All About Spike

Chapter: 1  2  3  3 1/2  4

Tabula Obscura
By Ginmar

Chapter 4

Once she caught up with Willow, she had to walk behind her for a bit to goose her courage. Why is this so bad? She thought. Not a demon, or a vampire, or a god. My best friend. Who I didn’t tell about Spike. Kissing with Spike.  Somehow Sex with Spike was easier to deal with than the eager kisses at her window. She looked around for a portal, a demon, a God.   Piece of cake, compared to this. She picked up her pace and dropped in beside her. Willow glanced at her, but just sighed instead of speaking. Okay, Buffy thought. Another fun moment.

“So…” She said.

“So,” Willow said.

“So…do you hate me because I’m sleeping with another vampire, or do you hate me because I didn’t tell you, or---“ She clapped her hand over her mouth as she realized what she’d said, and Willow’s head snapped around. Buffy practically hopped from foot to foot in consternation, something Dawn had done not an hour earlier.

Sleeping with him?” The previous day’s conversation played in her head. Of course I missed that, she thought. You’re…having sex with Spike? With Spike?!” How come you didn’t say so yesterday? She thought, then brushed that aside. She wavered between resentment and curiosity.

“Um…” Buffy said helpfully.

“But…sex! With Spike!”

Buffy glanced around nervously. No one had appeared to notice, but it was early yet and nobody was in range. Unless the echoes had knocked some stray paperboys off their bikes and into the hedges, they were alone.  Thank God.   “We just had sex once. Just once.”  Unless you count the times he----God, if she closed her eyes, it was all she could see, Spike bracing himself above her----“What?”

“Just once? Was that all? Are you going to sleep with him again? I mean, I know he loves you, and he was great with Dawn all summer, and sure, Glory tortured him----“ And once you would have told me everything. “Do you love him?”

“I don’t know,” Buffy said. “It just happened, Will. I haven’t…It’s so….new.  You don’t know how he looks at me---“

“Yes, I do,” Willow said dryly. “You’re the last one who noticed that, Buffy.” Buffy looked dejected at that, and Willow smacked herself mentally. “Not that I blame you, you know? It can be kind of---“

“Really? You blame me? No, I mean, you don’t? But you did?”

“No! I don’t blame you. I mean, if you didn’t notice, I would understand—I mean, coming back from Heaven, all that. It’s hard to notice stuff like that, when it changes and all that. I mean, with Tara….” She sighed heavily. “Okay, I didn’t realize at first, what was happening, what I felt. It sort of gradually accumulated. And Spike…Gotta say, not too much with the clueage there, Buff, but---“ As Buffy’s face fell, Willow backtracked. “But, you know…understandable…after being dead and…uh….So…uh…when did this start?”

“Start?  There…” She thought about it. “….really wasn’t a start to this. And…I don’t even know what ‘this’ is.”

“Why?”

“Well, he is Spike.”

“So…?”

“You don’t have a problem with it?”

Willow looked at her wistfully, and for a moment, it seemed she could see all the years and miles they had crossed together. The distance between them was recent, not yet an unbreachable gulf.  I have a problem with you not telling me, she thought. Is it my problem, or it yours? With a sudden pang, she thought, Yeah, come to me, I’ll do a ‘my will be done spell.’

“Xander might,” Willow said thoughtfully. “But, you know…he doesn’t have a soul to lose, does he?  I mean, I figure we’ve pretty much seen the worst of Spike already, right? He’s already tried to kill everybody, what else is there? He’s always said sarcastic things to everyone. Got that covered.  And he’s got the chip and everything. He sure didn’t try to kill us over the summer or anything. And I wanted to kill us over the summer.”

“Why?”

“Well, Buff, I think you’ve been lying to us all along.”

“About what?”

They were at the Magic Box door, and Willow keyed them in and disarmed the alarm. “I didn’t know how hard Slaying was. You made it look so easy, but it’s not. I think most of the vamps we staked were laughing too hard to fight.”

“Really?”

“Oh, yeah,” Willow said dryly. “But…You know….It was sort of…” I am not going to say it was almost fun slaying while my best friend was dead, she thought. Nope, not me.

“Fun?” Buffy suggested.

“Uh…actually, yeah.” Willow said.

“Because I thought…” Buffy gulped. “You know, you never go patrolling with me anymore, and I thought, you know---I didn’t…“ She studied the floor abruptly. Let’s go for that performance of, ‘What a lovely floor tile pattern!’ she thought, but spoiled it by checking to see if Willow was falling for it. The look on her friend’s face rather suggested otherwise.

“I didn’t think you wanted me to,” Willow said softly.

Uh.Oh. “I didn’t think you wanted to.”

“Of course I wanted to!” Willow took a deep breath. “But I just thought that…you didn’t want me to. You know, Heaven and everything.”

Buffy stared at her. “Of course I want you to! I---I---!” She stepped closer and looked Willow in the eye. “That mind-reading thing you do?”

“Yes?”

“Can you, you know---“ She shrugged uncomfortably “----see things?”

“See things?” Willow eyed her curiously, then smiled. “No, I can’t. What would I see?”  Her smile was more of a grin now.

“Me being really confused?” Buffy asked. Willow cleared her throat skeptically, and Buffy got suddenly interested in her own shoes. “So…could you not tell Xander?”

Willow looked at her, really looked at her, and saw how nervous she was for the first time. “If you want to tell him, Buffy, that’s your business. But not mine. I don’t see why it’s any of his---his---beeswax----anyway.”

“And how much of this is making me feel better and how much is subtle cattiness directed at Anya?”

“About ninety percent for you, and ten percent at Anya. No, nine percent. It’s one percent at Xander because Anya is so not as pretty as me.”

“Meow.”

“Wow. That’s only the second meow I’ve ever gotten.” Willow preened happily, once more her best friend.

“Well, keep it that way, okay? Cordelia had so many of them that---“ Buffy chewed on her lower lip thoughtfully. “God, what do you think she’d think of this?”

“Not much.” Willow said quietly. “What about Angel?”

“You had to ask. And Giles?” They both shivered a bit. “So how come I’m the only one who has to get approval about who I date?”

“Um, because the last vampire you dated…” Willow said, then stopped, guilty.  “But how often can that happen? It’s not like Spike has a curse on him or something.  Spike’s gone good, and that doesn’t happen much either. Maybe he’s just special. After all, you’re the Slayer, and there’s only one of those. Maybe he’s the only vampire capable of ---loving any hu---Oh! I know! Maybe it’s a chairman of the board type thing.”

“Will? What?”

“Well, you’re the Slayer, and we’re the Scoobies, so you’re sort of…the boss….Okay, scratch that.”

“How come?” Buffy shifted on her seat a bit. “I sort of like the idea.”

“But, you know---“

“Kidding, Will. Besides, CEO of the Hellmouth doesn’t have good benefits or anything.”

They sat in silence for a few moments. “So are you okay with that?” Buffy asked finally.

“What? You as CEO?”

“No, Spike and…”

“Are you going to keep---?”

“I can’t stop thinking about it.” Buffy confessed. “Maybe if I get it out of my system…” She didn’t even finish the sentence before it made her uncomfortable. “It’s not in my system…It’s…I need to know what it is.” She felt around that concept, like touching a sore tooth with her tongue. “Except…he makes me feel so different. Better,” she added. “I just feel better when I’m around him.”

“Better than when you’re around me?”

“Better than when you’re around Tara?” Buffy retorted, then flinched back. “Oh, that’s so not what I meant, Will. You know what I mean, right?”

