All About Spike - Plain Version

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The Price for Flight
By Gwyneth Rhys

After all of these years will you look at me here
With a love song stuck in my throat...
Can I lay down the weight of the world by the side of the road?
Lay down the weight of the world and call myself home?
-- Kris Delmhorst, Damn Love Song

So there they were, sitting at the bar of a seedy demon dive way on the outskirts of town, while Buffy laid out the big picture of what was wrong with Spike again and where he needed to go and what he needed to do. He watched her in the mirror (mirrors being a crucial part of the management's keeping tabs on the clientele -- important to know your vamps from your wannabe humans slumming it -- and they could also be sure to offer the priciest O pos or B neg once they'd pegged their audience), sitting next to him, drinking her beer and wrinkling her nose in between the long unbroken sentences. Spike was trying not to offend Buffy's precious sensibilities and stuck with bourbon and a beer back, but it gave him no leverage and still she banged on about "living conditions" and "normality" and of course a place to pee like he hadn't heard it five hundred times already.

He'd tried the odd word in edgewise but she rolled right over him like a goods train. Tried to remind her that much as he was enjoying his shiny new soul and the five tons of guilt and the itching desire to Do Good, he was still -- yoo hoo -- a vampire and there were, after all, certain biological and psychological imperatives and surely she would understand that with the incredible insight gleaned from her intro level psych courses now she was back at university not to mention three years of Angel. To which she had replied by narrowing her eyes and throwing daggers with them, straight for his forehead, then resuming the litany of his failures in that brittle-as-eggshells voice he'd grown increasingly less fond of.

Bitch. Cunt. Love of my life.

She'd followed him here tonight because... because why? Because she just couldn't bear to let go of a good rant, apparently. One would think she might have chosen to focus her hectoring on the really truly evil stuff that had passed between them, from the attack to bonking Anya, but apparently that wasn't first and foremost on her list now that things were settled and they could move on to the really fun stuff post-besoulling such as moving out of the crypt and how he was going to be respectable and so on and so forth.

It was interesting watching her in the mirror. Thin arms waving in the air to punctuate her sentences, the seat next to her showing empty so it looked like she was maniacally arguing with herself or performing some kind of lunatic semaphore. Spike worked hard to stifle the bubble of laughter growing inside. When he finally tuned in to what Buffy was saying (taking his eyes away from the gentle sway of her tits under the clingy nylon fabric of her halter top, perky nipples poking forward to say hello and she couldn't even see him looking, nicely enough) she was telling him again about why vampires were like children, which she was studying in class (children, not vampires), all self-absorption and impulses and whatnot.

"Which course would that be, luv?" Spike asked, finishing off his beer. "Condescending bitchery 102?"

That glare would scrape paint off walls, he was sure. You could strike matches against it and they would light. It could make the EPA issue warnings for at least three counties. God, he loved her. Love love loved her with a passion so hot it was like swallowing napalm. His soul throbbed with it.

He still wasn't certain what she was doing here. All he really wanted was to get away somewhere, listen to music, not yet another round of What's Wrong with Spike from at least one member of the Scooby gang. Especially not the one he loved. Reckoning that a naff demon bar on the outskirts of town would be the safest because no one was going to follow him here talking nineteen to the dozen, not even Anya with her newly replenished demon-hood. Instead he managed to bring in the Slayer, like gum stuck to his shoe. Which was not something he was going to broadcast here.

Slowly he turned to Buffy, squinting hard, noticing the flush of red in her cheeks from the alcohol -- the girl simply should not drink -- and fell hopelessly in love with her all over again. The soft ache of resignation in her eyes, the tight hunch of muscles in neck and shoulders as she stocked all her tension there... all because of him.

"Buffy," he said quietly. "Mon coeur. Mi corazon." Ceaselessly nattering twat. "Why are you here?"

That shut her gob right fast. He could see the wheels turning in her painfully blonde head, looking to him, then to the mirror on the wall, then back to him.

"Because you are."

Splendid. Kill him with words. Couldn't drive a pointy stick through him, so might as well try the verbal weapons. Maybe it was the shiny new soul, maybe the tarnished old love he had for her, whichever, there was a tightness in his throat that signaled tears. So he motioned for another shot of Jack Daniel's and beer as well as a black and tan for the lady. The barkeep should have carded her, but naturally he didn't -- no questions asked around here. He tipped his glass in her direction. "Cheers." Sipped, and then sadly looked at her in the mirror, but of course she couldn't see him. "I can't tell whether I'm coming or going with you anymore."

