Admittedly, she knew it was a bad idea.
Though, to give herself credit, since her reemergence into the land of the living, the clause of very bad seemed to follow her wherever she went. And usually, she ended up near the vampire in question. The vampire that was staring at her in surprise with those moon eyes that made her weak in the knees—weaker than she’d ever admitted to herself.
Well, in the before time, actually. Before the unfortunate dying incident, acknowledging Spike’s moon eyes or his kissable lips or his endless devotion was really not on the up of things that a good vampire slayer was supposed to consider.
The rules had very much changed since Willow decided to rearrange the odds and ends of life and death. The look in Spike’s eyes was welcome. It made her feel loved, whereas the others looked at her as though she was valuable. As though she was a commodity, or a thousand other ugly scenarios she envisioned as their justification for tearing her out of paradise.
She’d gone to see Angel, hoping for more of the same that Spike was giving her now. What he gave in a glance. What he gave in something so small, so precious, that it made her feel like facing all that she’d faced was worth it if only to keep him looking at her like that.
Angel’s eyes were cold in comparison. She’d spent the entire weekend wishing for Spike in front of her, and that confused her more than anything.
Confused her, but didn’t scare her. Not anymore. Spike was with her now.
Spike had become her best friend. How strange was that?
Thus far, he’d given no indication that he expected anything from her in return for his kindness. He hadn’t come onto her, or told her he loved her, or made like he wanted to chain her up in his crypt. He’d simply been there. He’d shared booze, let her cry on his shoulder, told her that it was okay if she wasn’t all right, and offered to take out the Scoobies more than a few times.
He’d never made like he expected anything in return, whereas Willow kept looking at her like she wanted to be thanked for what she’d done.
Spike let her be herself, no strings. She loved that.
She found she loved many things about him. Strange how death could do that; open her eyes to things that had once seemed so taboo and made her realize exactly what she needed.
Still, she wasn’t about to press. She refused. She didn’t want to take advantage of the friendship he offered; didn’t want to chance that the love he’d once proclaimed had transformed into a softer affection. She didn’t want things to get weird between them. If she made an ill move, it could cost her the one sanctuary she trusted, and life would become unbearable.
Buffy knew her people-reading skills sucked. Dying hadn’t helped much in that department.
Especially with vampires that loved her.
Angel had loved her, but didn’t now. She saw that, and it didn’t bother her. She didn’t love him, either. They were different people, and seeing him, especially after death and resurrection, had only confirmed that.
Spike was an enigma. She’d never have him figured out.
Except for the fact that he tended to leap out of dark places just when she needed him the most.
“Bell. Neck. Look into it,” she said, biting back a grin. It was so nice to see him, if only to escape the insanity upstairs. Anya and Xander’s sex life was really nothing she wanted a crash course on.
Spike smiled a small smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Come with a nice leather collar, does it?”
“What are you doing lurking down here?”
The vampire held her eyes for a minute, then shifted guiltily and released a deep sigh. “Came through the tunnels.” He revealed a handful of vines. “Runnin’ low on burba weed. Stir it in with the blood. Makes it all hot an’ spicy.”
Buffy frowned and turned, placing the box Anya had handed her down.
“What?” Spike retorted defensively. “I was gonna pay for it.”
The petulant ring in his voice brought the grin she’d tried to conceal out of hiding, and she favored him with a long look when her gaze met his again.
Unfortunately, the stubborn vampire didn’t take her silence as good-natured affection. He rolled his eyes and huffed a sigh, shaking his head as though disappointed with his own shortcomings. “I mean, no. I was gonna nick it, ‘cause that’s what I do. I go where I please an’ I take what I want, an’ what’s your excuse, anyway?” He nodded to the roof, where Anya’s Halloween party raged on. “I thought you’d had it to the brim with customer service.”
Buffy’s eyes went comically wide. Guh. Was that ever the understatement? Her customer service days were so of the past. “One-time deal to help out. And I mean straight time. No loop-de-loop mummy hand repeat-o-vision.”
