Homecoming

Homecoming

By beanbeans

Rating: NC-17
Summary: After fourteen years, Buffy Summers returns home to reunite with her childhood best friend and first love, William "Spike" Price.
Pairing: Spike/Buffy, All Human AU

***

Chapter 1

Her phone trills five times before the machine picks up.

“Hi, this is Buffy. I’m not in right now, so… you know, do your thing at the beep.”

“Buffy?” Her mother’s voice is thin and reedy over the line. “Sweetheart, are you there?”

She blinks herself awake until she can focus on the handset. Raises it to her ear and mumbles, “Mom? I’m here.”

“Oh, honey, I’m so glad. I’m sorry to wake you, but I wanted to be the one to tell you. Mrs. Price passed away last night. The wake is tomorrow and the funeral is Monday. William is so heartbroken. It would mean a great deal to him if you were there. She was always so fond of you. So, will you? Will you come?”

Her mother’s voice has faded back into the distance. Birds outside her open window are calling to each other with intricate fragments of song. A child’s bike horn dings somewhere down the street. She wipes her clammy hands on her flowered cotton sheets, her skin sticky under the covers.

She thinks of afternoons sitting in his kitchen, Mrs. Price baking while they slugged down juice and slugged each other. Of the way his mother always had on a fresh housecoat over her floral, shin length dresses. The way she smelled like baking bread and cakes when she had hugged her, when William was out of the room.

She knew this was coming, but is still surprised by the wash of memories, the dull pain she feels in her chest at knowing her other “mother” is gone.

“Yes. I’ll be there.” She answers simply, her belly slowly constricting, her eyes filling up.

“Thank you, Buffy. If you could come today, tonight, that would be best. I’ll set up your room, so you can stay here.”

“Okay. Thanks,” she answers quietly. “I’ll see you tonight.”

“Good. I love you, honey.”

“I love you, too, Mom.”

She sets the phone down, staring at nothing.

Fourteen years gone by since she’s seen him. She had walked away and hadn’t looked back, afraid that if she did, she would never escape her orbit around him. He’s always pulled her in, sucked her down and held her fast. Until that August night when she was 18, when she forcibly launched herself from his hold.

It still hurts, every damn day.

There have been many other men who have tried to catch her. But none have measured up. They’ve left her, angry that they could never be enough. They’ve called her cold, called her bitch, and a hundred other names to make up for their inadequacy- for not being him.

She packs a bag slowly, then goes to brush her teeth while a few tears fall. Standing before the mirror, she touches her wet face. Skims her hand over her forehead, to her eyebrow. Remembers tracing the scar on his eyebrow. Those expressive dark slashes that frame his hypnotic blue eyes, colored like an October sky. Eyes to drown in, to disappear inside. Inside his sharp intellect and sharper tongue, with his cutting remarks and thoughtless comments.

And his unexpected kindness. Gestures that would cut her to the quick, leave her feeling like no one else would ever see her like he did. Full of desperate gratitude for every little crumb he tossed her way. Believing that no one would ever know her mind and body like him.

She hopes to hell he’s changed. Because she knows she hasn’t. She loves him still, so much that it chokes her.

She terrified to see him again. But she’ll go, to pay her respects, both to him and to the woman she loved as much as she loves her own mother.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

He’s sitting two rows across from her, legs sprawled wide under his desk, his hands resting limply on his hard thighs. Today Mr. Hanscomb has them watching “Othello” - the film version with Orson Wells- to give them a new appreciation of Shakespeare.

The classroom is too warm, and when the lights go out and the t.v. flickers on, her eyes start to droop.

She hates this. Hates Shakespeare, trying to figure out what the heck it all means. Why can’t they just say what they mean, instead of talking in circles and words she doesn’t know? She’s read the words over and over, but they don’t sink in. It makes her feel stupid, because he gets it, and she doesn’t.

He’s the one who’s stupid, she thinks, with his white hair sticking up sharp as little knife points. Does he think that makes him look tough? His nails painted black and his tee shirt glittering with safety pins, which she’s sure he filched off his Mom’s sewing kit. And that isn’t cool at all.

She watches him, the blue light of the t.v. casting shadows under his cheeks, his pouty mouth twitching.

While she watches he begins mouthing the words along with Orson, silently repeating the lines to himself.

“Yet she wisht that Heaven had made her such a man: she thankt me;
And bade me, if I had a friend that loved her,
I should but teach him how to tell my story,
And that would woo her. Upon this hint I spake.
She loved me for the dangers I had past;
And I loved her that she did pity them.”

The room falls away from her sight. For the first time, she sees how truly brilliant he is. How painfully beautiful. His lips move, shaped by those words, and she finds herself desperately wishing she could be the object of that kind of love from him. She imagines his lips brushing against her ear, whispering his love for her.

Then he turns and sees her watching him. Embarrassed, he narrows his eyes and gives her a tight-lipped smirk, holding up two fingers at her under his desk, out of Mr. Hanscomb’s sight.

She just beams at him. At that, he cocks his head to the side, looking at her like she’s gone insane.

He looks away. She watches him catch Dru’s gaze and purse his lips, blowing her a lush kiss.

When Dru’s face breaks into a slow, delighted smile, Buffy decides she hates her. Nearly as much as she hates him for making her feel so confused.

Chapter 2

She’s riding her bike, her legs pumping hard, pedaling fast as she can. Her ponytails are whipping behind her, the smell of the neighbor’s freshly cut grass filling her nose. Her knee is skinned and dirt is caked in layers under her fingernails. Her tee shirt is dusty with dried mud from the mud-pies she made earlier.

She flies past the driveway of the house next door, where the moving van is parked. Men are lifting out bureaus and heavily upholstered chairs, grunting orders at each other. Sitting in the driveway, in front of the moving van, is a boy in khaki shorts and a button down oxford. He’s plucking out blades of grass and shredding each one with quiet aggression.

She zooms past, riding to the end of the street. Turns round to cruise by him again. Over and over she rides by, circling him like prey.

After five passes, she stops at the end of his driveway.

“Hi,” she offers.

He looks up, surprised.

“I’m Buffy,” she calls out.

He wrinkles his nose at her, looking disgusted.

She isn’t discouraged though. “I live next door.”

“Good for you,” he grumbles insolently.

“Do you wanna play with me?”

He huffs out a breath. “Does it look like I wanna play?”

He sniffs at his rebuff. “No. It looks like you’re sad.”

He says nothing.

“You’re pretty.” She tells him, hoping that’ll make him feel better.

“WHAT?!?! I am NOT! Stupid brat! Are all Yank girls this dumb? Why don’t you go away and LEAVE ME ALONE! ” He grabs a handful of grass and hurls it at her, for lack of anything else to throw, gets up and stalks into the house.

She sits there on her bike for several minutes, feeling stunned. Then she turns her bike around, heading for her driveway, deciding that she really doesn’t like her new neighbor. AT ALL.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

She arrives in Sunnydale a little before 9 at night. Her mother is waiting for her, sitting on the couch reading. When she greets Buffy with a warm hug, she buries her face in her mother’s shoulder, smelling her familiar perfume and the same laundry detergent she’s used since Buffy was a teen.

“I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve missed you.”

“Me too, Mom.”

“Have you eaten?”

“Yeah, but I could use a drink.”

“Buffy?!?”

“Some tea, Mom.”

“Oh, of course! I’m sorry, sweetie. I’m not myself right now. I’m tired. I haven’t been sleeping much lately.”

In the kitchen, she gets the mugs she knows are her Mom’s favorites, while Joyce puts the kettle on and settles on the bar stool at the island. They wait quietly for the water to boil. Joyce rubs her hand over her eyes, glad for a few moments of respite, while Buffy digs out tea bags and the sugar bowl with the tiny scooper- spoon.

The kettle whistles away. She motions to her mother to stay put, shutting off the stove, and pouring for them both. The light scent of chamomile, flowery, earthy and comforting, wafts up from the mugs. Buffy wraps her hands around the hot mug on the counter. “So… how is he?”

“He’s a mess. He’s been with his mother for months now, feeding her, giving her pain medication. He read to her, sang to her… I think he won’t know what to do with himself for a while. I’ve been bringing him food every day for almost a month. I’m worried about him, Buffy.”

Her eyes are stinging with holding back tears. “Yeah. Me too…”

“I think it would mean so much to him to see you, to know you came.”

“Well, I don’t know…”

“Of course it would. The funeral is tomorrow, and then everyone will gather over at his house afterwards. You’ll come with me, won’t you?”

“Yes, of course I will, Mom. It’s why I came.” She falls silent a moment, then adds, “I came for you both.” She pauses again before adding sorrowfully, “And for Mrs. Price.”

Joyce nods. “I’m gonna turn in now, sweetheart. I’m beat. Your room is ready for you. The bed is made with clean linens, and the bathroom has fresh towels by the sink.”

Buffy walks around the island to loop her arm around her mother’s shoulders, leaning into an awkward hug. “Thanks. I think I still remember my way around, though.”

Joyce gives her a little smile and downs the last of her tea. She stands, but before she heads out of the kitchen, she turns back around. “Buffy?”

“Yeah?”

“He asks about you. All the time.”

She can’t say anything to that. It makes her eyes burn harder with unshed tears, her throat constrict. She can’t cry yet, she thinks. There will be no way to hold it back tomorrow. Better stop it up as long as she can, so she’s not wrecked before she even sees him. She manages to choke out, “Goodnight.” In response, Joyce presses her lips together and goes.

Buffy puts her mother’s mug into the sink, rinsing it well. Then she retrieves her own mug from the counter, taking it up the stairs to her room.

With every squeak of the stairs, there is a memory. Remembering him at age 11, sitting on the bottom step, waiting for her to come out to play soccer with him. At age 13, slapping at him as they raced to the top of the stairs, desperate for anything that would give her an advantage over his agility and speed. Him at age 16, waiting for her in the entryway, his tee shirt wet and stuck to his new muscles, a basketball tucked under one arm.

She gets to the top of the stairs, turns into her room. The bed is folded down, the same floral sheets she slept on her senior year in high school. They are threadbare, but an enormous comfort nonetheless. Her lacy curtains blow in the breeze from her open window. That window, which looks out across the side yard, right to his own bedroom window.

His shades are drawn, but they are backlit by the lamp bedside his bed. She knows the color of that light, the way it throws shadows.

She can still see him, lying in his bed, all the silvery contours of his naked abdomen in the moonlight. The hollows of his face, his cheeks dusted by his long spidery lashes. His pale skin, so perfect that it makes her forget to breathe.

She hasn’t forgotten any of it.

She imagines him in bed now. Reading. Or maybe he’s sleeping, having forgotten to turn out the light.

Or, most likely, he’s sitting and hurting. Grieving.

And thinking about her, as much as she is about him.

It is a long time before she can get to sleep. She doesn’t want to close her eyes, afraid that she might miss some movement, afraid she’ll miss seeing the light go out.

Chapter 3

She wears a pleated plaid skirt to church, stiff with starch and scratchy on her thighs. “Love your neighbor, as you love yourself,” the minister says. In the car on the way home, Buffy thinks about her new neighbor.

“Mommy? Father Wilson said ‘Love your neighbor.’ Does that mean I have to love our new neighbors?”

“Well, sweetie, it means you should treat people you know how you would like to be treated.”

“What about people I don’t know?”

“Yes, them too. It means everyone deserves kindness and respect.”

She thinks on this the rest of the way home. It bothers her that she has to love someone who was so mean to her. He didn’t treat HER with kindness. She’s annoyed that the rules only apply one way.

She stomps up the stairs, now as mad at Father Wilson and his dumb rules as she is at the new boy. In her room she sits on her bed, grabbing for Mr. Gordo, her stuffed pig.

Then she sees movement across the way, in the window directly across from hers. He is sitting on his bed, a mirror image of her. He has a piece of paper and an envelope in one hand. The other is cupping his face, as he sobs into his palm. She can faintly hear him breathe in ragged, shuddering gasps. It makes her head hurt to watch him cry like that. She can’t ever remember hurting that much.

She gets up and goes downstairs, all her anger gone. In the kitchen, she spies a plate of big, amoebic-shaped homemade chocolate chip cookies under saran wrap. She grabs the plate, heads out the back door and sits on the back step. Waits.

She doesn’t sit long. Fifteen or twenty minutes later he comes crashing out, the wooden-framed screen door banging shut behind him. He throws the paper and envelope in his hand into the swimming pool in the back yard. He watches as it floats on the surface, then slowly melts and sinks. He grabs a rock beside his foot and hurls it at the fence beyond the pool. It makes a heavy ‘thunk’, so he grabs another. Then another. His arm is whipping up and back, his hair flying up with the repeated motion, until he has worn himself out, run out of rocks. He props himself, hands on his thighs, leaning forward, gasping for breath.

She still thinks he’s pretty, but she won’t say that again.

Instead, she clears her throat. He spins around, his chest pumping for air, gives her a withering look. She simply holds out the plate. He looks at her, wary, assessing. Then, his features soften as he blinks at her. He walks to her, plunking himself down next to her with a woof of expelled breath.

After he gets two cookies down and is reaching for a third, she takes one for herself.

“What’s your name?”

“William.”

“I’m Buffy.”

“You told me before.”

“Oh. … Do you have a bike, William?”

“Yeah.”

“Wanna ride out to the lake in Hollis Woods?”

“Yeah. Okay.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The morning of the funeral is sunny and crisp. Birds are singing, their song carried through her open window on a light breeze. The air smells of cut grass and honeysuckle blossoms.

The way the light falls across her bed in the same way it always did, the way she can open her eyes and see his window, hear her mom moving in the bathroom down the hall, smell those flowers- it all is a comfort in it’s familiarity. Like walking down a well-worn, familiar path, she knows this routine.

There is no movement across the way. She allows herself the luxury of a few minutes to lie still, watching his window shade move in the same breeze that is stirring her curtains. She wonders if he smells the flowers and cut grass. If he’s looking at her window, right now. Remembering how they used to greet each other from across the way, every day on waking, for years.

But not now, she thinks, with a pang of regret.

She gets up and makes her bed, laying out her under things, black dress, hose and heels. Preparing to see him again, and to say goodbye to his mother.

She and her mom are quiet when she goes downstairs, save a “good morning” greeting and brief discussion of the time and location of the ceremony. They drink their coffee, breathing slowly, exhaling long, soft sighs. Trying to stay as quiet inside as they are outside.

They leave the house at 10:00, for a 10:30 ceremony at Restfield. When they arrive, the cemetery is full of cars parked one behind the other, a long line of people making their way in to the site. Buffy totters her way along on the roughly paved drive, wishing she hadn’t chosen heels for this. Her nerves are up. She can see a large crowd ahead, and thinks, like bees in a hive, they are clustering around him in a protective swarm. Her belly is upset, her palms sweating. It’s been fourteen years. She cannot imagine what he will look like, especially in this circumstance.

And then the crowd around him moves and she sees him. He is wearing a dusty black suit that hangs loosely from his frame. His white shirt looks brand new and just out of the box, the collar stiff. His skin is ghostly pale, little lines fanning out from the corners of his eyes. His hair is his natural brown, longish with loose waves, just the tips touched with his signature bleached blonde. Clearly it’s been a while since he could keep that up. His face is haggard, drawn. His hands hang limp by his side, even as mourners come up to hug him, pat his shoulder.

He looks up and sees her. His face registers surprise. She watches him suck in a big breath, steeling himself as the two Summers women approach.