"What do you want, a written invitation?"

"Might help." He downed his drink and turned to watch the band, which was ostensibly what he'd come here for, before he'd decided he was running away. They weren't great -- admittedly it would be hard for demons to play decent tunes when extra appendages got in the way, although the diplocephalous drummer seemed to have an advantage -- but they tried. He wanted to tell them that grunge was dead, as dead as Kurt Cobain, really most sincerely dead, but looking at the seven-foot-plus height and four-inch fangs of the lead singer caused him to reconsider. Eventually Spike sauntered off to a table closer to the speakers. If she followed, it would be hard for her to yammer at him.

He closed his eyes and tranced on the music and the smoke and the faint wisp of blood in the air, crisp like ozone. Months now since he'd come home, even more months since he'd gone to see the demon, and still he couldn't get used to it, the guilt and the pain and the constant underlying remorse that buzzed in his head like radio static.

After some traveling he'd made a stop in Merrie Olde to reminisce, get some dosh and decent blood, and catch up on the music scene. Hadn't realized how much he missed it nearly forty years on until he prowled the late-night streets slick with rain and fog, watching for signs of his kind who weren't his kind anymore. Missed the dark pubs and the black cabs and the newsagents, the silly, peculiarly English names along the Tube lines like Tooting and Barkingside (the trains from Heathrow snickering Welcome to London by telling you you're going to bloody *Cock*fosters, for God's sake, which he'd forgotten entirely). Only his enjoyment was polluted by the memories of what he'd done here, no park or street or train station empty of the whiff of his crimes.

He'd found the spot where he met Drusilla, the street in Knightsbridge now mews for posh types, and wondered what the landscape of his life would have looked like had he not stumbled into that place. Had he not thought her offer, the dark universe he saw in her eyes, was desirable.

Eventually he'd found his way back to the reliably mundane and characterless Sunnydale and to his crypt, which Clem had kindly taken care of. And it felt like that: a crypt, a hall of the undead, something dank and foul and there it was -- bam! The reminder of what he had been. How he needed to work on the creepy lifestyle no human girl would want and ditch the Lovecraft vibe.

He'd stayed because he knew nowhere else to go. So this is what made Angel such a dull, tedious, and lumpen loser. Knowing that you didn't fit in any world, that you were stuck with it, the weight of everything you used to be bending you over double till you couldn't carry it anymore. He'd wanted to close his eyes and sleep, awaken in a world where none of this was real. A world where he was empty again.

When he'd first returned he knew better than to see Buffy. The whole sordid story would have leaked out to all of them about the attack, and he didn't relish being staked just as he'd got all ensouled for her. He'd lie awake, desperately trying to concoct a plan for how he could tell her, of asking for a second chance, but nothing he could come up with made sense. All he saw was his failures, the pain he'd caused, and he knew no way of assuaging any of it. Isolation more profound than he'd known before, and back then he'd thought his was pretty fucking profound.

So he concentrated on killing demons, rebuilding his networks for blood and money, but the ugly part now was that stealing made him feel like crap. Spike did it anyway, but it was like a hammer tap on the back of his brain smacking his new conscience around rudely. He stayed that way for a few weeks, watching Buffy from afar, his heart shattering in small glittering slivers every time he saw her. Barriers at every turn, he knew, if he tried to make contact. And knowing with hopeless certainty she wouldn't want him past those barriers except to see him die.

In his absence the watcher had returned, and that was Not Good in Spike's opinion. The one person who still wielded influence over Buffy. It was as if Giles knew somehow to make his presence known, as if there might be a recipient to send the message to. But he didn't appear to be round her house all the time, just occasionally, and Spike hadn't been completely sure what that meant. Over time the story of what had brought Giles back got pieced together for him, Clem's loopy, jumpy prattling making it more confusing and frightening, leaving Spike frozen with sorrow and the sour taste of shame in his mouth.

If nothing else could have made him feel like sending up the white flag, the whole thing with Willow would have done. That by virtue of having grief sex with Anya, attacking Buffy, and leaving town in desperation he'd nearly let the Niblet get offed by a power-mad witch. And Tara was dead, Buffy nearly so. His beautiful girl shot, almost taken away from them again. Just when she'd needed him most, he'd gone off on his vampire's version of a vision quest. It was just a little too much to add to the mix. The guilt-o-meter tipped wildly into the red zone.