Spike nodded, and he looked so understanding that she wanted to forget all else and curl up in his arms. He was the only one that got her. The only one. The others looked at her like she would break if the wind blew too hard. Not Spike. Spike looked at her like she was a gift. As though every prayer he’d ever whispered against his being had been answered, and she was there to provide his life with light.
Her friends didn’t understand, and she didn’t expect them to. They just smiled and nodded and talked about how strange she was when she wasn’t in the room. How she wasn’t grateful for the sacrifices they’d made in raising her.
Willow and Tara were living in her house and somehow she was supposed to be the provider of the family. How had they managed in the however-many days during her death? Where was that support now?
She hated retail. She hated being that girl. She hated everything about her life, except the way she felt when she was regarded as a goddess and not a commodity.
She hated feeling useless. And right now, this moment, she was truly useless.
Which reminded her, she was supposed to be doing something. Not that she knew what, exactly, but Anya had sent her downstairs with a purpose. Buffy licked her lips and looked around in embarrassment. “Where’s the mandrake root?”
Spike smiled softly and turned toward a shelf covered with jars. Of course. The big armoire of science projects. She should’ve known.
“Ummm, here,” he said, selecting a container. “Only three to a container.” He handed it to her. “Tends to…go a bit wonky if you cram them too close together.”
This has been sufficiently awkward, she thought, smiling her gratitude. “Thanks.” He was giving her that wounded-puppy look again, as though conversing with her was akin to stepping on shards of glass.
She hated this. She hated it being awkward with him. He was the balance of her miserable life. He was the reason she had maintained even an air of sanity in her post-life as a fallen angel.
Please get me out of here.
“Feel like a bit of the rough an’ tumble?” he blurted.
Oh, God that sounded too good to be true. “What?” she retorted ineloquently, so taken aback that she thought she’d heard wrong.
She just stared. She couldn’t help herself.
“Oh,” she answered, cheeks flushing as she tore her eyes away. Oh. Still, patrolling with Spike was way above pretending to be happy upstairs, only not so much with the pretend. Call her selfish, but she didn’t owe her friends anything. “Uh…I should…I should stay.”
Spike nodded quickly, going in for damage control. “Right. Wasn’ thinkin’. It’s not like I don’t already have plans. Great Pumpkin’s on in twenty.”
“No, I mean, I should stay. Really should…but God, get me out of here.”
He blinked. “Really? You wanna…?”
Spike blinked again, then a large, genuine smile spread across his lips. “Right! Ummm, do y’wanna take the mandrake upstairs, an’ meet me ‘round front? Don’ s’pose the Scoobies’ll like me crashin’ their party. An’…” He held up his purloined burba weed. “Anya swore she’d send a hysl’ik demon after me the next time she caught me robbin’ the place.”
“She actually caught you?”
He shrugged. “I was drunk. Not my finest hour.”
Buffy frowned. “Drunk?” Her drinking binge with Spike a couple nights before had increased her admiration for his endurance when it came to alcohol. If he was drunk—something she’d only truly seen once—he must have drank down the whole town.
“Yeh…little while ago.” He shuffled uncomfortably, and she knew.
It was a strange feeling, this wanting to console Spike over her death.
“Come with me upstairs,” she said softly. “If Anya makes a big deal over it, I’ll pay for the weed.”
He smirked at that and shook his head. “Don’ think so, pet.”
“Either I pinch it or I fork over the cash.”
“This is some macho thing that keeps me from paying for your weed.”
“Burba weed, an’ yes. ‘Sides, aren’ you super-hero do-gooder types s’posed to discourage petty theft?”
She shrugged. “It’s you. It’s Anya. I am choosing at this moment to care less about that than I do about other things. Come on, let’s go.”
“Buffy…” He seized her wrist and pulled her back just slightly, his eyes widening the next second as though he was astonished by his own brazenness. “’F we leave together, your mates are gonna think something’s up.”
“Yeah,” she agreed, drawing the word out to feign ignorance of his meaning. “And?”
