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Every Silver Lining's Got A Touch of Gray

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"Come on, you guys!" Harmony hissed from the doorway, bouncing up and down on her toes like she had to pee.

Buffy yanked the belt tight around Wesley Wyndam-Pryce's wrists, and stuffed one of his very expensive socks into his mouth. He vamped out with a strangled snarl, his fangs shredding the Italian silk. Buffy shrugged and crammed the sock's mate in to keep it company. Not like Wesley needed to breathe. Amazing the licking a vampire's body could take and keep on ticking. Why, if she wanted to, she could reach into the gaping red pit of Wesley's chest, past the raw stubs of shattered ribs, and poke the business end of Mr. Pointy right into his pruny, shriveled-up heart.

But no. Still in the hero biz. A little regretfully, she let Wesley thump to the floor and glanced across the austerely furnished office. Spike was still slumped against the oak-paneled wall, staring at his left hand. He kept flexing his bloodstained fingers curiously, as if he'd forgotten how they worked. His right hand cradled the muo-ping, still sticky with Wesley-gore. Angel stepped over the prone body of Wolfram & Hart's CEO, careful to avoid the spreading pool of blood soaking into the sinfully thick Turkish carpet, and pried the tiny, ornate jar out of Spike's unresisting grasp. He tucked it into his pocket and straightened. "Harm's right." He sounded as though he couldn't quite believe he'd just said those two words in conjunction. "Let's go."

Spike looked up, blue eyes exhausted behind a veil of tangled curls. There were a million things Buffy wanted to say to him. The only one that made it past her teeth was, "Can you walk?"

The words came out crisp and businesslike. Not what she intended, not at all. The muscles of his jaw twitched beneath the scruff of beard, and Spike levered himself to his feet and stood unsteadily, rail-thin in the grey cotton fatigues that Wolfram & Hart provided its special guests. He was running on fumes, but he was running. One hand rose to the studded leather collar around his neck.

"Not yet," Buffy whispered. The words felt like a betrayal. Spike's shoulders slumped, and his hand fell. He took a deep, rattling breath (things inside him broken and not yet mended) and with a resigned nod, extended the handle of the short chain to her. Her smile was almost as unsteady as his legs, and she hoped he could read her heart in it as she took hold of the leash and followed Angel out into the hallway.

Well, we can take this off the list of good clean spanky fun.

For the first hundred yards, Spike stumbled along on his own, kept upright by sheer bloody-mindedness. Buffy walked two steps behind him, her eyes fixed on the precise center of his back, as if she could keep him going by the power of her gaze alone. Angel took point, and Harmony sashayed along self-importantly beside him, clipboard prominently displayed. Infiltration, she claimed, worked better with a clipboard. Maybe she was right.

Their footsteps echoed through the marble-tiled halls, past plush offices, executive restrooms, and spacious conference rooms. A legal secretary peeked out of a copy room doorway, and popped back in like he'd just seen his own shadow, or maybe something else's. Otherwise they didn't get a second glance. Apparently it was no big deal for a group of bald, blue demons to parade a gaunt, unshaven captive on a leash down the hallowed halls of Wolfram & Hart. The leash was purely ornamental, anyway - the collar was all the restraint Wesley had thought Spike needed. He just hadn't counted on a subject who'd once lived through three years of involuntary electroshock therapy.

"Just keep walking," Angel muttered. Underneath the illusion of bluishness, he was sweating. Which she shouldn't be able to see, should she? Willow had warned them that the kind of rudimentary illusion she could still manage wouldn't last long, especially under the kind of anti-magic wards Wolfram & Hart's corporate wizards could deploy. "Harmony. How much time do we have?"

"Fifteen minutes," Harmony said decisively. A tiny wrinkle appeared between the flawless arches of her forever-eighteen brows. "Or maybe it was five. The security guy was kind of, like, drunk when he told me how to work the override."

"You got him drunk?" Buffy couldn't actually come up with a reason why this method of grilling was any worse than any other, but Harmony's blithe was getting on her nerves. "Way to get accurate information."

"No, silly." Harmony favored her with a tolerant smile, the kind you gave to cute old people who were losing it. "I drank him."

A pair of junior partners halted their low-voiced conversation to squint at them suspiciously. Buffy caught a glimpse of their reflections in a glass-walled office - the glamor was definitely fading, the Blue Man Group look flaking away like a bad paint job, to reveal bits and pieces of their real selves. Crap. She'd hoped they'd have a little more time before the great blind hydra of a law firm woke up and thrashed to awareness of the fact that its nastiest head had just been lopped off.

"Plan B?" she whispered.

Angel's fingers tightened on the muo-ping in his pocket. "Not yet."

Alarms didn't sound, and steel doors didn't slam shut, but Gavin Park was waiting for them at the elevators. A pair of corporate security guards with mile-wide shoulders stood at his back. He'd aged well. Maybe even better than Angel, in some ways, but he probably had a portrait in the board room or something. He smiled, perfectly charming and perfectly ruthless, and drew a Bersa .22 from his jacket - at a classy place like Wolfram & Hart you didn't want to spoil the cut of your Armani. He leveled it at Angel's skull.

"Um, hello?" Harmony waggled her fingers. "Mr. Park? I've just handed in my resignation, and Mr. Wyndam-Pryce was kind of tied up, so I was wondering? Any chance I can get a letter of recommendation?"

Gavin ignored her. "I can understand the impulse to help out an old girlfriend, Angel," he said. "Though helping her rescue the current husband...that's admirable, it really is. But surely you realize that we can't just let you walk out with the Duke's property."

