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Bring It On Home

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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.