Leather

Leather

By Herself

Rating: NC-17 for sex and angst
Summary: It got her hot. It got her boiling, the soulless killer's coat.
Pairing: Spike/Buffy
Story Notes: Spoilers for season 7 through "Get It Done."
Disclaimer: All hail Joss from whom all these characters flow.

***

Coming up behind him, she fingered the leather of his sleeve. "So. Big Bad's back."

Turning, he raised an eyebrow. "Yeah. Got the job done." He exhaled a trail of smoke into the night air. In the yard at his back, crickets chirped. Inside the house, the inmates were asleep, or at least quiet. He could smell each one of them. Knew who was on the rag, and in which room, just by breathing in.

Buffy was quiet too, but brimful. Her gaze, cool, unwavering, went on too long, until he wanted to look away from it, but he wouldn't. This whole evening so far was about wills: hers, his. He wasn't going to back down now. She'd pulled him this far—far enough that he was feeling things he'd thought were finished forever—the crackle of raw demon power in his muscles; the satisfying reverb in his flesh of that chewy snap when the creature's neck went. The seductive tang of tobacco smoke in his throat. The sense that again anything was possible, anything might happen. He was free for the first time in years. The soul floated like a long silk scarf, just behind the movements of his demon, who stirred and stretched and looked about with renewed interest and hope.

She'd asked for this. The dangerous Spike. So here he was. Impatient for the next neck to snap.

Now she curled her two little hands around the leather lapels and tugged him down—or maybe she was using them to shin up his body, he wasn't sure because her mouth's sudden pressure, hot and gusty and aggressive, seemed to suck all the consciousness out of him. She made a sound in her throat, her tongue probing for entry, and the collar of the coat was pulled tight around his neck by all her weight.

He shoved her off.

She stumbled backwards.

"C'mon—!" It was half a whine, half a command. She came at him again, plowed him back against the shingles, her hands dug into the coat sleeves, once more threatening to climb him like a monkey. Her face was tight, intense, fierce, before it loomed in too close to see, and she caught his lip in her teeth.

He wrenched his head around. "Stop it."

She dug her hands deeper into the leather, twisting it in her fists. "C'mon Spike, I know you want it. I've got you figured you out by now. A little kill, a little smoke, and to cap it off, a little sha—"

The rage spiraled up without prelude, zero to sixty in two seconds, so the demon came up hard and hot, the bumps and fangs aching as they sprang forth. One back-handed blow sent her flying against the barbecue grill. "Fuck this, Buffy! Fuck you—!"

She sprang up. "What's the matter, Spike? You need it rougher? Okay, let's mix it up a bit first—!" She came at him, grabbing again at the leather.

"Slayer—you're so goddamn obvious it's embarrassing!" He sidestepped, yanked the coat from her hand. "I'll take it off, yeah, an' you can have your filthy way with it."

Her gaze dropped. "Oh shut up."

"You shut up. You can be a real cunt, you know that? Your speech before—yeah, was harsh, but you were right. Needed to find my stones again to be of use to you in the fight. So I get 'em on again, an' now here you come, just like last year, wantin' to use me . . . use me for . . . . I'm not your toy anymore, Slayer."

He could see her blushing; could smell it. The rebuke hit its mark, but shaming her didn't provide the zing of satisfaction he'd wanted. The thing was, he knew she hadn't come out here to jump him because she wanted to triumph over him, to put him down. She'd done it because she herself wanted to feel something, something different than what she was feeling already, which was fear, and loneliness, and doubt. She wasn't thinking about him at all, really. She was fixated on the coat, and his body beneath it, and working her tension off on him. That was all.

What happened that night was big. She was shaken, down to her heart, her vitals.

Except he knew all too well how this went. She'd swarm over him, fuck him stupid while staring right through him, and then when it was over she'd act like it didn't mean anything, curl away from him in disgust.

He couldn't do it anymore. That wasn't any good for the soul, that burning sliver of conscience shoved up into his tenderest part, robbing him of what was perhaps the demon's greatest gift: the ability to live entirely in the present, without examination, without remorse. Especially not now he'd held death in his hands again, felt its ugly thrill surge through him.

Nursing her elbows, staring off at an oblique angle, she murmured, "None of them have anything like the strength I need. None of them but you."

"The witch'll step up. She's gettin' there."

"Yeah, but that's not what I'm talking about right now." Her voice was sulky, low.

Why, he thought, am I still standin' here? Ought to be elsewhere—ought to find myself a bottle, another fight, a girl for the night—work it all off. Work it off away from here, away from her. How she works it off, none of my affair.

"Spike, when this is all over . . . ."

She still wasn't looking at him, but he felt something in her, that had been taut and hard up until now, let go. Her voice descended into a sigh. The weight of the leather on his shoulders, the familiar earthy smell of it, lent him courage; God help him, he was a bit scared of her, even now. Well, especially now. She was practically shimmering with tension. Just like he was.

". . . I want to say, when this is all over, maybe . . . maybe we . . . but there's no point saying it." She looked up suddenly, right into his eyes. "When this is all over I don't think we're both going to be here. So I didn't want to wait, I wanted—wanted to grab what we could get."

"What we could get." His mind refused to make sense of this, to jump ahead of her meaning. She'd sidled nearer to him as she spoke, and her hand, seemingly irresistibly drawn to it, once more came to rest on the leather lapel.

"I can't stop thinking about how your body feels against mine. About how you look when you're about to come. About your cock and how it feels inside me." Her other hand stole up to grab on to the other side. "You are so . . . so intense, when you're fucking. There's nothing else. You're one hundred percent there with me. You fill me up just like I need."

"Uh—what about Mr Clean?"

"All this—dark energy—it's pent up inside me and there's nowhere for it to go, I'm gonna burst out of my skin, and—"

"I said—what about that Robin Wood? You've got him wrapped around your little finger already—go wrap the rest of him."

She stamped her foot. "Spike, are you even listening to me?"

"Listenin', Pet, but not hearing what I need to hear."

Pouting, she backed off, her hands dropping reluctantly away. In a whisper, she said, "I know you want me. I can feel it."

"Want to have you, yeah. What I don't what is what always happens after." He felt in his pocket for the packet of smokes; lit one up as if it would ward her off. He knew he ought to go—either back in the house, to his cot in the basement, where she'd certainly not follow, since Andrew and Giles were down there too—or else away for a bit. The longer he lingered here, the more he'd just encourage her to go on with this cat-on-heat display.

Slayer needed a good rogering, it was true, but he was not the man for the job.

He was not the man. Not her man.

"He's nothing to me."

"Ah? Makes two of us, then. Just musterin' him in, you were. Let him think there'll be more pay off than he'll ever get, an' he'll do your bidding with his tongue hangin' out, an' wait an' wait—"

"Jeezus, Spike!"

The slap—and it was the slap of an outraged woman, not the punch of an enraged slayer—stung; the cigarette fell from his mouth.

"Don't compare yourself to him! Don't . . . don't compare yourself to anybody. . . . There's nobody else in my life like you." Again her voice petered out, and she dropped her gaze. Then she scrambled up to sit on the porch rail, which brought her face up level with his. He wanted to move away again, but he couldn't. Her eyes were brimming; she gave him an unfathomable look. Then her face slowly swam towards his; he felt her breath against his cheek, and her hand, again, on his shoulder, digging into the leather. "Spike . . . big bad beautiful Spike . . . c'mon . . . just give me . . . give me . . . ."

He felt cruel, for not touching her, for asking, when obviously she wanted him to melt into her without words. But this was cruel, and he would ask. Make her spell it out. "Give you what, Slayer?"

"Give me your strength for a short while . . . just let me be the girl who gets . . . who gets fucked . . . ."

Fucked. He couldn't believe that would ever be a word that would turn him off, but it was starting to. It never did sit right with him, from the slayer's lips.

Suddenly her hand tightened, tugged the collar askew, yanked him nearer. Her mouth right up against his ear. "Spike. Make love to me."

The words worked on him like an incantation, like a key in the lock. He was already hard for her, but everything else softened: his resistance, his spine, his clenched hands. Sitting on the porch rail, she parted her knees and pulled up her frilly skirt. The motion released a cloud of her cunt's perfume; inhaling it, he kissed her mouth, and dropped at once to his knees. Her hose yielded easily to his rending fingers; she wore nothing beneath them. He was immediately intoxicated —this aroma, this taste, this sweet delicate flesh he'd never thought to touch again. Needing to be immersed, he pressed his open mouth against her, plunged his tongue into her sodden cunt, rubbed at her swollen clit with his thumb. This was a miracle, like coming back home when home was supposed to be destroyed forever.

He'd be homeless again in an hour, but now he couldn't bring himself to care.

Buffy rocked back, grabbing at his hair, and let out a sharp little wail. Almost immediately came the sound of a window flying up on the second floor. A girlish voice: "Um—hello? Who's out there?"

Spike froze.

"Go back to sleep!" Buffy barked, stern and unarguable.

The window shut.

"Bugger this for a game of soldiers. Not entertainin' the whole house." Gathering her up, he carried her to the extreme end of the yard, where any sight of them, and most of their sounds, he hoped, would be cut off by the small stand of bare trees there.

