Let’s Get Lost

Rating:
Total Chapters: 4

She’d gone far far away from Sunnydale. From herself. Her name. Her calling. She didn’t want any contact with the old life. Much less him. That pain-in-the-ass vampire.

“Spike. What is this?” She wrenched herself free. “Since when do you help?”

Set immediately post-season 2. Buffy’s run all the way to NY, and encounters a Spike who feels he’s made a bad bargain.

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Story Notes: Takes place following the. Buffy has consigned Angel to hell via the maw of Acathla, thereby saving the world and rendering herself heartbroken. In despair she takes off, only in this story she changes buses and travels all the way to New York City.

Disclaimer: All hail Joss from whom all these characters flow

Completed: June 2007

Thanks: To TheDeadlyhook, who, even more than usual, “produced” the early chapters of story by coming up with key plot and characterization ideas, without which this would’ve truly sucked.


Chapter 1

They’d caught her taking chances. Out without a stake, on Avenue D at three in the morning. She’d been doing that more and more as the summer went on–playing chicken with herself in bad neighborhoods, neighborhoods where humans were more of a threat than demons, where she could be assaulted by the crack-addled, by street toughs.

These were vampires, which almost made a change. She’d been fighting them for a solid half hour, but they were many, and they’d managed to pull her by degrees into the dark vestibule of an abandoned walk-up, where in the reek of shit and urine and rotting garbage she was realizing that she’d probably just run out of luck. Her arms were pinned on either side by slavering vamps whose golden eyes were all she could see in the blackness. More formed a barrier between her and the exit, and the biggest one, the leader, was closing on her neck.

Then first one and then another was extinguished–eyes blinking out with the familiar whoosh. She took advantage of the distraction, used the wall she was backed against as a fulcrum to kick up and out. Another vamp was gone, even as she launched herself feet-first at the big one.

She couldn’t see who was helping her, but now wasn’t the time to worry about that. The floor was slippery, smeared with she didn’t want to think what, and she had no weapon beyond her own–out of practice–body.

But even out of practice, she wasn’t helpless. Jumping up on the tall leader, who roared when she grabbed his head, she twisted his jaw, hard and fast, and landed on her feet as he dissolved around her.

Two sets of boots clattered away in opposite directions and were gone. It was over.

She darted forward, towards the fresher outdoor air, and slammed into something. Something that grabbed her sweat-streaked arm with a hard wrench, as another set of reflective eyes ignited in the darkness. “Not so fast, Slayer.”

She couldn’t see him, but she knew that voice. Her stomach roiled in a queasy rush.

No one was supposed to know she was here.

She’d gone far far away from Sunnydale. From herself. Her name. Her calling.

She didn’t want any contact with the old life. Much less him. That pain-in-the-ass vampire.

“Spike.” She punched at the eyes floating before her; but he ducked and she pitched forward. He caught her before she fell face down in the filth.

“What is this?” She wrenched herself free. “Since when do you help?” She was still whoozy, from the close-call, death right up in her face. She needed to shake him off, she needed to disappear.

“Didn’t know it was you right off.” There was something odd in his tone, surly and also sheepish. He plucked at her again. “Lucky for you I came along–you were never so sloppy back in SunnyD. What the hell are you doin’ here?”

“Lemme go.”

“You owe me an explanation.”

“I owe you nothing. We’re done here.” She dived for the door, desperate to escape the stench. He caught her again at the curb. The block seemed deserted, the windows dark on the buildings that stood like rotted stumps of teeth between empty lots overrun with weeds and refuse.

What did you do to me? You bloody little bitch, tell me!”

This time her punch landed true. He staggered. “Get away from me. I didn’t do anything.”

“We had a deal.” He didn’t back off, but at least now he was hands-off, arms akimbo in that stupid black leather coat that made her break into a fresh sweat just looking at it. It was so humid that she wanted to peel off even the thin cotton things she had on. The idea of leather against her skin was sickening.

She stepped around him. “Yeah. So? You took Dru and you vamoosed. That was the deal. Which I’m only gonna extend for another five seconds, so if you don’t want me to stake you now, you’d better run.”

“You ruined me.”

He fanged out again. She blocked his next punch. Four quick blows and he was on his back. She dropped to one knee on his sternum, glancing around for something she could use to dispatch him.

“Pay attention! This is serious.”

“Not to me.” There was a piece of broken slat in the gutter but it was just out of reach.

“You know what you did. You’re gonna reverse it. You have to reverse it.”

“You’re boring me. It’s too hot for this.” Even out here, this street stank. It was an open-air toilet. He must smell it even more than she did.

In fact, the high rank stink was making his eyes water.

She’d had enough of it–and him. “I’ll give you a pass. Get out of here, Spike.”

But when she rose, he grabbed at her ankle. “Not givin’ a pass to you!”

She kicked him off and sped away. Got as far as the corner of 7th and Second, when he was suddenly there again, at her elbow.

“Look, just–just tell me how you did it. Just gimme a damn hint, so I can try–“

She wheeled, resisting her urge to punch him only because there were other people waiting for the light. The expression on his face startled her. He almost seemed … distraught. “What? What are you talking about? I didn’t do anything! Stop pestering me!”

“You really don’t know.”

“Clue train. In the station.” The light changed, and she charged forward. The hell with him. Things were tough all over.

But Spike kept up.

“What the hell are you doing here, then?”

“What am I doing? I’m not the one who was supposed to leave the country.”

“Did leave. … Came back.” He frowned. “Why’re you in New York? An’ walking around without a stake, too.”

She was hoping he hadn’t noticed that. A blush rose into her already heated cheeks. She wanted to be somewhere cool and quiet–not that her place, two small rooms which she shared with two other girls, was air-conditioned, or ever quiet, but she’d be able to take a cold shower there, and maybe get a nap before she had to go out again to work. She detested this city, and she detested him, and she didn’t understand why she was carrying on this conversation. “I was trying to get lost.”

