Happiness

Happiness

By Wisteria

Rating: NC17
Summary:Star-crossed lovers who collide at the corners of have and have-not.
Notes:Tabula Rasa, then alt universe

***

"I have to go."

He stares at her, lips still parted.

"Right. Where?"

"Anywhere. Away from here."

***

She's surprised to discover the house so quiet when they walk in. Everyone must be asleep, but it's still early. Oddness.

She scribbles a note on the back of a parent-teacher conference request. I'm sorry, it says. I can't be here now. I'll be back. Don't worry about me.

She has done this before. She'd rather not think about what happened back then. Death tends to change one's priorities.

He stands off to the side, watching her as she writes. Arms crossed over his chest, eyes narrowed. She ignores the way he stares at her. Kisses change things too.

Mom kept an emergency cash stash behind the ice cream goblets they never used. Only a hundred dollars or so, but it will suffice.

"This is wrong, you know," he calls out to her as she goes upstairs for a change of clothes.

"I know."

***

They drive at night.

He tells her they're going to hit Vegas. "Lots of fun there," he says in a voice she thinks is meant to be cheerful.

"I don't want fun. I've had far too many oodles o' fun tonight." Funny, even the clever lines don't sound very clever to her anymore.

He's silent for a mile or so, then he says, "Okay. Lots of money there."

Money. Yes. Money is good.

Necessary evils.

He's one of them too now, she knows. A necessary evil. Less evil these days, but more necessary.

***

A gas station, 3:48 a.m., Baker, CA. Two hours from Las Vegas.

He's inside, buying a map. She stands in front of the pay phone, hand poised over the key pad. Phone calls in the middle of the night are bad. They tell you terrible things, like that someone's in danger. Or dead.

But she knows they're worried. It's not like her note was exactly reassuring. Problem is, she doesn't really want them to know what she's doing, especially with Spike, of all people. Everyone just gets so damn protective sometimes. Like she doesn't know what she wants or how to take care of herself, as if that was ever an issue. Last thing she wants right now is to be coddled like she has been for the past two months.

She must have phased out, because next thing she knows, Spike's standing next to her, the map in his hand. "You done?"

Buffy shakes her head.

He grunts. "Get on with it, then. We don't have all night."

If he'd been anyone else, she would have spat out, "bite me." So instead, she mutters, "Get over yourself."

Right. Like that's going to happen.

"Can't say I blame you, though. I wouldn't want to chat with your friends either."

Trust Spike to say the stupidest thing imaginable. 'Course, she could think of stupider things for him to say, but hey.

Deep sigh, then she pulls a phone card out of her wallet. Jumping through the phone company's hoops is a royal pain in the ass; lucky for her she hasn't had too much need for long distance in the past.

Dawn answers, all breathless and worried. "Where are you? I woke up about an hour ago because I had a bad dream so I went to see if you were in your room but you weren't here and I got all scared and Tara's gone and Giles is too and Willow won't come out of her room and what's going on are you hurt?"

Buffy cringes. "Take a breath, Dawn. I'm fine."

"For real? Because if you're not, it's okay. We'll help you. I'll come get you now." Buffy hears a thud, then, "Ow! Just stubbed my toe on the closet frame."

"Dawn!" She makes her voice stern. It feels weird. "I'm okay. Really. I just --" she stops and takes a breath. "I just needed to get out of town for a little bit. Don't worry about me. All right?"

Her sister is silent for a long moment, then she says, "Are you sure? Do you need anything?"

"I'm sure. Tell everyone I'm all right in the morning, okay? Don't wake them up."

"Okay." Dawn's voice shifts to its normal petulance. "Don't mind me or anything."

Buffy has to stifle a groan, along with the familiar urge to smack her sister upside the head. Instead, she says, "Look, I'll give you a call tomorrow night and let you know what's going on. Love you all."

Before Dawn can pipe up again, Buffy hangs up the phone.

She can feel Spike's antsiness behind her, all hovery and keyed up.

Still staring at the phone, she mutters, "That went well, I guess."

She should feel sad, she supposes. Guilty. Responsible.

But all she feels is hollow.

***

He thinks of something that Angelus once told him, during those few months when he was back to his evil old self.

Angelus had grinned at him as he toyed with Dru's hair, and Spike had wanted nothing more than to stake him and piss on the dust, if he'd even been able to.

"I do think I've bested even you in Slayer action, William. You killed them, but I got one to fall in love with me." His eyes had sparkled as he said it.

Spike was loathe to admit to himself how much he'd envied the other man. Not for having Buffy -- at least, not at the time -- but because there was just something so damned poetic about crushing emotions instead of bodies.

And now the times they are a'changing.

The sign glints kelly green in the headlights: Las Vegas 102 miles. He's not sure of the time, but he guestimates it's around five in the morning. They'll have to haul ass to get to the city before daylight; he still doesn't trust Buffy enough to let her drive. He pushes harder on the gas pedal, and the old car groans.

He glances over at the Slayer -- the same one who'd fallen in love with a vampire. What he could tell her about Angelus if he had half a nerve to destroy her like that. Oh, sure, she probably knows lots of stories, but only the ones that made the official accounts.

But he can't tell her because he was a participant too, and he doesn't want her to hear all that from him. She knows all the stories about him too. He has no delusions that she sees him as anything but dirt, but still. Self-conscious and all that shite.

Love's a bitch, ain't it?

He looks at the way her hand curls on her leg as she dozes. Fingers curled the same way she'd grasp a stake.

So, this is what it's like to be in love with a Slayer, right? The ever-present knowledge that if you piss her off or tread the wrong way, you'll end up as molecules littering the floor.

***

The casino floor is dark, just the way he likes it. The best thing about Vegas is that one can exist there for days without ever having to see sunlight. Perhaps those Mafia goons who first built the city were really vampires.

With pockets full of winnings, he looks around the room for her. Her hair like a beacon, he spots her standing in front of a quarter slot machine. One arm moves the lever up and down, but her eyes are glazed over. It's a look he has seen on her far too often lately.

"C'mon," he murmurs in her ear.

She turns to look at him, gaze still hollow.

"I cleared nearly three grand at Blackjack. Even got comped a room." The words rush out, like a whoosh of air. He can still breathe when he wants to.

She continues to stare.

He reaches out for her elbow, and she snaps back to reality. She's still silent, but she lets him lead her away from the slot machine.

They head toward the elevator. "We're staying here?" Her voice is hoarse. Lack of practice, he supposes, given the barely two dozen words she's said to him since they left Sunnydale.

"Yeah. You need a good rest."

Eyes are clear now. "I'm not going to sleep with you, you know."

"I know. I'll be a perfect gentleman."

Too bad she wasn't a lady when she was kissing him for the second time just twelve hours ago. He's learned to forgive her such things, though.

She rolls her eyes. Not quite the reaction he wanted, but at least it's a reaction.

"I can be a gentleman, Buffy. It's not impossible."

But she's already inside the elevator. He doubts she heard a word he said.

As they ascend to the nineteenth floor in an empty elevator, she finally starts talking in the Real Buffy style. "How did you manage to make like Midas, anyway?"

"Ten years or so ago, Dru and I breezed through. Caught one of the blackjack dealers behind the Mirage. Told him I'd spare him if he let me in on his tricks. He spilled, then Dru moved in for the kill."

"Oh."

He expects some revulsion from her, but she's back to being hollow again.

The room isn't posh, but it'll do. All she needs is a bed, anyway. She disappears inside the bathroom, but she doesn't close the door. He listens to her doing whatever she's doing to clean up.

