All About Spike - Print Version
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Love is Blind
By Avalon

S/B, NC-17 (eventually), Prologue/24

SPOILERS: Season 5, up to "Listening to Fear". It would also help to have seen the Angel episode "The Trial", as I stol...er...borrowed elements from this. OK, I borrowed the entire last act. When you care enough to steal from the very best...

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: To my beta reader, Linda Campbell, who knew that Spike was a hottie, long before I did. What can I say? Better late than never! :)  Oh yeah...and for the awesome beta reading.

DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em. Not mine. 'Nuff said.



Prologue


"For love is blind and lovers cannot see"
-- William Shakespeare




//click//

Dear Giles.

Well, this is pretty strange. Plus, I'm not certain this thing is working. It sounds like it is but I can't really be sure. I hope so. It would be too ironic if my last words wound up as just a bunch of static on the tape.

Oops. Gave the ending away there, didn't I. Sorry. Still, it's not like you didn't see this coming, right? We both know this is bad. Actually I think I've reached a whole new level on the Buffy bad spectrum.

And it's not going to get any better, is it?

Poor Giles. You've been trying so hard to sound upbeat and positive around me. But...well, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you're a really bad liar.

Or maybe it's just that you can't lie to me.

Not that I don't appreciate you trying, really. It gave me a nice couple of days, where I could pretend everything was going to be all right, that my eyes would somehow get better, and we'd all live happily ever after.

Damned demon.

OK, back to what I was saying. Since I can't tell when the tape is about to run out, I'd better get to the important stuff sooner rather than later.

First of all -- this wasn't your fault. Please don't blame yourself (and don't tell me you're not -- I can hear it in your voice). You gave me plenty of warning -- I distinctly remember the words "...and be careful Buffy. Don't forget it can spit acid...." And how revolting is that anyway? (the acid, not your warning).

I did listen to you, honest. But I was...well, not overconfident, exactly. More -- distracted, I guess. Too much going around in circles in my mind. I should have known better, especially after that vampire skewered me with my own stake. Guess my heart wasn't really in it that night. Too worried about my mom, wondering what I was going to do about Dawn, thinking about Glory... And besides, it was just a little demon -- relatively speaking. But then its really, really big cousin showed up and... well, you know what happened next.

I know I killed the small one while I could still see a bit, but the other got away. Actually, I'm kind of surprised it didn't stop and kill me on the way, but maybe the wound I gave it was more serious than I thought. Still, that means there's an injured monster roaming around out there...and no Slayer to stop it.

You've all done a great job of patrolling and keeping things under control, really you have. I know I shouldn't blame myself for what happened to Willow. Yes, I know she'll be all right, and that we're all lucky that it was just a broken arm and all, but still...

It was my job. I'm the Slayer. I'm the one who's supposed to be out there keeping the night safe, not sitting here, all sheltered and warm. And I keep asking myself -- what's going to happen when Glory crawls back out from whatever rock she's hiding under? She wiped the floor with me before - you guys won't stand a chance.

No offence.

So -- where does that leave us? The doctors weren't exactly holding back with the naked truth. I'm never going to see again, not even with Slayer super healing powers. Just too much damage. I know there's no magical cure either -- we already had this conversation when my Mom got sick. And I'm not sure I believe in miracles -- at least the good kind -- anymore.

So what's left? I know - I'm being way rhetorical. And probably pretty pretentious. Must be all those Psych classes at College. But I'm just trying to prove that I really have thought all this out, that I'm not just doing this on some suicidal whim.

Sorry. Poor choice of words there. I don't have a death wish, really I don't, no matter what Spike said (and why am I even thinking about him right anyway? Sometimes I worry about my psyche...) Anyhow, I really have thought this through and we both know there's only one answer.

The world needs a Slayer. And...and I can't be her anymore.

So I'm going out tonight to hunt down the demon that helped do this to me.

Don't get me wrong. I know I don't have a hope in hell. I'm not blind. Well, OK, I am. But you know what I mean. I know what the odds are and how this is all going to end. It's pretty much a given. But maybe, just maybe, I can take the demon with me. Give Willow a little goodbye vengeance present. And keep the night a little bit safer until... ...

...until the next Slayer comes along.

Poor little Slayer. Doesn't seem fair to load all this on her somehow. I know how tough it was when I was just starting out, and I had Merrick and then you and all my friends to help me.

I hope she has someone.

I don't know if you'll be her Watcher. There's a lot of stuff I never asked, although I always wondered. Just seemed like it would be too painful to talk about somehow. And the time was never right. Well, it's definitely too late for twenty questions now. But -- if you do get to meet her, the new Slayer I mean, will you ask her to watch out for Dawn for me? I still don't know what or who she is, but I know she's important. Besides, she feels like my little sister. I love her, even if she is annoying pretty much all of the time.

So, where was I? Oh yeah, Buffy's famous last words.

Er...drawing a blank. How about if you just think of something clever and pretend I said it?

Anyway, you do understand why I'm doing it this way, rather than in person, right? For starters, I know you guys wouldn't let me out of your sight if you knew what I was planning to do. Which is why I had to wait over a week until you all let your guard down a bit.

Still, I got a week. More time than most Slayers do, probably. And I got to say goodbye to everyone, in my own way. I don't think anyone suspected what I was planning, although I could be wrong. It wouldn't surprise me if you knew, or at least guessed. You could always see right through me, couldn't you? No pun intended.

Today was nice. A day in the sun with my Watcher and all my friends. Will you tell Riley that I'm sorry for snapping at him? I didn't mean to, it's just he seems to like me so much better helpless, like he wants to protect me and look after me and... ...

...and I am so not going to discuss my boyfriend with you. Besides, I can tell him everything on his own tape. Just forget everything I just said, okay?

Except...you will look after him, won't you? And Willow and Xander and all the rest? And my mom and Dawn? They're going to need someone.

After.

OK. I'll put the other tapes in the top drawer of my nightstand. They'll be labelled, although it's kind of hard to write when you can't see. Not that my handwriting was ever that great to start with. Still, I'm sure you'll figure out which is which. You'll make sure my Mom and the others get them, won't you? Thanks.

I...I guess there's nothing more to say.

Except...

Thank you for being my Watcher. I love you.

//click//



Part 1


"Ever wayward, weak and blind"
-- Gustave Nadaud




Everything was harder when you were blind.  Even the simplest things became more difficult, more time consuming.  Things like getting dressed.  Sneaking out her bedroom window.  And navigating.  Yeah, navigating definitely had them all beat.  Buffy didn't really care if she was wearing different socks or if her clothes clashed -- although looking frumpy on the last night of her life was a pretty big downer.  And climbing down the tree outside her window hadn't been all that hard really -- it had mostly been a matter of hugging the trunk for dear life and trying to figure out when it was safe to let go -- OK, she had misjudged that one a bit...but finding her way through the night, all alone in the dark...that was a bit much, even for her.

Forty-eight, forty-nine, fifty.  Buffy came to an unsteady halt and stretched a cautious toe forward, feeling for the curb.  Feeling stupid.

This was ridiculous.  If you had asked her a week ago, she would have said she could have found the cemetery blindfolded.  All those nights of patrolling, all of those evening trips to and from the graveyard -- she should have been able to close her eyes and find the way without even thinking about it.

Only it hadn't quite worked out like that.  She had crept out at just after midnight -- somewhat startled to discover that she knew exactly what time it was, despite the fact that she couldn't see any of the clocks in the house.  Somehow, she had been able to tell the time by the level of darkness pressing upon her, as if she could sense how far away the dawn was and how long ago the sun had set.  'I wonder if the vamps can do this?' she had thought, then had shuddered slightly at yet one more example of how much her life had changed since becoming the Slayer, and how closely her world was entangled now with the other creatures of darkness.

As if that wasn't depressing enough, it had started to rain.  Hard.

Swell.

The most difficult part (besides not being able to shake the feeling that she was completely and irreversibly lost) had been trying to look as if she could see, as if she knew exactly where she was and what she was doing, in case someone did spot her and wonder what a blind girl was doing wandering about at this hour.  The streets were pretty much deserted -- she hadn't sensed anyone since she had left her own neighbourhood, but that didn't mean there weren't people out there.  She was almost as worried about running into a good samaritan as she was about the vampires and demons.  Well, almost.  Still, her spidey sense wasn't tingling.  That was a good sign.  She would know if there were people -- or monsters -- about.  Really she would.  She drew in a quick, somewhat shaky breath.  She had to trust her remaining senses, and that other sense deep inside her, the one that made her who and what she was.

After all, it was all she had left.

Buffy hitched her weapons bag a little higher on her shoulder and shook her head, feeling raindrops spray around her with the movement, and an icy tendril of water roll down the back of her neck.  Shivering slightly, she crossed the road then turned right.  The cemetery was close... maybe.  Still, it was a small town.  She'd find it eventually.  She hoped.  Or the monsters would find her first.  She reached a cold hand inside her bag and checked that her weapons were all within reach, reminding herself where everything was stashed.  She had just brought the basics - a couple of stakes, a long, wicked-looking knife, and a crossbow -- although she wasn't sure how much use the last one would be.  She didn't think she could hit the side of a barn right now (not that there were a whole lot of barns that needed slaying within Sunnydale city limits) let alone a moving target.  Maybe if she asked nicely the demon would stand still while she shot at it...

Or not.

Buffy sighed, then trudged onward.  Nobody had ever said this would be easy, after all.  At least the weapons check, plus her constant tension, blended with just a little bit of fear and a whole lot of frustration, kept her mind off other, more unpleasant things.  Like how she didn't want to die.  How she really really didn't want to die.  Not tonight.  Not any night, actually, but especially not tonight, and not like this -- blind, soaking wet, and probably wearing mismatched socks.  'I wanted to be the first Slayer to retire.  I wanted to graduate College.  I wanted to see the world.  I wanted to have a life..."  Misery welled up within her.

"This is so not fair," she thought as she took another step forward...

...and promptly fell over a tombstone.

With a startled yelp, the Slayer found herself over-balancing and falling forward, only reaching out to slap the ground with her hands and cushion the fall at the very last second.  She still landed jarringly hard.  For a moment she lay motionless, wincing as a shaft of pain shot through her arm, starting at her elbow and working its way up.

She was lying on a newly dug grave, Buffy realized (which beat lying in a new grave, but not by much).  The rain had turned the earth to a sea of mud and she could feel it plastering her body, coating her like... well, like mud.  With a sound of disgust, the Slayer reached up to scrape a large clump of dirt off her forehead and out of her eyes.  Not that it made any difference, sight-wise, but it was stinging.  Then she sighed and hauled herself slowly to her feet, checking for any major damage.  Nothing.  Just a few more bumps and bruises to add to the collection she had started when she had fallen out of the tree...plus a funny bone that was feeling pretty un-funny.

Rubbing her elbow, Buffy turned slowly, unsure of her footing, making sure the bag was still looped around her neck.  She pushed ineffectively at the mud caking her shirt and pants with one hand -- it felt like she was wearing half the graveyard -- and suppressed a shudder as yet another gallon or so of rainwater ran down her back.  'I do not believe this,' she thought miserably as she prised one foot out of the ankle-deep mud, trying not to lose her shoe as she did.  "Life just sucks," she said out loud.

"That is does, darlin'."

The voice came from behind her and a little way to the right.  Buffy gasped and spun around, her feet sliding a little on the wet ground.  Nevertheless, in less than a heartbeat she was in a defensive stance, weight balanced on both feet, knees slightly bent, crossbow in one hand and knife in the other while her heart hammered wildly as she tried to lock in on the other presence.  The driving rain was making it difficult, the water messing with her senses and throwing her off balance.  There was definitely something out there, she could tell, and it wasn't human.  But other than that...  If only she could see.  Buffy caught her breath then stilled, blinking away the raindrops running into her eyes.  And listened.

There.  He...it...whatever it was, was moving toward her.  Slowly, unhurriedly, as if it had all the time in the world.  And...it was familiar.  She knew it.  Him.

"Look like you've seen a ghost.  Feeling jumpy tonight, are you, Slayer?"  A pause, then:  "Gotta say I'm loving the wet t-shirt look..."

English accent.  Taunting overtones.  Sexual innuendo.

Spike.

Buffy's shoulders abruptly sagged with relief.  Not a demon (well, yes, technically he was, but not a threat to life and limb.  Maybe.)  She lowered the crossbow and knife before he could see how much her hands were shaking as a single thought flashed across her mind.  'Don't let him know.'  Buffy wasn't quite sure why, but there was definitely something inside her that did not want the vampire to know that she was blind.  Not questioning the instinct, the Slayer turned her head to where she thought he was and said flatly:  "Spike.  What are you doing here?"

"I live here, remember?"

She must be near his crypt then.  Good, that told her where she was...more or less.

"Haven't seen much of you lately," he was saying.  He made it sound as if it was because she was wearing too much clothing, not that she hadn't been around the cemetery, and suddenly Buffy became acutely aware of how much her wet shirt was clinging to her.  Resisting the urge to fold her arms over her chest, she put the knife away, though keeping a good grip on the crossbow, and turned fractionally to follow the sound of his voice.

"Too busy with Captain Cardboard to come out and kill the bad guys, is that it?  Lad seems pretty high maintenance to me.  Wonder what your Watcher thinks about all this shirking..."

"Flattered as I am that you seem to be so worried about my job and my love life, I really don't have time for this, Chip Boy."  Sarcasm dripped from her voice and for just a moment Buffy felt better, probably the best she had felt since she had been blinded.  Somehow, trading veiled -- and not so veiled -- insults with Spike, not having to worry about his feelings or be treated like a piece of glass that was liable to break at any minute...it was refreshing.  And she had missed it.  And for just a moment, she could almost believe that things would be all right, that everything would work out in the end, somehow...

And then he was at her back, one hand seizing her right wrist, the one holding the crossbow, while his other arm snaked around her waist, pulling her tightly against him, his grip like iron.  She hadn't even heard him move.  Her heart, which had been slowing, jolted painfully and resumed a frantic pace.  He would be able to hear it, Buffy knew, would know just how frightened she really was.  Anger flashed through her instantly at the thought and she struggled against the vampire's grip.  Nothing.  She could get no purchase on the wet mud, her feet slipping beneath her, while he seemed to be rooted into the Earth itself, solid as a tree trunk behind her.

"Ken doll is obviously a bad influence on you, Slayer."  Spike's voice said in her ear.  If he had breath, she would have felt it along her neck, he was that close.  "You're all distracted," he continued.  "You'd never have let me get this close before."

"Maybe I just let you get close so I could do this."  With that Buffy lashed downward with one foot and jerked her head backward, feeling a reassuring thud as the back of her skull impacted with his nose while her heel drove into his instep.

"Bloody hell," Spike said, dropping her like a hot brick, both of his hands going to his nose while he teetered precariously on one foot behind her.

The Slayer spun, her actions coming fast and automatic.  A stake was in her left hand, the crossbow pointed unerringly at his heart -- she didn't need to see to know where it was pointed.  She just knew -- and the adrenaline rushing through her was helping, rather than hurting her fighting skills.  Another joyous rush went through her.  She was still the Slayer.  She could still kick major vampire ass...

...and then a demon launched itself at her out of the night and she flew backward beneath its weight.



Part 2


 "The night has a thousand eyes and the day but one"
 -- Francis William Bourdillon




The demon was big, scaly, and seemed to have more than its fair share of claws and teeth.  And it smelled.  A lot.  "There's just no excuse for not flossing," Buffy said breathlessly as she fought to remain upright, her feet skidding on the wet earth.  But then the demon's full weight was on her, razor scales pressing against her skin...and she no longer cared about the smell.

Buffy tumbled to the ground beneath the monster, its weight driving all the air from her lungs and for a moment it was all she could do just to breathe.  It reached for her throat with its fangs -- and even oxygen didn't seem all that important anymore.  The Slayer rolled aside, evading the teeth, and reaching out desperately for a weapon -- any weapon -- but her fingers encountered only empty air.  The creature's first rush must have sent them flying -- and she couldn't see where they had gone.  Unless she rolled over them by accident, she realized grimly, she wasn't going to be getting them back in a hurry either.

This was bad.

Gasping, the Slayer lashed upwards with both feet -- and missed.  By a mile.  She tried again and managed to land a weak blow on the demon's -- shoulder? -- which it ignored, backhanding her so that she found herself flying through the air, hitting the ground even harder than before.

Very bad.  Badness on a cosmic scale.

Buffy sensed movement and rolled again hastily, barely avoiding the demon's raking teeth.  One tooth-edge caught her along the back of the hand, drawing a thin line of blood, but she ignored it.  Instead she aimed another kick up at the monster.

She might as well have kicked one of the tombstones.  The demon rocked back slightly from the impact then lunged for her again, roaring in what she could only presume was fury.  'Great.  Guess I made it mad.'  Together Buffy and the monster rolled down a slight incline with it, their limbs tangling.

"Very nice," she heard Spike say distinctly as she fell.  "Slayer mud-wrestling.  Wish I'd known ahead of time.  Could've sold tickets..."

Buffy came to a stop on top of the demon and, for just an instant, she had the upper hand.  But no weapons.  With a frustrated curse Buffy settled for hitting the demon as hard as she could.  Maybe she could beat it to death...

Or maybe it would die of boredom.  Her blow had no effect at all, at least not on the monster.  Her own arm went slightly numb from the impact though, as her fist connected with its jaw.  It was like hitting a slab of concrete.  Big, angry concrete with fangs.  With an ease that was frightening, the demon threw her off and she landed hard again, several feet away.

If she had injured it in her previous fight, the monster certainly wasn't showing the effects now.  Which meant that it healed fast.  Or was pretty much impervious to whatever she could throw at it.  And it was fast.  The Slayer barely had time to get her feet beneath her before the creature was on her again, roaring like a banshee and slashing at her with both sets of claws.  She aimed a series of punches at it, driving it back a little by sheer force of will, but she was beginning to tire...and it still seemed as strong as ever.


 *     *     *


What the hell was she playing at?  Spike frowned and moved closer to the two combatants.  He had been keeping out of the way, enjoying the fight...and the view.  Wet, muddy Slayer, with bits of clothing starting to come undone... very nice.  But she kept leaving herself open to hits that a child could have avoided, and passing up obvious opportunities to go in for the kill.  And why she refused to use her weapons when they were so close was beyond him.  As he watched, the Slayer reeled back from another blow and Spike's frown deepened.  This was just...weird.


 *     *     *


Buffy was still hitting the demon with everything she had, but all it was doing was making her arms ache.  Whereas, when its blows connected, it felt as though buildings were falling on her.  Big, bricky buildings.  Her breath was coming in ragged gasps -- on the upside, at least she could breathe again -- and her reactions were beginning to slow.  Actually, everything seemed to be slowing, the Slayer realized distantly.  The world around her, what she could still sense of it, was fading, as if time itself were coming to a halt.  For a moment, alarm darted through her...and then recognition banished the fear.

She had experienced this sensation before -- just a few times, true, but often enough that she recognized it for what it was.  She had felt it when she had faced the Master, and when she had gone up against Adam.  Had felt it at the moment when Angelus had had her cornered and defenceless.  'Take everything else away,' he had said then, mockingly, 'and what's left?'

'Me.' She had answered.  Buffy.

No, not Buffy.

The Slayer.

And, as simply as that, she forgot the rain, forgot her blindness, forgot where and when she was...forgot everything except the battle.  And the enemy.

She was the Slayer.  And she would not go down without a fight.


 *     *    *


'Atta girl,' Spike thought, as Buffy surged back to her feet, landing two swift hits on the demon and following up with a roundhouse kick, one foot connecting squarely with its chest.  'That's the Slayer we all know and hate.'  He took another step closer...which was when he noticed it.

She was fighting with her eyes closed.


 *     *     *


The end came suddenly, unexpectedly.  An unseen, unsensed blow caught Buffy across the chest and she found herself sailing backwards, crashing into a nearby statue, hard enough to crack the marble.  And, for just a moment it felt as if something else, besides the statue, had cracked.

As quickly as that, it was over.  The trance -- whatever it was that she had been in -- ended and she was suddenly all too aware of her body again, of the burning in her lungs and the way her muscles were trembling with fatigue.  And most of all, of the pain shooting along her shoulders and down her back, over her right thigh and hip, and across the back of her hand.  Once again she was aware of the cold rain pouring down on her and the ambient noises surrounding her...

The demon howled, as if sensing its triumph and then, to Buffy's complete and utter lack of surprise, it came at her once more.  Only this time the Slayer couldn't seem to move.  Her battered body refused to surmount the wall of pain that had risen up around her.  She managed to get her hands up in time to grasp the creature by the neck and hold it away from her, but that was all.  She could do no more.  And she couldn't keep this up much longer...


 *     *     *


Spike was becoming seriously worried.  Stupid git was going to get herself killed.  And she wouldn't even ask him for help.  Bloody arrogant Slayer.  He should just walk away and let the demon finish her off.  Serve her bleeding well right...

Only...he couldn't.  Much as part of him would like to, he couldn't really let her die.  Could he?


 *     *     *


Buffy's fingers were starting to cramp, the muscles in her arms and back screaming from the strain of holding the demon back, and her tired mind was all out of options.  She couldn't let go of the monster or it would kill her.  On the plus side, the demon could get no closer while she had it by the throat.  So the only question was which one of them was going to weaken first.  And, given the way Buffy's arms were trembling, it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out which way the fight was going to go.

The impasse was finally broken when the demon suddenly did the unexpected -- pulling backwards and breaking her grasp. Before she could move again, before she could even think about moving, the monster was lunging at her, raking downward with one set of claws...

...and the world stopped.

The horrible sound of something tearing...

Something warm and wet pouring down her left arm, mixing with the rain...

The feeling when the body knows that it has been injured but the pain hasn't had time to travel up the nerve-ends to the brain yet...

And then the agony.  Like a wall of flame, tearing through her body, burning every nerve end and scorching her soul.  'Didn't think it would hurt this much,' Buffy had time to think...and then her eyes were sliding shut as the world around her began to fade away.


 *     *     *


Spike was already in motion.  He had begun moving the moment that the scent of the Slayer's blood, sharp and metallic, had pierced the night air.  As the demon's claws were ripping down the length of her left arm, starting at the collarbone and ending just above the back of her wrist, he was launching himself through the air toward the monster.

Once, Spike would have stood back, admiring the details as he watched the Slayer die.  He probably would have applauded...or helped.  Or he might have attacked the demon himself so he could be the one to finally end her life.  He had fantasized about this moment so many times, had visualized what it would be like to stand over this Slayer while her blood poured out onto the ground and the light faded from her eyes.  He had dreamed about it, had envisioned every nuance, every motion, every word...

But never once had he pictured himself leaping into the fray to save her.  To save the Slayer.

Bugger.

Spike's rush hit the demon with enough force to send it staggering to one side, away from Buffy.  His game face on, he threw everything he had at the monster.  Just keep it on the defensive, keep it moving away from her...but then it hit him on the jaw and the vampire's goal changed to merely staying conscious.  Damn, the thing was strong.  Spike ducked another blow and backed up a step, wondering what to do next.

In his right mind he never would have taken on something this big.  At least not without a hell of a lot more reinforcements and/or weaponry.  Yeah -- heavy ordinance would be good.  And a plan.  Definitely a plan.  Like running.  Spike had never had a problem with running away.  Live to fight another day, or at the very least come back and stab the enemy in the back -- that was his motto.  Well, one of them, anyway.  He could just go, take to his heels -- odds were good the demon wouldn't even follow him.  Only...

"Stupid bloody pillock," Spike snarled to himself as he launched himself forward again and swung another punch at the demon.  "Bleeding soft-hearted prat."  He punctuated every word with a hit to the creature.  "It wasn't bad enough you went and got this sodding chip in your head, that you're about as scary as Donald-Bloody-Duck now.  But no, now you have to go and risk your stupid un-life for the stupid bloody Slayer.  Isn't that just great?  How pathetic can you get?"

On the other hand -- it did feel kind of good to finally have something on which to take out his frustrations.  A little violence to take the edge off.  Couldn't hurt, could it?  For just an instant Spike found himself grinning as the demon reeled back under his assault.  But then it struck him in the middle of the chest...and the vampire's grin vanished.

Spike went down like he had been hit by a wrecking ball, enveloped in pain.  For a moment the world spun and it was all he could do to keep his eyes open...to see the monster reaching down for Spike's head with both sets of clawed hands.

The vampire's mouth went dry as the demon took a good grip on both sides of his head...and began to twist.  Fear tore through him.  The sodding demon was going to rip his sodding head off and smile at him while it did it.

Shit.

Spike was struggling frantically -- and futilely -- reaching for something to use as a weapon when the creature suddenly stiffened.  A surprised look flitted across its face and then its eyes rolled back in its head.  A thin stream of dark blood trickled out of its mouth...and it collapsed.  Right on top of him.

Well, that was unexpected.

And uncomfortable.

Hesitantly at first, then with more force Spike reached up and shoved the creature off then put a hand that was shaking slightly up to his neck, as if to reassure himself that his head was still attached to the rest of him.  It was.  Oh good.

Another movement caught his attention and Spike looked up, blinking away the rain that was running into his eyes.  Someone was standing over him, he realized, a long silver knife held in a bloodstained hand.

"Is it dead yet?"  Buffy managed to ask, her voice reed thin and shaking.  And then she too crashed to the ground beside him, her legs crumpling beneath her.



Part 3


 "Comes the blind fury"
 -- John Milton




Spike didn't catch her before she fell.  He didn't even try.  He was still flat on his back, trying to make the pain go away and hoping the world would stop spinning, when Buffy collapsed.  For a long moment he stared across the soggy grass at her, blinking in surprise, then he hauled himself upwards slowly.  Or tried to.

It hurt.  That last hit from the demon felt like it had broken a few ribs.  Actually, it felt like it had broken a whole lot of ribs.  Damn.  Spike hated broken bones.   They hurt like hell.

Still...he had other things to worry about.  The ribs would heal soon enough, but not if the demon got back up and continued with the killing.  And then there was the Slayer, who might or might not be dead.  Or at the very least, bleeding to death beside him.

No.  There.  He could hear her heartbeat through the rain.  It was a little weak, but even and steady.  She wasn't dead.  Or even dying.  Not yet.  Relief poured through him, followed by a chaser of annoyance at yet more evidence of how much he cared, despite his best efforts to the contrary.

"Damned Slayer," he muttered as he climbed painfully to his feet, holding his side with one hand.  "This is all your fault.  Couldn't even kill one demon without getting yourself all shredded.  Not to mention me."  Stiffly he walked over to her then bent down and pulled the knife from her limp grasp.  Narrowing his eyes, he turned and moved towards the demon, kicking the unmoving creature in the side and enjoying the solid thump of his boot on its hide.

"As for you," he said, hefting the knife in one hand.  "Let's see how you like this..."

With that, Spike bent down and, with relish and a certain grim sense of satisfaction, hacked off the demon's head.


 *     *     *


It didn't take long.  Once Spike might have lingered over the task, enjoying himself, but he had more important things on his mind.  Like the fact that he had an unconscious Slayer to deal with.  And how anyone could come along at any time.  Her friends would probably jump to the wrong conclusion -- what else was new? -- and stake him on the spot, whereas his friends...er...acquaintances... fellow creatures of the night -- whatever -- would try to finish her off.  And him too if he got in their way.  Besides which, she was still bleeding.  The scent was wafting around him like honey and clover -- and probably drawing every creature within a five mile radius.  Slayer blood.  The ultimate goal of half the undead population of Sunnydale.

Scratch that.  The entire undead population of Sunnydale.  Including him.  His fangs had descended again, unbidden, at the thought of all that lovely hemoglobin, just laying there.  Spike licked his lips...then shook his head.  He didn't need the warning tingle from the chip in his head to stop that line of thought in its tracks.  No.  It was...

It was one of those emotions that Spike had decided he wasn't going to think too hard about.  He glared down at the unconscious Slayer.  "I should just leave you here," he said out loud.  "You're more bloody trouble than you're worth..."  Nevertheless, with a sigh he straightened, wincing, then crossed to her side.

Her heartbeat was still steady and the bleeding from the wounds on her arm had slowed a little.  When Spike laid one palm along her cheek though, her skin was cold and she did not move at his touch.  "Probably get sodding pneumonia, you will.  And find a way to blame me for it."  Swearing under his breath, Spike shrugged his coat off, wrapped it around her, then, bracing himself against the pain in his ribs, bent down to pick her up.

She was surprisingly light, the vampire found as he lifted her.  There was so much strength that emanated from her, so much force of mind, that he tended to forget just how small she really was.  Now though, her body limp and cold in his arms, she seemed almost...

Actually, she seemed pretty much like she always did.  Only unconscious.  And bleeding.  He had to get her out of here.  Neverthless, for the briefest of moments, Spike allowed himself to savour the feeling of having the Slayer in his arms.  He swallowed once, deeply, then straightened and, ignoring the fire that was burning a path along his right side, carried her off into the night.


