All About Spike

Better Left Unsaid
By Gwyneth Rhys

Then love-devouring death do what he dare,
It is enough that I may but call her mine.
--Romeo and Juliet

*You were born to slash, and bash, and bleed.* Spike sighed, remembering the good old days when that had been true.

Dru may have been right about it, as far as pre-chip Spike was concerned, but these days there wasn't much for him to slash and bash, and the only thing he got to bleed now was his own phantom heart, bleed it dry over Buffy.

Spike sat behind an enormous angel on top of a tomb, watching as Buffy dispatched three vamps. They hadn't spoken for a few days, not since that night, and she didn't know he was there. She was poetry in motion, whirling, smashing, kicking, and staking. It was obvious even from where he sat that she was working harder than normal, throwing her rage at herself onto the unsuspecting gits. Making them suffer for the things she hated most in herself right now.

He took a drag on his cigarette.

*You're beneath me.* And that had also been running over and over in his head, like a skip in an LP, battling for space with Dru's own comment till he wasn't even certain anymore which one would win. Maybe they were both right. If he was so beneath Buffy and she'd had sex with him -- no, his heart wanted to scream, made love -- there would be no end in sight to the loathing and seething hatred thrown in his direction.

But God, the taste of her, the feel of her. The way she moved and the things she said. Buffy had done things to him with those strong slayer thighs and arms and hands he couldn't have dreamed of if he'd lived a thousand years. She was a wet dream and a ball-cracking nightmare at the same time, and there had been moments when Spike had been sure he was going to pass out -- no, wait a minute, he had passed out. Twice, if he remembered correctly. And see, there it was -- how many girls could make a vamp pass out, could knock that supernatural strength right out of you and leave you nothing but a whimpering, wrung-out rag?

The other night he'd noticed for the first time the scars on her neck, subtle but distinctive. Vampire teeth. Not bitten just once, either, by his reckoning. All this time he'd spent studying her with the scrutiny of a lover and he'd never noticed them. When Spike had asked her about it, Buffy's eyes had darkened as she'd turned away from him, and it had taken a great deal of cajoling and foreplay to get her to talk to him again. At least he knew who, or part of who. But he hadn't been able to shake that desire to know what it must have been like to taste her; it stayed inside him, a rat scratching at the back of his mind. What would it be like to really taste her, all of her?

He could bite her now. The symmetry of that, the ironic poetry of it being only her he could bite, amused and tortured him. Oh, sure, he could bite another vamp and feed, but that was never too appealing and always something you did as a last resort. Vampires just... they tasted wrong, really. It was always preferable to feed on the living, and here was the one living human he could feed on and the only thing he could think of was how much he'd rather bury his face between her legs than his fangs in her jugular.

In the end, he should have stuck with Dru. She'd have slashed and bashed for him, bled everyone dry just to keep him happy. As always, as he'd done since he'd been old enough to realize how wonderful girls were, he'd made a decision from the heart, and look where that got him.

Spike threw the cigarette on the ground as he watched Buffy walk away, hopped down off the angel, and smiled a little at his own folly. Someday he'd taste her, even if it was the last thing on earth he did.

Buffy walked away from the cemetery, feeling an itch on the back of her neck that made her think someone was following her. She was pretty certain she'd nailed all the vamps, and it had been a nice, long, hard workout this time. Just what she needed to get the taste of Spike out of her... well, mouth wouldn't be a good analogy here. That was a little too much to think about.

As Buffy passed by the turn in the pathway that would normally take her near his crypt, she steered herself in the other direction. They'd avoided each other for a couple days now; or at least, she'd avoided him. He probably wanted to see her, but at least he had the good sense not to barge in on her life. Probably only because he knew she'd kick his ass six feet back underground if he tried.

No matter how hard she tried to wrap her mind around it all, she still couldn't get a handle on what had happened the other night. The intensity of her need scared her, more than facing any demon or vampire. And that her need had been focused on Spike was the ultimate creepiness, creepiness on a Hell-dimension scale.

Behind her she heard a rustling sound, almost imperceptible, and knew with dread that it was Spike. She stopped but didn't turn around, the stake held tight in her hand, thinking that if she used it right now, no one would ask questions and she'd be free of this. Whatever this connection was between them these past few years would be completely severed at last. Almost as if he knew she was thinking this, he stepped into her peripheral vision, but out of reach, just looking at her and lighting a cigarette.

So Buffy simply stared back at him, giving him her best curl up and die glare, which rarely worked on anyone and had never worked on Spike, even at his most love-struck. Despite this distance and anger, she could feel a pull to him. It had been like that since she came back, at first comfortable, then more and more sexual, until it overpowered her. Being overpowered by anything wasn't a major Buffy experience, and it annoyed her. It especially annoyed her when Spike looked at her like he was looking at her right now, with his almost-smile, his dark eyes burning little holes in her. She could almost feel the teensy wisp of ozone after his blue laser eyes had zapped her.

It seemed her brain was on its own track no matter how hard she tried to stop it, and it kept repeating "sex with Spike" over and over, as if saying it five hundred times would make it less real. Only -- and here was the really ugly truth of it all -- sex with Spike had been pretty much unforgettable, so no amount of lame self-hypnosis would make it go away. Somewhere in the night, between beams crashing around them and one of her innumerable climaxes, she remembered Spike whispering to her, "You will never feel as good as I can make you feel, and you'll never forget how I can make you feel, no matter how hard you try." He was annoying on any given day, but especially so when he was right like that. Maybe her heart wasn't involved in this -- not as it had been when she'd made love with Angel -- but nothing had prepared her for the level of intensity and violent desire she'd felt with Spike.

And he knew it. Oh, boy, he knew it.

"That was quite a display," Spike said, dragging out his words and staring at her from under his brows. He still had some cuts on his face from where she'd pummeled him. "Get it out of your system?"

"Oh, hey, look at the time. Gotta run." Buffy mimed looking at her watch and turned to go.

"Slayer." He was using that low voice, the one that vibrated against her ears and neck and made the hair on the nape stand on end.

"No, Spike." She didn't turn to look at him; to do so would make it harder to walk away.

"You don't even know what I was going to say."

"Yes, I do, and no, we are not talking about it."

"Bollocks. You haven't a clue." He stepped in front of her and smiled that toothy, predatory smile. "I was going to say come with me."

"No! I'm not coming... going anywhere with you." Buffy could feel the flush of red crawling up her neck and across her cheeks.

"Yes, you are. Little sis is with Willow. And we're not going to do what you think we're going to do." He leaned close to her, speaking almost against her cheek, that low voice vibrating against her skin. "It's all very safe. As houses."

Safe and Spike. Which of these things is not like the other? Buffy snorted in derision.

"Car's over there." He jerked his head towards the street outside the cemetery.

"Car?" she squeaked. That was an unexpected wrinkle. Calling her on the phone, taking her somewhere in his car... things were getting too turned up on the amplifier freak knob for her to handle.

This time he touched her, gently, taking her elbow and pushing her just a little in that direction. He was watching her as they walked, but she resolutely kept her eyes trained right in front of her.

"I don't think it's a good idea to leave Dawn--"

"She's fine, I checked. Told them I'd keep you out a bit late but you'd be home eventually." Buffy wouldn't look at him but she could tell he was smirking. One quick blow and all his smirking days would be over. Her hands itched to do it.

"Where are we going?" Getting angry worked better than being nervous and tense, so she glared at him when she asked. Again, it made no impression on him. Slayer strength was nice, but the power to make people dissolve to mush with a look would be way cooler.

"That," he said jauntily, opening her door with a frighteningly gentleman-like flair, "is a surprise."

Sliding into the passenger seat, she watched as he walked around to the door. How would he even get a driver's license? What would he do if he was pulled over? He couldn't kill the cop and eat him anymore, and if he was ever arrested he'd be reduced to a nice pile of ashes at first sunup in the pokey. He didn't look like the type to wear his seat belt and drive the speed limit, either, and what about those license tabs? Were they up to date? She'd heard him talk cars before in idle chit-chat, so Buffy imagined he could fix things on his own, but the rest of it wasn't exactly stuff you could do in the middle of the night. All of a sudden Buffy had a strong desire to see if he had something like a license, what name he used on it (William T. Bloody? Spike Williams?), and just what he was using as a birthdate and address.

As he started the car, Buffy had a random memory flash of him standing above her, beating her near senseless in the sunshine of the University campus after he'd found the gem of Amarra. The way he'd taunted her and managed to find all her emotionally vulnerable spots, as well has the physical ones. So she reached out and hit him hard on the side of his face.

In reaction Spike shouted and put his hand up to his cheek, glaring with rage, but not hitting her back. "What the *bleeding* hell was that for?"

"Everything," she answered. He stared back at her, his mouth agape. It was tempting to throw herself across the seat and straddle him, suck that lower lip between her teeth and get him hard, then ride him like a pony, but she looked out the window instead, gripping the arm rest.