Spike’s brows shot up. She turned on her heel, but before she could take a step, he’d grabbed her by the elbow. “You’re gonna talk to me. Come in here.” He started dragging her towards the all-night luncheonette on the corner.

She yanked herself free. “No way. We were done back on Crawford Street. I’ve got nothing to say to you. “

“Always had plenty to say to bloody Angel. Now I’m just like him, shouldn’t be too good to talk to me.”

Just like him? Angel was dead. Angel was gone. She’d run him through and sent him to some far-off irretrievable hell. Spike, who was standing too close, and hacking her off, was nothing like Angel.

She was on the point of attempting her neck-breaker move again, onlookers be damned, when a tendril of curiosity unfurled in the depths of her angry indifference. She’d been numb for so long, it startled her like a cold slap on the back of her neck, to want to know anything about anything. Much less anything about Spike. But he’d never before have admitted to any similarity with Angel. And those watery eyes before–he was blinking fiercely even now–were those tears? This was all too weird, and probably some sort of trap, but … the luncheonette would be cool inside, and there would be ice-cold Coke.

“I’ll give you fifteen minutes. But you pay the check.”

***

The restaurant, where the air was so chill that she almost immediately went from feeling pleasantly cool to cold, was half full of East Village night hawks, eating mostly from the Ukrainian side of the menu. The waitress led them to a table in the back. Spike indicated that she should go ahead of him–a polite, human, absolutely normal gesture that immediately filled her with suspicion.

“I’m not turning my back on you,” she whispered. He shot her a look, but went on first.

It was beyond odd to sit down with him, like they were on a date, like they were friends. Especially since Angel had never taken her out for a meal–not even a carry-out at the burger stand. And Angel was all she’d thought about since she left Sunnydale. It felt like some kind of personal fuck-you from the Powers That Be that Spike should show up this way, when she was drowning in this hopeless sea of regret. She didn’t like recalling how she’d brought him into her house, how she’d bargained with him. In the end their compromise was worthless and she lost everything she cared about.

The fluorescent light was bright and stark, so that across from her Spike’s skin was chalky, each hair of his black brows and eyelashes distinct. She didn’t want to look at him, but there was nowhere else to look; her back was to the room, and his to the wall. In the plate glass beside her was her own reflection, and all the other customers behind her, but not him. He looked thinner than she remembered, his lips pale, dark streaks under his eyes as though he hadn’t been sleeping. If he’d been a man and not a vampire, she’d have thought he was getting sick.

The waitress was there before they found time to say anything to each other. Spike smirked at her, batting his eyes, and was rewarded with a warm flushing smile. Buffy wanted to yank on her apron and tell her that she was flirting with a vampire, and how could she be so dumb? Spike wasn’t all that good-looking, was he? When she looked at him, all she saw was a skanky killer.

“My girl here will want a Coke, lots of ice. An’ she’s hungry, so feed her up with–what’ll you have, Slayer? Stuffed cabbage?”

“Yuck. And I’m so not your girl.”

“Bring her the cheese blintzes. No, nothin’ for me. Just a beer.” He watched the waitress’s legs as she walked away, before he focused on her again.

“I didn’t say you could order for me like that.”

“You resemble somethin’ I’d use to pick my teeth. Won’t hurt you to eat somethin’, even on my dime.”

“You’ve used up your first five minutes, so you’d better talk if you’re talking.” She knew it would take that long to get the food, but now they were in here, amidst the savoury smells of Eastern European cooking, she was ready to eat something. She seldom had anything hot or what could be called a real meal–partly because most of what little she earned went on rent, and partly because she never seemed to get hungry anymore. Slaying used to make her ravenous, but she’d stopped slaying.

Pressing the glass of ice water against first one then the other burning cheek, she stared him down. “So why are we here?”

Spike was slumped in his chair, drumming his fingers uneasily on the table edge, as if that was all that kept him from overturning it, and every other table in the room. But when he spoke, he sounded calm. Preternaturally calm. “Want you to undo it. Just undo it, an’ I swear, nothin’ll bring me back to these shores again.”

“Undo what?”

“You know what.”

She started to rise. “If you’re just gonna talk in circles, I’m leaving.”

Spike clapped a hand down on hers. His eyes were alight with a desperate bright pleading. “Why’d you do it, Slayer? I said I’d take Dru an’ go, and I did!”

“For the seventeenth time, I didn’t do anything!”

“Then why–why can’t I–” He fell silent, and turned to look through the window, at a couple passing by. A man and woman, her age, entwined and kissing as they walked. Spike gazed at them with sorrowful hunger, blinking again as if to control some overwhelming impulse.

What?”

“Can’t stand bein’ all alone.” His jittery fingers curled the edge of the paper placemat.

“Okay, none of this is remotely interesting or anything to do with me.” She sprang up, and spun towards the front, only to immediately encounter the waitress, who had a platter of steaming sweet-smelling blintzes in one hand, and a can of Coke wedged into a plastic cup of ice in the other.

“Bathroom’s the other way,” she said, gesturing with her chin.

At the same time, Spike slipped a finger into the rear pocket of her jean shorts, and held her back. “Listen to me, Slayer. Listen. Gonna tell you what it did to my Dru.” His tone was different than any she’d ever heard from him. Grave, with a stillness in it that belied the fidgetting of his hands. Impossible to ignore. She couldn’t take her eyes off him.

She slipped back in her chair.

