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Southern Comfort

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Once asleep, there was very little in the world that could stir Spike to consciousness. A side-effect of having too much energy throughout the day—or night, as the case may be—perhaps, but a fairly predictable trait to anyone who knew him well. Periods between sleep were filled with violence, destruction, and shagging—it only followed through that once he crashed he crashed entirely.

Therefore, he found it rather surprising when a telling twinge of the Slayer's bedsprings had him instantly alert. The girl was awake. Though he kept his eyes shut, he knew from the way her heart began pounding as her mind likely took her through yesterday’s greatest hits, including her new roommate. Then he felt her move nearer, looking over the bed to ensure he was still resting on the floor where she'd left him.

Spike smothered a grin, knowing she'd anticipated awaking with either two puncture wounds in her throat or a vampire cuddled up behind her. Both ideas were intoxicating, but the greater pleasure was in the wait. The suspense. The hunt.

Buffy would be his. This was now a certainty, upgraded from the realm of fantasy to a place where dreams became tangible. Buffy would be his…if only for a little while. If only until the spell around their extremely special circumstances shattered and shoved them back into the reality they were both desperate to escape. Before they parted ways, he would know how her pussy tasted. He would know just how snugly she fit his cock. He would know the delicious little sounds she made—whether or not she was a screamer. He would know her.

Yesterday, that would have satisfied him. Today he feared it wouldn’t be enough.

Spike had never been one for flings. Sure, after Dru dumped his arse he’d taken his revenge by fucking the brains out of several extremely willing women, but it hadn’t made him feel any better. Rather the opposite—every time he walked away from a passionless encounter, whatever life usually thrived in his dead veins had completely drained. He wasn’t the sort of vampire—the sort of man—who thrived on sex for the sake of sex alone. Yeah, he’d keep a steady thing around if it fell in his lap, but taking pleasure in pleasure was only half the fun. It was always better if there was a connection.

Dru had never cherished him. She’d been grateful and affectionate, playful and wicked, but never lost for himAnd though he’d longed for something else, it had, in his mind, been enough.

It wasn’t now. He wanted more.

He needed more. Which was why a fling with the Slayer would only somewhat satisfy him. The need for connection was stronger than he’d anticipated; Dru had seen it, of course, and he knew what she’d call it. But it seemed too ridiculous, too impossible, too impulsive, to give his feelings for Buffy any such declaration.

But then, Buffy had been with him for nearly two years now. She’d been with him ever since he saw her dancing in the club; saw the gritty look of determination on her beautiful, haunted face. Ever since he’d witnessed her sacrifice everything for a world that could not love her back.

Yes. God, he did love her. He loved her in a way he’d never loved any woman. Not Cecily. Not Drusilla. No one. Not as an ideal. Not as something he wished to see but could never fully translate. He loved her with his entire self, even the small part of him that had always been reserved, untouched, unwanted by Drusilla—and the small part combined with his whole cast a supernova of understanding over his shaken reality.

He loved her as an equal.

Dru had been right. Christ, she always was, but this was something different. The vision she’d had of the forked path and Spike’s chosen walkway—it had been more than foreseeing the future—she had likewise betrayed the past.

Perhaps this was where he’d been destined to come all along. Dragged across time by a woman who wouldn’t fully love him. Kicked in the head and shot in the heart over and over so he’d know salvation when he saw it. So he’d become enraptured the second he saw her dancing. So he would know, even without recognizing the power of such knowledge, how she would change his entire existence.

Buffy.

It was wrong. Vampires and slayers walked a thin, fine line, and fuck knew he’d always been obsessed with them. But perhaps there was an explanation for that, as well. If this was for what he was truly meant.

There was a broken beauty in the wrongness of their relationship. One he hadn’t realized until now.

Strange revelations to have while sleeping on the Slayer’s rented floor, but that didn’t make them any less true. And he knew he’d have her. He’d have the pleasure of her body. He’d know the taste of her blood.

Yesterday it would have been enough, but yesterday he hadn’t known he loved her.

