banner by the talented and generous Always_jbj

 

 

 

If I Hurt You, Will You Still Love Me?

 

Part I

 

He stepped out in front of her just as she reached the end of the alley beside the Police Department’s main door.

 

“What are you doing?” he growled.

 

“What I need to do.  Get out of my way.”

 

“No!”

 

“Spike – that girl, they’ll find her.  I have to...”

 

“I told you I’d take care of it and I did.”

 

She wavered - just a little - just enough to see him begin to hope. A flash of her dream in which she’d let him handle everything swept through her.

 

“I threw her in the river. They’ll never find the body.”

           

The loud conversation from the open door to the police station put an end to that hope, and her face hardened with resolve.

 

“Get out of the way, Spike.”

 

“I won’t let you—“ In his desperate need to prevent her from ruining her life and Dawn’s, he grabbed her arm and threw her back into the alley.

 

She came up with more fury than she’d yet felt since her resurrection. She punched him – hard; knocking him into the trash cans and following up with a flurry of punches before he could get back to his feet.  Suddenly, his words about belonging in the dark with him, her memory of the way Faith had so easily slipped into evil after accidentally killing a human, and her own concern that Heaven hadn’t wanted her, combined to focus her pain onto the man in front of her. The man who she constantly had to remind herself was just another soulless vampire and not a fit companion for a Chosen One.

 

 The point at which their disagreement ceased to be a fight between equals and became a one-sided demonstration of internalized disgust, disappointment and rage slipped by without her noticing.

 

 Blood splattered over her hair and clothes with each wet smack of her fist against his battered face. All the fury she felt at being yanked out of Heaven, all the disgust at herself for the craving of his body that she couldn’t deny, her anger at him for being the only one who could make her feel alive – she poured it all out on the unresisting face and body in front of her.  His soft voice, encouraging her to take it out on him, only fueled her rage, and she increased the speed and force of her blows until he was unable to speak any more.

 

                Fatigue eventually slowed her fists enough for her to get a good look at what she’d done; horror wiped away the anger as she stared at the battered face in front of her.  She flinched away from him, shock and dismay warring for the upper hand in her eyes.

 

                 “You always hurt the one you love, pet,” he managed to rasp out past his swollen lips. Lips that attempted a smile that turned into a grimace.

 

                   What have I done?  He was right – I  AM a killer.  Something is seriously wrong with me.  I mean, yeah, it’s just Spike, and he was asking for it, but…  

 

             She glanced down at the barely conscious vampire at her feet and felt her righteous indignation slipping away.  Her breath came hard and fast as she stared at the bloody mess she had made of his face.   He was only trying to help me!  Oh my God. Oh my God.

 

                  She stood on trembling legs, closing her eyes briefly as a wave of nausea passed over her.  Spike lay where she’d left him, dragging unnecessary breaths in ragged gulps that left no doubt that she’d broken several ribs and possibly pushed one through a lung.  She held her hand over her mouth, tasting the coppery blood that coated her knuckles.

 

                Buffy spun in distracted circles, small whimpers coming from her throat as she struggled to reconcile what she was looking at with her preferred view of herself as one of the good guys.  The main good guy – Heaven’s Chosen One. Surely the warrior for good would never take out her self-loathing on something – someone who loved her?

 

                What can I do?  I can’t leave him here.  I can’t tell anyone.  What could I say? ‘ I killed a girl and Spike was trying to stop me from going to jail so I tried to beat him to death?’

 

            “Buffy…” Spike’s mumbling of her name brought her attention back to the vampire as he tried to sit up.  “Don’t…It’s alright, love…Jus’ help me get up.”

 

            Her body wracked by silent sobbing breaths, she cautiously approached, searching vainly for an uninjured body part that she could use to help him up.  She finally settled for crouching beside him and slipping one arm over her shoulder, rising slowly and carefully to her feet, ever conscious of the bones she’d broken and alert to his slightest groan or gasp.  When he was swaying on his feet beside her, she waited patiently for him to tell her what to do next.  Her desire to put her arms around him to hold him up was smothered by the knowledge that the slightest touch to his broken ribs and bruised organs would just cause more pain.

 

            “Alright, pet,” he said through clenched teeth. “My legs are fine – I think I can make it back to my crypt now—“

 

            “No,” she said quietly, her voice trembling.  “I’m not going to let you try that by yourself.  I’m going with you.”

 

            They were making slow progress toward Restfield, Spike having to stop periodically while the pain from his broken bones and damaged internal organs subsided enough for him to think about moving again, when a car pulled up beside them and Tara’s soft voice asked, “Do you guys need some help?”

 

            “Wouldn’t object to a ride, luv.”  He tried to send the shocked girl a reassuring smile when she visibly recoiled at her first glimpse of his battered face.

 

            “Please, Tara,” Buffy added her own plea.  “Help me get him home – to his crypt, I mean.”

 

            She nodded silently and got out to help maneuver Spike’s battered body into the back seat.  As she frowned at the clearly disabled vampire, she asked softly, “Are you sure his crypt is the right place for him?  He looks like he’s in pretty bad shape.  Are you sure he’ll be safe there?”

 

            “What? Why wouldn’t he be?”

 

            “Well, whatever did this to him might still be after him.  Unless you killed them all, he might still be in danger.”

 

            Guilt twisted Buffy’s gut as she realized that Tara had no idea who was responsible for Spike’s condition.   She nodded her head and avoided meeting the other girl’s eyes.

 

            “You…you’re right,” she agreed.  “Let’s take him to my house. I can take better care of him there.”

 

            “And he’ll be safe with you,” Tara added, missing completely Buffy’s shudder at her words. If she heard the wet cough from the back seat, she made no connection between it and her words, only glancing at Spike to make sure that he wasn’t choking on something.

 

The ride to Buffy’s house was made in silence, Tara waiting for someone to volunteer information about Spike’s attackers.  Buffy watched the small frown that crossed Tara’s face when neither vampire nor slayer had offered any explanation by the time they reached the small bungalow.   She felt her face crumble under Tara’s inquisitive glance and she closed her eyes and turned her face away.

 

            She continued to avoid Tara’s gradually more suspicious eyes as the two of them half-carried the almost unconscious vampire into the house. When Tara asked somewhat tersely where they were taking him, Buffy eyed the stairs wistfully; but the idea of trying to get him up the stairs in his current condition was obviously not in his best interests and she pointed silently to the living room. 

 

            By the time they had put him onto the couch, lifting his feet carefully so as to keep his body level, Spike appeared to have passed out from the pain.  His face was twisted into a grimace, but his eyes remained shut and he gave no response to Buffy’s tentative question about what he needed.  Risking the disapproval that she could see growing  on Tara’s face, Buffy asked quietly, “Can you do anything for him?  A healing spell, maybe? Or something for the pain?”

 

            Tara nodded and walked into the kitchen to gather herbs for a pain-relieving potion. 

 

            “Are you going to tell me what happened to him?” she asked as she mashed and stirred.  “Since you’re all right, I assume you must have rescued him after the fact?”

 

            “I am the fact,” Buffy said, her voice barely audible.  “I…I did this to him.”

 

            “Buffy?”  Tara’s horror and disappointment were soon replaced by something as close to anger as she ever exhibited.  She mashed harder on the herbs.  “I’m doing this for him,” she said.  “Not for you.”

 

            Buffy nodded numbly, not caring for the moment what Tara thought of her, only that she do something to repair the damage caused by her powerful fists. She watched mutely as the other girl crushed the herbs into a paste, which she mixed with water and then poured half into a cup.  Tara hesitated a minute, started to hand the glass to Buffy, then changed her mind and carried it into the living room herself, leaving Buffy to trail behind her helplessly.

 

            She knelt down beside Spike and gently raised his head, wincing when he moaned without speaking.

 

            “Spike?” she asked softly.  “Will you try to drink some of this? Come on, drink it.  You’ll feel better, I promise.”

 

            When he made no attempt to drink, she emitted a frustrated  ‘Goddess’, then felt a timid hand on hers.  Without meeting her eyes, Buffy whispered, “Can…may I try?  Maybe if you hold him…” Tara gave a nod and passed the cup to Buffy, using both hands to hold Spike upright.   Buffy lifted the cup to his lips again and, heedless of the onlooker, she coaxed and pleaded while she dipped one hand into the liquid.

 

            “Come on, Spike. Do this for me – not that you have to do anything for me,” she amended hastily when she heard Tara’s gasp.  “But, it will make you feel better.  You won’t hurt so much…please?  Drink for me?”

 

            Buffy ran the finger around his swollen lips, which opened automatically. Quickly, she scooped up some of the liquid and dropped it into his open mouth, then gently tipped the cup up until she could dribble more in.  As Spike reflexively swallowed, both girls relaxed and when the cup was empty, Tara gently lowered his shoulders until he was lying on the couch.