 *     *     *


Buffy was dreaming.  She was on a boat sailing away from something or someone, the spray from the water lashing her across the face and the even motion of the craft making her faintly nauseous.  Besides which, she was cold.  And her arm hurt where the giant tuna fish had fallen on it.  And why the hell was Giles dancing with an octopus anyway?

OK.  This was way too bizarre.  Time to wake up.  But then the dream changed and she was underwater, miles beneath the surface, the light swiftly receding.  There was something else with her in the dark, something that grabbed her by the ankles and was trying to pull her even deeper... Buffy kicked out desperately with both feet, fighting to get back to the light, but it was no use.  A fish, or another creature altogether brushed by her, its skin cold against her own, but she couldn't see it, could see nothing except the inky blackness surrounding her.  Then, even the fish was gone, and she was all alone.  In the dark.  Panic ripped through her, and she flailed out with both hands...

...and hit something solid.  Buffy's eyes flew open -- and met only darkness.  Suddenly the terror from the dream became real.  She was trapped in the dark, couldn't see, couldn't...

"Quit bloody struggling, will you?"  A voice said, sounding slightly winded.  "I'm trying to help!"

Buffy stilled, her heart thudding as reality crashed in around her.  "S-spike?"  There was a faint quaver in her voice, one that she couldn't quite conceal.

"No, it's bleeding Prince Charming.  Who do you think?"

Buffy blinked as the last traces of the dream faded.  She gradually became aware of her surroundings.  The scent of leather and stale cigarettes.  The sound of rain falling. Cold water running down her face and neck.  Something warm  and soft enfolding her -- Spike's coat, her mind supplied -and her cheek resting against something cool and solid.  The sensation of movement...  He was carrying her.  Buffy jerked once in instinctive reaction and Spike's grip around her tightened.

"Are you trying to make me drop you?" he snarled.

Buffy stilled, but it wasn't because of Spike's words.  No, it was the pain that was rising up inside her with every movement.  Her left arm felt as if it were on fire and she could feel blood dripping down her fingers onto the ground below.  And, for the first time, she was glad to be blind -- she so did not want to see how bad the damage was.  The rest of her wasn't much better either -- pretty much everything hurt.  A lot.  That demon had really done a number on her.

The demon...  Buffy tensed slightly, ignoring the various body parts that shrieked at her and the wordless growl from the vampire carrying her.  "Is it dead?" she asked, her voice a little breathless.  It wasn't from fear though.  It wasn't.  And neither did it have anything to do with the fact that she was cradled against Spike's chest while he carried her to god knows where...

"Yeah, it's dead," he said.

"You sure?"

She could almost sense his grin.  "Pretty sure."

Buffy frowned, but let it go as relief began to cascade through her, leaving her weak and shaken.  It was over.  The demon was dead.  And she was still alive.

She was still alive.

Oh.

Not quite certain how she felt about that, Buffy turned her mind to other things.  Like the fact that she was in Spike's arms...and wrapped in his coat.  She twitched.  "Put me down," she said, her voice as steady as she could make it.

"Oh sure.  So you can fall on your face before you get three steps.  Not bloody likely."

"I can walk..."

"Sure you can."  With that he moved his left hand, the hand that was beneath her shoulders, and squeezed her left arm, just above the elbow.

She didn't quite pass out, but it was a near thing.  The pain became agony, sweeping all the way down to her toenails, and she couldn't stifle the gasp that rose to her lips.  The world rocked for a moment and she distantly realized that Spike's chip had kicked in with his actions.  He staggered briefly then righted himself and kept going.  'Serves you right,' she thought hazily.

"Sure you can walk, Slayer," Spike was saying, an echo of pain still in his voice.  "Run a bloody marathon, you can.  I'll just leave you here then.  Let you find your own way home."

"So why don't you?"  Her voice was tired, bleak, and wracked with agony.  "Why are you helping me anyway?  Why didn't you just let the demon kill me?"

He didn't answer her.  Instead, there was a brief silence then he said shortly:  "We're here."

"Where?" Buffy whispered, the agony in her arm beginning to abate, just a little.  But not enough.  Not nearly enough.

"My place."

Sensations sweeping over her.  No more rain.  Damp earth.  A sense of great age.  A small, enclosed room.  Spike's crypt.  He was telling the truth.

Something deep inside in the Slayer loosened, some tension that she hadn't even known was there until it was gone, vanished.  She knew where she was.  With that knowledge came a sense of relief -- and she began to shake, her body trembling violently within the folds of Spike's coat.  It wasn't because of her injuries or the cold, she knew.  It was...everything was beginning to crash down upon her.  The aftereffects of the battle with the demon.  Shock probably.  Surprise that she was still in the land of the living -- more or less.  And...and something else altogether.

For just an instant she felt Spike's arms tighten around her...and then, without warning, he let her go.  Buffy tensed, expecting to hit the ground hard.  Instead she found herself being deposited fairly gently on the top of the marble tomb in the middle of his crypt.  He set her down...and she immediately began to topple over to one side, just managing to brace herself with her good arm so that she remained upright -- weak, dizzy, blind, and shaking like a leaf.  But sitting up.  Yay for Buffy.

"You okay?"  Buffy heard the scratch of a match, then a wreath of smoke wafted toward her.  She shifted uncomfortably, trying to find a position where her arm didn't hurt quite so much.

"Yes," she said firmly, keeping her gaze levelled downward so he couldn't see her eyes, wishing the trembling would stop.  "I'll be fine."

"You sure?"

"Yes."

"Good."  With that he seized her, holding her firmly by both wrists, ignoring the way she flinched as his fingers closed on her left arm.  "Then do you want to tell me what the hell that was all about?"  There was real fury in his voice and Buffy leaned backwards, trying to free herself.

"Let me go!"

The vampire ignored her, his fingers tightening around her.  "Are you trying to get yourself killed?  'Cause if you are maybe you could let me know ahead of time and I won't bother to save your sodding life in future."

At that moment something broke inside her.  Later, Buffy would say that it had all finally become too much.  Her blindness, the battle, everything that had happened to her up to that point...  She had finally reached breaking point.  The straw that broke the Slayer's back.  With what was probably the last of her strength, she wrenched loose from the vampire and shoved him violently away with one well-placed fist, sliding down the tomb until her feet reached the ground.  Her legs held her up...just.

"I never asked you to save me!"  Her voice was choked with emotion and she swung her right arm, desperately wanting something...anything to fight.  Something she could actually defeat, someone she could beat into the dust until it all went away...  Fury was running through her in torrents, wiping away the pain and the memories and leaving only rage behind.  Pure, unsullied rage.  Buffy aimed another blow at the vampire.  "I was doing fine on my own.  If you hadn't interfered I would be..."

Spike evaded her with ease then moved forward again, shoving the Slayer violently back against the side of the tomb and pinning her hips with his own.  He caught both of her wrists and forced her arms behind her back, holding on to them both with one hand.  Then he reached up with his other hand and seized a fistful of her hair, tilting her head back as far as it would go, baring her throat to him.  She struggled, but he held on, moving even closer so that the full length of his body was pressed tightly against hers.

"Dead," Spike said menacingly in her ear, listening to the pulse of the vein beating beneath the skin of her throat as he held her.  "Dead is what you would have been if I hadn't interfered.  What's the matter, Slayer?  Sacred duty finally got too much for you?  Got a little taste of that death wish and you want more?  Well, just give the word, girl, and, chip or no chip, I'll still..."  But then his voice trailed away as what his brain had been telling him for several minutes now, finally began to sink in.

The Slayer was still fighting to get loose, though her efforts were weaker now.  Her heart was fluttering against his like a wounded bird and her entire body was shaking, with more than cold.  But that wasn't what had stopped him.  No, it was her eyes.  And their complete and utter blankness.  The way they weren't focused on him and the way they didn't follow his every movement.  Almost as if...

Spike dropped her abruptly and stepped backwards, stunned.  Blind?

He must have said the word out loud because her shoulders sagged, all the fight abruptly going out of her.  Buffy collapsed back against the tomb as if it were the only thing still holding her up, and dropped her head, no longer meeting his gaze.  There was a long moment of silence, then she said wearily:  "Yes, I'm blind."

"Happy now?"



Part 4


 "Before mine eyes in opposition sits grim Death "
 -- John Milton




"Yes, I'm blind.  Happy now?"  At that moment, Buffy's knees abruptly gave way and she found herself sliding down the side of the marble tomb until she was sitting limply on the ground.  With a shudder, she leaned her head back against it and closed her eyes.  Waiting.

Silence.  Spike hadn't moved.  A few more heartbeats passed then the stillness finally became too much for her shattered nerves to bear any longer.  "Well?" Buffy asked tautly.  "Aren't you going to say it?"

"Say what?"  Spike's voice sounded odd.  Flat somehow.

"I don't know.  Some crack.  How this really makes your century, maybe.  I don't know..."  Her voice trailed away and she shifted a little, cradling her left arm in her lap, wishing the waves of pain that were rolling across her body would go away for a while.  Wishing he would go away...

"How?"  Spike's question abruptly brought her wandering mind back to the present.

Buffy didn't pretend not to know what he meant.  "Acid-spitting demon.  Ducked right when I should have dodged left.  End of story."

"When?"

He really was a vampire of few words.  Or syllables.  "Last Tuesday.  And no, there's nothing anyone can do.  I'm blind.  For life.  However long that turns out to be."  This time her words were laced with bitterness.

She heard him shift his weight, sensing the slight movement of his feet on the hard-packed dirt, and braced herself for the...no, not sympathy.  She didn't expect sympathy from Spike -- despite that moment on her mother's porch a week ago when he had...when he had been kind.  No.  She couldn't deal with any more kindness right now.  She'd had more than enough from her friends and family, and it was killing her.  Insults, threats, demons trying to murder her -- those she could handle.  But not kindness.  Not now.  And not from him.  Buffy opened her eyes -- not that it made any difference -- and straightened her shoulders.  "And don't bother saying how sorry you are, because I won't believe you," she snapped.

There was another long pause and then:  "Not likely.  I was just going to say that you're bleeding all over my bloody... uh...coat."

Oh.  Buffy reached up with one hand to the leather that was still wrapped around her.  For a moment her fingers tightened around one edge, then she doggedly began to pull it off, trying to jar her left arm as little as possible.  A moment later hands were touching hers, helping to slide the leather duster off her shoulders.

"Always figured I'd get to undress you one day," he said tauntingly.

Buffy tried to bat the vampire's hands away but failed miserably.  "In your dreams," she muttered.

"Yeah," he breathed, so quietly that she almost didn't hear him.  And then he was pulling the coat aside, causing a fresh wave of agony to shoot through her, and she decided she had misheard.

"Can you stand?"  Spike's voice was calm, matter-of-fact, as if he didn't care one way or the other.  He probably didn't.

Buffy frowned, then shook her head, not even trying to make the effort.  She knew she couldn't stand.  The dizziness was back with a vengeance and she was colder than ever.  So cold she felt as if she were turning to ice.  Buffy the Snow-Slayer.  Funny.  She could no longer feel the ground beneath her, she realized dimly, and the world was becoming distant and remote.  Blood loss and shock, part of her mind supplied...but she couldn't really find it in her to care.  Maybe this was it.  This was how she would die -- not in battle as she had always thought, but bleeding to death in Spike's crypt -- which was ironic in a way that pretty much redefined the word 'irony'.  Still, maybe that would be ok.  She didn't think she'd ever have the courage to try this again.  If it didn't end tonight...  Buffy's eyes began to flicker shut.

A resounding cuff across the face banished the oblivion that was beginning to enfold her and the Slayer's eyes flew open again.  Without warning she found herself being dragged to her feet then tossed roughly onto the top of the tomb.  Buffy gasped, wincing at the pain in her jaw which now rivalled that of her arm.  "Ow.  What are--?" she started to say, but Spike's words overrode hers.

"You are so damned...pathetic, do you know that?  God, any more nobility and self-sacrifice around here and I'm going to throw up."

"What..." she tried again but he ignored her, reaching out to give her a shove so that she fell backwards, laying full length on the top of the tomb.

"Just shut up and keep still," he said.  His voice was practically vibrating with fury and for a moment the clouds in her mind rolled away.  Chip or no chip, Spike was still dangerous.  Always would be.  Buffy froze as she sensed him moving closer...but then he went around the tomb, heading across the crypt where she could hear him rummaging for something.  Then he moved back towards her and she tensed again, wishing for the millionth time that she could see what was happening.

"If you think you get to bleed to death here you're off your rocker.  I don't want your gang of Scoobies staking me because I let you die.  And I certainly don't want the next Slayer coming along, out for revenge and a little Spike-slayage -- not while I've got this chip in my head at any rate."

"So throw me out in the rain and don't get involved," she said weakly.

"Don't tempt me.  No, I'm going to patch you up -- only to keep you from dripping blood all over my floor, mind -- and then I'm taking you home where you can be somebody else's problem.  Anybody else's problem."

"No!"  Buffy tried to sit up but he held her down easily.  "Spike, you don't understand..."

"Don't I?"  He reached for the collar of her shirt, yanking open the top button.  "And before you get any ideas, I'm taking this off so I can fix your arm, is all.  So don't get excited."

"Like this would excite me.  Listen, you don't know..."

He undid the next button and then the next, wrenching her shirt open.  Buffy flinched and her shivering increased as a cold draft played over her bared skin.

"How 'bout I tell you what I know," Spike was saying, pulling her right arm through the shirt sleeve.  "Like how you probably spent the last few days deciding that the world needs a Slayer, a new Chosen-bloody-Whinger.  Since the other one's, what?  Doing ten to twenty for murder?"  He succeeded in freeing her right arm and moved on to the left.  "So heroic little Buffy decides to go out and get herself killed so the next Slayer can be called and fight the forces of evil, blah blah blah.  How'm I doing so far?"

She said nothing.  Partly because he was right, partly because she was in too much pain to do more than clench her teeth and try not to scream -- and partly because she was way too aware of the fact that Spike was undressing her.  Which was more than a little surprising, given that she was in agony, frozen to the marrow, and hanging onto consciousness by a thread.  What the hell was the matter with her anyway?

Spike's fingers brushed against her bare stomach and she inhaled sharply, then shook the bizarre thoughts away,  concentrating instead on remaining awake.

He was still talking.  "Bet you planned everything," he said derisively. "Wrote all the Scoobies tragic little goodbye notes.  Probably shagged your boyfriend one last time and then went out demon-hunting.  Right?"

A small shaft of anger went through Buffy and for a moment she forgot everything else.  How come Spike got to be the one who could always get inside her head?  Why could she fool everyone else but not him.  Never him.  It wasn't fair...

"Well, am I right?  I like the lacy lingerie, by the way," he added, almost as an afterthought as he pulled her injured arm through the shirt sleeve then let the blood-soaked garment drop to the floor.

Buffy didn't answer.  Couldn't.  The sudden jolt of pain in her arm was overwhelming and she felt as if she were being pulled backwards and downwards, sinking ever deeper into shadows.  'Can't faint,' Buffy thought desperately, a tremor going through her.  'Won't...'  But her grip on the world was failing.  For a fleeting moment the Slayer thought she felt something soft brush against her hair -- Spike? -- and then even that was gone and she was alone in the dark.

Again.



Part 5


 "Winged cupid painted blind"
 -- William Shakespeare




Something twisted inside Spike as he watched Buffy lose consciousness.  Unbidden, his hand moved forward to touch her hair then he snatched it back as if he had been burned.  'Just do this quick,' he told himself, 'while she's still out.'  He knew just how fast a Slayer could recover, even from the worst injuries, and he didn't want her coming around and instinctively trying to kill him before he was done.  And this way she wouldn't feel any pain...

Ignoring the irony of the thought of a vampire wanting to spare a Slayer pain, Spike unrolled a length of bandage and moved closer to her.  He had begun keeping a small supply of bandages and other such when he had started getting staked, shot, and stabbed on a regular basis.  'Never thought I'd be using it on her though,' he thought grimly.  Then, no longer hesitating, he picked up a nearby bottle of alcohol, uncorked it with his teeth, and tossed a substantial amount of the fluid over her wounds.

Buffy stirred, moaning, as the alcohol ran over her bare arm and shoulder, washing away much of the blood and revealing the full extent of the damage to Spike.  He stared at it for a moment.  Three deep parallel gashes ran down the length of her arm, starting near the collarbone and ending just above the back of her wrist while another, lighter slash ran across the back of her left hand.

Even as he watched blood welled up again in the cuts...and as quickly as that, bloodlust was surging within him like a tidal wave, blurring his vision and filling his senses.  Spike's fangs descended unconsciously as the reality of the situation struck home.  The Slayer was here, unconscious and helpless, her blood dripping down the side of the tomb, the scent of her filling the air.  It was everything he had ever dreamed of, everything he had wanted since he had first come to Sunnydale.  To sink his teeth into her, to feel her convulse around him while he drank her lifeblood, to go over that dark precipice with her in his arms...  It would be so easy.  All he had to do was bend his head and drink, to sink his fangs into the perfection of her throat and...

Only...he couldn't.  Even though the very core of his being was screaming at him to just take her, his body aching with raw desire...he couldn't.  Something inside wouldn't let him.  And it wasn't the chip in his head either.  Spike shook his head, trying to force his face to resume its human form, trying to will the bloodlust away.  Just then, Buffy stirred, her head turning to one side, unconsciously baring even more of her throat to him.  The vampire gulped then ran his tongue over his fangs.  On the other hand, he could still have just a taste.  Just a little.  He had wanted, no, needed this for so long, and it wouldn't hurt her, not really... Unable to resist the craving still tearing through him, Spike slowly leaned forward, losing himself in the scent of her blood...

...then yelped as a shaft of blinding agony tore through him.  Spike jumped backwards, almost falling, clutching his head with both hands as his lust and hunger turned instantly to fury.  And, not for the first time, his self-control threatened to slip.  It would be so easy to give into the rage that almost consumed him every time he thought about the chip in his head, to fight against it until it killed him... But he wouldn't.  He wouldnt.  No, he was smarter, stronger than that.  And he wouldn't give them the satisfaction.

Besides, there was the Slayer to think about.

She needed him.

Shaking, Spike leaned on the tomb, eyes shut and fingers clenched, one hand on either side of the unconscious Buffy.  Waiting.  Finally, his fangs receded and the desire quieted.  Just a little.  But enough.  With hands that were shaking only slightly, he poured more alcohol over her wounds then began to wrap the bandage around her wrist, trying to take his mind off...other things.

She was lucky the demon had got her on the back of the arm, Spike decided as he worked his way upward, his seething emotions finally beginning to cool.  If it had clawed her on the inside of her wrist and hit the veins... Well, she'd be dead by now.  End of story.  Would probably have bled to death out there in the rain.  Spike's heart contracted at the thought and another tremor went through him, one that had nothing at all to do with the chip in his head this time.  He glanced up at her ashen face and his jaw tightened.  She was so beautiful, so helpless, so...

'So likely to sit up and break this bottle over my flipping head,' Spike thought, self-derision lancing through him.  The Slayer was about as fragile and breakable as a jungle cat.  A cranky, bad-tempered jungle cat.

Except...

Except she was blind.  And either completely suicidal, or near enough as made no odds.  The bands around Spike's heart tightened even more.  She had come here to die and as soon as she woke up she'd probably be heading back out into the night to finish the job...unless he did something about it.  But what?  For an instant the surreal -- and incredibly erotic -- image of tying her up with the spare set of chains and holding her here until she came to her senses, was pretty damned appealing...on a multitude of levels.

Nevertheless, he discarded the notion.  Enjoyable as it might be, it wasn't very practical.  She'd break free and stake him.  Her friends would show up and stake him.  Someone would show up and stake him.  Guaranteed.  Whichever way he played it in his mind, every scenario still ended up with him as a big pile of dust.  Spike cast a quick glance down the length of the Slayer's body, taking in the smooth skin and lacy bra, the blood pulsing just beneath the paleness of her throat...and swallowed deeply.  'Might be worth it in the long run though,' he thought unsteadily.


 *     *     *


Spike tied off the bandage and stood back to survey his handiwork.  The Slayer was looking a lot better -- and slightly less mouth-watering -- now that she wasn't bleeding all over the place.  Not that he wouldn't bite her in a heartbeat...if he could.  But he couldn't, so he might as well think about something else.  Like what he was going to do with her.

'Can't let her go back out there,' he thought.  Not tonight.  He damned well would chain her up, if it came to that.  She wouldn't stand a chance, alone and sightless.  She'd be a nice snack for the first nasty that came along.  And if he couldn't have her for dinner, then nothing else was bloody going to either.

Likewise, he couldn't just send her back to her so-called friends and family.  They'd already proven they couldn't keep her safe, couldn't protect her from herself.  Pillocks.  No, if he took her back to them she'd end up just as dead.  Maybe not tonight, but soon.

He had to do something.  Unfortunately, nothing brilliant was coming to mind.  Spike sighed then straightened, wincing as pain stabbed him again in his right side, then walked around the tomb and picked up his leather coat, surveying it for a moment.  Blood, drying slowly now, coated the inner left side.  Still, it was all he had in the way of a blanket, so it would have to do.  Be just his sodding luck if she caught pneumonia, after all he'd done.

Walking stiffly so as not to further aggravate his injured side, the vampire picked up one of his spare black shirts then returned to the tomb and leaned over the Slayer.  There was a bit more colour in her face but her skin was still cold to the touch.  With another sigh, Spike began threading her unmoving arms through the sleeves of his shirt, trying not to do any further damage to her injuries.  'Hope you appreciate all this when you wake up,' he thought crossly.


 *     *     *


Buffy was dreaming again.  She was still underwater, but somehow the dark and cold seemed less frightening this time.  Maybe because she could sense that she wasn't alone.  There was someone in the darkness with her, someone who didn't mean her any harm.  She didn't know how she knew.  She just did.  Buffy stretched out a hesitant hand -- and the sea answered it.  It was ageless.  Powerful.  Inhuman.  And...welcoming.  For the first time in a very long while, she felt safe.  Protected.  Like she could just surrender to the waters around her and...

...and there was something above her.  Buffy opened her eyes and looked up.  A light was shining dimly in the distance, faint and golden, miles away above her head.  She frowned.  Was she supposed to try to reach it?  It was too far, she would never make it.  She would drown first...

The moment that thought entered her mind, the Slayer was suddenly aware of her body's raging need for air.  Fear tore through her.  She didn't belong here.  She had to get to the surface...or die.  Fighting down the panic inside her, she began to swim upward, her eyes focused on the distant light.  Around her she sensed consternation, concern -  and something else -- from the being nearby, but she ignored it.  It wasn't important.  Nothing was.  Only reaching the surface...

The light was too far away.  She wasn't going to make it.  Already her lungs were burning, her heart pounding, her limbs weakening.  And the undertow had returned, trying to pull her deeper again, preventing her escape.  Buffy struggled desperately, risking a quick look at the darkness below.  It was powerful and endless, and she knew that if she gave into it she would be lost.  Forever.  With one final, desperate lunge, she threw herself to one side, breaking the thing's grasp on her and...

...and landing with a jarring thud on hard earth.  She could see nothing in the darkness, but sensed instantly that somebody -- some thing -- was standing over her.  'Vampire!' her Slayer senses screamed...and adrenaline flooded her system.  In a heartbeat she had gathered her feet beneath her and was surging to her feet, vaguely aware of pain in her left arm.  The vampire took a step toward her...and the Slayer came up fighting for her life.



Part 6


 "Heav'n but the vision of fulfill'd desire and Hell the shadow of a soul on fire"
 -- Omar Khayyam




Everything happened very quickly.  One moment Spike was leaning over Buffy, tucking the leather coat around her, the next she was flinging herself away from him, off the top of the tomb and onto the ground...and the moment after that he was flat on his back halfway across the crypt's floor where she had thrown him.  And there was a very angry -- and dangerous -- Slayer on top of him.

Still slightly stunned, Spike gazed up into Buffy's unseeing eyes.  She was sitting on his chest, pinning him to the ground while she reached automatically for a weapon.  There was no recognition on her face, no sense that she even knew where she was or who she was sitting on.  Instead, something primitive and ferocious burned behind her eyes...

...something that Spike recognized, that caused the demon within himself to leap forward in welcome.

He must have moved without thinking because Buffy snarled once, soundlessly, then lashed down at him with one fist.  Spike dodged the blow then surged up, sweeping her off so that they ended up rolling along the crypt floor together, their limbs tangled.

Part of the vampire was enjoying this to the hilt, even though his broken ribs complained with every movement.  The length of her body against his...having the Slayer in his arms, even like this...it was probably as close to heaven as he was ever going to get.  But another part of him was busy worrying about her injuries.  Just then, though, she rolled on top of him, certain parts of her anatomy pressing against certain parts of his...and Spike told the second part of himself to bloody well sod off.

They came to a sudden stop beside the tomb, rolling into its side with such force that the impact jarred them both.  On top, at least for the moment, Spike took advantage of the Slayer's momentary pause and reached out with lightning speed, seizing her wrists and pinning them to the ground.  Buffy fought him wordlessly, furiously, but could get no leverage to free herself, his weight trapping her beneath him.  Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, she stilled, her chest heaving.  There was a long pause and then an emotion he did not recognize flickered across her face...

...and everything changed.  Slowly, purposefully, she shifted, arching upwards just a little.  Just enough.  And Spike caught fire.  Or at least, that's what it felt like.  Desire was suddenly coursing through him like an inferno, answering the change in her mood, while the air around them seemed to crackle with electricity.

The Slayer sensed it too.  No longer struggling, she stared sightlessly up at him while the tip of her tongue darted out to lick her bottom lip.  Spike groaned.  Then her legs slid slowly upwards, bending at the knees, her inner thighs caressing his hips, and he could take no more.  His self-control completely gone now, he lowered his head and met her lips with his own, roughly forcing them apart with his tongue.  After a moment, he let go of her left hand to seize her by the hair, tilting her head back so that he could deepen the kiss.

He could die happy now, Spike thought distantly as the Slayer's tongue entwined with his.  He could turn to dust tomorrow and still be a happy man.  Her free arm had slid around his back, pulling him even closer, and she was writhing beneath him, her hips grinding against his own.  'A very happy man...'

Which was when he became aware of it.  Distantly at first, then more urgently he realized that something was poking into his back.  Something sharp.  The haze surrounding him receded a little and he recognized it for what it was.  A wooden stake.

Oh shit.

Spike broke the kiss abruptly, pulling back enough to gaze down at the Slayer.  She stared blankly back up at him, her lips slightly swollen from his kiss and the echoes of passion still radiating from her eyes...but the hand holding the stake at his back was motionless and there was a hint of ice behind the passion...

Spike froze.  And remembered.  After the fight with the demon he had picked up the stake.  It was in the coat.  She was wearing the coat.  Meaning she was armed.  And blind. And confused.  And severely hacked off, from what he could tell.

Bloody hell.

A long moment passed in which neither of them moved, then Spike swallowed and said carefully:  "You don't want to do that, pet.  I helped you, remember?"

She frowned, as if trying to recall but not quite succeeding.  He tried again.  "Remember the demon?  In the cemetery?  I helped you kill it."  He softened his voice even further.  "I saved your life.  Brought you back and wrapped up your arm for you."

Her frown deepened and she moved her left arm slightly, as if testing the truth of his words.  Spike's mouth went dry at the feel of the stake sliding across his back and a tremor went through him, despite himself.  The Slayer felt it, her eyes flickering back up to meet his own, even though she could see nothing.  There was confusion in her face now and an odd blankness, as if she were still asleep.  But he was getting through to her, he could tell.  He only had to keep talking...

"Come on, Buffy.  Put the stake down, love."


 *     *     *


Buffy.  It was the sound of her name that finally brought the Slayer back to complete awareness.  When she had first emerged from the dream...it was like she hadn't truly been awake.  Or as if her body had been on auto-pilot.  She had known, in a distant, detached way what she was doing, but it was almost as if someone -- or something -- else had been pulling the strings.  Something primitive and violent.  Something she had encountered once before, also in a dream.  The Slayer.  The first Slayer.

Buffy shuddered, then fought the reaction down.  No.  Don't think about it.  Focus on the here and now, rather than on the what-ifs.  That was what Giles had taught her.  Concentrate on what she could see...hear...feel, and worry about the rest later.

OK.  See.  Nothing.  Hear.  Her own heavy breathing and racing heart.  Feel.  Hard, slightly damp earth beneath her.  And...someone laying on top of her.  Completely on top of her.  Spike.  Recognition came with a shock, like a bucket of cold water being thrown over her, and the last of the cobwebs in her mind cleared instantly.  Spike was laying full length on top of her, one of his hands tangled in her hair, the fingers of his other entwined with hers.  Both of her legs were wrapped tightly around him and... Oh.  Aroused Spike.  Very aroused Spike.  And it all came flooding back to her...

