All About Spike - Print Version
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Super Food World
By Valerie X

Part One

Buffy sat down on her back porch and put her head into her hands.

It was a familiar area for her. When her mom was sick or when her friends were fighting, she would end up here. For some reason it was better to be miserable outdoors than in. Maybe because everything she looked at inside her house reminded her of some problem. There was a pile of unopened mail at one end of the dining room table: mostly bills, and a few greeting-card-shaped letters, one from her father in Spain and one from Giles in England. The bills were a simple matter -- she couldn’t pay them, so she wouldn’t open them. The cards necessitated a more difficult decision. She couldn’t decide whether to take them up to her bedroom later at night, when Dawn would be asleep, open them, read them, and cry softly, or to just set them on fire and be done with it. In the kitchen there were further unpleasant reminders, including cabinets stripped down to the barest products: some baking powder, a half-empty bottle of vegetable oil, and a handful of ancient pasta in a torn Ziploc bag.

Outside she could pretend these things didn’t exist. The air was thick, seeping into a veil of black at the edge of her property. The evening noises, which had seemed deafening in her bedroom, weakened in their assault once she resigned herself to the fact that she’d be getting no sleep tonight. The rustling of leaves became a whisper, the crickets a far-off static.

In her mind, she added the long list of numbers again. On Monday her bank balance was $34.47. On Tuesday she’d rustled through the mail pile and taken out those bills in pink envelopes. She mailed out around $60 for the phone, $30 for gas and electric, and $300 for the mortgage, counting on her first paycheck to cover them.

But now it was Friday night, and immediately after stopping in the crowded bank to deposit her check, she was broke.

She’d been working at the Doublemeat Palace for two weeks, so she’d expected to get her full $800. But the way the pay periods worked, the check was only for her first week. After taxes, she had around $350.

350 + 34.47 - 60 - 30 - 300 = negative five dollars and fifty-three cents. And since two weeks would go by until she got another paycheck, all she could do was sit and wonder which check would bounce and which bill would go unpaid.

She had exactly one dollar in the front right pocket of her jeans, and about two dollars in change in a jar in her bedroom. Throughout the week, she’d been exploring the deep recesses of the pantry when preparing dinner, inventing such meals as macaroni-cheese-turkey-burger-casserole and wild-rice-peanut-butter-pot-pie. By now, all the basic food supplies were exhausted. There was no milk, no bread, no butter, no macaroni and cheese, and no leftover pizza.

And while Willow had contributed lately by doing the grocery shopping and taking Dawn out for meals occasionally, that ended when Mrs. Rosenberg saw two B’s in her daughter’s first-semester grades and cut down on her spending money. Willow had casually mentioned this to Buffy Thursday, promising to make it up to her next month when her student loans came in, and then taking off for the weekend to enjoy indulge in home-cooked meals and attempt to soften-up her angry parents.

And now it was a little after ten at night, and Buffy sat on the back porch listening to the muffled sounds of Dawn in her bedroom, on the telephone with one of her friends. In an hour or so Dawn would be asleep, and then after about eight hours Dawn would be awake again, smiling cheerfully at her bleary-eyed sister, expecting a big Saturday-morning breakfast.

And Buffy had three dollars and some vegetable oil.

She’d briefly considered borrowing money from Xander and Anya, but then realized that their wedding was less than a month away, and Buffy couldn’t bear to be that pathetic.

Even though she honestly didn’t think she could get much more pathetic than she already felt.

Getting a job was supposed to make things better. But her life lately seemed like a black hole, sucking up everything - money, home, family, friends - until everything just sucked.

A strand of hair blew in front of her face, but she didn’t have the energy to push it away.

She didn’t have the energy to seek out liquor she couldn’t afford to dull her deep sadness. She didn’t have the energy to walk up to her bedroom, curl up in her blankets, and lie awake all night wishing she was still dead. She didn’t have the energy to have the hysterical crying fit she deserved. And she certainly didn’t have the energy for him.

“Spike, go away,” she said softly.

A lean figure moved out from behind a cluster of darkness and trees and lit a cigarette.

She could almost hear him bite back an annoying comment, which, to Spike, probably passed for compassion. The depression vibes must have been rolling off her in thick waves, because he kept his distance. Which was good, because lately whenever he was within five feet of her, with his arms and his chest and that soft stretch of skin at the curve of his neck, her brain switched into non-functioning-mode. Which was usually a good thing. Hence the wrongness of it all.

Lately Buffy didn’t like herself when she was around him. Oh, sure, she liked the kiss-curve-of-neck-shut-down-brain part of being around Spike. It was the other part that bothered her. The part where she would tell him to go away one minute and then be straddling him the next. The part where she would try to convince him that they couldn’t be together and then spend the next two nights convincing herself that the dark forces of Sunnydale were probably gathering somewhere around Spike’s crypt, until she ran into him and commenced with the straddling.

It was pathetic.

When he eventually did turn up, either in her backyard or in the cemetery where she was pretending to not be looking for him, he would stand there with his big fake swagger and oral fixation, unlit cigarette hanging from his mouth, eyes flickering between big bad and kicked puppy, and dammit, she wasn’t made of stone.

But now was not the time for sexy and morally ambiguous. Tonight she was busy being miserable. She kept her eyes down, and for a long time he stood like a black-clad statue illuminated by thick white smoke.

“Dawn gets scared,” he said, as if explaining something.

She looked up despite herself. While Buffy had been able to convince Dawn that visiting Spike in the cemetery at night was supremely stupid, they still saw each other. On Saturday afternoons when Dawn disappeared to make the rounds of her friends’ houses, Buffy was sure that Spike’s crypt was a required stop. And she knew that Spike would check up on Dawn when she was home by herself. Some nights she would come home from patrolling, having done a quick couple of slays around town and a thorough sweep of the area around Spike’s crypt, find Dawn asleep on the couch and dirty footprints and ashes on the front porch, and her throat would close up just a little bit.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Buffy muttered. And there wasn’t. No big evil vampires or demon-snakes or gods trying to kill them, just three lame-o’s coming up with plans to aggravate her to death and a pile of unopened mail that seemed much more menacing than any super-villain.

Spike shrugged and took a step closer. “When no one’s home with her, girl gets nervous. For a long time she had your mum looking out for her, and then this time last year she was the center of everyone’s universe. People wouldn’t let her be alone for a second. Now she’s not so important, so when you’re late coming home from work, she gets a minor wiggens. Thinks that if you got yourself all beat up by some random evil thing, no one would even tell her; she’d just be alone and waiting.” He dropped the cigarette and ground out the orange glow with his boot. “Didn’t go inside,” he continued. “Just gave her a wave from the window, before you got home.”

Buffy shook her head sadly and looked down into her lap. “I thought she hated it when I made her have a babysitter.”

“There’s a big difference between what kids say they want and what they actually want.”

His voice was closer now, dangerously pushing the five-feet-brain-jello mark. Buffy kept her eyes on her hands. The antibacterial soap at the Doublemeat had dried them out, and the skin of her fingers and knuckles was red and white, threatening to bleed.

“William the Bloody, Vamp Psychologist,” she muttered.

