The look in his eyes haunted her all through the night. She had retreated to the safety and comfort of her home, wracked her brain over the ominous death equals gift paradox, and attempted to forget him. Attempted to put the broken vampire out of her mind. Forget how his kiss had tasted. How he’d spoken to her with such gentility and patience, even when he thought she was a robot.
How the love that usually swallowed his eyes hadn’t been there until he realized that he was actually speaking with her. The Slayer. Buffy. Flesh and blood, not plastic and circuitry. She didn’t know why the knowledge brought her such comfort, but it did. The idea that she was so easily replaced with a cheap Data-wannabe had bothered her immensely.
Almost as much as her unwanted jealousy at the idea of the bot knowing Spike intimately when he was so off-limits to her.
It didn’t occur to her until halfway through the daily ‘Glory’ briefing that there was no reason to shove Spike to the back of her mind. After what he’d done for her, he deserved more than a kiss of gratitude. Vampires didn’t heal as quickly as slayers did; they healed pretty damn quickly, granted, but their general capabilities were always a step behind hers. It was the way it was. The way the Powers made them.
For everything Spike had done for her, he deserved her compassion.
She blinked and shook her head, meeting Willow’s inquisitive eyes. From the look of things, Giles had just wrapped up the last on the usual nothing-new-on-Glory. They’d already gone over everything there was to go over the night before, and even then, she’d thought it a colossal waste of time. Things she’d already known—like stealing Spike would likely incite a wrathful retaliation, and everyone should be on their toes. Xander had made a joke about just giving Spike back to her, only to be slapped upside the head by a suddenly brazen Tara.
Buffy shot an appreciative smile to the usually timid witch. Xander’s empathy for Spike had, obviously, only run so far. She wasn’t surprised. He could only feel bad for the guy until the sacrificial part of Spike’s actions lost its novelty.
“I need to get ready for patrol,” she said, jumping to her feet. “A-and…Will? Do you think you could take Dawn tonight?”
Buffy smiled her gratitude. “I just…there’s something I need to do.”
“We’d be happy to have her over,” Tara agreed. “It’d actually help us out.”
“Oh right!” The redhead’s eyes lit up enthusiastically. “We’re working on a spell…something to…deactivate mystical energies? We thought Dawn might be able to help…because she’s…good at math.”
That was another part of Giles’s new creed. Whenever talking about Dawn and her Keyness, they were supposed to speak in codes. Though Buffy didn’t know how useful the codes were going to be, since the idea of Dawn excelling in mathematics was laughable.
Best, though, just to roll with it.
“Good. There’s…I just don’t like the idea of leaving her by herself…even while I patrol.”
The fact that she planned on making a stop before she went home didn’t need to be disclosed. There was something in Tara’s eyes that screamed understanding, and for that, she was appreciative.
“That’s fine,” Willow agreed with an enthusiastic nod. “Dawn’s usually—”
“A princess around you two,” Buffy retorted dryly, somehow refraining from rolling her eyes. “Something about not being around her sister makes her a jewel.”
Tara shrugged. “Kids are just like that. I remember my brothers being the same way. Very obnoxious at home, especially when Mom asked them to do something, but little angels whenever we went to go visit the Aunts.”
Willow grinned and flashed her girlfriend a reassuring smile. “Tara’s aunts. Kinda like those two ladies in Practical Magic?”
“Oh, that one with Stockard Channing?”
“Yeah! Tara’s aunts are kinda like those two gals. They never married—just practice magic all the time. They’re the ones that taught Tara’s mom everything she knew.” Willow tugged playfully on her girlfriend’s golden hair. “And later…”
Tara nodded, her expression suddenly haunted. “Yeah…after…a-after my m-mom died.”
Something in the blonde witch’s voice had fallen, and Buffy shifted uncomfortably. Better to jet for the exit before things became strained between her friends. There were times, she swore, when Willow’s usual perception ran on empty. Buffy felt incredibly close to Tara right now, and well understood the unspoken line that divided polite conversation from mention of death and moms.
“Well,” the Slayer said, strained. “Ummm…I’m gonna…be heading on out. No rest for the wicked.”
