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These Violent Delights

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This demon was  not  friendly. 

It was also not really very visible.  Which made it both a good and an irritating way for Buffy to work off her current annoyance.  /You may not be easy to see, but you’re a useful demon./   Grunt, swing.  Stab.

Miss.

Typical.

She was off her game tonight.  Well, technically, she had been off her game for a few days now, but that was what happened when a Slayer was doing more fighting with her vampire beau than she was with the demons she was actually supposed to be tussling with.  It distracted, and was a waste of energy, and made her want to give beat-downs in the wrong places, and…

Her head rocked back as the transparent thing she was fighting got a good punch in edgewise; a very sharp one, filled with talons like broken shards of glass.

/Dammit!/

Stilling herself, quietening even her breath, Buffy went old-school.  Listened through the low, moaning whuffle of the Santa Anas flowing around her, caressing her skin with warmth… and heard a faint swish on the grass to her immediate left.  Her  uncovered  left.  Swung out with her off-elbow… and caught the whatever-it-was in the face or throat or something.

There was a  thud  as it went down hard. 

Whirling, she swung downward, no time to lose, and gave it a whack with her sword.  Saw the faint ripple in the grass that indicated what might have been edges. Heard a weird cracking noise, like a shattering window, and a faint, sharp cry, then silence. 

“Ugh.”  Her cheek was dripping blood onto her shoulder.  “What the hell  were  you, anyway?”

Her head jerked up when a slow-clap rang out across the cemetery.  /Oh, you bastard./ 

Swinging down off of the nearest crypt-top where he had been sitting, apparently nonchalantly dangling his feet to watch the show, Spike landed with casual competence and came up from his panther’s crouch to approach.  Standing at her elbow but with slightly more space between them than was standard, he peered down at the invisible monster in the grass. Scuffed at the spot for a moment, then shook his head. “I’ll get it, pet.” And bending, he grasped… something.  Lifted. 

His shoulder seemed to ripple a little, but that was it. 

“Wh…”

Straightening, his eyes bored into hers.  “Wouldn’t want some poor tosser to come here in the daylight and trip on the bloody thing, innit?” he pointed out, and tilted his head in the direction of the open grave she had passed on the way in, probably dug for the next fledge she’d have to stake tomorrow night. 

They walked in strained silence till they gained the edges of raw earth.  With a low grunt of effort, Spike hefted the thing in. It fell with a  whoosh  and a crystalline rattle as it hit bottom.  “There. ‘Magine they’ll just toss a bit more dirt in to hide it from the mourners, lower the casket, and call it good.  No doubt the sods around here are used to lookin’ the other way, yeah?” But as if to be helpful, he kicked a few clods in over the edge from the pile of dirt left behind by the backhoe.

They rattled down along… something inside the dark pit.  Some of them seemed to hover without quite touching the bottom.  “You know that probably made it worse, right?” Buffy pointed out blandly.  Which was probably bitchy of her, since it was damned nice to have help with the cleanup nowadays, especially when she was tired from a night of slaying, and definitely when she was wounded.  It made it easier to get home or back to school quick and get some sleep before the day started all over again, which was still relatively new for her. 

Or, well, sometimes it made it easier.  Sometimes it was just a means to a quickie.  Or had been, till recently. All the better to make time so they could make time and all that.  Except there hadn’t been any sex in four days. Not post-slayage. Not at all. Not even any more angry, possessive sex.  Just, nothing.

Spike hadn’t even tried to do anything about the gouges in her face, which was totally unlike him. 

Instead, he shrugged and turned away, heading for the crypt he had recently begun to renovate here at Restfield.  “Willful ignorance is bliss,” he pointed out, and poked inside his duster for his cigarettes. 

They fell into a silence that was somehow both comfortable and mildly awkward, and dammit, couldn’t he just admit it wasn’t her fault so they could move on?

Everything had been going so damned well, for months, before that idiot Dracula had shown up in town.  For one thing, there had been no official capital-A Apocalypse last year, which in and of itself had been weird as hell, and definitely a first in Buffy’s experience.  By far a first for her tenure here. Not that things had been in any way uneventful. First, there had been a frustratingly sexless family Christmas, replete with Spike being a ridiculous puppy over his inclusion in the festivities (Mom got him a dark blue sweater that matched his eyes and made them glow and which, okay, made Buffy drag him outside for a serious makeout session when he promptly wore it to please ‘mum’). 

Needless to say, the school break was also replete with a whole hell of a lot of snuggling and petting, and during the above event, one extremely chilly tryst on the back porch that might have turned into full-on wall-sex if Mom hadn’t been literally right on the other side, in the kitchen, baking something or whatever. 

Unfortunately it was also full to the brim with Giles climbing right up Buffy’s butt at every opportunity about her not-quite-promise to look deeper into that whole First-Slayer inheritance thing with that what-was-her-name, Sineya, but that was slow going.  A lot of the stuff on her was in some African language—Yoruba or something?—and was really tough. Giles did a lot of shepherding Buffy through the meditations; and yes, she was willing, because she truly did want to get to the bottom of her very primitive connection with Spike on an apparently demon-y level… but it was tough to concentrate on stuff like that when said demon-y level (and every one of her human-y levels, to boot) was mostly focused at that moment on getting her vamp alone behind some corner on any available flat surface for some far more physical meditations.  As such, she'd made a lot less progress than Giles had really hoped for before school became a thing again. “Sorry, Giles. I’ll keep on it whenever I don’t have homework, I swear.” /And probably make a lot more progress once I get really, really laid./

Between Mom, Giles, and holiday family-time, Christmas break from school had flown by with hardly any moments alone.  Then, immediately after all the snuggly family fa-la-la-ing, there was a very small mini-apocalypse-earthquake thing—which had, by the way, totally gotten in the way of attempt number whatever at getting down while they had actual voices.  A) crypts and stuff falling on people during earthquakes actually got distracting, eventually. B) Buffy had been way too freaked by the concept of possible world-endage to focus after that. 

Spike had been not only understanding but all gung-ho to go out with her and beat up the stupid jerks out to end everything for the nth time, and had helped her stop the ritual by virtue of a nice slaughterfest down around the hellmouth, because why not have more killing-in-lieu-of-actual-sex.

They had, of course, given the dorm another shot after that, since things were pretty dead in there over the break.  But unfortunately that didn’t work out even a little bit, because though Willow was gone a lot lately doing all-night study things, she didn’t go home for the break, instead staying on campus over vacation... and she still got a little wigged if she came back and found them doing what Spike called ‘canoodling’.  She had made that pretty clear during the whole ‘mass laryngitis’ episode of things by doing a very succinct impression of ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ and making ew-faces at them while hiding half behind the door. It all made for some very tense attempts at sex that ultimately went nowhere, and Buffy was starting to seriously rethink her concerns about public venues when it came to carnal acts.  Which, if she was being real with herself, every time Spike whispered sweet, dirty, encouraging nothings in her ear in places like the Bronze, was starting to look not just vaguely possible but even maybe… um, a little bit attractive? Like, in a ‘maybe I’m even developing a  thing  for this concept’ kind of way.  Which was bad, bad, bad, but she was starting to have a tough time not thinking about it a  lot  of late, and they really needed to get to the sex in appropriate places before she cracked.

Thank god they’d gotten Spike’s chip out, because without sparring, they’d both have died of sexual frustration.  Probably Buffy’s would have strangled her in her sleep. However. Sparring had eventually started to make it worse, what with the hard, fast, wonderful trial of it, and the laughing and dodging and no-holds-barred  thrill  of it, and…

The thing was, she had kind of forgotten how freaking sexily fast Spike was.  And the way he could, like, grab her and whirl her and hold her from behind, around the neck…  Which move, for the record, was a lot more effective when you kind of wanted it. When you kind of wanted the ‘dip in for the kill', crazed vamp-tinglies, ‘danger-danger!’ portion of festivities, because when his mouth landed it was all cool, seductive lips and nibbling teeth that totally mistranslated that old message from ‘I’m gonna die, he’s gonna eat me’ to something more along the lines of ‘dear god, please eat me I’ve never felt so alive as here on the edge of not-death’.  Which was kind of them all over, and somehow she was supposed to  not  climb him like ivy up a slim, cool, inviting tree, and a graveyard was just fine, wasn’t it?

Well, except for the other vampires and assorted demons who kept showing up to comment on proceedings and vamp-shame Spike for trying to get it on with the Slayer.  Because everyone needed a dose of peer-pressure and guilting in their daily ration these days, and you know what? 

Nowhere was sacred or helpful, and could Mom maybe just go on a buying trip or something? 

Then, hallelujah, she actually had, a week or so into January.  An after-Christmas miracle. Praise Santa.

Which was, of course, when that jerk Ethan Rayne had come back around and turned Giles into a pointy-shouldered demon like those ones who’d gotten out of the Initiative.  Because it was pretty clear at this point that if the universe wasn’t conspiring against Buffy getting back to home plate—and along about then she was kind of over Spike’s insistence that they had to round third first—it was making a serious case for Spike getting an apartment, or a warehouse, or a cave.  “I don’t care,” she’d told him in mindless, frothing frustration. “A cardboard box on the marina!”

“Flammable, those, love,” he’d answered, chuckling and adjusting her clothes.  So much fooling around with plenty of orgasms, sure, but no damn follow-through, and she was  done .  Three weeks done.  Over-done. Toast.  Burnt  toast. 

Would it really be so bad to let him go down on her behind the Bronze or something so they could get this show on the road? /Did I just  think  that?/

/Does the DeSoto count as being in public?  Because I’m sure I can convince him it’s roomy enough if I just get all seductive.  Feel your power, Buffy./

Luckily for both Giles and Buffy’s libido, that whole ‘turned into a demon’ thing had actually not gone so badly, nor had it taken very long to unravel, courtesy of Spike, who somehow understood the language (something to do with having once had Fyarl minions or something.  Buffy really didn’t want to ask too many questions). He had helped convince everyone that their friend and Watcher was really just this dude trapped in a demon’s body so they could go after the real bad guy. Which episode had somewhat endeared Spike to Giles, who had been in kind of a bad way. 

Unfortunately, Giles had picked sort of a rotten moment to start things off, since the reason Spike had had a chance to hear him talk in Fyarl was because her Watcher had chosen the worst possible time to come up into Buffy’s house to try to convince Buffy he was himself.  Basically, just when… well. Buffy had sort of kind of been in bed with Spike along about then, since Mom had  finally  gone out of town for a day or two, thank  god , and after the better part of three days Buffy had finally worn Spike down enough to forget he’d made ‘that lovely woman’ all those extravagant promises about platonic blahdy-blah while under her roof.  As such, they had been trying, right at that apparently very inconvenient moment to see if their relationship should, you know, move very firmly in that direction, posthaste.  Which had contributed to Giles' super bad evening, since Spike had basically been buried in Buffy’s neck with his hands in  places  when he’d showed up in her bedroom doorway. 

Things had actually turned around for Giles right about then, though he hadn’t known it yet.  Probably he’d thought the world was crashing down around his ears. 

Spike had shoved the howling ‘demon’ aside with a curse, so hard that Giles had staggered against Buffy’s bedroom doorway, and gone right on back to what he had been doing—“Spike, I have a demon to fight, would you stop!”  “It’s alright, luv, I’ve dealt with Fyarls before. They’re dumb as posts. Dangerous, sure, but it’ll take a mo’ for the thing to recollect itself and rush us, and I was busy.” Nuzzle, nuzzle—only to pull away in stunned amazement when the demon had shrieked something and come roaring in again, claws bared to try to swipe the amorous vampire from Buffy’s body. 

Disengaging from his very important task, Spike had stiff-armed the thing and stared.  “Oh, surely not.”

Another bunch of incomprehensible roars.

“Oh, for God’s sake, man, I wasn’t going to bite her!  You ought to know better than that by now; or at least to know the girl better than that, yeah?”  A smug grin, and Buffy had at this point been utterly nonplussed by the way Spike had been acting.  “Though, as to what I did intend, if she was willing…”

Another bloodcurdling snarl.

“Oh, bloody hell, keep your knickers on.”  Spike’s free hand had slid up into his hair, and he’d glanced over at half-naked Buffy.  “Romantic interlude’s over for the mo’, obviously. Sorry, pet.”