“Right pathetic, isn’t it?”

She looked up again to see him leaning against the porch, all evil-puppy-eyes and fleshy-tasty-neck. Dammit.

“Join the club,” she said. “I’m the President.”

“This a meeting then?”

Oh, god, he was going to sit down. How was she supposed to properly mope when he was spreading his undead pheromones all over her? It wasn’t fair. And she had bigger problems to deal with.

“Yep,” she said. “And the official sponsor of the Pathetic Buffy Club is whatever’s in that flask in your jacket.” She held out her hand.

“I’m not giving you my liquor,” Spike said, sitting down at the other end of the top step, far enough from her that she couldn’t accuse him of anything, but close enough that she seriously felt the need for a drink.

“Come on,” Buffy said weakly, focusing on her bruised hands once again. “It’s been a tremendously bad day.”

“And throwing up on my shoes isn’t going to make it any better.”

“Well, not for you,” she muttered.

“What’s wrong?”

A light on the second floor of the house switched off. Dawn was going to bed, beginning the countdown to when she would wake up and Buffy would have to explain why there was no food in the house.

“Stupid alcoholic vampire won’t share,” she said softly.

“Yeah, and that’s your biggest problem, isn’t it?” he replied sarcastically. “Come on, we’ll go kill it, have us a nice big fight, get in a quick shag before daylight, and all will be well.”

“I’m broke.”

She could feel him looking at her, but refused to look up. She could sense the kicked-puppy eyes. Dammit.

“Is that all?” He chuckled. “With the way you’re sulking about, I thought some big demony thing just ate Xander. Not that I’d care, mind you. Especially with the way he’s been strutting around lately, all unresolved sexual tension and manly prancing. I think he wants me.”

“You think everyone wants you.”

“Everyone usually does.” He shrugged. “Can’t help it, Slayer. I’m a pretty, pretty man. Here.”

A fistful of bills broke her gaze from the scaly skin of her fingers. She looked up at him. “I can’t take money from you.”

“Why not?”

She forced her face into a resolved glare, which was hard considering that she was looking at his face, all open and simple. She hated when he did that honest look. It was too pretty. Dammit.

“You probably got it from...something...evil,” she sputtered out.

“No,” he said, as if explaining to a child. “I got it from some vamps in a house downtown, after I dusted them all. So take it.”

“I can’t,” she said, her expression moving from firm to sad. “It makes everything all weird...with us.”

“Oh, of course,” he said sardonically. “Because before this, everything with us was so simple and normal.”

“You know what I mean,” she muttered. She looked up at Dawn’s window. “When she wakes up there won’t even be breakfast.” She shook her head and returned her eyes downward. “She doesn’t know how bad it is.”

“Okay, then, how ‘bout this,” he suggested. “I was about to go to the Super Food World, you know, that 24-hour place. Stock up on smokes, beer, and blood. You come with and we’ll buy the kid some waffles and what not.”

“I can’t take money from you.”

Spike groaned and rolled his eyes. “It’s not taking money. It’s just coming along and picking up a few things. Besides, it’s a long walk to my crypt, and a case of beer is heavy, so you’ll make up for it that way, super-strength-girl.”

He stood up, but Buffy kept her face down.

He kicked her foot lightly. “Come on.”

“Just a few things,” she said, standing and frowning. “And we can’t...” she looked away, flustered. “You know, do anything.”

“I’ll try to restrain myself from shagging you in the frozen food aisle,” he said with a smirk.

As they made their way around to the front of the house, Buffy punched him in the shoulder, and her rough knuckles connected with the cool skin at the collar of his shirt, momentarily shutting down the part of her mind that told her grocery shopping with Spike was wrong on a supreme level.

Dammit.



Warning: This fic is definitely not rated NC17, but there is still some discussion about sex. So if you’re under 17, you know.....don’t tell your parents.



Part Two

As they walked along the dimly-lit streets that led to the supermarket, Buffy thought about Faith.

When they’d first met, Faith had regaled her with endless tales of her one-night stands. Buffy remembered being shocked that someone younger than she was could be so casual about sex.

“But how do you do that?” Buffy had asked her one night as they patrolled.

Faith laughed. “It’s not that hard. Unless, you know, it’s not that hard.” And she’d laughed again, swinging her hips and her hair with a carelessness that made Buffy, at only 18, feel ancient.

“I mean, how do you not get attached to them?” Buffy asked.

“It’s not a big deal,” Faith said with a shrug. “It’s just two bodies banging together.”

Buffy tried to remember this as she walked down a residential street with Spike. They were about three feet away from each other, but it still felt too close, and she kept trying to move to the farthest edge of the sidewalk, walking on lawns and in flower gardens, until at one point, she walked head-on into a hedge.

Spike stopped and watched as Buffy stumbled backwards and brushed leaves out of her hair. She looked up at him and saw that he was obviously trying not to burst out laughing.

“Shut up,” she said, anticipating the snide remark. She pouted in the direction of the mangled hedge. “It came out of nowhere.”

Just two bodies banging together, she thought as they resumed their walk. Utterly meaningless. Completely anonymous. Five by five.

Buffy’s shoulders drooped in resignation. She wouldn’t be able to convince herself of this.

No matter how much she shut herself down during sex, no matter how much she tried to forget who she was, it wasn’t like Faith had said. It wasn’t just two bodies.

They had looked at each other. They had touched each other. And even when they didn’t talk, when the only sounds between them were grunts, gasps, and moans, they’d still communicated. Like the first time his lips had moved up her shoulder to her throat, and her body silently stiffened, and his quick, even “mmm” said, “No, I’m not trying to bite you.” and her hard sigh said, “Good, because I’m not going to let you.” and then, later in that endless night, when the hollow of his neck in front of her face was just too alluring, and without thinking she wrapped her mouth around it and bit down, not hard enough to draw blood, but hard enough to make him break their rhythm and pull back from her, and he’d laughed (and not a now-my-evil-minions-will-destroy-you laugh, a real, genuine laugh), which had shocked her into laughter too, and then they were screwing and laughing and nibbling at each other’s bodies and while it didn’t mean much, while it didn’t mean love, while it didn’t even necessarily mean friendship, it didn’t mean nothing.

Now, as they turned onto Main Street and a random noise made his eyes flicker to the side, she couldn’t forget what those eyes had seen. When his hands thrust into his pocket to remove a pack of cigarettes, she couldn’t forget what those hands had touched. And when his mouth tightened over the filter as he inhaled, she couldn’t forget where that mouth had been, and the memory sent shivers down her legs, causing her to trip over an uneven piece of sidewalk, sending her plummeting into a mailbox.

Dammit.

“Chosen-One reflexes not working too well, eh?”

She glared at his back as he continued walking. “Shut up.”

Electronic doors slid open and they both squinted into the bright fluorescent light. Buffy looked at the long row of shopping carts she’d instinctively moved towards, and for a moment she almost burst into hysterical sobbing laughter at the thought of how very wrong it was to take a cart and wheel it over to Spike.

He noticed her tentative gaze and sighed in frustration. “Slayer,” he said. “Spare me the last remaining shred of my dignity and push the bloody cart, will you?”