 

            He gave a brief shudder, then relaxed and went limp in her arms.  At Buffy’s frightened whimper, Tara said reassuringly, “It’s okay.  He’s going to sleep for a while and when he wakes up, he should be in much less pain.  With his vampire healing, I think he’ll be all right in a few days.”  She slid her arm out from behind the inert vampire’s back and straightened up, looking directly into Buffy’s eyes.

 

            “Now, do you want to tell me what happened? Can you tell me what he did that was so bad that you needed do this to him?”  Tara’s voice was as soft and gentle as ever, but her face was stern and her eyes were disappointed and puzzled.

 

            Buffy shook her head dumbly, unable to think of any explanation that didn’t make her sound like the worst bitch in the world. 

 

            “Buffy, if he did something so awful to you that you needed to do this to him, why didn’t you just stake him?”

 

            “He…I…it wasn’t awful.  It was…” She shuddered all over.  “I almost killed him because he was trying to save me from myself,” she whispered. She looked up with suddenly frightened eyes.

 

 “There is something seriously wrong with me. Something that you missed when you checked me out before. What does my aura look like?  There must be something wrong with it, that I could do something like that to someone who loves me.  What’s wrong with me, Tara?”

 

 She broke down, sobbing.  Only after some time had passed did she realize that Tara was not trying to comfort her, and she glanced up at the other girl’s sad face.

 

            “Right now, I would say that the worst thing that’s wrong with you is that you’re still thinking about yourself when the man who loves you so much he allowed you to take out your anger on him is barely clinging to life.”

 

 The normally gentle and understanding girl was standing behind Spike, one hand resting protectively on the top of his head.  Buffy gaped at her, smothering a jealous pang at the possessive way Tara was protecting what Buffy thought of as hers. 

 

“It’s Spike, Tara.  He’s a vampire. Remember? Evil?”

 

Without blinking, Tara responded, “Yes, it’s Spike. The vampire who protected your sister for you.  Who was tortured and thrown off a tower for her. Who helped us all summer while you were…”

 

“While I was dead,” Buffy whispered as she remembered what she’d asked of Spike before they’d left to battle Glory.

 

 Tara continued, barely acknowledging Buffy’s interjection, “The man who has been your refuge and comfort since we - your friends mistakenly pulled you from Heaven…stop me when I get to anything even remotely evil!”

 

“He doesn’t have a soul,” Buffy muttered, unable to come up with anything more telling to say in face of Tara’s litany of Spike’s good deeds.

 

“And yet, he loves and protects and…”

 

“Okay, okay. I get it. He’s not the same evil creature who came here to kill me. I know that.”

 

Did he come here to kill you?”  Tara’s voice was skeptical.  “I thought he came here because he wanted to heal his girl friend – the one he’d loved for over a hundred years? “

 

            “Tara!”  Buffy paused, remembering the vicious, taunting slayer killer that had shown up in Sunnydale when she was just a sixteen-year old in love with his grandsire.  Visions of her mother hitting him on the head with an axe just as he was about to brain her with a wall stud joined her memory of the way he had planned to kill both her and an entire club full of stupid vampire groupies.  Which led to remembering how she’d prevented the massacre by holding a stake to the chest of the woman he loved… Shaking off that memory, and helpless to explain to someone who had never met him what Spike had been like before the chip, and how that had contributed to the suspicion with which Willow and Xander continued to view him, she settled for a lame “It was different then. You didn’t know him.  Ask Willow about him – about what he was like before the chip.”

 

            “I know him now.  And I know there is no way he deserved this from you.”

 

            Buffy wasn’t sure how to deal with the sudden steel now visible behind the normally gentle girl’s soft voice and mannerisms.  With a shudder, she sank down onto the floor and rested her head near Spike’s lifeless hand.

 

            “You’re right,” she whispered. “He didn’t deserve it.  He was only trying to help me…” She glanced up at Tara, her face a mask of despair.  “I killed somebody tonight, Tara.  A girl.  I didn’t mean to, but I did.  Spike was trying to stop me from turning myself in to the police.”

 

“Well, good for Spike.”  Dawn’s cold voice came from the bottom of the stairs.  Neither Tara nor Buffy had heard her quiet footsteps. “I hope he did a better job than I did.”  Then she spotted the inert body on the couch and ran into the living room.

 

“Is this what he got for his trouble?” She turned furious eyes on her sister.  “I guess I should be glad that you only told me ‘no’ when I begged you not to do it.”

 

“Dawn, I…” Buffy started, then transferred her attention back to Tara.

 

 “You must have messed up somehow when you were checking me out, Tara.  I’m wrong, and it allowed me to kill an innocent girl and made me almost kill my…Spike.”

 

            Tara’s face visibly softened as Buffy’s genuine regret radiated from where she crouched on the floor by her secret lover. Her full skirt billowed out as she sank down to join Buffy on the floor.  She seemed willing to ignore the  “my…” slip in favor of addressing more serious issues.

 

            “I don’t think you’re ‘wrong’, Buffy.  I think you’re seriously depressed – as you have every right to be,” she admitted quickly, her own face reflecting the shame she felt at the part she’d played in Buffy’s resurrection.  “I think you should get some professional help for it – before you hurt someone else. Someone less able to take it than Spike.”

 

            Buffy gave a half-sobbing snort of laughter.  “Yeah, that would go well –‘Hello, I’m Buffy and I was dead, but my friends resurrected me and I’m not happy about it. Can you help me?’   That’d be a one-way ticket to the funny farm.  Trust me – been there, done that.”

 

            Tara shook her head sympathetically.  “I wasn’t thinking of just anybody – surely the Council has psychologists on staff?  Or, maybe even the Initiative? If they’re still hanging around, I’ll bet they have people who know about demons and stuff.”

 

            Buffy shrugged.  “The Council wasn’t told that I died – really don’t want them knowing it didn’t take. And the Initiative…I don’t trust them.  They were never big on magic, anyway. It’s all technology to them.  They’d want to experiment on me to see what I am now.  Assuming they even believed me.”

 

            Buffy stopped talking and raised her eyes to Spike’s still face.  He looked more dead than she’d ever seen him.  Even in sleep, he usually seemed animated; for the first time in her memory, he really looked like a corpse.

 

            “I have…had somebody to talk to.  I have Spike.  He listens, and he doesn’t judge me…At least he didn’t before I…” She shuddered all over as she thought about losing the only thing keeping her sane.

 

“I would guess that you’ll still have him.  I’m sure he will forgive you.  The question is, do you care enough about him to apologize and really mean it?   Not because you feel guilty about hurting him, or because you need him to help you feel better, but because he means something to you. Can you forgive yourself for doing something like this to someone you care about?”

 

            Buffy’s eyes flew to Tara’s, reading in their soft but perceptive depths everything that she’d thought was a secret from everyone except Spike.  Dawn was staring back and forth between the two older girls, her brow wrinkled as she tried to process what she was hearing.  She hadn’t missed Buffy’s slip when she started to refer to him as “my…” and while it came as a shock at first, she quickly lost the sense of surprise as she remembered how much time Buffy had spent with Spike when she first came back, and how often she was out almost all night with no explanation of where she’d been.

 

            Buffy was shaking her head.  “I can’t forgive myself.  I’ve killed a human, and I beat the hell out of the man who loves me.”

 

            She stood up and took a deep breath.  She ran a gentle hand over Spike’s head as she said quietly, “I know he’ll be okay with both of you to take care of him.  I’ll just go…”

 

            “Buffy!” 

 

            Dawn’s outraged shriek almost drowned out Tara’s softer, “I don’t think you should do that, Buffy.  Not until you know more about this girl that you think you killed…”

 

            “I know I killed her,” Buffy replied dully.  “I know dead when I see it.  And Spike knew she was dead, too.  He threw her in the river, but the police found her body.  I have to turn myself in.”  She tried to smile.  “Hey, on the plus side, they probably have psychologists in prison, don’t they?  Free medical care – can’t beat that.”

 

            “Free medical care and never mind that your sister has no one to take care of her,” Dawn said bitterly.  “Buffy gets to be taken care of for the rest of her life and I get to what? Starve?  I’d have been better off if you’d stayed dead!” she finished, tears already rolling down her cheeks as she sank to the floor.  “You don’t care about me, anyway. I’m just another burden to lose when you go to jail.”

 

            Dawn’s angry words, intended to remind her sister that she had obligations to someone other than herself backfired immediately.  Buffy gasped and clutched her stomach as Dawn’s tirade emphasized exactly how wrong it was that she was even alive, never mind free.

 

            Beside her, Buffy sensed that Spike was stirring, and she immediately dropped back down beside him.  Bleary eyes pleaded with her to listen to Dawn and Tara, even as he drifted into sleep again.

 

            “I…all right.  I’ll wait until tomorrow.  Maybe…” She stood up and waved her hands around.  “But it’s not going to go away!  An innocent girl is dead, and I did it.  We can’t pretend it didn’t happen.”

 

            “No, we can’t,” Tara soothed, “but we can wait until we have more information.”