He stared blindishly at his outspread hands on the table, and his mouth barely moved as he spoke. “Dru cried for three days an’ nights. Couldn’t console her. In Mexico, when I stopped to put up somewhere, she ran off. Trailed her to the doorstep of a convent, where she was beatin’ on the big wooden doors to be let in. Crying out that she needed to repent.” He made two slow fists, then spread his fingers slowly out again, as if he wasn’t used to being able to move his fingers. “She hammered on those doors and pleaded to be taken in. Weeping that she couldn’t bear it, that she needed to be scourged and punished. I couldn’t shift her. Her little fists streamed blood from banging on that door. But those canny nuns knew better than to open up in the night to the likes of her. When the dawn was beginning I tried again to drag her to the car, but she fought me like a little wildcat. Watched from the shadows across the way as she threw herself against that barred door, over an’ over. Until the light reached her, and she went up in flames.”

Buffy blinked. “She–what?

“You heard me, Slayer. She burned. Crying to the God of her girlhood for her sins, an’ mine, she gave up an’ burned.”

She didn’t want to believe it. There was no reason to believe it–this had to be some kind of ruse. Except that Spike looked so haunted. So completely emptied and sad.

He looked the way she felt.

Spike lifted the bottle of beer to his lips, took a long languid swallow. “That’s when I figured it out, why I’d felt so queer since we left you, what you’d done to us. Why I can’t feed, or sleep …. Know we’re mortal enemies, Slayer, but that was a rotten trick to play on me, when we had a deal.”

It played out again in her head, the swordfight, Angel’s return to himself, his bewilderment and joy at seeing her. How she kept him from realizing what she knew: that it was too late, that he had to die. She’d protected him, made it easy for him, and skewered her own heart along with his. Nothing would ever be easy, or good, for her again. Her life was over. “I had nothing to do with it.”

“Liar.”

“Willow tried once to resoul Angel, and was interrupted. She must’ve been trying again.”

Willow?” Disgust reshaped his brow and lip. “Little bitch cast her net too wide.” There was a strange lack of rancour in his tone. She almost laughed. They both sounded detached now, like they were on ether.

He took another swallow of beer, and made a face. “So where is His Broodiness? Ought to be lookin’ after you, since you’ve forgotten how to take care of yourself. You were a goner if I hadn’t come along.”

She wasn’t going to let him see her wince. So she dug into the paper cup of sour cream on the edge of her plate, started spreading it on the golden backs of the blintzes. “I sent him to hell.”

Spike’s jaw dropped. It was nearly funny. She took a bite, chewed thoughtfully. Mmm, cheesy. She liked cheese. Took another bite.

Spike was studying her now, his head at a tilt, eyes narrowed. “Oi … you’ve gone AWOL, haven’t you? That’s why you’re on the wrong side of the continent? Hidin’.”

“We’re not discussing that.” Another bite. This was pretty good, but she was already starting to feel full. Or at least, restless and guilty. She wasn’t supposed to sit and chat with vampires. She’d been a fool to ever talk turkey with Spike in the first place, and now he thought they were some kind of … equals. “We’re not discussing anything, in fact. I’m leaving in a minute, and you’re not going to follow me.”

“You can’t walk out on me–this is your fault!”

She shook her head. “If I see you again, Spike, I take you out. And don’t think I can’t, or won’t.”

He folded his arms, his eyes going sharp and taunting. “I do think you can’t an’ won’t, because you’re not gonna stake a man with a soul.”

All up her arm and into her chest, she felt again the force of that sword thrust, driving the steel into Angel’s belly. Now she did wince. If I had merely dusted him! That would be bad enough … but because of me, he’s in hell. Neverending hell. His soul and his body and his everything suffering forever.

He leaned forward then. The detached air had evaporated; his rage shimmered. “You did this, Slayer. You took my lady from me. Left me starving an’ bored an’ full of nightmares so I don’t dare shut my eyes. I’m at the end of my bleeding tether.”

Buffy set her knife and fork carefully down. “Boo hoo. Poor old Spike can’t be a bloodsucking fiend anymore because he got his soul back. I feel just terrible.

“Little respect here! You were all po-faced about Angel bein’ different because he had a soul. So now I’m the same, you ought to be–“

“Nothing! I ought to be nothing! There’s no comparison! He was good! He–he–was–“

“–was thoroughly pussy-whipped for the first time in all his existence, an’ you found that quite charming and irresistible. I know all about it.”

“You don’t. Shut up.”

Spike pulled some crumpled fives from his pocket and threw them on the table as he rose. His hand closed–with a gentleness she knew was deceptive–around her upper arm.

“Come on, Slayer. You’re gonna undo my problem, or else you’re gonna pay.”

His grip told her that if she resisted now, he’d tear the whole restaurant apart. She let him steer her out onto the street. There was still an hour before it would start to get light; there was almost no one around, no buses in view on the avenue, barely any traffic. The air, at this hour that should’ve been the coolest of the twenty-four, was still laden and thick. In a moment she was once more coated in sweat.

And unless she slayed him right here on the sidewalk, there was no way she’d be able to go back to the apartment without him following her.

Spike put a hand out and stopped a solitary crawling cab. “My place’ll be cool,” he said, tipping his chin up and regarding her with half-shuttered eyes. “You can have a bath.”

This was crazy, but these might as well have been magic words. He held the taxi door open and gestured her to get in. She met his eyes. “There’s nothing I can do about your stupid ‘problem’.”

“We’ll see about that.”

The plastic seat was slippery and gross against the backs of her thighs, and the interior of the car stank of cheap incense. But there was no bathtub where she stayed. Just a rusty shower with lousy water pressure. And it wasn’t like he’d be able to give her any trouble–she no longer believed this was a set-up. No one could be more solitary than Spike was now. And if she couldn’t slay him, there was nothing that said she couldn’t cripple him. Buffy slid all the way to the far side, and kept herself still, staring out the window, aware all the while of where the edge of Spike’s leather coat just touched the side of her leg.