Buffy stared at him with honest surprise. “You have a shred of dignity still?”

“Bitch.”

She rolled the cart over to a produce display where Spike had begun tossing a coconut back and forth between his hands. “Do you know that more people die from getting hit on the head with coconuts than from shark attacks?”

“You watch way too much TV.” Buffy picked up a peach, squeezed it to test its firmness, and it collapsed into goo in her palm. Stupid strength.

“Don’t see how,” Spike continued. “’S not so heavy.” He shrugged and tossed the coconut into the cart. “Could always use more weapons though.” He gestured to a row of carrots and celery. “Get something.”

Buffy turned her head down. “You don’t have to...We don’t need a lot, just some pancake mix, maybe mac and cheese.”

“Enough with the suffering hero bit,” Spike groaned. He picked up a cucumber and held it out to her. “Come on, yum, vegetables, all healthy and phallic.”

“Gross,” Buffy said as she snatched the cucumber away from him.

Spike’s eyes sparkled wickedly and his tongue darted out to his lower lip. “You know -”

“Whatever you’re going to say, just know that it can only end in death.” Buffy yanked the cart backwards and maneuvered it around the display.

Buffy stopped in front of a cooler when she noticed the packages of ready-made salads. She picked one up to examine it. “Everything you need for a delicious salad!” the bag exclaimed in italics. There was lettuce, carrots, a bag of croutons, a tiny pouch of cheese, and a packet of Caesar salad dressing. It was only four dollars, and along with some frozen hamburgers it would make a nice, quick dinner for Dawn.

She remembered an image: her mother standing at the kitchen counter, still wearing her clothes from work, chopping lettuce and tomatoes and peeling carrots. But Buffy, with all her friends and super powers, was so lame that she need instant salad. Instant salad that she couldn’t even afford by herself.

Spike appeared beside her and deposited a bag of grapes into the shopping cart. “Kid likes these,” he said. “She told me this story once about how she didn’t eat them for a month because one of her mates at a slumber party peeled some and said they were eyeballs.” He looked down at the food and shook his head. “Real eyeballs are stickier.”

“I’m a terrible parent,” Buffy said softly.

He eyed her curiously. “You got that from a bag of salad?”

“How could I let it get this bad?” she said. “How could I let myself get completely broke? And then I feel guilty about everything I’ve spent money on. Like last week I had an extra five bucks that I selfishly spent on a box of tampons.”

“You know, as much as I’m enjoying this recent bonding thing we’ve had going on, you might try to remember that I’m a guy.”

Buffy lowered her head and let out a small sob.

“Fine, forget I said anything,” Spike added quickly. “Please, Buffy, tell me all about your menstrual cycle.”

“Can you believe that I actually feel guilty about buying tampons?” She said through tears. “It’s so stupid. I’m so stupid.”

“Gotta agree with you there, love,” he said.

Buffy looked up at him, surprised.

“You fought a god,” he said. “You killed the Master. You killed that big prancing poof, and you’ve kicked my ass more times than I’d like to remember, and now you’re standing here crying over vegetables.”

“Exactly,” she said. “I can stop an apocalypse, but I can’t be a grown-up. What does that say about me?”

“That you’re about to get smacked in the head.” He took the bag from her hands and dropped it into the cart. “Now come on. By the time we’re finished here you’re gonna be dead of old age.”

She reluctantly followed him to the deli counter at the rear wall, where he nodded to the man behind the counter and said, “The usual. And some sort of lunchmeat or something.” He turned to Buffy. “What do you like?”

“Dawn likes salami,” she said sullenly.

He shook his head. “What about you? What do you like?”

Buffy shrugged. “I don’t need anything.”

“Bloody hell, woman!” he shouted suddenly. “You know, you’re lucky that I’m such a bleeding idiot, because if I didn’t love you, I’d kill you right here and now. Not because you’re the Slayer, because you’re whiny.”

Buffy eyes flared to life. “You want to talk about whiny? Oh, poor me,” she mocked. “I have a government chip in my head and I can’t kill anything! Now I’ll just have to annoy my enemies to death by moping around constantly.”

“You’d know all about moping, wouldn’t you?’ Spike snapped back. “Ever since you came back from the dead it’s been one giant mood swing. I’m happy, I’m miserable, I want to kill you, I want to shag you.” He threw up his hands in a gesture of defeat. “Make up your mind already! Plenty of people, myself included, have come back from the dead without turning into a lunatic!”

“They’re vampires!” she shouted. “You’re a vampire! Not a person!”

Spike rolled his eyes. “You’re never gonna get over that, are you?”

“Get over what?” Buffy said, assuming her standard self-righteous pose. “You being evil?”

“Hey, you don’t see me still holding grudges.”

“What did I ever do to you?”

“You dropped an organ on me and broke my spine!”

“You hired an ancient order of assassins to kill me!”

“Um...excuse me?” The man behind the deli counter was hesitantly holding out a small wrapped package and a large red bottle.

Buffy forced a smile, embarrassed. “Oh, don’t mind us,” she said. “We just...um...”

“Escaped from a mental institution,” Spike finished. He took the food from the flustered employee and made his way down the next aisle.

Buffy caught up to him in the middle of a long row of cereal boxes. “Escaped from a mental institution?” she asked.

Spike raised an eyebrow at her. “You have a better explanation of us?”

Buffy sighed and grabbed a box of Cheerios.



Have to give credit to Frawley for suggesting a joke in a review at fanfiction.net. Thank you for a great idea! Hope you don’t mind...you know...the stealing of it.



Part Three

As Spike moved down the snack aisle, grabbed what seemed like one of everything, and casually pitched them into the shopping cart, she watched him.

He was disgusting, really. All hard angles and lines. He was so thin that when he leaned over his chest seemed concave, and his pants hung too low off his narrow hips. Every slight change in his moods or thoughts was disclosed in the too-visible bones of his expressive face. She could count every vein in his arms, arms which, she decided, while muscular, were very much definitely not sexy. They were stick-like, actually, and under the long rows of incandescent lights his long-dead skin was far too white.

Buffy turned away from him and caught a glimpse of her reflection in the dairy case at the end of the aisle. She hadn’t been sleeping or eating much lately, and it showed in her pale complexion and reedy frame.

Dammit.

She was distracted from her gloominess when a box of Saltines hit her in the head.

“Spike!” she shouted, spinning around to glare at him. “Do you have to find violence even in a grocery store?”

“Will you buy something already?” he snapped back. He held up a bag of Cheetos as if displaying them. “How ‘bout these? Damn good stuff.”

“Ew. Do you know how much fat those have in them?”

Spike grinned, opened the bag, and tossed a few fluorescent orange pieces in his mouth. “Vampires don’t gain weight,” he said, his mouth full. “Ha ha.”

Buffy’s face suddenly went slack with shock. She rushed to Spike’s side and spoke in a low voice. “What are you doing?”

“What?” Spike looked around, trying to see if there was someone else in the snack aisle who’d pissed her off. No such luck.

“You can’t do that!” she said in a loud whisper, gesturing at the bag in his hands.

“I can’t eat Cheetos?” he asked disbelievingly.

