All About Spike

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Any Small Thing
By Ginmar

Ever since the whole thing had started, he’d rediscovered fear. He’d practically forgotten about that, forgotten about how so much of being human was being afraid, if not for one’s self, then for others. Being a vampire meant causing fear, but ever since realizing what his feelings were, he’d not had a day where they didn’t make him aware of what a dangerous position she was in.

He’d really forgotten about it all, forgotten what it was like when he was a human, when fear had been his primary emotion. He’d been so afraid of them, and then, abruptly, they were afraid of him. The only fear he’d known for a century was seeing its reflection in the faces of his victims. Now he saw it in Buffy’s face, and he remembered as if it had been yesterday what it had been like to look in Cecily’s face and see...nothing. Oh, that was fear. All love had been for him as a human was fear, and the sorrow that death rescued him from.

Or had it?

Now he looked at Buffy’s face from across the room and reviewed his methods. Truth was, he’d been no good combating his terror when he’d been human, and as a vampire he’d perfected only how to cause it. He’d seen fear on Buffy’s face before, but now he saw something else, something he’d never seen before, and he knew her as completely as only an adversary could. He’d seen so many Buffys, studying her to fine weaknesses, but now she was so tired and so run down that all the Slayer had been burned away, and there was nothing left but the girl beneath. If anything, he loved her more, then, and the sorrow reared up like a gale around him, because what could a vampire do about exhaustion? What good was his immortal’s strength if it couldn’t bring her mother back, protect her sister, give her untroubled sleep?

The Scoobies were bickering and bickering and snapping like yappy little dogs, so he hovered about the edges of the dispute and seized the chance to grab her arm. The doctor was attending his patient, and she was staring down at Giles with the glassy eyes of someone damned near exhausted to death. She glanced at him briefly, or at his collarbone, actually, and raised her eyebrows in inquiry. “C’mon, then, love, get you away from this.”

She didn’t look in his face much these days; if anything, she glanced tightly at his collarbone or his ear, but never in his eyes. He should have forgotten what color her eyes were, it had been so long since he’d seen them. She acted like a virgin who avoided looking at men’s crotches for fear of blushing and revealing herself.

“What do you want, Spike?”

“Just a minute, love, c’mon then.” She turned and they slipped inside the disused little office off the bay of the auto shop. Spike hovered in indecision, taking in the broken chairs, the girly calendar, the messy desk. Not good enough for the Slayer, he thought. He didn’t know which one to go after first, and Buffy watched him dither with something like amazement. When did Spike become a dork? She thought. More disturbing was the next thought: When did I start noticing? She never noticed Spike; she’d never needed to. Her brain had him neatly packaged as Spikeirritatingcockyimpulsivesnidemortalenemy. His declaration of his feelings had given her a serious case of the heebie jeebies. It was more frightening than violence, the idea that this enemy of hers could be suddenly regarding her with intimate eyes. There were cracks in that mental packaging all at once, and her brain started having problems with Spikirritatingcocky etc. etc., No man had ever risked his life for hers. Love had always been the thing that had left her feeling vulnerable; now she could see that is what it did to Spike, too.

She’d run across him while patrolling one night some time after Glory’s beating, and that was when she’d stopped looking directly at him, after one frozen stare into his eyes. He’d been outside his crypt and she’d been startled to how awful he still looked, days later. He was moving stiffly and gingerly, and in fact had just leaned on his door when he heard her and looked up into her startled eyes.

This is what love does to you, she thought. This is what he did for you. The bruises so distorted his features that it was impossible to see cocky, impulsive Spike at all. He might have been a different person. He might have been someone she didn’t know. The oddest thing was the trepidation on his face. He’s afraid of bad news, she thought. I’m his bad news. She was almost undone by the misery in his eyes, then. But what brought her back to reality was knowing that no one else knew precisely what had happened to him at Glory’s hands, how she herself had kissed him—or why. She still couldn’t explain the kiss to herself, so how could she explain it to her friends? She definitely couldn’t explain it to Spike, and she was oddly grateful that he never mentioned it. It was their secret, some silent knowledge that bound them together and separated them from the others. No one else knew. How could she look at him, then, and see the Spike who was so different from the Spike she knew that she almost needed a new name for this new character? Was this Spike? Was this someone else? All she knew was that she was seeing a Spike no one else could, and she knew that she was responsible for this sudden change. With responsibility came a queer sensation of pity, an emotion that irritated her. That was it, she thought. It’s irritation, not...something else.

Buffy bit her lip and looked around for some clue as to why he’d brought her here, her arms crossed tightly over her chest. Spike saw the message there, in her tight lips, her slumped posture, and yanked a chair out for her, forgetting his hands. Great fiery stabs of pain flashed up his arms, and he hissed and dropped the chair.

