The Great Advantage of Being Alive by Enigmaticblue

ReviewsRating: PG-13

Summary: What if the Initiative had found a way to transform Spike into a human, rather than giving him a chip?

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Chapter 9: The Importance of Being Jonathan

“It’s a beautiful world but everyone’s insane/Either you swim or either you fade/It’s a revolution time we’re sleeping at the wheel/Apocalypse child in a nuclear field/We want to change the world but not what holds us back/I want to be for you what I’ve never had/And all of this time I was just trying to reach you…Fragile to the waves- vicissitudes of days/ When I am with you I feel a little brave/The madness and the wars the circles that we run/ Confusion we import look what we’ve become/And all this time I was just trying to reach you…If you leave- I die with you.” ~Bush, “Float”

Buffy was still feeling a little disoriented from the previous evening’s assault on the vampire nest. Everyone had seemed to think she did all right, but there was something about the fight that bothered her. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she felt as though she were off her game somehow, and that just didn’t seem right.

Buffy sighed and shrugged it off as personal issues. Breaking up with Riley, and then Spike’s withdrawal had just thrown her off a little, put her in the dumps. It would pass.

Riley had been understandably hurt when she’d broken it off. He told her that it wasn’t fair, that he hadn’t really cheated on her, that she was being unreasonable. Heck, maybe he was right, maybe she was being unreasonable. But every time that thought popped into her mind, she was reminded of Spike’s words, of what he had said, of the look in his eyes. Buffy had never known what it meant to be known like that. Seeing that, it was impossible to believe that she’d made the wrong decision.

Besides, while she felt a pang of regret concerning Riley, it was Spike that she missed. Now that he’d moved out of Giles’ apartment, it seemed as though he was avoiding her. Buffy hadn’t seen him for the last few days, and every time she tried to catch him at Giles’ or at the gallery, he disappeared.

“Buffy!” The call startled her, and she turned to see Riley hurrying to catch up. “Buffy. Hey.”

Buffy felt awkward. She wasn’t sure if they were still trying to be friends or not. “Riley. How are you? Is your, uh, stomach feeling better?”

He shrugged. “You know, it’s about back to normal.” There was a long, uncomfortable silence. “How are you?” Riley finally asked.

“Good,” Buffy said. “You know, pretty much the same old, same old.” She looked off into the distance. “I should go. I’ve got—”

“Wait,” Riley said, grabbing her arm. “Buffy, can’t we talk about this? You know I care about you. Maybe—I mean, if you just took some time, we could work this out.” He looked at her sincerely. “This is weird for me too. It’s not like I wanted this.”

Buffy sighed. She looked around and found a bench, leading him to sit down next to her. “Riley, I know this has been hard for you, and that you didn’t mean to sleep with anyone but me. It’s just that there were other people who knew it wasn’t me, and I have to wonder if I’m with the right person, when you didn’t know and—other people did.”

“This is about Spike, isn’t it?” Riley demanded. “Spike knew, so you think you’re meant to be with him? Buffy—”

“This isn’t about anybody except you and me,” Buffy retorted, interrupting him. “Riley, I’m sorry, but you don’t understand. I don’t know if you can understand. I’ve been fighting evil since I was fifteen, and most of that time no one knew about it. I had to hide who I was from my mom, people at school, teachers, everyone. No one really knew me. I didn’t think it was possible, to be honest. It’s not your fault, Riley. You didn’t do anything wrong. But Spike knew. Somebody knows me that well, better even than my friends and family, and I need some time to figure out what that means.”

Riley had lapsed into angry silence at this point, and Buffy felt a keen disappointment. She wanted him to understand, but it wasn’t going very well. “This isn’t about me being with anyone right now,” she said gently. “It is about the fact that I don’t think we really know each other. I don’t think we’re even in the same place, Riley.”

He opened his mouth to protest, and then shut it again. “I think you’re making a mistake, Buffy,” he said unhappily. “You know how I feel about you. Isn’t that more important that just being a good guesser?”

Buffy’s eyebrows went up, and she stood. “That was more than being a ‘good guesser,’ Riley. I’m sorry it worked out this way, I really am. But I need my space right now.”

