Okay, so Spike was back. She could live with that, especially when he wasn’t the Spike who got on her last nerve with his arrogance and his attitude so that she had to grit her teeth to keep from dusting him, even when he was chipped and couldn’t fight back.
The soul had changed him. It wasn’t just that it kept him from killing. It was more than that. The humanity in him had been activated. He wasn’t just a vamp anymore. Or maybe it wasn’t the soul at all, but the experiences he had gone through.
Or maybe...it was his heart.
Because the soul had come after. His heart was what made him go and get it. The guilt that his soul had brought him kept Angel on the straight and narrow. With Spike, it was loving that other Buffy Summers.
It made him a danger. Because she felt sorry for him, was softening towards him. She had to remember that he was a vamp. Yeah, Angel was a vamp and she trusted him. That was different. Angel had had his soul for a century. Time had tested his resolution not to do evil. Not so with Spike.
She had to keep her guard up.
“Slayer!” someone called and she swung around, almost dropping the binder she had tucked under her arm when she had left the dorm. It was Willy, coming out of one of the frat houses.
“What are you doing on campus?” she asked suspiciously.
“Making a delivery. Got some news you might pay to have.”
“Spike’s back,” she said flatly and watched with enjoyment as his face fell. “I know. But how do you?”
“He came into the bar last night. Wanted to get severely plastered and did.”
Buffy frowned. “Where is he now?”
“A Brachen female took him home. She won’t have gotten much use out of him. He was blotto.”
Buffy gave him a glance of distaste. She thought she knew which particular Brachen female that had been and Fasra would have seen Spike home out of concern, not what Willy was implying.
“When are you going to dust him, Slayer?” Willy was asking eagerly.
“Making book on that? I’m not going to tell you.”
“Oh, come on,” he wheedled. “I’d split the profit with you.”
“Out of my sight, Willy.”
She held up her clenched fist. “If you know what’s good for you.”
He cringed and went. Buffy forgot about him the minute his back was turned.
Spike’s crypt was deserted when she walked in. The bottle of Jack Daniels that he had drunk from last night now lay empty on the floor with another one equally empty beside it. And even after that, he had still gone to Willy’s for more. She had to admire his capacity for booze. And couldn’t blame him for needing the forgetfulness the booze would have brought him.
The trap door leading to the space below was open and light was coming up from it. She went down warily, then turned in a full circle when she got to the foot of the ladder, staring about her in surprise. The other Spike had made it unexpectedly cosy down here. It seemed he liked his comforts. There was a big bed, rugs, candles, shelves of books. A lamp had been left on, over on a table at the far side of the room where its light would not glare on the bed.
Spike was flat on his stomach in the middle of the bed, sprawled as if he had been thrown down from a great height, his face buried in his arms. He was out cold and probably would be like that for the rest of the day, until the booze wore off.
She walked over quietly and put the binder she had brought on the night table where he would see it when he came to. The binder held all the pages that had been in the folder that Buffy2 had left her.
She glanced at him to make sure that she hadn’t woken him, then found her gaze lingering on his body. He was naked and the sheet he had yanked over him just barely covered his ass. Whoa. Would you look at that! Alabaster skin, strong fine bone, lean and totally ripped muscle.
Riley had worked out—to the point of pushups first thing in the morning, God!—but he had been the beefy kind, hadn’t had this cut shape, this perfect definition. The palms of her hands itched, wanting to touch that really gorgeous bod in front of her.
And she wasn’t thinking that way about Spike! He was Spike, for God’s sake, the bane of her life. Only he wasn’t that Spike, was he? Yeah, but he was hopelessly in love with another woman. In another dimension, retorted her treacherous mind. Shut up! she told herself furiously and got out of there as fast as she could.
So she wanted to jump his bones. Naked guy, that kind of absolutely tempting naked guy, who wouldn’t? It was lust, that was all. The sudden realization of what was under the black tee and jeans. Just put it out of your mind, she told herself angrily; you’re not that kind of girl; you know how unsatisfying just fucking can be. Been there, done that with Parker, and what a bust that had been! She was the kind that needed a connection and there was no connection possible with Spike. She had principles after all.
But she couldn’t help thinking about the way he had kissed her, the passion and the intensity and the delight of it. It had started a slow burn inside her that she couldn’t dismiss. The taste of his mouth and the deep sensuality of the thrust and slide of his tongue and the way his body had felt against hers.