“Well?”

“Give us a minute,” he gritted out between clenched teeth. “I did a number on myself without Harris’ help for once.”

“Spike----“

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, we don’t have time or whatever it is you’ve been saying, but you’re running yourself ragged, and if you fall over then we’re buggered, aren’t we? So sit a bit.”

“And do what?” She rested a hand on the back of the dusty chair and stared at him. He found himself afraid to meet those eyes for more than a second, knowing what he wanted to find there and wouldn’t. He blinked at her for the briefest of seconds, then scrubbed his forehead with one bandaged hand, so uncomfortable at being alone with her that he was almost twitching with it.

“And to sit and do nothing for a minute,” he muttered. “That’s what. Your Watcher’s bein’ watched, the bit’s being baby-sat, and the Monty Python rejects out there can’t do anything for a while. So sit down, would you? Won’t do any harm.”

She eyed him warily. He sighed loudly, exasperated. “Sit, Slayer, would you, then? I don’t want to be finding out if you snore when you finally drive yourself into a coma.” He grinned at her suddenly, a copy of his usual smirk, but as she looked at him, it faltered suddenly, and he was staring abruptly at the floor. He recovered, clearing his throat and recovering his smirk with a visible effort. “It would completely destroy my image of you.”

“Your vision of me...” was covered in latex skin, she started to say, but knew that it wasn’t true, and cruel besides. “Fine...See? Me sitting.” She thumped down into the chair and raised a cloud of dust. Spike perched his butt on the desk and stuffed his hands gingerly into his coat pockets. Both of them looked at the ground. This is my life, stuck in a room with a chipped vampire who just decided he loved me one day, and figured out the best way to deal with it was by having a life-size robot made of me, Buffy thought. And then he risked his life for my kid sister, who’s not really my sister, but something a bunch of monks made out of energy and entrusted to me to protect. Oh, and now a bunch of RenFair rejects have got us trapped because a Hell God can turn my sister back into a key that will open dimensions. Just another day at the office...the Slayer office.

They both stared at the dusty ground that separated their feet. He loves me, Buffy thought. How does that happen? If you kick somebody’s ass enough times, will they just suddenly start to appreciate the ass kicking? How on Earth did this happen? Knock it off, she thought, faintly revolted. Meditate. That’s what Giles always says...She sighed at the thought of Giles, lying wounded outside, and noticed that the cigarette shook in Spike’s hands. That was as far up as she dared look. Spike in love. Why does everything have to be so complicated? Why can’t Mom be here, so she can tell me what to do? No, meditate, meditate. Calm. Clear your minds of thoughts....And try not to sound like Yoda when you do it.

Just nothing, think of nothing. She looked at Spike’s hands, ridiculously festooned with napkin bandages, and noted that if you did know his history, you wouldn’t even suspect he’d grabbed the blade of a sword to protect her. Or endured torture from a…Meditate, dammit. She closed her eyes to block out the memory. Maybe that was what vampires did when they were in love, although to go by Angel, he should have been serious, quiet, and thoughtful. And then psychotic. Spike, always contrary, appeared to doing it exactly backwards. Maybe there was a rule book and Spike hadn’t read it. Actually, knowing Spike, he probably had read the rulebook, laughing helplessly all the while. Which one was normal for a vampire? One of them had to be, because she’d been operating on the very comfortable proposition that vampires were little better than animals, and therefore it was okay to slay them. With the exception of Angel. And, now, perhaps with Spike.

Angel said he loved her, but left. Spike said he loved her and stayed. Which was normal, which should she believe? If Angel was normal one, it was almost comforting, because it was human. That was the way humans acted in love. They said all sorts of wonderful things…and left. Of course, there was always Spike, who said all kinds of irritating things and stayed. Was one normal and the other abnormal, or was the Counsel of Watchers wrong? Were vampires all different, and had some choice in the matter? It was so much comforting to believe there were only a couple of options, and that vampires chose one or the other. It was so disturbing to think that Spike had made a conscious decision to become a Good Vampire. Angel had a soul. Spike did not. How could Spike be the one standing here, injured, beaten up, and ungraciously twitchy? Angel, if he were here---and why, exactly wasn’t he? probed her subconscious----would at least look the part. Something about Spike made him look not noble but annoyed.