He had kissed her.  And she had kissed him back.  With enthusiasm.  And major tongue action.  She had kissed him.  Kissed Spike.  Buffy blinked.  What the hell was she thinking?  And, for that matter, why was she still just laying here beneath him, not moving?

Well, she couldn't answer the first question, but she could definitely do something about the second.  Tightening her jaw, she said, as firmly as she could.  "Get off."

Buffy felt some of the tension ease from the vampire -- No!  That's all wrong.  There will be no relaxing on top of Buffy! -- then he leaned forward a little and said, a mocking edge to his voice:

"Love to pet, but in case you hadn't noticed, you're the one who's all wrapped around me."

That was true.  She still had both legs around him and her left arm was curled up around his body, holding him close to her -- and holding a stake on him.

Spike stirred slightly, drawing her attention back to his lower body.  "You planning on using that Slayer?" he said.  "'Cause if not, I know a lot better uses for that hand..."

That did it.  Buffy shoved him away, untangling herself hastily from the vampire.  Then she clawed her way back to a sitting position and transferred the stake to her right hand, wincing at the pain in her left as she did so.  "You're a pig, Spike," she hissed.  "Just stay the hell away from me."

She could almost see the taunting grin she knew would be on his face.  "Hey, you're the one who had your tongue down my throat!  Not that I'm complaining, mind you, but just so we're clear on who was doing what to who..."

Yeah, right.  "You kissed me first!" she said furiously.

"Well...yeah."  A pause.  "So you do remember it all then?"

His weight pressing into her...his lips on hers, rough and hard...raw, sexual energy consuming her...  Oh yeah.  She remembered it.  All of it.  And it was disturbing on practically every level.  Spike?  Wanting and needing Spike?  What was that about?  She had a boyfriend.  And there was nothing within her that was even remotely attracted to Spike.  There.  Just.  Wasn't.

In the end, Buffy fell back on denial.  "I am not going to talk about this," she said firmly, trying to calm her racing mind.  "In fact, I am not even going to think about this.  Ever, ever again.  It so did not happen."

"Fine."  She heard him climb to his feet then move towards her.  "I'm gonna help you up.  Don't stake me."  Was that a hint of anger she heard in his voice?  But then his hands were on her and he was pulling her to her feet...and all thoughts of what happened between them faded as pain took their place.

It hurt less now, Buffy realized, but that wasn't saying a lot.  Her arm still felt as though...well, as though it had been clawed by a demon.  It was bandaged, she noticed, and the bleeding seemed to have stopped, but even the slightest movement was enough to set waves of agony crashing across her body.  For a moment the world spun and she swayed.  If she hadn't been blind she would have been seeing spots, she knew.  Despite her best intentions, her knees began to buckle.


 *     *     *


Spike saw the Slayer start to fall and cursed under his breath...then he reached out and caught her, holding her tightly against his chest.  'Why me?' he thought as he held her.  'Why do I have to sodding care?'  The old Spike would have just let her fall.  Hell, the old Spike would never have been in this position in the first place.  For a moment he yearned for the old days, before the Initiative, before the implant in his head, before he ever came to Sunnydale...  He had been happy back then with Dru, wreaking havoc on the world, doing what he wanted, when he wanted...to whom he wanted.

Now though...now he was reduced to this.  Living off discarded butcher's blood.  Following the Slayer around night after night just to catch a glimpse of her.  Risking unlife and limb for her.  And...

Sod it.  Who was he kidding?  It was enough to just be here like this, holding her so up she wouldn't fall on her stupid Slayer face.  Enough to know that it was him she needed, even if it was just for now.

And as for the kiss...  There had been something there, something real, no matter how much she might try to deny it.  They had both felt the heat.  It had been fire and sunlight, all...

Oh god.  Poetry.  He was bloody thinking in poetry now.  That was...  He was...

Bleeding pathetic.



Part 7


 "Be to her faults a little blind"
 -- Matthew Prior




"Spike,"  Buffy said at last into his shoulder, her voice muffled.

"Yeah, Slayer?"

"Uh...what exactly am I wearing?"

"One of my shirts.  And my coat."

"Oh."

A brief pause, then:

"Spike?"

"Yeah?"

"Put me down."

"Fine."

For the second time that night, Buffy felt his hands on her waist and then she was being lifted onto the tomb again, her legs dangling over the side.  She took a deep breath, trying to ignore the dizziness...and the quivers that kept going through her body every time he touched her.  It was just Spike, for god's sake.  Spike the soulless, evil demon.  Spike the undead.  Definitely not quiver-worthy.  Not even human.  But it made no difference.  It was as if her body had suddenly decided to fixate on him, despite what her brain kept saying.  Buffy's jaw tightened.  'Fixate on someone else,' she told herself fiercely.  'Get a grip!'

Of course, she had had a grip on pretty much all of him not long ago...

Buffy shook her head, forcing her thoughts away from that image through sheer willpower.  Instead, she focused on her injuries.  And there was a lot to focus on.

The dizziness was still there, although it had abated a little, she realized.  Her head still swam if she moved too quickly but she didn't feel as if she was constantly on the verge of passing out anymore.  Her arm continued to throb and pain pulsed across her back and down the length of her right leg...but overall she felt better.  Probably a five plus on the battered-but-better-Buffy scale.  Maybe even a six... Now if she could just shake the memory of rolling around on the ground with Spike...

As the thought flashed through her mind, Buffy became vividly aware of just how close the vampire was standing.  When he had lifted her up he had somehow manoeuvred it so her legs were on either side of him, his hips fitting snugly between her knees.  And he was still holding her, both hands on her waist.  Buffy swallowed.  Hello!  Personal space issues!

"What are you doing Spike?"  She was proud of her voice this time.  It was cool and steady with just a hint of steel beneath the words.

"Keeping you from falling on your face," he said matter-of-factly, making no attempt to move...except for his hands, which shifted slightly as he spoke.

Buffy's breath caught in her throat...but then sanity reasserted itself and a sense of outrage finally overwhelmed the other, more erotic feelings shooting through her.  Hastily Buffy knocked the vampire's hands away and leaned back.  "I don't need your help," she said, her voice cold.  "So back off Fang Boy.  Right now."

There was a long pause then Spike did step back...and for a moment she missed his proximity.  But only for a moment.

"Oh yeah.  I forgot.  I'm 'beneath you'." Spike was saying scornfully from a few paces away.  "Well, we won't get into  who was beneath who a few minutes ago.  'Course you don't need my help.  The mighty Slayer doesn't need anyone, does she?  You can go and get yourself killed all by yourself.  Certainly don't need me for that."

"Shut up, Spike.  You don't know what you're talking about."

"Oh don't I?"  He stepped forward, crowding her again and she fought the urge to shove him back...violently.  "The fact that I saved your life means bugger all to you, doesn't it?  Fact is, you probably wish I'd let that demon finish the job..."

"Stop it."  This time she did shove him away, using both hands and a great deal of force.

It didn't help.  A moment later he was back, closer than before, seizing both her wrists as he had done earlier, ignoring the stake still clutched in her right hand.

"Ruined your little plan, didn't I?" Spike continued, pressing his verbal attack.  "Thought you were going to go out all noble, didn't you?  Be the right little martyr.  Well, let me tell you this, Slayer -- I've seen martyrs in my time.  Killed a few of them myself.  And you know what?  In the long run, at the end of the day...all they got was dead.  Didn't make a blind bit of difference what they did.  'cept to them of course."

Buffy shook her head violently.  "That's not true."

"Sure.  Say it's not true.  Say you can make the world a better place by not being in it -- and who am I to argue?  But it's just you and me here.  So let's be honest, right?  You weren't going out to save the world -- you were running away from it.  Come on, admit it -- you gave up.  The going got tough and little Buffy ran away and hid from the big bad world.  Tell me, were you thinking of anyone beside yourself when you decided to go out and off yourself?  That family of yours, f'rinstance?"

The anger that had been steadily growing inside her suddenly blossomed into an inferno and Buffy ripped her hands free from the vampire's grasp, not caring how much the motion hurt her wounded arm.  "I am thinking about them," she said, her voice choked with emotion.  "I can't protect them like this.  The world needs a Slayer, and I can't be it!  Not anymore!"

"So...what?  So you just give up, is that it?  The baddies win and the world gets a new Slayer?"

She was on her feet now, standing in front of him, not caring how she had got there.  "Yes!" she shouted, her self-control completely shattered.  "Yes, I came here planning to die tonight.  Yes, this time I'm going to let the bad guys win so the world gets a new Slayer.  One who can see, one who doesn't need help just to get dressed... Is that what you wanted to hear?  Does it make you feel good to hear me say it?"  Buffy's voice was shaking, along with the rest of her, and it was taking all of her willpower not to hit him, not to use the stake on him...not to take out all her fear and frustrations on the one being she knew could take it...

"No," Spike answered her quietly.  "But you needed to say it."

Disbelief went through her.  "Oh that's just great," she snapped, acid bitterness etched in her voice.  "Psychiatrist Spike is in.  What a good idea.  Get Buffy to admit she's suicidal, make everything all better by talking about it.  Well I've had the shrink job already thanks, from people who actually care..."  She stopped, swallowed, then went on.

"You just don't get it, do you?  None of this is going to make any difference.  We can talk about my feelings all you like.  Hell, we can pound on each other till dawn if that's what you want, but nothing's going to change.  When the sun comes up I'm still not going to be able to see it, no matter what you say or do, no matter how much I wish otherwise.  I am blind, Spike.  I'm a blind Slayer.  And I can't do my job, not like this.  I can't...I..."

To Buffy's complete horror her voice suddenly broke and tears welled up in her eyes.  No.  No!  She would not do this.  She would not cry in front of Spike.  Especially not in front of Spike.  Taking a deep, ragged breath, she spun around and leaned both hands on the tomb, blinking fiercely, willing the tears not to fall.

He was right behind her.  She could feel him, unmoving, a solid presence at her back.  Buffy swallowed, desperately fighting the emotions that were threatening to overwhelm her.  "Look," she said shakily.  "You saved my life.  Fine.  Thanks very much.  But I want you to leave me alone now so I can do...what I need to.  So just...just let me go, ok?"

"No, pet.  I won't."

Buffy sagged and for a moment she thought she was going to burst into hysterical laughter...or turn around and sob on his shoulder.  'Can't do that,' she thought disjointedly.  'I'm the Slayer.  Have to be strong.  Have to do this by myself.  Have to...'

But then Spike was reaching out, pulling her back against him and wrapping both arms securely around her waist.  Buffy tensed, half-heartedly trying to break free, but his grip around her only tightened...and somehow she couldn't find the strength to struggle anymore.  It was as if all the energy had drained out of her, leaving her weak and exhausted, as if she were being sucked deeper into something that was cold and dark and she no longer had any strength left to fight it.  Her dream flashed through her mind again and she remembered the cold presence she had sensed.  Spike?

Buffy tried once more to free herself then gave up.  "Let me go," she whispered weakly, her hands resting limply on top of the arms that were holding her.

He shook his head, his face brushing her hair.  "No Slayer," he said, his lips close to her ear.  I won't.  Maybe you're right.  Maybe this is the only way out.  You want to get yourself killed, I'm not gonna stop you."  There was a pause, and when he spoke again it was in a whisper, so soft she could barely hear it.  "But you don't have to be alone..."

Yes.  Yes, she did.  Everyone needed her.  She had to be strong for them, for the whole world sometimes.  Not the other way round.  Not...

But, standing there with Spike's arms around her, she could almost believe him.  There was something comforting, even protective, in the way he was holding her, and her body relaxed, just a little.  It would be so nice to let go, to stop being the Slayer and just be...  Hesitantly, as if expecting him to pull away at any second, Buffy slowly allowed her head to lean back until it was touching Spike's shoulder and then, with a long quavery sigh, she closed her eyes, feeling the tension flow out of her.


 *     *     *


Spike swallowed.  It wasn't possible to feel such ecstasy...and so much pain.  Buffy was finally in his arms.  Willingly.  Not struggling, not fighting.  Relaxed.  And it was sweeter than heaven.  But it was hell too.  Because try as he might, he couldn't delude himself that he was the one she really wanted to be with, that she would be with him at all if anyone else was around.  Soldier Boy...the Watcher...her gang of Slayerettes.  It didn't matter.  Any of them would do, better than him.

He was...he was convenient, was all.

But then again...did it matter if he was only a poor replacement for the others?  After all, she was in his arms right now.  And now was all that mattered.  'So just enjoy it while you can,' he told himself fiercely, 'and stop bloody brooding about it.'  He closed his eyes, listening to the Slayer's heartbeat, feeling her warmth against his chest -- and a feeling of desperation went through him.

There had to be a way.  Something the Scoobies hadn't thought of, didn't know about...  With that thought, Spike's eyes flew open and he froze.

Maybe, just maybe, there was.



Part 8


 "If the blind lead the blind"
 -- New Testament




Buffy sensed the change in Spike's mood and a faint tremor of regret went through her.  For the first time in...well, ever...she had felt safe.  Secure.  Protected.  It had felt so good to just let go, to lean on someone else for a change.  She knew it was temporary, knew that it couldn't last.  It never did.  But, for a moment --just for a moment -- she had been able to convince herself that it would.  That this feeling didn't have to end.  But then she felt Spike's arms stiffen around her, the sudden tension in his body...and she sighed.

Spike.  Weird.  It seemed as if she had spent more time in his arms than out of them tonight.  And, for the most part, enjoying it.  It didn't make any sense.  They had been mortal enemies, reluctant allies...and everything in between for the last few years.  He had fought with her, kissed her, lied to her, and almost destroyed the most important things in her life.  He had hurt her...and been kind to her.  He had almost killed her...and had saved her life.  More than once.  Not even counting tonight.  Buffy sighed again, her head still resting on his shoulder.  I don't understand you, Spike.

"And you probably never will, love.  But I know you."

She must have spoken out loud, Buffy realized.  She opened her eyes.  "What do you know?" she asked wearily, not moving.

One of his hands moved up to caress her hair and it was a true measure of her exhaustion that she just stood there and let him.  "I know you don't want to die," he said.  "I know you're not ready to dance that dance yet.  That's why you fought that demon instead of just letting it kill you.  Hell, if you'd really wanted to off yourself, there's lots easier ways.  More certain.  Less messy."

"Maybe I was afraid."  Her voice was bleak.

"To die?  Could be.  Or maybe deep down you think you're not done with the living yet.  Maybe you're too busy just trying to keep your head above water that you can't see the big picture."

Her dream.  Endless darkness beneath her.  Distant light above.  And Buffy, caught in the middle, unable to reach the one, unwilling to give into the other.  Trapped.

With a shudder, Buffy pulled free of the vampire and turned around to face him.  "So what is the big picture, Spike?  What is it I'm not seeing...besides everything?"

She heard him move slightly, his hands sliding into the pockets of his jeans.  "Choices," he said simply.  "Never looked at all the choices, did you?  So busy trying to fight everything on your own it never occurred to you to ask for help.  You know what it is that makes you different from all the other Slayers, pet?"

What?  Buffy frowned, trying to keep up with the way the conversation kept changing gears.  "No.  But I'm sure you're going to tell me."

"It's all those friends and family you've got hanging 'round.  Told you that when we first met.  You've got all these people around you -- even me now, thanks to this bloody chip.  But in the end, you're still alone.  Too afraid to reach out to others, 'cause that makes you vulnerable, doesn't it?  It's safer to go out and take on a demon by yourself than to ask for help.  Because the worst the demon will do is kill you.  But if you open yourself up...well, then you run the risk of having your heart ripped out.  And that's a whole lot worse than death, isn't it?

"What do you know about it Spike?" she whispered, a lump forming in her throat.

There was a jagged, self-mocking edge to his voice.  "You'd be surprised.  But you know I'm right, Slayer."

Yes.  She did.  He could read her like a book.  A large book with big print and lots of pictures.  He was right.  She didn't want to die.  But she didn't know how to live either.  The thought of rejection, of asking for help and not getting it...it was terrifying.  On the other hand -- so was the idea of dying alone in the dark.  And there was more to consider here than just herself.  Spike was right.  She had family and friends who loved and needed her.  More than that, she loved and needed them.

The dream kept intruding on her thoughts.  She hadn't been able to reach the surface by herself, no matter how hard she tried, she remembered.  But maybe she wasn't supposed to.  Because there had been something else in the water with her.  It was dark and scary, but it was all she had.

He was all she had...

An eternity seemed to pass while the thoughts whirled around inside her.  Finally Buffy drew in a deep breath, her heart pounding painfully, so loudly she knew he'd be able to hear it.  Then, fear twisting snake-like inside her, she said softly:

"Will you help me Spike?"

Another eternity went by.  And then:

"Yeah, love.  I will."


 *     *     *


She had asked him for help.  Not G.I. Joe.  Not her whiny friends or poncey Watcher.  But him.  Spike.  And better yet, he actually had some help to give her.  He knew how to get her sight back.

Well, he didn't really, but he knew somewhere they could go.  Some place that might be able to help her.  It was a shot in the dark -- no pun intended -- but it was better than nothing.

"You're gonna have to trust me," he said fighting to keep his voice unruffled.

Buffy didn't move.  "OK," she said.

"'OK?'  That's it?  No sarcastic remarks?  No insults?"

She shook her head slightly.  "No.  Sarcastic Buffy is on vacation.  This is the new-and-improved, non-scathing Buffy."

"Right.  For what -- the next two minutes?"

She frowned.  "I'm trying to be new and improved here.  You're not helping."

"Just 'cause you're in touch with your inner self right now doesn't mean I have to be.  Then again...getting in touch with the inner Buffy could be fun..."

Spike grinned as first awareness, then embarrassment  flashed across her face.  "You are...disgusting," she said, hitting him on the chest with one fist.  But it was a half-hearted blow and they both knew it.   Still, it helped to relieve the tension.  The emotions that were running between them were too strong, too raw.  Better to fall back on insults and violence.  At least those were familiar.  Safe...

And at least it wasn't the hand with the stake in it that had hit him.

"I am at that, darlin'." Spike agreed cheerfully.  "That's why you like me."

"I happen to like nice men," she snapped.

Spike seized her right hand, pulling her towards the exit.  "I'm a nice man," he said as he led her back outside, into the darkness.


 *     *     *


"So where are we going anyway?"  Buffy asked, stumbling a little as she stepped up onto a curb.

"What happened to the trusting me?"

"Oh, I'm trusting you all right.  This is me being all trusting...and gullible and naive and blind as a bat!"  Her voice began to rise, becoming louder and louder as she walked alongside him.  "And if you don't stop letting me walk into things I'm going to..."

"Going to what?  Stake me?  Won't be much use to you then, will I, blondie?"

"You drive me crazy, you know that?"

"Yeah, well, right back at'cha.  At least you're not the one holding hands with the Slayer.  Hope no one I know sees me..."

"Tell me about it.  And where are you taking me?"

Spike didn't answer right away, shaking some of the water out of his hair instead.  It was still pouring bloody cats and dogs and he was getting soaked.  Again.  He shot a quick glance at the Slayer. 'Course, she was all warm and dry in his duster, wasn't she?  Meanwhile his sodding jeans and t-shirt were...bloody sodden.  Typical.  Irritation flashed through him -- and something inside the vampire welcomed it with a sense of relief.  It was better than the other feelings that had been welling up inside him, back there inside the crypt.  Dangerous emotions that he hadn't felt in a very long time.  Emotions he'd be just as happy doing without.

No.  Think about something else.  "It's called the Trial," he said abruptly.

"You're taking me to court?"

"Not that kind of a trial, you daft git."

"I am not a...whatever that is.  Just tell me about this trial..."

"It's a..."  Actually, he didn't know what it was.  Precisely.  Sure, he'd heard a few rumours, a bit of hearsay here and there, but that was it.  Still, beggars couldn't be choosers.  "It moves around, I'm told." Spike continued.  "You don't find it.  It finds you."

"So we're what?  Walking in circles until some -- thing -- finds us?  Good plan.  Is it too late to go back to the cemetery and look for another demon?

"No.  Yes," Spike said indignantly.  "And I do have a plan.  Actually, I've got an address."

"Uh huh.  And what happens when we find it -- excuse me -- when it finds us?"

"We ask them to give you back your sight."

There was a long silence, then Buffy finally said, in a small voice.  "They can do that?"

Spike nodded, then remembered that she couldn't see him.  "Yeah," he said.  "I think so."

"Maybe."


 *     *     *


Maybe.

Maybe.

Still, it could be worse.  'Maybe' was better than no way in hell.  'Maybe' was better than a whole lot of things.  Besides which, 'maybe' was all she had.

The Slayer shivered briefly, then winced as she stumbled again, her arm jarring against her side and sending a stabbing pain into her shoulder.  Silently, Spike reached out to steady her...and she felt him flinch too.

Buffy blinked, momentarily forgetting the pain in her arm.  "What's wrong with you?" she asked sharply.

"I'm sure you're going to spend the rest of the night telling me."

"No, I mean -- Are you hurt?"

A pause, then:  "A few broken ribs.  From killing your demon."

Oh.  She hadn't realized he had been injured.  How could she not have realized?  And because of her... "Sorry," she said quietly, wondering all over again at the incongruity of this conversation.  Apologizing to Spike.  Walking hand in hand in the rain with Spike.

Asking Spike to help her...

"Why are you doing this?"  The question came out slowly, almost reluctantly.

She could sense his surprise as he turned to look at her.  "Doing what?"

Buffy started to wave her free hand then stopped as pain tore through her arm once more.  OK.  Rule of the evening number 28 -- no gesturing with the left hand.  She tucked it slowly and painfully into the pocket of his coat.  And rule number 29 -- try to ignore the fact that you're wearing his clothes.

"All this," she said, a little unsteadily.  "Taking me to this trial thing.  Helping me..."

Silence.

"Spike...?"

He sighed, sounding annoyed and...something else.  "Because you sodding asked me to," he said.  "Happy now?"

She swallowed.  "Oh."

There really wasn't much to say after that, Buffy decided.  So she said nothing, walking on in silence with him instead.



Part 9


 "Charms strike the sight
 but merit wins the soul"
 -- Alexander Pope




"We're here."

"Where?"  Buffy's voice seemed as controlled as ever, but beneath the words lay a note of strain and exhaustion.  Spike glanced at her, noting the paleness of her skin and the tense way she was holding her arm.  It had to be hurting.  She was probably hurting all over.  Even Slayers don't just walk away from a beating like the one that demon had given her...not without scars.  'Course, the real question was whether they were on the outside or not...

Come to that, he wasn't feeling that great either.  Hiking in the rain with broken ribs wasn't his favourite thing.  And neither was this.  Spike turned back to the swimming pool beneath his feet.  It was large, lavish...and empty.  The only thing between him and all that concrete...was thin air.  'Really not lookin' forward to breaking any more bones tonight,' he thought unhappily.

"Well?"  The Slayer sounded impatient.  "Where are we?"

Spike shifted slightly.  "We're gonna have to jump," he said, not answering her directly.

Buffy swallowed.  "Up or down?"

"Down."

"Down," she repeated.  "How far?"

"Not far."

"You're lying through your teeth, Spike."

"Yeah...well...OK, I am.  Look, do you want to get your bloody sight back or not?  'Cause I don't have time to play twenty questions with you.  You're just gonna have to decide whether you trust me or not.  Your choice, Slayer."


 *     *     *


Trust him.  Trust Spike.  Before tonight Buffy would have burst into hysterical laughter if someone had suggested that to her.  Because if ever anyone was untrustworthy, it was the bleached blond vampire.  She still hadn't fully forgiven him for what he had done to her and her friends last year...

And yet -- he was different tonight.  He had saved her life and gotten himself injured in the process.  He could have left her bleeding in the graveyard; instead he had brought her back to his crypt and bandaged her up.  He hadn't even taken advantage of her or made fun of her...much.  And, of all the people who were close to her, he was the only one who had managed to break down her barriers, to see through the lies and to keep pushing until she had finally done the unthinkable and ask for help.  Ask him for help.

True, he was annoying, arrogant, and way too sure of himself.  And dangerous.  Don't forget dangerous.  He might have a chip in his head that prevented him from acting out his violent impulses, but she knew they were still there.  She had seen that look in his eyes all too often...when she could still see, that is.  One day he might even manage to remove the implant.  And where would they be then?  He'd go back to his old ways and she'd have to kill him.  Or he'd kill her.  Either way, it wouldn't be pleasant.  And, for the first time since Angel, the thought of dusting a certain vampire was...distressing.  It would -- it would hurt, to have to kill Spike...

And she was so never going to tell him that.  'That's all I need,' she thought bitterly.  'Give him another weapon to use against me.  Good plan, Buffy.'

Only -- only he wouldn't, would he?  He had proven that much, at least.  And what about last week, when he come after her with a shotgun after their confrontation in the alley?  The alley.  Buffy closed her eyes briefly.  What she had said that night, the words she had hurled at him in anger and pain... She had been wrong.  He wasn't beneath her.  He had proven that tonight, a hundred times over.  And she had to tell him.  She owed him that much at least.

"Well?" he was saying irritably.  "Are we going to do this or not?"

Buffy opened her eyes and swallowed deeply.  "Spike," she said quietly, concentrating on the feel of his hand in hers.

"Yeah what?"

"I didn't mean it."

"Mean what?"

"What I said.  Last week -- in the alley.  I...I'm sorry.  And I wanted to say thank you.  For what you're trying to do.  Just...thank you."

The vampire said nothing, his hand cold and motionless in hers.  An eternity seemed to go by.

"Spike?" Buffy said finally, biting her lip a little.

At last he stirred, shifting beside her.  "Oh.  Well.  That's all right then."  For a moment he sounded -- almost embarrassed.  Sheepish.  Sheepish Spike?  The world just kept getting stranger and stranger...

Suddenly self-conscious and not really understanding the sudden tension that had filled the air between them, Buffy turned back to the -- whatever it was that lay ahead of her -- and said with false brightness:  "So, are we going to jump or what?"

This time there was a hint of pleasure in his voice.  "You trust me?" Spike said, pulling her into his arms.

She didn't fight him.  "Yeah.  I do.  Call me Demento Girl, but I trust you."

"Good.  After you then."  And with that he gave her a hefty shove in the small of the back, stepping forward with her...and together they fell, the ground vanishing from beneath their feet.


 *     *     *


Only Spike saw how they crashed right through the concrete on the bottom of the empty pool, as if it didn't really exist.  They fell together for several more feet and then Spike was tucking and rolling, and springing back to his feet with feline grace.

Buffy wasn't quite so lucky.  Unable to see where the floor actually was, she couldn't anticipate her landing.  She managed not too badly thanks to her Slayer instincts, but she nevertheless hit the ground pretty hard.  For a moment she lay unmoving at Spike's feet and fear sliced through him.  What if she were badly injured?  Hastily the vampire reached down toward her...only to be shoved violently away as the Slayer climbed to her feet, unaided.

"Next time I decide to trust you, Spike," she snapped, rubbing her knee with one hand, "remind me to bang my head against a wall until the feeling goes away."

"That's my bad-tempered Slayer," he said absently, no longer listening now that he was sure she was all right.  Instead he pivoted around, surveying the room.

It small, poorly lit, and devoid of furniture.  Torchlight flickered off stone walls, giving it a medieval look.  Shadows cast by the flames stirred in the corners, but there was no other movement.  And no people.
 
"I am so not your anything," Buffy was saying peevishly.  "And where the hell are we, anyway?"

"This is the place of the trials, my dear."  The voice came from directly behind them.  Where there had been only emptiness a moment ago.  Buffy and Spike both spun toward the sound, the vampire instinctively morphing into his game face.  "Who the bloody hell are you?" he growled.

A smallish man stood before them, wearing slightly rumpled, old-fashioned clothing and an expression of slight distaste.  "Please, sir.  Language."

"Sod my flaming language.  Who the hell are you?"

The man drew himself up, holding onto both lapels.  "I am...why, I suppose you could call me the Valet.  I am here, after all, to make sure things go as...smoothly as possible."  He had a distinct English accent, similar to Giles'.   "And you are..." the Valet looked down at a tiny leather notebook in his hand, "William the Bloody, also known as...er...Spike, and Miss Summers.  And you are here to restore Miss Summers eyesight.  Quite a laudable goal, really.  For a vampire."

As he spoke, the little man moved towards Buffy.  Without warning, he placed both hands on either side of her head and she yelped in surprise, pulling away from him.

"Hey!"

In an instant Spike had interposed himself between the Slayer and the Valet, shoving the man away from her.  "Touch her again and I'll..."

Unconcernedly the man shrugged off the vampire's hand and straightened his waistcoat.  "Oh not to worry Mr...ah... Spike.  I'm only checking to make sure we really can help her before the trial begins."  He leaned a little closer, ignoring the fangs, his voice dropping conspiratorially.  "Just between us, we had a bit of a...situation...recently.  One of the supplicants actually managed to pass all his trials, but we weren't able to grant his reward due to a...an unfortunate mix up.  All quite embarrassing really."

