The Sharing Game by stuffandnonsense
Chapter #1 - Set I: questions 1-12
They were talking about nothing much and watching TV – their Sunday night ritual of Dexter and pizza, followed by whatever had been good on TiVo the rest of the week. Sometimes they went out to kill things after, sometimes not. Tonight they were both pleasantly full and a little bit sleepy, so it was probably going to be not. Spike was sprawled on “his” chair, and Buffy was tucked into the corner of “her” sofa. They’d been swapping Dawn stories – comparing notes about what she was and wasn’t telling them.
“Oh!” Buffy said, laughing. “So now Dawn’s found some questionnaire thingy that’s supposed to make you fall in love!” Almost as soon as she’d said the words, she regretted them. There was a painfully long moment of frozen, awkward silence, in which she convinced herself that she’d crossed one of his lines – again – and that he was going to bolt. Again.
But to her great relief, Spike just smirked and said, “From Cosmo, is it? Swear that mag is written by sadistic man-haters. Have you seen their suggestions for a better blow-job?”
“Dawn wouldn’t be caught dead reading Cosmo,” Buffy said, semi-indignant but smiling in relief. She snuggled a little deeper into her nest of blankets and pillows. “It’s all legit and science-y. From that psychology class she’s taking.”
He scowled. “She needs to stop applying that class to real life.”
“Oh, god, yes,” Buffy said, groaning. “She keeps trying to fix my ‘daddy issues’.”
Spike put on a serious, thoughtful expression. “To be fair, somebody really ought to.”
Buffy threw a pillow at his head, and their conversation passed on to other things. But the thought of a questionnaire to fall in love stayed with both of them.
A few days later, they were waiting in a bar to meet a contact about preventing a maybe-apocalypse. It was someone neither of them knew, but they’d been assured she/he/it would know them. The place was beyond a dive – Buffy suspected the nicotine stains were the only thing keeping the walls up – and its clientele stank of hopelessness. Normally, this would be an opportunity to play her favourite bar game: human or about-to-be-slayed? But they were both feeling a little more like talk than action that evening.
“So did you ever, uh, look at that questionnaire of Dawn’s?” Spike asked. His voice was steady, but she saw the way his fingers twitched around the bottle of beer he was oh-so-casually holding.
“I did.” Buffy replied, a little too quickly. She looked guilty.
Spike gave her a sharp look. “They tell you somethin’ ‘bout this meet they didn’t tell me?”
“No!” she said huffily. “You know everything I know.”
He looked deeply sceptical.
Buffy sighed, and pulled a worn piece of paper out of her pocket and handed it to him. “There are three sets of twelve questions. This is the first set.”
He raised both eyebrows. “How long’s that been in there?”
She curled her feet around the bar stool and twisted herself away from him. “Eversincewefirsttalkedaboutit.”
He licked suddenly dry lips. “You been planning out all your answers, then?”
“No!” Buffy said. “I, um, I haven’t actually read it.”
Now he looked even more sceptical.
“I didn’t!” She shrugged. “I mean, what if I accidentally have the conversation with someone I don’t like and it works?”
Spike laughed. But his fingers were shaky as he unfolded the paper carefully, so only the top line was showing. “Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?”
“Mom,” Buffy said.
“Can’t say that!” Spike scoffed. “Too serious. You need to pick someone like, oh I dunno, who’s that git you moon over?”
“Angel?” she asked, completely deadpan.
Equally deadpan, he reached over and yanked on a strand of her hair. “Bitch.”
She stuck out her tongue at him and they both laughed.
To Buffy’s frustration, Spike still refused to tell her anything except funny anecdotes from his stint in LA. But whatever crazy shenanigans he and Angel had got up to, it had laid foundations for something that could almost be described as friendship. On their better days, anyway. The confidence looked good on Spike.
Spike let go of her hair and his hand dropped back to the counter, a little bit closer than it had been before. “Meant the new Bond.”
“Daniel Craig?”
“You want me to want to have dinner with Daniel Craig?”
Spike rolled his eyes. “Stop being wilfully obtuse.”
She giggled. “Who would you pick?”
Spike turned thoughtful. “Byron.”
Buffy’s eyebrows went up. “Not your precious Sid?”
Spike snorted. “Jam with him, yeah, course I would. But he was high all the time – hardly brilliant dinner conversation. But meetin’ the original ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’? That’d be somethin’.”
“Huh,” Buffy said. She took a sip of her drink. “I still think I’d rather have Mom.” She held up her hand when Spike opened his mouth to speak. “I never got to know her as an adult – without all the mother-daughter-y power dynamics. There are things I’d like to hear her opinion on now, things I never even thought about asking. I want to tell her about my life – really about my life, now I’m less terrified she’ll be disappointed.”
“Wouldn’ mind sitting in on that,” Spike said softly. “Had a lot of time for your mum.”
“Who says you’re invited?” Buffy said, grinning.
He mock-growled at her, then returned his attention to the paper. “Next question: Would you like to be famous? In what way?”
“Already am,” Buffy said uncomfortably.
Spike grinned. “So’m I.”
Buffy snorted. “You have, like, one fangirl. Hardly famous. What was her name again?”
“Linda somethin’?” he said, screwing his face up in thought. “But she wrote a thesis on me! Must’ve been others writin’ ‘bout me before that.”
“I guess,” Buffy said doubtfully. “Plus there is Andrew.”
Spike made a face of deep disgust. “I was famous before you were born!”
She sighed. “Fine.” She glared at him. “Slayer-killer.”
Spike dropped the list. “Not convinced these questions’re gonna make anyone fall in love.”
“I think it’s more about intimacy.”
Their eyes met briefly before darting away again.
Buffy snatched the paper up. She copied Spike’s earlier movements, carefully unfolding only the next question. “Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?”
“Fuck, no!” Spike said, laughing. “Bonkers thing to do.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Of course you wouldn’t. That would involve planning.”
“I plan!”
She giggled.
He narrowed his eyes. “You do it, don’t you?”
Buffy tensed. “No. Why would you think that?”
“S’posed to be honest here,” Spike chided.
“Fine,” Buffy sighed. “Yes. Pretty much always.”
“Why?” There was genuine curiosity behind the snark.
Buffy shrugged. “I just – I don’t want to get it wrong.”
He stared at her for a few seconds. “Even orderin’ pizza?”
She nodded, shamefacedly.
He laughed. “You’re nuts, Buffy.”
She nodded again, slightly less shamefacedly. Then she folded down to the next line: “What would constitute a ‘perfect’ day for you?”
Now Spike looked uncomfortable.
“Hey,” Buffy said gently. “Doesn’t have to be heavy.” Their eyes met. “I know what mine would be. First, I’d get to sleep in as long as I want. Then when I woke up, I’d be brought breakfast in bed – something involving pastry and lots of chocolate – and then I’d be driven to a spa where I’d spend the whole day getting massaged and pampered—”
“You’d be bored out of your tree.”
“Would not! And don’t interrupt me, I’m not done yet.”
Spike went to take another swig of beer, realised he’d already finished it, and signalled for a refill.
“After a day at the spa, I’d go to one of those mom and pop diners for dinner. I’d get the biggest, greasiest cheeseburger on record, with chilli cheese fries and onion rings and maybe a salad on the side. And I’d get one of those chocolate milkshakes that’s so thick you need a spoon and where you get that second metal cup on the side that’s mostly just ice cream. And then after all that I’d have pie.”
Lips twitching into a smile at the mental image, Spike asked, “What flavour?”
He was surprised. “Never once seen you eat blueberry pie.”
“It was my favourite as a kid, but I stopped eating it ‘cause it makes my teeth purple for, like, a whole day after. But if it’s my perfect day, there will be no calories, and no stained teeth.”
Spike laughed. He was surprised by the normalcy she was describing. He’d thought she was past all that. “Sounds … nice.”
“Still not done,” Buffy said, slightly sing-song. “After I eat, I will waddle home to the accompaniment of the perfect sunset.”
Spike rolled his eyes. “You all by your lonesome on this perfect day of yours?”
“Did you miss the part where someone made me breakfast and drove me to the spa?”
He thought about asking more. But they didn’t do that these days. He didn’t do that. And this whole conversation felt like a soap bubble that would burst into nothing if he breathed too hard. He held his hands out to her in invitation to continue.
“Maybe two minutes’ walk away from home, something big and scary-looking pops out of the shadows, and there’s that perfect fight – you know the kind – where it’s hard enough not to be boring, but easy enough that you pretty much know you’ll win?”
Spike nodded.
“And then whatever-it-is dusts so there’s no clean-up and my clothes are still perfect.” She paused. For a moment, it looked like she was going to keep going, but then she changed her mind. “And then I’m home. The end,” she said brightly. “Your turn.”
Spike took a long pull at his beer. “That sounds great an’ all, but … all my best moments’ve pretty much been bookended by my worst ones. To have a whole day that’s perfect?” He shook his head. “Can’t quite bring myself to believe in it.”
Buffy pursed her lips. “Jam yesterday and jam tomorrow but never jam today?”
“She actually listens,” he said, smiling. “Be still my beating heart.”
“Your heart doesn’t beat.”
“You wouldn’t want to be pampered?”
“You offerin’?”
Buffy blushed, but didn’t answer.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d said something like that. And he’d never seen her react that way – almost pleased. It terrified him. Spike grinned at her, wide and bright and not even close to reaching his eyes. Then he snatched the list out of her hands. “So…. When did you last sing to yourself?” The smile slipped from his face. “To someone else?”
Their eyes met. “Sunnydale?” she asked.
He nodded.
“What about singing to yourself?” Buffy asked.
“Today,” Spike muttered, looking more than a little embarrassed. “Shower.”
Buffy exploded into peals of laughter. “Me too!”
Spike folded back the next question. “If you were able to live to the age of ninety and retain either the mind or body of a thirty-year-old for the last sixty years of your life, which would you want? Well that’s just bloody stupid.”
“You’re only saying that ‘cause you’ve never aged beyond twenty in either.”
Spike preened slightly.
“How old are you, anyway?”
He frowned. “Somewhere between one hundred and two?”
“Don’t you know?”
He shrugged. “Does it matter?”
Buffy thought about it for a second. “Guess not.” She paused. “I’d want the body, I think. I’d go nuts with osteoporosis and not being bendy anymore.”
There was a slightly awkward silence in which they both focussed on their drinks and avoided any kind of mental image whatsoever.
Spike folded back the next question and went totally rigid. “Maybe we should call a halt to this.”
Buffy frowned. “Why?”
“Not sure ‘bout this one, ‘s all.”
Buffy held out her hand.
After a second, he gave her the list.
“Number seven: Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?” Buffy looked at his anxious eyes and she laughed.
Spike looked like he’d swallowed a lemon.
It only made her laugh harder. “Oh, come on! It’s totally a funny question.”
“Not to me,” he grumbled.
“I have a secret hunch I’ll either go down fighting or in some kind of stupidly noble world-saving sacrifice.” She gave him an arch look. “And so do you. Next question.” She folded down the paper. “Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.”
“Bad dye jobs?” Spike said teasingly.
She kicked him.
“Random bruises,” she said.
“A certain … fondness … for leather,” he said quietly.
They smiled at each other.
Buffy folded down the next question. “For what in your life do you feel most grateful?”
But before either of them could answer, their contact showed up and Buffy shoved the list back into her pocket.
The contact had given them a location and a thing to kill. It had been fun – seriously mucky, but fun. And, bonus, potential apocalypse now averted.
As they were walking back to Buffy’s place, squelching and looking forward to showers, Spike stopped. “It’s you,” he said.
“That last question – what I feel most grateful for. It’s you.”
“Spike, I….”
“Don’t expect you to feel the same way,” he said quickly. “Really. And it’s not—” He laughed. “It’s got nothing to do with….”
Her face fell, but he didn’t see it.
“Spike, I was gonna say Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie FroYo.”
He grinned – all the way to his eyes. “You would.” He reached out and pinched her hip. “You still don’t eat enough.”
“Hey!” Buffy squeaked and batted his hand away.
They walked in silence the rest of the way back. As she put her key in the lock, she stopped, turned to him, and said, “I’m not really most grateful for frozen yoghourt. Even if it is almost orgasmically good.”
He leaned back against the wall, but almost immediately lost his balance from the slick goo coating his back. She grabbed onto his arm, keeping him from falling over.
“Smooth,” she said with a giggle.
This was new, too. Straightening, lips twitching, Spike cocked his head to one side. “So?”
Buffy realised she was still holding onto his arm. She dropped her hand. “I think I’m most grateful for being called – chosen – whatever.”
“Never thought I’d hear you say that,” Spike said, visibly surprised.
“Never thought I’d say it.” Buffy shrugged. “But for all the pain and the dying and the betrayals and – okay, maybe I’m not quite so grateful as I thought.”
They both laughed a little – nervous laughter.
“Let’s get cleaned up, hey?” Spike said gently.
Buffy grabbed a shirt and jeans from the cache of clothes Spike kept at her apartment, and cracked open the bathroom door to drop them inside. For the first time since they’d started doing this, she actually thought about maybe opening the door a little bit wider – sneaking a peek.
“Somethin’ wrong, pet?” Spike called out above the noise of the water.
“No!” Buffy yelped, slamming the door and almost running back to the sofa.
Ten minutes later, he came out, hair every which way, damp and un-gelled.
“Forgot I ran outta gel last time,” he said awkwardly, still trying to flatten his hair with his hands.
“Meh,” Buffy said lightly. “Not like I haven’t seen it before.”
“Right,” he said, eying her warily.
She held up the list of questions. “Ready for a few more?”
Spike’s eyes darted back and forth between her and the door. “Uh, yeah,” he said finally. “Alright.”
“If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?”
Spike sat down on his chair, tucking one knee up against his chest. “Dunno, really. Long time ago now…. Forgotten a lot of it.”
