Part I: Kismet
“…Come into my world/of loneliness/and wickedness/and bitterness/Unlock my love/Unsuffer me/Take away the pain/Unbruise, unbloody/Wash away the stain/Anoint my head/With your sweet kiss/My joy is dead/I long for bliss/I long for knowledge/Whisper in my ear/Undo my logic, undo my fear/Unsuffer me.” ~Lucinda Williams, “Unsuffer Me”
If there was one thing she knew, it was that Spike couldn’t be trusted. That didn’t explain why she was about to invite him inside her tiny apartment.
Or maybe it did. Maybe she had a death wish, and this was a way of ending the pain without having to do it herself. God knew that she’d contemplated suicide a hundred times over the last few months; she just couldn’t bring herself to do it.
Standing on the other side of the invisible barrier, she stared at his familiar face, wondering what was going through his head, if Spike thought this situation as strange as she did.
“Come in, Spike.”
It was that easy.
One Week Earlier
Spike had been doing everything he could to forget Drusilla, and he hadn’t been succeeding. She had blamed him for taking away her “daddy” and had claimed that the Slayer was floating about his head. She’d even made a couple of attempts on his life. He could have dealt with that, if Drusilla hadn’t shacked up with a fungus demon; that’s where he’d drawn the line.
He had no idea how he’d wound up in Los Angeles, but it was a big city and easy to find distractions. Spike had taken to doing his hunting more carefully than usual, choosing targets that would present more of a challenge. He picked fights, and he drank as much as he could afford—or steal, which was his preferred method of procuring alcohol.
For the first time in over a hundred years, however, Spike felt as though he was just existing; without Drusilla by his side, life had lost its shine.
Hands in his pockets, wandering down a particularly seedy street, Spike paused next to a diner window. A flash of dark hair caught his attention, and for a moment, he thought he saw Drusilla. It was ridiculous, of course. Dru was still in Brazil, living it up with whatever demon was doing it for her this week.
The moment he paused, however, Spike saw the last person he expected to see in L.A. Buffy stood next to a table, order pad in one hand, pen in another, and dressed in a red and white gingham dress.
“What have we here?” Spike murmured.
She moved from one table to the next, ignoring the proposition that one of the customers gave her as she passed. For a moment, Spike contemplated going inside but stopped at the last moment. Whatever might have happened, it wasn’t any of his business. Their truce had ended when he’d left Sunnydale with Dru. That had been the deal.
But that didn’t explain why he was still thinking of her when he woke the next evening.
Buffy sometimes caught sight of him—always out of the corner of her eye, always a fleeting glimpse, but she was always proven wrong when she turned to get a good look. It seemed that every tall, dark-haired man resembled Angel, and it was driving her crazy. All she’d wanted was to leave that part of her life behind, to become someone else.
The past always followed you, though; she should have figured that out by now.
It was one of the reasons she’d been so thrown by the glimpse of another man entirely, the shock of white-blond hair appearing on the other side of the diner window. She’d had customers to tend to, however, and by the time she’d had a chance to get a good look, he was gone.
If he’d even been there in the first place. It was hard to say these days.
Buffy finished her shift with a sigh of relief, trudging home on sore feet. She snorted as the thought crossed her mind. The tiny studio apartment was hardly “home,” but it was better than the streets. Even a Slayer would have a hard time surviving with no shelter, and no income.
The job sucked, but Buffy knew she’d been lucky to get it. Turnover was pretty high, and the owner had been desperate for help—desperate enough not to care about her references, or her age.
Entering the dingy apartment, Buffy dropped her purse on the floor next to the door before checking to be sure the flimsy lock had clicked. She gave some thought to dinner but quickly decided that she was too tired to eat.
Stripping off the clothes she’d changed into after work, she collapsed on the lumpy mattress and squeezed her eyes shut. When she had her eyes closed, she didn’t have to contemplate her surroundings.
As usual, she dropped into a restless sleep immediately and right into her recurring nightmare. It was always the same—standing in front of Angel, watching Acathla opening behind him, knowing that she had no choice but to plunge the sword into his chest.
Over and over again, she heard his shocked whisper, “Buffy.”
Over and over again, Buffy whispered, “I’m sorry” to the empty place where he had been.
Tonight, however, it was different. She still plunged the sword into Angel’s chest, Angel still disappeared into the hell dimension, but this time she heard a half-familiar voice behind her. “He’s not comin’ back.”
“I know that.” It was like they were picking up an old conversation, one that had never happened. “He’s gone.”
“I know the feeling.”
Buffy turned to face him. Spike’s face was carefully blank, but she thought she saw pain in his blue eyes.
