The Fifth Kiss

Rating:
Total Chapters: 1

BtVS S6, Post Tabula Rasa. Spike takes his own course of action, trying to become a better man for his slayer.


Author’s Notes: Created for the LJ community, Seasonal Spuffy. Many sincere thanks to SpikesDeb for the on the trot beta. All mistakes are mine and I’d be grateful for any pointed out to me.


In Spike’s experience there was only one thing harder than killing a slayer…and that was loving one. To kill a slayer only demanded of a vampire – or other creature of the night or day – the skill and desire to destroy the powerful package of femininity housing the spirit of the slayer line. And a dash of luck, coupled with opportunity and fate. Simple, really.

To love a slayer, or more precisely, to love Buffy Summers, demanded something else entirely.

Expecting a return on his investment of emotion was folly indeed, so a pinch of masochism was required – which most vampires would be loathe to confess they possessed – together with a tenacity of heart which some might call obsession, or just bull-headed doggedness. Spike knew, deep inside his unbeating heart, that by loving Buffy he was setting himself up for misery, with a side order of woe, and he’d fought against it in the beginning. But he was Love’s Bitch, and he would do anything for love…even that.

So here he was, astride his feloniously acquired motorbike, gazing back at the lights of Sunnyhell and praying – to a god he very much doubted would listen – that his decision to leave, to do what he didn’t want to do, but what he must, was the right one. His plans rarely panned out how he envisaged, but faint heart never won fair lady…even a bottle-blonde one.

He’d done all he could to ensure Buffy knew he would return if he wasn’t dust, and could only hope that the misfit bunch of Scoobies were up to the task of keeping her and the Niblet safe in his absence. Spike pushed away the nagging doubt that Buffy wouldn’t even notice he’d left, and made sure she would notice by arranging for letters, addressed to the slayer and her sis, to be delivered by Clem after a week’s passing. He’d also popped a rather curt missive in the mail to the watcher in England, his address easily found during one of his many nocturnal excursions to the Magic Box; the prat shouldn’t have gone back to Blighty, not with Buffy and Dawn in such dire straits, not with the witch playing with her powers so addictively…and not with Spike waiting to pick up the pieces.

Except he wasn’t now, was he? After tasting her friendship and her need, her disgust was killing him, and he wasn’t enough of an emotional pain-lover to get a kick out of it.

Four times she’d kissed him; twice due to a spell, twice through choice. Only one hadn’t disgusted her…as far as he knew.

The fifth time – and there would be a fifth time, he was damned if there wouldn’t – would either be goodbye…or something to sing about – with Spike the only demon present.

Turning away, reluctance and excitement vying with each other, Spike set off towards Los Angeles, an interview with a vampire he’d rather not have next on his agenda.

***

Dawn hummed to herself as she made her way through Restfield Cemetery on her way to Spike’s crypt. The last few days had been pretty cool; Tara had taken her out to see a movie and Buffy was spending more time with her, though something seemed to be bothering her sister, something to do with Willow. Which was okay with her. Willow was not her favourite person right now, what with making Tara leave and the almost tangible – and sometimes stinky – smell of magic filling the house.

A perfunctory knock on the door and Dawn danced through the portal without waiting for a response. At this time of day Spike would either be snoozing or watching some crappy soap on his ancient television. Except he wasn’t.

Taking her courage into both hands, Dawn peered down into the lower level, hand ready to shield her eyes from too much Spike. The bed was rumpled but empty. Frowning, she started to cross to his barely functional refrigerator and stopped at the sight of two pristine white envelopes on the surface of the dusty sarcophagus. As she neared, the slanted script on one of them almost screamed her name. It was no surprise that the other was directed to Buffy.

Her fingers trembled as she tore open her letter. In disbelief she scanned the single page quickly, blinking back tears before she read it through a second time.

My Niblet

If I’d said goodbye to you face to face I wouldn’t have been able to leave. I don’t forget my promise to watch over you, so look for my return in two, maybe three, months time.

