Fic: ‘The More Things Stay the Same’ (3/3) by Quinara [R]

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And the last part! I’ll be back later with something extra. :)

The More Things Stay the Same.
Buffy goes to Wesley instead of Tara about the resurrection spell.

Author: Quinara
Rating: R for for reasonably explicit sex and a whole bunch of swearing.
Length: ~25,000 words (in three chapters of approx. 8300 each.)
Other Pairings: None as such, though Angel is around, so there’s certainly Buffy-Angel interaction and a friendly acceptance of the Bangel of yore.
Notes: Big thanks to bogwitch  for the beta job! It rather got away with me after she saw it, though, so don’t blame her for anything you don’t like. ;) Also, this fic is set after DMP (where the chapter titles come from) and immediately after Loyalty on AtS.
Warnings: Nothing AO3 would make you warn for; otherwise, a certain amount of S6-y misery, but it’s not what I’d call the angstiest thing in angst town.

[Chapter One: Hit the Button, Then It Beeps.]
[Chapter Two: Flip the Beef, Hit the Other Button.]

Chapter Three: There’s Not a Button for That.

When Buffy came downstairs, Spike and the green guy from before were still waiting for her, sat at the bottom of the flight by her feet as she walked. Honestly, she didn’t know what to say; she felt empty – and tired.

“Is Wes here?” she asked Spike, thinking maybe she should get the particulars again.

He eyed her as if judging her reaction to Angel’s news. Looked like he’d found out before her, then; she wasn’t sure if she was grateful for him keeping it to himself. Nevertheless, she appreciated it as he begrudgingly kept on topic and answered her question, “No. He went out.”

“And kind of in a hurry, too,” the green guy added, apparently oblivious to any tension, “considering we have guests.” He stood up, offering his hand and pulling Buffy’s gaze away from Spike’s stare. “I’m Lorne, by the way. Sometime entertainer, sometime babysitter – though those overlap more than you’d think.”

A demon babysitter? Uncertain why she felt so comfortable with that, she shook his hand all the same and said, “I’m Buffy.”

“Oh, I know who you are,” he replied with a smile. It was kind of winning; she could feel herself relax. “We walk among legends with you in the room.”

Then her smile became a grimace. No legends. She’d had enough praise for one day. “Buffy’s fine.”

“I’m going to get some blood,” Spike said abruptly, standing up stalking off towards the kitchen.

She took his place on the stairs, watching him go (uncertain how she felt about it), while Lorne leaned back against the banister. “So, ‘Buffy’,” he asked after an uncomfortable silence, “what brought you down to LA?”

“A bus,” she replied distractedly – only to be disarmed when it made the demon grin. She sighed again. “Look, I’m pretty sure Spike told you… Something, anyway – and I’m feeling pretty chatted out so you might as well believe what he says. We’re here, but we’ll be gone soon. I have to get back to work.” At some point, the day after tomorrow. Was there a clock in here anywhere?

Lorne put his hands in his pockets, nonchalantly. “And who says the Chosen One’s not chipper,” he mused.

“No one,” she replied warningly, starting to feel a little hostile. “Not if they don’t wanna get staked.”

Raising his eyebrows, the guy seemed to realise it was time he shut up. She needed time to think. Apparently she wasn’t wrong, just herself, without any hope of fixing; apparently Angel had nearly gone bad again, with Darla of all people, whom he’d killed for her before. The world was a mess. And Spike was…

“Oh, I get it,” Lorne said after a while, interrupting her thoughts – because he had a death wish, or something. “Our resident proud papa finally gave you the lowdown. Yeah, I needed time to process that one myself.” He whistled, “Hoo, boy, those were some tough times; not that the last few months have been coming up roses, but –”

Buffy was thinking about killing him, but thankfully she didn’t have to as his words were interrupted by an exclamation from the kitchen. “…bloody hell does he think he’s playing at?!”

“Spike?” she asked, standing up as he came storming into the lobby, tangerine-coloured mug in hand. (He always picked the ugliest, even when there was a choice; she figured it was a punk thing.)

Not letting her catch his eye, however, Spike’s focus was up the stairs. “An-GEL!” he bellowed, bringing the other vampire running, Connor in his arms. “What the fuck is this you’re drinking?” Holding the mug up like the hated bottle of Bud he’d found in her fridge that one time, his eyes were narrow as Angel came down the stairs. “Thought you were supposed to be noble.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Angel demanded, voice raised but not shouting. She kind of agreed. Couldn’t she catch a break? Just one? “Connor’s asleep, and –”

“I don’t give a toss about your little boogie-woo,” Spike told him, glaring daggers at the bundle of blankets. “I want to know why you’re drinking human blood, when the rest of us have to make do with good old fashioned swine, else we get ourselves done in.”

What? Buffy stared at Angel, entirely new distrust beginning to work its way through her gut. They were the same, it seemed, or similar, with the soulless vampires meaning more than they should. But this was different. This was more. How could he…?