Her mom hugs him tightly, her voice low as she tells him, “I’m so sorry, William. She was such a fine lady, and a dear friend.” He hugs her back, but never takes his eyes off Buffy, as if he’s afraid that if he looks away, she will disappear.

When her mom steps aside, she is before him. She worries her voice will fail her, but she manages to bring it up.

“Hello, Spike.”

One corner of his mouth quirks up. “Hello, Buffy. Been a long time since anybody called me that.”

“I’m so sorry… for your loss.” It’s awkward. She doesn’t know what to do with her hands, where to look. What to do.

He surprises her by stepping forward and pulling her in hard. Squeezes her so tightly, she’s sure she’ll have finger bruises on her back and upper arms. “Thank you,” He says, his voice croaked out and jagged. Raw.

He feels just right. His body fits against hers so perfectly, just as she remembers it. The memory of all the other times they stood pressed together like this rush in, kicking out her defenses and making her flush with emotion. Her eyes abruptly sting with tears as she inhales his own unique, clean smell. All she can feel is her love for him, rising up the back of her throat, threatening to choke her, his heart beating hard against her breast.

When he pulls back, he moves slowly, reluctant to let her go. He fixes her with his stormy blue eyes. She is paralyzed by the pain and need she sees there.

“Will you stay? Come back to the house afterwards? Please?” His ‘please’ is so desperate, she thinks her heart may shatter for him.

“Of course,” She assures him, patting his hand.

“Thank you,” he repeats, his voice a whisper. Then he is pulled away by the minister so the ceremony can begin.

Her mother comes up beside her and takes her hand. Squeezes.

“Thanks,” she whispers, grateful for the support. All she can see is how he looked at her, desperate for her kindness. How that is the same look he wore when she left, all those years ago.

It has haunted her.

Despite the loveliness of the day, she shivers, thinking of them both hurting, missing the other, all this time.

Chapter 4

“Every one of those is crooked!? Sheesh! The floor is gonna fall out from under us!”

“Shut up, Buffy. Like you could do any better.” He starts banging away again with the hammer, driving the nail through the knotted plywood into the tree, stabilizing the last piece of the floor of the neighborhood tree house.

She jerks her chin skyward, balls her fists on her hips. “I so could! Gimme that!” She lunges for the hammer, but he stands and holds it up over her head and out of reach.

“Nope. Don’t think we can risk it. Little princess might break a finger, cry all the way home,” he taunts, sticking his tongue out at her as she slaps at his arm, trying to reach. She gives up after a few more tries, settling for stomping on his foot. The hammer clatters down, the handle whacking him in the shin on the way down.

“OW! You BRAT! That bloody HURT!”

She snaps up the tool and starts banging away at the final nail, until it’s driven all the way in, then steps back, grinning at him in victory. “Who’s crying now, Willie?”

He flushes hot with anger. “Don’t call me that.”

“Why not?” She makes faces at him, not noticing his quiet fury.

“Just don’t.” He says it so softly, it freezes her in her tracks. His voice is thick with pain.

Her eyes widen. “OH! Your Dad! He called you… oh.”

“Shut up, you twit.” His eyes are wet. He storms off, climbing down the rope ladder out of their tree house. He jumps on his bike, pedaling madly over the dirt path out of the woods toward his house.

She scrambles down the ladder, calling after him.

“Will, wait! Stop! Wait up!” Flinging herself on her bike, she tries to catch up with him. But his bike is bigger, his legs longer. He is breaking away, lengthening the distance between them.

She’s so focused on watching his back move further away, she doesn’t see the big rock in the middle of the path. Her front wheel hits, tossing her over the handlebars. She slides over the dirt and rocks, whacking her head on a tree stump.

She must have yelled, because in a flash, he’s there, kneeling beside her, his bike thrown to the ground. His eyes are as big as saucers.

“God, what did you do?”

She’s crying so hard, she can’t breathe very well. Her face hurts, and when she brings her hand up, it comes away wet and scarlet. She sees the blood and starts to scream.

“Shhh. You’re ok. You cut your forehead. Let me see.” He bats her hands away and brushes her hair back. Pulls his tee shirt off and presses it to her hairline over her left eye.

Her legs are on fire with pain, little bits of rock and gravel stuck in her skin, blood running in rivulets over her knee.

She’s weeping, so she can’t talk, tries to push him away. He’s having none of that.

“Buffy, stop. C’mon. Gotta get you home to your mum.” He puts a hand under her armpit to help her stand, but she just howls harder.

He takes her face in his hands. It’s the first time he’s touched her like that. Soft. It surprises her so much, she stops yelling, sniffles as he fixes her with his sky blue eyes.

“Hey. I got you. You’re gonna be okay, but we gotta get you home, all right?” His voice is gentle and low, as if he’s talking to a wild animal. It calms her right down. “Can you walk?”

She tries to put some weight on the scraped leg, but it makes her whimper.

He doesn’t say another word. Just scoops her up in his arms with a grunt and starts to walk back toward her house.

They’re both quiet for a minute. She sniffles and wipes her nose with her bloody hand, then holds her fingers open, not sure what to do with the mess.

“You wipe that on me and I’ll drop you like a hot potato.”

She chuckles, and it gets a grin out of him.

“I’m sorry, about your dad. I’m sorry I called you that, Will. Do you miss him? Does he ever call you? Do you talk to him?”

“Buffy?”

“Yeah?”

“Shut up. Can’t talk if I’m gonna carry you all the way back. You weigh a bloody ton.”

She slaps his bare chest. He just smirks, cocky and arrogant. It’s a new look for him. It fits him well.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

His living room and kitchen are filled with the crowd from the funeral. His mother’s church friends, people from the neighborhood, his relatives she’s never met before. She stands by the fireplace and watches him moving listlessly around the room. His eyes are glassy; he looks exhausted. His suit is becoming more rumpled as the day wears on. He continually runs his hands over his head, smoothing his two-toned hair back over and over in a nervous gesture as he receives condolences from the attendees.

Buffy picks at the food laid out for the mourners, but she has no appetite. Slowly, the people leave, one by one, until by nightfall, only she, her mother, his aunt and cousin remain.

He walks the relatives to the door, asking after their hotel arrangements and driving directions, his voice thick with weariness. As he is leading them out, Joyce goes to Buffy, gathering her coat.

“I’m headed home, sweetie. Are you coming?”

Buffy watches him. He’s hurting, so much. She wants to do something- she’s not ready to leave him alone yet- not after finally seeing him again after all this time. She looks around the room, seeing all the dirty cups and plastic plates on the end tables and coffee table.

“I think I’ll help clean some of this up first.”

“That’s sweet of you, honey.” She leans in and hugs Buffy quickly, then backs off, shoulders slumped. Her mother looks tired, too.

“I’ll see you at home in a bit, mom.”

Joyce goes to William at the door, offering a maternal hug. He folds himself into her arms, turning his head to rest on her shoulder and closing his eyes. Buffy’s throat constricts in sorrow. He looks to her like a lost little boy, and like a tired older man, all at once.

She doesn’t want to intrude on this moment, which he clearly needs badly. She knows he‘s close with her mom. He has been since they were kids. So she busies herself with picking up the dirty plates and cups, shuttling them to the kitchen trash can, and back again, to grab the serving plates of salvageable leftovers and put them away in the fridge.

She hears the front door shut, walks back to the living room. He’s there, crumpled to the floor, his hand over his face, weeping.

She doesn’t hesitate a second. Goes down to her knees on the floor in front of him, draws him in to her embrace as if he was a small child. He tries to push her away.

“I can’t let you. You should go now. Please….” His voice breaks, like fragments of glass. So brittle.

“Shhh.” She tells him, her hand at the back of his head, pressing his face to her neck. “I’ve got you.”

He lets it all go then, with loud, shuddering cries, soaking her dress with his tears. She says nothing, simply rocks him until he slows, snuffling, then stops, empty and drained.

She takes his hand in hers, that wide, warm palm she remembers so well. Leads him up the stairs to his room, helps him get his shoes off and gets him to lie down in the bed. He makes no protest, but gets under the covers, suit pants and all. She places one hand on his cheek, and her fingers twitch, touching those familiar planes again.

His eyelids are heavy as he whispers, “Thank you.”

He’s asleep before she can reply, so she’s pretty sure he misses her telling him, “You’re welcome. I’m here for you now, Will.”

Chapter 5

One morning in the summer she is 15, she wakes to pain in her belly, and blood, sticky and thick on the new downy hairs between her thighs.

She knows what the blood is; her mom gave her a book last year. She locked herself in her room and read it, cover to cover, in bug-eyed fascination. Then she reached down into her shorts and found all the parts the book said would make her feel good.

Now she touches herself down there almost every day, freeing her budding breasts from her tee shirts, which are all suddenly too tight.

At first, she thought about tv actors when she did it. One time she thought about kissing a cute senior boy who said “hi” to her once. But then she noticed Will. Or, “Spike”, as he prefers to be called now. Stupid name, she thinks, but she can’t help smiling to herself; she knows he got the nickname from the boys on his basketball team.

He practices shooting hoops in his driveway, wearing cut off denim shorts and white, sleeveless shirts. He has muscles now, long and lean in his thighs and arms. A hard, flat stomach appears when he takes off his shirt to mop his face. When he jumps to take a shot, his pants ride low, showing the high swells at the top of his backside, revealing that he doesn’t wear any underwear. She thinks that’s gross, but still, can’t help picturing it when she touches herself.

She’ll recall one of the hundreds of times he’s come over to watch tv. Still sweaty, no shirt, pants slung low on his hips. Fine threads of hair trailing down his belly, into his shorts. She imagines touching that hair. Thinks about the pout of his lips, and how they would feel on hers. How his broad palms and long fingers would feel on her breasts, belly- and lower. Caressing, rubbing all the places she does when she’s alone after school.

She calls out his name when the release comes, shudders and quakes. But she clamps her hand over her mouth, horrified, once she calms down.

On the morning of her first blood, she gets up early. Goes to the bathroom and gets herself sorted, after a painfully embarrassing admission to her mother. Once she’s cleaned up, she goes back to her room. She stands by the window, pulls back the curtain. He is in his room, spiking up his newly white-blonde hair. It was shocking the first time she saw him with his hair bleached. But now she likes it. Can’t even remember what he looked like before. He’s not that boy to her anymore.

But he doesn’t look out the window for her anymore. Doesn’t go to the tree house to sit and talk, or play cards. A month ago she found his stash of girly magazines there and yelled at him for leaving them there for her to find. At first he was just embarrassed. But then, he was pissed at her, asking her if she learned anything, because, “God knows,” he spat, “you could use a few pointers.” He hasn’t been back to the woods since, and the magazines are gone.

She misses him. This big, weird thing is happening to her, and she wishes she could tell him. Course, he would just make fun of her; he’d probably tell everyone. Or tell her she was disgusting.

She watches him turn and put down the comb, then adjusts his parts in his pants. She’s seen him do it a million times, but somehow now, it’s different now. She imagines what he looks like down there, and it makes her blush. A hot jolt of excitement rushes between her legs, making her belly cramp more.

He never looks over. Never sees her watching him, or notices how much she is missing him, longing for him.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Buffy wakes the next morning on the couch in his living room, her back stiff, kinked from sleeping curled up in an awkward position.

The night before, after Spike had fallen asleep, she had gone downstairs to find the house was a mess. She decided to tackle it in the morning, knowing he wouldn’t have the energy to do so himself. So she called home, told Joyce she was staying, to watch over him and to clean up for him.

She stands and stretches, her black dress wrinkled and her hair a-tangle. Her eyes hurt from sleeping with her mascara still on. She looks up to see the pictures on the mantle. One photo is of his mother in her wedding gown, Mr. Price standing behind her, beaming. There are several shots of Will as a boy, in various sports uniforms- he’s holding trophies in several of the pictures. One of Will at their high school graduation, looking somber and defeated.

Buffy swipes a layer of dust off this last snapshot, caressing the image of his hollow face with the tip of her index finger. She wishes she could wipe away that pained expression as easily as she removes the dust. She remembers that time clearly; the memory is like a sliver of ice in her heart.

With a heavy sigh, she makes her way to the kitchen, where the dishes are piled high, food stuck onto baking dishes and plates. She takes an apron- one of Mrs. Price’s, she supposes- and puts it on over her dress, then sets to filling the sink with hot, soapy water.

She digs in to the work, and although dishes aren’t usually her favorite chore, somehow the work is soothing. The mindless effort, the quiet swish of soap and sponge, the feeling she is, in this small way, doing something good for him, is calming her, helping her prepare for when he comes downstairs to face the day.

After 10 or so minutes she hears a noise down the hall. She turns, looking over her shoulder, to see him shuffling down the hall. He is bare-chested, wearing a pair of jeans, his hair in a curly, rumpled disarray. She cannot move for a moment, can’t breathe, as she watches him walk, watches the way his body moves. He is strong and lean as he always has been, achingly beautiful. But he’s lost his cockiness, his swaggering air of bravado and predatory sensuality.

He sees her in the kitchen and startles, jerking one arm over his chest. He spies his suit coat from the day before, lying over the back of the couch, and lunges for it, putting it on quickly. She can’t help feeling surprised at his modesty, after all they’ve done, all they’ve been to each other.

She wipes her wet hands on her apron and turns around fully to face him, summoning up her sweetest smile.

“Good morning. Did you sleep okay?”

“Yeah.” He leans against the wall in the hallway, just outside the kitchen door. “Not great, but, uh, I got some rest.” He pauses, his brow furrowing. “What are you doing?”

She holds her hands up, gesturing at the soapy water. “Thought it was kinda obvious…”

“Yeah, right. But, I mean, WHY are you?”

“Well, there was a big mess. And it needed cleaning. I’m not doing anything today, so I thought…”

He cuts her off. “You thought… what? That I’m pathetic? Can’t get on without your help?”

“No, I just… I wanted to. That’s all.”

He looks down, jamming his hands into his pockets, hunching forward a bit. Buffy thinks she’s never seen him look this small. So defeated.

His voice is quiet as he tells her, “You don’t have to.”

She watches him. Watches his eyes as he searches the floor, until he realizes she is looking at him, waiting for him to look at her. He slowly lifts his gaze to meet hers.

“I know I don’t HAVE to. I want to, Spike.”

Silence falls, the slow pull of their breath the only sound in the room for a long half minute.

“All right.” He says, so soft, his eyelashes wet.

She breathes out a relieved sigh. “So, you want something to eat? Your friends left plenty of food.”

He shakes his head, looking confused, clearly trying to reconcile himself to the way she is reaching out to him. “Uh, sure. Gotta eat, I suppose.”

“Ok. Why don’t you go sit down, and I’ll bring something. It might be casserole, though. I don’t think there’s anything else in the fridge.”

“'S fine.” She is about to go back to the kitchen, when he calls her name.

His voice is low, silky smooth and soft, and full of gratitude. She can’t recall him saying her name like that before; it makes her shiver. “Buffy. Thank you.”

She shakes herself again, forcing a smile, despite the pull of desire she feels, sudden and sharp. She longs to go to him and hold him, to kiss him breathless, until he can’t remember why he is sad anymore. Instead she makes her tone sound casual. “Sure. You should eat up all those meals, anyway, or they’ll all go bad…”

“No, not for that. For last night.”

She can’t resist. She steps forward and cups one of his cheeks with her palm. She thinks he leans in to her touch, but it’s so subtle, she could be mistaken. “You’re welcome, Spike. I’m so sorry about your Mom. She was a very special lady.”

He squeezes his eyes shut, bringing his hand up to his face to cover hers. “Yeah. She was.” One thin tear tracks down his cheek, wetting their joined hands.

