Where would he draw the line? He’d already drawn it and crossed it, and crossed it again.
“I know it’s not the same,” she said then. “But there’s something inside of me too— the Slayer, the, the demon part of me, the—” She stopped. Whatever she wanted to get out, it was hard for her.
“I wanted to—” he began, hoping to spare her something.
“I know! I know what you wanted to do, all right? What I’m trying to say is, that part of me— it wants what it shouldn’t. Too. But neither of us can have exactly what we want, can we?”
He took this in. “Not from each other, it would seem. Not right at this moment in time. Certainly not from anyone else.”
Buffy shiver-shifted her feet. Looked away. After a little while, he went to her and folded her up into his coat with him. She held onto him.
That night he dreamed.
The Slayer held something in her fist. Sunlight streamed from between the cracks of her fingers, then broke through, illuminating blue veins, snapping outwards, pure white flame.
She opened her palm, and the thing fell, and kept falling. Where was the ground?
“What is it?” he asked.
She shook her head, and he dove beneath the water that was there, suddenly. Deep down, something shone, like a backwards sun. Then he could see it.
He awoke utterly confused, feeling that dream bleed all away. He had no idea suddenly what he’d seen, or what it had meant. Wanting to clear his head he headed out towards the river with a bar of soap and an ache in his chest.
He was underwater when something came at him, indistinctly shaped and milky pale. He saw a face, a neck that lolled at an odd angle, and reeled back and away, kicking up silt, things better left at rest.
Dawn was sitting on her knees in front of her tent when he made his stumbling, ungainly way over the crest of the hill to the encampment. She had a rock in one hand, a mess of silver in the other. He fell beside her, gasped out, “What did you do?” and knew not why.
“It wanted me to,” Dawn said numbly, as numb as Spike felt. Her lips barely seemed to move. “The First—”
He snatched at her hand. The pendant itself seemed intact, but where the gem should have been there was only a dark opening, a kind of chasm. “Where is it? Where is it?”
“I threw it in the river,” Dawn said. She was crying without moving, without anything, and he found himself shaking her all up to give her some animation and because for whatever reason he just couldn’t stand it.
Buffy was the one to tear him away from her. She looked whole, flushed. Her hair was dry and slept-upon. “I saw you in the water,” he said haltingly. “The pendant, Buffy, it’s- There’s something- The First-”
Dawn was really crying now, and Buffy went to her, took her into her arms, all the while watching him over her sister’s shoulder, watching him the way Vi had watched him, with a wary, somehow wanting gaze.
It was Xander who came and took him away. He didn’t ask what happened, but rather took him into his tent, opened a bottle of something potent and pushed it at Spike, who took a long swig; kept drinking until he saw little flashes of exploding light, black blotches in his line of vision.
“Picked it up at the last stop,” he heard Xander say.
“Good call,” Spike said roughly. He thought he might cry then, like Dawn, just let it take him over, but he didn’t. A coldness settled within him, like lead. He felt heavy, and far too sober. “Give us some more, yeah?” Xander obediently handed the bottle over. “Good man,” Spike said. “Know you hate me and everything I bloody stand for, but sometimes a fellow’s just gotta get pissed.”
Xander very nearly smiled. “My sentiments exactly.” He waited until Spike was falling all over himself, even sitting down, and then he said, “So. There’s, uh, something that you said before—”
A pause. “Right. Yeah?”
Another pause. “What’s someone like you afraid of?”
"What? Ah what?"
The ah was that Spike supposed Xander was out of his head with fear himself, and perhaps wanted to commiserate on the nature of the beast, but he didn’t say that for whatever reason. Out of the goodness of his heart? Ha bloody ha.
Took the expected route instead. "Ah. You all loathe the very ground I stand on, but you find me interesting, like something behind glass. I get it. The sole vampire who took it upon himself to get himself a soul. And do you wanna know why I did that?”
“Spike? Please, just—”
“Well, there isn’t an answer to that question, so don’t be looking for one. I’m just like anyone else - I don’t know why I do half the things I do. For example, why the fuck would I chose the Slayer to fall in love with? At first, it was all about the dance, of course. I loved the thought of her. But the way that I love her now—” His voice choked off of its own accord, and he started over. “And she can be a raging bitch, right? So what kind of sense does that make?”