“I thought all you old people were supposed to have perfect recall of your childhoods.”
Spike smiled. “Remember there was too much death.”
“Who died?”
“Everyone,” Spike said grimly. “But that’s what it was like, then.”
“So, less death for you?”
Spike shrugged. “Might’ve liked to’ve met my dad. But … can’t help thinkin’ my past is what brought me here an’ … not sure I’d risk changin’ that.”
Buffy nodded. “I know what you mean. There are times I’ve wished that my parents never divorced. Or that Dad had, y’know, cared. But either one of those things might’ve meant no Sunnydale – or at least a lot less of it.” She shuddered. “I can’t even begin to imagine who I’d be without that.”
“I wonder, sometimes, what would’ve happened if Mum’d sent me off to school like she should’ve – ‘stead of keepin’ me home.” He gave Buffy a wry smile. “Might’ve been less wet.”
Buffy’s face went serious. “Why did you tell me about what you were like then? There are so many things you won’t share. Why that?”
“Self defence,” Spike said quickly, lightly. “Didn’ want you to hear it from someone else first.”
She smiled at him. “I would’ve never accepted it from anyone else.”
He scrubbed his hands through his hair. “Don’t believe a word of that, but … thanks for saying it.”
Buffy flinched, wondering if he realised what he’d just said. She cleared her throat. “Um, next question?”
Spike nodded.
“Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.”
“No,” he said firmly.
“Agreed,” Buffy said, equally firmly. “Last question: If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?”
“You should want to be able to cook,” he said, eyes dancing with imminent laughter.
“Hey! I’m way better now.”
“You’ve stopped burnin’ the water when you boil it. I’ll give you that.”
“I’ve never been that bad!”
Spike burst out laughing. “You bloody well have!”
“If I have to learn to cook, you have to learn to do dishes.”
“I clean up after myself!”
Buffy snorted. “I wish!”
“You like doin’ dishes. Helps you think.”
Buffy raised her eyebrows. “Kinda how you like feeding me?”
“So what ability would you want – seriously?”
Spike pursed his lips. “Being able to lie convincingly might come in useful.”
“Or thrall.”
“Like that’s not creepy at all.”
“Would you rather I wanted extra strength to beat you at arm wrestlin’?”
Buffy was caught between laughing and frowning. “That all sounds kinda … evil.”
Spike shrugged. “Power is as power does. ‘Sides, what else is there?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Patience, maybe?”
Spike laughed. “You think I’m impatient?”
“You have the attention span of a gnat.”
“Hey, pot, let me introduce you to my good friend the kettle.”
“What does that even mean?”
Spike groaned.
“I mean, I get the hypocrite thing, but – never mind. I’d like to stop feeling like I need to say only what other people want to hear.” She watched his expression shut down: thinking-face. Her heart sank. Oh, Spike. Please don’t bolt.
“Never noticed you doin’ that with me,” he said carefully.
“You’re special.”
“Lucky me.”
Buffy frowned. “You really don’t get it, do you?”
“Get what?”
“You are the only person I have ever known in the whole of my life that I don’t tie myself in knots trying to please.”
“An’ I should be happy about this?”
Buffy huffed in frustration. “My God, you’re stupid sometimes.”
“Gee, thanks.”
“Why are you making me say this?”
“I’ve no idea what you’re sayin’!”
“You’re safe.”
Spike let out a sharp bark of laughter. “Safe? Me?”
“It’s like I was saying about phone calls. I always plan them out in advance. Always. Except when I call you.”
Buffy would have given anything to be able to read him just then. But he was still so guarded. She got that she probably wasn’t saying it right, but she didn’t know what she was supposed to do to make it better. She sighed. “You know – back when I thought you were dead – if I was worried about something, I’d just ask myself what you’d say.”
He looked like he was bracing for impact. “What’d I say?”
She laughed, hard and brittle and sharp. “Usually it was ‘you’re stupid and you’re gonna die’.”
His mouth twitched. “Sounds about right.”
“Other times you said stuff about when I could have jam.”
“Jam, huh?”
Then Buffy’s eyes did that freaky thing where they seemed to grow big enough to fill up half her face. He had to fight not to lose himself when they did that.
Wavering slightly, she started: “That last year in Sunnydale—”
“Buffy….” He’d meant to sound firm and decisive. It came out like whining.
And then he bolted. He did it less brutally than he had the last time, but he totally, totally bolted.
Chapter #2 - Set II: questions 13-18
Buffy groaned, undoing the top button of her jeans and leaning back on the sofa to give herself room to expand. “Why did you let me eat that second carton of kung-pao?”
Spike had only been gone for a week, that time. He never told her where he went when he disappeared. But he always came back – usually with dinner. He smirked at her. “You’ll be hungry again in an hour.”
“I refuse to believe it.”
“True, though.” He got up and went over to the bag he’d brought. “Got somethin’ for you.”
“You got me a present?” Buffy sat up eagerly, her full-to-bursting-ness forgotten.
“Blueberry pie,” he said, holding out the box.
She grinned. “Good bribe. But we’re not watching Juno again.”
To Buffy’s annoyance, she had been hungry again in an hour. But the pie was delicious and between them they’d stained their mouths deep purple eating the entire thing. After the last piece, Spike watched her put down her plate and collapse back on the sofa almost purring in pleasure. He couldn’t decide whether he wanted her to spring back up to brush her teeth or to stay lying there, unconcerned. Either was dangerous.
“So,” she said, wriggling her bum in the air while she pulled a folded piece of paper out of her back pocket. “I’ve, um, I’ve got the second set of questions.”
Spike rearranged his face into a careful blank. “Why’re you doin’ this?”
Buffy’s smiled slipped. “If you really don’t want to, I’ll drop it. I just … we used to talk about stuff.”
“We talk about stuff all the time, Buffy. Just not about Sunnydale.”
She shrugged, being oh so careful to keep her voice neutral. “Don’t you think it’s time you stopped running and dealt?”
He smiled warily – more a baring of teeth than anything else. “That’s rich, comin’ from you.”
“I’m sorry I used to be the one who ran, okay? I am. But this questionnaire – you’re letting me in like you haven’t in years, and … I miss you.”
He curled up a little deeper into his chair. “Dunno how you can miss me when I practically live here.” He sighed. “Fine. What’s the next question?”
She beamed – that thousand-watt smile he once would have given his left arm to see. Only now it was purple. Maybe it wasn’t so bad she hadn’t been desperate to clean her teeth.
“Lucky thirteen,” Buffy said. “If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?”
He stared at her for a long time before answering. Once upon a time, it would have made her squirm in discomfort. Now … now she just looked back.
“Like to know where all this is headin’,” he said finally, gesturing at the questionnaire.
“Me too,” she said softly, mostly thinking that that particular question was one they really ought be asking each other. “See? Easy.” She looked back down at the page in front of her. “Is there something you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?”
“Finding out if I freckle,” he said, forcing his voice to come out light and teasing.
“Feelin’ the sun on my skin again’s no small thing.”
“What about that funky glass that costs stupid money?”
“No heat. Not the same.”
Buffy took a deep breath. “You wouldn’t want to be human again?”
“Christ, no!” Spike actually looked horrified.
“But you’d be able to, you know, freckle. Or whatever.”
Spike took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Can’t say I never thought about it. But I’ve made my peace with who and what I am.” He eyed her warily. “Not lookin’ for anything else.”
Buffy studied him for a few seconds. “I don’t care, you know.”
“About me?” Spike said, the barest hint of bitterness sneaking past the sarcasm.
“No, doofus. That you’re a vampire.”
His face came over all inscrutable again. Buffy really missed being able to read him like a picture book for three-year-olds.
She let out a sudden nervous giggle. “If nothing else, it makes the age gap less awkward. I mean, I could hardly share blueberry pie with Mr Great Big Pile O’Dust, could I?”
Some of the tension left him, but he remained wary. He didn’t believe for a second that what she said was true, but he couldn’t work out why she’d say it if she didn’t mean it. Buffy always had been a dab hand at deluding herself…. “What about you, then? You got any dreams left?”
Buffy laughed, shaking her head. “After a girl’s seen Paris, what else is there?”
“No lingerin’ desire to be normal?”
“God, no!” Buffy said, laughing even harder. “I tried normal and I hated it. I figure it’s the same as regular people and beach vacations.” She turned thoughtful. “Finishing college might be nice, though.”
Spike laughed. “You? Sittin’ still and reading all day? Love to watch you try.”
“Yeah, yeah. Yuck it up. ”
“Buffy Summers, BA … has a certain ring to it, I s’pose.”
She shrugged. “Some day. No rush.”
“What’s the next question?” He actually sounded interested this time.
“What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?”
“Too easy.”
Buffy smiled. “Dying?”
He nodded. “You?”
“Hard to top savin’ the world.”
“Pfft! We did it last week.”
He laughed. “S’pose we did, at that.” He relaxed a little more. This was easier than he’d expected it to be.
She smiled at him, a little nervously: gearing up to something. “You weren’t somewhere—” She stopped. “I mean, coming back wasn’t – you were okay, right?” Her whole body radiated anxiety.
For him.
It was heady stuff.
“No heaven, no hell,” Spike said gently. “Went straight from burning up on the Hellmouth to non-corporeal in LA.”
“Good,” she said, visibly relieved. “I’m glad.”
He cocked his head. “How long you been holding on to that question?”
“Ever since I heard you weren’t dead.”
His eyes widened, but otherwise he didn’t react. “Never asked, though, did you?”
“I did!” she said indignantly. “I so asked.”
His brow furrowed. “When—?”
She slumped a little. “Not, um … not politely.” She winced.
“Right,” he said slowly. Some of the things she’d said while being “not polite” could be interpreted as asking, but only if one were feeling very, very generous. At the time, he hadn’t. Jury was still out if he felt that generous now. But it mattered that she’d thought about it….
Buffy watched him process. It had been such a surprise to her when she’d realised his quick and vicious verbal smack-downs were a defence mechanism – a way to buy time because he never knew how he felt about anything until he’d had a good long think about it. Even more shocking was that once she’d started explicitly ignoring that first torrent of vitriol, he’d stopped attacking and just taken the time he needed.
He smiled when he noticed she was watching him.
Buffy gestured at the list of questions. “You ready for more?”
He nodded.
“What do you value most in a friendship?”
He blinked a few times. “Any time they’re not actively tryin’ to kill me.”
“Don’t knock low expectations. Haven’t been disappointed in decades.”
“That’s incredibly depressing.”
He shrugged. “Most everyone I know’s tried to kill me at least once.”
“Is that some kind of vampire thing?”
He laughed, shaking his head. “Pro’ly. But I reckon I’m just that lovable.”
“Dawn hasn’t,” Buffy said confidently.
“Threatened to set me on fire while I slept.”
Her eyes widened. Suddenly the way he sometimes watched Dawn made so much more sense. “Was that after—?”
“That’s my line, innit?” He smiled bleakly.
“In the past,” he said, firmly shutting her down.
Buffy wondered if he talked to Dawn about Sunnydale, or whether the rules only applied to her.
Spike gave her a considering look. “Would’ve said somethin’ similar applies to you.”
“With the friends and the killing?” she said thoughtfully. “I guess it kinda does, doesn’t it? Perk of the job, maybe.”
Spike shrugged.
“I think the thing I value most in a friendship is being entirely accepted for who and what I am, the good and the bad, no matter what.”
He looked up sharply. “Have a lot of friends like that, do you?”
She stared him down. “Used to be just the one,” she said softly. “He taught me to ask for it from others.”
“What about Dawn?” His voice was just as soft.
“She’s family; she doesn’t count. Besides, she still wants to fix my ‘daddy issues’.”
He grinned.
She thought his purple teeth and ancient eyes made a bizarre combination. He’d been alive so long, changed so much, but his eyes were the only part of him that would ever show it. It wouldn’t be much longer, Buffy thought suddenly, before she’d be the one who looked older. Five years, maybe? Then her face would start catching up to her eyes like his never would.
She looked back down at the paper. “What is your most treasured memory?”
“You go first.”
Buffy sucked in a deep breath and let it out. “I can’t think of anything!”
“What? My mind’s gone blank.”
“There’s gotta be – ah! You’ve thought of something.”
She squirmed “It’s embarrassing.”
He leaned towards her over the arm of his chair, letting his hands dangle over the edge. “Does it involve sex?”
Buffy let out a sharp bark of laughter. “A world of no!”
He grinned. “So spit it out, already.”
“Kicking Dracula’s ass,” she said guiltily.
“Seriously? That’s your most treasured moment?”
She shrugged helplessly.
“How is that embarrassing?”
“It makes me feel like what’s-her-face – all fangirl-y.” Her face lit up. “Oh, wait! I thought of a better one.”
“Out with it, then.”
“At my high school prom, they gave me a ‘class protector’ award.”
Spike groaned. “This isn’t the Best Slayer Awards. Pick somethin’ more meaningful than who you’ve offed.”
“This coming from the ‘Slayer of Slayers’?”
She stared at him, accusatory. “You know what yours is!”
He looked faintly uncomfortable.
“You totally had something in mind as soon as you heard that question!”
“Maybe,” he said, nonchalantly shrugging himself a bit deeper into his chair. “But you’ve still got to tell me yours ‘fore I’ll tell you mine.”
“Okay.” She took a deep breath. “I can do meaningful.”
She stared at the wall, thinking.
“‘M getting old here.”
She snorted. “Quit being so impatient.”
He peeked out at her over his arms.
“That night,” she said slowly.
“Care to be more specific?”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “The one we spent together in the abandoned house.”
His voice went cold and tight. “No. You don’t get to do this.”
“Do what?” She leaned out over the edge of the sofa towards him.
He pulled himself out of reach, but didn’t break eye contact. “You know damn’ well I don’t want to rehash those years, Buffy. For once, can you please just do what I need?”