Today he did.

And while shagging Buffy would unmake his world, it wouldn’t satisfy him.

He wanted forever.

Another telling whine of the bedsprings silenced his thoughts completely. The soft pads of her feet brushed the rustic stone floor as she leaned over him, her delicate scent overwhelming his senses. How a woman so strong could smell so sweet, he didn’t know, but he wanted to fill his lungs with it.

“Spike?”

He didn’t move. He wanted to see how she’d act if she thought him asleep.

Her hand brushed his shoulder. “Spike?” she whispered again, squeezing him softly. When he failed to stir again, she sighed and drew back. “Oh boy. I so am not looking forward to explaining you to Jerome.”

Jerome?

Who the bugger was Jerome?

“All right. I’m—ummm…going to shower.” Buffy took another step back. “I don’t know why I’m talking to Mr. Living Dead Guy, but I am.” A pause. “And, on the off chance that you can hear me, if you do anything evil while I’m showering, it’s the dust-buster for you.”

Spike killed a grin. She was too damn cute for her own good. Not that the idea of peeping at her naked glory wasn’t tempting—fuck, it was too tempting for words. The visual alone had his cock twitching. And though it went against his nature, he would respect her privacy. For now.

Tomorrow might be a whole new ballgame.

His conviction to remain a gentleman didn’t make the shower any more endurable. The entire time the water ran, images of naked Buffy assaulted his sex-starved mind. Buffy dripping. Buffy soaping. Buffy’s beautiful breasts flecked with drops of water. Buffy’s bare quim aching to be touched. Her soft skin. Her firm body. Her legs wrapped around his waist as he fingered her clit and readied her, pressed her against the wall and pried her vaginal lips apart with his cock.

Fuck, his imagination really hated him.  

A roll of steam announced her return to the main room, soft, cautious steps crossing the floor. When he stole a peek, he saw she was again wearing the over-sized T-shirt in which she’d greeted him the night before, only this time lacking a panty-line whenever the smooth cotton pressed against her bare thigh.

He swallowed. Hard.

Bloody hard, that’s right.

Her hair was wrapped in a towel by means he was certain only women knew how to perform. She hesitated, turned her head in his direction, but ultimately decided to leave him alone and took a seat instead upon the mattress, her back to him.

God, he was so aware of her. Every hot little breath she took echoed in his lungs.

“Okay,” he heard her say. “Okay. Better get this out of the way now.”

What?

A second lapsed before he had an answer. Buffy picked up the telephone and began to dial.

“Giles?” A pause. Some groggy mumbling and a few could-be words reached his ears, but nothing more. “Yes, I’m aware that you’re two hours behind me. Well, sorry for interrupting Watcher Beauty Rest, but I’m not sure when I’ll be near a phone again today, and I wanted to play catch-up. You know—on the demon I’m hunting for you?”

The line fell silent. “Yeah,” Buffy continued smugly. “That’s what I thought. I do have some stuff to tell you. I’ve seen the Reaper… He does nothing for me, I promise, but I’ve also seen him in action and we’ve scored correctly on the pop-quiz thus far. The demons and whatnot he’s taking are definitely not of the willing. No, Giles, I saw it happen. Massively creepy, like full loss of bodily control. We’re talking definite tractor-beam here.”

Spike couldn’t remain silent any longer. And all things considered, he felt he’d shown remarkable patience thus far. He popped his head over the mattress. “Thankfully,” he said loudly, “the Slayer has a trick or two up her sleeve to keep poor defenseless beasties from being dragged off against their will.”

Buffy whipped around so fast her towel-turban collapsed. “Shut up!” she hissed.

“What? Embarrassed to be heard with me?”

Unsurprisingly, the watcher went from groggy to alert in a flash. “Is that Spike?” he squawked loud enough for the whole bloody inn to hear. “What the devil is Spike doing in your room?”

“The girl’s slipping,” Spike said, unable to help himself. “Letting a vamp crash in her quarters? I think you’ve been too soft on her, Rupert.”