“Um, obviously!  What the heck…”

Spike had had a weird, contemplative look on his face, though, his eyes studying the demon in a total once-over.  Almost clinical. “So, when did you turn into a Fyarl, anyway? Just come over all demon-y this morning when you woke up, is it?”  And to Buffy’s everlasting startlement he’d actually released the now quiescent demon—though to be fair the thing was actually looking kind of hangdog—rolled away from her, sat, held out a hand for her to pull her upright (at which point the demon apparently got shy?  Anyway, it had started looking everywhere but at her in her bra)… and then reached into his jeans for his lighter.

Okay, that was it.  “One, you.   No .  No smoking in my bedroom.   Definitely  not in my bed.  Two; you. Fyarl or whatever.  Who the heck are you, and why does Spike know you?”

Eventually they got the whole Fyarl-Giles thing ‘sorted’, as Spike put it.  Buffy had turned very, very red, hurriedly put her shirt back on, and decided that she would die of embarrassment as soon as this was all over, because awkward, much, having one’s father-figure walk in on the whole partly-naked-and-about-to-get-it-on-fest?

Fyarl-Giles had seemed as grateful as she had been to proceed directly to the task of collaring Ethan Rayne—do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dollars, definitely do not ever talk about what had just occurred—with only Spike apparently amused at everyone’s discomfiture.

Luckily there had been this whole high-speed chase thing involved in the middle to break the ice, between the DeSoto and the cops, with Spike grinning over the wheel and squeezing Buffy’s thigh in clear, almost sexual enthusiasm while the huge Giles-beast hunched over on the other side of the cab looking both hunted and unwillingly aroused by the experience.  After that there had been a wildly unsettling one-sided (to Buffy) conversation between Spike and the be-demoned Watcher about demon-y urges, one which Buffy had had to interrupt to ask Giles, sweetly, if he hadn’t expected this, since he’d been ‘ridden’ by a demon once or twice before as a young Ripper. 

Giles hadn’t liked that much, muttered something that Spike had later informed her (he had recounted the whole convo to her, actually, much to her discomfort) was something along the lines of his having tried to forget about being a demon’s pony.  Which, ew. 

Then he’d lumbered out of the DeSoto to chase down a cop who had recently given him a parking ticket, to scare him.  Which was kind of totally un-Gilesy behavior… but also kind of impulsive and teenager-y, and Buffy had had to try really hard not to laugh.

As soon as she realized her Watcher-beast wasn’t going to eat the guy, anyway. 

Spike’s restraining hand on her thigh had tightened when she’d been about to dart out to stop him.  “He’s just blowin’ off steam, pet. Lot of crazed urges an’ energy runnin’ through him right now, yeah?  Tough to control it all, at first. Takes years of practice…” He’d shot her a very intense look. “Even after a hundred-plus, isn’t an exact science.”  And he’d lit up a cigarette and turned away to blow smoke out of his open car window. 

Everything about his demeanor had made her shiver in anticipation, and why in god’s name did stuff like that turn her on?  Was she really that big on flirting with danger?

She’d asked Spike that later, in bed, after they’d chased Ethan out of town—again—while her vampire stroked one hand slowly up and down her leg, urging her back to the place they had been in before all this.  “I think, luv… you spend your life flirting with death and danger. After that, after livin’ on an adrenaline high, vanilla shite and human lads… just aren’t gonna get you off. It’s just not in the cards for you.”

It had hurt to hear it.  But… it was real.

They had gotten it on,  finally;  which, boy howdy, by the way, with that whole if human guys hadn’t gotten her hot or gotten her off, vampires sure the hell did.  And in comparison to the first time, she hated to say it, because it sounded super disloyal, but… Just,  damn.   Happy birthday to Buffy, a little early and often, and many thanks to Spike for the best birthday she had had in recent memory! 

Much ‘practicing’ had ensued thereafter, in every available locale and very much to the detriment of college and Slayer homework; and for the life of her, Buffy couldn’t find it in herself to care.  She learned very quickly that there were actually very many extremely inventive ways to turn Spike’s favorite activity into a vertical sport if you just got creative. And he was endlessly creative, now that he had gotten his original ‘need time to do this right’ thing out of the way.  The main problem was actually getting him to stop long enough to give her a turn, because she wanted to learn, dammit!

Only a couple of weeks into the ensuing sextravaganza… Faith screwed everything up when she woke up from her coma.  And took over Buffy’s body, and her life. 

For, like, a minute.  Spike had walked in on Faith and Mom, gotten an earful of the other Slayer’s attempts to seduce him using Buffy’s bod, frowned, asked her, “Buffy, what the bloody hell’s going on, you alright?” and had, according to Mom (who was being  held hostage  at that moment by her ex-sister), glanced over at the woman sitting tense on the bed, gotten a whiff of all the anxiety and anger on the air, frowned, turned, cupped Faith-as-Buffy's face, looked into her eyes… and backed away.  “Joyce, you okay?”

“No.  Actually, Spike, I’m not.  That’s  not  Buffy.”

“Yeah.  Did notice that.”

Which was apparently when Faith had attacked him. 

She’d had no chance.  Faith was a damn good fighter, sure.  But she was in a body she wasn’t used to, and had been in a coma.  The reflexes were a little off when it came to brain-body communication.  Meanwhile Spike, well-fed, chip-less and sparring daily with a Slayer, the vampire who had spent a hundred years battling Slayers as a hobby… 

Eventually Faith had fled.  Right into Buffy, who had arrived right in that moment to clash with her, in Faith’s body, in her front doorway.

The subsequent shouting-match between the Scoobies and Spike, Mom, et al over who was who had been kind of epic, taking place as it had while the two of them had thrown down in the front yard.  It was a good thing Spike had been there to bear witness, since Buffy had had her hands totally full.  At one point Faith got Buffy down for a sec, at which point she'd absolutely lost her shit and tried to beat the hell out of her own face while screaming things like, "You're disgusting!  You're worthless!"  Just absolutely freaking to the point she was almost hysterical, which was... kinda sad?  

Seeing that, who knew what might've happened if Spike hadn't been there.  Luckily, Giles had been convinced enough—mostly because he had enough confidence in Spike’s savvy by then, after the recent Fyarl-support business—to be willing to take his testimony on… well, faith. They’d bundled the two Slayers into the house and hidden them in the basement till the Council’s ‘wetworks’ team had gone elsewhere in their search, then between them chained up the damaged Slayer and found the reversal spell to put them back in their right bodies. 

All’s well that ended well and all that crap.

Buffy had been all for sending Faith off with those wetworks guys.  It had actually been Spike, of all people, who had suggested the Angel thing.  “Not sayin’ I’m a big fan of my grandsire, Buffy; but if they’ve done some talkin’ over it in the past…  The bastard does know a thing or two about gettin’ over his issues, dealin’ with regret an’ the like. Should ask him to take her on.  He’ll do it; consider the project a soddin’ penance.”

Buffy had frowned fitfully.  “He’ll probably sleep with her.”

That comment had earned her a narrow glare.  “Who the bloody hell cares if he does?”

She had glared back.  /Oh, are we really gonna play jealous-guy now?/  “The girl who’ll have to go stake him or try to stuff his stupid soul back in so he doesn’t go tear-assing around LA torturing everyone as Angelus!  Or did you forget what happened the  last  time he got a happy?  Because I  can’t !”

Spike had managed the feat of both looking inordinately relieved and rolling his eyes at her as if she were an idiot all at the same time.  “Oh, for fucksake, Slayer, that wasn’t about him getting off! It was because you were a sweet, innocent sodding virgin, yeah? Which this one’s not; not by any stretch, so if they play with each other, no harm no foul!" 

She’d gaped at him, her world whirling.  “It wasn’t because… of the sex?”

He’d scoffed.  “You think the poof loses the bloody thing every time he tosses off?  That he hasn’t got himself shagged in the last hundred soddin’ years since he left us?  S’ not like he knew about the bloody curse then, yeah? He shagged Darla enough soddin’ times after, no trouble.”  He’d narrowed his eyes pointedly at her. "You think he hasn’t been desperate enough to go pay for a back-alley blowie since?”

/Oh./  She’d flinched, because no way had she thought of that.  Not even a little. And ugh; did he have to make it sound so  sordid?   “What, you think it has to be a… mutual…”

He’d snorted derisively.  “Dunno how mutual anything can be with a virgin, ‘less he was better in bed than I imagine he was.  Which, based on personal experience, and what I saw over twenty years watchin’ him shag Dru, was no doubt real soddin’ short on foreplay.”  He’d actually sneered. “Though I s’pose there’s always room for improvement since.”  

She’d flinched again and looked away to study the ground between her feet, both because she really wished she had never heard the words 'personal experience' in that sentence—she'd known, but she still didn't want to know—and because even now, based on recent personal experiences of her own, she still felt kind of crappy admitting that Spike was really pretty damn right in his assessment.     

So, fine.  There was a difference, and she could separate the two now.  But couldn’t he, like, give her a second to absorb the realization that orgasms were not, in fact, synonymous with ‘perfect happiness’, and sex was not, therefore, synonymous with shame, evil, and death?  After all, it completely threw the entire narrative Angel had fed her under the bus. /Not that I didn’t kind of figure that out since, but I’m kind of really happy when I have them, so, you know… 

/But I guess… we could probably have found ways to get around that little roadblock.  If we were enough.  But he just made it sound so impossible, like he was too scared to try. Like he didn’t want it, or.../

“B’sides," Spike had ground inexorably on, "he’s not in love with the bloody bint, so…”

Still reeling, Buffy had looked away.  “Well, either way, it wouldn’t be good for her.  He’s supposed to be helping her.”

“Well, maybe he’ll be a good boy and keep his prick in his pants, yeah?”

Angel had arrived within a few hours to knock at Mom's door, and was waiting when Buffy opened it.  Buffy had felt him there, knew who it was, and taken a deep breath on the other side of the closed portal before she’d admitted him.  Back in her own body, she had been overly aware of every bruise, scrape, kink, and raw place on her misused form, and also way aware of the vamp-buzz on her skin at fore and aft.  Despite the fact that she knew neither vampire would ever hurt her—at least, as long as the one in front was in his current frame of mind—she’d felt kind of… flanked in that moment, overwhelmed, and had shivered a little at the sense of being plunged deeply into a roiling spa of vampirical sensation.  “Jeez, that’s a bit much,” she’d breathed. It had been a bit much with Spike and Drusilla before, too, but Drusilla had felt… off. Weaker, till she was at full-strength again. Then it was either Drusilla along with Angelus’ weird-ass vibe, or Spike and Drusilla, but seldom both guys at once in close proximity.  Not since that one night with Spike and Angel in the Cabinet, with Spike spouting off about the true nature of love.  /Which... talk about food for thought, now./  

She had forgotten, though, how overwhelming it could be to be so close to the both of them at once.  

Bad enough that there was about to be some kind of jealous vampire showdown—which there would be, inevitably—but to also have to deal with this level of distracting-ness while she kept the two Aurelians from jumping on each other was a bit much.  “Behave yourself,” she’d reminded Spike as she’d set her hand on the doorknob.

“I will if he will,” Spike had answered shortly.  “He already knows I’m here, though.”

“God, this is gonna be so bad,” Buffy had whispered to herself, and opened the door.  “Hey, Angel. Thank you for coming…”

Angel had stood on the front porch, framed in the doorway and straining to burst in right past her surprise disinvite.  When he’d spoken, his reaction had been predictably… colorful. “Buffy! What is  Spike  doing in there?  And why can’t I…”

“Got an invitation, Peaches… which is more than I can say for you.”  Leaning back theatrically, Spike had posed himself on the stairs against his flared-out duster, and smirked.  “How you been, Granddad? Haven’t seen you since that spot of torture in LA.”

/And here we go./  “About that…”

“Not gonna say I’m sorry about it, Buffy.”  The response had come out short, tight, and fierce from where Spike reclined, one elbow cocked back on a step behind him to eye his grandsire in amused condescension.  Every line of his being, though he might have tried to deny it, hummed with tension and a ferocious need to defend self, territory, and a barely-held breastwork of ego, and oookay, this was so not going to be pretty.

Buffy had turned back to her ex, fighting to remember how very little this really had to do with yours truly.  /It’s not really about me, it’s not really about me/ had been the mantra of the day. “I’m sorry about the disinvite, Angel.  It was… just to hold you back long enough to get you to listen, and I wish I didn’t have to do it.”

His eyes had jerked to meet hers, dark and hurt and stunned out of their dark blaze of hatred.  “Buffy, what…”

“Spike’s inside because things have changed.  He lives here right now.” If Angel’s eyes were bulging at that, the next part was really going to hurt.  “Um, we’re, involved now?”