Buffy's hand tightened on Spike's leash. They didn't know, then. They still thought this was just a rescue mission. Either Wesley hadn't been found yet, or...maybe he had, and just didn't want to let his employees in on exactly what it was they'd stolen from him today. "I'm thinking this is more a situation where 'finders keepers' applies," she said lightly. "And if Sebassis doesn't like it, he knows where to find me."

"Don't be foolish." Gavin's attention was still on Angel. Really kinda annoying, when she was the one with superpowers. "Why do you think your champion friend here's never thought about taking Sebassis down? If the Duke fell, the power vacuum would plunge the demons of Los Angeles into chaos, and that's the last thing any of us want." He gestured with the barrel of his pistol. "We've already alerted the Duke. Even if you make it outside, his minions will hunt you down inside a day. So let's be reasonable. Angel hands over the vampire. Duke Sebassis gets what he wants. The old girlfriend walks out of here alive, and for old time's sake Mr. Wyndam-Pryce will let her."

Beside, her, Spike growled - maybe he wasn't quite as out of it as he seemed. Buffy gripped his elbow, half-holding him upright. Why did you volunteer for this, you stupid vampire? You never even knew Wesley when he was human.

Angel's make-my-day grin widened. "Aw, Gavin, I'm disappointed. After all these years I figured you'd know I'm just not a reasonable kind of guy."

How far was Angel going to take the macho posturing? He could just break the muo-ping here and now and figure he'd come out ahead, but Buffy had a much narrower definition of 'success' than he did these days. Spike was about to collapse, and she didn't know if they could trust Harmony not to change sides again if the fight went against them. If Angel could take Gavin down, she could deal with the guards. She hoped. Times like this, she wished to heck that Angel and Spike were still immune to bullets.

"On the contrary." Gavin took a step forward, motioning Buffy to step away. "The fact that you're still alive argues otherwise." He took Spike's jaw in one hand, turning his head this way and that, as if Spike were a horse he was considering buying. "Fascinating. A vampire who lives and breathes... and even procreates, I'm told. Aside from the personal inconveniences the Duke's suffered, I can see why he's interested." He nodded at the flecks of grey at Spike's temples - a lot more grey, Buffy was sure, than had been there two months ago. "Of course, the aging and dying are a disadvantage. Our research department tried to replicate the incident with the Mohra blood, did you know? The results were rather... messy, but - "

Spike vamped out and lunged. No chest-beating grr!-intimidation thing, just lightning-fast, cobra-deadly, Me vampire, you lunch. Gavin got off one shot before he went down screaming with Spike's fangs in his throat. Spike jerked as the bullet tore into his shoulder and Buffy's heart stopped, but Spike scarcely seemed to notice. He looked up: tawny eyes, horned brow, and bloody snarl - yuck, no wonder most vampires went clean-shaven. AB-Pos in the beard not a good look. The security team froze, weapons half-drawn; Spike licked his chops and they broke and ran. Even when you were pretty much evil yourself, there was something stomach-churning horrible about a guy who wanted to eat you.

Buffy didn't wait to find out how much in control Spike wasn't - before he could turn on Gavin again, she slammed a fist into his jaw, hard. He went down like a pile of jackstraws, which? Scary, considering how well Spike could usually take a punch. Buffy joined Harmony in trying to pry the elevator doors open, but it was useless; they were budgeless. And now blast doors were clanging shut and alarms wailing behind them.

Angel scooped up Gavin's Bersa. "OK, Plan B. Run!"

Buffy hoisted Spike's limp, bony frame over one shoulder, and took off after him, leaving Gavin to do a great Wesley impersonation on the floor. If he was lucky, the corporate medics would get to him before some of his more ambitious co-workers decided that this was a great opportunity to promote themselves. She overtook Angel quickly, his only-human legs no longer a match for even middle-aged Slayer speed. "Stairwell!" he bellowed, and Buffy straight-armed the door into the service hallway, leaving a three-inch dent in the door-frame and wrenching the locking bar into a moebius of twisted metal. Angel spared a moment to look impressed.

Six floors down, the trap door into the sewers was open. Bill's pale face peered up at them from the bottom of the ladder, game-faced and trembling as if the tension in his muscles was all that was keeping him from bolting. He wasn't made for this kind of thing - but neither had she been, at fifteen. His golden eyes widened when he saw his father, and he scrambled half-way up the ladder to help her before she could hiss at him to stay back, stay down.

"Is Dad -?" Bill gasped, but Buffy shook her head - no time.

She handed Spike down to their son, who grunted and took his father's too-slight weight on his shoulders. She followed him down into the darkness and stench, fingers slipping on slick cold metal. Harmony shouldered past her, squeaking "Ew, ew, ew!" Buffy looked up - Angel was still topside, the stupid heroic lug, making sure they all got clear. Was she going to have to knock him cold and drag him down, too?

A flash and a boom - the tunnel shook, and Angel swarmed down the ladder yelling "Go, go, go!" The moment his boots hit the tunnel floor Buffy ripped the ladder free of its moorings, and they ran, Bill on one side, her on the other, Spike a vampire rag-doll between them.

