*squishes* to Megan for the beta - your help is invaluable sweetie.
Chapter 13: Competition.
Neither Spike nor Buffy spoke for the few minutes they were on the road for the drive back to Nicolas’ flat. It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence and music was not needed to fill the gap left by their silence. Not that Spike would brave switching on the radio, knowing full well the Watcher’s lack of taste when it came to music. Both were lost in thought.
The bleached vampire was elated, for a number of reasons, first and foremost being that Buffy was back. Really back. There was sure to be some sort of explanation, but he didn’t care; it didn’t matter. All that was important was that Buffy had returned to the land of the living and he was going to make it the mission of his un-life to assure she remained here. Alive.
An unflinching smile had taken up residence on his face and didn’t appear to be planning on moving anytime soon. It was… strange. Not the smile, but the reason behind it.
Spike was neither blind nor ignorant; he knew full well the reason for the blinding beam. Buffy. There was something… different, about her. The way she held herself, the tone of her voice, the gentleness in her eyes, her whole demeanour had done a complete one-eighty. That’s because she just came back from the dead, you wanker…
Even as he chastised himself, he couldn’t completely dismiss the buzz of curiosity of what was behind the personality transplant. The things she’d said, the way she’d looked at him… A dreamy sigh left his lips. It was too good to be true. Which usually meant it wasn’t. Buffy was different. It may just be because of her traumatic return, or it could be something else entirely.
Whatever the cause, Spike was going to find out.
On the other side of the vehicle, Buffy was still trying to process being back, trying to make sense of everything Spike had said to her. The overall sentiment was comforting, but there were a few things that didn’t add up. Her mother, for example. An involuntary shiver rolled through her. She must have misheard him because she was almost certain Spike had said that she was de--
Buffy blinked, her gaze refocussing from the nothing in front of her to look out the side window. Giles’ place. Nicolas’ place… she mentally corrected, again. Thinking of her watcher caused new and more complicated questions to burst forth. What had happened to everyone from her life since her death? She needed to find out.
“You ready, luv?”
The former blonde Slayer turned her hesitant gaze from the apartment to face Spike, some of her anxiety melting at the gentleness she saw reflected in those deep blue eyes. Whatever happened, Spike would be there for her. She knew reason he was there, why he would always be there. He loved her. If she thought about it carefully, she’d known of his feelings much longer than he realised, even before he’d admitted to them. It was in his eyes. Spike loved her, and it wasn’t in his nature to give up on someone he cared about. He’d be there for her, not because it was the right thing to do, or out of sympathy, but because he wanted to. And with his help, she might just get through this.
With a quick nod, she reached for seatbelt and unbuckled it.
Time to face her new life.
With a third and final decisive kick, the headstone crumbled. As it disintegrated, so did some of her anger. But it wasn’t enough.
Malena wanted blood.
Destruction was in her nature. Ever since she was a little girl, Malena had known she was different. Pretty clothes and pretty dolls were just never her thing. Maybe it had had something to do with her mother dumping her at an orphanage when she was just three years old—all because being a mom was too hard. Or maybe it was her inherent slayer-ness, an inner force that refused to be tamed and trained into becoming the perfect little daughter that many of her foster parents wished for. Whatever it was, Malena had not denied it, had not suppressed it. No, she set it free.
First came fighting in the schoolyard, but its appeal soon wore off. Then came training at a local dojo. For months, Malena honed her tae kwon do skills. She revelled in it, ate up each and every titbit of guidance her sensei gave her. The moves came easily, her skill increased rapidly, until the point came when no one would fight her. Not because she was good—she was. They refused to fight her because she was ruthless. Violent.
She got kicked out.
Then one day, a few weeks later, a tweed-clothed British accented man approached her. Told her she had potential, that she was a potential. Showed her a different side to the world, filled with demons and darkness. Trained her to become what her blood deemed her to one day be. A slayer.
The rest was history. The girl in the line before her died—not that she gave much thought to the other’s death. It was Malena’s turn to shine.
With irritation, she roughly brushed the dust from the remains of the headstone off her clothing.
Being a slayer, the Slayer, meant that her life had purpose. She was known by the demon underworld, feared by the creatures she stalked at night. Respected by her ‘mentor’ and watcher, Nicolas, and treated with a certain regard by other members of the Council. And she loved every minute of it.
She and Spike were even becoming closer; the boundaries of friendship were beginning to lower.
Then she showed up.
With a frustrated shout, Malena kicked the earth, the force sending clumps of grass and dirt flying every which way.
Life was perfect before Buffy Summers returned from the grave. Now it was spoiled.
Right then and there Malena made a decision. She could either boil in her own anger by the intrusion of the former chosen one, or she could do something about it. Malena had made a conscious decision to become to best, the greatest. Buffy Summers was just an obstacle she would have to hurdle. When Nicolas, the Council, Spike… when they all saw how great she could truly be, Buffy Summers would fade into the background.
A malicious smile spread across her face.
First things first, she needed to divert some attention her way. And she knew just the way to do it.
