full 3/4 1/2   skin light dark       
 
Care
 
Chapter 1, In which a wedding is held to the great joy of almost nobody
 

Every experience is of value, and whatever one may say against marriage, it is certainly an experience.
Oscar Wilde.

 

    Xander tried to catch Willow as she went out the door. She’d called him a demon magnet, she expressed utter contempt for Buffy’s calling, and she was furious with absolutely everything. “Willow, don’t go! Come on, don’t leave mad.”

    “I’m not mad!” Willow snapped at him. “I’m not mad.”     

    “Willow, I think you’re overreacting.”

    “I don’t care what you think,” Willow snapped at him. “I don’t care about anything.”

    Xander blinked as Willow’s eyes flashed. He was so taken aback, he just let her go.

    And that was the last time any of them heard from her for six months.
 

***
    

    “Hello?”

    “Buffy?” The voice on the other end was all but indecipherable, but Buffy just about recognized the tone. “Are you there?” There was a searing crackle of white noise smothering the young witch’s voice.

    “Willow?” Buffy asked. “Willow, is that you?”

    “I said, I cast a spell!”

    Buffy held the phone close to her ear, and strained to hear the tiny voice through the static. “Willow? What did you say? I can barely hear you.”

    “That’s ‘cause I’m on a spell phone!” Willow crackled.

    “Where are you calling from?”

    “Arashmaharr. It’s a- crackle, static,- story. I can’t - fizz, pop- you any faster, but I - crackle, fizz – are you guys okay?”

    “Yeah, we’re fine. Xander’s got some rakish scars, but he’s okay.”

    “That’s great! I’ll – wirr, crackle – about two days. Then – crackle, fizz, crackle – end the spell.”

    “End the spell? Willow? Which spell?”

    “The one – static – Oz. The Will be – crackle – should – fizz.”

    “Willow! I can’t understand you. Willow!”

    “Gotta – crackle – I’ll be there soon!” The words on the phone cut out, and Buffy slowly lowered the receiver back to the cradle, feeling dazed.

    Spike was watching her with a frown on his face. “What was that, love?”

    Buffy stared at the phone in horror. “It was Willow.”

    “The little witch?”

    “Yeah,” Buffy said. She looked up at Spike and swallowed. “She said she was going to end the spell.”

    Husband and wife stared at each other for a long moment. Then Buffy crumpled. She sobbed and Spike caught her, pulling her close. “Okay,” he said. “It’s okay. Communication, yeah? Let’s talk it out.”


***

    They talked things out best in bed. They’d discovered this. Spike picked Buffy up and carried her to their room. Their room was on the ground floor, so they could catch attacking demons quickly. The three level house had become a necessity in an attempt to keep Xander alive. Giles had purchased it, going into serious debt to do it, and all of them – Xander, Giles, Spike and Buffy – lived there, on constant guard. Spike guarded the house during the day, while Buffy went to classes. Buffy and Spike together kept things tamped down at night. It had been a grueling few months.

    Things were easier now, of course. Some time into their marriage, and it had become quite clear that Xander’s “demon magnet” curse had a range, just as an ordinary magnet would. So long as they kept the demons out of a five mile radius, Xander was fine. But before they’d realized this, and cleared out the area completely, there had been constant demon attacks. With Xander on the third floor, and Buffy and Spike standing guard below, they’d managed to keep Buffy’s friend relatively safe, (except for those few demons that had wings, which Buffy had decided were the bane of her existence.)

    Giles was gone at the moment. He’d finally gotten the go-ahead to receive training to earn a seeing eye dog, and he was off at their training retreat. He wouldn’t be available for the next three weeks.

    Spike lay Buffy down on the bed and gently kissed her eyes, her cheeks, smoothing the tears and the sorrow both away with his soft, cool lips. “We can’t just shag this one away, Spike,” Buffy said, though she enjoyed the attention. “She’s going to end the spell.”

    Spike looked down at her, and then rolled over, pulling her into the hollow of his arm. “Do you want her to?”

    “Do you?”

    “You first.”

    Buffy snuggled into his chest. “I don’t know,” she said quietly. “You?”

    “You know how I feel,” he said. “You’ve known it since our first morning.”
 

***

    The wedding had been a dream. Or a disaster. It was difficult to tell the difference. The wedding between Buffy and William (they’d decided to just stick with first names for the invitations) had taken place on a Friday, a week after their engagement. Buffy and Spike had finally compromised on a wedding in the park, at dusk – the one beside the graveyard. They’d set up a tent for the reception, and Spike stayed in the van until the shadows were long enough to keep him safe from the sun. Buffy still got some photos with her (incredulous) friends and family in the golden light of sunset, and as soon as the darkness had descended, Spike met her at the altar.

    Giles had walked Buffy down the torchlit isle with his red-tipped cane, and a bewildered expression on his face. Buffy’s mother hadn’t been thrilled, either. But Buffy and Spike had both been quite determined, and Giles had explained there was a spell in the mix. Buffy had said her vows. Spike had said his. Then a demon attacked Xander, and both of them said the hell with tradition, and the rest of the wedding took place amidst bloodshed and mayhem.

    With Spike and Buffy standing side by side, tossing fighting moves – not to mention the demon, which was made up of seven different smaller demons, and had been hard to kill – back and forth like ping-pong balls, it had been difficult to hear the judge they’d hired. Spike’s gleeful laughter hadn’t helped much. He’d spent three mournful days after their engagement suffering as his fiancé’s friend was attacked again and again, feeling utterly helpless, and desperate to kill something. Then Buffy had gotten in serious danger in one fight, Spike had decided to attack the demon through the pain, and realized – “Hey! I can fight a demon!” He’d launched himself whole-heartedly into protecting Xander after that, slaughtering demons left and right at Buffy’s side.

    Oh, the make-out sessions after the battles!

    Buffy had finally gotten down to business when one of the demon’s component parts threatened her wedding cake. (Red velvet, so Spike’s blood-sauce wouldn’t look too disgusting on the side.) “That’s it!” she said. “An attack on my friend is one thing, but my wedding cake?” The demon hadn’t lasted another minute.

    As the demon’s pieces slowly started to smoke and sizzle and dissolve, Spike and Buffy looked at each other over the tattered remains of their perfect day, and howled with laughter. Buffy’s wedding dress was torn, the full skirt tattered. Spike’s tuxedo jacket had demon ichor saturating one sleeve, and he’d lost the rose in his buttonhole. A moment later they were kissing and fondling as the terrified guests slowly started to reassemble. Buffy ripped the bottom two thirds off her white skirt. Spike had gone to get his leather coat from the van. And they finished the ceremony while the remaining guests (more than half of which had fled screaming, and wouldn’t be back until halfway through the reception) watched standing amidst the broken chairs.

    The reception was charming. Buffy and Spike danced to Wind Beneath My Wings, followed by You’re Gonna Kill That Girl from the Ramones. They’d argued back and forth about whether either of those songs would even be allowed at the wedding. Buffy had protested the Ramones. “Have you heard the lyrics? It’s gruesome!”

    “Hey, come on, this is our song, babe! I used to listen to it over and over while I watched videos of you fighting.”

    “You had videos of me fighting?”

    Spike grinned. “Half a dozen of ‘em. Sometimes I’d send out minions just to have you dust ‘em, while I had another filming you from the roof ‘cross the street. I’d spend hours watching those things. Rewinding again and again and again, every strike, every blow, every bounce of your shiny hair.” He’d reached up and caressed that shiny, perfect hair yet again. “I had to learn your moves somehow, pet.”

    “Well... you did,” Buffy admitted. She’d slid herself against him, and Spike had nibbled on her neck, and she’d gasped.

    “Don’t think much of Wind Beneath my Wings, though,” Spike had said.

    “I love that song.”

    “Why?”

    “I just... I do, okay.”

     “But Bette Midler? Really? I mean, really?”

    Buffy had blushed. “Well... yeah. It... it’s a nice song. We used to sing it in chorus in middle school. I... I like it.”

    “But come on, pet! It’s sappy. It’s bollocks, too. I mean, since when do I hide in the shadows holding up anyone?”

    Buffy had gone white and looked away. “I know that,” she’d said quietly.

    The truth dawned on Spike three seconds too late. “Oh,” he said. “Oh, I’m sorry, kitten. Yeah. Yeah, okay.”

    “What?”

    He smiled. “We’ll play the song, pet. First dance, no trouble. Just let me have my Ramones?”

    Buffy acquiesced sounding coquettish. “Okaay.”

    It was Anya who had dared to say anything as Spike and Buffy had finished their first dance. “That was the song you chose?” she asked. “I thought weddings were supposed to be charming.” She looked up at Xander. “Are they trying to expose themselves to ridicule?”

    “Well.” Xander looked awkward. “I don’t know if you’d call it ridicule,” he said. “I mean... the song is meant as... well... some kind of message and... while Spike isn’t really as... um... supportive as that song would suggest, he’s... well....” He stopped, unable to maintain the facade any longer. “He’s your hero, Buffy? Really?”

    Buffy had blushed, embarrassed, and Spike had glared at Xander. “You don’t get it. Song’s not about me.”

    Xander frowned. “But it...?”

    “She’s the hero, wanker. She’s the wind, unseen, in the shadow, not asking for glory. Holding all you tossers up.” He scoffed. “She just wishes someone would realize it.” Spike had marched Buffy back to the dance floor as the Ramones started.

    Buffy had looked up at him. “You realized,” she realized.

    Spike just nuzzled at her jaw. “Someone had to.”

    They’d already cut the cake when Angel came to ruin the party.

    He’d crashed through the pile of broken chairs like... well, like an avenging angel, and attacked Spike with a stake without so much as a word of salutation. Spike was so startled to see his old sire he actually staggered to the ground without getting in a single blow.

    Buffy took care of that, though. She surged forward and grabbed Angel by the back of his jacket. “No!” Buffy cried. “Get back! Get off him!”

    “Let me do this, Buffy!”

    “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

    “I’m saving you!” Angel snarled.

    “Saving me from what?” Buffy snapped. She managed to haul Angel to his feet, and stood between him and Spike. Spike surged off the ground, and the two vampires looked daggers over Buffy’s blond head – no longer quite so elegantly coifed.

    “Saving you from a fate worse than death, married to that monster!”

    “Oh, like you saved me from a similar fate married to you?” Buffy retorted.

    Angel looked wounded. “Well....”

    “I got news for you, Angel. This time, you don’t get to pick!”

    Xander looked confused. “Who called Angel?”

    “I did,” Buffy said. “You’re late! You missed the wedding, Angel.”

    Xander still wasn’t buying it. “What?”

    “I invited him to my wedding,” Buffy said. “Spike was getting all insecure, and I asked him if he’d rather Angel got to see how happy we were, and he said he’d love to see Angel’s face while we got married, so I called and invited him. I expected you to get here on time, though.”

    “I was being sarcastic, love,” Spike said.

    Buffy looked disappointed. “Oh. Well. Anyway.” She took hold of Spike’s arm. “Now you can see how happy we are!”

    “That he can, poodle.”

    The happy couple beamed beatifically.

    “I’d have been here sooner if you’d told me yesterday,” Angel said. “I had to wait until sunset to get here. But this can’t be real. He’s got you under some sort of a spell. It’s got to be, this is suicide!”

    “Why does everyone keep saying that?” Buffy asked.

    “They can’t accept the purity of our love, pet,” Spike said quietly.

    “It’s not a spell,” Buffy said. “And Spike can’t hurt me.”

    “Nonsense.”

    “‘Fraid the slayer’s right, peaches,” Spike said, brushing the dust off his battered tuxedo trousers. “You got your little soul keeping you off the slayer’s throat. Well, I have this neat little commando microchip implanted in my head. ‘Least ways that’s what we figure it is. Means I can’t fight anything other than demons. Which means I can’t fight you, since you’re not – oh, wait a minute. Yes you are!”  Spike launched himself at Angel.

    Buffy got between them again. “Jeeze, Spike, you too!” She stood, keeping the two vampires apart, and turned back to Angel. “Angel. It’s over. You’re the one who made it over. Just go, drink some punch, have a slice of cake, dance with the maid of honor, and find something else to do with your life.”

    Anya didn’t look opposed to the idea.

    “Yeah. Go brushing your ashes somewhere else, mate,” Spike said. He put his arm around Buffy. “Your bird’s with me now.”

    “I’m not a bird,” Buffy said.

    Spike smiled down at her annoyance. “My little baby bird,” he said with a grin.

    “What, and you’re a hunting cat?” she said, looking up at him.

    “No,” he said seductively. “Bad dog, remember?” He kissed her warmly, and she returned the kiss with enthusiasm, and Angel made a sound halfway between a broken car alarm and a hurricane force wind. It was enough to make both of them break their kiss and look over at him.

    “Angel, are you okay?” Buffy asked. “Giles, maybe we should get him to lie down somewhere.”

    Giles had just come up, slowly, working around the tables with his cane.

    “No!” Angel pulled away when Giles tried to take his arm. “My god, Buffy, can’t you see what you’re doing? You’re throwing your whole life away on this idiot!”

    “He’s not an idiot,” Buffy said staunchly. “He’s a sweetheart. And you’re just jealous.”

    “This isn’t what I wanted for you!”

    “Well, what you wanted seemed to be for me to live alone and pining for you for eternity!” Buffy snapped. “You don’t want me, but you think no one else ever would?”

    “Buffy, I do want you. I... I love you.”

    Buffy only frowned at him.

    Angel strode forward and took her arm. “I do love you. I’m sorry. I should never have... I didn’t mean for this to happen! I didn’t know this was going to...! God, Buffy. Not a vampire, not Spike! If this is what you wanted, if this is what you really need, I’ll... I’ll... I should have.... God! There’s got to be some way...!”

    “Now you want me.” Buffy snatched her hand away. “You dump me. Then you come to my prom. Then you run off. Then you stalk me. Then you tell me to stay away from you, and now that I’m finally moving on, you come right back again! Gee, way to mix signal a girl!”

    “Buffy!”

    “It’s over, Angel. And you just can’t accept it.”

    “I’m trying to help you!”

    Buffy rolled her eyes. “Angel, if you really want to help, you can keep Xander safe for the night while I’m gone.”

    “Gone? Where are you going?” Angel asked.

    Buffy smiled broadly, squeezing Spike’s hand. “I’m going on my honeymoon!” she squealed.

    “Beach side,” Spike added.

    “That’s it!” Angel growled, and he launched himself at Spike again.

    Buffy punched Angel, and he staggered backward. “Keep. Your mitts. Off. My. Husband!”

    “Angel,” Giles said. “Can I talk with you in private?” Giles took Angel’s arm and pulled him across the tent. “You’re not going to be able to persuade either of them. We’ve tried. They do get very violent when people try to keep them apart physically.”

    “This has got to be a spell!”

    “No, you’re right, it is a spell, but it wasn’t Spike’s doing. Now, we’ve tried breaking it, but it’s a fearsomely strong thing–”

    “I don’t accept that!” Angel said, a wail hiding in his voice.

    Buffy turned to Spike, feeling sorry for herself. “Why does everyone want to ruin my happy day?” she asked him.

    “I dunno, poodle.”

    “I mean, why do they all think it’s a spell? Can’t they see what a sweetie you are?”

    “I’m not a sweetie, slayer, I’m a killer.”

    “Yeah, but you’re my killer,” Buffy said with a little pout.

    “That I am, love. Give me that lip.” He kissed her warmly. “Mm... sweet as sugar candy...” and he bit her lip gently.

    “You know what?” Xander said. “I think I’m gonna go hang out with Angel.”

    “I think I’ll join you,” Anya said.

    Their disgust was obvious.

    Buffy glared after them, disgruntled. “I don’t get it. He’s killed just as many people as you have in the last few years.”

    “More, probably,” Spike said. “He was always one for the great swathes of death. I’m more of a one-on-one kind of guy, ‘less it’s a brawl.”

    “Yeah, but they never liked him before,” Buffy said, bewildered. “Why are they suddenly all Angel’s the guy for you now?”

    “We’re just not sure that this is the best choice for you, honey,” Joyce said, coming up beside her. “I don’t actually think Angel is the best guy for you out there, but... nothing personal, Spike. I’ve always found you... ahm. Pleasant enough. For the most part. But... a vampire, Buffy!”

    “But Mom...! I’m happy.” She laid her head on Spike’s chest. “I don’t think I’ve ever been happy before.”

    “Come on, Joyce. Why you want to ruin it?”

    Joyce sighed at Spike. “I want Buffy to be safe, with a real boyfriend. Someone who’ll put her best interests first. She’s very young.”

    “You’ve been through all this before,” Spike said. Spike and Joyce had had a private conversation just after Buffy had announced their whirlwind engagement. They’d been together for barely a week, but they were both convinced, they had to get married, and it had to be as soon as possible. They’d nearly up and eloped a few times. “I get she’s young,” Spike continued. “College, yeah, she can finish. Slaying? Well, hell, I can’t kill anything but demons, might as well help. Kids? We can adopt or sommat, it won’t matter. We could get a sperm donor. Hell, I could even accept wanker boy over there as surrogate, if she don’t mind her brats looking like mangy pug dogs. Not as if he’s not soiling enough socks already.”

    “Don’t be crass, honey.”

    “What I’m saying is,” Spike said to Joyce in all seriousness, “I love your daughter. Whatever she needs, whatever she wants, whatever is best for her, I will go to the moon and across the fires of hell to be sure she gets it. For all eternity. Until I am dust.” He kissed the slayer’s forehead and then gazed down into her eyes. “She’s everything I ever dreamed of.”

    “Oh, Spike,” Buffy whispered.

    “Slayer,” Spike moaned.

    They kissed again. Their lips were starting to get numb with it. Angel made another sound of torment across the tent. The happy couple were oblivious.

 

 
Chapter 2, in which a wedding is consumated to the great joy of almost nobody.
 


They dream in courtship, but in wedlock wake.

                                    ~Alexander Pope, The Wife of Bath, 1713

 

    His body was cool and strong as he held her, kissing her throat, her jaw, caressing her flesh with his mouth, with his hands laced in her hair. Buffy gasped as Spike nibbled her neck, arching against him. There was no doubt in her mind. None. This was Spike, and he was everything she wanted. “I love you, slayer,” he whispered in the semi-darkness. “I love you so much.”

    He tasted like perfection, wine and cigarettes on his tongue as it caressed her own, as his blunt teeth nibbled on her lips, as his cool breath entered her body. His smooth pale skin beneath her hot hands, the thunder of his tiny groans, purring through his chest, trembling through his body into hers. She clutched at him, humming her certainty and her contentment. “I love you, Spike. Oh, god, don’t stop.”

    He was slow and deliberate, every movement unhurried, thoughtful, calculated for her ease and pleasure. She’d only done this twice before. The first time had been desperate and terrified, the undercurrent of This is wrong! pulsing through every movement as Angel had taken... let her take... what they wanted, and knew they shouldn’t. Her body, not even reached its full height, yielding to his cool flesh, too unsure of herself to even explore him properly. He’d known what he was doing. She hadn’t. He had treated her as if he would break her, and claimed her as his, directed her as the excitement of what they were doing had threatened to take over, and she’d clutched at him, afraid to lose control. She’d felt helpless beneath his love for her, her own terrible love. The second time was steeped in lies, as Parker had played a deceitful game, and knew he was playing it, using her for his pleasure... as much, she had to admit, as she had been using him to feel normal. That had been sweltering, very human, and had left her discontent in ways she hadn’t been able to pinpoint until a full thirty hours later, when Parker’s lies were brought into the harsh light of day.

    But Spike was a vampire. He was not a weak and hot-blooded human being, reeking of human sweat. He wasn’t indulging in a forbidden passion. This was perfect. It wasn’t simply normal. And it wasn’t hurried. And it wasn’t wrong. It was right, it was so right, everything was right.

    The cottage was cool and lightly scented. The ocean breeze blew in through the open windows, the sound of the surf pounding across the sand, echoing the surging of her own heart. Spike had lit dozens of candles, saying he always preferred candlelight. He had always wanted to see her in candlelight.... His hand had slid down her arm (no hesitation) had pulled her against him (no doubt) had embraced her in perfect tenderness (no uncertainty). It was so different from her every moment with Angel, where doubt and uncertainty and hesitation had been the cornerstones of their relationship. Along with heartache. Perpetual heartache and pain.

    There was no pain here. There was nothing but Spike, and Buffy, and the truth of their love, the perfection in their touch, the faith in their union. He’d carried her across the threshold, prepared their love nest, and taken her to bed with complete devotion in his eyes.

    For the first time in her life, Buffy knew, beyond all question; what they were doing was right.

    Spike was more sharing than Angel, letting her take control if she wanted it. She didn’t even have to ask – just the slightest flex of her muscles, allowing her movements to guide him, as if they were dancing, and he’d let her take the lead. He was more generous than Parker, holding his own pleasure back until she was flushed and gasping and trembling with delight in her own strong body. He was more inventive than either of them, changing methods and positions, whispering in the darkness about her beauty, her strength, their love, his devotion, using his whispered words to make love to her as much as his body.

    And just as the sea birds began to call in the pre-light of the dawn, Spike finally decided she’d found enough joy. He took her more firmly then, finally allowing himself his own release. “To feel you beneath me,” he’d whispered. “To be part of you, slayer...” He kissed her. “I’ve come home.... oh!” His breath had come harder then, his movement more urgent, until he froze with a groan, followed by a gasp, almost a sob of relief.

    There was a long, long moment as it ended. The sky was only a floating teal; it would be a good twenty minutes before the rosy-fingered dawn peeked over the earth to their little love nest. And then there would be another twenty-four hours here, one day, and one more precious night, before their rented beach side cottage had to be abandoned to its next tenant. The sun was about to rise, and leave Buffy here with Spike all day, with no Giles playing chaperone, no family to make explanations to, no demon attacks to protect Xander from (they had arranged for Xander to be locked in a windowless crypt until they came back home. Any demons would probably just mill about outside, unless they were incredibly powerful or something). Just Buffy and Spike alone together.

    And for the first time in a week, the thought terrified her. What the hell were they supposed to talk about? The best way to murder someone?

    Still her body tingled, and his flesh felt smooth and seductive and his weight was potent and real above her, and he was her husband. He was all she’d ever wanted. They were living the dream. She’d been absolutely certain of that. Certain. For reals.

    Spike was having his own troubles. He looked down at her, spent, sated, her heat surrounding him. And she looked back up at him, flushed and glowing with pleasure, her golden hair mussed, her lips so bright red they looked like blood. She was so beautiful. And what the hell was he doing?

    Very suddenly Spike felt... shy. He pulled back and away from her, blinking. Buffy swallowed, and she sat up, shaken. “That was...”

    “Yeah.”

    “Really....”

    “Yeah.”

    Buffy looked at him. “Is that all you can say, is yeah?”

    Her voice was very harsh. Some part of Spike wanted to catch her up and kiss her again. Another part wanted to tell her she was a nice enough bird, and thanks for the shag, but lighten up, Fluffy. “Yeah,” he said again. “No. I mean...” He stared at her helplessly. “What do you want me to say?”

    Buffy blinked. “I want you to say it was wonderful,” she said. “I want you to say that you love me. I want you to tell me that this was the most greatest thing that’s ever happened to you!”

    “Well, who says it was?”

    Buffy glared. “Excuse me?”

    “Well,” Spike felt very embarrassed. “I mean it was nice, but–”

    “Nice? Nice?

    Spike felt helpless. “Yeah?”

    The darkness in her face was completely uncalled for. “Are you saying I wasn’t good?” she asked.

    Spike felt like he was bearing the brunt of an anger that wasn’t of his making. “W-what? I-I wasn’t saying anything.”

    “I’d noticed!” Buffy stood up and glared down at him. “What, finally get what you wanted, and now it’s just, thanks for the shag?

    Since that was exactly what he had been thinking, Spike felt very defensive. “Hey,” Spike said, standing up. “I’m not the one turning all Sybil, here.”

    “And what’s that supposed to mean?” Highschool nasty in her tone.

    Spike gave back tone for tone. “Wacked out. Stark-staring. Gone barmy. Round the bend. So, basically, a woman.”

    And Buffy hit him.

    Spike was shunted backward across the candlelit room. “Hey! That’s spousal abuse, that is!”

    Buffy stood over and glared at him, golden and glorious in the nude. “You’re a vampire!” she snarled. “Get used to it!”

    “Hey now!” Spike stood up and glared at her. “It’s not as if I can hit you back, slayer. I think you should learn to show some restraint.”

    “Restrain this!” Buffy yelled, and she tried to hit him again. Spike blocked the blow, and the following three, and finally grabbed her wrists. She tugged at his grip, her blonde hair bouncing as she yanked. “Let go of me! I can’t believe I married you. Maybe we have been under a spell!”

    It was the first time either of them had believed it. Buffy had believed she had some natural immunity as the slayer. Spike hadn’t thought the witch’s magic was that powerful. “Bollocks,” Spike said. He still didn’t believe it. It felt too real. “Maybe you just don’t have what it takes to stick to it!”

    Buffy ripped her arms back. “And what is that supposed to mean?”

    “Oh, I don’t know. Angel – scampers off. Parker – you can still see the rubber tire tracks. Now you’ve put another notch in your belt, and maybe it’s not them. Maybe it’s you. Maybe you don’t think we’re worth your time. Maybe you’re one of those love ‘em and leave ‘em fast bints. Or just maybe Angel was right, and you’re the one not worth a second go.”

    Buffy didn’t even have the respect to hit him. Her face hardened and her eyes boiled like ancient hotsprings and Spike was suddenly terrified by the rage of the chosen one, something he’d never actually seen before. Not like this. “Get out,” Buffy snarled.

    He stepped away. Something instinctively vampire told him death was two inches from his heart, and he had to retreat, or expect dust. He retreated, pausing only to hitch his jeans around his hips before he left.

    What the hell had he been thinking, marrying a slayer? He stalked out of the cottage in the gloaming, and back to his paint-spacked Desoto, frustrated and furious and a little frightened on top of it. There were still tin cans and old shoes tied to the bumper. He slammed the door shut and started the engine.

    A box they’d forgotten about was sitting in the back seat. He caught its reflection in the rearview mirror. It held a box of wheatabix, and a now-thawed frozen pizza, and a half-gallon mason jar of blood – veal; special occasion. The blood nestled there beside the bottle of champagne he hadn’t had the patience to chill and serve to Buffy last night before they’d fallen desperately into bed together. And on the top of the cardboard box was a large tupperware bowl, inside of which – he knew – the top tier of their wedding cake waited for them to snack on during their truncated honeymoon. They had one day and two nights in this cottage. Just that small amount of time to explore each other before they had to go back to Sunnydale, and her friends, and her college, and his glorious slayer had to resume her duties, ridding the world of demons....

    Spike sank his head onto the steering wheel. He was a demon. What was he doing marrying the slayer?

    He was a demon castrated in his evil, starving for blood he would never again taste. No friends, no family, no one in the world who cared whether he lived or died – with some pretty heavy bias toward the dying, actually. And she’d taken him in. Supplied him with sustenance. Kept him alive. Given him purpose. Touched his heart. Taken him to her bed. “And now she says it was all a spell,” he muttered to himself. He didn’t want to admit how much that had hurt him. He lit a cigarette and put the car in gear.

    But it couldn’t be a spell. That didn’t make sense. If it was a spell, why had it taken him so bloody long ago? How could a flippant “they should just get married” statement by a burgeoning red-headed witch reach back into his history and fill his dreams with Buffy, fill his thoughts with Buffy, burn resentment into Drusilla and make her abandon him, all because of Buffy? And why didn’t Buffy kill him when he’d shown up at her door, helpless? Yeah, they were the good guys, but they knew what he was. There was no good reason for them not to have closed the door in his face, if they felt squeamish about staking him outright while he was all helpless. No. She’d taken him in for a reason. All those heated kisses couldn’t have come from nothing. And god, all that flirtatious sparring? No! That kiss, that first kiss, that was pure. There was no way that had come from someone else’s impulse. He’d been too heated before it happened for it not to be real.

    God, the heat of her last night. Last night. Twenty minutes ago! His own flesh was still warm with her, parts of him still tingled with her. Her scent – god, her scent! – was still all over his body.

    He couldn’t leave her abandoned here. The poor chit didn’t drive, she’d have to call her mum to drive her home. God, what a horrible way to start a marriage!

    Why did she think it was a spell? The idea hurt him more than her fist had.

    Still. He had all the food. And his coat was in the livingroom.

    And he wanted to taste her again.
 

***

    Buffy stood for a long moment in the cottage’s pretty lavender and lace bedroom after Spike left. She was the slayer. She was married. And she was miserable. She heard him leave the cottage, start up his car.    He was gone. Buffy sank down onto a chair, naked and alone again. Every time, this happened. Every single time. She’d take someone to her bed, and he’d wake up evil. But this was insane! Spike was already evil. He admitted to it, claimed it, boasted of it over and over again! It wasn’t fair.

    All her pain over Angel hit her again like a truck, and her self-loathing over her mistake over Parker, that was just an extra sprinkling of disgust over her pain, and Spike... Spike... she’d loved him so much not even twenty minutes ago, while he moved inside her, and made her feel so alive, and so wonderful, and she’d been so damned happy.

    The happiness itself was what crushed her now. She’d been happy. She hadn’t felt happy in so long. Angel made her blood sing with devotion, but he’d never made her happy. Even that week while Parker had been working on her, all she’d felt was a kind of excited nervousness, not this last week’s enthusiastic certainty and happiness in love. And Angel, god, all he’d ever been was pain. Even when she was sure, loving him had always hurt her. Every second. Knowing that she was the slayer and he was a vampire had made every moment wrong in some fundamental way. Even when it had been unshakable...

    But Spike was a vampire. An evil vampire. An evil vampire with no desire to redeem himself. And she’d been okay with that yesterday, why was it suddenly bugging her now?

    Buffy burst into tears. Desperate, heart-rending tears, and she sobbed into her hands. What had she done? Why hadn’t she fought this spell harder? Because it had to be a spell. There was no way she could have been that happy without a spell to help. Not with the thought of the blood of innocents that he still longed to taste....

    And it had happened again. He was gone. She’d held him and kissed him and let him inside her, and as always he’d gone, and taken a part of her away with him. Angel had taken her innocence. Parker had taken her hope. Spike... Spike had just taken all of her happiness....

    “You’re cute when you’re hurting.”

    Buffy looked up. He was there. Spike actually was there, and he looked fond and real and anything but dismissive. He hadn’t driven away. “I always thought that,” he said. “It got in the way of wanting to kill you, sometimes.” He took a step or two into the room. “I had a chance there, when I had the ring of Amara. I had you up against that lamp post, and I wasn’t thinking of your neck, and how I could bite it. I could have then. I could have killed you in about three seconds. Instead I got distracted by how your body felt against mine.” He stood before her. “Felt almost as good as kissing you has this last week,” he confessed.

    A moment later he had sunk between her knees, put his hands around her ribs, held her tightly enough that she, the slayer, could actually feel it. The strength felt so damn good. And then he kissed her.

    Fire roared through her. A fire of desire so hot it was almost painful, and she cringed under it, and reached for him, swallowing the cigarette taste in his mouth, and the desperate hunger of his lips, and the welcome caress of his tongue. It was rapacious and passionate and mad. He held her closer, dragging her off the chair, pulling her body against him, and dear god, none of their other kisses had felt like this. They’d been sweet and tender and devoted, but they weren’t this. She could almost feel his bite in their kiss, as if he were devouring her, instead of sweetly enjoying her as he had been. Buffy found herself sliding to the floor, pushing herself against him, as if she needed to press him to her or die. How could anything be better than last night? But it was. It was heat and death and fire. It was wrong, how powerful it felt. It was war.

    That thought made her fight, fight him, fight herself, and she pushed him away, dragging her lips back. They stopped and stared at each other over a handspan, their breath mingling between them. Awe and terror painted both of their faces. After last night, how could they suddenly feel any more? But it was as if the night before didn’t even count. Buffy trembled in his arms, and Spike gasped, his eyes searching her face. Finally he swallowed, as if he’d caught his lost words out of the air and needed to drag them back in so he could say them. “Did you really think I was leaving, slayer?” His voice shook, and he couldn’t hide it. He tried to sound nonchalant, but that wasn’t happening. Not after that kiss. “I’ve lost everything. I can’t hunt, I can’t kill, the blood’s all dried up and I’m aching inside. I don’t know how to live like this. What else have I got but you?”

    “I am not the consolation gift when the first prize is murder,” Buffy snapped. But she didn’t let him go.

    He looked annoyed. “I’m not saying that,” he said. “I just...” Spike took in a breath. “This can’t be just a spell. It’s too real.”

    “It isn’t real,” Buffy said. “It’s madness! It came up out of nowhere!

    “Not true, slayer,” Spike said. He sat back. “Do you know why Dru broke up with me? I mean, really?”

    “You said it was Angel, and that truce. Said she thought you weren’t demon enough for her.”

    Spike regarded her. “She said I couldn’t get you out of my head,” he said. “And she was right. You were everywhere. Every thing I did. Everything I said, everything I heard. Everywhere I turned around, there you were.” There was a tremble in his throat. “Your eyes and your hair and your voice. I’d never met a slayer and left her alive before. It seemed wrong. The idea that you were half a world away, walking around and slaughtering vampires without me...? Wrong. I had to go back. I had to go back to Sunnydale, I had to find you. Either you had to die, or I did.”

    “You didn’t seem too keen to kill me just after Dru dumped you.”

    “And you’ve never tried to tell yourself someone means nothing to you?” Spike asked. They both knew that wasn’t true. “I thought I just wanted to kill you. I was desperate to kill you,” he said. He brushed her hair back. “And then... this... this thing happened to me, and I couldn’t kill anymore, and I didn’t have the excu....” His eyes shone with emotion, and he swallowed it back. “Why’d you take me in, if this is just a spell?”

    “The... the commandos... you knew...”

    “I knew jack, and you knew it,” Spike said.

    He was right. She knew he’d known nothing. She just... he’d looked so helpless. She didn’t like the idea of him dissolving to dust in Giles’ courtyard like that. It was clear he hadn’t the strength to get back to the sewers, and he was pretty much begging them for their help. The big bad, the slayer of slayers, William the Bloody, begging for help. Willow had testified to his veracity, such as it was, about his helplessness. And he’d looked so pale and weak... and he had fought by her side before. It hadn’t seemed right to turn him out into the sun.

    “You just didn’t want to see me dust. I was at the end of my tether, and you couldn’t bear to leave me there. That’s not a spell!”

    “Yeah, but it wasn’t love!” Buffy said. “And look at us!” She looked down at them, their arms and legs twisted together, the power between them. “This is insane, this can’t be real! I never even felt this with Angel! It’s like being possessed!”

    “Love’s like that.”

    “But it can’t be love!” Buffy said. “You’re a demon, you don’t have a soul, you can’t love.”

    “And you have to know that’s bollocks!”

    “When Angel lost his soul, he couldn’t love anymore, that’s–”

    “That’s Angel!”

    “So?”

    “So? He’s always been like that! I haven’t a soul, and I love you just fine!”

    “So it’s got to be a spell!”

    Spike growled, full on demonic snarl. “Fine. I haven’t a soul, and I loved Dru, no trouble, for a century. And don’t you dare tell me that wasn’t real!”

    “How would you know the difference?”

    “You try living with a woman who literally could not tell guts from garters for over a hundred years, and tell me it’s possible to do that without loving her!” Spike snarled. “Angel couldn’t stomach it, he and Darla trotted off whenever it suited them. I was the one who dug her out of the earth whenever she decided to bury herself, ‘cause she was ‘s’posed to be dead.’” He snarled again. “And that’s not the point. The point is, I love you. Buffy. Look at me, feel me, feel this,” he said, squeezing her close against his chest. “I love you, how can you doubt it?”

    “I don’t doubt it,” Buffy said. She really didn’t. “I just... I don’t think it’s real. I think we’re... doped up or something.”

    “So?”

    “So we should fight it. We should try and break it. We shouldn’t just let this happen to us!”

    Spike was so frustrated with her he wanted to hit her. And he couldn’t. And that was going to drive him batty. “Why not?”

    “What do you mean, why not? It’s perverse! You’re an evil murdering vampire. I’m a vampire slayer. It’s degrading.”

    “For you, or for me?” Spike asked with annoyance.

    “Well... both, I’d imagine,” Buffy said.

    Spike was having trouble. Her nude body still wrapped around his was causing wildly fevered physical reactions, while his annoyed mind was struggling with trying to hate her through the love, and some distant part of him still wanted to kill her when he knew he couldn’t. “Fine then.” He couldn’t hold back anymore. He lunged for her throat and bit at it, until the pain chip in his head fired – just a little – and he had to loosen his grip. There. Perfect. She groaned and writhed above him with lust, making him desperate to bite down harder, but he literally couldn’t without pain.

    “What... unh! Fine?” Buffy pushed him off her throat, but didn’t get off his lap.

    “What I’m saying is,” he said, panting with arousal, “I don’t think it’s a spell. I think it’s just us. But... but...  even if this is a spell...” He got distracted. “God, your lips...” They were parted slightly as she breathed in and out. He wanted to taste them so bad. He wanted to be inside her more now than he had the night before. He reached for them, and Buffy pulled her head back.

    He sighed, fazed, and made himself shake sense into his head. “Don’t take it away from me,” he said.

    “It’s insane,” Buffy said, her breath coming hard. “You’re a vampire. I’m the slayer. And you’re freaking evil.”

    “And you’re everything I stand against,” he said, his eyes half closed. “And suddenly I want you so badly I feel I’m about to burn where I sit.”

    Buffy melted at the words, at the seductive look on his face, and she bent, nearly kissing him again. “Wait. Wait. No. Now we know... we should try... try to fight... it–” she lost control over it and fell back into his lips, squeezing him around the shoulders so tightly that he groaned into her mouth. “It’s not right,” she muttered, muffled by the fact she could barely leave his lips, and she found herself biting him the moment she got the words out.

    “It felt right last night,” Spike breathed into her.

    “It did.” She couldn’t stop kissing him.

    “Don’t fight this, slayer,” he gasped, kissing her again and again. “Fight me instead. That’s what you do. You fight wrong –” he moaned into her mouth “– until you make it right.” He bit and sucked carnivorously at her lips. “I’m wrong,” he said. “A vampire who can’t kill, it’s wrong. Make it right again. I don’t care how. Make me right.” He squeezed her tightly and jammed his tongue as far into her mouth as it would go, as if he would swallow her entire, right there. “Whatever it takes, slayer,” he said when he could pull away. “Make me right.”

    “But you’re evil,” she said into him. “I’m the slayer, I fight for good, I can’t just embrace the darkness like this.”

    “Light doesn’t exist without the dark.”

    “Light banishes the dark,” she argued, pulling away.

    “Then do that!” Spike cried in desperation. Buffy pulled away and looked at him. He stared at her with longing. “Help me, or stake me, but don’t leave me like this! I don’t care if it’s a bloody spell, I want you. More than I want blood, I want you.” He seemed to realize what he’d said, and he sagged. “Oh, bloody hell.” He pulled away and let his head hang like a whipped dog.

    Buffy regarded him, her heart beating fast, her breath still ragged, her lips still numb with Spike’s kisses. Even Angel hadn’t done this to her, not with this fire. Angel had been abandon and pain in love. This was just absolute wantonness, heat itself, and very, very physical. Their bodies seemed like freaking magnets.

    Angel had been a killer... and when he lost his soul, he had betrayed her. There was nothing good or clean left in him. No love, no logic, no honor. Spike had come to be her ally, come to help save the world, with no chip, no soul, nothing but himself. And he was right – it was because he loved someone. He’d loved a mad vampire whose favorite meal was children, but it was because he’d loved Drusilla that he’d forged a cease-fire with a slayer. He’d wanted to protect someone, with love, and sense, and had given up the ultimate evil – the destruction of the world – for it. It had been a temporary truce, but it was possible. And the idea of fighting this fire felt like trying to battle a volcano with a fire extinguisher.... “I won’t let you off the hook,” Buffy said quietly.

    Spike looked up.

    “I hate evil. If you try anything evil, I’ll... I’ll slap you so hard you’d think you were married to a train!”

    Spike regarded her. “But...?”

    “But breaking this spell... I don’t know if it’s possible. I feel it... you feel it.... So... I guess... we work with it, yeah? This impossible marriage between light and dark... this war...”

    “Marriage is always a war,” Spike said. “I spent a hundred years with Dru. Believe me. I know.”

    “Who lost?”

    “No,” Spike said. “That’s not how it works. You win, or you lose, together. You’re not fighting each other. You’re allies against yourselves.”

    Buffy liked that idea. With Angel it had always felt like a tug-of-war, with one side or the other getting the advantage – and usually, Buffy hated to admit, that was Angel. She hadn’t the skill or the experience to fight what he wanted, whether she wanted it too, or not. She always felt like the loser. To fight with someone, instead of against them.... “I think I still hate you,” she said slowly.

    Spike grinned. “I know I still hate you.” He let his eyes travel down her half-clad form. “And I love you so hard it makes my throat ache.”

    “It’s just a spell...”

    “So? It feels good,” Spike said. “I’m going with it.” He drew his eyes back to hers. “You going to try to fight it?”

    Buffy found herself drawn back to him. Spell. God damn Willow and her cursed spell... “As allies...” she whispered.

    Spike smiled briefly. “Allies.” He found her lips again, and there was no way he was letting her go.

 

 
Chapter 3, in which there is a great deal of conflict.
 


Marriage is the only war in which you sleep with the enemy.
~François VI de la Rochefoucault

 

    “What do you mean it was my turn?” Buffy snapped. She let out a roundhouse kick and knocked the demon she was fighting against the pavement.

    Spike growled into the face of the demon that was trying to strangle him. “Well, it’s not as if I eat, is it slayer.”

    “You eat all the damn time,” Buffy said. “I swear, you eat like a teenage kid. We’re going bankrupt with the amount of onion rings you go through. The amount of everything you go through!”

    “Hey come on! Blood’s more expensive to buy than to take,” Spike said, trying to pull the hands off his throat.

    “You expect me to feel sorry for you, because you can’t kill anymore?”

    “Well... yeah!”

    “That’s not only horrific,” Buffy said, punching her demon in the jaw. “That’s disgusting.”

    “Like you don’t kill something every night!”

    Buffy rounded on him. “I kill monsters!”

    “Kinda... like... this one?” Spike was still struggling.

    “Don’t change the subject,” Buffy snapped. “You eat like a hog.”

    “I’ve got to fill up on something.”

    “You’re supposed to fill up on blood! Thought you needed it or whatever.”

    “I do need it,” Spike said, “but it’s bland, all that pig stuff. I need something else to round it out.”

    “You mean everything else. And by the way, you keep eating my fat-free fudge cookies, and I’m going to break you.”

    “Gk...They gk... go good dipped in the blood!” Spike protested. Buffy could barely hear him, as his throat was pretty much closed by then.

    “That’s even more disgusting.” Buffy bent down and shouldered the demon off Spike. “It was your turn to do the dishes, and even when it isn’t, rinse out the damn mason jars before the blood dries in them. I’m sick of having to scrub it off!”

    “They wouldn’t dry if you’d do the dishes before you headed off to your first class,” Spike said, his throat hoarse.

    “Like you do anything all day besides sit and watch television!” Buffy snapped. The demon tried to get back to Spike. Buffy threw him off. “I’m talking here!” she told the leathery thing, then turned back to Spike. “I’m trying to graduate!”

    “You’re just there waving your T and A at your TA.” Spike kicked the demon away.