One night, after months of solo nightly demon hunting, he heard the crypt door open and there she stood, light of his universe, reason for his soul. A stake in her hand and the righteous halo of Chosen Oneness surrounding her sublime face. Spike had looked down at the floor waiting for her to come at him, and in the space of her heartbeat she was there clutching his arms, shaking him violently.

"Where have you been!" she'd hollered at him.

"I..." he responded stupidly and finally looked into her eyes, their colors of amber and grass and sea like a holy light. Then wondered how she'd known he was back, except of course he'd left his calling card all over town. "Africa. Cairo? Vienna, Paris, London." Answering earned him a palm heel-strike to the nose.

Her rage was like an invocation calling up everything he'd tried to push behind him, everything he was now whether he wanted it or not. Spike opened his mouth to say something but words failed him for the first time in his sorry undead existence. Throat moving up and down, tongue behind teeth, and nothing to show for it but a few puffing breaths. And why was she touching him? he'd wondered obtusely.

"I needed you and you weren't here." Oh God oh Christ. Needed him not hated him. Spike had no idea where to put that statement in the dark unused spaces of his new soul.

"Buffy, I... " and then he'd seen it in her, like a veil lifted from in front of the eyes. Her realization that something was different about him.

She let go her bruising hold on his arms and stepped back, reaching inside him with her gaze, pulling loose the stopper. It spilled out of him in a torrent, everything he'd done felt seen since that moment in her bathroom. That fulcrum on which their lives would pivot in horrifying new directions. The entire time he'd poured it out she'd stood ramrod straight before him until he finished, then sat down with her head in her hands, sobbing. Not the reaction he'd expected. Briefly envisioned there-thereing her with a few pats on the shoulder, but had been too terrified to touch her. He was completely helpless against the tears of someone he loved, they freaked him out whether from Dru or Dawn or Buffy, and he felt a rising panic and desire to make high-pitched whining noises and wave his arms about. Which was pretty close to how he'd reacted to tears when he was human, so that only added to the humiliation factor.

"So, um... the crying. Is that because of the soul, or... what I did to you? Or something else?" He wanted to at least know what he'd end up taking his punches for later. Stupid stupid why did he always say the stupidest things?

She looked up at him through the curtain of hair -- which had grown out again after all this time -- with tears streaking her face, and wiped the snot from her nose. So much like the last time she'd looked at him through tears, on the back porch of her house. His Achilles heel found at last: the track of salt and mucus on Buffy's skin.

"I wanted to blame myself. That I should never have led you on, that I shouldn't have let it happen, any of it. That I was being unfair. And then I was furious because no one is ever to blame for something like that except the person who does it. Who tries to rape someone. And then there was the demon inside you, and... everything you've done for me and the terrible things I did to you, and I didn't know what I thought anymore. I hurt you and made you feel... wretched and humiliated. I caused you pain and I should never have done that. But it was nothing, *nothing* like what you did to me and there is no justification for it. None."

She'd stood up then, gathering her strength, twisting the stake round and round in her hands while she breathed in big wet gulps of air. "And I missed you. I wanted you back so you could help me. And I hated myself for wanting you back. I'm supposed to be full of love. The first slayer, she told me that I was full of love and forged love from pain. I cared about you, for you. Then you hurt me and you showed me what you really are, what I'd forgotten. It hurt. Only your leaving made me hate you more. Coward."

Any other time he'd snap the neck of someone stupid enough to make that accusation, but the truth of it rang clear and bell-like in his head.

"Only you weren't, were you? Instead you were... Doing the single thing you'd hate most, just for me. What the hell, Spike? What the *hell* am I supposed to do with this? For like the five thousandth time everyone wants you dead, and now... I'm supposed to forgive you because you have a soul? Tell them to forgive you? Because you went and got a soul for me to prove your point?"

"Wasn't expecting that, no. Can't forgive myself now, can I?"

"Why do you keep coming back here? Why? Is it just to torture me?" She was crying even harder then.

"Never knew. Not until I realized how I felt about you. Now... I didn't really know where else to go. Kept thinking I could give you what you wanted, I'd be almost human. But maybe it doesn't matter, even if I could be... it doesn't change the past."