Buffy glared daggers. “He’s helping me,” she said into the phone, her voice shaking with anger. “I ran into him a couple of nights ago and we’re…working together.”

“Buffy, need I remind you that this is Spike we’re talking about?”

“Don’t think so,” Spike replied. “Seeing as I’m right here and her eyes are connected to her head.”

“Good Lord. I’m flying down there immediately.”

Buffy flew to her feet, stricken. “No!” she screamed. Then, wincing as the effect of her exclamation bounced off the walls, continued softer, “No. No, I have it under control. Spike’s not doing… Well, he’s helping me. Yes, Giles, helping me. We trailed the Reaper last night and everything went…no, I have not lost my mind! Look, if Spike so much as glances at my neck, he’s toast. Or, more appropriately, dust. But for now, he’s helping.” A pause. The watcher’s voice had dwindled in volume once again, though Spike could still hear his erratic flapping even if the words weren’t decipherable.

“Giles, I’m hanging up the phone. No, he slept on the floor, not in my bed. God, perv much?” Buffy sighed, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. “Yes, of course I’ll be careful. Stake under my pillow, looks at me crossways and he’s gone, yadda yadda yadda. Bye, Giles. Bye. Bye.”

It was amazing the phone didn’t shatter under the force of her slam.

“What the hell were you thinking?” Buffy snapped.

God, she looked amazing. Wet hair. Brilliantly angry eyes. Cheeks red with fury. Chest heaving.

Goddess.

Spike waved a hand. “Evil, pet, remember? Like to stir up trouble wherever trouble can be stirred.”

“He’s going to pull a massive wig and rush down here and then…” She glanced away quickly, like she was embarrassed, and in doing so confirmed what he’d known since last night.

Buffy might be alone, but she wasn’t lonely. Not anymore.

And she didn’t want anyone to interrupt them. She knew, even if she didn’t confess it to herself, where their relationship was going. She knew the floor wouldn’t be his bed too much longer, because she wanted him under the covers. It was why she stood before him in nothing but a T-shirt and no knickers. Why she didn’t bother throwing an arm across her chest, where her nipples saluted him through the thin cotton.

She knew he’d see it all soon—taste it all soon. She knew this as sure as he did.

The only question remaining was simple: what did it mean to her? What, if anything, did she want? Certainly not another relationship, seeing as she and Angel the Wonder Wanker had just parted ways, and there was little chance she’d ever give thought to another vampire—especially Spike—in the long-term sense.

But maybe she would. Just maybe. They were so alike. So desperate for affection. So wanting of love. Of the sort of love that didn’t disappoint. That didn’t run off in a blink. The sort of love that lasted.

Buffy had thought she’d had it. He had, too. But they hadn’t.

Not with Dru. Not with Angel. Those two were meant for something else—they’d served their purpose.

Buffy was meant for Spike. Even if she didn’t know it, even if she never acknowledged it, it was something he knew with absolute certainty. Creatures such as they were meant for passion, meant to be molded with love, and meant to love with every aching fiber.

There was no telling if Buffy would ever realize it. 

*~*~*

Though Buffy didn’t feel any more comfortable about speaking with strangers than she had yesterday, she felt she owed it to herself as well as Jerome to give it a shot. Furthermore, she could use the time away from Spike; it was more than obvious the blond pest wasn’t going to let her out of his damnably sexy sight anytime soon.

She’d never had so much trouble falling asleep in her life. It wasn’t like she hadn’t before let a vampire sleep on the floor beside her bed, but the past incidents with her first love couldn’t hold a candle to last night. Not when she possessed the mind of a woman rather than an idealistic teenager. There was nothing fairytale about Spike and therein lay the appeal. He was real in ways Angel had never been. Her love-struck eyes had believed Angel devoid of fault, and because of her naïveté, she’d been slammed with heartache beyond measure.

Spike was all flaw and beauty. She saw him in ways she’d never before imagined.