The sewer tunnels were a stinky dark blur of racing feet and pounding hearts. Willow had the van's engine already running when they burst out of the grate and into the windblown, rain-swept October night. The alley smelled of car exhaust, wet cement and vomit. "Let us in!" Harmony squealed, yanking at the handle of the side door. Buffy would have bet Harm was more worried about the effects of rain on her hairdo than about her companions' safety, but she was still with them, and that, she supposed, was something. She caught Bill surreptitiously checking out the vampire's ass as she wriggled into the van. OK, he couldn't be too traumatized.

They piled into the back, soaked and filthy, and Bill heaved the door shut. Angel bumped Willow out of the driver's seat and floored it, while Buffy crouched in the back, jammed in between Harmony's cold shoulder and the hardly less chilly bodies of her husband and son.

"Is Spike OK?" Willow asked, with an anxious look at her sire over the back of the front seat. Like Bill, she was game-faced with nerves. "Did you get it?"

Buffy made a note of the order in which she'd asked the questions and awarded her a Yay Willow! point on the spot. Angel tossed her the muo-ping in response. It spun in mid-air, glistening red. Startled, Willow fumbled before catching it. "Where was it?" She sniffed her fingers and looked up, her pupils flashing copper in the darkness. "This is vampire blood."

 

"It's been right under our noses all along. Wesley had it surgically implanted in his chest. The last place anyone would think to look." Angel pounded a fist on the steering wheel in disbelief. "Except Spike, apparently."

The bitterness in his voice was for the years he'd wasted searching, Buffy knew, but it rankled anyway. "That's why you sent him in there, isn't it?" she snapped.

"We've got it now," Willow said, with an anxious peace-making gesture. "That's the important thing. We can do the ritual as soon as we get back to the shelter." Her voice was afire with that burning joy in going where no ex-witch vampire-with-a-soul had gone before. "It shouldn't take more than an hour. Anne's getting the Orb all set up now."

Buffy bit her tongue on all the questions she didn't want to know the answers to - whether a vampire could pull off the Ritual of Restoration, and what effect it might have on her own soul. Not her department, not any more. Willow was older if not always much wiser and she'd just have to hope that this time all the i's were dotted and all the t's were crossed.

Bill hadn't quite abandoned teenage cool to the point of reaching for her hand, but he pressed closer, fingers plucking hesitantly at his father's shoulder, where dark blood spread across the coarse grey cotton. "Will he be OK?"

"Define OK." Too much Slayer, not enough Mom, but what else could she say? "Here. Put your hand on his shoulder - right where the bullet wound is. Just like that. Press hard." Bill bit his lip and nodded, the anxious look in his eyes easing a bit at being given something useful to do. Hallelujah, she'd done something right. "Hold him steady. I'm going to get this thing off."

Which would have been easier if Spike hadn't smashed the remote earlier. She studied the collar with a frown. It looked like an unbroken circle of leather, sans seam or buckle, but whatever it was made of was tougher than your average dead cow. When you looked closely, the studs weren't studs at all, but tiny transceivers, tuned in to the electrical field of Spike's brain. Odds were good that removing it without the right security codes would be oogy.

Willow hung wide-eyed over the back of the front seat, gnawing her lower lip. "I could probably hack the control sequence and turn it off," she offered. "Once we're done with Wesley. It's probably just a cross-phased neuronal net with - "

She remembered the look in Spike's eyes when she'd told him he couldn't take it off yet. "Not waiting," Buffy replied. She rummaged through her purse for the serrated hunting knife and slid the blade underneath the collar's edge. She felt the shock all the way up her arm as Slayer-powered steel ripped through silicon and optical fiber. Spike's eyes flew open. He convulsed with a hoarse scream, muscles drawn like piano wire across a scaffolding of bone. The collar tore free with a velcro hiss, trailing a gossamer fringe of bloody nanowires. The flesh beneath was raw and seeping. Buffy flung the collar away. Spike's eyes rolled back in his head, and he went limp.

Bill stared down at his father. In profile you could see the planes and angles of adulthood lurking just below the soft boyish curves of cheek and jaw. "Is he going to die?"

Buffy straightened, shuddering, and smoothed the matted curls back from Spike's forehead. "No." She was sure of that. Not at all sure what effect sixty zillion volts would have on a no-longer-undead brain, but hey, vegetable isn't dead! "We just have to get him some blood and let him rest."

Her son shivered. "It's my fault. I was so mad at him when he left - " He looked up, his huge amber eyes tragic, and only a son of Spike's could look so absolutely miserable in game face. "Mom, I don't want him to die!"

At fifteen, she'd been positive that her parents splitting up was all because of her. "He came back, didn't he?" Bill nodded reluctantly. "Your father's not that easy to get rid of. He left because he wanted to, and he came back because he wanted to. And he wanted to do this. It's not your fault." She stroked a thumb along the line of Spike's cheekbone, so sharp beneath the skin. "And he won't die. Your dad's almost as stubborn as you are."

The windshield wipers flicked back and forth, flinging sheets of dirty water aside as they barreled through the L.A. night. If Buffy looked in the rear view mirror, she could see the disbelieving grin on Angel's face, illuminated by rain-washed neon. Finally sinking in that they'd won the battle, if not (yet) the war. How long had it been since she'd seen him smile like that? Even all these years later, a part of her froze in terror at the thought of Angel happy, even as another part glowed and warmed. She just hoped that all this would be worth it. She was long past the point of believing that souls made everything better, but God knew having one couldn't make Wesley any worse, and she owed Wolfram & Hart a black eye on her own account.

