All About Spike

Lovingkindness
By Herself

Sequel to What She Deserves

Rating: NC-17 for sex and angst

Summary:Their stares penetrated him the way he'd penetrated them, and sucked him nearly as dry.

Pairing: Spike/Buffy, Spike/Other

Spoilers: For all of season 6. None for season 7.

Author Notes:

1.
This is a sequel to "What She Deserves," which veers off from "Grave." If anything in that story squicked you, this one may too.

2. When I saw "Grave," I honestly assumed that Spike was not in Africa to get a soul. The dialogue suggested to me that he had in mind a chip-ectomy, but was going to get more than he bargained for because the language he used to speak to the demon was imprecise and emotional. Subsequent information indicates I'm mistaken. I accept this for the show, but in writing "What She Deserves" I went with my first reaction to the dialogue on the show, and necessarily have carried that through here in the sequel.

3. The details of Spike's past given here differ from those in "The Bittersweets." Because this is a different story in a different AU, I took the opportunity to make up something else. In fact, I don't really think of that Spike and this one as the same character. For one thing, "Bittersweets" Spike wouldn't have laid a hand on Buffy that way, damnit.

4.
To hear the song featured in the story, click here

Dedication: As always, for Kalima first and foremost. Also for Chase. Thank you both for being such tireless appreciators and instigators.

Completed: October 2002. Revised extensively November 2002

Acknowledgements: Herself wishes to thank Kalima, Chase, Wisteria, Mustang Sally, Kita, lovesbitca, Elena.

Disclaimer: Joss creates, I borrow



I crave your mouth,
Your voice, your hair.
Silent, starving I prowl
Through the streets.
Bread does not nourish me,
Dawn disquiets me,
I search the liquid sound
Of your steps all day.
I hunger for your sleek laugh,
For your hands the color of the wild grain,
I hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails,
I want to eat your skin like a whole almond.
I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your loveliness,
The nose, sovereign of your arrogant face,
I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes,
And I walk hungry, smelling the twilight
Looking for you, for your hot heart,
Like a puma in the barren wilderness
—Pablo Neruda



First patrol of autumn. Reminded her of when she was in high school, and she'd gone away those summers—the one time to her father, and the other to anonymous toil in the big city. This time she was back from big travels—big character-building, mind-expanding travels. And it was true, everything in Sunnydale looked slightly smaller now that she'd experienced New York.

Still, she thought, swinging along with a sense of pleasure at being out, alone, fortified, in a soft misting rain that made her feel clean and silvered, never a good idea to imagine there was anything small about Sunnydale. Not so long as it sat on top of that big ole hellmouth. Things that came out of that, or to it, large or small, were never trivial. In that department, New York had nothing to boast of in comparison.

She checked the alleys around the Bronze for drunk teenagers and the predators who fed on them. Here was where she'd first seen Spike, where he'd vowed to kill her.

Seemed so long ago. She was still a beginner then. Those days when there was only one vampire with a soul, or ever would be. Only one vampire who claimed to be in love with her.

She remembered his burning gaze when he confronted her here, a gaze that stripped her naked and had her, a sneer that killed her afterwards with an offhand gesture.

She'd not been scared of him at the time, but recalling it now, she felt a chill.

He was a stranger then. How much more, she wondered, did she really know about him now?

His body. Top to toe. What his hands taste like, and his cock. How he grunts when he fucks and cries out when he comes. His bravery. His astonishing impatience. His astonishing patience. His tongue in my mouth, my clit. His arrogance. His laugh. The yellow nicotine stains on his fingers. His singing voice, right hook, favorite brand of cigarette. The smell of his hair gel. His hatred. His desire. His pig-headed, helpless, immovable, worshipful, desperate obsession with me.

All that, she knew thoroughly.

His soul?

That, she thought, not so much.



The nightmares didn't stop. He tried not to sleep. Not that he had to try very hard. Even while he was awake, driving through the night enroute to Sunnydale, they were there. So he was alone and never alone. Out of the corner of his eye, he'd see them one at a time—the child-whores, the co-eds, the newsboys and potboys, the hustlers, the taxi-dancers, the carnival riders, the clerks and barmaids and tweenies, the hippies, beatniks, flappers, fast girls, freaks, all of whom loved their lives, loved breathing and seeing and eating and sleeping. One by one they appeared to him, sitting in the passenger seat, sprawled behind him in the back, reflected in the rearview mirror. None of them ever said anything, but their stares penetrated him the way he'd penetrated them, and sucked him nearly as dry.

All of this made him afraid. Afraid he wouldn't be equal to this new soul, equal to the job it thrust upon him.

Equal to her expectations.

He was going back for her. She was what he wanted, to do right for her, to be right for her.

Maybe, if he could do that, and if she would go on being a little kind to him, her presence would help dispel those haunters.

Her presence would make him into a good man.



Now he had to work for a living.

Well, not a living, obviously—ha ha ha—but he couldn't come by his blood and smokes and fresh black teeshirts the way he used to—by scaring humans on dark streets into giving him money, by taking on little jobs for demons who wanted no questions asked. So the first thing he did when he got back to Sunnydale in the DeSoto was hunt down a job.

He lucked out and found one the very first day.

The Kickstand wasn't a demon bar. Which was just as well. Whatever benefit there might be to the White Hats from what he could overhear in a place like Willie's or Lovecraft's was more than offset by his spiritual nausea at having to be there constantly to hear it.

Anyway, he wasn't a demon like other demons anymore, and most of them knew it the minute they got a whiff of him. It was easier to pass in a place like this—humans were so much less discerning. The owner, a slow-moving man with a squint and psoriatic forearms, thought nothing of him, except that he was neat and agile and with his looks might get more girls in for Ladies Nights, once word got around. There was even a crummy "convenience" flat above the bar that he was willing to let Spike have for almost nothing. It was noisy all night and so hard to rent. He owned the whole building. He engaged Spike for Tuesdays through Saturdays.

It was still under-the-table work, pay-wise, but bartending, bouncing—they were legit. He got the hang of it within a day or two. While he didn't exactly love the customers, he didn't mind the work so much; it had a roteness to it after the first few days, yet kept him busy enough that he didn't have to think too much. And the atmosphere of a dive-bar had a home-like quality to him. He could be himself there.

Whoever that was. More and more he found he didn't know.

Spike covered the apartment windows with thick curtains. Days, it was silent as the grave; nothing but his own thoughts to stop him sleeping soundly from dawn to late afternoon. The thoughts were enough, though, to make sure he'd never rest well again. The last good night he'd had was the one in Alabama, when Buffy had shared her bed with him, fed him by hand. He'd slept then. Under her protection.

Well, the best night was the one in Indiana, before he'd dropped her off. They'd stayed up all through it. She'd made love to him—real love, or something very like it. They'd talked, and she'd listened with sympathy. Said she liked him, said she respected him. He'd believed her, and he clung to the memory of that now, the tone of her voice still resounding in his mind, the shine of her eyes. She'd let herself relax against him, let him hold her without reserve. Thinking it over gave him a hard-on, made him yearn. Not just to possess her that way again, but to be possessed by her, to be her creature. Her good creature.

He wanted to go see her. Wanted to lay his aching head in her lap and tell her his troubles. She hated what he'd been—what he was—but she'd comforted him before. With her blood and her kiss and her body twined around his. Just touching her was a comfort.

He postponed that day by day for the first week. Told himself it was because he didn't want, somehow, to turn up at the Slayer's house with empty pockets. She'd laid out money on him during their trip; he meant to pay her back. So he amassed his tips, and waited for the first pay packet, an envelope stuffed with cash.

He got it on Saturday at closing time, and went to see her the very next night.



"Okay, I've got something to say."

They were meeting in Buffy's living room, because obviously the Magic Shop wasn't a very welcoming place for Xander. Anya wasn't with them, but Dawn was. They'd thrown open the windows and the front door on the warm September evening, and Buffy served them all lemonade she'd made herself.

They all focused on her. Willow, since her return a few days ago, never gazed straight at any of them. Her head was constantly dipped, so that she always looked up through the web of her eyelashes. Giles held his glasses in his hand, as if waiting for a point in which to interrupt, even though Buffy hadn't started speaking yet. Xander, despite his long holiday in England, seemed nearly as tired as he'd been the last spring. Only her sister turned on her a face that was wholly interrogative and open.

"We've all been through a terrible time." She paused. The argument she wanted to make, which she'd laid out in her head so carefully, seemed now to be skittering away from her. She knew she'd say it all wrong.

She pressed on. "Last year, none of us were at our best. We all behaved badly, all did each other serious wrong in a bunch of ways. I'm not saying we're not still hurting from it, or that we should pretend it didn't happen. I want us to talk about it as much as we need to. But I need us to still be a team, and not get hung up amongst ourselves on blame and grudges and all that. Because if we start that, we'll never finish, and as a group we'll be finished."

She glanced from each to each; all nodded.

"Good. Because you know I love you guys so much."

They all murmured at once, the close atmosphere filling up with whispers of affection.

"Okay. One other thing. Dawn knows this already."

Her sister's eyes met hers then, and she looked hopeful.

"When I was in New York, I ran into Spike."

They all moved as if to speak, but Buffy held a hand up. "I saw him, spent time with him. A lot happened between us. And he's going to be coming home, and he's going to work with us, like he did when we went up against Glory, and after I was dead."

Xander slid forward on the sofa, clasped his hands together. "Buff—"

"He has a soul."

This was Dawn. The other three looked at her as if she'd sprouted a second head.

"It's true! Ask Buffy!"

Now their gazes slid back to her. Willow's was hollow, yet with the beginnings of a curiosity that shone more fully from Giles' face. Xander's closed up like a box snapping shut.

Quietly, she said, "It is true. He's souled now . . . . He needs to be put to work. I'm not sure when he'll be here . . . I thought he'd be here already."

"Put to work?" Willow said.

"He needs to fight the fight with us. Otherwise the soul is just a waste. He wasn't going to come back here—he meant to stay far away. But I think that's why I found him, because he's supposed to help me. He gets that, that's why he agreed to come."

Giles blinked. "Intriguing."

"So I want it understood—the same goes for him as for all of us. No grudges, no blaming, no backbiting—"

"What about neck biting?" This was Xander.

"That's what I'm talking about. Please. We can't have that. We can't afford it anymore."

"I just can't believe you're still buying his bullshit." Xander started forward, gesticulating "Look, tell us the worst— You're back with him, right? Your would-be rapist? Buffy and Spike, sittin' in a tree, kay-eye-ess-ess-eye-en-gee?"

"No! No, of course not. How can you just assume— Don't say that." She dropped her eyes. The way he looked at her, the way he flung that word around. She hated it. Yet Xander's words, his fierce gaze, shot through her like a bolt. A bolt pulling in its trail not just that tussle in her bathroom, but everything else Spike had attempted on her from the first. His sneers, his threats, his blows, his duplicity. Raining down like hot lava. "We . . . we agreed we'd be friends."

"Oh yeah," Xander said. "Because vampires make such good friends."

You'll never be friends. You'll fight, an' you'll shag, an' you'll hate each other—

Had he remembered those words himself, when she'd asked him to be her friend, when she'd promised to be his? A shiver of fear went through her—not of Spike, but at herself. How had she managed to get so confused, to let him influence her to—

She remembered the soul. The soul, which, for Angel, changed everything. As it must—would—did—for Spike. Why couldn't she hold that in her mind? He had a soul, he would never hurt her again.

"You say you expect him—?" Giles put in.

"I thought he'd be back already. I let him take the car, because he wanted some time to get his head together. But he promised me he'd come straight here."

"We've only been back a few days ourselves," Dawn said.

"Maybe he burned up in Death Valley—wouldn't that be a kick?"

"Xander—" Giles said.

"Pardon me for living! I'm just not eager to hang out the Welcome Home banner for the monster that tried to rape you!"

Buffy cringed. "Stop saying that!"

"Why should I, when it's true?"

"He's not—I'm not—I'm not asking—"

"Who cares if he has a goddamn soul? Whatever little bit of help he's ever given us—for money, let's not forget—doesn't begin to balance what he—"

"Xander, I know, only— Jeez. He hasn't asked for money from us in a long time. C'mon. He didn't take money when we were up against Glory."

"Glory was two years ago, Buff. What's he done for you lately? Besides the R thing, of course."

"He—"

"And when I think of you being with him. My God, Buffy, I can't imagine how you could stand to defile—"

She flew to her feet. "Stop it! Just stop it! Things were fucked up—okay? I was fucked up . . . I wasn't . . . I wasn't myself."

"Damn straight. But you're yourself now, right? So what're you so anxious to make nice-nice with him for? We don't need him!"

"Let me be the judge of that!"

"Xander." Giles rose. "A word, please. In the kitchen."

When the men walked out, Buffy glanced around wildly, but neither Dawn nor Willow would look at her. Crap.

She went to Willow and put an arm around her. "How're you doing?"

She'd returned, with Xander and Giles, two days ago, but so far they'd managed not to talk much. She was staying with Xander until she found a place of her own. It was understood she couldn't come back to live in Buffy's house. Anya had moved out at the beginning of summer, taken her own place on the other side of town.

"Classes start in a few days. I'm looking forward to being busy. Got a lot of stuff to make up."

"It's good to be busy." It's good to talk about something else.

Willow glanced at her from under her eyelashes. "Y'know, I think Xander is right. About Spike. He told me what happened."

"Will, Xander doesn't know what happened. He knows about one one-thousandth, and he's made the rest up."

She seemed puzzled at this. "I'm just saying—" She paused, emitted a sick giggle. "Look, Xander's got this bug up his ass on account of Anya, but I know you're not proposing to do—to do that with Spike again. I mean—of course not! But even so, maybe it's better not to encourage him to hang around too much. Less volatility that way. 'Cause we're all, you know, so volatile right now."

Oh yeah. There was no use discussing it any further. Buffy kissed her forehead. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Dawn look away. The trust there wasn't just bent—it had broken off. Maybe never to be reinstated. Dawn wasn't making any sort of fuss about having Willow visit in the house. She was merely refusing to engage with her. Yet she couldn't blame her sister. So many threats she'd had to endure in two years . . . and still she was flexible, still hopeful. When Buffy told her about Spike, she'd cried and said she hoped Buffy was through with him because what he'd done was unforgivable, but then in the next moment, sobbing, said she'd hated having to hate him, that she was so glad she didn't have to anymore.

Giles returned then from the kitchen, Xander trailing behind. His voice was low, patient. "Let's go out to the porch." They sat on the swing, he took her hand. "Buffy. Have you really thought this through?"

"Yes, I mean— Look, it's no big, you're all making much more of this than—can we talk about something else?"

"You say he has his soul—"

She didn't want to go on about this, but she'd started to learn, this past year, that her clamming up instinct was something she had to overcome. So she told Giles how she'd found him, what she'd learned about his trip to Africa, and his sojourn in New York, aware that Dawn and Xander and Willow were right there on the other side of the open windows, listening too. But she didn't address them, stayed focused on Giles, on his mild willing expression.

She described their car trip, his suicide attempt. Told how she'd preserved him, fed him, cajoled him. Couldn't speak, though, about the man she'd seen with him, kissing him. The marks on his body. Or their own night of lovemaking. She'd told Dawn it happened, but apart from her sister, it was nobody's business but her own.

" . . . I think the reason why I found him like that was because things between us aren't finished."

Giles sighed and leaned back, stared out into the dark yard. "I don't entirely disagree. But I wonder if one particular thing is finished."

She wondered too. When she thought about him, which happened at least once an hour, her cells seemed to quiver, her mind boiled, and she didn't know if that was good or bad. She desired him, deeply and unswervingly. Anticipated the next time she'd have him, even as she told herself she didn't know what her intentions towards him were. The phrase Meet my boyfriend, Spike just didn't lie easy in her. When she tried to parse out the feelings that didn't involve lust at all, she just got confused. Lust was inextricable.

"Are you telling me it has to be? Is your good opinion of me in the balance here?"

"Buffy . . . no. I'm saying . . . well, what am I saying?" Giles paused. "That I want you to be safe. That I want you not to strew your pearls before swine. That you deserve to be loved by a fine man, not by . . . ."

"You get no argument there." She set the swing rocking gently beneath them. "You got any fine men lined up, serve 'em forth."

Giles chuckled. "You're so young."

"Not in slayer years."

"You're just one year old now. Think of it like that. I know I do."



He'd parked the DeSoto across the street and come up to the house like any other caller—it wasn't his fault if they were too concentrated on their discussion to hear him approach. And it wasn't his fault if, hearing himself discussed in loud voices, he'd paused in the yard to listen.

But it was nobody's fault save his own that he heard what he heard. Things were fucked up—okay? I was fucked up . . . I wasn't . . . I wasn't myself.

That was when he took off.

Pierced to the heart. Yet not really surprised. She was acting no differently than she had all along. What passed between them in New York, on the road, that was the anomaly. He'd anticipated this, even before he parted from her in Indiana. Once back amongst her friends and her routine, she'd revert to her practiced attitudes.

She wanted him as a warrior, and that was all. The soul wasn't going to make any difference to that.

Not her problem, that her words consigned him to be all alone with those looming silent faces that stared and stared at him. That was what he deserved.

Tears burned the backs of his eyes as he walked away. Crying made him feel like a ponce, so he went to Willie's, got drunk, started a brawl, killed two demons and another vampire with his bare hands.

And ended up weeping in his bed anyway.



Buffy saw the DeSoto in the morning when she went out to pick up the paper from the walk. It glittered in the morning sun. She rushed over to it. The dent she'd made in the front end was repaired. The whole car was clean and gleaming. She found the keys in the glove box, and popping the trunk, saw that all her luggage and shopping bags of loot were just as she'd loaded them in.

So Spike was back. He must've dropped the car here some time in the night—why hadn't he called first? Knocked on the door? Left a note? She felt around in the glove box again, went back to check the mailbox and under the welcome mat, but there was nothing.

Still, he'd returned. She raced towards the cemetery—he'd be asleep in his crypt at this hour, she'd surprise him. Get to talk to him alone, and . . . .

When she burst in, the place smelled of mildew and urine. The floor strewn with beer empties, used condoms, pizza boxes. The furniture and candles were gone.

So he hadn't been here. Where, then?



He borrowed the electric bill from the bar and used it to get a library card in the name of Hollis Mahoney, his employer. All these years later, and he wanted to grapple with poetry again. Not to write it, but to read it. Of course, he'd read it all along, kept up pretty well with the big twentieth century developments. Not in any serious methodical way, but at odd times, when Drusilla was otherwise occupied, when things were slow. Now—maybe it was the soul that made poetry feel potent again. He wondered if the soul was the same one he was born with, whether it had William's personality attached to it or was just a generic thing, an imposer of conscience and remorse and suffering. Except that he'd known conscience, he'd known remorse, before he went to Africa. That was why he'd gone. And neither was William ever very far away from him. What else was Spike, but William turned inside out? So he didn't quite get what this soul thing was, exactly, except that it made the remorse enormous, made it about everything and not just Buffy.

It also seemed to make him want to revisit the poets of his youth, the ones he'd tried so fruitlessly to imitate. Keats and Wordsworth and the Brownings. John Donne and Andrew Marvell. He checked out as many books as they'd give him, and spent the next week of not-sleeping trying to find out what these had to say about what he was now. How he was supposed to live.

But mostly they made him remember the past—think of himself before he'd been turned. As Spike, he'd done nothing with these memories but heap ashes on them. William was a foolish pathetic twat, he hated him. Everything he'd done as Spike was about denying William, defiling him.

Now—was it the soul again?—he thought of his living self with gingerly compassion, a hopeless, melancholy understanding, as of a very old man, full of knowledge but no energy to do anything with it anymore, considering the young one who is puissant and thoughtless.

He was a very old man. And William had been such a very young one. Too young, at twenty-eight, a mama's boy with ideas he should've discarded before he began shaving. Somewhere he'd read that it was impossible to truly be good unless one fully understood what it was to grapple with temptation. William thought himself good because he'd never done anything wrong. He'd never done anything at all, except fill pages with a lot of ignorant pious scribble and imagine he understood Truth and Beauty. Oscar Wilde had said that all bad poetry springs from genuine feeling, and he was bloody right. He'd been composed of feeling and nothing but.

The men who mocked him, who talked about the grisly murders reported in the penny papers, who went down to the police courts for an evening's amusement—they knew more about life than he had.

Yet William was full of love, trembling with it, eager to spend it like a profligate—and no takers. As a little boy he'd adored his nurse and his mother, it seemed, far more than they ever did him—he cared for nothing but pudding and their attentions, two things which were inextricably linked—while they had all kinds of rustling, creaking, sighing, dripping concerns above his head, beyond his grasp.

At Harrow he'd loved every boy he fagged for, loved them more the crueler or more thoughtless they were. Felt their attention like thick glistening drops of golden syrup between his lips.

At Oxford it was the same. Everybody seemed to know it, that he was helplessly hungry for a warm glance, a linked arm, a conversation. That he could be gotten to meet one's maiden aunt's train and entertain her to tea, or outline one's essay on Milton, or lend one anything up to five quid at a time, just for asking him to remain behind a half hour after the others had gone back to their rooms, and looking into his eyes while talking about the sonnets of Shakespeare.

This made him ridiculous. He knew it and could find nothing to do about it. He could not yearn less. For a while he'd wondered if there was something wrong with him, was he a shirt-lifter, a sport of nature. One evening he'd let some of the fellows drag him to a house they knew near the railway station. But once shut up in a room with the dull-eyed grinning girl, he'd been too frightened to do what she expected.

His level of intensity never seemed right. Even the other sensitive souls in the common room kept him at a little distance, as if his oddity would stain them by association.

When he saw a young man and woman arm in arm in the street, the longing sometimes nearly burst his chest.

And at night, when he lost control of his thoughts—what images appeared in his sleeping head, what wet dreams awoke him swimming in his own spunk! Vivid dreams about a thing he really knew nothing about.

He just wanted someone who'd see him, who'd take what he wanted to give. Why was it so complicated? Other fellows—fellows more stupid and less comely than he—seemed to get sweethearts as easily as they got pipe tobacco. But he couldn't discover the trick of it.

Until Drusilla took him, and killed him, and started him to life.

God, he was still haunted by the first glimpse he'd had of her quim. How she'd knelt in the middle of that red-draped bed, her stark white body clad in nothing but loose black tresses and her black stockings. Knelt with her knees parted so he could see all her neat patch of surprising hair (girls never had hair there in the paintings and sculptures he'd seen) and the red bit beneath, and she'd touched herself, opened herself with her taper fingers, saying Come my William, come and kiss your new mistress. He'd known she hadn't meant him to kiss her mouth, but instead the other mouth that she showed him, that he'd never seen before. He was horrified and amazed, but he'd crawled up on the bed and buried his face between her legs, and it was like coming home again.

She'd taught him to eat pussy even before she taught him to hunt, and long long before he was allowed to fuck her. He'd relished both. In those few nights between his rising and the first appearance of Angelus, who clamped down on him like a mighty vise, he'd fallen in love with Drusilla, wholly, helplessly. And she'd inspired him to do all the things William hadn't dared dream about. To take—not what he'd once wanted, but what he now could so easily get—from all those people who'd once found him such a nuisance.

Dru hadn't been his friend. She was his Grand Passion. He'd smashed and bashed to please her, been her stallion and her knight, her son and her brother. But she'd always had a roving eye—liked to pick magnificent fights with him so she could flounce off and fuck anything else she fancied until they came back together again in a hail of blows and recriminations, kisses and promises. He was her dog, and he glowed with angry pleasure when she kicked him. Getting her back from one of her rebellious liaisons, he'd tie her up and spank her, use the chains and the whip she liked so much to punish her, and when they were both bruised and fucked out he'd bury his head in her lap, weep and beseech her never to leave again, while she combed his hair with her fingers and cooed.

Nothing was more important than his mistress and her caprices. That's what being a lover was. He couldn't be the slayer's lover, not as he wanted to be, making her his alpha and omega, knowing himself to be her heart's delight. Even when she'd given him her blood, her body, and her forgiveness a couple of weeks ago, still she'd held back what he wanted most. She'd never have that to give him, because she'd never see him as a real man, even with the soul. When her friends challenged her, she denied him without hesitation. He was still her shameful secret.

Knowing that, how could he present himself now, as a friend? Didn't believe, really, that he could be friends with a woman he loved.

In the days after he dropped off the car, he thought about phoning her. Thought he owed her that, at least. Sometimes he fantasized about telling her it was all right, he understood, he'd be there when she needed him in a fight. Others imagined telling her she was a two-faced bitch who wouldn't know real love if it swooped out of the sky and bit her.

He'd pick up the phone, but the conversation he'd overheard would flood him, so he was afraid to hear her voice.

All he was, with his heavy new soul, was a useful soldier in her war. When the next crisis came, he'd be ready to assist. Until then, he'd leave her be. Leave her to her real friends.



"Um, hi."

He was kneeling to get a better look at the books on the bottom shelf when a pair of orange sneakers appeared in his peripheral vision.

Spike looked up into the glum, drawn face of the witch, clutching a looseleaf binder to her chest as if it was a teddy bear. What was she doing here? Why wasn't she at the far-superior university library?

"Readin' poetry?"

Her gaze shifted, and he knew she was looking at the stack of books he'd already grabbed.

"Find I fancy it now, yeah."

"Me too. I sort of thought it might be nice to—that's why I'm here. All the way down here, I mean."

Indeed, the poetry stacks at the Sunnydale Public Library were buried about as far away from the front entrance as it was possible to get without going out the back fire-door.

"What are you looking for?"

"In England Giles showed me some Philip Larkin."

Spike rose slowly, hefting the books. Again he wondered why she was here and not at the U. From the center of the thick stack under his arm, he pulled out the Collected Larkin and handed it to her. "I got here first, but go on, you have it, if it's what you came for."

"Thanks." She stared at the book cover for a moment. "So, um . . . I wanted to congratulate you."

"Congratulate me."

"About the . . . you know. Buffy told us how you went and fought to get it."

"Fought to get the chip out, actually. Soul was more like a dirty trick with purchase."

"Oh." She frowned. "Oh. Does . . . does Buffy know about that? The Goodbye Mr Chips part?"

He wanted to growl. Instead he whispered. "Yeah. She knows. An' knows I'm not gonna harm anybody. Haven't got the stomach for it anymore."

"Spike, why haven't you been to see her?"

He froze.

Willow edged closer to him. "We know you don't live in your crypt anymore. She's been looking for you."

"No need of me for now, is there? No new big or little bads arisen yet that I've heard of. Can handle the patrolling on her own."

"But . . ." Willow's mouth made a tentative, wobbling smile. "You've missed two Scooby meetings so far. That means you have to bring the pizza next time."

Amazing. Red was bought in. She'd heard what Buffy said, about him being on the team, and she'd swallowed it.

And now she was looking at him, out of that young-old face, that lovely intelligent face. Just looking at him, the way his silent victims stood around and looked at him. She'd have been one of the horde, if he'd had his druthers.

"Willow. I'm sorry about what I did to you."

"What?" She gave a little jump, glanced around. "What did you do? When?"

"You know—when I came to your room at the dorm that time. And before that—when I stole you out of the high school. Wasn't right."

Her eyes went wide. "You really do have a soul."

"And listen, I want you to know . . . about your Tara. She was a good . . . a sweet . . . beautiful thing. I could tell, looking at her . . . how delicious she must've been to love. It's a damn shame what that wanker did to her."

"Oh—"

And now here he was dripping empathy like a runny nose. "An' I'm sorry for what happened to you. When Buffy told me about it, I wanted to tell you . . . not that you'd care . . . I know how it is. Being that hurt, that angry. So you make a temper tantrum that'll . . . well, I never tried to end the world myself, but . . . I know what it is, to be that bereft. At least you did for Warren. That was proper."

"No it wasn't. I mur—"

Spike shrugged. "Wouldn't convict you."

She made a little sound, and melted against him. Arms suddenly around his neck, soft hair under his chin, the same Willowsmell he remembered from years ago when he'd wanted to have her in all the ways he could. She trembled, but it was a couple of moments before he understood that she was sobbing, and he shoved the books in one arm onto a shelf so he could hold her properly. Because suddenly that's what he was doing, he was comforting Buffy's distraught best friend next to the A through L poets.

She knew he had a soul now, and because of that she trusted him enough to hide her face in his neck and soak his shirt with her tears.

Of course, he had to trust her now too. Holding her, he clearly felt the power crackling in her body. Plenty there.

Suddenly she thrust him away. "Oh—sorry about that. Shouldn't have—I just—sometimes I get all—overwhelmed."

"S'all right." Since he'd parted from Buffy he'd had no physical contact with anyone. He'd felt so empty.

He walked her through the dark streets back to Xander's. On the sidewalk, she asked him in for coffee, a courtesy neither of them thought he'd take up.

"Dawn talks about you every day, and Buffy never does. That means they both want to see you."

"That so?" He supposed it was true, but what was the use of them seeing each other, when she didn't feel anything he wanted her to feel? That just put them back on her bathroom floor. He never wanted to be there again.



It wasn't until she'd gone inside and was looking through the Larkin poems that Willow realized she'd forgotten to ask—and Spike hadn't volunteered—where he lived now. She picked up the phone to tell Buffy about their encounter, then hesitated. He hadn't told her not to. Yet it struck her as not playing fair, to give him away. Obviously he was trying to lie low. And he'd been so kind to her just now.

Anyway, nice as he might appear now, he was still Spike. It was better for Buffy not to get involved with him again. He seemed to know that, so who was she to interfere?



Days and days had elapsed since Spike brought the car back, and no word from him. How could he do this? She replayed their parting in Indiana over and over. They hadn't kissed, but he'd said that weird thing about not washing. Which certainly seemed to imply that when he got back they were going to . . .

. . . and the way he'd made love to her that last night. God, if that wasn't love, she'd have liked to know what was. Slow, sweet, tender . . .

. . . like the first time with Angel.

After which he'd turned on her like a rabid dog.

Christ, you couldn't tell anything about a man's intentions by what he did in bed.

Buffy kicked at the fallen leaves strewn across the Restfield grass. The trees were turning early this year; it was still warm, yet the cemeteries she traversed were thick underfoot with crisp brown discards. Curled and crackling, crumbling as she closed her hand around them. Like my chances.

She should never have let him go off alone with the car. Should've insisted he stay with her—face up to her sister, take the rest of the trip home with them.

Except, what was that saying? If you love something, let it go, if it finds its way back to you . . . Shit.

She shook herself. Get a grip! She was the Slayer, not some sighing teenybopper. She didn't need him to be effective on patrol. And she wasn't in love with him; she couldn't, and shouldn't and wouldn't, and what was this, anyway, except a fit of pique because he wasn't stalking her anymore in that creepy way he used to? She ought to be grateful for that. He must've gotten a grip himself.

Oh yeah. Like he had in New York. A tight, hot grip on that weird guy.