He snorted and put the car in gear. "You watch out, little girl. One more like that, and maybe you won't get home in one piece." They peeled out of the parking spot into the night.

They'd been driving up the coast highway, the windows open to the freakishly warm November night. Maybe it was the Santa Anas, but it felt like summer right now and the sky above them was as clear as could be. Buffy sat beside him, silently, dangling her hand out the window, occasionally letting her head loll a bit to the side, the wind rushing her hair back in a billow of tangled blond curls. Spike could see her slowly starting to relax a little. He watched her pretty little hand as it danced in the night air, up and down, curving as if following an unseen wave. Tonight he was absolutely not going to get sexual with her -- well, not unless she did it first -- but he could feel his cock twitching at the sense memory of that lovely hand wrapped around it the other night, the things she'd been able to do to him with that strength and stamina. He shook his head, concentrating on the road. Eventually he found a little turnout and pulled over, parking along the beachfront.

Turning to face him, she said, "I don't get it."

"It's not art," he said. "Nothing to get."

"I figured you were taking me somewhere demon-related again. Or you wanted me to slay something or whatever. What's here?"

"Not much." Spike pulled his cigarettes out of his pocket, then looked at her frowning face and put them back. "Just wanted to get you out of your world for a bit." He said it as nicely as he could so she'd understand he was sincere, but Buffy only frowned more. "My mum used to say your face'll stay that way if you keep that up."

She rolled her eyes and then opened the door. He nodded his head in the direction of the water and they walked down to the sand. All along the shoreline the water glowed greenish white in the dark. Buffy looked at it in surprise, her mouth open. "What is this?" she whispered, as if somehow talking would make it go away.

"Just phosphorescence. It's algae, I think, or something," Spike said, and she gaped at him. "Happens often on the sea, spreads out from the wake of ships. When you're out on the wide water in the middle of the ocean, on a clear night, it's the most astonishing sight you'd ever see. Could read by it."

"It's beautiful."

You're beautiful, was what he wanted to say. The sky with its veil of stars above her, the water with its gentle glow beneath her, her filmy blouse fluttering in the soft breeze. She was the loveliest thing he'd ever laid eyes on. Sometimes he thought he would split in two, he ached so much for her. Even after the other night, his thirst for her hadn't begun to be slaked. Possibly it never could be.

Buffy leaned down and took off her boots, then waded into the water, giggling a little. Reaching down, she ran her hands through the water, swirling the glowing algae around. Spike had never heard her laugh. At most he'd seen her girlish smile, but even the robot had never laughed. Maybe the responsibilities of her life had displaced her happy side, but it sounded so good. And it was what he'd needed to hear. Spike could drop down to his knees in front of her, spill words of devotion and ardor, pledge his eternal love, and never rise from the ground if she would just laugh for him more, if she could just be happy for a little while. For a little bit with him. God, he was so besotted.

For a while he watched her, enchanted, and then he waded into the water, boots and all, and picked her up, holding her under her arms. He whirled Buffy around, churning up the glowing water as her feet trailed through it, and she laughed more. It was almost as if she'd forgotten who he was and that she hated him underneath it all. As he put her down slowly, Buffy slid against his body, her hands resting on his hips, and they looked at each other, the angles of her face illuminated by the faint light. He could take her right here, all "From Here to Eternity" in the surf, but that wasn't what he wanted from her tonight.

Quick as snapping your fingers, she turned off from him. Then she took her hands from his body and walked back onto the beach. She was always walking away from him.

Coming up behind her, he said, "That's not the only thing I brought you here for." She picked up her boots and brushed her hair from her face.

"Wait, let me guess. You want to have sex in the water? Like that movie?"

Well, that was just disturbing.

He frowned. "D'you know what night it is?" Spike asked.

"Saturday. I believe it is Saturday until midnight, when it becomes Sunday."

He pointed up at the sky. "Meteor showers. The best you'll see in your lifetime. Not the best in mine, of course, I saw a real killer light show in Cornwall in twenty-four. But this one should be spectacular."

"Your *life*time?" she said snidely. "Meteor showers. You dragged me up here for glow-in-the-dark algae and meteor showers, when who knows how many vamps could be running around the Hellmouth tonight."

"I saw that battle. Even if there were more vamps, watching you in action, they'd have crawled back underground. You were on a mission." He steered her back up to the car, then pulled a blanket out of the back seat and spread it out on the bonnet. As he hopped up on the car, he patted the area beside him and she reluctantly joined him. He lay down with his head pillowed on his coat, and Buffy did likewise, suspiciously.

After a few moments of letting her eyes adjust, she inhaled sharply when she saw them. Streaks of light, some big, some small, moving across the sky. Spike didn't say anything, just let her watch, feeling the heat of her body close to his, listening to the sound of her pulse beating. She wouldn't know he could hear that, of course, but he liked listening to it.

Spike was more mesmerized by her face than by the meteors. He reached out and pulled Buffy closer to him. He felt her stiffen, but it didn't stop him from shifting her head to his shoulder and sliding his arm around her.

They stayed that way for awhile, not talking, until eventually Buffy said, "How did you know about all this?"

"I drive a lot. Since the chip, there's sweet f.a. to do with my time when we're not saving the world or battling gods or demons. And the Leonids are always this time of year. Don't you ever read a paper?"

She ignored him and was silent again. It was pretty obvious to him that she was annoyed by being enchanted by it all, that her expectations of him were low -- and they bloody well should stay that way as far as she was concerned.

"Besides," he said jauntily, "I've been around a few decades."

Slowly, she pulled her head away from him, trying to put physical distance between them even if she couldn't put an emotional one. It was all right for Angel to remind her of his age and how he'd come to be that old, but apparently not for Spike.

A few really bright meteors flashed through the sky and Spike watched them go by, remembering that night in Cornwall most of a century ago with Dru, remembering that it had been one of the nicest nights in his undead life. But it couldn't begin to compare with just being near Buffy, no matter how much she loathed him.

"I just wouldn't expect some...thing like you to care about things like this."

He wasn't going to let her bait him like that. "There's a lot about me you don't know. And this is precisely the thing I would know about. You've made it clear what I seem to be to you, and I've made a lot of mistakes about everything." Spike moved his fingers through her hair, stroking her temple. "Most of all I'm aware that you think the only thing I care about is getting into your knickers, but trust me on this, that's only a brilliant bonus, not the whole reward."

She made a sound of disbelief in her throat. "Right. If getting into my knickers isn't on your agenda, then why drag me all the way out here for the perfect date? All you needed was a bottle of wine and a picnic basket."

As she sat up and stared down at him, daring him to contradict her, Spike smiled sadly. She'd kick and fight him forever. "You spend your whole life in the dark, fighting to the death, monsters and demons always round the corner. You work at night, mostly alone, and think the night is only for evil and brings only pain and suffering. Even when you needed someone, needed to feel something, it was a creature of the night -- the very thing you loathe -- you turned to. You haven't had a normal life in the daylight since you were, what, fifteen? I just wanted to give you one little break from that life, to show you that there are things about the night that can be beautiful, too."

"Stop it!" Buffy said violently.

In one fluid motion Spike sat up and leapt off the car, looking sharply at her. "Stop what?" He was ready for a fight, bouncing on the balls of his feet, his chin tilted up.

"Stop being all wonderful boyfriendy. You are not my boyfriend and you are not... just... stop acting like that."

He grabbed her knees hard and yanked her towards the edge of the car, sliding her forward so her thighs were on either side of his hips, then he held her shoulders tightly. "You ever heard that saying, I'm a lover, not a fighter? Well, I'm both. And I like 'em both equally. I've had years of practice, yeah? I think you're both, too. Say what you want, but don't tell me that a little bit of this night hasn't been beautiful."

At first Buffy recoiled from him, then in an abrupt turnabout she slid her hands along his ribcage and pulled him towards her, her teeth closing over his lower lip to bite it before she kissed him hard. Spike might have been a match for her slayer strength, but he was no match for the power of her sexuality and the force of his own love for her. Eventually he pulled away from her, panting.

"I hate that you're such a good kisser," she said poutily.

"Well, that's the thing about being a vampire, pet. We know what to do with our mouths."

"Prove it," Buffy said, smiling wickedly. Blimey, the girl went from cold to hot in an eyeblink. Spike hauled her closer, her legs wrapping around his hips to pull him in tightly. He trailed kisses along her neck, her shoulders, and ran his tongue along her ear, which made her gasp and clutch at his arms. Then he peeled away the filmy layer of her top and slid one hand up under the camisole.