He looked at her. It was dark enough here that he doubted she could see more than his outline, but his demon's eyes made her out clearly enough; her face was splotched with pink, she was frowning in that way she did when very aroused, single-mindedly focused on getting to her climax. Misgiving stirred in him: he knew that face. She'd work him until she came two or three or four times, whatever she needed, then roll off him like he was a stain on the linen, and leave. Frowning all the time.

But this time, for the first time, she'd said the magic words. Make love. God, he was worse than Pavlov's dog. Would show his belly for love. For just the word.

He started to take off the coat, meaning to spread it on the ground for her to lie on, but she grabbed onto it.

"Leave it on."

It got her hot. It got her boiling, the soulless killer's coat.

She clung to it— hands dug into the leather, legs grappled around his hips. Fucking with their clothes on, on the cold ground like animals. She wanted to be on the bottom; wanted his weight full on her. Her teeth sunk into his lip, his cheek, his neck, making provocative little grunts. What was she thinking? Was she only hot for him because he was a monster, her dangerous slave? No one else had his strength, she'd said. No one else had his cock and his devotion to her, his fists and fangs and leather coat. But she was in complete control of him, and they both knew it—all last year, even in their maddest transports, he'd been aware of the line she wasn't going to let him cross. No game-face. He'd never so much as tried it on her, so sure was he that the punishment would be swift and severe. Yet tonight, when she saw him in his old guise, heard what he'd done . . . tonight was when she decided she wanted him again. On her terms. Always always on her terms only. I'm the slayer's fucking fetish, I'm her fuckbot. Dress me up an' make me go. Perverse pride and self-loathing roiled in and out of his desire as they pistoned together. Her fingers sunk tight into the leather, pulling it, mauling him. She panted and groaned as if she was doing some enormous job of work: as if she was in labor. This almost wasn't sexy, too fast, too frenzied. She wouldn't speak, it was too dark for her to see his eyes, and she might as well have been masturbating for all the interaction she gave him.

Just like old times.

And she wouldn't let go of the coat.

He stopped.

She gave off a loud grunt. "What are you doing? Go go go!"

Inside her, his cock seemed to stretch, throb. Wanted to be moving again. His muscles sang to go on towards release. He thought he was going to cry— tears were backed up so hot he thought his eyeballs might boil. No good, no good—couldn't cry in front of the slayer—nothing but disdain there for his tears. She'd made that plain before. Disdain for any part of him that wasn't this—leather and sex and death.

The bitch. Made it plain what she'd take from him. What's she'd take and what she'd had enough of.

No word yet of what she'd give.

He'd fucking well make her give.

"Want to get off?" The words crowded past his fangs on a growl.

"Yeah. Obvious much?" She squirmed, but he held her down hard.

"Then give it up, Slayer."

"Give it—hello? I am."

One handed, he palmed a match from his pocket, lit and held it alongside their faces. Her eyes opened wide at the sight of his grinning demon hovering inches above her. "I'm givin' you every bit of myself that you've ever asked for, Slayer, an' more. Turned myself inside out for you. Will die for you if it comes to that in a month or two. An' now here I am servicin' you again because I've got no bleeding pride when it's you. I'm the only one who scratches your itch? Well, you can bloody well scratch mine for once, or I'm off."

He couldn't quite believe he was saying this even as the words clinked out like ball bearings. She stared at him, all bewildered frown and enormous eyes. Her legs were still lashed tight around his waist, and her strong small hands still clung tight to his leather shoulders. She swallowed, the frown giving way to something else. The match went out, but he knew she'd seen what he wanted her to see.

And that she knew he could still see her perfectly well when she turned her head, and pushed the hair back from her neck with her hand. Without hesitation she grabbed the back of his head, tugging it close. She inhaled hard as his open mouth touched the thin skin over her pulsing artery, and she tightened everything else around him with an exquisite pressure that throbbed with her heart beat.

He settled his fangs against her flesh. Felt the strong thread of her beating blood against his lips and tongue. The smallest amount of pressure and he'd break the skin, clamp on and have his way. Her blood would leap into his mouth. Oh, he'd have her then, not to kill her, but the possession, she'd be his, her cunt and her life essence and everything—nearly—nearly— Not her heart though. Never that, but . . . nearly everything. He'd have her at last.

Buffy didn't move; her hand tightened on his head in anticipation. His mouth pressed tight to her neck, fangs pricking the skin, he began to thrust again, long deep strokes that made her shudder. She matched him, and moaned.

He let the demon drop away, and heard her gasp.

"Spike . . . aren't you . . . ?"

"Don't have to now." A grudging mercy. He was angry at himself for his own compunction. Why spare her? She didn't love him. She never would, and he'd always love her and why couldn't he take whatever he could get? That's what she'd just said, hadn't she—she wanted what she could get? Wasn't he Big Bad again, wasn't he dangerous again, as she'd commanded? Let her feed him. Slayer blood would make him a mighty killer.

In that moment he couldn't distinguish love from hate, and the image flashed into his head of grabbing hers—the sharp twist. The finish to all her coercions, all this pain.

Make this his one good day.

Arrogant thoughtless cunt. Never should've let himself get so distracted, all these years. Hadn't he'd come here to kill her? Ought to do it, and get on with his un-life.

But then she raised her head to kiss him.

Her mouth was soft, tender. She touched his lips with hers, and the corners of his mouth, and his chin. Her skin was so smooth, warm. She sighed.

"I was ready," she breathed. "I wanted you to."

"I know." You merciless bitch, you kill me. "You're a good girl, Slayer."

At this, she stirred, stretched beneath him. "Spike—" Her voice rose, low and urgent. "Oh Spike—" She'd uncoupled her legs from around him and instead dug her boot heels into the dirt, lifting herself to meet his thrusts. He saw her looking for him, looking at him in her darkness, and her hands that held the coat seemed to be holding him now, she was wrapped around him. "This is so good—more, Spike—this is good—"

"Good little Buffy—good girl—sweet girl—my sweet girl—"

She cried out: "Yours!" and her heart seemed to fly into his chest; her whole body rippled and surged around him. He kept moving, drawing the pleasure out for her as long as he could, his lips spilling all the endearments he'd never dared speak out loud to her before, thrilling to how they excited her. He felt she was coming just from his words, every darling, sweetheart, precious pretty girl eliciting a separate gasp and grind and groan.

"You come too," she murmured then, as her own waves subsided. She buried her face in the leather and took deep snuffing breaths. "Come inside me, Spike." She was loose and drenched now, no longer clinging; when he scooped her knees up she flexed like putty. He fucked her now for his own release, and stared into her half-lidded, sleepy eyes with rapture, thinking she'd never been so beautiful as she was right then, sated and entirely open to him, without resistance. "Come, Spike," she coaxed, her one hand still in his hair, hips stirring lazily to his thrusts. "Come, lover."

If she said more than that, he didn't hear it; again that magic word undid him.

When he came back to himself, she was still quietly snuffing the leather of his coat, and combing his hair up into tufts with her fingers.

"Spike?"

"Slayer."

"Do you trust me?"

God, no. "I love you, Buffy. An' I'll do anythin' you say. "

"Even if I end up sending you to your death? Even if I end up killing you myself?"

"Helpless here. So: yeah."

She was quiet for a long moment. "I think, just now, you hated me too."

He was surprised—it was an insight he'd not expected her to have, certainly not at this moment.

"And yourself." She paused. "Do you hate yourself, Spike?"

"Hate everybody," he grumbled. "Vampire."

"Things are bad. They're getting worse. What I saw tonight—"

"I know. Red told me."

"You know." She paused again. He could feel her thinking. Then she gave him a shove, and sat up. "I'd better get some sleep. Got to be at school at eight." On her feet now, she shook out her skirt, tugged at the neck of her sweater. "The hate, Spike? Hang onto it. I think it's gonna come in handy."

She didn't wait for him to reply, or get up. She was gone, and a moment later he heard the back door open and close. He rose more slowly, did up his jeans, straightened his clothes. Wanted a wash, but she'd be in the bathroom. He lingered under the window, having another smoke, waiting to see the light there go out. Wondering what exactly just happened, and how much hope he was going to allot himself on it.

When the cigarette was gone, he buried his hands in the duster's pockets. Hope, he thought, was the thing that would kill you, because it fogged your vision, made you listen to skirling songs and miss the whistle of the flying axe.

The principal, tonight, in the school corridor. Thought he didn't know who he was, why he was asking. About the coat. But Spike knew now. The pieces of that were in place. He'd have to watch his back.

Wasn't going to let it be him. He'd go at the slayer's hands, or her behest. Hers, and no one else's.

Above, the bathroom light died. He swung around and went into the kitchen.

***

There was a lull. She didn't want a lull—she was het up, that tingly feeling going down her spine every hour on the hour—she wanted something to battle. Quiet made her nervous. Quiet gave her a chance to think about burying a dead sixteen-year-old in the middle of the night with a garden shovel; quiet gave her a chance to imagine those thousands of Turok Han unleashed on her little world. Since she'd returned from the other dimension, she'd been so lonely. The girls were training and eating funnel cake and avoiding making eye contact with her because they were all terrified of her now. Giles had gone off on another search and rescue mission in South America, and Willow was busy with Kennedy and getting back on the magical tip. Spike timed his comings and going from the house to avoid her. Even Robin seemed to be scaling back his involvement—he'd taken a sick day, and then for the last couple he'd barely been in his office at all. Hands-on administering—he'd been walking the school halls, visiting classrooms. He'd not been near her.