“I am not rehashing! I’m trying to tell you that I treasure something you did.”
He laughed. “So that’s a ‘no’, then.”
“Don’t you dare give me that crap! You don’t want to rehash the past? Fine. Stop punishing me for it.”
“I’m not—”
“Just shut up and listen. You gave me faith in myself when I had none. You did that in an abandoned house in Sunnydale when everything between us was painful and confusing. And I will treasure that experience for the rest of my life.” She took a breath. “Okay. Now we can go back to following your stupid passive-aggressive rules on acceptable topics for conversation.”
“Thank you,” he said, after a few seconds.
She had no idea whether he was thanking her for the memory or for agreeing to follow his rules.
They sat in silence for several minutes. They’d been really good at that, once. It was something else this questionnaire was making Buffy realise she missed: sitting with him in perfect silence had once been like mainlining pure comfort. Sure, they had easy, comfortable silences now like never before. But they’d long since stopped being comforting.
“So what’s yours?” she asked finally.
“My what?”
“Your most treasured memory.”
He let his legs unfurl until they were resting on the floor again. She wondered if he was getting ready to leave. He’d been closed off before, but at least he’d looked like he was staying put.
“You won’t like it,” Spike said.
Buffy shrugged. “Won’t know ‘til you tell me.”
He pursed his lips. He looked like he was throwing down a gauntlet. “My most treasured memory is waking up undead and not being afraid anymore.” It wasn’t, in fact, his most treasured memory, but it was definitely in the top five. And it was the one he thought she most needed to hear, given her earlier declaration that she didn’t mind about him being a vampire.
Buffy opened and closed her mouth a couple of time. Then she gave a sharp nod of her head. “You’re right.”
“Don’t approve?” he asked mockingly. Inside, he was bracing for impact.
Buffy stared down at her hands. “It’s not about that … you told me you woke up buried.”
And didn’t that just come straight out of left field? Spike was truly shocked, and looked it.
Buffy seemed almost angry. “You told me you had nightmares. For years, you said. Decades, even.”
Spike could vividly remember every single second of the night he’d told her all that. But she’d been asleep. Her breathing – everything – he’d been so sure. “You were sleeping,” he said dazed.
She shrugged. “I used to pretend.” She gave him a watery smile. “I always figured you knew.”
He shook his head in disbelief. “How much did you – were you ever asleep?”
She gave him an arch look. “Thought you didn’t wanna rehash.”
He swallowed. “So I was wrong.” He looked at her like he’d never seen her before. “How – why?”
She shrugged nonchalantly. “Maybe I don’t feel like talking about it.”
He rolled his eyes.
“I’ve thought about saying something,” she said, giving in. “Lots of times. But I thought you knew and I wasn’t sure how to bring it up. And then you had your precious rules. So.”
“Why did you pretend to be asleep, Buffy?”
“You know why.”
He sighed, scrubbing at his face with both hands. He did know. He thought about asking her to say the words anyway. But while knowing changed everything, it also changed nothing.  And that was exactly why he didn’t want to talk to her about things like this. He settled for going back to the original subject.
“My nightmares were physical. The fear I lost?” He tapped his head. “All up here. Bein’ terrified ‘bout whether I had the right knot in my cravat – or some other rubbish. After I turned? Someone disapproved of my choices? Beat the shit out of them then drank their blood. All that fear….” He stared at her. “That crippling need to please perfect strangers. Gone. Poof.”
Buffy snorted. “Only to be replaced by your crippling need to please your skank-ho girlfriend.”
“Mock all you like, but you know what I was like before. Might regret most of what I did with her, but I could never regret Drusilla. She taught me to want, to strive.”
Buffy nodded, slowly. “She’s your Pandora.”
“My what?”
“Your Pandora. She opened up the box of all the things that were awful in you, but she also let out hope.”
“Okay,” he said uncertainly. “That all you got to say about it?”
Buffy sighed. “I … you aren’t that guy anymore.”
He stiffened. “‘Cept I am, Buffy.” He sounded exhausted. “May’ve changed what I do an’ how I feel about it, but I’ll always be that guy.”
“You carry the weight of what you’ve done. That makes you not that guy. That guy didn’t care about anyone but Dru, not even himself. You care. You have … I don’t know … aspirations.”
Spike stared down at his knees. Buffy was just full of surprises tonight. It had taken him years to get to where everything he did wasn’t at least partially geared towards forcing her to see him as a different person – a changed man. But he’d finally come to believe that she couldn’t – that, for her, his past would always trump his present and future. It had been powerful, acknowledging that. It had led him to rethink who he was, and for the first time, he’d started living like his choices were his and not some shiny bobble to present to whichever woman was foremost in his life.
Could he have been wrong?
“So what’s the next question, then?” he asked.
She folded the paper down and blanched. “Maybe not this one.”
“What is it?”
“What is your most terrible memory?”
He laughed. “You sure this thing’s meant to bring people together?”
“We could come back to it later.”
He sighed. “Up to you.” He looked at her – really looked, like he could see all the way inside. How much had he missed these last few years? He’d thought he’d just been protecting himself....
“What do you think it means by ‘most terrible’?” she asked.
He quirked an eyebrow. “‘S all about intimacy, right? Must mean somethin’ you wouldn’t normally tell.”
“So … like something you’re ashamed of?”
He shrugged. “You got anythin’ you’re ashamed of I don’t know about already?”
“No.” She sighed. “Maybe shame isn’t the way to go with this.”
“Would’ve thought ‘most terrible’ ‘d be obvious for you.”
She flashed him a big, overly-fake smile. “But there are so many super-fun memories to choose from!”
“Gettin’ ripped out of heaven doesn’t trump the lot?”
“No,” she said firmly, a little surprised he’d even brought it up. Looking at him, he seemed to have surprised himself, too. “It’s … I can’t even remember what it was like anymore.”
Spike’s surprise turned to worry. “Like you’ve lost time or somethin’?”
“No! I lost heaven. I remember feeling … at peace. But no details. Not anymore.”
“I’m sorry.”
She smiled, small but genuine. “Don’t be. It was hard, comparing it with everything else. Too hard.”
“You were so broken,” Spike said softly, staring off into the middle distance. “Was terrified you’d try to – to go back.”
Buffy stared down at her hands. “I did. More than once.”
“What stopped you?”
He let out a shaky breath.
Buffy met his eyes. “The first time. You, the last time: with all the singing and dancing and bursting into flame.” Buffy shivered.
“We don’ need to talk about this.” Spike started easing out of his chair. “You wanna take a break? I could do with a drink.”
She laughed; it hurt. “Why is it so important to you we not talk about Sunnydale?”
Spike slumped back into the chair. “‘Cause talkin’ ‘bout the past’s even cheaper’n an apology. Costs nothin’ an’ doesn’t change a thing.”  He sighed. “You wanna know my most terrible memory? It’s Sunnydale. All however-many years of it.”
At Buffy’s stricken look, he said quickly, “Don’t regret a second of it. Don’t even wanna think about how much more blood I’d have on my hands if I hadn’t … but it never got much better than survivin’.” He let out a mocking half-laugh. “Goin’ through the motions.”
“You never knew I pretended to sleep until today,” Buffy said fiercely. “You even admitted you were wrong not to talk about it! That has to change something, doesn’t it?”
He gave her an arch look. “The misery of Sunnyhell wasn’t all you, y’know. Had months and months of common garden torture courtesy of Angelus an’ the Initiative.”
“Yeah, but if I hadn’t been there, you probably would’ve killed Angel, cured Dru, and been back in South America or wherever by the time the Initiative showed up. Maybe you’d even have the Gem of Amara – be all tanned and everything.”
“If you hadn’t been there, His Nibs would pro’ly still’ve been eatin’ rats in a sewer somewhere an’ we’d never’ve found him in time. Not sure I’d’ve wanted to outlive Dru back then…. But the past is done an’ gone. Nothing either of us can do to make it right.”
“What if I want to try?”
Spike’s head snapped up and he laughed. “Christ. Better tell Dawn to add martyr complex to her list of things to fix.” He sighed. “Only time I ever expected better’n a broken nose from you, you were makin’ Dru look sane. I knew that tune – was my place to set boundaries, an’ I didn’t. I never once said ‘no’. Anythin’ you did to me was ‘cause I let you.”
That certainly explained his obsession with rules. “You weren’t strong enough,” Buffy said, softly but firmly.
He snorted.
“I don’t mean you were weak for never saying ‘no’, Spike. I mean that I am that much stronger than you that you couldn’t’ve stopped me if you’d tried.”
“You joke about the arm wrestling thing, but … you can barely lift a troll hammer, and I use them one-handed.” She took a deep breath. “I wouldn’t have listened if you’d said ‘no’.”
He laughed in utter disbelief. “You’re no monster, Buffy.”
She raised an eyebrow. “When I was sixteen, I threw my mom’s boyfriend down the stairs and broke his neck ‘cause he threatened to institutionalise me. And pure dumb luck’s the only thing that stopped me from murdering Faith – more than once, if I’m totally honest.” She paused. “I helped the Initiative capture demons I knew full well weren’t doing any real harm. And did you never wonder why Sunnydale stayed miraculously bite-house-free after you showed me what Riley was doing?” She laughed, hollowly. “There’s lots more, if you want to hear it. And not involving you, either.”
“Whatever you think you’ve done, it can’t compare with – just drops in the ocean.”
“You used to say I belonged in the dark.”
“‘Cause I thought it’d get me in your pants!”
She smiled. “Yeah, but you’re dumb that way – even if it did kinda work.”
He scowled at her.
“I, Buffy Anne Summers, can be violent and vengeful and unforgiving. It took me a while to accept those parts of me, but I got there eventually. We can argue about whether or not it makes me a monster if it makes you feel better, but even you can’t say I’m all pure and perfect with a straight face. And you know what else? Dawn should work on your martyr complex, too, Mr I’ll-Just-Quietly-Drape-Myself-Over-a-Cross.”
“I tried to rape you, Buffy. You can’t just—”
“I didn’t just anything. You betrayed me and it hurt. Really, really hurt, a lot, and I hated you for a long time. But you never made excuses or asked for forgiveness. You changed. You went and got a soul so you wouldn’t hurt me again. Then you spent years and years and years building back trust. That’s what matters. It’ll never be okay, what you did.” She shrugged. “But I don’t think it’ll ever be okay that I beat you half-to-death, either.”
“That was – I practically begged you to do it, Buffy. It was my choice.”
“I know you believe that,” she said quietly. “But don’t you dare try to pretend you wanted me to just walk away after.” She looked over at him. “You keep asking me why I won’t work out with you? That’s why.”
Spike spluttered out something that Buffy guessed was a question.
She let out a bark of humourless laughter. “Your rules, Spike. Your rules.” She sighed. “Look, my most terrible memories aren’t from things I did, but things I didn’t. And I should never have let my fists do all the talking with you.”
“Not just your fists,” Spike said with a sardonic smile. “Seem to remember a fair few other body parts bein’ quite communicative.”
Buffy laughed, blushing so slightly Spike’s nose picked it up before his eyes. “Yeah, well.” She sighed. “I think maybe it’s time for that drink now.”
Chapter #3 - Set II: questions 19-24
“Do you depend on me entirely for food?” Spike asked, looking into her barren fridge. “There’s still leftovers from the last time I was here.”
Buffy peeked under his arm. “Oh, that’s newer than last week. I just got the same thing again.”
He groaned. “Please tell me your Slayer mojo protects your arteries. D’you even remember what a vegetable looks like?”
Buffy laughed. “I eat salads all the time.”
Spike snorted. “Never seen the evidence.”
“That’s ‘cause I get them from the deli ‘round the corner and they’re too good to share.”
He shut the fridge door, and leaned back against it to look at her, one eyebrow raised. “No food, no booze, no blood. Do I need to start doin’ your shopping again?”
She picked up a plastic quart bag from the counter and waved it at him. “This’s been defrosting since you got here. There’s more in the freezer. Along with a month’s worth of dinners in tupperware, courtesy of the last time you were expressing your inner Mrs Lovett.”
“Oi!” He reached out to grab the bag. “No people in my pies.”
Their fingers brushed as he took it from her hands – something that had happened a thousand times before – but somehow this was different. Their eyes met, and they just stood there, fingers semi-entwined around a cold, wet, dripping bag of not-quite-defrosted blood.
Spike pulled away first, a smile hovering over his lips, and turned to put the bag in her microwave.
“It was freeing, you know?” Buffy said, hoisting herself up to sit on the counter – the only really comfortable way for two people to fit into her tiny kitchen. “I don’t think I said that before, but the day I finally accepted there’s a little bit of monster in me, it was like this huge weight lifting off me….”
He turned back from the humming microwave to stare at her incredulously.
“Yeah, I know. Totally speechless-making, right? But I spent years thinking some kind of Slayer psycho-whatsis was taking me over, or that all the violence in my life was somehow rubbing off on me. But eventually I got it: I just get angry sometimes, and the only thing that’ll fix it is beating the hell out of something until the only pain left is the bloody knuckles.” She grinned. “You have no idea how much easier everything got once I started doing that.”
He cocked his head to one side. “That really true?”
She rolled her eyes. “Jeez, Spike, you of all people oughtta know my most taboo f-word is ‘feelings’. I’m not gonna make stuff up just to tell you.”
He laughed. “So what’re we drinkin’?”
Buffy frowned. “I should still have the rest of that whiskey you brought to my party….”
He shook his head. “We drank it – watchin’ the Hellboy films.”
“Oh. Yeah. Ummmm, there might be something in that bottom cupboard?”
She watched him root around until he came back up, victorious, with a bottle of red. “Thought you hated Italian,” he said, looking at the label.
“I’m a big girl now,” Buffy said seriously. “I can make taste compromises for the sake of the greater booze.”
