All About Spike - Print Version
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Tabula Obscura
By Ginmar

Damn Willow.

It had to be.

Every time she does a spell, I wind up kissing Spike. As a matter of fact, she was starting to wonder if it was deliberate or…She brushed the thought aside. Willow wouldn’t want to put them together. Then again, if the surest symptom that Willow was doing spells was her kissing Spike, what would she wind up doing with him when Willow ever got really good at magic?

Willow was doing magic to her without her consent, while Spike waited for consent that they both knew would never come. Spike, her erstwhile enemy, always at her back when she needed him. Willow, doing things behind her back, when she was least able to cope with them. Spike, of all people, treating her better than her friends. What a strange world it was. Giles was gone, and she was back, yet again. Was that the worst thing about dying, the way it just never seemed to end? Dying and coming back, dying and coming back…and then losing the memory, only to be hit with it again, worse for the respite. She felt like she was waiting for the next death, preparing for it, like her life was only a period being them. Was this what being a vampire was like?

Her poor tired brain kept plodding around in circles of thought, trying to puzzle out her predicament. Spike. Willow. Giles. Dawn. Tara. Xander. Anya. Spike…..As if the thought called him, he appeared, hovering over her in a way that was both comforting and…She cringed inside at the memory of the kiss, at the completely unaccustomed way it had made her feel. She was still the Slayer. She was still strong, even now, after being brought back, but around him she felt so weak….She felt like just an ordinary girl must feel, and she didn’t like it. That had nothing to do with Willow, unfortunately. It wasn’t that neat. It was his fault. With that thought in her mind, she resolutely turned away. Enough of this nice stuff. Why couldn’t they just hate each other again? It had been so peaceful like that.

Spike whirled and turned, stalking away, depriving her of the opportunity to tell him to leave her alone. So, he’d left her alone, and she found she liked it less than being around him. She tried to find her irritation at him, and couldn’t. It was the spell that had made her kiss him, made her grasp at him like he was a life preserver in a heaving sea, why couldn’t he understand that? She had just gotten comfortably annoyed, and then he was gone. At first she thought he was lurking just out of her range of vision like he always did, but then she realized he was well and truly gone. She jumped up abruptly, certain he was watching her from some corner, and then, panicking, she understood that he was not.

She ran.

Under the stairway she found him, catching him by the sleeve as he strode away, freezing as he whirled to face her. They stared at each other, him furious, practically burning her with it, and she finding that all her reserves were singeing away under his eyes. She’d hurt his feelings. He had feelings. Before her eyes, he stopped being Spike, vampire, nemisis, unknown quantity, and became Spike, person whose feelings I hurt, even though I hate it when it happens to me. She dropped his coat sleeve as if it burned her.

He’s burning me.

In that moment, everything was possible, and everything lay before her instead of behind her. She stared at him, and as he realized that she’d run after him---him, Spike, she’d actually come running after him----his face softened into an expression she realized no one else would ever see. Mine, all mine. When they collided, when her mouth opened beneath his, she was already trembling with it, shaking in his arms like some tender virgin. Her hands couldn’t cope with touching him, and alighted here and there repeatedly, only to find him so frightening that they took flight again. There was that feeling again. It was only when he pulled her closer that she began to feel weak. Not in public, she thought. Her hands were on his face, and his were tightening on her back. She became aware of his arms around her, his chest against her breasts, his stomach against hers. She pulled back with a gasp and leaned against the partition behind her, eyes closed, lips parted. When she opened her eyes, Spike was eyeing her warily. She tried to breathe normally, failed, and reached out and grabbed his hand. She could only adjust in small doses. She studied their joined hands beneath her lashes for a moment, then looked up at him. What she saw in his face gave her enough courage to pull him with her, out the door and home.

It was all his fault, dammit. The walk home was charged with things that couldn’t be said, ideas she resolutely squelched. She could feel every breath he took as if it were in her ear. Only with Angel had it been something like that, but not as intense. Was it just that she had experience now, and knew was what at stake? But nothing was at stake, she thought firmly. It was the spell. Nothing was going to happen, and she was strong and she was the Slayer, and that was why she couldn’t glance any higher at him than his chest without turning bright red. He kept his eyes on the ground as they walked, taking her cue in a way no one else ever did. Of course, who had there been? Angel and Riley and Parker. When she was with Spike--and she could sense him biting his tongue these days---she wondered why no one else had been that attuned? Was it her? Or had it been…them? That was a disturbing thought, but not nearly as bad as the one that came next. Maybe they didn’t care enough.

Maybe he did.

But when they got home, the porch was full of boxes and bags, and Dawn was perched resentfully on the porch rail, arms crossed and lower lip stuck out. Tara, another box in her arms, stopped at the sight of them. God, can witches see something? Buffy thought. She could feel the force field between them, crackling with desire. “Tara?”

“Buffy…” Tara said quietly. “I…uh….I can’t stay here any more.” She looked down, away, anywhere but up at them. Do we look like two people who’ve been kissing? Buffy thought, panicking. She didn’t dare look at him for fear of blushing even deeper, and she was afraid her lips were puffy, too. Tara inadvertently answered that thought by tactfully turning to Dawn, who not so tactfully whirled and flew away up the stairs, with Tara following. She’d already taken out her keys as an excuse to step away from him, but now she had no excuse. Uh-oh. Now what? Put them away? She couldn’t think with him right there behind her. They got to the door and she started to fumble with the keys in earnest, reality hitting her and making her weak. Reality took the form of Spike, leaning forward over her shoulder and watching her dither with her keys, pressing his lips to her neck, his hands sliding around her. The feel of his body against hers, his arms around her, and his hands spread almost protectively over her body made her hands shake, and she dropped her keys on the porch floor. The pause gave her a moment to catch her breath, to remember to take the next breath, and by the time she got the door unlocked she was reasonably firm. She shivered a bit as she opened the door, knowing what was going to happen, even admitting it to herself. There was going to be more kissing. She’d worry about it tomorrow. This lasted till Spike stepped inside and leaned back against the door to close it. In her mind, she saw him framed in that door numerous times, and numerous ways; slamming against some invisible barrier, stepping tentatively over it later, and staring up at her with a dazed expression from the foot of the stairs. Now he looked at her with wide, almost blank eyes, and she found herself feeling guilty for having wiped away all the emotion in those eyes. It annoyed her when it was there, but when it was gone, it made her feel empty. He looked like she’d hit him over the head and stunned him, which, she thought, wasn’t exactly wrong. She took one step toward him, then another. At the third, she was close enough to touch his face and that was when he reached out for her, his hand pausing in midair for a moment, before he pulled her the rest of the way. He buried his face in her shoulder, absorbing her trembling into his own body, while she squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her face into his hair, slowly twined her arms around him. She wasn’t aware of how it happened, how gradually he lifted his head, how slowly his mouth was against hers, how she wound up against the door. All she realized was that his tongue was in her mouth, his hands were on her body, and it wasn’t enough. Then there was a step at the top of the stairs and she flinched back from him so fast he was left grasping the air. They both looked up to see Tara concentrating on the contents of the box she was carrying. Buffy braced her back on the door frame while Spike swallowed convulsively and jammed his hands in his pockets, looking anywhere but at Buffy. When Tara got to the bottom of the steps, he gallantly pulled open the door for her, but in stepping aside to let her past, he brushed against Buffy, and the door slipped from his hand and closed as he leaned down and kissed her. The rattling of the doorknob made them both jump apart guiltily, but Tara didn’t notice, and headed back up the stairs numbly. Buffy ran her hands over her hair as if it might reveal somehow that they’d been kissing. Upstairs, they could hear the sound of drawers being opened and closed, small thuds as belongings were organized. Buffy found that she was once again unable to look anywhere but at his chest, which turned out to be a mistake because looking at it made her remember how it felt against her. Her knees shook. I am the Slayer, dammit. With that in mind, she firmly walked down the hallway to the kitchen, only to find Spike had somehow reached the kitchen door with her and was regarding her with that knee-melting concerned look again. Water. A glass of water. That’s what my knees need. She moved very carefully to the sink, because it felt like if he touched her again, she would shiver till she broke.

Not till she’d poured the water into a glass did he come up behind her, and when he put his hands on her waist, she froze. Her eyes flew up to the window, but of course his reflection wasn’t there, and she couldn’t stand the sight of her face in the glass, alone. She closed her eyes against the sight, and he took that as an invitation to a kiss, tracing her collarbone with his lips, and then exploring the flavor of her earlobe.

Her knees buckled.

His hands tightened around her and just brushed beneath the soft curve of the underside of her breasts. A galvanic shiver went all the way through her, and she arched up to his mouth, her breasts suddenly filling his hands. He jumped, startled, and his hands tightened convulsively. A moan escaped her, and she covered it by twisting in his arms, grabbing handfuls of his shirt and pulling him hard against her. For several minutes, the two of them scrambled for proximity, pressing up against the counter, grinding into one another, until another slam of the front door made them jerk apart.

Spike sagged forward to drop his hands to his thighs and gasp, while Buffy sleeved her hair out of her face, and tried to steady her breathing. Only the sound of Tara going back up the stairs made her put her hand on his chest to stop the next collision. When Tara’s door slammed, they both flinched and fell at each other, meeting at the mouth and stumbling to the wall for support. She felt his hands on her face and somehow that made up her mind. She pulled away from him, and the sudden absence of her body against him made him look at her so longingly that she kissed him again. Then she turned and walked to the kitchen door. For a moment he thought she was ushering him out of the house. She had to kiss him again till they stumbled out onto the deck before he realized otherwise.

Getting down the steps was hard and alleviated only by kissing at the foot of the stairs. Finally they separated and giddily tripped over each other, trying to move away, but that only lasted a few feet before they fumbled against one another yet again, meeting at the mouth and staying there for several struggling minutes. Buffy ducked away under his arms and almost laughed at the look on his face as he registered her absence. After a few steps he caught up behind her, wrapping her in a cocoon of arms and leather and shivering anticipation so that the rest of the walk was nothing but a kiss-fueled delirium.

At his door reality tried to assert itself again, but she fought it back. No thinking. No thinking. No thoughts. But no thinking gave her leeway to experience things she usually fought off with defensive reasoning, so it all became frighteningly immediate. No thinking. No consequences. No second-guessing. Not thinking meant feeling instead and what she resolutely pushed away was the idea that that concept was limited to bodies.

Inside his crypt, Spike was suddenly as nervous as Buffy had been, brushing newspapers off a table and kicking a discarded beer can away with an abashed shrug. She eyed the floor like some shy teenager at the end of the first date, watching as he ran his hands through his hair nervously in front of her, making curls appear. With one finger she touched a curly strand, then drew her hand down his cheek while he held his breath at the look on her face. The first kiss was as tentative as if they’d never kissed at all, the second eager and hungry. After that, it was impossible to separate them.

Not thinking meant that concepts like slayer, vampire, inappropriate, sex and mistake never surfaced in her brain. There was only sensation, of his hair in her hands, of his arms sliding all the way around her, of his hands cupping and stroking and caressing. He wasn’t that much taller than her, and their bodies formed perfect puzzle pieces for one another, everything meeting in perfect order and symmetry. Not thinking meant not analyzing, and she could kiss him and press against him without worrying about consequences, or past, or future, or even present. Finding the wall against her back suddenly would have frightened her if she’d been thinking; it would have made her realize how much they’d been moving, backing across the room, still kissing, twining around each other. But not thinking meant instead that she blinked first at the sensation of his erection against her belly, then slid her hand down his stomach muscles and cupped her hand around his cock. When he squeezed his eyes shut and bit his lip she could only stare at him in wonder, shivering at the way his Adam’s apple bobbed when he swallowed, at the way his lips parted, at the look of pure, abandoned ecstasy on his face. Not thinking meant following her instincts, giving him a shove that tumbled him in an old armchair and gave her a moment to look at him, really look at him, for what felt like the first time in her life. Slowly, she climbed into his lap, one leg on either side of his thighs, not thinking, just feeling. His erection ground against the seam of her jeans, and he was gasping into her mouth. His hands grabbed at her and pulled her down on top on him, and she had just a little moment to be surprised at herself, to be startled, as she grabbed his face and tried kissed him hard. She had to toss her head back to catch her breath, to breathe, and she realized that his head was thrown back against the back of the chair, lips parted, eyes just a little glazed. She’d never really seen a man look like that at her, and something about it touched her. She touched his lips with one finger and he dropped his eyelashes for a moment, before sucking her fingertip into his mouth and licking the tip like it was candy coated. The gesture sent a shiver through her, all the way down her spine, making her nipples tighten and her legs weaken. The corner of his mouth curved up slightly, and all the blood in her body seemed to pulse between her legs. She settled back, batting his hand aside, nipping at his lips, and stroking his chest.

Not thinking meant being able to be rather startled at his body, because of course, there weren’t any consequences, any punishment. She could just enjoy, and it was a new sensation for her. He was so….lithe. She pulled his shirt out of his pants and undid his belt buckle, feeling his gasp with a surge of pleasure. There was no extra flesh on him anywhere, and the muscles in his stomach jumped when she pressed her hand against them and slid her fingers down past them. He was bracing himself against the chair, now, eyes huge and blue, hands clenched on the armrests, legs spread wide. Her ears buzzed and her skin seemed to be covered with goosebumps. She was the one doing everything; he was holding on for dear life, and he looked, actually, so innocent, so amazed, that she suddenly felt very bad in a very good way. Who was this person, sitting on his lap, licking kisses into his mouth, rising up just slightly so she could slide her hand into his pants? It couldn’t be her, she was a good girl, she was…Spike gasped hard and fast against her, and she felt the trembling all through his flesh…really fucking turned on. Then she touched his penis, and they both stopped breathing.

The skin on his cock was soft as satin, but almost too hard to be human. She traced veins and ridges, then cupped the head in her hand, gently, but he hissed and his whole body jerked. His arousal was intoxicating, and her hand inadvertently tightened. He grabbed the seat arms even tighter and she kissed him guiltily. She stopped feeling so guilty when he pressed his hand to the nape of her neck and kissed her back greedily, tongue weaving luxuriously with hers, groaning into her mouth, hips starting to move against hers. She explored his cock eagerly now, smiling as he froze momentarily with every new movement. Oh, such soft skin. She cupped his balls in her hand and he grabbed her wrist, then, to make her stop. His mouth opened to speak, and she pressed one finger to his lips. She knew what he was going to say, but she had no idea what would come out of her mouth if she even tried to talk. He was opening his mouth again, about to speak, and she found the slit on the top of his penis and rubbed it gently with her thumb, her fingers caressing the edge of the head in rhythm with her kisses. His head fell against the back of the chair, and his Adam’s apple bobbed convulsively. There was something so…vulnerable…about that helpless movement that she kissed where the muscles worked in his throat, mouth never really leaving his skin as she worked her way to his ear, finding his earlobe and sucking it into her mouth. There was moisture beneath her fingers now, and she used it to move freely over his length, her hand closing around the shaft and gliding from base to top. She kissed her way back to his mouth, tongue and pulse and hand on his cock all moving to the same hungry tempo. He sighed into her mouth, neck arching, eyes squeezing shut suddenly, hips jerking against her. She watched the long pulses take him, watched his face soften so that she suddenly didn’t know where to look because she wanted to look everywhere at once. He looks so…human. Even those cut-glass cheekbones seemed blunted, and his eyes were sleepy. There was nothing vampire about him now, only male, sated and breathless. Something occurred to her: I bet he feels human now, too. I did that to him. But he’s not. He can’t go back and forth.

She watched him gradually come back to himself, and with something like dismay, she realized that included some sort of embarrassment. He glanced down, shifted beneath her uncomfortably, and looked around, one hand flying to his disheveled hair, eyes dropping. They fell upon her hands, still gently holding his cock, her fingers spattered with his come. He made some soft noise of regret and yanked his tee shirt off, wiping her hands, muttering, “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” under his breath, till her hands were clean. What on earth is he apologizing for? She thought. He tucked himself back into his pants and zipped up, avoiding her eyes, shifting uncomfortably as if to get out of her vision. He was so abashed that she began to share his feeling, wondering if she’d done something wrong, wondering if he was shocked or disappointed. Had he not wanted her to touch him? Had she gone too fast? Suddenly she was the one who couldn’t meet his eyes. Acutely conscious of her own arousal, she stiffly got off of him and looked desperately for some excuse to step even further away. She found it when he got up just as precisely as she had, and found a tee shirt to pull on. He turned his back to her to unzip his pants and tuck the shirt in, and that was when she knew that something had been utterly, completely screwed up and changed. When he turned back to her, he jammed his hands in his pockets and cleared his throat. She wondered exactly what she could say. The thought came back to her again. He looked human, so human. It’s probably not good to have that effect on a vampire. It’s probably not good to be a vampire in such a position. It’s not good to put a vampire in that position.

Oh, God.

She turned and fled, the door slamming behind her. Vampire fast, Spike nevertheless met only the door.



At home, she ran up the stairs straight to her room, slamming the door and tossing her jacket over the chair. She kicked aside her shoes between the door and the bed and flung herself on the bed.

Spike’s face.

His…throat.

The muscles in his forearms, as his hands tightened on the arms of the chair. God, why had she done that? How long was it going to take her to forget it? She snapped over on her back and stared up at the ceiling. How long did it take to forget impulsively groping somebody who loved you? At least as long as she was still wearing panties that were, quite frankly, soaked, and clothes that smelled of his cigarettes. I can’t believe I did that. That was the first thing. I can’t believe I did that.

I can’t believe how good it felt, too. How he looked, how he reacted.

How he reacted.

That was when her brain went on strike. No more thinking for her. That’s the problem, she thought. I started thinking again afterward. Shouldn’t have done that. Shouldn’t do it, now, either.

In the bathroom, she tore off her clothes without looking at them and tossed them on the floor as if they’d done something wrong. She turned the shower on and climbed in, but her energy seemed to desert her and she leaned into the water, turning her face up into the stream and staying there for long minutes. Soft skin, and hard flesh beneath her fingers, the feeling of…? The way he reacted to her touch, as if he were so helpless, and then…..? What was that? Power? Power over him? Power to make him helpless with hunger for her, except it turned out he wasn’t quite so helpless as she thought.

She couldn’t stay in one place with the memory picking at her, so she shut off the water and toweled herself off absently, eyes seeing a different room. She replayed it in her mind. He’d been so aroused and then, what, almost embarrassed? Of himself or her? Or for her? What was it? She’d never seen a guy act like that before. She never allowed herself to think of Angel, and the thought of Parker produced a wince. At the time, she’d characterized his reaction as pleasure, but had not recognized the smugness he’d felt at another conquest. Riley….Well….No help there.

The worst thing, she thought dryly, was that she herself was still turned on. She picked up her jeans and underwear and dumped them into the hamper. At least I am mature Buffy today, she thought. I can admit that I was turned on. Mature Buffy did not commit the ultimate immaturity, though…Mature Buffy only stuck her hand into a vampire’s pants, discovering in the process that Big Eyes weren’t all the Big Bad Wolf had to offer, and impulsively fondled him till he came, because he had such blue eyes.

She wrapped the towel around herself and suddenly sat down on the edge of the rub. Oh, God, I practically molested him. And the way he feels about me…Oh, God. Oh, God.

That’s it. No more kissing. I have to stop kissing him. Why do I kiss him? Why? There’s lots of guys I could be kissing if I needed to kiss somebody. Why him all the time? She got up wearily and listlessly brushed her teeth, then wrapped her fat fuzzy robe around herself, not bothering to drop the towel,jamming her hands resolutely into her pockets. Time for chocolate chip cookie dough. Was Willow up? They were overdue for a heart-to-heart. A girlfriend to girlfriend talk. God knows she needed to talk to somebody. With that in mind, she opened the door.

Spike was standing in the center of her room.

They both took deep breaths at the same time, and then Buffy opened her mouth to speak, and only a tiny squeak emerged. Spike scrubbed both hands though his hair and stepped forward, one hand hovering in midair. They both noticed his hand at the same time and he flinched and jerked back, jamming his hands into his pockets. Buffy took a deep breath, and then simply couldn’t say anything. What do I say? I’m sorry I gave you an orgasm. I’m sorry I really, really, liked it. I’m sorry that that’s what I’m thinking about right now. I’m sorry that I saw your stomach and I really want to see the rest…Uh, what?

“Buffy…” Spike said tentatively. She jumped at the sound of his voice. “I, uh…I…” He took another deep breath and visibly gathered his courage, staring down at his feet. With something like amazement, she took a step forward.

“Are you apologizing?”

His mouth opened, closed, and opened again. He was trying to form words, she could tell. He was trying to apologize to her, when she was the one who’d, well---she blushed anew. Vampires don’t apologize, she thought. It was such a stupid thought, but--- Just does not happen, so why is this happening? She wasn’t aware of moving, didn’t even know where the space between them went, but recognized his face in her hands. Then she kissed him, and she became aware of too many things at once, too much to catalog. Mouth and leather and his body. The long lines of muscle beneath her hands, against her body. They stumbled to the bed, and its edge hit her behind the knees and she sat down abruptly. Spike hesitated, taking a deep breath and running his hands through his hair again, leaving her far too much time to contemplate his crotch. She stood up again and he took a step back. What, are we going to have tea now? She thought. He was looking down, obviously uncomfortable, so she had to tilt her head to kiss him. She could feel when he suddenly sagged with relief against her, his hands slowly sliding around her, light and cautious. Even so, it was enough to make her shiver, make her pull closer to him. When they stumbled to the bed this time, they both fell onto it.

She kept thinking she owed him something, some statement, some explanation, but her instincts told her that would be a mistake. This was new and fragile, and she didn’t want to break it. One sarcastic word would be enough, and she thought she’d shatter. Too many new things to cope with, without him being one of them. If she could just kiss him forever, she could get accustomed to it, as long as he didn’t move, as long as he stayed right there, half on her body, one leg between hers. She’d forgotten what it felt like, kissing, forgot what it felt to be really kissed, to kiss someone till your spine turned to water, and your blood to quicksilver. She’d known he was a good kisser---they’d been engaged----but not like this. It felt like her body was suddenly remembering things that had been forgotten for so long they had almost ceased to exist. Her nerve endings were buzzing the way frozen things did when they started to thaw. He pulled briefly from her lips to shrug off his coat, and she rolled onto her side to meet him when he came back. They met belly to belly, and then she turned the tables on him by lying half on his chest and kissing him. She had to pull back and bury her head in his chest, abashed, because she couldn’t stop shaking. He wound his arms around her and she cautiously looked up, expecting to see the familiar spark of humor in his eyes at her vulnerability, but found only the Spike she had seen since her return. Got to get rid of that reflex, she thought, always expecting the old Spike to return and hit with her with some quip at her lowest point. He hadn’t done that in ages. She thought suddenly. It struck her that she was still stuck expecting Spike to act like, well Spike, and that he, at least, had moved on.

As she stared at him, he reached out a hand and cupped her face with it and she shivered. She edged closer, seeking his mouth, and with a little sigh subsided onto her back, Spike shifting with her, fitting himself to her. The little noises she made went straight through him. He braced himself up on one elbow and traced her lips with one fingertip. Is this real?

No thinking, she thought. But it was impossible not to. If he was showing her a face he kept hidden from everyone else, then he trusted her. But she didn’t have a secret face that no one saw, she was sure of it. She was Uncomplicated Girl. No thinking, she thought. But…she thought…Instincts. She reached up with both hands and stroked his face, bringing him down to her for a kiss, while he slid one arm tight around her. She pulled one hand free and took his hand, guiding it with hers to her breast.

She was still wearing a huge bath towel wrapped around her under her bathrobe, and the bathrobe itself was some heavy fabric that could have been used as teddy bear fur. Spike didn’t appear to notice till she dodged his mouth and looked up at him, amused despite herself. It took a second for realization to dawn, and then his lips quirked. His face slowly relaxed into comprehension, and he slipped his hand beneath the robe, molding it around her breast, then slipping further, beneath the towel itself. At the touch of skin to skin, they both jumped. He traced her nipple with his thumb, slowly, and the jolt went straight between her legs, firing an ache that lifted her pelvis against him. She was trembling beneath him, and he moved, swiftly, kissing her with his fingertips touching her face as if she’d shatter at anything more. She lifted her hands to his face hesitantly, and he closed his eyes as they touched him. The kiss became harder and he broke away, panting, shifting over her, dropping his head but keeping his eyes locked with hers, licking her nipple with one long stroke that hardened it instantly. Buffy forgot to breathe. It got worse when he dropped his head and sucked her nipple into his mouth. “Oh, Christ,” she muttered, and he sucked harder. Her hips jerked against him, and he ground against her hard, once, twice, three times, before he stopped, panting. The sensation was electric, and her throat went dry. Oh, God, she could hear him sucking her nipple, and that was almost as riveting as the sensation itself. When he switched from one to the other she shuddered violently at the loss of contact.