He'd been absolutely dead-set on not doing any of this when they'd started out, but dammit, here he was again. Maybe it was that he was helpless to whatever she wanted, or maybe it was his suspicion that he would not have many more opportunities to enjoy this -- so he better grab what he could. Buffy threaded her fingers through his hair as he kissed along her neck. He slipped his hand up to cup one lovely breast, his thumb circling her hardened nipple over and over.

"Quite a light show," Buffy said in a raw voice. He knew she was expecting him to want his piece, but he wasn't going to play that game with her. This was a different game altogether. He stopped kissing her and took his hand away, one of the more challenging things he'd ever done.

"It's getting late, we should head back," he said. "Dawn and dawn await." Her legs stayed wrapped around him; in fact, she jerked them hard and pulled in on him as he said that, her fingers slipping under his T-shirt and moving across his skin. The hair on the back of his neck stood up, among other things. She had absolutely no problem telling him what to do, and God, he liked it.

He looked at her, the way her face was lit so palely by the light above them. That was something she couldn't know, this ability to see in the dark, to catch light and shadows and heat even here in the blackness.

She moved with such determined grace, her energy was never wasted. Even when they'd fought each other with the deadliest intentions, he'd liked watching her, a part of his mind always detached and seeing her outside their roles, admiring her. He'd *loved* fighting her then, and now he loved fighting and loving her. It wouldn't last, but these were the days.

Lifting herself above him like she had the other night, she hoisted herself up on his hips, legs wrapped in a deadly grip around his waist. As she leaned to kiss him, her cross touched the skin on his collarbone, searing into it. He didn't push her away, instead held her even closer, letting the cross burn him to the bone. The pain wasn't even all that noticeable, at least, no more noticeable than the aching in his balls. After a moment she realized what was happening. Buffy pulled her cross away as she ended the kiss. Spike peeled her off, undoing her legs from around him, and stepped back, shaking his head.

Spike reached inside and turned on some music, just loud enough to dance to. Something slow and chill-outy, the kind of hip-swaying hypnotic music she'd dance to at the Bronze. He pulled her to him and put his hands on her hips, and they moved together. Gradually she slid her hands up his arms, gripping his biceps muscles as he pressed his forehead to hers. Meteors streaked in the sky and in her eyes and in his head. He glided his tongue along the scars on her neck, pressing his lips hard to the sweet skin.

Then the song was over, and she turned her back to him. She got in the car, waiting impatiently. Now she was pissed off, but that was all right. He liked throwing her off balance. Spike picked up the blanket and his coat, threw them in the back, and sighed, looking over his shoulder as he got in the car. The water still glowed its eerie, lovely light, and the stray meteor streaked across the sky now and again.

Someday, when she finally turned her back to him for the last time and walked away with Mr. Right -- probably some stolid cardboard cutout like Riley -- he would come back here. It was inevitable that she would walk away, Spike knew that utterly and completely, no matter how intense this thing was right now. And when she did, he would walk out on this beach, drop to his knees, spread his arms wide, and wait for daybreak to claim him.

Spike was talking to her in that low voice again, the tingly voice. Buffy hated that he could do that to her. Hated that he could make her feel like she had tonight and make her want him that badly. She stared out at the dark road ahead, feeling the warm air rush through her hair. Every now and then she stole a glance to the side, watching him as he banged his hand on the steering wheel in time to the music, keeping up a steady flow of strange stories about the astronomical events he'd seen before.

"God, Spike, do you ever stop talking?" she blurted out. "You're like the anti-Angel, you never shut up."

Instead of backhanding her, he just smiled and said absently, "I like words. I'm a words sort of fella. If you're attracted to the hulking silent type, I suppose Angel would do for you, but me, I like the power of words. They can seduce, incite, sway..."

Strangely, that made sense to her and she had no quick retort for him. Buffy had always wondered what Angel was keeping behind his silences; most of the time, she felt safe in his stillness, but after he'd come back from... wherever he'd come back from, she'd wished he would talk just a little more. Not as much as motormouth here, but a little something to balance things out. It was what she was used to -- Giles's constant nattering, Xander's never-ending smartass commentaries on everything, Willow's charming stammers and exclamations. They were all talkers. Angel's silences had been both a comfort and a frustrating mystery to her.

There had to be a happy medium between Chatty Cathy and the brooding hulk. Well, there was, she'd had it before with Riley, but look how that turned out. Buffy supposed the happy medium was never going to be what she got in life.

It was so disturbing when Spike was like this. Weird and creepy and violent, she could handle. Funny and bitter, egotistic and dishonest, Buffy knew and understood. But this kindness, this insight into her soul, this devotion, was ugh cubed. He always liked to compare the strange turn in their relationship to what she'd had with Angel, like somehow this was on the same level just because they were both vamps. But Spike had no soul, just a leash. And now he didn't even have the leash, at least as far as Buffy was concerned.

Yet in the dashlight, his hair all mussed so that the curls came out and he didn't look so stuck-in-the-eighties I-miss-CBGB, his handsomeness was powerful, the dark blue of his eyes ferocious in the low light, the angles of those exceedingly sharp cheekbones cut even sharper.

The dancing had really freaked her. Even more than the beauty of the water and sky. The sound of the music wafting in the air, so smooth and cool, like him... And his forehead pressed to hers, his mouth open a little. Buffy knew he was smelling her, taking in the scent of her blood and skin and hair as an animal would. Then he'd done a strange thing, putting just his palm against her cheek, skimming along her skin, fingers stretched away. Like he was possessing her, not stroking her. She could hear the song, over and over -- "Smile, you'll steal away my soul... Smile, don't ask me if I'm fine" -- and wondered, as he ground down what little self control she had left, if she hadn't had her soul taken away while somewhere, he'd picked one up for free. She was empty of feeling except for moments like this with him, and he seemed to be filled with feeling.

And that was the other part that was extra icky -- most guys her age you had to nearly force to dance, usually with the promise of getting laid afterwards. Spike was the one who would want to be out there, pelvis to pelvis, seductively, knowing full well what dancing was a metaphor for. Buffy could feel the will of her body to slide across the bench seat and straddle him, fucking him into a coma without him ever leaving the driver's seat.

"So, why is it?"

Buffy blinked. "What?"

"Why don't you ever drive anywhere? You run all over town, and once in a while Giles would drive you about, but otherwise, I've never seen you in a motor."

"I'm a terrible driver."

He laughed out loud and looked at her for the real answer.

"No, really. I can't drive to save my life. I suck." Okay, always an unfortunate phrase to use around him. He'd been testing her scars with his mouth just before the song had ended. It had been very erotic, but she couldn't let him know that. She didn't want him to think she wanted to walk on his dark side of the street.

"Could have saved a lot of people faster if you'd quit with the track star bit. Get yourself a proper set of wheels, or at least a mobile phone. Why is it you don't? Or even a pager. Instead you lot are always running about. Seems a waste of energy."

Buffy had no answer for that, because of course, he was right. Once again he was shaking the quo out of her status quo, and she didn't like it. First he was being all loving and friendly, hanging out with her when she needed company, being understanding, calling her on the phone, and now driving her around like it was a Saturday night date. This just would not do. Big fat heavy sigh. Where was her old sparkage? These days she was just ennui-Buffy, quip-challenged and spunk-free.

"Seems a bit odd, that you can do everything else in the world except drive. I've watched you, and you can handle yourself in any situation. But you can't drive a bloody car?"

Shaking her head, Buffy stared out the window.

"I could teach you. I mean, not how to drive, just how to be better at it."

"Don't." Next he'd be offering to take her shopping at the mall. She could feel his eyes on her now, and Buffy couldn't look. He'd be hurt, that little tilt of the head and his eyes filled with pain. It was easier to take him when things were completely limited to the violent or sexual. When he was like this, sensitive and sad, it was too painful. Too much like Angel.

"Oh, too personal for you? Ever so sorry."

"What do you want me to say? This isn't Vampire Romeo and Slayer Juliet. We aren't being kept apart as star-crossed lovers. I can't -- I won't -- pretend this is high school again and we're just another unlikely but cute couple on campus."

They didn't speak again until they got to her house. Spike killed the engine and they sat there, not talking, Buffy glowering out the window in the direction of her house. The lights were on in the second floor, probably Willow waiting up for her. After a while, Spike put his hand on her chin and turned her face toward him. His eyes shone like that water on the beach, there was a heat in them that unnerved her.

He caressed her cheek with the back of his hand, trailing his knuckles across her skin back and forth, back and forth. Buffy could feel her heart beating harder and faster, and she wondered if he could smell or hear the quickening pulse in her veins. There were things she'd never discussed with Angel, some of the details about being a vampire, personal things she didn't really want to know. Now here she was, with another vampire, a soulless one, and she wanted to know even less about the details than before.

Buffy had no idea what to say to him after all this. "I should go inside. But, Spike...thank you. I don't know why I'm saying it, but thank you."

