Buffy blinked at the sight in front of her. “Spike? What—”
“Thought you might be hungry.”
He said it the way he said everything these days—the way he’d spoken the night they had taken on Glory and won. Tentative and yet bold at the same time, declaring himself with no expectation of being rewarded. Tonight, he held a paper bag, and Buffy could smell the Chinese food as her mouth began to water.
“I am, but how did you know?”
“Dawn said she was spendin’ the night with Janice, an’ I know you.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“You won’t eat unless there’s someone else around.”
It was true; Buffy knew she’d lost some weight, but money was still tight, and she sucked at cooking, which meant that there weren’t a lot of options as far as food went. If Dawn was around, Buffy was more inclined to make the attempt.
“Come on in.” She held the door open for him, knowing that he generally needed an invitation these days—not because she had rescinded his invitation, but because he no longer took his ability to enter for granted.
Knowing Spike, he had every intention of eating with her, and Buffy led the way into the kitchen where she grabbed a couple of plates. Spike started pulling containers out of the paper sack, and her eyes widened when she saw how much food he’d brought.
“Are we expecting company?” she asked, bemused.
“Bloody hell, I hope not,” he muttered fervently. “Didn’t know what you’d like, though, an’ I figured you’d have leftovers, right?”
“Yeah.” She agreed because there was no possibility of taking the food back now, and to do otherwise would appear ungrateful. Buffy didn’t want to know where he’d gotten the money for it, and decided it was better not to ask.
They ate in companionable silence, Spike sticking mainly to the spicy dishes and Buffy trying a little bit of everything.
She was a little surprised when he reached across the kitchen counter to snitch the last dumpling, and Buffy glared at him. “Hey! Give that back!”
Spike deliberately dipped it into the spicy chili sauce and held it up. “Make me.”
Buffy used her speed to her advantage, getting around the counter and into his personal space, reaching for the dumpling. He danced out of her way as she reached for it again, and they scuffled briefly.
Spike managed to capture both of her wrists in one hand, then popped the dumpling into his mouth.
“Spike!” she protested.
He just smirked at her as he finished chewing, and Buffy suddenly wanted nothing more than to wipe that expression off of his face.
No, she wanted to kiss the expression off of his face.
The playful mood changed dramatically, and Buffy could feel the tension thickening the air between them. All she would have to do is lean a little bit closer, and…
She shook her head and took a step back. Spike released her, letting her go with a final caress.
Buffy cleared her throat. “We should clean up.”
“Sure.” His voice was hoarse, and she knew that he’d felt the same tension, but that he was waiting for her to take the lead.
“I can’t believe you! It’s so not fair!”
Dawn’s voice filled the house, and Buffy winced. Her sister definitely had a pair of lungs on her, and she used them to her advantage. In this case, “not fair” referred to Buffy’s refusal to allow her to go to a party with Janice.
Although Buffy knew that Joyce had been more lenient in that area, that was only because their mother hadn’t been totally aware of the things that were out and about in Sunnydale at night. And Buffy had been able to take care of herself.
Dawn might not be in danger from Glory, but there were plenty of other things out there who would love to get their claws into the Slayer’s little sister.
“If there aren’t going to be any adults there, you can’t go,” Buffy said, trying to sound firm but not bitchy.
No matter how much time had passed since their mother’s death, Buffy suspected that they would never quite have a handle on the new terms of their relationship.
“Mom let you go wherever you wanted,” Dawn accused. “You went to the Bronze practically every night.”
“I’m the Slayer, and I was with Willow and Xander.”
“I’ll be with Janice!”
“That’s my point,” Buffy said, unable to resist making the snarky comment.
Dawn made a sound of pure frustration, then stomped out of the kitchen and up the stairs. Buffy felt the slamming of her bedroom door, and she sighed. Hopefully, Dawn wouldn’t try to sneak out and go.
The soft knock on the back door had a reluctant smile pulling at her lips. “Come in, Spike.”
“Is it safe?”
“How much of that did you hear?”
She sighed. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with her.”
“Let her sulk, then offer to let her do somethin’ else that’ll distract her,” Spike advised. “She’s a teen, an’ she has a short attention span.”
“And the ability to hold a grudge,” Buffy responded wryly. “Do you—” She pointed outside, and he slipped back out the door.
They sat on the steps, the stars shining above them, and Buffy marveled at how easy it was to be with him. He lit a cigarette, and Buffy reached for the lighter, playing with it idly. “Is it old?”
“Older than you are.”
“Where did you get it?”
