It was the smell that defeated her, the smell on top of the cheerful visit from her friends. How on earth could they visit like that, be perky, when she felt as bad as she'd ever felt? Weren't they supposed to see that? Wasn't that sort of the definition of friendship? Were they even looking at her?
It was hard to say what was worse about the place; the comatose coworkers, the hours, or the smirking customers. She watched with clenched fists as one older gent, obviously drunk, yelled at one of the youngest workers, a boy no more than sixteen who looked twelve, because the kid hadn't put enough ice in his drink. What she could do to a guy like that... And the manager didn't do a damned thing about it.
Keep going, she thought. Just keep going. Overtime. Overtime is good. Rent would be better. She shoved that thought out of her head. My friends. Save the world a few times and people seem to think they can just wait around for me to come galloping in and clean up after them. She avoided the clock, which had become her enemy. She wiped the counter, swept the floor, mopped the floor, filled drinks, knowing that if she looked up, no more than seconds would have passed, and hours still remained. Keep going, Buffy, she told herself. Keep going. Paycheck.
But the mindless tasks left her with only two alternatives: think or don't think. She didn't want to think about this place, the very place she stood in now, because it seemed that this must be hell. The uniform was horribly cheerful, the hats were worse, and the smell... oh, the smell... If a demon had suddenly attacked her, she wouldn't have had the heart to fight back.
"Buffy! Empty that trashcan!"
She didn't even protest, because it meant looking at the Fire Escape of Lust, but it also meant fresh air. Freedom. She yanked the bag out of the can, and slammed through the back door, stomped to the dumpster, and realized her feet were practically numb. Accelerated healing powers, my ass, she thought. She sat down on the last run of the fire escape, wincing at the sensations suddenly flooding through her abused feet, and the memories coursing through her head.
Crazy. Bad. Disgusting.
She was so tired, she didn't have any defenses left. Crazy? Oh, sure, her best friend was marrying a thousand-year old demon who, if you didn't stuff a sock in her mouth right away, would just natter on about either capitalism or the good old days when she'd wreaked vengeance on the male half of the population. Her other best friend had managed to get so drugged on magic that as a result her little sister now had a broken arm. Her ex was living in LA. But her? She'd come back wrong. It was like a ghost, hovering around her, that thought, and the thought of Spike's last visit. The noises he made, the way he gasped against her mouth... Oh, it wasn't fair. She was a Slayer, she lived in a world with demons and monsters, and she had a vampire for a boyfriend, why couldn't she find a normal guy?
What's normal around here? A rebellious voice in her brain piped up. Vampires are normal around here. Get over it.
Bad, disgusting? It sure didn't feel that way. Spike was the only one who'd seen her naked, body and soul, and her friends, who should have known her better, mistook her excuses for her. But he didn't. She blinked rapidly. "Come with me, Buffy. This place will kill you." Oh, God, had she wanted to. But where to? How? He'd said he'd get money for her, and that was something her friend would surely notice. They wouldn't notice her depression, the hours she called 'patrolling' when in fact she was with Spike, they wouldn't notice Spike patrolling with them for months, trying to save Dawn, they wouldn't notice that she needed money that they had, and they wouldn't notice how tired she was. But they'd certainly notice somehow if he gave her money enough to stave off the worst of the money hemorrhaging. And they would disapprove. They would make her feel bad, but they wouldn't, of course, help.
She sighed. They needed me to slay, she thought bleakly, but I need them. I can't lose anyone else. She got up and went wearily inside.
The skies darkened, and the evening rush came. To her, they might as well have been demons, these people; they seemed to be so distorted, these people, all hurried, barking orders, glaring at her for her fumbles, all loud voices, too many of them, none of them looking her in the eye. She ran back and forth, filling orders, dropping things, dropping fires, never doing anything right, apologizing, explaining with a self-depreciating giggle that 'It's my first day,' only to be greeted with a shrug. She kept offering the statement as an explanation, receiving over and over again the same response: a disinterested eye roll, a 'whatever' or, worst of all, no response at all. Nothing.