“I’ll g-go get Dawn,” Tara offered. “See if she wants something to eat.”
Buffy frowned. The last thing she wanted was to pass off her expenses to her friends. She reached into her front pocket, where she’d become increasingly accustomed to sticking any extra cash, and pulled out a twenty.
“No,” Willow said shortly, shaking her head at the bill.
“Money’s not an issue, Buffy.” Tara flashed a warm smile. “Besides…” Her voice lowered conspiratorially. “You might need it.”
What she’d need an extra twenty for, Buffy had no idea. Sure, money was tight, but it wasn’t like she couldn’t pay for a fast-food meal for her friends every now and then. However, the look in Tara’s eyes lent her pause.
There was more to it, then. Maybe the witch could read her true intentions.
Buffy pasted on an awkward smile, shoving the crinkled bill back into her front pocket. “Ummm…okay. If you guys change your mind, let me know.”
Willow rolled her eyes. “And the chances of that happening?”
“Really, Buffy, you need a night off. I’ll go pick Dawn up and we’ll watch a movie or something.”
“And get her to school tomorrow on time and everything,” the redhead confirmed.
A long sigh rolled off Buffy’s shoulders. “You guys are the best.”
Forever and a day had passed since she truly had a night to herself. She knew she had in the past; even with her memories full of false history, the life of Buffy Anne Summers had, at one point, been without constant worry. Just last year, even, when her largest problem was a government agency gone mad with power. She hadn’t been plagued with constant fear. She hadn’t worried about leaving her sister home by herself.
Granted, she hadn’t had reason. Dawn hadn’t been the Key then. Dawn hadn’t existed, no matter what her deceptive memories claimed.
Tonight, though. She had tonight. A night to herself. While the world around her fell apart, she had a night off.
And she knew exactly what to do with it.
The sound of the crypt door banging open was achingly familiar, though she was thrown by the darkness that greeted her. She was accustomed to Spike inhabiting the upper level of his home. Accustomed to seeing him strewn comfortably across one of the sofas he’d stolen, watching a television set that some poor sap was missing. Even, on occasion, napping on a sarcophagus.
The crypt was completely dark, and had her veins not been charged with Spike’s vibes, she might have been concerned.
Buffy pursed her lips and crossed the threshold. She wasn’t certain when Spike’s vibrations had become so familiar to her. It had crept upon her so quietly, so unexpectedly; though she knew she should have anticipated her cells accommodating the presence of a vampire that she refused to stake. It had happened with Angel, after all, and there was no clause barring the inclusion of vampires she wasn’t dating.
She felt awkward trespassing into his private space without a frown and a fist ready to punch. Instead, her arms were full of goodies she’d picked up at the pharmacy, plus some pigs’ blood, as she was sure he wasn’t well enough to go out and replenish his stock. Mean and bitchy went hand-in-hand where Spike was concerned. Kind and thoughtful…she wasn’t sure she knew how to pull it off without seeming insincere.
And the strange thing? The mean and bitchy drive was gone. Kind and thoughtful, while new, felt right.
A metallic crash exploded through the silent crypt, and she jumped and turned just in time to see Spike emerging from the lower chamber of his home that she always forgot existed.
“Oh. There you are.”
The day hadn’t done much to heal the scars that marred his beautiful face. He had to be one of the most irritatingly gorgeous vamps she’d ever known, and even with bruises and cuts, he was still a vision.
The way he was looking at her now was something she doubted she’d ever get accustomed to. Like she had fallen from the heavens and into his home, and any hint of a wrong move would make her evaporate.
“Buffy.” Her name rolled like a prayer off his lips. “What are you doin’ here, luv?”
“I…ummm…” Suddenly, there was a lump in her throat the size of Lake Tahoe. “I was coming to see how you’re doing.”
“Really?” The hope that flooded his voice sent a warm flush to her cheeks. Was he really so starved for her that a simple visit to look out for him could inspire awe? “Is that…” He eyed the bag at her side, sniffing suspiciously. “’S that blood?”
