It was late, she was bored, and the demon population wasn’t exactly working to remedy that. Figures. Local baddies rarely accommodated her schedule. So for the umpteenth hour in a row, she found herself staring at newly lain graves in the hope of seeing something shift.
But no. Apparently all the deaths in the last day had been natural. Furthermore, there had been nothing more from Glory, her mother seemed to be doing well, and Dawn, despite her rampant teenage hormones, had managed to keep out of trouble for forty-eight hours.
Buffy was in a holding period to end all holding periods.
Which meant, naturally, something bad was coming.
Hooray for positive thinking.
Granted, Buffy rationalized as she made her third uneventful sweep of Restfield Cemetery, only two days had passed since the trauma that was the big troll.
Even that had been over before it started. Lousy trolls.
Buffy sighed and glared at the nearest grave. One little demon. That was all she wanted tonight.
Well, what she really wanted was to go home, soak, and cuddle with the boyfriend that had left when life became too real, but that wasn’t happening.
Okay, so that wasn’t what she really wanted. But she wanted to want it. The place Riley had in her heart was vacant, yes, but not unmanageable. It hurt that it didn’t hurt more, and then it just hurt all over. As though her non-indifference-but-close was enough to warrant his leaving. As though every nasty thing he’d said was true.
She had known that, of course. On some level buried under heaps and heaps of denial, she had known that.
But he was Joe Normal. He was what she was supposed to want.
Sometimes, like now, life sucked beyond the telling of it.
And there were no demons to take it out on.
Buffy sighed again, gave the grave one last glare, and officially threw in the towel. There was no point in wasting a perfectly good chick-flick night wandering aimlessly around the cemeteries.
If Riley were here, they could spar. Or make love. Of course, neither one of those activities scored high on the relaxing scale. Fighting Riley had always aggravated her because she couldn’t unleash her everything and just be…her. The Slayer. She was always afraid she was going to hurt him. Or break him.
And the other…
Their bedroom life the past year had gone seriously downhill. To his credit, he had started their physical relationship as a very attentive lover, but time progressed and the newness of their relationship had fizzled to a dull static. And he’d become Joe Normal on a whole new plateau.
His plateau, of course. She’d never asked him to do more in bed, too afraid it would damage his precious male ego. Thus, Buffy had become a pupil in one of the oldest arts of her gender. A self-taught pupil, of course. It wasn’t as though there was a how-to manual, and she certainly couldn’t ask her mother.
“Mom…how do you fake an orgasm?”
And Riley had never known the difference. And yeah, that hurt. It hurt when it didn’t hurt enough and it hurt that she was not giving him what he needed. Because she knew that he loved her. Despite everything else, he loved her. And she had pushed him away because she didn’t—she couldn’t—feel the same.
It wasn’t because he wasn’t Angel. God, if that wasn’t the king of all revelations. Angel wasn’t what she wanted anymore. From the few times that they had talked since he’d abandoned her for Los Angeles, he had turned into someone she didn’t know. Naturally, there was a part of her that would always love him. He had been her first, and no girl ever really let go of her first. It wasn’t possible. But she wasn’t dumb enough to believe that he was The One anymore. And she had long ago stopped fantasizing that he would one day come to his senses and rescue her from the woes of slayerhood.
That would never happen. She knew it now. She had known it for a while.
But Angel wasn’t the reason that she couldn’t give Riley what he wanted. And that was what bothered her. On the surface, Riley had been everything she should want. He wasn’t. And he never had been.
Whistler had been right all along. In the end, it was only her. And it would be that way forever. After all, what could a girl whose death was always licking her heels offer anyone? A few good rolls in the sack, if that. A hearty kiss farewell before—boom—massive deadness.
There were times that being the Slayer caught up with her.
A surprisingly cool breeze flitted through the cemetery and Buffy shivered, crossing her arms.
That was when she heard the unmistakable signs of a struggle. At once, her spirits lifted. Perhaps the evening’s hunt wouldn’t be a total waste.
The scene upon arrival, however, took the wind out of her sails. Spike was beating the tar out of some newly risen fledgling, and apparently having a marvelous time doing so, if the ear-to-ear grin was an indication of anything.
