There was something very bittersweet in leaving the quietness of the coast and heading back to Sunnydale. Back home. Back to the Hellmouth. Back to normalcy (such as it was, for her), and living her life. Back to human contact. Her friends. Her mom. Back to fighting demons every night. Back to being the Slayer.
It hardly seemed real.
She’d never actually thought she’d see the sun again. Never thought she’d be going home. To her mom. Thinking about the future hadn’t really been an option when she was… It would have been too much. If she’d thought about that moment of being pulled into a hug by her friends, or her mom, it would have broken her. She couldn’t allow herself to dream about it. All she could do was take it one day at a time. One hour at a time. Get through that, and the next, and the next, and try to hold out hope that somehow, one of those moments would lead to the outside world. But she’d never really expected it to happen.
Like winning the lottery. If the lottery meant killing vampires and getting to take a shower to wash their ashes out of your hair afterwards.
The lines in the road blurred together, the desert rushing by them in the darkness. A huge expanse of nothing, as far as she could see. Nobody said anything, and that was just fine with her. Her mind was running in circles, trying to figure out what those dreams had meant, trying to figure out if everything was real. Maybe she’d actually died and this was what she got for a heaven. It was all so surreal. She almost felt sick, in a way. Her entire body refused to relax fully, no matter how much she told it to.
She kept feeling like she’d missed a step on the staircase. Her heart leaping randomly in her chest and making her palms clam up. Something should have been trying to kill her. The military would show up at any second, and there’d be a big fight for their lives again. The tire could blow, and they’d be stranded out in the middle of the desert with a vampire as the sun rose. Spike would turn to dust, and the world would crumble around her. Wasn’t that what Drusilla had said?
She just wanted it to be over. Really over. She wanted her brain to catch up with reality, and accept that she was free, and the Initiative was effectively destroyed, and nobody was going to be coming after her in her sleep. She’d had enough nightmares already. And Spike…
God, she didn’t even know where they stood anymore. Where she stood. He’d made it perfectly clear where he stood. He’d be perfectly happy if things between them remained the same as they’d been in there. Fond of what we have…
It shouldn’t have been that hard. William the Bloody, Slayer of Slayers. Stake him, move on to the next. He wasn’t chipped. He had no soul. Nothing was stopping him from popping up out of the back seat and sinking his fangs into her throat. Not a damn thing. Nothing but… not wanting to now? But why didn’t he want to? And why did she feel the same way? Because the only thing that stopped her from grabbing Mr. Pointy out of the glove box and ramming it into Spike’s heart? She didn’t want to.
And wasn’t that something? A place to start? But start what, exactly? It was too much to think about yet.
Her chest tightened as they pulled up in front of her house. It was a weird combination of emotions. Fear, nervousness, but also relief. Seeing her front porch again, her house. The lights still on in the middle of the night, bright and inviting. Her mom’s face peering out of the living room window, relief washing over it when she saw the car pull up. It was all too much. She wanted to cry the moment she was in her mom’s arms. Like a little kid who’d got lost in the grocery store and was just reunited at the service desk.
Nothing had changed. She didn’t know why she was expecting it to be… different, somehow. Like all that time she’d been gone should have made some impact on her own little world. Like everything should have shifted a little? But maybe she was the one who had shifted. She felt so out of place in her own home. Like she was a stranger.
Maybe doing normal Buffy things with Buffy’s stuff will help…
Showering in her very own bathroom, with her own loofah, and her own body wash, her own shampoo… It felt amazing. But it didn’t make her feel more like herself. The grime was gone, but the feel of that place still remained no matter how much she scrubbed. No matter how raw her skin was. She stayed in long after all the hot water was used, and it turned so frigid that it stung.
She didn’t know how long she’d been in there, but eventually Spike knocked on the door to check on her. When she didn’t answer him, he let himself in, shut the water off while averting his eyes, and handed her a bath robe. She wrapped it around herself, relishing in the soft fabric.
“Oh, Buffy… What’ve you done to yourself? Come on, pet. Need to get you warmed up.”
He took her hand, led her to her bedroom, and helped her towel herself dry before finding something soft and loose for her to wear. Clothing that wouldn’t put too much pressure on her wound or irritate skin that had been scrubbed beyond raw. She felt so… helpless. Still. They were out, and she should have been able to stand up on her own two feet and get her own clothes. She shouldn’t have needed his help with something so simple. She shouldn’t have let him. There should have been something inside screaming about the indignity of being cared for by a vampire.