A loud "Ow!" from inside, and he goes over to the door. "Stubbed my toe on the edge of the bathtub," she murmurs.

He looks down at her foot, examining the trickle of blood from the split nail.

Hungry. He's so hungry.

It would be beautiful to wipe it away with his finger, then lick it dry. Too beautiful.

He walks away quickly, toward the window, but he doesn't open the drapes to the sunlight. Damned temptation.

He stands there and waits for more noise. She's like a cat, not a mewling kitten he uses for other gambling pursuits. The only clue she has even moved is the rustle of the bedclothes. When he turns around, she is under the covers.

"Thanks," she murmurs.

He looks away. "Right. No problem." Flicking a hand toward the rest of the room, he mutters, "Comfy chair. I'll be here if you need anything."

She's already asleep.

He settles himself in the chair, which isn't comfy at all. He watches her sleep.

He used to sit and watch Drusilla sleep too. Until he felt safe with her, he had to stay awake and watch her, lest she get up to wickedness when he wasn't paying attention. Then when she was sick a few years ago, he'd watch over her. She'd had a nasty habit of biting her tongue when she slept.

Funny how unlife turns out. If someone had told him two years ago that he'd be acting as a Slayer's caretaker....

After a while, he stands up and walks over into the bathroom.

He wants to stare at himself in the mirror. See what she sees in him.

But the reflection is empty.

***

"Gonna be light soon," he says as they hit the freeway at three in the morning, leaving the too-bright lights of Vegas behind. She stirs in the passenger seat. She was only pretending to sleep, hoping it would make him stop talking. It worked for a little while.

She keeps her eyes closed for a few more minutes and stills her body as much as she can. She won't give him the satisfaction of thinking that his voice can wake her up.

Finally, he says, "Look, I know you're awake, so don't give me that old song and dance."

She doesn't respond.

He growls in frustration and she's glad. He's back to the Spike version 1.0, not the new version 2.0, the one whose upgrades include the feature of following her around like a lovesick puppy or knowing just the right thing to say to make her feel better. She prefers the original Spike, because at least then she knew what she was getting.

"Slayer, I let you get your beauty sleep back at the hotel, but you just had to sleep until half-three in the bloody morning. Now, you can either switch seats with me and learn how to drive this thing or else come up with a way for ashes to steer a car."

"Don't call me 'Slayer,'" she finds herself saying.

Even without looking at him, she can sense his double-take.

"Pardon me? Last time I checked, you were a vampire slayer."

Yeah, and twenty-odd hours ago, she was Joan and he was Randy. Ah, the good old days.

"Spike?"

"What, luv?"

No 'Slayer' this time, but he's still calling her 'luv'. She reminds herself that he says that to everyone.

"Why didn't I get to be someone else?"

"Sorry, I don't follow you there." He began to slow the car down. Nobody was behind them to honk at the deceleration.

She wishes it weren't dark so she could at least stare out the window at something. They're driving through the mountains now. Those must be pretty. Since she can't look, all she can do is talk, and something about the lack of visual stimulation makes her chatty.

"Most people, when they get amnesia, get to start over. Become someone new. But who was I? Same slayer, different first name."

"Ah, so that's what this is about? The bloody amnesia spell?" The car's now to a complete stop. "Hold that thought, and get over into the driver's seat.

She sighs and opens the door. Her muscles scream from cramps as she walks around to his side of the car. He's standing next to the backseat door, and she practically has to veer over onto the interstate itself to keep from brushing against him. He'd like that too much.

He holds the door open as she settles herself into the driver's seat, and she hopes like hell he won't do something stupid like try to position her hands on the wheel. Pre-empting that notion, she gets into the stance. She's driven before, after all, though those trips were usually full of metal crunchiness and other assorted badness.

Spike climbs into the backseat and she forces herself not to look at him in the rearview mirror as she adjusts it to see the big black blob of nothingness in the rear window.

"Right, okay. Turn the ignition and--"

"I know how to start a damn car," she spits.

"No need to get huffy, Buffy."

"You're a poet and you didn't know it," she throws back at him, feeling marginally clever for the first time in hours.

"That was unnecessary." He practically growls.

What-the-hell-ever. She'll never figure him out, not that she'd ever want to.

She manages to make it back on the road and she's up to 75 mph before she lets her muscles relax. This stretch of road is fairly straight, which is good, but she knows some more mountains are on their way, along with the sunrise.

"As you were saying, you're mad because you had to be a slayer again when you got the memory wipe?"

"Mad? No. Frustrated? Yes."

"So you don't want to be a slayer, then?"

"Would you?"

"I think not, because then I'd have to dust myself and that could get messy."

Buffy grits her teeth. "I don't want your humor, Spike."

"Then what do you want from me?"

She rewards his lack of charm with a lack of response.

"Fine. Whatever." She listens to him rustling in the backseat, the noise almost drowning out his words as he continues, "Being a slayer's your destiny. Can't escape it."

Sure enough, the mountains appear again and she focuses on the road to keep from swerving off some cliff or whatever. "Joan didn't know she was a slayer. She -- I -- actually seemed to enjoy it."

"And you don't enjoy it?"

"Quit asking me questions."

"Hey, you're the one who started the talking, Buffy-dash-Joan."

"I'm probably not going to feel like talking to you like this, Dr. Spike, ever again, so just let me do it, okay?"

It's his turn not to respond.

"No, I don't enjoy it anymore. Heaven kind of ruined it for me." She pauses to take a breath and feel the way the gas pedal vibrates under her foot. "I wish the spell hadn't worn off. Everyone was so much happier. Major weirdness, what with the whole Giles and Anya thing, but still. It was better."

"It wouldn't have lasted, you know." His voice is muffled, and she looks at him in the rearview mirror. All she sees is blackness.

"I would have made it last."

He laughs. "Sure you would've. You'd have been bored out of your mind within a day. It's like I told you a few weeks ago. You're not a shopgirl or anything else you want to call 'normal'. This is your life."

"Oh, and what's the big prize behind door number one, Monty? Early death and putting your loved ones in danger?"

"Well, it's not something you can walk away from, you know. It's what you're trying to do now, and while I'm having a marvelous time with Miss Peaches up there in the front seat, you'll have to go back to it someday."

She sighs as she watches the first fingers of orangy light appear over the mountains.

"Can someday be a long time from now?"

"It can be as long as you want, luv."

***

Nevermind the curse I wore
Proud like a badge till it just won't shine no more

***

"Just stay on I-10. Straight. Don't stop until I tell you to," he'd instructed.

"Easy enough," was her reply.

He'd filled up the tank a little while before they stopped, and if it gets too low, they'll just find a rest stop and crash until sunset.

She's quiet up front. He's stretched out in the backseat, as much as his legs will allow. Duster's covering him, with a paper bag over his head. The whole lack-of-breathing thing can be helpful at times. Back in Nevada, she got pissy and said that the blacked-out windows were practically a serial killer beacon to cops, so he grumbled as she set about scrubbing them off with a rest stop bathroom's paper towel doused in water.

A half-hour or so ago, he asked her how she was doing up there. She didn't reply.

Figures.

She only talks when she wants to.

Goes to show who wears the pants in this twisted little relationship. The whole thing with Dru was twisted too, but at least he got to call the shots. Sometimes.

He shifts in the backseat, grinding his teeth at the musty scent of the paper bag, and lets the annoying rhythm of her accelerating/braking lull him into something resembling sleep.