“Don’t think that’s a question you want an answer to.” At her expression, he sighed, “I stole it. Let’s leave it at that.”
Buffy knew that he meant he’d stolen it from someone he’d killed. It was one of those moments when she was reminded of who he was, and what he was.
She wondered how he could be so disarmingly beautiful, when she knew that he was capable of great violence.
She wondered what it said about her that she was still attracted to him.
“Look, Slayer,” he began.
Buffy shook her head, silencing him. “Forget about it, Spike.”
Their eyes met, and for a moment, Buffy wished she that she wasn’t the Slayer, because she might have been able to ignore common sense and press her lips to his.
She was gasping with pain, staring in disbelief at the slash that ran down her right calf. Buffy couldn’t quite believe that she’d been defeated by a tombstone.
Well, a vampire and a tombstone.
Scrambling for the stake that lay just out of reach, Buffy felt the vampire’s hand seize her hair, and she couldn’t help the yelp of pain that left her mouth.
She struggled, knowing that if she didn’t manage to get loose, she’d be dead in minutes—or worse.
The vampire abruptly released her, and Buffy made a desperate grab for her weapon. When she’d struggled to her feet, she saw Spike raining blows on her foe, his expression fierce.
“Spike!” she called, trying to get his attention, to tell him that she was okay, and he needn’t be so upset.
Buffy realized that he didn’t have a weapon on him, and she tossed hers. He caught it deftly and plunged it into the vampire’s heart.
He was at her side a moment later. “You’re hurt.”
“I’ll be okay. It’s just a flesh wound.”
“Yeah, but it’s bleeding badly enough that it’s gonna attract every vampire in within a mile’s radius.” Ignoring her protests, he slipped an arm around her waist. “My place is closer.”
They had taken a few steps in the direction of his crypt before Buffy realized that she hadn’t thanked him for coming to her rescue.
Not that she’d needed rescuing; she would have been fine. Still, it was nice to have someone watching her back.
He glanced at her, surprise in his blue eyes, before shrugging off her gratitude. “I’ve got a vested interest in keeping you alive.”
“Havin’ you around definitely improves the scenery.”
It wasn’t the only reason, she thought, as he lent her his support on the way to his crypt. She remembered his rather disastrous declaration as well as he, but it remained something unspoken. Spike was in love with her, which was the constant elephant in the room.
“Here.” He led her to his ratty old chair, then disappeared. Buffy could hear him rummaging around, only to reappear with his hands full of first aid items.
She let him doctor her wound in silence, his hands surprisingly gentle. Her eyes drifted shut, and she wondered if he felt every touch as acutely as she did.
In spite of his words, one hand remained on her knee, unmoving. The expression on his face was both hopeful and defiant, as though he was waiting for her to throw his assistance back in his face, to tell him never to touch her again.
Instead, she smiled, placing her hand over his. It was as much as she could offer in gratitude, even though she’d kissed him once before to say thank you.
She knew that this time, if she started, she’d never stop.
Buffy let her friends’ words wash over her, not really paying attention. She was watching the crowd, wondering if Spike would show up. She’d mentioned that they were going to be at the Bronze on the off chance he’d stop by.
“So, what do you say, Buffy?”
Realizing belatedly that Xander had been talking to her, she offered an apologetic grimace. “I’m sorry?”
“Richard, from work?” He frowned, disapproval in his eyes. “I’ve told you about him before.”
Buffy sighed. Xander had mentioned him all too often, including the fact that he was single. “I don’t really want to date anyone right now, Xan.”
“It’s been awhile since Riley left,” he replied. “Maybe it’s time you get back on the horse.”
Buffy could see the looks that Willow and Tara exchanged. “It’s okay if Buffy doesn’t want a blind date,” Willow said.
Xander looked sheepish. “It’s not a blind date. I just told Richard that he could meet us here tonight.”
The alarm must have shown on her face, because Tara gave Xander a gently disapproving look. “You might have warned her.”
“It’s just a friends thing.”
Buffy sighed. “What did you tell him about me, Xander?”
“Nothing.” When all four women stared at him, he winced. “That you were single and that you might be interested.”
“Might be interested in what?”
Buffy closed her eyes at the sound of Spike’s voice. She wondered if the situation could possibly be more awkward; a moment later, she had her answer.
“My friend.” Xander’s smirk wasn’t exactly attractive. “He’s single, she’s single, he actually has a heartbeat. It’s a match made in heaven.”
Buffy would have responded. She would have told Xander to knock it off, that she had no interest in Richard or anyone else. Or at least that she had no interest in anyone else whose name wasn’t Spike.
