Buffy had never been able to sleep in the Desoto before—or maybe she’d just never tried—but the second her skin had met the fabric of the seats, she’d experienced a rush of something hard and beautiful at the same time, chased by exhaustion that seemed damned determine to seep into her bones. By the time Spike had slid behind the wheel, she’d been struggling to keep her eyes open, and he’d told her not to bother.
So Buffy slept. Absent pain, the physical kind, anyway, and at peace on a primal level she figured she wouldn’t understand for a long time.
Every time she opened her eyes, she reached for him, and he was there. Grabbing her hand and kissing it, asking if she needed anything, and ultimately telling her to go back to sleep.
When at last she awoke, she found herself alone in the front seat, which sent such a charge of panic through her that any residual sleepiness blinked away instantly. Buffy sat up with a hard, lung-hurting gasp.
Her lungs didn’t work anymore, sure, but they still hurt.
“What is it?”
Buffy jumped and twisted in her seat, and immediately felt like an idiot. Spike was in the back, his hair tussled and his deep blue eyes flooding with concern that didn’t quite mask his own fatigue.
“What happened?” he asked, then began craning his neck in various directions in search of the threat, which likely didn’t do much good considering the black stains on the windows.
Even now, she didn’t know how he managed to see well enough to drive.
“Nothing,” Buffy said, feeling dumber by the second. “I…I just…”
He studied her for a long beat as comprehension replaced alarm. “You thought I’d gone.”
“I didn’t know.”
“Not much of a plan, that. Ditch you in my own car.”
Buffy shook her head and looked away. “It just scared me, is all. My brain is fuzzy.”
Which was good, because a fuzzy brain was a distracted brain. Except she didn’t think she could stand the distraction much longer. Not when there were so many things yet to decide. Conversations to have. Realities to face.
“Where are we?” she asked instead, rubbing at her eyes. “I feel like I’ve been snoozing for three days.”
Spike inclined his head. “Well…”
She blinked. “I’ve been snoozing for three days?”
“You needed it.”
Buffy stared at him. He stared right back. “What?” he asked at last, huffing. “You know you did.”
“So you’ve been camping out in the car.”
“Thought about grabbing a room somewhere, but can’t be sure the tainted blood’s out of our system. Don’t care what your watcher said.” He let out a breath. “And since I’ve been cornered one too many times as of late, I didn’t wanna chance it. Wanted to make sure we had a clean getaway in case some slay-happy bint shows up.”
“I guess that makes sense.” Actually, it made a lot of sense. “It’s smart. Really smart.”
He smirked. “And here I thought you were just using me for my body.”
“Well, even if that were the case, I don’t think anyone would blame me.” She rested her forehead against the back of the seat, a multitude of things she wasn’t ready to think about pressing forward. “Are you still…”
“Am I still what?”
“Think I’m more than okay, pet. Far sight better than I was a few days back. Found you, didn’t I?”
“I mean with…” Buffy sighed and looked away. “With what we talked about.”
“Need a bit more than that. We talked about a lot of things.”
“I guess…” She pressed her lips together, forcing her gaze back to his. “I guess with me. Are you still okay with me. The…having a soul and stuff.”
Spike studied her for a long moment. “Is that a serious question?”
“It won’t be like it was before. We were happy before.”
“And you think we can’t be happy now.”
“I… I don’t know.” Now that she was awake, her mind was again at war, charged with memories she didn’t want and everything that came with them. The people she’d hurt. The lives she’d taken. The pain she’d inflicted. Amazingly, she hadn’t dreamt about it during her three-day snooze fest.
When she looked back at Spike, a piece of her heart shattered.
“You…” He swallowed, his eyes wide and vulnerable. “You don’t know if you can be happy. With me.”
“What? No! That’s not it. That’s not it at all.” God, she was such a mess. “Can you? Can you be happy with me? I’m not—”
“If you say you’re not the same person one more bloody time—”
“I’m not, though. I mean, most of me is, I guess, but we…we hunted together.”
Spike shrugged. “And?”