“Yeah, I think so.” They sat in silence, with Willow studying the magic books thoughtfully. “You just feel different around someone you, well…” She gave Buffy a sly look. “Somebody you, you know…”

“So what are you saying?”

“Are we going patrolling tonight?”

“Sure,” Buffy said. “But now…”

The front door opened and Xander blinked into the relative darkness of the store. “Hey, got Dawn off to school. How was the official visit?”

Buffy shrugged. “Pretty official.” She crossed her arms uncomfortably. “I didn’t even realize she was missing that much school.”

Xander flopped down onto one of the benches. “Well, do you blame her?”

“What?”

“Bad enough going to school when you’re like moi and all. But it’s worse going to school when you’re like Dawn.”

“Meaning?”

“Well, she’s a bright kid, but….she does act kind of stupid a lot.”Silence greeted this remark, and he noticed and looked up “Well, at least it’s an act. You know, unlike with some people. That makes it hard.” He flopped down at the table and looked around. “Anya’s not here yet?”

“Nope.” Willow tossed her bag on the table and headed straight for the coffee pot. “Why?”

“Nothing,” Xander said slowly. “She probably stopped off at the bridal shop again or something.”

“I thought she’d picked out the dress,” Buffy said.

“Well, she has. She just likes going over strategy with that---that---lady there. I’m the designated sideline person.”

“Strategy,” Buffy said slowly. “Wait a second.” Willow poked her head out of the stock room, and Xander waited expectantly.

It all came together in one burst of inspiration. More than anything else, it felt like her brain, rusty and broken, had suddenly come back to life. The frost monster that couldn’t be a frost monster. The demon bank robbery, which fit no known standard for demon behavior. The even more unusual demon she and Spike had confronted after the day from hell. The day from hell itself.  “Who do we know in town, who’s really sort of loser like, and sort of…into…” She shrugged. “Fantasy geek stuff? You know—like the Renfaire version of Slaying?”

Willow and Xander exchanged glances. “Warren.”

“Warren?”

“Guy who did the Buffybot,” Willow said. She set cups down on the table and then looked horror-stricken. “Oh, God, Buffy---“

Buffy shrugged it off. “’s okay, I have dealt.” She stared at the table, trying to conjure up a precise memory of the vehicle that had driven off after the demon disappeared. “We saw a demon, but I was drunk, so maybe that’s why it was so…convincing.” She braced herself and added, “Which means I really shouldn’t drink.”

“Why?”

“I think the demon was wearing pink boxer shorts.”

“Well….Buff….” Xander said slowly. “I can see how you’d get convinced of a lot of things, but that’s not exactly---“

“Okay, okay, I know I’m not---“

“You’re Shirley Temple girl, Buff,” Xander said. “Remember BC Buffy?”

“Thankfully, no.” Buffy headed toward the door. “Maybe Spike got a good look at the van.”

“Maybe he did,” Willow said. The grin was back on her face. “Maybe you should go and ask him.” Her expression softened. “It might help, you know. To figure stuff out.”

The two girls exchanged glances, Willow’s innocent, and Buffy’s inscrutable. “That’s a very good idea, Will,” Buffy said finally. “I think I’ll go ask him. And then I’ll go do…something else.” She coughed. “Somewhere else.”  Having alibied herself, she marched decisively out the door.  Both Xander and Willow missed the huge flash of light outside, but they both looked up at the sound of screaming tires. When they stepped outside, there was no one there.





Buffy looked up, puzzled, as Xander and Willow looked out the door of the Magic Box, then at each other, then disappeared back inside. She couldn’t see the van anymore, but she was sure it was the right one. It had a Death Star on the side, how many of those could there be? Then she looked down.

The sidewalk swam in front of her, and she closed her eyes, hard. She counted to ten and looked down again. Where her legs should have been she saw only pavement. She touched her thighs; still there. She patted her face, her hair; and the sensation should have been more comforting, but it produced more of that swirling sensation that made her recall her hangover. She climbed to her feet, then, and whirled around to look in the window reflection.

Except there wasn’t a reflection. She saw trees, stores, slow-moving vehicles, but no Buffy. She patted herself again, then looked down. No shadow. The sun shone clear through her, or where her had been.  But the worst thing was looking directly down at the ground. Her perspective seemed to be gone, and she felt dizzy when she looked down, because she couldn’t seem to feel the distance to the ground any more.

Her first impulse was to turn and go back into the Magic Box. Then, with her hand on the knob, she stopped. What if they’re talking about me? Part of her toyed with that possibility. What if they are? Let’s find out what they really think. But part of her cringed. What if they were? The only thing that kept her standing some times was the knowledge that her friends were the same behind her back as they were when they were at her side, nothing concealed, nothing altered.

With a deep breath, she stepped inside.

“How did that happen?” Xander asked, getting up. Buffy closed the door behind her and stepped out of the way. I’m going to hell, she thought. I am so going to hell.

“Buffy must have not closed it hard,” Willow said thoughtfully. “Check the lock, would you Xander?”

What followed was so disappointing that Buffy regretted her impulse.

Her friends were boring.

Also, they did not talk about her.

She was simultaneously cheered and disappointed. Get over yourself, she counseled sternly, but now she had to confront something else. How to get out of the store? If she opened the door again, they’d certainly know that something had happened, seeing as how she had to tell them what had happened.

One thing she also noticed was that they didn’t spend a lot of time talking to each other, sipping coffee, flipping through the paper, and it didn’t strike her as a comfortable silence. What she didn’t like was when she realized what she was comparing it to; the times she and Spike sat together somewhere, anywhere. With that, she headed for the door. She had to jump out of the way, though, when Anya yanked the door open and dashed inside. “I found it!” she exclaimed gleefully, waving a thick magazine in the air. “The last copy!”

“What did you find, honey?”

Buffy slipped out behind her to lean against the wall. She glanced down for her watch, then shook her head at the gesture. Good one, Buff, she thought. Not much with the clueage, she added mentally. Without being able to see her watch, she suddenly felt as if time had stopped working, too.  Cars moved up and down the street, and she tried to catch a glimpse of a clock in a store window. The Magic Box door was still slightly open, and she couldn’t stand waiting any more.

“Hey, guys,” She said loudly. Anya, by now behind the counter, stopped what she was doing.

“Did you hear something?” she asked.

“Huh, sweetie? Oh, I wasn’t paying attention.” He glanced up from the copy of Modern Bride he had in front of him.  Beneath it was Woodworker Magazine. Buffy stifled a smile, then remembered again her condition.

“Xander!” she said loudly. This time he jumped, glancing around frantically.

“Xander!”

“Willow!” Anya yelled. There was a scramble in the back room, and then Willow dashed through the curtain behind the cash register.

“What? What?” When she looked around and saw only Xander and Anya, she relaxed slightly. “God, Anya, I thought it was important.”

“Willow?” Buffy said.

“Oh, my God, I heard that,” Anya said. “Buffy? Buffy, are you there? Are you dead again?”

Slightly annoyed, Buffy sat down in one of the chairs, and plunked her chin onto her hands. “I’m not dead, I’m just invisible.”

“Are you in that chair right there?” Xander said nervously.

“Yes.”

“Just wanted to make sure. Why do you get to be invisible? Why couldn’t I have been invisible in school?”

“Poetic justice?” Buffy asked, and Xander sighed disgustedly.

“Well, it would have been poetic for me.”

“Buffy, what happened?”

“Remember how I was all, It must be Warren? Well, it’s definite now. I’m pretty sure that was the same van. I just have to ask Spike,” she added uncomfortably. Nobody could tell she was flushing. “I had just walked outside, and guess who’s right there? I remember a big flash of light, and that was it.”

