Fic: ‘Walking at Midday’ by Quinara (PG-13/R)

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This is a piece of angsty/squishy/fluffy smoosh that I didn’t have ready for my day, but conveniently have ready now. In which Spike finds a different way of dealing with the trigger!

Author: Quinara
Rating: PG-13/R for, hmm, swearing and reasonably explicit discussion of sex and sexual violence. I’m thinking of it as something like a 15 over here. Teen?
Length: ~7500 words.
Setting: S7, just after Get It Done.
Warnings: Explicit discussion of canonical attempted rape, otherwise no others off the AO3 list.

Walking at Midday

Spike’s beginning to get the feeling Buffy may be in love with him. It’s terrifying.

Not without hesitation, Spike took the last couple of steps down into the basement restaurant. The room was empty, but remained softly lit, the tables wiped clean and cloth-free with their chairs turned upside down, seat to table place, legs in the air. It didn’t look promising, but it did look like the place.

“Hello?” he called out towards the bar and the back room. “I called ahead – to see the…”

And then she appeared, out of the shadows from the other end of the chain-long bar. She walked like a human, wore a posh khaki frock, but her skin was covered in sand-coloured velveteen fur, her eyes large and leonine, her mouth and nose squashed into each other like a cat’s. As she approached she watched him stand and fidget with an imperious, steady gaze.

The Sphinx. “So, what is it I can help you with, vampire?” she asked, coming to a halt opposite him. Leaning against the bar’s dark wood, she pulled a convenient ice bucket towards her and filled an elegant, tube-like tumbler with beer from an icy bottle. This she proceeded to sip like champagne.

Of course, now Spike really wanted a beer. Damn distraction. “I think you already know,” he said impatiently. “So let’s get on with it: give me a riddle, do your mojo.”

Diffidently, the Sphinx shrugged, taking another sip of her drink.

Spike waited, hoping for the old four-legs, two-legs, three-legs gag –

– then jumped as he felt hands curl around his shoulders, a warm body press against his back like a lover. The hands were strong. “Spike…” this Buffy whispered in his ear: no pretence, just seduction as she teasingly nipped his earlobe. For a moment he was too startled to react, but she was so warm, so close, and she was turning him towards her – her fingers on his jaw were perfect, her lips agonisingly soft. This was a dream, to be resisted, or at least a firm nudge of magic, and yet…

“Buffy,” he murmured against her lips, bringing fingers through the curls of hair at the base of her neck and resting his hand there, trembling with a frisson of fear. With his eyes closed he felt suspended in a perfect moment: part of him hyperaware it wasn’t real, most of him willing to enjoy it for what it was. He hadn’t had many pleasant dreams recently, and this kiss was more than that.

Maybe that should have been a clue.

Abruptly, just as Buffy’s tongue touched his, she went cold. Hot, wet blood was pooling over his hand, pouring from her neck. He jumped, trying to shake the blood away, but that made her body fall backwards, slamming into the wooden floor with her hair all straight and pale, dressed as she’d been the time he’d seen her die.

Only, that was, with an added neck wound, cut from his teeth and pooling blood onto the floor. She hadn’t fallen like Buffy; she’d fallen the way a thousand girls had fallen, the way another slayer had before.

“FUCK!” Spike yelled, his bloody hand juddering towards his hair before he could stop it. “Fuck,” he followed with a whisper. “I’m getting so bloody sick of this, you can’t even…”

At last the image – sense-surround fake – faded from the floor. He couldn’t look away, but the cat’s voice floated over his shoulder all the same. “Choose.”

That was when he started to laugh.

Two nights previously.

When it came down to it, there wasn’t any other option. Buffy had basically ordered him to retrieve his balls out of her handbag and he’d done as she’d asked – for his trouble he’d got his brain knocked around his skull and bruises on his knuckles, but he’d won, hadn’t he? It had been a while, but now he remembered the rush, the simplicity of knowing he could win and there was quite likely bugger all anyone could do about it. That demon was just the last in a long, long chain of winning, stacking the odds yet another jot higher in his favour.

And that left him where he was now. No other option.

“Whatcha doing?” Buffy asked when she came downstairs that afternoon. It was rhetorical, he was pretty sure, because there were only so many ways you could interpret someone shoving a pillow into a cotton case.

Nonetheless, he informed her, “Making the bed. Did laundry; it’s dry now.”

She nodded appraisingly. “I guess you make beds, huh?” With her hands in her pockets, she had a twinkle in her eye to match the lightness of her voice. It was slowly becoming the standard way she looked at him, errant anomalies aside, and was more than a little terrifying.

