Spike had almost forgotten about her existence. Only the occasional twinge in his forearms reminded him of the girl from the missing year -- from the time that he and Buffy didn't talk about. By unspoken consensus, a veil of silence had been drawn over the period of time before the final battle.
Buffy had come to him as he lay there on the ground of the alley, broken and bleeding, and expressed absolutely no surprise at seeing him alive again. It was only a day later, as he lay healing in a nearby abandoned warehouse, that she told him that he was the only survivor of the battle. Angel was dead.
He got the full story out of Willow later -- the cryptic phone call from Lorne, the hurried gathering of the forces of the Watcher's Council, and their final arrival in L.A., almost too late to make a difference. They had just barely managed to beat back the armies of the Black Thorn, but not before Buffy had watched Angel take a lance to the heart and crumble to dust before her eyes.
Willow didn't supply any details, and Spike never asked. Buffy herself never spoke of Angel again after telling Spike the news. In turn, he found himself remarkably reticent about the events of the past year. It helped that Buffy almost never questioned him about them. She seemed content to have him near, and when she returned to Rome, he followed along -- mostly out of a sense of apathy than anything else. Without any real discussion, with very little fanfare, he found himself installed in her life, in her apartment, and in her bed.
And so they lived and trained and patrolled together, in something like contentment. Although he never brought it up, their final exchange before his death at the Hellmouth was a constant undercurrent to his thoughts.
I love you.
No, you don't. But thanks for saying it.
Part of him still longed to ask Buffy exactly what she had meant by those words, but another part -- the part that embraced the status quo with a quiet, almost-hidden despair -- insisted on silence. He almost thought that she had forgotten what she'd said to him, except that every night she fell asleep squeezing his hand in a grip almost powerful enough to crush his bones.
Several times a month, Buffy would disappear for a few hours at a time, and return smelling of the sterile, medicinal odors of a hospital. One evening, as she lay curled up against him in their bed, she hesitated a moment before finally speaking.
"Do you remember Dana? She's from L.A."
He glanced down at her, but she was studiously avoiding his gaze as she played with his fingers.
"The Slayer, yeah? The crazy one. You know she took my arms off, right?"
Buffy winced slightly. "Yeah, Andrew told me about that. Slayer strength plus psychotic girl isn't exactly a good mix. I can't believe I ever thought Faith was bad news."
He frowned, but she still wasn't looking at him. He was more than half tempted to drop the conversation, to slip into the easy, soporific silence that had been developing between them for months. A sudden frustration -- with Buffy, with himself, with the way he'd aided and abetted his own slide into passivity -- drove him to speak.
"It's not your fault. You know that, right?"
Buffy pulled away from him with a bitter laugh, and he let her go.
"Yeah," she spat out. "Because without me, she'd just be a normal crazy person. Now she has dreams she can't understand, memories that make no sense, and I can't even begin to explain everything to her."
"Wait." Spike sat up suddenly. "She's here in Rome?"
Buffy nodded. "The Council's been treating her here. She's...I don't think we're helping her."
"Maybe she can't be helped." Buffy turned a murderous glance on him, but he held steady. "You can't save everyone, and you've lost people before."
"Not like this," she said quietly. "This girl...I don't even know her, not really. She's been hurt so badly that I can't even begin to think about it, and half of what she says doesn't make any sense. But I can tell that she's hurting. These...Slayer memories, or whatever they are. I've never heard of anything like it. The doctors think that they're a form of waking dreams. I just want to make it easier on her. I have to try."
Spike nodded and tugged her close against him. "I know you don't want to hear this, but maybe the kindest thing...." Buffy threw an elbow into his ribs, pulling away from him again.
"Don't say it," she said fiercely. "I can help her. And maybe you can help her too."
Spike blinked at her. "Me?" he asked incredulously. "Yeah, because that went so well the last time I tried." He snorted. "The bird's off her nut, and there's no amount of talking that gets through to her. Especially not from the likes of me. It's not like she's got good memories of our time together, even when she knows I'm not someone else."
"Yeah, but she talks about you," Buffy persisted. "Or, well, she talks about vampires, something about heads and hearts, and she'll mention William the Bloody. I thought that, if she saw you, you might be able to get through to her somehow."
Spike sighed in defeat, dropping his head back on the pillow. "Yeah," he said dully. "Or she might just lose it altogether and decide to rid me of a few of my other bits and pieces." He shot a glance at Buffy. "What exactly are you trying to do here? That girl will never be normal."
"I..." She turned away, but not before Spike saw her eyes well up slightly. "I just want her to have some peace. What happened to her isn't fair."
"And if she can't?" Buffy shook her head, still not facing him, and her back stiffened. Spike sighed again.
"Right. Okay, I'll do it. Seems I've gotten some practice in dealing with insane Slayers over the years." He tried for a lighter tone, and was relieved when Buffy relaxed slightly. He was really ready to let the subject drop now -- it was a heavier conversation than they'd had in weeks -- but that same reawakened sense of frustration couldn't stop him from pushing.
"Slayer," he said softly, "who is it you're trying to save here?" He didn't say Angel's name, but he knew immediately that Buffy had understood his meaning. Throwing him a reproachful glance, she grabbed one of the pillows and stalked out of the bedroom, slamming the door behind her.
Spike squinted at the dingy building in front of him, a cigarette dangling from his lips. He was standing in one of the narrow alleys off the Via Giulia, near enough to the Campo de' Fiori that his sensitive hearing could still pick up the drunken laughter from the crowds at the outdoor bars. The alley was deserted -- not a big surprise, this close to midnight -- except for a nondescript man lounging almost too casually in the doorway of the building opposite. He seemed to be studying a crack in the plaster of the door frame, but Spike knew that he was being watched. The man had the smell of the Council, something that combined the officious air of the Initiative with the slightly stuffy odor that Giles had always seemed to carry about with him. Spike stepped up to the doorway, and the man straightened his shoulders and gave him an appraising glance.