***

The driver caught every light; they raced uptown on the nearly deserted avenues, turning left at last off Madison Avenue to stop in front of a stiffly elegant bow-windowed townhouse, five stories tall. In the streetlight’s yellow glow, Buffy saw intricate scrollwork on its smooth stone front, the parlor floor windows completely covered in heavy swagged billows, while those higher up were blocked by pale-colored wooden shutters with their slats closed tight. Similar houses, most just as closely guarded from the light of day, lined the block, which opened onto the facade of what she recognized from a postcard her dad once sent her, as the Metropolitan Museum. Spike sprang up the sharp flight of stone steps to the front door, which was also set with glass panels thoroughly curtained. She followed more slowly, steeped in suspicion.

“What are we doing here? Whose is this?”

“Never you mind.” He rang the bell.

“I’m not going with you into some place you took over by killing the owner!”

“Told you you could have a bath. Now d’you want it or not?”

Just then, the door was opened by an unseen hand; Spike entered and she followed him into a nearly lightless entree made more obscure by its dark wood paneling. Immediately she was enveloped in air of the perfect temperature and dryness, and a delicious subtle aroma of figs. Overhead a magnificent chandelier came on, shedding a dim but crystalline light that revealed the subtle elegant curl of a wide staircase and the gleam of its bannisters. Spike shrugged out of his duster and tossed it across a delicate gilt-and-silk armchair against the wall.

A butler–he looked like a butler, in a formal Edwardian kind of suit-uniform thing, white hair slicked back from a high forehead, and a bland non-expression, shut the door behind her and gathered up the duster over his arm without the slightest sign of annoyance. “Will there be anything else, sir?”

“You can draw the lady a bath, an’ then make yourself scarce.”

When the servant, his tread completely silent on the thick carpet, had left them, Buffy expelled the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. “Who was that?”

“Reese comes with the house.”

“He’s not a vamp.” She knew because the only thing giving her that light tingle at the nape of her neck was Spike.

“He’s not. What he is, is extremely well paid. Knows how to keep quiet.”

Rebuked, Buffy bristled. “Who pays him? Not you.”

“You seem to know all about it, so do shut up, there’s a good Slayer.”

***

This was a Through-the-Looking-Glass-level World of Weird. The house felt almost sepulchrally quiet. She wouldn’t have been surprised if the houses on either side and across the street were nearly empty too–it was the time of year when rich people fled to breezier places, after all. But that didn’t explain how muffled it all was–she doubted she’d be able to hear a car alarm sounding right outside.

But this place seemed more preserved than shut up. When she trailed Spike into the large front parlor with its deep bowed window, just as deeply muffled, she noticed that everything that wasn’t actually antique was just plain old–the lamps had thick dun clothish cords that were plugged into round sockets that might’ve been installed around the turn of the century and never upgraded since. She saw no evidence of a TV, a stereo, not even a radio. The books in the glass cases had matched leather and gilt spines, and included nothing, apparently, published after World War I.

At a gleaming cart in one corner, he poured some kind of brown liquor from a cut-glass decanter into a cut glass tumbler and drank it down all in one shot as if he’d forgotten her presence. Buffy heard the lip of the decanter clink against the glass. Could Spike be nervous? When was he ever?

He took out a cigarette then. She watched as he tried and failed to get his silver Zippo to ignite.

“Fucking hell–!”

She plucked it from his hand. The flame stood up proud for her. For a split-second she saw herself setting him on fire. His hair, with all that stuff he put it in it, would go up like that. He’d leave a smudge on the fine Asian carpet, and she’d turn around and walk out of here and walk all the way downtown into the humid beginning of the day. One old score for the ex-Vampire Slayer.

Instead she did something ticklish, naughty, like when she’d taken that lipstick at Bullock’s. Making a pert face, she held the lighter out. His lip curled, like he was going to snarl, like he was going to fang out. But in the next moment he leaned in and let her light his smoke.

The lighter was heavy and shiny and felt right in her hands. She coveted as she toyed with it. Then she noticed that it was engraved; as she squinted, trying to make out what it said, Spike snatched it away from her and tucked it in his pocket. She wandered instead around the long room, almost skating on the thick silencing rugs.

The painting over the mantlepiece was so tall that, standing right beneath it, it took a few moments for her to puzzle out its subject in the twilight: a beautiful tall woman in a white evening gown that seemed to be made out of peppermint and which served up her bare shoulders and cleavage as if they were squeezed from a tube, was held by a man in evening clothes standing just behind her; her fair head was tossed back, as if she was laughing, and his dark one was buried in her pale pink neck, as if he was kissing her extravagantly beneath her ear.

Or as if he was biting her, and she was screaming. Buffy backed up to get a better look, but at that moment Spike switched off the one lamp and steered her back into the foyer. “I’ll take you up.”

She followed him up two flights to the threshold of the biggest most lushly-appointed bathroom she’d ever seen.

She didn’t get it–in Sunnydale, he’d taken up residence in an abandoned factory, so what was he doing here in a house that was probably on the Social Register?

Again she thought of leaving. Spike wasn’t her problem, because she wasn’t the slayer anymore.

She’d spent the last two months subsisting, always glancing backwards, at what she’d lost, how she’d failed, even as she shied from those memories, that made her crumble inside, made her flail. She couldn’t even think of her mother, of Giles and her friends, without being overwhelmed. Remembering Angel was so painful unto suffocation. So she tried not to think about anything.

Still, why rush back to her lumpy futon on the floor of a too-small, too-hot, too-roach-ridden apartment, where in a couple of hours she’d have to jockey with two other girls she barely knew for use of the miniscule bathroom, and then head out to her disposable job as a checker at Gristedes? The impulse to go with Spike was the first impulse she’d experienced since the one that had taken her out of Sunnydale. She recognized that it was an even worse one than running away, but it didnt matter. Nothing she did mattered now.