He'd been fucking a guy.

Okay, kind of ick. Not that guys together was icky, she was totally supportive of guys together, in fact she halfway suspected Xander was about guys together and just didn't know it yet. But Spike. Spike who supposedly loved her with every ounce of his being.

He got a soul and what was the first thing he did?

He'd let that guy beat him and burn him, but it was more than that. She'd seen them together, so she knew it. Sitting there in the coffee shop at four in the morning, just necking in a booth. Going off together arm in arm.

She thought she knew all about him. Now she was realizing he could do all kinds of things she wouldn't have credited him with.

Including leave her the hell alone.

Damn damn damn. He couldn't really believe she didn't want him to come around? Hell, when had he ever failed to do what he knew would tease and annoy her?

No one at Willie's had been able to help her. He'd been there once or twice, sure, but not lately, and he'd not told any of them where he was living, either. She tried the old poker game, but his trail there had gone cold. Clem, she was told, had left town to look after a sick aunt upstate.

She kicked hard at the leaves, in the absence of anything else to kick. It was quiet that night. If he wasn't showing up, it must be because he didn't want to.

Unless he'd gone away again.

Unless he was dead.

Oh no—what if he was dead? She'd never know for sure. He'd just be gone. Disappeared.

The thought of it made her stomach flipflop. Never see him again, never touch . . . .

Then a rustling behind her. She wheeled around, stake raised.

"Don't shoot! I'm only the piano player."

"Xander." She smiled at him, and realized at that moment how tense she was, how tight. This was wrong. Things were supposed to be different, she was feeling herself again, and not supposed to be taking things so hard. This wasn't last year, last year was over.

She was just horny. That's what it was. Horny and Spike had become entwined in her mind, and she'd just have to un-entwine them, because there were lots of other guys in Sunnydale and she was cute enough to just take her pick. Faith's voice floated up in her head. Want, take, have.

"Glad I found you. I was over this side of town to see Anya."

"How'd it go?"

"Oh fine. Talking to her through her apartment door is really preferable. Can't see the whole veininess thing, that way."

"Ouch."

"Buff, when am I going to accept that it's over? She didn't answer my mail or pick up my calls all summer. Now I've been over there three times since I got back, and she won't open the door."

She looked at the ground. "It doesn't feel over to you. If both people don't agree a relationship is finished, how can it be finished?"

"That would be an excellent point . . . in Cloud Cuckoo Land. As they call it in the Land of Eng. Here on Planet Reality, we get the Unilateral Ending Thing all the time, and there is no mojo that works against it."

She kicked some more. "I guess."

"Speaking of things that are so over, I guess your idea about Soulful Spike being all ready to get down to Scooby business was a bit premature."

"Well, there hasn't been any Scooby business, has there?"

"How would he know? He doesn't call, he doesn't write. Not, uh, that I'm complaining."

"Xander, I wish you didn't hate him."

"I wish he hadn't tupped my fiancee. I wish he hadn't—"

"Tupped?"

"Many new vocabulary words were learned in Eng." Xander paused. "I can't help hating him, Buff. He's hateful." Another pause. "I wish you hated him."

"I really don't want to hate anybody. I don't think it's—"

"—good for your mental health, I know. The slayer should be pure of heart."

"Xan, last year I hated being alive. Now—"

"I just don't want you to get hurt. I just don't want you thinking the best you deserve is an undead freak—"

"Oh please." She hastened her pace. "Let's not get into who deserves what."



Things at the Kickstand were all right. He actually started to rather like the two waitresses, Kelly and Kristen, who treated him like a human being, made no secret of their opinion that he was a hottie, and yet didn't invade his space. Kelly was married and Kristen had a steady beau; their flirtations were comradely.

And the jukebox was amazingly good, mostly r'n'b sides from the late forties through the mid-sixties, some of them quite rare, so that Spike wondered how they got here, this bar in a stupid little suburban California town. Hollis must have unplumbed depths. He heard, for the first time in decades, regional hits he remembered from the years he and Drusilla spent so much time in Tennessee and Louisiana and Alabama, when he prided himself on knowing the best jukes, making himself at home in places where theirs were the only white faces. We dance here, pet, he'd tell her when he'd found a roadhouse where the band was consistently hot, we don't feed. Don't crap your bed, right? We'll eat the other side of the tracks.

Drusilla was a good dancer—always was. She only had to observe for a few minutes whatever the move of the moment was, and she could do it like a born one. Back before the Great War, watching them do the Turkey Trot, Darla used to sneer that the two of them were a regular Vern and Irene Castle.

Dru could Cakewalk, Ball the Jack, Black Bottom, Charleston, Tango, Jitterbug. They'd dance for hours, then he'd take her out to the car for a slug of hooch and a quick fuck, or just put her up against the back wall outside the joint for a knee trembler, and she'd laugh and gasp and growl—always thrilled by him, his cock and his kisses and his swivel. She'd bite and drink from him while he screwed her, and then they'd go inside and dance some more, until the place cleared out, the last die-hards staggering off as the musicians wiped their brows, packed up.

He really missed her sometimes, still. She was a good time, was Drusilla. Game for anything.

Aw, fuck. Who was he kidding? He didn't miss her. He wanted to. Wanted to miss his glory years, the violence and debauchery and utter freedom. But the soul wouldn't let him. The soul insisted on turning all his delicious memories into horrors, and grinding his face in them day after day.

He wanted Buffy.

Righteous, vengeful, luminous Buffy, his queen. He wanted to go to her and kneel and say I am not worthy of you, my love defiles you, but please touch me, I need you to hold me, I need to make love to you.

He knew if he sought her in secrecy, she would open.

He just couldn't bring himself to do that to her anymore.

Or maybe it was that he couldn't do it to himself.



In the shifting blue TV light, late at night, Buffy and Willow huddled together on Xander's couch. Huddled, Buffy thought, or cuddled. Willow probably thought they were cuddled. But they both were aware of the absence of people they might've preferred to be hugged up with, and also of all that was yet to be spoken between them and maybe never would be now. Willow had tried, very seriously, to kill her. She'd voiced resentments while doing that which Buffy knew to be real, festering. And now she was back, her powers supposedly benign now, and they'd made the noises of forgiveness and forward-going to each other, but still the memory of that sat between them, like the popcorn bowl. If the popcorn bowl was a maw of darkness whose bottom was yet unplumbed.

She wondered if Willow was aware of how tense she was. She kept trying to lean on her more heavily, and Buffy was afraid to move. To offend her.



On the screen Jen Yu was riding after the bandit Lo, demanding the return of her stolen comb. For miles and miles, across boundless rough terrain, they played cat and mouse. She was tireless, furious, imperious, while he laughed at her, taunted her, teased and flirted. Willow watched this with complete absorption, her eyes shining. They ended up in the bandit's crypt—no, his lair—whatever . . . there was a lot of back and forth smart-mouthing and innuendo. All that trick riding and fighting, it was nothing but foreplay. Buffy closed her eyes. She didn't need to see the subtitles to know what it meant, where it would lead. She could tell just by listening. Lovemaking in Chinese sounded just like . . .

She started up.

Willow didn't pull her eyes from the screen. "You okay, Buff?"

"Yeah, just sleepy. I'm gonna go home."

"But—"

"I'll watch the rest of the movie some other time."

She fled out into the night.



The things she wanted to enjoy remembering were not the memories she actually had. She wanted to recall when they'd gone to the movies at that new place out by the mall where you could put up the arm rests and sit with nothing between you. Wanted to be able to think of all the times when she'd danced the late slow dances with him at the Bronze, her arms round his neck, her head against his chest, the promise between them of kissing and skin and slow prolonged touch. Wanted all those mornings of waking up with him in her bed, both warm and indolent under the covers, chatting in whispers, the sun shut out. He'd ask her questions about herself, what she'd been like when she was a little girl, what she dreamed about, and she'd tell him. He'd tell her the same. About being a little English boy at the same time that the Civil War was starting in America, which was a mind-bending thought. Wanted to think of how he'd taken showers with her, how he'd brushed her hair.

Wanted memories replete with lovemaking and conversation. All she had was fucking and blows and insults.

Blows and insults that she'd tried to erase that night in Indiana, when she'd been gentle with him, let him be gentle back. He couldn't have been lying to her—not with his whole body—about what that meant.

He couldn't not want more of that.

She leaned on the sill of her bedroom window. Angel used to leap up there and come to her that way. Spike never had, but she imagined him doing it now. Any moment now his slick blond head would pop up over the edge of the rain gutter, and he'd creep across to her open window, smiling at the sight of her. Lean in and kiss her. She'd bring him inside, undress for him, and he'd kiss her breasts, his hands on her arms, her back, her thighs, caressing her. He'd tell her that he'd not meant to hide from her, that he would never leave her again, or hurt her, and that it didn't matter if this was all she could give him, this stolen time behind everyone's back, because he loved her and loved her and loved her.

She was naked now, sitting on the edge of the bed, eyes shut, touching her breasts with moistened fingers that she imagined were his lips. He'd kneel on the floor between her knees, his mouth on her nipples, on her ribs and belly. They'd kiss and kiss, she'd slide off the bed, crouch over him, put him inside her. There she'd be in his lap, looking at him, kissing his mouth, feeling him inside for a long time before he'd finally rise, set her on the bed, wrap her legs around him and move on her. They'd keep their eyes on each other the whole time, he'd talk her to her climax, his soft blue words exciting her as much as what he was doing to her body. Telling her how his cock felt to be in her quim, how hot she was, how she belonged to him. She'd let him talk, she'd listen.

Buffy lay back, her hands between her legs, eyes squeezed shut. Concentrated on feeling the tickle of his speaking breath against her ear, the weight of his body on hers. She sighed and spread her legs wider, stirred her hips as her fingers moved on the slick taut flesh. He'd say I love you, I love you, and she wouldn't try to make him stop, wouldn't tell him he was an idiot and a monster and a dirty thing.

She stiffened, shook, opened her mouth up and moaned. When it was over she turned her head towards the open window. For a second she thought maybe he'd be there, watching her bring herself off, laughing silently because he knew what she'd been thinking about.

There was nobody there.



A Thursday night, the joint was packed, the jukebox grinding on Allen Toussaint and Lloyd Price, and Spike was in the groove of doing the job—setting them up, wiping them down, pocketing his tips, smiling for the girls. While he was so busy, the massed witnesses of his evil were lost in the press of living bodies wanting beverages. He tried to keep his mind off bad subjects, and only every third or fourth small blonde girl who made her way to the bar looked like her just long enough to jar him.

God, if she came in, he'd stop everything. He'd walk out of there with patrons three deep at the rail, if she'd just appear and give him her look. Which look? Any of them.

She'd need him eventually, wouldn't she? There'd be another apocalypse soon—there always was, round these parts—and she'd call on him then.

Around eleven, there was one of those inexplicable lulls that happen once or twice an evening. For a few minutes more people had left than come in, and someone wrested control of the juke. The next record was a low slow one. He recognized it, and paused for a second to listen to the honeyed purr. Ruby Johnson singing The love of my man . . . keeps me safe . . . an' warm . . . .

He closed his eyes for a moment, while the music sent a tingle through him. When he opened them again, a face emerged from the haze of smoke and low colored lights, with a hungry gaze, a half-smile, that he knew.

Spike's stomach dropped, his hand arrested in the act of wiping down the bar.

"How the fuck did you find me?"

The other sidled closer, edged onto a stool. "Asked around."

"Asked around?"

He'd left Jack on the other side of the continent, sent him a Dear John letter on a postcard, and now here he was. Having asked around.

"You're famous, Spike."

He leaned closer, and without realizing it, Spike leaned in to meet him. He could smell him now; and the smell nearly floored him.

Jack was alive.

He'd asked around, amongst the kind of creatures who'd know a thing or two about him, he'd crossed the motherfucking country to find him, and he was still breathing. How in the HELL—?

Jack's smile widened. His eyes were humid. "They all know your name. They all know your . . . mark." He fingered the most prominent of the overlapping scars on his neck. "When they saw I belonged to you . . . they backed off."

Softly, Spike said, "But you don't belong to me, pet."

Jack's hand reached out—it hadn't far to go—and opened against Spike's cheek. The palm, the fingers, barely touching. But the thumb laid against his lower lip, with just the slightest pressure, pressure that was matched by the gaze, Jack's soft helpless needing gaze. "You look good to me, Spike. Are you good?"

"You can't have come here. How did you—"

Jack blinked. With his fingertips he traced the line of Spike's jaw. "Had nothing to lose. Once I found out about you . . . learned who that blonde girl was . . . was obvious where you'd be. Quit my job. Traded the lease on my apartment for a used car. Threw my books in the trunk. Here I am."

"Your books."

"No way I was gonna give those up."

The poets. A few times they'd read to each other in bed, when they were through with the rest of their rituals. Jack had a voice for poetry, a low sibilant chant that sounded strange at first and then was perfect. Tracing lines of silver from Spike's ears to his spine, making him vibrate, making him hard. Poetry like blood.

Jack's hand on his face. "You liked my books."

Spike's eyes closed. He shivered, but wasn't surprised, when Jack's mouth was suddenly against his mouth. A kiss more breath than flesh. When he looked again, Jack was sitting back, eyes lowered, wiping the sweat off his upper lip with his thumb. Spike felt himself glow.

"What time are you done here?"

"Close at two, then I've got to clean up. You'd better wait for me in my room." He brought him to the backstairs that led up to his flat, put the key in his hand. "You must be tired." He could see it in the lines of Jack's body, his drooping hair. He'd been driving for days. He'd come to Sunnydale and asked around again in the lowest places, not resting until he found him. Nothing more important than finding him. "Go upstairs and sleep if you can. It's not gonna be quiet, right over the dance floor, can't help that. Are you hungry?"

Jack shook his head. "I don't know. No."

"I'll send someone up to you with a burger. Go on now. You look done in."

Jack started up the stairs.

"Christ, you really shouldn't have come here." Spike shook his head, their whole affair barreling through him again, every event saturated with feeling, from the time their eyes first connected at a bar a lot like this one, through every ritualized exchange of painpunishmentpleasure, to the moment he left him blissed-out and half-dead from that final bite.

He'd marked Jack . . . and Jack had marked him, in ways that hadn't faded yet, although the whip cuts and burns were healed now. Spike could hear the thub of Jack's heart, inhale that sexy roasted corn smell of his sweat even as he slowly took the stairs.

Then Jack turned to look back at him, said his name, and seemed almost to float back down in the close darkness; the wide span of his bony shoulders suddenly in Spike's hands, mouth nudging his, then connecting, both breathing hard. Under his breath he murmured, I found you, I found you, as he pressed the length of his starved slender self against him, groin to groin, pushing and grappling, and then the kiss thrust words and breath, both, aside.



They were two deep at the bar when Spike hastened back, still reeling from the heat of those hands, that mouth, and it was ten minutes before he had a chance to get Kelly's attention, order a burger with everything and a bottle of Sam Adams to go upstairs.

"Got a friend up there?" she said, her eyes lighting with a little smirk.

"Yeah. Just got in. Too tired to sit at the bar."

She shrugged. "I'll take care of it."

For the next hours he worked and thought about the man waiting for him above, about what it meant that he'd left his whole life—cramped, dispirited as it was—to pursue him. Imagined him amongst the vampires, the demons, negotiating his way, negotiating for his life. The life he was saving up so he could thrust it, all at once, at him.

Oh, he knew what powered that kind of move. He understood it perfectly.

But all that was over. Over for him, and over for Jack.



He walked in to candlelight. Votives on the low nightstand, flickering in the draft from the slightly open window, throwing long crazy shadows.

He'd decided, as he got rid of the last patrons, polished the bar and locked up for the night, that he'd tell Jack, as gently as he could, that he was mistaken, he couldn't stay.

But he hadn't counted on that candlelight, or on Jack being clean and naked, his damp hair curling on his brow and neck. Hadn't counted on him standing up from the bed when he walked in, and being so eerily pale and beautiful in the yellow glow. Hadn't counted on the sight of Jack's cock stirring and rising, like he'd conjured it with his stare, although Jack's gaze was having the same effect on his own.

"Come here Spike," he said. "I need you."

When he touched him, the flesh of his palms jumped, as if the other man's skin was a holy thing. Jack wrapped around him, his mouth opening Spike's mouth. He radiated heat. Moaned as they kissed.

Hands grabbing at clothes, until Spike shucked them.

"Fuck . . . fuckfuckfuck . . . need you to fuck me—"

The way he trembled scared Spike. Jack was so fragile, his body, his psyche, laid open to him gleaming and delicate as an alabaster goblet, nearly as translucent. Spike was hard for him, stirred up and alight, and the demon was trying to surge forward on the path of that longing, the fangs tingling to descend. He knew what this man tasted like. The sweetness of live blood, freely given.

They'd heeled over onto the rumpled bed, Jack was beneath him, legs akimbo, their cocks pressed together between their tense bellies, and they could not stop kissing.

Then Spike dragged his mouth away, raised up on his arms. Jack's breathing was ragged, his lips swollen. He blinked, and a sultry smile formed on his face that made Spike's breath catch.

Had anyone ever looked at him like that? Certainly not Buffy. Not even Drusilla on her palmiest night. That look pierced him.

Gaze still hooked to his, Jack slipped a hand between them, heated palm wrapping around both their cocks, rubbing the slick heads together, making them slicker. He squirmed and bucked, murmuring his hunger. Spike lifted Jack's knee to his shoulder, spit into his hand and wet his cock. Pushed into him slow and steady. There was no resistance. Jack fit him like a glove one size too small; sighed and groaned when he sank into him. Never took his eyes from Spike's.

He knew this was going to be a frenzied, grunting fuck, that they'd maul each other's mouths and necks, strain the bedsprings to the limit. Before that began, when they were merely lashed together as tightly as two men could be, so that Jack's heartbeat, his breathing, the pulse pounding in him felt as if they belonged to him too, Spike took in that light of welcome in the other's eyes, paused to notice its effect on him, how it made him feel as if he'd just fed on the richest blood there was.

"Have me," Jack whispered.

"Oh, I'll have you, my lamb. I'll have you all."



Jack was asleep, and Spike wept.

He shook, as if with fever, bent over the sink, the tears spattering the porcelain. He wished to vomit, but his physiology betrayed him—Jack's blood didn't nauseate him, it sang through his body like fine liquor, made him feel warm and real. Only his soul rebelled against it. He did not know how to suffer scruples, how to dissect right from wrong in a bath of yearning and lust. It was all too new and confusing, and made his head ache.

Jack had offered himself, and cried out when he bit him, cried out in pent-up release, drenching their bellies in his cum, pressing Spike's face into his neck. As he drank, Jack wept too, wept with relief and pleasure. When he lifted his mouth away, Jack tried to hold him to the wound. I told them I belong to you. He'd known before the bite and knew even better after, that he shouldn't have done it, because there was a thrall in that kind of biting that was beyond his volition, and Jack wanted it the way he'd once wanted the needle. He shouldn't hurt this man, who was so essentially gentle and lost, and who was, above all, innocent. Yet he could not help desiring him, seeing the look that was in his eyes, knowing the hurtful thing was just what he longed for most. Spike's soul said you must not do this wicked deed to this weak creature, even as it acknowledged—as all of him acknowledged—that Jack wanted him more fully and grandly than anybody ever had before.

The wanting went both ways. Still replete, he left the bathroom, crept back to bed. Jack was awake now and drew him into his arms.

"Don't cry," he murmured, and kissed Spike's eyes.

"Shouldn't have hurt you, mate."

"You didn't. I needed it. I feel fine now I'm with you."

Full of Jack's blood, his demon plucked at him with greedy fingers. Nestled in his depleted warmth, he was hard again, and ashamed, and ashamed of his shame.

God, the soul was turning him back into the worst sort of prat. He knew he'd blush if he could. But Jack smiled. Whispered, "You want me, Spike. I'm home." Wrapping a hand around the insistent cock, he lowered himself to nose around it, to kiss Spike's navel, and the smooth skin of each sacral arch, tracing a tongue along the crease of the thighs, and then enveloping each ball in the wet astonishing heat of his mouth so that Spike heaved and grunted. He was generous, he lingered, playing the while with the tight cock, flicking a maddening moist thumb across the spot just below the head that sent a ripple of joy through him, ripples that began to overtake each other, as of stones shied into a pond one after another. And then Jack's other hand slipped lower down, rubbed hard at the taut skin behind the balls, and then, fingers slobbered on, crept back further, introducing first one, then two, then three digits into the opening that flexed to take them in.

His head snapped back, he convulsed, and then Jack's mouth was on his prick, catching the spunk as it flowed, sucking, swallowing. Everything in Spike let go, and when it was over he was like a rag flung in a corner.

He slept in Jack's arms without dreaming.



"So you tend bar, and—"

"And that's about it," Spike said. "Keep the library books current."

"I understand this is the hellmouth."

"Do you understand, pet?" Spike said quietly. "Not many do."

"Heard plenty when I was searching for you. Some of them said you'd been neutered, but I knew that was a lie. I showed them it was a lie." His fingers brushed the fresh bandage on his neck. "But they all knew your name. And I heard some other names with yours. Angelus. Drusilla."

"All in the past now, mate." He sighed and sipped his beer. "All in the past."

"And what about the slayer?"

Oh, he'd definitely asked around. Still, Spike wondered how much he knew. That is, how much the vampire underworld in general knew. Jack snapped up a shrimp in his chopsticks and ate it, but never took his eyes from Spike's. The restaurant, one of those Susie Wong type joints cast in amber since 1948, was nearly dark, their booth illuminated by a candle in a glass set between them.

"I heard you were one of her busier enemies."

He shook his head. "She saves the world, Jack. That's the thing to know about the slayer. I've no quarrel with her. Keeps things safe for egg foo yong." He reached across the table and snagged a piece off his plate. Licked the salty sauce from his fingers.

Jack's eyes flickered. He wanted to hate her if Spike did, couldn't see why he didn't. He'd explained to him, back in New York, how he was a vampire with a difference. It looked now like he'd have to explain again.

"You said—on that postcard—that you were her slave."

Now it was his turn to drop his eyes.

"So where is she?"

"Not so simple."

"You were lovers. Are lovers?"

In quick succession, Spike nodded, then shook his head. Paused, then shook it again. "We were never what you'd call lovers. Or what she'd call lovers, more to the point."

"So why'd she take you away from me?"

Aw fuck. The way Jack looked at him filled him with dread and arousal. He'd done this. Made Jack crave him, crave the bite. Thoughtlessly, because he'd been so focused on his own need to be punished. Jack did it so well. So sweetly. The sweetness, the love and pity, made the punishment more exquisite. And Christ, he was an amazing piece of ass, and Spike may've been a monster, but he was still a man. All the weaknesses of both. Horny, lonely, hungry.

"She wanted me where she could keep an eye on me. So I'd be there to help her."

"Help her?—what? You help her kill other vampires?"

Spike exhaled. "Yeah. That's about the long an' the short of it. Switched sides a couple years back, for practical reasons. Then this summer, 'fore I met you . . . got my soul back. Now I'm on the side of the bleedin' angels pretty much permanently, I reckon."

Jack frowned. "Why?"

He'd never thought to be asked this question. "'Cause the other way just hurts too fucking much."

Jack was quiet for a minute then, eating. "I meant, why'd you get a soul? How does a vampire go about getting a soul, anyhow?"

"With great difficulty, pet." He winced. "I don't recommend it."

Jack started to smile, but Spike added, "And when you've got a perfectly good soul to your name already, I don't recommend letting it go. Don't recommend it at all. You hearing me?"



"Gotta look for a job," Jack said, as they headed back.

"Not much call for bike messengers 'round here."

He shrugged. "Sold the bike to get out of New York. I'll look around tomorrow afternoon while you're sleeping."

"Hollis's got a sign out for a short-order cook. It's dirty work and there's no tips."

"I've done it before. Would it be the same hours you do?"

Spike nodded.

"Perfect then. Fuck, man—it's perfect." Grinning, Jack shoved him against a storefront, ground into him, kissed him hard.



"Whoa," Janice said. "Hey, check out those two freaks doin' the freaky-deaky in public. Talk about P.D.A. Not to mention T.M.I."

Dawn and the others followed her pointing finger. One lean black-haired guy in a leather jacket was kissing another up against the front of Manny's Musical Instrument store.

"Aww. I think it's nice," Rachel said.

"I think it's nice," Danny repeated in a high voice.

"Shut up, you! It is!"

Dawn, squeezed into the backseat between Danny and Rob, jumped. "Oh my God. Follow them!"

"Follow them? What am I, the FBI?"

"Janice, follow them! I wanna see—I wanna see where they go."

"Uh . . . okay. Why? They're just two skanky guys."

"I think they're kinda cute," Rachel said, squinting.

Dawn kept her eyes riveted on the pair. They walked fast, kept their heads close together, talking. She wished she could hear them.

Janice crawled along in their wake, followed them through the warehouse district, across the railroad tracks, to the older, more derelict Sunnydale business district, given over now to thrift shops, bars, pool halls and check cashing storefronts. The pair disappeared into the alley beside The Kickstand.

"They're gone. So, can we go to the mall now?"

"What is this place?"

"Some dive," Danny snorted.

"Where they card, like, obsessively," Rachel sighed.

"Let me out."

"What? Here?"

"I need to see something."

"I don't think we should just leave you here," Rachel said.

"Then wait for me, okay? I'll just be a couple minutes." She climbed over Danny and got out. The dark façade of The Kickstand looked like it was shut up tight, but when she pulled at one of the heavy wooden double doors, it opened easily enough.

Inside it was all darkness. She paused, listening, waiting for her eyes to adjust, then started down the corridor towards the bar. The only light in the whole place was the hurdy-gurdy glow off the jukebox.

"We're closed," a voice said. "Don't open for another hour. So run along."

"Spike. I know it's you." She stalked across the big room, scrambled up onto a barstool in front of him, and dealt him a blow across the face that snapped his head back.

"Oi!"

"That's for what you did to my sister!"

"Yeah, all right." She'd caught a nail on his cheekbone. He smelled blood well up in the stinging gash.

"And I'd hit you a bunch more times for running out on us, except ouch—and—and—where have you been?"

"Here." He filled a glass with ice, set it on the bar. Filled it with Coke and slid it over to her. "Minding my own business. Look, apologies are lame. But I'm sorry for what I did to Buffy. She knows that. And I'm sorry I pulled back from you last year. I know you missed me. We missed each other."

His words—low, seemingly sincere—startled her. She felt her face grow warm. Buffy had said he was different now, but she'd not been prepared for this formal gravity. "If you were really sorry, you'd come see us. Spike. How can you think Buffy doesn't want you to—"

He turned his back, began slicing up lemons. "You know where to find me now, if she needs me. I'll come running the second I can help."

"She told me you two had agreed to be friends. She told us you were a part of the team." She heard herself becoming strident. "Spike, I—"

"I can be a member of the team from here, sweet bit," he said, his back still turned. "Needn't be underfoot every—"

"Who is that guy? I saw you just now—"

He put a slice of lemon in her untouched Coke, and met her eyes. "His name's Jack. Your sis saw him with me in New York."

Dawn blinked. She couldn't believe this. What was happening here? Buffy had told her that she'd forgiven Spike. Told her that they'd been lovers again on the trip to Indiana, and that she was looking forward to being reunited with him soon back home. That night at the Scooby meeting, when Xander was making all those ugly insinuations . . . well, who could blame her for not leaping up and saying yeah, he was her boyfriend? It was a little soon to say that.

And she didn't really think Spike was great boyfriend material for her sister, but the idea that he wouldn't be around, trying to be her boyfriend . . . was shocking.

"Don't . . . don't you love her anymore?"

He sighed. "Look, I've got to open in half an hour, an' I'm not ready. I'll call you a cab."

"Don't try to get rid of me, Spike. I thought we were friends! What are you doing?"

He popped a yellow wedge into his mouth and bit down, the sour juice shooting down his throat. "Guess I'm makin' lemonade."



It was a long evening. The place wasn't as crowded as Spike liked it, so there was too much time to think.

God, she'd looked well, the Niblet, and feisty! Marching right on in and giving with the right hook. A true Summers girl, no matter who'd made her out of what, or why.

Seeing her made him miss her, as if he wasn't missing her already. He didn't want to let her go so quick. Should've said something to her about Tara. Should've questioned her about her summer, what she was up to. Should've taken her in his arms.

The way she'd looked at him just now! Don't you love her anymore?

How could she imagine he didn't? Some things never changed. You could add to them, or take things away, but the thing itself, if it was solid, was solid. And Spike-loves-Buffy was about as solid as his immortality. As his soul.

She knew that, and yet she lacked the courage to speak of him to her friends the way she'd spoken when they were alone.

He didn't want to be her back door man. That would be too painful for both of them.

Finished for the night, he went upstairs. Once more the room swam in candle-glow. Jack, naked, head thrown back to expose his throat, was asleep. His cock was half-erect, chest rising and falling evenly. He'd pulled off the bandage, exposing the puffy wound, 24 hours old. Standing over him, Spike trembled, weak-kneed, weak-willed. Back in New York he'd thought how possible it would be to just stay with him, let years go by in that easy, symbiotic relationship. Blood and blows, verse and sushi, fucking and sleep. They'd both get night jobs. They'd muddle along, the vampire and his human consort, until time forced the situation. It always did.

There were tales of such, he'd heard them. Heard about vamps who'd kept a live lover for months, or even years. It always ended in the human's death. Sometimes a turning, sometimes a killing out of anger or misadventure. Or a suicide, the human in despair about what he'd become, or what she'd failed to attain. Once he'd met a vamp who was nearly as crazy as Dru—driven melancholy mad with grief, or so he claimed when he was lucid, because the woman he'd adored for thirty years, who had finally allowed him to turn her, ran out into the sunlight after the very first feed, too horrified to go on.

"They say we're soulless, but I swear it's something we learn," he'd said. "Turned out my Emmelina didn't want to learn."

Jack, he thought, would learn well enough if given the chance.

Just as William had.

Something like that was going to happen here, unless he stopped it. Unless he found the strength.

Jack's eyes opened, and his hand curled caressingly around his cock. "You're wearing too many clothes."

End this, William. End it now. You can't afford this, boy.

But oh, how much more alone would he be, after sending Jack out into the night, than he'd been even two days ago, before he arrived!



The vampire's tears, like his spunk, were tepid. But tasted, Jack thought, just as salty as his own. He kissed Spike's closed eyelids, where the dreaming orbs flickered ceaselessly and the moisture seeped out between the lashes.

They're right here, Spike had told him, back in New York, they are ringing this bed at this very moment, standing in tiered rows, they watch everything I do out of their hollow eyes, they remind me that I took them and left nothing in their place. I can make love but they watch me. They wait. When you punish me, it pleases them, a bit. Never for long. He'd laughed, a bitter little laugh like a cough. I'm never alone, me! Never alone . . . never not lonely . . . .