"You're William the Bloody."
Spike rolled his eyes. Leave it to a Watcher to state the obvious, or to refuse to use any other name but that one. Buffy used to pointedly interrupt any of the Watchers with a blunt, "It's Spike now," but lately she'd stopped bothering. Giles was almost the only one who called him by his chosen name, and trying to correct a Watcher was more likely to lead to a blank stare than anything constructive.
"That's me. I've got an appointment."
The man nodded at him, glancing pointedly at the cigarette still between his lips. Spike heaved a put-upon sigh, taking one last drag before crushing it beneath the sole of his boot. It wasn't like the streets of Rome had a lack of cigarette butts embedded between the cobblestones. He followed the man inside, ducking through the narrow doorway and closing the door behind him.
The interior of the building was surprisingly modern, at odds with the shabby exterior. The tile floor was scrubbed clean and smelled strongly of antiseptic, and the walls had been freshly painted a stark, unforgiving white. The overhead lights were dimmed, illuminating the bank of monitors showing interior views of small rooms and shadowy figures, some lying on narrow beds and others pacing restlessly. Another Watcher behind a long desk gave Spike a look, then rose with a set of keys in his hand.
"Follow me," was all he said, and gestured to a flight of stairs.
"What, no fingerprinting?" Spike asked sarcastically. "No cavity search? Don't want to put out on the first date, is that it? I understand if you're not comfortable with that." The two Watchers merely stared at him, completely stone-faced, and Spike sighed. "Suppose you've had your sense of humor surgically removed like the rest of your lot. Fine, let's get this over with. I've got to get back. Got a Slayer to shag." He didn't know why he was pushing so hard for a reaction, but he supposed his suppressed frustration with the Council had something to do with it. He'd been playing nice for Buffy's sake for the past six months, and the temptation to lash out was almost overwhelming. He needn't have bothered. Apart from an eyelid twitch from one of the Watchers, neither of them blinked. Spike sighed again in defeat, following the man with the keys up the stairs.
He was led to a room at the end of a hallway on the highest floor. The door was bolted shut, with an extra padlock securing it. From the muffled thump the keys made as they rattled against it, Spike surmised that the painted wooden door surrounded a solid metal core. He shivered slightly.
"Ready?" the Watcher asked, raising his eyebrows. At Spike's nod, he swung the door open and stepped just inside, gesturing Spike to stand next to him.
Dana lay on a thin cot against the far wall, wide awake and staring at them with empty eyes. She was dressed in medical scrubs and her hair was neatly brushed and braided. Spike almost didn't recognize her without the smears of blood on her face. She stirred restlessly, and he heard the clank of the restraints wrapped around her wrists and ankles. The small window high above the bed was covered by a thick metal grille overlaying the glass, and in the bright moonlight Spike could see the spots where the metal had been welded to the wall. It looked like repairs had recently been made.
"I suggest you stay on this side of the room," the Watcher said, not taking his eyes off of Dana. "For your own safety, of course."
Spike eyed the Watcher. "Right. Look, are all those chains really necessary?"
The Watcher gave him a surprised look. "You've seen what she's capable of." He raised his eyes, and Spike followed his gaze to the small camera set high in the corner of the ceiling. "We'll be watching you."
"Of course you will," Spike said under his breath as the Watcher slipped outside, shutting and locking the door behind him. He turned to find Dana lying still on the bed, staring at him again. After a moment her nostrils flared and she gave a small smile.
"William the Bloody." Her voice was just as he'd remembered it, fierce and surprisingly deep for such a young girl. She frowned slightly, studying him carefully. "No," she said flatly. "You're not the one."
"Which one is that, pet?" His fingers itched for a cigarette to hold, and he wished there was a chair he could sit on. Not that he particularly wanted to rest, far from it, but he was restless enough that in another moment he would start pacing. He didn't want to admit to any weakness in front of this girl.
"I took his hands," she said. "He can't hurt me anymore." She frowned again, twisting up her mouth. "But you didn't. The monster is dead."
"That's right," Spike said cautiously. "What was his name, Walter? That bit was real, and he's dead. No worries there."
"You're the vampire."
"Yeah," Spike said again, relieved that he seemed to be getting somewhere, and then unnerved by her feral grin.
"Head and heart," she said, with that strange smile that didn't reach her eyes. "Keep cutting till you see dust."
"Right," Spike said, throwing his head back in frustration. "Look, I don't think this is working. Yeah, I'm a vampire. But I'm one of the good guys now, remember?"
"The vampire with a soul." At his nod, she raised her eyes to the ceiling. "Cursed vampire. Poor soul. Get it with hate, lose it with love. And then the monster comes out."
Spike felt a chill run up his spine. Cursed? "I think you've got the wrong vampire. Look, I'm not Angel. You can get that through your head right now."
Dana looked confused, then angry. "You killed them," she snarled. "The Slayers were strong, but you killed them."
"Yes," he breathed, unable to look away from her eyes. He almost missed the brief spark that arose there.
"Are you here to kill me?" Her voice contained a desperate hope that almost drove him to his knees with pity. He'd seen that look in a Slayer's eyes before, that same death wish. He had reveled in it, until that horrible year when he'd seen that same dead look in Buffy's eyes. He hadn't been able to help her then; what in the hell made him think he'd do any good here now? But he found himself unable to walk away.
"No," he said firmly. "No one's dying here. Not you, and not me either. Let's be clear on that."
"You kill the Slayers," she insisted. "Kill them, and love them. Bring them into the darkness."
"No," Spike said again, his voice shaking slightly. He didn't know exactly how much she knew about his history, how much Buffy had told her and how much of it was the bizarre Slayer memory she seemed to have. He had no idea how this worked. He'd expected to be good at this, what with all of his practice with Drusilla, but this girl couldn't be coddled or distracted. She was staring at him with that same creepy intensity she'd had since he'd first entered the room. This wasn't going to work. Whatever Buffy had expected, he couldn't do it. He turned to the camera and gave it a small wave.