Angel had stopped straining forward and gone briefly limp to stare at her as if she had gone completely insane.  “You’re… Buffy, did… How…” To her distant amusement his eyes had narrowed to shoot over her shoulder to Spike.  “You don’t have thrall," he'd raged, low and furious. "I’d’ve known if Dru taught you.” Buffy's amusement at the ludicrous accusation had fled when they had come back to promptly flicker to her neck.  “Did… Did he…”

/Did he what?  Bite me? What the hell difference would it make if he had?/ 

Behind Buffy’s back, she could hear Spike’s low, warning snarl.  “She’s not mine, Peaches, I’m hers.”

“Okay, what?”

“Because unlike some avaricious bastards, I don’t take without askin’ first, and I sure the bloody hell would tell the girl what I was takin’ before I took it.  Full soddin’ disclosure, yeah?”

Something inside Angel had seemed to relax.  “Then you’re still my girl, right, Buffy? This is just…  You’ve got to be under some kind of spell, or…”

Behind her, Spike had snorted.  “No, that’s long gone. This is the real thing, Angelus.”

“The name’s Angel,  Spike,”  Angel had retorted grimly, but kept his eyes on Buffy, demanding the answer to his old, prodding question.

Buffy had closed her eyes as the pull dragged at her; the automatic drag to respond, automatically and with urgent loyalty, that she was, in fact, ‘his girl’.  But something in the back of her mind had fought, struggling against it. Something old, something fierce, something abruptly more than a little angry, and heading toward outraged. Her nostrils had flared, and she could have sworn in that moment that she could smell, or sense, or feel Spike at her back; a reminder of all they had recently cast off.  A reminder that she was powerful in more ways than she had ever thought of before.  

And something broke inside her.  Something that wanted free.  Something that had been chained.  “I belong to me,” she had heard herself whisper, and pulled herself upright.  It had sounded… liberating.  “I belong to me.” A little louder, this time; a realization, maybe a revelation.

She had opened her eyes, met Angel’s incredulous stare with ferocious, powerful certitude.  “I belong to  me!”

Angel had actually staggered back away from the door, as if the denial of her old, reflexive reassurance had been a blow.  “Buffy!” he’d whispered, sounding dumbfounded.

“She’s not yours, Angel,” Spike had intoned then, and came to his feet behind her to have her back.  “Think you heard her right enough. Which means you don’t get a bloody say who she dates, who she claims, who she sleeps with, any of it.  Now. You gonna be civil and do as she’s asked, help out with the other bird as actually needs you, or are you gonna turn tail and run because you lost this one?”

“I…”

Buffy hadn’t been at all sure what was even happening, except there seemed to be more going on here than just words.  That the words that were being used had heavier meanings than the surface definitions; that they maybe carried some kind of supernatural weight, even.  She’d felt like shaking her head, as if to clear it from some kind of muzzy, hanging curtain of clearing, leftover haze. /I don’t have time for… whatever this is./  “Angel. Make your choice.” 

She’d used to feel like she had all the time in the world to indulge her ex-boyfriend’s mysterious looks, his puppy-dog eyes, his dramatic expressions, but in that moment his wounded expression had seemed strangely irritating.  The whole meeting was kind of grating on her. “Do you care about what happens to Faith, or not? Because either she goes with you and has her shot at redemption, or those wetworks guys from the Council will eventually grab her, and I’m pretty sure, based on what Giles has said about them, that they’ll completely ruin her; or what’s left of her.  I’d like to think Spike’s right, and she can be saved. I mean, I’m not a huge fan of the way she came in here and attacked my mom and tried to seduce him in my body, but that’s kind of Faith for you, and maybe…” It sucked to admit it, but it was true. “Maybe she’s gone through some really bad things we don’t even know about that have messed her up so bad that she feels like she can never come back from it.  And I’d like to think that’s not true. For anybody.” 

Spike’s words would echo in her mind forever; spoken to her the night prior, when she had been ready to strangle her sister-Slayer and have done with it, for putting hands on her mother and her guy.   “Have my suspicions about her, pet.  About what might’ve happened to her, young.  About what happens to people to make ‘em think they’ve no worth, and that there’s no savin’ ‘em.  Give her a chance to have someone who feels the same way tell her she can come back, yeah? That there’s still somethin’ to life.  Let her try. She needs to believe she’s worth somethin’.”

Just the thought that Faith might have gone through…  Not that it would be surprising. Buffy had told Spike she knew she had been luckier than most.  Honestly, why she hadn’t thought of it before was beyond her, considering how Faith acted around guys, and about sex, and about everything; like nothing mattered anymore.  /This world sucks./ And it wasn’t like it was Faith’s fault. /But she would believe it was. And then she’d believe what happened down by the docks was her fault; that it was because she’s wrong.  Bad to the bone. Because she’s never lied to herself like I always did, about our dark side. And then when someone came and offered to take her out of that craphole of a motel and give her a place to live; someone who was nice to her but didn’t try to…/

All the sudden, very belatedly, Buffy had been able to see what had attracted her sister to working for someone even as venal as the Mayor.  It hadn’t been about being evil. Not really. It was about belonging, being cared for… and thinking she had nowhere else to go anyway. /Both because we never gave her anywhere to really fit in, and because she already thought she was the worst.  Oh, man./ “You tried to help her once, Angel, but everything kind of got in the way. I think she’d listen to you. I think you can help her. I think you might be the only one who can.” /Especially if sex doesn’t get involved, and I hope to God it doesn’t, for Faith’s sake./  “So tell me now; are you in, or are you out?”

Angel had stared at her, briefly speechless, then nodded slowly.  “I’ll help her Buffy. But you. I can’t just leave knowing you’re… here.  With him. Like this. I can’t… believe that you’re okay, when…”

To Buffy’s shock, Spike had nodded and stepped right outside the door, past the barrier.  And thrust his hand up in Angel’s startled face. “Let’s find out.”

Angel went instantly into game face.  “I will put you  down , boyo.”

Spike had set himself, spreading his legs, and kept his hand in place.  “Go ahead and try. I’ve learned a thing or two since the last time you did.  And any road, that’s not what I meant. Go ahead, if you have the guts.”

“Oh my God, you guys, will you please not?  I don’t want you two…”

“Leave it, Buffy.”  It was snapped out, short and sharp, stunning Buffy with the rudeness of it.  Since when did Spike ever talk to her like that? 

His hand was still in Angel’s face, his expression aggressive and uncompromising.  “Do it. Unless you don’t wanna, because you’re afraid it’ll confirm everything.”

Angel had growled, low and brutal in the yellow-eyed silence… then to Buffy’s disconcerted amazement he’d seized Spike’s hand.  Spike went promptly to game face as Angel’s fangs sank into the meaty edge of his palm. “Oh my God,  what …”

And then Angel’s expression had changed from vicious anger to startled denial.  His tongue had flickered out in an absent, unconscious move to seal the punctures, and he'd dropped Spike’s palm, half throwing it away from him and half dropping it in disbelief.   “No!   How?  She wouldn’t…”

“It wasn’t like that,” Spike had answered, lisping through his fangs.  “It happened a bit backward, but it did. I was broken. Bleeding. She took me on.  I pledged to her. She accepted me by holding me in her blood. She named me hers. I’ll never raise my hand to her, so you can bloody well toddle off and not worry, yeah?”

Angel’s game face had faded out as if it had never been, leaving behind bewildered chocolate eyes to stare at her over Spike’s leather-clad shoulder, as astounded as if she had shot him through the heart with a flaming crossbow of death.  “Do you have any idea what you’ve  done , Buffy?” he’d breathed.

She hadn’t been at all sure, though she was for damn sure resolved to ask Spike later what the hell that had all been about.  At the moment, however, she had known enough to answer, “Spike’s mine, and that’s all you need to know, Angel. Now, can I let you in without you having a big tantrum, or do I have to keep the barrier over the door?”

For the first time since he had decided to leave her last year, after he’d bitten her, Angel looked utterly defeated.  He’d closed his eyes, and his shoulders slumped. “Fine. Yeah. I guess… I’ll take Faith and head back. I’ll do what I can for her, if she’ll even stay with me; which is debatable after how things ended with us the last time.  And you can…” He’d shaken his head once, in sharp negation. “Go ahead and invite me in, Buffy. I’ll play nice.” Buffy didn’t think she had ever heard him sound so weary.

Faith had still been unconscious from the shots with which Giles was plying her when Angel had picked her up and, with a slight caress to her cheek that had belied his large frame, carried her to his car and handcuffed her to the door with the shackles that had once been used on Dome, the Hellion biker.  (Those chains had, by that point, seen a lot of use lately, between Spike and the Hellion and now Faith.) Before he’d left, though, he’d eyed Buffy and Spike sourly. “If this thing… goes bad, Buffy, give me a call. I’ll be here in a second to back you up. I know how to handle Spike.”

Buffy had had to fight to roll her eyes.  “I have your number.” Wow. Had Angel always sounded so…  So self-important? /Like I can’t handle myself if Spike suddenly loses his mind and attacks me or whatever./ 

It was really weird to think of Angel that way.  To think of him in any way uncharitably. It made her wonder why she was doing so now, when she had once had endless wells of patience for his shenanigans.  It was just… for some reason she was feeling kind of exasperated with him now. She had never felt that way before. It was bizarre.

“Not bizarre, pet,” Spike had told her later, holding her hands in his and kneeling before her while she sat on the couch and fought to swallow the uncomfortable realization that she had been had.  “It’s just tough to think negatively on someone who’s got a blood-leash on you, yeah?” And there was a depth of lived understanding in his tones as he said it.

“So… you’re saying that when he bit me…”  She’d shaken her head; unconscious negation.  “No! He was half out of his mind with fever. He was just feeding, to stay alive!  He wouldn’t have had time for an ulterior motive, and he never said  anything!   You say there has to be some…  words…”

“He growl?”

“What?”  She could still hear Angel, in her ear, ferocious and terrifying and, okay strangely attractive, she could admit to herself now, to the part of her mind that came out to play around Spike; the part that thrilled to danger and the wild. 

The part that had been kind of okay with how very damned much it had hurt, and…

Spike had looked away.  “Did you come, Buffy?”

She’d bitten her lip and avoided his eyes.  She had never told anyone that. Because it had hurt so very damned badly, and no one was supposed to come from something like that, and so she had tried to forget it.  Because it should have been easy to forget something that had happened then, on the fading edges of consciousness; and because she had been dying.  Dying!   And it was like getting off from being raped or something, even if she had asked him to do it, and it was so confusing that she…  That she’d gotten off in the end from this incredibly painful act that was killing her, because it meant that maybe she could  like  pain and…

“It’s not your fault, pet.  It’s a primitive thing. Part of the package.  Not always like that, anyway. And bound to happen, when someone claims you.  Which doesn’t necessarily require… words in English, or any other human language, for that matter.  He’ll have said it in… a way that made sense to the demon, did he want to keep you. And it would’ve been enough that your… body acquiesced, in that moment, to give him a bit of a hold.  Which it would’ve done, yeah, since you’d given yourself to him before then. It was familiar. Your brain knew him, wanted him. And then, every time after that he used that leverage to get you to accept the claim in words, it got stronger, even if you didn’t accept it in words during…”

She couldn’t look at him.  She couldn’t. “So I can’t…  He…”

“Not anymore.  You told him you weren’t his.  You broke it.” A cool hand, rising to touch her cheek, to stroke away the hot tear that had gotten away from her.  “I’m so sorry pet. I suspected, but I didn’t realize it was like that for you. I thought you’d have accepted it outright, the way you were with him, or I’d’ve…”  His voice was shaking now, and she heard the note of restrained fury beneath it. “Yours to do, I know, if you ever wanna stake him for it, or take his sodding head, but if you ever want help…”  A tiny tremor of his hand on hers as it dropped to cup her fists in her lap. “Know what it’s like, is all. To have him… take advantage. Of your need to be loved by him. To be wanted. And then to have that… violence, instead.  To be owned but not… held.”

She’d closed her eyes, trembling.  Because that was what it had been. Angel had kept her, but never held her.  Instead he had walked away, and that was… “Can you take me to bed, Spike? Please?”

