Fic: ‘Turn and Face the Strain’ 3/15 by Quinara [strongish R]

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series Turn and Face the Strain
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Here we go…

Turn and Face the Strain.

[Sequel to The More Things Stay the Same and As Good as a Rest.]

When Buffy thought about falling in love again, she didn’t expect it to be nearly so complicated as it actually turns out to be.
Also, she didn’t expect it to be Spike. (She’s not sure he did either.)

Author: Quinara
Rating: R…? I’m not sure I even know anymore with ratings, but there’s sex in it and people swear lots and (gasp) I think there’s some underage drinking too, which probably needs to be censored. ;)
Length: ~80,000 words in total; ~33,000 words today; chapters are generally between 5000 and 6000 words.
Setting: Late S6, AU As You Were (and so much more! Not least in an AU AtS S3…)

Notes: Many thanks to the fabulous bogwitch for putting up with me and being my beta! This is the final story in a series I’ve written for the previous two rounds of seasonal_spuffy, consisting of The More Things Stay the Same and As Good as a Rest. I think what I’m posting today probably could stand on its own as a S6 AU, but I do follow up some stuff that happens in the previous fics, because it’s a sequel. The main thing is that Dead Things went differently and some stuff happened in LA. Other stuff happened around Buffy’s birthday.
Warnings: I don’t think this would need any of the AO3 listed warnings. I think the genre of this is much more of a drama-going-on-mystery-ish-adventure story, so it’s mostly in line with the show in terms of what it involves.

[Chapter One: I’m Not a Political Animal, But.]

[Chapter Two: You Learn Fast around Here.]

Chapter Three: Hello Glass Ceiling.

Somehow, Buffy wasn’t actually angry. That was the first thing she realised, staring at Spike. The second thing was that she wasn’t actually that surprised, either. This all seemed so inevitable somehow, like she’d been waiting for it all this time.

Nonetheless, that didn’t stop the disappointment which flooded into her stomach, nor the mondo heapton of guilt, clenching around her heart. This wasn’t her fault, she tried to convince herself – whatever he’d got mixed up in, it wasn’t. It only really felt like it was.

When Spike saw her, his face lit up, shaken from its punk scowl even as the music bellowed on behind him, out into the tunnel. “Oh, hello love!” Eagerly, he turned around and killed the music with a screech of vinyl, leaving all three of them with the heavy, deafening silence.

The worst thing was that, when he looked at her, she had an overwhelming urge to tell him about the horribleness of her day. It was the comfort zone thing again, even in the middle of all this. He’d scowl and say he was sorry, then tell her ‘I told you so’ until she insisted (the truth) that it was the DMP’s stupid lawyers that stopped her working, not her, and she’d have made it through to the next day if they’d let her. And he’d stop arguing, or she’d kiss him until he did, and everything would be easy and consuming after that, leaving her happy and free.

“Spike,” was what she said instead, trying out the closest thing to a cop-voice she had. It made him pay attention, at least. Her shoulders were already straight from the brace, so as she continued she raised her chin. It was a little imperious, but she was working with what she had. “Kate has –” Her error then was looking at Kate, who was less about the professional demeanour and more about the shock coloured by at least a certain level of betrayal. Which wasn’t fair, at all, because she was meant to be suspicious anyway, generally, and stony-faced in any eventuality.

Buffy turned back to Spike – he was easier, and actually made her feel less guilty. “Kate has some questions for you,” she finished.

Nonplussed, Spike’s mouth opened to an oh. He frowned, glancing between them, but apparently decided that Kate was the better choice for him, because he watched her while she spoke. “Yeah,” Kate confirmed, inhaling like she was recovering herself. “So, here’s the thing. We’re investigating the supply chain for a gang down in the city: drugs, firearms, money, the works. Now, someone I know, someone who knows you, he seems to think you can help us with that investigation. You wanna tell us why that is?”