“You can’t open the chips until you pay for them!”

Spike growled and put his hands to his head, looking as if he’d just gotten zapped by the chip. Buffy took a step backwards as he recovered and leaned towards her, his eyes angry and his neck taut.

“Why don’t you just go nail yourself to a cross right now?” he shouted.

Buffy crossed her arms over her chest, refusing to be intimidated. “Oh, I’m sorry. Does my morality bother you?”

“No, your insanity bothers me.”

“Yeah, well....“ She pointed to the Cheetos, which he was still gripping tightly. “You‘re evil!”

“Is that the best you’ve got?” he said with a chuckle.

“Shut up.” She shoved past him and removed a bag of fat-free pretzels from the shelf.

He walked ahead of her and turned into the beverage aisle. She pushed the cart at a snail’s pace, in no hurry to catch up. Maybe if she moved incredibly slowly they could complete the rest of the shopping trip without having to be near each other. It was really the only way she could imagine the evening ending well.

It wasn’t that she didn’t have better insults. She had fabulous insults, tons of them, attacking everything from his masculinity to his hair. It was one of the few things in her short, angst-ridden life which she felt confident that she had a talent for. No matter how pathetic she got, even when she wasn’t getting along with her friends, even when she was so tired from working at that damned fast-food place that she didn’t feel like slaying, even when a vampire managed to stab in her the gut with her own stake, she could always insult Spike. It was her calling. It was her gift.

Well, that and the death.

But right now she couldn’t unleash any of her brilliant verbal abuse. Because he could leave.

Not leave as in leave; not that at all. She wasn’t so pathetic that she wept inwardly at the thought of Spike leaving town. As a matter of fact, it would make things simpler if he just did. She’d miss him, sure, but she was good at suffering, what with all the practice she’d gotten.

She was afraid that he would leave right then. Leave the grocery store. Just get angry and walk out, and then she’d be left standing with a cart full of food and a dollar in her pocket.

Now that would be sad.

When she finally made her way to the row of soda and juice, Spike was examining the shelves intently, his gaze steady even as she came up behind him, and he didn’t turn around as he spoke to her.

“So I have this radio in my crypt -”

“Which you stole from Xander,” she interrupted.

“And I can pick up a few halfway-decent stations,” he continued, ignoring her. “But sometimes the crap they play is just too much.” He frowned at the bottles before him and took a sideways step to explore more selections. “If I hear one more bloody Sugar Ray song, I’m going on a killing spree, chip or no chip. I don’t know who the hell listens to Sugar Ray and says, ‘This is great! We need to put this on heavy rotation!’ I thought I’d seen every sort of depravity on this twisted Earth, but a man who would do that is beyond me. And don’t even get me started on Creed.” He moved further down the aisle, his eyes still keenly searching. “If those Powers That Be you good guys all believe in had any sense, they’d zap every one of those bleeding Jesus rockers with lightning or what have you. I mean, what kind of god allows a band like Creed to exist? There’s the real big bad for you, Slayer. If good and evil were real, if it could all be nicely packaged and clearly defined like you think, there’d be none of that rot on the radio, and they’d play more System of a Down.” He spotted what he had been looking for and hefted the bottle into his hands.

“System of a what now?” Buffy asked.

Spike glanced over his shoulder with a disgusted expression on his face. “That’s it. I can never sleep with you again.” He held out the bottle. “Dawn likes this.”

Buffy took the container of CranApple Juice from him and frowned at it. “No she doesn’t.”

“Yes she does,” Spike said as he moved towards the beer cooler.

“No she doesn’t,” Buffy said, her voice firm. “I bought her apple juice a few weeks ago and she made a big deal about how much she hates it.”

Spike rolled his eyes along with his body as he turned to face her, giving her his standard head-down eyes-up you-are-so-stupid glare. “She hates apple. She likes CranApple.”

Oh god.

Buffy absentmindedly dropped the juice into the cart, where it crushed a bag of Tostitos.

She searched her mind for a memory of this, something that would make her nod and say, “Oh, right. Because that one time...” But there was nothing. All she could remember was a recent, vague, “You know I hate apple juice.” But at the time she hadn’t known that, about the apple juice. And now this other element, this Cran, and she didn’t remember at all.

But Spike did.

Oh god.

“You get sucked into an alternate reality or what?” Spike said, lifting a case of Rolling Rock into the cart. “Can you believe I actually drink this crap? Best damn beer I ever tasted was this Dominican stuff called Presidente, but you can’t get it in this lily-white town. I’d kill for some Presidente.” His eyes darkened. “Seriously. If I could, I’d kill some Dominicans and swipe their beer.”

“I didn’t know,” Buffy said weakly.

“Didn’t know what?”

“About the juice.” She stared down at it, thick and red and sloshing around in its container, like blood. “I can’t remember what she likes. Or maybe I never knew at all. But you knew.” When she looked up at him, her eyes were wet. “How did you know?”

Spike shrugged. “Five months of being the girl’s babysitter, I suppose.” He grabbed her arm, as if to yank her out of her mood. “’S no big, just juice. Come on.”

Buffy refused to budge, again focusing on the CranApple, which had stilled now in its plastic carton, looking almost solid. “What was she like, when I was gone?” she asked softly.

Spike’s mouth hardened with the threat of an uncomfortable conversation. “She was good,’ he said. “Not too much of the moping and rebellion that you’d expect after all she went through. She let the witches be her mommies, sat in on the Scooby meetings, didn’t go out too late with her friends.” He swallowed hard. “You would’a been proud of her. She was brave.” He released his grip on Buffy’s arm and began fiddling with a strap hanging off the front of the grocery cart. It took him a moment to realize what it was for. People put their babies here, tied them to the seat and rolled them around the store. Normal people, and when they stopped in the middle of this aisle, it was to wipe the kid’s nose and check out the Mountain Dew sale, not to discuss events that occurred while one of them was dead. He didn’t know whether to envy those people, or just wish he could bite them, listen to the panicked beating of their hearts and the mundane thoughts in their heads, the worries about diapers and car payments that still filled them, even as he drained them, even as he hated them. “’Cept for the first night.”

“The first night after I....”

And when normal people stood on opposite sides of this great squeaky metal contraption and talked, they probably made eye contact. Not like the two of them, who stared downward even as they stood so closely that she could’ve felt his breath on her skin, if he breathed, which most times, he didn’t. “I don’t know what happened, after,” he said. His voice sounded too even, as if he was trying to distance himself from the memories by playing the narrator. “It was daylight. I went home. Watched the sunlight on the crypt walls and tried not to think. So I don’t know where they went. The hospital maybe, with you. Or maybe they took her back to the house to patch her up. I never asked. But later that day she came to me.

“She was hurt. The cuts weren’t deep, but I could tell that it hurt. When she cried, she held her hands just over her stomach, barely touching the bandages, because it ached every time she took in a breath to sob. But that wasn’t the big hurt. Think it distracted her from the real pain, that surface pain. Kept her remembering that she had a body, that she was still alive, that she wasn’t just a big pile of empty space curled up on my bed crying like she might cough up all her insides.”