Nonetheless, he wished he didn’t have to leaden the mood. “Wanted something to come back to,” he explained carefully, not meeting her eyes as he puffed and placed the last pillow down at the head of his cot. Or whosever cot it was. Not that anyone else could pull off pale blue and concrete basement.

“Wanted something…?” The silence was very, very dangerous as Buffy caught on. He looked up. Yeah, definitely terrifying. “No,” she said, crossing her arms. “We already had this conversation and – no.” There was fire in her eyes, but fear in her voice – and that was what scared him. “You can’t go.”

“Got no choice, lamb,” he promised her, not backing down. He didn’t want to leave on an argument, never had done but definitely didn’t now, so he met her eyes levelly and tried to keep his tone even. “Staying here with the First in my head, all ready to flip a switch and have me harm you, or make life worse for you…” His hand itched to rise, to touch her cheek and stroke the skin; he couldn’t quite remember what it felt like and he didn’t want to go without remembering her – even if she was scowling hard enough to summon lightning bolts. “I have to go see what I can do about it, make myself safe. Can’t be in this fight with you if I’m not.”

“So this is a ‘greater good’ thing?” she asked, setting her body in the hard lines of slayerly anger: feet apart and back rod-straight, chin raised. Accusation in B minor. “Because what I’m seeing is a vamp who’s scared of being dang–”

“No you’re not,” he interrupted, feeling his temper start to fray despite his wishes, not quite able to take the betrayal she was charging him with. “Don’t do this, Buffy; you told me to be my own man again, to stand my ground, and that’s what I’m trying to do.” Annoyingly he’d started gesturing, and couldn’t seem to stop. “I can’t – I can’t stand by and wait for the First to use me to bugger this up for you, to get me out and have me kill someone. I need to do this.”

“But I need…” she began before trailing off, blinking furiously, pressing fingers into her eyes. The rules of their world meant he couldn’t believe she was crying, but it was a very odd action otherwise. Probably it was exhaustion, poor thing had more than her fair share of that these days, carried it by the bucket-load across her shoulders. “I need you here to fight this thing,” she finished softly, not sounding tired, “can’t do it without you.”

That terrifying look was back in her eyes, soft and deep and warm; he didn’t know how to deal with it. It made the urge to get away – and fix himself, always fix himself – grow stronger. “I shouldn’t be gone long,” he offered uncertainly, not knowing what she needed him to say. “Couple of days, maybe? Clem has contacts in San Francisco – I’ll get myself read then get it out of me.”

Buffy shook her head, as if she didn’t understand or that was still too long, he wasn’t sure. The fight was over, which he hadn’t been expecting, not after yesterday’s barney had loosened the valve on that particular bad habit of theirs, but maybe she realised it had to be done? He didn’t quite dare believe it, but it seemed more likely than the idea she was as unwilling as him to have their goodbye another fight – especially since he wasn’t even going for that long, as he’d said.

Although, how long was it since he’d gone a day without seeing her? Since the cave, it had to be, which was what? Pushing two months by now – and bugger him if the thought of going without didn’t make his heart sink.

“I’ll be back, yeah?” he swore, coming in closer, definitely within touching distance and close enough to feel the terrible, trembling heat that radiated from her human skin. These days he liked to think he could see the mission Buffy followed, work out the hooks it had in her, but he doubted he had the strength to give her up for it, not for more than a little while. One day, perhaps, but not now. “If… If you’ll have me back, I’ll be back.”

“Of course I’ll…” Her right hand was the first to move, taking his left gently and almost casually – if you were working with any other measurement than the Buffy Scale of Contact, that was. Or – that wasn’t quite fair, not these days, but her touches always meant more to him, so he was counting this as notable. If only for the shivers it set in his nerves. She was looking down now, but said, “I want you to be here.”

He had to explain again, if only to himself; began before he could think about it, “Trust me, Buffy –”

That, however, was cut off by, “I do.” Calm and resolute. Terrifying.

What could he say? All his reassurances about how much better he’d be for her and the mission when he got back, they flew out of the tiny two-paned window. The scrawly diagram of logistics he wanted to show her, with the contingency plans and things he’d ask for from Willow to keep him safe, to stop him if the trigger came, he knew he didn’t need to get it out. Instead, he skipped straight on – because he couldn’t bask in the silence, else he’d never get out of the door.