 

Dawn interrupted eagerly. “Yeah! You don’t know – maybe she isn’t as innocent as you think.  I mean, what was she doing in a cemetery after dark?  Nobody in Sunnydale would do that unless she was up to no good.”

 

“Dawn’s right, Buffy.  Maybe she isn’t even human--”

 

“She was human,” Buffy said dully.  “Even if a demon could have fooled me, Spike would’ve known.  She was probably a prisoner of those weird guys we were fighting or something like that.  I should have been rescuing her.”

 

“What guys you were fighting?” Tara’s voice was sharp. “You didn’t mention any fighting.”

 

“I kinda forgot about it,” Buffy said sheepishly.  “There were these weird guys – demons, I guess – in capes, and everything was all confused. Stuff kept happening over and over, like we were caught in a…”

 

“In a loop? A time loop?”

 

“Yeah,” Buffy raised a surprised eyebrow. “I guess that would describe it.  Time was all wonky, and we were fighting and hitting and then all of a sudden the girl was there and I…”

 

“So you and Spike weren’t the only ones there?  Didn’t that make you think at all, Buffy?”

 

“No,” Dawn said bitterly. “She just saw a good excuse to run and hide and jumped on it.”

 

“It wasn’t like that!”  Buffy protested, even as her internal voice insisted on asking, Wasn’t it? It never crossed your mind that jail could be quiet and peaceful?

 

“Buffy.” Tara’s soft voice interrupted the pending argument between the two sisters.  “I think it adds another dimension to the situation.  You can’t know if it was coincidence that those demons were there, near Spike’s crypt.  They were near Spike’s crypt, weren’t they?”

 

Buffy nodded numbly, unconcerned that the other two girls might know why she’d been there.

 

“So you don’t know at this point if you really did it, or if someone else is trying to make you think you did.”

 

“You think I was set up?”  For the first time since she’d stopped punching Spike, a trace of genuine anger flooded through her.  “But who would do that?”

 

“Gee, who would want to put the Slayer safely away in jail?” Sarcasm dripped from Dawn’s tongue.  “I can’t imagine, can you, Tara?”

 

“Dawn…” Tara’s voice was soft, but Dawn subsided, muttering to herself.

 

“Okay,” Buffy slumped in resignation.  “I’ll wait till tomorrow and see what Willow can find out from the police computer.  And what she knows about time loops.”  She frowned in sudden recall.  “Something like that happened to me a while ago – but it was daytime.  Time kept repeating.”  Her chin came up and her face hardened.  “Something or somebody in Sunnydale can mess with time.”

 

“So,” Dawn asked quietly. “Is it safe to go back to bed now?  You’re not going to go running off to the police station?”

 

Buffy shook her head. “No, I’m not.  Not until we know what happened for sure, anyway.  You can go back to bed. I’m going to stay here with Spike.”

 

“I hope you’re going to tell him you’re sorry,” Dawn’s voice floated back from the stairs.  “You owe him, Buffy.”

 

“I do, don’t I?” Buffy said quietly, ghosting a hand over his battered face.  “I don’t know why he stays with me…”

 

Before Tara could point out the obvious answer, Spike gave a disgusted moan and turned his head to glare at Buffy.

 

“Because I love you, you stupid bint,” he rasped.  “Don’t know what I have to do to convince you…”

 

“I believe you,” she whispered.  “I know you do.  I just don’t know why.”

 

“Having a bit of problem with that myself, at the moment,” he said with an attempt to pull his ripped lips into a grin.   “Must be your sunny disposition.”

 

“Very funny,” she growled, unable to hide her relief and happiness at his obvious improvement.

 

Tara cleared her throat and waited until they glanced at her. 

 

“I’m glad to see you’re feeling better, Spike,” she said with a gentle smile.  “That tonic should keep the worst of the pain away long enough for you to get some blood and start the healing process.  I’ll check on you tomorrow and bring some more over, just in case.” 

 

She turned to Buffy and said sternly, “He probably needs blood right now, but I left another dose of the drink in the kitchen.  You can give him more if the pain gets too bad.  Just remember it’ll put him to sleep, so make sure he isn’t where the sun can reach him in the morning.”

 

Buffy started to bristle at the way Tara was instructing her in how to take care of the injured vampire, but Spike’s hand on her arm forestalled any angry remark.

 

“Thank you, luv,” he said softly, doing his best to smile at the gentle witch.  “Appreciate it more than I can say…all of it.”

 

Tara nodded and smiled.  “You’re welcome, Spike.  Feel better.”  Without another word to Buffy, she let herself out of the house and started towards her car, but turned quickly when Buffy ran out the door behind her.

 

“Is something wrong?”

 

“No, nothing’s wrong. I just wanted to…to say ‘Thank you’ – for everything.” She eyed the car and pulled a stake from her waistband. “And to make sure you get back to the dorm safely,” she added, yanking the vamp that had been hiding under the car out onto her stake.  “What kind of an idiot stalks somebody in the Slayer’s driveway?” she asked rhetorically as the dust drifted away.

 

 After a quick look in the back of the car, she gave Tara a hug and repeated her whispered “Thank you”.

 

“You’re welcome,” Tara said.  Disengaging herself from the almost painfully tight hug, she pushed Buffy towards the house. “Now go take care of your man. He needs you.”

 

With a silent nod, Buffy waited until Tara was in the car and safely backing out of the driveway before returning to the living room and the vampire who loved her.

 

 

 

 

Part II

 

 

When she reentered the living room, Spike was struggling to sit up, wincing with pain as he did so.

 

“What are you doing, you dope?  Stay still.”

 

“Was goin’ to see if you had any blood.”

 

“I’ll look. You stay here. I think there might be a bag in the freezer, left over from when you used to be…” Her voice trailed off as she remembered why he was no longer as welcome in the house as he had been while she was dead.

“I’ll get some more tomorrow,” she announced, as if expecting an argument.  “We should always have some here, just in case…”

 

“In case what? In case you feel the need to beat the bleedin’ hell out of me again?”

 

“You shouldn’t have tried to stop me,” she said without turning around. “It wasn’t any of your business.”

 

“Anything that happens to you is my business.” 

 

 She could hear the possessive growl that trailed off in a moan.  She wanted to argue with him; to call him on how very much she was NOT his business, but the lingering guilt over what she’d already done to him kept her uncharacteristically silent.

 

With another guilty shiver, Buffy hastened to the kitchen and rummaged in the freezer until she located the container of pigs’ blood she knew was still there. She thawed it in the microwave, then poured the defrosted blood into a mug and warmed it to body temperature.  She waited, her hands resting on the counter until she noticed her bloodied knuckles.  With a start, she snatched them back, then ran to the sink and scrubbed them until they were pink and dripping water.

 

The microwave dinged and she quickly dried her hands.  She took out the mug of blood and stared at it for a few seconds, then set it down on the counter.  Reaching for one of the few good knives they had left (I’ve got to stop using my kitchen knives for slaying!), she ran the sharp blade across her wrist and watched as her fresh blood dripped into the mug to mingle with that of the unfortunate pig.

 

She rinsed the small cut and draped a dishtowel over it to hide the already closing wound; then entered the living room to find Spike staring at her intently.  His eyes immediately went to her covered wrist.

 

“What happened?” he demanded.

 

“Nothing happened. What do you mean?”  She pushed the mug into his hand and retreated to the easy chair.  “Drink that while it’s still warm.”

 

“Smell your blood,” he growled, still staring at the arm that she was trying, somewhat conspicuously, to hide behind her back.  He eyed the mug suspiciously and sniffed its contents, then raised wide eyes to her red face.

 

“Are you daft?”

 

“Drink it,” she repeated, her expression embarrassed but firm.  “You need it.”

 

Without taking his eyes off her, he raised the mug to his lips and began to gulp greedily.  With only a few hearty swallows, it was gone and he was running his tongue around the rim to collect any remaining drops.  He set the mug on floor and held out his hand.

 

Ignoring the gesture, Buffy asked, “How do you feel?  Are you better?”

 

He sighed and dropped his arm, closing his eyes to savor the new blood singing through his body.  Instead of answering her, he let himself go limp as the healing process began.  His pained wince as broken bones tried to knit themselves together had Buffy flying across the room to hover anxiously.

 

“What’s wrong?  I thought that would make you feel better.  What’s wrong? Is there something wrong with my blood?”

 

He shook his head without opening his eyes.  “Don’t be stupid, Slayer. Your blood is every bit the tonic you expected it to be.  I’m just letting myself bask in the way my body reacts to it, is all.  Stings a bit, the healing does; but feels wonderful just the same.”

 

“Oh.  Oh, I’m…glad then.”

 

This time when he reached for her, she allowed him to steer her to his side and she sat down on the couch, careful not to jostle his still injured torso.  She ghosted a tentative hand over his face, drawing her attention to the fact that her newly-washed hands were the only non- blood–spattered things she could see.