Spike could feel her trembling under him and honestly didn’t know how much he should try. This is not happening. This is not real. Not me, and not her. She was so aroused, and if she hadn’t already made him come before, he would have at the way her body was moving. He slipped his hand further beneath the towel, to her waist, and not only did she not stop him, she pressed her hand against his for a moment before clutching handfuls of his hair and pulling his mouth harder to her breasts. Slowly, he slipped his hand from her waist to her stomach, stroking, gliding, caressing, but at the soft hair at the apex of her thighs, he hesitated, lifting his head, resting his hand upon that soft little stomach. Shaking himself now, he dipped one finger between her curls and found her so wet and swollen that he had to squeeze his eyes shut, hard. For a moment, all he could do was fight off the desire to spread her pussy wide open and suck her clit till she screamed. He could drown in her, lose himself in her, make her come till she was limp and sated, till that lost look disappeared from her eyes. His cock ached, constrained in his pants, and he cursed the button flies. He had to sit back a bit, swallowing. She was almost naked, the robe and towel open, but he still wore his jeans and shirt and for some reason it bothered him, seeing her all flushed and trembling, while he was dressed. He pulled the shirt off and hesitated, not even certain why. Her legs were around him, and he was afraid if he actually looked down and saw her pussy he’d come in his pants again like some horny pimple-faced teenager. Instead, he sought her eyes, and found them on him. She pulled herself upright, still with him between her legs, and touched his thighs cautiously, eyeing his face uncertainly. Her hands crept to his belt buckle, and opened it. He couldn’t stand her touch, he was afraid he’d explode again. He ripped his jeans open and she helped him shove them down, the two of them fumbling, getting in each other’s way. He got his jeans as far as his knees and gave up, easing her back on the bed, falling on her with something like desperation. He swallowed over a dry throat as he eased his cock against her pussy and pushed, eyes squeezing shut in the effort not to come. If he looked down, he’d see everything, his cock sliding inside her, her legs trembling, her hands against his stomach, thumbs circling on his abdomen, body shaking. When he finally was all the way inside her, he froze, breathing hard.

She stared up at him. His arms were rigid, muscles corded there and everywhere throughout his body. With his eyes shut and his lips moving, he looked like he was in pain. He began to move slowly, tendons twitching in his hips as he pulled all the way out of her, his cock shiny and wet. She gulped as he shoved inside her, mesmerized by the way his stomach muscles rolled under her fingers. Later, remembering, she would blush at the memory; lying with her legs spread open, watching him slide slowly into her. Later. Not now. When he was inside her as far as he could go, he opened his eyes, rubbing his hips against hers in a slight movement that hit her clitoris and made her stiffen and clutch his skin. His arms sagged, and he subsided on top of her, stomach and chest meeting hers, skin sliding against skin, hips working against hers. Gradually, he let his breath out, breathing again, thrusting slowly, lips opening in a gasp against hers, hands finding her face, eyes searching hers.

No thinking, no thinking, no thinking, not happening, not happening, can’t be happening, oh, God, he’s inside me, he’s inside me, oh, oh, oh, don’t stop, don’t stop, oh, God…Good thing not to think because she couldn’t make sense of it all. Oh, God, he was beautiful, he was so beautiful, he was making her feel beautiful too, as if everything that was ugly had stopped existing and there was just this, his body inside hers, not enough, not enough…She had to touch his skin all over, claim his body, climb inside him. The tempo changed with her urgency, his thrusts speeding up as he read her expression. His back flexed under her fingers, muscles rolling as he pounded into her, deeper with every stroke. Over his shoulder, she could see his ass, pumping between her legs, her feet bumping against his flexing thighs. Animal, she thought. Whether it was her or him, or both, she didn’t know. He was moving harder and faster now, but his mouth was impossibly soft on hers, and he seized her hands convulsively, fingers laced through hers, tensing and relaxing with his thrusts. She freed her hands to grab his face, feeling all the tension in her body gathering together into one tight ball of heat inside her. She ground against him frantically, and he clutched handfuls of the blanket and went faster. All the tension inside her exploded. She gasped into his chest, slick with her sweat, and felt him stiffen in his own orgasm, his back arching, reflexes jabbing him into her again and again. Aftershocks seized them both, and they both sagged into lethargy, panting, ending up with Spike lying on top of her, hips still cradled between her cocked thighs, head pillowed on her breasts. She panted at the ceiling, feeling him soften inside her, her muscles twingeing with fading spasms.

Slowly, their breathing returned to normal. She realized she was running her hands back and forth down his sides, and he was stroking her arms. Don’t move, she thought. Don’t end it. But he lifted his head and looked at her, and with something like dismay, she felt the move reverberate through her body. More. More. Slowly, gingerly, he pulled out of her, scraping tender flesh while she gasped and went rigid. “..hurt?” He whispered, dotting kisses onto her face. He shifted till he was at her side and she moved till they were once again pressed together, front to front.

“Yes,” she muttered. “But..” But it felt good, her mind whispered. God, what is wrong with me? She was sore but at the same time it felt like her nerve endings were on full alert, ready for more. She checked his face cautiously, suddenly nervous. This was the point it always went bad, when guys reverted to type after the romance, and she didn’t think she could bear it if Spike suddenly went back to being the poster child for sarcasm.

She studied his back greedily as he sat up, groaning, and shoved off the jeans that were still around one ankle. With a sigh, he looked back at her, palming her face with one hand, and looking at her so soberly that she blinked. He looked just as bewildered as she felt, and suddenly, she felt sarcasm was not forthcoming. No going back. On the other hand, worse than Spike reverting to, well, Spikehood, was Spike as he had been the last few weeks. She didn’t know what to do, what to think. New Spike had given her the feeling that he was always at her back, protecting her, and it had been…nice. But it was also disturbing. Spending all that time around him had led her to notice things she might not have had she not suddenly had so much time to notice. The way he was with Dawn. The tenor of his voice. The tone he used when he spoke to her. Old Spike at least had the virtue of being predictable; lob off a few cutting remarks, respond, parry, thrust, and fight. Still worse than that, actually, was a guy who displayed no signs of taking off, leaving her with no idea of what to do, what to feel.

What did you do when guys didn’t take off?

Was there a guidebook? What did you do? Talk? About what? Cuddle? It just stood to reason that if good guys could turn bad after sex, why wouldn’t a recently-good guy go back to old habits after orgasm? Angel certainly had. It couldn’t help the brain, after all.

Her instincts weren’t helping. Her instincts were telling her to see if she could make that soft look come back on his face. Her instincts really wanted to see if she could get him to suck her nipples again, to touch her all over and kiss her till she was dizzy. She wanted to touch every inch of skin and watch his penis harden in her hands. She wanted to kiss him and taste his tongue again, feel his skin slide against hers. She wanted to watch him thrust inside her while he struggled to keep control of himself. She wanted his skin. Guiltily, she looked into his eyes.

Spike watched her worries flit across her face, then disappear beneath a flush. She had such an expressive face at times….like when I’m inside her--- part of his brain thought. This is not happening. This did not happen. It had been too fast, too furious. He wanted to savor her, touch her, taste every molecule of her skin, because he just might wake up. Or she’ll never come near me because I go off like a rocket every time she touches me. No staying power. His earlier fantasy returned, and he nudged forward, brushing her lips with his own, just once. She sighed happily and wriggled closer, and he dropped all pretense and pulled her tight to him, pressing himself between her legs without even being aware of it. Want to make you scream, he thought. He kissed his way down her throat, then back up to her earlobe before a long detour to her mouth, kissing her wet and long and slow. She was undulating under him already, her thigh muscles tensing and relaxing against his hips, and he slid his hand down the top of her thigh, thinking to himself that at least kicking his ass all those times had given her those Slayer muscles. Slowly, he slid down till he reached her breasts. She had small breasts but her nipples turned a pretty rose color as he sucked them, and the way she arched and rolled beneath him suggested it felt as good as it looked. He sucked harder, and she shoved her pelvis against him so hard that the head of his cock actually slipped inside her. Her hands found his buttocks and tried to pull him inside, but he had other ideas. He grabbed one wrist and pressed it to the bed with one hand, then the other. Her pussy was pulsing rhythmically around him, and he fought back the urge to plunge inside her and lose himself in her depths. He’d felt the flinch when he pulled out of her, seen the look in her eyes. He’d made her sore, not something he wanted to think about. She tried to pull her wrists away and he shushed her.”Ah, ah, ah,” he whispered, lifting his head just enough for one ripe nipple to slip out of his mouth. “No hands.” She shivered.

That’s my girl, he thought. He bowed his head and sucked her nipple hard, feeling her muscles tense around him. The head of his cock was still inside her and he rubbed just slightly against her, feeling her trembling as he did. What a girl. He moved to her other nipple, licking and sucking and teasing, nipping just slightly, sucking so hard his cheeks hollowed, unconsciously thrusting the length of his cock against her wet and swollen flesh, feeling the little movements in her body increase. He switched back to her other nipple and bit gently, and that was when she jerked against him, arching into a climax. He pulled out of her and slid down between her legs, kissing her belly, letting go of her wrists, stroking her legs with light fingers. He kissed his way from her thigh to her knee, then back again, and planted kisses all around her soft curls, delaying as much for his own sake as hers. This wasn’t happening, so he had to make it last as long as possible in case it never happened again. He kissed the inside of her other thigh, licking it like a cat, then finally made his way deeper between her legs, and gently spread her open. At the first touch of his tongue, she went rigid, but as he continued she melted, freeing her wrists and grabbed handfuls of his hair. Her hips rocked against his mouth as he sucked her clit and then she simply went limp, spasms shaking her whole body. He pillowed his head on her stomach, and when she stopped shaking, he began kissing his way down again. He stroked her clit long and and slowly with his tongue, jabbing in time with her movements, listening to her panting little breaths. He could feel her climax all the way through his body, shaking his nerves, making him catch his breath.

He fully intended to go again, but as her eyes cleared and focused, he found himself drawn to them. She was lying spread open before him, wet and sated and trembling, but as they stared at each others’ eyes, he found himself fighting the pulsing in his cock, the urge to dive into her. The unreality of it all hit him again, and he closed his eyes, fully expecting to find himself back in his crypt with a bottle of Jack Daniels at his feet, waking up with a hangover.

Then they both heard the steps coming down the hallway, and Buffy jumped up, tangling in the covers and her robe, her face horror-stricken. They both leaped in opposite directions, Buffy to the door, Spike backward off the bed, hitting his head on the floor, and dragging the blankets with him.

Willow tried to open the door as a matter of course, but found it locked. Odd. “Buffy?”

Buffy stared at the door, heart in her throat, hands clutching spasmodically on her robe. Naked vampire in room? Uh…Uh…Think, there’s an excuse! Her brain was frozen. What just happened? If I can’t explain it to myself, how do I explain it to Willow? She stared at the door. The handle jiggled. She stared at the door some more. The door continued to be closed, and she breathed for the first time in centuries. Oh, God, had Willow heard them? Was that why she was being tactful? Then it struck her, and she stepped cringingly to the door, expecting it to leap open any instant, to reveal a stunned Willow on the threshold. Even before she got all the way across the room she realized it was locked. I never lock it, she thought. How did that...? He locked the door. He locked the door…When? She stood stock still as the unpleasant implications hit her. Why? Willow knows we talk, Dawn knows we talk--? They wouldn’t care if they found us talking, except of course we weren’t talking…And we never stopped, for him to lock the door, so he must have locked it when I was---It was one thing to do something impulsive and stupid, but the image of Spike locking her bedroom door while he waited for her to get out of the tub so he could use those big blue eyes on her made her shudder with Parker flashbacks. She tightened the belt of her robe viciously around herself. That’s why--- She tried desperately to rethink events, to figure out what had started where-- Did he plan to--? After all, I did stick my hand in his pants and---But still! Her heart slowly deflated in her chest. He came here to get me into bed.

No, he didn’t.

He locked the door. Wouldn’t you?

No, because I didn’t know that was going to happen.

Don’t be coy.

I’m not coy.

“Yeah, Will,” she answered listlessly.

“Buffy---do you…?” Willow gulped. “Do you want to talk?”

Spike peered up over the bed; Buffy was flushed again, he saw, and he also saw it was not a good flush. Oh, shit, what now? How on earth could a woman be irritated after that? She was averting her eyes from him, too. Oh, shit. For a brief moment, he clung to hope: it’s Willow she’s pissed at.

“I’ll be down in a second,” Buffy said quietly. She jiggled the door knob again, just to be sure, and carefully composed her mask. She stared at the door for several seconds. Without raising her eyes to him, she turned and headed to the bathroom, tripping nervelessly over his discarded boots as she did. “You’d better get dressed.” She paused at the door, tightening her belt yet again. “You better leave.” Before he had a chance to do more than open his mouth, the bathroom door clicked shut.



Chapter 2

She found Willow on the front steps, and had a momentary thought that this was good, because the back deck had so many connotations. Then she saw her friend’s slumped shoulders and staring eyes. No good here. She hesitated just a moment, jamming her hands harder into the pockets of her robe, wondering what the disapproving old lady across the street would say about her sitting on the front porch in her bathrobe. I saved the world a couple of times, cut me some slack, you old biddy. Then she sat down. Willow was staring down the street expectantly, wearily, as if searching for a late-arriving guest.

“Think…?” Willow whispered.

“What?”

“Think she’ll change her mind?”

Buffy looked down. Shit. She’d just been thinking that it was all Willow’s fault that one of her spells had yet again resulted in her kissing Spike---well,  kissing pretty much all of Spike this time----but Willow looked so miserable it seemed unfair to bring that up. She glanced up suddenly at a small snapping noise. Spike crawling out of the window? A tree branch?  If I ran up there, I could…..

Willow mistook her silence. “It’s okay to tell me what you really think, Buffy. I’m not looking for…for….make-me-feel-better-goodness now.”

“Honest?” If I ran up there, I could…what, exactly?

Willow gave her hands a tiny, secret smile. “You sounded pretty eager.”

Just ignore me, Buffy thought. It’s just the fact that I’m still weak from all that---She shook her head to clear it. “Will---“

“Its okay, Buffy,” Willow said. “Just go ahead.”

“Well, Will----“ She got that far and then her voice simply dried up in her throat.  “Those spells of yours----“ She tightened the belt of her robe again. What if Spike is still upstairs? Is it that bad to lock the door? I mean, I did stick my hand in his pants----“How long do they last?”

“What?”

“The after effects? How long do they last?”

“Why? Buffy, are you okay? Do you feel sick?”

“No, no, I’m good.” Except for that soreness. That tingling soreness.  She shook her head again, feeling the urge to blurt out something rising in her throat. I’d like to know because I just had sex with Spike and I’m wondering if I can blame that on you. And why I would really, really like it to happen again very soon. And if it’s not my fault and it’s not your fault, then that means it’s…his fault.

“You sure?”

“I think so.”

“Well, there shouldn’t be after effects of the spells,” Willow said thoughtfully. “Unless I did it wrong, but I never do them wrong.”

“Ouch,” Buffy muttered.

“Oh,” Willow said quietly.

“Yeah,” Buffy said.

“Go ahead.” Willow straightened up her posture, bracing herself. “I can take it.”

You can, Buffy thought. But I can’t.

They both stared out at the street, and gradually Willow relaxed. “Were you…Were you really in heaven?”

“I think so.”

“Do you….” Willow swallowed. “Do you hate me?”

Buffy looked at her, startled. “What?”

“Do you hate me?”

“No,” she said after a pause. Then, gathering her courage, she added very quietly, “But the things you do, Willow, the spells---“

“But they’re over now,” Willow interrupted. “All done. I shouldn’t have, I know, with the memory spell, but I just wanted to---“

“Willow,” Buffy whispered, “If you wanted to make me feel better…” Her throat locked up, then, the words refusing to cooperate.

“What? What? I’ll---I’ll do it, Buffy, anything---just don’t cry, okay? Please?” She threw her arm around her shoulder, and Buffy gave a little gasp for air and ducked her head. “Just say it, please, okay?”

“The spell…” Buffy drew in a shuddering breath. She stared at her tightly-clenched fists. “I don’t know if I’m doing something myself, or if it’s you making me do it…Why didn’t you just talk to me? Why didn’t you just…?” She spread her hands helplessly.

“Oh, God, Buffy, I’m so sorry…I just wanted to help. I just wanted to help, I just wanted to…” She squeezed Buffy’s shoulder harder and stared worriedly into her friend’s eyes.

You want me to make you feel better, Buffy thought suddenly. “Willow…”

“What?”

“Why do you do magic?”

“Why?”

“Yeah, why? Why now, I mean.” She looked down. “It’s not the same as it was before.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you used to be different with it, didn’t you? That’s what I thought, anyway,” she muttered, as Willow’s puzzlement turned to consternation.

“Why do you think I use magic?”

Buffy’s shoulders slumped. The stuff that scares me, she thought. Vampires and demons, I can cope with. But not this.  Anything but this.  “I don’t understand it, Willow. I don’t understand why.”

Willow’s arm loosened from around Buffy’s shoulders. “I…I…just do, that’s all.” She shrugged.”It’s something I’m good at.”

“You’re good at lots of stuff,” Buffy said.

“Like…?”

“Research, and computers, and general smartness.”

“That explains the crowd that gathers every time I turn on my laptop,” Willow said bitterly. “That’s stuff nobody notices.”

I notice,” Buffy muttered.

“No,” Willow said softly. “You notice when I do it wrong.”

“That explains why I never notice,” Buffy said lightly. “You never do it wrong.”

“Except for bringing you out of heaven.”

“Well, I---I---couldn’t exactly send you a postcard,” Buffy said quietly.

“Well…”

They sat in silence together. “I miss her,” Willow said quietly.

Buffy turned several remarks over in her head. “What?” Willow asked.

“You said I could be honest, right?”

“I think I need you to be honest.”

“Totally honest?”

“Totally.”

“Will…” She stopped and started again. “The spells you do...” She searched for subtlety, but couldn’t find any.  “They scare me.”

“Oh, but they’re harmless, I know what I’m---Oh.” Willow stopped. “Oh. Okay.”  She held up her hands in appeasement. “Go ahead.”

“You keep doing spells, and you do them because….because…it’s easier than…than…”She stopped miserably, clutching her arms around herself as if she were cold.

“Easier?” Willow looked at her.

“Yeah, you know…You do a spell when you can’t get your way, Willow.” She took a deep breath.

“It’s not like that, Buffy. It’s not.”

“Then why did you do this one?”

“I wanted to…make things easier for you. The..the…coming back from heaven thing.”

“Did you?” Buffy asked softly, disbelieving. I am really doing this. I am really saying this. This is me, doing this. It doesn’t hurt. Me? Or...Willow? The more I do this, the easier it is, she marveled. “Because---because it hit me all over again, Willow.” She took a deep breath. “Maybe you do mean well, you know? Maybe. But---but----I---don’t want to have somebody doing spells on me, making me feel things that I don’t feel.”

“Oh, Buffy, no---“

“That’s how I felt. The music spell? That wasn’t your fault, I know, that was Xander, but still, you know, people wound up paying for it. People died. And---“ And I wound up kissing Spike, she thought. And doing a lot more than that, and—and---I just can’t trust it because it felt like a spell…”Have you ever kissed someone you didn’t want to?” But I did want to kiss him, she thought. For awhile. That was just the best excuse.

“No…Buffy…why?”

“Remember that spell where Spike and I---?”

“Oh, God,” she groaned, smacking her forehead. “Buffy, I am so sorry----“

“Then why did you do it again?” Buffy blurted out. She slapped her hand over her mouth. “Sorry, sorry, sorry----“

Willow looked down at her hands for a long time.  “No, Buffy…” She sighed heavily. “No, you’re right. You’re right. You know why? It was just so…easy. It was easier than, you know, saying I’m sorry, okay?”

“And Tara?”

“Tara?” Willow said dully.

“Tara. You used that spell on her. After what Glory did to her.”

“Yeah,” Willow said quietly. “What about you?”

“Me?”

“What about Angel?”  For a moment, she thought Willow had said Spike, and there was a roaring in her head. She could feel the blood draining from her face. They hadn’t made any noise at all, she was sure of it. Oh, God, what if someone had heard something? Then she realized what Willow had actually said. Guilty, much? She had to steady herself against the banister.

What?“

“What would you do to get him back?”

If anything, Buffy felt even weaker. How could Willow bring Angel back up? How? She’d fought so hard to get over him, and here was Willow, using him against her when the debate got too close to home. So much for honesty, she thought. Everything from the worst period in her life came back, and she stared at Willow. When I came back, she was this way, she thought. There was too big a hurdle between the past and the present. She saw Spike’s face, in his crypt, as he realized what she was doing. The power she’d felt with him, the power she’d never felt with Angel… He loves me and I just…She closed her eyes to shut out the mental image.

“He left, Willow. He had to.“

“That wasn’t what I asked. What would you do to get him back?“ Willow’s voice was steely. The same voice she’d used on Giles. Buffy shivered slightly.

“I don’t have that option, Will.” Buffy whispered. “I don’t. You know that---You know that perfectly well. You know what would happen.” When Angel came back, you were keeping secrets about Xander. And you were afraid of Angel. You just never admitted it.

“But I thought you loved him,” Willow said. “I thought you loved him so much that—“

“That you’re afraid of losing your friends?” Buffy whispered. “And they’re afraid of telling you what’s scaring them so they just don’t say stuff that they should?” She took a deep shuddering breath that seemed to sear her throat. “Let’s just do it, okay? Because I can’t say this more than once.” She steadied herself. “Tara loves you, too, Willow. She loves you so much she couldn’t stand you doing this any more.” Why did Angel really leave?He said it was for me, but what if it was like Tara? What if it was for him? What if..?

“I never meant---“

“Willow, think about it.” She sniffed. “You know what I wanted, instead of that spell? I wanted you to talk to me. But maybe you didn’t want to talk to me, Willow. Maybe that was it. Because you know what I would have said? I would have said this, I would have said that I was mad at you and scared of you at the same time. That’s why you do spells, Will. You don’t want people to say stuff to you that you don’t want to hear.”

She expected anger. She waited for it. Instead, Willow slowly bowed her head and took a breath that trembled in her throat. “Do you think I’m a bad person?”

Buffy had to think about it, turning things over in her mind. “You’re a good person who does bad things, Will.”

“Bad magic, you mean.”

“Will, if it you did something like that that wasn’t magical, don’t you think it would be bad?”

“Like what?”

She was stumped. All the bad things Willow had ever done were magical.  “That forgetting spell that you did to Tara. And then the one you did to us. Tara was mad at you because of the way you put that spell on her, especially after what Glory did to her. And then…. Then you put that spell on all of us so we couldn’t remember---“

“Well, I didn’t want you to be in pain, with the---with the---“

“What about Tara? She was mad at you, Will. You know that. It’s like…like…It’s like you made her----“ She searched for something to demonstrate her point. “It’s like..you made her unconscious or something, so then you could have her do what you wanted.”

“No, that’s not what I wanted, Buffy, you know that, it was---“

“Well, she was mad at you. That’s what it looked like to me. It looked like you didn’t want her to be mad at you any more, so you didn’t apologize, you just erased it.“

Spike, muttering, ‘sorry, sorry, sorry’ under his breath.

A good person who does bad things. Or a bad person who does good things. Which is better?

She stared at Willow, mouth opening and then closing with a snap. “You asked me to be honest, so I am. Ask me the next time you want to do a spell for …” She stopped, suddenly, her face turning pale. “…for my own good. I want to have a say in what’s good for me next time, okay?”

Leaving Willow behind her, she turned and went quietly up the stairs. Her eyes burned. Everything she’d gone through with Angel was suddenly fresh in her mind, and now---Spike.  She could feel a spot itching between her shoulder blades, where she expected to be hit by magic bolts or something. Nothing happened, but she still turned the corner at the top of the stairs with a sigh of relief, that turned into queasy anticipation.

It was at her door that she hesitated, listening. How long had she been gone? Had he actually left? She took one breath, then another. Still unsteady. She kept seeing herself, watching Angel leave, knowing he had to, but knowing she would never understand it, either.