The hum of the dairy case at the far wall was like the crickets in the night. A few aisles down, a stock boy cracked open a package of food with a box cutter. The sounds of the Super Food World in daytime would’ve been a comfort. Chatting teenagers buying snacks or an overweight mother yelling at her kids to stop running would’ve shaken them both to reality, made them look up and remember where they were. But the night sounds weren’t enough to distract them, so they stood like statues between root beer and seltzer, their bodies still, their eyes down.

“You know how humans say things like, ‘Don’t worry; it’ll be okay’?” he continued. “Stupid comforting things like that. I wanted to say that to her, even if it meant nothing. Just say, ‘It’ll be okay.’ But I couldn’t. Because it wasn’t going to be okay. Not just because you were gone, though that was a big part of it. But also because she’d been kidnapped and tied to a metal pole and sliced open. Because the whole world got sliced open...but then it was fixed. Everything back to normal. Big battle over, and we were both still here. Both of us were ready to die that night. We expected it. But then it was over, and you were dead, but we weren’t. And the whole stupid world that should’ve ended kept going on. And no matter what happened, even if the pain got better over time, even if we killed all the monsters in the world, even if...even if you came back, nothing would ever be okay again.

“So I didn’t say anything. I just sat there next to her and she cried all night. Twelve hours at least, just crying, and I couldn’t say anything.

“That was the real tragedy I think. Not that you died, but that we lived and lived and didn’t say a word. I was at the house a bunch of days, watching over her while the others had their things to do, jobs, school. We watched TV and played cards and made fun of Xander’s hair and argued over what was the best type of juice, but we never really said anything. And she never cried again. I taught her how to play poker while we both just wanted to fall down on the floor and weep out strangled screams. Not because the world almost ended, but because it didn’t.”

Things had changed, Buffy realized. She’d come back, and everyone had put on their happy smiley faces and went back to normal, fallen back into their old habits of whiny little sister and undead stalker guy. But they hadn’t forgotten what it was like.

As they stood there, she imagined that Spike still felt like the failed protector, the tragic anti-hero.

And she still felt like a corpse.

“So that’s how I know about the CranApple.” He raised his head, cleared his throat, but kept his eyes away from her, focusing on the products at the end of the aisle. “You’ll need milk,” he said. “For the cereal.”

And he walked on without looking back.



“The Crucible”, mentioned in this section, is by Arthur Miller.



Part Four

He was like the radio.

He was like when you hear the first few notes of a song and you turn up the volume, but then you remember that you hate this song, and you feel stupid having just made it louder. Maybe you even nodded your head to the first few beats, or sung along with the opening line, and now you feel ashamed for enjoying it. If someone walked in, you’d have to explain what you were doing listening to that song, when that song so obviously sucks. Like him. If she was attracted to him, it was only because he was there, and because he’d been there in the past. Like the song you react to just because it’s familiar.

That was Spike, Buffy thought. Her own personal Sugar Ray.

She briefly considered telling him this, that he was a metaphorical Sugar Ray, because then he would probably kill her, and if she was dead she wouldn’t have to be standing in front of piles of sliced cheese in the Super Food World at one in the morning, feeling worthless and looking towards the future with dread.

Spike appeared at the cart beside her and set down a second case of beer. He watched her curiously as she continued standing motionlessly.

“You were supposed to be picking out cheese,” he told her.

“None of it is cheese,” she said weakly.

He glimpsed the dairy in front of them. “Looks like cheese to me, pet.”

“But it’s not. They all say ’Cheese Food’ or ’Cheese Product’. None of them just say ‘Cheese’.” Her chin wrinkled with the threat of tears, and she put her hand up to the side of her face. “How am I supposed to buy cheese when none of it is really cheese?”

Spike leaned past her and grabbed a package of American. “The amount of therapy you need boggles the mind.”

Buffy realized that she was rubbing her cheek now. “My jaw hurts,” she said sadly.

“Told you you didn’t have to if you didn’t want to,” Spike muttered as he rearranged their heaping cart to accommodate a few more items.

“What?” Her eyes leapt up to meet his. “Ew! No, not that.” Instantly uncomfortable, she looked down at her hands. “Besides, it’s been like four days since we did that.”

“’Bout time we got back to it, eh?” he suggested.

Buffy attempted her best menacing glare. “What happened to the promise not to shag me in the frozen food aisle?”

Spike’s smile seemed to take up half his face. “We’re not in the frozen food aisle yet.”

Buffy grabbed the cart, stormed around the corner, and turned into the frozen food aisle.

The pain in her jaw was more obvious now, but she knew it wasn’t caused by that. For one thing, she liked doing that. And then, after she did that to him, he’d do that to her, and then pain was the furthest thing from her mind.

She hadn’t gotten punched in the face recently, so there was really only one other explanation for why her jaw hurt.

“I think I’m grinding my teeth in my sleep,” she said when he caught up to her.

He stifled a growl and for a moment seemed like he was going to scream at her. She raised her chin, ready for both a verbal and physical assault. But instead of letting the insults and fists fly, he turned his body away and opened one of the large standing coolers.

“Grab something and let’s get the hell out of here,” he said, his voice a low rumble. “’Cause I’m sick to death of you.”

Funny how he could tell her she was stupid, ugly, crazy, worthless, a whining hero, a poor fighter, and a silly bint who can’t keep a man, and cheerfully describe her gruesome death repeatedly over the course of several years, and it didn’t even make her blink. But for some reason, as soon as he said “sick to death of you”, it felt like something heavy had fallen on her head.

She grabbed onto the side of the cart, her fingers curling around the thin lines of metal until they bent.

He noticed the small act of destruction and sighed so loudly that she was sure people throughout the store heard it. His put his hands to his temples, as if massaging out an agonizing thought, and then held them out towards her in a gesture of explanation.

“Buffy,” he said slowly and evenly. “You are driving me insane.”

She closed her eyes for a moment. In tenth grade she’d read The Crucible for her English class. Or rather, she’d read the Cliff Notes for The Crucible. She didn’t remember much of it, but just then one of the images from the book popped into her head.

There was a man who was crushed to death.

And not crushed to death in the expected way, where a car smashed against another car, or a house collapsed on him, or he got hit by a train.

They piled stones on top of him until it killed him.

She wondered if they were small stones, maybe not more than five or ten pounds each, so that the executioner could lift them. One wouldn’t hurt too much. Two would be manageable. But then, as they grew in number, as they piled higher, they slowly made his body compress, made his skeleton cave in and puncture his organs, and she wondered how slow the entire process had been, and how many it had taken to finish the job.

And she thought: My mother is dead. My father doesn’t want to see me. My sister doesn’t believe that I care about her. My friends are uncomfortable around me. People move out of the country just to get away from me. A third of the population of my town would like to see me dead. Everyone is sick to death of my moodiness. I can’t afford groceries.

She could feel her bones give in.

His face was calmer now, and his voice softer, though struggling to stay that way. “I get that you’re miserable,” he was saying. “We all are. Because we live in the world. But you’re taking this too far. You’ve got to snap out of it.”

“Snap out of it, right.” She lowered her head. “Why didn’t I just think of that? It’s so simple.”