I will try to call you before I leave these shores, but do not worry if you don’t hear from me. There is something I have to do to be better able to be what you, and your big sister, need right now. Be patient with her, Niblet. She needs you more than you can know.

If all goes according to plan, things will be better for you both shortly. More I cannot say. My plans are not renowned for their success!

Be strong, my brave girl. Say a prayer for me if you feel so inclined. I will need all the good wishes I can get.

Until I see you again, my love is yours.

Spike

The tears refused to be blinked back. The temptation to read what he had written to Buffy was strong, and it was with a great deal of effort that Dawn tamped down the urge to transgress on what Spike had left for her sister. Snatching up Buffy’s letter, she ran from the crypt and all the way home.

***

“He’s gone.”

“What? Who?” Buffy barely looked up from her concentrated efforts at the cooker. The panful of gloop didn’t smell so good and Dawn was sure she wouldn’t be able to eat a mouthful of it.

“Spike. He’s gone.”

They all left, Buffy shouldn’t be surprised by that. Coming so close on the heels of Giles’ departure it felt like a blow to her guts. Despite the kissage, and her less than enthusiastic post-kissage reaction, Buffy had thought Spike a constant in her life. There, pest and all. And now he wasn’t.

Her hands shook as she scraped half of something unnameable from the pan and deposited it onto a plate, setting it before Dawn at the kitchen island. The other half she placed on her own plate, joining her sister to eat. Buffy didn’t even have a chance to pick up her fork before an envelope was thrust her way.

“He left this for you.”

A bomb would have been given greater welcome right now. She stared at it, noting her name, Buffy, leaning to the left on the envelope.

“Aren’t you going to open it?” Her sister sounded less than happy at her lack of response.

Picking up her fork, Buffy managed to load it with…whatever. “Later, maybe.”

Which she did, in the sanctuary of her room, after she’d steeled herself against whatever nonsense the stupid vampire was about to come out with. Buffy told herself she didn’t need him, never had. It was a relief to be finally rid of the peroxide pest who’d been there for her when… She didn’t need him. Right?

So why did the memory of his cool hands gently touching hers after her escape from the grave instantly fill her mind? Why did his beaten face, courtesy of Glory, take over her vision? Why…?

Almost growling, Buffy tore open the envelope and ripped the paper from it.

Slayer

I love you. Of that I have no doubt.

That you do not want my love, of that I have no doubt either. You’ve made it plain enough for even this simple vampire to understand.

Your grief from living again I have tried, in my own way, to mitigate as much as I could. Not enough, I know. But you are strong, Buffy, far stronger than you believe. I believe in you. I always have.

Fate willing, I will come back to Sunnydale in a few months. Should I stay, I will leave it up to you to decide. Just want to help, just want you happy again.

We have kissed four times, each one is precious to me, fool that I am. Should I return, which I intend to do, I ask one more from you. Your choice if it is in welcome or in farewell.

Keep an eye on the witch. I know she is your dear friend but… There are always consequences to magic and I fear that you, or Dawn, will have to pay.

You didn’t ask for this gift of life, nor did I – for my unlife, or yours. We both have to live it as we feel best. Take it as a gift, Buffy Summers, Slayer.

Until we meet again.

Love’s Bitch

It was both what Buffy had expected, and not. Spike always did like to throw out his own version of melodrama, though it was a stretch to imagine his written words coming out of his irreverent mouth.

Trust him to mention kisses. They didn’t mean anything, she’d told him that over and over. Buffy had told herself that over and over too, so often that it now shone as truth in her mind.

He was right about one thing, she’d give him that. Willow was becoming more than rash with her use of magic; they’d all noticed it, even Spike, apparently. However miserable she was with her life redux, nothing could be allowed to be a threat to Dawn, especially a friend gone off the rails with a barbed gift. It smacked too much of Faith, which was totally of the bad.

So, the bleached wonder was out of her hair for the time being, if not forever. Good. One less thing to worry about. Wasn’t it? For some reason her fist refused to clench around the sheet of paper to ball it up before casting it aside. Instead, she tucked it back in its envelope and put it away in a drawer. Buffy would throw it away tomorrow. That’s what she’d do. Read it one last time in daylight and consign it to the trash where it belonged.