“Now, hold up a second.” Lorne stepped in, raising his hands between the two vampires. “I picked that blood up just this afternoon and it’s pig. Almost going ‘oink’ it’s so fresh, the guy said – which was honestly more than I needed to know…”

“There’s something else in here,” Spike insisted, keeping his eyes locked on Angel and following him down the stairs. “Not much, but enough to take the edge off, and smooth…” That was when Buffy cleared her throat, because, maybe Angel was an unknown, but Spike she could judge. He responded in the right way, though, doubling back and finally looking at her. “Not that I drank it down, Slayer,” he promised, unnecessarily waggling the nearly-full mug under her nose. It smelt of blood: metallic and gross. “Bloody tasty it was, but I stopped after a sip. Or a swallow. But that’s not the point.” He turned back to Angel. “Point is, you don’t have any for a while, you can tell – and the Winged Avenger here’s pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes, getting the praise and the –”

“Give me that.” At last Angel halted the tirade, passing a fussing Connor to Lorne and plucking the mug from Spike’s hand as though it insulted his aesthetics.

Bringing the blood under his nose, Angel breathed in once, long and inhumanly slow, before he looked up, brow knitting. Then, quicker than Buffy could follow, he’d cast the cup away into the lobby and had Spike’s black t-shirt in his fist, hauling the other vampire onto his toes. The china crashed. Angel threatened, “You drink another drop of that blood and I will end you, Spike, you hear me?” Apparently that wasn’t enough though, because he shook him, shouting louder, “You hear me?”

It woke Connor up, bringing wails from Lorne’s arms even as the demon backed away from the scene. “Hey!” Buffy shouted for herself, pushing between the two and shoving Angel back up the stairs. “What the hell is going on?” She was feeling worryingly possessive, like she had a duty of care as Spike’s principal bruiser. It was a strange feeling, but apparently not symptomatic of anything wrong, so she guessed she’d have to suck it up and repress like the next person.

“There was Connor’s blood in there,” Angel snarled, eyes flashing to her hand on Spike’s shirt. “His blood in my food.”

“Well,” she reasoned, “Spike didn’t put it there, did he?” Though, from the way he was shifting beneath her hand, you’d think he valued his life at so little he might have done.

Setting his jaw, Angel seemed to rack his brain, sniffing as if remembering what he’d smelled around his son that day, and eventually coming to the rather obvious conclusion that Spike had nothing to do with this. Apart from the reporting, which, she thought, she would thank Angel not to discourage. “No,” he said at last, storming down the stairs and across the floor to where his coat was hung at reception, pulling a knife from underneath the phone. His words thundered. “But I know who did.”

In moments he was gone, leaving nothing but a crying baby in his wake.

Soon, however, the soft notes of Lorne’s lullaby soothed Connor to gurgly cheer, if not actual sleep – it turned out the guy was actually a very good singer, which made Buffy feel bad about being rude. No one spoke for a little while, until Lorne set the baby in the downstairs bassinet, sitting next to him and starting to tell the baby about his daddy’s anger issues and hate of porcelain over glass.

“What am I supposed to do now?” Spike whined standing next to her, over the sound of Lorne’s cheery bitching. “I’m bloody starving…”

Buffy looked at him, wondering how she was supposed to talk to him. Everything they’d done was like a bond between them, heavy as the anchor chain her dad had given her to hold when she was twelve. Far too much. It really felt like the fact she wasn’t wrong was one of those things she couldn’t tell him – but he knew it anyway, he obviously knew.

Still, she couldn’t bring herself to talk about it. “Maybe it’s time to head back to Sunnydale,” she said blandly, unable to lash out – it would have been her preference, but she couldn’t when he’d been the one acting right. Also because it was true. There didn’t seem much other option now that she’d found all she was gonna find; at least this way she’d still have a day to catch up with the others.

But, then, could they really leave now? No; she hadn’t told Angel about Holtz yet, nor about Aubrey being a plant. Somewhere along the line she’d forgotten she actually knew more than he did after her visit… Also, she was getting hungry too. “We could ask about petty cash, I guess?” Buffy suggested. “Maybe they’d be happy to lend us some?”

Spike seemed to catch something in her eyes, because he didn’t reply except to mutter agreeably, “Yeah, good plan.” That was strange. He continued, “I might’ve… Never mind.”

“Was that something about dinner?” Lorne called over, cuddly bear clasped in his hand. “Good idea,” he continued, getting up. “Apart from the ‘lending’; seriously, it’s on us.”

As Lorne opened draws at reception, Spike started fidgeting – but it was only when the cashbox actually hit the desk that he cleared his throat, pulling his wallet from his back pocket. “Uh, there’s no point looking in there, mate…” Buffy caught his eye, realisation dawning, and shook her head in disbelief. “Called in a few debts, is all,” he replied nonchalantly, shrugging as he re-pocketed the wallet.

“Well, don’t bother going out anyway,” Lorne said before she could argue, waving away Spike’s theft as if it were perfectly understandable. She blamed demon camaraderie, or possibly Angel’s cheapness. Whatever; maybe she was too tired to be angry. “We’ll order in,” Lorne continued. “Maybe get a couple of pizzas.” Mr. Green shrugged at their looks, turning away from the cashbox and proving there was booze as well as weapons underneath the counter. “That’s what I normally do when they keep me here late.” As he mixed three glasses of something strong, holding the soda canister like a pro, he nodded towards the drying blood on the floor. It was crusting quickly around the orange enamel shards. “Add in the maid service and I’m thinking we get the works for each of us, plus a couple sides and ice cream.”