“Yeah.  I can do that.”  And he had, and to hell with house rules.  Mom had been away at the gallery. And, well, they’d already broken the rules anyway, while she had been gone, and what she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her, and Buffy had needed to know that she was held by someone who wouldn’t hurt her, and wouldn’t leave. 

Spike, it turned out, knew all about that, and for the same reasons.

From then on out, Buffy did not call or speak to Angel Investigations, and they got all their 411 about Faith and her progress via reports through the Willow-to-Cordelia grapevine.

Things settled down for a while after that craziness, and Spike and Buffy had a very nice period of what he liked to call ‘crypt-shopping’.  He finally found one he liked way out at Restfield, which was pretty far from Revello, but kind of nice in that it was sort of equidistant between the college and Willy’s, which made it a good in-between spot.  “It’s no apartment, but… it’s kinda you. I have one problem with it.”

“Yeah, pet?”

She’d grinned at him and launched herself to wrap her body around his waist.  “No bed. And no shower…”

“Thought you said one…”

She’d covered his mouth with her hand.  “And no toilet. For when I’m gonna stay here all night…”  And she'd nipped his neck. 

“I’ll fix it up proper…” he’d managed around her vicious kissing assault. 

Such a damned relief to think of him living at his own place.  “You’d better. If I’m gonna have enormous amounts of sex with you…”

He’d had her against the nearest wall in a trice, and damn the ambiance.  “Could still get a flat, but this is cheaper…”

A hand in his hair had forestalled any further discussion, drawing his head back till his eyes met hers.  “I’m tired of waiting. This is fine. Great. Fuck me now and we’ll call it ours.” 

“Whatever you say, Slayer.”  It had become liberating to say certain things right out, with him.  And the way he responded…

God.

She’d helped him move in, lending muscle when he’d needed it.  Even helped him with some of his interior decorating choices. The crypt had a lower level, because of course it did.  Everything in Sunnydale had a lower level. That was where the place shone. Upstairs was reserved for pirated electricity from over by the caretaker’s shack, courtesy of a lot of carefully-hidden extension cords; TV, fridge for the blood, that kind of thing.  They scrounged a loveseat for him, with Willy’s help; just enough room for two to snuggle under the old afghan Mom gave him from his room at the house. ‘Downstairs’, though, was where they went all-out. Real bed—if you could call a box-spring and mattress slung over a couple of old sarcophagi a bed—two nightstands, a dresser, a record stand and player—yes, a record player, for reals—and about a half-million candles. 

Talk about making love in some seriously romantic—if a tiny bit goth—environs. 

Buffy was not going to ask him where he got the sexy, silk-blend sheets, either.  Whenever she asked him where he acquired stuff, he usually told her he won them or ‘the dosh’ to buy them in a poker game; and to be fair, the one time she sat in on a game, he did amazingly well.  He traded kittens for cash after at some bizarre demon-run kittens-for-cash pawn shop (and wouldn’t let her sneak in to release the poor babies afterward, warning her that she would upset the entire underground economy if she did and that the whole population of fuzzballs would likely starve to death on the streets in three days) and was flush for a while afterward, so who knew.  Maybe he did live off the proceeds.  

Things were stupid-quiet for a couple of months.  They nested. Buffy did school stuff and kept an eye peeled for Initiative agents who might try to shoot her vampire when no one was looking.  They fought fledges and the occasional demon with a grudge. Mostly they sparred with each other and had a ton of sex. Spike helped her with her homework, without admitting in the slightest that he knew what he was talking about when he looked over her essays, or held forth in long diatribes about the ‘absolute tosh’ they were teaching in her European History class.

Buffy honestly wasn’t sure when she had ever been this happy.  Some other shoe was bound to drop soon, right? Any time. When, a few months later the thing happened with Jonathan, it had been kind of a letdown.  After all, as baddies went, her ex-classmate was just plain ridiculous. 

Spike’s admiration of her, his glowing, unadulterated worship of her as his One, had seen her through the torment of those few incredibly weird, grating, humiliating days playing second fiddle to a pint-sized playboy. 

With Spike, she was always the A-number one Slayer. 

Also, he wasn’t sleeping with Jonathan, which was pretty okay in her book.  Though he had made a few comments in passing that had made her realize that, if properly motivated, her vampire could possibly swing both ways.  That little adventure in mind-control had given them fodder for some very interesting and amusing conversations, and led to not a few walks down memory lane for him, and, well.  Those broadened her horizons some, it must be said. 

Once the subject was broached, by the way, Spike was just overflowing with observations.  Like, he seemed pretty adamant that something was going on between Willow and some girl, which, just, what?  “Tellin’ you, pet. She smells of some other bird. Chit’s all over her. And not just in the friendly way. Smells of sex.”  He’d smirked, pulling at his cigarette. “‘M thinkin’ Red’s learned the glories of a bit of battin’ for the other team, as you yanks like to put it.  An’ more power to her, finally gettin’ over wolfboy.” He’d grinned broadly. “Bet she’s gettin’ a right education about now.”

Buffy had been utterly floored.  “I just… Are you  sure?”

“Pretty bloody well sure.”

“It’s just…  I mean, I would’ve said there’s no way, before.”  Except… there was all that stuff Wil had been saying lately about how she understood now why Buffy had hidden away with Spike at the motel, and how, ‘Maybe I drove you to hiding from yourself.  Maybe I helped you feel like you had to hide something from all of us that you can’t change, about who you’re attracted to. And that was… maybe uber-wrong of me. Maybe I should’ve asked more questions.  Maybe I should’ve listened better… or even just given you more room to talk. I’m sorry, Buffy.’

Buffy had been way thrown by that unexpectedly candid offering—not to mention that, at the time, it had felt sort of out of the blue—but now faint memory assaulted Buffy; of Willow, just after having met her vampire doppelganger, all unsettled and weirded out, freaking about how her vamp half had been ‘skanky… and kinda gay’; and how Angel had almost corrected Buffy when she had reassured Wil that who the demon was had nothing to do with who the human was, but had cut himself off before saying much.  Which, knowing what she knew now… 

/Oh my God, and she’s basically never at the dorm anymore, and all those late nights ‘studying’ with her… her Wicca friend…/  “Oh. Oh, wow.” 

And then pain had assailed her; a sort of ache of loss.  /When did we…/

Spike, of course, had read her instantaneously.  “What’s wrong, love?”

She had fought to shake it off.  Failed. “It’s just… If she was going through something so big… why wouldn’t she  tell  me?”  /Especially if she thought I might actually  get  it, now, with the whole vamp thing, and…/

Spike’s fingers, gliding through her hair.  “Would you have told her about me, if we’d started differently?  Or would you have hidden me away?”

Buffy had closed her eyes, because the idea that Willow might fear retroactive shaming in her own turn for who she was attracted to just made it worse.  “You think she’s… ashamed, or that she thinks I’ll… That we’ll  judge  her, or…”

“Dunno, pet, but maybe make a few noises in her general direction that you’re okay with that sort of thing, and she’ll no doubt come around.”

Commence operation ‘make Willow feel comfortable in her bi-ness’.  In which Buffy had probably gone a little bit overboard, she had thrown herself so totally into it—whenever Wil was actually in their dorm or around at all—but the final results were that Wil had finally smiled shyly at her one day over coffee at the Grotto and said, “So… I guess you know?”

Buffy had tried to play ignorant.  “Know what, Wil?” /Bury yourself in your coffee.  Let her come out or whatever./ That was what the literature they were handing out at that one stand over at the Commons said to do. 

Wil’s small smile was somehow both secretive and strangely more grown-up than Buffy had ever seen on her friend before.  “How did you even figure it out? Did you see us somewhere and notice how we acted, or was it… something else? Something I said by accident, or the new musical tastes?  Because that Lilith Faire CD is so not a dead giveaway. Or…”

Buffy bit her lip.  “Wil, I…”

Wil had sighed, and the little smile had fled.  “I saw the pamphlet under your books on your desk, Buffy.  And okay, I’m totally touched that you, like, did research on how to support me, but that’s kind of…”

Buffy had blushed.  “Well, you weren’t talking about it, so I…”

“Okay, that’s fair, but…”  Now Wil looked seriously confused.  “Seriously, though; how  did  you figure it out?  I mean, just me being gone a lot ‘studying’ doesn’t scream ‘suddenly doing gay things’, right?  Did you actually  follow …”

“Oh God no!”  Buffy had wondered, though, if Wil might actually think her answer was worse.  Things were rocky enough with the whole ‘Project Accept Spike’ without weirding out Willow, who was like the least unsupportive of the bunch, despite the fact that she’d been through some serious stalkage with the whole Angel/Angelus thing, and literally been kidnapped by Spike once.  Like, she was actually being open-minded, if cautiously so, and the idea of freaking her out at this early stage was of the suck, but… “Um… if I said it wasn’t me who figured it out, would you be mad?”

Willow looked askance.

/Might as well just tell her./  “Okay, so… don’t think this is super weird, but Spike kind of smelled her on you?  It’s a vamp thing? And he told me it wasn’t a ‘friend’ smell, if you get what I mean?  So he kind of hinted that there might be a reason you were spending a lot of time away, and then I felt bad that I wasn’t paying attention, so I…”

“Oh Goddess…”  Wil looked way embarrassed. 

“It wasn’t him being skeezy, I swear.  It was a totally ‘him telling me so I could be a better friend’ thing, I promise…”

It had been a really long time since she had seen Willow hide her face in her hands. 

“Are you okay?” 

Nothing.  “I promise to try to make sure he only ever uses his powers for good?”

Wil peeped out from between two fingers, glared a little.  “You so should get on that. Omygod.” But she did finally exit, her face still pretty much totally magenta.  “It was bad enough that Faith picked up on it right away…”

Buffy had sat up straight at that.   “Faith  did?”

“Yeah, that’s what…”   She had shaken her head.  “Never mind. Long story.”

/Yeah, it must be./

Making a face, Wil had sat back and looked kind of at a loss.  Buried her face in her cup and taken a long swig in that ‘buying time for equanimity-recovery’ way.  When she emerged, she faced Buffy squarely. “Are you freaked? Or mad, or…”

“No.”  Buffy had looked down and away a little, at her cup.  “Sad, maybe? That you felt like you couldn’t tell me?  Because it feels like we’re, you know, growing apart. And I know I’ve been super-involved with the Spike thing like I was with the Angel thing, but I don’t mean to not be there, or be a bad friend, or…”

“Oh, Goddess,  no , Buffy!  You’re  so  available!  You’ve been bending over backward to tell me you are!  It’s just…” Will had shaken her head, clearly at a loss.  “You have slaying, and I have… this. The Wicca thing, and her, and it’s… mine.  I kind of wanted it to be this powerful thing I had all to myself, that I didn’t have to share with the whole group for a while, I guess.”  She had actually sounded a little sad to have that over.

“Oh.”  Buffy got that.  She really got that.  Sometimes she kind of wished she didn’t have to share the thing with Spike.  That it could be just them, with no one watching them and making silent bets—or not so silent, in Xander’s case—as to when it might go wrong, or…  Or it might go totally the other direction. Xander was still having trouble with Anya, was fighting to try to prove to her that they could maybe get back together.  Which meant that he might be weird about Willow not telling him that she had a new person, and maybe he might even be flipped out that said person was a girl. Considering how Buffy felt about Wil’s not trusting her with such big news, Xander might feel even more hurt, being as how they’d been friends since, like kindergarten.  Or, he might conceivably do the guy thing where he got all weird and turned on about the two girls thing, who knew. 

For sure Anya, who still hung around the group, if on the periphery whether she was dating Xander or not, would make odd comments about sexuality.  Buffy could totally see why Wil would want to keep things to herself for a while. “I’m not going to say anything, you know. That’s totally on you, when you wanna do that.”  She reached out, covered Wil’s hand. “I just wanna know one thing. No, wait,” she amended. “Two things.”

Wil’s eyes rose, hope filling them again, turning them from stormy gray back to blue.  “What?”

“That you’re happy…”

The tentative expression turned upside-down, tremulous… became a bright, almost giddy smile.  “Buffy, Goddess, yeah. I’m  so  happy.”

“Good.  Then I’m happy for you.”  And she really was. It was so great, such a total relief to see her bestie look so blissful after so many months of being basically sunk in melancholy.  If this girl could make her happy-Wil again, then she was automatically in the club. /Whoever is good for my Wil is good for the world. End of story./

After a moment of basking together in that reflected joy, Wil sniffled, looked down at the table.  “What… was the other thing?”

“Huh?”

“You said you had two things.”