"Why are you here, vampire?" Dana asked. Spike slumped slightly, resting his shoulders against the door.
"I don't know," he whispered honestly. Dana had turned her head away from him, staring out the window at the full moon.
"Kill the monster, heart and head," she singsonged. She looked back at him, and her eyes were remarkably clear and lucid. "The monsters kill the innocents. The Slayers kill the monsters. You're my Slayer."
"You're not a monster," Spike said. His voice was shaking worse than ever, and he didn't think he was able to inject the right note of confidence into it. He knew she couldn't be fooled by false reassurances. She had killed, and he honestly wasn't sure how much of it she even remembered. He didn't know how much of her memories were even her own. He had a sudden flashback to his experiences with the First Evil, tortured by his new soul and unsure of what was real anymore. The only thing he'd been sure of was that he was a monster.
And yet Buffy had believed in him.
From the ache in his chest, he could almost believe that his heart was beating again. He needed to say something, but his tongue felt like it was stuck to the roof of his mouth. Dana was looking at him with curiosity and...pity?
"Shhh," she breathed. "It doesn't hurt if you hold still."
That was it. He had to get out of there. Spike heard the keys rattling in the door behind him. With an undignified sound that was far too close to a whimper for his liking, he threw the door open and barreled outside. He heard a grunt as he knocked the breath out of the Watcher standing outside, but he didn't pause in his mad rush down the stairs. He ran out into the cool night air, leaving the sterile building behind him.
Spike didn't plan on ever going back to the hospital.
He finally made his way back to their apartment and collapsed into bed, reeking of alcohol from a quick stop at one of the dingier bars. When Buffy tentatively asked him how it went, he shrugged and turned over without answering. Even though he couldn't see her, he was able to feel her hand hovering over his back from the heat she gave off. She pulled away without touching him, throwing herself into bed next to him with a muttered, "Fine." He felt an uncomfortable mix of guilt, weariness and irritation, but he simply didn't have the mental energy for any type of conversation.
After his initial dismissal, Buffy never asked him again.
Although he did his best not to think about Dana in the days that followed, something about her bothered him. He'd had more than his fair share of dealing with the less than sane, and prophetic statements and sudden odd insights were nothing new to him. But there was something different about this girl that made the skin on the back of his neck crawl. The Slayer thing, he supposed. He knew that Buffy had occasionally had prophetic dreams, but she'd never given any indication that she experienced any kind of direct memories of the lives of previous Slayers. This girl was something different altogether, some unholy combination of Dru's psychic madness and Buffy's strength and focus. It was absolutely eerie, and he couldn't stop thinking about her.
Despite his conscious decision to stay away, Spike found himself pacing restlessly at the entrance to the alley almost two weeks later. The moon hadn't yet risen, and the ambient light from the nearby Via Giulia was barely enough to illuminate the shabby exterior of the hospital halfway down the narrow street. He approached the building reluctantly, drawn by that fascination he hadn't been able to fully articulate to himself.
The same Watcher was leaning in the doorway, and if he was surprised to see Spike again gave no sign. He merely straightened up, looked Spike over coolly, and gestured him inside. Grabbing a set of keys from the man behind the front desk, he started up the staircase nearest the front entrance. When Spike didn't immediately follow, he turned back and raised an eyebrow.
"So, you were expecting me?" The attempt at casual bravado fell flat. The sterile smell was tickling at the back of Spike's nose, making him twitchy.
"She said you were coming," the Watcher answered calmly.
The Watcher gave a twisted smile and let his eyes flicker upward briefly. "Not her," he said cryptically, then turned his back and made his way up the stairs. Spike followed, suppressing the shiver that ran through him.
Dana was lying on her cot in the darkened room, almost in the same position Spike had last seen her in. The restraints around her wrists and ankles clinked as she shifted slightly, turning to face him.
"William the Bloody," she said in that curiously deep voice, fixing him with her dark eyes. "It's okay," she whispered, as if confiding a secret. "We're all monsters here."
"That we are, pet." He noticed that someone had left a small metal folding chair in the room, and he dragged it over to the door and sat in it, leaning back against the wall. Dana seemed to relax slightly when he sat down.
"Are you here to kill me?"
Spike slammed his eyes shut. "No," he said, trying for patience. "Look, I told you, no one's getting killed around here."
She looked confused, and the sudden lost look in her eyes made her seem ten years younger. "Why are you here?"
The unanswerable question. Guilt? Pity? Curiosity? He still didn't know how these Slayer memories of hers worked, and he suspected the Council didn't either. There was a part of him that desperately wanted to find out whether any of her perceptions of him were based only on the memories of the Slayers that he'd killed. "Why don't you tell me?" he asked. The chair bit into his back uncomfortably, but he refused to move. "Would you like me to leave?" he asked quietly when she didn't answer.
"No," Dana said, her face crumpling slightly. "Stay here, and help me be quiet."
His stomach clenched, but he nodded and tried to smile. Dana finally turned her eyes away to stare out of the window, and they sat there in silence until she fell asleep.
He started coming weekly after that, and then every other day, staying for an hour or two at a time. For the most part, he simply sat and listened. Sometimes she was more lucid, sometimes less, but Spike couldn't shake the suspicion that the unthinkable was happening: he was actually helping her. She seemed calmer after he'd been there, and she stopped asking if he was there to kill her. The Watchers eventually removed her wrist restraints, although her ankles were still bound to the cot. Spike was becoming used to the rare times when her eyes would cloud over and she would address him as Nikki, or as the Chinese Slayer he had killed.
The absolute worst moments were when her voice became Buffy's. Spike would listen with a combination of horror and hopeful desperation to every tiny glimpse that reflected Buffy, especially her feelings about him -- her hatred, her fear, and finally her trust. In his growing obsession, he barely noticed himself drifting farther away from Buffy herself.