The flush deepened. “Yeah. I thought…I thought you might be hungry.”
An eyebrow domed. “You went traipsin’ through a cemetery with a bag full of blood? Christ, Summers…”
“Hey, at least I didn’t have to search for the vamps tonight. And I got a good workout.”
“I swear you have a bloody death wish.”
“Ah, yes, but we’ve already had this conversation.”
Spike smiled softly and took a step forward, running an adorably nervous hand through his ruffled curls. “What are you doin’ here, pet?” he asked. “Other than bein’ charitable to pity cases?”
“I’m not being charitable…and you’re not a pity case.” She placed the bag at her feet. “Look, I brought you blood…and I wanna see some of your wounds.”
He snorted. “Revel in them, you mean. I figured it’d be hopin’ too much to—”
“God, does that nose of yours just stop working when you want to jump to conclusions?” Buffy rolled her eyes and kicked at the bag. “I wanna see your wounds so I can…” Damn blush again. “I have some…stuff that I wanna put on them.”
A sardonic smile tickled Spike’s lips, and he released a deep chuckle that quickly fell into a cough. “You never struck me as the naughty nurse type, Slayer.” He waved at her dismissively. “Toddle off—I don’ want your pity.”
Buffy’s eyes darkened. “Good, ‘cause that’s not why I’m here.”
He tossed her a droll stare. “Yeh. Offer yourself to play nursemaid to a vampire you hate, who jus’ so happens to love you an’ also got his bloody stuffin’ ripped out for you, an’ you expect me to believe it’s somethin’ other than pity?”
“What makes you think I hate you?”
“You pop me in the nose every time I see you.”
“You’re reading way too much into that.”
“An’ you’ve usually said it to end every conversation we’ve ever had. It’s practically your farewell speech.”
Buffy frowned and shifted uncomfortably. “That was before.”
“Before I took one for the team. That wasn’ to play on your conscience, Slayer, an’ it sure as hell wasn’ for the cause. I meant what I said yesterday. I did it for you. Without the baggage.”
Denying the thrill that his words incited would be as foolish as denying the color of the sky. She swallowed hard and stepped forward. “I know, Spike. And please give me some credit. It wasn’t easy for me to come here, any easier than it is to admit that I was wrong yesterday. And I’m not here because I pity you. I…I just…I want to do something nice for you.”
Spike arched a cool brow.
“And I know vampires don’t worry about infections and all that stuff, but I brought some antibiotics and lotion to put on your wounds. It’s the only thing I know to do.”
“It’ll help clean you up a bit.” When his skepticism refused to weaken, she huffed and cast her eyes to the ceiling, her shoulders dropping. “Look, I know you don’t need it. Okay? I know. I don’t need it, either, but Riley used to patch me up after nasty patrols, and it helped. It’ll help you, too. God, Spike, it can’t make things worse.”
“I’m not movin’ so good, Slayer.”
She worried a lip between her teeth. “I know.” Aside from the way he carried himself—now with pained dignity. He also looked dirty and mussed, and miserable for it. She knew Spike showered every day. She knew because she’d all but walked in on him a few months before when she’d needed to beat him up for information. If he’d known, he’d had the decency not to say anything.
Buffy had tried very hard to forget what she’d seen. Very hard. But Spike made it so damn difficult with his popping up everywhere she went and smelling so good. And recently—most recently—coupling his annoying talent for making random cameos with looking at her like she was an angel…it was incredibly difficult to ignore him.
“I’ll help you.”
Spike almost tripped. “Slayer—”
“You haven’t called me that for a while,” she observed, collecting her goody-bag off the floor again. “Listen…I know I haven’t treated you nicely in the past few weeks. I…well, beyond being wigged and scared and surprised and any combination of the three, you just, well, you said it yourself. It’s wrong.”
He flinched at that and focused on the ground.
“But then, I’ve never been known for doing what’s right. Why do you think the Council fired me?”
He met her eyes tentatively, his lips quirking upwards into a grin. “Thought you quit.”
“Well…yeah. And that totally wasn’t what I was supposed to do.”
“Yeh. You’re a right rebel.”