"Who was it?"  Buffy asked curiously.

"Another vampire, oddly enough.  Needless to say, I've been ordered to check first and make sure we can keep up our end of the bargain.  After all, we do have a reputation to maintain.  So..."  He took a step forward, shooting a cautious glance at Spike who was still hovering protectively over the Slayer.  "...if you will permit me..."

Buffy swallowed then nodded hesitantly.  Once more the Valet reached out for her and closed his eyes.  Several seconds ticked by and then he stepped back, smiling and looking pleased.

"Yes.  We can definitely do something about that.  No problem at all.  So now there's just the matter of the trials..."

Spike didn't stir from Buffy's side, although he did allow his face to morph back to his human appearance.  "What exactly does she need to do?" he asked, shooting a concerned glance at the Slayer.

"Miss Summers?"  The Valet glanced at Buffy in some surprise then his gaze returned speculatively to Spike.  A cold sensation began to crawl up the vampire's spine.

"Miss Summers?" The man said again.  "Why, nothing at all."

"No, it is you who must undergo the trial."



Part 10


 "The end in sight"
 -- Robert Browning




"What?"  Buffy took a quick step forward, actually running into Spike as she did.  She hadn't realized he was standing so close.  Swearing briefly she stepped around him to where she thought the Valet was.  "No, he can't," she said sharply.  "This is my problem, not Spike's.  I should be the one to take this trial, whatever it is."

"Now now, my dear."  The Valet gave her an avuncular pat on the shoulder.  "Haven't you ever heard of 'an eye for an eye'?"

"An eye for... What are you planning to do?  Blind him too?"  Alarm coloured her voice and Buffy reached out a hand to the vampire's arm, holding on to it tightly.  She barely noticed when his hand come down on top of hers.

"Blind him...?"  The Valet laughed.  "Oh, that's very good.  No, Miss Summers.  We have no plans to blind your young champion here -- although accidents have been known to happen.  No, the trials are a matter of life...and death.  If young Spike should succeed, you will regain your eyesight."

"And if I don't?" the vampire asked harshly.

"Why, then I'm afraid Miss Summers' life will be forfeit.  You, of course, will already be dead."


 *     *     *


'Well, isn't this just sodding special?" Spike thought.  The night kept getting worse and worse.

Actually that wasn't quite true.  Things had been getting steadily better, from the moment he had first noticed the Slayer in the cemetery, right up until a moment ago.  True, he'd gotten a few broken ribs for his pains...but that was a small price to pay, really.  She had kissed him.  Apologized.  Not staked him in the back.  And he'd seen her half-naked.  Yeah, not bad at all.

But this... This was more than Spike had bargained for.  When he had brought her here he hadn't realized that he'd be gambling with both their lives.  And, while she might be willing to die tonight, he certainly wasn't.  'I've got an unlife to live," he thought resentfully.  'Things to do, places to go...'

Only...what would life be like without her?  Spike had no doubts in his mind that if they left here tonight and the Slayer was still blind...then she would die.  And probably sooner rather than later.

So it came down to this:  How much did he really want to keep her alive?  And how much was he willing to risk?

Slowly, the vampire turned his head, registering the way Buffy's hand was still resting on his arm, seeing the anxiety in her expression as she looked sightlessly up at him...

...and he swallowed, letting his eyes drift slowly shut.  The answer was everything.  He would risk everything for her.


 *     *     *


"But...but he's got broken ribs," Buffy was saying, trying to think of a way out of this.  She couldn't let Spike do this for her -- not that he would he agree to it anyway.  But still...

"And you are blind.  What, as you Americans say, is the point?"  There was a note of impatience in the Valet's voice now, as if he were growing tired of the conversation.
"Well, he..."

Spike broke in abruptly.  "I'll do it."

"What?"  Buffy turned to him in shock, her fingers unconsciously tightening around his arm.  "Spike, no."

"Buffy, yes," he said mockingly.  "Look, this is what we came here for.  You didn't think anything called a 'trial' was going to be easy, did you?  So let's just get the bloody thing over so I can get you back to your sodding life and out of mine.  I've got my own problems to worry about, remember?"

Buffy frowned, not buying his act.  He had just offered to risk his life.  For her.  But why?  What did he have to gain?  One possible answer flickered briefly through her mind but she discarded it as impossible.  Not that it mattered anyway.  She had no intention of allowing him go through with this.
 
"I won't let you," she said firmly, her fingers digging into his arm.

One of his hands touched her hair.  "And you plan on stopping me how, Goldilocks?  You're blind, remember?  Couldn't even kill one little demon without my help."

"It was a big demon," she said, a trifle shakily.  "and I don't understand why you're doing this.  We hate each other..."

"Yeah, Slayer.  We do."  And then he pulled her roughly forward, pinning her against his chest...and his lips descended on hers.


 *     *     *


The kiss was even more powerful than the one in the crypt.  Partly because she was fully conscious this time...and partly because Buffy could sense more than a little desperation fuelling it -- on both sides.  Spike was kissing her as if nothing else mattered in the world, as if he expected her to push him away at any moment...

Only she couldn't.  His tongue was moving sinuously against hers, his hand going around her waist to pull her even closer so that she could feel every inch of his body through the soaking t-shirt and jeans, could feel his arousal pressing against her -- and she couldn't do it.  It felt too good.  Too real.  Too  necessary.  Nothing else mattered, only this moment.  Only him.  Instinctively, Buffy reached her good arm up to hang onto him, her fingers tightening in the wet material of his shirt as she tilted her head back, allowing him to change the angle of the kiss, to deepen it as his hands roamed freely across her body...


 *     *     *


Inevitably, the end came too soon.  Far too soon.  Something was tapping Spike on the shoulder, although he barely noticed it at first through the red haze obscuring his senses.  But there it was again...  With a silent snarl, he wrenched his head up, breaking the kiss but not letting go of the Slayer.

"What?" he growled, looking back over his shoulder.

"Ahem."  It was the Valet.  "While I can quite understand your...er...ardour sir, there is still a series of trials to undergo.  And time is passing.  Rapidly."  The little man pulled out a gold pocket watch on a chain and waved it under Spike's nose.  "If you wish to do battle for the lady's favour then I suggest you put her down and GET ON WITH IT."  The Valet folded his arms and waited, glaring at the vampire impatiently.

Spike sighed then turned back to Buffy.  She was looking thoroughly surprised...and thoroughly kissed.  Her lips were swollen, her hair dishevelled, and there was an expression in her sightless eyes that sent a wave of pure self-satisfaction coursing through him.  He had kissed her.  And she had kissed him back.  Life was good.

"You don't have to do this," she said, her voice a trifle unsteady, her heart racing against his.

"Might as well," he said off-handedly, making sure the emotions that were rolling through him weren't echoed in his voice.  "Nothing better to do."

"Spike..."

He cut her off, kissing her again, fast and hard this time... and then he stepped backwards, out of her arms.  Instantly she and the Valet began to fade.  Spike watched them go, trepidation already beginning to replace the passion within him, then he took a deep breath and said aloud:  "Be seeing you, Slayer."

And then they were gone and he was all alone.

And then a door swung open behind him...and he wasn't.


 *     *     *


Buffy staggered as the world reformed around her, but the Valet put out a helpful arm, steadying her.  "What happened?" she said in alarm. "Where's Spike?"

"Undergoing the trial."

"I want to see what's happening!"

The Valet chuckled shortly.  "Yes, well that is rather the point, isn't it?  If he succeeds you'll get your eyesight back soon enough."

"And if he doesn't we'll both die."  Her voice was laced with frustration.

"Yes.  Quite.  Cup of tea?"

The Slayer ignored him, moving forward as she tried to sort out her surroundings.  Her toe caught on something...a chair.  "Where am I?" she asked, turning slowly.

"The antechamber.  Please, have a seat."

"I'll stand.  And where is Spike?  Specifically?"

"Specifically?"  The Valet paused, as if consulting something.  "He's still on the first challenge.  Doing quite well too, I must say.  Not as well as our last supplicant, but still...not bad at all."  He crossed the room toward her and pressed something into her hand -- a cup and saucer full of something hot.  "It's Earl Grey," he said.  "I hope you like lemon.  And do please sit down.  This could take a while."

For a moment Buffy debated throwing the cup, tea and all, at him, then decided against it.  She needed information, after all, and Jeeves here was the only one who could help her.  Might as well try to be polite.  She could always beat him to a pulp later.

"So what is the first challenge?" she asked, sitting down carefully, holding the teacup with both hands.

"He must walk through a door."

Buffy narrowed her eyes.  "No way is it as easy as that."

The Valet sat down beside her in another chair.  "Of course not.  You're very astute.  But it's no good...ah, how do you put it?  'Pumping me for information'.  It's quite against the rules for me to tell you anything else, I'm afraid.  Sugar?"

Buffy shook her head.  "Why?" she said flatly.

"It will make the tea sweet."

"No.  Why can't you tell me what's going on?"

"Ah.  As I said.  Rules.  Surely as the Slayer, you understand the importance of regulations?"  He paused and she could feel his gaze on her, boring intently into her.  "Or perhaps you don't."

She frowned.  "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well, you are here with a vampire as your champion, after all.  Which is, to put it baldly, simply not done.  And then there was the...ah," he coughed delicately. "The... er...farewell embrace.  Also quite surprising for a Slayer."

Anger flickered within her.  "What do you know about Slayers anyway?" she said, gamely ignoring the reference to the kiss.

"Quite a lot, actually.  Still, mustn't..."  The Valet abruptly broke off.

"What?"  Buffy said, alarm in her voice.

"Excuse me a moment, will you my dear?  Duties to tend to..."  He stood and she could hear him setting his cup and saucer down on his vacated chair...and then he was gone.  One instant he was there, the next he was not.
 
Buffy surged to her feet, her tea spilling down her leg.  She ignored the momentary pain though, instead stretching out with her senses to detect the Valet's presence.  Or anyone's presence, for that matter.  Nothing.  "Come back here," she shouted abruptly.  "Come back and tell me what's going on!"  But there was no answer.

She was all alone.

Yet again.



Part 11


 "None so blind as those that will not see"
 -- Matthew Henry




Buffy closed her eyes, rubbing her temples with her right hand, wishing the headache that was gathering behind her eyes would go away.

'I need an aspirin,' she thought unhappily.  'I need Giles to tell me more about this place.  I need to know what's going on.'

'And I really need to hit someone.'

Unfortunately, it didn't look as though she was going to get any of the above, at least in the near future.  She had made her painstaking way around the entire antechamber only to find that there were no exits.  At all.  No doors, no windows, no grates in the floor...not even a handy ventilation duct.  'There's never a good ventilation duct around when you need one,' she thought sourly.  The walls themselves were made of thick stone, she had determined, and the only things inside the room were the two chairs, a small table with a teapot on it, two cups of tea (one spilled)...and Buffy.  Absolutely nothing she could use to help her escape.  The room was Houdini-proof.

Frustration growing within her, Buffy rose again and began to pace, albeit carefully.  It wasn't fair and it wasn't right.  Spike was out there risking life and limb while she sat here like...like some pathetic damsel in distress.  All she needed was a long dress and a simpering attitude, and she would be just perfect for the role.  'Helpless,' her mind whispered tauntingly.  'Completely helpless.  Counting on your mortal enemy to save you...'

With a curse the Slayer flung the teapot across the room, listening to the resounding crash with a grim sense of satisfaction.  First thing she had done all night that had made her feel good...

Well, OK.  There had been the kiss.  Kisses.  Actually, now that she thought about it, Buffy seemed to have spent a significant portion of the night up close and personal with Spike...either clinging to him like a vine or letting him kiss her senseless.  And, to be completely honest...kissing him back.

But why?  Why now?  And why Spike?  Yesterday Buffy would have said that she didn't even like him, but today...  Well, it was obvious that some part of her found the vampire attractive, at least on a basic, hormonal level...  Hormones -- that was it.  Well, bad hormones!  Bad!  Icky Spike.  Dangerous Spike.

Exciting Spike.  Exhilarating Spike.  Being with him was like playing with fire.  Living on the edge.  Skating on thin ice.  And pretty much every other cliche she could think of...

...much more exciting than Riley...

Feeling like a traitor for even thinking it, Buffy leaned her aching head back against the chair.  This was  pointless.  Her mind kept going around in circles, always coming back to the same thoughts -- none of which were going to help her to get out of this place alive...or help Spike.  'If only I knew what this trial was,' she thought dismally.  'Maybe then...'

"I would offer you more tea, but there appears to have been an...um...accident...with the teapot."  A voice said suddenly, mere inches away from her ear.  Buffy jumped violently, her heart hammering in her throat as her body moved automatically and instantly into a defensive position.

"So sorry, Miss Summers.  Didn't mean to startle you."  It was the Valet.  Again.

Buffy took a deep unsteady breath then let her hand fall back down, waiting for her heartbeat to regain its normal speed.  "How did you get in here?" she said accusingly.

She could hear the smile in his voice, could almost imagine him winking knowingly at her.  "Ah.  Trade secret, my dear.  I just came to see if you were all right.  Not too bored, I hope?  Of course, I see you've been amusing yourself by flinging the crockery about..."

"How's Spike?" Buffy interrupted, half dreading the answer.

"On the second challenge as we speak.  Only one more to go.  You chose your champion very well, I must say."

"And...and he's all right?"

"Erm...I wouldn't go that far.  But he's still standing.  And conscious.  So, really, he's about as well as can be expected."

Buffy swallowed, a sick feeling going through her at the thought of him being hurt.  "Call this off," she said resolutely.  "Right now.  I wouldn't have come here if I had known..."

"If you had known that someone else might have to suffer for your sake?"  The Valet asked gently, covering her hand with his own.

She didn't bother to pull away.  "Yes."

"You really care about him that much?"

"I..."  Did she?  Did she care about Spike?  Buffy suddenly had the feeling she was standing on the edge of a precipice.  If she admitted that it was more, that it wasn't just her hormones controlling her...then there'd be no going back.  And things would never be the same between them.  Her mind shied away from the thought.

"I don't want him to be hurt," she said finally, skirting the question altogether.

"Too late for that, I'm afraid.  Still, perhaps it will make you feel better to know that he is doing this willingly."

It didn't.  Because...that meant that he cared for her.  On some level, Spike truly cared.  And that wasn't possible, was it?  He was a demon.  He had no soul.  He couldn't care, couldn't feel, couldn't...

Except...except he had loved Drusilla.  He had been devoted to her.  And devastated when she had left him.

The Valet leaned closer and whispered, as if sensing her thoughts:  "Demons can feel love too, you know."

Yes.  They could.  They weren't all evil, emotionless creatures.  She knew that.  But vampires?  The only one she had ever met who wasn't truly bad was Angel, and he had a soul.  So -- where did that leave Spike?  Was the chip in his head changing him somehow, or was it all just an illusion?  Some kind of complicated trick?

No.  It couldn't be.  He had nothing to gain from doing this, and everything to lose.  And how could the chip in his head be responsible?  It might prevent him from hurting people but it certainly wasn't forcing him to help her.  Was it?

No.  It couldn't be.  So it had to be something else.  Something more.  Which brought her right back to where she had begun -- with the notion that Spike truly cared for her.  Maybe even...

'So not gonna go there,' Buffy thought determinedly, hunching her shoulders as a small shiver ran down her spine.  She wasn't going to do this.  Not again.  She would never fall for another vampire.  It was wrong and it was pointless -- and it was dangerous.  Very dangerous.  'Been there, done that, got the emotional scars...'

"I rather think it's too late for that, Miss Summers."

No, it wasn't.  And besides, she had a boyfriend.  A nice, safe, normal boyfriend who loved her...

And then she realized...  Buffy turned back to the Valet with a frown, shoving the disturbing thoughts aside.  "Are you reading my mind?" she asked coldly.

"Well yes I...er...that is... Oh."  He paused.  "So sorry.  That was very impolite."

"Yes," Buffy said, crossing her arms and glaring at him.  "It was.  So read this."  She thought a phrase and felt him start beside her.

"How rude," he said.  And then, in an eyeblink, he was gone.  Again.

Buffy put a hand on the chair, feeling to see if he was still there, then groaned aloud in frustration.  "Stop doing that!" she said to the empty air.

Only silence answered her.


 *     *     *


This time, when the Valet returned, Buffy was ready for him.  The moment she felt his presence in the antechamber she seized him by the throat with her right hand, holding the stake in her left, trying to ignore the waves of pain that rolled up her arm with the motion.

"Do you mind?" the little man said, unruffled, trying to slide her hand aside.

"Yes," the Slayer said, tightening her grip on his throat.  "I mind a lot.  I'm all out of patience.  As of now, I'm patience-free.  So you're going to do two things for me or Mr Pointy here gets to meet the inner you.  You're going to get me out of this room.  And you're going to end this trial before Spike gets himself killed.  Understand?"

The Valet did not move.  "Yes, I understand.  But it's too late for that, I'm afraid."

What?  Too late?  But...  Then it sank in.  Spike was dead.  Oh god.  Abruptly she released her hold on the Valet, her left hand dropping to her side, her suddenly numb fingers barely maintaining their grip on the stake.

Dead?  He couldn't be dead.  Not this way.  Not because of her.  And not now.  Not when she was just figuring out that...that she didn't hate him.  That... Oh god.  Spike.

Pain hit her then, driving all the breath from her body.  For an endless moment Buffy felt only anguish...and then even that faded away...leaving behind a cold sense of anger.  And determination.  She lifted her head slowly, unaware of the feral glitter in her eyes.  Her hand tightened around the stake.  "If he is dead," she said flatly, "then so are you."


 *     *     *


It hurt.  Actually, hurt wasn't a strong enough word.  A holocaust of pain was burning through Spike with every breath he took.  From the deep gashes in his right leg to the many burns on his feet, chest, back, and hands, the cut just under his left eye, to the metal chains biting into his wrists...no, there was no part of him that wasn't in torment.

Including his heart.  He couldn't even lie to himself anymore now, thanks to this sodding trial.  Not after what he had just gone through...and what he had just done.

He had offered his life for the Slayer's.  And the fact that he wasn't dead -- yet -- didn't mean a bloody thing. As the Valet had said, it was all in the journey, all in the willingness to make the sacrifice.  For her.  For Buffy.  His Slayer.

He loved her.  Enough to die for her.

Bugger.

Spike closed his eyes.  The thought hurt, even more than the physical pain sweeping across his body.  His injuries would heal...eventually, but the agony inside him wasn't ever going to go away.  Because he loved someone who would never love him back, who would never look upon him with anything other than hatred, or at best polite indifference.  And he couldn't even delude himself anymore, couldn't tell himself that it was only her body he lusted after...

'Should've killed me after all,' he thought bitterly -- and then the chains around his wrists abruptly vanished.  And Spike found himself falling as the world around him disappeared...



Part 12


 "Closed his eyes in endless night"
 --Thomas Gray




Spike hit the stone floor hard, not having enough strength left to even try to cushion his fall.  Not that it would have done any good if he had - his left hand was so burned from the holy water that had engulfed it earlier that even the air dancing across the back of it was enough to ignite every nerve end on it.  As for the right one -- there were multiple cross-shaped burns on the palm, matching the ones on his back, chest, and feet.  And meanwhile blood still coursed from the wounds on his leg while grey fog was beginning to gather on the edges of his vision.

Slowly though, random images began to filter into his consciousness.  Cold stone.  He was laying on his back on a stone floor, he realized.  A cool draught was playing over his naked chest, tracing lines of agony across the burns.  And there was light.  Flickering shadows.  Torches, that was it.  He was back in the first room, where he and the Slayer had entered...

Buffy.  A small jolt of alarm shot through him.  Where was she?  Gritting his teeth, Spike struggled to lift his head -- and groaned.  Even that one small movement was almost too much, the fog around him growing thicker.

He should welcome it, he knew.  Should welcome anything that would make the pain go away, welcome the oblivion that was waiting to take him...elsewhere.  But -- but not just yet.  He had to find the Slayer first...

Probably wasn't going to get the chance though, he realized remotely.  The darkness around him was growing, all sensation washing away on a tide of pain.  'Sodding hell,'  Spike thought dimly as the realization hit him.  He knew what was happening.  He was dying.

It hurt more than last time, though.


 *     *     *


Buffy smelled the blood first, its metallic tang sharp in the air, so thick she could almost taste it.  Lots of blood.  And there, on the floor... 'Vampire,' her Slayer instincts told her helpfully.

'Spike,' she corrected them.

Buffy darted forward, crossing the room to kneel by the vampire's side, the stake forgotten in her left hand.  "Spike?" she said, reaching out to him tentatively.

His only answer was a low moan when her fingers brushed against bare skin.  Hastily Buffy snatched her hand away, not wanting to cause him further pain, then she sat back, wondering what to do next.

"What's wrong with him?" she asked tautly over her shoulder.

"He's dying."  The English tones were cold and indifferent now, all hint of any prior emotion long gone.

Dying?  How could he be dying?  Vampires didn't die like this.  Not slowly, in pain and bleeding.  So how...?

"This is the Trial, Miss Summers.  The rules are different here."

The man must have been reading her mind again, but Buffy no longer cared.  "Well damn your rules," she said grimly.  "And damn you!  What more do you want?  If you wanted him dead then why do it this way?  Or is it me you want dead?  Well fine," she continued, climbing to her feet and taking a menacing step toward him.  "You want me, then come and get me.  But unless you're really willing to take on one majorly pissed off Slayer, I suggest you stop quoting some damned rulebook and help him!  Because I so meant what I said earlier."

"And what about your eyesight, Miss Summers?  And your champion's choice to sacrifice himself for you?"

"It's not his choice to make," Buffy said flatly.  "It never was.  And you know what?  I don't even care anymore.  I don't want my sight back if it means somebody else has to die for it."

"Are you certain?"  There was an edge of -- something -- in his tone.  Tension maybe?  Or anticipation?

"Yes.  I am.  After all -- what would be the point in being able to see again...if I couldn't look at myself in the mirror?  So just...just end this.  Now."

There was a pause, and then:  "Only you can do that, I'm afraid."

Huh?  Buffy frowned, turning back to Spike.  How?  What was she supposed to do?  What could she do?  He was in so much pain and there was so much blood...  It was soaking into her shoes, the smell of it filling the air until she thought she would choke on it.

Blood.

Oh.

A shudder went through her.  She couldn't.  She couldn't  "There has to be another way," she said, almost to herself, more a plea than anything else...

"Oh will you just shut the bloody hell up and stake me already?"  Buffy jumped.  It was Spike's voice, wracked with agony and barely louder than a whisper, but he was awake.  Just barely, but awake.  Which meant he had heard everything that had been said...  Buffy swallowed then sank slowly back to her knees again beside him.  "What did you say?"

"You heard, blondie... Get it over with."

She shook her head violently.  "Are you crazy?  I'm not going to kill you.  Well, not today anyway."

"Stubborn...bloody...woman.  Year ago you wouldn't have so much as batted an eyelid.  Would've staked me as soon as look at me.  And you know you still want to..."

With an effort Spike managed to raise his upper body slightly, reaching out with unsteady fingers for her.  Buffy didn't move away, didn't even flinch as his hand closed around her left wrist and pulled it forward until the stake in her fingers was resting against his chest, the point just over his heart.

"You said it before, Goldilocks.  World needs a Slayer.  And with this chip in my head I'm just a waste of space.  Be doing me a favour, really.  So just...bloody do it!"  He tightened his grip on her wrist.

Buffy closed her eyes and for one instant -- just one -- she actually considered it.  With one move she could have everything back, could regain everything she had lost when she had first felt the demon's acid burning in her eyes.  Her sight.  Her life.  Her future...

But she would lose too.  Self-respect.  Peace of mind.  And Spike.  She would lose Spike.

"Stupid vampire," the Slayer said savagely, wrenching her arm out of his grasp and pulling the stake away from him.  "Much as I would love to stake you into dust right now, I'm not going to."

"Slayer..." his voice was weaker now.

"And don't 'Slayer' me, either.  Who was yelling at who about choices earlier tonight?  You can dish it out pretty good, Spike, but can you take it?  It takes a lot to live.  I should know.  Dying's easy, but living...living is hard and painful and everyday.  And it doesn't ever get easy.  The hurt and the loss and the pain don't ever go away, whether you live to be twenty, or a hundred and twenty.  But, if you're really, really lucky, you get a few minutes of happiness too, mixed up in all that pain."

"And you know what Spike?  Those few moments make it all worthwhile."

"You don't understand..."  His speech was slurred.

"No?  You don't think I know what it's like to feel helpless?  Defenceless?  Weak?  Dependent?  Feel free to stop me at any time.  Well, big surprise, Fang Boy, but I do.  I know exactly what it's like.  So you've got a chip in your head that won't let you kill people.  Well forgive me if the sorry just keeps eluding me.  You've still got a life, Spike.  And you can't tell me there's no joy in it anywhere, even if it's just in the little things..."

Buffy's voice softened.  "'Cause sometimes the little things are all we have left."

"Nice speech, Summers."  Spike's voice was still frighteningly weak, but he somehow managed to inject a note of scorn into it.  "Not exactly life-changing though.  'Cause like it or not, I'm still gonna die.  It's just gonna take longer unless you stop mucking about and bloody do it!"

Buffy closed her eyes briefly, a tremor going through her.  But the decision had already been made.  She opened her eyes again.  "Look," she said softly, leaning closer to him.  "You need blood.  And I've got it.  So...so just go for it.  Drinks are on Buffy.  Only...try not to take too much, OK?  The Slayer supply is running kinda low right now."

Which was true.  Actually, now that she thought about it -- really thought about it -- Buffy was still far too weak to even be considering this.  The blood she had lost earlier, combined with her injuries...well, she just shouldn't be doing this.  If she did, it could kill her.

But if she didn't, it would kill him.  And besides, it was too late to back out now.  Far too late.  Better to just get it over with, before she started thinking too much...and before he died and made the whole thing pointless anyway.

Licking suddenly dry lips, Buffy leaned further over the vampire, bringing her neck even closer to his mouth.  "Do it Spike," she whispered.  "You finally get what you've always wanted...and it's probably not even your birthday..."

Nothing.  No answer, no movement.  Buffy frowned.  What was he waiting for?  Had he passed out?  Or...?  Her frown deepened.  No, he was still conscious.  So what was the holdup?  Another tremor ripped through her.  If she had time to think about what she was doing, time to let the fear that was gathering in the pit of her stomach take control...then she wouldn't be able to do this.  As it was, her fingers were already beginning to shake at the thought of...of...

It wasn't like she had never done this before, Buffy told herself firmly.  She had.  The Master, Angel, Dracula...  For a Slayer, she had spent way too much time with fangs in her throat.  But she had always walked away before, one way or another.  This time though...this time she wasn't sure she would.  Because she was already so weak.  And because this was Spike.  Former mortal enemy number one, head of the Slayer most wanted list...  Only it went deeper than that now, didn't it?  And maybe, just maybe it was more frightening than all those other times...because he was most wanted in more ways than one...

Buffy swallowed deeply then forced the thought aside.  "Do it, Spike," she said again.

"Love to pet."  His voice was barely a whisper now.  "But
-- chip."

Oh yeah.  Buffy paused, holding herself just above the vampire's prone body.  The chip.  Then she shook her head slightly, feeling her hair brush against his chest.  He didn't even flinch, was obviously holding onto consciousness by a thread.  "Doesn't matter," she whispered softly.  "Remember?  You told me the chip works based on intent.  If you don't plan to hurt me then it won't hurt you."

He didn't answer.  Buffy sighed softly, wishing she didn't have to say this, wishing there was some other way.  Any other way.  But there wasn't.  And she was all out of time.  And options.  So...time to bare her soul along with her neck.

The Slayer leaned closer until her mouth was right beside the vampire's ear.  "I've been bitten before, Spike.  And we both know that..." her voice quivered, but she went on resolutely:  "that if I want you to do it, that if I want you, then...then it won't hurt me.  That is -- it will hurt...but I'll enjoy it."  A pause.  "And Spike?  I'm going to enjoy it."

And then there was only the sensation of fangs, tearing through skin and sinking deeply into her, a lean, cool body beneath her own, and an arm coming around her to pull her even closer...

And Buffy was right.  She did enjoy it.



Part 13


 "The sight of you is good for sore eyes"
 -- Jonathan Swift




It was primal.  Passionate.  An inferno of flame tearing through her body, leaving her scorched...and wanting more.  As if sensing her need, Spike bit even deeper, one hand going up to the back of her neck to hold her steady while the other moved slowly down the length of her back, over her behind, then back up again, under her shirt this time, caressing the bare skin of her back.  Buffy whimpered, deep in the back of her throat, and twisted desperately on top of the vampire, trying to get even closer, trying to...