“I’ll be in touch,” he said. “Nick Andrew’s phone, I’m thinking; it’s not like the little git has any friends left to contact him and he’s probably got some whizzkid model all up to date with decent battery life.” And then he was blathering, because the perfect chicken bones of her fingers were clenching across his. “Check in every day – just with the house; you wouldn’t have to fix your schedule around me – at sunset or the like, so I’d know if anything was wrong and I needed to get back. And you could ring me whenever anyway, if things get hairy – it’s only a few hours, then I’d be here, muscle in tow or – whatever you need. You won’t even notice I’m gone…”

Quite suddenly, she pulled him down: left arm around his shoulder, her hand splayed on his back; right hand dropping to loop around his waist; head ducking to burrow in his shoulder. It was – a hug? It was sensory overload, bright and jarring for a good moment before he mirrored her, keeping his embrace as relaxed as he was able – even as he inhaled the scent of her hair. She stated seriously, muffled against his shirt, like this was a ritual they were enacting, “Next time we meet, OK, we’ll hug again. You have to remember that. No hug, then the other one is the First and we put our fingers in our ears, sing ‘la la la’ until it leaves us alone. Not listen to a word. You’ll remember, right?”

He could feel it then, her abject fear that he wouldn’t come back, that he’d learn enough or hear enough to have second thoughts and settle out of Sunnydale permanently. It scared him as much as anything he’d ever felt for her, because how could he assuage that completely? The First had had him out of his tree and hungry for her, of sucking down neck-fresh blood with abandon he hadn’t felt in years – despite the soul in his chest. Sometimes he felt like that was all he had in him, and, even knowing that the First was no more than a figment of nothing, he couldn’t quite shift the feeling.

“I promise,” he said all the same, speaking to her neck. Three things he had to do: leave, get his head straight, come back. And he would do them.

Ritual complete, they stepped apart from each other again. Flushed, Buffy met his eyes and said, “I’m helping you get ready.”

Her tone told him she would brook no argument, but her expression was more tender than it had ever been.

It was late when he arrived in SF, nearly sunrise, but he was feeling optimistic. His leaving had gone well, with everything he could need packed up and his fangs magically bound against touching anything alive. In a week it would feel like a muzzle, but for now it was a weight off his mind. Now all he had to do was do.

Checking into the hotel was easy. The place was reasonable, courtesy of Giles’ credit card (proffered with a cautious note of encouragement), and he settled in without a fuss – explained his schedule to the night reception, put out the Do Not Disturb sign, got the curtains reliably shut.

Unfortunately, that was about all he managed.

When it came he was crouching on the floor, trying to squeeze his blood into the fridge amongst the mini drinks and peanuts. There was a sound, like a door opening and closing, and at first he assumed that it was nothing but the thinness of the walls, that he’d be hearing his neighbours all night. Then he stood up.


There was Buffy, bag in hand, radiant smile on her face. For a moment his heart rose in his chest – she’d followed him, she’d actually come after him – but he knew that would never happen. “Sod off,” he told her, not as strongly as he would have liked.

It had been inevitable, hadn’t it? That the First would come the moment he let himself out of Buffy’s sight. Inevitable.

“Geez, where’s the love?” Buffy replied, unfazed but beautiful in cream and gold, making him flinch. Neutrals, they were what she wore these days, all different shades of beige like a desert falcon; this was her as he saw her, Walmart slacks turned precious Donna Karan, perched on the end of his bed and barely denting the covers – not even denting the covers – as she crossed her legs. “I knew this was a Spike’s Own Adventure, but I figured you wanted to get things done, not get away from me. Is that what this is?”

“Buffy’s never heard of Boy’s Own,” Spike avoided the question, didn’t even think about it, slamming fridge door closed with a heel. “Maybe it hasn’t hit the lower reaches, but one of our many failings is that we don’t understand a blind word the other’s saying half the time.” It felt so, so strange talking down to her like this, sneering when she smiled at him, but he forced it out all the same. “You’ve got her worse than Dru.”

Buffy sighed a Buffy-sigh. “Spike, you’re not making sense.” Her tone was a little harder, a little more exasperated, edged with bitter tiredness… In the blink of an eye she looked different, not by so much that many would notice besides him (it could have been a trick of the light), but she was a touch thinner, the skin under her eyes a little more blue beneath her makeup. Her hair had a day’s worth of grease and there was dead skin around her fingernails. Her silk shirt was rayon now, her tan trousers cheap and flat in colour. He could see the elastic that held her jewellery together and the stilettos on her boots were two inches shorter than he’d thought they’d been, flecks of mud and grass around the worn heels. Her perfume was fading from the Armani stuff she loved in magazines to the banal combination of BO and deo.