“Oh.”  Buffy had grinned, poking a light finger at the wrist under her hand.  “What’s her name, you doofus.”

“Oh.”  Wil had blushed.  “Tara.” And the blush had deepened to something so rich that Buffy didn’t even need to ask the next one. 

She did anyway.  “Do I get a bonus question?”

“Oh jeez!” Wil had groaned.  “Are you gonna…”

Watching Wil explode was adorkable.  And completely the definition of that ‘turnabout is fair play’ thing.  “Okay, you totally pried when I started having sex with Spike…”

“Okay, I did!  But this…” She sounded about to hyperventilate.

“Is only fair.  I’m guessing it’s good, or else you wouldn’t be turning fuchsia right now.  But, like, on a scale of, you know…”

Wil snatched up her coffee cup and buried her face in it once more, trying to hide.  “That’s totally not fair, Buffy! I’ve been with two people! Two!”

/And I’ve been with two one-night stands and Spike, so spill./  “And?”

Wil had mumbled something incomprehensible into the cup in which the words ‘not fair to Oz’ could be heard over the Styrofoam lip.

Buffy felt herself grinning.  “So what I’m hearing is, while Oz was very good, sometimes it can be an advantage to have the same parts, so you know your way around…”

“I am going to run out of here and never come back to our room,  ever  again, if you don’t. Shut. Up…”

Buffy had laughed out loud, but stopped before Willow could spontaneously combust right in front of her.  “Someday we’ll have to compare notes. Spike might be a lesbian in a guy’s body…”

The almost-change-of-subject had brought Wil out of hiding.  “What do you…”

“Sometimes getting him to stop what he’s doing and head north to the main event takes serious convincing.  Not that I’m complaining or anything.”

“Oh.  Well. I mean, that’s just…  Always a good thing.” Wil’s alarming color began to subside. 

“Yes, yes it is.”

“I’m… going to run away now.”

Buffy had managed to sober up enough to catch her best friend’s attention.  “Hey. Are we good?”

“Oh.”  Wil’s gaze had cleared, and she had exhaled shakily, nodded.  And her whole being had relaxed. “Yeah. Much with the good.”  And then she’d narrowed her eyes. “But you’re really gonna have to not embarrass the crap out of me when you finally meet Tara, or I’ll have to kill you.”  Getting up, she’d seized her cup and turned away. Whirled back. “And tell your irritating vampire guy same rule applies, and that I know more spells that would… I dunno.  De-love him if he doesn’t behave himself, or…”

Buffy swiftly held up one hand.  “I’ll make him behave.”

“Good.” 

“Hey,” Buffy had murmured as Wil had moved to depart.  “I love you, Wil.”

Wil had turned back, still a little awkward but also glowing.  “I love you back, Buffy.”

Spike’s newfound openness with discussing everyone’s bisexuality hadn’t stopped with Willow.  And, okay. Sometimes Buffy had had to shut him up, because on occasion the subject matter had been way outside the bounds of TMI.  Like, he also apparently seemed to think that Giles and Ethan Rayne had once been an item, which was just… Ew, much?

“Oh, don’t tell me you missed it, Slayer.  Their body language alone was…”

“Okay, just stop.  Seriously. Wil is one thing, but I  can’t  with bisexual Giles.  I definitely can’t with bisexual  my -age-Giles who used to screw his demon-summoning bestie while doing orgies…”

Spike had grinned irrepressibly.  “You did say there was only one bird in that group, yeah?  And if there were orgies…”

“I’m seriously begging you to stop, Spike.”  He was making  way  too much sense, and she had never thought of that, and she really, really wished she could  unthink  it now.

“Ought to ask him sometime what was the exact origin of this ‘Ripper’ business.  Like, was he ripping off people’s togs, or was it something more dastardly…”

“Oh my God,  please  stop.”

The jerk vampire had paused for a moment, as if considering something.  “He’s not the only one, you know.”

“Only one who what?”

“Who plays for both teams.”

“Yeah.  Wil. You, apparently…”

“Your girl Faith…”

“Wait,  what?”

“Chit’s in love with you.”

“Excuse  me?”

“Ought to know what it looks like to be mad for you and all twisted up over it, yeah?  Reason she stole your life, wants to shag the men you’ve had. Likes bein’ where you’ve been.  Next best thing if you can’t have the girl, to have what she’s had, stand where she’s been, smell it, bathe in it, taste it…”

“Spike,” Buffy had told him very certainly, “you’ve lost your damn mind.  You’re certifiable. Faith  hates  me…”

“Can’t have hate without havin’ love first.  Both come from great passion. If you didn’t have that, all you’d end up with is indifference.  Chit’s anything but indifferent to you, pet. She’s soddin’ obsessed. If she can’t have you, she’ll  be  you.  Anything but herself, since she’s apparently so bleedin’ unlovable that you can’t even look at her…”

“You know what?  This is definitely a conversation I can’t deal with right now.”

Spike had eyed her with interest.  “So, no high school experimentation, is what I’m hearin’.”

“I  will  punch you.”

He’d grinned broadly.  “Well, at least we know you didn’t lead the poor bird on.”

“I’m serious.  I will  dust  you if you don’t shut up.”

“Gettin’ to be a hollow threat, luv.”

She’d narrowed her eyes and pulled out the big guns.  Anything to end this highly uncomfortable conversation.  “Okay, fine. I was too focused on Angel to notice any of this so-called Faith thing.  Which I still don’t believe was happening, by the way.”

A low, resigned half-growl answered her sally.  “Fine, then. Won’t sodding bring it up anymore.  But it’s bloody well true, for all of that.”

“Quit while you’re ahead, William.”

He had.  Problem was, once the cat was out of the stupid bag, she couldn’t stop thinking about it and wondering, replaying past stuff.  Like most of the incisive crap he said. 

Eventually she had to lock it up in the back of her mind in the sinking cask labeled ‘Faith’, alongside a lot of other dark, heavily-chained ones, like the ‘Angelus’ cask, and the one involving memories of a certain rainy night in the vicinity of her seventeenth birthday, since, well.  It wasn’t like she could do anything about past events and people who weren’t around her anymore anyway. And Faith had no bearing on her current reality, so why deal?

Damn vampire.

Spike and his insights were actually really amazing, though, when it came to things that should have been super obvious and really weren’t sometimes.  Like, Jonathan had probably only done what he had—no matter how oogy—because he was lonely and wanted to be loved, have friends. Which made total sense, considering the thing with the gun at school, and…  

And Buffy had reached out a couple of times, after, on Spike’s instigation.  And, okay, it turned out that the guy was decently good at summoning, which was a thing you kind of wanted to keep close to the core if you were running Slayer-central, and not have running around loose…  Which meant that he could also read Latin, Sumerian, and Babylonian, which, um, wow? Like, this thing he’d done was no dabbling accident; he was serious demonology boy. Also, and more importantly, he was just a little spell-worker deluxe.

After a little fast-talking about redemption and keeping good magicks-users from going bad without supervision, she had talked ‘Ripper’ and Wil into taking the guy under their wing.  Which, after the first suspicion had worn off, even Xander had been happy about it. “It’s… actually kind of cool to have another guy in the Scoobies, finally. I mean, I know he’s, like, on parole here and stuff, but still.”  

Buffy had no idea why Xander didn’t think Giles and Spike counted as ‘guys’, unless it was more about Giles being old and Spike being not his type, because basically, no one knew who he thought he was kidding playing things all cool.  Xan and Jonathan spent like ninety percent of their time just straight up nerding out over crap. It was scary. Anya practically had to tear them apart like they were a couple. It was actually starting to be a problem—as in an ‘exactly how many bi people are there in this bunch?’ kind of problem—because it was clear that Anya was jealous.  Like, good thing she couldn’t do vengeance anymore, minorly screwing up the group dynamic kind of a problem. Not that Buffy was super hung up on the whole completely ambivalent, will-they-won’t-they Xander-Anya relationship or anything, and she wasn’t entirely sure what Anya and Xander even were, but as long as they were, you know, screwing—which she was pretty sure they were again since Xander had stopped mouthing off about demons every five seconds—Buffy agreed hardcore with Spike’s assessment that he needed to chill and ‘attend to his chit before she took his head off’. 

Things were getting tense as hell at every Scooby meeting.  Or, at least they were until Spike had pulled Xander off to one side and had a man-to-man with him about it.  Which could have gone over like a lead balloon, since at that point Xander still mostly eyed Spike like a viper slithering around the room and made unwilling, under-the-breath comments about his nasty presence at every opportunity.  Probably he wouldn’t have listened to a single word the vampire had had to say about his fraught not-a-relationship, since he was also kind of defensive about the whole thing… except Spike had that way about him of cutting right to the bone with a single word.  He’d probably said something like, ‘You’re losing your bird, with this whole man-crush you have goin’ with superstar-boy. You should tone it down a bit. You have a good thing goin’, there. Anya’s a real catch.’  

Yeah, Buffy could basically predict by now what her guy would say in any given situation.  She also knew that he really liked Anya. Which, to be fair, made sense, since Anya was, like, the only other one of them who got what it was like to hang with a bunch of humans and try to get past a lifetime of demoning around.  They ‘grokked’, as Xan put it, on this whole other level. They were bros. Which pissed Xander off and made him suspicious kind of in the same way that Anya was about Xan and Jonathan, and he would have been defensive at first about the interference… but it must have worked eventually.  Things quickly went back to an even keel after that little convo. He spent more time with Anya, spread things out a little more evenly with his fellow geek, let Wil have more time nerding around with Jonathan over books full of ancient languages; which worked, because Wil and Jonathan could seriously delve into texts.  

In that period they also found out, completely by accident, that  Spike  could read said ancient languages.  He had been leaning over their shoulders one morning while they were working on translating some scrap of something found between the pages of a book full of Greek or whatever.  “We’re not getting anywhere,” Wil had said in disgust, and moved to push it away.  

Jonathan had grabbed it away from her.  “Look, though. I  told  you, it looks like Hebrew, but that little thing in there is just gibberish, or some demon language I don’t know, or…  I mean it looks a little like Sumerian phonetically, but…”

Spike had been tensing more and more as they had gone back and forth over the same ground, over and over.  If Buffy was reading him right, he looked frustrated, about to explode about something, though for the life of her she couldn’t figure out why.

Then suddenly he broke, voice taut with irritation.  “That’s because it’s not Hebrew,” he had informed them in a tone that would sound casual to anyone but Buffy.  To her it sounded tense, irritated. “It’s square-script Aramaic with bits of Old Aramaic script stirred in to drive you mad; and that bit you can’t figure all wodged in the middle there is an older sort of cypher in Phoenician.”  

The second the words had left his mouth he had gone exceptionally still, as if belatedly catching himself, bit his tongue, and gone po-faced.

Of course, by then they were all staring.  Giles, lowering a book to peer over it, glasses dangling off the end of his nose.  Xander, head lifting from over his own tome, half-eaten jelly donut held forgotten in his hand.  Wil and Jonathan both lifted away from the scrap to turn their heads and stare over their shoulders.  Buffy, who had been leaning back against a bookshelf sharpening a sword, had frozen in amazement.  

“Y…  You read Aramaic?” Willow had demanded, sounding floored.

Spike’s face had hardened, and he’d turned away.  “Didn’t mean to interrupt. You go on about your research.  Got to help the Slayer sharpen things. Great load of weapons to prep for patrollin’ about tonight…”

Buffy had narrowed her eyes at him, watched the line of his body.  He was hiding something. She was sure of it.  

Anya, leaning against Xander’s shoulder and previously looking bored, now looked interested.  “How many did you collect over the years? I myself have about twenty, but I’ve lived a lot longer than you… and to be fair, Middle Aramaic was actually spoken, still, in some places when I was alive, which is more than can be said for a vampire who is barely a hundred and twenty.  A hundred and, I imagine, forty or fifty, counting your human life. This must be some holdover from your previous existence.” She’d tilted her head to study him with interest. “Did you have some sort of scholarly background, Spike?”

Giles’ book had snapped closed with a loud  whump .  “Not according to his Council bio… but I’m starting to think that might have been a load of waffle.”

Spike didn’t say a word.  He just strode over to station himself at Buffy’s side.  Picked up a nicked short-axe and a whetstone and began sharpening the broad, gleaming curve, looking mulish.

Giles had frowned a little, and then very abruptly snapped out some phrase in some language that Buffy thought she vaguely recognized as Ancient Greek.  

