DL 1.6

Aug. 13th, 2005 01:16 am
[identity profile] eee1313.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] dancing_lessons_archive
Lesson the Sixth: Dirty Laundry

by cousinjean
Hanging By a Moment by Lifehouse | Lyrics
(at the laundromat)

Shiver by Coldplay | Lyrics
(at the pier)

Shout-out to Hercules at AICN for coining "The Knights Who Say Key;" And to the Redmptionista writers, for not only being willing to participate in this little project, but for blowing away my expectations and putting together a damn fine story.

[A/N update May 3, 2003 -- Spike's history with his mom here got thoroughly Jossed. This is probably cheating, but what happened between them is such an important part of Spike's character that I edited our version to match canon.]


*
Please pick up, please pick up, Buffy chanted mentally as she counted rings. After the fourth, she sighed with satisfaction as Anya answered.

"Hi, it's Buffy. Can I talk to Xander for a sec'?" She waited as Anya handed the phone off to her boyfriend. "Hiya, Mr. Fix-it," she chirped when he got on the phone. "I need a big favor. The washing machine's broken and Dawn and I are both down to our laundry day underwear. If we have to go another day it won't be pretty. Can you come take a look? There's a free dinner in it for you."

"I'm sorry, Buff," he said. "As much as I love the sound of Chicken ala Buffy, I was just about to take off for the construction site. There's apparently a big drywall emergency, the owner's on site and having kittens about it. The foreman's expecting it to be an all-nighter."

"Yeesh," Buffy said. "I hope you get overtime for that."

"Double time, actually," he said. "I'd have faked a troll injury or something otherwise. Can the machine wait for tomorrow?"

"Sure," she said. "Don't worry about it. I'll just get Giles to give me a ride to the laundromat. No big."

After they said their good-byes, Buffy held down the receiver, then hit the speed dial for Giles' number. After three rings, the machine picked up. "Giles, are you there?" she asked after the beep. "Guess not," she said after enough time passed for him to pick up. "Just ignore this message. It's nothing important."

She hung up the phone and sighed. Where the hell would Giles be after store hours on a Friday night? It's not like he was dating anybody. Oh, that's right, she remembered, he had a club gig that night. She couldn't help but grin at the thought of her Watcher as a latent budding rock star. The grin faded as she remembered that he and Xander were her only friends who could drive. Maybe with Dawn's help she could weed it down to one or two loads. Between the two of them they should be able to handle that much on foot.

As she headed back towards the garage Dawn came down the stairs, a duffel bag slung over her shoulder. "See you tomorrow," she called, heading towards the front door.

"Wait a minute," Buffy said, cutting her off. "Just where do you think you're going?"

"To Cindy's," Dawn answered. She didn't say it aloud, but her tone carried a big "duh."

"I don't think so," Buffy said. "I need help with the laundry. The machine's broken, we have to go to the laundromat."

A look of utter disbelief crossed her little sister's face. "Cindy's parents are out there waiting to pick me up," she said. "I have to go now."

Buffy looked out the window. Sure enough, a parental looking car sat in front of the house. "How come this is the first I've heard about this?" she asked.

Dawn rolled her eyes. "I don't know," she said. "Maybe it's because you're self-absorbed and you don't listen. It's not like I haven't mentioned Cindy's birthday sleepover about a dozen times."

Buffy chose to ignore the barbs. "Sleepover? I don't know, Dawn. I'm not comfortable with the idea of you spending the night away from home. What if something happens?"

"Yeah, like Glory's going to crash a junior high slumber party."

"Stranger things have happened. As for example, knights trying to kidnap you from the neighbors' lawn."

"Come on, Buffy. That was two weeks ago, and they haven't tried anything since. Besides, they didn't know I was the key, and it's not like they know where all of my friends live. I'm probably safer at Cindy's than I am here, seeing as how they know where I live. I have a life, you know. I can't just stop living it just because I used to be some stupid key."

"Dawn--"

"I'm going," she said. "You can't stop me. Besides, Mom already told me I could. Cindy's been planning this for two months."

Buffy regarded her sister quietly. She knew the girl needed to spend time doing normal things. She also knew she resented the hell out of her for trying to fill the role of their mother. Buffy couldn't blame her. She resented the fact that she had to. At least Dawn had someplace to focus her resentment.

"All right," she relented, brushing Dawn's hair behind her ear. "You can go."

"Thanks," Dawn grumped.

"Do I have Cindy's phone number?"

"It's on the fridge."

"Okay," she said, opening the door for her. "Have fun. It's getting dark, so go straight inside when you get there."

"I know."

"And don't invite strangers into the house!" she called after her.

