Fic: ‘Turn and Face the Strain’ 7-15/15 by Quinara [strongish R]

This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series Turn and Face the Strain
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Happy free-for-all day, everybody! I just wanted to let everyone know that the fic I started last week is all complete and posted on my journals (LJ/DW and the AO3 archive. This is chapter 7, which links you onwards. Please feel free to come and chat wherever!

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: ~83,000 words in total; 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. The chapter titles are of course from AYW!
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 Six: After All, I Wasn’t Exactly Hiding.]


Chapter Seven: By Letting You In.

Buffy slept easily that night. She was lulled into it, snug in Spike’s arms as her eyes drifted closed and as her heartbeat gradually settled into rest. It was like she didn’t have a care in the world, or at least as if she had strategically forgotten them for the time being.

As for Spike? Well, for a long time, he just watched.

It wasn’t actually intentional. He knew that if she woke up she would probably find him creepy, but his mind wouldn’t shut up and let him sleep. Over and over again, he kept trying to relive the moment when she said she’d loved him, but it wouldn’t quite come, frustrating him, keeping him awake.

Eventually he nodded off, but even then he had a one track mind.

”So, what does this mean?”

Bloody idiot, what d’you say that for?

“What do you mean what does this mean?”

You’ll scare her off; you know she doesn’t… “I mean, what does this mean?”

Is anything going to change? What is this between us now?

Why can’t you fucking bask, you twat? Look at her, arm on the pillow, quilt round her legs, all that cunt and arse and hips and waist and tits, that glow of sweat down her front. This is where you shut up and shag the life out of her, that little bit more, make her show it you. Don’t lie here, asking…

“It means…” Don’t hold your breath. It’s only a sigh. “Right now it pretty much means I’m lying here, with you, while my clothes and all that mess is still downstairs. Even though we know Dawn and Willow are back and will be up before us, probably, tomorrow. And… It means I can feel my mascara clogging around my eyes, but I don’t have any energy to wash up – and I’m naked wearing all my jewellery, which if I remember art history class means I look like a whore…”

Christ, look at her; she doesn’t even know. Those smudges round her eyes, jewels glinting from her hair – that’s grown out now, hasn’t it? She’d have got it cut if she wasn’t growing it, wouldn’t she? Dare to dream – but don’t fucking say anything. Distract yourself. What’s that necklace, knotted gold rope – shouldn’t be lost up there, should sit proudly, cut away from her brace straps and measure down her sternum.

How does she breathe that deep, only from your fingers on her skin? Why? When did that happen? Those eyes, those bright, round eyes, have they ever looked this vulnerable? This hungry?

“I like your jewellery.” Stay suave. Stay bloody suave. “Like the way it sets off your skin.” Gold on gold beneath your white hand; hold it there forever and one day you might touch her…

Fuck, dammit, this is bloody touching her. “The way it sets off my boobs, you mean.”

Yes. And if that’s an invitation, take it.

Don’t tremble; she’s only touching your shoulder.

“It’s all right, you know? I mean – that’s kind of, maybe, a little why I bought it?”

Kiss her. Let her seduce you. You know it’s the only way to survive this.

She doesn’t bloody know, though, does she? What she is? What’s to come? She’s too…

No, you prat, she knows. Been to heaven and back, this girl. Not an innocent for a long time. That’s love you’re tasting, what she’s shivering with. Hope. Might be all you get, so appreciate it.

“Got any other secrets I should know about?”

Wanker. Couldn’t let it go, could you?

“Hmm, well, I guess there is one.”

This doesn’t change anything. Maybe she’s being gentle with your chain, easing you down so the links caress, whispering and trembling – but it changes nothing.

“I love your jewellery too.”

She’s still leaving you in the morning.

With a rush of memory and the cold, fearful dread he might have missed her, Spike’s eyes slammed open to the morning light. His nostrils flared.

What the bloody hell were you thinking, sleeping at a time like this?

Buffy wasn’t in bed, but he could smell her, the chemical papaya scent of her body wash and the mint of her toothpaste. Not gone yet, but she’d got up without him, had a shower without inviting him, just like any other day when he’d been asleep and she’d been in a rush. This was what healing meant, presumably.

It wasn’t like she meant anything by it, after all: she’d have woken him up before she left, snogged him farewell, and if they’d had a few minutes he would have given her something to remember him by. But she was in love with him now, wasn’t she? She’d said… The whole world had stopped, changed axis, spun around and reset the seasons. It was hard to believe, now she was doing everything the same.