They stand there for the longest time. She listens to the birds singing outside, the chug-chug of his old refrigerator in the other room. His breath puffs over her wrist.

After a while he backs off, pulls away. Awkwardness settles between them again.

“Well, let me get breakfast…” she backs away, unsure of what to do, how to make this easier for him. He sits down on the couch, letting his head fall back and his eyes close, so she hurries back to the kitchen to make their plates.

When she comes back ten minutes later, he is lying on the couch, asleep. His head is on the armrest, his hands resting open like butterfly wings.

She puts the plates down on the coffee table and kneels on the floor before him. This time, she can’t resist. She leans down and presses a kiss to his forehead, then one on the sharp plane of his cheek. One in the hollow above his jaw. Then she sits back on her heels, settles for smoothing his hair back again and again, loving the feel of his soft curls under her hand again. She wonders if there has ever been anyone so beautiful in the world. Being this close to him again makes her chest ache.

“Please, forgive me. Let me in again, Spike,” she whispers, watching his chest slowly rise and fall as he sleeps.

Chapter 6

Sitting in the hot classroom, watching Othello, Buffy falls in love with Spike as he quotes Shakespeare from memory. In a moment of clarity, she sees how miraculous, how beautiful he is, hiding under the sharp remarks, bleached hair and shiny leather. From that moment, she is lost.

But in the next breath, he turns away from her to bestow his brilliance and beauty upon Drusilla.

Buffy pines for him, aches for the smallest crumb of his regard. Every day, she watches him from beneath the curtain of her hair during class, and from behind the gauzy lace of her window drapery in her room. She memorizes his every move, as he postures and poses, full of macho bravado. He is remaking himself, with new punk clothes, bleached hair, a cocky attitude, and a scary goth girlfriend.

He buys himself a motorcycle in May, revs the engine in the driveway and rides off like a hellion, burning rubber all down their street. Most times, Dru is on the back of his bike, her rail-thin thighs pressed tight against his muscular ones, her arms coiled about his lean waist. Her hair trails behind her like a bridal train as they speed away, her wild laughter carried up to Buffy’s window on the wind.

Most afternoons, she waits for him in their old haunts- in the woods, at the theater, at the library, and in their tree house. He never comes.

One day in late May, after waiting nearly an hour in the library, she comes home from school to find her father’s car in the driveway. She’s delighted he’s home early- he is rarely home anymore, busy with work, business trips. She races into the house, throwing the front door open, hearing it bang against the wall as she rounds the corner into the living room- to find him kissing a strange woman, his hand down her blouse.

She is struck dumb at the sight- frozen in shock. She blinks hard, feeling tears well up. Her father fumbles himself away from the woman, stumbling over words. Hearing his voice is like a slap, bringing her round. She turns and runs blindly, through the kitchen and out the back door, the screen door banging behind her. She runs and runs, tears blinding her sight. But she doesn’t need to see. She knows the path, every stone a part of her cellular memory, embedded with the thousand steps she’s taken upon it.

She reaches the run down tree house, knowing no one but him remembers this place anymore. She lies down on the soft wood floor and buries her face into her forearms, cries until she is empty. Then she sits up, hugging her legs to her chest, and stares at nothing, feeling hollowed out, betrayed.

The sky gets dim. She knows it’s been a few hours, that she should go back, but she’s too tired to move.

Along the path, she sees a flashlight swinging. It’s his walk; she knows by the way the light moves.

He knows this is their place, their refuge.

“Hey,” he snarls as he clambers his way in, “what the fuck are you doing out here? Your mum’s going mad worrying about you…” His words cut off as he looks at her- really looks. Sees she’s adrift. She can’t bring herself to look up, can’t let him see that his presence is breaking her open again. But the tears start, and she can’t stop them. As he crouches before her, brow furrowed, she covers her face with her hands, desperate to hide looking ugly and weak before him.

“Whoa, what’s this then? Tell me. What’s happened?” His voice is so soft. She can’t resist when he talks to her like that. She hasn’t heard his voice so tender in such a long time. She blurts it all out, everything she saw. She hiccups and sobs her way through, hating herself, hating her father even more.

She’s surprised when he slides down to sit beside her and awkwardly pats her shoulder. Then he heaves a sigh, and the tension in his body shifts, melts away. He loops his arm around her shoulders and draws her in close to his ribs, whispering, “Shhh.” She can feel his hard muscles against the side of her breast, and the sensation is enough to take her mind off what her father has done.

He smells so good. She brings a shaking hand up to rest on the flat plane of his chest. His heart thud-thuds under her palm in a soothing rhythm. His thumb is tracing small circles over her shoulder, his skin hot through her clothes. She feels that familiar rush of excitement between her legs, a flush spreading up her neck and over her face. When he tilts his head to rest his temple on the top of her head, she can’t help sighing, breathing in time with him.

They sit a long while like that, until her arm grows tired, her back a little stiff. But she waits for him to move, to pull away. She wants to stay here as long as he will let her, burn this memory into her brain, so she can erase the others from this day.

He does pull back though, as darkness falls and the spring peepers start their chorus. “Ready to head back? Expect your mum’s halfway to a breakdown by now.”

She can’t help but chuckle. “Yeah. I’m gonna be grounded for half a lifetime for this.”

He snorts but is smiling softly at her. “Not like you ever go anywhere or do anything, anyway…”

She socks him in the arm, and he flinches, laughing.

“C’mon. Let’s go. Made me late for my date, you know.” He turns and heads out of the tree house, walking down the path toward her house. She’s glad he’s turned away because she’s not smiling anymore; she feels sucker-punched again.

* * *

In the weeks that followed, Buffy hadn’t seen her father again. She had gotten home that night to a long lecture from her mom, and the explanation that he had been called away on business that afternoon, and wouldn’t be back for several weeks.

The last day of junior year ends, and summer begins, hot and sweltering right off the bat. She buries herself in Harlequin romance novels, imagining herself and Spike in the lead roles, and replaying that night with him in her head, over and over.

One sticky day at the end of June, she is flopped on her bed reading when she hears Dru’s cackling laugh from below her window. Getting up, she peers through the lace of her curtain to see Spike and Dru lying out beside his pool in his back yard.

Dru is lying face up, propped on her elbows, wearing a red bikini with black stars on it. Spike is beside her on his stomach, his back glistening in the sun with hundreds of tiny water droplets, his hair wet and sticking up every which way. Her breath won’t move through her constricted throat, as she looks upon him, aches for him.

But then Dru unties her bikini top, folds it down, and pinches her nipples. Buffy can see them, dark brown and peaked under her sharp black fingernails. Spike’s head lifts, then lowers over her breast, taking the nipple in his mouth.

Buffy stomach roils at the sight. She wants to back away, run away, but she is paralyzed, barely breathing. She can’t tear her gaze away as Spike slides his long fingers down Dru’s belly. She watches his fingers disappear into the bikini bottoms, the fabric tenting over his knuckles. Dru’s head falls back as she moans over what Spike is doing to her.

They don’t kiss. It’s all Buffy can think. She latches onto the thought, like a life raft. At least they aren’t kissing…

Dru rakes her nails down Spike’s back, leaving long welts. He makes a pained sound but doesn’t stop. Buffy thinks it’s strange, how like animals they sound. Then Dru arches her back. Spike clamps a hand over her mouth, and she jackknifes forward, shuddering and digging at his arm and back.

He is bleeding when she is finished.

He stands, starts to pull his wet shorts down over his ass. But Dru laughs again and jumps up, wrapping a towel around her torso. She walks away from him, toward the house, then turns to crook a finger, beckoning him to follow.

When he turns toward the house, Buffy can see he looks almost angry, and his shorts are tented with a huge erection.

She knows they are headed for his room. She wants to run away. Go back to her book and her daydreams. But she can’t move. She has to know.

She watches as they slam shut the door to his bedroom. Dru shoves him hard into the door and drops to her knees. Yanks his pants down and exposes him.

She sees him suck in a breath, his mouth open in anticipation. Then his erection disappears under the curtain of her hair, into her mouth.

Buffy thinks she’s going to be sick. She is on the brink of crying, her chest tightly constricted. He suddenly yelps out in pain- loud enough that she hears it. He fists her hair and yanks her up, while Dru laughs in his face. She stops laughing when he lifts her up and tosses her on her back onto the bed.

Buffy covers her mouth with both hands, one on top of the other. She watches his hands shake as he grabs a silver foil packet, ripping it open with his teeth. Rolls the sheath over himself as she opens her legs wide, thrusting her hips up at him.

He pauses then, crawling on knees between her thighs. Lines himself up and then presses his hips forward. She sees his buttocks flex. His head drop back. Hears Dru moan as she digs her black nails into him, making him bleed more.

Then Buffy starts to cry.

Only then can she tear herself away. She goes to the bathroom and takes a hot shower, trying to wash the image away, scald away the pain. But it won’t go. Instead, she stands under the spray and sobs into her open palm until her eyes hurt too much to cry anymore. Then she crawls into bed, exhausted, her wet hair soaking the pillow, to fall into a black, dreamless sleep.

She doesn’t speak to him again for the rest of the summer. Some nights she hears them rutting in his bed, making those animal sounds. Just as often, she hears them shouting at each other. Brutal words of hate and poison; some she’s never heard before.

She retreats inside herself and her house. Avoids the two of them and places they might turn up. She doesn’t want to know this new Spike. She holds on to the memory of her Will, her Spike, holding her and comforting her in their tree house. She thinks he is gone forever. Consumed by Drusilla.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Buffy spends the morning tiptoeing around his sleeping form, going up and down the stairs to the basement to run the laundry through, sorting mail piles at the table. Each time she walks by, he is in a new position on the couch. But he’s sleeping so soundly that he lets out an occasional snore.

Lunchtime comes and goes, and she finds herself hungry. She reheats more of the casserole for herself and fixes him a plate of lasagna from one of the meals the funeral attendees have left for him.

When she carries the plate out to the living room, she finds him sitting up, awake at last.

“Hey.”

“Hey. Sorry. Haven’t got much sleep the last few weeks. Guess it caught up to me.”

“No, it's fine. Here.” She hands him the plate.

“Oh. Thanks. But… I know I should be hungry, but I’m just not feeling like eating.”

“Ok. I’ll just put it in the fridge..” She stands, starting to take the plate back from him, but he holds onto it.

“No, that’s all right. I’ll eat it.” Buffy settles into the easy chair beside the couch to keep him company while he eats.

He pushes the layers of noodles around on his plate like a child, scooping out little bites of the filling and lifting them slowly to his mouth. She notices then how thin he is, how much his ribs are showing under his suit coat.

The silence in the room is awkward, punctuated by the scraping of his silverware on the plate. Buffy decides to try to break through the quiet, break open the strangeness between them.

“Are you still in business for yourself?”

“Yeah. The staff has been great, takin’ care of things while I’ve been here.”

“Is the center still doing well?”

“Yeah. Lots of women recovered and set out on their own from our place. We’re doing good work.”

“Yes, you are, Spike.”

Hearing her speak his name seems to shake him. He’s quiet for long minute, playing with his food, then sets the plate down on the coffee table. He looks over to her, his face tight with confusion.

“Buffy? What are we doing? Why are you still here?”

She startles at him. “What?”

“Haven’t seen you since we graduated. Since…” his voice trailed off and he looked away. “I know I was horrible to you then. Deserved to lose you…”

“Spike, no. Stop.” She sits down on the coffee table, across from him.

“’S true. I fucked things up right royally. Always do. Always have.”

“Spike…”

“And now here you are, bein’ all June Cleaver on me, fetchin’ me food, chattin’ me up, and what all. Can’t make out why. Don’t deserve it.” He hangs his head, his face long and tired looking despite the sleep he’s gotten.

She raises a shaking hand to his shoulder, squeezing the round muscle at the top of his arm. “That was a long time ago. I’m different now. And I know you are, too. My mom told me how you spent the last six months here, taking care of your mom. That’s not the guy I remember.” She again cups his face with her hand, but this time he turns away from her. “Look, I loved your mom. It’s awful, her dying so young like this. I can’t make that go away. But I can help you, Spike, if you’ll just let me. I wanna be here for you.”

He starts crying again, and it makes her feel helpless. Makes her heart ache for him.

“I hear you sayin’ it. But,” He raises his watery eyes, meeting her gaze, and the hopeless look there makes her want to weep, too. “But everyone I love leaves. I’ve got no one, got nothing.”

She smoothes his hair again, and it makes him close his eyes, crying harder.

“You have me. I’m here.”

He pulls away from her then, drawing his knees up to his chest, hugging his shins with his arms.

“For how long?” he asks her, sounding completely forlorn.

Chapter 7

One night during the first week of senior year, Buffy hears Spike and Dru having a particularly nasty fight. His shades are closed. Buffy hasn’t seen him all summer, by choice, and neither does she want to see him now.

But she’s heard plenty. They fight and they fuck. That’s what Dru calls it. She shouts it out, over and over. Now Buffy hates the word. Hates that lazy accent, hates the sound of her moans and screams.

This night, she’s been saying it plenty. It’s a good thing Spike’s mom is working nights. Buffy can’t bear to think of his mother hearing this.

“Come on, Spike. Come fuck me. Try some of this. It’s fucking good shit.”

"No! Bloody hell, Dru, I told you, I’m not taking that! Don’t care how good it is.”

“C’mon, love, don’t be such a stick in the mud! We can fly away together, right up to the stars…”

“Dru, no.” A pause. “Stop it!” A loud grunt, then a crash. Glass smashing, as Dru hollers out a wordless cry.

Buffy then hears the awful sound of flesh hitting bone. Spike cries out, and there is another exclamation of “FUCK!” from Dru. They both breathe heavily for a half minute before Dru laughs at him, a cruel sound, full of spite.

“Pretty Spike. Doesn’t want to follow where I go. Wants to be a good boy for his mummy. For his little friends. Keep pushing me away, and I’ll tell them all what a sorry little boy you really are. Crying for your lost daddy.”

Spike’s retort sounds spoken through gritted teeth. “Shut UP.”

She imitates his baritone, but her tone holds a sneer. “I’m going to college, gonna be a writer. HA! You’re not going anywhere, except here. Right in here. In me. Come inside, my darling boy…”

Buffy hears Dru gasp, and then Spike rasps out, “Get. Out.”

“What did you say?” Dru snaps at him, her tone incredulous.

“Get. Out. You. Crazy. Bloody. BITCH. I’m not puttin’ up with this shit anymore. You think I need you? Need your cunt, your drugs, and your addict friends? Well, you are wrong! You’re not worth it! Take your heroin-laced ass and GET THE FUCK OUT!”

Buffy jumps at the sheer volume of his voice. She’s never heard anyone so furious. Never heard him so full of hate.

Dru’s voice is thick with venom as she spits back, “ HA. I know what you want. Pretty princess in an ivory tower, you her brave knight. But I know the real you. You’re no saint. All black inside, just like me. Don’t you know? You belong to me. You’re MINE.”

Buffy hears his bedroom door, and then the front door of his house slam as Dru leaves. She sits on her bed in shock, listening to him smash up his room for the next several minutes. Even as she is sorry for his pain, she is a bit afraid of him, too. She’s glad Dru’s gone. Maybe now this violent Spike will go too, and her William will return.

**********

The next morning, when Buffy goes downstairs for breakfast, her Mom is already up and waiting for her in the kitchen. Joyce’s face is puffy, her eyes bloodshot.

"Mom? What's going on?"