“Eh?” was Spike’s immediate response, coupled with a look of confusion so spontaneous it caused a flare of hope in Buffy’s chest. He continued, “What are you blathering about? Why would I know anything –” Then, however, his eyes went wide and Buffy’s heart sank again. “Oh, bollocks.”

The moment her eyes began to smart was the moment she needed to act, so she barrelled forward, scattering sewer water from her shoes and aiming past him, to the doorway.

“Buffy!” he immediately responded, scrambling to block her path. “I’m holding them for a – a mate of mine, I swear!” There was a brief struggle where he tried to avoid her left arm and she tried to push past without it. In the end she gritted her teeth and shoved him with both hands, refusing to look at him even when he immediately backed away. She blamed the pain on him. “The rest of it,” he continued nonetheless, desperate, “I don’t know anything about that, I’m telling you. He’s – there’s pay for it, yeah, but – Christ…”

Striding on, she came to a halt about three feet into his bedroom, where the new addition to the décor was immediately pretty damn obvious.

“What,” she demanded through gritted teeth, “are they?” There in the corner of the underground chamber was what looked like a nest of slimy green eggs. Demon eggs, the bad kind. Not good. There and then, she knew it. It was going to be something like the kitten poker, weird and gross and demony, where these were the caviar of the demon world, highly prized and illegally imported to Spike, who clearly hadn’t thought for one moment about the consequences.

He really didn’t seem to be getting it right now, after all. “What d’you mean by that?” he asked, sounding affronted. Her straight back apparently wasn’t threatening enough. “It’s a clutch of eggs, innit.”

Oh, now she was definitely annoyed by that. The anger was getting easier, a hell of a lot easier, and she made sure he knew it as she spun around, took one step towards him with her right arm raised as some sort of threat.

Wide-eyed, he backpedalled, literally stepping backwards and jumping as he knocked into Kate’s crossed arms. “You know as much as me!” he insisted in a panic. “Tork, the git’s reptilian; figured he wanted to skip babysitting duty, watch the game, have the lads round – I dunno, maybe go on holiday, get his claws done… Look, I didn’t ask, all right?” He continued desperately, fervent with movement which seemed to quicken the longer she stood still. “He was paying,” Spike declared; “I needed the cash – Buffy, please! Listen to me, will you? I promise…”

That much she knew to interrupt, because no way was she letting him make promises he couldn’t keep, even if he didn’t realise she was listening to him make them. “Kate has questions,” she told him, shortly, like he was any other – suspect or lead or whatever he was supposed to be. It had to be that way, didn’t it? “Answer them.” She held up her hands, backing away, disgusted. “I am out of this conversation.”

Not far from Spike, Kate looked slightly startled at being called on. It didn’t look like she didn’t have questions, but it was almost as if she’d assumed she’d be dismissed – which was ridiculous, as far as Buffy was concerned. Why would she dismiss Kate from her own investigation?

It was only for a moment, however, after which Kate cleared her throat. “Right. Easy questions then – how much money?”

“Sorry?” Spike replied, not looking her way. Out of the corner of Buffy’s eye, she could tell he was looking at her, probably miserably, but she had nothing more to say to him. Not right now. Her mind was shutting down. “What –” At last he seemed to get the picture. “Oh, right, yeah, a thousand, he said.”

“A thousand dollars?” Casually, Kate started walking around the crypt, picking up nicknacks and inspecting them. “Didn’t that seem like a lot for babysitting?” This had to be a cop trick, didn’t it, the studied indifference? Buffy should probably work on cultivating her own.

“Not really,” Spike replied, toes bouncing. He didn’t like her touching his things, that much was obvious, but she wasn’t doing anything he could legitimately complain about, especially not with his image. Served him right. “He would only give me two-fifty up front, said he’ll be back by the end of the week. I figure it’ll be next week and I’ll have to push for six hundred. That’s how demon deals work – you’d be a complete mug to take a job for less than double what you want.”

