All About Spike

Heart and Soul
By Cody Nelson

4/16/01

RATING: NC17

SPOILERS: Through "The Body."

SUMMARY: Buffy/Spike. As the battle against Glory heats up, Buffy has to deal with her feelings about Spike.

ARCHIVE: Anywhere.

FEEDBACK: Please, to codyne@netwizards.net

DISCLAIMERS: Buffy the Vampire Slayer belongs to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and probably some others who aren't me.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Thanks to Laura for fine beta and encouragement. I couldn't have done it without you.



"Spike came to see me last night."

Buffy stopped. "Willow. You didn't let him in, did you?"

Willow's mouth curled in that slightly exasperated frown that always made Buffy feel like she'd just dropped twenty or thirty IQ points. "No, of course not." Then she sighed. "But he can't hurt me. You know that. And besides, you're the one he's in love with."

Buffy grimaced. "Don't say that. He's insane, or in heat, or something, but it isn't love."

"I'm not so sure."

They reached the student's lounge and found an empty sofa by the window. "So what did he want? He didn't try to make you put a love spell on me, did he?"

"Oh, no, nothing like that. He wanted...." Willow's voice trailed off as she sat, twisting the ends of her scarf between her fingers.

"He wanted... ?"

"He wanted me to put the curse on him. Like Angel. To give him a soul."

For a moment, Buffy could only stare. "You're not serious. He's not serious. My god, he is insane."

"He was serious, Buffy. He said it was the only way you'd ever... you know, like him. And he feels like he's cursed already. He said he might as well go all way and have a soul."

"And then turn evil again the minute he gets what he wants."

"Well, no, he did ask me to leave out that part of the curse."

Buffy laughed. At least she thought it was a laugh. Or maybe it was a stifled scream. "Well, of course, he would think of that. God, Willow. You didn't tell him you'd do it, did you?"

"I told him I couldn't. It was a really complicated spell, I'm not sure how I did it the first time. And I wouldn't know how to change it to make it work on him. Or to take out the 'perfect happiness' clause. But...." She began twisting her scarf again. "Are you sure you wouldn't want me to look into it? Maybe Tara and I could figure it out."

"Why on earth would I want Spike to have a soul? He's bad enough mooning around without one."

"Isn't a vampire with a soul better to have around than a vampire without a soul? Besides, he might turn out to be nice."

Nice was not a word Buffy could ever imagine associating with Spike, soul or not. "Or he might turn out to be twice as annoying. And then I couldn't stake him if he really got on my nerves. I'd like to keep that option open."

"You wouldn't really stake him. Not while he's got the chip, anyway." Willow looked distressed, as if Buffy were talking about putting down a stray puppy, not a stray vampire.

"Come on, Will. He doesn't really want a soul. He has no idea what would happen to him."

"But once he had it, he wouldn't have much choice, would he? He'd have to learn to live with it."

"Willow, please. Promise me you won't try to do this, okay? I've got enough on my mind right now."

There was a lengthy pause. Willow's eyes were troubled, and she seemed about to protest several times. She was a soft touch, always willing to give anyone the benefit of the doubt, including your unfriendly neighborhood demon. It was one of the things Buffy loved about her -- most of the time. But not now, not with Spike. And Willow finally conceded. "All right," she sighed. "I promise. But think about it, Buffy. What harm could it do?"

Buffy didn't want to think about it. With Spike, there was no telling what harm it would do. No telling at all.

* * *

"So how was school today?" Buffy asked brightly.

"It was school." Dawn sat leaning against the passenger-side car door, staring out the window.

"That's what it was, not how it was."

Dawn darted an exasperated glance at her older sister, and didn't bother to answer.

"Oka-a-y. Do you want to go hang out at the magic shop while I patrol tonight?"

"I don't know why I can't just stay home. I'm fourteen, I don't need a babysitter."

"Because a crazy goddess wants to turn you into who-knows-what so she can use you to unlock a doorway to only-she-knows-where. Dawn, you know this isn't about needing a babysitter. It's about protecting you from forces stronger than any of us have learned how to deal with yet."

Dawn shifted in her seat and sighed. "Yeah. Whatever."

"As soon as we get this Glory thing straightened out, you'll be able to do a lot more stuff. I promise." It was an easy promise to make. Buffy only hoped she'd be able to keep it.

Dawn spoke so quietly Buffy barely heard her. "I just wish Mom were here."

The pain was sudden and sharp as ever. Buffy blinked back tears. "Yeah. Me too."

"I don't know why I can't just go and stay with Spike. He'd protect me."

"Dawn! You can't stay with Spike. You know what he did to me. I don't know how you can still want to see him."

"He only apologized for it about a hundred and fifty times. Besides, he's nice to me. He can't hurt me."

"Just because he can't do you physical harm doesn't mean he's not dangerous. And he only wants to use you to get to me. He's evil, Dawn. Get it through your head." Buffy swung the car into the driveway with a little more force than necessary.

Dawn snatched up her book bag and flung herself out of the car. "You are so conceited! You think no one could possibly be interested in me for me!"

Buffy grabbed her own things and followed Dawn up the walk. "I don't want to argue about it. You are not going to see Spike any more!"

Dawn whirled around, mouth tight, red spots on her cheeks. "You're not my mother! You can't tell me what to do!" She turned and ran into the house.

Buffy stood on the porch, staring at the slammed door. Then she took a deep breath and went inside.

Yeah, that went well.

* * *

"Been dead long?" Buffy planted a kick in the vamp's chest. He grabbed for her leg as he went down, pulling her off balance. She jerked free, wobbled, and recovered as the vampire leapt to his feet. "You really should have stayed buried."

Great. Next she'd be telling him he's ugly and his mother dresses him funny. She threw a right to his jaw that spun him around. He came back punching wildly, sending a glancing blow off her left shoulder. She brought the stake up under his flailing arm and jammed it into his chest.

Missed. He jumped back with a roar, clutching his chest, just to the left of his heart. She kicked him again, and this time followed him down, ramming the stake into his heart. He turned to dust beneath her.

She got to her feet and stood for a moment catching her breath. Never mind the lack of snappy insults, she was really off her game tonight. She should have staked that one in thirty seconds. What was wrong with her?

The fight with Dawn, for one thing. She hated fighting with her sister, and that was all they seemed to do these days. She especially hated fighting with her about Spike, who wasn't worth the spit it took to argue about him. And the disagreement with Willow. About Spike, again. It always seemed to be about Spike.

Spike. Damn him. No matter what she did, she couldn't seem to get him out of her life. Now he was wheedling his way into her impressionable little sister's good graces. Pressing Willow to curse him with a soul. Next thing she knew, he'd be hitting up Giles for a job at the magic shop. It was just becoming completely intolerable.

All right, she was going to stop it, once and for all. She was going to have it out with Spike and make him understand that there was never, ever going to be anything between them. And that he had better stop pestering her family and friends or she really would put a stake in his black heart.

Buffy tucked her weapons away and headed off towards Spike's crypt. This time of night he might well be out doing whatever it was that a de-fanged vampire did with his nights, but if he wasn't home, she'd just go find him wherever he was and slam him up against a wall and spell it out for him. Or chain him up in his own basement and let him hang there and think about it for a couple of weeks. Or....

She punched his door open with the heel of her hand.

Spike's lair was eerily dark. He had a gothic taste for candles, but only half the usual number were lit. She stepped forward into the flickering shadows, and the toe of her boot clinked against something. A bourbon bottle, empty. A few feet away, there was another.

She shook her head in disgust. Not just an insane evil killer, but now an alcoholic one. She stepped farther into the crypt, peering into the gloom. More bottles; no sign of Spike. She was about to leave when she glimpsed a dark bundle in the far corner. A body? Could Spike have somehow claimed a human victim? Rage boiled up in her.

Raising her stake, she approached the bundle. It was a body -- but not human. Spike, passed out in the floor, more bottles scattered around.