As the weary slayer slipped into slumber, a cool breeze stole into her room through the open window, brushing her lips softly. Buffy murmured a name wistfully before snuggling further under the covers.

A certain vampire would have been heartened had he heard.

***

What had been planned as a quick in and out mission had developed into a fiasco for Spike. All he’d wanted to do was get Angel to do the right thing by Buffy. The broody git was the only one left with access to the fortune of the Aurelians. Spike’s thinking had been that the great poofter could spare a dime, and more, for the beset slayer in Sunnydale. Being caught and incarcerated had not been part of his plan. And yet here he was, manacled and bound, caged in a cell in the basement of his broodiness’s hotel headquarters.

Team Angel had grown, both in size and balls, since his last visit. They’d also changed location, a fact it took him precious time to discover, which had left him in the position of entering the gloomy building with only a few hours remaining before sunrise. Not good, but Spike was impatient to be on his way, complete his quest, and get back to the hellmouth and the less than perky slayer it held. He really should have known better.

Spike had no doubt the Powers got a good laugh from timing his entrance with the return of Angel, and his extended crew, from some mission of protection or other. He’d barely stepped through the door into the lobby, and his “Oi, Angel! Looking broody as usual, mate,” hail had been met with angry disbelief, and a bolt from a crossbow embedded in his shoulder. And that had just been for starters.

The only one he could defend himself against was Angel, which he did to the best of his ability, shouting all the while that he hadn’t come there to fight…well, not much. Inevitably, a blow had glanced off one of Angel’s little helpers, and he’d gone down under the instant pain delivered courtesy of the sodding chip. After that he’d done little but groan as his sorry arse was hauled down to the basement and he’d been literally clapped in irons.

Why did his plans never go well?

***

“Tell me again why you’re here,” Angel commanded for the umpteenth time.

Spike held back his frayed temper with an effort; how many times did the poof need him to repeat himself? The glare he levelled at his elder was a poor substitute for the string of invective he longed to unleash.

“Buffy needs money. You’ve got it. Send her some, you wanker…and let me out of here! Got places to go, people to see.” Perhaps the snarled demand was a mistake, but honestly, Peaches was enough to drive any vampire insane. The superior smirk and amused gaze of his brown eyes were making Spike itch to plant a fist in his face. And if it wasn’t for the chains holding him back, he would have thrown himself at the bars of his cage and tried to do just that.

Angel tsked mockingly. “You expect me to believe that, Spike? That you’re worried about Buffy’s finances? From what she told me a fair proportion of her cash finds its way into your pockets, so what makes you think I’m going to fund you through Buffy?”

Spike couldn’t help but wince when he was reminded of all the money he’d taken off the Slayer and her pals in the past. But it was in the past, way back in the past, when he’d needed to find some valid reason for assisting the white hats that satisfied his vampire morals, or lack thereof. Being needy had never sat well with him. It hadn’t sat well with Buffy either; poverty was not a look that suited her.

Sighing, deflated, Spike eventually responded…as he had, again and again already. “Haven’t taken a penny from her since long before she…died.” Thinking of that dark time dragged forth the sharp anguish of his failure that had led to her sacrifice. “The bloody witch has spent all the insurance money left after Joyce’s death and the hounds are at the door. Do you think I would be here, asking you for anything, if there was any other way? Thought you loved the girl, thought you’d be falling over yourself to be her knight in sodding shining armour.”

Did he imagine it, or had Angel just looked a tad broodier than his usual? Was that soul pricking him for some reason? If it was, then good, maybe he’d pull his Neanderthal finger out of his arse and bloody do something!