She suddenly remembered the time he had kissed her during that ‘will be done’ spell of Willow’s, not long after he was chipped. They had been hating each other then, but under Willow’s spell they had fallen for each other, hadn’t been able to stay out of each other’s arms, had spent the whole time kissing. And the thing she hadn’t admitted to herself after the spell was over and they had gone back to hating each other once again was that those light, easy, teasing kisses had aroused her more than Riley, trying his best, ever had. It was part of the reason she had been so antipathetic to Spike—the way he made her feel.
Had been? No, was antipathetic!
She went to her classes and then on patrol when it got dark and the monsters would start coming out. When she realized that she had deliberately bypassed Restfield, she bit her lip and forced herself to go there. Avoiding the problem was useless. Might as well face it head on.
Spike was sitting in his worn green armchair when she walked in, the binder open on his lap. His face was wet.
She turned away, making a business of settling her stake neatly into its sheath in the small of her back, giving him time to recover. Out of the corner of her eye, she was aware of him swiping hurriedly at his face with the heel of his hand.
“So,” she said lightly. “Have you read that?”
“A couple of times, yeah.” His voice was blurred and thick.
“All those things that she says will happen, did they happen?”
He swallowed and his voice went back to normal. “Yeah, they did.”
“So I really do have advance warning. Good. Can I ask you a favor?”
“Yeah, sure, anything.”
“It’s my Mom. Buffy2 got her to have a CAT scan done and, sure enough, they found a tumor. But the hospital was backlogged, so they’re only going to go in to take it out a couple of weeks from now. The thing is, Buffy2 said the operation would go all right, but...”
“The aneurysm. Yeah.”
“Vamps can watch for it, right?”
“Sure. Nothing we can’t sense about blood. Even the hospitals can with their CATs and MRIs. It’s not hard to fix once it’s detected. I think they clip the blood vessel or block it with material.”
“So I was going to ask Angel to come over to keep an eye on her, but who knows how long he’d have to wait around for it to show and...”
“I can do that, pet, seeing as how I’ll be around.”
“Thank you!” she said with relief.
“No big.” He smiled at her. “I like your Mum, Slayer.”
“She likes you too.” She turned to the door, then hesitated. “I’m going on patrol. Want to come?”
It would be better for him than sitting around brooding or drinking himself into a coma.
He looked at her in surprise. “You want me to help you patrol?”
“Unless you have some objection to killing other demons.”
He grinned involuntarily. “Don’ care what I kill, pet. Despite the soul. Just like to kill. But you never liked me tagging along before.”
“Well, I was wrong,” she muttered. “It’s hit me that you could be useful, the kind of fighter you are.”
“Happy to help. And is that a compliment? I may die of shock.”
“Enjoy the moment ’cause you’ll probably never get another one from me.”
“As if I didn’t know.”
He followed her out of the crypt, telling himself to keep on kidding her like that, keep things light. It was hard to smile, but there was no point on laying his depression on her. He’d learned long ago that no one was interested in anyone else’s pain. Until he had got his soul, he’d always been pretty open about his feelings, but he had always tried not to show his pain. Pain was like blood in the water to vamps; he’d have been giving them the opportunity to rip him to shreds. And humans never cared how a vamp felt. Years of abuse from Buffy and the Scoobies had demonstrated that to him very thoroughly.
Reading that binder had cut him up with both pain and joy. Buffy had loved him after all. It hadn’t just been a comforting lie. No one had ever loved him before. And here Buffy had. He could hold that knowledge to him, close and warm and cherished, the one light in the darkness.
That was the joy. The bitterness came from losing that love and knowing it was his own fault that he had lost it. If he hadn’t been such a coward, if he only had believed her when she had said it there in the Hellmouth, if he only had gone to her once the amulet brought him back or rather when that flash of light had made him solid and freed him from being bound to L.A., he would be the one with her now, not that other Spike. He had thrown it all away.
Because he had been terrified of being rejected yet again. Or of being taken back only because she thought she owed him after what he had done in the Hellmouth. He was used to rejection, used to always losing. So used to it that he hadn’t seen that everything that he had ever wanted was right within his grasp. And so he had lost it after all.
And now what? What was he going to do with himself? The long years of his unlife stretched barren before him. He couldn’t go back to the easy, hedonistic, meaningless life of a vampire. The soul made that impossible. He liked action. Do what Angel was doing? Helping the helpless, except in some other city? New York, maybe. No, Cleveland. Hadn’t someone said there was another Hellmouth there? That would give him a purpose.
He grinned twistedly, remembering Wes and Gunn coming after him when he had started doing that in L.A. When Angel helped the helpless, Angel was regarded as a hero; when he started doing it, they called him a vigilante. The usual double standard both the Fang Gang and the Scoobies reveled in.