 

She could feel the sticky blood in her hair, and knew it was probably on her face too, as well as having dried on the now-stiff blouse she was wearing.  Spike’s face, of course, was also covered in blood – to the point that it was difficult to see the bruises – and his own shirt and coat were stiffening up as it dried.

 

Jumping up in spite of his mumbled protest, Buffy ran to the kitchen and soaked the towel with warm water, wringing it out and hurrying back to him.  With great care, she gently patted his face and head, softening the dried blood and washing it off. She made two trips back to the kitchen to rinse the towel out before she was satisfied that she had cleaned him up as much as was possible without causing more pain.

 

When she sat back, mentally cringing at the bruises now more visible on his face, he opened one eye and peered at her.

 

“Look prettier now, do I?”

 

Buffy shook her head.  “No, you still look like you went a few rounds with a…”

 

“With a Slayer?” His lips twitched and she tried to suppress an answering smile.

 

“Yeah,” she said softly, causing confusion to fill his eyes when she ran her knuckles along his chin – taking care not to touch with enough force to make the bruises worse, but firmly enough that he could feel the reluctant affection in her touch.

 

He turned his head towards her hand, keeping one wary eye on her face as he kissed the back of the fist that had done so much damage.  When she didn’t pull away, he plucked up his courage and turned her hand over so that he could kiss her palm.  Rather than pull it away, as he expected, she cupped his face and smiled when he pressed into her palm like a cat rubbing on its owner.

 

In spite of enjoying the unusual attention, his still broken body insisted that he rest while the blood continued its work, and his head dropped back onto the pillow at the end of the couch. Seeing him struggling to keep his eyes at least partially open, Buffy leaned in and whispered, “Go ahead and go back to sleep.  I’m going to go take a shower and get some clean clothes on.”  She paused to examine his shirt, then began to unbutton it.

 

“Let me have this – I’ll wash it when I wash my stuff.”

 

Without opening his eyes, he tried to be helpful as she gently tugged off first his coat, and then the shirt, and slid them out from under him.  When she had the bloody shirt, and the vampire had relaxed again, she draped his duster over him and stood up. 

 

I guess that tee shirt could stand a wash, too, but I can’t get that off him without hurting him too much.  I’m sure it’s not the first time he’s fallen asleep wearing bloody clothes.

 

Buffy gave him one last lingering glance, then trudged upstairs, shedding her own clothes as she went.  She threw the bloody clothing into the sink, filling it with cold water so they could soak; then she stepped into the shower and began to wash the blood and sweat out of her hair. She leaned against the wall, letting the hot water run over her head and body while she tried to figure out where she was going next. Moving robotically, she turned off the water, dried off, and combed out her tangled hair, blowing it just dry enough to keep her from getting chilled while she rinsed out the bloody clothing.

 

As she stood, naked, watching the pink water swirl out of the sink, she tried to reconcile her hard-wired belief that an unsouled vampire couldn’t love, couldn’t be loyal, and was completely unworthy of her, with the feelings she was beginning to realize she might have for him.

 

Oh my god!  Do I have…feelings…for Spike?  Is that what this is?  Not just guilt, but…some kind of…Okay. There will be no using of the “L” word. Not an option.  He’s got no soul, his chip could go at any time…it doesn’t matter how he makes me feel, or how Dawn feels about him, or how much I…

 

She stared at herself in the mirror, correctly reading the panic in her eyes as her carefully crafted worldview began to develop giant cracks. 

 

Leaving the stained shirts in the sink, she went to her room and got into her warmest flannel pajamas and a pair of warm socks.  She eyed her bed longingly for several minutes, then snatched the quilt off it and hurried out of the room before she could change her mind.

 

Spike was still on the couch, but after the infusion of warm blood, he now had some color in his face and was more animated looking than before.  Buffy carefully lifted the blood-encrusted duster off his body and replaced it with the quilt, pausing to gaze at his relaxed face.

 

Where are we going from here?  Am I falling in love with another vampire? A soulless one this time?  How do I justify having a relationship with Spike to the people who remember what Angelus was like?  CAN I justify it?

 

She double-checked the drapes, making sure that no stray sunbeams would sneak into the living room, and said a small prayer of thanks that the front of the house faced north and west, keeping it safe from direct sunlight until late afternoon.  Deciding that finding out what was what with the girl she thought she’d killed was more important than worrying about how, when or if to tell the Scoobies about Spike and the relationship she had been keeping from them, she carried the coat into the kitchen and put any thoughts of it’s owner out of her mind.

 

The leather coat responded better than she had expected it to when she carried it into the kitchen and used the damp towel to sponge the dried blood off. When she finished, she draped it over a stool and stood back to admire her work.

 

“There. A little bit of leather preservative or something, and it’ll be as good as new.”

 

Flicking the light off, she went back into the living room to find him lying on his side and gazing at her with an inscrutable expression.  His face was partially buried in the quilt and she could see him visibly inhaling her scent off it.  He held one corner up and waited to see if she would accept the silent invitation. 

 

When she didn’t move, but only stared at him with frightened eyes, he sighed and nodded, letting the quilt drop back into place.

 

“Right, just some cold comfort for the injured vamp, then.”

 

“What did you think it was?” she said stubbornly, knowing full well that she had probably given him good reason to be hopeful, but wishing he would let it go.


            “Nothing,” he said flatly.  “I thought it was nothing.  Might have felt like something for a minute, but my mistake.”

 

“What do you want from me?”  Her voice rose in spite of her attempt to keep it low and controlled.  “What do you want from me, Spike? I brought you home, I’m taking care of you, I even gave you my blood.  What the hell else do you want?”

 

She whirled and headed back into the kitchen, away from his disappointed gaze and the battered face that managed to look lopsided, sad and sexy at the same time.

 

“An apology might be nice,” he finally sighed. “But I guess that would be a bit much to hope for.”

 

She froze, her hand still on the doorway to the kitchen; her shoulders began to quiver as she struggled to control her emotions.  Spike’s soft, apologetic “Buffy?” broke her resolve and she whirled to stare at him with damp eyes.

 

“I’m sorry!” she blurted.  “I’m sorry I beat you, and I’m sorry I don’t let you hang out here anymore, and I’m sorry that I killed that girl and I’m sorry that I think I need to---I’m sorry…” Her voice trailed off to a whisper. “I don’t know how to do this.”

 

“Com’ere, luv”  His quiet plea washed over her, drawing her towards the couch where he was leaning against the cushion and holding out his hand.  She reached forward and allowed him to wrap her fingers in his. He pulled her slowly towards the small space in front of him, shaking his head when she tried to pull back so as not to push against his bruised ribs.

 

“No, Slayer.  You won’t hurt me.  Need a bit of closeness now, yeah? The both of us, I think.”

 

“I can’t believe you want me to be close to you,” she whispered, her voice muffled against his shoulder.   “You should hate me for the way I treat you – even for a vampire, it’s got to be… I beat you, I yell at you, I won’t let you into the house to see the girl that you took care of while I was gone.”  She stopped and sat up straighter.  “And I almost killed you for trying to help…even if you were trying to let me get away with murder.”

 

“I heard what the Bit and Glinda had to say, pet.  You don’t know that you did anything wrong.  The more I think about it, the more likely it is that somebody sent those demons after you.”

 

“And they knew that near your crypt was a good place to find me?  Terrific!”

 

She missed his flinch at her obvious distress over the idea that someone might know where she spent her nights.  But she did notice that he wasn’t holding her hand anymore and had dropped his head back onto the pillow, his eyes squeezed shut.

 

“Don’t,” she warned.  “I know how you feel about keeping this a secret, but now isn’t the time.  The important thing right now is that I treat you like crap – and that you let me do it.”

 

“So, it’s my fault, is it?”  His eyes were open again and she wasn’t sure that she didn’t see flecks of gold in them as he glared at her.

 

She stood up and threw her hands into the air.  “No! I’m not saying it’s your fault – although all that “you belong in the dark” and “you’re just like me” isn’t exactly music to my ears, you know.  I’m just saying that I do all that…stuff… to you, and there must be something wrong with you if you just take it.”

 

“Because god forbid that I could be putting up with you because I love you.”

 

She dropped to her knees beside him, biting her lip with frustration as she tried to express what she found the most unsettling thing about their volatile relationship.

 

“And I’ve been…been using you.  Using the way you feel about me and the way you let me do anything I want – just to make…just so I can feel.”

 

“Buffy…love…” He sighed softly and leaned out to put his lips to the top of her head.  “It’s not as bad as all that, is it?  Yeah, you beat on me – but most of the time I give as good as I get, don’t I?  And when you yell at me – don’t I yell back just as loud?”

 

Skipping past the very legitimate issue of the way she had cut off his access to her sister and her house, he stroked her cheek, pushing the still-damp hair off her face.