Furiously she swooped down on him, snatching him up by the lapels and hauling him to his feet, slamming him back against the wall. His eyes snapped open, and he stared wildly, struggling, until his focus narrowed onto her and he slumped in her grip. His lip curled, but it was only a shadow of his usual smirk.

"Buffy. Just can't keep your hands off me?"

With a grunt of distaste, she jerked away from him. "I just want to make myself perfectly clear." Her throat was tight with anger. "I told you to stay away from my family and my friends. I mean it. I am this close to staking you right now."

Spike raised his arm -- and clutched in his fist was a stake. One of hers, sharpened to a needle point. He held it out to her. "Go ahead, Slayer. Do your job." His voice was thick with bitterness. "I'm just a bloody vampire. A useless one, at that."

She knocked the stake out of his hand, heard it clatter to the floor. The stake in her own sheath burned at her back. A small voice whispered, Do it. But she couldn't. Not like this. Not when he was standing here defenseless and unresisting. "Damn it, Spike! What's it going to take to get you to leave me alone?"

"Me? Leave you alone? You're the one coming over here all the time to torment me. No way for me to uninvite you."

"You call this torment? I haven't even started. You're still seeing my sister, aren't you?"

He shrugged. "She pops round every now and then. I tell her to go home. She's as stubborn as her big sister. What do you expect me to do?"

Her fist shot out, hitting his jaw with a loud crack. His head snapped to the side and he winced, hard, before turning back to face her, mouth clenched tight.

"I expect you to stay away from her. And Willow. She's not doing any spells for you, so just forget it."

He squirmed, mouth twisted in frustration. "Now what's wrong with that? Thought you'd be pleased if I got a soul."

"Why on earth would I want you to have a soul?"

"You're always going on about how Angel's got one, how it makes him good. I want to be good, too." There was a desperate longing on his face -- for something he couldn't possibly understand.

Buffy almost laughed. "You don't even know what you're talking about."

"I know I love you. I'll do anything...."

"You don't love me! Stop saying that!"

"I do love you! Why won't you believe me?" His fists pounded the wall at his sides.

"You're a vampire. Vampires don't love. They especially don't love Slayers."

"But if I had a soul, I could, right? So why don't you want me to have one?"

"Get it through your head, Spike. With a soul or without one, I will Never. Want. You." She punctuated each final word with three fingers to his chest.

Spike pushed off the wall, shouldering her aside, and strode away, pacing agitatedly for half a dozen steps before coming back to stand mere inches from her, his eyes blazing into hers, his smirk back full force. "You know what I think, Summers? I think the reason you can't admit that I love you is that if you do, then you have to wonder -- if a vampire without a soul can love you, why didn't Angel when he lost his? You have to wonder if maybe Angel didn't dump you because he lost his soul, after all. Maybe you just were that lousy in bed."

Buffy launched herself at him, her fist driving into his gut with all her strength. She lifted him clean off his feet and sent him flying. He landed with a loud thump and a moan, curling up on his side and clutching his stomach.

Buffy glared down at him. "You want to know what I think, Spike? I think you're a monster. All you can do is destroy. You can't do it with fists and teeth anymore, so you do it with manipulation and lies. Killing Slayers is your favorite sport, and you're still trying to hurt me. And that isn't love."

She turned to walk away. It was useless to try to reason with him. She probably should just stake him and get it over with, but right now she just wanted to get out of there and go home.

She'd almost reached the door when she felt his hand on her arm. She whirled, trying to jerk away, but he held her tight. So tight it hurt, and she could see the pain on his face, mirroring hers, his eyes full and shiny in the flickering candlelight.

"Buffy." His voice, too, was full of sharp bits of pain. "Nobody is ever going to love you the way I do. Nobody. Not Angel, not Soldier Boy, not any of the hundreds of people you'll meet in your life. You might meet somebody who'd sell his soul for you, but you'll never find anybody else who'd buy one for you." He let go of her arm. One bright tear dripped down his face.

She stared. For a long moment, he stared back. Then she turned and walked out the door.

* * *

No one would ever love her like Spike. God, that was a horrifying thought. And for all she knew, it was true. Who else was going to want a Slayer? Even Riley had been intimidated by her Slayer powers, although god knows that wasn't the worst of their problems. And that was supposing she would be able to tell the next boyfriend about the patrols, the undead, the occasional saving of the world. Was she ever going to be able to have a normal relationship?

"Buffy, did you hear what I asked?"

Guiltily, she started up from her book. "Sorry, Giles. Just got so fascinated by the, uh...," hastily, she glanced down at the open page, "panda demon I lost track of time. What were you... ?"

Giles stepped around the table to look down at the drawing of the large-eyed, round-eared creature. "That's a pendarra demon.... Although, come to think of it, it does look a bit like a.... Well. Never mind. You've been distracted all afternoon. Something on your mind?"

"No," she said quickly. Too quickly. Giles sat down beside her and waited. "Giles, do you think Spike could really be in love with me?"

He was startled. You could tell because he blinked. "I... I don't know. You'd be in a better position to judge than I."

"But he's a vampire. Evil dead and all that. Can vampires be in love?"

Giles put his librarian face on. "You do hear of them forming bonds, alliances -- the sire's relationship to the sired is said to be particularly strong. And Spike...."

Buffy sat up and closed the book. "And Spike what?"

Giles busied himself polishing his glasses. "Well, his feelings for Drusilla seemed quite deep and sincere."

"Until he dumped her." And threatened to kill her for Buffy in the bargain.

"That was the other way around, wasn't it? And they did last over a hundred years together. Rather impressive."

"So you think he could really be... ?"

"As I said, Buffy, I don't know. It may be possible. You're not thinking of... encouraging him, are you?"

"Giles! Of course not!"

"No, of course not. Good. I just... well, he is rather attractive. In a hooliganish sort of way."

Buffy couldn't help laughing. "Giles! You think Spike is cute!"

"I didn't say 'cute,'" he protested sternly. "I said 'attractive.'"

She sobered abruptly. "Dawn thinks so too. She keeps sneaking out to see him. Probably as much because she knows it drives me crazy as because she really likes him. I don't know what to do."

"Would you like me to talk to her?"

"Would you?" Buffy brightened, then sighed. "Are you sure there's no chapter in the Slayer's manual on raising a fourteen-year-old sister?"

"I'm sorry, Buffy. I wish there were."

She nodded, then opened her book briskly. "Back to the panda demon."

"Are you sure there isn't anything else you'd like to talk about?"

For a moment, she considered asking him: If Spike could love me without a soul, why couldn't Angel? Instead, she shook her head. "We're good."

He probably knew she was lying. But he just nodded thoughtfully and returned to his own studies.

* * *

Well, all right, so Spike was cute. Attractive, as Giles would say (and the thought of Giles even noticing Spike's looks made her want to giggle uncontrollably). The way he strutted like a peacock, all lean and hard and white skin and black leather. And supposing he was in love with her, in whatever way a soulless demon could be in love. That didn't make him any less evil. Or dangerous. Or annoying. It only made it harder to keep remembering just how evil and dangerous he was. The annoying part, that was easy to remember. He was a constant thorn in her side. It was getting so she couldn't spend an evening at the Bronze with her friends without Spike dropping in to complain about the new decor and steal everyone's change.

In fact, she kept looking around, expecting to see him swaggering in, one eyebrow cocked, arrogant smirk on his soft mouth, leather coat aswirl. Kept expecting to hear his sly voice whispering in her ear. Even when he wasn't around, he was annoying.

Sighing, Buffy got up from the table and turned to go.

"Buffy? You okay?" Willow asked. She and Tara were communing over glasses of herbal tea across the table. Xander and Anya danced by, grinning cheerfully.

Buffy smiled. "Yeah. I'm just going to...." go wash my mind out with soap "get some fresh air."

It was times like this she missed Riley the most. She knew he'd been right to leave -- she couldn't give him what he needed, and it wasn't fair to keep him hanging on. But he'd been nice to have around, solid and dependable. Human. Normal. Why couldn't she have fallen in love with him?

