Two fat tears quivered on Willow’s lashes and slid down her cheeks. “I had to do it,” she whispered. “Had to prove it to you. I’m still h-human. Still me.”
Tara dropped to her knees, looking as if Willow had slapped her. “I know that,” she said, and looked as if she might cry herself. “Baby, I know that. Why do you think I’m still here?”
Willow’s face crumpled. Tara grabbed her hands. Andrew and Warren, who had been cringing on the sofa through the last twenty-five minutes of emotional trauma, felt their Sex-Detection Antennae zing and opened their eyes in cautious hope … being kidnapped and tied up on the Slayer’s couch might be worth it, if they got to see the lesbians make up. Or make out. Or both.
Buffy, who knew when she wasn’t needed, let herself out the back door and sank down on the patio steps.
Sundown, Tara had said. They’d do the spell at sundown.
That left her a couple of hours to think.
They needed a trade-in, and damned if she’d do it again, Heaven or no Heaven. Damned if she’d let Willow, either, though the Existence of the Hairy Ewok was mostly her fault. If Buffy had her way, no Scoobies would be Demon Chow today.
They did have two hostages, she thought. Who bore massive partial responsibility for their current situation. She didn’t have a soul anymore, right? What did she care if one of the losers bought it? Willow and Tara wouldn’t like the idea, but they wouldn’t fight her on it. Not if it meant saving Xander from having to wear a Trans-la-Tron for the rest of his natural life.
Buffy sighed. She couldn’t do it. Goddamn it, why couldn’t she be not- quite-human when it’d be useful, for once?
She pulled Spike’s note out of her jacket pocket and traced her forefinger over the elaborate script. When you touch me, I remember what sunlight feels like.
William the Poet. He had words for everything.
Maybe he’d have some for the Problem of the Week. It was worth a try, anyway.
Feeling a bit more cheerful, she tucked the note back in her pocket and headed for the cemetery.
Spike felt uneasy, and it had nothing to do with the Xander/Jonathan predicament. If you asked him, and it was pretty likely that no one would, it was a situation best left alone. Hamster Boy deserved to be a midnight snack, for pulling that stunt with the diamond, and Harris speaking French was definitely an improvement over Harris speaking English.
Plus, he’d always had a certain amount of sympathy for the world’s revolutionaries. Even crazy ones.
No, it wasn’t the current Scooby Crisis that had him repainting his nails in the middle of the afternoon, on a weekday no less (always a sure sign that deep thought of some sort was required). Nor was the Slayer twisting his knickers about anything … in a bad way, at least.
Maybe that was part of the problem. Things were going too well.
He’d never thought she’d give him a second tumble. By his count, they were on their fourth. He’d have laid down money that she’d never tell the Scoobies. As of last night, he’d have lost it.
He was pretty sure that she’d whispered those proverbial Three Little Words in his presumed-to-be-sleeping ear last night. Words that he’d given her a hundred times, and never thought he’d hear in return. So maybe the unfamiliar flutter in his chest was panic, and maybe it was hope.
Maybe it was just the memory of a heartbeat, pounding along in rhythm with hers. Sod if he knew.
He did know this. After last night, he couldn’t go back to where he’d been before.
He’d stake himself first.
The door opened upstairs, and he smelled her before he saw her. “Afternoon, princess,” he drawled, and carefully smudged the polish on his right pinkie with the opposite thumb. Perfection wasn’t exactly what he was after.
“Spike.” She stood at the top of the ladder, watching him with amusement. “What’s next on your agenda for the afternoon? Hot rollers? A pedicure?”
“Ritual shaving and a mud pack,” he said, not looking at her. “But if you’re in the mood to repeat last night’s performance, I’d send the concubines away and indulge you.”
“I bet you would.” She clattered down the steps and plopped down on his bed. “I need advice.”
Well, well, well. Would wonders never cease? He swiveled to face her. “Things a bit heavy back at the old homestead?”
She filled him in, and he rewarded her exposition with a low whistle. “Red okay?”
“Yeah. I think.”
He sucked his teeth thoughtfully. “Not sure I can offer much in the way of help here, luv. Unless you want to sacrifice one of the Jedi Knights –“
He gave her a swift sideways look of speculation. “Didn’t think so.”
“Yeah. And what the hell is up with that?” She kicked moodily at the rung of his chair. “I’m supposed to be all No-Soul Girl, right? One of those guys pisses me off, and the other one I don’t even know. Why am I even giving this a second thought?” She stuck out her lower lip. “Having a conscience sucks.”
“You’ve got a soul,” Spike said, and her mouth dropped open.
“I don’t. You said I didn’t.”
“Never said any such thing. I said you came back wrong. Not the same.”
She thought hard. “The diamond thing didn’t affect me,” she said triumphantly, wagging her little finger at him. “I caught it, and then I passed it to Xander, and it mojoed him, not me.”
Spike shrugged. “Don’t ask me.” He hiked his chair a little closer to her. “Slayer without a soul? Your little gal-pal Faith. Times ten. That’s not you, sweet pea. Not even close.” He tipped his head to the side. “If you didn’t have a soul, you wouldn’t even be trying to fix this. Dead French guy? Diamond? Junkie witch? None of your business, is it, pet? I mean, really?”