She took a deep breath and headed off towards her class, a certain pair of blue eyes haunting every step.  

~~~~~

“This is all Faith’s fault,” Buffy complained. “It’s like she’s poison. No, it’s like she’s acid that eats through everything. Maybe she’s a bomb. The point is, everything was going fine until she wrecked it. Things were going really well with Riley, and I was getting along great with Spike. Then Faith has to come along and ruin it.”

Jonathan gave her an understanding smile. “You know Buffy, I don’t think you’re really angry at Faith. I think you’re angry at Riley.”

A breathless girl came up to the table, holding out a book. “Could you?”

“Sure,” Jonathan said warmly even as Buffy stifled a surge of annoyance. Jonathan was usually the person she went to with her troubles, but they were always getting interrupted by fans. She guessed it was just the price you paid for fame. He handed the book back to the girl. “You and Riley had this amazing connection, and then at the moment that it matters most, he looks into your eyes and doesn’t even see it’s not you looking back at him.”

Buffy frowned. “Well, yeah, pretty much. But the thing is, Spike knew. He’s not even my boyfriend or anything. We haven’t been friends for that long. So, did Riley and I really have that connection, or was I just fooling myself?”

Jonathan frowned wisely. “Only you can answer that question, Buffy. I think you have to ask yourself if you aren’t a little angry at Spike too for pushing you away.”

Buffy considered that for a second. “I don’t know, maybe. He was at least a little bit right, though. I wasn’t being completely fair to him.”

“Maybe you’re angry because you can’t have things both ways,” Jonathan suggested gently. “You’re angry at Riley because he didn’t know you well enough to tell that it was Faith in your body. And maybe you’re a little bit angry at Spike for knowing you so well that he knew your heart wasn’t really with him.”

Buffy thought about that as Jonathan signed “Karen-with-a-K’s” book. He was probably right, of course. She had been a little angry at Spike. Having someone know her that well was a little scary. The funny thing was that he didn’t know her like Willow or Xander or her mom did. He didn’t know her favorite color, or movie, or what had happened at her tenth birthday party, but he knew when some psycho switched bodies with her. The history wasn’t there, but the depth was.

“So what do you think, Buffy?” Jonathan asked as Karen ran off squealing. “If I’m wrong, smack me. Karen-with-a-K has a book you could use, and it’s pretty heavy.”

“Maybe I have been a little angry at both of them. Plus, Spike’s been avoiding me.” She bit her lip. “How do I even talk to him? I know he has feelings for me, but I don’t know if I feel the same way. He already knows me so well—it’s a little scary.”

Jonathan stood and gave her a reassuring smile. “Hey, Buffy. We live on the Hellmouth. We’ve faced things a lot scarier. Give it some thought, but go with your heart. It’s a good one.”

“What if I can’t make it right with him?” Buffy asked. “I think I really hurt his feelings. And whatever Faith said to him didn’t help matters any.”

“If you really want it, you can make anything happen,” Jonathan replied, and Buffy couldn’t help but believe him.

~~~~~

Spike had been avoiding Buffy. He was fairly certain that she hadn’t been lying to him. There had been more there than just the desire to get even with Riley. Even so, it was impossible for him to think when she was around. His hands went sweaty and his mouth went dry. He got this funny, tight feeling in his chest, so it was hard to breathe too.

It had taken every ounce of his willpower not to seek her out after that.

He’d managed to move into the apartment a few days early, but it was a depressing place to be alone. He was mostly using it for sleeping and spending the rest of his time at the gallery or at Giles’. As long as Buffy wasn’t around, that is. Tonight, he was going to treat himself to a drink and music. He thought perhaps Jonathan was playing.

Spike smiled, thinking of earlier that day. Giles had stopped by the gallery in an ill-concealed bid to see if he was getting on alright. Joyce had given him three tupperware containers of “leftovers,” telling him that she’d made more than she’d intended. Their concern warmed him more than he could say. He hadn’t had anyone genuinely looking out for his well-being since his mother had died.

He stepped into the Bronze and moved through the crowded floor, listening to the band. Spike ordered his beer and then leaned back against the bar, watching the couples out on the dance floor and feeling a pang. He half-wondered if Buffy hadn’t made up with Riley by now. It wasn’t like it was the soldier’s fault he was a big git and didn’t know when his girl had switched bodies. He wouldn’t be at all surprised if Buffy had come to her senses and forgiven him.

Spike took a swig of his beer and nearly spit it out when Buffy materialized in front of him. “Hey.”

He swallowed abruptly, choking on the bitter liquid. She obligingly pounded him on the back until he could breathe again. “Hey.”

“You want to come sit with us?” she invited, motioning to a table at the edge of the dance floor. Anya and Xander were already there.

He hesitated, but there was something in her eyes that drew him. “Uh, sure, luv.” Spike felt shock, mixed with pleasure, when she casually grabbed his hand, leading him through the crowded club.

“Look who I found,” Buffy said brightly, plopping down in her seat.

Xander smiled in greeting, and Anya gave a little wave. “Hey, Spike. How’s the new apartment?” the boy asked.

“Bit quiet,” he confessed.

Anya looked puzzled. “More quiet than Giles’ apartment?” she asked. “I wouldn’t think he’d be a very good conversationalist. He’s very British. And reserved.” It apparently hadn’t occurred to her that Spike was British, though not as reserved.

