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Bring It On Home

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Banner by double_dutchess

Early October 2004

 

Spike had been spending a lot of time reflecting on the past that day.

It had begun around the time he’d finally managed to board the plane; that was a challenge in itself, what with all the dodging of stray limbs, tentacles, and unknown bodily fluids from the demons all around him, together with all the usual fuss that getting on a plane means. Still, he was glad to find it in the first place, since the vague “I know a guy” that Betta George had given him hadn’t really convinced him; but he’d come through after all, and so there he was, vampire with a soul surrounded by a horde of mostly friendly demons, sitting in a low-cost airplane and flying to the other side of the pond. That was when he started reflecting, yes, and just while the demon next to him sneezed over his precious coat — at least he hoped that had been only a sneeze — he was thinking about the Sunnydale sign, his old De Soto smashing it down, his Big Bad attitude all shiny, back then, when he’d stepped foot in the crazy little town for the first time. Ah, the glory days , he thought, while growling the sneezing demon away from him.

And then the plane landed, and he was surrounded by yet more annoyingly loud and lumbering demons, and he had to pay for a taxi to get him to the city from the airport. While sitting there, he thought about his second arrival at Sunnydale — still as much property damage, quite less style. But he thought about those days as mostly good days, while paying the grumpy taxi driver a ridiculous amount of money between fare and tip; good days when he didn’t have to pay for any damn thing he wanted, thank you very much. If you forgot about the deaths and rapes and horrors on his hands, really, that’d been a bloody cruise of a life.

After that, he stopped with the reflections, because Betta George’s assurances about that part of the trip had been even less convincing — “I know a guy who knows a guy” — and he needed his full wits to find the right, demon-friendly train to get him to Edinburgh from London. Thankfully, he managed it, and the train ride was mostly peaceful — if you could ignore the roars and growls that passed for snoring from the other sunlight-allergic demons he shared the coach with. At that point though, he started reflecting again, and quite a lot at that; it wouldn’t do for him to start thinking about the present, or worse, while moving towards Edinburgh and a certain blonde lady currently living around there, in a train under the sunlight for a good portion of the ten-hour trip. Strange, suicidal thoughts might come to mind, and his past of sinful deeds was a sweet balm compared to any thoughts about his present and near-future situation.

His past was what kept his mind occupied even when he did arrive in the city, and started meandering about it. He told himself he was just taking advantage of the night to walk back through places he hadn't been to in far too long; told himself that if he went into what was clearly a 24-hour bar it was out of curiosity, not out of stalling; told himself, after several beers, that he was just enjoying the feel of the city. In the end though, he could feel dawn just a couple of hours away and finally got out of there: he pummelled down his inner coward, got on a cab, and left the city.

And now here he was, in a little bit of a town close to Edinburgh, in a dark alley right next to a pub, just a few minutes from dawn, doing what he did best: getting beaten to death.

Good luck I’m already dead. Heh.

That unhappy joke died before he could say it out loud, though, since one of the merry gang of demons he was facing punched him right between his shoulder blades, knocking the breath out of him; the one in front of him didn’t waste a second to grab him by the hair, scrape his face through the floor’s dirt and send him crashing against one of the alley’s walls, to the chortling laughs of his two companions.

Just like that time the Initiative got me , he barely had the time to think, while he lightly shook his head, trying to get rid of the birdies flying around it. Except now I’m a white hat, so things have to go my way, right?

The memory of Los Angeles in hell hit him, his failures and the deaths and pain of so many he’d wanted to protect like a well-aimed punch to his gut. He finally shook himself off the daze — just in time to dodge one of the three demons and let him crash to the wall instead of against him. 

Right.

He roared away any remaining wish to keep on reminiscing on the past and headbutted the demon now approaching him. It was a tall, lanky guy, his greenish arms too high to protect him from the bleached headbutt, and Spike heard him utter a satisfying oomph of pain right before he fell to the ground. Spike didn’t stop his advancing motion and used it to roll fluidly to his side, so he was ready to use his arm as a support and double-kick the third demon under his flabby chin, sending him tumbling towards the first one, who was trying to get up, leaning on the wall. The demon he’d just kicked was kind enough to let go of the knife in his hand, so Spike took it, and in one slashing motion he plunged it in Tall and Lanky’s throat. The vampire growled in triumph, telling himself that he did not at all care about the dark green-black blood the demon had just splattered his face and hand with, no matter how much they stank, and he slashed the knife back out of the demon’s throat in a violent movement.

He turned around just in time to be punched in the face by Flabby Chin, but again he rolled with it, and he used the momentum of his body to let the knife in his hand cut the demon in front of him. He gave a bark of a laugh through the pain of his broken nose, remembering all the times a much prettier enemy had used her small, powerful hand to smash it, and turned back to the growling, bleeding demon with a crazy grin. He feinted, making the demon offer his flank to him, and then jabbed his knife in his stomach; Flabby Chin gave out a choking gasp of pain, and Spike felt the sudden desire to make him pay for dragging his face through the floor’s dirt. But he only shook his head and used the knife to cut the demon’s flabby throat and end the fight.

He raised his head at that point, his chest heaving, letting his crazy grin show again, and looked straight in the third demon’s eyes. They were wide and scared, and the fellow seemed to be undecided between trembling to death then and there and making a run for it.

“Just between you and me, mate… this ain’t the right town to be on the evil side.”

The demon’s whole body jerked at his voice, and he mumbled something to the effect of ‘rugged vampires’ under his breath; then he seemed to shake himself, make a decision, and he fled out of the alley, towards the country outside of town.

Spike almost considered going after him, but he could feel the skin on the back of his neck crawling with discomfort: dawn was very nearly there, and it would take him a couple of minutes to run to the hotel where he’d left his stuff. He shook off his demon face and gave one wistful look at the nearby pub; then he muttered a curse against stupid evil demons and started jogging towards the hotel. He’d had a long day after all, he deserved some sleep.

And besides, there’s still years worth of memories to revisit. Anything to avoid thinking about her, and this, and my stupid idea of getting here in the first place.

But even as he thought that, he couldn’t help but hope he’d see her at every turn of the road, and have his hopes crushed every time. He got to the hotel just when the sky was bright and the sunlight threatened to reach him in another minute. He managed to sneak past the guy at the reception desk without letting him see the green blood all over himself and got to his room. There, he was sorely tempted to just crash down on the bed, but his conscience forced him to take a shower and clean up before that; he muttered the whole time, against souls and consciences and stupid blond girls who led stupid masochistic vampires to make stupid bloody decisions. By the time he got to bed, he was so exhausted that he hardly had to do any reflecting at all before falling asleep. Unfortunately, his brain found that thoughts of bright green eyes and joining fiery hands were sleep-appropriate, and he dreamed of them throughout the whole night.

 

*

 

Spike came to slowly at first, with a weird feeling in his gut, until his eyes snapped open to look at his surroundings. The bedside table was barely visible in the dark, as was the rest of the hotel room. He briefly considered the benefits of high-tailing it out of there, back to LA and the safety of annoying Angel and toasting to the past with a floating, resplendent fish. He rubbed his face, shook his head slightly and then got up from the small bed. The weird feeling in his gut had now become a flashing red light of I’m going to fuck this up warning, but he ignored it and stubbornly put on his clothes, and finally grabbed the room’s keys to leave the place. Sod all warnings, he was gonna put things right and he was gonna do it tonight. 

Right after a pint , he thought, changing his course to lead him to the little pub he’d fought by that morning. Or maybe two. Yeah, two drinks of liquid courage, that’s just what I need — no whiskey though, or I’ll get nothing done.

The door to the pub rang a bell when he opened it, and he breathed in a full whiff as he stepped inside: alcohol, sweat, and deadly slayer scents surrounded him, making his senses tingle in tension for a fight.

Right.

He ordered a tall glass of beer, chose a little table in the back, and started nursing his drink. His thoughts, by now fully in the present, were jumbled by the slayer scents around him — slayer, slayers, prey, hunters, fight . His gut was screaming at him to get drunk, get back to the hotel and never show his mug around here again; he frowned at his midsection, trying to stare those feelings off.

Sod all that. I’m gonna stay, and I’m gonna find her, and I’m gonna explain myself. Offer my help for anything she needs. Ask her why she hasn’t contacted me, if she damn knew I was alive... and possibly get staked for that, yeah, brilliant idea. No, not that, but I’m gonna stay and I’m gonna find her, I am, and if she doesn’t want anything to do with me then I’ll just move on, just as the fish said, and it’s gonna be fine... it’s all gonna be fine...

He ended up lightly thumping his forehead against the tall glass, self-pity at his pathetic state warring with his body’s undercurrent of tension to fight. In the end, he chugged down the rest of the beer, got another one, and sat down again at the table, scowling at the wall and its uninspiring wooden tiles.

Just one more... one more drink and I’ll go find her. I will.

The scowling went on for quite a bit more — although of course he wasn’t brooding, because that was Peaches’s job, not his. Still, somehow the Scottish ale was tasty rather than useful as liquid courage, and soon enough he was scowling at the wood-covered wall with his third beer in his hands. He hadn’t even gotten half of it down when someone tapped him on the shoulder and he turned a wary eye to the barman, who was offering him a glass of whiskey.

“Didn’t really order that, mate. Think you got the wrong person.”

“It’s on the lady.”

“What lady?” he asked, the feeling in his gut roaring up again.

“The lady in the hat,” the barman answered with the annoyance of one forced to state the overly-obvious, and after almost forcing the glass in his hands, he strode off back to his bar. Spike was left with a new object to scowl at, but only for a second.

“Haven’t thanked you for the world-savage yet, right?”

Spike felt a twinge in his chest, and for a second, he could swear he’d almost felt his heart beat again. He turned and looked at her: there she was in all her sports jumper-and-hat glory, leaning on his little table opposite him, and he couldn’t even speak. She’d had to have sneaked there while he was talking, and his muddled senses hadn’t picked her up. But now there she was, looking at him, and suddenly all the scowling in the world felt very stupid, when he could have spent that time looking at her instead.

“Well, here it is. Thank you, in whiskey form,” she said, gesturing to the glass in his hands. “Welcome to the hero club. We don’t have t-shirts yet, but I’m sure Andrew could fix one for you real quick!”

Her light tone contrasted with her strained expression, and he managed to tear his eyes away from hers for a second to look at the rest of her. Her clothes were stained with dirt and what was most likely blood of some kind, and she was leaning her weight on the table; she was clearly exhausted, and definitely not dressed for a social outing.

He cleared his throat and gathered all his strength to force himself not to whisper her name like a lost puppy.

“Want to sit down, pet? You look a mite tired,” he managed to say instead, his voice only marginally choked.

At her put-off expression, he realised that probably didn’t sound flattering, and he grimaced slightly just as she climbed on the stool and sat, giving a bit of a huff. His gut took that moment to give him the very bad feeling that his every interaction with her was going to be awkward at best, right down cringy at worst. He really started thinking he’d made a mistake.

“Yeah, it’s good to see you too, Spike, lovely of you to make a call and visit right after you came back to this plane of existence. Oh, wait... not really, I guess.”

He set his jaw in a firmer grimace, and his gaze lowered to her hands, folding on the table. Why oh why did I do this?

“Yeah, uhm... about that...”

That hung in the air for a few silent seconds, and then her voice broke his jumbled thoughts, impatience and annoyance and something else he couldn’t quite name yet lacing her words.

“What, let me guess. There were no phones in Los Angeles, you were too busy living your own life, you couldn’t spare a second for your friends all over here, you didn’t have time for a phone call. It makes sense, really.”

By the end of it he could name what was lacing her words all right, and that was sarcasm, her old weapon of choice for non-slayable foes; but his brain had stopped at one word in particular, and he seemed to have stopped hearing anything after that.

“Friends?”

He was looking up at her eyes at that point, her beautiful eyes, and she was the one who lowered her gaze to her hands. He had just the time to feel a pang at that, because Christ, he had missed those eyes.

“Well, yeah, maybe. I mean, yes. Yes, all right? Friends, I think I could have used that term at some point, but then you went and got resurrected and didn’t say a word of it, and so maybe the word’s not so appropriate after all, is it? So, I don’t know. I thought so, but I don’t know, and sorry for thinking such a horrible thing of you, OK?”

By the end of her little monologue she’d gotten all incensed, and her eyes were on his again, all righteous fury and deep irritation, and Christ, he had really missed those eyes.

“I meant... friends, as in plural?” He asked with a much quieter tone than hers. She had the grace to look taken aback, at least, but he wasn’t so sure he was happy about it. Fury really looked good on her. “I thought, maybe you, but... well... yeah. Just didn’t think anyone else of your Scooby lot ever saw me quite that way, yeah?”

Comprehension dawned on her and her eyes softened, understanding and cautious all of a sudden. He had the feeling he could look at her, at her eyes, for days on end and be a happy vamp. She seemed to be carefully thinking about her words, and that almost more than her cautious eyes told him she’d done some growing of her own.

“Maybe... maybe back then, Spike. But after your sacrifice...” There her eyes went again, hidden ‘neath her full lashes, going in hiding to look at her hands... I even think like a pillock now, ’fuck’s sake! “After that, you were pretty much considered a hero by everyone. Even Xander,” and at that she looked at him again, a smile finally gracing her lips, “it took me a while to make him admit it, but even he said you were cool.”

“He did, did he?” He was smirking then, because why the hell not, she was looking at him and she was smiling at him and life was beautiful again, sod all his plans of moving on, they were stupid anyway.

“Well, not in so many words. And he may not have used the word ‘cool’ at all, more like, ‘not bad’.” She wrinkled her nose while looking up and his heart could just start beating again. “Basically, he stopped insulting your name every time it came up, but coming from him, that’s high praise, really.”

“That it is, yeah,” he answered with a smile and look at him, not even a minute of contemplation of her face before his answer, he was all smooth grace, he was going to be perfectly good at this...

“We’ve missed you. I mean, Dawn’s missed you, and I haven’t had the heart to tell her about you being actually alive, what with you being all secretive about it and me not wanting to ruin it for you till you were ready to come out with it, and really, what made you finally finally make up your mind and be a normalish person and come here to say hi?”

He sat, and he looked at her, and his brain just refused to work. ‘We’ve missed you’? Well, good riddance to being good at this. 

“Well that is, if you’re even here to say hi. Which I guess I’m not really sure about, since I’ve approached you and all and not the other way around, but really, what else could you be doing here in the middle of nowhere, Scotland?” She’d worked herself up to quite a bit of nervous energy by then, her hands wringing and her eyes going all over the place but on his own. “I mean that’d be such a coincidence it really seems unlikely and hey, look at me rambling! Any thought of helping me out here, hero to hero?” She finally did look at him, an embarrassed smile in her eyes, and he was sure his heart was one gaze away from beating and beating right out of his chest.

A few seconds passed, his stunned gaze on her increasingly embarrassed one, and he finally said farewell to any pretence of smoothness.

“Uhm... yeah. Thanks for that, Bu— uhm, slayer.” Her name would have been too sweet on his lips; he was good and buggered. “I’ll... I guess I’ll tell her myself. Dawn, I mean,” he added, probably uselessly. Who else might have really been that interested in his tale? And speaking of... “About that. How’d you get to know about... uhm,” he looked down, trying to hide the shame he suddenly felt at his stupid choice, “about me being back with the unlivin’ an’ all?”

“Please,” she huffed, a small eye roll making his breath hitch, “as if you could stop the capital-S-Slayer from knowing about the fate of one of the two souled vampires on this planet.” He just raised his brow at that and she shrugged slightly. “I asked around, kicked some asses, got my answer. I have a feeling Dawn actually suspects something, she’s seen me change and how I just stopped answering questions about... well... anyway, I think she has a feeling about it.” She frowned and shot him a glare from narrowed lids. “Which means she’s definitely gonna be pissed about it when she sees you. That is, even more pissed than I was, when I discovered it.”

He kept staring at her for a while, his brain going over and over her words, unable to pick a topic over the other. Dawn was angry, Buffy had been upset about his death and then was angry about him being alive, they’d missed him, she’d missed him, she knew about him being alive... he burned to ask her why she hadn’t contacted him, but even he understood that would end up worse for him than anything else. He finally settled on a question that might bring him marginally less grief.

“Why didn’t you tell her, then?” She looked at him with what was unmistakably irritation and he rushed to add, “you said she’s probably figured it out anyway, why not share it at that point? Make it a whole sister-bonding moment and all? That’d have been good for you...”

The more he went on, the more he saw from her expression that he was probably getting it very, very wrong, and that this question wouldn’t avoid any grief at all.

“Ah, yes, sister bonding.” Her smile was bitter and she looked to the side. “Right, because we’re all with the bonding, me and Dawn...” He decided to give her time to elaborate and after a few seconds and a rueful sigh, she did. “You’ve been missing out on some stuff, including my continued inability to have a decent relationship with my little sister. What did you think,” she added after a beat, “that we’d just forget and forgive all that happened between us and be all chummier than ever?” She laughed lightly and shook her head. “No can do.”

He felt the sudden urge to take her hand, touch her arm, do anything to comfort her, but he restrained himself to just looking at her with what he hoped wasn’t too pathetic an expression.

“Slayer...”

Whatever he was going to say got interrupted by a beep coming from her and she set her jaw and brought up a phone to her ear.

“Found them?” A beat. “Yeah. Yeah. Good. I actually have backup, so no, they can sit this one out. What do you care what backup,” she added standing up with a grimace and making a gesture at him to follow her, “mind your own damn business!” She smiled while saying that though, which made Spike a jealous, jealous bloke. “Yeah, see ya later, bye.” She almost started walking to the exit but then she turned back to look at him, her brows lifted. “Well? Do you need a written invitation?”

Spike just stared at her for a couple of seconds, then he shook himself and got up to follow her out. Maybe this could be an opportunity to make up, if just slightly, for all the times he wasn’t there, being too busy wallowing in self-pity in LA... he glanced at her, striding forward to their unknown location, her face set in an unforgiving expression for whatever nasty was out there waiting for her wrath.

Yeah, right.

Chapter Text

 

A few weeks earlier

 

Spike drank his beer in silence, looking at the mix-matched crowd that filled the little pub around him. The place was right peculiar, with its thirteen wooden pillars, thirteen wooden tables scattered around the place in a random pattern, and low ceiling with some slowly-spinning fans. And that was without even considering the presence of the odd demon here and there.

He took another long drag of his beer, deeply enjoying it. Apparently, the pub was an homage to another one in Chicago, and the beer came from there. The jukebox in the corner, with its old-fashioned music playing softly in the background, while not exactly complementing the Irish look of the place, was excellent for his current bad mood.

“Thank Christ for Chicago beer,” he muttered, his gaze returning to the glass of excellent brew in his hand, trying to ignore his sense of self-pity for his attitude.

“Well, aren't you having the time of your unlife. Look out, you might give me a headache with all the cheer in your head!”

Spike sighed, sending a long-suffering look to the violet-coloured fish floating right above a nearby chair.

“Didn’t ask you to come by, fish.”

“Well, not in so many words you didn’t. But your constant moping is like a cry for help —”

“Go away.”

“— and seriously, what kinda friend would I be if I didn’t stick around in the moment of —”

“Go. Away.”

“— need.”

Betta George, telepathic fish extraordinaire, moved to float above the chair opposite him at his table. Spike made a brief effort to glare him away, but after a few seconds he just shook his head and went back to scowling at the pub in general.

“So,” the fish started, sounding hesitant in his thoughts. “It’s Buffy again.”

“Don’t really like minding your own business, do you?”

“Nah, not really. You know me, always in the thick of things, always proactive and ready for action — when it comes to non-dangerous action, of course.”

Spike glared at him some more from above the rim of his glass.

“You’ve forgotten what I’m capable of? Think I’m not the dangerous type?”

Somehow, even though he had no shoulders to speak of, Spike got the impression that Betta George was shrugging.

“Very dangerous, yes, just not for your mates.”

Spike resolutely ignored the little spark of good feeling he got from knowing he did have a friend in the fish, and just drank some more.

“See, that’s exactly what I mean. Now tell me about this blonde angel of yours.”

“You ever gonna get out of my head, fish?”

“Of course not, I’m a telepath, not to mention a fish. This is the only way I can communicate with you, and pal, you are in dire need of communicating with someone. Now spill, I don’t have all night.”

Spike grumbled some more, but then he ended up discovering he actually didn’t mind letting some of his thoughts off his chest. He hadn’t really talked about any of this in such a long time, he didn’t know where to start. So of course, he started by telling George about how he’d met the slayer, about his ridiculous threats and how she and Joyce had sent him scurrying away. And talking about Buffy, he soon found out that saying her name caused a curious pang of pleasure-pain in his chest; he refrained from doing it for the rest of the night.

He went on to tell his friend the fish about random moments of interactions with her, mostly about those moments when she more or less spectacularly kicked his ass; he even briefly mentioned how she managed to thoroughly kick his ass even while she was sleeping with him. George soon stopped asking too many questions, and beer after beer, Spike found that talking about her made him feel alive like he hadn’t for a long time… like he hadn’t, in fact, since he’d been sure he’d meet her in Rome with Angel.

“So there I was, right, trying to ignore the Poof’s presence and his stupid useless quest because she was right there , and what do we discover? She’s goin’ out with the bloody Immortal, is what! He and his sodding good looks and his sodding big house in his sodding Rome and —”

“Wait, wait, stop right there. Rome? She was with the Immortal in Rome?”

“Yeah, will you keep up? Peaches and I had to go there because of —”

“Yeah, you said that. I’d just assumed you’d started talking about another time when you two were in Scotland, where you thought you’d meet Buffy.”

“Scotland?” Spike blinked at the fish floating in front of him and got the weird feeling of missing out on something about his own memories. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Well…”

Spike narrowed his eyes at George, who was now decidedly squirming in the air above the chair opposite him.

“George… is there anything I should know?”

“Uhm, right, well…” George seemed to squirm even more and his eyes kept shifting away from Spike. The vampire just leaned over the table, set his arms on it, and stared in silence at the fish, trying to convey just how close he was getting to being dangerous even with his friends. “Yes. Uhm. I mentioned Scotland, because I know for a fact that Buffy and her slayer army moved there soon after the apocalypse you prevented — and hey, did I ever thank you for that? Because that definitely needs a thorough thanking —” Spike growled, but this isn’t what we’re talking about, you’re right. So, uhm, I just know that Buffy’s been staying in Scotland, and hasn’t been in Rome, and certainly hasn’t had any time to start a relationship with anyone there, mortal or immortal.”

Spike just blinked at him, uncomprehending. That hadn’t been her?

“How’d you know that, then?”

“I know a guy who knows a guy.”

Spike let his breath go slowly, between gritted teeth.

“Well, your guy was wrong. Or the other one. Whatever, I know that she was there. I could feel her.”

“Really? Was that a creature-of-the-night-heightened-senses kind of feeling, or a more average I-want-to-see-her-so-much-I-convince-myself-she’s-there kind of feeling?”

Spike just stared at him, perfectly still.

“Because the guy my guy knows, well, he’s a bit of a fan of that slayer army she’s got. His children were saved by them, all the way there in Edinburgh, and he’s been keeping tabs on them ever since, so that he might someday repay the favour. So, you know… I trust the source, is what I’m saying.”

Spike remained perfectly still some more. Then he took a slow, slow breath, and exhaled it between still-gritted teeth.

“Andrew, you little piece of crap…”

He shook his head slowly, his fists closing more strongly every second. He couldn’t wrap his head around how much of an idiot he’d been, blindly believing the little nerd like a fool. And that line he’d given him and Angel about Buffy loving both of them… as if Buffy could really love him.

“OK, Spike, come on, don’t be like that. I actually think you and her might still be able to work it out, if one of you just dropped this stupid pride act and contacted the other.”

“You clearly don’t get it, you stupid grill-head. She’s last seen me as a glorious, self-sacrificing hero, and what am I now? A pathetic excuse for a vamp, can’t even move on with my non-existent life, couldn’t offer her a thing.”

“Well, yeah, the fact that you haven’t made a single step in any direction either to move on or to go find her is a bit crazy.”

Spike snorted. He didn’t want to think about it and so he mostly never did; but sometimes he couldn’t ignore the thought that there he was, wasting his unlife without direction nor meaning, all because he felt lost without her.

“You know, you did have some meaning in a certain city sent to hell. And you did help save a certain fish’s life, not to mention many other less resplendent beings along the way.”

Spike just shook his head slightly, staring at the wall behind George; that might have been true, but it didn’t change the way he felt , this lack of knowledge about his own purpose on this planet.

“Oh no, mister, let’s not go from love crisis to existential crisis, I’ve told you I haven’t got all night. And besides, all this still doesn’t explain why you two couldn’t just talk. You know. Like normal people do, instead of staying an ocean away from each other and pretending not to know about one another’s existence.”

“I can’t just appear in her life out of nowhere!”

“First, there is such a thing as phones and phone calls. Even letters would be better than this radio silence. Weren’t you two friends, by the end?”

“Well, yeah, maybe, but —”

“Second, why the hell not? Why the hell not just go there, and say one of your how-do-you-dos or whatever it is you Brits say to greet each other, and just see if you can be friends, or something else, or nothing at all?”

Spike just shook his head, exasperated.

“You just don’t get it, you moron.”

“No, I don’t, but you’re not exactly making it clear either. And I’m sure she expects you to pop up any time she’s gonna be in really dire need, but I just don’t understand why she wouldn’t want to contact you before then, either. Maybe she’s got even more damage than you, when it comes to personal relationships…”

Spike started scoffing at that, when a sudden thought struck him and made him go perfectly still, again. Because suddenly, he asked himself whether his friend was talking about her like that not out of ignorance, but out of knowledge.

“Wait a second. You keep saying that.” He narrowed his eyes again, this time leaning in much closer to the Splenden Beast’s eyes. “You keep saying you don’t understand why she doesn’t contact me, while it should be perfectly obvious.” His voice got very low and very steady, and he let his body go completely immobile, except for his mouth. “And that should be obvious, because she thinks I’m still dead. Doesn’t she?”

Betta George just stared back at him, his large, purple eyes wide and steady and just a tad scared.

“Doesn’t she, Betta George?”

A beat.

“Uhm…”

Spike let go a low, low growl, and the fish jerked a few centimetres back away from him.

Betta George ?”

“Yes, uhm, well,” George stuttered, and then visibly composed himself and started looking anywhere but at Spike. “You see, man, I thought you already knew. I mean, I don’t really go and poke all the way through your head to read all your thoughts, and I got distracted besides, so yeah, uhm.”

The two friends just stared at each other for a few long seconds, wide and scared violet into narrow, neutral blue.

“Sorry?”

Spike blinked, exactly once, unable to shake off his neutral expression. This couldn’t be possible.

“That can’t be possible. You’re wrong.”

“I’m not.”

“You are.”

“I’m telling you, I’m not. I’ve asked around, and it turns out someone ’s been asking around about you , and that someone is her.”

Spike just stared.

“And this didn’t exactly happen yesterday, either. She’s known for quite a while, which is why I’d just assumed you knew.”

“You’re wrong,” Spike insisted, shaking his head, but he could hear the strain of uncertainty in his own voice. “You’re wrong, because if she’d known all this time, why wouldn’t she have contacted me?”

“Well...” started George cautiously, “why haven’t you contacted her ?”

Spike just stared at the fish, unseeing. Abruptly, he got up from the table and went to the bar counter; George called after him, but he just ignored the alien thoughts in his head. A few seconds later he was already sitting back down at the table, a shiny new bottle and glass in his hands. He filled the glass of the amber-coloured whiskey, drank it down in one go, then filled another one. Only after the second glass was down did he manage to look back into his friend’s huge eyes.

“I think I fucked up.”

“No kidding.”

“She must think I’m an idiot.”

“No way.”

“She must think I don’t care enough to see her.”

“I don’t think she would have survived this far, if she were that stupid.”

“Christ… what am I going to do?” He drank down another glass, the whiskey’s flavour filling his nose and finally making his thoughts a slight bit less clear. He would certainly need more to get even remotely sloshed enough, but this was a good start. “If I go to her now, she’ll hate me, because she knows I’ve ignored her for so long. If I don’t, it’ll just be worse when there’s eventually gonna be a horrible apocalypse she’ll need any help for, and I’ll go to her anyway.” He put his head in his hands, and closed his eyes. “What ’m I gonna do?”

“Spike, look… I’m sorry I’ve dumped this on you out of nowhere. But you know, you don’t need to figure it all out now. And besides, it’s not like you strictly owe her anything.”

He raised his head and just looked at him incredulously.

“I mean, you were friends, so yeah, it would’ve been the decent thing to do to contact her when you came back among the living. Or unliving, anyway. Thing is, yes, you should have contacted her, but it’s not like you actually owe it to her.” Spike just kept staring at him like he was crazy, because he was clearly talking like it.

“The last thing she told me was that she loved me.” He faintly noticed that his voice was dull, unfeeling. He was looking in the direction of George’s eyes, but he hardly saw them widen; his mind was mostly elsewhere, right at that moment. “Of course, that wasn’t true, and she just said it because I was dying, but… still.” He shrugged lightly, the action itself dull as well. “She must hate me now.”

“Well.” He could feel George’s uneasy stare on him, and he felt even more stupid, if possible. “That makes it worse. Like, a ton worse. You’re not coming off very well from this picture, you know.”

Spike snorted lightly, because really, that had to be the understatement of the year.

“But hey, if you think about it, this isn’t much worse than what you thought before. If she didn’t know now, she would still end up knowing someday. If you think about it, it’s even better, because her rage must have simmered off in the meantime. Yay?”

Spike briefly thought about her rage, and a sigh escaped his lips. Magnificent.

“And besides, this doesn’t change one important thing: you’re your own man, Spike.” At that, Spike’s snort was very heartfelt and not at all dull-sounding. “I’m serious. Look at what you managed in LA, all the grief you went through and got past. All the people you saved. I know we went back and erased all that happened, but people haven’t forgotten you. So yeah, you get a crappy, faulty car, but the thought’s what matters.” George leaned closer to Spike, and he could see himself reflected in one of the fish’s big eyes. “You’re a hero, Buffy or no Buffy, Angel or no Angel. Stop thinking that you need her, or him, to define yourself.”

Spike didn’t say anything to that, because what the hell could he have said? He was speechless, and he had no idea what to do next. George’s words sounded soothing but didn’t change the fact that Buffy Summers probably hated him by now. Or that he was, in fact, directionless.

“Stop thinking stuff like that, it won’t get you anywhere. Just think about what your life is like now, and where you want to go next.” George then made a sound quite close to a sniff. “And next time we talk, at least offer me a drink. All this talk, and not even something to dull the edge… ungrateful vamp.”

Spike shook his head at him, still unable to find the words to answer him. 

“I wasn’t kidding when I said I didn’t have all night, I gotta go now. Next time I psychoanalyse you, see that you have at least a drink to thank me for the effort.”

Spike just stared at him dully while George floated past him towards the pub’s door, but he felt one last thought of encouragement coming from the fish’s mind to his before he left the place. He didn’t stop staring at the place where George had been floating for a while; his brain seemed congealed, unable to think of anything even remotely resembling sense. Slowly, a little part of him let him know that being psychoanalysed by a telepathic fish was, in fact, somewhat ridiculous; not only that, it was like a slap in the face. A wet, violet-coloured, fin-like slap in the face. Betta George was right: he was his own man, and it was about damn time he started acting like it.

He snorted and shook his head at his own thoughts; he sipped slowly at his drink, letting it slosh in his mouth before gulping it down.

He wasn’t really his own man and he knew it. He hadn’t been for a long time... hell, make that more like, ever. First his mother, then Cecily, Drusilla, Buffy... and now, in a different way, Angel. He didn’t even have the heart to scoff at the thought: it was true, pathetically true, and after George’s little spiel he felt incapable of ignoring that reality anymore. Every time he tried to move out of someone else’s shadow, he felt aimless and lost. 

Kind of like right now. 

There had been moments, years even, during his life with the Scourge and then later on while he travelled with Drusilla, when he’d felt gloriously independent from anything and anyone, even her. Those moments usually had to do with mayhem and violence: moments when he’d felt like he’d been on top of the bloody world, sod everyone else, and Dru’s love had been the cherry to top it all off, because he’d deserved her and her wicked, insane love; because he’d deserved his place at the top of the world.

He thought of the thrill of his first dance with a slayer; the dangerous and delicious sense of dread and delight at fighting for his life, against a foe whose very purpose was to slay his kind. His victory had left him drunk with pleasure — much to Drusilla’s delight — and feeling like he was ready to face off against the whole world, like he was finally where he belonged: victorious over the bloody remains of his enemy, his lady ready to worship him right there and then, with sex and blood and violence.

He wanted to feel nauseous at the thought, wanted to feel only regret at his horrible actions. But what he really felt was regret at not being able to be so certain of his place in the world anymore.

He shook his head and grimaced, disgusted with himself. What was wrong with him, wishing he was back to his soulless, pathetic self? The truth was that he’d been deluding himself if he’d thought he’d found his place, and would just not let go of his delusions. Not when Dru crawled back to Angelus like a bad, sick puppy, not when she left him for a sodding chaos demon , not when he couldn’t stop himself from becoming the Slayer’s (at times literal) whipping boy… he’d only been deluding himself, and he was deluding himself if he thought he could find a place in the world right now.

Like hell, I’m ‘my own man’. Sodding doomed to be someone else’s lapdog.

He downed the rest of his drink, disgust on his face, and rose from the table. He took the bottle with him, since that last turn down memory lane made it necessary to get properly and thoroughly sloshed later in the night; but for right now, he needed some violence. He left the pub in a hurry, slamming the door behind him, and started prowling the night for a good fight.

 

*

 

Now

 

The more they walked, the more uncomfortable Spike felt around her. He sighed wistfully, thinking back on a time when walking beside her during their patrols was as natural as drinking… and then shook his head slightly to himself, a bitter smile on his lips. Truth was, it had never actually been that much natural, if not for a few exceptions during their tryst and then, later, during the last months in Sunnyhell. Truth was, he was embellishing his own memories, ’cause life next to Buffy? Rarely could be described with the adjective ‘natural’.

“So… having second thoughts already?”

He started a bit, surprised at finding her looking at him sideways.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, look at you, all with the head-shaking, and put-up sighing, and general not-talking. Are you having second thoughts about coming to say hi, already? Or did you just want a touch-and-go moment, and this call to duty is a bit too much?”

He could hear her aiming for a careless and light tone but failing around a thousand miles from it.

“No, I… well, yes, I’m having second thoughts. More like hundredth thoughts, but not about coming here.” To his utmost chagrin, his gaze had dropped to the ground while he answered her, and his feet were almost shuffling in his steps. What a prick.

“Whatever about, then?” she asked, while her gaze focused on their surroundings; they were reaching the edge of town by now, and he could see that their path led straight to the woods surrounding it.

“You know about what.”

She sighed, exasperated, and he felt like he could punch himself for how much of a prick he was being.

“You know what, Spike, it’s late. I haven’t slept soundly in God knows how much, I’ve just had a long fight, and am probably gonna have another long fight in a few minutes too, so I’m just tired. You either talk to me or you don’t, just pick one thing and stick to it. But,” she added right as he opened his mouth to answer, “I would appreciate it if you could avoid any dramatic exit before the very long battle.” She looked at him then, without slowing her brisk pace, and her gaze was firm and closed. “I told Xander I had backup, so no one is coming along to lend a hand. Try not to disappear without a word when you’re needed.” The final ‘this time’ was left unsaid, but he could feel it hanging in the air.

And well, wasn’t that a right punch to the gut.

He swallowed hard, nodded once, and looked down in shame. She didn’t add a word, just walked a tad more quickly, and his gaze was drawn to her slight limp. She hadn’t been exaggerating, from the look of things: her clothes were dirty, a bit ragged here and there, and if he inhaled deeply, he could smell a bit of dried blood on her.

“What are we fighting exactly and how did they get you to be tired?”

She nodded curtly, her own way of accepting the subject change, and he felt a moment of relief. Another delay for the ultimate breakdown. Bloody grand.

“It’s a bunch of Grox’lar beasts, they seem to have formed a community in Scotland, and are meeting up before moving to Edinburgh. Well,” she added with a satisfied smirk, “ were planning to move to Edinburgh. I’m pretty sure we’ll find a way to change their minds.”

Spike smirked as well, trying very hard not to turn into a puddle of goo at hearing her say ‘we’ like a twelve-year-old in love for the first time.

“Good news is that they aren’t too smart, since they met up here, right next to Slayer-central. Bad news is that they have a taste for babies’ heads and there’s several of them; I had a bit of trouble fighting four of them and another demon before meeting with you. By the way,” she looked at him with a very sarcastic expression, “thank you so much for leaving that guy to go around and kill again, last night. How very sweet of you to not do my job for me, I was touched.”

“Oh, so that’s how you didn’t seem surprised to see me in the pub.” She nodded at him, and he continued, a bit more sheepishly. “Dawn was coming. Not your sister, the slightly deadlier dawn… although, you know, I’m still a bit scared of your little sister too.” She let out a soft laugh and he thought he might burst with pride at the sound.

“I get the feel. Anyway, these baby-eating monsters aren’t the greatest fighters, but it was a five-against-one affair, and I got a bad hit to the knee almost immediately.” She grimaced, rolled her shoulders, and lowered her voice. “And we’re almost there, so make with the vamp-stealth from here on.”

He just raised his brows at that and decided not to mention that her slight limp was much noisier than his boots on the forest leaves. He wasn’t looking for a fight with her that much.

“There’s gonna be a few of them, although I’m not sure on the number,” she whispered. They were walking cautiously now and Buffy had been using the light of her phone for the past few minutes, to find her way through the trees. She finally stopped, and he could see a cabin a few feet away, through the trees; the occupants didn’t seem too concerned with secrecy, what with the light that could be seen through the windows. “So, here’s the plan. I go from the front and you bring up the rear; see if there’s any other entrance in the back. If not, just burst through some window.”

“Maximum property damage to the big, baby-eating demons, huh?”

She grimaced and shook her head. “More like, unexpected point of entry for their second enemy; might give you a slight advantage.” He nodded and she finally looked back at him, and in the dim light of the night and her phone and the faraway lights from the cabin, her eyes were dark and wide on his; his throat closed, and he had to crush the sudden urge to kiss her. “You have ten seconds and then I’ll enter from the front. Try not to wait more than a few seconds before entering after me.” He nodded again, absently, and it seemed like not looking at her lips was the strongest feat he’d ever mastered. She almost seemed hesitant for a second, then smirked a bit. “Any time tonight would be good.”

He nodded again, sheepish, and finally managed to turn from her; if his eyes had stopped for a second on her lips, he really couldn’t blame himself so much.

(He did anyway. Didn’t he come here so he could move the hell on? Fat chance of that.)

He shook his head while he silently ran through the trees and reached the back of the cabin. There, he found a door and stalked to it, listening for signs of the Slayer entering the cabin from the front; in just a few seconds, the sounds of crashes and violent thumps from inside reached him, and he ripped the door from its hinges. He found himself inside a backroom and the sudden olfactory onslaught made him stagger for a second: the small room was full of dead bodies, the scent of human blood a loving punch in the nose for his vampire senses. That moment of hesitation cost him when another, much more substantial punch had him fly out the door the next second: there had been a Gox’lar in the backroom, and he’d been stupid enough to be completely blindsided by it. The beast roared and came after him and Spike roared right back at it, and in his rage, his fist went right through the beast’s chest, making it shudder and gurgle in the night. Spike shrugged it off of him, rushed back into the room, and suddenly felt like going back out there and tearing the beast to bloody pieces.

There were four bodies in the room: a man, a woman, and two headless babies. Tears threatened to fill his eyes, and a rush of hunger made his face vamp out. He roared, disgusted at the Grox’lars and at himself, and teared off the door that led to the rest of the cabin.

There had to be around ten demons in the spacious room, at least three of them already down. His roar had made the nearest two turn towards him, so he didn’t waste time throwing himself at one of the two, rage and horror and hunger making his fists squelch in the monster’s face. The other one yelled at him and kicked him off the demon, whose horned head thudded listlessly to the ground; before he could hit Spike, though, the vampire was already kicking him in the stomach with both legs, sending him away from himself.

He immediately went after him and punched his face in as well. Two more hurtled against him from behind, but again, in a handful of seconds he found his fists going right through their thick hides, his throat emitting an almost uninterrupted roar at his foes. He shrugged their corpses off himself before launching himself against another o, going to pummel his chest and ugly mug with punches; he could feel the beast’s blood spraying his face and torso but he didn’t care, his demon high on the violence and the smell of blood, his soul horrified and disgusted with his revolting reaction at seeing the headless babies.

“Spike!”

He stopped abruptly, trembling, and found himself on his knees with a Gox’lar corpse between his legs, its head a mess of dark green blood and broken, jagged bones. He could dimly feel that some of the blood on his hands was his own.

“Spike, that’s enough.”

The smell wouldn’t leave his nostrils. He could still see those bodies, that part of him wanting to go there and suck on those headless throats. He shuddered, and wished he had something to throw up.

“Right.”

He stood and carefully avoided Buffy’s eyes, turning towards the backroom and placing himself between it and her.

“You don’t wanna go there, Slayer. The cabin owners had two babies.”

He didn’t see her reaction but could imagine it well enough.

“Oh, God… I hoped we could avoid this. I’ll go inside and we’ll —”

“No, I’ll take care of it.”

“Spike, you shouldn’t —”

“I said no.” He didn’t have the strength to turn to her and look at her, not when he couldn’t push back his vamp face, not when he felt like she could see the hunger in his eyes. “There’s stairs there, you should check that there’s no more beasties hiding upstairs. There’s probably bedrooms, bring down some blankets, and I’ll at least cover the bodies.”

She didn’t say anything, and he fought the urge to yell at her or do something else equally stupid. After a few seconds he heard her walk up the stairs, and then he entered the backroom.

The father had his eyes open, his face locked in a mask of horror. He bent down and closed them, refusing to breathe.

He looked at the two headless babies, who had been clearly thrown to the ground without care. His demon urged him to do things he wished he’d never been capable of, and he mentally stamped on it. He took the babies one after the other and put them down behind the mother, so that Buffy wouldn’t be able to see them from the room entrance.

She arrived a moment later and he stood up and turned to her, finally managing to push back his vamp face. She had a look of worried horror in her eyes and a pile of blankets in her arms, and he took them from her.

“All right. How’s the police in this corner of the world? Savvy to this sort of thing? Can we just tell them what happened here, or should we bury the bodies ourselves and then make our traces disappear?”

“The police are… well, yeah, ‘savvy’ is a good enough word. I think it’d be better to just call them and see if they can find any family for them.” She looked like she could throw up and he thought that maybe the blood smell in the room was strong enough for her human nose as well.

“All right. Get out of here, Slayer, and call the police; I’m just gonna cover the bodies with the blankets and then I’ll come out too, we’ll wait together.”

She looked in his eyes and he couldn’t tell what she was thinking; he looked down, but could still feel her eyes on his face. In that moment, he felt like any hope he’d had of ever deserving to be next to her was dead, killed by the demon inside him that saw two headless babies and thought: food.

“You shouldn’t do this alone.” Her voice was incomprehensibly gentle.

“You shouldn’t do this, period. I’ve seen worse, Slayer. Just wait outside.” She didn’t move. “Please,” he added in a tired whisper, finally seeing her relax slightly.

She nodded and left the room, and then he could hear her use her phone to call the police. He stopped himself from breathing in and proceeded to move the bodies in what could pass for a respectful position. He scoffed at the thought but still moved them to lie down on the floor instead of crumpled in the corner, with the two babies between the parents, covering them with three blankets. He felt the sudden urge to pray, but then remembered the demon that was inside him, so he just stood and left the room in silence.

Buffy was outside, leaning on the cabin wall, her phone in her hand; she didn’t turn to him when he went to lean next to her.

“The police will be here soon.”

He just grunted in acknowledgment and wondered briefly if he could just scamper off. What was he doing here, anyway? How could he think he’d ever be able to be his own man, when he wasn’t even a man?

“Thank you. For helping me.”

He grunted again.

Buffy snorted lightly at that point, and he almost felt like smirking at her impatience. “Come on, Spike, talk to me. What was with the sudden rage fit?” He looked at her, bewildered, and she rushed to add, “I mean, besides the obvious. Don’t get me wrong, I was and am furious too, but you seemed… a bit out of it.”

She looked worried, and again he felt that same hopelessness come over him, making his shoulders slump. What am I doing? he wondered, his eyes fixed on hers. Am I here to just crawl after her all over again? Didn’t I want to be my own… whatever the hell I am?

She must have seen some of that despair in his gaze, because she seemed to become even more worried. She stood away from the wall and grasped his arm.

“Spike, talk to me.” He just looked at her hand on his arm, feeling like hugging her and never letting go. He was so buggered. “Please,” she added in a whisper.

Spike trembled and jerked his arm away from her touch, moving a couple of steps to her side. He felt like he had to make a decision: was he tired of trailing after impossible ideals, of giving himself false hope after false hope? He couldn’t be a hero, and he couldn’t be a man; he could just be himself, and had to deal with what that meant.

“When I first opened that door, you know what I felt, before realising there was a demon in the room, before anything else? The smell. I smelled the blood, Slayer, and you know what that felt like?” He realised he was still trembling, but he turned and stared at her for a second, before his gaze went down to her side. Apparently, he’d made the decision, because he continued in a hard tone, “It smelled fucking delicious . When I went into that room and saw those babies, their throats open and bled out, part of me wanted to eat. To fucking gorge on that horror.” He faintly realised that his whole body was shaking at that point, and he found the strength to look up at her eyes for a second. The horror and disgust in her face seemed to give him the strength to go on, while making him want to cower in a corner at the same time. “This is what I am, not a hero. So, you were wondering why I didn’t want to show my mug around when I came back? This is the reason. Cause the way you saw me go, on the Hellmouth?” He shook his head, a rueful chuckle leaving his lips, and turned from her. “That was a hero’s death, all right. A bloody revelation of a moment. Finally, finally , I was my own man. It made sense, and I could be the big damn hero of the story, not just a crying puppy of a demon. And then, how could I top that? How could I possibly show my face around you lot, after that?” He was pacing by then, still looking away from her, because now her horror could only have sent him running. “This is what I am, though, Slayer. Not that. That was a hero, dying to save the world…” his voice became a whisper, and he stopped pacing, looking at the ground. “And this is me. A guy who’ll literally start drooling at the sight of…” he didn’t have the heart to finish that sentence, and he angrily swiped at a tear. “So yeah. I stayed the fuck away, ’cause God knows I couldn’t live with you knowing about my sorry existence, and wanted you to have this heroic image of me.” He gave a breathless chuckle, feeling the shaking subside to a mere tremble. “I’m just pathetic like that, I guess.”

He didn’t know what she was thinking, and he couldn’t find the strength to look at her. In the next few seconds, he heard police sirens approach, and then policemen were filling the clearing in front of the cabin, and he felt torn between wanting to thank whatever deity had spared him her answer and wanting to crucify them all over again for postponing that moment.

A policewoman approached them and Buffy immediately took matters in her own hands; he still couldn’t look at her, but she must have collected herself from the disgust she’d been feeling, since her voice was firm and professional when she explained the situation in the cabin to the police.

After a few moments, he started to slink away, taking his pack of cigarettes from his pockets; while he was bringing one to his lips though, a hand grasped his arm and he looked up in alarm at Buffy’s eyes. She was looking at him in her most imperious and firm gaze and he felt like crashing to his knees in front of her.