So she did her job and fidgeted and waited under her ten tons of dread. Couldn't help thinking about Spike. About what she'd done with him the other night that she should not have done. Because Giles warned her against it, because it was fucked up to still want him, and fucked up to put him through that after she'd meant to be kinder to him, to be detached and gentle and most of all aloof.

Aloof was kinder and gentler. Aloof was strategic, like the general she was now.

And he was right the other night—it was pathetic, the way the coat—the goddamn coat!—got her all horny and wreckless. He'd killed, and she'd known it, and that made her want to fuck him.

That was sick.

A still small voice in the back of her mind, that she didn't want to listen to, told her that what was really sick was how detached she'd tried to be, even while they were going at it on the ground like a couple of minks. She'd made him angry in a way he'd never been with her before. She knew she'd come closer to death at his hands in those couple of minutes than she'd ever been before, and the thought didn't scare her so much as it made her feel frantic and distraught. She didn't want to be this woman, who could treat a man like that. He loved her and though he jumped through her every hoop, she seemed incapable of giving him anything he needed at all. She was sorry he'd not bitten her—it would've been something. She'd meant at least for him to have that, since he'd dared for the first time in their strange relationship to demand it.

His refusal wasn't really a relief. She'd known before that she could trust him absolutely. But it was more and more apparent that he really didn't trust her.

But then there was that moment—more like three or four minutes, probably—after he could've killed her and didn't— Oh God. She went over that, again and again. They'd been in perfect sync. You're a good girl, Slayer. Why did that phrase, more than I love you or I'll do anything you ask make her want to weep? A good girl. She'd always wanted to be that for a man she loved, it seemed so simple and warm and cozy—and oh so distant. She wasn't allowed to be—she was far far beyond the time when she could be just a girl, or be merely good. She was righteous, she was mighty, she was the defender of the world against all the massed forces of darkness. She was all alone.

But to him, the vampire who broke himself open for her, adored and sometimes loathed her, she was a good girl.

What she wanted, when this was over, was to be that, with him. It wasn't going to happen, but she wanted it.

After lunch there was a pink 'while you were out' slip on her desk.

William called.
Meet him Forestview Motel, rm 14, 5:00 today

Oh crap. Now the school secretary knows I have an assignation at a hot-sheets motel. All afternoon she told herself there was no time for this, that he had no business doing it, that it was a mistake. She considered calling the motel and leaving him a message that she wasn't going to show. But she didn't; instead she watched the clock compulsively, until 4:45 when the late bell rang and she was free to bolt.

As she drove, she squeezed the steering wheel and imagined squeezing him between her thighs.

She got there a few minutes after five. The last light was dying from the sky, orange at the horizon and a deep blue overhead. The drapes on room 14 were drawn shut. She tapped on the door, then turned the knob. It was open. He'd be stretched out on the bed wearing nothing but a smirk.

What she got was an eyeful of something quite else. The room was lit only by one forty watt bulb in the shaded lamp over the bed. A figure, half-naked, was tied to an upright chair, bleeding from the face and chest. It wasn't Spike. Spike stepped out of the shadows then—fully dressed, down to the red shirt under the leather coat. In game face. In his hand, one of those push-button stilettos that are supposed to be illegal for sale in the state of California. Whoa.

"What the hell is this?"

"Look at what Xander and I caught for you."

"Xander—?"

"Tryin' to get into the house this morning."

That's when she picked up on the detail it was initially too dim to see. The bleeding guy—was a harbinger. That horrible face, the criss-crosses where the eyes should be.

"Brought him here to keep out of the way of the girlies. Been softenin' him up for you, Slayer. Let's see what he'll tell you."

Buffy's breath caught. Spike . . . Spike had been here a while, cutting this guy. Who was an evil vile enemy guy, yes, but he was tied to a chair, helpless, flesh hanging from his chest in bloody strips. And Spike was . . . being the Spike she'd asked him to be. The dangerous one.

Oh God.

Focus.

Into the house. This harbinger was trying to get into the house. But they'd stopped him

"Where's Xander?"

"Didn't need him for this part. An' he didn't need to see it."

But I do. "So, what? The First couldn't get Andrew to do its dirty work, so it sent him?"

Spike shrugged. "Dunno. He won't talk."

She stepped forward. Grabbed the harbinger's head, snapped it back. Look at me! probably wasn't going to work. "Hey!"

Its weird face was blank. It didn't even moan.

"Has he made any sound at all?"

"Uh . . . not as such."

Her stomach sank. And he wouldn't. She wasn't even sure these guys could talk. "Just get rid of him."

Spike raised an eyebrow. "Rid?"

She turned her back.

"Be back in twenty minutes, Slayer."

"I'll wait." She started for the bathroom. Shut herself in.

This wasn't a nice bathroom. Of course not: this wasn't a nice motel. What it was was cheap, well within the reach of Spike, whose pocket money was derived from God knew where, and discreet. But the towels were small and thin, the tub stained, the lighting white, flickering, hideous. She ran the water loud to cover the sounds of Spike dragging the harbinger out of the room, and realized that she felt more disappointed about this not being an assignation than she did about the new onslaught of the First on her residence.

Leaving the bathroom, she flipped on the TV and slumped on the edge of the bed. The five o'clock news blared into life. She stared at it. The war drums were beating for Saddam Hussein, but there was nothing at all of course about the First, about her.

She was still staring when Spike walked back in.

She didn't quite know how she felt about the smoking thing now. He was definitely back to it. A cigarette hung on his lower lip.

"What did you do with him?"

"Never you mind." He leaned against the door, arms crossed on his chest. "Although I will say . . . not exactly human, but still tasted a hell of a lot better than that sheep swill."

A commercial for Disneyland came on, twice as loud as the program itself. She kept her eyes on the TV. "So it wasn't a total loss."

"No indeed." He stalked over to the bedside table then, crushed out the cigarette in the ashtray there. "Still got the room 'til nine, Slayer. Early-bird special."

"The bathroom's uncomfortable."

She didn't see how he reacted, but a beat later he said, still as nonchalant as she was, "Ah, it was a bath you were after."

No one was allowed to spend more than ten minutes in the bathroom at home anymore unless they were ill. Illness was strongly discouraged. Baths were out for the duration. Showers had to be brief lest they run out of hot water before the last potential got clean. Dawn had recently posted a sign-up sheet on the bathroom door so as to avoid squabbles about who got in when. If they and the house survived this apocalypse, Buffy had decided, she was going to put in a second bathroom, even if she had to do all the work herself.

He hovered for a moment behind her, then went to the door. "Stay there."

Alone again, she curled up on the bed, and played with the remote. Made the news go away, replaced it with I Love Lucy. She realized no one knew where she was—well, except for the school secretary. Her cell phone might ring, but apart from that, she was off-duty. The bedspread smelled musty, and she didn't like the idea of walking on this carpet in her bare feet. But: between responsibilities. A drop-out for an hour.

Oh so brief.

Spike slipped back in. Tossed a bag onto the bed. She opened it, and found two new towels, large and fluffy. A small bottle of the nicer sort of bubble bath. Some other toiletries. And a couple bags of those squat little votives Spike was so fond of. Huh. Someone had gone shopping. Or shoplifting. The price tags were still on everything and she couldn't see a receipt. She shoved the bag away with a sigh.

"I've got to get back." Her body ached; she'd barely slept the last few nights—or the few before that, or the few before that—and yet there was this energy inside her, percolating, like she'd had about ten cups of coffee. It tormented her, it didn't go away. Even when he'd covered her—been strong so she could let go—it was there. Something to do with what happened in that other place, even though she'd refused them, defeated them. She wasn't the same.

"Why?"

She glanced up. Neither was he.

"Because they—because I have to—because there's— Spike, there's no time for this. Shilly-shallying." Because it's too selfish for me to stay here and hide.

He snatched up the bag and stalked into the bathroom. She let her eyes fall shut. Just a minute. Just a minute of rest, then she'd get up, go out to the car.

Something shook her. "Slayer." His hand was on her shoulder. "Go on while it's hot."

"Huh—"

"Go on." He hauled her up and gave her a shove towards the bathroom. Behind her, the TV went off.

He'd transformed it. The votives flickered all around three edges of the tub, which was filled with spicey-scented bubbles, gently steaming.

She peered out into the room. Spike stood by the door. "Got what you need?"

"Look, we can't—"

"See you later. Check-out's at nine, like I said, so take your time."

He didn't even look at her as he slipped out.

In the silence, she heard the bubbles popping.

He'd done this for her. Tore strips of skin off the captured harbinger to get him to talk. Disposed of the body. Drawn her a delicious bath. And not waited around to be invited into it.

She got naked and stepped in.

***

When she emerged from the room forty minutes later, Spike was sitting on the hood of her car.

She started. "What—what are you doing here?"

"Screening your calls. Making sure you weren't disturbed." He held up her cell phone. She'd not even realized it was missing. "Why'd you come out so quick? Still got another couple hours, nearly. Could've had a good long soak."

That franticness rose up in her again. When he was like this, she didn't know what to do. When he was like anything, she didn't know what to do. Yet she'd told him the other day that she didn't want him to go away from her.

This was madness.

He looked at her then, his head on one side in that way of his, that was at once so disarming and so irritating.

Then, as if she'd spoken, he nodded once, and murmured, "All right then, as you wish. Go on back in, I'll follow in a minute."