“What guarantees d’you have that he’ll come back at all?” Now Kate paused, turning her back on Spike’s dresser. It was a weird juxtaposition. After all, that was usually where naked Spike leaned to have his post-sex cigarette; the two were associated in Buffy’s mind. “What if he’s left you with these permanently?”

Now Spike crossed his arms, shuffling with the first traces of suspicion. “Why would he do that?” he asked. “Eggs must mean something to him, why else would he pay…”

“Maybe he’s paying to have them taken off his hands,” Kate suggested, comical frown on her face as she rattled through some other suggestions. “Maybe he passes down the wrong street, gets killed. Maybe he’s set you up. Maybe this shit’s too hot and he’s nervous.”

Spike’s reply came in a drawl. “Yeah… Or maybe the bloke you talked to set me up, and these things are as harmless as ostrich eggs.”

Could that be possible? It felt pretty pathetic to hope for it, but Buffy was feeling pretty pathetic anyway. She didn’t know who Kate had met with and she was new in town – maybe she’d not realised she was being lied to…

But no. Kate had her eyebrows raised in the universal expression of ‘how stupid do you think I am?’ – even though it wasn’t directed at her, Buffy still felt ashamed. “And why exactly should I be the one who’s been lied to, here? I’m not the one who went looking for a job, who’s desperate for –”

“Oi!” Spike interrupted, which made Buffy risk a brief glance at his face. “I’m not desperate for anything, let’s get that clear.” He did look slightly desperate, though, with worry all around his eyes and more than a little shake in his raised hand. She recognised the feeling from about an hour ago. And it had always been obvious, after all, that Spike was way better at talking himself into situations than getting out of them afterwards. He was probably afraid that this was where it would all finally come crashing down, the life or whatever it was that he’d managed to build here. That was what Buffy was worried about, anyway.

“Right,” Kate was continuing, even as Buffy’s brief glance turned into a proper watch of Spike’s reactions. “You’re not living in a cemetery without any means of income, nothing particularly valuable to your name, while your girlfriend gets near-mortally wounded, fired from her job and has a sister whose friends’ tastes usually run on Daddy’s credit card.”

Hey! Buffy thought, defensively. She wasn’t that much of a charity case. Obviously this was about Spike, not her, and Kate had to use what she had, but that wasn’t any reason to –

“Buffy didn’t get fired from her job,” Spike was saying, dismissively. “She works bloody hard at that place – they’d never…” Then he was looking at her, truth dawning on his features. “She –” It didn’t look like he was enjoying the experience; she felt horribly flattered by the anger, awful about the way she wanted it. “Oh, I will kill them,” he finished, storming her way. “I’ll take every single one of their wretched hides and I’ll –”

“Spike!” she interrupted, red from embarrassment and feeling squirmy in her stomach. It took a moment to remember she wasn’t looking at him, but then she quickly ducked away from his open, honest anger, which was a hell of a lot nicer than any ‘I told you so’, even if this really wasn’t the time for it. “You’re being interrogated,” she muttered, not quite able to summon the energy to yell at him. “Act like it.”

“Actually,” Kate commented, shoes clacking over the stone floor, “I think we’re done here.” There was a kind smile on her face when Buffy looked up, almost as if to say, I’m sorry your boyfriend’s such a loser, but I don’t figure his accessorising was conscious. You might wanna punch him for getting himself involved, though.

Possibly she was imagining the last part – but Buffy was sure a good right hook would make her feel better. At least she hoped so, otherwise she was clearly doomed.

“I’ve got some things to finish up at the station,” Kate continued, “maybe put in a few calls about this Tork guy – but you don’t need to come with me for that. I can see you tomorrow, Buffy, around lunchtime? We can get things sorted out.” She was watching Buffy sympathetically, suddenly most definitely looking thirty to her twenty-one. “D’you need a ride anywhere?”