Had Spike left?

Did she want him to?

She took a deep breath and stepped inside.

Spike, sitting on the edge of her bed and pulling on his boots, froze at the sight of her. He was wearing that wide-eyed look that he’d had when he’d wiped her hands off with his shirt, and it made her swallow. “Look…”she whispered. Her face flamed with all the emotions she’d been struggling with, and she had to bite her lower lip to keep it from trembling.

“Yeah, Slayer, I’m leaving.”

“Um…” I can do this…He stood up, yanking his shirt on, and she stomped back the memories of his stomach muscles twitching as he slid inside her. “Why..Why did you lock the door?”

“Wh--?” He looked at her blankly. She could see the moment when he realized what, exactly, she was talking about. He was utterly transparent to her, without guile or defense, and her heart felt suddenly like he’d taken it in his hand and squeezed it tight.  “Oh, well..” He took a deep breath and shrugged. “Figured we had some talking to do…” He met her eyes cautiously, then looked away, as if the sight of her pained him. “Figured we needed to have a chat about…” He shrugged again.

“Yeah, I guess so.” She whispered. Her throat suddenly seemed to burn. “I---uh---I---“

“Go ahead.” He said bitterly, tucking his shirt in.

“What?”

“Go ahead, practice. Start pretending this didn’t just happen. Maybe I can give you a few pointers. I’ve seen it before, I’m the expert.” He looked around for his coat.

She just stared at him for a second. “You know, I wasn’t the one who got all embarrassed...” She spoiled her righteous indignation by turning bright pink.”…in your crypt.”

“Well, if I had had some time to realize…” He shook his head again. “ One minute, you’re running away, the next minute, you’re…” His shook his head bitterly, looking for control “Just get it over with, okay? I’ll wait so you can give me whatever excuse you’ve got. It’s getting kind of late, though. Could you hurry it along?”

They stared at each other, Spike jamming his hands in the pockets of his jeans, Buffy hers in the pockets of her robe. “This isn’t what I wanted,” she whispered.

“Oh, yeah, so it’s my fault?”

“No.”

“Then? Oh, wait. Here’s one you haven’t tried…I bet it was that spell.” He spotted his red shirt and picked it up, dusting it off critically, anything but look at her face. He couldn’t do that. As mad as he was, he knew she was crumbling, and if she did that, he knew he’d melt. He’d fought her for years, developing a resentful respect of the girl who continuously whipped his ass, and he couldn’t bear to see her humbled. It had always irritated him, when she’d fallen for men and friends so far beneath her. At the same time, his pride nipped at his sympathy. I love her, butShould have known it was a one-off. Should have known. Just like the kissing, except worse.

If he’d been more to her than a fuck, she wouldn’t be struggling to not cry in front of him. That was what he was left with. The whole summer he’d spent fighting, just to take his mind off her, the way she’d been with him since she came back, and it all blown away by a shag. And then she took a deep, shaking breath, trying to get some control over herself again, and his anger crumpled. Damn. Did it to him again.

Willow looking away from her, Spike frowning with sudden concern. Without him she felt naked. With him she felt clothed, safe… and somehow scared. That was naked, that was more than she could handle. It was one thing to bare her body to him, it was quite another to bare anything else. Her friends couldn’t handle it, and they had been her best hope. Besides, you couldn’t be honest with guys; they used it against you. And if you couldn’t be honest with regular guys, what sort of hope was there with a vampire of all things?

Of course…

Except…no, that was too frightening.

Definitely not.

Something inside her broke.

It had been so hard all fall, and her friends had flinched away from her drawn face. Only Spike had not done so.

She wanted to shove him away. This is my defense, she thought. And abruptly she thought---maybe all that sarcasm---maybe that was his. Maybe it was stupid, putting up defenses against each other. Maybe they could be defenseless together.

Spike doesn’t need any defenses, she thought. But the memory of what his face looked like after Glory’s torture was vivid.

He studied her, biting his tongue, thinking that nothing quite so eloquently demonstrated her feelings—or lack thereof----as the way she faced away from him. What on earth had Willow said? Some instinct made him literally bite his tongue to keep from doing what he did best---blurting out whatever came to mind, without censoring. When she didn’t hit him, he took that as a sign and tentatively reached out, cupping her face in his hand. She lifted eyes full of misery to him, and it hit him harder than a blow. Don’t fucking say anything, he thought. Do not fucking say anything. Don’t ruin it. Don’t ruin it. She was as skittish as some unbroken filly, ready to flinch and bolt if he did the wrong thing, and right now, just about anything was definitely wrong.

“Your…eyes…” Buffy breathed.

“What?”

“Your eyes,” Buffy whispered. “The way you looked at me. Not the way you’re looking at me now,” she added irritably.

“What are you talking about?”

Nothing,” she snapped, annoyed now. “You know, you act like it’s so easy to just forget the past five years or so, just because you say you love me all the time.” She flinched the minute the words left her mouth. Spike, who had stared at her with something like hope on his face at the beginning of her statement, briskly got irritated instead.

“What does it take, eh? I mean, I risked my bloody life for you, for Dawn, I---“

“You did it so you could---“ At the wounded look on his face, she sighed. “Spike, for a vampire, you’re….You’re…It’s really, really nice---“ She gulped for air. “But men are bad enough. I mean, they say they love you and they get all weird and then they leave. But you…What am I supposed to think? You say you love me all the time…” And you stay. My friends make excuses and avoid my eyes. You tell me I’m full of shit and look me in the eye. When I run away from them, they stay behind, and you follow. You’re evil. You’ll always be evil. A few good deeds…

“I can’t help the way I feel about you.” He said quietly, and she heard the tightness in his voice. “It doesn’t change. I don’t love you more when you’re all…dressed up or happy…or less….when you’re…all sweaty…and ugly.”

“Hey!”

“It’s true!” He protested. “I feel the same way around you, no matter what. You think it’s all….just to…what? Get inside you? Not that way, luv. I just…I just want you to understand what it feels like. It never changes. It’s not any better now. It’s..worse. Because I can imagine what it must be like…when you actually love somebody.”

“I’m…sorry. It was….”

“Yeah, a mistake. I got that part already.”

“No…I just…” Her voice broke. “I just…” She tried to gather her scattered thoughts. “But you did change just for me, I believe that. But don’t you see? It’s the same thing if you changed in a bad way. You’re just doing it to get something. Or someone. What if you just don’t feel the same way after a while? What if it goes away?”

“It doesn’t go away! I’m not doing it to impress you!” He jammed his hands through his hair and whirled away, flinging his arms wide open. “I can’t help it! It just happens! When I’m around you I don’t know what I am anymore! And---and--- if it was going to bloody go away, it would have already! If anyone here is entitled to be nervous, it’s me, because you’re the one who’s had three relationships in a few years and I had one in a hundred!”

A good person who does bad things. A bad person who does bad things.

“You’re still a vampire,” she said, piqued now.

“Yeah, but that’s my point. Oh, vampires can’t love, what was that?

Well, he had her there.

“Well….”

“It would just kill you to admit that, wouldn’t it?”

Not unless I die of confusion, she thought.

“Well, you loved Dru,” she admitted. “But you murdered people when you loved her.”

“She was Dru! And that’s different.”

“Why? If it’s just love that makes you…”

“It’s you, that’s what it is.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“You think I don’t know that? You think I want to feel like this? Especially now? Especially after this?” He waved a hand at the rumpled bed, and Buffy flinched at the gesture. “I know what it’s like now,” he whispered, stepping close, while she backed away. “I can’t go back.”

“That was a mistake.” Buffy muttered.

“Maybe it was, but that wasn’t what I’m talking about. I can’t go back to what I was, no matter how much you want to believe that’s what’s going to happen. It’s so much simpler that way, isn’t it?”

“You’re still a vampire.”

“That’s what really bothers you, innit? Why me and not Angel? He loved you only when he had a soul.”

“Oh, just stop.” She winced around him and sat down gingerly on the edge of the bed, crossing her arms. With a sinking heart, he realized he’d once again gone a tad bit too far. You’d think after a hundred years, he’d have learned not to put his foot in it, but that didn’t appear to be possible.

“Love doesn’t make people better. It’s not a great thing. It doesn’t do good things to people. It does bad things to them. It doesn’t change them for the better.” She picked at the comforter. “That’s just…a…fairy tale.”

“I’m a vampire,” he said dryly. “I think I’m entitled to a few fairy tales. It’s not like I have any other job.”

“But…I have a mortgage!”

“What are you talking about?”

“Maybe I could believe in love in a fairy tale, but that’s the only time. Not in real life.”

“Buffy…” He sighed, half exasperated, half touched. She looked so forlorn, sitting on the edge of her bed, that the exasperation vanished and he sat next to her. She was the Slayer, he thought. She fought demons and vampires and gods and saved the world and befriended witches and werewolves. If anyone was entitled to fairy tales, it was her, but she was so ground down that she didn’t even have the energy to spare for hope. And her friends certainly weren’t helping her. They should be jumping before she asked, paying her rent, taking some of her burdens, but in effect what they did was continuously pestered her with their problems, preventing her from solving her own. She always put them ahead of herself, and it was wearing her out. “It’s being around you. That’s all it is. Nothing great, nothing magical. It’s not the chip, either. It’s just being near you. I don’t want to kill things when I’m around you, even if you do wind m---“ Uh. Oh. Not a good look on her, that scowl. Bugger. Where did it go wrong?! Backtrack!! “And, if you think I’m doing it to impress you, you’re wrong, because there’s nothing more bloody irritating than coming over all queer when the Bit shows me her latest school project. My reputation’s gone, thanks to you.” Uh-oh. Not working well, either. Bugger. But at least she’s not running off.

“Oh, fuck,” he muttered, ducking his head and running his hands through his hair again.

“Thanks,” she said sarcastically. “I’m sorry I’m such a…”

“Oh, bloody hell,” he sighed. He plopped down on the bed next to her, and slumped with exhausted impatience. “I can’t bloody talk around you.”

“Well….So it’s not a total loss, then.” Buffy muttered.

Spike glanced out of the corner of his eye at her. Was she making a joke? He bit his tongue. Better not risk it, not now. He hadn’t gotten staked or thrown out the window, which meant he was ahead of his highest hopes. But he had swallow to keep his words in his mouth. Here was tempting, familiar footing, but it was false, this retreat to sarcasm. Not after what had just happened. Not yet. Not when everything was so new and frail and volatile. He felt like he was standing on new volcanic soil, feeling the heat from beneath burning through him, and one unsteady footstep would get him immolated. “I’m not saying anything,” he said finally.

“Ah—“Buffy raised one finger, prepared to object, but he stared into her eyes, serious now. Such blue eyes, she thought. Faster than she could see, he grabbed her finger, and they both froze. Contact. She jerked away, but he saw the goose pimples rippling up her arms. She crossed her arms around herself, and inched away. Both of them swallowed, turned, stared at her wall. Tense minutes ticked by, and he could hear her heart speeding up. As long as he didn’t look at her, he was safe. Instead, he concentrated on the tips of his boots, wiggling his toes inside them. Good, his eyes were working. That was helpful. Anything to avoid taking stock. We just had sex. Now things are weird. I don’t want to leave and you don’t want me to stay. The worst of it was knowing that this painful silence was probably killing her. He wondered where the vivid Slayer he’d once loathed had gone, and if he’d had anything to do with it. He could feel her discomfort like he could feel her breath. He sighed out loud. In the room’s leaden silence, it sounded explosive.

“Just---“ He sighed. “Just---no joking around.” He took a deep breath that was distinctly unsteady. His knees suddenly occupied his entire attention, and he studied them as if they were utterly engrossing. One day, he swore, she’d look nowhere but at him… Bugger. Why did she have to look at him, like that, with her hair all curly, and big eyes…and… Fuck. Bloody fuck. She just had to keep staring at him, didn’t she? Driving him demented, it was. Would it really hurt anything if he kissed her again? Because God knows, it probably wouldn’t happen ever again. Just one kiss; a goodbye kiss, that was all…Buffy licked her lips and did him in.

Oh, God, so not good, she thought. His eyes had gone all dark, and was it her fault his mouth got all soft when he was so obviously thinking about…? He leaned forward toward her and it was like a set of magnets, jerking towards one another. Only at the precipice did she realize what was happening, and yank herself back. Reality. Reality is good. Reality is having enough self-control not to have more sex with… Oh, God. She gulped past the lump in her throat and studied her chipped toenail polish, yanking at the sash to her bathrobe. God, I had sex with him, and my nail polish looked like that? What does he think of me now? Are my legs all hairy, too? Knowing he could feel the changes in her heartbeat as if it were his own did not make it any easier. Assuming he had a heartbeat. Her throat was abruptly dry. Earlier thoughts returned to her and she found herself thinking about just tossing all her fears away. Her throat abruptly ached with the stress of keeping it all in. He was so much more frightening this way than he had ever been as an enemy. She could feel his closeness all through her body, like heat shimmering in the air, making the hairs stand up on her arms, on the back of her neck. Nothing going on, no harm done…Fine. Just doing fine. Keep breathing. Keep pretending he wasn’t stealing glances at her, with his messed-up hair, his long lashes…

Her bones seemed to dissolve against him, around him, her arms winding around his neck, fitting seamlessly everywhere, not just kissing him good night---oh, no, here was a whole vocabulary. It didn’t mean anything when she shifted onto his lap; it was just so uncomfortable being twisted across him like that, really. God, it was so unfair the way he kissed, sweet and melting and urgent. She twisted her hands in his hair and marveled at the way her arms fit around his shoulders, not too much, not too little, like pieces of the same part. She pulled back to breathe, and he spread his hands slowly across her back. Once is an accident, but twice would be…twice, she thought. But his arms fit so neatly around her that the feel of them was somehow comforting. With that, she pressed her forehead against his. It enabled her to breathe and to hesitate. Both were necessary. But her arms were curled around his head almost protectively, and her fingers stroked through his hair.

“I have to go,” he grumbled, but spoiled it by kissing her again. Definitely a good bye kiss.

“M-hm,” she sighed, not helping at all, now with her lips pressed against his hair, touching kisses across his forehead, cradling his head with the lightest of touches. Of course she was stupendously strong, with all the arrogance that came from it, but this gentleness was new to him. As long as I don’t call her on it, he thought. Her robe was loosening around her, but she wasn’t moving off his lap, unwilling to end it, but unwilling to make a decision either. He made it for the both of them, easing her on her back, somehow winding up between her legs, able to kiss her without worrying she’d fall off his lap. He settled on top of her and touched her face, kissing his way across her face, her throat, pulling the petals of her robe aside to kiss her nipples. She wound her arms around his head and sighed into his hair, while her scent filled his nostrils and sent blood rushing through his veins. But she was so passive beneath him that he paused before kissing her again, cradled between her thighs with one hand on his belt buckle. He traced his thumb over her cheekbones and looked down into her eyes.

She was so strong. He didn’t think she even realized it, how brave she was. He’d never seen a fighter like her, and she was just as passionate in bed as he’d always thought she’d be. But it took a while for her to relax to it, as if affection was somehow alien. He cupped her face with one hand, and she sighed and nudged closer to his hand, making him wonder some more. Easing himself over her, he shifted his weight off her, propping his head on his hand, touching her face while she closed her eyes and squeezed her eyes shut. Her hands weren’t still, either; one hand roamed up and down his back, while the other touched his chest. Slowly, dreamily, she opened her eyes, and blinked up at him, drawing him to her, his weight easing down on top of her, her thighs opening to accommodate his hips. And he suddenly couldn’t move.

Two quick movements, and he would be inside her. It was good enough for someone who’d really hoped for much, but for a brief second there, he’d seen what he wanted in her eyes, and suddenly, he couldn’t accept anything less.

Oh, God. He took a shuddering breath, unable to move, seeing everything he’d ever wanted in her eyes. Tracing the outline of her face and her cheek did nothing to alleviate the shaking of his hands. Slowly, realization dawned in her eyes as he lay frozen on top of her, his erection between her legs, he still fully clothed, and she with her bathrobe falling open. Their relative vulnerability hit him, and he reached down to tug her robe shut. With that, the look in her eyes sharpened, and he realized he was in trouble. “God, I love you,” he whispered.

Don’t.

“It’s not going to stop being true if I stop saying it.”

Her face flushed and he realized that he had officially screwed it up. Badly. Why did he only see this type of thing afterward? There was no way he could go back to being what they’d been; the only way was forward. Unfortunately, this particular moment had not been a good time to suddenly act on this theory. “Buffy….” He shifted tentatively on top of her, and she winced. God, I’m going to pay for this, he thought. She put her hands on his chest and shoved, and yanked her robe together, rolling over on her side. He lay on his back and stared at her ceiling, noticing as he did a huge water stain on the plaster. How many nights did she lie there, worrying about the roof? He flung his arm over his face, and tried to not to hear her quiet---too quiet----breathing. “Buffy?”

No answer. The silence stretched out unbearably, and he faced her back, his hand hovering over her shoulder for centuries. She took a deep breath, and he could the raw sound of suppressed tension in that single breath. “Buffy?” He waited a few beats, then touched her hair.

She was shaking.

He scooted close to her, stroking her hair, unwilling to press and be rejected, not after getting so close. “I love you,” he whispered. Can’t she see that? Can’t she believe that? If he was anything to her but a fuck….She stiffened under his hand, and he knew then that there was nothing else he could do.

“I should go,” he said.

“What?” Buffy whispered, and then he realized he’d said exactly the wrong thing. He turned to her in a flash, but she was looking at her wall.

“You don’t want me here.” She swallowed at that. “Don’t want your friends to find out, do you? And if you don’t want it, I don’t want it, no matter what you’re thinking.” That’s what happens when you love someone, he thought bitterly. “Don’t want people to be…” he couldn’t find anything with which to finish that sentence. “Give you a chance to sort things out, okay?” He sat up wearily, and put himself in order. She adjusted her robe, now avoiding his eyes entirely. He swallowed, trying not to feel the sinking sensation in his stomach. Slowly, he got to his feet, as reluctantly as a weary old man. He pulled on his duster and shrugged it so that draped properly, turning at the windowsill to look at the bed. She’d curled up on the bed, facing him at least---that was a good sign, wasn’t it? Problem was, he regarded just being unstaked as a good sign. She looked so utterly miserable that he was swamped by pity. She’d been fighting things for so long, so efficiently, that it was hard for her to realize that some things weren’t hostile, just different. “Slayer.”

She looked at him, another good sign. “What?”

“I’m not forgetting,” he said firmly. Oh, fuck, she had that look on her face. The same look she’d had when she’d told him about her mum. It was all he could do not to crawl into bed and wrap her up in his body. Her eyes were huge and he hesitated forever at the windowsill. Maybe, he thought, she does believe it.

Maybe that’s the problem.



Chapter 3

Walking home from the mugging was an uncomfortable little experience. She’d half-expected Spike to show up, but he hadn’t. As a matter of fact, he hadn’t been around for at least a day or so, although she felt his presence around the edges of her vision. Maybe he was there, maybe he wasn’t. But what bothered her was the fact that she noticed.

After all, it had been a mistake. If enough time would just go by, they could get over it. Time. Months maybe. Except she kept replaying the aftermath in her head, doing it different. There were other things that came to mind, the Spike who held her hands while she blinked at him in shock, the Spike who took her drinking, and tried to make her feel better. Where had he gone?

It was all so confusing, and the person she’d gotten used to asking about confusion was Spike. If nothing else, he’d be blunt. But he’d become a friend, and one did not have sex with one’s friends. That thought was actually comforting. Sex with a friend. Oops. What if she’d had sex with Xander? Wouldn’t it be the same?

Her head hurt.

It would be fine if he would just shut up. Why couldn’t he see that? But Spike never shut up and she could never seem to find the words when he was around. When he was a friend, she felt relaxed, but now….Oh, it was too bright and shocking, trying to combine the memory of his skin under his hands, with the sensation of spinning that came from remembering his face as he told her how often he’d saved her life in his dreams. Further back, other memories crowded round, the vampire who’d dryly talked of soccer and Apocalypse, who’d scoffed at friendship and almost wept at lost love, and startled her at every turn. A dead thing who was more alive than any person who drew breath. Especially her.

Her head was hurting again.

At the front door, she was mildly startled to find that it was unlocked. Great. Maybe they needed to have another stab at a talk. She cringed at the memory, then considered. Same sense of discomfort there, she thought. Was this a clue? Maybe if she solved one puzzle, the other one would resolve itself, too.

"Will…?" She dumped her keys off by the door and snapped the lock, just in case. No Willow in the kitchen, living room, or dining room. "Will?"

"Oh, hey, Buffy." Willow was poking her head out of the bedroom door. "I thought I heard you."

"Yep, it’s me," Buffy answered perkily. "Whatcha doing?"

"I was….I was thinking about Amy."

"Oh…" Thinking about Amy would make a really good euphemism, Buffy thought. "Thinking what?"

"Just about all the mistakes I’ve made, you know." Willow sighed and slumped down on the bed. "Look at Amy---She used to be my friend, now she’s my pet."

"Willow---"

"Well, I do have to find a way to bring her back, you know," Willow said quietly. "She was my friend."

Buffy sat down next to her on the bed. "Willow, did you ever think that maybe some things just aren’t possible? It’s been a while since Amy was human. Wouldn’t it be sort of mean to..?" Seeing Willow’s obstinate look, she sighed and downshifted. "Maybe there’s just no way…"

"No, I don’t think it’s impossible! It can’t be." Willow said desperately. "She used to be a girl, Buffy. Now she’s…running on a wheel. It’s just not right."

Buffy picked at the coverlet. "Everything used to be different, Will."

"But it doesn’t mean its okay, Buffy, it just means it’s----What?"

"It’s just…" Buffy looked away. "I don’t know," she finished hopelessly.

They sat in silence for a moment. "Buff?"

"What?"

"I’m sorry I said that about Angel," Willow said quietly. "It’s so stupid, I know, the way I---"

"Stupid?"

"Well, okay, it was just sort of ---I was upset."

Buffy looked at her. "So when’s the next time you’re going to be upset?" Then she sighed. "Okay, now I’m sorry."

"No, no, that’s okay, I totally understand." Willow waved her hands in the air as if to dispel something. "Totally called-for. I shouldn’t have mentioned he-who-must-be-forgotten."

"It’s not so much he needs to be forgotten," Buffy said, "But he needs to be…dealt with, you know? I don’t know if I’ll ever manage to do that. It just feels unfinished."

"And I reminded you of it."

"Well, yeah, you did," Buffy said quietly. "And it wasn’t accidental."

"I’m sorry," Willow said softly. Buffy glanced up at her quickly.

"How are you today? Probably not the best time for a heart to heart talk, you know, last night and all."

"No, it was the best time." Willow squared her shoulders. "You’re the only person I know who kind of knows what I’m feeling."

"What? You mean, Angel leaving?"

Willow nodded, then quickly looked away. "If you don’t…"

"But…" Buffy was the one who took a deep breath. "Angel won’t ever come back. I think Tara will."

"Really?" Willow asked eagerly. Then, mournfully, she asked again, "Really?"

"He’s not coming back. Because, you know, it’s not like there’s not enough apocalypses…apocalypsii…apocalypso?—whatever!---already. Let’s risk one by, you know, getting involved again." Something nudged at the edge of that idea, but she resolutely shoved it away.

"You’re not over him?"

"No," Buffy said firmly. "Yes."

"How do you get over somebody?"

"I don’t know," Buffy said. "I’m not really good at it."

"But you’ve…" Willow said, then abruptly stopped.

"What?" Buffy patted her hand. "Go ahead. I’ve pretty much heard it all."

"Oh, no, no!" Willow muttered. "Why should you be good at it? It’s not like you did anything wrong. But…Riley… Riley just left. He just couldn’t…"

"Well…"

"I’m sorry," Willow shrugged uncomfortably. "I just never dated anybody who was awful to me, except for, well, Oz and that wolf girl, but, still----it was kind of the other way around. And with you, it’s exactly the opposite." She checked Buffy’s reaction. "I can do this either way, you know. Um, do you want me to be bitchy or understanding?"

"Bitchy’s good." Buffy said quietly.

"Okay….Well, Riley….You didn’t talk a lot about it."

Buffy looked around her mother’s room as if to find the answer. "He was hanging out with vampires." Funny, how it seemed like she’d been holding her breath for a long time on that one.

"He…what?"

"He was sort of cheating on me."

"You didn’t say anything."