Sitting up, of course, Spike could see that everything really was the same. Buffy had managed to get her trousers on, all grey faux-wool and serious, but was struggling with her white shirt. Her left arm was in, but her right wouldn’t quite wiggle down the sleeve, and he could see how she was flinching away from stretching over to make it work. Still not quite healed, poor love.

Did I overdo it with her?

But she didn’t seem to be in pain. She was hopping on her toes in front of the mirror, flapping her arm and scowling like murder, wet hair bedraggled – but she didn’t look upset. She naturally hadn’t noticed the empty sheets rumpling behind her.

Of course, this left him falling for her, first time that day. He climbed out of bed with his heart in his throat, moved silently for no real reason other than to gauge her reaction to him up close. “Here,” he mumbled, with a voice that hadn’t quite woken up yet, straightened out her shirtsleeve so her arm could travel down. Cheap thing was stitched too tight at the elbow, that was the problem. But it wasn’t his place to say anything about that.

More important, anyway, was Buffy. She jumped a little in surprise, eyes flickering from the empty space in the mirror to her shoulder and then up to his eyes. That was to be expected; what was to be assessed and scrutinised and judged, no matter that he knew he shouldn’t, was the way her scowl softened into a smile. The way she said, “Hey, sleepybones,” kissed him, then tried to keep her eyeline above his cock.

One glance sufficed, all the same, for enough blood to run south that his brain couldn’t keep up. (He’d never been one for scientific enquiry anyway.) Accepting the inevitable, he shook himself and stuck with the basics: she was warm and small and pretty, so he wrapped his arms around her and watched as she did her buttons, looked down as her bra disappeared. “You didn’t wake me up,” he complained, nonetheless, still feeling miffed. She didn’t need much help with her clothes anymore, but he wasn’t trying to patronise; she had to realise, didn’t she?

She was smiling at least. “You know the line writes itself, right?” she told him, dry white wine pitch of irony in her voice. “You? Sleep? Dead?”

It made him chuckle, because she had a point. But, all the same… “That right?”

It wasn’t really a plan, but he dragged her back against him anyway, stifling a moan as her tight little backside jumped against his dick. Snuffling into her neck, muscle memory found him right at her jugular, but he only wanted a nibble, just a tease, a little growl and her response. That sweet squeal and the skip to her heartbeat: enough to break some sweat beneath all the chemicals, that honey-botanical scent of her body bringing her back into his world, before she left him alone.

Although – her shirt seemed freshly washed and laundered, whenever she’d had time to do that, but he was getting the impression they might have had a shag with her in it once. It had a faint whiff as though it had ended up in bed with them, or the floor, not quite discarded.

Hmm… That would be enough for Angel to remember, wouldn’t it, if he got this close?

Dammit, now he was imagining… No.

Fucking hell; why did he think these things? Soulless and carefree was meant to be the deal. Over a hundred years and he still felt shortchanged. “You coming back tonight?” Spike found himself asking, the memory of her absence yesterday curling cold in his stomach. Her absence tonight yet again. “We could…” He wanted to say that they could go out on the town, but they never went out on the town, except in his fantasy life. It was too soon to ask. Wasn’t it?

“I should be,” Buffy replied, not even noticing his slip. Her shirt was finished now, but she stood comfortably against him, eyes ducked to his arms under hers and her hands resting over his on her silly snake belt. He had a feeling that was to stop him going lower, possibly because she didn’t have another smart change of clothes. Pity. “It’s gonna be a long day, though,” she continued with a sigh, likely not disappointed about the same thing he was. “Like I said, I don’t know how much time I’ll need at the lawyers’, so…”

“You’re gonna spend the night with Angel, aren’t you?” he understood, couldn’t help it, heart sinking. Nothing had changed at all.

“I’m not gonna sleep in his bed!” Buffy exclaimed, pushing free and turning in his arms. “Who the hell do you think I am?” She was angry, but she wasn’t – that was the strange thing; startling, even. She was afraid: her mouth was hard, but her eyes were soft, searching, round. Seeing him. “Where’s this coming from?” she asked, before she seemed to realise. “We really didn’t finish talking trust, did we?” Didn’t even let him answer, just slumped in disappointment, tore his heart out. “I knew you didn’t…” Then those lovely eyes fell away from his, coming to rest somewhere on the carpet by their sides. “God, I should have waited.”