Joyce motions for Buffy to sit down and sobbing her way through, admits she’s caught her husband cheating. That he’s leaving them. She reaches for Buffy’s hand, but Buffy doesn’t feel the touch. She’s gone numb inside. She knew this was coming, all summer long. It’s almost a relief to have it here at last. No more secrets to keep.

Her mom is saying something to her, words of comfort, but she doesn’t want to hear. Doesn’t want to be in her mother’s pain, relive everything she felt herself just 4 months ago. So instead she gets up from the table. Tells her mom she is ok, but just really needs to be alone. She forces herself seem calm on the outside because she doesn’t want to add to her mother’s pain.

Her mom looks like letting her go is the last thing she wants, but she does. Buffy pulls on her sandals and heads for the only place that has ever been safe for her.

The woods are changing. A few trees are tipped with yellow and pale orange, but the warmth of Indian summer is rising from the earth. Buffy feels the rocks in the dirt path beneath her feet and wonders how far she could get if she just kept walking.

She makes her way to the tree house. But once she gets there, she sees it is falling down. The floor has rotted and half of it sags down like a hammock. Seeing that, she feels like there is no safe place for her anymore.

Just as she is about to turn, she catches a glimpse of white around the back of the tree that holds the tree house.

“Spike?”

He jumps up, whipping around the tree to face her.

“Buffy! What are you doing out here? Why aren’t you at school?”

“My dad- he’s gone. Left us.” She feels the ache in her belly, in her chest, but still the tears don’t come.

“Oh, balls. That right bastard. I’m sorry. I know how you feel, love. Had the same when my father left me that note that he wasn’t coming here. Didn’t want to be with me and mum anymore, and… are you all right?”

“No,” she answers simply, as her head starts to swim. Having him here, feeling so many emotions after hearing his break with Dru last night, not eating dinner the night before or breakfast this morning, has her feeling light-headed. She brings her hands to her head, and he rushes to her side. As she sits down heavily on the ground, he pulls off his leather coat and shirt and balls them up. Helps her lie back on them, in the shade under their tree.

She closes her eyes, waiting for her head to stop spinning. She feels him smoothing her hair back from her face, blowing cool air on her forehead. When her head clears, she opens her eyes to see him hovering over her, propped up on his left arm, his face hovering over hers.

“You all right in there?” His voice is so soft, silky smooth, deep and rich. Velvety.

A tear trickles out of the corner of her eye. Here is the moment he will pull away, she thinks. His expression is unreadable. She can’t tell if he’s really concerned or if he’s just being polite in asking.

“I will be, I guess,” she answers, as more tears roll back into her hair. “Was it this hard for you? When your dad left?”

He looks torn, his eyes looking all around, as if searching for a way out of this conversation. “Uh, yeah. Was a long time ago, though. You forget. The pain…” he pauses, his brows furrowing, looking as if something is connecting for him, “it fades, over time.”

She knows he’s thinking of Dru now, of the break up.

For a second his eyes lock with hers, and she takes a chance in that moment, looking into him, to offer her sympathy. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know it hurt this much.”

Something shifts, opens in him. He shakes his head lightly, as if just now seeing her. His expression softens as he tilts his head to one side, looking his fill. So she does the same.

She drinks him in. The soft curl of his pale yellow hair. The sky blue depths of his eyes. The sharp planes of his face. The light shadow of his beard, his upper lip and chin unshaven. His mouth. Full lips, so pretty. They look so soft.

Her belly flutters and cramps, looking at his mouth.

His gaze flickers from her eyes and down to her lips.

Then he’s leaning in, drawing down. Buffy holds her breath, praying he won’t stop. He opens his lips and touches them lightly to hers, tasting. Brushes over her top lip, then the bottom, in feather light touches, with his eyes open, watching her. She’s terrified to move. A litany of “oh god, oh god, oh god” plays in her mind. Her head is spinning again as he breathes hard through his nose. He deepens his kisses, pressing his lips harder against hers, moving them side to side, up and down, slowly, tenderly.

She’s never been kissed before; she’s been saving herself for him all these years. But all the times she’s pressed her lips to the back of her wrist to practice, she never imagined it would feel like this. Like dizziness and insanity, like her insides are swirling and melting. She aches for him, in her heart and hands and between her legs.

She wants to be good for him too, so she tries to imitate what he’s doing. She moves her head a bit to the side, sliding her lips on his, opening her mouth to him. He must like it, because he groans darkly, although he doesn’t press for more. He just kisses her, slow and soft, deep, over and over, until she can’t breathe and has to pull away.

He rests his forehead against hers, panting his breath against her face, one hand gripping her hip. She is gasping too, her palm creeping up to the back of his neck, then sliding forward to his jaw. When she opens her eyes, she sees his right eye is swollen, the socket black and blue.

She ghosts her fingers over his eye as he looks away. “Are you okay? Does it hurt?”

His voice is thick with desire as he answers softly, “Yeah, it hurts. I’ll live.”

She puts her hand on top of his head, tipping his chin down. She trembles as she lightly touches her lips to his eyelid.

He flinches a little, whispering, “Ow.”

But then they both realize he’s gazing down at her breasts. He looks up to her face, searching, and her eyes fill with tears. She’s completely overrun with emotion; he’s silently asking permission to go further.

She closes her eyes, turning her head aside. It’s too much to take in. Everything she wants is right here.

He lowers his face, pressing his open mouth between her breasts, sliding his hand up from her hip to her ribs, the tips of his fingers pressing just beneath the swell of her left breast.

“Buffy,” he whispers out, desperate, hurting and hungry.

The grass tickles her face as his lips roam over the swells of her breasts. She smells the soil, hears birds singing in the canopy above. When she opens her eyes, she sees sunlight streaming through the leaves, in a thousand pinpoints and splashes of light.

He bends his neck to nuzzle his lips over one nipple through the fabric of her shirt. Her legs fall open, and he nestles himself between them, his hips pressed to hers. His erection is hard and insistent against her pubic bone.

The sudden awareness of his arousal makes her gasp.

She knows what that part of him looks like. Because she’s seen him.

With Dru.

The knowledge of what he has done with Dru, how experienced he is, and how fresh he is off their breakup, comes flooding in. She doesn’t want to be his rebound girl, his consolation prize.

“Spike, wait. Wait…” she manages to gasp out. “What… what are we doing?”

He lifts himself up on both hands, poised over her, looking unsure again. “What are we…?”

She reaches up, touching the crest of his cheekbone, just beneath his black eye. “She did this to you.” It’s not a question. She wants him to know that she knows.

He pulls back and stands, embarrassed, looking away from her.

She hates herself for reminding him, but before she can stop herself, she is babbling.

“I know she hit you, Spike. I heard what happened last night.” She pinches her lips together, trying to get herself to stop talking.

He laughs, a dry, bitter snort, one eyebrow cocked. “Did you now?”

She needs to back pedal, before all the sweetness between them is ruined. “I’m sorry,” she offers. “My window was open and- the yelling- it was kinda loud…”

“Oh. Right,” he answers, his tone cool.

“Spike?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry. That she was so mean to you.” She reaches out, extending her arm toward him.

He takes her hand, pulling her to her feet then letting go awkwardly. “Me too. Thanks.” He is pulling away again.

She desperately wants to keep him close, so she offers, “I’d never hurt you. You know that, right?”

He doesn’t answer. It’s as if she’s said nothing. He grabs his duster off the ground and fishes out his cigarettes, lights one up. “C’mon. Best get you back now,” he says, turning and walking away down the path. She trails behind him, feeling the loss of both him and her dad that morning.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“You have me. I’m here.”

He pulls away from her then, drawing his knees up to his chest, hugging his shins with his arms.

“For how long?” He asks her, sounding completely forlorn.

Buffy is desperate to make him see how earnest she is. She swipes away the tears on his face, then slides her hand down his arm to capture one of his hands in both of hers. “For as long as you need me.”

"Always needed you. There’s never been anyone else.”

She is taken aback at this. Surely there have been other women since then? But then, she has never found anyone that measured up to him....

But all those years ago, she thinks, there WAS someone else.

"What about Dru?” she asks.

He looks up at her, releasing his legs to the floor. He’s clearly surprised. “Don’t you know? All this time, and you still don't know..." His voice trails off as he shakes his head. "I never loved her. Dru wrecked herself because she knew I didn’t love her. Couldn’t be what I wanted." He pauses, blinking, his lip quivering with a shuddering breath. “She wasn’t you.” He looks away again, full of despair. “Didn’t matter, though. In the end, you didn’t want me.”

She takes his face in her hands, forcing him to look at her. She annunciates each word to be sure he gets her meaning clearly. ”I DID want you. I still do.” He turns his head away in the cradle of her hands.

“But- you left.” There’s no malice in his voice. It’s a simple statement of fact.

“Yes, I did. Because you went back to her. You chose HER, not me.”

“Was scared. Stupid. Made bad choices, for all of us.” His face is full of regret and pain.

“That was then.” She’s frustrated she can’t get through to him, through this wall he’s put up, so she leans in and kisses his cheek, feather soft, whispering against his skin, “I’m here NOW, okay?”

He turns his head, so slowly, toward her kiss. Tentatively, he brings his mouth to hers, barely touching his lips against hers.

He feels so fragile in her hands. Barely there, crushed down to wisp by pain and loneliness. She doesn’t want to scare him or crush him anymore, so she just stays still and quiet, letting him take over and taste her for the first time in nearly 15 years.

His lips are soft, just as she remembers. He is a wonderful kisser; that hasn’t changed. He’s tender with her, kissing her bottom lip almost chastely, with his mouth closed. The tease of it thrills through her. Then he moves his mouth to her upper lip, adding a bit more pressure and ummm-ing out a pleasurable sound.

Hearing that, she can’t help but respond. She slides her hands from his face to wrap her arms around his neck. He leans in toward her, their knees bumping as he moves forward. He parts his lips, lightly touching his tongue to the tip of hers. She gasps as her body responds.

The doorbell rings and they lurch back, panting and blinking at each other.

“Sorry,” he explains, “’s my mother’s lawyer. Here to go over the will, I expect. “S’cuse me.”

“Oh. Sure. Of course.”

He tries to stand and walk past, but she has to lift her legs up to her chest so he can get by. He awkwardly fumbles past to get to the door.

He opens the front door to a balding 40-ish man in a three piece suit, carrying a brown leather attaché.

“Hey, Tom,” Spike greets him solemnly. “Come in.”

Buffy stands, smoothing her rumpled dress, feeling very much aware that she’s been in the same clothes for a day and a half, and not had a shower in as long.

“Tom, this is Buffy Summers. She was a friend of my mum’s.”

The man politely shakes her hand, not really taking any notice of her. He is all business, and for that Buffy is relieved. “Pleasure to meet you Miss Summers.”

“Yes, thank you.”

Spike steps aside and gestures toward the dining room. “Tom, why don’t you have a seat at the table and we can talk. I’ll just see Miss Summers out.”

Buffy follows Spike to the front door. He turns before opening it to address her, the awkward tension still between them.

“Thank you for everything.”

“Of course. I should check on how mom is doing anyway. Plus, my personal hygiene leaves a lot to be desired at the moment.” She smiles, lifting one stray piece of hair by her face.

This gets a chuckle out of him. “Yeah, I need to clean up, too.”

“Soooo…”

“Uh, so…”

She can’t resist. Can’t leave things like this. “Can I come back later? You know, when I smell better? I’ll bring dinner?”

He smiles thinly, tension showing in his face. “If you want.”

“I do want. I’ll come by, maybe, 6-ish?”

“All right.”

They stand there, looking everywhere but at each other, until she leans in to give him a quick peck on the cheek. “See you then,” she says, opening the door and walking out into the noontime sun. She forces herself to not turn around, but she can feel his eyes watching her walk away.

Chapter 8

Through the rest of the autumn, Spike came to Buffy when she least expected it. She goes to the movies on rainy weekends, looking to escape into a love story, and half way though the trailers, he is sliding into the seat beside her, loudly crinkling a candy wrapper open.

“Shhh! What are you doing here?” she asks, fixing him with a silencing glare, followed by a grin. She can never stop those smiles when he is around.

He shushes her back. “Quiet, Buffy. Gonna bother these nice people.” He wags his eyebrows at her, and reaches into the popcorn bucket in her lap. She can’t help blushing; his hand is so close to her breasts, just like that day in the woods. She turns, the movie just starting and already forgotten, and watches him. Watches the tendons in his jaw flex and pull as he chews, his eyelashes shadowy long in the flickering light from the screen.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees her staring. He turns to glare at her, but seeing her expression, his look softens. His gaze alights on her lips, his head titling to the side, and then he’s leaning in. Her stomach is bucking, her palms sweating. Then his arm is snaking behind her, his hand on her shoulder, proprietary, his mouth opening as it lands on hers.

The world falls away. There is nothing but the feel of his lips, silky soft as they taste all around her mouth, his tongue testing the feel of her own. His hands, hot and big, on her shoulder, sliding down over her breast. Cupping her, testing the weight, then his fingers are closing, sending a jolt of lust and wetness between her legs. He slips his hand inside her v-neck, fingertips gliding under the edge of her bra cup. She holds her breath, her eyes tightly shut, barely moving as his mouth works over hers.

Then they are flooded with light, as the entrance door to the theater swings open. Spike pulls back fast, his arm gliding out from behind her, the hand in her bra pulled away and grabbing a handful of popcorn on its way back to his side.

“Spike?” a boy’s voice calls out in a loud stage whisper.

“That’s my cue, love. Gotta run,” he tells her, standing and swooping down the aisle, his duster tails flapping behind him.

“Bye…” she whispers after him when he’s long gone, the theater door closing behind him already. He has done this several times already. He leaves her feeling dazed, like a victim if a hit and run attack. She’s aroused, heart-achy with wishing he would stay, just once.

* * * * * * * * * *

The holidays are hard with her father gone. Of course, he was never really around much before, but this year Buffy’s mom is mopey. They plan a Thanksgiving dinner for the two of them- a game hen more than a turkey, really. But the day they are to shop for the meal, Joyce tells Buffy that the Prices will be joining them for dinner. They both are more eager for the holiday at the prospect of having company.

They arrive around noon on Thanksgiving Day, Mrs. Price in a cornflower blue floral dress with a wide white collar, Spike looking uncomfortable in a button-down blue oxford shirt and navy tie, black dress trousers and shined dress shoes. As soon as he sees Buffy grinning at him, he points a warning finger at her. She covers her mouth, but still is smiling behind her hand. He can’t help but laugh and shake his head, greeting her mom with a “You look lovely, Mrs. Summers.”

The adults go to the kitchen to finish off the last prep from the meal, leaving Spike and Buffy alone. He flops himself onto the couch, tugging at the knot of his tie. She settles herself carefully beside him, smoothing her skirt and then folding her hands in her lap.

“You look nice.”

“You too.”

An awkward silence settles between them. They sit, fidgeting, listening to their mothers talk and laugh together in the other room.

“Nice of your mum to invite us…”

“Sure. We’re happy you came. It means a lot to mom, you know, with my dad gone now.”

He reaches out and covers her folded hands with his. She thrills at his touch, as always, feeling a blush rush up her chest and neck. He turns toward her on the couch, and raises his other hand, reaching up to tuck her hair behind one ear. His eyes are looking at her, all over, and it makes her shiver. He leans over, lips headed toward her neck, so she tilts her head to the side to give him better access…

And then the door opens, their moms carrying serving trays loaded with food.

They break apart, jumping to their feet to help, and spend the rest of the evening regarding each other with polite distance.