He'd looked at the close peeling walls of his bedroom while Spike talked, and tried to imagine all those people crowded round in the tight space, just 8 by 10, nearly filled by the bed they nestled in. Who they were. It didn't seem real. Spike was so gentle. Even topping in their bondage games, he was so careful. His bites were . . . well, perhaps because he wanted them so . . . the opposite of fierce. They felt like home-comings.

Now in this larger room in California, Jack sat up in bed with Spike's head in his lap, overseeing his sleep. This was what he'd journeyed all this way to find. The first positive desire he could remember having in years, a longing that stirred him up out of apathy so as to change his whole life. A life heretofore disconnected; organized—disorganized—around pain and its substitutions, its postponements, but which had disgorged this amazing creature into his bed, like a burnt angel tossed down from the sky. How could he not want him? Love beat through him like the stiff breeze off that angel's stirring wings.



Buffy was fine. Buffy was great. She had her salary from the council now, and not having to do crap minimum wage work, not having to worry about the house bills, had lifted such a weight from her mind that she looked, Giles thought, two years younger. Her smile had come back, the one he remembered from her high school days, wide and shining and sugar-edged. They trained, mornings, in the rear room of the Magic Shop, and she was good. Better than good: extraordinary. Even for her. Focused, graceful, with an ease in every move that showed confidence without arrogance.

She was meditating too, and even reading some of the books he'd always wanted her to read, the demon guides, the histories. He noticed that apparently new-found ability to sit still, to take things in. She was maturing, mellowing. She'd survived, and Giles began to think that she might last. Maybe—and he knew a Watcher oughtn't to think such thoughts, entertain such hopes—maybe she'd even attained the skills and finesse that would let her survive it all. Live to age out of the slaying, to become a woman like other woman. Free to marry and have children and a life.

Then he remembered that she was still only twenty-one, and anything could happen at any moment.

He pushed that thought away when it came. Damn it, he would be an optimist. Buffy had taught him to dare that.

When he came to the house that night for dinner, Dawn came to him at the dining room sideboard as he was making the shaker of martinis he'd share with Willow—a habit begun that summer. For a moment she just stood silently by him, watching. He knew the process of concocting, and the silver shaker, held a fascination for her, although he'd been glad, the first time she'd watched him do this, that the taste of the finished product made her grimace and mutter about machine oil.

A few feet away, in the kitchen, Buffy was cooking, banging pots and pans, singing along with the radio. When Dawn spoke, she pitched her voice low under the noise.

"What do you think?"

"Think?"

"About Buffy?"

His favorite subject, and a question that now held no terrors. Giles grinned. "She's splendid."

"She's splendid?" Dawn repeated. A teen-girl frown, more like a dimple, appeared between her brows. "Well, yeah, she mostly is. Big one-eighty since last spring. She's really nice to me now all the time."

"I'm so glad to hear it. She loves you—just enormously, you know." A little driblet of dread started within him.

"Yeah. But the thing is—you don't see everything I see."

He closed the shaker. Concentrated on the smooth cold silver in his hands.

"I know—melodramatic much? But . . . look, I understand that everything isn't all about Spike. You don't miss him. But . . . she doesn't understand why he doesn't come."

"Well, I expect he—I expect that with the soul—" He stopped. He'd already begun to think that every day without the appearance of Spike was a day whose shining hours were thereby improved. He was curious about what Spike was like with a soul, but not that curious. He'd had the idea, vague and comforting as the days elapsed with no sight of him, that the vampire had perhaps come to what passed for his senses, that his obsession with the slayer was at an end. Now that he put it to himself like that, it seemed ridiculous. What had Angel said about him, all those years ago? When he got it into his head to do something, he didn't stop until everything in his path was—

"I saw him just now."

He started. "You saw him?"

"Yeah. On the street. I followed him. He works at a bar on the other side of the tracks called The Kickstand."

"Works?" He chuckled. "Well good for him."

"Giles. I—I think he might be over her. I mean, I don't think he's gonna come here looking for her the way he used to."

"Well, that's fine, isn't it? I think Buffy feels that what took place between her and Spike last year was a—"

She shook her head hard, then placed her hand on her chest as if about to make a pledge. "Sister stuff. She'd hate me for telling you this, but . . . she cries at night. I hear her."

He flinched. "Perhaps—you can't know why she—"

Another determined head jerk. "She . . . thinks a lot about him. She's lonely for him. And yeah, that's maybe not too good, only—"

"Dawn! Help me in here, please!" Buffy put her head through the kitchen door. She was smiling, strands of hair falling in her face, forehead shiny. An oven mitt on one hand. Beautiful vibrant Buffy, restored Buffy. And yet she cried in the night for the touch of an undead thing that spent years plotting her death and the deaths of her friends.

For a moment, his throat closed. It was his fault, really. He'd tolerated the Angel mess. A terrible precedent. Had he stepped in then, when she was still a minor, when she had no business dating a grown man, let alone a vampire, however remorseful and reformed . . . he could have nipped this tendency of hers in the bud. It was a kink. And kinks were habits, and habits could be prevented. Or broken.

So many mistakes.

Dawn went into the kitchen without giving him another look. He shook the martinis, drifting over to the bottom of the stairs. "Willow! I'm pouring."

That's what it took to get her out of her room. Not her room anymore, because she wasn't sleeping in the house. But Tara's things were still there, and Willow visited them every day. She came down now, a fixed smile on her face. He wondered if he ought to offer Buffy a cocktail too.

Dawn's words left him stirred—and shaken.



The kitchen was closed, half the chairs were already up on the tables, and the evening's last patrons lingering near the exit. Spike was cleaning up behind the bar when Jack came through the swinging door and went to the jukebox. Slipped a coin in the slot, pressed a couple buttons, and turned.

"C'mere, Spike."

"In a sec', mate."

"No, now."

The record that started up in that instant was the same one that was playing when Jack first came into the bar.

The love of my man . . . keeps me safe . . . an' warm . . . the love of my man . . . protects me . . . protects me from all harm . . .

Jack met him halfway, touched his shoulder, and drew him into the slow unfurling music. He wanted to hang back, but the groove and the heat of Jack's hand commanded him as surely as a spell. Spike inhaled his warm breath and groaned inside. What was this? Why was this happening? This was not what he'd earned, or deserved. To be wanted, to be romanced. Buffy knew it, that's why she wasn't . . . .

Forehead to forehead, palm against palm, they swayed slow and close.



. . . when his lips his precious lips are on mine . . . gives me a feeling so divine oh oh yes it do
. . .

He closed his eyes. They fit together, moved together, like . . . well, like nothing he'd had yet. It wasn't courting , cajoling, placating. It wasn't reaching and failing, it wasn't frustration and withholding and doubt. Wasn't one step forward two steps back, kick me in the head and run on out . . . It was Jack right there, sexy spendthrift Jack, pressing up against him, offering himself.

Late in the evenin' . . . when the sun go down . . . it's that man that man that man . . .

But Christ, what was he offering? Spike remembered the first time he'd gotten him to use the holy water. Jack had looked at him, his eyes full of reluctance and pity. No man, now this is too much. This isn't like the whip. He'd played with whips before, other men, other places. The holy water was something else. But he'd let himself be persuaded, and cried as he did it, cried as Spike writhed and vamped out, as he tried and failed to bite through the gag with his fangs and the air of the tiny room filled up with the smell of singed skin. Later he'd asked Does it help? He understood about penance, though he'd never asked what it was about, which showed understanding too.

And still he'd craved the bite, and with every bite he'd shown, with the crazy surging of his heart, that he wanted to be taken as far as it was possible to go. To death and past it, into what lay beyond death. To join him there. He never asked for it, not in words, but Spike knew.

Jack's mouth against his ear now. "I want you. I want you to belong to me, the way I belong to you."

He opened his eyes, looked into Jack's that did not look away.

He wanted to be bitten, he wanted to be taken. Yet he'd accepted Spike's demurrals in New York . . . he'd not gone looking for other vampires in the meantime . . . and he was here now, alive. Which meant—what?

When he goes away I never . . . no no no I never have to worry . . . oh because I know my man my man thinks of me only . . .

The place was dim; the low lights on his face, from the jukebox and the mirror ball, were all kinds of jewel colors. But vampire sight was best in the dark. He could see right into their sad brown fucked-up depths. Could clock the tiny messages of pulse and aroma, all the signals a live human brimming with emotion could telegraph to a savage hunter. Except he was hunting, not for the chance to tear this man's throat out . . . but the assurance that he wasn't expected to. Fuck, he wanted to be wanted, but not, dear God, for that. He felt Jack blush, but he didn't lower his eyes, just pressed his palms tighter against Spike's, and let him look.

"You came all this goddamned way."

Jack nodded.

"To find me."

"When you left me, I knew. Felt it here." He moved Spike's hand against his heart, pressed it there for a moment. "Knew you were the one—"

. . . and no matter no matter what my friends may say . . . I'll keep on loving him any old way . . . you know my man love me, my man needs me, he's got to have me . . .

He touched his forehead to Jack's, closed his eyes. The mute faces were there, behind his closed eyelids. They stared and seemed to ask him what he thought he was doing. How he could dare.

He didn't really believe Jack wasn't after being turned, despite his failure to get himself turned along the way. But it was hard to care, because Jack's longing for him was palpable, and it was nearly too much, to be desired that way. He knew so much about loving, helpless hopeless total obsession. Being sought after, cherished, was unfamiliar. Jack didn't fear his demon, Jack welcomed all of him into his arms. How could he refuse this? God, he'd never realized it could be so easy and still so damn good . . .

. . . that's why I love him you know I love the love of that man . . . oh early in the morning . . .

The song ended and for a moment they just hung there in the silence, on the cusp of a kiss. Then, from the doorway, the sound of two hands clapping.

"Wow. That was . . . jeez. So romantic."

She broke away from the dark, came slowly towards them. Face scratched and dirty. Her thin top stuck to her chest with sweat, one narrow strap torn and hanging down over her breast. She carried a battleaxe slung over her shoulder. The bouncer must've gone home already, he'd never have let her in the place with that.



"Hello Buffy."

"Hello." She looked at Jack. "I've seen you before but I don't know your name."

"I'm Jack. You're the slayer."

"I am."

They looked each other over, but neither moved more than his or her eyes. Spike thought Buffy looked brittle enough to shatter, although her voice was soft and calm. She turned her gaze very deliberately on him.



"Chased a couple of Hratholin demons to an abandoned warehouse on Sedgewick. Took 'em out, but there's a whole nest inside."

"You want some help."

"If you can tear yourself away."

He glanced at Jack. "I'll be back before sun-up, mate."



He went up to his room to get a weapon; she waited outside. The full moon felt like company. About the only company she could stand now, but she'd asked for his help, and she needed it if she was going to clean out those Hratholins, and besides she wasn't in love with him so what difference did it make.

What difference did it make that she found him doing the dreamy slow-dance of her own fantasy . . . with someone else. The man who'd cursed at her when she tried to warn him his life was in danger. Who'd lashed and burned him nearly into ribbons.

"Here I am, Slayer." He emerged from the alley, wearing his leather jacket and carrying a battleaxe of his own. She rounded on him, and before she knew she meant to do it, yanked his shirt up to look at his chest.

"Oi—what're you playing at?"

"So what kind of scars has he put on you this ti—" But he hadn't. His skin was creamy and unmarked. Spike pulled his shirttail from her fist, but gently.

"I didn't invite him here, Buffy, or know he was coming. He only showed up three nights ago. It was never his idea, those games. I asked, and he gave. We won't be doing that anymore." He didn't seem guilty about being caught out. No, he was just looking at her with that sweet, hesitant look he had sometimes, like before they'd gone to fight Glory and he'd thanked her for letting him back into the house. "And, I dunno if it's what you're thinking, but . . . him being here doesn't have anything to do with me . . . with me deciding to leave you be."

Leave. Leaveleaveleave, that was the word they all said. Something inside made a fist. "Hratholin demons. Many of them. I counted at least five breeding females, and they're the worst. Daybreak's in three hours, Spike, and we're gonna need all three to get the job done."

She twirled on her heel and started off.



She'd said three hours, but they were so good together, fought so instinctively side by side, that it took only half the time. When they were done, she should've gone off towards Revello Drive, but instead she fell into step beside him on the cracked weedy sidewalk, saying nothing. The stars glittered overhead. They passed a coffee truck setting up in anticipation of a factory's early shift workers. Spike paused.

"Fancy anything, Slayer?" He dug in his pocket, pulled out a five dollar bill. Buffy's eyes went wide. He nodded. "Whatever you like."

They sat on the curb with her coffee, his tea, and an enormous honeybun oozing glazed sugar set on a napkin between them. She was afraid to touch it, its stickiness would get all over her, and once she'd scarfed it down she'd just want another one. Some things were like that. You wanted them and wanted them even though in the past they'd left you feeling sick.

Spike glanced at the bun, and at her.

"Go on," she said.

"I'm not so much for sweet things."

The words leapt out of her. "Then I'd think you'd prefer me, because he sure was treating you sweet in there, and you know I'd never do like that with you."

She wanted to rip her betraying tongue out by the roots. Rocketing to her feet, she hurled the carton of coffee with all her might—it hit the brick wall across the street and exploded, just as she exploded into blinding tears.

It took a while, but she outran him. Probably, she realized, slowing down by the movie house on Main, he'd decided after a bit to just let her go. Because Spike on a tear, not so easy to outrun. Panting, she lapsed into a walk. Speed had dashed away the tears, but now her eyes felt dry as pebbles in their sockets.



He let her go. It was pretty clear she didn't want to be caught—she'd have run slower if she meant him to overtake.

He leaned against a telephone pole and lit a cigarette. Recalled how his life had unreeled through his mind while Drusilla drank it . . . and knew it would again when his end finally came. He'd done for enough vamps to know those few seconds between impact and explosion were sufficient for the unfurling of centuries. Buffy's taunt lodged in his chest like a stake in that moment before the collapse into dust; her every look and word and feel and taste from the beginning raced behind his squeezed eyelids as he stood there. God God God how wrong I was. How wrong I was to her. He'd tainted her and that taint still lingered and gave her pain.

He regretted that bitterly, but it wasn't so surprising. He'd heard that amputated limbs could go on aching for a lifetime.



"Do you think Xander has any tequila?"

"He's at Anya's. We could look." Willow headed towards the kitchen; Buffy followed.

"At Anya's? That's good, right?"

"It's not so good. He's getting kind of stalkery. I mean, it's stalkery when you visit a person over and over who's not letting you inside, right?"

"Uh, right."

Together they opened the cabinets, looked through the inventory. Suddenly Willow stopped. "Wait—why are we looking for tequila?"

"I just . . . I need a drink."

"You need a drink?"

"Willow—Spike has a boyfriend."

Her face, Buffy thought, was a cast of thousands, all by itself. Incomprehension, incredulity, hilarity, confusion, and a half dozen other emotions crossed it in the space of a few seconds, before it settled into the expression of sympathetic alarm that was Willow's own.

"A boyfriend."

"When I ran into him in New York, he was with this guy—" She described that first meeting, and meant to stop there, but Willow was listening so hard, and looking so much like her old self, all confide-o girl, that she wound up telling more and more. Everything that happened with him on the road.

Wide-eyed, Willow said, "So—there was Spike kissage, and—"

"There was the full Spike-and-Buffy monty. This was the night before I got to my cousins'. And it was really different, Will. It was . . . it was nice."

"Huh."

"The thing is, I try to tell myself, with Spike, that it's just—me with the hot pants. The sex with him, it's . . . intense. He reaches the parts of me that other guys . . . don't even guess are there. But there's more than that. I keep thinking . . . about him . . . when he's not all horizontal. We can talk to each other. Potentially. He makes me feel . . . stuff."

"I thought you said all that was over."

"I did. It is. But I thought—when we were together on the road, it felt like something fresh was starting up."

"You wanted that? Buffy—Spike."

"I know. No! It's just . . . he understands me, Will. He . . . he's got this sweet way with me, that just . . . ." She stopped. I'm not so much for sweet things. "Doesn't matter what I want, does it? That guy followed him out here, he's all with the lovey and the dovey, so they're hot and heavy again." She frowned. "I don't even get . . . I mean, Spike's such a ladies' man—"

"People . . . swing. Different ways," Willow murmured.

"I guess. It's just, before we parted, we . . . . This guy is such a skank, though."

"I thought you said he looks a lot like Spike."

"Yeah, but—"

"Maybe . . . maybe it's for the best, Buffy. I mean . . . you and vampires—really shouldn't be happening."

A little voice twinged in her at Willow's words. Who the hell are YOU to tell me what should and shouldn't be happening? But she shoved it aside. Willow was her best friend. She had to stop with this score-keeping. "I know. I know. He's all kinds of inappropriate. I could never love him. I know that."

But people . . . like you said . . . swing.



"You're in love with her."

"I am. Doesn't matter, pet. It's a dead letter. Don't trouble yourself on that account." Spike moved around the darkened room, putting the weapon away, pulling off his torn shirt and getting out a fresh one, washing his chest and arms and face. He didn't need to turn on the lamp to see what he was doing. Or to see the glitter of Jack's eyes from the bed, the intent way they followed him.

"She's in love with you."

"That she's not."

Jack leapt up, came to him as he turned out of the bathroom doorway, thrusting him back against the wall. They were just of a height.

"Don't lie to me."

"Haven't. Won't. Didn't I just tell you I love the girl?"

"Yeah. Yeah you did."

Spike caught his shoulders. "There's nothin' there, mate. She doesn't want me."

"Except that she comes in with an enormous axe, and you just drop everything to go with her."

"Well yeah. That's my job."

"So you just—what did you just do?"

"Slaughtered about fifty Hratholins. Enormous red stinky things they are, with these tusks like—I'd have brought you one back as a souvenir, but they liquefy once they're dead. The whole demon, I mean, not just the tusks." Spike moved his hand. "Speaking of tusks—or what's hard as one, anyway—"

Jack let out a nervous bark of laughter. Spike sank to his knees. Nothing to undo, he was already naked; he buried his nose in the crisp curls and inhaled the musky scent of his cock. How warm it was, against his cheek and then his mouth.

His own, he knew, was not warm. His own did not give off that lively play of aromas. He could do things with it that living men could not, and he certainly knew he had the power to please. But that which animated him was not the life force. And the blood that stirred him erect did not come from a beating heart. He nuzzled Jack's cock, kissed the underside, and the tip. Felt the insistent pulse in it as he squeezed the base. He wanted to tell Jack not to hold those things so cheap, not to imagine that what he himself was, was anything to aspire to. He couldn't find the words, though, so instead he took the cock into his mouth.

Jack made two fists in his hair now, dragging him closer. "Shit—that's good—no one's ever sucked me off like you can."

Taught by experts. Angelus had kept him at it enough, and been exacting enough, for anybody's standards. Seemed like he'd spent the whole winter of 1880 to '81 on his knees. After him, anyone else was comparatively easy to take on. And Jack was a most satisfying mouthful, but no Angelus.

He paused, let the cock radiate its heat in his mouth. Then withdrew, slowly, his tongue leaving a trail of wet along the vein. Jack gasped.

"D'you want me to finish you now, or shall we have a nice fuck instead?"

Jack bent over him, his hands still in Spike's hair. "You want me to fuck you?" His thumbs softly traced Spike's eyelids, his brows.

"Yeah," he breathed, "fill me up, pound me into the mattress, an' kiss me while you do it. . . ."

Jack grinned in the dark, and yanked him up by the hair to grind their mouths together.



"What's that stink—what are you doing?"

"Bleaching my head."

"Yeeuw—why?"

"Just . . . because. Been blond for the last twenty-five-odd years." He paused. "S'how I think of myself really." He felt around for the towel; Jack handed it to him.

When he emerged from the bathroom fifteen minutes later Jack glanced up from his book and whistled.

"What?"

"Oh man. It looks strange."

Spike fished around in one of his boxes, pulled out a Polaroid camera. "Here, take my snap. Need to see myself."

Jack came and leaned against him as they waited for the little square to reveal its secret. Spike's only thought in taking the picture was to see if his hair looked proper. But when the image came through, he realized, This is me with a soul. And wondered if he could really see it—if there wasn't something in the eyes that was never there before—or if he was just full of his usual self-dramatizing shit.

The hair was all right. The hair was just as it should be. As if nothing at all was any different from what it was last spring. He put a hand through it.

Jack took the picture from him. "Gonna keep this."

"Sure pet. It's all yours.">



"How old are you?"

They were lying in an exhausted tangle, passing one cigarette back and forth.

"Was born in 1852."

"Fuck me."

"Gimme a minute—"

"Eighteen-fifty-two? Then you remember—"

"Christ, I remember it all." Spike took a deep drag of his smoke. Averted his eyes from their audience. Not that he thought they were really there, he wasn't that far gone—yet—but they were omnipresent. Watching him. Watching him live what he'd robbed them of.

Of course he knew they weren't what Jack was talking about. He was imagining his witness to the march of progress. Boer War, Great War, Spanish Civil War, World War Two . . . .

"And how old were you when—"

"Not yet twenty-nine."

"Like me." Jack was quiet.

"Know what you're thinking," Spike said on a sigh. "Nice work if you can get it, never having to turn thirty. Watch your youth an' brio dribble away."

"Yeah."

"Thought so myself for a hundred twenty years. But it's not worth it."

"Easy for you to say."

"It's all about this." He placed a hand on Jack's chest, above the thudding heart. "Bein' alive . . . s'precious. Didn't think so at the time, though, because I was a miserable twat. Being alive, and warm, and inside of time . . . s'precious. I've lost that forever."

"Time destroys you."

"Yeah," Spike agreed, as if it was a good thing. Jack took a hit off the cigarette, covered his mouth with his, and sent the smoke down Spike's throat. They kissed for a minute, slow, pensive. Spike broke it first.

"Doesn't it—doesn't it bother you? Me being . . . ."

It should bother you. It should revolt you. But don't leave me.

Jack rolled more tightly against him, his breath making a moist oasis on Spike's neck. "You're so fucking beautiful. So strong. You're not dead."

"You don't get it, though, do you, my Jack? You never met a vampire before me. If you had, you'd be dead." He pulled back a little, looked at him. There was a tiny pinpoint of dread in each of Jack's attentive eyes. Afraid of what he might be told. "I'm a monster. A stone killer. For over a hundred years, I killed whenever I was hungry, or bored, whenever I fancied a spot of violence . . . I only loved my mistress, who was like me, hell, fiercer than me. Everyone alive was fair game for our appetites. I was wicked, I delighted in wickedness. All vampires do. No—don't smile. Don't smile. That's real, that is, wickedness. It's real and it's terrible. Once you lose your soul—" His mouth worked, but the words had dried up. The horror of that, of being a thing without a soul, and knowing it, and reveling in it! Crashed over him again, kept crashing, over and over, shaking him to his core.

All that crap Angel was so sunk into, that he'd thought was such bullshit— No. It was true. The horror was real.

"But you loved one girl for a hundred years. Loved her."

"Yeah."

"So you must've had a—"

"No. You're not gettin' it. Don't need a soul to love. An' loving one's mate's got fuck-all to do with virtue." The word nearly curdled on his lips. He couldn't believe he cared about it.

William had. A great deal. He'd even written sodding odes on the subject.

"What changed, then? You won't tell me how you got the soul. Not that I even know what a fucking soul is."

"What changed was . . . my mistress left me, an' I fell in love with the slayer. Or maybe it was the other way 'round. Been trying to parse that out ever since. Makes sense though, because I loved death, and she is my death. But two years later, after I told her I'd never hurt her—I went berserk on her and forgot my promise. Needed to make a change after that. Thought it would be—"

He shook his head. Suddenly he couldn't quite remember what he'd thought it would be. Blamed it all on the chip, but what did the chip have to do with what went on between him and Buffy? The chip no longer worked on her. He was as free to twist her head off her spine as he'd ever been before he became Hostile 17. So what had he really wanted from that trip to Africa?

Relief. Freedom. To be made into—

". . . it's the biggest mind fuck imaginable, what I am now. Always knew I was a monster, an unclean beast . . . but now I mind it. I mind it so I—"

"I get that." Jack's hand traced lines on his chest, where the whip cuts had been. He whispered. "I know all about what it is to hate yourself."

"Maybe. But you can't know what it is to be a hateful thing. It's not that I went bad, my Jack. I am bad. The thing . . . that I am . . . is filth."

"Not now," Jack said, caressing him. "The thing that you are is beautiful. Beautiful Spike."

"Don't deserve your company, the solace of your—"

"Shut up. Don't push me away. I need you."

Again the need to kiss outweighed everything. They rolled back and forth, asserting dominance and conceding it, until Jack was left gasping.

"What about you, pet? Where'd you go wrong? Your mum didn't bring you up to the needle and fucking vampires."

He stiffened. Spike stroked his arm. "Nah," he whispered. "Didn't mean that like it sounded. Lovely boy you are."

"Some people's mothers . . . some people's mothers are too busy trying to bring themselves up, or down, if you know what I mean."

"So who taught you to read poetry?"

He felt Jack smile against him. "Oh, there was a teacher I had once—fourth grade. Miss Kaplan. She liked me."

"Did she, pet?"

"She gave me books to take home . . . showed me that escape hatch."

Oh yeah. Know all about. Down the rabbit hole we go when things get too rough. 'Cept that wordy escape wasn't enough. Not for me, not for you.

"So what was it like, the nineteenth century?"

"In the nineteenth century . . . it was very important to wear a hat."

Jack chuckled. "C'mon . . . tell me something real. Tell me . . . ."

"Two gents caught out doing what we're doing right now would be clapped in prison if they hadn't the money to hush it up—or even if they had."

"Did that happen to you?"

"No."

"You've had men before."

"Course. Don't get good at this without practice, my Jack."

"You are good. God—you're so good."

Even as Jack kissed him again, he braced himself for what was inevitably the next question.

"So . . . how did you . . . ."

"Was in the wrong place at the wrong time, in the wrong frame of mind."

"You're not really telling me you regret it?"

He still didn't get it, because he obviously didn't want to. Some realities were too hard to look into.

"Wouldn't be here having you, otherwise." God, he thought, with an inward shudder, I can be so fucking smooth. He gathered him closer, as if the slight rocking of his heartbeat might do for them both. He tipped Jack's head up and pressed his mouth to his, inhaled his breath. Jack's hand found his cock, which grew, as they fed on each other's mouths, to overflow his palm.

Did he regret falling to Drusilla? Before the chip, he'd never given regret a thought. Even after . . . but now. What else was it, but regret, that made him start awake sobbing in the afternoon?

He'd tried to end it, but she'd said no.

She'd said . . . .



"C'mon. Time's not running backwards around here."

"More Hratholins?"

"Not tonight. C'mon, hurry up."

"What then?"

"You know. Faster pussycat, kill kill."

Jack came through the swinging doors from the kitchen.

Buffy didn't even glance at him.

"Scoobies aren't with you?"

"Scoobies are busy living their lives."

"Sleepin' their sleeps, more like."

"You and I don't have anything more pressing to do at two-thirty in the morning."

That's when Jack came up behind him and draped an arm around his chest.

"Suit up, Spike. It's late. Your stupid straight job is dicking with my slaying schedule." She jerked her chin up, then walked out. She'd be waiting, like last time, under the streetlight.

"She says jump, you say how high?"

"Yeah."

"What if—"

"Look, pet. I like having you here, I like fucking you and the way you warm up my bed. All that helps keep things right. But I also really like pulling the heads off demons, an' you'll just have to bide your time while I do."



They didn't walk like two heroes on their way to battle, but like a man and woman who were maybe casual friends, on their way to something not particularly pressing. Jack stayed as far back as he could without losing sight of them altogether. He didn't know Sunnydale very well yet, didn't know what route they'd take. The place was lousy with boneyards.

He'd heard, as he searched for Spike, about the slayer. Slayers. Part of his fame was that he'd murdered two of them. The whole thing didn't make a hell of a lot of sense. One girl—girl? Why a girl? And such a scrawny one at that—at a time, against a whole planetful of vampires. For what? Probably it was a hoax. A myth the vampires told each other, to scare themselves. The boogeywoman. The whole thing seemed too improbable.

This one, with her snooty attitude ten times bigger than her tiny frame, acted like she owned him. But it was absurd, this idea that she was a demon-killer. She must be just a girl . . . who was drawn to dark things. Who had dark appetites. He might say they were never lovers, but it was obvious he'd had her, and she'd satisfied him. He could see that in their eyes when they looked at each other. She'd satisfied him, and he'd satisfied her.

Jack had noticed that bite mark on her neck right off. That gave away her number like nothing else.

They jumped the stone fence at the first cemetery they came to, and walked off amongst the mausoleums. Jack stole over more quietly. They were talking together, but he couldn't get close enough to hear without being seen. Any minute now, she'd yank him down into the grass. That was what she wanted him for. All that about Hratholin demons, the bloody axe from the other night, that had to be some kind of game she liked to play.

They paused in the shadow of a memorial statue. Spike's lighter flared. The girl seemed to be standing on tiptoe then. Jack felt a surge, watching her get into Spike's space. Pain that came up from that no-place inside him, because no matter how small he whittled things: himself, his life, his desires, there was never enough to quiet him. All he wanted now was contained in that man, who needed what he had to give, who could make him feel so damn good, but she

Four figures coalesced out of the darkness. She sprang away from Spike, and then she was in the air, whirling, and something exploded, and there were three figures, and then there were two, and then there were none. He blinked, not sure what he'd just seen. Spike hadn't even moved.

Holy shit.

She walked back to him, shoved him up against the side of a mausoleum, pulled his head down to hers by the hair.

Fuck. Fuck this.

He couldn't watch.



Pressing herself into him with all her might, her mouth on his, belly wriggling against his groin, she waited for him to yield. She knew, after all, that he always yielded.

Instead his hands closed tight around her biceps. He forced her back.

"Not this again."

"Wh—what?"

He desired her, he adored her, wanted to be her servant, her husband, her protector. But she wouldn't have it that way—she'd denied him to her friends. Said she'd only been with him when she was feeling crazy. She must be feeling crazy again now.

Only wanted him for one thing.

Bitch treated him like a toy, like he was no better than that fuckbot he'd had—too bad Warren was gone. He could build her a mechanical Spike, that would solve all her problems. Fuck it, beat it to a pulp, shove it away into the closet when anybody came to call.

All this blasted through him so he was lit up in a rage. "Sod off, Slayer."

"Is it because I washed?"

"Christ, Buffy!"

She looked at him, her eyes wide and moist. He had to laugh. The things she said sometimes—

She took his laughter as a softening, and moved in on him again. He ducked away. "If this patrol is over, I'm off."

She went still. That look in her eyes was the whammy. He glanced away. He wasn't ready for this from her. Not when she'd change her mind again in ten minutes.

"Spike, what's happened to you? Don't you miss me?"