The discomfort that descended on the office during her continued silence was palpable. Spike sighed and fumbled with his lighter, and after watching him struggle for several seconds to light the cigarette but not the bandages on his hands, she took it and lit his cigarette for him. As she did so, she kept her attention focused on the lighter, and he managed to glance at her bowed head briefly, before hurriedly looking away. By now the silence was almost a presence in the office, and it had a quality to it she’d noticed before. That was another change, too; ever since she’d found out about the way he’d withstood Glory’s torture, the banter was gone. With it went the comfortable feeling she’d had that she could keep Spike at bay with words. There was no oddly flirty interplay between them at all, and with a sick sensation she recognized why. They were already intimate. Their secrets, their worries, their experience linked them closely now, too closely. It bothered her that she felt that way. I’m conscious of it now, she thought. Conscious of what? Why did that make her feel so...naked? Her perception of him had certainly changed, but she was the same person. It was just that she’d been startled into honesty, and now she knew she couldn’t retreat. He wouldn’t let her go back to trading quips and punches. She wasn’t sure she wanted to. She couldn’t pretend that he was the same old Spike any more. She couldn’t retreat from that kiss. She’d seen him naked, and he’d made her naked with his sacrifice. There was no hiding from each other, not after the honor he’d earned, the honesty she’d given him. It was just…different. That was it. She hadn’t adjusted to it yet. It was too much, too fast. All she could do was not look at him, and all he could do was smoke. She managed to look as far as his collarbone before fear overtook her, but what she did see made her think; if he were a little boy, he’d be kicking the toe of his boot in the dust. Even while she thought it, he tossed his cigarette to the dust and ground it into submission, then continued circling the dirt with the toe of his boot while he fidgeted with things in his pockets.

The silence got to be too much, and he raised his hands to run them through his hair, remembering too late their condition and wincing. At that, she glanced nervously at his collarbone, and he froze. More of that uncomfortable silence and she had to look around as if she were pretending to think. Anything but look directly at him. He caught her feigned disinterest and stopped fussing with his hair abruptly, leaving him for a moment with his hands frozen in midair. With a jerk, he crossed his arms, but his hands prevented him from actually completing the gesture, so he was left for several minutes fidgeting like a man with an itch. Finally he swallowed and his eyes darted about nervously. He took a deep breath and managed to look terribly disappointed in the housekeeping standards of the abandoned gas station. He eyed the cobwebs with intense disapproval. He stole a peek at her to check and see if there was any chance at all of her buying his act. Then he glanced around distastefully, waved a hand to dispel all the dust. Her arms were crossed so tight over her chest that he knew she wasn’t paying attention, locked into some internal world that he wanted to reach in to and tear her out of.

Buffy couldn’t help but shake her head at the sight of Spike, restively glancing around, like a wallflower at a dance. “Sorry. Small rooms and me don’t mix.” She said quietly.

Small rooms with you in them and me don’t mix, he heard. Then he thought of something else and glanced away, embarrassed. “Oh, right.” He muttered. Her mum. The hospital. You stupid git. “Well, at least there’s no…Hm,” he coughed abruptly. No good ending to that sentence. “ Just figured you needed a sit down.”

That was a fairly disturbing thought. Spike was the one worried about her weariness, which he shouldn’t be. She still worried about Angel, but suspected it was not mutual. Just a vampire, she thought, trying to keep that thought in her mind. She glanced around the office, noticing the girlie calendar for the first time and glancing away. Spike caught that averted glance and for a second wondered. Angel? Parker? Riley? And she flinched at a girlie calendar? Interesting. Then he sighed at himself. Stupid. Buffy was still searching the room for something to hold her interest. In the process, she found herself looking at Spike’s hands again. Just a vampire, she thought, now uncomfortable. He’s waiting. That hovering around her, that...worship....it made her uncomfortable. She knew he was waiting for any small thing, any small sign of her feelings, and then he would probably act like this forever.

“So.” She said. “Everything’s o---“ she stopped herself abruptly. “Well, for the moment, nobody’s attacking us.”

“Yes.” Spike said. “So just shut up.”

She looked at him, then, startled. “What?”

“Don’t give orders, don’t plan, don’t do anything. Just...sit. Just relax for a second.” With me, he added silently. Unspoken, the words still hung in the air between them.

“I should check on Giles.”

“You checked on Giles five minutes ago.” She got up and stepped to the door, but he grabbed her sleeve---not her hand, she noticed----and just as swiftly, dropped it and stepped back. “Or is just a good excuse not to be alone with me?”

Oh, God. She blushed a high bright red and retreated back into the room, just a bit, still looking in his direction, but not in his face.

“Don’t worry, Slayer. No more stirring speeches from me. Being in love with somebody tends to mean that you do try to avoid making them throw up.”

“No...it’s okay.”