Headlights loomed out of the darkness, blinding them for an instant, and Buffy tensed - what if they got stopped, if they got a ticket? Maybe only one cop in fifty was on Sebassis's payroll, but that would be the one on the lookout for a nondescript primer-splashed van carrying the not-quite-vampire most urgently desired by the demon lord of Los Angeles.

"Mom?" Bill whispered. "I think Dad's waking up."

She looked down. Spike was twitching and moaning, features slipping from man to demon and back again as he fought for consciousness - the demon strength was there, but his muscles were too wasted to endure its use for long. His sooty lashes fluttered above the brand new purple bruise blooming beneath the rough curls of beard. It was almost lost among the yellow-brown mottlings of older ones, but this one was her bruise, laid down with love, a distinction only a vampire could appreciate.

Harmony squirmed as far over on the seat as she could. "Buffy?" she said earnestly. "I just thought I should tell you, I'm totally over Spike now. And I really mean it this time. I mean, the getting all old and wrinkly was bad enough, but - "

"Harm?" Willow interrupted, in her best bored-now tones. "Shut up. Or I'll make clackers out of your eyeballs."

"Geez, try to do a good deed..." Harmony tucked herself sulkily into the corner.

When exactly, Buffy wondered, had all her friends ended up vampires? The van lurched as Angel took a sharp turn and hydroplaned for a few yards. OK, be fair, some of them were ex-vampires. That was completely not right. Probably there was a fundamental flaw to her approach to slayage. "Harm?" she said. "Thanks for not selling us out to Gavin."

Harmony beamed. "And I totally could have, too!"

Angel maneuvered the van into a parking spot by sheer force of personality, and killed the engine. The street sign said Hollywood Boulevard. "Here?" he asked.

He was giving her a chance to change her mind and come along, and Buffy considered it. There was safety in numbers. She looked at Bill - it was his choice, too. Her son folded in on himself for a moment, then nodded. Buffy muscled the side door open and clambered out into the rain, hauling Spike after her. Willow handed out a bright magenta duffle bag. Buffy slung the bag over her shoulder (it clanked alarmingly) and took her purse from Harmony. She glanced at Angel, whose fingers tightened on the steering wheel, eager to be away.

"Oi!" Spike coughed, struggling in her grip. "Bill - "

Their son crouched in the gaping side door of the van, shivering in the rain. He shook his head. "I have to stay."

Spike swayed beside her, a low growl of anger and confusion building in his chest. "It's just for awhile," Buffy said, with an urgent tug at his sleeve. "To confuse the location spell, if they try to track us. Bill's the only one like you. Blood of your blood."

She rounded the van and gripped Angel's forearm tightly through the open window. It was reassuringly meaty, but she could leave bruises there, too, if she tried. Maybe even if she didn't. "Take care of him," she said. "You take care of our boy." It was an order, it was a plea. All she could give him now was this trust, to make up for all the other things they could never give one another, but it was the most precious gift she had to offer.

Angel's hands remained on the wheel, but his dark eyes met hers, eyes in which the shadow of that other boy, the one he had failed to save, was never far gone. He nodded. "Of course." And if he realized what a joke it was that she should make such a demand, after what had happened last year, he mercifully didn't say. "And...thanks."

Spike looked from Angel to her, and back to Bill, who swallowed hard and repeated, "I gotta stay, Dad."

For a moment two pairs of golden eyes reflected nothing into nothing as father and son traded stares. Bill climbed out and stood rangy and awkward beside the van, sandy curls matted with rain, taped-up glasses sliding down his nose. Buffy noted with a pang that he was almost as tall as Spike now; he was going to beat his father out by an inch or two, maybe, when he was done growing. Spike straightened with visible effort, pulling his firstborn into a ferocious embrace. A beat, and Bill was hugging his father back, eyes squeezed tight shut, babbling, "Dad, I'm sorry, I - "

"Hush," Spike said, voice like gravel. "It's all right." His hand cupped the back of Bill's skull, and they were both human-faced again. He gave his son a rough back-thump and stepped away, mindful of teenaged pride; if manly tears were involved, on either side, they were lost in the rain. "Go on, then," he said. "You've work to do."

Bill said nothing, but his eyes lit up with that flame she'd seen so often in Spike's - the I'll walk through burning holy water for you look. The door slammed shut and the van roared away in a cascade of filthy water, and she and Spike were standing on the corner of Hollywood and Vine at four A.M, on a Thursday morning.

****

It was one of those irony things, Buffy reflected, that ten years ago she'd been on the run from the very demons who were going to save her and Spike's respective asses in another twenty-four hours. Even His Grace Duke Sebassis, Lord of the City and County of Los Angeles, would think twice about invading the territory of a hive of Ix'tlkzx demons. Such as the ones currently lairing in the old Hellmouth tunnels beneath Sunnydale. You could kill an Ix'tlkzx, but it usually required running them over with a bus. Occasions like this made all the negotiating she and Spike had done over the years between the hive queen and the rest of Sunnydale's human and demon communities over who got to lay eggs in whose heads at what season worthwhile.

But asylum, whatever weird form it took, depended on getting home to Sunnydale, and they weren't there yet.

The desk clerk at the Motel 6 (in Buffy's opinion, closer to a Motel 3 1/2) smirked at them knowingly. He probably thought they were a seen-better-days hooker and her homeless, strung-out john. Buffy restrained the urge to grab a fistful of his thinning hair and slam his face repeatedly into the scarred formica of the registration desk. The computer was about a million years old, still running Vista, for God's sake. Bonus - less chance of a W & H hacker ferreting into such an antiquated OS. Buffy paid cash anyway.