Xander coughed in embarrassment, though Spike just smiled. Anya’s frankness amused him more often than not. He knew well enough not to take offense. “’s a bit different when you’re the only one there,” he explained.

“Oh, of course,” Anya said. “You’re lonely. I’ve heard about that. Maybe you should get Buffy to give you orgasms. Then it wouldn’t be so quiet.”

That did embarrass Spike, and Buffy blushed a bright red. (The blushing might have also had something to do with a particular dream she’d had about that very thing.) “Anya,” Xander said, warning in his tone. “We talked about this.”

“What?” Anya asked, puzzled as to everyone’s reactions. “It’s not as if there isn’t unresolved sexual tension there.”

Xander stood. “You know, I think we should get something to drink. Now.” He pulled her away from the table.

Both Buffy and Spike were left wanting to look anywhere but at each other. “Well, that wasn’t at all awkward,” Spike finally said, just to break the silence.

They looked at each other and both began to grin. “Leave it to Anya,” Buffy agreed. “I’m sorry about the other night,” she said in a rush. “I shouldn’t have come onto you like that.”

Spike nodded. “’s all right, Buffy. It just happened. We should just forget about it.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Huh?” Spike wasn’t quite sure he got that.

“I don’t want to forget about it. I mean, you were right, but it wasn’t all about Riley,” Buffy said. “I want to start over. We were doing okay before as friends. Maybe we could just start there and find out where it goes.”

Spike frowned, realizing that the implication was that they were going somewhere. “Where do we start? As friends, I mean?” he asked. “Haven’t really done this before, you know.”

Buffy smiled. “For starters, you could buy me a drink.”

Spike returned her smile, rolling his eyes slightly. “I see where this is goin’, Slayer,” he said, but he didn’t protest. “Diet Coke?”

It was exactly right. “That would be nice.”

Willow and Tara were around, though they were mostly together and off to the side. Spike knew that the togetherness that hummed between them was getting harder and harder to hide from the group. Soon, he knew, Willow would have to come clean, but it was nice to see the two of them happy.

Spike felt himself relaxing more over the couple hours spent in the company of Buffy and her friends than he thought possible. He was having a very hard time not laughing at Xander and Anya’s antics.

“If it comes down to a fight, my money’s on Anya,” Buffy whispered in his ear as the two argued about whether or not Anya had moaned Jonathan’s name in bed.

Spike smirked. “There are some things I just didn’t want to know. Like who says what in the throes of passion.”

Jonathan came up to the stage, looking dapper as always. “I’d like to dedicate this next song to a very good friend of mine who’s been going through a rough patch.”

The band took up the strains of “Fools Rush In,” and Spike glanced over at Buffy. It was a perfectly appropriate song, because he certainly felt like a fool, standing and holding out his hand to the Slayer. He might as well have held out his heart, and that never seemed to turn out well for him. “Do friends dance?” he asked with a smile.

“I don’t know. But if they don’t, I think I can make an exception for you.” Buffy took his hand and stood. Spike led her out onto the dance floor and took her into his arms, one hand on Buffy’s waist, the other intertwining her fingers with his.

Jonathan’s voice crooned in the background. “Fools rush in, where angels fear to tread. And so I come to you, my love, my heart above my head. Though I see the danger there, if there’s a chance for me, I do not care.”

“I haven’t danced like this in a long time,” Spike confessed.

“How long?” Buffy asked, suddenly wanting to know more, wanting to know him as well as he knew her. The little things as well as the deep stuff.

He frowned in thought. “Before the wheelchair anyway.”

“That is a long time,” Buffy agreed. “So how is it getting back in the saddle?”

“Like riding a bicycle,” Spike replied.

The song continued to float in the background. “Do you miss her?” Buffy asked suddenly.

“Miss who?”

“Drusilla.”

He gave the question the serious consideration it deserved. “Not really. Not now. Feels like a dream, sometimes—bein’ a vampire, I mean. Every day that goes by, it gets harder to remember what it felt like. Every time I walk out in the sun that I don’t fear getting burned up, makes it that much more unreal. Dru—Dru’s like this dream I had once.” Spike ran a hand over Buffy’s hair. “Right now, everythin’ about what I was before doesn’t seem real.”

Buffy opened her mouth to say something even as the song ended—perhaps to tell Spike how glad she was that he wasn’t a vampire anymore. How nice it was that they could dance together at the Bronze like the two very normal people that they weren’t.

Of course, that’s when Karen rushed in.

Spike had no illusions about his ability to do much in the Slayer realm. Besides, even if Buffy and Jonathan couldn’t handle it, Riley and his soldier-boys would be the ones called in. Jonathan’s position as a special consultant to the army ensured he got whatever cooperation he needed, any time he wanted it.

