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Harbingers of Beatrice by Holly
Chapter Twenty-Two
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Chapter Twenty-Two

Sweet Temptation


The moment stretched too long. He was paralyzed. Absolutely paralyzed.

There she was. His reason for being. His light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Waiting for him. She beckoned him without saying a word, and he knew before he started that he was battling a lost cause.

There was no way he could resist this. It had been foolish to think otherwise.

A hand clamped his shoulder before he could act. Wright blinked slowly and realized he had already taken the first steps forward. The crossbow in grasp was slowly making its way to aim. Wanting, seeking, needing a target. A reason. A case to end all others. He had a clear shot. A good, clear shot, and he wanted to take it.

“No,” Wesley said, as though reading his mind.

Wright was too far gone to listen. To hear anything at all. His gaze remained fixated on the curtain of blonde hair. The blood soaking her hands offset the cream of her skin. He needed to end it. Never had anything been clearer since the day he’d come home for the last time.

He needed to end it.

That day. That horrible day.

Sitting in the car on the way home from the grocery store. Rosalie glances up, chocolate from the forbidden candy bar he had given her smeared all over her mouth. She had always looked more like Amber than him. His little girl.

Her eyes. Cobalt cylinders of truth and understanding. “Daddy,” she says in a voice that wasn’t entirely hers. “Something’s the matter with Mommy.”

Pain was a funny thing. There were mornings when he didn’t know what the point was in going on. He watched Rosalie grow older each day, her eyes older than she would ever be. It was always there—this belief that what he did was for her. Ridding the world of its filth, leaving it a better place for his daughter.

He was only one man, and they kept coming.

Darla was the reason. She was the key to unleashing his suffering. She had made him what he was today. She had molded and turned him into Zachary Wright: Demon Hunter. There were days when he hated himself. For what he was. Who he was. What he had allowed himself to become. How he couldn’t stop.

Perhaps, just perhaps, if he killed the reason—if he cut off everything at the source—he would be able to move on. He would know some sort of peace.


It was worth a try.

It was worth everything.


Wesley again. The man’s eyes were set with understanding. Yes, the Watcher knew well. He had heard the story in its much abbreviated form two years earlier. Wesley knew that Darla was the reason behind his crusade. He knew that whatever hope of happiness Zack had once possessed now lay buried under something ugly and raw and so completely out of form that it might as well be nonexistent.

He knew. But he knew nothing of how deep that trench was dug. How impossible it was to climb out, unless someone threw him some rope.

Wright frowned and his jaw hardened. He didn’t need rope. All he needed was a clear shot.

“Zack,” Wesley said, “if you do this now, Spike will never forgive you.”

Oh yes. The voice of reason. Risk the alliance of a vampire. Of one of them.

“What?” Gunn demanded roughly. “What’s going on?”

Neither answered him.

“You don’t get it, Wes,” Wright replied, keeping his aim trained with expertise that came only with experience. “You don’t—”

“I know what she did to you was unforgivable.”

“Unforgivable. What a way to butter it up.”

“But you cannot indulge your vengeance now. It could kill Buffy.”

That lent him pause. Wright glanced up slowly, reasoning overwhelming him once more.

Wesley’s grip on his weapon tightened. “I know,” he said softly. “I believe Spike’s a man of his word. He won’t let her get away with what she did. But you cannot succumb to temptation now.”

“And once again,” Gunn muttered, “I’m in the dark. What the hell are you—”

“Darla will die,” Wright stated, lowering his weapon. He might as well have been reciting the pledge of allegiance for all the feeling he put behind it. Not a question—a cold fact. Darla would die. He wanted it known.

“Yes,” Wesley agreed. “Yes, she will.”

There was a long, dramatic pause. Zack finally sighed and shook his head. “This is too much,” he murmured. “Stopping because it might endanger the position of a vampire—”

“Who has come to be your friend, whether you want to admit it or not.”

“We’re not friends.”

“Yes you are. Anyone that has seen you interact would say the same.”

Wright and Wes both looked to Gunn at that.

Gunn’s hands came up and he shook his head. “Don’t look at me,” he said. “I’ve only just started to catch up. You people really need to keep your personnel on the up better than this.”