“I’m leaving with you for a reason. I’ll probably do other things with you at some point, and since when do I need a written permission slip from my pals when I wanna go hang with…well…” The vampire you hated until he became the one you need. “You.”
He frowned, unconvinced. “You’re sure? The Scoobies—”
“I’m sure.” As if to solidify her statement, she grabbed him by the hand and dragged him up the stairs.
She didn’t know quite what she expected as she threw open the basement door and stepped into the party with Spike at her side. The music didn’t stop. The movement didn’t cease. There was no collective gasp followed by an entourage of annoying questions. Rather, it seemed that no one noticed them at all. The store was too crowded with eager kids begging for candy; no one hit the VAMPIRE SLAYER DATING VAMPIRE warning button. There were no sirens or red flashing lights.
Granted, she and Spike weren’t dating. She was just holding his hand, even though she didn’t need to, and had accepted his proposal for a night to themselves doing something they mutually enjoyed.
Nah. In what bizarre-o world was that considered dating?
And even so, she didn’t care. She was thoroughly beyond caring. If Spike was what she wanted, what she needed, who was she to deny herself? Especially when the world that she was supposed to defend had gone out of its way to continuously hand her the fuzzy end of the lollipop; the vampire at her side had sacrificed more for her than anyone else ever had. She knew that now. She could see it. They had death in common, but that was hardly the beginning and the end. That was just the factor that had opened her eyes. That was the thing that had happened that had let her see what was right there in front of her. What had been in front of her from the beginning.
She was tired of denying herself what she wanted. She’d gotten so good at it during her first life; she wasn’t about to continue a habit of self-destruction. Spike was with her, by her side, because that was what she wanted. He loved her, albeit perhaps not in the way he had just a few months ago, but he cared for her to the point that he looked at her as though she was a personalized miracle.
She was his Lazarus.
Did she love him? Perhaps. She had almost forgotten what love felt like. She didn’t want the mess she’d experienced with Angel—not because it was sacred, rather because it was sloppy and chaotic and perhaps, overall, the unhealthiest thing that had ever happened to her. Her relationship with Angel had been a learning experience, yes, but she’d spent far too much time idolizing him when he was, if anything, just a vampire with a man’s conscience. His warm wishes for her had sent her running first to Parker, then to Riley, and neither of those winners had really marked her chart as prime examples of the male sex in the human column.
Spike was a vampire, but he was a man, too. And he was upfront about his monstrosity, whereas every other man in her life wanted to pretend they were saints among sinners. Angel tried to pretend he was so above everything because of what he’d been through, but he was no different from the rest. He’d given her some crap about wanting a normal life, and then he’d gone off and was messing up the lives of Cordelia and Wesley by being a vampire amidst the human race. His words of wisdom had long since run bitter. Seeing him recently had only confirmed that.
She didn’t want the love she’d had with Angel. That was something every teenager was supposed to experience, and she had. Yes, yes, she had. But she wasn’t that girl anymore. She was a woman. She was someone far-placed from the person she’d been in high school. Angel wasn’t what she wanted. She was almost surprised he’d ever been in the running.
She’d seen both sides of light and dark now. She knew where the demons lived.
She wanted Spike. She, Buffy, wanted Spike.
Did she love him? Well, she wanted to, if she didn’t already. She desperately wanted to. And the feelings that had been blossoming since her resurrection were on a fast-track to love. She just hoped that last year hadn’t been her one and only shot. That the window of opportunity wasn’t closed, and she could shove all her lousy former reservations aside and be with him.
“Here’s the mandrake,” Buffy told Anya, who had skated over the minute she spied them. “Spike and I are leaving.”
The vampire tossed her a confused though quietly proud look.
“Good,” Anya retorted, waving dismissively. “Your melancholy state was bringing down the spirit of seasonal spending. You should have Spike work out your tension with mutually beneficial orgasms.” She beamed as though she’d just solved world peace. “I have customers waiting to give me money. Off with you!”