Had his eyes always been that blue? Or was this her imagination playing tricks on her?
“How would you know?” she demanded.
But he was gone, and Buffy was suddenly awake, staring into the darkness. “What the hell?” she muttered.
Buffy hadn’t given Spike another thought since leaving Sunnydale; she’d been too busy missing Angel to think of much else. Why he would enter her usual nightmare was beyond her, but it felt a little like a Slayer dream.
Rising, Buffy got a glass of water and went to the window, looking out onto the poorly-lit street, hearing the call of police sirens in the distance. It was probably nothing; she had caught a glimpse of someone who bore a passing resemblance to Spike, and her subconscious had done the rest.
He had been there, after all. Buffy knew that she probably owed him her life, even if the very idea pissed her off to no end.
Shrugging off the memories, she went back to bed, hoping that this time she would sleep dreamlessly.
She was haunting him; that was the only explanation that Spike could come up with. The chit was the sodding Slayer and all he could think about was her. He wanted to know what had happened to Angel, and why she was in Los Angeles working in that shitty diner.
The thought occurred to him that if Angel was dead—and if he killed Buffy—Drusilla would have to take him back. With the Slayer dead, his dark princess certainly couldn’t claim that she was “floating about his head” or any of that rot.
He loitered outside the diner, keeping an eye out for Buffy, not wanting to be seen. Spike had no idea if she was still acting as the Slayer, but he wasn’t going to push his luck.
It would be better to take her by surprise; Spike didn’t think she’d seen him the previous night.
Waiting didn’t come naturally to him, but Spike stuck it out, his curiosity keeping him there long after he normally would have left. He finally caught sight of her moving through the diner. She looked much the same as she had the previous night, but now he could see clearly that she’d lost much of the fire that had first attracted him.
Maybe Buffy was the Slayer, but that didn’t mean Spike was blind. He could see the attraction; he just wasn’t stupid enough to fall in love, unlike Angel. Give him half a chance, and he’d shag her and drain her dry, though.
She looked up from the table she was waiting on and met his eyes through the glass. He could see that she recognized him, but her face remained expressionless.
Spike frowned as she went back to taking orders. Her apparent disregard made up his mind for him, and he strode through the front door, ignoring the jangle of the bell overhead.
Finding an empty booth, he slid in, drumming his fingers on the table and making a great show of impatience. After a couple of minutes, he called out, “Hey! Can I get some service over here?”
After a few moments, Buffy showed up with her order pad ready, her nametag reading “Anne.” “What can I get for you?”
Spike raised his eyebrows. “What? You’re not even going to say hi?”
“Shut up,” she hissed. “Look, you don’t make trouble, and I don’t stake you, okay? I need this job.”
There was a heavy silence as Spike considered her request. A part of him wanted to make trouble for her, to make her as miserable as he felt, to ruin her life as she’d ruined his. But there was another part of him that saw how vulnerable she was, that knew she would be in his debt if he did nothing of the sort. He could order and leave her a good tip, and then she would owe him in a sense.
Spike liked the idea of the Slayer owing him.
“Cup of coffee,” he said. “An’ a burger. Rare as you can make it.”
There was a flicker of some unnamed emotion in her eyes, but she wrote down his order after a pause. “The coffee will be right out.”
Spike was slightly disappointed that he hadn’t received more of a reaction, but he shrugged and leaned back, striking a relaxed pose. The coffee was out within a couple of minutes, just as she’d promised, although it was about the worst he’d ever had.
After that, he watched her as she bustled around the diner, watched as one customer got a little too friendly, and she did no more than flinch and move on. When she came back around to the same table again, the rough-looking man sitting there grabbed her wrist. “Come on, baby,” he encouraged. “What you need to do is loosen up.”
Spike could see the battle in her eyes—should she shove her fist through his face or smile politely and gently pull free. He rose from the table and sauntered over.
“Where’s my burger?” he asked gruffly, ignoring the man holding her wrist.
She gave him a tight, insincere smile. “It’s coming.” Buffy gave a sharp tug and pulled free. “I’ll just go check.”
Spike watched her go, then leaned down to put his face close to the other man’s. “Let me explain something,” he said in a low, menacing tone. “She’s mine.”
The man sneered. “Is that right? I don’t see your name on her.”
Spike flashed a little fang. “I don’t think you want to argue with me.”
The man was gone by the time he sat back down, and Spike grinned, well satisfied with himself. He was a bit surprised when Buffy sat his burger down in front of him with enough force to nearly crack the plate. “What the hell did you do?”
He shrugged. “Don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.”
“I saw you talking to him.” There was fire in her eyes now, and Spike found that he liked it. “Whatever you said or did, he left without paying, and that comes out of my tips.”