“I’m not saying it’s simple -”

“That’s what it sounds like,” She was trying to sound angry, but her voice only came out shaken. “And everyone says it to me. Willow and Xander and Dawn keep fluttering around saying things like, ‘We just want you to be happy!’ Well maybe it would be easier to be happy if people weren’t always yelling at me about how I should be happy!”

“I’m not yelling!” Spike shouted. He stopped and his eyebrows knit together. “Wait a minute....”

“I don’t like being this way,” she continued. “And if it was easy for me to feel better, I would. But I can’t take people being mad at me because I’m unhappy. I can’t take that on top of everything else.”

“And no one’s trying to drive you crazier,” he argued. “Your friends are trying to help. You need to tell them what you need. You need to tell me-”

“Don’t make yourself out to be one of my friends,” she spat out. “You only make things worse! Always telling me to turn to the dark side or whatever.”

Spike clenched his jaw and folded his arms across his chest. “I seem to remember betraying my fellow demons and my entire nature. Was that not good enough for you?”

“Please, you’ve never shown any sort of remorse for anything-”

Spike signaled that he was done arguing by flinging open the door of the cooler in front of him and taking out bags of French fries. “Oh, I feel such guilt about all the sorry wankers I killed,” he said sarcastically. “How can I go on knowing what I’ve done, et cetera.”

“Very convincing,” Buffy said sharply.

“Look, Slayer, if you want me to be Angel, just put me in a dress and be done with it,” Spike said with a dismissive wave of his hand.

He moved to the next cooler, where he filled his arms with frozen pizzas. When he moved to the cart to put them down, he noticed that Buffy was biting down on her lower lip and her entire body was shaking.

“What?” he asked.

She exploded into laughter, the kind of laughter that ached in your lungs, filled your eyes with tears, and made your abdominal muscles sore.

“What?” he repeated.

“I....I....” She put her hand to her stomach and struggled to speak through her cackles. “I just imagined you in a dress. And then...” She doubled over, holding onto the side of the cart, though this time it wasn’t to destroy it, but to keep herself from toppling over. “I imagined Angel in a dress. And then I imagined you and Angel in big Victorian dresses with hoop skirts and corsets...” She burst into a fresh round of laughter and fell into a crouching position.

“I’m glad that me being a poof can bring you such joy,” Spike said.

Buffy looked up at him, her face flushed and covered with a rare smile. “It really does.”

Spike couldn’t help but smile back, though he quickly turned it into a disapproving glare. “Just don’t go getting any weird ideas now.” He grabbed the edge of the cart and yanked it forward. “Come on, let’s get out of here already.”

True to his word, he made her carry both cases of beer to his crypt. He was loaded down himself, yellow plastic bags billowing off his arms like he was some sort of pale leather butterfly.

“Didn’t you used to have a car?” she asked as they entered the cemetery and she shifted the two boxes to try and relieve some of the ache in her arms.

“Still do,” he replied. “It’s parked out in the woods.”

“So why couldn’t we drive it?”

“There’s the decomposing body of a Tropwen demon in the backseat.” He turned to meet her startled expression and shook his head. “You don’t want to know.”

When they reached his crypt, she stopped at the threshold as he entered and shook the plastic bags from his body. If she went inside, then that would mean that they were both inside. And it was his place, with his bed, and it smelled like him, and all of that was not good at all. Inside, things could happen.

So she handed him his beer without stepping inside, and only watched as he took off his jacket and began stacking the glass bottles in his refrigerator.



Part Five

Sometimes, in the moments between when a gasp of bliss poured from her mouth and when a look of guilt washed over her face, Spike pretended they were normal.

His mind always skipped the details. It was the details that tripped him up, that destroyed the entire fantasy. He couldn’t pretend that they were humans lying in a bed in a two-story house with a motion detector light over the garage, and he couldn’t pretend that they were vampires lying on the moist grass of a cemetery, drunk on blood and plotting their next kill . But it didn’t matter either way. Good or evil didn’t make that much of a difference to him; it never had.

So when she collapsed on top of him, he closed his eyes and pretended simply that they were normal, and that, in a moment, she wouldn’t be leaving.

It took Buffy’s brain a few minutes to be able to form coherent thoughts, as it always did after sex with him, but once she was lucid again, the thoughts came quickly. First, that she felt like a total slut for doing this right after he’d bought her groceries. Second, that it was really all his fault for taking off his jacket and having those arms. Third, that she was lying completely on top of him, with his hands at the small of her back, and her face against that delicious curve of his neck, and that in about five seconds, this would officially become a hug. And fourth, that she didn’t want to move.

I could be asleep, she thought. If I’m asleep, then it’s not a hug, it’s just an unconscious body that accidentally wrapped around another body, and that’s way less creepy then a hug.

She willed her breath to slow.

“Buffy?”

“Yeah?” Dammit. “I mean no. I mean, I’m asleep.”

His stomach shook slightly with a silent laugh. She decided that if he did something stupid like kiss her forehead, she would go completely insane and kill them both.

But maybe being awake was for the best. The milk would go bad if she didn’t get it home soon. And Dawn would freak if she woke up and the house was empty. And she had to get some sleep before tomorrow afternoon, when she had to work.

And also, she had to tell him something.

It had been a nagging feeling in her stomach for a while, and throughout their shopping trip she’d been forcing it to the back of her mind involuntarily. But it was too quiet now, and too dark, and some last vestige of rational thought told her that if she didn’t move, if she didn’t get up and run out the door, then she had to say it.

“Spike, I....”

She could sense the change in his facial expression without even raising her head. Maybe because he had about a thousand and one facial expressions, and at some point she must’ve memorized and cataloged them all. It was strange, because when he was all vamped-out, he just had the one expression - kill. But in his human semblance, the language seemed endless. It was funny, since she’d learned at some point in her jumbled slayer training that the vampface was the true face, and the human one the façade. Still, Spike as a demon looked like a caricature, while his other appearance seemed real.

The unseen expression he was wearing now was the one that could most fool her into thinking he was human. It was where he raised his eyebrows just slightly and opened his eyes a bit wider than usual, indicating that he thought she was about to say something, perhaps something not wounding or sarcastic for once, and that he was listening.

He better listen good, she thought. Because this is gonna be hard.

“”I...” she began again. “I want you to know that.....” Dammit.

“This spirit guide once told me that I was full of love. Which made me think that the spirit guide was full of crap, because really, when you think about it, I haven’t loved a lot of people.

“I never said it to Riley. A year together, with all we meant to each other, and I never said it. With Angel, it was different. I was all ‘love, love, love’ with him. But now I feel like I never even knew him.

“And then, when my mom died, I kept trying to remember the last time I told her I loved her. I’m sure I said it at some point, probably a bunch of times, but I can’t remember even a single instance, something where I could say, Yeah, that one time, after the Glablawhatever demon came to town, I was wearing that cute white shirt and I said, ‘I love you, mom.’

“Now, with Dawn, I try to say it a lot. But when I do, she looks at me like she doesn’t believe it. And why should she? It’s like a task to me. Like, do laundry, clean the stove, tell Dawn you love her. I have to remind myself. And it’s not supposed to be that way.