Wright frowned and looked away. “All right. Fine. So the guy’s not as…we’re not friends, and we never will be. Vampires are—”

“Zack, it’s all right to be his friend,” Wesley said. “Trust me. I grew up around that…believing that. My father was a Watcher, and I have it on good authority that he is less than pleased with my current occupation. But I’ve lived my life on the understanding that vampires are evil. And look at me. Working for one.”

“Don’t really think you can say you’re working for Angel anymore,” Gunn observed.

“If not one, then the other,” Wes replied with a shrug. “There are always exceptions. I merely figured that Angel was the only one. I was wrong. Spike is—for whatever reason—he is the way he is. You saw him tonight. Even when temptation was at its greatest, he managed to withhold.”

“Only we don’t know where he is now,” Wright grumbled.

“I think he went back to Wolfram and Hart.” Gunn earned a shrug for that theory, and he returned it with just the same. “Seems most likely to me. Or is off getting drunk off his scrawny, pale, undead ass.”

Zack grinned in spite of himself. “Spent a lot of time looking at his ass, have you?”

“No, just speculating.” Gunn winced. “That so did not come out right. I am not gay. Very much not—”

“Uh huh.”

“Is Nikki seeing anyone?”

That was enough. The smile on Wright’s face faded into a frown. “I think I liked you better when you were gay.”

“I’m serious! She’s a fiery little package, if I remember right. Think you might be good enough to introduce me all formal like when we get back?”

There was a long moment’s pause.

“Wes,” Wright said, pivoting to his friend. “We’re leaving. Now.”


“Is gone. He gets in trouble, he’ll have to deal with it.” He leveled his eyes with Gunn’s, then grinned. “Besides, I think it’s time we went back. Actually had a night to ourselves.”

“You are new in town.” Gunn chuckled. “Night to ourselves? No such thing ‘round these parts.”

“Well,” Zack retorted, grinning. “Guess we’ll have to see about changing that, won’t we?”


Cordelia leaned over the open refrigerator, reviewed its contents, then referred to her yellow notepad. Not time yet for a trip to the butcher, but their resident vampire—make that both of them—might prefer something fresher when he returned. She didn’t know when to expect Spike back, but it would be better to be prepared. After all, a hungry vampire was an irritable vampire. Especially if said vampire was currently running around all dechipped.

Not that she didn’t have every faith in Spike. For whatever reason, she knew she could trust him, and that alone was a frightening revelation.

All in a day’s work.

“‘So Cordy, how did you spend your Friday night?’” she asked herself in a roughly butch voice. Then, not missing a beat, turned around to answer. “‘Oh, you know. Entered time sheets, answered some email, made sure the boss’s blood supply was stocked. The usual.’”

She smiled and turned her attention turned to her writing once more, checking the supplies they would need next time Wesley or Gunn made an inventory run. Never had she thought that she would be happy to spend a Friday night in a creepy hotel. And yet, despite how dreary everything was, she was oddly satisfied. As though there was no other place that she would rather be.

Of course, it was a truth universally acknowledged that when one reaches any level of complacency, everything would fall to shit the next minute. Cordelia had just shut the refrigerator when the first wave came roaring down, sending her against the wall with an uninhibited wail of pain.

And oh god, she felt it all. Everything there was to feel. The tugging at her heartstrings that pulled her into an endless downward spiral. Anger—no—fury. Fury and more sadness than she had ever felt. The essential feel of having everything that she had ever regarded as precious ripped from her, leaving her cold, naked, and in the middle of a winter harvest.

“Oh god,” Cordelia choked, reaching for her throat.

All melted into a world of imagery. And she saw.


And screamed.


Every nerve in his being was alight. His throat scratched with the suddenly innate need to breathe. To gasp. To burst into tears. He had never known such raw…anything. It touched him. Burned him. Buried him alive.

“Oh…god…” he gasped.

She was hanging there. Hanging there and had been for days. There was a strain in her arms from the chains attached to the ceiling, and he saw it even through layers of caked blood and grime. Her feet were made the same—shackled to chains that protruded from the floor. She was completely naked, and her once-perfect skin was a patchwork quilt of scars and burns.