He pulled her close to him and kissed her hard, long, and deep. Again she was unable to breathe, to control the intensity of the desire that swept through her like a virus. Buffy clawed at him, wrapping herself around him as she crawled into his lap, her fingers twining through his short, crunchy hair. One of his hands pressed into the small of her back and the other one swept through her hair, pulling her tight against him.

When he finally took his lips away he was panting, his usually pale skin flushed and his mouth kiss-bruised. "God, Buffy, you plan to kill me again?" After all this time of following her around, being the lovestruck ball and chain, now he had her and he kept refusing to respond in the way she expected. She'd say damn you to hell to him, but that was kind of redundant at this point.

"On inside with you, then," he said, and pushed her off him, opening the door and lifting her as he got out. There was something admittedly appealing about the vampire strength, that whole me-Tarzan-you-Jane thing. Not often she got to be Jane. He plunked her down on the curb and kissed her again fiercely. "Come back and see me later, eh? I promise I won't be a wonderful boyfriend."

"You won't be any boyfriend at all. You never could be." Her voice had a harder edge than she would have liked at that moment.

"Is that right? Feel up to putting some money on that?" He smiled wickedly and got back in the car, then drove away. She went inside and up the stairs, only to find Willow waiting on the landing even though it was nearly four a.m. She was looking at her with a mix of fear and concern. Just what Buffy needed, a heart to heart with another needy person. Every freaking day.

"You saw, didn't you?" Buffy asked.

Willow made one of her patented little crumpling faces, nodding silently. Then she asked nervously, "Did... did you want to talk about it?"

Buffy could feel her energy sapping again. "Will, it's not necessarily what you think. Well, maybe it is, but it's not how you think." She went to the bedroom and sat down on the bed. Willow followed her, wearing that frownysad face Buffy wished she could whack off Will's face forever. She was so tired of everyone's frownysad faces, their brows crinkled in concern, the apologies constantly on the verge of dripping from their lips. For a while, Buffy traced patterns on the bedspread before she looked up and said, "It's not a secret how Spike feels about me. I don't know how I feel about him, but I know that sometimes when I'm with him, it's the only time I feel anything, the only time I feel good. Just for a little while, anyhow."

"Oh, Buffy," Willow moaned. "I--"

"Please don't, Will. Don't say you're sorry again. I can't hear it." Buffy tried to modulate her voice, stop sounding so miserably bitchy. "We're here, I'm back, and I don't know what the future holds, but right now this is what I'm doing."

Willow nodded, trying to accept what she was saying. But Buffy could still see questions in her eyes.

"We had sex."

"Sex?" Willow squeaked. "When, and... how? Oh, wait, really never mind on the how." She looked like she was eating lemons.

"The other night. When we were all out. It's why I felt so bad about leaving Dawn alone. Like if I'd tried to do this any more wrong, I couldn't have. And now Spike thinks everything's changed, and he's acting like we're some kind of couple and he's Barbie's dream date."

Patting her arm, Willow said, "There's no doubt how he feels about you, Buffy. I know you don't want him to, and, uh, I know this must be really weird and hard for you in a... weird and hard kind of way. But maybe if this is what you need?"

"That's the that. I don't know what I need now, but it seems to be in Spike. We had a fight, he can... he hit me and I don't know how or why, but he could and we fought and fought and then we had sex. I'd kissed him a few times before, but I kept trying to pretend it didn't mean anything. Things were so much easier when we were trying to kill each other." She played with the drawstring of her top, twisting it nervously in her fingers. It should have felt better to tell Will everything, but it didn't, not yet.

In her quiet, sad way, Willow said, "Buffy. When you were gone... Spike was -- well, he was so alone. I kept thinking all the time that if it weren't for Dawnie, he would just stake himself or wait for sunup. And he told me something once, when he was really drunk -- which was, like, nearly most of the time when we weren't patrolling, come to think of it, but anyway... Do you remember when Angel went bad?" She groaned. "Okay, duh, it's not like that's going away on its own, much as you might like it to."

Buffy smiled sadly at her. Willow's nervous rambling felt so familiar.

"Well, Spike said that the demon, the guy in little pieces--"

"The judge."

"Yup. He said that he wouldn't let the judge touch him or Dru, because the judge knew there was still some trace of humanity in them because they loved each other. And that the judge sniffed it out and that's what destroyed you. Or at least, that's what I think he was saying. But the sad part was how he said that that's his curse, the way Angel's soul was a curse -- that he was doomed to love and would never be as soulless as he should be because he loved. I didn't know exactly what he meant about all that then, but I do now. It's not like Spike makes a lot of sense at the best of times, but it kind of has its own logic when you look at how he is about you. He hates and loves being in love."

"I don't know, Will. I think he's a little too melodramatic to believe, especially when it comes to stuff like that. But he's strange... he makes me feel strange... things. Not just sex. That's a large part of it, but."

"The big but." Willow's mouth drew down at the corners, her eyes concerned and sad. "It's not so strange to take comfort with someone who makes you feel something when you don't even know how you feel. Feeling good."

"Yeah, feeling good. But Spike bad."

"Oh, I don't know. He has his moments. Not that I wasn't terrified when he was all, you know, trying to kill me or shove a broken bottle into my brain, and then he didn't exactly seem like much of a 'feel the love' kind of guy. But occasionally he rises above."

"See, there's my point. Angel had a soul, and Spike has... what? He loves me, maybe, but when that wears off, what then? Because that chip won't work forever, and I can never trust him or believe in him." She suddenly felt cross about that. "And you know, why does he still have that chip? It's not like that Initiative doctor was his Obi-Wan Kenobi only hope. If he really wanted to, he could find a way, he could make some sleazy underworld deal. Brain surgery wouldn't *kill* him."

Willow looked at her with that little tilt of the head and the soft eyes, and Buffy realized she knew the answer. Just didn't want to know it, not really.

"Buffy," Willow asked softly, "did he make you feel good? Did he make love to you, or did you just have sex?"

She didn't expect Willow to ask a question like that, but Buffy knew where it was coming from. Willow had learned so much, changed so much with Tara. There had to be some way to get them back together; Willow deserved it. "Both, maybe. I mean it was... animalistic, in some ways. But he had this look, other times."

"There were times?" Willow's voice cracked a little on the last word.

Buffy looked away sheepishly. "Ohhh yeah. And sometimes he had this look, like -- like I think every girl wants to be looked at by a man. Or, well, you know, a woman if that's your game." Buffy could see Willow reacting to all this news, thinking very carefully about what she was going to say next.

"When you were gone, he didn't have a reason to stick around, not really. He knows he can't get the chip out here anymore, and he knew Dawn was safe. But he stayed, and I guess I think that counts for something. I keep thinking that vampires have no real purpose, you know? That they just kill and feed and take what they want. But Spike's so funny when you consider it -- Drusilla used to be his reason, taking care of her and all because she was so sick -- a nutball, but also *sick* sick! And then he had a purpose in you, in just being around to help you because he loved you. He's not really like other vampires."

"That's not necessarily a strong recommendation in his favor. It just makes it harder to kill him."

"I never told you, though. When your mom died, he came by with flowers. Xander got all 'make my day' on him and Spike left, but I noticed there was no card. He wasn't doing it for anything except to be decent. Hanging around us while you were gone, with no hope of seeing you again? Decent, too." Her face was apologetic when she said it, knowing neither one of them wanted to admit it or take on the responsibility of being the head cheerleader for Team Spike. "Taking care of Dawnie's the same. You have to admit, that's got to be a conflict for him, being decent. But I think there's something still inside him somewhere, this little decent part of him, that gives him a sense of purpose. Sort of like Angel was after he met you. I think being in love, even if it kills him inside, gives him something to focus on, something to be."

Buffy shook her head and looked out the window, silent.

"Maybe I could find a spell, something that would take the whole vampire edge away, you know, make it less 'sex with a dead guy who tried to kill you and your friends.'"

"No, Willow. You know that's not the answer. Especially not now. Things always go wrong with this kind of thing, and demons are so unpredictable. It's too risky. Besides, the truth is, I don't know that I want this to work out, or to have him be more normal or better. Maybe it's best if this works itself out naturally."

Although Buffy had no idea what that meant or how it could happen. She hugged Willow and left to go to her own room to sleep, before she had to get up and help Anya at the Magic Box. It wasn't going to work out there, either, and right now Buffy felt like everything in her life was that way -- on the edge of not working out, teetering on the brink of some kind of disastrous reckoning. A hint of calamity coming, but nothing definite. As she undressed, she looked in the mirror. The bruises and scratches of the other night had healed now and her skin was unmarked. But she was not unmarked inside. Spike had done things to her that night -- not sexual things, but soul-ripping, mind-bending things -- she couldn't scrub from her mind no matter how hard she tried. He hadn't been bragging when he said he could make her feel things she could never feel with someone else; he'd been stating a fact. What a terrifying concept.