One evening, Spike arrived to find Dana unbound and sitting up on her cot, head down and staring at the hands cupped loosely in her lap. The Watcher who had brought him up gave him a smirk and a muttered, "Good luck," before locking him in with her. Spike thrust his hands into his pockets and leaned back against the door.
"So, look at you," he mused. "All up and about, like a good little Slayer."
Dana looked up at him, and there was a manic spark in her eyes that he hadn't seen since L.A. "Spike," she said. "William the Bloody."
"Yeah," he said cautiously. "Thought we'd established that."
"Monster with a soul." She wrinkled her brow and looked up at him. "Do I have a soul?"
Spike frowned and took a step forward. "Human, yeah? Soul's part of the package."
Dana stood and began to pace in front of her cot, looking remarkably steady for someone who had been prostrate for so long. "You belong in the darkness with me," she insisted, holding his gaze. Spike stood completely still as she walked around him, rubbing her shoulder against his body. As she came around to face him, she took his hands in hers. Her fingers were warm and slightly calloused, and she looked down at his hands with a frown. "You can't hurt me anymore," she said softly. Holding him tightly, she raised her head and tilted it, baring her neck to him.
"Heart and head," she whispered. "Have to get home." Closing her eyes, she pressed herself against him.
Spike froze and swallowed hard. He could feel the warmth of Dana's trembling body, and smell the blood flowing just below the surface of her neck. "No," he said harshly, his voice shaking, but Dana merely tightened her fingers around his and raised her mouth to his ear.
"One. Good. Day," she breathed.
Spike jerked away, pushing her to the floor.
"No," he insisted again, running his hands through his hair in distress. He stole a look at the security camera in the corner. "Right, I want out of here, now," he said loudly.
Dana growled and rolled gracefully to her feet with a confused frown. Stepping over to her cot, she flung the thin pillow aside and revealed a stake. She snatched it up and spun around to face Spike, weaving on her toes.
What the fuck? "Now, pet, you don't want to be using that," he soothed. Where did that come from? Where the bloody hell are those Watchers? "Why don't you put that down, and we can...oof!"
He dropped heavily to the floor as Dana leaped on top of him. While she was trying to gain her balance, he caught hold of her waist and flipped her off him. He barely had time to get to his feet before she was on him again.
Spike couldn't believe how strong she still was. She fought him like a berserker, while he did his best to pull his punches as he attempted to disarm her. Within minutes, she had him flat on his back again and was straddling his waist. She panted in triumph and squirmed on top of him. He groaned at her movements, and couldn't help hardening against her. He almost closed his eyes in disgust at himself. Dana grabbed his wrists, the stake biting into his arm as she held him. She lowered her mouth to his ear, pressing her throat against his jaw.
"Have to go home," she whispered again. "Help me." She rocked against him, and Spike closed his eyes at the overwhelming rush of pity. He felt a sudden intense longing for Buffy, and a wild sorrow at the thought that he might already have lost her. Help me. He tried to pull away, but Dana held him tightly.
"Can't do that," he murmured brokenly. "Can't help you that way. This isn't what you want, pet."
She pulled away from him, and he opened his eyes to see the death wish in her face that he'd seen from too many Slayers already, that mixture of hopelessness and utter fatigue that he used to think was so beautiful. Now, it just filled him with sympathy. Dana's face twisted in fury.
"Ask me again why I could never love you," she hissed. Quick as an eel, she raised the stake and brought it swiftly down. As it pierced the skin over his heart, he felt only a dull ache of loss and regret for chances missed.
Time seemed to slow to a crawl. Spike's eyes had slammed shut as soon as the stake penetrated his chest, and for an endless moment he was conscious only of the sensation of his own blood welling up around the puncture wound in his breast. He was certain that he could feel each individual splinter, and he could do no more than brace himself against the flood of regret and wait to die.
It took him an moment to realize that he was not turning to dust. He heard a grunt, and the hand holding the stake began to shake, tearing at the skin above his heart and scraping one of his ribs. Afraid to move, he opened his eyes to see Buffy, deathly pale and holding tightly to Dana's wrist. Dana didn't appear to be aware of the other Slayer; she was focused solely on Spike, staring at him with a frightening intensity. Buffy's fingers were white with strain, and slowly, slowly she managed to force Dana's hand upward. As soon as the stake cleared Spike's chest, Buffy backhanded Dana and sent her sprawling into the corner. The stake skittered across the floor and underneath the cot. Dana rolled to her feet with a screech of rage.
"I wasn't finished," she hissed.
"Yeah," Buffy said, her voice cold and hard. "You were."
She stepped protectively in front of Spike as Dana rushed at her. Buffy gave a fluid twist, bending her torso backwards and pinwheeling her arms while throwing her hips forward. Her momentum carried her under Dana's wild grab, and she caught the younger girl by the upper arm and spun her around, throwing her backward into one of the walls. Before Dana could get to her feet again, Buffy was on her.
Spike still hadn't moved, other than to grasp the front of his shirt and, by reflex, press tightly down on the wound. He could feel the blood dripping thickly through his fingers, although the flow seemed to be slowing. He watched dully, only half concentrating, as Dana's head snapped back from a quick punch and elbow jab thrown by Buffy. She went down in a heap, sweeping her legs out to bring Buffy down with her. She had nothing of Buffy's polished grace; her moves were rough, more primal, and yet there was an identical core of power they seemed to draw from. Spike shivered and pushed himself slowly to his feet, still clutching his chest. Dana managed to wriggle away from Buffy and made a dive for the stake, snatching it with a grunt of triumph. She gave Spike a fierce smile, weaving on her feet like a prizefighter.
"You don't want to do that," he cautioned, holding his hand out as if Dana was a rabid dog. He could hear Buffy wheezing behind him; Dana must have kicked her in the stomach as she squirmed away. Dana stared at him, suddenly solemn.