That made him seize up, enough at last to respond. “No,” he told her, most of his breath choked on the fear she would take her love back, what he had of it. It had been likely from the moment she’d said it, but… He couldn’t imagine what he would be like without it now, the promise, the possibility of connection, confirmed only to be negated because he was a twat. She still wasn’t looking at him, but her hands were on his forearms, his hands still allowed to hold her hips. “I trust you,” he promised, because he had to. Didn’t he?

“I want to believe you,” she said, eyes turned back now, full of tears. She raised her right arm to wrap it around his neck, then started playing with what was likely an unholy bedhead; it almost made him cry himself. “Like I guess you probably want to believe me.”

He did believe her. She loved him. Things were different now, even if she was about to walk out of the door without him.

When he tried to say it, however, the words stuck in his throat, so he kissed her instead, desperate to feel what he felt around her one last time. For the memory.

But then – her lips were trembling, quavering while his started doing to same. It was like they’d never kissed before, as if they couldn’t remember what to do. He wanted to remind her who he was, that he was the shag of her life and she’d be a fool to do him wrong, but he’d forgotten quite how to articulate that. It was nigh on impossible when all she made him feel was this deep, begging need: he wanted her attention, whatever type she could spare, and he wanted her to come back, whatever she did down in LA. It didn’t leave him much to bargain with.

For her part, it was like she wanted him to accept her, whatever. That wasn’t new, of course. Ever since she’d started throwing him against walls there was a tone, a violent question of whether he could take her, whether he would have her. But – it usually came with the backswing, that if he couldn’t hack it, then she’d have him anyway and he’d be done for. That wasn’t there anymore.

The threat hadn’t much been there for a while, but now, even as she walked them back to the bed, as he sat down and she took him side-saddle, it felt like she was placing herself in his hands. As a couple of sighs escaped her, crushed against his lips, he had to take her in his arms – one around her back, one under her legs – and hold her properly while she stroked his face.

“We’re good, aren’t we?” she was saying, pulling him out of the fog and frowning an enigmatic little frown. “We’re OK?”

“Better than ever,” he agreed, because he had to and because he believed it, smiling in the hope it would make her look a little less lost.

She matched his smile crookedly, probably trying to do the same thing. “That’s not so hard, I guess, is it?”

“Doesn’t matter,” he replied, convincing himself. She was right, of course. They’d been a long way down in their time, so the only choice, really, was to go up. Either that or on to a cataclysm, but he didn’t fancy that happening today.

Famous last words, Spike.

Shaking himself, he grit his teeth and pushed on with the optimism, stating, “Progress is progress, far as I’m concerned.” He would make himself believe it.

Buffy didn’t look so sure either, of course, but she nodded. “Yeah,” she said, still frowning, her voice quiet. “Progress.”

Silence hung. It wasn’t one of the good ones.

“So…” He cleared his throat, not quite able to look at her and control his emotions at the same time. Bloody emotions; they were a waste of everyone’s time. “You got everything you need?” He should forbid himself from talking about love until he could manage it better.

Still, Buffy seemed to be willing to go with whatever it was they were doing: she relaxed against him, dropping one soggy head of hair onto his shoulder. It made him jump a little bit, but that was just a good excuse to hold onto her more tightly. “I think so,” she said, puffing hot air onto his neck. “I’ve got all the papers and stuff. Kind of lacking an attorney, but I’m really hoping Brian’s a good enough guy to let that go. Mom got through pretty much all the legal preshow, and… We did something with signatures, I think?”

It all sounded exhausting. “Give me a call when it’s done, yeah?” It wasn’t quite fair, asking her to find a phone and fill him in, but if she ended up in the Hyperion then there was bound to be the possibility. They could run up Angelface a nice, hefty bill. “I want to know how it goes.”

If she could get out of this quagmire of money issues, all her debts, he wasn’t even sure what would happen. Hell knew she’d changed after dying and coming back, but he still had the feeling she could be pushed a little further towards happiness, if not that strange, smiling creature she’d once been. She used to bring him to his knees, after all; now she spent most of her time looking him in the eye. And that wasn’t to say he didn’t love it, love her, but she wasn’t meant to be as miserable as him, nor so angry.

Like now. “Sure,” she was saying, hesitantly, like she couldn’t quite tell what his motives were, or whether there could ever be any good news to tell him. “I mean,” she continued, shifting a touch in his lap to play with the first scratchings of new hair on his chest. “I haven’t even gotten hold of Angel yet, so I might be coming straight home.”

“Eh?” Well, all right, that was a change in topic. “What d’you mean?”