    “And you’re not doing anything at all, except watching Passions and insulting Xander!”

    Spike glared at her. “Hey, I’m protecting your little demon magnet, while you’re off playacting the school girl.”

    “Playacting?

    “Yeah, playacting!” Spike shouted. “You’re a goddamn slayer, not the coquettish co-ed.”

    “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

    “It means, none of the other slayers I fought pretended they were Cinderella dressed in yella. You’re only playing in that school because you like flirting with the boys.”

    “You’re just jealous of Riley.”

    “I’ve never even met your precious Riley,” Spike said. “Though hell, the way you talk about that milquetoast moron, I might as well have.”

    “You just said you don’t even know him,” Buffy snapped.

    “I saw enough of him from across the street. Excuse me, if I’m a little touchy with you off flirting all day with your strong-arm ex!”

    “Riley and I went on exactly one date, which I shared with Willow, I might add. And you don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to exes!”

    “At least I don’t go playing the silent martyred oh so glad to see you with Harmony!”

    “Hey! No one could talk that day, and I was just glad to see Riley doing some good. How else was I supposed to tell him?”

    “Because you grope everyone who does a good deed,” Spike said with sarcasm.

    “It was a hug. And I don’t recall you out and about keeping the public happy!”

    “Because I was out tracking your Gentlemen for you. I would have got them too, if I hadn’t –”

    “Chickened out?”

    Spike rounded on her. “Excuse me for having to hide! Or have you forgotten, I’m hiding from those commandoes as much as Xander’s got his little demon problem.”

    “Leaving me to take out the Gentlemen on my own, right?”

    “Hello! Slayer! Thought that was your job.”

    “Poor Spiky, the big bad humans too much for you?”

    Spike snarled. “Like you know who or what those commandoes are! I’d really rather not get captured again.”

    “It’s not like they killed you or anything.”

    “No! They just tortured me and ruined my life!”

    Buffy rolled her eyes, and rolled her demon onto the ground. “Your life’s not ruined.”

    “I’d like to see you screaming each time you try to stake a vamp.”

    “Your stupid chip didn’t stop you from wanting to go punch out Riley over a hug.”

    “Well, I couldn’t talk any more than anyone else. How else was I supposed to let him know to keep his hands off my girl?”

    “I’m not your girl, I’m my own girl!”

    “Yeah, well, I didn’t hit him, did I.”

    “No, you almost made yourself pass out, instead. You know, it just makes you look like a big baby when you go off all manly and end up rolling on the ground in pain.”

    “I forgot about the chip, all right? He pissed me off.”

    “And I keep telling you, it was just a hug.”

    “With your ex!”

    “With a nice guy! You don’t get all freaked out when I hug Xander.”

    “Should I?”

    Buffy rolled her eyes. “Ugh, get over it already!”

    “Maybe I would, if I thought I could trust you.”

    “You think you can’t trust me, Big Bad? That’s rich!”

    “Hey, I’m not the one who’s always going on about trying to break the spell! I think you can cut me a little slack, slayer.”

    “I’ll cut you,” Buffy said. The three demons had joined forces now, and were advancing. “I’ll show you how deep I can cut you!”

    Spike automatically turned to guard her back as the demons tried to flank them. “Going to resort to school-girl threats now, are you?” he asked over his shoulder. “I’m just telling you, it was your turn to do the sodding dishes. You can’t just threaten that fact away!”

    “I did them last – night!” Buffy grunted as she punched a demon in the stomach.

    “And I did a sink full this morning.”

    “You washed one bloody mason jar and threw out my grapefruit rind!” Buffy retorted. “That is not a load of dishes!”

    Spike double-handed a demon on the back of its neck, bent it over his knee, and set about kicking it in the stomach over and over again. “It – was stilldoing – the dishes.” He broke the demon’s back and threw out a war whoop at the kill. “Woo!” He turned back to Buffy. “Just because you eat like a super-model doesn’t mean I have to treat you like one.”

    “No, I’m a super-hero!” Buffy snapped. “And you do have to treat me like one!” She punched out the demon who was advancing on her.

    “Or what?” Spike asked. “You’ll slay me?”

    “I should!” Buffy snapped.

    “Go ahead, slayer!” Spike said. He shouldered the final demon who was attacking Buffy out of the way and stood before her with his head high. “Do it! I dare you!” The demon tried to attack again. Spike shoved it away with one hand. “Can’t you see we’re talking?” he asked the thing.

    “Yeah, jeeze, intrude much!” Buffy told it.  

    The last demon looked confused suddenly. It pointed at them. “Wait. You two are on the same side?”

    Spike and Buffy looked at each other, then back at the demon. “Shut up!” they both said in unison, and punched it in the head. The force of the enraged aged vampire and the furious slayer combined took the demon’s head right off. It went sailing over the street like a football.

    “So, I’m next is it?” Spike asked Buffy. “Gonna stake the evil vampire, and make yourself into a widow?” He waited. “Well? Go ahead!”

    “I didn’t say that!”

    “Sounded like it to me!”

    “Um... can I come out now?” Xander asked from the back of Spike’s Desoto.

    “No!” Spike snapped.

    “Yes,” Buffy said. “Come on out, Xander.”

    “Is that all of them?”

    The two fighters looked about them. “I think so,” Buffy said.

    “All right.” Xander got out nervously. He’d been getting steadily more and more nervous and twitchy in the last month. Things had been getting a little better now that everyone had moved into the three-level, but only a little. Xander was still constantly under attack. He had claw marks on his cheek which were going to become scars, and he’d been suffering minor bruises and contusions left right and center. They had only left the house because Xander had gotten another injury – a massive slice down his right arm – that had needed professional stitches. They’d just gotten back from the hospital.

    The front door opened, and Anya poked her head out. She’d been staying with Giles, who was still adapting to his blindness. “Is the coast clear?” she called out.

    “Yes,” both Buffy and Spike called back.

    Anya ran out and tenderly collected Xander. “It’s okay, baby,” Anya said. She kept a wary eye around her as she led Xander inside, where it was safer.

    Buffy and Spike followed, still arguing. “You don’t have to be so rude to Xander.”

    “If he hadn’t decided to go taunting the demons, the git wouldn’t have been hurt,” Spike said, following them in.

    “He only went outside for the paper!” Buffy snapped. “I don’t blame him. He’s been stuck in this house all week with you.”

    “Well, you should take him for walks, then,” Spike said. “Put a leash on him. Don’t forget the pooper scooper.”

    Buffy rolled her eyes. “Give it a rest, Mr. Passive Aggressive. Xander’s my friend.”

    “And your taste in friends includes the best selection the bargain basement can offer.”

    “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

    “Well, let’s see, now. We’ve got Mr. Demon Bachelor Number One, and his bird Vengeance Veronica, we’ve got Little Witch Curses-A-Lot, your ex Mr. Milksop, and lets not forget the enormous poof who’s pranced off to LA.”

    Buffy glared. “You’re the one who insisted we never bring up Angel. As if your taste in friends is any more stellar. Not as if you weren’t the one dating the blond bird brain.”

    “What, you mean you?” Spike said with what he thought was a teasing grin.

    “I meant Harmony,” Buffy snapped. “Oh! Blondie bear!” she mocked. “What are you doing to my sweet boo-boo! You and the slayer, my god! That’s so disgusting! I knew you had some sick fascination with her, but how could you!” She laughed. “I still think you lost a bet.”

    Spike looked embarrassed. They’d run into Harmony at the mall three days ago, when they were getting Xander an arm-brace to support a sprained elbow. She’d left before Buffy could stake her – Buffy seemed strangely reluctant to do it, possibly because she’d known her. “Like Harm had any call to get pissed off. Last I saw her, she kept a stake in our bed, just to drive me off with.”

    “Huh. Harmony’s more clever than I thought!”

    “Least ways she’s smarter than you!” Spike snapped, coming up to her.

    “Oh, yeah!”

    “Yeah. At least she knew a woman’s right place!”

    “In the kitchen?” Buffy dared him to agree.

    “No. In the bedroom.”

    “Like you’re ever seeing that again, blood-sucker,” Buffy snapped. “You are so going back to the couch.”

    Spike smirked.

    “And what’s that look?”

    “Just remembering what happened the last time you sent me to the couch.”

    Buffy blushed, remembering the position over the back rest, and how they’d had to freeze when Giles walked in, asking if there was another demon attack, what with the noises.... “Not gonna happen again. This freak show has ended.”

    “You’re always saying that!” Spike grabbed hold of her. “I’m sick of it!”

    “You are sick. Everything about you is sick!”

    Spike released her. “God I wish I could hit you! You deserve it, bitch!”

    “Just like you deserve ten inches of pointed wood somewhere between your ribs!”

    “Well, you deserve wood somewhere, missy.”

    “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

    Spike kissed her. Buffy fought him, as always never sure if she was trying to fight him off, or fight in closer. “God, I hate you!” Spike breathed into her mouth.

    “I hate you too!” They couldn’t stop kissing. Spike pushed her up against the wall and began to tear at her clothes. Buffy reached up under his coat, raking at his back with her nails.

    “I love you, slayer,” he growled into her ear as he pushed against her. “I love you so much.”

    “Damn spell.”

    Spike growled and grabbed at her shirt, holding her angrily. “Stop saying that!”

    Buffy ignored his ire and went back to kissing him. He growled in his throat, but he let her. “Come on,” Buffy said through their kisses. “You know it’s a spell. This can’t be me.”

    “Why’s it all about you?” Spike snarled.

    “It’s not,” Buffy said. She pushed him down to the ground and straddled him. “Come on. Are you happy?”

    “You know I’m not!” Spike roared up at her. He rolled over and pressed her down, kissing her fiercely. “I want to kill you all the bloody time!” He kissed her again, scrabbling to get closer to her flesh, then he screamed again, as the chip fired. Making love to her was constant pain, from her and from himself. “And I want you more than anything.” He gnawed at her neck more gently – not hard enough to satisfy him in the least. Sometimes not killing her was agony. It wasn’t fair. “Ugh. Maybe you’re right. Maybe this is a sodding spell!”

    “I hate you.”

    “I hate you back!” Spike snarled. They rolled over and over, breaking a coffee table and knocking the still-undone dirty dishes off the counter.

    They’d been at it for forty minutes when they finally paused, still heated, not quite satisfied, but the urgency had been slaked. They stared into each other’s faces. “Bloody spell,” Spike breathed.

    “So now you agree it’s a spell?”

    “I’m hating you too much,” Spike said. “Most vampires are kinda kinky, but... my god. This is just....”

    “Wrong.”

    “No. Not wrong,” Spike said. “Just... out of hand?”

    “It’s wrong.”

    Spike gazed at her. “Did it always feel wrong?”

    “It should have,” Buffy said. “I think I had to learn more about you to know how wrong it was.” And she had learned a lot about him. She’d learned he loved paranormal soap-operas and talked at the television. She’d learned he could dance back and forth between tender and brutal without any transition between. She’d learned he craved both love and violence with the same fierce intensity. She’d learned he could dismiss anything he didn’t understand with brutal sarcasm. And she’d learned he gave great back, neck, and foot massages, and could dance like a dream, and liked to give her roses, and preferred to live by candlelight. Sometimes she wondered if it wasn’t them that was wrong, it was just him. For a violent soulless death-dealing-demon, he didn’t make any sense. Angel always made sense. Soulless – evil. Besouled – good. Spike was both and neither at the same time, and it drove her crazy. She couldn’t stop wanting him. “It’s like a drug.”

    Spike nodded. “It’s worse than the blood,” he said. “I crave it more.”

    “An addiction,” Buffy agreed. She pushed closer to him. His cool but animated flesh against hers felt as needed as a cessation of pain. “So now we agree. What do we do?”

    Spike tilted his head back, and let his hand caress her hair. “I don’t know,” he said. “All I know is I love you. Completely. And I don’t want to.”

    “I don’t want to, either.”

    Spike swallowed. “Don’t want to what?”

    “Same as you.”

    Spike let it hang there for longer than he was comfortable with. “I want you to say it, Buffy.” He hated himself. It amounted to begging, but he desperately needed to hear it tonight. She seemed to find it so hard to say sometimes. It was as if her emotions were locked off, and he had to dig like a miner to find those precious gems of affection. But when he found them, my god... she could be the sweetest thing in the world, blowing Drusilla’s mad distant affection out of the water, making his insides melt and his knees buckle. But it was so hard to find... and she swore it wasn’t real. “I need you to say it.” He bit back the please.

    “I don’t want to love you,” she whispered.

    It wasn’t enough. “Buffy...”

    She softened against him, and he was so afraid it was despair. “I love you,” she breathed. Then she started to cry.

    Oh, god, not again. Spike was always torn when she was crying about him. Hearing her say it had felt so good. Listening to her cry about it felt so terrible. But that she was crying in his arms.... “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

    “Me too,” Buffy said.

    Spike turned her, kissed the tears from her face, kissed her deeply, held her closely, and did the only thing he knew could make her feel better. He made love to her again.

    It was so much easier to shag than it was to talk.
 

***

    “Good god, Buffy, why do you persist in this?” Giles said. “Can’t you see, this isn’t your own will?”

    “No, it’s not.” Buffy clutched her pillow tightly and wept. Again. Still. “Why else do you think I persist in it?” She’d outlasted Spike this time, and he’d fallen asleep in shaky exhaustion. She’d lain there beside him, but the tears kept coming without his lips to kiss them away, his body to soothe away the confusion. She didn’t feel it right to wake him when he was the problem, so she’d come up to cry to Giles. Again. She’d been doing this at least five times a week. “I can’t just up and stop!”

    “Why not? I keep telling you. Just get a divorce, send him away!”

    “Just open your eyes,” Buffy said. “Just send the demons away. I can’t do it, any more than you and Xander can.”

    “It’s different for us.”

    “I don’t see how!” Buffy said. “I’d keep loving him whether he was here or not. If I don’t touch him, I ache for him. Why do you keep telling me to drop it? I still love him.”

    “You still loved Angel, the two of you broke it off.”

    Buffy drew in a deep breath. “It’s different with Angel,” she said. “That was real. I had a choice. He had a choice. Spike and I... we’re trapped in this. And it’s no more fair to blame us for loving than it’s fair to blame you for your blindness.”

    “But you’re miserable.”

    Buffy sniffed. “Angel made me miserable, too,” she said. “But at least I know Spike feels the same way about me. There’s no way he can’t. We’re both stuck here.” She started to cry again.

    “My god, Buffy.” Giles sat beside her. “It kills me to see you like this. And I can’t see you! I wish I could make this easier for you. To be forced into loving someone you hate...”

    “But I don’t hate him,” she said. “And I do. It’s all twisted up. We come together, and he touches me, and we’re both so happy. We’re just burning with happiness. And then we step a little apart, and it’s nothing but anger, and I want to shove him away. And I do. And then we step further apart, and it feels like I’ve been torn in half, and I’m starving for him.”

    “And he feels the same way?”

    “Yes. But when we’re together... unless we’re together... it just doesn’t work!” Buffy sat for a long moment trying to console herself, but it wasn’t working. “Oh, god, Giles!” She reached forward and wept on her Watcher’s shoulder.

    Giles felt odd about it. He really wasn’t comfortable with his slayer crying. She knew that, and tried to control it for him, but she couldn’t always help it. Particularly not recently. “There, there,” he said, patting her shoulder awkwardly. “We’ll... we’ll think of something. There’s got to be something we can do.”
 

***

    Wesley Wyndham-Pryce listened to the information being relayed over the phone, growing more and more incredulous. “Very funny, Giles. Is this some kind of prank?” he finally asked. “Play a joke on the fired watcher?”

    “I’ve been fired too, Wes,” Giles said. “And I assure you, I am deadly serious. This is not a joke.”

    Wesley sputtered. “They’re married. Seriously. Buffy and a vampire. An actual, no holds barred, dead, soulless vampire. Married. How?”

    “We think it was a spell,” Giles said over the phone. “Willow, if you remember, was a burgeoning witch, and apparently she performed a spell which has gone awry. Unfortunately no one has seen her since the spell was activated. But before she vanished, the spell did plenty of damage. As well as casting a strong demon summoning charm on Xander, and cursing me with blindness, she said that Spike and Buffy should get married.”

    “And they’re still married?”

    “Yes,” Giles said. “But even with this chip thing in place, things are not going well.”

    “I can imagine they’re not. Why don’t they get a divorce?”

    “I’ve discussed that. They both seem against the idea, though at least they have now both acknowledged that there is a supernatural aspect to their... ah... affection for each other.”

    “So why are you calling me?”

    “Buffy needs help,” Giles said. “Well, the relationship is impossible, isn’t it. Angel knew that, that was why he left. It’s even worse with Spike. He has no soul, no compassion. She’s crying all the time, and seems constantly at war with herself. Spike is, of course, behaving as cold and frightening as a vampire would – though Buffy tells me he’s not like that all the time. The chip keeps him from harming humans, and he does seem devoted to Buffy. And he is helping to keep Xander safe from the demons which are still hunting him. Truthfully, his assistance is vital, with me blind and Xander always on guard, but Buffy is finding the whole experience traumatic.”

    “Why don’t you simply get the spell reversed?”

    “We’ve tried. It’s a fearsomely powerful thing. We think it might be one that can only be rescinded by the one who cast it, and Willow seems to have vanished without a trace. Anya seems to think she may have been made into a vengeance demon, but there’s no proof of that. But the marriage is the problem. Spike on his own appears... containable. He enjoys killing demons, and I believe we could keep him content with money and animal blood in exchange for his assistance. As an ally, he’s not the worst thing that could happen, but with Buffy as his wife...”

    “The slayer must be going mad. What do you expect me to do about it?”

    “Well. I was talking with Buffy’s mother about it, and Joyce had an interesting idea. I’m considering marriage counseling.”

    “You’re calling in a marriage counselor?”

    “No,” Giles said. “I’m calling in you.”

    Wesley was dead silent for a moment. “Why?” he finally asked.

    “Because most of their issues center around their being slayer and vampire, and an ordinary marriage counselor will be able to do nothing with that. Buffy needs someone trained in the history of the slayers, and that means a watcher. I can’t do it. I’m too close to Buffy, and the whole situation. But you know the council...”

    “They’d go off the handle,” Wesley said.

    “I know,” Giles said. “They might even kill Buffy, hoping for another slayer to take her place.”

    “Do you really think they’d do that?”

    “What do you think the Cruciamentum is really about?” Giles said. “In any case, I don’t want to call them in. Not for this. Do you think you could handle a little marriage counseling between slayer and vampire?”

    “I don’t know,” Wesley said. “If I brushed up on my psychology I might be able to handle some kind of Rogerian style psychotherapy....”

    “We’ve very little choice, at this stage, Wesley.”

    “Well. There is the obvious solution.”

    “What’s that?”

    “Kill this Spike character.”

    “It’s more complicated than that,” Giles said.

    “Why? If it’s only a spell they are under, and he is a vampire. It’s not as if he’s an innocent.”

    “We don’t know if the spell would end with his life. And Buffy would grieve. She would grieve horribly. It would be worse than when Angel left.”

    “She would probably get over it,” Wesley said. “I mean, how long have they known each other? Three weeks?”

    “Try three years,” Giles said. “It’s only that they were mortal enemies to start with. Which means they each know each other’s weak points and which buttons to press. Then they were allies, but strained ones – Spike actually helped save my life, long before this chip or this spell. He helped Buffy defeat Angelus, helped her to save the world – and that was years ago. He’s a complex character.”

    “But they’ve only been – together – for a short while.”

    Giles sighed. “I’d agree with you, but I’ve seen some things... or shall we say, heard some things. For one, they’re very... physical... with each other. And you know that’s always a difficulty with the slayers.”

    “Well, usually it’s not a problem for long–” Wesley cut himself off. The reason why the Slayer’s physical strength wasn’t often a problem for their lovers was usually because they were killed before they had many. Buffy was already older than most slayers in history; most died before the Cruciamentum was even enacted. Now that Wesley thought about it, he wondered if Giles was right, and whether that was the intended role of the trial – to clear off the old slayer to make way for new. Younger slayers were easier for the council to control. Giles might have had the right idea about the council, too. They might well kill Buffy if they thought she was turning to the dark side. And marrying a vampire... yes. They’d assume as much.

    “Well, it has been an issue,” Giles went on, “and Spike’s vampire strength has mitigated that. As I said, it’s complicated. Spike can be... I hate to say this, but romantic? He’s dedicated songs to her on the radio, for Christ’s sake. You know she’s still a teenager, it makes her positively giggle! He’s started her a flower garden, and he really will put himself in actual danger to protect us all. He’s saved Xander countless times. He does tend to listen when Buffy insists. And he can’t hurt people – I think by now we’d all feel... I think Xander put it best when he said it would be ooky to see him dusted. There are two sides to it. They’re mortal enemies, but they are also husband and wife. When things work well between them, she’s happier than I’ve ever seen her. But when it doesn’t... and it doesn’t more than not.... In any case, it couldn’t possibly be worth it to kill Spike, particularly since we do need his help protecting Xander.”

    “Is he really helping?”

    “He’s invaluable. With his help we’ve established enough of a demon neutral zone that the poor boy can finally go outside again. Spike’s a master of street style martial arts, particularly skilled in fighting group assailants. Buffy’s still a little lax in that area, if you recall. Also, I can’t train her any longer, and she’s keen on restarting her training, with Xander in such danger now. Spike has taken over my role in physical training, and he spars with her – as much as he can, unable to strike her back.  He speaks several demon languages, has actually managed to talk some of Xander’s attackers into actually helping us. The spell only calls them in, it doesn’t force them to fight him. Some of them seem to want to mate with him, in fact... which gets awkward. I truly hate to say this, but Spike really is an asset to the team. So long as he continues as he is, we couldn’t possibly just turn Spike into dust and not expect repercussions.”

    “Spike...” Wesley mused. “Spike... have we heard of him?”

    “William the Bloody,” Giles said.

    “Good lord!” Wesley was horrified. “The slayer killer? The only vampire worse we have on record is–”

    “Angelus. Apparently there’s some kind of connection there, through Spike’s old paramour. That makes things complicated between them as well.”

    “It would!” Wesley sighed. “I see you do need some help. Have you thought about calling in Angel? I know he and Buffy had... a complicated relationship themselves. Could his presence shatter this love spell?”

    “Tried it. He did arrive at their wedding. His presence altered her opinion not at all.”

    “All right,” Wesley said. “I’ll do a little research into marriage counseling. I understand it’s usually some form of mediation, and I’ve had some training there.”

    “You know what you need to know about slayers and vampires, and that’s the most important thing.”

    “Indeed. So. I suppose I’ll be back in Sunnydale within a few days. Tell the pair of them to prepare for couple’s therapy.”
   

 

 
Chapter 4, in which logic attempts to prevail.
 

So heavy is the chain of wedlock that it needs two to carry it, and sometimes three.
~Alexandre Dumas.
 

 

    “So,” Wesley asked. “You want to tell me why we’re here?”

    “You know bloody well why we’re here!” Spike snapped.

    Buffy was a little confused herself. She’d had to drag Spike here to Wesley’s rented office/apartment, and it had been a physical strain. Spike would agree to go, then change his mind, then agree again. She’d have to threaten or coax, and then he’d soften, and follow her like a puppy, and then he’d say something awful, or she would, and then he’d retaliate, and then they’d be at odds as usual, and she’d have to persuade him all over again. Even the walk over had been like the marriage in a nutshell; both of them trying to get somewhere, but not really knowing how, or even whether or not they should even try. “Uh... didn’t Giles... tell you?”

    “Mr. Giles has informed me of the current circumstances,” Wesley said, “but I want to hear your view of the situation. So, Buffy. Would you like to go first?”

    Buffy shrugged. “Hi, Wes,” she said. “You’re playing marriage counselor for us.”

    “Yes. And why am I doing that?”

    “Because we asked you to. We need some. Counsel.”

    “And why is that?”

    “We fight all the bloody time,” Spike said. “I mean all the bloody time.”

    “And we’re stuck together,” Buffy said. “So we might as well figure out how to get along.”

    “Interesting phrase, stuck together,” Wesley said. “What exactly does that mean?”

    “Well, we’re under a bloody spell, aren’t we,” Spike said.

    “So you are now aware that you’ve been under the influence of a spell,” Wesley said. “I understand that at first you denied that possibility?”

    “Yeah,” Buffy said, looking down.

    “What made you realize the truth?”

    “Well, it became pretty bloody obvious,” Spike said.

    Wesley frowned at him. “You seem to think the whole situation fairly bloody, Mr. Spike.”

    “‘Scuse me?”

    “Well, you’ve used that word bloody every time you’ve opened your mouth. Is there something about this that makes you uncomfortable?”

    Spike stood up and headed for the door with a swirl of his coat. “Sod this. Buffy, I’ve got enough rubbish mucking about through my brain. I don’t need to help this ponce earn his psychobabble merit badge.”

    “Spike, you sit down, or so help me, I will keep you on nothing but plasma for a month!” Buffy shouted at him. Spike growled, seething, but he came back. He stood behind the chair and gripped the upholstered backrest. “You see what I have to deal with?” she asked Wesley. “He’s a monster!”

    “Well, yes,” Wesley said. “But I believe that you both knew that when you started. Spike, if it would make you feel more comfortable, you could just listen for this first session, unless you feel a real need to add your input.”

    “Fine by me,” Spike muttered. He pulled out a cigarette and leaned against the wall to smoke it. “Bloody head hunter.”

    “I would prefer you didn’t smoke in here,” Wesley said.

    “Oh.” Spike took a deep drag.

    Buffy grunted her annoyance and rolled her eyes.

    “Do you have something to say?” Wes asked.

    “Well, yeah,” Buffy said. “Look at him! He has no consideration for anyone, at all, ever. He’s such a jerk!”

    “He does appear to behave in self centered manner, at least at the moment,” Wes said. “But are you sure he has no consideration at all?”

    “Yes,” Buffy said. “Never cares about anyone but himself.”

    “He seemed willing to come here when you asked.”

    “Well, yeah, but...” Buffy stopped, realizing that was true. “It’s only because I can put the cork on his blood supply.”

    “Ah. Is that true?” Wesley asked.

    “Thought I wasn’t participatin’ in this here head game,” Spike said darkly.

    Wesley nodded. “Very well.” He turned back to Buffy. “So you feel you need to threaten him, in various ways, deprivation of food or bodily harm. Would he never do what you wanted him to, otherwise?”

    “Well, yeah,” Buffy said. “Well. No. I don’t know.” She felt torn. “I never know,” she admitted. “That’s actually my biggest problem. I never know what he’s gonna do. Sometimes he’s an absolute angel, and then he’s so... callous. And it’s not even the murder-torture-cruelty, thing – I mean, he can’t do that stuff anymore, anyway. It’s just little stuff. Like this cigarette thing, and how mean he is to Xander, and how he’ll just... steal things. And he cheats at cards. And he litters. And he’s rude to people. And he does all these things, and it’s like... god, it’s like being slapped, every time!”

    “You take all these things as affronts against yourself?”

    “Just...” Buffy sighed and looked down. “He just does this stuff, and I can’t....”

    “Can’t what?”

    Buffy’s voice was very small. “I can’t help but see the demon inside.”

    Spike’s head tilted as he watched Buffy.

    “Is he this callous towards you?”

    “Well... no,” Buffy said. “And that kind of makes it even worse. Because I know he can be such a sweetheart, and I know that he can care, but he just... won’t.

    “I don’t see why,” Spike said.

    Wes turned to him. “Why what?”

    “I don’t see why I should care about any of you.”

    Buffy turned to him. “But don’t you see how messed up that is?” she asked. “It’s like, you think I’m the only person in the entire world. And I’m not, there’s a whole world out there, full of human beings, who think and feel and hurt just like I do, and it’s like you can’t see them.”

    “I see them just fine,” Spike said. “They’re cattle.”

    “Yeah, but they’re not!” Buffy shouted, raising her hands in exasperation.

    “Let’s put that aside for a moment,” Wesley said. “The world is a very big place, and Spike has... shall we say cultural reasons... for feeling the way he does about humanity. So let’s stay on topic. Why do you care about Buffy?”

    “Spell, in’t it,” Spike said.

    “Well, the spell is certainly a factor,” Wesley said. “What exactly does this spell mean, to you?”

    “Like the bird said,” Spike said, sitting down. He’d put his cigarette in Wes’s potted plant. “We’re stuck with each other.”

    “How do you mean, stuck?”

    Buffy took a deep breath. “We can’t stop.”

    “Stop?”

    Buffy blushed. “L-loving each other.”

    “Ah.” Wes sat back. “How do you know you love each other?”

    Both the slayer and the vampire sat still for a long moment. Then, as if drawn by a magnet, their heads turned to each other. Buffy winced, and began to breathe a little harder. Spike’s lips twitched, and he unconsciously licked his teeth. The electricity between them was undeniable, even to Wesley. “Can’t miss it,” Spike finally said.

    Buffy’s head bowed as if she were being caressed, and her blush deepened. “So you see,” Buffy said. “We’re stuck.”

    “Well, obviously, there is an undeniable attraction,” Wes said. “Clearly you both feel that. But that wasn’t what I asked. Buffy. How do you know he loves you?”

    Buffy blinked. “Um.”

    “Do you know he loves you?”

    Buffy hesitated. “Yes,” she said finally.

    “What makes you think that?”

    She sighed and looked down. “He really can be really sweet,” she said shyly. “I mean, the way he came to me... when I was unhappy, after our wedding night. I’ve never seen anything so helpless, and when he knew that I loved him... when I agreed to stop trying to fight the spell, he just... god, he just melted. It was like a snowman, it was just...” she smiled fondly. She still wouldn’t look up. “He tells me he loves me,” she said. “He says it, you know, right out, and he...” she looked up at Wes. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but he’s really... um... well... generous. Um. In... well... like our wedding night. But... e-even more... after. And...”

    “He is a considerate lover,” Wesley said frankly, without evident embarrassment. He'd realized he was just going to have to get over certain subjects if he was going to help them.

    “I try,” Spike said softly. “She’s, uh... a challenge.”

    Buffy looked up at him then, and he smirked. “Yeah. Well. There’s that,” she said, unable to keep from smiling in embarrassment at the memories. She turned back to Wes. “And it... it’s hard to explain. He’ll... he’ll help my friends, because I care about them. And I know it’s for me, not them, really, but sometimes... he’s really kinda nice to Giles, kinda... helping him ‘cause he’s blind now, and he’s put himself in actual danger saving Xander a few times. Like last night.”

    “Hey, I was saving you.”

    “Xander was the one being attacked,” Buffy said.

    “And you were the one in danger, trying to save his pansy ass.”

    “Now, I find this interesting,” Wesley said. “Why don’t you want to admit that you were saving Xander?”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Well, to be frank, Buffy is a slayer,” Wesley said. “While your assistance was no doubt welcomed, the chances of Buffy herself being hurt were not high, while the possibility of her friend’s death was considerably higher. If you were to enter into a fray, the one in real danger was unarguably the human male.”

    “Yeah? So?”

    “So I’m trying to understand why you would deny saving a human.”

    “I wasn’t saving a human!” Spike snarled.

    “Yeah, you were!” Buffy said. “I was fine, you know was fine. I just couldn’t deal with both demons at once before Xander got hurt. You saved him.”

    “I did not!”

    “He did,” Buffy said, kind of proud. “Nearly had his arm ripped off, too. And he just kept fighting, even though I told him to stop. He was really brave.”

    “I was just savoring a spot of violence.”

    “He told Xander to run,” Buffy said, with a mischievous smirk. “Told the rest of the demons to step on up before they dared take on the little boy.”

    “It wasn’t for him!”

    “It was.”

    “Was not!”

    “This troubles you,” Wesley said to Spike.

    “Shut up.”

    “No,” Wesley said, “I feel we are touching on an important issue. Does the idea of doing good disturb you?”

    “I’m not doing good.”

    “Well, demonstrably, you are. You’ve been protecting innocents and slaughtering demons, so I think we need to know why you’re denying it.”

    Spike stood up. “I’m getting out of this.”

    “Does it feel unnatural in some way?”

    “Leave it.”

    “Does it feel as though it lessens you somehow? As if it would somehow taint you?”

    “Shut the hell up!” Spike roared in Wesley’s face. Wesley blanched.

    Buffy stood up with him and took hold of him, turning him to her. “Hey, calm down,” she said.

    “I’m not gonna calm down! He insulted me!”

    “He called you a hero,” Buffy said firmly. She reached up and took hold of his neck, caressing his jaw with her thumb. “It’s not an insult. I’m a hero.”

    Spike stared down at her, his face troubled. “You’re the slayer,” he said softly. “It’s different.”

    “You’re different,” Buffy said. She reached up and kissed him on the side of the mouth, a chaste, tender little peck. He melted anyway. His eyes still closed he opened his mouth and leaned after her, hungry for a deeper kiss. “Not now, honey,” she said. He sighed, but let her put him away.

    Wesley swallowed, gone from terrified to fascinated, a slight furrow between his eyes. Whatever this spell had done, it had worked deeply into the psyches of both of them. They already had a strong partnership, and a deep affection, even if it was instigated by an outside force. It was painfully sweet to see, and he found that disturbing.  “I see what you mean by its being obvious,” he said to Spike. “But I feel its your turn. How do you know she loves you?”

    Spike shrugged. “Don’t matter. She does, that’s all.”

    “No, it’s important to articulate it. She’s told you the things you’ve done for her that let her know you love her. So. What has she done that lets you know she loves you?”

    Spike turned his head away with a dismissive groan. “Nah, no one wants to hear that bollocks.”

    “I’d like to,” Buffy said.

    “You see?” Wes said. “Tell her.”

    Now it was Spike’s turn to look embarrassed. “It’s... ah... nah. It doesn’t matter.”

    “Come on, honey,” Buffy said. She pulled him as she stepped backward and sat back down in her chair.

    Spike sat down, but still looked too embarrassed to say. He looked toward the door.

    “It must be something very specific,” Wesley said, “because you don’t look like you’re searching. You just don’t seem to want to say.”

    He shook his head and looked over at Buffy. “Buffy, I don’t–”

    “Please?” she asked.

    Spike’s look softened at the tenderness in her plea. “You cry,” he said softly.  

    “What?”

    Spike looked back at Wes. “She cries. She lets herself cry. I mean she’s...” he shook his head, “all powerful chosen one, mighty slayer, defender of humanity and all that rot, and she comes home to me and... she lets herself cry. The first time it was over me, and it was like... god. Way to tear me apart, but... since then she’s come to me, and... she’s cried over Willow and she cried when Xander and Anya broke up for that one day, and she cried when Giles nearly got hit ‘cause he couldn’t see the road, and she cried when her dad canceled the day trip he’d been planning, and... she’s cried when the two of us have been fighting. Or, after we’ve been fighting, really. And she’ll be hurting, and she won’t shield away like she does for Xander and everyone. I mean, she’ll even hide it from Giles sometimes, ‘cause he doesn’t know how to handle it. She hides it from her mum, ‘cause she doesn’t want to worry her. But she doesn’t hide it from me, ever. I could tell if she was. She’ll let me in, let me hold her. Let me take some of that weight away for her.” Spike shrugged. “She wouldn’t let herself do that, if she didn’t love me.”

    There was a long moment of silence after that little speech. A moment later, Spike got his chance again, as Buffy started to sniffle. “Oh, hey, don’t...” He sank to his knees by her chair and reached for her hands.

    She let him take them. “You see?” Buffy said to Wes, her voice a bit of a whimper through her tears, as she cried, touched by his completely selfless confession. “He can be such a sweetie.” She reached up with one hand and caressed his cheek. “And then he can be such a monster.”

    “I’m okay with that,” Spike said with a soft smile.

    “Yeah, but I’m not,” Buffy said helplessly. She looked back up at Wes. “I don’t know how I can be with someone who doesn’t care about people. But I can’t – stop – loving him!” She caressed his hair, her face desperate and vulnerable. “How could I not love him?” she whispered in despair.

    Spike gazed up at her, adoration in his eyes. He squeezed her thigh, his nails scratching a bit at her flesh, both a reassurance and a promise. “We’ll sort this out,” he said.

    “How?” she asked.

    Spike shrugged. “Well, I guess this wanker’s got a couple ideas.” He heaved himself up and sank back into his chair, slouching, with his legs spread, contempt still in every line of him. “All right, head hunter. How do we deal?”

    Wesley smiled. “This isn’t going to be a quick fix, Mr... Do you prefer Spike, or William the Bloody?”

    “Spike. No mister.”

    “Wes,” Wesley said.

    “Buffy,” Buffy said. “Do you really think this relationship is salvageable?”

    Wes looked at her. “Well. Is there an alternative?”

    The slayer and the vampire gazed at one another. “It’s either sort this out, or stay miserable,” Buffy said to Spike, in a questioning tone.

    Spike sighed. “Okay,” he finally said. “I guess I’m in.”
 
Chapter 5, in which Buffy does not like a truth she is discovering.
 


What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility.
Leo Tolstoy

 

    “All right,” Wesley said. “So in this session, I think we should start by going into a little relationship history.”

    Spike laughed.

    Buffy glared at him. “What’s so funny?”

    “Nothing. Tell the wonderful counselor about Angelus. This’ll be good.”

    “Actually, I was thinking we’d start with you,” Wes said.

    Spike shrugged. “Nothing to tell.”

    “You’ve had no relationships at all. In two hundred years.”

    “One hundred and twenty-six!” Spike snapped.

    “Hm...” Wesley said.

    “What’s ‘hm’ mean?”

    “Nothing. I’m just trying to figure out how you arrive at that figure. Are you including your years as a human man?”

    “No. Next subject.”

    “Wes, I... my relationship history is a little troubled,” Buffy said, “and Spike just went through a bad break up. Can we do something else?”

    “A bad break up? Tell me about it.”

    “That’s not doing something else, watcher boy!” Spike snapped.

    “All right,” Wesley said. “I still think we should discuss this, but we’ll try again in a later session. In that case... perhaps we should try to identify what our goals are here.”

    “What do you mean?” Buffy asked.

    “Well, what would you like to be the ultimate outcome of these sessions? Spike?”

    Spike frowned. “I’d like her to lighten up,” he said after a bit. “Quit with the stuck-up routine, and go fun again.”

    “Again?” Wes glanced at Buffy. “What do you mean, again?”

    “I mean again,” Spike said. “She didn’t always have a stake up her ass. She was fun, she liked to play, none of this everything’s life and death bollocks.”

    “When the hell are you talking about?” Buffy asked. “Do you mean during our wedding? Because I hadn’t realized we were cursed, yet!”

    “Cursed?” Spike asked.

    “Bespelled, whatever,” Buffy said.

    “You think loving me’s a curse.” Spike looked away with wounded scorn. “Right. Right.”

    “I think...,” Wes said, “I think it’s quite clear that Spike finds that terminology insulting, Buffy. Is that what you meant to do?”

    “What? No!”

    Wes raised his eyebrows. “How would you feel, if he used that terminology about you?”

    “Well... yeah, but... it is a curse, isn’t it?”

    “A curse,” Spike spat. “A punishment, an attack, nothing but evil, that’s really what you think about this?”

    Buffy blinked. “Oh. Well, no. I... I don’t think of curses as evil.”

    “Don’t you?” Wes asked.

    “No,” Buffy said. “Curses...” She blushed. “Curses can do very good things.” She looked down.

    Spike stared at her for a long moment, and then tossed his head. “Oh, right. She’s thinking about nancy boy down in LA, and his old soulfulness. He got hexed when he ate up a gyp.”

    Wes nodded. “And you considered that curse nothing but an evil, is that right?”

    “Didn’t make him a nicer guy or nothin’. It just tangled him up and made him miserable.”

    “It did so make him–!” Buffy stopped, realizing they were getting into dangerous territory with Angel even in the conversation.

    “No it didn’t. Hell, I’m a nicer guy than Angelus, even without a damn soul.”

    “Oh, now, that’s rich!” Buffy snapped.

    “I can’t hurt a sodding fly, ‘cause it’s alive. Let alone eat a human being.” Spike snapped right back. “Angelus was eating people just fine for a bunch of years even after the damn curse. He just felt really bad about it,” he mocked.

    Buffy actually hadn’t known that. She was startled when Wesley laughed. “I don’t see anything funny about this.”

    “Oh, no, it is only that we have touched on the traditional ethical dilemma of the Walrus and the Carpenter,” Wesley said. “It tickled me.”

    “Oh, yeah.” Spike grinned. “I weep for you,’ the Walrus said. ‘I deeply sympathize.’ With sobs and tears he sorted out–

    “Those of the largest size!” Wesley joined in. “Holding a pocket handkerchief before his streaming eyes,” they both finished in unison. The two grinned at each other, a shared moment of understanding.

    Buffy realized she had just witnessed something incredibly British, and it had gone right over her head. “‘Scuse me? Hello?” She waved. “American over here.”

    “Ah, it’s from Through The Looking Glass,” Wesley said. He looked a little embarrassed to have shared a moment with a vampire. “No doubt Spike here grew up with it.”

    “Was in my teens when it came out,” Spike said.

    “Ah,” said Wesley. “Well, in any case, Alice was presented with a moral dilemma when presented with the poem, in having to choose between the Walrus, who had eaten more of the innocent oysters but felt badly about it, and the Carpenter, who had eaten fewer, but considered the whole thing a matter of course.”

    Buffy had never read the book. She’d barely watched the Disney cartoon as a kid. “Who won?”

    “It wasn’t a battle,” Wesley said.

    “It was the oysters who lost,” Spike said with a dark grin.

    “The battle was between regret and intention,” Wes told her. “Both had intended to do harm, but the question remained, which was better – the one who had done the most harm, but felt sympathy, or the one who had done the least harm, but felt nothing.”

    Buffy thought about this. “You should feel sorry,” Buffy said.

    “I doubt the oysters felt that way,” Spike said. “Or shall I say, the remaining oysters.”

    “Yeah, you wouldn’t know,” Buffy snapped. “You don’t care about the people you’ve eaten.”

    “Yeah,” Spike said. “But I never slaughtered an entire convent full of nuns, either, or tortured a beautiful woman into madness.”

    “Let’s get back to you, and the subject at hand,” Wesley said, diverting the argument off Angel. But not before Spike heard Buffy mutter, “That was before the soul.”

     “You don’t feel like the love spell you’re under is a curse,” Wesley went on.

    “Just a spell, in’t it,” Spike said.

    “And you liked it better when Buffy didn’t realize it.”

    “Well... yeah, who wouldn’t? She was sweet, and... and happy,” Spike said. “She wasn’t on guard all the time. But that wasn’t when I meant, anyhow.”

    “When were you talking about?” Wes asked.

    “When I first met her.”

    “You mean when you were trying to kill me?”

    “Yeah!” Spike snapped at her. “You were fun, you were laughing and dancing, and you used to play games while you were slaying. You were a joy to watch. Now I’m lucky to even hear a stupid pun.”

    Buffy ignored the stupid. “You like my puns?”

    Spike looked at her. “Yeah, I like your puns. You thought I didn’t?”

    “You were always so scornful of them, and... sarcastic.”

    Spike glared. “And I’m not allowed to play, too?”

    Buffy gaped. She hadn’t realized they were playing word games. Almost half their arguments fell from furious fire to warm glowing coals almost instantly. “But you... you noticed? Like, way back then?”

    Spike glared at her. “You were my prey, Buffy. Not just my prey, the slayer. I know I was just another vamp to you, but this was a big deal.” He looked away. “It was to me, anyway. But then you got all broody and serious, and the whole thing stopped being any fun.”