“Damn straight.” She pursed her lips, moving forward until she was at his side, wrapping her free arm around his waist. “You have the shower downstairs, right?”
“As you remember.” He flashed her a wicked grin, inspiring a burning blush across her cheeks.
So he had known all along.
That was so like him.
“Let’s go,” she said softly, ignoring the naked longing in his gaze. This wasn’t about sex. She was just trying to be kind. Just trying to repay some of the sizeable debt she owed him for everything he had sacrificed.
But that wasn’t it. Not all of it. That wasn’t all she wanted. However, seeing as she couldn’t have what she wanted, she would have to settle for this instead.
The second they set foot on the lower level, Spike’s cockiness evaporated. Rather, he was staring at her like she might vanish if he dared blink. As though it was just setting in that she was real, that she was in the intimate quarters of his home, and he hadn’t needed to resort to chains to make it so.
Buffy pursed her lips and placed the bag on the ground, nearing the notably nervous vampire with a small smile. “You okay?”
He nodded gently. “Slayer…”
“I’m not leaving, Spike. I’m here because I wanna be.”
A long sigh shuddered through his lips. “You’re too good to play with me. Buffy, if you need somethin’, lemme know. I jus’…I couldn’t bloody well bear it if you’re only…if you need somethin’ an’ you’re jus’ doin’ this—”
She held up a hand. “Spike, if I needed something, I would tell you. I’d pay you. I wouldn’t toy with your emotions in order to get what I want.” She stepped forward and smiled, fisting the hem of his t-shirt. “I’m not like…Dru, or whoever you’re used to. I’m here, doing this, because I care.”
Spike shook his head incredulously. “Because I—”
“No. Well, maybe partly. What you did for me and Dawn opened my eyes a bit.” She drew his tee over his head, her eyes taking in his bruised chest with a trembling sigh. “I’m not promising anything. I guess I…I just want to get to know you. And I wanna…what you did really did mean a lot to me. And I want to help you get better.”
The makeshift shower was rather elementary in style, though she applauded him for his creativity. He’d managed to crack open one of the water pipes in such a manner that he could reattach it when he did not require running water. Buffy led him to the alcove, then paused and worried a lip between her teeth. Logically, she knew that a shower demanded complete nudity, but she couldn’t help but feel that she was needlessly leading him on simply with her need to show him kindness.
Then again, could she honestly say that wasn’t her intention? She’d come to him with the pretense of being a good friend—or trying to be a good friend, as she could currently claim no friendship with Spike—but she found herself wondering every few seconds what the harm would be if she wanted something else.
Spike was a monster, or so Giles said. So the history books said. So every law on vampirism said. But he didn’t look like a monster now, and hadn’t for quite some time. If she wanted to be honest with herself, Spike had stopped frightening her after Angel had turned into her worst nightmare. After seeing true evil, there was little Spike or any other so-called ‘big bad’ could do to up the ante.
Though Buffy could admit, Angel had terrified her because he’d held more power to hurt her than any before him. If she had to face his soulless counterpart today, things would be different. Much different. She suspected that she could stake him without much hesitation. That if it came down to it, risking the lives of others wouldn’t be worth the fight to reensoul him.
In that regard, Spike wasn’t a monster. He couldn’t be. His body was worn and broken because of her; because of a secret he’d protected for her. And she had no doubt, looking at him, that he would have let Glory kill him before betraying her family. Such was not the behavior of a soulless monster, and the revelation was still rattling her foundation.
The kind of man Spike was—the kind of man she hadn’t wanted to admit he could be—was exactly the sort of man she could love. The sort of man she’d always wanted to love. And the prospect of getting what she’d desired simultaneously excited her and scared her witless.
“I’m, ummm…” She cast a pointed glance to his jeans, her blush deepening. “I need to…strip you. Shower, you know.”
Spike released a deep sigh, resting his back against the inner wall of his provisional shower. “You’re tryin’ to kill me, aren’ you?” he demanded. “This is why you din’t stake me over the bloody bot. You’re gonna get me in my starkers when you bloody well know—”
“Spike, I really am just trying to help.”