***

Driving's easy enough. She should've started doing it years ago -- gotten out of town and away from it all. Guess all she needed was a really straight road like this one.

The downside of driving is the cramps. Every muscle in her body is sore. If she weren't so achy, she'd be amused that sitting completely still can wear her body down more than an hour-long fight with a royally pissed-off vamp.

"What'd he say?" asks a voice from the backseat. Damn. She'd hoped he would just keep quiet until he took over the driving.

"What?"

His voice is muffled, like someone had shoved a gag in him. Not a bad idea, really.

"Watcher Boy. Before he left. What'd he say to you?"

Oh. So not the conversation she wanted to be having right now. "Nothing. He didn't say anything."

Spike chuffed. "Yeah, like I'd believe that. The man always has to stick his foot in and say the right thing, even though he usually ends up bollixing it up."

Impulsively, she spits out, "He didn't say anything at all, okay? He called the house when I got back but I told Dawn not to tell him I was there."

"And then you decided to flounce off to the Bronze and indulge in a little alcohol therapy?"

"I wasn't drunk."

She can hear him laugh through the stupid paper bag on his head. "Oh, right. Nursing a soda all night."

Buffy rolls her head back as far as she can while still watching the road, and she tries to work out the kinks. She's definitely not in the mood to be taunted by a guy who couldn't spell "commitment" if he had a dictionary in front of him.

Okay, she knows that's not true, but she's not in the mood to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Leave it to him to not just shut up.

"You should've talked to him, you know. Things left unsaid -- they're not good. They haunt you."

Buffy grinds her teeth. "What would you know about it? You couldn't shut up if your un-life depended on it."

"I know a damn sight more about it than you do, you fool! Give me credit for having learned a little something or another in the past century and a half." He pauses and she can hear the rustle of the paper bag. When he speaks again, his voice is softer. "All I'm saying is that no matter how angry you are with him, he deserved more than you lying like a schoolgirl. When someone leaves, you have to give them a proper goodbye, or the whole relationship is soiled."

She lets herself stew. She doesn't want to be hearing this from him. "And you would know this because....?"

He gets quiet again.

She watches the road, trying to convince herself that she's glad this conversation is over. Damn him.

"There are people in my life who I didn't say goodbye to when we parted. Important people. People I loved. Like my Mum. She never approved of me and we quarreled most of the time, but she was my mother and I loved her. I never did tell her that."

She catches her breath and blinks her eyes as his words resonate with her own situation. No way will she cry in front of him.

His fingers come up to comb through the hair that falls over the back of the headrest. The touch is soothing. She bites her lip, not wanting to feel soothed by him.

"Same for you, I reckon," he murmurs.

Buffy blinks away tears and keeps her eyes on the road.

***

"What was it like back then?"

"Back when?"

"When I was dead."

She turns to look at him, and he looks away.

A car pulls in to the bay next to them. She can't see it, but she hears the starting of the hose. A mist begins to fill the air outside the drive-up car wash, casting rainbows in the dusky light.

They've been sitting, silent most of the time, since he told her to pull off the freeway and into this car wash outside of Tucson. She needed a rest, but she wasn't about to just park on the shoulder.

The air inside the car is tense, has been tense since the lethargy of Vegas wore off. He tells her stories and blabbers on about pointless stuff, but all she can think of is that those are the same lips that kissed her. Twice.

So much easier to talk to when he wanted to kill me, indeed.

He doesn't respond to her question until after the other car has pulled out of the bay.

"You may have been in heaven, but it was hell down here."

Oh.

She remembers being thirteen, back when she was all self-absorbed and desperately in need of someone to actually tell her how special she was. She remembers being curled up on her bed, sobbing, after her crush Kevin McKay dissed her during lunchtime and all her so-called friends laughed at her. She remembers wanting to die.

Actually, she didn't want to die, really. Just wanted to spite her friends, to be temporarily dead and watch her funeral from the shadows, seeing them all so upset over her death and wishing they'd been nicer to her when she was alive.

It was a very different world back then. Now she's had that experience for real, and it's not all it was cracked up to be before she'd ever even heard the word "slayer".

She turns to look at Spike, who is looking out the opposite window.

"What did you all do?"

He doesn't respond.

She raises her voice, as if maybe he didn't hear her. "I mean, what did everyone do all day? Or night, in your case. Nobody's really told me much about that."

"I'd really rather not..." he begins, then he looks over at her. Her face must be saying something she doesn't realize, because he bites the corner of his lower lip then says, "Right, then. Don't know much about the others. It's not like we sat around braiding each other's hair or anything."

Buffy can't help but chuckle at that mental image. He smiles, just barely, then continues. "Tara didn't like me coming round at first. Threatened to do an uninvite spell on me once, a few weeks after... that." He stresses the word and she knows what he's talking about. "But I put my foot down and that was that. Told her nobody was going to mess with Dawn if I had my druthers. 'Course, I also think mostly Willow just convinced her I could be the sitter."

He pauses. The car next to them pulls out of the bay.

"I kept her safe, though. It's all that mattered."

She wants to reach over and take his hand. Squeeze it. Just hold it or whatever. But she thinks that wouldn't be a good idea for either of them, so she settles for saying, "Thanks. I appreciate it."

"Nothing for you to appreciate. I did it because I wanted to. Had to keep all the nasties away from her, since I couldn't do it that night." As he speaks, his voice dwindles to near a whisper. "But you're welcome all the same."

The shadows are shifting outside the car wash. She watches cars driving by. Traffic's picking up. Some drivers have switched on their lights. The sun is setting behind the Arizona mountains in the distance. Spike will probably want to hit the road again soon.

He starts to speak again, and as he does she almost feels him picking up speed, getting back in his old verbose groove. "I did a lot of drinking. Not something to be proud of, but there you have it. Took the edge off the pain." He steals a quick glance at her and adds, "Don't worry. Didn't do it in front of Dawn. Might have helped her, though, to take a sip or too. Then again, wouldn't be healthy for her liver, would it? She took it pretty bad. Everyone did, but her most of all. Guess that's to be expected."

A chill washes over Buffy, and pain settles in her gut. She can't grip his hand, so she grips her own. Her nails bite into her palms, the melanin already wearing grooves in her flesh.

"But just before you came back, she was starting to get over it, I think. Didn't seem as depressed as she had been. Smiled more. Started going out with her friends again, but only during daylight hours even though she fought me tooth and nail on that one. Kept mentioning some boy's name, but once I got a look at him walking home from school with her, we had words, and that was the end of that. She didn't talk to me for a week."

Buffy wants to chuckle, but when she starts to do so, it just rolls around in her belly and makes her nauseous.

"Everything was dark all summer," he says. "Just as dark as any place I've ever been, but all inside the head. They didn't talk to me about it, but I could tell. I went out patrolling with them sometimes, but it was all smash and bash. They were just as much like automatons as that bloody Bot was. I dealt with it by drinking and taking care of Dawn. They coped by trying to bring you back. Success on all fronts, huh?"

He stops and looks at her again. She returns his look. His eyes are shiny, like he's about to cry. The idea of him crying makes her really uncomfortable, but she forces herself not to look away.

"Now you're back, and just in the nick of time. Everyone's happy again. Life's good for all." He pauses, and his voice cracks. "Well, good for all except you, I reckon."

She watches as he blinks a few times, but it only spreads the tears in his eyes. "You too?" she asks.

"Hmm?"

"Are you happy too?"