“You know what I think about you, Spike?”
“This ought to be good,” he muttered.
“You talk too much. You think everything is about you. You have zero empathy for anyone who isn’t Buffy. Statistically? That makes you an asshole. So, pick a number between one and six billion.”
“Well that’s all fine and good and nicely cynical, but why would I hurt the woman I love, even if she can be a—”
“Raging bitch?” Xander supplied in a deadly tone.
“That would be it. Why would I— You know what I think about you? One of the things that I’m afraid of? That I hate you right back, but that you’re a better man than I could ever think of being.”
That shut Xander up right away. After awhile, though, he said, “You’re right.” Spike smothered a laugh, nearly tumbling sideways onto the canvas floor of the tent. “You know, though— I hurt the woman I loved.”
Spike quieted, a bit. He recognized that pain. “I know.”
“You were right the other day, too,” Xander continued, looking at his hands. “At this point, I’m just too tired to, you know, kill you. So you don’t have to worry about that, at least.”
“Because it kept me up nights.” Spike ran a hand across his face, said, “I’m tired too,” because he was. “There was something I was supposed to do, but instead I just broke a bloke’s neck.”
“Yeah?” Xander asked uncertainly, and Spike found that uncertainty ridiculously funny, after everything.
“Hand it over,” he said when he was able to, and Xander shoved the bottle into his hand, helped him close his fingers around it.
“Maybe you’ve had enough?”
“Not nearly,” Spike said. “I’m like that about everything, you know? I’m sorry.” Xander said he knew, but then Spike couldn’t figure out which thing he was referring to, and it was all terribly confusing, and that was that. The world started up swinging crazily, like a pendulum, and kept on swinging.
It was the middle of the night. He was still drunk, kind of, and when he opened his eyes, Buffy had leaned in over him and was kissing him with her river mouth, as cool and drifting as the river itself.
“Come on,” she murmured, “Come on.”
They did a little dance on the way out of the tent, she kept walking backwards, smiling this kind of quasi Mona Lisa smile, and he kept trying to kiss her again. It seemed a familiar tableau.
“I missed your mouth,” he said.
She tugged him into her tent with her, amused with his stumbling, and pressed his fingers to her lips. “It’s right here.”
“Okay. Okay. Buffy, don’t know what happened back there, with Dawn. There was— feels like, something I was supposed to do— What was—?”
“The jewel-y thing? It was just something that Angel brought over,” she explained impatiently. “He thought it might help, with stuff. But it didn’t, obviously.”
“Well, there must have been some reason why the First would give a flying fuck about us after all this time, right? S’not like we’re a threat anymore.”
Her face briefly contorted with fury. “I’m a threat, always.”
“I’ll agree with you there, Slayer,” her said. He’d meant to smile, but found that he couldn’t all of the sudden.
“I know,” she said suddenly, and unimaginably, drew him to her so that his face was pressed into the curve of her throat. “I’m sorry.”
And how could he not love her then? She was a tigerlily in his stream, petting his head as if she were a lioness. “Don’t know what happened back there,” he said again, wretchedly.
“Well, it doesn’t matter, I guess. You’re the one that told me that I was being dense— that we we’re all going to die—”
“That’s fatalistic shite and you know it,” he reprimanded her, drawing back. “I said— well, all right, I said that, but it matters. Buffy, things matter—”
“I want you to fuck me,” she interrupted then, making him forget himself all over again, and her small pink tongue peeked out, tasted his fingers that hadn’t moved, the salty tang of them. “No,” she said at his hesitation. “Not like we used to. Just— because I need it.”
The next day they would run into their first ghost-town, where everything was burned to the ground. The demon population was getting confident, moving away from the Hellmouths. Spreading, Giles called the whole deal, as if it were a disease, something malignant. And she needed him again after that, needed him so often that she nearly wore them both out. He wondered what exactly it was that made her so painfully wet for him, when all she’d seen was death, everything flattened as if by a great palm. Had a sneaking suspicion that he knew, that it was just that.
Yes, he was afraid of all kinds of things.
Continued in Part 3