"This has to end," she said firmly. She blinked furiously for a moment, her eyes losing focus and the stake wavering slightly in her grasp. When Spike tried a cautious step forward, her eyes snapped back to his, and she hefted the stake higher. Spike stopped.
"It is ending," he said. "Right now. Give it over, Slayer." He could hear the catch in Buffy's breath behind him, but he didn't want to risk glancing back at her.
"Slayer," Dana repeated, giving Spike a confused look. "Demon."
"It's who you are," Spike said. "Well, minus the demon bits." He heard Buffy snort behind him.
"Don't be so sure," she said dryly, rising and moving to stand next to him. Spike winced at the throb in his chest, swaying slightly on his feet; he couldn't resist leaning on her a bit.
Dana glanced back and forth between their faces, and her chin wobbled. "I'm strong," she grated out, her tone harsh.
"Yes," Buffy said, and there was a note of empathy in her voice. "You're strong."
She held Dana's gaze for a long moment, and the stake finally slipped from the younger girl's grasp and fell clattering to the floor. Spike was about to rush forward when two Watchers came barreling into the room, panting hard. One of them was one of the men he'd seen before at the hospital, and the other was a woman he'd never met. Before Spike could move, they pushed past him and bore Dana to the ground. The woman was holding a syringe, and as she uncapped it, the other Watcher took Dana in a protective hold, her arms at her sides and her legs trapped between his.
He needn't have bothered. As soon as she had dropped the stake, Dana's eyes had lost their focus. She put up no fight to the Watcher holding her, instead staring blankly up at Spike and wincing slightly when she was injected.
"Took you long enough," Spike croaked. The male Watcher shrugged apologetically without looking at him, and Spike felt Buffy tug on his arm.
"Come on," she murmured.
Spike backed towards the door rather than turn his back on Dana. She was still staring at him, frowning slightly and blinking muzzily as the drugs took effect.
"Can we rest now?" she asked, her voice not much louder than a whisper.
Spike nodded, not trusting his own voice. He followed Buffy's pull and backed into the hallway, pulling the door shut behind him. With a shaky sigh, he rested his forehead against the closed door for a moment. Buffy was trying to reach his wound, and he slapped her fingers away. She gave a snort of disgust and spun him around, shoving his back against the door. Her face was still pale, but two spots of color had appeared high on her cheeks and her eyes were blazing.
Uh oh. Not good.
"Hey, love," he said weakly. "What brings you to this neck of the woods? Not that I'm not happy to see you and all..."
He choked off as Buffy gave him another shove, making his head crack against the door. Spike glared at her.
"Hey! A little sympathy for the guy who was almost staked."
"Shut up," Buffy hissed. He noticed that her hands were shaking, and she tightened her fingers around his shirt and pulled him across the hallway to another patient's room that appeared to be unoccupied. She shoved Spike in the direction of the cot and slammed the door behind them. He thought of fighting her, just on general principles, but at the moment he was too sore to argue. He obediently lay down on the cot and let her tug his shirt over his head. Her face was was calm and her touch efficient, but Spike could tell by the set of her mouth that she was close to breaking. He winced as her prodding became too sharp, and her face softened as she looked at him.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"I've had worse," he answered, pulling her fingers away. "It'll heal." Buffy exhaled, slumping over and squeezing his hand. Just as he'd started to relax, however, she was up like a shot, pacing angrily across the other side of the room. Spike pushed himself to his feet, regarding her wearily. If there was to be a fight, he wanted to be standing up for it.
"You almost died," Buffy said harshly. She balled her fist, as if tempted to strike a blow, but she wouldn't look at his face. Spike shrugged.
"I'm dead already," he said reasonably. In retrospect, it was exactly the wrong thing to say. With a wounded glare, Buffy turned and punched him in the nose.
"Ow!" He brought his hand to his face and stared incredulously at the smear of blood on his fingers. Without even thinking about it, he threw an off-balance punch in return. To his surprise, she didn't duck, and the blow landed on her shoulder, causing her to stumble back until she regained her balance.
"You know," he said, "I hadn't lost quite enough blood today, thank you." He licked his fingers, ignoring Buffy's look of disgust.
"What the hell was that in there?" There was a quaver in her voice, and her lip was wobbling slightly. He saw her tighten her jaw, but it only made the shaking worse. "Why did she beat you?"
Spike stared at her in astonishment. "Hello, a Slayer? Girl with incredible superpowers and a sacred duty to try to kick my ass? I'm sure you remember the type." He shrugged, stretching his neck until it cracked. "Throw in the insanity as an extra bonus. She just got lucky."
"No," Buffy said forcefully. "I refuse to accept that. Not against you. I don't understand." She looked up at him, her face pale. "Did you want to die?" she asked quietly. "Was that it?"
Spike stared at her for a moment, unable to answer. "What are you...I was fighting for my life in there!" He didn't realize he was shouting until she blinked in surprise. "How can you even ask that?"
"Because I know what I saw," she said with a sour laugh. "Are you so desperate to leave? Is that what this is?"
What was she talking about? He tried for a calm tone, but the words were dragged out of his throat as if over broken glass. "I've been doing pretty well for myself for decades, Buffy. Not that I don't appreciate you watching my back, but...." He threw up his hands. "Look, I don't know what else to tell you. I'm not going anywhere, alright? Had a bad moment, but you were there to pull me out."
"What if I hadn't been?" Buffy's back was ramrod straight, and she'd wrapped her arms around her torso. She was staring at the barred window set high in the wall and the stars glinting beyond. "I almost wasn't there," she said calmly, as if speaking to someone else. "I should have been there earlier."
It was as if a light bulb went on in his head, and it suddenly all made sense. He wanted to laugh, but as he was there was an equal chance that it would turn into tears. He felt a sudden upwelling of hopeless, bitter anger at the old bastard, that it was still all about him.
"I'm not him," he said quietly. "And I told you, I'm not going anywhere."