Feeling like a sleepwalker, she returned to the room. She was throbbing, desperate, even as the words no no no flew in low and wide through her mind, a formation of black starlings.

He would carry her over the next horrible obstacle of time, and she'd chip away another little bit of him in exchange.

No good. Not what they were supposed to be doing. They ought—if they were going to be together, they ought to patrol, ought to do something useful. She took her sweater off, staring into space.

He came back, with a brown paper sack under one arm. "Room's ours for the night. No arguments Slayer."

"Spike, you know I can't be gone all—"

"Made a phone call. It'll be all right."

Her jaw dropped. "A phone call? Who did you tell? Spike, you didn't—"

"Willow's your friend, Buffy."

"You told Willow."

"Told her you had things to do, not to wait up. 'Course, she'll draw her own conclusions, but you'll find since she's begun fucking that Kennedy girl, she's a lot more with the live and let live." As he spoke he unsheathed the bottle of Jack Daniels, poured some into the two glasses on the dresser, and offered her one.

"Call out for some supper from the chinks up the street later. First gonna work up your appetite."

"I can't drink this." She backed away from the glass.

"What do you fancy, Slayer?"

She whispered. "We shouldn't be here. I should go home." She couldn't bring herself to look at him now. "There's work to do—I have to go."

He snatched her off her feet, yanking her around back to front, and sank his fangs into her neck.

She let out a grunt of surprise, but didn't cry out, and hung in his arms without struggle, her feet dangling a couple inches off the floor. The bite didn't hurt—he wasn't tugging, just holding her, in his teeth, in his grip. Like the prick of a needle that brings welcome oblivion, a cottony feeling, sexy and numbing at the same time, spread through her from his fangs sunk in her skin. A trickle of blood ran untasted down her neck.

He lifted his mouth away. His murmuring stirred her hair. "Shall I turn you, Slayer? Would you like that?"

She curled her hands around the arm he held her with, and paddled her feet a little. Limp, he was just letting her be utterly gorgeously limp. The one thing she must never be, that none of the others would ever permit for a second. Felt herself smile, her eyelids drooping. "Oh yes . . . then we could be lovers and no one could blame me for it, could they? No one could say anything against it, because I'd be just like you, not the slayer anymore. Wouldn't have to fight evil. We could go away somewhere."

"Still have my soul. My conscience. Need to get you yours back."

"No! No souls! . . . souls are where all the trouble is. I don't want one anymore. I want to live for pleasure and no soul, no conscience . . . we could go north, couldn't we, where the nights last for months? Vampires don't feel the cold much, do they? Just be two anonymous creatures, making love and hunting for our supper and nothing to do with saving the world . . . ." She felt drunk, lost, she giggled. Spike set her down, turned her to face him.

"Don't, Buffy. You almost sound like you mean it."

"I almost do," she said, and began to cry.

It was too much. This was too hard. Too hard, she couldn't do it, and there was nobody else. Nobody to do it for her. She couldn't let herself be his mistress, because there would be too much softness there, and they'd use it against her, it would kill her and she'd fail and the whole world would die because she indulged herself when she was supposed to be hard. She couldn't, she mustn't; she shouldn't have refused that power those shamen wanted to give her, that was selfish and wrong and so was this, she was a coward and weak and she had to go home now, she had to work.

"It's all right, baby," he said, steering her towards the bed even as she went on weeping and babbling, "it's all right, it'll be just like you say. No softness, an' no indulgence, an' no takin' of undead lovers, nothing at all like that. But you'll just stay here an' rest, because nothing bad's going to happen anymore tonight. S'gonna be a quiet night, an' you can have a quiet night too."

She let him lay her down. She was still wearing her jeans and bra; he made no move to undress her further, or himself. Her tears didn't even feel like tears—they were like oozing half-gelled Jello. She was congested, full-up and miserable.

"Spike—"

"Never mind, Buffy. Just relax."

"But you haven't— " She pushed away the hair that was sticking to the shallow punctures on her neck.

"Stop that. That was—that was just to get your attention."

"No, I want you to. I want you to trust me."

He raised a suspicious eyebrow. "What's that got to do with me trustin' you?"

"I can't explain it . . . I just know it does. "

"Slippery slope we're on here," he muttered.

"If you trusted me, you'd take what I'm offering you. I know it would make us both stronger."

She fixed her gaze on his.

"Would it?"

"Yes." Her tears had stilled now, and the giddy sick feeling was replaced with a quiet certainty. This was terribly important. "Spike, having a soul . . . being my ally . . . I think that means that when I offer my blood to you, you can take some, and it doesn't mean killing me, hurting me, or betraying me. Or yourself. . . . please. I want to give you this."

He was regarding her now with that incredulous grateful awe she'd seen when she invited him into the house the night she'd leapt from the tower. For once she felt equal to the fathomless ardor of this look, because now she was going to give him something real, something of worth to him. Shifting, she pulled back her hair and presented her neck.

He hesitated for another moment, then with a lightning motion he pinned her with an arm and a leg, his mouth coming down on her fast and hard. It felt marvelous, to be covered like this, her mind flashed on a picture she'd once seen of a mama cat holding a kitten down, to wash it with her tongue. Such a funny comparison, but it felt apt.

This time the bite was deep, and nothing escaped to run down her neck; he battened on her, barely sucking at all, so expertly had he placed his fangs that the blood flowed freely to him. Her heart raced, but this wasn't like that other time, with Angel. She didn't tense, there was no need to struggle, and the pleasure was of a different kind, languid and warm and completely unthreatening. She listened greedily to the small sighs and groans he emitted as he fed.

It was over, she thought, much too quickly. She wanted it to go on and on—not because she wished to die, but because for once in the midst of all this hell, she was enough. Without striving or straining, she was enough.

He lifted his head, the demon already sliding off to reveal his handsome human face in a soft sated smile. His body, she realized, was warm now as her own; his cheeks had pinkened.

"Are you all right?" he said.

"I am."

He lowered his head again, to lick the wound. His hand covered her heart. "Such a flutter in there," he murmured. "Sssh. Sssh."

"Was it good, Spike?"

"Sssh," he repeated, as if she was asking him to speak of mysteries too holy to be named.

***

She asked him, before she took her clothes off, not to address her as slayer while they were in this room. She'd answer to anything else—and that whirled her back to that morning last year when he'd come into her kitchen, wanting to know what he should call her as if she was his girlfriend. She could tell he remembered it too; his mouth crooked up in a bitter half-smirk before he agreed to her demand.

His erection was larger and harder than any she'd ever remembered him having, although he'd never been a slouch in the large-and-hard stakes. The realization that this was because of her, and in more ways than just the one, made her blush.

She blushed too because of what they were doing now—or, not what, but how. When she'd said she wanted him this way, he'd let out a snort, a sort of third cousin to his disdain of the other night, when he'd taunted her for being so obvious. But shaming her wasn't his M.O. now. So here she was, pinned stark naked on her back, legs splayed wide in helpless abandon, and here he was, obligingly on top of her with all his clothes on, including—the coat.

Oh yeah, all pretense aside, they both knew she was fucking the coat just as much as she was fucking him.

The leather brushing against the insides of her legs as he moved, the tangy taste of it between her teeth when she bit down on the lapel, the tent of warmth they created inside it, made her feel small and sheltered and safe.

Not a whole lot of sense there, she thought. With him here she didn't want to be the Chosen One, but she needed him to be Big Bad. Needed him to be as large and dark and looming and in charge as he'd ever been when they were enemies. This desire, so deep and powerfully arousing, to be the weaker one, to be passive, confused her. She'd never experienced it before. Certainly not with him—during all their crazy sex last year, she'd been firmly in the driver's seat, even when she thought she wasn't.

Of course she still was—they were doing just what she'd requested. Had Spike had his way, she guessed, this scene would be quite different. She still wasn't giving him what she knew he really wanted. Maybe there'd be time later, but right now she needed this.

The metal buttons of his open fly scraped her thigh, or caught at her pussy hair; he fucked her hard, harder and faster than most women would like or could stand. She felt super-sensitive, yet stopped up, as if she'd needed to pee for hours and held it in. The climax she was reaching for was tantalizingly just out of reach—it gathered and receded and teased as he pounded her, growling with each breath, his blue eyes flashing glimpses of gold, as if the demon was passing and repassing behind a thin curtain. His hands cradled her head, sometimes caressed her cheeks, tangled in her hair, gentle but with the potential for violence.

She knew he wouldn't hurt her.

Pawing the leather in her hands, she squeezed her eyes shut, struggled and surged towards her release.

He changed the angle suddenly; deeper, tighter, shorter pummeling thrusts, each one hitting her clit.

His hand on her face then. "Look at me. Buffy, look at me."

His eyes were full on gold now.

"Please—please please—oh please—" All this sensation was nearly too much, but it wasn't enough, either, she couldn't get there, the last piece was missing. She needed the monster, who was beyond language, beyond control. She needed to see the bumps and ridges, the fangs. She wanted him to bite her again, to hold her down with his fangs in her throat while he ravished her, so there'd be nothing she could do about it, nothing at all but submit.

"Spike—oh God Spike please—give it to me—give to me—!"

His face dissolved into the demon's then, and he roared. That sound, which was like nothing that ought to come out of the mouth of anything on two legs, filled the room like thunder, and shot up her spine. She began to come, orgasms as convulsive as hiccups. Throwing her head back, she sobbed aloud, shaking and clutching at the leather, at his arms and shoulders.