Her chest had heaved up and down with deep hitching breaths, eyes red-rimmed and tired. "There were three vamps tonight. I know the third one didn't run away; they were traveling in a pack, had been for quite some time. But he was gone when I got back to him. You killed him, didn't you?"

Spike nodded. "He was... he had your crossbow."

"Aiming for me."


"You've been following me."


"I wondered. I thought someone was watching my back. How long have you been here?"


She sniffled loudly, wiping the snot and tears away with the heel of her hand and wrist. "I hate you. You betrayed me. How dare you... I hate that you could make me care enough to miss you."

Spike had watched in silence as she'd walked out the door, understanding that there was no forgiveness in her words. But there was mercy.

And they'd left it like that. Then one night on his chair Spike found the coat he'd left at Buffy's that horrible night. Folded neatly in a square bundle, cleaned. Another night he came back to fresh packets of human blood, probably lifted off the cretinous vampires he'd watched her take out near the hospital. Later a carton of cigs, a bottle of Maker's Mark. Mysterious magi bringing him gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And then the greatest gift of all when she turned and looked over her shoulder one night in the darkness, face shining like a diamond on velvet, and told him to join her instead of skulking.

Over the next few months they'd slowly, tentatively, begun a delicate friendship again, although he was never sure how it happened other than that Buffy was lonely and afraid and desperate for someone to talk to. So why not talk to Spike about what's wrong with him and how things have changed and where do they go now. Before Buffy had found out about him being back, Giles had taken Willow off to England, presumably to face the music for her rampage. There was no Tara anymore (which struck Spike hard, his first test of personal loss with a soul and wasn't it just the absolute pitch-blackest it could be?), and Dawn was busy with her social life.

That left Xander, but he was cautiously, slowly trying to win back Anya, and somehow Spike found himself slipped inside Buffy's life again, but carefully and with suspicion. They would talk at night sometimes on patrol, hashing out their past and looking for ways to change the future; other nights the silence grew between them like a swarm of flies, all black and foul and unclean. The first time he'd come back to her house had been gruesome and painful, Dawn's fury at his betrayal of all of them, of Buffy most especially, pouring over him in great ugly waves. Take it like a man was his new mantra for everything and everyone. He invited their blows but they were humans and they were kinder than he deserved.

Gradually everything had changed until it was this. He spent more time with them, Buffy smoothed over the rough spots with Xander (although it was not anything resembling smooth sailing in that department, more like a force five hurricane), and Anya... well, she'd long since forgotten what happened and granted reprieve to herself and him both, practical demon that she was. Spike didn't fit, he knew that, but he took each step as it came, his old impatience and intolerance transformed into the calm that comes with despair and longing.

One night he and Buffy took Dawn to dinner and a movie, and while they ate he told her about the trials with the demon and how it had all happened. As they'd left to go to the theatre Dawn had suddenly lunged at him and hugged him hard. He'd entered a place then that he'd thought, upon returning to Sunnydale, he might never see. A place of second chances.

Later, after the burgers and popcorn and an entire box of Raisinettes and half a box of Red Vines, Dawn had been (unsurprisingly) violently sick. They'd stayed up nursing the poor kid through the night as she yakked it all back up. Spike and Buffy had hung out watching TV until Buffy could feel certain Dawn was really out of the woods. Spike was tired then, as he always was since the soul thing. Sleep was difficult to find and unrestful even when he found it. After a while drowsiness closed his eyes. Buffy pulled his head into her lap, her gentle fingers stroking through his hair. Weaving absolution and forgiveness in that gesture, and he'd almost wanted to cry, knowing she could forgive him after all of it when he couldn't forgive himself.

He'd fallen asleep then and didn't awaken until he felt the soft press of her lips on his cheek, and she said, rather breaking the mood, "I have to pee." When she came back he knew it was time to go. As he slid his jacket on she'd stared up at him with those eyes of sea and earth. Said softly, "You can kiss me if you want to."

Of course he had. All those months alone and it had been thoughts of her lush lips, her soft breasts in his hands, her glistening pussy open before his eager mouth, the feel of burying himself inside her so deep he was part of her, that had sustained him. But when faced with seeing her at last, he'd known it could never be like that again. Too much had happened between them and they were caught in it like the detritus of a flood, carried along on a current much too strong for them to swim against.