Angel sighed as he pushed himself away from the wall he’d been lounging against. “I could almost believe you, Spike. But if Buffy needs anything she knows she only has to ask. So until you can come up with something better than the load of crap you’ve been feeding me…”

The sound of chains being pulled to their limits bounced off the stone walls of the basement, accompanied by a frustrated growl as Spike strained with all his might to be free. “You’re not going to help her? Fine! Leave her to struggle against a mountain of debts, her and her sis. Help all the sodding helpless except her. Fine hero you turned out to be! Just let me out of here so I can get about my business.” Ah, now that got a reaction, though not a good one judging from the narrowed gaze fixed upon him.

“And what business would that be?”

“That would be mine, mate. Nothing to do with you.” Spike would be damned if he was about to share his plan with the great poofter.

“You just don’t get it, do you, boy?” Grinning, Angel turned to leave. “You are my business and, until you come up with some convincing reason to let you loose, you may as well make yourself at home.” He glanced back, sneering at the blue fire thrown his way. “You’re not going anywhere until say so.”

***

Left to his own devices, Spike had nothing to do but think, think of why he was in the custody of his grandsire instead of getting on with his unlife. Had it started with a kiss? His infatuation with the slayer had started long before that, or rather, his infatuation with slayers had started long ago, deep in a mineshaft in Merry Olde England and sparked by the broody one himself – back in the days when he was not so broody and very much more of the grrr argh.

Why he hadn’t managed to kill the Sunnydale slayer was beyond him. Opportunities he’d had aplenty – far more than with any of the others – but for one reason or another, or no real reason at all, their dances had always failed to reach the climax he had sought.

And then, at his lowest ebb, reliant on the Slayer and her chums for sanctuary – reluctantly given and grudgingly accepted – he’d shared his first kiss with Buffy. The first kiss, bestowed under the guise of a spell, pulled from a heart filled with magically induced love, matched in passion and tenderness.

Throughout the long lonely nights of her death, Spike had lived over and over every touch and caress shared with Buffy under the witch’s selfish spell. His disgust when it was over had not been feigned, for it is not a vampire’s way to be so sickeningly sentimental in their affections, and yet…

His body remembered only too well the responses her hands and tongue had induced, rekindled for him through long hours spent tied or chained in the Watcher’s apartment. Just a whiff of her singular scent or the sound of her annoying voice had been enough to trigger an unwanted engorging of his cock, leaving him uncomfortable for hours after. How he’d hated her then. And the witch, for her meddling, for the unwelcome consequences her casual use of magic had left him to suffer.

If asked then, Spike would have sworn – long and loud, to be sure – that a second kiss was the last thing he desired.

How wrong he’d been.

The second kiss was as precious to Spike as it was unexpected. A brief meeting of lips, his swollen from a hell-god’s punishing fists, hers perfect in every way, had branded his heart and sealed him to her cause, shown him more clearly than her words how mistaken he had been to think a robotic likeness of Buffy could ever be enough. The flesh, the blood, that was the thing…and ever would be. There could be no other for him now.

She’d promised not to forget what he’d done for her, for Dawn, that day. Being pulled from the place she believed to be heaven, thrust back into the harsh reality of life on the hellmouth, had driven the memory from her, overwhelmed as she was in her pain.

Once he had thought to make of the witch a vampire. Now he regretted that he hadn’t been able to just kill the consistently interfering chit. Willow was a fine example of power corrupting, allowed to run unchecked and untrained in the finer aspects of her craft. But such a beneficial action would not have furthered his cause with the Slayer, even if he had had the wherewithal to carry out the task.

Still, the second kiss was freely given, sacred – as far as anything is ever sacred to one of his ilk.

The third kiss was the bitterest. Another spell, a dancing demon, truths sung out which were better left alone, hearts laid bare and death in the air. Grand swell of orchestra as Spike and the Slayer had kissed again, the first since her resurrection.

It should have made him happy, it did, sort of. But the desperation of her questing tongue punished him for the delight he couldn’t stop himself from taking to hold her again for the first time since their first kiss. She was right to name him evil to take such pleasure when he knew…he knew she was in pain. Lilting confessions might be good for the soul, but they didn’t solve the problem nor make it go away.