The pleasure wound itself up into that ecstasy that is the same as pain; unable to stand another moment of contact., she threw him off with a wail.

When she could look, he was lying on his back just as she'd shoved him aside, leather arms akimbo, hands slack, his erection, slick with her pearly spendings, emerging rampant from his black jeans. His eyes were closed and he drew long deep breaths, as someone counting to twenty to rein in his temper.

"Spike. Spike?" He didn't move.

She struggled up, her limbs like wet paper. The idea came to her that she'd rejected him—rejected his skin, his real body, the man who wanted to make love to her, in favor of the leather coat, his demon and his disembodied cock. And having done that, she'd not even let him finish.

No wonder he wouldn't look at her. She still had a way to go on the trust thing.

At the foot of the bed, she yanked off his boots, socks. Then his jeans, peeling them down his legs like tearing off a bandage. He sat up then, but didn't exactly help her, just letting her ease him out of the coat, bowing his head so she could yank his teeshirt up and off. He kept his face averted, but standing alongside, she looked at him. Looked tenderly, longingly. The trappings of Big Bad stripped off, his white body, webbed with the scars of old scraps and sufferings, was touchingly undefended, vulnerable to her judgment and mercy.

"Spike."

He got up on his elbows to attend her, his eyes bleak. Holding his gaze as she climbed back on the bed, she thought how easy he was for her to hurt; how easy it was for them to misunderstand each other. She knelt between his outstretched legs. Leaned forward to kiss his mouth, slow and thorough. Then took his cock in both her hands and bent over it. She could fit only the head in her mouth. His taut belly and thighs quivered. He groaned. She let one hand stray to the balls, pressed and rolled them gently.

"Oh God—Oh Buffy—touch them—yes—like that— "

She sank lower, took them one at a time in her lips, licked them slowly. He cried out, and pounded the mattress with his fists.

"Oh sweet Jesus of fuck—Buffy—yes—Oh God—stop that now, stop please—go back to the other—"

The slick skin of his cockhead was impossibly soft, softer than anything that had lasted a century and a half ought to be. It filled her mouth like some lovely peach she was sucking. She tasted herself on it, and beneath that, as she ran her tongue up the slit, the mushroomy flavor of his pre-cum.

A whimper erupted from him, and he jerked. She let his prick slip from her lips long enough to say, "Don't hold back. I want you to enjoy this."

"Buffy—oh God—I never thought—ever again— "

"That I would touch you here? And I never did it like this, did I? This is the way you always wanted it, and I wouldn't." She dipped again to her task. The few times she'd gone down on him last year, it was always to shut him up, or somehow unnerve or defeat him, and she'd always felt, with a frisson of nasty delight, his hastily concealed dismay as he came in her mouth. His shame.

She wished now that she could talk to him at the same time as she did this—that she could tell him as well as show him that giving him this pleasure was a pleasure to her. She wished she could kiss his mouth at the same time, his nipples and the palms of his hands.

Those hands scrabbled at the bedclothes; she reached for them and put them in her hair.

He came with a dark groan. She swallowed, and with his cum still slicking her tongue, leaned forward to kiss him. He liked that, she knew; he was the opposite of squeamish about those things. He caught her head and kissed her for a long time, his tongue rolling gently into her mouth. Then he kissed her breasts, and her neck opposite where the bandage was.

They subsided onto the pillow, entwined. "Good girl. My . . . good . . . girl."

Once she'd objected with all the force of her rage when he'd called her his girl. Now she rested her head on his silent chest and hugged him.

"What time is it?"

"Don't worry about that, sweetheart. I'll manage all that. Are you hungry?"

"I don't know."

"That means you're ravenous. We'll feed you up."

"In a minute." She snuggled closer. "Hold me, William."

They were quiet for a short time.

"Why did you call me that?"

"It's your name."

"Not as far you're concerned. You only ever called me William last year when you told me we were finished."

"I'm sorry for the way I did that. God, I'm sorry for the whole thing last year. I hurt you much more than I had to. I mean . . . I didn't have to hurt you at all, but—torturing you started to get to be a thing."

"Never mind that now. Whatever you did wrong, I did a hundred times worse. I want to know why you called me by that name."

"I—guess I felt like there's somebody else, behind Spike . . . and if I talked to him, he'd . . . he'd understand me in a different way. I still feel that. Sort of."

"Spike's the one you called forth the other night. The one who came here to kill you, right, who's killing for you now. Who'll be your killing machine come the apocalypse, 'til they cut him down."

She curled her hand more tightly around his shoulder. Couldn't bear to think of anything cutting him down, but those Turok Han . . . who could defeat them?

"I know. And I need that Spike. The fighter, the killer, the . . . . well, you know—" She blushed again. How selfishly she'd needed that most primitive self, just a little while ago. Making him be the monster when he most wanted just to be a man. "But there's more to you. You used to think I was blind to that, right? I had to be, to do my job. But I'm not anymore. I want to know William too. I want to know you with your soul."

"Same as I ever was, Buffy. All the soul is, is a lot of inhibitions. Strip those off, an' the base impulses inside any man form the demon. I've always been what I am."

"When you were alive—?"

"When I was alive I longed to be—didn't dare to be—what I became once I was dead. Fear an' shame's what holds people back. But it was always there inside me. In my dreams, my fancies."

"I can't believe that. I can't believe everyone wants to be a killer and fear is all that holds them back."

"Didn't quite say that, sweetheart. Meant the impulses, the desires, that lie deepest in the heart—the ones you'd carry out if there was world an' courage enough, an' time, an' no civilizin' strictures to hold you back. Once you're a vampire, there's nothing' else but those desires. They take their basest form. Killing . . . killing's what we do to exist. How we pass the time. Guess for a lot of vamps, it's the high point. Those're the ones who don't last long. The rest of us . . . got other things on our minds besides."

"Huh. So—what were you? When you were alive?"

"Like I'm sayin', Buffy. What I've always been, these last twelve decades. What I am right here. A man, immensely in love with a powerful woman."

He kissed her forehead then, and reached for the phone. "Let's get some food in from the chinks. What do you like?"

***

He ate those crinkly little red peppers that you were supposed to leave at the side of your plate because they'd set your mouth on fire. Crunched them appreciatively in his teeth. Cleaned off a couple of spare ribs too, but other than that, he sipped at the Jack Daniels and watched her inhale chicken almond ding. Explained that most of the food she'd ordered didn't taste like anything to him.

"Less it's spicy, might as well chew on cotton wool. Pity too, because when I was alive to appreciate it, there wasn't much interestin' to eat in London. Mutton hot, mutton cold, boiled greens, bread and butter. Occasionally might get hold of a curry, if you were invited to the right supper party. Wasn't like you could pop down the Indian take-away when you had a fancy."

She had the sense that he'd have liked to feed her himself with the chopsticks, if he'd dared.

She felt oddly shy, sitting cross-legged in the middle of the mattress, the bedstands on each side crowded with open white cartons. There was something weirdly intimate about eating in front of him, at least like this, wearing nothing but her panties. She'd put those on because no way was she going to dine naked, no matter what he told her.

Even though, okay, there was something to be said for getting sparerib sauce licked off your nipples. An experience she'd be glad to recall later on.

If there was a later on.

She remembered herself at sixteen, wanting to spend her whole life with Angel—imagining that life being more or less as limitless as anybody else's, because, although she knew she was the slayer and had already died once, still, she was a teenager and felt immortal as they all did. And now here she was with vampire paramour number two, and she was trying to figure out how many weeks there were between now and May, which was when the climactic battle would almost certainly happen. If the First didn't take him from her sooner, by activating his trigger. Beyond May was the Big Nothing. Either she'd be dead or he would be, or far far more likely, all of them. However it went down, no point making plans for night-time trips to the beach this summer with the undead boyfriend, for swimming and moonbaths.

Have to take what they could get, right now.

"Here's another one." She fished another crinkled pepper from the Mongolian Beef; he leaned forward to lip it from her fingers. Then he kissed her, and she tasted its fire on his tongue. A hot feeling swept through her, that she didn't want to name.

Spike's hand smoothed her hair, and he let off a laugh. "Full of blushes you are, what're you thinking of?"

"Look, there's a piece of this pork left. Do you want anything else to eat?"

"Your luscious little cunny. But finish up your supper first."

She shoved the carton aside. "I've had enough."

She didn't like to think that it was one hundred years of pleasing Drusilla that had made him so incredibly good. She didn't like to think about his sexual history at all, but then, she supposed he didn't enjoy thinking about hers either. She knelt up to peel her panties off.

"This gonna require I put the coat back on?"

She thwapped him. "No."

He took the blow in good part, showing her the tip of his tongue in a grin. "All right then. Lie back an' spread 'em."

A sense of deja vu came over her—powerful and resonant, as if this had happened not just once before but often. The sensation was slightly dizzying, and her skin flushed again with that hot feeling she'd had a little while ago and not wanted to analyze. None of this had happened before, not like this. The room seemed to take one sharp spin; she realized that she was happy, just deeply happy in the moment, to be here, with him. She reached for him to steady herself, rested her head on his shoulder.

"What's the matter, Buffy? You feelin' all right?"

"Just—I dunno—a bit dizzy." She threaded her arms around him.