OK, actually, maybe she’d seriously misjudged this guy – that all sounded almost reasonable. Childcare rates were high in LA, weren’t they? She met Spike’s eyes again, feeling herself soften.

“I like him,” Spike offered conspiratorially, nodding in Lorne’s direction. She couldn’t help but agree.

It was pretty much a party by the time Wes walked through the door, looking like he’d been chased by the hounds of hell, but had somehow got away. “Oh, are we eating?” he asked in a daze, taking in the half-eaten pizzas on the table, the three of them kicked back in their easy chairs, Connor content and asleep like the clean and well-fed baby who’d just learned via plushies the principles of a basic pincer manoeuvre.

“There’s loads left,” Buffy offered, worrying about the cost again with a sudden swing of guilt. Wasn’t Wesley in charge here? He was gonna be mad, she could tell. Seriously mad, and she couldn’t afford this, not now, not when her paycheque came. “Lorne said…” she began desperately, putting the crust in her hand back on cardboard.

Wesley looked confused. “What?” he asked, before getting a clue, at which point he waved her worries away. “Oh, no, don’t worry about that; we can get another later. No, I only meant…” He lifted up the paper bag he was holding in his hand; the sound of glass clinked from within. “I bought champagne,” he finished, with a silly grin.

“Oh my!” Lorne said as she stared, not questioning but leaping out of his chair. “Let me get some flutes and the ice…”

Voicing her own thoughts, however, Spike asked suspiciously, “What’s the occasion?” She bit her lip, worrying again as Wesley took the bottles from the paper – had they crashed someone’s birthday? But that had to be wrong, right, because there was no one here…

“Have you ever felt like the world was against you?” Wesley asked, which was the stupidest question she’d ever heard. “Well, imagine that, only to find out it was all based on nothing, and that everything’s possible after all.”

For a moment Buffy thought he was making some sort of pointed comment, about her, about her situation – to which her only response was how dare he, because that the spell had gone right didn’t fix anything, didn’t make anything better in her life. After scowling at him for a few moments, though, she realised he didn’t mean anything by it at all. He was talking about himself. “What happened?” she asked.

Wesley sat down solidly in a free chair, pulling a heavily laden slice of pizza from the table, before changing his mind and taking a glug of Spike’s whiskey-soda. He explained, scantily, as he carefully folded the pizza slice in two, “There was a prophecy, irrefutable, unavoidable. I – I’m afraid it’s what’s been making me so short recently. Well, in the…” He shook his head through that slight lapse into misery and bit through the pizza, sauce splurging into stubble; it was gross, in a mildly charming way. When he swallowed, he added, “But it must have been falsified, millennia ago, perhaps. Because I spoke to – the Loa Burger, and it told me that it wouldn’t come to pass in defined time. It might ‘emerge from the murk of the future’, but no prophecy could claim it to be true.”

As he said this, Lorne returned with the ice and their glasses, putting one bottle in the bucket and opening the other on his knees. “We’re not precious enough to need it chilled, are we?”

Wesley certainly wasn’t, making them all toast ‘cheers’ and then tipping back the wine with a smile that looked euphoric. She sipped from her own glass, not sure she’d ever had champagne and pretty sure she wouldn’t get it for her twenty-first next week. Probably she should make this count. “What was the prophecy?” she asked to distract herself, cradling the flute stem with both her hands. She wasn’t entirely sure she understood what he was talking about, especially not the part about burgers, but good news made a nice change and his happiness was almost infectious.

Laughing again, Wesley shook his head. “Would you believe it?” he asked. “I read that Angel would kill his son and I thought it could be true! When ‘neither the death nor consumption of the child by its father can be certain’ – it can all be prevented.” He continued on the pizza, dipping the crust into dip and savouring it like someone starved.

What the hell was going on in LA? She glanced at Spike, who looked as surprised as she felt, then over to the damp patch on the floor that they’d mopped, clearing the blood away. “I guess Spike stopped it?” she said disbelievingly, mostly to herself, as Wesley munched ‘hmm?’

There was, however, the plat! sound of cardboard as Spike threw his pizza down. It made her look at him again, more surprised now to see bitterness on his face, accusation of something she didn’t know. What was his problem? She hadn’t even railed on him over the stealing (OK, so maybe her shoulders had cooled, but nothing worse). “No need to sound so surprised, ” he accused, before shaking his head, downing his glass and rising to his feet. “Cheers for the booze,” he said. “I’m out for a smoke.”

Speechless, she watched him go.

The silence Spike left was palpable, but she tried to sit through it, awkwardly sipping champagne and waiting for the atmosphere to return to normal. It didn’t. In the end Lorne intervened: “Hey, firecracker,” he told her in a stage-whisper enunciated by drink, as if he was used to stage managing these things, “when he does that, you’re meant to go after him.”

“But…” she replied, to the sounds of Wesley picking up the pace on his food. It wouldn’t help. It never helped. “I’ve done that before. There was singing – and then –”

Waving the way Spike had gone, Lorne suggested, “Do it again; what’s gonna happen?”

Not help, obviously.

But go she did eventually, grumbling as she rose from her seat. Leaving the food and drink for the garden’s cool night, she found Spike smoking as he leaned against the hotel wall, surrounded by the soothing scent of jasmine and tobacco.