“We’re not done, Spike. Don’t go.” He swallowed; she gripped his arm more strongly. “Don’t, or I’ll find you and before talking, I’ll kick your ass and tie you to a chair.” He just nodded numbly at her, until after a second she nodded back and let him go.

He went to the far corner of the cabin and smoked his cigarette, trying very hard — and very likely utterly failing — to look somewhat less pathetic than he felt. At some point, some police people went and asked him for his version of the story; he answered truthfully, omitting the gory details, and feeling Buffy’s stare on him the whole time. The police thanked him for his cooperation and help, and he managed not to laugh or cry in their faces; master of self-control, that was him.

Soon enough, Buffy was told they could clear the premises, so she moved towards him and they left together, a good metre of distance between them. Considering how he was thinking that nothing short of an ocean between them could bring him some semblance of comfort again, he figured he was doing all right with settling for a fourth cigarette.

“Come stay with us, Spike.”

The invite came out of nowhere, after several minutes of tense silence, and Spike almost dropped his fifth cigarette to the ground. She just kept on walking while he stumbled around, slowing down a bit after her, seemingly oblivious to his shock.

“I know you mustn’t have great memories of living cramped in between lots of slayers, and we’ve definitely increased the numbers a lot by now, but it’s gotta be better than whatever hotel you’re holed up into.” He finally caught up with her, starting to feel like he could punch her in the face if she kept on being this callous. “Besides, Dawn misses you, and you should seriously start grovelling if you want to minimise her anger.” He opened his mouth to tell her to gently fuck off if she meant to keep ignoring his bloody soul-opening to her, but then it clicked. He stopped walking completely.

“You’ve got to be shitting me.” Buffy stopped too but didn’t turn right away and he went on, raising his voice slightly. “Oh no, Slayer, you don’t get to do this.” She turned at that point, a look of anger in her eyes. “Don’t you fucking dare to try this. I lay bare my sodding soul to you, and you don’t get to sodding ignore it and pretend like nothing’s bloody happened, just because you don’t like the fucking sound of it!” He was trying very hard not to openly shout at her by then, and could see the anger in her eyes grow with each of his words.

“I. Have. A. Name.” She said, between gritted teeth. He was taken aback at that, and she went on. “And I’ll have you know, it’s somewhat pleasant to hear it said by the people you care about, instead of being called by my ‘sodding’ title.” She tried to mimic his accent too, and between that and the meaning of her words, he was left completely speechless. “But aside from that, you know what, Spike? As I’ve mentioned before, I’m tired . So you’re gonna come with me to the castle, talk to my sister and my friends, and I’ll go to sleep and get some rest, and then I’ll have this conversation with you. Because just for a change, I’m a bit too busy being the one saving people and playing at being the mature adult to get some sleep, and I can’t anymore, I’m tired, so is it too much to ask you for a day, after you’ve made me wait for over a year ?!”

By the end of that she was, indeed, shouting. He felt sudden shame, but apparently his brain-to-mouth filter decided this was a good time to misfire.

“‘Being the mature adult’? What, because you think this is me being an immature child, here?”

“Yes, actually, Spike, I do! You’re being emotional and needy, just like a freaking child!”

For a second, he thought he could see regret in her eyes at having said that. But he decided he didn’t care and walked right past her, not adding a word. That was what she thought of him, after all, wasn’t it? No need to stay around and burden her with his childish thoughts.

“Spike, wait…”

She came after him, and he took ferocious pleasure in thinking that for once, it was her trailing after him, not the other way around. He scoffed and walked faster.

“Spike! I’m sorry, all right, wait!”

He actually growled at that but turned around to stare at her.

“Oh, you’re sorry , then that’s all right, yeah? It’s just Spike , it’s not like his feelings bloody count anyway, right?”

“That’s not what I mean! Argh!” She threw her arms up in the air, and he really, powerfully wanted to punch her in the face right at that moment. How dare she, after what he’d just told her… “Why do you have to make this harder! I just asked for one day, one day , after you made me wait for so long without a fucking word…”

“Oh, right, one day, because telling me you’re disgusted with me has to wait for the right moment!”

“I’m not!” she yelled at him, and his eyes flared at her blatant lie. “I’m not disgusted with you!” she insisted, and when he jerked away from her, she clasped his hand in hers, making him inhale forcefully in shock. “Spike, I’m not disgusted with you. I’m angry with you.” He tried to jerk his hand away, but she gripped it harder. “I’m angry because I thought we had something, something important, and instead you didn’t even feel it necessary to mention your being alive, let alone come to say hi.” He stopped trying to move away, but her grip didn’t weaken on his hand. “I’m angry, because you come back and you don’t even say my name. You come back, and you don’t even apologise for your disappearance, as if I had no right to you contacting me.” His eyes widened, and suddenly he realised that no, he hadn’t apologised. What kind of git was he?

“Buffy…”

“And I’m angry, because when you finally do turn up, you not only fail to apologise, but you also do this , at the end of an endless and horrible day. Agh!” she exclaimed, throwing her arms up again, but without leaving his hand. “You know me, damn it! I’m no good with words, especially emotional words! Why do you think Dawn and I are still having so many issues?” She shook her head, and he was at a loss of words. He started realising that maybe, maybe , he was the one in the wrong here. Good thinking there, mate. “So, please, Spike… please. Give me one night to sleep on it, one morning to think about… about everything. Please.”

She was still gripping his hand hard, her eyes bright; he looked at her, and the more he looked, the more he could see how really tired she was. His mental assessment of him being in the wrong in this particular conversation quickly went from ‘maybe’ to ‘absolutely’.

“All right, Sla… all right, Buffy. All right.” She gave him a tiny, shaky smile, and after a second, finally let his hand go. Even though his fingers felt close to being crushed after all that tight gripping, he still grimaced at the absence. They started walking, still with some distance between them, but considerably less tension.

“And don’t think of staying at the hotel. You’d just use the excuse to disappear again and then I’d probably only see you at the next apocalypse or something.”

He shook his head at her, the ghost of a smile on his lips.

“Don’t think I’d manage it at this point, pet.” He’d given up his hero image already, after all, hadn’t he?

“Still,” she said with a sidelong glance at him, “I’m not taking chances.”

So that was how they both went to his hotel to let him wash the green blood off himself and collect his few things, pay the clerk, and then started for her castle. Once it came into view, he realised that hadn’t been an exaggeration: the thing was huge, old like old things in Europe could be, and the closer he got, the stronger feeling of danger he got. Slayer central, indeed.

She gestured at the massive thing and threw him an exhausted smile.

“Home sweet home.”

Chapter Text

A couple of weeks earlier

 

Spike shook the dust off his coat and huffed out some air in frustration. It had been nothing but two fledglings tonight and he felt like he needed way more violence to get distracted from his own thoughts.

“Well, that does sound better than getting stupidly drunk all by yourself.”

He didn’t turn to look at Betta George, rolling his eyes in exasperation.

“Wasn’t by myself the whole time, by my reckoning.”

“Same difference.”

Spike hoped that if he ignored him enough, George would end up leaving him alone at least tonight; he took out a cigarette and lit it, inhaling deeply.

“So, you book a flight yet?”

Spike rolled his eyes again.

“No, I didn’t sodding book a flight.”

“What are you waiting for, then?” George floated in front of him and seemed to stare at him reproachfully; or maybe just looked at him mildly, was hard to tell with his fishy eyes. “Come on, Spike. You owe it to her to at least call her, if you don’t want to see her.”

Spike squinted at him and kept smoking, trying very hard not to punch his friend right through said fishy eyes.

“When will you get it through your head that this isn’t your bloody business?”

“And when will you get it through your head that I’m just trying to ‘bloody’ help you out?”

Spike snorted and started walking, quickly moving towards the nearest pub. Christ, he needed a drink.

“No, what you need is to get your head out of your fine posterior and start making some sense!”

“And what you need is to get the bloody hell out of my head, fish!”

“We’ve been through this, telepathic fish, yadda yadda. Now can you please tell me what you’re waiting for, here?”

Spike just snorted again, flicking away the cigarette butt, and started walking more quickly.

“Fine. Be that way. Let’s get ‘bloody pissed’ and forget about the ‘bloody bint’.”

Spike might have sniffed at George’s pathetic attempt at a British accent, but no one would have blamed him for that, really.

In a few, silent minutes, they found themselves at another demon bar and this time Betta George ordered something for himself; Spike didn’t really want to know what that was, though, the smell wasn’t at all promising. He looked around at the rest of the bar and sighed at the sorry sight: just a couple of demons in one corner and one sorry-looking sod tinkering with a jukebox. He shook his head and took another sip of his whiskey, trying very hard not to look at his table mate. George was just floating in front of him, pretty busy enjoying his weird drink, and for once he didn’t seem all too eager to fill his head with his pestering thoughts.

“I heard that.”

Spike snorted and at that moment the jukebox started playing; without anything else to do, he let himself listen to the old-fashioned lyrics.

If you ever change your mind

About leaving, leaving me behind

Oh, oh, bring it to me

Bring your sweet loving

Bring it on home to me

I know I laughed when you left

But now I know I only hurt myself

Oh, oh, bring it to me

Bring your sweet loving

Bring it on home to me

Spike shook his head, incredibly aware of his friend’s gaze on him. He ignored him resolutely, fixing his gaze on a spot on the counter behind the fish and drinking more of his whisky.

You know I’ll always be your slave

’Till I’m buried, buried in my grave

Oh, honey, bring it to me

Bring your sweet loving

Bring it on home to me

Spike frowned, his hand gripping the glass a bit tighter, his jaw locking.

One more thing,

I tried to treat you right

But you stayed out, stayed out at night

But I forgive you, bring it to me

Bring your sweet loving

Bring it on home to me

Spike realised he was gripping the glass a tad too tightly and pried his fingers off it, hoping to avoid glass shards in his skin. Although he wouldn’t have been opposed to punching the tosser that was still at the jukebox and was apparently intent on torturing him, since he chose the same song to play again. After the first few lines, he just let out a huff of exasperated air and moved his gaze to the fish, who hadn’t quit staring at him.

“What.”

“I think you know what.”

“Bugger off.”

“Yeah, exactly. ‘Bugger off’… to Scotland.” Spike snorted and shook his head, his gaze moving to the side again. “Oh, come on! If that’s not a clear sign of fate that you have to get back to her, I don’t know what is.”

“Will you knock it off? Weren’t you just telling me to ‘be my own man’ or some such shit the other night?”

“Well, yeah. Sure, if that’s what you want.” He paused and Spike looked down at his empty glass. “It’s just that I feel like you still want to be with her, so maybe you should do something about that. And by ‘feel like’, I mean ‘know’, since I’m in your head and all.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, mate,” he said, shaking his head. Part of him realised he was being well and truly pathetic; the rest of him couldn’t give a toss about it. “Just tired of being someone’s lapdog, is all.”

“OK. That makes sense. And you make a fairly decent alpha dog, when you put your mind to it.” Spike stared at him, unimpressed. “Just saying! I don’t think you’re anyone’s lapdog.”

“Sure I’m not. Just a sodding, pathetic slave, then.” He scoffed and stood then, shaking his head and going to the counter to take another whiskey.

“You know what… I think you should break up with her.” Spike sent him a glance from the bar counter, with no need to speak the words blaring through his mind: what the fuck? “I know, I get it, you two weren’t technically together. And maybe her last words were only nice words for a dying hero. But… if you don’t talk to her, it’ll be very hard to move on.”

Spike felt a horrible clench in his chest at those words. Moving on. Had he ever really wanted that?

He gathered his new drink and sat heavily back down at the table, slouching in his chair. His fingers traced the rim of the glass while he tried to get some sort of order in his thoughts. It took him a few minutes, and when he talked his words were slow, and quiet.

“She last saw me as a hero, you know.” He didn’t dare look up at George’s eyes, afraid he’d be able to discern some sort of pity in those vast, violet pools. Unlikely, but you never know. “I died to save the world, a true champion of the people. And now…” he sighed deeply. “Now I’m just a guy that feels lost because the lady of his dreams is too far away from him. Hell,” he scoffed, “that’s pathetic even to my ears. Even sodding Angel has got more cause to live than me.”

“So… try and win her back?”

“Back?” He scoffed. “Can’t win back someone you’ve never had.”

“OK, then win her over. Don’t hide behind words with me, mister.”

“And if she says no? Then what?” Spike swallowed and looked up at George; some of his despair must have showed, because he could indeed see some pity in the fish’s eyes. “Do I lose my one reason to exist?”

“Spike… I think that’s the problem. You talk about her, you think about her as a, a… some sort of goddess, like she can save you.” His voice became gentler in his head. “But she can’t. She’s just a young woman, just a person.”

“Just a person, my ass!” he protested, but even he could hear the lack of conviction in his voice.

“You know what I mean. Not exactly a goddess.”

Spike didn’t have an answer to that. George was right, of course, in principle. But as for his actual life? He’d only ever known how to live worshipping someone — or at least taking them as a model and pretending not to, in the case of Peaches. How do you decide to suddenly become someone else?

“You know, it’d be much easier if she just fell for me and we could live together happily ever after.” George made some sound that could pass for a snort at that and Spike half-smiled. “The vampire and the slayer. Bloody perfect couple.”

“Yeah. Especially when you idolise her, let her treat you however she pleases because she can do no wrong with her being your goddess and all, and then get crushed at the first big mistake she makes.” Spike stared at him and felt his jaw tensing. “I’m right and you know it. That can’t work out, Spike, if you keep this attitude.”

“So, what do you suppose I should do? Go to her and yell at her until I’m thoroughly convinced she’s ‘just a person’?”

“You should get your head out of your ass, talk to her like she’s a person , and stop acting like she should only know you as anything else but just a vamp.” Spike kept staring at him in silence for a few seconds and George added, “you know, ‘just a vamp’ as in a vampire with a soul, a good guy, but not a perfect champion.”

Spike leaned his elbow on the table, holding his chin on his hand, and sighed a very dejected sigh.

“Sounds about right.”

He knew his voice sounded anything but convinced, but he couldn’t do much about it, since he wasn’t convinced at all. Betta George could explain away anything he wanted; it didn’t change the fact that if he did decide to go see her, he’d just fall head over heels all over again and make a complete prat of himself all the while.

That sounded about right indeed.

 

*

 

Now

 

Spike cleared his throat, suddenly feeling like the worst of the night was right behind the castle’s massive doors, waiting for him. The more he approached them, the more he wanted to turn tails and just get the hell away.

“You sure this is a good idea, Buffy?” He had only a fraction of a pause before saying her name and felt like congratulating himself. Apparently she’d taken to heart the fact that he hadn’t called her by her name, so he was going to do his best to avoid making the same mistake. Of course, there was no need to tell her that her name still felt like a blessing and a curse on his tongue.

“Dawn’s not going to kill you, Spike, stop fretting.”

He scoffed and declined to tell her just how very not sure of that he was. But maybe she was right; if Buffy could get over the need to pummel him, his Nibblet might manage the same as well.

My Nibblet. Right. As if she’s letting me call her that anytime soon.

By that time, Buffy had reached the huge castle doors, going to open a smaller door carved into them to the right. He found himself nervously slicking his hair back, cursed softly at himself for being a complete prat and pushed his hands in his coat pockets after balancing his bag over his shoulder.

“Again, home sweet home!” exclaimed Buffy, her false cheer almost convincing while she opened the door to him and led the way inside. He took a deep breath, cursed at himself some more and just stepped forward through the door.

The moment felt anticlimactic, as they found themselves into an empty corridor, too dark to see much of anything. He followed Buffy to a huge courtyard and then to another door, up some steps, a hallway that led to another door… he just had the time to wonder whether the Slayer was trying to confuse him, when he found himself in a kitchen of sorts — if kitchens were huge and had five-metres-high ceilings, several ovens and sinks, and dozens of long benches.

He was still looking around the large room, when a very Scottish and very aggressive voice made him realise that one of the benches wasn’t empty.

“Hello, ma’am. Wan’ to introduce us?”

There were three girls at the bench, one of them standing, looking at him with a healthy dose of weariness, distrust and possibly disgust. He couldn’t decide whether he liked the redheaded slayer more for recognising him right away as a vampire or for calling Buffy ‘ma’am’.

“I told you, stop calling me ma’am,” Buffy said, sounding like it was the hundredth time she said it. “And this is Spike. He’s with me.”

“‘With you’... ma’am?”

This time it was the turn of the blue-haired Asian girl, one of the two sitting down, her brows raised while looking between Spike and Buffy. He almost felt the need to shuffle under her intense gaze, so he smiled his most charming smile instead.

“With me, as in, no staking.”

The third girl actually gasped at that and Spike saw the redheaded Scott give a slight eye roll at that.

“Nice to meet you too, ladies,” he said, not letting his smile falter.

The Scott and the Asian girl stared at him, sending a frisson of danger slithering down his spine, delicious in its lightness. Before he could try to tease them into a bit more of those slayer nerves, though, he heard a gasp coming from somewhere off to the right and turned towards some stairs there — where Dawn was, looking at him like she’d just seen a ghost.

Well, I suppose…

There was a long moment of silence when all they could do was stare at each other and Spike felt sure he was very close to sweating from nerves. He was acutely aware that Buffy and the other slayers were staring at him, but he stayed still, unable to stop looking at his Nibblet, all growed up.

“Spike?” Her voice was low and incredulous. “Buffy, is he..?”

“Yes,” came her voice from behind him, and he distractedly noticed a tense note in it. “It’s really him, Dawn.”

“Hello, little bit. You keep growing like that, you’ll make a fellow feel short.” He tried for a nonchalant tone, probably landing just short of desperate instead. He resolutely ignored the snort coming from one of the sitting slayers.

“Are you here here, or are you some sort of astral projection?”

Dawn’s voice held a bit of a tense note too and Spike swallowed nervously while she stepped down the stairs and walked to him, hesitant.

“Been there, done that… didn’t like the whole ghostie thing.” She was right in front of him now and he had to resist the urge to reach out to her. “’M all solid now, pet.”

Dawn looked at him some more, then she moved to touch his arm. He stopped breathing, not really wanting to gasp in front of the little slayers; then she was hugging him, holding him tight, and he suddenly realised how fiercely he’d missed her, too.

“Spike, you’re really back,” she murmured into his shoulder, as he forced himself out of his stupor to hold her back with his free arm. “I can’t believe this, how…”

“’S a long story, pet,” he mumbled in her hair. “And I’ll tell you all the details,” he hastened to add when she moved back enough to glare at him.

He could feel his dead heart doing strange things in his chest at the way she still held him, when a few murmurs from the bench interrupted their moment.

The Spike?”

“Thought ’e was dead. Deader, a’ least.”

“Thought he’d be taller…”

“Well, apparently he’s a hard vamp to kill. I should know,” he heard Buffy comment, and was that a smile in her voice?

Dawn moved back, somehow making him unaccountably happy that she kept a hand on his arm.

“Wait, how did this… Buffy, why aren’t you freaking?” She sent a withering look to her older sister, who started fidgeting with her jacket zipper. “Did you… you knew about this, didn’t you?”

Buffy fidgeted some more, Spike feeling like an even bigger piece of crap.

“Not her fault, pet. She knew I didn’t want to… well… she just wanted to respect my wishes.”

Dawn squeezed his arm for a moment, before letting it go and moving a step back from him and Buffy.

“Well, that’s just typical.” Spike chanced a glance at Buffy, whose mouth was set in a tense line. “Never tell anything to the little sister, she might believe for a second that she’s being treated like an adult.”

“Dawnie…”

“No, don’t worry, I get it. God forbid I get to be treated like I can be trusted with important information.”

“Dawn, this had nothing to do with you.” Spike could see from Dawn’s look that that was the wrong thing to say, but it didn’t seem to deter Buffy. “I just wanted to respect Spike’s privacy, it’s not like I contacted him either.”

“Oh, of course you just wanted to respect his privacy,” she replied through gritted teeth, “because respecting his privacy is way more important than sharing any kind of information with stupid little sis, isn’t it?”

“That’s not —”

“And you!” She exclaimed, turning her furious gaze to him. “How dare you not say anything? How long have you been back?” Her voice was getting shriller by the second and Spike couldn't help a wince.

“Nibblet…”

“No, don’t you ‘Nibblet’ me! How. Long. Have. You. Been. Back.” She asked, jabbing his chest at every word.

Spike briefly considered not answering her, or at least begging her to move this lovely tête-à-tête to somewhere more private — then remembered that it was his stupid wish for ‘privacy’ that brought them here in the first place, so he sucked it up and stopped trying to avoid her fierce gaze. Bloody Summers women.

“It was nineteen days after Sunnydale, all right?” She just stared at him, dumbfounded, and he could feel Buffy’s eyes boring holes into his head too. “Was all ghostie for the first two months or so, but yeah… nineteen days after Sunnydale.”

Dawn took another step back and he felt like his chest suddenly turned to lead. So much for waiting till Buffy had rested a bit…

“I can’t believe this,” murmured Dawn, looking at him like she didn’t know him. “I mourned you, Spike.” He winced and finally looked down. “ We mourned you… or I guess maybe she just pretended to, since she already knew and all.” He could almost feel Buffy ready to say something to that, but Dawn went on, her voice cold. “What, did you two actually secretly keep in contact, all this time? Is that why you’re back, so you can get back to sleeping together behind our backs?”

Spike reeled back at that, looking up at her in disbelief. Was that what she thought of him, then? Her expression showed something akin to regret for a second but then went back to fury, once again making Spike feel like he really shouldn’t have come here.

“That’s enough.” Buffy’s voice was low and tight and he didn’t need to turn to know that she was furious. “Go to bed, Dawn, it’s almost three in the morning and you need to study.”

“Oh, right, you don’t like something I say so you just avoid —”

Go to bed ,” repeated Buffy, and Spike didn’t dare turn to her at her tone. “Now.”

Dawn’s expression was unsure for a second and he’d bet she was really regretting her words; but then she just turned and raced up the stairs, and in a couple of seconds he could hear a door shut with a bang.

The huge kitchen was silent for a few seconds, the tension thick, and Spike felt like he’d rather find a nice, cozy hole in the earth than spend one more minute in that castle.

“Sl— Buffy, I don’t think… maybe I should —”

“Mention leaving one more time and I will tie you to a chair, Spike.” Her voice was hard, her eyes harder, and he swallowed and just nodded once, not ready to dust quite yet. “Girls, I need to sleep. Can someone show Spike one of the free rooms?” He looked at her but she was keeping her gaze down, her voice measured and tense and Christ, he was a monster for making her go through all this.

“Consider it done,” he heard one of the girls say and then Buffy looked up at him for a second.

“Won’t leave, Buffy.” He tried to keep his voice level, somehow managing it.

She averted her gaze again and just nodded; after one more second of silence, she quickly climbed the stairs, leaving them in yet more tense silence. He looked after her for a few more seconds, before fixing his gaze on the three girls who were staring at him with varied degrees of curiosity and distrust.

“Don’t think there’s any need to mention that you better not start gossiping about any of this.” This time, he didn’t make much of an effort to keep his voice level. The Scott and the Asian girls only narrowed their eyes, but the third girl actually blushed, so he thought maybe there had been a need after all.

“How sweet of you. Now that that necessary threat’s done, come along.” The blue-haired girl finally rose, moving towards the stairs pausing on the second step to look back at him. “What, you need a written invitation too now, vampire?”

Spike stopped glaring at the blushing slayer then and moved towards the other one.

“Yeah, yeah, coming… name’s Spike, by the way.”

She just raised her eyebrows and then they were climbing the stairs and moving through hallways lined with wooden doors.

“What about you, don’t have a name?” He asked, while noticing just how much wood was around the place — which, paired with the constant nagging of slayer itch surrounding him, wasn’t all that reassuring.

“Satsu.”

He stopped looking around to glance at her, but she seemed intent on ignoring him.

“Lovely to meet you, Satsu.”

Again, she didn’t respond, just leading him on yet another corridor — and were those actual fire torches lining the walls?

“Say, lovely place you got going here. The slayers, the wood, the fire… you got big windows too I should know about, Satsu?” He could almost see her eye twitch at his use of her name and he smirked in satisfaction. She still refused to answer, but maybe he could rile her up some other way, make at least something feel satisfying about the night.

She finally stopped in front of a door and he barely had the time to think that he probably wouldn’t find his way back too easily, before she started to leave again.

“Wait a second, Satsu!” She closed her eyes briefly before turning to him. “Don’t I get some towels, directions to the nearest shower, nothing? What kind of host are you?”

He saw her hand twitch out of the corner of his eye and his smirk widened. Petty satisfaction over petty nonsense, yes, but still better than the hollow he felt in his chest.

“Towels are in the closet, common bathroom’s the last door on the left of the hallway.” Her tone was crisp, her eyes flat. “I wouldn’t use it first thing in the morning if I were you — not everyone has seen that you know Miss Buffy yet and your kind isn’t exactly welcome around here.”

“Why, thank you, Satsu. So very thoughtful of you. Know where I’ll find her, tomorrow morning?”

She narrowed her eyes slightly.

“Probably in the castle courtyard, training, considering just how relaxing your return seems to be for her.”

Spike’s smirk faded quite a bit, at that.

Satsu just stared him down for a couple of seconds, then left without another word, her steps light on the stone floor. He took a few more moments to compose himself, then he got in the room.

It was small, hardly had the space for a closet, and the bed looked like it had seen much better days. The window had shutters, but no drapes.

He sighed, immediately getting to try and use the blanket from the bed to cover the window completely, hoping to avoid waking up from sun rays sizzling his skin from any little hole. He did his best to concentrate on that, instead of the gnawing feeling in his gut that he was doing nothing but bringing more stress to the one woman in the world that needed it the least.

Chapter Text

Two days before

 

This is a bad idea, went his brain while he gathered his few remaining t-shirts from his drawers and stuffed them in his duffel bag. The fish is just that, just a fish, what the hell does he know, went on his troubled thoughts while he pushed in a couple more pairs of jeans and looked inside his other drawer, the one with his remaining weapons. I’ll get there and then what will I do, win over the army of slayers with my Brit vamp charm and run off with the capital-S Slayer in my arms into a deadly-yet-romantic sunset? He just scowled harder, doing his best to ignore his stupid thoughts, and took out his favourite sword and two daggers with him along with a healthy heap of stakes.

Yeah, bet they’ll be tremendously needed at Slayer central.

He felt his eye tic and jaw tighten, but he’d decided to go and go he would, regardless of his stupid thoughts making him want to hit his own head against the wall instead. He gave a short sigh while looking around his room: the rest of his belongings were packed in carton boxes which he’d already sealed and piled up against one of the walls, but he couldn’t bring himself to carry more than a big bag with him. What if the Slayer just told him she didn’t need his help after all, thankyouverymuch, and see you for the next apocalypse, I’ll beep you when it’s here?

He snorted and shook his head at the image, the shadow of a smile on his lips. Then the moment was broken by a ring at the door, and then another, and then another, and he almost growled as he stomped to the front of his apartment.

“Mrs. Konikoff, I told you I wouldn’t —” he opened the door, but on the other side of it wasn’t an impatient, lovely old neighbouring lady with a tray of scones; it was an impatient, mopey old ass with a big forehead. “Oh. You.”

“Spike? Is it true?” He just raised an eyebrow at him and leaned on the doorpost, blocking the entrance. “I just saw Betta George, and he told me that you were leaving.” Spike just kept staring at him with a level expression, his hands going to his jeans pockets, forcing himself not to lock them into fists.

“What’s it to you?”

“Well, I… look, can I come in?”

“Not really in the mood for company, but thanks for passing by —” Angel interrupted him and pushed him aside with his shoulder, entering the apartment. “Or, yeah, whatever. Bloody wish the invite crap worked on vamp homes too…”

“So, is it true?” Angel looked around his place, a doubtful expression clouding his caveman eyes. “I’m guessing not, considering there’s not much packed here.”

“This is Jeremy’s cousin’s place, left it to me after the whole hell thing. Stuff’s mostly his.” He looked at Angel as he walked along the room, glancing more or less distractedly at the stuff still largely on the shelves, and repressed the urge to punch him for this blatant breach of privacy. “A little visit from hell, a bunch of demons coming and killing him, and the guy’s apparently ready to leg it as soon as time’s reversed and we’re all back to our not-too-hellish LA. Fellow’s got a weak stomach, if you ask me.” Angel didn’t seem to pay him much mind, which irked him to no end, until he found his little felt-Angel hanging from his desk lamp and looked back to him with a disappointed scowl.

“Really, Spike?”

“What can I say, mate, you look right fetching with a noose around your neck,” he smirked at him, enjoying his deepening scowl.

“Very funny. Very mature.”

“Ah, you know me,” Spike said with an even bigger smirk, finally finding a pack of cigarettes on a shelf and lighting one. “Where to find a more mature vamp?”

“Probably in any bar, at this hour… look, Spike, let’s be real. Your apartment is still full, and George told me your flight should be tonight, in less than three hours. You’re not really leaving, are you?”

Spike took a deep drag of his cigarette, enjoying the show of his dumb grandsire’s forehead getting increasingly wrinkly. He kept on smirking, without saying a word.

“Spike?”

“What’s it to you?” he repeated, this time with a bit less of a smirk and more of an edge to his tone.

“Well, you’re…” Angel seemed to search for words, his hands fluttering lightly in front of him. “Here now. Not there. And it’s been a while, so why go in the first place?”

Spike bit back a curse word and just kept on smoking furiously, trying to find reasons not to punch his face in.

“So, George tell you where it is I’m going?”

“It might have slipped out, yeah.”

Spike’s eye ticked again.

“Fucking fish.”

“He said he was sure you’d told me already. You know him, he’s got this weird notion of us being best pals, part of the team and all,” Angel said with a half grin, going to heavily sit on his couch.

“Seriously, where the heck does he get that crap? Fish’s brain must be mushy as hell, I tell you,” Spike muttered, throwing himself on the other end of the couch, and they chuckled together for a second before scowling and looking away from each other.

“So… you’re really going.” Spike shrugged his shoulders and just lit another cigarette, after stubbing the first one on the ashtray on the nearby table. He looked resolutely away from Angel, but from the corner of his right eye he could see him running his hand through his hair. “That’s… well, that’s something.”

A few minutes of tense silence passed by, Spike smoking furiously, Angel looking more and more distressed and anywhere that wasn’t him. Then Spike rolled his eyes, set his shoulders, and scowled right at him.

“What do you want from me, Peaches? What’re you looking for, here?”

Angel looked at him for a second, unsure, then looked away again.

“Well, honestly, initially I was just thinking of asking you for some backup. See, there’s this demon cartel downtown…”

“There’s always demon cartels downtown, mate. ’M sure you’ll be all right by your lonesome. And anyway, you can always ask George to help out, yeah?” They both chuckled at that, exchanging a brief smile, before Angel moved his eyes again. Spike rolled his own and bit back an exasperated sigh. “What’s this about, really? You gonna tell me I shouldn’t go?”

“That’s not it. It’s just…” Angel sighed a dejected sigh and Spike had to fight hard not to roll his eyes right out of his cranium. “I just thought — remember when we went to Rome?”

“Yeah. Turns out Andrew was just pulling our chain — she never was in Rome.”

Angel looked taken aback at that but he didn’t comment, moving his gaze away yet again.

“Oh. Well, that’s unexpected.” There were a few more seconds of silence and Spike lit a third cigarette, his patience wearing real damn thin by then. “Still… remember what we said afterwards? About moving on?” Spike felt his jaw ticking but he just nodded. “Well. Isn’t this just… you know… moving backwards?”

Spike took a deep drag and exhaled right in Angel’s face, smirking at his annoyed expression.

“Was thinking of it more like moving in another direction altogether, mate.” He decided to keep to himself all his love- and life-crisis reasons; wouldn’t do to bare his soul to bloody Angel, and anyway doing it with the fish had been humiliating enough already. The other vampire grimaced but didn’t say anything, his expression closed but tense. “I just… never told her I’m back. That’s just not right, is what it is.”

“You could always call her… and besides, something tells me she already knows.”

Spike scowled again. Am I the only one who didn’t guess that? Bugger.

“What about you, mate? What’s this moping around my place? Thought you’d moved on already. Didn’t call your pet dragon Buffy, now did you?”

“I didn’t call it that,” Angel muttered with a grimace.

“No, you just went on saying her name over and over while being tortured back to health. Cordelia’s name. Seems a tad more like moving on than actually naming the beast that, if you ask me.” Angel kept on grimacing, and gave another sigh, and Spike briefly wondered how exactly he could live with all this drama.

“Still. Nothing ever happened between me and Cordy, and it’s… it’s just hard to move on from Buffy Summers, you know?” Spike didn’t nod, but just barely. Boy, do I. “Especially when nothing actually ever happened.”

“Nina happened.”

“Nina… wasn’t enough. Never wondered why I was never really worried about my soul?” He asked with a sad grin.

Spike didn’t know what to say to that, so he stayed silent for a while. Angel just seemed… lost, and he couldn’t help but think that the way he looked now was dangerously similar to the way Spike himself felt. At least he had the decency not to show it so bloody clearly on the outside, though.

“Look, mate, I’m going. And maybe she’ll tell me to come back here and hold the fort in LA with you… or maybe not.” This time it was him looking away, while he felt Angel’s eyes on him. “I don’t know, and I won’t till I get there. But… think I need to see her and talk to her and tell her I’m back. And I think she deserves that much, after… after everything.”

After a few seconds he raised his eyes to Angel’s, ready to punch him if he so much as looked at him funny — but the other vampire was just looking at him with pensive eyes, seemingly not on the path of war about this.

“Will you greet her from me?” Spike blinked, completely taken aback. “After Dana and the way the local slayers and Andrew spat on my help, I’d have asked you to slap her from me, but… well. With what happened in the past few months, I feel like maybe she was right in not trusting me after all.”

Spike felt the sudden urge to touch his shoulder in a gesture of comfort. He decided to avoid any ponce moves, though, and just went for smoking right in his face again and grinning slightly at his disgusted expression.

“You tried to do the right thing and that counts for something, I wager. Next time though, just in case, speak to yours truly before making any rash decisions, and I’ll steer you clear.”

“That’s hilarious, Mr. I-couldn’t-wait-’til-Saturday.”

“Oi! That was a lifetime ago, it was!”

“Sure, because you’re drastically different now…”

“’Course. Always with a detailed plan, I am.” Angel raised his eyebrows at that and he couldn’t help but laugh. “I’m serious, though. Next time, share with the group before you start on a path that leads to literal hell being unleashed on your city. At least that way you’ll be able to blame more people for it if it all goes cock-up,” he added with a wink. Then, after tossing his last cigarette in the ashtray, he rose from the couch and went back towards his bedroom. “Well, old man, got a plane to catch. I’ll bring your not-a-slap to the lady on the other side of the pond, and we’ll see if I get to stay there for a while or come back here before you can say ‘slayed’.”

“I hope she punches your face in, Spike,” came Angel’s voice from the couch, while he went to retrieve his last stuff and finally close the bag.

“I hope she punches your face in at the next apocalypse, Gel-man,” he answered good-naturedly while coming back to the living room, and then he looked him up and down. “Of course, if you keep up all this moping, she’ll do way more than that. I’ll want front seats for the show,” he added, waggling his eyebrows. Angel snorted but he finally got up from the couch.

“What about your apartment?”

“Well, if I don’t come back immediately, I think Beck might appreciate some digs of her own for when she's out of Mosaic.” Angel raised his eyebrows at that, but he ignored it. “Until then, make sure nobody touches my favourite doll there, will ya?”

Angel scowled at him while he grinned and nodded to the Angel lookalike, still hanging from his lamp.

“Very funny. I hope you break several bones in your trip.”

“And I hope that demon cartel breaks all of yours.”

Angel smirked then and in a sudden gesture that somehow shocked Spike, he clumsily offered him his hand. After a beat, Spike took it and they shook briefly, before both of them hastily took their hands back. Not that Spike was embarrassed, of course not, but it was weird. That, he could admit.

“See you next time, then.”

Angel nodded and after another couple of seconds of awkward staring at each other, he finally turned and left. Which was a blessing, because a part of Spike had almost considered hugging the guy for one half-second — he clearly needed to set his mind straight and get the hell out of there.

And yet he gave himself a few more minutes to walk around the place; he tried to reason with himself that he was checking that he wouldn’t leave anything important behind, but the truth was that he was trying to process this whole conversation with Angel. They hadn’t argued and the Poof hadn’t tried to stop him from going… was that a signal from some kind of vamp divinity that tried to tell him he shouldn’t go? Clearly he couldn’t do something Angel would even tangentially approve of, could he?

He snorted at himself, shook his head, and retrieved his plane ticket. Truth was, saying out loud to Angel why he was going had helped in making it yet more stark clear in his mind that he needed to. And maybe it would turn out to be a terrible idea; but at this point, he felt that it was his next move, however it went. He sighed, mentally kicked himself for the drama, and finally left the apartment. He was going to do this, however it went, and he was going to see it through.

He resolutely ignored the vaguely panicking voices in his head and strode down the stairs to the building’s exit: he had a damn plane to catch and he was damn right going to catch it.

 

***

 

Now

 

The next day saw him wake up when the sun was already low on the horizon and, after scoping out the sunlight situation in the hallways, he just started walking down them, slowly looking for his way to the courtyard. He met more than a slayer but none of them talked to him — they just stared at him curiously while he passed by, making him think that the news of his arrival must have spread fast in the castle. He just hoped Dawn’s remark about he and Buffy sleeping together hadn’t… God knew she didn’t need any of that, this time around.

He finally stopped when he found a shaded window that faced the courtyard: he leaned on it and there she was, training like Satsu had said.

As usual, she was poetry in motion, deadly limbs going out to strike her fellow slayers in strong but measured blows; they couldn’t hold a candle against her, not even all together, and he couldn’t tear his eyes off. He felt his chest tighten at each of her less elegant hits; was that tension stopping her from being at her best? Was that because of him?

He looked up for a second, in time to see someone who was looking down at Buffy just as he was: it was Satsu, looking at the courtyard from another window, this one in direct sunlight. Her gaze had something familiar in it while she looked on her ‘ma’am’ fight, but then she seemed to shake herself and moved from the window. Spike kept looking at where her figure was, trying to figure out what exactly felt so familiar about all that, before going back to look his fill of his slayer.

The shadows lengthened and still she fought; her sparring companions came and went, but she didn’t stop if not to drink, or mop up the sweat with a towel. He felt completely mesmerised, seemingly incapable of stopping from watching her; was this all he could do, still? Was he destined to be no more than a stalker, after all this time? Would she even let him—

“Ah, there you are.” He turned with a jerk, looking at Dawn behind him. “Don’t you ever get tired of the stalker routine, Spike?” He found himself torn between joy at seeing her talk to him and rage at her words to Buffy the previous night. He settled on crossing his arms and just glaring lightly at her. “Yeah, about last night…”

He didn’t say anything and a few tense seconds of glaring on his part and eye-avoiding on hers passed. Then she huffed and looked back at him.

“I may have overreacted, but can you really blame me?” He just raised an eyebrow, ignoring the angry edge in her voice. “I mean, I understand that she wanted to ‘respect your privacy’ and all, but really, you’d think she’d put me first…” Her anger seemed to disappear in a second and she deflated, looking down again. “If she cared enough, that is.”

Spike felt an uncomfortable pang and, after a brief hesitation, he reached out to her, touching her arm.

“You know, I thought we’d be past this, after all this time,” she continued, brushing a tear away in an angry gesture. “I thought we’d be good sisters, sharing stuff, us against the world, or whatever.” She gave a small sniff and a rueful laugh. “But no, no sisterly bonding for the Summers girls.”

She kept looking down, and Spike was painfully aware of the fact that they were in a very public hallway, and any slayer could pass by at any second, and should he comfort her? Let her talk some more? Smack her on the head?

With a sigh, he hugged her tightly, to hell with overthinking.

“You’re barmy, the both of you.” She tried to move away but he held her tighter. “Seems to me, you both keep expecting the situation to solve itself, without actually trying to do anything about it.”

“I so do stuff about it!” She squirmed harder in his arms and he held tighter, one hand going to hold her head to his shoulder.

“Yeah, like accusing her of sleeping with me in front of her slayer friends?” Dawn quieted at that and he was pretty sure he could hear another sniffle. “You’re right, Nibblet, she shoulda told you about me. Hell,” he added when she squirmed again, “I should have told you about me, it’s true.” She finally held him back, sniffling again.

“Yes you should have, you dumb jerk.”

“But that’s what I’m talking about. You make mistakes, you admit them, you say you’re sorry… then you move on. Can’t do the one without the other now, can you?”

She held him silently for a few seconds, then he let her move her head back to look at him.

“You do realise it took you over a year to ‘say you’re sorry’?”

This time he was the one to look abashed, moving his arms back. She didn’t move hers, though, and he felt like something in his chest region unclenched.

“Well, better late than never, right?” She narrowed her eyes at him but didn’t let go, and was that a tendril of joy he was feeling? “I’m sorry, Dawn… I’m sorry. And you’re right, I’ve been a right dick about it all.” She nodded and he could see she was fighting to keep her expression angry. “Think we can get past it?”

“There should be more grovelling involved.”

“You accused me of secretly sleeping with your sister!”

“More than a year!”

In front of the little slayers!”

I mourned you!”

They stared at each other until the tension broke and they started laughing, and for the first time Spike was sure that this whole trip had been a good idea. Even just to get to this, to finally laugh with little Dawnie, it was worth it.

They ended up smiling at each other like loons, before she broke the silence with an annoyed voice.

“So, Spike The Wise. You’re saying I shouldn’t wait around for this situation to be better, and just go and apologise?”

“See, you’re slow, but you get there in the end.”

“Ah-ha, very funny. Does that mean you’ll stop your stalker routine and go talk to her, too?”

“Not stalking her,” he murmured, starting to walk away from the window he’d been observing her from.

“Seemed like stalking to me.”

“Didn’t even know she was here before a few weeks ago, all right? If I stalked her, I’d be bloody better than that.” He saw her raise her eyebrows at that while she walked next to him down the hallway.

“Yes, I’m sure you could be the best stalker of them all.”

“Thought you two were in Rome…”

“Rome?” She wrinkled her nose and he thought that these Summers ladies would definitely be the death of him, one day — again.

“Yeah, it was this whole thing with Andrew…”

He told her the story while going to the kitchen — and took the wrong turn only a couple of times, thank you very much — and found out that the girl who’d been posing as the capital-S-Slayer was just a ruse to lure out the Immortal and a few other nasty beasties. He didn’t have the time to decide how he felt about that, when Dawn started to take out some cooking supplies.

“What d’you think you’re doing?”

“Uhm… preparing something for an early supper?” He just glared at her until she fidgeted. “And besides, you haven’t told me why you’ve kept your unlife silent until now.”

“Oh, don’t even try that. You got shit to do, Nibblet,” he said, taking the pot from her and putting it in a cabinet.

“Yes, well, it can wait…” she tried to take the pot back but he stopped her and pushed her towards what he guessed was the door to the courtyard.

“No, it can’t. Go talk to her.”

“But Spike —”

“Stop protesting and go already!”

“Spike, that’s not where the pot goes.” She raised her eyebrow in a perfectly Summers expression and he felt like he was very close to blushing.

“You two having fun?”

Buffy’s voice interrupted his train of thought, as it seemed it would always do, and he felt like some of his cold blood did rise to his cheeks. He turned to look at her, feeling Dawn deflate next to him: she was sweaty, and clearly tired, and her eyes were guarded but she couldn’t seem to hide the tension in her body. He felt like he wanted to go hug her too and briefly thought that Dawn’s presence might not do him good after all.

“Buffy, look…”

Dawn’s voice was tentative, but Buffy didn’t look at her and just moved towards the stairs.

“Sorry, I need a shower.”

“No, wait —”

“I’m sure our resident vampire here can attest to the fact that I really need a shower.” In fact, their resident vampire could attest to the fact that he needed to bottle her current scent and keep it for sunny days, but he refrained from saying it. “Another time.”

Spike glanced at Dawn and saw her face go from hesitant to annoyed. He made an impulsive decision.

“Slayer, you should hear her out.” Buffy turned to look at him, her gaze getting much icier rather than guarded, and he gestured to the two of them, trying his best not to get himself maimed. “Look, Buffy, you two should talk. Come on, the shower can wait, can’t it?”

There was a tense silence until Dawn broke it with an eager tone.

“Compromise! Let’s make everyone happy. I’ll prepare something to eat while you take your shower and then we can have dinner together. What do you say?” At Buffy’s hesitation she took a step towards her, touching her arm lightly. “I — I want to apologise properly, Buffy. Please.”

Some of the tension slid off the slayer’s shoulders and she nodded lightly.

“OK.”

She didn’t exactly smile before leaving, but Spike was going to count that as a win anyway. After she disappeared up the stairs he turned back to Dawn, who looked at him with a frankly unnecessarily amused expression, and busied himself with pretending he knew anything about human food for a while. They ended up settling in a comfortable banter that made him capable of ignoring all the stares from the slayers coming and going around them, until Buffy’s voice returned to interrupt his thoughts.

He was almost certain that he managed to just smile at her without too much of a lovesick fool expression, too, regardless of Dawn’s smirk directed at him. Buffy, on her part, seemed a bit too tense to notice much, and he decided that retreat was the better part of valour: he gave Dawn an encouraging look and got out of there, going towards the courtyard.

Once there, he found one spot with enough shade and lit a fag, inhaling deeply, glad for his unliving lungs and for finally being alone with his thoughts. He idly looked around, trying to avoid meeting the gaze of the slayers training here and there, but otherwise not paying much attention to his surroundings. He wondered whether a talk could really do much to help Buffy and Dawn; certainly it couldn’t make things worse, could it?

He scoffed at himself and kicked at a small stone on the ground. Sure, after all, none of his plans ever backfired on him. And besides, look at him now, he was being all mature and responsible about things; that surely made him capable of giving the Summers ladies some good advice, didn’t it? They definitely just needed some time, and honest conversation, so that they could—

“So it’s true. You’re really back.”

This time, it was a decidedly unexpected and uncomfortably unwelcome voice that stopped his thoughts. He ignored the urge to sigh and turned to look at Xander Harris — who apparently had stepped up his game when it came to clothes, since he was wearing a well-fitting, all-black ensemble that seemed to come out of a spy movie. The eyepatch really just complemented the look.

“Yeah.”

He didn’t know what else to add; what should he say to someone who had never for one second trusted him? And not that he could blame the guy, really.

“Well, good to see you, Billy-boy.” Spike could feel an eye twitch at that but he just kept on smoking. Harris walked closer, his hands in his pockets and a slight grin on his nervous face. “It’s been a while. What’s it like to be back on the right side of the pond?”

Spike stared at him for a second, wondering if he was going to go back to his usual ‘let’s insult the Spike’ routine or not; he did seem friendly, so he decided to give him a chance.

“Can’t say I miss California’s sun, ’s a matter of fact.”

“Heh, figures.” There was a beat, both of them looking at each other in an awkward silence. “Look, man, I just wanted to say…” One of the boy’s hands went to his hair in a nervous gesture, then he huffed lightly and smiled a bit more at him. “Well, I guess I just want to say thanks. I don’t know how you did it, coming back and all, but… thanks.”

Spike blinked a couple of times at him, his hand with the lit fag stopping in front of his face. That he hadn’t expected.

“You saved the world.” Harris spread his arms slightly and kept smiling at him, and Spike thought he could actually feel something weird going on inside him. “How cool is that, man? Or as you guys would say here, mate. I can call you mate, right?”

He just kept staring at him, blinking slowly once. Was he pulling his leg?