Buffy frowned at him. "What are you talking about?"
Spike sighed heavily. "I'm not Angel."
Buffy's face whitened further. "Is that what you thought I was thinking of?" she asked carefully, her voice so neutral that he was unable to tell if she angry or upset.
"Weren't you?" he shot back. "Don't tell me you haven't been thinking of that last battle for months now." Buffy had clenched her jaw, and her nostrils were flared. "That's who you're trying to save, isn't it?" he asked. "Truth hurts, Slayer."
Buffy shook her head in disbelief. "You," she ground out, "are so unbelievably stupid. You think you know me so well? You know nothing. I'm here with you! And you know what? I'm not him either!"
Spike blinked at her in disbelief. "You're off your nut," he scoffed.
She raised her eyebrows. "Is that right? You know, I thought this Dana thing was part of your whole Slayer obsession. But you're looking for someone to save, aren't you?"
He let out a sharp bark of laughter. "Oh, did you get that out of one of your psych textbooks? Maybe you should have stayed in school, Slayer." He turned to kick at the cot, then rounded on Buffy with his finger out. "And visiting Dana was your bloody idea in the first place!" "You couldn't save Angel," Buffy said, as if she hadn't heard him interrupt. "You couldn't save me when it counted. Is that what you're trying to do?"
Spike sucked in a harsh breath, biting down on his tongue to keep from screaming at her. Buffy stared up at him, temporarily out of steam, her eyes wide and wet in her pale face. He was almost shaking with anger and frustration, but at the same time he felt more alive than he had for months. His senses seemed to have sharpened. He could almost hear Buffy's blood pound beneath the surface of her skin, and he could smell the salty tang of her sweat. He felt the edges of his mouth curl up into something that wasn't quite a smile.
Buffy's gaze had faltered, and she stared at the floor. "I know," she said dully. "I've been pulling away. It's not easy...I'm not good at this kind of thing." She bit her lip, turning to the door. "Maybe this was a mistake," she said softly.
Spike let her take one step before leaping at her, pinning her back against the closed door. She gasped and pushed at his shoulders, then went boneless and inhaled a ragged breath as he leaned down to give a long lick to the side of her neck, ending with a bite to her ear. She whimpered slightly. He heard her heart race, felt the rhythmic thump that seemed to send his own bones into a sympathetic vibration. She reached up to touch his brow, brushing her hand back through his hair. He simply held her and let her look at him, her eyes shining with tears and...something else.
He was both terrified and exhilarated, because she was right there with him. There was no need to ask her; he could see the mirroring emotions in her eyes, and it was as if a veil had been torn away. It was so right, finally, that he wanted to laugh aloud. Buffy gave a half-hearted wriggle, and Spike slammed her forcefully back against the door, delighting in the way her eyes dilated.
"Oh, no," he purred. "You've had your say. It's my turn now."
He shoved Buffy back against the door. Her breasts were pressed tightly against his chest, and he could feel her nipples tighten as she squirmed against him. As she stared at him, she blushed and licked her lips.
"I thought it was your turn to talk." Her voice cracked on the last word, and Spike unconsciously leaned towards her.
"It is," he breathed, and as soon as she opened her mouth to reply, he covered it with his own.
Buffy let out a sob that he caught and swallowed, her sharp little teeth biting at his tongue as she grabbed handfuls of his hair. Spike kept her pinned against the door. He could feel the ache in his chest from the stake wound, but he ignored it. He let Buffy take control, let her turn his head this way and that as she frantically tried to find the best angle. He kept his eyes half open, just enough to catch glimpses -- of her nose, of her flushed cheeks and sweaty neck -- and god, when was the last time they'd kissed like this? Buffy pulled back slightly.
"I'm still mad at you," she insisted, but her eyes were clearer than they'd been in months. The distance between them had developed so gradually that he couldn't pin down an exact moment when it had started. All he knew was that it was as if he was really seeing Buffy for the first time in a long while. If the way she was looking at him was any indication, she felt the same way. She was staring at him with a mingled look of lust and wonder that was more arousing than any touch. She was petting his hair, and he leaned into her touch and closed his eyes.
"Still mad. Got it," he murmured, catching her mouth in another kiss. Buffy mumbled something indistinct, pulling away slightly, and he slammed her shoulders against the door. The back of her head hit the door with a thump, and Spike winced. He was about to apologize, but she shivered and moaned.
So, she wants it rough? Not a problem.
Spike grinned and hoisted her against the door. Buffy's legs came around his waist, and she circled her hips against his, leaning forward to take his earlobe in her mouth.
"So," she whispered hotly against his neck. "Planning on bringing the building down?"
Spike groaned and shoved her against the door again, delighting in the gasp that was forced out of her. "Could do that," he said, getting one hand under her shirt and clawing at the back of her bra. She pulled away and reached for the hem of her shirt, giving him an indulgent smile, but it faded when she looked around the room.
"Oh," she began. "This probably isn't the best place to..." She caught her breath when Spike ground against her, closing her eyes and dropping her head back against the door. "Or," she said faintly, "we can stay right here."
"That's my girl," Spike said triumphantly, sucking at the side of her neck.
"Okay," Buffy said. She sounded slightly drugged. "We all done, then? With the talking?"
His head cleared slightly, and the ache in his chest increased. They weren't; he knew that, just as he knew that this current moment between them wouldn't fix all of their problems. But it was a start, and a start was all he needed. He couldn't pull back now, not when she was so open to him, so there. Besides, he didn't think he had enough blood left in his brain to carry on a coherent conversation. For answer, he attacked Buffy's neck again, growing harder at the sound of her moans.
She pushed him back, trying to lift her shirt over her head, but he impatiently shoved her hands away. He jerked the material upward, pushing the cups of her bra up and burying his face between her breasts. He licked at the sweat that had collected there and nuzzled against her, catching one of her nipples in his mouth and sucking at it. Buffy was cradling his head tenderly against her, humming and scratching lightly at the back of his neck. It struck Spike as an almost maternal gesture, and he repressed the shudder of tangled lust and revulsion that arose from the thought. He started biting gently at her nipples, and she panted harshly.