The bath, a huge gleaming clawfoot tub, long and deep, was already filled with fragrant bubbles. As soon as she saw it, she yearned to be immersed.

“There you go,” Spike said.

For a moment she was apprehensive lest he propose to share it with her, but when she glanced around to warn him off, he wasn’t there, and she heard a light click as a door at the end of the landing gently shut.

Whatever kind of freak thing he was planning, he apparently wasn’t going to interfere with this.

As she took off her clothes and sank into the scented water beneath the froth, she recalled the jarring thing she’d managed somehow to forget it in the cab. The whole reason why she was here.

Spike had his soul.

Willow’s spell–Miss Calendar’s spell, really–had worked not just on Angel, but on all the vamps in the vicinity! A spark of excitement flared–Willow would be psyched when she heard, and Giles would probably want to consult a million books–or maybe at last write one. But the spark died at once. She wouldn’t be telling them. They weren’t a part of her life anymore.

She’d killed the man she loved. She’d left her friends forever. She gotten herself lost.

It hit her then, like a boot in the gut–she was back in that rancid dark vestibule, being forced against the wall, pinned, about to be devoured. Death had been so close–so close. All the air–all the power and will–had escaped her, she’d been sure it was the end, and she’d slipped into a vacuum, wanting and needing nothing And it was all right.

Then it didn’t happen.

Buffy shuddered, and had to scramble up fast out of the water. She couldn’t see a toilet in the room–she threw up into what she recognized only afterwards, as she subsided against it, shuddering, as a bidet.

Wiping her mouth with her hand, she staggered up. In the opposite corner was a large glassed in shower stall; she got the water running, deeply cold, and stepped in, turning her face up to the high pressure needles. Gasped, swallowed some with thirst, coughed, let it beat against her face, her chest. She cried because she didn’t know if she was glad or sorry that Spike had come along and helped her. Maybe I want to die. Maybe I should.

After a few minutes, she turned on the hot water, and stayed beneath the warm stream until she’d cried herself out.

It was the first time she’d cried since … since ….

Toiletries and things were set out–she wrapped herself in a fluffy white robe, brushed her teeth, combed her hair, breathing deep regular breaths. She was okay now. The vagueness, the numb distance that framed her existence now, was back. She needed that, like some gentle but inexorable drug, that helped her continue, from one minute to the next, without utterly collapsing.

The windows here too were covered in heavy swags. Buffy drew one up. The view was of the unadorned back of another fancy old house in the next block; the sky above was pink and limpid with the beginning of day.

Another day in which she’d never see Angel again.

She pushed the thought away. Thinking about him, especially–about anything prior to that moment when she’d kissed him and killed him–filled her with hot shame. Everything was her fault. Her fault for desiring, for loving, for taking him and letting herself be taken. She should have known that wasn’t what she was supposed to do, to have, to be.

But … it didn’t matter anymore.

Her dirty clothes lay in a heap on the floor near the door. Buffy stepped over them, and into the hall. Reese appeared at once, moving silently. “Was everything satisfactory, miss?”

“Uh–yeah.” Except I’d like to put a bell on you. “Tell me, whose house is this?”

“It belongs to a gentleman.”

Spike’s no gentleman. “So it isn’t Spike’s?”

Reese was never anything more than perfectly bland. “Is there anything else I can do for you, miss?”

“Never mind that. She’s got an appointment with me at the moment.”

Buffy turned. Spike was leaning in the doorway at the end of the short hall. She couldn’t see his face–it was too dark there.

Reese said, “Very good, sir.” When she turned to speak to him again, he’d gone.

“Huh. He’s sneaky, isn’t he?”

“Come in here, Slayer.”

Buffy stayed where she was. “What now?”

“Now we get to the part where you undo your dirty trick.”

“I already told you, I had nothing to do with that. Magic’s not my department, anyway.”

“No, that’s true. You’re the Slayer. The one girl in all the world. Only you’ve gone all slacker, haven’t you? You’ve run off an’ let down the side. How do you live with yourself?”

“That’s none of your business. Anyway, you should talk.”

She sensed that he was going to retort, but then nothing came except a stretching silence, as if he was thinking twice, or three times.

He drew himself up, and held out a hand.

“Come here.”

Without really meaning to, she drifted towards him. The carpeting was deep and lush under her bare feet. As she came closer, Spike retreated into the room.

She saw that it was a bedroom. Large and baronial, dominated by the biggest bed she’d ever seen, like something in the movies. The lamps on either endtable were lit, casting soft light from under their graceful stained glass shades on the expanse of white linen. Spike stood at the foot, one arm wrapped around one tall post. He was barefoot, and he’d taken off his shirts. The unexpected white shield of his chest drew her eyes. He was smaller without his black coverings, too lean, but smooth, cut, and so pale, like something from which the color had been deliberately drained. The sight of his uncovered flesh embarrassed her, but still she stared.

“Don’t dawdle. Let’s get this done.” He spoke with his usual arrogance, but beneath it, was something else, which she felt the same way she felt that tingling at the back of her neck.

“Get what done? I’m not letting you do any spells, so you can just forget that.” Even as she said the words, comprehension broke. She blushed. Geez. Stoooopid.

She stepped back. “You are not touching me. That’s a big negatory. Nein. Nuh-uh. And all the other ways to say N. O. No.

Even from across the room she could see how his cheekbone twitched. He was reining himself in. “Not really givin’ you a choice here.”

“Like you could force me, anyway. I’m leaving.” She went back to the bathroom, where, as she expected, she didn’t find her clothes. Reese had borne them off somewhere. Well, so yeah, she’d be out on Fifth Avenue with nothing but a terry cloth robe, but there was something kind of mad-cappishly Breakfast At Tiffany’s about that which she thought she’d be able to pull off. Anyway, it was better than getting into a tussle involving Spike’s boy-parts.