He listened to Karen’s story, feeling a vague annoyance with Jonathan for stepping in so quickly. And at Buffy for letting him. She was the Slayer, she didn’t need some little—Spike stopped that thought. What was he thinking? This was Jonathan. That explained everything.

Spike pulled her off to the side when it looked as though she had a minute. “Listen, luv, I’m goin’ to take off now. You won’t need me for this.”

Buffy really did want to argue with him. Spike had been a great deal of help in the past, with Giles and the demon thing, and of course with Faith’s body-switching. On the other hand, she had Jonathan, and he was bound to call in the army. Spike and Riley so didn’t need to cross paths at this point.

“Okay,” she finally replied reluctantly. “You could still come if you wanted to, you know.”

He shook his head. “I’d just be in the way. I’ll see you around, Slayer.” Spike walked off, and for a second, Buffy could almost see the confident swagger he used to put on. After a few steps, however, it was gone, replaced by the walk of a very tired man.

Biting her lip, Buffy went back to the performance of her Slayer duties. It never crossed her mind to wonder why, if she was the Slayer, Jonathan needed to be there. Or, alternatively, if Jonathan was Jonathan, why they needed the Slayer at all.

~~~~~

“How do you bloody well expect me to starve to death if you keep feeding me?” Spike asked with a bemused smile. Joyce had pressed yet more leftovers onto him, and he wasn’t sure whether to be insulted or grateful. “I can cook, you know,” he insisted.

Joyce gave him a stern look. “That might be true,” she admitted, though her voice said she thought otherwise. “But you’re here most of the time, and I know you’re still helping Mr. Giles and my daughter when you can. When do you have time to cook?”

It was a legitimate point, and it would have been completely on target, if Spike had even had the money for much more than peanut butter and Ramen noodles. In another month, he’d be caught up on bills and could afford some decent food, but until he made that money back, he was going to be eating lightly. Unless, of course, Joyce had anything to say about it.

He sighed. “Don’t want you worryin’ about me, Joyce. I’ll be quite alright.” Spike turned earnest blue eyes up to meet hers. “Really.”

“I don’t doubt it,” she said sincerely. “But, really, Spike. You’re too thin. I took care of Buffy when she let me. I took care of her friends too. This isn’t about charity.”

Spike was fighting a war between a grin and a scowl. On the one hand, he wanted to protest that he didn’t need a mother, he’d been doing just fine without one for over a century. He also enjoyed her attention way too much to insist that she stop. “If you insist,” he finally said.

“Good,” she stated. “Because I do insist.” Joyce reached out and smoothed an errant curl from his forehead. He really was such a sweet boy, and not so very different than the vampire that had shown up on her doorstep, not with her anyway. The bell on the front door rang, and she left the back office to see to the customer as Spike put his three new meals in the fridge. He really shouldn’t complain. Joyce’s generosity saw to it that he was eating decently at least once a day.

Joyce was surprised to see her daughter at the door. Buffy had come by the gallery more often since Spike had started working there than she ever had in the previous three years combined. Not that it surprised her at all. “Hi, sweetheart,” she said, giving her daughter a warm hug. “I’m guessing you’re here to see Spike.”

Buffy gave her a shamefaced smile. “Yeah. I know I haven’t been by much lately.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Joyce said. “I remember what it was like when I was in college, so I certainly don’t begrudge you your freedom. That’s what it’s all about.” She got a concerned look on her face. “There isn’t anything wrong, is there?”

The Slayer shook her head emphatically. “Nope. Nothing wrong. I just came by to see your favorite employee. Do you think I could steal him for a while?”

Joyce could tell by the look in Buffy’s eyes that she wasn’t telling the whole truth. On the other hand, when had Buffy told her the whole truth? Even after she had found out about her daugter’s identity as the Slayer, Joyce had still never known much of what was really going on. While she knew it was Buffy’s method of protecting her, Joyce also wished she knew her daughter a little better. “Better yet, steal him for the entire day,” Joyce replied in a whisper. “Spike could probably use a little time off.”

Buffy smiled. “I’ll see what I can do,” she promised.

Spike looked up from his work with a smile when he heard her come in. And for a second he thought she might have come just to say hello. His smile dimmed just a bit when he heard her next words. “I need your help.”

Spike bit back a sigh. The day that the Slayer didn’t come to him because she needed something would probably be the day the world ended. “What’s that?”

“I need your help with some research.”

He frowned slightly. “Isn’t that more your Watcher’s purview, Buffy? Don’t know how much help I could be.”

Buffy hesitated. How could she tell him that she suspected Jonathan of a major cover-up? Or maybe it was just a little cover-up. In either case, she shouldn’t be suspecting Jonathan of anything at all. When she’d broached the subject to Giles, even vaguely, he’d immediately seized upon Jonathan’s name and told her that he was certain it would be taken care of in time.

She was the Slayer though. If some monster was loose, and Jonathan wasn’t going to do anything about it, it was her responsibility. The only person she could think of that might be able to help her, that she could trust completely, and who would probably go to the end of the world for her—was Spike.

“Do you trust me?” she asked.

Spike stared at her like she’d just grown a second head. “’Course I trust you, Slayer. What’s goin’ on?”

“I think there’s something loose in Sunnydale,” Buffy said, then explained the situation with Karen the night before. “That same thing came and attacked Tara too,” she said, knowing that would get his attention. “We need to find this thing.”

Spike shook his head. “Still don’t see where I come in,” he admitted. “You’ve got Jonathan and whatever soldiers you need to do your bidding.”

“Jonathan said whatever that mark on the thing’s head was, it wasn’t important. But I think it might be.” Buffy made the last statement with a bit of defiance, used to having everyone question her abilities and go straight to, well, Jonathan.

“Okay,” Spike said simply.

Buffy stared at him. “Okay?”

“Okay,” he agreed. “I trust you. You say it’s important, we’ll look it up.” Spike glanced at the clock on the wall. “Let’s go grab lunch,” he suggested. “We can figure out the plan while we eat.”