He ostentatiously brushed dust off the bottle.
She shrugged. “It was a gift.”
Smirking, he opened a drawer and got out the bottle opener.
While he cut off the foil, Buffy twisted towards the cupboard next to her and pulled out a couple of the mini mason jars with handles that Xander had bought her as a housewarming gift. They were her favourites because you could throw them across the room and they wouldn’t break. Her life didn’t lend itself to easily breakable things.
Spike pulled out the cork, and Buffy held the glasses out for him to pour wine.
Their eyes met as they clinked and sipped.
Buffy put hers down and cleared her throat. “Do you think, maybe, we could try and not have rules about what we can and can’t talk about anymore?”
He looked away and started scratching at the back of his neck. “Only ever meant to make things easier.”
Buffy took in a deep breath. “I get that you really needed to see that I could respect your boundaries. But I’ve done that now. Haven’t I?”
“Rules were never about you, Buffy,” Spike said sharply. His voice softened. “Just … didn’t want to talk about it.”
“Oh.” Part of her was relieved, but mostly she was embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to—”
He laughed bleakly. “World doesn’t revolve ‘round you. No matter how often you save it.”
The microwave pinged. It made her jump.
He put down his wine and turned back to the microwave. He poured the bag out into the quart-mug that had appeared in her kitchen right after his first visit. It was black and had ‘Bite Me’ printed across it in big dripping-blood letters.
She passed over her jar of burba weed. “Will you promise to tell me?” she asked.
“Tell you what?” he asked, stirring in the spice.
Before she could answer, he started drinking, swallowing the blood down in great, hungry, gulps. Buffy forgot, sometimes, that people-food couldn’t fill him up – not really.
“Nothing,” she said quickly.
He stopped drinking and gave her a ‘do you really think I’m that stupid?’ look.
“Everything, maybe? Just … I want us to keep talking like this. I don’t want to wait for years and then sit down one night and deal with all the stuff that’s going on now.”
“‘S a lot I don’t tell you,” Spike said slowly, holding his mug with both hands and staring into it.
“I know,” she said. “But I kinda always thought that was part of the whole me-and-boundaries-thing. And, hey, not about me anymore. So.”
He glared at her. “Look, I was always all about someone else. Always. But I came back and … and you were gone. Dawn was – everyone and everything I cared about was just gone. Nineteen days. Nineteen fuckin’ days!” He slammed his mug down on the counter. “And I was a ghost and all I had was Angel.” A giggle bubbled up. “I was…” His voice dropped to a whisper. “It was terrifying. On every level imaginable.”
“Oh, Spike,” Buffy said softly.
He laughed. “I was gone.” He slouched back against the counter, arms tight across his chest, staring at the floor.
Buffy slipped off the counter to stand in front of him. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, reaching out and brushing her fingertips over his forearm. “I should’ve—”
“You thought I was dead,” he said, shaking off her hand. His gaze stayed firmly rooted to the floor. “My fault – never called,” he said quietly. “Should’ve found a way.”
She held his face with both hands; he still wouldn’t look up. “I should’ve come for you. Or waited. Something.” She stroked his cheeks with her thumbs. “We’re both all kinds of stupid.”
He very gently took her hands in his. “When we started talking again, I thought I might lose myself. But I can’t go back to that. I can’t go back to where I don’t exist because you’re not in the room.”
“Never gonna happen,” Buffy said, lacing her fingers through his. “Keep taking whatever space you need. And don’t tell me everything. Just … please let me back in?”
Finally, he looked up. “Reckon I can do that.” He looked shaky, but his voice was firm.
She let go of his left hand to pick up her wine, but kept holding tight to his right. He let her lead him back to the living room, and down next to her on the sofa.
It felt weird.
He’d slept there a fair few times, when it was too close to sunup or he was too drunk to go home. But they’d never, ever, sat on it together. It was his chair and her sofa. Always.
Buffy carefully balanced her wine on the arm so she didn’t have to let go of his hand to pick up the questionnaire. “You ready?”
He nodded and swallowed half his wine in one gulp.
“Okay.... If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly—”
They both exploded into fits of laughter. By the time they’d recovered, they lay sprawled out over the sofa, floppy and breathless and suddenly it was just them again, hanging out, like they did most nights. The fear and fragility was gone.
“You happy?” Spike asked lazily, turning his head towards her without lifting it from the cushion.
They weren’t holding hands anymore, but her knee was touching his thigh, and it felt natural in a way that the hand-holding had not.
Buffy nodded. “Content, anyway. My life feels like it’s really mine for the first time. Dawn’s grown up. The rest of the world has a gazillion other slayers to look after it. I get to live for me now.”
His eyes roved around the room. “Still in California, though; still out killin’ what goes bumpy in the night. Not much has changed.”
“Maybe, but … everything I have now, I chose. I tried not slaying and I know that I never, ever, want to try it again. I’ve travelled all over, but I came back here because it feels like home.” She took a sip of her wine. “It might all change again down the line, but for right now … I like my life.”
“‘M glad. You deserve that.”
“How about you?”
He shrugged. “Like you say, content.”
She smirked. “That all you have to say?”
He pursed his lips. “What more d’you want?”
“Do you really want everything to be the same a year from now?” She thought about asking him if he wanted them to be the same in a year, but she wasn’t quite brave enough. Not yet.
“There somethin’ you want to change,” he downed the rest of his wine, “in particular?” He’d wanted to say ‘about us’, but … hadn’t.
“No,” Buffy said firmly. “I was thinking more, um, are you seeing anyone right now?”
He blinked. “Not at the moment, no.” Not for … nearly a year now. But she didn’t need to know that. Did she?
Buffy felt a great rush of relief and it terrified her.
“You’ve never asked before,” he said slowly.
“Nope. But since I tell you everything about the never-ending car crash that is my love life, and you never say a word about yours, I kinda thought,” Buffy blushed, “that maybe you didn’t trust me not to be weird about it? I used to get kinda weird about you sleeping with people who weren’t me.”
Spike nodded. “Weird’s one way to describe it … homicidal’s another.”
Her blush turned a little darker. “I don’t want you to worry about how I’ll react to stuff.”
He sighed. “‘M sorry you thought I didn’t trust you. Would’ve never told you ‘bout bein’ human – or Dru – if I didn’t trust you. Never spoken to anyone else about that stuff. Ever.” He looked slightly shamefaced. “Don’t talk much ‘bout the, er, the other ‘cause you an’ I don’t talk about sex, and there’s precious little else to tell.”
“So, what, Mr Monogamous is some kind of man-whore now?” Buffy said, half-gleeful, half-shocked.
“Not quite so bad as all that,” Spike said with an awkward chuckle. Then he shrugged. “I’m no good at being alone. Never have been.”
“But you’re not alone,” she said, confused and a little hurt. “You’ve got me.”
“This may be the best and closest friendship I’ve ever known, Buffy,” Spike said, a trifle more harshly than he’d intended, “but I’ve never mistaken it for havin’ you.”
“Oh,” she said quietly, abashed. She wasn’t sure how to feel about that. Then the rest of what he’d said penetrated. “This is really the best friendship you’re ever known?”
“Course it bloody is!” He glared at her. “Can count the number of people ‘ve called friend on one hand and we’ve paid in blood a thousand times over for this – for us – to keep somethin’. Course it means everythin’ to me.”
Buffy grinned. “I … you mean everything to me, too.”
Spike looked poleaxed.
“Next question?” Buffy asked brightly.
He nodded, still looking dazed.
“What does friendship mean to you?”
They both laughed.
“So much for a subject change,” Buffy said wryly.
“Never really had friends ‘til the last few years,” Spike said thoughtfully. “Contacts, acquaintances,” he grimaced, “family. Always thought … thought that love should be enough, you know? Like … like having anyone outside of it is cheatin’.”
“Yeah,” Buffy snorted. “Somebody still has over-commitment issues.”
“Just ‘cause you’re bloody phobic about it.…” He made a face at her. “Seriously, though, you’re the one made me think there might actually be a point in havin’ friends.”
“Whatever happened to Clem?” Buffy asked suddenly.
Spike frowned. “Dunno. He got out of Sunnydale – know that much. Not heard from him since.”
“I liked Clem,” Buffy said.
“And me.”
Buffy took another sip of wine. “You once told me it was my friends that made me different from other Slayers – that they kept me alive. You were right: for me, friendship is survival.”
“Makes the unbearable bearable,” he said quietly.
He picked up the wine bottle from where he’d left it on the floor and refilled their glasses.
Buffy sighed. “I also like the part where your friends will forgive you, no matter what. That’s save-the-world-tastic.”
He wondered who she was talking about. Herself? Him? Someone else entirely? “You forgiven all your Scooby mob?” he asked. “You don’t talk much about ‘em anymore.”
“That’s ‘cause you hate them.”
“Do not.”
She raised her eyebrows.
“What,” he said, laughing. “I’m not allowed to move on?”
“I believe you,” she said, tipping her glass towards him. “Thousands wouldn’t.”
They smiled at each other.
“We still talk and everything,” Buffy continued. “No lingering ‘issues’. But … we don’t have much everyday stuff in common anymore. I know that when we do see each other it’ll be like no time has passed. But until then? They’re not so much in my life anymore.”
Spike nodded in understanding. “Got one or two like that. You go through enough with someone … know you can click back any time, but there’s nothin’ pulling you together anymore.”
“I made all my friends through slaying,” Buffy said thoughtfully. “I never really thought about that before. It’s actually kinda depressing.”
“Not like you’ve ever had time for anything else,” Spike said. “And that dance of ‘so what do you do for a livin’?’ must get a bit awkward with outsiders.”
“I guess. But … I really did do the non-slaying gig for a while.” She frowned. “Shouldn’t I have at least one outside friendship by now?”
Spike smiled. “Maybe when you go back an’ finish that degree.”
“Maybe.” She folded back the next question. “What roles do love and affection play in your life?”
Spike laughed. “Christ! What a question.”
“They scare me,” Buffy said seriously.
She nodded.
“Would’ve thought … you seem different now. More sure of yourself. That last bloke you were seein’ was alright, wasn’t he?”
Buffy hooted with laughter. “That was, like, a year ago!”
Spike’s eyes widened. “That long?” He hadn’t thought about it, but … yeah. It had been a long time since Buffy had even talked about going on a date.
Buffy nodded, still smiling. “Poor Matt never had a hope.”
Spike cocked his head to one side. “Why’s that, then?”
He looked terrified. “Buffy….”
“God, full of yourself much?” She giggled. “I don’t mean it like that. A visit from Willow would’ve done the same.”
“You wanna unvague that a bit for me?”
She grinned. “I realised I’d said more to you over one dinner than I had in six months of dating Matt. That wasn’t fair to him, so I ended it.”
Spike visibly relaxed. “Like I keep tellin’ you: bleedin’ tragic taste in men. Need to let someone else pick the next one.”
“I hope that’s not an offer. I may have tragic taste, but at least I’ve had a few that never tried to kill me.”
“Oi!” He laughed. “Don’t reckon I’d be any good at matchmaking anyway.”
“You need it, don’t you?”
He frowned. “Need what?”
“Love and affection. Like babies get sick without enough touch – what is it they call it?” She thought for a second. “Failing to thrive!”
He smiled warily. “‘M no baby.”
She turned serious. “But you do need it, don’t you?” She started tracing patterns on the sofa cushion.
He shrugged. “Always been Love’s Bitch,” he said lightly.
She wanted to ask him if he was in love with anyone, but she wasn’t brave enough. It was true what she’d said – breaking up with Matt had only been very indirectly because of Spike. But she had to admit to herself that the continuing absence of a Matt-sequel was more directly his fault. The last couple years, either he’d calmed down or she’d got better at following his rules – she still wasn’t sure which – and hanging out together had gone from a day or two whenever Spike was in between bolts to once a week, then twice, then most nights, and without even noticing it she’d just stopped looking. There wasn’t enough space in her life for another close relationship.
She wished she knew if Spike felt the same way. What did ‘not at the moment’ mean?
Buffy folded back the next question. “Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.”
“Total of five each? Or five across both of us?”
Buffy shrugged. “It says ‘total of five items’. Wouldn’t it say ‘each’ if it meant ‘each’?”
“I’ll start: you’re really brave when it comes to your feelings.”
He smiled wryly. “Not sure how true that is, these days.”
She shrugged. “Braver than me.”
“Everyone’s braver’n you emotionally. Hardly a positive characteristic.”
“Hey! You’re supposed to say something nice.”
He looked at her consideringly. “You expect great things from everyone around you – and you inspire them to rise to meet those expectations.”
Buffy shifted uncomfortably. “Yeah … not so much these days. General Buffy is pretty much retired.”
“Not talkin’ ‘bout that – though it’s true enough. Talkin’ ‘bout the great things you expected from me when no one in their right mind would’ve.”
“What did I ever expect from you?”
Buffy’s face crinkled up in confusion. “Huh?”
He grinned. “Got angry when I acted like a monster, didn’t you? No one else did – never occurred to them to expect anythin’ better.”
“Oh,” Buffy said. “I didn’t … I never thought about it like that, but … yeah, okay.”
He smirked. “Right then, tell me another of my positive characteristics!”
Grinning, Buffy said, “You change. You don’t hold on to things long after you should let them go.”
Spike frowned. “Know that’s not true.”
Buffy smiled. “My next one was gonna be: but you never let go of people, even when you probably should.”
Spike didn’t quite know how to take that. Did she mean she didn’t want him to let go of her? Or did she think he already had and that that was a good thing? It occurred to him that a kick of that emotional bravery wouldn’t go amiss just now. “Stuck with the last one, now, am I?”
She nodded smugly.
He took in a deep breath. “You love, with everything you have, even when it kills you.”
“I do not,” Buffy said sharply.