 

 “And if by usin’ me, you mean coming to my bed and letting me love you any and every way I know how…” He smiled and shook his head.  “Yeah, don’t know if I can ever forgive you for that, pet.  Throwing that body at me night after night, forcing me to hold it, to kiss those pouty lips…”

 

 His eyes glazed over and in spite of his injuries, Buffy could read his body’s reaction to his thoughts. She glanced at his face and gave a shaky laugh.

 

“Earth to Spike.” 

 

“Sorry, love. ‘s what you do to me.  Made all an old vamp’s dreams come true, you did; and now you want to apologize for it?”

 

“But, I’ve been using you.  Taking advantage of …of the way you fe--”

 

“Of the way I love you,” he corrected softly.

 

She nodded reluctantly.  “Of the way you love me.  Knowing you would always want me – no matter what I did.  That I could count on you to make me forget for a little while…  I use you, Spike.”

 

“Really not complainin’ here, luv,” he murmured.  “There’s nothing you could do to make me sorry about what we’ve been doin’.  I wouldn’t give up a single minute that you’ve spent in my bed--”

 

He was interrupted by Buffy’s snorted, “We haven’t spend very many minutes in the actual bed.  How often do we even get that far?”

 

“Was speakin’ metaphorically, Slayer.  Now you’ve interrupted my train of thought…” He growled as she smothered a smile.  “Where was I?”

 

“You were trying to make me feel better about using you for my own personal sex toy.”

 

“Oh yeah.” He peered at her sideways. “Was it workin’?”

 

She sighed and shrugged.  “Probably.”  Then she raised her head to meet his gaze.  “But it shouldn’t be.  It’s a terrible thing for me to do to somebody who loves me – to someone I…care about.” 

 

She tried not to see the hope that sparked in his eyes at her stumbling admission that all her lies about hating him and being disgusted by him were just that – lies.  When he opened his mouth to speak, she quickly touched her fingers to his lips and shook her head.

 

“Don’t,” she whispered, trying to ignore that he was kissing her fingertips with his still-swollen lips.  “Don’t try to make this more than it is.  You know I care about you – that I have feelings for you.  If I didn’t, it wouldn’t bother me how much I might hurt you by using you, by letting you think--  I wouldn’t care.”

 

He interrupted her by putting her thoroughly kissed fingertips back against her own lips.  “Yes,” he said firmly. “Yes, you would.  Wouldn’t matter how you felt about me – you’d never willingly hurt a bloke. You’d care.”  He continued to press her hand against her own lips.  “But you wouldn’t be letting me make love to you every night.  Not if you didn’t feel something.  Don’t have to call it love if you don’t want to – but don’t try to tell yourself you’d be with me if you didn’t care. That’s not you, Buffy. That’s not my very special girl.”

 

She gave a guilty flinch as his words reminded her of those in the alley and her violent reaction to being called “his girl”.  Before she could cover her flinch, the ever-perceptive vampire tightened his fingers around hers.

 

“You are my girl, love. All the denying in the world can’t change that. You’ll be my girl until I’m dust.  Not saying you’ll always want to be, or that I’ll even be a part of your life, but you have to know that no matter where I am, what I’m doing, or who I’m with, you will never stop being my girl.  Same as Dru’s my sire and Angelus is my family.  Some things can’t be changed, they just are.”

 

“You’re putting me in the same category with Dru and Angelus?”  She suddenly remembered his whispered words about the darkness within her and stiffened, trying to pull away. She stopped when she heard him hiss as he tightened his grip and put pressure on his ribs.

 

 “Stop,” she gasped, guilt returning instantly.  “Don’t hurt yourself any more.”

 

“Then don’t get your knickers in a twist and try to leave,” he growled, shifting into a more comfortable position and letting his arm slip to her shoulder. “All I meant was that lovin’ you is a part of me now. It’s a fact of my life – just like they are.  Won’t matter if we’re together or not; what you are to me isn’t ever going to change.”

 

Not sure how to respond to the idea that an immortal being thought he would love her forever, Buffy settled for looking away and standing up. Searching for a reason to get away from the conversation, she said, “I’m going to go get you some more blood.  Do NOT move off that couch! You hear me?”

 

“I hear you, Slayer,” he said, sinking back with a weary sigh. “Not sure I could go anywhere if I wanted to. Ought to be able to get out of your hair by tomorrow, though.”

 

“I don’t want you out of my hair,” she muttered.  “I just don’t…”

 

“You just don’t want to risk getting’ caught being all…girlfriendy-like. I got it, pet. It’s not a problem, I just though maybe we had…” He let his voice trail off, clearly reluctant to say aloud what he’d been hoping for.

 

“We have,” she responded quickly, moving closer to the couch and kneeling down beside it.   “I mean, I think we have.  We…it’s different.  I know that. We can’t go back to…” She shook her head in frustration.  “I don’t want to go back – I just don’t know how to change it without setting off world war III.  Tara’s fine with it – she’s a fan of yours, apparently,” she added with a sharp glare.  “If I didn’t know that she still loves Willow and isn’t into guys, I’d wonder just what…”

 

“She’s a nice girl, Buffy.  Warm and loving, and curvy in all the right places…” He smiled as she stiffened indignantly.  “But, ‘m taken, love.  Thought we’d settled that already.  You’ve got nothing to worry about there. She’s a good friend, is all.  To both of us,” he added softly.  “Tryin’ to steer you right, she is.”

 

“I know,” Buffy’s shoulders slumped and she relaxed against the side of the couch, letting him stoke her hair and falling into the sensual pleasure of being petted.  “I didn’t mean to go all jealous-Buffy on you.”

 

“You’ll never hear me complain about that,” he chuckled. “Makes me feel all manly and wanted, it does.”

 

Buffy snorted at the smirk she could hear in his voice.

 

“The thing is, except for Dawn – who would think anything that brings you around here more is fine - I just don’t know how Willow and Xander would take…Nobody’s forgotten what happened the last time I had a vampire boyfriend.”

 

“So, I have to pay because Angelus is a wanker?”  His voice was deliberately light, but his hand paused it’s gentle stroking for a telling second.

 

Buffy raised her head to meet his gaze, wondering, as she did, how he could put so much into one pair of eyes.  Hope, anxiety, anger, resignation and the overwhelming affection that was never absent were all present; for all that his face remained carefully neutral.

 

“It’s not like you’ve never tried to kill any of us, too,” she reminded him, softening her words with a small smile.  “They do have some reason to be afraid of you.”

 

He nodded, but contradicted her.  “They do, pet. But it was a long time ago.  I’ve saved their lives way more times than I tried to take them – especially while you were…” Reluctant to remind her of where she’d been for those long months, he didn’t bother to finish his sentence.  “If I didn’t off anybody while you weren’t here to protect them, why would they think I’d throw away my chance with you by doin’ it now?  Even Harris isn’t that stupid.” 

 

Buffy tried to smother her yawn, but succeeded only in drawing his attention to the way her eyes were drifting shut.

 

“Boring you, am I?” he said, subtly shifting his body so as to make more room on the couch.  “You should probably take a little nap; try to catch some kip before you get the nibblet off to school.”

 

“I was paying attention to you,” she protested, sitting up straight and stretching.  “I’m just getting sleepy…a nap would be good. I’m going to have to get up when Willow does so I can tell her what to look for tomorrow.”

 

Once again, he silently raised the edge of the coverlet, waiting patiently for her response.  In one graceful movement, she rose to a crouch and carefully slid onto the big couch.  The quilt settled around her shoulders and she sighed in contentment as she curved her body into his.

 

“Just for a little while. Just so I’m not all no-sleep Buffy when I talk to Willow in the morning,” she murmured, squirming carefully until he was spooning her.  “You’ll tell me if I’m too close, right? I don’t want to hurt you.”

 

He gave a weak snort.  “Don’t think there is such a thing as havin’ you too close, love.  But if there was, I’d let you know.  Eventually.”

 

“Mmmph” was the only reply as the slayer feel into a deep sleep, desperate for some respite from the emotional roller coaster of the night’s events.

 

Spike allowed a restorative sleep to take him again, his body comforted by the warm, breathing presence next to him and his heart encouraged by the sounds of her trusting snores.  Neither one of them heard Willow tiptoe in an hour later; and she was too tired and anxious to get to bed to even look at the quilt-covered lump on the couch.

 

 

Part III

 

The exhausted Spike and Buffy never noticed when Dawn and Willow came downstairs.  Dawn glanced into the living room, smiling and holding her finger to her lips when Willow peered curiously after her.  She stiffened for a minute, then, at Dawn’s fierce glare, nodded slowly and tiptoed into the kitchen.

 

Their whispered conversation about the events of the previous night was interrupted by Xander’s noisy entrance and they sat up with guilty expressions and panicked eyes.

 

“Morning, ladies,” he said, helping himself to a cup of coffee.  “Buffy not up yet?”

 

“No,” Dawn hissed, “so keep your voice down.”

 

“She won’t hear me from here,” he said, surprised at being shushed so abruptly.  His gaze fell upon the familiar leather duster hanging on the back of Dawn’s chair and he set his cup down, ignoring the way coffee sloshed over the side.