"I couldn’t." Buffy said softly. "Not really. I’m supposed to know how to do…" She took a deep and shaky breath. "I can’t be unloading on my friends like that…I’m the Slayer, not…not…"

Willow was still looking at her with dawning shock on her face. "Oh, God, Buffy…"She reached out impulsively, and patted her hand. "You’re the Slayer, so what does that mean? All Slay, all the time? No, it doesn’t. You’re not the Slayer, you’re Buffy. Well, okay, you’re both. But not at once, sort of. Or maybe. Do you know what I mean?" She asked hopefully.

"Yes, I sort of do." Buffy said. "But what about you?"

"Me? Huh?" She looked down on her lap. "What do you…think about me?"

"What?"

"I just want to know."

"Will…"

"You’re my friend. But…"

"But?!"

"But…Maybe….maybe….you did say something last night."

"What?! I didn’t mean it, I was upset, I was…"

"You know what I did last night? I lay on my bed for a long time and I looked up at the ceiling." She looked down at her lap. "Do you think…?"

"What?"

"Well….You and Spike…"

Buffy froze as a wave of shock swept up her backbone. It was not helped by the way Willow was looking down at her own lap. "What?"

"You’ve been talking a lot to him, haven’t you?" If she wasn’t, why did she go all white, and then red?

"What makes you say that?"

"Well---" I heard you talking to him last night in your bedroom. "---It just makes me wonder if, if, I was a good friend---"

Buffy blinked.Why is it easier to talk to Spike than it is to her? I can’t possibly say that!

Can’t I?


"You are a good friend, Will, but---"

"No, I’m not," Willow said quietly. She’d rather be friends with a vampire than me.

"He died," Buffy said. "He knows what it’s like."

"Oh," Willow said quietly. "He’s not…?"

Oh, God, here it is. "Will..is it bad to be friends with him?"

"No! No, Buffy, no. It’s just that…the way he feels about you…."

"What?"

"Well, you know, I’d be kind of…Look, none of my business, okay? I’m sorry."

"No, no, you’re my friend, it’s totally okay. But I wouldn’t, you know…with Spike…anything…that would put you guys in danger…."

"Has he…?"

"What?"

"Well, he’s in love in you." Buffy slumped, then, as if she’d been deflated, and Willow wondered what she’d said.

"He doesn’t have a soul," Buffy said quietly.

"Well, no, but…"

"But?"

"Well, he was here," Willow said quietly. "All summer. Look at this way, Buffy. He was evil, and then he fell in love with you, and now he’s trying to be good. That’s…." At the sight of Buffy’s miserable face, her eyes widened. "That’s awful, it’s, uh, uh, really, really---"

"What about the Buffybot?"

"Well, okay, not something good, but, you know, evil vampire and everything, okay, formerly evil vampire, so maybe that should count…somewhere. Somehow."

"Why are we talking about this?"

"Well…" Willow swallowed. "Well…It just seems that I’ve been a really bad friend, and you know…Oh, God, I’m so sorry."

"You haven’t been a bad friend, you were just…just…you know, in love. Is that what you mean?"

Maybe, Willow thought. Maybe. Maybe not. Okay, maybe. That’s a good excuse. "You mean, spending a lot of time with Tara?" But you’ve been spending a lot of time with Spike, too, so…?

"No! No, I mean, it’s okay, you guys are in love, you want to spend time together…"

"So if it’s okay, why are you spending so much time with Spike?"

"Because he’s good to patrol with. Hey, I never said I was spending so much time with Spike. Besides, that’s not bad, is it? You did say it wasn’t bad."

"Well…Okay, I just have to ask you something? Okay? I just need to know."

Oh, God, Buffy thought.

"Are you---Are you spending time with Spike because, you know…Oh, God, this sounds so conceited, I’m so sorry, just ignore me…"

"What?"

"Well, if…I were… a.better friend….Wouldn’t you want to hang around with me? Instead? Unless of course, you…"

"No, no…! Uh…Uh…"On the one hand, it was the perfect excuse. On the other hand…It was dishonest. No! Not dishonest! No, perfect!

"Because, I totally understand, you know. I mean, if an evil vampire can…you know…become good, then a witch can, right? Right?"





Worst thing about the crypt now was that she was there constantly. Look at the chair, and he had to shake off the vision of her on his lap. The sarcophagus where he’d been sitting when she’d kissed him after the Glory debacle. He could practically smell her on his clothes.

Eventually, after he’d picked up and put down a half a dozen books, he couldn’t stand it anymore, and threw on his coat and left. Even when she’s here, she’s not here, but when she’s not here, she’s still here! Not bloody fair! The fact that he was heading slowly in the direction of her house was entirely accidental.

People wandered past him, not knowing who or what he was, and he wondered if they realized how lucky they were. He and Dru had been in Slayerless towns where doors got locked and barred at sunset, and still the population would be one or two less by daybreak. Here, people ambled innocently down the street, and the vamps that Buffy hadn’t dusted yet could only watch impotently from the darkness and snarl in frustration. The gits that lived here probably thought they were hearing stray cats or something.

Gradually, he noticed that there was an increase in foot traffic in a certain direction, and he began to follow it. Not like a bloke could go to Xander’s flat for some companionship, and…and…that was pretty much it for social options. Willow and the rest tolerated him for Buffy’s sake, and he doubted once the story got out they’d even do that much longer. Xander would probably leave vapor trails in his eagerness to find a stake with his name on it. Hell, he’d probably frame the thing once the deed was done and he was dust.

Back in the day, he’d stroll down these streets and vamps would cringe away from him. Now he got a curious glance or two from humans, and the vamps hid. Stupid people probably thought he was human as long as he wasn’t vamped out. People who took their safety for granted too long frequently lost that spidey sense. A group of college girls sped past him with a swirl of freshly-shampooed hair smell and tangy alcohol flavors. One of them tossed a glance back at him. When he didn’t react at all, she turned back to her friends and they sped off. Nice-looking girls, Buffy’s age, but just the sight of them made his chest tighten with irritation. Walking around safe, thanks to Buffy, and not a clue amongst them.

There was a crowd in front of the museum, and Sunnydale wasn’t exactly a big town for night time exhibits. An ocean of people-scents swamped him, like all different colors of ink whirling together down the drain, and he took a deep breath.

He knew she was there somewhere; he could smell her almost as easily as he could feel her presence now. The sensible thing to do was fade away before they had another Talk that left him scrambling for more Jack Daniels. Sensible, but the problem with sensible was that in his dictionary that meant merely going somewhere she was not.

He lit a cigarette to calm his nerves, and then nearly dropped it when she came out of the crowd, practically invisible because of her height. At the sight of her, he did drop it, but at least it gave him an excuse to look away. It almost seemed better to have her hate him, because at least then she wouldn’t have that tired, confused look on her face. Worst thing about it was everything he wanted seemed most likely to put that look on her face. It wasn’t that he liked her better happier; it just twisted his insides to see her so unhappy.

"’S okay, Slayer, I’m already leaving."

Buffy stood stunned for a moment, then shook her head. With some difficulty, her feet started moving, heading toward home. What was going on? After…that night….she expected another argument. Where was it? His lack of resistance sucked the wind right out of her sails and she floundered. Sarcasm she could cope with. Fighting she could cope with. Those were good things, familiar things. But without them, she had nothing to use her only skills against. When in doubt, use Joyce’s good manners.

"Um…I was—" her mind went blank "--going." Did he think she was leaving, because of him? She thought suddenly, panicking. "Really. Actually. All over. Here." She stopped, looking back toward the museum. "Yeah, it’s all over." She indicated this by waving a helpful arm in the museum’s general direction. "You can stay, if you want."

Big of you, he thought. He could only blink at her, fumbling to light another cigarette, worried now. Was she being nice to him? He searched her face intently. She caught his glance and crossed her arms, not having anything to do with her hands. Ah, yes. Being nice as long as they talked like polite strangers.

"Is there anything worth staying for?"

"Someone got frozen," Buffy said cautiously. She braced herself for the impending Serious Talk, but Spike merely raised an eyebrow and inhaled thoughtfully. Ah, carcinogens.

"Frozen?"

"Frozen," Buffy repeated. Definitely not a Serious Talk here, which was good. To indicate the absence of desire for a Serious Talk, she repeated herself. "Frozen!"

"Huh," Spike said speculatively. "Guess the Humancicle franchise has arrived in Sunnydale."

Buffy grimaced. "It didn’t look like a vamp to me." Vampires. Good. Just not this vampire.

"No marks?"

"No marks," she agreed.

"Anything else there?"

"A big huge diamond got stolen."

"Better check out Frosty the Snowman’s alibi, then."

They both looked at the ground, terrified at the prospect of laughter.

"I’ll just have to hitch up Donner and Blixen and do that, then," Buffy said gamely.

"Uh…Well…" His mind was totally blank. Every word he’d ever learned in his life and unlife appeared to have evaporated from his head. Desperately, he tried to keep the awkward conversation going. "Say hello to Santa." Oh, Christ, he thought. Quickly, he forged on ahead to cover up his lapse into lameness. "And Dawn," he added with relief.

"You could say so yourself." Buffy blurted. They stared at each other. "Oh, shit," She said suddenly and he took a step back, certain she could hear his heart sinking all the way down to his boots. Once again, he sidestepped the opportunity for sarcasm, taking a deep breath, and saying something polite.

"No, that’s okay…"

"No, no, it’s just that I think she’s with Tara. You know, movie and stuff." Must say something about Tara and Willow breaking up, she thought. Except they were breaking up around us, that night, and if I mention that, I have to think about what… "Tara and Willow broke up."

"Did they? The magic thing?" She didn’t know how to take that. How had he seen that while she’d missed it?

"How did you…?"

He shrugged, lighting another cigarette, turning away from her so he didn’t blow smoke in her face. "Willow likes it a bit too much. Couldn’t believe she’d talk to Giles that way."

"Yeah, or anybody…" Buffy said quietly. She took a step away, smoothing her hair down.

"She hasn’t been saying things to you, has she, pet?" And then Spike flinched, having said precisely the wrong thing. They’d been talking while he’d gotten dressed, hadn’t they? Good thing to remind her of, no matter how obliquely.

"Oh." Buffy took a deep breath. "Well, you know…Good and bad stuff, you know." She looked at him out of the corners of her eyes. "Balances out, at least once I’ve gotten the good half to go with the bad half, you know?"

Where am I in all this? Spike thought. Am I the good or the bad? He dropped the cigarette and stubbed it out in the dust.

If there’s hope for a vampire, Buffy thought suddenly, maybe there’s hope for a witch, too. She stared at him openly. Sounds like a theory for a change, instead of an excuse. Is that what this is? Hope? She’d been tired ever since she got back, too tired just trying to form any emotion, much less go over the top and tackle the big emotions. It was like being starved for so long that one lost the sense of hunger with one’s strength. The pleasure of eating disappeared entirely.

"So…the good half is Dawn getting out of the house?"

"Well, yeah, I mean for her, it’s good. You know, get out more."

They both nodded at that. It was indisputable. And it was a conversation killer. "So!" Buffy exclaimed. "You, uh, never heard of a demon that, uh, freezes things? And people?"

Things were going so well as long as they kept the conversation neutral that he decided to try something daring---and slightly personal. "Well, Clem likes to freeze Milky Ways and----Ah, no."

"Um, maybe I should go check his place for diamond?"

"He’s more of a cubic zirconia type of demon, really." Spike debated lighting another cigarette because it gave him something to do with his hands. But what if the unthinkable happened, and there was kissing?

"Um…Do demons have, like, birthstones?"

"You mean…?" He bowed his head, but it was useless; a mental image of Clem with earrings had surfaced in his head, and he had to laugh softly at it. Buffy looked away quickly, crossing her arms again. The hairs on her arms were standing up. That low sexy laugh that he never seemed to use around the Scoobies—again. "There’s a thought."

"Yeah, there’s an opportunity."

Behind them, the ambulance pulled away slowly, the guard inside briefly visible through the windows. "If I were Frosty the Diamond Demon, I don’t think I’d pick Sunnydale for my base of operations," Spike said. "Doesn’t make much sense, does it?"

"No, it doesn’t. There wasn’t even, like, a trail of drops of water."

"Think it was humans?"

"But it’s so lame!" Buffy exclaimed. "If they just wanted a diamond, why not just…?"

"Why make it look like a demon?" Spike said dryly. "Unless, maybe….they wanted to, what? Scare off the cops? They’d fall for that."

"You know, if it were really Frosty the Demon, wouldn’t there be something weird about the ice?"

"Should be," Spike said. "Think you could, somehow…Find out what it is?"

"Willow could. You think it’s humans? Really?"

"Well, yeah, demons just tend to take the direct route. And they’re not jewelry fanciers."

"Just kittens," Buffy blurted. Oh, shit. That sounded flirtatious. See what happens when you get too comfortable? See? Stop!

He looked up at her slyly, head lowered, eyelashes dark against his skin. "I figured you were so drunk you’d forgotten that."

"Oh, you’re not that lucky," Buffy said dryly, then clapped her hand over her mouth. "Sorry…" She muttered. Undeterred, her mouth went on without her brain. "I’m just going to save that one till there’s the perfect opportunity for blackmail." Horrified, her eyes bugged out and she gulped. Rewind! Rewind!

"And I was going to apply for the night shift at the pound. Bloody hell." Buffy actually smiled at that, but it was followed by a shiver.

"So…" She swallowed. "Think it’s humans? Trying to look like demons?"

Spike shrugged. "Could be, but why? Not like it’s bloody Scotland Yard here."

"Sounds like somebody has too much time on their hands." He gave her a long look, then, and she flushed. "I mean…You know? Why not just take the diamond? Why try and make it look like a demon, when the cops are too stupid to even…"She chewed her lip.

"What’s the important thing here?" Spike asked reasonably.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, what have you got? Frosty the snow demon steals a diamond in eighty degree weather? And doesn’t melt in a puddle? When the bloody cops ‘round here couldn’t find their bums with both hands and---"

"Ahem."

"Okay, well----Why bother if they just want to keep the cops confused? What if it’s not the cops they’re worried about? What if it’s…you?"

"That’s not making me feel better."

"Yeah, well, forewarned and all."

"Great," Buffy muttered. "It’s not the stuff I can see coming that scares me, you know? It’s the stuff I never expected." As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she flushed miserably.

"There’s not just bad accidents, pet," Spike said quietly. His throat was so full he couldn’t look at her and choke out the words at the same time. There’s me.

"Accidents aren’t good." Buffy said quietly. Why did he have to do this? Why did he have to do things for her, little kindnesses, that she wasn’t even aware she’d missed?

In answer, he could only swallow his regret and gesture weakly at her house. Somehow, walking, they’d arrived at her walk without being aware of it. "Didn’t intend to walk you home, did I?" He asked with a crooked smile. She still wasn’t looking up from her toes. Finally, she swallowed and squared her shoulders, then turned her face up to him, her expression almost frighteningly like Joyce’s.

"And—" her voice was a spare little whisper. "----you didn’t intend to see Dawn, did you?"

"No," he said quietly, taking what he could get. "Didn’t you say…?"

"Well…She should be home soon, right?"

Why are you asking me? "And you?"

"I have to figure out Frosty."

"Which means…Dr. Seuss?"

"Research."

Ah. And a good excuse to go to the Magic Box. Away from me.

They only just reached the door before it flew open and Willow stood in the doorway. "Hey, did you hear about the…Spike?"

"Yes," Buffy said gravely. "Yes, I have." Willow looked from Spike to Buffy, then back to Spike. He’d been less scrutinized at international borders.

"Oh...hi. Spike."

"Red."

Willow looked at Spike as if she couldn’t quite recognize him, then turned to Buffy. Abruptly, she realized she was staring, whirled around and headed back inside. Spike gestured for Buffy to go first, and not till she’d actually done it did she realize what a, well, date-like gesture it was. Goosebumps rose on her arms again and she wrapped them around herself. No one noticed. Leading them down the hall, Willow continued to chatter, as if stopping for breath would mean stopping for thinking, too. "I, uh, made some Koolaid, because Dawn likes it, and I baked some---"

"She back yet?" Spike asked hopefully.

"No." Willow said softly. "Out with Tara."

Is there such a thing as a comfortable silence? Buffy thought suddenly. "Well, so we’ll have cookies—"

"I didn’t even tell you that yet," Willow said quietly. Good old Willow, she thought. Predictable me.

"I could smell them," Buffy said, her voice small. "I love chocolate macadamia."

The two girls looked at each other, both big eyed and uncertain.

"I made red Kool-Aid," Willow said helpfully. "Dawn likes it. And Spike---it’s red."

Spike looked at her as if she’d sprouted a second head. "R—red?"

"Red, you know."

"Red." Inside his head, he could feel the last little bit of patience snapping like a matchstick. "Red?"

"Well, Dawn likes it, and I figure…"

"Oh, for fuck’s sake!" Spike exclaimed. "Would you bloody kiss and make up? It’s driving me fucking mad!"

"What?" Both turned to him, and both were annoyed. Well, good, he thought. At least that’s movement. "What did you say?"

"Just have it out already! Something’s bugging the two of you and I can practically smell it!"

"Ew, Spike. That’s---"

"Yeah, it’s…It’s…" Willow looked profoundly uncomfortably. None of the words that came to mind seemed appropriate. Perceptive? Accurate? And impossible? Damn Spike. She just didn’t have any more apologies left in her at the moment. Maybe one could regenerate over night, but right now, she was tired with of feeling sorry and uncertain.

Despite his mood, he had to enjoy the momentary feeling of accomplishment. He glanced from one to the other, gauging his success. Who knows, maybe if they were pissed off at him, at least they wouldn’t be pissed off at each other. Buffy, for one, had stopped looking uncertain and had started looking seriously pissed. "Chip, remember? Don’t hit me."

"Are you afraid of us?" She asked incredulously.

"Afraid of you two? No, I’m afraid if I laugh that much, I’ll hurt myself." He took a careful step backward, just in case. "But would you two just get over it? Or else, if you’re going to be mad at each other, could you throw things? Insults? Something fun to watch? Anything but this stuff."

"What do you know about it?" Willow demanded.

"I know what it’s like to want to say something," Spike said quietly. "Just say it, then. It can’t be worse than not saying it." He backed another careful step away, too. God help him if they ever got those synchronized periods he kept hearing about. Luckily, snagging a cookie gave him a perfect excuse to get further away from there. With his mouth full, he watched as the girls alternately looked up, down, and away. "Just don’t say it in front of me, that’s all I ask. I’m not in the mood for girlish confidences."

"Wow," Willow said finally. "That was just---" She shook her head at him. "That was so guy-like."

"Hey!"

"Well, it was. You couldn’t have worked a jockstrap joke in there somewhere, too? That would have moved you up the scale to, like, actually obnoxious."

"No thanks, pet, not much in favor of head injuries." He hopped up on the counter, snatching another cookie as he went.

"Are you coming with?" Buffy asked.

"Are you guys doing research on Frosty?"

"Yes."

"And Dawn will be here?"

"Yes."

It just wasn’t possible that she’d let him stay in the house. It wasn’t. "Then…" he breathed, "I’ll just stay here and wait."

"Don’t eat all the cookies," Willow said.

"It won’t take that long, your research," Spike said disdainfully. "I’m telling you, I don’t think it’s a demon."

"What’s a demon?"

"Martha Stewart," Buffy said, grabbing a cookie. "Spike thinks it’s either somebody trying to look like a demon did it, or else…Or else?"

"Just my luck, there’ll be a drag queen demon I forgot about," Spike said. Another cookie down the hatch. "We didn’t bet on it or anything, did we?"

"No," Buffy shook her head, the slightest of smiles on her face. Probably the cookies, he thought. "No, you don’t owe me anything."

"Or vice versa," Spike suggested.

Willow glanced from one to the other, then shook her head just slightly and headed toward the front door. Buffy hesitated, looking down at the floor, then almost at him, then toward the front porch. "Don’t let Dawn eat all the cookies, okay?"

"Like she’d have a chance. These are pretty good. Got any beer?"

"Giles might have left some."

"Ugh. Giles’ taste."

"Giles’ money," Buffy said without thinking, and Spike, already opening the fridge, paused, all the light going out of his eyes. God, when he got that look on his face, it took all her Slayer strength not to---"…and, uh….uh…Giles doesn’t have enough money to, to, make up for----"

Spike took a swig of beer, then hopped back up on the counter. He didn’t try and stop her. He just wanted to savor the way she thought she’d hurt his feelings, and was trying to make it all better. "Slayer…?" Her mouth stopped moving mid-syllable, and she looked at him as if her train of thought had not just derailed, but crashed.

"Yeah?"

"If the beer’s that awful, I’ll just take it off your hands."

Oh, crap. He was doing it again. That low, caressing voice that she didn’t so much hear as she felt, like his lips at her ear, or his hand on her skin. She could feel herself flushing. And suddenly she was annoyed. He was using that voice on her, and it was about beer. It just wasn’t fair! She could reasonably avoid conversations about, well, sex, or whatever, but he kept trotting out that voice on her when she least expected it, on subjects that had nothing to do with sex at all. Damned vampire.

"You do that," she said lamely. "Protect the world from bad beer."

"I’ll try."

They were left looking at each other across the kitchen, till Willow gave an explosive sigh from the front door. "Buffy?!"

"Yeah, I’m coming." With another almost-glance at him, she hesitated a bit, and then headed out. He waited till the door slammed, then checked the kitchen clock. What were the chances she’d come back to check on him?

Minutes ticked by, and he ate another cookie; Willow’s preferred form of self-medication wasn’t all that bad, at least if you were a bystander. He looked around the kitchen. Nothing much had changed since Joyce’s death, and he wondered if that was deliberate. Still the same scrupulously neat kitchen, everything in place, as if Joyce herself would walk in the room and tell him to get off the counter or else hand her the tea while he was up there. He reached up, seized by a sudden idea, and pulled the cupboard open. Yes, there it was, those fruity herbal teas that Joyce had liked. So American, he thought, and with that he slid down off the counter. Probably gone flat after so long, because he doubted Giles would deign to drink such crap, and Buffy wasn’t a tea drinker.

He wandered down the hall, idly straightening a picture as he went, to look out the door. No sign of the Slayer or Willow, so evidently the Slayer hadn’t had second thoughts about leaving him alone in her house.

No sign of Tara or Dawn, either, so he settled down on the couch, remote in hand, and clicked on the TV. One thing a century could teach you would be the necessity of patience.





"What was Spike talking about?"

"Huh?" Buffy lifted her eyes from the sidewalk. Please, God, not another talk. I’ve got my limits.

"About the Frosty thing? What was that? Some kind of inside joke?"

"Whuh--? No, there was no inside joking going on. None. It’s just that there was something at the museum. They found the security guard frozen, and there was a big diamond stolen."

"Frozen?" Thank you, thank you, thank you, Buffy thought, watching as Willow went into Willow with-a-science-question-mode.

"Yeah, as in Frosty, you know, of tacky holiday TV fame."

"That’s sort of cute."

"But not for the guard."

"Of course, it’s sort of stupid, too. Was the guard, you know----" She raised her eyebrows.

"No. He might have a pretty bad cold when he wakes up, though."

"So you think it was..a demon? A frost demon in Sunnydale?"

"No, not really. Spike thinks it’s human."

"Why go to all that effort? It’s so pointless. They broke into the museum, and got the diamond, why not just leave?"

"I don’t know, yet," Buffy said with a deep breath. "But I’ll bet you one thing."

"What?"

"Whoever did this, they are so male."

Willow grinned at that, and for a minute, nothing had changed. Buffy smiled tentatively, and then Willow threw up a hand at the door of the Magic Box. A shower of gold sparks opened the door for them, and Buffy’s smile faded away. "Research time," she said quietly. And Willow, behind her, was confused and more than a little miffed at the change. Now what? She thought irritably, but there was no asking that question. I’m sick of baking cookies, she thought. I’m just sick of this.

There were almost no customers in the shop at this time of night, and Xander and Anya were already at the table, coffee cups at their elbows. As the gold sparks dissipated behind her, Willow saw they had almost identical expressions on their faces, a slightly wary look. With a sinking feeling, she realized what she was facing. I’m sick of people not liking me doing magic, but what’s worse? My friends looking at me like this?





"It was so totally cool when that guy threw the knife and the other guy did that thing with the sword! I totally want to do that in real life. Like Buffy."

"Buffy knows how to use do that?" Tara asked curiously.