“Buffy, are you sure you want to go anywhere right now?” Willow asked. She reached out tentatively, and Buffy took her hand, surprised by the silly welling of sudden tears in her eyes. The concern in Willow’s voice seemed to set off an ache inside her, and she had to swallow to keep her voice steady. “Shouldn’t you stay here?”

“If I go anywhere from Spike’s crypt, I’ll let you know.”

“What if something happens to you, Buffy?” Willow asked. “We’ll never know. We’ll never be able to find out.”

“But I won’t have another chance to find out stuff about Warren.”

Xander and Willow exchanged resigned glances. Anya, behind the counter and holding a feather duster with eyes raised heavenward, sighed explosively. “She’s invisible,” Anya pointed out impatiently. “Like you could stop her. Like you’d know if she was still here or not,” she sniffed.

Sensing a fight, Buffy pushed the chair back and stood up. Xander watched the chair move, seemingly of its own accord, with wide, fascinated eyes. “On that note, I’m leaving.”

“Call and tell us, Buffy,” Willow said. “Okay?” Her voice and her eyes were rather worried, but she was facing the wrong direction. Buffy had already left.





What if something happens to me and nobody can find me?

Never mind the fact that she felt, at times, like she couldn’t find herself either. Was it good or bad that that thought was eclipsed by another?

Is Spike awake?

Or isn’t he?

Purely business.

Sure it is.

Really.

He might even be awake.

I’ll just check.

Outside the crypt, she hesitated, her hand pausing in the air for several minutes. She hadn’t hesitated that long before she’d shoved her hands in his pants. Her heart was hammering in her chest, and that, too, reminded her of him, the way he affected her senses, even if he was just somewhere on her periphery. Gently, she nudged the door open, barely breathing.

Spike was seated in his armchair, and glanced up as the door slipped open. He frowned and set his beer aside, stepping to the door and barring it. When he turned around again, he was frowning, and Buffy held her breath. “Goin’ daft,” he muttered. He flopped down in his chair sulkily and stared at the television set. Buffy let her breath out slowly.

It was interesting looking at the crypt when she didn’t have to keep some of her attention trained on him. She’d been so conscious of his eyes on her for so long that being freed of his gaze was both uplifting and curiously deflating at the same time.

The first thing she noticed was that despite his limited resources, somehow it all fit together in a way her mother’s expensive pieces had not. A lot of the décor depended for its effect on weapons and more still rested on candles, but the result was colorful and unified. He’d draped some of the benches with what looked like old brocade curtains, and had evidently picked the most elaborately curved candelabra he could find. Oddly enough, the effect was not Liberace-like at all.  There were things she’d never noticed before; books peeked out in various places, and she was startled by the sinking feeling that that aroused in her stomach. Books. So human. Everything she’d ever learned about vampires was contradicted yet again by Spike. What else was she missing? It was too much for her to consider. She felt her curiosity drain away into something tired and overwhelmed. If she ignored the stone walls of the crypt, she could have been in someone’s apartment. It was too confusing.

When she turned back to look at Spike, she almost jumped out of her skin to find him inches away. She gulped and recoiled against the door, and he frowned in puzzlement, reaching out with one hand. “Buffy…?”

“How did you know that?”

He smiled, slowly. “Vampire, Buff. What the bloody hell happened to you?”

Somehow it was easier to talk to him now, knowing that he couldn’t turn those bright and curious eyes on her worries. His concern for her was more unnerving any of the things they’d done in her bed. “You remember that night we went out drinking? And you played kitten poker?”

“How could I forget? I’m still paying that little stunt of yours off.” She made a face at him, then realized once again that he couldn’t even see her. Duh, Einstein.

“Remember the demon?”

“Yeah?”

“How many demons escape in vans?”

“Oh! Yeah! I remember that!”

“You remember what it looked like?”

He flopped back in his chair, considering, not sure where to direct his eyes. “The demon? Or the van?”

“The van. I remember the demon pretty well.” Because he was wearing pink boxer sorts, she thought. Sort of hard to forget.

I remember you, he thought. Who was looking at a demon when I could look at you? It was so hard not to have her to look at, to find his cues in her face. What are you thinking? All he had was words now, and she’d always been sparing with those. “I did see the van, though.”

“What did it look like?”

He hesitated, then jumped. “Come here and I’ll tell you.”

“What?”

What he wouldn’t have given to see her face, watch the way surprise registered on her face. He’d been sitting the same chair when she’d surprised him before. Too late, he realized she’d regard it as a come on. “I can hear you fine from here,” she grumbled.

“Just come here.”

“No.”

Spike sighed, then looked in her general direction. “It’s not fair, Buffy. You can see me but I can’t see you. You could be making faces there for all I know.”

“I’m not.” She sounded almost offended. “Besides, why I would be making faces?”

“Various reasons,” he said dryly. “Just come here.”

He heard a distinctly put-upon sigh, but next came the scrape of her shoes on the floor, and then---her weight settling across his lap. He hadn’t expected that. If he closed his eyes, it was as close to heaven as he’d ever get. “Happy now?” She asked, trying for sarcasm, but it wasn’t convincing, not the way she wiggled just slightly, till her forehead was brushing his cheek, her hair drifting across his lips. One arm wrapped around his neck, anchoring herself against him, and the other touched his stomach. He was afraid to talk for fear something would snap and she’d withdraw again.

“Fine. You?”

There was a loaded pause, during which he could hear her packing as much sarcasm as she could into the minimum amount of syllables. “Oh, I’ve been better.”

“I feel for you, pet, I do. Can’t see myself either, you know.”

Buffy lifted her head then and looked at him; he could feel her face full away from him, feel her breath change direction. “And not seeing you would be a shame,” he added, almost glad he couldn’t see the look on her face.

Oh, crap. At least he can’t see this.

God, why did he have to do this? It had been so much easier when they were enemies, but nothing in her experience had prepared her for the No Man’s Land of Spike. Once she’d thought he was attracted to her strength, and then she had feared it was discovering her weaknesses. The Scoobies were so uncomfortable with the very thought that all acknowledgement of her weaknesses seemed to be forbidden,  swept into dark corners,  because they were so used to her being the decisive one. Hell, they hadn’t even allowed her to rest in peace; they’d pulled her back, and she still couldn’t get used to the suspicion that it wasn’t her they missed so much as it was the Slayer.

She dropped her head back to his shoulder, glad she didn’t have to look strong in case he realized how scared she really was. She’d been dealing with it for days. What would happen now that Spike knew how confused and weak she really was? What would he do?  It was almost comforting. He wasn’t doing anything at all, stroking her leg with his fingertips, something that shouldn’t have seemed so intimate and private. But the way he did it, it seemed like he was touching bare skin, making clothes irrelevant, as if his touch made direct contact with her nerve endings.

Ever since It had happened, she’d wrestled with the idea of just giving up and letting go, drowning herself in him, but she had too many memories of non-vampires. It wasn’t even the fact that she’d had problems with her friends; it was the point at which she’d had them. When she was at her lowest ebb, it seemed to confuse and frighten them. They fled.  She’d run away and come back, and they’d been angry with her. She’d lost her mother, lost her life defending her sister, and they still inched around her tentatively instead of truly clearing the air. Angry words between herself and Willow after she’d run away hadn’t dissipated the tension; they had clouded the air still further. And now, the stakes were so much higher.

And now there was Spike.

He made her so confused, in a way that no other man had. She’d wondered once if something about her was so awful that she made good guys turn bad. And what could be better proof than a vampire falling in love with her? Only evil creatures could love her.  How could she possibly believe that some evil creature would be so influenced by her that he would turn good, where every other man to cross her path had done exactly the opposite?