He caught her at the top of the landing. “You can go. I’ll let you go.” His breath was cool against her neck. He was holding her the way the man in the portrait downstairs was holding the woman in the evening gown. Lightly but firmly. “And then I’ll go–have another chat with your sweet mum. She’ll be desperate for news of you, she’ll ask me right in. Expect she an’ I will have ourselves a real nice time.”

Buffy froze. “You wouldn’t. You said you couldn’t–“

“Why should I spare you? You’ve done nothing but hurt me since I clapped eyes on you! You unleashed Angelus who ruined my sweet set-up. Murdered my darling. I’ll never get over her, never … nothing’s any good without Dru. Either you free me from this torment or I’ll go back there an’ do for everyone you love.”

Buffy ducked forward and down, and then Spike was flying over her shoulders and tumbling noisily down the stairs. She followed at a leisurely pace, reaching him just as he sprang to his feet, and delivered a roundhouse kick that dropped him. Oww. Barefoot fighting’s not like it looks in the Bruce Lee flicks. Before he could rise again, she pinned him down with one knee and planted a hard blow to his cheek that made his head snap to the side like a rubber bulb.

She hit him again, braced for his responding blow.

None came.

Somewhere in a recess of the landing, a grandfather clock began to sound. Idly Buffy counted the chimes. When they stopped, she let him up. Commence, round two.

Spike rose slowly, feeling his jaw.

“Slayer–please. Gotta help me. Just do this one thing–“

She couldn’t believe he wasn’t fighting her. What was wrong with him?

Oh, right. The soul.

The soul made him this way.

She couldn’t wrap her mind around it, around him having it. It was too much like thinking about Angel, too complicated and mysterious. Everything was her fault, but why should she have to be responsible for anything that happened to Spike? She wished she could slay him, but he was right, her conscience wouldn’t allow that.

Conscience. It came to her then. His threat was totally empty. He wasn’t going to go attack her mother. If he’d had any solid intention of doing that, he’d have done it already. If it ever occurred to him to come for her, he wouldn’t be in New York. He’d had no reason to think she was anywhere but in Sunnydale.

They’d met by chance–didn’t know it was you, that popped back into her head–and he’d helped her because he thought she was a random girl in peril. Conscience. He had one now, and he’d just been bluffing her all along. Pretending to be his old dangerous sagacious self, when really … well, she didn’t know what he was now. And she so did not care.

“–just this one thing, an’ then I promise I’ll bugger off where you’ll never see me ever again.”

He brightened as she came up to him. “I won’t hurt you. I’ll make it good. You’ll see.”

She plunged her hand into his front left jeans pocket. Felt the wad of money there, pulled it out. Backed off quickly as he protested; smoothed the bills until she found a twenty, (for the powder room, like Holly Golightly) and let the others fall.

“Slayer–“

Ignoring him, she descended to the foyer and let herself out. The morning was already overbright, the air a moist heated slap. She descended primly to the sidewalk on her bare feet, in her white toweling robe, and walked slowly to the corner, where a cab pulled up for her before she even raised her hand.

***

The market–it was to laugh to call it a super-market, because it was about the size of a saltine compared to the stores back in Sunnydale and LA–was quiet in the late afternoon. The rush, such as it was, would start up after five, when people came home from work, and needed groceries for dinner. Right now Buffy could lean against her station and daydream while she waited. The plate-glass front of the Gristedes gave her an excellent view of the street–from where she stood she saw the bushes and flower beds of a small community garden, the traffic where Hudson Street turned into Eighth Avenue, and on the other side, a city playground with trees, and an Art Deco apartment house. Though the store was in a tony part of the West Village, it was strangely downscale–the shelves sloppily stocked, floors dirty, and an absence of arugula and ciabatta rolls. There was a much nicer market, a D’Agostinos, right around the corner, which seemed to do a much better business. But Buffy didn’t care about the business–she got paid eight dollars an hour no matter how busy or quiet it was, and if she lost this job she was pretty sure she could get another, similar one, in a day. The discount on breakfast cereal, which, along with pizza slices, was about all she ate, was a plus too.

Since that morning she’d left Spike’s house–the house that couldn’t actually be Spike’s–the brutal weather had continued unabated, three days and nights of unrelenting heat and suffocating humidity. The pavements and buildings gave it off like the walls of an oven. The only relief she got was in the air-conditioned store and in the shower. At night she stayed out late, continuing her new habit of wandering around, not patrolling, but … getting lost. Staying lost. When she returned to her rumpled futon, it was hard to sleep; she’d lie there and sweat, and that’s when the things she didn’t want to remember would intrude on her. Angel would be there, right next to her, kissing her hair and her neck with gentle worshipful lips, the way he used to. Smiling at her out of his big head–he’d had such a big head, sometimes it used to make her laugh when he was right up close to her and she’d take his face in her hands and look into his eyes. He was so old but when he was with her and they were just kissing and smiling, she could believe he was just like her, a beginner at love, full of tenderness and delight at what they were starting out on together.

And then she’d remember what it was like to lie underneath him–how excited she was, and how unsure of herself, and how it–sex–was nothing like she’d imagined and also just like she’d imagined, and really really great and also somehow disappointing. Because it seemed to be over too soon, and her orgasm was sort of … shy … compared to the ones she gave herself, and then instead of doing it again, like she hoped and halfway feared, Angel settled her on his chest and murmured something to her and fell asleep. She’d waited for him to wake up so they could try it again–waited at least an hour, because she remembered checking the time, though she was also leery of moving lest she disturb him, because he had to be exhausted after all the fighting and the swimming and thinking they’d be parted for months and months. Then she’d fallen asleep, though how, in the midst of being so tense and alert and thinky was still a mystery to her. And then she woke up alone into the nightmare. That was just going on and on and on.