“And I…I told you. Killing… I can’t kill, Spike. I can’t do that to anyone. Just knowing that I did…” She blinked hard, but the tears came anyway. “Knowing I’ve killed anyone—hurt anyone—is… It tears me up. And I know that’s the soul, but the soul is me, and I can’t stop being me and I don’t want the soul gone, either, because then I’d go back to…to that, and that might as well—”
He cut her off with a kiss, and she was thankful, because once she started babbling, she wouldn’t stop.
“I want you to be you,” he murmured when they pulled apart. “It kills me that you’re hurting, and I resent the fuck outta your mates for doing that to you, but you are the same, love. I told you. That’s the reason I love you. I don’t care about the hunting or the killing or any of it. You’re all I want.”
Her lower lip began to wibble. “And you’re…you’re okay. With it not just being me who’s not killing people anymore.”
That ah didn’t sound too promising. Her chest tightened again, compressed with old fears. It was a big thing to ask, she knew. She understood it intimately now. How the urge was there, always there, whispering how good it would feel, reminding her how good it had felt. Taking what she wanted and not giving a damn, except giving enough of a damn to draw lines where she saw fit. Arbitrary lines, sure, but those that lived up to her own fucked up code.
Spike had said she’d been different as a soulless vampire, but some things weren’t different. She’d enjoyed killing, even if she’d made efforts to avoid it here and there. That part was the demon—the same kind he had, and the only thing keeping him from giving in was her.
She wasn’t sure that was a way she could expect anyone to live.
“Whatever you’re thinking is bollocks.”
Buffy snapped her attention back to him. “What? How do you know what I’m thinking?”
“’Cause you’re not very good at hiding it.” He offered a small smile. “Dunno how it’s going to work. But I told you then and I meant it then. Whatever I gotta do to keep you happy—”
“Even if you’re not happy? How can you be happy if I ask you not to be you?”
Something dangerous flashed behind his eyes, and the next thing she knew, he had grabbed her by the back of the head, pulling her toward him. “You look at me,” he said hotly. “I could spend the rest of my miserable days tearing apart every last tasty pulser that crosses my path if I wanted. I know it. You’re not asking anything of me. You said it yourself.”
“Been thinkin’ about that a lot, point of fact.” He released a long, ragged breath, staring into her eyes and like he was daring her to blink. “Everything we talked about. I told you it was a longer talk and we had a lot to suss out. Turns out it’s not and we don’t, ’cause it all comes down to this. You’re the one person in this stupid sodding world I give a damn about. The one person I’d rather stake myself than hurt. And picking off your neighbors would do that—it’d hurt you. And I draw the line at causing you pain. So yeah, Buffy, I thought about it. The answer’s the same as it was.”
A long pause stretched between them. “But I did ask,” she said at last. “I did ask—”
“No, you said if. If I would stop if you asked. I’m telling you now that I’ve decided you don’t need to ask.”
“But I am asking. Just that you think any of that means I’m asking, doesn’t it? For you to not be you? Because I can’t be the me who was fine with you being you?”
He narrowed his eyes. “You really need to lay off thinkin’ I’m in love with a different version of you. Fuck, I thought we’d been through this.”
“I’m saying I’m like a recovering alcoholic who used to be a lot fun to be around, and I’m asking you to join the program too, even if you don’t want to.”
Spike stared at her for a moment, then snorted and shook his head. “Care to give me a figure?”
“A number. An estimate. How many times you reckon we’ll have this conversation before it sinks into that beautiful thick skull of yours?”
“I know, and it’s pissing me off.” Spike released his grip on the back of her head, his hand trailing around her face until he had her cheek cradled against his palm. “Been walkin’ this sorry planet for a long time, love. Some of it good, most of it was bloody awful. One thing I know beyond a sodding doubt is…I hate pain.”
Buffy couldn’t help it—she arched an eyebrow. “No, you love pain. You get off on pain. We’ve gotten off on pain together.”
“I’m talking about a different pain. You know the kind. Not so much fun then.” He smiled softly. “Y’know what makes me hurt the most?”
As it turned out, she didn’t need to think very hard. “Does it begin with B and end with uffy?”
He bit back a laugh. “Only when Buffy herself’s hurting, see. That’s the worst I’ve felt. Ever. And I never wanna be the cause. Not if I can help it.”
Something stung her eyes. She sniffed and looked down, but he was still cupping her cheek, and guided her back up again.