"Uhh," she whined, locking her ankles around his back and gyrating against him. He was tempted to finish this up against the wall, maybe try for a reenactment of their first time together, but he still too sore to stand for much longer. Swinging Buffy around, he stumbled over to the narrow cot against the far wall, dropping her ungracefully before collapsing on top of her.
Buffy was frowning at the blood on his shirt, gently running her fingers around the wound on his chest. Spike could tell that she was about to pull back and suggest that they take a break, so he stopped her mouth with a kiss. He didn't give a bloody fuck how much his chest hurt, or whether or not he was still bleeding. Not now, not when Buffy was staring at him with eyes dilated from lust. She moaned and wrapped her arms around him as best she could with her shirt and bra bunched up under her arms. Almost frantic now to be inside her, Spike yanked clumsily at the fastening of her jeans, ripping the buttonhole in the process. Buffy was shoving at his jeans in turn, giving a gasp of triumph when she managed to push them below his hips. She dug her fingers into his ass and wriggled like an eel, trying to push her own pants down. With a growl of frustration, Spike pulled backward and yanked one leg of her jeans off. He fell back into the open cradle of her hips and groaned.
He wasn't going to last long. He wanted to go down on her, he wanted to taste the soft skin of her stomach and kiss her behind her knee. He wanted to take this slow and do it right, but instead he pushed inside her with a long shudder. If the noises she was making were any indication, it was the right choice. Spike hooked his elbow behind one of her knees, lifting it and opening her up further. Buffy squirmed against him, trying to get a rhythm, and he held tight to one of her slippery breasts and licked at the side of her mouth. She was grunting now, sharp little gasps of air through her nose that he could feel on the side of his face. Their rhythm was sloppy -- they were both far too aroused to worry about such things as finesse and timing -- and it was absolutely perfect. She was wet all over, and Spike glided over her skin every time he moved inside her. He could feel Buffy's hand between them rubbing her own clit, and the earthy eroticism of the moment make him shove himself even harder inside her. Buffy stiffened and came with a grimace, letting out a whine through tightly clenched teeth. She almost kicked him in the head as her leg jerked, and Spike tightened his grip on her as he came inside her.
The whole thing couldn't have taken three minutes from the moment of penetration. Spike felt as if he'd taken a lightening bolt to his spine. His legs were shaking and his fingers were cramped where he was holding so tightly to Buffy. He unhooked her leg from his arm and collapsed on top of her with a moan. Buffy made some kind of grunting noise in apparent agreement of the general sentiment. He nuzzled against her for a few minutes, pressing lazy kisses to the side of her neck while she scratched softly at his back. After a while, he pulled back to look at her, and she gave him a soft smile.
"You drooled," she murmured, wiping the side of his mouth with one of her fingers.
"Yeah," he pointed out. "So did you."
He stroked her face gently, quirking a smile at the picture they made. Buffy had somehow managed to get one of her arms free of her shirt, and the bra was twisted around her neck as if it was some kind of demonic strangling device. Her hair was matted, and she patted at it self-consciously. He felt her give a full-body shiver as one of the final aftershocks of her orgasm hit, and he groaned in return and arched his back. Buffy gave a pained hiss.
"You okay?" he asked in concern.
"Sure," Buffy said. "Just...your jeans. Zipper in bad places."
Wincing in apology, Spike shoved his jeans further down so that the metal of the zipper wasn't rubbing against the sensitive skin of her inner thighs. She hummed in contentment, pulling him down on top of her again.
"That was good," she said softly. "That was really, really good."
And it was. It wasn't the most elegant fuck he'd ever had, but it was certainly one of the best. Buffy was lying depleted below him, her skin warm and soft through the fabric of his shirt, and he was so close to her that he felt he could crawl inside her. He felt like purring. He lifted his head and gave Buffy a drowsy smile, warming himself with her answering grin. For a moment, she looked as content and boneless as he felt, and then her eyes dropped to the bloodied front of his shirt. Spike was suddenly aware that he was lying bare-assed on a bed in a Council mental hospital. Now that he was paying attention, he could hear Dana talking quietly to herself in her room across the hall. Buffy rested her palm against his cheek, drawing his attention back to herself.
"I'm still mad," she said quietly, and he nodded. "But I'm not going anywhere." She held his head firmly and looked him in the eyes, raising her eyebrow inquisitively until he nodded again. Spike lowered his head for a kiss, brushing his mouth with hers.
"That's good," he said, "because I'm not letting you go." Buffy gave him a soft smile in acknowledgment. He was about to fall asleep when he felt her stiffen beneath him.
"Spike?" she asked carefully. "Is that a security camera in the corner?"
By the time they finally pulled themselves together and made it downstairs, the lobby was crowded with a medical crew that was attending one of the Watchers whom Spike had seen on his previous visits. The man was lying on the ground, pale as a ghost, and he stared balefully at both of them as they walked past. Spike could see that the Watcher's leg was badly broken. He glanced over at Buffy, and she shrugged sheepishly.
"I was in a hurry, and he had it coming."
Spike turned his head to see Giles running up to the two of them. He gave Spike an apologetic nod, then turned back to Buffy. "Everything's under control here. You should probably get him back to your place."
"What...?" Spike started, only to have Buffy hurry him out the door. Once they had passed into the alley, he rounded on her. "What in the bleeding hell is going on here?" he hissed.
Buffy sighed, looping her arm in his and dragging him toward the Via Giulia. The air was pale and the stars had faded; sunrise couldn't be more than half an hour away. "It's a long story," she murmured. "Wait till we get home."