“Well, it’s not exactly comfortable for me, either.” He pointed out. “I get to have really awful nicknames amongst the other vampires now, and they’re not exactly synonymous with ‘the Scourge of Europe’.” He pulled out a cigarette and handed it to her with the lighter. Amused despite herself, she lit it clumsily and handed it back. He saw her bit of a fumble and chuckled to himself. “And now…” He shrugged, spreading his hands, napkins whishing. “…can’t even light my own cigarettes. I expect they’ll be showing my picture to fledglings any day now, as a warning to...”

“To what?” she asked quietly.

“Well...” His voice trailed off nervously, and the silence thumped down between them. “To avoid my mistakes.”

“Like...” Oh, God, here it comes, she thought. “Like me?” she asked brightly, trying for banter and achieving only awkward.

Spike didn’t even reply. He shook his head, staring down at the floor, cigarette trailing smoke from one hand. “You....you’re not a mistake.” He bit his lip for a moment, hesitating, before going on. “You’re a bloody torment, you are, but not a mistake. Not in a million years.”

“It, ah, it just seems like a million years,” she fumbled, disarmed by sincerity.

“No, not for me. Look, Slayer, don’t worry. Just had to....” He searched for a word, and finally found something random. “....respond.” That seemed lame, so he flailed about for another word. “To that. Remark. Uh... Should be me insulting y---Never mind. Uh.That’s all.”

Once he’d have jumped right in and stomped her flat; now she realized he’d responded to her self-depreciating joke. Couldn’t she make jokes about herself now? Was that the price of his feelings? She could cope with this pressure in one of only two ways: jokes or silence. That was all she had left. Irritation flared through her momentarily, hastened by too many worries. The Knights were clustered close around outside this flimsy building, Giles was badly wounded, Dawn was in danger, and even if they came through this, what sort of condition would she be in? She needed to joke about it, she needed some sort of escape from it, and he was getting all serious on her. It was too much. He was smothering her with his sincerity, just like any other guy, wanting to be all sensitive and...it was almost a relief to think of him like any other guy, even while some little instinct pointed out that it was almost dangerous to do so. Almost.“Spike....look.....just...don’t, okay?”

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t...” I don’t even know what ‘don’t’ this is, what ‘don’t’ I want! She thought, frustrated. “I don’t know. I don’t...I was just making a joke, that’s all.”

“Makes you feel better, does it? Sleep would be better.” He eased back a few steps, and looked at the desk. “Could clean it off if you fancy a nap.”

Stop being so nice! I have to be nice back! I don’t want to be! It seemed to her for all the revelations he’d shown her in the weeks since That Moment In His Crypt, there was a strange dishonesty there, too. On the one hand, she couldn’t look directly at him, too unnerved by the New Spike she was seeing. On the other hand, she had to watch out not to hurt him, and.....it was irritating. Sometimes she wanted to hurt him. She wanted to shout at him to stop looking at her out of the corner of his eye, to stop looking at her with those eyes. She wanted the old Spike, the one person whose feelings she could hurt without caring. It was dishonest to keep it to herself, but to say anything harsh to this suddenly vulnerable Spike was to kick someone--over whom she now had considerable power---when they were down. .

Another silence, she thought.

“I’ll go,” he said abruptly. “Get some rest, and I’ll stand at the door.”

“No...No, I’m fine.”

“Yeah, I guess you are. Because the dictionary definition of ‘fine’ is so tired you’re glassy-eyed and staring.”

“Gee, Mom, thanks, but I have to study for the big exam.”

He chuckled. “Suit yourself.”

“Well, I’m trying, but...”

“But you’re obstinate.” He stepped around her, and with the sleeve of his coat swept the dust and clutter from the top of the desk to the floor. “Now try it.”

“I have to...I have to…watch, I have to be alert...”

“How can you be alert when you’re that tired?”

Reluctantly, she hopped up on the desk, swinging her feet. He’s trying so hard, she thought. Too hard. “Spike...”

“Yeah?” He handed her another cigarette so she could light it for him.

“I’m going to be so glad when this is over. If it’s over,” she added thoughtfully.

He exhaled a long stream of smoke, staring at the ground. “See, if you weren’t so tired, you wouldn’t be thinking like that.”

“No. It’s more than that.” It felt good to say, to finally test out the words. ”She’s a god, Spike. I haven’t put so much as a scratch on her.”

“No, Slayer, you will, though. You’re just taking too much on yourself. Just don’t....think about it. That’s where you get into trouble. You’re thinking too much now.”

Blood beat in her throat, and colored her face. He really believes that, she thought. He really does. Why don’t I? “So...” She cleared her throat. “Is that why you feel...the way you do..about me? Because I’m always the winner?”