    Wes nodded. “And when did this happen?”

    Spike opened his mouth, and then shut it again. “Don’t matter,” he said instead of whatever he’d been thinking. “She just needs to lighten up, is all.”

    “All right,” Wesley said. “So, you’d like Buffy to... try and enjoy herself more. To not take things so seriously. Am I hearing you right?”

    “Yeah, pretty much.”

    “All right. And Buffy, what are you hoping for from this experience?”

    Buffy sighed heavily. “What I want... god, it doesn’t even matter. I’m never gonna get it. Mostly, I just want him to be... less evil.”

    “Hello! Vampire!” Spike snapped.

    “Well,” Wesley said. “What’s your definition of evil?”

    No one had ever asked Buffy that before. “He still wants to kill people.”

    “Yes, but he can’t. Lacking that, he’s chosen to help you instead. Is that evil?”

    “No.”

    “Then what is evil, exactly?”

    Buffy thought about this. “Selfish,” she said.

    “Well, I distinctly remember Cordelia,” Wesley said. “And I recall her being very selfish indeed at times. Was she evil?”

    “No. No, she was just nasty.”

    “Then...?”

    Buffy was flummoxed. “I guess I don’t know.”

    Wes nodded. “Rather than wishing that the other would change, what do you want in the relationship?” he asked. “What is it about the... lightening up and the lack of evil that would make you two feel better about each other?”

    “Well, we wouldn’t fight as much,” Buffy said.

    “Things would be lots easier,” Spike said.

    “So, you’re both hoping for less conflict in the relationship.”

    The slayer of slayers and the slayer of vampires looked at each other. “Yeah,” they both said. Then they both looked down. It was very clear this was going to be a Sisyphean task.

    “So, we established earlier that you both feel you have no choice about maintaining the relationship,” Wesley said. “The spell stated you must be married, and you must live as husband and wife. Yes?”

    Both nodded.

    “So, you feel you need to work things out because there is no alternative.”

    “None,” Buffy said firmly.

    “All right.” Wes looked through some notes. “Before we try to move forward in this relationship, I think it’s important to try and sort out any past conflicts you might have had.”

    Buffy and Spike both looked blankly at Wes. Then both started talking at once.

    “We’re mortal enemies –”

    “– conflicts we may have had? –”

    “– when someone’s trying to kill you it’s really hard to–”

    “– couldn’t possibly have my best interests at heart–”

    “– you just don’t get it–”

    “– there’s no free pass for–”

    “– and you’d think what with all the hitting and the yelling and the broken–”

    “ – some nightmare!”

    “Enough!” Wesley yelled over them. Then, without missing a beat, he continued in perfect British smoothness, “So, you feel there have been many conflicts between you that remain unresolved. Buffy, what are your thoughts on this?”

    “Well, he’s a vampire. He kept showing up and trying to kill me!”

    Wesley nodded. “And the memory of this bothers you now.”

    “Well, no,” Buffy said. “I mean, it was just Spike.”

    “Don’t do me any favors, slayer.”

    Ignoring him, Wesley kept focused on Buffy. “Which particular incident were you thinking of?”

    “Well... all of them!”

    “Try to narrow in,” Wesley said. “Which one of your encounters bothered you the most?”

    Buffy thought about this. “When he kidnapped Angel.”

    “I am not, under any circumstances, apologizing for that one.”

    “Hold on a moment, Buffy isn’t through yet,” Wes said. “Buffy, what was it about that incident that bothered you?”

    “Well, he kidnapped my boyfriend, and tried to murder him. And he didn’t even do it himself, he hired a bunch of thugs and bribed Willy from the bar. And then he tortured Angel–” Spike scoffed, but Buffy ignored him “–and used him in this creepy ritual. It nearly killed him. I mean, attack me if you want to, hell, even cower behind a bunch of mercenaries like a big chicken, but no one lays a hand on my boyfriend!”

    Wesley turned to Spike, who was seething in his chair. “So, you stated earlier that you don’t regret this. Why not?”

    Spike’s teeth were clenched. “Because it saved Dru’s life,” he said with a snarl in his voice.

    “And I’m supposed to care that you saved that murderous ho?”

    Spike surged up from his chair. “Don’t you dare! Don’t you ever!”

    “Spike, sit down!” Wesley tried to control the situation.

    Spike didn’t even hear him. He planted both hands firmly on either side of Buffy’s chair and roared into her face. “You expect me to feel sorry for Angel, when it’s for Dru? You don’t even understand! You have no idea what he did her, none! Ever! I wish he had gone into the bloody ground that day, she deserved every damn drop of his cursed blood, and there is nothing you can say that will make me regret it!”

    Buffy hit him. He went backward, colliding with Wesley, fell to the ground, jumped back up and charged, completely vamped. A half second later he was rolling on the floor, screaming in agony, clutching his head. Wesley dragged himself back from the floor. Spike finally relaxed, panting, as the chip ceased its punishing attack.

    “Does this happen often?” Wes asked. He couldn’t maintain his clinical tone – he was terrified.

    Buffy shook her head, wondering, for the first time, if maybe she’d gone too far in her taunts. Spike looked almost in tears. When he finally dragged himself up, his face was stone. “I’m done,” he said. He stood up and headed for the door.

    “Nothing will be resolved if you go,” Wesley called after him.

    “Like she’s even gonna listen,” Spike snarled. His voice was so dark he did not sound remotely human.

    Buffy stood up from her chair. “Try me,” she said softly.

    Spike’s eyes flicked to her.

    “I do know what he did to her,” Buffy added. “He told me.”

    Spike shook his head. “No way. There’s no way he told you.”

    “He killed her family, and tortured her, like he did me,” Buffy said.

    “You got off easy, sweetheart. He hadn’t even begun torturing you yet. You think he just killed her family? You don’t even want to know how.”

    “You want to tell me?” Buffy asked.

    Spike actually laughed. “No. No, I don’t. Because I’m the one who’d have to deal with the aftermath if I did.”

    “It wouldn’t bother me.”

    Spike was baffled by that. How could her boyfriend being that perverted not bother her? “Buffy, some of the stuff Angel did to Drusilla makes me sick, and I’m a sodding vampire. I think beating a guy to death with his own arm is hilarious. Trust me, kitten. It would bother you.”

    “Let’s focus on you two,” Wesley said, trying to guide the conversation back. “Why don’t you regret hiring mercenaries and kidnapping Angel?”

    “I hired the Order of Taraka because things were getting crucial,” Spike said. “I had one chance – just one – to make Dru better, and I couldn’t have the damn slayer mucking up the works. You were better than me. Does that make you feel better, slayer? I didn’t feel up to it. Not with what I had to do to protect Dru.”

    “So you hid behind them so you could torture and kill my boyfriend?”

    “I wasn’t killing him for fun!” Spike snapped. “He was my sire, you stupid bint, it mattered. Yeah, he’d gone all Uncle Tom on me, but it still mattered. Drusilla was dying,” Spike said. “Do you get that? She was weaker than a human, she had poisons in her system, I lost more of her every day. I couldn’t bear watching her fade away like that, it was...” he stopped and turned to the door, but he didn’t try to leave. He was trying to hide that he was crying. He didn’t know how to explain – or even why it was – that he could have withstood Drusilla being dusted more than watching her slowly fade away, growing weaker and weaker. There was something about watching her sink under her growing illness that burned in his core. “Angel was family. I didn’t really want to kill him – or at least, it wasn’t my top priority anyway. Dru needed his blood. And I wasn’t the one who tortured him,” he said to the wall. “Dru was. And if she’d skinned him alive, she still wouldn’t have hurt him even a tenth as much as he hurt her.”

    “But that wasn’t Angel,” Buffy said. “That was Angelus, when he didn’t have a soul.”

    Spike rounded on her. “Why does that make such a big difference for you!” he yelled. “It was the same damn person!”

    “But he wasn’t even a person then!”

    Spike grunted as if he’d been struck. He stared at her, incredulous. “Which means I’m not either, am I.”

    Buffy’s lips pursed, as if she was about to say something, and then she stopped. She looked down.

    “You don’t think I’m a man, do you,” he said. He took a step toward her his brow furrowed. “Angel was, but I’m not. Angel was both a vampire and man. And I’m not.” He swallowed. “Answer me this, pet? If I’m not a man... how can we be man and wife?” Buffy still didn’t answer. Spike turned to Wesley. “Your job’s done, oh wonderful counselor,” Spike said. “She’s not even married.” He turned and headed out the door.

    The slayer and the watcher stared at the door Spike had left open. That had gotten out of hand fast.

    “All right, Buffy,” Wesley asked finally. He had only just realized how woefully unprepared he was for this whole endeavor. How was he supposed to act the mediator when there was only one half of the couple to mediate? He looked to Buffy. “How do you feel about what just happened?”

    Buffy stared at Wesley for a long moment, white faced. Then she crumpled into tears.
 

***
    
    Buffy only had to follow to pieces of ripped and torn demons to find Spike. She counted at least five. He hadn’t only killed them. He had eviscerated them. He’d torn them apart and ripped out their hearts while they were still alive. It was actually rather disgusting.

    “Is it true you don’t think of him as a man?

    Wesley’s question had made her consider the entire thing over again. It had taken half an hour for her to stop crying this time. Wesley had seemed entirely helpless until she calmed down a bit. Ironically, she kept wishing Spike was there. He was good with tears.

    She didn’t think Spike was a man. But if he wasn’t a man, what was it that she was loving? He was a vampire, that was clear enough. But Angel had been a vampire, and she’d always thought of him as a man. A kind of vampire-man, and that soul had made all the difference. But Spike... what was he if he wasn’t a man? Was he a thing, then, nothing more impressive than some kind of sex-toy? Was he a kind of an animal, she was perversely getting off on? Was that was she was loving? Even under a spell, it seemed cheap and sordid when put that way.

    No, Spike wasn’t an animal. And he wasn’t a toy. He was a demon. He was...

    What she was supposed to kill. And it was okay to kill demons, because they weren’t people. And she had to kill demons, it was what she was built for, what she was called to. Demons weren’t people, they were just things. Things fate had called on her to kill.

    If Spike was a person... then it wasn’t okay to kill him. And since there wasn’t any soul making a difference between him and other demons, it wasn’t okay to kill any of them. And if it wasn’t okay to kill demons because they were people, and Spike was a monster because he killed people... then Buffy was a monster, too.

    The thought had already seeded itself in her mind, but she couldn’t accept it yet. She just kept shunting it away. She knew there was one thing that could block all the thinky thoughts out of her brain. Unfortunately, it required Spike....

    Spike was in the graveyard, in the middle of a pile of demon parts. That was another three he’d taken out tonight. He didn’t look good. They’d roughed him up something bad, he was bleeding from the nose, he had a goose-egg on his forehead, and his right hand looked like a bunch of sausages, fat and blotchy. Buffy stood in the darkened cemetery, stake in hand, and stared at him, white-faced and still.

    “I am married,” she said quietly. “I just don’t know what I’m married to.”

    Spike gazed at her. “I’m just a vampire, slayer. You should have a pretty good idea by now.”

    Buffy came up and lifted his injured hand. “You lost your temper,” she said, regarding his swollen fingers.

    “Don’t have a good rein on it at the best of times,” Spike pointed out. He lifted his good hand and gently touched her hair. “Are we wasting our time?”

    “What do you mean?”

    “We’re vampire and vampire slayer. I’m supposed to kill you. You’re supposed to kill me. How do we have less conflict in our relationship? It’s already a miracle we’re both still moving around.”

    Buffy shook her head. “I don’t know,” she said. She looked up. “I wished you hadn’t gone. I missed you.”

    Spike winced. He gazed at her for a heartbeat, and then kissed her, desperately, as he used to kiss Dru when she was ill; as if she was about to be taken away from him. Which, within a year, she was... though he’d had no way of knowing that. Hale and strong and healthier than he’d ever seen her, Drusilla had gone away. She’d needed Spike to take care of her for a full century. She grew better in body, and had had to get past her madness to take care of Spike in his infirmity. And then Angelus had returned, and the wild ocean of her madness had sunk down to a sea of tranquility – still just as deep and unfathomable, but navigable. Once she could navigate it, she hadn’t needed Spike anymore.

    And Spike had already been poisoned by Buffy. Drusilla had cast off, sailed away, and left Spike here... with the slayer. “I love you, slayer, do you get that? I do love you.”

    “I know,” she whispered.

    “Do you love me at all?”

    “I do,” Buffy said. “I just don’t... it’s not natural.”

    “But it’s good. Why won’t you let it be good?”

    “How would I do that?”

    Spike gazed at her. “Stop fighting me.”

    Buffy looked up at him. “Stop hurting me!” she begged.

    “How the hell am I hurting you?”

    Buffy started to cry again. Dammit, this was getting out of hand. Spike kissed her again, kissed her eyes, kissed her cheeks, kissed the tears away, kissed her mouth with hunger and desperation. “How am I hurting you?” he asked again.

    “By being you,” she whispered.

    “I can’t do anything about that,” he whispered. Buffy sobbed. He felt like he’d just been punched. “I’m sorry,” he heard himself saying.

    She sobbed even louder, as if his saying it just made it worse. She ran away, disappearing into the darkness, as if she were the one who was the creature of the night.  

    Spike went back home, showered the demon ichor off, curled into bed. Buffy arrived after sunrise, stripped and curled in beside him. She wouldn’t stop kissing him. They made love gently, deliberately, their voices silent, their eyes tightly closed. The fact that they were slayer and vampire completely subsumed by sensation.

    They still hadn’t solved anything.

 
Chapter 6, in which Angel attempts to make it all better.
 


A good marriage is that in which each appoints the other guardian of his solitude.
Rainer Maria Rilke


    Spike opened the kitchen door, and nearly slammed it shut again. “And what the hell are you doing here?” he asked Angel.

    “I’m not staying long,” Angel said. “This isn’t a social call.”

    “No. It’s not. Get lost.”

    “Buffy!” Angel called, peering past him. Only peering. He wasn’t barging in....

    Spike realized Angel couldn’t. This was a predominantly human dwelling, and Angel hadn’t been invited. Bloody brilliant! “Well, in’t this just neat,” he said with a grin. “Left out in the cold. You can’t come in unless I say, Why don’t you–? But I don’t have to.” He beamed at Angel. “You’re not welcome in my home, Angelus. You’re not invited. You cannot enter. I do not want you here.” He was almost dancing his delight.

    Angel did not look intimidated. “Buffy!”

    “Come on in, Angel,” Buffy said softly. She’d come up behind Spike.

    Spike stepped back as Angel barged his way into Spike’s home. “Hey now, slayer!” Spike glared at Buffy. “I was enjoying that.”

    “Could you two quit sparring for two minutes?” Buffy asked wearily. She turned to Angel. “Hi,” she said.

    The expression on her face was very different than it had been the last time she’d seen Angel. At their wedding, Angel had been an annoyance. A distant acquaintance. Now the love Spike knew would never completely leave Buffy’s wounded heart was a heavy weight in the center of the room. Like a black hole. And like a black hole, it was sucking in all the light and heat and energy, and devouring it. Spike’s glorious slayer seemed dimmed, diminished the moment Angel had reared his low-browed head. “I’m glad you got my message,” Angel said.

    “Yeah. You said you had an idea?”

    “What message?” Spike asked.

    “He left one on the machine yesterday,” Buffy said. “Giles said he called back.”

    “Called back about what?”

    Buffy looked up at Spike, and then looked away. “You know what Giles has been after,” Buffy said.

    Giles had been trying to lift the curse off himself and Xander. And by extension, Spike and Buffy’s love spell. General reversals, good fortune anti-curses, specific de-hexings, none of them had done any good. “So what’s Angel got to do with it?”

    “I’ve been doing some research,” Angel said. He didn’t look at Spike, but stared down Buffy, and Buffy, without much expression, stared back. “Giles told me what hasn’t worked. I didn’t find anything likely to reverse the spell in general, but... I think I might have something that’ll work on you two.”

    “Now see here, wanker. Buffy and I are happy together, do you get that?  I’m not having you do mojo on me!” Spike snapped.

    “Spike,” Buffy said. She still sounded so weary. It was as if Angel had sucked all her vitality away. “Just hear him out.”

    Spike looked down at her, wounded. “You want to listen to him?”

    Buffy glanced at Angel, standing tall and sure with a spell book in hand, and then looked back at Spike. “I know it’s Angel,” she said. “And I know you two have issues, but come on, Spike. We’re not happy.”

    Spike did not say speak for yourself. He did not say, we would be if you’d just let yourself!  Both of those things would have been too painful.

    “We can’t end this love on our own. I mean, Wes is working an uphill battle on this counseling thing.”

    “So you just want to cut it out, rather than try and fix it?”

    “Well, wouldn’t that be easier than trying to make this impossible thing work?” Buffy asked. “I mean, seriously. Weren’t you happier when you just wanted to kill me?”

    Spike glared at her. “I still want to kill you,” he snarled.

    “Yeah! But you still love me, right? It’s awful!” She turned back to Angel. “What did you have in mind?”

    “I found a spell,” Angel said. “It’s a reversal. A reset.” He paused. “You need me to tie him down?”

    “Shut your gob,” Spike glared at him. He turned back to Buffy. “Can I talk to you?”

    Buffy looked shyly at Angel. “Um...”

    “Alone, pet.”

    Buffy frowned. “Okay. Um...”

    “You’ve already invited this poof into my home – without checking to see if it was okay with me, first, which, if you hadn’t been able to see, it was not,” Spike snapped. “Do we really have to do this in front of him?”

    Buffy looked chagrined. “Okay. Um. Angel? Could you... um...? Giles’s apartment is upstairs, could you...?”

    “I’ll wait out front,” Angel said. “I’ve a guest.” Angel slipped back outside.

    Spike still found him too close for comfort. He took Buffy by the arm and led her to the training room in the back. Their workout room was large, well outfitted with targets and weaponry and punching bags. It was supposed to be the livingroom, but Buffy and Spike had put the couch and TV in the kitchen. They didn’t need much space unless they were working out.

    “What’s the trouble?” Buffy asked.

    Spike stared at Buffy. “The trouble is that you’re suddenly okay with him waltzing in and getting his fingers into our relationship.”

    “He’s not getting into our relationship,” Buffy said. “He’s trying to end a curse.”

    “So being with me is still a curse, is it?”

    Buffy sighed, rolling her eyes. “Spike–”

    “No, you don’t get to just Spike me on this one. You knew Angel was coming, and you didn’t tell me.”

    “I knew you wouldn’t be happy.”

    “Too right!” Spike said. “You know what he’s done. To you, to Dru, to everyone around you. He’s a torturer. Why are you okay with him just walking all over you?”

    “That wasn’t Angel,” Buffy said. “He didn’t have a soul then.”

    “Why does that make such a big difference to you?”

    “It’s just... it’s different, Spike. He’s different.”

    “No,” Spike said. “He’s not. And until you realize that, you’re– God! Why are you okay with him coming up with some random mojo for us?”

    “You’re okay with Giles trying to end the curse.”

    “He’s trying to get rid of his own, and wanker-boy’s, we’d be just a by-product. This is Angel coming over specifically to break us up!”

    “Yeah!” Buffy said. “Because this is insane!”

    Spike stared at her. “Are you really that unhappy?”

    Buffy swallowed.

    “Why?” Spike asked.  He searched her face. “What am I doing wrong?”

    “I...” Buffy rolled her eyes, but she still wouldn’t meet his.

    “I fight by your side,” Spike said. “I give you my time and my attention. I try to be kind, and generous, and work with you. I go to these damned counseling sessions with your bloody ex-watcher, and none of it’s gonna be good enough for you, is it. You take me to your bed, you take my love and my body, and its never gonna be enough. No matter what I do for you. I’m never gonna be Angel, I’m never gonna have this precious soul, and you’re never gonna be happy.”

    “Spike, it’s not that,” Buffy said. “You aren’t doing anything wrong. But this... is something someone did to us. We should see it ended.”

    “And you want it ended by Angel.”

    “By anybody!” Buffy said. She reached out and touched his chest. “I can’t stop this,” she said. “I can’t stop wanting you. It’s like being chained! Just let me be free, Spike, god!”

    “You feel chained,” Spike said. “I’m a prison.”

    Buffy looked down.

    “I love you,” he whispered.

    “I love you, too,” she said, unable to meet his eyes. “That’s my prison. Not you. Me.”

    Spike gazed at her for a long moment, and then strode out of the workout room. “All right, you great poof!” he shouted out the open kitchen door. “Get in here and try your blasted mojo.” Angel reappeared in the doorway with his head up like the white-hatted hero, the grand savior himself. Spike glared at Buffy. “But if this spell gets reversed,” he told her, “I’m telling everyone about the chocolate syrup incident.”

    Angel looked horrified. “You...!” He grabbed hold of Spike. “What did you do to her?”

    Spike laughed. “Jealous, peaches?”

    “Angel, I just didn’t have the lid on right, it got all over my shirt.”

    “For starters,” Spike said with a flick of his eyebrow.

    “Just put him down!” Buffy said. “We said we’d do your spell, you’ve won. Quit sparring for like ten seconds, my god!”

    “If he did something to you, Buffy–”

    “I’ve done everything to her,” Spike said with a wicked grin. “Just ask ‘er.”

    “Spike! Stop it. Please.” She looked ashamed.

    “She’s got endurance, mate,” Spike continued.

    “Spike!” She sounded almost in tears.

    Angel growled low. “She’s disgusted by having been with you,” Angel said. “As soon as she’s not poisoned by you, Spike, I’m gonna kill you.”

    “If either of us is going to kill him, it’s gonna be me!” Buffy said. “Just put him down.” Angel complied, and the two vampires squared off, the whistle blown – for the moment. “Okay. So. What’s this spell entail?”

    “I don’t know if I trust mojo done by Captain Forehead here. He’s no witch.”

    “Which is why I brought some help,” Angel said. “A friend of mine has visions, found a witch right here in Sunnydale to do the actual spell.”

    Spike grunted. “Dunno if I trust visions from that dumb mick,” he said, but everyone ignored him.

    Angel looked outside. “Tara? Do you want to come in?”

    A young woman nervously poked her head around the door frame. Tara was a shy looking dark-blonde, with curious eyes and a modest bow to her head. “Um, hi,” she said.

    “Hi,” Buffy said, liking her almost immediately. “I’m Buffy, this is my husband Spike.”

    “For now,” Angel said.

    Buffy shook Tara’s hand. “So you’re the witch?”

    “Um... yeah. A-a little. My mother... she... taught me some....” She trailed off. “Um, Angel found me... told me a little bit about himself. He told me you two are under a spell? From a witch here in Sunnydale?”

    “Yeah, my friend Willow did a spell that went wrong.”

    “Willow?” Tara frowned. “I think she was in my wicca group.”

    “Yeah, she went to that a few times.”

    “You mean she was a r-real w-w-witch?”

    “She was learning.”

    “Messed us up something royal,” Spike said darkly. “Think you can do anything about that, Glinda?”

    “It’s Ta-Tara,” Tara said. “And... um... yes. With... um... your help?” she turned to Angel.

    “Tara’s going to take my memory of you two from before the spell, and reset,” Angel said. “It won’t really affect you much, but there’ll be this moment when you’ll remember who you really are, as seen from my eyes. And when that happens, your own memories of who you are and how you feel should reassert yourselves. Any spell that’s affecting your emotions should be wiped right out.”

    “So it’ll change how we feel?” Buffy asked. “Isn’t that... well... the same as the spell in the first place?”

    “It’s a mental cleanse. It can only remove foreign influences,” Angel said. “What the spell is actually doing is reasserting your own natural mental defenses. It’s just using me as an example, because I know both of you. My memories of you aren’t so foreign that it’ll cause you any damage, but they’re not yours. Because the memories I’m giving you will be mine instead of yours, your own mind tries to fight it off. Like a sort of mental immunity. Your mind will want to remove the foreign body. Since the spell is a foreign effect as well, it should be shunted off along with my memory. Then your memory of the event I’m recalling should reassert itself. And the love spell, that’ll be fought off as well, by your own actual emotions.” He shook his head. “I know it all sounds kind of weird and metaphysical, but it’s all in the book.”

    “I told him to choose very strong memories,” Tara said. “It... it’ll only really work because he’s a demon. We need to use his blood to activate the cleansing spell. I don’t have that kind of power, but his blood does.”

    “What memories you using?” Spike said. “I won’t have you resetting my emotional state with some crappy memory of me in a wheelchair or nothin’.”

    Angel looked over at Spike. “I thought for you the Boxer Rebellion,” he said.

    Spike frowned. “All right,” he said dully, though he felt a tingling of pride. It was one of the best moments of his life, and Angel had seen him still hot with slayer’s blood. It would do. It would sure remind him of what a slayer was really for, yeah?

    “And what are you using for me?” Buffy asked.

    Angel gulped. “Christmas.”

    Spike rolled his eyes. He had no idea what that meant, but Christmas? Seriously, Christmas? God, Angel’d gotten all nancy boy with that soul.

    Whatever he was referring to seemed to mean something to Buffy, because she went white. “Okay,” she said. Spike really wanted to come up and hold her, but no. Not with Angel in the room.

    God, no spell yet, but Angel had got his hands into their relationship, and it was already breaking. Spike suddenly wasn’t able to comfort his wife! And of course, Angel walks into a room, and bang, she needs comforting. Didn’t she see what a wanker he was? Guess not, because she was discussing the logistics of the spell with this Tara person now.

    A few minutes later they sat down around the round coffee table in Giles’s apartment, where the most of the anti-curse spells had been cast, and failed to work. Angel had sent Giles up to Xander, to keep them both out of the way. The two vampires and the two women held hands. Spike refused to touch Angel. Buffy sat with Angel at one side and Spike on the other, and Tara across from her, and swallowed. Spike looked daggers at Angel from across the table. Tara lay down an intricate spell chart which had already been mostly completed. Spike realized it was mostly written out in Angel’s blood. He recognized some of it. It was a general memory spell, and from what he could understand of the Latinae phrases around the edges – his Latin was very sketchy – it did seem to be only a cleanse. It couldn’t do anything to his mind that wasn’t already there.

    Tara asked for a strand of hair from Buffy and from Spike, and set them in the middle of the circle. Spike’s platinum blond curl with its darker root was dwarfed by Buffy’s gleaming strand. Spike looked up at Buffy’s hair. Would he still find it so stunningly beautiful in a few minutes? Would it be easier if it wasn’t?

    He’d still be chipped up and impotent without her. Would the rage be able to take the place of the love? He doubted it.

    But if being free of him was what she wanted...

    God. He hated this. Angel was right. Get rid of the love. It only mucked him up.

    Tara chanted and chanted and gripped their hands, and suddenly – Woah! Fire! Fire everywhere, and screaming in the darkness, and there was Spike... blooded across the face, flushed with heat, power in every line of him, Drusilla snuggling up beside him, standing with pride. “My little Spike just killed himself a Slayer.”

    Spike had forgotten how lovely Drusilla could be in her wicked, distant delight. He spared a moment to admire his former, though he was distracted a bit by Angel’s thought process. Angel’s emotions in that moment were remarkably torn. Spike remembered the poor bugger had a soul even then. There was both resentment and guilt in his old sire’s mind, resentment that Spike got to do something so powerful and so evil, and guilt that Angel had let him. Let him? Angel had no say in whatever the hell Spike did!

    “Congratulations.” Angel said. “I guess that makes you one of us.”

    So dismissive, even then. Only then did Spike get to be properly considered part of the Whirlwind, when he’d been putting up with their demands and their contempt and their dismissal for two bloody decades! And to Spike’s chagrin, his next move in this memory was not, as he now knew he should have been, to return contempt for contempt, but to try and placate him. Try, yet again, to please his old sire. “Don't be so glum, mate! The way you tell it, one Slayer snuffs it, another one rises. I figure there's a new Chosen One getting all chosen as we speak. I tell you what... when and if this new bird does show up, I'll give you first crack at her.”

    And that’s exactly what Spike was doing, he realized. Letting Angel have the slayer. Letting Angel have whatever the bloody hell he wanted! Spike snatched his hands back from Buffy and Tara and glared down at Angel. “I tell you what, mate,” he said.

    But something else was happening, and his finally remembered ire wasn’t going anywhere near the charged stare between Buffy and Angel in that moment. Buffy’s eyes were wide, her face was even whiter than before, both fists clenched, and the rage and pain in her eyes... Spike felt as if he’d been staked. “Spike,” Buffy said, her voice dull. “Tara, get out.”

    “Um... did it work?” Tara asked.

    “Get. Out.”

    “You’re gonna want to get out of here, love,” Spike said to Tara, and lifted her bodily to her feet. “You don’t want to get in between this.” He put Tara on the stairs and turned back, ready to help. “Slayer, I’ve got your back.”

    “Out. Spike. Now!”

    He didn’t want to. He couldn’t without having one question answered. He knew, even without searching his heart, that it hadn’t worked on him. He still loved her, loved her so much that the look on her face right now was like being beaten. But for her? “Did it work?”

    Buffy glanced at him, the first time she’d taken her eyes off Angel’s. “Just go,” she said. It was a plea.

    Go. Go where? This was home. Home was her.

    But this wasn’t his place, he knew it wasn’t. “Fine,” he said. “If you two wanna shag, get on with it. I’m off.”

    “Gah!” Buffy scoffed, but the contempt didn’t seem to be directed at Spike. As Spike headed down the stairs he heard her speak in a voice that sounded like she was being disemboweled. “How could you!

    Oh, bloody hell. There was really something going on there. He took Tara’s arm and marched her quickly away from what was about to become a battlefield between two powerful opponents , which would not, he was sure, care about collateral damage.

    “What’s happening up there?”

    “I don’t know,” Spike said. “Whatever it is, it’s ugly. The two of them have dirty history.”

    “How dirty?” Tara asked. She didn’t stutter as much with fewer people around.

    “He was told by some uppity-up demon that he was supposed to help her, so he got all possessive and stalkery and figured he’d fallen in love with her. He shagged her the moment she was slightly less juvi-jailbait, and it blasted his soul back out of him. He spent the better part of a year torturing her.”

    “Torture?” Tara sounded shocked.

    “Mentally, mostly,” Spike said. “But he killed some of her friends.”

    “Is that what he’s doing with her now?” Tara asked. “Torturing her?”

    “Oh, no, he thinks he loves her again. When he’s got a soul, he gets all moonfaced and martyred, and thinks he can love again.”

    “How’d he get his soul back?”

    “You know, I’m not sure how he got all soul-having again,” Spike said. “Don’t really care.”

    “Don’t you?”

    Spike shook his head. “Nope. I got no soul, and I’m thrilled with it.” At Tara’s nervous glance he added, “You’re safe enough. I can only kill demons.”

    She still looked just as nervous.  But she dared to ask, “Without a soul... how do you love?”

    Spike shrugged. “Never troubled me,” he said. He glanced at her. “How do you know I do?”

    “The look on your face when she was hurting,” Tara said. “That... that wasn’t small.”

    Spike smiled. “Well. Yeah.”

    “You didn’t want to do this spell, did you.”

    Spike shook his head.

    “Why did you agree?”

    Spike shrugged. “‘S what she wanted, wasn’t it. She doesn’t want to love me. She loves Angel. I’m sure it’s tearing her up inside.”

    “He tortured her for a year, and she loves him?”

    “Love doesn’t make sense,” Spike said. “Believe me. After a hundred years with my last girlfriend, I know for a fact – love doesn’t make sense. She almost never did.” Spike sighed. He still missed Dru.... Missed her more whenever Buffy talked about ending their love spell.

    “And he can’t love without a soul?” Tara asked.

    “‘S what the man says.”

    Tara walked silently for a moment. “That’s sad.” She looked up at Spike. “Why can you?”

    Spike shrugged. “Dunno.” He looked about. “Where do you live?”

    “The college,” Tara said. Spike turned her that way. “What are you doing?”

    “Walking you home.”

    Tara looked touched. “Why?”

    “There’s all kinds of nasties between here and there, and the demons are restless with the boy out of their reach. It’s not your fault Angel’s a ponce.” Spike didn’t want to say he kind of liked the little witch. Her nervous stutter reminded him of a long-dead poet who never knew what to say, either.
 

 
Chapter 7, in which Angel has made it all worse.
 

It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.
Frederick Nietzsche
 

 

    Spike headed straight to the workout room when he got back. He didn’t check to see if Buffy and Angel were still in the house. He headed straight in and tried to work out his feelings. It was an uphill battle. He sketched out the face of Angel on a piece of note paper and taped it to the punching bag. Over and over and over again he punched the sticky-up haired face of that stuck-up poof until his knuckles were sore, but he couldn’t bear to stop. How dare he come here – punch, punch, punch – stirring up trouble between Spike and Buffy – punch, punch – that look on her face – punch – bastard deserved – punch, blow, kick – like to tear out his spleen and rip his – punch, punch, punch!

    That memory. The Boxer Rebellion. God, that had torn him up. Seeing himself as he used to be, not the Buffy-whipped, chipped up disaster he’d become lately. And Drusilla. Oh, her love for him. He’d forgotten what she was like when she was sweet. She could be the evil demon she was when in one of her worse states, but when she was pleased with him... oh, that night she had been so pleased. The passion of that night. The kind of passion he would never feel again....

    No. He’d felt different passions these two months. Living passions, war-like passions, and he’d felt so alive and so heated and so... complete. Buffy. Buffy, Buffy... he hit the punching bag over and over.

    It’s like being chained. Just let me be free, Spike.

    God, how could she...?

    He didn’t want to think about it.

    Then he caught her scent. Not just her scent – the scent of her tears. Buffy had come in behind him, silent as a cat.

    He turned and looked at her. She was white faced and staring, her eyes dark with past tears. She’d stopped crying, but the tears were still on her face, on her hands, saturating her shirt. God, her face. She looked as if she’d just witnessed the violent death of a loved one, that state after the screaming. The shock. He knew that look very well. He wanted to hold her close, shield her from the pain, lick her all over. He wanted to kiss her tear-stained face as if he’d consume it, and he knew... he didn’t have the right. “Finally done shagging the not-so-fallen one?”

    It took her a long moment to speak. “We weren’t shagging.”

    Spike scoffed. “Gone off all martyred and tragic again, has he?” Spike shook his head. “You know, I’m not surprised he wanted to end this spell. All he ever wants to do is destroy love wherever he finds it. He ruined it for me and Dru, you know. Sliced us apart as if with a bread knife, sawing so carefully away between us. Did it from the sodding beginning, he did, never–”

    He didn’t have a chance to say any more. Buffy threw herself at him. Her mouth still tasted of salt from her tears, and her skin was aromatic with them, as if she’d anointed herself with fine perfumes. He groaned at the taste of her, the heat of her. Her arms went around him, tearing at his clothes, shredding them under her powerful hands, and she gnawed at his mouth so roughly he wondered if she was trying for his blood. This wasn’t just the heat between them as before. She didn’t just want him. She was devouring him.

    Then she pulled away, quite suddenly and hit him, hard. He went back, denting the wall. She followed, grabbing hold of his shoulders, bruising him with how hard she held him back, desperately clinging to his lips again. She dug her sharp nails into his arm, actually drawing blood. He groaned and twisted her hand off him, never letting go her lips, but striking her a rough blow all the same. It wasn’t entirely an attack – he only winced a little as the pain chip fired a sort of glancing blow. But Buffy cried out at the pain he’d just caused, and stepped back. She grabbed him by his tattered shirt and threw him at the ceiling. He flailed, and three ceiling tiles came down around his ears as he landed, only barely catching himself on his feet. “Foul play, slayer!” he cried out. “I can’t hit back!”

    “Do it!” she cried out. She chased him down and pounded on his chest. “Hit me, damn it!”

    He couldn’t. He couldn’t, and god he wanted to! He almost sobbed with how much he wanted to. Instead he kissed her, pulling her into his arms with all the passion he wished he could kill her with.

    Buffy hit him again a moment later, and again, and again. Spike was having a hard time blocking her blows. She was unbridled, furious, charged with rage, and Spike realized he was just going to have to take it. What the hell had pissed her off? The spell had driven her mad, or maybe it had worked and she was punishing him for his part in her violation – as if he’d had a choice in the matter! But if that was the case, why did she keep kissing him?

    Because she was doing it again, passionate, violent kisses like he’d never even gotten... well, from anyone. The power of it was enough to slay in and of itself. And then she was hitting him again, and tearing at his jeans, and then she had him on the floor, and had straddled him, and if she had been any one else, it would not have been unreasonable to call her next act a rape, plain and simple. She’d forced him down, beaten him, torn his clothes off, and now she was having her way with him. But she was Buffy, and he was a vampire, and he adored her. He did not mind in the least. It was actually really bloody hot.

    “I love you,” he snarled up at her.

    “Shut up,” she moaned through clenched teeth. “Just shut up! I don’t want to hear about love.”

    Spike almost barked his annoyance. He reached up and wrestled her over, forcing her down in turn, having his way with her. “Too bad!” he growled. “I love you, slayer, you hear me? I love you!”

    “I hate you!” she sobbed, clutching him closer to her. She gnawed at his throat, sending fire down his chest.

    “I hate you, too! Argh!”

    She’d dug her nails in. They rolled over and over, knocking over the workout equipment, breaking furniture, denting the walls whenever they used them for leverage. Spike’s pain chip fired again and again, as he had to keep using more force to protect himself from Buffy’s violent ardor. Good god, she was raw tonight. What the hell had happened?

    It wasn’t until the third time she came that Buffy seemed capable of slowing down. Spike could hardly breathe by that time. He could tell he was bruised. Badly bruised. He couldn’t give back as good as he got, and it galled him, but good god that had been so damn hot. Finally her kisses stopped biting at him, and she shuddered beneath him. He lifted himself off her and looked down at her in the dim light – they’d broken three of the wall lamps. She was bruised, battered, sweating and exhausted, and he’d never seen her more beautiful. He lifted her hips and pulled her legs around his back as he pushed himself into her, up on his knees, staring down at his glorious slayer. The slayer. He was shagging the slayer. His slayer. Buffy. “Oh, god, Buffy!” he moaned as he came in her, finally letting himself. He’d been forcing it back, over and over again, until she had seemed remotely sated. He had had to keep himself hard for her. She’d needed it so badly.

    He felt half slain by the time he was done. He’d been so close for so long, it was starting to hurt. He crawled over her and kissed her, and then collapsed, panting.

    They lay in the rubble in a state of semi-catatonic numbness. Buffy’s head lay on Spike’s pale torso. She wanted to grab him again. She wanted more and more of whatever he could give her – pain, pleasure, it didn’t matter – to block out what she was feeling. It was working. It was transferring. But her legs were numb, and her secret spaces were torn and tender, and she was so tired.

    Spike's hand was laced through her hair. Slowly he lifted his other hand and touched the corner of her eye. She hadn’t realized that water was streaming from her eyes. “Is it the dust?” he asked, not sounding in the least like he thought that was it. “Or is it ‘cause I’m not Angel?”

    “If you were Angel, you’d be dead,” Buffy said, hard as a stone. She didn’t feel like she was crying. Her throat wasn’t thick and she had no impulse to sob. The water poured down anyway.

    Spike shifted a little so he could look down at her, but Buffy did not meet his eyes. “You mean I’m not a replacement for Angel right now?”

    Buffy shook her head. “It’s never like this with Angel,” she said. “If I was seeing you as Angel this would have been... very... different.” She shuddered suddenly, finding it hard to breathe. It passed quickly, but she was afraid for what it meant. The shock was wearing off, and she couldn’t keep the damn thoughts at bay any longer by pouring herself into Spike. It seemed she could reach the end of her endurance eventually. She glanced up at him, and gasped. She hadn’t realized what she was doing. He looked battered. “Oh god.” She reached up and touched a slowly ripening purple mark. “What did I do to you?”

    He shrugged it off. “Buffy. Tell me what happened.”

    “Are you okay?”

    “I don’t care about me. What happened with Angel?”

    Buffy scoffed, pained. “He’s gone.”

    “Gone?” Had she dusted him? Was that what was going on? “Where?”

    “Back to LA, I guess,” Buffy said. “He promised he’d never try to see me again.”

    Spike raised an eyebrow. “Was that your idea, or his?”

    “Mine, for once,” Buffy said. She looked down. “I nearly killed him,” she confessed. “I really, really wanted to. Instead I let him try to explain... and I don’t get it. His explanation didn’t make sense. This whole night...” Buffy buried her head in her hands. The whole night hadn’t made sense. Angel’s memories, Spike’s acquiescence, even Buffy’s own behavior. None of it matched what Buffy thought of as normal. For any of them. Good and evil were getting so twisted.... She shuddered. The world felt like it was closing in on her.

    “Was it the memory spell?” Spike asked gently.

    “Yeah,” Buffy said. “Yeah, it was the spell.”

    “And?”

    It took Buffy a long time to speak.

    “What was Christmas?” Spike prompted.

    “That wasn’t Christmas,” Buffy spat. “Angel was gonna commit suicide and I stopped him at Christmas, that was all. That was when he knew I forgave him. He said it was his strongest memory of me. I would have thought it should have been. But it wasn’t. He’d thought he could make it his strongest memory, by thinking about it a lot. But I got another memory instead.”

    “Which one?”

    “Oh. It’s really complicated,” Buffy said, with a bite in her tone. “Really, very complicated indeed.” Buffy gave a sound that was almost a laugh. There wasn’t any humor in it at all. She somehow felt panicked amidst her post coital lethargy. “And I got it all at once, you know. Just one moment, but all these little moments kind of linked up to it, like in a dream? Like, here’s this moment, but you remember everything that led up to it, you know?”

    “Yeah, I got that too, in the memory for me. All the things that led to it, like how he’d got his soul, and how he been teaching me, and how he’d... let me get to that point.” He swallowed his ire.

    “Yeah, so, you get it.”

    “So what was this strongest memory?” Spike asked.

    “It’s very recent,” Buffy said with a false smile. “Just in his head, all fresh and shining and new in his mind. It still has that new car smell, you know? Not that I’d know it. Because it’s a memory I don’t share. Do you know how weird that is, to be given a memory of yourself that you, yourself, have no memory of?”

    Spike just waved his hand. Didn’t matter either way. “Anyway, it was just a month or so ago,” she went on. “Just before you and I got together. You remember when we got together? You remember that day, when it all seemed so perfect, and like, it hadn’t really sunk in yet? And then Angel shows up like a big old moose, getting his nasty little comments into our beautiful day? Remember that?”

    Spike nodded.

    “Well, he came and did that. Came to break us up. Came to kill you, and he did that with this memory right there in his mind, from like a week before. No wonder he was so pissed off at you.”

    “Buffy, will you tell me, or no?”

    “Oh, I can tell you. It’s not like it’s a traumatic memory for me, or anything. It’s not a memory for me at all, you know that? It’s not my memory. It’s only his. I went down to L.A.,” she said in a sing song voice. “Thanksgiving weekend, you remember?”

    “Yeah.”

    “I saw Angel there.”

    Spike’s jaw grew hard, and he nodded.

    “Apparently,” Buffy said, “we were attacked by a demon,” Buffy said. “Now, from my perspective (this is what I remember)Angel kills the demon in like two seconds, and I go back to my dad’s house, feeling kind of resentful that he gets to play the stalker, but I have to be ‘strong’. But from Angel’s point of view – bear with me, it’s all a little vague, ‘cause I only caught a few moments. Important moments. They were to him. He says.”