* * * * * * * * * *

One afternoon in mid-December, their parents, enjoying their new friendship, are Christmas shopping together. He comes over to talk about college applications, but as usual, they can’t seem to keep from kissing and touching each other. They stand in her room, next to her window, tiny snowflakes falling outside, and kiss each other breathless.

Feeling brave, here in her own room, the music low, the light soft, she places on hand on his chest, palm flat, sliding it to where his nipple is raised under the fabric.

“Can I?”

“God, yes.” He is staring at her, watching her with his mouth open in pleasure and surprise. She slides her palm down slipping fingers under his tee shirt and up, to find that erect nipple again. She circles the little bumps with her fingertip. Then his hand is up under her shirt, his fingers finding her nipple, mimicking her movements.

She can barely see straight, she’s so excited by his touch. He uses his free hand to pull his shirt off. He grabs her belt loops to drag her closer. She’s embarrassed when she realizes he’s looking down the front of her pants, seeing her white bikini underwear.

“Can I take these off?” he asks, his voice whisper soft.

She’s terrified, her heart hammering, but nods.

He drops to his knees in front of her. Unbuttons and unzips her pants, then shimmies them down her legs. She places a hand on his shoulder to step out of each leg. Then his hands are on her ass, pulling her close to his mouth.

He kisses her hair and softer parts through the fabric. She’s scared what he might think- that she smells bad, or is fat, or...

“Mmm. So good,” he assures her, squeezing her bottom, pressing his face harder and rubbing his nose over her most sensitive spot.

She can’t help sucking in a breath in surprise at the sensation. It’s so different than touching herself! Rougher, but much more intense.

Then he stops, hooking his fingers over the sides of her panties. “Let me see you, pet.” He is barely asking, pressing wet kisses to her skin above her underwear line, tugging her underwear down. Looking up at her with hungry eyes. Pleading.

She feels like she might cry, it’s so intense. The fear, the desire, his look, all piling together to make her stomach uneasy. She can barely hear her own voice as she answers, “Yes.”

He slips her underwear off her hips and down her legs, again helping her step out. He presses on her belly, getting her to back up, until the backs of her knees hit the bed.

He kneels between her legs, which are visibly shaking. She closes her eyes, overwhelmed. Then she feels his hand over hers on the bedspread, his fingers squeezing hers.

“Look at me.”

She opens her eyes to see him resting his chin on her lower belly, regarding her with a tender smile. “You okay? We can stop if you want.”

She breathes out a sigh, reassured at his consideration. “No. I’ve just never done this, or- anything- before.”

“I know, love. I’ve got you.”

Then he’s kissing her stomach, soft and light, and it almost tickles. One of his hands moves down to trace circles high on her inner thigh. His mouth opens, moves down, wetly pressing into her wiry curls. He places one kiss at the top of her sex , and her eyes fly open.

She can’t stop looking as he delicately opens her with one hand, opens his mouth, and softly laps once over her peak. She shudders under him, so he keeps it up, soft, wet. Tender.

She’s scared, so overwhelmed. Excited, yeah, but it’s so new, she doesn’t know if she can get there…

Then he’s touching her opening, just the barest brush of a fingertip over where she is slick with desire. But she can’t help scooting away.

“Wait…” She slides backwards over the bed to lean against the headboard. Suddenly shy, she tries to pull the hem of her tank top down to cover her sex.

He crawls to her, up the bed, to sit beside her. “Too fast?”

“Uh, kinda. Spike, I know you’ve done… things, with HER, but I’m a…” She can’t seem to get the word out. Her throat closes right up. She’s painfully embarrassed, hating herself and her lack of experience. Any second, he’s gonna stand up and walk out, wondering what the hell he was thinking.

Her heart aches as he does stand, but then he slides his pants off, his erection bobbing in front of him. She can’t take her eyes off it, the length and breadth of it. He sits back down beside her on the bed, stretching his legs out and opening his arms, offering an embrace. She takes a shaking breath and reaches for him, relieved. He pulls her in close, kissing her forehead as she presses her face into his chest, not brave enough to look down. He gently turns her, pulls her down to lay her back over his lap, pulling her shirt off.

He puts his hand on her forehead, brushing her hair back, then sweeps that arm behind her back, supporting her. “Not gonna do anything you don’t want. You want to stop, you say the word, we stop. Right?”

“Okay,” her voice quivers in reply.

His other hand finds her ribs. Slips up and down, soothing, feather light. Then finds its way up to her breast, teasing there again.

She can't help squirming. He makes her feel so good when he does that. She wants to be touching him too, so she reaches behind him. Lets her head fall back and grabs at his backside, the muscles hard under her squeezing hand.

She can feel his erection pressing into her lower back, insistent.

His hand slides off her breast, down. Drops between her legs and begins to move there. Oh, GOD but he’s good! She remembers the day she watched him do this to Dru by the pool, and disappointment washes over her. But then his fingers are moving faster and she can’t help moving her hips in time with him.

Oh, God, it’s coming… the release… she is in awe that he can do this, that he knows how… his erection twitches hard when she moans, and he answers with his own throaty sound of desire. His voice is deep and rough as he begs, “Come for me. Want to see it.”

She does then, her insides contracting wildly, fast and hard, slicking his fingers with fluid.

Before she can even come down, he is lifting her body up, kissing her hard on the mouth, pulling her in tight against his naked body with it’s hard muscle and sharp bones.

“Buffy, oh, Christ, I want you,” he breathes into her mouth. “Please, love, I’ll be so gentle.”

Her head is spinning at what he’s asking. God, she wants it, has never wanted it to be anyone else but him, but now that it's here, she’s afraid. Afraid of the pain, afraid she won’t be good for him. But she’s mostly afraid that if she says no, she’ll never have this chance again. So she closes her eyes and whispers, “Okay.”

He lays her down on her back, kissing her all the way down. Reaches to the floor to retrieve his pants, fishes out his wallet. Pulls out a foil packet. God! The sight of it makes the moment seem surreal. Everything moving in slow motion, and faster than she can take in, all at once.

He tears the packet open and rolls the condom over himself. Then he kneels between her legs. Places his hand over her, his thumb circling the place where she is still sensitive. His other hand holds onto his long cock, guiding it to her entrance.

He feels like this impossibly large mass, pressing against her in a way so foreign that she feels as if she’s watching from outside herself, outside her own reality. “So pretty,” he tells her softly, brushing one hand over her nipple, just the way he did before. Again it makes her writhe, and his tip dips inside.

Her eyes go wide, finding his.

“That hurt?” he asks, holding very still.

“No. Just- big.” He presses another inch forward against the resistance and she hisses as something inside pulls, strains, and breaks. Her hands fly up to his biceps and grip hard, keeping him still, while she whimpers.

His eyes are big, glassy. “I’m so sorry, love. Never took a girl’s cherry before. Fuck, I’m sorry. You want me to pull out…”

“NO!” she cuts him off, praying that he won’t move at all, until she can breathe again.

“Want me to move?”

“No, please…” She grips his arms harder.

“God! What can I do?”

She shakes out a breath, and the exhale lets her open to him a bit. It’s enough that she can release his arms and slide her hands over his chest. He leans down, and the shift feels even better. “Can you kiss me some more?”

He smiles, blinks slow, his eyes full of sweetness. “I can do that.” Then his mouth is on hers, working her over. His kisses are intoxicating. The way he moves his mouth makes her lose track of everything else in the world. His tongue plays slow and soft in her mouth, his hand on her breast, and then she can't be still. She feels a heat building, so she shifts her hips to ease it. Her movement elicits a groan from him, building the passion in her own body, so she does it again. Again. And again.

He is kissing her and she realizes he is making little pulses with his hips. He is moving inside her!

‘My God!’ she thinks, ‘Spike’s inside me!’ She marvels at the thought, again pulling back from her awareness in her body to a surreal, out-of-body state, to watch him move.

She opens her eyes, breaking their kiss. He pulls back, his eyes searching her face. “Still hurting?”

“Not as much. This feels good, Spike. Can we just do this?” She wriggles her hips, pressing herself upwards against his lower belly. His eyelids flutter a moment and he groans low in his throat.

“Not if you keep doing that. Killing me here, love.”

She is instantly terrified. “Am... am I awful?”

“God, NO! You’re so sweet, baby. Like candy, you are. The way you touch me, so gentle- the way your body holds me inside,” his eyes close again for a moment before he admits, “makes it hard to hold back. Never had it so sweet, Buffy.”

She almost can’t bear to ask. “Not even with…”

He swivels his hips, a slow glide, the barest movement in and out, and she feels it all through her hips and groin. “Never. She liked to hurt me…”

Her eyes fill with tears, her chest expanding with emotion. “I’ll never hurt you. I lo-"

He stops her words with his mouth, kissing her deeply, again and again. Then he’s starting to thrust, a slow push and pull of his hips that hurts where her body feels torn, but feels good deep inside. She can’t help making soft sighs and moans at every pulse. He drops his head beside her ear to whisper, “Jesus, Buffy! You’re so bloody tight. Are you close? Wanna make you feel good again, but I can’t hold back much longer…”

She’s embarrassed to say the words. She’s feeling sore inside now. She loves him and wants to make him feel good, so she makes herself say the new words. “Don’t hold back. C-come, Spike.”

He shudders, his whole body surging up so she can watch the lovely contractions of his chest and arm muscles, the tightness in his face, as he finds his release. Tears trickle out the corners of her eyes, overflowing with the emotion of the moment. Knowing she is his.

When he is finished, he lays down on her, breathing hard, kissing her cheek. He must feel the wetness on his face because he sits back quickly.

“You crying? Oh, Jesus! Did I hurt you?” His brows are furrowed, face full of concern.

“No,” she chuckles. “Well, okay- a little. But I’m all right.”

Disappointment shows on his face. “I’m sorry. Tried to wait for you, but…”

“It’s okay, really.”

He still looks like he’s upset with himself, but smiles for her sake. “Gonna pull out now, yeah?” When she nods, he reaches down to hold the condom and gasps.

“What? What is it?” She cannot imagine what might make him look like that- completely shocked and horrified!

“You’re bleeding! It got on the sheet…” He pulls back and out, making her body sting. Still, she’s sorry for the loss of his body within hers. Then he’s getting up, rolling the sheath off himself and grabbing for the tissues on her nightstand. “Best tidy that up before your mum sees and starts asking questions.”

He’s strange suddenly, distant and nervous. She looks down to see the circle of dark blood on the sheet, feels like it’s some strange marker of her new status.

Woman.
Adult.
Sexual.
HIS.

She almost doesn’t want to wash it.

He’s so rattled by it though, asking yet again, “You sure you’re ok? Hate thinking I hurt you- made you bleed like that…”

“Spike, I AM,” she tells him emphatically, “I really, REALLY am.” She smiles up at him, reassuring him, “I’ll take care of it. She’ll never know.”

He visibly relaxes, his shoulders dropping, his expression going soft and sweet again. “You’re amazing,” he tells her. He holds out a hand and when she takes it, he pulls her across the bed into his arms. He bends his head down to kiss her, his hands threaded in her hair, her hands holding his strong thighs. The kiss goes on and on, not asking for anything more. Just languishing in the feeling.

They stay like that until they hear Mrs. Price's car pull into the drive next door, their mothers' voices floating up to the window. Then they dress, shyly, kissing and touching, then swatting at each other after each article of clothing goes on. Finally they are dressed and laughing, sitting on Buffy’s bed, as they hear Joyce come in the front door.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

At 6:00, Buffy makes her way across her back yard to his house, carrying a picnic basket in the crook of one arm. She has on faded blue jeans and a light blue halter-top that ties at the back of her neck, a pair of white leather sandals on her feet. She’s left her hair down long around her face, wearing it just as she did when she was a teen. She’s even wearing the gold hoop earrings that were her favorite when she was 18; she was delighted to find them in her room earlier that afternoon.

She had showered when she got home, after giving her mom the barest summary of what had happened. Joyce was worried about Spike but was happy that Buffy was being so kind to him. Buffy left off telling her about the kiss, but had asked for help in getting their dinner ready.

Joyce helped her bake some chicken with honey to eat cold later and prepared a big noodle salad with soy sauce dressing and green onions. They stood close together in the kitchen, working in silence, Joyce packing the Tupperware bins into the picnic basket as Buffy chopped fruit for a fruit salad dessert.

Out of nowhere, Joyce asked, “Do you love him?”

Buffy nearly cut into the end of her finger with the paring knife. “Whoa! Geez, Mom, a little warning before you do that, huh?”

“Sorry. Oh Buffy, he’s so hurt right now. I’m not so sure this is a good idea.”

Buffy was immediately on the defense. “What? Bringing him food is bad?”

"He has plenty of food, and you know it. We both saw the casseroles people brought yesterday. C’mon- this is not about keeping him fed.”

Buffy took in a deep breath, exhaling slowly. “Yes.”

“No, it isn’t…”

“No. I mean, yes, I love him. I have for ages.”

Joyce stopped packing the basket and came around the island to sit on one of the bar stools. “He loves you, too.”

The words made Buffy’s throat tighten, her eyes sting with unshed tears. “He told you that?”

“Not in so many words. But I can see it. He’s been asking about you for years. He hasn’t dated anyone seriously since you went off to college. And the way he looked at you yesterday…”

Buffy stared down at the counter, afraid to hope, but unable to stop the feeling from rising.

Joyce scooped up the chopped fruit and put it into another Tupperware bowl, then added that to the basket. She shut the lid and slid it across the counter to Buffy, then covered one of Buffy’s hands with hers. “Tell him. Don’t wait. He needs to hear it.” She paused, leaning over to kiss Buffy’s forehead. “And so do you.”

A long tear tracked down her cheek as she looked up. “Thanks, Mom.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Buffy thinks of her mother’s advice as she knocks on the screen door on Spike’s back porch. She waits, looking up at the sky, the sun moving lower toward the tree line. After a minute or so, she knocks again, harder. Still no response.

She sets the basket down on the porch and walks around the side of the house by the garage. He is there, crouched beside his old motorcycle, wearing jeans and a black tee shirt. And he’s re-dyed his hair a shock of white blonde. It is slicked back with gel, thick comb lines defining it into pieces.

Her breath catches. From behind, he looks so much like he did at 18, all long lean lines and tight muscle. Memories of that last year of high school flood in.

He must hear her sharp in-breath because he jumps up and turns. Seeing it’s her, he relaxes, jamming his hands into his pockets and ducking his head.

“Hello, Buffy.”

“Hello, yourself! Wow. You took a trip in the way-back machine today, huh?”

He runs one of his hands over his hair. “Yeah. Been a few months since I bothered. Was looking pretty bad, so I thought it was time I took care of it.”

“You look good,” she tells him, the corners of her mouth turning up.

He smiles then and looks her over. “You too. Very pretty.”

Her belly flutters at the compliment. “You still have your bike?” she asks, gesturing at it with a jerk of her chin, trying to find something neutral to talk about until she can settle her nerves.

“Yeah. Haven’t had it out more than twice this year though.” He pauses, looking it over appraisingly, then turns to her. “You want to go for a spin?”

She’s never ridden on the bike with him. That was always Dru’s place, on the back of that machine, wound around him. But she has always wanted to ride with him. She pictures pressing herself up against his back, her arms around him while they fly through the air. It takes less than a second for her to make up her mind.

“I’d love to.” She knows she’s grinning like a kid.

Her smile must be contagious, because he is suddenly smiling wide, too. It’s the first real smile she’s seen on him since she’s been away. He’s so strikingly handsome that she resolves to make him smile a whole lot more often. “Let me lock the house, and we’ll go.”