Now his stomach sank with a combination of love, fear and perfect, perfect recognition; tears pricked his eyes. “You’re not real,” he forced himself to say. It came out in a whisper.

“We can play that game if you want,” she replied, whippish humour firmly in place. “The bus took so long that I’m feeling kinda zen, actually; how was it on the motorcycle?” Waiting, it was as if she realised she was being too flip. “I mean, that’s not important – here’s the thing.” She gathered herself, psyching herself up to say something important; it was all too quick for him to react. “You said you needed to do this,” she said, “but, you know what? What I needed to do was come with you. I need to be where you are – so here I am. I’m here.” She put her hands either side of her on the duvet, her whole posture balanced and measured; her touch was so light on the bed that he could barely see it, but he thought he could, tiny creases around her – he wanted to see it, he really wanted to.

It’s a bloody hallucination, Spike; snap out of it.

He tried to ignore her. Even with her gaze so easy and expectant, he turned away and began bustling about the room, trying to take his mind off the vision in its centre. So, what, he hadn’t been planning to unpack? Every shirt and his spare pair of jeans went in the wardrobe. He took off his boots and placed them by the door, straightened the curtains one final time.

“Spike?” Buffy asked several times, making his head turn on the last because her voice was so soft. (And there was a chance, wasn’t there, just a chance…) “Please don’t ignore me,” she asked, and he felt like a heel. “I’m sorry I didn’t say anything before you left, I… You’re stronger than me.” Her shoulders tightened with insecurity, an uneven breath sucked into her nose. It captivated him. “You know I can’t say this stuff right, and in the house, I mean, someone’s always listening – they all want a piece of me; I’ve heard them talk, you know?” Then she shook her head, as if tossing away some absent silliness, before biting her lip. Like the marvel she was, she seemed to pull on some great inner source of strength, the way she did in all his dreams, transfixing him. She looked up, straight at him, smile like a glow on her face. “But – I do, and you should know that, Spike. I couldn’t let you go; I love you.”


With a hitch in his throat he wasn’t allowing to be a sob Spike spun away to the room’s desk, scrabbling through coins and keys as Buffy protested behind him. He couldn’t listen, he refused to listen, he had to…

But it could have happened, if she’d come; it could have happened, if she’d got away; remember the way she looks at you sometimes, the way she looked before you left, the glimpses of her face you keep at the back of your mind, for the late nights, the dark ones; remember how she let you go; remember how she believes in you, how she trusts you –

There was nothing quite so terrifying as believing in possibility.

Finally he had Andrew’s phone in his hand, Buffy’s number on the screen. It was dialling. The other Buffy was still talking, every cadence of every clause making his hand tremble – because why was he calling? Why would she bother picking up when she was in the room?

A jangly ringtone rang behind him, Pink in polyphonic or something equally tacky as only the embarrassing modern world could provide. Buffy was asking, “Spike, why are you calling me? We need to talk,” and he almost hung up right there.

But then, his saviour: “Spike? Are you OK?” Her voice was groggy, but alert; concerned, but distant down the line. Different from what he’d been hearing, which had been to the last a fantasy.

He laughed, clutching the phone tighter in his hand, clutching the desk. With his laughter he was the only one in the room. “Sorry, love; shouldn’t have woken you, didn’t mean…” He collapsed to his knees on the carpet, laughter still bubbling. “Just needed…”

Just needed to hear your voice. He could hardly say that, could he? That was far too emotional, far beyond where they were at these days. Not that he could really remember where they were, but they didn’t talk of love and he was pretty sure they didn’t talk of attachment in anything but the most oblique of terms. The whole world had flinched the other day when he’d reminded Buffy what he’d done for her; he couldn’t do that now, not when she’d worry.

“It’s good to hear from you.” She was being neutral, in everything but her words, and that was probably the right way to be; it was likely she had company, like girls on the floor or a Scooby within earshot. This war was no time for risk. “How’s it going?”

“Yeah, all right,” he answered, no report quite ready in his mind. What was that humming coming from behind her? The line or – the washing machine? “I’m checked in. Tomorrow – or tonight, I suppose – I’ll get on finding Clem’s friend.” She put clothes in to wash before she went to sleep, most nights; could she be in the basement? Could she be in his bed?


(Would the fantasy ever stop?)