Buffy crawled into bed and pulled the covers up, thinking of the way he smiled when her cross had burned into his chest, the feel of his smooth, large hands on her breasts through the fabric of her camisole, the way his blue eyes burned when he looked at her with so much adoration it choked her. Maybe what Willow really needed to provide her with was an anti-Spike spell, something to take away her sympathy for him and allow her the chance to stake him once and for all.

Everything was nicely in place for Buffy's next visit. He'd fixed the bed right nice, got some more candles in, cleaned everything up and hid as much of the broken-down and dirty as he possibly could considering he was living underground. Even if she could stay away tonight, he didn't expect she'd be able to resist a second night in a row and he'd at least see her tomorrow. Probably it didn't do to be so smug about it all, the girl seemed to go all fizzy and temperamental when he did that, but he could feel it, feel how she was wriggling like a worm on a hook. As much as he might wish for love in return, she could never give it to him, so her need would have to do. And it was more than sex, he knew that. There'd been so many different layers to their experience together, so much foundation laid in the past few months since her resurrection. They'd built a friendship, no matter what she wanted to believe.

Spike climbed up the ladder to the main floor of the crypt and got some blood out of the fridge. Just as he finished it off, he was overcome by a blinding, excruciating pain in his head that dropped him to his knees. This wasn't like the chip. It was no delay from the fight he'd had with Buffy, either; this was worse than anything he could have imagined, it felt like his head was being assaulted by thousands of hot needles from within, exploding out into the hard bone of his skull. Then nausea swept over him, painful, horrible fire in his gut, and his muscles contracted, curling him up into a ball as he fell over on his side. Everything swam in colors and sounds, the pain bringing tears to his eyes. Worse than dying. But something like it, the way he'd been swept under into nauseating agony, the shocking cold and terrifying echo of emptiness when he'd awakened in the grave. Worse, though, this was worse, because he knew he wasn't dying. He looked up at the ceiling, thinking he saw great purple bats or something just as horrible flying around him, and then all the light went out.

When he woke up someone was slapping his face, and he was cold and wet. His eyes focused slowly on the vision of beauty in front of him, calling "Spike! Wake UP!" She slapped him again and he realized it was Buffy, shouting faintly as if down a tunnel. She was so lovely, so perfect, her porcelain features consuming his whole vision.

"Oh, Buffy." His heart swelled so with affection for her. But why was he on the floor of this crypt?

"Spike, what happened? Did some demon get to you?" She sat back on her knees, looking at him as if he were a bug.

He tried to get up, but his head hurt so much. "No, I ... I got this terrible headache."

"Get carried away? Decided you had to open the big box of Pop-Tarts that is Sunnydale just because you could hit me?"

"No, no. I was just -- it hit me, worse than anything I can remember and then I was here and you were here."

Giving him an arch look, she said, "Then the gang's all here."

But she helped him up and over to the chair. He realized suddenly that it was dark out, so he'd been out of it for some time. Oh dear, he thought. "What time is it?"

"It's after midnight. I was patrolling and thought I'd stop by because I hadn't seen you, which seemed kinda 'huh'."

He stood, rubbing his head. Buffy looked at him with concern, but he waved her away. "All systems are go." He looked around the crypt. After a moment, he stopped, confused. "I haven't a kettle here, have I?" More peculiarly, why did he want one?

She looked as if she were trying to stifle a sneeze. It must have been her version of a derisive look. Then she pointed at a pile of whisky bottles. "That's more your drink of choice, after plasma bags."

Spike picked up a half-empty bottle and looked at it, then put it away. "Hmm." When he glanced at her, she was frowning with that cute little furrow in her brow. "Well, no tea for me." She gaped at him. "What?" he snapped.

"When do you drink tea?"

He wasn't entirely certain how to answer that. Outside of a few cups with Joyce he hadn't really had it in, oh, say, one-hundred-plus years. He had no idea why he wanted tea, but felt it best to deflect.

"You say you're patrolling? Just happened to stop by?"

She didn't answer him, just looked at him, her eyes dark and indescribable in the flickering candlelight. As he moved closer to her, Buffy grabbed the waistband of his jeans and pulled him between her thighs. He felt himself grow instantly aroused as she ground her heels into his backside and kissed him hard on the mouth. She pulled him down on top of her, lying on the cold tomb, pulling away clothes as they moved. Well, yes, he wished they'd been able to talk, maybe enjoy each other's company a bit, but this was apparently all she wanted. He was happy to oblige.

But oddly, instead, he said, "Oh dear," and pulled away from her kisses. "Should we..."

"What are you worried about now?" she asked crossly, and Spike was nonplussed about her reaction. And his. What was he going to say? He couldn't remember now, but it felt like he was worried about her ... her reputation.

"Nothing, I simply--" This was very strange, things seemed to be rolling around in his head like loose change. He closed his eyes, breathing deeply. Something most peculiar was happening to him. At the same instance that he felt this was terribly wrong, he was overcome with the usual state of extreme desire she instilled in him. Split down the middle. "I don't know what's wrong," he said matter-of-factly.

"Shut up and dance, then." She pulled him to her with her strong legs, then unzipped his trousers. He entered her, whatever foreign concerns that had flitted through his brain vanishing in her power.

He woke to her face again, only this time there was no headache. Just an everywhere-else ache from the past few hours' gymnastics. This must be what it was like to run a marathon and then go a few rounds in the ring with de la Hoya, then follow it up with a chaser of bench-presses. Wait -- what? Who?

She lay peacefully beside him, wrapped up in the comforter and in him, even though he couldn't provide any real warmth for her. For a moment, his mind slipped into a kind of hazy reverie, and he felt confused.

Buffy was so beautiful, Spike thought. She glimmered like a radiant beam of sunlight on a winding stretch of the Thames. His heart swelled with love for her.

"Mmm," she moaned, and stretched, her body lithe and cat-like. When she opened her eyes, he felt himself falling down into a dark, deep well. "I ought to go home. I've been here too long."

"Must you? I could go out, get you something to eat if you'd like. Or shall I ring Willow and tell her you're here?"

Peering suspiciously at him, Buffy answered, "What are you, practicing to be a Watcher? Oh wait, you're mocking me by talking like him."

It took Spike a moment to place the "him." "I would never mock you. My affections for you are too great." He pushed a strand of her golden hair behind her ear.

"Uhhh... okay." She gathered up her clothes and began dressing, and he thought he saw her lips move, as if she was talking to herself. Spike knew he should do something, but he wasn't certain what. Everything felt perplexing, not the least of which was this overwhelming sensation of doing something very wrong here, of acting in a manner that was completely lacking in propriety. But he was a vampire. So why on earth should he feel that way?

Spike sat up, watching her get ready, watching her walk away from him yet again. His heart -- the place where his heart used to be, anyway -- felt like it should shatter in pieces each time she left him. His confidence at her visit was a bluff, one he half expected her to see through.

Realizing he was naked, he quickly pulled on his clothing, feeling very ashamed of a sudden.

Buffy smirked at him. "Modest now?"

"I... well, it's not appropriate."

"That's supposed to stop you? I wish I'd known before, when you were killing people. I could have just held up my hand and said, Stop, it's not appropriate."

Frowning, Spike turned away from her and began tidying up. He felt a ridiculous desire to cry at her cruelty, and he couldn't let her see him look like this. It was so distressing that she should constantly make him feel less than worthy when all he wanted was to be her servant.

"Spike, I'll see you later?" Her hand was on his shoulder, and her voice wavered. It was as if she was seeking his approval, but he couldn't imagine that she would when she was so disdainful of his company -- except for, well, the act. He could deny her nothing, though.

"We could patrol tonight. And Dawn hasn't seen you for days, so maybe you should stop by." Buffy wasn't smiling, but her face was open and questioning.

"Oh, Buffy!" Sweeping her into his arms, he kissed her cheek and held her tightly. "Of course, anything you ask."

"All right," she muttered, squirming out of his arms and looking at him incredulously. "What the hell is with you tonight? I feel like I stepped into a play that no one told me I was in."

"Nothing!" Although he was certain now there was something wrong with him, but he couldn't quite reckon it, either.

"Well, look, I've reached my maximum wiggage allotment for the day, so I'll see you later, okay?" She looked at him strangely again. He didn't let go of her hand until she'd moved completely away, trailing his fingers along hers. He reached up to adjust his spectacles, but there was nothing there.

When she got home the next day, Buffy wasn't completely surprised to find Spike there. What *was* surprising was what he was doing. In the living room, he and Dawn were... waltzing. "One, two, three, and then I move this way," he was saying, and Dawn was gazing at him with a radiant smile. She'd put on such a growth spurt that she was already about two inches taller than him, but they looked nice there together, if you could get past Spike's Billy Idol hair. He was wearing different clothes today than his requisite black T-shirt and black jeans. There was something else different about him that she couldn't peg.