She looked dead. If she had not opened her eyes, he would have thought it so.

And he couldn’t help himself. Spike covered the space between them before another beat could pass. He didn’t know what to do—if there was anything to do. He met her pained eyes and realized without a word that she, while recognizing him, did not believe him to be real.

“God, Buffy,” he choked. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry.”

Her eyes were still unfocused and bleary. She blinked several times before she finally saw him. Really saw him. Saw him and understood.

“Spike?” she breathed.

It pained him to hear her. Hear the raw abuse sustained behind her voice. She looked unreal. He felt unreal. Finally having her skin under his hands after too many nights wasted worrying when he could have been trying to help her. Earlier, when he stood outside this room and knew she was on the other side, and had done nothing. Because of the others. Spike was quite sure he had never hated himself as richly as he did at that moment.

“Yes, sweetheart,” he replied softly, caressing her cheek as gently as he could. Any hesitation at using a term of endearment had left him—possibly forever. He couldn’t help himself if he tried. “’It’s me. I’m here.”

Buffy was looking at him with eyes that did not belong to her. As though she had known all along that it would be him, and that was impossible. A choked sob sounded through her lips, and she leaned forward. Then her breath was fanning his ear, and she murmured in a low tone, “Please…don’t make it hurt too much.”

Her request took him aback and he pulled away to study her before realizing what she meant. And it made his cold blood boil. “No, you don’t understand,” he said firmly. “God, Buffy, I’m not here to… I’d never hurt you, pet. You get me? I’d never hurt you. I’m here to help. Only here to help. Buffy? Baby, do you hear me?”

The Slayer blinked at him wearily. Staring with whatever life was left behind such empty pools of once brilliant light. He watched as she was slowly filled with comprehension. And her eyes filled with tears. “You’re here?”

The words nearly broke him, but he nodded. “That’s right. I’m here.”


For a minute, he was sure he was dreaming. Never in a thousand years, despite the outcome of all this, had he thought she would say his name like that.

“Spike. Oh god, are you real?”

That was it. The relief in her voice bid him any reservation aside, and he was covering her face with feather light kisses before he could help himself, his tears mingling with hers. “I’m here, love. I’m here. I’m here to help. Here to get you out.”


“He’s out. He and the others. They’re gone.” He buried his face in her hair and inhaled—taking in the essence that was Buffy. Forced there beneath the blood and dirt. The hinted scent of her tears from how-many-days ago. God, he hated himself. Though there was no reason to suggest it, he felt the burden of blame weighing down on his shoulders.

“You’re real?” she murmured again.

“I’m real, love. I bloody well promise you.”

His knees nearly buckled when she felt her abused lips caressing his throat. It had to be a dream. There was no way she would reciprocate his affections—now or ever. Had to be a dream. But god, it felt real.

“You’ve said you’re real before,” she said. Okay, not making sense, but he figured he would go with it. “And then…you’ve left me. And he’s come back.”

A cold shiver ran up his spine. Spike pulled back and cupped her face in his hands, meeting her eyes. “I promise you,” he said again, thumbs rubbing comforting circles in her cheeks. “I’m real. I’m real and I’m not leaving you.” His fingers trailed down her throat and traced her arms, fury overwhelming him on levels he was, in many ways, still unaccustomed to. “God…”


“He’s gone, sweets.”

Her eyes clouded with tears. “He’s hurt me so much, Spike.”

He nodded, whispering another kiss against her lips. “I know.”


That was a bloody good question, and he trembled at the implication. No one deserved what had been done to her. The pure, relentless monstrosity behind every touch. He had no answer for her. Nothing to satisfy her curiosity and his phases of self-loathing and regret.

The most obvious answer remained that Angelus was a monster by nature. But that wasn’t what she wanted to hear. Not if it tarnished the name of her precious Angel.

And he would not upset her. Not like this.