It was never going to be over. Angel was never coming back.

Days she managed not to think about the past, or home. The last few days, her mind was filled with Spike, and that house, and what he’d wanted from her. Even though she’d turned her back on All Things Slay-y, it was impossible not to be all whoa about the night she’d spent in that place, and the things Spike said, even though she didn’t want to believe most of it.

Still, actions spoke, and his actions … were not what she’d grown used to, from William The Bloody.

She didn’t regret walking out. Even if she could do something about the soul–she flashed on the sight of him, half-naked, and fidgeted with her name tag–she wouldn’t, because he was loathsome. Have sex with a stupid vampire so he could go be more evil afterwards? Uh, no! Even the prospect of dusting him wasn’t particularly stirring.

She told herself that every day. He was … well, he wasn’t ugly, but he was repulsive. Knowing what he was.

Outside, the afternoon was getting darker and darker, the sky taking on the greeny-grey color of the overboiled green beans in an elementary school lunch. Inside, the fluorescent lights asserted themselves to give her the beginning of a headache. The store smelled musty, sort of meaty. No wonder the only people who came in here were the very old, or the poor, or distracted-seeming people in a hurry only buying two or three things. This place was broken. Which, for her, fit.

“Maybe the heat’ll break,” Emma said. She was the other checker on duty, two aisles down. “It’s gonna storm. Glad I brought my umbrella.”

“Yeah,” Buffy sighed. She had no umbrella, and she was wearing vinyl sandals from Payless that would fall apart if she had to walk in them for long in a downpour. She’d noticed that in New York, when it rained, it always seemed to do it just when her shift ended. She stared out at the dreary windless street until the sound of someone dropping things onto the belt made her turn back to her register.

She rang up a six-pack of imported beer and a bag of beef jerky. Well, someone’s going to have a repulsive evening. “Ten ninety. Cash or credit?”

“Don’t I rate a courteous greetin’? Payin’ customer, here.”

She glanced up. A pair of dark sunglasses, almost like goggles, obscured the upper part of Spike’s face, and the collar of his duster was flipped up.

He leered at her chest. “No way to treat a customer, Anne.

She gawked. “How–how did you find me?”

Spike grinned his go-on-and-bat-me-in-the-chops grin, and tapped his nose.

“What, you tracked me by–” She didn’t want to say ‘smell’, but she was too flustered to think of another word. She didn’t smell.

“Still a vampire. That’s how we do it.”

“There’s like–ninety kabillion people out there! And this is nowhere near–“

Talented vampire. Experienced. And your scent, Slayer … is indelible.”

She raised a hand to pop him, when something flashed, and the next second there was a boom that made her jump. On the other side of the plate glass, the sky let loose with a curtain of rain that immediately obscured the view. The few people walking by began to sprint along the streaming sidewalk. The tree limbs bent beneath the force of falling water. Lightning flashed again.

Maybe the atmosphere would change.

She shook open a paper bag. “Ten ninety. Cash, or credit?”

Now she looked at him again, she noticed that his mouth was bruised, the lip cut and only half healed. The bruise rose up his cheekbone and disappeared behind the big glasses, which she now suspected were more meant as a mask than as protection from that day’s non-existent sun.

“Who beat you up?”

“Why do you care, Miss Anne?”

“I want to send a congratulatory telegram.”

“Thought you’d come back to the house. Been expecting you every night.”

“Yeah, about that, I thought I’d wait … until the sun goes supernova.”

Spike sidled closer to the moving belt, and leaned in. His voice dropped to a murmur. “What’ve you got to lose? No one’ll ever know, an’ like I said, I’ll make it good for you. Show you a few things I know Angel didn’t have time to–“

He fell silent because she was bending his hand back so hard towards his wrist that all he could do was work his mouth in a soundless plea to be released.

“You’re a pig,” she said. “Now if you’re a customer, you can pay and get out, and if you aren’t, you can just get out.”

“Into that? No fear.” The rain was striking the window with a loud steady tattoo. He rubbed his wrist. “You’re cruel. Mistreatin’ a wounded animal that only wants your help.”

“You’re a vampire. As you just reminded me.”

His shoulders drooped. “Only I’m not anymore. I can’t …. S’intolerable. Unnatural!”

“Boo hoo.”

“I can’t go on like this! It hurts. You could help me, if you weren’t such a contrary little baggage, an’ then I’d be gone to other side of the globe and you’d never have to see me again!”

She yawned. “Or, y’know, not.”

“That’s not the way to get me out of your hair though, is it?”

She put the beer and jerky into the bag, and scanned around behind him for more customers. If someone else would just get in line for her register, she could get him to go. But the store was deserted, as was the street outside.

“Come tonight. I’ll make sure there’s nice things for you to eat, yeah? Have another bath. Have two. Just let me have what I need, an’ we’ll be done an’ done. You know you want to, Slayer.”

“Dream on.”

His voice dropped another level, and he leaned in even closer. “I’ll go down on you first. For long as you please. That’ll be somethin’ new for you. You’ll like it, I wager. I know my way round, in that department. Never fail to please.”

Her clit twitched, her pulse leapt; she knew he knew it, as she shoved him back. But immediately her brain took her to the inevitable imagery–his face buried between Drusilla’s thighs. Eeeuuwww.

Get out.”

Even from behind his glasses she was aware of the intensity of his stare; her cheeks burned. She turned her face away. “You can take the stuff, okay? Just leave.”

Quietly, he said, “You know, he did it too.”

Shit, he was reading her mind now? Her jaw went tight to keep from opening in a scream. “Shut up.”

“Everything I’ve ever done, Angel’s done. Done first, done more, done worse. Not just talkin’ about my darling’s cunny now.”