They reached her apartment just before the sun rose. Buffy insisted on cleaning out Spike's wound before she would explain anything, so he lay back with a long-suffering sigh and let her bandage him up. When he'd been installed on the sofa with a mug of blood, she squeezed in next to him and rested her head on his shoulder.
"It was Jacob Hunter," she said ruefully. "It was all his idea." Spike frowned at her, and she rolled her eyes. "The Watcher stationed at the hospital? The one who's always sitting at the front desk?"
"Oh, right." It was the Watcher he'd last seen lying on the floor of the lobby with a shattered leg. He'd never bothered to ask the man's name.
"It was all a test," Buffy spat bitterly. "He had all of these ideas about Dana somehow being connected to the primal Slayer Spirit, or something like that. He kept messing with her medication, trying to get the best response. And then he noticed that she seemed to do better when you were around -- less with the crazy. I think he wanted to see which response was stronger: the girl or the Slayer. I don't think he's bothered to give her any sedatives for a few days now."
Spike nodded, the pieces fitting into place. "So he's the one who unlocked her before I came, and left her the stake." He rolled his eyes. "I wondered why she was suddenly making even less sense than ususal. Lovely. Now I know who I have to kill," he growled.
Buffy rubbed his stomach soothingly. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
Spike looked down at her in surprise. "Hardly your fault, love. Not your doing that the Council is still a load of wanky blighters. Although I can't say I expected old Rupert to try to do me in again," he said bitterly. Relations between him and Giles hadn't exactly been cordial, but he'd come to accept Spike's position in Buffy's life. It left a sour taste in his mouth that Giles would be involved in this stupid scheme. Apparently dying to save the world wasn't valued all that highly these days.
"He didn't," Buffy insisted. "Jacob was acting alone. Mark found out -- you remember Mark, right? One of the other Watchers? He was there most nights too." Spike nodded, remembering the apologetic look the other man had given him when they subdued Dana after her attack on him. Another name he'd never bothered to learn. "Anyway, Mark guessed that something weird was going on with Jacob, so he made a report to Giles. Giles decided to come here and check things out, and Mark went to the airport tonight to meet them. Which, in retrospect? Bad move. He called me from the road, told me what he knew, and asked me to keep an eye on Jacob until he got back." Buffy's voice became thick and tight. "When I got to the hospital, he sitting there watching the two of you fight on the security monitor, taking notes. It reminded me of the Initiative. He didn't want to give me the key -- said he was in the middle of a test." She gave a harsh laugh. "So I took it from him. I wasn't very nice about it." She was shaking, and Spike rubbed her shoulder soothingly.
"Looks like someone wanted to make a big name for himself," Spike said, his voice low with fury. "That girl has demons enough of her own to fight. And now she's worse off than ever, being played like that."
Buffy lifted her head and rested her chin on his shoulder. He could feel her looking at him, but he refused to make eye contact.
"This isn't your fault either," she said quietly. "And I think...." She broke off and lay her head back down. "I think you were helping her," she admitted. "I know you don't believe me, but you understood her, as much as anyone could. Having you there was good for her. And I think it was good for you too."
Spike blinked down at her, running the back of his fingers over her soft cheek. "Maybe," he admitted doubtfully. "I'm no doctor. Didn't know what I was doing there half the time. Of course," he said with a bitter smile, "it's all to nothing now, isn't it? The girl's probably so messed up now there's no reaching her. Probably would have been better if I'd never come there at all. And I don't think that was the only test going on."
Buffy popped her head back up. "Huh?"
"Testing responses, right? Dual natures, seeing which side wins out? And yours truly was the subject." He gave a disgusted snort. "I just bet the little bastard had the title all planned out in his head: The behavioral reflexes of the souled vampire, or some such rot. And now that I'm the only one...."
Buffy squeezed him gently, taking his hand and tucking it under her cheek were she lay against him. "It's over now," she insisted.
Spike stared at the shaft of early morning light illuminating the far wall. "Maybe," he murmured. "For us."
Spike didn't go near the hospital for over a month. Giles had installed a new set of Watchers there and was personally overseeing Dana's treatment regimen. He insisted that it was better if Spike stayed away for a while, and Spike was more than happy to oblige. Although there was a part of him that missed seeing the girl, he was still convinced that it would have been better for her if he'd never started visiting her at all.
He found himself watching Buffy with a new urgency, determined to do anything to avoid the terrible distance that had arisen between them ever since they were reunited after Angel's death. At times, he would catch her studying him intently, and he knew that she too was afraid of once again letting hurt turn to apathy. And so he tugged at her, gently and inexorably, keeping them both in a tight orbit around each other. You're worth it, he would whisper to her late at night as they lay in their bed together, and she would smile and hold him so tightly that his bones ached.
When Giles finally let him know that he could come and visit Dana again, Spike took another week to make up his mind to go. Buffy didn't push him, but she didn't let him off the hook either. No you don't have to do it if you don't want to from her. She merely waited until he was ready, and then she insisted that she go with him. It wasn't because she didn't trust him; he realized that she felt even more responsible for Dana's state than he did.
Spike stood just inside the doorway of Dana's room. He could hear Buffy talking softly to Giles in the hallway, and he took a step forward. Dana was once again restrained at hand and foot and bound to the bed. Her eyes, when she turned to see him, were glassy and distant, and he could smell the sickly sweet odor of the drugs she'd been given. She was a shell of that girl he thought he'd started to glimpse behind the madness. He looked into her empty eyes and shivered. He had no idea if she even recognized him.
Back to the beginning.
"Hey," he said softly as he approached the bed. She blinked at him.
"William the Bloody," she whispered. She looked satisfied when he nodded, as if she had successfully figured out an intricate puzzle. "The vampire."
"That's me," he encouraged.
"Heart and head," she said softly. "Keep cutting till you see dust. I'm strong."
Spike closed his eyes against the rush of pity. He crouched down and took her hand, holding her limp fingers tightly in his.
"Heart and head," he murmured, the only prayer he could offer her. "Be strong."
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