It hadn’t satisfied him though, saving those people. That ponce Lindsey had tried to build it up big, but it had seemed just a drop in the ocean for him. Angel maybe had seen every rescue as a step closer to redemption, but Spike didn’t care about redemption and, after the Slayer and her apocalypses, it all seemed rather small potatoes to him, though certainly it had meant their very lives to the people he saved. The soul was mildly pleased with that, but it still wasn’t enough to really motivate him.
He watched the Slayer sauntering lightly in front of him. It was a pleasure to see her like this, young and untroubled. Bad things had happened to her, yeah, but so far not the really dark ones. She hadn’t died and been resurrected, hadn’t gone through the trauma of losing Heaven, hadn’t been betrayed by her loved ones as badly as she would be, hadn’t turned into that grim, stoic warrior that she had had to be to face the First.
The darkness hadn’t touched her yet. She was still naive and innocent. He looked at her with tenderness, wanting to keep her that way, shield her from everything that was coming.
He suddenly had a blinding epiphany. There it was! His purpose. To protect her. Do whatever was necessary to keep her safe. Change those things he knew were coming.
That had to be why he had been brought here! Maybe the PTB had done it. They must want things to be changed, otherwise why would they have allowed the other Buffy to write all those warnings in that binder? They wouldn’t have done that if they had wanted things to go the way they had in his dimension.
Spike started to smile slowly. This Buffy wouldn’t love him the way his Buffy finally had. But that didn’t matter. It was hardwired into him to need someone to cherish and protect. And here she was.
This wasn’t his Buffy, but it was still Buffy. He belonged to her. She wasn’t his, but he was hers. Written in stone, that was.
And this time he wouldn’t ask anything back Wouldn’t make the same mistakes, demanding things from her that she wasn’t willing to give, demanding that she love him. Maybe it was the soul that finally showed him that it was enough sometimes to simply love and ask nothing in return.
He suddenly realized that they were nowhere near any of the cemeteries.
“Uh, Slayer, where are we going?”
She looked back over her shoulder and flushed a little. “Well, you know, I thought it might be better for Giles and the Scoobs to know that you’re around. That way, they won’t suddenly stumble over you somewhere in Sunnydale and maybe stake you because they don’t know any better.”
“Good plan.” He thought of how Giles and Xander would react to him wandering around without a chip in Sunnydale. Probably go into cardiac arrest, he thought and couldn’t help grinning.
“So I called a Scooby meeting over at Giles’ place,” Buffy was saying. “I haven’t told them that you’re here yet. Couldn’t say something like that over the phone. I thought it would be better to tell them in person.”
“Got a point.”
“Since you’re here with me, we can make it a Show and Tell. Better than just a Tell, because they’ll be able to see what you’re like now.” She was jittering.
“With the soul,” he said dryly.
“Yeah.” She gave him a nervous glance.
They reached the Watcher’s place and she hesitated for a moment at the front door. He watched her with gentleness as she wavered.
“Don’t have to do this, pet. Don’t have to have anything to do with me.”
“Are you leaving Sunnydale then?”
When there were so many things menacing her? Not a chance. But she didn’t have to know that. He knew how to keep a low profile when necessary. He could stay and she’d never know he was there.
“Do you want me to?”
He could see her considering pros and cons.
“I don’t know,” she muttered. “Will you if I ask you to?”
He didn’t want to go into that, avoided a direct answer.
“I could help, pet. I can be useful. Think of me as a weapon you can use and put aside. An attack dog at your disposal. Point me at a target. I’ll take it down for you.”
She looked at him intently, seeing the possibilities.
“Not a dog,” she said. “A partner.”
That was more than he had hoped for. What Angel could have had and had thrown away.
“Whatever you want me to be,” he said very low, unable to hide his intensity.
She frowned a little, picking that up. Her eyes were wary. Then she nodded abruptly.
“Deal.” She turned to the door. “Let me go in first.”
She saw that they were all there, Willow and Tara on the couch, Xander handing Anya a mineral water at the fridge, Giles pouring himself a Scotch. They all looked around as Buffy walked in and stopped just inside the door.
“So what’s up, Buff?” Xander asked as he and Anya came out of the little kitchen area. “Another apocalypse or something?”
“Something,” said Buffy wryly. “Brace yourselves for a shock.”
Spike stepped in when she put out a hand to him. He looked distinctly amused.
“Aw geez!” said Xander and sat down hard.
“Spike?” said Giles in disbelief. “But...”
“He’s not our Spike,” said Buffy. “He’s the other dimension’s Spike.”
“But the other Buffy said he died in that dimension!”