He reaches over and traces one finger across the back of her hand. She shivers. The nausea fades.

"Yeah," he murmurs. "I'm happy too."

They continue to stare at each other. She waits for something to happen. For him to say something else, or even for him to kiss her. But she doesn't think he will. He always waits for her cue.

She wants to kiss him again, but she can't. She knows that if she kisses him now, it'll be soft. Tender. It'll make her feel things she doesn't want to feel. She needs hardness and that glint of evil in his eyes. Not this.

Finally, he pulls his hand away and puts it on the steering wheel. "It's getting dark. Guess we can blow out of here."

Right. Time to head farther away from Sunnydale. Maybe everyone else is happy, but she's not. Suddenly she can't get far enough away.

***

Somewhere near the Texas-New Mexico border she sits bolt-upright in the passenger seat.

The movement startles him, and he nearly swerves the car off the road. Not many other cars around, at least.

"What's wrong, Slayer? Nightmare?" he says as he reaches over to turn down the radio playing staticky middle-of-the-night BBC World Service. The comforts of the old world aren't very comfortable anymore.

"I'm leaving Dawn alone," she says, her voice breathless and scared.

Yeah, you are, he thinks. But it was your choice to leave with me. He doesn't tell her this.

He's supposed to calm her down, so he tries his best. "Look, Willow's there with her. The thing you told me about with Tara has probably blown over and those two are going to keep her safe. She's fine, okay?"

It's selfish of him to try and talk her out of going back. He wants to keep her here with him. If it weren't a monumentally bad idea on so many levels, he'd want to turn her and keep her with him forever.

So he's surprised to hear his voice saying, "Do you want to turn back, then?"

She's quiet for a couple of miles, then she says, "I don't know. Stop at the next town, so I can call and check up on her."

"It's the middle of the night. You're just going to wake everyone up and get them all scared again. Call them in the morning."

"Maybe. I don't know. I don't know about anything anymore."

Ten miles later, she's asleep again.

,center>***

"You're not going to like this, but the vein's run dry."

"Huh?" As usual, his charming voice has pulled her out of a rather nice doze.

"Blood. Need more of it."

Oh, great. Yeah, sure, it's part of the whole vampire thing and he needs it the same way she needed that crappy burger they stopped for a couple of hours ago, but still.

"Find some roadkill and have yourself a real good feast."

"Nah," he chuckles. "The whole motor oil thing tends to spoil the taste. 'Sides, I haven't had any since I finished the last of those bags from home back last night, and you still don't know how to drive well enough to get us anywhere when I'm curled up in the backseat like a famine victim."

Buffy rolls her eyes and stares out the window.

An hour later she's in one of the most bizarre experiences of her life. She stands at a payphone in El Paso, asking the operator for the address of the local blood bank. When she'd told Spike he should just make the damn call himself, he'd told her that her voice was more anonymous than his. Paranoid, much?

She rattles off the address and he looks it up on his map. "Right. Good. Only a few miles away."

Once they're there, he cases the joint. Cases it. For real. She leans back against the car and watches him, torn between wanting to laugh and run in horror. When he gets back to the car she asks, "Did you hit the security guards upside the head?"

"No, I did not," he says, all indignant. "The lack of protection here is a crime. Then again, I haven't heard much about vampires hanging out in El Paso, so maybe they don't need much security. Whatever the case, guard's in the front lobby. Looks half-asleep. We can pick the lock on the back door."

"YOU can pick the back door, Spike. This is your little plan."

He actually looks upset. "Fine. Have it your way. Back in 20."

He skulks off back around the side of the building, and she finds herself following him from a distance. This predatory thing of his is full of badness, but she can't help watching it. So, this is how he hunts his prey? She should be taking notes. Instead, she's looking at the sleek way he sidles up to the back door and slips inside.

Nineteen minutes later, he's back outside, his body listing from the huge ice chest he's carrying. "Give us a hand, luv?"

"Nope."

She does open the door for him. As he dumps the chest in the backseat and scoots into the driver's seat, she says, "You know, you're a pretty pathetic vampire, stealing from the Red Cross."

"I'm a vampire who wants to live." He stops short as he starts to pull out of the alley. "Okay, bad choice of words. You get the picture."

"Do you?"

"Do I what?"

"Want to live?"

He doesn't respond for a while, and she thinks maybe he just doesn't want to answer that question. But as they're heading back to the freeway, he says, "Do I want to live? Not really. Don't miss human life all that much."

She'd been feeling pretty alert for the past hour, but now she stifles a yawn. "I'm going to back to sleep," she mutters. "You have fun with your blood."

Buffy tries to doze off, but the streetlights flicker behind her eyelids. She tries to breathe long and deep to lull herself, but it doesn't work.

He plays with the radio a bit, surprising her when he settles on a jazz station. She's even more surprised when he begins to hum along with the trumpet on the radio. She forgets sometimes that he's old enough to have heard this song when it was first played live.

The low music does the trick, though. She's nearly out when she hears the low murmur of his voice again.

"You make me want to be alive, Buffy."

She pretends to be asleep, but his words wake her up again.

***

If it's Tuesday, it must be Fort Stockton. She'd complained that the car was making her nauseous, so he'd pulled into the parking lot of a divey convenience store and he went inside to get her some Saltines and club soda. Now they're parked in another parking lot -- elementary school, he thinks -- and she's stretched out in the backseat.

He's turned around in the front, and he watches her sleep.

She's so beautiful like this. Hell, beautiful is too trite a word. Everything about her is light. Her skin glows in the yellow light like the sun's rays. She makes him miss the sun.

Best of it is that she lets him watch her sleep. Oh, he knows she'll never trust him, but by letting him do this, it's almost as if she does. And that should be enough for him. Shouldn't it?

***

"We were down here once, Drusilla and I."

He pauses and looks over at her. She's still curled up on the rickety motel room chair, staring at the closed drapes glowing red from the afternoon sunlight beyond. The first time he told her a story, a hundred or so miles outside of Vegas, she told him she really didn't want to hear tales of mayhem and death. I've had enough for a lifetime, she'd said.

She doesn't protest anymore.

So he continues. "Back during the early '80s. Oil boom, 'Rhinestone Cowboy', all that shit. She saw some woman in New York wearing one of those gaudy hats and decided she wanted one straight from the source. Ridiculous idea, even for her."

He thinks he sees a ghost of a smile on her face, but wouldn't lay a wager on it.

"Anyway, we got down here and she found herself a hat. Right nice one, too, all sparkly and blood-red, perched on the head of some tart at a country joint. The woman was tarty, all right. Not very delicious at all. Tasted like barbecue or something."

He can't help but grin at the memory.

"When we went back inside, I nicked a handful of quarters from the tip jar and Dru put 'em in the jukebox. Played Hank Williams for hours. Thank God the whole cowboy phase was a short one."

Spike prattles on for a little longer, reminiscing about a road trip in another decade. Buffy continues to stare at the drapes.

He finally gives up and slides off the bed. "Are you tired?" he asks as he walks over to the dresser. "You're welcome to the bed if you want to get some sleep."

"I'm fine," she murmurs in response. They're her first words in the two hours since they checked into this cheap chain motel outside of Houston. A hundred and twenty minutes of him babbling, watching her look anywhere but at him.

He opens the ice chest to find the blood bags floating in tepid water. Spoilage won't do at all. Unfortunately, the ice machine is outside, and the sunset won't be for another few hours.

"Slayer?"

"What?"

Word number three.

"I need some ice."