"Got plenty of company, love. Ranks upon ranks of it, with me all the time. Standing about me and staring. Making sure I never forget myself. Not much for conversation, but then you never were either."

Didn't hang around to clock her reaction to that. Just walked to the wall, vaulted over it, headed back towards The Kickstand. The anger coming back with each step, or was it—not anger. Worse. Despair. Because there was nothing good about him, or about his existence, and even with Jack there, he was so lonely for her he wanted to die.



Jack greeted him with a blow across the face that made him stagger.

"What the fuck are you doing—? Betraying me with that skinny cunt!"

The room spun; he vamped out with a roar, grabbed him and dragged him close. His neck would make the most satisfying snap when he broke it, and the crunch as his jaws fastened on, the hot splash of blood into his mouth—

Spike dropped him. Dropped him, and stumbled backwards out the door, back down the stairs. Out into the night. The tears coursing from his demon eyes burned, as if they were made of holy water. At the end of the alley he knelt and vomited.

When he was empty, shivering, still heaving and sobbing, he became aware of the touch on his back. Raised his head to see Jack hovering over him, tears tracking silently down his cheeks. The streetlight beam made them glisten. Spike rocked back on his heels.

"Oh God—Did I hurt you just now?"

"No, man. I'm sorry. It's my fault. Come inside. Come inside, and let me take care of you."



Jack got into the shower with him. Soaped his back. And then all at once it seemed very important, the only important thing, to wash each other. In silence, beneath the hot needles of spray, they scrubbed at each other's hair. There was an old nail brush in the soap tray; they traded it back and forth, doing each other's hands, kneeling to do the feet. They used up an entire bar of soap, covered every inch, again, and again, and a third time. He felt as if he was still crying, and Jack looked that way too, but probably it was just all the water dripping down from his wet hair. They stayed in until the spray went cold. The water ran off them and for that time he did almost feel clean. Afterwards, wrapped in damp towels, they collapsed on the bed.

He wanted a cigarette, but was too tired and empty to move.

"We don't have to stay here," Jack murmured. "Fuck her—she doesn't really need you. I need you. We can start over. We can be together somewhere else."

The effort to keep his eyes open, to speak, felt like too much. He'd tried that already, escape, and she'd come to find him and pulled him back. Nothing was going to be different anywhere else, because the soul and what went with it was always with him. And he'd love the Slayer wherever he was.

Then Jack rolled closer to him, his breath on his skin before the first touch of mouth to mouth. Jack made love to him like he'd just washed him: every inch thoroughly seen to. By time they were rocking together, groaning in one voice, he'd lost track of the staring eyes, of the Slayer's words and her terrible gaze and how soul-sick everything made him. There was just this, this rhythmic solacing dance.

And after it, the long drowse, his head resting on a gently rising chest, the thub of the heartbeat beneath his cheek. He floated on that, like the innocent little boy he once was, in his mother's arms.



She didn't know what to do with herself. Home was the last place she wanted to go. Whom could she possibly talk to about this? Spike doesn't want me anymore—which of them wouldn't cry hallelujah? Briefly she considered getting drunk, then remembered how sick she'd felt last year when she'd tried that. Sick, and just as miserable as ever.

She went looking for something else to slay, but the balance of the night was quiet. Almost eerily quiet, as if somehow the word had gotten out: the Slayer's frustrated. Frustrate her more.

The sick thing was, a year ago, she'd have talked to him. How many times had she done that? Enough to get the feel of him as a listener. So willing, amenable. He'd sit beside her, his head cocked, and just let her say her piece. Not argue with her, not tell her how she ought to feel. He'd accepted her the way she was.

Loved her the way she was. With that weird superheated black-hole kind of love that half turned her stomach, even as she didn't quite believe in it. The love of a twisted predator, choked back on a short leash, wasn't really love. Not any kind that she wanted, anyway. That anyone sane and alive would want.

The crazy thing was she still felt it from him. It was all right there, in his eyes, the tone of his voice, the way he walked beside her. Yet he went back to that man. That man who touched him like he owned him.

She wandered for hours, then found herself, an hour before sun-up, in front of The Kickstand. Walking through the alley she'd seen Spike emerge from twice before, she found the wooden stairs in the back that led up to a door on the second story. The door had a pane of glass let into it, but this was covered with a thick curtain. She hesitated for a moment. This felt insane. What if Jack opened it instead of him?

Then she knocked.

Just when she thought there'd be no answer, the door opened a crack.

"Slayer. What the fuck—?"

"I'm sorry to wake you up. I just need to talk to someone. Can I talk to you?"



"You're blond again. I noticed it before, but I didn't say anything."

He touched his hair. "Yeah, well . . . you said you didn't like the other—"

"So you changed it back for me?"

He shrugged. He'd changed everything for her, hadn't he? Changed himself into an unspeakable half-breed, neither man nor demon, saddled with a soul that fit him like a hat on a chicken. She ought to know that by now.

She glanced away. They were sitting, facing one another but not close enough to touch, on the cement floor of a loading dock a few buildings further along, where the morning sun, when it rose, wouldn't reach. Spike, in his jeans and boots, sat with his arms around his drawn up knees. She couldn't help noticing how defended he looked, although there was not a mean note in his expression. "It's just, that's how I'm used . . . ."

"Wore my hair dark for, lessee . . .over fifty years. Dark like Drusilla's was. For a while, in the twenties and thirties, I had this thin moustache . . . ." He traced its line along his top lip with his thumb. "Dru thought that was right smart."

She blinked. "What color was your hair before you were turned?"

"It was . . . I don't rightly remember anymore." He frowned. "Haven't seen the roots in decades. A sort of honey color, I expect."

She let her head drop then, and pulled her hair forward around her face. "Spike, I don't know what I'm going to do."

"What do you mean, Slayer?"

"Please don't call me that. Please."

"All right. Buffy."

"I thought . . . I thought things were going to get better. They're better with Dawn. And I don't have the money problems anymore. But. Xander. He's so angry and weird. So judgmental. And Willow. She still has the magic. And she's . . . she's really tired, and I'm afraid of what she's going to be like when she's not tired any more. She tried to kill me, Spike. I mean—she really was going to kill me. We fought like . . . like two slayers. I still love her but I can't stop thinking about that. If Giles hadn't stopped her, she wouldn't have stopped before I was dead."

She looked at him while she spoke, a tense unbroken look. Her words reminded him of when he'd wanted nothing but to kill her, and tried everything he could think of to accomplish that. How glad he was he'd failed! How betrayed she must have felt, when her best friend, sweet timid little Willow . . . .

He recalled how the witch had looked at him in the library stacks, how she'd leaned against him and sobbed. Quietly, he said, "I don't think she'll want to hurt you any more."

Then she dropped her eyes. "We're all broken up. Even though Giles is back, it feels . . . stuff's busted that's never going to be whole again. I wish I had you to help me. Why won't you help me now?"

"I'm here, ain't I, Sla—I mean, Buffy."

"Why won't you . . . ." Her eyes brimmed, her throat worked. She looked away, looked into the greasy cobbled alley, the loading dock on the other side. She wasn't sure what she was asking for. What he wanted to give her, what she wanted to accept, were never going to mesh.

Watching her struggle, a little frisson of pleasure passed through him. Her desire was still intact, even if she was just as ashamed of it as ever. Christ, in the past, how he'd have held this over her! Imagine—the Slayer looking at him like she was right now, asking for his touch. But the part of him that would've taken evil glee in that was in retreat, and the knowledge of her lust, unleavened by any finer feeling, just made him sad.

He was still just convenient.

"Are you in love with him?"

He started. She seemed startled by her own words.

"Because . . . if you are . . . if he makes you happy . . . I don't like him. But I'd like you to have something . . . ."

. . . have something since you can't have me. He finished the sentence for her. If I didn't love you, Slayer, I'd hate you. "Never mind me, I'm okay, pet. Now tell me your worries. Spike's here, he's listening."



She was still talking a half hour later when the alley filled up with grey light, and he was so focused on her that he didn't notice Jack at first, picking his way towards them over the cobbles. But she could tell when someone was coming up behind her. She broke off and turned. He looked up at her as if from the front row of a theater.

"Hey," Buffy said.

"Hey."

Jack stared at her for another few seconds, then scrambled up onto the dock and went to sit by Spike, close, so their arms touched. He was wearing a teeshirt, but Spike's upper body was bare. He didn't shift away from Jack, just accepted his presence like he liked it, like he was used to it. Suddenly she thought of Drusilla. That time in the goth clubhouse, when she'd had her at stakepoint, and Spike dropped everything else he was doing to keep her safe. His loyalties were so thorough. Jack, she saw, was under the protection of that loyalty now. Whether Spike actually was in love with him or not was pretty much beside the point. He was involved, and once involved, Spike never just walked away.

That was one of his good points, if you looked at it a certain way.

He glanced at Jack. "You couldn't sleep?"

"Wondered where you'd gone."

"Buffy was telling me her troubles."

In the past, she'd have bristled at that. But there was something so calm, so unthreatening, in the way Spike said it. As if they were three friends.

Jack stared into his lap. Then he raised his eyes to her. "You want some coffee with those?"



She looked around the apartment. It was one big room, with a bathroom off it and the kitchen along one wall. The walls were yellow, no pictures on them, the floor was green linoleum, and the furniture looked like it came from a motel room in 1955. Pretty much a dump, but, she was surprised to see, clean. There were a lot of books scattered around: big piles of them against one wall, and various volumes on the bedstand, the table where they now sat, and on the arms of the tatty sofa.

The bed—she tried not to look at it, but it dominated the room—the bed was unmade, and bore the signs she knew so well of a sex session with Spike. The blankets stirred around, the sheet coming loose, pillows pounded up against the headboard. She half expected to see a pair of handcuffs or some leather restraints hanging from the posts. Impossible not to imagine what they'd been doing—probably right before she knocked on the door. She could picture them. Jack's body was a lot like Spike's, from what she could see of it. Thinking about that, she was disquieted to realize the idea of them screwing kind of turned her on. Who was on the bottom? She glanced from one to the other. No clue.

Jack made the coffee strong. He didn't offer her milk or sugar, and she didn't ask for any.

"So," Spike said. "A nest of Hratholins, and then four vamps at once last night."

"Yup, it's autumn in Sunnydale."

"You look to be in pretty good shape."

"Yeah. Been training hard since I got back."

"On your own?"

"Who with?"

"I'll come round some afternoons, if you want. Give you a punch up."

"Good, yeah."

Jack sat between them, watching their conversation like a pingpong match.

To him, Buffy said, "He's not usually like this."

Jack glanced at Spike, then at her.

"He's usually rude, and all with the swagger and innuendo, and if you say north he says south." She sipped from her cup. "He's changed. He keeps surprising me." She got to her feet. "I guess though, that he always has. Thanks for the coffee."



"Are you busy tonight?"

Buffy glanced up. She was at the research table, where she was supposed to be getting on with her reading, but was instead having an unscheduled reflective moment. A thing that was happening to her more and more.

Willow was standing beside her. She smiled when Buffy looked at her, that please don't forget that we have been best friends for years now in spite of everything look.

"Tonight? No . . . not really. Why?"

"There's . . . I want to . . . do you think it's wrong for me to want to dance with other girls so soon?"

"Um . . . what?" Buffy yanked her train of thought off Spike and tried to catch up. "Dance? You want to dance?"

"I just . . . I need to do something. I've got all this pent-up energy. Tara wouldn't want me . . . would she? Wouldn't want me to sit on my butt forever. There's this gay club that opened over the summer, in one of those old warehouses out by the tracks, and I thought maybe we could go check it out. It's for girls and guys both, and the DJs are supposed to be good."

"You want me to be your date?"

Willow smiled. "I was thinking of you more as bait."

"Bait?"

"Yeah, you know—girls'll see me dancing with you, such a hottie, they'll think I'm a hottie too. By extension."

"So the idea is . . . we go together, but leave separately?"

Willow looked at the floor. "Maybe."

Willow was horny. Willow was horny and lonely and feeling deprived. Boy could she identify.

"Sure. We can do that. I'll come by for you in the car—nine o'clock?"



The last time she'd danced like this—with such frenetic abandon—was that crazy night with Faith. Oh God, Faith. Half the girls here looked like her, all wild hair and fierce attitude, and amazingly, Buffy was actually feeling the lesbo vibe. A little bit. Just in the sense that it was making sense. Of course, in amongst the sizzling girls were all the sizzling guys. She could see that they admired her, her look and her moves, without wanting her at all, and this was refreshing, this was fun. Under the flashing strobes, the rains of confetti, everybody here was gorgeous and alive—the energy level turned way up.

Willow caught it too. Willow was—when had she learned to dance like that? She didn't, Buffy thought, need any bait at all except her own. Glowing with sweat, her orange hair sweeping, she was beautiful. This was the first time since—since all that—that she looked like she wasn't thinking about it. They were surrounded by happy girls, and when she slipped off to go get a drink, Willow didn't even seem to notice, which was fine.

At the bar, which was up a couple of stairs, she purchased an overpriced bottle of water, and surveyed the crowd. Was it that gay people really were better looking than straights, or just that it was only the good looking ones who came out to dance? Pondering this, she instinctively reached out with her senses to scan the place for vampires.

She was never sure what it was exactly that she could feel about them, but over the years she'd started to think of it as aggression. She could sense that, smell the bloodlust. It wasn't a real smell—most vampires didn't smell like much of anything, unless they had really poor hygiene. Spike had almost no body odor at all, just the scent of his leather and cigarette smoke clinging to his hair.

Yet she could usually feel his presence quite a few moments before she saw or heard him.

Like . . . like now.

Now?



He was letting Jack lead him by the hand around the periphery of the dance-floor, when he saw her. The flying hair was eye-catching, that distinctive orange. He stopped. Willow and two other girls were doing the shake and shimmy ten feet away.

"There's a three-way in the making."

Jack turned, looked where he was looking. Immediately looked away. His gaze never clung to women. There was nothing the least bit bisexual about him, and he wasn't, Spike knew, the kind of queer who took an interest in female looks or accoutrements. Style didn't interest him much. Women were just non-men, as far as he was concerned.

"I know her. Gonna say hello. Meet you at the bar in a sec'."

Jack didn't drop his hand, though; followed him through the surging bodies to where Willow was. She caught sight of him before he reached her, and was smiling for him as he came up.

"Spike! What're you doing here?"

Suddenly her eyes were darting everywhere, even as she pretended to look straight at him.

"Same as you, Red." He introduced them, and suddenly felt so much like his old self, like William, it was uncanny. Not exactly déjà vu, but he felt an echo, as he said, "Willow, Jack," of his other voice—Miss Rosenberg, may I present Mr Baker?

"Hey." Willow gave him her little wave, and Jack nodded. Spike could feel the energy backing up in him. He hated the idea that Spike had prior connections in the human world. "Do you . . . do you come here a lot?"

Spike raised an eyebrow. "First time. You?"

"Yeah. I think it just opened over the summer."

Good thing you didn't end the world, then. No place to dance if you had. Jack tugged on his hand.

"Need beer."

The song changed, and Willow was already turning back to her companions. For a moment Spike wondered how it was that she could dance, and smile, when she had so much to mourn, so much on her conscience.

How could he? He glanced around at Jack, who wore his usual half-sullen, half-shy look. The place was full of magnificent men, but Jack looked at no one but him.



She saw them come to the other end of the long bar. Jack never left off touching him, looking at him. They got bottled beers, stood on the top step, taking long swallows, watching the dancers. Like she was.

Spike tipped his head back, the bottle at his lips. She had a clear line of sight, his profile, the bobbing of his throat as he drank. It affected her, right in the sweet spot. She almost buckled, so sharply did her clit twitch. His mouth on it, teasing, worshipping, and then when he'd just get to work, just go at her to make her come, see how many he could wring out of her before she begged him to stop, and he'd rest his head on her belly for that five minutes of peaceful afterglow before she kicked him away and fled.

They set their bottles on the bar. Jack was in front of him now, their foreheads together, he was tugging on Spike's belt loops. Drawing him down into the throng.

Again, she got to see them dance.

Again, the vision made her want to. . . well, not to die.

Not that.

Just to cry. To cry, and cry out, and smash things, and grab him, shake him, You're supposed to love me, you're supposed to be mine, never leave me, mine!

Made her want to take him. To jump his bones like she did that very first night, ride him until he forgot everything else but her.

It seemed like everybody around her was hooked up, one way or another. She felt ridiculous, one lonely little straight girl in a gay club, all the hormones and headiness whirling around her for nothing. One lonely little Chosen One, whose chosen one had chosen another.

She should go home.

"Hey."

Buffy started.

A woman stood beside her. A curvaceous brunette with a wicked little smirk. "I've been checking you out for the last five minutes, but you're working the thousand yard stare."

"Oh. Oh! Sorry."

She cocked her head. "Wanna dance?"

"Um . . . sure. Why not?"

The girl took her hand. Buffy almost jumped. I've had sex with TWO vampires, and a little girl-on-girl hand-holding is making me blush? Whoa.

Following her into the throng, she caught sight of Willow. She was dancing now with just one woman, and Buffy could see that there was major eye contact happening. This was one of those In The Moment moments. They'd finish the dance, then stumble out to her car . . . not even knowing each other's names, just knowing what they wanted. She looked around for Spike.

There. They were there. She tugged on her partner's hand. Suddenly she knew why she'd accepted this dance.



What the fuck? It was her. The Slayer. Jack tried to maneuver Spike so his back was to her, but he'd see her soon, regardless. He'd smell her. Spike had the most astonishing sense of smell.

He was looking forward to that, himself.

Almost as much as he was anticipating getting rid of . . . of all the things in his head that seemed to get heavier by the day. Things he didn't want to live with anymore. Spike could remove all that, Spike could make him new when he made him his.

Spike yanked him close, his fingers threaded into the belt loops at his sides, and buried his face in his neck. The music was fast, but they'd slowed down. Down into a grind, a grind done in their own private bubble. He closed his eyes. Didn't want to look at that blonde bitch, not while he was in his lover's hands, anticipating . . . anticipating the time—soon, soon—when they'd be equals, when they'd be one.



Holding Jack like this, caught in the trance of music, he could forget everything for whole minutes at a time.

Although, he supposed, the mere fact that he was thinking about not thinking about her indicated that . . . that he couldn't stop thinking about her. Even in this crush of mostly male bodies, the air heavy with the tang of masculine desire, there was something here of hers that touched him, that teased at . . .

Oh.

He raised his head, turned to look.

Well, surprise surprise.

The Slayer. Takin' a walk on the wild side.

And my my, she'd pulled quite a tasty bird on her very first try. He got a long appreciative look at the two of them before Jack interposed.

"Does she follow you everywhere? Or did you tell her we'd be here?"

"Neither, mate."

"I don't believe you." He stood still. "Wherever you are, there she is. She's in my way."

Spike glanced at him, and then his gaze slipped back to Buffy. Buffy's hips, Buffy's tits, her swaying hair. Her incandescence, her power, her mottled goodness. Her darkness that she still didn't understand, but that never left her. God, she was—

—his perfect mate. As he was hers. Had to be. This was destiny. If only she'd—

Give up on her. Give up, and focus on who you can have, on who wants you—

Forcing his eyes away, he turned back to—

Jack was gone.

He looked around, then tried to follow his scent, but the mass of dancers blocked him at every step, and by time he got to the club exit, he was nowhere to be found.

"Fucking hell."

"What's the matter, Spike?"

He turned. "Where's your girly?"

"Ditched her."

"Willow?"

"Willow's getting laid someplace. She took my car. Walk me home. We can do a short sweep on the way."



The night was cool. The air dried the sweat on her exposed skin quickly; she raised her arms, held her hair up off her nape, giving him—deliberately? he wasn't sure—a good snuff of her earthy musk, and a view of her pretty neck.

"Why are you doing this, Slayer?"

She glanced up at him. "Doing what?"

All at once, he felt too tired to have this conversation. Anyway, what was she going to say? That she loved him? Never. That she wanted his undivided attention, that it annoyed her to see him with someone else? That was obvious. Pointless to hear it. That was Buffy through and through. Everything was about her.

"What were you, before you met Drusilla?"

"What do you think I was?"

"I . . . I don't know. I never thought about it. But now I want to know. Some sort of laborer?"

His laugh made her jump. "What, you think I was a chimney sweep? A dancing one, maybe, like in Mary Poppins?"

She scowled. "I don't know! How am I supposed to know?"

"Right. History begins and ends with you. You don't know about anything that happened in this world before you were ten years old, do you, Slayer?"

"I know what I need to know." She stopped walking, and when he turned to her she came up so close she was nearly touching him, looking straight up into his eyes, her head tipped back. "And now I need to know this. Tell me, Spike. Who were you? Who was William?"

"A cut-purse and a cut-throat."

"No."

"No? I'm telling you what I was, Slayer. A thief and a thug and a pimp. Was notorious all over the East End. I ruled that—"

Her eyes lit up, and she poked him in the chest. He could see she had it now. "You're a totally lousy liar, Spike. You were, what—? A bank teller? A clerk? Something respectable. Respectable and dull."

Suddenly it didn't seem so important to him to deceive her, tease her. What difference did it make? "I was a barrister, actually. With no clients, and no money, and every likelihood of never having any."

"What's a barrister? Is that like a barista?"

He couldn't help but laugh. Her pig ignorance was both shocking and oddly refreshing. "Barrister's the kind of lawyer argues cases in court. In England, you've got your barristers, who go to court, and your solicitors, who—"

"Yeah, whatever. So were you queer then too?"

"Queer? There's a word I never thought to hear from—"

She frowned. "Willow says that's—"

"Oh, Willow. She should know."

"Answer the question, Spike."

Queer? Yeah, 'cause it sure was queer to always feel more than everybody else seemed to. "What're you really asking me, Slayer?"

She dropped her eyes, and started walking again. "Why's he here, Spike? Really?"

"He wanted me. Wants me. You know how that is, Buffy." He paused. "Fellow gets sweet on you, dogs you around, tells you he loves you, shows his devotion every way he can, and sooner or later you fall into bed with him just because he's always there. Doesn't mean anything. Just banging the bodies together, because that's what bodies wanna do."

"I can't believe you're still talking like that. I thought we'd—"

"Look, I told you we needed to think."

"Yeah . . . so?"

"So, I found out what kind of thinking you did. Or rather, that you really didn't think at all."

Again she stopped. Looked up at him. Puzzled, and then . . . . "You . . . oh no. You were there. That night, at my house. You were listening?"

"Told you it has nothing to do with him. Heard you pass sentence before he turned up."

"Spike, what you heard that night—it really wasn't—"

A car appeared, cruising slowly down the silent street. It pulled up, and Jack leaned out the window.

Spike went up to him.

"I was coming back for you."

"Good." He glanced around. "Need a ride, Slayer?"

She didn't move. Didn't answer. He walked around and got into the car.

A block from The Kickstand, waiting at a red light, Jack said, "I love you, but I dunno how much more of this I can stand."

Spike hated seeing him look so low. Jack knew, just as well as he knew, that Buffy held the strings of their affair. If she jerked them tight enough, in just the right way, she could yank him right up and out of it.

She wouldn't, but the possibility was constantly there, in both their minds. It was making Jack miserable. "I know, mate. Not how I'd have it, either."

"Why can't we—"

Spike couldn't let him say it. He grabbed him and stopped his mouth with his own.



Giles glanced up when the bell jingled. Anya managed the place on her own now, she was the one who'd done the gargantuan task of making the shop whole again after Willow's destruction. So he felt a bit edgy about his place in it, even though he was working. Cataloguing the remaining books. Making arrangements to replace the replaceable. Quietly mourning the irreplaceable.

He didn't expect to see Spike come through the door. Not at two o'clock in the afternoon. Although when had daylight ever stopped him from coming and going as he pleased?

He crossed the shop floor slowly. Giles saw him glance behind the counter. Looking for Anya, obviously, but she was in the basement. He came up to the round table where Giles sat before he spoke.

It took a moment to understand what was altered, because something certainly was, and he attributed it to the soul, until he realized that Spike wasn't wearing his leather duster. That was it. Without it, he walked differently, somehow.

"Hello, Rupert."

"Spike."

He looked at the book open on the table. It was a Greek translation of a more ancient Sanskrit text. When Giles glanced up, he saw his mouth moving. Then Spike pointed to the page. "I bet that's a mistranslation, that bit there. The whole passage makes beautiful sense 'til you get to that. Look." He began to translate it, his finger moving fluidly over the words as he spoke. "Then here's where it trips up."

"You . . . you know Greek?"

"Read Greats at Oxford, didn't I?"

Giles blinked. "Did . . . did you?"

Spike focused on him then. "I came in to tell you . . . whatever you lot need. I'll fight alongside her, that goes without saying. But anything else . . . the research. I . . . can do more than I ever let on about. I could make myself really useful, if you'll let me."

"You read Greats at Oxford." Giles stared. "You never said."

"Yeah, well. You never asked. Never asked me anything, did you? Sure I'd have nothing to offer. Got a first, too. I was a terrible swot. Never really forgot any of it, either. Funny thing, that . . . vampires, like elephants." He winced. More than winced, Giles thought, it was really a twitch.

"Sit down, Spike."

He did, and showed him a sickly smile. "Finding these days that I remember all sorts. Need diversion."

"What . . . what year did you take your degree?"

"'74."

"Which was your college?"

"Magdalen."

"Magdalen," Giles repeated.

"Don't tell me it was yours too."

Giles took off his glasses and polished them. "Some of the duffers they kept 'round there, I expect we had one or two dons in common as well."

"Might've been vampires, some of those old farts. Though I dunno who'd have wanted to turn 'em—none of 'em was very pretty."

Giles sighed and replaced his glasses. "Is that the determining factor then?"

"Was for me. I mean—I never turned anyone. But I think it's why they picked me out."

Giles raised an eyebrow. He wasn't sure whether to believe that Spike had never made another vampire—it seemed unlikely. But he sensed that interrupting now might shut him up, and he was very interested in what else he might reveal."Drusilla . . . wanted a new plaything. I was made to be that, and because Angelus an' Darla wanted someone to mind her when she was doo-lally, which was most of the time."

"Hmmm. But at Oxford. You must've known Wilde? He went up in '74."

"Met him, yeah." He shrugged. "Talked a blue streak, he did. Can't say as we took to one another." He stopped and turned his attention back to the book again. "Heard about what went down here. Lots of damage."

"Our collection was decimated."

"Shame, that."

Giles was amazed. The vampire's whole affect was different. How long was this going to last?

"Spike. Do tell me—what is it like, getting your soul back?"

He smiled slightly without looking up. "S'like someone holding you underwater 'til you drown—only you never actually drown. You just feel like you will. That pain and fear and your life flashing before your eyes— Just that. As a constant thing." He pulled the book towards him. "This is a lovely volume. You need this translated?"

"No. Not really. But there are things you could probably assist me with, if you'd like."

Giles watched him caress the page with the tips of his fingers. "Was Greek master at a little school near Reading for two years after I went down. Was never very good at keeping the boys' arses in their forms. Didn't like to have to thrash anyone, and they knew it. Called me Mooncalf behind my back. But when they got it—that was a joy to me."

Giles felt himself blushing, and wasn't quite sure why. The nakedness of Spike's remarks . . . was astonishing. And their nature: it was like being turned upside down and shaken. The old Spike would never have volunteered such information. He'd never given any thought to what William might have been, before. And had he been asked to hazard a guess . . . it wouldn't have been anything of this sort.

"If you liked it, why did you give it up?"

"Father always wanted me to read law. Once we had the fee to get me articled . . . it was back to London for me. Ate my dinners at Gray's Inn." He got up. "I thought Buffy would be here. Wanted a sparring partner."

"I expect her any time. She said something about a pedicure."

Spike smiled at that, his eyes still averted.

"Guess I'll wait then." He wandered away from the table. Standing by one of the cases, his back turned, he said, "Listen, Rupert. Don't expect it'll mean much to you, me expressing regret. But I want to say it. All the ways I was a thorn in your side, past few years . . . . Will make it up to you however I can."

The apology hit Giles in a soft spot he didn't realize he had. But the surprise of it wasn't that he made it at all. It was that he actually regretted the old Spike—the one who never apologized, never explained, never seemed to get the message that he wasn't liked or wanted, and yet was present at big times, making himself part of things in a way that now seemed to Giles terribly important. Good heavens, where was this odd sentimentality coming from? Nostalgia was such a tricky thing—you could feel it about anything.

So taken up was he with these thoughts that he forgot to answer. After a few moments, Spike moved towards the training room, and ran into Anya coming up from the basement with an enormous box blocking her view.

"You," she said, when he'd taken the box from her. "I'm not sure you're welcome here anymore, unless you've come to make a purchase. I've instituted a new no-loitering policy."

"Wouldn't call it loitering so much as table-polishin'," he said, grinning at her, "and no fear, s'not gonna happen again."

Well, Giles thought, he's not entirely gone.

Anya snatched back the box.

The bell over the door jingled. A young man floated in, looking around with a suspicious frown. Giles got to his feet. "May I help?"

"Just looking for—oh, there he is." He went straight for Spike.

That's him. Buffy had spoken about Jack, although she'd referred to him as Spike's roommate. It was immediately clear, the way the fellow touched the vampire's arm, and stood so close to him, that he was more than that.

Such a curious thing, Spike with a friend. A human friend, a . . . a lover. A man. And a handsome one too, cut more or less from the same mold, dark eyes cautiously hooded, shiny dark hair falling over his brow. Dressed in a black sweater with a high tight neck.

Buffy swung in then. "Hey Giles. Anya. Oh, Spike, good, you're here." She paused. "Jack. Hello."

"Hey," he said.

She swept past them all, to the training room door. Giles found himself drifting after. He wanted to observe this.

Buffy changed behind a screen; Spike pulled off his shirt. He was smiling now, looking quite like himself, in anticipation of a good brawl.

"What's he doing here?"

Xander stood in the doorway.



Spike looked slowly round. "Thought you knew I was back."

"Uh, yeah. Still, not really welcoming you, Bitey."

"That so? Do what you feel, boy."

Xander stepped forward. "If I was gonna do what I feel—" The punch he threw spun Spike's head around, made him stagger backwards.

"What the fuck—!" Jack leapt forward, caught Spike's shoulders, steadied him, but Xander was already on him again, with a right cross that sent him to the floor.

"You filthy raping murdering piece of shit—!"

A snarl rent the air, and suddenly Xander was bent back over the vaulting horse with fangs in his face.

"I'm off the bleedin' leash now—so don't you fuck with me." Spike let go even before Buffy grabbed and threw him across the room. He leapt up, golden eyes glittering, and held up his hands. "Wouldn't hurt him. Not gonna hurt anybody. But it's my choice now, right, so you all show some fucking respect."

Xander rubbed his neck and stared. "What the—what about the chip? There's no chip?" His voice angled up into a squeak, and he turned to Buffy. "You know about this?"