Ben. Now there was a nice, normal guy. And here he was. Buffy smiled. "Hi. You probably think I'm a total flake."

Ben smiled back. Warm, friendly smile. No smirk. "Hi, Buffy. No, not a total flake. Coffee, that can be a big step. Probably should have started out with something a little less intense."

"Mineral water? Less of a commitment."

"Definitely. No caffeine on the first date. I should never have suggested it." Thick, wavy brown hair. No bleach for a guy like Ben.

Buffy laughed. "Thanks. You're being incredibly nice about this."

"Nice is my middle name."

"How about a completely beverage-free moment? I was just going to go get some fresh air."

"I'd be happy to share some air with you."

They went outside and breathed the air. They talked about nothing. It was blessedly normal. If you didn't count the constant presence of a bottle-blond with razor-blade cheekbones lurking just over Ben's shoulder.

Finally, Ben pleaded an early day at the hospital and left. Buffy scanned the area once more for blond demons, then went back inside.

* * *

Homework. Somehow, it didn't seem fair that with a little sister to take care of, a god to defeat, and vampires to slay, she still had to do homework. Buffy stared at her philosophy text book, tapping her pencil against the margin. Philosophy. A lot of dead guys thinking about thinking. She couldn't even think about turning the page. Maybe she'd just save it for tomorrow. Get Willow to help.

The doorbell rang. Dawn jumped up from her end of the couch. "I'll get it."

"Dawn -- " Her sister was already out in the hall. Buffy sighed. "Tell whoever it is to go home."

Too late. "Spike." Buffy pushed her book off her lap and stood. There he was in the hallway, doing his best to look all wide-eyed and innocent, not that she'd ever believe it of him for a minute. "Dawn. How could you let him in here?"

Dawn stuck out her chin defiantly. "He said it was important."

Spike broke in. "Buffy, I saw something tonight you need to know about."

"Fine." Buffy crossed her arms and glared. "Dawn, go upstairs."

Dawn held her ground. "It's about me. About Glory. I have a right to know."

"Spike doesn't know anything. He's just wasting my time."

"Buffy," Spike tried again. Still laying on the sincerity with a trowel.

"All right. All right. Tell me what you have to say, then get out of here."

Spike stepped into the living room, a bit of swagger already creeping back into his attitude. Getting ready to tell a tale, and Buffy had no doubt it would be a tall one. "Right, then. I was out for a walk, minding my own business, no particular reason to be anywhere, when I happened to see this fellow Ben...."

"Ben? I thought this was about Glory." Buffy was beginning to grind her teeth.

"It is. I'm getting there." He gestured widely, leather coat sweeping the room. "Like I said, I just happened to see him, going into this grand old house out the north side of town, and then after a bit, I saw him through the window, and then he goes whoosh, and turns into Glory."

"What?" She shook her head in disgust. "You don't seriously expect me to believe that."

"No, really, Buffy, I saw it. It was Ben and then it was Glory."

"Spike...."

"He's right," Dawn blurted.

Buffy stared at her sister, who was wide-eyed, a sudden light of realization on her face. "What?"

Dawn continued excitedly, "He's right. That's what happened. At the hospital, the night I found out about being the Key. I was with Ben, and then he was Glory. Just like that."

"Dawn, you said you couldn't remember what happened that night."

"I thought I couldn't. I mean, it didn't make sense, so I thought I must have forgotten what really happened. But that was it. I told him about the Key, and he got really upset. 'She's coming,' he kept saying. 'You have to go.' Then he said, 'She's here.' Only it wasn't him saying it, it was her. -- I was so scared...."

"But Ben can't be Glory. He knows about you. She doesn't."

Dawn shook her head. "They're not the same person. Glory said something to me...." She frowned, struggling for the memory. " 'That was Ben you were talking to, not me.' I think maybe he's her brother."

Buffy didn't know what it meant. But it was important. She had to call Giles. And Willow and Xander. They'd figure it out together.

Without Spike. "All right, Spike. You've delivered your news. Now go home."

He frowned fiercely at Buffy, looking far more offended than he had any right to be. Then, "You're welcome," he muttered, and swept out.

Buffy hesitated a moment, then swore and flew out of the house after him. "Spike, wait!"

He turned on the walk and stood, all stiff and sullen.

I must be out of my mind, Buffy thought. But there was no one else she could ask. And she had to ask someone. "Why couldn't he love me without a soul?"

His face softened. "Worrying about that, are you?" His voice was almost tender.

"Just tell me."

He considered for a moment, then nodded. "You remember the Judge, right?"

"Big blue guy. Wanted to suck the world into hell."

"Pure evil, that bloke was. Out to scour all trace of goodness from the world. Touch you and poof, up in smoke, if there was any non-evilness in you. Fried a couple of vampires right in front of my eyes. Not bad enough for him. Right out of the box, first thing he says to me and Dru, with a nasty curl of his big blue lip, is, 'You two reek of humanity. You share affection.' Never let him within two feet of me, I can tell you. But Angel -- the Judge put his hand right on him. I was really looking forward to seeing your ex burst into flames, I was -- but no, all he did was laugh. 'This one's clean,' says the Judge. Pure evil, through and through."

Spike took half a step toward Buffy. "Shades of grey, love. I know you'd like your world to be all neat and tied up, black and white, vampire and Slayer, but that's not how it is."

"And you're a good vampire, is that it?" Buffy said, voice dripping with sarcasm.

He inclined his head, smiling ironically. "Oh, I'll always be a little bit evil. You wouldn't have me any other way."

She slapped his face, hard. Watched him stagger a step, gasp in pain, then suck it all in and turn back to her, frustrated smile on his face. "I came here to help you."

She almost slapped him again. "You were spying on me. You saw me with Ben and you were jealous. You followed him hoping to get some dirt on him. Well, you got what you wanted. Don't expect me to thank you for it."

His eyes sparked and he seemed about to protest, but then he leaned in, spoke softly right next to her ear, in an insinuating purr. "If you were really so eager to get rid of me, you wouldn't keep hitting me all the time when you know how much I like it."

Before she could stop herself, she had slammed both hands into his chest. He fell to the ground with a thump, wincing and laughing at once. He pushed himself up onto his elbows and sat there, leaning back, grinning insolently up at her.

Furious, she whirled and ran back into the house. His grin, like a Cheshire cat's, followed her.

* * *

"You're going to take Spike's word for it?" Willow was incredulous.

"No, of course not," Buffy said. The only thing she liked less than talking to Spike was talking about talking to Spike. "But Dawn confirmed it. And it fits what we know about what happened when Glory found Dawn at the hospital. She'd been talking to Ben and all of a sudden Glory was there."

"Are you certain she isn't just supporting Spike's story because of her... infatuation?" Giles asked. They had gathered at the magic shop in the morning before it opened: Giles and Buffy, Willow and Tara and Xander and Anya.

"She wouldn't," Buffy shook her head. "Not about something like this. It's too important."

"But Ben...," Willow began to protest, "He seems so nice."

"He is nice," Buffy insisted. "I don't know exactly what kind of body-sharing thing is going on, but they're not the same person. Ben tried to protect Dawn from Glory. He knows Dawn is the Key. Glory doesn't."

"It could be a displacement manifestation," Anya offered helpfully. They all stared at her. "You know. If she can't manifest physically on this plane, she might have to borrow someone else's being while she's here."

Giles frowned. "But if Ben knows about the Key, he has to be involved with Glory somehow. He's not just an innocent bystander whose body is being borrowed."

"Then it's a shared manifestation," Anya said. "Only one of them can get through to this plane at a time. When she comes through, he goes back. And vice versa."

"Does that mean Ben's a god, too?" Xander asked. "He just seems so un-godlike."

"Glory isn't exactly the godliest of gods, either," Buffy countered.

"Oh! Oh!" Willow burst out. "I have an idea! What if we do a spell so Ben has to stay Ben? A sort of frozen into one person spell? So Glory can't take over his body? Will that keep her from coming back?"

Giles considered. "It might work."

"Can you do it, Will?" Buffy asked.