He wished he could tell what she was thinking. “Whatever,” she finally said, and frowned hard at her knee so she wouldn’t have to look at him. “Doesn’t matter why. Just matters that I can’t do it. I need a different solution.” She paused, then sent him a hopeful glance under her lashes. “This is your cue to tell me that there’s a way around this portal thing. That we can cheat the toll booth.”
“Not that I know of.” He slid onto the bed and slipped his arm around her. She tipped her head onto his shoulder. He could almost feel the wheels turning in her impatient little brain.
“If we don’t do the spell as scheduled, it’ll be too late,” she said finally. “Xander will never get his soul back. And that diamond’s supposed to be way unlucky. Cursed, or something. God knows what kind of damage hanging onto it will cause.” She paused. “But if we go ahead and do it, and we get through, it’ll be useless. Either Willow will stay, like she’s already said she would, or I will, to keep her from doing it.”
Her voice was muffled against his shoulder. “Can’t you guess the Hollywood ending, Spike? Can’t you see the headline?” She laughed bitterly. “‘Slayer Sacrifices Self for Friends.’ Isn’t that touching?”
He squeezed her tighter, not knowing what to say. She wasn’t making a sound, but he could tell she was crying.
“I don’t want to die again,” she managed. Her voice was a ragged whisper. “Goddamn you, Spike, this is your fault. A week ago I would have thrown myself into that portal and never looked back.”
There were no words in him to answer that, so he just kissed her instead. Salt and heat and a desperate kind of tenderness. She clutched at him, tore at him, bore him back on the bed, and he went with her until he couldn’t stand the buzzing in her brain anymore. “Stop,” he rasped. “Buffy. Stop it now.”
“I can’t,” she said, and the pretty tears were streaming down her cheeks like silver. “I have to. Don’t you understand? It’s the only thing that feels good anymore.”
He understood, and so he took her hands in his to still them. “Shhh,” he said, and kissed the shiny tracks all the way up to her eyes. “Hold on a second, will you? Let’s do this another way.”
Buffy let him guide her hands to her sides, let him roll her onto the bed and arrange her head on a pillow. Why fight? What good did it do?
He had shoved himself off the bed and was fiddling with a CD player in the far corner. Must run on batteries, Buffy thought. Or had he figured out how to steal electricity, too?
The track started up, and she blinked in surprise. Not the Sex Pistols. Not even that soprano and her wild, wistful piano. Buffy’d heard this before, a long, long time ago. In the car with her dad. On the radio or something. How old had she been? Six? Seven? She couldn’t remember.
Sweet, melancholy tenor voice and words that went straight to her tear ducts.
Who knows my secret broken bone?/
Who feels my flesh when I am gone?/
Who was a witness to the dream, who kissed my eyes and saw the scream?/
Spike was back on the bed now. Kissing her cheekbones, her jawline, the curve of her neck. Buffy let her head fall back, let him do it. Kept listening.
Who is my reason to begin?/
Who plows the earth, who breaks the skin?/
Who took my two hands and made them four?/
Who is my heart, who is my door?/
She let him ruck her sweater up and worship the skin under it. Spread her legs so he could pull down her jeans. Succumbed with an arch and a sigh to the thumbs that spread her open, the mouth that fastened on her like she was strawberries in season. At the taste of her, he groaned and drew back for a minute. Drenched hazel eyes met glittering gold ones for the electric instant before she pulled him closer and he dove back in.
Nobody but you, girl,/
Nobody but you./
Nobody in this whole wide world/
They were slow-dancing on the bed, she and he, in loose slow rhumba circles. Up, down, around. He had her spread out like peanut butter on toast and she was loving it, reveling in it, egging him on with gasps and grunts and fists in his hair so tight that if he didn’t hurry up and finish her he’d go bald. She tasted like pineapple, like fresh bread, like that little harbor bar in Boston where he and Dru had started with the oysters and finished up with the bartender. She screamed, she cursed, she prayed. He kept going.
Who makes the bed that can’t be made?/
Who is my mirror, who’s my blade?/
When I am rising like a flood, who feels the pounding in my blood?/
“I can’t,” she gasped. “Not again. I can’t.”
He ignored her. Gave her another rainbow. Pushed her off another cliff. She closed her eyes in wonder, and fell like a stone.
When she crashed, it took her a long time to resurface. But he was still there when she did.
“I have to tell you something,” she said. Paul Simon was still spinning that cool, effortless melody in the background, but she’d stopped hearing it. “Before tonight. Before I go. I have to tell you.”
“You don’t have to say it.”
“You already know?”
“Oh,” she said, feeling oddly deflated. “Well, okay then.”
They lay in companionable silence. At two-thirty, she sat up and reached for her clothes.
“I have to get Dawn from school.”
He nodded again.
“I’ll see you later,” she said.
“We’re going to start the spell at sundown. My place, not the Magic Box.”
“I’ll be there.”
“You don’t have to be.”
She was almost to the top of the ladder when she turned around. Their eyes met.
“Spike? I’m going to come back this time.”
“You’d better,” he said.
Continued in Chapter Ten