"I know!"

She watched as the teen ran down the front walk and got in her friend's car. She was glad that at least one of them would be having some actual fun on a Friday night. Kind of bothered her, though, that her baby sister had a more active social life than she did. She hoped this wouldn't become a pattern any time soon.

Still, she had more pressing problems. Such as, how the hell she was going to have clean clothes for tomorrow? After she'd sorted everything it had come to six loads. Even if she managed to cut that in half, and even with her Slayer strength, she didn't relish the thought of lugging everything across town on foot. She supposed she really should learn how to drive. It sucked being dependent on other people like this. She frowned thoughtfully as she considered her options. She could always ask Spike for a ride...

Whoa! Where had that thought come from? No way was she asking Spike for anything ever again. Maybe before he'd admitted his freaky little crush, she could have gotten away with paying him to drive her somewhere, but now it simply wasn't an option. So then, what was? She only had enough money to actually do the laundry, so calling a cab was out. Her eyes drifted up to her mother's keys, on a hook beside the door. She took them off of the hook and studied them. It was just a couple of miles to the laundromat. How hard could it be? She'd observed enough of other people's driving that she felt pretty confident she knew the basics of operating a vehicle. Besides, it wasn't as if she had never driven before. There was that time she'd had to steal a van to get away from the Council's goon squad, when they'd mistaken her for Faith. She'd managed to get it home in one piece. Mostly.

That settled it, then. She went out to the garage, and packed all six loads into the back of her mother's SUV.

A short while later, the SUV lurched through the streets of Sunnydale, averaging a whopping 15 mph. "All right, Buffy," she said aloud, "you can do this. Gas, brake. It's not that hard." She eased onto the gas pedal, or so she thought, then panicked and slammed on the brakes as the vehicle sped forward. Behind her someone blared their horn and then drove around her. She chose to ignore the gesture they made as they passed. Closing her eyes, she inhaled deeply, then let it out and tried again. Just a little pressure...

There. This wasn't so bad. A nice, safe speed, now all she had to do was concentrate on keeping the car going in a straight line. That part turned out to be a little trickier than it looked, but she managed to stay inside her lane. Mostly.

Fortunately there were only a few turns and a couple of stop lights between her house and the laundromat. So far so good on the turns. By the time she reached her first light, she was beginning to feel pretty confident. All she had to do was slow down and stop, then go when the light changed, right? No big. Or so she thought, until she realized she was accelerating instead of slowing down. By the time she remembered which pedal controlled the brakes, she could already hear the crunch of metal crashing into more metal. Her head snapped forward, but her seatbelt held her in place. To her relief, the airbag didn't activate.

She shook her head as she registered that she wasn't hurt, then her eyes went wide as she remembered that she didn't have a license, and she didn't know the first thing about car insurance. Cringing at the thought of the damage she'd done to somebody else's car, she slowly raised her head to look. Her panic changed to momentary relief and then to mild irritation as she recognized the huge, black car in front of her.

The driver's side door opened, and she could already hear a steady string of British epithets, only about half of which she actually had any idea what they meant, with a few hard-boiled American curses thrown in for good measure. There was no mistaking what those meant. She couldn't help being somewhat amused as the vampire put on his game face, obviously intending to scare her, since that was about all his game face was good for these days. She was suddenly glad her mother had sprung for the tinted windows.

"Come out of there, you bloody stupid pillock," he shouted as he approached her door, "before I come in there after you!"

As he glowered menacingly at the window, trying to peer in to see the driver, Buffy contemplated opening the door hard right into his face. Nah, she thought, no fair if he couldn't see it coming. Besides, she did just rear-end his car. She supposed the least she could do was be civil to him.

"Right, mate," he continued. "I'm going to count back from three, and then if you don't come out I'm going to come in there and bugger you up like you buggered up my car. Three... two..."

Buffy started to lower the window.

"One! That's it, you wanker, I'm comin'--oh, it's you."

She did her best to look like she was not amused, though she would never admit to how hard she had to fight to keep from smiling at the surprised look on his face.

"Spike," she spat out his name like an insult. "You're coming in here to do what, exactly?"

"Don't know," he said. "Never made it to one before. Usually they get scared and high-tail it out of here when they get one look at my game face." He flashed her a sharp-toothed grin, then his features transformed back to human. As Buffy glared at him, he shrugged. "It's not like I'm insured. So, when did you start driving, exactly?"

Buffy hoped she didn't look as sheepish as she felt. "About twenty minutes ago," she said.

Spike smirked as he eyed the damage. "Obviously."

"Is it that bad?" she asked, getting out of her car. As she did, a BMW behind her blasted their horn.