She turns to look at him. It's a start, right? Too bad her eyes looked deader than his.

They stare at each other for a twenty count. He waits for her to find some not-so-clever way to sod off.

Finally, she walks over and takes the ice chest from him, her hot hand brushing against his cool one. After he watches her slip out the door, he looks down at his palm.

Fingernail-shaped crescents of blood mark his hand. Hers.

He can't help himself. Spike brings his hand to his mouth and licks it dry.

Her blood is bitter on his lips.

His appetite is gone.

She's gone for a good long while, so long that he wonders if she's hitched a ride back to California. Lots of all-too-human beasties outside, willing to drop everything for a chance up a blonde bombshell's skirt. He's scared for her. Given what he's seen the past few days, he's not all that confident she'd even try to defend herself.

But she comes back to him.

She slips into the room like a zephyr, all cool air and thin substance.

The latched ice chest clatters to the cheap carpet as she crosses the room to him, striding with economical moves and fierce purpose.

She latches her lips to his.

It's painful and awful and electric and as exquisite as virgin blood.

It's what living must have been like, if he'd properly lived when he still had a heartbeat.

He knows what's going to happen; she's developed a pattern in only three times out. Kiss him until she's blue in the face and he's simply blue. Then walk away with a shiver and a backward glance.

As she pulls back to gasp for air, he wonders why he lets her do this to him. It's everything and nothing he wants, but he can't help himself.

The light behind his eyelids sparks indigo.

***

She concentrates on the act of breathing. In and out. Using your diaphragm to pull in the air makes you sleepy, but using your lungs causes shallow breaths that invigorate you.

She lets her diaphragm push back and forth. She wants to be sleepy.

Cars speed along the interstate about a hundred yards away as she sits on this motel parking lot curb. Texas doesn't look all that different from California. Same flatlands, brown grass, wide open sky. This surprises her, but she knows it shouldn't. Travel's never been part of her game plan. There are so many places she hasn't seen. But then, she's never felt like she was missing much.

Buffy watches the sunset over the horizon, looking at the way it peeks behind a Burger King sign.

She's furious with the sun for setting.

When it's gone, he's going to come out and want to talk to her. He'll want to ask her questions like why she kisses him then runs away. Like what does he mean to her. Like why she treats him like this when all he wants to do is love her.

She should have run farther away.

But instead she bolted from the room and walked over to the gas station next to the motel. She still had a twenty he'd given her from his casino winnings (which he'd won by cheating, but then that was so "him", wasn't it?) She bought some M&M's and a Slurpee, hoping it would wash away the taste he left on her mouth even though it's kind of too chilly outside for a slushie. She called Dawn again, but all she got was the answering machine. Left another message saying that she was okay, not to worry about her. Then she came back here. She should've gone back inside the room, but now she's sitting on this curb, watching the sunset.

The Slurpee's all gone, but she can still taste him. Problem is, he tastes good.

It's all his fault, of course.

How's she supposed to resist him when he's there when she needs a sympathetic ear and everyone else is leaving her and her whole world is crumbling away and all she wants is to feel the touch of someone who loves her?

All his fault.

She turns and looks over her shoulder at the window of the motel room. He's watching her.

His face is framed by the drapes. His head is cocked to one side in the way she now knows is how he looks at her when he's all emotional-ish. He has this weird look on his face. Someone else would probably call it "tender", but she doesn't want to think of it that way.

He's still looking at her, and he bites his lip. She wishes those were fangs biting down, not the dull edges of his front teeth. Then she could remind herself that he's a bad man -- a thing, really -- and she should get the hell away from him or else grab a stake.

She could remind herself that he's not the same thing that took her away from it all when she needed more than anything to be away. That he's not the same thing who would do anything she asked him to, even stake himself if she commanded it. That, as much as it makes her stomach rebel to even think about it, he's not the same thing who is -- was -- could still be -- the person she's closest to on earth.

Damn him.

Then again, he's already been to hell. Too late for damning.

He raises his eyebrow. Come in, it says. Be with me.

She looks away and picks up the Slurpee cup, stirring the syrupy dregs with the straw-spoon.

Time passes.

It's almost totally dark when he finally comes out of the motel room, the clunky orange key chain tapping against his hand. In his other hand he holds his ice chest full of blood.

"Time to get out of here," he mutters and walks over to the tiny lobby to return the key.

When he returns, she's still sitting there. "Are you going to come or not?" he asks, his voice irritated.

The parking lot lights reflect off his face. His eyes are shiny and she thinks she sees tracks of tears on his cheeks. She looks away. Doesn't want to see that at all.

What she wants is to sit here until her life starts to make sense again. She wants to walk over to the highway and hitch a ride back to California, or else demand her share of the winnings -- *his* winnings -- and get a flight home. She wants to be anywhere but here with a goddamned vampire who irritates the hell out of her and loves her more than reason.

It's just not natural. Nothing is anymore.

With a sigh, she stands up and walks over to the passenger side of the car.

"Let's go."

***

That won't bring you happiness
Happiness is hard to come by
I confess I'm bad at this thing happiness
If you find it share it with the rest of us
With the rest of us

***

New Orleans, Louisiana. 11:37 p.m. Café du Monde. Mixing with the masses tonight.

It's all very, very strange. He's been cooped up in the backwaters of Sunnydale for so long that coming back here to hang amongst the tourists is odd, even though he and Dru lived here for a couple of years back in the '50s. Back during jazz and crumbling balconies and the high life for vampires before Anne Rice shoved her bloody foot in. Such a romantic place, those days. No neon.

But it's also normal. That's the most daft part of it. It's Buffy and him now, sitting at a table in a restaurant, just like normal people. They could be anyone. Newlyweds. A guy and the girl he just picked up in a bar. Brother and sister, even.

And it's boring as hell.

She asked him last night if he wanted to be human. Well, he thinks, if this is humanity, I'll give it a pass. The New Orleans magic of old is long-gone, replaced by the almighty tourist dollar.

Buffy stirs her hot chocolate. Spike has chickory coffee, himself. He used to like chocolate when he and Dru would come to this century-old restaurant back then, but Joyce's death spoiled it for him.

"What would your mum think about your being here with me?" he finds himself asking.

She looks up from where she's tracing patterns in the mound of powdered sugar from the beignets. "Um..." she begins, then her voice trails off.

He follows her gaze as she looks around the patio, examining the chattering masses. Friday night, and it's packed. Some bloke is staring at the chair, his brow raised as if he could intimidate Spike into leaving. Spike smirks and sits back in his chair, daring the man to just try it. The standoff quickly bores him, so he turns back to look at Buffy, who seems to still be pondering the question.

Finally, she says, "I think she'd be alarmed, even though she knows I can take care of myself."

"Alarmed about what?"

"That I'm here with you."

The answer hits him like a slap, although he'd somehow expected it. "I thought she liked me."

"I dunno. Maybe she did. But the last time we talked about you, it was after you did your stupid tie-me-up-and-force-me-to-love-you tazer fiasco."

Oh, right. That.

Buffy continues, "She thought you were bad news."

"Do you think I'm bad news?"

He chews on his lip as he waits for her answer. She takes her own sweet time, of course, so he reaches over and grabs one of her beignets, eating the doughnut in three large bites.

She looks up at him and suddenly breaks out in a grin. "You."

"Me?" He coughs from swallowing too quickly. Powdered sugar coats his hands like snow, even in the sixty-degree temperatures of mid-November.

And then she laughs.