“I don’t know,” he replied, nuzzling her throat delicately. Her pulse throbbed against his mouth, and unlike before, his demon’s intention was far from sinking his fangs into her skin. Far from. More, the sound of her heartbeat ringing in his ears served as the most blessed reassurance he could have asked for. She was alive. She was really alive. And she was here. “I’m gonna get you out, love. I swear to you. I—”

“No…that’s not…” Buffy took a deep breath and groaned when his lips began dancing up and down her throat. He didn’t know if she was reacting to him or the feel of something that elicited pleasure instead of pain, and for the moment, he didn’t care. The taste of her, tarnished or not, was more than he had ever hoped to touch. His own slice of Heaven. “Spike…why did…why you?”


At that, Spike pulled back, reveling in the whimper of protest she indulged at the loss of his mouth.

There was no way he could answer that question without upsetting her. Despite however much she seemed to like him in the moment, he understood that it was the product of disassociation. When she was well again, when she came to her senses, she would likely stake him for touching her at all, least of all in this manner.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “I came. I couldn’t let them have you.”

“You hate me,” she whimpered, arching her throat. If he didn’t know better, he might have thought she wanted him to resume.

“No, baby. I don’t. I…” What could he possibly say that would assure her without terrifying her? His hands were still at her arms, massaging her abused skin. “I don’t. You gotta believe that.”


“No buts.” He fisted the material holding her up, determined to pull her free and have that be the end of it. Get her as far from here as possible, damned to his previous reservations. There was no way he would leave her with those monsters. Not with what they had done to her. “Come on, love. We’re going for a walk.”


“Right. You called my bluff. I’ll carry you. Wrap you up in my nice warm duster, and get you the hell out of here. Come on. This might sting a minute. Wish I could—”

“Won’t work.”

He blinked. “What?”

“These…” She wiggled her arm and made the chains rattle. “These can’t be…enchanted. Lindsey…said…”

“Lindsey? The lawyer?” Spike cupped her face again and brought their eyes level. “Did that wanker touch you? Did he—”


Well, that was some relief. Some. Very little. Hardly proper to call it relief, but he did anyway.

“Enchanted.” She coughed again, leaning into his hands. “He said…bindings are…”

“The bindings are enchanted?”

She nodded pitifully.

He was almost afraid to ask. “Who…who has access?”

“Angelus,” she replied. Distant, as though accepting her fate. It made his dead veins charge with heated energy. “He…no one else.”

Spike nodded, caressing her brow with his lips again. Inwardly, he was torn apart. If Angelus was the sole proprietor controlling her freedom, getting her loose was not going to be simple. In his version of this, he would storm in, yank Buffy free by any means necessary, and carry her into the proverbial sunset on an equally proverbial white stallion. On some level, though, he had known it would be more complicated than that.

But it hurt. It hurt so much to look at her and know he would leave her no better off. Not until he knew how to snatch Angelus’s control away.

He needed access. He needed the key. And he needed it now.

“You’re not leaving, are you?” she asked softly. As though she had read the resignation on his face and automatically assumed the worst to come of it. Her words made his heart break all over again. “God, Spike, please don’t leave me. You said you were real. You promised me. You said—”

He silenced her with another kiss—a little more presumptive this time, tasting, and a tad lustful. And still, she responded with enthusiasm, even zeal. He had to again remind himself that in this state, she would likely respond to a trained chimp and not to read too much into it. His mind was already on the fast track to wedding marches and honeymoon arrangements. Poncy sod.

“I’m really, baby,” he promised her. “Very, very real.”

“You were real before.”

At that, he quirked an eyebrow and decided to ask. “Before?”

“When you were here…” Tears were flooding her eyes again. “You were here, and—”

“I was here?”

She nodded.

Spike stared at her in bewilderment. She had dreamt of him. She had dreamt of him coming for her, being here for her like he was now. She had known he was…and despite everything, she had not allowed herself to believe.

If he left her now, she might dismiss everything as another delusion. He couldn’t stand it were such the case. He knew he couldn’t.

Thus, he was determined to make it as real as possible.

Spike took her mouth again with feverish intent, pouring the range of his very confused, very agitated but sound emotions into his kiss. Making sure that she knew it was him—that she was no longer alone. That he was here now, and if it killed him, he would make sure that she got out.