“There’s been no answer at his hotel,” Buffy explained, like she’d been trying not to think about the potential problem. “I left a message on the voicemail and then I called back yesterday, tried Wesley’s old number to get the call redirected and everything, but nobody picked up.” Her fingers paused, just when he’d been enjoying the feeling of them on his skin. Not that he didn’t enjoy it always. “D’you think that’s bad?” she asked him, as if he had the answers. “I thought he’d have called me back by now.”

He, of course, didn’t have a clue what to make of it. Someone as anal as Angel could be expected to keep up his correspondence, no? Especially with Buffy. It sounded like something was wrong. “He was having trouble with that bloke, wasn’t he?” Spike suggested, pulling ideas out of the air and trying to remember what had happened in LA, apart from a good night’s shagging amongst some books. “Eighteenth Century Man?” Did he remember that right?

“Marty McFly’s grumpy British uncle,” Buffy at least confirmed, throwing the comment out there like time travel was to be expected. How jaded the young were these days… “But they can’t be having problems with him,” she then continued, proving what the papers said about entitlement as well. “We have problems. Enough problems for everyone. LA should be problem-free.”

Now, why exactly was it that his heart clenched at the sound of her whining like a spoiled brat? If she lifted her head she’d have that pout on her lips, but that wasn’t it. “Don’t think it works like that, love,” he was saying, caught between amusement and the urge to pull her back under the squishy bedclothes with him. Trying to resist, he kissed her hair and stood them both back up. “Now; I thought someone was beautifying herself.”

That earned him an outraged glare and a slap on his shoulder, which was just the thing to leave his skin tingling as he let her go, crawling back up the bed to watch as she started on her hair. “You are so lucky you can do the things you can do,” she accused him, pointing the hairbrush his way. Settling back in his haven of Buffy-sex-smell, resting against his arms on the headboard, he really didn’t give a toss. But then, quite unexpectedly, the hair brush fell along with Buffy’s face and he was almost out again to apologise. “You’re gonna be here tonight, right?” was the question that actually came, but it came with enough awkwardness and worry he was still thinking he should get a hold on her again.

“Not got much of elsewhere to go,” he said anyway, telling her the truth. The crypt would be habitable, maybe, at least for the likes of him, but, fucking hell, that would be depressing. He didn’t want to think about it. Wasn’t thinking about it. “Should probably start scoping out a new place.” God, he really had nothing, now, didn’t he?

“You can keep stuff here if you like,” Buffy said then, and he almost didn’t hear it. “In the basement or – you know…” He looked up and she was watching him with those hawk’s eyes of hers, mouth ready to snap. But not quite yet. “It’s way too soon to think about –” What was she thinking about? He wasn’t thinking anything – well, apart from the quality unexpected shags that could come from sharing a place… “It’s too soon,” she repeated, and he fancied there was slight flush on her cheeks as she got the picture too. “But if you need somewhere to keep stuff,” she persisted nonetheless, “until, you know, you find your own… There’s space here.” Now she was blushing full out, but it seemed like that was mostly to do with the matter at hand. “And, um, I guess, don’t feel like – you don’t have to rush or anything.”

The bed felt like it was sinking to accept him. He was – more than anything, he was touched. Like the sun appearing from behind clouds, he was in one of those few moments when he felt like he could almost see what she was thinking, and that seemed to be some sort of sympathy for his crypt’s demise. Even though she’d asked him to do it – and even though it was his own fault. “All right,” he agreed, talking past the lump in his throat, not quite sure what to do with himself. She smiled and he smiled back, his vision full of her.

She left too soon. Not quite as soon as she could have done; there were twenty minutes left on the clock by the time she was finished getting ready and she chose to spend them with him, curled up on top of the covers to prod him about what he was going to do all day – but it still wasn’t enough.

The moment she walked out the door, as he watched her be driven away from a shady angle by the window, it was like the whole day spread out before him, empty and meaningless. There were things to do, things he had to do, but they all seemed rather less necessary now it came round to actually getting them done. He’d have to go to the mall, of course, and buy some clothes, unless he intended to walk around starkers next time he had to clean some goo off his jeans. That wouldn’t work with Dawn in the house.

More importantly than that, he thought, looking around at the froufrou wallpaper and its embarrassing posters of curtain-haired twats, he needed to get out. He wasn’t meant to belong here when Buffy wasn’t around; he was meant to have an unlife, being something other than a pathetic piece of pet mould. It was why he played poker, even when that apparently led him even further astray than avoiding it.