That wasn’t the real question she was asking. The real offer was to give her an excuse to leave Spike behind in the crypt and let him stew for a while, come back when she’d figured out what she wanted to do. But since Buffy doubted there was any amount of self-reflection that would figure this for her, she decided it was best to stay put. “No, I’m fine,” she said, glumly. “Thanks.”

“OK – see you tomorrow.” With that, Kate was heading back into the sewers – until she paused. “Oh, and Spike?” she warned. “If he does come back, you call me and you call Buffy, all right?”

“Fine,” he groused, following after her so he could shut the door once she’d left. It shut them both in quite absolutely.

As he turned back round to face her, Buffy was filled with the overwhelming urge to either cry or slap him. Since she had no intention of crying today, she went with the latter.

“Ow!” Spike said as he palm hit, surprised.

She hadn’t hit him that hard – but maybe that was the surprise. “What the hell were you thinking?” she shouted anyway, at last, spinning on her heel as he pushed past her, following him back into the bedroom. “In what world of what freaking dimension did you think this was a good idea?”

“I did it for you!” he shouted back, turning on her, looking aggrieved.

He was going to look a hell of a lot more than that by the time she was done with him. “And I told you not to! I told you, Spike!” She paused, breathing, voice already tired of shouting even though she wasn’t sure how else to express what she was feeling. Part of her still felt like this was another minor argument, like they were back in the sewer that morning or something and one of them was about to start with the kissing, move on from the stalemate that way. But she couldn’t ignore this, could she? The guilt was kicking in again and she knew, she knew this was one of those things that really had to be worked out. And so she forced herself past the feeling, attempted a calm sort of anger. “I said I didn’t want you getting money for me,” she continued, not sure how she could have made herself more clear. “In what way was that ever an invitation to do something like this?”

“Yeah,” Spike agreed, like this all made perfect sense to him. At least he was calming down too. “You said that you didn’t want any money – but what am I supposed to do? Loaf around, clinging to your purse strings? What if we went out – can hardly eat the waiter, can I?” That made Buffy shudder, but she fought particularly hard to let the tale of killings past pass her by. Another argument for another day. “And what about the little bit?” Spike continued. “What am I meant to do with her? Not get her things? All her little girly mates are –”

“You don’t need to buy her anything!” Buffy interrupted, shocked and embarrassed that he had, that he must have, that she’d never really thought about it. She was supposed to provide for Dawn. “She’s my sister, Spike, I’m the one –”

His voice rose again, over hers. “Yeah, well she’s my bloody – Dawn! And I can buy her what I like!”

“Great!” Buffy threw up her hands. “So now Social Services is gonna get you for grooming as well! That’s…”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Buffy,” he sneered at her.

Disgusted, she paused, shaking her head. This really wasn’t the point she’d been trying to make, but it did annoy her. Spike wasn’t supposed to care about Dawn for Dawn’s own sake – it was all far too not selfish, and that was what he was meant to be, in the end. She couldn’t make it compute, certainly couldn’t when she remembered that he was a guy long past his centenary and her sister only just fifteen. Of course, it was probably just as creepy that the same guy was into her, and that she was maybe, a little, possibly into him… But that was different, what with all the fighting and the death threats, followed by the stalking and the secret confidences – and he was hot. They were really hot together.

OK, so maybe that was all weirder. But it definitely was different.

“Look,” Buffy said, slowly and carefully, trying to extricate herself from that tangled train of thought. “all I’m saying is that you can’t do stuff like this.” She looked over to the eggs again, which were still green and slimy in the soft glow of candlelight. Each of them was bigger than a football, bigger than a beach ball – she could only imagine what was going to come out of them. “You have no idea at all what they are. They could – even if this guy does come back for them, you don’t know what he’s gonna do, or where these things might turn up, who they might hurt.” It would be her fault, wouldn’t it, if that happened?