“Great,” she muttered. “The first vampire I’ve come across all night and he’s spoken for.”
The sound of her voice apparently startled the fun-stealing vamp to the point he halted abruptly and whirled to face her with wide eyes. Weird. She’d flabbergasted him simply by showing up.
Not good. Stopping to talk to your mortal enemy during a fight was not good.
“Spike!” Buffy snapped, dragging a stake out of her back pocket. “You’re—”
Too late. Baby Vamp seized the opportunity to slam him into the side of the nearest mausoleum. Spike barely had time to grunt before his nose was full of Baby Vamp elbow and his head smashed against the stone wall.
That was all the excuse she needed. Buffy hurled herself enthusiastically into the line of fire.
Snooze you lose, blondie.
“Oi, Slayer!” Spike called. “Find your own! I saw him first!”
“Sorry, Bleach Boy,” she retorted, words stressed between punches. “Finders…keepers…”
There was a disgruntled mumble. She couldn’t blame him for being irritated, seeing as this particular vamp was a laughably easy slay that she was trying to drag out into an epic battle. After all, there would be no more fighting after he bit the dust.
Bah. The woes of slow nights.
Even going easy on the newb, the fight didn’t last nearly as long as she would have liked. All too soon, Buffy was staring at a fading cloud of dust, sighing to herself and shoving her stake back into her rear pocket. As an afterthought, she turned to Spike.
The way he looked at her these days was…weird. She’d thought she’d been imagining at first, but faced with nothing else to distract her, she had to admit something had changed. Not that it meant much, seeing as the peroxide pest was always up to something or other. If she knew him half as well as she thought she did, she would be foiling some supremely retarded plan come the next two weeks or so.
Nights like this, she hated the chip. Not that she would ever admit it. While killing him remained on her list of favorite threats, it was currently at the bottom of her to-do list. Still, she did wish they could go at it the way they used to. Despite his notable flaws, he was one of the worthiest adversaries she had ever faced.
And she was so tired of fights she knew she could win.
With Spike, it hadn’t been about winning so much as dodging the bullet. The chip made it easy to forget just how close he’d come to killing her on multiple occasions, but when she saw him in motion, it all came back.
“Bloody perfect,” he muttered, dusting himself off appropriately. “You know how long it took me to find a fresh one?”
“Hey, you’re lucky I came along.”
“To what? Distract me?”
“No…” Buffy frowned, jutting out her lip. “Okay, okay. So he was a baby vamp. That didn’t mean there wasn’t a Spike-dustiness ending to this story in the loom.”
He chuckled and shook his head. “Even if that were the case, since when are you one to care, Slayer?”
“Since the days of my boredom have reduced me to contemplating ending your sorry existence if patrol doesn’t pick up.”
“Heard that one before. Gets a little stale after a while. You do know that, right?”
She sighed and fell into step beside him. Staying to chat was likely not the best idea, but she wasn’t in the mood to be wall-put-uppy Buffy tonight. Chatting with Spike would at least kill time. “Yeah, yeah. Well, I gotta say it. You know. To keep you in line.”
“Right.” He huffed. She didn’t have to look at him know he was smirking at her, and it egged at her senses that she knew him so well. “’Cause it works like a bleeding charm. Fuck, Slayer, you must really be bored.”
“God, you have no idea. The vamps are a no-go and have been on the side of avoidy for a couple nights.” She flexed her shoulders. “That’s forever in Buffy-years. I’ve reduced myself to watching Jackie Chan films and pretending it’s me kicking ass.”
“After only two days?” Spike shook his head again, reaching for his cigarettes. “That is sad.”
“Excuse me. I believe your television schedule revolves around Passions and Passions reruns wherever you can catch them. Don’t lecture me on sad.”
“Well, seeing as you’re so close to losing your marbles, I gotta say, I’m glad it was you who killed ole Henry back there.” When she looked at him, he shrugged, lighter finding the end of his cig. “Hank. Harm told me about him. Got sired by some of her old lackeys. The ones you didn’t off in the Rescue-The-Bit, Take Thirty-Five showdown a couple weeks back.”