He wasn’t quite sure what he was about these days. Everything had lacked colour after Buffy had died, but he figured it should have come back with her resurrection. As it was, it was only her who had colour, really; dark and moody swirls of it, captivating against the drabness of everything else. Even if she was unpredictable as hell – and had the tendency to leave him in the lurch.

For a while Spike sat on the carpet, gaze wandering to the empty reflection of the mirror.

He could go back to bed, he thought, but he doubted he’d be able to sleep. There was still his copy of Dorian Gray under his pillow, but he’d finished that the other night. Was there any reason in starting it again? Buffy had liked the bit he’d read to her in hospital, but –

For fuck’s sake, get on with it.

Shaking himself, he forced his thoughts away.

Climbing to his feet, eventually, he got on with it.

It seemed like Buffy had gone on a pre-dawn raid for their clothes, Spike realised, because his jeans and yesterday’s t-shirt were quite visible in the pile of all her frilly, colourful things. Fondly removing the knickers caught on his fly-button – and it was nice to see their clothes fancied each other as well – Spike checked the wallet still wedged in his back pocket.

He still had most of the money from the eggs deal. It would have to last, but there was two-hundred, two-twenty bucks still in there. He could do cheap shirts and maybe a spare pair of jeans, but he needed some boots, and, as the maxim went, a gentleman did not walk around in a cheap jacket, even if Spike had long upgraded it to the opinion that naff tailoring was for wankers. Why on earth Nikki Wood had had such a well-made man’s coat, of course, he’d never know, but it was gone now and he needed something that could at least hold a tealight to the memory. Fine.

Decision made, he dumped the wallet on the dresser where he’d remember it and plodded out onto the empty landing, into the empty bathroom. He took a shower, not with Buffy’s papaya body wash, then wandered back to Buffy’s room, adding hair gel to the mental list of things he needed to buy. Clothes on, he stripped the bed, didn’t smell it, and decided the grey towel could do with a wash as well, so took it with him downstairs.

Turning from the stairs into the kitchen, en route to the basement, he got the fright of his unlife.

“Hey, Spike.”

A pillowcase slipped from his pile as he came to a dead stop. Willow was there at the breakfast bar, half a smile on her face but hardly any cheer. “Bloody hell,” he said, not bothering to hide his surprise. The witch had been frosty with him ever since Buffy’s birthday when she’d walked in on him tied up; there didn’t seem much call for him to be polite. “Forgot you’d be here.” He vaguely recalled telling her to suck him off or let him go, but that had been a clear case of mistaken identity – not to mention more of a challenge than a command. There was no need for her to hold this grudge about it.

“Well, I do live here,” Willow said anyway, sarcastic as he kicked the rogue pillowcase up off the floor. Snorting, he decided it was best to leave her to her orange juice and continued towards the basement, only for her to add, out of the blue, “Oh yeah, Buffy said to say that Xander brought you some boots to wear.”

“Xander?” Spike frowned, pausing in the shadow by the basement door. Why would he have brought him boots? The wanker hated him. And had massive, clodhopping feet.

Willow didn’t seem much thrilled about the idea either. “They keep spares on the site,” she explained. “Buffy asked him.”

Well, all right then. “I’ll have to say thanks when I see him,” he answered, meeting Willow’s eyes to take in her inscrutable, Nancy Drew expression for a moment, before he let himself into the basement.

Even then, however, Willow followed, footsteps sounding out a few steps behind his. “She said you might be staying for a while,” came the next barb.

When the hell had Buffy had the time for all these conversations? That was what Spike wondered. Surely there weren’t that many hours in the day? It was barely the afternoon. “Well, she offered.” He kept his voice bland all the same, hoping to be shot of this conversation as quickly as possible. “Let me get back on my feet and I’ll be out of your hair in a few days.” It wasn’t actually what he wanted to do, but it would probably be easier for all concerned if he found somewhere else to go for the daytime. He did need to get out, if only because Willow had a face on her like she was planning to get her radio after midnight and play it passive-aggressively through the wall.

“Oh, no, it’s fine,” she said as he loaded up the washing machine, even though it clearly wasn’t. He didn’t really care; added the powder and set everything going. “Are you… Gonna be around when Dawn gets home from school?”

That got his attention. Turning his back to the machine, Spike crossed his arms, trying to work out what the witch was getting at. “Why?” he asked.

“It’s nothing, really,” she replied, waving her hands as if she could cast an illusion of meaninglessness over her sincerity. “It’s only – I think she might have taken the whole feuding authority figures thing pretty hard. You could talk to her about it.”