Giles glanced at Jack. He'd gone pale, and was breathing through his mouth, eyes riveted on Spike. Keen interest, but no astonishment, no fear. Fascination, and . . . desire. Suddenly he intuited what that turtleneck must be concealing, and shuddered.

Buffy blushed.

"Don't need the chip, got a manacle now's twice as tight," Spike said. "Slayer knows it."

Xander goggled at her. "When were you going to tell us—"

"I . . . didn't think it was necessary."

"Spike is all footloose and fangy-free and you didn't think telling us was necessary?"

She drew herself up, glowering. "I trust him not harm anyone. Part of that trust was not going around and warning everybody about a nonexistent threat."

"Nonexis—"

"Xander. You started this. And he didn't hurt you."

"I started nothing. I'm not the one who came to Sunnydale five years ago with mayhem on my mind."

Spike shook off the bumps and came up to Xander. "Things change. Anything's possible on the hellmouth, innit? Vampires experience remorse. Whining jilting idiots save the world."

"Who're you calling—"

"Xander," Buffy said. "I think he's thanking you, if you'd listen."

"Thanking—"

"Yeah," Spike said. "Mad props to you. You got things sorted when no one else could. Buffy told me all about it. Good on you."

Giles couldn't repress his own smile, watching Xander first pale and then redden. "Didn't do it for you," he mumbled, turning away.

"See the unconditional love's not so unconditional," Spike said, with a grin. "C'mon man. I love you."

"Fuck off."

"All right," Giles said, choosing that moment to step forward. "Buffy needs to get her training session under way now."

"Right." Spike wheeled and lunged at her. Buffy parried him, they feinted, he punched her, driving her back against the wall, and she recovered, slamming him back. He lost his footing, but was up in the next second and came at her again.

She ducked away, and turned. Spike circled her, but instead of punching, she held up her hands. "Stop."

"Stop?"

She raised her head and looked at him. "This isn't going to work. Spike, I don't want to do this with you."

He looked first puzzled, then amused. "Afraid you can't take it?"

"As if. I . . . don't want us to be trading blows."

"It's to build you up. Make you stronger, quicker. Keep you safe."

She turned her back on him. Giles saw her close her eyes, clench her hands. She murmured, "I just really don't want to touch you like that any more." She went to the hanging bag and began beating on it. Giles glanced at Spike, who looked lost, as if some fellow had cut in on him at a dance and waltzed off with his girl.

He took a hesitant step towards her. "B—Buffy?"

She spun around. "Spike. I said no."

She resumed punching the bag, so didn't see, as Giles did, the way his face fell. He stood for a moment, blinking, then went to scoop his shirt up from the floor. Without looking at Buffy again, he said to Giles, "Right. Thought I could help here, but apparently—I'm less use even than I thought."

He nodded at Jack, who had watched all this in silence, and then they were gone. Giles directed her through the rest of her three-hour workout, holding his peace until she was done stretching and collapsed onto the sofa.

"You left him pretty confused."

"Who, Spike?" She fanned herself with a magazine. "I thought it would be okay, working out with him, but after last year I really don't want to be beating on him any more." She paused. "I don't want to hurt him. Not even like that."

"I suppose that's . . . laudable, Buffy. But I don't believe that's how he took it," Giles said.

Walking home, she thought about what Giles said. How could Spike take it wrong? She'd been completely clear. She didn't want to hurt him, not even for practice, not even for fun, not for anything. What was there to misconstrue?



"She is in love with you. Why don't you take her."

"What, Kelly? She flirts like that with everything's got a dick."

"The Slayer."

"Look, I told you—" He'd stayed down in the bar for nearly an hour after closing, inventing chores for himself, expecting her to show up and take him on patrol. While Jack sat up here in the apartment, getting hammered. There were already four empty beer bottles on the table.

"Wouldn't fight you."

Spike opened a bottle for himself. "Bitch still thinks she's too good for me. Didn't even come 'round to collect me for patrol. Fuck her. Can do it by herself. Always has." He took a long swallow.

"Bitch doesn't want to touch you that way. You heard her. Guess she knows how she'd rather touch you. Guess you know too. Why don't you go to her?"

"Look my Jack, s'been a long night. Don't really fancy an argument right now."

Jack lurched to his feet. Came around the table. Dropped to his knees at Spike's feet. "She's never gonna do it for you, Spike. You need someone who's like you. We could be so good together . . . ."

He smiled, and put a hand into his thick hair. "We are good, lovely Jack."

"We could be even better. We could be perfect. We could be forever." His hands were at Spike's groin now, undoing the belt buckle, the buttons. Spike watched him wearily. He'd not been thinking of this a moment ago. Still, he couldn't resist. Whatever he felt about Jack—and he deliberately didn't try to categorize it—the response of his flesh to him was always immediate. The man excited him. Partly because he was a man, and much as Spike liked women, there was something uniquely just right about jouissance with a comely fellow who knew how to go about it. Part of the pleasure was in the roughness, the foregoing of niceties a woman expected. Ironic thing here was that Jack often went easier on him than Buffy ever had. He'd nail him to the mattress, nearly pull his insides out, and then an hour later deliver a prolonged rain of licks and kisses that made his skin melt, made him want to weep with melancholy pleasure at the lovingkindness of it. Jack's love enveloped them when they were together, even when they were only humping on the floor like dogs. It was so strong, focused as light through a prism that can set things on fire.

He recognized it thoroughly, because it was what he felt for her.

Spike lost track of thought now as Jack worked his will on his cock. Sipping at the beer, he kept his eyes fixed on the entrancing sight of his length slipping in and out of Jack's mouth. He slid lower in the chair, sighed.

Then Jack drew away, got to his feet, backed off a few steps. Began to take his clothes off—slowly, a tease. Bared his chest, undid the buttons of his jeans. Spike's fingers wanted to tangle in the hair revealed there.

Jack whispered. "Don't you want me, Spike?"

"You know I do." He filled his mouth with beer, rose and grabbed him into a kiss. Jack drank from his lips. Laughed a little, ducked his head, broke free. Backed off again.

"What are you going to do to me?"

"Gonna screw you blind. Gonna screw you 'til you plead, and then some more. Gonna dick you 'til you see stars." He reached, and again Jack backed off.

Spike grinned. "Gonna fuck you all night, an' you're not gonna come 'til I decide."



Jack watched with tipsy attention as Spike wrapped the long thin strip of leather around him. He was drunk enough to be loose and excited, but not so drunk as to be inattentive in any way. Spike wasn't drunk at all; his movements were nimble.

"My old sire liked to bind me up this way," he remarked, as he wound the leather in a firm lattice around the straining cock, beginning just behind the head. "He liked to do to me what I'm about to do to you." He blew against the moist tip of the cock, and then gave it a lick that made Jack jump.

"He'd fuck me for hours, drink his blood'n'brandy, smoke his cigars, and not afford me so much as a peck on the lips. Sometimes he'd put a gag in my mouth—but I'm not gonna do that with you, 'cause I want to hear you while I have you. He'd beat me too, but I shall spare you that as well. I needed a deal of punishment and correction when I was a young one. But the fucking me . . . that was all for his pleasure."

He glanced up from time to time as he worked, to see Jack's gaze riveted on him, his tongue caught between his teeth. His body trembled, but he stood still as he'd told him, his hands folded on the back of his neck. "He used to say I had a handsome mug but he liked me best with my arse in the air."

He tested the tension of the wrapping, then continued it around the balls, the hips, between the legs, around the waist. "He had a splitter on him the likes of which I've never seen since. You should be glad, my Jack, that it's me you're about to get, and not him. He'd tear live boys apart. I'd howl beneath him like I was dying, but the truth is I liked it. I liked it fine."

He knotted the thong, and sat back on his knees to survey it. "He'd roger me all day, Angelus would . . . an' leave me in the evening, still trussed up, to go out. Can you imagine what that's like? Your cock all hard and quivering and on the edge—hour after hour? Sometimes he'd bind my wrists and hang me by 'em from the drawing room ceiling, so I'd dangle there all night for the minions to peep in and laugh at. An' all I could think of in my humiliation is when he'd come back an' take me again. Whether I'd please him. Whether he'd let me spend at last while he was inside me. He taught me that way to come just from getting fucked. Nothing touching my cock. He taught me control, and the losing of it."

Spike rose then, put his mouth near his ear. "Shall I show you, my Jack? Shall I show you what it feels like to be all for another man's pleasure?"

He was trembling hard now. "I am."

"You are what?"

"For your pleasure. For you."



He'd lost all track of time. The sheets were soaked with his sweat; tears poured from his eyes, he jerked in each breath on a groan. He'd long since passed the point of collaboration, then of resistance, and finally of exhaustion; he was malleable as putty, a continuous surface for sensation. Knew Spike could feel his capitulation in every inch of skin. His heart was fluttering, and the fluttering was repeated inside him where Spike's cock was a tireless fulfilling assertion. They'd both lost all power of speech. From Spike's demon mouth, a rolling growl issued that shook him to his core, broke him open over and over, yet still it went on without ending. He felt they were floating, that they were somehow transformed into one creature, one beautiful terrible thing whose pulse was made by the rhythm of their coupling.

Impossible—an obscenity—to come down from this. This height mustn't be an apex—it must lead on.

Now would be the time to die.

To be reborn.

He bit his lip hard, felt the blood flow out, and caught Spike's mouth mid-growl. The growl turned to a roar, the mouth slipped from his own and then the sharp pain at the neck, the crunch that made him shake and cry out and burst the leather restraints to spend in clotted spurts that seemed to issue from there as well as his cock. Spike moved slower now, matching his thrusts to his pulls at the wound. Jack was too tired to move, and didn't want to. The pleasure was no longer a building one—it spread through him, soft and cottony like a fog. He closed his eyes, kept one hand tangled in Spike's hair. His hips still moved, but he was feeding now, really feeding.

Jack's mouth was dry, he couldn't seem to feel the hard cock inside him, or the weight of Spike's body. The euphoria spreading from the crook of his shoulder had nearly reached his finger's ends, but he hung on to the back of Spike's head.

". . . Spike. . . give it to me . . . from your lips . . ." He wanted Spike's magically transforming blood in a kiss, as he'd aroused the bloodlust that started this ritual. Wanted to suck it in from his lover's mouth, drift away into death with their tongues entwined even as their bodies were. So as to come back entwined for all time. Strong as him, beautiful as him, inseparable forever. It was happening. It was going to happen—

But Spike raised his head. The golden eyes gleaming, the fangs stained red. Jack parted his lips. Spike growled again, a sound that coursed through him—electric.

"More—take more. Take it all—"

Spike only grinned. The feeling was coming back into Jack's limbs. Spike's mouth was at his neck again, but he only licked the wound, sealing it, making him wriggle at the wet soothing sensation. Then he thrust harder, again and again, and seized up with a deep groan.

It was over.

Spike collapsed and rolled off.

He was still alive.



Damn. Spike stretched and smiled. When Jack was good, which was always, he was very very good . . . A gorgeous fuck, and his blood, deliciously chockful of his excitement . . . . He waited in the dark for him to come back to bed. Heard water running, then his steps as he came out. He stood at the foot of the bed, the bathroom light behind outlining him gloriously naked and tousled. Bloody hell, he was hot. Could imagine going another round with him right now, even shagged out as he was.

He extended a hand. "Come back, my beauty. Have a cuddle."

"Why won't you give me what I want?" He spoke in a raspy near-whisper. "You know I love you. Need you. Want to be yours."

"You are, my Jack. C'mere." He started to sit up.

Jack put a hand to his throat, dug his nails into the barely-closed wound. At once Spike smelled the flowing blood. He jumped up, snatched Jack's hand away. "Stop it! What are you doing? Leave that be." He brought his lips to it, sealed it again with his tongue. Jack clung to his shoulders, sobs rising up in him like hiccups.

"Spike—please. I want it. This is what I need. It's what we both need, so we can be together. C'mon, man, free me—"

Spike looked then into his lover's face, glistening with sweat. Jack was breathing just as hard now as he had a quarter hour ago in bed. Spike put his arms around him, rocked him gently, kissed his hair. Free me. He had no idea what he was asking for, but he was asking, and the demon inside him was screaming to have its will, bouncing crazily around the cage of his soul, surging through the bars.

He was struck all at once by how futile this was. Caring for the mortal Jack would lead—where? To absence, and loss. Just like fixating on Buffy . . . who'd died and would die again. Anyone he loved would fade and die, in a span of years that seemed to him a mere handful.

But here was this man, who understood him at least as much as anyone ever had. Wanting to be his mate forever. Wanting to share his days and nights, his condition, his fate. What if he sired him, took him outside of time the way he was outside of time?

No more loneliness, that bane of his endless existence. A companion to bolster him against the enormity, the despair, of Eternity.

Except that companion would be unclean, his warmth gone forever. A monster, feral, soulless.

Jack was sobbing on his shoulder. The demon inside him paced and wailed, cajoling, coaxing, offering relief. Just take the man. Take him, make him, have him forever! The love was real, and love would survive the turning, he knew that full well. Who cared for a soul when there was endless passion promised? Screw the conscience—what could the conscience say against it, when the human was begging for it?

Spike held him, and wished his arms and chest were warm. "My Jack, listen. Please . . . if you love me . . . don't ask me for that again. Not to kill you in cold blood, not to make you into a unclean brute. I can't do that. And it's not what you really want."

For one moment, he clung to him harder, and Spike thought he understood.

"I know you hurt, but it won't end your hurt. We can be together without that."

"I want to be like you. I want to be what you need. It could be so beautiful, if you'd just—"

"Can't do it. Come back to bed pet, we'll have a sleep. You'll feel better for a sleep."

Jack crossed the room, grabbed up one of the beer empties, smashed it on the table. "You can do it. Here, I'll make it easy for you."

He slashed his own throat with the jagged edge.

Blood splashed on the table, the wall.

Spike was rooted to the spot. His brain seized up; the whole room seemed to flicker, as if a flash was going off over and over. When Jack sank to his knees, the strobing went on, he seemed to move slowly, in tiny increments. The air turned to blood, so rich was the smell; inside him, the demon, so recently sated, surged forward, ravenous again.

Spike shook himself, started towards him. No—not the thing to do. He rounded, grabbed up his jeans and boots, and threw himself at the door.



Buffy followed the sound of weeping up the stairs and into the room. It took a minute, after the bright sunlight of the early morning, for her eyes to adjust to the gloom.

Spike, dressed in nothing but jeans, was curled on his side on the disordered bed. Wracked by sobs, holding a large shard of broken glass in one hand, and using it to score his chest. Fresh bright blood welled up in the path of the cuts. His skin was already criss-crossed with dripping lines. She surged forward, grabbed the glass and tossed it away.

"What are you doing?"

"Give me what I deserve. I can't . . . can't do it myself . . . too lily-livered . . . should walk out there . . . can't . . . . Please—just do it now."

When he'd called her at the house, a little over a half hour ago, he'd been barely coherent. All she'd gathered was that Jack had been taken away in an ambulance, and he needed her. She'd not paused to question him. Now here she was, to find him in a disordered room reeking of sex and the salty tang of spilled blood.

"Spike, what is this?"

"He wanted it, he always wants it . . . it's not his fault . . . all my doing. I bit him." He put a hand to his throat.

"Oh—Oh God. Spike, he—?"

He yanked himself up into a sitting position. "Buffy— I'm no good. Even with a soul, I'm no good. Please—"

"What? You . . . you want me to stake you?"

"For pity's sake Slayer—"

"Shut up! This is disgusting!" She paced a couple of times, trying to gather her wits. "They took him to the hospital? Why are you still here?"

"Only phone's down in the bar. Hid there 'til they came and went. Didn't know how to explain."

"So he's dead."

Spike covered his face in his hands.

Buffy felt wild. If Jack was dead—if Spike had killed him—she'd have to slay him. There was no choice.

She'd believed the soul kept him leashed; he'd said as much numerous times. She'd believed him, like a dope.

All at once, she felt like crying. Spike was just one disappointment after the next, and this one . . . this one was the end.

"What's his name? His last name? I'm calling the hospital. If he's dead, so are you."

How many people in town, she wondered, had Sunnydale General on their cell phone speed dials?

"He's called Baker."

She turned her back on him. He was white as chalk, shaking with silent sobs, it was unbearable. He'd killed. Oh God, he'd killed.

First things first. She spoke to the hospital.

Learned that John Baker had been admitted, had received a transfusion, was in stable condition.

Spike was stretched out again on the bed, looking at the ceiling as if he was reading it.

"You're off the hook this time," she said. As soon as the words were out, she wanted to snatch them back. Off the hook? What, just because the guy hadn't actually bought the farm?

She stepped closer. "Why'd you do it, Spike?"

"Because he invited me in. Because I am a vampire." He closed his eyes then. He was trembling.

She thought he was going to start in again about her slaying him, but suddenly he was sitting up, his energy changed. "So he's alive. Got to go look after him, then. He's got no one else but me."



Momentum carried her through pulling the DeSoto into the alley so he could run down under a blanket and jump in, and driving him to the hospital. Spike was doing a perfect impression of a man who is distraught after his lover has a terrible accident. It wasn't until they were at the door of Jack's room that it occurred to Buffy that it wasn't such a good idea to let Spike near the man again. So he could—what? Finish killing him?

Spike approached him slowly. Jack was so pale. Dots of sweat on his upper lip. Eyes sunken and ringed in grey. His neck swathed in a large bandage.

Buffy watched from the doorway, her hand wrapped around the stake concealed discretely up her sleeve. It was a double room, but the other bed wasn't in use.

Spike leaned forward and touched his hand. Jack's eyes opened, and took a moment to focus.

"Hey mate."

"Spike." His voice was a breathless whisper. Had Buffy not been able to see his lips move, she wouldn't have made out what he was saying at all. He looked embarrassed. "This . . . this isn't how it was supposed to go. You were supposed to take . . . take me . . . ."

The way Jack looked at him, Buffy thought, was not the way a man looked at his murderer.

"Yeah, well . . . told you when we first met. Not turning anyone."

Oh God.

Spike was holding his hand, and spoke with the impossible gentleness she knew well from certain conversations of their own. He dragged the chair closer with his foot and sat. Brought Jack's hand to his lips and kissed the knuckles. "No more of this, pet. It's not pleasant. Makes neither of us happy."

"I wanted—"

"You don't bleedin' know what you wanted."

"I do. I want—"

"Hush. S'my fault. My fault for taking up with you at all."

Jack's gaze shifted then. He saw her. A look of such—anger, disdain, resentment, Buffy wasn't sure what it was exactly, except that it hit her like a blow to the face. "What's she doing here?"

Spike hesitated. "Slayer gave me a ride is all."

"Goddamnit—why's she always around—!" The strain of speaking caused him terrible pain. He fell back against the pillow, gasping.

"Ssssh, pet." Spike glanced around at her. "Maybe you'd better—"

She nodded and withdrew. At the nursing station, again saying she was his girlfriend, she asked the attending physician about Jack.

"Was he depressed lately, Ms, Ms—"

"Uh, Winters. My name is Anne Winters. He, um, like I said, we weren't seeing a lot of each other. But yeah, I guess he was kind of down." She paused. "Why? I thought he—"

"Well, I'm sorry to have to tell you this. Suicide is never easy to talk about."

"Suicide?"

"Mr Baker cut himself with a piece of broken glass. It was clear from the angle, the wound was self-inflicted. The shard was in his hand when the paramedics found him."

Buffy's mind reeled. "Self . . . self-inflicted?"

The doctor frowned, checking his notes. "There were other lacerations to the neck too—bites. With some scarring. One bite was fresh." The doctor gave her a pointed look. "Care to tell us anything about that? The bites suggest an animal of some sort, but the shape—"

"I don't know. Sorry. Jack and I didn't see a lot of each other lately, like I said."

"The bites are troubling, but they're not what landed him here. The psychiatrist on call will be in to speak to him later. He'll ask about that."

Self-inflicted. The guy had slit his own throat, because . . . why? Because Spike wouldn't kill him.

What was it with Spike and the crazies? They flocked around him like—

For the next hour she regaled herself with 5 month old issues of Us in a small waiting room down the corridor. No one intruded to disturb her immersion in the love lives of Jennifer Aniston and Julia Roberts until Spike reappeared. He slumped into one of the plastic chairs opposite.

"You came this close to your last day on this earth."

He shook his head. Looked, she thought, like someone had clobbered him with a mallet.

Like he hadn't slept in about an eon.

Like he had when she found him in New York.

She hated that.

He was a monster, and even struggling not to be a monster, he was a monster. She wasn't supposed to care about him. So why did she?

"First you bit him and then he slit his own throat?"

"Biting had to do with sex, not death."

"To you, maybe."

"We discussed this before. He liked . . . liked to feed me. Got off on it. There's worse kinks in kinkdom."

She wondered then, not for the first time, why, in the midst of all the insane sex they'd had, he'd never gone into game face. Hadn't he wanted to? Was it a question of not even daring to go there? Now was not the time to ask.

"Like ripping your own neck open with a piece of broken glass?"

Spike shook his head. "Poor man's deathwish casts a shadow long as the Empire State."

"Which you glommed onto and encouraged."

" . . . no. Not . . . not as such. Told him our very first night that I'm not making any converts—"

She leaned forward. Time to talk turkey. "But the first time you ever had him, you bit him. And yeah, I get that it was consensual. Only now when you fuck, he wants the bite. He craves it. So he followed you cross country to get his fix. You've made him your pet. Don't lie to me, Spike."

He held open his hands. "Not lying. Not denying a bit of it. Just sayin'—he was like that when I found him."

"Broken."

"Yeah."

"You always did like to play with broken toys." She got to her feet. "At least Drusilla and I were a little more sturdy."

"Buffy. Wait. It's not like that. Didn't pick him out for—he chose me. Never meant to prey on him. Never thought of him that way at all."

"No? Enlighten me." She wanted to believe him. She needed him to be innocent—well, not innocent, he was never ever that. But clear-eyed, remorseful. She needed to hear a lot of remorseful.

"This summer . . . I was in despair. I needed someone to punish me, I needed to suffer in my body the way I was suffering . . . here . . . ." He touched his chest, his forehead. "Jack was one of many who gave me that, but. . . Jack saw me. None of the other men I went with did. He wanted me to stay, he wanted to know me. He hurt me like I needed . . . but we consoled each other afterwards. We fit together. I didn't have to struggle with him, Buffy. I didn't have to beg."

She wanted to walk away from him then. She wanted to punch him. He was making this about her, about how she'd treated him all last year, and it wasn't fair. Except she knew, it was about her. There was no help for that. She'd touched him first. She couldn't just walk away.

"After I left him . . . he thought of me. He thought of me, Buffy, and came to find me. Not my fault he found me . . . unattached. This time, it's different. Jack . . . he likes me to hold him. He likes to lie with his head on my shoulder. Likes to read with me, and ask me questions about myself no one else's ever bothered to. And when we walk out together, he always wants to put an arm around me. Make sure everyone sees we're together. Can't help it, can I, if I enjoy being made much of for once in my unlife."

The so wrongness of this made a bitter taste in the back of her throat. "Spike . . . he's using you."

He winced. "Buffy . . . don't try that."

"No. He—he's using you like a junkie." Sort of like I did, but to the power of ten. "C'mon Spike, you know that, you feel how messed up that is."

"Yeah, I feel it. I feel all of it. But he . . . he's in love with me. Gotta keep faith with him."

His face when he said this, his inability to meet her gaze. She felt as if something was crushing her windpipe. "Spike, he's broken."

"Maybe a broken man's love is even a little sweeter." He got to his feet. "Gonna go back and sit with him. He was asleep, but I expect that won't last." He rose. "Don't want to leave him alone. It's . . . it's terrible to be alone."



"Do you like grapes?"

The man's eyes, which were sunken enough to make him look dead, opened.

"I brought you some, is why I ask. Oh, I'm Willow. I'm . . . I'm a friend of Spike's. Remember? We met at that club."

Of course he was looking at her like she was a donut short of a dozen. The decision to come here was an impulsive one, she realized that. But when Buffy told her the story, something hit her. The being really destructive and stupid because you were sad and couldn't get your way something. Why did people have to do stuff like that? She wished her own terrible deeds could stand as an example to all, spare everybody else the experience.

She knew life didn't work like that.

So here she was, offering a pound of red seedless to this bizarre guy Spike was screwing, even though he was a total stranger and she wasn't even sure if Spike was really a friend or not. Since her own Thing, though, she was tending to put ambiguous people on the good side of the line. It seemed safer that way.

Anyway, she knew all about lonely these days, and it stood to reason that a guy from out of town, whose only connection was with a vampire, would be pretty lonely after his big suicide attempt.

No one had actually sentenced her to community service, but still, she felt an obligation.

Willow tore the paper bag so that the grapes were exposed, and placed them on the bed near his hand, then sat in the chair. The room was flooded with afternoon sun, so no need to ask where Spike was. Buffy said he'd stayed with Jack all day yesterday, until they kicked him out, and then snuck back in and sat with him most of the night. They'd met up for a patrol at four in the morning, and he was probably at home asleep now.

"I guess it's kind of hard to talk, with your . . . the throat cuttage and all. You know, you probably don't want to hear this . . . you're probably mad that I know about it. But I just wanted to tell you . . . you really don't want to be a monster. I was one last spring—I almost destroyed the world. And . . . it sucked. I mean, I did it because my girlfriend got killed right in front of my eyes. The pain was so immense I couldn't process it. I was already a powerful witch, but that just kicked me into overdrive. I went berserk. I hurt everybody I love. Not so easy to come back from something like that. People say they'll forgive you, but . . . And . . . setting out to be a vampire like that . . . hurting yourself . . . all I can say is, there's got to be some other way. I think . . . I think there's always some other way."

"Do you."

"And, Spike. He's a strange one. Volatile. I don't think I'd really rely on him for anything. I mean, he's not someone I'd want to build a life around, or, an unlife, or whatever. Not that he isn't smart and brave, and he can be really nice when he wants to be, but also, he's evil. Maybe not so much now he has a soul, but evil can get to be a habit."

"Huh."

She stopped. The guy was listening to her, even if he wasn't really reacting. Still, a lot of people, Giles, the coven, had said all kinds of things to her in those early days that hadn't made much impact at the time, but she'd thought of a lot since. Messages she was glad she'd received. Jack might be glad, in a day or two, a week or two, that someone had come along to warn him about what he was trying to get himself into.

"Plus, being a vampire? Really not as fun as it looks. Especially around here, with Buffy being the slayer. Not much gets by her, Jack. Fledglings, especially. Every night she goes out, and every fledgling she sees—bada bing, bada boom. So, prospects for longevity, not so good. Not to mention . . . like I said . . . being evil, really not so consoling as you'd think."

"I see."

"So, ah . . . is there anything you want? Have a grape. I brought my travel Scrabble board, or I could go get you some magazines . . . ."

"Where's Spike?"

"I don't know. Probably sleeping, that's what he does in the day."

"With her."

"Sleeping with Buffy? Oh, not anymore—I mean, no! I mean—I'm sure he's just sleeping. Forty winks." She grabbed a grape. "I bet he'll be here after sundown."

"Yeah . . ."

"When do they let you out?"

"Day after tomorrow. They have me on psych evaluation"

"Oh! Oh, that's good . . . I mean, not the evaluation, but the getting out so quick."

God, the poor guy. It occurred to her now that he probably had no insurance, no money. Where was he going to go, except back to Spike?

She touched his hand. "Look, I know it's none of my business . . . but if you've got friends back in New York . . . you should go home. Is there anybody I can call for you? You have family anywhere?"

He dipped his eyelids in a way that implied no.

She got to her feet. "I'll get out of your face. But think about it. The hellmouth's hard enough on us who've been here all the time. If you've got any other place to go, you should go there . . . ."



"So the man's alive."

"Yeah. It wasn't Spike who hurt him. He did it to himself. Apparently because Spike wouldn't." She looked at Giles, wishing, for the millionth time in the years she'd known him, that he'd come up with something to tell her that would explain away this miserable human perversity, make the world a simple, basically safe place.

Except the miserable human perversity he'd have to explain to her first would be her own. And she wasn't quite ready to hear about that.

Predictably, Giles took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.

"Poor man should've stayed in his classroom."

"Huh? What classroom? Jack's not—"

"I was referring to Spike, actually. The other day he told me he'd spent a couple of happy years in his youth teaching Greek to little boys."

Buffy sat down. Her head felt suddenly airy—not quite dizzy, but next door to it. "Greek."

"His father insisted he go into the law, hence his return to London."

"He told me that. He was a barist—no, that's the wrong word. What is the word? It's right on the tip of—"

"Had he defied him . . . interesting to think. He'd never have met Drusilla. Remained an obscure, but . . . presumably content . . . schoolmaster."

She heard this with a pang. Which didn't make sense—how could you miss what you'd never conceived of? If there was no Spike, she'd never feel the want of him. For all she knew, some great love of her life was forever unknown to her because he'd been hit by a car twenty years ago in Uttar Pradesh.

But there was Spike. The way he always looked at her, when she asked him if he loved her. She'd ask, refusing to believe in his answer, even as she reveled in that look. In his mouth on hers. In the incredulous joy on his face when she touched him.

Which wasn't enough. Which was why he'd plumbed instead for crazy Jack, who made no secret of himself, who held nothing back. Not even his life blood.

"I don't know what to do about this."

"Is there anything for you to do?" Giles said. "Mr Baker is an adult. His problems . . . really aren't in our jurisdiction. They're not of a supernatural nature."

"But he is in my jurisdiction. He's—" in thrall to my vampire "—he's here because of me."

"I don't see that."

"Maybe you could visit him, Giles. Talk to him. Man to man. Give him some advice."

"Buffy, I really don't think that would be either appropriate or efficacious."

"But Spike—"

"You tell me Spike is looking after him. He has a soul now, Buffy, which means he must look to his conscience to tell him how to act. We're not his guardians, his or Mr Baker's."

"I know. Except, I told him, when we were traveling together, that I'd help him."

"Which you are doing. Lending moral support—"

"Okay," Buffy said. "Okay."



She lay there, the bride he'd snatched from beneath the noses of her own wedding party, in a tumbled heap of tulle and roses and veiling, her throat ravaged, and stared up at him. Before, he'd left her there in the quiet service corridor, passing nearly quicker than the eye could register down through the bowels of the great hotel and out onto the night street, blending with the thick Manhattan crowds. Belly full, bright and omnipotent. But this time her eyes would not release him. Big green eyes, her careful make-up ruined by tears. "My whole life for one night's meal," she said. "My whole life, so you can fuck your dead mistress another time." She wasn't supposed to be able to talk, not anymore, and she wasn't supposed to be able to move, not to grab onto his trouser leg with her small manicured hand and not let go. Her torn throat gaped and her lips moved. The flowers of her diadem absorbed the blood he'd let spill, not bothered to drink up. "I didn't even get to dance with my new husband." Before, he'd lifted her skirts and yanked off the blue garter from her right leg, brought it home to Drusilla. Now he just stared at her, imprisoned in her vise-grip, in her streaming dead-alive eyes. Stared and trembled and could not move, penetrated by horror, and she was getting up, she held a stake, she was the slayer, she—



His own cry woke him with a jump. He struggled with the sheet as if it was her dress.