As he absorbs the sound of her laughter, all other noises melt away until the chattering classes at the other tables don't exist. He wonders why they don't all stop and listen to her, drinking in the sound of her laughter with their coffee.

"You. Sorry." She bursts out with another peal of laughter. "It's just hard to think of you as bad news when you've got powdered sugar all over your face."

His eyes widen. "Bloody hell," he grunts, then he reaches over and yanks a napkin out of the old-fashioned holder. He scrubs at his face and tries to decide whether to feel embarrassed or bemused.

He decides on the latter, because he made her laugh. She laughed and he caused it and the grin on her face makes her beautiful. He can love her and be whomever she wants him to be. Her laughter makes him think he's good news, not bad. It's an odd feeling.

She nips that in the proverbial bud, 'course.

"Seriously, though," she says. "Yeah, you're bad news. Vampire, hello? Not the kind of person a good girl should be hanging out with."

"And you still think you're a good girl, then?"

"I'm better than you are." She stares at him, wearing her self-righteousness like a coat, and takes another sip of her hot chocolate.

Anger coils in his gut. Yeah, she's better than him, but damn it, how the hell can she be mean to him when he's done so much for her? He took her away from it all, didn't he? He kept his promise to her and protected Dawn all those months, without any hope of a reward from her. Didn't he? He listened to her when she needed someone to talk to.

That counts for something.

Doesn't it?

He tells her this.

She stares at him, hands gripping the porcelain cup. Her face is carefully drawn into passivity, but he knows that's not what she's feeling.

He concludes his spiel with, "Why do you think I did all that, Buffy?"

She finally looks away from him. Her arms shiver and he wants to give her his coat to keep her warm, then he pushes that thought away. She's better than him, right? She's above trivial things like the chill. Damn it.

"I don't know," she murmurs.

"Yes, you do!" He clutches his own coffee cup, lest he feel the temptation to hurl it at her. Goddamned chip would probably go off at something stupid like that.

"I didn't do it because I'm bad news." He pauses so his next words will sink through her candy shell. "I did it because I love you."

Shell's unbroken, of course. "No you don't. You only think you do."

I give up, he thinks. I bloody well give up. It's times like these when he wishes the chip weren't in his fucking skull so he could slap her around until he knocked some sense into her.

He stands and shoves his hand in his pants pocket, then he pulls out a twenty. He slaps it on the table.

"Believe what you want, Buffy, but it's the truth."

He stalks away, maybe thirty feet, but he can't stop himself from turning to look over his shoulder.

She's up out of the chair, following him, and the vinyl of the seats aren't even cool before another couple has taken them.

Buffy catches up to him halfway down Rue Ste. Anne, alongside the women telling fortunes by candlelight at cheap card tables. The cathedral looms in front of them, all tall spires and threats of badness. He makes a sharp turn, away from her, and passes through the gates to Jackson Square Park.

It's quiet at nearly midnight on a Friday. This surprises him. He finds a bench and sits down. If they're going to talk like he suspects she wants to, he needs to be sitting down. Less chance of feeling the temptation to smack her that way.

She sits down next to him, but still three feet away. He stares straight ahead.

"Okay, fine," she begins. "You love me. That doesn't mean anything."

Don't hit her, he reminds himself. He clenches his hands into fists. "Yes, it does. It means everything to me. And it has to mean something to you, or you wouldn't have kissed me. Twice."

"I was sad. I wanted to feel something."

He chuckles, but it's nothing like her peals of laughter earlier. Harsher. "Oh, right. You really do have yourself convinced of that. I applaud your emotional fortitude."

She doesn't say anything. He thinks she turns and looks at him then, but damned if he's going to give her the satisfaction of looking back.

"You're here with me," he continues. "Me. Not those friends of yours. Why would you be here with me if you didn't feel at least *something* for me?"

"You were there. Available." She stops, as if weighing her words, and he hopes like hell she has the bloody sense to think carefully. Then she says, "You listened to me and I could talk to you."

"You still can, you know. What on earth have we been doing for the past four days? Talking, that's what. And kissing, but I'm sure you've already rationalized that too. Right?"

"I kissed you because I wanted to."

Aha! A breakthrough.

"Yes. You did. You wanted to kiss me, and I'd wager you want to do a hell of a lot more than just kiss me. Am I right?"

"In your dreams, Spike," she says. But he turns to stare at her and she doesn't look convinced. It's a start.

He stands up, but it's okay now because the urge to strike her has passed. He moves around in front of her. "Look, one of these days you're going to figure out what you do want from me. And you're going to realize that I'm not bad news anymore and I'm never going to do anything you don't want me to. Because you know what, Slayer?"

She doesn't respond, but the look in her eyes tells him she's at least listening.

"Somewhere, deep down, you know that I'm all you've got. You know that I'm the best thing for you right now because you can talk to me and I'll listen to you. I may be dead, but I've got an entire body full of love for you, and I'm not going anywhere. Last summer proved that." He softens his voice. "No matter how much you tell yourself that I'm bad for you, I'm not. And I will never, ever leave you, even when you push me away."

She closes her eyes, and when she does speak, her voice is small. "Whatever," she mutters, but he thinks just maybe his words sank in.

He holds out a hand to her. "The park's about to close. Let's get out of here before we're locked in."

She stares at his hand for a few moments, but she doesn't take it when she stands up.

"I want to go home," she says as they walk back to the gates.

"Okay, we'll go home tomorrow morning. But first, I want to show you something."

She still doesn't take his hand, but she walks next to him out the gate and up Rue Ste. Anne.

She's still with him, and it's a start.

Isn't it?

***

They walk together out in the open. It's a strange feeling, to be on a busy street with Spike, of all people. Sure, they've been together in the Bronze, but that's a familiar locale. The French Quarter is not.

"You don't travel much, do you?" he asks, and she has to strain to hear him over the noise from the partying crowds close by.

She shakes her head then realizes he's not looking at her. "Nope," she says instead, her voice a notch louder than usual.

"Didn't think so." She can hear him laugh. "Me, I've been all over the world. Had plenty of time to do so."

The crowd thickens as they near Bourbon Street, and it occurs to her that she should grab his hand to keep from getting lost. She hates crowds. But then, the last thing she wants to do is hold his hand and let him think they share more intimacy than she wants them to.

Just as quickly as the masses appear, they thin out.

"Where are we going, anyway?"

"You'll see."

Great. Enigmatic Spike. Her not-so-favorite flavor.

As strange as it is to believe, though, she's more calm now than she has been since she came back. Even with the chaos all around her, everything feels very normal. She's almost two thousand miles away from Sunnydale, and even though New Orleans is probably even more haunted than home, she feels in her element but unthreatened.

They walk past the opening to a courtyard. Through the black and lacy cast-iron gate, a voice calls, "Spike?"

Normal? Spoke too soon.

"What are you doing here?" the voice says, and Buffy turns around to look. The voice belongs to a man who, along with the woman next to him, is decked out in the latest in Goth fashion. Really, these vamps took stereotypes far too seriously.

"Butler. Long time no see," Spike replies in his best Cockney swagger. He pauses. "And Katherine."

She quirks her lips and lifts an eyebrow. "It's Katrina now."

A woman flirting with Spike. Lovely. Buffy bristles and rolls her eyes, glancing around for something wooden.

Butler nods toward her, and he makes an exaggerated show of sniffing. "Haven't seen you around here in decades. And what's with the human? Did Drusilla dump you again?"

"First answer: she's just a girl I met. Second answer: none of your goddamned business."