“... sure,” he finally answered, even though he wasn’t sure at all.

Harris actually laughed at that, a small, embarrassed laugh, and he scratched his neck in a nervous gesture.

“Look, Spike, I know this is awkward. You and me, we’ve never… well. You know how it’s been between us,” he continued, looking at him with an apologetic smile, and Spike snorted lightly. “But, you did save the world, and I’m pretty sure you thought you’d be toast after that.” Spike nodded slowly and Harris nodded as well, grinning again. “Exactly. And that’s, well, that’s superhero material in my book. And when I say book, I mean comic book, and I mean several of them.” Was Xander Harris actually grinning at him in embarrassment? “So, what do you say we start over? I do wanna know how you’re back, and the when and the why and all that, but first…” He held out his hand to him; Spike was speechless. “Clean slate, starting over. What do you say?”

Spike felt like he had something to say indeed, but couldn’t remember what. He stared at him, going from his hand to his face, that was actually flushing in embarrassment — was this really Xander Harris?

Just when the boy looked like he might be regretting the whole thing and could be moving his hand back, Spike flicked the fag to the ground and grasped his hand.

“Deal.”

If anyone ever asked him, he would never, under any circumstances, admit that he felt something in his chest region at the gesture; that Harris’s warm and firm hand in his brought him a sense of acceptance and belonging his old human self had only ever dreamed of; that the young man's happy grin made his own lips turn up of their own volition. He’d never, under any circumstances, admit that being accepted by ‘the Whelp’ made him feel like an official Scooby — or that that was in any way a sweet feeling deep in his gut.

They just shook hands and nothing surprisingly momentous happened between them; that was his story and he was sticking to it.

After that bit of perfectly ordinary interaction, they spent some time catching up with each other, and wasn’t that incredible in itself? As it turned out, Xander Harris was the first person of the Scooby bunch he told the story of his reappearance in Wolfram and Hart. He found that, while being as much as a boy as ever, he was a rather fun kind of audience to have, when he wasn’t busy treating him as the dirt beneath his shoes: he reacted in all the right ways, gasping and gesticulating and all around being a right ridiculous git, and maybe Spike almost felt like he could be glad if one day he might call the guy a friend. He also was distinctly grateful that he had no telepathic bone in his body, though.

He did leave out some of the more humiliating moments — no need for him to know about that Lindsey bastard pulling one on him and convincing him of being some kind of chosen hero. He did not, however, leave out his win over good ol’ Peaches, and got all kinds of chuffed when Harris actually patted him on the shoulder and said “Good on ya, mate!”, no matter how atrocious his attempt at a British accent was.

At that point, though, he did notice that while he’d been eager to ask him about his comeback to unlife, he hadn’t said a word about his own experiences of the past year. And while he was almost ready to accept that Harris had more hidden depths than he’d previously considered possible, this thorough interest in the life of someone else seemed a tad too much.

“What about you then?” He asked, stopping him from asking something else. “How’s life treating you on the right side of the pond?”

Harris scoffed and idly scratched his neck.

“Right for you, maybe.” He seemed to take a sudden interest in a sword one of the slayers must have left near the wall they were leaning against. “Well, life here is certainly interesting,” he added after a few seconds of fiddling with the hilt. “And hey, I’m kind of the head watcher here, if you squint and tilt your head and look hard… OK, well, Giles is still the boss watcher, but by now I’m the vice-boss watcher, you know?” He picked up the sword and started rotating it slightly at his sides. “Got to learn all kinds of stuff! I’ve also helped with looking for new slayers all around the wo—” he stopped talking with a yelp when the sword scraped hard against the wall, and he quickly put it back against it, giving a little laugh. “Well, you know. There’s new girls with super powers all over the place and I helped out finding them. Now I’m mostly here at slayer central though, helping out the Buff to train all the newbies.” He gave a tired smile, folding his arms in a tense gesture. “Life is good.”

Spike raised his eyebrows and just glanced at his folded arms.

“Sure. Look right glowin’, you do.”

“Exactly! Glowing, with the happiness and the joyfulness and the all-around sense of purpose.” He nodded vehemently, all while giving a big sigh. “Definitely.”

There were a few moments of silence.

“So you’re exhausted and feel lost, huh?”

“God, yeah,” exclaimed Harris, sagging against the wall. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, life surrounded by attractive… energetic young women sounds like a fantasy, but reality?” He scoffed lightly and looked up to the darkening sky. “It’s a bit different.”

Spike felt a pang at the memory of LA, and a certain group of attractive, energetic women, and all that he’d gone through alongside them… he gritted his teeth at the onslaught of memories and took a deep, silent breath with closed eyes. When he felt like he could avoid bawling like a baby in front of his companion, he looked up and saw that he was thankfully too engrossed in the overcast sky to notice his distress.

“Yeah, Harris,” he answered in what was an entirely level and not at all rough voice. “Think I get what you mean.”

“Yeah.”

They stayed silent for a while after that, each engrossed in his own thoughts, until Spike felt like the memories risked choking him into a husk of himself. He shrugged, trying to physically move them away from himself, and took out another cigarette. By the time he’d lit it his hand wasn’t even trembling anymore, and he almost felt satisfied with himself.

“Still, you get to be a watcher. ’S gotta have all kinds of advantages.”

“Sure, when you consider an advantage being called ‘sir’ all the time…” Spike just raised an eyebrow at that. “And never in a fun way.” Spike huffed a laugh and shook his head. “I’m just saying, all of us straight people risk going a bit stir-crazy in here. Not that I should have a relationship, after the shitshow that was the end of my last one… none of the girls would deserve that, believe me.”

His expression got particularly dejected then, with a strong side of pathetic, and Spike repressed the urge to slap him on the head.

“Snap out of it, Harris. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Xander looked at him like he’d just suggested he date a ghost.

“And that matters here because..?”

“Just sayin’, you made a mistake, you learned from it. Doesn’t mean you have to keep on making it.”

There was a deeply uncomfortable silence after that when they looked at each other in a guarded way, both thinking about Spike’s own mistake and how trying to learn from it had resulted in his soul.

“You’re telling me I should try and sweep one of these super-strong ladies off her feet?”

“Sure, if that’s what you want, should give it a try…” Spike tried very hard not to look amused at the thought but going by Harris’s mildly offended look, he might have failed a bit short of that. “Truth is, I don’t know shit about what the right thing to do is. Back in the day, I thought that getting a soul would make everything clearer and easier. Turns out, everything’s muddier and more complicated than ever.”

“Amen, mate, amen.”

“Take it things are definitely unpatchable between you and demon-lady, then?”

Harris looked at him with a confused expression, which was damn confusing on its own. Until the young man’s eye got a decidedly hurt, even grief-stricken look in it, and Spike got a bad, bad feeling.

“Oh… you didn’t know.” Harris looked down, giving Spike the uncomfortable feeling that he was fighting back tears. His voice was suddenly very small and Spike could kick himself in the face. “Anya — she didn’t make it. She died saving Andrew… on the Hellmouth.” 

The rush of grief that hit Spike then surprised him in its intensity.

“Harris… I’m sorry. No, I didn’t know.” Was his voice hoarse? Not like I give a crap.

Harris shrugged, still looking down, and Spike swallowed. The memory of Anya in her shop came to mind, of their little bit of a night together and of Harris’s hurt eyes when he came to kill him then. Back when the boy had both of his eyes, back when Spike didn’t have a soul or common human decency… all those memories suddenly struck him, forcing him to furiously smoke the rest of his cigarette; anything to stop himself from breaking down and asking Harris’s forgiveness for all that grief. What would be the point? Guy wanted to start over; saying sorry now would just be opening up old wounds, wouldn’t do much more than ease his own battered conscience and uselessly remind Harris of all that old pain. Even more than he’d already done, that was.

He drew a last, long pull from his cigarette before flicking it to the ground, then moved towards the door that led to the kitchen.

“You got any beer in this castle, Harris?”

Could at least try to drink some cheer back into the boy, right?

“Yeah, there are some tough locals who love Scottish ales here…” Spike pretended not to see him quickly wipe a tear from under his eyepatch, his voice getting stronger and steadier by the second. “I mean, of course, I drink a lot of beer too,” Harris rushed to add, sending him a grin that didn’t warm his dead heart, no sir, not at all. Spike just grinned back at him with a cocked brow, accepting the joke for the peace offering that it was, and led the way back to the kitchen.

They didn’t add a word on any of that while taking their drinks. Harris, for his part, managed to surprise the heck out of him when he gave him a bag of blood and a black mug with the words ‘I don’t bite!’ written in red on it. It turned out that Buffy had sent him shopping that morning. Spike couldn’t decide whether he was more touched by the mug or by the fact that the young man asked him to remind him just how much he liked to heat his blood for ‘maximum pleasure’, and with a smile on his face too. In the end, the idea of being touched by anything that he did was just too much, no matter how the thought of Anya’s death hurt; so he ended up ignoring each bloody, tangled emotion and just grunted his thanks to the boy, stuffing his face with his blood.

At this rate, we’re gonna bloody hug by the end of the night.

He suppressed a little shudder at that and proceeded to spend some more time chatting with him, placing a table between them just in case. He’d noticed that his Summers ladies weren’t in the kitchen anymore but he pretended not to feel himself burning with the need to know where she was, and what she was thinking, and if she’d feel at all up to another long, intense talk by the time she was done with the Bit… and then Harris started saying that he missed American music of all things, his cheer back to full force, so he forced himself to concentrate on their conversation because that was complete bollocks.

They ended up drinking more beer than either of them had expected and talking about more things than he knew the guy cared about, both resolutely ignoring the painful bit of conversation they’d shared over Anya. Time went on and by the time her voice chuckled at one of Harris’s dumb jokes from behind him, Spike realised he’d almost completely stopped thinking about her for a while. Had Harris started taking lessons from Red on witchcraft?

“Never expected to see you guys so friendly. I guess distance and time really do wonders, huh?”

Spike scoffed while Harris laughed.

“You should have seen his face when I gave him his new mug, Buff!”

Spike turned back to stare at him lightly.

“Didn’t make any face.”

“Oh yeah, you were totally flustered, bleach-boy.”

“Was not,” he said with a sniff, taking a sip of his beer.

“You were this close to hugging me, man,” Harris insisted while Buffy circled the table to go and sit next to him, both facing Spike and grinning widely.

“You were clearly daydreaming, mate. What, missed me that much that now you want a piece o’ Spike?”

The boy recoiled with an exaggerated grimace and vehemently disagreed, but Spike’s attention was drawn to Buffy’s chuckle and he felt quite too proud of himself to stop there. They kept on bantering for a couple more minutes, while Buffy seemed to relax and smile more and more, and he felt like the king of the world.

“Well, OK, you know what? I’m pretty tired, I think I’m gonna call it a night.” Both Buffy and Spike looked at him with raised brows as he stood and he grinned at them. “All right, so maybe not as tired so much as aware that you two need to talk. It’s been good, mate, feel free to get a piece of the Xan any time you want,” he added, winking and pointing bloody finger guns at him. Spike just grimaced in mild disgust and avoided commenting, while Buffy chuckled again. Who’d’ve thought, Harris wasn’t that useless after all…

After he left they smiled at each other until Spike felt like something was tightening around his heart. She looked tired, not as much as the night before, but it didn’t really look like she could be looking forward to a long chat after all.

“Spike —”

“Buffy —”

They both stopped, smiling at each other before looking down, and Spike felt the powerful urge to smack his own head against the table. When had he become such a ponce? (Who was he kidding, he knew exactly when.)

“Look, Buffy, we don’t need to do this now.” She looked up at him and her expression got back to guarded. “I think you’ve had enough… intense moments today, haven’t you?”

She just looked at him for a couple of seconds before a small smile tugged at her lips.

“You were stalking me while I trained, weren’t you?” He opened his mouth to say that no, he wasn’t stalking her and would they drop it already, but she raised a hand to stop him and he shut his lips with a faint glare. “Don’t even. I guess old habits die hard, that’s all.” He glared a bit more but let her finish. She was smiling, after all… “Seriously, I’ve come to accept it. Vampire exes, basically can’t expect you guys not to stalk me, right?”

Spike’s humour pretty much evaporated at that, an uncomfortable sense of annoyance and pain leaving him with a set jaw. He schooled his eyes to neutral and just looked at her as levelly as he could.

“Right. Sure.”

Buffy, to her credit, seemed to understand her mistake and looked ashamed for a second, leaving him with a bitter sense of victory. Was this how their every interaction was doomed to go?

They didn’t say anything for a couple of seconds, until he was almost ready to get up and get lost somewhere where she wasn’t, when her hand touched his arm. He looked back at her and swallowed, cursing himself for being such a lovesick fool.

“Sorry about that.” Her voice was low and he could see her struggle to talk. Was he an asshole for being satisfied that she was making an effort? “Didn’t mean to make it awkward. I know you haven’t stalked me.” He nodded, feeling a bit of his tension leaving him — while another kind of tension spread from her hand, still on his arm on the table. I’m a hopeless prat, aren’t I? “Besides,” she added with a small smile that shot through his defences, “You’d have done a better job of it… Rome, really?”

He sniffed, taking a sip of his beer with his free hand.

“Thought you were shacking up with the bloody Immortal.”

She wrinkled her nose at that and his hand twitched to touch her. He forced it still.

“Well, that was the idea for the decoy, yes. Andrew did say it would be hilarious… I just never thought to ask why.”

“Git had a laugh at mine and Peaches’s expense, clearly.”

“And if either of you had decided to stick around to say hello to… well, ‘me’, you’d have known.”

Spike bent his head at that, feeling again that his cold blood was rushing in the direction of his cheeks. Her hand squeezed his arm before leaving it and he looked back up.

“Pet… Buffy. I am sorry.”

She just looked at him with a small, sad smile and nodded.

“Yeah.”

They kept looking at each other and Spike felt helpless; helpless to go back to the banter with Harris, when she was smiling; helpless to have her touch him again; helpless to do anything but fuck up when it came to her.

“Look, pet, you look tired.”

“You know, Spike, you keep saying that and I’ll start thinking I’m doing something wrong with my personal care,” she interrupted him with a small, cheeky grin.

“Personal care’s excellent, pet.” Don’t make it weird, don’t make it weird, don’t make it weird… “Just meant to say, we could take a stroll tomorrow evening, when the sun’s low. Wouldn’t wanna wear out the head slayer here,” he said with a grin of his own.

“As if you could, Spike.”

Spike concentrated very hard and managed not to let any innuendo out of his lips. Don’t make it weird, don’t make it weird…

“Well. Right. What do you say, then?” There, that wasn’t weird, was it?

She looked at him with a knowing smile and he thanked his lucky stars it took much more than this for vamps to actually blush.

“OK. It’s a date.” Spike managed not to splutter at that, but it was pretty close. “Let’s say we meet after sunset, all right? There’s lots of lovely paths around here.”

“Yeah. All right.” His voice didn’t even tremble, so what if it was a bit rough? Couldn’t really expect anything less.

“Thank you, Spike.” Her smile became gentler and she touched his arm again for a second. “I really am stupidly tired these days and, well, I’m just glad you managed to get your head out of your ass long enough to board a plane and get over here. So thanks.”

He nodded, feeling like he should be the one thanking her. But how do you thank someone for giving your life purpose?

He fought the urge to shake his head at himself, the thought of Betta Fish slapping him with his clammy fin in his head.

“Thank you for not punching my face in, Slayer. Buffy,” he corrected quickly, and she sent a satisfied smile his way.

They kept smiling at each other for a few more seconds, Spike feeling like he was a twelve-year-old with his first crush and Christ, could he be any more pathetic?

They finally did break the stupid smile-and-stare fest and then they were both going up the stairs. He pretended he knew the way to his room and let her turn to a different hallway to get to hers; her final “Goodnight, Spike” was soft, and gentle, and he smiled back at her kind smile, and then he looked at her go and felt like the idiot he was. The fact that there were two slayers walking down the same corridor and looking at him funny didn’t really make things better.

After he wandered around for an amount of time he wouldn’t have admitted out loud — why would all the hallways look the bleeding same? How could anyone not get lost here? — he finally got back to his room, sagging against the closed door.

He had a date. With the Slayer. With Buffy.

He thumped his head lightly against the door.

He was so buggered.

 

Chapter Text

The next day brought him clarity. Of course Buffy hadn’t meant much by that ‘date’ remark; they’d been joking and she probably hadn’t thought about it at all. A die-hard hopeful voice inside him kept on nagging him, saying that she’d also mentioned how they’d had ‘something’ the other day; she’d said so, hadn’t she? And of course they had, but that had been over a year before… for all he knew, she might have moved on to bloody women, in the meantime.

He resisted the urge to thump his head against any and all horizontal surfaces around him while he went to get a shower. Wouldn’t do to show any weakness while surrounded by slayers – Christ knew that taking a shower while he could hear one of them softly singing to herself in one of the other stalls was unsettling enough.

So, Buffy had clearly not meant this as a real date. But she had used the word; should he get miffed that she’d mention dating, when she clearly didn’t mean that and he was clearly still pining for her? Was this one of the cases the fish had referred to, when he talked about Spike treating her as a perfect goddess that could do no wrong?

He furiously scrubbed at his hair, annoyance rising. This was ridiculous. He was over-analysing her every word and his every feeling, and it was just so… so… pathetic? Needy? He didn’t know what it was, but it wasn’t what a fierce warrior like him should do, damn it. To hell with self-reflection, it was ridiculous was what it was! He wanted to be his own man, not his own pansy.

“Don’t stop believing… hold on to that feeling!” came the voice from the slayer singing to herself. He scowled in her general direction.

Bloody pansy you are too, you bint.

Still, he deflated, letting the warm water wash over him while he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He was over-analysing stuff, and he was being ridiculous; nothing new there, at least. He’d just have to stick around for a while, see if the Slayer and him could get to have actual conversations without feeling the need to punch each other’s faces in every five sodding minutes. And then, they might discover something between them… something to do with that old ‘something’ they’d shared back in Sunnyhell. Something worth fighting for.

Or , a little voice told him while he started gathering his stuff to go, you might discover that that ‘something’ has disappeared. That after all this time, you’re grown just too apart from each other, and this great undying love is… well, that it is no more.

He had to stop for a second, his legs suddenly a bit unstable under him.

Was that even remotely possible? That couldn’t be, right? He still felt passion for her, for good or bad, and he still yearned to see her happy… but could it be that this would turn out to be something else after all? Maybe something closer to what he felt for Dawn?

He swallowed, finally getting out of the stall. The girl was still singing Don’t Stop Believing, clearly uncaring of anyone else who could do with a little silence around there, and he resolutely ignored the stares that a couple of slayers who were washing their hands sent his way. Another time, he could have spared a second to ask them whether they’d never seen a vampire in wet hair, a towel, and flip-flops; right then though, he just wanted to go to his room and brood in peace.

Except that he didn’t want that, because he wasn’t bloody Angel.

He glared at his room once he got there, feeling more annoyed than ever. He’d gone past ridiculous and gotten straight to bloody idiotic. He’d come all the way here thinking that he might have to move on from the bint; why did he react like a pansy boy at the first thought of it actually happening?

He got dressed and after peering behind his covered window decided that there was a shaded enough corner in the courtyard with a punching bag he could pummel. He definitely needed to pummel something, and he more than definitely needed to forget the terror the words ‘moving on’ were leaving somewhere in his torso.

 

*

 

He found that slayer-graded training equipment was sturdy as all hell, because after almost an hour of punching it, the bag seemed thoroughly unconcerned with his efforts to destroy it. Was it possible Buffy had had their stuff magicked to resist their stupidly strong, dainty fists? Not that he was complaining. The only thing he would’ve gladly complained about, had anyone asked, was the steady stream of glances, looks, stares and what have you that the slayers around him kept on throwing his way. Unfortunately, no one he knew was around for him to complain to, so he kept it to himself and his trusty punching bag, which at least had the decency of having no eyes with which to stare at him.

It turned out that being persistently looked at by attractive women had its downsides, at least when said women left him antsy for a fight and with a constant sense of danger. Usually, he’d have loved the feeling, taunted them even to get more of it, to see if he could get them all worked up too. As it was, though, he was a bit worried that right there and then, any slayer that felt a bit too rebellious could go for the kill. And this probably wasn’t the ideal venue for him to protect himself against something like that…

Something hot and furious flared within him as one of those staring slayers came closer, stopping to his right and smirking at him. It was the red-haired Scot he’d seen the first night and he suddenly felt like he could very much stir some trouble, if these girls felt like they could treat him like a sodding circus beast to gape at. He threw one last furious punch to the unyielding bag before turning to face her, sneer in place.

“What’re you gawking at, then?”

She just smirked some more and Satsu chose that moment to join her.

“Ms. Buffy asked us to check that none of the girls came to bother you, vampire.”

He narrowed his eyes at her.

“You could’ve done a better job of it, then. Feel like a bloody tiger in a cage zoo, the way you all keep staring at me.”

She actually had the gall to look him up and down, her expression clearly saying that she wasn’t that impressed. What the hell had crawled up her ass and died there?

The other girl moved forward then, holding out a solid-looking, long wooden stick to him.

“Let’s practice.”

“Not sure I feel like practicin’, pet,” he murmured, eyeing the wooden stick with suspicion.

“Swear I won’ use it to stake you,” she insisted, her Scottish accent thick. She was still smirking a bit but didn’t seem altogether murderous, just curious for the most part.

And wasn’t that exactly what he’d wanted to do? Vent a bit of Slayer-related frustration on one of these ogling bints?

“Well then,” he said, taking the stick and rotating it a bit around himself, “wouldn’t say no to a lady.”

She smirked a bit more and Satsu moved back, giving them more space. All around them, Spike could feel a few of the other slayers moving their attention on them, and he felt a rush of pride and worry and furious joy for battle fill him.

Before he expected it, the slayer jumped at him with the first hit and they started. They danced around each other, landing hits and jabs as well as missing some, and soon he realised that Buffy must train her girls well, because this was no newbie to personal combat. She was fast and strong, but pretty soon it was clear that he was faster – and a bit more creative. At one point, she hit him hard enough to send him to the ground, where he promptly grasped a fistful of small stones that he threw in her face, just before throwing himself at her and tackling her to the ground, his stick landing hard against her stomach and his head close to her neck.

“I win,” he said with a feral grin, realising only then that he’d vamped out sometime during the struggle. She trembled slightly underneath him, but he had to give it to her: her expression remained set in concentrated adrenaline, showing no fear.

“Vant to try that again, vamp?”

He looked up and saw a small blonde with a strong German accent getting closer to them, her expression intrigued. He could feel that the slayers around them by then were paying much closer attention, but he ignored their narrowed gazes and the sense of danger he felt from them. He got back up, offering a hand to the Scot on the ground. She tilted her head at him but stood without taking it; he shrugged and pointed his wooden stick to the German bird.

“I aim to please, lady. Let’s go.”

She spared a glance to his vampire ridges before grasping the wooden stick that his former opponent threw her way. Then she was on him, and this one was faster than the other: she sent a flurry of hits his way and for a while all he could do was keep up with them. After a few tough seconds though, with a snarl, he threw her off him enough to start an offensive. They kept sparring for long minutes, neither of them getting the better of the other, until with a final growl, he landed a jab with his stick and followed it with a powerful punch that made her twirl. He grasped her stick and used her own arm to take her in a semi-choke-hold, his fangs by her neck and itching to close the distance.

“Win again,” he murmured, her sweat and excitement smelling so heady that he had to push her away from him with a tad too much force.

He took a deep breath and refrained from shaking his head to clear it, by this time painfully aware of the stares of a lot of slayers who had stopped their training to look at them. Letting them know that even just a part of him was considering biting one of them didn’t sound like a good idea.

“Wanna try me?”

Spike turned and there she was: for the first time in… well, years, Buffy looked rested and calm and like she was having fun. Suddenly, he couldn’t care less about his demon being a bastard, he just wanted a go with her.

“Dumb question, luv. You know I’m always ready for a dance.”

Her smirk widened in a grin and she took the wooden stick from the German girl. Spike twirled his own, assessing their situation: she was rested and untouched, unlike him who could feel bruises growing a bit all over his body; she looked him up and down, probably trying to assess just how many of those he had, and he took the time to do just the same – not so much looking for bruises, though.

After a few seconds of silent watching, Buffy feinted and then delivered a harsh blow to his left arm, making him almost lose his stick.

“Girls, I called you all here because, as I mentioned, we have a new guest.” He grinned at her and after a feint of his own he barrelled into her, sending her crashing against a rack of weights and jumping back before she could retaliate. “I've already told you that he’s a vamp.” He growled dutifully, letting his tongue trace his fangs and feeling a powerful lick of arousal when she followed the movement with her eyes. She threw a weight at him while standing up and missed by less than an inch; he could hear an oof from behind him and attacked her while she was busy sparing a glance to the hit slayer. He was dying to punch her, any skin-to-skin touch would be heaven, but he settled for hard blows with his stick, until she missed a parry and got a good hit to the hipbone. “And I've also told you,” she continued through gritted teeth, managing to parry his next flurry of blows, “that he’s gonna pay his rent by training you girls.”

Wait, what?

His moment of surprise cost him when she kicked him away and then didn’t miss a beat to follow him, slamming into him and rolling him face-down to the ground. He tried to rear back but she punched him on his back, not too hard but pointedly right behind his heart.

“I win,” she exhaled on a gasp, and he felt himself getting uncomfortably hard at her panting voice. He huffed some air out of his lungs and breathed deeply, his body starting to register all the places they were touching: her fist on his back, her hand grasping his upper arm, her legs strong against his waist, her centre at the small of his back…

She chuckled lightly and then moved off him, her hand squeezing his arm maybe a bit longer than strictly necessary. He briefly considered the benefits of staying face-down on the ground to conceal his hard-on. That couldn’t look too bad to the other slayers, could it?

“Didn’t really know about that small arrangement, pet,” he complained, pushing just his shoulders up and looking up at her. Her cheeks were red and a strand of hair had gotten out of her bun and swayed in front of her eyes. He swallowed down the urge to wax poetics – or jump her there and then.

“Sounds like a good trade to me, Spike.” She huffed the strand of hair away from her nose and grinned at him widely. “Training in exchange for a room and blood. What do you say?”

He couldn’t help smiling up at her and settled for sitting on the ground with raised knees, keeping his hands from adjusting his jeans.

“Throw in some beer and I’m in.”

Her grin widened even more and he felt like he’d won their little spar after all. Not that I’ve ever considered being under you as a loss, pet…

“So, girls,” she said, still smiling at him for a second but talking a bit more loudly. “This is Spike. He’s a vampire, but he’s good… except for his taste in music.”

“Oi!”

“And don’t ask him to give you advice on which TV shows to watch but, for most other things, he’s to be trusted.” He saw her looking at the slayers around them intensely, seemingly stopping her gaze on some of them longer. “He’s a friend.”

There were a few moments of silence, which he spent looking at her. Anyone could read ‘boss’ on her features and in that instant he couldn’t think of a moment when he’d been more proud of her.

“Uh, ma’am, excuse me,” a voice came from the crowd. The situation in his jeans seemed to be settled for the moment, so he stood while the girl talked. “Is this Spike… the Spike?”

“One and only,” he said with a smirk, turning to look at the dark-haired Latino girl with an American accent that was speaking. She looked worried and determined and just a tad fierce.

“The Spike who was part of the Scourge of Europe together with Darla, Angelus, and Drusilla a hundred years ago?” He clenched his jaw tightly and felt Buffy stir next to him. “One of the most murderous vampires in recent history, who killed two slayers in the twentieth century?”

A murmur went through the slayers around them and he felt a sudden urge to growl and assert some kind of dominance. He punched down that urge, settling for taking out his cigarettes from his coat pocket.

“Yeah. That’s me.” He lit one and dragged a long breath from it, keeping his gaze steady on the girl. Her cheeks were a bit flushed but her firm gaze didn’t waver, and he couldn’t help but admire her a bit. “Listen, kiddies,” he said, still looking at her, “I’ve been a monster far longer than any of you has been alive. Done things you’d rather not think about, countless times.” He finally broke her gaze to look at the rest of the slayers, who had lost their eager expressions and mostly gotten a sober, dangerous look. Buffy’s presence beside him was a quiet strength and he did his best to ignore his gut feeling of inadequacy. “Then a whole lotta shit happened, which made me go and get a soul for myself.” He could see some raised eyebrows, but most of them didn’t show any strong reaction at that. He didn’t know what to feel about that. “So now I’m all white hat, but this doesn’t mean that you should show any other vampire any mercy. They won’t return the courtesy.”

He looked back at the dark-haired girl and she stared back at him in silence.

“Also, Amy, I’m sure that your thorough research has shown you that this vampire here has literally saved the world from being overthrown by horrible über-vamps a year and a half ago.” Buffy’s voice beside him was firm and strong and he only just barely stopped himself from looking at her like a lost puppy. “So back off with the hostility, he’s a good guy. God knows we all make a bunch of bad decisions in life, even with a soul.”

There was yet more silence, but the slayers around them seemed to have gotten the memo and looked a tiny bit less tense. Buffy dismissed them with a loud comment that the show was over and he looked at them spread out in the courtyard or leave it.

After a few more seconds of gathering up courage he turned and looked at her: she seemed a bit more tired already but gave him a small smile.

“Always lovely to meet the family, huh?”

He just chuckled and drank in her beautiful face. Did she become more gorgeous every year, or was that just him?

“Well, come on. I’ll get myself a sandwich while we wait for sundown, since the paths aren’t as shaded as this courtyard, and then we’ll take a walk.”

He nodded and followed her to the kitchen, swallowing hard at the thought of being alone with her.

It turned out that sundown was still a while to go so they idled in the kitchen together, where they met Harris making himself some food as well. The atmosphere among them seemed ridiculously easy to Spike, who couldn’t remember a moment when they’d spent some time laughing together outside of last night. Was it really this easy to become comfortable with each other? To become a Scooby?

And how ridiculous was it that the thought of being one of the merry gang of slayerettes lit a spark in him?

He ended up ignoring those thoughts because Buffy and the boy were saying – again – that he had no taste in TV, and that required all of his attention to correct.

 

*

 

It was a while later, when the sun had finally gone down, that Buffy and he said goodbye to Harris and went out for their stroll. Buffy seemed pensive and didn’t talk for the first few minutes, looking in front of her with a distracted expression. As for him, he was aiming for a bored, unconcerned expression and probably managing a merely slightly anxious one.

“First of all, I want to say that you’re an idiot.” He looked at her with a surprised expression meeting her disappointed one. “Seriously, Spike? Not wanting to contact me because you didn’t want to touch your precious hero image? That’s ridiculous. Tell me you realise how ridiculous it is.”

He set his jaw and tried to count to ten, not wanting to get back to the yelling just yet.

“Know it wasn’t smart. I’m sorry.” She looked down with a small sigh and he swallowed. “I am sorry, Buffy. I… I shouldn’t have, but it was easier, so that’s what I did.”

She didn’t say anything for a while, looking forward to the woods where the path they were walking led.

“Why?” He looked down, his hand fidgeting with his lighter in his coat pocket. “Why would that be easier than a phone call?”

He took a deep breath and then he started talking. He told her how he’d come back from the amulet; how, at the beginning, contacting her had been all he could think about. How sweet Fred had done all she could to save him and then failed. And how, by the time he’d been back in solid state, Angel had managed to let him see some harsh truths. Mainly, that a vampire with a soul ultimately was still too much of a monster to be a hero. At that point, he wanted to keep to himself the fear of her judgement but forced himself to spit it out. It came out in a hoarse whisper and she stopped walking, turning to him and staring until he looked up at her. Her eyes were soft and a bit sad, but he could see no judgement there.

“You are an idiot, Spike, and that’s the only judgement you’ll receive from me,” she said with the gentlest voice. “Didn’t you tell me that you’ve seen the best and worst of me? I can say that I’ve seen a bit of that of you too, and no, of course I won’t judge you.” He set his jaw to try and keep his mouth shut. Her eyes were gentle and sad on him, but then she turned and started walking again. “As for what you told me the other day at the cabin…” He had to fight the urge to flee at that and force himself to walk and look straight forward. “It’s horrible. I’m sorry you have to live with that.” It was a whisper, and then she took his hand and squeezed it lightly for a second before letting go.

He looked at her in wonder, speechless, his hand tingling, his every nerve ending yearning to touch her again. He spent long seconds asking himself if any of this was real; the sharp, sweet scents of nature that surrounded him seemed to remind him that it was, but it was still hard to believe.

“I can’t imagine what it must be like for you, Spike… but I don’t think it makes you a monster.” Her voice was unaccountably sweet but firm too, and he laughed bitterly. “No, you listen to me, you dumb vamp. You went and got a soul. You did what no other vampire ever did, just to become a better man.”

“Yeah, and look where it brought me,” he answered with a grimace, looking to the side. Her voice might have been sweet, but her words didn’t make much sense, did they?

“It brought you to saving the world. To trying to do better – isn’t that what staying with Angel was, after all? Or did you leave him to face that whole mess in LA alone?”

He swallowed hard, blinking his suddenly prickly eyes to avoid making a fool of himself. He thought about the dragon leading him to Angel’s bound body; thought about Jeremy and Illyria and Spider and Wesley, and everything everyone else had gone through, all because Angel had decided to take on an enemy too big. And he couldn't even blame him for that, after all, could he? He clenched his fists and swallowed hard again, keeping his gaze level on the wood edges they were approaching.

“How much do you know?”

He thanked his lucky stars his voice was just a tad hoarser than usual, but he could feel Buffy’s eyes on him.

“Not much, actually. The slayers there… they haven’t been great with the detailed reporting.” He snorted. No, they wouldn’t. “Why don’t you tell me what happened?”

“Not right now.” Was his tone too curt? He couldn’t tell why, but the thought of talking about LA in hell was suddenly unbearable. She shook him from his thoughts by taking his hand again in hers and he couldn’t help but look at her: her eyes were open and worried.

“But you will?” He just looked at her in silence and Buffy stopped walking again, looking at him intently. “Spike, promise me you’ll tell me everything. Don’t you dare say no. I can tell that it was horrible, and you need to talk about it.”

“Technically, nothing happened,” he muttered in a low voice. She squeezed his hand and he couldn’t help but trace her knuckles with his thumb. “Went back in time and erased it all, didn’t he?”

“The girls told us about that, yes. But that didn’t erase their memories, or yours.” He kept tracing her knuckles, looking at their joined hands. “Spike…”

“Not now, Buffy,” he whispered. “Please, not now.”

He couldn’t look up at her, just kept looking at their hands. He could feel tears burning the back of his eyes, but he refused to spill them.

“OK,” she murmured, her voice quiet and soft. “OK.”

And then she hugged him. Spike was too surprised to move at first, but she just kept on holding him, until he finally moved his arms to encircle her slight form, his chest feeling tight against her soft one. 

They stayed there, holding each other in the middle of a path at the edge of  the woods, and he couldn't have said for how long. Part of him wanted to let it go, let at least some of the tension he felt go — let at least one tear out of his closed eyes — but he knew he couldn't very well hope for it to be over soon, if he did let himself go. So he concentrated on her instead: her arms around him, her breasts against his chest, her sweet-smelling hair against his face. He felt like he could break in shards if she so much as looked at him funny, at that moment. 

She eventually let him go and he could see that her eyes were bright and wet too; but she smiled at him, squeezing both his arms before stepping back, and for a second he was sure his heart had beaten. 

"Look at us. Biggest predators in the world, and we're here all emotional and cuddly," she said with a wide grin, half mocking and half shy. He grinned back at her, loving her a bit more for breaking that crushing tension. 

"You feeling cuddly, Slayer?" He teased her with an eyebrow waggle, and she barked a laugh and turned from him to start walking again, moving towards the nearby trees. She couldn't hide her blush though, making him feel stupidly satisfied. 

"Yeah, maybe I should call Wills for some good old-fashioned bestie cuddle times." 

"I could play bestie for once." She raised her eyebrows at him and he started speaking in a falsetto. "Oh, Buff, should I preemptively bake you excuse cookies for my next magical mess?" 

Buffy outright laughed at that and Spike felt like a giddy twelve-year-old at the sound. 

"You know, she doesn't mess up as much as you remember anymore. She's heading the witches in the UK and doing a great job of it too. I’m proud of her.” He looked at her smile that seemed a bit sad and raised his eyebrows.

“Guessing you’re also missing her, eh?”

“Yeah,” she exhaled on a sigh. “Yeah, lots of missage here. But she’s doing good work and that’s the way it is.” She shrugged and smiled a little smile at him and he couldn’t help but give her one of his own. “Tell me a bit more about LA before the whole hell thing?”

Her voice was light and he swallowed, managing to talk after just a few false starts. While he told her his stories, he could feel something like warmth spreading through his chest, and he had to repeatedly stop himself from touching her again.

God, luv, the things you do to me.

The atmosphere between them continued changing, now going from soft and tentative to easy and comfortable. He couldn’t stop wondering at that, at the way she just walked next to him and chatted with him like an old friend, just nodding casually at two hand-holding slayers that walked by them at some point. He realised then how valuable a friendship with this woman could be, how unbelievably happy it made him every time she smiled, or even better laughed at something he said — it turned out that having a telepathic fish for a friend was excellent material to get her to laugh.

By the time they were heading back to the castle he’d made up his mind that he wanted to stay there with her, no matter what happened between them. Her smiles were too sweet to lose, and he wasn’t interested in life without her anymore – if he ever had been in the first place.

Seemingly reading his thoughts, she stopped telling him a story about Dawn’s ‘insane-o eating habits’ to slyly ask him a question with a light tone.

“I haven’t asked, but I wasn’t ordering you to stay, of course. I mean, you just have to say it… if you want to go back to LA and your friends there, you’re free to go.”

He smirked at her and her expression that clearly said, ‘but please don’t’, making him feel inordinately full of himself.

“Oh, so I get freedom of choice now, pet? Long are the days of chaining me to the tub, huh?”

Was that a blush on her cheeks? Ohh, baby wanted to play… Should know that I’d never say no, Summers.

“No chaining. And it’s not like there’s many tubs in the castle, anyway…”

“What, mistress of the castle, and you don’t even get a decent bathroom to yourself? Hardly seems fair.”

“Oh, I have a bathroom,” she said, her blush even more pronounced.

“Good. Wouldn’t do for the mistress to have no place to tend to herself.” She kept on blushing furiously, changing the subject back to Dawn of all things and making him chuckle, a delicious feeling warming his gut and somewhere lower still.

“We actually had a long, good talk yesterday, you know. Maybe I even owe you some thanks.”

“’Course you do, luv, I’m bloody brilliant and you know it.”

She hit him lightly on the arm and he had to pretend not to be excited like a schoolboy about it.

“What I meant to say is, thank you for not letting me escape from her apologies, yesterday. It was…” She huffed, crossing her arms with a tired expression. “Well, it was exhausting and emotional and I’m never good with the emotional. But a lot of bad shit came out and I think it’s for the better.” She looked at him with a brief smile, her eyes hopeful and bright even though tired. “We’d never talked about so many things that we needed to get out there. I’m actually kinda hoping we can have a functional relationship some day, with a bit of an effort.”

“Mh, whatever are those like,” he murmured, feeling stupid sparks in his stupid chest at her chuckle. “Glad it went well, pet.”

“Uhm, well isn’t the word I’d use… more like scary, and terrifying, and draining, and did I mention the part where it scared the crap out of me?”

“Maybe once, but do feel free to mention any fear you might have felt.”

“Ha-ha. Seriously, I’d never wish something like this on anyone.” She seemed pensive for a second before adding, “OK, maybe someone…”

“Have too many enemies, slayer, that’s the truth.”

“You’d know about that, wouldn’t you, Big Bad?”

“And don’t you forget it,” he winked at her.

She chuckled, then turned back sober.

“She didn’t love that I told Willow about you… oh, don’t look at me like that. I’d started hearing rumours and I needed somebody to talk to, and I couldn’t very well go to Giles with this. He’s warmed up considerably to you by now, but, well…”

“Still some soreness there, pet?”

“Surprisingly,” she snorted. “Why would anyone still feel sore, when the person in question has tried to have their friend and ally killed?”

He couldn’t help it, he warmed up like a Christmas tree inside at hearing her call him friend. He did smash down the urge to beam and jump up and down, though.

“Haven’t settled that yet, then?” He asked, almost managing a level tone.

“Mostly, yes. He apologised, said he’d made a ‘grave error of judgement’, and we even toasted to your sacrifice, once.” He swallowed hard, his gaze riveted on the ground in front of his feet. “Still, you know. I just felt better talking with Willow, so we could… well, talk about best friends stuff too.”

Did she mean feelings? Maybe even romantic feelings? Romantic, undeveloped feelings for the guy who’d disappeared from her life without so much as a phone call when he came back? God, I could bloody hit myself.

“Well, anyway,” she continued quickly, “Dawn didn’t like that. At all. And of course, she was right.” She crossed her arms, looking up, a frustrated expression on her beautiful features. “I always do that. No wonder she hates me.”

“Stop with this bullcrap, luv. I’m serious – cut it out. We all make mistakes, and we can learn from them. This looks like learning to me, don’t it?” She narrowed her eyes at him and he hardly managed not to squirm. “I’ve made a bloody wrong call here too, haven’t I? Doesn’t mean it’s too late to make better on it. And thank you, Buffy,” he added after a beat, “for letting me try to make it better.”

She smiled up at him this little smile and he couldn’t have asked for more.

The rest of the walk to the castle was spent with her telling him about some of the things she’d talked about with Dawn, while he came to terms with the fact that she was trusting him with important, emotional stuff. It was heady knowledge, and he didn’t know what to do with it, except for feeling out of his sodding depth.

In the end, he’d been right on one thing: the ‘date’ didn’t have much on the way of dates to it and turned out to be just a walk between friends who had a lot to tell each other, after a long time apart. But for the unlife of him he couldn’t seem to find any fault in that: being friends, and genuinely so, with Buffy Summers felt like being able to feel the sunlight on his skin, warm and life-giving and deadly and bloody fiery all at once. He felt like he’d found his new favourite drug, and the way it hit him every single time she smiled or laughed at him? A bloke could get used to this kind of junkie life.

Chapter Text

When they’d finally reached the castle, it felt almost natural to meet Dawn and Harris there. They’d apparently spent a little under three hours walking and he felt yet more fiery warmth spread through his guts at the thought of being close enough to Buffy to be able to do this.

They were just getting ready to choose a movie when the magic got interrupted by the ever-present Satsu.

“Hey girl, love the hair, you should totally give me tips… wait, what’s up?” Buffy’s friendly tone turned serious as soon as Satsu’s sober expression registered. The Asian girl offered her a small sheet of paper where a strangely decorated ‘DC’ was drawn in red lines.

“Leah, Rowena, and I have just verified this. It’s a mark that’s been popping up everywhere for a while, but it’s passed under our radar before now.”

Buffy squinted at the paper until a light lit her eyes and she looked up at him.

“Wait, I’ve seen this. It was in the cabin in the woods, on the shirt of one of the demons, wasn’t it?”

He looked at it and tried to remember, but it was a lost battle.

“Sorry, pet, can’t say that I remember noticin’ anything on those bastards’ shirts.”

“Well, I’m pretty sure of it. Satsu, is there anything you can tell me about it?”

“Not really, ma’am,” she answered, shaking her head. “Just that it’s been seen all over the place.”

“Stop calling me ma’am,” Buffy said with a distracted tone, her gaze still on the mark on the paper.

“Yes, ma’am.”

She glared at Satsu for a second, the other girl struggling to keep a straight face.

“Well, we need to tell Giles then. Maybe it’s nothing but better safe than sorry.”

“Hey, I’m a watcher too here, I can help!”

Everyone turned to look at Harris, who promptly blushed. Dawn rolled her eyes and just took him with her, leading him away, and Buffy and Satsu went back to talking about keeping the slayers on the lookout. Soon they went after Dawn and Harris as well, Buffy casually turning to Spike to remind him to keep up with them; he felt yet another spark at being so easily added to their group, trying yet again to ignore the stupid feeling.

He followed them to a huge room that left him with his eyebrows raised: Xander and Dawn were at the centre of a semicircle of wide panels and screens, spanning both in length and height along two walls of the room, and there were several girls sitting at some of the computers, each doing something different. The air crackled with technology and magic, and he could see that at least one of the girls typing away at the keyboards was using magic too, her eyes wide and completely white in the screen light. It looked like the room belonged to a supernatural 007 movie, and he couldn’t be more surprised to find it there.

“Wait, what… is that Spike?”

His attention was dragged back to one of the big screens leaning from higher on the wall: he could see the confused, slightly flustered face of Rupert Giles squinting in his direction.

“Nice to see you’ve still got to kick the bucket, Ripper.”

“Spike! You’re finally here!” He looked at the screen next to it and saw Willow’s delighted face. “It’s good to finally see you, Mr. I'm Gonna Stay Away From You All. When did you arrive at the castle? Oh, I’m so sorry I missed the big reveal of the place. Isn’t it fantastic?”

“Nice to see you too, Red. Yeah, didn’t exactly expect an entire castle.”

“He keeps forgetting where his room is.”

“Oi, Nibblet, that’s not true!”

“Buffy! What is going on here?” Giles's voice was a tad higher than he remembered, so he had to smirk at his bewildered face on the screen.

“I’m back.”

“He’s actually been ‘back’ since nineteen days after Sunnydale fell...” sniffed Dawn, glaring at him sideways. “He’s just been too busy being a jerk to mention it to any of us.”

He was undecided between teasing her right back and shuffling his feet in residual shame, but Buffy shut them all up with a clear voice.

“Enough. Giles, we think we might have a situation here. Have you seen this red DC symbol anywhere or not?”

“W-well, yes, I mean no, I mean…” He took a deep breath and looked back at Buffy. “No, I haven’t seen it anywhere.”

“Me neither,” added Willow shaking her head, “but maybe it’s only just started, or we need to ask around. I’ll definitely signal the Aberdeen witches and slayers to be on the lookout.”

“And I’ll do the same here in London.”

“Good. Thanks, guys, and keep me posted.”

“Of course, Buffy. Now, will someone explain to me why nobody is surprised that Spike is alive?”

“Undead, watcher-man.”

Spike smirked some more at Giles’s expression getting even more upset.

“He’s been here for a couple of days, Giles, no biggie.”

“No big-... Buffy, are you seriously this unconcerned about this matter?” Buffy shuffled under his incredulous gaze and he shook his head, his expression closing. “We’ll talk about this in person. I’ll be there tomorrow morning, the slayers here have the situation under control.”

Buffy nodded at that and after one last narrow-eyed look in Spike’s direction, Giles broke the connection.

“Well, that sounds dire… want me to head down there too tomorrow, Buff?”

“Wouldn’t mind some best friend time, Wills.” Buffy seemed suddenly tired again, but she was smiling at the witch on the screen.

“Deal! I’ll be there in the evening. Don’t let Giles eat you alive before then — either of you,” she added with a cheeky grin and a wink in Spike’s direction. He grinned back, yet again trying to ignore how much it warmed him to be treated like that.

They all said their goodbyes and she closed the call too. Spike looked around and noticed that Satsu had left sometime during the farewells. As for the remaining Scoobies, they were already talking about what movie to watch next. Buffy left Dawn and Harris to it and walked next to him.

“You look thrilled to see Rupert, pet.”

“Hah. Yes, definitely looking forward to the moment I tell him I’ve known about you for ages and haven’t told him anything. After all, I adore hurting the people I love.”

He debated internally for a couple of seconds, then squeezed her arm lightly for a moment.