 

“Please tell me this is a souvenir from a dusty event?”

 

Dawn’s attempt to shush him failed completely, and a muttered, “Bloody hell!” from the living room brought his head spinning around.  He followed his gaze to the entrance of the living room, pausing in the doorway, frozen at the sight before him.  A noticeably bruised and battered Spike was stretched out on the couch with Buffy curled up beside him, only her spot-lighted deer expression indicating that she was awake. He ignored the vampire’s silencing glare to ask, somewhat rhetorically, “What the hell?”

 

Spike’s warning growl was cut off by Buffy’s quiet, “It’s okay. I’m awake.”

 

She blinked her eyes, then met the puzzled brown ones of her oldest male friend.

 

“Hi,” she ventured.  “This isn’t what it looks like.”

 

“It looks like you and the evil undead spent the night all snuggled together on the couch.”

 

“Okay, maybe it is what it looks like.”

 

She sat up, allowing the quilt to fall back and expose her flannel pajamas and Spike’s fully clothed body.  The tension visibly left Xander’s shoulders as he absorbed the relative innocence of their appearance.

 

“Okay, clothes on. That’s of the good.  Sleeping with the vampire when you have a perfectly good bed upstairs – less of the good.  Why are you here?”

 

“Because Spike was too badly hurt to make it up the stairs,” Buffy said.  “And I didn’t want to leave him alone. I was just going to nap, but… ”

 

“Oh, okay, well that makes sen—what? Wait.  Why didn’t you want him to be alone? Alone is good.”

 

“He was – is – hurt.  I was worried about him.”

 

He stared from her anxious face to Spike’s carefully blank expression and then back to Buffy.

 

“Since when do you worry about Spike?”

 

“Xander,” Buffy sighed, not looking forward to beginning the day with the explosion she was sure was going to follow her stumbling explanation.  “Things are going to-- they might be…different.  Spike might be around more than…Look, you might just have to--”

 

“To what? I might have to get used to seeing his undead carcass on the couch every morning?”  Xander eyed the unusually silent vampire’s battered face. “Nice look, by the way, Deadboy, Jr.  What did you tangle with, and did Buffy kick its ass for you?”

 

With a guilty wince, Buffy quickly jumped to her feet as Spike dropped his head back on the cushion, ignoring Xander’s question.

 

“I’ll get you the rest of the medicine,” she said, dashing into the kitchen and pulling the container from the refrigerator.  She poured it into a glass and came back into the room where Xander was staring at the uncharacteristically still vampire, a puzzled frown creasing his forehead.  The frown deepened as Buffy gently helped Spike to sit up and then held the glass to his lips.

 

When he had swallowed the whole thing, she lowered his head and stood up, clutching the empty glass tightly until the pained expression on Spike’s face relaxed.  Gesturing for Xander to follow her, she walked back to the kitchen and set the glass in the sink.

 

“Are you going to answer my questions? What did he tangle with, and is he going to be staying on the couch until you get tired of taking care of him?”

 

“He’s not going to be on the couch once he can walk,” she answered obliquely.  He thought back over her initial response as to why the vampire was on the couch.

 

“So,” he asked as casually as he could, already sure of the answer as he noticed Dawn and Willow watching him intently, “Where will he be when he’s all back to his obnoxious self? Back to his crypt, I hope?”

 

“Sometimes,” she answered slowly.  “But sometimes…sometimes he might be here.”  Her eyes went to his, her gaze apprehensive, but steady, as she waited for the meaning of her words to sink in.  There was a tense silence, then Xander blew out his breath with a loud sigh and sank onto a kitchen stool.

 

“Well, damn!” he muttered. “I’m going to owe Anya some expensive jewelry.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“What?”

 

“Go, Anya!”  This last came from Dawn, who figured it out before either of the older girls.

 

“Yeah, I guess she wins that bet,” he admitted. “I should have known better than to bet against an ex-vengeance demon, I guess.”

 

“Bet?”

 

Xander grinned sheepishly at his two best female friends.  “Yep. She bet me that you and Spike were having some kind of a …thing.  I guess this means she wins.”

 

Buffy’s entire body, which, until it was gone she hadn’t even realized had been coiled with tension, relaxed, causing her to stumble against the counter.

 

“Wha-?”

 

“Look, I’m dating an ex-demon.  Not really in a position to…”  He took a deep breath.  “You might have noticed that Anya is pretty…um…outspoken about some things.  One of them, and never mind how much it grosses me out, would be stories about her years as a vengeance demon and some of the things she’s done….” His voice trailed off and he visibly shuddered.  “Anyway, she’s been bending my ear about the bleached menace and how much he’s done for you and Dawn, and how much he’s changed from the Big Bad that wanted to kill us all.”  He shook his head in disbelief.  “Can’t really argue with her there – much as I might want to.”

 

“So, you’re okay with this?”  Disbelief and hope fought for prominence in her voice and face.

 

 “In the sense that he’s not good enough for my Buffy? Of course not.  But if he’s what you want…I guess you could do worse than find yourself somebody who loved his last girlfriend for over a hundred years.”  He laughed at their stunned faces and then said to Dawn,” Let’s go, short stuff. School’s awaitin’”

 

As they went out the kitchen door, he turned back and caught Buffy’s eyes.   “Just remind old formerly evil undead that I still work with wood every day. Lots of it.”

 

Buffy sat at the counter, staring at the closed door with her mouth open and her eyes unfocused. 

 

“Buffy?” Willow’s voice brought her back to her surroundings and she started guiltily.

 

“I’m sorry, Wills, were you saying something?”

 

“I said how long have you been hiding this because you were afraid of what we’d say?” Willow asked, raising a shrewd eyebrow at her friend.

 

“For a …a while? I don’t know.”  She shook her head. “I just can’t believe there isn’t yelling and threats of stake-age.” She looked into her best friend’s sympathetic eyes and said, “I’m sorry. I misjudged you. You and Xander.”

 

“You probably didn’t,” Willow admitted with a small smile, remembering their reaction to seeing Spike and the Buffybot for the first time. “If you’d done this last year, there would have been yelling and carrying on and lecturing, and, with Giles still here, much polishing of glasses.”

 

They shared a small smile as they remembered the watcher’s reaction to being told that Buffy was having public sex with Spike, then Willow continued, “But Giles is gone. He left you to grow up and make your own way – so pfft for his right to complain about your choices.  And Xander and me?  Like he said, he’s going to marry an ex-vengeance demon who has tortured and killed more men than Spike could imagine – so really not in a position to throw stones; I mean, Anya came here to grant Cordelia a wish, for god’s sake!   We were almost all dead!”

 

Buffy snorted at the reminder of how they had all met Anya.

 

“And, me?” Willow’s voice softened, her unhappiness palpable.  “I managed to drive my less-than-conventional lover away by using magic to manipulate her mind.  Really not feeling all that superior here.”

 

“Thanks, Willow.”  Buffy smiled gratefully and stood up.  “I appreciate the support.  Now, I guess I’d better get dressed and go get some blood for Spike so he can finish healing.”

 

“What did happen to him? I haven’t seen him this beat up since Glory.”  Willow looked at Buffy expectantly.

 

I happened to him,” Buffy whispered.  “I am so ashamed of myself, Willow, I can’t tell you.  I hurt him for trying to help me.  I don’t deserve him.”

 

“Oh.” Nonplussed, Willow clearly wasn’t sure what to say at first. Giving herself a little shake, she put on her ‘supportive friend’ face and said gamely, “Well, I’m sure you had a good reason for it.”

 

“Not really.  I took out all my anger at the people who brought me back, and the man who left me to cope on my own, against the one who had nothing to do with any of it and who would never leave me.  Pretty hard to justify that.”

 

“I think you just did,” Willow said with a sad smile.  “You were hurting and you took it out on the only one who could take it and survive.  Sucks for Spike, but I think he probably understands.”

 

“Understanding it doesn’t mean it was right.”

 

“No. I’m not saying it was right.  It wasn’t. I’m saying there’s nobody here in a position to throw stones at you – including him.  You’re sorry, you’ve made it clear that you’re sorry and you’re taking care of him now.  You need to forgive yourself, Buffy.  Trust me, carrying around a load of guilt is no fun…”

 

Jarred out of her own misery for a second, Buffy covered Willow’s hand with her own.  “You’re doing great, Willow.  With the not using magic, I mean.  It’s going to be all right.”

 

Willow squeezed Buffy’s hand back, then stood up. “We’re a pair, aren’t we?” she sighed. 

 

They smiled at each other, then Willow asked, “What did he do that made you so mad at him? Not that you have to tell me, cause, really not my bus—

 

Buffy suddenly remembered why she wanted to be awake before Willow left for the day.