He snorted when he saw her. “Back at this then, are we?” he asked, tapping ash onto the patio’s flagstones.

“Back at what?” she asked, off-guard and still not sure what she was doing.

He looked her up and down. “You following me around to make sure I know how much you don’t wanna be with me.”

“That never happened.” Well, not exactly anyway… “What’s your problem?”

He shrugged insincerely, taking another drag.

Feeling like she was being dragged down the route of reverse psychology, but still not wanting him to think of her as a complete bitch, Buffy offered, “Maybe I came out here to say ‘good job’, you know, on the blood thing. ‘Cause that was good.”

He snorted again; she winced. This was why she didn’t praise Spike for anything, because for some reason it always came out like a patronising pat on the head. And he never reacted well to those. “Thanks,” he said sarcastically, sucking in smoke and then aiming it her way. “Say, I’ve got a tummy needs rubbing if you fancy a surprise…”

Wrinkling her nose, at the smell and at the image, Buffy tried not to overreact. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“You meant it exactly like that,” he told her, eyes straight on hers. She didn’t understand why he was so annoyed about this and apparently he could tell, because he shook his head, grinning before he explained, “You think you’re so much better than me, with your perfect little Slayer soul. Few nasty thoughts, yeah, they had you scared for a bit, but you got the measure of them in the end, so here you are right back on your high horse, expecting the worst with no chance of reprieve.”

She blinked. “I’m sorry; did I miss a memo?” When that got nothing, she waved a hand towards the Hyperion, towards everything that had happened inside. “I thought what we learned here is that Buffy’s life being screwed is down to nothing but her own stuff – yay, ha ha for you; the Slayer’s sleeping with the evil dead all off her own choice.”

Angrily, Spike dropped the end of his smoke and stubbed it hard into the ground. “It was always your own bloody choice,” he muttered, just loud enough for her to hear. “Fact is, you only allowed yourself to make it when you had the excuse.”

For a moment she couldn’t believe she’d heard him right. “How dare you?” she asked, getting angry herself and bringing his dark eyes back up to hers. “Thinking I was – it was tearing me up inside.” This really showed his true colours; how could she have been so stupid to believe… “You say you love me, but you’d rather I still thought all that, just so you could get in my –”

“You say I can’t love you at all!” he snapped back, voice rising. Oh yeah. “Can’t have it both ways, Summers, not even with standards as fucked as yours.” He snorted. “You won’t let me care for you, we both know that – but at least when you thought it was the spell I got a chance to try. Now it’s all back on your two shoulders, and you’ll hold it there till it crushes you.”

“So it’s all about you, is it, huh?” They were ruining Wes and Lorne’s party, the quietness of the garden, but she didn’t care. It was about time this came out. “I’m sorry, I got you wrong; this isn’t about doing a slayer at all, no, it’s one step up from that in your twisted little brain – this is all about having me depend on you, being your wilting Drusilla Part II.” She let her sarcasm run free. “Gee, thanks, Spike, but I’ve actually been through this before, and the conclusion is still pretty much that if you’re looking for a crying girl to coddle then you’ve come to the wrong place.”

“Don’t be bloody daft,” he dismissed, rolling his eyes. “I want you happy, that’s all I –”

“No,” she interrupted, setting her feet in a way that promised violence, even as she crossed her arms. “I don’t think you do.” He looked stung when she said that, but she didn’t soften. There was something about this she was missing, something she needed to figure out; she kept the accusation going, “You loved it when you thought I was wrong, when you thought I didn’t fit in, when you thought…” Ah. She smiled, which had him backing away from her. “When you thought I was like you.” How could she have forgotten, when this had all blown up the first time – outside that house she didn’t think about? Granted, the middle of a fight was never the greatest time for deep thinking, but she should have worked out how it all fit together: “Isn’t that what you said, way back when you chained me up? That it was wrong, you falling for me? You’ve probably been thinking it for years. Been telling yourself I’d have to be wrong before I gave you a second look.”

Now she was definitely getting to him; he had his chin raised defensively, so she knew she’d almost cut down to the gooey centre. As she approached he tried to keep his distance, coming up against the wall again as she closed in.

He was still the one who made her see the world for what it was, just like she’d thought that afternoon – it was his bad luck that that made her see him as well. “That’s how it is for you, isn’t it?” she continued, putting a hand against his chest and loving the way his breath caught. “Hung around too long and started feeling things were wrong, that you had to be, that nothing made sense the way it had before. And I guess you blamed the chip, because it had to be something – it couldn’t just be you, I mean – hello? You’re the Big Bad, feared and respected and evil; you’d never debase yourself by trying to protect the Slayer. So, I mean, how perfect was it when you realised there was something wrong with me as well?”

Gulping, he took hold of her wrist, staring at it as if he couldn’t work out whether to push her away from him. “Don’t talk like you know me,” he said at last, clenching his fingers.

“Oh no,” she began, leaning in, “because that’s the thing. You don’t know me either.” He looked up then, but she held his gaze steadily. “This is all me. My body, my mind, my soul – messed up more than anything, but mine. I know that now.” And she did, she really actually did. “Everything I’m feeling, that’s mine to deal with, there’s nobody responsible. It just is. Your problem is that you won’t acknowledge it’s the same with you.”