Spike had only to close his eyes to relive her panicked expression when at last she’d torn herself free of his mouth to breath.

Then she’d ran.

And until he’d departed Sunnydale, he’d pursued. He was such a stupid git at times.

The last kiss, the fourth, that was the one that had broken through to him, made him see, understand. She needed more than he could give, hated him for being the one to make her feel when no other did. Was using him, much as a vampire would to get their jollies. Much as he had with Harmony. And look how well that had ended.

The temptation to stay, to push her for more and more until Buffy gave him what he wanted, was almost too much to resist. With a heady victory within his grasp it would have been all too easy to ignore the little voice whispering to him that he’d find the conquest hollow in the end. Spike didn’t want to conquer the Slayer, he wanted her body…and her love.

To have only one wasn’t enough, not when he’d waited so long, not when he’d tasted the sweetness in that first kiss and now wanted to see how it felt without the influence of magic messing it up, belittling it. He didn’t want her responding to him only through desperation to feel, living only in a stolen moment before repenting at uncomfortable leisure.

Spike knew himself well enough that if he’d stayed he would have taken, accepted, just that. To stand even a chance of the long haul – and that was his closely held dream – he needed to be more than he was, make her see him as a friend once more, a companion she could accept and be happy with.

For her, he wanted to be something more than a neutered vampire.

***

Dawn waited two days before broaching the subject of Spike with her sister. She was proud of herself for her forbearance, hoped Spike would be proud too when she told him, as she’d heeded his words about Buffy and was really trying her best. Besides, a lot had happened over the last two days.

Yesterday had seen an intervention, and not against Buffy for a welcome change.

Xander had been the one to lead the confrontation with Willow, loyally backed by Anya, Buffy and Tara. Dawn had kept her tongue firmly clamped between her teeth, reluctant to upset the delicate balance as the debate went back and forth. She’d clasped Buffy’s hand firmly the whole while, willing her drawn sister the strength to get through the ordeal without further emotional battering.

There had been tears, shouting, and eventually, hugs. Tara and Buffy had supported Willow when she’d made the call to England and asked Giles for help. Then there was pizza and soda, and blessed peace.

Willow was leaving at the end of the week for training with a coven in England, with Tara joining her after she finished the semester. The best thing was that Tara would move back into the house once Willow had left, the small rent she could afford helping somewhat towards the household finances.

It was enough to send Buffy and Dawn to their sleep with something to smile about.

Dawn joined Buffy at the dining table, waiting until Buffy looked up before saying, “Hi.”

“Hi, yourself.” Buffy smiled and reached out to stroke Dawn’s hair. “I’ll start supper in a minute, just wanted to look through these,” she tapped the pile of unopened mail, “first.”

Hopefully, there would be nothing there to make Buffy get that look, the one where she was drowning, again. Taking a deep breath, Dawn let it all out at once as she said, “IgotaletterfromSpiketoo.”

“Huh? Wanna try that again with some gaps so I can make out the actual words?”

Dawn swallowed, tried again. “Spike, he left me a letter too.”

“Oh,” said Buffy, looking blank for a moment. “He did, did he?” She glanced at her sister, correctly interpreting her expression as an I-want-to-talk-about-this one. It might not be the last thing she wanted to do, but it was pretty close. “You want to discuss Spike?”

“Can we? I mean, I don’t want to if you don’t want to, but I really do want to.” Giving her best hopeful look, practised in front of her mirror the same as all her standard expressions, Dawn waited…hopefully.

Against her better judgement, Buffy could feel her head nodding. Maybe it was the recent intervention, maybe it was feeling a little more in control of her new lease of life, but pushing Dawn away or refusing to discuss the pesky vampire wouldn’t solve anything, and it could actually harm the accord they’d reached over the last few days.

“Okay, we’ll talk about Spike. What about him?”

“Well, I love him and -” Dawn was cut off abruptly.

“You what him? When did this happen? Did he touch you when I was…gone? I’ll kill him!” Buffy snarled, standing so abruptly her chair toppled over.