 

“Oh my god! How could I forget?” She made a guilty face at a puzzled Willow.  “I think…well, I did last night, anyway…we thought I killed a girl.  Accidentally. But I was going to turn myself in to the police and Spike tried to stop me.”  She shrugged uncomfortably.  “It turns out, he might have been right – that I shouldn’t turn myself in…Because maybe…maybe I didn’t do it.    I need for you to get into the police computer, or whatever, and find out who she was and anything else that might help us figure out who else might have done it and who might know something about time shifting and demon summoning.”

 

Nodding her head vigorously, Willow said, “I’m already on it.” She looked over her shoulder as she was leaving the room. “I’m going to be on campus all day. I’ll bring dinner home with me, ‘k?”

 

“’k.  Thanks. I guess I’d better get going too.  I need to get Spike some more blood.”

 

She followed Willow out of the kitchen, noting that Spike appeared to be sleeping again.  She quickly ran upstairs and threw on some clothes suitable for an early morning visit to a butcher shop.  When she was ready to leave, she paused beside the couch and brushed her hand against Spike’s shoulder. He opened his one good eye and gazed at her as though not sure where he was.

 

“Hey,” she said softly. “I’m sorry to wake you, but I just wanted you to know - I’m gonna run out to the butcher’s and get a supply of blood for the fridge.  I’ll be back pretty soon.  Don’t try to get up until I get back, ok?”

 

“Not going anywhere, pet,” he mumbled, closing his eye again. “I’ll be here when you get back.”

 

 

 

Part IV

 

When Buffy returned with several days’ supply of blood, she found the couch empty and the sound of running water coming from upstairs. Growling to herself about “stupid vampires” and “macho males”, she quickly shoved the blood into the refrigerator and ran up the stairs, pausing outside the bathroom door and biting her lip for a second.

 

Eventually, she knocked, waiting for Spike’s “I’m naked. Don’t come in if you’re not the Slayer,” before pushing the door open to glare at him.

 

“Which part of ‘don’t move off the couch until I get home’ confused you?” she said, running her eyes quickly over his body and wincing at the multi-colored bruises covering his rib cage and stomach.  “You might have fallen and re-broken something,” she scolded to cover her own dismay at more visible evidence of what she’d done to him.

 

He had no trouble recognizing the feigned anger for what it really was and he responded gently.  “I’m fine, Slayer.  Between Glinda’s magic potions and your blood, I’m much better than I look.  Those are just left over bruises.  The bones have knit already and nothing hurt so bad that I couldn’t get myself up the stairs and out of those bloody clothes.” He gestured to the blood-encrusted jeans and tee shirt on the floor and ducked back behind the curtain to continue his shower.

 

With an exasperated huff that sounded more like her mother than Buffy might have liked, she bent down and picked the dirty clothing up, throwing it in a basket with the shirts that she’d rinsed out the night before.

 

“As soon as you’re finished with the hot water, I’ll throw all this stuff in the washer and see if I can make them wearable again.”  She stood in the doorway, not sure what she wanted to do or say next, finally settling on, “I’ll get you some towels and something to wear,” before closing the door behind her and searching through her closet for an old pair of sweats that Riley had left behind.   Without knocking this time, she opened the bathroom door and walked in to find that Spike had just turned off the water and was preparing to step out of the tub.

 

“Here,” she said quickly, turning her eyes away from the way the water droplets emphasized his chiseled body.  Her heart rate went up, as did her body temperature, and she cursed the effect he always had on her.  A flickered glance at his face told her that he’d picked up on her reaction to his naked body, and she watched in disbelief as he began to swell in response.

 

“You’re incorrigible,” she muttered, handing him a large towel and avoiding his laughing eyes.  “Dry off and get some pants on.”

 

“’s your fault,” he pouted.  “I can’t help it if my tight little body makes you smell…interesting.”

 

“You’re a pig, Spike,” she said automatically.  “Get dressed. I’m going to get these disgusting clothes washed.”

 

She turned her back on his laughing “Oink, oink, Slayer” and took the basket of blood-covered clothes downstairs.  With a wicked grin, she put them all into the same load and added enough bleach to take the remaining blood stains out of her white blouse.

 

“Let’s see how he likes walking out of here wearing pink and gray,” she giggled as she pushed the buttons on the machine and heard it begin to fill.

 

When she got back upstairs, she found a very sulky vampire sitting bare-chested on the couch and flicking through the TV channels.  He gave her a lethal glare and then turned his attention back to the screen.

 

“What’s wrong with you?” she demanded, hands on hips, all promises to be more patient with him forgotten.

 

In answer, he stood up and clutched with one hand the much too large sweat pants that Buffy belatedly realized probably still smelled somewhat like Riley.  He let go of the waistband and let them begin to slide down his narrow hips, only grabbing them again at the last second before they could slide off his ass and onto the floor.

 

This is all you could find?”

 

“Well, it’s not like there have ever been any men living in this house, you know,” she snapped back.  “You’re just lucky that Riley changed his clothes here a couple of times and left those behind.”

 

“Oh,” his voice dripped with sarcasm. “Lucky me. I get to spend the day wearin’ a reminder that one of your exes got naked here.”

 

Buffy’s fists clenched, but before she could explode at his petty jealousy, she remembered how she’d responded to his praise of Tara.  I don’t suppose I’d be too thrilled if he asked me to wear one of Dru’s old dresses., she sighed mentally.  Taking a deep breath and deliberately calming herself, she took a different tack.  She ran her eyes from his still colorful chest, down his flat stomach and allowed them to linger just above the waistband where she could see a line of soft hair leading into the baggy pants. She licked her lips and obviously ogled his body as she purred, “Doesn’t really remind me much of him.  They look a whole lot better on you…”

 

With one of his mercurial changes of mood, he responded immediately to her overt flirting with his own suggestion.

 

“Would look even better off me, pet,” he said with a sly grin, allowing them to slip even more.  “Wanna see?”

 

Remembering how she had reacted to the sight of his naked body already, she gulped and pointed around the room.  “Windows? Door? Unlocked back door? Daylight? Dawn? Willow?  Really not a good idea!”

 

“Drapes are drawn,” he drawled. “Nibblet’s at school, Red is gone for the day, doors have locks…” He grinned at her and let go of the pants.   They slid down a few more inches, then stopped, snagged by the firm object sticking out in the front of them.  Buffy’s giggle at the way his own body had spoiled his dramatic gesture brought a laughing growl from the vampire as he impatiently pushed the pants off the protuberance and let them fall to his feet.  He stepped out of them and smiled as Buffy moved closer in spite of herself.

 

“You’re injured,” she whispered, running her hands lightly over his discolored chest. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

 

“Not gonna happen, love.  I told you, the bones are already knit. Anyway, I like a bit of pain with my pleasure, you know that.”

 

He dipped his head to kiss her and she had to admit that his mouth felt just as it always had. If his still slightly swollen lip made kissing painful, there was no sign of it as he reminded her why he had been so easily able to take her away from the sadness and responsibilities of her life. With a little moan, she surrendered to the sensations he was creating, pressing against him and trapping his cock between their bodies. 

 

It wasn’t until his hands had unfastened her jeans and were pushing them off her hips that she remembered where they were.  She forced herself to break the kiss and pull away from him, making sure to slide one hand down his arm to grasp his hand reassuringly. Giving a little tug, she turned toward the stairs saying, “Why don’t we take this somewhere more comfortable…and private?”

 

“Right behind you, love,” he murmured, nuzzling her neck as he urged her toward the staircase.

 

Buffy watched surreptitiously as he climbed to the second floor, but saw no sign that he was lying about being fairly well healed. His stride was fluid and strong as he took the stairs two at a time, passing her and waiting impatiently at the top.

 

“Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doin’, Slayer,” he growled, pulling her against his naked body.  “I told you I’m fine, and I meant it.  Quit worrying about hurting me.”

 

“As if!” she sniffed, pulling away and marching past him into her bedroom.

 

As if I’m not going to remember hurting you like this for the rest of my life.

 

“Hey.” His voice came from right behind her and she jumped in spite of herself.  “What’s wrong?  We don’t have to do this if you don’t want to…”

 

“That’s not it,” she said, turning around and sliding her arms around his waist.  She rested her head on his chest for a second, then stepped back.  “I just don’t like feeling guilty, and I think I’m going to be feeling that way for a long time.”

 

“Buffy,” he started, determined to get her to see that he wasn’t angry at her.  “I don’t—“ He stopped and thought a minute, then broke out into a grin.  He nodded and said, “You’re right, Slayer.  You were a very bad girl and I think you need to make it up to me.  You can start now.”

 

He walked to the bed, turned around and dropped onto the mattress, bouncing a little before lying back and spreading his arms. 

 

“Let’s have it, Slayer.  Start making it up to me.”

 

She glared for a minute, then laughed and joined him on the bed. 

 

“Make it up to you, huh?  I guess I could start by kissing it all better.”

 

True to her word, she began to kiss every bruise and cut she could find, covering his face with soft, open-mouth kisses, and working her way down his torso, stopping to kiss and lick every discolored or scraped spot she could find.  When she began licking his ribs, Spike couldn’t contain himself anymore and he doubled over, laughing as she deliberately tickled him with her tongue.