As he turns to head for the back yard, she remembers the picnic basket. She follows behind him, calling his name. He stops short and turns to her so fast that she bangs into him, nearly toppling over. His hands grab her biceps to steady her, and then she’s inches from him, looking into his eyes, a bolt of adrenaline running through her.

He hesitates for a few seconds. Then he’s kissing her, hard. Her hands fall to his hips, pulling him in close. His hands slide up to her shoulders, his mouth desperate and hungry on hers. He drops his head to the side, kissing down her cheek to her neck.

“You came back. Was afraid you wouldn’t come,” he breathes into the joining of her neck and shoulder.

“I told you, I’m here for you now,” she reassures him, rubbing her hands in circles over his back and shoulder.

“Yeah,” he says, “you did.” His tone remains uncertain. She knows she can’t convince him with words; building this new trust between them will take time. He kisses back up her neck and over her cheek, finding his way back to her mouth. He lingers there now, giving her gentle nibbles and pecks full of tenderness.

“You called me?” he finally pauses to ask.

She has to blink hard to clear her thoughts. All these years and his kisses still leave her reeling. “Oh, right. Our dinner. I left it on the back porch. Can we put it in the fridge until we get back?”

“Sure. I’ll take care of it.” He pulls away reluctantly, sliding his hands down her arms to squeeze her hands before letting go.

He’s only gone a few minutes. He walks back, his head held a little higher, the corners of his mouth rounded up.

His leather duster flaps around his legs.

She can’t breathe. Oh, God, it’s her Spike, her first love, the one who can quote Shakespeare and Sid Vicious, the first boy she kissed, her first lover. The Spike who broke her heart.

She must be staring because he halts when he sees her expression, his smile faltering and his insecurity returning. “Not a good idea then. I’ll just go put it away…”

She grabs for him, latching onto that familiar soft leather sleeve cuff. “No, don’t. Please. You just surprised me, that’s all. Please leave it on.”

A slow smirk spreads his lips thin. It makes her knees buckle. It’s only there for a few moments before his shy smile reappears, making little crinkles fan out from the corners of his eyes. He chuckles lightly, looking down. “Guess the bad boy look still has its charms. C’mon, Buffy.”

He throws one leg over the bike, the coat following in a broad arc. He settles down on the seat and revs the motorcycle to life. Then he peeks over his shoulder, beckoning her with a jerk of his head. “Hop on, pet.”

Oh, the endearment goes right to her sex. She holds his shoulder to steady herself as she settles behind him on the seat. She reaches around him, wrapping her arms around his waist, pressing her hands to the hard ridges of his abs. Desire floods through her, remembering the way his belly looks when he’s shirtless, the way it feels, naked under her hands. She longs to pull his shirt out of his pants and touch his bare skin right now. Her excitement makes her tighten her legs, pulling them in close against his hard thighs.

When he revs the engine again she finds another surprise. The machine is vibrating! Her legs are open wide, her breasts pressed against his back, the smell of his leather coat filling her nostrils, her hands gripping his tight, hot body, her tender parts excited by the vibration of the powerful engine. A laugh bubbles up in her throat.

“What?” he asks over his shoulder.

She shakes her head, still giggling. “Nothing. I’m… happy.”

She sees his ears and cheeks rise in another smile. She loves making him do that. “Good. Now, hang on tight,” he warns, then peels out of the driveway, making her hair fly out behind her.

* * * * * * * * * *

They pull back into the drive an hour later. They hadn’t talked much during the drive but rather had enjoyed the slowly fading light and the warmth of each other’s bodies. The pleasure of touching each other once again. Stars winked into view overhead, a full harvest moon rising over the horizon, the cool night air smelling faintly of cut grass and the ocean’s salty spray.

Spike pulls the bike to a stop in front of the garage. His voice is thick and deep when he speaks, “That felt good.”

His feet are down on the ground; he’s waiting for her to dismount. Her legs are jellied, her parts swollen with excitement from the vibration of the machine and the feel of her body pressed to his for the last hour. She doesn’t want to let go. Doesn’t want to move.

She takes a breath, mustering courage, and then slides her hands down to cover the sharp points of his hipbones. “It still does.”

He inhales sharply, dropping one of his hands to her knee. “Buffy?”

“Can we go inside? Now?" she asks pointedly.

He looks back at her, his lips parted, his eyelids heavy. “Was hopin’ you’d say that.”

She gets off the bike; he follows. The second he’s got the bike up on the kickstand, Spike whips around and grabs her by the waist, hauls her close and kisses her with an open mouth. His hands at her lower back press her against him. She can feel he’s hard already. Her hands dive under his duster, at last pulling his shirt out of his pants, gliding her fingertips along the skin of his back under his tee. He brings one hand up to cup her breast through her shirt.

She pulls back a bit, panting. “We better get inside, or we’re gonna give your neighbors a show. And seeing as my MOM is one of your neighbors…”

“Too right. Let’s go.” They lurch backwards, still kissing and groping, stumbling up the back steps.

There’s no hesitancy now. As soon as they are inside, he drops his duster to the floor, yanking his shirt up and off. He reaches behind her neck to untie her halter-top as she fumbles with his belt. Her top falls down her chest, revealing her breasts. His hands fly to them, cupping and squeezing, as he kisses her wildly. It takes her several tries to get his jeans undone, but then with a ferocious yank she gets them open, tugging them downward hard. They slide down his legs as his quick fingers open her trousers and pull them down, too.

She locks her hands behind his neck as he lifts her with a grunt. He sets her onto the counter, and looking in her eyes, his pupils huge with desire, he surges up into her.

Her eyes won’t stay open with the flood of sensation. She’s filled up with him, in her body and heart. To be connected like this after so long, is almost too much. She’s surprised at the sob that wrenches its way out of her.

His face is tipped up toward heaven, his mouth dropped open. He is everything she has ever wanted. The only one. Her heart feels fractured and overflowing at the same time.

He is talking to her, making her dizzy with his litany of curses and pleas. “Oh, Buffy. Oh Christ. So good. Still so sweet. Fuck me now.” She’s full of his thickness, aching to rush toward release, but wanting this moment to go on forever.

He drives into her, begging, “Please, oh please, oh please!” His tone is needy and pained, so she bucks against him, trying to give him more. She clamps down on him inside, making him groan. “Yes, yes. Need you. Need more. Please…”

She can barely speak, she is so close to climax and overwrought with emotion. “Please what, Spike? Tell me what you need.”

“Tell me,” he repeats. She opens her eyes when she feels his chest shuddering. He’s crying. “Please, tell me…” he trails off, unable to make words anymore.

She slows her movements as her pulls her closer, his hands under her ass. She wants to take away his pain, draw it into herself like drawing off poison. She hears him whispering into her shoulder, little pleas so desperate that just the tone of his voice makes her heart hurt.

She pulls back a little, catching his gaze. “I’m here. Right here. For you. Tell me what you need. I’ll give it to you. God, Spike, I’ll give you anything.”

The tear tracks on his face are slivery in the light. “Tell me… you love me. Please, I need to hear you say it.”

She cups his face, trying to push her words through to him so he will believe. “You are the only man I’ve ever loved. I have never loved anyone else.”

His face contorts with grief, and he clings to her, frantic. “Don’t leave me, please. God, don’t leave me, Buffy.”

She kisses his face, tasting the salt of his tears on her lips. “I’ll never leave you again. I love you.”

His mouth finds hers, his tongue moving in her mouth in time with his renewed thrusts. She cannot hold off any longer. As she comes, fluttering around him, he finds his release, spilling into her, holding her ass so hard she’s sure she’ll be bruised tomorrow.

He slips out of her and carries her down to the floor. He stretches out his legs, laying her back over one of his thighs, making her back bow. He dives over her, kissing down her body delicately. Reverentially.

He worships every place he can touch with his mouth, from her fingertips to her nipples, the round of her kneecap to between her legs. He settles in between her bent knees and worships her with his lush, pouty mouth, his talented tongue, his long fingers, until she is limp from wave after wave of bliss. Then he rises up over her and glides in again, soft and slow, undulating his hips, rocking her up to meet his pulses.

“I want to be inside you forever. Just. Like. This,” he says, using long strokes to tease her back up.

“Yes…” is all she can manage anymore.

“Will you let me, Buffy? Let me love you? Say you’re mine now.”

She knows he’s close again. He is thick and heavy inside her, his eyes dark with his impending climax. He reaches down between their bodies to stroke her. He’s not forgotten. He knows just how to please her.

She clamps down on him and quakes. “Yours, Spike. I’m yours.”

Then he’s crying as he jets into her with long, slow strokes. When he’s done, he melts his body over hers and kisses her face, his hand resting over one nipple. She strokes his hair, making shushing noises into his forehead, until he falls asleep holding onto her as if she was a life raft.

Chapter 9

From two weeks before Christmas until after New Year, Spike spends nearly every afternoon after school in Buffy’s room. He comes under the pretense of studying for finals, looking at college catalogues, watching movies, any excuse he can find. He saunters in, kicking the door shut behind him and flops on her bed, yanking her down to lie atop him. He fists her hair and kisses her with an open mouth, tongue playing with hers, hands roaming over her body.

Some days that’s all they do- kissing and touching. Sometimes they cannot wait to get their clothes off, tearing at them until they are both naked and gasping, barely enough time to get a condom on before he is inside her, both moving fast and hard, desperate with need. And some days, they spend hours slowly licking and sucking each other, content to taste and please each other with mouths and tongues.

But at school, it’s a different story. He swaggers around with his punk friends, smoking in the hall between classes and taking verbal pot shots at cheerleaders. If he sees her in the hall, he doesn’t make eye contact. He avoids her between classes and at lunch.

She knows he’s ashamed to be seen with her. She isn’t cool, isn’t pretty or special. She wishes she was. She wants to walk to her locker with his arm draped over her shoulders, let everyone see him kiss her before she walks into study hall. Wants the world to know he owns her heart and body.

Instead she takes the attention she gets from him in her room, in their own little world. She lets herself be covered by his scent. He fills her up with the pretty words he whispers in her ear when he’s inside her body. He calls her “sweetheart”, “baby”. He sighs out words of passion, dirty things that make her quiver in excitement and embarrassment. He tells her she “tastes like heaven” and has a “pretty wet pussy” he could stay inside forever.

When he does her slow, it makes her cry. She aches to tell him she loves him, but she never does, not since that first time. She’s waiting for him to say it back, to come to her outside of her room, to claim her as his to his friends.

* * * * *

For Christmas she gives him a leather-bound copy of Shakespeare’s complete works, which she found in an antique bookstore. He looks awestruck, his lower lip trembling as he tears open the wrapping paper. He has no gift for her, so instead he lifts her in his arms and kisses her slow and soft, just the way she likes best, until she is light headed. When he leaves late on Christmas Eve, she buries her face in her pillow, breathing in his hair gel and deodorant scents on her sheets.

As the New Year begins, she notices he comes around less. He cuts classes they have together, is always pulling pranks with his friends. She wonders at the difference between the delinquent, punk boy Spike at school, and the tender Spike who gives her butterfly kisses on her belly after they make love.

But then he disappears, doesn’t come to her for a few weeks. They both are busy with schoolwork and filling out applications to college. Many of her teachers offer her recommendations, praising her intelligence and promise. But she is afraid of leaving. She fantasizes about him asking her to marry him, staying with him and not going off to school. “Mrs. William Price”. She writes it over and over inside the cover of her English Lit notebook.

When February comes, the snow is more than a foot deep on the ground. Buffy longs for spring, for flowers and green grass. For the Prom. He hasn’t asked her, but she knows he will. She goes to the Mall and looks at the prom dresses. Stands in front of the three angled mirrors in the dressing room and admires herself in tulle and chiffon. She spins, watching the skirt flare out, imagining being folded in his arms as they dance.

For Valentine’s Day, she makes him a card. It’s red glossy paper with bits of lace and glitter gel she’s glued on. She practiced using her mom’s calligraphy pen over and over, until she could write “I love you” in flowing script across the front. She plans to leave it on his car seat. After school, she sneaks between cars in the school parking lot, crouched low and headed towards his Desoto. But four cars away, she stops dead in her tracks.

He is inside his car, sitting in the driver’s seat, resting his wrist on the steering wheel. Dru is in the passenger seat, her face lined with tears, her hand covering his on the wheel. He is looking down, his eyelashes fluttering, his lower lip trembling.

Buffy can’t move; it’s as if she’s turned to stone. She stays down low for a long time as she watches them talk, her shins and calves aching. Then Dru leans over, kissing his cheek as his eyes fall closed. Buffy feels her pulse race, the tears falling before she even felt them coming. Her hands shake and the homemade card falls to the ground, forgotten. As Dru settles back in the passenger seat, Spike starts the car. When the car pulls away, rounding the turn out of the parking lot, Buffy stands and blindly walks through the parked cars to the curb by the road. Silently crying and shivering, she sits and waits for her mom to come pick her up, her backside wet and cold in the snow.

A large shadow looms over her. She closes her eyes, dropping her chin to her chest and letting her hair fall around her. She doesn’t want anyone to see her like this. But then there are warm, big hands touching her shoulders. She looks up then to see Angel crouching on one side of her, and Wes sitting on the other.

Angel and Wes are the two out gay boys at school. They were outed by the football team, treated with derision and scorn for the last year and a half. Buffy only knows them as acquaintances, but she likes them both. They have always been kind to her.

Wes’ soft accent rounds off his words. “We saw. We’re so sorry.”

Buffy wipes at her eyes with the back of her hand, tosses her hair back. “Saw what? I don’t know what you mean.”

Angel sits beside her in the snow, wincing at the cold. “Buffy. C’mon. We know. We’ve seen how you look at Spike.” He chuckles, his gaze flickering up to Wes’ for a moment. “Hell, it’s how we used to look at Spike. We saw Dru get in the car with him.”

Her lip is starting to tremble. She is fighting like mad to keep it in, to hold it back.

“I- I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she protests again.

“It’s okay,” Wes assures her, “we’ve all had a crush on him.”

“But he’s MINE!” The words leap out before she can stop them.

“Buffy,” Angel coos, covering one of her gloved hands with his bare one, “I know you want him to notice you, but-”

She knows there’s no way to hold it back. The tears are flowing like a flood, her nose is running, her voice spilling out of her. All her secrets fall out in an endless stream. It is both a relief and enormously painful all at once. “No, no! He’s with me, he’s been with me, been with me since school started and nobody knows. I-I love him, and he’s mine, not hers, not hers…” She can’t say any more beyond that. She’s sobbing wildly, her hands covering her face. Angel pulls her close, folding her into his big chest and arms, wrapping her up tight.

“Oh. OH! Crap! We didn’t know. You- just let it all out now. It’s okay.”

She hears Wes swear under his breath, “Bastard,” but it only makes her cry harder. She feels Wes patting her back, Angel’s chest rising and falling under her wet cheek. She stays there in their comforting arms, until her mother comes and takes her home.

* * * * *

Buffy spends the rest of the week in school with her head down, nose to the grindstone, working like mad on schoolwork and college apps. She applies to schools in Boston and New York, Houston and Santa Cruz. Everywhere. Anywhere but here, where he is.

A week after she sees Dru kissing Spike in his car, Dru corners Buffy by her locker between classes.

“Hello, Buffy.” Dru’s hair falls long and shiny black around her pale face. Her clothes all look new- an ankle length black skirt and a red gauzy blouse. She is wearing makeup- dark eye shadow and a berry colored stain on her lips. She regards Buffy with an almost shy demeanor.