    Buffy’s lips were tight, as if she were fighting off nausea. “But from Angel’s point of view, we were attacked, and fighting, and we kind of lose. And suddenly we’re like on the floor, and everything’s all pulse pounding. And then we go to hunt the demon, and he gets all freaked out ‘cause I go into the sunlight without him. You know. To go hunt a demon. ‘Cause a slayer,(you know, The Slayer,) she shouldn’t go hunting a demon alone and all. And then suddenly it turns out his blood mixed with the demon, and got all regenerated and he’s alive. Woo! Angel’s alive.” She waved her hands in the air in sarcastic enthusiasm. “So he comes up and kisses me, and then–!” she burst into hysterical laughter. “Then says no! No, we shouldn’t be together. He comes up, kisses me, then says no! Because... you know. That makes sense. Here, Buffy, everything you’ve dreamed of on a silver platter, let me tease you with it, and then emotionally slap you around a bit.”

    She rolled over and stared up at the ceiling. She was definitely crying now. “And he remembers this bit, because he was being all ‘logical’ and ‘good’ and then he crumbles of course, because why wouldn’t he? and suddenly he’s got me down on the table, and we make love and... we make love.” Those last three words were incredibly small. The giddy hysteria in her voice was fading. Spike wished it had remained. The pain behind it was like needles. “And he takes me to his bed.” More tears fell. “And he sees me as so small and perfect. And he goes and gets us ice cream, and we fall asleep... and he loves me. You know. For all of like two seconds. Because then, he hears the demon’s shown up again, and he looks at me, asleep in his bed... and he leaves!”

    The hysteria had been replaced by rage. Buffy sat up and glared at Spike. “And like, I don’t have any memory of what that was like, because you know, my memories aren’t there. I only have his. But we’ve been together less than half a day, and he leaves me asleep in his bed. Like he leaves me asleep in his bed. After we made love, he leaves, no note, no touch on the shoulder, ‘Be right back, honey, didn’t want to alarm you.’ No, he just up and walks off, leaving me to wake up in his bed alone. Like, if it isn’t completely clear I’d understandably have a complex about that.”

    Spike laughed for her. It was funny, and she seemed to expect it.

    “Yeah! I mean, that couldn’t possibly be traumatic for his girlfriend. It couldn’t possibly be shades of the worst moment in my life! I couldn’t possibly have nightmares again and again of waking up alone in a bed and everyone has turned on me and become vampires and betrayed me, over and over and over again. I couldn’t possibly have other nightmares where I wake up alone in his bed and find everyone in the world dead at his goddamn feet. No. Waking up alone in his bed after making love? That’s just my dream come true!”

    She stood up, nude and glorious, and began to pace through the rubble. “And it’s insane, because he’s going out, newly human and awkward to fight the demon, leaving The Slayer asleep in his bed! It’s like... he doesn’t see me! I’m this little blonde thing he likes to screw, but it’s like he doesn’t really see me as the slayer! Or... like that doesn’t matter or something, when, dear god, it matters!” She threw her hands up in the air. “He was always going on about whether or not it was right to be with me, because he’d live forever and I’d want to have babies, and my god, can you wrap your head around this? I’m the slayer! There’s not a single slayer who has lived beyond the age of twenty-four, it’s not as if I’m gonna live to see that I’m growing older and he’s not.

    She spun around again, throwing her arms around expressively. Definitely in rant mode. “So then, sure enough, I have to come save him from the demon, because he was an idiot in going after it in the first place, and then he runs off again, because that makes sense, and he runs off to the oracles that be, (and what do they have to do with us, anyway?) and he hears that I’m gonna die when the world ends... well, DUH! The world’s ending! Of course the slayer’s gonna nix it, that’s what we do! And by the way, that’s not the first prophesy about my death; I know better than to believe that shit anymore, he should too. And it’s like he still doesn’t see me, because he’s all, ‘I wanna fight it for her’ which is nuts, because that’s MY job!” She faced Spike as she said this, roaring her fury at him. “Mine! Do you hear? Me!” She pounded at her chest. “And then he comes back, and he tells me he’s gonna go and have the day swallowed, and I won’t remember anything, and what the hell!

    Buffy stared at the ceiling, and the tears came thick and fast then. “Did he just want to see me tortured? Because all he did was come and tell me that it was all ending, and that I wouldn’t remember, and I’m looking at this through his eyes, so all I see is this tiny little girl just crumbling in horror and grief, and crying and crying, and chanting, ‘I’ll never forget, I’ll never forget,’ in the most tortured way I can possibly imagine. And that’s what he chose to do. Tell me it was ending. Not come home and give me a sweet little hug, or start to make love to me, so that I wouldn’t even know and it wouldn’t even matter. No, he comes and chooses to torture me with the knowledge! I mean, what, does he get off on that or something?”

    “Yes,” Spike said honestly.

    Buffy looked down, startled out of her rant. “What?”

    “Yes, he gets off on it.” Spike stood up. “Come on, you know that, slayer. That’s what he’s always gotten off on, the mental torture, tear ‘em apart.”

    “Well, he succeeded!” Buffy shouted. “And that’s his strongest memory of me. Not me dragging him back from the cliff as he’s about to throw himself into the sun. Not the first moment he saw me, still all happy and innocent on the steps of the highschool with my lollipop. Not even, you know, my current favorite moment, when I stabbed him in the god-damned chest and sent him to hell where he clearly wants to be!” She slammed her own hand with her fist. “No, when he closes his eyes and thinks about his Buffy, he sees me collapsing into horrified tortured grief as he abandons me yet again!”

    Spike nodded. “Yep. That sounds like Angel.”

    “And it wasn’t just his decision!” Buffy barked at Spike. “He went off without talking to me about it first. Again. He goes to eat this day alive, and it wasn’t only his day to eat! But he says it’s all because he loves me, and he wants to be with me, but–”

    “If he wanted to be with you, he’d be with you,” Spike said. “Even here and now, even as a vampire, if that’s what he wanted, it’s what he’d do.”

    “But he swears he loves me! The memory is totally tortured for him.”

    “And that’s what he wants,” Spike said. “Haven’t you gotten that yet? He’s a narcissist with a martyr complex. He feels all soulfully guilty for what he’s done, so he wants to be tortured. So he figures out what will torture him the most, and ‘cause he went and fell in love with you what’ll torture him most is torturing you. But the funny thing is, torturing women is what he’s always done, so he’s just following the same patterns, over and over again. And then sure enough, he gets another great hit on the image of a broken woman in his psyche. He broke you, he has the power. He doesn’t need to eat you, he just needs to break you. He’s still a vampire, pet, I keep trying to tell him that.”

    “You’re a vampire,” Buffy said. “Do you get off on tortured women?”

    “Not like he does,” Spike said. “Torture was never really my thing.”

    Buffy raised her eyebrows. “And the name ‘Spike’ came about because of your pet hedgehogs?”

    “I was young,” Spike said. “And that’s a long story, involving a lot of nasty blokes from back when I was human. Doesn’t even matter, torture just takes too much time. Not my cup of tea, and never with anyone I love.”

    “Mr. Tie Her Up And Torture Her Until She Loves Me Again?”

    Spike looked grave. “That was Dru. That’s what she is, what she’s always been. She needs it sometimes. Hell, Angel made her so she needs it sometimes. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. If he has a memory of you breaking down into emotional hell, then yeah. He’s so totally getting off on that. His favorite moment in life was when he drove Dru stark staring barmy. He bragged about it so many times. He even turned her so he could keep looking at it every day. And then he neglected her, because it was fun watching her need him and not have him. Not torturing her is what tortured her then. Anyway Angel, he was the one who taught me how to torture. I lost interest in it quick.”

    “You mean Angelus.”

    “I mean Angel,” Spike said, annoyed. “If you’re allowed to bawl me out for still being a vampire, you’re not allowed to let him off the hook because he didn’t have a soul then. He is who he is. And he likes tortured women, still. It’s what he does, pet. He’s selfish.”

    “But if he’s so selfish, why doesn’t he want me?” Buffy asked. “I don’t get it, what did I ever do? What did I do? Why is he so much happier with misery than with me?”

    “He gets to stay a vampire. I keep telling you, it’s actually fun, pet. Strength, freedom. If the choice is between that, and you, I can’t even imagine Angelus picking the lady over the power.”

    “But he’s miserable!”

    “He’d probably be miserable as a human, too,” Spike pointed out. “You’ve got the wrong idea, slayer. It’s not because he’s a vampire that he, quote, Can’t be with you. Hell, given what you’re like in the bedroom, you’d both be better off.”

    “Then why is he so convinced that he’s bad for me?”

    “Well, look at you, he is bad for you. But that’s not why he’s doing it.”

    “And why’d he leave?” Buffy asked, unable to get that image out of her head. Herself, alone in the bed, as he went off. Angel had seen her as perfect and innocent in that bed, and he didn’t want to disturb her. It didn’t even make sense. She hadn’t been innocent since the first time he’d left her alone in his bed. “And I mean, just me in the bed, why’d he do that? I’m the god damned slayer, I kill monsters, why is it okay for him to try and take that away from me?”

    “It’s not,” Spike said. “It’s not okay. I never thought it was okay. I always thought he was daft, he never knew what to do with you, he was always wasting his time. He should have taken you to battle, or taken you to bed, none of this poncing around like an enormous poof leaving gag-gifts in your friends’ beds. You’re worth more than that. You’re glorious. You’re amazing. You’re... resplendent.”

    “But why?” Buffy asked. That crying little girl image was horrifying to her. “Why is that his strongest memory? Why when he thinks of me, am I that?”

    “Because that’s what he wants!” Spike said. “He doesn’t want you strong and powerful. He doesn’t love the image of you piercing the night like the goddess of the sun, pulling him from the brink of hell. That doesn’t give him the power, that gives you the power. But when you’re broken, crumbling, weeping from the pain he causes? If you’re reaching for him in desperation? When you’ve had all your choices taken from you, and he’s the only thing in the world? That’s what he wants. That’s what he’s always wanted.”

    “Is that why you like it when I cry?”

    “God, no. I wanna make it better. Angel only wants to make it happen. Buffy, hear this. I only want to be your strength when you’re falling.”

    “But Angel wants that too.”

    “No. Angel doesn’t want to hold you up, he wants to make you fall so he can stand in your place. You know, I wonder if he had some idea this might happen when he thunk up this spell. ‘Cause I’m sure he had a blast watching you get all grievey and pissed off over it, too.”

    Buffy closed her eyes. “I don’t know anymore,” she said. “Yesterday I’d have told you that was bullshit. Now I... God! I can’t believe he did it. If he could do that to me, eat our one chance alive, and then violate me, steal...” her tears fazed her for a moment, “... what would have been the best day of my life. Or should have been, until he told me he was ripping... it out of me... like a still beating heart.” She stopped and sniffed. “Why did he have to tell me? Tell her? It served no purpose except to hurt me! It was too late to change it! It’s not like it made it any better saying goodbye.”

    Spike wasn’t liking where this was going. Sure enough – “He was okay with how much it would hurt me,” she realized. “If he could do that even with a soul, what else could he do?”

    “Anything he wants,” Spike said. “I keep telling you, pet, that soul doesn’t stop him from being bad. It just makes him feel bad when he does. But here’s a secret, slayer – he likes feeling bad. Always has had. Why do you think he stuck with Darla? You think she was nice to him? No. Vampires? We’re never sure what’s good or bad. Power is what he wants. Power over you. So whatever he’s done to you, so long as he can control the outcome, that’s what he’s gonna choose.”

    “You sound so sure.”

    “I know ‘im real well,” Spike said. “You spent, what, two years with him? I had over twenty, souled and not. He’s the same damn guy either way. He likes to think he’s in charge; he’ll kill, eat, and turn people if he feels he wants to; and he makes blanket decisions without thinking about the consequences for others. Yeah, he feels bad if he eats innocent people.” Spike shrugged. “So? There are soulless suckers out there who only feed on willing victims. I’ve run into some who’ve never killed a single person. Now, I hate ‘em, they’re cowardly assholes who live like crackheads, but they’re there. Compared to Angel those suckers are saints. They wouldn’t feel bad if they killed, but they don’t – for whatever reason. It’s not the soul that makes someone good or bad.”

    “Then why was he so different? Why did he seem to change so much? Why didn’t he love me when he didn’t have a soul?”

    Spike didn’t state the obvious. “That’s just him,” he said instead. “Think about it, pet – if he pushes you down, that makes it all about him. And you know how much he loves it when it’s all about him. He only loves the things he can hurt, Buffy. Believe me, I know this. That’s his kink. He doesn’t love the slayer, he loves the broken little girl, and he wants to keep you that way. Maybe he doesn’t want to admit it, but that’s always what he wants.”

    “But I’m not a little girl!” Buffy said. “I’m the slayer! I have powers that blow his out of the water! I have powers I don’t even understand, and he wants to just leave me behind? All of that power I have, and it seems to mean nothing to him.” She stopped in sudden realization. “I’m nothing to him, aren’t I?”

    Damn, thought Spike. Here it comes.

    She froze, her breath catching in her throat. The words poured out of her as the thought coalesced, and she wished she could shut herself up. She wished the thought hadn’t come at all. “He... he doesn’t love me,” she heard herself saying. “He thinks he loves me, but he doesn’t. He never has. He loves some idea of me, and what he’s going to be to me, and what he’s going to do for me, and... and it’s not... it’s not me... it’s just... it’s him....” She started to crumble, her breath coming hard, as if she were fighting. “It’s him, he loves himself.” She was horrified by the words she was saying. “It’s all him, and it has my face on it!”

    The horror of it fazed her and her sobs were in earnest now. She bent over as if she’d been punched in the stomach. She tried to control it, and couldn’t. Suddenly she was screaming and screaming, rage and horror and grief all coming out over and over again, scream after scream after scream, rhythmic with her breath, and Spike was holding her, steady, knowing he couldn’t stop it, but she didn’t have to be there alone in it.

    He’d been hoping she wouldn’t realize this.

    He’d done this before. He’d done this a thousand times before, when Drusilla’s madness reached its dark points and she lost all grip. And she was a vampire. But Buffy was a slayer, and no matter how strong, she was still mortal. She’d been so young when Angel had gotten to her. He’d torn her down and built her up around him so perfectly, shaping her mind to his will. She shouldn’t have to endure this. But Spike knew it was inevitable. It was the fate of everyone whom Angel had gotten a hold onto. Spike had spent some time screaming over Angel himself.

    Buffy sank to her knees and screamed into Spike’s chest, furious, terrified, so horribly twisted up that she couldn’t even think. Angel’s emotional torture – yes torture in that moment, when he’d come just to tell her it was ending. There was no reason for that apart from to see her tears. Yes, it had hurt him. And yes. Spike was right. It was what he’d wanted.

    Hurting her was what Angel had wanted.

    She was only ever useful to him for what he wanted.

    “He never loved me, did he. Never. It was... the way he wanted to be redeemed, and without a soul, he didn’t want to be redeemed. So I didn’t matter anymore.”

    “He didn’t stop wanting you,” Spike said gently. Her pain was like knives in his chest. He had to ease it somehow.

    “Yeah, but it wasn’t love,” Buffy said. “All the things he said, all the things he wanted, he didn’t want them for me. He wanted them for himself.”

    “Well, I want you for myself,” Spike said quietly. “There’s usually at least one selfish aspect to love. But you’re right, he can’t see you. You’re the slayer, he doesn’t get that. He set off to kill you by destroying everyone around you. That’s not a worthy death for a slayer. I knew that.” He kissed her flushed forehead. She was so hot with rage and tears she felt like a furnace. “I knew whatever was going to take you out, you deserved to face it head on. Even if it couldn’t be me.” He brushed back her hair. “Even the assassins, at least it was a fight. I never wanted to destroy you, not like Angel. I just wanted to kill you.”

    Buffy looked up at him. “Do you still want to kill me?” she asked. “If the chip were out, would you?”

    Spike smiled suddenly, looking down at her with desperate love. “You don’t get out that easy, pet. You’re just gonna have to know that he’s still himself under that soul. He was a selfish libertine as a man. He was a selfish torturer as a vampire. He’s a selfish wanker as a so-called redeemed git. And you’re gonna have to live with that.” He kissed her. “I’m not gonna kill you to get rid of it.” He kissed her again, harder, with teeth. “You just gotta live though the pain, slayer. Dru cracked, but she did it. Darla hated him eventually, but she did it too. And you,” he kissed her one more time. “You’re a goddess. You’re worth a thousand of him.”

    “You only think that ‘cause of the spell,” Buffy whispered.

    “No way,” Spike said. “No way. I worshiped you as the slayer long before the spell took me. I respect that about you. He never did.” Spike kissed her forehead. “He told me, back when he thought I was hamstrung and helpless, that when he saw you... the first thing he thought was, ‘She’s just a kid.’ When he turned all soulless, he planned to use that against you.” Spike shook his head. “You know what I thought when I first saw you?”

    “What?”

    “Glorious. Look at her, so strong, so confident. She glows with it.” He kissed her gently. “You’re the angel, Buffy. The warrior of light.” He brushed her hair back from her face. “You’re everything I ever wanted.”

    “Wanted to eat.”

    “Wanted to fight. Wanted to dance with. Wanted to be a part of. I couldn’t bear watching him try to tear you down. Even being slain by you would have been an honor, Buffy. Killing you, as you were? It would have been my crowning achievement. No slayer could ever surpass you. But Angel?” Spike shook his head. “He couldn’t bear to face you. All he ever wanted was to destroy you. When he was proper evil, he wanted to break you down and crush all the little bits. Now he’s got a soul, he wants to cut you into pieces he can box up and put away, because you glow too bright for him to face. He wants to turn you into something you’re not, so that he can feel worthy of you. ‘Cause he’ll never be worthy of you, pet, and he knows it. No matter how many beasties he fights or prophecies he fulfills. You will always glow like the sun, a light he can’t face. And like the sun, you’ll always be above him. Always.”

    Buffy was touched by his description. But if that was how he thought about her... “And what about you?”

    Spike smiled. “I’m okay with being beneath you, sunshine,” he said. “I’ll just bask in your light ‘til it burns me up. How’s that sound?”

    Buffy looked up at him. “I’m done,” she said.

    Spike felt as if he’d been slapped. After all he’d just said, all he’d just confessed, she said this now. She was leaving. Angel’s memory spell had worked after all. This was just their goodbye shag. He swallowed. He should have known. “Are you.”

    “Yeah,” she said. “Completely done. It’s not worth it.”

    Spike bowed his head. “Oh.”

    “This spell has given me more happiness than any tortured love with that... jerk,” she said. “I don’t care anymore if it isn’t right, or it isn’t real. You treat me right. You make me happy. You see me. We fight too much, we always will, I know we will. But I’m done trying to end this spell. It’s not worth it.” She touched his astonished face. “You’re evil. This is wrong. I can’t change you, and part of me is always going to be miserable about it.” She shook her head. “But this spell’s too strong. It hurt like hell trying not to love Angel, and that was just me. It hurts too much trying not to love you. I can’t do it again. I’m done.” She sank onto his chest, gripping him tightly. “This feels too good. You feel too good. How am I meant to go on without it? If Giles wants to end his blindness, I can’t stop him. But I’m not helping him anymore. Spell or not, I love you. I’m done.”

    Spike was dumbfounded for a few moments. Then he gasped – it was almost a sob. He gave a burst of laughter and then caught her in his arms. “You mean that, slayer?”

    Buffy chuckled. “Yeah, you miserable fiend. I mean it.”

 

 
Chapter 8, in which Buffy and Spike discuss their relationship history.
 

“Ultimately the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or in friendship, is conversation.”
— Oscar Wilde

 

    “I think we’re ready to discuss our relationship history now,” Buffy said.

    Wes was surprised. “Oh? Well, then. Which one of you would like to start?”

    “I will,” Buffy said. “This was Spike’s idea,” she said. “But he said he wanted me to go first.”

    “Okay,” Wes said.

    Buffy took a deep breath to begin. “Apart from some really boring middle school stuff... well, I guess the guy Spike later turned into a vampire was kind of traumatic–”

    “Hey, Ford was Dru. She thought he was cute.”

    “Doesn’t matter,” Buffy said. “I really never had a real... boyfriend until I came to Sunnydale. No one I was really in love with. Or... did anything with,” Buffy said. Spike’s exact words were, I can tell you the sordid history of my love life, but only if you talk about Angel. The whole thing. Spell it out to him. I need to hear you say it out loud from the beginning. And so do you. “So, I got to Sunnydale, and... I really didn’t want to be the slayer anymore, but the council had sent a watcher, and there was this hellmouth. So rather than school books and homecoming dances, suddenly I’m dropped back in the middle of death and destruction. And in the middle of all this, up comes this really cute guy who’s... mysterious and kind of alluring. And he seems really interested in me, and he keeps giving me really nice gifts. And he’s helping me. But I don’t know a thing about him, except that he keeps showing up and fighting monsters. And his name is Angel.

    “So then, I’m really curious, and he ends up trapped in my house, and... it’s like... so much sexual tension you could cut it with a butter knife, and then he kisses me, and it turns out he’s a vampire.” She swallowed. “And suddenly all that tension turns like totally charged, and there’s like actual death between us. But he was lying from the first day....” She turned to Spike. “He was, because he didn’t tell me he was a vampire, and then he didn’t tell me about Drusilla, and when you showed up, he didn’t tell me he knew you. And I mean, god, I mean he like, what, sired you, right?”

    “Old sire. Grand sire.”

    “Yeah.” She turned back to Wesley. “Anyway, he was always lying. But I really loved him, and I didn’t know how to cope with that. He gave me this ring... this ring. A Celtic heart, it’s called.”

    Spike suddenly laughed.

    “Do you have something to say?” Wesley asked.

    “No,” Spike said quietly. “Let her finish.”

    “So he gave me this ring,” Buffy said. Her voice was trembling. “And it was kind of like an engagement. And we had this... big bad Judge to face – thank you so much, Spike.

    “Again, that was Dru,” Spike said. “Like I’d have known where to find all those bits.”

    “You can’t just pass all the evil off to your girlfriend and say it wasn’t you.”

    “I didn’t say I wasn’t evil. I said that wasn’t me. Accuse me of something that was actually my doing, and I’ll say I did it, no trouble.”

    Buffy rolled her eyes. “I guess it doesn’t matter. Anyway, things had... been getting more and more intense for more than half a year, and it was my birthday, and we’d both nearly died, and... and... well, I guess we were always nearly dying. And it always made me want to reach for life....” She swallowed. “And we made love. It was my first time.”

    “How old were you?” Wesley asked.

    “Well, you know how old I was. I was seventeen.”

    “Barely,” Spike said.

    “Before we go on, I just want to point something out,” Wesley said.

    “What’s that?”

    “That the laws in California for statutory rape include anyone under the age of eighteen, having sex with anyone more than three years their senior.”

    “Yeah, but he was a vampire. He was immortal.”

    “Ah,” Wesley said. “Yes. Well.” He paused. “So, because he was over two hundred, you believe that the law... no longer applies?”

    “Well... no.” Buffy said. “It’s not the same because he was a vampire. I mean, he wasn’t even human.”

    “He was once,” Wesley said. “How old was Angel when he was turned? Do you know?”

    “Um...”

    “Well into his twenties,” Spike said. “Closer to thirty.”

    Wes turned his eyes back to Buffy. “Is that true?”

    Buffy was quiet for a long moment. “Yeah,” she said.

    “So, even if he had been human, would that act have counted as an act of rape in a court of law?”

    “It wasn’t a rape!” Buffy said.

    “Were you a minor?”

    “Well... yeah. I mean, no. It was my idea – I mean like all my idea. He kept telling me we couldn’t happen, and I was the one who wouldn’t let it go.”

    “But he did allow it to happen.”

    “Yeah, but it was me who did it. And I wasn’t sixteen anymore.”

    “Barely,” Spike said again.

    Buffy didn’t like that. “I was seventeen.”

    “But,” Wes said, “the law states that, as a man, Angel could have been convicted of a misdemeanor, and put into prison for a year for engaging in sexual intercourse with you at the age of ... seventeen. It would have been put on his criminal record, and he would not have been permitted any job wherein he would interact with minors. He also could have been subject to a civil penalty of up to ten thousand dollars. ”

    Wesley had looked this up, waiting for exactly this moment. He’d heard about the general history of Buffy and Angel from Giles. In fact, he had learned all he could about Spike, Buffy and Angel before he’d started their first counseling session, even going so far as to visit Angel – without telling him why – before he came to Sunnydale. He had asked casually how Angel and Buffy had met, and was horrified when he learned Angel had been directed toward her by another demon of questionable background, and stalked her outside her highschool. There was something all too reminiscent of purely human evil in the story – the same kind of evil that Wesley had felt himself guilty of when he’d found himself attracted to Cordelia. Even if the relationship had ultimately gone nowhere, sexually, the very idea had given him serious qualms. And Cordelia had been eighteen. A very mature eighteen, and Wes was only in his twenties. But Angel had been over two hundred, and a vampire. Buffy had been only fifteen, and Angel had not seemed to have any qualms at all. He certainly hadn’t stated any when Wes had asked.

    Angel was handling himself well enough in LA, but Wesley still wasn’t entirely sure about the footing of his morals. Pointing out that Angel was willing to take what he wanted, whether it was moral or not, was important. He wasn’t a murderer any longer, but he was still a vampire. Wesley had always thought Buffy trusted Angel far too much. Angel might have meant well, but his nature was that of a vampire.

    Buffy, who was having trouble paying for college, blinked at his statement. “How much?”

    “Ten thousand, civil penalties.”

    “Ten thousand. A single credit costs like eight-hundred bucks, and I could have gotten ten thousand dollars just for going to bed with the guy?”

    Spike chuckled.

    “If he were human, and subject to human laws, yes,” Wesley said.

    “Even if the sex was consensual? Even if I started it?”

    “Yes. By the laws of this state, he was still committing a crime.”

    Buffy sat back. It wasn’t entirely true that she had started it, completely. She knew Angel had put himself in a position where it was possible for her to do so. Over and over and over again he had done this. He had embraced her, and then put her away so many times she never knew where she stood, until she felt on very shaky ground. She’d wanted to claim him in some way, in order to make herself sure of him. She wondered now if that had been intentional, too. If she’d been completely sure he wasn’t going to leave, would she have been so desperate to go to his bed right then?

    Something Willow had told her rose in her mind. Willow had given Oz the chance to sleep with her, just after they’d gotten back together, and Oz had refused. He was sexually experienced, and less than two years older than her, but Willow wasn’t yet eighteen. Oz had told her he wasn’t going anywhere. They had time. Angel never told Buffy that. He was immortal, and he had never told her they could wait. He was always kissing her, and in the same breath saying it was wrong to be togther, so she always felt a sense of urgency. We have to be together now.

    She’d felt so grown up and mature at the time. It was only two years ago... but she felt very young when she looked back on it.

    “But I understand that isn’t the full story, is it.”

    Buffy shook her head. “No. Angel... has a soul,” Buffy said. “And sleeping with me made him perfectly happy.”

    Spike smothered a laugh again.

    “So, since the curse was supposed to make him miserable, him being happy broke it, and... he lost his soul again.”

    “And then what happened?”

    Buffy swallowed. She sketched out the remainder of that horrific year, as her friends were tormented or actually killed, she blamed herself for not killing Angel when she had the chance, and the final battle, where Spike had shown up, a wild card switching sides. Slowly, painfully, she told the tale of how the gates of hell began to open, and Buffy was forced to kill her boyfriend, just as Willow finally performed the curse and his soul was returned to him. Then she went through the next year, her final year in high school, as Angel returned, and their affection returned, and she made herself fully forgive him – asked him to forgive himself – at Christmas.

    “And then, just as things started to seem perfect again... as we were snuggling and... well, petting a little... I mean, no sex, because we were both afraid it might happen again, but, I mean... I think we would have found a way around it eventually. I was trying to, anyway. But then he broke up with me. Broke up, left town. Well, broke up, danced with me at prom, hung around a lot tormenting me, and then left town,” she said, rolling her eyes. “And it... it felt like I was dying. I mean, we kept having guest spots in each other’s dreams. There’s some deep sense of... destiny about us.” Spike laughed again, rather loudly this time, but he waved Buffy on when she glared at him to ask him what. Buffy sighed, and then looked back to Wes. “And then he shows up this last Thanksgiving, and I could feel him, outside. My soul, it recognized his, I knew he was there.”

    Wesley raised his eyebrows. “You believe you felt his soul.

    “Well. It must have been.”

    Wes frowned and said nothing. “What?” Buffy finally asked.

    “Well... you know am well versed in the lore of the slayer.”

    “Yeah.”

    “Isn’t it true that as a slayer you can sense the presence of vampires? Even when they are disguised?”

    “Well... yeah, in theory.”

    “Is it possible that what you felt when you... felt Angel was just some... variant of that feeling?”

    “Well... truth to tell, I’m not really good at that,” Buffy said. “I mean, Giles keeps telling me I can do it, and I do sometimes, but it’s really not something I’ve tried to hone or anything.”

    “Ah,” Wesley said. “If you close your eyes, can you sense... well, Spike?”

    Buffy closed her eyes and tried. “Yeah,” she said.

    “What’s it feel like?”

    “A weight. Or... like a hole somewhere. It’s just... he’s there, that’s all.”

    “Is it the same as your feeling when Angel was near?”

    “No,” she said quickly. Then frowned. “Sort of....” She shook her head and opened her eyes. “I don’t know.”

    Wesley nodded. “Well, my understanding... and be aware, I only know of this through reading. I am not a slayer myself, of course. But my understanding is that the slayer senses a vampire much as a vampire can scent a human being. And each person, as any dog will tell you, has enough of an individual scent that they can be tracked over long distances.”

    “Oh, yeah,” Spike said. “Every bugger smells different. They’re all human, but they’re all different.”

    “Do you find that to be case?” Wes asked Buffy. “Do different vampires... sense differently?”

    Buffy nodded. “When it works. It’s always a little different.”

    “Could it not be that you simply know Angel’s presence, through familiarity? And thus you feel it more acutely than any other random vampire?” Buffy was silent. “I was just considering. It might be that you are feeling his soul, as you suggest. Or... it could just be your ordinary slayer senses.”

    Buffy looked drawn. “If you’d said that two days ago,” she said, “I’d have ignored you.” She shook her head. “My ideas of destiny have changed.” She sighed.

    “So. Is there more to this history of yours?”

    “Well, I don’t know what’s normal anymore,” Buffy said. “Because there was this guy in college, and I really liked him, and he was really sweet. But it turned out he was hunting me, just like a vampire would. And now when I ask around – which I should have done before I let him catch me I realize – he’s notorious. Parker is known for targeting girls, sleeping with them once, and leaving them. And I... didn’t see it. It was like... I’d done it to myself again. I don’t know what a normal relationship looks like.” She frowned. “And now it turns out that Angel... really just doesn’t want to be with me. I mean, at all. Even if he has the chance, he won’t take it. And I know that... for sure.” She shrugged. “He had his chance, and all he wanted to do with it was throw it away. And torture me with it. And now I don’t think he ever loved me at all. I mean, he thinks he does, so he's not lying, but what he’s loving isn’t really me. So. That’s the end of that.”

    Wesley shook his head. “No, it isn’t.”

    “Well, yeah. That’s it, those are the guys I’ve been with.”

    “Apart from Spike.”

    “Yeah.”

    “So tell me about Spike.”

    Buffy blinked. “Um... well.”

    She glanced at Spike, who was smiling at her, his eyes flirtatious. “Go on, slayer. Tell ‘im.”

    Buffy rolled her eyes and turned back to Wes. “Do we have to? He knows this bit.”

    “Not from your perspective. How did you two meet?”

    “Spike wanted to kill me.”

    “There’s more to it than that, I’m sure,” Wesley said.

    Buffy sighed. “Okay. Well. Spike and I met before Angel and I... well... really... before he lost his soul.”

    “Okay.”

    “Spike tried to kill me, and then I tried to kill him, and then he was injured, and then Angel stole his girlfriend, and he came up to ask for my help.”

    Spike scoffed. “I didn’t ask for anything, slayer. You were the one with a kidnapped watcher and a scattered Scooby clan.”

    Buffy sighed. “Okay. He offered his help. Better?” she asked.

    “Don’t do me any favors, slayer.”

    “Anyway, so we had this truce, and then he came back after Dru dumped him and tried to kill me again. Then these commando guys grabbed him, and put this chip in his head, and now he can’t hurt people.”

    “And then?” Wesley prompted.

    “And then what?”

    “How did the two of you get together?”

    “It was a spell!”

    Wes nodded sagely. “So how did this spell manifest. Tell me. What were you doing?”

    Buffy could feel Spike’s eyes on her. “Well, we were fighting.” Buffy realized that was a ridiculous thing to say – of course they were fighting. “I mean, we’re always fighting. But I was trying not to stake him, actually. He was threatening that they’d be finding my body for weeks if he got that chip out. And I threw him into this chair to tie him down, and I was glaring down into his face, you know, to intimidate him.” She stopped.

    “And?”

    “And I kissed him,” Buffy said.

    “Hard,” Spike said.

    “Why did you kiss him?”

    “Well. That was the spell.” Buffy blushed.

    Wesley nodded. “But you didn’t think it was a spell at the time. Why did you think you kissed him? Was it completely spontaneous? Just a sudden impulse? What was the thought process?”

    Buffy thought back. “I don’t know,” she said. “I mean, there was something... charged about the whole thing.”

    “We’d been flirting for days,” Spike said. “She’d been tempting me with her neck, and teasing me with the ropes.”

    “I was tying you up because I didn’t trust you.”

    “Uh-huh,” Spike said.

    “So after you kissed him, what happened?”

    “Well... I untied him, and he sort of... hugged me... and then...”

    “I caught her up in a fiery embrace, and fell to my knees to ask for her sodding hand,” Spike said with slightly amused contempt.

    “Why did you do that?”

    Spike gazed at Buffy. “Because that kiss was the best thing that had ever happened to me,” he said. “And I wanted another, and another. And I proposed marriage immediately, because I couldn’t imagine another day of my unlife without her in it.”

    Buffy didn’t want to be touched by what he was saying, but she swallowed.

    “How do you feel about that, Buffy?”

    Buffy shrugged. “It was sweet. It’s still sweet.” She wouldn’t look at him. “It’s a good spell.”

    Wesley nodded. “All right. So, Spike, I suppose that makes it your turn. Do you want to go into your own relationship history?”

    “No.”

    Buffy glared at him. “What?”

    “He asked if I wanted to,” Spike said. “I don’t.”

    “That’s not–”

    “I’m still going to,” he said. He gazed at Buffy for a long moment. “It’s just hard.”

    “And what makes it so hard?” Wes asked.

    “Well. What do your watchers’ records say ‘bout me, anyway?”

    “Ahm...” Wesley flipped to a page in his notebook. “Spike. Also known as William the Bloody. Named for torturing his victims with railroad spikes. First sighted about 1880... member of the gang known as The Whirlwind... some link to the Master there...”

    “That was Darla.”

    Angel’s sire, Buffy remembered.

    Wesley nodded. “Sighted in quite a number of mob attacks. Very violent in the early years. Killed two slayers in the last century. Nikki Wood about thirty years ago, and Xin Rong during the Boxer Rebellion...”

    Spike raised an eyebrow. “Xin Rong? Was that her name?” He smiled, looking pleased, as if he’d just heard about an old lover.

    Buffy was appalled. “You didn’t know?”

    Spike rolled his eyes at her. “I don’t speak Chinese. How could I have picked a name out of all that clanging?”

    “You’re disgusting.”

    “I’m a vampire!”

    “You didn’t even care about her name?”

    “I didn’t know it,” Spike said sternly. “I’d have cared. Believe me. That sweet beauty?” He chuckled. “Oh, I would have cared.” He leaned back in his chair, and idly touched his eyebrow. “Well well. Xin Rong.”

    Buffy stood up. “That’s it. I don’t give a rat’s ass what his history is. I can’t do this.”

    “Leaving won’t solve anything!” Wesley called after her retreating back.

    Buffy glared at the two of them. “I just told something very personal, and you two are making jokes about dead slayers!”

    Wesley frowned. “I don’t believe either of us were making jokes,” he said. “I’m sorry to have brought it up. Was there a reason you asked, Spike?”

    He shrugged. “Just wanted to know if you had any idea about who I was as a human being.”

    “Why?”

    “‘Cause I was hoping I wouldn’t have to say it myself,” he said. He looked up at Buffy. “Are you gonna sit down, pet, or are we just gonna go back to the workout room?”

    Buffy blushed in spite of herself.  

    He gave her an absolutely charming grin beneath his bruised eye. “Believe me. I’d be thrilled to work a few more things out.”

    Buffy took a deep breath and went back to her chair.

    “Okay,” Spike said. “Darla sired Angel, yeah?” he said to Buffy. “Then Angel made Dru. Dru made me. I was... um. Well. Dru made me ‘cause Angel was neglecting her,” he said. His voice was casual, and he expressively used his hands as he spoke, but he wouldn’t meet either of their eyes. “And... well. See, Dru had visions. She could kind of see things others couldn’t? And she saw that if she made me, that I’d... kinda take care of her. ‘Cause I’d love her. And I-I really did love her,” he said, his voice growing a little quieter. “It was kinda my raison d’etre, if you must know.”

    “Not killing?” Wesley asked.

    Spike shook his head. “No. No, that came second to Dru.” He stopped. “And then Dru dumped me, and I went back to Sunnydale, for Buffy.”

    “That was lame,” Buffy said. “And you forgot Harmony.”

    “There was nothing to remember about Harmony,” Spike said, a statement Buffy actually believed. “She was a hot blond bint with good tits I tumbled into my bed a few times, that’s it.”

    “Ugh.” Buffy shuddered her revulsion. “You are such a pig, Spike.”

    “Oink.”

    “You’re disgusting.”

    Spike regarded her. “So suddenly you have respect for Harmony? First I’ve heard of it, slayer. Who’s the pig now?”

    “It’s your opinion of women that’s disgusting.”

    “No,” Spike said. “That’s not my opinion of women. That’s just Harm.”

    “And when you’re passing kittens ‘round your poker table, do you call me a warm body with a great ass?” Buffy asked.

    “Well, you do have a great ass,” Spike said. “But if Clem or any of those blokes said word one about you, I’d bloody rip them a new one. I have a few times,” Spike said. “You’re not Harmony, Buffy.” He sighed. “Harmony wasn’t you. ‘Course I never loved her.” He looked away. “Couldn’t possibly.”

    Wesley nodded. “So you feel that Buffy... your relationship with Buffy is different from this... tumbling you used to do.”

    “Night and day,” he said. A strange little smile softened Spike’s face. It wasn’t his sexy smirk or his wicked-evil grin. It was something soft. Warm. It seemed very human. “From the first moment I saw Buffy,” Spike said, “I knew there was something special about her. Not just that she was the slayer. I knew slayers. No, she was more than that. Not just all that power. She had style, attitude. Such joy in life. She was trying to study,” he chuckled, “at the Bronze, because that makes sense, great study spot. Mangling her French. Finally she abandoned it and went out on the dance floor. And she bleeding owned it the moment she stepped onto it. Just like she owns everything she stands on. She glowed like a candle, pulsing out a warm radiance into the night. And when she started moving those hips there, the whole world disappeared. The music faded, everyone else sort of vanished into the distance, and as far as I was concerned, it was just her and me alone on the face of an empty planet.” He smiled. “And I didn’t even know her name.”

    Buffy stared at him. He’d never told her this before.

    There was a long silence. “So, are you saying it was love at first sight?” Wesley finally asked.

    “I... wouldn’t... call that love, no,” Spike said. “No. But I did know in that instant that I had to make her mine. One way or another.”

    “What do you mean, make her yours?”

    Spike took in a deep breath and looked up at the ceiling. “She would be my prey. She would be my kill. Or she would be my killer. Either way, she had to be mine.” He chuckled. “I was so excited, I couldn’t wait to claim her. There was an auspicious day, St. Vigi-something, vamps were supposed to have extra power to draw on or some such bollocks, and it was five bloody days away!” Spike was almost trembling at the memory of his anticipation. He rubbed his forehead shyly, and looked at her, biting his lip. “I just had to see you again.”

    He swallowed. “That’s what I meant when I said I wished she was more like before,” Spike said. “Not hot from some witch’s spell. Just... throw the book away, sod this, I’m gonna dance. Just more like herself.”

    Buffy stared at him. “I was very young,” she said. “A lot of things... hadn’t happened to me yet.”

    “I know it,” he said. “But I still see it sometimes, when you let your guard down. It’s just... it's so rare you let your guard down anymore.”

    Wesley was staring at Spike with a little frown between his eyes. “But...  you do very much feel as if... you had a connection with the slayer... before you began this....” Wesley stopped, unable to ask any more inane questions. Turning their own words back on themselves was one thing – that was what Rogerian psychotherapy was supposed to do – but he was shaken again. He was finding it very hard not to suddenly announce, My god! You actually love her! What perverse twist had occurred in the vampire’s demonic mind that had made him go and fall in love with the slayer? Angel he could sort of understand. There was a soul in the mix, and Angel had been directed toward the slayer by the powers that be. But Spike? The idea horrified him and intrigued him at the same time.

    But it had taken a spell to make Buffy feel the same. It was a tragedy on the same scale as Romeo and Juliet, with players just as helpless and naive as Shakespeare’s doomed teenagers. Wesley had a terrible fear that the ending would be just as bloody.

    “Yeah. That’s where I came in,” Spike said, as if Wesley’s half formed question had made sense. “And maybe I’m under a bloody spell, but I’ve still claimed the most glorious woman on the planet as my wife. And no matter how insane it is, or whether or not it’s right, or whether its gonna eat us both up... I will never just walk away from this. I’m never gonna give her up, or leave her to face this world alone, no matter what anyone says is best. She is mine. And I belong to her.”

    He hadn’t taken his eyes off Buffy as he said all this. She was beet red. She looked down.

    Wes tried to get back to his agenda. It was hard. “So. Um. This hundred years with–” Wes checked his notes. Spike’s confession had thrown most of the other thoughts clear out of his head. “Drusilla. This ended... before Harmony, then?”

    Spike looked uncomfortable again. “Yeah. But... it wasn’t just... I loved Dru, but there was a lot of baggage there. I mean Angel–” he stopped himself with a humorless laugh. “That’s why I laughed when you talked about Angel and destiny. Angel didn’t believe in destiny, not when I knew him. You have any idea how many victims he gave those stupid rings to before he ate them? Destiny, fidelity, love, they were all jokes to him. ‘Fact, he went and shagged Dru in front of me when I dared say anything of the kind, back when I was all newborn and naive and thought she and I were meant for each other. Had to prove he still owned her, didn’t he.” He looked down. “Had to prove he owned me.”

    There was a long silence. Wes tried again. “And what–”

    “I can’t do this,” Spike said suddenly.

    Buffy swallowed. “Please?”

    Spike took in a deep breath and looked at Wes. “I thought this’d be easier if had you to sorta make me keep talking.”

    “And it’s not?”

    “Well.” He turned to Buffy. “I just dunno if I want him to hear it.”

    “Would you like me to step into the other room?” Wes asked.

    They both looked at him in surprise. “You can do that?”

    “There are no rules for this,” Wes said. “My job is one of mediation and suggestions for adaptation. The relationship is yours. You felt more comfortable with me to hold you accountable for relaying the information. I don’t actually have to know what that information is.”

    Spike considered this. “Yeah,” he finally said. “Yeah, I’d feel better with just her.”