Conversation lapsed. In the end he let himself gabble, “The First was here; it was you; I had to call you so it would go away…” Even if they didn’t talk like this, he could trust her, couldn’t he? He had to trust her to realise that he couldn’t always remember what they were allowed to talk about, that he didn’t mean anything by it.

“Oh. What did it say?”

Oh, balls. He didn’t want to tell her. More than that, he didn’t think he should – but this was a war, wasn’t it? No time for any sort of hang-up.

“Spike –” She said it with a breath, as if she had a special reserve of patience just for him. “If you tell me, then we can…”

“It said you love me.” There, now that was out there, languishing in the silence and forcing him to explain, “Caught me off-guard and sent me a little… Sorry; I’ll be better if it comes again.”

“No,” Buffy insisted, startling him. She was fully awake now, he could tell – and feeling very, very awkward. “Don’t apologise, there’s no need. I get that that would be – tough. You did the right thing, calling me, I mean – I think you did the right thing. Call me any time you need to, whether I’m… Whether it’s being convincing or – whatever. Call me.”

There was nothing that could have stopped him noticing she didn’t confirm or deny the First’s point either way, but he couldn’t ask. He was fairly certain he’d never ask. All the same, kneeling on the scratchy carpet of his hotel room, light too bright for his eyes, the other question stole upon him. “Did you,” he began, before stopping. “Is there any way – would you ever have come with me?”

Quiet as anything, there was a rustle like bedclothes being drawn closer, then an anguished whisper. “I can’t, Spike, you know that. I couldn’t – not for more than a night. I can’t leave the girls, not now.”

“I know,” he told her, because most of the time he actually did. “I know.” It would never be her who followed him.

“But you’ll be back soon, though, right? So it doesn’t matter…”

“Yeah.” He sighed, wishing he weren’t so weak. “It doesn’t matter.”

In his dream they were sitting on a crypt roof, passing the time of night not doing much at all. For some reason he was lying on his side, but that made sense.

“Sometimes you scare me,” he told her truthfully, not seeing anything but the darkness of the night.

Of course I do, her gentle voice drifted. I’m falling…

Buffy cut into her own words, however, her voice now sounding more strongly behind him, still on the roof of his dreams. “I should,” she replied, sounding more like herself. “The way I make you feel? The way your body betrays you, cock sticking every time you look and me and think? I can see it when it happens; when I was going on that date? You embarrass us both.”

Sleeping, he frowned, the crypt roof strangely soft beneath his cheek. “No, it’s not that.”

“It should be. You tried to rape me, Spike; tried to push me down and brutalise your way inside. And you still have the urge? That’s frightening.”

“I don’t…” Spike shook his head, but still tried to keep himself from reacting to her scent. “Not now, not anymore. That’s not what the feeling means. It’s love, that’s all it is, nothing wrong with that.”

Buffy laughed, breaking his heart. “Sure, if you want to get literal. But come on, Spike, since when have you ever loved anyone without destroying them? You turned your mom into a vampire; that girl Cecily sold herself into Vengeance; me, well, if I hadn’t kicked you away…” Her natural skin-scent turned to fear, dark and sweet and sickening, just like it had that night, just like it had. “Good thing Drusilla was already a wreck, huh? She’s the only girl who could have you at her side.”

That was the point he tried to open his eyes, but all he saw was the same darkness; the bed felt the same beneath him. Buffy wasn’t gone – he could still smell her curled up and afraid behind him.

“You’re a selfish creature, Spike,” she spat at him in a whisper, frightened and defensive. “You don’t support the people you love, you use them. There’s a monster inside you, in the vampire, in the man. You try to hold it back, keep it in, but the more you do the more everyone knows it’ll get free, destroy everything you dream of loving, unleash that smothering, consuming need you have. One day you’ll have to face it: feeling how you feel, you’re gonna kill me like you killed your mom.”

It’s not real, he promised himself, squeezing his eyes shut again but unable to block out the way she smelled. It’s not real. Surely he was waking up?

“Hey, newsflash.” Suddenly the First sounded stronger, just when he’d managed to work out what it was, loud and close to his ear, practically in his brain it was so close. “Maybe I’m not the real Buffy, but thank God, because that means I’m free from your touch.”

Then the voice was gone. He clenched his jaw, deciding Buffy didn’t need to know.

The hunt went quite well. Clem’s friend Tanash ran a club, so Spike checked in there and got wind of this ‘Sphinx’ bint who either was or was related to the ancient lion-women of old, and brilliant with mind afflictions. Some of the sources he tracked down were shady, so he pulled out his old persona to get things done, feeling the strain a little less with every snarl. Destroying his way to an answer? He’d always been good at that, and it was nice to be free of the worry for a while, to strut and snort and throw his weight around, even if it was an act. It had never been anything but.