When they'd kissed he thought he was back in that cave in Africa, up against something so powerful it could tear his heart out. Afterwards there had been a few snogging sessions but nothing more. Spike was tentative and timid about approaching her, afraid of scaring her off. Knowing that if he moved abruptly or said the wrong thing she would run and he would never ever see that light again. He kept his distance unless she told him to close it. But for all intents and purposes others saw them as being a team again, a curious, sparkly little thought that twinkled in his brain like diamond-lights of sun reflecting on waves. He had no idea how he'd got here, and no idea what to do to keep the forward momentum.

There was never the slightest impression that she was happy about him, yet she was with him constantly, like tonight. Talking at him, making plans that included him, and he was so caught in her dazzle that he had to hide from it, afraid of being blinded. Buffy never spared him her criticism or reminders that he was still a vampire, but it came with small gestures of tenderness and affection. Spike wanted her to hit him hit him hit him hit him until he was close to death, because he was sure that her anger would never really be spent until she had done. And it was what he deserved -- the least of what he deserved. Buffy might have forgiveness in her, but she -- they -- could never forget. Forgetting was a different thing entirely.

But tonight... her desire to see him move into that haunted house, to make him be like Angel... it was all too much and he'd had to get away, only she was still here, talking and talking.

After some time she came and sat next to him at the small table, making faces at the ineptitude of the music. Spike shrugged at her, half-smiling. Buffy leaned over and yelled in his ear, "I'm going to the restroom." He grabbed at her arms (big mistake, he'd meant it as don't go in there but clearly there was a mistranslation) but she glared at him and smacked him away. Holding off, he sat back, saying "Suit yourself." It was a horrible place, this bar, and the ladies' room was bound to be squalid if the nightmarish men's room was any indication. He worried about her alone, as well, here in the place where she'd be outnumbered if anyone twigged to who she was. But obviously she could take care of herself.

His cranky, sweet, bitching, loving slayer. Love me, love my stake.

This whole soul thing was such a mystery to him. It made no sense that he had all the feelings of being human (conscience, guilt, empathy; the trifecta of souledness) again stirred into the soup of still thinking like a vampire. His general demeanor wasn't changed, but the things he'd taken glee in before held less or no appeal, and he was at sixes and sevens. Constantly wondering what to do with himself, how to be.

Spike thought of Icarus then as he watched Buffy wind her way back to the table, her grim look and sharply drawn mouth letting him know there was a big evening of unhappiness ahead. Old Icarus was told not to fly too low because the water would weight his wings; too high and the sun would melt them. But dizzy with the ability to fly he'd soared ever higher, too close to the territory of the gods, and look what price he paid. You always paid when you flew near the sun.

When Willow had returned she accepted Spike's place there as if she'd requested it. They recognized truths in each other separate from anyone else's, and she reached out to him as if he knew what to do. Spike spent almost as much time with Willow as with Buffy, talking or not talking. Resting from the weariness of remorse. Occasionally she would touch him, always lightly with her fingertips, as if by touching they could transfer all their knowledge and pain to each other. Share their aching souls through pores in their skin. Both of them wondering which was worse: knowing you could never be with the one you loved again because they were dead, or because you had hurt them so badly while they were still here? They had both reached the territory of the gods and known that power over human life, then fallen hard to earth when their wings melted. Now they clung to each other, broken and grieving. And Buffy, clever girl that she was, saw it all, saw their struggle with their new and old selves and had picked them both up off the ground.

For a few more songs they sat listening and drinking until the continued sideways glances from Buffy unnerved Spike so much he left. She followed right behind him. There was a convenience store the next block over so he went straight in that direction for a packet of fags and some beer. They were standing in front of the cooler when she said to him, "And that's the other thing about the mansion. It wouldn't be hard to get electricity hooked up there and you could have a real fridge, besides running water and a toilet."

"Buffy." My dearest, my only one. Stupid cow. "That place is nothing but pain and misery for us both. Yes, it's a nice home going to the dogs, but think about the memories every time you'd come over." His voice was harsher and higher than he wanted it to be, but Christ, the girl could be so stupid sometimes, so narrowly focused she couldn't see anything else.

He took a six-pack of porter out and strolled up to the counter, dropped a tenner down and said, "Marlboros" to the clerk, who was called Anil or something like it. Should know the fellow's name by now, he'd come here often enough back in the bad old days. Buffy grabbed a soda pop (one of the girly ones with lemon in it) and he threw that in with his stuff. An idle glance around the counter took in the strange Asian sweets and gums made with strange ingredients that probably came from endangered species, far too much chocolate, even more racks of intensely flavored breath mints (which Spike thought he might try for Buffy's sake but he was too annoyed by the packaging to buy them), and lots and lots of lottery information.