    “All right, then,” Wesley said. “I’ll go and make some coffee. I’ll be back soon – if either of you feel you need me, just poke your head out the door.”

    Wesley headed out into the back rooms of his rented office/apartment. He got himself a few biscuits, made some coffee, drank a cup, and then went back to his office. He paused, about to knock on the door, but he could still hear their voices, talking earnestly. He lowered his hand and went back to the kitchen.

    He did a few dishes, dried them, put them away, had another cup of coffee, and went back to the office. There were raised voices. He was about to knock again when Buffy’s voice cut through Spike’s rant. “But don’t you see, that wasn’t your fault! That was something Angel did to you, not something you caused.”

    Wes stepped away again. Whatever was happening in there, it was intense and personal, and Buffy seemed to be handling it well. Wes made himself a grilled cheese sandwich, since there didn’t seem to be much else to do, heated up some soup, had himself a light supper, and went back to the office.

    That was definitely sobbing, now, on both sides, and Wes knew he should go in, but he didn’t think he should get between them. Whatever it was, it wasn’t contentious. They weren’t arguing. He went back to the kitchen, cleaned up his supper dishes, took out the garbage, went to the bathroom, washed his hands, read a little bit, came back to check on his clients...

    That was definitely the sound of breaking furniture. “All right, you two, clearly there’s some contention–” Wesley called out, opening the door. “Oh. Sorry. Um. I’ll just... um... right. Then. Well, then. Um. Excuse me.” He closed the door, his cheeks hot. Clearly he wasn’t needed yet. Goodness, the slayer was... athletic.

 

 
Chapter 9, in which a vengeance demon makes her way home.
 

There is nothing nobler or more admirable than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends.
Homer, The Odyssey.



    “So,” Spike said to Buffy. They had a plate of sandwiches laid out for Willow’s return. “We’re in agreement then?”

    Buffy took a deep breath. “Yeah,” she said.

    “You sure about this, pet?”

    Buffy smiled and jumped up to wrapped herself around Spike and kissed him. Happy. Coquettish. Perky. “One hundred percent sure, silly.”

    Spike laughed and held her close. He was always double checking.

    Things really had been better when she stopped trying to fight it. The stupid arguments over dishes and who left the window open had faded like the nothings they were. When they did have a genuine disagreement, they had stopped pulling out the big guns and trying to hurt each other. They talked stuff out, made themselves communicate, played some of the conflict resolution games that Wesley had looked up for them. They did a lot of, “Let me see if I got that straight,” and “So if I’m hearing you correctly.” Trapped into loving a vampire due to a spell, Buffy had stopped attacking Spike when he mourned his inability to kill. Accepting his love for the slayer, Spike had stopped being unforgivably rude and breaking every law he could, just to annoy her.

    It wasn’t perfect. But they were happy enough together. They danced and they sparred and Buffy learned how to play poker, and Spike learned how to drill her in her homework, and they both learned to tune out each other’s music. Spike learned how to make snide comments about undubbed Indian movies with Xander. Buffy learned to accept it when Clem had to go cough up a skin-ball in the bathroom. And when Buffy got home Spike was there to rub her neck. And first thing in the morning they sipped coffee and warmed blood over the breakfast table. And they were both there late at night – early in the morning – in the same bed, snuggled together, happy in each other.

    Buffy’s opinion of Spike had changed radically. His history, though riddled with bloodshed, had been a brutal journey of unsatisfactory love and emotional loss. The fact that he was a poet would have shocked her before she’d heard him whisper those heart-stopping lines to her in their bed. It had finally occurred to her that, though Spike was a vampire and his idea of torment was different from a human being’s, he had been as tortured by Angelus as Buffy had been.

    “What do you think she’s gonna be like?” Buffy asked.

    “Well, if she’s anything like me,” Anya said, “she’ll still be a little giddy. There’s pretty much unlimited power at your fingertips when you’re one of D’Hoffryn’s chosen. I was dancing on air for the better part of a decade.”

    “Was that literal, sweetie?” Xander asked.

    “Only partly.”

    “So, has D’Hoffryn bothered to confirm or deny yet?” Buffy asked, arranging the plate of sandwiches. “Was Willow made into a demon?”

    “He’s still being all patronizing, and promising he loves me just as much as his other demons,” Anya said. “He still thinks I’m just upset that I’ve been replaced. Won’t admit if any of his new demons are Willow.”

    “What time do you think she’s gonna get here?” Xander asked anxiously. He’d deeply missed Willow.

    “She didn’t say. Just two days. The reception on her spell phone was a little wonky.”

    “Well, she was trying to communicate through several dimensions,” Anya said. “Of course things get garbled on the way.”

    “Why would it take her so long to get from Arra...chiropractor, anyway?” Buffy asked.

    “It’s easy to get lost in Arrashmahar,” Anya said. “Not that I’ve been there in a while.” She looked a little wistful. “Everything’s sort of like a spot lit stage. You pop through the black from one part to another.”

    “Doesn’t that get kind of barren and spooky?” Xander asked.

    “Well, we teleport,” Anya said. “So we don’t have to walk it. And each pool of light has different things, and you can have anything you’d ever want. Hot tubs, and palaces, and boiling pits of blood, and crystalline gardens, and huge museums of hatred. Excellent movie theaters, too.”

    “I’ll remember that when looking for a good school district for the children,” Xander said with slightly horrified sarcasm.

    “No.” Anya looked bewildered. “There aren't any schools. Of course not. Vengeance demons don’t procreate, that’s absurd.” She stopped. “I could have children. We could have children. You and me!” she said to Xander.

    Xander looked as someone had just pointed a gun to his head. “Well... um... I mean... yeah... one day.... Um. I was just...”

    “Breathe, dear,” Anya said. “I didn’t mean now.” But she beamed sunnily all the same. “I just never realized there were upsides to this human thing before. Apart from all our orgasms.” She snuggled in closer as she sat on Xander’s lap.

    There was a time when Buffy would have felt wistful watching the two of them snuggling. Now, before her wistfulness could even manifest, Spike wrapped his arms around her from behind and lowered his face to her neck. “Bet Xand didn’t expect that from his little joke,” he breathed in her ear.

    Buffy chuckled. “They look okay.”

    “Children thing ever bother you?” he asked quietly.

    Buffy shuddered. “So not interested,” she said. “I’m not even twenty.”

    Spike kissed her cheek. “Let me know if you ever change your mind, yeah?”

    Buffy turned around in his arms. “And what? We’ll talk about it?”

    “Well, we could talk it out... find a way ‘round it,” Spike said, lowering his hands. “Or we could just keep taunting fate and see if some miracle happens.”

    “I’ve had enough miracles, thank you.”

    “But the taunting fate, thing?” he asked with a wicked grin.

    Buffy bit her lip, and then kissed him. “Later,” she whispered.

    “I love you,” he murmured.

    “Love you, back,” Buffy chuckled into his mouth before turning back to arranging sandwiches.

    It was testament to Xander’s own change of heart that he didn’t even mind Spike and Buffy fondling each other in front of him. Spike had saved Xander’s life so many times by now that so long as Buffy was happy, Xander wouldn’t have cared if Spike had three heads. When he’d said something along those lines, Anya had said that was ridiculous. Only tripic demons had three heads on a human body, and they weren’t anything like vampires.

    There was a knock on the door. Anya jumped up and ran to the window, checking for demons.

    “Is that her?” Xander asked. “Is it?” He pushed up alongside her.

    “No,” Anya said. “It’s just some girl.”

    The girl knocked again. Xander frowned and glanced at Spike before he went to open it. It was testament to the dynamics of the household that Spike automatically came and stood behind Xander, in case the girl at the door was one of the demons who could shroud themselves as human. “Um... hi. Could I see Buffy?”

    “It’s Tara, pet,” Spike called over his shoulder.

    “Tara!” Buffy was glad to see Tara, but confused as to why she should be there. “Was there something you wanted?” She swallowed, looking nervous. “Is... Angel here?” It was daylight, but he might have been shrouded in a car or something. “I don’t want to see him.”

    “No,” Tara said quickly. “No, I think... I think he’s still in LA. I’m just here to... um...” She stepped into the room and placed a golden talisman down on the floor. “If you’d all stand back?” She muttered a small incantation – Anya laughed and whispered to Xander that Tara’s accent was hilarious – and suddenly standing where the talisman had been was a tall and beautiful red headed vengeance demon, who took one look at Xander and ran forward to hug him.

    Xander wasn’t expecting a Willow about six inches taller with demon markings on her face. “Um... Will?” he asked.

    Willow let him go and beamed at him. “Xander! I’m so glad to see you! I’m so glad! Are you all right? I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean... Anya!” She jumped forward and hugged her too. Anya returned the hug fully. “Sister demon, sister demon!” Willow crowed. Anya had been right. Willow was extraordinarily giddy. “And where’s Buffy? Buffy – Buffy!” Willow grabbed Buffy so hard that the slayer grunted with the force.

    “Ease up there, Will,” Buffy said.

    “Oh, sorry,” Willow said. “Strength can be a little hit or miss when you have to remake your body from scratch every time you enter a room.”

    She certainly sounded like Willow. Just a little self-effacing, and kinda happy with it.

    Anya seemed to understand. “I know!” she said. “And the feet?”

    “Oh, god, feet!” Willow said. “Don’t get me started on feet!”

    Xander sidled up to Spike. “What are they talking about?”

    “Search me, mate,” Spike said.

    “Is everyone okay? How’s Amy? Has someone been giving her rat food? She likes cookies.”

    “Running her little wheel,” Xander said. “I’ve been taking care of her. She lives in the hall, ‘cause... well...”

    “I don’t like the way she watches him when he’s naked,” Anya said loudly.

    Tara stepped backwards away from the group.  “Um... well. You seem to... um... be doing fine so...”

    “No! No! Everyone, this is Tara!” Willow said, jumping forward. She grabbed the young witch and pulled her back into the circle.

    “We’ve met,” Buffy said.

    “Tara’s the one who found me, in Arrashmahar,” Willow said.

    “A-Angel said you’d be there,” Tara said softly. “Be-before he went back to LA. I-I only had to do the summoning.”

    “Do the summoning – she’s being modest,” Willow said. “She pulled up my demon name from the dark sites. That must have taken months! Then she summoned me over from the nether-realms, and to be even more wonderful, she realized I’d been caught by my own spell, like, almost as soon as she talked to me.”

    “Caught? How?” Xander asked, and he pulled Willow down to the couch.

    “Oh, just as I was leaving your basement,” Willow said. “I said I don’t care about anything, remember?”

    “Yeah.”

    “It... it caught her,” Tara said. “Her will was not to care, so... she didn’t. Care. About anything. When I summoned her she was just... everything she said was just... okay. I told her that her friends were looking for her, and she just went... oh.”

    “Yeah. Everything that happened to me, I was like... okay!” Willow said. “I didn’t care about anything. Anything at all. So, D’Hoffryn offered to make me a vengeance demon and I was like... okay! And he sent me out – I’ve been all over the world, Buffy! And people told me their little stories and made wishes, and I was just... okay! I didn’t think about any of it.” She looked up at Spike, for some reason. “It was actually really scary, now I look back.”

    Spike nodded, as if that made perfect sense. Then Buffy realized – Willow had turned to the only other current demon in the room.

    Willow wouldn’t let go of Tara’s hand. “Anyway, Tara finally summoned me, and got me out of my own spell, and suddenly I could care again. And I was so scared that you were hurt, Xander! And... and Buffy... God, I’m so sorry, guys! Where’s Giles?”

    “Guide dog training. We couldn’t reach him,” Buffy said.

    “Guide dog...? Oh, well. Well, anyway, I couldn’t just come back. I could only stay in the summoning circle at first. I needed to go and apply to D’Hoffryn for human residency status.”

    “Human residency?”

    “Like me, before I was just Anya,” Anya said. “Establish yourself on earth with a name and an identity. It can be a little overwhelming living in Arrashmahar. A lot of vengeance demons moonlight with a human identity. If you don’t have one, you’re pretty much only allowed to show up on business.”

    “Right,” Willow said. “So I couldn’t come to see you guys until today.”

    “So are you going to stay a vengeance demon?” Buffy asked. “And by the way, you’re still... all...” She gestured to her own face.

    Willow frowned. “Huh? Oh!” The vengeance demon lines of power faded, and Willow’s own old perky face shone at them. “Sorry about that. Well, I’m still discussing that with D’Hoffryn. He hadn’t realized I’d agreed under duress from a spell. It makes the contract a little shaky.”

    “Do you want to stay a vengeance demon?”

    Willow frowned. “I’m... I’m still figuring that,” she said. “It’s a lot of power, Buffy. I mean, a lot.

    Buffy frowned.

    “Oh, but I swear, no vengeances with killings or maimings or anything! No alternate reality spooky vampire worlds or bloody wounds or anything. I might just... do little vengeances. Like stubbing toes, or never finding the perfect puppy.”

    “D’Hoffryn won’t want to keep you,” Anya said decisively. “You’ll get out of that contract in a week, tops.”

    Buffy shook her head, but she smiled. “You’re still Willow,” she said. That was all she’d been afraid of. She wasn’t anymore.

    Spike wouldn’t stop looking at Tara. “What made you summon her home?” he finally asked.

    Tara looked shy. “Um, well... Angel told me about the rest of the spell. Xander and his demons and all, and how it needed Willow to end it. And... it just... I wanted... I wanted to be sure everyone stayed safe.”

    “Angel did that, huh?” Spike said.

    Tara looked up. “I was really just worried,” she said. “He didn’t tell me to summon Willow, it’s just... she was in my wicca group. It didn’t seem right to leave her lost.”

    “Tara was really nice,” Willow said. “She wouldn’t let me go until the spell was off me, and I was myself again. Could care again. It,” she squeezed Tara’s hand and smiled at her warmly, “it’s just really nice to meet someone so serious about the craft.” The two looked as if they’d become fast friends already.

    “Speaking of the craft...?” Spike asked suddenly.

    Buffy looked grave. “Oh. Right. Um... Willow, could Spike and I talk to you privately?”

    “I think that’s my cue to go and show Tara our penthouse apartment,” Xander said. “Have you ever seen a penthouse? I mean, as in, an apartment at the top of the house, obviously, not a magazine.”

    “Though we could show you one of those, if you’re interested,” Anya added. They led the bewildered looking witch up the stairs.

    Willow looked at Buffy and Spike and frowned. “Look, I know what you two are going to say,” she began.

    “I don’t think so,” Buffy said awkwardly. “Would you just... um... sit down? It’s... going to be a little hard to understand.”

    “Um... okay,” Willow said.

    “We have something important we want to tell you,” Buffy said.

    “This is gonna sound weird,” Spike said.

    “And maybe you won’t want to listen,” Buffy said.

    “But it’s really important to us.”

    “To both of us.”

    Willow looked from one to the other of them. “Wait... you two agree about something?”

    “Always,” Spike said.

    “Mostly,” Buffy said.

    “Sometimes.” He was smirking now.

    “A little.”

    Spike looked down at her with a big smile on his face. “Always...” he kissed her, and she kissed back for a long moment before pulling away with a seductive bite of her lip.

    Buffy turned back to Willow, who was staring at them with her mouth open. “We don’t want you to end the spell,” Buffy said.

    Willow blinked at them. “What?”

    “The spell,” Buffy said. “We don’t want you to end it.”

    “You see, Red, we’re happy,” Spike said. “I know it’s kinda strange... but... happiness, real happiness is so rare in this world...”

    “And even if the love and everything’s not real,” Buffy said.

    “We feel it,” Spike said.

    Buffy leaned forward and took Willow’s hand. “I know it’s strange,” she said. “But there are things... some... really awkward things that are... hard to explain. About my being a slayer. And Spike... he understands them. And yeah, maybe it is a spell making us willing to go that extra mile, and maybe the love isn’t real, but... we’re happy.”

    Willow looked very confused. “You two are happy together,” she said.

    “Well... yeah,” Buffy said.

    “You did a good job, Red,” Spike said. He put his hand on Buffy’s shoulder. “It feels real, and we’re happy with it. So, we’re asking you. Don’t take it away.”

    “Please,” Buffy said. She slid her hand into Spike’s free one, and they looked back on Willow, pleading and defiant at once.

    Willow looked at the two of them. “But... it was forced on you.”

    “Well, yes.”

    “So... isn’t that kind of like a rape?”

    “Is that what Angel told Tara?” Spike asked.

    “Sort of. I don’t know if he used that word...” Willow swallowed. “Well, yes,” she finally said.

    “And that’s the other reason,” Buffy said. “Right now, it feels like the best thing in the world. If you take that away...”

    “We’ll both hate you for it,” Spike said with his eyes narrowed. “And I’d make sure you’d feel it.”

    “Spike, settle.”

    “All right, love,” Spike said quietly.

    Willow moved subtly away from them. She looked at Buffy. “He just... backs down when you ask?”

    “I love her,” Spike said firmly. “Even in a spell, I’d go to the moon for her. Can’t you understand what that means?”

    “I don’t think either of you understand what that means,” Willow said awkwardly.

    “What do you mean?” Buffy asked.

    The door clicked, and then opened. Willow looked relieved at the reprieve at first, and then nervous again when she saw who it was. Giles came in with a bright smile on his face. “Buffy!” he said.

    Buffy jumped up to go to him. “Giles! You’re back! Where’s...” She looked behind him. “Didn’t you get your dog?”

    Giles shook his head and came in without a cane. “I didn’t need one,” he said. “My eyesight came back two days ago! I haven’t been able to reach you. I – Willow! Willow, you’re back! Anya said you’d been taken by the demon D’Hoffryn, are you...” He stopped. “Did he make you into a vengeance demon?”

    “Um. Well,” Willow said, looking very awkward. “It’s hard to explain. I...” She looked from Buffy and Spike to Giles and back again.

    “Your vision came back?” Spike asked. He glanced at Willow. “You already took the spell off Giles?”

    Willow swallowed, still a little nervous of the vampire. “Um... you don’t understand,” she said. “I took the spell off completely. The moment I knew I had cast it properly. I took the spell off me, so that I could care again. That meant all the things I said were undone. All the spells came off at once. Giles’ eyesight, and Xander’s... little demon problem. You two....”

    Spike and Buffy stared at Willow.

    “You two shouldn’t have been in love for more than thirty-six hours, now,” Willow said. “Whatever’s going on between you two now... it’s all you.”

    The dead eyed stare at Willow slowly turned inward. The slayer and the vampire turned their heads and looked at each other. There was a subtle movement as they both leaned slightly apart.

    And very suddenly, Giles and Willow found themselves alone in the room, as Spike went into the bedroom, and Buffy fled out the front door.

    “What’s going on with them?” Giles asked.

    Willow looked torn. “They didn’t want me to end the spell,” she said. “They claimed they were happy.”

    Giles thought about this for a moment, and then sank heavily onto the couch. “Oh, good lord,” he whispered.

 
Chapter 10, in which Buffy does not cry.
 

    For the longest time, marriage has had a guilty conscience about itself.
Friedrich Nietzsche

 

    Their counseling session was supposed to start at eight. Spike got there just after sunset. He’d thought he’d have a chance to sort some of this madness out with that watcher bugger, if only to have someone to talk to who wasn’t a demon. The other demons never did get him and Buffy. They’d been able to accept it when he told them it was a spell. In fact, now that he’d thought about it, Buffy had done much the same with her friends. They’d both been hanging their relationship on this “spell” as a shield and excuse for everyone else. With Willow showing up and letting the cat out of the bag – that the love had snuck up on them – there was nothing left to hide behind.

    Spike wondered if that was why he’d moved out. No one had specifically asked him to. He’d spent the rest of that afternoon in his and Buffy’s shared bedroom, drowning in memories of their shared moments, her scent, her belongings, their wedding pictures. He’d waited until nearly midnight, and she hadn’t come back. He took that as a message. He went upstairs to get a cardboard box from Xander. Xander had plenty of cardboard boxes; he’d been practicing his cabinetry, and making some hand-crafted furniture in his apartment to provide a small income, and Anya had been able to sell it in some local stores. He’d gotten pretty good at it, and frequently had deliveries of raw materials shipped to him.

    Xander hadn’t seemed to know what to say. He came down and offered to help Spike pack – but since Spike wasn’t planning on bringing more than a single box of spare clothes and a few jars of blood, (and a couple keepsakes) it was really only a symbolic gesture. “No thanks, mate,” Spike had said. “I’m good.”

    Xander stood there by the bedroom door for a few more moments, then said, “It’s been real.”

    Spike had burst into tormented laughter, and Xander had blushed. “I didn’t mean...”

    Spike looked up at him, “‘S all right, mate. See you ‘round.”

    Xander nodded. Before he went back upstairs, he said, “Thanks, man.”

    It seemed small, but it wasn’t. Thanks. Man. Nope, wasn’t small at all. They didn’t need heartfelt speeches. It was a guy thing.

    As Spike was heading out the front door, Giles stopped him. Spike had wondered if he was going to tell him not to leave. He’d saved Giles a lot too, in the last six months. But no. All Giles did was offer him money, like he was being paid off. The hired thug’s contract had been fulfilled, time for a final paycheck.

    It galled Spike that he actually needed the money. Giles was offering it with the air of a benevolent step-father sending his ward off to college. Not one of them questioned Spike’s moving out. Spike figured it just saved them the trouble of evicting him. “I realize this probably isn’t what you want to hear right now,” Giles said, “but really, this is for the best–”

    “You’re right,” Spike said, snatching the money out Giles’ hand. “It’s not.”

    He started counting it, which struck him as the most insulting thing he could come up with.

    “You know, it has occurred to me that perhaps this experience, combined with your condition, of being only able to hurt demons, might be indicative of some kind of higher–”

    “Shh. You’re making me lose count.”

    “Right,” Giles nodded. “Well. It has been... interesting....”

    “Right,” Spike said. He walked off, box on one hip, waving the hand with the money in the air without looking behind him. “See you ‘round, blinky.”

    “I suppose I actually will,” Giles said behind him.

    Spike had gone back to the three level several times in the last three days, just to stand about outside it, see if she returned. She never did.

    But he kept the appointment to see Wes. He didn’t even know if Buffy was planning on coming, but he wanted to get there before she did, whatever.

    He didn’t. Buffy had walked through the sun, and was looking serious and grave in Wesley’s office by the time he got there. She didn’t even look teary. That was a bad sign.

    “Been a few days,” he said quietly when he saw her. In fact, it had been nearly four. Four days without her in his bed. Four days without the sound of her voice, the sweetness of her scent, the seduction in her touch. Four days cold and lonely and confused. Four days – he couldn’t eat, he couldn’t sleep. Four days without Buffy and he already felt like he was dying.

    “Um. Yeah,” Buffy said. “I... I went back to my mom’s.”

    “I’m renting a bed in Willy’s back room,” Spike said. “There’s a crypt I got my eye on, but I’d have to clear out a couple fyarl demons. Waiting for them to be past their mating cycle. Bit too sticky for my taste during.” Why the hell was he making small talk? Why hadn’t he caught her up in his arms already, begged her to let him back into her life? But he was too scared. Even seeing her eyes, he already felt like he was being flayed. She looked so cold.

    Wesley looked up at Spike. “Buffy has relayed the circumstances to me,” Wes said. “It would seem your spell was lifted, and neither of you noticed?”

    “We’d been living with it for so long,” Buffy said, half to Spike, half to Wes. “I guess we’d just... fallen into the habit.”

    Spike wanted to hold her so badly, he felt like he was burning. He said the only thing that was in his mind, the thing that had been burning inside him since she’d turned around and walked away from him. “I miss you.”

    Buffy sagged as if her strings had been cut and took a deep breath. “Spike, I... we.... Wes, could you excuse us for a moment?”

    “Would you like me to step outside?”

    “No,” Buffy said. “No, just....” She stood up and went to Spike, pulling him across the room. She didn’t need an audience, but she wanted a witness. This was another bad sign.

    “Buffy, don’t,” Spike said. He didn’t wait for her to say it. He already knew it was coming. These last four months, when she’d decided to stop fighting. These months of acceptance and flirtation, of un-restrained grumbling and annoyed eye-rolls countered by powerful lovemaking and sweet, sweet moments of unfettered tenderness. These months, happy together, as husband and wife. They’d been killed, as surely as if Red had sunk her demonic teeth in and drained their love dry.

    “Spike–”

    “Don’t,” he said. “Please.” He reached up and touched her hair. “These last four days, I’ve felt like an empty shell. You’re in me, Buffy. You’re in my throat, in my blood, in every part of me. You haunt me. I’ve been steeped in you. I can’t let it go, now. I love you. I don’t care if it was a spell, it’s real now, it’s got to be real. I. Love. You.”

    “I know...” Buffy looked down.

    “I know you feel like I do,” Spike said. “I know you love me, I know it.”

    Buffy tried to steel herself. “Spike. I do... I do care about you.”

    She’d already thrown the word away. The love was gone. All her rigid moralizing had tainted her, and she’d had four days to stew on it. He should have gone to find her. He should have come into her house at night, caught her up while she was half asleep, made love to her, shaken her out of her logical torpor. But he’d just been so scared. “Don’t do this.”

    Buffy looked up. “I have to do this.”

    “No!” Spike took hold of her, held her at arms length. “No, no, you don’t! Four days ago you were ready to live with me forever. What was that? You were happy! Even without the magic, we were happy! You were ready to live your life under a spell and just be my wife, what changed?”

    “Everything,” Buffy said.

    “No. Don’t you see, that’s the point. Nothing changed. We were still in love, we were so happy.” He glanced over at Wesley, who was pointedly looking down at his notes, but it was clear as hell he was straining to hear their every word. Spike didn’t blame him. This was daytime soap drama here, muttering in the corner. “We made love that morning, don’t you remember?” he said low. “With the handcuffs, and the long stemmed rose, don’t you remember the scent? The touch? How I made you feel? There was no magic there – we were the magic. It was just us. It was just us, and it was so beautiful....”

    The look on her face... he wasn’t getting anywhere. He might as well have been talking to a woman made of stone.

    “I need you to listen, Spike,” Buffy said.

    “No,” he said. He didn’t want to listen. This was why he hadn’t sought her out, because he hadn’t wanted to hear this.  “Listen to you tear us down, and get your knickers in a twist for some rubbish the witch says? After everything we’ve been through, all the work we’ve done? When there’s no bloody reason for any of it!”

    “There are reasons,” Buffy said. “Spike, please. I do have feelings for you now, after all that. Real feelings. And that’s a problem. Because I can’t live like that.”

    “Like what? God, Buffy, please! What the hell am I doing wrong?”

    “Nothing, Spike. I thought and I thought about it, and I talked it over with Giles and with Willow and my mom. And they all said different things. I tried to decide if I could stay with you... because I really have been happy. But... I can’t.”

    Spike tried to keep his trembling tamped down. “Bollocks. You can, Buffy. We can, we can make it work. We were making it work. Wes!” He turned to the watcher. “Weren’t we making it work?”

    Buffy turned Spike’s head back to her. “Spike, this isn’t about Wes, or about whether or not we work.”

    “Then what the hell is it about?”

    “I just can’t be with an evil vampire. I cannot be with someone who doesn’t care about people. I can’t do it. It’s against everything I am.”

    Spike clenched his jaw. “You were just fine when it was bloody Angel.”

    “Angel has a soul.”

    “That doesn’t make him good!”

    “No,” Buffy said. “I know that now. But it gave him the potential to be something other than evil.”

    “But I’m... I’m doing it, Buffy. For you, I’m doing all of it. I haven’t killed, I’ve been helping, I’ve been wanting to help. Angel had his soul, but he was still a killer. I’m... bloody castrated from evil, doesn’t that make me good?”

    “No,” she said. “I wish it did, but it doesn’t. It’s just holding you back, Spike. It isn’t you. You’re still evil.”

    “But you were fine with that when there was a spell! You even wanted the spell. We still feel it without it, what makes the difference?”

    Buffy drew in a breath. “It isn’t what you do. It isn’t even what you are. It’s what I am. I am the slayer.”

    “And you want me,” Spike said. “All the grand titles in the world won’t change what you want.”

    “I know that,” Buffy said. “I do want you.” She looked down. “I may even love you,” she said. “I thought I did. When I thought it was a spell, I thought it wasn’t real, and that was why it felt kind of... off. Now I’m not sure.”

    “I’m sure!” Spike hissed at her. “You love me, you have to love me. You couldn’t make me feel like this if you didn’t love me.”

    Her voice was very low and hoarse. “Maybe I do.” She swallowed. “But that doesn’t make it any better. In fact, it makes it worse.”

    “Makes what worse?”

    “Angel’s soul meant that he at least regretted his crimes. He cared about people. He was going to do everything in his power – even if he wasn’t very good at it – to be a good person. Even all by himself.”

    “I’m doing that.”

    “I know. I know you’re doing that, for me. And it’s... the greatest gift you could ever give me. And I know how hard it is for you, and I’m so proud every time you make the right choice. And with the spell, that was enough for me.”

    “Why? What’s the difference between with a spell and without one, if you feel the same?”

    “Don’t you see, Spike? The spell. It shielded me.”

    “From your friends? Forget them! Who cares what they think, they can just deal–”

    “Not from them,” Buffy said.

    “Then from what?”

    She looked up. “Willow’s spell absolved me of your evil.”

    Spike felt like she’d punched him in the gut. He stared at her dumbfounded for a moment. “How can that even touch you?”

    “Because I’m embracing it,” Buffy said. “And by embracing you, I’m condoning it. With Angel’s soul... he wasn’t condoning evil either. Before he lost it, and after Willow cursed it back for him, he didn’t want people to be hurt. That’s what made the difference. But here....With the spell, it just meant that it wasn’t me. Without it, it is. And I can’t just embrace evil, Spike. It would make me evil, too. It would make me like those crazy women who marry serial killers, its madness.”

    “You’re just as much of a killer as I am!”

    “Which is why I can’t indulge this,” Buffy said. “Maybe, if I hadn’t realized what Angel was really like... I could risk it. But the soul didn’t save him. And it won’t save me, either. I can’t forget my nature.”

    “What hell do you mean, your nature? Your nature draws you to me, damn it. To the shadows, you know it does. You’re always drawn to evil.”

    “I am drawn to evil, to slay evil. I slay evil, because I must,” Buffy said evenly. She’d been speaking very quietly, very clearly, almost no inflection. It was like she’d practiced this for hours. “I slay evil, because if I don’t, the evil slaughters the innocent. But I’ve seen what can happen when you let that dark, killing side of you take over. That’s why there are watchers. That’s why any potential, when found, is put under the auspices of someone who can make hard choices.”

    Spike could almost hear Wesley saying those words, words Spike knew the watcher had just put into her mouth. The scary thing was, he wasn’t sure Wes was wrong. He’d felt her power. He’d felt her darkness. It wasn’t so different from his own. “Slayers are human,” he said. “No better or worse than any other human.”

    Buffy shook her head. “Not entirely. We’re there to stop the vampires. When we go bad... there’s no one to stop us. There was a slayer I knew last year... her name was Faith. She became the most poisonous and powerful thing. She was almost unstoppable. In fact, the only thing that stopped her was me. She could kill so easily, and she let that corrupt her, completely.”

    “So? You’re not gonna turn all evil, Buff. Believe me.”

    “When I want to hold you, despite all you’ve done?” Buffy asked. “What is that, if not... corrupted? I can see it could happen to me, Spike. I could let the dark take over. I could be weak and selfish and just take what I want. You saw what happened to me when I was mad at Angel. Hell, you let me take it out on you. You had bruises for weeks, and I loved you.”

    “Not really complaining here, slayer.”

    “I know. But if I can do that, what else could I do? I could kill the demons, not to save lives, but for the love of killing. I could just start killing anyone who got in my way. Any teachers I didn’t like, or any girl I got jealous over, or... anyone. If I can just kill demons, and go home to pizza afterwards – and you know I can – are people really so different?”

    Spike had been trying to tell her that since they’d been married. So it had finally gotten through to her. But in the worst possible way. This wasn’t why he’d wanted her to realize it. This wasn’t how he wanted this to go.

    “I could do that,” Buffy said. “I could become judge, jury, and executioner, and kill anyone I didn’t like, human rules and demon rules aside. But I won’t.” She shook her head. “I can’t let that happen to me.”

    “What’s that got to do with being with me?” Spike demanded.

    “Because you’d be just fine with it if I did that,” Buffy said. “If I turned around and started killing for the fun of it, you wouldn’t care. Hell, you’d drink the blood and laugh.”

    “That’s not–”

    “That’s what you are,” Buffy said. “It’s not your fault, it’s how you were made. You’re trying to be good now, because you love me. And that’s... amazing, Spike. Truly amazing. And the chip helps. But it’s not what you are. You’re only doing it for me.”

    He was finding it hard to speak already. “W-what’s wrong with that?”

    “Nothing. Not for you. But for me.... I can’t be responsible for both of us, Spike. It can’t be only because of me that we are a force for good. What if I fall?”

    “Never happen!” Spike snapped.

    “It did,” Buffy said. “It did, earlier this autumn. A demon was pulling out my soul, and it was only my friends – my good friends who believed in being good – that stopped me from turning into a complete monster.”

    “So? Why does that mean you couldn’t be with me?”

    “Because you wouldn’t have done that. You wouldn’t have tried to stop me. This whole house of cards only stands because I’m determined to stay good. I can’t be sure I’ll always do that, even though I have a soul. Angel couldn’t.”

    Spike grunted. “No. No, Buffy that’s... that’s not what I meant...” It was, actually, exactly what he had meant. But this wasn’t what he had meant to happen when she realized it.

    “I know. But it’s true. When there was a spell between us, I could say that was why I loved you. Not because... you make something sing in me that I shouldn’t let take me over. Just like when Angel had a soul, I could tell myself... that the regret mattered. That the evil was something other than him. But the truth is... I still loved Angel even when he didn’t have a soul. That’s why it took me so long to kill him. People died because of that. And maybe... I still love you, even without the spell. But if I let myself be with you... it means I’m as bad as you are.” She looked up at him. “And I can’t live like that. It would kill me.”

    She stepped away. She slipped from his benumbed hands, her heat and her light all fading away from him. “I’m so sorry, William.”

    She went out and closed the door of Wesley’s office between them with a final, steady, click.

    Spike wanted to be in a rage. He wanted to jump up and follow her in a fury of passion, and make her listen to him, make her love him, shake the sense into her head. But he was in shock.

    A long moment later, Wesley cleared his throat.

    “If you ask me how I feel about what just happened,” Spike said, “I’ll find some way to kill you where you stand.”

    “I didn’t tell her to leave,” Wes said quietly.

    “Didn’t you? Watcher?”

    “No. That was all her.”

    Spike finally looked at him. “Then what advice did you give her?”

    “None,” Wes said. “That’s not my role, here. I’m here to ask questions, not make decisions for you.”

    That was what he had been doing, Spike knew. Twice a week. Asking questions, giving possible solutions, and then letting them get on with it. “Then what was she here for?”

    “She was mostly here asking about slayers, and the history of them.”

    “What did you tell her?”

    “The truth. She knew most of it anyway. Giles is... he tends to coddle her a bit, and she knows it. She just wanted me to confirm.”

    “Confirm what?”

    “That there have been slayers who have gone rogue. More than just Faith. When they do... they are hard to contain.”

    Spike closed his eyes. They would be.

    “It is easier when they are younger,” Wes continued. “When they have not truly become adults, they are less likely....”

    Spike knew what he meant. Young teenage girls who were not sexually active were very easy to order around. Young women in the first flush of their sexual awakening could be forces of nature, even without slayer strength. Older slayers were more dangerous. His second slayer was in her twenties, and she’d nearly killed him. His first... she was young. Powerful, but more predictable. Buffy blew them both out of the water. Given the sorts of predilections she had in the bedroom... yeah. Slayers could become cold blooded killers easily. If she did go rogue... she’d be more dangerous than he had ever been.

    And it would eat her soul.

    “So it wasn’t you? Who told her she couldn’t let herself embrace evil?”

    “No,” Wesley said gently. “That was entirely her. She barely mentioned you, except to tell me what happened.”

    Spike took a deep breath. He had only one more question. “Did she cry?”

    “What?”

    Spike looked to Wes. “When she told you. Today. At any point. Did she cry?”

    Wesley shook his head. “No.”

    Spike swallowed. She’d taken his entire world away as she left. And she hadn’t shed a single tear.

    Spike left Wes’s office, and immediately had to find a dark shadow somewhere. He didn’t want anyone to see how many he was shedding.

 

 
Chapter 11, in which Buffy does cry, and Spike is extremely drunk.
 

If men could be contented to be what they are, there were no fear in marriage.
Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well
 

 

    Buffy sobbed.

    Willow cradled her head in her lap and caressed her hair. She done this after Angel had broken up with Buffy. She hadn’t really known what to do then, either. “I’m sorry,” she said. She felt terribly guilty. “I’m so sorry, Buffy.”

    “It wasn’t you.”

    “Oh, but it was!” Willow said. “It was all me. I cast that spell, and then I just... went off. I didn’t care what I said, I just said the most hurtful things I could, and... and I hurt all of you.”

    “Don’t,” Buffy sobbed. “I can’t...” She couldn’t face Willow’s guilt right now. Maybe one day she could, but she didn’t care at the moment. Right now, all she could do was try to hold on. When this marriage had started, she’d cried almost every day for two months. Then she’d felt wonderful. All her torment over Angel and their star-crossed love had melted away under the truth of how he felt, and what he was. The pain was still there, but the inner cries of It’s not fair! had died, and left her content with her scars. And the rest of her life had been steadied and soothed by a guy who knew how she felt, and understood her, always had her back, and was always right there. Now he was gone, because he had to be gone. Now she was crying again.

    She’d held it back in Wes’s office. She knew how important it was not to show this to Spike. She wasn’t sure she’d have had the strength to go if he’d tried to stop her. He’d never have let her go if she’d cried.

    She’d kept herself stone for nearly two days since the official breakup, but she couldn’t anymore. She’d gone to spill the whole miserable tale in Willow’s lap. Buffy was so glad to have her best friend back again. Even if Willow did occasionally go weird in the face and seemed to have moved in with Tara. Willow was still so new to the vengeance demon gig that she fell back into demon face much more easily than she did her human guise. Because of that she didn’t trust herself to do more than visit her parents, with heavy apologies about going off to find herself after Oz left.

    Everything was different. Buffy was different. She wasn’t sure she liked herself, and she was so afraid. “I feel like I’ve murdered him,” she sobbed. The words were so hard to get out. “Spike’s been trying so hard to be good for me... and it was so hard for him! Sometimes he’d jones so badly, I almost wanted to go rob a blood bank or something. I even... oh, god, Willow, he’d try so hard for me. I used to think vampires couldn’t love, not without a soul.”

    “And... were you wrong?” Willow asked.

    “I don’t know,” Buffy said. “There is something... off... about him, that I didn’t notice in Angel. Angel had plenty of issues, but it always felt like there was more under there, and I don’t always see that in Spike. It makes him like some kind of cartoon character at times. But even without the depth, the love is there. I can’t deny it’s there. And it’s tearing him apart. You should have seen his face. I... I...” She crumpled again.

    Willow had listened to Buffy’s reasoning for leaving Spike. It was painful and tortured and it clearly ripped the heart right out of her. The problem was, her argument really did make sense. It was just hurting her so badly. “But... it was all right when you thought that it was a spell?”

    Buffy nodded her head. “Under the spell, it wasn’t me,” she said.

    “Well... I... I could just cast another spell,” Willow said. “Or Tara could. Another love spell. Then, you two could be together, and it wouldn’t be your....” She stopped.

    “My fault,” Buffy finished for her. “My fault, my weakness, the darkness that I am,” she said. “No. It can’t work that way. It wouldn’t work again. It’s too late. I know what I am now, and I can’t....” She sobbed. “I’m a monster.”

    “No!” Willow was almost crying herself now. “No, no, Buffy! You’re wonderful! You’re so brave and so strong, and...”

    “And I kill. I kill night after night after night, creatures who might be no more evil than you.” She looked up at Willow. “I should be killing you now, do you get that? You’re a demon. What have you done, these last six months? How many men have you cursed?”

    “It doesn’t work like that,” Willow said. “And I don’t stick to just cursing men. Just anyone who’s wronged another. If it’s a true wrong, the vengeance is supposed to match the crime.”

    “Yeah, but did they all live?”

    Willow looked down. They hadn’t. “I... I didn’t know. I couldn’t care.”

    “I know,” Buffy said. “He can’t care, either. Don’t you see? Good, bad, right and wrong, it’s so swirled around. I know you’re not evil. But you’ve killed. I know Spike is evil. But he’s sweet, and harmless, and... and helpful, and I don’t know what I am!”

    Willow felt completely helpless. “But... but you’re the vampire slayer! You only take out those demons who kill others.”

    “I know,” Buffy said. “But that means you and Spike – and you don’t want to hurt people, but do. And Spike wants to, but can’t. And Angel...”

    “What about Angel?” Willow asked.

    “Angel deserves his damn curse,” Buffy said quietly.

    Willow was surprised. How did Angel get mixed up in this? “But... but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be happy.”

    “Happy with a willful killer?”

    “Um... well. No. But Anya was pretty icky in her day, and that doesn’t make Xander evil.”

    “Xander can’t rip someone’s arm off, and doesn’t have the impulse to kill all the time,” Buffy said. “I’m just a step away from already being evil, Will.”

    “Yeah, but... but you’re not,” Willow said.

    “You weren’t evil either,” Buffy said. “Then just one little spell, and now how many have died under your curses?”

    Willow looked down. “I... I didn’t really mean to.”

    “But you did it. And someone had to pull you back.”

    Willow frowned. “But, someone did...”

    “But Spike wouldn’t. Don’t you see that? He’d let me be just as evil as he is. He’d be happier if I was.”

    “But you’re not going to turn evil.”

    “Faith did. Can you imagine what she would have been like with Spike as her backup?”

    “But you won’t!”

    “I did with my roommate.”

    “There were circumstances.”

    “There are always circumstances,” Buffy said.

    “But....” Willow was stumped. “But you want to be with him.”

    “I wanted to be with Angel,” Buffy said. “And he tortured me.”

    “Only when he didn’t have a soul...” Willow stopped, realizing that wasn’t going to help with the problem with Spike.

    “No,” Buffy said. “Not only.” She started crying again. “Why am I so drawn to evil?”

    Willow was torn. “Buffy, how can I make this better?”

    Buffy sobbed loudly. “Just make me human!” she cried out.

    Willow knew she could bring someone back from the dead more easily. As a vengeance demon she could turn a man into a slug, or a woman into a tree. She could force someone to never get anywhere on time again, invoking car-crashes and derailed trains to ensure a painful delay. She could curse someone into madness, into illness, into willful starvation. She could, to an extent, reorder time itself. But the slayer was called by the realms of fate, and they were immutable. She could kill Buffy, but she couldn’t make her other than what she was. Even if she made Buffy into a rat, like Amy, she would be a rat called to kill demon rats.  She would always be a vampire slayer, called to the darkness with a stake in her hand, hungry for dust, and the death of the demons, going slowly mad if there was only peace. “I can’t,” Willow whispered.

    Buffy sank down again. “I know.”

    Buffy cried herself out, and then just lay on Willow’s lap, feeling miserable. They tried to make small talk – Amy, Anya, the vagaries of Arashmaharr’s clothing boutiques – but it always lapsed into silence after a few sentences. Eventually there was a knock on Tara’s door.