“No you don’t, luv. You’re a bloody wonder and you know it, you never make mistakes and your life is just perfect.” She chuckled and then smiled bashfully, and he couldn’t stop a smile. “It’ll be fine. Now let’s just choose a flick and forget about it for tonight.”

She looked at him and her smile slowly grew, her eyes incredibly warm. She didn’t need to say ‘thank you’ out loud for him to get it.

He couldn’t believe his day could end this well.

“OK, so we’re watching Mean Girls,” she exclaimed with a wicked grin.

Oh, bugger.

 

*

 

The next day saw him waking up in the afternoon, again. He wasn’t particularly keen on getting a move on to go and see the head watcher downstairs, but eventually he figured he had to. Walking down the castle stairs had gotten slightly more tense, in the meantime: all the lesser slayers kept sending him distrusting, sometimes downright hostile glances. As for him, he repressed the urge to sneer at them and kept sending them brilliant grins, enjoying how some of them actually blushed at that. Noobies.

When he got downstairs he took the time to make himself a hot mug of blood, then went to the courtyard, glad for the thickly overcast sky; there, several of the training slayers stopped their actions to stare at him. He sauntered to the centre of the courtyard, which was empty of equipment, and then spun slowly, letting a grin show on his face.

“So,” he drawled, “anyone up for a tussle?”

The ever-present Satsu walked up from behind him, looking at the girls that were getting closer to him.

“Come on, girls, you’ve heard Miss Summers yesterday. He’s gonna pay his stay with training.” She looked at him sidelong for a second. “Do we have any volunteer to start, or should I pick one?”

“Picking volunteers, Satsu? You’re a right lover of freedom, aren’t you?”

He could see her hand twitch and he couldn’t have said why he loved to get her riled up. Sure, she hadn’t showed him much sympathy since first seeing him, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on why exactly he enjoyed provoking her so much.

“I’m in!” He turned his grin toward the brunette who spoke and realised it was the girl from the day before. He didn’t let his grin fade and beckoned her forward. She swung her wooden sword, long and wide and clearly not meant just for practising, and stared at him while moving in front of him. “What weapon do you want to train with?”

“Oh, don’ worry about me, pet.” He grinned at her more widely while vamping out. “Lesson the first: got my weapon right here already.”

Then he lunged at her and they immediately set a furious pace of feints and blows and parries. She was strong and her technique was almost perfect — but she was clearly still inexperienced. Pretty soon, he was able to jerk her towards himself using her own sword and then slam her back-first to the ground. When he looked up, he found himself grinning right into Rupert Giles’s narrowed eyes.

“Watcher man,” he said jovially, offering a hand up to the girl. She just stared at him and rose on her own, and he shrugged.

“Spike.”

Leave it to Giles to infuse a single syllable with a whole world’s worth of disappointment and disapproval.

Spike did his best to ignore the flare of anger the other Brit sent through him and turned back to the Latino girl.

“Amy, is that it?” She nodded at him uncertainly and he gestured to her sword. “You got a weapon, you use it to keep the enemy away from your limbs, not to give them a chance to get their hands on you. If I’d meant you harm, I’d have gone straight for your neck — and if I’d been another kind of nastie, might have even gotten some venom on you.” She kept staring at him and he huffed. “Really, just trying to help you out here. We can stop with all the posturing, we’re on the same team.”

And strangely enough, he did feel tired of all the posturing. At some other time, he might have felt like the fun had just begun; as it was, seeing all of Buffy’s charges look at him like a potential betrayal waiting to happen was just exhausting.

(He refused to believe that Giles’s presence was the catalyst of this exhaustion.)

“Spike. A word, please.”

“Which word, old man? Rather fond of the word ‘bollocks’, myself. Ladies, who wants to go next?”

Spike,” Giles muttered between gritted teeth, but Spike could hear a nearby slayer titter and he turned to her instead.

“Fancy a go, then? Or should I try to make the guy here whistle like an old teakettle first?”

This time he could hear more than one soft giggle, feeling stupidly proud of himself. Until the taller man gripped his arm.

“Whenever you’re ready to act like an adult it would be high time to do so.”

“Whenever you’re ready to lose an arm, you keep right on touching me, mate.” They glared at each other for a few long seconds, then Giles finally moved his hand away. Spike set his jaw but relented. “All right, ladies, guess the whistling and the fighting will have to wait. I’ll be right back.”

He strode back out to the courtyard and into the kitchen and could hear the other man right behind him; when they were inside, he switched to following him through a few more corridors, until they found themselves in what was clearly the man’s office. Books were stacked in an elegant library lining three of the walls, and a cluttered desk was beneath a high window.

“Buffy told me you’ve been back and hiding behind Angel for over a year.” Well, the guy didn’t wanna waste time… “She also told me she knew. Her continued loyalty to you is, I believe, completely unwarranted.” Spike just stared at him and tried to remember all the reasons that punching his glasses right into his eyes was not, in fact, a good idea. “Worse, it’s damaging. To be loyal to someone who so clearly hasn’t got the first idea of what caring about people means … I’m honestly finding it hard to trust her judgment, right now.”

What the fuck?

“What the fuck?”

“I’m talking about your utter inability to do her good, and her apparent inability to realise it.”

He was staring at him, and telling him he didn’t know how to — 

“Shut your mouth,” he whispered, ignoring how his fists were shaking.

“No, I will not shut my mouth, you ungrateful prat!”

“Watcher, I swear to Christ — ”

“What? You’ll go and ask bloody Angel to keep yet another secret from my slayer for the next year?”

“Shut up!” He finally roared, sprinting up to him and realising he’d vamped out at some point. “Stop talking about what you don’t know and isn’t your fucking business!”

“Isn’t it?” Roared back Giles, looking down at him with furious eyes, and what the fuck was his problem? “Isn’t it my business if the people I care about suffer because of you?”

“You don’t know anything —”

“Oh, I can imagine well enough, Spike,” he spat back at him, not backing down a centimetre. “What, were you too fond of your shining hero image to call her, when you came back? Too fond of your last moment of ultimate sacrifice,” he sneered, “to let her know that here you are, back to your old, non-champion self?”

“What the fuck is your problem, watcher? First you try to get me killed, then you want me back with your precious slayer?”

“I don’t want you ‘back’ with her, because you don’t deserve one second of her attention,” he seethed back, and Spike was dangerously close to hitting him and cracking his neck.

“Yeah, and that’s because I’m a big, bad vampire, too dark for your pure little girl, aren’t I? What, you gonna try and get me dead again? Called your pal Robin already?”

“Oh, get over yourself, you bloody pillock,” Giles scoffed at him, shoving him back — so he snatched him up from his suit lapels and growled in his face.

“You touch me again, and we’re gonna have a real problem here.”

“We already have a problem, because I’m disgusted with you,” he spat, and Spike shook him and growled again. Giles ignored him and went right on talking in a rage. “You bloody tosser. Do you have any idea what she went through?” Spike blinked and Giles shoved him away again, turned and leaned on his desk, trembling slightly. “She mourned you, you ungrateful twat! She mourned you, and so did Dawn, and haven’t these girls suffered enough?” He shook his head and Spike worked his jaw, unable to say anything. “They were proud of you and cried for you. The two girls who need suffering the least in the world. And all the while,” he muttered, turning back to stare at him, “you were in Los Angeles, gallivanting around with that other tosser.”

Spike could feel all his rage drain into a black pool of shame, but he couldn’t stop staring at the other man. After a few long seconds of silence, he spoke, his voice a bit hoarser than normal.

“Already did my apologies, watcher.”

“Yes, so I’ve been told. I’m sure next time it will only take you up to six months to get your head out of your ass and contact them again.”

He set his jaw tight and looked away. Part of him wanted to tell him that it was none of his business; that he had no right to rage against him, especially considering that Giles himself had made a similar mistake when he left Sunnydale after Buffy’s resurrection; and that Spike had made his apologies already anyway — but then he imagined what it had to be on the other side, seeing Buffy cry and mourn for someone, just to then discover that it had all been out of that person’s cowardice… he swallowed hard.

“You’re right. I’ve been a tosser.” His voice was low but he refused to let it tremble. This was still Rupert sodding Giles, after all. “But what’s done’s done. Can’t go back and undo it.”

Giles scoffed at that and they just stared at each other for a few more tense moments. Then a knock interrupted them, and Spike turned to find Harris peeking out of the now-open door.

“I thought to bring you Brits some good Scotch. Just to stop another yelling match, you know,” he added while entering, a bottle in one hand and two tumblers in the other. Right that instant, Spike could have hugged the boy — and then he proceeded to fold down that particular thought and hurl it far, far away from his mind, too appalled to even consider it.

“Xander, there was no need…”

“Oh, there was need, the need could almost be heard from the kitchen, G-man.” Spike saw Giles stare half-heartedly at the boy but accept the full tumbler without protest; he moved towards them to take his own, unspeakably thankful for having a drink. “Come on now, drink to the health of a young woman you both care about very much, and make with the clinking of the glasses. Now, stop staring at me, those are Buffy’s words, not mine!”

Spike stared at him some more, but then he did clink his glass with the other Brit’s, looking up at him just long enough to see his own reluctance reflected in the man’s eyes. This may have been beyond ridiculous, but if the lady of the castle wanted them to make nice, he didn’t feel like he had much of a choice.

“Giles, have you thanked Spike for saving the planet yet?” Spike could almost feel a grin at that as he saw Giles grimace. “Spike, have you thanked Giles for giving you a job yet, since he’s technically the administrative boss here? He’s also gonna find you a regular ID, I’m told,” he added with a pointed glance at Giles. Spike was left grimacing a bit himself, and they both stalled for a few more seconds, twirling and sipping their whiskeys. “Guys..?”

“Oh, will you shut it already,” huffed Giles, one second before Spike was going to say it in more or less the same words. “Thank you, Spike, for heroically saving the world.”

“Thank you, watcher, for administratively giving me a job,” he sneered right back. “And an ID,” he added after Harris elbowed him. The boy smiled his goofy grin at them both.

“See? You’re totally on the right track to becoming best pals, let me tell you.” He ignored their balking and took the bottle back from the table, linking his arms with both of them and going towards the door. “Now come on, let’s go watch some Monty Python movie or something, before Spike gets back to his training chores. We got some bonding to get to!”

Spike couldn’t help exchanging a grimace with Giles over the stupidly overeager boy’s head, but neither of them said anything against watching some Monty Python. He also resolutely ignored the feeling of gratitude he felt towards Harris, ridiculous as he may be, and any sense of hope for an eventual decent relationship with Giles that he might harbour. Getting Buffy’s forgiveness had been a high hope; that, would be just bloody idiotic.

And who cares about him, anyway? Not like he’s anybody relevant… oh, bugger.

As it turned out, they barely even had the time to start their discussion on whether to start with Whither Canada? or The Holy Grail — Giles apparently had the whole collection, and he truly couldn’t blame the man — before they got interrupted again. This time it was none other than Willow, who, after hugging Harris and Giles, hugged Spike too, leaving him baffled and just a tad embarrassed.

“You idiot! You know you’re a poophead for making Buffy and Dawn so miserable, right?”

He couldn’t help but smile at her and her frown when he moved back.

“I know, Red, I know.”

“Good. Because you are. It’s high time you finally got your sorry vampy ass back here and put an end to this charade.” He raised his eyebrows at her and she seemed to deflate a little. “Sorry, I’m spending too much time in charge of people, I get bossy. Except, not sorry! You deserve it and should do some grovelling, still, mister.”

“All right, all right, I’ll grovel, pet.”

“And you better teach the slayers here well!”

“’Course,” he assured her, unable to lose the grin, until she grinned back at him.

“I’m glad you’re back, Spike.”

What was it with these people, that their smiles and lack thereof seemed to be so important to him? Wanna be my own vamp indeed. Simpering git…

“Glad I’m back too, Red. Now, before watcher-boss here decides that he’s already tired of my living and working arrangements, I better go back to explaining to him why we should start with Flying Cyrcus rather than the movies.”

He ignored her raised eyebrows and went back to his discussion with Giles, who was sipping a second glass of whiskey and seemed considerably more mellow already. While they talked, he got a crawling feeling on his neck, and he was sure that a slayer was looking at them. Somehow, he found the strength not to look back and check if it was Buffy; somehow, he felt like maybe he could even manage to become his own… something, eventually, if he gave himself enough time.

And the right people.

You could say many things about the Slayer, he thought while conversing with Giles and the other two, but boy, did she know how to pick her friends.

Chapter Text

Throughout the following few weeks, Spike was surprised to find himself building a solid routine along with the Scoobies. He woke up around noon then went down to have lunch with the Scoobies and any slayer that decided to join them, waiting for the sun to get low enough to allow him to get to the courtyard. It was fun to see the little slayers gradually warm up to him, so much so that some of them got to actively flirting with him — which was never unwelcome, especially coming from powerful and attractive ladies. After lunch, he either spent his time trading jabs with Dawn, Xander, and occasionally Giles and Buffy, or they decided to watch some telly together before the shades were long enough. 

The more time passed, the more the Scoobies seemed to completely relax around him as well, including Giles: after the first few tense days, the two of them had stopped nearly all hostilities in order to defend British music and television from Dawn and Harris's ridiculous jabs. After a while, he started suspecting that it was all a ruse so that he and the watcher could make peace and get along with each other. One day Harris even admitted, over a couple of pints, that he’d decided not to beat up Spike about his disappearing act because he’d been sure that everyone else would do that quite enough already; that had been when Spike convinced himself that the boy was trying his best to make him get along with the watcher. He couldn’t help feeling boggled by it all but, at the same time, the Scoobies and their easy banters and smiles were a tad too pleasant for him to complain.

And yeah, Giles still wasn't his favourite person on the planet, and he was fairly certain the watcher could say the same for him. But the more time passed, the more Spike convinced himself that much of the rage the man had shown him at his arrival actually stemmed from Giles’s own anger at himself and his own mistakes towards Buffy, rather than the vampire’s. Sure, the watcher still sent a few jibes his way, now and then; but Spike’s own jabs had him more and more convinced that he was just having a hard time admitting even to his own stubborn, watcher self just how very fine he was with Spike’s presence in the castle.

Not that Spike himself was at all pleased by the growing ease he and the stuck-up watcher seemed to share; or the way the man seemed to be the only one of the Scooby lot to have something even resembling good taste; or the exasperated glances they exchanged whenever Xander got to be too… Xander-like ; or the fun he could have playfully riling up the man while they trained the slayers together… No, of course he wasn’t pleased by any of this. It was just another one of the absurdities of living with the Slayer and her merry band of weird little friends, and he was just going to stick with it because of… convenience. Yeah, that was it.

So weeks went on and he spent a good deal of time with them every day until, as soon as the sun allowed, he went to the courtyard to kick some slayer butt, where Giles usually followed. 

Sometimes Buffy left him to that, going on missions outside the castle in the country surrounding it; other, sweeter times, she joined him in the training sessions. Those were the days he preferred the most, when he was equally divided between wanting to look his best and do his best work, and wanting to look at her and making a mess of himself against her little slayers. He liked to think that he was able to keep his eyes on the prize; but at times, it was just so hard not to send her glances while they trained, and he got a ridiculous — and ridiculously distracting — thrill every time he caught her looking his way.

But sometimes keeping his attention on his opposing slayer wasn’t that hard at all. He still had eyes, after all, and some of these ladies were outright stunners. Add to that that they were actively trying to kick his butt and he was a happy vamp.

His current situation was that three lovely girls were doing their damn best to throw him to the ground — and it really was their best, down to flirting jokes and looks meant to distract him. Thankfully, by that point most of the castle residents had gotten used to him, and some of them clearly had no issues showing more than a passing interest towards their newest roommate, especially when the watcher wasn’t around to roll his eyes at their antics — like these three. As for Spike, he enjoyed the hell out of the attempts to distract him and flirted right back, getting a jolt of satisfaction whenever a roll of his tongue behind his fangs made one of them lose her footing.

In the end, he threw himself at one of them, making her fall against the others in a graceless lump of bodies, and with a growl he seized two throats with his hands and placed his fangs a hairbreadth from the third. Her little pant of surprise sounded all too pleased to his ears and he couldn’t help but chuckle and waggle his eyebrows at her, their faces still dangerously close to each other, before he released the other two and moved back.

“And that’s why you should count on each other rather than attacking alone when you’re in a group.” He winked at them and shrugged off his vamp face while they got up with more or less big smiles on their lips.

“Well, that’s a lesson we won’t forget,” said the girl who’d just had his fangs on her neck, her smile huge and genuine and still helplessly flirty.

“Won’t you?” Came Buffy’s voice from the side, and Spike had to force himself not to jolt at her stern tone. “I thought we’d covered this already, but you seemed pretty helpless to me there.”

“Don’t sweat it, boss,” he said with a conciliatory smile, sorry to see the three slayers look chastised. “They did hold their own for quite a while before you arrived, after the watcher left for a phone call.” Got the bruises to prove it, too , he thought, but avoided to mention out loud. “And it’s just hard to beat me,” he added with a grin and another wink to the girls, one of whom looked actually shy at that. Too damn cute.

“Is it, now,” said Buffy and he turned back to her, finding her staring at him with a raised brow. “I seem to remember differently…”

“Pft, that was then. Did I mention how I bested a demon lord, in LA?”

“No, actually, you didn’t. Want to accompany me to a mission and tell me all about LA?” she asked in a sweet tone and he had to refrain from gulping. Walked right into that one.

“Ma’am?” Came Satsu’s voice from somewhere; she’d been observing the fight too, as she almost always did, but had refrained from commenting until then. “I thought we’d go together for today’s mission?”

“Change of plan,” said Buffy, keeping her sweet smile on Spike. He looked away, just in time to see Satsu’s face fall for half a second and then go back to her usual composed expression. He blinked at that and then he felt like something clicked in his head, finally understanding a lot more about the girl — and the way he and she acted with each other.

“Yes, ma’am. I’ll just keep on training the girls then.”

“I told you, stop calling me that…”

“Yes, ma’am.” Her almost-cheeky grin was back in place, Spike finally seeing it for what it was: flirting. “Janice, Francesca, Waltraud: let’s see if you can act together against me, now.” The other slayers sent one last smile his way but he was too busy staring at Satsu to do more than nod at them: she was looking slightly tense and before turning to the other three girls she sent him a quick stare, then looked at Buffy for a second.

Oh, you’ve got it bad, girl.

“Spike? Are you going to join me sometime today?”

He nodded and grinned a bit at Buffy, but while they left the courtyard he went back to look at the Asian slayer. So that was why she never stopped being curt with him and virtually never smiled in his direction, and why he’d found something familiar in the way she looked at Buffy… she looked at her the way he himself must look at her. And Dawn’s comment on them secretly sleeping together, his first night at the castle, must have left an impression on the girl. He grimaced a bit and stopped himself from shaking his head; clearly, Satsu wasn’t paying much attention to the way Buffy looked at him. She spent a lot of time with him, sure, and was delightfully at ease most of the time; but there was no real flirting, no interest beyond reconnection and genuine friendship that Spike could see. He hoped she’d cut this jealousy act soon, because he was getting more and more convinced that, while he was as in love with Buffy as ever, their relationship wasn’t getting anywhere more romantic than an intimate friendship.

“You know, if you keep ignoring me this way I’ll have to think I’m getting boring with age,” she said at some point. He blinked and looked at her before grinning.

“We’re just keeping you around because of your fists, pet, by now you’re too old to be interesting.”

She seemed shocked to silence for a couple of seconds but then her grin came back.

“‘We’?”

“Scoobies and I,” he nodded, his grin getting wider.

“Yeah, I’ve noticed how you’re bonding with Xander, of all people.”

“And Giles’s next, mark my words. We’ll be positively inseparable by the end of this winter, the best of pals.” She laughed and his insides did a little backflip. Still, after weeks of almost daily jabs and smiles, every laughter by this woman made him feel like a new man.

They kept making jokes about Spike taking over the Scoobies while they retrieved a bunch of weapons, and it was only when they were almost out of the castle that he was able to drag his attention away from her smile.

“So, this mission… dangerous stuff?”

“Nah, not really. There’s talk of a group of demons in a town up north, but my main objective is finding more about that damn sign.”

“Ah… the DC business. So, anyone got a theory, or are we still on Harris’s idea that this is just a bunch of comic books fans?”

Buffy grimaced a bit and shook her head.

“No can do on the theories, not yet. Every time we pummel demons, we get nothing… so I thought of changing our tactics a bit.”

“Oh?”

“I was thinking… you’re a demon.” He smirked at her and nodded once, amused. “So you’ve gotta have some demon friends, right?”

“Right, that’s true. But they’re on the other side of the pond.”

Buffy’s eyes glazed over for a few seconds, until she shook her head and looked at him apologetically.

“Sorry, just… it’s still weird to think of you with actual friends.” He narrowed his eyes and she rushed to add, “I mean, I know it’s stupid, but I’m just so used to seeing you alone, and obsessed with just…” Me , he knew she’d wanted to say. His jaw tensed while she fluttered her hands and looked down before continuing in a rushed voice. “Well, anyway, sorry, of course you have friends. You told me about the fish…”

“Yeah,” he replied, curt and hoarse.

“But didn’t you say he’s telepathic? Couldn’t he use his powers to, I don’t know, search for this DC stuff around the country?”

“Can’t really reach all the way here, slayer. And besides, he’s probably busy with Beck, the girl’s always getting in trouble, these days…”

“Beck?”

Was that interest in her voice? Perhaps even, dare he say it, jealousy? He repressed a smirk and nodded.

“Yeah, lovely girl, went through some bad stuff and now controls fire. Has a shitton of power, too, which makes it easy for a young thing like her to get in trouble.” He smirked at her and couldn’t help but dream of seeing some real jealousy in her closed expression. “Remind you of someone?”

She smiled a little but her expression was still too taken aback for it to seem too genuine.

“It’s… well…”

“Strange, to know I have people I care about besides you and your little band of Scoobies?” He looked to the side and took out a cigarette, lighting it quickly. “Yeah. Life goes on and all that rot.”

“We could have been a part of it, if you’d let us.”

Her tone was chillier now and he bristled, sucking hard at his fag and counting to ten before answering. Before he could, she stopped and he saw that they’d reached what looked like a garage: they went inside in silence and he followed her to one of the cars, a well-used jeep. Once they were inside, he took a deep drag from his fag and then exhaled hard.

“Already apologized, Slayer. Buffy. Don’t know what else to do, but if you’re still angry at me, let it out. And if you want me to leave…” he looked down at his feet, feeling his anger sag out of him. “Let it out.”

There were a few more moments of tense silence before she sighed. He looked at her and she seemed a bit more relaxed, even though she was looking down at her hands on her lap.

“No, I don’t want you to go. It’s still strange, seeing you so friendly with…” she seemed to stop herself for a second then continued, “well, with everyone. And yes, I’m still a bit angry. But you’re right, you’ve apologised, and now it’s on me to get past it.”

He nodded and they stayed silent for a few more seconds. Then he risked a grin at her and nodded to the steering wheel in front of her.

“You sure that attempting at my life with your driving skills is on the road to get past your anger?”

She tsked and scoffed, visibly holding back a smile and sending him a glare instead.

“I’ll have you know,” she sniffed while putting the keys in and starting the car, “that my driving has improved in the past year. A lot .”

He gave an exaggerated nod when the car started with a jump, before she seemed to take control and left the garage in a more normal way.

“I can see that, yes.” He gave her a pointed look and couldn’t help but smile widely at the colour that rose to her cheeks.

“Shut up.”

“Bitchy.”

“You were telling me about that demon in LA?” she asked, again with a sweet tone and smile, and he muttered another bitch under his breath. “I heard that. Now spill, what was that about?”

“Shouldn’t you tell me about today’s mission, pet?”

“Don’t ‘pet’ me,” she glared at him; he had to bite his lip to refrain from answering her. Always wanna pet you, luv, you should know that. “We have an hour and a half of driving, so you have plenty of time. Now spill.”

Spike bit back a grin at her bossy tone, which still never failed to turn him on, and decided for a big sigh instead.

“Well, first of all there was the dragon…”

He didn’t tell her everything, because Christ knew he didn’t need to fall into a depressed state right before a mission; but he did cover most of the bases, and the more he talked, the more he felt like a tight knot somewhere in his chest was coming loose. As for her, she didn’t ask many questions and mostly let him talk, which he was thankful for. Somehow, being free to decide where to lead the story both frightened him and let him breathe a bit more freely. He steered clear of those bits that might bring yet more tension between them — no need to tell her about Spider and her special kind of prison tension-relief system, nor about all the other girls... or the dragon’s new name — but forced himself to bit out some of the nastier bits. He had to stop for a few seconds when he told her about Illyria killing Jeremy. Part of him thought it was ridiculous, seeing as the chatty boy was all back to life and enjoying his engagement too, but he couldn’t help biting his lip and staying silent for a while. And he couldn’t help exhaling a sigh of relief when she moved her hand to squeeze his for a few seconds, a sad look on her eyes.

He went on to tell her what Angel came up with to destroy the demon lords and finally send Wolfram & Hart and their hell out of the city. She did start asking questions when he mentioned Connor, and he couldn’t help but grin at how she still had obvious issues with wrapping her head around the concept of Peaches having a kid, and a grown-up one at that.

When he stopped talking they were silent for a few minutes and he felt the urge to reach out and touch her, somehow. She’d made him talk about things he’d never really mentioned out loud, and it hurt as hell but also felt right . And now, he was left with the need to show her how much he appreciated her, her friendship, the way she opened up to him — and made him open up to her. It was the stuff of dreams. He sent her an intense look for a few seconds, glad that she kept her eyes on the road. How could he ever make a move for more, and risk something as precious as this? How could he ever risk losing this — especially considering how bad it could get between the two of them?

Yes, her every smile still managed to light him up. And yes, the flirting and attention he got from the other slayers were nothing more than a fun bunch of instants, compared to the way her laugh brightened entire hours of his days. But one day… surely, one day he could move on. The thought still hurt like hell, but now it seemed like a dull pain, one he could learn to live with. The idea of losing this bond was so much more painful, of ruining it for something that would crash and burn like they'd probably be doomed to do again — he didn’t really want to consider it.

She looked at him then, a questioning smile on her beautiful face.

“You all right there? I told you you’re in good hands, no need to compulsively check that I can actually drive.”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” he smirked, trying for a less tender and more just-friends look in his eyes. “So, about the mission?”

“Ah, yes.” Buffy accepted the shift to less soul-baring topics with a smile and another soft squeeze of his hand that sent a little thrill up his arm. “Well, I was thinking that maybe you could go all evil vamp and pretend to be on their side before we kill them. Get some intel, see if we can finally find out what the hell those two letters stand for.”

“Fair enough. And what kinda demons are they?”

“They’re a mix of different species, actually. We even get the surprise, Christmas got here early!” She added in a peppy tone, making him smile broadly at her.

God, Summers, the things you do to me.

They spent the rest of the drive ironing out some of the details but there wasn’t much to the plan: go in, ask some questions, give Buffy the signal and start killing left and right.

When they finally arrived at the town he was well and truly ready for the fight. They rode around the place for a while, looking for signs of the demons’ gathering; when he finally smelled non-humans, he got out of the car and let her go find a parking spot while he walked to the house that seemed to host the party. He vamped and threw the door open, ignoring the protests of the big Chirago demon that was probably guarding it and striding into what had to be the living room. There were at least twenty demons inside the wide hall, of various kinds, and quite a few of them stopped talking and turned to stare at him.

Right. Time to shine.

He smiled his nastiest grin and strode forward, nicking the drink off a Carnyss and taking a sip of it before speaking.

“So, I’m told this is where I can ask about this whole DC business.” He grimaced slightly at the drink and threw the glass back to the Carnyss behind him, clapping his hands and grinning to the room. “Me, I’m a fan of Mefisto, so it’s mostly been Marvel on my shelves.” And I can thank Xander Harris for making me a nerd, too.

“Vampire,” growled a Grox’lar on his left. Spike had to beat down the urge to throw himself at him and twist his huge neck. “You’re not welcome here.”

“And why the hell not? Here I am, taking a damn nice trip through good ol’ Scotland, and I hear say about a demon gathering — which I haven’t been invited to. Really, my unbeating heart is hurt.”

“Gaxur,” seethed a little goblin-lookalike, “why did you let him through?”

“He’s stronger than he looks,” murmured Gaxur, the huge Chirago demon he’d pushed aside to enter. Spike winked at him and then turned back to the room, noticing he had the attention of more and more of the demons.

“Right on. So, where’s the mayhem? Point me to the virgins, it’s been a while since I’ve had me some of that.”

“You’re not welcome here,” came the low voice of the Chirago, now at his shoulder.

Spike rolled his eyes and then in a quick move he grabbed the demon by the arm and dislocated his shoulder, then used the same arm to slam him to the ground and keep him there. He kept his hold tight and looked back up at the other demons, who had left their drinks and were staring at him with hatred.

“Wanna try it again? Come on, people,” he said with a jerk to the beast’s arm, making him cry out. He saw a collective wince on the crowd’s face, regardless of their kind, and he narrowed his eyes. Demons who care? I don’t like the look of this. “What about this DC stuff?”

Another goblin-lookalike pushed his way forward, his eyes wide and scared, but his tone was firm even through his obvious fear.

“Let him go, vampire. We don’t need to fight you.”

Spike wiggled the guy’s arm some more with a sneer, but he couldn’t help but feel wrong about it when he saw the little goblin guy wince hard.

“No, you just need to tell me about the DC —”

He was interrupted by the Grox’lar, who threw himself bodily at him and managed to let him lose his grip. He went tumbling to the floor, the demon fighting him wasting no time to kick him in the gut and then between his legs, and he gasped and saw stars.

“You’re not welcome here,” he hissed, and with another strong kick he sent him rolling towards the door, where he was stopped by someone’s boot against his back.

“Well, Spike, remind me not to let a vamp do a slayer’s job, next time.”

He stopped gasping and looked up: she was shining, and she was hot, and oh Christ, did he have to be this pathetic?

Buffy offered him a hand up and he took it — not because he really needed to, mind you, but because Christ but that was a fucking low blow — but by then the demons were in a panic, yelling and thrashing against each other to get to the other side of the room, trying to flee from an obviously pissed-off slayer (and a mighty vampire too, of course).

“Please, don’t, we aren’t —”

The voice of one of the little goblin demons was overcome by the Grox’lar’s roar as he rushed him again, his dark eyes full of rage, and Spike vamped and roared himself as the demon sent him crashing against the wall. They grappled together for a few furious seconds, until Spike punched him hard enough to roll them and slam the beast against the wall, letting out yet another roar as he pounded his fists in his ugly mug. He was distantly aware of the goblin’s anguished cries and of the other demons’ bellows, and he faltered for a moment — and then a small hand grasped his shoulder and jerked him to the side in a hard move.

Wait a second. Anguished cries?!

“Buffy, wait —”

“Enough with the beating,” came her curt voice, and in a swift move she impaled the Grox’lar with her sword.

“Buffy, no, wait ,” he stuttered, but he stopped when he heard gasps and cries from the crowd of demons around them. He looked at Buffy for a second while she took her sword out of the gurgling demon, then jumped to his feet and placed himself between her and the others. And looking at them, he couldn’t help but think of that word again: anguished. What the fuck was going on?

“Enough!” came the terrified voice of one of the little goblins, who was trying his best to hold back his twin, snarling and with murder in his eyes. Spike felt Buffy move towards the demons but held her back with his arm. “Why — you didn’t need to — let us help him, slayer!”

He risked a glance at her and saw her narrow her eyes at the little green guy, who apparently was somehow also stopping everyone else from jumping them.

“Will you tell us about this DC stuff, if I do?”

The angry goblin yelled and pushed harder against his friend at that, but he held fast.

“We can’t —”

“And we won’t , you bitch —”

“Shut up!” Roared Spike then. He was sick and tired of this confusing mess and he took a step forwards, satisfied when both the little goblins stepped back at that, the rest of the group shuffling and growling but staying put. “What is this? Are you all friends , now, all worried about each other?”

More growls and whispers came from the group of demons then, and the calmer of the two goblins finally pushed the other one behind him. Then he visibly gulped and took a small step towards Spike, his eyes skittering between him and Buffy and the wheezing demon on the ground behind them.

“Yes. We’re friends.” Spike raised his eyebrows at that and felt Buffy shift behind him. The goblin licked his lips in a nervous gesture and fixed his gaze on her for a few moments, before going back to looking at the Grox’lar. “So please. Let us help him. We thought slayers only killed dangerous demons.”

“I told you,” seethed the other goblin, but without moving forwards again. “I told you we couldn’t trust the lot of ’em. She’s the head of the slayers and look at what she’s done!”

Spike growled at him and he shut his mouth. But he kept his hateful eyes on him, while he nodded to the calmer goblin.

“What did you expect us to do?”

“He’s a baby-eater,” said Buffy then, her voice clipped and hard. “I’ve killed a bunch of them just a few weeks ago after they killed a family of four, and now you’re telling me I didn’t need to do it?”

“That was a different tribe —”

“Yeah, one with the DC symbol on them,” she said clearly, then in a second she had her sword at the little goblin’s throat. The other demons yelled at that but they stayed put, and Spike could see genuine worry in some of their eyes — at least the ones he could recognise as having eyes. “Tell us what it is.”

“It’s the Dark Carnival!” said the goblin in a rush, and the other demons yelled again until Spike quieted them with another roar. “DC stands for Dark Carnival, and I don’t know why you saw it on those baby-eaters, but Astur isn’t —”

“Oh, of course, he’s a good Grox’lar demon!”

“Slayer,” Spike interjected with an intense look at her. “Let the little goblin talk.” She looked taken aback at that but quieted down, even though her sword stayed where it was.

“We’re a group of demons from all over Europe,” he started again in a rush, generating hisses and growls from the others, “and we’re just here for the Dark Carnival — a peaceful gathering!”

“Yeah, sure you are. That’s why you told the local slayers about it, right?” Asked Buffy, but Spike could hear a little bit of uncertainty in her tone too now.

“This is exactly why we never told you,” hissed the other goblin, his face a mask of contempt. “You hero-types, thinking you’re the best in the world — murdering first, asking questions later.” Spike narrowed his eyes at the little guy and felt Buffy shift lightly next to him, then the other goblin spoke again.

“We were… debating whether to tell you or not.” He licked his lips nervously and his eyes darted again to the Grox’lar on the ground, who was making increasingly desperate noises. “We feared you wouldn’t believe us… please, let us help him!”

Spike searched Buffy’s eyes and after a few intense seconds she moved her sword back, to the little goblin’s intense relief. She didn’t leash it but stepped to the side, and the goblin said a word that must have been a name as another demon strove forward from the mix. It was an ugly beast, at least seven feet tall, and after a long disgusted look at Buffy and him, he stepped aside them and went to the beast’s help. Spike spared a glance at the insane scene — a big, burly demon delicately checking an injury, applying pressure, and telling the Grox’lar to stay conscious in a deep rumble — and turned back to the little goblin, who was talking quickly to Buffy.

“It’s going to be on the outskirts of Edinburgh in late December, to exploit the crowds for Christmas and the New Year. We want to gather demons of all kinds, from all over Europe, to make entertainment, for other demons and for any human who’s smart enough to recognise that we’re not just the stuff of fairy tales.” He licked his lips again and looked at the two demons behind Spike and Buffy, then looked back at her with a fierce gaze. “We meant no harm to you and yours.”

“Then why did we have to bury four people?” asked Spike between gritted teeth. This time it was Buffy who stopped him from advancing too much, a hand on his arm.

“They weren’t with us!”

“But they had your symbol!”

“Slayer, we can’t control who uses our symbol, we can only warn people against violence!”

Buffy scoffed while Spike narrowed his eyes at the little guy. He couldn’t help but feel that he was sincere, if naïve, and that meant that they — Buffy and him — were in the wrong here… which really didn’t sit well with him.

“I don’t think I can agree to something like this happening on my turf, goblin.”

“Which is why we were still debating letting you know,” rushed to say the demon, while his lookalike threw his arms in the air. “I was doing my best to convince the rest of the organisers to tell you, that we could work together on this…” he swallowed and looked behind them at the Grox’lar on the ground. “I just hoped we could do it without violence.”

Spike finally stepped back and relaxed at that, letting his vamp face go with a slight head shake. He looked at Buffy and after a few tense seconds, she took out a cloth and quickly swiped her sword clean.

“If you attract that kind of attention I won’t let you do anything like this,” she said in a tense tone while putting her sword back. The little goblin gave a small breath of relief at the gesture but then looked at her pleadingly.

“Listen to me, Miss Summers,” and how weird was seeing a little goblin-lookalike call her that ? “This is what I’ve been telling everyone from the start. If we collaborate on this, we can actually do it in a safe way, both for humans and demons,” he added quickly when it looked like Buffy was going to interrupt him. “Times are changing and it’s about time that we all recognised it — humans, demons, and you slayers. We can live peacefully, if we work together.”

Spike didn’t remember joining a Sixties and hippies revival party, but maybe the goblin was just the nostalgic type…

“We just told you that a bunch of demons with your symbol killed four people. And ate two babies’ heads . I want nothing to do with anything that would bring this kind of demons’ attention!”

Spike saw the crowd of demons getting agitated again and he stepped forward with raised hands.

“All right, let’s calm down, everyone. The lady has a point. You know she does,” he added, pointing at the Chief Goblin. “So what’re you gonna do about it?”

“We can contact demon communities all over Europe,” he said in a rush, seemingly glad for the question. “We can ask your slayers to spread the world around both violent and non-violent demons — so we can keep them away and close, respectively. We can ask your witches to help with magic, we can talk with our own communities — we can work on it!”

Spike looked at the little demon, at his pleading eyes, and just knew that he really, truly believed in what he was saying. He thought back of Mosaic; of the mess those bastards had made of the place and of how they’d learned and improved since then, giving a haven to people like Beck and Betta George, and Marv and Biv and Anna, along with everyone else… he sighed and hoped his slayer wasn’t gonna kick him in the balls for this.

“All right, we’ll think about this.”

“What?!”

He sent Buffy an apologetic glance but then hardened his gaze and looked back at Chief Goblin.

If you manage to rein in your demons, we’ll talk about this. How do we contact you?”

“Spike, what the f —”

“Slayer, trust me,” he said, turning to her again. She opened her mouth but he stopped her, his hand going to her shoulder and his eyes insistent. “Please, trust me. Give me a chance.” She looked at him furiously — gorgeous goddess — then, after a beat, turned to Chief Goblin.

“You get one chance. I’ll talk about it with mine.”

“Thank you!” Exclaimed Chief Goblin with a sigh, while the other goblin next to him sent her a small sneer. Spike crashed back the instinct to smash his long green nose right into his tiny brain and just stayed put instead. “Thank you, we can do it, we really can.” He then went on to say how to contact him and Spike left Buffy to that, while he turned and looked at the Grox’lar demon. The big guy helping him out was apparently very good at his job, since he was already cleaning the wound on his back where the sword had pierced through. The wounded demon looked up and stared at him, his eyes dark and angry, and Spike couldn’t help but think of those headless babies in the wood and the look on their parents’ dead eyes. He set his jaw and forced back a growl.

“I had no bond to that clan,” the demon said, his voice low and gravelly, clearly in pain. Spike kept staring at him with anger and he stared right back; he had to give him points for guts, even though maybe it was just idiocy. “World ain’t always that simple.”

Spike inhaled hard and then forced himself not to snarl at him. He might be frustratingly insightful for a Grox’lar beast, but that didn’t really make him any less infuriating.

“We’ll be in touch,” came Buffy’s voice from his left and he turned back to her and Chief Goblin. He wondered idly what his name was, but Buffy’s tense words stopped him from asking. “Come on, Spike.”

She wasn’t looking at him, so he sent the bunch of demons one last look before turning and leaving. Chief Goblin was sending him an intense look, hope and worry in his eyes, and he didn’t know how to feel about him and his plans; Less Pleasant Goblin was sending him an intense hate glare and he damn right knew how he felt about that — but told himself, again, that punching his nose in wouldn’t be a show of good faith. With one last look at the wounded beast who still glared at him he left the place, hot on Buffy’s heels.

Now he just had to hope she wouldn’t punch his nose in.

Chapter Text

They walked for a minute in silence, Buffy striding in front of him and Spike smoking nervously. But he quickly got tired of waiting for the execution and, looking around for a second, found the perfect place on the other side of the street.

“Come on, pet,” he said, crossing the street, feeling her glare on his neck.

“Where the hell do you think you’re going?”

He turned to her, pushing back a smirk at her furious and gorgeous expression, and nodded his head at the open pub behind him. Her eyes sparked with rage and he took a brief drag from his fag before gesturing to the place’s door.

“It’s on me and I’m pretty sure that you shouldn’t drive when you’re feeling murderous, luv.”

Don’t call me love, Spike,” she seethed, staying on the other side of the street. He couldn’t help but blink and jerk back a bit at that, and he only managed to hide his hurt after a second. She seemed to register it, enough to make her look to the side and cross the street, stopping in front of him. “I’m not exactly in the mood for a drink.” She wasn’t looking at him and that was all right by him, ’cause he didn’t feel like looking at her either.

“Let me explain, Buffy,” he said after a few tense seconds and she crossed her arms. He inhaled one last drag and she nodded while he flicked the last bit of the fag to the ground.

She led the way inside the pub, which wasn’t the cleanest or poshest place he’d ever seen but seemed to serve a decent brew. She went to sit at one little table on the far corner — from where she could keep an eye on the whole place, he noticed — and he was left to order them drinks. The place wasn’t full so it was only a few minutes before he went to join her to the table, handing her a beer and taking a big gulp of his own.

She curled her nose at the drink and he felt like the block of ice in his chest region melted a bit.

“Try it, pet— Buffy. Think it might surprise you.” She sent him a cautious glance then took a careful sip. Her eyebrows rose and he smirked at the way she visibly enjoyed the fruity taste. “See? Turns out I can be trusted.”

So, that could have turned out icier than he’d meant it. But really, he couldn’t bring himself to care, and the way she looked to the side was a balm to his pride, as painful as it was. But then she went back to staring at him, so it was short-lived.

“You had no right to do that, Spike, and you know it.”

“I had a bloody good right to do that, because you were refusing to see the truth.”

“I wasn’t refusing anything! This Carnival shit has clearly proven dangerous already, so why the hell —”

“Well, if we give ’em a chance to get organised with your damn slayer forces —”

“We can’t be everywhere! And besides that, you can’t go and overrule my authority —”

“Oh, your authority, of bloody course! Because you’re the bleeding authority on demons and what they can and can’t manage, whereas I —”

“Well, sorry if I’m not demon enough for you and your pals, next time I’ll just leave you with them then! You were so cosy with your demonic nature back in that cabin, weren’t you?”

Spike’s head jerked back for the second time in the span of ten minutes that night and he was vaguely aware of the stares of the few patrons of the pub. They’d raised their voices, he idly considered in the back of his mind, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. Right then, he needed all of his self-control to avoid punching the bitch in the face, or storming off in a flare of drama.

Buffy, on her part, seemed to realise immediately she’d gone over the bloody line — again — and looked contrite.

“Spike,” she started, her hand going towards his on the table, but he moved his back, underneath the surface. He clenched both hands into fists and set his jaw at seeing her wide, guilty eyes. “Spike, I’m sorry.” Her voice was a whisper now, and were the other locals still looking at them? He couldn’t tear his eyes away from her, like looking at a disaster scene. “That was… out of line.”

He just stared at her for a few more seconds, then blinked rapidly and gulped down his beer. He would not get his fucking eyes wet over this.

“Maybe we should go,” he said in a voice much less steady than he’d have liked.

She looked at him a little desperately and clutched his wrist, making his hand tighten around the glass.

“No, Spike, I’m serious. I’m sorry. I just…” She sighed but didn’t let go of his wrist, her eyes going to look at his hand around his beer. “I really didn’t like you deciding for me. I guess now I’m just used to being the general, having the responsibility — and I don’t have nice memories of people overriding me — and…” She seemed to gather her strength, straightened her back, looked back at him fiercely — but didn’t let go of his wrist. “And you shouldn’t get to decide what I or the other slayers will or won’t do. I want advice, I need advice, but what I don’t need is someone deciding for me.”

She held his gaze, firm and steady but somewhat imploring, and he finally let some of the tension in his shoulders go. He still wanted to punch her — or worse, go huddle in a corner and nurse a much stronger drink to do something unthinkably close to brooding — but he also saw the way she wanted him to understand.

“I didn’t want to force any decision on you, pe— Buffy.” He refrained from grimacing at his botched use of the pet name but saw her wincing a little. “I just told them to hold it until they could hear from you and yours. Don’t mean that you’d be agreeing with anything, exactly, now does it?”

Her grip on his wrist loosened and her fingers squeezed him for one last second before letting him go. He ignored the pang he felt at that.

“OK. Right. I get what you mean.”

“See? At some point, even you get that I’m right.”

“You wish,” she snorted with a little smile, his chest thawing even more.

“I can hear the words already… ‘You were right, Spike, of course you were!’” He couldn’t help his wide grin at seeing her snorting in laughter at his falsetto impersonation.

“You keep dreaming, vampire.”

They were content smirking at each other for a few seconds and Spike took another long sip from his beer. Buffy’s smirk faded into a shy little smile and she looked down at her hands on the table.

“You can call me… you can use your pet names, you know.” Her voice was low, and quiet, and shy. He swallowed and looked down at her hands too. “I’m sorry.”

He didn’t say anything, until she finally looked up again and could see his small smile. There were a thousand things he wanted to say right at that moment — most of which centred on how much he wished she ’d be the one calling him ‘love’ or any other pet name of her choice — but he couldn’t say any of them. So he just took her hand and squeezed it for a second before letting go, and smiled at her in understanding, and soaked up her answering smile like it could warm him from the inside.

Definitely never gonna give up this friendship for any delusion of romance.

“So, this Dark Carnival.” He took another sip of his beer, willing his stomach to stop flipping and his fingers to refrain from smoothing out the lines on her brow. “What’s the team going to make of it?”

Buffy grimaced, took a sip of her own beer, and sighed.

“I don’t know, Spike. It really doesn’t look good, considering the kind of crowd they seem to attract.”

“Don’t know about that — pet.” There, he only slightly stumbled on the ‘pet’. “That bunch was real tight… and they seemed eager to help each other out. When I entered and pretended to be the next Big Bad, they didn’t show a lick of interest in my bullshit.”

Buffy sighed again.

“Yeah, they seemed very… well, very convinced.” Her shoulders lowered a bit and her eyes looked too sad for Spike’s taste. “I’m feeling like a monster for wounding a demon, Spike. What the hell is going on?”

“Piffle,” he snorted. “You’re as much a monster as I’m a fairy godmother, Slayer.”

Buffy stayed silent for a few seconds, her fingers lightly tracing wood lines on the table.

“You, of all people,” she started in a quiet voice a second before he could talk again, “should know about the kind of... monster that I can be,” she ended in a whisper.

Spike had a second of hesitancy. Then he bit his lip and moved his hands to hold hers.

“Slayer. Buffy,” he insisted, and she looked at him for a second before going back to look at their hands. “Buffy. I, of all people, know how much shit this world’s vomited all over your head. How much pain you’ve been through.” He didn’t tell her to look at him, because he knew she’d rather not look at him if she cried, and he had a feeling she was close. “You could’ve turned out a bitter, hate-filled bitch, but here you are instead. A hero, who’s given thousands of girls purpose, who’s forgiven…” He had to work for a couple of seconds to continue and to blink a couple of times. “Who’s forgiven the unforgivable, multiple times. You’re a hell of a woman, Buffy.” He could see a tear on one of her cheeks and he traced the back of her hand with a thumb. “OK, and a bit of a bitch too, but only just.”