“Bollocks,” he said into her face, daring in his eyes.

Smiling, she replied, “Really? OK, then, tell me, what would it mean for you to decide your loving me, ‘cause that’s what you think it is, it doesn’t signify anything perverse, or rebellious, or – soulful? What would you say if there’s no reason to be proud of it, or be scared of it? If it just is?”

He hated her; his eyes said so. Staring him down took a long time, but she did it, because she’d be damned if she was only going to let it be her who had their head screwed over by this trip. Or only her and Wesley. Or – whoever. Spike was coming too. That was how this was going down.

Eventually he spoke, deadly quiet. “So that’s it, is it? I can’t love you unless I let it say nothing about me, unless it means nothing.” His hands were still on her wrist, but lightly, one now running up her forearm, making it tingle. “That’s how you’re justifying this. The way you make me feel – I can’t help it, I could never help it. It’s got nothing to do with what I admire, with what I value, with what you mean to me.” On the last rub down of her arm he brought his fingers tighter, massaging the muscle before lifting her hand to kiss her wrist. “Your problem, love, is that your analogy’s all backwards.”

She shook her head, pretty sure it wasn’t.

He kissed her again, lingering before he continued, “All that hate you feel, that might be blank and churning inside you without direction or cause, but my love has a face – just like yours does.” Whatever he meant by that, she ignored it; he smiled, lowering his eyes and continuing, “I didn’t fall for you because my friends snatched me out of perfect happiness and told me to get by in hell – or because I couldn’t see anything else. I love you because you’re not like the rest of my world. Took a while, yeah, but I know that well as you know you’re you. I made my world change around me; I let you in and your eyes skewed what I saw – same way I dream of showing you what it’s like to be happy again. And, yeah, with the chip and all your friends standing on my face, that makes my life a little shit. But don’t get the two confused. The way you make me feel and the result of that on my life are two very different things.”

She had no idea what to say to that, even as her hand tingled like the lick of flames. When she’d been working this out, she’d been so sure she hadn’t had anything confused – but then she had kind of wanted his love to be the vampire-y love Angel had described yesterday: dismissible and weird. The problem was, if it were like that, she was pretty certain she wouldn’t be nearly so attracted to him. And she’d known that, hadn’t she? “Why is it,” she asked in the end, wanting to know even as his mouth worried the base of her thumb, “whenever something knocks you down, you always get back up?”

Smiling, he let their clasped hands drop. “Because there’s better places to be,” he told her, smiling wolfishly as he brought his mouth to hers. It felt frighteningly and inescapably real, and yet, even as she damned his cheesy lines, she kissed him, wondering what else she’d see.

Getting back felt like it took no time at all. Spike’s bike, of course, ate up the highway markedly quicker than the bus did, and the alcohol had hit her brain in a way that made the road noise much more entertaining than the night before – but, still, she couldn’t help but feel like Time itself had worked out she liked sitting on the back of the motorcycle, even while swimming in one of Wesley’s coats (borrowed for the journey), and sped up just to spite her.

“Back to the house?” Spike shouted above the engine, glancing over his shoulder as they passed the Welcome to Sunnydale sign.

There was no way she could justify going to the crypt now. “Yeah, I guess!” she replied, also with a yell. And then, because she assumed he could hear her better than she could hear him, she continued, “I owe Dawn a day of stuff; should get some sleep. Unless – what day is it anyway?”

Spike laughed, his back shaking against her chest. “It’s Sunday, love!” he told her, and that, at least, was a relief. She really should have been there for Saturday, but Sunday meant that Dawn would still be free and she could keep the promise she’d reiterated on the phone about twenty-four hours ago. How long did she have before she was due back at work? Hell, she couldn’t even be sure – less than thirty-six hours by now, it had to be. She kind of wished they were still in LA.

Eventually they came back inside, where they found Lorne turning his champagne flute slowly in his hand, a picture of quiet contemplation as Wesley took a phone call. “OK, Fred, yes; excellent,” he was saying, leaned back in his chair and eyeing up the pizza in his other hand. “Glad to hear you’re both all right. I’ll get Angel to let – Aubrey? Is that what you said her name was? I’ll tell Angel to let her know in the morning.”

“Oh yeah…” Buffy said, feeling sheepish as she sat back down, somehow getting pulled into Spike’s seat and sitting on his leg, which was comfy, it had to be said. Possibly because she’d spent the last few minutes grinding it tender, but no one needed to mention that. Even if she was still giggly from the satisfaction. To the point of actual giggles (the champagne didn’t help).

Spike huffed her hair and Lorne looked at her questioningly, but she managed to contain herself, moving past the laugh to her serious face. When Wesley had finished his call she explained, “Uh, that Aubrey woman, she was totally spying on you, by the way.”

Confused, but apparently not overly concerned, Wesley took another bite of pizza and asked, “What?”