Rescuing Dawn from Harmony. That had been before Riley left.
As if he sensed the direction her thoughts had taken, Spike stopped suddenly and pivoted to face her. “Look,” he said, “there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you. Timing never seemed right, and honestly, I don’t know what there is to say. Only that I gotta get it out there so you get me, right?”
He had serious-face. This was never good.
“Yeah, okay,” she said, feeling suddenly very self-conscious. “What’s the what?”
He shifted, visibly uncomfortable. “It’s about what happened last week…with Captain Cardboard an’ the vamp brothel. I just—”
Immediately, Buffy held up a hand and stepped back. “I really, really don’t wanna talk about this.”
He made a move to reach for her and she bristled.
What is it with him and being touchy feely?
“Look, I don’t wanna rub the salt in anything or what all. That’s not what I have to say. It’s just…you need to hear this.”
“I don’t need to hear anything from you, Spike. Ever.”
There. That was a bit more like herself. Being nice to the Bleached Wonder always led to badness. Who knew when he would seize the initiative and leap into her bubble? After all. Spike preferred to make himself comfortable wherever it was inconvenient for others.
He was exceptionally talented at rubbing her the wrong way.
Especially nights like tonight.
“Yes you bloody do,” he insisted, grabbing her wrist and whirling her around to face him.
For a beat, she wondered how or why she allowed him to get so close. Her body itched with the need for another fight and she wondered if her Slayer senses would be satisfied if she popped him in the nose. Had he not looked so serious, she would have put the hypothesis to test.
“And the sooner you accept that,” he continued, “the happier the lot of us’ll be.”
He observed her wearily, head cocked, those endless eyes of his—that she was so not noticing, thank you very much—made something inside her shift.
Why? Why was he suddenly looking at her like that?
“Buffy, I didn’t take you there that night to hurt you, no matter how it mighta seemed.”
At that, she rolled her eyes. Since when did Spike care about hurting her? Wasn’t that his life’s mission? His prerogative? “Right. Because hurting the Slayer is nowhere near Spike’s lot in life. Or unlife. Please. I’m so not worrying with this now. Goodnight.”
“Not hurting the Slayer, you daft bint. You.”
She knew he hadn’t meant to say it like that by the telling widening of his eyes and therefore ignored it. Safer that way.
Yet he kept talking.
“If I wanted to hurt you, you’d feel it. I don’t work that way, and you know it.”
He had a point there. Spike hadn’t resorted to striking so personally in a long while. There was that day in the sun when he’d suggested that she wasn’t worth a second go, and that remark had been no more hurtful than the jab she’d made about Dru when they’d run into each other at the frat party. When Spike wanted to hurt, he hurt in the all-out sense. He talked big, of course. A recent evening rendezvous to the Bronze rang as proof enough of that, but anything more was too Angelus. And if there was anything Spike was not, it was Angelus.
Time to go home.
“Right. I get it.” She turned to leave again.
“You do not. You’re just—”
Buffy heaved an aggravated sigh. “Look, what happened—when I said I didn’t wanna talk about it, I meant as in the really. You’re not exactly my ideal chatting partner, thus when I do open up, it definitely won’t be to you. But…” She stopped, holding up a hand. “What happened…it was…I’m glad I found out. Even if it did hurt, I needed to know. And yeah, I guess that’s…it was important, despite your motive.”
“My motive was to show you what was going on under your nose, love. Nothing more. Didn’t figure you’d want your boy—”
“Again with the not chatty. You’ve said your piece and I’m going home. This is me dropping the subject. Okay?”
He sulked a bit. “Calling quits already? Come on, Slayer. I’m sure if we put our heads together and tag-team this bloody two-bit town, we can find some action worth lookin’ in on.”
Buffy’s eyes widened. “Oh yeah. Because my stealthy self couldn’t pick up one tail, and this is sort’ve my calling. But two of us, especially a notably loudmouthed bleached chip-head—right. We’ll be rolling in the vamps. Stakes all around.”