By the time he got back to the hotel the sun was just edging up, but he had everything he needed to get this done, appointment made with the demon world’s best psych. A broken rib needed strapping, so he dealt with that, but then he snapped the phone open, out of his pocket, and called Buffy feeling far less like a pathetic fool.

“Hey, Spike!” She sounded rushed, bright and fleeting. Of course, it was fully morning now. “What’s up?”

There were rustles and snaps all around her, vivid enough in his ear that he couldn’t help but wonder what was going on. “You all right, Slayer?” he asked, still perked and strong from the cleansing fights he’d had. All his feelings nicely bound inside himself. “Sounds like you’re busy.”

“Oh, you know; I’m late for work and the shower was cold, but we have to sacrifice dry towels in the line of duty. Talking and dressing at the same time; it’s one of the lesser known slayer powers.”

“Right.” Just out of the shower, eh? “Well, there isn’t much to report…” There wasn’t really, and Spike could do it easily on autopilot while his revved-up mind flew a few hundred miles down the coast, to soft clean skin he’d only seen for three short months before it had been clothed off away from him. It wasn’t a bad image at all.

He slept after the call, and his dreams were far more – active than they’d been the day before.

All the same, he woke up when dusk came again, taking his own shower before the night. Whatever the Sphinx had in store for him, he decided as he turned the water off, he’d be up for it. There wasn’t any other option, and that was the truth; maybe he’d never been the sharpest tack in the box, but he could worry a puzzle like the best of them, and if patience was all that was needed, then he would find that too.

Really, he was beginning to think all he’d needed was to get himself bashed around a bit. His rib was still in place, on for healing nicely, and his hands felt sure as he wrapped his towel round his hips. The First preyed on weakness and he was beating that back; wasn’t that psychological? Maybe he’d find out he’d fixed this all on his own.

It was when he turned to the bathroom door that he stopped still, consumed by feeling once more.

In his bed there was Buffy, head propped up and hair like spun sugar across his pillows. For a moment he only saw her face, eyes shut and mouth opening, but it only took a split second for him to take the rest in: her naked form stretched out (all skin, skin, skin – as he’d seen, as he’d imagined), left leg stretched back and held against her chest while the back of her hand obscured the fuzzy blur of her cunt, thumb and pinky the only digits he could see.

“Oh, oh, oh,” she was panting, in motion, terrifying motion as the smell of her suddenly blasted into him, stunning him backwards one resolute step. “Spike,” she huffed, “oh, Spike, I love you, please –“

It was grotesque. Grotesque as when he’d thought about her in the morning (disrespectful twat), as he’d dreamed about her (should have been ashamed). Grotesque in the way that she didn’t know he was watching her. That it wasn’t her. That she didn’t know the First was doing this. Grotesque as his angry cock poking steadily up and out from his towel.

Spike did the only thing he could in the situation: he took another step back and shut the bathroom door, breath coming heavy as he leaned against it, staring at the tile floor and trying to block out the sound of Buffy crying his name. He could do nothing about the smell, which was stronger than soap and stronger than toothpaste, leaching in to find him and curling over his steaming skin. She reeked of happiness and joy and love – frustration, maybe that was in there too – but he was gulping it inside himself, not even certain those emotions had real scents but unable to keep his brain from recognising them.

Against the door his hands were shaking, and he knew exactly why. The thought of her like this, for him, would always terrify him as much as (the more as) he craved it with every wrinkle of his shrivelled heart. The moment she loved him, that was the moment she’d stop being Buffy, because that was the moment she’d start looking past everything he’d done, all his wretchedness, and forgive him. She’d said she’d seen him change, but then she wanted him the same as he’d always been? If she loved him he was certain it would mean her loving the thing who’d wanted her dead, and that should never happen, not when Buffy was still who she was. Not when he’d have killed her that way. Not when he’d have destroyed her. Not when he would always destroy her.

She was screaming out for him now, swearing on her life that she loved him. He felt so terribly, terribly afraid and could only wait behind the door until the vision left, tears dripping down his nose.

An hour later Spike was stood in a basement restaurant, being stared at by a well-dressed Sphinx, the touch of yet another fake Buffy barely fading from his skin. The sight of her dead on the floor still burning.

“Choose,” the Sphinx suggested again after a length of his stony silence, taking another sip of her beer.