He laughed dryly. “Your help is torturin’ me.”
Buffy rolled her eyes and stepped forward, grabbing the waistband of his jeans. “Look, do you want me to leave?”
“Not while your hands are near…” He waggled his brows suggestively, and though the look in his eyes burned with love, he looked less seductive and more pained. Her suspicions were confirmed a second later when he winced and grabbed her arm to maintain balance, his beautiful features coloring with frustration. “Fuck, I bloody hate this.”
Spike sighed, his grip on her tightening. “Feelin’ so bloody toothless. I’m pathetic. Hidin’ out in the basement of my crypt, hopin’ that those hobbits don’ know that I got a lower level when the hellbitch decides to take another crack at me. I’ve never hid before…not even when I thought the chip kept me from violence against anythin’, demons included. An’ now—”
“Now you’re healing.”
“Now I’m useless.” A long moan tore through his throat as she pulled away, dropping to her knees before him. “I can’t…you were countin’ on me to protect the Bit. What sodding protection am I?”
“You’re in the same state I would’ve been in,” she replied, her words barely a whisper. “She chained you up and tortured you. It wasn’t like it was a fair fight, Spike. You’re stronger than that. We both know you are.”
The vampire was silent at that, though she sensed he was touched at her confidence.
She stripped his jeans down his legs, doing her best to ignore the way his cock bobbed against his stomach. Heat rushed to her cheeks and she took a second to swell with pride that she could affect him like this; that he wanted her now, even when he was in pain. She refused to appraise his length, or look directly at it. She didn’t want to know how big he was; didn’t want anything to fuel her fantasies. After a few awkward seconds, she clamored inelegantly to her feet and held onto his shoulders as he stepped out of the pond of denim.
“This might be a good time to ask if I’m dreamin’,” Spike murmured, undoubtedly noting her flushed face, her racing pulse, and all those things she knew vampires were unfairly attuned to. That she could deal with; if he made a comment on the wetness pooling between her legs, she was so out of here. “I’m naked an’ holdin’ you, an’ you don’ look disgusted. Or even—”
“I’m disgusted with what she did to you,” Buffy retorted honestly, her eyes dropping with slow reluctance to his chest once more. She reached up to caress a prominent bruise on his breast, and flinched when he flinched. “Sorry.”
“’S’all right, kitten. Jus’ a bit worse for wear.”
She forced a smile and walked backward with him until they were under the broken pipe, then reached up to dislodge it from the mainline. “You’ll feel better once the dirt and grime’s gone,” she said, jumping a bit when the cold water hit them, drenching her clothes. Of course, it was inevitable; she’d dressed specifically knowing she’d be doing this for him tonight, thus it was no major sacrifice on part of her wardrobe.
That didn’t mean she was ready for the biting cold of the icy water, though she suspected she should’ve been. Spike, after all, didn’t have to worry about water temperature like she did. He took what he got—and that was more than satisfactory, considering his living arrangements.
“You’re right,” he replied belatedly. “I’ll feel better…once the grime’s gone.” He didn’t sound convinced, but her heart swelled at his willingness to try.
“You have soap? Shampoo? Conditioner?” Buffy ran her fingers through his platinum curls, and found herself surprised at how soft his hair was under her touch. “Oh…”
“Soap bar’s on the ledge, there,” Spike said, curling a hand around her shoulder as she stepped away. She didn’t know, anymore, if he was holding onto her to ascertain her tangibility or to maintain balance, and she honestly didn’t care.
“Shampoo?” she asked.
“Should be up there, too.”
She didn’t know what she’d been expecting; some bottles stolen from a motel, or something of the like. Then again, with as much care as Spike put into his hair, finding a bottle of Provence on the ledge was hardly surprising. It was likely just as easy to steal from stores as it was from motels.
The shower seemed endless. She scrubbed him thoroughly—everywhere but the forbidden area between his legs. Spike didn’t comment, and she appreciated his silence. And when she tacitly placed the soap bar in his hands to finish the job, he took it with a nod of understanding.