Sensations.  Almost too many to count.  Cold fangs, deep in her neck.  The heat of her blood flowing over them and into his mouth.  His tongue, moving rhythmically against her skin as he drank.  Her heart, pounding harder against his chest, trying to keep up with her body's sudden, new demands on it.  And the scent of him, surrounding her.  In her.  His arousal, pressing insistently against her, the way her muscles clenched spasmodically with his every move...

Too many clothes.  She was wearing too many clothes.  There was too much between them.  But she could do nothing about it with only one good arm, couldn't even focus enough to pull off the leather coat she was still wearing.  She tried, scarcely noticing how much her hand was shaking, how weak her fingers were -- and failed.  Frustrated, Buffy whimpered, making another half-hearted tug at the edge of the leather.

Spike reached up for her hand, pulled it away from the coat...and then flipped her onto her back, rolling on top of her, maintaining his contact with her throat the whole while.  If anything, the bite deepened, now that he could get more purchase, a better angle...  Buffy gasped, then arched upward, straining desperately for more...more Spike.  More...everything.

Still drinking, Spike pulled the coat savagely from her shoulders then down both of her arms.  Pain stabbed through Buffy's left arm, but the feeling was distant and barely noticeable so she ignored it, moving closer to him instead, both of her legs curling up and around his hips while her right hand went around his back to hold on desperately.  Finally the vampire managed to pull the duster free and fling it to one side.  Then he ran his hand back under the t-shirt, caressing her breasts.

Buffy convulsed, calling his name, her nails digging into his back...and the world exploded.  There was fire.   Passion.  Need.  Everything around her began to fade, the world vanishing on a flood of desire.  She was sinking fast, back into the dark waters she had dreamed about.  Only this time she didn't care, didn't even try to fight the darkness.  Because this time she wasn't alone.

She barely noticed as her hand slowly released its grip on the vampire, sliding across his naked back to land limply on the floor.  Didn't notice that she could no longer feel the floor beneath her, could barely even feel Spike's weight on her.  Something, a last flicker of the Slayer's survival instinct perhaps, tried to shout a warning, but it was too far away...and she didn't want to listen anyway.  Nothing else mattered.  There was only this moment.  And these feelings.

"Spike," Buffy whispered...and it wasn't a plea to stop.  It was an entreaty not to stop.


 *     *     *


The Slayer's blood was like nectar.  Honey.  Sunlight and fire.  Its heat warmed him, filling his cold body and engulfing his senses.  Lust and need were cascading through the vampire, one after another, until he couldn't think, couldn't see, could do nothing but hold on and wait for the flames to burn out, for the feelings to fade away and die...

Only they didn't.  Instead, they got better.

And better.

Everything.  This was everything he had ever wanted, everything he had dreamed of...and it was better than he had ever dreamed.  The vampire swallowed deeply, savouring the taste of her blood on his tongue, the texture as it slid down his throat.  And the scent of her as she surrounded him, the way her body felt beneath his own...

Except...

Except there was something he was supposed to remember.  Something he was supposed to do.  Or -- not do.

Not kill her.  Not drink until she died.

Not let his Slayer die.

He wanted to.  Everything that made him a vampire, that had spent the last century feeding, killing, and taking whatever and whomever he wanted, when he wanted...it was all telling him to just do it.  To finish her off.  To keep drinking until her heart beat its last and her body went limp in his arms.

He wanted to so much.

But in the end, he didn't.

And it wasn't the implant that stopped him.


 *     *     *


Buffy moaned as Spike broke away, his fangs slowly pulling loose from her throat.  No!  She didn't want this to end, didn't want the sensations to stop. Desperately she tried to reach up, to draw him back to her, but her arms were too weak, her hands too heavy to lift...

...and besides...sanity was beginning to return.  Slowly.  Reluctantly.  But inexorably.

Hesitantly the Slayer opened her eyes, gradually becoming aware of the sound of her own panting, the way her chest heaved beneath him as her starved lungs struggled to draw air in.  Her heart was fluttering like a bird's and her body was shaking, she realized dimly, both from exhaustion, loss of blood...and the aftershocks of the climax that had rocked her.

With difficulty, Buffy looked up, her eyelids weighted like stones.  There was blood on the vampire's lips.  As she watched, he licked it away...and, weak though she was, a faint tremor of desire went through her.  She still wanted him.  God help her, she still wanted him...

Spike felt her quiver and for an instant their eyes met, awareness reflected in each other's gaze...

...as awareness of another kind went through Buffy.  She could see.  She could see Spike's eyes, his expression, see the torchlight casting shadows on the angular planes of his face...

"I can see."  She managed to say out loud, her voice a ragged whisper.  But she had no strength left for joy or relief.  The best she could manage was tired surprise.  It was taking so much effort just to form the words, to control her breathing enough to get them out...  Too much effort.  Alarm buzzed faintly in the back of her skull.  Drained.  That's what she was.  In more ways than one.  But at least she was still conscious.  He couldn't have taken that much if she was still conscious... Right?  Even though it was becoming harder and harder to hang onto that awareness, to keep the darkness lurking on the edges of her vision at bay...

"Miss Summers?"  It was the Valet's disembodied voice, coming from somewhere to her left.

Buffy blinked and, with a superhuman effort, managed to stave off the shadows, at least temporarily.  "I can see," she whispered again wearily.

"Yes, my dear.  I'm afraid I wasn't completely truthful earlier.  The first part of the Trial was indeed Spike's three challenges...but the last part was yours."

"Why?"  Her tone was flat.  Uncaring.

"Rules, Miss Summers.  Rules.  And now," he continued, more briskly, "The Trial is complete.  Thank you for your patronage.  Have a nice day."

And then the world began to fade around them and the stone chamber...vanished.


 *     *     *


Spike almost had control over himself again, over the demon inside that was still clamouring to sink his fangs back into the paleness of the Slayer's neck, to take the last of the blood pumping through her veins and to continue where he had left off...

No.  No, no, and no.  He wouldn't do it.  It didn't matter how much he wanted to, how much she might want him to even, he bloody well wasn't going to do it.

He wasn't.

Locked in his inner battle as he was, he barely heard the Valet's words, scarcely noticed when the room disappeared and was replaced by wet grass, sharp night air, and darkness lit only by starlight and a quarter moon.  What Spike did notice though, when he finally stirred slightly, was the pain that came roaring back over him like a freight train.

He actually had been hit by a train once, he remembered.  And this felt pretty much the same.  The first incredible agony of the impact followed by a whole barrage of lesser torments that just kept getting worse and worse.  Oh yeah.  Pretty sodding similar.

The burns were still there, he realized, as well as the gashes in his leg, although those at least had stopped pumping blood.  And the pain had abated, just a little.  He wasn't dying now, at least.  That much was certain.  The Slayer's blood had done it, had saved him...

The Slayer.  Spike blinked and looked down.  She was still beneath him, unmoving.  Her skin ashen, her heart going a mile a minute...but she was awake.  Alive.  And staring up at him with a faintly puzzled expression on her face.  Staring up at him...

He remembered.  She could see.  She had said so, just a moment ago.  'Course, he'd been too busy trying to prevent himself from killing her, for it to really sink in but now... Despite the pain, Spike suddenly found himself fighting the urge to break into a grin.  He had done it.  She could see.

There was a long moment of silence as the two stared at each other, then Spike finally spoke.  "You know, Slayer," he said, trying to keep his voice from reflecting both his pain...and the pleasure.  "I could get used to this."

"What?"  It came out in a whisper, as if she were only half listening...or half conscious.

"Waking up on top of you.  We keep on like this and I might start thinking you want my body."

Some reserve energy seemed to return to her and she managed to push at him, albeit weakly.

"Only for something to pummel."

'Atta girl,' the vampire thought.  'Take more than a little blood loss to do you in...'  Speaking of...  His gaze sharpened as his eyes fastened on the thin tendril of blood running down her throat.  Slowly, instinctively, knowing that he was playing with fire even as he did it, the vampire lowered his head and ran his tongue over the rivulet, licking it up...savouring the way she immediately gasped and stiffened beneath him, the way her body arched up toward his...  'Oh yeah - not so indifferent now, are we?'

Trouble was, he wanted more.  A hell of a lot more.  And unless he was willing to kill to get it...  No.  Reluctantly Spike pulled away, just enough, rolling the last mouthful of blood around in his mouth to get the full flavour before swallowing it, a feeling of deep satisfaction coursing through him.

He didn't say anything.

He didn't need to.

The moment stretched between them until he thought time might stop altogether, but then the Slayer stiffened, the hands that had been running down his sides now beginning to tense and push at him, this time with more force.  "Get off."

"That's what?  Three, four times tonight you've said that?  That song's getting a little old, love.  How 'bout we try a new one?"

"Sure.  Do you know 'I'm going to get off Buffy before she stakes me'?"

Spike's tone became serious.  "You won't stake me."  It wasn't a question.  "Didn't then, won't now." Nevertheless, with an effort he pushed himself aside and off the Slayer, rolling onto his back beside her and stifling a groan as his burns protested.  Loudly.  Then he lay still, waiting for the pain to recede while the stars whirled above him.

Another, longer silence fell between them.  Finally, though, he felt her hand move, sliding across the wet grass until it found his own, her fingers entwining in his.  "No," she said sombrely.  "I won't."  She swallowed once then said:

"Thank you, Spike."

"You're welcome, Slayer."



Part 14


 "And sight out of blindness"
 -- Sidney Lanier




At least it had stopped raining.  The ground was still wet and soggy, the tree overhead laden with water that kept cascading down on Spike and Buffy every time the wind blew through its branches...but at least it wasn't raining.

The Slayer lay motionless, a thousand thoughts going through her head as she stared silently up at the night sky -- the sky she had never thought she would see again.  Stars glittered as the last of the rainclouds scudded away into the distance, and the trees themselves seemed to shine.

It was beautiful.

And hard to believe.  She had never truly thought she would get her eyesight back.  Not really.  Yes, she had hoped and yes, she had wondered...but she had never really believed.  Not deep down.  Not on any level.

Spike had though.  She turned her head slightly, even that small motion enough to send waves of dizziness coursing through her, and looked at the vampire laying on the grass beside her, his pale body glimmering in the moonlight.  He must have believed or he never would have gone through all this.  And now that her vision was back, Buffy could see the results of that belief, the scars on his chest that could only have been caused by crosses coming into contact with vampire flesh.  Painful contact.  And many crosses.  Buffy's jaw tightened.  What kind of hell had he gone through?  Most of his clothes were gone, only the black jeans left, his chest and feet bare.  There were more burns on his feet, she could tell, and probably on his back too, if the way he had groaned when he had rolled off her was any indication.

Because of her.  Her fault.  She should have stopped the trial earlier.  Should never have agreed to go there in the first place...

But if she had done that, she would still be blind.  Or dead.  And...and selfish though it may be...she couldn't say she was sorry.  She wasn't even sure she would change things if she could.  No, she liked being alive.  And she liked being able to see again.  Her gaze went up to the stars again then back to the vampire...

...who was watching her now, a predatory, almost possessive look on his face.  Their eyes met...and a faint chill shot through her.  But it wasn't fear.  No, it was almost as if she was afraid...of the fact that she wasn't afraid.  She should be, she knew.  Spike was still dangerous, despite the implant.  He had proven that when he had...when she had let him bite her.  Her eyes still locked on him, the Slayer's free hand drifted up slowly towards the wound on her neck.

It hurt, she realized remotely, though the pain was small in comparison with the rest of the agony that was sweeping through her.  But now that the passion and desire that had scorched through her like wildfire were gone...her neck just plain hurt.  She touched the place tentatively then flinched.

"Quite the collection you've got there."  Spike's voice still vibrated with agony, but there was the usual mocking edge to it beneath the pain...and something else altogether.  Something that Buffy didn't recognize.  She stared at him blankly for a moment, then shifted uncomfortably, closing her eyes.

Quite a collection.  It was true.  The Master.  Angel.  Dracula.  And now Spike.  The Master's mark was barely noticeable, she knew.  His bite had been quick and clean, his fangs razor sharp.  The same with Dracula.  Only a tiny mark still marred her throat where he had bitten her.  Angel's though...his scar was jagged and long, the skin as much torn apart as bitten through.  Of course, he had been dying at the time, half out of his mind from the poison.  Couldn't really expect neatness under those circumstances.  And what would Spike's be like?, Buffy wondered.  Would it be neat or ragged, large or small...?

'OK.  Size so does not matter,' Buffy told herself firmly...or as firmly as she could, given that it was taking a concerted effort just to remain conscious.  Shadows kept washing in and out on the edges of her vision, like a dark tide threatening to engulf her.  But she wouldn't let them.  There was too much to do.  She had to get home, and quickly.  It was almost dawn.  Her family would be up soon, would find her gone.  And Spike would go up in a puff of smoke if they didn't make it back before the sun came up...

Buffy opened her eyes.  He was still watching her, the hungry look still there.

"Stop that," she said sharply.  Or at least, it was meant to sound sharp -- actually it came out sounding tired and pathetically weak.

"Stop what?"

"Stop looking at me like I'm something to eat."

He grinned wearily.  "Hate to break it to you baby, but you are.  And very tasty too."
 
"Yeah...well...just don't go expecting any dessert."

A brief silence fell, then:  "Why did you do it, Buffy?"

She blinked in surprise.  Whatever she had been expecting from him -- it wasn't that.  For a moment the vampire had actually sounded serious, solemn even, no hint of the usual derisive tones in his voice.  It was as if...as if he really wanted to know.  Buffy's mouth went suddenly dry.  She couldn't tell him.  Definitely not the whole truth -- if she even knew what that was, anyway.  And she couldn't even begin to vocalize the emotions that had flooded through her when she had found herself holding the stake against his chest...  She couldn't.

So she evaded the question entirely by countering with one of her own.

"Why did you want me to kill you?"

"Told you.  This chip..."

The Slayer shook her head slightly.  "No.  That's not it."  She didn't know how she knew that.  She just did.

For a moment they stared at each other in frustration, all the things unsaid hovering between them until the air became thick with tension.  Finally though, Spike looked away, turning his head to stare back up at the stars.  "Doesn't matter," he said flatly.  "Forget it."

No.  She couldn't leave it like this.  Not after what he had done.  Buffy bit her lip, undecided, then finally opened her mouth again.  Maybe a half-truth would be enough.

"I didn't want you to die," she said at last.  "Not after...what you did for me."

Spike didn't move, his eyes still locked on the night sky.  Buffy swallowed then went on gamely.  "You saved my life."

He did move at that, turning back to meet her gaze.  Something flitted briefly through his eyes, some emotion she had never seen in them before -- and then it was gone, as quickly as it had appeared, and she found herself wondering if it had really been there at all.  Perhaps she had imagined it.  Even as she watched, Spike's lips were already curling into the wicked grin she was so familiar with, the mocking light back in his eyes.  "Yeah, well, don't tell anyone," he said lightly.  "Never be able to live it down..."

"Tell me about it," she shot back, trying to hide just how shaken the exchange had left her.

"Still..." he continued, the grin widening a bit.  "Can't say it wasn't fun..."

Fun.  Not exactly the word she would have used.  Shattering.  Soul shaking.  Unforgettable.  Intense.  But not fun.

A shudder went through Buffy.  That made three times now that she had willingly allowed a vampire to bite her, three times that... Oh god.  OK fine, she was the Slayer and her life was strange and bizarre on a multitude of levels, but why did the most intense sexual experiences of her life have to come with her clothes on?  With a vampire's teeth in her neck?   What was wrong with her?  Why couldn't she be happy with a normal boyfriend?  She had a normal boyfriend.

Riley.  Oh god.  She couldn't tell him about this.  He would never understand.  She wasn't even sure she did.  The pull of the attraction between her and Spike, the desire to just reach out for him and...
 
'La la la, so not listening,' she told herself firmly. 'Got a boyfriend.  Don't need Spike.  Don't care that he's all sexy and...and sexy.  I don't want sexy, I don't want dangerous, and I definitely don't want another vampire.  I want human and safe and normal and not sexy.  I want Riley."

'OK,' Buffy paused, frowning inwardly.  'That didn't come out quite right...'

"I don't want to talk about it," she said out loud.  "And am I the only one who cares that the sun is coming up?  And...and where exactly are we anyway?

"Other side of town."

"Great."  Buffy shot Spike a quick glance, wondering if he would be able to walk...wondering if she would.  But then other images began to flicker through her mind as her eyes ran down the vampire's prone form, overlaying what she was seeing now.  Images of what they had done, of what had happened...and Buffy's mouth went dry, her heart beginning to pound even harder.  The look on Spike's face -- it was as if his injuries were all that were preventing him from rolling over and taking her here and now.  And worse yet -- despite the fact that she was so weak she could barely lift her head off the wet ground; that every part of her was aching unbearably; that she was about to pass out at any moment -- she wanted him too.  And he knew it.  She could see it in his eyes -- he could probably see it in hers.

In the space of a heartbeat, the air between them was once more sizzling with electricity.  And Buffy realized with a sinking sensation that the desire hadn't gone after all.  Probably never would.  There was a link between them now --and it wasn't going to disappear, no matter how much she might wish otherwise.

Tightening her jaw, Buffy managed to drag her gaze away, shutting her eyes tightly.  'Why me?' she thought despairingly.  'I don't need another vampire in my life.  I don't want another vampire in my life.'

But it was too late now.


 *     *     *


In the end, they managed to get to their feet only by hauling each other up then holding onto each other to keep themselves from falling back down.  And once more Spike found himself with the Slayer in his arms, her warmth seeping into his cool frame while she clung to him -- and an unfamiliar feeling went through him.  If he didn't know better he would almost have said it was...peace.  Joy.  Or it might have been if every fibre of his being wasn't screaming out in agony until he wanted to grab the stake and put himself out of his misery...

At that moment Buffy leaned her head against his chest.

His burned chest.

Didn't really matter though, Spike decided through the pain.  Because he was never going to get a chance like this again, so what was a little torment, compared to having the Slayer in his arms?  'Course -- if she kept leaning on him this much, he was probably going to tip over backward.  And he didn't think either of them would be getting up again in a hurry, if he did.

"Hey, Slayer."

No answer.  Had she passed out?  Trying to brace himself against her weight, Spike raised one hand and tugged, not gently, at her hair.  "Summers!  Much as I would love to get horizontal with you again, I don't think this is the time.  Or the place."

She stirred slightly, as if realizing what she was doing, then straightened, easing her weight from him.  "I really hate you sometimes, Spike," she whispered against his bare chest.

"Only sometimes?  Must be improving then.  C'mon.  Let's get outta here before something nasty comes along and eats us."  The vampire took a careful step forward then almost fell, his knees buckling as the fire burning on the soles of his feet became an inferno.  "Bloody hell!"

This time it was Buffy's turn to hold him up, her heart pounding with the effort.  "Don't you dare," she said through clenched teeth, her fingers digging into his arms.  "If you fall over, I'm not picking you up again.  Got that?"

Got it.  It took a lot more energy and willpower than Spike wanted to admit, but somehow he managed to keep his footing.  And, after a short lifetime or two, he even succeeded in standing back up and easing a little of his weight off the Slayer's shoulders.  Then they hung there together, unable to move.

"Now what?" she said, exhaustion colouring her voice.

"Dunno.  Think you can walk?"

"No.  But I will anyway."

"That's my Slayer."

She took a cautious step forward, Spike doing the same beside her.  "Will you stop saying that?" she said in tired annoyance.  "I'm not your Slayer."

"No?"

"No."

"So the fact that I've got your claw marks down my back from when you..."

"Really, really hate you Spike..."



Part 15


 "I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame"
 -- Old Testament




They stopped to pick up his coat.  Actually, it was Spike that stopped, braking suddenly and bending forward so that Buffy was almost pulled with him into a nosedive back onto the grass.  She braced her legs, struggling to remain upright while still holding onto the vampire.  "What do you think you're doing?" she asked through clenched teeth, biting back a curse.

"Getting my sodding coat."

For an instant Buffy seriously debated letting go, just dropping him on his head and leaving him there.  But she couldn't.  He had saved her life.  Of course she had saved him too, so maybe they were even.  Life would be so much easier if...

At that moment, Spike straightened, his duster in one hand.  Wordlessly he pulled it on, flinching as the leather came into contact with his burns.

Buffy shot him a look.  "Isn't that painful?"

"Well yeah.  Why?  Enjoying the view, were you?"

She purposely misunderstood him.  "Unlike you, Spike, I don't enjoy watching people in pain.  Although I'd probably be willing to make an exception in your case."

He laughed briefly then moved forward again, slowly and painfully.  "Looks like it's your night then.  'Cause I feel bloody awful."

"You look it."

"You're not exactly a picture yourself, darlin'."

That much was true.  Buffy glanced down at herself, relishing the fact that she could do so, that she could actually see again -- then sighed.  She looked as bad as she felt.  Her pants were ripped, her shoes soggy, and the black t-shirt she was wearing was definitely the worse for wear.  On the plus side -- her socks did match, she discovered.  Her hair though, appeared to be one big tangle; multi-hued bruises and/or bandages covered the bits of her body she could see -- and probably most of what she couldn't...and then there was the bite mark on her neck.  Gonna be really hard to explain that one to Giles.  And to Riley...

Riley.  A pang went through her.  What was she supposed to say to him?  How could she ever explain this night?  It was no good telling herself that nothing had happened, that she had only let Spike bite her in order to save his life.  It wasn't true.  Something had definitely happened between them.  A whole lot of somethings.  And Riley was already so twitchy about Angel...and Dracula.  She couldn't imagine what he would say if he knew that she and Spike had...

"Wondering what Captain Cardboard is gonna say about all this?"  Spike's voice broke in on her thoughts.

'What, can everyone read my mind tonight?' Buffy thought, a flash of irritation going through her.  "His name is Riley," she said out loud.

"Yeah.  Whatever.  So what's he gonna think about this then?"  He flicked the hand that was resting on her shoulders up to her neck.

"He'll...understand.  He's very understanding."

"Oh yeah.  Regular bloody saint, that one.  'Course, you ever consider that a saint's just about the last thing you really need?"

"My love life is so none of your business, Spike."

He laughed once, sharply, then winced and held his ribs.  "I'm just saying..."

"You know," Buffy interrupted, her voice as calm as she could make it, "if you irritate me enough I'm going to just drop you and leave you here.  You do realize that, don't you?"

"Think you'd make it back without me?"

"Actually, yeah.  You're only slowing me down."

"Right then.  Off you go."  With that, Spike stepped aside, removing his arm.  With his presence gone, Buffy found herself staggering, barely able to keep her footing.  She hadn't realized quite how much she had been leaning on him...and how weak she still was.  A second later though, he was back, his body preventing her from falling.

"You were saying?" the vampire said smugly.  "Face it Slayer -- we need each other.  Least for now."

She really, really hated it when he was right.


 *     *     *


The journey back to the cemetery was a nightmare, the kind that went on and on and didn't stop until you woke up in a cold sweat.  The kind where you seemed to walk forever but didn't make any progress at all.  Every step was written in agony until Buffy was almost reeling from it.  'We must be a sight,' she thought through an exhausted haze as they rounded a corner together.  Dirty, injured, staggering as if they had both had too much to drink, and Spike half-naked under the coat.  And barefoot.

"Why didn't the Valet give your boots back?" Buffy said abruptly, staring blearily down at his feet.

"How should I know?  Maybe he's got a fetish."

"Doesn't that...hurt?"

A pause.  "Only about as much as walking on cut glass.  Why?  Worried about me?"

No.  It wasn't that.  It was just...  Buffy didn't know what it was.  Maybe the loss of blood was beginning to get to her at last, or perhaps she was losing her mind. Whichever, it bothered her that he had had to walk all this way with no shoes.  And it bothered her that she was bothered by this.  And...  No.  She was getting confused.  Again.  Dazedly, Buffy walked onwards, still looking down.

"We're here."  His voice interrupted her thoughts.

With almost the last of her energies, Buffy looked up, trying to focus on her surroundings.  He was right.  The cemetery was just ahead.  And not before time, she realized with a growing sense of alarm.  The pre-dawn light that had been growing steadily for the last while was now so bright that she could see the shadows receding, almost before her eyes, as a thin line of radiance glowed on the eastern horizon.

They didn't have much time.


 *     *     *


Spike opened the crypt door with one hand and practically fell through the doorway, dragging the Slayer along with him.  He managed to stay upright, but it was a near thing.  With the very last of his strength he tottered the final few steps towards the easy chair in the corner of the room and collapsed into it...dragging the Slayer down too.  The vampire found himself looking down at her in some surprise as she fell forward with him, ending up sprawled halfway across his legs.  'Must've forgotten to let go,' he thought blearily.  Still, this was nice.  Home again.  Hadn't gone up in flames.  Slayer on his lap.  Could be worse.

"Spike..."

"I know, I know," he said, his voice practically shaking with exhaustion.  "'Let me go, get off me or I'll stake you', blah-bloody-blah.  You know, for someone who's supposed to hate me, you seem to end up on top of me pretty damned often."  A pause, then:  "What say we call a truce, blondie?  You stop threatening to kill me and I'll..."

"You'll what?"

"I...uh...I don't know.  You think of something.  I'm just gonna have a nap now."  His eyes were beginning to close, almost against his will, his arms tightening automatically around her waist.  "Wake me up later."

A thump on his shoulder.  "I am not staying here with you," Buffy said, her voice almost as weak as his.  "I'm going home.  Now."

"You'll fall on your face before you get three feet."

"And thank you so much for the vote of confidence."

Spike sighed, shifting in the chair a little, enjoying the feel of her on his lap.  "Nothing to do with confidence, pet.  Facts are facts."

"Yeah, well, fact one -- I'm going.  And fact two -- you...you really need someone to look at those burns."

"Why?  You offering to play doctor?"  He opened his eyes and gave her a hopeful look.

"Spike, you are so..."  Her voice trailed off, words failing her.

"Yeah.  I am."  His eyes began to slide shut again and he abruptly let go, his arms sliding away from her waist.  "Shut the door on the way out," he said shortly.


 *     *     *


That was it?  No innuendo?  No clever Spike quipage?  Buffy blinked.  He must be in worse shape than she had thought.

She really wasn't surprised she had ended up on his lap again.  Not with the way the night had been going.  This made -- what?  Three?  Four times she had ended up in close physical proximity with Spike?  More?  'The Fates must really be getting a kick out of all this,' she thought sourly as she tried to lever herself up and off the vampire.  Unfortunately, her strength chose that moment to desert her and she collapsed back against his chest, unable to move, gasping for air while the world spun in several directions around her.  Oh yeah.  Definitely having fun at her expense...

For a long moment the Slayer considered just staying put, curling up on Spike's lap and...

No!  What was she thinking?  Bad brain!  Bad!  Buffy took a deep breath then, with a superhuman effort, hauled herself out of the chair.  Her legs immediately threatened to buckle beneath her but she locked her knees and gritted her teeth, waiting for the dizziness to pass.  When it finally did she took a step towards the door...and stopped.

She wasn't sure what made her halt.  Something inside her -- something she didn't want to examine too closely -- was making her turn back to the motionless vampire, her eyes running across his still form.

The coat had fallen open a little, enough to see some of the burns on his chest.  They were bad.  Worse than bad.  But -- they were beginning to fade now.  Weren't they?  And surely the cut on his eye was no longer quite as jagged, or as deep?  He was healing.  She could go.

Any minute now.

He would be fine.

'Well, he should be,' Buffy told herself crossly, 'after a full-course meal of Buffy.'  Nevertheless, she found herself walking back toward him, almost against her will.  And the same something inside her made her reach out to touch the side of his face, just beneath the cut.  He didn't stir.  For several heartbeats Buffy stood there motionless then she slowly pulled her hand away, swallowing deeply.  "Thank you, Spike" she whispered softly...and then she turned and headed for the door, her legs unsteady but her shoulders set and determined.  This time she didn't stop and she didn't look back...

...and so she didn't see Spike's eyes open again, didn't see him watch her as she went back out into the daylight... and didn't see the unguarded look of naked longing on his face.



Part 16


 "The eye is not satisfied with seeing"
 -- Old Testament




Spike was wrong.  Buffy didn't fall on her face after three feet.

It was five.

Between one step and the next her legs suddenly buckled and she found herself pitching forward to land face down in the cemetery's mud -- for the second time in twenty-four hours.  Swearing vehemently, Buffy spat out a mouthful of dirt then clawed her way back to her feet.  She wasn't going to do this.  She wasn't going to pass out, she wasn't going to go crawling back to Spike's crypt...and she wasn't going to give up.  No, she had made it this far, and she would finish what she had started -- even if it killed her.

OK.  Poor choice of words there.

With a deep breath that sent the world spinning dizzily around her once again, the Slayer tried to force her battered body back into motion.  Everything hurt, she found, and she had passed exhausted about an hour ago.  Exhausted would actually be an improvement right now.  All she really wanted to do was fall into a bed -- any bed -- and forget that this night had ever happened.  In fact, she wanted to forget the entire week.  Just let her get home so life could return to normal...school, her friends and family; trying to protect the sister who wasn't really her sister from a psychotic blonde force of evil; a little slayage; saving the world in her spare time...  Yup.  Totally normal.