Spike winced so hard that Buffy felt it run through his whole body.  It was like he couldn’t help himself; and wow. /You totally understood that, didn’t you?/

Her lover had completely been hiding this whole other side of himself.  

Buffy had found herself staring at him in shock.  And she hadn’t been the only one. The whole room was focused on her vampire now.  

After the shortest pause, however, he had gone on calmly sharpening things.  

Giles was not about to let it go, however.  He had stalked closer, with an air about him of a leonine creature singling out a prey animal and preparing to pounce.  And rattled off something in Latin.  

Spike had actually shuddered.  

“Ugh,” Wil had called from over the back of her chair.  “I could be wrong, but I think that you did that verb-conjugation all wiggy…”

Eyes focused steadfastly on Spike’s stubbornly downturned face, Giles’ expression had taken on a determined, almost vindictive cast.  “I did.” And then he’d said something again, the escaping syllables clipped, hard. 

Spike’s eyes had shot up to meet the Watcher’s, burning, agonized… and pleading.  “For Chrissake, man, will you bloody stop that? You’re actually causing me pain, here.”

Giles’ expression had gone unbelievably triumphant.  “I  knew  it!  You great, lying git.”

/Wait.  What?/

Spike had sighed and lowered the axe.  And looked, in that moment, totally embarrassed.  “Alright, but it doesn’t go with the image, yeah? Just, for God’s sake, don’t do it again.  I swear to Christ I could feel the tawse every time you muffed a verb. Was like I was bein’ birched all over again…”

The light in Giles’ eyes went startled.  “Where?” he demanded. And then he’d straightened in something like shock.  “Don’t tell me…” he’d breathed, sounding stunned.

Then Spike had done something that had floored every single one of them.  He spoke. “My friend, I doubt very much I should have to explicate any further, as it seems to me you’ll have surmised with exquisite understanding exactly to which institution I would have called home at one point in my previous existence.  It was, after all, and remains, a fairly well-known establishment, with an exceedingly historic reputation. As, of course, befitted one of my station.” His tones were rich, cultured, his syllables long, measured, and without the remotest vestige of the clipped jocularity they were used to in his usual cadence.  

/Wait,  what?   What, what, what…/

He’d cocked one scarred eyebrow at Giles, then.  “As to my letters, I shall only have to tell you that they were earned in halls named for St. John…”  Giles gave a jerk of stunned amazement, opened his mouth. Closed it. “So I suppose one might say we share a certain kinship…”  And then, with a faint grin, Spike’s voice promptly dropped back into familiar tones. “But I left all that behind, didn’t I? Didn’t really fit my new life.  Had a certain demarcation goin’, a new image to maintain and all that…”

Giles must have been more amazed than Buffy had been, because he’d turned away to take a seat, falling into an armchair with a hard, heavy  plop .  “Bloody hell, I need a drink.”  And he’d stared up at Spike in clear shock.  “What did you… I mean to say…”

“What you’d expect, considerin’.  Literae Humaniores and the lot.”

“Oh.  Yes. Right.  Of course. Certainly.  By all means…”

Disengaging from Buffy, Spike had gone over to the liquor cabinet, pulled out a tumbler, cast an eye over his shoulder.  “Glenfiddich or Glen Livet?”

A vague wave of the hand.  “Oh, either. And, pour yourself one as well, old man.”

“Don’t mind if I soddin’ do.”  

“Just  what ,” Buffy had hissed on behalf of the rest of the clueless Americans, “was  that  all about?  And  you!”  she’d demanded, pointing at Spike, who had returned by now with two gleaming tumblers of Scotch.  “What was that… that uber-English  accent?   You sounded… more Giles-y than Giles!”

“Cheers,” Giles had muttered in a darkly amused way, and slugged back a mouthful of the liquor in one gulp.  

Spike followed suit and then poured himself another, tipped a hair more into Giles' glass, all the while not looking at Buffy at all.  

“I’m serious!  Spike! Are you, like, closet-stuffy?  Because if I’m secretly going to bed with a Watcher…”

“Oi!” he’d roared, swinging around so hard to glare at her that he’d slopped a little whiskey out of his glass.  

“She’s got a point, Undead,” Xander had chimed in, somewhere between confused and amused.  “Totally sounded Watcher-y, there.”

“I’m no bloody Watcher.”  Burning eyes fixed on Buffy, he’d stalked away from Giles, back to the rack of weapons.  Slugged back his own swallow of alcohol in one hard, fast swig, then set down the tumbler and grabbed up the axe again, set to sharpening with swift, violent strokes while glaring at them all with a kind of viciously quelling air, as if daring any one of them to comment further.  

“Could have been, though,” Giles murmured cheerfully, because he liked to live dangerously.  He raised his glass and smiled a little, cocking his head in Spike’s direction. “To the Oxford class of… what was it then, old man?”

“No,”  Spike answered grimly, and went on sharpening.

“Oxford?”  Willow had demanded, sounding incredulous.

“Wow,” Jonathan broke in quietly.  “That’s… impressive.”

“No  way,”  Xander breathed.  “No  way  Deadboy went to college!  No way I’m the only one here who…  Who… Buffy, did you…”

“I knew,” Buffy answered softly.  “I just didn’t know when. Like, if it was night classes after, or…”

Spike shot her a brief, fulminating look.  “You,” he informed her quietly, “are a sodding traitor.”

She rolled her eyes at him.  “Oh, please. You outed yourself.  I had nothing to do with it.” She eyed him up and down, did some mental math.  “So, what, 1875? Or did it work different back then?”

He buttoned his lip and went on glaring.

“Giles, what was Oxford like back then?”  She was seriously curious.

“It was, ah, going through some rapid upheaval in the curriculum…”

Spike snorted dryly and switched from axe to sword without comment.

“For one, you could suddenly earn your degree in the sciences—natural philosophy, they called it then—or in mathematics, rather than only in Classics and the humanities as was once the way, so that they could compete with Cambridge.  There were a few other changes; in the exam structure, mostly…”

Spike set down the sword and turned to pick up a mace.  “I’m off to go beat something to death, Slayer. Back later.”

She caught his arm.  “Oh, come on, wait. Like anyone’s going to tease you because you have a college degree.”  Man, he was stiff. “What? What’s so wrong with that? I mean, obviously you can help with the research, and…”

He didn’t move, just stood there like a statue.  ‘Vampire Holding Medieval Weaponry’. “Okay,” she asked quietly, “what is it?”

He shook his head; just the slightest jerk.  “Not here.”

She let him go.  “Okay.”

He whirled and was gone, coat tugged up over his head against the setting sun.

Left behind with everyone watching, she’d shrugged uncomfortably.  “I’ll see you guys later, okay? I’m going to go… deal with this.”

To her surprise, it had actually been Xander who had pulled her up.  “Maybe give him a while, huh Buff? I think there’s some kind of pride thing going on here, and for something like that, sometimes a guy needs a few minutes.”

Buffy had lifted her eyebrows at her friend, more than a little taken aback.  “Okay, since when are you on  his  side?”

Xander had actually managed to look slightly embarrassed.  “Look. I’m not dumb, alright? Did you even  see  that?  I can’t believe I’m saying this about someone like Spike—I mean, like I even care, right?—but maybe he got bullied or something.  Anyway, leave him alone for a while before you go after him, is all I’m saying, Buff.”

“That’s very sensitive of you, Xander!  I think you’re starting to see Spike as a person.  I’m very proud of you!”

“Okay, jeez, Ahn… don’t make such a big thing of it.”

Buffy had actually taken Xander’s advice, and waited an hour or so before heading to the crypt.  She had located Spike outside of it, beating a dead Slugnosh into jelly over the remains of a headstone.  “Feeling better yet?”

Grunt.  Swing. Crash .  “No.”

“Well, there’s not much left of him.  You wanna fight me?”

Grunt.  Swing. Crash .  “Not really.”

The rebuff had stung, but one thing they both knew how to do was to give space when it was needed.  It had happened a few times during sex, a few times during conversations, a few times just when one or the other of them had been in a crappy mood.  It wouldn’t kill her to give him space again. They would be fine. “Okay. I just wanted to check on you. Let me know if you need anything.” Turning away, she’d moved to leave again… and halted when the crashing stopped abruptly.  

“I was a pansy poet who couldn’t even throw a sodding punch, Buffy.  When I went away to school I used to be beaten every day by the older lads; and worse.  What they call hazing now is a wet dream compared to what they did in Eton back then. Couldn’t fight back, or Mum would go into hysterics thinkin’ she’d lose me too, like she lost Da, so I just had to stand it.”  

/Oh, wow./  Frozen in place with her back to him, she could only listen with her brain stuck in neutral as he ranted on, his voice a grating, gravelly mess.   

“By the time I was at Oxford I was convinced I was above it all, that I was a higher being than that rabble because I wouldn’t even cross swords with one if he insulted me, for all I knew how to fence.  But it was a lie. I was weak. I couldn’t even box. I was a failure as a man.”

She had turned back by then, couldn’t help it.  And the way he stood, arms and head hanging, mace-head embedded to the ground…  He looked like he thought she would walk away.  

She took a step closer instead, and waited.

“When…  When Dru turned me, I knew I needed to…  To be different. I had the demon in me, roaring for vengeance.  I killed them all. Every one of my tormentors.”

‘Earned his nickname by torturing his victims with railroad spikes…’   /Oh./

“And then I learned to brawl.  Bloodied my fists every night in her honor.  Learned to fight so that someday Angelus couldn’t hurt me anymore.  So that someday  no  one could hurt me anymore.”

/Oh God…/

“And I stopped writin’ poetry.”

“William…”

He flinched, and his eyes rose, haunted, to meet hers.  “Except, sometimes, when I look at you, I can’t help but want to write it again.”  His hand rose, carved a line around her in the space between them, like he was drawing fire on the air.  “And every sonnet I’ve ever heard comes to my lips when you breathe into me.” His voice cracked, and he looked like he was about to fall to his knees.

Then his eyes jerked away, and he closed up again.

Oh.  He thought he was showing her some true self.  Like he thought he was revealing something under the coat that would repulse her or something, maybe drive her away.  Or like being with her made the old weak parts come out or something, when…

She remembered then, something he’d said that night in the motel room, months ago.  Something about how ‘wherever you go you take yourself’. /Oh/ she thought, and took another step closer.  “Do you hate me because I make you remember who you were?” she asked him quietly, and wondered how hard her heart would break if he said yes.

His jerked up, his heart blazing in his eyes as he stared at her, incredulous.  “Christ, no, Buffy! It’s just… Sometimes I don’t know how to be this! I’ve locked this part of me away since I resolved only to be the monster I’ve tried to be for Dru, and for Angelus; for a hundred twenty sodding years, and now here, for you, all the bloody sudden I’m a man again, in parts, and I don’t know if that man’s worthy of you, or a match at all for you, because he’s a bloody great milksop…”

“He seems kind of beautiful to me,” Buffy interrupted, moving still closer, and smiled.  “He’s turned into a hell of a warrior over the last century; and in the meantime… I think I could stand to hear some poetry.”

Spike trembled visibly in the night.  “Do you even like the sodding stuff?”

“I don’t know.”  /I liked it a little when Owen said some./  “I’ve only heard Dickinson, I think, and, like, limericks…”

Spike snorted, a raw, contemptuous sound, and took one step in her direction.  “You need to hear others, then.”

She smiled, held out her hand, and waited.  “Show me?”

Shortly thereafter, Buffy decided you’d never lived till you’d had an undead Victorian poet recite verse to you while screwing you voraciously into a bed made out of silk sheets and sarcophagi, and clearly she led a very decadent life for a college girl.

Two days later, Spike announced his new status in a quiet way.  Giles was seated at his desk muttering something about a ‘concordance’.  Before he had a chance to get to his feet Spike unraveled himself from his cross-legged stance and ducked to pull a green-bound book from the shelf, without any perusal at all.  Opened it, glanced inside swiftly—Buffy noticed that it had Greek lettering—before closing it and striding over to the desk. He handed it over to Giles, who was quietly poring over about six other tomes.  “This is the one you need, I think, Watcher.”

Giles took it from him, lips twitching but otherwise working hard not to make a big thing of it.  “Ah, yes.” He’d adjusted his glasses, read a line or two, nodded. “Yes, fine. Just the thing. Thank you, Spike.”