Just a girl? His answer puzzles her. Before she can work it out, Spike adds, "And no, Butler, she's not your dinner or mine, so bugger off."

He sounds menacing, and the other vampire backs away, hands up. "Whatever you say. Just keep off our turf, or Katrina and I will be calling our friends." The hint of fear in his eyes gives him away.

Spike glances at her, a look of warning on his face as if to say, 'Don't dust 'em. Just let it go.' And she finds she wants to let it go. This is supposed to be a vacation, isn't it?

They turn away and continue walking in the same direction they'd been going. A block later, Spike mutters, "They know better than to mess with me. Dru and I nearly brought the town down last time we were here."

She stares at the latticework balconies on the opposite side of the street. "Is that supposed to be comforting to me? I could take them down too."

"Sure you could," he replies, something like affection in his voice. "But they're not worth the effort."

They walk another three blocks in silence, pretty much as they've been since they left Houston. This part of the trip has surprised her; Spike's not normally given to silence, to say the least.

Finally, he says, "Here we are."

The intersection they cross is near-deserted at 3:30 in the morning. "What's this?" she asks as they approach locked gates.

"A cemetery. Saint Louis Number One."

She rolls her eyes again. "A cemetery, huh? How very you, Spike."

"Hush. I want to show you something."

"Last time you said that to me, you took me to see Riley in that vamp crack house." Time has passed and the pain has faded, but Spike turns to look at her over his shoulder, a stricken look on his face. She bites her lip and glances away.

The gate is locked tightly, so Spike laces his fingers and gives her a boost over the wall. She drops over the side. When her eyes adjust, the wind is knocked out of her.

Hulking eight-foot-high stone surrounds her. Oppressive, like the grave.

***

He drops to the ground, impact jarring his long-dead bones. A glance behind his shoulder reveals her following behind him as he navigates the labyrinthine cemetery alleys.

"Stick with me," he whispers. "You can get lost in here, and it's not very safe at night."

"I can take them," she says with defiance.

Spike grins at her. "I know you can, but stay close."

He takes a chance and grabs her hand. If she protests, he'll just say it's to keep from getting separated, but they both know what it's all really about. She shocks him by letting him take it. A frisson of electricity shudders through him. It is, as they say, A Moment.

As they walk, he says, "The city's actually below sea level, easily given to floods. So, a couple of hundred years ago, the people started burying their dead above ground in these tombs." He continues his history lesson, but he doubts she's listening. The marble looms like a miniature city surrounding them.

Around a corner and down an aisle, then he mutters, "Ah, here it is."

Marie Laveau's tomb. The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. He tells her this and she shrugs, so he decides to ignore her for a bit.

Reaching down for some of the snuffed-out candles, he pulls out his Bic and lights them. Spike holds one in his hand as he reaches up with the other to trace the smudged-out inscription.

"XXX" is scrawled all over the tomb in crayon, marker, and something which could conceivably be blood. Mardi Gras beads and pearls hang from a small abutment. Dead flowers, trinkets, and candles litter the base like offerings.

"Did the witch--" since the resurrection, he hates saying Willow's name, "ever mention her?"

Buffy shakes her head, and he turns away. Spike continues, "She died before I did. Too bad, 'cause I would've loved to have met her. Remarkable woman, that."

"Is that why we're here? To visit some voodoo queen's grave? There are plenty of graves in Sunnydale, you know."

He turns to look at her. "You wanted to get out of town, so I brought you here. Remember?"

Buffy bites her lip and says nothing.

"Quiet. Figures."

He leans back against the tomb opposite and slides to the ground, off the aching legs that really shouldn't be aching because he's past such things but there it is. She does the same, and he's surprised to notice how close to him she settles herself.

"What's it going to take for you to be happy, anyway?" He asks, still staring at the tomb. A gust of breeze ruffles the beads hanging from the front.

"I thought you said you knew."

"I said no such thing. All I said the other night was that things will be right peachy when you figure it out for yourself."

She laughs, a hollow sound. "As if that's ever going to happen."

They're both silent for a minute, then he takes a risk. "I know what'll make you happy."

"Please enlighten me." Her voice is bitter and still hollow.

He turns to stare at her. She looks immeasurably sad, miles away from happy. "You need to get over yourself, you know?"

Hollowness gives way to incredulity.

He pushes on. "Everything's all about you. Who left you. What your friends did to *you*. How you're going to cope. And while all of those are important, they're not everything. What you need is to quit looking at yourself as a victim. Yeah, you were treated horribly and such, but it's happened and it isn't going to go away." He stops to register her reaction, but she's still quiet. "You need to start looking at everything you do have and figure out how to let it be a good thing for you."

That old skeptical look floats over her face. He does love that about her.

"Like you, you mean?"

Trust her to get to the blunt heart of the matter, though without a bit of pointy wood this time. But that's not the issue, and damned if he can figure out how to get through to her.

"Well, yes, like me. But also the Bit, your friends, your life. Yes, your lot in life is dreadful, I'll grant you that. Slayers aren't exactly the most blessed people on earth. But you have something all those others don't."

She's getting angry now. "Like those other two Slayers you killed? What do I have that they don't?"

Spike growls, wanting to get into game face and smack her around a bit just to get through to her. "You're missing the point! The others -- all they lived for was the kill. Ironic, that. But you have a life. Not just in the literal I've-got-a-pulse-again way, but you're an actual person, not just a slaying machine. And the sooner you realize that, the happier you're going to be."

"Oh, and I assume you're the one who's going to make me happy, then?"

He should've given up a long time ago. No getting through to her at all.

"Forget it," he mutters.

"Yes, lets."

But then, he knows this isn't the last of it. He's just sick of going round in circles with her when she doesn't even bother to listen to what he's saying.

She doesn't get up and walk away, though. It's a start, at least.

They sit together, tension sparking like the flickering candles. She leans over and picks up a piece of folded paper at the base of the tomb, then reads it aloud.

"Marie, please use your powers to make Chris love me."

Buffy chuckles derisively. "Having to cast a spell to get someone to love you? How pathetic is --"

She stops short. In their world, such things do happen.

She leans forward and reads a few more papers, her fingers tracing the beads and dried flowers lined up as offerings.

Turning to face him, she says, "God, did you bring me here to cast a love spell?"

"No!" Then he realizes how she'd interpret that, and says, "No. Didn't even cross my mind. Honest." He closes his eyes and leans his head back against the marble. "I just thought you'd like it. You wanted to get out of town, and this was the farthest away I could imagine. Always wanted to come here again. Seemed just your speed."

Time seems to shift in the muggy air.

She sits back again, then she leans over into him, her head on his shoulder.

He stiffens and purses his lips, completely smacked.

"This doesn't mean I like you, you know," she murmurs.

"I know."

They sit together like that for longer than he can count minutes, muscles still.

He nearly bolts to his feet when her hand begins to trace patterns on his knee. He looks at her out of the corner of his eye, but she's still staring at the crypt in front of them.

She's tired, he tells himself. She's lonely and depressed and it means absolutely nothing.

"I make you want to be alive," she mutters. "That's nice."

Oh, shit. She heard that?

"This is nice," Buffy continues. "It's calm and warm. It's almost like heaven."

He wonders if she even feels the chill in the air or hears the cars outside the cemetery walls. He shifts a little and the blinding heat of her body assaults his left side.

"Do you know what you're saying?" he can't help but blurt out.

"Mmm, yeah." He thrills at her half-moan. "Right here, I can forget about everything."