"It's the MSG they put in this stuff. Or else I took too much blood out of you. Did I take too much—? Christ, s'what I was afraid of—"

"It's not that." She rubbed her forehead against his cheek, smiling, and started to laugh. "I feel good. What we're doing right now—it's perfect, it's just what we both needed. Thank you for bringing me here."

He lit up. "You really—?"

"It's all good. You're being so good to me, Spike, and I'll always remember this night." She looked up at him, saw the surprise and delight in his face, and thought, This might be the last time we'll have together. I should give him everything I possibly can now. No points would be awarded for caution, not anymore. And she was tired of holding herself back. She could tell him the truth, at last. She put her lips to his ear. "I . . . I've fallen in love with you."

He pulled back to look at her. The enraptured expression was gone; he frowned. With a jerk he swung around and slid to the foot of the bed.

"Spike—what—where are you going?"

He shrugged off her outstretched hand and rose. "This's nice, yeah. So, no need to play act for me, Slayer. S'cruel, really."

"Play act—? Spike!"

He confronted her then. His face was a mask, all the light and warmth fled. "You like me. You've come to trust me, yeah. You've stopped pretendin' my love for you's not real. But you don't love me. You never will. There's no call for prattling pretty lies at me at this late date—already got me right where you want me. Already got my loyalty an' my promise that I'll fight for you 'til they tear my heart out."

"But—" She couldn't believe how wrong this had gone—the last thing she'd wanted was to hurt him; his reaction to her whispering the last thing she'd have predicted.

"Just leave off."

"You—you think I'm lying?" She stared at him, blinking. Tears pricked the corners of her eyes. How could he think that? What was the matter with her? He'd fed from her and yet wasn't able to feel . . . to feel how much she . . . . "Oh God."

She must be half-dead, or half-demon, if she could be so opaque to him, she must already have lost her humanity. She put her hands over her face. Couldn't bear that he should look at her, if—if— She thought suddenly of Tara, of that night she'd cried to Tara, who'd asked if she loved Spike. She'd not answered the question because it was too terrible then, much much too terrible to tell the truth even to so gentle a presence as Tara, when she couldn't tell it to herself.

It was all so obscene then—what she went to him for, the useless hope she instilled and dashed and reignited in him with every visit to his crypt. Made her feel monstrous and horrible.

All that was different now, she was sure of what she wanted. But—apparently it was too late. She'd already broken him.

Two hot tears spilled down, but she was too frozen even to sob.

***

It was like having a sword thrust through his vitals, hearing her say that. It wasn't going to kill him, but the pain was agonizing and wouldn't pass off in a hurry. He'd not realized how much, all along, he'd relied on her refusal to soft soap him in any way. That lie pierced his amour propre, made him writhe inside with something very like shame. She couldn't respect him if she could whisper a facile lie at a time like this. And he'd thought he'd had that at least. Thought she saw him at last as an equal.

But then she'd always been so good at manipulating him.

He reached for his jeans lying on the floor, and got them on. Kept his head down. Wanted to spare her further embarrassment, and himself. Seeing those tears, he knew she regretted her stupid overreaching outburst, his calling her on it, the whole cumbersome thing. Why'd she have to inject that falsity into what was the sweetest night he could remember in decades? Why couldn't she have just gone on letting him love her, letting him look after her? Why remind him she'd never really belong to him the way he belonged to her?

He wished he'd not given in to her the other night. This could've been avoided if he'd kept his pride. Kept apart.

At least she had the sense not to twist the knife by insisting on it further. She just stood there while he dressed. In his head he'd already grabbed up the bottle of Jack and moved the hell out. He'd drink off the sharpest edge of this big stinking mistake before he presented himself back at the Summers house for duty.

When he sat to pull his boots on, he said, "Look, Buffy, don't—don't torment yourself. Won't make any difference when it comes to the fight. I'll be there."

She didn't seem to hear him. Her eyes were enormous and shiny, fixed in a thousand yard stare. Her arms and legs had broken out in goosebumps. She seemed unaware that she was naked.

He scooped up her sweater and tried to hand it to her, but she didn't take it. She brought her hands together, seemed to be ticking items off on her fingers, her lips moving silently. He thought he caught a word or two: "Always . . . this always . . ." but he wasn't sure, and he wasn't going to ask.

Then she started patting herself blindly, as if feeling for injuries, but he didn't think she realized what she was doing. Her feeble movements disquieted him; he knew they were meant to, and turned away.

"Right—better get your kit on, go home, get some sleep. I—I'll be 'round tomorrow in time to take the kiddies out on patrol."

He snatched up the bottle and strode towards the door. His hand was on the knob when her voice shattered the silence.

"HOW DARE YOU!"

He wheeled around.

She was right behind him. "How dare you call me a liar! I have never lied to you!" She was bristling, her hands balled into fists. "I've never told you what you wanted to hear, never given you false hopes. Nothing's ever been easy between us, you've been a massive pain in my ass for years now, and all that between us last year nearly tore me apart. I never asked you to be obsessed with me and I never asked you to go get a freakin' soul. So when I tell you I'm in love with you, how dare you throw it back in my face!"

She was bright pink and panting, and he thought she might collapse.

Instead it was him. The bottle slipped from his hand, and he followed it down as if chopped off at the knees. There were her little feet, the toenails painted lilac; there were her bare legs, her quivering thighs. He laid his aching head against them and sobbed.

Her fingers curled tight into his hair. Then she was kneeling beside him, her arms stealing around him. "Spike, I love you so much. So much. And I have for . . . for a while, but I just couldn't. I couldn't let myself. You know I couldn't."

He looked at her, thought tenderly how ugly she got when she was on the verge of crying, her mouth pulled out of shape, eyes so wild looking. Like a little furry dumb animal, suffering. Still woozy, he pressed his brow to hers.

"Don't leave me Spike—they all left me, all my others. They didn't care that I loved them and they left. If you go I don't know what I'll do."

"Bloody hell. You know I'll never leave you." He pulled her across his lap, buried his nose in her hair, pressed kisses on her eyes and cheeks and mouth. "I'm so sorry, Buffy, but when you said that—God, it just laid me low. Cut my heart out. I just thought—I don't know what I thought. Like I was in hell."

She put a hand up to his face, pressed his cheeks and mouth with her small fingers as if she was blind and trying to learn him. Whispered, "No no no. I won't be sending you to hell. And you—please, Spike—you won't be going away from me for my own good."

"Not for yours or anybody else's."

They held each other for a long time, with an aching tightness that would've hurt any ordinary person. Her hand traveled with inarticulate roughness over his face and head, tugging at him, as if she couldn't quite believe he was real. He buried his face in her hair, in her neck, immersing himself in her scent, gnawing at her in places with his blunt teeth. He nosed off the bandage and tasted the salt of her scabbing wound. She shuddered and mewed, wriggling on his lap, snatching him even closer.

"Say it to me again, Buffy."

She peered at him with a tipsy intensity. "I love you, Spike. I'm your girl."

Had anyone ever prognosticated that one day he'd hold the naked Slayer on his lap and hear her speak those words to him, see her face lit with that melting smile she so seldom showed to anyone, he'd have been sure there was a mistake in the translation somewhere.

Then he remembered, someone had. That strange Cassie girl—the one who could see the future. She'd promised him this.

He'd not believed her either.

"My girl." He slipped a hand between her thighs. She was wetter than ever, her sweet clit already swollen when his fingers pressed it. He began a gentle, ruthless caress. Hanging on his neck, Buffy panted, then cried out and sank her teeth into his leather collar. "That's it, sweetheart. Let yourself go. Your pretty cunny's all mine, isn't it?"

He felt her nod; the leather still clenched in her teeth. He withdrew his hand slowly, and licked his fingers. She grunted in disappointment.

He rose, carried her back to the edge of the bed. She grinned then, stretched and writhed, throwing her legs wide to show herself off to him.

What's it take to pry apart the slayer's dimpled knees? Christ, the way his mind worked—never knew what would float up out memory, or when. He'd hated her then— with a white hot lustful hatred he didn't want to recall too closely now.

He started to strip off his clothes again. Still stretching like a cat, Buffy smiled. "Do that slower."

He tried, but was too eager to get at her to make a show of it. He loved the feel and flavor of her pussy at all times, but best when it was like this—already fucked, reddened and swollen, awash in juices and maybe a little sore. There was no sight more beautiful or involving; he caught her knees to keep her still and drank it in with his eyes. There wasn't much light, but he didn't need much. Every gleaming fold, every ringlet was distinct and precious. He'd seen a painting once somewhere, by some French chappie, of a girl laid open like this, just her cunt and thighs and belly, and he'd titled it The Origin of the World. Too right. Buffy's quim might not be the origin of his world, but it was the center. The altar of his devotion.

"Spike . . . " She wriggled her impatience. Charming the way her pussy twitched before he'd even touched it. He leaned in and blew a stream of air at her clit, watched it throb. She said his name again, kicking out with one foot. So imperious, his slayer. His girl.

Hooking her knees in his hands, he opened her wider, and attacked not that tantalizing bit of flesh, but her ass instead.

"Oh—what—what are you doing? Oh—oh—oh my God don't stop!"

It flexed and opened, that tight bud, as he licked it; when he drove his tongue in, she cried out again. "Oh God oh God—you're not going to try to fuck me there, are you?"