"Piss off!" Spike shouted at them, and returned the driver's gesture as he drove around the accident. "Poncey bastard. Here," he said, reaching behind her into the SUV and turning on the hazard lights.

Buffy surveyed the damage, which pretty much was done entirely to her front bumper. Except for a busted tail light, the DeSoto was fine.

"They sure don't make 'em like they used to, eh, pet?"

"I guess not," she said. "I don't believe this. My mom's gonna be so..."

Pissed, she'd been about to say, then she remembered.

Spike turned to face her and leaned against his trunk. "She'd just be glad you're all right," he said. "'Sides, the damage isn't that bad. It's still drivable."

"I guess."

"So where're you so hot to get to that you can't wait for one of your mates to drive you? Everything all right? The Knights who say Key didn't make another try for kid sis, did they?"

Buffy registered genuine concern in his voice. She didn't think she'd ever get used to that. "Nope," she said. "Just going to do the laundry."

Spike cocked an incredulous eyebrow. "The laundry?"

"Yep. You caught me in full on Domestic Buffy mode."

"Don't you have a machine at home?"

"It's broken. Xander had to go to work and couldn't come over to fix it, and Giles is out for the night. Any more questions?"

Spike shook his head. "You know, Summers, I could probably fix your washing machine for you."

"I'm sure you could," she said. "And I'd be glad to let you, except that that would entail me letting you back into my house."

"Right," Spike said. "'Cause that would be tragic, me gettin' invited back into your house. Who knows what kind of wacky hijinks I might get up to if that happened."

Buffy eyed him suspiciously. The sarcasm she expected, but something about his tone implied that he had one up on her. "You're not getting back into my house, Spike."

Spike smiled. "Fine, pet. Have it your way." He stood up. "Come on, we better clean this up and get out of here before the police show up."

"Gee, Spike," she sneered, "why on earth would you want to avoid the police?"

"Gee, I don't know, Slayer. I'm sure they'd be real keen on having a look at your driver's license. Oh, that's right." He smirked down at her. "You haven't got one."

"Oh yeah." She sighed and resigned herself to letting him help her. "So, what do we do?"

"You get back in your mum's car," he said. "I'll be right there."

Buffy climbed in on the passenger side and watched as Spike moved his car and parked it on the side of the street. She would never admit this, but she felt relieved that he was taking charge. Despite their violent history, she knew in her gut that he'd take good care of her, and this was one instance in which she wanted to be taken care of. Spike may have been the enemy, but at least he usually had enough decorum to know when not to pick a fight. And on rare occasions, like this one, for example, it was actually kind of nice having him around. Not that she'd ever actually admit that out loud. She was just glad that things seemed to be returning to normal between them -- however loosely normal for them could be defined. She could handle Spike the Occasionally Helpful Vampire. She couldn't handle Spike the In Love Guy.

He came back over to her side of the car. "Oh, no," he said, "you get back over there, behind the wheel."

Buffy looked at him, confused. "But I thought you--"

"You want to learn how to drive, Slayer," he said, "someone ought to teach you proper. Now's as good a time as any. Move over."

He waited, watching her expectantly. Buffy knew she should just tell him to go away, but she didn't think she could get the SUV home by herself, and there just wasn't anybody else around to help her. Grudgingly, she moved back behind the wheel, and let him climb into the passenger seat.

She turned off the hazard lights and started the car.

"Now put it in drive," he told her, "and step on the gas real gentle-like."

She put too much pressure on the pedal. The car lurched forward and came to an abrupt halt as she slammed on the brakes.

"It's a car, Slayer, not a demon. You don't have to pummel the poor thing."

"Sorry," she said.

"'s all right. Try again. Just pretend it's a... puppy or... something you'd want to be real gentle with. Oh, I know!" he said brightly. "Pretend it's Captain Cardboard's ego."

Buffy glared at him. He flashed a guilty grin.

"Sorry, love, couldn't resist. Come on, now, let's have at it."

After a couple more false starts, they got under way. Once she made it through the light, Buffy began to feel like she was getting the hang of it.

"That's it, pet," Spike said approvingly. "Now, try a left up here."

After a few "practice" turns, Buffy caught on to where they were going. "Spike, why are we going to the cemetery?"

"To pick up my wash," he said. Buffy looked at him disbelievingly. "Eyes on the road, love. I figure, as long as we're going to the laundromat, I might as well do mine too."

"You mean you have more than just that one outfit?"

It was his turn to glare at her. "I have other clothes," he said. "Not that you'd notice," he muttered.