“I should go,” Buffy said finally. This was said in a reasonable tone of voice that indicated détente would be observed.

“Why?”

“I have to go snoop around at Warren’s.”

“Warren? Bot-boy?”

“That’s the one,” she agreed.

“Stay here.”

“I really have to.”

“Why?”

“Because I think he’s behind all this.”

“Why?”

“Well, there was the bot, then there’s been all this weird stuff. And I remembered that van that night we went out and----“

“That was bot-boy?” Spike rolled his eyes.

“Why is everyone so catty today?” Buffy asked.  Her voice sounded amused. “First Willow, then you.”

“Catty?! I’m not catty. I’m….something else. Something that doesn’t sound like a hissy fit.”

“Vampires hiss.”

“Most vampires,” he corrected dryly. “I’m a bit out of the ordinary.”

“Catty and humble,” Buffy corrected. No doubt about it, she was amused.

“Stop saying that.”

There was a pause, then: “You’re catty.”

“Catty is for birds.”

“Huh?”

“Girls,” Spike explained.

“Adding that to my English dictionary,” Buffy said in a skeptical tone.

“Probably it’s not in Giles’ vocabulary.”

“I don’t even want to consider what I could find in Giles’ vocabulary.”

“Why not?”

“Birds, girls? He’s older than my dad. He should date women his own age.”

“Well, then…” Spike said, just about to point out his own vintage before he realized one could shoot one’s self in areas other than the foot.

“Oh, come on,” Buffy said. “You so want to say something.”

Spike struggled manfully with his tongue before finally getting it under control.  “It was the same van?”

“Are there a lot of vans out there that have the Death Star painted on them?”

“The…Death Star?”

“Was that rhetorical?”

“I wish it was.” Spike shuddered.

“Why did you do that?”

“Oh, I know what these geek boys are like.”

“So vampires are afraid of…geeks?”

“No, just the geek boy---“ He looked up abruptly as footsteps approached the door of his crypt. Buffy jumped up, which would have amused him somewhat except for the interruption, and the reason for the interruption.

Xander poked his head around the door.

“Have you seen Buffy?”

Spike weighed his options, but his options suddenly narrowed when Buffy, standing behind him, slid her arms around his waist. “Uh, no..?”

“She said she was coming by? What if something happened to her?”

“She’s the Slayer, Harris. There’s nothing that can happen to her that she can’t handle.”  Buffy smiled against his back, and then stood up on her toes and kissed the side of his neck. He twitched and gulped. Great timing, Harris, he thought. Go away. Go away right now.

“She’s invisible, Einstein. If something happens to her, we won’t be able to find her.”

“She’s…what?” Spike said gamely. Buffy carefully slipped one hand just inside the waistband of his jeans, careful not to move the fabric.

“Invisible. She’s invisible. Your bot boy seems to be branching out.”

“Oh.” Spike cast about desperately for something to say, now that Buffy had proceeded to pressing kisses against his neck. All Xander saw was Spike suddenly shifting his weight from foot to foot, and scratching nervously at one ear. “Really?”

“Yeah, let’s hope he’s better at weapons than he is at girls.”

“Which explains why you didn’t notice it wasn’t her?”

They stared at each other, and Buffy helped the stalemate by sliding her hands back around to cup his behind. Spike gulped. “And why would you hope he’s better at something that will hurt you?”

Xander looked startled. “Because I’m—not.”

Buffy gave another squeeze, and Spike jumped. “Okay, whatever, Bleach Boy. If she comes by, it’s really important that she come back to the Magic Box.”

“Why’s that?”

“Just tell her, okay?” Xander said, and before the last syllable faded, the door was closing behind him.

“Buffy……” Spike said irritably.

“What?”

“Why did you do that?”

“I don’t know,” she muttered, and he heard the defensive tone in her voice. Wonderful, just wonderful, he thought. Screwed that up really good. She had stiffened against him, and he could feel her retreat in the sudden tension in her hands. “I thought it would be fun.”

“Because Xander didn’t know.”

“And I did.”

“Well…”

“And you’re---what?” He stepped out of her arms, hesitating before he could face her. Sort of . The space where she’d been standing. “This is fun because Xander doesn’t know? What happens if he does know?”

“Willow knows.”

“Knows what?”


He could hear her shoe scraping on the ground. “About us. I told her. About us.  I wanted advice.”

Everything inside him sank. “What sort of advice?”

“It’s hard to ask for advice when you don’t even know what it is that----“ Buffy hesitated, and he tried to brace himself. When she spoke again, her voice was so soft he had to strain to hear it. “I…I don’t even know where to start.”

He sighed and looked down at the floor, trying to interpret that---good or bad? Her footsteps, drawing closer, surprised him, as did her hands on his face. Her breath on his face, her warmth close to him. The kiss was something he wondered if her friends would ever see. He had to pull back gently, trapped in a minefield with no foot prints in front of behind him to show him the way. “Buff..”

“What?”

“Not like this, right?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like this,” he whispered. “You’re not even here. I want to see you, I want to know you’re here because you want to be here, not just because you’ve got an excuse. I want the excuse to be me. Like this---it could be anyone.”

“I thought…”

“I want it to be you.”

“What?”

“I want it to be you. Not anyone else.”

Buffy backed away from him, then, and knew that he would interpret it the wrong way. But suddenly, she had to see him whole, from a distance that gave her perspective. There he was, Spike, looking the same, but it was if her eyes had suddenly adjusted to new light. I want it to be you. She saw, suddenly, the past five years all at once, the evolution from nemesis to ally, and the frame in which it had happened. He was moving forward. He was a vampire. Could she do the same? Was it the perspective one gained from a century? What was it? Maybe it wasn’t so much what had caused it that was important, it was the mere fact that it had happened.

There it was again, that confusion that so flummoxed her it was almost like despair. How could anyone like her when she felt so bewildered, so depressed, so….disturbed? “No, you don’t,” she muttered.

“What?”

“I mean, how can you? I have more baggage than some….baggage company.”

“Hello, Slayer---vampire?. We have a franchise on baggage.”

“So what are you saying? Is this one of those two wrongs make a right thing?”

“Sort of, no, not exactly. Maybe not. Yes. No.” Spike whirled around and jammed his hands in his hair. “Maybe two rights make a…. Maybe they…repair something. Maybe…we’re good together. But bad apart?” he ended hopefully.

She almost pointed out that they weren’t, really, together, but her mind also added something on the end of that thought: yet. “You don’t want it to be me.”

“Yes, I do.”

“But I’m a mess, Spike. I’m…”

“You’re you,” he muttered. “And—“ He was bewildered, then, by the speed of her kiss, and the velocity with which she scrambled away.





Warren’s house didn’t look out of the ordinary till she quietly broke a kitchen door window and let herself in. Upstairs, the house was Stepford Central, with Scotch-guarding everywhere, and the most generic furniture Buffy had ever seen. It was a house decorated by people for whom JC Penney was too wild and exotic. There were lots of mirrors everywhere, and it added to the nervousness she already felt, walking like a ghost through this eerie, museum-like house.   She walked past bland furniture covered in plastic, plus pressed flowers and candle arrangements that weren’t dusty but nevertheless had been hardening in their holders for years. She touched one, and found the surface of the wax had grown hard and rigid. Wow, she thought. Even the candles are bad. There were doilies and flowered curtains, plus lots and lots of cherubim and cute little…things. She wasn’t precisely sure what they were, those things, but they were so cute they were sort of frightening. All of them seemed to have big huge eyes, and Buffy was reminded of movies where you couldn’t quite figure out which innocent-looking aliens were the bad ones and which ones were the good ones.