    Tara had gone to the library to give Willow time alone with Buffy, so it might have been her, not wanting to interrupt. But Willow never just said “Come in,” anymore, not after that incident where she’d accidentally invited Spike. She stood up and went to the door.

    “Face!” Buffy called out, just in time. Willow looked startled, and then shook herself human. She opened the door.

    “Riley.”

    “Hey, Willow,” said the easy mid-western voice of the guy Buffy used to date. “I’m sorry, I just wanted to tell you in person. Professor Walsh says she’s glad you’re back on campus, but she won’t accept you back in her class, not this semester. If you wanted to sign up early for next ye–” he stopped. “Hi, Buffy,” he said. He frowned at her tear-streaked face. “Are you okay? Is everything all right?”

    “Buffy’s getting a divorce,” Willow said with a purse of her lips.

    “Oh,” Riley said. Then, “Oh,” again. “Oh, well. Um. I’m sorry it didn’t work out with you and... and Spike.”

    “It was kind of inevitable,” Buffy said dully.

    “Well, I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

    “No, that’s okay,” Willow said. She’d just had a brilliant idea. “Buffy was just going.”

    “I was?”

    “You were,” Willow said. “She needs to get home. It’s five miles away,” she added, looking meaningfully at Riley.

    “Oh,” Riley said. Then his face cleared, and he said, “Oh,” again. “You still don’t drive, do you.”

    “Nope. Cars and Buffy are still kind of unmixy,” Buffy said wearily. She hadn’t caught up yet.

    “Well, its kind of late,” Riley said. “And it’s dark out. Maybe I could drive you home. Would... that be okay?”

    “Of course it would!” Willow said. She grabbed hold of Buffy’s arm and yanked her to her feet. “See? She’s all ready go.”

    “I–”

    “Riley can drive you home,” Willow said. “It’ll be great. You can just go back home, in Riley’s car, and he can drive you.”

    Buffy knew what Willow was doing. She wasn’t being very subtle about it. “Willow, I–”

    But Willow had pushed Buffy out the door and hugged her. “Have a good drive home,” she said, and closed the door in Buffy’s face.

    Buffy looked over at the nice guy who had taken her for a picnic and played the good Samaritan in a crisis. He still had nice arms. But he wasn’t Spike....

    “Don’t worry,” Riley said. “I wasn’t expecting to get into your pants. I’m sure you’d need some time before you could move on, anyway. But I’d like to help... in any way I can.”

    Buffy stared at him for a long moment. “Thanks,” she finally said. Riley took her arm in his. She let him.
 

***
 

    Spike was extremely drunk. He was being held up by the tree drunk. He wasn’t entirely sure how he’d gotten to Buffy’s house. He didn’t know why he was lurking outside. She had left him. She had very sensible reasons. He didn’t think she was going to take him back.

    He couldn’t stay away.

    He lurked under the tree waiting for... what? He didn’t know. He didn’t even think Buffy was home.

    The funny thing was, it wasn’t the memories of the shagging that tormented him the most. That was some great shagging, of course, some absolute primo shagging, raw and powerful and dangerous shagging, totally overwhelming warlike shagging. But that wasn’t the heart of Buffy.

    He remembered just sitting beside her on the bed, her bare shoulder peeking out of the bed clothes, and how sweet it was just to caress it. To feel that smooth heat beneath his fingers as he woke her for her morning class. He remembered her voice in the shower, singing her own distracted and deeply distorted versions of music from the local club.  He remembered how pissed off she’d get whenever he stressed her in the work out room, pushing her just a little further than she wanted to play, making her extend herself just a little bit more, give her that much more of an edge. And how the anger helped. He remembered teasing her, the just-at-the-edge-of-fighting antagonism when one or both of them were in a foul mood – and how they’d still hand off a peck just before going out the door or rolling over annoyed in the bed.

    He’d been lurking outside for an hour, smoking fag after fag and nursing his bottle of bourbon, when Joyce peeked out the window and spied the glow from his cigarette in the darkness. She came out to the front porch. “Spike? Is that you?”

    Spike made some kind of non-committal noise.

    “Buffy isn’t here right now,” she said. She peered at him through the darkness. “Would you like some hot chocolate?”

    Buffy! I want Buffy! screamed every fiber of his demonic body. “Thanks,” he muttered to Joyce. She was such a nice lady. Really, a great lady, Joyce. He should rob a jewelry store for her or something. Maybe kill her a bear. Dru liked bearskins, still dripping with hot blood, she liked to wrap herself in them. Oh, no, bears were alive. Can’t kill live things. That sucked. Did the butchers slaughter bears? They could... no. Farm animals. He could get Joyce a pig skin... no. Wait. Things. Head things, human. Not blood. Humans don’t like blood. Despite the way the world kept spinning, he made himself stagger forward. He only made it to the porch before he lost his grip on vertical and spilled himself all over the stairs. “Tha’s really, really nice of you,” he slurred to the steps. “You’re really nice. Nice and good and not evil lady, you.”

    Joyce looked a little bit like she regretted interfering. “Um... maybe I should make you some coffee instead.”

    Spike sputtered. He wanted a cup of Assam tea and a coal fire and someone to stroke his head and read him poetry. He wanted watercress sandwiches and some warm A-positive blood and a gentle hug. Sod all that. He wanted Buffy!

    Spike rolled himself over and stared up at the sky, his head on the step. He’d dropped his bottle somewhere, and Joyce went down and picked it up, setting it far, far out of his reach on the porch. “Coffee,” he said. “She used to drink coffee, at breakfast. She likes it with cream, and a little chocolate syrup.” He started to cry. “And she... she doesn’t want it too hot....”

    “Are you all right?” Joyce said, coming to sit down beside him. It was clear he was not going anywhere.

    “No,” Spike said, watching the stars spinning around and around over his head. “I’m not good. I’m not good, not good.”

    Joyce frowned at him. “I am sorry, Spike,” she said quietly. “I know how hard you were trying. But I really do think its for the best.”

    “Best,” Spike said. “Best and good and... We were happy!” he announced. “We were happy, and good, I was being good dammit. Can’t be evil, no. No, no, William’s a bad bloody man, no matter how good he is.” He rubbed tears from his face. “Oough!” Vampires didn’t throw up. He stopped crying and made himself feel his body. It all seemed to be made of wet rope. He looked up to Joyce – there seemed to be at least two of her. “Is she all right?” he asked.

    “She’s coping,” Joyce said. “She’s glad Willow’s back.”

    “Willow. Damned witch, twist me inside out. Should have ripped her bloody throat out.” He stopped. “Guess that’s not really the good thing to say,” he realized.

    “I think I said much the same about someone when my husband left,” Joyce said. “I didn’t mean it, but the thought was in me as much as it is in you.”

    “The thought and the me and the you and the Buffy...” Oh, god, he shouldn’t have said her name. He bit back the desire to scream out into the night, Buffy! That would probably disturb Joyce. He bit his lower lip hard to keep the scream in. His lips were numb, so it was harder than it should have been. He didn’t actually draw blood, but when he let loose his lip there was a deep bite mark. He could feel it with his tongue. He sniffed. “So how’sit go’n at gallery?” he asked, a slurred attempt at casual conversation.

    “Um... a little slow, lately,” she said. She kept talking. He wasn’t listening. She knew he wasn’t, but she talked for him anyway, giving him something to hold onto until he could sober up enough to stand.

    “D’you still have that necklace?” he asked suddenly.

    “Oh, the one you and Buffy gave me at Christmas?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Yes. I... tend not to wear it much. It – well, it kind of... burns whenever there’s a full moon.”

    “I’s made out of ghora demon scales,” Spike said. “She helped me kill it.”

    “I remember. You told me at the time.”

    “It was pretty.”

    “Yes. It was, the way the light makes the scales shimmer.”

    “No. The way she lopped off its head,” Spike said fondly. “So I could lop off its head.”

    Joyce frowned. “I thought you just said she had...?”

    “’S got three heads,” Spike said with a soft smile. “She ‘as all covered in the blood, and she laughed. Shirt was ruined. We had to clean off in the shower. She ’as so warm....” Tears stabbed his eyes again. “God damn bitch!” he suddenly growled. “Look what she’s done to me!” He crawled forward and tried to get to his feet. “I’ll show her,” he said. “I’ll show her. I’ll tear apart half the bloody town. Not good, am I? I can be not good. I can do that.” He found the side of the porch and followed it up, finding vertical – or at least diagonal – somewhere along the way. “God damn bints. Why do these bitches torture me? Not demon enough for her, not human enough for her, where the hell do I get to be me? What’s it take to keep a woman, huh?” he asked Joyce. “You’re a woman. What’s it take to be real, when it’s real, to take to be me?”

    Joyce wasn’t sure exactly what he was asking, but she was pretty sure he didn’t either. “Do you really need a woman?” she asked.

    Spike laughed. “Not fair asking,” he said distinctly. “Means you’re not a man you say anything, Mother.” He looked down. “No. I wouldn’t presume.” His head hung low. He was so drunk his face felt like it was falling off. “Things is impossible, innit,” he said. “Slayer and vampire and husband and wife. Wrong, innit? Wrong and perfect and ‘mpossible.”

    He’d been trying to logic out Buffy’s reasoning for not being together. He’d practiced speech after speech, talking to the chair he’d decided to pretend was Buffy. The chair was now broken, and he was no nearer coming up with an argument that negated hers. The one argument he kept coming back to was the very argument she had. So what if I wouldn’t care if you went bad? Why should you care about that? She did care about that, that was the point. And until she stopped caring about it, or he started caring about it, the word “impossible” was always going to be between them.

    “Are you going to be all right, Spike?” Joyce asked.

    Spike shrugged, and realized he was crying again. “Yeah,” he said. “You can go back in, Joyce,” he said, as if he were offering her a reprieve rather than begging her to leave him to his misery. “I’ll be fine.”

    Joyce got the hint. “I’ll make up some coffee, in case you change your mind. You can just come on in, if you do,” she said.

    “And Buffy?”

    “She didn’t tell me not to invite you in. It’s not as if we can’t all be friends.”  She left him to cry in peace.

    Friends. That bitch. Why didn’t these women realize how cruel that was? Well, he supposed, not Joyce. She could be friends, maybe, if no longer still his mother-in-law. He was still invited in, there. Buffy might not want to be married anymore, but he wasn’t being completely cut out of her life. Like it bloody mattered. They’d never be friends. They were already too close to ever be friends. He dragged his hands over his eyes again. He was sick of crying. He’d been doing it far too much. God dammit, he shouldn’t have let himself get this bloody drunk.

    He was absolutely sure of that a second later, as a car pulled up in front of the house, and Buffy got out. Spike glanced at her, and then turned away, trying as hard as he could to sober up instantly. He was certain he had completely failed when Buffy asked, “Spike?” and his response was, “’m too drunk to see you.”

    “What?”

    “’m s’posed to look suave and perfect with some foxy bint on my arm,” Spike heard himself saying. “Make you want me back.”

    Buffy looked at him sadly. The truth was, all that would have done would have been to make her angry. Seeing him with his hair all which way and his face tear-streaked, so drunk he could barely speak, made her heart go out to him. He looked worse than when Dru had left him. Far worse. He had been pathetic at the time. Now he was at the level of tortured. She wanted to cuddle him. But, “It isn’t going to work like that,” she said quietly.

    He still hadn’t looked at her. He did that now. No, god, no, she was beautiful. She was perfect. Her hair was mussed and she looked exhausted and she was wearing an old t-shirt and pair of sweat pants. She looked like Sunday morning, over the funny papers, with her feet on his lap. “Buffy,” he breathed. He threw his arms around her shoulders and pushed her against the side of the house. “Buffy, Buffy, don’t you remember? You said you loved me.”

    “I know, Spike,” she said. She did not embrace him back.

    “You ‘member when you cut your finger with the onions? You let me kiss it away, kiss the pain away, drink you deep, hold you. Hold you.” He pushed himself closer to her, breathing in the scent of her neck, her hair. Her skin was intoxicating. “You’re in me, Buffy. You’re inside me, you’re in my blood. I didn’t know how I needed you. Not me without you.”

    Buffy took hold of his arms and gently tried to put him away. “Spike. You have to go home.”

    “I am home,” he said, pressing against her skin. He couldn’t let her go, he couldn’t. This was the first time he’d stopped hurting in days. “I’m only home here. Let me come home.”

    “Spike–”

    “Please, Buffy. Buffy, Buffy, let me. Let–”

    “Get off her!” Spike was dragged violently off by a shape he couldn’t see properly. He tried to hit it, and his pain chip fired. He was so numb he only groaned with it and his balance was gone and he fell to the porch with a grunt. “Buffy, you okay?” Riley asked. “He attacked you, are you hurt?”

    “No, he wasn’t attacking me.”

    “What?”

    “It’s just my ex,” Buffy said softly. Spike had seemed so desperate, and his pitiful glom had seemed so completely helpless. If Riley hadn’t been there, she probably would have invited him in to sleep it off, set him up in the basement or something, and they could have talked more in the morning. But Riley was there, and Buffy felt weird bringing Spike in, even in a pity gesture.

    Riley looked shocked. “That’s Spike?” he asked. “That’s Spike, that’s the guy you married?”

    “Yeah. He wasn’t this drunk then,” Buffy said. “He usually doesn’t drink this much, honest.”

    “Drink?” Riley said. “No. No, I guess he wouldn’t.” He stared at Buffy. “Buffy, do you know what he... do you know?”

    “Yeah, he’ll be okay,” Buffy said. She didn’t know what to do. Spike was dragging himself to his feet now.

    “Mr. Whitebread making a new sandwich already, huh?” Spike demanded of Buffy. “Cup of milk and a warm blankie? Is that what you need? Is he good enough for you, slayer? Huh?”

    “What did he call you?” Riley asked.

    “Um... slayer. It’s a pet name,” Buffy invented. “Like lady-killer.”

    “Yeah, and I’m sure that’s his,” Riley said harshly. “How long were you married?”

    “Riley, it’s a long story.”

    “Right,” Spike said. “And you’re ready for a new chapter, to tuck into bed!” Spike turned around and tried to leave the porch. He missed the stairs, and found the bottle on the porch railing. “Hallo, friend,” he said to the bottle. “You’re not gonna leave me ‘cause you really love me, are you. Total bollocks.” He took another belt, staggered, and fell over the railing into the bushes. “Bugger!” Spike heard Riley murmuring to Buffy, as he tried to crawl his way back onto the grass, bringing the bottle with him. Riley said something about making sure Spike got somewhere safe.

    “He’s staying at Willy’s Bar. Do you know where that is?” Buffy asked.

    They murmured a bit more as Spike inched his way onto the lawn, breaking shrubbery. A second later Spike heard the front door close.

    Riley came down the porch steps and looked down at Spike. “So. This is where you’ve been hiding. Hostile 17.”

    Spike looked up. “Huh?”

    Riley kicked Spike in the face until he fell to the grass, fetched a gun from his car, and shot him with a tranquilizer dart. It was overkill. Spike was already so drunk he was about to pass out anyway.
 

 

 
Chapter 12, which concerns various demons.
 

     Of all actions of a man's life, his marriage does least concern other people, yet of all actions of our life 'tis most meddled with by other people.
John Selden (1584-1654)
 

 

    Buffy wanted to say she wasn’t having a problem readjusting to life without her husband. Giles put the three-level up for sale, Xander got a job on a construction crew, and Willow was auditing classes with Tara and Buffy until she could sign up for the next semester. Life had gone back to normal. Except it wasn’t normal.

    Xander had a newfound respect for demons, and had taken to patrolling with Buffy with much more gusto than he ever had before. Buffy was surprised to learn that Spike had been training him in street fighting while she was off at college – give Xander a chance to fight those demons on his own. Giles kept staring at sunsets, and had started recording some of his vast library into audio books for the blind. He still played his guitar a lot, which he had been doing almost constantly while he couldn’t see. Willow had started some kind of romantic relationship with Tara, which startled Buffy more than disturbed her. And every once in a while Willow would disappear – sometimes quite literally – and Buffy was afraid to ask her what she was doing while she was gone. She was almost certain it was vengeance demon work, and if Willow started killing people, Buffy knew it was her job to eliminate her. She didn’t want to believe that of Willow, so she kept not asking... which made Buffy wonder if she was turning evil, after all, if she was willing to close her eyes to it right in front of her.

    And she was so lonely at night.

    She tried to forget what it was like to feel Spike’s smooth cool body beside her, to hear his deep breathing. Even when he wasn’t ready to go to sleep yet – he still preferred having every moment of the night to wander in – he would tuck her in and make love to her and hold her until she fell asleep. He was usually there in the morning when she woke.

    She hated to admit how much she missed him. She missed his voice and his touch, she missed his platinum-black presence in the corner of the room. She missed not hearing his breath. She missed his weight in her bed. And yes, she was randy as anything. She’d never properly gotten to explore that side of herself before, and she didn’t know how the hell she’d lived without it for so damn long. In an attempt to transfer the frustration, she went out hunting demons every night, and wouldn’t let herself go home to bed until she’d slaughtered something.

    You need to kill. And what makes you so different from Spike?

    Which was, of course, the problem.

    Unfortunately, sometimes hunting just made it worse, and she’d ache for his rough touch after a good slay. It still felt like the damn spell was working. An addiction. She didn’t want to want him so.

    She missed him.

    Demons were getting hard to find, to Buffy’s annoyance. There were rumors that those commandos had been getting bolder and bolder. Buffy had actually run into them a few times. They’d always run back into the shadows when she saw them, and sometimes they attacked her – not with weaponry, but a car would come speeding around a corner, or even a helicopter would come and shine its light on her, distracting her from her pursuit. She was pretty sure they were hunting the demons. But apart from chipping Spike up, she didn’t know what they wanted them for, and it worried her.

    So when Buffy opened her front door and saw Clem, she was actually delighted to see him. “Hey! How’s it going? It’s been a while.” She gave him a quick hug. “You’re looking–” she stopped, because Clem actually looked like he’d been through the wringer. Well – even more than he usually did. His skin was drooping further than ever, even around his face, leaving one of his snakes half visible at the edge of his eye socket. “Is everything all right?”

    “Oh, yeah,” Clem said. “I’m just... kinda tired. We’ve been putting things on hold lately. Haven’t had much sleep. Had to set up an escort buddy system, so no one goes off alone. And I’ve been running the support group on my own for the last week, so.”

    “Support group?”

    “For those who had friends go missing. The group treasurer disappeared – go figure – so I’ve had to take on more of the paperwork.”

    “Go missing?” Buffy asked.

    “Yeah,” Clem said. “Oh, I forgot, you’re kinda out of the loop these days. A lot of the locals have started to go missing. Not just the hunters, even the soft crowd.” The soft crowd were the demons who just tended to go about their demony business, trying not to get in the way of human laws. Like Clem and his buddies. Spike had sort of fallen in with that lot, with the chip in his head. “We lost the sucker gang the other night,” Clem said. “All five of them. Nice girls, too. Some of the boys thought you might have done it, but...”

    “Nah,” Buffy said. “Spike introduced me to them. They were... all right.” Buffy had actually found the sucker gang creepy as all hell, but had limited her slayer duties to intimidating them all individually, warning them that if a single one of their clients ever turned up dead in Sunnydale, she’d dust the lot of them. They seemed to take the threat as a matter of course. At least two of them had looked indignant, one claiming she’d never killed in her unlife (possible – she had been a newborn, though Buffy half thought she might have been a client before she became one of the girls, which technically meant someone else had screwed the pooch, but hell) and one that said she hadn’t messed up in years, and that was back in LA. Spike hadn’t liked them much, either. They had been downright terrified of him.

    “Anyway, have you seen Spike?” Clem asked. “We were looking for him.”

    “I haven’t seen him in... almost two weeks, now,” Buffy said. She hadn’t seen him since that night when he’d turned up drunken and miserable on her doorstep, and Riley had offered to pour him back into Willy’s place. Riley had said he’d seen him safe, and that was it. She didn’t blame Spike. She wouldn’t have wanted to see her, either.

    “Do you know if he skipped town?”

    Buffy swallowed. She’d really hoped not, but, “Probably likely.”

    Clem didn’t look convinced. “Well, he... he didn’t take his stuff. Willy wanted to get it out of the back room,” Clem said. “I’m afraid most of his clothes got grabbed in a poker game to tie up the winnings, but I’ve got his personals here.” He took the paper bag out from under his arm. “Do you have any idea where he’s gone?”

    “Spike’s clothes?” Buffy said. “He’s missing?”

    “Yeah. I thought at first he’d gone back to your old place, but.... No clue where he is, then?”

    “No,” Buffy said. Clem frowned at the paper bag under his arm, unsure what to do with it. “You know what, I’ll take that,” Buffy said. “Hold it for him.”

    “Yeah,” Clem said. He handed the bag to Buffy. “Yeah. You can keep that... until he gets back.” They both knew what they were both thinking, and neither of them wanted to say it.

    “Clem? If you’re... ever in trouble... you or the boys, you can hide out with me or Xander until the heat’s off. Or we can... get you guys out of town.”

    Clem smiled, showing off his dog like teeth. “Thanks, Buffy,” he said. “I think we’re all right for now. Willy’s got that warlock keeping the confusion spell on the bar, and Rack has a few nasty tricks up his sleeve, too. We just... keep vigilant.”

    “Just don’t keep vigilante, huh?” Buffy said. “You stay safe. No heroics.”

    “We won’t horn in on your territory, slayer,” Clem said. “Thanks, girlfriend. Let me know if you see Spike, will you? Bye.”

    Buffy waved Clem off. She stepped into the hall and regarded the paper bag.

    Spike’s personals. She knew it wasn’t really her place to examine them, but hell. No divorce papers had been signed. Communal property and all. She opened the bag on the hall table.

    A couple of black t-shirts, still smelling of Spike. Buffy didn’t even think about it before she held them to her nose and breathed it in. God, he smelled good. She heard herself grunt a little, as if she’d been struck, as the scent revived memory after memory of moment after heated moment between them. Curled up into his arm at night. Rubbing his scarred shoulders after a fight. He had so many scars, Spike. So many battles. Kissing his long throat, running her lips along his pale skin, his cool hand cradling her skull against him, his hard, taut body as he melted under her touch.... She set the shirts down and reached into the bag again. A deck of cards, a zippo lighter. A large book....

    Buffy knew what it was before she even pulled it out. The wedding album. She’d wondered what had happened to it when she emptied out the three-level. She’d thought maybe he’d destroyed it or something, or that it had gotten lost. She realized she should have known he’d have kept it. She opened it. The first few pages were the high-gloss professional photos from the photographer, some of them awkwardly posed, with all her friends and family in the golden light of sunset, all of them looking a little bewildered – her mom, her cousins, Giles never looking at the camera, Xander with a bandage still on his forehead from one of his attacks. Everyone but Willow was there.

    The sunlight faded from the photos, and there was Spike. Posed kisses, a propped embrace. He looked so happy. He’d looked awfully human at the wedding, Buffy remembered, when the spell was still so fresh and hot and neither of them had realized it yet. Then there were other shots, shots her mom had mostly taken. Buffy walking down the aisle in her white dress, handing off the rings, the demon attack. Most of the demon attack Joyce hadn’t gotten shots of – just the one startled shot just as it burst through the wall of the tent – but the aftermath was clear. Buffy with her ripped skirt, Spike back in his leather duster.

    Buffy stopped and stared at the kiss at the alter. The artifice had been shattered by that demon. There was no more perfect dream, no more artistic wedding design. No more false tuxedo or flawless white dress. Those were two fighters, still flushed from battle, clutching at each other in complete understanding.

    Buffy looked down at her hand. Two rings she hadn’t removed. One a silver skull with emerald eyes, that Spike had pulled off his own pinky with which to propose to her. The other, a single plain band of gold. Its twin had still graced Spike’s hand, last time she’d seen him.

    The bag wasn’t empty. There was something at the bottom. She pulled it out. So that’s where that had gotten to. It was Buffy’s favorite blue cashmere sweater. It still had a small sauce mark on it from the spaghetti she’d eaten the night before Willow had come home, meaning it hadn’t been washed. She knew it still smelled of her, as Spike’s shirts had smelled of him. He’d kept it. She could just imagine him sniffing at it, as she had just done, his long fingers caressing the fabric as he used to caress her body through it.

    And now he was missing.

    “God dammit,” Buffy muttered. She shoved the items back into the bag and went to go see Willow.
    

***

    Buffy opened the door to Tara’s dorm room, knowing they almost never locked it. “Willow? Tara? I need a sp– Oh.”

    Willow stood in the middle of the room, surrounded by cowled female figures. At the head of this circle stood a behorned demon, who frowned as Buffy entered. “You are not one of the dark ones,” the demon intoned. “We cannot allow mere mortals to behold our sacred rituals. There is a penalty to be paid by those who break the laws of the lower beings, and such transgressions cannot be overlooked! You should have knocked,” he added.

    “Oh. Well. Sorry,” Buffy said.

    “You will be,” the horned demon said, and raised his hand.

    “She’s the slayer!” Willow cried quickly. “Buffy, this is D’Hoffryn. D’Hoffryn, um – Buffy. She’s not merely a mortal, she is the slayer, called upon by fate to be the warrior of the people. And – and thus she’s permitted... permitted to... um. She can sit in?”

    “You believe that the mere birthright of demonic energy calling upon this slayer to kill in darkness gives this little girl the prerogative to witness the assembling of the lower beings?”

    “Um... yeah?” Willow said.

    “All right,” D’Hoffryn said with a casual shrug, and turned back to the sheet of paper in his hand. “Where were we.... Ah, yes. Punishment. Willowankha. Until such time as your vengeance begins to meet quota, and you are hereby stripped of all demonic powers outside of those needed for your work. There will be no teleportation. No wounds will receive accelerated healing outside of those considered lethal. There will be no soul gazing. And the realms of Arrashmahar are banned to you until further notice. Do you understand these punitive measures?”

    “Yes,” Willow said. “But... I don’t think I really want to be a vengeance demon anymore. Not if I really have to kill people.”

    D’Hoffryn looked annoyed. “I keep telling you. You go for the pain, not for the kill!”

    “But... I don’t really want to hurt people, either,” Willow said. “Some of these women... I mean... they’re mad because their boyfriends cheated. And, yeah, okay, that can be really painful, but... you can forgive someone for that. And it’s not as if they killed anybody or broke any laws or anything. And maybe they had reasons. Some of these women... I mean... they can be really mean in the first place. And sometimes something can happen, like when two people are really good friends, and even though they both have other partners, their hormones can go all out of wack, and it doesn’t mean that they’re evil or any–”

    “Enough!” D’Hoffryn snarled. “I’ve had enough excuses! You either shape up and perform your vengeance with a vengeance, or else, Willowankha, we will have words again.” He raised his hands. “Oh. And say hello to Anya for me, there’s a good girl.” He and the other demons vanished in a blast of fire that filled the room with an awful chemical smell.

    “Damn portal spell,” Willow said, heading to the window. “Burning holes in Tara’s carpet.” She opened the window to let out the residual smoke.

    “What was that all about?” Buffy asked.

    “D’Hoffryn’s not satisfied with my work,” Willow said. “But, I just can’t do it anymore! I mean, do you have any idea what people wish when they’re angry? They wish all kinds of terrible things. And on really nice people, too! And yeah, they’re hurting, and I feel for them. I mean, I really do, now. But I mean, what they really need is a good friend, or a psychologist or something. It’s like, within their own anger and hurt and fear they can’t feel what the other guy is feeling. And I’m supposed to exact vengeance, when really it just looks like the whole world just doesn’t care about anyone but themselves, and they’re just hurting each other over and over. And... he also thought the puppy idea was stupid,” she added.

    “I thought you said your contract was kind of shaky.”

    Willow shook her head. “No such luck,” she said sadly. “Because I cast the Will Be Done spell willingly, the contract doesn’t fall under the clause of duress.” She sighed. “At least, that’s what infernal affairs says.”

    “So, what happens if you don’t do the vengeance demon gig vengeancy enough? Do you just get made back human, like Anya?”

    “Um. No. Anya had fulfilled her hundred year original contract a long time ago, which meant it could be broken. For the first hundred years, the contract is immutable.”

    “So what does that mean?”

    Willow swallowed. “It means D’Hoffryn can... well, he can terminate me.”

    Buffy looked at her friend. Willow was white-faced behind the demonic lines of power, and her neck looked tense. “You don’t mean your contract, do you.”

    “No,” Willow said softly.

    “Oh, god. There’s got to be something we can do.”

    “It’s okay. Tara’s trying to look some stuff up in the dark sites. And I’ve got ninety days before D’Hoffryn can come back again with more sanctions, so we’ve got some time. I can do a few tiny vengeances to keep up appearances, I think. What did you need? You looked all slayery when you came in.”

    “Spike’s missing,” Buffy said. “I wanted you to do a locator spell.”

    “Missing?” Willow asked. “I thought you two broke up.”

    “We did, but even Clem hasn’t seen him, and it’s been weeks.” Buffy was kicking herself for assuming it was just that Spike had been avoiding her. Spike wouldn’t have avoided her. Spike would have been lurking around in the corners trying stupid trick after dumb insult to win her back. He’d probably have been following her around on patrol like a love-sick puppy. Buffy sighed. She wasn’t sure what she would have done if he had been. She wanted him pretty much constantly. It would have been awful. Most likely it would have taken the pattern of telling him to back off, falling back into his arms, telling him it had to be over, breaking down again. God, it would have been like torturing him. Not to mention herself.

    “Oh. Well, my demon powers have been pretty much cut off, unless you wanted vengeance for something, but I can still do some of my older witchy spells. Do you have anything of his?”

    Buffy removed the skull ring from her finger. “Here.”

    “Okay. Let me get up a few supplies.”

    “I’ll wait,” Buffy said. She held the ring up to the light, and its emerald eyes glinted.

    “Shame I can’t still teleport,” Willow said. “I could have just said, Where’s Spike? and I would have been right where he was already.”

    “Was that one of the powers you had?”

    “Yeah. But those kinds of dimensional powers are a privilege, not a right, D’Hoffryn says. If I do go back to being just Willow, I really am going to miss a lot of that stuff. But it’s not worth it, with all the killing, and the maiming, and the turning people into toads.”

    “Do you never feel like you might... regret losing it?” Buffy asked.

    Willow shrugged. “Maybe,” she said. “But being a demon isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And Tara says she’d actually prefer it if I was just Willow again. She says my aura burns sometimes.”

    “Well, I like you as just Willow,” Buffy said. “Demon Willow is kind of scary-bad. But... just tell me one thing,” Buffy asked. “Is your demon name really Willy-Wonka?”
 

 

***
    

    Willow and Buffy crouched over the map of Sunnydale. “If he doesn’t show up here, we can get a highway map.” Willow didn’t add or a world map. Buffy’s face was already tense with worry. “Put the ring in the chalice.”

    Buffy dropped it in with a clink. “What if he’s not anywhere?”

    “Um. Well. I guess that would mean... that he’s not anywhere,” Willow said. At the look on the slayer’s face she added, “He’ll be here. Here. Powers of Thespia, hear my plea. Find this creature of darkness, reveal him to me.” A tiny green dot appeared on the map. “That was fast,” Willow said. “Usually I have to chant. I guess Thespia listens to demons a little faster than to just plain old Willow.” She sounded a little wistful. She looked at Buffy. “Well, he’s not dust,” she said hopefully.

    “Yeah, but where is he?” Buffy said, looking down at the map. The little green dot looked a lot like the sparkling emeralds in the ring.

    “He’s... huh. He’s here,” Willow said. “UC Sunnydale campus.” She looked up at Buffy. “Could he be following you?”

    “Daylight,” Buffy pointed out.

    “Oh.” She reached into her book bag and pulled out the orientation map of UC Sunnydale. She placed it on top of the Sunnydale map, and said, “Powers of–” Before she’d even finished the incantation, the emerald dot had moved onto the map of the college. “Thanks, Thespia,” Willow muttered

    “That doesn’t make any sense,” Buffy said. “He’s at Lowell House.”

    “Maybe he and Riley struck up a friendship that night when Spike was drunk,” Willow said hopefully.

    “Or maybe Riley didn’t drive Spike home, after all.”

    “Well, the back of Willy’s Bar isn’t really a home, anyway,” Willow pointed out. She wished she hadn’t said it at the stricken look on the slayer’s face.

    Buffy’s heart had twisted, remembering the way Spike had begged her, I’m only home here. Let me come home. With his cool lips on her throat, making her pulse pound. “I’ve gotta go talk to Riley.”

    Willow handed Buffy back her ring. “Do you want me to come with you?”

    “No,” Buffy said. “If Riley really is involved with these people who are kidnapping demons, I don’t want them knowing that you are one.”

    “I’m getting lots better about the face thing,” Willow said.

    “I know. But you don’t have your powers now. And I need you to go to Giles. Assemble the gang – Tara too. We’ll have a meeting after I talk to Riley.”

    “Okay. Here were go. Scoobies to the rescue again.”

    “Yeah,” Buffy said. She headed out the door. “To the rescue.”
 

***
 

    “Spike?” Riley said. He hadn’t expected Buffy Summers to come tracking him down at Lowell House. There was a time he’d have been thrilled by this development. Now he wasn’t so sure. “I dropped him off at that bar you told me about. Didn’t really seem to need any more to drink, though.”

    “He had a bed in the back, until he could find another place,” Buffy said. “Did he say anything to you? Anything about going anywhere?”

    “No,” Riley said. “Well, he did say something about maybe leaving town. Kinda hard staying around his ex and all.”

    Buffy searched his face. “Right. So, did you two just get on like a house on fire?”

    She seemed suspicious. “He was a little too drunk for light conversation,” Riley said. “Why do you ask?”

    “Oh, well. His friend was looking for him. Asked me if I’d seen him.”

    “His friend?” Riley said. “Which friend was that?”

    “Doesn’t matter,” Buffy said quickly. “So, you two didn’t become great buddies or anything. Drinking beers around the poker table or watching football in the man cave.”

    “Buffy, I... wasn’t really very inclined to like Spike very much,” Riley said. “And I think you might remember why.”

    “Right,” Buffy said. Suddenly she sighed, looking terribly relieved. “I’m glad. I was afraid he might have told you all these really awful things about me, and you know they aren’t really true. You know how married couples can get, lots of little resentments, all building up in close quarters, him complaining about my being a stuck-up bitch with a stake up my ass.” That was most definitely very real ire, there. “And he was always leaving his cigarette butts around, and he really did drink more than anybody has a right to, and we would fight. Just about all the time, we’d fight,” she said, her tone very lost and alone.

    Riley believed it. He wanted to reach out for her. “Yeah. It’s tough when that happens.”

    “Do you know...,” she said with a slight bite to her lip. “I really just kind of... hope... that maybe things can settle down now. And maybe I can find some happiness somewhere. A relationship with a little less... conflict.”

    Was she saying what he thought she was saying? God, he hoped so. But, still... “Maybe,” he said. “Maybe one day.”

    Buffy smiled at him, looking shy and stunning. “I guess I’ll see you in class tomorrow?”

    “I’d like that,” Riley said, as if it were a special date, rather than both of them going to be there anyway. What was it about Buffy that always tangled his tongue?

    “I’m glad,” she said softly, her eyes half hooded. Sultry. She reached out and touched his hand. Soft. Warm. “So, I’ll see you later. Bye.”

    He couldn’t help but notice how her lips pursed on the word “Bye.” It made his mouth go dry. “Bbye,” he said, sounding, in his mind, like a clod.

    Buffy left, and he watched her walk away across the campus, her shoulders, her back, her...

    His buddy Forrest slapped him on the back, startling him away from watching her. “So the little lady’s making a new play, huh?” he asked. “Told you it wouldn’t last, and she’d come crawling back.”

    “Yeah, you did,” Riley said, heading back into Lowell House. “But that was before we found out what her ex was like.”

    “Are you saying you don’t trust her?”

    “I’m saying I don’t know her,” Riley said. “I want to trust her.” He stood before the mirror door to the lower lab, and let light from the retinal scanner pass over his face. “But really, how can you be married to a guy like that, and not notice?”

    “Retinal scan accepted,” the elevator intoned.

    “Well, interrogate it again,” Forrest said, climbing in. “But I really don’t think anyone could go into that sort of thing of their own free will. We know they lie, when they can talk at all. If she wasn’t just fooled, it was probably that hypnotic thrall thing that some of them can do.”

    “Oh, yeah.” Riley said. “Hypnosis,” he added into the vocal scanner. He’d forgotten about that thrall thing. It was a rare talent among the hostiles, but they did have it.

    “Vocal code accepted. Riley Finn.”

    “Yeah. And that makes her just a victim,” Forrest said. “You gotta admit, it was a smart move. Figuring out who your girlfriend was and hiding there. I mean, we never suspected it for a second.”

    “She wasn’t my girlfriend,” Riley said. “We just... we went on a picnic one time.”

    “And flirted back and forth like a pair of highschool kids,” Forrest added. “She was duped, I’m sure of it. You should give her another chance.”

    “Why are you suddenly so keen on me getting with Buffy?” Riley asked as the lift opened, and they walked down into the compound.

    “‘Cause I’m getting sick of the way you’re pushing the demon overtime,” Forrest said, mussing Riley’s head. “I need a break, man. Getting you distracted with a nice piece of ass sounds like the best plan.”

    “Right,” Riley said wistfully. “Because that’s all she is. A nice piece of ass.”

    The image of her walking away stayed with him, though. That had been a nice piece.

    “I’m serious. Go interrogate it. Ask it about thrall. It’ll make you feel better.”

    “You think?”

    “Always seemed to perk you up before,” Forrest said. “We got a half hour before briefing.”

    “Okay. Good idea.” He went over to the tech lab. “I need the controller for hostile 17.”

    The palm-sized device in his fist, he headed down to the holding pens. Demons of all kinds were stashed in the tiny cells, in many cases cringing from the light. The pens were white and bright and open, where most demons preferred the darkness. The brightness kept them agitated, and made them easier to quell.

    Hostile 17 was sitting curled up on the floor of his cell, his head against the wall, looking daggers out through the clear  electrified doors. “Hostile 17,” he said. “Can you hear and understand me?”

    “Well, if it isn’t Captain Cardboard,” 17 said with scorn. “If you keep asking me that question every time you show up with that little tv remote in your hand, I’m going to assume you have memory problems, mate.”

    “I don’t need any of your cheek tonight,” Riley said, and indulged his current favorite pass time, of watching Buffy’s ex-husband cringe in agony as he manually fired the pain-chip in his head. He only pressed the button for a second, this time. The hostile cringed anyway, grunting with the pain, and then took a deep breath. Steeling himself. “I’ve come to ask you some questions.”

    “So what else is new,” 17 muttered. “I’ve told you everything I know. What other clever interrogation techniques have you developed? Or are we going to stick with the classics.”

    “The old tunes are the best ones,” Riley said firmly. “Buffy.”

    “What about her?”

    “Why her? Why did you target her?”

    “I already told you,” 17 said, sounding bored. “I picked the dumbest blond bimbo I could find and duped her into hiding me until the heat was off. I would have thought that was obvious.”

    “And she had no idea who or what you were?”

    “Nope,” 17 said, staring at the ceiling. “Come on. Do you think that boring little chit would be up for that kind of kink?” He scornfully rolled his eyes. “Barely worth the tumble, if you ask me. Really, mate, you’d be better off with a blow-up doll. At least she wouldn’t squeal like a dying pig in the sack.”

    Riley punished him for his insolence, and the creature winced as his chip fired. “So you did know I knew her.”

    “Not for a few weeks,” 17 said. “And I didn’t know you were all soldier-y until you dragged me down to this lovely five star hotel.”

    “See, now, I find that hard to believe,” Riley said. “I have a very hard time believing that you broke out of our containment unit, managed to avoid our retrieval team, and just happened to be found in Buffy’s dorm room, managed to escape again, and then somehow show up two weeks later marrying my girlfriend.”

    “Oh, girlfriend, is it?” 17 scowled. He stood up and glared at Riley. “One pitiful sunshine and apples picnic does not a girlfriend make.”

    Riley glared. “So, you know what we ate, do you?”

    “Oh, I know everything about that girl,” 17 said. “She’s a moron. Dull as a stone. A lame duck in the sack, and a total pushover. All’s had to do was promise her the moon, and the bint rolled over and begged for it like the trull she is.”

    Riley didn’t even bother threatening him, just hit the button again, and 17 groaned.

    “How did you keep her from knowing you were a vampire?” Riley demanded.

    17 grunted, and glared up at him. “Told her I had an allergy to the sun.”

    “And she bought that?”

    “‘Course she did.”

    “And the blood? I know you don’t function unless you imbibe at least animal blood on a regular basis. What did she think of your special diet?”

    “Bint thought it was red wine, most of the time,” 17 said. “Just ask her. She’ll tell you I drink too much.”

    “Ask her. Right.”

    “Yeah,” 17 said. “Ask her.”

    “And somehow she just managed to overlook the fact that you give off no body heat.”

    “Heat is relative, mate,” 17 said. “I took a lot of hot showers before I gave her a bit of the old Spike.” He ran his hand suggestively down his shirt. “She thinks I have a circulation problem.”

    “And your heartbeat?”

    “How often do you lovingly listen to your bed mate’s heartbeat?” 17 asked. “We didn’t have that kind of marriage. Get in, get out, get back to being evil, that’s my motto. Just flip her over and start in, then get her out of my sight. I was up all night, she was out all day. I only had to spend a few minutes with her to make the lonely little thing all devoted. Totally desperate, she is.” He grinned. “So maybe you have a chance with her after all.”

    It all sounded plausible, but not entirely convincing. “So she had no idea that the whole time she was harboring a vampire. No idea at all.”

    “None, mate. I’m way too clever for that.”

    Riley regarded the creature. “Tell me about thrall.”

    17 raised an eyebrow. “What of it?”

    “Did you hypnotize her? Is that how you fooled her?”

    The creature laughed. “I’ve no need for those kinda tricks, mate. You pick a dumb enough bint, you can talk her into anything. Even doing a milquetoast moron like yourself.”

    Riley squeezed the button on the controller again, and this time the creature went down. He held it, and held it, and held it, until the creature screamed, its neck cording, its body writhing, its face contorted in agony. If Riley hadn’t known it was only a vicious animal under that human face, he’d have felt kind of bad for it. As it was, he just held the button longer.

    Finally the creature couldn’t scream anymore, and Riley released the button. He frowned. He himself had been getting more and more violent lately, and the HSTs were the ones who mostly paid for it. Hostile 17, however, Riley found himself loathing beyond the contempt he held for the rest of his evil species. The beast stared up at the ceiling, panting, gasping, trembling in pain. Even the other vampires in the cells around them looked pitying. Or maybe, they were just hoping it wouldn’t happen to them. Riley had their controllers, too, but he never bothered torturing them like he loved to torture 17, pouring all his sexual frustration into the creature that had stolen what Riley had started to think of as his. A tone sounded, telling Riley it was time for his next briefing. He thought about giving the creature another hit, but he was afraid it wouldn’t be fit for the arena if he did. He walked away, leaving hostile 17 to his cell.

    Spike growled his contempt after the boy. “Thrall,” he muttered. “If I could, I’d show you thrall.” He crawled to his hands and knees. “If Dru were here, you wouldn’t be able to play with your little tinker toy!” he shouted down the hall. “She’d take one look at you through the glass, and you’d just open the doors for her. Have you rolling on the ground like a sodding kitten!” He looked down. “If Dru were here,” he muttered. He crawled back to his corner, unsure he was sturdy enough to stand. He sank heavily against the wall. “But they all bloody leave.”