On the couch Xander and Anya just sat still, gaping at the whole thing. It looked as if they hadn't blinked for an hour. Xander looked at Buffy with wide eyes and motioned with his finger behind his arm, pointing it at Spike. Then he twirled it near his temple. Anya finally took her attention away from Spike to look at Buffy, who could only mouth the words "I have no idea" at them.

When Dawn saw her gaping at them, she stopped dancing and smoothed her hands nervously along her hips, where Spike's hands had just been. "Buffy! Spike is teaching me to dance."

"Yeahhh, I kinda figured that." The Biggie-size question, though, was why.

"Real dancing, I mean." She flopped down on the couch and acted worn out. "Like the kind you learn for formals -- for Xander's wedding." That finally closed Xander's mouth.

Buffy looked at Spike questioningly. He was just smiling a stupid smile back at her. It was the smile of a half-wit, not his usual quick teeth-baring grin.

"All proper young ladies should learn to dance, especially in society."

"Rrright," Buffy said, frowning. She'd hoped the novelty of whatever he was doing the day before might have worn off by now. Normally she'd think he was having her on -- what did he call it that one time? Taking the piss? -- but he seemed so bizarrely sincere that she wasn't certain anymore. He'd been so strange last night, even compared to the normal everyday Spike circus. "So, where's Will? What did I miss?"

"I think she's with Amy," Dawn answered. "Her dad's doing the freakout parent dance and making her stay home, like somehow if she goes out she'll turn herself back into a rat. Willow thinks that he's also being anti-witchcraft, but I think Willow was just acting out about the Tara thing."

Buffy raised an eyebrow at that. "Listen to junior Joyce Brothers," Xander said.

Dawn was just about to come back with a retort when Spike stepped in. "I realize we've been somewhat unchaperoned earlier, but I've spent time with Dawn before, and I assure you, it's quite proper."

He looked confused for a moment after he said it, and both Buffy and Dawn stared at him. "Um, okaaay," Buffy said.

"The only thing you missed was Spike puttin' on the Ritz here, and freaking the bejesus out of us," Xander explained.

Anya nodded sagely. "He's being very tweedy and posh and threatening to say things like eh, wot. Please make him stop."

"Spike, could I talk to you in the kitchen?" Buffy asked.

"Will you attempt to find out why he's scaring us?" Anya asked perkily. Xander didn't even bother to elbow her, since he was just as wigged. Well, at least Buffy knew for sure now she wasn't alone.

Buffy wasn't about to get into this in front of the three of them so they would know just how much time she'd spent with Spike lately. When they got into the kitchen, she tried not to be snide, but her patience was wearing thin. Buffy fingered the lapel of the short jacket he was wearing -- not black, for once, but a pale grey suede. "What are you doing? Is this a joke?"

"Whatever do you mean?"

"This stuff -- the tea and the waltzing and the weird Gilesier than thou language. I ask again, what is with you?"

"Really, Buffy, I don't know what you mean. Is it so terrible to be proper and kind and solicitous?"

"For you, yes." It gave her the shivers.

"Haven't we a plan for tonight? Didn't you suggest patrolling? Perhaps we should put our energies into fighting the forces of darkness rather than arguing about figments of your imagination."

Buffy opened her mouth, then closed it. Then opened it again, making a little croaking sound before she could get the words out. "You're planning something, aren't you?"

He took her hand and enclosed it in his. "The only thing I have plans for is tonight with you."

"I know you're up to something. This is related to that whole thing with you being able to hit me, but I can't figure out what you're up to exactly. I swear to God if you do anything to hurt Dawn or my friends..."

Spike kissed her hand. "The hour's wasting. We should go." This shouldn't have mollified her, but somehow it did, and the promise of time spent with a softer, gentler Spike had a wondrous kind of appeal, like sending your dog to obedience school for a few weeks, and getting him back well-behaved and tail-wagging.

Xander came in to the kitchen as Spike leaned towards her, and Buffy jumped backward. "We... uh, we were planning. For patrolling."

Xander scowled at Spike. "Okaaay, well, you two go on with your... planning," he said snidely. Buffy followed him as he walked out.

"I think he's doing this to try to please me."

"Did it work, then?" Xander was clearly annoyed at how Spike had touched her.

"Xander, don't. Something's wrong with him, he's not well."

"No kidding, Spenser for Hire."

Buffy just glared. "We're going out." And she wasn't listening to more from him, that much she said with her body language as she stalked away from him.

Buffy made sure Dawn had homework to do and that Anya and Xander were staying around, then verified when Willow would be home before leaving with Spike. They walked alongside each other, with Buffy glancing sideways at him from time to time. He wasn't swaggering, that's what was wrong. When he walked normally, he almost loped, a side to side swagger that said trouble's coming. Now he was just walking like a normal guy, and it made him appear smaller somehow. His steps weren't as long, and he looked drawn close, tight. Plus he wasn't smoking. He had his hands in his pockets, just a guy walking with just a girl. It made the hair on the back of her neck stand up.

Yet it wasn't as if he'd been changed; not in, say, the way Angel had been changed. He still seemed to know who and what they were, understood what they were doing. There was clearly no difference in any of that. So it had to be under his control, not something that came out of the whole Hellmouthvibe. He had been saying over and over that he'd changed. Was this what he meant when he'd said it?

Between that odd, wonderful glow in the dark date he'd taken her on the other night, and now this, maybe he was making a goofy attempt at being what he thought she wanted him to be. But it was just so damn creepy.

"Spike, don't you think you're acting a little *too* strangely? If you're trying to show me you've changed and this is your bizarro-world idea of what a nice guy is like, you could turn it down a little." She looked around her through the graveyard, waiting to see if any vamps showed.

He was wearing that confused look again, like she was speaking a foreign language to him and he was lost without a translation dictionary.

"I mean, it's not that I'm not used to your normal weirdness, but maybe I've just grown comfortable with it and this is new and different and doesn't seem to quite... fit you, or something."

"I am who I've always been, even when I was alive."

"Thank you, crypto-boy."

"Buffy, I don't understand what vexes you so. Don't you wish for me to show you that I love you?"

"No! I don't! Stop telling me that! And I think this is a little beyond showing someone you love them. Spike, you sound like a reject from Pride and Prejudice. And trust me when I say this: Mr. Darcy you ain't."

He didn't answer, just looked idly around as they walked. Earlier she'd noticed that he'd been playing with something in his pocket, as if he was crumpling and uncrumpling paper. Just as she was getting bored by the lack of vamps and the weird Spike Show, she heard the unmistakable sound of a vamp growl. Only one? Buffy was disappointed. Pulling out her stake, she went for him while Spike stood there dumbly.

Then out of the corner of her eye she saw a second vamp -- a woman -- jump Spike, knocking him to the ground. He screamed, a tiny little girly scream that brought Buffy up cold. Instead of fighting back, Spike shielded himself by holding his arm above his head. Buffy gave a roundhouse kick to her own vamp. As he stumbled back she cartwheeled behind him, bringing the stake up into his chest as he disappeared in a puff of black dust.

The female vampire was going for Spike. He was fighting back now, though ineffectually, beating on her chest and head with useless little blows. He didn't seem to even understand that he had superior strength and fighting skills over some skanky new vamp still coated with grave-dirt. Spike didn't even put his game-face on and get going, pummeling her into oblivion. Didn't even know he had a game-face. Buffy sprinted over, staked her cleanly, and stood glaring at Spike as he gulped in a breath.

"Dear God!" he shouted.

Okay, that did it. She hauled on his jacket, dragging him all the way to his crypt as he blurted protests. Tossing him inside, she threw him into the chair and shoved her hand against his chest.

"This has to stop. Now. Either something is being done to you beyond our control, or you think this is a new style that makes you more appealing to me. I want to know which it is or you're the next notch on this stake, got it?"

Spike looked as if he would cry, which just infuriated Buffy more. "Our?" he whispered.

She pulled the stake away, stared down at him feeling almost as helpless as he seemed to be, and then slid onto his lap. It bothered her to feel so angry with him instead of showing him some understanding. She couldn't muster the empathy or sympathy needed to help him -- yet when terrible things had happened to others, she was always there for them.

Changing the subject was a time-honored Scooby tradition. "So what's this in your pocket?" She was so mixed up with the feeling sorry for him -- the one person she'd never wanted to feel sorry for, ever -- and feeling angry that he was acting like a child or a girl or... she reached into his jeans pocket to find what it was he'd been keeping there.

Grabbing at her hand, he tried to pull the paper away, his eyes round with embarrassed fear. But she opened the folded sheet and looked at it. A poem. There were numerous words scratched out here and there; titles, it looked like. One scribbled underneath, Helpless. He had surprisingly lovely handwriting, elegant and curvy. Of course he did -- he'd learned to write when people made beautiful cursive letters. Why did she always fall for his garage band reject facade?