Whatever resistance she had left in her was quickly melting into nothing. The way his mouth had worshipped hers left little to the imagination as to how well he’d worship the rest of her. And the way he looked at her last night…there was something beyond lust. Something beyond the way he undressed her with his eyes. Something she never thought she’d see in another man.

Something she never thought she’d crave.

Her mind was too jumbled, her thoughts too tantalizing to be left alone. If silence cushioned her imagination, the images plaguing her would only become more graphic. Better to attempt socializing.

Besides, she was famished. And with Spike in town—in her room—there was little need to remain under the radar. Plus the Reaper had definitely received the memo regarding her presence, so it no longer mattered whether or not all of Natchez knew the Slayer was in town.

The breakfasty smells that greeted her upon sneaking through the back entrance rivaled the previous day’s in terms of mouth-watering deliciousness. It was a few minutes past eight-thirty, thus the meal had already commenced. And though she felt more than a little awkward traipsing in, especially after her quick escape the day before, her growling stomach accepted no excuse.

The crowd around the formal, exquisite dining room table had expanded overnight. Edith and her elderly friend, Olivia, were still present, this time accompanied by a relatively attractive middle-aged man and a friendly-looking blonde. Jerome sat at the head of the table a couple of seats down. There were two unclaimed plates along the wall.

Jerome glanced up in surprise. “Anne! Good morning.”

“Hello there!” Edith added brightly. “We didn’t know whether or not to expect you today.”

Buffy offered a small, shy smile and nodded. “Yeah, ummm…well, yesterday was a…little weird for me. I’ve never traveled…you know, far from home before without a parent or legal guardian nearby. Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry!” Jerome leaped to his feet to pull out the chair beside him, which she took gratefully. “Our other guests, George and Bertha, haven’t joined us yet either. Please, have a seat. We have French-toast soufflé, eggs, sausage, and fresh fruit.” He indicated the buffet along the wall. “Grab a plate and make yourself at home.”

“We were just discussing which houses to tour,” Edith said helpfully. “This is my son, Joshua’s, first vacation in…well, goodness…”

The blonde next to the middle-aged man offered an answer, though the mouthful of French-toast soufflé translated her response to, “Tphsch yearsh.”

Joshua pouted. “That is a gross exaggeration.”

“The California trip doesn’t count,” the blonde countered, swirling another bite of French-toast in a pool of syrup. Then she met Buffy’s eyes. “Not to be blatantly forward, but you might want to get some of this before I clean it out.”

“Noted,” Buffy replied, rising to her feet and seizing her plate. The march to the buffet was brief but awkward; she felt thoroughly on display. It didn’t help that her stomach was growling loud enough to be mistaken for a small lion. However, conversation resumed within easy seconds and quickly took off without her—which was fine from where she sat. Nice people these might be, she was here for the food.

Every few seconds her mind drifted back to the vampire she’d left in her room. The vampire who had leaped into the shower the second she’d announced she was going to investigate the breakfast table. The vampire who was probably naked at this very moment. Naked with water streaking his sculpted, lean, muscular body. Naked with his long, perfect fingers running along the length of his cock. Would he imagine her as he touched himself? Would her name be the one—

“Anne?”

Buffy whirled around quickly. Everyone was staring at her.

“I—umm…” She blushed and gestured to the sausage. “Just debating if my figure can handle the…ummm…calories. Sorry.” Hurriedly scooping eggs and soufflé onto her plate, she made a beeline for her seat and quietly resolved to keep her mouth shut until she was on the safe side of her bedroom door.

Of course, once she sent that thought into the cosmos, the cosmos had to strike back, for the next instant, the floor began to tremble with rolls of thunder. Thunder in the form of heavy-booted stomps and the crash of the front door, trailed by the hiss of sizzling vamp-skin and a colorful tapestry of British curses.

Buffy’s eyes fell shut as her stomach sank. Great.

Just great.

“What the hell?” Jerome demanded, leaping up only to be forcibly shoved back into his seat. No way was she going to let her host encounter a vampire inches away from bursting into flames.