With a stiff nod, Spike had turned away and gone back to leaning nonchalantly against the bookshelf with arms and ankles crossed, and Buffy could not have been prouder of him if he’d come in carrying a dragon’s head for her.  Leaning in a little, she had murmured low enough that only he could hear, “I think you are incredibly sexy. Just so you know.”

He had uncrossed his legs and straightened, seeming to inflate.  “Yeah?”

“Duh.”

Of course, Giles had to ruin it.  On the way out the door, as Spike had leaned in through the serving window to hand him the tea mug he’d been using, Giles had flicked him a brief look and a faint smile.  “‘Love hath made thee a tame snake.’”

Spike had frozen up tight, and for a second Buffy thought he was going to throw the cup right at her Watcher’s head.  “Oh, shut it, Rupert.”

“Not to say I’m not grateful.  But it’s true, for all that.”

Grabbing Spike’s arm, Buffy had dragged him away, out toward the door.  Once outside, in the late evening shade in the corner of the atrium thing, she had hissed at him, “What the hell was  that?   Do I need to go back in and punch him?”

Spike had shaken himself and settled in with a slight frown.  “No, it’s fine, love. Just a bit of scholarly teasing.”

/Okay, that is just so not helpful./

Correctly reading her expression, Spike had sighed and lifted two fingers to her lips.  “Doesn’t matter, pet. He’s right, anyway. ‘I do love nothing in the world so well as you; is not that strange?  I am one who loved not wisely but too well. I burn, I pine, I perish. Hear my soul speak of the very instant that I saw you; did my heart fly at your service.’”

At a loss, Buffy could but blink at him.  “Okay? I mean, that’s gorgeous, but I have no idea what half of it…”  

“We have to get you into a poetry class, pet.”

“Oh jeez.  You know I’d flunk it, right?”

He’d leaned forward to capture her lips with his.  The kiss had taken a while, so that by the time it had ended, she had pretty much forgotten the point of the conversation.  “I’ll help you.”

“Huh?”

“Plenty of ways to make poetry memorable.”

Okay, cue the blushing.  She distinctly remembered every word of the ones he had told her in bed.  “Alright, but if you do it that way, I’ll spend the entire class turning colors and squirming around, and everyone will think I’m some kind of poetry nympho…”

“And the world will lie in awe of my tutoring methods.”

“Jerk.”

Just when everything seemed to be kind of at station-keeping, Oz showed back up, because why not have things go all fubar.  Of course he asked Wil if she had a new guy, and Wil went completely tongue-tied about it, while Buffy and Spike, on their way out of the room to leave them alone, stared incredulously.  “Wil!”

Wil had blushed, looking away.  “Um, not a new guy, but… A new… girl.”

Oz had stilled.  Gone very silent for a moment, then, “Oh.  I didn’t… expect that.”

“Yeah.  Neither did I.  But it happened.”  Wil had lifted her eyes to his, shy but serious.  “I’m still really glad to see you. I missed you so much.  You have no idea. I mean… I’m… I’m really confused about you being here… but I’m really glad to see you.”

“Yeah.  Me too.”

They had let themselves out.

Buffy met Tara, finally, during all that mess, when Wil and her girlfriend were trying to talk Oz down from going all wolfy on her.  Apparently even though he knew about Wil’s new relationship and the guy part of him was good with just being friends, the demon part of him was still having a tough time with getting his mind, or his hormones, or his lizard-brain, or whatever it was, around that fact in some kind of primitive, ‘that’s my mate’ kind of way.  Which, okay, Buffy got, now that she’d been with Spike for a while. Heck, she got it from her own internal, primitive Slayer place, though it was kind of hard to articulate that to Wil. Also, she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to admit how much she got it, even after Spike had explained it to her afterward. But suffice it to say, Oz had spent a lot of that interaction huddled in a corner of the empty lecture hall trying to talk himself down while partially wolfed-out, because it was a full moon and he’d smelled Wil all over Tara and, forewarned or not, bunch of Tibetan meditations or no, it was evidently tough to tie all that instinct and emotion down when faced directly with the evidence that one’s chosen mate was otherwise claimed.  

He’d managed to control the change in the end, with whatever new anti-wolfy meditation he had going, kept himself to ‘human but hairy’ and stuck at the halfway point, but apparently it was a near enough thing that he ended up raggedly begging for Wil to bind him.  Wil had, her tones broken as she’d clasped hands with a very rattled Tara to weave the spell. Then he’d whispered to Buffy, “Hey. Can you and, uh, Spike there, if he’s helping, get me somewhere safe? I need…”

“Somewhere with a different bouquet.  Got it.” Spike had been quietly understanding as he’d helped Buffy gently strong-arm the rigid, immobilized werewolf out and away from the hand-clasped girls and manhandle him down to the cage he had once used on campus.  

The next day, he was gone.  Wil relayed the story to Buffy in their dorm room; not weepy, per se, though clearly emotional.  “He couldn’t apologize in person to Tara; you know, since that wouldn’t’ve been safe this close to the full moon, but he was all profuse with the regret.  I mean, as profuse as Oz ever gets with anything.” She’d tried a little half-shrug. “He used three or more words.”  

“That’s big.”

“Yeah.  And he…   He told me to be happy…”  Her voice had hitched, causing Buffy to tighten her hold on the chilly, slightly-shaking hand.  “He wanted to try to be friends, you know. To stay. But I guess… he couldn’t deal.” Her eyes had lifted, gray and pained.  “The thing was… that’s all he was trying to do, was get it under control enough to come back for me, but he knew it wouldn’t be fair to ask me to wait for him, since he didn’t know if he even could, or how long it would take.  And Buffy… if I knew that was what he was going for, I probably would have waited, you know?”  

Buffy had nodded encouragingly.  

“But then I wouldn’t have met Tara, and…”  Will had looked away, biting her lip.

“And you’re happy now.”

Wil had sounded almost guilty when she’d answered, sharp and protest-y.  “I am! Is that bad?”

Buffy had rushed to cover her friend’s hand.  “No, Wil. It isn’t. You moved on. It’s been so good for your mental health.  And you know… I think he understands, right? I mean, he might’ve wanted to stay this time around, but if the wolf won’t let him...  It’s a part of him.” A breath, wondering if she should even say it, but… Oz was a part of Willow, and it wasn’t like her and Angel. Oz had been so good for her.  There hadn’t been that… weirdness. So if they could be friends, that would be of the good. “Maybe someday…”

“Yeah.  Maybe.” Wil had shrugged, a painful little movement.  “Though, I dunno. Because he really loves me. Like, really, really.  And I love him, you know; like will always? But I don’t think the wolfy part of him can deal, and I…  I need to be with the person I…”

“The person you’re in love with right now.  I get it.” Buffy had smiled at her bestie and patted her knee.  “You know I get it. It was like that with me and Spike. Part of me will always love Angel…”  /Putting aside wondering how much of that was actually loving him and how much of that was him putting some kind of weird vampirical claim on me, because I don’t even know anymore, and how can I separate it in my head?/  “…But I’m with Spike now, and that’s uber-intense, and I have to do what’s right for me now. Especially when that first love… can’t work. So yeah. Definitely get it.”

Wil had nodded.  “It still hurts, though, doesn’t it?  Thinking about the might-have-beens. Wondering whether it all means… it was never meant to be?”

/Yeah./  “Maybe… Maybe those relationships were like… training wheels on how to love?”

Wil had bitten her lip and nodded, then smiled.  “I have to go talk to Tara.”

“Yeah.  I think you should do that.  And Wil?”

Wil had lifted troubled eyes, reservations filling them.  

“She seems like a really nice girl.  I mean, not that she talked much or anything, but…  If you guys want, I’d like to get to know her.” She left it hanging.

Wil had blushed, big and rosy and one hundred percent pleased schoolgirl.  “She’s… great.” It came out bubbly and gushy. “I really want you to know her too.  If…” A tiny shrug. “Do you think Xander’s gonna be all weird?”

Buffy had shrugged.  “I think you more have to worry about Anya sharing a bunch of stories about any lesbian escapades she might have had over the years.”

“Oh man, I never thought of that!”

After Wil ran off to go talk to her girlfriend Spike had re-emerged from his hiding place to sit behind Buffy, rubbed her shoulders bracingly.  “So, Wolfboy’s off again, then, is it?”

Buffy had leaned back against him and nodded, eyes closed.  “Sometimes first love just doesn’t work, and you find out the next one is the right one.”

A low rumble of amusement.  “Dunno. Thought for a minute there they might work out a way to make it a threesome.  All the lad had to do was find out how to be a bit less possessive, and…” A spreading of the fingers as if to say, ‘hey-presto’.

Buffy had jerked around to stare at him, nonplussed.  “Oh my God! You are so…”

“Inventive?  Devilish? Mildly evil but chock-full of great ideas?”

“I can’t even.  Whatever! A threesome?  Wil would so not…”

“Sure about that, pet?”  Thoughtful eyes rose to the door.  “Could see it, m’self. More a question, could her witch-friend go for it.”

“You are so the complete worst.”

“I’ll go to the city offices and buy my trademark tomorrow.  First, though… best earn my patent.” And bending, he’d applied his lips to her neck.

“Oh, God.  If you… ever suggest… such a thing to me…  I’ll stake…” The ‘complete worst’ was doing the complete best things to her neck and his hands were wandering to… places.  “Dammit, I’m trying to…”

“Never would.  Shared a woman with Angel before.  Never happen again.”

Exasperated, she’d punched him, an action which, it must be said, didn’t deter him in the slightest.  “So not what I was… Oh, God…”

“Mmmm?  What exactly did you have in mind, then?”  And he’d nipped her till she’d bucked against him.

She’d honestly had no idea anymore by then.

The dorm room had been empty more and more often of late.  As such, it had become all the more romantic a locale. Studying was no longer strictly the first activity on the docket, unless one called anatomy lessons ‘a study’.  

Buffy sighed as she twirled her stake and marched through the graveyard, looking neither to the left nor to the right.  All summer after school had been great, even. Sex, learning about this Sineya chick and the Slayer line, more sex. A few trips into the desert with Giles to shake a gourd, listen to her Watcher chant, get in touch with a dreadlocked, feral creature who seemed a hell of a lot more like a wild animal and who moved much more like a demon than she was anything like a tame, modern Slayer.  Which, okay. Talk about some thinky-thoughts about self and the relationship one had to the demons one fought. A few discussions with said First Slayer, mostly in dreamy code, both in the desert and in dreams; dreams which included waking up not a few times in her vampire’s arms, startling him out of his sleep shouting inane things like, ‘little miss muffet!’ because why not be haunted some more by that weird thing she’d shared with Faith... and also some stuff from her meditations with the First Slayer-Guide chick, like how death was her gift.  

It had taken her a while to work that one out, the whole ‘no matter how much she embraced her Slayer side, she couldn’t lose her humanity, because she had let that part of her, let love, bring her to her gift’.  Which was, apparently, death. That whole thing had briefly scared the bejesus out of her, till Spike had pointed out, with certain amusement, that he was kind of death incarnate, and he would like to think of himself as a nice, gift-wrapped package for her, sitting around helping her to remember how to love at any given moment, even when it hurt.

He’d had a pretty fair point.

In general, there had been a lot of time spent in bed with Spike; some of it spent having poetry murmured to her between some exceedingly loving sex which was turning more and more kinky as time went on, which…  Well. Let it just be said that her incipient embarrassment about such things had quickly vanished as proceedings… proceeded. She was even venturing outside more with him, since there was also a whole lot of very flirtatious sparring that got more and more hot and heavy as the uneventful summer months dragged on.  Like ya do. That kind of thing made sex in public venues seem very attractive.

No one was going to walk by at night in a cemetery, right?  Except… they kind of could, and should that prospect contribute to her arousal as much as it did?  

Probably not, but it was tough to care when you had a Spike.  

Spike tended to make thinking, much less worrying, an impossible pastime.  And, really, life honestly couldn’t get any better in her book.  

That was, until that douche Dracula had shown up to try her, because apparently Spike was right and her fame had spread stupidly far and wide, and now baddies were coming from freaking Europe to give her a shot.  Except Mr. Eurotrash 1400 or whatever had to take  his  shot with a bunch of stupid party tricks and crap.  

First, the dickhead showed up right in the middle of Shady Rest, mid-patrol, and tried to be all seductive to her, right under her vamp’s nose, like ‘I came to meet the creature whose darkness matches my own’, yadda yadda.  As if she should be Miss Flattered-cakes and fall at his caped feet.  