But there wasn’t. There was nothing.
“There. Much better, yeah? These clothes alright? Watcher said something about needing to make another stop. Wasn’t sure if you’d be up to it or not, but… Figured if you were, I’d get you something to go out in. Else, I got you these uh, sushi?”
As tempting as the pajamas were, she figured she was already dressed, and he was probably waiting. She was obligated. Normal Buffy would have no problem going to see her friends after a long day. Scooby meetings were important. Part of that whole Slayer life package. Right there alongside long nights, no rest, and patrols. No big deal, right? It wasn’t like she still had to worry about classes during the day now.
She wished she’d had the energy to tell Giles she didn’t have the energy. The others will want to see you. We’ve all been terribly worried. Sure, she’d said. Why not? It was the middle of the night, and she was exhausted, and all she wanted to do was put on those sushi pajamas and crawl into her own bed and go to sleep. But she had obligations, or something. She couldn’t remember exactly what she’d said in her little self-pep talk. She stared out the window as they made the drive, much as she’d done on the trek through the desert earlier that day. Watching the world fly by her, moving too fast. She glanced back occasionally and offered a tired smile to Spike. He sat in the back seat, just as silent as she was, glaring daggers at the back of Giles’s head. At least one of them could do so unnoticed. They both knew he couldn’t see the expression in the mirror.
By the time they pulled up in front of Giles’s apartment, Buffy had mentally checked out. Autopilot mode. She figured as long as she could pretend to be Normal Buffy, everything would be just fine. She’d get back into the swing of things eventually. Until then, she could be the “there and attentive” friend. She could smile and nod and laugh at stupid jokes. She could make plans to go out and act human. She remembered how to do all those things. She could pretend to already be back in the swing, right?
Everybody rushed out when they pulled in the driveway, running to the car and practically pulling her out of it and into more painful hugs. She wasn’t sure any of them even noticed the way she pulled back.
Buffy! She’s here! You’re here! Are you okay?
Hands on her shoulders ushered her inside quickly, and onto Giles’s couch, and then shoved a mug of something warm into her hands. She never bothered to drink it. Then they just… bombarded her. A never-ending string of questions and statements as they crowded too close and stood over her and blocked her in. She felt so trapped, and so attacked, and all she wanted to do was run.
But Normal Buffy wouldn’t run from her friends. So she couldn’t either.
Are you okay? What happened to you in there? Should we take her to a doctor?
Give ‘er some space.
“I’m okay… I’m gonna be fine,” she insisted, glancing over to Spike. The one person in the entire room who was more than a couple of feet away from her. The only one who was giving her room to breathe.
Why is he here? What was it like in there? Can we get you anything, Buf? We really got you out! I can’t believe we really did it. We should celebrate! Think you’re feeling up to a night at the Bronze? We could dance away all the badness!
It’s okay. You don’t have to talk about anything. Pizza? Let’s order a pizza! It’s two in the morning, we can’t order a pizza.
One question stuck in her mind more than any others. Why is he here? Because she wanted him to be. Simple as that. Because he was her pillar of strength in that moment. Because he had been, for weeks. Because he was the only one that didn’t have all these huge expectations of her.
“Hey! I said, give her some space.” Spike stood and took a few menacing steps toward the group.
“Right, and what exactly are you going to do about it, Spike? Got the brain zapper, remember?”
“No, no, Spike is – he’s right. We should just all, be quiet and let buffy tell us what she needs. Buffy?”
They all stood over her, looking down with expectant eyes. They all just… thought she’d be up and raring to go right away. Pop back into her role in life. Never mind the bullet wound in her stomach. The malnutrition. The blood loss. The exhaustion. The psychological damage. No, none of that mattered. It barely even registered for them. Just snap back and get back to slaying. Kill those baddies. Put your life on the line every night again. Don’t take any time to recover. Had enough time off for the last three months, right? They had no idea what she’d been through. No idea what she was still going through.
“I know what she bloody needs.”
Spike shoved his way between them, knocking Xander back and growling. He pulled Buffy up gently, one hand on her shoulder, and led her out of there. Nobody even tried to follow, or objected, or apologized. Not a peep. Out in the courtyard, he twined his fingers into hers and set a nice easy walking pace.