“Is that right?” Narrowing his eyes, he still wasn’t entirely sure what was going on here. The strip light of the basement let him see Willow’s eagerness quite well, and maybe it was true that she could notice things when she wanted, but he didn’t understand why that meant she could tell him what to do. “How about you leave me and Dawn to me, yeah?” he suggested, not letting her play out her power trips on him. He could notice things on his own, thank you very much.

At least she seemed to catch his meaning: her face fell. He rolled his eyes. “Sure, OK,” she said. “So, um, what’s your plan for the mall?”

Now that was a better question. “Well…”

Mayor Wilkins apparently hadn’t been all that interested in speeding the teenagers of Sunnydale’s main residential area to their drug of choice, because the sewer route between Revello Drive and the mall was one of the most circuitous the town had to offer. It took about forty minutes, end to end, and its only real virtue was that it brought a fellow out right in the covered car park, so he could waltz sunbeam-free right into the main complex and its artificial light, happy as you please with all the other shoppers.

If that mother and her kids cared about Spike popping out of the manhole right in front of them, they were certainly too smart to say so.

The shopping was, for the most part, tedious. That place where they sold all that Camden market bollocks was full of teenybopper mums trying to source their misunderstood darling a Linkin Park t-shirt. The price of DMs had gone up again. As for jackets, he couldn’t afford leather and he couldn’t afford long, so he found himself weighing up the options in khaki, denim and, Lucifer help him, something approaching tweed – though it was at least fake enough not to smell of piss. Denim went right out the moment he saw a portly bloke in his forties puff his way past while wearing a whole outfit of blue. Spike hadn’t much bothered keeping up with fashion, but considering how much of a prat that bloke looked, he couldn’t bring himself to even think about something similar for himself.

The tweed was black at least, which was its only redeeming feature. He’d never be able to show his face in a demon bar again, but then he wasn’t doing much of that at the moment as it was. Poker played by different rules, and the colour of a man’s kittens was far more important than what he was wearing… But after the Randy Giles fiasco, could he really bear it? Was he only tempted because of how plastic and brightly coloured the rest of the mall’s options seemed. (Which shop was he in, even? He didn’t know anymore.)

If he didn’t go for the tweed, which he was starting to appreciate the feel off, and how long it would last against Buffy and a wall, the only other option was khaki, in that other department store across the way. Bland, thin, unlined, soldier-boy khaki, which even Riley Finn had apparently dropped in favour of more decent gear.

Looking across the racks of men’s clothing, keeping himself out of sight from the mirror and away from as much of the harsh lighting as possible, Spike contemplated the array of ugly, more standard black coats he’d already rejected. He couldn’t do it, could he? He simply couldn’t replace the old duster with something so bloody ordinary. Right now he was at a turning point, the moment when he’d lay Nikki’s memory to rest in peace; he couldn’t do it in a waterproof with faux-horn buttons. And he thought he could remember Buffy saying something about finding blazers hot.

But no. Tweed was too far. Much too far. This was madness. He’d go with the khaki and then see about raising himself enough cash for something more appropriate.

It was really hard, Spike thought, to remember why he wasn’t just nicking this stuff. He passed by a rack of leather on his way out and it was all clearly wired in to an alarm, the sort of thing that would have required a full slaughter of the staff in the old days, rather than daylight robbery and the quick kill of security later – and, all right, that didn’t need Buffy’s morals so much as a bit of practical thinking. The rest of it, though… He didn’t really want it, not the nasty polycotton shirts he had in his carrier bag, nor the jacket he was off to buy, but it was all he could afford, so he was stuck with it. What kind of choice was that? He resented wasting what little money he had on stuff he didn’t want, but what could he do? Live in filth and hope more money came along? The Summers’ house was out of blood now – he needed some money for that. And fags, they were dearer by the day; he was on rations for the ones he had left in his other back pocket. (He wasn’t even thinking about how ridiculous he looked, wandering around with a padded arse – he needed his front pockets for his hands and this was why he was buying a jacket.)

With such important matters occupying his thoughts, it really wasn’t surprising that he managed to pass the teenager in the health and beauty section of the store and make his way up the escalator without even blinking. One purchase of an ugly jacket later, however, and it came rushing back.

Purple Converse sneakers. Long, straight, shampoo commercial brown hair.

Turning back to the escalators with trepidation, Spike looked down at the time on his receipt.


And it wasn’t the weekend.

Ah yes, the less moral Miss Summers. Looked like Brainbox Willow had been on to something after all. Bollocks.

[Chapter Eight: Maybe the Time is Right.] (also on DW and AO3)

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