She wandered around listlessly after a quick sweep revealed that the house was empty. The master bedroom was utterly sterile, and it rather depressed her that she could find no touches of individuality in the room whatsoever. There was a laboratory-neat bathroom, a spare bedroom that made the master bedroom look like a den of iniquity, and finally what looked like a little boy’s room.

It was this room that made her pause for a moment, because she realized it could only be Warren’s.

She turned around slowly, looking at the posters, the action figures, the Star Wars bedspread. The room was astringently clean, except for a few pairs of dirty underwear on the floor, but she suddenly felt dirty, and thought of the Buffybot with a shudder. The corner of her mind that was devoted to thinking up things to make her uncomfortable, rummaged around in its depths and came up with: Do you supposed he gave her a test drive? “Ack!” She gasped, more disgusted at herself than at him, and whirled around to leave. Her heart almost exploded in her chest when the door suddenly flew open and Warren strode in. Clutching her chest like some vaporing Victorian virgin in petticoats, she faded to the wall as Warren sniffed the air. Later, she’d replay the memory and giggle. For now, though, even being a Slayer couldn’t save her from having a bad case of the heebie jeebies at the way he sniffed the air. What was he, a bloodhound?

As she watched him, her little theory hardened into fact. Why else would he sniff the air unless he suspected an invisible person? Somehow gloating did not seem so satisfying when you couldn’t have a visible smirk on your face. She deflated just slightly. Now what?

“What are you doing?” Jonathon asked from the doorway, and Buffy stiffened. Jonathon? Jonathon, whose life she’d saved, who’d given her her Class Protector award? What was he doing here?

Slurping on a Slushee and slouching in the doorway, evidently. “There’s nobody here,” he whined, and Buffy’s faint hope that Warren might have made a Jonathon bot vanished. No robot could imitate that nasal tone of voice----well, maybe Dawn, she added mentally, stifling a smile. Oh, boy, I’m going to hell.

“Well, maybe it’s the Slayer,” Warren said quietly, and Buffy bit her lip. How does he know that?

“It could have been her,” Jonathon shrugged. “I don’t know, it was so fast.”

“Yeah, short round, I bet you’re used to it. Who should be next?”

“Well…” Buffy’s ears perked up as she heard Jonathon struggle for a casual tone that meant his request was anything but casual. “How about me?”

“What, so you can scope out the girls’ locker room again?”

“No,” Jonathon shrugged. Buffy could read his discomfort at being found out from across the room. “Research.”

“Research into girls’ underwear, you mean,” Warren said. “Not a good idea, John-Boy, so, no, we’re not doing it.”

“We can’t get caught,” Jonathon whined, and Warren cuffed him across the back of the head. Jonathon backed out of the room fast and Warren followed, but there was no urgency in his voice.

“No, but you can get melted when it starts to wear off,” Warren finished sarcastically. “If you actually hit that Slayer, that would be the first adequate thing you ever did.”

“Yeah, well, at least I don’t have a Barbie doll for a girlfriend.”

“At least I have a girlfriend,” Warren retorted. He bounded down the stairs, leaving Jonathon staring at him from the landing.

“It’s the girl part that needs work,” Jonathon said skeptically. “Girls aren’t usually made out of rubber.”

“Well, at least she’s not just made out of imagination…” But they were half way down the stairs, and Buffy stepped cautiously out into the hall. Avoiding the creaky steps, she tiptoed down the stairs and then followed the voices to the basement. Feeling her way carefully, she inched her way down the stairs. Halfway down, she caught sight of the décor and forget her caution to stare.

It was like looking at the Playboy mansion, assuming the Playboy mansion was located in the basement of a suburban home and decorated by Wal-Mart. Oddly enough, there was money scattered over the floor, but aside from that and the clutter of Star Trek action figures and books, the place was just as weirdly neat as the upstairs.

“Why can’t we go rob another bank?” Jonathon whined, and Warren picked up what Buffy had thought was some sort of a prop, and pointed it directly at Jonathon. He jumped out of his chair, but Warren kept the thing trained on the chair, and flipped a switch. There was a huge burst of light, and the chair abruptly vanished.

“That’s my favorite chair!”

“Relax, short stuff, it’ll be back. It’s fairly inert, which means it breaks down faster than a human being, but Buffy doesn’t have much time left. And if she’s gone, we can take over Sunnydale.”

“Bwah-ha-ha-ha!” Jonathon threw back his head and tried to cackle maniacally, but it came out more like a giggle. Buffy shook her head at it, but without the gesture being visible, it didn’t seem to register even on herself. She glanced down reflexively at her body, but there was nothing there, and she threw up her hands in disgust.

Warren fiddled with the device, and Buffy crept right up next to him to see what he was doing. He pointed it back at the chair, and repeated the process. This time the flash of light resulted in the reappearance of the chair. She studied the dials, and his face, and took shallow breaths so that he wouldn’t hear her breathing.

“You wanna be invisible?” Warren said quietly, and Jonathon stopped what he was doing---having a duel with action figures----and looked up. A queer, small smile seemed to crawl from one side of Warren’s mouth to the other, as Jonathon considered the question. “Maybe that’s not a bad idea. Maybe it’s not a bad idea at all.  It’s not like they’ll ever find Buffy. Unless they slosh through her or something.”

“Well….uh….not that you mention it….Didn’t you say you were going to, uh, perfect it a bit more?”

“We could perfect it out on you.”

“Uh…sure we could. But then…who knows….Maybe I’d go test on Katrina or something. You know….see how she’s doing?”

Warren cocked his head, looking at Jonathon. “Right, Jonathon. Right. Sure.”

“Well….you know…She was kind of…”

“What, you think I can’t do it myself?”

“No, I’m saying…” Buffy watched as Jonathon’s forehead started to shine.

“You think I can’t do it? You think I need to be invisible or something?”

“No, no, I don’t.”

“Maybe you do, R2, but I don’t.”

“Of course you don’t,” Jonathon said. “I know that. But I do. I really do. Go ahead.”

“Make you invisible? Sure, Jonathon, that would be the closest you’d ever get to a girl.”

Jonathon was frozen in place, watching Warren’s face with a fixed intensity. “I know. I completely know that.”

“I don’t need to be invisible, like you.”

“No, no, you don’t.”

“I’m going to go right over there, right now.”

“Right…now?”

“Sure, why not? We need to talk.”

We need to talk ?”

“No, Katrina and I need to talk. Katrina and I. I don’t have anything to say to you.” He hefted the weird-looking ray gun in his arms, and Buffy shook her head again. It looked just like a Super Soaker, which seemed somehow appropriate. “Here. Watch this.”

He stood in the center of the room for a moment, breathing herkily, while Jonathon carefully deposited the ray gun or whatever it was on one of the work tables. Buffy noticed he was tiptoeing when he did it. He brushed a pen onto the floor, and he winced when he did it, but after Warren snapped a look in his direction, he froze. The two men stared at each other, and then Warren snorted in disgust. Jonathon simply sagged, and Warren made another disgusted sound. After studying Jonathon contemptuously for a moment, Warren shook his head in dismissal, and grandly climbed the stairs to get away.

Jonathon gaped at the stairs for a moment, his lips parted, his face shiny with sweat, his hands clenched into fists. When the front door slammed upstairs, he gasped and twitched. Then he tossed the invisibility ray gun aside, and darted for the stairs. Buffy listened as he crashed through the house and out the back door. Bet some crystal bit the dust, she thought, and was instantly cheered up.