The words Spike and orgasms had appeared together in the same sentence, only a breath apart. Buffy dazed a bit. Spike looked embarrassed, though oddly pleased.
“Come on, pet,” he said gently, squeezing her hand. She blinked and looked down, realizing that her fingers were still clasped around his, and her heart skipped a beat. God, that felt so normal. “Let’s be off.”
Best idea she’d ever heard, by far. Buffy smiled a bit and nodded her agreement. “Lemme tell Giles that I’m leaving,” she said, “so he makes sure that Dawn gets home.”
“The witches’ll take care of the Bit,” Spike observed.
The underlying message was: don’t go, he’ll talk you out of it.
“I’d just feel better…you know, sisterly thing. Just gimme a sec, okay?” She favored him with a smile, then released his hand, navigating through the swarm of people that had flocked to the wrap desk in the past ten minutes.
When she’d last seen him, Giles had been accompanied by Pirate Xander. Now, he looked to be rushing to get customers’ purchases into bags while simultaneously manning the register.
Damn, damn, double damn.
“What happened to Xander?”
“He kept poking me with his hook,” Giles explained hurriedly, bagging the items splayed across the counter. “I sent him over to charmed objects. With any luck he’ll poke the wrong one and end up in an alternative dimension inhabited by a fifty-foot Giles that squishes annoying teeny pirates.” He flashed her a grateful look. “We have a ton of bagging to do here.”
“Ummm, no deal. I’m going out with Spike.”
His eyes widened comically at that. “You’re what?”
She arched a brow, shrugging. “Going out with Spike to do what we do best.”
Giles was staring at her in horror.
From across the room, she caught Spike’s gaze. He was grinning slyly to himself. It was nice. She loved seeing that familiar gleam in his eyes. That adoring way he looked at her when he knew she was too far away or too preoccupied to care.
Well, at least in the days of old. She hadn’t forgotten Anya’s suggestion for orgasms. That coincided with her inner debate over the lovething rather nicely.
“Oh. Right, of course.” Giles expelled a deep breath, shaking his head. “Buffy, you’ve been patrolling every night this week,” he observed, taking an item from a customer and ringing it up. “Besides, it’s Halloween; it’s the one time of the year that supernatural threats give it a well-deserved rest. As should you.”
Damn Watcher countering her with logic, as disproved as it had been over the years.
“Yeah, what about costumes that take over your personality? Or, wee little Irish fear-demon-y thingies?”
“Yes, well, if anything calamitous should happen, history suggests it’ll happen to one of us.” Giles paused. “I don’t think it’s…healthy…that you’re spending so much time with Spike. You know how he feels about you.”
“I’ll go get Dawn to help you bag.”
“Buffy, are you even—”
“Listening? Yes. Caring? Not so much. Just make sure Dawnie gets home all right, all right? I don’t know how long I’ll be out.” She was off again before he could protest, and pretended not to hear the backlash of angry reprimands she received for abandoning him during a rush.
Spike was back to looking unsure of himself when she approached.
“You ready?” she asked softly.
“You sure you wanna go with me? I’d understand it if—”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake, let’s go.” She grabbed his hand again, reveling in the peace that rolled through his skin and caressed hers. “I’ll tell Dawn we’re leaving and that it’d be in her best interest to stay if she wants money to hang with Janice this weekend.”
Spike smiled. “All right.”
Buffy released a deep breath and squeezed his hand subconsciously. There was something so fundamental about that connection. About the way he consoled her without words. The way he made everything all right with a look; how he eased worries she hadn’t been consciously aware existed.
She wouldn’t give it up for anything. Now that she had it and knew what it was, she wouldn’t give it up.
This thing they had—this wondrous undefined thing that used to be the bane of her existence—gave her such peace.
Perhaps she did love him.
Either way, he was getting her out of this godforsaken place. He was rescuing her again. He played the part of her savior without even knowing it.
She’d have to tell him. Have to let him know what it meant to her. How it kept her from falling apart.
Perhaps tonight was just the boost she needed.