Trying not to whimper too loudly, Buffy slowly began to make her way towards the graveyard's exit...and home.


 *     *     *


Getting there was merely a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and not stopping, Buffy discovered.  Not so hard, really, not put in those terms -- even though her arm kept throbbing unmercifully, a killer headache was raging behind her temples, and everything else just plain hurt.  A lot.  But she refused to give into the self-pity that kept threatening to engulf her.  No.  After all -- life was pretty good.  She was still alive.  Her injuries would heal.  And the sunrise was beautiful.  But most of all -- she could actually see it.

    'When the sun comes up I'm still not going to be able to see it, no matter what you say or do, Spike...'

Had she really said that, just a few hours ago?  And -- had she really been that desperate?  That...suicidal?  A shudder ran down her spine and, for an instant, Buffy felt cold, despite the sun's warmth.

But...she hadn't been herself.  The Buffy who had gone out to face the demon and get herself killed...that hadn't been her.  She had been -- OK, let's just say it -- completely out of her mind.  A prime candidate for the loony bin.  Three fries short of a happy meal...

Or -- maybe that was the real Buffy.  Someone who gave up when things got bad, who...

No.  She wasn't a quitter.  She wasn't.  She had proved that over and over.  And she was the one who had killed the demon.  She had saved Spike.  She hadn't quit, she had just...

...just been too quick to give up.  Too impatient to take what she had thought was her only way out.  One week.  One week was all she had given herself, and it would have been even less if she could have gotten away sooner.  She certainly hadn't taken the time to explore all her options, to look for another way out.  It had taken Spike -- Spike  -- to give her back the choices she had thought were lost...

No.  Don't dwell on it.  The past was just that -- past.  She couldn't change what she had done and brooding about it wouldn't make anything better.  If there was one thing she had learned over the past few years -- it was that she had to live with her mistakes.

But a tiny thread of self-doubt continued to linger, even as she slowly trudged the rest of the way home.


 *     *     *


There was a red sports car outside her mom's house.  Giles'.

Buffy hesitated, a tremor going through her.  She wasn't up to this.  She barely had the strength to remain standing, let alone deal with all the questions, the explanations.  The whys and whens and wherefores...when all she really wanted to do was fall over in a heap and not talk to anyone, not even see anyone for at least a week...

But she didn't have that choice.  Buffy could almost see the old, familiar burdens beginning to gather around her as she stood there, staring at the door.  The need to appear strong and in control, to be what they needed her to be, to...  For a moment her spirit quailed and she almost found herself wishing that she was back in Spike's crypt, back where she could let down all her defences and just be herself.

Almost.

But not quite.  With a deep, steadying breath, Buffy reached out...and opened the door.


 *     *     *


Dawn was the first to see her.  The teenager was crossing the hallway, still in her pyjamas, a worried expression on her face.  When Buffy opened the door their eyes met...and Dawn let out a shriek, flying forward to wrap her arms tightly around her sister.  And then Buffy's mother was suddenly there too and the Slayer was enfolded by both of them, both talking at once.

Buffy almost went down under the dual impact, barely managing to keep her footing.  'Great,' she thought distantly, 'I survive the demon and the Trial and it's my family that finally finishes me off...'

And then Giles appeared, his clothes looking as though they had been thrown on hastily, an anguished expression on his face.  He saw her...and froze.

As if sensing his arrival, both Joyce and Dawn pulled back at the same time, releasing their holds on Buffy and stepping back, just a little.  Buffy stared back at the three of them, gratefully drinking in all the details she had already begun to forget, even in the space of just a week.  Several seconds ticked by in silence.  Finally though, the Slayer managed to swallow around the lump that had formed in her throat.

"I can see," she said simply.

"Oh."  Joyce put her hand to her mouth, reaching her other hand out, as if she might fall.  But Dawn moved quickly to support her, even as she was staring back open-mouthed at her sister.  Giles, meanwhile, began to sink to a sitting position on the stairs, as if his legs could no longer hold him.

'I know the feeling,' Buffy thought, staring blankly down at her Watcher.  If she didn't sit down soon she was going to fall down...

Something of what she was thinking must have been reflected on her face, because the next minute Giles was back on his feet and Buffy found herself being steered towards the place on the stairs that he had just vacated.  She sank down gratefully, wondering as she did how she was ever going to get back up again -- and then Joyce was on her knees before her, both arms going tightly around her daughter.

"Oh Buffy," she said, her voice choked with emotion.  "I thought we had lost you."

The Slayer hugged her mother back, one-handed.  "I know.  I'm sorry."  There were tears in her eyes now, threatening to spill down her cheeks.  "I'm sorry, Mom."

Joyce pulled back a little to look at her, both of her hands going to Buffy's upper arms.  "Don't you ever do that to me again, do you understand?  You scared me."  Her fingers tightened.

"Uh, Mom?  Sore arm..."

"Oh."  Hastily Joyce released her, then gave her a crooked smile.  "Sorry honey.  I'm just...I..."  Her voice trailed away as pain flitted across her face, and she put one hand up to her forehead.

"Mom?"  Buffy reached out a hand to her mother, worry lancing through her.

Giles cleared his throat.  He had stepped back, giving the two of them some space while Dawn stood awkwardly nearby, but now he moved forward again.  "Dawn -- why don't you help your mother back to bed?  Don't worry," he said reassuringly to Joyce.  "I'll look after her."

Buffy could see indecision on her mother's face, warring with the pain, but finally the pain won out.  She nodded slowly then stood, reaching an unsteady hand for the banister.  "Thank you.  I...we'll talk later, Buffy.  OK?"

Buffy swallowed.  "Sure Mom.  Just...get some rest.  And don't worry.  I'm fine.  Really."

Dawn moved past the Slayer, one arm going around Joyce to help her mother up the stairs.  "I'm glad you're not dead," she said to Buffy over her shoulder.  "But does this mean I don't get your room now?"

"Yeah.  Hands off."  Buffy smiled at her faintly, craning her neck to watch as the two of them moved away.  It seemed to take her mother a long time to climb the stairs, but finally they both disappeared from sight.  And Buffy's smile immediately vanished, her shoulders sagging as anxiety poured through her, the pain of her own injuries momentarily forgotten.  Just how long did it take for CAT scan results to come back anyway?  Or...or maybe they had found out something, but they hadn't told her while she was blind.  Or...

"Buffy."

The Slayer blinked then looked back up.  Giles was standing in front of her, his expression unreadable.  As she watched he slowly reached inside one pocket and removed something small, holding it up in one hand.  Not saying a word.

A cassette tape.

Oh.

Damn.

Buffy bit her lip, dropping her gaze, no longer able to meet her Watcher's eyes.  "I...I wanted to get back before you found that," she said shakily.

"Too late."

She swallowed. "Giles, I..."

And then he too was on his knees before her, pulling her into a warm hug, his arms going tightly around her.  "I thought you were dead."  His voice was muffled.

It was all too much.  Too much emotion, too many things said and left unsaid...Buffy closed her eyes as her right arm slid around her Watcher and a lone tear spilled over her lashes and onto his shirt.

"I know.  I'm so sorry."  More tears were gathering in her eyes and there was a scratchy feeling in the back of her throat.  And even more embarrassing -- she was starting to sniffle.

Hearing her, Giles gently released the Slayer, fishing inside his jacket for a handkerchief -- 'colour me so not surprised that Giles uses handkerchiefs,' Buffy thought randomly -- which he handed to her.  Her own hand shaking, she took it and wiped away the tears and blew her nose one-handed.  At last, she looked back up and gave him a watery smile, crumpling the handkerchief in her right hand.

"Thanks."

"Don't mention it."  An awkward silence fell.  "Right then," Giles said as he climbed back to his feet.  "Let's get you cleaned up."



Part 17


 "Truth will come to sight"
 -- William Shakespeare




"So...ah...how badly are you hurt?"  Giles was suddenly all business, the emotions that had been evident on his face hidden now.  "Buffy?"

"It's not as bad as it looks."  The Slayer glanced down at herself, all muddy, dishevelled, and roughly bandaged.  "Sorta.   Had an argument with a demon, got a little sliced and diced, but I'm OK..."

"I should take you to a hospital..."

Buffy shook her head violently.  "No.  No hospitals.  I just need some sleep and I'll be good as new.  Shiny new Buffy."  Using the banister and her one good arm, she hauled herself to her feet -- and almost fell as yet another wave of dizziness washed over her.  Hastily Giles stepped forward, catching her before she could hit the ground.

"OK.  Might have lost a little blood too," she added weakly, leaning on his shoulder.

The Watcher bit out a curse.  Buffy blinked.  "Giles -- I didn't know you knew that word..."

"And you didn't hear me say it either.  First aid kit?"

"Kitchen."

"Right.  Come on."  With that he helped her stand, one arm going around her back to support her, the other beneath her right elbow.  Buffy closed her eyes and leaned into him, letting him do the steering, finding his strength comforting.  It had been a long night -- too long -- and reaction was finally beginning to set in, her body starting to shut down in protest of all the abuse she had heaped on it.  Just a little longer, she told herself firmly.  Just need to hold on a little while longer...

Silently Giles helped her towards the kitchen then set her down in one of the chairs, shooting her a quick, worried look before turning toward the cupboards.

"Under the sink," Buffy supplied helpfully, content for the moment to just sit there and ache quietly.  Giles nodded, pulling out a medical kit which he tucked under his arm.  Then he turned to the fridge and began to rummage inside.

Buffy frowned.  "Uh...Giles?  In pain here.  Is this really a good time for a snack?"

"Not for me.  For you.  You need to eat something, start replacing some of the blood you've lost."

A faint quiver of nausea went through her.  She really, really didn't feel like eating...but she should, she knew.  She would recover faster if...

At that moment Giles turned and thrust a bottle of -- something -- under her nose, which immediately began to wrinkle with distaste.

"V8?  Giles -- ick!"

"Yes, ick...and full of iron...I expect."  He paused, shot a dubious glance at the list of ingredients on its side then shrugged slightly and handed it to her, followed by...was that broccoli?  Raw broccoli?  Buffy stared down at it in disbelief.

"I think I was better off with the demon..." she grumbled quietly.

"Stop complaining and get that down you,"  Giles set the kit on the table and pulled it open.

Buffy took a cautious sip of the vegetable juice, almost gagging at the taste.  "You know," she said through her grimace, "I think there's a rule somewhere that says Watchers aren't allowed to poison their Slayers.  Or if there isn't -- there should be."

He gave her a look.  "Vegetables or hospital.  Your choice."

Hastily Buffy took a large swig from the bottle, shuddering as she forced the clammy fluid down her throat.  "Yum.  Liquified vegetables.  All that taste of...green.  Just gotta -- Ouch!"  Buffy shot Giles a baleful look as he unceremoniously reached out and began to unwrap the bandage on her arm.

"OK, great bedside manner...not so much."

"Um...ah...sorry.  This is probably going to hurt."

"And you couldn't tell me that before?"

"Sorry.  But I need to..."  With that, Giles removed the last of the rough dressing that Spike had wrapped around her...and his voice trailed off.  Almost reluctantly Buffy turned her head, not really certain she wanted to see what he was...

Whoa.  That was...whoa.  Buffy stared in sick fascination at the three deep gashes running parallel down the back of her arm from shoulder to wrist, the cuts dark with caked-on blood, the edges jagged.  "Well -- this is going to make an interesting conversation piece," she said weakly.

Giles said nothing.  He was staring down at her injuries with an unreadable expression.  Finally though, he wrenched his eyes away and turned, ripping open a sterile cloth with undue force.  He didn't meet her gaze.  And Buffy found herself watching him a little warily.

"Um...Giles.  Are you mad at me?"

He turned quickly, surprise on his face.  "Mad at you?  No, of course I'm..."  He stopped, as if re-evaluating his feelings.  "Well, yes, actually, I am.  Tell me -- did you even think about how your mother would feel about what you were doing, or how...how I would feel, for that matter?"

Odd, how much that echoed what Spike had told her earlier.  Buffy closed her eyes briefly, remembering, then turned and met her Watcher's gaze.  "But you...you do understand why I did it.  Don't you?"  The last part came out sounding rather tentative.

"Yes, I understand.  But that doesn't mean I condone it.  You should have waited, Buffy.  We would have found a way to restore your eyesight, given time.  We could have helped you.  But once again you acted without thinking, didn't weigh the consequences.  You just..."

A quick flicker of resentment shot through her -- partly because that was precisely what she herself had been thinking earlier...but mostly because he was right.  Nevertheless, Buffy couldn't quite keep the undercurrent of anger out of her voice.  "Oh, I weighed, Giles.  I weighed everything.  What do you think I was doing this past week?  Learning to crochet?  Do you think I decided to do this on a whim?  Do you have any idea how hard it was to...to..."

Buffy's breath caught abruptly in her throat and she stopped, blinking rapidly against the tears that were threatening to fall again.  She frowned, took a deep breath, then managed to say waveringly:  "Uh...can we maybe postpone the whole let's-argue-and-make-Buffy-feel-guilty thing?  'Cause my arm really hurts."  She flashed him what she hoped was an endearing smile.  Or maybe pathetic.  Right now she would definitely settle for pathetic.

"I promise to let you yell at me as much as you want later," she added hopefully.

The Watcher's face softened.  "Yes, of course.  You've been through a lot.  I didn't mean...  Sorry."  Then, more sternly:  "But don't think you're going to get off easily for what you put us all through..."

"Got it.  A stay of execution, to be followed by penitence, repentance, and remorse.  Check."  Buffy hesitated.  "Um --I have to ask though -- does anybody else know?  About tonight, I mean?  And...and did Mom and Dawn listen to their tapes?"  Buffy held her breath, half dreading the response.

"No and no.  Dawn discovered you were missing just before...er....dawn, and your mother called me right away.  There wasn't a chance to telephone anyone else before you arrived."

Relief shuddered through her.  At least she had spared Willow, Xander and the others the same worry.  "And...the tapes?"

Giles didn't look at her, focused instead on digging through the medical kit.  "Still where you left them, I imagine.  I'd only just listened to...ah... mine, when you came in."

"Good."  Buffy sat back, relief going through her.  She wasn't sure how she would have handled it if everyone had heard the tapes.  Some things weren't meant to be said until after...after...  Then she frowned as another thought occurred to her.  Maybe she was wrong.  Maybe...maybe those were the things that needed to be said the most.  In person.

Hesitantly, the Slayer looked back up at her Watcher.  Really looked at him this time.  The signs of what he must have gone through were still evident on his face, no matter how much he might be trying to hide them.  Worry.  Fear.  Anguish.  Grief.

Remorse filled her.

"Giles -- I am so sorry.  I never meant to hurt anyone by this.  And..."  Buffy stared down at her right fist, curled tightly in her lap, then swallowed deeply and continued.  "...and I meant it."

"Meant what?"

"What I said before.  In the tape."

A pause.

"Oh.  Ah.  I...I know.  And...and I do too, Buffy."

Their eyes met, then the Slayer smiled, some of her distress beginning to fade, just a little.  "So," she said, lifting her left arm slightly.  "You gonna first aid me or what?"


 *     *     *


A vast smile kept threatening to take over Giles' face.  He fought the impulse away as he sat down in the empty chair beside the Slayer, concentrating instead on getting the bottle of disinfectant open and pouring some of the liquid onto the cloth in his hand.

The relief was incredible.  She was still alive.  When he had first found the tape in her room addressed to him, had listened to her voice in the darkness, thinking he would never see her alive again -- well, he never wanted to experience those feelings as long as he lived.  The thought of her out there, alone in the dark, dying...

Hastily Giles shook the grisly thoughts aside.  It wouldn't do to dwell on it.  He couldn't, not and do his job too.  It was hard enough as it was just watching her go out night after night to risk life and limb, facing dangers that would never end, would never...  No.  'Just focus on the task at hand, Rupert,' he told himself firmly.  Like cleaning her wounds.

And finding out what had happened...

"So, the demon that did this is...?"

"Dead.  Hasta la bye bye."

"Ah.  Quite.  So...what happened?  Exactly?"

Instead of answering him, Buffy looked away and took another swallow of the V8.  Giles frowned slightly.  He knew her well enough by now to recognize evasiveness when he saw it.  She was hiding something.

"Well?"  he prompted as he gently began to wipe away some of the dried blood on her arm.

She flinched violently at his touch, gritting her teeth against the pain.  "God, Giles, do you have to?"

"Oddly enough, yes.  There's a wonderful new medical technique called washing.  Perhaps you've heard of it?"

"Not fair.  I'm all hurt and you're being Sarcastic Giles.  Where's the sympathy, the caring Watcher shoulder to lean on, the...?"

"Busy patching you back up.  And you're avoiding the question."

"Am not."

"Yes you..."  Giles caught himself in time, stopping the argument before it could escalate, before she could distract him from whatever it was that she didn't want him to know.  He tried another tack.

"How much blood did you lose?"

Buffy took a deep breath then responded slowly.  "Not sure.  I was kind of passed out at the time.  Some, I guess."

He glanced up from her wounds, trying to read her expression.  And that's when he noticed it -- almost but not quite hidden by her hair.  The Watcher frowned, his gaze sharpening -- and cold fear ripped suddenly through his body.

"I see," he said.  Then, moving quickly, Giles reached up and flicked her hair back, revealing the mark on her neck -- the twin punctures that were so obviously the results of a vampire's bite.

"And this?" he said flatly, his fingers resting on her neck just below the bitemark.


 *     *     *


Buffy instinctively pulled back, dislodging her Watcher's grip, her own hand going up to cover the mark.  She had forgotten about that.  How could she have forgotten?  Her hair must have hidden it from her mother and Dawn, but Giles had seen it.  He knew.  Oh god.  Suddenly cold, she looked up into his eyes...and met worry and anger.  Lots of anger.  But she didn't think it was directed at her this time.  She hoped.

He was saying nothing, waiting for her answer, for some explanation.  For a brief moment Buffy considered lying, or at the very least glossing over what had happened... but she couldn't.  Not really.  She owed him the truth -- or at least the PG-13, heavily abridged version of it.  Some of what had happened -- like certain Spike-based activities --she was never going to tell anyone.  Ever.  But as for the rest...well, she owed him the rest.

"Spike bit me," she said at last.

Something snapped.  Buffy jumped, startled, then looked down, frowning at the broken bottle in Giles' hand and the knuckles curving white around it.  Then she looked back up...to see an expression of sheer homicidal rage on her Watcher's face.

Oops.

"It's not what you think," she said hastily, visions of a Giles-turned-Ripper heading out to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting Spike, going through her mind.  "Well, not exactly.  It was...I mean...I kind of let him."

OK.  So not handling this well.  Unable to meet Giles' eyes, Buffy looked away, staring at the toaster.  She took a deep breath then started again.

"He helped me kill the demon.  He's the one who bandaged my arm and stopped me from bleeding to death.  And...and it was Spike who helped me get my vision back."

"And the bite?"  The Watcher's voice was vibrating with tension, as if he was controlling his emotions only by sheer force of will.

"He was dying.  After...after what he had done, I couldn't let that happen.  So I...he...you know."

Giles carefully loosened his hand from around the remaining fragment of the glass and set it gently on the table.  "So -- and I just want to make sure I have this straight -- you're saying that Spike, also known as William the Bloody, killer of two Slayers -- saved you from a demon, patched you back up, and then somehow restored your sight?  After which you freely allowed him to feed from you?  Is that correct?"

"Well.  Yes."

"Ah.  I see."

Silence.  Buffy stared worriedly at the man as he continued working on her arm.  "Uh...Giles?"

"Yes."

"You OK?"

"Fine, thank you."

"Oh.  Good."

Silence descended.



Part 18


 "A sight to dream of, not to tell"
 -- Samuel Taylor Coleridge




Spike was dreaming.  It was another one of those dreams, the ones he had been having all too often lately.  The Slayer was in it.  At first they had been fighting, all sweat and violence and bodies clashing with one another.  And then it had changed -- and it was still sweat and violence and bodies clashing -- only it was better.  Much better.  Buffy was naked on top of him, riding him, her body glistening and...

And then the door to the crypt crashed open with enough force to shake the building, and sunlight poured inward, its rays reaching a short way into the gloom.  Blurrily Spike managed to open his eyes...in time to see a furious Watcher haul him to his feet by the collar of his coat then slam him against the crypt wall, one hand going around his throat.  And the vampire came fully and violently awake as the burns on his back came into sudden and agonizing contact with the wall.

"Bloody hell!  What d'you think you're doing, mate?"  Which was when he finally noticed the stake in Giles' right hand, levelled at his heart...and the murderous intent in the Watcher's eyes.

"I'll tell you what I'm doing, 'mate' -- I'm putting down a dangerous animal."  Giles raised the stake, preparing to bring it down on the vampire.

"Wait a minute!"  A frantic note began to creep into Spike's voice.  "Remember the chip?  I'm not a sodding danger to anyone anymore.  So what's this all about?"

"You bit Buffy!"

Memories flashing through his mind.  The Slayer's blood gushing down his throat.  Her body convulsing beneath his.  Nails digging into his naked back.

"Oh.  That."

"Yes.  That.  And unless you've got a good explanation, you're history, Spike.  Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say."

Spike reached up one hand, trying to loosen the fingers around his throat, then gave up.  He was still too weak.  And oddly enough, he couldn't seem to care much, either way.  So what if he got staked into dust?  Might be better all round.  For everybody.

"Fine," he said at last.  "Go ahead.  But just tell me one thing first."

Giles' eyes narrowed.  "What?"

"Is the Slayer OK?"


 *     *     *


Bafflement shot through Giles, momentarily outweighing his fury.  For a moment Spike had almost sounded...concerned.  Worried even.

"She'll be fine," he said shortly.  "No thanks to you."

With that, Giles suddenly released Spike then hit him on the jaw.  The vampire flew backward across the crypt to land hard on the dirt floor while the Watcher stalked menacingly toward him.

"We both know that Buffy would never let you feed off her, at least not in her right mind.  So I want to know what you did to her, you manipulative bastard.  What hold you managed to gain over her.  And get up so I can hit you again."

Spike reached up with one hand, touching the blood that was beginning to trickle down one corner of his mouth, but he made no effort to stand.  "What's the point?" he said flatly.  "If you're going to do it then just get it bloody over with."

With an inward snarl, Giles bent down and hauled the vampire back up, holding onto him by the duster's collar.  "She was injured and you fed off her," he said furiously.  "You could have killed her."

"Yeah.  I know."

Giles paused again, blinking.  What the hell was going on?  Was that really...remorse?  There had been no hint of mockery in the vampire's voice, none of his usual self-satisfaction.  But if Spike had somehow found a way to circumvent the implant, to feed on Buffy...then surely he would be more pleased with himself.  More smug.  Doubt began to rise within the Watcher.

And at that moment the vampire shifted slightly, his coat falling open.  Giles glanced down...and felt shock go through him.  Burns.  Cross-shaped burns.  All over Spike's chest.  Wordlessly the Watcher took in the cut on the vampire's cheek, the bare feet, also burned -- and then he abruptly released him, shoving the vampire violently away.

Spike staggered, barely keeping his footing then he shot a venomous glare at the Watcher before limping back to his chair and sinking into it, holding his side tightly with one hand.  Giles stared at him for a long moment then slowly lowered the stake.

"What happened to you?"

"Nothing.  And if you're not gonna stake me then sod off.  I'm busy."  The vampire closed his eyes, determinedly ignoring the Watcher.

Giles hesitated then walked over to the tomb and leaned against it, the stake going back inside his coat pocket.  He could always use it later if he had to.  But in the meantime...he still needed answers.

Buffy had been -- less than forthcoming.  Before heading upstairs to bed and some much needed sleep, she had given him a confused tale of something called a "Trial" -- which he was going to have to do some intensive research on as soon as he got back to his shop.  But there had been huge gaps in her narrative, most notably whenever Spike seemed to come into the story.  She was obviously hiding something.  Something important.  He hadn't had the heart to push for more information though, not when she was still so weak and exhausted.  It was a miracle really that she had managed to stay on her feet as long as she did.  The loss of blood, combined with her injuries...well, it was a wonder she was alive at all...  And as for the fact that she could see...

Which was why he was here.  What had Spike done to her?  And what was this Trial?  Giles had enough experience with the Otherworld to know there was always a price attached to their gifts...and the more miraculous they were, the higher the price.  He had to know what had happened.  Without that knowledge -- he wouldn't be able to protect her.

"Let's start again, shall we?" Giles said, a very Ripper-like smile on his face.  "You're going to tell me everything that happened tonight, Spike.  And if you leave anything out you'll wish I had killed you."


 *     *     *


Spike opened his eyes and stared at Giles with weary hatred.  'Why me?' he thought.  'The rest of it isn't bad enough, now I've got her flaming Watcher out for my blood too.'  Life used to be so simple.  Eating people, a little carnage and mayhem, Dru always beside him...  So where had it gone wrong?  When had it all gotten so complex?

'When I fell in love with the sodding Slayer,' he answered himself.  And what had that gotten him?  Pain, ridicule, contempt, more pain -- Buffy in his arms, kissing him, holding him -- saving him.  Her blood was coursing through his veins at this very moment, the taste of her still in his mouth.  She was part of him now, he realized.  He couldn't change what had happened, couldn't go back to the way he used to be, even if he wanted to.  But he couldn't move forward either.  He didn't know how.  And he probably wouldn't live long enough to try, if her homicidal Watcher had any say in the matter.

"Or you'll what?" he said out loud.  "Torture me till I tell you?"

"Seems appropriate, doesn't it?"

The vampire shifted slightly.  "It was Angelus that did the torturing, mate.  Not me."

"No.  You just watched.  Now are you going to tell me about this Trial or do I show you a little of what I learned that night?"

"You don't have the stones."

"You think not?"  Giles' voice was softer now.  More menacing.

Spike stared at him for a long moment.  "OK," he said at last.  "Maybe you do.  But how 'bout you tell me something -- like what did Summers have to say about all this?"

"I'm looking for the unabridged version, Spike.  The whole truth."

The vampire raised an eyebrow.  "The Slayer keeping secrets from her Watcher?  That doesn't sound good," he taunted.  "In fact, it sounds like you two have got some serious trust issues..."

He broke off abruptly, his body rocking back from the right cross Giles had dealt him.  For a moment the world spun, then Spike shook off the effects and grinned, licking the blood off his lower lip.  "Hit a nerve there, did I?"

"It's not going to work this time, Spike," Giles said, more calmly now.  "I'm not going to let you try to drive a wedge between us again.  Not that you could."

"No?  Did all right last time, didn't I?  That was quite the sight, the four of you at each other's throats, all..."

"Enough!"  The Watcher pulled the stake out again, holding it up slightly.  "Tonight, Spike.  I want to know about tonight.  And what you did to her."

Spike nodded at the weapon with derision.  "Can't talk if I'm dead."

The Watcher seemed to hesitate.  "Maybe it would be better for her if you were dead."

Spike leaned his head back against the chair.  "Yeah," he said, his voice flat and lifeless now.  "It might at that."


 *     *     *


There it was again.  This whole conversation was...off, somehow.  Something was different, something Giles couldn't quite put his finger on.  But he would figure it out, he knew.  Sooner or later.  In the meantime though...

"Did you really save her life?" he asked, watching Spike closely for any signs of evasiveness.

"Is that what she said?"

"Yes."

"Then I guess I did.  Three cheers for old Spike.  Saved the Slayer.  Hoo-bloody-rah."

"And then you fed off her."

"She tell you that too?"

"She didn't need to.  I saw the bitemark."

Something flickered across the vampire's face, so quickly that Giles almost missed it.  Remembered pleasure.  Satisfaction.  And -- was that...possessiveness?  The Watcher's anger, which had been slowly subsiding, began to simmer again.

"How did you get round the implant, Spike?"  That was the most important question, really.  If the vampire had somehow found a way to circumvent its effects -- then he died.  Right here, right now.
 
"I didn't," Spike said at last, obviously deciding that the Watcher wasn't going to go away until he got what he had come for.  "Turns out the chip works on intent.  If I don't plan to hurt her then it doesn't do a bloody thing."

"But you did hurt her."

"There's hurt...and there's hurt.  You should know that -- Ripper."  The vampire shot a mocking look at Giles.  "You really want all the details?  Like how she asked for it.  How much she enjoyed it.  The way she came under me, begging me not to stop, till..."

Spike's voice broke off as he stared down in surprise at the stake that was suddenly protruding from his chest.  Then he looked back up and for a long moment the two men stared at each other, Spike's face contorted with agony and dread...until the realization finally hit.  "You missed," the vampire coughed at last, his body racked with tremors.

"No I didn't."  With a quick yank, Giles pulled the stake back out, calmly watching the way Spike cried out and clutched at his chest.  "Next one goes through the heart," he said icily.