It took a few seconds before Buffy’s meaning sank in. “Ewww! That’s just gross, Buffy! Blegh!” Dawn shuddered in unfeigned disgust, a visual planting itself in her innocent mind – well, almost innocent mind – that would take some time to scrub away. Maybe if she doodled over it a bit… “I love him like a brother, doofus! A cool, undead, older brother – one who’s been banished for too long. Will you just sit down and listen? And again, ewww!”

Picking up her chair, Buffy set it down and sat, relief, and something else, coursing through her. “He’s not your brother, Dawnie. He’s a vampire.”

Tossing her hair, Dawn risked a low level glare. “I know he’s a vampire, but he loves me…he loves us. And I miss him. So when he comes back, can he come visit again? Please?”

Buffy knew she should have said no to this conversation; her comfort zone was rapidly approaching the horizon. “What if he doesn’t come back?” Did she want him to come back? She honestly didn’t know. “And he can’t love, he’s a vampire. He just gets all obsessed and calls it love. It’s not real, you know.” It wasn’t, was it?

Glare upgrade. “That is sooo not true! He does so love me, love us. Why do you think he’s stayed here so long? For all the kindness the Scoobies smother him with? I don’t think so! You made him promise to look after me, and he did.” Her voice softened as she continued, “Buffy, if you had seen him…he was so broken when you died. But he tried so hard to be what you wanted him to be, because he’d made a promise. Don’t you see that?”

Had he changed? He played poker for kittens and pressed her at every turn for…well, no, he hadn’t, not in the beginning. Only after she’d started blocking him, turning away from the friendship he’d offered when her confusion at only feeling at ease with him, with a vampire, had made her feel there was something wrong with her. But they’d been heading that way before her death, hadn’t they? In her misery, she’d forgotten.

Catching her bottom lip between her teeth, Buffy looked at her sister’s earnest face. There was no doubt that Dawn loved the stupid vampire, no doubt that he’d kept his word, even unto her death and beyond. And she’d taken everything he’d offered her since her return, and demanded more, made him make her feel. Muddied the waters and sent conflicting signals as she’d pulled him to her then pushed him away. Crap.

What a mess.

Dawn was looking at her expectantly, waiting for her to give a blessing to a vampire’s love for the Summers sisters. This should be fun. “Um. I should probably tell you, not that you need to know, but…I’vekissedSpike.”

Squealing was hard on the ears, let nobody say differently. “Oh, my god! Really? When? Was it good? ‘Cause I bet he’s a real good kisser.” With the logic of a teenager, Dawn declared, “So you must feel something for him, Buffy. You do, don’t you?”

Did she? She stared at Dawn’s beaming face, wondering where the truth lay and if she was prepared to face it. Four kisses. It was something, wasn’t it? Whatever else could be said, Spike certainly didn’t leave her indifferent; annoyed, angry, hot, bothered, but not indifferent.

“Yeah, I guess I feel something. Just don’t ask me what, not yet, ‘kay?”

And with that, Dawn had to be content…for now.

***

Three weeks passed in relative peace.

The gang saw Willow off at the airport, promising to write or email everyday. Tears were shed, but the good kind.

The Nerds – Warren of Buffybot and April infamy; Jonathan from high school; Andrew, Tucker’s brother – had been apprehended following an anonymous tip off to Sunnydale’s finest, courtesy of Anya.

No new Big Bads stepped into their shoes, just the normal array of vampires and demons, nothing the gang couldn’t handle.

The biggest surprise had been a letter informing Buffy that the mortgage on the house had been paid off. At first she thought it had been Giles, so she’d called him, Dawn trying to listen in over her shoulder. It wasn’t him, but Spike’s name had come up. The sisters had shared a concerned look at that.

“Spike wrote to you, too?” Buffy asked, wondering if there was anyone from Sunnydale who hadn’t had a letter from the missing vampire.

It transpired that most of what Spike had passed on to Giles was pretty much unrepeatable, but the gist was that her watcher had made a big mistake leaving the Summers girls alone. Nothing there that Buffy didn’t agree with, so she told him as much.