    Spike tilted his aching head against the smooth wall of the bright, white cell. “Slayer,” he murmured to himself. He couldn’t allow himself to cry, not with those cameras he knew were all over the damn compound, but he missed her. Missed her more than he could even contemplate, the whole of his being crying out for her, a dead shell without her touch, her sweetness, her... her soul. “Come on, slayer, figure it out. Please...”
   

 

 
Chapter 13, in which Spike and Buffy each do something difficult, and Willow does something easy.
 


     For the marriage bed ordained by fate for men and women is stronger than an oath and guarded by Justice.
Aeschylus (525-456 B.C.)
 

 

    “I’m having trouble figuring it,” Buffy said. “I mean, it’s clear Riley’s lying, but how much? I mean, does he know about the commandos? Is he involved with them? Or did he just deliver Spike to someone, and doesn’t really know any details?”

    “Well, it is at Lowell House itself,” Willow said. “Which would make you think that Riley would be more involved than just... here’s a nice vamp for you. Have a nice day.”

    “Well,” Tara said. She cringed when everyone looked at her. “Um. Well. I just think... Riley’s not your ordinary T.A. But, have any of you looked at P-Professor Walsh?”

    This was the first anyone had said anything about her.

    Willow got excited. “Oh, hey, yeah!” she said. “Professor Walsh did have a few papers on the psychology of occult followers.”

    Giles rolled his eyes. “I’ve read enough psychological treatises on people who tried to dismiss my life’s work as delusional claptrap.”

    “No, but she didn’t,” Willow said. She ran over to her laptop and opened it. “She got into some of the psychology of the myths of demons themselves. She has it all couched in terminology as if they were mythological creatures, but now that I think of it, a lot of her conclusions sounded pretty spot on. Giles, could you get me one of your demon bestiaries?”

    Willow pulled up Professor Walsh’s academic papers, and connected the “purely mythological” psychological corollaries to the actual demons in Giles’ books. “See? The sisterhood of Jhe, the Mok’tagar, hellhounds. She’s claiming they’re all symbolic of human hunger or power or social constriction, but all the details are all completely accurate.”

    “Okay, so Maggie Walsh has the lowdown on the demons,” Buffy said. “What’s that mean?”

    “It means that she knows a great deal more than she’s pretending to in these papers,” Giles said. “And with her own teaching assistant seeming to keep a vampire prisoner–”

    “Do we really think Spike’s a prisoner?” Xander interrupted. “Could there be some other explanation?” He sounded more hopeful than convinced.

    “I think he’s a prisoner,” Buffy said. “He was before, and he said the compound was on campus. Underground. Do you think it could be beneath Lowell House?”

    “It is possible,” Willow said. “I went and looked up the history of the house as soon as I got to Giles’. It’s old, and it was connected to the tunnels. And the old surveyor’s records say something about a natural cave formation under the campus.”

    “Okay, so, what do we know?” Buffy said, pacing. “Spike’s missing. Riley lied about bringing him to Willy’s. He seems to be in Riley’s frat house. Riley’s professor knows a lot about demons and vampires.” She looked up. “It’s all coming back to Riley.”

    “So what do we do.”

    “We’ll sit down and come up with a plan. But first step? I think I have to get close to Riley. Not so close he’d tell me everything he’s doing, just... enough to let his guard down. Maybe I can learn something.”

    “Well, how do you think you can arrange for that?” Giles asked.

    Buffy looked at him. “Giles? They’re called boobs.”
    

***

    Buffy collapsed stiffly on the end of Willow and Tara’s bed. The owners of said bed stood a little awkwardly, while Buffy groaned. It was three in the morning, but Buffy had pounded on their door so desperately, they knew they had to let her in.

    “I’m sorry, I didn’t have anywhere else to go,” Buffy said, her face white. “I couldn’t go home. I... I just had to lie down. Riley... it was... it was... there are no words. We were at it for hours,” she moaned. “He was insatiable. I’ve never known anyone who could take that much in that short amount of time. The stamina on that guy! Even with slayer strength, I don’t think I could have taken much more. I mean, I tried to tell him I was tired, and he just kept pushing and pushing, over and over and over again. And he must have been able to tell I wasn’t enjoying it, I mean, how could anyone not see it? I tried to get away, and I just couldn’t. He just kept forcing it on me, and I could not escape. I’m traumatized.” She half rolled over and looked up at Willow. “One more boring corn-fed story of farm life in Iowa, and I thought my brain was going to melt!”

    “Was it that bad?” Willow asked, as Tara started the coffee pot.

    Buffy sat up. “He wouldn’t shut up! He wouldn’t shut up, and it was all about him. And, you know, it wasn’t even really all about him, because he was lying through his teeth. And not very well, really. You know that thing I do when I’m trying not to do slayer talk around the uninitiated? When I say something totally random because it doesn’t really match what I was going to say? He does that a lot. And when he does, he just – stops. He can’t even be funny about it. And then, every time, every single bloody time, he goes back to his childhood in god damn Iowa!”

    “Was–”

    “Do you know what they eat at the Iowa State Fair?” Buffy asked. “Butter. Butter on a stick. Deep fat fried sticks of butter. And I thought Spike and the blood was bad. Even hearing about it, I nearly hurled. And he honestly told me I should try it, as if he was promising me a big treat. I’d rather drink blood myself!”

    “Try it? In.. Iowa?”

    “I don’t know what he was thinking, of inviting me back there with him, or finding some sadistic deep fry cook to make it here, or what,” Buffy said. “I don’t know if he’s already got the dog and the white picket fence picked out, or if this is just his usual come-on with girls, the whole Home Boy routine. I mean, nothing he said was really out of line, it was just... I didn’t care. And I had to keep pretending I did, and fluttering my eyes, and meaningly touching his hand, and... ugh.” She rubbed her eyes. “I am so exhausted. I had to keep coming up with ways of telling him that was fascinating, and please, tell me more of his wonderful life story, and it was all cows and corn and ain’t that America, and... his parents are Republicans. Card carrying Republicans. Not, I liked what that candidate had to say. No, those guys would have voted for the mayor as a snake, if he had a big R tacked on the end of his ballot.”

    She leaned forward toward Willow. “And the awful thing is, I think if I hadn’t spent these last six months with Spike, I might have really bought all that bollocks. How it’s really the great American dream to settle down, and serve your country, and love Jesus. I mean, it’s so clean and fresh and sunny and... it’s like the absolute opposite of Angel, and you know I was looking for that. I was buying it! You remember? I was following him out to picnics in the sun, and he was promising to drive me through the country – probably stopping at all the All-American Truck Stops on the way – and I was buying all that tripe! Do you know, he goes to church, every damn Sunday? While I’m sleeping in enjoying a well earned slayer break, that guy is getting dressed up in a suit and tie and poncing off to Praise Jesus!”

    Willow frowned at her. “Poncing?”

    “I heard more about different kinds of guns and ammo than I ever wanted to know. He really thinks guns are the way to solve the world’s problems.”

    “Um... well... you carry a stake.”

    “Yeah, but I don’t think there should be open-carry stake laws, and that the only way to stop a bad guy with a stake is a good guy with a stake, so lets give all the random civilians stakes and have an old-west style free for all,” Buffy snapped. She stopped. “And I did just say poncing, didn’t I.”

    “Yep,” Willow said.

    Buffy fell back onto the bed. “It’s official,” she said to the ceiling. “I’ve lived too long with Spike. I am never gonna be the normal girl. It’s done.”

    “But did you get what you needed?” Willow asked.

    Buffy sat up. “I think I did, yeah. Not from Riley, from one of his buddies. I kept him talking until after midnight, and I escaped to the bathroom. I think his friends thought I’d already left. There was some really crazy elevator with like some kind of light scanner hidden behind a mirror. There’s something down there, and it’s military. In style, anyway. It’s Lowell House, all of them, everyone in it. They’re the commandoes.” Buffy rolled her eyes. “And even after I’d figured that, Riley wouldn’t let me leave for another two hours! Not without blowing my cover that I think he’s the most boring iron scarecrow in the freaking world.”

    “It sounds dire,” Tara said with a small smirk.

    “So, we’re thinking covert operation?” Willow asked.

    “No! No more military talk. Riley told me all about joining the army before he came to work with Professor Walsh. If I have to hear one more patriotic save the ‘Mericans call of duty speech, I think I’m gonna heave.”

    “Okay,” Willow said. “Are we gonna sneak in?” she asked instead.

    “I don’t know. I’ll bet they’re armed to the teeth. I can’t come up with a good plan.”

    “I think I can,” Willow said. “Giles and I had an idea while you were off Riley baiting.”

    “What?”

    “Well, they’re after demons, right?” Willow said. “So I let myself get captured.”

    Buffy shook her head. “No. Absolutely not, no.”

    “You should hear her out,” Tara said. “It’s good.”

    “Willow, it’s too dangerous!”

    “They can’t kill me,” Willow said. “I still belong to D’Hoffryn.”

    “But didn’t you just lose all your powers?”

    “No, I just can’t use them for anything other than vengeance,” Willow said. “So I can’t teleport down there. But if I let myself get captured, go down and learn everything I can, then I can teleport off to a vengeance gig once I’ve learned all I need. There’s always someone wanting vengeance somewhere in the world – I can feel them all around if I close my eyes. I can go whenever. When I’m done dispensing justice, I can teleport back home again, safe and sound.”

    “No, Willow, it’s not safe. Riley knows you.”

    Willow laughed, and her face fell into its lines of power. They were deeper than usual, and looked pretty hideous. “Does he know me now?” Willow asked.

    “Your hair’s pretty distinctive,” Buffy pointed out.

    “We can dye that,” Willow said. She went human face again. “Put me in the traditional dark cowl, and they’ll never know it was me.”

    “Willow, this is really dangerous. All we know is that they cut into Spike’s head and tortured him a bit.”

    “He didn’t say anything about torture.”

    “Not while we were questioning him, no,” Buffy said. “He told me later.” Spike was always brushing off all the torture he’d gone through in his life. It had hurt Buffy’s heart when she... loved him... like she didn’t anymore. Couldn’t, anymore. Didn’t want to anymore. It still hurt her heart. “I’m really not sure you should do this.”

    “I have to,” Willow said. “I feel really guilty for getting you into this spot with Spike in the first place. I have to do something.”

    Buffy frowned, and finally turned to Tara. “What do you think about this?” she asked. “I mean, Willow’s your... I mean... you care about Willow. Don’t you think it’s too dangerous for her?”

    Tara seemed to search for words for a minute. “Buffy... I don’t think you know how powerful Willow really is, right now. Yeah, D’Hoffryn’s mad at her, but... really. They’re not going to be able to hurt her seriously. It’s not really dangerous, because... there is no really dangerous. Not for her.”

    “What if your amulet is stolen? Broken? Doesn’t that hold all your power?”

    “Sort of. But Anya was an idiot for taking hers off,” Willow said frankly. “Everyone in Arashmaharr says part of her really wanted to go be human. She was pretty ancient, for a vengeance demon. Anyway, I’ll just swallow my amulet before I go in. Then they can’t take it off me.”

    “That’s kind of icky.”

    Willow smiled. “I can just reconstruct it around my neck again the next time I teleport somewhere. You’re really not getting it, Buffy.”

    “But what if they have some kind of magical demony... stopping thing.”

    Willow laughed. “I’ll be following the call of duty, as your Riley says.”

    “He is not my Riley. He is never going to be my Riley! Ugh!”

    “Well, anyway. Buffy, if I’m on full vengeance powers, I can reorder the world. D’Hoffryn won’t allow me to be trapped. I can create new dimensions. If they’re trying to stop me from going to do vengeance, I can break everything and everyone in my path. I told you. It’s a lot of power. I’ll learn as much as I can, I’ll do as much damage as possible on the way out, and in the confusion you can go in, and find Spike.”

    Buffy frowned. “If it’s just vengeance... couldn’t you extract vengeance on Riley, for lying to me? I mean, we did go on that date.”

    “I’m afraid the attack has to be personal,” Willow said. She looked at Buffy a moment. “It isn’t. You don’t even feel betrayed. I don’t think I could do vengeance for Spike or any of their captives, either. This isn’t personal, it’s military. This is war. I can’t do vengeance for acts of war. Riley would have to betray a love or a friendship, something intimate to you. You weren’t close enough when he lied to you. Six months ago, yeah, maybe I could have. But not now.”

    “But you can still teleport out of there?”

    “So long as I’m going to a vengeance gig somewhere, yeah. And there’s always a vengeance gig, somewhere in the world.”

    Buffy considered it. It really did seem reasonable, if Willow had as much power as she said. “You really think it’ll work?”

    “Trust me. These guys don’t know the first thing about demons.”
    

***
    
    “We really don’t know the first thing about demons,” Maggie Walsh said evenly. Her assistants were listening avidly, but mostly, they knew, Maggie was speaking for the record. She frequently made her notes orally, and her recorder was on. “The Hostile Sub-Terrainian – or HSTs – appear to have almost infinite variation in form, behavior, and motive. For our purposes tonight, we will focus on the vampire sub-class, or VC.

    “The demons of the vampire class are a study in contradictions. They are supposedly dead human corpses, reanimated by demonic energy, but you see the amount of life and vigor they frequently display? They sleep and mate and can even eat human food. They are immortal, stronger than humans, and at the same time astoundingly fragile. Half of every day must be spent in seclusion, hidden from the sun. It does not merely hurt them, it will completely annihilate them. The entire world is their lethal poison. Their presence is, in some ways, inimical to life, but the world itself is inimical to them.

    “Now, the question arises: Are they intelligent? In some, their intelligence echos human patterns. In others, the demonic side clearly takes precedence. These are little more than animals, speaking in rudimentary language, unable to plan beyond see, want, attack. Subject 17 is clearly one of the former. The Initiative allows the captured HSTs to retain the trappings they themselves don, to illustrate this fact. In most cases, the vampires dress themselves, a vestige of humanity they seem unable or unwilling to shake. But in many cases, the creatures are unable to maintain the dignity of dress, unable to keep said clothing clean or in repair. The average VC takes the common appearance of its demonic nature, its eyes yellow, its face contorted, and camouflages itself in human guise only to stalk its primary prey, humanity.

    “There are some VC’s, however, who seem to retain, or display, more humanity. Their natural behavior is to live in human guise, their faces at neutral, and display fangs and demonic affect only when actively feeding or attacking. Their clothing and their dens reflect human tastes. Their intellect, when interrogated, seems to follow human patterns.

    “Subject 17 is a prime example of this latter behavior. Records of neutral behavior in captivity show him at rest in human guise. This is rare – only one out of ten of the captured VC’s on record seem to follow this behavior. Are these human-like behaviors learned? Do they arise over time? Is it age that creates this, or is it something more innate? Is it intelligence? Breeding? They are clearly of the same species, but are these humanoid vampires of a different strain? These questions have never been answered scientifically, and it is the role of the Initiative to research, and hopefully find answers.”

    Maggie Walsh looked out the glass wall at the arena below. The blood and viscera of the last study had been properly cleared away, and the prototype waited in standby. She paused a minute to admire her handiwork. Adam was her masterpiece. Adam – the first man, the alpha, beginning. She was rather proud of her creation. She was glad that she had not accelerated the 314 project, as she had been tempted to do. Those last five months had been key to the project. She had discovered some residual demonic tendencies in the prototype, which had since been purged or replaced completely, leaving the creature more controllable.

    The trouble was, its fighting style appeared to be somewhat predictable now, something the violent demonic implants were supposed to counter. Since the prototype’s initial function – the one Maggie told the government about – was supposed to be for use in combat, Adam’s lack of ingenuity and aptitude in actual combat situations threatened the project. They were attempting to rectify this flaw in the arena, using various demons to train the prototype on different combat methods. Subject 17 had been one of the most useful subjects for this retraining, a VC skilled in rough hand to hand combat, and Maggie Walsh had been careful to preserve it. She was so proud of Riley for having captured the creature. It must have taken true resourcefulness to track its movements.

    Walsh pressed the button on the intercom as soon as the workers cleared it, and left the prototype his weapon – in this case a stake. “The arena is secure,” she said to the operatives. “Send in subject 17.”
 

***

    Spike took a deep breath as the door opened. He knew if he didn’t go out into the arena his chip would fire, hot at first, and then with a pulsing steady attack until he went out the door. It was better to face that creature without a headache. The grisly demonic cyborg turned to face him as he stood in the entry, a stake in its hand. Spike rolled his eyes at the stake. One of those awful plastic wood-grain things again, was it? Or was it real this time? He almost wished it was – then he’d be dust and he’d be out of this hell hole. But he didn’t think they’d be that merciful. He’d been staked through the heart so many times in the last fortnight he’d lost count. Five times? Seven? Given just barely long enough for his body to heal the damage over before they dropped him back with this creature again. And each time, the thing fought better.

    While Spike fought worse. He was getting so weary. He closed his eyes and searched for his strength... and there she was. A lithe, dancing, evocative form, her sweet body sweating under the exertion. The four of them at the Bronze, himself, Buffy, Xander and his bird, taking a well earned night out. His hands on Buffy’s hips, half on the fabric of her skirt, partly on her hot skin, pulling her against him as they swayed in the night. That night. That hot night, as the music pulled them closer and closer until finally he dragged her to a dark corner against the wall, and teased her into another kind of dance, all hidden in his coat, keeping his movements with the music so that anyone who wasn’t looking too close could think they were still just dancing. She’d been so flushed that night, so shocked, so wildly turned on by this all-but-public act which she’d never have allowed herself with any but the Big Bad....

    “You are Hostile 17,” said the calm voice of his Terminator-esque opponent. “My orders are to eliminate your eminent threat.”

    “Your witless banter leaves a lot to be desired, tinman,” Spike said. He sighed. “What I wouldn’t give for a stupid pun.”

 

***

 

    “Guess it’s time to give those commandoes a little demonstration,” Buffy said.

    Tara and Willow frowned at her. Xander shook his head.

    “Not clever enough?” Buffy asked. “Was it the delivery?”

    “Look, I know my part,” Willow said. Her distinctive red hair had been washed in temporary black dye, which hadn’t taken right, and seemed to make a rather sickly green. It looked absolutely gruesome, but it didn’t look like Willow, so they’d all figured, just go with it. “But can you pull off yours?”

    Buffy sighed. She’d put the largest weapons she could fit into her backpack – a mace, her smallest crossbow, and a couple of stakes – and put on her favorite slaying halter. She opened her eyes wide and tried to look stupid. “Um... is... is Riley here? Um. I just... could I wait for him? I won’t be any trouble. I just... I just wanna see him.” She slightly pouted her high-glossed lips. Tara giggled, remembering Buffy’s ire of the night before. “Good enough?” she asked. “I’ll hang out in the hall, looking like the abandoned girlfriend, and when I get the signal, pow.” She punched an invisible doorway.

    “So, have we figured out what the signal is?” Xander asked.

    “If it isn’t you coming back with a new perfect plan,” Buffy said to Willow, “I’m betting it’ll be alarms, screaming, or gunfire.”

    “I’ll do as much damage as I can,” Willow said. “But if they just let me go, it might not be much. If you get no signal at all, just wait! That’ll mean I was just allowed to pop off, and they’re still just as armed and dangerous as ever. I’ll try to find a really quick vengeance and get back to you as soon as I can with all the info I got. It might take anywhere from five minutes to an hour.”

    “Gotcha,” Buffy said.

    “I just can’t believe we’re going to all this trouble for Spike,” Willow said.

    “He’s different, Will,” Xander said. “Love tempered the guy. Made him... well, I won’t go so far as to say nice or anything, but he had his moments. Few of them, and far between, and they always made me blink and go, huh? But they were there.”

    Buffy knew this was just Xander being a guy. He and Spike really had had their moments in the last six months.

    “Yeah, but... mortal enemy and all.”

    “Hey, that bit I get,” Xander said. “Remember Cordelia? I could have slaughtered her no trouble at all.”

    “So could I,” Willow muttered, and then looked guilty. She really had slaughtered people in the last six months. She turned around and lifted her cowl. “There,” she said. She turned back completely demoned up. “How do I look?”

    Xander, who had cringed, gulped. “Um... you look great, Will. Remind me never to get on your bad side.”

    “My bad side is fine. Don’t get on anyone else’s,” Willow said. “I do remember Cordelia.”

    “Enough memory lane,” Buffy snapped. “Xander, give her the walkie-talkie, so I can know if they’ve even caught her.”

    “They’re after me!” Willow announced, testing it.

    “Wait until they are, Will,” Buffy said. “Okay. Places.” Buffy hugged Willow tightly. “Thanks for doing this,” she whispered in her friend’s ear.

    “Thanks for letting me,” Willow said.

    “Time to rescue Spike,” Xander said. Then he shook his head. “Could someone pinch me? I’m pretty sure I must have dreamed saying that.”


***

    Spike was dreaming again. Buffy Summers in the bathtub, the bubbles barely covering her smooth skin, sensuously sliding the razor over her leg. Spike loved to just watch her. Okay, hang about puttering and dropping things in the hopes he’d distract her and she’d nick herself. He loved it when that happened. The tiny droplet of blood, sliding down her leg, mixing with the aromatic bath water. It got to the point she’d even let him take the leg in his arms, slide his tongue along her smooth, damp skin, lapping up the diluted blood, kissing the wound tenderly when he got to it. Just a taste, but oh, the taste of her....

    He opened his eyes to find the tinman lifting him up by the shirt. Got clocked in the head again, had he? At least Buffy was there behind his eyes. If he’d ever see her again in front of them. Tinman prepared his stake and plunged it in to the hilt, tearing through Spike’s heart, making him scream. He waited for the dust... damn. Plastic again. Sadistic bastards. Spike himself had torn people to shreds, feasted on their still flowing blood, chained them up and killed them slowly. But he had never killed the same person over and over and over again, and made notes on the effects. Even Angel hadn’t been that cold about it all. Creepy Nazi wannabes! He could see them in their little protective bunker, with their pretty glass shielding them from the rank stench and the worst of the noises, watching without either horror or relish, like he was some kind of crappy documentary. He would have preferred it if they’d at least gotten off on his pain. He’d have understood that. But no. This wasn’t something they enjoyed. They barely even cared. That lame-ass vamp he’d used as a shield the night he escaped had been right. He was just a lab rat.

    He groaned and reached for the face of his terminator-like opponent. He waited for the traditional closing lines of this mucked up shadow play. “This has been a test. Had this been an actual battle, you would be dust now. Please return to your cell.”

    Most of the time Spike was tazed up and dragged back to his cell by the scientists’s assistants, completely unable to crawl back of his own volition – and they’d wised up enough to know to check he was really unconscious before they approached him unbound. But before tinman could open his mouth he tensed, his head cocked as if he had heard something. Then he froze, dropping Spike, sinking as if his clockwork had run down. Spike would have been really thrilled by that development if his pain chip hadn’t just fired stronger and harder than ever before, firing through his system so hard he felt like he was burning. He screamed as tinman dropped him, and kept on screaming in agony as every light in the compound winked out.
 

***

    Willow had not enjoyed her experience with the commandoes. She’d run across campus, trying not to look too obvious, crossing intentionally in areas where Buffy had spotted the commandoes before. Sure enough, they spotted her, and started pursuit. It was clear they had no idea what kind of demon she was. Willow was almost insulted as they attacked her as if she was an ordinary vamp or something. If she’d still had full access to her powers, not only would they never have laid a hand on her, but she could have pounded their heads off one by one and just regenerated it if she’d broken a nail in the process. And god forbid if any one of them had a jilted ex she could track down. As it was, she just suffered when they tazed her, cursing them under her breath with impotent, powerless curses they were in no position to appreciate.

    They dragged her in in a body bag, as if she were dead. Buffy had warned her not to talk. The commandoes had no idea how intelligent demons were, and she wanted them to think Willow was nothing but an animal. She didn’t want them to start torturing her for information.

    If any of the soldiers who had captured her had been Riley, she never saw his face, and he made no sign of recognition. Finally they’d poured her into a bright white cell, and a handful of scientists set about trying to identify her. Finally one of them hit on a match. “Here it is. It’s a D’Hoffrynian. Called upon by jilted lovers to exact vengeance.”

    “What’s that mean?”

    “The mythology says they hold the power of the wish... but all powers are completely eliminated by removal of their amulet of power...”

    “We didn’t see an amulet of power. It did have some kind of black box, but it threw that away as we caught it. Don’t know where it got to.”

    “It must have the amulet hidden on its person somewhere,” said the scientist. “They’re pretty unkillable the manual says. Fill the room up with cyanide gas, we’ll strip it. Search its body while it’s out.”

    “I think that’s my cue,” Willow said. She stood up and tried to teleport out. Buffy was right. They had a dampening field. She could feel D’Hoffryn’s rage through her amulet – in this instance a burning sensation in her stomach – as his agent was prevented from dispensing justice. Power flushed through her, more than she usually needed, and Willowankha raised her arms and called on the dampening field to be lifted. Their field wasn’t magic, of course. It was some kind of electric field, or maybe something like a farady cage. That made it more difficult. Though she knew computers, she did not know random technology.

    Hm. Random technology could be disrupted by an electro-magnetic pulse. Willowankha raised her arms again, this time calling on D’Hoffryn’s name to give her strength, and blasted the entire compound with an EMP. Or, something like an EMP, really, because she actually had no idea how EMP’s really worked. She just had some idea in her head that it shorted out every electronic connection and microchip in a given area. It blasted the whole campus, because she had no idea how big the compound really was, and every light went out, and two of the soldiers in front of her screamed, clutching at their chests.

    It was really easy. She didn’t even break a sweat. She didn’t have much time to reflect on what she had done, though. She was in the north of France, looking at a nineteen year old girl whose boyfriend had slept with her sister. “What’d he do?” Willow asked quickly. “How do you feel? Isn’t that just awful. What do you want done to him? Make it quick! I got things to do!”

 

 

 
Chapter 14, in which Spike makes a series of terrible mistakes.
 
This is a way to kill a wife with kindness.
Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew

 

    Spike’s head was burning. Literally burning, he could smell the smoke. He fought off the impulse to scream. He had to get that thing out – vampires were volatile. A decent spark burning strong enough, and he’d turn into little more than a big pile of ash. He reached for the back of his head, and felt the hot spot. It was burning through his very skull! That would leave a space for the embers to escape, but he couldn’t be sure it would burn fast enough. In the red glow of the emergency lights, he reached for the hard plastic stake still in his chest and yanked it out. He yelled, but he had an instrument now. Unable to see what he was doing, he pointed the stake at the burning spot on the back of his head, and gouged. The stake went in through the half-burned bone, and the smell of smoke increased. He grunted with the pain and the horror of what he was doing to himself, but he reached in with one finger, took everything hot, and pulled it out. Some ashy substance came with it, which Spike suspected to be parts of his own brain.

    He knew which parts the moment he tried to stand up. Yes, he was in a hell of pain, and yes, he had a big hole in his chest, and another still smoking one in his skull, but he should have known where his head was in relation to his body. He was terribly dizzy. But he knew what was wrong with him, and he knew where there was something that would help him to fix it. He grabbed the deactivated cyborg, which was still standing, propped it up against the wall below the glass fronted bunker, and climbed it. It was slow going, but the light was bad, and there was chaos all around outside the arena. The scientists in the bunker had thought him incapacitated. They didn’t realize he was coming for them. He reached the window and punched. There was a startled cry, but Spike wasn’t quite able to track movement. Most of the victims in the room seemed to flee, but there was one right in front of him, more astute than the others, who was slowly backing away, pressing the button on a controller, over and over again.

    “It’s gone. Can’t make your little toy work, pet,” he said through his fangs. He reached forward and grabbed. “But I work just fine, now.” He yanked the victim toward him and sank his teeth in. Oh, thank bloody god, he’d been starving for this! He sucked the warm, living blood and would have sobbed with joy if he hadn’t been so busy drawing it in. Months he’d been without this, sodding months! His blood sang as he again became what he’d always been, a vampire, a force for death, the Big Bad.

    His victim cried out, a choked plea. “Adam! Adam!” Spike ignored her.

    So did the broken cyborg.
    

***

    Buffy figured the lights going out to be a signal. She burst her way down the stairs beside the Lowell House elevator, and found herself in a vast underground complex, in a state of chaos. There were soldiers everywhere, shouting and growls. Demons ran past in the dim light. Gunfire echoed. There was a fire somewhere. Everything smelled of smoke. Crossbow in hand, stake in her belt, she strode through the chaos searching for a single peroxide vampire.

    She crossed the main floor, unnoticed by most, ignored by all. A solider lay on the ground, being tenderly looked after by... was that Forrest? Buffy thought she recognized him as one of Riley’s friends from the cafeteria. “Forrest.” Forrest looked up, recognized that Buffy was not supposed to be there, and pulled a gun on her. “I so don’t have time for this,” Buffy said, kicking the thing away. He looked startled. As he pulled back, Buffy recognized the soldier on the floor. “Riley. What’s happened to him?”

    “I dunno,” Forrest said. “He said it was his heart. He started screaming, and then he went down. I think...” he stopped. “There was some talk of implanting... something... in some of us. Maybe the chip?”

    Buffy knelt down. “Is he alive?” she asked, checking for a pulse. He started moving, so she assumed he was alive and gave up looking.

    “Buffy...”

    “What the hell are you doing here?” Forrest asked Buffy.

    Buffy ignored him. “Riley, where’s Spike?”

    “Buffy...”

    “Where’s Spike? Where’d you stash him, in this military hell hole?”

    “Buffy....”

    Buffy gave up on him and grabbed Forrest’s shirt. He tried to push her away, and seemed genuinely shocked when she was far, far, far too strong. “You,” she said. “Tell me where you keep your prisoners.”

    “Pri-prisoners?” Forrest said, as if he genuinely had no idea what she meant.

    Buffy hit him. “The vampires! Tell me where you took my husband!”

    Forrest looked dumbfounded.

    Buffy twisted his shoulder. He cried out. “We-we keep the hostiles in the pens!” he grunted.

    “Show me!” Buffy took up her crossbow again and marched Forrest ahead of her.

    “Riley...” he said.

    “Did you call in that there was a man down?”

    “I think so. Communications are out.”

    And there were fights breaking out all over, Buffy realized. Riley seemed incapacitated, but if he was dying, there was nothing she could do, and she didn’t have time now. “Someone will find him,” Buffy said. “Just think about home, Riley,” she called over her shoulder. “Think about the down home goodness of Iowa!”
    

***

    Spike let go the victim after her heart stopped. She fell limp and lifeless to the floor. He knelt there as if at the feet of the devil, gasping in the aftermath of a good rush, shaking just a little. Oh, god, it had been too long, far too long. He was giddy with the kill, with the blood, with the freedom and the power of it all. He groaned with relief and shook his head in delight. The human blood was already doing its work. It wasn’t going to close up his wounds in a heartbeat, as it were, but they didn’t smart anymore. He could still feel that they hurt, in some distant way, but he was far too flush to care about it. “All right now, little miss...” he looked down at his victim’s key card. “Walsh,” he said. He ripped it off her white coat. “Let’s see what this all-access pass does to all these pretty little doors.”

    He tried the door to the bunker. It was locked. Whoever had run away had thoughtfully locked it behind them. The main lock was fried – it was still smoking a little – but there was a smaller glowing redundancy above it which must have been activated after whatever took out all the active electronics had done its business. He ran the key card into the little slot. A tiny green laser shot out, flickered over his face, and a disembodied voice said, “Unrecognized access. Retinal scan required.”

    Spike scoffed. Was that all he needed? “Why didn’t you just say so?” he muttered. He reached for his victim again, and it was only the work of a moment to gouge one of her eyes out of its socket. He held it up to the light, and the little lock obediently clicked, opening the door.

    Spike pocketed the eye, and passed through the door. He found himself in a war room, shouting soldiers issuing orders which were not being obeyed, because their communications were down. Someone shot Spike, but they either missed, or he was really high on Walsh’s blood, because he didn’t feel a thing. He grabbed the nearest soldier and used him as a shield, pushing forward despite his dizziness. The solider was shot, and Spike grabbed the one that had shot him, breaking his neck without stopping to think. It felt soo good to kill again! He grabbed another solider – they were like grapes on a vine, just reach out and take! He dislocated the man’s shoulder as he bit down, drawing another hit of blood.

    Spike stopped, and spat it out. What the hell was this guy on? Some kind of steroid, or amphetamine. No wonder they’d caught him so easy. They were totally juiced. He bashed the man’s head against a desk instead, splitting his skull. He died instantly. Spike realized he’d been lucky. He might have grabbed the only clean vic in the place.

    He lost count of the soldiers in the room, but the last one he killed had been scrabbling at a control that had been protected under a plexiglass box. He’d gotten the box open, but he’d been trying to get another retinal scanner to work. It wasn’t a door lock. Spike looked down and examined. It had a map of the entire compound, and a series of switches indicating different areas. Countermeasures, the little controls read. There were several labeled, but one really caught his eye. One innocuous little label reading HCN.

    Spike smiled. He’d lived through World War II. He knew how to play the Nazi – they had great uniforms. So they wanted to play gas chamber, did they? Hell. It wasn’t as if he needed to breathe. He turned the control, flipped every single sub-switch, and dangled Walsh’s eye above the scanner before he quietly pressed the HCN button.

    A little cyanide gas would teach those soldiers to try and take down the Big Bad!
 

***
    
    Spike made his way through the compound more slowly than he wanted to. The HCN was taking a while to work, though he could see its effects in the more closed in rooms. Some humans were coughing and gasping, the blood agent affecting their eyes and respiratory tract. The gas could take anywhere from two minutes to an hour to work, depending on the concentration. With the amount of space in this military compound, he was pretty sure it was going to be slow. He kind of liked that idea. A slow creeping death was what this whole damn place deserved. Yeah, okay, he might take a few demons out, too, but since when was that supposed to bother him? Spike was still dizzy – damn chip had to protest its removal, didn’t it? – but the human blood made him powerful, and he knew the way out of this hell hole.

    He made his way through the main open compound at an unpleasant dizzy stagger, which was the only reason he saw the solider lying on the ground. Spike laughed when he saw him. “Well, if it isn’t Captain Cardboard,” he said.

    Riley looked over at him, opened his eyes wide, and he cringed. “No...”

    Spike grinned and knelt down. “Who’s got the power now, Whitebread?” he asked. He stepped on Riley’s hand, and watched the soldier grimace more. “What’s the matter with you?”

    Riley didn’t answer, so Spike broke his hand. The soldier cried out. “Oh, hurts, does it?” Spike said. “Gonna hurt more in a minute. Do you smell almonds?” He chuckled.

    “B-Buffy,” Riley murmured.

    “Ain’t never seein’ her again, mate,” Spike said. He stood straighter, straightened his coat. “Big bad’s back. And I’m gonna go get what’s mine.”

    Riley didn’t seem to care. He reached back toward the pens. “No... Buffy....”

    Spike frowned at him for a moment. Why would he...?

    Realization struck him like a hammer. The power failure, the broken locks, the chip malfunction. This wasn’t the typical government fiasco. This had been a rescue mission.

    And Buffy was still doing the rescuing. In a demon studded gas-chamber in a war-zone of chaos.

    Spike ran. Dizziness be damned, he ran like he had never run before in his unlife. It was a nightmare, his body refusing to move the way he knew it could, his eyes refusing to catch the way they were supposed to. The walls blurred, his vision narrowed, his blood sang with panic as he ran back into the chaos to save the woman he loved from certain death.
    

***
    
    Buffy wasn’t feeling very well. Her eyes were watering, and it was hard to see in the dim red emergency lights. She kept coughing, and her throat burned. She thought it might be from the smoke.

    The pens were bedlam. Forrest shouted that the electric doors had been shut down, and the demons had escaped. They were fighting each other, fighting the soldiers, some were cowering in their pens. “Which one was Spike’s cell?” Buffy demanded.

    “Hostile 17 was... was down at the end...” Forrest gasped. He was coughing, too.

    “Spike!” Buffy yelled out. She couldn’t imagine he'd still be sitting down there in the midst of all this. If the cells were open, he’d be out and about, probably trying to escape.

    “How did he get out before?” Buffy demanded of Forrest.

    “What?”

    “Hostile 17! He escaped this pit once before, how did he do it? What route did he take!” Forrest only coughed. “Answer me!

    “Slayer!”

    Buffy looked up. “Spike?” She tried to peer through the smoke and the chaos.

    It was Spike. Spike looking like death warmed over, bruises on his face, his black shirt torn and saturated with blood, a hole openly gaping in his chest. “Spike!”

    “You have to get out of here, slayer,” he said, reaching her. He pulled on her, dragging her behind him.

    “You’re hurt.”

    “It doesn’t matter about me! This whole place is gonna be a graveyard in about fifteen minutes.”

    “What are you...?”

    “Gas, Buffy. Can’t you smell it? Whiff of bitter almonds. Now get the hell out of here!” He pushed Buffy toward the exit.

    “They’ve gassed the pens?”

    “The whole damn compound! Get the hell out!”

    “Everyone!” Buffy shouted, planting herself firmly in the middle of the chaos. “Everyone human, and every demon who needs to breathe! This compound is being flooded with lethal gasses! Spike, where’s the exit?”

    “What in the hell are you doing!” he shouted.

    “We’ve got to get as many people out as we can!” Buffy gasped. She stopped and coughed, her eyes streaming.

    “Oh, bloody hell, you god damn hero types!” Spike grabbed her roughly and dragged her behind him.

    It was then Buffy saw the burned gap in his head. It was a scorched black crater in his skull, stark against his white hair, and Buffy knew without asking what had been there. She also didn’t have time to consider it. “Everybody, follow me!” she shouted behind her as Spike dragged her. She couldn’t see. She couldn’t see....
 

***

    Rather than making his triumphant escape and striding out into the night like the powerful nightmare he was, Spike found himself leading a ragtag team of mostly humans through the compound to the exit. And Buffy wouldn’t leave anyone! Every time she saw someone, or heard someone crying out, she’d turn and try to go to them, until Spike grabbed her roughly and actually bloody carried her. “Everyone, get out!” Buffy kept shouting, her voice hoarse with the blood agent already closing up her throat.

    They were almost at the exit – many of the soldiers had pushed past Spike and escaped – when Buffy twisted in his arms. “Riley!”

    “What the–”

    “I left him! He can’t move! He–”

    “You need to get the hell out of this place, slayer! Now!”

    “I’m not leaving him helpless!” Buffy shouted in his face.

    “Yes you are, you worthless bint!” Spike shouted back.

    He wouldn’t let her go, so Buffy hit him. Spike hit her back. He punched her over and over again and pushed her into the arms of the nearest soldier. But she was the slayer, of course – he hadn’t managed to knock her out. “Get her out of here!” he shouted. “I’ll get the sodding mick, just get the hell out!” He ran back into the compound on a quest to save Riley bloody Finn.

    He was right where he’d left him, still grunting a little. Spike couldn’t even lift him up, he was so dizzy. He grabbed the incapacitated soldier and dragged. It was agony, his chest blooming with pain, his head aching, and he hated every second of it. “She always – falls – for the bleeding – torturers,” Spike grunted as he dragged his tormenter out of the poisonous compound and toward the waiting exit.

    This was the back door, near the air vent Spike had used to escape the first time. It opened into wild land out back of the campus proper. Buffy was standing in the middle of the escapees, directing the soldiers to tend to the wounded, or get help, and getting the demons off to safety. Spike dumped Riley unceremoniously by another pile of wounded men. A second later, he was turned around, and slapped. “Bloody hell, slayer!” Spike cried. It hadn’t been hard, but it jostled his head. A second later, he didn’t care. She’d kissed him. He grunted, and she pulled away. “I’m sorry,” she said.

    Spike staggered and fell, almost landing on top of Riley. Whatever reserves Spike had been running on, whatever demonic equivalent of adrenaline had powered those last few minutes, had been totally depleted. He collapsed, the world spinning, and Buffy caught him, pulled him against her, and then pulled him away from the soldiers.

    It was quiet by the trees. Everyone else was running about in the dark. Some of the commandoes had cracked chemical lights, little green glow sticks, bathing the glade in an eerie luminescence. Buffy propped Spike against a tree trunk and caressed his cheek. “You’ve looked better.”

    Spike blinked up at her. She was alive. She was alive, he hadn’t killed her, and she had come for him. She had come for him. “You never have,” he said.

    Buffy smiled, amused. Then she was crying.

    She was crying because he was hurt. She was crying because she’d been scared. She was crying because she had found him again. She was crying because she had let him be lost and tormented for so long. She was crying because the chip was gone, and she didn’t know what that would mean. She was crying because he’d come back to save her. She was crying because he had gone back to save someone she knew he hated. So what if he had done it for her? He’d done it.

    “You’re crying...” Spike said.

    Buffy didn’t remind him about the eye irritation from the gas. She was crying. “I love you,” she whispered.

    “I love you, too,” Spike said. He pulled her to him, kissed her, kissed her cheek, her jaw, her throat, bit down hard....

    What happened next was an accident. Spike hadn’t realized he’d been vamped up the whole time. The pain had forced it out of him, and Buffy had even kissed him through his fangs without him noticing. The human blood made him impulsive, kept him from thinking too hard about whatever he wanted to do, and erased the very idea of consequences. And the effect was heightened, because his tolerance was down, not really having had any in six months. But mostly, he was used to being with Buffy with the chip telling him how much and how hard. He was used to biting her as hard as he could until the chip started to tingle, and he’d stop there. The chip was gone now. His mortal slayer with her sweet smelling blood was in his arms, and he bit her. He pierced her throat, and suddenly his mouth was full with sweet, sweet slayer’s blood, potent and powerful and seductive as the dawn.

    He was too shocked by it at first to even register, and then it tasted so damn good. He was in agony, his body crying out for something to heal it, and slayer’s blood had powerful healing properties for vampires. It was instinctual for him to swallow it down, groan and growl pull her closer, unable to hear her cries. She struggled, and he swallowed more, drew more inside himself, made her a part of him, her, her blood, her power, the sweetness, the slayer, his Buffy...

    Buffy!

    “Gah!” he pulled away, horrified with himself. Buffy sat gasping, and she backed away still sitting, her face white with betrayal. She held her hand to her throat, trembling, her eyes wide, still filled with tears. The woman he loved, the woman he’d die for, the woman who... who loved him.

    She cries.

    “Oh, god!” Spike retched. He could feel the blood inside him, roaring through his being, healing the wounds in his body, his head, and he groaned. He sobbed, forced himself upright, and fled, fled into the darkness, moaning with disgust at the creature he’d become.
 

***
    
    Willow had returned home to find Lowell House in chaos, and the compound below sealed off. She’d given the French girl’s ex boyfriend a cocktail of STDs, balking only at HIV. She’d asked enough questions to know that Buffy had gotten out alive, and figured if she needed help, she’d look for her at Tara’s. So she went home.

    She and Tara spent a good couple hours washing her hair over and over in the sink, trying to get the sick green color to wash off, as the dye bottle insisted it would. Temporary dye, it had said. “I don’t know,” Tara said after the fifth attempt. “Maybe we should try a spell.”

    Willow laughed. “I thought you didn’t approve of using magic if you didn’t have to.”

    “I know,” Tara said. “But it’s looking more and more like we have to. Or... or I could get some henna. Dye it back to red.”

    Willow rubbed her wet head with the towel one more time, reached forward, and kissed her. “It’s not easy being green,” she whispered into Tara’s ear.

    Tara giggled.

    There was a knock at the door. Willow ran to it, opening it happily. “Buffy!”