His stomach flipped again when he got a wet, snorting laugh out of her, and it took him a second to school his expression back to ‘gentle smile’ and away from ‘please be my everything’.

Buffy gave a huge sigh, then she finally looked back up, a look of scared determination in her eyes.

“Spike. I think I need to tell you something.” He had just the time to feel his insides plummet somewhere below his feet before she started talking again, her voice just this side of unsteady. “I-I’m sorry. No, please, let me say it. I…” she looked away, then looked back at him, and he just blinked at her in confusion. Hadn’t she already apologised for her outbursts? “The way I treated you when I was… when I was brought back. The way I u- used you,” she whispered, closing her eyes. He felt his heart constrict. “I’m sorry.”

Some part of him was ready to launch into some sort of chivalrous denial, telling her there was nothing to be sorry about — that he had been the monster, taking advantage of her moment of greatest weakness to try and bring her down to his level — that he’d bloody well begged for more, and almost forced her for more… but he stopped himself and took a steadying breath. She had used him, and he was done with denying the ugliness of their past.

“You were in pain,” he started gently, shushing her when she tried to protest. “You were in pain, and alone, and had no idea how to deal with it. And neither did I. I… Christ, pet, I’m sorry for having been what I was. For not doing better by you.”

“I used you, and hurt you, and hit you.” Her voice was hollow and another tear traced the same cheek. “I’m the one who should —”

“And I forgive you, pet.” He kept his smile gentle, even though he felt like this was not enough, not nearly enough to show what he felt for her. “I forgave you the second after you did those things, every single time, when I didn’t fully realise the extent of them. And,” he added, “I forgave you the moment I could think about it all clearly, the moment I understood, after the soul.” He had to kick back the urge to kiss her hands, kiss her drying tear away. “Of course I forgave you. And you…”

“I forgive you, too, Spike.” Her words were a whisper and now she was looking at him again, her eyes dark and shining in the low light of the pub. He could have sworn he’d feel his heart thumping, any second now.

“What I did was —”

“I forgive you,” she repeated, her voice a tad firmer, her fingers squeezing his. He gulped and this time it was him who could feel his eyes getting wetter. “That was… the worst year of my life. And what you and I did, it was unhealthy, it was,” she faltered and her lips trembled before continuing, “it was abusive, on both sides. I’ve thought a lot about it, since… since Sunnydale. But Spike, it helped me become a better person. You helped me become a better person.”

He felt like he could sob and clenched his jaw instead.

“What I did was try to r-rape you, Buffy.”

There, he’d said it, for the first time out loud — but even though she winced, it was slight, and her fingers squeezed his a bit more firmly.

“And you stopped when you realised it.”

“That is no excuse —”

“No, it isn’t, which is why you made the most impossible, insane choice to try and get better. Which is why I forgave you, which is why you’re forgiven, and if you need me to tell you again, I will.” She smiled a bit, almost cheekily, and he felt his chest tug. “But get it through your thick skull, or I’ll get cranky and bitchy about it.”

“Bitch,” he murmured with what was probably a sappy, adoring smile, and she nodded, her grin widening.

“Damn right.”

He couldn’t help it. He moved a hand from hers and raised it to touch her face, his thumb grazing her cheek and then tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear. Some exhilarated part of him registered her eyes widening slightly, her cheeks blushing a delicious pink, her breath hitching just a bit — and then he realised he was a moment away from kissing her and destroying everything they’d been building until then. He could see it, could see her moving back and telling him he’d misunderstood — or worse, so much worse, he could see her accepting his kiss, and then fucking him with abandon and then realising they never could work together and she'd never really loved him after all, and he could see himself going back to being her willing slave, no self-respect left before her bloody radiance, and —

He gulped and forced his hand to move back to his side to the table without jerking it away, leaning back with it. It wasn’t his fluidest move, but half of him was screaming at him to run the hell out of this place, so he didn't feel like he could complain. 

Buffy blinked, seemed to blush a bit more, and leaned back too, squeezing his other hand for a second before moving hers back to her side. He had the wild thought that he might cry at the loss of contact but he beat it down with a club, concentrating on the way Buffy sighed and straightened in her seat in what was probably relief at the missed kiss.

Never gonna give up this friendship. Get it through your thick skull indeed, you sentimental ponce.

He cleared his throat then took a gulp of his beer, grimacing when he saw that it was finished — and that he was being a prat. Fucking, stupid, bloody prat.

“Thank you,” Buffy interrupted his increasingly flustered thoughts, her little smile making him blink. “I’ve been thinking that we should talk about all of that for a while now — or anyway, I’ve been avoiding thinking about talking about all of that for a while now — well, I’m just glad we finally got it out.” 

He just nodded again, realising how right she was. Finally talking about this out loud, with her — it was like finally letting go a heavy stone, one that was weighing him down and stopping him… from going forward, he realised with a weary sigh. Getting right to that, now… sure. She sighed again as well and then raised her eyebrows at him with pursed lips. 

“Say, has your telepathic friend given you lessons in maturity? You’re almost a different person.”

He sniffed, regretting having finished his beer just so he could have something to do while trying to coax his voice back to non-trembling levels.

“Always been mature beyond my age, Summers.”

“Sure you have,” she smirked over her beer, taking a long drink of it.

“Damn right.”

He hid his discomfort by asking whether she wanted another drink and she declined, mentioning that she needed to drive back home. That gave him the opportunity to go back to comfortable ground, teasing her about how she was still trying to kill him and couldn’t she just wait for sunrise and be cleaner about it, until finally she was back to laughing and he was back to feeling the usual stomach flips, and not that agonising need to kiss her and breathe her in.

When he came back with his second beer he found her looking at him pensively, and she bit her lip when he raised his eyebrow at her expression. He shot back the impulse to lick his own lips at the view and sat down while gulping down some of his beer.

“Do you really think this carnival can work?”

He sipped more of the brew — it really was good, and only now that he felt less deranged from anger or passion could he recognise it fully. He looked at her.

“I think Chief Goblin over there really believes in it.”

She nodded slowly but looked mightily unconvinced. Which, to be honest, made two of them.

“He definitely did. I’m still surprised at seeing demons act so… human, I guess.”

“Should start to find different words for things, eh?”

She grinned back at him, a weary grin, then groaned and let her head thud lightly against the wall behind her. Don’t stare at her neck, don’t stare at her neck —

“I feel like the world keeps changing the rules on me.”

“Says the slayer that gave the power to every potential on the planet.”

“Exactly!” She exclaimed, looking at him in exasperation. “I should be the one making and changing the rules, not the world!”

“Power’s gone to your brain, luv.”

She curled her nose and stuck out her tongue at him for a second, not long enough to make it ridiculous but enough to shake his brain into inaction for a couple of seconds.

“Well, now I have to go and change my whole view of the demon world. As if making concessions for guys like Clem wasn’t enough — now the world goes and shows me that it’s not just the odd one, it’s a regular thing.” She sighed and her grin receded. “Seriously, Spike. I don’t wanna think about it, but what if — what if what we do is… racist?”

Her voice had gone down in an almost-whisper by the last word and Spike scoffed.

“Don’t be daft, pet.” She frowned at him and he looked at her earnestly. “Demons are still mostly nasty buggers and you know it. From what I’ve seen of you, you’ve grown past the Council of Wanker drivel you’ve been taught and now you’re paying attention.”

“Which is why I almost killed an innocent tonight, right?” She dragged a hand on her face then sighed again. “Or maybe I managed it after all. I don’t even know.”

Spike traced the rim of his glass for a second before speaking.

“I think it’s reasonable, after what we saw in that cabin.” He cleared his throat. “Not like I didn’t pummel the bastard as well, before you did that.”

They were silent for a bit, both looking at their own hands on the table.

“I guess we have to learn to be more careful,” she said in a tired voice. “Just because I needed something else to make my life harder.”

Spike gave a slow grin, enjoying the way she raised her eyebrows at him.

“Says the lady who’s head of a soddin’ castle. Power really is going to your brain, luv.” She shook her hand with an unconcerned expression and he laughed, noticing her pleased expression at that.

“You don’t know how hard it is, being on top…”

He grinned at her and forced himself to drink some beer instead of picking one of the plenty of innuendos he could think of to answer that particular line.

“So, you’ll tell Giles and the gang and see what they’ll think of this?”

“Yeah,” she said, her gaze distant for a second before turning firm. “Yeah, and I’ll tell them that I want to work on this. With the demons.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. If the world insists on changing the rules on me, I won’t let it leave me behind,” she sniffed. He grinned widely at her decisiveness.

“You tell ’em, tiger.”

She gave him an amused grin but didn’t comment, just rushed him to finish his beer so they could go back home. He teased her and she teased him back, and when they left the pub the night was ever colder but the atmosphere between them was back to easy camaraderie. They went back to the car still exchanging light-hearted barbs and jabs, and spent the car ride home telling each other stories about their year apart and occasionally arguing over the music. (Their time apart hadn’t cured her of her tragic taste, apparently.)

He couldn’t recall ever being this happy, this at peace with the world — and with himself. He had a feeling he’d found his place, finally, a place where he still had to struggle but where, in the end, he could be happy. With the right people.

God, Buffy. I’m never letting you go, if it means having this. There’s no ‘just’ in being friends, real ones, is there?

He really couldn’t bring himself to think that there was.

 

*

 

By the time they got back to the castle, it was late enough that there was no one around but the few slayers that held guard during the night. It was something that every one of the girls there went through, sooner or later, through rotating turns; Buffy assured him that she’d use his vamp hours for that as well, soon. They kept teasing each other until they separated to go to sleep, and he couldn’t help thinking about her when he was finally in bed, his eyes staring at the wooden beams that lined the ceiling of his room. 

He spent a few painful moments remembering the feel of her skin under his thumb, the way her cheeks flushed lightly, her wide eyes… his mind automatically went to memories of her skin, of her lips, of her soft breasts, of her — 

He sighed, squeezed his eyes shut, and forced his mind away from the memories. It was useless to think of softness, when all they’d ever been was harsh. The only time she’d ever allowed him softness was their last time together — and how ironic was it, that it’d only been to take her mind off her ex coming back to town?

Spike sighed deeply, his hands rubbing his face. He kept looking at the ceiling and let go of the longing tenderness his dead heart was so insistent on feeling towards the lady of his dreams. He concentrated on her smiles, her trust in him, the way she’d been open, and honest, and oh-so-true to him. He smiled. His heart maybe didn’t tug at that in the same bittersweet, painful way; but their friendship managed to warm his insides in a different way. It was much, much subtler, definitely less incandescent, but also so much more real. Not the stuff of his deepest dreams, but the stuff of a very tangible reality.

He closed his eyes and kept smiling in the darkness until he fell asleep.

 

*

 

The next day saw him wake up when the sun was already low on the horizon, the weather as bleak as usual, making it possible for him to head straight to the courtyard. He found Giles there, who was apparently waiting for him.

“Spike, so good of you to come join us in the land of the awake.”

“Bad to see you too, watcher-man.” The other man pursed his lips at him and Spike motioned to the groups of slayers training behind him. “Going to let me through, or were you planning to tell me something?”

“Yes, well, we’ve been waiting for you. Buffy tells us there’s news, but for some unfathomable reason she insisted on waiting for you to wake.” Giles looked at him with raised eyebrows and smirked when he saw Spike’s surprise. “Yes, I’ve been wondering what has gotten into her as well.”

“Well. Right. Lead the way then, watcher,” Spike couldn’t help but murmur, to the evident amusement of the other man. He felt like he needed to make fun of him somehow, get back on even ground where it was Spike that laughed at the old man and not the other way around — but the fact that Buffy had been waiting for him left him just shaken enough to stop him. It also made him regret all the time he’d wasted fantasising about kissing her this morning: he wasn’t only a pathetic prick, he was a pathetic prick who’d made his lady wait.

She ain’t your lady, you prat. Get it through your head already.

Giles and he reached their destination and he found himself in the HQ room, the one with all the screens and computers. All the Scoobies were there, Willow’s face on one of the overhead monitors, with the addition of Satsu and Buffy’s two other main little slayers, Leah and Rowena. They’d been the first slayers he’d battled when he’d got there and they’d both become comfortable with him — and with kicking his ass. He’d still never been beaten by either of them, but they had the annoying ability to get better with time, so he had to keep an eye on them. Wouldn’t do well for his reputation with the little slayers if anyone but Buffy beat him.

They both smiled at him when he entered after Giles, while Satsu just looked at him briefly before going back to looking at Buffy. He idly wondered whether he should tell her to take a breather on this whole hate-Spike campaign she had going on, but then Buffy’s voice grabbed his attention.

“Finally got out of bed, huh?”

“I was starting to fund a search raid to find your corpse,” said Xander good-naturedly and Spike sneered at him in the same way.

“Very funny, little boy.”

“Come on, what’s the big news about? Did you find the DC?”

“Oh, for that you’ll only need the closest comic book store, but even an average newsstand will work.”

“Shut up, Xander,” came a chorus from Dawn, Buffy and Willow from the computer. Spike couldn’t help but nod at their sync, grinning at them all.

“Let’s get this show on the road,” said Buffy then, and everyone turned to her and stopped snickering. Spike spared a moment to admire her authority and the way she commanded everyone’s attention before shutting his bumbling thoughts and listening to what she was saying. She told everyone about the meeting they’d stumbled upon, their spectacular failure with the Grox’lar beast, and the Chief Goblin’s plea. He discovered that the little guy had told Buffy his name, but he was sure she’d butchered it somehow so didn’t give it much thought.

“Let me see if I understand correctly,” said Giles when Buffy finished telling him about the gist of the carnival idea. “These are all… peaceful demons? And they want to convince us to work with them?”

Buffy seemed uncertain for a second, then she nodded. Spike noticed she’d moved closer to him and wondered if she was trying to form a united front against what she expected would be the Scoobies’ protests.

“Yeah, that’s the idea. He’s left me his contact and wants us to get in touch with him as soon as possible so we can work together on this.”

“He’s either very dumb and it’s a trap…” started Leah, with her thick Scottish accent.

“Or he’s naive and really means it,” concluded Rowena, with her German one.

Buffy exchanged a glance with Spike and took another step closer to him, now standing beside him.

“Spike and I think he meant it.”

“And I think we should give it our best try.” He felt somehow out of place, telling three clearly unconvinced slayers and an equally perplexed watcher his opinion, but he refused to show it.

“And what makes you think that?”

Spike looked at Giles and shoved back his surprise at the way the man looked at him. Was that really just genuine interest, no condescension?

“They acted like friends with each other. Helped each other out, didn’t give a rat’s arse about my evil act, and went bonkers when Buffy hurt the beast.” He shuffled, annoyed at his discomfort at being the centre of attention. “They had to be all bloody good actors, if they weren’t serious about it.”

“I see. And what —”

“I seem to remember,” Satsu interrupted the watcher, her eyes on Spike and her expression neutral, “that you told us we should never show a vampire any mercy. I thought that meant never giving them the benefit of the doubt, either.” Her eyes narrowed just slightly. “Does this mean that we will be assured that there will be no vampires at this carnival? And aren’t Grox’lar beasts generally violent and dangerous?”

“It’s a good point,” intervened Rowena, the German blonde. “How can ve tell the difference, if not by race?”

Buffy sent Spike a deeply troubled glance and he remembered her whispered word ‘racist’.

“Look, it’s not like I have the answers,” he said, his hands going to his coat pockets. “I just think this bunch of demons is in good faith and we could make a difference here. The world is changing, demons are coming out of their hidey-holes more and more, and if we don’t start taking that into consideration, we’ll have a bigger problem on our hands down the line.”

They stayed silent for a few tense seconds and Spike couldn’t help but notice the way the three slayers looked at him: none of them was convinced.

“That might very well be true,” said Giles, making him move his eyes from the three young women; “but how do these demons propose to accomplish such a thing?”

“I think it’s doable,” came Willow’s voice from the monitor above them. She sent Spike a smile and he tried to pretend not to feel touched. “If we inform every coven and slayer group in the country, we could have everybody be on the lookout for these peaceful demons. We could ask them to wear the DC letters, maybe, so we can distinguish them from violent types…”

“But we’ve already seen that that wouldn’t work,” said Xander, who wore a worried expression. “I don’t know, Wills. Even if it is doable, I don’t think it’s gonna be easy.”

“Every violent demon will pretend to be one of the carnival clients, and it will make our patrols impossible,” came Satsu’s voice again. 

“Not impossible,” corrected her Buffy from next to him. “Just very hard.” Spike looked at her, saw her determination, and was filled with sudden pride in her. “But that’s just what it is, for us slayers: hard. We can’t stop just because the world is going all shades of grey on us.”

There was silence for a few more moments, then Giles spoke again.

“I think you make an excellent point, Buffy.” She looked at him with a very grateful smile and something in Spike’s heart almost broke. How much protest had she expected to receive? “It will make our lives harder, especially yours. And I’m sorry for that, I really am.” The watcher turned to look at the other three slayers again, his voice firm but not unkind. “But if there’s demons who want to do better, we need to be accepting. They are sentient beings, and we’ve been shown time and time again that they’re not automatically monsters. Now it’s just a matter of accepting that it’s not just rare exceptions, but something more substantial than that.”

Spike was aware of feeling something much too close to gratitude and acceptance for his liking, right at that moment. He concentrated on a spot on one computer behind the three slayers, doing his best to avoid being a ponce in front of them all.

“So what do you propose, exactly?”

“You could try paying attention to what they’re doing, how they’re acting,” spoke Dawn from her position next to Xander. Her tone was pensive as well, and her little frown showed her worry. “It would be hard, and you’d have to leave this whole ‘slay first, ask questions later’ thing slayers usually have going on — but I guess it’s doable.”

Satsu still looked unconvinced while her two friends sighed.

“That sounds like a major complication in our lives.”

Rowena nodded at Leah’s words, her eyes worried as well.

“And the girls will probably protest. It’s not so easy killing demons, if you start thinking of them as sentient beings who have rights.” Satsu looked at Spike, her gaze piercing, and he realised that might have been another reason she didn’t particularly love having him around.

“Well, life is tough,” came Buffy’s voice, and he saw her worried expression. “A part of me hates making it so difficult for everybody. Another, though…” she looked down, suddenly looking much smaller. “I really hate feeling like shit for having hurt that Grox’lar beast. Even research and paying attention sound better than feeling like a racist.”

Spike couldn’t see the other slayers’ reaction at that because he kept his eyes on Buffy. She finally raised her gaze and he looked at her, trying to convey his support. And maybe he managed too, because she smiled slightly and looked back at the others.

“So that’s settled then. One major life complication coming right up!”

Everybody rolled their eyes a bit at Xander’s jolly tone, then Willow spoke again.

“Should I start letting the word pass among the witches, Buff?”

Buffy started to talk about logistics and Chief Goblin’s contact with the witch and Spike tuned them out, his attention going to Xander and Dawn. He was busy trying to distract her from her worry and she was half-smiling already; Spike couldn’t help but feel gratitude towards him, making the moment a tad less tense for his Nibblet.

“I’m glad you went with her yesterday, Spike.” Giles was now standing next to him and he had to kick off the instinct to jerk at his sudden voice. He just stared at him for a few seconds, at a loss for words.

“Yeah. Right. Thanks?”

Giles shrugged and looked at him with another tiny smirk. The bastard was getting too damn smug for Spike’s tastes.

“It turns out that you’re not completely useless after all. Life never ceases to amaze, does it?”

“Stuff it, watcher,” he muttered good-naturedly, going back to looking at Buffy. He could practically hear Giles’s smirk next to him, but he left him alone before Spike could do something pathetic like smile at the other man, going to join Buffy and Willow’s conversation.

Spike was left looking at his Slayer, his own worries making his stomach feel weird. Why was it that the world kept getting harder for her to live in, every time?

He sighed, moving his gaze to the other slayers, who were listening intently to their leader. He couldn’t help but stare at Satsu, noticing the easy way she’d moved to Buffy’s side. He really didn’t blame the girl for disliking him; hell, he didn’t particularly like the ‘competition’, either. It was stupid, he knew, considering how far he was going to force himself to accept his friendship with Buffy and not going for anything else; but it couldn’t help but smart a bit, to know that there was someone else who looked at Buffy in that way, who dreamed of having her like he did.

He briefly wondered if he should talk to Satsu, sort this all out like adults and not bleeding horny kids; but then he realised that it would be too much. What was the point of talking to the bint, when she showed no interest in him — and he didn’t really care one way or another? She was always professional and didn’t look like she’d ever give him grief, aside from the occasional stink-eye. It didn’t matter that they wouldn’t become pals and in the end, he didn’t really fancy even trying.

He looked at Xander and Dawn, who’d apparently stopped all attempts at paying attention to what was being discussed between the grown-ups of the group. He couldn’t help the thought that he really didn’t need any more pals, anyway.

Chapter Text

Spike wasn’t sure how he’d gotten here or how to feel about it; he was getting convinced that it was all a weird dream due to whatever had been in his blood the night before.

His days at the castle had been getting more and more routine-like. He trained with the slayers, stopped himself from flirting shamelessly with the capital-S Slayer, joked around with her pals — and how weird was it, that now saying ‘her’ pals instead of ‘their’ sounded somewhat wrong? — and all around had a good time. Their occasional trip to the country to hunt for demons gave him the chance to show off in front of Buffy and any other slayer who joined, which resulted in endlessly amusing flirting from their part. (Not from Buffy, though, which was depressing, but at this point he’d decided to enjoy any and all attention.)

They’d even started working with Tùrtik, which turned out to be Chief Goblin’s name. He hadn’t been wrong: not all of his pals were convinced that working with the slayers was a good idea; just as not all the girls had been happy to know about the extra care they had to put into their slaying efforts now. Buffy and he did their best to warm them up to the concept, though. To their credit, so did Satsu, Leah and Rowena, never showing anyone else the unease they’d talked about at their initial meeting on the matter. It was complicated but the efforts were going forwards; November was over, the last week of December drifting ever closer, and with it the carnival’s opening.

All in all, life was good. He had contacted Beck and told her she could have his LA apartment for the time being; in answer, he’d received the boxes he’d left there, accompanied by a handwritten note wrapped around his little Angel-plushie, which came with its noose all coiled around his felt neck:

Take care of the plushie git, see that he doesn’t come alive and start killing people. I’ll keep an eye on Big Forehead in the flesh here, check that he doesn’t summon literal, bloody hell on us all again.

P.S.: next time you bugger off and leave the sodding continent without coming to say goodbye in person, I’ll bust your bloody nose in. Prat.

He’d shaken his head with a chuckle, which had made Dawn feel obliged to nick the note and read it too, since she’d been helping him setting his things in his tiny room. She’d given him a dubious look but he’d just shrugged off her concern while he hanged little Angel to his lamp, just to cheer up the place. She’d been full of questions about this Beck and he couldn’t help but feel very close to gloating at the thought that she was jealous of his friend. In the end, he’d caved and told her about Beck, enjoying every second of attention his tales got. God, but he was a sucker for Summers women.

All of this was more than all right by Spike, since he was feeling more and more at home in the castle and like he’d finally found his place. Still, the fact that he was in a pub with Xander Harris and Rupert Giles of all people, without Buffy or Dawn there to help him accept his situation as a Scooby — because who was he kidding, he was a part of the merry gang of buffoons by then — well, that was still just bloody weird.

"You gone brain-dead on us, too, dead boy?"

Xander's voice broke his reverie and he sent him a narrow-eyed look. 

"Our mate here is feeling out of place, Xander. Do be a gracious host and be sensitive with him." 

Giles sported his usual smug smirk and Spike had to bite back the urge to growl at him. Wouldn't do to show his tension. 

"Very funny, old man. Very bleedin' gracious." 

"You know, you are far older than me, Spike. I've been researching your history, as a matter of fact, while I'm here. It turns out that your —"

"I don't give a bloody good damn about your watcher blabbering, all right? It's all insipid bullshit anyway —" 

"That your story," continued Giles with an unconcerned sip of his fancy-ass whiskey, "is much more of a mystery than I expected, even with in-situ material. In fact, I only learned that you were turned in 1880 in London, nothing more precise than that." He seemed to look at him with very discerning eyes, and Spike gulped down some of his own whiskey to avoid showing any interest in his words. "One presumes that you were nothing but a thug from one of the lowest parts of the city, considering your accent and dubious taste of clothing." 

Spike took another sip of his whiskey, glaring at the watcher. He seemed far too smug for his taste and he wasn't exactly comfortable enough to share that particular part of his past with him: something told him that Giles’s words were no more than a ruse and that he only meant to get Spike to talk about his past. He didn’t like it one bit.

"One presumes that you should mind your own sodding business instead of prying into others' stories, yeah?" 

"Well —" 

"All right!" Interrupted Xander, raising his glass of beer between Spike and Giles and breaking their eye contact. "As riveting as this British standoff thing is, I gotta stop you guys. All the testosterone here is risking to go to my head, never mind the risk to any lady's life in this pub." 

Spike sent him a grin, glad for the change of focus. 

"Getting too much for you to handle, Harris? Wanna call one of the slayers to help you out?" 

"Oh, I can handle you all right, mister," said Xander with an easy smile. Spike raised his eyebrows while Giles let out a delicate cough. "OK, no, now I hear that. Let's just pretend I never said that particular sentence, all right?" 

"You did mention I could have a piece of you whenever I wanted, Harris…" Spike couldn't help but tease him more, letting one of his hands trail down his chest and towards his belt. Xander visibly tensed and leaned back, sending a nervous glance to Giles. 

"Ah-ah, yes, ah, you know me, always the funny guy…" 

Spike burst out laughing while Giles coughed again, before they both got another sip of their whiskeys. 

"Remind me why I'm wasting my time here with you children…" 

"Yeah, Harris, what's this about?" 

"Oh, come on, you guys, I told you! The girls have decided to have an all-girls night in as long as Willow’s here," he said, tilting his head to one side, "so we're having an all-guys night out to ourselves!" He finished, tilting his head to the other side. Then his expression turned pleading. "Please. I never thought that being constantly surrounded by women would be this exhausting. Please let's play best pals tonight, all right?" 

Spike let him stew in his desperation for a few seconds, then he decided that there was far too much real vulnerability in the boy's eyes for his comfort. 

"Whatever, mate." 

"Yes, by all means let's have a night out and get wasted," said Giles, tilting his glass towards the two of them. Spike and Xander both clinked their glasses with his and Spike settled in to have a 'night out with the boys'. 

"So, Spike," started Xander, while he took another sip and thought about the next drink he wanted; "when are you going to ask out Buffy?" 

Spike spewed out half his drink on their table, the other half getting lodged in his throat. 

"There, there," said Giles in a mild tone, patting him lightly on the back. Xander just blinked at him with an innocent expression.

"What?!" 

"I'm just saying," said Xander nonchalantly, "you've been here for around two months now, and I haven't seen you make a move yet. Hell," he added after taking a sip of his beer, ignoring Spike's bugged eyes, "you've been alone outside the castle multiple times, have even gone for drinks… and nothing? Where's the unending love we all loved to hate, Spike? Where's the star-crossed, impossible love story of vampire and vampire slayer?" 

“I was expecting something a tad quicker too, I have to say,” said Giles, and Spike moved his bewildered gaze to him. “You’re really keeping us all on our toes, here.”

“I’m pretty sure the slayers have started a tab,” nodded Xander, his face maintaining his innocent, mildly confused expression. “There’s a few of them who’re taking your flirts for real, while others have totally seen through it.”

“Dear Lord, some of them actually believe there’s any chance with him?” Giles scoffed and Spike felt something too close to a roar of rage building in his chest. “I’m worried about the safety of anyone those girls will ever have to protect…”

Xander laughed and Spike had had enough. He stood abruptly, slamming his glass on the table and clenching his hands into fists, willing himself not to bury them into these two’s faces.

Enough.” He was seething, and Harris and the watcher had the gall to look taken aback at his rage. “Fuck you. Both of you,” he said, staring at both of them hard. Then he turned and strode out of the pub, certain that he’d commit a murder he might regret in the morning if he stayed any longer — or two.

“Spike, where are you —”

“Fuck off, watcher,” he barked, without turning to see the man who’d followed him out of the pub.

“Wait, let me —”

Spike turned and grabbed the man by his shirt, slamming him against the wall of the pub. He distantly registered Giles's glasses wobbling on his face, his eyes wide in shock, and his own face vamping out.

“I said fuck off,” he snarled. “Not in the mood for being played for a fool, watcher.” He jerked him against the wall once for good measure, then moved back and started to turn.

“We’re sorry, all right!” Spike stopped, looking back at him with narrowed eyes. “We didn’t… mean it as an insult.” He seemed honest enough, but Spike still wanted to punch his face in, so he just sneered at him.

“Sure you didn’t. What, you just play at being friendly so you can find new ways to make fun of the resident vampire?”

Giles blinked at him, one hand going up to adjust his glasses and then his shirt. He couldn’t believe how much it stung, to be treated like a laughing stock by this man and the other idiot inside; he clung to his fury, refusing to think of any other emotion he might have been feeling about it.

“Spike. Listen to me.” Spike just glared at him, refusing to let his vamp face recede. “We were just… well, joking around I believe is the more apt term.” Giles moved his gaze to the side for a moment, his voice going less sure. “We… clearly stepped over a line. I’m sorry.”

“So am I,” came Harris’s voice, who was then reaching them through the door of the pub. He raised his hands towards Spike, who’d turned to glare at him too. “Seriously, pal. I just thought we could have a laugh about the good… well, fairly bad old times.”

Spike sneered at him.

“Yeah, cause you’ve always been so bloody supportive of it. You, reacting like Buffy was a fucking monster for ever touching me, and you, trying to get me bloody killed because she didn’t stake me herself.” He spat, suddenly feeling like everything they’d been through these past two months was a huge pile of steaming shit. “You don’t get to laugh at me, you assholes. I can play nice, but I’m no one’s lapdog. Don’t care about your precious, fucking friendship.”

Harris visibly jerked at that, a look of shame and hurt on his expressive face. Something in Spike’s stomach seemed to rebel at his own words, but he ignored it and concentrated on his rage.

“T-that was… that was a long time ago, Spike.” Xander swallowed, his voice getting a bit firmer. “I’ve learnt a lot since then, about… about a lot of things, actually.” Xander swallowed again, his gaze flicking to the ground before going back to Spike’s. “And I thought we were starting over, clean slate and all?”

Spike narrowed his eyes. He felt his rage slipping farther from him with each of the young man’s unsure, hopeful words, and he felt something nauseatingly similar to regret rising from his guts.

“What I did was reckless towards the cause, dishonest and disloyal towards Buffy, and ultimately a bloody idiotic thing, considering how vital your part in the war turned out to be.” Spike turned to Giles, his vamp face receding in shock at the man’s trembling words. “I’ve talked to her since and admitted my faults, and though it took me longer than I’d like to admit, I’ve realised my mistake. It was monumental, and it has taken me time and effort to regain Buffy’s trust, however much of it I have managed to regain.” Spike just blinked, ’cause what the hell was he supposed to say to that? “I don’t know if I am ever to gain yours; but know this: I don’t see you as the dangerous liability that I once thought you were, and you are far from the creature that you once were. And,” he added with an increasingly trembling voice, now visibly shuddering, “I’m sorry.” Spike just blinked at him, again. What? “Now, could we please get inside? I’m worried about hypothermia.”

Right, the bugger had followed him outside in a rush, without stopping to put his coat back on. Spike couldn’t really understand what was going on but Giles seemed intent on staying outside as long as Spike did — so naturally he did get back into the pub, following the two humans, because he couldn’t very well let him die out there. Buffy and his Nibblet would be furious, after all.

They found themselves back at their table, where Xander helped a trembling Giles back into his coat. Spike just stood there, feeling dumb and useless and just a tad like he’d been plunged into a parallel dimension. What would happen next, giant talking bugs?

“All better, watcher-man?”

“It will be as soon as you stop calling me that,” the man muttered while sitting back down.

“Sure, G-man,” Xander said with a wink. Giles glared at him. “So, who wants a refill?” Giles sniffed and just handed him his empty glass. Xander took it and then pointed to Spike’s almost empty one, nodding to the bar behind him. “I’ll take one for you too?”

God, was the git smiling at him hopefully? Spike felt like a prick. This was ridiculous, and he should get back to the sodding castle already and leave these two sorry asses on their own…

“All right.”

He ignored the urge to punch himself in the face and just slumped in his seat instead, looking at Xander while he ordered their new drinks. He could feel Giles looking at him but he didn’t know what to tell him, so he kept his eyes resolutely fixed on the boy. Which was of course a mistake, since as soon as he turned with their drinks there he was, grinning goofily back at him from the bar.

“So, like…” Xander started, after having sat down and clinked his second beer with their glasses. “Do you mind if we talk about it? No jokes this time, promise!” Spike raised an eyebrow at him. “OK, minimum amount of jokes possible. Whaddaya say?”

He just stared at him for a few seconds and then settled his gaze on the opposite corner of the pub. The silence stretched for a few more instants, until Giles broke it.

“Are we wrong in assuming that all the flirting with the other slayers is, in fact, just amusing and that you’re not giving any real thought to any of them?”

Spike snorted and took a long drink from his whiskey. He saw Giles smirk out of the corner of his eye, just as he could hear Xander chuckling. 

"Thought so," said the boy in an easy tone. "You might not have made any move, but I think anyone can see the truth." 

Spike felt his fingers tighten into a fist and paid dutiful attention to not breaking the glass he was grasping with his other hand — so that he could keep himself from punching something. Or someone. 

"I think," said Giles in a pacifying tone, "that Spike doesn't want to talk about this. Don't insist, Xander." 

He shot the other man a look, but Giles was just looking at his drink in a bland way. He felt a rushing sense of gratitude towards him — which in turn made him feel like hightailing it out of there, fast. 

"No, yeah, sure. I mean, I just… it's just that…" Harris shook his head and gave a frustrated huff. "Never mind." 

Spike looked at him for a few seconds until finally giving in with a sigh. 

"What?" 

"I mean," he started, all pretence of letting it go disappearing in a half-second, "she's right there. She's alive, and well, and yeah, you've screwed up, you've screwed up bad, but now you have the opportunity to do something about it, right? You still care about her, because of course you do, how could you not, and she's right there, why would you miss the opportunity, any opportunity to give it a shot? Because we're all so safe and sound here, and nobody's life is ever in danger in our line of work, no sir! So what are you waiting for, the right moment? Because let me tell you, the right moment won't come, it will just be the late moment, when it's too late and it's all over and you can't give it any kind of shot because she's not there anymore!"

He'd worked himself into quite a bit of rage, his face red and his eye suspiciously shiny. There were a few more moments of silence between the three of them. 

“To projecting our own feelings onto others,” toasted then Giles with a little kind smile. Spike couldn’t help but clink his glass with his, while Xander’s cheeks got even redder and he hid his face behind a big gulp of his beer.

“Whatever,” he muttered, and Spike couldn’t help a grin.

“Well, mate… I’ve seen you making wistful eyes at that dark-haired bint, actually. What's her name, Renee?” Xander seemed to blush even more, his ears seemingly one centigrade away from self-combustion. “Why aren’t you asking her out, if you’re all about that carpe diem?”

Xander sent him a glare, then he moved his glass to the side and thumped his head on the table.

“Ah, of course. Sound reasoning,” nodded Giles, and Spike couldn’t help a chuckle. He felt like it was acceptable to pat the young man on the shoulder, at that point — not that he wanted to show too much support or anything, but Harris did look too desperate.

“Come on, she can’t be that bad.”

“She’s brilliant,” came his muffled response from against the table. Then he said something unintelligible.

“I’m afraid Spike and I still can’t speak table, Xander, you’ll have to switch back to English.”

“I said,” he answered with a glare in the watcher’s direction, “that that’s probably why I should steer clear.”

“Very sensible choice,” nodded Giles again with another little smile. “Heaven forbid you should actually learn from your mistakes and become a better man through them.”

Xander just glared at him some more.

“’Fraid I have to side with the watcher on this one, Harris,” he said, and yeah, his tone might have been a tad too kind for a big, bad vampire.

“So, you’re going to ask out Buffy too?”

Spike rolled his eyes to hide his intense discomfort.

“The hell’s up with you two and this, anyway? I thought you of all people would be chuffed as hell to see me not gettin’ all cosy with the Slayer.”

Giles and Xander exchanged a look, then they both looked away from him. He almost felt disappointed at the fact that they weren’t somehow defending his case — and that , now, was the real kicker.

“Well, we all know it’s different now,” said Xander, while Giles gave the slightest nod, swirling the whiskey in his glass with a gentle twist of his hand. “And, well, I guess I just think that you shouldn’t waste time chasing some perfect moment, when…”

“There is no such thing,” finished Giles, his brows slightly furrowed. Spike gave a sigh and resorted to take another long sip from his drink, his eyes fixed on the wooden ceiling. He would not spill his guts like a sodding woman; he’d had enough of bloody self-reflection with the sodding fish already, thank you very much; he wouldn’t make a fool of himself with these two…

“Jus’ wanna be my own man, is all. Grown sick and tired of trailing after someone like a lovesick puppy with no self-respect.”

… he was such a prat.

There were a few more seconds of silence and then he stared down at the two, ready to punch them in the face if they so much as smiled his way. But Xander was just looking at him in surprise, while Giles seemed to consider him like a newfound mystery.

“That’s surprisingly mature of you, Spike.”

He scoffed, feeling in no way pleased by the sentiment behind the words.

“Thanks ever so, watcher.”

They stayed silent for a while more, each contemplating his drink, before Giles spoke again.

“I don’t know why you feel it is impossible to have a… self-respecting kind of relationship with Buffy, Spike.” The vampire squirmed in his seat, intensely uncomfortable and with his gaze fixed on his drink, his jaw clenched. “But for what it’s worth, I do find it wise to try for your own self-actualisation before starting anything that you’d deem damaging.”

Well, fuck but the guy wasn’t scared to call things by their names. But how could he tell him how he’d yet to have a healthy relationship in all his years on the sodding planet? How could he let him know about just how bad it had gotten between him and Buffy, back then — even before the attempted rape? And how could he admit out loud that he felt like he’d never be able to have anything healthy with her the moment he touched her in any sexual way?

He bloody well couldn’t, was what it was. So he just stared at his drink in silence, feeling like if the night went on like that any longer, he’d be extremely violent on the slayers the following afternoon, if just to release all the damn, stupid tension he felt rising in his chest.

“Well, I suppose at this point there’s nothing else to it.” Giles’s voice interrupted his panicking thoughts while the man calmly stood up, taking his coat off again and picking up his whiskey. “The pool table is free. Are you two ready to be floored?”

Spike found himself slowly smiling.

“You’re on, watcher.”

He stood, giving the blinking Xander a hard pat on the shoulder, and followed the grinning watcher to the pool table. Hopefully, they were over the bleeding pouring-out-of-heart part of the evening and he could get back to good ol’ bickering and teasing.

“Hey, wait for me!”

“Don’t worry, Xander, you'll have plenty of time to lose spectacularly.”

“Especially to me, boy.”

Yeah, this was definitely more like it.

 

*

 

“So, when are you and Spike going to start dating?”

Buffy took a deep breath. Do not kill your little sister. You’ve just made massive steps in sister bonding. Do not kill your little sister…

“Er, Dawnie, maybe Buffy just wants to relax tonight…”

“Thank you, Wills. Weren’t you going to tell us about that guy you liked, Dawnie? Who was it, Ken?”

“Yeah, Ken, totally cute guy, but I want the scoop. You solved the whole DC thing together, and got a drink together while doing it, it’s like you’ve already been on your first date!” Dawn stopped talking to take a sip of her coke, fairly bouncing up and down, cross-legged on the carpet where the three of them were sitting. “So when’s the next?”

Buffy internally debated whether choking her till she lost consciousness would be acceptable. It wouldn’t involve killing her, right?

“Dawnie…”

“Oh, come on, Willow! You should side with me, don’t you wanna know when these two are gonna just drop the act and smooch happily ever after?”

To Buffy’s horror and dismay, Willow smiled an uncertain, curious smile. Not you too, Will!

“Well, I was wondering if…”

“That’s it, then. Come on, Buffy, spill.”

Buffy looked at the eager expression on her little sister’s face and then at the hopefully curious — and betraying — one on her best friend’s.

She groaned and let herself fall back on the carpet.

“I hate you both.”

“Spill, spill, spill! What are you waiting for, Buffy? He’s back, he’s souled, he’s cute…”

“He seems very stable, too. Hell with Angel must have done him good — and boy, is that a sentence I’d never thought I’d utter.”

“Do you even hear yourselves?” Buffy muttered, covering her face with her hands.

“Oh, come on! What’s stopping you?”

“Have you considered that maybe, just maybe, I prefer staying single?”

There was silence for a few seconds and Buffy braved a look at the other two girls between her fingers. They were staring at her like she’d just told them she wanted to move to the woods.

“Sure…” drawled Dawn, and she groaned and covered her eyes again.

“Go away.”

“Nope, you promised a girls’ night and we’re staying right here.”

“Technically, I didn’t promise so much as you decided it, and all I could do was nod…” Buffy moved her hands away in time to see the look of hurt in Dawn’s eyes and she sat up immediately. “Just kidding! I love the idea, and I love to have you both to myself, it’s just that…” She couldn’t help a sigh, feeling like a drama queen about it. “Spike-talk isn’t exactly of the relax-making.”

“But… why?”

Dawn looked genuinely confused now and Buffy couldn’t blame her. Why, indeed?

“Do you like, like him?” Willow asked, looking confused as well.

“Do I think he’s hot, walking sex on a stick? Yes.” She blushed furiously at the words that she hadn’t been able to stop and at the smirks on the other two girls’ faces, but then she shook her head. “Do I think we have a horrible history together and that we’ve brought the worst out of each other, and does that make me terrified? Hell yes.” She crossed her arms then, suddenly annoyed. “Also, he keeps ignoring me and flirting with every girl who sends a smile his way, which — pretty much every single straight slayer in here.”

Dawn laughed at that and Buffy moved her glare to her.

“Oh, Buffy, I don’t think he’s serious about that,” said Willow, who had this stupid kind smile on her face and couldn’t they just listen to her?

Definitely not serious about that. I bet he’s just trying to make you jealous,” nodded Dawn.

“No. He’s done that before, and he was so obvious about it. Actually, he told me out right, that time… this is completely different.”

“He is very different, though.” Buffy moved her stare to Willow and she raised her hands. “Just saying!”

“Look, I don’t get it. Explain it to me, really. You like him, he likes you, you live together, work together… what’s the problem here?”

“Actually,” said Willow with a little grimace, “maybe the whole living and working together thing isn’t the best.”

“Exactly!” Nodded Buffy enthusiastically, while a little — traitorous — part of her broke at the words.

“I mean, it can get hard, for a relationship that’s just starting out.”

“But you wouldn’t be! You have history!”

Willow grimaced some more and this time Buffy did too.

“No, Dawnie… if I had to consider what I have with Spike like history that is in any way relatable to the present… I wouldn’t even consider starting anything.” She let out a sigh, her gaze going down to her hands. “That’s… that’s kinda what’s been stopping me from considering it, I guess.” The words left her in a rushed whisper and she couldn’t believe she’d said them. She decided there and then that looking down at her hands for the rest of the night would probably be a brilliant idea. 

“Buffy…”

She ignored her sister, keeping her stare down. Which made it impossible to ignore Willow when she put her hand on hers, squeezing them gently.

“Buffy, I mean it when I say that he’s changed. And so have you.” She paused, but Buffy refused to look up at her — she didn’t want to see compassion in her eyes, or worse, hope. “If you really wanted to, I think you could at least try to make it work.”

“Yeah, Willow’s right, Buffy.” Dawnie’s voice had lost much of her excitement and was sweet — but what did she know about all the hell that had happened between her and Spike? What did either of them? “I think the real question is… do you want to try it?”

Buffy flicked her gaze up for a second, just in time to see Dawn and Willow’s kind expressions. Her hands were definitely easier to look at, yessir.

The silence stretched for a minute until finally Buffy gave a sigh, giving up on her hope for a sudden attack on the castle that might get her out of this conversation.

“Look,” she started, not knowing how to continue. She fluttered her hands, letting go of Willow’s and looking up at the ceiling. “I don’t know. I don’t know what to tell you, I don’t… I just don’t know.”

“You don’t know if you want to try or —”

“I don’t know!” Buffy interrupted Dawn, fluttering her hands some more. When had she become this stupid? Oh, yeah — she’d always been this bad with words. “I just — what if it doesn’t work? We’ve never been so good together, and now we’re friends, that’s telling something! What if that’s the best we’re ever gonna be? And don’t get me wrong,” she continued, standing up and starting to pace, “this friendship is great. Great! ‘Just’ friends my ass, whoever said that clearly didn’t have any good friends. But that’s just it,” she said, stopping short and letting her arms fall to her sides. “What if this is the best it’s ever gonna get? What if anything else just… ruins it?”

She didn’t have the strength to look at her friend and sister’s face, so she just looked down at her feet. Call me extremity girl here, I’m all about those hands and feet.

“So… you’re not even going to try?”

Dawn’s voice was small, almost disappointed. Great. Just what she needed. She took a deep breath and met her sad gaze.

“Honestly? I’m not even sure he wants to try anything.” Dawn seemed ready to scoff at that and Willow gave a little grin, so Buffy held her hand up. “Seriously. When we were in that pub after finding the DC meeting —”

“Which was totally a first date.” Buffy glared at her little sister and her innocent-looking eyes.

“When we were there, there was this moment…” she huffed, sitting back down in front of the other two. “Well. I totally thought he was gonna kiss me.” Dawn gave a gasp of excitement and Willow perked up, making Buffy roll her eyes. “But then he didn’t. He moved back and broke the moment — it was all him. He didn’t want to kiss me.” She smiled, sure that it had to be the saddest smile she could manage. “That, and then he flirts with every girl who gives him the time of day — except for me… a girl can get a message.”

There were a few moments of silence until she gathered enough courage to look up. Dawn’s eyes looked a bit heartbroken — You’re telling me, sister — but Willow seemed pensive.

“You know, Buffy…” she started, and she couldn’t help but feel a little spark of hope at her considering tone. “Have you ever thought that maybe he’s thinking the same things you’re thinking? That what you have is good, and that he doesn’t want to risk it by going for more?”

Buffy felt the spark grow into a small fire and had to fight to keep it down.

“Well, that’s dumb. He clearly doesn’t want me enough, if he’s not even willing to try!”

Willow gave her a look and she felt herself blush.

“Well, I think you’re both being doofuses.” Dawn had considerably perked up, since now her expression was closer to haughty than depressed. “You should stop wasting each other’s time and just get on with it already.”

“Get on with..?”

“Smoochies, Buffy. You should get on with the smoochies, the snogging, the sex —”

“So not wanting you to think about that, Dawnie!”

Her sister gave her the mother of eye rolls and Willow snickered from beside her.

“Oh, grow up. If I do get with Ken, what do you think we’re gonna do, hold hands until we’re married?” Buffy didn’t even try to stop her expression of horror. “Seriously, though,” Dawnie continued, ignoring Buffy’s stunned state, “just kiss him. Ask him out. Ask him for some coffee in your bedroom, tell him he can use your bathtub —”

Dawnie!”