 

“Cut that out, Slayer!  You’re supposed to be making me feel better – not taking advantage of my affliction.”

 

“It’s not my fault you’re so ticklish,” she said, nibbling on the taut skin over his abdomen.  She ignored his laughing snarls and threats to rip her head off her shoulders, continuing to nibble and lick her way around his body, making sure that she hit every ticklish spot that she could find.  When he was giggling uncontrollably between snarls, he finally grabbed her by the shoulders and yanked her up in the air.  He held her there, at arm’s length so that she couldn’t reach his ribs with her hands, and tried to regain his dignity.

 

When he pulled her down to snuggle against him, he kept a careful hand on each arm until her relaxed posture told him that she was through tormenting him.

 

“You are an evil woman,” he growled softly, brushing his lips over hers and nipping at the tongue she stuck out at him.

 

“And you are a pathetic excuse for a vampire.  Who ever heard of a ticklish demon?”

 

“How many vampires have you taken the time to tickle before you staked them?” he countered.  “There might be hundreds of us, you just never took the time to find out.”

 

“No,” she said softly, reaching up to take his lower lip in her teeth.  “I pretty much think you’re one of a kind…”

 

“’bout bloody time you noticed that,” he murmured back. 

 

“I noticed it a long time ago,” she admitted. “It’s just taken me awhile to appreciate it.”

 

“Speaking of appreciating – weren’t you supposed to be making it up to me for your little fit of temper?” 

 

He slid her shirt off her shoulders and pushed on her still-unfastened jeans until she kicked them off.  Then he leaned back and once again spread his arms out, smiling expectantly.  Buffy gave him a short glare, then nodded and smirked.

 

“You’re right. I am.  I think the first thing I need to do is cover you up and make you comfy in my bed.  Then I’ll bring you some more blood, warmed just the way you like it, and then I’ll….”

 

She broke off in a burst of giggles when the disappointed vampire sat up and threatened to eviscerate her on the spot. 

 

“I don’t think you’re really sorry, Slayer,” he grumbled, falling back onto the pillow and shutting his eyes; thereby missing completely the devastated expression on her face.  When she didn’t respond, except to begin to edge her way off the bed, he opened one eye, realizing as he did so that he could smell tears.

 

“Bloody hell, love…Buffy…please, pet. Come here, I didn’t mean that. Don’t, love….shhhh…no, sweetheart…I never meant…”  He pulled her back onto the bed with him and began crooning to her while he held her tense body against his and cursed himself for a fool.  “I’m a git – the worst wanker that ever walked.  I’m sorry, love.  Please, sweetheart, don’t cry.  Never meant to make you cry…”

 

With a shudder, she gained control of herself and sat up, swiping at her eyes with the back of her hand.

 

“I AM sorry.  I just don’t know how to make you believe me…”

 

“I believe you! Was just being a git and makin’ a joke that wasn’t funny.  Couldn’t not believe you, love; not with all the care I’m getting - sharing your blood, washing my clothes, fussing over my worthless body like you have. Not to mention, hearing you tell me you’re sorry – words I never expected to hear from your cute little mouth.  Can’t stand your tears, Buffy; and I don’t ever want to be responsible for them.”

 

“Then don’t ever let me do anything like that to you again,” she said firmly. “Promise me?”

 

“I promise, sweetheart. If you ever go off on me like that again, I promise you will meet the old me.  Just remember, you asked for it.”

 

“The old you, huh?” she said, blinking innocently. “That would be the one I foiled every step of the way?”

 

“That, Slayer,” he growled, pulling her down and pinning her to the bed, “would be the one that would have had his third slayer if Joyce hadn’t brained me with that axe.  You remember him? The one that had you down?”

 

“He’s got me down now,” she whispered, “and yet, funnily enough, I don’t feel afraid…”

 

He shook his head.  “Killin’ you is the last thing on my mind just now.”

 

His hips pressed her down into the mattress while he dropped his head to meet her eager lips.  Buffy’s legs came up around his waist, and her arms went around his back, holding him to her and forgetting completely about his sore ribs.  He slid into her, smiling at her happy moan and breaking the kiss to whisper into her ear.

 

 Rather than shutting him up, as had been her custom, she basked in the flowery endearments that flowed so easily from his mouth.  For the first time, she found herself wishing she wasn’t so inhibited about expressing herself when it came to love and lovemaking.

 

“Oh, oh, Spike!” just really doesn’t cut it compared to “My perfect love, my gorgeous girl, my precious…..” Oh, god.  Oh, yes, Spike, like that…nobody can make my body sing like you--

 

With a gasp, she realized that the words she wished she could say were actually there, she just wasn’t allowing them out of her mouth.  Taking a deep breath for courage, she whispered, “I love it when you do that.  When you talk to me and tell me how much you love me.”

 

He froze for a second, raising his head to blink at her.  “You do? Since when?  This is about the time that you usually tell me to ‘shut up, Spike’.”

 

“I…I know.  But I don’t want to be that girl anymore.   The one who throws your love back at you.  And, besides…” She stared up at him anxiously.  “If I tell you something, will you promise not to laugh?”

 

“I promise, sweetheart.” While they talked, his hips were continuing a slow, steady motion that was causing them both to breathe a little faster even while they struggled to have a conversation.

 

“I don’t say…things…because I can’t. I’m just not good with the words like you are.  And, I’m too…too…”

 

“Too afraid to be vulnerable?”

 

“I was going to say ‘inhibited,’ but, I guess that’s true, too.  If I say that I like what you do to me, or that I …  it makes it true.”

 

“Is that such a bad thing, love?  Already know you like the things I can do to you, don’t I?  Your body says what your lips won’t – it tells me that you like them. And when it’s really talking to me…” He paused and dipped his head to kiss her again, waiting until her arms tightened around him before he pulled his lips away and whispered, “when it’s really talking to me, it tells me that you love me.”

 

“Stupid secret-telling body,” she muttered, arching into him and grabbing the flesh on his neck with her teeth. She sucked on the skin over his throat, losing herself in the building sensations in her lower body to such an extent that she barely noticed the growls coming from the suddenly frantic vampire.  Her cry of release was muffled in his neck as she trembled and shook under him.

 

With a snarled “Buffy!” he found his own release, his hips still moving long after he was spent as he struggled to control his demon.  Buffy slowly became aware of the difference in his voice and opened her eyes to see amber pupils staring down at her.  Unafraid and clearly able to see the warmth and love behind the demon’s mien, she smiled at him and stroked his wrinkled forehead.

 

“Hi there,” she whispered, running a finger down his cheek and touching an exposed fang.

 

“I’m sorry, love,” he tried to move away, ducking his head and turning it to the side.

 

“It’s okay.  If my body can tell you secrets, I guess it’s okay if yours does.”

 

“Not that much of a secret, is it? That I’m a monster?”

 

“This monster loves me.”  She spoke firmly, turning his face back to meet her gaze. 

 

“That he does, Slayer.  Loves you with all he has and is.”  He shook himself back to his handsome human features and dropped a kiss on her nose.  “Doesn’t mean you should have to be reminded of it at such a vulnerable moment.”

 

“I know what brought him out,” she said, nuzzling the mark she’d made on his neck.  “I didn’t do it on purpose, but I know why you changed.  If I was another vamp, I would have drawn blood, wouldn’t I?”

 

“Probably would have, pet.” He rolled off, ignoring her small whimper of protest and quickly pulling her with him so that he was holding her tightly against his body.  She slid one leg over his thigh and snuggled into his side. 

 

“And it made you want to bite me,” she continued the conversation, kissing his chest when she felt him stiffen against her.  “It’s okay. I don’t mind that you wanted to.”  She looked up at him with a stern face, but her eyes twinkled.  “Of course, if you actually did it….”

 

He chuckled, his chest vibrating under her as he replied, “Not feelin’ all that suicidal right now, love.  Not even the demon is stupid enough to bite the Slayer – or the woman he loves.”

 

“Just so we’re clear – those are the same person, right?”

 

“You know,” he said, squeezing her tightly,” for a beautiful, strong, amazing woman, you are one bloody insecure bint. You know that?”

 

“I know,” she sighed.  “I’m working on it.  You know, when all the men that you’ve tried to please end up leaving you, it’s hard to believe that the one you’ve never been very nice to is going to stay…”

 

“The problem was never you, love. It was your taste in men.  Which has improved tremendously, I might add.”

 

Buffy giggled and ran her hand down his torso.  “I was including Giles and my dad in that group, you know.”

 

“My comment still stands. Wankers, all of them.”  He turned so as to be facing her and gazed at her earnestly.  “I will never leave you, Buffy.  Even if you kick me to the curb someday, you’ll have my heart.  Never doubt it.  I’m yours forever.”

 

“Forever works for me,” she whispered.  “I can do forever.”

 

Or as close to forever as a slayer gets – which could be next week.

 

The End

 

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