~~~~~

They didn’t get much planning done for a while, however. Spike and Buffy took their leave of her mom, who told them to give her regards to that “wonderful young man, Jonathan,” and especially to tell him how much she liked the new CD. After that, they just got to talking about strange experiences on the Hellmouth. There happened to be a lot of stories.

“So let me get this straight,” Spike said with an incredulous look. “Rayne, the bloke that turned Giles into a Fyarl, is the same guy that had somethin’ to do with Rupert sleepin’ with your mum?”

Buffy hid a grin. “Band candy,” she agreed. “You should have seen Giles. He was a little like you as a vampire, only not quite as evil.”

“But all the grown-ups were actin’ like teenagers?” Spike sighed. “I would’ve liked to see that,” he admitted. “Must have been right entertaining.”

Buffy shook her head. “More like disturbing. And Ethan was also responsible for turning people into their Halloween costumes. But you were around for that one.”

“That was neat,” Spike said, smiling as he remembered that night. He saw the look on Buffy’s face. “At the time, it was!” he defended himself.

Buffy couldn’t hide a smile. It hadn’t been “neat,” as he’d called it, but putting herself in his shoes at the time, she could understand why he might say that. It had come in handy though, in the long run. The Judge would probably still be alive if Xander hadn’t had his brilliant idea, along with the knowledge and the means to see it through. “I get your point,” she said.

Getting down to business finally, Spike looked suddenly serious. “So how are we goin’ to go about this, Slayer?”

“I don’t know,” Buffy admitted. “I have no idea where to start looking for this symbol and what it means.”

“Let’s see it then,” Spike said, watching as she drew it on one of the napkins. He frowned, studying it for a couple minutes in silence. “Think I know where to start lookin’, knowin’ what we know, anyway.”

“What we know?” Buffy asked blankly, not understanding.

Spike raised an eyebrow. “If this is about Jonathan, an’ he knows what it is, then he might be behind it. An’ if he’s behind it, ‘s got everythin’ to do with who he is.”

“You actually believe me?” Buffy asked.

Spike shrugged. “It doesn’t feel right, Jonathan bein’ the bad guy, but I’m willin’ to suspend my disbelief if you think that’s the right thing to do. ‘Sides, I was bored at Giles’ usually. I think I remember seein’ that when I was flippin’ through one of his books.”

“Can you get into Giles apartment?”

Spike raised an eyebrow, looking at her as though she’d just asked a stupid question. “I’ve still got my key, Buffy. But that doesn’t help us if Giles is there. How are we supposed to explain that we need his books an’ not him?”