“Yeah, well, don’t seem to be able to stay dead,” said Spike sardonically. “Someone keeps yanking me back into existence. That’s twice now. Really getting sick of dying, I can tell you.”
“Please tell me he’s chipped,” moaned Xander.
Spike grinned nastily at him. “Not chipped. But don’t shit your pants, wanker. Got a soul instead.”
“A soul!” This time it was Giles who sat down hard in the nearest armchair. “That’s impossible!”
“No, I can see his aura,” Tara said softly. “It’s beautiful, Spike. It glows!”
“Glows, huh?” He made a face. “Never thought I’d end up as a night light. You couldn’t have said it was something diabolical?”
Tara laughed at him and he smiled back ruefully, then glanced at Buffy who was frowning.
“It figures that a demon would prefer something ookie,” grinned Willow.
“Any self-respecting demon would.” Spike was watching them all with some surprise. They weren’t reacting as he expected. They should all have been freaking out at his presence. Xander in particular should have been reaching for stakes and howling threats. Giles should have been fulminating. They were startled, but they weren’t upset. He couldn’t think of a time in his own dimension when hostility hadn’t been behind every word they said to him, irregardless of chip or soul.
“How...?” Watcher was staring at him.
Spike shrugged. “Went through some trials with this demon in Africa.”
He didn’t want to say. He had done it for her, for Buffy, so that he would never hurt her again. But that was too personal to say. Even in the other dimension they hadn’t known all his motives. Hell, he hadn’t known all of them himself.
‘Make me what I was,’ he had said to the demon. And he wasn’t sure what he had meant by that. Certainly he hadn’t wanted to be William again; he had grown past William. Spike was what he was, what suited his psyche. And he hadn’t wanted to be human, to be weak and useless again, like that asshole, Finn. Let Angel yearn to Shanshu. Spike liked the power and the preternatural abilities of a vampire, liked being the Slayer’s equal and wanted to stay that way. When he and Angel had battled for the Cup of Perpetual Torment, he had fought to beat Angel, to win over him, not because he truly wanted to become human. If he had, he would have drunk from the Cup before Angel even got there; Spike had arrived first.
‘So Buffy can get what she deserves,’ he had said to the demon and it had responded by giving him the soul.
He hadn’t known himself what he had meant, so maybe the demon hadn’t either. The nebulous thought in his head had been on the lines of ‘make me someone who won’t hurt her, make me someone she could love, make me worthy of her.’
When Angel had walked out on Buffy, telling her she should have someone normal, he had explained it by saying, ‘You deserve something outside of demons and darkness. You should have someone who can take you into the light.’ But Buffy didn’t need anyone to take her into the light. She was light. And she wasn’t normal, however Angel deluded himself, and no one normal would do for her.
By winning his soul and bringing it home to her like that, Spike had wanted to show her that he wasn’t all darkness anymore, that he now had a little bit of that light, that spark, in him as well and didn’t care how much it hurt him as it burned. Once, for all too short a time, she had seen him as a man, not a monster. But after they had started that disastrous liaison of theirs, she had seen him only as a monster. He had wanted her to see him as a man again, wanted to show her that though he was a vamp, he was still capable of light. It was the best he could do and he had hoped that it would be enough.
It hadn’t worked. Buffy hadn’t loved him. Or maybe it had in the end, because now it seemed that she really had finally loved him. The soul made him understand now what he had done wrong those three months they had been lovers and ripped each other apart. At least he wouldn’t do that again; at least the soul would keep him from ever hurting this Buffy the way he had his own. But he still wasn’t worthy, the way he saw it, though he’d do his best to be.
“Had my reasons,” he said curtly.
“He’s going to be helping me,” Buffy said. “You’re going to see him around Sunnydale and I don’t want any of you dusting him. That should be my decision as a Slayer.”
To his immense surprise, all of them nodded, even that wanker, Harris.
“What’s with them?” he asked Buffy as they headed out for patrol. “I thought they’d be frothing at the mouth.”
She made a rueful face. “The other Buffy kinda raked them over the coals for what they did in her dimension. Things have been a lot different since she came.”
Interesting. A lot of the things that had gone wrong had not been caused by the Big Bads, but by the attitudes of the Scoobies themselves. Things might go better if they kept on feeling chastened. He hoped it took.
A couple of vamps turned up during patrol. They didn’t look like much, so he backed off and watched her with pleasure as she dealt with them. She knew her stuff, though his Buffy had picked up a few moves that this Buffy didn’t know and could use. He wondered whether she’d let him show her or whether she’d be offended at the suggestion.
The Firoud were tracking them. He was aware of the small forms pacing them, scampering silently through the shadows, watching. When Buffy took down a demon, they came swarming out to dismember the body and carry it away.