He laughed shortly. She saw that he was circling the dust on the ground with his boot again, and felt rather than saw the way his smile faded from his face. “Like there’s a reason....Like I know. Love isn’t something you choose, Slayer, because you’re the worst person I could pick. A vampire in love with a Slayer? Why would I choose that? It’s pathetic, who’d want to do that? Why would anyone with a brain do that? So I could hang around people who tolerate me at best, and look for the excuse to stake me? People who know I can’t fight back? To love someone who’ll never love me back? Have you ever loved anybody, and known that you didn’t have a chance in Hell?”

“It’s just that...” She said uncomfortably. Somehow, Mom’s manners lessons had not covered this situation, and the Council of Watchers had neglected to send her the memo on managing this particular scenario. She felt good manners tugging her toward making some sort of polite demurral, but that would just be cruel. He was right. She couldn’t love him back. But how did she say that?

“Have you?” He repeated quietly. “Have you ever loved somebody who didn’t love you back?”

She thought about it. She’d had the occasional crush here and there. There was that one boy who so wanted to date her, she had thought, but it turned out it he really just wanted to date her job. What was his name? Owen? And Scott, she added mentally. There was a bittersweet twinge at that memory, of the boy who was so right, at just exactly the wrong time. How did you count them? Was that love? Had she felt for them what Spike felt for her? “I...don’t know, Spike,” she said quietly. “I was so young.”

“What does that mean?” He asked skeptically.

“I was fifteen, sixteen...what did I know about love? Maybe they were crushes. I mean, what does any sixteen-year old know? I sure didn’t know anything.”

“You didn’t have any control over it, though, did you? Sat down and decided one day, well, let me see who I’ll pick....”

“No. I wouldn’t have picked that if I’d known what was going to happen.”

“Oh?”

“You’re the one who said I had bleedin’ tragic taste in men.”

“Ah,” he winced, both at the sentiment and her accent. “So I did. Of course, it’s always easy to criticize someone else’s taste when it doesn’t include you.” This caused her subconscious to present her with a truly appalling vision of Spike, last year, in love with her. So not going there, she thought.

“Spike....”

“Yeah, sorry.” He mumbled at the ground. The silence this time was alive with tension. All the things they couldn’t say hung in the air, perfectly apparent, but utterly dangerous.

I love you and you can’t even look at me. When you hated me you looked me in the eye. At least it was passionate hatred.

You love me and I’m afraid to look at you because I hated you so much and I don’t know what happened to that. This would be the perfect weapon to use against me if it were just an act.

“It’s just that this one is so tough,” she said quietly. “I don’t know…”

She was talking like that at the house, too, he thought. Resigned. At that he glanced up, and she had just enough time to look away. “No---no, luv, you’ll be fine.”

“Don’t have much choice, do I?” She muttered. She could hear the worry in his voice, and she purposefully injected cheer into her voice. “No big. I’ve never faced a God before, but anybody in last year’s shoes can’t be that much trouble.” She’d worried about protecting Dawn, protecting her friends, but it was Spike who’d actually put it into words; he’d die protecting Dawn. “Aren’t you scared?” You’re the one, she thought, jumping in front of oncoming danger, not hiding behind me, she thought.

Spike sighed. “Nope. I’m afraid I’ll have to witness another tempter tantrum of hers, though. That was the worst thing about the torture---the yammering. Well, the clothes were quite bad as well, but my eyes recovered.”

She almost laughed then. “Well, Mr. Blackwell, how nice to see you do your part.” Then the smile faded. What if she wasn’t the one to die? What if it wasn’t one of the gang? What if it was Spike? “Spike...” She lifted her eyes slowly, at the same time he raised his eyes. The bruises from Glory’s beating still darkened the flesh around his eyes. If you knew you were going to die, what would you do? If you were prepared to die, what would you do? Does it feel the same if you’re immortal? Or is it…worse? Knowing you’re giving your immortality up?

“You will win this,” he repeated firmly, and stepped forward, grinning crookedly.

“No, it’s not that, it’s....Spike.” Her shoulders slumped suddenly. She had just about had all the sincerity she could handle, and the worst thing about it was that it just wasn’t doing the trick. It didn’t put her in a fighting mood. There’d always been something, well, bracing, about the hostility between her and Spike, and even though she wouldn’t ever admit it in front of witnesses, it was also sort of refreshing being around somebody who knew when she was full of shit, loved her because of it, and didn’t hesitate to tell her so. It also felt safe, because honesty was something you didn’t find in boyfriends; that ended once the courtship began. You fell in love with a guy, and then he just…disappeared. Once you got serious about somebody, they stopped being blunt, which was something she just couldn’t figure out. After all, after orgasm face, what need was there for secrecy? But Spike’s continued bluntness was a sure sign that he was not a normal guy, potential boyfriend, or serious prospect. Only friends were honest. Boyfriends were not, and that was probably a good thing. There was such a thing as too much of a good thing. Her ability to be blunt with him served as a cross check. In uncertain times, certainties were the most comforting thing of all. Cautiously, she looked up:

“Am I full of shit?”