Then she looked up, and there was no one waiting at the counter, and the tables were slowly being abandoned in the restaurant. She sighed at the chaos in the dining air, but there was a breeze coming from the drive through. She turned toward it, not yet ready to face the cleaning up, when she saw something through the window and froze.
Come with me. This place will kill you.
He stared at her though the window, swallowing, a muscle in his jaw flexing as he looked at her, as if he could make her come with him by the sheer power of his stare. Behind her, there was cleaning to be done, over and over again, more food to be cooked, because her uniform wasn't yet totally permeated with the grease smell yet....
She brushed past her coworkers, banged through the back door, and stopped. He gave her an exasperated sigh that so reminded her of her mother that she could have broken down right there. Somebody else who cared enough about her to yell.
She couldn't go, she absolutely couldn't go, but she couldn't stay, she couldn't do the same thing endlessly over and over again, like that horrifying day of the repetition spell at the Magic Box, except here it was real. She realized, with something like horror, that she was going to cry, if she didn't do something about it, and he knew it, too. He reached out, as if he were afraid of being burned, and touched her hair. "Come on, Buffy. Leave." He whispered. It broke his heart to see her so exhausted, so defeated. Not his Slayer. She grabbed him by both lapels, and though he had some speeches all worked up in his head about how he only wanted all of her, they appeared to have been tossed out the window. She buried his face in his shoulder, and he realized she was shaking with exhaustion, too proud to admit it, too stubborn to quit something once she'd started it, and too naïve to realize that the job was Sisyphean. I only want all of you, he thought, as if it would convince himself. At least it was't a New Year's resolution.
"Come on, Buff." He whispered again.
"No. I can't. You know I can't."
He was the only one who knew, the only part of this horrible day that wasn't nightmarish. She buried her face in his chest, tightening her arms around his body till it almost hurt, wanting to crawl inside him, just wanting him.
The wall was against her back, and he was wrapped around her, the only refuge she had. He knew what was going to happen, knew he couldn't stop himself, wondered if he ever would. She needed him, he thought, and that was enough for now. He lifted her head off his shoulder with a gentle palm, but his other hand found her breast, the irresistible soft curse of its underside, and molded it into his other palm. He slid against her, hands sliding down her body, down her thighs, lifting her off the ground just enough, rubbing against her, while she clutched him like a drowning woman. She was the one who got his fly open, but she lacked her usual coordination, and he had to lower her the few inches to the ground to lower his pants. He noticed she winced when her feet hit the ground. He dealt with her clothes as if she were a child, she was practically limp against him, always looking desperately into his face.
She was wearing the tacky skirt that came with the uniform, a coarse polyester that didn't go at all with the Victoria's Secret panties he pushed aside. They were so close in height he only had to lift her a few inches against the wall, and then pushed into her. He rocked against her, trying to reach her, but she clutched him with her hands, pressed her forehead against his, and tried to pull strength from him. It always worked, he always did this to her, awakening her nerve endings, charging her cells with pleasure.
Except it didn't work, not the way she intended. She saw the dumpster over his shoulder, and reality descended on her. He was right. It was killing her. She remembered the first time, the shock on his face as she guided him inside her, the shock to her senses as he slid all the way home, hitting nerves she didn't know she had. The biggest shock had been his eyes, the same eyes looking all the way inside her now. He was watching her, worrying about her, when, she thought, I should be worrying about him. He slid one hand between them, finding her clitoris, and she realized with a shock that some things didn't change. It was short, and sharp, this orgasm, her muscles clenching around him, and she found she wanted him to come more than she wanted herself to. He braced his hands against the wall, and went faster, freezing against her, with his face pressed against the wall.
She didn't want to move, but that would mean being discovered. Why did she suddenly care? she thought. She never cared before.
Spike sighed finally, and pulled away from her, looking at her sadly. The thought hit him again: Money. Lots of money. He had to get lots and lots of money. Maybe it really was unfair of him to demand her love when he was a distraction from her responsibilities. Money. Where could he get money?
He leaned against her, kissing her with a calmness that he'd never felt any of the other times they'd had sex. It was almost pleasant, being so calm, so resolved. He knew what he had to do, and who he had to do it for, and to.
Who had money?
Continued in Chapter 10