“Um, well, it is possible that I may have erred somewhat, Buffy,” Giles confessed awkwardly. “Can we discuss this when I come back for the big wedding?” He and Willow would be flying back for the nuptials of Xander and Anya in a few weeks time, an event the gang were looking forward to, even if it did mean wearing the most horrendous bridesmaid dresses.

Buffy happily agreed that he could, they would. But on the whereabouts of Spike, Giles had no clue.

Reluctantly, Buffy was becoming as concerned as Dawn. Admittedly, he’d indicated that wherever he was off to it would be a few months before he’d be back, so they were jumping the gun a bit, but… Okay, she missed him. It was strange to admit it, even to herself, but the blond vampire was a fixture of Sunnydale she’d become accustomed to, annoying as he was at times…most of the time. The place just seemed a little more lifeless without him.

It took a while to track her father down as she pursued the mystery of the paid mortgage; it wasn’t an easy conversation, but he admitted that he hadn’t been the one to remove their major financial burden. On the plus side, he did offer to start paying towards their living expenses, an offer she accepted, even going so far as to ask how far he would be backdating the payments. Making her father squirm might not be what good daughters are made of, but Buffy had to think about Dawn – for her part, she would have been happy to tell him to keep his money.

Still, the question of their benefactor remained. After eliminating the impossible, what remained, however improbable, had to be the truth. Or so someone had written a long time ago.

Steeling herself, Buffy dialled Angel’s number.

***

Spike was bored.

He’d even welcome a visit from the old poofter to alleviate said boredom, but he hadn’t been down to see his captive for some days now. There had been some sort of a hullabaloo a couple of weeks back, not that they’d told him anything…not that he’d asked. Just, and he knew he must be mistaken, but there was a smell of baby drifting down to his lower level now and again, talc and formula. Bloody disgusting, if you asked him.

Cordelia had been bringing down his ration of blood lately, her lips pursed and disapproving as he tossed her the odd leer. He’d given up trying to engage her in conversation; she was still holding a grudge over that whole Gem of Amara business from way back. Didn’t blame her, but he was just so bloody bored with his own company.

Frustrated too. By now he should have been in Africa going through some sodding trials or other to win what he needed to become better, for Buffy…for himself. At least they’d taken the cuffs off him, though being tranqed for the process hadn’t been a bundle of laughs, not for him, anyway; seemed to amuse the old git though.

His cage was exactly six paces by four – the other two taken up by the cot they’d eventually put in when he was out of it. Spike couldn’t stop thinking about Buffy, wondering how she was faring, how the Niblet was doing, what nasties were giving them grief.

He shouldn’t have left. But he’d had to, or was he just trying to convince himself?

Spike missed the Slayer so bloody much, even a fist to his nose would be welcome right now just for the chance to see her, to smell her. He was never bored when she was around.

Sighing, Spike watched a spider make a web between two bars of his cage, the highlight of his bloody day.

***

The bus to Los Angeles had been crowded and hot, with Buffy wedged against a window by a woman who’d both sweated and talked profusely for the entire trip. Urgh!

It took her a while to find the Hyperion Hotel, Angel’s new residence and business location. Maybe she should have told him she was coming, but from the way he’d hedged about when she’d called him Buffy had decided that surprise was the key. It had been hard to dissuade Dawn from accompanying her, and Buffy felt just a bit mean for using lack of currency as an excuse for excluding her from the trip.

The truth was a bit more complicated than that. If, as she suspected, Spike was with Angel, there could be a scene of unpleasant proportions. Maybe Spike would be found lounging about, part of Angel’s team, no intention of coming back to Sunnydale. Maybe not. She had no idea what to expect and wasn’t about to rob Dawn of her Spike-love without cause.

Arriving at the hotel at sunset, Buffy opened the door and gazed in amazement at an ornate, though dated, lobby. Nobody was in sight, but somewhere a baby was crying. Huh.