“I have people,” he murmured when he pulled away. “People who are helping me. Angel’s old pals and the like. Cordy and Wes. You remember them, love?”

Buffy blinked dazedly. When she realized she had been addressed, she offered a bemused nod. He smiled, kissed her again, and caressed her face.

“Wes,” she said after a minute. “And Cordy.”

Spike decided to take her response as a yes. One couldn’t expect too much of her more than that. “Right. They’re in on it. Helping me with everything they can. And there’s this bloke…this demon hunter bloke. He’s in on it, too. A merry band dedicated to getting you out.”

“You’re leaving me.”

“No, I’m—”

Her face began to crumble again, and the sight was enough to nearly convince him to set a camp here at her beck and call. But no. That would only damn her and himself. She would understand someday; she had to. “If your stupid sod of an ex finds me here, love, he’s gonna be right pissed. Might off the both of us.”

Tears were rolling down her cheeks again, and he flinched with her as fresh salt touched open wounds. He kept caressing her, but there was little he could do to offer her comfort.

Aside make the personal revelation that Angelus was going to pay with blood for what he had done.

“Please,” he murmured. “Please don’t think for a minute that I wanna leave you. Do you have any idea what I went through to get here? To be…” He trailed off helplessly. “There’s nowhere else I wanna be. Now or ever. I don’t want to…but I’ll be back, baby. I promise.”

“Yes,” she agreed solemnly. “You will be. You always come back. But it never changes.”

“Only I’m real this time, Buffy.” He laid a hand over her chest, reveling in the gentle hum of her heartbeat against his skin. Verification there. It was as precious to him as blood. “Can’t you feel me?”

She nodded, though he saw it in her eyes. She still didn’t believe.

“What else can I do, pet?”

“Don’t go.”

If only.

“I have to. Just for a little while. But I’m coming back, I—”

Her eyes drifted shut in defeat. He felt it rolling off her, and hated himself for it all the more. “Don’t,” she requested softly.

“If I could, baby, you don’t understand. I—”

“Just make the pain go away.”

Spike nodded as though he understood. That was better than flat out denial of his existence. He expelled a deep breath and neared to whisper a kiss over her brow. “How?" he asked. “How can I…?”

Buffy closed her eyes and mewled. “Just…” Another breath. “If you’re not real…”

One step forward, two steps back.

“I am, love. What’ll it take to—”

“If you’re not real…then…” There was a brave beat. “Please…touch me.”

Spike froze. She couldn’t be asking what he thought she was asking. It simply was unfeasible. That she would ever see him like that, regardless of whether she thought he was actually there.

 “Where, pet?” He skimmed her brow with his lips. “Where does it hurt?”

Buffy’s eyes opened then and took him completely aback. There was nothing uncertain behind that gaze. It was fierce, intent, and made his lungs seize. This was real. This was very, very real. It was real, and she was serious. In some dreamlike state, the Slayer wanted him. Wanted him. Spike. She had said his name enough times to be sure she knew who was with her. She had dreamt of him while hanging from these chains, and she was beyond petrified that he wasn’t real.

“It hurts,” she whispered. “All. Over.”

Spike knew that he was entering dangerous territory. Despite everything, she still thought this to be in her head. If he used this opportunity to mollify his own wants, it would not only be betraying her trust, it would make him no better than Angelus. And the Slayer would surely stake him when she was back to herself. And he would deserve it.

The heat radiating off her, though. Spike knew that scent. He had dreamt of it. Wanted it. Wanted her to want him so badly that it had been difficult to face each day. And never, regardless of circumstance, had he ever thought to be here. With her. With her actually returning some sort of his feelings.

The conscience that was becoming a real bother wasn’t satisfied.

“Buffy,” he said, “are you sure? This is me. Spike. The vampire you hate. The thorn in your side. Remember me? Remember—”

A strangled sob choked through her lips, and she shook her head. “Hurts so much,” she cried. “It hurts so much, Spike. And it never stops. I’m the…it’s not supposed to hurt so much for me. Slayers are supposed to… Please just…make it go away.”

That was it. Bugger the conscience. Ethics be damned. His girl needed him.