“You’re a bloody riot.”
“I do stand-up on the weekends.”
“Better stick to your…” Spike threw a pointed, nearly accusing glance at the darkened sky. “…night job.”
“Not that I have a choice.”
“Come on. The night’s young…if you’re a vamp or one who hunts vamps…which you are. Where’s your sense of adventure?” His eyes danced and he twitched slightly with some of that endless energy he had on tap. “There’s nothing you can do at home that you can’t do out with me.”
There was no way not to mask the initial response that sprung to mind, given that Xander and Anya were the people she spent most days with now that Riley was gone. This meant enduring hours of Anya telling her to leave point blank so that she might engage in sexcapades with her ever-attentive boyfriend.
Yeah, that was why sex was on the mind. Buffy felt her cheeks flush.
When she hazarded a glance up and caught the proud smirk on his lips, she knew she’d been caught. It was infuriating how easily he read her. There was no one else that had such a talent.
Buffy the Ambiguity. Buffy the Ambiguity to all save one William the Bloody.
Caught in wordless, heated embarrassment, Buffy resorted to her last form of defense. She tossed him a dirty glance and made to brush passed him.
“Oh, don’t gimme that look,” Spike protested with a snicker. “It’s your perverted little mind that thought up whatever delicious dirty you’re trying so hard to not think.”
Better to feign ignorance. “How did—”
“Saw your face. That was enough. And I suspect there’s more to it where that came from.” He laughed harder. “There, there, Slayer. We’ve all got our various…kinks.”
She pushed passed him furiously and started marching home…to no avail. Spike fought to her side and kept up rather nicely, hands buried in the pockets of his billowing duster. His lips attentively tended to the cigarette and she was a little wigged at how much his nicotine habit had stopped annoying her. Smokers were nasty. Smokers were not to be associated with…ever. And yet, around Spike it was nearly expected. As though he wasn’t entirely there if he wasn’t puffing away at something.
They walked in companionable silence for a few minutes, and just as she was starting to debate the pros and cons of staking him for good, he started blabbing again. “Are you sure…about the rest and everything? It got really nasty there at the end.”
Buffy felt a breath catch her in throat and went frigid. “We’re talking about Riley again?”
“I just…if I’d’ve known—”
“It hurt. He ran away from us. From our problems.” Buffy heaved another full body sigh and directed herself to a headstone. They hadn’t even made it out of the cemetery.
Of course not.
Once more, it occurred to her that spilling her innermost thoughts and insecurities to the man previously dedicated to her demise was not of the good, but for tonight, she was tired of playing by the rules. She was tired of so much. It was late and he was here. He was Spike, yes, and he was the proud bane of her existence, but some random voice within her psyche whispered that he would listen, and furthermore, that he would understand. Talking to Xander was a no because he had been there at the end and seen everything. He had given her the inspirational last speech about saving the one good thing in her life. He would put on his sympathetic face, but he didn’t truly feel sorry for her.
Willow was similarly a no. When Oz had walked out on her, it had ruined her completely. It had ruined her on an Angel-leaving level. Even Buffy couldn’t remember grieving the loss of her one true love as much as her friend had the departure of her first and only boyfriend. For that, she couldn’t talk to Willow. Oz had meant more than Riley. Willow had loved Oz.
Buffy had not loved Riley. And she saw that now.
Spike was not exactly a yes, but he wasn’t a no, either. He was here and that was good enough.
And if he breathed a word to anyone, she could always shove something wooden and pointy through his chest.
“Sometimes,” she said softly. “Sometimes I feel like…my problems. Like something’s wrong with—”
“Don’t even finish that sentence.” The note in his voice surprised her. Warmed her too. “It wasn’t you that made him go out for suck jobs.”
“No, but I pushed him away. I’ve been so focused on Mom and Dawn and—”
“The things you shoulda been focused on?” he suggested softly. She didn’t reply. “Buffy, your mum just had a bloody serious operation. If you weren’t there to be his snuggle-bunny, it was his fault for—”
“That’s what I thought. Apparently no one else did. People seem to forget that I have every day slayage and Mom-taking-care-of and Dawn-sitting to tend to. All at once, mind you! Oh no, everyone’s big on the ‘it’s Buffy’s fault’ train.”