Startled, his jaw dropped, his mouth opening and closing. “Rhetorically speaking?”

“No. Factually speaking…whatever.”

“Well, then....” He assessed the seriousness of the question. “You’re doing the best you can with what you’ve got and what you face, luv. Of course fighting a HellGod with your friends is like…” He grinned at her, but shrugged and subsided before her glare. “Ahem. Well…. I don’t know what else we can do except click our ruby slippers together and hope for better.”

“What’s better?”

“Not much now. Unless the witches can do a mighty big mojo, or unless the soldier boys outside get bored, something’s going to give.” He tossed the cigarette d own and ground it out under one boot. “Not supposed to be talking shop, are we?”

“Aren’t we?”

“Nice try, luv. Just sit and relax.”

“Nice try,” she muttered. “But I can’t.”

“You’ll get out of this. You just need to relax for a bit.”

“And how do I do this?”

“Dunno, pet. Not quite used to this, myself.”

“What?”

“This---conversation...heroics, all that. Much prefer to knock sense into people, but I expect you’d frown on that.”

“You think?”

“I’m a good guesser.”

“You’ve had enough practice,” she said dryly.

“That I have. You.” He shook his head at her. “You’re the biggest guess of all. Haven’t a clue, luv, have not a clue.” He paused and regarded his cigarette thoughtfully. “Not sure I want one, you know? More fun to figure it out.”

“Figure what out?” She snapped, not liking where this conversation was going.

“Well, you, Slayer.” He managed to convey both disgust and amusement with one single drawled-out you.

“Oh, please.” She said disdainfully. She crossed her arms tighter and stared stubbornly at the dirt. “What did you mean?”

“Pretty simple, innit? Figuring you out. Trying to figure out what makes you tick. Did it when I was still….” They both glanced away. He cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Well, not the same way,” he assured her. “And even then, couldn’t suss you out. Not a bit.” He grinned at her. “There was Angel, of course. Couldn’t stand the bugger myself-“

“Spike,” She sighed impatiently.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” He spread his hands at her in a shushing gesture that reminded her, oddly, of Joyce. “Figure since I’m here and he’s not, there’s some stuff I’m entitled to say.”

“No.” Buffy said firmly.

Yes.

She stared at him. There was a long pause, and then she sighed. “Besides, what on earth could you say?”

“Well, why isn’t he here?”

“He---“ Something caught in her throat. The room was so dusty. “It’s not like this is my first apocalypse.”

“No,” Spike said silkily. “But it’s not like—“ He stopped himself abruptly. That’s it, champ, remind her that she’s facing something she’s never faced before, and a HellGod to boot. Good one. Bloody hell. Now what? “Do you suppose he was able to kill all those people because his hair startled them for a moment and they forgot to run?”

“I---what?!” She looked at him with huge eyes, jerked out of her weariness by surprise.

“I’ve never been able to find anyone to ask. Darla, well, not the person you’d go to discuss something like that. She hated everyone’s hair. Everyone’s. And Dru, bless her heart---“

“He..huh?”

“Tosser always was obsessed with his hair,” Spike muttered. “Especially when it was long. Always figured that was why people ran in fear—“

“What.Are.You.Talking.About?” She shook her head, as if the thoughts in her head were a messy Etch-A-Sketch. “Angel---had long hair?”

“It was very unpleasant.” Spike said helpfully. “Nasty-looking Eighties-style do---of course, it was the eighteen Eighties, but---“

“Why are we talking about Angel’s hair?”

“Because it looks to me like now he’s finally found hair gel, he doesn’t want to muss anything up.”

“You…? Jesus,” she muttered. “Spike’s theory of character analysis via hair care products?”

He grinned at her. Let her get good and pissed off, then. “Well, makes as much sense as anything. Because there really isn’t an excuse, is there? Why isn’t he here?”

“We can’t be together, even you know that.”

“Neither can we.“ He said quietly, and her face colored. They stared at each other for a moment, and then she turned her head and glared at the wall. He could practically hear her counting to ten.

“We are not talking about this, Spike. We are not talking about it.”

“Right,” he muttered skeptically. He cleared his throat, then imitated her voice in a prissy tone that she’d never heard before. “No talking about the Slayer’s poofy ex.”