“Dawn,” Spike said softly. “Was thinking of Dawn.”
“Oh,” Buffy said, surprised. “Well … you’re still delusional. I’m all stunted-growth-girl with the love.” She wagged a finger at him. “And everyone but you recognises this.”
He smiled. “Know you like to think so – let other people think so. Keeps you safe.”
She frowned. “I am so over safe. Matt was safe.”
“So why hasn’t there been anyone since?”
“I’ve been busy,” Buffy said lamely, barely believing herself anymore. Even though that’s exactly how she would’ve answered if someone had asked her that an hour ago.
“Right,” Spike said, nodding sagely. “Course you have.”
Buffy cleared her throat and rustled her paper. “How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?” Buffy looked over at him expectantly.
He frowned in concentration. “I was loved as a child – really loved. Was my mum’s whole world. So, warm, yes, and very close.” He took a sip of wine. “Not sure I’d describe it as happy, though.”
“How come?”
He smiled grimly. “Was the youngest of four, and the only one to make double digits.”
“I’m sorry.”
He shrugged. “Long time ago, now. Can’t even rightly remember the others’ faces anymore.”
“My cousin died, when I was nine. She was like my sister. I know it’s not the same, but….”
“You get it,” he said, nodding.
“Your dad died before you were born, right?”
“When I was a baby, but he’d been away for a while when he died.”
Buffy struggled with the thought of Spike as a baby. It just seemed wrong. “So, do you have daddy issues, too?”
He grinned. “Nah. Grand-daddy issues, now….”
“Ha ha.”
“Your childhood must’ve been pretty alright, though, hey?”
Buffy shrugged. “It’s … it’s weird. I kind of have two sets of memories of my childhood now – one with Dawn, one without. But either way, I wouldn’t describe it as warm. Or happy.”
Spike frowned. “Can’t imagine Joyce bein’ cold.”
Buffy smiled. “You didn’t know her way back when. She mellowed a lot, post-divorce. Well, post-post-divorce-drinking, anyway.”
Buffy nodded. “In retrospect? I think she just got caught up in the society lifestyle stuff – parties and charities and all that. When I was little, Dad was the one I was closest to. He was actually around on weekends and he really used to care, you know? I was never so sure of Mom.” She shrugged. “That all changed after I was called. Turned out Dad wasn’t so interested in screw-up-daughter. Mom was, though. She really stepped up.” Buffy sighed. “That’s one of the things I’d like to talk to her about. She … she didn’t always do a great job, but oh man, did she try.” Buffy laughed. “Even when she was still telling me I could abandon the Hellmouth for college and look forward to ‘some day’ when I’d finally get a normal life complete with a fulfilling office job and a picket fence and babies and stuff.”
“Any of that actually an option for you?”
Buffy grinned. “Seriously? Can you imagine me ever being fulfilled by an office job? And a picket fence might be handy for stakes in a pinch, but otherwise….”
Spike remained serious – grave, even. “No. Was thinkin’ ‘bout the babies.”
She rubbed her hands over her thighs, scrambling for a plausible lie – a change of subject, something. But she left it too long, and he read the answer from the tension in her body.
“Knew you never, um … you know, bled,” he said, so softly it was almost a whisper.
She smiled weakly. “You would notice that.”
“Did Joyce know you can't?”
Buffy shook her head.
“You ever tell anyone?”
“Not ‘til now,” she said softly.
“You shouldn’t’ve had to go through that alone.”
Buffy shrugged. “When I found out for sure, there wasn’t anyone around to tell, and by the time there was … I didn’t want a pity party.
“I’m sorry.”
“I’ve made my peace with it.”
He stared at her. “You’re a good mum, you know.”
“What?” She laughed. “I don’t – what are you—?”
“Saw Dawn through to adulthood, didn’t you?” Spike pointed at Buffy with his wine jar. “An’ she’s pro’ly the least fucked up out of anyone you or I know.”
“Not sure she’d agree with you there. She keeps threatening me with therapy bills.”
“Laugh all you want, Summers. I know you. You’re a good mum.”
“Hmmmm. Ready for the last question?”
He nodded.
She folded down the paper and started laughing again.
“How do you feel about your relationship with your mother? Guess I’m done.”
Spike looked almost sick. “I’m not.”
Buffy shot him a quizzical look.
“There’s stuff I never told you – about the First’s trigger. About the night I let Wood live.” He took in a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” Buffy said gently, meaning it.
He smiled tightly. “I know. But … now we’ve started, ‘d rather keep goin’.” He smiled. “Might not be brave enough to tell you later.”
“Spike … you’ve gotta stop expecting the worst from me. Have I ever got judge-y at you the last couple years?”
He shrugged. “Know that here,” he indicated his head. “But … always feel like I’m waitin’ for the other shoe to drop with you. Always been steps back for every last inch forward. Hard habit to break, expectin’ the worst.”
“Whatever it is, I will be okay with it. I know you. I trust you.” She paused. “I’m not looking for reasons to hate you anymore. I haven’t been for a long time. If anything, I’m looking for reasons to—” She stopped and picked up his free hand in both of hers. “You can tell me now, or later, or not at all. It’s okay. Whatever you need.”
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “When I met Dru, my mum was sick – months to live at most.” He opened his eyes. “I wanted … thought if I turned her, she’d be free. Like I was.” He looked straight at Buffy, challenging. “Becoming a vampire was the best thing that ever happened to me an’ I wanted to share it with her.”
Buffy didn’t even flinch, she just held onto him a little tighter.
“Only … only she took to freedom a bit different.” Spike looked down at where her hands held his. “Came on to me, first.”
Buffy winced sympathetically.
“Then she ripped into every single insecurity I’d ever had. Finally she tried to put me out of her misery.” He laughed. “Staked her five minutes after she rose.”
“Oh, god,” Buffy whispered. “That’s … that’s awful.”
He started laughing again. “Yeah,” he said. He was trying to fold the corners of his mouth down, to stop laughing, but he couldn’t quite manage it.
“I’m so, so sorry.”
He looked up at her and saw nothing but compassion. The laughter stopped. “You really are, aren’t you?”
“Spike … I know exactly what it’s like to watch someone lose their soul. I know what it’s like to have to kill someone you love.” She shifted a little closer to him. “It’s not something you ever get over.”
He frowned grimly. “Had to. It was – the First’s trigger was somethin’ my mum used to sing to me.”
“And that’s why – so, wait, what happened when you and Robin were fighting?”
Spike sighed. “Wood was tryin’ to convince himself his mum wasn’t the Slayer first an’ a mum last. Made me realise mine could never have – knew it couldn’t’ve been her anymore.”
“I can’t say I’m sorry you’re one of the freaky ones who was still the same person after.”
“Wasn’t.” He stared into her eyes. “You’d’ve despised the man I was. Just … maybe I don’t let go quite right, like you said.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “My point is that you could still love, even without a soul and it sounds like your mom couldn’t. Like Angel … and Charlie’s sister. How do you feel about her now?”
Spike frowned, staring down at his hands. “Been dead a long time. Stopped thinkin’ ‘bout her after I staked her.”
“Ya-huh. You don’t actually expect me to believe that, do you?”
He smiled. “No, but … let me pretend I do?”
“I can do that.” Buffy rearranged her legs, accidentally brushing her foot across his knee. She waited for him to react, but … nothing. “So d’you wanna go on to set three?”
Spike shook his head. “‘S late.”
Buffy’s face fell. “Oh, sure.”
He put his wine down, and reached out to yank on a strand of her hair. “Not saying I’m leavin’.” He laid his hand over hers and settled a bit deeper into the sofa. “Just … reckon we’ve done enough heavy talk for one night.”
“Oh,” Buffy said, smiling. “Okay.”
He jerked his head towards the TV in a silent question.
She nodded. “We’re still not watching Juno, though.”
Chapter #4 - Set III: questions 25-30
Buffy had assumed they’d just end up falling asleep in front of the TV. It certainly happened often enough. But it was now 2:00, and not only were they both still wide awake, but Spike had progressed from hand and foot fidgets to whole body jitters. If it didn’t keep threatening to knock over her drink, it might have been almost cute.
“Hey,” he said, tugging her hand away from her head, “you don’t stop twistin’ that hair, ‘s gonna come out.”
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t just Spike with a violent case of the twitchies.
“You wanna go out and kill something?” Buffy asked.
“Christ, yes!” Spike groaned. “Thought you’d never ask.”
While he laced up his boots, Buffy ducked into her bedroom to grab stakes.
There, on the dresser, was the third set of questions. She stared at it. Then she glanced uneasily over at her bed. Is that where we’re going with this?
Ever since they’d started the questionnaire, they’d been touching – small, tentative forays into each other’s personal space. They were building up a kind of casual intimacy she couldn’t remember ever having with him, even when they’d been at it like rabbits. She wasn’t sure she’d ever truly had it with anyone before. She looked back at the bed.
Does he even want that?
Do I?
“Buffy?” Spike’s head appeared around the corner of the doorframe.
Buffy tossed the stakes his way and, while he was distracted, snatched up the list of questions and stuffed it into her back pocket.
She’d ask him what he wanted. It was the grown-up thing to do. And she’d do it tonight. Even if it killed her.
The jaunt to Buffy’s favourite local graveyard was reassuringly normal, with all and any conversation taken up by the practicalities of killing while not being killed. It struck Buffy that over the decade-plus they’d known each other as enemies, allies, (ex-)lovers, whatever the hell it was they’d been that last year in Sunnydale, and finally, now, friends, they’d somehow managed to build a kind of protective bubble around what he called hunting and she called patrolling. Even when they hated each other, this part just felt easy. Fun, even.
Well, provided they always fought slightly apart: more than six feet, for preference. Fewer injuries that way.
“Mine!” Buffy yelled, elbowing Spike out of the way at first sight of the vampire they’d been tracking.
Spike sat down on a gravestone to smoke while she toyed with the vamp – easily twice her size. Poor bastard never had a chance.
Buffy brought her stake down with an exultant flourish about a minute later, then looked up and caught Spike’s eye. She was flushed and panting, but glowing – exultant, even. Purple teeth and all.
Suddenly the whole world stopped for a second, just like in every badly-scripted teen romance. Spike resisted the urge to roll his eyes, but something must have shown on his face, because Buffy immediately straightened and started walking back towards him.
“Something wrong?”
She looked worried. About him.
He smiled up at her. “Nah.” He dropped his butt then stood up to grind it out with his boot.
Still watching him warily, she started brushing the dust from her clothes.
For the first time, Spike registered the sound of rustling paper. “You’ve got round three of that questionnaire on you, haven’t you?”
Buffy nodded, a little guiltily.
He snaked one arm around her waist to lift it from her pocket. It could have been suggestive, but he did it with only the barest minimum of touching. She wasn’t sure what to make of that.
“S’pose we should finish this,” he said, unfolding the paper. “Question twenty-five: Make three ‘we’ statements each. For instance, ‘We are both in this room feeling….’”
This was her chance. Buffy took in a deep breath and went for broke. “We are both in this graveyard feeling ready for a change in our relationship.”
Spike’s gaze snapped up to meet hers. She’d made it a statement, but her heart was racing like it was a question. “Okay,” he said slowly.
Their eyes stayed locked, while her hand crept out towards his, almost but not quite touching. He could feel the heat of her skin long before their fingertips finally brushed against each other.
Buffy relaxed at the touch, her knees going wobbly in relief. “We are both feeling scared of…” she trailed off, the right words deserting her.
Spike dropped his gaze, watching her suck her lower lip into her mouth and slowly let it slide out from beneath her teeth. When he looked up again, her eyes were anxious. “Scared of losin’ what we have now,” he said gruffly.
Buffy nodded gratefully, eyes crinkling into a smile. “Afraid of going back to old patterns.”
His hand closed around hers. “But we’re also feelin’…”
He’d clearly meant it to be a quick, light squeeze, but she kept hold of him, refusing to let go.
“Hopeful?” He said it so quietly, it was barely a breath.
“Yes!” Buffy closed her eyes. She couldn’t bear to look at him while she said this. Not if she was wrong. “We believe we could … could have something different. Something … something more?”
He went eerily still. “You – you want … that?” His tone gave not one single clue to how he felt.
She nodded quickly, jerkily, eyes still tightly shut. It felt like there was a million miles between them, for all she still had a death-grip on his hand. “D-do you?”
The pause went on far too long. She let go of his hand and opened her eyes, her expression frozen.
“Don’t not want it,” Spike said quietly.
“What does that even mean?” Her tone was cold, defensive anger visibly stirring.
“Don’t you dare get angry just ‘cause I’m not givin’ you the answer you want!”
Buffy snorted. “That’s rich, coming from you.”
He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, well. Different people now, right?” He threw up his hands in frustration and sat back down on the gravestone. “Dunno what I want, alright?”
Buffy counted to ten in her head and reminded herself that Spike had never responded well to sudden shocks and changes. “I’m not sure either,” she said finally. “Just … hopeful.”
“No,” Spike said, shaking his head.
“If you’re not sure? No.”
She forced herself to laugh. “You waiting for a marriage proposal or something?”
“You said you’n Matt split ‘cause you realised you never told him anythin’. When you two first got together? All you did was talk. You – you shut ‘em out, Buffy. ‘S what you do. You’re not sure, you freeze them out. I won’t guess with you – never again.”
Buffy shrugged uncomfortably. “So I have intimacy issues. So do you!”
Spike laughed. He looked back down at the questionnaire in his hand, before shoving it into his pocket. “We are both really, really fucked up. And not in a good-for-each-other way. I’m not … I can’t cope with uncertainty. And you can’t be certain! ‘S no place to start when the best either of us can manage is ‘hopeful’.”
Buffy sighed. “We spend at least four nights out of seven together. We’re basically dating except for the sex part and we have been for months and months. Thinking about changing our relationship isn’t new for me, Spike. I’ve been doing it for a while now.”