She expected Spike to say that he hadn’t known the eggs were dangerous, but he didn’t. Of course. “What?” he said instead, absolutely defensive with his muscle ticking in his jaw. “You think about that all the time, do you? You think that’s what I’m meant to do, any time I think about taking a job from a mate, is that it? Before I play a round of cards?” He scoffed, like the idea was unimaginable, like she expected too much from him. “The world’s full of demons out there – I am one – but now I’m meant to avoid all of them and their dodgy schemes, just in case it turns bad?” Apparently her face was saying ‘yes’ like she meant it to, because he threw his hands up in the air, started pacing. “It’s not like all this won’t happen without me! The only difference here is that the money goes in my wallet rather than some other bloke’s!”

No,” Buffy informed him, not even sure how this logic worked, “the difference here is that you’re helping!” That at least stopped him in his tracks. With a look of confused suspicion he turned to her, waiting. She sighed, then kept talking, “I don’t know how I can trust you when you do stuff like this.” There, that was her point. She wasn’t quite sure where it had come from, but it was definitely her point. “How am I supposed to, when you apparently don’t even understand what I’m saying?” It made her heart heavy to say it, but she had to.

His look of suspicion didn’t change. For a moment she thought she could see some bitter humour like a flare of light across his face, but then she was certain she must have imagined it. His arms were crossed, rings on his fingers glinting – on a normal day she’d be sucking them off about now. This wasn’t that. Stupid Saturday. “You saying you trusted me before, then, is that it?” he asked, accusatory. “Like one of the Scoobies, am I?”

“What?” she asked, off-balance. When was that ever something you consciously decided? How was she supposed to know? Why was he assuming she didn’t? “Don’t change the subject.”

“I’m not,” he bit out, annunciating every syllable. “It’s the subject you started with, walking in here, talking about trust like it’s the bedrock of what we have.” Then he sighed, looking away from her, the profile of his face defined against the dark. “We both know trust’s got nothing to do with why you bother.”

“What…” Suddenly, Buffy was flashing back to standing in her bathroom, the night before all this, tumbling down from her orgasm while Spike stared at her, amazed. He’d said something about trust then, hadn’t he, about how he didn’t think she trusted him – but she hadn’t replied, the idea of it too much. Apparently he’d taken that in the negative.

God, she was a fool, wasn’t she? She’d got things completely wrong.

And it was hurting – that was hurt, wasn’t it, that she could feel? More knife-like than the guilt, it was burning embarrassment, mixed up with that old hopelessness. Oh, she could feel it.

“Look, it doesn’t matter.” Spike was still talking, glancing down – but it did matter, didn’t it? What did he think of her, if he thought she’d never trusted him? Why hadn’t she seen this coming? “It’s not like were some doddering pair of old marrieds. We don’t need trust, can get by with other things.” Breath shuddered through him, like he was trying to convince himself as much as her.

But she didn’t really care about that. “And what, in your opinion,” she began dangerously, heading back to anger now – or trying to at least, “are these other things?” She had really, really had it up to her highlights with guys who thought they knew better than her what she got out of a relationship. Really a lot. And yet it looked like she’d failed to let this guy know, yet again. It always came back to this shame.

At that point, Spike looked up, eyes piercing through hers as he came a step closer, sucked his cheeks in, dared danger. “Well,” he said, flicking his gaze down her body, back up, “what d’you think?” She crossed her arms, stared him down – but that just made him snort. “Even when we think it’s more, it’s all just desire, innit? Blood and dear old passion, burning and consuming till there’s nothing left but pleasure.” Losing eye contact, he looked down, one hand of his ghosting near her arm. He focused on it so hard that she wondered if he was even listening to what he was saying. Because she sure as hell was, and it was like an ice bucket full of clarity. “It’s what lets you shag a dead man,” he continued, a sad smile on his face, “what makes you like pain…”

His hand was edging closer to her wounded shoulder, a memory of the night before; she’d had enough. “Touch me and lose an arm,” she spat, stepping to the side and past him. Clearly he had no idea what it meant for her to feel the things she felt with him, to do them, let them happen. Clearly… Where the hell was that ladder? “If you wanna get burned up,” she managed to get out as she scrambled up, boots running click-clack-clonk on the rungs, “you be my guest, you know, go get destroyed.” About now he would be coming out of his self-pitying daze, but she wouldn’t look back, wouldn’t care. She refused to. “Just do it with some other girl than me,” she spat, finally.