She wandered in, gazing about her and wondering how Angel had been able to afford this place. He’d never given her a hint that he was loaded. Not important; she was here to find Spike, or at least get a lead on where he had disappeared to.

A door opened on her left, and Angel walked out followed by Cordelia. Both stared at her in surprise. Greetings were called for.

Buffy waved her fingers at them. “Um, hi.”

Angel recovered first. “Buffy! What are you doing here?”

As welcomes went, it sorta sucked. At least Cordelia could be trusted to cut to the chase. Glaring at Angel, she said, “Buffy, good to see you alive…again. Angel, talk to her.” Then she was gone.

Only a blind woman would miss the way Angel watched Cordelia as she disappeared up the stairs to the second storey. Huh, indeed.

She waited patiently until Angel dragged his attention back to her, surprised that there was no hurt at the discovery that she was no longer the centre of his universe. What they’d had together was long past; she’d moved on, and so had he. That’s life.

“Buffy, what can I do for you?” He smiled a smile that would have had her near to swooning in another time, another place. Now she was content to bask momentarily in its warmth, but long instead for a more demanding appraisal. Blue was the new brown.

“You paid off my mortgage. So thank you, Angel, but why? How did you know?” Buffy noted his small grimace before he deigned to smile at her once more.

“You weren’t supposed to know. It was a gift.”

“A very welcome one. I thank you again. But that doesn’t answer my question – how did you know?” Buffy knew she’d never spoken of anything as mundane as her lack of financial status with Angel. The love they’d once shared had not encompassed the morbid details of daily life, too pure and unsullied to dirty itself with such seeming trivialities. But times had changed, and so had she.

When no answer was forthcoming, she pressed again. “I’m missing a vampire. Has Spike been here?”

Oh, now that was interesting. Fire at last, swiftly banked.

Angel’s eyes glanced behind him, to a door set in the corner of the lobby. “Spike? No, haven’t seen him in…Buffy!”

She darted past him, wrenching open the door his eyes had betrayed and down, down into a basement. And a cage with a precious occupant…Spike.

***

Spike lifted his head when the door above opened, wondering what drove the Cheerleader to such haste. Then he caught a scent that went straight to his cock. Buffy.

Never had a sight been so welcome in all his many years. He drank her in, through his eyes and his nose. His ears waited for their chance to touch her subliminal beauty.

A most enigmatic smile hovered on her lips. Spike could do no more than grin in her presence. By any and every Power, he had missed his slayer more than he could say. If he never got closer to her than this for the rest of his unlife then he would be content.

Who was he kidding? He wanted all of her, and he always would.

Clasping the bars that separated them, he whispered, “Buffy.”

She glanced around, finding a key on a hook that should fit the lock to his cell. Was she bad to feel so happy to see her annoying vampire once more? Buffy didn’t care. She’d forgotten how beautiful he was, how adoring his gaze could be. How he made her feel ten feet tall and able to take on the world. Just with a look.

He stood back as she unlocked his cage, and all the while she felt the weight of his eyes upon her, drinking in her in. When the door fell open he was upon her, embracing her in a hug near fit to crush her ribs.

“Buffy, Buffy, Buffy.” Her name was imprinted into her hair, the force of his emotions almost enough to fell her. How had she ever doubted that Spike, her vampire, could love?

Gently pushing away from his embrace, Buffy stared up into depths of blue, willing to drown but buoyed up by the love she couldn’t help but accept in his ardent gaze.

“Ready to come home yet, Spike?” She had to ask, not knowing what he wanted or meant to achieve with his absence.

For once in his life, Spike was unable to speak. But the Slayer was smiling at him, then she reached up and her wondrous lips brushed his. It was a kiss, the fifth.

Buffy grinned at him. “The sixth could be yours in Sunnydale. Wanna come home and find out?”

He was Love’s Bitch. What more could he do than follow her out of this place, and love every minute of their journey back to the hellmouth, her hands warm against his sides as the motorbike carried them both home.

Maybe the sixth kiss would be the sweetest.

A vampire could only hope.

The End.

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