“Something’s wrong with me. Not just because I came back from the dead and I’m all depresso-girl and you can hit me. Something was wrong with me a long time ago.

“But not with you.

“I don’t mean that there’s nothing wrong with you. Because if I had the time, I could write a book titled ‘What’s Wrong with Spike, Volume One: A through F’. I mean, everything that’s bad, with us, it isn’t just because of you. Or even mostly because of you.

“I was over the whole vampire prejudice a long time ago, before I ever touched you. And as much as I might say it, the being-evil thing hasn’t been an issue for a while. Kitten-eating aside, you know you’re not evil.

“So I just wanted you to know.....”

Underground, time could stop. Light couldn’t reach here, so they had no way of knowing whether or not daytime had arrived. Even the air was different in the lower level of his crypt. Without windows, it was stale with memories, and completely still, like the bodies of two people trying not to feel each other even as they lay connected at every corner of their flesh.

“If I was capable of it... If I wasn’t so massively screwed-up.....” She pressed her lips together and drew in a long breath through her nose, taking in the scent of his neck. “If I was a different person, I could love you.”

She waited for the facial expression and accompanying comment. It would either be the nasty-smirk “Hit the nail on the head there with the massively screwed-up part, love.”, or the clenched-jaw-glare “Why don’t you go then; just get out of here.”, or the puppy-dog “But you can love me.” The first two were standard, expected. The last one would bring about a wave of pain that could drown her. She realized that she was holding her breath, waiting to see whether she would need to run away or fall to pieces, or, more likely, both.

“And if you were a different person, I wouldn’t love you,” he said finally. His arms moved from her lower back to encircle her, one cool hand resting on each of her shoulder blades, and he leaned his face against the top of her head, his mouth brushing against her hair and, oddly enough, not inspiring thoughts of murder-suicide. “So if nothing else, we can at least appreciate the irony.”

Her breaths were shallow, and to anyone watching, they would’ve looked like corpses, piled on top of each other in the depths of the cemetery.

She closed her eyes, and pretended to be sleeping.



Special thanks to my husband for coming up with the scanner part. When you read it, you’ll know why I married him.



Part Six

Though Spike would probably never admit it to her, he loved Buffy most when she was punching him in the face.

Since she’d come back, the strength that he’d fallen for had dissipated. When she fought with him now, in their tainted foreplay, she didn’t have her heart in it. Sometimes, nights when they were snogging on a chair in his crypt and her hands were anxiously tugging at his clothing, he considered pulling away from her, vamping out, and shouting, “The chip stopped working! I’m gonna kill all your friends! Mwahahaha!” Then the anger that he craved would rise up in her eyes, and she would be Buffy again, radiating lethal confidence with every blow, her body pure destruction, emanating the heady scent of power, going for the kill. And when they’d beaten each other for so long that their joints ached, and she landed on top of him, those slender legs pinning him to the ground, and she held a stake over his chest, he could sigh happily, smile, and say, “Just kidding, love.”

If he wasn’t sure that this scenario would end in a dusty Spike, he would’ve tried it long ago.

As they walked carrying armfuls of groceries towards her house, he noticed that she seemed better. While she wasn’t exactly skipping and whistling, the dark cloud that hung over her face constantly had cleared, if only a little bit. He would’ve liked to think that it had something to do with him, but it didn’t. She didn’t need him to buy her food. If he hadn’t been there, she still would’ve found a way. That’s what she did: face the impossible and emerge from it with a smile and a witty remark. Lately it hadn’t been easy for her, but she still did it. And it comforted him to think he was incidental in the process; that without him, she’d still be fine.

He looked over at her and imagined that he didn’t exist, and the hint of contentment that danced on her face was only, purely Buffy.

She was beautiful when she didn’t need him.

The silence that swirled between them with the early-morning wind was the most comfortable it had ever been. Without a discussion, they’d reached some sort of agreement, perhaps the first workable truce of their relationship, though neither of them could explain exactly what it was. The tension that usually filled their time together was almost unnoticeable. It had all become routine.

Normal people enjoy when life is mundane. It makes them feel accepted. It makes them feel safe.

But it made Spike feel itchy.

“Do you know why I love you?” he said bluntly.

He thought he heard a sigh and waited for her to break into the popular refrain of we-can-never-be-together-you-have-to-leave-me-alone. But instead, the edges of her mouth twitched with a hint of humor and she said flatly, “Because you’re stupid?”

Spike considered this for a moment, and then grinned. “Yep.”

When they reached the back door of Buffy’s house, he placed the groceries down in the entranceway, cursing under his breath as he struggled to free his wrist from the handles of one of the many plastic bags. Buffy switched on the light and walked inside.

“Be seeing you then.”

She turned to see Spike stepping backwards down the rear stairs.

Through the open door it was like two unlikely pictures lined up next to each other. One a bright kitchen, with its wide open spaces, yet walls and corners crammed with knick-knacks. The hallway was like an artery that led to the heart, promising warmth in its inner sanctum. But outside he stood at the threshold of a tar pit, the night so black behind him that the trees were invisible even as they rustled in the breeze, even as the horizon became tinged by the color of blood.

She wondered if the cliché was true: that the night was its darkest in the moments before the sun broke through, and then, in an instant, things could slowly begin to turn around, slowly become less frightening and more familiar.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

He pointed upwards. “Ya’ know...sunrise, fire, painful horrible death.”

“You could come in.”

She’d expected the head-tilt wide-eyed puppy-dog look that she’d gotten so accustomed to lately, but instead was confronted by the raised-eyebrows deep-glare I’m-trying-to-see-into-your-soul expression that could only be remedied by a good old-fashioned face-punching.

“Why?” he asked suspiciously.

“Cause...” She clasped her hands in front of her. “Just ’cause.”

The eyebrows went higher.

“I’m gonna punch you in the face,” she threatened.

“I’m gonna like it,” he immediately retorted. The gaze remained. “Why?”

She rolled her head back and sighed loudly. “I dunno. I guess because you bought me food and it seems rude not to give you some. Or....because you have a relationship with my sister, and I’d hate to deny her a male role model, no matter how incredibly weird he is.” She met his eyes, which were still in evil-soul-crushing mode, and she broke into a pout. “Or because I hate cooking.”

“I am not cooking,” Spike said as he entered and closed the door behind him.

“Come on,” Buffy prodded. “It’s easy.”

He leapt onto the counter top and sat there defiantly. “If it’s so easy, then why don’t you do it?”

“Because it’s hard,” she whined.

As the blinds became lit with daylight, Buffy put away the groceries, ignoring Spike’s presence until he went to light a cigarette and she sprayed him in the face with her new bottle of Lysol.

“Bitch,” he muttered.

Buffy picked up the box of pancake mix and studied it. “Okay, so we need milk, water, eggs, okay, got all that.” She frowned at the directions. “And a tablespoon of oil.” She looked up at him. “What does that mean?”

“It means a tablespoon of oil, bitch.”

“I mean, what kind of oil?” She opened one of the cupboards. “I have vegetable oil. But I think we just bought olive oil too.” Her face darkened. “What if it means peanut oil? I don’t have any peanut oil.”