“Sorry, pet. Just couldn’t take any more of that. Can’t imagine you could, either. You alright? Let’s get you back home to Joyce. Least she won’t get in your face. She’s got more class than that lot of wankers. Ought to be ashamed of themselves for even making you go there. Couldn’t have waited a few days for you to settle in?”
A few days, or even just taking the time to meet her at home. Home…. Where they had already been, and it suddenly infuriated her, that she’d been asked to leave that place of safety just so everyone could bombard her with questions that they didn’t even seem to want the answers to. But now she was going back. Spike was taking her home.
The atmosphere in her own home was so different from what she’d gone through at Giles’s place. It was warm, and quiet, and calm. Happy. She could relax there. And it seemed that Spike could, too. Her mom was more than happy to invite him inside graciously, thank him for taking care of her baby and for getting her home safely. She busied herself in the kitchen brewing up three cups of hot cocoa on the stove and adding the little marshmallows on top. It was amazing to see Spike’s face soften at the gesture when he spotted his own mug.
“Didn’t have to go to all that trouble, Joyce.”
“Oh nonsense, Spike. After everything you’ve done for Buffy, it’s the least I can do. I made a trip to the butcher this morning, too. So if you need… I can warm it up for you.”
“Mmm, thanks ever so.” He smiled warmly and raised the mug before taking a sip.
Buffy watched him, taking in every little thing he did. How different he was now. But maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he’d always been that way, and she’d never had a chance to notice it before. The way his smile made him look much younger, almost boyish. How he was quiet and shy around her mom. The realization that he was a person hit her like a ton of bricks. Yeah, he was a vampire. A murderer. But he was also a man. One who felt things deeply, and cared for her, and showed compassion and restraint. Empathy. All things that the Council had taught for centuries wasn’t supposed to be possible. They wanted to believe it was black and white. Vampire evil. Kill it. But maybe… they could change? Maybe Spike could?
Look, Slayer. In case you haven’t noticed, things have… changed between us. I’m not sorry they have.
A man can change.
I am telling you, right now, I’m not going anywhere. I’ve grown… kind of fond of what we’ve got going here.
And she wanted so badly to believe him. God, she really wanted to. But how could she? A century spent ending lives to sustain his own, and he’d loved every minute of it. That’s what vampires did. It’s what they were. And she hadn’t forgotten that. A few months spent with a chip in his head didn’t change what he was, or the things he enjoyed, or the urges he felt. They weren’t gone. They hadn’t changed. He hadn’t. All the chip had done was give them enough time together to form a bond that never should have existed. To cause confusing emotions, and clouded judgement, and weird mixed signals. As much as she wanted to believe Spike, to believe in him, she knew how naive it would be. How much damage he could cause if she let her guard down.
“Buffy? You with us, pet? You’re not looking so good.”
She shook her head, bringing herself out of her thoughts. “I’m just tired. Long day.”
He offered her a twitch of a smile before standing and offering her a hand. “Come on. Think it’s time you got some relaxing time. Let’s get you settled in, yeah?”
She let him help her up. Let him fuss over her. Let him wrap his arm around her and lead her into the living room while her mother quietly watched and followed them. Her mom…. The few times she’d seen Angel, there had been fear and disapproval. But with Spike….
Spike slipped his duster off, making himself at home before pulling her down onto the couch next to him.
Despite her qualms, she curled up next to him. It was so customary for them now, she didn’t think twice about it. He twisted toward her so she could rest against his chest and wrapped one arm protectively around her shoulder. Like he’d done so many times before. His steady breathing brought her that familiar calm that he’d been bringing her for months. The feeling that she was… safe. He was safe. He was just a man, sitting on the couch with a girl he’d grown fond of.
Just a man. It’s Spike. The guy who saved your life how many times now? At least as many as he’s tried to take it. Who had the opportunity to kill you or watch you die, and he chose to help. He chose to. He could’ve killed Giles. Killed you. And he didn’t. He promised to get you out, and he did. And he promised… so many other things. Promised he wouldn’t leave. Promised he wouldn’t hunt.
A man can change.
He isn’t a man. He’s a monster. A vampire. That’s all he’ll ever be. A blood sucker. A killer. William the bloody, Slayer of Slayers.