With grim determination, Malena stalked off into the night.
When the door to his apartment opened without warning, you would think Nicolas might have been worried. However, the last few months of being acquainted with Spike, the watcher had become quite used to the vampire’s method of sudden arrivals. The general vampire populace needed invitation for entrance, so except for a possible attack by a demon of some sort—something that apparently happened a lot when his colleague lived here, but had yet to occur for him—Nicolas felt quite safe with an unlocked door. Nonetheless, decorum dictated he greet a person when they entered his home.
“Spike, Miss Summers, do come in,” Nicolas welcomed warmly.
Buffy followed Spike into the apartment, the second time in just a few hours. The shock of the different taste in furniture was somewhat dulled, however; it was not a sight she would easily become accustomed to. Nor was the fact that this apartment was no longer Giles’.
Giles, Tara, Mom, Dawn, Faith—what else has changed since I’ve been gone? she wondered.
As much as she wanted answers to the questions that kept bubbling up, she needed sleep more. Stifling yet another yawn, Buffy decided it was time to go to bed. The problem was, where? Earlier on it had been suggested she take the guest bedroom, but she was unsure as to whether the offer were still open. The question was on her lips, but before she could ask it, a gentle hand at her side was steering her toward the room.
“Best you get some rest, luv.” When Buffy hesitated and looked tentatively toward the watcher, Spike followed her gaze, an arched brow question enough for Nicolas to understand.
“Consider the room yours, Buffy,” Nicolas offered kindly.
Slayer and vampire nodded their thanks before disappearing toward the spare room.
Nicolas returned to his desk and packed up the paperwork he’d been filling in; it was probably not a wise idea to leave forms regarding his new houseguest lying around in plain sight for the girl in question to find. Nor would it result in a happy conversation with the bleached demon if Spike stumbled upon them. The vampire had made his opinions of the Council very vocal in the first weeks of Nicolas’ time in Sunnydale. He believed they could have done more to assist with the problem of Glorificus, that they could have warned Buffy and Giles of the hell-god’s history before it was too late. Spike blamed the ‘bureaucracy’ of the Council for the Slayer’s death.
Time in the field was part of Nicolas’ training, and in all his years of observation and study, not once had he witnessed a vampire exhibit such emotion as Spike. Grief, anger, resentment, defeat, sorrow, failure; each emotion was raw and untamed. It was real. For a soulless creature, he sure expressed a lot of human emotions.
After meeting him, Nicolas came to understand his colleague’s interest in studying and writing their theses on the unusual demon. However, unlike his compatriots, Nicolas felt no such desire. He grew to respect Spike, a vampire who went against his nature and killed his own kind, protected that which he should naturally be praying upon, all in the name of a fallen chosen one.
The watcher still remembered with perfect clarity, a night not two weeks after his arrival to Sunnydale, when he’d questioned the vampire’s motive behind his actions. Spike’s answer had been simple, as if it should have been the most obvious thing in the world.
“It's what she would have wanted.”
Respect for Spike, both the demon and the man within, grew from that moment. Of late, respect had developed into trust—not that his superiors would ever learn of the sentiment. As far as the Watcher’s Council was concerned, Spike was expendable. So long as the chip in his brain was active and the vampire willingly protected the denizens of Sunnydale from the un-dead, his continued existence was tolerable. It was exploitation, pure and simple. Though none at the British Headquarters truly believed Spike loved the Slayer, they had no problems using him as a means to an end, another warrior to fight their cause. To convince the Council otherwise, was fruitless.
Nicolas didn’t know how his employers could be so sceptical. If he hadn’t believed Spike’s love for the blonde slayer before, the last few hours had definitely quashed that uncertainty.
Relieved as he was by Buffy’s return, not only for Spike but also for the sake of her broken watcher, Nicolas couldn’t help the buzz of concern that flit through his mind. Slayers didn’t just return from the dead with no rhyme or reason. He was aware of Giles’ investigation into revivification, research that had been shelved when the consequences of performing such a ritual became apparent. And the Council had no documented methods for restoring life to fallen slayers. Had they the information, Nicolas was certain they would have a veritable army at their disposal. Something brought Buffy Summers back to life, and Nicolas was determined to find out what it was. In his experience, these things didn’t happen without reason.
The difference in behaviour Spike had exhibited over just the last few hours was remarkable; losing Buffy again could be catastrophic. It was decided immediately that any delving he did into the circumstances surrounding Buffy’s return would be withheld from Spike, at least initially, until he had concrete information.
With a last look around the living room to make sure his files were safely away, Nicolas flicked off the lights and then climbed the stairs to his bedroom.
After a moment of indecision, Buffy reached for the doorknob and twisted. The bedroom was stylishly furnished: large double bed, bedside tables with matching lamps, and a large armoire. It was painted an unbiased cream, with matching carpet and linens. Apparently the refurbishment of the apartment had not been restricted to the living room.
When Buffy stepped inside, Spike flicked a switch and light flooded the room. “It’s a bit different from… before. Nicolas did quite a job of the redecoratin’.”