“You. Are. Disgusting.”

“Just dunno why it is that you’ll overlook every atrocity he ever did, but when it’s me gets all souled up, you won’t give me the time of day. Fair’s fair, Miss Anne.”

She faced him then. “That’s easy, Spike. I don’t like you. And quit calling me that.”

His answer was immediate. “You don’t know me. Might have hidden depths. Anyway, I don’t much like you, either, but I’m willin’ to do the necessary.”

“You know just what to say to a girl.”

“Isn’t right. Me bein’ like this, an’ you like you are, missing your spark. I ought to be Big Bad, an’ you ought to be the Slayer. It’s in your power to put us both right, an’–“

“What if I do the necessary?”

Slowly, he drew off the glasses. Both his eyes were ringed in lurid purple, and one cheekbone seemed to have a dent in it. She winced. He looked resigned. “You’ll do what you’ll do. Least then, it’ll be true slayer-an’-vamp. It’ll be proper.”

***

To make him go away, she promised she would come to the house that night.

During the rest of her shift, Buffy tried to plan. He could find her anywhere in the city. Could he find her anywhere? She had to leave New York. If she flew, wouldn’t that keep him from tracking her by scent? Except … she had no credit card, and she was beyond broke. She’d just paid her rent, and it would be another two weeks until her next pay day. All she had on hand was walking-around money. She could barely afford a bus ticket to somewhere close, let alone a flight.

Could she borrow from her roommates? Unlikely–they were just as poor as she was, and she’d never bothered to try to make friends with them. She knew for a fact that Donna didn’t like her, and Gigi was out so much that they’d never really talked except to have little spats about whose turn it was to buy toilet paper. Her boss at the store would just stare at her if she asked for an advance, or a loan.

She was stuck here.

It was still pattering as she left the market, and without an umbrella she was wet by time she reached the corner. The steambath atmosphere hadn’t broken. She felt herself on the verge of panic. Except I don’t do panic. There’s got to be a way. Ducking into the Starbucks near the subway stop, she spent a third of her daily food money on an iced latte, and sat down to ponder her options.

A man at the next table was writing in a notebook; after staring at him unseeingly for a full minute, she leaned over and asked to borrow a pen and a sheet of paper.

She’d make a list. Her mother always used to do that, when she was stuck on a problem in her business. Everything was clearer, her mom said, when you laid it out on paper.

So.

1. Spike! I hate him! He’s never going to leave me alone!

2. I can’t leave town because I’m broke.

3. He can’t keep stalking me forever. If I just keep blowing him off, he’ll give up. When I was Queen Bee at Hemery I blew off lots of boys.

4. Uh, this is Spike. He will never give up.

5. Hello, stalker! Sensible girls call the cops on stalkers!

6. The cops take him to jail!

7. … and he eats the other prisoners.

8. Unless the soul will keep him from eating the other prisoners, and he’ll just starve.

9. Or he’ll dust in the sun when the cops move him from one place to another. End of problem!

But … Buffy lowered the pen. –that would just be sentencing him to death, only without the guts to do it myself. And if not him, the people I sic him on by getting him arrested. Gloomy, she let that thought settle in. I can’t fob Spike off on the police. Demons aren’t their job. They’re mine.

Used to be mine.

C’mon, c’mon. You’re up to number ten and you’re still stuck! She drummed the pen on the table. Think, think think!

I could just stake him and get it over with. He was a mass-murderer until a couple months ago.

But like he’d said, it really wasn’t fair, that she could see past all that in Angel, but not him. Just because I don’t like him doesn’t make that right. He did help me the other night, without knowing it was me. Maybe he goes out every night, looking for people to help.

What if … what if I give him what he wants? Scrunching her nose, Buffy wrote:

10. Uh, obnoxious and gross?

11. More than that–he wants to be rid of his soul! Why should I help him with that?

Because you know it won’t work anyway. It takes perfect happiness–she wrote down ‘perfect happiness’–to break the curse. Spike doesn’t know that. She wrote down, ‘unknown by S.’ Then added a question mark. She wasn’t sure what Angelus might have told, or known, or what other information Spike could’ve gleaned elsewhere since.

The little voice in the back of her head … the little voice Buffy never liked to listen to, the one that said, ‘Take the lipstick’, the one that said, ‘Finish the carton’, the one that said, ‘seventy-five pushups are just as good as one hundred’, said, And you’re lonely, and horny, and stop pretending you’re not curious about him. You ARE.

I am not! He’s grody and repulsive and just YUCK. And wrote:

12. I can just explain to him that it’s not going to work!

13. Like he’d take your word for it.

14. And even if he did, he’d just go off and figure out how to break the curse by himself.

Good idea–not.

The only way through this was … through this. She’d let him … let him have sex with her … her mind shied from the details … and afterwards he’d either lose his soul and she’d stake him, or … much more likely he wouldn’t, and maybe he’d think then that there was no way out of the curse, and he’d go be a monk, or kill himself. At any event, they’d be finished.

This was all logical and sensible–as much as anything so insane could be–but.

She still didn’t want to let Spike touch her. Be on top of her. Penetrate her.

She could just imagine how he’d look at her afterwards, how he’d speak to her, if it worked. Even if she could stake him at the same moment, it wouldn’t be soon enough.

And when it didn’t work, it would be the same … he’d treat her like she was worthless. Nothing but the world’s biggest disappointment.

Worked. Was that all that sex was ever going to be for her? Something that when she did it, she might be obliged to slay her partner afterwards?

Nobody had told her that opening her thighs for vampires was going to be part of the slaying thing.

Or that she’d have to feel so cornered and alone.

She tore the list up into tiny pieces and threw them into the remains of her latte.

She felt like a frog in a pot of water being over a high flame. She wasn’t going to be able to get out. She was going to be boiled.

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