“What? There’s so few of them in the castle…”

Buffy just kept looking at her in horrified shock. Then the younger girl burst out laughing, and so did Willow, and Buffy felt like she needed to slap them both on the head. A bit of Slayer strength wouldn’t hurt them too much, would it?

“I’m sorry, it’s just too easy to mess with you,” her monstrous little sister said, wiping a tear from one of her eyes. The brat!

“I think she has a point, Buff,” said Willow, still smiling. “It’s great that you two have managed to build a beautiful friendship. As long as he doesn’t run for best friend role, I am all for it!” Buffy smiled at that and Willow beamed before turning to a kinder smile. “But seriously. If you think you could be happy with him… you should give it a try.”

“But what if he doesn’t want to —”

“First of all, that’s ridiculous. It’s Spike, come on.”

“Dawnie, let’s be real. He disappears for a year without a word, then he comes back and keeps it clear as day that he wants a friendship from me.” She shook her head, smiling sadly. “Why should I think differently?”

“Because of your history,” came Willow’s quiet voice. “Buff, you’ve been through so much — and so much of it was shitty. I’m not surprised that you’re both feeling pretty scared to do anything.”

Buffy furrowed her brow.

“I’m not scared. I’m…” she looked at the two girls and their raised eyebrows, huffing. “I’m cautious, that’s what I am. Caution girl, ready for… inaction,” she finished lamely.

Dawn and Willow exchanged a glance, then Willow straightened up a bit. Here we go…

“Buffy, can I be honest?”

“Well, actually, I’d rather go back to our original plan of eating ice cream and watching Daniel Craig movies…” She sighed and relented. “OK. Shoot.”

“I think… I think you should make the first move.” Buffy started to protest, because he was a guy and was she supposed to do everything around here now, but Willow raised her hand and stopped her from voicing her thoughts. She frowned at her but let her continue. “What happened between you two… before he left for Africa.” 

Buffy felt the blood drain from her face at her friend's soft words. She hadn't talked much about it to anyone, but both Willow and Dawn by now had heard the shortest possible version of the events… enough to understand at least part of the context, and certainly enough to understand just how much Spike had regretted his actions, and how quickly. She could easily admit that those conversations had been among the scariest moments in her life — and the most important ones too, when it came to her understanding her own past better, and maybe one day finally moving on. 

"After that…" continued Willow, her voice still kind. "Honestly, I think he’s never gonna make a first move, of any kind. I don't even know if it's a conscious thing or not, but I just don't think he will. If you want something to happen… I think you’ll have to try.”

Buffy stayed silent, unable to say anything to that. She was shaken from her shocked state by Dawn’s hand, light on hers.

“For what it’s worth, Buffy, I think you two would be great together. I really do. But if you really don’t want to try… well, I guess I’ll stop bitching about it,” she ended with a crooked smile. Buffy felt a rush of gratitude and, without even realising how, she found herself hugging her little sister tight.

“Oh, hey, I want in on the hug too!”

Buffy didn’t let go of Dawnie while sticking out an arm and crashing Willow to them too, who gasped and let out a little laugh — until the three of them were all laughing together, and Buffy could feel her eyes moisten but didn’t care, because this right here was her family.

She didn’t know what to do, but knowing that she had their support whatever she decided warmed her heart in a way she could have never expressed into words.

Chapter Text

The preparations for the carnival had been attracting more and more demons to the United Kingdom and the slayers by then had daily run-ins with them all over the country. The day had finally arrived: the following evening would be the start of the carnival and Buffy had decided that she’d lead a contingent of slayers to stay in Edinburgh for the first four days; they would then come back to the castle and be replaced by other slayers, taking turns to cover the festival throughout its whole duration until the second week of January. She'd still be available at any time for anything they needed, but she'd decided that, unless the situation called for it, she wouldn't stay at the carnival herself for the whole duration. It was clear that she felt she could count on Satsu, Leah, and Rowena to be leaders there, and knew they'd love the opportunity to be the head of their own contingents.

Buffy had also decided that Spike would accompany her and the other slayers for the first turn. She’d even tried to blindside him with the news while they were sparring — again — but this time he’d made a slightly smaller fool of himself and had managed to keep it cool and stay on top of his game. Which meant that it took her another ten minutes to beat him to the ground… but he really couldn’t complain. Spectacular view, from beneath…

Spike sighed and rubbed his face for what seemed like the millionth time in the last few days. Truth was, the idea of traipsing around a carnival next to the slayer was exhilarating, terrifying and mind-boggling all at the same time; he couldn’t wait for it and dreaded the very idea. He’d have to stop being his usual pillock self and force himself not to treat it like a date; but how could he resist the temptation to do so, to charm her off her feet, maybe coax her in a dark corner and — 

Spike sighed again and rolled his eyes at himself. He took a long drink from his beer, stopping himself from muttering out loud about how pathetic he was.

“You know, I’ve heard that drinking by yourself isn’t a good sign.” Xander’s voice made him look up in time to see him join him at the table in the mostly empty dining hall. He gave him a crooked grin and clinked his own full glass with Spike’s. “So let me join you, let’s be night owls together.”

Spike couldn’t stop a grin of his own, as much as he wanted to.

“You worried about tomorrow evening, Harris?”

“Nah, just an average beer craving in the middle of the night.” Spike raised his eyebrows and Xander conceded. “OK, yeah, I am. I hate that Buffy wants me to stay here.”

“Makes sense. You and the boss watcher can keep an eye on everything from here with your fancy communication thingies.”

“‘Fancy communication thingies’. You know, I’m starting to think Giles is right, when he insists that you were a sophisticated nobleman and not just a regular, ignorant thug as a human…”

Spike scoffed and drank more. He had no intention to confirm any side of the man’s damned hypotheses, although a traitorous, still-Victorian part of him was flattered that he’d think he’d been a nobleman. If his Mum’d ever heard of it, she’d have been over the moon.

They drank in silence for a little while and Spike couldn’t help but enjoy the company. He would never admit it out loud but Harris had turned out to be an all-right bloke — and the watcher as well. After the unpleasantness at the pub they’d both steered clear of the whole Buffy-and-him deal, which had left him grateful and, in a maddeningly confusing way, just a tad disappointed.

He decided that some good ol’ teasing was much better than thinking anything along those lines.

“Noticed you’ve been talking more to that dark-haired chit, lately.”

“Renee’s not a chit!” Exclaimed Xander, before giving him a suspicious look. “What’s a chit?”

“Never mind,” he smiled, gesturing towards him. “You gonna take her out or what?”

Xander sighed a very dejected sigh and Spike reeled in an eye roll.

“But what could I even offer her? I mean —”

His voice was too whiny and he had to interrupt him with an exasperated sound.

“Get your head out of your arse, man! Just tell her you’ll bring her to see the carnival and treat her to a fun night!”

Xander scowled.

“I thought I was fundamental at comms control here in the castle.”

This time Spike didn’t stop the eye roll.

“Well then, wait for the first couple of weeks to pass and go towards the end of the festival, when we’ll be more relaxed about it all. Do I have to do everything for you here, mate?”

Xander looked at him with narrowed eyes before taking a long sip of his beer.

“You’re being strangely helpful, Spike.” Spike scoffed but Xander’s expression didn’t change. “I know what’s going on here… you’re trying to help me out so you can stop thinking about how much you want to ask out Buffy.” Spike scowled at him. “Yeah, that’s totally right! You wanna live vicariously through me! Well, mister, let me tell you that I am having none of your —”

“All right, I’m off,” announced Spike, his voice raising over Xander’s before he finished his beer in a few long gulps.

“Wait right here! You gotta own up to your own —”

“Gotta go to bed now, need to rest and keep my energies — see you tomorrow, whelp.”

He ignored Xander’s protests as he turned and waved at him without looking back, his stride sure and confident and not at all rushed.

The boy clearly had delusions, he pondered while quickly — but reasonably so — climbing up the stairs that led to the upper levels and bedrooms. He was not living vicariously through anyone, bloody hell, let alone a little scrap of a boy like Xander Harris. He scoffed, turning down his hall and reaching his bedroom fast. He shook his head while stepping inside and throwing his coat on his chair.

It was ridiculous! He didn’t want to ask Buffy out because it would be idiotic to do so. Because he didn’t want to go out with her, they had such a good friendship and what if she misunderstood, or what if she didn’t and they went on a date, an actual date, and then she’d just sleep with him and he’d go back to his usual helpless, hopeless self and then they'd fall back on old, horrible habits and Christ, I am such a fucking, bloody pillock!

He crashed on the bed and buried his face in his pillow, his hands fisting on either side of his head.

Christ, he couldn’t wait for this shit to be over and for the moment when he could really, finally start moving on already.

 

***

 

The next evening came and so did the moment for Spike, Buffy and a group of five more slayers to leave for the carnival. This time it was one of the little slayers driving, while Buffy rode shotgun; this left Spike to sit in the back of the car, surrounded by the girls. He found himself sitting right between two young Europeans who kept on shamelessly flirting with him, while the two Brits on the back laughed along the scene and spent most of the ride leaning forward to talk with them and snicker at the boldest moves of the other two. He felt like his arms were constantly being touched between the two of them and couldn’t help but chuckle at all their lame jokes and ‘Oh God’s and ‘please tell us more!’s. 

It was hilarious — only made sweeter by the fact that the more they teased him, the more he laughed about it, the more Buffy’s eyes seemed to narrow. He didn’t want to make a big deal of it, so he left her to her silent glaring at the road ahead. It was somehow thrilling, to know that he still had some kind of effect on her even though she wasn’t really interested. Not that he was really giving the girls any hope, and he figured they knew that perfectly well too. So he just let them smirk and grin and smile and blink their eyelashes at him, all the while wishing he could fully enjoy himself with all this attention, instead of wishing it came from somewhere else.

When they arrived Buffy was the first to climb out of the car, walking quickly to the main entrance of the carnival. As soon as he got out of the car too he had to admit to himself that the demons had done a brilliant job: the main colours of the place were red and black, which was more than all right by him, and the design seemed reminiscent of a mix of different European styles. He’d expected a gaudy, tacky, and loud look; what he found was instead a style that reminded him of the soft, intricate, and natural-looking lines of the Art Nouveau current that he’d pretended to ignore while traipsing all over Europe in his Scourge days. If that current had had a much darker, scarier streak, that is.

He was interrupted from his wonder by Tùrtik and his little goblin mate — whose name he hadn’t cared to memorise and whom he’d discovered was his brother, and poor Tùrtik for that. They were already talking with Buffy about the places were the slayers and witches would be. After a lot of debating they’d agreed on four of the slayers being stationed at the two entrances while the remaining slayer would join Buffy, Spike and the witches in wandering through the carnival, to make sure that any trouble could be stopped as soon as possible. At the same time, Xander and Giles would keep their communications open and have access to the cameras that were spread throughout the place.

That had been a hard sell with the demons, but in the end they’d accepted it as it would help with keeping the situation under control — and with defending any innocent bystander from being attacked by anyone without visual proof of it. The demons had demanded that they have their own access to the live footage; Spike snickered whenever he remembered Tùrtik’s embarrassed face when he’d admitted to Buffy that some of his pals expected the slayers themselves to attack unsuspecting demons. He knew her, so he knew perfectly well how much she’d wanted to punch something at that accusation — which made him all the more proud of the way she’d handled the rest of the conversation, with grace and firmness, if a bit of steel in her voice. Of course, it helped that she’d had him to pummel afterwards, to relieve that tension. He smiled at the memory of that particular tumble and at how hard it had been not to slam her to the nearest wall and fuck her right in front of all the slayerettes in the courtyard, thoughts of friendship and moving on be damned.

“Spike, you with us?”

Buffy’s clipped tone roused him from his thoughts and he did his best to wipe his dorky grin off his face.

“Yes, ma’am.”

She scowled but he bit back a smile when he saw that her lips were fighting to stay down.

“All right, so it’s settled. You’ll be patrolling the place with me and Johanna, while Mary Anne, Francesca, Katharina, and Sara will stay at the entrances.” She glanced at her watch, her brows furrowing. “The witches should get here any minute now.”

“Don’t sweat it, boss, give ’em a few minutes and we’ll all be here to take your orders like the good lil’ soldiers we are.” She just raised her eyebrows at him and shook her head but he knew he was close to making her smile, so he kept on nabbing her for the following few minutes. She’d finally cracked a grin when the witches did reach them, Willow exiting the car first and going to hug Buffy briefly.

Buffy gave instructions to them too and then it was on: they all separated to go their different ways throughout the carnival until it was just the two of them, walking next to each other and looking at the spectacle around them.

They went on walking in silence for a while and Spike missed the easy, comfortable silence that he’d learned to experience with her over the previous months. Now she just seemed distant, avoiding him, and like she was a tad annoyed too.

“You know, ’s much bigger than I expected,” he said in a light tone, trying to get her to acknowledge his presence. She hadn’t looked at him once since the witches’ arrival, and he was starting to almost miss the stupid belly butterflies she always seemed to incite in him. 

Buffy just nodded without saying anything, her eyes roving the different stands and attractions that surrounded them. Her gaze then locked on the right bend of the path they were walking. Spike looked too and saw a large stage where different demons were setting up what looked like a show of horrors and tortures, a few of them dressed in what looked like costumes of slaves. He couldn’t help but be impressed at all the preparations.

His attention turned quickly back to Buffy though, just in time to see her eyes leaving his face. He sighed, exasperated.

“Slayer, what’s wrong with you?” She sent him a narrow glance, clearly irritated, and he raised his eyebrows. “Well? Why the sullen silence?”

She scoffed lightly, looking back to the stage, now right next to them.

“What, I’m not flirty enough for you, Spikey?”

Spike just blinked before barking a laugh. Her brows furrowed.

“What, you still hung up on that, pet?” She crossed her arms and he laughed for real. If she weren’t so precious, she’d be downright ridiculous. “Come on, they were hilarious and you know it. What, you want me to flirt with you, now?” He couldn’t help it, he nudged her arm with his elbow, and fought to stop a delighted smile at her little laugh.

“As if, Spike,” came her easy answer, her head turned to look to the other side of the path. He couldn’t help another laugh even as some little flicker of hope died inside him — but he concentrated on the sweet sound instead. 

“That’s right, more like what I thought.” He kept grinning because yeah, she didn’t want him, but she was still smiling with him. “Besides, they knew it was useless, too. Girls just wanted to have some fun with the most attractive bloke they got any hope to see, at that castle of yours.”

She turned to look at him with an ironic wide-eyed stare and he just wiggled his eyebrows — God, he loved the smile that crept up on her lips even when she tried to push it down.

“Mother Theresa called, Spike, she wants her humility back.”

He grinned widely at her.

“Can’t help it, pet, I’m bloody irresistible and you know it.” He winked, enjoying her eye roll just as much as he couldn’t help a little pang of sadness at how very non-irresistible he was to her. He crushed the pang, annoyed at himself.

“So,” she drawled, looking at him briefly before looking back at the demons working on the attraction they were walking by then — some sort of gigantic dollhouse full with person-sized dolls of human- and demonkind. “They knew it was useless? The flirting?”

He sent her a sideways glance, his lips pursed in a tiny smirk.

“Yeah… think it was pretty obvious, pet.” She nodded, looking like she wasn’t understanding at all, and he let himself smile slightly, if not sadly. “Pretty clear that I’m not interested in fun times with ladies, these days. Enjoying being my own man and all.”

It was the first time he broached this topic with her and he felt something tug lightly at his chest. He had to force himself to look at her again instead of just looking back at the disturbing dolls that were now behind them.

He just had the time to see her thoughtful expression before their attention was drawn by one of the witches and the other slayer roving the park, who met them at a fork in the path. He stood by while they exchanged brief comments with Buffy on everything being all right, increasingly uncomfortable. By the time they’d separated again, he was scratching his neck and trying desperately to look nonchalant. Probably worked, too, if by ‘nonchalant’ one meant ‘stressed as fuck’.

The silence stretched for a while and he kept sending her glances, trying to gauge her reaction. Her face remained set on the same thoughtful expression, maybe just a tad concentrated, and he was going crazy with it.

“You all right there, Slayer? Seems like you’re solving Fermat’s last theorem, or something.”

“Whosa what?”

There she was, back with her adorably confused expression, and his discomfort receded a speck.

“Never mind. Is it that hard to grasp, that I might wanna be my own man?”

Was that anger, in his chest? Would that be better than the discomfort of not knowing her opinion on him?

She looked at him then, a serious expression on her face.

“I guess I haven’t…” She blinked, shook her head slightly, then gave him a small smile. Something in his heart seemed to move. “No, Spike, it’s not so hard to grasp. You might still make stupid mistakes, but you’re a champion — and a great man.” He blinked at her, his feet almost stumbling on nothing. Then she wrinkled her nose in that absurdly cute way. “A great vamp? A great vamp-man?”

He smiled slowly, looking at her and her confused expression and her bright eyes.

“You’re as bad as ever, Slayer.”

“All right, that gets you downgraded to decent man, vampire.”

“Decent man-vampire?”

Mediocre man, you vamp,” she sniffed, and he couldn’t help a little laugh. God, but he loved this woman.

After that they kept their conversation much lighter and much more prone to barbs and jokes, which in turn kept his heart much less flip-flopping. But he couldn’t complain, not when he got to enjoy her warmth and smiles and laughter.

 

*

 

When the carnival finally opened to the public, Spike was sure that the preparations had been finished a scant few seconds before the crowds started entering the place. He and Buffy followed the first wave of patrons from the main entrance and went back to patrolling the carnival’s paths — but this time, they had to move through a seemingly never-ending crowd of visitors. The carnival had definitely started with a bang: there were more demons than Spike had ever seen together, with the exception of the übervamp party underneath the Hellmouth. And together with the expected, harmless races — he could see Loose-skinned demons, Brachens, Parasite demons among many others — there were a lot of demons of much more aggressive and violent races. And even more surprising than that, there were humans milling about: some of them looked quite violent themselves, but mostly they looked like people who were either stunned by what they were finding around them or eager to discover anything and everything about this strange world.

For the first hour or so he could feel Buffy tense next to him every time she spotted one of the more violent races of demons, just as he could feel his own posture switch to a defensive stance, ready to counter any attack. But none came. After a while, both he and Buffy started to relax and, even though they didn’t stop roving their eyes over the crowd, they ended up chatting while doing it. They were lightly exchanging jokes about the dragon-looking beastie that was somehow dancing on a stage they were passing by when the sound of Buffy’s phone interrupted them.

“Yes?.. Yes. What? Oh… OK. We’re coming.” Spike raised his eyebrows at her and she sent him a worried glance. “There’s a vampire trying to get in. And she’s brought humans.” 

Spike’s eyebrows rose even more but he didn’t comment as he followed her, quickly dodging demons even twice her size to get to the entrance. When they got there, Spike witnessed one of the weirdest scenes he’d ever seen: a group of young humans, boys and girls who couldn’t be older than eighteen, accompanied by an older woman, all vehemently defending what looked like a sixteen-year-old girl from the two slayers at the entrance. Tùrtik, poor little fellow, seemed intent on stopping the older woman from using her sturdy-looking bag on the slayers.

“What’s the problem here?”

Buffy’s voice held as much authority as ever these days and the older woman turned immediately to her, lowering her bag but still looking murderous.

“And you are?”

“I’m Buffy Summers, ma’am.”

“Ah, yes. You’re the boss slayer, right?” She had a European accent, but Spike couldn’t place it. Maybe Italian? He looked at the vampire after a cursory glance at the group of angry kids and noticed she was staring at him in surprise. “Well,” continued the woman, “I was told that this carnival was open to demons and humans. Why are we being held back?”

Spike could hear hesitation in Buffy’s answer for a second but he didn’t move his eyes from the vampire, who was still staring at him.

“No one’s being held back, ma’am. The girls just wanted to let me know about the situation.”

“Right. Because one vampire could destroy the whole place here, couldn’t she?”

The girls and boys snickered behind the lady and Spike heard one of them murmur ‘racists’ under his breath. But he didn’t stop looking at the vampire: she hadn’t blinked once, just kept staring at him with an intense expression. He felt his head tilt in curiosity.

“Miss Summers, please,” came Tùrtik’s voice, clearly eager to let these potential clients through without any more fuss. “They know about the security measures. Everyone does. And,” he added in a pointed tone, “they’re humans . You know how important it is to the whole world that we start moving along the path of cooperation, and quickly too. That’s what this is all about, after all.”

Spike broke his stare contest to spare him a glance: his eyes were as determined as usual, the little guy looking at Buffy almost with defiance in front of her worried expression. Bless him, but he really did believe in all this.

He looked back at the vampire, who was still staring at him.

“Yes, of course it is.” Buffy’s voice sounded still worried but he felt her shift closer next to him, leaving the humans and their vamp more space. “Please, keep in mind that some demons have venomous… appendages. And can be pretty bulky. Keep an eye out.”

Spike moved his gaze again to look at the angry woman, who now had narrowed eyes but was gesturing the group of kids forward.

“And from now on,” said Buffy, this time looking at the slayers, “if there’s vamps who want to come in, just remind them to keep it cool. And that whoever starts violence in here will have little hope of leaving on their own legs, or ever coming back here again.”

“Come on, then,” Deadly Bag Lady said in a clear voice, while the group of kids moved after her through the entrance gate.

Spike turned to look back at the vampire — and found her right in front of him, close and still staring at him unblinkingly. He raised a brow.

“You got questions, pet?”

Her own eyebrow went up at his pet name but the rest of her expression remained schooled in neutrality.

“You’re William the Bloody. ‘Spike’.” Her voice was beautiful, her accent only vaguely Italian too. Her big, brown eyes kept staring at him and now he could see some kind of hunger that he couldn’t understand in them.

“And what’s your name, pet?”

“You’re the one who got back his soul.” The non-sequitur left him speechless for a second while she just kept staring at him, her eyes hungry and expectant.

“Didn’t realise I was that famous,” he muttered, feeling a mite uncomfortable at being looked at so intensely.

“Oh, I’ve read a lot about you.” Her eyes swept his form, for a moment the hunger in them close to just old-fashioned lust — before switching back to that intense longing he couldn’t decipher. “I have a lot of questions to ask you.”

He stared at her, suddenly acutely aware of the slayers' eyes — Buffy's included — on the two of them. He frowned and narrowed his eyes. 

"What's your game, here?" 

She kept looking at him for a long second before answering in a neutral tone. 

"My game is to enjoy a night out with my friends.” She kept her big eyes on him, unblinking. “Tonight, as any other night.”

He considered her, looking her up and down: this vampire that looked at him like he was a wonder, with her little-girl eyes too full of intensity for such a young body. How old was she? What was her story?

“Maria! Don’t hang back, stay with the group!”

The voice of the older woman came in a firm tone, but Spike kept his eyes on the vampire in front of him. She didn’t move hers either, giving him a little smile.

“Come talk to me, please,” she said in a low tone. Then she yelled a ‘coming!’ to the woman and, with a last lingering look at him, she turned and strode quickly towards the lady and the group, already inside the park.

He saw her go; saw her exchange a smile with the fierce lady, then join the group of kids; saw her smile at something they were saying, her eyes now sweeping the different sights of the carnival.

And in that moment, he remembered his first day back at his human home after being vamped; he remembered how he’d still cared for his mother, how he’d wanted to protect her. How he’d fallen for Buffy, and then for the Summers women, ready to do anything for them, even when love was still only a pale imitation of what he was capable to feel now, now that he had a soul to give it new depths. He looked at one of those human girls smiling at the young-looking vampire, just before they turned down the path, and wondered what it would have been like, if the Scoobies had given him a real chance, instead of treating him like dirt. If someone had been giving him a chance since the very beginning, instead of having Angelus and Darla and Drusilla to look up to. 

“Spike? What the hell was that about?”

He couldn’t help it: he gave a sigh, putting his hands in his pockets and staring after the bend of the path where they’d disappeared.

“Spike?” Came Buffy’s voice again, seemingly tense. He flicked his eyes to the side and looked at her wary expression, then gave her a sad grin.

“I think she wants my help, Slayer.” She narrowed her eyes at him then looked at the bend of the path too. He sighed again, hoping to avoid going back to discomfort and annoyance between them. “Do you trust me, Buffy?”

She was silent for a few long seconds and he felt something in his chest sink down low. He looked at her and she still seemed weary and tense, until she shook her head slightly and turned to look at him again. Her eyes were wide and tired.

“I do, Spike. I really do. I just hate thinking that now I’ll have to worry about ‘good’, dangerous vampires too.”

He couldn’t help but smile sadly at her.

“Don’t think she’s good, luv. Just think she wants to try and stay with the people she cares about.” Buffy continued to look worried and he suddenly remembered about the other two slayers; they’d gone back to watch over the new patrons entering the carnival but he could feel their attention on him too. He decided he didn’t care. “I don’t know that soulless vampires can be good, Buffy. And their version of love is…” He looked down, unable to sustain her solemn gaze. “Poorer than the other one. Like a black-and-white painting, full of shades of grey, and possibly even beauty. But without so many shades of colour, and sometimes that’s what makes things clear, you know? The light.” He shook his head at himself, exasperated at his own inability to express what he meant. “What I’m sayin’ is that she might not be good, but I think she can still care about people. Deeply, even. Why else follow a group of kids otherwise, right?”

He gathered the courage to look up and met her gaze, still solemn, her eyes wide and dark in the reddish light from the carnival.

“And I think she wants help from the one vamp in all the world that decided it wasn’t enough to keep things as they were; that he needed to go and get himself a soul.” He grimaced for a second, annoyed that his personal business had apparently become quite less than personal. “Think that takes guts, all in all.”

They stayed silent for a while more, both looking at the carnival, and Spike could feel the gaze of the other two slayers on him. He wondered if this changed their perspective on him, if they’d still be eager to flirt and joke around with him from now on; if Buffy and the slayers’ lives and mission were destined to become ever more complicated with time.

“You still think this is the exception, not the rule, though?”

He looked at Buffy, his face relaxing in a small smile.

“Yeah, luv. I’ve lived a long life as a vampire and have met more than you’ve staked, and that’s saying something. So let me tell you: this is an exception. She’s an exception to the rule.”

You were an exception.” She looked at him steadily and he swallowed hard. What could he say? But then she sighed and gave him a small smile. “OK. OK. We can do this. More caution, less prejudice — this is about growing up as slayers, isn’t it?” His little smile became a grin. “Come on, let’s get back inside before you start picking up every demon around here."

"Oi! Wasn't picking up anybody!"

“Yeah, and she wasn’t making moon eyes at you, was she?”

Spike snorted, the two of them already through the gates and onto the main carnival path. He’d sort out his situation with the other slayers another time; for now, he could only hope they'd show more of the acceptance they'd shown him until then.

“I’ll have you know I like ’em a bit less baby-like around the edges, Slayer.”

“Sure. She definitely looked at you like a baby would…”

God, jealous Buffy was among his top-ten favourite Buffys.

They kept on trading barbs for the rest of the night, which was blessedly uneventful. If you didn’t count the way they started trying to outdo each other at winning little competitions at the various carnival games, that is. Which, in his book, was pretty darn eventful — Buffy Summers laughing and wheezing for two full minutes at the way he fumbled through a bloody dart game, of all things? That was something he’d never, ever forget.

(In his defence, the darts had been messed with and had all sorts of weird imbalances and magicky twirls to their flying trajectories, specifically meant for them to be a challenge for supernatural beings. But really, he’d gladly suffer worse humiliations to see tears of laughter in her eyes.)

The park closed doors around four in the morning, with the last few demons bellowing garbled, drunken songs at the last humans, who were happy to bellow back what seemed like stadium choruses. The disbelieving amusement in Buffy’s eyes at the spectacle of coexistence they’d witnessed all night managed to sneak into Spike’s chest and warm his heart, for some unfathomable reason.

Somehow though, it had been beaten by her unmistakable jealousy at seeing Maria, the wannabe good vamp chick, coming to say bye to Spike before she and her pack of loyal humans had left the park for the night. He hadn’t been able to help himself and had thrown a wink and a grin her way, just to preen at Buffy’s increasing annoyance, while he’d given her his number and promised to help her out with ‘these bleeding humans mucking up our nighttime fun’. 

By the time the little girl-lookalike sent him a final, lingering glance before leaving the park, he could feel Buffy seething next to him, even though she was clearly doing her best to maintain a neutral expression. But it was all in the set of her shoulders, the corners of her mouth turned slightly downwards, the thin stretch of her lips — his slayer was jealous, even though she tried to cover it up.

He’d lit a cigarette and inhaled hard, trying to hide his smirk. Somewhere deep inside, he could feel some irritation at her reaction — why’d she think he was hers, when she wouldn’t ever be his in return? Why be jealous, when she wouldn’t give him a second thought as a possible lover?

At the same time, though, he couldn’t help but find it plain hilarious. And to be quite honest with himself, he was downright fed up with being frustrated at her not loving him.

So, instead of looking too closely at his annoyance, he’d just decided to smoke in her face, chuckle at her wrinkled nose and challenge her to yet another carnival game, by then one of the last few that had still remained open. Unsurprisingly, she’d won, and they’d gotten back to their easy, sweet camaraderie.

Now, though, the place was finally closing down for good. The two of them met with the other slayers, the witches, and Tùrtik with his nastier brother, who was actually sporting what was dangerously close to a pleased expression.

“Brilliant first day, wasn’t it?” The little chief goblin was beaming, his wide mouth stretching in a huge smile that still managed to look sweet and heartwarming instead of creepy. “I told you it’d work out, peaceful cooperation is possible!”

“Well, it’s only the first day, so let’s not lower our defences yet… but yeah,” conceded Buffy with a smile of her own. “It really did go well.”

“And so many people — I mean, human people came, too!” Willow’s voice was tired but still excited, she was clearly ecstatic. “I really didn’t expect to have to go through the whole speech of ‘yes, the supernatural does exist, yes, those are demons, no, they’re not going to hurt you’ so many times. It was lovely and exhausting and I’m honoured to be part of it, Tùrtik!”

If possible, the little demon’s smile widened even more. All right, now it’s getting slightly creepy.

“I’m honoured too, Ms Rosenberg. I think this is the start of something big!”

Spike couldn’t help but smile at the two of them, while Buffy congratulated everyone on their good work and gave everybody an appointment for the next day, at six pm sharp, so that they could oversee the final preparations for the opening once more. Then she and Spike said goodbye to the remaining demons and to the witches, and together with the slayers they went back to their van.

The ride was much more silent than the one to get to the park. All the slayers seemed tired and ready to get to bed, but Spike couldn’t help thinking that a bit of their silence was due to his conversation about vampire nature with Buffy. He kept his eyes on the road though, trying to avoid the thought of their judgement and the pang of sadness that it brought along. 

It all was very quick in any case because they were staying at a hotel near the outskirts of the city, not too far from the festival site. Buffy had decided on this so that any slayer that was on duty at the carnival would be able to reach the premises quickly even on off-duty hours. So it was that he found himself in front of their rooms, after having said goodnight to the other slayers: apparently, Buffy had decided to get a single for him and one for herself, on account of the fact that he was a guy and she was the undiscussed boss.

“Had a nice night, Slayer.”

Was his voice as pathetic as it sounded in his head? Probably worse, really.

“Actually, me too.”

“So glad to know you were so certain that I’d entertain you, pet.”

“That’s not what I meant, you doofus.” She answered his teasing grin with a smile, making his stomach flip as per sodding usual. “If it keeps going so well, I’m looking forward to this work-related holiday, you know?”

He smiled at her.

“Always thought you deserved a holiday, pet.”

“And I’m glad I get to spend it with you — too.” He blinked at her, surprise and delight at her words making his stomach flip again, hard. “Well, anyway, am I beat! I think sleep is definitely on the doctor recommendation list for this slayer. Hope you have a good night!”

And then she did something else that struck him dumb — gave him a quick peck on the cheek, smiled at him widely and scurried off inside her room.

He stayed staring at her door for a full two minutes, astonished. She kissed him? And on the cheek?

It was probably the cutest, sweetest, most ridiculous thing she’d ever done to him.

He found himself touching his cheek lightly before shaking his head at himself and finally getting in his own room, speechless, mind reeling.

She’d kissed him!

First the bloody show of jealousy, now this… was she just trying to get him back to his older glory of pining after her, a dog leashed to her every whim? It was hard to believe she’d be such a cruel bitch, but maybe she didn’t even mean it. Maybe she just reacted badly to leftover jealousy — God knew he couldn’t throw stones, in that department.

He shook his head for what felt like the fifteenth time in the last minute and a half. 

The thought crossed his mind that she might harbour some sort of real interest toward him… but as what? Her boyfriend? The concept made him snort. Fat chance of that. And even if there was a kernel of truth to it, would it really matter? He remembered what it meant to hang from her every word, searching his salvation in her eyes, longing for a look of approval from her, for any kind of affection. He might still love her, but he didn’t want that. The fish had been right in something, among his stupid ramblings: a relationship based on adoration like that was never gonna work. And if he was honest with himself, he’d never had any other kind of relationship… before now, with all these friendships the bleeding Scoobies had coaxed him into. And he didn’t want to destroy the one he and Buffy shared now, not for something like that.

And hell, maybe Buffy was just considering the idea of having him as her lover again. He did know how to make her scream, after all.

He grimaced, disgusted with himself. He’d certainly known how to make her scream ‘no’, that was damn sure. And then…

He sighed, exasperated at himself. No use thinking about his past misdeeds. She’d said she’d forgiven him, he had to respect her enough to believe her; after all, he’d be mightily pissed off if she didn’t consider his forgiveness worth her trust. No, there was no point in thinking about that, or any of this, really. Buffy Summers was a sweet woman, beneath her Slayer-hardened shell; she was kind, and adorable, and prone to showing affection to her loved ones in weird, unexpected ways, when she came around to it.

He’d thrown himself on the bed by then and he was staring at the ceiling when he blinked slowly. Loved ones. He was one of her loved ones.

The thought would have sent his mind reeling just a couple of years before, made him drunk with pleasure and mad, uncompromising hope. He wouldn’t have stopped at anything and anyone — including her, as he’d shown time and time again — to get a chance to have more from her.

But now… as it was, what he felt was a soft warmth in his chest. Yes, he was still a pansy, getting all smiley-faced at the idea of her affection, friendly as it was. But he was a pansy with something like peace in his heart, and that was enough for then. More than enough, really.

Chapter Text

Day after day, the carnival turned out to be a blast. Yes, there was the occasional demon scuffle, but the presence of the slayers and witches patrolling it non-stop made them pretty inconsequential. Three times in the last four days there had been trouble with humans; two of those times it had been the humans provoking the demons and the third had seemed to be a reciprocal assault. In all cases, though, the slayers had stopped most of the violence and the witches had cast spells that led the demons and humans in question to be unable to do violence for several hours. Not to mention the fact that anyone involved got booted out of the carnival, no sweetness about it either: they didn’t want any violence here and it had to be clear to all, demons and humans.

Aside from these few instances, though, everything went smoothly enough to let Buffy and Spike have plenty of fun with the games and attractions of the park. It turned out she’d been dead honest when she’d said she was happy to spend this ‘holiday’ with him: she kept smiling and smiling, making Spike feel just a tad too emotional for his liking, but leaving him pleased as punch by dawn every damn night.

Oh, and the fact that she’d been giving him a peck on the cheek every night, before wishing him good night and scarpering off to her bedroom, helped plenty.

Spike sighed and looked at the Slayer, who was currently telling the demon that manned the Mirror Maze of Horrors that the two of them needed to enter in order to inspect the attraction. He smirked, trying not to think of how much he loved her bossiness.

A few minutes later, of course, they found themselves in the maze. It was an ingenious, huge place, in which the more traditional shape-deforming mirrors were followed by magic ones that made you look starved, enormous, ill, and other nasty things — and most entertainingly, that made you look like you were one of several species of demons.

The most shocking thing, though, was what they discovered the first time they saw one of the magic mirrors, something that made both of them jump in surprise: Spike’s reflection appeared next to Buffy’s in all its glorious, maggot-filled spectacle.

“Spike! What…”

“Magic,” he murmured, looking at the vermin that slithered from his nostril to dangle over his rotten lips.

“That’s… that’s…”

“Bleeding fascinating?” He leaned closer to the mirror, inspecting his writhing image. He could almost hear the crr-crr of the little critters munching through his festering, dead flesh, but he was mostly interested in the image of himself underneath all the squirming little thingies. Were his cheekbones really that sharp, or was it just the dead look of the mirror? He couldn’t possibly be that thin, could he? He was built, damn it!

Disgusting, Spike. Come on, let’s go forward…”

“Nah, wait, look. Do my shoulders really stick out that much? Come on!”

Buffy just shook her head beside him — the little maggots on her face flying about her head in the mirror — and yanked him to the side and forward along the path. He couldn’t help but grin at her heartfelt ‘eww’ when the next mirror showed their bodies as if they’d just been skinned — all muscles bleeding on each other and forming puddles on the floor.

It was all absolutely hilarious until they found the one that was supposed to show you your vampire version — Buffy wasn’t overly amused and Spike was particularly annoyed that what it did to him was make him look like a Turok Han.

“That’s total bollocks,” he muttered under his breath, dragging Buffy by the arm so they could get back to the entertaining part of the attraction. Anywhere else would be better than that particular mirror.

His annoyed muttering stopped abruptly when her hand grazed his while he let her arm go. He ignored the little jolt of pleasure he felt at that — until the little bitch went and grasped his hand with hers in a firm grip, foiling all his attempts at being even remotely comfortable around her. 

He dared a look at her but she just smiled widely at him and pulled him toward an obscured, raised, and empty bend of the path that went left.

“Come on, Spike, let’s see what’s here.”

He let himself be pulled, doing his best to neither jerk his hand away from hers nor concentrate too much on just how good that contact was.

“Well… lookie here.”

They suddenly found themselves in a hexagonal room with mirrors for walls, and the door they’d come through closed behind them, effectively surrounding them in the reflective surfaces. The only exception was one corner between two of them, right in front of them: there, he could see a twisted tree, one long branch jutting out towards the centre of the room and an old-looking rope tied in a noose dangling from it.

That tree, together with the magic mirrors all around them and the bright, shining ceiling, made it look like they’d suddenly stepped into a sunny forest — populated with endless demon shapes and lightly swinging nooses.

Spike took a step forward and so did half of the demons in the room. He grinned, looking at his reflections grin back at him, all more or less disturbing in their various demon faces.

“Bloody brilliant.”

“It sure is something,” came Buffy’s voice, low and somewhat awed. She was looking at all her reflections — who subsequently seemed to look around the whole ‘wood’ — and Spike felt her fingers intertwine with his and grip his hand a tad more tightly. Suddenly, he felt the strong urge to keep his attention on the strange mirror forest.

“Pretty sure I’ve read about something like this somewhere,” he murmured, trying and failing not to look at their hands together. What book was it? He needed a distraction, and soon.

“Yeah?”

She moved closer to him, her arm touching his. He swallowed and forced himself to look away, his gaze falling on the noose hanging from the only real tree around them. That sure looked convenient, as a dark way to escape this idiotic torment that the Slayer was inflicting on him…

“Uh, I remember, pet.” He stepped closer to the tree, not daring to move his hand away and stifling a whimper — of both pleasure and frustration — when she moved with him and stayed firmly at his side. “’S from that crazy book, The Phantom of the Opera.”

“Huh. Always thought it was a musical.”

He spared her a quick glance, smiling at her adorable little frown.

“Was a book way before then, Slayer. Remember reading it as a serial on a French newspaper at the start of the century. Well, the last one.” He tried to move his hand a bit but she just followed his movements until their arms were swinging — and God, how awkward and ridiculous was this? He cleared his throat. “Story about this madman who pretended to be a ghost and was ready to kill and torture whoever kept him from his beloved… kinda resonated, you know.” Even though I bleeding hated the ending, at the time. 

“Oh.” He could almost expect her harsh tone — but her voice stayed light. “So he built a demon-mirror chamber?”

“Not exactly,” he grinned at her briefly, then looked at the floor beneath them, searching. “Far as I remember, there was some sort of strong light, supposed to bounce off all the mirrors and end up scorching you to death…” He found what he was looking for and tugged her towards it. Then he crouched down, finally finding the strength to actually move his hand away from hers. “Unless you knew of the secret trapdoor,” he added with a grin her way, opening an almost invisible latch on the ground.

“You know, you remember it disturbingly well…”

He shrugged before dropping down the short fall, ignoring the little ladder dangling there.

“Just felt like it was an ingenious torture room, is all. Always felt Angelus might have taken a good liking to it, too, if the bastard had been cultured enough to read…”

Buffy’s soft chuckle tickled his ears as she jumped down next to him, then jumped up to close the trapdoor above them. They found themselves at the beginning of a low, narrow corridor, with only the faint light of a few candles to show the mirrors that stood in as the walls. He took a moment to look at their reflections, seeing various demons that seemed caught in the middle of a battle, bloody and battered, but at the same time deformed from their natural shapes with creepy twists of flesh. 

“I love finding out stuff like this about you, you know. What you like, what you’ve read…” He turned to look at her, his heart almost thudding at how close she was in the very narrow corridor. “I didn’t even know you spoke French. I feel like there’s so much to discover, so much about you I don’t know.”

Her voice was soft and low and oh-so-close. Her eyes, wide and dark in the low light, were intensely fixed on his. He had to swallow a couple of times.

“Yeah. Never really felt like you were so interested in discovering much, back then, you know?”

Her eyes lowered for a second, making his fingers twitch in desire to touch her. Then she looked back up at him, her eyes almost shining.

“It’s different now. You know that, Spike, don’t you?”

He swallowed again, nodding. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see his demon reflections nodding along with him — but then she took his hand in hers again and all his attention switched to their fingers, softly intertwining.

There was silence for a beat and then — and then she kissed him. She, Buffy Summers, kissed him — and not on the cheek, this time.

At first he was simply too stunned to move. Then, his brain seemed to register what was happening just enough for him to grip her arms and kiss her back, his lips desperate against hers. Then, his brain seemed to register all of what was happening and, in one of the hardest moves of his life, he wrenched himself from her and took a step back along the corridor, his hard breath matching hers, his eyes wide as hers as well.

“Buffy… what…”

“What?” She gave a breathless laugh which went straight to his cock, making him weak. “What does it look like, Spike?”

She moved towards him but he stepped back again. The look of hurt in her eyes pierced his dead heart, but he didn’t close the distance.

“Buffy, I… I don’t…”

“Y-you… you don’t?” She whispered, and he saw her expression fall. “You don’t want me?”

Her voice was so small and he felt like the biggest prick on the planet. But he couldn’t give in; he wouldn’t let himself go back to being anyone’s whipping boy, not now, not even hers.

“Buffy, don’t be bloody barmy. Of course I want you… but,” he started, but he didn’t know how to end that sentence. ‘I don’t want to ruin our friendship’? ‘I can’t bear to go back to my pathetic self, not even for you’?

“You want me, but..?” She didn’t lose her hurt expression, looking down. “Is this about… about you wanting to be your own man?”

“Yes,” he breathed in relief, glad he didn’t have to explain himself from scratch. “Yeah, it’s — it’s that. I don’t want to…”

“Be with me,” she finished his sentence. His heart broke at seeing her swallow before looking up at him, her eyes wet. “You can’t be your own man with me, is what you’re saying.”

He blinked a couple of times, at a loss for words. That was the gist of it, wasn’t it?

“Pet, I…”

“Is it about… is it about me?” Her voice was so small and he could see her lower lip tremble. He felt his eyes water and took a small step toward her, desperate to stop this train wreck. “Is there something about me that makes a — a normal relationship impossible?”

“Love, no, it isn’t —”

“Don’t call me love, Spike,” she said in a soft, sad voice. “Please. Don’t call me love if you don’t mean it.”

He jerked backwards, feeling like she’d punched him. Like he’d punched her, the way she looked at him.

“Buffy. Please listen to me.” She looked to the side but then nodded once. He could see the tension in her shoulders and hoped wildly that some divinity might enlighten him — because he had no idea what to tell her. “I… I want to be my own man. I don’t want to be… the one that looks at you like a goddess. Underneath you, with you as my salvation.”

He could feel his throat close more with every word and his eyes water even more when she raised her own again to his. He could see a tear-track along her cheek.

“And you just can’t imagine having a healthy relationship with me, can you?”

He swallowed hard but the knot in his throat didn’t go anywhere. That really was the point, wasn’t it?

“Buffy…”

“No, I mean, it’s fine.” She brushed her tear away with a jerky movement, her voice getting a tad firmer, her back straighter — building up her defences again, hiding her softness. “I’m not gonna force you into anything, you know. I just thought to try this — this thing everyone talks about, of being open with the people you — you care about, and trying for a healthy relationship. You know,” she said with a harder voice, “trying.”

Spike looked at her, desperate for some way to go back in time and erase the last few minutes.

“Buffy, I don’t —”

“You don’t want to try. I get it.” Her lower lip trembled for a second, but she bit it lightly and looked at him with sad but firm eyes. “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. I’ll get over you — get over it.”

His heart broke and he moved forward, stopping when she stepped back with a wary expression. His hands moved of their own accord towards her but he stopped himself before touching her.

“Buffy, please, listen.” She looked at him with the same weary expression but didn’t say anything; he exhaled a shaky breath. “I… I love being your friend. Your friendship…” He fought harder against the tears that kept prickling his eyelids, swallowing. “I can’t tell you how much it means to me, pet. Really can’t.”

“But… you don’t want anything more.”

Her voice was so heartbroken. This couldn’t be right, could it?

“I do,” he admitted in a whisper, feeling like he’d just lost a race against himself. “I do. Buffy, no matter how close we are as friends, how incredible and unexpected and so much more than what I’d imagined your friendship is — I’m in love with you.” He would have been almost proud of himself for not sobbing, at that point, if Buffy’s eyes weren’t filling with tears again. “I still am. But I, I’ve never…” He bit his lip hard, took a long breath, pretended it steadied him. “I’ve never had one. A healthy relationship. Never . Always been the one begging for more, for love, for…” He shook his head, exasperated at himself. “But now you, you and I — we’re so good — and I don’t want to ruin it, I just can’t. Please, please try to understand.”

She licked her lips once, looking at him with shiny eyes, and he felt his chest tighten till it hurt.

“I do,” she said, also in a whisper. He felt the tightness get less painful, if just a smidge. “I do, and I don’t want to lose our friendship either. It’s… it’s pretty amazing, this Spike-as-a-friend thing, to be honest.” She offered him a watery little grin and he couldn’t help but swallow and nod at her with one of his own. “But… I’d still like more, if you wanted to try. If… yeah, if you wanted.” She said that last bit looking down and his chest tightened again, even harder than before. “Maybe we could… think about it?”

God, when had her voice become so little, so tentative? When had Spike made her all small and hesitant and so bloody hopeful?

“Yeah,” he rasped out, before he could even think about the answer. When her lips turned up in a little smile he knew he’d said the right thing, to hell with his fears.

“Yeah?”

He nodded, swallowing again, offering her a small smile of his own.

“Yeah, pet, we’ll — think about it.”

She kept smiling at him for a few more seconds before exhaling a shaky breath and chuckling lightly, looking around at their reflections.

“Well, look at us. Big bad fighters talking about feelings in front of a bunch of gory-covered demons. Way to make with the scary hunter vibe, huh?”

He let loose a husky chuckle, his chest still tight.

“Couldn’t ever stop us, pet, not even in the middle of a heart-to-heart.”

They started walking, her resolutely looking at her reflections, him unable to stop looking at her.

“Well, someone did tell me once that my relationships with people I care about are what make me a stronger slayer. So maybe the demons should actually learn a lesson, here. I am all teacher-Buffy these days, after all."