Spike's voice was weak.  "What do you want from me?  D'you want me to say I'm sorry I did it?  That I'll be a good little vampire from now on and leave the Slayer alone?  Well I'm not, and I won't.  You want to know about the Trial?  Go back and read those bloody books you're so fond of.  'Cause what happened is between her and me.  She wants to tell you, that's her business.  But I've said all I'm going to.  So either kill me or sod off."

With that, he closed his eyes again, curling slightly in the chair, his arms going around the chest as if he could make the pain go away by sheer force of will, suffering apparent in every line of his body.

And in that moment the suspicion that had been steadily growing within Giles over the last few minutes suddenly crystallized.  In that instant he knew why the vampire was doing this, why he had saved Buffy's life, and her sight.

Spike was in love with her.

Blindly the Watcher put the stake down on the tomb, trying to come to grips with this new and rather alarming concept.  A vampire in love with the Slayer?  Well, that wasn't unique, certainly, but Angel had had a soul.  Spike didn't.  He was a demon, through and through.  And yet...  Giles closed his eyes briefly.  Maybe he should just stake him, for real this time, and go away.  Problem solved.  Except...

"Does she know?"  the Watcher asked abruptly.

Spike reluctantly opened his eyes.  "What?"

Giles sighed then abruptly picked up his stake and headed for the door.  The vampire twisted around in the chair to keep him in sight, groaning and holding his chest as he did so.

"Know what?  What the bleeding hell are you on about?"

There was a hint of panic in Spike's voice now, as if he was desperate to cover up whatever it was he thought he might have let slip.

The Watcher paused by the door, looked back at him for a long moment, then shook his head.  "You poor bugger," he said quietly.

And with that he was gone.



Part 19


 "I have thee not and yet I see thee still"
 -- William Shakespeare




ONE WEEK LATER:

'You know you wanna dance.'

Buffy woke from the dream, sitting bolt upright in bed, her heart pounding and her body drenched with sweat.  Then she closed her eyes tightly, resting her head on her knees while she waited for the shaking to subside.

Not again.  This was the -- what?  Fourth?  Fifth time this week?  Every night it seemed, as soon as she closed her eyes -- Spike invaded her dreams.  Talking to her.  Taunting her.  Fighting with her.  Holding her and... and...well, let's just say the dreams gave a whole new meaning to the phrase "impaled on a Spike".  Buffy found herself blushing at the thought of what she and the vampire had done again and again.

And again.

'You know you wanna dance.'

'That's it,' Buffy thought angrily, flinging the covers back and standing up.  'Get the hell out of my head!'  Sure, Spike had saved her life and her sight, but that didn't mean he could take up lodging in her subconscious mind and...and proceed to drive her crazy.

But what if they were somehow prophetic dreams?  What if...?

No.  No, they weren't.  It was only because Riley was gone that she was even...

Riley.

Buffy sighed as she padded to the bathroom, barefoot, feeling the familiar pang go through her.  Riley was gone.  He had left, shortly after she had returned from the Trial.  She didn't even know where he was -- some jungle somewhere, fighting demons.  Or something.

It hurt.  But not as much as she thought it would.  She certainly didn't feel as devastated as she had when Angel had left.  So did that mean that she had never really loved Riley?  Or that she hadn't loved him enough?

Probably, the Slayer decided unhappily as she stared at her reflection in the mirror.  What was it about her anyway?  Why wasn't a normal, kind, everyday guy like Riley enough for her?  Why was she always attracted to the monsters, the demons, the 'bad boys'?  Was it because she was the Slayer?  Or was it something else altogether?

Hesitantly Buffy raised one hand, lifting her hair away from her neck.  The bite was almost completely healed now, along with the gashes down her left arm.  But both had left scars -- the physical and the mental kind.  The Slayer leaned a little closer to the mirror, staring pensively at the mark on her neck.  Whether by accident or design, Spike had somehow bitten her directly over top of Angel's scar, obscuring the older one completely.  'Was that supposed to be symbolic?' she wondered gloomily.  Had he done it on purpose?

'You know you wanna dance.'

It was true, Buffy thought with a sinking heart.  She did.  But not in the way Spike had meant it, that night in the alley.  Or...maybe it was the way he had intended all along.  Looking back, she realized that there had been  undercurrents swirling between them that night, things she wasn't aware of, didn't recognize, couldn't understand...  She still didn't know what all of them meant, but she knew one thing for certain.

She wanted him.

Hastily Buffy released her hair and stepped back, reaching for the toothbrush instead.  It didn't matter, she thought determinedly, squeezing some toothpaste onto it.  Just because you want something doesn't always mean you should go out and take it.  She had learned that much, at least, from Faith.

On the plus side, though, her mom's operation had been a success.  The relief was so strong she could almost taste it.  And, strangely enough, Buffy had found herself wanting to go tell Spike, of all people, once it was over.

Not that she could have, even if she had given into the temptation.  The vampire, who had previously been underfoot constantly it seemed, was nowhere to be found.  She had actually gone to his crypt, the night after her return, to make sure he was all right, even though Giles had assured her that he was fine (and speaking of undercurrents, that conversation with her Watcher had been majorly weird).  Spike hadn't been there though.  In fact, she hadn't seen hide nor leather duster of him since that night.  In fact, if she didn't know better she would say he was avoiding her.

With another sigh, Buffy put the toothbrush back and headed back to her bedroom.  Sometimes it felt like she was the modern-day equivalent of Typhoid Mary.  Buffy Summers - scourge of vampires...and boyfriends.  Feeling more than a little dejected, she closed her door and began to dress.


 *     *     *


'You know you wanna dance.'

With his own words ringing in his ears, Spike awoke with a start...from yet another x-rated dream involving the Slayer.  With a groan he rolled over on the tomb, wondering if he could get the images out of his head if he banged it hard enough against the wall.  It wasn't fair.  Not only was she haunting his nights, but now he couldn't even get her out of his mind during the day.  She was everywhere.  Dru had been right.

He had tried avoiding her.  Her and her sodding Watcher.  No more following her around like some bloody housepet, he had told himself, no more larcenous trips to her house to paw through her clothes.  No.  Time to have a little dignity.  Let her come to him for a change.  If she wanted to see him, she knew where he was.

Except...when she had come, he had ran away and hid.  OK, he hadn't really ran away -- just walked rapidly in the opposite direction, skulking back furtively only after she had gone.  And he knew why, too.

It was fear.  Not the old, adrenaline-filled rush that the Slayer might kill him, if he didn't get her first.  No, this fear was much, much worse.  It was the feeling that he wouldn't be able to hide his emotions from her any longer if she came face to face with him.  That she would see what he was feeling in his eyes...and she would laugh at him.

"Bugger!"  Spike lashed out with one fist at the marble tomb, succeeding only in making his knuckles bleed.  He licked half-heartedly at them then sat up, holding his head between both hands.  What was he supposed to do now?


 *     *     *


*Whump*

Buffy blinked, staring down at the book as it thumped onto the table in front of her, then looked back up at Giles.  "And this would be...?"

The Watcher sat down across from her, the pleased expression of a paleontologist who has just found the world's biggest fossil, on his face.  "Information about the Trial."

Buffy's gaze sharpened.  After almost a week of searching she had pretty much given up hope that they would find anything at all.  None of Giles' books had contained even a syllable about the Trial, and it had taken some creative interlibrary loanage with just a touch of blackmail, from what she could gather, to get hold of this one -- which might or might not contain the information they were seeking.

"And?"  She stared at him expectantly.

"And...well, I think you should read it."

She stared at the book doubtfully, then flipped it open.  "Hello -- Latin.  Unlike you, Giles, my knowledge of Latin begins and ends with Antonio Banderas."

"Oh.  Sorry.  I meant this."  He quickly handed her a sheaf of papers.

"And...to repeat myself...this would be?"

"The English translation."

It was dauntingly thick.  Buffy shot him a winning look.  "Couldn't you just tell me the Slayer-friendly, Cliff Note's version?"

"Ah...I rather think you'll want to read this yourself."

Buffy frowned.  "Giles," she said slowly, "what aren't you telling me?"  Silence.  "Come on.  You've been acting wiggy ever since I came back.  What's going on?"

He turned away to fiddle with some books.  "Ah...I..."

"Giles!"

"All right."  With that he turned back and met her gaze.  "Buffy -- what are your feelings for Spike?"

Her jaw dropped open.  Whatever she had been expecting -- it wasn't that.  And...what were her feelings for Spike anyway?  Lust.  Need.  Dislike.  Desire.  Passion.  And a dozen more that she couldn't even put a name to.  And none of which she could tell her Watcher.

She swallowed hard.  "Um...why?"

He nodded at the papers.  "Just read those."


 *     *     *


Buffy leaned back on her bed, letting the last page fall to the floor as she rubbed her left arm absently.  It had healed a little slower than usual, she had found, and was still somewhat sore despite the careful exercises that Giles had designed to strengthen it.  And then there were the scars...  Buffy turned her forearm slightly.  The gashes from demon's claws had turned to three long lines, white against the darker colour of her skin, running down the full length of her arm.  A reminder of what had happened.

As if she could ever forget.  Buffy tilted her head back, closing her eyes as she sifted through her memories of that night.  Fear.  Sadness.  Determination.  Pain and blood.  And then Spike.  Always there, never leaving her.  He had saved her.  From the demon, from herself...  But why?  That was the one question he had never really answered.  Why had he done it?  What possible reason could a vampire have for saving the Slayer?

And...how much did he have to give up to do it?

Buffy leaned over and picked up the last page again, staring down at it blindly.  Most of the text had been pretty boring, she had found.  Guesswork mainly.  Various scholars' attempts to record what they thought the Trial was, speculation as to its true purpose.  But nothing useful.  Except for the last page.

It was a relatively straightforward account of one champion who had failed.  Actually, most of them had failed, from what she could tell (the author wasn't really big on details, despite his or her apparent ardour for footnotes).  But this story was different -- this one said why the champion had failed.

Because he had not made the ultimate sacrifice.

Which, by extension, meant that Spike had.  Made the ultimate sacrifice.  For her.

Which, again, brought her right back to the why.  And the what.

The Slayer scowled, rubbing her forehead with one hand.  This whole thing was giving her a headache.  First there was Spike haunting her every moment, waking and sleeping, pervading her dreams so that she woke up each morning feeling as if she had had no sleep at all.  And now this.  Why did things have to be so complicated?  Why couldn't she just put it all behind her?

Because...because he had made an ultimate sacrifice for her.  And because he had kissed her.

And she had kissed him back.

So -- what were her choices really?  She could go on as she was, letting this slowly drive her insane.  Or she could do something about it.

Which was no choice at all.  And she had always preferred action over the alternative.

'You know you wanna dance.'

Resolutely now, Buffy got up, pulled on her coat, tucked a pair of stakes into her pockets, then headed for the doorway.  Once there, she paused briefly, as if debating the wisdom of what she was about to do...then she opened it and headed out.



Part 20


 "If eyes were made for seeing"
 -- Ralph Waldo Emerson




It was easier than Buffy had expected to find her way back to the Trial.  In the end it had simply been a matter of going to the cemetery (carefully bypassing Spike's crypt), closing her eyes, and trying to retrace her steps.  Fortunately it was dark and the streets were mostly deserted, so she didn't look quite as foolish as she expected -- even when she did walk full tilt into a streetlamp.

At least, she hoped she didn't look foolish.

It didn't seem to take as long either.  In fact, the journey was a lot shorter than she remembered.  Granted, this time she wasn't bleeding, blind, and in agony, but still...  Of course, Spike had told her that the Trial tended to move around, so maybe it had relocated itself for her convenience tonight.  Buffy had the faint but growing suspicion that she could have walked in any direction, for any length of time, and she would still have ended up precisely where she was -- staring down at an empty pool.

'I trusted him and he made me jump into that?' was the Slayer's first thought.

Her second was:  "This had better be worth it."

Then, after one more moment's hesitation, she took a deep breath, closed her eyes...and stepped forward, dropping like a rock.


 *     *     *


Buffy landed gracefully, rolling across a stone floor in a torchlit room that felt just the same as the one she had been in before, coming back to her feet in one smooth movement.

"Welcome back, my dear," a familiar voice said.

The Slayer straightened hastily then turned, brushing her hair back with one hand as she peered into the shadows.  It was the Valet.  He looked just as she remembered him, from the one fleeting glimpse she had had after her vision had been restored -- small, dark hair, and clothes that looked as if they had been stolen from the set of Masterpiece Theatre.

"Welcome," he said again.  "We've been expecting you.  Although I did think you might show up rather sooner."  He pulled a gold pocket watch out of his vest, glanced down at it then shrugged and put it away.

"Still," he continued.  "Better late than never.  I'm sure you've been quite busy with the...er...slaying of things."

Buffy frowned.  "Let's get something straight," she said.  "I appreciate what you did for me, but I still think your methods suck.  So why don't we skip the polite chitchat and just get on with it?"

The Valet nodded, staring at her appraisingly.  "I quite agree.  Time is at a premium just now.  But then, it always is.  So -- you are here because you wish to know what your champion's sacrifice entailed and why he was willing to make it for you.  Correct?"

Buffy stared at him in consternation.  How did he know that?  Then she remembered -- he could read her mind.  For a moment hostility flared within her but she forced her body to relax.  What did it matter, really?  He could read her mind.  Well, so what?  If that's what it took to get the answers she had come for...then fine.

Oh, who was she kidding?  The thought of anyone sifting through her head, reading her deepest thoughts, was enough to send her blood pressure soaring.  In fact, it made her want to kill things.  Lots of things.  Very slowly and painfully.  Buffy focused her mind on the last thought, smiling slightly when the Valet paled and took a step back.
"Ah...may I remind you that violence is not be allowed on the premises?" he said, a little nervously.

The Slayer bit back a laugh of disbelief.  "Not allowed?  So last week was what?  All-You-Can-Kill-Tuesday?  Two for the price of one?"

"And neither do we appreciate sarcasm.  The Trial is...the Trial.  And I didn't hear any complaints from you at the time, as it happens."

"Well you would have heard them if you hadn't been so busy gloating and pouring tea all over the place.  I told you that..."

He interrupted her.  "So are you saying that you wish to return your prize, Miss Summers?  Because we can certainly do that.  No trouble at all."

That stopped Buffy cold.  She stared at him for a long moment then shut her eyes briefly.

"No," she said at last.  "I don't."  She certainly wasn't willing to give up her eyesight.  One week of blindness was one week too many.  Her emotions beginning to cool once more, Buffy gave the Valet what she hoped was an apologetic look (difficult, since she wasn't feel in the least repentant) and said more calmly:

"No.  I'll keep the...er...prize, and yes, I do want to know about Spike's sacrifice."

The man still looked cross.  "Well did it ever occur to you to just ask him?"

She shifted uncomfortably.  "I did.  He wouldn't say."

The Valet sighed.  "Then it appears that our efforts on your behalf were unsuccessful.  Oh dear.  This is quite unusual.  I told them dealing with Slayers was notoriously difficult, but they said everything would work out in the end.  They never listen to me, you know..."

Buffy frowned.  This conversation was becoming increasingly surreal.  They?  They who?  And what was that about Slayers?

"How many Slayers have come here?" she asked, genuine curiosity in her voice.

The Valet was still frowning worriedly, his mind clearly on other things.  "Oh, not many," he said vaguely.  "Most of them don't survive long enough to need our services.  In fact, most of them wouldn't appreciate Enlightenment if it was handed to them on a silver platter.  Ungrateful lot, on the whole."

"Thanks so much," she said dryly.  "Uh...enlightenment?"

His gaze suddenly sharpened, his attention focusing back on her.  "My dear Miss Summers -- did you honestly believe that the sole purpose of your trial was just to give you back your eyesight?"

Buffy blinked.  "Wasn't it?"

"No, of course not.  Really, my dear.  Do try to be less obtuse."

Another flicker of anger.  "OK," she said sharply.  "Why don't you tell me what you're talking about then?  And try not to use any big words because I'm just a simple Slayer and might not be able to understand anything with more than one syllable.  Or maybe you'd like to draw a picture for me with bright colours and funny animals..."

The Valet pinched his forehead.  "Please.  Sarcasm."

"Please.  Answers!"

"Oh very well.  I suppose we are obligated since your trial appears to have been rendered null and void.  We do guarantee satisfaction after all -- can't have you sullying our good name."

"Yeah, certainly can't have that."

The Valet glowered at her.  "This facility's purpose," he began, his voice as near a growl as she had ever heard it, "is not for details such as saving lives or restoring vision, although those are indeed useful by-products of what we do.  No, our purpose is Enlightenment.  Understanding.  The promotion of self-awareness and perception.  The..."

"OK, can we fast forward past the infomercial?  Because I get it."

"Slayers!"  The Valet sighed again.  "All right, Miss Summers.  Here is your answer in terms which even you will understand -- I hope.  The 'point,' as you would say, is that the Trial provides a means of understanding oneself.  Your champion, for example, learned something very important, during the course of his trial.  You were supposed to learn from it as well, but it would appear that you did not.  I suspect it was your antipathy toward young Spike that contributed to that failure."

Buffy glared at him.  "I am not antipathetic.  And yes, I do know what the word means."

"Then I can only conclude that it was due to your own natural stubbornness.  If you would just..."

"Enough already!"  Suddenly the urge to just throw up her hands and turn around and leave was almost too strong to bear.  She didn't need this.  She didn't need this annoying little man and she certainly didn't need the weirdness that had been besetting her for the past two weeks.  'Why me?' Buffy thought bitterly.  Why did things have to get so complicated?  All she had wanted was a few answers about what had happened to her, a little insight into a certain bleached blond vampire, maybe.  But now it turned out she was supposed to find 'Enlightenment'.  Or something.

"So what exactly was I supposed to figure out?" she asked drily.  "And what did Spike learn?"

"Two very interesting questions indeed."  The Valet straightened his shoulders.  "All right, Miss Summers.  As I said, we are obligated to finish what we began.  But do try to keep your displays of temper to a minimum.  I do not wish to have to replace another teapot."

"If you get anywhere near a point..."

"And please remember," the Valet went on determinedly, "that our dealings are concluded after this.  You will not be allowed to return here.  Because, quite frankly, you give me a headache."

Buffy shot him a look.  "Likewise, Jeeves."

The Valet frowned at her then abruptly pivoted on his heel, heading towards a small arched doorway that Buffy would have sworn wasn't there a moment ago.  She blinked, trying to see what lay beyond it, but could see nothing but darkness and shadows, swirling like fog.

The Valet paused impatiently on the threshold and glanced back at her.

"Well?  Are you coming?"

"What's through there?"

"Knowledge, my dear Slayer.  Knowledge."



Part 21


 "My blindness is my sight"
 -- Alice Cary




'Knowledge,' he had said.  Buffy didn't want this kind of knowledge.  Didn't want to see the things she had seen.

Buffy still wasn't sure whether she had actually gone back in time, or if she was somehow merely seeing the events that had taken place a week ago.  Whichever it was, she had somehow found herself back at Spike's trial, watching events unfold but unable to intervene in any way.

Which she would have, if she could.

The first two Trials had been...blatant acts of cruelty.  Spike had been forced to take on a bigger, stronger, armed opponent, with only his wits and his speed to rely on.  That had been when he had injured his leg.  As for the second Trial -- asking a half-naked barefoot vampire to cross a corridor lined with crosses and then have to reach into a container of holy water for the key to open the door...

God.  It was sick.  A shudder of revulsion went through the Slayer, along with a sense of shame at the part she had played in all this.  If she hadn't agreed to come here then none of this would have happened.  She wouldn't wish this torture -- there was no other word for it -- on her worst enemy, let alone on...on whatever Spike was now.

He certainly wasn't her enemy anymore, Buffy thought bitterly, as she followed the Valet through yet another doorway.  If nothing else, what she had seen here today had proven that.  For the vampire to go through so much for her, to endure such pain...  No, they weren't enemies any longer.

But, while she might know what he wasn't, she still didn't know what he was.  And that, according to the Valet, was what she was here to find out.

Buffy bit her lip, her thoughts still racing, then came to a sudden halt when she she realized that the Valet had stopped moving.  She looked up and saw...

Spike.  A dozen feet away, half-naked, badly burned, and hanging from two long chains that had him spreadeagled in the centre of the room, his head lolling forward upon his chest.

Buffy froze.

Once again it was all she could do not to act, not to try to change things.  But she knew she couldn't.  She was as insubstantial as a ghost here.  And the helplessness was driving her crazy.  To be forced to watch while someone suffered for her...it was horrible.  And wrong.

"I've had enough," Buffy said abruptly.  "I don't want to see anymore."

The Valet -- the one from her own time -- turned to look at her.

"But there is still the final Trial to go."

"Unlike you, I don't get my jollies watching other people get tortured.  I've seen enough."

The Valet smiled coldly.  "Actually, to paraphrase one of your Hollywood icons, I believe -- you haven't seen anything yet."

The Slayer closed her eyes.  Damn him.  And damn her.  She should never have come back here.  But she had and it was too late now.  She had to see this through, no matter how difficult it might be.  Reluctantly she opened her eyes and focused on the bound vampire.  The burns on his chest and back were clearer now than when she had seen him last week, with only the quarter moon to illuminate his injuries.  So many burns.  And so much pain.  Why?

She must have asked the question out loud, or else the Valet was reading her mind again, because he answered her softly.  "It was necessary.  Now -- shhh."

Unhappily, the Slayer turned back to Spike, flinching at the sight of the chains biting into his wrists and the blood soaking through the leg of his black jeans, as she steeled herself once more to watch...and do nothing.


 *     *     *


Spike was hanging limply in the chains, barely conscious.  The Valet from the past moved close beside him, gazing emotionlessly at the vampire.

"You've done very well to get this far," the small man began calmly, "but you should end this now, while you still can."

Spike raised his head -- Buffy's jaw tightened at the livid cut just under his left eye -- and met his gaze.  "Does th' Slayer get her sight back if I do?"  His speech was slurred and laden with pain.

A pause.  "Well, no.  Not unless you pass the third test."

"Then bring it on.  Gettin' tired of hangin' around here..."

"As you wish."  With that, the Valet stepped aside and raised one hand slightly...and the far wall that had previously been shrouded in darkness began to move forward, just enough to allow the flickering lights to illuminate the hundreds of wooden stakes -- all lined up in rows and pointing at Spike.

The vampire frowned at them blearily, trying to focus.  "What am I s'pposed to do now?"

"You're supposed to die."

Spike seemed to gather a little strength at the Valet's words, standing a bit straighter in the chains.   "That's the third trial?"

"Yes.  A life for a life."

Spike shook his head, as if trying to clear his pain-fogged thoughts.  "But it's not a life for a bloody life, is it?  'Cause I'm not alive...and we're only talking about her eyes anyway.  Not her sodding life."

The Valet smiled slightly.  "Semantics.  We both know that it is indeed Miss Summer's life under discussion here.  You yourself came to the same conclusion earlier tonight --if your Slayer does not regain her sight she will die.  So the choice is up to you.  Her life or yours.  But you only have to say the word and I will release you right now.  You may leave us in peace."

Spike swallowed painfully.  "What about her?"

"She will die of course."  The Valet leaned a little closer.  "But really -- why should that matter to you?  You are a vampire and she is the Slayer.  She cares nothing for you.  One day she will most certainly kill you.  It's what she does, what she is.  Wouldn't you rather just end all this and walk away, free and clear?"

The man paused, then went on.  "In fact -- because you have completed the first two challenges, I can even offer you what you most desire...if you stop this final Trial now."

Spike merely stared wearily at him, saying nothing.

"The implant."  The Valet's voice lowered persuasively.  "We can remove it for you.  Here and now.  It will be quite painless and I assure you there will be no lasting effects.  You will be exactly as you were before your capture.  Come now -- is that not worth the life of one Slayer?"

The vampire froze, staring at the Valet in disbelief.  Buffy could see various emotions warring on Spike's face - disbelief, hope, need...and something else altogether, something she was afraid to put a name to.  And she found herself holding her breath, her fingernails digging deeply into her palms, even though some part of her was aware that all this had taken place days ago.

And that's when it hit.  Realization.  This was what she had come here for, this was the answer she had been seeking.  But a tremor went through her.  Did she really want to know?  If she did, everything could change.  She wouldn't be able to ignore the truth any longer, wouldn't be able to lie to herself...

Lie to herself.  Was what she had been doing?  Was it possibly she had known the truth all along but was simply too afraid to accept it?  Beside her the Valet -- her Valet -- shifted, making a tiny self-satisfied sound.  Buffy glanced at him, frowning at the pleased smile on his face...

And then her attention was drawn back to the vampire in chains before her who had still not moved or spoken.  Hesitantly, Buffy took another step forward, raising a hand as if to touch him, then let her arm fall limply to her side.  'Spike,' she thought despairingly.

The other Valet was still waiting.  A long moment passed then at last the vampire shook his head.

"No," he said simply.

"You do understand the offer, don't you?  The implant..."

"I understand your flaming offer, but the answer's still no.  And just get a bloody move on, will you?"  Spike's voice was shaking now, from both pain and anger.

The Valet did not stir.  "You are refusing our offer, then, to remove your implant and release you from this final challenge?  And you freely offer your life in return for Miss Summer's vision.  Is that correct?"

Another long moment passed.  Spike did not move, did not even blink, his eyes unfocused and distant.  Finally though, something flashed across his face and then was gone, as suddenly as it had appeared.  And he nodded once, slowly.

"Yeah," he said wearily.  "That's right."


 *     *     *


Buffy froze.  She didn't -- couldn't -- believe it.  Spike would never give up his life, a chance at freedom, for her.  And yet he had.  And...somehow she wasn't surprised.  Not really, not deep down.  Because somehow, she had known all along.

The book had been right.  This was all about making the ultimate sacrifice.  And Spike had just done that.

But why?  For him to do that, to even consider it, that meant that...

Buffy shivered, her mind skittering fearfully away from the thought.  It couldn't be true.  It couldn't.

Except it was.  It had to be.

Spike loved her.  Enough to die for her.

Buffy could feel the blood draining away from her face, shock and disbelief pouring through her  --

 -- and the Valet leaned closer, whispering in her ear.  "So now your eyes are truly opened.  Your Trial is now complete."

And with that, everything vanished.  The Slayer blinked... and found herself back in the first room, the torches still casting shadows on the wall, the Valet standing beside her.

Buffy did not look at him, did not even move.  She was too busy trying to deal with the sudden maelstrom of emotions swirling chaotically inside her.  Too much.  Too much information.  She didn't want to deal with this right now.  Didn't want to have to face the truth.  Because if she did, if she admitted to herself that it was true...then her whole world would change.  If Spike, a soulless vampire, was capable of so much love, of so much self-sacrifice, then...then she had been wrong.  Wrong about him.  And about so much else.

"Ahem."  It was the Valet.  The Slayer turned to him, her mind spinning.

He gave her faintly sympathetic look.  "Enlightenment is never easy, is it?"

No.  No, it damned well wasn't.  But -- it was better than ignorance.

Wasn't it?

"I need to go now," Buffy said numbly, not looking at him.

"Yes.  Well...I wish you luck.  And I do hope things work out.  Goodbye, Miss Summers.  And remember -- your dealings with us are now finished."

And with that, the world changed...

...and she was outside once more, standing in the cool night air beneath the stars, staring down at the empty swimming pool.  Everything was exactly as it had been when she has first arrived...

...but nothing was the same anymore.

Nothing would ever be the same.



Part 22


 "I see thee better in the dark"
 -- Emily Dickinson




Buffy found herself walking back to the cemetery, her mind whirling. She had tried not to think as she had left the Trial, and she had tried not thinking as she made her way back through the dark streets, but it hadn't worked.  Thoughts kept popping stubbornly to the surface of her mind, flashes of memory going through her while she walked.

The first time she had met Spike, in that dark alley so long ago...  Her mom hitting him over the head with an axe...  Spike, stopping his minions from wreaking havoc when she had threatened to kill Drusilla...  Her uneasy alliance with the vampire and the bizarre image of him sitting at her kitchen table drinking hot chocolate...  The vampire chained up in Giles' bathtub...almost destroying her relationship with her friends...and saving her life.  The moment when he had sat down beside her on the back porch with kind words -- and a shotgun.  The kiss -- kisses.  The memory of his weight on top of hers, his fangs locked in her throat...and most of all, the image of his burned and scarred body hanging from chains while he calmly gave up everything that mattered most to him.  For her.  All for her.

He loved her.

Spike loved her.

Somehow Buffy couldn't quite make that sink in.  She knew it was true, knew that what her instincts had been telling her all along was correct, but still...she couldn't make herself believe it.

Why?  How?  Why would he possibly...?  No.  Buffy shook her head unhappily...then went back to the not-thinking.

It even worked for a while -- right up until the moment she found herself outside Spike's door.


 *     *     *


Slayer.

Spike twisted around in his chair, a warning tremor going through him.  She was here.  Just outside the crypt.  He could smell her.