Willow looked at Tara. Who looked back. Witchy communication happened. Or maybe it was girlfriend-y communication. In any case, the matter was presently settled and they nodded simultaneously. "I think so," Willow turned back to Buffy. "We'll work on it."

"Should we talk to Ben?" Xander asked. "If he's on our side, maybe he can help."

Buffy shook her head. "Not yet. He seems to be on our side, but I don't want to take any chances. Let's make sure we have the spell first. And keep an eye on Ben in the meantime. Willow, will you see what you can dig up on Ben?"

"Got it," Willow nodded.

"All right. We have a plan."

* * *

"For a woman with a plan, you don't seem very happy." They'd gone their ways after the meeting: Giles and Anya to open the magic shop, Willow and Tara to study their spells. Xander walked with Buffy towards the university.

"Oh, I'm happy." Buffy smiled. "See me being happy?"

"Is it Ben? I saw you with him at the Bronze last night. Thinking potential boyfriend material?"

"No, not really." Buffy laughed wryly. "Although I was thinking how nice and normal he was."

"On the Hellmouth, any half-way decent guy who's sharing a body with a god seems normal."

"At least he's not a vampire, right?"

Xander stopped. Looked at her strangely. Uh-oh, busted. "Actually, I was thinking about Spike."

"Now, that's depressing."

"Xander, what if this turns out to be the answer to defeating Glory? And I owe it all to Spike."

"The word 'insufferable' comes to mind."

"He's insufferable now. I don't know how to get him to leave me alone. Beating him up doesn't help. In fact, it just encourages him. I've told him and told him I don't want anything to do with him, and he just keeps coming back."

"Have you tried talking to him?"

"Xander, I just told you...."

"You've tried yelling at him. Have you tried talking to him?"

Buffy began to protest, then shook her head. "He makes me crazy. Spike and rational just don't seem to go together."

"Buffy, as long as he knows he can get to you, he isn't going to give up."

"Well, then, I just won't let him get to me." No problem. Like stopping the sun from going down.

They walked on. Xander seemed about to say something, then stopped.

"Okay, Xander, spit it out."

"Promise you won't hit me? Unlike Spike, I have a low pain threshold."

"Out with it."

"Sorry, Buffy. But I can't help thinking... the way you are with Spike -- kind of reminds me of the way I was with Cordelia."

"Xander! This is nothing like you and Cordelia. You were...." lifelong enemies... constantly fighting... obsessed with each other... "completely different, that's all."

"Yeah," Xander agreed.

Now she was really depressed.

* * *

Buffy burst into Spike's crypt, staring around wildly, kicking an empty bottle across the floor. "Dawn!"

Spike pulled himself up to peer over the back of the sofa, grimacing. "Now what... ?"

She rushed over to him, grabbing up fistfuls of his shirt. "Where's Dawn?"

"How the bloody hell should I know?"

She shook him, hard. "Where is she?"

He caught her wrists. "I haven't seen the little bit in days. You must have finally put her off coming here. What's wrong?"

She let go with a push, so hard that he rolled off the sofa and onto the floor. "She didn't come home from school. She's not at the magic shop. None of her friends have seen her." Buffy paced, frantic. "I thought she had to be here. Oh god, I hoped she was here."

Spike got to his feet and came around the sofa to put himself in her path, taking her by the shoulders. "Buffy, take it easy."

She pounded his chest. "You help me find her!"

"All right, all right. Settle down. Have you been to Glory's?"

"What?"

"That big old place on the north side I told you about. Where I followed -- er, saw Ben that time."

Buffy turned for the door. "We'll go there now." Abruptly, she stopped. "No, we need to get the others."

"Look, you go get the Scoobies. I'll go on ahead to Glory's."

She grabbed his coat sleeve and hauled him after her. "No. I'm not letting you out of my sight. You're the only one who knows where it is." He shook himself free and followed.

She couldn't lose Dawn. That was all there was to it. Never mind Glory, the Key, the end of the world, whatever. She couldn't lose her sister. She'd already lost her mother. Dawn was all she had left. She'd promised her mother she'd take care of Dawn. She'd promised herself. She couldn't let her down. She'd already let her down. Why didn't she know where Dawn was? How could she have let her come home by herself? She'd been selfish, too busy, afraid to get into another confrontation with her, preoccupied with damned Spike and his damned obsession --

Damned Spike striding along beside her, keeping pace easily with his long legs, all menace and passion and strength.

Damned Spike with a stake tucked into his belt -- the same one he'd been clutching when she'd last come to the crypt. Weapon? Souvenir? Fetish?

She snatched it out of his belt. He stopped, grabbing her arm. "Hey! That's mine."

"Actually, it's mine. What are you doing with it, Spike?"

He reached for it, but she held the stake away from him. He dropped his hand in frustration. "You really want to talk about this now, Slayer?"

"No," she said abruptly. She handed it back to him. "After we save Dawn. If I don't decide to stake you first."

She rushed on. He was right behind her, muttering, "Right. You'll stake me. Tell me another...."

It seemed to take hours to get back to the magic shop, half-walking, half-running, every second a nightmare of things that could be happening to Dawn. Buffy cursed herself for taking even a few seconds to rail at Spike, cursed Spike for being so infuriating that she had to stop and rail at him. She took the last block at an all-out run, and flew into the magic shop gasping, stopping with Spike right behind her.

She ignored the astonished stares of her friends. "Spike knows where Glory's holed up. Dawn might be there. He's taking us there now."

"Buffy...." Giles began.

She cut him off. "Now!"

The magic shop burst into a flurry of activity as weapons and amulets were gathered. Minutes later, they were all rushing out to the street, piling into Giles's car, driving north towards Glory.

* * *

The house was huge and sprawling, built out on a hillside, with tower rooms at each corner. Buffy's eyes widened when she saw it. She'd been here before, almost -- right down that hill was where she'd fought the Sobekite demon Glory'd conjured to find Dawn. Another twenty yards and the demon would have reached her. They'd been that close. She shivered. Then she took a deep breath.

"All right, Spike and I will circle around, find the best place to go in. The rest of you stay here. Willow, is the spell ready?"

"Yes, it's ready. I think. But Buffy -- if it's Glory, the spell won't work. I mean, it will work, but it won't help. It has to be Ben."

"I know, Will. Got any spells for conjuring Ben?"

"I...."

"Never mind. We'll just do our best. Spike, let's go."

One thing vampires were good at was stealth. Spike slid silently beside her. On the downhill side of the house, he put his hand on her arm to stop her. His fingers were cold and hard, and strangely reassuring in her present mood. He nodded towards the huge picture window taking up most of one wall.

"There's where I saw them," he murmured softly into her ear.

At first she saw only a vast empty room. Then Glory came into view, walking slowly, something bright in her hand. Behind her, one of her minions scurried. She was walking toward a flickering red light, as if from a fire.

A muffled scream pierced the night air.

"Dawn!" Her exclamation was stifled to a harsh whisper. Buffy started to run towards the house.

Spike caught her, pulling her to a jolting halt. "Buffy! You can't get in from this side."

"She's in there!" Angrily, she tried to jerk away from him.

"As long as she's screaming, she's still alive. Come on, let's go get the Scoobies and go in the front."

She wanted to smash his face. But he was right. She turned and raced back around to the front of the house. "They're in there, let's go." With a solid kick, she knocked down the front door and tore through the foyer and down the hallway, searching for the room where they'd seen Glory.

There. She caught a glimpse of the ratty little demon minion in a doorway. "Over here!" she called out, and burst into the room.

"Buffy! Help me!" Dawn was tied hand and foot to a huge four-poster bed. On the floor at the four corners of the bed were firepots, each glowing with red flames shooting a foot and a half high.

And Glory, all in red, shadowed and ominous in the firelight, turned to the doorway with one hand on her hip and a look of pure rage on her face. "You! You had my Key all along but you wouldn't give it to me! And now you're spoiling my ritual!"

Buffy stepped forward. "She's not your Key. She's my sister. And you're not going to touch her."