When he opened his eyes, he saw her.

Sitting forward in her chair, elbows on knees, hands clasped, tense as a whippet.

"Jesus, woman, what are you doing here?"

Her mouth turned down at the corners. "I just checked on him again at the hospital. Willow visited him, y'know. She says he's all right, basically, except for being loony as a bag of cats. Which is pretty much what the nurse said too. Well not the loony part."

"He's not loony. I know about loony. He's just sad."

She shrugged. "Sad enough can make you do the wacky. Ends up being the same damn thing, when it makes you slit your own throat. What are you going to do about him?"

He wanted to say, What do you care? but that wouldn't be what he meant. It was more something like why do you care, because he really didn't get it. She'd never felt the least bit of responsibility towards him before this summer, and he couldn't wrap his mind around the change. Suspected she couldn't either, which would explain all the inconsistencies.

"Gonna look after him."

She swung up, crossed the room. From the bed, the smelly sheet pulled up to his shoulder, he watched her. She got the blood jar out of the fridge, poured some into a mug. Set it in the microwave.

"Don't."

She glanced around. "What?"

"Don't . . . don't wait on me, Buffy. S'not right."

"Shut up, Spike." She said it wearily, but not unkindly. He flopped back against the pillow, suffused with not understanding her, not wanting her there, not wanting her to go. She'd watched him sleep . . . watched him convulse in nightmare, heard him cry out. That was what stirred her pity, which he didn't want.

The smell of the hot blood when she popped the microwave door roused his hunger. He sat up.

"Here." She placed the mug in his hands, didn't let ago until she was sure he had a good grip. Resumed her chair, and fidgeted.

"You look . . . different when you're sleeping."

"I look dead." He frowned at her. What was she up to? What if he told her to go?

God, the sweetness of her. Sitting here, quiet, not disturbing him. She'd never never have done that before. Never have come to him when the trouble wasn't hers.

"Spike, I asked you back here for a reason." She paused. "And you came back for a reason."

"But not the same reason."

She glanced up at the ceiling. "You know which one I'm talking about. You've got a job to do here."

"Look, I'm not going to hurt him anymore. Not going to bite him, not taste his blood again, no matter how much he asks for it."

"I believe you. But you've already poisoned him, and now he's poisoning you. Cut your losses before this turns into Drusilla part deux. Protect your soul."

". . . my soul." He winced. "Tell me, does your conscience torment you all the time like—"

"When you're born with one, you just kind of incorporate it." She paused. "But yeah, some stuff . . . bothers me."

"I was born with one. Just . . . mislaid it for a long time." He drank. "My mother raised me right."

"Did she?" She gave her head a quick shake. "I really wish you hadn't overheard that night—"

What? What was this? She was zig-zagging. It took him a second to catch up, to realize she was harkening back to that Scooby meeting he'd listened to from her lawn. He had to laugh at himself sometimes. At her. It was straight out of Wuthering Heights. All that dark passion.

Still, remembering that made him want to throttle her. Even as he acknowledged it was just what he deserved.

"—because it wasn't exactly what I meant, and it wasn't fair—to either of us—and it's just. Complicated."

She was about to zag off again. Love sucked. She was capable of prevaricating forever.

"Complicated, yeah."

"And the thing is . . . I think I know what I want, I mean, I have these flashes where I really feel it, but then—I just get numbed out. It's like, I forget how to feel anything. It's not just about you. I'll look at Willow, or at Dawn, and all I can think is—there's a job I have to take care of."

He reached for her then. "Oh, Buffy."

"Okay." Ignoring his extended hand, she took a deep breath. "What are you going to do about him?"

Spike dropped his arm. "Already told you. Can't abandon him. Got to do right by him. I'm all he's got."

She turned her head. "Spike . . . send him home."

"Might not be so easy, petal. He's in love with me, and I . . . I'm not gonna do anything to make him sorry about that."

"Fuck you, Spike!" She leapt out of her chair so quickly it tipped over. "Stop rubbing my nose in everything I did! I can't have all your actions be my fault."

Something inside him groaned. He put the mug down. "Just trying to do the right—"

"Shut up! You of all people don't know squat about right and wrong!"

"Think you'd better go, Slayer."

She left then without another word.



"Make him what I deserve. That's what that stupid vampire asked for! What I deserve! He's a moral toddler! Do I deserve having to be his keeper? Watching his every move? As if I don't have enough to do."

"No," Willow said. "Of course not."

"And then he has the nerve to say . . . ." Buffy stopped. To say I won't abandon him, he's got no one else. To say, I don't want to do anything to make him regret loving me.

To say, I'm here, Spike's listening.



Something inside her was twisting, folding back on itself in an endless loop like one of those moebius strips. It was her stance on him. Easy to say his soul made him the moral toddler, but after the year she'd had, what did that make her?

"What?" Willow said.

Buffy snapped out of her reverie. "He . . . he has the nerve to show me up."

"Show you—"

"He . . . learned a thing or two. From what happened between us. And now he's applying it, and . . . I don't like that. Getting my nose rubbed in it. Don't like having to admit he—he can be kinder than I am." She sniffed. "Maybe. A little."

"Oh, c'mon. So he's all Mr Scrupulous-Come-Lately with this one guy he's banging—who is, by the sound of it, a total fruit loop—but how does that compare to you, being the selfless savior of the multitudes? Not to mention—you're a good friend, Buffy. Since when does Spike have any friends?"

"I know. I know. But it's not so simple."

Willow made all the right Willow-noises, patted her back, and pattered off to make tea and toast—since her return, the universal solvent, apparently, along with butter and lemon curd, for all problems major or minor. Buffy stayed where she was on the sofa, staring at her fingernails. My mother raised me right, he'd said. Which was just the sort of thing any psychopath could come out with, but now she wondered. Easy to say he still had no moral compass, or that it was skewed wrong. Too easy. Yuck—these thoughts made her all squirmy inside. Easy to say his involvement with Jack was a big mistake, but she couldn't pretend it wasn't a two-way street. God knew she'd gotten involved with men for all the wrong reasons more than once. And here he was being Mr Responsible about it, rather than just walking away like she'd told him—wanted him—to. Like she'd tried to do herself.

Still don't see how this big mess has anything to do with what I deserve, she grumbled, as Willow came back with the tray.

"You shouldn't run yourself down on the kindness front," Willow murmured, pouring out. "I mean—you forgave me, and . . . and I know that was hard for you." Handing the cup, she looked into Buffy's eyes. "You did forgive me, right?"

"Are you unsure?" Buffy asked.

"Sometimes . . . I get this feeling that . . . you're uneasy with me."

"Willow, no . . . ."

"I mean, it's okay. Why should I get off scot-free? Everything's different now, I know that. I have a lot to prove, to live down. But—don't get mad if I say this—please don't be afraid of me. You never have to worry about me again."

Suddenly the cup and saucer in her hands felt enormously heavy; she almost dropped them. Her heart skipped a beat and she had to breath.

"Hey—" Willow said.

"No, it's okay." Buffy forced herself to smile, to sip. "I'm fine."



Jack could speak now without much pain, but he didn't seem to want to talk, which was good, because Spike wasn't up for much talking himself. They lay snuggled together in the cranked-up bed and watched soap operas all afternoon. Jack was still a little feverish and funky, which made him even pleasanter to hold. All warm and redolent and alive.

Spike told him so.

"I can't believe you're still here."

"Where would I go, pet?"

"Anywhere except stick with me."

"Ssssh."

Jack slipped a hand under the hem of Spike's teeshirt. That heated moist touch on his belly hurtled him back to his childhood, the mustard plasters Mother gave him when he had stomach aches. She'd make him lie quiet on his bed, murmuring reassuringly about growing pains, while the plaster got hotter and hotter, until he'd writhe beneath it and beg her to lift it off. He never could figure out if the plaster was meant to make him feel better, or to hurt more than his stomach, so he'd keep quiet about it rather than complain.

This hot touch made him sigh. Jack caught the sigh against his lips, gave it back. They kissed without moving, except that the hand slowly undid the top button at his waist, spidering down.

There was a strange sort of serenity in being with Jack, whom he cared for and desired even now that he'd done this outlandish thing. Because what he felt for him was not love, not like he felt for Buffy, which was enormous and had no serenity in it, no peace, no promise of satiety. Endless hunger. He worshipped her righteousness, her strength, her darling girlishness, her mystery and power. With Jack it was all so much smaller. More ordinary. But small could be cozy, could be a comfort. Small was human.

Spike hoped he'd frightened himself enough to give up the idea of being turned. They might get along all right that way.

Jack's kisses were tasty; he knew just how Spike liked to be tasted, fed upon, led and followed. His hand freed Spike's cock, played with it in a way that was lazy and purposeful at the same time. He lifted his head, so they could see each other. Jack smiled. That look again, that Spike craved like blood. So affectionate. Hopeful.

He smoothed Jack's hair back from his temple, where the skin was so fine Spike could see the blood moving beneath it. "Lovely boy."

"No, you."

Jack's gaze flickered, as if he'd suddenly gone shy. He lowered his head and took the cock in his mouth.

Spike wished he could split himself into two. One to stay with Jack. Look after him, satisfy him, be . . . be what?

The other to do nothing but await the slayer's pleasure.

That was the thing. With Jack, what would he be? He'd not come this far, not been thrust full of burning soul, in order to be the temptation and crutch of a strange unhappy young man. But his conscience, so new-minted and sharp, told him he could not walk away from this man who needed him; a dependency he'd created.

Yet he was meant to serve the slayer. If need be, in disappointment, in torment, in penance, in grief.

Jack made no sound as he sucked him off, and he too stayed quiet, listening to the thump of his lover's heart, to the sounds of the hospital on the other side of the heavy wooden door. It was as if they were underwater together. Time dripped slowly, like rainwater off a leaf. Softly stroking Jack's hair, oily from four unwashed days, as his mouth moved gently up and down the shaft, tongue swirling around the head, then concentrating on the crucial spot beneath. The pleasure building in slo-mo, contained, not wild. His demon far down, sleeping undisturbed.

He spent with a single gasp.

Jack moved up and kissed him again. They rested against each other, both sleepy now. He did up his buttons. They drowsed. The squeaking of rubber on linoleum alerted him to the arrival of the nurse.

"How're you two love birds doing in here?" She started to take Jack's temperature with the ear thermometer.

"He's still warmish," Spike said.

"I guess you'd know." She nodded at the way Jack, who was still asleep or pretending to be, lay twined against him. The first day she and the other nurses had tried to keep Spike out of the bed, but by now they'd either given up, or like this one, changed their minds about it. Spike had overheard her telling the psychiatrist, out in the hall, about what good care he took of Mr Baker.

From some angles, sure, it looked that way.

"Dinner's coming along in ten minutes," she said. "Maybe you want to go get yours, William."

He smiled for her. Late at night, when things were quieter, he'd steal down to the blood bank and liberate a couple of pints. Until then, he could wait.

When she was gone, Jack opened his eyes. "She's nice."

"Want to be alone a bit, pet?"

"No. Not unless you—? Stay with me."

Spike put the TV back on. They lay back and watched the news.



Jack couldn't sleep. They played cards. Outside, the full moon lit the room with a white glow, quite sufficient to see their hands; they didn't bother with the lamp. Spike's flask passed back and forth between them in a leisurely way.

"Better leave that alone," Spike murmured.

He'd been saying that two or three times an hour, as Jack's hand crept up to the incision, uncovered now.

"Itches."

"I know." Spike threw out a card.

A thought came to him, he raised his head. "What about the bar? We lost our jobs."

"Not yet. Hollis got a sub for me. Kelly's working the kitchen. But I told him we'd be back on tomorrow night. You up to it?"

Jack was to be released from the hospital later that day—in the early afternoon.

He shrugged. "Sure. Lucky for us, I guess. Thought we'd be sacked."

"Hollis said he wasn't quite that hard-hearted."

"And what about her?"

Spike kept his eyes on his cards. Jack loved how he looked bathed in moonlight, an apparition in pale blue and silver and long shadows. He fixed his eyes on the hollow at the base of Spike's neck. A place he liked to kiss, a little bowl for his tongue.

When Spike said nothing, he added, "You're here with me, not out doing the round with her."

"She does fine without me. Always has. No illusions about that."

"So why—" He bit his lip. Don't be a broken record, Jackie. He's here. Played his next card, badly. After two more turns, he threw the cards down. It was nearly three in the morning. The floor was as quiet as it would be all night.

Spike glanced up. "Can't even play out a bleedin' game." But he smiled as Jack crawled towards him.

"Take off your clothes," he whispered. "I want to see you naked in this silver light."

"Someone might come in," Spike said, but Jack knew he really didn't care about that. He would do what he liked, always.

He rose now, and slid out of his clothes. Resumed his place at the foot of the bed, one elegant leg drawn up, head tilted, that amused, indulgent, enveloping expression on his face. It made him flush. Everything about the vampire was so neat, power contained in slender lines, lines that tugged at something deep inside him, as if he'd been born to correspond. Spike was always in control of himself, and when he let go, it was because he wanted to, and then he did it thoroughly: taking punishment. Dancing. Fucking or being fucked. Jack wished he could see him brawl, see him hunt. He wanted to learn those things from him. He'd explained that all that was over, that he was repulsed by it, but Jack couldn't entirely believe it. They were marvelous skills, they were masteries.

"Look your fill, my Jack."

He looked. Looking turned to touching, and touching made him feel congested, chock full of yearning, excitement, frustration, worship. It seemed to have no outlet, because lovemaking only made it more so. For a moment's relief from it, he glanced around the room. The usual cheerful Impressionist prints graced the pale pink walls. A mirror hung beside the little closet. Jack went and took it down, propped it on a chair.

"I want to see you fuck me."

"You won't, in that."

"I'll see what you do to me," Jack murmured. "How I look when you're inside me, all around me. When I'm yours." He lay on his belly. "Cover me."

That was it. Taking his weight—chest to back, arms to arms, Spike's legs on his, and the slope of groin to ass, fitting perfectly. In the mirror, Jack watched his own rolling undulation, as he felt Spike's on him, in him. He was invisible in the glass, but he could see Spike's hands on either side of him, clasping his own.

Surrounded, he knew he belonged to him as much as was humanly possible . . . and it was almost enough. If he closed his eyes tight and concentrated, just on this moment . . . and this one . . . on the sound of Spike's inhalations, and the fullness inside, and then Spike's voice whispering in his ear, Your arse, boy, is a velvet scabbard . . . then it was nearly everything he needed.

"I love you—God, fuck—Spike—say it to me. Say you—"

"Beautiful tight glorious fuck—"

"Say it, Spike. Tell me you—"

"Hush my Jack. Hush and feel me fucking you."

His body sang, erupted, melted . . . and he knew. Knew what he needed to know. What he needed to do.



"Hey Bit."

She glanced up. Her first expression was the one she always had for him the summer after Buffy's death—all lit up, like his presence was a treat. But she caught herself almost at once, and put on a frown. Still, he'd seen it, it helped.

"What're you doing?"

"Homework."

"In the dark?"

"There's light coming through the window here, see?"

He came up onto the porch. "Young eyes. Suppose I used to read in candlelight fainter than that, once upon a time."

"What do you want?" Even as she threw this out, she was making room for him on the swing beside her.

"Need to talk to big sis. She inside?"

Dawn shook her head. "Should be back soon."

"Good, I'll wait. What's that—French?"

"Irregular verbs."

He took the book from her. "Vivre."

"Uh . . . je vis, tu vis, il vit, nous vivons, vous vivez, ils vivent."

"Good. Now give me . . . lessee . . . the imperfect subjunctive."

"I know this . . . que je vécusse . . . que tu vécusses . . . qu' il vécût . . . que nous vécussions . . . que vous vécussiez . . . qu' ils vécussent."

"Clever girl. But your accent's terrible."

"Yeah, like you'd know."

"Who's been dining off Frenchmen off and on for a century? Not you. Listen—" He repeated the words, made her repeat them back. By now Dawn was leaning towards him, bathing him in her smile.

"What are you doing here?" Buffy's icy voice cut the warm lines they were spinning.

Spike looked up. Five-foot-two of fury, just like always. "Hello to you too."

She took a hasty step back. "Sorry. Really . . . didn't mean to sound like that."

"Old habits die hard."

"Yeah." She reformed her expression. "I meant—I'm surprised to see you. I thought Jack came home from the hospital today."

"That's what I came to talk to you about." He glanced at Dawn, then decided this didn't qualify as slayer-only. "He didn't."

"Didn't—?"

"Come home. He's disappeared."

Buffy and Dawn exchanged a look.

"Left him at the hospital around five this morning. He was supposed to see the head shrinker one more time, get his prescriptions and all, and be released early afternoon. We'd fixed it that he'd come home in a cab. But he never did, and when I called there, they said he was gone. Snuck out before breakfast."

Dawn shook her head. "Are you sure he didn't just—go shopping?"

"Or—or to get a haircut?"

"Probably he was trying to run out on the bill."

Spike rose. "This isn't a joke, Buffy. I wanted you to know, so you can be careful."

"So I can be—"

"I've been making the rounds underground as best I could—Willie's, Lovecraft's, those sort of places. No one had anything to tell me, but it's early yet. Now it's full dark I can really look for him. Very much doubt, though, that I'll find him alive."

Buffy's face was curiously blank. She just didn't give a damn about this, he thought. His presence was an annoyance, and Jack . . . was just nothing to her. "Forget it, right. What's one more vampire? You'll put him down if you see him, no problem."

He moved past her, but she grasped his arm.

"Wait—you don't know that he's going to be . . . Maybe . . . maybe he decided to just quietly leave town. Did you . . . did you tell him it was over?"

Fucking hell. Wants to know if I followed orders like her good little soldier boy. "No, I didn't. Because it's not. We talked about working tonight, an' I made love to him. When I left him he was sleeping."

"Ewww. You had sex with him in the hospital?"

Buffy cast a dampening look at her sister. "Dawnie, shush."

"Anyway, his car's still where he left it, and he didn't have much money with him. Not enough for a bus ticket. Look, time's wasting. I'm going to search for him."

"We'll find him. We can search together."

"Better separately. Can cover more ground. Maybe take the witch with you—she visited him the other day. Might be he'd listen to her before he'd listen to you. If you find him in time." He was already halfway down the walk when he turned. "Be on your guard. He's not fond of you. If you find him—however you find him—just . . . have a care."



After some quick debate, Giles and Xander agreed to sweep the streets and cemeteries on the north side. Buffy took Willow and headed towards the south—the old part of town, including the industrial area where so much demonic activity went on undisturbed by Sunnydale's daytime population. Spike, she figured, would come up with places to look that even she didn't know about. The important thing was just to be thorough. As they trudged along, she kept telling herself this had nothing to with her. In no way was it her fault that Spike went and got a soul. No way. So it wasn't her fault that he'd taken that raw soul to New York, that he'd gotten mixed up with Jack Baker, that Jack Baker fell in love with him, or in love with the idea of death at Spike's hands, or something. Not her fault he'd came all the way out here looking for that—because, what, was she supposed to blame herself, really, for not having Spike locked up in her bed where Jack and his Giant Deathwish couldn't get near him? Not her fault if she wasn't ready to just leap into Spike's arms. So, nothing to do with her that Spike got himself into this mess—she'd told him, hadn't she, to cut Jack loose?—and anyway, if a person wanted to be a vampire, well, that was between them and their God. She was the slayer, she wasn't the suicide prevention line. Not the keeper of every tormented soul in the world.

"What did he say when you saw him?"

Willow, hands dug into her jacket pockets, looked glum. "Hardly anything. I told him a lot of crapola about how being a monster isn't all its cracked up to be. Just the sort of lame-o stuff to send anybody in that frame of mind running into the arms of the first fanged menace they could find."

"I'm sure not, Will."

She doubted they'd turn Jack up. Despite what Spike said, he must've thumbed his way out of town and arrived in L.A. by now. If he wasn't halfway to Mexico. Probably he'd bought a clue in the hospital, realized how close he'd come to total idiot annihilation, and decided to hotfoot it away from all that before Spike could lay any more whammy on him.

Because . . . those eyes. When Spike looked at you out of those blues of his, tilted his head and regarded you with all the attention in the universe . . . well, it wasn't the kind of thrall Dracula had cooked up for her, but still, it was. Real. It shivered all through you, it made you feel seen, known.

Loved.

"Will?"

"What?"

"Do you think . . . do you think . . ." Spike's not really in love with him, is he? ". . . he might be in here?" She kicked in the door of an abandoned building and went inside.

There was nothing there.



In his absence of the summer, Spike discovered, things had moved around. The vampire whorehouse had moved. He found the sites of known nests abandoned. Some locations had been burned down altogether. Those he did locate were populated by fresh faces. Buffy was right—there was some kind of influx going on. Lots of vamps from out of town, who seemed to be gathering at the hellmouth, awaiting—what? This would be a big topic, and soon, but not tonight.

"Oi! Tell me what I want to know, you bleedin' wanker, 'fore I twist your head off!"

The vamp whose neck he had in a vise grip against the greasy wall struggled ineffectually. He was barely seventeen. Probably, Spike thought, a runaway from one of those flat places in the middle, who'd got done in L.A. A minion's minion.

He began to blubber. "I don't know—I don't know where they go—sir!"

Christ. Spike believed him, but pulled his head off anyway. Only took a second.

What took longer was wading through the sea of his silent witnesses. They seemed to have taken on mass that night; they blocked his movements, they put out their hands and grabbed at his limbs, his clothes. He tried not to notice them, tried to keep them an amorphous blur at the edges of his vision, but tonight they forced themselves on him one by one, as he had on them, so he saw: the thin-faced Moroccan whore with one grey and one brown eye; the taxi dancer with the cupid's bow mouth who'd broken her heel before he broke her neck; the drunken doughboy who'd got lost in the Paris streets trying to mail a letter to his mother in Kentucky. Even if he'd not looked at their faces then, he was forced to see each one now. And though none of them made a sound, they spoke to him in a clear collective voice.

One more to your tally. One more to your string of one plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one . . . and if you find him, brute!, monster! If you find him, what matter, because we are already taken! We cannot be undone!

He vamped, tearing from place to place in a quiet rage that sent the vampires and demons he found scurrying before he even opened his mouth.



"This is pretty pointless," Buffy said, patting the dust off her clothes. She'd slain a half dozen, but they seemed no closer to finding Jack than ever, and she could see that Willow was getting tired. "Why don't you go home. I ca n go on by myself."

Willow nodded, then said, hesitant, "I could do a locator spell."

Buffy started. "What? No!"

"Not no. I still have the magic, Buffy. I'm supposed to use it. For . . . for good."

Willow stood there humbly, as if awaiting permission, in her frilly white blouse and green suede trousers. Not the least like how she'd looked before. Yet Buffy saw her clear as day, that pillar of black and white, exuding fury. The memory of it had the power to scare her still.

"It's a very minor spell," Willow said.

Buffy swallowed. "How do you do it?"

"Well, I need something of his, because I don't know him very well . . . ."

Buffy kicked in the door, and then she was back inside Spike's apartment. Everything was touchingly neat; bed made up, table set for what was to be the homecoming meal.

She went over to the kitchen. Lifted the lid on a pot to find it full of cold soup.

All of a sudden her heart was going double-time.

Willow glanced around purposefully, then went straight to the bureau. "Do you think this is Jack's?"

Buffy glanced around. "Must be. Spike doesn't wear underwear." She opened the refrigerator. A lot of beer, a bottle of tequila, some limes, a loaf of bread, a quart container of blood, leftover Chinese take-out in paper cartons.

Then Willow was at her back. "What are you doing? I've got what I need."

"Just . . . looking . . . for clues. Clues." She turned away. "You're really gonna do this spell with a pair of his Calvins? You're not going to sniff them, are you?"

"Ssssh."

Willow worked the magic from within herself; no accessories needed, besides holding the garment in her hand. After a moment, a glowing ball of the sort Buffy had seen before, appeared hovering at eye level.

Willow opened hers. "There ya go. Want me to come with?"

"I'll call you if I need you, okay?" Buffy was already following it out the door and down the stairs.



"Oh Christ."

He'd been too busy, killing the idiot bastards with their crusty fangs, reeking hair and Linkin Park teeshirts, then carrying him through the pitch black tunnels under the town to this safe place, to look before. Now in the light of the Coleman lantern he'd stolen along with Jack's body, he could see what they'd done to him.

Jack was empty. His poor pretty throat, that he'd been so vain of, wearing the marks of Spike's bites like delicate tattoos, was chewed to a pulp. His skin was nearly blue, eyes rolled back beneath half-shuttered lids. Spike closed them.

He was naked to the waist, covered in cuts and bruises, as was his face—they'd used him for a punching bag before finishing him. Part of the bargain? Spike laid him out on the sarcophagus lid. There probably wasn't much time, and he didn't want to leave Jack alone. But certain things must be done. Taking the chance, he left him for a half hour to get what he needed.



The ball sped along, keeping Buffy moving at a jog. It brought her to one of the more obscure cemeteries at the outskirts of town, to a large mausoleum. The door was ajar; shoving it open stirred the air enough to make the drifts of vampire dust on the floor drift and scatter. A glance at the empty bottles and strewn clothes showed her this had been a nest. The broken statuary and sticks of furniture, the torn white teeshirt stained with blood, told the story of a struggle. The locator ball hovered over the tattered shirt.

"This is his?" She held it up, as if the ball would speak to her. All it did was fade out and vanish.

"Oh, that's nice." She phoned Willow. "What does it mean when it just winks out?"

"That's the last place where he was alive. There's no body there?"

"No. Unless . . . there's a lot of dust."



Returning with the necessary items, Spike paused in the crypt doorway. Amidst the soft glow of the lamp, it was possible to pretend for a moment that Jack was just lying there in sleep, waiting for him.

Nothing had come to disturb him while he was gone.

Yet the place was full. They stood ringing the sarcophagus, in rows upon rows, heads all turned to him, eyes large, throats open. He refused to look at these spectators, concentrated only on Jack, on what he had to do for him.

Gently, as if he could still feel it, Spike washed the closed face, the torn neck, the chest he'd liked to lay his cheek upon to listen to the reassuring thub of the heart, silent now. He washed the gripless hands, cleaned the nails. With the wet cloth he traced the outline of the tattoo on Jack's shoulder, brought the lamp close so he could better see the overlapping pinks, blues, greens. It was a leaping fish, copied from an old Japanese print, curved around back and shoulder so it wasn't easy to recognize quickly what the design represented. He'd saved up for it, he'd told Spike, a long time. The man who did such intricate work was expensive and hard to book. As he trickled water on the skin, the colors seemed to come to life, like the fish itself flashing beneath the river's surface. Spike kissed the point of the shoulder. The skin now was cool, like his own.

He removed the muddy boots, the jeans stained with blood and dirt. As he poured water from the jug he'd brought over the white feet, he wondered for the first time who had washed his body, who had laid it out for the undertakers to come and remove. Was it Mother and the servants? He didn't like to think of her seeing him like this, so cold and empty, whom she'd given birth to. The white thighs that had never seen the sun and now never would; the dead virgin sex like a curled mouse. He forced the run of his thoughts away from that, but there was nowhere to turn them that was any better. If he so much as glanced away from the body he tended, they were there in massed ranks between him and every point of egress.

When the battered body was clean, Spike dressed it in fresh jeans. He combed the hair with his fingers, and when this proved insufficient to the flood of his feelings, sat up cross-legged on the sarcophagus and drew the head into his lap. The moonlight, cool as they were, streamed in through the low windows, competing with the golden glow from the lamp. Spike hunched over the body, touching the familiar face again and again. The mouth that had spoken poetry and jealousy and love, that had given him so much physical pleasure with lips, tongue, teeth: he kissed it.

The lookers-on gathered even closer then. The children were at the front. One urchin laid her elbows on the very edge of the lid where he sat, looked up at him out of eyes that were dead sucking pools. Do you think this sorrow changes any of it? Do you think that kissing his mouth atones for anything? You touched him, you soiled him, you doomed him to lose his soul and his life. From the moment he first saw you, he was doomed. You're death. You're nothing else.

Spike's tears fell, one, two, three, their splatters shiny in the lampglow on Jack's drained cheeks. "I know it . . . I know it . . . but I love . . . love him . . . love her . . . ."

What you love, dies. What you love, being loved by you, is profaned, and ruined.

"Oh God . . . ." He stroked Jack's hair, stared into the mute face. "I'd give up my soul so you could have yours back . . . give up my existence so you could live . . . I didn't want this for you. I didn't. You know that, my Jack. You know."

All around him, they laughed. Guffawed and howled and screeched with merriment, so he groaned, clapping his hands over his ears.



The light from the crescent window drew her from a distance to wend her way amongst the stones. She knelt to peer down into Spike's old crypt. The glass was dirty, but there was a hole in one pane as large as a fist. Seeing him there, she was about to call out, when she realized what she was seeing.

The battered body Spike cradled in his lap was dead.

He hovered over the bruised face, talking to it—she heard what he said, but somehow her brain froze on the words, would not process those low anguished sounds into sense. Her eyes did better: she took it all in; the dejected droop of Spike's shoulders, the helpless tenderness of his hands as he caressed Jack's hair and face.

Buffy had never actually witnessed a vampire being born. Never seen the corpse reanimate, the features shift for the very first time. Holding her breath, she saw it now. The bruises and cuts on Jack's skin closed and faded in the space of a few heartbeats. Then the face began to alter. Subtly at first, and had she not known better, she might've imagined it was something Spike was doing with his caressing hand on the cheek, the forehead.

Then the whole body, which had been limp, stiffened, shuddered, flexed.

The eyes flew open, and they were yellow. She saw them gleam.



The lips pulled back over the fangs. The newborn vampire growled. Spike could feel him gather himself, the ghastly power surging into every muscle. Spike went on caressing Jack's hair even as the demon eyes blinked, rolled, sharpened.

Jack's hand shot up, demon-quick, and fastened on his hovering wrist. For a moment he held it in a crushing grip. Then the gaze focused, and the face, which was brand new, and yet, he thought, with a dip of horror, absolutely Jack in every ridge and bump and distention, smiled.

It was his lover, smiling at him. "You're here."

Spike forced himself to return the smile. "This time, mate, I found you."

"You found me. And am I—" He sat up, squirmed around to put a hand on Spike's face. "Am I—"

Spike brought his own demon to the surface. Two pairs of golden eyes, gazes locked. "Like me now? Yes, my Jack, you are."

Jack's hand traced Spike's contours, then touched his own. The smile widened.

"Are you happy?" Spike murmured.