“Now that’s different,” he remarked and she laughed a little ruefully.
“No cleanup to worry about and it’s good eating for them. Buffy2 had an understanding with the non-harmful demons and I’ve been going along with that.”
“Sensible.” It would have made things easier for his Buffy and it seemed that she had learned that and passed on the knowledge. “How’s Watcher taking it?”
“He’s adjusting. But we haven’t told the Council. And don’t plan to.”
He nodded. The hidebound mentality of Quentin Travers and his Council would not accept a détente between a Slayer and any demon.
He was enjoying being in her company. She wasn’t his Buffy, but it was still a pleasure to be with her. Feel the power in her, watch the expressions on her face, see the movements of that lithe body and the swing of her golden hair. He had missed all of that, was happy just to be in her presence, knew better than to ask for more.
She wasn’t comfortable being in his company though. He could see the uneasy shift of her eyes in his direction every now and again. It would take her a while to get used to him being there, but as long as she didn’t flat out tell him to go, he was going to stick around.
Buffy was relieved when she could call it a night. It felt peculiar to have Spike with her. She was used to patrolling alone or occasionally with one or the other of the Scoobies. Usually after only a few minutes in each other’s company, Spike and she would be snarking at each other. Instead, they were exchanging small talk. She found that very unsettling and uncomfortable. She would have felt more at ease if he had leaped at her throat. That at least would be familiar. And he kept watching her with that strange expression in his eyes. The way he was looking at her felt somehow more dangerous to her than an attack would have been.
They had almost reached the cemetery gates when something hissed at them from the shadows. They both turned sharply. The moonlight glistened on a wet-looking, reptilian shape, purplish and scaled, with muddy green eyes that had no sentience in them. She could hear the agitated piping of the Firoud.
Spike pulled her back when she started to move forward.
“This one’s mine, Slayer.”
He hadn’t interfered when she had taken on the vamps. She supposed it was only fair to let him have this demon.
He called something and suddenly the Firoud were there, skimming around the creature in twisting, dizzying circles. It snarled and lashed out at them, but they were too fast for it, weaving fluidly about it and ducking the slash of its claws.
Spike had ripped one of the pointed metal bars of Tranquility’s fence free and was now using that as a weapon, to her surprise keeping his distance and making no move to close on the thing. It rushed him, trying to grapple, and he shoved it back with the bar. Puzzled, she stepped forward to help.
“It’s a Quenat! Stay away, Slayer!”
“What’s the big? It’s only a demon and killing demons is my job!”
He snapped something and a few of the Firoud suddenly rushed her, pushing and shoving her back.
“Hey, let go, you guys!” she exclaimed in surprise and anger. “Spike!”
He wasn’t listening. He was driving the Quenat back, using the bar like an épée while it hissed and slashed at him. A moment later, he lunged, driving the bar right through its heart, his knee almost on the ground and his arm at full extension. The Quenat fell onto the ground, spasming as it died, its flailing arm striking his hand before he could jerk it away. He shouted in pain and bent over, clutching at his hand.
The Firoud left her and all started dragging him towards the drinking fountain near Tranquility’s gates.
“Water, Spike,” they chorused. “Water.”
“Yeah.” He shoved his hand into the flow as they held the button for him.
Buffy ran to him. “What did it do?”
“Its skin touched me. Quenat, their skin’s covered in slime and the slime’s acid. Burns.”
The back of his hand was black and charred. The water had washed off the slime, but he hissed in pain as the air touched the burn. One of the Firoud pushed his hand back under the flow of cold water. Another reached up and pulled at the scarf around Buffy’s neck.
“What? You want this?” she asked, startled.
She took it off and held it out. The Firoud snatched it from her, then ran off.
“That’s why you wouldn’t let it grab you or let me attack it,” she said to Spike. “Acid.”
He nodded. “Stuff’s like oil of vitriol. Eats through anything. You didn’t know. It’s all right. Vamp healing will fix it in a couple of days.”
The Firoud was back, carrying her scarf smeared now with a paste of sap and some crushed, green plant. It wrapped that around Spike’s hand. He gave a sigh of relief.
“That’s better. Thanks, mate.”
“Why’d you do that?” Buffy said angrily. “You shouldn’t have interfered!”
His brows flicked together. “Did you want to get burned, Slayer?”
“Taking out demons is my job, not yours!”
He gave her a mocking look. “Thought we were partners.”
“I’m not your Buffy!” she said under her breath.
“Never thought you were,” he snapped back.
“Then don’t act as if I were!” she flung back and stomped off.
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