“I need you to understand this. You haven’t asked me anything. Kick me to the curb and nothin’ll change. I’ll be in the same bloody place. Loving you and not wanting you to hurt. Knowin’ that I can keep you from hurting by keeping my fangs to myself.” He stroked his thumb over her skin, wiping away a stray tear. “’Course, I’ll be a right miserable sod without you, and from what we learned, you’ll be in sorry shape if you cut me loose. The claim and all.”
She nodded. “Right. The claim.”
“Only vamps in modern history who got it right, if I understood correctly.”
“That’s what Giles said.”
“So we owe it to ourselves to make a go of it.” Spike leaned forward, pressing his brow to hers. “Also if you run, I’ll just follow. Might be fun for a while, but there are only so many times we can have reunion sex and still call it that.”
A bark of laughter exploded off her lips. “I guess you have a point. I just… I love you.”
He growled—the sexy kind of growl that never failed to make her legs tremble.
“I love you,” she repeated, “and I don’t want you to not be who you are because of me. But I also know—”
“Who I am doesn’t figure into what I eat, love, no matter how many times you say it. We can get blood anywhere. Human or animal, doesn’t rightly matter. What matters is you. I wake up next to you and I’m over the bloody moon, understand? That’s all I need.” He tilted his head, keeping his brow pressed to hers as though relishing the contact. “Blood and violence, like I told you. I can have both. I can have that and you. That’s all I want.”
“You called it killing your friends and family yesterday.”
“Yeah, well, I forgot I don’t really have any friends, do I? And the only family that’ll claim me just aided and abetted in our getaway.” He paused. “Still hate the wanker.”
Buffy fought to kill a grin and failed. “Of course.”
“Point is it’s settled, as far as I’m concerned. We’ll find plenty of things to kill. As long as I have you, I’m a happy bloke.” He leaned in and brushed his lips against hers. “And someday you’re gonna have to just accept that that’s that.”
He kissed her again, a soft, tender kiss that made her bones shake. And when he pulled back, and she met his eyes again, she understood. This was a man who would do anything for her. A man prepared to sacrifice whatever was asked of him in order to keep her. The knowledge was heady and a little scary, but that didn’t make it any less true. He might have the power to hurt her, but she held the power to destroy him.
“Okay,” she said.
Spike’s brows perked. “Yeah?”
He studied her a moment longer, then grinned and kissed her again. “Bloody right,” he said as he climbed back into the driver’s seat. “Anywhere in particular you wanna go, sweet?”
“Where were you headed before?”
“Nowhere. You were knackered and I wanted to put as much distance between us and the new bird as possible.”
Buffy pursed her lips, her thoughts turning to the future—or rather, the now. Their now.
For the first time since she’d awakened with a soul, she experienced a rush of something that might have been excitement.
The first thought that came to mind was likewise the most impossible. Aside from the fact that there was still a lot of healing to do, returning to Sunnydale was out of the question. The Watcher’s Council would likely keep an eye on Giles for a while, and maybe Angel as well. Perhaps one day they could risk it, but that day was not today.
“Nope,” she said at last. “What about you?”
Spike tilted his head. “Wanna see where Anne Rice lives?”
“Haunted town, New Orleans. Crawling with all kinds of nasty beasties. Could keep us busy for a while.”
Buffy shrugged and sat back, gesturing at the road. “Then point us south. I wanna meet Lestat.”
He arched an eyebrow. “Think you got your hands full with a real vamp, love. Let’s lay off the fictional ones.”
“Oh, come on. If Lestat existed, I’d totally want a chance to—”
“Careful how you finish that sentence.”
“—slay him.” Buffy bit back a laugh at the look he gave her, that excited feeling in her chest compounding. “Why? What did you think I was going to say?”
He studied at her a moment longer before breaking off with a chuckle and shaking his head. Then he fired up the ignition and the Desoto purred to life. “You’re gonna drive me outta my mind, aren’t you?”
“Probably.” Buffy hesitated, then scooted across the seat and rested her head against his shoulder. When he wrapped his arm around her, pulling her to him, she would have sworn her dead heart jumped. “But you’re gonna love it.”
Spike whispered a kiss against her brow, and she felt his lips curl into a grin. “Every bloody second.”
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