Bugger.

He didn't need this right now.  One look and she'd probably guess everything.  His feelings were probably written all over his face.  Wearing his bloody heart on his bloody sleeve, he was.  Sodding wonderful.  Just what he needed.

But then again -- this was better than the alternative, right?  Hiding out in his crypt, diving around corners whenever he saw her.  No.  Let her come.  He wasn't William the Bloody Wanker, for god's sake.  He was Spike.  And it was high time he started acting like it...

The door swung open behind him but the vampire carefully did not move, his gaze remaining on the TV in front of him.  All his other senses, however, locked on the Slayer the moment she entered, tracking her as she stepped into the crypt, coming to a hesitant stop a few paces back.

"Summers," Spike said casually, not looking behind him.  "Still alive then?"

Buffy didn't answer him.  Instead she moved forward, crossing in front of him, then reached down and turned off the television.

"Hey!  I was watching that!"

"Newsflash, Spike.  The ship sinks.  Jack drowns."

"And thank you very bloody much."  He glowered at her.  "So what do you want now?  More help saving the world?  Battling the bad guys?  A few more lessons on Slayer slaying?"  He paused, a grin appearing on his face.  "Or would it be Slayer saving this time?"

She shifted her weight, looking uncomfortable.

"I need to talk to you."

"Well, since you just ruined the movie and the only other thing on right now is 'Jerry Springer', which I'd rather be buried six feet under again than have to watch, I'd say you've got my undivided attention.  So what's the topic of conversation gonna be this time?"

Buffy hesitated, then said flatly:  "I went back to the Trial."

Spike froze, staring up at her in disbelief.  "You what?"

"I went back."

"Well...why?"

She swallowed.  "I...I had to know what you did.  What your...sacrifice was."

Ice began to form in the pit of Spike's stomach and his mind started spinning in circles.  Big, violent, nerve-wrenching circles.  She knew?  Bloody hell.  What was he supposed to say now?  How could he explain?

He gave it a good try though.

"Well, don't flatter yourself, Slayer.  It was...I was... just wanted to make sure I'd be the one what finally kills you.  Didn't want some demon to get all the fun..."

Bollocks.  That was terrible.  He could do better than that, right?  He thought for a moment.  No.  No he couldn't.

"Spike..."

And then he was on his feet, trying to put some much needed distance between them while he attempted to figure out what to do, how to handle this.

"It's not all about you, you know," he said belligerently.  "I mean, it may have looked like I was doing it for you, but really, I was just..."

"Spike!"  Buffy spoke more forcefully this time, cutting him off in mid-sentence.

The vampire swallowed then turned and looked at her with just a hint of trepidation on his face.

"What?"

The Slayer took a step toward him, her eyes boring into his.  And she said, very slowly:

"Do you love me?"


 *     *     *


Buffy stared unblinkingly at Spike, waiting.  She knew the answer already -- really she did -- but there was still that one small uncertainty in the back of her mind.  And she had to know.  Somewhere along the way she had decided, even if only on a subconscious level, that she had to know the truth, no matter how difficult it might be.  She had to hear him say it.  Only then would she be able to decide what to do.  Only then could she face her own feelings.

The vampire swallowed again, an expression of sheer panic flashing across his face, tension written in every line of his body.

"Slayer, I..."

She shook her head.  "No.  Just one word, Spike.  Yes or no.  Do you love me?"

Another endless pause.  Buffy noticed distantly that her nails were once more digging into her hands and she forced herself to relax.  Finally though, Spike's shoulders straightened, his chin came up...and he met her eyes unwaveringly.

"Yes."


 *     *     *


Time seemed to crash to a halt.  Finally the silence became too much for Spike to bear.

"I know you don't feel that way about me..." he began hesitantly.

Buffy shook her head.  "No.  I don't."

It shouldn't hurt this much.  Really it shouldn't.  He had known all along that she didn't love him, probably never would...  But to actually hear her say it, to shred all his hopes -- and his heart -- like this...

Anguish tore through Spike, ripping through every aspect of his being.  So this was what being staked through the heart felt like, he realized distantly.  He had suffered his fair share of pain in his time, a hell of a lot of it in just the past week, but this...this was beyond words.  Nothing had ever hurt quite this much.  Nothing.  It felt as though small pieces of himself were crumbling away, breaking off into some void that threatened to consume him.

And suddenly the need to hurt her back was too much to bear.  His fists clenching, Spike took a step forward and said viciously:

"You really are a piece of work.  A right little bitch.  This is all some game to you, isn't it?  Make Spike admit he's gone all soft then spit in his face.  So what's next?  You go back to your little fanclub and you all have a good laugh together?  Laugh at the vampire that's got the hots for the Slayer..."

"No, I..."

He ignored her, his voice trampling over hers.  "You don't care, do you?  Just 'cause you've been hurt in the past, you think that gives you the right to do anything you want, hurt whoever you like..."

Buffy took an angry step forward.  "Will you let me finish?"

"Why?  So you can twist the knife a bit more?  No thanks.  I can see why Angel left you.  Self-bloody-preservation..."


 *     *     *


That did it.  Without warning Buffy's fist slammed into Spike and he crashed to the floor, laying still for a moment, slightly stunned.  Then she stepped forward and stood over him, speaking coldly.

"I'm going to ignore that last comment.  And you're going to shut the hell up so I can finish."

Spike raised one hand to his jaw, glaring up at her with something very close to hatred in his eyes.  But he remained silent.

This wasn't going the way Buffy had planned.  Actually, she hadn't planned it at all -- hence the problem.  But she couldn't change things now.  All she could do was move on.  And to do that, she had to be completely honest with him.  And herself.  No more holding back.  It wouldn't be easy and it was probably going to hurt like hell...but it had to be done.

After all, she had no choice.

"What did you expect me to say, Spike?"  Buffy's voice was calmer now, only a faint tremor in her body betraying the myriad emotions running through her.  "Did you really think I would declare my undying love for you just because you saved my life?  Well, I'm sorry, but that sort of thing only happens in bad romance novels.  One good deed isn't enough to make up for 120 years of carnage.  I can't just forget what you are, what you've done."

He snarled up at her, pain etched on his face.  "That's rich, coming from you.  You were all over Angel from the minute you met him, weren't you?  Never asked what kind of a monster he was.  If you'd seen some of the things he did, you'd..."

"Shut up,"  Buffy snapped.  "When I said I didn't love you, that was the truth.   But...it wasn't the whole truth.  And...and you deserve to know everything."

She took a deep steadying breath, then continued.

"Part of me hates you, for what you've done to me and my friends, for what you did in the past.  I've read the Watcher's journals, Spike.  I know how dangerous you were.  Still are.  Part of me is afraid of you, of what you might do if you ever get that chip out of your head.  And an even bigger part says you're not trustworthy and never will be."

He climbed to his feet slowly, glowering at her.  "You're really enjoying this, aren't you?"

"Not really," she said flatly.  "And I'm not done yet.  You see, the part you don't know is that it...it's not just hate and fear between us anymore, Spike.  Something's changed.  I'm not sure when it happened.  Maybe when you saved my life last week.  Maybe earlier.  I don't know.  What I do know is that you've always understood me better than anyone else.  More than my family, more than Giles even.  Definitely more than Riley ever did.  You...you can see right through me, see through all the lies I tell myself and no one else has ever been able to do that.  And while most of the time I hate that...sometimes I find it comforting too.  How strange is that?"

She smiled painfully, crookedly, then went on, not waiting for an answer.

"A lot of the time I think you're bad for me.  But sometimes I think you're the only one I can ever be with, should ever be with.  When I'm with you Spike -- I can be myself.  I don't have to pretend to be something I'm not.  I can just let go.  No one else has ever done that for me.  Not even Angel."

"So I guess it doesn't matter if part of me still thinks you're a killer, if I don't know if I can trust you, or even if you're bad for me.  Because there's a much bigger part of me saying...saying..."

Her voice trailed off.  She couldn't go on, couldn't get the words out.  Her throat was tightening, fear clenching in her stomach.  She couldn't do it.  She didn't have the courage.

"Saying what?"  The anger was almost gone from Spike's voice now, only a faint residue of hurt still remaining.  But there was something else in his eyes...something that gave Buffy the nerve to take that final step.  The step that would change everything between them.

It came out as a whisper, so faint that only a vampire could have heard it.

"I want you," she said.



Part 23


 "Blind and naked"
 -- Alfred Tennyson




"I want you."

Spike froze.  "You what?"

Buffy licked her lips, having to force the words out through the fear that was threatening to overwhelm her.  She hadn't thought it would be this difficult.

"I...I..."  It wasn't working.  She couldn't seem to make herself say it.  Not again.

Spike eyed her for a long moment, then slowly began to move forward, the pain on his face beginning to dissolve.  And something else was taking up residence there.  Disbelief.  Shock.  And then anticipation.  And hunger.  A predatory gleam appeared in his eyes and Buffy instinctively took a step back, swallowing hard.  He was stalking her, she realized, like some big cat.  She moved away again, her heart-rate increasing.  This was a mistake.  She should never have come here.  She should just go and...

...and then he was on her, moving as fast as she had ever seen him.  One hand twisted roughly in her hair, pulling her head back and baring her throat to him while the other wrapped tightly around her right wrist, holding away the stake that had suddenly materialized in her hand.

Buffy could have fought him, could have pulled free...but something inside wouldn't let her.  For a long moment she stared at him, frozen, her heart racing -- then Spike gave the weapon a slow, sideways glance, a wolfish grin appearing on his face.

"You gonna use that?"

Was she?  No.  Probably not.  Maybe.

She didn't answer him.  "Let me go," Buffy said instead, as forcefully as she could.

He lowered his voice.  "That really what you want?"

A long pause.  A really long pause.  Entire civilizations rose and fell while Buffy stood there, her chest heaving.   And finally, staring into the vampire's eyes, the Slayer loosened her grip, allowing the weapon to fall to the ground beside her.

"No."

And, as quickly as that, Spike had seized her and swung her around, slamming her up against the crypt wall.  Buffy gasped at the impact...then froze as he traced one fingertip along the side of her jaw and down her throat, dipping even lower until it was just inside her shirt.  She shivered but still made no effort to move.

"Tell me what you want," the vampire whispered, his voice hot and seductive, his mouth close to her ear.

The Slayer licked her lips nervously, watching as he moved back enough to look into her eyes...  And in that moment she reached a decision.

"I want you," Buffy said at last.  "Hard.  Now.  Inside me."

And, as if that was what he had been waiting for, Spike abruptly reached for her shirt, yanking it over her head in one quick movement and tossing it onto the ground.  Cool air met Buffy's suddenly exposed flesh and she shivered... the shiver becoming a deep shudder as Spike tore away her lacy bra.

"You want hard," he said, his voice rough.  "I'll give you hard."

And then he bent his head to her breast, his mouth closing around it, sucking and pulling, his teeth almost, but not quite, breaking the skin.  Buffy gasped, one hand going to the back of his neck, holding him against her while his left hand plunged inside her leather pants, delving deeply.

Automatically, the Slayer spread her legs, just a little, giving him better access.  She was panting in earnest now, her heart pounding as her body tried to keep up with this sudden assault on her senses.  The fingers of her left hand curled tightly in Spike's hair while her other arm went across his back, running across his corded muscles.  Then, with no warning at all, he plunged two fingers inside her, as far as they would go.  Buffy stiffened and inhaled sharply, her head arching back even further.

"Oh god."

"That's not gonna save you now."

Spike withdrew his fingers part way, then plunged them into her again...and tremors began to go through the Slayer, her legs starting to shake uncontrollably.

"Spike..."  It came out as a moan.

He withdrew his hand, his fingers wet, and Buffy whimpered.  Then, not pausing, he undid her pants and yanked them, along with her underwear, partway down her thighs.

She was almost completely naked, Buffy realized dimly, while he was still fully clothed.  Weakly she reached for his t-shirt -- but he batted her hands away, his mouth descending ruthlessly on hers while his hand went to the zipper of his own jeans.

It was a complete invasion.  Spike's tongue was thrusting forward, past her lips while his free hand returned to her breast, tightening around it, almost to the point of pain, his thumb running over her nipple.  And then his jeans were undone, pushed down just enough to free his erection, its hardness pressing insistently against her.

She wasn't going to be able to stop this, Buffy recognized distantly.  She was at a complete disadvantage, pressed against the wall like this, her leather pants effectively binding her legs while Spike's weight held the rest of her prisoner.  She might be able to stop him, if she really tried...if she really wanted to.  He might even stop if she asked him...but she didn't know for certain.  And the not knowing, the realization that she wasn't the one in control anymore, that he could do what he liked...

Oh god.  It was a turn on.  And it was like nothing she had ever experienced before.  Angel had been a tender lover.  Riley had been kind and loving but had lacked her strength and stamina.  Parker was just a mistake.  But this -- this was pure force and aggression, primal in its intensity.  Dangerous.

Exciting.

Moving even more swiftly now, Spike seized both her wrists, pinning them against the wall beside her head...and then, with one savage move, he drove himself completely inside her.  The Slayer convulsed almost instantly, calling out his name.  Supernovae seemed to be exploding behind her eyes while great tremors racked her body.  And through it all, the vampire held himself back -- filling her, stretching her as she had never been stretched before...but hardly moving.

An eternity or two passed while Buffy was rocked with pleasure.  Finally though, the shocks began to subside, just a little, and she managed to open her eyes, trying to focus.  Her head was resting on Spike's shoulder, she realized, her hands still pinned behind her...and he was moving again now, withdrawing almost completely.  Then he slammed back into her so that her body rocked back with the force of it, her back hitting the wall with each thrust.  And Buffy moaned, unable to do much for the moment except hold on.


 *     *     *


Her heat was incredible.  Spike felt as though he was standing in an inferno, its intensity almost overwhelming.  The flames were threatening to consume him.  But there were worse ways to die, he thought raggedly as he continued his relentless barrage on her body.  To have this happen, to actually be the one...to be inside the Slayer, to feel her disintegrate around him, his name on her lips...it was heaven.  Or as close as a vampire like him could ever get.  'Please,' he thought incoherently, 'if this is a dream, don't let me wake up.'

After some time, Spike changed the rhythm, his thrusts becoming slower but harder, burying himself as deeply as he possibly could with each stroke.  And slowly but surely, he could sense the pressure beginning to build within her again.  Well, good.  He was going to make her forget the poof, forget G.I. Joe, forget every man who had ever been between her legs.  Or in her heart.  She might not love him -- but she sure as hell wasn't going to be able to ignore him.

"Look at me," he growled at her.

Blinking a little, she did.

"Say my name."

"Spi-ike."  It came out on a gasp, as he drove himself mercilessly into her.  And he even managed a triumphant grin, through the sensations that were sweeping through him.

"This hard enough for you, Slayer?"


 *     *     *


He was grinning.  Smug bastard.  Buffy could think now, just a little, although her mind kept threatening to fly apart at any moment.  Conceited, self-satisfied vampire.  Just because he had forced her body's complete surrender, had made her experience the most blindingly powerful climax of her life...didn't mean he got to stay in control.  Surrender might be exciting for a while...but it only went so far.  And it wasn't who she was.  Buffy glared at him, saying through clenched teeth even as she tried to fight off the waves of pleasure cascading over her:

"No.  It's not."

Surprise flitted briefly across his face...even more so when she wrenched her wrists out of his grip and tugged his t-shirt up.  Then she dipped her mouth to the vampire's chest, running her tongue across his skin while she clamped down on him with her inner muscles.

Hard.

Spike tensed, a startled look in his eyes.  And Buffy began to rock forward, her hips meeting his, every muscle working...and it was his turn to groan.

"Slayer..."

"That the best you can do, Spike?" she whispered mockingly.

Their eyes met, challenge going from one to the other, and then Spike's grin widened.  "Not bloody likely."

With that, he bent slightly, pushing her pants down to her ankles, then plunged brutally back into her again without missing a beat.  Buffy arched her back, trying to draw oxygen into her starving lungs, even as she stepped awkwardly out of the leather and kick off her shoes.  And then both of her legs were up and around Spike's hips, her arms tightening around his shoulders.

Oh god.  If it had been good before, it was shattering now.  Buffy could feel herself hovering on the edge of another climax, shocks going through her.  Spike moaned, his body beginning to quake alongside hers.  And for just a moment, a sense of just how surreal all this was struck her.  This was Spike, for god's sake.  She had Spike inside her -- deep inside her, his body cool against her warmth and his hands -- and everything else -- on her.  And, for just a moment, she wondered if she wasn't making a mistake...but it was too late now.  A lifetime too late.  She had made her decision and she was just going to have to live with it.

Long moments passed, while he continued to pound into her, his eyes never leaving hers, the Slayer's gasps sounding loud in the silence of the crypt.  And then, just when Buffy thought she could bear the pressure no longer, something went through the vampire's eyes...and he buried his face in her neck.

Buffy tensed, expecting to feel his fangs rip through her skin at any second...but instead his arms tightened around her with the strength of desperation and he whispered her name against her skin.

"Buffy."

Her eyes widened in surprise...and then he was spilling himself into her, his body shuddering helplessly while he clung to her.  And Buffy found herself going over the brink with him, falling into some dark chasm, only his arms around her still anchoring her to this reality.  And finally, slowly, silence descended upon the crypt.



Part 24


 "It is not love but lack of love which is blind"
 -- Glenway Westcott




They slid to the floor together, Spike still inside her, both of them shaking from the combined power of their respective climaxes.  The Slayer ended up on top, her forehead resting against the vampire's chest while she struggled to draw air back into her oxygen-deprived lungs, waiting for the trembling to subside.

It did, finally.  And awareness began to flow once more through Buffy.  She had just had sex with Spike.  Wild, passionate, violent sex.  Angry sex.

Really, really great sex.

But that's all it was.  And she was so never going to do it again.  Hastily the Slayer pulled away, fiercely ignoring the part of her that regretted the loss as she withdrew from him.  Then she reached for her pants laying nearby and pulled them on, not even bothering with underwear...and not looking at the vampire beside her.

He was watching her though.  She could feel his eyes on her as she got to her feet, feel his gaze burning as she picked up her shirt.  Turning her back, Buffy pulled it on quickly, hoping he wouldn't notice just how much her hands were shaking.

"So that's it then?" Spike said flatly, at last.  "Got it all out of your system, did you?"

Buffy froze.  "Is that what you think I was doing?" she asked, her voice taut with tension.

He climbed to his feet, the sound of his zipper going up shockingly loud in the silence of the crypt.

"Wasn't it?" the vampire asked bitterly.  "You had an itch and you got it scratched.  Now you can scarper back home and convince yourself it was all just hormones.  Or misplaced gratitude.  Temporary bloody insanity, maybe."

At that, Buffy did turn, chewing on her bottom lip as she gazed at him.

"Well, wasn't it?"

"You tell me."

No.  She wasn't going to do this.  She wasn't going to get into a war of words with him.  Not now.  Not ever again, if she could help it.  Shivering slightly, Buffy bent, picked up her shoes, then finally straightened...and looked him in the eye.

"You're right, Spike," she said at last.  "It wasn't just hormones.  Or gratitude -- although I can't vouch for the sanity part of the equation.  And yes, it...it was great sex.  But that's all it was.  And I...I just need to go now, get away from..."

You.  She didn't have to say the word.  It hung there, unspoken, hovering between the two of them.  The Slayer flinched inwardly.  She hadn't meant that to come out the way it had.  She really didn't want to hurt him.  But neither could she deal with what had just happened, what she had done.  What she was.

"You're such a hypocrite, Summers."

Buffy blinked, starting slightly.  "I'm a what?"

"You heard."  Spike moved closer, crowding her.  "You say one thing but it's not what you really mean.  So how 'bout I tell you what's going on in your head and save you the bother?"

"How about you don't?"

He ignored her, forging onward as if she had not spoken.  "It's already driving you off your trolley," he said matter of factly, "how you gave yourself to me and how much you wanted it.  No hesitation, no holding back.  You asked me to take you and I did.  And you loved it.  But now you're scared that maybe you loved it too much.  That maybe once isn't gonna be enough."

Buffy frowned.  "Conceited much."

"Facts are facts, love.  Speaking of...how 'bout the fact that you just got all up close and personal with the enemy?  The Slayer having sex with a vampire, and him with no soul to justify it?  Can't tell me that one's not bothering you.  What would your bleeding Watcher say?  Or the Slayerettes?  The human boyfriend thing didn't work out and now you're scared to death you're always gonna need the monsters.  Which makes you what?  One of us."

Buffy stirred sharply, but he kept going, still not giving her a chance to respond.

"But you know what your biggest fear is, the one that's got you shaken down to the bloody core?  It's not that I love you -- so bloody what, right Slayer?  No, it's that maybe, just maybe, you love me back, no matter how hard you try to fight it.  And that scares you more than anything.  More than all the creatures in the night trying to kill you.  More than being blind.  More than dying, even."

A pang went through Buffy but she closed her eyes, shaking her head.  "You're wrong."

"Am I?" he asked, edging closer, his voice softer now.  "I know you, Slayer.  Said so yourself.  And I know you would never have done what we just did if you didn't have feelings for me in there somewhere.  Maybe not a lot yet, and probably buried pretty deep.  But they're there.  And you know it."

She shook her head vehemently.  "No."

Another step closer.  "So if I do this then..."  He leaned over and kissed her lightly then moved slowly downward, his mouth tracing light patterns against the underside of her jaw, just barely grazing the skin.

"...So if I do this, it means nothing to you?"

Spike's lips found the puncture marks on her neck and traced them slowly with his tongue.  Buffy whimpered.

"No," she said breathlessly, a moment later, her hands curling into fists with the effort it was taking to not reach for him.  "I can't do this, Spike.  Not again."

Spike pulled back slightly and ran one hand across her shoulder, evoking a shiver.

"No.  'Cause that would make it real, wouldn't it?  Once --well, you can write that off as a mistake.  One-time deal.  But twice...you do this twice with me and it becomes real.  No going back then."

Buffy shuddered.  He was right.  And she didn't want this to be real, didn't want to feel this pull toward a vampire.  Toward this vampire.  Once, and she could still pretend, could go back to telling herself lies.  But twice...

Something of what she must have been thinking must have shown on her face, because Spike took a step backward, his hand falling away from her shoulder.

"I want you to stay," he said simply.  "But it's up to you.  You leave and I'm not going to try to stop you, not gonna let you convince yourself later on that I seduced you into it.  You stay...it's 'cause you want to.  Your choice, pet.  Tell me what you want."

A sense of tired anger went through Buffy.  Why couldn't he be wrong?  Just once?  Was that too much to ask?  Obviously yes, because every word he had spoken was true.  Which left her where?  As one of the monsters, like he had said.  Incapable of ever having a normal life, of loving someone normal, someone human.  Of being human.  Self-pity hovered for an instant, but she banished it quickly.  So what if she couldn't have a normal life?  She wasn't normal.  And she wasn't human, at least not in the regular sense of the word.  She was the Slayer.

So maybe it was time she started reaching out for whatever happiness she could find, in whatever time she might have.  Even if she did keep finding it in the strangest of places...

And he did love her.  If there had been any doubt left in Buffy's mind, it had vanished the moment when the vampire's arms had tightened around her, whispering her name and holding her as if she was the only thing that mattered in his world.

Spike loved her.  And...and she had feelings for him too.  They were too new and too deeply buried to bear much in the way of scrutiny, but they were definitely there.  So why not?  Why not do what she wanted for once?  Be Buffy and not the Slayer.  Just for a while.  What could it hurt?

Ignoring the part of her that instantly began screaming a long list of all the ways it could hurt, Buffy took a step forward and reached one hand out, holding it flat against the centre of Spike's chest, noting once again the lack of a heartbeat and feeling the cool, hard planes of his body through the thin material of his t-shirt.  And she decided.

"I want to dance," Buffy said slowly, looking up to meet Spike's eyes.

And then she said nothing else, for a very, very long time.


 *     *     *


It was slower than before.  Gentler.  As if Spike was trying to prove that not everything he did had to end in violence.  Eventually they wound up on the chair, the Slayer on top this time...and then on the tomb.  And after that...

At some point Buffy lost track of things.  All she knew was that, for the first time in a very long while, she felt...calm.  At peace -- when her body wasn't convulsing furiously around his, that was.  But even then -- she no longer had to pretend to be something she was not, didn't have to hold back or hide what she was.  She could just be.
She had forgotten what that felt like.


 *     *     *


Spike closed his eyes.  He was -- well, the only word that came to mind was content.  Yeah, that was it.  Perfectly content.  They had finally come to rest at last in the chair, the Slayer on his lap, his lone blanket covering both of their naked bodies.  Buffy's head was resting on his shoulder, her hands resting on top of his arms which were wrapped loosely around her waist.

"Sun's coming up," she said tiredly.

He opened his eyes.  She was right.  He could sense the nearness of the dawn, feel the shadows outside beginning to recede.  In his arms, the Slayer stirred slightly.

"I should go," she said, a trace of reluctance in her voice.

"S'pose so."  Spike turned to look at her, taking in the rumpled hair and thoroughly satiated look on her face -- and a wave of pure self-satisfaction went through him.  He had done this.  Him.  Grinning slightly, he ran one finger down her throat, towards the top of her breasts.  And, despite everything they had already done...and the number of times they had done it...he could sense desire rising again within her.  It wasn't the only thing that was rising.

Smiling slightly, Buffy leaned forward and kissed him, her tongue going forward to tangle with his, then she shifted so that she was straddling him, parts of her body coming into interesting contact with parts of his.
 
"Of course," she said provocatively, "I could be persuaded to stay a while longer..."

As it turned out, she really didn't need much persuading at all.


 *     *     *


It was considerably after dawn that Buffy finally managed to pull on her clothes again, wincing as certain parts of her body complained with every movement.  As workouts went, tonight's -- activities -- certainly ranked up there with going one on one with a demon.  Which, when she considered it, was exactly what she had been doing.

She cast Spike a quick look.  He was standing by the tomb, watching her, fully dressed.  And several conflicting emotions went through her.  Lust and desire were foremost, despite the fact that even her vaunted Slayer stamina wouldn't be able to cope with much more tonight.  A faint shiver of fear, which somehow made the desire taste even sharper.  And...uncertainty.  That tiny flicker of doubt deep inside her that refused to go away completely, that kept her wondering if she was making a mistake; the doubt that said she should stop this now, while she still could...

Or could she?  Did she even want to?  No.  It was too late, had probably been too late from the instant when she had first stepped, blind and frightened, into the cemetery, to feel Spike's arms slide around her... Looking back, her body's reaction at the time made sense now.  As did everything that had happened since.

It had not been one, but an entire series of decisions she had come to, Buffy realized.  When she had let Spike bully her into telling her what she had been planning, had confessed her suicidal intentions to him.  When she had gone with him to the Trial, tacitly agreeing to place her fate in his hands.  The moment when she had realized that she couldn't let him die for her and had offered him her neck to avert it.  And when she had seen him sacrifice his chance to have the implant removed, in order to save her.  And all the moments since.  Every action, every conclusion, they had all been leading her here, to this point in time.

But...while she might have to live with those decisions, it didn't necessarily mean she was comfortable with them...or with where they were leading her.  Looking back though, she couldn't think of a single thing she would do differently, a single moment she would change.  But still...this was no small thing she was doing.  And not without its risk.  Because nothing had changed, really.  He was still a vampire, still dangerous.

And he loved her.

And what was life without risk, anyway?

Buffy pulled on her shoe with one hand then straightened and headed for the door.  Spike didn't move, merely continued to watch her through hooded eyes.  Once there, though, she paused, turning slightly to look back at him over her shoulder.

"Don't worry," he said before she could speak.  "I'm not gonna tell anyone I spent all night banging the Slayer.  Still got my reputation to maintain, after all."

"Love the pillow talk, Spike," Buffy said drily.  "You're such a romantic.  But that's not what I was going to say."

"Yeah, well, I got it where it counts.  And don't think I'm going to change for you either," he added warningly.  "I'm not gonna become the Slayer's tame lap dog just because we got horizontal...and vertical.  Because we both know you don't want that.  Face it, love --you like the danger.  It excites you."

The Slayer's eyes narrowed.  "Has anyone ever told you how arrogant you are?"

He grinned.  "Let me think.  Oh yeah -- you."  With that, he moved forward quickly, caught her around the back of her neck with one hand and kissed her, hard and fast, his body pressing hers against the door, while her hands moved up his chest.  Then he abruptly released her and stepped away.

"And that's what you love about me, blondie."

Buffy tried in vain to hide her smile.  "Still don't love you, Spike."

The grin widened.  "You will."  A pause, followed by:  "So what were you going to say then?"

She shook her head.  "I'm not going to tell you now.  Be seeing you, Spike."  And with that, she opened the door and went out into the sunlight, closing it gently behind her.

Spike stared after her for a long moment then smiled and fished in his pocket for a cigarette.

"Count on it."


 THE END