"Where's the nearest butcher's?" she asked. Spike was starting to focus on the clerk in a way that suggested he was seeing a giant dancing T-bone steak.

"The nearest what??"

"I need to buy pig's blood," Buffy said, slowly and carefully. "Or my husband might try to eat the maid. Assuming you have maids, which? I'm not. In which case he might try eating you. He'd probably kinda regret it later, but trust me, that's small consolation."

The clerk looked like he'd worked night shift long enough to be vamp-smart. His smirk widened. Great. Now he'd pegged her for a suck junkie. He pointed at a rack of dog-eared flyers in front of the desk, advertising local attractions. "There's a couple of all-night carnicerias up in Studio City," he said, handing over the key-cards. "About ten miles. They deliver. If you and your...'husband'... want to - "

Practically next door, for Los Angeles. "Fan-freaking-tabulous." Buffy grabbed a flyer and hustled Spike out into the parking lot - not because he was dangerously close to eating the clerk, but because she was dangerously close to letting him.

The room, at least, was cleaner than the lobby. It was a clone of every other crappy hotel room in every other crappy hotel in every other crappy American city, which was a definite plus if someone was scrying for them. She tossed the overnight bag onto the bed, unzipped it, and found the handful of warding fetishes Willow had put together for them, stinky herbs bound to polished chicken bones with red twine. Yay advance planning. She had to hand it to Angel, being human had done wonders for weaning him off the 'get 'em!' school of caper planning.

Spike stood dripping in the middle of the threadbare carpet, head down, arms wrapped around himself, while Buffy placed the wards. One on the windowsill and one on each side of the door, and after a moment's thought, one under the bed. She put the last one on the bathroom sink. Who knew, maybe they'd ward against were-cockroaches. It wasn't a powerful spell, but as Angel had emphasized over and over, Wolfram & Hart weren't omnipotent - they just tried to make you think they were.

A laminated card beside the antiquated land-line phone warned her that all calls would be added to her bill, but Buffy didn't want to chance using her cell just now. She called one of the carnicerias at random - "No delivery before dawn? OK, fine, just get it here andale arriba, OK? Um, tres - no, quatro pints of, uh, sangre del puerco? And beef liver. Beef liver - toro... um.... rats, I don't know the word for liver! No, no! No rats!"

While she went two falls out of three with the language of Cervantes, Spike roused himself to strip off his prison fatigues. The drab cotton was soaked through, hanging on his gaunt frame. Underneath he was painfully thin, ribs showing under bruises and welts that would have healed days or weeks ago if he'd been feeding properly. He was still favoring his right shoulder, but the bullet wound had stopped bleeding - Spike might have a working circulatory system these days, but by human standards, its workings were pretty weird.

She hung up the phone, and reached up to stroke the scruff of beard along his jaw, threading her fingers through his wild hair. Spike had lived forty-five mortal years out of the hundred and almost-seventy he'd spent on Earth, and he'd stopped bleaching his hair for good on the day he started to go grey, flaunting his anomalous mortality like a badge of honor. This was the first time she'd ever thought he looked his age, and more. He was shaking, and for the first time she realized that she was shaking too, and the only way to stop it was to grab each other and hold on tight.

Buffy pulled him into the postage-stamp-sized bathroom, and fed a twenty into the water meter on the shower. The pipes rattled and banged at the unreasonable request, and for a minute she was afraid that the machine was going to spit the bill back at her. Rust-red water belched out of the faucet and swirled Psycho-style down the drain before running clear. Spike gasped when she herded him into the shower and the lukewarm needles of water hit his shoulders, and then he slumped against the mildewy tile, face upturned to catch the spray. He let her empty a whole bottle of cheap hotel shampoo into his hair, leaning into her scrubbing with an almost orgasmic moan as the filth sluiced away.

She'd only meant to help him wash and feed and rest, but somehow they were kissing, deep, frantic, punishing kisses as soap ran into their eyes. The bones of his shoulders rose and fell like knife-blades beneath her palms as hands skimmed feverishly over bodies, shoulder to hip and back again, re-asserting lapsed claims, re-marking old territory.

The shower sputtered to a halt. They stumbled out of the bathroom and fell back onto the bed, wrestling ungracefully with her wet clothes. Buffy whipped the hair from her eyes and moved to roll him over, but Spike growled and vamped out, resisting. Greying temples weren't the only sign of vampiric middle age - tiny horns budded along his brow ridges when he changed now, and scales gleamed along the backs of his arms when the amber light hit just so. His nostrils flared as he breathed her in, snuffling Buffy-scent deep into his lungs, letting it out in a deep slow rumble that shook the bed beneath them. Tawny eyes studied her, and his fanged head dropped, nipping along the line of her collarbone.

The swelling curve of his cock bumped at the juncture of her thighs, almost obscenely sleek and full in comparison to the rest of him. She wriggled till she could hook her knees over his shoulders - after almost twenty years and three kids they were thankfully far past the ow-too-much! stage, but it was still better for both of them if Spike could thrust on a good deep angle.