When the sound of running footsteps and whimpers was no longer audible, she shook herself and approached the invisibility gun. It was pretty big, but it wasn’t terribly heavy when she picked it up. Of course, when she picked it up, she noticed in one of the many mirrors that it looked like it was floating in midair. A Super Soaker floating through the air, even in Sunnydale, would attract attention. She chewed her lip a moment, studying it, then whipped off her jacket and wrapped it around the thing. It disappeared from view. She smiled, and this time, she didn’t need to verify that it was happening. She tucked the thing under her arm and took the stairs, her step light.





“Uh…Buff…” Xander said.

“You heard me.”

“Yeah…but…”Willow said.

“You agreed with me.”

“Well…sort of…” They both said in unison.

“What does that mean?”

“Well, it means they agreed with you till you were visible, and then they wanted to discuss it once they could see if you were nuts or not,” Dawn drawled. All three turned and looked at her. The epitome of cool, she ignored all three sets of eyes on her---Anya was too busy fondling the invis-iray and calculating its value----and flipped a page with a hand-flourish.

Buffy spread her hands. “What if the nerds get it back? They could rob more banks.”

“They haven’t done that yet,” Willow countered.  “They used demons, not invisibility.”

“Whatever. No girl’s bathroom in town is going to be safe. And maybe some boys’ bathrooms, too,” she added, eyeing Xander. “ I don’t want it around.”

“We…we…could study it,” Willow said forlornly.

“Ew! Buffy.” Xander shuddered violently.

“We could sell it!” Anya exclaimed. “I could make a----“ Everyone turned and looked at her. “And---and---donate the money to charity.” She slumped into a chair, outnumbered. “Some of it, at least.”  She slumped still further. “Most of it.”

“No,” Buffy said.

“Buff…”

“No.”

“Buff….!”

“No.”

“I’m not taking any more chances.”

“Buffy…”Willow said softly. “It could be useful.”

“You said it was dangerous.”

“It could be, but we don’t know yet. So let’s find out,” Willow said quietly. “We have to know. We have to know. Remember the Buffybot? You didn’t want that around, either.”

Buffy crossed her arms and looked at the ground.

“Look, I know it’s been really unpleasant…” Buffy glanced up at her suddenly, and Willow raised both hands. “Okay, I don’t know how unpleasant it’s been.” She took a deep breath. “I know that. I do.” She gestured at the store’s interior, trying to give her thoughts some visible shape. “I know…what I don’t know. Okay, that made way more sense in my head. But…” She looked up at Buffy. “We might need this, Buffy. I know you…I know it was awful for you…But…” She bit her lip. “Get over it. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We have to take that chance.”

“You’re…what?!”

“Oh,” Dawn said, rising to her feet. “Oh, oh, WOW! This is so cool! Are you guys, like, revolting?”

“Dawn, this does not apply to chores,” Willow said firmly.

“Yeah, well…” Dawn muttered. She sank back into her chair, and propped her chin in her palms. “Then who cares?”

Buffy looked from Xander, who dropped his eyes, to Anya, who wasn’t even paying attention, and back to Willow, who was crossing and recrossing her arms. Left arm over right. Right arm over left.  Brief detour into hands-in-pockets action. Back to crossing arms again, this time with a shift in weight from right foot to left.  As Buffy glared at her, Willow flinched, looking anywhere but at Buffy. She eyed the books, the grimoires, the table. “Buffy..” Willow said imploringly.

“So what is this?”

“Buff…I know things haven’t been so good since you came back,” Willow said softly. “But this isn’t like you. Not the old Buffy.”

“That’s not what you said before,” Buffy said. “When I ran away. Do I only get a pass when it’s your fa----” She stopped herself, just in time.

“Buffy, I was sixteen, and you were the best friend.” You were my only girl friend.

“So you made me want to run away again?”

“No, I don’t, I didn’t, but, yeah, sure, I was mad! What do you mean…run away again?”

“When you…did that.” Buffy looked at the floor. “When you said that. In front of everyone. About me running away.”  She looked up. “I wanted to. That made me want to. To run away.” She took a deep breath, and swallowed hard. “You made me want to. And… I thought about it.”

“Buffy….I don’t remember.” I remember being so, so glad you came back. And so angry you didn’t come to me before you left.

“You called me a quitter. Like I had broken a nail or something.” Buffy looked up. “Like you’re doing now. Telling me to get over something that you’ll never have to go through.”

Willow’s mouth opened and closed. “I’m not…I didn’t…I wasn’t…We’re trying to help! We’re trying to take care of things, because… we have to take care of things till you are like you. Look, I know it’s been hard, I do…sort of. I don’t know how hard, I know that. But we have to…we have to…We have to think ahead.” She stepped forward, acutely conscious of what a screw up they must think her, and tentatively laid her hand on Buffy’s arm. “We can think ahead for you, Buffy. You just…get better.”

“Yeah, Buffy, Will’s right.” Something about Buffy’s hunched-in posture, hugging herself, made Xander cautious about touching her, but he stepped up close as well. “Hey, Anya, Dawn, could you give us a minute?”

Anya and Dawn exchanged startled glances. “Oh, what am I, now?” Anya demanded. “Chopped liver?”

“I’m her sister!”

“Dawn,” Xander said quietly. “Now is just not a good time to do the girl power solo act thing, okay? All we’re asking for is a minute.”

Anya looked abashed at the firm tone of his voice, but Dawn was tight-lipped with irritation. Still, they went to the training room, and Anya managed to grab the door before Dawn could slam it.

“Better?”

“Much,” Buffy admitted. “For now.” She glanced from one to the other. ”We’re going to pay for that, you know.”

“Yeah, the price we pay,” Xander said. “So…Buff…You do know, we’ve got to keep this thing. We’ve got to.” And you’ve had to do much, much worse, hovered in the air. “Why the big deal?”

Because I went to spy on Spike. Because I could. Because now I feel icky. And how must he feel? Now? About me? As weird as being loved by a vampire was, she suspected being criticized by one was worse. “There’s the whole girls’ bathroom aspect of it that is squicking me out,” she muttered.

“But…well…Buffy, we’ve faced a lot worse.”

“I know.”

“So..?”

“I’m not sure.” She looked around. “I know all about Slaying, and killing, and hunting…All that stuff. But this….!”She gestured at the gun. “It’s so…yucky! It’s so…tiny and petty and….sort of…”

“Creepy?”

“Yep.”

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“Bathroom?”

“Yup.”  She wrinkled her nose. “And worse.”

“What’s worse?” Willow asked breathlessly.

“Totally got over the whole Bot thing, you know….until I was in Warren’s house.” She shuddered. “I have faced….the Apocalypse, Prom, Cordelia, and rejection. I have faced the Master and a god. I have aced the SATS. But, God…” She shuddered again.

“What?”

“Oh, God..” Buffy muttered.

“What was it?”

“Ew,” Buffy choked out.

“Buffy, come on. It’s not good to keep stuff inside.”

“You want me to leave?” Xander asked anxiously. “Is this a girl thing? Because I can go, if you know, you’re going to discuss…”

“Warren’s dirty underwear.”

“Huh?” Willow and Xander said simultaneously.

“Warren’s dirty underwear,” Buffy repeated.

“Uh…” Xander shook his head as if erasing a mental Etch-a-Sketch. “Buffy…You know I love you, right?” He glanced enquiringly at the door to the training room and raised his voice. “In a totally best-friend kind of way, sweetie!”  He turned back to Buffy and shook his head again. “But…God, Buffy!”

“What? You asked! And you’re a guy!”

“Yeah, but I don’t want to---I don’t want to be----even be in the same room as another guy’s underwear.”

“You’re not,” both girls pointed out.

“Okay, I don’t want to be in the same room as a sentence with another guy’s dirty underwear in it.”