“You’re sayin’ you think we should be more. Not that you want us to be. Not that you feel somethin’ more. Love isn’t logic, Buffy. Doesn’t work like that.”
She sank down onto an adjacent gravestone. “Blood not brains,” she whispered to herself.
“If you like.” Spike laughed shakily. “You scare me absolutely shitless.”
She looked stricken. “Why?”
He pulled out a cigarette and lit it. He shifted forward so his forearms lay along his thighs, keeping his eyes fixed on his hands. “Last time, with us, what I did ... how I felt.” He took a deep drag. “Never been like that before. Not once. No matter what Dru did – an’ she did a lot – I never, ever even thought about harmin’ her. But you….”
“I make you crazy,” Buffy said softly, leaning in towards him a little.
“Not blamin’ you, right? Just … yeah.” He shivered. “Don’t want the inside of my head like that ever again.”
“I know what you mean.”
His lips twisted into a grin that never reached his eyes. “You really, really don’t.”
Buffy hunched into herself. “Oh, but I really, really do.”
Spike rubbed at the back of his neck, looking over at her obliquely. “I don’t trust either of us in a relationship. Not together, anyway. We’ve got … mutually destructive patterns.”
“You been talking to Angel’s shrink again?” Buffy asked lightly. Angel and Sally-the-shrink had been dating for a little over six months now. Sally found them all just fascinating.
Spike shrugged. “Might’ve been out LA-way last week….”
“What else did she say?”
“‘Don’t shag her, you stupid shite, whatever you do’.”
Sally didn’t like Buffy much. Or at all, really.
Buffy laughed. “Good advice.”
“We should stay friends,” Spike said quietly.
“You’re saying should. Not want. Not feel.”
He let out a sharp bark of laughter. “Got me there.” He took in another deep lungful of smoke. “But we’ll live longer that way.”
“I’m already past my sell-by,” Buffy said quietly. She watched the smoke curl upwards from Spike’s hand for a few seconds. She grinned – or maybe grimaced. “It hurts thinking of you with someone else.”
“Always has,” Spike grumbled good-naturedly, leaning forward over his knees again. “Possessive bitch that you are.”
They smiled at each other.
“We should get going,” Buffy said, looking up at the sky.
Spike crushed his cigarette out against the gravestone and stood up.
He held out his hand, and she used it to pull herself up. She didn’t let go when they started walking.
He was surprised when Buffy jerked her hand free again a few seconds later – until she reached into his pocket for the questionnaire. She wasn’t the gentleman he’d been about it, either.
Spike stopped walking, side-stepping out of her reach. “Why’re you doin’ this?”
She waved the folded paper at him. “Five seconds ago you wanted to finish it!”
He stared at her. “Fine,” he groaned. He began walking again.
She followed, folding down the edge of the paper and beginning to read. “Complete this sentence: ‘I wish I had someone with whom I could share….”
“Pickles,” Spike said firmly.
“Oh, c’mon! You can do better than pickles.”
“What do you want me to say? There’s bugger-all left in my life I don’t already share with you!”
“Says the guy who refuses to talk about his girlfriends – excuse me, sexfriends – and disappears without explanation for weeks on end.”
“Oh for fu—” He stopped, rigid and angry. “You never bloody ask!”
“I thought you didn’t want me to know!” Buffy shouted.
Spike laughed suddenly. He scrubbed his hands over his face. “Christ, we’re a pair.”
They started walking again. Their hands – seeming to act independently – found each other almost immediately.
“Do you always go to LA?” Buffy asked softly.
“No – first time I’ve gone without you in … two-three years?”
“Where, then?”
He shrugged. “Mostly work – can’t all be on a Council salary like you.”
Buffy frowned. “Wait – you’re not?”
He looked surprised. “You didn’t know?”
“No! Why not? I mean, I know they offered—”
“Yeah, but after a century of tryin’ to kill Slayers, didn’ feel right takin’ money from ‘em.”
Buffy frowned. “So all the times you’ve come with me … last week – that was – what was that?”
He shrugged. “Don’ need payin’ to watch your back.”
“Oh. Right.” It had never occurred to Buffy that he wasn’t paid to stay on call for apocalypses or whatever else was going on – like she was. Because clearly they still called him whenever they called her. “So, um, so what’s the work then?”
He grinned. “What d’you reckon?”
“Killing stuff?”
“Bit of that. But testin’ security’s where the money is – turns out decades of breaking and enterin’ makes me ‘uniquely qualified’.”
“Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
“You never asked!” His steps slowed. “No. That’s not fair. For the first time in my life I’ve got somethin’ that’s completely mine. Not Angel’s hand-me-downs. Not Dru’s. Not … not yours. Mine. Maybe … maybe I needed to keep it to myself for a bit.”
Buffy smiled weakly. “I gotta say, ‘a bit’ doesn’t usually mean years, plural.”
“‘M sorry.” he said, curling her arm into his and squeezing her hand. “Really didn’t think you were that interested.”
“Jeez, insecure much? Of course I’m interested.” She paused. “So, when you disappear, it’s … it’s really not because of me breaking your rules?”
Hu shrugged. “Not always.”
“You are such a jerk! You’ve been letting me think all this time that it was all me—”
“‘S not like that!” he said quickly, seriously. “Never been much good at sayin’ no – specially to you. Leavin’s the best way to make sure I don’t ever have to.”
“What are you so afraid I’ll ask?”
“Not so much what you’d ask as what I’d give. Told you already, won’t … can’t afford to lose myself again.”
“Y’know, for someone who claims not to like games, you sure are good at playing them.”
Spike laughed. “Did you forget the part where you scare me shitless?”
“I want you to take space if you need it! I just….”
Suddenly, he realised: “You panic when I leave, don’t you?”
“Little bit?” Buffy said, screwing up her face and holding out her fingers in a pinching motion.
He let out a sharp bark of laughter. “I’ll call, next time. Or text. Somethin’. Let you know where I am an’ when to expect me back.”
“You don’t have to.”
“Want to.” He paused. “Never meant to make anythin’ hard for you.”
“Thanks,” Buffy said. “Even if it is a couple years late.”
He tightened his hold on her arm. “So what’re you wishin’ to share that’s better’n pickles, then?”
“That blueberry pie was pretty good.”
“Done that. Can’t keep wishin’ for it.
“I could wish for you to bring me pie again. It could be our thing.”
“Our thing is Dexter and pizza.”
“But it could be Dexter and pizza and pie.”
He grinned. “You can’t do better’n pickles, can you?”
“Can so!” Buffy said huffily.
Spike’s grin kept getting wider the longer the silence lasted.
“I think I’d like to try building something,” she said finally. “Or maybe growing something? I’ve always been so focussed on death and destruction, I don’t think I ever really learned how to … how to create. And I think it would be better – more fun – to share that with someone else.”
“Sounds like you’re after kids….”
“NO! God, no!” Buffy laughed. “I will be a very happy and fulfilled aunty when other people do that. I was thinking more like a house I could fix up. With a garden, maybe.” She giggled. “Although it’ll probably end up looking like a moon crater – I can’t even keep a cactus alive.”
She glanced over at him, waiting for the mocking to start, but Spike just looked thoughtful.
“Bloke I know’s offerin’ loft space in exchange for keepin’ the rest of the buildin’ free from nasties. Long-term.”
“This one of the guys you building-sit for?”
Spike nodded.
“Wow. That’s – I thought you loved your gypsy lifestyle.”
“Haven’t decided yet,” he said quickly. “An’ it’ll need a lot of work – ‘s practically derelict now.”
Buffy snorted. “As opposed to the places you usually live.” She paused. “I could help, you know.”
“Why d’you reckon I mentioned it?” He smiled. “You actually know anythin’ ‘bout renovations?”
“I know they’re very expensive unless Xander donates time and materials … and basically does them for me.”
Spike laughed. “Still more’n me.”
Buffy grinned, leaning into him. “This is perfect! I can screw up your place as practice before screwing up my own!”
“Hardy har har.”
“We could learn together, maybe?”
“Yeah,” he said, nodding.
She folded down the next question awkwardly with one hand. “If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.”
They walked in thoughtful silence for a few seconds.
“So c’mon then,” Spike said finally, squeezing her hand. “Start sharin’ some deep an’ important knowledge with your partner over here.”
She snorted. “I have no secrets from you.”
He stopped walking. “How do you really feel about me, Buffy?”
She froze.
He withdrew his hand from hers, slowly and carefully. “You … you say all this stuff about trust an’ … and somethin’ more. Not once have you said how you feel.”
She let out a nervous laugh. “Hey, isn’t this kinda beyond important things to know for a close friendship?”
“Is it?”
Buffy shrugged uncomfortably. “What do you mean?”
“We already have a close friendship. D’you just want a closer one? Where we hold hands an’ I don’t keep so many secrets?”
“You mean do I still want to jump your bones?”
“No.” He smiled. “Quite capable of workin’ that one out for myself.”
She blushed.
“I meant … d’you want more with me ‘cause I’m already who you spend all your time with, or ‘cause it’s me?”
“I know I want this,” She said slowly, reclaiming his hand. “The touching. The – both of us sitting on my sofa. I know I want you to feel safe talking to me.”
“Still sounds like friendship.”
“You told me once that Angel and I could never be friends – that lovers can’t.”
“Did I? Pro’ly just jealousy talkin’.”
“More like booze.”
He snorted. “This meant to be some parallel ‘bout us? We’ve been friends for years.”
“Have we?” Buffy stared off into the middle distance. “I’ve been thinking lately that really we’re just doing our own version of When Harry Met Sally.”
Spike rolled his eyes. “So, what, you’ve decided that girls an’ boys can’t be friends now?”
“Not everyone, necessarily. It’s just … I don’t think we would ever have fought so hard for what we have now if really, deep down, we didn’t still love each other.”
“I love you, Spike. As a friend – as family. And, yeah, I’m not sure we’ll work as a couple, because it’s scary at every level I can imagine, but I know I want you to be happy and at peace and to have all of the good things and less of the bad things – or fewer of them. Is it fewer? It’s fewer.” She took a breath. “And incidentally? I’m pretty sure I do want to jump your bones, because there’s this fluttering feeling in my tummy whenever you’re near me that doesn’t happen with Xander or Charlie or any of my other guy friends. And when you were in the shower last week, I was seriously thinking—” She cut herself off. “Never mind. I know all this probably isn’t enough for you, because you don’t really trust me when it comes to love, and you’re right not to, because my track record is freakishly bad, and not just with you, but I want to be the one making you happy, not because I’m jealous, which, let’s be honest, I am, but because I don’t think anyone else can—”
He kissed her. It was soft and quick but full of promise.
“Really?” Buffy said, dazed.
“You’re cute when you babble,” Spike said quietly. “But it needed to stop.”
“So do you …?”
“I believe you want more. Still dunno what I want. But ‘m not sayin’ no.”
Buffy moved to kiss him again, but he turned his face away. “Baby steps,” he said softly.
They walked a little further in silence. It felt charged, and just this side of uncomfortable. Buffy didn’t want to push, so she didn’t immediately try to re-establish physical contact. But straight after they vaulted over the cemetery wall, he held out his hand to her again. She took his whole arm.
Spike snatched the questionnaire from her other hand. “Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.” He paused. “Didn’t we already do this?”
“We did ‘positive characteristics’.”
“An’ this is different how?”
“What, you can’t think of more things you like about me?”
“Reckon this is another of those ‘get-to-know-you’ questions – like that life-story-in-four-minutes one.”
“You can’t, can you?” She pouted.
He laughed. “Can you think of more things you like about me?”
Buffy frowned, then she smiled. “You smell nice.”
He raised both eyebrows.
“It’s something I honestly like about you, that I would never, ever, say to someone I’d just met.”
“How very repressed of you.”
“Jeez, you’re even worse at taking a compliment than I am.”
They both laughed.
“I like how you laugh when you really let go,” Spike said slowly.
“When you let yourself get messy – snorting and gasping and rolling around.” He paused. “Never used to think you had it in you to laugh like that.”
“God, we’re weird,” Buffy said, highly amused. “I’m pretty sure we were supposed to say something like ‘I get lost in your eyes’.” She arched her neck and flamboyantly batted hers.
“Oh, that, too,” Spike said, batting his back. “Definitely.”
Grinning, Buffy grabbed the paper back from him and said, “Okay – next question: share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.” She let out a peal of laughter. “Ohmigod, Spike, what will you pick? There are just so many.”
She giggled again. He scowled.
They walked in silence for a few seconds. When Buffy realised he really wasn’t going to go first, she said, “I broke a guy’s penis once.”
Spike burst out laughing.
“It’s not funny! I had to drive him to the hospital for emergency surgery.”
Spike’s laughter only increased.
Buffy shoved him. “Surgery, Spike! Surgery! In a hospital.”
He made a herculean effort to stop laughing. “That must have been terrible,” he said seriously. “Did he survive the drive?” He burst into another fit of giggles.
Buffy stopped walking and crossed her arms. “That was supposed to be a compliment, you asshole.”
He gave her a perplexed look. “How?”
Buffy just glared at him.
“What? I don’t get it.”
Buffy groaned. “You’re really gonna make me say it, aren’t you?”
“Make you say what?” Spike asked, laughing again. “‘Less I’m the only one whose dick you haven’t broken, ‘s nothin’ to do with me.”
Buffy’s face was getting steadily redder. “Oh, forget it! I’m not telling you.”
“Am I the only one whose dick you haven’t broken?” Spike asked, suddenly serious.
“Of course not!” Buffy snapped. “I just,” she took in a deep breath, “I have to be … careful.” She nodded to herself. “But with you … I didn’t. I could … I could let go. Completely. And that was … nice.”
Spike blinked a few times, not quite sure how to react.