"Oh, yeah, she can use all sorts of weapons. Just probably not around you, all the time. But it looks like so much fu---Hey, is she home? The lights are on." Dawn tried to peer through the curtains, but all she could see was the light in the living room. "Huh." She opened the door, and was just about to call to her sister, when a grunt from the living room made her smile. Spike was surfacing beneath a pillow, blinking and with his hair sticking up in all directions. "Hey, Spike, what are you doing?"

"I was fine before you woke me up," he grumbled, yawning. He groaned and sat up, boots thumping to the carpet, while Tara hovered at the door, and Dawn came over to give him a hug. He submitted to being hugged, then shoved Dawn toward the kitchen. "There’s cookies, there, Niblet, if I haven’t eaten them all. Tara," he nodded at her. "I don’t bite. Well, not anymore."

"No, I know. You just look really irritable right now."

"Too many cookies," he said dryly. "Does it to me everytime."

"Vampire indigestion?"

"Something like that." He bowed his head and scrubbed his hands through his hair, blinking and yawning at the floor. When he lifted his head, she found herself noticing how blue his eyes. Blue as a human’s, she thought. "Heard about you and Willow. Shame about that."

She glanced up at the kitchen door before replying. "Yeah, it is." She looked down at her hands. "I don’t know what to think, really. I just knew what I had to do, though."

"Magical stuff?"

"How did you----?"

"Heard her talking to Giles when he came back. Didn’t really sound like the Willow I used to know."

"The one you tried to kill?" He looked so abashed at that, that she reached out and impulsively grabbed his arm. "Sorry, force of habit."

"Wonder if that had something to do with it, you know?"

"What do you…mean?"

"Well, what you said." He sighed again, staring across the carpet. "The old Willow, well, she wouldn’t have pulled Buffy out of heaven. She’d have dealt with it, she’d have grieved. This Willow---she wants things the way she wants them."

"Including me," Tara said softly.

"Dunno what to tell you, luv." He gave her a frank once-over with his eyes than on another man would have been crude, but on Spike seemed merely wicked. "Can’t fancy changing an inch, myself."

"Yeah, but to you," Tara said dryly, "I’m dessert."

Spike smiled then, and she wondered for a moment if she was seeing something that Buffy saw. "More like a meal."

"So how far do you want to take this metaphor?"

"I think it’s about done."

"So…?"

"So what?"

"So…" Tara sat down on the opposite end of the sofa. "How goes the Buffy thing?"

"The Buffy thing?"

"You two have been spending a lot of time together."

Spike turned and looked at her, then swiftly turned and studied the fireplace. "And..so?"

"Just asking, Spike. Maybe ending a relationship makes you curious about other relationships."

Spike cleared his throat nervously, but the fireplace offered absolutely no conversational inspiration. "What makes you think there’s a re----" The word caught in his throat. "---lationship?"

She studied her hands for minute. "Maybe I don’t, Spike. Maybe it’s stupid to think that I could know anything about relationships, after the mess I made of this one----"

"Hey, now----"

"But I have eyes." He was all set to go into defensive, denial mode, but her gentle tone seemed to deflate his shell. "Maybe I’m just jealous."

"Why would you be jealous of me?" He waved that off without a second thought. "And Buffy? You don’t know the half of it. Slayer saves the world over and over again, doesn’t even get an allowance for it, has to work herself to death just to keep this bloody house going, and…What?"

"You worry about her a lot, don’t you?"

"Somebody’s got to," he grumbled.

"Maybe that’s something to be jealous of. Somebody who thinks that love means putting someone else first."

"Well, I don’t," he muttered. "Just think about her, that’s what I do. Don’t know what you’re going on about."

"Never mind, Big Bad," Tara said dryly, but she was smiling at him in a way that made him duck his head away.

"Never mind what?" Dawn asked. "Is there anything good on TV?"





"Ripley’s Believe it or Not?"

"Nada." Buffy put the book on the growing pile of Books That Were No Damned Help at All. The pile was depressingly huge and occupied half the table. Zippo.

"The Daemonarium?"

"Again with the zilch."

"And…uh…that one?" Willow gestured at something under Buffy’s elbow. American Bride. Buffy grimaced.

"Lots of demons, but no Frosty." She thumped the book onto the loser pile, and sighed dejectedly.

"Well, I just didn’t find anything on the Internet, either…"Willow muttered, and looked accusingly at her now-closed laptop.

Uh oh, Buffy thought. Yes, Willow and the Internet. Willow had not, technically, done the searching herself; she had used magic to do so, after giving the three of them an almost defiant look. And really, it had taken just about as long doing it magically as it would have doing it any other way, so she had to wonder what the allure of the magic method was. Once again, she found herself avoiding Willow’s eyes, and thinking about their conversation earlier. If there’s hope for a vampire, maybe there’s hope for a witch…She winced, realizing she still hadn’t even brought up the subject of sex with Spike with Willow yet.

"So now what?"

"Giles?" Willow suggested.

"He’d still be in bed," Buffy said quietly. "I’ll have to call him tomorrow."

"Well…" Xander said. "Isn’t it important to find out what it is?"

"I think Spike’s right," Buffy said. "I don’t think it’s a demon. If it is, it’s probably melted by now."

"Spike’s right about something?" Xander said skeptically. "Excuse me, the world is tilting. What was he right about?"

"He, uh, thought, the demon was human, actually. Because there really isn’t anything like a frosty—frost," she corrected herself. "Because there really isn’t anything like a frost demon." She found herself looking into Xander’s eyes. "But I was thinking that myself anyway."

"Oh, you were? When did Spike tell you this, anyway?"

"Um, it must have been when we were conducting that wild affair behind your back, Xander."

"Hey, Buff," he said, raising his hands. "Just a little concerned here."

"About what?"

"He’s concerned about you spending so much time with Spike," Anya said helpfully. "And not us."

"Well, yeah," Xander said reluctantly. There was an exchange of irritated glances going back and forth. "I mean, you’re my best friend, you’ve been through a lot, and Spike, well, we know what he feels about you."

"It’s nice that you’re concerned, Xander, but…" But? She thought, and then her mind really and truly did derail. But what? Did she have something to explain to Xander? Did she have an excuse she had to make? What had she been about to say? "..But Spike has been a really good friend lately, and—and---"

"Well, you have to be careful, Buff---"

"Why?" She stood up and cracked her neck. Doing research in uncomfortable chairs never got any easier. Anya had in fact picked the chairs so that people would not find them comfortable enough to sit in for long, thereby speeding up their purchases, and exits. "What do you think he’s going to do?" Kiss me and talk to me, and---all the other stuff? She shook that thought off with some effort and tried to focus.

"I don’t know, Buff---chain you up, build a robot that looks like you, and steal your underwear?"

Buffy hesitated for just a second, something in his statement making her Slayer sense ping. Then the desire to fight back flared, and she forgot about it in the joy of the punch line.

"Or he could, you know, watch my sister for me, even after I died, get tortured by a God, and---" Kiss me and hold me and----

"Xander?" Anya said, taking his arm. "You’re losing. Give up, because I still need to figure out the bridesmaids’ dresses."

"Hey," Xander said, holding up his hands. "I’m just saying…"

No, you’re not, Buffy thought. You’re not saying anything at all. She looked around the table. All the disapproval that had been surreptitiously directed earlier at Willow was now focused on her, and the thought of confronting them as a group made her quail. "I have to go and check on Dawn." Meaning, she thought, I have to leave to go check on Dawn, even though I could just call her. The fact that Spike should still be at the house has nothing to do with it.

At all.

Zippo.

They all watched as she quietly closed the door behind her. "Good job, Xander," Willow said.

"What?!"

"That stuff about Spike."

"Well, am I wrong?"

"I don’t know," Willow said. "But she’s better when she’s around him."

"What do you mean, better?"

"She’s more…animated, I guess. More cheerful."

"He’s Spike," Xander said. "I wonder if she’ll mention that to Giles when she calls him."

"Xander, did you ever think that maybe Buffy’s not the only one who’s a little different, now?"

"What do you mean?" He glanced uncomfortably at Anya, then away.

"Well, Buffy’s been really, really quiet since she got back. Not good. And Spike makes her feel better."

"Did anyone go to a real bad place for a minute?"

"Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing if we all changed a little." Willow said, quietly.

"Sometimes change is bad," Xander said softly. Anya spoiled it, however, by clutching his arm comfortably, and smiling.

"But sometimes change is good, too," Anya said. "I mean, look at me, human! And engaged."

"She’s our friend, Xander. " Willow said.

"She’s our friend who hangs out with a vampire."

"Yeah, because that’s so out of character for Sunnydale," Willow said sharply, getting up. She started gathering books together to put them away. "I mean, what’s next, Xander? Witches?" She looked pointedly at Anya. "Demons?"

"That’s different."

"You know what, Xander?" She put the books down with a thump. "I just don’t care, okay? I screwed up bringing Buffy back, doing spells, I know that. I do. But when I find out what will make her happy, I’ll do it, or whatever, no matter what."

"Even if it’s Spike? You wouldn’t have a problem with that?"

"What I’d have a problem with is making Buffy unhappy." Willow said softly. "I’ve already done that once. Or more times, I don’t know. I don’t want to know. I just want to make it better."

Xander got up, stepping away from the table. "If you really want to make Buffy happy, you might want to think about avoiding spells."





Buffy flopped down on her bed and pulled her pillow over her face. On hot nights like this, it made no sense to do so, but she liked the feel of the cool side of the pillow. It also served to protect her from further thoughts. The Buffy Summers form of therapy; self-smothering. Anything to protect her from thinking, from too many thoughts. Thoughts about Willow, thoughts about Dawn, thoughts about Spike, who had hovered uncomfortably only for a moment and then stepped out for a smoke. He’d been outside for a good fifteen minutes already, and the longer he was out there, the harder it got to put thoughts of Stalker Spike out of her mind. But what if he was just so damned uncomfortable with her discomfort that he couldn’t bear being around her?

A mature, home-owning adult would put it behind her, Buffy thought. That is all. I will put this behind me. We had sex, we didn’t sacrifice kittens or anything.

Kittens?

Kittens.

Her Slayer sense was pinging again, but that was all; she just couldn’t put her finger on what it was that kept nagging at her. It was like a word that was on the tip of one’s tongue; the more one kept pressing to remember it, the more it slipped away. And she was trying very hard, because it kept her mind off Spike. It seemed that took most of her mental energy.

She studied the water spot on her ceiling and had to close her eyes abruptly. The last time she’d paid any attention to that spot, it had been seen behind Spike’s shoulder as he slid inside her. When she closed her eyes, she saw everything again; the moment he stripped off his tee shirt, the way they’d both tried to shove his pants off and had wound up getting them only just far enough, and the way he stared into her eyes as he slid inside her. Just as she’d feared, she found herself replaying that moment again, the way she had stared down as his cock slid inside her, the way his muscles tensed all through his body as he tried to keep control of himself.

Her throat was suddenly, painfully dry.

Okay, so good sex, definitely. She’d had good sex, what was wrong with that? Good sex with the wrong person, that was what. Great, Buffy thought. I am now officially schizophrenic. I am having an argument with myself.

If that was good sex, what have I been doing? And if he was the wrong person, who with?

She rolled to her feet and yanked her clothes off, pulling on her pajamas with sharp, impatient movements. Her robe was still in the hamper after the..incident…but she grabbed a sweatshirt and pulled it on over her camisole. She hesitated at the door, watching the curtains ripple in the breeze. Was that smoke?

Just checking,
she thought. That’s all I’m doing.

Spike was still standing up the tree, staring away from the house, a curl of smoke floating up. What was he looking at? The thought hit her, then, with a curious feeling of foreboding; he’s thinking about it, too. What happened if they wound up thinking about it at the same time?

Spike turned around and looked up at her, and she tried to compose herself. This would be so much easier if I hadn’t seen him naked, she thought. And now cannot stop thinking about it. He lifted a hand, but she had to hesitate for a moment before waving weakly, trying to act like someone who hadn’t just been picturing him naked.

Down below, Spike paused before re-entering the house, piqued by the look on her face. What’s wrong? He mouthed up at her.

Just like him to be worried at the exact wrong moment, she thought. She shook her head at him and turned away, hoping he’d take the hint, but at the door the sound of something brushing the windowsill startled her and she turned to see Spike nimbly hopping to the floor. He froze at the look in her suddenly wide eyes, then swallowed convulsively as she sagged back against the door. All the blood in his body seemed to rush to his head, then, and he couldn’t stop himself. Somehow they met in the center of the room, his hands on her face, hers on his chest, the kiss hard and urgent. For a moment, they were equal in desperation, tongues weaving and parrying, till Buffy pulled back with a gasp. "I can’t," she whispered. "I can’t." This might have been more believable if she hadn’t immediately kissed him again, winding an arm around his neck as she did so.

"Okay," Spike said raggedly. He touched his forehead to hers. "Why?"

"I can’t," she repeated quietly. "I just…this is awful."

Hurt, he stared at her, and then watched as her eyes suddenly swam with tears. "Buff? What?" He lifted his hands from her face and sagged back against the wall. "Is it..?" He swallowed, gesturing at the room. "…Is it this? With me?"

She stood a foot in front of him, practically wringing her hands. "No," she whispered. "Not you." She spread her arms in a gesture of utter frustration, looking at his chest. He wasn’t that much taller than her and she already knew how well they fit together in other ways. Standing in his arms, she’d noticed how nice it was not to be overwhelmed by someone’s size, unlike her prior experiences. She looked at his chest again, flushing as she remembered the way he’d laid his head on her breasts, wondering what it would feel like to just lay her head and her burdens on his shoulder for a minute. With a deep breath, she raised her eyes to his face again, knowing that if nothing else had aroused his sarcasm, certainly the idea of her bawling on his shoulder would probably do the trick. When she lifted her eyes to his again, though, there was no sarcasm in his face, nothing but worry. She knew that one of the things he liked so much about her was the fact that she was the Slayer. The fact that she was instinctively concealing her weak moments from him didn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, mean that she liked being liked. No siree.

He leaned forward and kissed her again gently and she forgot about being Slayer strong. She melted against him, arms sliding around him as if they belonged there. He pulled back and leaned his head against the wall, looking down at her with an expression so sober that she wondered if she’d ever seen it before. "This isn’t easy for you, is it?"

"This?" She whispered.

"This," he repeated.

"No…No, it’s…not." She looked down again, feeling his lips against her forehead, letting herself drift with the feeling of doing nothing but leaning on him, as his thumb traced circles on her shoulder. It was so gradual she was barely aware of relaxing till her forehead rested on his shoulder. No thinking, she thought. I am absolutely not going to think about this.

"Buffy?"

Buffy stiffened abruptly. Had she really been standing there, with Spike, taking his comfort, letting him see her like that?

"Just a second, Dawn." She couldn’t meet his eyes, knowing what she’d see there. She kept her eyes on the floor when she went to the door, unlocking it and opening. She opened it enough to poke her head out. "Are you going to bed?"

"Yeah, you too?" Dawn looked at her. "Are you okay?"

"Oh, you know, just tired."

"Get some rest," Dawn said impishly. "I don’t want to have to be, you know, the mature one in the family."

"Night, Dawn."

"Night."

With a sigh, she turned back to Spike, leaning silently against the window frame. "Hey, wait till I get PMS," she sniffed. "Mom and Dawn and I used to get it all at once."

"Do you miss her?"

"Mom?" She sniffed again. "Yeah, especially with the way things have been lately. There’s just some stuff you can only talk about with your mom."

"She was lovely," Spike said quietly. "You’re a lot like her, you know."

"No, I’m not---am I? She was so mature." It was some measure of her discomfort that the topic of Joyce, always sure to make her emotional, was infinitely safer than the topic of her being a crybaby.

Spike looked into her eyes. "She was decent," he said finally. "Even to me."

Buffy smiled suddenly. "You know? She liked you." She had to look down on the ground to keep her smile from becoming huge. "She never liked Angel much."

Spike grinned at that, shaking his head and looking down at his feet. Finally, he looked up at her. "Can you tell me that again tomorrow?"

Buffy had to smile at that, at the wicked gleam in his eye. Crisis successfully averted, she thought. "I’ll think about it."

He ducked out the window then, and she flopped onto her bed, hugging her pillow to her chest. I need new therapy, she thought resentfully. Mr. Pillow isn’t working anymore.



Author’s note: This chapter just got too long, so I decided to post a short chapter and then a really long one. I just couldn’t fit everything in, and it now looks like my estimate of five chapters was not accurate.



Chapter 3 1/2

“Dawn!”

“Coming!”

There were a series of thumps from upstairs that made her wince, followed by Dawn’s door slamming, and then a yelp as Dawn grabbed at it too late. She’d grown so much over the summer that she hadn’t gotten used to herself yet, and as a result, she spent the vast majority of her time tripping, stumbling, and knocking into defenseless objects. She’s never going to be a cat burglar, Buffy thought, and stored up the remark for later sibling warfare. A glance out the kitchen door located no trail of debris, so she aimed her next yell directly up the stairs. “Dawn! School!” (That was redundant. Where else would she be going at eight o’clock on a Tuesday morning? The monster truck show?) “Hurry!” (No, by all means, go at the speed of molasses, so I can then have another incredibly uncomfortable chat with your counselor, who looks at me the way I look at cholesterol.)

She turned back into the kitchen, just in time to catch Willow’s sigh. Buffy shrugged in response, rolling her eyes in the age-old gesture of I-was-so-not-like-that-when-I-was-her-age.

“So where did Dawn get the procrastination gene?” Willow ventured. Conversation! Between friends! Look, ma, no hands!

“I’m blaming all character flaws on Dad’s side of the family,” Buffy said. Including kissing vampires? That’s kind of a stretch.

“Good choice.When did you decide to do this?”

“When the support check did not arrive on time for the second month in a row,” Buffy said quietly.

“Oh.” Willow poked nervously at the frying pan’s contents. “So why don’t you call him and---?”

“Too much role reversal for me already.” Buffy squirmed, wishing a demon would choose that particular moment to attack. “I just couldn’t---“ With a thump, Dawn skidded through the kitchen door and stumbled to a stop.

“Couldn’t what? Oh! Omelet? Can I have some?”

“Sure you can,” Willow said, turning the burner down. Buffy contemplated her omelet less state, and wondered if she should be the one doing the cooking. However, Willow was better at it. She eyed her friend carefully, remembering Willow’s disappointment at the whole cookie fiasco the previous evening. Should she praise the omelet, or was it better to ignore it, because it was such a sign of reliability? And why couldn’t Willow just be happy she was good at something? As opposed to me, who keeps kissing this vampire and then getting all---

Willow set a plate for Dawn, then looked at Buffy, standing indecisively at the island. “Buffy? Want some?”

“Sure.” With something like horror, Buffy watched as Willow shrank a little bit. What now? What now? Too casual! She thinks I don’t really want it! “It looks great,” she enthused, trying not to over-compensate. “I wish I could make omeletes,” she added hopefully. Willow carefully cut her a portion, then sat down quietly and started nibbling at her own. Dawn glanced darkly back and forth.

“Are you guys fighting or something?”

“What?”

“Huh?”

“Well, you know,” she shrugged, “You’re acting like Mom and Dad did every time they exchanged hostages. Remember that stage where Mom would have one of us and Dad would----Oh.” At the sight of suddenly stricken looks on Buffy and Willow’s faces, her own face fell.

Buffy and Willow exchanged panicked looks. “No, Dawnie, it’s, uh---It’s, uh---“

“Early!” Buffy blurted. “It’s just so early in the morning for---“

The back door burst open and a smoldering, smoking blanket-draped shape jumped inside, the blanket whirling away to reveal Spike. He was seriously rumpled and had evidently lost interest in buttoning his shirt about two-thirds of the way down. Buffy glimpsed his belt buckle, his belly button, and several inches of muscle before he stopped raking his hands through his hair and frowned at all of them impartially. She had to look elsewhere, certain that further views of his bellybutton would bring last night’s kiss into sharper focus than she wanted. “Where’s my lighter?”

“Huh?” The three girls blinked at him. “Nobody’s smoking here but you,” Dawn said, and then she giggled at her own joke.

Spike cocked an eyebrow at her, then smiled dutifully at the joke. She was so damned cute when she was like this, all coltish and giddy. Pity she didn’t take the trouble to show that side a bit more round Buffy, who could definitely use a few more giggles and a few less responsibilities.

Willow eyed Buffy, then Spike, then her omelet. Once, whatever was going on between Spike and Buffy would have been the subject of many late night discussions, phone calls and patrol conversations. Now her blood momentarily chilled at the memory of hearing Spike’s voice in Buffy’s bedroom. Why hadn’t Buffy mentioned it? What had they been talking about? Had they been talking about her? When had she moved from being partner of gossip to the subject of it? She looked from one to the other. Buffy was regarding the vampire with skepticism, and Dawn was cutting into her omelet with a knife and then picking it up with her fingers. “So…Dawnie, how’s the omelet?”

“Iif reawy goo---“ Dawn gulped, swallowed, and beamed at her. “It’s really good. Are there any cookies left?”

“Oh,” Willow muttered. The cookies had disappeared overnight, but she was somehow disappointed that they had been more popular than her other culinary efforts. Can’t win, she thought. How can I try something new if all they like is the old version? Then she noticed how Buffy was picking at her food and deflated. Great, she doesn’t like it. “Hey, I’m going to get dressed before Xander gets here, okay?”

“Dawn, are you ready?”

“Yeah,” Dawn shrugged. But she avoided Buffy’s eyes.

“Oh, really? I suppose your books are all ready and everything.”

“Well, it takes, like, two minutes to---“

“So why don’t you go get ready?” Buffy prodded. “You left half your homework here yesterday.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Dawn muttered, but she got up and with a curious look from one to the other, flounced away.

For what felt like the first time since Spike had come into the kitchen, Buffy exhaled. “So you’re really attached to this lighter, huh?”

“Yeah,” he said, with a belligerent lift of his chin. “Very.” He took a step toward her, not even seeming to walk at all, gliding on sure and silent feet, completely without his usual swagger. She took a step back before he’d even gotten within yards of her. “Not too many things I appreciate like that.”

“If you say I’m a thing, I’m going to----“

“What?” he purred, very close now. “What are you going to do to me? C’mon, what’s my punishment?” He leaned in to her ear, not even touching her. “Still have scratches on my back from you from where you…” She lifted one hand in a half-hearted slap, but he ducked and caught her hand, then smiled slowly at her before letting go. He lifted his other hand, his gaze drifting up her body and then fixing on her mouth, while she licked suddenly-dry lips. Flicking one lock of hair from the side of her face with just one finger made that entire side of her body seem to break out in goose bumps. She remembered how she’d backed away from him just the previous night, and wondered why she’d even bothered. Not fair, she thought. Just not fair. Her throat was dry, and it seemed like her body was reacting in its own rebellious way, place by place, to his proximity. Not fair at all, and not smart, either, what with Xander due to arrive at any minute. Kissing him, which seemed like a really bad idea in the abstract, suddenly seemed irresistible, with him inches away. The abrupt mental image she got of precisely what it had been like scratching his back made her swallow. Her throat was so dry she could hear a click and she was sure he heard it, because the tip of his nose brushed the tip of hers. “You’re not a thing at all, Buff,” he whispered. The use of the pet name, something he never did around the Scoobies, made her shiver suddenly. She became aware that her nipples were hard, and with a glance down, he noticed it, too. He braced himself with a hand on either side of the counter behind her, and now his chest brushed against hers. She had to swallow again. “But you are lots of different things. Slayer. Ever made a list? Sometimes I try to, when I’m lying there in my crypt, thinking about you. All the things you are. All the things…you do.” Something seemed to shiver inside her, as if every little molecule in her body had suddenly quivered. It wasn’t visible, but she could feel something zip through her, and so did he, because his lashes dropped further, and he got even closer. “So many things. So many…ideas….” He bit his lower lip and leaned in. “Older sister. Friend.” He leaned in very, very close, barely breathing, but it felt like her goose bumps had goose bumps now. She shivered. “Hero.” He looked into her eyes. “To me, that is.” They looked at each other, Buffy warily, but Spike was almost vibrating with the sensation of being close to her again. “What else? Of course, depends from whose perspective we’re talking about. What position you’re in…”

“I’m not---“

Xander cleared his throat loudly, and they both leaped apart. “Spike, could you be any more pathetic?”

Spike stepped back, face carefully blank and composed. “I could be you,” he muttered under his breath, but it passed right by Xander.