“That’s…umm…did I mention I…” Buffy trailed off awkwardly, deciding the better route was to intercept the party-crasher before he could waltz inside. This conclusion, however, was reached a beat too late; slayer-speed had nothing on an egocentric vampire. Before her feet could cross the dining room threshold, a blanket-covered Spike shadowed the doorway, sporting a cocky grin.

“Mornin’, love,” he purred, then directed his attention to the roomful of gawking observes. “Mornin’ all.”

“Spike!” Buffy hissed through her teeth. “What the hell are you doing?”

He shrugged and tossed the blanket to the floor. “Tummy was makin’ all sorts of rumblies, and you said the bloke could cook.”

The bloke in question was suddenly at her back. “And who is this?” Jerome asked with strained politeness.

Damn ground. It never opened up to swallow someone on cue. Buffy fought off a groan, forced a smile to stretch her lips, and turned. “This is…umm…William.”

“William,” Jerome repeated, unimpressed.

“William?” Spike echoed in disgust.

“William.” Buffy nodded. “I…uhhh…ran into him. We’re old…friends. I had no idea he was in Natchez, but…he is and we…uhhh…reconnected.”

At that flimsy excuse, Edith’s son snickered. Loudly.

Jerome looked as though he’d barely heard her. His eyes were instead locked on the rumpled blanket. “Is that Jenny’s comforter?”

Spike perked a brow. “Jenny?”

“She owns the Birch House,” Buffy explained hotly.

“Thought we were at some dive called Maplewood.”

“We—I are. Or am. Jenny lets Jerome rent out a room at her house for his B&B.”

“Though perhaps not anymore,” Jerome said, glowering at Spike. “Anne, I understand you…meeting old friends, but—”

“He has a skin condition,” Buffy interjected quickly, threading her fingers through the vampire’s. As though touching the skin in question would lend her story credence. “He can’t…be in the sun. Or let it touch him. Or even look at it.”

“Well,” Spike began, but he was cut off by an angry glare before he could contradict her. “Right.”

A throat cleared from the table. “So he runs around outside under blankets?” Joshua asked.

Olivia, Edith’s bad-tempered traveling companion, muttered something which, while not decipherable, didn’t sound particularly flattering.

“Well,” Jerome continued, his eyes clearly telling her he’d like nothing more than to throw them both to the curb. “Just…in the future, if you run into…old friends…please let me know before you decide to invite them over.” The courtesy and helpfulness he’d exhibited the previous day had vanished. Not that she could blame him.

“I don’t plan on running into—”

“It’s her room, innit?” Spike demanded, very much uncaring whether or not anyone ever talked to her again. He tossed an arm across her shoulder and steered her possessively into his side. “She’s the one fronting the cash, mate.”

Jerome’s nostrils flared. “I don’t appreciate—”

“Sp—William.” Buffy patted Spike’s chest with a loud, artificial laugh. “It’s still Jerome’s house, and we’re his guests. Or I’m his guest.” She met her host’s eyes and pulled her best wounded puppy look out of storage. It was something she hadn’t had to utilize in a while, as Giles hadn’t given her grounds. She just hoped it worked as well on fussy gay men as it did on bumbling watcher-librarians. “I’m sorry, Jerome. Really. William just…it was late last night when we…and I didn’t think.”

A long beat passed. Buffy couldn’t remember the last time she’d ever been waterlogged in shame—probably during the whole Angel’s-back-from-Hell-and-I’m-hiding-him fiasco—but that was different. That was family. And while logically it always hurt more upsetting loved ones rather than acquaintances, she also took solace that said loved ones would continue loving her. Would eventually forgive her. Jerome could well spend the rest of his life hating her without giving the matter any further consideration.

The idea bothered her more than it probably should.

“Okay,” Jerome conceded. He was noticeably unhappy but seemingly willing to accommodate. “I’ll go get another plate.”

“No need,” Spike replied, bored, moving toward the unclaimed seat on Buffy’s other side. “Looks like this one’s free.”

“That’s for George and Bertha,” Jerome said heatedly.