“What? Between the snogging or the dying?” Spike snapped, breaking out of it with anger. “Hardly a tough choice, is it; makes sense there’d have been some dumbing down, but come on…”

Doesn’t matter anyway. It’s all basically the same, far as old Spike’s concerned.

“How am I supposed to choose?” Sounding almost certainly like every punter from every year before, he continued, “I don’t understand the riddle. It’s all one thing, innit? We kiss and I kill her, Bob’s your uncle and Fanny’s your aunt. What am I supposed to choose between? Not to kill her, not to kiss her in the first place? She kissed me first – what was I meant to do?”

The cat stepped back, elegantly sitting up on a barstool but not saying a word. She looked like she was settling in for a long session of staring at him, which he assumed meant he wasn’t on the right track. Or maybe that he was boring her. Possibly both.

In his mind he relived the riddle, feeling Buffy’s warmth around him and her death, her hand and tongue and blood. It had gone the way anything between him and Buffy would go, the way the First had promised it would: he’d stood there and she’d appeared, she’d kissed him and he’d killed her.

Or, more precisely, she’d kissed him and she’d died, fallen away from him stone dead, his teeth having torn at her neck. The way of the ages.

But, hang on, where was he in all that? Where was the choice he’d made?

Bugger all. He could have snogged her properly; he could have pulled away. He could have waltzed her around the room; he could have drunk down her blood. Yet he’d chosen nothing. That was the answer, wasn’t it? Or not quite a riddle-book perfect answer – but then it hadn’t been a riddle-book riddle: it wasn’t about him choosing what Buffy did, it was about choosing what he did, how he reacted and how he acted in the first place.

“Is that the key?” he demanded of the Sphinx. “Is that what you’re trying to tell me? I’m being a sodding cowardly wanker and should get stuck in instead of thinking it all revolves around me?”

The Sphinx shrugged.

There was a power in him to destroy, he knew that and remembered it. His poor mum standing by the fireplace, twisted and sick with vampire lust. But that hadn’t been – that power didn’t come from some impersonal catastrophe every time people got too close. Buffy wanking in the bed had been going at it just fine. It was him who caused the problems, turning his mother instead of letting her go out with grace, not stepping back and using his brain when he and Buffy started tearing each other down, badgering the girl when she’d told him straight and true she’d had enough. It was all him, but that only meant it was all in his power.

For fuck’s sake, he thought he’d worked out this self-loathing gig. Typical that he’d missed the most basic tenet for rational self-disgust.

Whipping the phone from his pocket, Spike started dialling, beating out the numbers like a ‘fuck you’ to the Sphinx at the bar. Sod the First and its warped vision of self-control. There was nothing to control, not with Buffy; all he wanted was to love her, and she’d tell him if he pushed their boundaries too far. Yeah, she invoked feeling like nothing else, like nothing the soul knew how to deal with, but he’d deal with that in time.


The cat wanted choice, Spike would make himself a choice. He’d make himself say anything, let his mind come up with… “What are you wearing?” he asked, pushing his tongue against his teeth.

“Uh…” Buffy wasn’t hanging up, which he supposed was a start – and a good one, since he’d been hoping he’d come out with something even marginally less sleazy. “Is the answer to that meant to be ‘a sexy negligee I bought just for you’? Because it’s not.”

She wasn’t even unnerved. Huh. Well, neither was he really; if this was meant to be him playing Chicken with the First then he wasn’t doing it very well. The Sphinx certainly didn’t look impressed.

“Shame that,” he made himself say, in the smoothest voice he had, running a hand up a nearby chair leg where it rose upside down from the table. Let the world see who was terrified. “Though I imagine you look ravishing, as ever. You off patrolling, yet? Am I chatting to a slayer on a power-dressed slink through the grass? Because if that’s the case…”

“Spike, um…” She sounded flustered now, at least – but not even bristling with it. “Is this really the time?”

Squeezing his eyes shut, he forced himself not to gulp. Make him choose? There was only ever one thing he would – maybe that was why he never realised he had other options.

“Just calling to say I love you, pet,” he said.

“Oh.” She didn’t hang up (she wasn’t hanging up), but she wasn’t saying anything either. In the end her voice was soft. “Thanks.” Of all the responses she could have offered, that was probably the least expected; he sucked in a breath, uncertain as she continued, “I… I don’t want to be on a phone.”

“Just tell me you aren’t afraid.” If he was guessing correctly what she wasn’t saying, the only thing he needed to hear was that it wasn’t killing her, that he wasn’t killing her, that it could be something different.