“Xander…”

“It’s Warren’s,” Xander pointed out, as if that bolstered his argument. “I mean, Buffy, come on, have a heart here, okay?”

“You! I was the one that saw it!”

“But I’m a guy!”

“And your point---?”

“It’s…uh….I don’t know,” he finally said. “But I don’t want to think about it.”

“If you don’t have to think about it, then I don’t.”

“Well…”

“Oh, boy…” Willow sighed, glancing from to the other. “Buffy.”

“Uh uh,” Buffy said. “If Xander doesn’t, then I don’t have to, either.”

“Xander?”

“What Buffy said, except, uh, reversed.”

“Oh, my God,” Willow exclaimed. “You two are…!”

“I’m not budging till Xander does,” Buffy said firmly. “He didn’t have to look at Warren’s dirty underwear.” She drew herself up to her full height. “Nor did I mention the whole ‘Bot thing. And the stuff I was thinking that I had to think because I was in his house, and, you know, you…think stuff.” She crossed her arms, missed, and was left trying to find something to do with her hands.

“This could be important!” Willow pleaded.

“Well, it might be, but right now it’s just…”

“Stupid?!” Willow demanded.

“Could be,” Xander and Buffy said.

“Oh, my God—“

“You know what?” Buffy asked.

“What?”

“I’m going for a walk,” she said loftily. “A---Slayer walk,” she specified. “Slayer stuff. And---I’ll----think. About stuff. And then I’ll come back.”

“Oh, that’s a good idea,” Willow said ferverently. “You, too, Xander. Go for a walk.”

“NO!” Buffy exclaimed. “No! Not with me.” She eyed Willow, then Xander. “ I said a—a---Slayer walk. I’m going to go---“

Willow cocked her head at her, and Buffy glanced away sheepishly. “Slayer stuff, huh?”

“Yes,” Buffy said. “Slayer stuff.”

“Vampires, huh?”

“Well...duh,” Buffy said limply.

“You owe me a discussion,” Willow said.

“Yes.”

“Okay, go then. So we can discuss later.”

“Bye!”

“Wow,” Xander said. “Talk about Slayer speed.”





He heard her upstairs, and froze, staring about the crypt as if he were some panicked housewife with a messy house, and the City Council had just arrived on the doorstep. All of his vampire senses seemed on the fritz, and it was a human one that he relied upon: touch. He could feel her presence, above and beyond everything she did to him in a more solid way. He closed his eyes to let her wash over him.
“Uh…Spike?”

He opened his eyes, and she was sitting before him on the ladder, a quizzical expression on her face. “You’re back!”

“In more ways than one,” she nodded. That was classic acerbic Buffy, and he noted her body language. She was loose and relaxed, sitting there, but frowning with concentration, too. Did it ever end? Now what? “And…you?”

“Never left, pet,” he said warily. Ah, yes, this is the part where it gets uncomfortable, he thought. The way she’d cuddled on his lap---oh, yes, he was going to pay for that. Here was his reckoning.

“Yeah,” Buffy sighed. “I got that part. About the other stuff…” She bowed her head and ran her hands through her hair. “You know….You’re just wrong about me.”

“Why? Because I love you?”

“That’s part of it, yeah.”

“Because you’re human? Because—“

“What?”

“Well---because I’m a vampire, you’re human--?”

“No….” She looked at him, then shook her head. “I just…had a thought and it’s gone.”

“Oh…” Except the look on her face had given him hope for a minute there, and the feeling was so unfamiliar it was almost painful. “Don’t mind me, then.”

“It’s just that…I mean, if this were five years ago, I could understand it,” Buffy said. “I was at the top of my game then.”

And then he knew. “You’re the one that’s wrong, luv.”

“What?”

“That’s not why I love you. If there’s a why, which I don’t think there is. I didn’t love you till I was human enough to, and till you were someone I could…understand, I guess. I always thought you were a bossy---“

She raised her eyebrows at him, but he stared at him. “Just didn’t figure it out till you got me scared there were worse things than being irritated by you.”

“Oh, such as?”

“Being without you,” he answered promptly, and then watched in bewilderment as her face clouded over.

“But that’s…” She stopped, looking at him. It just kept confusing her so much, the way her friends always waited for orders, to be told what to do, but were curiously silent when she really needed them. Yell at me! Disagree with me! But just come out with it!  But she couldn’t really fault them: she was what stood between them and fangy death. Who’d want to know if that barrier was failing? But Spike was always there, barging in where her best friend didn’t dare, poking at her, trying to find ways to jolt her out of her daze, loving not just her strengths… but all of her. It scared her more than anything she could fight with a stake or a dagger.

“You keep saying that…only a vampire could love somebody like you, like there’s something wrong with you, like you came back wrong. Maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe it’s only you that could make a vampire---?”

“What?”

He raised his hands, as if in surrender. “Maybe make me feel like a man again…It’s been so long I can’t remember exactly what it felt like. Feels bloody miserable.”

“You just want me. Then what? You get me, and you change back, once the novelty wears off.”

Ah, he thought. “That had nothing to do with being a vampire, luv. Some men are like that.  Happens I’m not one of them.” He paused, then continued.  “Angelus was a bastard when he was human, didn’t change much as a vampire.”

“But Angel…”

“Angel got a soul.” He sighed, wondering just how much he dared say. “I’m just the same as I always was.”

“Except for the chip.”

“You want it to be the chip, don’t you? Because what if it wasn’t? What if it’s just me and you, then?”

“It’s my friends, too.”

“Only if you let it be.” She opened her mouth to say something else and he held up his hand for one more statement. “Do you really think I haven’t changed? That I won’t stay this way?” He set down the bottle of wine he was still holding to run his hands through his hair, sinking into a chair. “It’s not going to be any different for me if you just turn around and walk away. I loved you when I didn’t think anything would make a difference except killing myself. I won’t change. I loved you when you were dead. You think I didn’t go over everything I ever did to you, and wish it all back? Think I didn’t think about just staking myself or drinking holy water…and….I wished I didn’t love you, because it’s been the most----“ He buried his face in his hands, not in despair but in impatience. “You think it’s like…a job, being loved. Like you have to be perfect. Maybe that’s what those gits you dated---“

“Hey!”

“Well, you were sort of young,” he conceded. “But you don’t love people because they’re human; you love them because they’re them, because there’s no one else like them. Because every flaw they have is theirs. It’s not brains and sense that does it to you, it’s some empty place in you that you never knew you were missing. And all of a sudden, they’re there, inside you, and you feel something you didn’t even know you could feel. Even if they don’t love you back, it’s so---“He took a deep breath.  “When you died..” he stopped and looked down at the floor. ”When you died, that was me, that empty hole with a body around it, and worse. You think there’s something wrong with you? Try being a vampire who bargains with God.”

“You…”

Thoroughly embarrassed now, he got up and fumbled around for the corkscrew, vampire strength and agility being simply not sufficient against the safeguards on a cheap bottle of wine. Buffy stared at him, her thoughts whirling around. That was what it was. She was afraid that he would get tired of her, just like all the men she’d known---just like all the men she’d known. It wasn’t the vampire part of him that she feared, it was all the rest, the way his very existence made a contradiction of her world. He could be so human sometimes, and watching him get impatient with the bottle confirmed it for her. Something clicked inside her. She’d seen Giles and Xander get similarly exasperated with inanimate objects, and here he was, picking up one bottle after another and trying to find one that had a screw top.

It was such a small thing, such a tiny little thing, to look at him, and see not just him but what had brought him to this point. “You…what?” She asked. “Promised to be a good boy?”