    It wasn’t Buffy. A Spike who looked very much as if he’d been hit by a train leaned heavily against the door jam. “Invite me in.”

    “Um...” Willow looked unsure.

    “Please! Invite me in!” Spike begged.

    “Come in, Spike,” Tara said quietly.

    Spike fell into the room and collapsed into Tara’s wicker chair. It creaked under his weight, and he gasped, shuddering as if he was terrified, or very cold. He turned to Willow. “Willow,” he said. He stopped. “What the hell, Red?”

    Willow looked embarrassed, and pushed her hair behind her ear. “It’s going back,” she said. “I’m not keeping it like this.”

    Spike shook his head. He didn’t even care. “I need a spell.”

    Willow rolled her eyes. “You and your damn love charms! I’m not doing it. Buffy told you no, and she’s serious. I–”

    “I don’t need a sodding love spell!” Spike snapped at the witch-cum-vengeance demon. “I need you to get me my soul.”

 

 
Chapter 15, in which Spike makes a wish.
 

     Yes, marriage is hateful, detestable. A kind of ineffable, sickening disgust seizes my mind when I think of this most despotic, most unrequited fetter which prejudice has forged to confine its energies.
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

 

 

    The witch and the vengeance demon stared at Spike in bewildered shock. “Excuse me?” Tara asked.

    “My soul,” Spike said. “Are you thick? You must have heard me!”

    “Spike, what makes you think Willow can even do that?”

    “Um...” Willow looked over to Tara in the candlelight. The power was still out all over campus. “I can, actually.” She looked back at Spike. “But I won’t.”

    “Damn right, you won’t!” Tara said. She came up to Spike. “Spike, I-I know you’re hurting, but... th-that... that won’t make everything right again.”

    Spike shoved Tara gently aside and addressed Willow again. “Buffy said you did for Angel. Said it was you the second time. I need it. Do it, I need it.”

    “Spike, why do you even want such a thing?” Tara asked.

    Spike glared at Tara. “For Buffy!” he snapped. “I can’t live like this, she deserves better!” He looked down, trembling, tears in the corners of his eyes. “She deserves better.”

    “Spike, what happened tonight?” Tara asked. “Buffy freed you? You look hurt.”

    Spike looked up with a demonic snarl, and Tara backed off. It was instinctive. “I don’t want a sodding psychotherapy session,” he growled. “I want a god damned soul!

    “It would be,” Tara said evenly. “Damned. You get that, don’t you? Your soul’s clean right now, wherever it is. You were a victim, you are an empty corpse. You bring it back, and all your sins will belong to... whatever you’ll become. Angel’s soul is black as sin. I c- I can’t imagine why you’d even want... to live like that, I... how could living as you are be worse?”

    Spike glared. “Nothing could be worse than this,” he snarled.

    “You’re wrong,” Tara said. “Believe me. You’re wrong.”

    “It’s not just that,” Willow said. “You don’t get it, Spike, it was a mistake. I mean, I know Buffy dumped you–”

    “It’s not about that!” Spike growled.

    “Isn’t it?” Tara asked. “I know you love her. You’d do anything for her, but punishing yourself–”

    “Gah!” Spike roared, lurching up from the chair. He staggered immediately, and caught himself on the table, went down to a knee. He gasped, panting, trembling. “Just give me what I need,” he said quietly.

    “I won’t,” Willow said. “And before you get all Spiky again, listen to what I’m saying. That spell – the spell that gave Angel his soul. I thought I was curing him. I wasn’t. That spell was a curse,” Willow said. “It was a curse, not a gift. Not even for Buffy. If I’d known as much about curses then as I do now, I wouldn’t have done it.”

    Spike glared at her. “What are you driving at?”

    “Willow means, that if she gives you what you want, it won’t be,” Tara said. “Maybe she can give you a soul,” she looked at Willow a little askance, as if surprised by her power even as a witch, “but it won’t make you happy. That’s the point. Angel’s aura is... heavy. I’ve seen it. That soul itself is cursed. It’s not just a vampire cursed with a soul, it’s a vampire with a cursed soul. If he’s ever happy, he loses it.”

    “Yeah, but–”

    “You won’t be able to be Buffy’s husband with that curse,” Willow said. “Angel can’t sleep with Buffy. I mean... from what I understand, that’s pretty much all you guys do.”

    “That was not all we did,” he said stiffly.

    “Yeah, but it’s kind of important for marriage,” Tara said. “And if you can’t... um... make love, then...”

    “You think that’s all I want from her?” Spike said. “You think that’s what this is about? That’s not what makes me happy!”

    “Yeah, but Spike, I’m trying to tell you. If I curse you like that, you won’t be happy, and neither will she, no matter, what you do,” Willow said. “Whether you’re sleeping together or not. I know. She’s my best friend. Angel never made her happy. Not even from the beginning. He’s been nothing but pain for her, even in all that love. I’m really serious – I should never have done it. If he hadn’t gotten his soul again, Buffy would have killed him, he would have gone down to hell, and she could have put the whole thing behind her. Instead, killing him became torture for her – a betrayal on her part, wounding her soul more than if she’d just killed him as evil. And then he came back just to make everything terrible all over again. I shouldn’t have done it then. I won’t do it now.”

    “But that soul... I’d be okay with not.... If she even wanted, we could find a way around that.”

    “Spike...”

    “I could endure that!” Spike snapped. “I can’t endure this.

    “This what?” Tara asked, but Willow was still talking.

    “That’s not the point,” Willow said. “Buffy was okay with not being able to sleep with Angel, too, but there was always this weight that dragged them both down. You must have seen it.”

    Spike had. It sucked Buffy’s energy and vitality away every time Angel was in the room. The only time it didn’t had been on their wedding day, when they’d been so hot under that spell.... The spell had shielded her from that baleful influence. “And you’re telling me it’s this curse.”

    “Yes,” Tara said. “Good or bad, evil or not, Angel’s soul is cursed. Anyone close to him is going to be tainted by it, eventually. And any curse that Willow puts on you as a vengeance demon – it would be cursed, too. Because that would be punishment for something. If you wanted to be with Buffy, and you want her to be happy, you’d need a pure soul.”

    Now Spike felt as if he’d been punched. “Pure.”

    “I don’t mean untainted with past evil deeds,” Tara said quickly. “I just mean it would have to be... clean. It couldn’t be saddled with punishment, or have a clause about happiness, or be because anyone did something wrong. Angel’s soul belongs partly to the curse. If it’s for Buffy... the soul would... just have to be... yours.”

    Spike felt his world fading to grey again. He’d found this moment of hope, this glimmer of light within the darkness, a maybe, a crumb. And it had just been snatched away by the reality of it all. He couldn’t help it. What were his options? He didn’t like any of them. Tears escaped, and he turned away.

    “Oh, Spike,” Tara said. She came up to him, and only then saw the crater in his skull. It was already healing, his demonic blood smoothing the worst of the burns away, and she understood. She came up to him anyway, no more frightened of him than she had been with the chip.

    “Tara?” Willow asked. Willow didn’t understand, but Tara put her hand on him.

    “I’m so sorry, Spike.”

    Spike hated himself for showing weakness. ‘Least it was only in front of a couple of birds. What had happened to him? What had become of him! Where the hell was Spike in all this mess? “And we can’t even go back to just being under a god damned spell,” he muttered.

    “I offered. Actually,” Willow said softly. Spike looked at her. “She was crying so hard. She missed the spell badly, so I offered. She missed you. But she said it was too late. Now that she knew it would be there without the magic, she couldn’t let herself.”

    Spike glared at the ceiling, his wife not there to glare at. “She should have let the soldiers kill me,” he said. “She should have just let them have me. It would be better than... argh! Why do none of these women ever have the respect to just stake me!

    “I know it doesn’t seem fair,” Tara said.

    “Damn right, it doesn’t seem fair!” Spike said. “This whole damn thing wasn’t fair! It should never have happened in the first place! If I had my way, I’d take the whole damn marriage, and send it down to bloody hell itself! Forget the stupid spell, forget the sodding vengeance demon matchmaker.” He glared at Willow. “I should kill you, you demon bitch! I wish you’d never been born!”

    Willow stopped, and her eyes opened wide. “That’s it!” she said. She looked at Tara. “That might be the way around both our problems.”

    Spike looked at her. “What do you mean?”

    “Not having never been born,” Willow said. “But a wish, Spike. D’Hoffryn has... well, a really strict severance policy. If you take the power, you have to take the job, and since it hasn’t been my hundred years since I took the power, I can’t be let loose from the job of vengeance demon until my contract is up. He let Anya go because she’d screwed up, but she’d been a demon for like a thousand years. She– ”

    “Skip to the point, Red.”

    “The point is, I’m bound to be a vengeance demon and... well... I don’t want to anymore. It’s really bloody, and he won’t let me do just little vengeances. It’s gotta be the big all-out turning princes to frogs routine.”

    “And let me guess. The punishment for poor work performance is eternal torment.”

    “Pretty much,” Willow said.

    “Can’t say I really feel sorry for you, bitch,” Spike said. Then he laughed. “Nope. Nope, can’t say that at all.

    “Just listen, Spike.” Willow said. “Those spells I did, they wronged all of you. So you have a right to invoke vengeance on me.

    “But I thought the vengeance had to be for something personal,” Tara said. “A true personal wrong. And you and Spike have never been close.” She stopped. “H-have you?”

    “No,” Willow said. “But Buffy was my best friend, and I roped her to a blood sucking demon who wanted to kill her. No offence.”

    “None taken,” Spike said.

    “Don’t you see? That’s a complete betrayal. Of my best friend.”

    “Oh,” Tara said.

    “I’m not getting it,” Spike said. “How does that mean you wronged me?”

    “It doesn’t,” Tara said. “You’re allowed to invoke vengeance for a loved one. Particularly family.”

    “Particularly if you think your child or wife or something won’t, or can’t,” Willow said.

    “But taking vengeance on yourself?” Tara asked Willow. “Wouldn’t that be a little risky?”

    “No, I know what I’m doing,” Willow said. “All you have to do, Spike, is to wish that the whole thing had never happened, and everything goes back to normal. It’ll be perfect!”

    “So... wait... I make a wish, and the whole thing goes away?”

    “Well, probably not the whole thing,” Willow said, “because I can’t change things from before I became a vengeance demon. It’s a time-lock thing. My powers only extend as far as my time as a demon. But I could change things as I became a vengeance demon. I have powers over time – Anya changed it so Buffy didn’t come to Sunnydale, for instance – but I only have it for so long as my demon powers have been manifest. So... I’d still have done the spell and stuff, you’d still want to get married, but I’d be able to take it off like in a few hours. You won’t have gotten so used to each other that you’d – um – still be all lovey-dovey. When the spell broke, you’d go back to hating each other.”

    Tara was staring at Willow. “But you wouldn’t have been made a vengeance demon,” Tara said.

    “Right!” Willow looked at Spike, kind of excited. “You can do it, Spike. All you have to do is make a wish!”

    “Wish... what, exactly?”

    “Just wish I’d never been made a vengeance demon. I’ve wronged all of you – Xander, Giles, Buffy. And because I wronged them, even if the wish is on me, it should take! I’ll be out of my contract to D’Hoffryn without a blood-pact out on me, you and Buffy wouldn’t both be ripped up and tormented, and Xander won’t even have to endure his rakish scars! It’ll be great!”

    “But... you and me,” Tara said. “We’ll hardly know each other again.”

    “I wouldn’t worry about that,” Willow said. “Weren’t you already interested in me?”

    Tara blushed and looked down.

    “And I’d noticed you a few times. Here, check an oracle. Even a rune should do.” She grabbed a small velvet bag and held it out to Tara.

    Tara took a deep breath and pulled out a small marked stone. She smiled. “Pertho,” she said. “Female. D-destiny.”

    She and Willow grinned happily at each other. “See?” Willow said. “One or two more wicca club meetings and I think you’d have learned I was into spells. You came to find me as a demon because you knew I’d been a witch. Wouldn’t you come to find me as a witch, too?”

    “Of course I would,” Tara said.

    Willow smiled. “I told you. We’d meet. It’d be great. It’s just, I’d be just human which...”

    “Would be... easier,” Tara admitted.

    Willow turned back to Spike. “See? Just one little I wish! That’s all it would take. No more vengeance demon, no more demon magnet, no more Giles blind, and no more heart ache for you and Buffy. Just one little wish. I wish you’d cared enough not to become a vengeance demon. See? Easy!”

    Spike stared at her. “One little wish, and it all goes away?” he said. All the pain. All the torment. All the heartache. All the fights. All the wrong. All the mistakes. And the taste of blood in his mouth, which tasted so right, and felt so wrong. The twisted maelstrom of emotion and torment that his life had become. Two weeks of torture. Three weeks – three weeks without Buffy. That had been torture in itself. To live the rest of his unlife without Buffy, without her life, her soul. Barren. Broken. It wasn’t like being without Dru – that was just lonely. This was like being disemboweled. He’d never felt so empty. And now... now... with what he had done.... To have all that, gone. Just gone. What would he be, without that? He’d still have the chip in his head – yeah, that sucked, but he’d rather have that chip, and not want Buffy, than not have the chip and need her the way he did. And he wouldn’t... he would not have hurt the woman he loved. He’d be free of it. That sin, the only sin he’d ever felt. The only sin he hadn't meant to commit. He’d be free.

    “Yes!” Willow looked really excited. “Come on, Spike. One wish, and none of it happened. Please! One wish, and it’ll save all of us.”

    “Save you,” Spike said. Save the rage. Save the heartache. Save the pain. And Buffy, injured, wounded, and all his fault. All the... dear god, was that guilt?

    It didn’t make sense. It didn’t match his demonic self, he couldn’t understand it. He didn’t have the soul to understand it. It felt like going mad, a crater in his self, like the one in his head, like the hole in his heart. It hurt like burning, like he’d swallowed the sun. How could he endure this? How did human beings endure this every day? How the hell did Angel...? One wish, and it would all be over.

    “I wish,” Spike whispered. “I wish....”
 

 

 
Chapter 16, in which Buffy makes some wishes, herself.
 


For what is wedlock forced but a hell,
An age of discord and continual strife?
Whereas the contrary bringeth bliss,
And is a pattern of celestial peace.
Shakespeare, Henry VI, part 1.
 

 


    Everything was back to normal, that was for damn sure. Buffy knew her place in the world. Everything made sense again. No more stupid love spell. Giles could see everything perfectly, Xander was perfectly safe. And Willow was feeling better, Buffy was sure of it. After exerting so much power, though, Buffy knew her friend had to be feeling pretty guilty. Willow hadn’t meant to cause so much trouble, Buffy knew that. She headed to the dorms with her text books in hand, hoping to spend a good hour or so studying with her friend, let her know that everything was okay.

    Buffy spotted Riley on campus, sitting at a picnic table. He looked at her warily, and then looked away, and his friend Forrest quickly distracted him. Buffy realized he must have a pretty strange idea about her and Spike, after everything she’d said the night before. She couldn’t quite figure out what to say to him yet. The Spike thing was... that was just weird. She knew him for the evil creature he was, she just had to try and forget all those heated kisses. That was all.

    She climbed the stairs and stopped dead when she saw the hole in the door. That was serious damage, more than Willow could have caused on her own. She hurried up and flung open the door to the dorm room. “Is everything okay?”

    “Breathe,” Willow said with a grin. “Yeah, we’re fine. Still can’t get this dye out of my hair, though.”

    “What the hell happened to the door?” Buffy asked, still nervous. Her heart was pounding – probably blood loss. She’d pretty much played the unwilling blood donor last night, had probably lost a pint or so. She felt fine, but she’d had these odd heart-pounds the day after she donated to the Red Cross too.

    “Spike,” Willow said.

    “He came here?” Buffy asked. “Last night? Are you two all right?”

    “Yeah, we’re fine,” Tara said. “He didn’t come to attack us, Buffy. He just wanted to talk.”

    “So what the hell happened to the door? Did he try to break in?”

    “No, I invited him,” Tara said. “Tea? I just made some peppermint chamomile.”

    “Yeah, thanks. Wait, you invited him? Tara, that’s not... damn. Willow, you still have the make safe spell? We’ve got to clear the invite, or you two will be sitting ducks.”

    “He’s not dangerous,” Tara said.

    “Yeah,” Buffy said. “He is. Believe me. What the hell was he doing here?”

    Willow shrugged.  “He asked for a spell, and I made a counter offer. Then he lost his temper and stormed off. Gee, Buffy, are you okay?” She gestured to the big bandage on Buffy’s throat.

    “Yeah,” Buffy said. “Just... had a run in with a vamp last night.”

    “Sugar, or honey?” Tara asked.

    “Honey,” Buffy said.

    “Here,” Tara said, pushing a warm mug into Buffy’s hands. “And now both of you, stop dancing around whatever you think the other won’t approve of, and tell each other what happened. Willow, you start. Tell Buffy what you did last night that left the campus still without power this morning.”

    They sat on the bed, Tara on the chair, and Willow explained about the dampening field, and how she’d tried to short it out with a sort of magical EMP.

    “God, no wonder the compound was in chaos,” Buffy said. “You realize you shorted out just about every piece of electronic or computer tech in the place.”

    “Including Spike’s chip?” Tara asked quietly.

    Buffy looked down. “Yeah, I think so.”

    “You know it’s gone,” Tara said.

    Buffy nodded.

    “Your turn,” Tara said. “What happened?”

    Buffy tried to tell it in order. Breaking into the compound, finding Riley incapacitated, Spike coming to save her from the gas, his going to get Riley, but when she got to the part where she had kissed Spike, she balked. “And we all got out,” she finished. “But... Spike’s chip is gone. He can kill again.”

    Tara wouldn’t let it go. “And he attacked you?”

    Buffy opened her mouth to say yes, but she couldn’t. The word wasn’t accurate. She’d been attacked by Spike in the past. She knew what that was; violent, selfish, lots of banter. Spike didn’t play the innocent and then attack on the sly. It wasn’t his nature. “He bit me,” Buffy said instead. “And... and then he changed his mind.”

    Tara looked at her with her eyes soft. “I don’t think he meant to.”

    “Tara, you don’t know Spike,” Willow interjected. “He threatened to push a broken bottle through my face once. I mean, I’ve been attacked by him myself. I mean yeah, okay, he screamed and had to stop, but the first part, when he held me down... that was terrifying. If he’s without his chip again...” Willow stopped. She looked at Tara. “Was that why he was asking?”

    “Asking? Asking for what?”

    “Spike–” Willow began.

    “Let me,” Tara said. She broke the news very carefully and gently, rather than the casual way Willow had been about to broach the subject. Given what she knew about Angel, and about Spike, Tara didn’t think Buffy would take this concept lightly. “Spike came to our room last night blooded, broken, stinking of smoke and barely able to stand. He came because he was desperate. You’re right, the chip was gone, and I had the feeling he’d made a terrible mistake. He came to us... for you. He asked us to give him a s-soul.”

    Time stopped. For a long, long moment, Buffy could barely breathe. She froze with her mouth open, completely bewildered by this development. After a moment, Willow felt the need to disengage the tipping tea cup from her hand and set it aside. “And... you did?” Buffy finally asked.

    “No.” Willow shook her head. “It’s a curse, Buffy. You know how unhappy Angel made you, even when you loved him so much. I shouldn’t have cursed Angel in the first place. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.”

    Buffy stared at her friend. “Why? Why not! Even if we couldn’t be together, I mean...”

    “It’s a curse, Buffy. It would only have made both of you unhappy in the end. Believe me, I understand curses now.”

    Buffy sagged and buried her head in her hands. Willow was right. Willow was absolutely right, of course, but for a brief moment there Buffy had thought there was a reprieve. A way for them to be together... but it wasn’t a way to be together, of course. It would probably have just driven them apart. Angel’s soul hadn’t reclaimed him. Spike’s wouldn’t make him good. It wouldn’t make it easier...

    But that he’d even wanted to....

    Buffy sobbed.

    “Oh, I’m sorry!” Willow said. “Buffy, I’m sorry. God! I’d give anything to take this back!” She looked up at Tara. “Buffy’s the wronged party. She could wish–”

    “Let her grieve,” Tara said gently. Buffy curled in on herself and held her head in one hand. They gave her a few minutes. Willow got herself a cup of tea, Tara headed off to the little cubby bathroom her dorm was fortunate to have and brushed out her hair, carefully zig-zagging her part.

    Finally Buffy wiped her face and sat up. “Sorry,” she said.

    “God. You really do love him, don’t you,” Willow said.

    “I don’t know,” Buffy said. “He’s evil, I shouldn’t. It’s just, six months under a love spell, and we both kind of–”

    “Six days,” Tara interjected from the corner bathroom.

    “What?” Both Buffy and Willow looked over at Tara. “What did you say?”

    “Six days,” Tara said. She came out and looked at Buffy. “Oh. I-I thought you knew.”

    “Tara, what are you talking about?” Willow asked.

    “The spell, that Angel and I did,” Tara said, as if she were only reminding Buffy. “It worked perfectly. A powerful memory reasserted itself for both you and Spike. There was no false emotion that could have survived it.”

    Buffy stared.

    “I thought Angel told you that. So long as you received that memory... you did receive it, right?” Tara asked.

    Buffy nodded.

    “Then the spell worked. Whatever you felt after that was pure emotion, nothing altered or influenced. If you felt no change at all after that spell, then everything you two were feeling was already yours. What exactly was your will, Will?”

    “I don’t know,” Willow said. “I wasn’t paying attention at the time. I just kind of flippantly said... well fine, why doesn’t she just go marry him?”

    “See? All Willow said was go marry him. She didn’t say to stay that way. You were probably out from under the influence the moment the marriage was... well... c-consummated.” She was getting more nervous as it became clear that Willow and Buffy were completely flummoxed. “If... there wasn’t any real feeling there in the first place, then... you should have woken up hating each other, and went and got a divorce.”

    Buffy blinked. “We did,” she said slowly.

    “You did what?” Willow asked.

    “Wake up hating each other,” Buffy said.

    And they had wanted each other all the same. Spike had fallen head first in love – but he’d already been obsessed with killing her, and that was only a step away from love for a vampire, anyway. Buffy had spent some time debating the merits of accepting a spell before she went with it... which meant it would have taken her more time to actually fall in love – probably about the time she had her eyes opened about Angel and found out more about Spike’s past – and before that she’d been battling with some extreme and potent lust. Which made sense. She’d never been able to indulge that side of herself before, and she’d always found Spike sort of... alluring inside his evil. And they had been flirting like hell even before the damn spell slapped them together.

    Everything from their first morning on had been real. Everything. His tears and his shame, her freedom and her delight, the joy they’d found in each other, it was all real. All of it. The first night, that sweet but strange thing they both barely remembered, that had been the spell – and perhaps that had been a violation. But it was one they’d both shared, nothing more shameful or coerced than drunken college sex after a great party. (And their wedding had been a great party, even Joyce had to admit that.) And still hot with it, they’d continued on the next morning entirely on their own.

    “It doesn’t matter,” Buffy realized sadly. “Without even a chip holding him back...”

    “Does it matter what holds him back?” Tara asked. “A chip, or a soul... or you?”

    “He’s dangerous, Tara. I’m dangerous, with him. I shouldn’t....” Buffy trailed off.

     Tara eyes softened, and she knelt down. “You know, Buffy,” she said. “Spike... really loves you. I know it’s complicated, but he’s done a lot of good. It’s okay if you love him.”

    No one had said that to Buffy before. Not Giles, not Wesley, not her mother, not Willow or Xander. Not even Spike himself. It’s okay if you love him.

    “Is it okay to love anybody?” she asked quietly.

    “I think so,” Willow said. She reached up and took Tara’s hand. Buffy looked at the two of them. She wondered if someone had once said to Tara that it was okay to love women, or if that little piece of wisdom had come all on her own. “I mean, I know that it can hurt,” Willow said. “And... and sometimes people leave you and break your heart. And... when you get like that... it’s hard to learn how to care about anybody again. But... I did.”

    Buffy stood up and crossed her arms, hugging herself. “I don’t know if he’s going to go start killing again,” she said.

    “I don’t think he is,” Tara said.

    “Why?” Buffy said. “He’s selfish, he has to be. It’s how he was made. Whatever he wants, he’ll take it.”

    “He didn’t last night,” Tara said.

    “The big bandage on Buffy’s throat says otherwise,” Willow pointed out.

    “I think the fact that Buffy’s still standing there even with that bandage on her throat says volumes,” Tara said. She was right, Buffy realized. It did. He’d been injured, tortured, exhausted, probably had some brain damage his demonic aura hadn’t healed up yet. And he’d stopped. Before she passed out, before she had lost so much blood she had to go to the hospital, with his wounded body starving for the healing slayer’s blood, Spike had stopped entirely on his own. Of course, it wasn’t like Angel – Buffy hadn’t told him to drink, first. But Spike was always biting her neck, she realized, and she loved it. It was just that he wasn’t usually fanged up when he did it. And they had been kissing... funny. She hadn’t realized he was fanged up, either.

    “You’re just upset he wouldn’t help you with D’Hoffryn,” Tara went on.

    “How could he have helped you with D’Hoffryn?” Buffy asked.

    “Oh, I was gonna solve the whole stupid problem and just get Spike to wish it all reset,” Willow said. “If he’d wished I’d never become a vengeance demon, then everything would just go back to normal, and I’d be free of D’Hoffryn, and you two wouldn’t be so heartbroken, ‘cause you’d just be mortal enemies again. Hey, you could still do it. Or Xander, I guess.”

    Buffy stared at her. “What?”

    “I was gonna cast a vengeance wish,” Willow said. “On me. So that I’d never become a vengeance demon, and I could take the spell off you guys faster, so you wouldn’t have actually gotten married. I thought he’d jump at it. He sure seemed tempted.”

    Buffy was still bewildered. “W-why didn’t he?”

    “We don’t know,” Tara said. “He got really mad, suddenly, punched that hole in the door and shouted something we still don’t understand. Then he ran off.”

    “What’d he shout?”

    “It sounded like It’s not my day to swallow,” Tara said. “Do you understand it?”

    Buffy laughed. “Yeah,” she said. She was crying again, but she was laughing too. “Yeah, I get it.” She turned to Willow. “So I can make a vengeance wish, on you, ‘cause you wronged me?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Can I get two? One for Spike, for biting me?”

    “Yeah, that would count.”

    “Okay,” Buffy said. “Here’s my wishes. I wish that while you’re casting the following lame ass vengeance for me, that D’Hoffryn realizes what a mistake he made making you a vengeance demon in the first place, steals your amulet, and leaves you here to live out your life mortal and demon-powerless like Anya,” Buffy said. “That’s yours.”

    Willow laughed as she cast it. Everyone in the room could feel the wish hanging, like lightning in the air, waiting for Willow to cast her final vengeance.

    “And for Spike?”

    “I wish,” Buffy said, “that you could send me right to him, so I can give him a piece of my mind.”

    “Wish granted,” Willow said, and lifted her arms.

    Buffy vanished.

    “You know,” Willow said before D’Hoffryn showed up in all his grim disapproval and confiscated her amulet, “if Buffy wasn’t my friend, the way she put that wish could have gotten kind of messy.”
 

 

 
Chapter 17, which concerns hearts and souls.
 


     Unless the law of marriage were first made human, it could never become divine.
George Bernard Shaw
 

 

    Spike nearly drove off the road when the slayer suddenly appeared in the passenger seat. “Bloody hell!” The car skidded sideways, and Buffy was thrown against the dashboard. Spike tried to stop the uncontrolled skid, and burned his hand, the sunlight streaming through the gap in the paper shielded windscreen. “Ow! Dammit!” The car finally came to rest half blocking the road, and other cars swerved around them, honking. “What the–” He finally looked at her properly.

    Buffy had cut her lip on her teeth when she hit the dashboard. She dabbed the blood off and looked at Spike. “Hi.”

    “Slayer.... What...?”

    A horrifying moan blared at them from the roadway as the driver of a fifty-foot semi leaned on his horn as he barely guided his rig around them. Spike put his attention back to the road. “If you’re gonna kill me, it’ll have to wait till I get to the shoulder,” he said, and eased the Desoto back into gear. Spike gunned the car back into traffic as fast as he could, a lump in his throat, as he refused to look at his wife. “How the hell did you get here?”

    “Willow granted me a wish,” Buffy said.

    “Did she, now.”

    “Yuh-huh.”

    She didn’t seem to be about to stake him. Of course, he wasn’t looking at her, so he wasn’t altogether sure about that. He passed under an overpass, after considering stopping there and deciding against it.

    “Where are we going?” Buffy finally asked.

    “What are you doing here?” Spike asked instead.

    “I came to talk to my husband,” Buffy said, and nearly caused Spike to run off the road again.  Okay. He had to find somewhere.

    “Gonna have to wait a sec, pet. Bit too heavy metal out here.” He took the nearest exit and scanned either side for any kind of shelter. It was broad daylight; he was very vulnerable. There. Abandoned truck stop beyond the busy one on the other side of the highway. He turned the car and pulled in under the overhang, beside the gaping holes that had once held gas pumps. It wasn’t safe, but it was shady. He turned the car off and waited.

    Buffy looked at his hand, still on the steering wheel. It was still graced by the simple gold band. “Where were you going?” she asked.

    “Far away,” he said. He looked at her then. “Does it matter?”

    “Yeah,” she said.

    He wanted her so badly, he felt as if someone had tied a noose around his gut, and was trying to yank it out of him. She was beautiful. Her hair was down, framing her delicate face, her full lips thoughtfully pursed, glaring those lovely jade eyes at him. She had a bandage on her throat – oh, god, he could still taste her. He looked back to the dashboard. “Say what you came to say,” he said evenly. “Then get out.”

    Buffy tensed, her back up. “Excuse me?” she said. “You don’t get to tell me to get out.

    “It’s my bloody car,” he growled.

    “Communal bloody property, moron,” Buffy snapped.

    “Fine! Then I’ll get out.”

    “Go right ahead!”

    Spike had his hand on the door handle. Yeah, they were under an overhang. There was still nowhere to go. He stopped. “It’s daylight,” he grumbled.

    “Noticed that, did you?” Buffy asked.

    Spike rounded on her. “What the hell do you want?”

    “You to quit acting like a jerk,” Buffy said.

    Spike considered this. “Keep dreaming.”

    Buffy chuckled and looked down, gently shaking her head. Spike couldn’t help it. He started laughing, too. “What is it that you want, slayer, I’m going mad.”

    “I’m not surprised,” Buffy said. She stared at him. “You fed on me.”

    “Chip’s gone,” he said.

    “I noticed that.” When he didn’t say anything more she asked, “So that’s it? Big bad’s back, off to slaughter the world?”

    “Why not?” he asked. “Makes sense. I can be a monster again, can’t I.”

    “Is that what you want?”

    Spike stared at the steering wheel. “‘S what I am,” he said finally.

    “I don’t think so,” Buffy said. “Tara told me what you asked for.”

    Spike rolled his eyes, opened the car door, and stepped out. Buffy was half afraid he was about to go for the sun, and scrambled after him, but no. He just climbed onto the warm hood of his Desoto and stared out at the sunlit world. “Spike.” He pulled out a cigarette and refused to look at her. She knew him pretty well by now. She was pretty sure he smoked those cigarettes only for something to do with his hands. He almost never smoked them down to the butt. “Spike–”

    “I ate your psych teacher,” he said frankly. He took drag on his cigarette. “Finally remembered her name this morning. Walsh. Killed a whole room full of soldiers, so fast they didn’t have time to get to the door. Perfect poem of death. Snapped necks, severed spines, smashed skulls like pumpkins.” He turned to look at her. “Loved every second of it,” he said.

    “So that’s what you’re going to do now? Be a killer?”

    “Why not?”

    “‘Cause you’re my husband.”

    “Am I?”

    Buffy rolled her eyes. “Well, yeah, I was going to try and sort this out, you know, conflict resolution and all, but if you’d rather get all moody and throw a bunch of weird mixed signals my way, I can just go home again. Wasted a perfectly good wish trying to get you back. Stupid of me.”

    “Yeah, it was,” Spike said.

    “Was it?” Buffy demanded. She advanced on him. “You love me.”

    “Haven’t exactly been keeping that a secret, pet.”

    “Yeah, but you had your perfect chance to throw all this away, without any heartache at all, and you didn’t. You didn’t make that wish, you didn’t steal that time. Unlike Angel, you wouldn’t swallow my beautiful day – or the beautiful terrible six months after. You tried to get a soul. Even if they wouldn’t do it, you asked for one. What was that, Spike? Some stupid whim? Some blood induced impulse that went away with the rising dawn? You were trying to be better, what happened to that?”

    “Nothing,” Spike said. “Still trying for it.”

    Buffy stopped. “What?”

    “There’s a demon,” he said. “Well, there’s a rumor of a demon. In east Africa. Call it a soul finder. For the most part people hunt it down to punish those unlucky sods who ticked off some wizard or some such and died before they could wreck vengeance. Or lonely little Orpheus types who want their pretty princess back. Usually he kills the numbskulls who come begging, but sometimes... every once in a while they’ll give him what he wants. Win through some trial or w’ever, and he’ll give ‘em what they want. Drag a perfect little soul back from heaven or hell. Put the wretched thing in a doll or a baby, even, after bringin’ them back from... wherever.” He shrugged. “Figured if I ask real nice, he’ll just stick my soul back in me.”

    Buffy was stunned. “Spike, are you insane?”

    He nodded. “Prob’ly.”

    “Why on earth would you do that?”

    “Shame on you, bitch,” he said quietly. He took another drag off his cigarette. “I’m not dumb enough to think you can accept me like this. Not after what I did to you.”

    “You mean left me alive?” Buffy said. She took a step forward and tilted her neck. Yes, there was a wide bandage on one side. But on the other was a perfect oblong of a bite mark, a scar still shiny in her skin despite her slayer healing. “Angel did that,” she said. “Now I told him to, so you don’t have to go kill him for it or anything. He was sick, and injured, and he couldn’t stop. Not until he’d drained me so empty I passed out. I nearly died. If he hadn’t gotten me to the hospital and gotten me a transfusion, I would have. He did what he did... and then he felt really bad about it,” she said, in Spike’s own mocking tone. “You were better than him. You stopped.”

    “Yeah. I did,” Spike said. “Staked through the heart every other day for a fortnight, and with a malfunctioning microchip burning a hole in my brain, my beloved slayer’s blood healing me up, tasting like the blood of heaven itself, I did actually manage to stop.” He flicked his cigarette away. It wasn’t even a quarter smoked. “Hooray for me.”

    He didn’t sound proud of himself.

    “Spike? Did you hear me?” Buffy said. “You stopped. You stopped for me. All these things you’ve been willing to do for me. Well... I’ll take it. If you’re willing to stop killing, I’m willing to make this work.”

    “It can’t work, Buff,” Spike said evenly. “Not ‘less I go do this.”

    “No!” Buffy grabbed hold of his arms and looked at him. “The soul won’t do it. I know that now. The soul doesn’t do it, the chip doesn’t do it, you do.”

    “Yeah,” Spike said. “I do.” He slid down off the hood of the car and gently put her away. “I have to do this, Buffy. Red was right, a curse isn’t clean. But I need something. I need this.”

    She caught at his hands. “You don’t have to.”

    “Yes,” Spike said, pulling away. “Yes, I do.”

    Buffy stepped up to him. “Not for me, you don’t.”

    “Buffy, I nearly killed you.”

    “You stopped!

    “No,” Spike said. “Not the bite."

    "Then what...?"

    "The gas, Buffy. The gas that you worked like hell to save every one of those sadistic bastards from. That was me.”

    Buffy blinked. That hadn’t occurred to her. It had just seemed to fit in with everything she knew of this group that Riley admitted was called the Initiative. She opened her mouth to ask why, and already knew the answer. They’d been torturing him for weeks. They’d castrated him from his life. Of course he wanted them all dead.

    “If that gas had worked as fast as it should’ve, everything human in that place would have been dead in five minutes. It leaked out slow. My bet is Red’s little chip-frying spell mucked up their pretty little gas dispensers, like it mucked up all the doors and stuff. Now, they had it set up, I just had to gouge the eye out of your professor and flip their little switch. But that was me. I did that. I wanted to kill every last one of the buggers. And I didn’t give a damn until I heard that milksop call your name.”

    He reached up and gently touched her cheek. “I nearly killed you.” He caressed her with his thumb, gazing at her fondly. “If I gave a damn about anyone but you... you’d never have been in danger. You came for me. You came through for me. And I was so gung-ho to slaughter that I nearly took you out, too.”

    He stepped away from her. “That’s why I need it. Not to make you love me – you’re gonna do that, or not, as you will. I need it. ‘Cause you wanna save the people I wanna kill. And I can’t love you, and live like that.” He shrugged. “Which leaves me with either that pretty sunny day out there, or this dumb quest. So. There’s a boat to Africa at the docks. And I’m getting on it.” He opened the car door, preparing to make his grand departure.

    Buffy stepped up and took hold of his arm. “Do you have the vaguest idea how much this going to hurt?”

    Spike smiled. “You think you’re the only one who knew Angel?” Spike said. “I knew him when he first got the damn thing. I’ll be fine.”

    Buffy shook her head. “Angel’s soul was never as tender as yours would be.”

    Spike closed his eyes, shy. “Yeah, I get that.” Then he looked up. “But he never killed slayers, either. I think I’m stronger than him. I’ll deal.” He leaned forward and kissed Buffy very gently on the lips. “Stay safe, slayer. If I come back at all, I’ll come for you. Then you can decide how you want.”

    Buffy had already decided. By the time he’d closed his car door, she’d opened the other one, and climbed in.

    “Buffy, what are you doing?”

    “What’s it look like?” She dug for the seatbelt. It always liked to hide in this damn car.

    “I’m not going back.” Spike sighed, as he realized she’d gotten here on a wish. She was stranded. “I can drop you at the bus station, I guess. Stupid woman.” He put the car in gear and looked behind him to back up. “Really ought to learn how to bloody drive,” he muttered.

    “I’m not going to any damn bus station,” Buffy said. “Take me to the docks. If you don’t need a passport, I guess I don’t either. We stowing away, or what?”

    Spike stopped the car so suddenly it stalled out. “What?”

    “I’m not letting you face this damn thing alone,” Buffy said. “You yourself said it might kill you. Well.” She squared her shoulders. “I’m the slayer. I protect people. We’ll see if I let any creepy soul-finder thing kill my husband.”

    “Buffy, what are you saying?”

    “I’m saying, if you have to fight this demon or deal with him or whatever to earn your soul, you should do it with a slayer at your back. Like to see him beat you down with me standing beside you.” She glared at him. “What? You expected me to sit on the shore line waving my little white handkerchief like the maiden in a Victorian ballad, just waiting for some idiot to come back from the wars? You know better than that, moron.” Buffy sat back more comfortably. “If you’re gonna go on this epic literally soul-searching quest, you’re just gonna have to do it with your wife tagging along.” She pointed ahead. “Start the damn car. We’re married, god dammit. We’re gonna face this thing together, or you’re not facing it at all.”

    Spike stared at her. “God damn it, woman, you are the bloodiest damn thing...!”

    “I’m stubborn, too,” she said. “Are you gonna drive, or what?”

    Spike’s lips cracked into a smile, and he laughed. A moment later he had Buffy sprawled across the wide front seat, all but devouring her lips, her face, her throat, her warm strong body moving beneath him, his own sweet slayer wife, alive, perfect, his for the taking.

    Fortunately, the boat didn’t actually leave til midnight.

 
The epilogue, which is.
 


I have great hopes that we shall love each other all our lives as much as if we had never married at all.

~Lord Byron

 



    “Okay. So, this is probably going to be our last session,” Wesley said. “Do I understand that correctly?”

    “Yeah,” Spike said. “Things is doing better now. I mean, this last year has been...”

    “Hectic?” Buffy tried.

    “Complicated?”

    “Painful.”

    “Mucked up, broken down, and not a pretty picture,” Spike said. “So... perfect, then?”

    “Shut up,” Buffy said, rolling her eyes.

    “Make me.”

    Under ordinary circumstances, Buffy would have bitten Spike’s tongue at this juncture, but they were right in front of Wes. She satisfied herself by glaring, and he smirked.

    “So, you’re pretty sure the relationship is on a stable footing,” Wesley said.

    “Yeah,” Buffy said. “I mean, we still fight, but–”

    “All the bloody time,” Spike interjected.

    “– I don’t think we really need an umpire anymore. You’re not hurt?”

    “On the contrary,” Wesley said. “My goal all along has been to make it so you wouldn’t need me. Just a few more questions. Um, Spike. So, the soul...?” Wesley asked.

    It was Spike’s turn to roll his eyes. “It’s just there,” he said. “Makes some things easier. Makes a lot of things harder. Don’t need the way I used to, which... I mean, that’s neat. Didn’t think it was gonna hit me quite that hard, though. If Buffy hadn’t been there to hold me through it... balls. I think I might have gone insane.”

    “You’re glad she was there?”

    “Well, she had to be, didn’t she,” Spike said. “Wouldn’t have done it without her.”

    “Yeah, you would have,” Buffy said. “You were going to go without me.”

    “I mean at all,” Spike said with a wicked grin. “Sodding bitch, go and make me a better person, what the hell? I’ll never forgive her for it. I punish her for it all the bloody time.”

    Buffy blushed. “Yeah, well. I’m just glad you were there when my mom died. He’s good with death,” she told Wesley. “Just held on to me, dragged me back from the shock. And he was so good with Dawn.”

    “And that was a bloody picnic,” Spike said. “One day, everything makes sense, next day, little sis-in-law getting underfoot, raiding my pig’s blood for her avaunt-garde art project. Took us a while to sort that out. Thank god the niblet’s a charmer.”

    “Fortunately, Spike had the idea to just leave town like the minute we knew,” Buffy said. “Just after Mom... well. We passed through Glory’s magic hell-key deadline somewhere... Canada, was it?”

    “Yeah,” Spike said. “I think that was the day the bear ripped the tent. Oh, man, hadn’t had that much fun in ages. Anyway, we’ve not heard from that sorry excuse for a god since. Averted another apocalypse.”

    “And I didn’t even have to drown this time,” Buffy said.

    “So you both feel that the relationship has been mutually beneficial,” Wesley asked.

    “Oh, yeah. Well... she snores.”

    “And you never clean up.”

    “And she’s still got this whole holier-than-thou attitude.”

    “And he’s got this evil streak.”

    “And she’s still got a stake up her ass.”

    “And he thinks he’s god’s gift.”

    “Hardly. I just know what you like.”

    “Not you.

    Spike grinned. “Yeah. But you love me.”

    Buffy chuckled and tilted her head onto his shoulder. They were sitting together on Wes’s couch. “Yeah. But you’re still a jerk.”

    “And you’re still a bitch.” He kissed her forehead. "And I love you, too."

    Wesley had never seen any two people more obviously fond of each other. “So, there’s no... residual resentment based on the fact that your entire relationship was founded on... well, essentially, a lie.”

    “Yeah, but it wasn’t,” Buffy said. “We had this really intense relationship even before Willow’s little spell. But... we care about each other. We always sort of did. I mean, sure, we had this one really crazy week when we were both... high or something.”

    “And then we came back to earth in each other’s arms,” Spike said with a big grin.

    “Quit being sappy.”

    “Make me,” Spike said again.

    “But that is why the party is Sunday instead of Saturday,” Buffy said. “For the day after our anniversary. That was the other reason we wanted this session. It’s gonna be a great party. It’s at the Bronze. Care to come, Wes?”

    Wesley grinned. “I believe I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”