Her tone had gone back to light and cheerful, even though he could still feel a bit of tension lingering on it. My brave warrior, always ready to give her best and try her hardest.

And then something clicked in his head, and he finally realised how stupid he was being. What was the point of all this caution when he wanted her — and she wanted him, and they both wanted it to be healthy and sane? Why wait for a perfect moment, for the time when he’d be all grown up and mature and past his horrible patterns in relationships, when all he could be sure about was the sodding present? He thought about Xander and his incensed speech to him and felt like he could kick himself in the face.

Buffy had stopped to look at her current reflection, so he found himself right next to her — and then he grabbed her arms, turned her to face him, and stepped a smidge closer. 

"I've thought about it. Let's do it." 

"You've — what?" 

"I've thought about it, Buffy. Love," he added with just the slightest tremble, his eyes fixed on her widening ones. 

"Didn't take you long..." 

Was her voice husky? Was that excitement in her eyes? She licked her lower lip and he couldn't take his eyes off of the spectacle. 

"Yeah," he answered, his voice thick. "You know me. Not much of a thinker, and I've already spent way too long overthinking this." 

Buffy licked her lips again and he had to swallow. He walked her backwards until her back touched the mirror behind her. 

"Spike… Spike, please don't start something if you'll change your mind in another thirty seconds." 

Her voice was low and he managed to move his eyes to hers — which were locked on his own lips. He swallowed and stepped closer still, invading her space but stomping down the urge to completely press himself against her. 

"Won't change my mind, pet." He licked his lips, feeling something inside roar in triumph at the way her eyes flared at that. "You wanna give us an honest try, yeah?" She nodded, fast. He couldn't help a smile. "I want that too, pet. More than anything. And maybe I'm not a big, independent vampire because of that —" 

Her laugh interrupted him, low and incredibly hot. 

"Spike, wanting love doesn't make you any less your own man than wanting friendship." Now she was looking him in the eyes again, her cheeks getting pinker — he really, really needed to kiss her. 

He moved his hands to her waist, his thumbs caressing her over her t-shirt, her breath hitching slightly. 

“Yeah. Yeah, you’re right, pet. And I’ve been a right pillock with this whole bloody mess… and I’m sorry.” Her hands went to his chest, making him feel like she could scorch him with her warmth. God, he’d missed all that heat. “I’ve just remembered that it’s the ties to our world that make us stronger. No need to fear them, right?” He moved one of his hands to cup her face, his thumb tracing her reddened, warm cheek.

“You reminded me of that once. Only fair I’d do that for you, too, Spike.” Her voice was a whisper and his name felt like a blessing on her lips.

“Do my best to make this healthy, love. Do anything, for you. For us,” he added with a stupid, excited little stumble in his voice.

“Yes,” she breathed, nodding, and God, her voice was as hoarse as his, and he couldn’t take it anymore.

"Buffy… love, please tell me I can kiss you now. Please —" 

He didn't have time to finish the word — she'd already grabbed his face and dragged him down to her, her lips warm and sweet and oh-so-hot against his own. 

And God, what a kiss. Spike’s mind was reeling — her tongue traced his lips, making him groan lightly in her mouth, until his own tongue went to touch hers, and then it was impossible not to press into her. His hand on her waist pulled her into him and then their bodies were pressed against each other, hands clutching, mouths hot and hungry in their kisses. She rocked against his hips and a moan left her lips — he devoured it, moaning as well, rocking against her and relishing every sound she made, every little noise that went straight down to his cock.

Far too soon she broke away with a gasp, but he couldn’t stop. He kissed her chin, her jaw, nibbled on her ear, and then he was kissing her again, eating up all her hot little noises, groaning in her mouth as well. He kissed and kissed her, his hand on her waist sliding down until his thumb could slip under the hem of her shirt. She shivered at that and then one of her hands moved up to his head, scratching lightly at the hair on his neck and making him groan again, a long sound, until she moved back again to breathe.

“Spike…”

God, her voice saying his name like that. He looked at her hot, hot eyes, before tangling his hand in her hair and tilting her head so he could kiss her neck.

Spike…”

He groaned yet again against her skin while one of her hands went to caress his chest, finding his nipple and scratching it through his shirt. His cock jumped against his zipper and he shivered slightly and then went back to kiss her lips, because he could never, ever get enough of her.

And then someone sodding coughed at them.

He wouldn’t have minded continuing to kiss her — her lips! Christ, what a drug — but she broke away with a weak gasp that went straight to his already-hard cock. Her eyes were wide and she pushed his body fractionally away from hers but didn’t show any sign of wanting to leave his arms. He pretended to ignore how much he loved that.

“Y-yes?”

He’d made her stutter. God, he should have done this sooner.

“This is a public place. There are children around.”

Spike moved his head enough to look back at that: the disapproving voice came from what would have looked like an ordinary old lady, if it hadn’t been for her dark green skin and large, toad-like features. She'd just climbed down the ladder from the mirror chamber and Spike could see a couple of small toad-lookalikes poking their heads through the trapdoor to stare at him and Buffy with adorably disgusted expressions. He repressed a frustrated groan. Demon-lady and her little spawn had no idea what kind of bloody revelation was going on here!

“Yes, uhm, of course,” came Buffy’s voice and, before he could protest, she slid her hands down to his, holding them while she moved the both of them down the corridor. His insides melted just a little bit. “We’ll, uh, get out of your way then, ma’am.”

Toad-lady just kept staring at them, shaking her head and muttering about ‘youngsters who don't know how to keep it in their pants’. As for him and Buffy, they resisted until the first bend of the path before bursting into giggles, and wasn’t that a hoot? William the Bloody, giggling and holding hands with a slayer, caught making out like a teenager…

He’d rarely been so ecstatic to be unliving, no matter how uncomfortable his jeans were at the moment.

“Well, that’s enough embarrassment for tonight,” murmured Buffy, a big smile still on her face.

“Oh, baby,” he whispered in a plaintive tone, crowding her again and relishing the pleased intake of breath she took when he went to nuzzle her neck. “I was just getting started with the public indecency…”

She shivered slightly when he softly nibbled her skin and then gave a heady little laugh. He decided that was among his top five favourite sounds in the universe.

“Come on, Spike,” she said in a ridiculous attempt at a stern tone. “I want you all to myself, no publicness, tonight.”

He immediately moved back, his eyes meeting hers. She was blushing furiously and her eyes were just a tad weary, but mostly he could see his own desire reflected in them. He swallowed and smiled slightly, testing the waters.

“You real about that, love?”

She nodded, tiny movement of her head, her smile turning shy.

“If you want…”

Did she just shrug her shoulders at him, feigning nonchalance, as if it wasn’t bloody obvious that he’d want her all to himself as well?

“Oh, kitten.”

He crushed her to him again and kissed her until she groaned lightly in his mouth, and then kept kissing her more because he could never get enough.

The same coughing sound came from behind them, this time with a tinge of exasperation, and they broke apart with a little laugh. He didn’t waste time in conversation this time though, taking her hand in his and dragging her away, until the tunnel became one more little labyrinth of paths.

She didn’t let go of his hand as she took the lead — of course she did — and valiantly tried to return his attention to the various reflections this section offered. He saw right through her game, of course — she kept sending him looks , and blushing, and licking her lips whenever she caught him staring at her chest or her arse, and Spike was feeling like the best kind of drunk there was.

But they were moving quickly, he could see the same eagerness to be alone that he felt reflected in her eyes. So it was just a matter of minutes until they were out of the maze, out of the attraction, back in the midst of a crowd, back to the outside world. For a second, Spike felt his mind crowded with images of their old tryst — felt like she was one moment away from pretending she didn’t give him a second thought or even a first — but then he took a deep breath and reminded himself that it was different now. They were different now. She kept holding his hand and sent him a little smile that was half frustrated, half coy.

“Guess it’s time to get back to work, huh?”

He nodded, his eyes never leaving hers. Then he raised their hands and left a soft kiss on each of her knuckles, immensely enjoying the blush that rose to her cheeks.

“No reason not to enjoy the end of the night, yeah?”

God, he’d meant it as a sweet little nothing, but by the way her eyes flared, it must’ve felt like he was asking her in his bed in the next two minutes. Bloody wishful thinking, considering he was still semi-hard.

“All right. Get back to work, enjoy the rest of the night. Yes. I can do that, I know I can.”

God, how cute was she? He pulled her to him and lent in, ready to kiss her again, when Willow’s voice ruined the perfect moment.

“Spike, Buffy, there you are!”

Buffy jolted back, her eyes widening and turning to the witch that was wading through the crowds to get to them. But she didn’t move her hand away. Instead, she gave him a little smile and intertwined their fingers, squeezing his slightly. He felt like something more or less vital melted in his chest.

“I’ve been looking all over for you, guys! Where were you?” She gave Spike a grossed-out look. “And don’t tell me you were in that gigantic Doll House. I swear, not even Sunnydale ever stooped that low…”

“Uhm, no, we were, we were in the Mirror Maze, Wills.”

“Oh, isn’t that lovely? I haven’t explored it all but Goddess, those mirrors are amazing. You could see yourself, Spike, right?” He just nodded, a little shell-shocked, his whole brain concentrated on his hand holding the Slayer’s right under one of the Scoobies’ eyes. “Yeah, exactly, fantastic magic! I’ve been trying to figure it all out, but they’re all so secretive and —” Suddenly, Willow looked down at their hands, her eyes widening comically in half a second. “Oh! Oh. Well, uhm,” she hedged, her eyes skipping between their faces and their hands. Spike repressed the urge to let go of Buffy and scamper off - or hold her tighter and growl at the threat. “Uhm, I didn't mean to disturb you, if something's going on — I mean between you two — I mean, guys! Enjoy the rest of the night, everything's all dandy here! And —"

"Willow," Buffy broke in her crazy sputtering with a firm but gentle voice. Her fingers squeezed Spike's, making him feel a tad less uncertain. "What did you need to tell us? Is something happening?" 

"No, no, nothing happening around here." Now Willow's smile had moved from panicking to very pleased, leaving Spike wondering what the hell was wrong with her. "Actually, that's what I wanted to report to you, boss mine. We're all good, witches and slayers — so really, you could take the rest of the night off! Maybe see some other attractions, or take the car to the hotel… I could take the other slayers there, later!"

Willow kept sending the two of them little grins and Spike felt his eyebrows rise, while thanking all deities of the universe that it took quite a bit more than that to make a vamp blush. Was the little witch trying to get him and Buffy alone

"No, Wills, we'll stay here till closing time." He hardly had the time to feel disappointed because Buffy was already sending him a shy smile and there was absolutely nothing disappointing about that look. "I mean, this is our last day here of our shift, I don't want to tempt the fates and leave just two hours before the end of it." 

"Oh, all right then. Probably good thinking, yes." Willow sent him another little grin and he just wasn't sure how to respond, so he sent an uncertain smile her way. She beamed. "Well, I'll leave you to the rest of your night, then. See the sights, play the games — enjoy yourselves, guys!" 

And after another excited smile and wave at the two of them off she went, disappearing into the crowd around them again. 

"So… that was awkward, huh?" 

Spike chuckled, looking back at Buffy and her delightfully shy expression. 

"Might say so, yeah." 

"Did you mind it? I mean, are you OK with — I mean —" 

"Love," he interrupted her, raising his free hand to cup her face and thrilling at the way she widened her eyes at his pet name. "I don't mind it. Nothing to mind. Just Red being her usual…" 

"Spaz?" 

He laughed and nodded. 

"Yeah, could say that." 

They stayed silent for a second, just looking at each other — and he really just wanted to kiss her — and then he remembered that he could, so he leaned down and gave her a sweet, soft kiss, not too short but never bloody enough. 

"O-OK." Ah, her little stutter… "OK, OK, we can do this. Patrol the park, have some fun…" 

"Enjoy the rest of the night," he added, his voice still husky. She whimpered and his cock got back to semi-hardness in his jeans. 

"Yeah," she breathed. And then he kissed her again, because he could and couldn't stop himself and really didn’t want to. “Not fair,” she whined against his lips and he couldn’t help but chuckle against hers, until they stopped kissing and were just breathing each other in, forehead to forehead. “These are probably going to be the longest two hours of my life.”

He just chuckled again and raised his eyebrows at that, because of course they wouldn’t be — Buffy Summers had faced evils a tad worse than waiting for two hours for a proper snog, no matter how good he was at making her see stars — but it was a darn sweet thing to hear. He just smiled widely and gave her one last soft kiss before taking a step away. Her smile was the stuff of dreams.

“I think we’ll live, pet.” She pouted and it was suddenly almost impossible not to jump in her arms. “C’mon, we still got a few games I have to crush you at.”

Buffy scoffed and took his hand again when they started walking, which made his chest do its usual funny little thing times a hundred.

“In your dreams, Spikey. I’ll beat the hell out of your pretty little face and you know it.”

He affected a worried air.

“I thought we were trying for something healthy, here?” She actually faltered at that, her eyes widening in panic — but then he laughed and she let his hand go to punch his arm. “Ow! Just messing around here, Slayer!”

“Yeah, well, no messes. I want a mess-free night, ya hear me?”

He smiled at her but got more serious when he noticed that she was looking to the side, her pout just this side of worried.

“Hey, pet. I was just kidding, you know that, right?”

She nodded, shrugged, but kept her eyes to the other side of the busy path. He felt like punching himself a bit but settled for putting an arm around her shoulders and pressing her into him. She went willingly, pressing her cheek against his chest, and he leaned down to kiss her head, his chest fluttering again. 

“We’re past that, yeah? All forgiven,” he whispered against her hair. They were walking very slowly by then and she nodded in his chest, making his heart feel all kinds of funny.

“Yeah. I know, I know.”

“Sorry for the stupid joke, Buffy.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said with the smallest sigh, her head leaning back a bit to smile up at him. “Just overreacted a bit.” She shrugged and he decided to let it go, just smiling back at her warmly. Then her smile became wicked. “I’m still totally winning at everything.”

“That’s my girl,” he chuckled, enjoying her beam at that — and then she gave him a kiss on the cheek and jumped away, racing him to the next game a few metres away. He couldn’t help the dumb, big smile that stretched his lips, and had a feeling he wouldn’t be able to for the rest of the night.

Chapter Text

It turned out he’d been right: the constant smiles and kisses and looks of one certain Buffy Summers turned one certain vampire, of former bloody glory, to a ridiculous puddle of goo. For the rest of the evening he couldn’t help but grin, smirk, and most ridiculously beam at the little woman, probably looking to anyone around him like a lovesick puppy. He felt certain that at some point in the future, maybe the next day or month, he would eventually mind that — but definitely not just then.

As it was, it was a good thing that they decided to stay at the carnival until its closing, since there was yet another Human Versus Demon Wannabe Fight To The Death (which ended up with the three humans and two demons involved lightly caressing each other as soon as the witches arrived with their no-violence spell). Buffy was still the one with the most authority there, so she settled the dispute right quick. Almost quickly enough not to make Spike look like a total tit, standing there and looking at her with what were surely languid eyes. He was too busy basking to give a fig.

And then it was over, and the carnival was closing, and the two of them were riding with the other slayers to their hotel. This time, while Buffy was still riding shotgun, Spike couldn’t really find the energy to give any other slayer his attention: he spent the ride leaning forward and bantering with her, trying to see just how many times he could make her smile, or laugh, or give that little snort when she was trying not to laugh but couldn’t really manage it. The other slayers had turned out to be more than accepting with him even after his little speech about vampire nature a few days back, and he'd been thrilled to go back to comfortable banter with them in the past few days. Right now though, as much as he could feel their stares from the rest of the car, God knew he couldn’t give a fig about that either.

The ride was too short and too long, and now they were standing in front of Buffy’s room, and suddenly her promise of wanting him all to herself seemed too good to be true. Did she really want..?

“So, yeah, this is me.” Her smile was shy, and was this even happening?

“Afraid I knew that already, pet.” He smirked at her, repressing the urge to trap her in against her door within his arms, to press her to him until her legs were around his waist — he coughed a bit, trying to clear his head. “Buffy, if you don’t want to —”

“D’you wanna come in —”

They talked over each other, her blushing and him feeling some blood rushing up too, and then they were laughing again. (Yes, laughing, not giggling. He was ready to swear to that.) He brought a hand up to touch her cheek, his thumb stroking her soft skin.

“Only if you’re —” Comfortable? Not scared I’m gonna assault you? Absolutely bloody sure you won’t change your mind, please? “If you want, yes, pet.”

“I do,” she nodded eagerly. He exhaled a breath and leaned forward for a kiss.

He’d thought it’d be soft and sweet, but pretty soon he was pressing her against the door and she was rocking against him, and his cock was getting hard and her tongue was driving him crazy. He did raise her by her waist, then, until her legs slid up, ankles hooking behind him, and God, the way she thrust right into him…

“Buffy,” he breathed, rocking back against her, pressing her into her door. “Buffy, please, open the door.”

She just nodded, looking at him with wild eyes, and then kissed him again. Which, of course, stopped her from getting the hotel room key, which in turn meant that it took them a few full minutes to finally negotiate their arms apart from each other just enough for him to get the damn key and open the damn door — and then he entered the room with her in his arms, turned, kicked the door closed and slammed her back against it. She gave a heavenly whine against his mouth and he saw stars on his closed eyelids.

“Pet,” he murmured against her lips, moving then to nibble and kiss on her jaw, her ear, her neck, his whole body vibrating at her slight moans. “Buffy,” he whispered, one of his hands tracing her ass, her thigh, until he hooked it behind her knee and raised her leg, draping it against his torso. His groin rolled against hers just right and she gave a long moan against his parted lips. “Love,” he breathed, making her whimper with another, harsher thrust against her core. God, she was so hot, he could already feel it through their clothes — he couldn’t wait anymore, so he slid his hand down from her knee and pressed it against her hot, hot centre, making her moan again.

Spike… please…”

“Yes,” he gritted out, his hand picking up a pace of circling, merciless strokes, her ba-boom-ba-boom thumping heart feeding his brain the most entrancing rhythm in the world. “Tell me you like this, kitten,” he muttered, his lips going to graze her ear, his whole body feeling her shiver at their touch. “Tell me you like my hands,” he gripped her arse hard with his other hand, “my body against yours,” he moved his hand up so he could thrust against her again, eating her moan of pleasure, “my tongue against your skin,” he kissed behind her jaw, open-mouthed, shivering at the keen sound she made.

His heart almost beat at her moans of "Yes" and at the way she whined when he moved his hand away again from her crotch — until she realised he was unbuttoning her jeans and sliding his hand inside, under her drenched panties, through her hair, and then finally — 

"Christ, you're so wet," he moaned against the skin of her neck, shivering at the whimper she gave. 

"Spike, Spike, uhn, please," she mewled, making his rock-hard cock twitch painfully against his zip, her hands frantic on his shoulders, "please, I need you —" 

"I'm right here," he whispered in her ear, his tongue going to flick her there, his whole body thrusting into hers at her whimper. His fingers stopped tracing her entrance and he shifted so he could enter her with one finger. "Christ! Yes, pet, moan for me, just like that —" 

"Oh, God —" 

"Yeah," he growled, now two fingers in, biting lightly on the soft skin of her delicious neck. "Yeah, baby, squeeze me. God, I love your muscles —" 

"Spike!" She moved one of her hands from her frantic grasp of his shoulders and went to grip his hair, hard, forcing his head back. He twisted his fingers inside her, adding a third and grinning wickedly at her 'oh' expression. Then she focused her gaze again and glared daggers at him. "Spike," she almost growled, making him thrust hard against her, "I want you inside. Now," she added, but the strength of her tone was somewhat mellowed by her moan. 

"You'll have me, baby, all of me," he gasped back, his eyes rolling at the way she tightened mercilessly around his three fingers. "But please, let me have this… God, I love feeling you come apart around me," he muttered, shifting his hand so that his thumb could circle around her clit. She shuddered around him, thrusting against his hand. 

"You'll… uh, you'll pay for this l-later," she whispered in a trembling voice and he chuckled in her ear, biting back a groan at her moan. 

"Can't wait for it, pet," he whispered back. Then he left a trail of kisses to her lips, claiming them in a harsh kiss, eating up her little moans like ambrosia. "For now," he muttered against her lips, his hand picking up the pace, his other one shifting on her ass to grab her better, "wanna see you come like this, kitten. All hot and bothered in my arms, clothes still on, against the door of your room —" 

"Spike!" 

"Christ, I love your whines," he whimpered, and then he was kissing her, his whole body rocking against hers, his cock straining against his zip as his hand stroked her and stroked her, relentless. She kept making the sweetest, hottest sounds — breathless 'oh's and 'ah's and 'uhn's, and he was so bloody hard against her, he thought maybe he couldn't take it and would just shred his own zip and fuck her against the damn door. But then she made this noise — a long, low moan — and she squeezed his fingers, her whole body trembling and her hands gripping his hair so hard he felt some of it leave his scalp. He moaned too, his face going to bury itself in her neck as she came around him, passing her shudder to him. 

For a few more seconds he could hardly feel anything other than his cock, hard and twitching and bloody painful against his jeans zip, and the way her fingers twisting in his hair seemed directly connected to it. He couldn't help a little whimper when she sighed and moved his head back, just enough to look at him. Her eyes were so intense he couldn't tell whether she wanted to kiss him or punch him — or, frankly, which one of the two he'd have preferred. 

"Spike," she murmured, her hoarse voice making him whimper and thrust against her softly. "If you don't get naked and on that bed in less than thirty seconds, I'm gonna get violent." 

He whimpered again and then of course he kissed her. How could she expect him not to, after that? She kissed him back just as breathlessly, one of her hands twisting again in his hair and the other sliding down to his neck, his chest — until she was vainly trying to push his coat off his shoulders, making them both chuckle against the other's lips. 

"Gimme a sec, pet," he whispered, kissing her again but pushing her legs down. Her feet had hardly touched the ground when she tugged his coat off of him, her lips still hot and sweet, so sweet on his own. He groaned in her mouth when her hands sneaked under his shirt — and then they were tearing at each other's clothes, still stealing kisses between one tug and another, both of them laughing breathlessly by the time they were hopping on one leg at a time to get their shoes and jeans off. Then they were finally naked, standing in front of each other and God, her chest was blushing as much as her cheeks and he didn't know what to look at. Her reddened breasts, her soft brown bush, her gorgeous wild eyes that were raking his own form and flaring once she looked at his cock — he suddenly felt like he couldn't decide whether to throw her on the bed or look away in some sort of sick, ridiculous shyness. 

"Spike…" She was the one to break the silence as she stepped in his space, her hands sliding from his stomach to his waist and his chest. He inhaled shakily, her nails going to scratch his nipples while her other hand cupped his cock and he couldn't stop a whimper. He bit his lip, his hands going to her waist of their own volition. "Spike," she repeated, her eyes moving from his chest to his face as her hand started slowly pumping him. Her look was intense and he bit his lip harder, quashing down the stupid hope for a love declaration. "Spike," she whispered once more, pressing herself to him in the most delicious way, her lips grazing his, "please make love to me." 

As far as love declarations went, this was damn right good enough for him, at the moment. 

He clutched her to him, relishing the feel of her flesh against his, and kissed her, languidly and passionately and God, it was so bloody good. He kept kissing her and kissing her, his skin tingling wherever she touched him, her fingers tracing his chest, his hair, his shoulder, while her other hand never stopped the gentle pumping. She sighed and moaned in his mouth and he wasn’t sure he could stay standing far longer.

“Bed,” she breathed between kisses, “now, please.”

“Yeah,” he groaned, walking backwards until his legs hit it. He let himself fall on it, her on top of him, and they both laughed breathlessly when he almost made them fall, he was so close to the edge.

“Maybe I should lead, now?” 

Her murmur was sweet and soft, her lips still against his, and he felt like he couldn’t have ever felt happier than right then. He nodded and she kissed him again before rolling off of him and sliding back to the centre of the bed, open and flushed and too damn hot for his sanity.

“You’re gorgeous,” he couldn’t help but whisper. He had to stifle his delighted surprise at her shy smile, then: how many times had he sung her praises, back in Sunnydale, only to see her cheeks flush but expression close, angry and upset? “So bloody hot, you drive me insane,” he said, because yeah, now he could. And her cheeks were red, and so was her chest, but God if that wasn’t a pleased smile on her lips.

“You’re not so bad yourself… for a cold-blooded guy.” He snorted, finally moving towards her, crawling until he was between her legs, her sweet quim filling his nose with the most delicious scent he knew.

“Pretty lame one for your standards, pet.” He could hear his voice go lower by the second, huskier, as his eyes fixed on her gorgeous pussy and the way her legs trembled slightly. He gently took her ankles, thumbs going to lightly caress the thin skin there.

“Not my fault if you — keep distracting me — oh,” she ended, her voice trembling, when he finally leaned down to kiss her right on her centre.

God, you taste divine, my love.

His hands slid up her calves, caressed her thighs, until they finally reached his mouth, while he kept tracing the entrance of her quim with his tongue. One of his thumbs went to stroke her luscious wet lips while he grasped her arse with the other and raised her up a bit — just enough to feast on her with ease. As soon as he started sucking on her hot quim, his thumb going up to press on her clit, she gave a loud moan and gripped his hair hard, both hands entwined in his short curls. He thrust against the bed, his cock hard and weeping and very unsatisfied.

Spike! Ah, please, I —”

He growled in her wet flesh, his head almost thrashing a bit, and his thumb startled a circling motion.

“God, Spike,” she whined, “I want, ah, I need you inside, please —” 

But her hands were pressing his face to her, so he doubled his efforts, his fingers taking the place of his tongue inside her while he went to lick and lap at her hot, hot clit. He thrust again against the mattress, twitching and oh-so-hard at the taste.

Fucking ambrosia you are, kitten.

He growled again when her strong thighs came up to band around his head, forcing him closer still and making him feel close to laughing, he felt so drunk on her. He looked up at her pleasure-filled face, his eyes fixed on her own closed ones. Then he was thrusting his fingers inside her and his tongue was circling her clit, and then he sucked it in his mouth, his tongue flicking it hard — and she exploded under him with a cry that sounded like pure triumph in his ears, her thighs almost crushing his head and her hands once again tearing out some of his hair. He kept on lightly petting and licking her, until her shudders and moans grew weaker, until her legs unclasped and let him go again — and then he was chuckling.

“God, pet,” he said, his gaze never moving from her face, his heart almost thudding when her eyes opened and stared down at him with a dazed expression. “Fucking love it when you come like that in my mouth,” he muttered. Then he licked her, from her soft skin to her clit, his gaze never wavering, feeling like a god when she groaned and her eyelids fluttered. “Christ, you taste good.”

“Spike,” she ordered and up he went, because of course he couldn’t say no to her for long. Of course, that didn’t stop him from kissing her mons, her lower belly, wiggling his tongue in her navel until she giggled breathlessly, and then kissing and licking her breasts, sucking her nipples in his mouth to flick at them with his tongue — until she exhaled just as breathlessly but without much of a giggle. “Spike, please,” she mewled while he tugged at a nipple with one hand and suckled the other, “please, come up here.”

He let her nipple go with a plop and finally crawled up to her face — Christ, how shining her eyes were. He felt a rush of something in his chest — love, and hope, and for some reason the need to write bloody poetry about her and her perfect body in his hands, of all things — and then she grasped his face and brought him down for a kiss.

He tried to keep it languid and unhurried, he did. But by then his cock was really beyond tired of waiting, and now her legs were spreading around him and he kept rocking against her wet, wet core, and Christ, he needed her.

“Buffy,” he almost whimpered, “please, love, please…”

“Yes,” she moaned with what sounded like his exact amount of want and need. “Yeah, please, Spike,” but her plead was unnecessary: her hand was already sliding between them, grasping him and pumping him, and he whimpered, burying his face in her neck. “I want you, Spike,” she whispered in his ear then, tracing the edge of it with her tongue for a second before suckling his lobe and biting it, not too gently. “Now,” she groaned, her pumps going faster, until he whimpered again and she kissed him. She raised her hips just so and brought him to her entrance, and then she gasped and looked at him with wide eyes as he finally, finally entered her.

“Fuck! Buffy!”

“Spike!”

He’d really wanted to keep it gentle, he had; he’d wanted to make sweet, tender love to her. But now here she was, around him, hot and tight and soft — and he couldn’t help but thrust in her hard, his hands clutching her close, his mouth crushing against hers. He set a hard, deep pace, and she met him thrust for thrust, her hips rocking hard into his, her legs clasping him closer every time he left her, pressing him back down into her. They quickly started a litany of groans and grunts, lips still pressed together, and when she gasped and moved her mouth to breathe, he grunted in her neck and couldn’t help a harsh bite on her soft, soft skin.

He didn’t have time to freak about her reaction because she cried out loudly and convulsed around him, making him see stars. He drew his head back then, continuing his thrusts into her, her quim quivering and squeezing him almost to orgasm — but the view was too heavenly for him to give in to the pleasure, so he continued his steady thrusts until she came back down, moaning and clutching him in a way that was sure to leave bruises. He couldn’t help a grunt of pleasure at her exhilarated expression when she opened her eyes and he forced himself to slow his thrusts, staring at her in wonder.

She came with a bite. A bite. Oh, pet, the things I’m going to show you…

She whispered his name and he shuddered, burying himself in her and shuddering again when she squeezed him hard, with another little moan.

“You trying… to win — a contest?”

Oh fuck, her voice was so hoarse and husky and he couldn’t take it. He stopped his movements, still deep inside her, and clutched her to himself, burying his face in her sweat-slicked neck.

“God, Buffy…”

I love you. I love you so much.

She chuckled, her mouth thrillingly close to his ear, and he held her closer, his arms sliding between her sweaty back and the mattress.

“I think you could win any contest, with this stamina.” Her voice was amused and sweet and soft, and he felt like he couldn’t possibly be this lucky.

That why you’re neglecting me, you asshole?, he could almost hear his prick whine, but he couldn’t let this end. To have her so willing and sweet and soft, to have her be so his — it was too wonderful for words, and he couldn’t fancy ending it just yet.

“But I want… I need…” She let out a frustrated breath and he leaned back, just enough to look into her shining eyes. “I want to feel you — come,” she ended in a halting whisper, and he couldn’t help a grunt and a little shallow thrust in her. She gave the softest gasp and he licked his lips.

“You are the hottest bloody thing in the bloody universe, love.”

She smiled a radiant, still-shy smile and thrust up into him, making him groan.

“Prove it,” she whispered and he let out a breathless laugh. He started moving again, slow, hard strokes that made her whole body rock with his, her own hips soon matching his rhythm.

“Tell me, pet,” he murmured, his lips touching hers for the briefest kiss, while he shifted to let his left hand fondle her breast. “Tell me how you want it.” His palm rubbed her nipple and then he pinched it, and she exhaled in the most lovely way, her face getting even more flushed.

“Any way, ah, any way you want me,” she murmured, and he couldn’t help but kiss her deeply, while his thrusts got that much harder.

“Yeah?” He whispered and she nodded quickly, leaning back in for another kiss, hungry for him. He was drunk on her. “And if I want it deep and hard?”

“God, yes,” she gasped, making him pant out a laugh. He leaned in, his fingers squeezing her nipple and his lips grazing her ear.

“Then turn on your belly, love.” She actually moaned at that, driving him insane with lust, and after another hard thrust he left her sweet body, just to see her turn over and raise her gorgeous ass to him, her face staying pressed to the pillow. Then she made this little mewling sound, her back arching and her legs spreading, and he had to clutch the base of his cock to avoid spilling all over that perfect ass.

“Christ, pet,” he muttered in what was definitely a crazed tone, not that he gave a shit. He let his free hand stroke her ass firmly until he had enough control to use both hands. Then he leaned down, kneading the flesh of her ass as his mouth rained kisses and nibbles on her shoulder, his cock going between those delicious ass cheeks and thrusting against her wet, wet folds. “Move your hair, pet,” he hummed in her ear, thrilling at her shudder. “Wanna see your sweet face…”

God knew he wanted to see it, see the pleasure in her face and the way her lips parted for all those sounds she made — and when she did move her hair, her hand actually trembling a bit, he thrust hard once against her folds, still outside, and then moved back. She whimpered in protest but he kept a firm hold of her ass when she tried to push back, until she sent him a glare.

“Spike!”

“Yes, pet?” 

All right, so that hadn’t come out nonchalant as much as bloody rasping in need, but all things considered, he couldn’t bloody complain.

“If you don’t move right now, so help me —”

“Eager little thing,” he murmured, leaning back to look at the wonderful spectacle of his hands kneading her ass, his still-wet cock just a couple of centimeters from her flesh. “God, you should see yourself from here, pet,” he whispered, making her whimper again. He grinned and moved her flesh so that he could see her cunt better. “Should see your glorious, wet quim, all dripping for me…” She gave a moan and he couldn’t help but drag his hard cock through all that wetness, shuddering to keep himself from thrusting in just at that moment. 

"Spike!" 

This time her voice really was getting frustrated, so he waited just a second — just the time to chuckle — and then drove himself in and started driving into her, hard and deep as he'd promised. She grunted, and he groaned, and their sounds were music to his ears, the ones from their lips as well as the ones from their flesh slapping.

“God… Spike… so good,” she moaned, making him see stars and drive even harder into her.

“Yes, pet — tell me — tell me how it feels —”

“Uhn, so good, you feel so good,” she panted, her voice a strangled whisper, her ass thrusting back into him with each movement, her neck craned so she could look at him. He couldn’t resist anymore so he leaned down again, one hand sliding up to her breast and one to her quim. “OhGodyesSpike!”

He gasped out a laugh at her reaction, his hand rubbing them where they were joined before going to rub her clit in tight little circles.

“Can’t take much more, pet, you’re so tight,” he whimpered against the skin of her shoulder, biting it gently.

“Close — so close, Spike…”

He moaned on her skin, thrusting harder, his rhythm faltering — God, he was so close and her moans were so heavenly — and then he bit her shoulder again, just as hard as before, and she let out a keen moan and squeezed him hard, coming apart around him. Another two, three thrusts and he was coming too, clutching her to him while she squeezed him right into another sodding dimension, making him see stars and darkness at once beneath his tightly closed lids.

He felt like he was coming for-fucking-ever before he got back to himself, harshly panting against her neck, her own pants resonating in his ears. She’d pressed her face back into the pillow, so he didn’t get to see her face when she gave one long, long sigh. He gave one of his own as well, nuzzling her skin and closing his eyes again, inhaling the scent of her sweat and their sex combined.

“God… that was fucking brilliant.”

“It was a bloody revelation,” came her soft, smiling voice and he opened his eyes to look at her smiling at him. He gave a chuckle and squeezed her a bit. Fuck, but the vamp he’d been back then hadn’t known shit about revelations — or even about just how good sex with Buffy could be, when she really did open up to you.

He sighed again and finally moved away from her, both of them giving a bit of a groan when their flesh separated. He rolled to his side, staying close and looking at her but trying his best not to crowd her. It turned out to be pointless, since she hardly stretched and moved to roll before she slid to her side right next to him, nuzzling her face in his chest. In the silence, he could hear her heart rate gently slow, coming down from the incredible high it had reached, and she sighed softly and slid an arm between his own and his flank.

He swallowed, hit yet again by how different it was, being with a happy Buffy. Being with her when she wanted him, really wanted him… he held her tight while giving a breathy sigh, and then he couldn’t keep his mouth shut anymore.

“God, Buffy, I love you so much.”

She seemed to go rigid under his arm after his whispered words, but before he could backtrack she raised her head and looked at him. Her eyes weren’t panicking, or annoyed, or repelled — she just looked like she wanted to search his eyes for the truth. As if it wasn’t bloody obvious to the whole fucking world how much he loved her.

“Spike, I —”

“Never mind, Slayer,” he hurried to say, his arm moving back from her waist, his whole body automatically stiffening in preparation for whatever kind of rejection she’d go for — but then her hand grabbed his arm and stopped it from leaving her flesh, her brows frowning.

“Spike, stop that.” He blinked, trying his very best not to flinch from her. “I mean… can you just listen to me for a second? Please?”

The slayer was begging him? She must have really squeezed him into an alternate dimension…

He nodded, not trusting his voice yet, and she sighed. Her hand became gentler on his arm, until she slid it down and grasped his own, raising both of them on the mattress between them.

“I’m sorry, Spike,” her voice was a whisper and she was looking at his chest. He was fairly certain that something was literally breaking inside him but he kept his gob shut, too terrified to act. “I’m sorry that I… I can’t tell you that. Yet. I’m not there yet, and… it wouldn’t be right.” Her words were hushed and she only looked up at him after having said them, her eyes pleading. “But I want to get there. I’m — you’re — what I mean is —” she squeezed his hand harder, closed her eyes, took a deep breath. Spike had stopped breathing a while ago. “I care about you, Spike. So much. As a friend and — and — so much more. And I’m sorry I don’t — I’m not there yet, but if you can wait — I really wanna get there. Really. So, would you, I mean yeah, would you… wait for me?”

Her voice had lowered more and more until her words had gotten to be a hushed whisper, but Spike didn’t miss one. She was asking him… He couldn’t help but stare at her in awe.

“I — I know I told you — then, on the Hellmouth — but Spike, you were dying and I couldn’t lose you, so I — it just came out — but,” her voice was breathy by then and he could see tears gathering in her eyes, but still he was too stunned to move. “But now I wanna do better by you. No hurry, no fear — I just really want to let myself fall — fall… completely… for you.” Her voice was trembling and her eyes kept skittering all over around him, staying on his own for only a second at a time. “If you want to wait for me,” she whispered, and now he could actually hear fear in her unsure voice. Fear?

Spike finally breathed again, inhaling hard once before moving their joined hands — she was squeezing his fingers so hard he expected bruises — until he could kiss her knuckles, one by one. Finally, she smiled, even though her eyes stayed too shiny from the tears.

“Pet… Buffy, my love. Of course I want to…” He shook his head, still astonished, but he smiled at her and could feel his heart somehow melt back to health in his chest at the way her own shy smile widened in response. “I’ll wait, Buffy, of course I’ll wait. I’ll wait for you as long as it takes — got all the time in the world, don’t I?” She nodded, still smiling, eyes still watery, and he sighed, leaning down until their foreheads touched. “As if I would ever not wait for you…”

Buffy gave a trembling little laugh and he smiled some more, shifting his body closer to hers. When she did the same, his heart seemed to melt even more.

“And you know, you can say it, Spike,” she whispered, nuzzling his chest again. She squeezed his hand before letting it go so that she could hold him close to her, tangling their legs too. “If you feel like it… I mean, I kinda — like it.”

He let out a soft chuckle, his arm tightening around her again, his nose buried in the hair at the top of her head.

“Kinda like it, kitten?” She nodded in his chest and he could feel her smile against his skin. He was sure that had he been human, his heart would have lurched and thudded and done all sorts of jumping around-kinda things. “I’ll keep that in mind, then,” he murmured, then she raised her head again and beamed at him. He’d known already how lost he was for her, but it struck him again. And yeah, maybe this could end terribly wrong — she could never get to feel the same for him, not as much as he did, or he could slip back to old patterns — but he could already see how much she cared about him, her want for him in her eyes. And it was such a lovely, warming drug, that he’d never give it up without a damn good fight. 

He leaned down and gave her a sweet, soft kiss. She was still smiling against his lips when he started kissing her more deeply; still smiling when he rolled her on him, kissing her and kissing her and letting his hands roam on her delectable flesh; still smiling when they started rocking against each other, until he was hard and ready again and she was sliding him inside her with a gasp. Somehow, the smile never left her eyes, even when her mouth was too busy moaning and groaning her pleasure over him. And as he met her thrust for thrust, as she moved above and around him, he knew that this was a sort of paradise he’d never experienced before.

It took them a long, long time before exhaustion forced them to stop their lovemaking and fall asleep in each other’s arms, and by then Spike felt he’d never smiled so genuinely and for so long in his life and unlife.

Chapter Text

He woke up with a mouthful of golden hair. 

He couldn't help it: a huge smile broke on his face and he inhaled deeply the scent of her shampoo. It was some kind of flowery thing and he couldn't get enough of it. 

He tried to move his head back a bit, enough to get rid of Buffy’s hair in his mouth without moving his left hand, nestled between her stomach and the mattress; he didn't really manage but couldn't bring himself to care. He nuzzled her head a bit more instead, his body snuggling even closer against hers. She was closely encased in his arms, her back moving against his chest in time with her breaths, and their legs were entwined together. Her body had thoroughly warmed his front, so much so that he couldn't feel much of a difference between their skin temperatures wherever they touched. 

He took another deep breath. Shampoo, and sex — their sex — and quite a bit of stale air, and sweat… he couldn't think of a sweeter combination. He could feel himself half-hard already against her butt cheeks, getting harder with every second that he spent concentrating on that sweet feeling. She murmured lightly in her sleep, her head nuzzling a bit in his arm beneath it, and something in his chest swelled. 

He'd never really had this and he was sure he'd never have enough of it. Twice, during their Sunnydale shit-show of a 'relationship', she'd fallen asleep next to him after a particularly energetic set of rounds; both times he'd dared hold her in her sleep, breathe her in just like he was doing now. He'd cherished those moments as precious gems, as fresh water to a parched man; and both times when she'd woken up she'd violently flung him from her, swearing and rushing out of his crypt twice as fast as usual. That was, without counting the shit-show that was their last time together, when Captain Cardboard had found them. The thought that this time she'd wake up and just turn in his arms, kiss him, tell him good morning… he nuzzled against her hair again, trying to suppress the urge to hold her much more tightly, to roll her on her back and wake her up with a kiss. 

I love you so much, Buffy.

He thought it and then murmured it, low, feeling his heart swell even more with each syllable. 

He forced his body to hold her without any force in it, snuggled closer but not enough to wake her. God knew his woman needed all the rest in the world, especially they’d barely had a few hours of sleep after such a delicious, long night — or better yet, morning. 

He inhaled deeply again, the lingering scent of sex and his memories making him harder against her soft bottom, and then she moved a bit. The light friction of her skin against his made him almost whimper but he settled to wait, his thumb tracing light patterns on her stomach. 

I love you, I love you.

Some part of him still couldn’t believe she’d told him she wasn't ready yet, and could he wait… he repressed a scoff and couldn't help but hold her a bit tighter, loving every centimetre of warm, warm contact between them. As if he'd ever stop waiting for her, sod the fish's words and all his stupid plans of bloody moving on. As if even just the fact that she wanted to give them a chance — a serious, honest, real chance — didn't make him the happiest bloke in the world. The fear of their old bad patterns still swirled somewhere in the background of his brain, but now he had much more entertaining images to focus on.

So he imagined her saying those four magic words instead — I love you too — and yeah, he could be even happier than this. He imagined her waking him up with a kiss, telling him 'morning, my love'. And then imaginary-Buffy woke him up with a kiss and an 'afternoon, my love'. And then she woke him up with different kisses, someplace else than his lips… 

His body trembled against her naked one in his effort not to thrust against her ass. He wanted to move so that his cock could be between her delicious cheeks, and wouldn't that be lovely to wake up to anyway? 

He sighed deeply, moving his hips slightly back and whispering the lightest kisses he could manage on her hair-covered neck and then shoulder. Waiting for her to wake up was becoming harder — har, har — every second. Besides, she couldn't really mind if he was sweet about it, could she? 

He started moving his hand against her soft stomach and kept on with his kisses along her neck, nuzzling behind her ear. She sighed softly, moving against him with a murmur, and he got even harder and even gentler with his caresses. 

It took a few more minutes of sweet, sweet humming against his arm but she finally started stretching. He let his hold on her loosen up for a couple of seconds and then snuggled close again, nuzzling her hair-covered ear. 

"Mmhh… morning…" Her voice was low and hoarse from sleep and he stifled a groan as well as a thrust. 

"Morning, my sunshine," he answered, his voice low and hoarse as well. She shivered slightly and he felt like the king of the world. 

She moved her butt back against him and he ground his forehead against the back of her head in an effort not to whimper. 

"You been up for long?" He could hear her smirk, her voice still hoarse and low and sexier than he could believe possible. He held her torso tight to his and ground back in her ass, his cock finally nestling between her cheeks. She let out a soft gasp that made his mind reel. 

"Just a bit, kitten." 

He started again with his kisses on her neck and was stopped from moving her hair away by her hand going to hold his left for a second before she laced their fingers together. He let out a deep sigh and, after hesitating for a second, let the words out of his lips in a soft whisper. 

“I love you.”

He dared to move back just enough to look at her and was rewarded with her sweet, close-eyed smile, her cheeks reddening while she snuggled his left hand and arm to her chest. He almost felt like a paler, whiter version of the Grinch, the way his dead heart insisted on feeling like expanding in his chest. She’d said she liked hearing the words and hadn’t been lying, as he’d come to appreciate during their lovemaking.

They kept on nuzzling each other for a couple more delicious minutes until she finally moved enough to look at him. Her eyes were soft and sleepy, satisfaction and happiness pouring out from her lowered lids, and some part of him still couldn’t believe his luck when she smiled at him. Her smile grew to be brilliant and he couldn’t help kissing her soft, soft lips in a long, tender kiss. She sighed against his mouth, moving so that she was on her back, their bodies still touching and her free hand going to caress his cheek while his right cradled her head, fingers threading through her long hair.

A small part of him wasn't sure this was really happening, but he wasn’t going to question it out loud.

Their kiss finished with them both sighing in each other and he smiled down at her with what might have been a sappy smile. Not that there was a bone in him caring about looking sappy, right then.

“Good morning,” she repeated with yet another sunny smile, and he attacked her lips again and again while she chuckled lightly against him, their still-joined hands coming up close to her head on the mattress. “Spike,” she started, but he nibbled on her lower lip and traced it with his tongue until she shuddered lightly. “Spike, I should —” he interrupted her by slipping his tongue in her mouth, and he could feel her smile against his lips but she didn’t protest, kissing him back and moving her hand to thread through his tousled hair. He kept on kissing her and kissing her, his body moving lightly against her, his hard cock relishing every contact with her leg, her lower stomach, her hip. Finally, she gripped his hair a tad less softly and moved his head back, both of them panting lightly. “I should go brush my teeth,” she said, breathless and with less-than-calm eyes. He gave a slightly stronger thrust against her lower body.

“Pet, if you think I’m letting you out of this bed,” he murmured in his lowest voice, leaving a trail of kisses from her jaw to behind her ear, “you’re off your bird.” He nibbled her soft skin there while tightening his grasp on her hair until her breath hitched. The sound went straight to his cock and he thrust once more against her.

“Spike…”

He took her ear lobe in a soft nibble and then gently sucked it in his mouth until she gasped. 

"S-spike," she stammered while he left open-mouthed kisses on her neck. Then she gripped his hair again and moved him back once more, looking flushed and like a sodding banquet out of heaven itself. "Look, I need to pee." 

He managed to glare at her for only a couple of seconds before they both broke out into stupid, light-headed chuckles, then he gave her one last hard kiss before moving off her and shoving her to the edge of the bed. 

"Hey!" 

"Off you go then, pet, c'mon." 

"Wait a —" 

"Nope, no seconds to spare." He pushed her again until she was forced to get off the bed and stand and then she was looking at him with a flushed, almost furious expression. He felt himself getting even harder. "The sooner you go, the sooner you come back… the sooner I can shag you silly." He curled his tongue behind his teeth, letting his hand rest right next to his hard cock, a flame of pleasure passing through him as she followed the motion until she was staring between his legs. 

"Don't start without me, vamp," she said, her tone now imperious, and he inched his hand closer to himself. Her eyes flared, going to his cock again, her flush spreading from her face and ears to her chest. 