A raw smile touched Glory's mouth. "Oh, I'm not going to touch her. I'm going to rip her to pieces and reassemble her the way she's supposed to be."

"Not while I'm alive."

"No problem." Glory launched herself at Buffy.

"Giles! Get Dawn!" Buffy ducked, sidestepped, and kicked.

As Buffy settled in to the battle with Glory, she caught the rest of the scene around her in glimpses. Giles skirted the fighting to try to get to Dawn -- but every time he approached the bed, the fires blazed up with a roar, driving him back, and making Dawn scream in terror. Xander and Anya engaged the minion, a feisty little demon, much stronger and quicker than he appeared. Willow and Tara took up a position in the corner, hands clasped, and began chanting. Spike seemed to have disappeared.

Meanwhile, Buffy was fully occupied with staying alive. This Glory was not the one who'd already beaten Buffy twice, fighting casually, almost offhandedly. This Glory was determined, and deadly. Buffy's blows seemed to bounce off her, when they connected at all. Glory's blows sent her flying across the room with bone-crunching force, again and again.

There was a crash behind her at the door. Buffy managed to turn to look. Three of the Knights of Byzantium had burst into the room, with crossbows at the ready, pointed at Dawn. "Giles!" she screamed.

Giles turned, reached for his own weapons -- but too late. The Knights were already inside the door, ready to loose their bolts, to destroy Dawn before the Key could be used.

Out of nowhere, a flash of black and white flew across the room: Spike, face distorted in full vampire fury, fangs bared, roaring with battle lust. The lead Knight screamed and went down under the assault, crossbow bolt flying wild to lodge in the ceiling. Grinning and dancing, Spike turned to the other two, who dropped their crossbows to join the close-quarters fight. Now Giles jumped in, engaging the Knights alongside Spike. They seemed to be holding their own.

But Buffy wasn't. Glory picked her up and hurled her into huge oak chest of drawers; she felt her spine crash against the edge, felt her head snap into the mirror, shattering it to pieces. She gasped in pain and fell to the floor. There was a heavy pause before she was able to bounce back to her feet. She knew she was weakening, and she hadn't made a dent in Glory's defenses. Before she could make her own move, Glory had grabbed her by the hair and flung her to the floor. Then Glory leaped on top of her, sitting on her chest, hands tight around Buffy's throat.

She tried to scream for help, but no more than a mousy squeak would come out of her constricted throat. She punched Glory's face, kneed her in the back, struggled with all her might. But Glory's hands remained fixed around her neck, thumbs digging into her throat. Her vision began to go black and blood was singing in her ears. Her tortured lungs felt like knives in her chest.

An animal growl split the air. Spike landed on Glory's back like a wildcat, burying his fangs in her neck. Blood sprayed, Glory howled with rage and reared back, letting Buffy fall to the floor gasping for breath. Glory staggered under Spike's weight, pulling at him, trying to free herself. He clung to her, eyes glowing, mouth fastened to her neck, feeding.

Buffy rolled onto her side, coughing, reeling. Her stomach lurched. Glory wasn't human, but it was still horrible to see Spike in full vampire mode, with his teeth in her neck, blood dripping from his mouth. Buffy turned her head away, then looked around to survey the scene.

Giles stood over the three fallen Knights. Dawn was still tied to the bed, surrounded by fire, but alive. Xander and Anya were sitting on the struggling minion, and Willow and Tara wove their spell surrounded by glowing lights. Everyone had done their part. Everyone except her -- Glory had defeated her; it had taken a vampire to slow her down.

Glory fell to her knees, still hitting and clawing at the creature on her back. Her nails raked Spike's face, her fist punched his nose over her shoulder. Finally, he lost his grip and fell back. Glory knelt gasping, eyes dark with fury. She seemed to gain strength with every breath.

"Willow! Tara! Call Ben." Buffy had no idea if they could, but if they couldn't get Ben here soon, Glory might still have her way.

The chant changed, rose in pitch and quickened. Glory's face suddenly went slack, and she fell back, body twitching. "No!" she screamed. Her hands and feet pounded the floor.

Then they were Ben's hands, and it was Ben's face contorted in anger, and Ben's voice forming the final "Oh!" He sat up, staring in confusion, Glory's red dress stretched foolishly around his body.

Willow and Tara's chant changed again, and the lights swirling around them flashed and sparked and moved to the center of the room to hover over Ben. With a final shout, they finished their spell, and the lights streaked into Ben's body, glowed red to blue to white again, then faded to nothing. The witches slumped in each other's arms.

The fires in the firepots died down to tiny flickers. "Buffy!" Dawn called out.

Buffy struggled to her feet. Was it over? She didn't take her eyes off Ben, but there was no sign of Glory coming back. "Giles, get Dawn." At last the walls of flame no longer threatened, and he was able to go to the bed and began to untie Dawn's bonds. Buffy looked around. Even the minion had stopped fighting, and was lying dejectedly with Xander seated on his back. "Willow, did it work?"

"I think so."

Then Spike popped to his feet, a mad grin on his vampire face. He laughed drunkenly, wiped his mouth and licked the blood from his fingers. "God's blood," he said, laughed again, then leaped into the air, shaking his head and shouting in ecstasy. "Never had a god before. Tastes like...." He took two running steps towards Buffy and took her by the arms. His hands were hot, hotter than human. "Beautiful...."

She flinched away from him. "Spike -- " How could he call her beautiful, how could he think... ?

He cocked his head, grin softening. Then he shook his vampire face away. "Beautiful...," he repeated dreamily. But his eyes were wild, and there was still blood on his mouth.

Suddenly, he pulled her to him, pressing his mouth to hers. Buffy tried to moan a protest, but her words were swallowed up in his kiss. His mouth was hot, and his chest was hot, and heaving against hers with unnatural breath. His tongue slid inside her mouth, powerful and urgent. He tasted coppery and bright as smoke, and for a long moment she clung to him, her own body alight, overwhelmed.

Then she pushed him away in horror. "Spike! Stop it!"

He licked his lips and smiled, fingertips brushing her cheek. He spoke slowly, as if in a daze. "I love you."

She knocked his hand away, face blazing. "Spike! Go home. Now."

He blinked. The dreamy look faded to confusion, and he shook his head slightly. "Buffy...."

More gently this time, she repeated, "Go home, Spike."

He took a step back, frowning intently. Then he laughed. "Right, Buffy. Whatever you say." Laughed again, turned toward the door, took one slow step, then another, then suddenly he was running out of the room, leaping, coat streaming behind him.

Buffy found that she was trembling. Then Dawn, finally free, came pelting across the room and flung herself onto Buffy, sobbing.

Buffy hugged her sister, squeezing her tight. "It's all right now. It's all over." She looked over at Ben, still sitting in the floor in Glory's dress. "It's all over, right?"

He nodded, pushing himself to his feet. "Um, I'm going to go change clothes now." Then he walked out of the room, wobbling a little unsteadily. Xander got up off the minion, who scurried away as well.

"Everybody okay?" Buffy asked. The answering nods were a little shaky, but unanimous. Dawn was safe, Glory was gone, the Key unturned in whatever lock she'd planned to use it. They'd won.

Then Willow gestured towards the Knights, still lying on the floor. Her face was troubled. "Buffy, Spike fought two of them. It didn't hurt him."

Buffy froze. "They're human." The chip. Oh god, somehow he'd deactivated the chip. "Are they dead?"

Giles shook his head. "No, they're just unconscious."

Buffy breathed a sigh of relief. At least he hadn't killed them. But that didn't change anything. "I have to go find him."

"No!" Dawn protested. "He saved me. He saved you!"

"I know, Dawn. But he's out there now, drunk on Glory's blood, without anything to stop him from doing whatever he wants. I have to find him."

Dawn pulled away from Buffy, tears forming again in her eyes. "Don't hurt him. Please."