Spike, of course, took exception and got all flipped out.  To her irritation, he had actually stood in front of her while she was still…  Well, okay, to be fair, she was acting a little starstruck that someone like the actual Dracula had even heard of her, but look.  Till that night she hadn’t even known he was a real person and not book-monster-guy, so cut her some slack much? Anyway, sure. It had probably put her vamp’s back up a little, but still.  Macho, threatened boy-games, much? All, elbowing in front of the actual Slayer to be all, “Look, you tosser, back off. And any road, if you need to talk to anyone, it’s me. You still owe me eleven quid, you poncy prick!”

Cue a little domestic discord of the ‘I can fight my own battles’ nature, which hadn’t endeared her to Spike, nor Spike to Buffy, and et cetera.  Things had been tense from then throughout the ensuing emergency Scooby meeting, and she had—it turned out, stupidly—gone to bed alone that night; at Revello instead of joining Spike at the crypt.  But okay, even if Dracula could turn into a bat and fly off (nuts, right?), Buffy could still so handle him.

Or so she had thought.  Till he’d turned up in her bedroom and thralled her.

The discussion in there was so messed up, with the word ‘magnificent’ being thrown around, like she was all needy.  When you’d had someone like Spike talking you up for like nine months, having some rando vamp with pancake makeup glamor and Fabio hair come in to do it was a little less convincing.  “I bet you say that before you bite all the girls.”

“No, you are different.  Ki…”

“Look,” she’d interrupted, impatient and, frankly, kind of worried about the whole ‘showing up in her bedroom made out of smoke’ thing.  “Not that I’m not flattered that you came all the way to California to meet me and stuff, and I’m definitely down to fight you, but this whole vamp-seduction thing?  Not my gig, okay? I’m a taken girl. I mean, you saw. I have a vamp boyfriend. I’m vamp-taken.”

“I do not see his mark on you.  And the others… they are old. They were unworthy.   He  is unworthy.  Perhaps this is why you do not let him…  taste  you.  Because you know…”  Creeping closer, all slithery sensuality, and, just, no.  

/I am really, so very much not getting into this with you, of all assholes.  And see me not having visible qualms about the subject in front of you? No qualming right now.  Zero./ “He is  so  worthy.  We just… haven’t discussed it yet.  I still have some trauma over the way the last one went down.  But he’s mine, and I…” Her voice had hitched over it, unable to say it.  Not yet. Not when she had so successfully avoided considering the question in depth thus far.  “So anyway, thanks for coming all this way, and for the offer, but…” She’d leaned back, scrabbled away into her pillows.  He was way too close, totally in her space now, and… “You can’t just waft in here with your music video wind and your hypno-eyes and think I’m gonna let you jump in ahead of my guy!”

“I have searched the world over for you.  I have yearned for you.” The prick had actually sat on her bed, totes uninvited; which, by the way, it had taken them a hot minute to figure out how he’d managed  that  little invitation trick.  “For a creature whose darkness rivals my own.”  Tried to touch her, to peer at her neck like a creeper.

/Um,  so  much with the no!  Max no-fly-zone!/ She’d scrambled backward a little further, unsure why she hadn’t been able to fight, to stake him, to…

He’d just smiled at her, all sensual unconcern, as smugly certain he’d have her as if she were some kind of kitten he could eat.  “You remember. The embrace. His bite. You  remember.”

So gross.  And weirdly compelling, like all old vamps, and she  hated  this.  Hated that he had the  pull.   Hated the way it dragged at her, sucking her in toward him like fleshy magnetism.  It made resisting a feat like lifting a building with her mind. “This is not gonna happen.”  Just pushing the words out past her lips had taken all her breath and will. But she had done it, because just the thought of…  /And oh my  God , Spike would be so…/  He would never,  ever  recover from the hurt.  “Not from  you .”

“Do not fight.  I can feel your hunger.  So much I have to teach you; of your history, your power.  What your body is capable of. Why… we are so much alike in our difference.  You feel it, do you not? And you long to know… why.”

Okay, his insinuation pissed her off; the assumption that she didn’t know herself, didn’t know the source of her own power.  “Listen, you Eurotrash bastard! I…”

“All those years fighting us; your power so near to our own...”  He’d crept closer; ever closer, crowding her; caressing her neck with chilly, beckoning fingers that raised gooseflesh and made her breath hitch, unwilling, hating the familiar arousal he could command.  “And yet you’ve never once wanted to know what it is we fight for? Come now. Let me taste you, and then you will beg. You will want to taste me, and have an eternity to learn…”

Buffy had rolled her eyes, abruptly beyond done.  And some of the fog had lifted. /Beg? Um, try again, Mister!/  “Okay, you’re  so  full of yourself.  I would definitely not do that with anyone but Spike.”  /Because for one, he would never ask. And if I ever did that… it would be a game; at  best ./  “Are you  serious?   Just wow.”  And she’d scrambled—okay, half-fallen, but grace was so not a factor in that moment—from the bed to fumble in her nightstand.  

As if realizing he had overplayed his hand, Dracula had held one up; a soothing gesture that had indeed quietened her mind somewhat.  “You would not change. You must be near death to become one of us. And that comes only when you plead for it.”

The chink found, held, the thing in the back of her mind had reared up in that moment, rebelling against the thrall.  “Okay, you know what? Do you think I was born yesterday? I  know  that, you dumbass!  I’m not a child! I’m the damn  Slayer!”  

“You think you know what you are.  What's to come.” Some of the seductive air had failed, giving way to frustration.  A hardness. “You haven't even begun.”

Her own hardness, rising to match his.  “Oh, buddy, you don’t even know. You are so barking up the wrong tree there, mister.  I know where I come from. I’ve felt it; with Spike and on my own.” Words rising from somewhere in the back of her mind, behind where the human parts of her stumbled, half-asleep.  “I’m from thousands of years of ancient strength, down to the first Slayer. She was all demon-y power and totally undomesticated, and I feel her at the back of my mind one hundred percent of the time.  I don’t deny her anymore; when I’m in bed with Spike, when I fight, when I slay. I don’t need some outdated vamp from a European backwater to come here and talk a bunch of bullshit about how only he can give me the secrets of the universe.”

Dracula had drawn back, looking startled.  “You know already that we are kindred, you and I?”

The word had Buffy taken aback.  It had an interesting intonation, and one that totally reminded her of something Anya had said last December but upon which she had for some reason had never followed up.  “Kindred? Anya said we had a kinship. Huh. Thanks for the note. I forgot to talk with her about that. I’ll hit her up about it ASAP. But as for you…” Shaking her head to clear the few remaining cobwebs, Buffy had managed to fumble finally for the stake she kept in her nightstand drawer.  It had been part of some slightly edgy sexplay here and there, but had otherwise never made an appearance before now. This time, it was a bit more serious. “Get the hell out of my bedroom before I turn you into a dusty little pile of bad makeup, you waste of a Pantene commercial.”

Dracula’s too-pretty face had twisted.  “You will come to me. I have your friend.”  And, turning into smoke like a ridiculous carnival trick, he had literally  drifted out of her damned window,  the freak, before her stake could do more than waft him around like smoke.  

Which was how she had found out he had thralled Xander and turned him into some crappy Renfield; an event which had filled Spike with some kind of sick glee and thoroughly pissed off a possessive Anya.

Speaking of possessive, when Spike found out that Dracula had been in her bedroom trying his wiles on her, he had completely turned into Mr. McJealousVamp, which was so not the most attractive look on him.  It hadn’t made anything better, since for one thing, Buffy totally thought she should have gotten points for resisting thrall and crap, what with the Master making her all susceptible or whatever, and with the ‘old-vamp-buzz’ to contend with.  /I mean, that’s totally a first for me! I should get a parade!/ So while Wil, Tara, and Jonathan went around putting wards on everyone’s houses and stuff, Buffy basically told Spike to stop being a big baby and marched off to go save Xander.  

Of course, Spike followed her, all teed off that she was ‘playing right into the git’s hands’, and, per Willow’s later account, vowing first to save her and then to kill her, or vice-versa.  Giles had followed, trailed by Anya and the magicks brigade.  

Giles was out of the running really super fast.  Pretty much the minute they entered the maze, he ended up trapped in some pit full of Drac-wives, and was, per Spike, no doubt seduced in some kind of vamp-ho dogpile; which, you know, the less Buffy ever heard about that the better.  Not that she was one to talk, but also, good blackmail material in future if Giles ever gave her crap about her yen for vamps and all that, because he had literally zero room anymore to yap about her weakness when it came to vampire sex appeal.  /Let’s just leave it at that./  

Giles probably realized it too, because all his little digs and crap had been suspiciously absent ever since.  

Jonathan…  Well, he just basically got lost somewhere in there.  Anya spent a lot of the time apparently marching straight into Xander and slapping some sense into him once she found him, then demanding that Wil and Tara do a spell to “Get him back into his right mind, I don’t care if he’s under a spell!  Dammit, Dracula is sexy, but I didn’t think he was sexy enough to get to Xander! Though I guess I should have. Still; this is taking things a little too far!” 

Buffy and Spike got separated for a short while by some weird trick of the bizarre ‘castle’, and Buffy had a final, solo showdown with Drac.  He tried to thrall her yet again, and yes, tried for a second time to get her to do a little bit of vamp fluid-bonding with him, which, just, ew.  “Look. I told you. If I’m going to be exchanging pleasantries of the bloody kind with any vamp, it’s gonna be Spike. I’m pretty sure I can figure out how we’re ‘kindred’ with him.  You might’ve noticed he’s a Master vamp himself, and plenty old enough for me to get a nice buzz or whatever. And besides; we have an actual  relationship .  You’re a total stranger, so no offense…”  And she’d punched Captain Shiny in the face with her stake-hand.  “I’m not that kinda girl.”

The throwdown had been brief, unfortunately; mostly because the stupid jerk cheated.  She staked him twice, but he just kept turning into stupid misty crap and reforming.  

Which was when Spike had come around the damn corner like some kind of insane Brit-punk cowboy,  thrown a gallon tank of gasoline  on the reassembling dust, and tossed his lit Zippo at it.

Cue the infamous Count fucking Dracula, up in goddamned smoke.

“Guess I’m never gonna get my eleven quid,” Spike had muttered, and pulled out a cigarette, then frowned in frustration, standing there empty-handed and sans lighter.  “Oh, bloody hell. And now I’ve lost me best lighter. Christ.”

He’d just stolen her kill.  And he could have burnt himself up.  He was about a foot from a sizzling pyre of vamp, over there writhing and shrieking as it blazed up into melting and reforming skeleton, and oh my god, he could have died, he could have dusted, he was so  stupid

Shoving him around the corner by his lapels, Buffy had had him up against the wall before he could speak.  Had slapped the stupid, unlit cigarette away, nails digging into his neck. “You absolute fucking imbecile!”  And then she had swarmed aboard him, so terrified that she was going to lose him that she had probably lost her damn mind for a second.  She had definitely gone at least halfway into tunnel-vision-Buffy, with the Slayer-y thing roaring in the back of her mind as she’d slammed his shoulders hard into the stone and ripped his belt and jeans open.  

He had been willing enough, snarling back at her in abrupt game face.  “Fucking  mine , Buffy!”

She had snarled back, no longer able even to articulate anything, and lifted up to basically impale herself on him, and alright.  Yeah, so they had fucked right there against the wall of the world’s most notorious vampire’s stupid castle, Spike whirling around to slam her against the stupid stone wall and glaring into her eyes with feral, amber abandon while a celebrity burned like a merry torch behind them.  

There at the end she was sure he was going to bite her.  She had almost invited it. Could have just tilted her neck and let him.  But in that moment… she just couldn’t. Not with the smell of that bastard smoking away right over there, and hints of gasoline on Spike’s hands.  Because he could have  died;  and what if the fire had jumped onto him?  Or, what if they did, but it was all just because he was trying to prove something; or because  she  was, and not because…

If she ever did this with him, she wanted it to be special.  

Not like this.  So at the last minute she had closed her eyes and pulled away.  And he had growled, pumping into her, and got them both off with a kind of angry ferociousness she had never felt from him.  And dammit, it didn’t have to be like that, and she hadn’t  meant  it to be like that, and she knew he had been hurt, but okay, so was she, and…

And he hadn’t touched her since.  And it had been  days,  now.

*   *   *






Alrighty, then.  Welcome to These Violent Delights!
Let me know what you think of the kickoff to season 5!