 “Say that like I care, mate.”

Another inward groan. Clearly, her vampire didn’t intend to make things easy. Though perhaps, after the phone conversation with Giles, she should have expected as much. It surprised her when Jerome didn’t say anything—rather aimed another glare at Spike’s uncaring face. The whole table sat silent as he picked up a plate and wandered to the breakfast line-up.

“Smells good enough,” Spike granted as he built a mountain of eggs, surrounded by sausage and topped with three pieces of the French-toast soufflé. The ground still refused to swallow her—not even when the vampire plopped beside her and proceeded to dump half the contents of his plate onto hers.

“What?”

“Not enough meat on your bones, love,” he explained before reaching for the syrup. “Eat up.”

“I’ve already—”

“Yeah, and I can still hear your stomach growlin’.”

Everyone was staring at her. At them. Buffy decided not to argue, but she did send Spike a furious enough glance that he would know, in no uncertain terms, how much trouble he’d be in once they were alone. And damn all if the irritating twerp didn’t have the audacity to grin and wink at her. He knew exactly what he was doing. He knew it, and he was having the time of his unlife.

This was so not the time to feel a tingle of arousal, but she did.

Oh god, she did.

Spike’s grin broadened as though sensing it. Without warning, she felt thoroughly naked.

Another throat cleared, this time Edith’s. Buffy guiltily tore her eyes away and glanced up, but the woman was studying the vampire with the look of one determined to salvage what had been, until Spike’s destructive appearance, a pleasant morning. “So,” Edith said with false interest, “where do you know Anne from?”

Spike stuffed a handful of sausage into his mouth. “Who?”

“That would be me,” Buffy muttered.

“You’re Anne?” He blinked at her. “When’d that happen?”

“You’re rooming with a guy who doesn’t know your name?” Joshua demanded. He might be the only person in possession of a pulse who was enjoying his morning. “Well…that’s…special.”

Spike’s grin turned predatory. “I spent the night calling her somethin’ else, if you catch my meaning, mate.”

And that was it. The proverbial it. The final straw. Buffy didn’t even realize she’d been operating on such a short fuse until she kicked herself away from the table. “Would you come with me, please?” she demanded, seizing Spike by the ear before he could object. She didn’t release him until they were precariously near the back door.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” she demanded, her voice set in a furious stage whisper. “Are you trying to get me kicked out?”

“Don’t see what the problem is, kitten,” Spike replied innocently. “Can’t a man enjoy a meal in peace?”

“I don’t know. Does that man want to be around to enjoy his next?”

“Why, Slayer, didn’t know you were offering.”

“Does it matter to you that I like these people?” Buffy snapped. “That up until twenty minutes ago, they liked me, too? You dragged Jerome’s comforter—”

“Jenny’s comforter,” he corrected.

“Whatever.”

“Sorry,” Spike replied dryly. “Next time I’ll go up in flames. Just for you, sweetheart.”

“I don’t understand why you had to come up here at all.

He shrugged. “I was hungry. Didn’t drink a drop yesterday and solids help the cravings. I reckoned you wouldn’t want me biting your new chums.”

The admission had her anger deflating much quicker than she would have liked. An unanswered question was suddenly satisfied—a question she hadn’t had the courage to ask for fear of the answer. Spike lacked a soul to hold him back from hurting those around him, and inviting him into her life invited the people around her to his fangs. She’d wondered how many people he’d drained since coming to town, and how many more would be put in danger because of her. Only now he was telling her his presence in the dining room was a means to keep his craving for blood from overcoming him…and though it might be a line to pacify her—though it probably was—it did its job.

“Okay,” Buffy said, calmer now. “Okay. But that still doesn’t explain why you were such an ass.”

Spike shrugged again, unrepentant. “Just being myself,” he replied. “Don’t pretend like you don’t like it. I know better. You can’t hide from me, love.”

A grin tickled her lips. Anger was dangerously close to depleting entirely. Damn him.

Damn him.

After all, if she couldn’t hide from Spike, how was she supposed to hide from herself?