Spike groaned and snatched the box from her. “I know you were only in college for about three minutes, but you might have learned something.”

“Guess I was too busy with stupid vampires chained up in bathtubs.”

He glanced up from the box and smiled wickedly. “You know -”

“Death!” she warned.

He returned to the pancakes, but not before licking his lips in a way that made her cross her arms over her chest defensively. “Two cups of mix,” he read, as he reached into one of the cabinets and took out a plastic drinking cup.

“No, you need a measuring cup, genius.”

“Fine then. Where’s your measuring cup?”

“I have no idea,” she moaned. She put her hand to her forehead and leaned against the counter. “It’s too bad that parenting doesn’t involve any roundhouse kicks. ’Cause I’m really good at those.”

“And I’ve got the loose teeth to prove it.” Spike tore open the top of the box in one motion. “This cup’ll have to do.” He turned the box upside down, scowled when nothing emerged, and banged it with the heel of his hand. In an instant the countertop was covered in light brown powder, none of which had managed to fall into the cup.

With a shrug of defeat, Spike tossed the box aside, which spread the remainder of its contents over the floor.

“I make pretty good toast,” Buffy suggested.

There was the soft sound of footsteps, and then Dawn appeared in the doorway. In the haze of sleep she looked younger than she really was, certainly younger than the lipstick-laden girl they’d rescued from teenage vampires not long ago. Her eyes seemed bigger when they were free from make-up, innocent almost, and Buffy wondered if she herself had ever had eyes like that.

“Hey,” Dawn said through a yawn. She noticed Spike and her big eyes widened in both shock and appreciation. “Hey, Spike. What are you doing here? Did you guys patrol all night?”

“No, we went grocery shopping all night,” Buffy told her.

“Even scarier.” Dawn took a step towards the counter and noticed the powder that met with her fuzzy blue slippers.

“We were trying to make you pancakes,” Buffy explained. “But we kinda -”

“Suck,” Spike finished for her.

Buffy nodded. “We suck.”

A smile spread over Dawn’s face as she gazed down at the messy linoleum. “Thank you,” she said softly. When she looked up, the grin was even bigger. “Thank you for trying anyway. I’ll be fine with just the famous Buffy toast.” She moved around them and towards the refrigerator. “Oh, and maybe some chocolate milk.”

“Special Buffy breakfast coming up,” she said, dropping two slices of bread into the toaster. “And I can put anything you want on it. Peanut butter, raspberry jelly -”

“Pig’s blood,” Spike suggested.

“Vampire dust,” Buffy quickly added.

“Oh my god!” Dawn shouted, and Buffy turned just in time to be nearly tackled by her sister’s hug.

“You remembered the juice I like!” Dawn squealed. “Thank you so much!”

“Oh,” Buffy said. “Well, actually -” She was cut off when a large boot connected with her calf.

Spike smirked, ducked out of the range of her fists, and settled back atop the counter.

Dawn released her grip on her sister and poured herself a tall glass of the juice, grinning widely. “This is turning into a good morning so far. CranApple, toast, you two not killing each other.” She sat on a stool to enjoy her drink and wait for the rest of breakfast. “So how was the supermarket?”

“It was good,” Buffy replied. She took a plate from the cupboard. “Though there was this one tense moment when the checkout scanner interfered with the chip in Spike’s head.”

Dawn’s mouth fell open in shock. “Something went wrong with Spike’s chip?”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Buffy assured her as she handed her the toast and a jar of peanut butter. “I mean, yeah, the scanner messed it up, but instead of turning him evil, it turned him gay.”

“What?” Dawn said.

“What?” Spike repeated. He leapt down off the counter and looked back and forth at both girls. “What are you talking about? I did not turn gay!”

Buffy put her hand to her mouth, but couldn’t stop the giggles from breaking through.

“You bitch!” Spike shouted at her. He spun around to face Dawn. “I did not turn gay!”

“It’s okay, Spike,” Dawn said with mock sympathy even as her own laughter bubbled to the surface. “We’re very accepting of alternative lifestyles in this house.”

“I don’t have an alternative lifestyle!” The veins in his neck bulged as he tossed off his jacket and assumed a fighting stance in front of Buffy, who was still chuckling into her palm. “That’s it. You and me. Fight to the death.”

“Can’t,” Buffy gasped out. “Laughing too hard.”

Dawn finished her toast as Buffy tried to calm herself down. But every time her smiling eyes met with Spike’s evil glare, she collapsed into a new fit of giggles.

“Can you believe it?” Dawn asked Spike. “Buffy actually made a joke. Next thing you know she’ll be sleeping at night and smiling more than once a day.”

Dawn’s observation made Buffy’s humor fade quickly. “Dawnie...”

“What?” She slid off the stool and deposited her plate in the sink. “I’m not complaining.”

Buffy reached out and gently stroked a lock of her sister’s thick hair. “I’m sorry....for how I’ve been. And I know I’m not gonna suddenly miraculously be the queen of happiness, but -”

“But it’s getting better,” Dawn said softly. “I know.” She walked to the doorway and turned around to look at both of them, and somehow, in her slippers, t-shirt, and blue pajama bottoms with rubber duckies on them, she managed to almost look like an adult. “Don’t worry; it’ll be okay.”

Buffy looked down at her hands. The dryness she’d noticed earlier had gotten worse, as she’d feared, but only a bit at the knuckles, leaving specks of hardened blood in the crevices of her skin. She hadn’t bought any lotion, and her shift at the Doublemeat Palace today would only serve to further damage the fresh wounds.

She heard the shower turn on upstairs, and the shuffle of movement beside her as Spike took a step closer.

“I have to get some sleep,” she said without looking up. “Gotta work later.”

“Right then.”

And Buffy wondered if maybe Faith was right. That there was no intimacy even in an act as personal as sex. That being naked physically was separate from being naked emotionally. That two bodies could bang together for hours on end and then move away from each other as if they’d never touched. That kisses and whispers and fluids could pass between them and yet pass on nothing beyond their tangible presence.

Because when his fingers brushed against hers, so lightly and so quickly that for a moment she wasn’t sure it had actually happened, and yet left a tingling on her flesh, as if she could look down and see marks on her skin where that touch had just been (a thin line on her forefinger, a slightly shorter one on the next finger, and just a faint spot on the inside of her pinkie), and made her thick, chapped skin seem exceptionally soft in its reception of the sensation, it made her feel closer to him, even as he moved towards the door and stood there tentatively, ready to duck and bolt into the burning day.

She kept her gaze on her hands. “In two weeks when I get paid again I’ll be okay with buying groceries.”

Her eyes felt suddenly heavy. Earlier that night she had lied down in bed, nearly panicked in her desire to find rest, but they’d refused to close. And though she knew that her face appeared young, she imagined that her eyes were a hundred years older than the rest of her. She looked up at the demon in her kitchen and saw the same.

“Of course, it just won’t be the same without the innuendos, insults, and dragging up of painful memories,” she said.

“See you at the Super Food World then,” Spike said.

Buffy nodded. And when the smoking form disappeared into the trees at the edge of her backyard, she walked up to her bedroom and fell asleep.

The End