And he had to leave her. If he was going to leave her…

“Please…” she sobbed.

“Shhhh…” Spike lowered his head to her throat, caressing her sore skin with his tongue as his hands slid to her hips, rubbing comforting circles against muscles that were beyond strained. He made a mental note that one of the first things he would do for her once this was over was a massage—full body, if she let him. Followed by a long soak in the tub. He could feel the tension wracked through her system. The essence of her innate strength was worn and tattered—still there, but forgotten. The strain on every ligament there was to strain.

Buffy was not the Slayer. Not like this. Not while she was Angelus’s torture toy. He had raped her of everything that was ever hers to claim. Right now, she was just a girl. Just Buffy. Stashed somewhere while her ex honey tore the bloody town apart. Just a girl, waiting for her prison collapse upon her. To ensure the fullness of her death, or give her just that much room to breathe.

She tasted raw—in and of herself. The essence of Buffy. Not covered. Not clean. She was simply there, bathed in her own blood and dirt. Her skin was salted with more than simply the taste of her tears. There was nothing physically pleasing about her on any superficial level, but she was still his homecoming, and Spike relished it. The dry crust of her blood lacing nearly every inch of skin his lips touched. The tangles in her hair. The discernible stains on her face that marked the path her tears took. He sampled it all. Needed it all. It made her real. Made her all for him.

The noises she made were driving him crazy. Not only from pleasure, but also the stepping-stones of the most breathtaking relief a person could experience. The little whispered begs for more, the tears that rekindled at his touch, though not from pain. His kisses became more urgent with every breath of encouragement, his fingers aching to explore her more intimately, but he refrained. Even with her spoken permission, there was something about this that was just wrong.

His mouth had different ideas. After showering her collarbone with reassuring kisses, he edged himself further southward. Her encouraging moans served as music to his ears, and he found himself inwardly composing a ballad of bloody awful poetry filled with every rotten, overused cliché the world had ever seen. He nuzzled her breasts, then sampled each with his tongue.

“Please,” he heard her whimper. “More.”

The pleas drove him wild. Slowly—reverently—he drew his tongue around one hardened nipple before closing his mouth around her. He kept his gaze on her face, enchanted by the sight of her. Her head tossed back, her eyes closed, her teeth clamping down on her lip as if to keep herself quiet. She was beautiful to him then. More so than she had ever been.

It was her strength, he decided. In the face of everything, her strength had not failed her. She had prevailed. She would. She could be destroyed over and over again, but it would take more than this to defeat her. It would take more than the armies of Hell. And god, he loved her for it. His Slayer.

“More,” she begged him, and this time, he did not refuse her. The hands that had been itching to play stirred to life, one scaling up her body to tend to the neglected breast, the other dipping between her open thighs to caress the tender flesh spread for him. He found her clit with his thumb and stroked lightly until a harsh sob from her lips.

“Good,” Buffy mewled. “Hurt too much.”

Spike immediately pulled back. “I’m hurting you?”

If he hurt her, he would stake himself.

“No. This feels…you’re…” She was crying again.

Goddamn, he never wanted to make her cry. Reactionary tears to pleasure were something he was familiar with, but not like this. While he fancied the idea of satisfying her to such an extent that she felt moved enough to cry, it was the last thing he wanted from her now.

“Am I dead?” she asked.



“You’re very, very alive, baby.” Unable to resist, Spike leaned inward and brushed his lips against hers. The hand between her legs started to move again, fingers imploring her sex gently. He still wasn’t completely convinced that he wasn’t hurting her, and so decided to take things as earthly slow as possible. “You’re burning me up. Making it…”

His fingers encountered a fluid that shouldn’t be there. One that made an entirely separate part of his anatomy react, though his body froze in turn.

Blood. There was fresh blood between her thighs.

A low, quivering breath slipped through his lips. “Buffy,” he murmured. “Pet, is it time for your monthlies? Do you know?”

She blinked at him. “What?”

“You’re bleeding, darling.” He didn’t want to press the issue, but he had to know. Either way. If she was about to start her womanly cycle, Angelus was going to use that to his full advantage. The thought made his insides twist. “Are you…”

Buffy looked at him a beat longer before seeming to understand. “Oh, no,” she replied. “How long have I been here?”