Something told her she didn’t want to know the answer.

*~*~*

 The town was quiet. Absolutely quiet. No buzzing. No inner fire. Nothing. After a thorough sweep of Natchez’s every corner and crevice, Buffy finally conceded and began the long walk back to the Birch House.

Where Spike was waiting.

The advantage of having a severely sun-allergic traveling companion—though when Spike had become a traveling companion, she didn’t know—was the ample time provided through the day for serious introspection. How within the time-span of forty-eight hours, he’d gone from a pain-in-the-ass to the vampire crowding the floor of her rented room. The vampire who suddenly embodied forbidden-fruit in every delicious sense. The vampire whose kisses sparked a fire deep within her belly—stronger than any she’d ever before felt, and more terrifying for that very reason. The vampire with whom she desperately wanted more time, if only to discover where their relationship was going.

The vampire she couldn’t touch the way she wanted. Not without conceding something she’d needed to believe, no matter the futility.

It’s wrong. Therein lies a world of hurt.

And hurt was something she very much wanted to avoid. One heartache had nearly destroyed her; another would finish the job.

So she couldn’t travel that road with Spike. End of story. Next question.

Could try to at least sound convinced, Buffy thought grumpily. This is my mind, after all.

She wasn’t surprised to find Spike pacing when she returned to the room. He’d been cooped inside for hours as she scoped the town, and she knew she wasn’t imagining the relief on his face when his head whipped up. He’d been worried about her.

Worried.

“You were supposed to be back thirty minutes ago.”

She shrugged. “I’m back now.”

“Yeah? Tinglies go off, or did you just—”

Buffy smiled and held up a small plastic sack. “Went shopping.”

Spike’s frown remained in place until a sniff confirmed what she’d brought home. Then his eyes changed, fierceness fading to a soft shimmer. He glanced from the bag to her face and back again before stepping forward, a small, almost shy smile tickling his perfect lips. “You brought me blood?” he asked gently, reaching for her offering.

“Well…” She shuffled awkwardly.“You mentioned you hadn’t had any and since we’re practically in a barnyard, it wasn’t hard to find a butcher shop.”

Spike inspected the contents. “It’s pig’s?”

“Yes.”

“Bloody disgusting.”

Buffy arched a brow. “You didn’t expect me to lift it from a hospital, did you?”

“Would’ve been quite a gesture, kitten,” he retorted, tossing her a rakish grin.

“I think bringing you blood in the first place is gesture enough.” She exhaled deeply, relieved at his teasing. Teasing she could handle. Teasing felt normal. The tender look on his face demanded serious reflection, and she was all used up on her daily quantity of deep thoughts. “That piece of crap blocking Jerome’s drive is your car, isn’t it?”

Spike scowled. “Oi!”

“Call it like I see it.”

“She’s my best girl, that car. Don’t bloody knock it.” His eyes sparkled as his fangs descended and tore into the first of five plastic blood-filled bags. And to her horror, the look on his face did nothing to disgust her. Rather every nerve in her body was suddenly ablaze and electric sparks shot directly to her clit. God, she was so screwed. If Spike’s demon turned her on there was little hope in salvaging her heart from this escapade.

Guh.

“I…uhhh…well.” Buffy quickly glanced away. “I need to change. We have reservations at Royal Pub.”

“At what now?”

“Royal Pub. It’s a place…haunted…I dunno. I didn’t feel any Reaper vibes on my tour around town, and since Royal Pub is supposed to be haunted, I figured we’d head there and see if anything…uhhh…” She met his eyes again. “Occurred to either one of us.”

Spike arched a cool eyebrow. How he managed to look so delicious with a blood-ring around his mouth was beyond her. “This a date, Slayer?”

 “A what?”

“You’re taking me to a fancy joint. Tryin’ to seduce me?”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “You wish.”