He sank in with a sound that was half growl and half sob, and he fucked her then, long and hard and slow, right hand pinning her wrists to the pillow above her head, left hand tormenting her clit. They were wet and cold. The ceiling was stained with God knows what and the sheets smelled funky and Spike's bitten-short fingernails were still crusted with Wesley's blood and she Did. Not. Care. Spike's poetry might suck, but his fingers were laureates, inscribing sonnets in flesh. She gave herself over to it, to him. Tenderness wasn't what he needed from her now, but this willingness to let him drive, this compliance, this trust, this, this, oh please yes more there harder fuck me Spike fuck me yes yes yes oh

When she reached her third shattering climax he finally let himself come, or come undone, shuddering spasmodically, his eyes wide and blank and blue as the rain-washed dawn outside. He collapsed against her, panting, exhausted - they were neither of them twenty-something or immortal any longer, and it had been a really rough night. Hell, a really rough couple of months. She cradled Spike's head between her breasts, stroking his tangled hair, playing with the tight little ram-curls of his beard where it was streaked with grey on each side of his chin. His breath - and the beard - tickled her nipple, still standing pert and attentive. She kind of liked it, but she knew he hated the curls with a passion. She whispered, "I brought a razor."

"I love you." He gave her a squeeze. "You've got so thin, love," he said with a sort of surprised disapproval. "Haven't you been taking care of yourself proper?"

Considering the source, all she could do was poke accusingly at his all-too-prominent ribs, and dissolve into the kind of weak, silly laughter that was only a hop, skip, and a jump from tears. "It will be all right," she said, not really sure what it was, and promptly fell asleep.

***

A pounding on the door wakened Buffy out of uneasy dreams. There'd been a tower - or was it a bridge? - and she'd been looking for someone, calling frantically as the high winds tore at her limbs, knowing, somehow, that it was already far too late. She was alone on the bed, and water was running in the bathroom. "Just a minute!" she yelled, and rolled groggily to her feet. She threw on a t-shirt and gym shorts and staggered over to the door, rubbing eyes fuzzy with not nearly enough sleep. If it was the Big Bad Wolfram & Hart, she could just knock them dead with morning breath.

It was the delivery guy from the carniceria, a small, dark, wiry man with a buzz-cut and prison tattoos. Daylight delivery or not, he was decked out in enough crosses to ward off an entire army of darkness, and Buffy was pretty sure that was a stake in his pocket. He set a half-gallon milk jug full of suspicious-looking dark red fluid on the doorstep, alongside a squishy-looking parcel wrapped up in butcher's paper and string. "That's sixty-three seventy-five," he announced, dancing several wary steps back into full sunlight. "Just put it on the sidewalk."

"Isn't that a little steep?" Buffy asked. She'd brought enough cash for an escape to Argentina, but that didn't mean she wanted to blow it all on Spike's breakfast.

"Delivery, plus thirty bucks surcharge for blood orders," the man replied. "Hazard pay."

Fair enough. "Keep the change." She tossed him four twenties, snatched the packages, and slammed the door. She set the packages on the nightstand. After all these years, the blood-smell was, well, still revolting, but her stomach growled anyway. She realized with a start that she was hungry - really hungry; had she eaten anything since that power bar yesterday?

When she got back from the taco stand across the street, Buffy was the proud possessor of a large orange juice and a sausage, egg, and cheddar breakfast burrito approximately the size of her head. Spike was emerging from the bathroom, naked and scrubbed and clean-shaven. He'd made a mostly-futile effort to slick his hair back, but best of all he was moving like Spike again, shedding that half-defeated shuffle. His eyes glittered at the scent of the blood.

He didn't exactly rip the jug out of her hands, but he inhaled half the contents with such wolfish greed Buffy was afraid he was just going to barf it all up again. He sat down on the bed, ripped the twine off the package and tore into the liver with a joyous growl, cramming handfuls of bloody, oozing red goo into his mouth.

"Careful," she said, curling up beside him on the bed and taking a more demure bite of her own breakfast. Mmm, greasy, cholesterol-laden heaven. There were probably enough calories in the thing to power the California National Guard for a week. Maybe she'd only eat half.

"Fuck careful," Spike replied indistinctly. "Bit of a mix-up twixt Wes the Wanker and the security team on the care an' feeding of yours truly, or so they claimed. Slipped someone's mind that I can starve to death."

Buffy doubted it had been a slip; Sebassis hadn't requested that his present be kept pretty. Nonetheless Spike drank the third pint a bit more slowly, and the last more slowly yet. When the liver was gone, and both the wrapping paper and his fingers licked cleaner than anything else in the room, he flopped back against the headboard with a happy groan. Maybe it was her imagination, but she thought he looked better already; the older bruises and welts were starting to fade. "I'll likely pay for that," he sighed, massaging his distended belly. "But I don't care." He belched, yawned, and settled deeper into the lumpy pillows. "Bill's all right? And the others?"

"Connie and Alex are staying with Xander and Anya. Willow's going to call when Angel's got Wesley... secured, and it's safe for us to pick up Bill and head home." If everything had gone according to plan, Wesley would have his soul back by now, and the law firm of Wolfram & Hart would be in chaos. Whatever. L.A. was Angel's town; she and Spike were only hired guns here.

Buffy settled into the curve of his arm, resting her head against his shoulder and slurping on the last of her orange juice. She'd scold him for eating too fast, but somehow or other the whole burrito had done a vanishing act, and she had the feeling she was too deep into pot/kettle territory to pull it off. His hand wandered up to stroke her hair, and she felt, in that more moment, more purely happy than she could remember feeling since...

Spike squeezed his eyes shut. "Pryce," he whispered. "He knew about last year. About you losing the baby, me running out, all of it."

She might have known the real scars wouldn't be on the outside. Angelus was an artist in pain; Wesley Wyndam-Pryce was a clinician. Buffy kept her voice steady. "He doesn't know about anything."