“Spike—“ She shook her head and stood up. “That’s it, I’m---“

“What if I wasn’t talking about Angel?”

“Nobody else I dated had poofy hair!”

“Hah! So you admit he had poofy hair!”

She rolled her eyes. “You know, Spike, insulting my exes isn’t going to make you look better, it’s going to make you look worse. If that’s what you’re doing.”

“It’s not, but how very After School Special of you to get all pissy about it. So, no Angel, and no exes of yours. What about mine?”

“This’ll take forever,” she said skeptically. She waited, curious despite herself. When he didn’t continue, she glanced up. He had a pensive look on his face, staring at something only he could see, and she thought with a pang, I bet Angel never gets that look any more when he thinks about me. Does anybody? She cleared her throat, and Spike gave a little start.

“Oh, yeah. Well, of course, Dru.”

“And?”

Huh?” He tried to find the answer in her eyes, then touched his forehead as he remembered, smiling ironically. “Oh. Yes. Harm.”

“I like the way you almost totally forgot her.”

“Well…” he said reluctantly.

“It was very touching.”

“Well, she was---“ he sighed. “Poor Harm.”

“Poor Harmony?” she exclaimed. “Oh, come on.”

“What?”

“She was such a---“ She shrugged uncomfortably. “She was not nice in high school.”

“Well, being killed and brought back certainly didn’t improve her disposition.” He bit his lip thoughtfully. “Or her IQ. But, well. There’s got to be a good stupid vamp out there for her.” He cocked an eyebrow at her. “Maybe in LA?”

“We are not---“

“Yeah, I know, I know.”

“Besides, do you keep in touch?”

“With Harmony?” He laughed at the thought. “It’s too hard writing postcards in crayon.”

“Spike?!” She goggled at him, momentarily misplacing worries and fears in favor of disapproval.

“Well, you just said you didn’t like her in school—“

“I didn’t say that. Not exactly.” She glanced away nervously. “Besides, I wasn’t her, you know, boyfriend.”

“Neither was I,” he said dryly. “Don’t know what it was, but it didn’t feel like I was her boyfriend. Boyfriend,” he scoffed. “God, what an American phrase.”

“Like they don’t use that in England.”

“Haven’t really kept up to date, have I?”

“People use it all over.”

“It’s an awful word.”

“Well, don’t use it then.”

“I don’t---I didn’t. You did,” he pointed out with more than a slight trace of smugness in his voice.

“What did----What did Angel say?”

“Hm?” He glanced up, startled. She was kicking at the dust, her face carefully averted.

“What did Angel say about me?”

Oh, talk about uncomfortable silences, he thought. “He, uh, he wasn’t really Angel, then. He was Angelus---you know that, pet.”

“No, seriously.”

“No.” Spike said firmly.

“What?!”

“No.”

“I asked.”

“No.”

“Come on, Spike.”

“No.”

“It must have been awful, if ---“

“Angel knows what he said,” Spike said quietly. “I won’t…” He looks very unhappy, Buffy thought. “I’m not---No. Just, no.”

“I can’t believe you just passed up a chance to say something bad about Angel.”

“Yeah, me either. You think there’ll be another chance for--?”

“No,” she said firmly. “There will be no rainchecks on weird ex conversation with vampires. About exes,” she clarified. “This is just too…weird.”

Weird, he thought suddenly, and suddenly he was disheartened. For a moment, there—chatting back and forth and teasing her---it was like a glimpse of the horizon. Of course, her friends thought it was the whole stalked thing, getting her, bedding her, but they’d gotten used to her, gotten used to how extraordinary she was. He hadn’t. And for a moment, there was nothing between them but history and effortless jibing back and forth, as natural as you please, nothing but two casual acquaintances. Good thing I’ve no higher hopes than that, he thought. One brief flash, then Buffy putting her foot down, showed him just how awful it would be to raise his hopes that high.

“It’s a small world,” he shrugged. He shook out a cigarette and winced. Vampire quick healing strength my ass, he thought.

“It is not so small that we need to discuss our exes. We’ve got Angel in common and that’s it.”

“Not exactly.”

“Not exactly?”

“No. You love the bugger; I hate him. And you dusted Darla. Although I suppose one could make the argument that we do, ah, work in the same field.”

“The same field? Have you been reading the Wall Street Journal or something?”

“Well, at least I read.” He said dryly. “Not like that knuckle-dragging---“

“Hey--!” She straightened up and glared at him. “Not doing yourself any favors there, Spike!”

“No, but you know and I know----“ They both studied walls in opposite ends of the room, then he sighed. “There’s no favors that will do me any good.”