“Something like that,” he said cautiously, but at the wariness in his expression, she felt a pang. So that’s what it must feel like, she thought, to be distrusted.  “Couldn’t do much because of Dawn, ‘f course.”

“Like what?”

“There’s things I could have done,” he said quietly. “Thought about it. Bring you back and---“

“And what?”

He lifted a bleak face to her, expression washed free of anything except desolate memories.   “Had to decide. Couldn’t leave Dawn. Would have killed her. Figured it was just my…” He bit his lip and searched the cobwebs for an answer. “Whatever you want to call it. Losing you was like…”

“Like what?” she whispered, but her throat hurt. All this time she’d been afraid of his rejection, of opening her heart to him, and having him find it wanting. She’d felt so drained since she came back that that possibility had seemed like another death, but one you lived through, rather than have death end it. Turns out he’d been fearing the same thing.

He smiled ruefully at her question, then dropped his eyes to the bar. “Vampires don’t have words like that in their vocabularies.”

“No?”

“No, of course not. What are you thinking?”

She rubbed her hands along her thighs, then, surprised to find them dry. She felt the way one did just before a fever developed, or just coming out of an illness that left one’s bones turned into rubber. “Does that get in the way?”

“What?” He asked, but she was already standing up, and he thought, she’s leaving.

“That?” She pointed at the bottle, but it didn’t get in the way when she stepped up to him and kissed him, because he dropped it. He pulled back slightly, looking down at her. “Guess not.” She whispered.

“No, guess not,” he echoed, and then he found himself on his back as she landed on top of him, trying to get inside his clothes. He helped by ripping his shirt apart, but that involved breaking away for a second, and that was too much. He managed to shove her on her back and crawl over to her, but something made him stop above her, stop and look at her in gobsmacked amazement. She was biting her lip, and flushed, but she reached up and pulled him down on top of her, stroking his back with shaking hands. “You’re shaking.”

“No, I’m not.” But she had the tiniest smile on her face when she said it.

“Are too.” Her face was flushing, her heart speeding up, and he could feel her smile against his mouth when he kissed her. That was a new sensation and he savored it, relaxing on top of her, feeling her legs lock around his bum, her arms around his neck. He could have kissed her forever and it wouldn’t have been enough for him, because it felt different to his sense suddenly. Her hands on his face, his back, under his shirt, stroking and exploring, slow and limpid, patient.

It was slow and soft, this kiss, and it was impossible to pinpoint when, precisely, he pulled open her shirt, because his mouth never left hers. The temptations of her body and her mouth left him helpless, unable to decide.  The kiss was the thing that anchored him to her, till somehow his pants got shoved down, and he was on his back, blinking up at the crypt cobwebbed ceiling, thinking, I need to dust. And then her mouth closed around his cock, and he grabbed fistfuls of blanket and shuddered inside her mouth. He squeezed his eyes shut, afraid to look, holding on by a thread of consciousness. The sounds she made, as if she were savoring some delicacy, some expensive dish, were hard enough to resist, but too many other sensations demanded his attention, too. This is really happening, this is really happening…. She was making sounds, little noises of appreciation, and when he opened his eyes, it was the sight of her that did it to him, her mouth around his cock, the look of concentration on her face, focused entirely on what she was doing to him, that made him explode, everything  in his body gathering tightly and then shattering.  When the gasping stopped, he opened his eyes, and found her settled on his bare chest, a smile waiting to bloom on her face. He grabbed handfuls of her hair to pull her to him, her mouth to his, feeling the smile back on her lips, a slow, considering smile that made him drop back to the pillow, puzzled. “What?”

“Oh, you know—I guess there are some things even you can’t talk through.”

“Oh, that’s it---right, then---“ Abruptly, she was on her back, and he was about to exact his revenge, but somehow her mouth got in the way, and he forgot whatever plans he had, whatever thoughts he’d formed. They were impossible to retain as he re-acquainted himself with her flavor, her texture. Even the bed they lay on evaporated, with her hands shifting on his face, lying belly to belly. Only her skin was allure enough to entice him from her lips, finding new flavors in her gentle contours, the slight curves of her belly and breast, the delicate shape of her nipples. She clutched at his hair and shoulders as he touched and kissed, stroked and sucked, her gasps heating him in a way no blood could. He had to pull away from her to push her jeans away, but once she was free of them, she pulled herself up to him and kissed him so gently, so soft, that he was left staring at her. She turned bright red at his expression, then settled back into the pillows, pulling him down with her.

His jeans were still around his hips, and he rid himself of them swiftly, his hands inexplicably developing extra fingers that got in the way. Their eyes met as he crawled across the bed to her, sank down on her, and only when he slipped inside her did either one blink. He braced himself and pushed deeper and she arched and gasped, tightening around him, ankles locking behind his waist, hands clutching convulsively in his hair. He felt like he was melting inside her, trying to keep from dissolving into air, searching for some anchor. There was no rhythm to it, somehow, only her eyes on his, moving like one organism, her forehead pressed against his, even when she came, and he had to close his eyes and gasp for control. He went slower and harder, and she buried her face in his shoulder, and took him with her this time.

Feeling only gradually turned to him, and he realized he was lying limply on her like a haddock. He shifted away and she moved with him till they were curled together, rumpled blankets all around. She pushed her head into a more comfortable position—for her---on his chest that would have paralyzed one of his arms if he’d been human, and he happily pulled her closer. Circulation be damned.

“I should go,” Buffy muttered.

“Not just yet.”

“I can’t stay.”

She was right, too, that was the thing. But as long as she kissed him the way she’d had, he was happy to be her secret. “Just a little longer.”

She lifted her head and looked at him. “I don’t think that’s possible.”

“What?”

“A little,” she whispered. Never mind that they were naked, that she’d had his cock in her mouth----she was blushing. “A little isn’t enough, and….I don’t think there’s enough too much, you know?”

If he said one thing, he’d ruin this, but he couldn’t stifle his grin at the sincere, clumsy, compliment. When she saw him grinning, she smiled crookedly. “Say that three times fast.”

“I’ll practice,” he said dryly.

“You do that.”

“I’ll study my notes.”

“There’ll be a quiz.”

“What if I’m bad?”

“At what, exactly?”  At that, he buried his face in her hair. She sighed, and then reluctantly disentangled herself. “I have to go.”

“Stay,” he said.

“Not yet.” At that his ears perked up. Yet? As in sometime but not now? He sat up.

“Sometime?”

She was sliding off the bed now, sighing and finding her clothes. “Soon. As soon as I tell Xander.” She looked at him. “Want to tell him for me?”

Xander would be furious, probably at him. However, he might be so pissed he got mad at Buffy. What a wonderful opportunity to piss him off, and what an awful possibility because Buffy was so sensitive about her friends now. He rubbed his eyes. “I’ll take you home.”

“I’m the Slayer.”

“And I’m sleeping alone.”

“So am I.”

He stepped into his jeans and shook his head at her. “With you, it’s by choice.” She shook her hair out after pulling on her tee shirt, then touched his stomach tentatively.

“Don’t be too sure of that.”

“Hey…”

They heard the foot steps too late. Spike was bare chested, and Buffy was dressed, but mussed and bare foot. The bed was a mess, with the covers shoved every which way.

Xander came trotting down the stairs, unconcerned, already talking. “Hey, Willow said you were---Guh!” He looked from one to the other, then at the bed, and blanched. Buffy and Spike stood frozen, Buffy with her hands still pressed aginst his stomach. Still life with vampire, she thought.   “Sorry---sorry. Should have knocked. Uh---I’ll---uh--- Guh----Gotta go. Later.” He whirled and vanished up the stairs.

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