She might have said any or all of those things, except that Richard chose just that moment to walk up.
“Hey, Xander. I’m glad I found you guys in this crowd.”
Buffy watched as Spike seemed to shut down. “I’d better go, let all you people enjoy your table.”
She doubted that anyone who didn’t know that Spike was a vampire would have caught the slight emphasis on “people,” but she did.
Buffy shot Xander a look, and then glanced around deliberately. “Here, Richard, why don’t you take my seat. I was just leaving. I need to make sure that Dawn’s home before curfew.”
Leaving before anyone could protest, she followed the route that Spike had taken. He’d gone out the back, and she found him standing there, leaning up against the wall, a lit cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
“You didn’t have to leave.” She didn’t know what else to say, or how to explain.
“You had a date.”
“That was Xander’s idea, not mine.”
“But you went along with it.”
“He told me right before you showed up. What was I supposed to say?”
She was growing increasingly frustrated, not knowing how to explain that she didn’t really want to be with anyone right now, that her life was too full for a boyfriend. That she was happy with what she had.
“You could have said thanks, but no thanks.”
“I think I just did.”
Spike finally met her eyes, his gaze steady. Whatever he saw in her face must have satisfied him, because he simply nodded, a faint smile curving his lips. “You want some company tonight?”
Buffy smiled, grateful that he seemed to understand. “Yeah. I’ve got to wait for Dawn to make sure she doesn’t break curfew.”
“I’ll walk you home.”
She smiled, but didn’t reply, knowing that she didn’t have to say anything.
Buffy still couldn’t quite believe it. There were days when she was certain that she’d entered some kind of alternate universe, where vampires and Slayers lived side-by-side in peace.
And then she went on patrol and staked a few, which just proved that the end of the world hadn’t come while she was sleeping.
Right now was one of those moments, however, when she felt incredulous and amazed and grateful all at once.
Spike sat next to Dawn at the kitchen table, patiently helping her with her Spanish homework. Buffy had no idea if his accent was at all correct, but he was at least fluent—even if she suspected that not all the words he was teaching her were teacher-approved.
For her part, Dawn was preening under the attention, and actually getting through her homework, which was all Buffy asked.
Scenes like this gave her hope that maybe this strange, fragile thing between her and Spike could actually work. That just maybe a Slayer and a vampire could find some middle ground.
Spike glanced up to see her watching them and raised an eyebrow in silent question. Buffy just smiled and shook her head, indicating that she needed nothing for the moment. He smiled, a real, warm smile, and it shook her to her core.
There were so many obstacles standing in their way, and yet none of them seemed to matter in moments such as this one.
It made Buffy think that someday they wouldn’t matter at all.
“Come on, Spike. It’ll be fun.”
“I just don’t think that’s the best idea.”
“It’s the finishing touch! We’ve got everything else.”
Buffy stood at the top of the stairs; Spike and Dawn’s voices carried easily, although from the sound of things, they were trying to be quiet. She took a hesitant step or two closer, not wanting to give away the fact that she’d heard.
Buffy knew the expression that came with that particular tone of voice; she also knew that while she was immune to her sister’s pleading expression, Spike wasn’t.
“Fine, but I’m tellin’ her that the mistletoe was your idea.”
Buffy’s eyes widened as she realized exactly what they’d been talking about. She could step out and stop them now. She probably should.
But if she didn’t…
With a small smile and the beginnings of a plan, Buffy went back to bed.
He lay spread out, his skin unnaturally white, and the only sign of life the occasional twitch of his hand as he dreamt.
Buffy took a hesitant step closer; she’d come to thank him, and to ask him to come over once the sun went down. There had been a part of her that had wanted to invite him over while her friends were still there, to kiss him under the excuse of the mistletoe, to pretend she’d had no choice while making clear what she thought of him.
That had seemed wrong, though, an imperfect time for such a gesture, to express the feelings that had been building for months now.
She’d had an excuse to kiss him last time, too. This time, she simply wanted to kiss him because she could, because it was what she wanted.
The sound of her name startled her out of her thoughts. He hadn’t stirred, and she quickly realized that he was dreaming—of her. She saw the way the sheet moved, and she knew exactly what kind of dream it was.
With a knowing smile, Buffy moved to the side of the bed, looking down at his familiar face. She had a feeling that her life was about to change drastically and not at all.
His eyes fluttered open, and he frowned slightly as recognition replaced dreaming. “Buffy?”
She pressed her lips to his, glad that she hadn’t waited for an excuse this time.