“Everyone is wrong,” Spike said gently.
“You can’t know that.”
It was hard to argue with a man who sounded that certain, even if that man was a vampire with a mean streak a mile wide. Not to mention the total lack of patience. There was probably a list somewhere—categorized alphabetically—detailing every nasty thing the Scourge of Europe had done or thought about doing. But now, standing with him, that stuff was disturbingly easy to forget.
“It’s funny how little details slip your mind, Summers,” Spike drawled, “like how I know slayers on a whole pretty damn well.”
Her eyes narrowed. Then again, on other days, remembering what he was came naturally. “Yeah. Need to know your enemy, right?”
“If that was the case,” he replied, “you woulda been six feet under a long time ago.”
Buffy arched an eyebrow.
“Maybe not by me.”
She snorted. “Maybe.”
“You know I’ve come close, love. What’s saved you from a nasty death thanks to yours truly is the same thing that saves you every bloody night.” He paused as though waiting to see if she’d challenge him on this, but she didn’t. In truth, Spike probably did know her better than Angel. “And the fact that I’m still trying to figure you out is all the better for you. Your local nasties’ll never make a bloody dent. Lord help us all if someone ever gets to the core of that onion.”
Buffy blinked. Had Spike just paid her a compliment? She hated it when he did that. When he acted as though he were all Average Joe going about his merry way. As though he wasn’t what he was.
It made it harder to hate him, and that was something Buffy enjoyed keeping filed under the Simple heading. Hating Spike was supposed to be like breathing. Natural. Instinctual. Basic. He wasn’t supposed to go all Vamp-Casanova on her.
Except he’d caught her on a night when she’d desperately needed to hear just that. That smidgeon of reassurance that what had happened to her—to her and Riley, to her and all her relationships—was not entirely of her doing. She was the Slayer first and foremost, and she couldn’t have the average life. Or the average boyfriend. It was nice that someone was acknowledging that.
Even if that someone was Spike.
“Do you mean it?”
Again, the air grew still. Buffy had known many silences. Too many to count. Never one with Spike.
Spike had never had a quiet note in his life, especially where she was concerned.
He made as though to touch her but withdrew almost instantly. It must have been her face, which she realized had crunched into a scowl. Could he blame her? There was no friendly touching where Spike was concerned. There should be no touching period, save the necessary punch.
“Yeah,” he said finally. Still quiet. “I mean it. Christ, Summers, you’re near impossible to get close to. I should know. Tried foiling everything you threw at me from day bloody one, and that was three years ago. You’ve outdone yourself. And whatever this new bitch has on you…what’s her name?”
“Right. If she knew what she was getting herself into, she’d be making tracks.” He smiled as though he was proud. “As it is, I’m sure you’ll see that she gets her ass right and properly kicked.”
“What about you?”
“Me? Oh, I’ll be there. Count on it. You think I get my rocks off by watching from the sidelines?”
“I don’t give much thought to how you get your rocks off at all.”
He seemed surprised for a moment, then grinned. “Like the way your mind works.”
Another compliment. This one all but made her spine vibrate, and at once she came back to herself—to the moment she was sharing with someone she shouldn’t be with.
What the hell was she thnking? There was no part of this that could result in the area code of good. The last time she let Spike this close, they had been under a spell and doing anything but talking. He didn’t look like he expected anything of her, but there was a line between them that could never be crossed. She had placed it there long ago.
Freakish space becoming an issue.
“I-I should…umm…” Buffy frowned and stepped back. “I’ve—uh—gotta be heading home.”
The response was automatic. Spike nodded and stepped back. “Right then. Toddle on off. I’m sure your pals have gotten into some tragic accident without your supervision.”
“What’s up with you, Summers? You’re all…I dunno…anxious.” He ran his tongue across his teeth, eying her suggestively. “Not very becoming to a Slayer. Is it because you’ve stepped down from your almighty horse? Treating me like one of yours? I’ll admit it’s a little disconcerting, but I’m not complaining.”