Contradict me, he begged silently. Come on, say something. Anything. Come on. Instead she ignored all the implications of what he’d said, and fell back to an old reliable response: anger.

“Have you ever thought,” she asked sarcastically, “that by insulting the guys I’ve dated you’re just saying I have awful taste in men? Again?” she added pointedly.

“Just trying to see how ambitious you are about that, luv.” He examined his nails. “It’s never too late to raise one’s hopes.”

“You mean, your hopes.”

“A man changes and so do his ambitions. So happens I’ve changed.”

“Spike…”

“Heard it before, Slayer. I know that tune. But why do you keep asking me to do things for you, then?”

“I have to, Spike. You know that.”

“Well, if I haven’t changed, then I’m not trustworthy enough.” He sighed. “I know, I know. I’m not asking for…anything. But just this. I have changed.”

Buffy stayed silent, although she could practically taste the words on her tongue: It’s the chip.

Or was it?

She turned it over in her head. There was the chip, then there was Spike’s crush on her. They were two different things. The chip kept him from doing bad things. His crush made him do good things in the hope of impressing her. Was it new found empathy for her or was it his mercenary hopes? The robot, she thought. But---the torture. If he hadn’t fallen in love with her, he’d have just found another way to do his mischief. If he’d fallen in love with her without the chip---or whatever it was vampires felt----he’d probably have done whatever it took to get her. Or would he?

Angelus, stalking and killing her friends.

Spike, withstanding a God. She’d been prepared to stake him.

She looked as far up as she dared, finding herself confronted with an unlit cigarette in the process. With a sigh, she lit it and handed it back. She’d never much studied vampire mating rituals or anything, or even knew if they had them. Spike and Dru had seemed to be somewhat unique. Darla and Angel seemed to be more like the reality. Angel. No help there. He loved her with a soul, but couldn’t love her without one. But Spike…Startled, she looked as far as his hands again. Spike loved her, without a soul. No, that was too scary. Free will in a vampire? It was almost human.

No, she thought. He just wants to get into my pants. But---once again, that irritating section of her brain that thought of annoying questions was hard at work. If he just wanted that, why hadn’t he gotten some minions and kidnapped her? Why hadn’t he been happy with the ‘Bot? The chip couldn’t prevent him from planning or ordering anything.

Free will, she thought, and felt a shivery little frisson of something melting inside her. He didn’t want her if she didn’t love him back.

“I think you have changed,” she said quietly.

“What?!”

“I think you have changed.”

He stared at her, and she confronted impossibility: Spike speechless. His mouth opened and closed, then he shook his head as she had done earlier. “I believe it,” she said quietly. “I don’t understand why or how…but I do believe it.” She took a deep breath. “But until I understand it, I can’t---“

“Can’t what?” He demanded.

“I still can’t trust you.”

“With what? Your mum and sis don’t matter to you much then, do you?”

She stared up at him then, and he wondered where her stake was. “If you’d changed as much as you think you have,” she said icily, “you wouldn’t be counting up brownie points IF you really liked Mom and Dawn as much as---“ The hurt look on his face stopped her. Hurt? A vampire? God, did it ever get less confusing?

“You’re a right bitch, you know that?” He whispered. “Giving with one hand, and taking with the other.”

“I wasn’t born to be an Avon lady,” she muttered. She raised her head and looked at him defiantly. “Would you...would you.....feel the way you do....if I were Little Miss Boring Goody Two-Shoes?”

“I’d feel the same way about you no matter what. You still don’t understand that, do you? That’s not the way it was with them, was it? There were conditions, weren’t there? I don’t love you because of what you do or—or----or-----“He spluttered like an old lawn mower. “I just love you. Nothing else. It doesn’t change if you change. You’re what I love, whoever you are, and you’ve got more bloody personalities than that bird with the sixteen—“

There was some sort of commotion starting out in the bay, and she had started toward it, looking at him for a bright, clear moment before she stopped. She didn’t believe him, of course; she didn’t feel especially loveable, and she knew he was wrong, if not about her, then about himself. She was so tired it was impossible to conceive of love or hope or peace. The only thing she could imagine was just an absence of the endless killing. It felt momentarily odd to find a vampire to be more idealistic than a human, but there was something going on, she was needed, and he and his idealism were actually in her way.

For a moment, he stopped her, and they were too close, and his optimism seemed too vivid, too dangerous, too personal for her. Then she was past him, and she had one moment, one second, to look briefly back at him. I can look at him again, she thought. He had stopped being Spike, that irritating nemesis who never successfully followed through, and become instead Spike, the person she could say things to when there was no one else strong enough.

There was screaming outside, and she ran toward it.

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