Anil rang it up and nodded. He'd kindly never said anything about the fact that Spike didn't show up in the security mirror, and they had a pleasant understanding since Spike had dispatched a couple of vampires who'd tried to eat Anil one night, no questions asked about why a vampire was killing vampires. Now he looked the other way once in a while if Spike palmed some extra smokes or pocketed the cheap booze in the back. It didn't do for humans to keep shops so close to demon bars, as far as Spike was concerned.

Buffy smiled at Anil as they left, and Spike felt that familiar twinge of pride and hopelessness that had become his constant companion. This was his girl, she was with him because she wanted to be, and he was so far beneath her they might as well have been in different hemispheres. There was no way, soul or not, he could ever deserve this sweet child who smiled at shop clerks and went to demon bars with him but didn't slay a single creature. A wave of guilt swept over Spike for his uncharitable thoughts all through the evening.

After they left she said, "No, you're right. It would be hard. It wasn't a good idea. I just... I guess I wanted someplace... "

"Someplace that isn't the old me. I know. Slayer, I sussed that out long ago. I'll find a place, a better place, I promise. Soon. Really." They walked for awhile before spying the coffee shop. "Oi. Coffee. Let's get a coffee," Spike said, drinking in the rich aroma from the street. The smell of roasting coffee was one of his favorite odors, after A positive blood and really good peaty single-malt scotch. And Buffy's quim. Throughout his travels with Dru, he'd always sniffed out the coffee. Asia was too tea-oriented for his tastes. War years were insufferable for everyone, but especially so for him when coffee wasn't easy to find.

Buffy was incredulous. "The only thing I've seen you drink besides blood is booze."

"No, I like espresso. Straight, none of that toff crap with whipped cream and sprinklies."

Shrugging, Buffy followed him in and they got their drinks, then sat at a table. A couple of college kids sniggered in Spike's direction. He studied Buffy's face, trying to discern her reaction. Saw pain there, embarrassment at his appearance. Note to self: work on new look to go with new soul, thus calling less attention to one's incapacitated person. Then she put her hand on his and he didn't know what to think.

She started in again on him, talking about responsibilities and duty and whatnot.

"Look, pet." Light of my life, nagging shrew. "I love you. More than anything in the world. And I plan to do whatever you want if you'll put up with me. But you're forgetting that I'm under the double whammy here." Nodded towards the students who'd so disdainfully welcomed them. "And it's a corker on both ends. I can't hurt humans and even if I could, now I wouldn't want to. If those shits decided to thump me, what could I do? Absolutely nothing."

He finished off his espresso and fixed her with a hard stare. "Have you any idea what it felt like to find out you'd been shot and Tara was dead? Even if I'd been here, even if what happened... with us... hadn't happened, I wouldn't have been able to do anything about it because they're humans. Take a bullet, maybe, but I couldn't even have chased down Warren and nabbed him without having my head explode. I'm useless except for slaying demons in the dark. I'm nothing, and now I have the conscience to make my nothingness even worse."

He felt a tickle under his sleeve and looked down to see her hand sliding up under the leather. Each time she touched him his brain did a spastic little dance of joy and confusion and pain.

"There's lots of ways of being strong, Spike." Aauugh. Twist his guts. "You could take those guys on. Stop their punches without punching them back, push them away without triggering the chip. You're a great fighter -- it's just changing from offensive to defensive. And you're strong enough to take on a soul and come back here to try to change things. It's not just about killing or hurting someone." Then her voice a conspiratorial whisper, sliding under his skin like a needle. "Lots of ways to be strong."

It was tempting to argue with her, to tell her that he really was the coward weakling lowlife scum she'd always thought he was, but he just let it ride. Bask in the joy of illusions that she thought more of him than that.

"Have you... um... ever thought about maybe contacting Angel? For, like, advice? About the soul thing."

Fuckity fuck fuck. "No! For fuck's sake! No!" She recoiled from his shouting. Control. That was the thing he needed. "If I wanted advice on how to brood and what kind of poncey hair gel to use, maybe I'd ring him. But what am I supposed to say? Hey, old chum, got a soul now and just wanted to chat about it? Thought I'd pop round your place and swap stories of regret and misery? I tortured the bastard nearly to death not so long ago, not to mention the unending cruelties he inflicted on me the first twenty years I knew him and when I was in that wheelchair. I hardly think there's a matey reunion or a convening of the Vampires with Souls Club in our future."