“Now you have to tell me your embarrassing thing,” Buffy said firmly.
“Dunno if I can top breaking a man’s penis,” he said. “Then again, top’s the problem, innit?”
Buffy glowered at him. “C’mon, poetry boy. If you can’t think of anything, you could just compose me an ode.”
“A sonnet?”
“Oh, piss off!”
“You dated Harmony for months. That’s gotta be embarrassment gold.”
“Never went on a date with her.” He shuddered. “Nightmare territory, that is.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Shagged her, then.”
“That just sounds wrong when you say it,” Spike said, wincing. “‘Sides, embarrassments’re all on her.”
Buffy gave him a disbelieving look. “Yeah, that excuse worked great up ‘til you got back together with her. Twice. And wasn’t there some secret third time I’m not supposed to know about?”
Spike shrugged uncomfortably. “If she doesn’ talk, she’s not completely unbearable.”
“You’re sick. You realise that, right?”
“You hate her!”
“So do you! And yet you kept sleeping with her!”
“Bein’ with her’s like … ‘s like masturbatin’. Only warmer. An’ with tits.”
Buffy gaped at him. “You’ve actually made me feel sorry for her. I didn’t think that was even possible.”
“But it’s Harmony!”
“She’s still a person! With feelings!”
Spike’s brain came to a complete stop. This was … this wasn’t Buffy deluding herself, or trying to talk herself into something she didn’t really believe. She would never, ever defend someone she hated as much as she hated Harmony unless her lack of soul really, truly wasn’t an issue. At all. Dazed, he said, “My, my haven’t we changed our tune?”
Buffy was momentarily thrown. Then suddenly she got it. “Wow.” She looked over at him. “Really? You still believe I think like that?”
“I do,” Spike said. “Why shouldn’t you?”
“But you’re – we’re – such good friends with Charlie,” Buffy said in a small voice.
Spike shrugged. “Never claimed to be logical.” He stared down at the ground. “But he never hurt you like I did. Didn’t think you’d ever forgive me – reckoned you couldn’t.”
“I’m not interested in punishing you. Maybe I was, once, but not anymore. You need to forgive yourself, Spike. I have.”
“You’re one to talk.”
“I think that’s one of the reasons we get on so well,” Buffy said, trailing her fingers up his arm and cupping his cheek. He leaned into her hand a little, but he was still avoiding eye contact.
“How can you not hate what I am?”
“You do such a good job all by yourself, I don’t need to.” Buffy sagged against him, wrapping her arms around his waist. After a few very long seconds, he let his arms fall around her. “We are so screwed,” she mumbled into his shoulder.
Spike laughed. “Not yet, but here’s hopin’.” He waggled his eyebrows.
She stuck her tongue out. “Pig.” They shifted positions to start walking again, arms still draped around each other.
“Next question?” he asked.
She nodded, folding back the paper again. “When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?”
“Don’t cry,” Spike said.
Buffy snorted.
“What?” He sounded affronted.
“You cry when you’re drunk.”
Buffy giggled. “You can’t seriously think you’re gonna win this argument.”
“I do not cry!”
She laughed. “After more than two bottles of whiskey? You get maudlin and you cry. Every time.”
“I get violent when I drink!”
“Yup, right up to the two-bottle-mark. And after that you cry.”
Righteous indignation suddenly turned to smirking. “Least I don’t get handsy.”
“I – what?! I am a Friendly Drunk. I am not handsy.”
Spike laughed. “Ask Charlie – hell, ask Willow.”
Buffy scowled. “You’ve probably prepped them to agree with you.”
He grinned, eyes twinkling with mischief. “Ask Angel, then.”
Buffy went ashen. “I haven’t….”
Spike nodded gleefully. “One of the many reasons Sally hates you so bloody much.” He kissed her temple. “Don’t worry, luv, you’ve never done anything I wouldn’t do.”
“Not helping.”
“I know.”
And then suddenly, to their surprise, they were outside Buffy’s apartment building.
Chapter #5 - Set III: questions 31-35

They separated when they reached the door so Buffy could fish out her keys. Apart, and with the first tendrils of dawn stretching into the sky, reality came rushing back.
The prospect of sleeping arrangements hummed under Spike’s skin like a swarm of ants. He knew absolutely that sex would be a mistake. But what if she asked? He didn’t know how to refuse her. She probably wouldn’t ask, though. More likely, she’d pretend sleeping was something that only happened to other people until they were both ratty and exhausted and then he’d say something stupid or crude or both that he didn’t mean and she’d take it all away again. His hope was waning, burnt away by daylight.
Once Buffy got the door open, she turned back to see Spike withdrawing into himself, shutting down. It felt like a slap in the face. Why was she even putting herself through this? He ‘didn’t know what he wanted’ – whatever that meant. She’d been naïve to think they could try again: he was so obviously gearing up to bolt. Anger started building up inside her, choking out the fear.
Their eyes met and they each saw only their worst selves – rage and doubt and pain and self-loathing and precious little else. For a long, frozen moment, they teetered on the edge. Then Spike snatched the questionnaire from her fingers.
“Question thirty-one,” he read, the barest hint of a quaver in his voice. “Tell your partner something that you like about them already.”
It wasn’t nearly enough. But it got them through the door, up the stairs, and into Buffy’s apartment in a thoughtful silence that wasn’t as uncomfortable as it might have been.
As soon as the door shut behind them, Spike started unlacing his boots.
She wanted to thank him – for giving her tangible proof that he was staying – but she couldn’t make the words come. Instead, she forced a jovial artlessness she didn’t feel: “Gets harder to think of stuff to say by the third time, huh?”
He immediately straightened. “Never been hard to think of reasons to like you.”
Buffy was busy fussing with her own boots now, but he wished she’d returned the sentiment. Her silence echoed.
Spike pursed his lips, eying the tiny patch of sunlight that always managed to sneak past her blackout curtains. “Always liked that you’re bitchier’n me in the mornin’.”
A nervous giggle escaped, and she snuck a look at him from behind the closet door. “At least coffee makes me pleasant again.”
He cocked his head to one side, examining her. “Pleasanter. Third cup. Maybe.”
“Tell me more?” Buffy said, shutting the closet and brushing past him to sit in her usual spot on the sofa.
He shook his head. “Nuh-uh. Your turn.” Spike bent again to finish unlacing. By the time his boots were off she still hadn’t said anything, so instead of following after her and sitting down like a good boy, he leaned back against the archway separating her four-foot-square “hallway” from her living-diner and folded his arms across his chest.
Confused by the attitude, Buffy sat up as straight as she could on the sofa and said primly: “I like that you make sure I eat – the take-out and the cooking and the stocking my kitchen.” It came out so much colder and clinical than she’d meant it.
“Pure survival instinct,” Spike said lightly. “You get sadistic when you’re hungry.”
“And you don’t?”
“‘M always sadistic – vampire here.”
She searched his face for clues to the right words. “You take good care of me.”
His stance softened, but only slightly.
“What did I say?” she asked, wanting to sound small and uncertain but ending up somewhere just short of imperious and annoyed. “Please tell me,” she added.
“It really that hard to think of reasons to like me?”
A glib response leapt to her lips, but she stopped herself before it went any further. “Yes,” Buffy said, finally.
He stiffened.
“Not because of you! I just – I’m no good at this. I … it’s hard enough to know why in my head, let alone trying to work out how to say it right.” She licked suddenly dry lips. “And you have this really annoying tendency to leave when I get it wrong.”
Spike pushed himself off the wall and came towards sofa. “You need to talk to me this time around,” he said gently. “Use your words. Or it’s never gonna work.” He sat down, near enough that the cushions dipped her towards him, but just short of touching distance.
“So we have an ‘it’ that could work?”
“I’n’t that what we’ve been tryin’ to figure out all night?”
Buffy nodded briskly, but kept staring down at her hands as if expecting the answers to be there. Just as exploring the hangnail on her left-hand little finger was in danger of becoming all-absorbing, Spike’s shoulder brushed against hers, and she nearly jumped out of her skin.
“Try,” he said softly. His whole body had gone calm and quiet and still.
“Okay,” Buffy sighed, trying to relax shoulders that seemed to desperately want to touch her ears. She could do this. Honest. “So. Willow’s my go-to girl for advice, but that’s her ‘thing’, you know? Like, name the after-school special, she’s probably burnt the t-shirt and written her own twelve step program with flowcharts and highlighted sections for the super busy angst-er.”
Spike laughed, short and sharp; Buffy’s shoulders came down a little.
“But you … you feeding me, it’s something you only do for me.”
He started fidgeting. “I cook for … other people.”
“Yeah, but Dawn wouldn’t live off dry cereal for days at a time if you didn’t stock her fridge.” Buffy ducked her head. “The point is, it’s not about you … you feed me because me feeding myself? Epic fail. Not because you’re, like, a god in the kitchen or something.”
“Malignin’ my cookin’ now?”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “You know I like your cooking.” She bumped his ribs with her elbow and he smiled – that naughty schoolboy smile that made his ancient eyes look young and carefree. “You see me,” she added slowly. “Notice everything I do – or don’t do – stuff even I don’t know.”
“You used to hate that.”
Once – a second ago, even – that would have been a challenge, maybe even a barb. But now it just felt like a question. “Well it is kinda stalker-y.” Buffy frowned. “Actually a lot stalker-y. You might wanna work on that, you know, long-term.”
“But you like it now?”
“It makes me feel … cared for.”
He shivered, and she immediately reached for the blanket lying folded across the back of the sofa. She told herself it was because the room was cold and he liked being warm – which was true – but there was also something to the theory that bootless, blanket-covered Spike was even less likely to get up and leave than merely-bootless Spike.
He grabbed the other end and helped her jerk the blanket out of its pinch between the sofa and the wall. When it was lying in a pile between them, he asked, “How come you never run out of burba weed?”
Buffy took in a deep breath. She should have told him this a long time ago. “I’ve never had to hide – or perform – around you. It’s … I wanted you to have that.” She darted a glance up at him. “With me.”
For once, he was speechless.
Buffy bit her lip, expression sheepish. “It took a really long time for the queasy to go away, though.”
He slumped back against the sofa, dazed. His gaze flitted around the room. There was a drawer with his clothes in, just there. A shelf in the bathroom. The blanket between them carried his scent as strongly as it did hers. It wasn’t much, but it was solid, somehow. Permanent. “You take good care of me, too.”
Buffy meant to shake the blanket out over him, but somehow she ended up tucked against his side with the blanket covering them both. They were both hyper-aware that they had never, ever, sat like this before. Together-but-apart had always been more their speed.
Spike dug out the questionnaire from beneath the blanket, and Buffy laid her head against his arm where it stretched across the back of the sofa. Her hair felt like silk against his skin.
“What,” he read,“if anything, is too serious to be joked about?”
She blurted “Love,” just as he said “Death.”.
“But I thought you’d—” Buffy started.
“You don’t—?”
They came to a stop. It was oddly jarring for both of them. Each had been certain they would agree on this.
She finally broke the silence: “But love’s the only thing you ever took seriously.”
“No,” Spike said shortly, shaking his head. “Not anymore.” It sounded almost like a promise. “Got so twisted ‘round toward the end – with you – didn’ know who I was anymore.” He stopped, lips twitching between smiling and frowning. “Soul helped some, but….” He waved the paper in his hand around helplessly. “Still sorta working on that.”
“I get it,” she murmured. “I needed to figure out who I was, too – the part that isn’t a magical vampire-killing machine, I mean.” Wistfully, she added, “I only wish I was half as good at loving as I am at slaying.”
His left hand slipped down from the back of the sofa to grip her shoulder – tight enough to hurt. “You love with everythin’ you are,” he said. “Nothin’ better’n that.” As his grip loosened, the weight of his arm settled down around her shoulders and his fingers started making small, gentle movements. He never had been any good at staying still.
She smiled ruefully. “I hold back too much.”
“Not tonight, luv.” He laughed outright. “Not hardly.”
“Yeah, well,” Buffy said, embarrassed, but maybe a little proud, too.
“Can’t think what you’d ever find funny ‘bout death, though,” he added meditatively.
“It’s not so much funny as just….” She frowned. “It can’t be the most important part of my life anymore. Before I died – the second time, I mean – I’d been losing pieces of myself to slaying for so long. And then when I came back, I … well, you know what I was like. I don’t want it to be a relief, next time. I need there to be ... more … to me than death.”
“Know that one like the back of my soddin’ balls.”
She laughed. Then she dislodged the questionnaire to capture his hand in both of hers, linking their fingers as she pulled it across his body and into her lap. It forced him to twist his torso towards her, bringing her deeper into the circle of his arm. “So why is death unfunny for you now? You used to be so blasé about it.”
“I survived….” He stared off into the middle distance.
From things he’d let drop over the years, Buffy knew he hadn’t much wanted to – not closing the Hellmouth, and not in LA. But she’d never understood why. Whenever she’d felt ambivalent about survival, it had been because she’d barely been coping. But with Spike, both times he’d just got to the stage where he was coping – right when he should have had everything to live for. “Why’d you pick something so tame for a job?” she asked, suddenly curious. “I mean, breaking into people’s whatevers to check their security isn’t exactly high-risk. Or, you know, meaningful at all.”
His hands stopped their caresses, dangling lifeless from his wrists. “Pay’s not bad,” he said after a few seconds, voice very carefully bland and gaze still fixed somewhere far away. “An’ some of the hex alarms can be right interestin’.”
“C’mon!” Buffy teased, completely oblivious to the tension thrumming through him. “You’ve fought off the hordes of hell to save the world. Multiple times. Why would you pick something so … so ordinary?”
“So what should I be doing else, in your opinion?” He shifted forwards to sit on the edge of the sofa – forcing Buffy to let go of his hand and duck out from under his arm – and hunched over his knees
She shrugged, staring at his back. “I don’t know. But something that actually helps.”