Buffy smiled. “Leave that to me. We’ll go, you tell him that you think you left a shirt there or something, and then you start looking while I provide the distraction. Trust me. It works like a charm.”

~~~~~

Buffy was trying hard not to giggle as they walked down the street towards Spike’s apartment. Giles had been at home, but between the two of them they had managed to keep him from realizing that they were borrowing a few of his books. The Slayer hadn’t been happy to find out Spike’s car was back at his apartment building, and they’d be stuck carrying several heavy volumes on foot, but the whole gig had been like old times, with her providing the distraction and someone else doing the grabbing. It had been fun.

Spike looked over at Buffy and frowned. She was obviously doing her best not to laugh, and she seemed positively giddy about something. “What’s up, luv?”

She gave him a wide grin. “I haven’t done that since—” Buffy faltered. She wasn’t sure she should bring up the last time she’d stolen books from Giles.

Spike looked at her expectantly. “Since when?”

“Since that Halloween Ethan Rayne turned us into our costumes,” she admitted. “I distracted Giles so Willow could sneak into his office and steal the Watcher’s diaries. I wanted to find out what kind of girls Angel liked when he was our age.” Buffy could see the change come over Spike’s face, and she immediately knew what had caused it. That was one of the problems with being with Spike. Riley had never known about Angel, and Buffy really wasn’t planning on telling him any time in the near (or distant) future. But Spike knew. He’d been there through the whole thing, even if he had been on the opposing team.

“Don’t do that.”

Spike scowled. “Do what?”

“Don’t look like that,” Buffy replied. “I’ve moved on, Spike. If you can say Drusilla’s name, I can say Angel’s name.”

“It’s not that easy,” he replied. “You don’t just bleedin’ ‘move on’ from things like that.”

Buffy shrugged. “Fine. Then I’ve accepted it. I can’t be with Angel. Angel can’t be with me. There isn’t anything either one of us can do about it. So what’s the point in not at least trying to just deal?”

“What if we could figure out what the Initiative used on me?” Spike demanded. “What if we could find it and use it on Angel too? What then?”

Buffy had thought about it. She’d had several sleepless nights thinking about it. Spike was right, in a way. You didn’t just move on from your first love. They stayed with you, became a part of you, until they were a piece of everything you did and thought and felt. But at the same time, Buffy wondered if it would really ever work. There was so much that had happened, so much between them. And, in the end, Angel had left. He had gone without even saying good-bye, because that’s what he felt was what was best for her. Buffy wasn’t sure she would ever be able to see him again without remembering that scene at the high school, seeing his back through the smoke.

“I don’t know,” she stated quietly. “But Angel gave up, Spike. He left.”

Spike stared at her. They had paused in front of his building, and now he studied her face as though he had never seen it before. Perhaps he hadn’t, because there was something in her eyes that seemed different. “Dru left. She said—she didn’t want me anymore.” Spike wasn’t quite ready to tell her what Drusilla had really said. “I would have stayed with her until I turned to dust.”

“I know.” There was a shared understanding there. They had both lost their first loves; their hearts were no longer completely their own. Someone else would always own a piece of them.

It was Spike who broke the moment first. “I have to warn you,” he said, motioning her inside the front door, which did not lock. “It’s not much.”

“That’s okay. Just as long as I don’t see any roaches, we’ll be fine.”

“Haven’t seen any of those yet,” Spike replied. He led her up the stairs to his door, 2C, and unlocked it, allowing her to enter first. He couldn’t see her face, so her first impression was a mystery to him.

Buffy wasn’t all that impressed. The apartment itself wasn’t much, as he’d warned her, but it wasn’t horrible. Maybe it was a little on the small side, but with a few homey touches, it might be liveable. The paint would have to go, though; it was a truly nasty shade of off-white.

What made the whole place depressing was the lack of—anything. There weren’t any pictures on the wall, the only piece of furniture was a ratty green chair in the middle of the living room, and looking back through the open door of the bedroom suggested that it wasn’t much better back there. “You know, if you decorated the place wouldn’t be all that bad.”

Spike smiled ruefully. “Landlord wanted three months rent up front since I didn’t have much in the way of credit,” he replied. “I’ll decorate when I get a bit of cash, yeah?”

Buffy frowned. She wondered what else he was doing without in order to pay three months rent up front, but it wasn’t any of her business. “Well, I might not be Martha Stewart, but I can use a paint brush,” she offered.

“Thanks,” he replied. He sat down on the floor, waving her to take the chair. “Let’s see if we can find that symbol you’re lookin’ for.”

Buffy plopped down in front of him. “Good.” She grabbed the first book and started flipping through it. Spike had taken the five he thought most likely to have contained the symbol. All of them were books on spells, and most had some symbol associated with them.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” Buffy had explained to Spike on the way to the deli where they’d had lunch. “Doesn’t it seem weird that Jonathan’s so good at everything? He graduated from med school, and he’s only 18. He starred in the Matrix, but he never left town.”

Spike had simply looked at her and said quietly, and with perfect sincerity, “Buffy, he’s Jonathan. But if you think somethin’ fishy’s goin’ on, then I trust you.”

Buffy flipped another page and looked over at Spike who was squinting at the small print on a page in his own book. When on earth had he started trusting her like that? “You can put your glasses on, you know,” she told him. “I’m not going to make nasty comments or anything.”

He glanced up at her, then smiled sheepishly. “Yeah. Right. Didn’t think about it.” Spike reached into the pocket of his dark blue, button down shirt and put the glasses on, then went back to reading.