Buffy's heart sank. Dawn was right. Without Spike, they might not have defeated Glory. But she was the Slayer, and Spike was dangerous now. "I'm sorry, Dawn. I have to go." She pulled Dawn back into her arms for a brief hug. "Guys, please take her home. And wait for me."

Then she let Dawn go, and hurried out of the room.

She could still taste the blood in her mouth.

* * *

Spike had kissed her. She could still feel the heat of his body, singing with the blood of a god. Feel his fingers digging into her arms, his hard chest pressing against hers. Taste the metallic tang of his mouth. Blood. She'd tasted Glory's blood in Spike's kiss. What horrified her most was not the taste of an enemy's kiss, but her own unwelcome response. Oh, yeah, she'd pushed him away. A good ten heartbeats later, after wrapping her own hands around his waist and pressing her mouth into the heat and the blood. While her friends stood there watching.

And now she was going to -- what? Put a stake in his heart and watch him crumble to dust? If she found him standing over a human victim, reverted to his bad old self, she would have to. She would have no choice, any more than she'd had a choice not to put a sword through Angel and send him to hell. But if she found him at the Bronze, drinking beer and complaining about the menu -- then what? Stake him because he could kill, whether or not he'd actually done it?

Even if he hadn't killed yet, what would stop Spike from doing it later, now that he'd managed to deactivate the chip? Could she trust him to defy his own nature, even supposing he claimed to want to? He'd told her he'd "give up evil" for her, but that was when he had the chip, and had no other choice. He was a vampire, and she was a Slayer. It was her job to destroy him. It was her destiny.

He wasn't at the Bronze. She began to describe him to the bartender, who said, "You mean Spike? No, he hasn't been in tonight."

Great. Spike had become a regular. "Okay, thanks."

So he hadn't gone to the Bronze. Where else would a drunk vampire go to party?

Buffy searched the alley and nearby streets, growing increasingly frantic. She had no idea where he might have gone. And the longer she spent looking for him, the more time he had to do god-knows-what. On the other hand, she had told him to go home. Would he have done it? Drunk and in love and "Whatever you say"... ?

Well, she might as well patrol the cemetery, anyway.

* * *

She entered the crypt slowly, stake at the ready. The shadowed interior flickered with candlelight. There was a low chatter of noise -- his television, softly playing unheeded. No sign of Spike.

She continued to search, stake lowered but on the alert. There was nothing here but a few empty bottles. Well, it was too much to hope for, that he would be innocently sitting here waiting for her to come and murder him.

No. It wasn't murder. You couldn't murder a creature, a monster. "Spike?" she said softly.

He could be downstairs. She hesitated before pulling the slab away from the opening in the floor, remembering what had happened the last time she'd gone down into Spike's basement. She'd found his shrine to her, a creepy collection of photographs and drawings and half a department store mannequin, wearing a blonde wig and Buffy's blue cashmere sweater. Spike and Dru had found her there. Spike had chained her up and threatened her and forced her to listen to his ridiculous declarations of love.

But Dru was gone and Spike was... Spike. She'd never feared him before and she wasn't about to start now. She climbed down the ladder.

The shrine was gone, just a scatter of broken wood and torn paper. The chains still hung from the ceiling beams. Some furniture, chairs, wooden chests, curtains, placed seemingly at random. A torch burned in the wall.

And across the room, half-hidden by a curtain, was Spike's bed -- not a coffin, but an ordinary full-size bed, with sheets and blankets and pillows.

And in it was Spike. Sleeping it off, apparently. He lay tumbled among the pillows and blankets, perfect hair mussed, blanket fallen down to partially expose a muscular white torso. His chest rose and fell almost imperceptibly with his breathing, and it troubled Buffy to see it. Vampires didn't need to breathe, and yet they did. They talked and laughed and smoked cigarettes. They suffered when you choked them. And at least one of them gasped with pleasure when he came.

Now, she told herself. Do it now, get it over with. He's no sleeping innocent, he's a killer. He'd turned vamp and fought humans and drunk blood tonight. Not human blood, this time, but who could say about the next time? Unless she ended it now.

Buffy crossed the room, stake raised to strike.

His eyes snapped open, widened when he saw the stake. He started to raise himself up, started to speak. Her arm slashed down, and he fell back down to the bed with a sharp intake of breath, a tensing of his muscles, pressing his eyes shut, steeling himself for the blow.

With a stifled gasp, she wrenched her arm to a halt, stopping the stake just before it pierced his skin. He lay frozen for one awful moment, then his eyes slowly opened. He was as still as death.

Buffy sat on the bed, leaning over him with the stake poised over his heart. "How'd you get rid of the chip, Spike?"

He swallowed before answering, and spoke warily. "When Dru was here. She zapped me in the head with the cattle prod. Hurt like bloody hell, but looks like it fried the little bugger."

Since Dru? But that was months ago. No, that was impossible. If Dru had freed him from the chip, he would have gone with her -- his sire, his one true love. He wouldn't have threatened to kill her for Buffy. He wouldn't have stayed here, pining after the Slayer, helping her, giving up the opportunity to hunt and feed and kill. "How many people have you killed since?"

"Not a one." She gave him a tiny jab with the stake, making him flinch. A spot of red formed under the point. His mouth tightened. "I haven't, Buffy. You know it. You'd know if I was on the hunt."

And that was true -- if he'd been feeding here in Sunnydale, she'd have known about it. Known something was up, anyway, and there'd been no increase in vampire activity lately, no rumors of new players on the scene. "So you've been lying low. Why?"

He closed his eyes, and on his face was a look of pure despair. "You know why."

"Because you're in love with me," she mocked.

When he opened his eyes they were shiny with tears. But his mouth was set, and when he finally spoke, his voice was slow and measured and weary. "I wanted to prove myself to you. That I'd changed, it wasn't just the chip. I told you I'd give it up for you."

And supposing it were true, what was she supposed to do? Trust him? Believe that love would make him good? Let him live, and just hope he didn't fall out of love? "For how long?"

He lay perfectly still. His eyes were dark in the torchlight, the deep blue of a starlit night. The hollows of his sculpted cheekbones lay in slate grey shadows. His mouth looked silky soft. "I suppose until you kill me."

Her hand gripped the stake tightly. She wanted to do it. She really did. She willed the stake to move, to enter his flesh, to pierce his heart and make him fall to dust. But her arm was frozen, the muscles locked in place.

Slowly, he raised his hand to hers, fingers gently curling around her fist, caressing it, stake and all. His hand was cool now, the earlier blood heat faded. A strange current trickled through her body, and a tiny sound escaped her, something like a whimper. He lifted his head, lips parted, and brought her hand to his mouth, gently kissing her fingers. His lips felt as silky as they looked. He gazed up at her and waited.

She couldn't do it. It was probably the biggest mistake she'd ever make in her life, but she couldn't force herself to stake him. Not like this.

And if she couldn't kill him... ? Gently, she pulled her hand away from his. She held the stake over him for a moment, then lowered the point to his cheekbone, and ever-so-carefully drew it down his face.

A tremor passed through his entire body, and he sucked in air. "Buffy," he groaned, as if she were torturing him. Or making love to him.

She tilted her head and regarded him: a vampire lying in his bed, enthralled by the stake. This is sick, she thought idly. Sick and wrong in so many ways, she didn't even know how to begin thinking about it. She placed the point of the stake in the hollow of his throat, and began to trace a line down his chest with it. His back arched, and she eased the stake up so that it would ride lightly along his skin. She didn't even know why she was doing it, really. Except that he was helpless to it, under control at last. No smirk on his face now. No arrogant grin. There was fear, but more than fear. There was desire, rampant need. His eyes were shiny with it. It was intoxicating to see him like this, she was almost dizzy with it.

She moved down the bed, pulling the blanket aside, and watched his body tremble as she ran the stake across the chiseled muscles of his abdomen, then through the honey-blond tangle at his crotch. He tensed up and gasped and forced himself still. It was delicious, the way he wanted it, even while he feared it. It made her... want him back. Want to sink down into all that gorgeous need, soak it up, wallow in it. His penis lifted the blanket, and sprang up when she pulled the cover away, full and pink. It was not something she usually thought about men's penises, but Spike's was pretty. Big, but somehow delicate-seeming, with skin as transparent as porcelain. She was aware of her own breath quickening, heat gathering between her legs.