“Give it up, blood-breath, she’s never going to have anything to do with you. Well, unless she has some sort of head inju—“

“Ah, Xander, could you go and see if Dawn’s---“

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m ready.” Dawn poked her head around Xander and raised her eyebrows. Well, aren’t Buffy and Spike standing awfully close together, she thought. Cool! Something to discuss in study hall with Janice instead of that fantasy relationship she’s got going with that stupid football---“

“You ready?” Xander asked grumpily.

“Well, as ready as I can get, considering I’ve got the stupidest---“ Dawn muttered, shouldering her backpack. “---homeroom teacher you can imagine---“

“Well, if you keep saying, ‘stupidest’ that might be why you’re---“ Xander guided her toward the front door, sparing one final glance back at Buffy and Spike.

“Well, more stupid is so clunky, Xander, so I don’t see why I can’t just---“ Dawn opened the door, and found herself confronted by a pleasant-looking middle aged woman. “Uh…hello?”

“Hi, you must be Dawn? I’m Dolores from Social Services.”

“Oh, crap, I mean, uh----BUFFY!” Dawn skittered around the older woman and dashed down the stairs. “I’m late for school, gotta get to school on time, you know…Uh, Xander! Hurry up, okay?” She was practically jumping up and down with her eagerness to get away. If she’d had a tail, it would have been wagging, frantically. When Xander got to the top of the stairs, she dashed toward the car, leaving Buffy and Dolores squinting at the sonic boom she left behind her. They eyed each other uneasily, but Spike provided a distraction by flopping down in a chair in the standard spread-legged guy stance. Buffy was acutely aware of the bleached hair and partially-buttoned shirt, and acutely aware of Dolores’ awareness. “Sooooooooooo…….” He drawled. “Gonna have a chat?”

“Spike---“ Dolores noted the name with a pursing of her lips that made her look like a fish, and Buffy backpedaled. “William…This is Dawn’s case worker. Because she’s been reported by the school for missing classes and stuff.”

Spike leaped to his feet, eyes darting back and forth between the two women. He wiped his hand on his pants and offered it to the bemused social worker, who shook it gingerly and then wiped her palm on her skirt before sticking both hands in her jacket pockets. “Ah…yes…Oh, nothing to worry about with Buffy, she’s a real good mum….very strict….” Buffy raised both eyebrows, and Spike gulped. “But not too strict, not after her mum’s death…” He was slowly and steadily inching toward the kitchen. Once a safe distance from the older woman, he gave up all pretense of dignity and dashed. Buffy reluctantly turned to Dolores, who was frowning at her openly now.

“So…does he sleep here?”

“Oh, no, he’s just a….” The muscles in his arms tensing as he…. “friend.” She swallowed. “He’s a friend.”

“Really. What interesting hair. Who else lives here?”

“My friend Willow.”

“Anyone else?”

“No, that’s all.”

“And Mr. Spike is…?”

“He’s an old friend. From England. He—he’s----“She had a burst of inspiration. “He’s very protective of her.”

“Is that appropriate?”

“Well, he’s like an older brother,” Buffy shrugged. “He’s really like an older brother---you know, like Xander, my friend who drives her to school.” You sound like an idiot, she thought. Just the sort of person who has a sister-abusing boyfriend who bleaches his hair. “We, uh, never had an older brother, so it’s, uh, really nice to have uh, a male role model around.”

“Your father?”

“He hasn’t visited since before Mom died.”

“Does he provide support?”

Ah, here’s an old wound, Buffy thought. “Well…”

Dolores finally bent a bit and sat down on the couch. “He’s required to, you realize.”

“Maybe he doesn’t.” Buffy shivered at a sudden chill, and rubbed her arms. “I can’t…It’s really hard to get ahold of him.” Especially seeing as how he’s in Italy.

And we’re here.

“The state can do that for you, you know.”

“I don’t…” Buffy had to sit down as all the strength went out of her legs. It’s not even eight o’clock yet, she thought. Can’t this wait till later, after lunch, when I’m stronger? “I don’t want to do that.” He’ll never talk to me again. Ever. Of course, came the cynical part of her mind, he doesn’t talk to you much now, and at least then you’d have some money. “Please don’t do that,” she whispered.

Dolores looked around, noting the eclectic décor, and the photos. The furniture was polished and curiously scarred, but there wasn’t that much of it, and there were no little luxury items around, either. No stereo, no computer, and an old, dusty VCR. “Miss Summers, are you employed?”

Buffy stared at her for so long that she wondered what she’d said. “No. When I---“ Horror-stricken, she realized she’d almost said, when I was dead….”I was in college.”

“Your mother’s illness interrupted your education?”

“Yes.”

“I understand you’ve been having problems with bills and so on?”

“Yes,” Buffy whispered.

Doris got up and peeked through the kitchen door. Spike, sitting at the island and safely out of the way of the sunlight, ground out his cigarette in an ashtray and winced. “Trying to quit!” He exclaimed. “Awful things!”

“Of course,” Dolores said coolly. There were dishes soaking in the sink, but otherwise the kitchen was clean. She turned around and looked back at Buffy, who was sitting miserably on the couch, her shoulders slumped and her eyes huge. “You know, Miss Summers, I could have one of the intake workers at the state employment agency get in touch with you, if you’d like?”

“What?” Visions of scrubbing floors and toilets swam through her head. “What would they do?”

“You might have a better chance of finding a good job if you work with them,” Dolores said quietly. “They can help.” She picked up her purse. “Next Wednesday, then?”

“Okay,” Buffy said. She wondered if Dolores could see her legs shaking as she escorted the older woman to the door. Shutting it very carefully and precisely behind her, she found she had to lean against it for a moment before she could walk to the couch and sink weakly down on it. Next Wednesday. How many Wednesdays would there be? Put on a happy act every time?

My world, she thought. Every now and then the division between her life and world and that of other people threatened to overwhelm her. She felt like she was being pulled thin trying to keep the worlds separate. There didn’t seem to be any way to integrate them, at least not now, with a social worker walking briskly to her office, and a vampire sitting in her kitchen. Her head hurt.

“Buff?” Her eyes were so huge when she looked up at him that Spike was across the floor before she had time for her next breath. He dropped into a crouch at her feet, while she drew shallow breaths. Her reality was vampires and demons, not getting her sister taken away by Social Services. Not their mother dying. She could handle one or the other, but not both. She wished, for a moment, that all her problems could be conquered with a stake. That she had training for. That she could cope with. This she could not.

“Buff…” Spike said helplessly. He remembered too well the aftermath of her last little chat with Willow, and knew that his options were limited. Then her lower lip trembled, and he forgot about planning and plotting and weighing. He cupped her face in his hands, and if anything, she looked even more miserable. Some people you can have sex with, he thought wearily. Some people you can cry with. But he had to try. He knew one thing with certainty; if they hadn’t had sex, she wouldn’t be hesitating over whatever it was that was bugging her now. The kiss at her window seemed centuries away, and continents distant now.

He sat next to her on the couch and grimly wondered what he could get away with. She swallowed hard, and looked at him out of the corner of her eye. “Sorry,” she muttered.

She’s talking, he thought. “Suppose there’s better times for the local neighborhood vampire to drop in then during the social worker’s visit.”

“Oh, God, I feel so….” She sagged against the back of the sofa, and appeared not to notice that it was his arm cushioning her neck and not the pillow. “I’m sure she’d take Dawn away, and sound so logical about it when she did it.” With that, he couldn’t stop himself and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. Her face flushed abruptly, and he gingerly pulled away, grateful that vampires couldn’t blush. The fact that his heart didn’t beat certainly didn’t stop it from feeling like it was breaking.

Daylight, Buffy thought. Couch. Willow upstairs. But God, he felt so solid against her, and what she really wanted was to lean into him and let him take some of the stress away. She couldn’t figure out how that had happened. Every other guy she’d known had caused her stress. The stress she seemed to feel around Spike lately came from the effort it took not to kiss him again.

It seemed to get harder to know what to do, when her instincts told her one thing, and her logic told her another. What she wanted to do was lean against him, feel his arms around her, and banish all the worries with the sensation of his skin against hers. Even the sensation of his body against her was absurdly comforting, which it shouldn’t have been, because her pulse was racing and speeding up, and her breath was coming shallow. It would be so nice just to allow him to do what he wanted, to let him take care of her and soothe her. But every instinct she had told her that she couldn’t do that, because Spike loved her and she couldn’t begin to understand what she felt for him. She couldn’t take and not give. It was not fair.

“Buffy? Slayer? What did she say?”

It occurred to Buffy that this was the sort of thing she should be discussing with her father, her friends, or Giles, and the thought undid her. She turned such a look of misery on him that his face twisted, but when he tried to touch her face again, she flinched just enough to avoid his hands, hoping he would understand how reluctant she was to take his comfort and not reciprocate. Of course, guy-like, he didn’t, and she found herself confronted with such a stricken look that she wanted the floor to open up and swallow her right then. They were both frozen for a moment, but she recovered faster, darting forward, against him, kissing him fast and hard. When she opened her eyes, he was staring at her, face washed of expression by surprise. “Wh---?”

Why does he have to do that? She thought. Why does he have to ask me questions I can’t answer? Or syllables? He reached out very slowly with one hand and Buffy’s eyes flew to it as he finally touched her face again, watching as she looked away from him. It felt better than the kiss, his thumb circling on her cheekbone, his eyes making her flinch from meeting that gaze. Much as she inhabited two different worlds, she knew that she and Spike had different worlds, too. There was the world her friends saw and understood, the world where Spike was Spike, and clothed in leather and disdain. The other one was the one to which only she had admittance, and it was world of warm beds and skin and shivering sensation.

They drifted into another kiss that was nothing like the first. Buffy’s hands found his chest, then his shoulders. His tongue was slow and soft against hers, and she melted against him, his hands slowly sliding around her waist.

“Uh..” Willow cleared her throat and Buffy and Spike sprang apart, clutching at opposite ends of the sofa. Willow stared from one to the other, her mouth open. A squeaking noise emerged first, then she shut her mouth, opened it, shut it again, and finally came to a stop. The gears turning in her brain seemed almost audible as she gestured from one to the other. “We…we…have to go. We. Have to go. Now. Uh….have to go? Did I say that already? I have class.” That seemed to strike a chord, and she decided to elaborate on it. “I have class and you have research.” She looked at Spike, who looked like someone had hit him over the head, and at Buffy, who was looking everywhere but either one of them.

“Yeah, research,” Buffy said. “Research is good. Don’t want frost demons in Sunnyda---So, if it’s not a demon, do you think it could be a frost fairy instead?” She looked back and forth, but Spike still looked as if he’d suffered an abrupt head injury, and Willow looked stunned into immobility. At that point, Willow tactfully stepped to the front door.

“I’ll, uh, head out while you, uh, get ready. I’ve got some time before class, if you want to catch up.”

“Uh, yeah..” Buffy said uncertainly. She glanced at Spike, now shaking his head, and stood up as if she was going to do something. The front door clicked shut, and she slumped back to the couch.

“She looked surprised,” Spike said.

“I, uh---we did sort of talk about….you…the other day.”

“You did?” What she hadn’t said finally hit him. “But nothing specific, right?”

“No,” Buffy said quietly. “Nothing specific yet.”

“Yet?”

“As soon as I figure it out.”

“Well, let me see if I can help you with that part,” Spike said wearily. “I love you, but you don’t love me.”

“I don’t know what I feel for you,” Buffy whispered. Her voice would break if she tried to raise it, but she had to say at least that, to let him know what she knew about her feelings. But somehow if her voice broke in front of him when he was this…worn out… she thought it would kill her all over again. It would actually be better if he got angry. Angry Spike was a known quantity, and they could fight then at a safe distance from one another. But when he got this disappointed, disgusted tone to his voice it was shattering to her. When did that happen?

“Well, here’s something then,” he said bitterly, standing up, getting irritated. “I know…I know how hard it is for you, I do, pet. But…If you can’t say it, then maybe you shouldn’t beacting like this. Confuses me,” he muttered, looking down at the ground. “Don’t know what to think any more. So…look….Just pick one or the other, okay? If you can’t tell your best mate about me, then maybe you just shouldn’t be kissing me….” Bugger, he thought. She looked so wretched the rest of his statement evaporated in his head. Sounded very brave, it did, but unfortunately, listening to the way her breath was getting harsh and raw made him want to grab her and say something entirely different, something less brave and more plaintive.

“No, you’re right,” she whispered, looking at the floor. “You’re right.” I really should start making note of uncomfortable silences, she thought. Maybe there’s a record. Maybe I could get a prize. Several centuries seemed to go by while they stood and fidgeted in front of the couch. “Uh..” She cleared her throat. “Are you going to stay here?”

“You..ah…here? What?”

“Daylight,” she shrugged. “You could look for your lighter.”

Although she wasn’t aware of it, she’d given him a gift. She was so casual about him spending the day in her house that it told him some things had changed. Only her friends previously were so uncritically trusted, and now…Now his instincts warned him that her trust had some unexpected dimensions. Friends, not anything more. Be safe, and she trusts you. Be yourself, be a man, and she shoves you away. He shook his head slowly at her. “I should be shoving off after I find it.”

“Oh,” Buffy said uncomfortably. “She’s not going to be too happy that she missed you.”

Was that an invitation? A request for his company? Even an oblique one? “Uh, yeah,” he said, trying not to look too jubilant. “Sure. Be here when Dawn gets home and all.”

“No scary stories.”

“None,” he promised. “Unless she tells them to me. Her friends are bloody little---Okay,” he added quickly. Not a good idea, talking about the Bit’s friends. There was always the possibility it might get back to her, and then she would enforce the Truth-or-Dare rule. Nothing was more ghastly than reliving one’s past geekiness for the gratification of one’s teenaged charge.

“So…You’re good?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, then.”

“Okay.”

“I’m going.”

“Right then.”

She got to the door, and then, Joyce’s manners rearing up once again, stopped and tried to make some polite gesture. She could barely look him in the eye, but she tried. One down, she thought. Willow had already disappeared in the direction of the Magic Box. One to go. She headed off after her.



Chapter 4

Once she caught up with Willow, she had to walk behind her for a bit to goose her courage. Why is this so bad? She thought. Not a demon, or a vampire, or a god. My best friend. Who I didn’t tell about Spike. Kissing with Spike.  Somehow Sex with Spike was easier to deal with than the eager kisses at her window. She looked around for a portal, a demon, a God.   Piece of cake, compared to this. She picked up her pace and dropped in beside her. Willow glanced at her, but just sighed instead of speaking. Okay, Buffy thought. Another fun moment.

“So…” She said.

“So,” Willow said.

“So…do you hate me because I’m sleeping with another vampire, or do you hate me because I didn’t tell you, or---“ She clapped her hand over her mouth as she realized what she’d said, and Willow’s head snapped around. Buffy practically hopped from foot to foot in consternation, something Dawn had done not an hour earlier.

Sleeping with him?” The previous day’s conversation played in her head. Of course I missed that, she thought. You’re…having sex with Spike? With Spike?!” How come you didn’t say so yesterday? She thought, then brushed that aside. She wavered between resentment and curiosity.

“Um…” Buffy said helpfully.

“But…sex! With Spike!”

Buffy glanced around nervously. No one had appeared to notice, but it was early yet and nobody was in range. Unless the echoes had knocked some stray paperboys off their bikes and into the hedges, they were alone.  Thank God.   “We just had sex once. Just once.”  Unless you count the times he----God, if she closed her eyes, it was all she could see, Spike bracing himself above her----“What?”

“Just once? Was that all? Are you going to sleep with him again? I mean, I know he loves you, and he was great with Dawn all summer, and sure, Glory tortured him----“ And once you would have told me everything. “Do you love him?”

“I don’t know,” Buffy said. “It just happened, Will. I haven’t…It’s so….new.  You don’t know how he looks at me---“

“Yes, I do,” Willow said dryly. “You’re the last one who noticed that, Buffy.” Buffy looked dejected at that, and Willow smacked herself mentally. “Not that I blame you, you know? It can be kind of---“

“Really? You blame me? No, I mean, you don’t? But you did?”

“No! I don’t blame you. I mean, if you didn’t notice, I would understand—I mean, coming back from Heaven, all that. It’s hard to notice stuff like that, when it changes and all that. I mean, with Tara….” She sighed heavily. “Okay, I didn’t realize at first, what was happening, what I felt. It sort of gradually accumulated. And Spike…Gotta say, not too much with the clueage there, Buff, but---“ As Buffy’s face fell, Willow backtracked. “But, you know…understandable…after being dead and…uh….So…uh…when did this start?”

“Start?  There…” She thought about it. “….really wasn’t a start to this. And…I don’t even know what ‘this’ is.”

“Why?”

“Well, he is Spike.”

“So…?”

“You don’t have a problem with it?”

Willow looked at her wistfully, and for a moment, it seemed she could see all the years and miles they had crossed together. The distance between them was recent, not yet an unbreachable gulf.  I have a problem with you not telling me, she thought. Is it my problem, or it yours? With a sudden pang, she thought, Yeah, come to me, I’ll do a ‘my will be done spell.’

“Xander might,” Willow said thoughtfully. “But, you know…he doesn’t have a soul to lose, does he?  I mean, I figure we’ve pretty much seen the worst of Spike already, right? He’s already tried to kill everybody, what else is there? He’s always said sarcastic things to everyone. Got that covered.  And he’s got the chip and everything. He sure didn’t try to kill us over the summer or anything. And I wanted to kill us over the summer.”

“Why?”

“Well, Buff, I think you’ve been lying to us all along.”

“About what?”

They were at the Magic Box door, and Willow keyed them in and disarmed the alarm. “I didn’t know how hard Slaying was. You made it look so easy, but it’s not. I think most of the vamps we staked were laughing too hard to fight.”

“Really?”

“Oh, yeah,” Willow said dryly. “But…You know….It was sort of…” I am not going to say it was almost fun slaying while my best friend was dead, she thought. Nope, not me.

“Fun?” Buffy suggested.

“Uh…actually, yeah.” Willow said.

“Because I thought…” Buffy gulped. “You know, you never go patrolling with me anymore, and I thought, you know---I didn’t…“ She studied the floor abruptly. Let’s go for that performance of, ‘What a lovely floor tile pattern!’ she thought, but spoiled it by checking to see if Willow was falling for it. The look on her friend’s face rather suggested otherwise.

“I didn’t think you wanted me to,” Willow said softly.

Uh.Oh. “I didn’t think you wanted to.”

“Of course I wanted to!” Willow took a deep breath. “But I just thought that…you didn’t want me to. You know, Heaven and everything.”

Buffy stared at her. “Of course I want you to! I---I---!” She stepped closer and looked Willow in the eye. “That mind-reading thing you do?”

“Yes?”

“Can you, you know---“ She shrugged uncomfortably “----see things?”

“See things?” Willow eyed her curiously, then smiled. “No, I can’t. What would I see?”  Her smile was more of a grin now.

“Me being really confused?” Buffy asked. Willow cleared her throat skeptically, and Buffy got suddenly interested in her own shoes. “So…could you not tell Xander?”

Willow looked at her, really looked at her, and saw how nervous she was for the first time. “If you want to tell him, Buffy, that’s your business. But not mine. I don’t see why it’s any of his---his---beeswax----anyway.”

“And how much of this is making me feel better and how much is subtle cattiness directed at Anya?”

“About ninety percent for you, and ten percent at Anya. No, nine percent. It’s one percent at Xander because Anya is so not as pretty as me.”

“Meow.”

“Wow. That’s only the second meow I’ve ever gotten.” Willow preened happily, once more her best friend.

“Well, keep it that way, okay? Cordelia had so many of them that---“ Buffy chewed on her lower lip thoughtfully. “God, what do you think she’d think of this?”

“Not much.” Willow said quietly. “What about Angel?”

“You had to ask. And Giles?” They both shivered a bit. “So how come I’m the only one who has to get approval about who I date?”

“Um, because the last vampire you dated…” Willow said, then stopped, guilty.  “But how often can that happen? It’s not like Spike has a curse on him or something.  Spike’s gone good, and that doesn’t happen much either. Maybe he’s just special. After all, you’re the Slayer, and there’s only one of those. Maybe he’s the only vampire capable of ---loving any hu---Oh! I know! Maybe it’s a chairman of the board type thing.”

“Will? What?”

“Well, you’re the Slayer, and we’re the Scoobies, so you’re sort of…the boss….Okay, scratch that.”

“How come?” Buffy shifted on her seat a bit. “I sort of like the idea.”

“But, you know---“

“Kidding, Will. Besides, CEO of the Hellmouth doesn’t have good benefits or anything.”

They sat in silence for a few moments. “So are you okay with that?” Buffy asked finally.

“What? You as CEO?”

“No, Spike and…”

“Are you going to keep---?”

“I can’t stop thinking about it.” Buffy confessed. “Maybe if I get it out of my system…” She didn’t even finish the sentence before it made her uncomfortable. “It’s not in my system…It’s…I need to know what it is.” She felt around that concept, like touching a sore tooth with her tongue. “Except…he makes me feel so different. Better,” she added. “I just feel better when I’m around him.”

“Better than when you’re around me?”

“Better than when you’re around Tara?” Buffy retorted, then flinched back. “Oh, that’s so not what I meant, Will. You know what I mean, right?”

“Yeah, I think so.” They sat in silence, with Willow studying the magic books thoughtfully. “You just feel different around someone you, well…” She gave Buffy a sly look. “Somebody you, you know…”

“So what are you saying?”

“Are we going patrolling tonight?”

“Sure,” Buffy said. “But now…”

The front door opened and Xander blinked into the relative darkness of the store. “Hey, got Dawn off to school. How was the official visit?”

Buffy shrugged. “Pretty official.” She crossed her arms uncomfortably. “I didn’t even realize she was missing that much school.”

Xander flopped down onto one of the benches. “Well, do you blame her?”

“What?”

“Bad enough going to school when you’re like moi and all. But it’s worse going to school when you’re like Dawn.”

“Meaning?”

“Well, she’s a bright kid, but….she does act kind of stupid a lot.”Silence greeted this remark, and he noticed and looked up “Well, at least it’s an act. You know, unlike with some people. That makes it hard.” He flopped down at the table and looked around. “Anya’s not here yet?”

“Nope.” Willow tossed her bag on the table and headed straight for the coffee pot. “Why?”

“Nothing,” Xander said slowly. “She probably stopped off at the bridal shop again or something.”

“I thought she’d picked out the dress,” Buffy said.

“Well, she has. She just likes going over strategy with that---that---lady there. I’m the designated sideline person.”

“Strategy,” Buffy said slowly. “Wait a second.” Willow poked her head out of the stock room, and Xander waited expectantly.

It all came together in one burst of inspiration. More than anything else, it felt like her brain, rusty and broken, had suddenly come back to life. The frost monster that couldn’t be a frost monster. The demon bank robbery, which fit no known standard for demon behavior. The even more unusual demon she and Spike had confronted after the day from hell. The day from hell itself.  “Who do we know in town, who’s really sort of loser like, and sort of…into…” She shrugged. “Fantasy geek stuff? You know—like the Renfaire version of Slaying?”

Willow and Xander exchanged glances. “Warren.”

“Warren?”

“Guy who did the Buffybot,” Willow said. She set cups down on the table and then looked horror-stricken. “Oh, God, Buffy---“

Buffy shrugged it off. “’s okay, I have dealt.” She stared at the table, trying to conjure up a precise memory of the vehicle that had driven off after the demon disappeared. “We saw a demon, but I was drunk, so maybe that’s why it was so…convincing.” She braced herself and added, “Which means I really shouldn’t drink.”

“Why?”

“I think the demon was wearing pink boxer shorts.”

“Well….Buff….” Xander said slowly. “I can see how you’d get convinced of a lot of things, but that’s not exactly---“

“Okay, okay, I know I’m not---“

“You’re Shirley Temple girl, Buff,” Xander said. “Remember BC Buffy?”

“Thankfully, no.” Buffy headed toward the door. “Maybe Spike got a good look at the van.”

“Maybe he did,” Willow said. The grin was back on her face. “Maybe you should go and ask him.” Her expression softened. “It might help, you know. To figure stuff out.”

The two girls exchanged glances, Willow’s innocent, and Buffy’s inscrutable. “That’s a very good idea, Will,” Buffy said finally. “I think I’ll go ask him. And then I’ll go do…something else.” She coughed. “Somewhere else.”  Having alibied herself, she marched decisively out the door.  Both Xander and Willow missed the huge flash of light outside, but they both looked up at the sound of screaming tires. When they stepped outside, there was no one there.