"Yes. I . . . I feel so strange . . . I feel strong . . . but very weak. How can I feel both strong and weak at the same time?"

"You're hungry."

At this, something leapt in the other's eyes—as if kerosene were dashed onto a banked fire. The hunger was visible in every liniment; Spike watched him feel it, enjoy it. Its power, its promise.

He put a hand on Jack's bare shoulder. Remembered its warmth, how the skin would prickle a bit at his touch. All gone now. His skin was silky as Spike's own, and as tepid. But Jack glanced at the hand, and then at him, his eyes kindling.

"Spike . . . this is so good. You found me. And now we're together."

"We are, mate." He leaned in to him. "Now I'll feed you, get you stronger. But kiss me first."

It was the same mouth, with the same charming nip and suck. The same arms, drawing him close, the same little chuckle of delight as one kiss gave way to another, and a third. Jack was dead, but here was Jack. Spike held him hard.

Jack whispered against his mouth. "Spike . . . we belong to each now, don't we?" Unheated breath against his lips. "This is what I wanted. I love you."

"An' I love you, my Jack. We're gonna be together a long long time." Spike folded him tight in his arms, kissed the mouth again, then bent Jack's head to his throat. "Feed now, pet. Drink from me, lovely Jack."

Spike closed his eyes when the virgin fangs burst through the skin. At once the new vampire battened on him; the loving hold tightened to a vise grip. The sound of his sucking, swallowing, was interspersed with small fevered moans, of fetid appetite, of desire.

"That's right, my Jack. Oh, that's good. Take from me. Take and get strong." He stroked the long naked back with his left hand, twined his fingers in the hair. A sob was backed up inside him, like an enormous bubble, soon to break. With his right hand he reached quietly beneath his shirt tail to what was tucked into his waistband, whipped it fast between their clasped bodies, and drove the stake home.



Buffy watched Spike coax the new vampire to his strength. Her knees had gone numb on the cold ground, and she was gnawing her own lip without feeling it, so she tasted her own blood at the moment Jack tasted Spike's.

Watched the master vampire with nothing but bare conscience to restrain him, introduce a consort into his power.

Watched her lover claim another.

Her eyes dimmed, and she found herself blinking back burning tears. This was it. Spike was finished. They were finished. She'd have to do it now, what she should've done years ago.

When it wouldn't have hurt.

It was going to hurt a lot now.

Clutching her stake, she started to get up.

She wasn't prepared to see Jack shiver into dust.

The stake rolled from Spike's flaccid hand and hit the stone floor with a clatter as he bowed his head, shaking, and wailed.

For a moment she just stared at him through the hole in the glass. His forehead touched the dusty lid of the sarcophagus where he still sat with crossed legs, and his fingers dragged at his hair.

She sprang up.

He didn't register her entrance. It wasn't until she put a hand on his quaking shoulder that he raised his head. His mouth was a dark hole in his chalky face.

"What have I done, Slayer?" He turned his hands palms up, showed them to her. "What have I done?"

Her heart was hammering so hard in her chest that it made speaking difficult. "You did what you knew you had to do. I saw you . . . I was watching." She pointed to the window. There was a sharp pain in her throat. The whole thing kept playing out in her head, even as she spoke to him. Over and over, only somehow she was Spike, and the stake was a sword. "You . . . you did it gently. You spared him fear."

He gave his head a violent shake, as if to dash the memory away. "Oh, there was fear. There was fear, when he gave himself to them, those bastards. I tore their fucking heads off, but it was too goddamned late. Oh God, my Jack—"

"Spike . . . ."

"The one . . . the only one . . . who ever loved me . . . I killed him."

She felt his words reverberate in her hollow core. The crypt was cold; she shivered. He was shivering too. He'd covered his face again and was rocking with silent sobs.

Buffy put her hands on his arm. "You can't stay here. Come on. I'm taking you home."



She walked him all the way back to Revello with her arm around his waist. She heard his teeth chatter.

At the house, she brought him up to her mother's old room. No one had slept here since Tara's death. Spike let her steer him like an automaton. She sat him on the bed, knelt to drag off his boots.

"Try to rest. I'm going to get you some blood. I might be gone a little while. Do you want anything first?"

He'd put his hand up to the wound Jack made in his neck, but he didn't seem to hear her, and she decided that bandaging it wasn't a priority. Vampiric healing would close it up in a day.

Closing the door behind her, Buffy headed for the stairs. Dawn appeared. "What's going on? What time is it?"

"It's almost four—what are you doing up?"

"I heard you come in. Is someone with you? Did you find him?"

"Jack—Jack's gone, Dawnie. I just put Spike in Mom's room. I've got to go out for a little while—will you make some tea and bring it to him? Sit with him until I get back, unless he tells you to go away. If he does, leave him alone, okay?"

"Uh, yeah. I can't believe Spike's here in— What happened?"

"I'll tell you in the morning, I promise. Just do what I say now."



She didn't know why she bothered, because she was in a hurry, but Buffy paused in her gathering up of Spike's things to pour the cold soup down the sink. The man for whom it was meant was dead, and Spike wasn't going to want it himself. She tried not to let the cheap ironies of tomato-soup-in-vain get to her. For a moment she leaned against the counter, trying to pull her head away from what she'd watched through the hole in the glass. She'd learned too much tonight.

About Spike.

About herself.

Seeing him tend to Jack that way. Smile for him, kiss him, while his heart was broken.

And that delicate dispatch.

It wasn't always true that things play out first as tragedy and then as farce. You could play the tragedy once yourself, and then find yourself in the audience, seeing it acted for you, and the impact was still there. Only the perspective was different.

What she'd felt for herself, when Angel was gone and only despair remained, she felt now for Spike.

She found a small gym bag in one of the drawers, and grabbed up things to put into it. Spike's shirts—or maybe they were Jack's, it was impossible to tell. Jeans. In the bathroom, she swept toiletries in on top of the clothes. Catching her own eye in the mirror, she was surprised to see how pale she was. There were deep grey circles under her eyes, which were edged in red, although she didn't remember crying. Her mouth looked crushed.

Like all of Spike. Crushed, pounded, hopeless.

She hoped she could comfort him.

Taking the blood, she hastened back.



"I don't know if you like milk in your tea, or lemon, but we don't have any lemons."

Dawn edged around the door, carrying the tray. It was the same heavy wooden one that her mother used to set on her lap when she was sick in bed as a child. There was a Chinese lacquer design on it she'd once loved tracing with her fingertip as she ate toast points with marmalade, and apple sauce.

Spike was lying on his side with his back to her, his knees drawn up to his chest. She didn't think he was asleep, although he was absolutely still. Not breathing. But Buffy said to stay with him unless he told her to go away, so she walked around to the far side of the bed, where she could see his face, and set the tray down on the coverlet before making herself small beside it. She'd brought two cups, and put some cookies on a plate, because it seemed like the thing to do. It's what her mother would've done.

He confused her. A year ago, had anybody asked, she'd have said, without hesitation, that she loved him. He'd spent so much time with her, and never tried to hide his feelings: of sadness as deep as hers, of fondness for herself. They'd commiserated together, and he'd treated her like an equal. Then last year, Buffy was back, and he'd nearly disappeared. When she did see him, she felt a distancing, and couldn't tell if it was coming from him, or her. Then he'd gone, and Xander told her about the ugly thing. After that, she felt ashamed of herself for ever having liked him, while at the same time the liking was preserved inside her, like something caught in amber. She couldn't make the things she knew about his brutishness come together cleanly with what she was used to feeling about him.

Then Buffy forgave him, and made it okay for her to do the same. He had a soul now, which meant, didn't it, that it was okay to like him, to renew her confidence in him, that it would be, in fact, a discourtesy not to. Yet she couldn't see him the same way anymore. The cool handsome guy with the dangerous reputation, the one her girlfriends asked about as if he was some rock star who descended upon her for visits, who sat around for hours with her snarking at the television, playing endless rounds of gin rummy, walking her out in the early dark to buy ice cream, imparting hilarious, subversive information into her ear. That summer she felt, in a giddy hold that tiger! way, that he belonged to her. She thought nothing of his old existence, or the one he'd have liked to have, as her sister's lover. Thought nothing of his mysterious power, his demon, the blood on his hands. He wasn't a man or a monster to her then, he was a benign big brother, sweet and tough.

But then, she'd been a little girl. Now she was feeling herself start to be a woman, and looking at him, she recognized all she'd been blind to before. He was Sex and Death and terrible burning Love. He was her sister's nemesis and worshipper. He was all that was wild and terrifying, padding up to eat out of their hands.

She poured the tea.

The aroma of English Breakfast filled the air between them. Spike opened his eyes. "Sweet bit."

"Do you want sugar?"

"God, you've grown. Look at you."

"Um . . . Spike? Sugar? Milk?"

"A French-speaking beauty."

"Okay, getting embarrassed now."

"Never feel embarrassed when a man appreciates you." He put a hand out and took the mug from her, brought it close to his chest. He seemed just to like the warmth of it, the aroma. Made no move to shift himself so he could drink it. Dawn bit into a cookie and stared at him.

"What happened to your neck? Do you need a bandaid?"

"Why am I here?"

"Buffy brought you here. I don't know. Why are you here?"

He looked away from her. "It's no good being kind to me. All I am is trouble."

"I know," Dawn said. "But she said to stay with you 'til she gets back."

"Unless I tell you to buzz off. I heard what she said. Better go back to bed, Platelet."

"Why? What are you going to do?"

He put the untasted mug back on the tray. "Nothing. Just—"

To Dawn's amazement, his face crumbled then, he made a strangled noise, and hid in the pillow.

She leapt up. "Oh—oh—Spike, are you—yeah, you are. Oh—" She didn't know whether to stay or go. He'd cried in her presence before, but then it was about Buffy.

He didn't look up. After a few moments she realized he was waiting for her to go, so she did, but no further than the top of the stairs, where she sat hugging her knees until Buffy came back.



There were all sorts of dreams, outlandish things full of monsters and strange ill-looking people, horrors of impure acts and death and things worse than death. His head had been aching so dreadfully for hours and hours, he'd been so tired he'd cried. The fever must be broken now. but before he'd been so cold, every inch of skin chilled to the marrow, his head full of such horrible fancies, where did they come from, he scarcely knew, but it was all right now, he was safely tucked up in his bed. It was all right. He'd go back to sleep, surely he'd feel better in the morning, he must, there was work to be done. Responsibilities, obligations. Still, it was all so confusing, he'd been terribly involved. But none of the awful things were real. He knew who he was. He knew where he was, he was at home, he'd been very ill but he must be mending now, and Mother was sitting with him, she was rubbing his back with the flat of her hand, lovely warm soft hand. She always did that when he was ill, and although he was a grown man now, it was no different. She always did sit with him when he wasn't well. So selfless she was. He must tell her that it was all right, that she might go to bed herself, he was feeling so much better.



" . . . Spike? Do you know where you are?"

He struggled to open his eyes; the lids were crusted together.

"Because, not your mother." She saw him exit his dream, saw him remember. His face contracted, he groaned. She resumed her soft stroking of his back. "I'm trying, though. To make you feel better." She leaned in close. "I'm really sorry about Jack."

He forced his eyes open then, and immediately winced.

"How long . . . have I been here?"

"A day and a half. You did a lot of sleeping. Sleeping, and . . . Are you hungry?"

"Why are you doing this?"

"Because I want to. Because you need it." She sat then on the bed beside him, and he rolled onto his side. She kept her hand on his bare arm. "How do you feel?"

"I'm all right."

"Uh-uh. How do you feel?"

He wouldn't meet her eyes. "Every wrong move I make hurts, Slayer. What do I know about having a soul? Bein' good? S'like a claw around my heart."

"I know. Spike, I know. "

"He loved me. Trusted—wanted— I should never have touched him. I'm death. I'm death."

"You tried to take care of him. I saw that. Your affection for him, his for you. How . . . how tender you were with him. I saw how hard you tried to get it right." She paused, thought. "That was real, Spike. Like I know that what you feel about me . . . is real too."

"Oh yeah. And real effective, too. Like everything I try. Only thing I ever was any fucking good at was killing things. Only thing anybody's ever wanted me for. Dru wanted me to kill people. You only ever want me to kill other demons. And poor Jack—wanted me to kill him. Hey—I'm a big success, ain't I?"

"He . . . he was an unhappy person. I don't think you could've helped him. I'm not sure anybody could. I know it's incredibly painful."

He pushed her hand away. "Doesn't fucking matter. Dunno why I bother takin' up with anybody. Human life's so bleeding short, innit? I blink my eyes—you're gone. Dead and buried. Not just you . . . everyone. An' I'm left standing, unchanged, alone." He let off a bitter laugh. "Thought I had this soul free an' clear. But I've found out . . . there is a curse."

Her heart jumped in her chest. "A curse?"

"Yeah. Bloody fucking piece of irony you should appreciate, Slayer. Turns out soul can only love another soul. 'Nother here-one-day-an'-gone-the-next livin' soul. An' I . . . I've got to love someone, or else . . . ."

Separation from everyone around you. Love that fails no matter how bright it burns. Oh no, I know nothing about any of that. He'd taken on such a sharp focus for her—she knew him, in his tribulation, as never before. Yet she couldn't think what to say in the face of that bleak sentence. What consolation she could possibly offer. And she'd thought her short life expectancy was a bane. The idea of his endless years chilled her now.

"I'm the only one in this leaky boat." With a little snort he added, "Well, me an' Peaches. That dear friend of my bosom."

He fingered a lock of her hair. There was a look almost of incomprehension in his eyes, as if he couldn't believe the force of his feelings towards her. The force of his feelings about everything. Stymied longing poured off him, she felt herself bathed in it like the heat when you open an oven door.

She laid her arm across his back in an improvised hug. "Don't . . . don't sink. I need you." His shoulders felt so bony; he seemed all at once so fragile, even as he was bemoaning his immortality.

Spike threw her off, sat up. "I'd better go. Been taking up too much of your time here."

"I think you should stay. It's too sad to go back there where all his things are and he isn't."

He let off a sudden laugh. "Are you gettin' all this out of some kind of instruction manual, Slayer? Empathy for Dummies? Since when did you give a toss about my feelings?"

"Since . . . now."

"Yeah, well, don't trouble yourself. You've got enough on your plate." He sat up and began putting his boots on. "Thank you for looking after me. You've done more than enough."

She stood back and watched him. Here they were, playing Spike and Buffy Scene number three thousand and eight, and it was going to be like all the others, if she didn't do something to make it different.

Because it was different. He was different. He'd shown her, by his actions since this whole mess started. By his profound grief afterwards, that touched a part of her inner self she couldn't ignore, or explain away. She'd stopped wanting to. She knew about this. Her doubts were all riddled with longing just to console him.

"Spike, I really don't want you to go."

He paused—barely—without looking up, then went on with his boots. "You've done your duty. Anyway, if I don't turn up tonight, Hollis'll have given my job to some other bloke—if he hasn't already."

"Oh . . . okay . . . but! I think you should come back here when you're done working."

There. She had his attention now. His eyes bored into her for a moment, then his lip curled.

"Not gonna be up for sexcapades any time soon, Slayer. So no need to keep me on hand."



This made her blink. "You . . . you still think that's all I want from you?"

"Well, yeah. It's all you've ever wanted, isn't it?"

He went to the door. "An' you know I'm your bloody slave, but give me a bit of transition time, there's a good Slayer. Jack's not even been . . . poor bastard isn't even . . . ."

Then he was gone.



"Anya took out a restraining order against me."

"She what?"

"I'm not allowed to try to contact her again in any way," Xander said, pouring coffee into two cups. "So it ends."

"My God."

"I can't go to the Magic Box either. So . . . won't be able to help you with the training, unless you—"

"Oh, Xander."

"I didn't do anything. I just wanted to apologize to her, to talk to her."

"It . . . it might've been a bit much. Your persistence. I mean, Willow said you wrote to her over the summer."

"She didn't answer my letters."

"Right . . . that's kind of an indication that she didn't want to talk to you. So then, with the crowding her space . . . ."

Xander gave her a bleak look. "Men, stupid. Frequently. Me, especially."

"I'm so sorry."

"Not as much as me."

"There'll be someone else. I mean, not tomorrow, maybe, but soon. You'll fall in love again, someone'll fall for you."

He leaned on the counter. Raised an eyebrow. "Yeah?"

"Not—not me, though," she added. "You know that, right? Still just friends."

"I know, Buff."

"Listen, Xander . . . speaking of us being friends. Would you—would you still be my friend if I had a boyfriend you didn't so much care for?"

He came around to her then, and grabbed her shoulders. "What is this with him? Why do you—why does anybody with a heartbeat—persist in thinking of that shithead vampire as worth associating with? I'm missing something here, that's got to be it! As far as I'm concerned, he's stakebait, always was, always will be. Why—"

"I don't know why!" She dropped her head to her crossed arms. Suddenly she was crying.

"Buffy—hey—don't—"

"Why do I have to explain it? My feelings are my feelings! I get something from him that I don't get from anybody else—"

"Rape. Yeah, that's sure the unique thing Spike brings to the table."

She grabbed his arm. "Stop. I'm slapping a restraining order on you and that topic, Xan! It's between him and me. For one thing, no rape actually occurred. For another, I have forgiven him. There was stuff to forgive on both sides, and we did that. You weren't there—for any of it—so quit setting yourself up as the big expert on my business."

"Oh. Well." He jerked out of her grasp. "I guess we're answering the question here. Would we go on being friends when there's a big abomination in the middle of the room that no one's allowed to speak about? Gee Buff, I dunno. Lemme think."

"My life choices are not subject to your approval!"

"Then why the hell did you ask me?"

"Fine! I'm not asking! Forget I asked!"



"Lemme see some ID."

"C'mon, Spike, you know how old I am."

"Show us."

"I . . . I left my wallet at home. I never take it patrolling—sometimes vamps try to pick my pocket." She pulled out a crumpled twenty and put it on the bar. "Of course I'll pay for my drink."

"You'll pay for your Coke, yeah. Or do you want ginger ale? Or I could make you a Shirley Temple."

"Why are you being so mean to me?"

"It's the state law."

"For you to be mean to me?"

"What are you doing here, Slayer?"

"I wanted to see how you're doing." She leaned closer over the space between them, but Spike stepped back. "How're you doing, Spike? Are you sleeping well?"

"Traded sleep for a soul. Made a bad bargain." He strolled to the other end of the bar. She watched him serve two customers, offer to freshen the drink of a third—a pretty girl he flirted with, she decided, solely for her benefit—before making a leisurely return.

"C'mon, Spike. I want a drink. You know I'm legal. Anyway, I just had a throw down with Xander, I could use a pick-me-up."

At this his eyebrows shot up.

Buffy tossed her hair back and gave him the big eye. "I told him to quit passing judgements on my love life."

"Did you now." Spike's voice was toneless.

"I did."

"Good on you, then. 'Course, it's not the construction worker that really needs to get that message. So which is it, Coke, or ginger ale?"

She grimaced. "Seltzer. With lime. And you still haven't answered my question. How are you doing?"

"I'm bloody brilliant, me. A pig in shit. Look, I'm working. Can't be standing here chatting you up like this. You want me to patrol with you, come back at closing time."

"Will you patrol with me?"

"Of course." He put the drink in front of her. Started to move away, then paused. "S'been like a vampire convention out there lately. Something's brewing."

"Yeah. How would you know? This isn't a demon hang-out."

"Been out there every night after we close, doing my bit, haven't I?" He moved off down the bar. Buffy sipped at her seltzer. Had he? Well, that explained the couple of burned out vamp nests she'd found, and the demon carcasses sticking out of a dumpster near the waterfront the other night. Which wasn't so surprising—of course Spike would try to work off his pain with violence. She knew all about that—the method was time-tested and true.

The only person who ever loved me . . . I killed him. The only person . . .

God, that made her wince.

She stayed another hour, but he didn't come near her, didn't offer her a refill on her drink. He didn't even look at her; she might've been invisible.

A thought popped into her head, like a firecracker going off.

Maybe he doesn't love me anymore.

Maybe he was so worn down by butting up against her endless one step forward, two steps back, that he was exhausted. When he'd left her house, he'd said "I'm your slave," but with such an air of weary resignation . . . . He'd lost his relish for this tug of war, dropped the rope.

And who could blame him? How shameless it was of her—not even three weeks after the death of someone who meant . . . who meant maybe more to him than she ever had . . . and here she was coming at him with the cutesie-wootsie.

Suddenly there was a cement block in her chest. I don't know how to relate to men at all, do I? I got it wrong with Angel, with Riley, and now with Spike. I'm hot when I should be cold, cold when I should be hot, and when I ought to be as real as I can possibly be, I slap on fifty layers of fake.

No wonder.

She walked out without trying again to get his attention.



"Oi, look over there!"

The demon at her throat turned its head for just the second Spike needed to grab its jaw and twist. The loud crack was crowned by Spike's roar of triumph rolling off the narrow alley walls like the sound of an avalanche rumbling down a mountain. Vamped out, grinning crazily, he faced her over the monster's slumped body. "That move never gets tired."

"Thanks. Whew."

He didn't turn away, didn't change. Both panting, they stood eyeing each other. She'd never touched his game face; it drew her curiosity, and her fingers, now.

"What are you doing?" As if just remembering himself, he shied away and shook off the bumps.

"I just—wanted to see—"

Frowning, he averted his face. "Nothing you haven't seen before."

"When you were threatening me with it, yeah, but not like this. I just wondered. I've seen you fight without vamping, and then when you do—does it just happen, or do you bring it up on purpose? Does it make you stronger?"

He looked perplexed and—leery. "What's this, then?"

"I just want to know. I'm not trying to trick you. Show me again."

"No."

"Please?"

"For fuck's sake, Slayer . . . ." He brought it back on. Buffy stood on tiptoe and put her fingertips to the ridge between his eyes, and then traced the nose, and the altered mouth.


"Your eyes are beautiful, Spike. They're not just yellow, there's all these striations—gold, and orange, and little bits of blue, too . . . and they glow."

"Can't believe I'm hearin' you praise the demon in me. It's not right."

"I'm not praising the demon. I'm looking at your eyes. I'm seeing you. I thought that's what you wanted." She ran a finger lightly over his eyebrow. "It's what I want, anyway."

He shook the bumps off again. "C'mon, Buffy. This alley stinks."



"He comes along and does the rampaging with me. Really well. And then he says good night and goes home. He doesn't . . . . he doesn't . . ." Buffy dropped her voice to a whisper, ". . . doesn't want to be seduced."

Willow stopped stirring her latte and waved her hand in Buffy's face. "Oooh oooh, I know this one, I know this one! It's like when I was dating Oz. I kept putting moves on him, and he kept putting me off, because he wanted it to really mean something. Not that I didn't. But I was in a rush, I wanted to get it over with—I wanted us to already be lovers. But eventually I got what he meant. He wanted the emotion to come first, and then the . . . the deed just follows naturally, when the time is right."

Buffy sighed. "I don't think he cares for me anymore. God, I remember when that was the consummation devoutly to be wished. Now . . . now I'd like the regular kind of consummation, and he's not responding."

"You've got to admit Spike's maybe got a reason to be cautious. Especially if he thinks all you're after is the . . . y'know . . . consummation."

"Sometimes I have this fantasy."

"Huh—what? This isn't going to be T.M.I., is it, because I love you, Buffy, but I don't want to know what—"

"The First Slayer. She told me to Love, Give, Forgive. I used to think she meant I should love all you guys. Myself. The people I'm trying to help. But lately I have this fantasy, she was trying to tell me to acknowledge that there's dark along with the light, to ally myself with it, draw on it for my strength. So, if I loved Spike, really let him in, if we were partners in every way . . . somehow that would make us the mightiest slayers ever. What if that's what I'm supposed to do, so I'll be ready for what's coming?"

Willow frowned. "I'm not an expert, but I think you can't really love someone for reasons like that. You have to love him for himself. You have to love him because you just do. And then whatever arises out of it . . . arises."

"Yeah. But he's not someone, he's a vampire with a soul. And I'm not someone else, I'm the slayer. I'm starting to think this is my challenge. It's part of my destiny. Otherwise, why . . . ? The powers that be didn't have to give him that soul. They could've squashed him like a bug. They could've kept throwing things at him until he died. But they didn't."

"Okay, but it doesn't necessarily mean . . ." Willow gentled her voice. "That it's about you. Spike's soul might be about . . . about something else. First and foremost, it's about Spike."

"Nice way to remind me not to be all self-absorbo-girl. But c'mon."

"Spike told me he didn't want the soul."

She shrugged. "He also claims he didn't want to fall in love with me. Neither did I want to be the slayer. Those great seers of our time, the Rolling Stones, said—"

Willow threw her head back and laughed.



The knocking woke him from his anguished sleep, shattering a nightmare just at its culmination. He stumbled to the door.

She stood there, holding a small shopping bag. Looking unsure of herself, maybe even a little pissed off. Her hair was pinned up in the pretty way he liked, her mouth painted red. She smelled of Shalimar, recently applied. She was wearing a fluttery dress that fell in folds of pale handkerchief linen around her legs.

Christ, she was such a tease. Prick-tease, mind-tease, heart-tease. For a moment he hated her.

"Bloody hell, Slayer, s'my night off."

"I know. That's why I came, I thought you might have some time." She held up the bag. "I didn't come empty handed."

He took it from her. Nestled inside were two mason jars, heavy and full.

She beamed a smile, sudden, dazzling. Nearly childlike. "I got it at Willie's. Fresh today. He said it's your favorite type."

"Um, thanks." He could only imagine what Willie The Snitch must've thought when the slayer waltzed into his bar wanting to buy a nice gift for a notorious vampire. She was astonishing sometimes.

"I thought . . . better than flowers, right?"

"I like flowers."

"Oh. Well, next time, then, definitely. Do you—would you like to come out with me? It's a beautiful evening. We could take a walk?"

"You here for a shag? Must be—all tarted up like that. Suppose we could get straight to it, don't need to play charades first."

She dropped her gaze, and he felt her gather herself for a sharp response. But instead she shook her head. "Okay, I know why you're doing this."

"Yeah? Why?"

"You think this is just more of the same, and you're frustrated with me. Only I'm really not trying to mess with you, Spike. I'd really like just to go somewhere with you, enjoy the fresh air, talk. If . . . if you want."

He raked his hand through his hair. "Give us a minute, then." He turned away. She stayed out on the landing.

"Come inside. Close the door before the flies get in."

Snatching up some clean clothes, he shut himself in the bathroom, took a quick shower, conscious all the while of her on the other side of the wall, alone in his room. Her presence filled him with dread—just as it did every night that he patrolled with her—and also with extraordinary pleasure. How pretty she was, standing on his doorstep! All gotten up to look girly and agreeable. The last time she'd looked like that was at Anya's wedding, when she'd worn that abysmal dress but smiled and glowed as if she was the bride herself.

The only problem with the slayer being all beautiful and effulgent like that was, it got his hopes up. All she'd ever done with his hopes was dash them.

When he emerged, she was sitting at the table, thumbing through the pile of library books.

"All poetry. I never knew you were such a reader, Spike."

"A lot you don't know about me."

"But I'd like to. Maybe you'd read me some, some time. I took a poetry course at the university. I picked it because . . . well, because poems are usually short. But then, I liked it."

"What did you like?"

She gave a guilty start. "Oh, if I'm supposed to remember—!"



"Spike, can I ask you a question?" Her palms were sweating. He was walking beside her, not too close, not too far, hands in pockets, a cigarette hanging off his lip. She couldn't tell if he was just marking time, or if he was doing the world's best imitation of a man who was just marking time.

He glanced at her.

"Do you . . . do you like me?"

He did a doubletake; just a small, neat one. Then his mouth split into a grin. "Where've I heard that before?"

She acknowledged this with a rueful nod.

"You're a likeable girl, Buffy. Still, could like you better, a good deal of the time. Suppose you could say the same of me, though."

"I like you."

"Yeah, you told me that before, in Indiana. I remember every syllable out of your rosy lips, from that night."

"I meant it all, Spike."

"Did you, Slayer?"

"Yes. I wasn't lying. Although I don't blame you if you think that."

"Didn't think you'd lied. Just thought that—it's one thing, maybe, to promise things when we're on the road, nobody else to answer to. Quite another back here in the midst of your friends. Old associations."

"Yeah. That's what happened. When I got back . . . I kept thinking about what you used to be like. How ugly you were to me. Not just last year, but . . . since we met. You know you were."

"Yeah. Mortal enemies an' all."

"And that was confusing, because even after what we did together on the road . . . I still didn't know how you'd changed. Not really."

He nodded.

"I wish we'd both done a lot of things differently. All along."

"Me too." He gave her a sidelong glance. "'Cept I guess I should regret ever coming here. Ever troubling you. But I can't. I'm sorry."

Every time he apologized to her, she felt as if he'd suddenly scooped her up by her ankles; the posture seemed so unnatural.

All at once she felt like she had at thirteen, walking next to a boy she liked, wanting to absorb every iota of his attention and admiration, not knowing if he cared or not. Her stomach was jigging. Spike could probably smell her distress.

"Whatever you are's all right with me," he murmured. "I love you like blazes all the time. I always will."

Something burst forth in the region of her heart, heat spreading through her chest, and she knew she was blushing. Spike had to smell that too, but he just smiled mildly and kept walking.



She led him into Sunnydale Municipal Park, away from the streetlamps, to the edge of the pond. Ducks slept on the bank. The stars were reflected in the water. The whole place was quiet.

"C'mere." She went to a bench, sat down. He hesitated. For a second, it crossed his mind that all this was some kind of big slayer fake-out, even now. She was going to execute him for what he'd done to Jack. She'd do it the way he did Jack—after lulling him off guard. His dust would mix in with the duck droppings, drift into the water.

She patted the bench. He sat. She gave him a sidelong glance, then folded her hands in her lap.

"I don't know if you ever want to talk about what happened. About Jack. But I'd like to, if you would."

"You'd like to?"

"Uh . . . yeah."

His hackles were up. "Got something to say, Slayer?"

"No. I mean, nothing nasty. So you don't have to be like that."

He made an effort to relax. Actually he was curious to hear what she'd say.

"Look, I just want you to understand . . . when he came here, and you were together . . . that was really hard for me. Because I don't think of you that way, and . . . and I thought you only wanted me. Well, and Anya that one time. But I guess . . . that's me being all self-involved again, because hello, you have needs too, and you must hate it that I never think about them."

"Well . . . ."

"And as for the not thinking of you that way—well, what do I know, I'm like a child compared to you, and you've been everywhere and done everything, so—"

"Not so much, Buffy. Not so much as you seem to think."

"What do you mean?"

"Once I got Dru to myself, really didn't want anybody else. Before that, I . . . well . . . " Oh, no need to tell her about the prostitutes. Or to mention Angelus, who'd encouraged him to feed among them, and to . . . relieve his grosser urges that way too. Back when Drusilla's cunny belonged only to Daddy. "Point is, you were the first human I ever made love to." I was making love every time I had you, even if you weren't. "Last summer, in New York—all those men—was a pretty new thing for me." Skills Angelus taught me in his bed, though, never go out of fashion.