No, she argued back to herself. I’ve seen it. He can. He is. He’s trying. It’s not going to be all… butterflies and puppy dogs, but… Even before the chip. With Acathla. It might’ve been a stupid reason, but he did the right thing. He helped save the world. He saved you. Doesn’t that earn him anything?
She and Spike had been through… a lot. Hell and back. And they’d done it together, and the only reason for that was that he’d gone in there on his own to help her. A decision that he’d made. She’d still be in there if it wasn’t for him.
She owed him so much. Everything. Her life.
She knew that. Really.
What would your friends think, if they knew exactly how close you two are now? If they knew you’d given him blood? That you almost slept with him? That you still want to? If they knew that you believe every softly spoken lie he’s told you?
And she did believe every word. They’d shun her. Treat her like she was an idiot. Maybe she was. Her heart and head fought back and forth, like an angel and devil on her shoulders, and she tried so hard to ignore them. To focus on the moment she was in, where she really was safe, and with people that loved her. That understood and were just there with her. Doing their very best to be what she needed.
And it was kind of nice, watching her mom and Spike interact with each other. Talking about whatever melodramatic event was currently happening on Passions. Her mom filling in the blanks for him. Angel never… bothered to even try to be friendly with her mom. And Joyce never liked him. They’d never had cocoa together, or spent time as a… family?
Is that what he was now?
She didn’t know exactly how it happened. She’d just gone for a glass of water before bed. And Spike had been sitting at the island, and then she’d said something to him, and the next moment he was in her personal space, and he was just so close, and…
His lips were firm against hers. Firm, but also soft. Demanding, but sweet. And then his tongue…. A gentle lick, asking permission, and then it swept inside, boldly exploring her mouth like newly conquered territory. It danced with her own, caressing and gliding as she tried to match and counter the movements. Blunt teeth scraped against her bottom lip, eliciting a soft gasp.
God, he was a good kisser.
God, she wanted more. Before, there hadn’t been time for it. Or there’d been eyes watching. But now… It was just the two of them. Alone. And she clung to him like a life line in an ocean. She pulled him closer, her fingers digging into his biceps. His mouth moved from hers, trailing down her jawline and neck, sucking her overly sensitive skin and pausing on her shoulder. He nibbled and kissed, one hand exploring while the other tangled in her hair and tugged just right. So desperate and needy and demanding of something, and she felt the same need. The desire for more. More of him. All of him. Her hands slid down, yearning and searching for bare skin. Skin she’d been wanting to touch from the moment she’d first laid eyes on it. She tugged the hem of his shirt up and splayed her fingers over his stomach. Smooth and cool, and it made his breath hitch.
Her back hit the counter and he lifted her onto it, spreading her legs with his hips and pushing against her. Bolts of pleasure shot through her at the friction. His mouth was back on her in an instant, kissing her in earnest.
This is wrong.
She let out a gasp as his fingers grazed over her breast. He descended, biting down lightly through the fabric of her shirt and God, why was that so hot? She raked her fingers through his hair, holding him there and arching into the sensation.
You need to stop.
You can’t do this with him.
He kissed her neck again, sending waves of pleasure down to her core and making her feel like she was floating. He bit down with human teeth, and she felt it for the first time in what felt like forever.
He could kill you right now and you’d never even notice he’d shifted.
“Stop…” He froze, his lips hovering just above her skin, their absence leaving her feeling cold. “Spike, I can’t… I’m sorry.”
He sighed softly and rested his forehead on her collarbone. “Don’t need to be sorry, pet.”
“I just need some space right now. A little time to think, and breathe.”
“Don’t need to explain, either. Told you we’d figure things out later. Not like I’m going anywhere, right?”
She pushed him away from her as gently as she could. There wasn’t an easy way to say it. “Actually… I- I need you to go…”
The hurt and confusion on his face… That would be seared into her memory for a long time. They’d just been… and now she was kicking him out of her house, just before sunrise. She hated herself for doing it.
He tilted his head, leaning in ever so slightly. “Buffy..? Did I do…”
“I can’t be strong with you here. And I don’t… even know what this is. Please. Don’t make this harder than it…”
The way he looked at her made her want to cry. She’d never seen him look vulnerable. He gave her a slight nod, grabbed his coat, and walked out. No arguing, no trying to convince her otherwise. No guilt tripping. Just quiet acceptance. The moment the door shut behind him, it felt like there was a hole in her chest. It took all of her self control not to run out after him and beg him to stay.
Spike was gone.
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