Ah. That didn't take long. Having made her big emotional admission, the last bits of resistance had all tumbled. She'd deny him nothing now. The realization so moved him that again tears pricked his eyes. "Maybe later," he said, affecting nonchalance, "if you're good." He caught her hands stealing down to her clit and batted them away. "Mine. No touching."

"I need to come," she said, with a piteous matter-of-factness that made him smile.

"You will, my jewel." He slipped a wet finger into her ass; she clenched around it, and gasped when he thrust his tongue into her cunt. Thumbing her clit with the other hand, he brought her off in a moment. She screamed and surged up, thighs closing around his head.

"Now will you be quiet and let me work?"

"Oh God, Spike . . . I love you."

"Only because I can make you boil and shriek like a little tea kettle."

"No, not only for that."

Their eyes met along the line of her body. She was pale, her mouth slack, and there was not the least bit of front to her. She was entirely bared to him. Still holding her gaze, he pressed a kiss into her thigh.

She reached a hand towards him, scraped fingers through his hair. "You're so beautiful, Spike. I love looking at you."

He sensed that she wanted to say more—that there were reams and reams of complicated things she would've said if she had words for them, but all she could manage were these banalities that yet suffused him with such dangerous happiness, like the purest opium. He bent back to her open cunt, licking her clit, first with the flat of his tongue, and then, teasingly, with the hard tip. Slipped three fingers into her, moving them gently in and out. Last year she'd always gone at him with nearly brutal intensity, and demanded the same from him. But he'd figured out, when he could catch her off guard, that she came harder and more helplessly when his touch was soft but relentless. Then it was as if she started to slide down a long long precipice, nothing to catch onto to stop the gathering momentum. She'd weep and plead, try to make him speed up, bear down. But he'd not release her so easily; he could imprison her in these delicate inexorable caresses until she was nearly insane with pleasure, in thrall to his unwavering attention, the depths of his worship. Shuddering and grunting, she'd tear at him with her nails and scream curses.

Afterwards she'd always punch him, call him some nasty name, stay away a day or two longer than usual, and he'd know he'd really gotten to her where she lived.

She wasn't angry now. Her body went through its same uncontrolled gyrations, breathing in short deep rasps, but instead of cursing she let loose a stream of notes and exclamations that sounded to him like music. He was sure she had no idea what she was saying, or that she was vocalizing at all. He kept her just at the edge of it, didn't let her lap over. But then she began kicking, her sharp heels pummeling his shoulders in a way that became more and more difficult to ignore, and he had to let her spend. Next time, he thought, he'd tie her down for this, keep her on the simmer for hours.

She surfaced as if from drowning, blind and drenched. "Where—where are you—I need you here—" She flailed out; caught him by the hair and yanked. Spike climbed her body, sank gratefully into her tight sodden heat.

"Fuck—your cock is so— Yes—yesyesyes—"

He set up a languid rolling rhythm. Surely they had hours still, the night was long, they'd started early. He thought not of coming but just of the ride, the long languorous fuck that made it so easy just to drink in the adorable sight of her, kiss her mouth and breasts, talk to her. There were a lot of little things he wanted to say to her. He was an undead beast, but an undead beast could fuck for a long long time without losing control, and that was what a girl like her needed to satisfy her, wasn't it? Wasn't it?

Yes, she said.

She smiled, a smile he felt in his spine and his balls and the base of his skull.

"I love you fucking me," she murmured. "I want you to fuck me forever."

"I will. Spend forever in your juicy cunny an' it'll still not be long enough."

She laughed then, a laugh like pearls sliding off a string, and he thought he couldn't possibly be happier than this.

The phone jangled.

He shot out an arm to jog it into silence.

The air went out of her. Suddenly slack, Buffy turned her head and sighed. "That means the end, doesn't it."

"Our wake-up call, yeah. Lost track of the time. Got to get out of here soon unless I want to be stuck all day."

"Oh Spike, I wish we could. Just stay here."

"I know, sweetheart. We'll come back. Not here—someplace a bit nicer next time, yeah? We will."

"I'm afraid . . . what if we don't? What if—"

"Ssh, ssh. Gonna make plenty of raunchy love, you an' me." He kissed her, then dragged himself up. "Raincheck to finish this later."

"Yeah. Only . . . I don't know when—" She glanced away from him. "I can't just move you into my room, Spike. Not yet anyway. For one thing—I've got about five teenage roommates, and for another—"

"Want to wait for the right moment to tell the news."

"You understand." She put a hand on his arm. "Not because I'm ashamed. But—there's so much going on. If I just spring it on the Scoobies without . . . without any warning, it'll turn into a thing, and we don't have time to divide our energies."

He wasn't sure. When she'd decided to have his chip removed, that news had gone down without becoming much of a thing, except with Giles.

"Giles said—he said my relying on you was affecting my judgment."

There. He'd guessed right. "You agree?"

"He said he wanted better for me."

At this, Spike sighed, and let his hand drop away. "Ah. So do I."

She caught his hand again. "I've told you I love you, and I do. I'm not changeable, Spike. I'm not, I'm not gonna fold just because Giles frowns at me. Or Xander. Or, or my sister. Or . . . I dunno . . . Anya."

"She keeps hitting on me."

Buffy gave off a laugh, startling as a burp. "That bitch."

He decided not to argue about the sleeping arrangements. The point about the five roommates was sufficient reason in itself. Although he thought being the Slayer ought to carry a few privileges—a room to herself being one. Have to see if he could maneuver things at Revello to give her that. Although there were even more potentials expected. Anya's crack about calling in the health inspectors was getting to be less of a joke and more of a good idea.

"C'mon," she said then, snapping out of her easy mood. "Got to get you back to your basement."

***

When they came into the kitchen, the windows were just lightening for daybreak. He caught her into a last embrace. She rested her cheek on his leather shoulder, humming a little. He wondered how much the coat had to do with his enormous good fortune—a stupid thing, but it was hard to imagine she'd have stirred out of her tense reserve without seeing him in it, whether he'd killed the required demon or not.

He remembered Wood then, who'd seen him in the school, who'd asked about the coat. Whose mother he'd killed and who would be stalking him now.

If Buffy knew where this leather had come from, she wouldn't cuddle it so enthusiastically—or him. She knew about the two slayers he'd killed, but they were abstractions to her. When she found out the truth from the principal—and she would, he suspected, soon—all that would change.

He considered telling her himself. Not right here, spoiling this delicate moment. But later on—this afternoon, when she got back from work.

But then what? He'd be back in the ranks of her responsibilities, another person she had to worry about and protect. When he was determined to be the one who'd lift as many of her burdens as possible, protect her.

So, no. He'd start by protecting her from this, a trouble that was really nothing to do with her, that would distract her energies. Anyway, it wouldn't do to have the slayer intervene for him with one of his victims. Wood had a right to his rage, and his desire for vengeance—Spike meant to deprive him of it if he possibly could, because wasting time fighting over the past, when the First Evil would love to see them killing one another, was just the kind of scenario they had to avoid.

"I'm so happy, Spike," she whispered. There were potentials sleeping on the dining room floor, just a couple yards away; he could hear their breathing, feel the blood moving in them. "I feel so much better now. Not so . . . not so alone."

He kissed her fingers, folded them around his. "I'll be your good right hand, Slayer."

"I know. Sleep well, Spike."

***

As she stole up the stairs in the dark, she heard a door open above. When Buffy reached the landing, Willow was there, her mouth set in a line. She glanced at her watch.

"What are you doing up so early?"

"Buffy . . . are you back with Spike?"

Buffy stared at her, then began to move towards her room. "Will, I'm really tired. It's been a long night. I'll tell you about it, but not now."

Willow followed, touched her arm. "But do you think that's a good idea?" she said. "I mean, after everything he's done?"

"I'm back with you, aren't I? I mean, after everything you've done."

Willow quailed, stepped back. Buffy didn't wait to hear her say anything else. She went into her room, picked her way over the sleeping potentials, and climbed into bed. Thinking she couldn't possibly sleep for all she had to feel and think about, she was out almost as soon as her cheek touched the pillow.

***

He was on the basement stairs, yawning and climbing towards a cup of warm blood and maybe a quick shower if the herd had thinned out, when he heard his name.

There were always people in the kitchen, always girls chattering, and generally he didn't listen to them at all, even when they were talking about him. Girls would talk about him, there was no help for it. But there was something about this—the low gossipy tone about it, that made him stop. He could hear the murmur perfectly clearly, even through the closed door.

". . . woke up this morning because I thought I heard something, and I saw them. I saw her kissing him. Right here in the kitchen. Big big smoochies."

A couple of girlish gasps, then another voice—he recognized it as Vi's—"That's nothing. The other night I happened to look out the window, and I saw them . . . out in the yard . . . and they were . . . they were doing it."

"No way!"

"Way. On the ground."

"Are you sure? Are you sure it was them?"

"Please, who else? What other blond guys do we have around here?"

"Andrew."

"Girl, that was not Andrew."

This was Rona. Christ on a crutch, they'd had an audience after all. How many of them, he wondered, had watched their whole performance?

There was a burst of merriment, then a new voice that made Spike roll his eyes in consternation.

"You girls saw what now?"

Xander Fucking Hell Harris.

So much for Buffy's desire for discretion.