Like who you're with? he thinks. Maybe that's it. She's pretending he's someone else. Maybe Angel. 'Course, thinking about Angel only pisses him off, and this moment here with her is supposed to be good, right? Right.

"Kiss me," she says.

"Okay."

As he turns to do so, he realizes this is the first time he's been the one to instigate it. Then again, she told him to, so this doesn't really count. Then he feels her lips on his and decides that what the hell, it does count.

They're slow kisses. Soft. A hint of tongue and powdered sugar from the beignets he'd bought her at Café du Monde before they headed over here to the cemetery. They're the kind of kisses he would have written poetry about back when he was human.

He feels human, too. His heart isn't beating but it almost feels like it is. His whole body thrums with something that feels very, very alive.

It's like Beauty and the Beast, he thinks as she pulls slightly away and plants a soft kiss on the corner of his mouth. All the beast needed was love to make him a man. 'Course, he still has no delusions that this is anything but loneliness and her need to feel alive again. But a man can dream, right?

"Thanks. This is good," she murmurs against his mouth. "You're good at this."

They sit together and kiss for a little while longer, soft and slow. With kisses like these, he can tell himself they are romantic, even if he knows that no romance is involved on her end.

Mid-kiss, she stills. When he opens his eyes to look at her, he finds hers closed. Long, even breaths. She's fallen asleep.

At least she hasn't left him. Yet.

He looks over at the tomb opposite them, and he whispers, "Thank you."

***

A boot shoved against his back wakes him up. Great, he thinks. She back to playing Kick-the-Spike. So much for that thaw he'd imagined.

"Get up! Let's get the hell out of here."

Male. American accent with a hint of German underneath. Royally pissed off.

He hoists himself up on an elbow, his body smarting from the joy of sleeping on paving stones for the first time in years. "What?"

Eyes adjust to the sight of the vampire looming over him. The bloke's still in game face. Charming. The ones who stayed fangy all the damn time annoyed the bloody hell out of him.

"It's gonna be sunrise in about twenty minutes, so we need to get out of here now."

This presents two options: go with the idiot or stay and make a bonfire.

Even without looking around, he senses he's alone.

"Where's the woman?" He fails at keeping the panic out of his voice. "If you got to feeding off her, I've got a century's worth of uglies to work on your doomed arse."

"What woman?" The other guy genuinely looks confused.

Ah. That would explain it.

She split.

Chalk another point in her column. Kiss then bolt.

He'd admire her technique if he wasn't so furious with her, or if he didn't love her so goddamned much.

Stumbling to his feet, he follows the other vampire out of the cemetery, the hulking tombstones all the more medieval-ish in the predawn darkness. "Who are you, anyway?" he asks.

"The name's Fritz."

Spike couldn't help but laugh. "What the hell kind of name is that, poof?"

Fritz stops short at the intersection and waits for the light to change. It's a sad, sad day for vampires when they comply with jaywalking laws at bloody 5:30 in the morning. Spike swaggers across the street, and he hears Fritz clomping along to keep up, yelling out, "I saved your ass! Give me a break."

Eye rolling doesn't do much good when the recipient of derision isn't even looking at you, but Spike does it anyway.

Once Fritz has caught up, he says, "And you are...?"

"The name's Spike," he mutters, aping the other man's lightweight American accent.

Fritz freezes. "Oh, um, honored to meet you."

Well, that was a welcome ego boost. Nice to know the name still commands some respect from *somebody* these days.

They turn a few corners then Fritz opens the gate to a courtyard, holding it open for them to slip inside. "Twenty bucks."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

Fritz grins, but his eyes still look somewhat awed. "I rescue you from certain burning at sunrise, and you pay me twenty bucks. I've got a pretty good business going in it, what with the bars here that get vampires all drunk and forgetting of things like sunrises. But I guess for someone like yourself, I could waive the fee."

So here we have a vampire who helps others. If he didn't know better, he'd think it was Angel's bloody influence. Just what he needs.

Last thing he wants was the other vamp's charity, so Spike reaches in his pocket to peel a twenty from the rest of the casino winnings.

The money's gone.

A wave of searing pain that has nothing to do with chips hits his head.

He searches his other pockets, but nothing.

Finally, his fingers close on a slip of paper in the inside breast pocket. He pulls it out and squints to read it in the absence of ambient light.

It's Buffy's handwriting.

He feels a chill wash over him.

Spike crumples it up without reading it, then he tosses it to the ground. It rolls a bit and rests against a jasmine plant.

Fritz just stands there, staring at him.

A discarded real estate sign is propped against the wall, calling out to him. Spike picks it up and tears away the paper from the wooden stake.

Before Fritz' face can even register what's happening, he's the not-so-proud recipient of a wooden bypass operation.

The dust settles at Spike's feet.

He looks down and notices the wad of money left over from the other vamp's do-gooding.

Gas money. Bribe money. Blood money.

He has to get out of town.

She already has.

Kiss, then leave. Again.

***

She stares out the window as the pilot announces the Grand Canyon is visible below. Of course, it would have to be from the other side of the plane. You spend a very valuable $500 on an overpriced last-minute plane ticket, and you don't even get a good view. Figures.

Giles once told her that part of being an adult was learning how to face the music. Four days ago he chose to face the music of leaving. It's the same damn music that everyone she loves listens to.

Lesson learned. Don't love anyone.

Easy enough.

At least this time she got to be the one to leave.

She doesn't love Spike. Hell, she doesn't even know if she likes him. She thought she did in these past couple of months since her resurrection. Then he had to go and screw it all up by acting the way he did. He's not supposed to be nice. He's supposed to be evil. She can deal with him on that level.

Damn him. Damn everyone.

She still feels just a tiny bit guilty, though, for nicking the money off Spike. It wasn't a good thing to do, but he won it by gambling, and that's not good either, is it? She'd meant to leave him half of it, but she got caught up digging in her backpack for a pen and paper that she totally forgot. It's too late now. Eh, he's resourceful. He'll figure out a way. She thinks there are some more casinos in New Orleans for him.

She wonders what would happen if she got off the plane in L.A. and just kept going. She still has a good chunk of money left after the airfare. She could take another plane, or a bus to save some money, and go someplace new. Start off fresh.

Of course, the last time she took a bus out of town, look how that turned out. Can't stay in Los Angeles, since she gets the feeling that being in the same city with Angel is a world of bad. She wouldn't even know how to talk to him anymore.

Then, against her will, her thoughts turn to all the people she'd be leaving behind. Willow and Xander, her best friends for five years now. Tara, who she's starting to be fond of, if not yet love. Anya. Well, she might not miss Anya all that much.

Dawn.

Easy to think of her as an honest-to-God little sister these days. Dawn needs her so damn much....

She can't leave them any more than she can leave this life. Again.

They must be so worried about her.

She stares out the window at the empty desert below. It's the same desert she and Spike drove across a few nights ago. She wonders what's going to happen to him. Will he get back to Sunnydale eventually?

She knows in her gut that he will. Of all the guys she's kissed over the years, he's the one who has stayed even after she showed them her worst. Riley stayed after they first kissed, but he eventually left too.

Something's going to happen soon. She knows it. When he comes back, he's going to be the one to kiss her. Problem is, something nagging deep down in her gut wants it.

She sighs and tries the breathing trick again. If she could just sleep the rest of the trip away, things would be better when she opens her eyes.

They have to be.

The End

Feed Wisteria
Visit Wisteria
Return to Writercon Archive
Main