He was beautiful. How could she never have noticed before? Not just cute, or attractive, or any of those silly words you used to talk about puppies or little kids or other people's boyfriends. Beautiful, like some dark angel in a Renaissance painting. Like something ancient and pure and drenched with sex. Evil, she tried to think, but he didn't look so evil, all naked and hard and wanting in his bed. A little bit evil, just as he'd said -- the wicked glint in his eyes, the dashing scar zigging through his left eyebrow, the rebellious black paint on his fingernails. Yes, he was beautiful. And she could have him if she wanted. Any way she liked.

A voice inside was screaming at her to go, get out now, stop acting so crazy. But another voice was whispering seductively, along with the throb in her clit, Go on and do it. Take him, use him, why not? Sure, it's insane, it's all insane, and there's nothing you can do about it. So ride him to Hell. If that doesn't get him out of your system, nothing will.

Buffy sat up, drawing a trembling breath. She tossed the stake aside and got to her feet, standing unsteadily at the side of the bed.

Spike reached out one hand for her, eyes bright with tears. "Buffy, please...."

She touched his lips with her fingers and smiled.

Then she stepped back and began to unbutton her blouse.

* * *

She let her clothing fall to the floor, piece by piece, as Spike watched, still as a hunting cat, as if afraid the slightest motion would startle her away.

Naked, she went back to the bed, lifted her knee and slid on top of him, straddling him, leaning over to brace her hands by his shoulders. His firm body was cool between her legs, and his mouth was cool when she bent down to kiss it, but he was all fire as he wrapped his arms tight around her and kissed back, open-mouthed and hungry. He didn't taste like blood any more, just long-pent-up need and a hint of something old and fine, like aged brandy, leaving her light-headed and tingly.

He clung to her, kissing her greedily. Then he buried his face in her neck, moaning her name, his mouth open on her skin. She felt a momentary chill at having a vampire's teeth so close to her neck -- but then she felt his whole body convulse in a choking sob, and he was crying on her shoulder, and all she could do for a little while was hold him and wait and wonder that she had brought him to this: he wanted her so badly it made him cry. She felt strange -- a little guilty to have made him break down, but gratified that she could do it. In a little while his sobs quieted and he began to nuzzle her cheek, kissing her jawline, licking his own tears from her collarbone. Then suddenly he flung himself onto her, laughing, and they were rolling and tangling in the sheets, growling and nipping and sucking at each other's mouths, grabbing at each other's bodies, all fingers and teeth and chests and groins and knees.

Buffy found herself laughing, too. This was fun; pure animal fun, and how often did she get to have that? She didn't have to hold back for fear of hurting him, like she did with a human man. She could feel the steel in his arms, the power in his thighs, the sheer rock-hard solidness of him, all a match for her Slayer strength. When she accidentally cracked him in the ribs with a stray elbow, he didn't curl up in pain, he just chuckled breathily and came back for more. When he wrapped her up in his arms, she felt held. And, oh it was good. Had anyone ever held her like that? So tight it nearly took her breath away? Had anyone ever been able to? Well, Angel, but even he -- oh god it was so long ago, and she was so young, her very first time -- Angel had been gentle and tender and no, he hadn't pounced on her and scooped her up like a doll and covered her with kisses.

Because Angel had rejected his vampire nature, while Spike reveled in his. She was having fun with a vampire, because he was a vampire, a perfect match for her, and that was so wrong....

Spike must have noticed some hesitation, some change in her body language, because he stopped in an instant and gazed down on her intently, solemn blue eyes boring into hers. "Buffy, what's wrong?"

"You're a vampire," was all she could think to say.

After a thoughtful moment he smiled. "You're the Slayer," he responded. "Bloody humiliated, I am." He bent down to mouth her earlobe. "Never be able to show my face at Willy's again." His lips trailed across her jawline. "I'll be a laughingstock. 'That Spike,' they'll say. 'First he got a chip shoved up his head, and now he's all Slayer-whipped.' "

Slayer-whipped? She couldn't help laughing, but there was an edge in it. "Spike...," she managed. "This is wrong."

He tilted his head in that way that he did. That suddenly she found made her warm in all the right places. "It's not wrong, Buffy. It's just you and me. Not doing any harm to anyone."

Was that true? It felt true, although maybe that was just Spike running his fingertips down her chest, between her breasts, circling her belly button, in a delicate replay of the path she'd taken with the stake on his body earlier. He knew how to be tender, too, and maybe that shouldn't have made it feel all right, but it did.

They began again, slower this time, and with care. He rolled on top of her, and he seemed light as a feather, as if his body had no weight, only friction. His skin was cool and dry. For a moment, she thought of a serpent curling between her legs, a smooth and silky one, with fangs. Then he slid his hand down, sensitive fingers exploring her folds, stroking her clit, sending shockwaves of pleasure through her, and she forgot about serpents, and moaned, "Spike...."

She wrapped one leg around him and dug her fingernails into his back, while his slow hand did its magic on her. He took her to the brink and back with maddening precision, until she was writhing under him, moaning into his neck. A hundred years of practice, Buffy managed to think, and he'd used it well. He was moaning too, and pressing himself against her thigh, all the while his fingers moved over and inside her, and she felt herself swell around them.

Not yet. She couldn't let it end yet. She groaned and grabbed his shoulders and rolled him over, and he went easily, moving under her with willing grace. She felt another stab of pleasure at that: his responsiveness, his eagerness to please. How far did it go? She knew he liked to be hit. What else did he like? She sat up on him and took his arms, pinning his wrists to the mattress. He hissed and arched under her, then relaxed into the restraint, chuckling softly. She felt his penis twitching behind her. Oh yeah, he liked that. And he looked beautiful that way, arms spread, pinned down on the bed. His smooth white skin took on a warm glow in the torchlight, shadows emphasizing the cut of his chest and abdomen. Beautiful and strong -- strong enough to fight her, or to play with her, but willing to be subdued. It was a heady thing, an unexpected thrill, to have this power over him, to have him want her to have it.

Not like before, when she was angry and frustrated and used that power just to make him stop driving her crazy. This was different. This was having power because it felt good, because it was fun, because they both liked it. She was so used to being afraid of her strength when she wasn't fighting. Even being ashamed of it. Spike loved her strength. He adored for her to use it on him. He made her feel powerful and proud of it. And she could only feel grateful to him for that.

She lowered her head and swirled her tongue around his nipples, feeling them harden into little points. His skin was dry and tasted faintly earthy, reminding her of old forests and summer sun. It was a little strange, but nice. His vampness was beginning to feel comfortable to her, even right. She took one of his nipples between her teeth, biting gently, rolling it with her tongue. She liked the way it made him twitch and shiver and moan her name. His arms strained, but not enough to break her grip. She pressed his wrists harder to the mattress, pressed her wet heat into his groin. She rubbed against him while she teased his nipple, and his moans turned to helpless whimpers. She could bite much harder, she thought, and he would only love it more. She liked knowing that, but didn't do it, not yet anyway.

At last she released him and slid off. They lay facing each other, and he held her breast in his hand, while he covered her face with fervent kisses. She stroked his back, slowly, letting her fingers trail down the curve of his lower back, over the slight swell of his buttocks, teasing lightly between them. He wriggled a little, his mouth forming smiles on her cheek. His thumb found her nipple and began caressing it in slow circles. She felt lost in a haze of golden pleasure, sweet and heavy and almost achy. She let her hand slide over his hipbone, through the crisp curls at his crotch. She took his penis in her hand and held it, feeling its weight, engorged with blood, slightly warmer than the rest of his body, and decided she wanted it inside her.