It happened quickly then—the burst of voices, then the door crashing open and Xander flying into him. Harris hadn't expected him to be right there; they tumbled together down the steps in a great clatter. Then there was a lot of yelling and commotion and the whole houseful of them poured down into the basement, half of them with no idea why.

He broke Xander's fall, which was just as well, as he hardly wanted to be blamed for knocking him out.

At least—not without the pleasure of actually knocking him out.

Xander was calling for a stake, and some of the potentials were trying to separate them, when the crowd parted for Buffy and Willow.

"What is going on here?"

She was fully back in steely mode. Her voice cut them all into silence.

Xander turned to her then with such desperation in his face that Spike almost felt sorry for him.

"Buffy—tell me you're not—oh. Oh no. No."

Xander's gaze had fallen on Buffy's neck. Her hair was pulled back, she wore nothing to conceal the mark of the bite. The rest of them registered it at the same time; there were a number of distinct gasps and exclamations from the gathered girls.

"What is it, Buff?" Xander pleaded. "What is it makes you want to touch that undead maggot. Is it a thrall? Is it like one of those illnesses where you cut yourself or stick pins in your— Because maybe I could understand that, people do weird self-destructive things until their friends get them some help—"

"Xander, shut up."

This was Willow. She stepped around Buffy, and gave Spike a glance along the way, a sort of whoa, look at me glance that he didn't quite know how to interpret. When she reached Xander, she put a hand on his arm, and looked up into his face.

"Xan, she doesn't need an intervention. They're in love."

Xander shook his head wildly, as if he was being attacked by midges. "I just don't accept that! This is a terrible thing, Will, especially now—this is just bad all around! It's not—she can't—"

"But you know what that's like, being in love. I know what that's like," Willow said. Her voice trembled, she pouted and dropped her eyes for a moment. "Buffy's in love with Spike. I think we just need to . . . in the words of the great Joe Tex, leave those lovers alone. Okay?"

A voice from the back of the crowd said, "Who's Joe Tex?"

"He was a soul singer in the sixties. His hits include 'Hold What You Got,' 'I Gotcha,' and 'The Love You Save May Be Your Own.' He died in 1982." Realizing they were all staring at him, Andrew fidgeted. "What? My mom has the greatest hits album."

Xander was doing that huff and puff thing he got into when he didn't know what to say; Buffy went to him then and took his hands.

"I'm so glad you're so loyal to me, Xander. I forget to tell you. But I am."

"Oh no. Oh no—don't try to distract me. I am not the issue here—! We're talking about—"

"But you should listen to Willow. I . . . I am in love with Spike, and I am happy, and that's gonna make me even more kick-ass when the time comes."

"But Buffy . . . look at you. I mean—you let him bite you. He bit you. That's . . . that's not normal."

This elicited a murmuring from the crowd of potentials.

She touched the scabs with her fingertips. "It is though, kinda . . . for us. It's okay, Xander. We were . . . we were trusting each other. We were sharing. It's private."

"We can all see it," he said.

"I know. I mean—the reasons. Private. But good. It's all good, Xander." She glanced around at Spike then, and her face melted into that smile that put a hitch in his breath. "Spike, tell him you didn't hurt me. That you won't hurt me."

Xander threw his hands up. "When the First Evil pulls his trigger, he's gonna hurt you—! He's gonna hurt us all! I can't believe you've forgotten about that!"

Buffy frowned. "Yeah, the trigger. We have no control over that right now. It's the same whether Spike and I are together or not. I know he isn't going to hurt anyone of his own will. What happens . . . what happens with the First, we'll just have to deal with."

Xander confronted him then. His face was awash with pain. "Why? Why did you have to come here, and—and—and—God, why didn't we kill you when we had the chance?"

"Love you too, mate. But it's true, I didn't hurt her, an' I won't. We're all on the same side now, right? Comrades in arms. Workin' to build a better world, where you an' me can loathe each other in peace an' security."

"I think you two should shake hands," Willow said.

"Yes," Buffy said. "Shake hands. You're my two dependable men. I know you understand this, Xander. I know you do. And I'm going to rely on you to help me make Dawn understand, when she gets home from school. And Giles, when he gets back from Paraguay. Will you do that?"

He looked, Spike thought, like a bear being baited. But he nodded, and actually clasped his hand for long enough to make a decent show of it.

Someone started to clap, and then all the potentials clapped for a few seconds, and then on a wave of self-consciousness, stopped abruptly.

Buffy turned to them. "Thanks for your support. But all of you remember—nothing like this is ever going to happen to you. Boyfriends, vampires, not overlapping categories. Got it?"

They murmured. A few started filing up the stairs, and then they were all gone, leaving Xander, Willow, Spike and Buffy behind. They stood, four points of a square, all looking at the cement floor between them.

"So, uh . . . why aren't you at work?" Xander said.

Buffy clapped a hand over her mouth. "Shit. I overslept, I—"

"C'mon, I'll drop you off," he said. "Got to visit the library site. You can make your excuses for being a lousy employee in person."

"Yeah—give me ten minutes—"

She fled up the stairs, followed more slowly by Xander. Neither looked back. That bothered him for a second, her failure to touch him, kiss him good morning or goodbye. But then he decided it was a good sign. He was in, he was a fact. So there was no need to do the touchy glancey smoochy thing in front of the others. Better like this.

"I'd better get to work too. The research never stops." Willow started for the stairs.

"Red."

She hopped up a couple of steps, then turned to look down at him.

"That was all right. I owe you one."

"You don't," she said. "Just . . . take care of Buffy. Give her what she needs."

"That I will."

"Okay then."

He let her make her exit, waited a few beats, then went to get his breakfast.

***

"Is that raincheck still good, four days later?"

"Dunno if I can fuck you with all these plush animals starin' at me."

"We can turn off the light."

"Can still see 'em in the dark. Nasty little beady-eyed buggers."

"C'mon, Spike. This was a big gesture on Dawn's part. Clearing her room out for us on a Saturday night. For the whole night. There's not a square inch of privacy in this house. She's sharing my bed with four other girls, plus the ones on the floor."

He smirked. Buffy didn't realize it, but he could hear them all down the hall, giggling and talking. "Now that sounds good—gonna go join—"

"Stop that."

He caught her hand before the slap could connect, then slipped her fingers into his mouth.

"Think the bit was just in love with the idea of anything sexy goin' on in her narrow girlish little bed."

To his surprise, Buffy laughed. "Yeah, she mentioned something about that."

"Gonna have to be quiet about it though, Slayer. All those keen virgin ears, listenin' out to learn how it's done."

"Oh God, I know." She gathered up the stuffed animals and shoved them into the already stuffed closet. He'd not told her about their audience of that first night, but he suspected she realized it by now. There were very few secrets in this house.

She turned back into his arms, his kiss. "We'll just have to be really really stealthy," she whispered, her fingers deftly undoing his shirt buttons. "Because I can't wait anymore. Having you here in the house and not being able to—to get off alone with you—it's weird. It's like I'm back in junior high, under Mom's ever-watchful eye."

"Reminds me of my youth. Weren't ever allowed to be alone with a girl in those days, unless you were engaged to her. An' even then, you had to leave the drawing room door open."

She paused, her fingers curled around his belt buckle. "You were engaged to get married?"

"No no—just talkin' in generalities. Very difficult to get a good snog in those days, 'less you was willing to pay for it."

" . . . oh."

"Never . . . uh . . . actually did that either."

She unclasped his belt buckle slowly, then glanced up at him, mischief in her eyes. "Are you trying to tell me, Big Bad Spike, that—that when you died, you'd never had sex?"

"No bad habits to unlearn," he said with a shrug, getting to work on her buttons. "Everybody knows there's nothin' worse in bed than a middle-class Victorian gent. Whereas vampires . . . nothin' like a vampire for the skill set an' the enthusiasm an' the complete lack of inhibitions. Taught by experts, I was." He thought he might've stepped too far with this gambit, but to his relief, she laughed again.

"I'd still like to meet that Victorian gent some time. Whom you've kept so carefully hidden." She freed him from his shirt then, ran her hands down the ripples of his chest.

"Don't think you'd fancy him, love. Not like you fancy me." He pushed her shirt down off her arms. She wore a nearly transparent black bra, with a convenient front hook. He bent to give each of her nipples a wet kiss through the thin silk. "You do fancy me, don't you?"

There was a knock on the door then, and Dawn thrust her head around before they could shout.

"Sorry! I just had to get . . . to get my . . . something. Something."

Uh huh, Spike thought. An eyeful. That's what you had to get.

She stared at him, her mouth hanging open, for a full ten seconds, until Buffy flew at her. "What? What do you need? Where is it? Get it and get out!"

Dawn was bright red, but she held her ground, and her stare.

Spike turned full to her. Let her take in his naked torso, his dangling belt ends, the undone top button on his fly. "Looked your fill, Platelet? Go on now. You've fulfilled your dare."

"Oh. Oh! Yeah—uh—goodnight."

Buffy flipped the lock on the door and rolled her eyes. "I'm living in a madhouse."

Idly he listened to Dawn gallop back to Buffy's bedroom, throw herself onto the bed in the midst of the slavering potentials, and begin to tell what she'd seen.

A room chockful of walking talking hormone bombs, all eager to hear about the vampire studmuffin who was doing the slayer.

"Hey," Buffy said, rising up on tiptoe to thread her arms around his neck. "Look at me. I'm right here."

He refocused. "So you are. How about that?"

The End

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