Was she the only one noticing a Spike arm wrapping around her waist? Neither of the other two were looking at it, so she assumed she could just ignore it and continue. “Yeah,” she said. “You didn’t ever meet her, I guess, but she acted pretty shifty when we got here and Spike figured she was faking her vampire don’t-know-how. So I followed her when she’d left, right, and she’s working with this guy, Daniel Holtz? He’s a captain or something. I don’t know of what.” The arm inched her higher up her seat, a perfectly natural-looking adjustment, though it brought her backside against some – interesting terrain…

“Holtz?” Wesley and Lorne said together, shortly and loudly. Serious enough to distract her.

“Yeah,” Buffy confirmed, resting her hands on the two arms that were now both across her stomach. “He’s got a mansion and a gang in Silver Lake.” Then she told them where to find it, before adding, “He’s pretty unstable; not surprisingly, I guess, what with the two-hundred year culture gap – but he’s getting himself majorly off-mission. It’s not gonna go well.”

“You’re right, of course,” Wesley replied, sounding more sober than she felt. He leaned back in his chair, picking at a stray thread in the upholstery. “I don’t know what we’re going to do about him; he’s a good man, by all accounts. Angel believes he’s a good man. In light of the prophecy, I confess I found myself thinking…” Then he shook his head, not wanting to entertain that thought as he looked back up at the group. “We’ll have to think about how to engage him going forward, but it should be manageable; we can sabotage his operation if needs be. Thank you for finding him out.”

“No problem,” Buffy replied, warmth suffusing her that she’d done something right. Leaning back against Spike, she sighed, sinking into his body and planning to rest there until Angel came home.

The bike turned sharply up Revello Drive, to find 1630 looking dark and empty, not even the porch light on to welcome her home. It was sensible, saving the electricity – which hopefully hadn’t been turned off – but, still, it reminded her why she’d chosen the bus station the night before. “I hate coming back here,” she said stiffly, as Spike killed the engine and wrenched the bike’s brake.

“What’s that?” he asked, taking her hand unnecessarily as they climbed down to the driveway.

Still looking at the dark house, cold and a little shivery from the ride, Buffy sighed. “It’s meant to be nice and familiar,” she said, not without irony as she took in the ragged grass and the weeds latching onto the basement window, the paint peeling from the woodwork. “I mean, this is the house that Mom bought – but all it does is remind me she isn’t here anymore.” When she said it, it felt like that was what she’d been avoiding all day. God, she was pathetic…

Spike shrugged, lighting up and not acting shocked at all. She wasn’t sure why she’d expected him to be. “Then move,” he said, when he’d taken a puff and flicked his lighter closed. “No reason why you can’t. Dawn might kick up a fuss, but she’s a pragmatic little thing at the end of it.”

“But that…” That would mean planning. That was what it came down to, wasn’t it? Thinking ahead, about the future. Making lists, getting a sense of the mortgage stuff and Dad’s payment plan.

“Could put her in charge of finding somewhere,” Spike continued, presumably still talking about Dawn. “She spends half her life at the Magic Box; Anya’ll get her a good deal.”

Buffy looked at him askance, not quite believing what she was hearing, not least because it all sounded sensible so far. “Are you seriously giving me advice?”

Why were things always harder in Sunnydale? Naturally that comment made Spike bristle, sending the end of his cigarette a brighter orange as he sucked in more smoke. “Who was it, asking about finances a few weeks ago?” he asked, before explaining defensively, “Been giving it some thought. And your sis’s not that much of a mystery, not with you two so alike.”

“We are so not…” she began, before giving up on that sentence. Turning to face him, she looked at him properly, the gloomy light of the streetlamp outside 1632 curving round his face and sharpening his features. It was strange, thinking of him as hers to look at, but who else was there? Really? Who cared for how long she looked at his face? “Thanks,” she said simply, still looking.

His eyebrow quirked and then he blinked, surprised to find her watching him. “No problem,” he replied neutrally, though he couldn’t seem to prevent a smile starting on his lips.

After that there didn’t seem much to say, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to go inside yet. Watching Spike in the night was almost peaceful, as he breathed regularly in and out, white stick in his fingers gradually burning down to ash. When he crushed the butt beneath his foot and kicked it into the road, she wondered whether she should tell him off – but then, she let so little of what she liked him doing go unpraised that, in the end, it didn’t seem quite fair to get annoyed about littering. The idea of congratulating him every time he did something equivalently worthy, like rinsing out his mug, maybe, after he used it for blood, that seemed really ridiculous.

He did it quite often, though. It amused her how he seemed to always have another blood bag squirreled away in her freezer somewhere. She could never see them, but Dawn pulled them out like rabbits from a hat. Thinking about Dawn… “You should –” she began, before stopping, taking a breath and trying to force herself not to wimp out. She was who she was, she remembered, and she’d always managed to keep her life sustainable and stable in the past, so she could do it now. Hopefully. Maybe. Forcing herself through the sentence, she said, “You should come by tonight.” And then she immediately bit her lip, uncertain how he’d react.