Her face crumpled in on itself and he felt hideous for barking at her. "No, no, I'm sorry, pet. Really, I am. I just... it's never going to get better. With soul or without, Angel and I... there's nothing good there." Stop it you bleeding moron stop shut up.

"I know." She looked away and he thought he'd lost her for good -- too much like old unsoulled Spike -- but she tugged at his sleeve and downed the rest of her coffee. "Let's go."

There was nothing to say, so they walked on in silence. She would keep wanting to make him into some reasonable facsimile of Angel and he would keep reminding her, painfully and probably unnecessarily, that he was definitely positively nothing like Angel and would never want to be. It must be such a disappointment to Buffy to have feelings for him. And yet he was selfish enough to keep trying to wring more feelings out. Her forgiveness of Angel (once he'd come back from whatever hell dimension she'd sent him to that awful day) was a beacon of hope to Spike. Maybe, someday, she'd forgive him too. But he had no notion of how he could ever give himself that same opportunity.

When they got to the crypt he put the beer in the fridge. Said to her, "I'm sorry. I'm just... that's all I feel like lately is sorry. There's still too much of me that's the same, and the part that isn't just feels like shit most of the time. I don't mean to hurt you. I never meant to hurt you. But I will move out of here, really. And then maybe... I dunno. Maybe that'll help." He took his jacket off. Spike hardly ever wore the old coat; his beloved trophy of his second slayer, dirty now with the memory. "I'll see if old Rupert is up to some location scouting now he's back for a time. Bet he'd help me find some decent digs."

"That sounds good." Tilting her head to one side, she looked at him peculiarly for a moment and gave a tortured little smile.

"And... I don't have the powers that be on my side. Angel got help in that direction. What happened to me happened because I made it, because of my hubris. So now I'm on my own again. No one to help me out. It might take time."

"I get that." Buffy looked down at the floor and sighed.

Spike said "good-bye" as he threw the jacket on the bench in the corner. Lately he always turned away when she left or he left her, because he just couldn't bear the whole farewell scenario. But when he turned around she was right there in front of him, her body so close he could feel her pulse.

Buffy slid her hands along his arms, cupping his elbows in her palms to pull him near. "Spike." Her voice was thick and soft. "I think I'm ready."

"Ready for wh--" Oh God! Oh Jesus. "Oh? Oh."

Brain lighting up like a pinball machine, zinging sounds and flashing lights paralyzing him. What if *he* wasn't ready? He had no idea how to touch her without causing her pain or fear. What if he couldn't please her? What if this stupid soul and all the guilt gave him performance anxiety? What if it felt too much like that night? What if... what if everything? Oh God oh God oh Jesus. Spike had no idea what to do or how to respond to her.

A sound like "bglurg" came out of his mouth instead of anything resembling sensible language. She stepped back and laughed at him, stopped, then continued to laugh and laugh.

"Glurg?" It must have been the tension because he'd never seen her laugh like this before. "That's all you can say? So articulate." More laughter, girlish and hiccuppy.

"You can stop now," Spike said defensively. "Really, won't mind a bit."

"No, it's just..." She tried to compose herself, with difficulty. More giggling ensued. "I understand. I'm nervous, too." Biting her lip, she managed to stop laughing at last, and looked up at him with eyes that pierced his soul.

He reached out and touched the side of her face tenderly, then swept his hand through her hair. Surely she could feel his trembling. Must think he was a cack-handed idiot. When she kissed him he held back, but her arms sliding around his ribs, the urgency with which her tongue slipped inside his mouth, brought back the desire for her that he'd held in check all this time. The way her body pressed against his was like a long-forgotten song, the melody coming back to him soft as a lullaby.

He was still able to kiss well enough to make her moan. Check. Still knew what to do with his hands because her skin goose-bumped as he slid them under her top. Check. And she urged on his slow, tentative movements with moans. His cock throbbed and twitched against his jeans. Houston, we are go for liftoff. Then panic set in.