“Few days.”

His own answer startled him. Was that all? A few days?

The Slayer didn’t take to that answer any better than he did. “Just a few days?”

Spike smiled gently, unable to stop himself from kissing her. “It’s been forever to me, pet.”

“Me too.”

“But you aren’t due to your…” He gestured. Discussing his lady’s menstrual cycle was nothing he was comfortable with, especially since she wasn’t really his lady. Especially since her dirtied, abused nude body hung from the ceiling like a chicken waiting to be gutted. “You aren’t scheduled…to…erm…commence your…?”

“My period?”

Well, seemed she had no such qualms.

“No,” she said at last. “I’m not…no.”

Spike frowned. That didn’t make any sense.

Then he understood.

“Fuck,” he snarled, shaking at once with unbridled fury. “God, Buffy. I’m gonna kill him. I’m gonna—”


“I’m gonna kill him.”

“It’s not him.”

He blinked at her. How on earth could she say that? Could she still find it within herself to differentiate one from the other? It was beyond his measure. He knew damn well that if Angel ever repossessed his own body, he would blame himself. Because a part of Angelus would always be the other. That was the way it was. Just as William was resurfacing within him, Angel and his counterpart similarly remained the same. With one another, neither would exist.

Spike sighed at that and deftly removed his fingers from her sex. “I’m not gonna hurt you,” he said.

Buffy looked at him quizzically.

“Baby, that blood is fresh. You’re…” He clenched a fist and shook his head. “Did he come in here before…?”

There was silence—she didn’t know when they had gone out, so she wouldn’t know which before he referred.

Something cold fell within him. Angelus had likely been in here enjoying her when he’d sensed her before.

“You weren’t hurting me,” she whispered.

“I know, but I’m not gonna risk it.”

“Spike, please…” Tears clouded her eyes again. “Please don’t leave me here. Not to…”

“I’m gonna find a way to get you out, sweetheart. You’re just…I’ll be back.” Spike released a sigh against her shoulder. “I won’t let them…I’m not gonna leave you here. You understand me? But they’re gonna be back soon, and I won’t do you any good as a pile of a dust.”

“He’s going to hurt me again.”

There was a tightening in his stomach. Spike wanted very much to promise her just the opposite. To assure her that he would find away to get her out before Angelus thought to touch her again. But reality’s odds were against him, and he knew better than to make promises he couldn’t keep. “I’ll try, pet. You gotta be strong for me. Can you do that?”

Of course she can, his mind reasoned. She’s the Slayer.

Within these walls, it didn’t matter what she was. She was Buffy. A girl. A woman. Someone needed more strength than the world could offer. Someone who needed him.

“Yes,” she breathed. And that was all he needed to hear.

Spike nodded and kissed her again. A long, real kiss. Something she needed to feel as much as experience. His lips strayed to her cheek, then her forehead. “Anyone asks,” he murmured, “I wasn’t here. You don’t even know I’m in town. Okay? Hopefully I was around Angelus enough for him to think the scent’s not coming from you. If not, I’ll bump into him on purpose.”

He’s not gonna fall for that.

Oh well. It was better than nothing.

“All right?”

“All right.”

Easy for her. She thought she was dreaming this, anyway.

“I’ll come back for you.”

Her eyes met his. “Okay.”

Spike nodded and pursed his lips, loathe to leave her, but he knew he had stayed longer than he should have already. With a final parting kiss, he forced himself back up toward the door, turning away only when it was absolutely necessary.

He didn’t get far. Buffy called after him. Small. Inquisitive.

“You’re really real?” she asked him when she had his eyes.

The hope behind her voice broke him a thousand times over. Hope. Not disgust. Hope, and more relief than he reckoned even he had ever felt.

When she cried again, it would be from happiness.

“Yes, sweetheart,” Spike answered hoarsely. “I’m so very, very real.”

Buffy nodded at that, and smiled. There it was. His reason. His understanding. His Slayer.

She smiled and it was his everything.

And he would get her out.

Even if it killed him.

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