Buffy is stunned at Dru’s greeting. She can’t make her feet move or her mouth work. She feels painfully drab in her jeans and white cowl neck sweater. And she’s more than a little afraid of Dru; she’s seen her hurt Spike with her hands and nails, with venomous words.

“Spike tells me you two have been close this year.” Dru says. “He’s always thought well of you. And I went through some bad times over the summer. But I love him. And now, he’s come back to me, as he should. He is my sweet, darling boy. We belong together, my Spike and me. Thank you, Buffy, for being his friend while I was away.”

It’s as if something inside Buffy has gone numb, died. She hears herself say the words, but it doesn’t feel like it’s her speaking.

“You’re welcome.”

Dru smiles at her with lips closed, looking pleased, before walking away.

Buffy just barely makes it to the bathroom before she is sick into the toilet. She washes out her mouth after, then walks right out. Out one of the side doors of the school and off campus. Walks all the way home and climbs into bed, staying there until her mom comes home that night and hold her while she cries herself to sleep.

* * * * *

At the end of March, the daffodils come up out of the ground. Spring vacation starts. At the end of vacation week is the Prom. Angel and Wes ask Buffy to go with them. They visited her every day through February and March, studied with her, took her to movies with them. The three have become fast friends. They tell Buffy about their plans to open an art gallery one day, a partnership of Angel’s artistic talent and eye and Wes’ head for business. Their endless, playful verbal sparring keeps Buffy laughing, hopeful that there is still a chance for love in the world.

Buffy chooses a long white A-line gown to wear to the Prom with the boys. They are both wearing white on white tuxes, stunningly handsome when they pick her up at her house. They offer her a white gardenia corsage, fragrant and elegant.

When they walk to the limo parked on the curb, Buffy sees Spike getting into his car in the driveway next door. It is the first time she has looked at him in five weeks. He is wearing a traditional tux, his hair gelled artfully in a mass of spikes and curls, his rented shoes shined and clacking on the sidewalk. Her breath catches in her throat at his beauty. She longs to go to him, just to talk to him for a minute, to hear his voice, smell his scent, press her cheek against his and tell him once more how much she loves him.

As she imagines this, it’s as if he hears her thoughts. He stops, his hand on his car door handle, and turns. His mouth falls open when he sees her. He blinks slowly, looking her up and down, his eyes looking sad. Then he purses his lips, presses them tightly together, and gets into the car to drive away.

She feels Angel and Wes each take one of her elbows, holding her up, leading her into the limo. “C’mon. Let’s go,” Wes tells her, his voice soft, full of compassion.

* * * * *

The hotel ballroom is lavishly decorated for the Prom. Wes and Angel take turns dancing with Buffy and each other, keeping Buffy on the dance floor until her feet are aching in her high heels. A little before eleven she decides to sit a few dances out. As she is crossing toward the tables, she sees Spike and Dru on the dance floor. Spike is standing rigidly still, his face tense, as Dru spins and writhes around him. He reaches for her, clearly trying to get her to slow down, to stop, but she slips away, mocking taking a bite at his hand.

Spike sees Buffy across the dance floor. His eyes find hers, and they look desperate. Pleading. Buffy feels as if she cannot breathe. Then he’s crossing the floor, leaving Dru behind, headed straight for her. “

Hello, Buffy,” he greets her, sounding shy.

“Hey.” She doesn’t want to look in his piercing blue eyes, but, oh, she cannot help it. Her stomach twists in nervousness.

“You look- wow. Really beautiful.”

“Thank you. So do you. I mean, handsome. Well, you know…”

“Yeah.”

Dru sidles up beside Spike, pressing herself tightly against his side. Buffy thinks Dru’s eyes seem strange- swimmy and unfocused, more than a little wild. “Well, well, found the little princess after all, didn’t you my William. Can’t resist walking in the sun.” She slaps at his chest so hard that he flinches. “Naughty boy! You know we are meant for the dark. All black. I can see it, you know. The blackness, creeping from your insides, out. Covering you.” Dru brings her hands up to either side of her face, clutching her head so hard that her cheeks press in with the pressure.

Spike looks at Buffy again, his expression desperate. “Help me?” he pleads, softly. His voice is quiet in the dim of the music and conversations around them. But Buffy hears him.

Unfortunately, so does Dru.

“She can’t help you now, can you little princess? Too late. He’s broken your cherry and broken your heart, didn’t he Buffy? I know it all. I see what you want. You want him to be your shining knight. But he can’t,” Dru slides one hand up Spike’s cheek, her nails raking his skin, and he flinches away, “can you, my darling? Can’t let yourself love her, can you. He never did tell you he loves you, did he? That’s because he knows- his heart is MINE.”

At that, Buffy can’t hold back the sobs that have been building in her chest. Her eyes overflow as she steps back. “Please, leave me alone. I have to go.” Then she is running toward the dance floor, bumping into the couples crushed together for a slow dance, until she finds Angel and Wes, at the far corner by the stage, dancing together in the shadows.

“I want to go home. Now. Please, please!” She is wild, crying, begging, tugging at Angel’s sleeve.

“Buffy? What’s happened?”

“Nothing. I don’t want to talk about it. I just want to go home. Please, take me home now?”

Wes is already grabbing his jacket and putting it on. “Of course, Buffy. Do you have your things?”

“Yes, yes. Let’s go.”

The boys bring her back home, holding her as she cries quietly and whispers to herself, again and again repeating the same phrase.

“He never loved me.”

* * * * *

Sometime after 2 am, Buffy’s mom comes into her room. She sits on her bed and wakes her with a caress over her hair.

“Sweetie? Someone’s here to see you. I know you might not want to see him right now, but he really needs you.”

Buffy sits up, rubbing her achy, swollen eyes. “Who is it?”

“It’s Spike. He’s downstairs, in the kitchen. He’s been banging on the back door for a while. At first I didn’t want to let him in, what with everything you told me, but … something has happened, Buffy. Something terrible. He needs you; he needs all of us right now.”

Buffy gets up and puts on her robe over her sweat pants and tee shirt, follows her mom downstairs to the kitchen.

He is sitting at the table, still in his tux, with his shirt unbuttoned, and the tie undone. His hair is a mess, as if he’s been running his hands through it over and over. His body looks collapsed, broken.

“Spike? What’s going on?”

“It’s all my fault, you see. I never should have believed her. I knew she couldn’t do it, but God!” he trails off, leaving Buffy confused.

“I don’t understand, Spike. What’s your fault?”

“Dru. She came to my house for New Year’s. Told me she had quit using. That she did it for me. That I was her one true love, couldn’t live without me. Begged me to take her back…”

Buffy doesn’t want to hear it. His words are like physical blows. But he’s flowing now, the story spilling out of him like water rushing out of a hole in a dam.

She said if I didn’t take her back, she would start up again. Or off herself. I didn’t want her, but I couldn’t let her go back. For a while, she seemed okay. I thought, if I could just stick it out long enough for her to get healthy, she’d see we weren’t right together anymore. But, she didn’t see. All she saw was… well, YOU, pet. She was jealous. Threatened to hurt you. And me. And herself.” He sucks in a shuddering breath before continuing, his eyes staring ahead at nothing. “And then tonight, she was so doped up. Dunno what she took. When we left the hotel so I could take her home, she attacked me. Her mouth got all foamy. She fell to the ground, started shaking, twitching… God! I didn’t know what to do! I ran into the hotel and asked someone to call 911. But by the time I got back to her, she was gone. I could tell. The ambulance came, but it was too late.” He looks up at Buffy, looking lost. “Dru’s dead.”

The words hit her in the chest like a stone. She steps back, lowering herself into a chair.

She is stunned. Her heart hammering, she watches him watching her. Sees him looking for sympathy and comfort.

But all she feels is relief.

And when she realizes she is almost glad at the news, a wave of horror washes over her. Guilt crashes down. She can’t look at him. She folds into herself, feeling hate for herself, for Dru, and for him, at making her think such evil thoughts. She is furious at him for hurting her, for leaving her, and then expecting her to console him over the person he left her for.

She rises up out of the chair. She feels her mother coming to stand behind her.

“I’m sorry, Spike. That’s really awful,” she says, her tone cold. “I’m sorry you’ve lost your girlfriend.” He winces at her words. “But it’s very late. I think you should go home.”

“Buffy!” Joyce chides her. “William, you are welcome to stay. Can I make you something?”

Spike keeps his eyes fixed on Buffy. He looks shattered, full of pain. He rises up out of his chair, headed for the door. “No, thank you, Mrs. Summers. I think I should be off.” His tone is brittle and desperate as he opens the door and says, “Good night, Buffy.”

She doesn’t answer. She reaches down and picks up his water glass from the table, preparing to bus it away.

When the back door clicks shut, Buffy takes the glass and hurls it hard. It shatters on the wall, the water exploding all over the wall and floor.

“BUFFY!” Joyce shouts, “What the HELL do you think you are doing? What is wrong with you? Your behavior to William was awful!”

“Yeah, and he’s been so great to me!” Buffy screams back, hoping he hears her as he’s walking back to his house. “Look Mom, you have no idea what you’re talking about, so you should just leave it alone, okay?”

“Well then, why don’t you tell me? I’m in the dark here Buffy. You never talk to me anymore. Tell me what’s going on?”

“I can’t!” Buffy shouts, but the anger is fading. Pain is surging up. She tries to stuff it down, but oh, it’s winning. “I can’t…”

Joyce walks forward and takes Buffy’s hands in hers. “Of course you can. You can tell me anything.”

Buffy’s face twists and contorts, and then she’s weeping. The words spill out. Everything from their first kiss to admitting that she’s had sex with him to his betrayal with Dru.

Joyce says nothing. She takes Buffy into her arms and holds her as she cries, her heart breaking as she realizes her little girl has grown up.

* * * * *

Two days later, Joyce and Buffy go to Dru’s funeral, along with most of the rest of the High School kids and their families. Joyce holds Buffy’s hand through the whole thing. They both watch Spike stand beside his mom, near the front of the church, dressed in a somber black suit. He doesn’t cry, hardly moves at all. He simply stares ahead, looking numb, as his mother rubs his arm and fusses with his collar.

After the service, Mrs. Price finds the Summer’s women outside. She says nothing, but presses a kiss to Buffy’s cheek, pats Joyce’s hand. It is that tenderness that brings the sting of tears behind Buffy’s eyes.

Spike trails behind his mother. He’s taken off his tie, jammed his hands into his pockets.

He looks lost, hollowed out, desperate for the littlest sliver of kindness. He looks into her eyes, and she can see his apology there. She can’t take it yet. She needs some space, some time to pass. So she looks away, squeezing her mom’s hand to let her know she wants to go.

It is the last time she sees Spike before she leaves for college.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Buffy wakes to the sun shining in her face. Her body aches as she opens her eyes, squinting against the glare.

She finds herself still on the floor, her body entwined with Spike’s, one of his hands on her lower belly just above her sex. His head is resting on her upper arm and that arm is completely asleep.

She tries to slide it out, but she can’t move. So instead, she watches him. His face is relaxed. He looks so much younger, the tension around his mouth and eyes smoothed away in his slumber. She brings her free hand up, running the pad of her thumb over his eyebrow, down the edge of his cheekbone, over the fullness of his lower lip. So soft, she thinks. She leans in, turning toward him, and kisses him lightly.

He stirs, kissing back sleepily. The corners of his mouth turn up as his eyes flutter open.

“Hey,” she greets him with a soft smile.

“Hey yourself.” He nuzzles into her shoulder, inhaling. “Mmm. You smell good,” he tells her, his voice deep and thick with sleep.

“Sure I do…” she says, rolling her eyes.

He lowers his head, brushing his lips over one breast. “Taste good, too,” he tells her, mouthing her nipple until it stands up sharply. She sighs, gliding her free hand over his chest and down, grazing his tight belly. She reaches down lower, taking him in her hand.

His hands dip between her legs, teasing her gently to heavy, slick arousal, as he comes back up to kiss her, slowly and softly.

When she is gasping, he guides himself up to his knees, kneeling between her legs. Positioning himself at her entrance, he opens his heavy eyes and looks into hers.

“Tell me again. Please?”

“I love you.”

He glides in, thrusting long and slow, easing her up and up. He makes love to her as if time doesn’t exist, as if they are the only two people in the world. He covers her in kisses and whispers, his hands and long fingers teasing more pleasure out of her, wherever he can reach to touch her.

She wraps her legs around the backs of his thighs, letting him in deep. He groans, his eyes darkening with pleasure.

“My sweet girl. Never letting you go now.”

“Spike?” she asks, rising up to her release, “Do you… love me?”

He stops his thrusts, lowering his face to inches above hers. “Buffy, I have always loved you. There has never been anyone else,” he tells her, echoing her words from the night before.

Then he glides up inside her to the hilt, hitting her sweet spot, careening her into orgasm. Her climax triggers his own. He barely moves his hips, but she feels him empting into her as he kisses her over and over.

They lie there for several minutes, kissing as they breathe hard, unwilling to separate.

When he softens and slips out, he rolls to the side. They both groan at the same time, then look at each other and chuckle.

“This floors’ not the best place to spend the night, is it?”

“Not so much. I’m a little achy,” she grins at him.

He grabs his tee shirt from the floor and wipes himself down, then gets up to get a box of tissues for her. She cleans herself, sits up and stretches out the kinks in her muscles and joints.

When her arms are over her head in a long stretch, he swoops in to grab her, lifting her and wrapping her legs around his lean hips. He stands, walks over to flop down onto the couch, burying his face in her neck and nibbling on her earlobe. “What shall we do today then?”

“I’m thinking shower and coffee are at the top of the list,” she laughs, running her hands over his biceps and shoulders.

“Mmm, shower sounds good. You all slippery, soapy,” he licks up the side of her neck, making her squirm. “GOD, I’m happy,” he tells her, coming back in to kiss her mouth again. “Then what?”

She smiles against his lips, running her hands through his wildly curled hair.

“Then, I should probably call the office and let them know when I’ll be back.”

He stops kissing her and leans back against the couch cushions. “Back?” he asks.

“Yeah. I think I can get away with one more day, but then Wes and Angel are gonna be calling every five minutes after that.” She laughs. “They really are a mess without me.” She sees he is looking away, his expression turned serious. “What?” she asks.

“You’re going back- what? Tomorrow?” He looks up into her eyes. He looks wounded, blinking at her, awaiting her reply, his shoulders rounding forward as if to protect himself.

She brings her hands up to cup his face, looks into his eyes. “Spike. I need to go back to work. They count on me to keep the gallery running. But I’m not LEAVING, leaving. I’ll be back. You know, I only live 45 minutes away from here. I’ll be back this weekend.”

He slides her off his lap, setting her feet down. Then he inches to the side, getting off the couch and grabbing for his pants on the floor. He pulls them on, avoiding her gaze.

“Yeah. You got obligations. I understand. You… don’t have to come back. It’s okay Buffy. I get it. I’m glad for what we had.”

“Spike, no. Wait…” she tries to speak, but he cuts her off.

“It’s all right. I should get back to work myself, managing the rehab clinic. Been away as long as Mum has been sick. Willow’s done a great job keepin’ it going, but I really need to get back to it.”

“No. You should take as long as you need to. You’ve been through so much…” He interrupts her again.

“Yeah. I have. Thanks for this, Buffy. It was,” his voice is brittle as he chokes out, “nice. But I think you should go now.”

“Spike, no, please. I love you. Me needing to check back with work doesn’t change that. I promise, I’m NOT leaving you. I’ll be back this weekend. Can’t we spend today together?”