Buffy nodded, only half listening. Her gaze was fixated on the bed. It was beckoning her to touch it, to lie upon it, and she wondered if it were as soft and comfortable as it appeared. The call of sleep summoned her; it had been a long night. The temptation too strong to ignore, Buffy ran her fingers over the smooth fabric of the bed linens. They were as soft as they looked, filling the slayer with yearning to crawl beneath the safety of the covers.
“You’ll be safe ‘ere.”
It was the finality in his tone of voice that caused Buffy to lift her gaze from the bed and flicker toward Spike. He was leaving her. Her pupils dilated as a shuddery gasp tore through her.
In a move faster than Spike could blink, he was suddenly wrapped in the embrace of an anxious slayer. He realised his mistake before the words left her lips.
“Please… don’t leave.”
“Shhh, luv. Didn’t mean to give you a scare.” Without consciously realising what he was doing, Spike wrapped an arm around Buffy’s waist, while the other hand rubbed up and down her back, an action meant to soothe her. “I’ll stay as long as you need me.”
For a moment she remained stiff against him, a scrunch of his shirt gripped tightly in her clenched fists. When his words sank in she relaxed ever so slightly, but she was not yet willing to yield her grasp of his t-shirt.
A part of Spike knew he shouldn’t enjoy the contact as much as he did, but this voice of reason was quickly gagged. There was an appropriate metaphor for this, something about horses and gifts, but the exact words of the phrase escaped him. Buffy in his arms was a gift, something he would be stupid not to accept.
“I have so many questions, everything is…”
“Different?” Spike offered. He too had noticed how quickly things had changed, both in the town itself and also in regard to her friends. Their lives had changed after Buffy’s death; they’d all chosen different paths. Everyone, that is, except for Spike.
Buffy nodded slowly. She wasn’t sure she was capable of adjusting to all these changes and was unsure as to whether she could cope with the further losses. As she thought of her mom, Dawn and even Faith, tears welled in her eyes. But she didn’t have the will to cry. Buffy was already physically and emotionally exhausted from the ordeal of returning to life. As much as she wanted answers, right now she wasn’t ready to accept them.
When a yawn separated her lips, it became apparent that body agreed with the mind.
“Get some rest, pet.” Not waiting for a response, Spike gave her a gentle nudge toward the bed. When Buffy seemed reluctant to leave his side, he followed. He sat down on the edge of the bed, once more encouraging Buffy—who was still yawning—to climb onto it and get some rest.
Buffy chewed her bottom lip between her teeth as she mulled over in her mind the request that was on the tip of her tongue. She didn’t want to be alone; she needed to have someone around that she trusted. And she trusted Spike. A few months ago, if someone had told her she would trust Spike, a vampire who over the last few years had been the single biggest pain in her ass, she would have laughed at them. Now it was reality, the idea of trusting a vampire—a specific vampire—didn’t seem so preposterous. In fact, it was reassuring.
Spike was looking at her in that patented way where he tilted his head to the side, a genuine expression of concern misting his eyes, and it filled Buffy with a sense of warmth and comfort.
“Spike, will you stay with me tonight?” Buffy whispered, not daring to speak the words any louder. Saying them louder would make them more real and she wasn’t ready for that. In a former life, Buffy would have been scandalized by the prospect of sharing a room with the leather-favouring vampire, let alone sleeping in the same bed.
Spike blinked in surprise. He knew Buffy was scared, understood that she didn’t want to be alone. But hearing her speak those words was unexpected—a welcome surprise. “Buffy…” He hesitated, unsure of how to continue without upsetting her. To stay here, tonight, with her, would be a dream come true. However, if he did stay the night, there would be the issue of sunlight come morning. Despite the fact he and Nicolas had an arrangement of sorts with patrolling, and were somewhat friendly, Spike wasn’t sure he’d appreciate the second houseguest, a vampire one at that.
All it took was one look at Buffy’s quivering bottom lip to blow away his concerns. Ramifications be damned. Buffy needed him, so he wasn’t going anywhere.
“It would be my honour,” he declared.
Relieved, Buffy finally crawled fully onto the bed and settled against the pillows.
After a deep breath to calm his racing nerves, Spike followed suit. He lay beside her awkwardly for a moment, unsure of how he should arrange himself, before Buffy took his hand in hers and gave it a quick squeeze. The gesture was returned before Spike felt his arm being dragged over her hip and around her body, effectively repositioning him so that the Slayer was circled in his embrace. Spike lost himself in the sensations of having Buffy curled in his arms, the scent of her skin, the warmth from her body, the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest, the softness of her skin. Never in his wildest dreams had he imagined he’d find Buffy in his arms, willingly. Each and every detail, scent, sight and touch was catalogued. This moment was one Spike would treasure and hold close to his heart.
The soft sigh of her breathing told him she was asleep, and for the first time in months, Spike knew he’d rest peacefully.
A/N: Look at that, a Spuffy moment in amongst all the twisty plot and angst! Hope you all liked the chapter.
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