Buffy flipped a few more pages and then glanced back up to see Spike staring at her. When he saw her look up, his eyes flashed down to his page, as though he’d been reading the whole time. Buffy went back to reading as well, but again she looked up and her eyes caught his.

“What are we doing, Buffy?”

“Researching,” she replied flippantly.

He shook his head. “No. I mean what are we doing? You an’ me?”

“I don’t know,” she confessed. “Does it matter?”

“Yeah,” Spike said honestly. “It really does.”

Buffy frowned. She wanted to do the “play it by ear” thing. Wasn’t it the girl who usually asked where a relationship was going and the guy who didn’t want to talk about it? “We’re friends. We’re seeing where this is going.”

“Where can this go?” he asked. “Buffy, I was a vampire up until a couple months ago. You hated me till a few days ago—”

“More than a few days ago,” she corrected him.

Spike didn’t seem to hear her. “You just broke up with your boyfriend. Doesn’t that make me the rebound guy?”

“The rebound guy?” Buffy stared at him.

“Innit that what they call it?” he demanded. “When you start a new relationship right after an old one?” Buffy reached out to touch his arm, but he pulled away and moved to where she couldn’t reach him. She stared at him, hurt.

“Don’t,” Spike said shortly. “I can’t think when you’re touchin’ me.”

Buffy was oddly flattered, despite the sting of his withdrawal. It was nice to hear you could stop a guy’s mental processes with just a casual touch. “Fine, Spike. What do you want me to tell you?”

“Tell me this isn’t some way to get over your soldier,” he pleaded. “I dunno. Tell me I mean something to you, somethin’ more than just needin’ my help every so often. I—you know how I feel about you, Slayer.”

There was a naked vulnerability in Spike’s eyes. It was, she realized suddenly, how he had managed to capture the hearts of everyone she knew. In the same instant, Buffy realized that she could destroy him with a word, more surely than she would have been able to with a stake when he was a vampire.

Buffy looked away, and Spike thought perhaps he had ruined it. He was always and forever doing that: opening himself up to failure with a girl beyond his reach. She looked back to meet his eyes. “You’re not the rebound guy, Spike. If you want to get real technical, Parker was the rebound guy.”

Spike blinked, not recognizing the name, and then turned a deep shade of red as he remembered who Buffy was referring to. And, not incidentally, remembered the first time he had faced her in sunlight. “Buffy—”

“You could also say that Riley was the rebound guy from Parker,” Buffy said, as though he had never interrupted her. “You don’t qualify, since I was the one that broke up with Riley. At least, I think that’s how it works.” She looked at him, waiting silently until he met her eyes. “You’re the guy who saw me, who really saw me, when no one else did. You tell me what that makes you.”

Spike swallowed hard. “I don’t know,” he said. “How can I tell you that, when I don’t even know who I am?”

“You’ll figure it out.” Buffy scooted closer to him. “I don’t have any doubt about that.” He was still silent, and she could see his own doubts swimming in his eyes. They were pools she could happily drown in. With a gentle hand, she drew his face down to hers, their lips meeting for a tentative, chaste kiss. She didn’t think he was ready for much more than that yet.

Spike pulled back slightly and let his forehead rest against hers. Words seemed inadequate, and so he stayed silent, even though he had never had trouble in the past finding the right thing to say. (Or sometimes precisely the wrong thing.)

He glanced over at his book, to where the pages had flipped open, revealing the symbol they had been searching for. “An’ there it is,” he said quietly, breaking the moment.

Buffy followed his eyes and gave a soft chuckle. “Yep. Apparently kissing and research does go together. Just wait till we tell Giles about this new breakthrough.”

“It’s an augmentation spell,” Spike said quietly, skimming the text. “It makes the wizard into a paragon, everyone’s ideal. In order to balance things out though, the spell also creates the wizard’s opposite—everyone’s nightmare.”

Buffy frowned. “The monster. But—does this mean Jonathan did a spell to make us think he’s cool? That’s what created the monster?”

“Looks like.” Spike was troubled. “In that case, it’s hard to say what the ‘real world’ looks like, what Jonathan’s really like.”

Buffy considered that for a minute. “Do you have the Jonathan swimsuit calendar?” Spike gave her a horrified look. “All right, sorry I asked. It’s just, I think I’ve seen this on him before. If I could just look to double-check.”

Spike sighed. “Just a minute.” He disappeared out the front door of his apartment and reappeared about five minutes later. “Mrs. Wolsinski next door’s a big fan,” he explained, holding out the calendar to her. “Figured she might let me borrow it for a few minutes, ‘specially since I told her I’d get Jonathan’s autograph.”

Buffy quickly flipped through to July, and then held the picture out to Spike. He nodded grimly. “Yeah, that pretty much clinches it,” he agreed. He gave her a half-smile. “Better return this real quick before she starts havin’ heart palpitations.”

When he came back, Buffy looked up from the text, focusing on Spike. “The book says that Jonathan and the monster are connected. If we kill the monster, everything will go back to normal.”

“Then we’ll go kill the monster,” Spike said.

Buffy looked surprised, and then worried. “Do you think we can?”

“You can,” he said simply. “You’re the Slayer, Buffy, in this world or any other. Just give you a pointy object an’ point you in the right direction, an’ the job’ll get done.”

“But Jonathan—”

“Jonathan’s Jonathan,” Spike replied. “You’re the Slayer. This time, you’re the one who gets to show ‘em how it’s done.”

Buffy nodded slowly and took a deep breath. “Okay. So point me in the right direction.”

“Who, me?” Spike asked.

Buffy smiled. “You’re the smart one, right?”

“Right,” Spike muttered, looking at the explanation of the spell again. “You think you’re up to beatin’ the info out of somebody?”

Buffy hesitated. She usually watched Jonathan beat the information out of people. “I don’t know.” Spike regarding her calmly, his face holding an infinite patience. “Yes. I mean, absolutely. Willy’s?”

“Sounds like a fair place to start,” Spike said. He frowned slightly. “Some of ‘em might still know me there.”

Buffy shrugged. “So what? You’ll be with the Slayer.”