Buffy looked up, puzzled, as Xander and Willow looked out the door of the Magic Box, then at each other, then disappeared back inside. She couldn’t see the van anymore, but she was sure it was the right one. It had a Death Star on the side, how many of those could there be? Then she looked down.

The sidewalk swam in front of her, and she closed her eyes, hard. She counted to ten and looked down again. Where her legs should have been she saw only pavement. She touched her thighs; still there. She patted her face, her hair; and the sensation should have been more comforting, but it produced more of that swirling sensation that made her recall her hangover. She climbed to her feet, then, and whirled around to look in the window reflection.

Except there wasn’t a reflection. She saw trees, stores, slow-moving vehicles, but no Buffy. She patted herself again, then looked down. No shadow. The sun shone clear through her, or where her had been.  But the worst thing was looking directly down at the ground. Her perspective seemed to be gone, and she felt dizzy when she looked down, because she couldn’t seem to feel the distance to the ground any more.

Her first impulse was to turn and go back into the Magic Box. Then, with her hand on the knob, she stopped. What if they’re talking about me? Part of her toyed with that possibility. What if they are? Let’s find out what they really think. But part of her cringed. What if they were? The only thing that kept her standing some times was the knowledge that her friends were the same behind her back as they were when they were at her side, nothing concealed, nothing altered.

With a deep breath, she stepped inside.

“How did that happen?” Xander asked, getting up. Buffy closed the door behind her and stepped out of the way. I’m going to hell, she thought. I am so going to hell.

“Buffy must have not closed it hard,” Willow said thoughtfully. “Check the lock, would you Xander?”

What followed was so disappointing that Buffy regretted her impulse.

Her friends were boring.

Also, they did not talk about her.

She was simultaneously cheered and disappointed. Get over yourself, she counseled sternly, but now she had to confront something else. How to get out of the store? If she opened the door again, they’d certainly know that something had happened, seeing as how she had to tell them what had happened.

One thing she also noticed was that they didn’t spend a lot of time talking to each other, sipping coffee, flipping through the paper, and it didn’t strike her as a comfortable silence. What she didn’t like was when she realized what she was comparing it to; the times she and Spike sat together somewhere, anywhere. With that, she headed for the door. She had to jump out of the way, though, when Anya yanked the door open and dashed inside. “I found it!” she exclaimed gleefully, waving a thick magazine in the air. “The last copy!”

“What did you find, honey?”

Buffy slipped out behind her to lean against the wall. She glanced down for her watch, then shook her head at the gesture. Good one, Buff, she thought. Not much with the clueage, she added mentally. Without being able to see her watch, she suddenly felt as if time had stopped working, too.  Cars moved up and down the street, and she tried to catch a glimpse of a clock in a store window. The Magic Box door was still slightly open, and she couldn’t stand waiting any more.

“Hey, guys,” She said loudly. Anya, by now behind the counter, stopped what she was doing.

“Did you hear something?” she asked.

“Huh, sweetie? Oh, I wasn’t paying attention.” He glanced up from the copy of Modern Bride he had in front of him.  Beneath it was Woodworker Magazine. Buffy stifled a smile, then remembered again her condition.

“Xander!” she said loudly. This time he jumped, glancing around frantically.

“Xander!”

“Willow!” Anya yelled. There was a scramble in the back room, and then Willow dashed through the curtain behind the cash register.

“What? What?” When she looked around and saw only Xander and Anya, she relaxed slightly. “God, Anya, I thought it was important.”

“Willow?” Buffy said.

“Oh, my God, I heard that,” Anya said. “Buffy? Buffy, are you there? Are you dead again?”

Slightly annoyed, Buffy sat down in one of the chairs, and plunked her chin onto her hands. “I’m not dead, I’m just invisible.”

“Are you in that chair right there?” Xander said nervously.

“Yes.”

“Just wanted to make sure. Why do you get to be invisible? Why couldn’t I have been invisible in school?”

“Poetic justice?” Buffy asked, and Xander sighed disgustedly.

“Well, it would have been poetic for me.”

“Buffy, what happened?”

“Remember how I was all, It must be Warren? Well, it’s definite now. I’m pretty sure that was the same van. I just have to ask Spike,” she added uncomfortably. Nobody could tell she was flushing. “I had just walked outside, and guess who’s right there? I remember a big flash of light, and that was it.”

“Buffy, are you sure you want to go anywhere right now?” Willow asked. She reached out tentatively, and Buffy took her hand, surprised by the silly welling of sudden tears in her eyes. The concern in Willow’s voice seemed to set off an ache inside her, and she had to swallow to keep her voice steady. “Shouldn’t you stay here?”

“If I go anywhere from Spike’s crypt, I’ll let you know.”

“What if something happens to you, Buffy?” Willow asked. “We’ll never know. We’ll never be able to find out.”

“But I won’t have another chance to find out stuff about Warren.”

Xander and Willow exchanged resigned glances. Anya, behind the counter and holding a feather duster with eyes raised heavenward, sighed explosively. “She’s invisible,” Anya pointed out impatiently. “Like you could stop her. Like you’d know if she was still here or not,” she sniffed.

Sensing a fight, Buffy pushed the chair back and stood up. Xander watched the chair move, seemingly of its own accord, with wide, fascinated eyes. “On that note, I’m leaving.”

“Call and tell us, Buffy,” Willow said. “Okay?” Her voice and her eyes were rather worried, but she was facing the wrong direction. Buffy had already left.





What if something happens to me and nobody can find me?

Never mind the fact that she felt, at times, like she couldn’t find herself either. Was it good or bad that that thought was eclipsed by another?

Is Spike awake?

Or isn’t he?

Purely business.

Sure it is.

Really.

He might even be awake.

I’ll just check.

Outside the crypt, she hesitated, her hand pausing in the air for several minutes. She hadn’t hesitated that long before she’d shoved her hands in his pants. Her heart was hammering in her chest, and that, too, reminded her of him, the way he affected her senses, even if he was just somewhere on her periphery. Gently, she nudged the door open, barely breathing.

Spike was seated in his armchair, and glanced up as the door slipped open. He frowned and set his beer aside, stepping to the door and barring it. When he turned around again, he was frowning, and Buffy held her breath. “Goin’ daft,” he muttered. He flopped down in his chair sulkily and stared at the television set. Buffy let her breath out slowly.

It was interesting looking at the crypt when she didn’t have to keep some of her attention trained on him. She’d been so conscious of his eyes on her for so long that being freed of his gaze was both uplifting and curiously deflating at the same time.

The first thing she noticed was that despite his limited resources, somehow it all fit together in a way her mother’s expensive pieces had not. A lot of the décor depended for its effect on weapons and more still rested on candles, but the result was colorful and unified. He’d draped some of the benches with what looked like old brocade curtains, and had evidently picked the most elaborately curved candelabra he could find. Oddly enough, the effect was not Liberace-like at all.  There were things she’d never noticed before; books peeked out in various places, and she was startled by the sinking feeling that that aroused in her stomach. Books. So human. Everything she’d ever learned about vampires was contradicted yet again by Spike. What else was she missing? It was too much for her to consider. She felt her curiosity drain away into something tired and overwhelmed. If she ignored the stone walls of the crypt, she could have been in someone’s apartment. It was too confusing.

When she turned back to look at Spike, she almost jumped out of her skin to find him inches away. She gulped and recoiled against the door, and he frowned in puzzlement, reaching out with one hand. “Buffy…?”

“How did you know that?”

He smiled, slowly. “Vampire, Buff. What the bloody hell happened to you?”

Somehow it was easier to talk to him now, knowing that he couldn’t turn those bright and curious eyes on her worries. His concern for her was more unnerving any of the things they’d done in her bed. “You remember that night we went out drinking? And you played kitten poker?”

“How could I forget? I’m still paying that little stunt of yours off.” She made a face at him, then realized once again that he couldn’t even see her. Duh, Einstein.

“Remember the demon?”

“Yeah?”

“How many demons escape in vans?”

“Oh! Yeah! I remember that!”

“You remember what it looked like?”

He flopped back in his chair, considering, not sure where to direct his eyes. “The demon? Or the van?”

“The van. I remember the demon pretty well.” Because he was wearing pink boxer sorts, she thought. Sort of hard to forget.

I remember you, he thought. Who was looking at a demon when I could look at you? It was so hard not to have her to look at, to find his cues in her face. What are you thinking? All he had was words now, and she’d always been sparing with those. “I did see the van, though.”

“What did it look like?”

He hesitated, then jumped. “Come here and I’ll tell you.”

“What?”

What he wouldn’t have given to see her face, watch the way surprise registered on her face. He’d been sitting the same chair when she’d surprised him before. Too late, he realized she’d regard it as a come on. “I can hear you fine from here,” she grumbled.

“Just come here.”

“No.”

Spike sighed, then looked in her general direction. “It’s not fair, Buffy. You can see me but I can’t see you. You could be making faces there for all I know.”

“I’m not.” She sounded almost offended. “Besides, why I would be making faces?”

“Various reasons,” he said dryly. “Just come here.”

He heard a distinctly put-upon sigh, but next came the scrape of her shoes on the floor, and then---her weight settling across his lap. He hadn’t expected that. If he closed his eyes, it was as close to heaven as he’d ever get. “Happy now?” She asked, trying for sarcasm, but it wasn’t convincing, not the way she wiggled just slightly, till her forehead was brushing his cheek, her hair drifting across his lips. One arm wrapped around his neck, anchoring herself against him, and the other touched his stomach. He was afraid to talk for fear something would snap and she’d withdraw again.

“Fine. You?”

There was a loaded pause, during which he could hear her packing as much sarcasm as she could into the minimum amount of syllables. “Oh, I’ve been better.”

“I feel for you, pet, I do. Can’t see myself either, you know.”

Buffy lifted her head then and looked at him; he could feel her face full away from him, feel her breath change direction. “And not seeing you would be a shame,” he added, almost glad he couldn’t see the look on her face.

Oh, crap. At least he can’t see this.

God, why did he have to do this? It had been so much easier when they were enemies, but nothing in her experience had prepared her for the No Man’s Land of Spike. Once she’d thought he was attracted to her strength, and then she had feared it was discovering her weaknesses. The Scoobies were so uncomfortable with the very thought that all acknowledgement of her weaknesses seemed to be forbidden,  swept into dark corners,  because they were so used to her being the decisive one. Hell, they hadn’t even allowed her to rest in peace; they’d pulled her back, and she still couldn’t get used to the suspicion that it wasn’t her they missed so much as it was the Slayer.

She dropped her head back to his shoulder, glad she didn’t have to look strong in case he realized how scared she really was. She’d been dealing with it for days. What would happen now that Spike knew how confused and weak she really was? What would he do?  It was almost comforting. He wasn’t doing anything at all, stroking her leg with his fingertips, something that shouldn’t have seemed so intimate and private. But the way he did it, it seemed like he was touching bare skin, making clothes irrelevant, as if his touch made direct contact with her nerve endings.

Ever since It had happened, she’d wrestled with the idea of just giving up and letting go, drowning herself in him, but she had too many memories of non-vampires. It wasn’t even the fact that she’d had problems with her friends; it was the point at which she’d had them. When she was at her lowest ebb, it seemed to confuse and frighten them. They fled.  She’d run away and come back, and they’d been angry with her. She’d lost her mother, lost her life defending her sister, and they still inched around her tentatively instead of truly clearing the air. Angry words between herself and Willow after she’d run away hadn’t dissipated the tension; they had clouded the air still further. And now, the stakes were so much higher.

And now there was Spike.

He made her so confused, in a way that no other man had. She’d wondered once if something about her was so awful that she made good guys turn bad. And what could be better proof than a vampire falling in love with her? Only evil creatures could love her.  How could she possibly believe that some evil creature would be so influenced by her that he would turn good, where every other man to cross her path had done exactly the opposite?

“I should go,” Buffy said finally. This was said in a reasonable tone of voice that indicated détente would be observed.

“Why?”

“I have to go snoop around at Warren’s.”

“Warren? Bot-boy?”

“That’s the one,” she agreed.

“Stay here.”

“I really have to.”

“Why?”

“Because I think he’s behind all this.”

“Why?”

“Well, there was the bot, then there’s been all this weird stuff. And I remembered that van that night we went out and----“

“That was bot-boy?” Spike rolled his eyes.

“Why is everyone so catty today?” Buffy asked.  Her voice sounded amused. “First Willow, then you.”

“Catty?! I’m not catty. I’m….something else. Something that doesn’t sound like a hissy fit.”

“Vampires hiss.”

“Most vampires,” he corrected dryly. “I’m a bit out of the ordinary.”

“Catty and humble,” Buffy corrected. No doubt about it, she was amused.

“Stop saying that.”

There was a pause, then: “You’re catty.”

“Catty is for birds.”

“Huh?”

“Girls,” Spike explained.

“Adding that to my English dictionary,” Buffy said in a skeptical tone.

“Probably it’s not in Giles’ vocabulary.”

“I don’t even want to consider what I could find in Giles’ vocabulary.”

“Why not?”

“Birds, girls? He’s older than my dad. He should date women his own age.”

“Well, then…” Spike said, just about to point out his own vintage before he realized one could shoot one’s self in areas other than the foot.

“Oh, come on,” Buffy said. “You so want to say something.”

Spike struggled manfully with his tongue before finally getting it under control.  “It was the same van?”

“Are there a lot of vans out there that have the Death Star painted on them?”

“The…Death Star?”

“Was that rhetorical?”

“I wish it was.” Spike shuddered.

“Why did you do that?”

“Oh, I know what these geek boys are like.”

“So vampires are afraid of…geeks?”

“No, just the geek boy---“ He looked up abruptly as footsteps approached the door of his crypt. Buffy jumped up, which would have amused him somewhat except for the interruption, and the reason for the interruption.

Xander poked his head around the door.

“Have you seen Buffy?”

Spike weighed his options, but his options suddenly narrowed when Buffy, standing behind him, slid her arms around his waist. “Uh, no..?”

“She said she was coming by? What if something happened to her?”

“She’s the Slayer, Harris. There’s nothing that can happen to her that she can’t handle.”  Buffy smiled against his back, and then stood up on her toes and kissed the side of his neck. He twitched and gulped. Great timing, Harris, he thought. Go away. Go away right now.

“She’s invisible, Einstein. If something happens to her, we won’t be able to find her.”

“She’s…what?” Spike said gamely. Buffy carefully slipped one hand just inside the waistband of his jeans, careful not to move the fabric.

“Invisible. She’s invisible. Your bot boy seems to be branching out.”

“Oh.” Spike cast about desperately for something to say, now that Buffy had proceeded to pressing kisses against his neck. All Xander saw was Spike suddenly shifting his weight from foot to foot, and scratching nervously at one ear. “Really?”

“Yeah, let’s hope he’s better at weapons than he is at girls.”

“Which explains why you didn’t notice it wasn’t her?”

They stared at each other, and Buffy helped the stalemate by sliding her hands back around to cup his behind. Spike gulped. “And why would you hope he’s better at something that will hurt you?”

Xander looked startled. “Because I’m—not.”

Buffy gave another squeeze, and Spike jumped. “Okay, whatever, Bleach Boy. If she comes by, it’s really important that she come back to the Magic Box.”

“Why’s that?”

“Just tell her, okay?” Xander said, and before the last syllable faded, the door was closing behind him.

“Buffy……” Spike said irritably.

“What?”

“Why did you do that?”

“I don’t know,” she muttered, and he heard the defensive tone in her voice. Wonderful, just wonderful, he thought. Screwed that up really good. She had stiffened against him, and he could feel her retreat in the sudden tension in her hands. “I thought it would be fun.”

“Because Xander didn’t know.”

“And I did.”

“Well…”

“And you’re---what?” He stepped out of her arms, hesitating before he could face her. Sort of . The space where she’d been standing. “This is fun because Xander doesn’t know? What happens if he does know?”

“Willow knows.”

“Knows what?”

He could hear her shoe scraping on the ground. “About us. I told her. About us.  I wanted advice.”

Everything inside him sank. “What sort of advice?”

“It’s hard to ask for advice when you don’t even know what it is that----“ Buffy hesitated, and he tried to brace himself. When she spoke again, her voice was so soft he had to strain to hear it. “I…I don’t even know where to start.”

He sighed and looked down at the floor, trying to interpret that---good or bad? Her footsteps, drawing closer, surprised him, as did her hands on his face. Her breath on his face, her warmth close to him. The kiss was something he wondered if her friends would ever see. He had to pull back gently, trapped in a minefield with no foot prints in front of behind him to show him the way. “Buff..”

“What?”

“Not like this, right?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like this,” he whispered. “You’re not even here. I want to see you, I want to know you’re here because you want to be here, not just because you’ve got an excuse. I want the excuse to be me. Like this---it could be anyone.”

“I thought…”

“I want it to be you.”

“What?”

“I want it to be you. Not anyone else.”

Buffy backed away from him, then, and knew that he would interpret it the wrong way. But suddenly, she had to see him whole, from a distance that gave her perspective. There he was, Spike, looking the same, but it was if her eyes had suddenly adjusted to new light. I want it to be you. She saw, suddenly, the past five years all at once, the evolution from nemesis to ally, and the frame in which it had happened. He was moving forward. He was a vampire. Could she do the same? Was it the perspective one gained from a century? What was it? Maybe it wasn’t so much what had caused it that was important, it was the mere fact that it had happened.

There it was again, that confusion that so flummoxed her it was almost like despair. How could anyone like her when she felt so bewildered, so depressed, so….disturbed? “No, you don’t,” she muttered.

“What?”

“I mean, how can you? I have more baggage than some….baggage company.”

“Hello, Slayer---vampire?. We have a franchise on baggage.”

“So what are you saying? Is this one of those two wrongs make a right thing?”

“Sort of, no, not exactly. Maybe not. Yes. No.” Spike whirled around and jammed his hands in his hair. “Maybe two rights make a…. Maybe they…repair something. Maybe…we’re good together. But bad apart?” he ended hopefully.

She almost pointed out that they weren’t, really, together, but her mind also added something on the end of that thought: yet. “You don’t want it to be me.”

“Yes, I do.”

“But I’m a mess, Spike. I’m…”

“You’re you,” he muttered. “And—“ He was bewildered, then, by the speed of her kiss, and the velocity with which she scrambled away.





Warren’s house didn’t look out of the ordinary till she quietly broke a kitchen door window and let herself in. Upstairs, the house was Stepford Central, with Scotch-guarding everywhere, and the most generic furniture Buffy had ever seen. It was a house decorated by people for whom JC Penney was too wild and exotic. There were lots of mirrors everywhere, and it added to the nervousness she already felt, walking like a ghost through this eerie, museum-like house.   She walked past bland furniture covered in plastic, plus pressed flowers and candle arrangements that weren’t dusty but nevertheless had been hardening in their holders for years. She touched one, and found the surface of the wax had grown hard and rigid. Wow, she thought. Even the candles are bad. There were doilies and flowered curtains, plus lots and lots of cherubim and cute little…things. She wasn’t precisely sure what they were, those things, but they were so cute they were sort of frightening. All of them seemed to have big huge eyes, and Buffy was reminded of movies where you couldn’t quite figure out which innocent-looking aliens were the bad ones and which ones were the good ones.

She wandered around listlessly after a quick sweep revealed that the house was empty. The master bedroom was utterly sterile, and it rather depressed her that she could find no touches of individuality in the room whatsoever. There was a laboratory-neat bathroom, a spare bedroom that made the master bedroom look like a den of iniquity, and finally what looked like a little boy’s room.

It was this room that made her pause for a moment, because she realized it could only be Warren’s.

She turned around slowly, looking at the posters, the action figures, the Star Wars bedspread. The room was astringently clean, except for a few pairs of dirty underwear on the floor, but she suddenly felt dirty, and thought of the Buffybot with a shudder. The corner of her mind that was devoted to thinking up things to make her uncomfortable, rummaged around in its depths and came up with: Do you supposed he gave her a test drive? “Ack!” She gasped, more disgusted at herself than at him, and whirled around to leave. Her heart almost exploded in her chest when the door suddenly flew open and Warren strode in. Clutching her chest like some vaporing Victorian virgin in petticoats, she faded to the wall as Warren sniffed the air. Later, she’d replay the memory and giggle. For now, though, even being a Slayer couldn’t save her from having a bad case of the heebie jeebies at the way he sniffed the air. What was he, a bloodhound?

As she watched him, her little theory hardened into fact. Why else would he sniff the air unless he suspected an invisible person? Somehow gloating did not seem so satisfying when you couldn’t have a visible smirk on your face. She deflated just slightly. Now what?

“What are you doing?” Jonathon asked from the doorway, and Buffy stiffened. Jonathon? Jonathon, whose life she’d saved, who’d given her her Class Protector award? What was he doing here?

Slurping on a Slushee and slouching in the doorway, evidently. “There’s nobody here,” he whined, and Buffy’s faint hope that Warren might have made a Jonathon bot vanished. No robot could imitate that nasal tone of voice----well, maybe Dawn, she added mentally, stifling a smile. Oh, boy, I’m going to hell.

“Well, maybe it’s the Slayer,” Warren said quietly, and Buffy bit her lip. How does he know that?

“It could have been her,” Jonathon shrugged. “I don’t know, it was so fast.”

“Yeah, short round, I bet you’re used to it. Who should be next?”

“Well…” Buffy’s ears perked up as she heard Jonathon struggle for a casual tone that meant his request was anything but casual. “How about me?”

“What, so you can scope out the girls’ locker room again?”

“No,” Jonathon shrugged. Buffy could read his discomfort at being found out from across the room. “Research.”

“Research into girls’ underwear, you mean,” Warren said. “Not a good idea, John-Boy, so, no, we’re not doing it.”

“We can’t get caught,” Jonathon whined, and Warren cuffed him across the back of the head. Jonathon backed out of the room fast and Warren followed, but there was no urgency in his voice.

“No, but you can get melted when it starts to wear off,” Warren finished sarcastically. “If you actually hit that Slayer, that would be the first adequate thing you ever did.”

“Yeah, well, at least I don’t have a Barbie doll for a girlfriend.”

“At least I have a girlfriend,” Warren retorted. He bounded down the stairs, leaving Jonathon staring at him from the landing.

“It’s the girl part that needs work,” Jonathon said skeptically. “Girls aren’t usually made out of rubber.”

“Well, at least she’s not just made out of imagination…” But they were half way down the stairs, and Buffy stepped cautiously out into the hall. Avoiding the creaky steps, she tiptoed down the stairs and then followed the voices to the basement. Feeling her way carefully, she inched her way down the stairs. Halfway down, she caught sight of the décor and forget her caution to stare.

It was like looking at the Playboy mansion, assuming the Playboy mansion was located in the basement of a suburban home and decorated by Wal-Mart. Oddly enough, there was money scattered over the floor, but aside from that and the clutter of Star Trek action figures and books, the place was just as weirdly neat as the upstairs.

“Why can’t we go rob another bank?” Jonathon whined, and Warren picked up what Buffy had thought was some sort of a prop, and pointed it directly at Jonathon. He jumped out of his chair, but Warren kept the thing trained on the chair, and flipped a switch. There was a huge burst of light, and the chair abruptly vanished.

“That’s my favorite chair!”

“Relax, short stuff, it’ll be back. It’s fairly inert, which means it breaks down faster than a human being, but Buffy doesn’t have much time left. And if she’s gone, we can take over Sunnydale.”

“Bwah-ha-ha-ha!” Jonathon threw back his head and tried to cackle maniacally, but it came out more like a giggle. Buffy shook her head at it, but without the gesture being visible, it didn’t seem to register even on herself. She glanced down reflexively at her body, but there was nothing there, and she threw up her hands in disgust.

Warren fiddled with the device, and Buffy crept right up next to him to see what he was doing. He pointed it back at the chair, and repeated the process. This time the flash of light resulted in the reappearance of the chair. She studied the dials, and his face, and took shallow breaths so that he wouldn’t hear her breathing.

“You wanna be invisible?” Warren said quietly, and Jonathon stopped what he was doing---having a duel with action figures----and looked up. A queer, small smile seemed to crawl from one side of Warren’s mouth to the other, as Jonathon considered the question. “Maybe that’s not a bad idea. Maybe it’s not a bad idea at all.  It’s not like they’ll ever find Buffy. Unless they slosh through her or something.”

“Well….uh….not that you mention it….Didn’t you say you were going to, uh, perfect it a bit more?”

“We could perfect it out on you.”

“Uh…sure we could. But then…who knows….Maybe I’d go test on Katrina or something. You know….see how she’s doing?”