At that, she scoffed. “Well, up until now, you were acting like a person. Sorry for the lapse. Sometimes I have to be reminded. Trust me when I say that it won’t—”
It took a minute to realize he had seized her arm and another to register how close he was—again. Buffy’s heart leapt, then leapt again when she realized he could probably tell he’d gotten to her.
“I act like a person more than you like to notice,” he said thickly. “Some words of wisdom, love, keep your eyes open. I might just surprise you.”
Step away. Don’t encourage him. Go home like you should have the minute you saw his exceedingly annoying platinum head. Don’t encourage him.
“Is that so?”
“More than your precious Scoobies, that’s for certain.”
“Spike, it’s late, go home.”
“And especially now that the whelp’s arm is all rot and busted.” He ducked his head to smother a grin. “Only Muck-For-Brains would pick a fight with a bloody troll.”
The instinctive need to defend her friends swelled within her. “He was defending the woman he loves!”
“Who happens to be a very prominent and powerful ex-vengeance demon.”
But there was no arguing with that. Two years ago, the very same troll-loving Anyanka had been happily exacting pain and suffering on every vaguely male-shaped body she came across. Joining the human race again had certainly done a number on her, but when push came to shove, she was the same old Anya.
A point Buffy had though to bring up with Xander more than once, but hadn’t because it wouldn’t achieve anything. Demons weren’t demons if they had a pulse and paid taxes.
And yet, she heard herself reciting the same old excuse anyway. “She’s changed.”
“Hmmm…how stunningly original.”
“She’s not like that anymore.”
“Oh, so she can be forced to adapt, but yours truly is shunned from the crowd?” Spike turned away with disgust and began to pace. “It’s all right for those with a pulse to get a little sympathy and compassion and sodding understanding every now and then, but when I go out of my bloody way to—”
“What the hell are you blabbing about?”
“You! You and the rest of you sodding do-gooders. Treating me like the outed man when I haven’t touched a drop of human blood in over a year.”
“But you would if your chip was removed.”
Spike’s brows arched. “Oh, and the former demon’s so above it that she wouldn’t go back to ripping men’s heads off if her wanker of a boss begged her to return? You forget, love, Anya’s killed a helluva lot more blokes than I have, and she enjoyed it every bit as much. Maybe more. What does it take to get in your good graces?”
“Since when have you wanted it?”
He shifted, and she saw he was suddenly uncomfortable.
“Man’s got eyes, doesn’t he? Your precious vamp-loving soldier’s run off and he’s taken his militia men with him. Way I figure it, I’m sorta stuck like this. Might as well make the most of it.”
“Yeah, not buying that. You’ve made no small game about how very much you want us all dead.”
“And I guess your lovable demon-turned-pulser made the transition like that.” He snapped his fingers. “No attempts to regain her nasty streak? Her powers? Everything she’d been for the better of a thousand years and more? Please, Summers. I’ve only been around for a fraction of the time Anya has, and I bloody well know that—”
“We can’t trust you.”
“I’m not asking you to trust me. I’m asking you to cut me a little slack is all.”
“Why should I?”
He blinked at her. “’Cause I asked nicely?”
“I’m going home. For real this time.”
“Right. You do that.”
And that was that. With a haughty toss of her hair, Buffy set off for home, relieved when he didn’t follow. The encounter already had her spiraling down a bizarre influx of otherworldly emotion that she wanted to ignore with every fiber of her being. It had been a long night, and given Spike’s weird chattiness and compliment-giving, she didn’t think she’d find sleep anytime soon.
That couldn’t happen again. Tonight was an aberration. A fluke. She’d be back on form tomorrow.
And he better know it.
Which was why, she reasoned, it made sense to turn her ass around and walk back to him. He was still there, of course. Watching her like the creepy predator he was.
A beat. “Stay away from me.”
He smiled. “’Course. I’ll get right on that.”
She should have berated him, should have called him on it, but she didn’t, because then they’d start talking again and be back at square one, which kind of defeated the purpose.
She didn’t belong here.
Except a part of her worried that she did.
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