At first she thought she’d said something wrong. He looked at her strangely and without humor, tilting his head, the soft burn in his eyes sparking new flames that struck cords deep she didn’t know her body possessed. Then he was moving forward, wiping his mouth and forcing the demon back, his human face falling over him; a dream come to life. The bag in his hands disappeared. Before she could think to question him, her cheeks were cupped in his palms and he was kissing her.

God, he was kissing her. His lips flirted with her, loved her, sang wordless songs until she couldn’t help but sigh against him—couldn’t help but allow his tongue to wander into her mouth. He tasted wonderful—dangerous. Hints of cigarettes and the metallic twang of blood tickled her tastebuds. Flavors that should have repulsed her but only made her want. He was so real. The monster was just as present as the man; not two entities but one. One rolled together, a faulty but somehow perfect package. He kissed her with a desperation she’d never before tasted. As though her kisses were what granted him life.

Yes, she’d wanted this. Since last night. Since she had explored his mouth on Edgeview’s lawn. She wanted to know him without motive.

She’d kissed him before to save his life. One taste had made her an addict.

“Nnnnaghhh.”

“Fuck,” Spike agreed. “Yes…I do.”

Reason abandoned her altogether. Buffy’s head fell back, every inch of her dangerously close to melting completely. “You…”

“I do,” he repeated as his mouth nibbled a wet path down her throat, hands following suit. His left hand found her breast without warning, palming her reverently and exciting her nipple with a few masterful strokes of his thumb. “I do wish it, Buffy. Want you now. Want you open and begging for me.”

“Spike…”

“I wanna spread you apart,” he murmured, his wandering mouth traveling farther south. “Wanna play with your pussy. Wanna see where you’re soft.”

His right hand delved between them and pressed at the apex of her thighs, which fell apart without struggle.

Yes.

Spike sighed. “You’re so hard everywhere, aren’t you?”

“You’re one to talk,” Buffy retorted. Her own hand itched to explore the hard confines of his erection, but she remained immobile—frozen by nerves or arousal or some bizarre combination of the two. At the moment, she barely remembered her own name.

A chuckle. “Naughty girl.”

“Spike, we—”

“But you are. So hard everywhere. So bloody firm. But here…” His palm grated against her pussy. “Here you’re all woman. Soft. Pink. Wet. Wanting me so bad. Don’t you, Buffy? Tell your Spike how bad you want him.”

Words scratched at her throat. Yes, she wanted him now. Wanted him fiercely. Wanted him beyond the knowledge of what it meant to want. What it meant to possess or be possessed. She wanted Spike everywhere. His hands in her hair, his mouth between her legs, his tongue around her nipples, his fingers strumming her clit, his cock sliding against her lips, his body against hers. She wanted it all. She wanted everything. A whirlwind of sensation had her falling until she was certain she’d crash against the floor, but when she opened her eyes she was still standing.

Still on both feet.

And the world waited outside. The world with its Reaper. The world with its consequences. The world with its damned reality.

With its truth of what she was. What he was. And what they were to each other.

From where the strength came, she did not know. One second she teetered on crashing onto the mattress and the next she had returned to herself. She braced her hands against his shoulders and shoved. The second air hit her lungs she was flying. Moving across the room in a blaze, collecting weapons, changing clothes, burning the ground until there was nothing but the echoes of her heavy strides.

“We gotta go,” Buffy said, cheeks burning. “We gotta…”

“Got the keys right here.”

His voice was devoid of emotion. As though their encounter meant nothing.

But she knew better. She didn’t know how, but she knew.

Which was why she couldn’t meet his eyes. Resistance would melt and she wasn’t ready. She wasn’t ready to be hurt again. She wasn’t ready to chance it. Not now. Her heart couldn’t take the risk—and risk was written all over this. All over Spike. A huge all-sales-are-final risk, and if she gave in she’d be handing herself over to a world of hurt.

It was safer to keep her distance no matter what she wanted. Thus Buffy moved robotically at his side as he led her to the car. Though she wished to speak, she bit her tongue. Though she wished to touch him, she kept her hands at her sides. There was nothing to do but go through with dinner and hope the night would improve.

Or better yet, change her mind.