"Or what?" 

"Or," she started, squaring her shoulders and forcing his eyes to her luscious, reddening tits, "I'll make you pay for it." 

Christ, even hours with her didn't make this any less incredible. Buffy Summers was flirting with him, all naked and commanding and at ease, and he could die a happy vamp. 

His thumb and forefinger lightly circled the base of his cock and he smirked at her. 

"Not seeing the problem there, pet." 

"Oh, you'll see the problem all right…" 

She smirked too, looking him up and down, and with a flick of her bed-tousled hair she strode to her in-room toilet, all traces of sleepiness gone. 

He shut his eyes and tugged himself hard twice, some part of him still in awe that this was happening. 

A few minutes later she came in to find him with her pillow on his face and one of his hands lazily circling his hard cock; he could feel her gaze on him and he tugged himself once quickly, the tip leaking on his fingers. 

"You haven't been very obedient." Her voice was strict and he couldn't help a whimper. He moved the pillow off his face when he felt her weight shift the bed, finding himself with a freshened, naked slayer crawling up his legs. He could smell that she'd brushed her teeth and see that she'd brushed her hair, but his eyes were drawn to her rosy nipples, her tits swaying over his legs, and he gave another whimper. "However will I punish you, vampire?" 

He bit down yet another whimper. This was getting ridiculous. On the other hand, how else was he expected to react? 

"In whatever way pleases you… mistress." 

She stopped with her face right above his dick and he could see an all-new flush spreading up her face. Bingo.

She just looked at him for a second more until she moved her face down, her lips a breath away from his leaking tip. She sighed and he twitched, swallowing down another helpless sound. 

"Well then," she murmured, looking at him with hooded eyes. "Arms above your head." 

His whole body shuddered and he didn't waste a second to comply, clenching his fists in the pillow, above his head. 

"Yes, mistress." 

She took a breath at that, the smell of her renewed arousal hitting his nose hard. Then she smiled triumphantly at him and flicked her tongue over his tip. He shuddered and had to force himself not to thrust up.

"Mmhh…" She gave him this imperious look then moved a finger to gather some of his precum, her touch light and gentle and Christ, he needed more. His eyes threatened to cross when she brought her finger to her mouth and sucked it deeply, still so close that every warm breath hit his cock in a gentle, cruel breeze. "Good boy." 

Then she crawled up to his face, her body tantalisingly close to his but never touching him, until she stretched above him: legs splayed on his sides, hands on either side of his head, her face close to his and her breath hot and quick against his lips. He could feel himself close to panting too, his whole body tensed up, every nerve ending fizzling.

She slowly licked her lips and then yeah, he panted a bit because it was all too much.

“You want something, my disobedient vamp?”

Yours, yours, love you, take me, please.

“A-anything you want, mistress.” Yeah, he was a panting, trembling mess, but God if the effect of that word didn’t make her breathe hard as well.

“And what if I want to take my pleasure and give you nothing?”

Her voice was low and hoarse and she lowered her hips to hover right above his twitching cock, posing it at her entrance, and he was lost.

“Please,” he whimpered, and her eyes flashed.

She went down in a swift stroke, taking all of him, and he groaned at the sweet grip of her. She panted against his mouth, setting a fierce rhythm, her tight walls wet and God, so hot, and soon they were kissing each other, all tongues and teeth and harsh breaths in between, until she shifted above him to grasp his hair with both hands, fingernails scraping against his scalp just a tad too hard, making him twitch inside her. She changed her rhythm, making her thrusts harder and grinding down at each one, and he moaned in her mouth, his arms tensed in the effort not to move to her.

“Let me... touch you,” he pleaded, his lips never leaving hers.

“No,” she commanded, and he thrust up even harder, impossibly aroused and feeling like he was going to come at any second. She tilted his head back, her eyes brilliant and lips wet. “Don’t you dare come before I let you, Spike.”

Did she want it to end too soon?

He groaned and closed his eyes, felt her sit up, heard her moan at the change of position.

“Look at me,” she ordered, her voice hoarse and commanding and unbearably hot. He groaned again and obeyed. She was grinding down on him, flushed a brilliant red, her hands on her breasts, her fingers idly flicking her own nipples. He moaned deeply and she smiled the smile of a conquering queen.

“Please,” he pleaded again, thrusting up again, but she just laughed and shook her head, her golden hair bouncing up and down slightly at her shallow movements. 

My effulgent Goldilocks, he thought drunkenly, and then he thought that he could say it out loud, he could call her that, and so he did, drunk on the power of this new, freer, and happier version of his lover. Her eyes flared at his words and she murmured yes , and he continued: he called her his sweet queen, his hot, hot conqueror, his ruthless empress, his mistress , and she closed her eyes and bit her lower lip, grinding harder at each thrust, squeezing him harder until he could only just not cross his eyes. But he wouldn’t, because he couldn’t miss this, miss her grind into him harder and harder until with a long, low moan she came, one hand on her breast and one in her hair. He called her his warrior goddess, while she squeezed him so hard that he had to put all his strength in not coming along with her. Slowly, she came back to herself, her breaths heavy and eyes lidded, and then she squeezed him one more time, making him groan again.

“Very, very… good.” He repressed the urge to gloat and just drank her in, the smell of her a heady thing and the sight of her just spent like a gift from the gods. “You deserve a treat…” she flashed him a brilliant smile, her hands going to lay on his stomach. “You can move.”

In a flash, he flipped them over and entered her again, eating her gasp in a heady, deep kiss, his hands going to cup her breasts and his hips flush to hers.

“Any treat I want, my sweet mistress?”

“God, Spike,” she moaned against his mouth, going to grip his head and one of his ass cheeks hard. “Yes.”

“Thank you,” he breathed, and then he spent several minutes kissing her, deeply and languidly, just because he could. When she moved away to breathe he went to kiss her neck, her breastbone, then slid down to her sternum and then he finally reached one of her rosy nipples. They both groaned when he flicked it with his tongue as he kept thrusting into her, slowly and deeply. He spent long minutes lavishing with attention both her breasts, keeping his thrusts slow and grinding down on her every time, until her grip on his hair was painful and her breath came only in shallow gasps. Then he looked up at her, his hands moving down to her buttocks and kneading them, relishing her strained expression. With one last suck, he slipped out of her and slid lower, one of his hands going to play with her folds and yes, there she was, his queen: wet, and hot, and ready, and he bent down and started his feast.

She moaned again when his tongue first touched her lips and he drank her in, her sounds and smells and God the glorious taste of her, and he felt like he’d never want to stop. He kissed and licked and sucked every centimetre of her, until she squirmed under him, thrusting herself up to him, pushing his face down. He’d never been happier not to have to breathe.

“Please, Spike,” came her moan, and like a good slave, he relented and captured her clit in his lips in a gentle suckle. Her whole body trembled and she cried a little as a sudden orgasm rushed through her, Spike finding it impossible not to thrust against the mattress. He nursed her back to him with gentle licks and grasped two handfuls of her gorgeous ass cheeks, keeping her still beneath him. He started again slowly, with only the gentlest licks and flicks; and the faster he went, the more she squirmed in his arms, hands twisting in his hair, hips trying their best to thrust up. He was a goner. He went on, unrelenting, until she came again, and again, each time moaning more loudly than the last, until she didn’t have the strength to push up against him anymore, spent beneath him, her fingers still tight in his hair but only twitching.

He looked up at her and licked his lips while she heaved huge gulps of air, eyes wild and pointed at the ceiling, lost to the world.

“Thank you for the treat, mistress.”

She chuckled at that and her hands got softer in his hair while she pulled him up, and then he was on her, his body pressing on hers while her legs slowly came up to circle his lower back.

“Enough of that,” she murmured, one of her hands sliding down to his cheek, “Buffy, just Buffy now.”

“Buffy,” he breathed, looking at her like she was his own paradise. She looked back at him, eyes hooded but open and accepting, and then she moved her hand to take him and bring him inside her. She took a breath when he entered her and then smiled at him, happy. He could burst at any moment, he knew it. “Buffy. Buffy, Buffy, Buffy…”

“Spike,” she said in his same tone, touching her lips to his. “Spike, Spike…”

She met each of his thrusts, their lips touching in murmurs of their names and in heated kisses. He’d never had any of this before last night; never had her look at him like that, with open eyes and an open heart, gently but passionately thrusting up into him, with one hand on his cheek and the other roaming his chest, his ass, his back in strong strokes; never had her murmur his name between kisses in that soft, sweet voice, hitching when he started touching her between them just so; never had her smile at his pleasure, at his love for her.

“God, I love you,” he couldn’t help but murmur, burying his face in her neck.

“Oh God, Spike,” she moaned hard, coming around him with a shiver.

And that was it. Just a few more thrusts in her squeezing, tight channel and he was gone, coming into her, while her legs and arms held him tighter, her moans mingling with his own.

They came down from it slowly, heaving deep breaths, and she moved his head back up to kiss him thoroughly. By the time she got up for air, he felt spent and happy and whole. The taste of her was sweeter than the best French wine and he was drunk drunk drunk on her.

“Buffy.”

“Spike,” she murmured, looking up at him with shining eyes. He moved one hand underneath her shoulders, the other threading through her hair. He couldn’t stop looking at her beautiful, radiant face. “God, we should have gotten together sooner.”

He chuckled at that and she smiled even more, and then they were kissing again. They kept on kissing and murmuring each other’s names until he was hard again, still inside her, and they started over.

He would never get enough of her.

 

*

 

Eventually, they did manage to get out of bed and shower. By that time, the air in Buffy’s room was so heavy with sex it was getting a bit too much even for her. The shower itself was an interesting experience, what with it not being exactly built for two — but they were creative, and athletic, and insatiably horny, so they made do.

In the end though they managed to venture out for air. That was when they discovered that it was well past lunchtime and that Willow had left food for Buffy and blood for Spike in his room. Buffy blushed a bit at reading her card (“Try not to stay longer than 3 pm, or we’ll have to pay for another night!”), and then he reasoned that they were already late (“Too late, luv, it’s 2:55”), so what was there to do but do it in his bed? She chided him, actually trying to rush to gather his things together.

Of course, they did do it in his bed. After all the intensity and softness of that morning it was fast and hard, and Spike never wanted to leave that room again.

But after eating the food Willow had left them and yet more heavy make-out sessions (“C’mon, pet, we’ll have to pay anyway!”), they finally emerged in the lobby, luggage in hand and ready to go, wondering whether the rest of the slayers had already left or had waited for them. They were ready to pay and leave when Red turned up from the other side of the lobby and called to them.

“Guys, wait!”

Spike felt the fierce need to hold Buffy’s hand again, just because he could and not at all to prove to himself and everyone else that he could. He pushed it back, trying his best not to act as a lovesick teenager.

“Hey, Wills. Thanks for the food!”

Was she blushing? Yes, a bit. But it was a good blush, an 'I’ve just been thoroughly fucked by my stallion boyfriend' blush, not an 'I don’t want to mention my secret stallion lover' blush. Right?

“You’re welcome, Buff. Thought you guys might need some sustenance.”

Red was grinning widely at them both and he felt some of that ridiculous tension go. The best friend clearly approved, so what was his stupid worrying for?

“Yeah, thanks, Red.”

“Don’t mention it. Actually, I talked with HQ this morning and we have a present for you, Buffy.” His lady perked right up at that and he couldn’t help a sappy smile at her while she took the bag Willow was handing her. “You’re always doing everything you can at the castle, so we thought you could do with some slack time. Proper pleasant break from work.” She winked at him and beamed while Buffy opened the bag to reveal clothes in it. “So I magicked some of you guys' clothes here, and we paid for your room for tonight and the next two nights, so you can have some more time to enjoy the city together. What do you guys say?”

She was almost doing a little on-the-spot dance, smiling at them both brightly, and Spike couldn’t be more speechless.

“Wills… you didn’t need to…”

“No need, just pleasure. For you guys. I-I mean, the carnival is going so well, and if anything happens you'd still be close anyway, and we just wanted to give you a little gift, and… you guys would like to spend more time together, yeah?”

“Yes! Absolutely,” came Buffy’s eager answer before he could even open his mouth. She looked at him with a happy grin and he felt like bursting.

“Really appreciate it, Red,” he murmured, trying and failing for a casual tone.

“Well, off you go then. Go enjoy Buffy's room some more or go outside, sunset was a little while back and the sky is - surprise! - overcast anyway.” She beamed at them again, squeezing both their shoulders, and then left in a flutter of skirt fabrics.

They were left staring after her until they turned to each other, both smiling more and more widely by the second.

“Your best friend is the best friend ever, Summers.”

“Totally. I might need to find some kind of gift for her.”

“I’ll help you. But now…”

They decided to enjoy Buffy’s room some more, then. Most of the heavy sex air had gone by that time — and anyway, they were distracted enough not to care.

 

*

 

A few hours later they were still in her room, naked and sitting on the bed. At least Spike was sitting, his back against the headboard; Buffy was curled on his lap, her hand stroking his stomach and waist ceaselessly. 

They'd made love so many times Spike had lost count. And what counted as one, anyway? Was it when he finally came into her? Not bloody likely. Was it when she came? That would probably be literally uncountable. Maybe it was when they both collapsed and had to take a breather before starting again… 

"Whatcha thinking?" 

Her voice was soft, tinged with something he didn't immediately catch, and he held her a bit tighter in his arms. 

"'bout how to count how many times we had sex." She was silent for a beat. Then she moved her head to look up at him, eyes incredulous. He shrugged and grinned widely at her. "You asked, pet." 

She shook her head a bit then leaned it back down so that he could only see the top of her head. Her hand closed, still on the skin of his stomach. 

"Spike…" 

Oh, that's what was in her voice: uncertainty. He stroked her arm, touching his lips to her hair. 

"Yes, pet?" 

She sighed a bit and he waited, never stopping his stroking gesture. She stayed silent for so long he was going to ask her again, but then she talked. Her voice was still unsure. 

"Spike, do you think…" 

She trailed off, staying silent for one more minute. He squeezed her a bit and smiled against her head. 

"Don't read minds yet, love. D'you want me to go get Red and ask her to teach me?" 

She snorted a little laugh and squirmed closer to him, nuzzling his chest. 

"Definitely no calling of Willow, no." 

"Mmhh… I'll stay right here then, if I really have to." She scoffed and slapped him lightly and he couldn't help but squeeze her to him again. "Tell me, Buffy. What's going on in that gorgeous head of yours?" 

She sighed again, nuzzling his chest. Then she talked right into his skin, her voice slightly muffled and tickling him. 

"This morning. When we woke up, and we…" 

"Had amazing, hot sex?" He felt some of his blood flow south at the memory, even after hours of going at it, and he shifted a bit underneath her. "Yeah, seem to remember something to that effect." 

She shook her head once but kept her face right on his skin, making it raise in goosebumps when she talked again. 

"I wasn't… too much, was I?" 

He frowned at the top of her head, confused. 

"Too much what, love? You were hot as hell." 

She shifted a bit and her voice was yet more unsure. 

"I just mean… I wasn't too, uhm, bossy?" 

"I love it when you're bossy." 

"Spike, I'm serious." 

"So am I, you're bloody hard to resist when you’re bossy." He let his hands slide on her skin, going to her waist and up one of her thighs, stopping right at the crease between thigh and butt cheek. "The way you boss me around at the castle, when we train, the way you always throw me down and get the best of me…" She squirmed and he inhaled sharply, biting his lip. "Gets me hard just thinking about it," he murmured, shifting his hips so his hardening cock moved against her leg. 

"That's just it," came her breathy voice, and he could hear the pleasure in it but the uncertainty too. "Do you think that's OK?" 

"Pet —"

"I don't want to hurt you, Spike." She finally leaned back from his chest, her hands warm on his skin as her wide eyes settled on his. "I don't want us to be — abusive. Not again." 

She finished in a whisper, and a little bit of his heart broke. 

"Pet. Buffy." He slid his hands back up until he was cupping her face, his thumbs stroking her skin softly. "It's not the same. We're not the same, you know that." 

She nodded but still looked uncertain. 

"Then why… why do I still want to order you around? Why do I still want you to…" Her eyes lowered and he felt his chest constrict. 

"Hurt you?" He offered, his own voice a whisper. 

She kept her eyes down, nodding after a beat. He exhaled shakily. 

"Buffy. Buffy, look at me, please." She kept nibbling on her lip but looked up at him when he tilted her head up a bit. Her eyes were shining. "When you feel like that… what do you feel?" 

She looked away again. 

"Uhm... pleasure." 

God, the way she whispered that, like it was a sin she was confessing. 

"Buffy. Baby," he whispered, touching his lips to hers for a sweet second. "If it's pleasure you're feeling, then it's all right." 

"How can it be all right, if I want to hurt you and domina— tell you what to do? Or, or if I want you to do that to me?" 

God, he wasn't the right person for this. He just shook his head, a small smile on his lips. 

"Do you want me to suffer?" 

"No!" 

"Do you want you to suffer?" 

"No, Spike, that's just it, I'm not like that anymore —" 

"So, you just think it's hot if I call you mistress and obey, or if you beat the hell out of me when we train, or if I am the one playing master and tying you down and ordering you around, maybe hurting you a bit too." 

She'd started blushing at the word 'mistress' and by the end of it her cheeks were flushed and hot under his hands. 

"Yeah?" He had to chuckle and shake his head slightly at her worried voice. "Spike, I'm serious! Do you think that's healthy?" 

"Of course I do, pet." She opened her mouth to retort but he shushed her with his thumb on her beautiful lips. "Pet, you and I both have powerful, violent forces inside us. How could we not love powerful, violent games in our pleasure?" She frowned and seemed ready to retort but he kept talking. "Not to mention, regular humans of all kinds like that too. Remember about all of Anya's little comments on her and Xander's games?" 

God, she was cute when she blushed that hard. 

"Really didn't wanna think about that…" 

"Well, I think you should. Wager it's much more average than you prudish Americans give credit for, you know." She frowned again and he shrugged. "Call it as I see it, pet. This kinda game's more widespread than you'd think — in fact…" He grinned wolfishly. "Think you and I should take a trip to the closest sex store, pet." 

"What?" She spluttered, and he laughed heartily before giving her a long, hard kiss that left them both breathless. 

"C'mon, pet. Trust me. We go see one of those places and you'll realise just how common this sort of thing is." 

"Common doesn't mean healthy!" 

"Pet," he sighed, stroking her face with his hands. "I'm serious. As long as we're looking for each other's pleasure and happiness… I think we're good. OK?" 

She looked at him for a second, more relaxed but still a bit worried. 

"You sure?" 

"Yeah, I'm sure." He looked at her lovely lips, suddenly a bit shy. "I'm in love with you, Buffy. I don't want to hurt you… those games are just that: games. Have a good time even without them, don't we?" 

She snorted at his grin, making it grow wider. 

"Yeah, I suppose it can be OK…" she hedged, until he growled a bit and she giggled, hugging him close and kissing him soundly. 

“Just promise me you’ll tell me if you’re uncomfortable with something, OK?” She said, voice breathless from the kiss. He smiled at her warmly and touched their foreheads together.

“Promise. You too, pet?”

“Promise,” she murmured, her eyes on his lips, before she slid her hands on his chest and kissed him again, making his borrowed blood boil. He laughed and pushed her from him, laughing some more at her pout.

"All right, you minx. Let's get dressed and go see the sights, yeah?" 

"I can't believe you're getting me out of bed," she muttered while he pushed them both to stand, then went to lean next to the toilet door. 

"Betting we'll have something interesting to play with when we get back, pet…" He waggled his eyebrows at her and God, that blush made her positively edible. "Pretty sure we can find something that talks to both of us." 

"Right now, the only thing that's talking is our B.O. We are in definite need of a shower, mister, before — ahh!" 

She let out a yell and then a giggle as he growled and lunged at her, hauling her up on his shoulder before dumping her in the shower. 

It was a while before they left the hotel, after all. 

 

*

 

They ended up having a lovely time. They spent a few hours walking around, Spike's heart seemingly ready to beat every single time Buffy took his hand after rushing to a shop window, or rummaging through her bag, or anything else that made her hand leave his. 

It was only halfway through their dinner — thank Christ the head Watcher had decided to pay him a decent wage for his slayer-training, considering he had board and lodging too — that he realised that this was a bona fide date. He kept trying to make her laugh, and she kept taking his hand between one serving and another, and God, he was too damn happy and it was all too damn good. 

And yeah, when they got back to the hotel, they did try their new toys. She’d ended up only accepting to take a vibrating cock ring and a lovely set of bindings. (He had a feeling they’d last very little and they’d have to buy new ones soon, but he hadn’t wanted to say no to anything she’d want.) Which, it turned out, was pretty convenient from an economic point of view: when you actually paid for the stuff you got, suddenly wanting something didn't automatically mean being able to afford it. But still, the way she’d looked at some of the other toys, eyes widening and cheeks blushing… well, he was looking forward to invest in this activity and try a few of them, not to mention have her try them on him, whenever he convinced her to give them a chance. 

They’d only slept very few hours that night, or better yet morning; somehow, though, they managed to stay awake a long time before finally collapsing to sleep, sated and exhausted, limbs tangled in their hotel bed. 

Spike didn’t think he’d ever been this happy in his life, and he couldn’t shake the thrilling feeling that she was right there with him.

Chapter Text

Eventually, they came to the end of their little vacation. Buffy had mentioned wanting to join the other slayers to the carnival to check how it was going while they stayed at the hotel, but he’d seen right through that feeble attempt at responsibility and had just tied her to the bed instead. 

(God, that sex store idea had turned out to be one of his most brilliant plans ever.)

As it was, they had only met the other slayers in passing twice, in the hotel hallways. Both times they’d been holding hands and a thrill had gone through him when Buffy hadn’t taken her hand from his, even though she’d blushed and looked embarrassed at their pointed glances. Spike had had to bite back the urge to gloat at the ladies but he’d kept it classy — just tugged her closer to him and grinned at them widely, even when they raised their eyebrows and shook their heads at him, bidding them a fun time.

… all right, so maybe he had gloated a bit. But really, he couldn’t blame himself, especially when she got all righteously furious-like and felt like punishing him afterwards… yeah, he really couldn’t wait for their next trip to the sex store.

But now the time had officially come, so they gathered their luggage and went to check out from the hotel. He felt a little pang of sadness at the thought of leaving that place and all the very lovely memories he’d made there, in that bed, and that floor, and the door and the walls and the shower… then again, the thought of Buffy’s tub at the hotel perked him right up.

And Buffy kept sending him glances that made him think she was sharing his exact thoughts — which wasn’t really convenient, considering they were actually stopping at the carnival before leaving for the castle. So he willed his blood back up to his brain and contented himself with keeping his hand on her thigh while she drove them there, using the car Willow had left for them at the hotel. And thank Christ for horrible weather and covered skies.

Once they arrived Buffy took the lead and it didn’t take her more than half a minute to go from embarrassed new girlfriend to chief authority of the place. The slayers hadn’t arrived yet since it would still be a few hours before the opening of the place, but the ever-present Tùrtik was there already, together with his more-than-unpleasant little brother. 

"For you, vampire," said unpleasant goblin told him gruffly, pushing a piece of paper in his hands. He raised his eyebrows at him, looking down at the paper. "Vamp girlie left it for you. If you ask me, we should've thrown it away, but no, Tùrtik's got to be the bigger person, he's too good not to do favours left and right, of course we'd pass it on…" 

The little bugger kept on muttering to himself and without sparing him another glance he turned and went inside the carnival, shaking his little green head and glaring at everything in his path. 

Spike blinked, confused for a second. Then he looked down and opened the folded piece of paper: inside there were a mobile number and a message written in round, clear letters. 

I've noticed you and your girlfriend are stuck like glue at the moment, so I'm just going to wait for the novelty to wear off and for you to call me. Please don't forget about me. 

Maria

He remembered that it was the name of the young girl-vampire who’d wanted his help to deal with her human friends and shook his head, surprised. He'd kinda forgotten about her those last few days and he'd expected her to write him a message anyway, but the girl clearly had more tact that he'd given her credit for. Good for her. She’s gonna need it, around humans.

“What was that about?”

Buffy came next to him, clearly having finished talking to Tùrtik, her relaxed stance a good sign that meant all was good with the carnival. He looked up at her from the paper, smiling at the way she stood close to him.

“Remember Maria, the vampire with human friends?” He waved the paper slip. “Left me her number. She’s clearly really serious on wanting my help.”

“Or really serious on stalking you for a date,” she muttered, crossing her arms and frowning at the paper slip. Spike felt himself grinning.

“Stop the jealous routine, pet, or I’ll have to give all new meanings to the concept of public indecencies.”

She scoffed but he could see the corners of her lips quirking.

“Well, are you gonna call her or not?”

He chuckled and stuck the paper in his pocket before putting his arm around her shoulders and tucking her close to him, kissing her temple sweetly.

“Am I going to call the vampire who’s trying her damnedest to live a peaceful life with her human friends and is reaching out to the one vamp in all the world who decided to go and get his soul, for love of a human?” He gave a sigh, walking towards the car and shaking his head in mock-thought. “Oh, I don’t know, not sure that’s the best course of action, pet…”

“Very funny,” she grumbled, but she was really making an effort to look grumpy so he chuckled and gave her temple another kiss before stopping her at the passenger door. “Hey, what do you think you’re doing? I’m driving girl, here!”

“Not to steal your crown or anything, pet,” he said in a low voice, crowding her against the car door and slipping his hand in her slacks’ front pockets. He couldn’t help licking his lips at her gasp when he stroked her thigh through the fabric. “Just don’t fancy getting myself killed in a car crash while you’re feeling all this blinding jealousy, is all…” he breathed, lips touching hers, and after a swift, searing kiss, he stepped back from her, triumphant grin on his face and keys dangling from his fingers.

She scoffed at him and he winked at her, nudging her to the side so he could open the door for her.

“M’lady.”

“M’jerky,” she muttered, entering the car and slamming the door behind her. He laughed, walked to the other side of the car and started it as soon as he got inside. She still had her arms crossed and an annoyed pout on her lips, so he couldn’t help but lean into her and kiss her breathless before putting the car into motion.

“Let’s go home, pet.”

He felt the usual flip-flop of his stomach when she couldn’t hold back her smile anymore and he smiled at the road ahead, which, as cheesy as it sounded even in his own head, had never looked so bright, Scottish clouds be damned.

 

***

 

By the time they reached the castle both of them had started to show signs of nervousness. Spike’s answers to her had gotten curter, just as Buffy’s reactions to his touches had become tenser. When he finally parked the car in the garage and they got out to get their luggage, they both slammed their doors shut with the same amount of needless, noisy force.

He looked at her from above the car and they both huffed a little laugh, embarrassed.

“We’re getting ridiculous, ain’t we?”

“Yeah,” she answered with a head shake, helping him get their luggage out. “Keeping control of a whole carnival of demons and humans? That’s all peachy with a side of keen. But facing my friends with my new relationship status? That’s what makes me all scaredy-cat-Buffy. Of course.” She let out a frustrated breath and he pushed her against one of the car doors as soon as the boot was closed.

“New relationship status, huh?”

She raised her eyebrows at him.

“Yeah, didn’t you get the memo? I’m a whole new girl.” He pressed against her, his hands on the car on either side of her, and she inhaled a bit hard.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I’m… I’m gay!” He blinked at that and she grinned, nodding. “Yep, totally gay. And I’m so worried about what my friends will say…”

“’Course you are, pet,” he said, biting his lower lip not to smile. “Awful, close-minded lot of friends you got there. Never stop judging you, will they?”

She laughed, the remaining tension melting inside him as she relaxed between his arms.

“Yeah, they’re the total worst. And the news will be so surprising to all of them…”

They both chuckled and he leaned closer, his lips a hairbreadth from hers.

“And who’s the lucky girl, Slayer?”

She blinked, her eyes fixed on his lips, and he licked them slowly. She made a little sound that made him consider fucking her right there and then.

“Satsu!” He blinked, leaning back to look at her in surprise. “Yeah, bet ya didn’t expect that, huh? We’re totally perfect for each other. She’s a girl, so she knows exactly how to touch me to drive me insane and… Spike? You know I’m joking, right?” He’d taken a step back, confused by the fact that she could speak like that of her friend, all things considered. “Spike? Isn’t this when you get all jealous and growly and sexy?”

He shook his head, threading a hand through his hair.

“You don’t know, do you?”

“Know what?” He looked at her pointedly and she gave a small gasp. “Wait, is Satsu really gay? I didn’t know, she never really talks about personal stuff! Well, I suppose she never talks about guys, that should’ve been a clue… but wait a second, how do you know?” She scrunched up her nose, adorably disgusted. “Oh, tell me you didn’t smell it on her, it’s so —”

“Buffy,” he interrupted her gently, one hand going to her elbow. “I just realised it because I noticed the way she looks at you.” At her mystified expression he sighed a bit. “She looks at you like… well, like I do.” A beat. “She’s in love with you, Buffy.”

Buffy gave a little laugh, then she must have registered his seriousness because she stopped and gaped at him.

“You’re kidding.”

“Nope. Figure it’s why she hates me, yeah?”

“Satsu doesn’t hate you!” He raised a brow. “Well, OK, maybe she doesn’t like you, but… oh.” She went to sit on the car truck, stunned. “Well. This is gonna be awkward, isn’t it?”

He smiled, reached her and couldn’t resist brushing some stray hair behind her ear.

“Least it takes your mind off the whole facing your friends with me thing, yeah?”

She looked down, abashed — but then her brows furrowed and she looked up at him with a resolved expression.

“We’re being dumb. Who cares what they think?”

He chuckled again and kissed her nose.

“You do. And… yeah, maybe a little bit, I do too.”

“Just a bit, huh, mister ‘I’m Xander Harris’s new best buddy’?”

“Oi! Take that back!”

“Call it as I see it, love,” she mocked him with a sweet smile — and then she flushed as soon as she realised exactly what pet name she’d used, rushing to talk again. “Anyway, you guys totally love each other, so he can’t throw stones.”

He decided to ignore the somersaults his stomach was so intent on doing, cleared his throat and shrugged.

“Not that he’d want to, anyway. He and the watcher were both asking me why I hadn’t asked you out, a while back…”

“Not you too! I got basically attacked with questions by Dawn and Willow!”

Spike shook his head and chuckled, feeling one last weight lift from his heart.

“Well, far as I’m concerned, if the Little Bit’s OK with it, I’m good.”

“Oh, I’m so glad her opinion’s the one that matters the most here.”

“Exactly. Glad we’re clear on the matter, Summers,” he chuckled, pressing against her again. She tried to lean back but then he was kissing her and she gave this little sound of pleasure that sent a thrill of desire all through his body, right down to his toes. They stayed there kissing languidly for longer than he’d have been able to tell. When he finally moved back both of them were panting lightly and her lips were wet and swollen, and he wished he could just teleport them both right to her bed.

“OK. OK. Going now,” she said with a breathy voice and a nod to herself. He kissed her cheek, her nose, her forehead. “Stop distracting me!”

He chuckled, feeling like he’d be on a constant state of drunkenness around her as long as this worked between them.

But then they did get their luggage and finally started for the castle. When she took his hand and kept holding it even while they entered the castle’s doors and hallways, he could feel her warmth reaching his chest in ways that had really nothing to do with thermodynamics.

When they entered the kitchen both of their holds on the other’s hand had gotten tight enough to make the average human wince.

“Oh, Dawnie, look, they’re here.”

“Guys! Finally!”

The young girl smiled broadly at them and quickly walked over, going to hug each of them tight.

“Well, it’s so lucky that Spike didn’t want to ask you out, Buffy. I mean, if anyone else had stayed with you in a hotel room for four days, I would’ve thought that maybe they had some kind of intentions… but no, not our resident vampire, here.”

“Xander!” Dawn’s voice was exasperated and Spike did his best not to look in Buffy’s direction. “That joke wasn’t funny the first time you said it, it definitely isn’t the tenth!”

“Well, it’s the first time they hear it!”

“Dawn is right, Xander, please do cease the sub-par humorous remarks.” Giles reached them too, a half-full glass of whiskey in his hand and a little smug smirk on his face. “I hope you found the room to your liking, you two. I’d ask about the city but frankly, I’m certain you didn’t see much of it,” he added with a roll of his eyes and a sip of his drink.

Spike’s brows rose as Buffy sputtered next to him.

“Giles, are you drunk?”

“Nah, he’s just sore that the brilliant idea of giving you guys the room for three more nights wasn’t his,” came Willow’s voice from his right. The witch quickly climbed down the stairs and went to hug them both, like Dawn. “Ignore the guys, they’re being poopheads. You had a good time?”

Spike risked a glance Buffy’s way and saw her looking at him too, cheeks bright pink.

“Really good time, Wills, thank you so much.”

“Yeah, Red. We owe you one.”

“Of course you don’t! I’m just happy you had a bit of a holiday.” Her eyes were warm and, even though she was less excited than she’d been four days before, Spike could still see some of her enthusiasm for the two of them. He still felt entirely too shocked to do anything about it but blink stupidly at her.

“I don’t suppose you’ll want to join us for a movie, this evening?”

He turned to look at Giles and forced himself to beat down his instinctive reaction to the man’s question. Wouldn’t do to tell his girlfriend’s surrogate father No, thanks, think I’d rather get right down to fucking your surrogate daughter in her bed and leave all this horrible awkward-fest behind, would it?

“Uhh…”

“I’m actually a bit too beat, guys,” said Buffy in an overly honest-sounding voice. Spike bit his lip to avoid a smug smirk. “Yeah,” she added with an obviously fake yawn, “I think I’m just gonna go upstairs and, uhm, relax. We did a lot of walking through Edinburgh, didn’t get too much sleep.”

Spike held in his snort, even though Harris didn’t. He turned to glare at him but the boy just grinned at him.

“I’m sure you didn’t,” came Giles’s patient voice, with a barely hidden little eye roll. “Well, I wish you plenty of rest, my dear. What about you, Spike?”

“I, uh, I’m pretty beat too.”

“Bet you are,” he heard Dawn murmur through a smirk and he cleared his throat.

“Come on, guys, stop being jerks and let them go and rest!”

Giles just shook his head with a mildly disapproving expression and waved them goodbye, turning to go towards the hall that led to the room with the biggest screen in the castle, the one everyone used as an in-house cinema. Xander chuckled, patted Spike’s shoulder in a gesture that left the vampire both warmed and incredibly uncomfortable, and followed the other man. Willow followed them too after a little wave and a big smile, but Dawn stayed there.

“Guys, I just wanted to say —”

She got interrupted by a group of slayers loudly coming down the stairs — first of whom was Satsu. She stopped at the feet of the stairs for half a second, her eyes on Buffy’s, then she lowered her gaze and continued walking towards the door that led to the courtyard.

“Good to see you, ma’am.”

“Hi, ma’am!” Chorused the other slayers, seemingly oblivious to the tension.

“Hi, girls… Satsu.”

Oh, his girl’s voice was tiny. He stomped down the urge to hold her hand in support — all in all it would’ve been counterproductive, given the situation.

Satsu gave her a little sad smile as an answer before walking to the courtyard, her back a bit more tense than usual. As for the other girls, they kept sending him and Buffy glances that were anything but subtle, and he fervently hoped the whole army of girls would stop gossiping about them and do it bloody quickly too.

“Poor Satsu…”

“Wait,” Buffy said with an incredulous look to her sister, “did you know about Satsu liking… me… too?”

Dawn just raised a brow at her and shook her head slightly.

“Sometimes I really don’t know how you can stay oblivious to certain things, big sis.” She sent Spike a pointed look and he suddenly found himself interested in the ceiling’s wooden beams. Buffy scoffed but Dawn just smirked and shrugged before giving them a warm smile. “As I was saying, I just wanted to say that I’m so happy for you two. And that I support you and whatever you decide.” She looked genuinely happy and Spike felt the urgent need to hold his Little Bit close and tight. “Well! Now go and use Buffy’s stupidly big tub as it’s supposed to be used!”

Buffy gasped and Spike barked out an incredulous laugh.

“Dawnie!”

“Spike,” his Little Bit whined with the mother of all eye rolls, “please tell your girlfriend that I’m eighteen now, and know what sex is?”

Buffy sputtered next to him and he covered his eyes with a hand, laughing again.

“Nibblet, you’re killing me here, come on!”

He looked at her again in time to see a triumphant grin on her mischievous face, then she shrugged again.

“Well, anyway, even if you won’t use a perfectly adequate tub for hot, sexy times —”

Dawnie!” Any more and Buffy’s voice would reach out-of-human-range pitches.

“I hope you guys have a good time.” 

Dawn hugged them both, this time together, and then scurried off before her older sister could try some good ol’ fashioned physical punishment to put her in her place.

“I — I can’t believe she’d —”

“Oh, come on, pet, she’s eighteen…”

“No! My little sister knows nothing about sex, and that’s final!”

He couldn’t help a chuckle while he adjusted his bag on his shoulder and wrapped his other arm around her shoulders.

“All right, all right. So… your tub really that big?”

Her blush seemed to become more eager than embarrassed and he grinned at her widely.

“So… you still wanna spend some time with me, after four whole days plus four nights at the carnival?”

“Well,” he said with a bit of a sigh. “I was looking forward to some alone time in my bed, but if you really feel like it, I guess…”

She scoffed and he laughed and nuzzled her temple, inhaling her sweet scent.

“Next time I’m the one coming to your bedroom, though.”

“Oh, you'll be coming all right, baby,” he whispered in her ear, his insides firing up at her little squirm and harsh inhalation. “Again, and again, and again…”

“OK,” she said breathlessly. “Race you to my room!”

She slipped from under his arm and rushed forward, her ponytail swinging behind her. Laughing for what felt like the millionth time that day he gave chase, his heart doing all kinds of gymnastics at the feeling of finally being home.

Chapter Text

Early March 2005

 

The rest of the Carnival had gone off without a hitch — if you didn’t consider a small armed insurgence by a bunch of idiots on the last day a hitch. Yeah, they’d wounded a few of the patrons and caused a right mess — but the slayers had been quick in their job and killed them all off before they could do any real damage, Buffy first of all, quick and savage and fucking perfect as always. He had a right mind to drag her to a corner, any corner, and shag her senseless against a wall after that: her fury made him hard and the way she ordered the bystanders to keep clear of the battle even harder. Somehow he did contain himself though, helping the witches patch up all the wounded instead and letting his lady take control of the situation.

(Later he let her take control of him, since she more than deserved some stress-relief after that… and what a night it was.)

Still, nobody could really count that little skirmish as too much of a loss. He had to give it to the demons organising the carnival: as soon as the tension broke, every single demon working in the carnival that was around immediately stopped all patrons, both human and demon, from taking part in the battle, effectively stopping it from escalating. He had to admit that he took a smidgeon of pride in his fellow demons at that, and at how fiercely they wanted to protect their struggles for peace.

All in all, Slayer Central buzzed with the cheer of festivities the whole day after the end of the carnival, the castle open to all of the funfair’s demons who wanted to join the celebrations. It was hilarious to see how uncomfortable many of the slayers and demons themselves had been at staying in such close quarters. That was, until Spike and Buffy proposed a tournament in the big courtyard to loosen everyone up, which worked just splendidly, if he did say so himself. 

Not that he managed to catch much of it — somehow, he and his lady found themselves otherwise occupied in a dark corner, getting increasingly distracted, until they were interrupted by a very outraged, very flustered and closed-eyed Dawn that practically screeched at them to “just use your damn rooms already” instead of scandalising her “poor, sisterly eyes”. He’d long gotten past his little embarrassed phase and had been busy gloating about his and Buffy’s relationship for the past two weeks, but that little stunt put him back in his place. For some unfathomable reason, the idea of Dawn in particular catching him with his hand down Buffy’s trousers was too much even for him.

Not that he’d gone soft, or anything. He just had standards, and she was his Nibblet, and it was just weird and he’d stand by it, damn it.

As for Buffy, she’d been too mortified to touch him in public again — for all of twenty-four hours, that is, which was way too long for his taste. After that, they’d settled on a tamer ‘PDA policy’, as she insisted on calling it, but he couldn’t complain. Getting to snuggle with her on the couch on movie night, or hold her hand while eating, or give her the occasional kiss or grope while they sparred? Bloody heaven, it was.

And now, they were on one of their couple-missions, as Dawn was so fond of calling them, off to a little Scottish town where they’d found the nest of nasty demons they’d just crushed. After which she’d taken his phone, dialled Beck’s number, and unceremoniously thrust it in his hand with a very clear order of: ‘Call her and tell her that you’re staying for good — and why.’

His lady knew how to order him around, that was damn right...

“No, you tell him. … No, I said you! Come on, Beck, you’re the lady here, you’re best suited for this. … Yeah, ’course I’m just trying to flatter you into doing it. Is it working yet? … OK, OK. Thanks, pet. I owe you one. … Har, bloody har, pet. You’re a bloody riot. … Yeah, you too, Beck.”

Spike closed the call with a smile on his face and he felt Buffy walking closer to him, the scent of the blood of her latest, too-puny enemy strong on her.

“So, you finally managed to tell her you’re sticking around? That’s fantastic. Admirable, even. I’m in awe of your strength of character, sweetie.”

By then she’d fixed her Scythe back to the harness she carried on her back and her arms had slid up to circle his neck.

“Very funny, pet. You know how Peaches is — didn’t feel like breaking his heart by letting him know that I’m staying here for good.”

She scrunched her nose and he held her tightly to him. His irresistible, tiny, powerful woman.

“All things considered, I’m pretty sure Angel isn’t so distraught about you staying here.” He looked at her skeptically. “Well, yeah, so maybe the reason you’re staying won’t be his favourite in the world… and I'll have to call him soon, if Beck does let him know, sounds like the decent thing to do… but I think he’s enough of a grown up to deal with it.”

“See, love, that’s your problem right there. You give people entirely too much credit.”

She laughed and then kissed sweetly his lips, his jaw, his neck. He sighed in her hair. 

“More to the point, honey… is this Beck of yours as in love with you as I think she is?”

He breathed out a chuckle but she looked at him with knowing eyes and he looked to the side.

“She’s jus’... infatuated, is all.” He shrugged a bit, trying to hide his discomfort. “We’re friends, and I care about her.”

She nodded, a faint smile on her lips.

“That why it took you more than two months and my direct order to tell her about us, and that you were really very sure you’d be staying here?”

He looked down but she stroked along his jaw until she raised his head by his chin. Her eyes were kind and he swallowed.

“Don’ really like hurting her, is all. She’s had more than enough pain in her life and she doesn’t have many friends.” 

“Why do your friends always have to crush on you so hard, is what I wonder.”

He smirked at her eye roll and raised his brow in a teasing look.

“Don’t know what you’re talking about, pet.”

“You do, too. With you it’s all ‘Oh, it’s just Maria calling me for the tenth time today, pet, don’ worry about it,’ and ‘Oh, Maria’s having difficulties these days, luv, cut her some slack,’ and ‘Ah, Beck, that girl sure knows how to fire a guy up!’”

He couldn’t take it anymore and burst out laughing in her face, her brows furrowing in mock annoyance. He squeezed her to him instead of letting her go, going to laugh in the nape of her neck.

“Stop laughing at me! It’s true!”

“You’re a bloody riot,” he wheezed against her skin, her squirming making him hold her tighter still. He sighed against her, his smile widening when she relaxed in his arms and tilted her head to give him more access to her delectable neck. “And you, love,” he murmured between kisses that went up to her jaw, “are the only one who fires me up,” he ended with his lips on her ear. Her shiver made him feel all kinds of almighty.

“Sometimes, with the way you talk about her… a girl can get jealous.”

He could hear the perfect tease in her voice, so he kept smiling and kissing her skin until his lips were a hairsbreadth from hers, his hands cradling her beautiful, smiling face.

“Friends. Even good friends, pet. But can’t hold a candle to my love.” He ended in a whisper, looking at her eyes sparkle until she pressed her lips to his in a sweet, sweet kiss.

They sighed in each other’s mouths, happy and content and, Spike was getting surer by the day, both stupidly in love with each other.

Her smile slowly turned wistful and she moved one of her hands from his chest to cup his face.

“You know I’m joking, Spike. And I’m sorry you have so many friends so far from you.”

He shrugged, losing most of his smile and looking to the side. 

“Way of the world, pet. But yeah, that’s why I didn’t fancy telling Beck sooner… not particularly happy about making a friend feel left behind.”

Buffy was silent for a while until he looked back up at her and saw that her eyes were a little sad.

“Do you ever… regret —”

“No, pet. You know I don’t. I love you, and yeah, I care about your band of uncultured little friends too…”

“Just because we don’t share your love for soap opera TV doesn’t mean we’re uncultured.”

“That’s exactly what it means, love,” he said with a little smirk, kissing her nose. Then he smiled at her, a little sadly. “I’m sorry to be so far from some of my friends. But it’s worth it, it’s so worth it it doesn’t even matter.”

“Except that it does,” she said with a sad smile of her own. She sighed and then perked up, pressing herself to him in an entirely too-delightful way. “Well, I guess I’ll need to go check on the slayers in LA soon. The poor girls went through such a horrible time, after all… only right that they’d deserve a visit from me to check in on them. And I might be convinced to bring you along, if you behave.”

“Oh, I don’t know, those slayers suffered enough already without one of your dreadful speeches on top of it…”

Buffy gasped and slapped him on the chest, squirming to get away from his arms, but he only laughed and held her tighter, raining kisses on her face until she stood still enough for him to kiss her lips, smiling throughout it all. 

They kept on kissing, smiling against each other’s lips, until they both sighed and leaned back, their eyes warm and happy. Spike could almost hear her say the words, the magic words he’d been waiting to hear for a while now. He could feel it in the way she looked at him, the way she made love to him and even the way she fought with him, in the way she gave him her best and expected him to do the same. He could feel her love more and more every day, and he couldn’t wait for her to be ready to say it out loud.

For now, she just shook her head a little bit and looked at him with a smile.

“I love the way you care about your friends, Spike. But you should really have learned that keeping secrets from the ones you care about isn’t exactly respectful.”

Her voice was soft and kind but God if the words didn’t punch him in the guts. He closed his eyes and hid his face in her neck.

“You’re right, pet,” he mumbled against her skin.

“Of course I am,” Buff said perkily, petting his head, and he chuckled and then raised his head again. Her eyes were glittering with mirth as her thumb traced his jaw and then his lips. She looked so happy… “Spike, I have something to tell you.”

“Yeah?” She nodded, a little shy, and he felt his whole body thrum with energy, his whole face smiling widely. “What is it, pet? I don’t have something in my teeth, do I?”

“Spike!” They both laughed and he kissed her and kissed her through their smiles, leaving her flushed and breathless when he leaned back. He felt his chest almost bursting, his heart wanted to beat so hard. “Spike. Spike,” she repeated with a happy smile, “I love you.”

The words wouldn’t have meant the same, wouldn’t have had the same effect, without the certainty of her feelings for him that had grown inside him through the last two months. But as it was, it felt like the final opening of the final door, and he felt like now he really was utterly welcome in the home he always wanted to belong to.

“I love you too, Buffy.”

Her smile was dazzling and he could only kiss her, deeply and with all the passion he could muster. His hands slid up to her face just as her arms crossed behind his neck, both of them pressing their bodies closer and closer.

“I love you so much,” she murmured against his lips, never stopping their kiss, and he laughed from the joy of it, until she was laughing too and they stopped kissing, just holding each other tightly.

He was the happiest vamp in the world — the happiest man in the world. And he knew that his woman was the happiest in the world too, and nothing else could fill him with more joy than that.