Spike stood up abruptly, thrusting the blanket away, and spinning around to face her again. For a split second, she thought he might hit her.
“Ordinary’s what makes the world worth savin’, you daft cow!” he shouted. “Christ!” He started pacing, making the room feel suddenly small and claustrophobic. “You an’ Angel, you’re like … fuckin’ junkies! Hooked on mythic destiny – jonesin’ for that One Last Battle that’s gonna end the war.” He stopped mid-pace to glare down at her with sneering pity. “Hate to break it to you, luv, but there’s always gonna be another one. Always.” He started moving again, keeping his back to her. “I help my clients protect whatever’s precious to ‘em. An’ when I’m done, we have a few pints and maybe watch the football.” He stopped again, scrubbing at his face with both hands before facing her again. “Savin’ the world’s your sodding albatross. I only ever wanted to live in it.”
Buffy felt a giggle explode out of her, surprising herself even more than him. She clamped her hands over her mouth, but once she’d started, she found she couldn’t stop. Spike just watched, his anger melting into bewilderment. When the too-brittle laughter threatened to shatter into sobs, he edged back towards the sofa, finally sitting down next to her and gingerly putting out a hand to her shoulder. Almost as soon as he touched her, Buffy flung herself against him, settling into something only marginally calmer that wasn’t quite laughter and wasn’t quite tears. Spike gave her back an awkward pat while his shameless left hand crept up to cradle her head against his chest, weaving his fingers into her hair.
“This,” she gasped out finally. “This is why I need you in my life.”
He froze.
“Saving the world is so easy,” Buffy whispered. “But I’ve never known how to live in it.”
Then Spike’s arms wrapped around her, so tightly she could barely draw breath. She held him back, just as tight. As the urgency passed, they slowly relaxed into positions that didn’t involve quite so much awkward bending and sharp edges digging into each other’s soft places. They built a comforting silence, the first they’d shared in years. It felt like coming home.
After what felt like an eternity, she said: “Next question?”
He reluctantly pulled away from her to hunt for the paper.
“If you were to die this evening,” he read, “with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?”
“You know I love you, right?” Buffy said quickly, reclaiming his hand.
“I do,” Spike answered.
She started to panic when he didn’t say anything else.
“Never stopped lovin’ you,” he said, almost huffily. His thumb resumed its slow strokes along the length of her nape.
“You’re just not sure what you want,” Buffy said sulkily.
He sighed. “You. Always want you.”
Her body relaxed against him again, but he could still hear her heart going far too fast.
“Not sure it’s enough, is all,” he added quietly. “Wasn’t before.”
“You got a soul for me,” Buffy said. “It was enough.”
He shifted uneasily. “Soul was for me as much as it was for you. More, maybe.” He paused, staring down at where his right hand lay in both of hers. “I hurt you,” he said, twitching as if to pull away.
“And I forgive you,” Buffy said, refusing to let go. She laughed. “That’s my real super-power, you know.”
He met her eyes. “‘S good, what we have now.” His gaze returned to their hands and he started thinking about how easy it would be to just pull her those last few inches into his lap and let her heat consume him – leave all the talking for another day. But they’d already been to perdition.
“Is what we have now enough?” she asked.
There was a long pause. Then: “No.” His voice sounded hoarse and foreign, like someone else was speaking through his mouth.
Buffy leant across him, her breasts glancing along his thighs. He squeezed his eyes shut, bracing himself, but then … nothing. She had only been reaching for the arm of the sofa and the questionnaire. Once she had it, she went right back to where she’d been before, her head against his chest. Spike felt something deep inside him relax, something he’d never even realised was tense. He lifted their still-clasped hands and pressed his lips against each of her knuckles in turn.
“Your house,” Buffy read, “containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?”
Spike shrugged, disappointed by the question. “Dunno.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “You’d die without your iPod.”
“Have that on me anyway, don’t I?”
She waited, watching expectantly.
Spike frowned, wilting a little. “‘S not a hypothetical for me.” He twitched in memory. “‘Ve forgotten more escapes from burnin’ buildin’s than you’ve had hot dinners. Stopped carin’ ‘bout ‘items’ decades ago.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Yeah, whatever, Grandma.”
He snorted. “You still got an emergency bag packed an’ ready to go?”
She smiled. “Yeah, I do.”
“Show me?”
Buffy slowly extricated herself and padded over to the closet. She pulled out a cracked and soft mustard-yellow leather purse that had once been Joyce’s. With a grin, she dumped its contents onto Spike’s lap and perched next to him on the arm of the sofa, burying her feet first under the bunched-up blanket and then under his thigh, far enough that her toes were skimming along the inside of his other leg.
She acted like it was nothing, so he did too. But it felt more intimate, somehow, than almost anything they’d done before.
Spike tore his eyes away from her legs and focussed on what she’d put in his lap. He recognised a lot of it from the first time she’d packed it: a cheap plastic wallet filled with photos; a zippered Hello Kitty bag that held Joyce’s jewellery; and a bundle of legal documents.
The photo and frame Dawn had given Buffy for her nineteenth birthday were, of course, in pride of place in her living room as they had been everywhere Buffy had lived since Sunnydale. But the plush pig and the signed photo of Brian Boitano were gone. As was Sonnets from the Portuguese. Of course, that might mean they were only to be packed in a real emergency – like Dawn’s photo – but Spike doubted that, somehow. It struck him suddenly that he’d never once given her things – no bauble or line of verse that she could keep. He wondered if he should have.
The bag’s newer acquisitions were purely prosaic: unopened three-packs of underwear and cami-vests; a folding toothbrush and mini-tube of toothpaste; and a container of floss. Plus a couple of Snickers bars.
At Spike’s raised eyebrow, Buffy simply said, “Being dirty and hungry gets old really fast.” She snatched up one of the Snickers and started unwrapping it. “These get rotated out every couple weeks.” Her face split into a wide, greedy smile and she inhaled the chocolate in two dainty bites. He decided then and there to start slipping more treats into her stash.
“But no new memories?” he asked, genuinely surprised.
Buffy shrugged, still chewing. “Mmph.” She swallowed. “I’ve doubled up a bunch of the photos, but … I was mostly living out of a suitcase for years. I didn’t pick up much extra stuff.”
“Your closets beg to differ.”
“Ah, but losing any of that just gives me an excuse to buy more,” Buffy said smugly.
Spike picked up the noticeably fatter photo wallet and started flipping through it. The childhood photos were largely unchanged – Buffy’s dad was a bit more thoroughly excised and there were a few formal school shots of Dawn he didn’t recognise – but the “various Scoobies” had received a proper facelift. Gone were the perm of doom and Willow looking twelve, replaced by one-eyed-Xander and a glut of teenage girls. Anya was missing entirely – Buffy must’ve given those away. And there was a new-old snap of Giles as an angry young man that reminded Spike eerily of himself.
To his great surprise, Faith appeared towards the end, looking unusually relaxed and happy. Spike wondered who could have taken it, since he was pretty sure Buffy hadn’t exchanged eye contact let alone actual words with Faith for a good few years now. There followed a ridiculous photo-booth set of Angel and Corrine from three or so years ago. He’d let himself be goofy with her, and then she’d died, poor bitch, and taken with her the last remnants of what had passed for the old sod’s sense of humour.
Then Spike found one of himself – the first in the entire set. It was too dark so his clothes glowed green and his eyes were red from the flash, but you could just about make out that he was smoking and staring off intently at something in the distance.
“Dawn took that,” Buffy said quietly. “At the Bronze.”
He knew the look, if not the picture. “Watchin’ you dance, was I?”
She shrugged. “You’d have to ask her.”
The last photo in the wallet was of him and Buffy together, leaning against each other and laughing helplessly. “Who took this?”
“Andrew,” Buffy said. “It was from—”
“Dawn’s housewarming,” Spike finished, remembering.
Buffy nodded.
They’d been spending some time together then – but only because Dawn refused to be forced to choose between them. That night, they’d … reconnected.
Spike closed the photo wallet and Buffy started packing up the purse. Her feet became increasingly distracting as she shifted positions.
“Thank you,” he said, catching her eye.
“You’re welcome.” Smiling again, she removed the purse and her distracting feet.
By the time Buffy came back to the sofa, he’d sorted out the blanket and was holding up one edge for her. She nestled against him, his elbow at her back so that his fingers could wind themselves into her hair. It was beginning to feel natural, sitting like this.
Spike folded down the next question. “Of all the people in your family,” he read, “whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?”
“Well it’s only Dad and Dawn left,” Buffy said, laying her head against his shoulder. “I think they’d be equally disturbing, but for completely different reasons.”
He could feel her breath at his throat, all hot and shivery.
“There’s my mom’s sisters and their kids, too, I guess, but … I haven’t seen any of them since the funeral. It’d be weird if they died – sad, but not disturbing.” She sighed. “I’ll probably go before any of them, though.” She stared down at her hands. “Although … Arlene’s getting kinda old now. Plus there’s always that aneurysm gene lottery. So maybe not.”
“Got a whole army these days,” he said quietly. “No need to be on the front lines anymore.”
Buffy laughed. “Doesn’t stop tomorrow from being something’s one good day.”
Spike’s expression turned troubled. “You’re not still—”
“World of no,” she cut him off, lifting her head to meet his eyes. “I am death-wish-free for … three years, two months and counting.”
He flinched.
“It’s okay. Seriously! I … I know to stay in those nights.” Buffy cleared her throat. “I guess we’re talking vamp family for you, huh? So … Drusilla?”
His restless fingers stopped moving. Spike stared down at his knees and found himself counting the stripes on the blanket.
Buffy stared up at the ceiling thoughtfully. “It was easier in a lot of ways, you know, when I thought you were dead.”
His head shot up.
“Not that it didn’t hurt that you were gone,” she rushed out, meeting his gaze again. “Because it did. A lot. But the way you went? I was … proud. And no one could claim you had ulterior motives.” She paused. “There were no more what-ifs about you, or about us. It was—” She stopped. “I could mourn. It was okay to love you in a way it never had been before. So I did.” She looked over at him, squinting slightly. It was his look, from years ago, when he was reading her heart. “There’s gotta be some part of you thinking it’ll be simpler when Dru’s dead.”
He goggled at her. “You a pod person?”
She laughed, taking the compliment for what it was. “I can be think-y. Sometimes.”
“Can always feel her, you know. A little tug, just on the edge,” Spike said, his voice soft with something Buffy couldn’t quite identify. “Be like losing a limb, not havin’ that anymore.”
“Do you have the same connection with Angel?” she asked, genuinely curious.
He shook his head. “Angelus taught me but Dru made me.” He chuckled. “Funny, innit? I know there are others in the line, but they’re like your aunts and cousins. Only two left, really. For both of us.”
“Long may they live,” Buffy said quietly.
He held her a bit tighter, and she settled the blanket around them a bit more snugly.
“So, um, are we really gonna do this?”
He sighed. “Still can’t say it, can you?”
 “Don’t play coy with me, bucko – you know damn’ well what I mean. Yes-or-no answer, please.”
“Haven’t asked the right question yet.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Are we going to be more than friends?”
“Never did work out how to say no to you.”
“And … still waiting.”
He laughed, giddy and bright. “Yes, Buffy. Yes, we really are doing this.”
They just stared into each other’s eyes and grinned while his left hand kept up its steady cadence of stroking along the back of her head and neck. Then Buffy twisted around under his arm so they were facing each other and reached up to cup his face with both hands. Her thumb gently stroked his bottom lip and her fingertips traced the shells of his ears so lightly he couldn’t be sure it was happening at all.
Spike moved in first, but Buffy definitely initiated the kiss. It was gentle but needy, sweet and biting, passion and comfort all rolled up into one. He’d never dreamed it could be like this: so quietly rapturous. Before, he’d always felt a desperate, driving need to go further, faster, deeper – like if he stopped for even a second he’d lose everything. But this, now – kissing her – it was an end in itself. It reminded him of those nights a lifetime ago when they’d just held each other. His eyes melted shut.
Buffy’d always avoided kissing him in the past. It had felt too intimate, too raw. Kissing, she’d told herself, was only for real relationships. But everything was different now – they were different. She could luxuriate in the messy, awkward realness of it all: how her fingers were gunky because she’d stupidly scrunched them into his hair; and how they were still sitting next to each other, twisted like pretzels to make all the right parts line up. But as the kiss gentled into nuzzling and soft touches, and they finally shoved the back cushions onto the floor so they could fit lengthways along the sofa in something vaguely resembling comfort, Buffy felt a satiation that transcended any of the more physically intimate acts they’d shared.
“Come to bed,” she said softly, staring down at his still-closed eyes.
They blinked languidly open: half-lidded and newly-anxious. “You sure?” he asked.
“Never been surer,” she said firmly.
Then she took his hand and somehow managed to get them both up and off the sofa. It struck her as she led him into her bedroom that this felt cosmically right, somehow. He’d bitched and moaned endlessly about being kept out of her life in Sunnydale, never mind the absolute embargo on her bed. So, yeah, there would’ve been a deep, meaningful … something … if they’d done all this before the crater had sucked both life and bed into oblivion. But here and now? She got to bring Spike to the bed he’d helped her carry up six flights of stairs and into an apartment that often felt like it was half-his anyway. There wasn’t any baggage in this room, and that made a new start feel more certain.
He watched her change into a tattered t-shirt and a faded pair of sleeping shorts and the raw intimacy of it made his chest ache: being let in like this was precious and powerful in a way even the most titillating frippery could never compete with. He took off his belt and shirt, then lost his balance removing his socks. He hadn’t done it on purpose, but the laughter overrode the awkwardness of getting into bed together.
Only a few minutes later, twined around Buffy and already more than half asleep, Spike mumbled, “Love you, too,” for the first time in over a hundred years.