"Said forgiving me my trespasses was the ruin of you. Said you'd see it, sooner or later. Hate me for it. "

"What did you tell him?"

"Laughed in the berk's face. As if the likes of me could ruin you." His eyes opened, serene and blue. "He tried to convince me that - that what happened to Christopher was consequence of that. That's when I knew it was bollocks. You might hate me, at that. But I know. You wouldn't have hated the mite." He laid a hand upon her belly, reverent, like a man laying hands upon a tomb.

How unfair was it, that Spike could say that name out loud, when she could creep no nearer to the memory than What Happened Last Year? "It was my fault," she whispered. "What happened. You knew that all along."

"Oh, love." His arm tightened around her, and there was more pain in his voice than Wesley could have inflicted in the entire last two months. "No. I'd cut my sodding tongue out if I could take that back."

And there was nothing more she could say, no words she hadn't said already, about what happened last year - only a huge aching void in her chest that threatened to well up and choke her, and she wanted to tell him that if she hated him for the choices she had made, she'd be a piss-poor Buffy and a pretty rotten Slayer as well, but words were not her friend. And she hated - not him, but the thought of that void always lying between them. It would take a running leap to cross it, and there was always the chance she'd break an ankle on the dismount. But the choice, as always, was hers.

"It's been good today, hasn't it?" she said timidly. "I mean, yeah, with the running and the screaming and the hitting and the fear of sudden death, but between us, it's been..." Good. Better than it had been in a long time. Since before Spike had left, and come back. Since before...

He smiled, drowsy. "It has that."

She slipped the t-shirt off her shoulder, and ran a fingernail along one of the deeper scratches left by Mad Sewer Dash #3412. Bright blood welled up against lightly tanned skin. Scab-picking as a romantic gesture: Buffy Summers-Pratt, This Is Your Life. Buffy took her vampire's dumbstruck face in both hands, and drew his head down to the wound, and hoped she wouldn't have to say the words, because the words would be cheesy and stupid. "So I thought... maybe it could be better?"

Spike stiffened, incredulous, offended. "Not hungry."

Mood of tender, romantic reconciliation, officially shattered. "Who said you were?" Buffy snapped. Between them, the bite had never been about that kind of hunger - she'd been many things to him over the years, but never, ever, food, and if that was all he thought she was offering...

Then no wonder he was offended. Crap. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, fingers fluttering down her neck, and arched up to brush her lips along the taut cords of muscle on his. It was really hard to look sultry when you were swimming in a Finding Nemo t-shirt. "Maybe I'm hungry. You ever think about that?"

Hah. Little Spike was starting to display a friendly interest in the proceedings, even if his lord and so-called master was thick as a post. She bent to kiss the slick, satiny head, just starting to poke out of his foreskin. Spike's eyes were blazing gold now, wary, hopeful, confused. He shivered as her tongue traced the slit of his cock. "You said," he choked out. "Last year. If you let me come back. No more of that. No more - no chance of going through that again!"

Forget sultry. Buffy sat bolt upright, fists clenched. "I was stupid, OK?" she yelled. "Thinking if I could have you back and keep you out somehow I'd be safe! But you always get in - that's why I love you, you big stupid jerk! And nothing's ever safe! And - and I've changed my mind!" She really didn't want to cry. She hadn't brought any makeup along. And she wasn't exactly sure what it was she'd just said, anyway, so not really much point in bursting into tears.

Spike, fortunately, had a lot of experience in translating from Buffy to English. The gold in his eyes darkened, smoky and dangerous. "Don't have any - " He made an all-inclusive gesture in the direction of Little Spike, which she took to encompass their current lack of any latex products manufactured by the fine people of Trojan, Inc. Obviously the next time she rescued him from durance vile, she was going to have to update her packing list.

"Don't care."

"Been off your pills for a good bit. I can smell it."

"Don't care."

"If we do this," he breathed, muscles bunching predatory in his shoulders, one finger catching the waistband of her shorts, "there's a bloody good chance I'll knock you up again. You'll care then."

She didn't want to drag it all out in the open like that. She'd imagined this as symbolic and numinous, with neither of them needing to speak a word. It struck her, suddenly, that maybe it was Spike who needed reassurance now - she wasn't the only one who'd lost something (someone) last year, not the only one who'd mourned. "Spike, I'm almost forty. The warranty on the girly bits is probably about to lapse. The chances aren't all that good. But if something happens? It happens."

Spike inhaled. "Oh, your warranty's in fine shape, love."

He struck. Or she did. Hard to tell, when they were grappling together in the entangling sheets, when she was as greedy for him as he was for her, when their last bout had just been appetizers, barely enough to take the edge off a hunger that had built, unsated, for a year and more. When she pressed close against him as fangs and cock sank home together, thrashing and snarling as violently as any demon, demanding harder, deeper, faster! Blood sang in her veins, rising to the pain of the bite - she'd felt the killing bite in her day, more than once, and this was no languorous, swooning anguish, spiraling down into darkness. This was pain as sharp and glorious as trumpets, as bright as morning. No surrender, but a gift - from her to him, and back again.

And, oh, he was giving back, moving impossibly huge and hard within her, hitting every sweet spot she possessed with the cunning of twenty years' experience. Pushing till she wept and whimpered and strove against him, and came, and came, and came again, aching for more, more, more. Not holding himself in this time, either, no, already come twice, and she could feel the slap of his balls against her ass, high and tight and eager again. They shouted together when he spent, a wordless yell of triumph, though what foe they had defeated Buffy hardly knew.