"I was the first?"

"With a heartbeat, yeah."

"Oh. Oh! I guess I imagined . . . you really never went with anybody else besides Drusilla? In all that time?"

"I loved her, Buffy. Didn't want anyone else but my darling." He sighed. "That's what I'm like." Dru wasn't, but again, no need to go into that now.

"I know. I saw that, with Jack, how . . . you were so loyal to him."

Spike shrugged. Loyal, oh yeah. Bugger was doomed the second he clapped eyes on me.

I think . . . ."

"What?"

"Maybe he reminded you of . . . William."

He focused on the shimmering of the moonlight in the water. Couldn't look at her. Buffy, he could tell, was doing the same. The breeze brought her perfume to his nostrils.

"These psych courses they give at university—no good ever comes of 'em," he remarked gloomily.

"I just thought . . . with the poetry. And the sadness. And you looked to be about the same age. I mean, he was, the same, as you were, when . . . . "

"What makes you think William was sad?"

"I don't know. A barista without any clients. And Giles said you really wanted to be a teacher." She glanced at him then. "So tell me, Spike. Was William—I mean, were you—unhappy before you died?"

"I thought we were talking about Jack."

"And I thought it was all related. I wonder . . . if you were in love with him." She looked at him then, out of soft eyes full of—he wasn't sure what. Hope? Why that?

"Loved him, I did. In love . . . that's all you. There's a difference."

"But he loved you. Was in love with you. And like you said, he wasn't all conflicted about it."

"Poor sod was a sad case, fallin' for the likes of me."

"You ended up wanting to save him."

He shook his head. "Maybe. But I always fail. Didn't save him. Didn't save you. Never could save myself."

"Yourself? William, you mean? From what?"

"Don't really want to talk about it, Slayer."

"Do you think you ever will? With me?"

"Try me sometime when I'm staggering drunk, maybe." This was a side of Buffy he'd never really seen before. Curiosity was never one of her salient features. Neither was gentleness, at least not with him. He had to give her credit for trying. Her willingness was tentative and earnest as a newborn foal.

"Look up there." She pointed. "That sky." The next thing he knew, she was resting her head against his shoulder, the better to take in the panoply of stars. The night was absolutely clear. A night, his demon instincts said, for tracking prey with feral joy across distance, drinking deep in the open air. Rolling with one's mate in the sweet dewy grass before sun-up.

Strands of Buffy's hair were lifted by the breeze against his lips.

"Do you know the constellations, Spike?"

He knew them. He'd learned them as a boy, and as a demon, most vibrant at night, they'd burned into his consciousness like a beloved landscape, thoroughly known. How many nights, on how many continents, had he lain out with Drusilla, navigating them? She liked to invent her own, and weave loopy stories about them, but he knew the real old ones, all that the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans had decided about them.

"I only know the dippers," she said. "And Orion. He's easy."

He pointed out others. "That there is Cassiopeia. She was Queen of Philistia, a real vain bitch, She was punished for that by having to sacrifice her daughter to some sea monster. The daughter was saved, went on to be the mother of all the kings of Persia, blah blah blah, but because Cassiopeia insulted the sea nymphs, she never sets below the surface of the sea. She's always above the horizon."

"Huh."

"That other one there," he pointed, "is Cepheus, her husband. They face away from each other, they're never allowed to speak."

"Says who?"

"The ancients." He pointed again. "There's Andromeda. She was Cass's daughter. There's only three constellations that are women."

"So the third one's the Slayer?"

"What do you mean?"

"There's got to be a constellation of the slayer. There must've been slayers in ancient Greece, right?"

"I suppose so. Never thought about it. But there's no constellation." He paused. "We could make one." He wanted to bite his tongue. That word we still felt like it was going to set it on fire.

There is no we! You're not a man! There's nothing good about you! Her stake would move faster than the eye could see, and—

"Oh, could we?"

"Sure. Pick out a star you like."

"Hmm." To get a better view of all the possible stars, she tipped her head back further on his shoulder. This brought her face very close to his. He traced the outline of her profile with his gaze. She looked intent. Absorbed. Her lips were shiny. Then she turned her head a little, so their faces were nearly touching. Her breath bathed his cheek. "That one." She pointed. He followed her finger, and saw she'd chosen the North Star.

"That's a good one," he murmured. "That one's fixed. Immovable. Like you."

"It's so bright."

"That's right, love. It knows what it's about, that star. Now let's see . . . ." He put up his hand to trace the outline he was describing, and she moved softly closer to him, nestling her head into his neck, in order to follow the line of his arm and hand. "See that one there? Winking? That's the point of your upraised stake—"

"Sword."

"Symbol of the slayer's not a sword."

"Sword's more classical," she said. "Anyway, swords are fun."

That's my girl. "All right, your sword. And that one there, is the buckle of your belt—and there's one foot . . . and there's another. You're in battle stance. Ready to behead all manner of beasties. And those there—"

"Where?"

"Those. That sprinkling of little twinklers—see? They're your hair, streaming out in the breeze."

"Oh." She had to turn her head a bit to follow where he was pointing, and he turned his to check whether she was looking in the right place. Their noses brushed. Buffy made a tiny sound, her hand came up to his cheek, and then there was her mouth, kissing his mouth.

These kisses were distinct, gentle, almost cool. They didn't push, or prod, didn't presage ripping, mauling, punching, or any sort of demolishment. Yet neither were they evasive. She kept her one hand on his cheek, and the other, which had been resting in her lap, moved to his leg. She laid it on his thigh, small and warm, like a trusting little animal. Soon he clasped it in his own. She squeezed and held on.

She renewed their kisses for a long time before she stopped. But didn't drop his hand. "Show me my constellation again."

He directed her gaze to the North star. She smiled, sighed, shook her head. "I don't know how you can keep track of one among so many."

"It's easy when you know how. And yours's got the most important star of all, right at the head of it. Whole sky swings 'round that."

"Really?" She traced the shape of it on his leg with her fingertip. "Now show me the Slayer's partner. The one who used to be her enemy, but then he changed, and loved her, and she changed, and when they finally opened to each other, they were happy, and there was nothing they couldn't conquer together . . . ."

He was cold suddenly, as if a gale blew through him. But the hand she held—squeezing it now—throbbed and burned. "That one, you'll have to suss out for yourself."

She shifted softly, so she was straddling his lap, her forehead resting on his, gazes tangled.

"Spike. You know I already have."



Her words took a little space—a few distinct seconds, as though marked by a sweep hand—to register with him. Then he snatched her close.

He was breathing, and in a little while she could tell he was breathing her, her perfume that she'd put on for him, and her sweat and the scent of her arousal, her emotion. He held her as if some terrible force was going to rip her away at any moment; he held her as if she was about to tear herself away. She waited for him to kiss her. A little time elapsed before she understood that his passion in this moment wasn't erotic.

He'd never had this before, she realized. Her in his arms, just to hold. Just to hold, and feel, with no need to rush on to consummation and parting.

How much he must've wanted this! The idea awed her. She was just now beginning to approach the depth of Spike's love for her; its ways and its meaning. She'd done so little thinking about him up until now, and what there was, tracked such a narrow groove.

Little by little she gave in to it: into his silence, into the tightness of his embrace. With her head on his shoulder and nothing to do but be, she had time to smell his clean hair, to feel the muscles shift in his neck as he swallowed. She sighed. She could relax. He was strong, and he would hold her.

Their ugly past crowded them. Terrible things had happened, pain, struggle despair, death, in order that they could be together again. They must not squander that, they must live it to the hilt, in order that the bad things should not triumph.

Then his grip loosened. "Slayer . . . are you sure?" He moved her gently back and looked into her face. "I mean . . . are you really . . . ?"

"I need you, Spike."

His gaze lost focus. He twined a bit of her hair around his finger, brought it to his lips. Then he shook his head. "Don't do this, Buffy."

"What? What am I doing?"

". . . the sweetness of you . . . Always wanted a sweet girl, who'd let me be good to her. You're not going to let me, though. You don't really want me for that."

The expression on his face was one she'd never seen before. Soft, tentative, full of hope and the prescience of disappointment; some instinct told her that she was looking not at Spike— everything that was hard, glittering, cocky Spike for the moment stripped away —but at William, whoever William was. She had no idea.

He was just a man looking at her full of love and doubt and fear.

Her heart raced, it was hard to draw breath. Even though she thought she knew what she was doing, what she wanted, her responses to these very simple things from him—a look, a touch, his breathing—wobbled her.

"I do though. I do want that. Show me . . . show me what you wanted to be for me, last year. What I wouldn't let you be. And I've got some stuff to show you."

"Oh God—Slayer."

She touched his lips, which were parted and trembling. Brought her mouth near to them. Whispered, "Don't call me Slayer when I'm making love to you."

Pressed her mouth to his, which opened to expel a groan. He clutched at her, her shoulders, then her hair, then her waist. Astride his lap, she could feel the hard knot of his excitement. She sucked on his tongue. Apart from the near frantic, yet gentle, movement of his hands, as if he was assuring himself that she was real, not some flickering apparition, Spike did nothing. When she lifted her mouth from his, he said again, "Buffy . . . is this really—? Because I don't think I can stand it, if . . . if you're not . . . ."

The uncertainty in his voice pierced her. When had Spike ever been uncertain about what he wanted with her? She missed that arrogant confidence she'd once been so irritated by.

She would supply it instead.

"But I am. I am . . ." she murmured. "I want you to know." She glanced around, listening. Apart from the small sounds made by the slumbering ducks, the park was quiet. No one around.

She slid off his lap to kneel between his feet in the cool grass. "Have you ever had enough head, Spike? I mean, as much as you wanted?" She undid his belt, his fly buttons. Glancing up, she saw him watching her with an expression of near bafflement. His cock, not baffled at all, sprang out into her hand, the tip already wet. She rubbed the head against her cheeks, beneath her chin, across her lips. His knees trembled; she put her hands on them, as if they were animals to be gentled. "This part is like an apricot, all firm and velvety." She kissed the head, then enveloped it in her mouth, sliding it back and forth across her wet tongue. She liked how it felt, and imagined Spike must like the sight of her this way. She tried not to think about who'd been here before her. Jack . . . who'd had Spike in a kind of thrall if anyone ever did . . . he must've been so good at this. No. Not going there. Concentrate. She licked at the little beads of pre-cum as they bubbled eagerly up. Salty, musky, good.

He groaned and clutched at her hair, then abruptly let go. She glanced up. He'd balled his hands into fists as if reproaching them. His face was closed and woeful. Letting the cock slip from her lips, she reached for Spike's hands, unfolding them.

"I want you to enjoy this. However you want it . . . you show me. Tell me. Whatever." Pressing a kiss into each of his palms, she put them back on her hair, where they rested, she felt, too lightly. She leaned in, dropped teasing little kisses down the heavy vein and down to the balls, that moved and tensed as she licked them. His fingers tightened in her hair; she took first one ball then the other in her mouth. He gasped, but bit back on any other sound.

He didn't trust this.

She went slowly. This was nearly new territory for her, she wasn't really sure of her methods. She'd never done it with Angel; with Riley, only seldom, and in the dark. He'd liked it, but always seemed embarrassed to ask for it, to receive it, and she'd been embarrassed too. And before, with Spike . . . well, it was always weird, before, taking him in her mouth. It made her feel powerful, like Delilah cutting Samson's hair, to triumph over his loss of control. Yeah, she'd felt that when he'd come in her mouth, but also strangely degraded. Couldn't meet his eyes afterwards.

She remembered each time she'd done it—only three. And each of them, was to get him to shut up.

Now she wished he'd speak. "Is this good, Spike?"

To her amazement, he murmured, "You shouldn't . . . ."

"That's not what I asked you. Does it feel good? When I do this?" She gripped the shaft tight in both hands, holding the foreskin back, engulfing the head once more in her mouth. She realized, with a little start of surprise, that she was really enjoying this, not just because she wanted to be generous for once, but because it was, simply, hot, to have Spike's hard silky pretty cock in her mouth. She was aware, as she reacquainted herself with every inch of it, of her own body; her nipples hard, pussy sodden and twitching. She could smell her own excitement wafting to her from her parted legs.

She'd lost track of the number of times he'd done this to her. More even than fucking her, she'd thought last year, Spike loved burying his face between her thighs, making her come over and over. He'd talk about how she tasted, her delicious aroma. I don't wash you off, Slayer, he'd say. That way I sleep with you even when you're not here.

Now she pulled up her hem to dip her fingers into her own moisture. "I want you to know how I feel about doing this. How wet you get me."

Reaching up, she painted Spike's lip, the cleft beneath his nose. He inhaled sharply, his eyes opened, and his mouth; she put her fingers inside. He sucked them hard, and groaned.

"That's what I'm gonna do to you now." She took him in all at once, smiling around her mouthful, getting into it now, the inexorable rhythm.

Spike made a sound she didn't think she'd ever heard before, and nearly doubled over. "Oh—my—God—Buffy—fuck—bloody mother of Christ, girl—fuck—fuck—oh I love you—I love you I love—"

His prick convulsed against her moving tongue. She helped it along with her hand, and swallowed proudly.

Giving his spent flesh a last kiss, she buttoned it back into his jeans. Spike blinked at her.

"Good?"

"Buffy . . . never in a million years . . . ." He pulled her off the ground. "If I was your slave before—"

Leaning against his knees, she moved in close. "Don't want a slave, Spike. I want a boyfriend. I want a boyfriend who'll call me sweetheart. You interested in that position?"

All at once his face formed into the one she'd missed before—Spike in all his knowingness. Humid-eyed and sly. Tentative William once more submerged. "Hell Slayer, I'm interested in all the positions."

He kissed her then, hard and hungry.

She rose, and drew him up after her. "Walk me home, my lover. I want you in my bed."



He felt faint. How could he feel faint? Yet as she led him by the hand up the stairs in her house, steered him around the corner and into her bedroom, he couldn't feel his legs, and black specks floated in his vision, obscuring his view of the back of her shiny head. This was what he'd always wanted, and now it was happening, he was almost too spacey to savor it.

"Get into bed, okay? I'll be right back."

Get into bed? Just like that? He glanced around the room. He'd been here before, everything was familiar. But he'd never been drawn in by her hand. It all looked different when you were welcome. She'd brought him here, she'd led him in, on a cloud of her lovely pheromones.

The bed was neatly made. He tugged the cover down, stripped off his clothes, and slid in. The cool sheets gave up a concentrated fragrance of her that nearly undid him with pleasure. Rolling onto his stomach, he buried his face in her pillow and breathed it in. Stretched himself to the four corners of the mattress, as if the bed was Buffy herself, and he was embracing her. This was her particular nest, rich with her smell, her silly girlthings all around—and here he was in the midst of it, invited.

They, for a wonder, hadn't followed him here. He was unattended, waiting for Buffy, who was nearby, who would walk back in any second now and give herself into his arms.

I'm under the Slayer's protection now. An' she's under mine. So there.



"Voila."

She expected him to sit up and react. Only a dead man wouldn't, according to the clerk at the tony lingerie store who'd sold her this French teddy. Just putting it on ratcheted up her excitement. Imagining what Spike would do when he saw her in it, made her throb. A subtle bit of blue gossamer lace, held together with light boning and ribbon, which she'd bought with the full understanding that she would wear it precisely once, for a matter only of minutes, before it would be rendered to scraps, if not positively eaten, by her appreciative lover.

Who was doing a stupendous job of ignoring her. What was so interesting about that pillow?

"Spike? Little feedback here?"

Buffy was at the bedside before she realized he was fast asleep.

His arms were wrapped around her pillow, nose half buried in it. Spike breathed softly—she didn't think vampires ever did that, when they weren't awake to consciously do it. She watched him for a few moments before it came to her that he was breathing her scent off the pillowslip. That perhaps it was that which had sent him so smoothly off. The dark circles under his eyes telegraphed his fatigue.

Traded sleep for a soul.


At the closet she peeled the teddy off and hung it up, then padded back to the bed. Stood for a moment at the foot and just looked at him in the soft light from the unshaded windows.

A tired man, come to rest.

Tired from the weight of a conscience burdened with decades of evil.

And this is what I've decided to accept. The love of a killer, a creature of darkness, a mystery to me.

It's Angel all over again.

No
.

She hadn't let herself think about this—every time the comparison came to mind, she'd shoved it away. But now, in the dark, in the middle of the night, she looked at it. Angel had his soul when she met him. A soul he'd received as a curse and a punishment; a soul he'd had nearly a hundred years to make some peace with.

Spike had had so little time to learn to live with his. Yet how hard he tried to accommodate it. It chafed him at every point, but the only violence he'd tried to do to throw it off was to himself.

The soul didn't change his love for her, except to make him sure he wasn't worthy of it.

And he wasn't, she thought, tracing the line of his back in the pale windowglow. He wasn't worthy, and he wasn't alive, and she'd asked him to be her boyfriend with a certainty similar to that with which she'd dived off Glory's tower. It was time to do it, it must be done, and she was, at the moment of achieving it, fiercesomely glad to take the plunge.

Buffy pulled the shades, and locked the door, moving silently. When she got into bed she feared to disturb him; he hadn't left her much room. But he shifted without seeming to wake, spooning her, and murmured something incomprehensible into her hair before subsiding again into unbreathing stillness.



Okay, this was kind of weird. In bed with Spike in her house for the first time, and he was asleep, and there was something very old married couple about that which was wiggy, and she wasn't anywhere near sleepy—too excited to relax. She was all juicy and vibrating, and couldn't resist touching herself. Much as she didn't want to actually pull him from sleep, she thought maybe Spike would feel her arousal, wake up and make love to her.

Make love
. All last year, she'd been ruthless with herself—with him—about avoiding that little phrase. Applying it now made her feel almost shy. There was a coyness to those words that seemed to have nothing to do with Spike, who was all about the dirty talk and no inhibitions.

Making love was the inhibition. It was the one thing she'd not allowed, which he'd most desired. And she did too . . . had, she realized, for a long time. Even when she was going to him last year.

That night in Indiana, he'd made love to her . . . she fingered herself as she remembered how he'd opened her legs and looked at her, and then how delicately and slowly he'd pleasured her. At the thought of his mouth on it, her clit twitched. She lifted her upper leg and caressed it with her fingertip, biting her lip to stay quiet.

Then there was a cool touch on her leg; his hand slipped around the back of her knee to hold it up.

"Go on," he whispered.

"Oh—I didn't mean to wake—"

"Yeah you did. S'allright, didn't mean to drop off like that an' neglect you. Go on, precious."

"I'd rather you—"

"I'm right here."

He shifted behind her, and she felt the tip of his erection nose against her pussy. The contact made her shiver. Taking it in her fingers, she guided his cock into her; heard him sigh. Suddenly she wished she could see it, the slick rosy head on the white shaft, disappearing inside her. Once at the University someone had shown her a book of old Japanese erotic prints, and she'd been fascinated in particular by those depictions of women taken from behind, the lovers fully dressed in those magnificently patterned kimonos, put aside just enough to show every detail of their coitus.

He still held her top leg up, and was pressed tightly against her back, his breath stirring her hair.

"Go on touching yourself, Buffy. Make your pretty little sounds an' all for me."

All at once she wanted to be facing him, wanted to see if he really was as happy as he sounded. When she'd joined him in bed her mind had been full of how complicated and perilous this all was, but in this moment it was pure and simple and direct: they were lovers making love, she was wet for him and he was inside her and there was nothing to prevent their joy from going forward.

"Spike, I love your cock in me—"

"Do you, sweetheart? Tell me."

He really did sound happy, and the thought of that did something to her that was dizzying.

She moved her fingers softly over her swollen clit, made herself gasp, and then all at once she was beyond speech, all she could do was pant and flutter and clamp herself ecstatically around him. She came with a cry that was half a laugh.

"Now you—fill me up, come in me—"



Afterwards, she turned to face him, and switched on the light. She couldn't resist touching his face, smoothing his eyebrows with her thumb, placing little kisses on his nose and lips. "Welcome to my bed."

"Still can't quite believe I'm here."

"You are here," Buffy said. "You . . . are definitely here." Her hand continued its exploration—the planes of his face, his neck, chest. She needed to learn him over him again, now everything was different. "I'm glad you were able to fall asleep here. I want you to be comfortable with me. I want you to like . . . like me. Like loving me. I don't want you to be sorry you ever did. That always happens and I hate it." Tears came on as suddenly as a summer storm.

He pulled her against him, made soothing sounds, but a fresh rill of anguish was breaking through from her depths; it geysered. She began to shake.

"Oh God, oh God, how can we do this? How can this be happening? Oh Spike, Spike, don't let me hurt you—I don't want to hurt you, but I'm all messed up—all twisted up—"

"Sssh, sssh, who said so? Who told you such a lie?"

"I'm so afraid—"

"What, of me? Buffy, precious, I swear I'll never—"

"I know! Oh, Spike, I know—you don't have to say it. I'm afraid of—"

"Whatever's coming, I'm with you. I'll help you—"

"It's me. It's me I'm afraid of. I . . . I still don't know what I am. But I get these glimpses, and they terrify me. You know . . . what you used to say about me being dark—"

"Was only trying to fuck with your head, Buffy. Me bein' evil."

"But it's true too. I knew it. I knew it before I died, and then after I came back . . . I didn't want to know it." She looked to him for confirmation, and after a moment, he nodded.

"I get so numb, and the people I care about just feel like a job to do, or an impediment to the job I have to do. And— There's so much darkness inside, and it's my power and it's me and I'm afraid. I'm afraid I'm just this slaying machine that can't really feel anymore." She was crying so hard her whole face was wet, as if her eyes were melting. This was too much, this fear, how could she live with this, being afraid of what she was at her core, not understanding it? Too much darkness, always lapping at her.

And who was she asking for protection? A vampire. Oh God!

"Not true, not true. Sssh, my girl, don't cry—"

"Am I—am I—"

"What, some monster?"

"Your girl."

"Always." He brought her quivering hand to his mouth, kissed the knuckles, and the fingers. "I'm yours, for what that's worth, an' I always will be." He smoothed her hair, kissed her wet eyes. "I know all about you, Buffy, listen. You're the bloody Wrath of God, you are, but you're a real, warm, tasty little woman too, with a fascinatin' cunt on her, an' a sweet look in her eyes, lips like cherries, an' everything pretty in her ways . . . seein' you makes me hard, and makes me happy, makes me want to be good, an' do whatever'll please you, whether you see it or not, because I love you an' love you an' love you."

She clung to him, weeping harder. Why was it so easy for him, easy to feel, easy to say? When for her— Her throat closed into a tight painful knot. It would always be wrong between them, she would always be wrong, alone and lonely, because being the slayer had gutted her.

"Oh Spike—"

"Ssssh, love. It's all right. I understand."

"You don't—! You don't understand . . . ." Shaking, sobbing, she took his face in her hands, looked into his eyes that were everything mild and accepting. How could this be, how could this be that a vampire was such a genius of love? While she—

"I can't— I can't . . . ."

"Can't . . . ?" He smiled a little. He was so close to her. Warm from what they'd been doing, relaxed though she was so agitated. His hand smoothed her hair. "What can't you, darling?"

"I can't . . . can't tell you that . . . ." It hurt to speak, like that time when she was six and had strep throat.

"Tell me what, love? What can't you tell me? Once I know what it is, then you won't have to worry about it anymore."

What beautiful sense he made. She put her mouth close to his, closed her eyes. "I can't tell you that I love you. I want to, but . . ."

"You want to?" He smiled for a fleeting moment, then went solemn. Watching her so hard.

She nodded. "Yes. But—"

"Wouldn't do, is that it? For the slayer to say she loves bad old fangy Spike?"

"No! No, I meant . . . because . . . because I don't know if I can . . . if I can feel that way about anybody ever again. . . ."

"Wouldn't be sobbin' away like a drain as you are if you weren't full of feeling, pet." He smoothed the water from her lashes with his thumbs. "Don't worry yourself so. Dunno what I am any more, and you don't know what you are . . . so we're a pretty pair, aren't we? We'll have to keep an eye on each other, yeah? Take care of each other."

"Yeah."

It was a real talent, she realized, his ability to take in her enormous badnesses and just deal with them. He'd tried to do this for her last year, when she first came back. She'd confided in him a little, but there was that big barrier between them, and then, sleeping with him . . . just flung the barrier higher. Even after all that, here he was, absorbing her tears, absorbing her confusion. Monomania had its upside.

"But I feel a bit better, now you told me what you can't tell me."

"I'm sorry, Spike."

"For what?"

"He always said it—"

"Never mind that now, Buffy. Don't think about that. Got you in my arms, you're not kicking me in the head, I'm all content."

"But I do. Because I know how good it makes me feel, when you say it to me . . . and I know how important it is to you. You should get to hear that. You should get to hear the woman you love tell you . . . tell you . . . she loves being your girl. She loves having you here. Loves the way you look at her, and accept her and help her. She loves you so much, Spike. You should get to hear that."

She would've said more, but he was kissing her now, and she needed all her breath for that.



He rested on her, asleep, his spent cock still inside her. His body a little heavy, a little awkward, but she was filled with such feminine pride at satisfying him, at pillowing his hard-won repose, that she was content to stay put as long as necessary.

Fucking him last year, she'd wanted only her own orgasm, temporary obliteration of pain, temporary access to feeling, the sharper the better. Spike was just the means to that end, and she gave no thought to his pleasure. He'd get it, one way or the other, for sure. Now that selfishness shamed her. She sought to learn what he liked best.

It was a long slow undulant fuck they'd just finished, carried along on his whispered incantations—her sweetness, her beauty, the delights of her warm little cunt. Hold onto me, he'd murmured, over and over. She folded him close in her arms; wrapped her legs around his flanks. Are you my pretty mistress? Do you like what I'm doing to you? She realized he wanted to hear her talk. She'd never noticed before, her instinct for silence during sex. Shyly, she answered his smutty questions, searched for ones of her own, warming to the naughty talk as she felt his excitement ratchet up.

The sun was risen now, making a bright penumbra at the bottom of her drawn shades. She heard her sister leave her room and go into the bathroom. Downstairs the front door opened and shut, opened and shut: her friends were gathering.

Spike shifted in her arms, murmured.

"Didn't mean to didn't mean to didn't mean to . . . ."

"Ssssh," Buffy said.

She stroked his arm, and he subsided for a moment, then tensed again, groaning. "I don't know I don't know—don't ask me . . . head hurts, stop it . . . ."

"Spike . . . sssh. Wake up now, okay?"

Coming to with a start and a groan, he rolled off her as if surprised to find himself there.

"Where am—where—" He shuddered. "—oh. Slayer."

"Are you all right?"

He frowned, rubbing his forehead. "Dreams."

"Bad, I know," she nodded. "But you were sleeping, which: good. Right? C'mere." She drew his head back to her breast. "I liked holding you while you slept." She combed her fingers through his hair.



He craved her affection, her acceptance, more than he'd ever craved anything. So why, now that it rained down on him in glittering gusts, was it so bloody painful? Why did it feel like such an abomination for her to comfort him from his righteous nightmares? Spike listened to Buffy's heart thub against his cheek, felt the lulling movement of her hand in his hair, and hated himself.

He'd won her at last, so why did he feel like she was in danger of being lost?

He wasn't good for her.

But no way could he give her up.

"Do you want to get up?" she said. "Come down to breakfast? I'm kinda hungry after all that . . . good stuff we did."

He stiffened. "You really gonna bring me down there? Show me to the Scoobs? The Bit?"

She shifted to look at him. "They're not really going to be surprised, Spike. They'll be okay, I think."



They were all there in the kitchen when, showered and dressed, he followed Buffy downstairs.

Giles, Dawn, Xander, and Willow. Cooking eggs, eating cereal, chatting to each other.

And the others, who did not eat, who did not chat.

They were there too, awaiting him.

Did you imagine you'd given us the slip? Their eyes spoke to him. Did you think that when she accepted you, that was the end of us? We will be with you until she accepts all you are or ever were, every iota of your evil that can never be undone.

We will be with you forever.

He balked in the doorway. They were all staring at him.

"So," Xander said. "It's come to this."

Willow, at the stove, threw Xander a look, set down her spatula and came up to him. "Spike, I'm so sorry for your loss."

"I—what?"

"Jack. I'm sorry about what happened. I should've told you sooner. Gone to see you."

Right behind Willow, the little girl from the coalbin sat on the counter, her white pinny streaked with black and red, the yellow hair falling around her neck caked with blood, kicking with her scuffed boots against the cabinet. She'd kicked at him when he snatched her up, while he drank her, but not for very long. Children drained in no time. No time at all.

"Ah . . . thanks. Kind of you."

"Do you want something to eat? I'm on egg duty."

Buffy's hand was on his elbow then, drawing him gently towards a stool. Xander, aggressively crunching toast, was refusing to look at him, but he also wasn't giving up his spot at the island.

"Spike?" Dawn said. "Tea?"

The Chinese slayer stepped out from behind her. She held her head at an unnatural, disconcerting angle, blood dribbling down her neck. He heard her speak, but still didn't understand Chinese.

He wanted to grab Buffy, hold on to her for dear life, but she'd moved off to the refrigerator and was staring inside. Anyway, he couldn't do that here, couldn't let on what was happening. They were for him to bear alone—none of the Scoobies would pity him, as indeed they should not.

Giles was watching them all mildly over his unfurled newspaper. Willow set an omelet in front of him, and looked again at Spike.

"So, how do you like your eggs, Spike?"

Buffy turned from the fridge, smiling at him. The pleased, private smile of a well-fucked woman. "We've got Tabasco sauce, you can make 'em nice and spicy." To Dawn she said, "He likes things spicy."

"Spicy. Check."

Nikki stood beside her, her face a mask of outrage. You mofo honky spook, where's my goddamn coat ? Gimme back my coat—!

"Will, sit down and eat," Buffy said. "I'll fix breakfast for Spike and me."

"It's okay, I'm here already."

"But I want to. Now shoo."

Trembling, Spike closed his eyes. What if they never receded? Could he go on like this, could he bear it? Outside the kitchen door, the sun lit up the side yard, making each blade of grass, each leaf, shimmer. He could step out there and make them all go away forever. Free this troubled soul to go back where it came from.

He started, blinked. Jack was in the yard, the sun making his dark hair shine like a raven's wing. Spike saw his lips move, mouthing his name. The colors of the fish tattoo were so bright, his white shoulders gleaming in the clear light. Smiling with his pretty mouth, he gestured to him to come out.

Spike reached for the doorknob.

Buffy stepped in front of him. "Watcha looking at out there? Be careful, the light's coming in." She adjusted the curtain with a tug, then handed him the bottle of Tabasco. "You hang onto this, okay? Eggs coming right up."


~End~



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