It wasn’t quite perfect. “Of course I’m afraid,” she said. “Not of you though, that’s what’s scary.”

It wasn’t quite perfect, but it was enough. Buggering bollocks of shite, it was enough.

She was waiting for him by cemetery gates, arms crossed over her denim jacket and hair fluttering in the breeze. True to her word, she hugged him as he stepped free of the bike, but smiled like she hadn’t before, warm and soft and welcoming him home. The thing was, it felt nothing like it had last time. It felt like a hug: safe and secure and platonic. Were they kidding themselves? He couldn’t help but think that they were, or at least that he was, living in this safe charade of friendship when there was passion enough inside him to destroy another block of buildings. Passion the First had well and truly chained to its bidding.

When they broke apart he dared himself. Then took that dare. “What would you say,” he asked Buffy, searching her quizzical expression, “if I told you I could kiss you?”

She frowned, looking straight at him before she replied, “I didn’t think you couldn’t.”

“Point,” he agreed with a chuckle, before daring himself himself again. “But what if I told you that it all feels just the same, me loving you, all that.” For a poet, he couldn’t half come out with some poor turns of phrase. But then he didn’t want to frighten her, did he? There’d been enough of that. “Few other feelings mixed up with it since the soul,” he explained to her shocked face, “but at the heart of it my feelings work the same as ever. Inside me it’s all as violent as before.”

There was silence and his heart started breaking, Buffy’s eyes welling up. But then she smiled, in part, her mouth tensing; she had to be holding back a frown just as much. “I’d ask why you were telling me, I guess,” she replied at last, reminding him they were still hypothetical and stepping back more with her posture than her feet.

“You frighten me,” he told her, unable to back down now, not when he finally wasn’t talking to a dream. It was true, after all, probably wouldn’t stop being true. “I thought the soul would fix me, but all it did was make me scared of everyone as I am you.” She frowned, which made him sigh. “I’ve been taking for so long, Buffy, I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to love someone without destroying them; I don’t know how to love someone who isn’t already destroyed. I never did, even human – and I forgot…”

“OK,” Buffy cut in, just as he found himself looking away and keeping him from doing it. She found strength in the face of his weakness, always had done. It was inspiring. “First things first. You –” She pointed at him, sharp like they were in a strategy meeting. “– you aren’t destroying me. Did not destroy me. We tried to kill each other, it’s true, but we’re done with that now. And, yeah, we had sex a bunch of times, and for some of them I was in a bad place and you were feeling resentful, so it wasn’t pretty – but it happened. And now it’s in the past.” She seemed so certain about that, in a way he was never sure he could be.

When she continued her voice stumbled slightly, but stood on the pavement as strong as before, night wind running through her hair. She met his eyes and told him, “You attacked me and you frightened me, but I stopped you and I saw you stop yourself. And then you changed yourself.” Her index finger was no longer in a point, softened back into her loose fist, which she let come to rest on his chest. “Now we’re in a different place, OK?” she asked him, eyes wide and open like it was all she wanted. “And that’s all it is – I’m not destroyed, or ruined, or compromised, or any other euphemism for ‘too slutty to respect’, which better not be how you meant it anyway – we’re not broken. We just are.” She finished on a huff of breath, and looked like the most glorious thing he’d ever seen.

“Right then,” he replied, old pain like glass but not enough to beat back the flood of warmth and wonder she filled him with. At that moment he could believe it was true. “Well, I am and will always be desperately sorry about that night, know that.” He couldn’t remember the last time he’d said it, and it bore repeating. “But I love you, and still want something for us, I can’t help it. And I think you are the most beautiful and shaggable creature there could be, which I don’t think I should be allowed to think when I look at you, but the soul doesn’t…” Helplessly, he shrugged, glancing at the gates beside them.

“That all makes sense to me,” Buffy replied a little wryly, cutting to the chase. “I guess, my question is,” she finished, stepping closer, “what would you do if I told you I love you?”

He’d heard it enough from the First that her words less of a shock than they should have been, but with her hand on his chest he felt a jolt all the same, surprise charging through him in a way he thought he’d never know. She was frowning now she’d said it, had been frowning as she spoke, and he realised that was what he’d never imagined. That was what he’d never known would be the thing to make it real.

As for his response… There were other options, would always be plenty, but he didn’t think too hard – simply took her cheek in his palm and kissed her, knowing he’d be accepted and trusting her to keep him safe. It was the way she’d always kissed him.

And with her doing the same? There was absolutely nothing to fear.


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