She held him and rolled him over onto his back, sliding on top of him as she did so, trapping his thighs between hers. He was pliant as a sleepy kitten lying in the sun. He lay back with a lazy grin and waited for her to have her way with him. She kissed the grin off his face, then watched him squeeze his eyes shut and bite his lip as she guided him into her. His fingers tightened on her shoulders and his hips lifted into hers.

She eased herself onto him slowly, feeling every inch of him as he filled her. It was almost like a meditation -- the careful movement, the concentration of feeling between her legs, the blissful absence of all other thought. When she at last had him fully inside, she began to rock her hips, just the barest of motions, pressing her groin into his, while he held her and moaned and buried his face once more in her neck. The sweet heat built gradually inside her as she pressed herself against him, spreading through her belly and thighs, tingling in her whole body. She could feel it building in him. He was first to slide over the edge, with a cry and a shudder, his hips thrust up into hers, his body spasming as he came. And finally she slid over with him, and her orgasm washed over her in waves, again and again, until at last she collapsed onto him, spent.

He continued to clutch at her, holding her to him, and maybe he was crying again, because there was a sob in his voice as he said, "Buffy, I love you, oh god, I love you so much."

And she believed him.

* * *

They lay in a satisfied heap while her heart slowed and her breathing evened, and then she gingerly rolled off. He gasped a little and tried to hold her to him for a moment before letting her go, but she stroked his face and he relaxed, curling up at her side with his head on her chest.

"I can hear your heart beat," he said, sleepily.

"That's generally considered a good thing." She supposed it wasn't such a cliché to a vampire, to listen to a lover's heart beat.

He chuckled softly. "Never been with a live girl before."

"Never? You mean... never? Not even when you were alive?"

"Not even. Victorian London, love. Times were different then."

Then he'd been a virgin when Drusilla found him... she didn't know whether to find the thought horrifying or terribly sweet. "I didn't know they were that different."

She felt him shrug. "I didn't want to shag some servant girl. I wanted love."

She stroked Spike's hair thoughtfully. A hundred years with Dru, his first. And apparently he took his fidelity seriously. "Then, how many girls have you been with, if you don't mind my asking?"

"Well, there was Dru. And Harmony, stupid cow, who hardly counts. And you."

"Wow." A hundred and change, and he'd only been with three women.

"What about you, then? There's Mr. I've-Got-A-Soul and Soldier Boy and me... oh, and that poncy frat boy, what was his name?"

Buffy felt her face heat. "Parker. Don't tell me you don't remember. You had enough fun with it at the time."

"And you gave me a good thrashing for it, so don't go getting all prickly. -- And you have to admit, you were right pathetic about him."

It was impossible to be mad when he was so damned cheerful about it. Not to mention right. "I guess you could say he's my Harmony."

He chuckled again, and she could hear the vibrations in her chest. It tickled. "Anyone I've missed?"

"No, that's the damage."

"You're one up on me, then."

"Does that bother you?"

He buried his face between her breasts with a growl, and gave her skin a lick. "Do I look bothered?"

She laughed. "No, I guess not. So what's it like, being with a live girl?" It had never occurred to her that it might be as strange to him as being with a vampire was to her.

He propped himself up on one elbow. "There's the heart thing. All that blood swirling around inside you, pounding against your skin." He ran his finger in lazy circles around her stomach. "You're hot. And wet. I like it."

"That's good." She pulled his head down and kissed him. "So what was the deal with Harmony, anyway? You didn't... love her, did you?"

"God, no. She was just... there. Didn't have much to choose from. Most vampires don't care about hooking up, except with their sires. I'd already lost mine...." His voice got pensive at the last, and Buffy felt a strange pang. Not jealousy, surely. Besides, Spike had already chosen her over Dru, rather spectacularly.

"Have you ever thought about... siring someone?"

"What, me? Nah, not my style."

"Why not?"

He lay back down, head on her shoulder, and paused a moment before answering. "You never know what it's going to do to someone, when they change. How much of the human they were stays with the demon. I wouldn't want to change someone, not knowing if I'd still want them, after."

Buffy took a deep breath. That was good to know. She wouldn't have to worry about Spike ever wanting to change her, to make her like him. But it also made her sad, somehow, although she didn't know why. Because he was lonely? Suddenly, she felt that she'd been through as much as she could handle for one night.

"I'd better go." She slid over him and out of bed, began picking up her clothes from the floor. She felt all sticky, but there was no running water in Spike's crypt, no way to clean up. She'd just have to wait until she got home. It was just as well. She'd been away too long already.

He rolled over, reaching out a hand to her. "Stay."

She stopped for a moment. Warm bed, cuddly vampire, all-you-can-eat love buffet... and he looked so forlorn it made her feel bad, but she had no choice. "I can't. Everyone's waiting for me. They'll be worried."

He let his hand drop. "What are you going to tell them?"

"That I didn't stake you." His eyes narrowed, and she had sudden visions of Spike telling everyone he could corner that he'd bagged another Slayer. "Look. I'd really appreciate it if you wouldn't say anything about this to anyone. I just... I know how they'd react, and I'm not ready to deal with that."

He regarded her thoughtfully for a long time. She was beginning to be uncomfortable when he finally spoke. "Are you going to wake up in the morning all 'oh my god horrid vampire what have I done' and everything's like it was before?"

Well. Good question. Was she? She was already beginning to wonder what the hell she'd done by starting this. And in the cold light of day, in the face of Giles's and Willow's and Xander's sure disapproval, and the complete impossibility of getting involved with another vampire, especially one without a soul....

But one thing was for sure -- things wouldn't be like they were before.

She went to sit beside him on the bed and put her arm around him. "No. I promise." She kissed him one last time, then got up and headed home.

* * *

Dawn, at least, was overjoyed to hear that she'd left Spike unstaked. Everyone else was ambivalent, to say the least. Was she sure it was safe? How could she trust him? Xander wondered if she was planning to keep Spike on a leash, and declined to play vampire babysitter this time. How could she be sure he hadn't killed anyone since Dru left? He wasn't like Angel. He didn't have a soul.

But he did have a heart, and he loved her. She told them that much, and hoped they wouldn't guess the rest, or ask her any questions she wasn't ready to answer. It wouldn't have helped to tell them, anyway. I know he's not evil because he's great in bed. Right, like that would reassure anyone. If this thing with Spike, whatever it was, continued, she supposed she'd have to tell them something eventually. But not now, not yet, not when she wasn't sure herself what had happened. So she just kept repeating, He won't hurt anyone. He loves me.

And in the end, they accepted her decision, mainly because there wasn't much else they could do. And because it was late, and they'd all had a harrowing day. Finally, Dawn went up to bed, and Giles yawned and said they'd all be better for a night's sleep, and he left, and Anya kept elbowing Xander until the two of them went home, and it was just Willow and Tara and Buffy.

The two witches looked at each other for a long moment, and Buffy wondered enviously if she would ever be able to talk to someone without actually speaking, and finally Willow said,

"We were wondering if you'd thought any more about the curse for Spike. You know, the soul one. Since he's de-chipped now. It would be one way to be sure of him."

Buffy started. No, she hadn't given the curse a thought since the day Willow had first brought it up. She'd thought it was a bad idea then, and she thought it was a bad idea now, but for a completely different reason.

"Tonight I asked Spike if he'd ever sired another vampire. He said no, because you never know how it's going to change a person. He said he wouldn't want to make a vampire, and then have them turn out to be someone he didn't like. I guess... it would be the same thing if I tried to give him a soul. If he won't do it, how can I?

"Besides, there are plenty of people out there with souls who are killers. It's no guarantee. He's okay now, let's just leave him alone."

Willow looked troubled, but Tara gave her such a warm smile, Buffy suddenly felt embarrassed. She knew. Buffy didn't know how, but Tara knew. And she was happy.

Buffy smiled back. "I've got to sleep now. We'll talk tomorrow."

Willow forced a smile and nodded, and she and Tara left.

Buffy walked slowly up the stairs. She ached all over, but she felt good. Glory was defeated, Dawn was safe, and Spike... well, who knew how that would play out? But for now, for tonight, everything was all right. For tonight, that was enough.

The End

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