"I don't... I never fixed up the... Look, it's a mess down there. Never fixed it after the grenade bullshit. Couldn't bear it." Spike pressed his forehead to hers, taking a gulping breath, regardless of whether he needed it or not. Scared mindless that she would run away from him now, the reminder of everything bad between them like a punch on a bruise. He wanted to say something but was afraid he'd only babble more of his idioglossia of alarm. Didn't want her to think he blamed her.

"It's all right," Buffy whispered to him, tracing his mouth with her fingertips. "Here's fine."

Spike spread the bedding out that he'd put on the tomb and lifted her onto it, her legs curling around his waist. It put her breasts at exactly mouth level and he stared at them, considering his options. How many times had he dreamt this: being able to touch her again in these private places, to worship her body? And now he'd made such a cock-up of it that he had no idea what was required. She pressed her open, wet mouth against his, fingers digging into his hair, breasts pushed against his chest. He kissed her as if she held life in her mouth, as if he could drink it from her. Drink her soul.

Spike unbuttoned her blouse, slipping it across her shoulders, then the bra straps. As her breasts came loose she let go of the kiss, and he traced his tongue over the nipples budding underneath. Then he took one soft breast in his mouth, the other in his palm. Buffy arched her back, arms circling his neck, pulling him forward. He stopped, pressing his face to her chest, listening: heart beating lungs swelling and contracting short sharp breaths. "I adore you," he said against her pounding heart. That she would welcome his body to hers left him staggered, and he squeezed his fingers hard against her hips, attempting to control his runaway emotions. Might fall if he didn't hold on to something.

"Spike," she whispered against his ear, causing him to shudder. Her strong arms pulled him forward and up on top of the marble slab. Hands under his shirt, in his hair, along his arse, beautiful soft hands he'd never expected to know the touch of again. Fingertips soft against his lips as she whispered his name and kissed him. Pressing her pelvis to his, moving her hips in lazy circles.

Buffy slipped Spike's shirt over his head, then ran her hands along his shoulders, the rib cage, to slip under the waistband of his jeans. She drew back and looked at him as her fingers traced the tip of his cock. Not the touch that made him feel as if he was being cleaved down the middle but the look on her face, desire and tenderness and need.

Whatever she wanted, he would do it. Bark like a dog, crawl on all fours and howl like a wolf. He'd do it if she asked. She could say anything and it would be true. If she lied to him, told him she forgot everything and loved him, he would believe it.

He stripped away her clothing, covering her skin in kisses, tongue dipping into tender places like the hollow of her throat, her navel, her soaking pussy. Like drinking sugar-water, eating honey from the comb. Better than blood.

Her thigh muscles twitched, a signal that she would come soon. He pulled away, letting her take his jeans off, fondle his aching cock and swollen balls. Buffy drew him forward, slid him inside her hotwet skin engulfing him.

Can't move gonna come too fast his brain screamed stop slow down. Here, he was here inside her arms around him like a blessing grace consecration. She was kissing him crying, hips moving hard against him crying real tears and her mouth turned down.

But instead of no stop and get off me it was yes and yes and Spike and more tears. Her strong arms and legs held him fast. She was stronger than he was always stronger inside and out. Eyes like a sacrament looking into his undiscovered soul, all the way to the bottom.

Spike pressed his mouth to her neck, feeling the blood pound there as she came, breath urgent and weak. Oh repeating over and over as her body jerked beneath, her mouth round and soft. Kissing it as he came inside her. Whose tears? he thought and didn't know but they were both wet with tears and come and sweat.

She held him tight against her, not letting him go when before she would have pushed him away. He pulled the sheet up around them and they lay on their sides, entwined.

Her voice thick with crying against his neck asked, "Was it the same?"

With his fingertips he wiped away her tears, then his own. "No." How did he tell her? There might be words in another language but he didn't know them. Spike wanted to crush Buffy's body against his, into his, as if he could merge them both into one body never separated again. Dive inside her and never come out.

"It wasn't the same for me, either."

Lie to me you bitch, lie to me my beloved. Tell me you love me you hate me. Tell me anything but that.

It was as if her voice came to him through a deep, dark cavern, echoing off walls he couldn't see. Like the cave in Africa. The warmth of her hand as it pressed against his cool chest above his heart sent minute sparks fanning out along his skin. Tracers lighting her words.

"It's always different when you love someone."

She carried him up on her wings towards the sun, higher than he'd ever soared.

There was a price for everything. Buffy had already learned that long ago; now Spike understood at last. This was what he had paid for.



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