Actions

Work Header

Bring It On Home

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.