Not that she should have worried, really; he reacted by stepping in closer, filling the air around her with the smell of tobacco, which she knew was technically disgusting, but turned her on all the same. She couldn’t help it that she’d been having sex for the last month in a place where the air tasted of the stuff. “And why’s that, then?” Spike’s words overlaid the smell, rumbling softly, close to her ear as he ran fingers along the sleeves of her borrowed jacket. He had the right idea, actually, because Coat of Wesley wasn’t very sexy. Also, if she was going to send that coat back to Angel, it was probably polite not to make him want to burn it on receipt. She was getting warmer; if she took it off, then…

No. There wasn’t time for this now. “I’m not telling them about us,” Buffy said firmly, stepping back. She couldn’t face that conversation – it just wasn’t possible, in pure and absolute terms. “But!” she added quickly, seeing his face harden. “This is a plan, right? I don’t ever have enough time to see everybody, so I need to start getting people in the same place.” Now he just looked incredulous, though that was understandable: replaying her words to herself suddenly invoked the image of her and Spike getting acrobatic in the living room while Willow and Dawn watched the Discovery Channel, munching popcorn. Brain bleach, if you please… “I mean – what I mean is, you should come by and then you can be there. Maybe people will get a clue – not that there will be noteworthy PDAs,” she interjected sternly, “but I figure that if they figure things out for themselves and it isn’t so much a go-seek the hidden secret as a ‘hey, Spike, it’s not so strange you’re here’ thing, then they’ll… You know?”

Buffy lost track of her explanation, which wasn’t entirely fully formed in her head anyway, but Spike seemed to pick it up, concluding cynically, “So the plan is to keep up the shagging without any sort of official aegis, but maybe introduce the Scoobies to the idea that you and me are done with the seething hatred of yore.”

“Does that work for you?” she asked nervously, taking the glint in his eye as a positive, though she was pretty sure it came from trying to work out how much touching (and how naughty) she’d let him get away with in public. This was not going to go well, she could see it now; Spike was such a mile-taker. Still, she knew, “I can’t keep doing what we were doing. I mean, I didn’t realise how hard things are until they weren’t.” And, wow, that made sense, but it was late – and he had to have realised, didn’t he, how much easier everything had been in LA? They’d spent a day being expected to come as a couple; she hadn’t had to explain him away or anything he said, even when it was rude. It hadn’t been the best day of her life or anything, but it sat a lot easier in her memory than most of the other days she’d had recently.

Spike inhaled, clearly frustrated even as he started making plans (doomed to fail). “Don’t have much choice,” he said. “It’s not like I can give you up, so it’s down to you, innit? Tell me what you want and I’ll, I’ll bloody ice the stars for you, Buffy, I’ll –”

“Just try not to piss off my friends, OK?” Buffy interrupted, sick of telling him with words that she wasn’t Jasmine and this wasn’t a magic carpet ride, even if the motorcycle drive had been pretty nice. “And… Don’t lie to Dawn, but don’t give her any more intel than what she asks for. It’s not her business.”

Spike nodded, agreeing immediately. “Fine,” he said.

“Right,” she replied.

“See you tonight, then?” Spike didn’t move, so she tried to sever contact by looking back to the house.

It was so dark, though, that she wasn’t even surprised when her feet stepped her back and her body had her kissing him, filling her vision with his bright, pale skin in glimpses as her eyelids fluttered. He didn’t seem surprised either, smoothing the oversized coat down her shoulders to toss it away, feeling her waist through her jacket then her ass through her jeans. As she pulled him closer, biting his bottom lip, she wondered what it was that kept her wanting him, since it was apparently all on her now. She didn’t think she could tell exactly, but she wasn’t entirely sure she was scared of the answer anymore.

Distantly, and much less interestingly than the desperate damsel gasp of her big bad vampire, there was a squeaking sound, like a door, maybe, or a window. It was very easy to ignore; she kept up the kissing, liking their rhythm. Then, however…


She leapt back; Spike looked dazed (and hot as hell). Her cheeks flamed.

There was silence after that, but Buffy remembered. Yeah. This is why you don’t forget about Dawn.

Coming to his senses, however, Spike seemed to think there was a very easy way of dealing with this. He kissed her one more time, regaining ground and landing a smack on her lips with a close-mouthed flourish, so comical she couldn’t even be bothered to complain; whispered, “Tonight, love,” nonetheless, in a voice her sister was never allowed to hear; then retreated to the bike with one last remark to the house: “WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT MANNERS, BIT!” And then he roared away.


Thirty-four hours later – an hour and a half before she had to be at work – there was a vampire in her bed. The sun was up, but the curtains were closed, leaving one lonely shaft of light aglow on the floor. Something else was up as well, but that was getting to be quite the familiar bedfellow these days and better against her thigh than tenting the covers (not that there was anybody else left in the house).

Spike was asleep. She kind of wished he’d wake up, if only to say something crude that would jolt her towards responsibility. As things were, after all, she didn’t want to go anywhere; she was content lying on her side, warm weight of an arm across her waist, hand on the mattress near her breast, which she could feel beneath the covers with her fingers, the knuckles and muscles and nails. Warm and entertained, not least by the odd mutter about ducks Spike offered every now and then, she didn’t understand why she had to go back to that world of hot grease and fake smiles.

She felt bad for thinking it, but the wall was way more interesting.

”Buffy, are you staring at the wall again?”

“What?” she replied, not really listening. Then she managed to shake herself out of it, turning to face Dawn on the couch, tuning back in to Drew Barrymore’s emoting on the TV. “No,” she told her sister, hopefully sounding indignant. “I was watching the movie.”