He doesn’t answer for the longest time. He stands there, his chest rising and falling his fists opening and closing by his sides. His mouth working as he tries to make words come out.

Finally he says, “I know you think you love me. But you don’t. I’m bad, Buffy. I’m a bad man. I was back then, and I am still. I hear you say you’ll come back, but we both know you won’t.”

“I will-“

“I love you. So help me God, I love you so much, sometimes I think it’ll break me. I always did. But I was never good enough for you, love. So I think it’s best if you go now. Go back to your life.” He hands her clothes to her, looking away. “You’ll be better off without me.” With that, he grabs his duster and puts it on over his bare chest, then walks away, right out the front door. She hears him start his motorcycle, rev the engine, and peel out into the street, riding away from her.

She dresses slowly, stunned. She takes a half an hour to tidy up the room, hoping he will come back. He doesn’t. Her body and heart aching, she finally heads back home, locking his front door behind her.

Chapter 10

Spike rides for hours, feeling the power of his motorcycle surging beneath him. His duster flaps behind him, his chest bare to the warm wind flowing under the coat. He rides down the highway to the coastal road, leaning into the wide curves. The salty air fills his nostrils, the sound of the waves rolling in quiet under the thrum of his bike.

He parks his bike in a little inlet and walks down the stairs to the sandy white beach. Pulls off his coat and balls it up to place under his head. He lies down on the sand, burrowing his toes deep to where the sand is cool and damp. He closes his eyes and breathes in the fresh air.

He hears her voice in his head, her assurances of love and commitment to be with him. He wants to believe it, so badly. But every woman has left him for his stupid mistakes, for his inability to give enough, be enough.

Spike digs his fingers into the sand, the grains burying under his fingernails. His body aches from sleeping on the floor, and from using muscles in his hips and back as they made love that he hasn’t used in years. He can see her face as she climaxed for him, over and over. Her full lips open, breath panting as she gasped out his name, called out her love for him.

If only she meant it. If only she wanted that every day, as he did.

He would buy a ring. He would ask her to marry him. He would give her his home, his heart, his life.

If only.

* * * * *

It is nearly dusk when Spike drives back into his driveway. He looks over to The Summers’ house and sees Buffy’s car is gone. His chest aches with disappointment and pain.

As he parks the bike in front of the garage, he sees Joyce come out of her back door and head toward him. She is carrying a sealed envelope. Right away, he recognizes Buffy’s handwriting on the front.

“Hello, William. Am I interrupting you?” she asks.

“No, of course not, Mrs. Summers. You’re always welcome.”

He dismounts his motorcycle and puts it up on the center stand. He pulls his duster over himself, trying to cover himself. “Sorry. I'm not really dressed for company.”

“It’s all right. Here,” she holds out the envelope to him. “Buffy asked me to give this to you. She says she’ll be back Friday afternoon.” He takes the envelope and stuffs it inot the inside pocket of his duster.

“Thanks. I’m sorry. Will you excuse me? Been out all day and I really need to shower and eat.”

“Of course. But I wanted to ask you over to dinner.” She grins and raises her eyebrows conspiratorially. “I made your favorite… my special BBQ ribs and potato salad. Will you come for that?”

He's a bit surprised at the invite, but he is hungry. And grateful that she would prepare his favorite meal. He accepts. “Let me clean up a bit and I’ll be over, yeah?”

Joyce beams at him. “Of course. I’ll keep your plate warm in the oven for you.”

He can’t help but smile back. “You know you’re the best mum ever, don’t you?”

He smile softens to one of gentle affection. “I would consider myself lucky to have a son like you, William.” She gives his shoulder a pat, then heads back across his back lawn to her house.

* * * * *

Freshly showered with his hair still damp, wearing jeans and a black tee, Spike knocks on the back door of the Summers’ house. Waiting for Joyce to come and let him in, he thinks of all the times he has stood here, waiting for Buffy to come to the door. To lead him up to her room so he could kiss her breathless, make love to her on her flowered sheets.

He thinks if he could go back, he would do it all differently. He would tell her he loved her, every single day. He would never have let Dru convince him that she would kill herself if he didn’t take her back. He would have been a man, took a stand.

Maybe then they all would be happy.

Joyce opens the door with a warm smile and welcomes him in. The kitchen smells wonderful. She has set him a plate on the island, with a tall glass of homemade iced tea beside it.

Joyce sees him eyeing the plate and nudges him to sit. “Go ahead. You don’t have to be polite here. You know that.”

“Thanks,” he replies with a shy smile, then digs into the food.

“It's delicious!” he praises her, with his mouth still full.

She simply chuckles, shaking her head as he shovels the food in. “I will never know where you put it, William,” she jokes.

When he is finished, she takes his plate away, rinsing it and putting it in the dishwasher. Then she sits beside him on a stool at the island.

She wastes no time. “Do you love her?” she asks.

Spike startles at the question. “What?”

“It’s not a complicated question, William. Do you love my daughter?”

He takes a deep breath, holding it in a moment before replying, “Yes. Very much.”

“Good. Because she is completely in love with you. Now granted, I don’t know everything that happened between you two,” He starts to interrupt, but she cuts him off, holding up one hand. “Ah-ah-ah. Just let me say what I need to say here.” He closes his mouth, looking down and folding his hands on the tabletop. “I love you like you were my own son. You should know that. Your mom was my best friend, for years. I have heard every story about you-“ she smiles then, “even things I never wanted to know…” He blushes at that, but she continues on.

“What your mom always impressed upon me was how good a man you are. She was always so proud of you. She asked me to tell you, after she was gone. It was very important to her that you know.”

He can’t help interrupting. “It’s a mum’s job though, innit? To be proud of your kid? She may’ve told you things, but she didn’t know everything…”

“She did, William. She knew. She knew about Dru. About the drugs. About your friends and how much pressure they put on you. And we both knew- about you and Buffy.”

His mouth falls open in shock. He begins to stand, to pull away, his hands moving around, looking for someplace to land, to hold on to.

Joyce grabs one of his hands and holds it in both of hers. “We knew. Moms always do. We saw how much you loved each other. And it made us happy, William. And you know what would make us both happy now?”

He shakes his head dumbly.

“If you truly love her, you should be with her. Don’t let this pass you by. Both your mom and me, we missed the boat in love and family. But you and Buffy? You have a chance here. Buffy has spent her whole life waiting for you. She’s never loved anyone else. And I suspect you haven’t loved anyone but her.”

He nods, finally finding his voice. “There’s never been anyone but her. But I hurt her. So much. How can she forgive-“

Joyce cuts him off. “Already done. She already has, Spike. Didn’t she tell you?”

He blinks, thinking of every word between them over the last few days. His eyes widen as he realizes- Buffy had forgiven him. And had done everything she could to show him that.

A slow smile spread across his face.

Seeing that, Joyce tells him, “Go get her. Don’t let another minute go by without telling her.”

He stands from the stool, staring at her. Then he throws his arms around her in a bear hug. “Thanks, mum,” he tells her, squishing her tight.

She laughs as he pulls back, then hold onto his shoulders. “You’re a good man, William. And I’m proud to have you call me that.”

* * * * *

"Dear Spike,

I’m sorry I had to go today. The gallery is a mess with a new shipment coming in, and the guys are clueless without me. I had to get back- to keep them from driving the place into the ground in under 4 days flat!

Plus, I wasn’t real keen on wearing that black dress for another three days…

But I meant what I told you. I’ll be back this weekend. I can’t wait to be with you, Spike. I know you feel like you hurt me all those years ago. But that was then. This is NOW. Let’s move on. Please?

I love you. I want to be with you. If you love me, too, then let’s talk this out. Let’s do what we need to do to make things right.

I’ll see you Friday.

Buffy"

* * * * *

Buffy rolls her eyes, exasperated, frustrated at having this discussion yet again with Wes.

“I don’t see why we need move the Lonhaldj portraits yet again,” Wes complains. “They are quite well placed now, and shuffling the gallery will only throw the other exhibits off balance. Angel and I discussed this while you were away, and we both agree. We should not disrupt the present gallery orientation for this new shipment. Isn’t that right, Angel?”

Angel is looking over Buffy shoulder, his mouth dropped open, clearly oblivious to Wes’ comments.

Wes notices Angel’s distraction and follows his line of sight. A surprised expression crosses Wes’ face, and then he places his hand on Angel’s shoulder, saying, “Perhaps it would be best if we talked about this later…”

“No, we need to work this out guys. The shipment will be here Friday afternoon, and I won’t be here to oversee it. I told you- I’m going back to my mother’s for the weekend. So we need to be on the same page here-“

Angel interrupts her, “Buffy. It’s okay. We’ve got it covered.” He gestures with his chin to a point over her shoulder.

She turns and standing behind her is Spike, in a pinstriped navy business suit. His hair is slicked back, and he is wearing a shy smile.

“Hello, Buffy.”

“Spike? What are you doing here? Is everything all right?”

In front of Wes and Angel, in front of her staff, he drops down to one knee in front of her, pulling a black box out of his jacket pocket. Her hand flies up to her mouth, tears filling her eyes before he has even got the box open or the words out.

“Buffy, I love you. Been in love with you since I was 11 years old. I’ve made some mistakes over the years. I’ve hurt you. But if you can forgive me, I’d like to spend the rest of my life making it up to you.” He opens the box, revealing a modest emerald-cut diamond engagement ring. “You told me the other night you’d give me anything. That you love me and you'll never leave me. If you meant it, then I’m gonna hold you to that promise.” He takes a deep breath and looks deep into her eyes as she starts to cry. “Marry me?”

Buffy covers her mouth with both hands. She reaches for his hand and pulls him up to stand, throwing her arms around him.

“Yes. Yes, yes, a thousand gallons of yes, Spike.” He pulls her in close and kisses her hard, smiling against her lips as her tears wet his face.

He lifts her left hand and slides the ring on as she laughs and wipes at her eyes. Then he kisses her again, slow and soft, every brush of his lips full of promise.

When they pull apart they hear a sniffle behind them. They turn to see Wes holding Angel’s hand as Angel wipes at his eyes with the back of his hand.

They both break out in laughter, hugging Buffy and shaking Spike’s hand, wishing them well.

* * * * *

After Wes and Angel had shooed the pair away, Buffy asked Spike to come to her apartment to retrieve some clean clothes before heading back home to tell Joyce the happy news.

Locking the front door behind her, Buffy pulls Spike in to a kiss, her hands holding his face. He starts kissing her back slowly, then feeling the emotion of the last several days rising, he deepens the kiss, opening his mouth and sliding his tongue out to touch hers. His hands come up from her waist to cup her breasts. She laughs into his kiss, running her hands down his shoulders to his sides and around to cup his backside. She gives a little squeeze and it makes him groan.

“Love you. God, I love you so much. Need you now.”

“Yes, now.” She giggles again adding, “We never were very good at holding back, were we?”

“Why start trying now?” he smiles. He kisses down her neck, grabbing the hem of her blouse. She lifts her arms up, accommodating as he slips it over her head. Then he dives back down, peppering her breasts with kisses as he unhooks her bra and lets it fall to the floor.

Spike sinks to his knees before her. Takes each nipple in his mouth in turn and worships her with his mouth, tongue and fingers. Buffy glides her fingers through his hair, peeling it out from it’s gelled down flat style and fluffing it up into soft strands.

He kisses down her stomach, making her squirm.

“Ticklish?” He grins up at her, sliding his hands up her legs under her skirt.

“A little. But you already knew that.” She beams at him.

“Yeah, I did. Haven’t forgotten anything, Buffy. You feel the same. Look the same. As beautiful now as you were when we were 18.” He slides her skirt up her thighs, then pulls her panties to the side. Buries his nose in her curls. She sucks in a quick breath of anticipation. He lets out a deep, animal groan, telling her, “Smell the same. Like sweetness and sex and everything I’ve ever wanted. And you taste,” his tongue lapping at her folds, “like candy. Like heaven. Just the same, love.” Then he nudges her legs apart and licks at her until her knees go weak and she has to told onto him to keep from collapsing.

He slides her skirt and panties off, then trails his mouth back up her body, standing and tugging at his tie.

He steps back, taking in the sight of her before him, naked except for her heels.

“You’re the most beautiful woman in the world.”

She blushes, shyly covering her breasts with her arms.

“No, don’t cover up. Want to look my fill,” he says, pulling his tie out from under his collar, slowly unbuttoning his shirt. He puts a little show in it, teasing her with a smirk and making her laugh some more.

When he starts pulling at his belt, drawing it through the loops in a slow, mock striptease, she steps over, rolling her eyes.

“Ok, sexy man, enough of the pre-show. I want the main attraction. Now.” She slides his shirt off his shoulders, gliding her hands over his chest and belly. She is serious again as she circles her palms over his smooth, pale skin.

“You’re the same too, Spike. Perfect. Oh, God, you feel so good.” He gets his pants off; they fall to his ankles as he caresses her between her thighs. “Hurry. I don’t wanna wait any more...”

“No,” he agrees, stepping out of his shoes and pants, “no more waiting.” He picks her up in his arms, asking, “Bedroom?” She points to a door down the hall and carries her to her bed. He sets her down lightly, kissing her as he kneels between her thighs.

She has a sudden flash of memory to the first time he made love to her. How scared she was, but even more afraid that she would miss her chance with him. She remembers the awkwardness of watching him roll on the condom that first time, and realizes- they’ve used no protection over the last week.

He looks down at her, his brow furrowed. “What’s wrong, love?”

She looks in his eyes, sees his concern there, and his love for her. She puts her hand on his face, and sees the diamond ring on her finger, his promise to be with her for the rest of their lives.

She smiles at him, body relaxing against his. “Nothing, Spike. Everything’s perfect.”

He lays down over her, touching skin to skin from chest to thighs, slips inside her with a sigh. He kisses her with his lush mouth, loves her with his strong body, covers her with his words of adoration, a thousand promises for their life ahead.

* * * * *

6 Years Later

In the dappled sun of the woods, Spike hauls one more piece of plywood up the tree, using the rope pulley he built the weekend before. He grunts and strains, sitting high in the big, old maple, on the platform he made with boards just like this one.

A little dark haired girl stands at the base of the tree, a hammer in hand.

“Can I come up yet, Dad?”

“Not yet, pumpkin. Just lemme get this last board in and then the floor will be safe.” He hefts the last board up over the edge and shimmies it into place, nailing it down. Then he walks to the edge of the platform, hollering down, “Okay, done! C’mon up!”

The girl climbs the yellow rope ladder up the tree, taking her father’s hand at the top. She sits beside him, their legs dangling over the edge.

“Check out the view,” he tells her, gesturing with one arm.

She looks, discovering she can see all the way around in the woods below, and can see the path that leads back to Grandma Summers’ house. She sees her mother starting down the path, carrying several cans of paint.

“Hey look! Mom’s coming!” she says, pointing.

“Yep. You know, been watchin’ your mum come down this path to me since I was a little bigger than you. Kissed her for the first time under this tree…”

The girl rolls her eyes at him. “You told me already. Sheesh. Hi, Mom!” she hollers down as Buffy comes up under them at the base of the tree.

Buffy looks up, nodding approvingly. “So, you two got the floor done, huh Dawnie? Good for you! I brought the paint. You wanna help me get started?”

The girl scrambles for the rope ladder, and is followed by Spike. He hops down a foot and a half from the ground, dives in to sweep Buffy into his arms for kiss.

“It’s looking good,” she tells him, gesturing up to the new tree fort with her chin.

He gazes deep into her eyes, agreeing, “Yeah. It is.”

The End

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