The night lay dark, and shadows crept thereby
Around death's home, throughout the sunny dale --
There too my heart lay -- beatless and a lie,

Until she came -- the hammer to my nail.
She beat my wretched frame with holy might
And lo! My evil doings fled, so ever pale,

Lost unto her world, ne'er more to bite.
Now I wander helpless, caught between
Her wing'd soul and mine own dismal plight --

Wherein I crawl beneath her glorious sight,
Unworthy, unbelov'd, and unclean --
Yet trapped forever in sweet Buffy's light.

He'd done some crazy, vaguely gross things before, like that robot or the bizarre shrine, but this poem was the mothership of weirdness calling everything else home. The worst thing was not being able to tell if it was good or bad. It seemed bad, but then, she'd had to drop her poetry class when her mother died, and she'd never reached the level of understanding needed to judge. No, it must be awful; how could this kind of thing be good?

After the long silence made the room get cool, Spike cleared his throat and stared up at her face. "Well?"

"Is this... why did you write this?"

"I've always written. I told you once, I like words. I'd hoped to become a poet, actually, before I met..." He looked away, startled.

"You wrote poetry?" Buffy tried desperately not to laugh.

"Many young men do, it isn't that unusual. Wasn't."

Buffy only raised her eyebrows skeptically.

"Spike, who were you before?" She touched his face gently, a movement that startled her as much as it appeared to startle him.

He thought for a while before answering her. "I was the third son of a successful solicitor in London, what you would call Victorian times. I was somewhat shiftless, a bit lonely, and very, very young. I had a terrible habit of falling in love with beautiful girls who were above my station in life. And I wrote poetry. Bad poetry everyone in my society made sport of."

It was painful to listen to him tell her that, almost as painful as it must have been for that part of Spike left inside to tell it. "I get that," she said softly, touching his cheekbones with her fingertips. She knew that embarassment at looking back and remembering your humiliations. There was still acute agony at recalling the way everyone had shunned and mocked her in L.A. after she'd started her slayer activities. Laughing at Spike had been beyond cruel; she could tell he wasn't enjoying this, that there was something inside fighting to get out and stop whatever was happening. It was so uncomfortable to feel so tender towards him.

She grimaced. "This *is* kind of... well, bad. Not like you." When he looked crestfallen, she said, "Or maybe not! Maybe I just don't know anything about poetry."

He took the paper from her hand. "It's called terza rima, it was a popular style a while ago, and used quite frequently now by... used then, I mean. And yes, you're right. It's not good. I haven't written a word in quite some time."

Somehow Buffy didn't think that was the reason it was bad, but she declined to say anything. The oddest feeling was coming over her, a warmth that washed through her because she was touched by him, even while being embarassed. Finally she understood. He was bespelled. "Spike, is this who you are now? Are you Wiliam now?"

"I have wished you would stop calling me that silly name." But there was something dark crawling through him, almost as if she could see it sliding under his skin, and for a second she saw Spike again, angry and frustrated.

He slid his hands around her waist and she pushed forward against him, feeling the familiar flame of lust that grew inside her each time she was with him flickering already.

"Sorry. You're just full of Spikeness to me." She leaned down and kissed him, her mouth open to his. He might not ever really understand what that meant to her, but whatever it was that made him the being she knew, it was hers entirely.

With equal passion he returned her kisses, definitely not the proper Victorian male thing to do. He held her body tightly against his, her thighs pushing hard against his legs.

"I think I know what's happened to you. Or at least, why it's happened. We have to fix it," she said in between kisses. Buffy pulled his jacket, then his shirt off. They stood up so he could slowly undress her, kneeling on the floor in front of her as he stripped off her pants, kissing along every inch of skin he exposed. No matter how she fought to avoid admitting it, he could make her feel things more intensely than any other lover. Well, not that there had been many of them. Yet Spike just... had a way about him. What he'd said about being a lover was undeniably true. Even with this goofy thing in his head making him act like Miss Priss, he was still on his game, his fingers and lips playing an alien music on her skin. And his body... that vampire skin. So smooth and cool, no scratchy beard to deal with, no smelly sweaty body parts. Buffy loved the feel of it sometimes, though she tried not to think of it too much, the idea that she'd had so much experience with them in close quarters.

He pushed her down in the chair, peeling her panties off while he kissed up her thighs, his fingers sliding between her legs. Gasping, Buffy arched up as he wrapped his hands around her thighs. Then abruptly he sat back on his heels. Buffy wanted to yell and strike him with a fist. So William was also a major buzzkill, besides being a bad poet.

"I realize that it's too late... rather, that you're unconcerned about your virtue and your reputation, but I must say that *I* am. This isn't right. Perhaps we should consider making this legitimate, if we're to pursue relations.... this way?"

"Legitimate? You mean... marry you?" she snarled. "So you can have sex with me?" He'd interrupted her pleasure for this lameness? Now Buffy knew she had to get him fixed, before he drove her insane.

But after. After she got him to provide a little relief for this arousal. "I'm having meaningless sex with a vampire. I've had sex with two vampires. I passed the virtue red light a few intersections ago."

"I know, I'm sorry. I simply thought..." He rubbed his hand across his forehead. "I don't know what I thought."

Buffy stood up. It was completely wacked to be standing naked in Spike's crypt with him on his knees in front of her, nearly begging him for sex. "I understand. It's not you. Or, it's not you you. But just try to be Spike-like for a little while and let William take a nap, okay? Be the Spike I want."

As if taking her order and remembering his vampire strength, he grabbed her up and kissed her, hard, before putting her on her feet. "Come over here," he said softly, and for a moment his voice was that low, Spike voice again. He started to lead her towards the tomb, but while his back was turned, Buffy grabbed the piece of paper from his pocket and tossed it under her shirt.

Then he lifted her on top of the tomb and pulled her legs around his neck, and she moaned happily, "Oh, Spike." For once it didn't hurt to say it.

"Spike," Buffy said later, as she dressed to go, "do you want to stay this way? Or do you want to get back to normal?" She tried to be conversational, but she very much wanted only one answer.

He considered it for a moment, a dreamy, bemused quality about his face that intrigued her, since he didn't look like that often. "I don't know. I think I should like to do whatever you want me to do."

That was all she needed to hear -- such a subservient and wimpy comment coming from his mouth rankled her, and she grabbed up all her stuff and left hastily, leaving him standing all alone in the middle of the floor, speechless.

When she got home, Buffy fixed herself something to eat and waited for Willow to come home, then pounced on her before Willow had a chance to put her bag down.

"I need you to undo whatever it is you did to Spike," Buffy said harshly.

At first Willow looked surprised, then resigned, then confused. "But... how did you? I mean, why don't you--?"

"Have you even spent a minute with him since you did whatever you did? He's awful. He's all... he's like some nightmare version of Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, for crying out loud. The past couple days have been a freakfest."

Willow snapped her head back in disgust. "Oh, my God! But... but, that wasn't what was supposed to happen! Wait -- why would he be like that?"

Buffy sat down on the couch, swiping her hand over her forehead. "You're spell girl, you tell me. I mean, I don't know how this works, but apparently this is something like who he was before he was, well, Spiked, I guess." She pulled the paper out of her pocket and showed it to Willow. "He wrote this. For me."

Willow read for a moment, her eyebrows crinkled, and then she looked at Buffy and sat down with a plomp next to her, aghast. "I don't know much about poetry, but this is just..."

"It's awful. It is. And yet? Weirdly touching. But if that doesn't tell you what his mental state is like, I don't know what else would. I always thought that whatever Spike was like before he was a vamp would be... I don't know. Rough, cruel. Not much different from the barrel of monkeys he is now. Will, what did you *do*?"

"I just used a fairly basic spell to restore his human essence. Not a lot should be able to go wrong with this one. It shouldn't have gone bad. Like, well, you know, it wasn't like that." She looked stricken. "I thought that if I could make him better, if I could restore him to the person he was before he became a vampire, then you could be happy. Only I didn't want to do anything like with Angel, you know... one of those nasty hidden clauses." She handed the poem back to Buffy. "But this is just... oh God, I made a monster out of a monster, didn't I?"

"That's just it, Will, I don't know that you did. Or at least, some of it took. He seems to be battling between himself. Or himselves. How does that work? It's like sometimes he's William and sometimes he's Spike and sometimes he's both. But it's really creepy. And it's *sad*." She had a vague ache in her throat, all of this was making it hard to talk without getting emotional. "Whatever his human essence was, he hated it, and I can kind of understand why. He's..."