Dawn looked at her knowingly, spearing salted pasta onto her fork from the bowl in her lap. “Sure you were.” She chewed the popcorn substitute resentfully, swallowed and told her, “You need to wake up.”

When Spike woke up, his whole body came alive: muscles that had been at rest grew tense around her torso; his fingers curled on the sheet, capturing her hand that she’d been twining with his, his rings biting into her skin; he inhaled like he’d had a shock and needed the oxygen. She figured he’d been doing that since he’d died, if not in the years before, but the new habit, which she’d just about trained him in, was to roll away the moment he’d done all this. It allowed him to avoid broken bones as she escaped.

“Wha-“ he began today, confused the moment he realised what he’d rolled on was a bed, in a room softly lit with daylight. Watching him, she didn’t want to explain, so instead listened hard to catch the mumble he aimed towards the ceiling: “Bloody hell,” he murmured. “Don’t fuck this up.”

Then he turned to face her, jerking again when he realised she was looking. “You’re such a loser,” she said, because he was – and she’d never quite realised before. Maybe this was the side Dawn saw.

“Oh yeah?” he replied to her all the same, quirking an eyebrow as he accepted the challenge.

“Uh huh.” She kept her face straight.

With a toss of his chin he became her Spike in a second: sinuous as he rolled over her, no trace of clumsiness as the mattress seemed to take him with a gentle, easy sigh. He pinned her wrists, leaning on his knees; she trapped him between her legs, biting her lip as she looked up. There was so much to see on his face in the morning light, stuff she never saw, like the soft shadows of the chain around his neck, swinging just behind his chin; the way his lips supped in breath, as though he wanted to say something but couldn’t quite choose his tone. That weird brain of his was working away behind his eyes, she could see it, trying to figure out how he could make this mean more than a morning quickie. She kind of loved the way he thought in bed.

In the end, though, he seemed to give up on ‘meaningful’, ducking his head and nudging the head of his cock against her. Of course, she wasn’t quite ready (which she could have told him), so he was back trying to psych her out, the gleam returning to his eye as he leaned closer. She expected some better foreplay, but she got nothing, just that gleam.

She wasn’t sure what the game was – at least not until she realised she’d been played. Because the damn stare was all it took. With the hard grip on her wrists, the soft skin between her legs, the warmth cocooning her feet and her exposed chest cooling in the air, her breath couldn’t help but hitch with the scent of him. All on its own her body flinched, a frisson of attraction making her heart beat faster.

“I’m a loser, eh?” he whispered, nostrils flared, grin like a predator.

“Fucking loser,” she tried to confirm, but it came out more like rapture as he slid slowly in, welcome completely.

“Oh ho,” he mocked as her eyes drifted closed, as her heels dug down and her head pushed back against the mattress. “What kind’s that then, love?”

She gasped as the rocking started, rolling with him so everything hit just right. It was excruciatingly good, that was what it was, but she could hardly say that, could she? This wasn’t fair; why did she have to suffer when all she’d wanted to do was insult him? He used to be good for insulting, but now all she got back was… How had he got so good at this, anyway? It felt like he’d spent hours practising, watching Elvis tapes in his crypt, slowed down maybe; she could see it –

The image made her laugh, quite suddenly, which startled them both. As Crypt-Spike hit rewind on the Hound Dog footage she couldn’t stop laughing, harder and harder until the mood was impossible to maintain. It brought Bed-Spike to a retreat, freeing her wrists and leaning on his elbows even as she tried to wave him on. “You been snorting the hairspray, Slayer?” he asked, perturbed.

Giggling uncontrollably, Buffy tried to explain, “Elvis – wiggling at the TV…” She snorted involuntarily, shaking underneath him. “Never mind.”

Rolling his eyes, nay his whole body, with derision, Spike nonetheless didn’t seem too put out as he settled back beside her, moving carefully as if not to disrupt her giggles. “Well,” he said, “I’m glad you got that…” The sentence hung as he frowned at her, apparently uncertain how he was meant to react.

She laughed at his face, pretty sure she’d never again be scared of his snake-hips powers of seduction. (Although she wouldn’t mind having some sex today; it would have to be later.) “I think you’re my kind of loser, you know?” she told him. The kind who can take it.

For a moment Spike seemed to understand what she meant, even if he couldn’t quite believe it, frown dissolving into all kinds of hope. It was too much, though, so she had to cut through the tension, adding with a quirk of a smile, “I mean, you’re sad to the bone.”

At least she made him snort, though that was followed by the frown of the deeply offended (probably at the pun, which wasn’t her best). He glanced over her to the alarm clock for a distraction, then started kicking her none too gently out of bed. “Go and fry some death baps, Burger Queen,” he said as his foot pushed her naked towards the carpet. “We’ll sort that misconception later.”

Buffy smiled fully as she stood, walking to the bathroom with her own brand of elegance and fairly smug now she’d won that round. Sure, she had an eight hour shift and nine hours of the DMP ahead of her, but she’d get through that. Then she’d go to the 24hr market and get food, come home and see if Dawn had got anywhere with the house stuff. Take Spike on patrol and see if she’d win again. Keep on winning, maybe a minute at a time.

The day would fill itself up, she decided. She had things to do.

When they found Katrina that night, it hurt like nothing else. But Buffy realised the corpse had long gone cold.


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