Abruptly, he seemed to actually realise she was leaving: he shouted from behind her – “Buffy!” – and his voice was different, more recognisable. It slowed her down, a little, but she refused to listen, just like she’d probably been refusing to all along. Maybe she was majorly self-absorbed, just like Spike said, but that was enough reason to leave, wasn’t it? “Buffy!” he was still shouting, coming up the ladder behind her. “Jesus, wait, don’t walk away, don’t –”

“Why?” she suddenly found herself shouting, toes spinning in dust to face him. Maybe she couldn’t quite bring herself to walk out the front door yet. But it hurt; everything was hurting. “Why shouldn’t I walk away?” Dammit, she was fighting tears, and that wasn’t even fair. “What the hell is this; what the hell do you think this is?”

“Told you before and I’ll say it till you get it,” he insisted, words coming out with perfect enunciation, like he was too concerned with this for his lungs to remember exertive breathing. “We have a relationship. It’s not pretty, but it’s real, you can’t –”

“No,” she swore at him, her voice gone thick now. She had to get out of there. “We had a relationship,” she said, refusing to let him redefine it. “We were building one. And right now you’re the one who’s making it ugly. I –” She choked, couldn’t quite bring herself to say the words to end things, not when he was looking at her with amazement and pulling all the feelings out of her that his respect and love evoked. Nonetheless, she managed, “I need some space.” And then she broke eye contact, enough that she could get out.

She was crying by the time she hit the cemetery gates. She didn’t mean to and she certainly didn’t want to, but the tears came over her before she could stop them. Clutching a railing, her feet only crossed from path to sidewalk by force of will, but then she was collapsing. Her meds had given up again and her pain was all too much alive; she’d turned into her right arm, but she couldn’t stop her shoulders shaking. Pain seared through her.

The thing was, she knew how this went. The unemployment, the purposelessness, the fight with a guy, the near-mortal wound; she’d had them all, usually in combination, but she didn’t want… She didn’t know what the point was of being alive when it all came back around to this.

It shouldn’t have worked out this way. It was meant to hurt a lot more when she was fired from her job, when she discovered her boyfriend-guy was doing shady deals; it wasn’t supposed to matter what Spike thought of her and them. They were just doing what they were doing – certainly she’d never cared about defining it before. And yet here she was, a whole day of awful eclipsed in a moment.

She knew what she had to do, no matter what. She had to pick herself up, wipe away her tears and go home, tell Dawn she was something like a police-detective-paralegal and work out what she had in her wardrobe that told the world that too. Then she would go to sleep, get up, fight crime – or whatever – come home and do it all over again. It was easy. More than that, it was obvious. The whole week was planned out for her, one moment at a time and there would even be money at the end of it, but… But…

The problem was that she couldn’t convince her muscles there was any reason they should pick themselves up and move. Her brain could only circle around her shame and embarrassment and loss, big dark spirals she couldn’t escape from. Even if she did get on with her week, play things out the way she should, she wasn’t sure where they were meant to vanish to.

But that was stupid. Even as she felt herself sob, she knew it was stupid. She’d lived OK without Spike – freaking Spike – for a long time. It didn’t matter what he said, or what he thought about her. She could happily live her life without him. All she had to do was do it.

And there was no reason to be surprised about his feelings, not really. If he only wanted her for the sex, if he thought she only wanted him for the sex, that didn’t even matter. It wasn’t like she’d ever told him anything different, anyway, so she hadn’t lost anything. Maybe she had only wanted him for sex. She was one horny chick sometimes, hadn’t they discovered that?