“I didn’t do anything. Not my fault if the wanker did a runner on you.”
They engaged in a staring contest that Spike won when Buffy looked away. “Forget it,” she said wearily. “Just forget it. Finish your burger and get out of here, Spike.”
He frowned as she walked away. This wouldn’t do at all. At this rate, she’d probably just stand there and let him drain her dry, which had no appeal. He liked his Slayers with a quick tongue and quicker fists. It was no fun if they were easy prey, and Buffy had never been easy.
She’d been the most challenging Slayer he’d ever faced, in fact.
Spike decided that he didn’t want the burger. He was more interested in finding something uncooked. He hesitated, wondering if not paying for his meal would cause her to be angry enough to fight him.
Of course, that’s what she’d be expecting.
When Buffy looked up from the register, where she was cashing out the most recent order, Spike was gone, and she groaned. She should have known that he would leave without paying. Great, just great. There went her night’s pay, which meant that she wouldn’t be eating.
Swallowing tears, Buffy went to clear the table, but when she lifted the plate with the untouched burger, she found two twenties. The money more than covered his meal, and the meal of the man he’d run off, with a bigger tip than she’d ever seen at the diner.
“What the hell?” she muttered, intrigued in spite of herself.
All Buffy could think is that the end of the world must be right around the corner, because Spike had actually done something nice for her.
She finished out her shift with the sense of having missed something. Buffy knew that the world had gone topsy-turvy with Angel’s death, but she didn’t think that had extended to soulless vampires showing up and leaving her twenty dollar tips.
Buffy was still pondering her strange evening during her walk home when she felt the unmistakable presence of a vampire close by. The diner wasn’t in the best neighborhood, nor was her apartment. She supposed she wasn’t surprised that she was being followed, only that it hadn’t happened until now.
She stopped in her tracks. “You really don’t want to do that.”
“And why not?”
The lone vampire emerged from the shadows, dirty and unkempt, nothing like Spike’s sleek punk look. And where had that thought come from? Buffy focused on the creature in front of her.
“Because I’m tired, and I’m not in the mood,” she snapped. “So either go away or get dusty.”
The vampire sneered. “Is that right?” He took a step closer. “I want you to scream for me. You taste better when you scream.”
“Oh my God.” Buffy looked at him incredulously. “Are you serious?” She raised her eyes to the sky. “Why do I even bother?”
The vampire appeared nonplussed by her refusal to show fear, and by her disgust at his lame, horror movie line. “Huh?”
“It’s not even worth it,” she muttered. Her stake appeared in her hand with an ease that surprised both her and the vampire advancing on her, and she plunged it through his heart with a sense of satisfaction she hadn’t felt in months.
Buffy tucked the stake away as the vampire crumbled to dust that scattered on the slight breeze. “That was pathetic,” she informed the remains. “Really pathetic.”
She paused as she resumed the walk back to her building. Buffy could have sworn that she felt the presence of another vampire, but it had been a long time since she’d “honed,” as Giles had once instructed her to do. It was possible that she was mistaken, since the feeling was weak.
With a shrug, she headed back to her apartment and the Ramen noodles waiting for her. Spike’s tip had given her enough money to afford a decent meal, but there wasn’t anyplace open at this time of night that she cared to visit. Tomorrow was her day off; she could take the bus and go to the grocery store.
It wasn’t like she got an employee discount at the diner, and the food there wasn’t good enough to warrant her spending the money on it.
Buffy didn’t allow herself to think beyond “tomorrow.” She didn’t think about the change in seasons, or the fact that school had started last week. She couldn’t let herself think about her mom or her Watcher or her friends, and what they might think about her absence.
Because if she thought about any of that, Buffy knew that she’d freeze, unable to move forward. It was just too overwhelming.
Spike watched as she disappeared inside her apartment. He knew where she lived now, although she’d have to invite him in, and there was little hope of that.
He’d thought perhaps she’d sensed him at one point, just after she’d killed the vampire, but the Slayer had continued on her way, and he had to assume that she didn’t know he was not far behind.
Spike knew that he was stalking her, much as he’d done in Sunnydale—studying her moves, learning her weaknesses. At this point, however, he didn’t plan on killing her. Not right away. Not until she was ready.
He’d been gratified to see that she still had a few moves, and that she hadn’t completely given up.
A plan was beginning to form. Spike liked the idea of her being in his debt, and he wanted to see how long this game could go on before the inevitable fight to the death. How many buttons could he push before she tried to stake him—before she dropped the pretense of “Anne” and once again was the Slayer?
Spike had no idea, but he had nothing better to do, and he really wanted to find out.