Warren cocked his head, looking at Jonathon. “Right, Jonathon. Right. Sure.”

“Well….you know…She was kind of…”

“What, you think I can’t do it myself?”

“No, I’m saying…” Buffy watched as Jonathon’s forehead started to shine.

“You think I can’t do it? You think I need to be invisible or something?”

“No, no, I don’t.”

“Maybe you do, R2, but I don’t.”

“Of course you don’t,” Jonathon said. “I know that. But I do. I really do. Go ahead.”

“Make you invisible? Sure, Jonathon, that would be the closest you’d ever get to a girl.”

Jonathon was frozen in place, watching Warren’s face with a fixed intensity. “I know. I completely know that.”

“I don’t need to be invisible, like you.”

“No, no, you don’t.”

“I’m going to go right over there, right now.”

“Right…now?”

“Sure, why not? We need to talk.”

We need to talk ?”

“No, Katrina and I need to talk. Katrina and I. I don’t have anything to say to you.” He hefted the weird-looking ray gun in his arms, and Buffy shook her head again. It looked just like a Super Soaker, which seemed somehow appropriate. “Here. Watch this.”

He stood in the center of the room for a moment, breathing herkily, while Jonathon carefully deposited the ray gun or whatever it was on one of the work tables. Buffy noticed he was tiptoeing when he did it. He brushed a pen onto the floor, and he winced when he did it, but after Warren snapped a look in his direction, he froze. The two men stared at each other, and then Warren snorted in disgust. Jonathon simply sagged, and Warren made another disgusted sound. After studying Jonathon contemptuously for a moment, Warren shook his head in dismissal, and grandly climbed the stairs to get away.

Jonathon gaped at the stairs for a moment, his lips parted, his face shiny with sweat, his hands clenched into fists. When the front door slammed upstairs, he gasped and twitched. Then he tossed the invisibility ray gun aside, and darted for the stairs. Buffy listened as he crashed through the house and out the back door. Bet some crystal bit the dust, she thought, and was instantly cheered up.

When the sound of running footsteps and whimpers was no longer audible, she shook herself and approached the invisibility gun. It was pretty big, but it wasn’t terribly heavy when she picked it up. Of course, when she picked it up, she noticed in one of the many mirrors that it looked like it was floating in midair. A Super Soaker floating through the air, even in Sunnydale, would attract attention. She chewed her lip a moment, studying it, then whipped off her jacket and wrapped it around the thing. It disappeared from view. She smiled, and this time, she didn’t need to verify that it was happening. She tucked the thing under her arm and took the stairs, her step light.





“Uh…Buff…” Xander said.

“You heard me.”

“Yeah…but…”Willow said.

“You agreed with me.”

“Well…sort of…” They both said in unison.

“What does that mean?”

“Well, it means they agreed with you till you were visible, and then they wanted to discuss it once they could see if you were nuts or not,” Dawn drawled. All three turned and looked at her. The epitome of cool, she ignored all three sets of eyes on her---Anya was too busy fondling the invis-iray and calculating its value----and flipped a page with a hand-flourish.

Buffy spread her hands. “What if the nerds get it back? They could rob more banks.”

“They haven’t done that yet,” Willow countered.  “They used demons, not invisibility.”

“Whatever. No girl’s bathroom in town is going to be safe. And maybe some boys’ bathrooms, too,” she added, eyeing Xander. “ I don’t want it around.”

“We…we…could study it,” Willow said forlornly.

“Ew! Buffy.” Xander shuddered violently.

“We could sell it!” Anya exclaimed. “I could make a----“ Everyone turned and looked at her. “And---and---donate the money to charity.” She slumped into a chair, outnumbered. “Some of it, at least.”  She slumped still further. “Most of it.”

“No,” Buffy said.

“Buff…”

“No.”

“Buff….!”

“No.”

“I’m not taking any more chances.”

“Buffy…”Willow said softly. “It could be useful.”

“You said it was dangerous.”

“It could be, but we don’t know yet. So let’s find out,” Willow said quietly. “We have to know. We have to know. Remember the Buffybot? You didn’t want that around, either.”

Buffy crossed her arms and looked at the ground.

“Look, I know it’s been really unpleasant…” Buffy glanced up at her suddenly, and Willow raised both hands. “Okay, I don’t know how unpleasant it’s been.” She took a deep breath. “I know that. I do.” She gestured at the store’s interior, trying to give her thoughts some visible shape. “I know…what I don’t know. Okay, that made way more sense in my head. But…” She looked up at Buffy. “We might need this, Buffy. I know you…I know it was awful for you…But…” She bit her lip. “Get over it. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We have to take that chance.”

“You’re…what?!”

“Oh,” Dawn said, rising to her feet. “Oh, oh, WOW! This is so cool! Are you guys, like, revolting?”

“Dawn, this does not apply to chores,” Willow said firmly.

“Yeah, well…” Dawn muttered. She sank back into her chair, and propped her chin in her palms. “Then who cares?”

Buffy looked from Xander, who dropped his eyes, to Anya, who wasn’t even paying attention, and back to Willow, who was crossing and recrossing her arms. Left arm over right. Right arm over left.  Brief detour into hands-in-pockets action. Back to crossing arms again, this time with a shift in weight from right foot to left.  As Buffy glared at her, Willow flinched, looking anywhere but at Buffy. She eyed the books, the grimoires, the table. “Buffy..” Willow said imploringly.

“So what is this?”

“Buff…I know things haven’t been so good since you came back,” Willow said softly. “But this isn’t like you. Not the old Buffy.”

“That’s not what you said before,” Buffy said. “When I ran away. Do I only get a pass when it’s your fa----” She stopped herself, just in time.

“Buffy, I was sixteen, and you were the best friend.” You were my only girl friend.

“So you made me want to run away again?”

“No, I don’t, I didn’t, but, yeah, sure, I was mad! What do you mean…run away again?”

“When you…did that.” Buffy looked at the floor. “When you said that. In front of everyone. About me running away.”  She looked up. “I wanted to. That made me want to. To run away.” She took a deep breath, and swallowed hard. “You made me want to. And… I thought about it.”

“Buffy….I don’t remember.” I remember being so, so glad you came back. And so angry you didn’t come to me before you left.

“You called me a quitter. Like I had broken a nail or something.” Buffy looked up. “Like you’re doing now. Telling me to get over something that you’ll never have to go through.”

Willow’s mouth opened and closed. “I’m not…I didn’t…I wasn’t…We’re trying to help! We’re trying to take care of things, because… we have to take care of things till you are like you. Look, I know it’s been hard, I do…sort of. I don’t know how hard, I know that. But we have to…we have to…We have to think ahead.” She stepped forward, acutely conscious of what a screw up they must think her, and tentatively laid her hand on Buffy’s arm. “We can think ahead for you, Buffy. You just…get better.”

“Yeah, Buffy, Will’s right.” Something about Buffy’s hunched-in posture, hugging herself, made Xander cautious about touching her, but he stepped up close as well. “Hey, Anya, Dawn, could you give us a minute?”

Anya and Dawn exchanged startled glances. “Oh, what am I, now?” Anya demanded. “Chopped liver?”

“I’m her sister!”

“Dawn,” Xander said quietly. “Now is just not a good time to do the girl power solo act thing, okay? All we’re asking for is a minute.”

Anya looked abashed at the firm tone of his voice, but Dawn was tight-lipped with irritation. Still, they went to the training room, and Anya managed to grab the door before Dawn could slam it.

“Better?”

“Much,” Buffy admitted. “For now.” She glanced from one to the other. ”We’re going to pay for that, you know.”

“Yeah, the price we pay,” Xander said. “So…Buff…You do know, we’ve got to keep this thing. We’ve got to.” And you’ve had to do much, much worse, hovered in the air. “Why the big deal?”

Because I went to spy on Spike. Because I could. Because now I feel icky. And how must he feel? Now? About me? As weird as being loved by a vampire was, she suspected being criticized by one was worse. “There’s the whole girls’ bathroom aspect of it that is squicking me out,” she muttered.

“But…well…Buffy, we’ve faced a lot worse.”

“I know.”

“So..?”

“I’m not sure.” She looked around. “I know all about Slaying, and killing, and hunting…All that stuff. But this….!”She gestured at the gun. “It’s so…yucky! It’s so…tiny and petty and….sort of…”

“Creepy?”

“Yep.”

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“Bathroom?”

“Yup.”  She wrinkled her nose. “And worse.”

“What’s worse?” Willow asked breathlessly.

“Totally got over the whole Bot thing, you know….until I was in Warren’s house.” She shuddered. “I have faced….the Apocalypse, Prom, Cordelia, and rejection. I have faced the Master and a god. I have aced the SATS. But, God…” She shuddered again.

“What?”

“Oh, God..” Buffy muttered.

“What was it?”

“Ew,” Buffy choked out.

“Buffy, come on. It’s not good to keep stuff inside.”

“You want me to leave?” Xander asked anxiously. “Is this a girl thing? Because I can go, if you know, you’re going to discuss…”

“Warren’s dirty underwear.”

“Huh?” Willow and Xander said simultaneously.

“Warren’s dirty underwear,” Buffy repeated.

“Uh…” Xander shook his head as if erasing a mental Etch-a-Sketch. “Buffy…You know I love you, right?” He glanced enquiringly at the door to the training room and raised his voice. “In a totally best-friend kind of way, sweetie!”  He turned back to Buffy and shook his head again. “But…God, Buffy!”

“What? You asked! And you’re a guy!”

“Yeah, but I don’t want to---I don’t want to be----even be in the same room as another guy’s underwear.”

“You’re not,” both girls pointed out.

“Okay, I don’t want to be in the same room as a sentence with another guy’s dirty underwear in it.”

“Xander…”

“It’s Warren’s,” Xander pointed out, as if that bolstered his argument. “I mean, Buffy, come on, have a heart here, okay?”

“You! I was the one that saw it!”

“But I’m a guy!”

“And your point---?”

“It’s…uh….I don’t know,” he finally said. “But I don’t want to think about it.”

“If you don’t have to think about it, then I don’t.”

“Well…”

“Oh, boy…” Willow sighed, glancing from to the other. “Buffy.”

“Uh uh,” Buffy said. “If Xander doesn’t, then I don’t have to, either.”

“Xander?”

“What Buffy said, except, uh, reversed.”

“Oh, my God,” Willow exclaimed. “You two are…!”

“I’m not budging till Xander does,” Buffy said firmly. “He didn’t have to look at Warren’s dirty underwear.” She drew herself up to her full height. “Nor did I mention the whole ‘Bot thing. And the stuff I was thinking that I had to think because I was in his house, and, you know, you…think stuff.” She crossed her arms, missed, and was left trying to find something to do with her hands.

“This could be important!” Willow pleaded.

“Well, it might be, but right now it’s just…”

“Stupid?!” Willow demanded.

“Could be,” Xander and Buffy said.

“Oh, my God—“

“You know what?” Buffy asked.

“What?”

“I’m going for a walk,” she said loftily. “A---Slayer walk,” she specified. “Slayer stuff. And---I’ll----think. About stuff. And then I’ll come back.”

“Oh, that’s a good idea,” Willow said ferverently. “You, too, Xander. Go for a walk.”

“NO!” Buffy exclaimed. “No! Not with me.” She eyed Willow, then Xander. “ I said a—a---Slayer walk. I’m going to go---“

Willow cocked her head at her, and Buffy glanced away sheepishly. “Slayer stuff, huh?”

“Yes,” Buffy said. “Slayer stuff.”

“Vampires, huh?”

“Well...duh,” Buffy said limply.

“You owe me a discussion,” Willow said.

“Yes.”

“Okay, go then. So we can discuss later.”

“Bye!”

“Wow,” Xander said. “Talk about Slayer speed.”





He heard her upstairs, and froze, staring about the crypt as if he were some panicked housewife with a messy house, and the City Council had just arrived on the doorstep. All of his vampire senses seemed on the fritz, and it was a human one that he relied upon: touch. He could feel her presence, above and beyond everything she did to him in a more solid way. He closed his eyes to let her wash over him.
“Uh…Spike?”

He opened his eyes, and she was sitting before him on the ladder, a quizzical expression on her face. “You’re back!”

“In more ways than one,” she nodded. That was classic acerbic Buffy, and he noted her body language. She was loose and relaxed, sitting there, but frowning with concentration, too. Did it ever end? Now what? “And…you?”

“Never left, pet,” he said warily. Ah, yes, this is the part where it gets uncomfortable, he thought. The way she’d cuddled on his lap---oh, yes, he was going to pay for that. Here was his reckoning.

“Yeah,” Buffy sighed. “I got that part. About the other stuff…” She bowed her head and ran her hands through her hair. “You know….You’re just wrong about me.”

“Why? Because I love you?”

“That’s part of it, yeah.”

“Because you’re human? Because—“

“What?”

“Well---because I’m a vampire, you’re human--?”

“No….” She looked at him, then shook her head. “I just…had a thought and it’s gone.”

“Oh…” Except the look on her face had given him hope for a minute there, and the feeling was so unfamiliar it was almost painful. “Don’t mind me, then.”

“It’s just that…I mean, if this were five years ago, I could understand it,” Buffy said. “I was at the top of my game then.”

And then he knew. “You’re the one that’s wrong, luv.”

“What?”

“That’s not why I love you. If there’s a why, which I don’t think there is. I didn’t love you till I was human enough to, and till you were someone I could…understand, I guess. I always thought you were a bossy---“

She raised her eyebrows at him, but he stared at him. “Just didn’t figure it out till you got me scared there were worse things than being irritated by you.”

“Oh, such as?”

“Being without you,” he answered promptly, and then watched in bewilderment as her face clouded over.

“But that’s…” She stopped, looking at him. It just kept confusing her so much, the way her friends always waited for orders, to be told what to do, but were curiously silent when she really needed them. Yell at me! Disagree with me! But just come out with it!  But she couldn’t really fault them: she was what stood between them and fangy death. Who’d want to know if that barrier was failing? But Spike was always there, barging in where her best friend didn’t dare, poking at her, trying to find ways to jolt her out of her daze, loving not just her strengths… but all of her. It scared her more than anything she could fight with a stake or a dagger.

“You keep saying that…only a vampire could love somebody like you, like there’s something wrong with you, like you came back wrong. Maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe it’s only you that could make a vampire---?”

“What?”

He raised his hands, as if in surrender. “Maybe make me feel like a man again…It’s been so long I can’t remember exactly what it felt like. Feels bloody miserable.”

“You just want me. Then what? You get me, and you change back, once the novelty wears off.”

Ah, he thought. “That had nothing to do with being a vampire, luv. Some men are like that.  Happens I’m not one of them.” He paused, then continued.  “Angelus was a bastard when he was human, didn’t change much as a vampire.”

“But Angel…”

“Angel got a soul.” He sighed, wondering just how much he dared say. “I’m just the same as I always was.”

“Except for the chip.”

“You want it to be the chip, don’t you? Because what if it wasn’t? What if it’s just me and you, then?”

“It’s my friends, too.”

“Only if you let it be.” She opened her mouth to say something else and he held up his hand for one more statement. “Do you really think I haven’t changed? That I won’t stay this way?” He set down the bottle of wine he was still holding to run his hands through his hair, sinking into a chair. “It’s not going to be any different for me if you just turn around and walk away. I loved you when I didn’t think anything would make a difference except killing myself. I won’t change. I loved you when you were dead. You think I didn’t go over everything I ever did to you, and wish it all back? Think I didn’t think about just staking myself or drinking holy water…and….I wished I didn’t love you, because it’s been the most----“ He buried his face in his hands, not in despair but in impatience. “You think it’s like…a job, being loved. Like you have to be perfect. Maybe that’s what those gits you dated---“

“Hey!”

“Well, you were sort of young,” he conceded. “But you don’t love people because they’re human; you love them because they’re them, because there’s no one else like them. Because every flaw they have is theirs. It’s not brains and sense that does it to you, it’s some empty place in you that you never knew you were missing. And all of a sudden, they’re there, inside you, and you feel something you didn’t even know you could feel. Even if they don’t love you back, it’s so---“He took a deep breath.  “When you died..” he stopped and looked down at the floor. ”When you died, that was me, that empty hole with a body around it, and worse. You think there’s something wrong with you? Try being a vampire who bargains with God.”

“You…”

Thoroughly embarrassed now, he got up and fumbled around for the corkscrew, vampire strength and agility being simply not sufficient against the safeguards on a cheap bottle of wine. Buffy stared at him, her thoughts whirling around. That was what it was. She was afraid that he would get tired of her, just like all the men she’d known---just like all the men she’d known. It wasn’t the vampire part of him that she feared, it was all the rest, the way his very existence made a contradiction of her world. He could be so human sometimes, and watching him get impatient with the bottle confirmed it for her. Something clicked inside her. She’d seen Giles and Xander get similarly exasperated with inanimate objects, and here he was, picking up one bottle after another and trying to find one that had a screw top.

It was such a small thing, such a tiny little thing, to look at him, and see not just him but what had brought him to this point. “You…what?” She asked. “Promised to be a good boy?”

“Something like that,” he said cautiously, but at the wariness in his expression, she felt a pang. So that’s what it must feel like, she thought, to be distrusted.  “Couldn’t do much because of Dawn, ‘f course.”

“Like what?”

“There’s things I could have done,” he said quietly. “Thought about it. Bring you back and---“

“And what?”

He lifted a bleak face to her, expression washed free of anything except desolate memories.   “Had to decide. Couldn’t leave Dawn. Would have killed her. Figured it was just my…” He bit his lip and searched the cobwebs for an answer. “Whatever you want to call it. Losing you was like…”

“Like what?” she whispered, but her throat hurt. All this time she’d been afraid of his rejection, of opening her heart to him, and having him find it wanting. She’d felt so drained since she came back that that possibility had seemed like another death, but one you lived through, rather than have death end it. Turns out he’d been fearing the same thing.

He smiled ruefully at her question, then dropped his eyes to the bar. “Vampires don’t have words like that in their vocabularies.”

“No?”

“No, of course not. What are you thinking?”

She rubbed her hands along her thighs, then, surprised to find them dry. She felt the way one did just before a fever developed, or just coming out of an illness that left one’s bones turned into rubber. “Does that get in the way?”

“What?” He asked, but she was already standing up, and he thought, she’s leaving.

“That?” She pointed at the bottle, but it didn’t get in the way when she stepped up to him and kissed him, because he dropped it. He pulled back slightly, looking down at her. “Guess not.” She whispered.

“No, guess not,” he echoed, and then he found himself on his back as she landed on top of him, trying to get inside his clothes. He helped by ripping his shirt apart, but that involved breaking away for a second, and that was too much. He managed to shove her on her back and crawl over to her, but something made him stop above her, stop and look at her in gobsmacked amazement. She was biting her lip, and flushed, but she reached up and pulled him down on top of her, stroking his back with shaking hands. “You’re shaking.”

“No, I’m not.” But she had the tiniest smile on her face when she said it.

“Are too.” Her face was flushing, her heart speeding up, and he could feel her smile against his mouth when he kissed her. That was a new sensation and he savored it, relaxing on top of her, feeling her legs lock around his bum, her arms around his neck. He could have kissed her forever and it wouldn’t have been enough for him, because it felt different to his sense suddenly. Her hands on his face, his back, under his shirt, stroking and exploring, slow and limpid, patient.

It was slow and soft, this kiss, and it was impossible to pinpoint when, precisely, he pulled open her shirt, because his mouth never left hers. The temptations of her body and her mouth left him helpless, unable to decide.  The kiss was the thing that anchored him to her, till somehow his pants got shoved down, and he was on his back, blinking up at the crypt cobwebbed ceiling, thinking, I need to dust. And then her mouth closed around his cock, and he grabbed fistfuls of blanket and shuddered inside her mouth. He squeezed his eyes shut, afraid to look, holding on by a thread of consciousness. The sounds she made, as if she were savoring some delicacy, some expensive dish, were hard enough to resist, but too many other sensations demanded his attention, too. This is really happening, this is really happening…. She was making sounds, little noises of appreciation, and when he opened his eyes, it was the sight of her that did it to him, her mouth around his cock, the look of concentration on her face, focused entirely on what she was doing to him, that made him explode, everything  in his body gathering tightly and then shattering.  When the gasping stopped, he opened his eyes, and found her settled on his bare chest, a smile waiting to bloom on her face. He grabbed handfuls of her hair to pull her to him, her mouth to his, feeling the smile back on her lips, a slow, considering smile that made him drop back to the pillow, puzzled. “What?”

“Oh, you know—I guess there are some things even you can’t talk through.”

“Oh, that’s it---right, then---“ Abruptly, she was on her back, and he was about to exact his revenge, but somehow her mouth got in the way, and he forgot whatever plans he had, whatever thoughts he’d formed. They were impossible to retain as he re-acquainted himself with her flavor, her texture. Even the bed they lay on evaporated, with her hands shifting on his face, lying belly to belly. Only her skin was allure enough to entice him from her lips, finding new flavors in her gentle contours, the slight curves of her belly and breast, the delicate shape of her nipples. She clutched at his hair and shoulders as he touched and kissed, stroked and sucked, her gasps heating him in a way no blood could. He had to pull away from her to push her jeans away, but once she was free of them, she pulled herself up to him and kissed him so gently, so soft, that he was left staring at her. She turned bright red at his expression, then settled back into the pillows, pulling him down with her.

His jeans were still around his hips, and he rid himself of them swiftly, his hands inexplicably developing extra fingers that got in the way. Their eyes met as he crawled across the bed to her, sank down on her, and only when he slipped inside her did either one blink. He braced himself and pushed deeper and she arched and gasped, tightening around him, ankles locking behind his waist, hands clutching convulsively in his hair. He felt like he was melting inside her, trying to keep from dissolving into air, searching for some anchor. There was no rhythm to it, somehow, only her eyes on his, moving like one organism, her forehead pressed against his, even when she came, and he had to close his eyes and gasp for control. He went slower and harder, and she buried her face in his shoulder, and took him with her this time.

Feeling only gradually turned to him, and he realized he was lying limply on her like a haddock. He shifted away and she moved with him till they were curled together, rumpled blankets all around. She pushed her head into a more comfortable position—for her---on his chest that would have paralyzed one of his arms if he’d been human, and he happily pulled her closer. Circulation be damned.

“I should go,” Buffy muttered.

“Not just yet.”

“I can’t stay.”

She was right, too, that was the thing. But as long as she kissed him the way she’d had, he was happy to be her secret. “Just a little longer.”

She lifted her head and looked at him. “I don’t think that’s possible.”

“What?”

“A little,” she whispered. Never mind that they were naked, that she’d had his cock in her mouth----she was blushing. “A little isn’t enough, and….I don’t think there’s enough too much, you know?”

If he said one thing, he’d ruin this, but he couldn’t stifle his grin at the sincere, clumsy, compliment. When she saw him grinning, she smiled crookedly. “Say that three times fast.”

“I’ll practice,” he said dryly.

“You do that.”

“I’ll study my notes.”

“There’ll be a quiz.”

“What if I’m bad?”

“At what, exactly?”  At that, he buried his face in her hair. She sighed, and then reluctantly disentangled herself. “I have to go.”

“Stay,” he said.

“Not yet.” At that his ears perked up. Yet? As in sometime but not now? He sat up.

“Sometime?”

She was sliding off the bed now, sighing and finding her clothes. “Soon. As soon as I tell Xander.” She looked at him. “Want to tell him for me?”

Xander would be furious, probably at him. However, he might be so pissed he got mad at Buffy. What a wonderful opportunity to piss him off, and what an awful possibility because Buffy was so sensitive about her friends now. He rubbed his eyes. “I’ll take you home.”

“I’m the Slayer.”

“And I’m sleeping alone.”

“So am I.”

He stepped into his jeans and shook his head at her. “With you, it’s by choice.” She shook her hair out after pulling on her tee shirt, then touched his stomach tentatively.

“Don’t be too sure of that.”

“Hey…”

They heard the foot steps too late. Spike was bare chested, and Buffy was dressed, but mussed and bare foot. The bed was a mess, with the covers shoved every which way.

Xander came trotting down the stairs, unconcerned, already talking. “Hey, Willow said you were---Guh!” He looked from one to the other, then at the bed, and blanched. Buffy and Spike stood frozen, Buffy with her hands still pressed aginst his stomach. Still life with vampire, she thought.   “Sorry---sorry. Should have knocked. Uh---I’ll---uh--- Guh----Gotta go. Later.” He whirled and vanished up the stairs.