That could still be true, couldn’t it? All she needed to do was stop being pathetic crying-in-a-cemetery lady.

“Hey, lady,” some guy was indeed asking her as she opened her eyes. He was standing in the cemetery, watching her cry. Seriously, that was enough reason to stop. “Are you OK?”

Especially since he was a vampire. She could tell by the raver clothes, but also the tingles. Freaking awesome. “No,” she told him bluntly, remembering that with vampires she didn’t hold back. Wiping at her eyes, she added, “Leave me alone,” just in case he would.

Unfortunately, this vampire was one of the impatient ones, so he pounced a lot faster than she was ready for. Reaching into her coat for a stake, Buffy bit her lip as she raised a kick, relying on her left arm for balance and embracing yet more goddamn pain.

Figuring out who she was, the vampire slipped into game face as he stumbled backwards, growl rumbling through the evening air. Stupid, Buffy told herself. Never leave yourself open like that. She could ready herself for attack and she did, but she wasn’t looking forward to it, mind more on a hot bath and some of Willow’s chocolate.

Just then, however, the head of a crossbow bolt appeared through through the bright orange t-shirt and his body crumbled around it. For one complete anti-climax.

There was a streetlight by Restfield cemetery gates, not far from where she was standing. Its illumination didn’t reach too far into the cemetery, but now Spike appeared in it, crossbow shaking in his hand. Oh.

“If you don’t get yourself home safe,” he snarled at her, voice a little incongruous with what looked like wetness around his eyes as well, “I’ll fucking kill you myself. I bloody mean it.”

“God, can you not ever do what you’re told?” she shouted back, adrenaline from the fight kicking in way too late. She had stormed out. How the hell did he not get that? Sure, he was soulless and clueless about relationships, apparently, but she had stormed pretty damn hard. Following after that was nothing else but rude.

And he had not seen her cry. She refused to believe it.

“As you delight in saying,” he hissed on, strangely not coming any closer, “I’m evil. I do what I like – sod everyone else.”

His voice cracked a little on the last words, but she wasn’t listening. This was not the time when she listened to Spike being in pain. Nor was this the time when she allowed herself to be in pain, especially when the two correlated pretty hard. “Go home, Spike,” she told him, moderating her voice past its own shakiness. “We aren’t talking right now, not tonight.”

Completely goddamn contrary, this was what made him take two steps closer, to about six away from her. “Well, when will we be?” he asked, lowering his voice, crossbow still in hand. “What am I supposed to do?”

What the hell was she supposed to do, tingling with his proximity? “I don’t know,” she replied, shaking her head. She didn’t want to be having this conversation, had pretty clearly run away from it, but now somehow they were talking this stuff again. “I need to think about things.” That much she knew. “If what you said, if that’s really how you feel…”

“It doesn’t have to be,” Spike cut in desperately, taking another two steps closer.

This time, she backed away. “See, I need to think about that you think you can say that.” How could he say that? “What is… What is love to you, anyway?”

It was a rhetorical question and she was staring at the grass, but he answered all the same, voice still uncertain, “If I knew that, it wouldn’t be love. Would it?”

Closing her eyes, Buffy realised, “That’s not good enough for me.” Then she looked up, saw Spike looking terrified, explained, “There’s gotta be an answer, even if you don’t know it. I need to…” What did she need to do? “I need to work out if I figure we can be OK.”

“It was only some eggs,” he said hopelessly, as if it was only now dawning on him what this evening had become.

“It’s more than that,” Buffy replied, part of her disgusted but most of her still miserable. “Look,” she finished, holstering her stake. “I’ve gotta go.” With one last glimpse, she turned away. “Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow night, or whenever.”

That felt a little less final, didn’t it? She thought so as she walked away. The thing was, this time she really did feel it when the sense of him faded. And that – that definitely hurt.


[Chapter Four: The Day after That (and the Day after That).]

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