It looked like Willow was going to cry, and Buffy put a hand on her shoulder. "It's okay, Will. I'm not mad. I just realized something that I..." She looked down at her lap and twisted her fingers together. Buffy could barely admit to herself that she liked him, a lot, let alone admit it to Willow. That she liked the tension of not knowing whether he'd hit you back when you hit him. Liked a guy who seemed evil and clueless, and then surprised you with the perfect date. "I need Spike to be who he is. Chock full o' the terrible, awful, horrible, piggish Spikeness he can be. Whatever else you can say about it, it's what makes me feel something. And I understand what he is."

"I just wanted you to be happy, to feel better about your choices." Buffy could see that Willow was already starting to cry.

"I know that. But you have to just let some things be." She patted Willow's arm, trying to figure out how to say what she had to say next. "You can't change what happened with Tara through me and Spike, Will. Every time you try these kinds of spells, they go bad. You can only change what went wrong with her. You have to undo whatever it is you did to Spike and let me figure it out on my own."

Nodding, Willow stood up and brushed a tear away. "I seem to keep ruining people's lives with my good intentions. Road to hell work."

"No, you don't, Will. You haven't. You're not trying to hurt anyone. And I know you feel like you have to help me, but I need to walk my own path now, however many blisters I get."

She waited while Willow went upstairs, and then checked on Dawn before going to bed herself. Maybe some things were just better left alone, she thought as she slid between the sheets and put Mr. Gordo next to her shoulder. Maybe every step they'd taken would have been better left untaken, from returning her to life, to now. At times Buffy believed she should never even have made it this far; it would have been better if the master had succeeded in killing her. None of it -- killing Angel, losing her mother, nearly losing Dawn, Giles leaving -- would have been suffered through. Slayers mostly didn't live as long as she had so far, maybe there was a built-in expiration date for a reason. Just so they never had to unwrap the extra special presents that regular daily life gave you. To be a slayer, you were built for speed. Your systems were finely tuned and designed for high performance, like an Italian race car. But you were not good for the long haul routes or the stopping and starting. Not for the ordinary. She looked at the poem again, and slipped it into the drawer of her nightstand as she turned out the light.

In the afternoon when he woke, Spike felt groggy and hung over, and a bit displaced. He got up and looked around for a little hair of the dog, and was surprised to find a kettle on the hotplate, not having had one before and not remembering when or where he'd got it. Or why. Must be for Buffy, he thought, without really getting why he'd do that. He scrounged around for a packet of fags, but couldn't find even a moldy old butt lying around. As he reached under the chair cushion he caught sight of a few pieces of crumpled paper and picked one up, uncrumpling it. On it were scratched-out lines of such preposterousness and simpering foolishness he cringed with sympathetic horror for the person who'd written it.

Only to realize it was his handwriting, or rather, his old handwriting, his William handwriting. Oh God: He'd been writing poetry again. Oh God, part two: He'd been behaving like his old self once more, behaving like that in front of and over Buffy. And for act three: He'd been behaving that way towards everyone and they'd all seen him nancing about like a love-sick calf. Oh. God.

That fucking stupid red-headed little bitch. It was all her fault, the muff-diving Wicca cow, she had done this to him. Oh, if he didn't have this chip in his head, he'd make her suffer in a way she couldn't even imagine. And if Buffy was behind it... that was worse. But her, he could hurt.

His fists were clamped in a rage, and he stormed around the crypt, tearing it up in search of a bottle. Finally he spied one under a pile of junk in the corner. Canadian. Well, it wasn't the best whiskey, but it'd have to do for now. He tipped the bottle up and drank it down as fast as he could, feeling the burn in his throat and enjoying it immensely. The past few days came flooding back to him and he groaned in humiliation as he flung himself into the chair. It was enough to make a grown vampire weep. May as well have turned him into bleeding Angel for all that weepy-eyed sentimentality.

If it wasn't for Buffy, he'd just do it. He'd kill one of those annoying little specks of Scoobiness -- well, not Dawn, but any of the rest of the fucking lot of them -- and let the chip kill him with pain. It just wasn't worth it any more. That they could fuck with his life like this, just because he did care so much for Buffy... it was infuriating.

There was a sound outside his door and he tilted his head to listen. It was her. The scent of her crept in around the edges of the door; he knew the way her movements sounded and how she walked. Waiting, he stood there with the bottle in hand, breathing deeply, more worried than he wanted to be about how she'd act towards him. If she was expecting the person she'd seen the past few days... Buffy peered around the door as it opened slowly, not entering with her usual deliberate, angry-at-being-here manner.

Something was different, that was for sure, and it wasn't just in him. He cocked his head to the side and tried a smile on, but he was feeling far too sour for that and it wasn't wearing.

"Hey," Buffy said quietly. "How's the head today? And who's in there?"

"So *you* made her fix me, then? Did you make her put the spell on the first time?"

Buffy nodded at the first question and shook her head at the second. "She was trying to help. She thought if you were who you really were, once, we might... be..."

Spike pursed his lips and shook his head. She was fumbling for some version of "happy" that would make sense for them, but there wasn't really anything that *made* sense for them.

"You have every right to be angry. This is the second time one of her spells has hurt you."

Spike snorted in derision. "Look, you lot may be jolly fine with being messed about like her toys every time she gets in a foul mood, but I'm not her bud." He drew the last word out with an American accent just for an extra level of irritation. "And I'm not a willing puppet. And by the way, it's three times. Remember the wedding bell blues?" he sneered at her.

Coming closer to him, Buffy reached out and took his hand, touching his fingertips. He felt that little shockwave go through his body, the one that only came when she touched him and sparked a simulacrum of aliveness. Not always a pleasant feeling, he knew from experience.

There weren't any words Spike could figure out to explain how angry he was, how betrayed he felt. Mortified at being found out. She wouldn't understand the pride he felt over what he was now, that he was *glad* he was a vampire, that it was better than anything he'd had when he was alive. She'd never, ever understand that satisfaction of being, especially since she hated, deep inside, being the Chosen One. Spike turned his face away from her, but she grabbed his chin and pulled him around to look at her.

"There's a lot to be said for Spike. He's done some good for me lately." She didn't smile when she said it, though. "And it's him I want around, not someone else. I'd have thought you'd at least be happy I figured that out right away."

Pulling her up close, Spike kissed her hard, trying to reassert some of himself into whatever this relationship was. Her fingers dug into his shoulders and he tossed the whiskey bottle away with his other hand, holding her tight with both arms and squeezing her little body against him.

They kissed for a while and he let her away slowly, the feel of her wiggling against his body tantalizing him into deeper, harder kisses. When he let go and looked at her, Buffy had the faintest trace of a crooked smile on her face, and she seemed to glow, like that phosphorescence in the water. As if some kind of darkening caul had been lifted from over her at last, after all these hard months. Maybe she'd finally picked up the pieces of herself she'd left behind in that grave. Spike couldn't imagine it would have anything to do with him, and yet whatever was bringing this change to her, it was real. It was between them, from them.

"Can your hair grow?" Buffy asked.

He blinked. "Yeah, a little, but very, very slowly. Like decades slowly." He hated this; how she could charm him out of his anger so easily. A few attentive words, a saucy smile, and even the best snit vanished into the air.

She crunched her fingers through his hair, tugging a little. "You could stand with an update. Let it grow out, get rid of some of the Sex Pistols stylin'. Eighty-six the peroxide. Modernize."

A line between them had just snapped, and Spike wasn't sure if she even realized it. But he'd be damned if he'd complain about it. "How annoying girlfriendy of you."

Pulling on his arm, she said, "Get your keys."

"Where we going?" Spike asked, following along behind her as he would always do for as long as she would let him. Yeah, he laughed at himself. I could have left with Dru. Right.

"You're going to help me with my driving while we head up the coast. I want to see that beach again." Buffy looked over her shoulder at him as they left the crypt, and her eyes were huge and round and content. Yeah, he thought sickly, I'll be on my knees till the end of time for her and I won't mind a bit. It had been his destiny to come here and to fight her, still another destiny to fall in love with her, and he was certain his last destiny would be to die for her or at her hand. And that was all right.

"If I do, won't that be all boyfriendy? Violate the no-fly zone?" Spike tried not to let his resentment come through, but it was there in the edge to his voice.

Buffy turned away and flipped her hair, still holding his hand and pulling him along. Her shoulders rolled and her hips swayed as she walked, conveying a kind of cocky deliberateness. "I don't mind so much," she said softly.

For the one moment he felt that old spirit fill him again, whatever had made him alive so many years ago. The feeling for her that always made him feel alive now. He didn't mind that so much, either.



Author's blatherings: This was written right after Smashed, after which it takes place on its own little bifurcated timeline. But I didn't start editing until May -- so all similarities between this and canon stuff are purely accidental. As are similarities with other fan fiction; apparently I don't read enough fanfic to be able to avoid fannish gestalt collisions.

Many, many thanks to Alex for the exquisite bloody awful Victorian poetry.

The song they're dancing to is Olive's "Smile," which often formed part of a soundtrack to this story in my head.

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