~~~~~

“That was kind of fun,” Buffy said as they made their way to the hills where Willy had said he’d heard some vampires had gotten kicked out of a cave.

Spike smirked. “That’s my girl.”

Buffy threw him a look, but decided to let it go for now. It wasn’t that she minded the endearment. “Shouldn’t we—”

“Buffy. What are you doing out here?” Jonathan seemed to appear from nowhere in front of them. “And Spike. It’s a little late to be going for a stroll.”

“We were lookin’ for a beast,” Spike replied.

Buffy could feel Spike at her side, a tangible presence. “We found the spell, Jonathan. We need to kill it.”

Jonathan looked from one to the other. “I guess you guys figured out that you make a great team,” he said, rather lamely. He sighed. “I’ll come with you. As the beast’s power wanes, the Slayer will get stronger.”

“Let’s get this done,” Buffy replied, trying to portray more confidence than she was actually feeling. As she followed Jonathan, she felt Spike’s hand sneak into hers, and she gave it a squeeze.

The cave loomed before them and all three could hear inarticulate growls and menacing sounds from the interior. “Maybe you should stay out here,” Buffy suggested to Spike.

“Forget it,” he said firmly. “’m goin’ in with you.”

“All right,” Buffy replied. “But try to stay out of the way.”

It was really the first time Spike had watched a fight that he wasn’t involved in. Fighting should not be a spectator sport, as far as Spike was concerned, but without some sort of weapon he wouldn’t be much use. Watching was interesting, however, because he could see the ebb and flow of a fight in a way you couldn’t see it while you were right in the middle. Buffy visibly weakened as the beast won the fight, while Jonathan became nothing more than a frightened nancy-boy when Buffy was winning.

Buffy was thrown down next to the chasm at some point during the fight, and Spike realized that the monster was going to be able to finish her off. With a deep growl, he mustered a burst of speed. He and Jonathan hit the beast at the same time, sending it flying over the edge. Spike managed to catch himself, but Jonathan went over the edge. It was only the supernatural reflexes of the Slayer that saved him from taking a long fall.

They all felt it at the same time, as the spell was broken. Spike and Buffy stared at each other, ignoring the trembling Jonathan, who was looking badly shaken. “You alright, luv?” Spike asked. Things were falling into place now, memories of perpetrating things against her as a vampire, while in the altered world Jonathan had been the target.

Buffy nodded. She reached out and touched his shoulder. “Let’s get out of here,” she said. “You look ready to drop, and we need to make sure everybody else is okay.”

They both looked at Jonathan, who seemed to be waiting for the ax to fall. As well he might. Buffy and Spike looked at each other, and Spike, who knew a little something about wanting to be other than you were, shook his head. “Let’s go, Jonathan. We’ll walk you home.”

~~~~~

The next day, Spike was still shaking his head, thinking about the world Jonathan had created for himself. Everyone seemed to be feeling a vague disappointment, though no one could really say why. Xander had probably taken it the hardest. Buffy had spoken with the gang the night before, but he had debriefed Joyce when he arrived at the gallery the next morning. He’d come to realize that Joyce often got the short end of the stick when it came to explanations.

Lunchtime rolled around, and the bell above the door rang. Spike turned to greet the customer, only to see Buffy watching him. “Buffy. What’s wrong, luv? ‘nother apocalypse coming?”

“Nope,” Buffy replied. “I just thought you might want some lunch.” She held up a brown paper sack. “And maybe some company,” she added.

Spike frowned in confusion, trying to decipher the motivation behind that. And, slowly, it dawned on him that she just wanted to spend time with him. “Yeah. Yeah, that would be right nice, luv.”

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