She turned as he soaped his cock, and he didn’t complain. Not even when his hold on her was compromised for the sake of her fluttering virtue. The idea of being just feet away from him while he touched himself was both thrilling and near unbearable. Another testament to how she couldn’t have what she wanted.
But you can.
Buffy released a deep breath and shivered.
“There,” Spike said softly. She heard him place the soap back on the ledge. “Done.”
She turned back to him and forced an awkward smile. “Okay. Now, the hair, and we’ll be done.”
Ten minutes later, she was helping him over to the bed that he’d somehow managed to sneak into his crypt. She found a towel that had undoubtedly been lifted from her house, but didn’t call him on it. Rather, she went to work drying him off, ignoring the heat of his gaze as best she could. Ignoring everything as best she could.
His erection hadn’t abated. He still wanted her.
“I, ummm…I have some pig’s blood for you,” she said when the silence became too much.
“I know. We had this conversation upstairs, remember?”
“Yeah. I just…yeah.”
Buffy bit her lip and tried to ignore how hard she was trembling. Tried to blame it on the fact that she was soaking wet and the crypt was cold, and not that she was standing before him in a sodden t-shirt, her nipples saluting him through the thin fabric. Trying to ignore that he was still naked, which he didn’t look to be remedying anytime soon.
“When did you get the bed?” she asked.
Spike blinked, then glanced down to the mattress. “Oh. Harm. Part of her attempt to make the crypt more hospitable. One of the only good things the stupid bint ever did.”
“Slayer, you must be freezin’ your arse off.” He gestured to a chest across the room, conspicuously near the place he’d chained her up just a few weeks before. “There’s some extra t-shirts in there. An’ a couple pairs of jeans that I haven’ worn in a while. You’re free to them.” He glanced away at that as though flustered. “I won’ peek. Go change in the shower.”
“You can’t go home lookin’ like the sole survivor of a monsoon.”
“I’m not going home tonight. Dawn’s with Will and Tara. I told you, I’m gonna doctor your wounds.”
A thin smile pulled at his lips. “You’ve done more than your part. More than I ever expected. Now head on home.”
Home was the last place she wanted to go. She’d purposefully made sure that Dawn was taken care of for the night because she wanted to be with Spike, but she hadn’t wanted to admit it. She hadn’t bargained on Spike sending her away once the bulk of the work was done. She hadn’t even counted on his gentlemanly behavior.
But he was right. Of course he was right. It was a foolish gamble; her mind was still muddled, and if she made herself stay, she’d end up doing something rash. And if this thing with Spike had a chance of success, she couldn’t afford to throw all her cards on the table now.
If she stayed, there was no looking back.
However, it wasn’t fair to Spike or herself to put so much on one night. What she had to consider was so much more than could be decided in one night. Whatever happened between she and Spike deserved so much more reflection than just a few hours. With as much as he’d given her, she owed him that much.
After all, if she did something now and regretted it tomorrow, it’d only hurt him, and that was the last thing she wanted.
Thus, Buffy nodded and followed his instructions. She found a pair of worn jeans and one of his patented black tees. His lack of fashion sense notwithstanding, she found some comfort in changing into his clothing. It was one step of many, and eventually, she’d make it to the end of the labyrinth.
One step. One baby step.
“I’ll be back tomorrow,” she said as she stepped out of the alcove, self-conscious in his clothing, but warm. He sat on the edge of the bed, where she’d left him. “Drop your clothes off and bring you more blood.”
Spike’s eyes narrowed. “Buffy—”
“I will be back tomorrow.”
“I don’ doubt it, but you don’ have anythin’ left…you’ve repaid whatever you—”
She held up a hand and neared him. “I told you, I’m not here out of gratitude. I’ll be back tomorrow because I want to be. Okay?”
He grunted something unintelligible and shifted. He either didn’t believe her or he didn’t want to let himself believe her; she didn’t know. Whichever way, his response only heightened her determination to prove him wrong.
Buffy neared again, boldly stepping between his legs. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said, then dipped her head and captured his lips in a kiss. A step past chaste, but not passionate. Not yet. Just enough. Just a crumb.
She was determined to leave him without doubt.