His fangs were still fastened lightly in her shoulder (he never bit her neck during sex, except in play - neck bites were for killing). "Just a minute, and I'm gonna fuck you again, Slayer," he mumbled. Tonguing the wounds, little silver-sharp jabs of rapture. "Gonna fuck you long and hard. Gonna be so good to you, you'll see - "

"You're being pretty good now," she gasped, fingers clutching the sheets as cool lips worked their way down her sweat-drenched torso. He'd be ready again soon - Spike really had a nice sturdy cock, a cock with heft to it, a cock that stood up to some handling. Or for some handling. Not quite as quick on the draw alive and pushing fifty as he had been when he was undead and pushing thirty, but with the proper encouragement, the flesh was still very, very willing. And she was all about the encouragement.

"I thought about it," she whispered, so low only vampire ears could hear. "Ever since you came home. Every time we made love, I thought about letting you. Do this."

"Did you, now?" His voice dropped to a subterranean rumble, rich as Aztec chocolate. She could feel the throb and shiver through her clit as he devoured her, her hips jerking helplessly in the relentless grip of his hands. He was definitely trying to kill her, maybe by dehydration - she couldn't possibly get any wetter, could she? Apparently she could.

"I thought about your cock inside me while your fangs - oh God!" He'd suited action to word, pushing inside her again - "I thought about - oh! how good it would feel, how - how big, how hard - " He started to move, slow and controlled - had to be slow, she was so swollen with heat and desire. "How much you like it when there's a chance - "

"Oh, you like it too," Spike purred. It drove her wild when he did that, thrumming all through her secret places. Her nipples were aching, her clit pulsing, her breath coming in little whistling gasps - she was one great vibrating skein of Buffy-fiber for Spike to play arpeggios of pleasure on. His fangs pierced her shoulder again, and the bed shook as he slammed into her, wham, wham, WHAM! against the wall. Buffy clawed the glossy trail of scales that ran down his spine now when he changed, and Spike convulsed within her. "That's your dirty little secret, isn't it, pet? You make out it's been all accidental, but the truth is, you like it. Being a mum. An' well you should, you're good at it."

She wanted to deny it. Shut his mouth with blood and kisses. But her body was on fire, and his was too, the biological alchemy that his bite worked on her system, and her blood on his, sparking through them both. Fred Burkle had explained it once, something about hormones and sperm capacitation and zona pellucida glycoproteins, but it boiled down to a simple formula: bitey + boinking = baby. Was that what she wanted, really? Or was it just that she was tired of fearing the possibility?

Spike looked down and her and laughed, his eyes alight with the joy of Slayer-baiting. "Admit it. You love being up the duff. You love gettin' round and ripe and rosy, lettin' Spike feed you up an' cosset you." His fingers slipped between her thighs, to toy with the slick, pouting flesh. "You love it when the little 'un's asleep at your breast," he crooned, rocking against her. "When they're cryin' their eyes out in the middle of the night. You love raisin' 'em up to be good. You love it because it's so fucking hard, an' for all you complain, you'd pine away if your life was easy. And you'd have denied all that to yourself, for memory of our poor lost boy? If he'd lived to tell you so, he wouldn't have wanted that."

"I want you," she said. She was liquid sex, melting and re-forming around the rock-solid foundation of Spike's cock, and that void was filling, filling, full to overflowing. She rolled him over and bore down, thighs scissored around his narrow waist till he fountained into her, golden-eyed, blue-eyed, roaring in ecstasy. The whole universe reduced to the intersection of flesh and flesh, to the circuit of blood and jizz. Riding him till his eyes crossed, squeezing the promise of life from his loins. Again, and again, and again. Life is pain, Your Highness. No shit. Wrong Wesley altogether, but the Dread Pirate William had a ring to it.

***

"Probably nothing happened," Buffy said, one thoroughly trashed hotel room later. Spike chuckled and looked insufferably smug - in some ways, he was very much a guy. And he probably thought their unprotected-bitey-sex track record could speak for itself, and he was probably right. But they were both older now, and... she wasn't sure if she should finish the sentence 'they shouldn't get their hopes up' or not. "I mean, even if it did, it wouldn't..." Be a replacement, be a solution. Only more problems. But weren't problems what they did best? "It wouldn't be the same."

"Never is," Spike replied equably, taking an enormous bite of pizza (extra cheese for her, extra pepperoni for him). He was definitely looking better - it was going to take a lot more liver to keep his jeans from sliding off his hips, but he was starting to heal up nicely. She coiled a lock of his hair around her finger - best enjoy the curls before he buzzed it all off again. She thought she could get to like the new grey.

Buffy shifted to find a spot on the bed that wasn't so wet, and a spot on herself that wasn't so agreeably sore. "Spike, why did you - I mean, Angel asked you to find Wesley's soul. I get that. The puppy eyes are hard to resist. But you never even knew Wesley. Souled Wesley, anyway. When it all went so bad, why didn't you just..."

"Kill him when I had the chance?" Spike chewed thoughtfully. "Thought about it, believe me. You're the hero, pet. I'm just the monster who loves you. But after last year... not my finest hour. Had to show you even a monster can act the hero sometimes. You and our Bill."

She wasn't sure whether she wanted to kiss him or hit him. Knowing Spike, he'd appreciate either. "You big jerk," she muttered. And trusted he was fluent enough in Buffy-to-English to know it meant, "I love you."

END