Buffy rolled her eyes. She'd be damned if she was going to start worrying about hurting this vampire's feelings. She got as close to his crypt as she could without getting off of the main road, and pulled over.

"I won't be a minute," he said as he got out. As she waited, she habitually scanned the surrounding graves for any signs of vampire activity. No fresh graves, which meant nobody would be rising from the dead tonight. Not in this area, at least. Not for the first time, she was suddenly struck by the absurdity of her life. Waiting for Spike, of all... non-people, to come back and finish giving her a driving lesson and go do laundry with her. It struck her that this was the sort of thing she might do with a longtime boyfriend, and the thought horrified her. She hoped she wasn't giving him the wrong idea. She'd have to say something to him. Not now, though. They'd be stuck together for a couple more hours, and she didn't want to risk making things weird again; but before the night was over, she'd have to make sure he wasn't led on.

True to his word, Spike came back to the car in just under a minute, carrying a small, black bundle of clothes.

"Oh, yeah," Buffy remarked. "That's a real extensive wardrobe you've got there. And look at all those colors!"

"Just drive, Summers."

Buffy grinned in spite of herself as she pulled the car back onto the road.

***

She was beautiful when she was angry. Hell, she was even cute when she was being a bitch. But she was downright breathtaking when she smiled. She didn't do that in his presence very often. Pity, he thought. He considered telling her so, but he didn't want to risk making things all weird between them again. This was the first time she'd acted even remotely comfortable around him since he'd confessed his true feelings. He decided to keep his mouth shut and just enjoy the moment.

They didn't speak the rest of the way to the laundromat, except for him to give her occasional instructions. By the time they arrived, she didn't even need that. The girl was a fast learner.

They were the only ones there. Spike supposed laundry wasn't a favorite Friday night activity in Sunnydale. Or anywhere, for that matter. As such, there were enough vacant machines for his one load and all six of hers to go all at once.

As she loaded hers into the washers, he got some snacks and sodas from the vending bank and went to sit down. He handed her a soda as she came over to the chairs.

"Thanks," she said as she sat near him. Near him, but not next to him.

He watched her out of the corner of his eye as she sipped nervously at her soda and shifted in her seat. Shit, he thought. It was about to get weird again.

"Spike," she began tentatively.

"Look, Summers," he said, cutting her off. "Don't even. I know you're slumming. I'm not suffering any delusions that you'd be with me if any of your little Scooby friends were available."

Buffy regarded him sternly. "Just as long as we're clear on that," she said.

He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and tapped one into his hand. "Crystal," he muttered as he lit up.

"So then... why are you here? If you know there's nothing to this, why'd you come along?"

Spike shrugged. "It's not like I had anything better to do. Look, can we just change the subject?"

"Gladly," she said. "Except," she looked bewildered, "what on earth do we have to talk about?"

Spike inhaled thoughtfully on his cigarette. "So how's your schooling?" he asked her.

"It's okay, I guess," she said. "It's school. I'm passing, but... let's just say, it's a good thing I know a trade."

"Maybe I could help you with some of that," he offered. "What're you studying?"

"I've got mostly math and science this semester. And a literature course."

"I've never been real big on the math and science stuff, but I might be able to help out with the literature. Who're you studying?"

"Right now, Coleridge."

Spike perked up. "Coleridge! Oh, you'll love him. The man was a genius. Did you know Kubla Khan came to him in a dream?"

"No," Buffy said, shaking her head. "No-nononono. No. I am not having this conversation with you."

"Why not?"

Buffy stared at him. "Because you're a thug," she said. "I'm not prepared to start thinking of you as some educated guy who likes to talk about high literature. It'll shatter my whole worldview."

"Suit yourself," he said, puffing on his cigarette. "But would that really be so terrible? To alter your worldview, I mean? Allow for new, heretofore unseen possibilities?"

"Spike," she said warningly.

"Guess so," he said. "If you ask me, though, a college education's a waste if you're not going to go at it with an open mind."

"I didn't ask you."

"No," he said softly. "No, you didn't." He sighed. "So what else have you got going on?"

A distasteful look crossed her face. "I have to write a paper on Dracula."

Spike almost choked on his smoke. "You're kidding!"

She shook her head. "I wish I was. I'm supposed to compare the guy in the novel to the historical Vlad Tepes."

"Dracula," Spike enunciated with obvious distaste. "I hate that poncey bugger. He owes me money, y'know. Do you have any idea what eleven pounds would come to after all these years of compounded interest?" He started to take a drag, but first added, "I hate that book, too."

"Yeah," she said, "me too."

"So what do you plan to write?"

Buffy shrugged. "Somehow I don't think his recent visit to Sunnydale or the fact that I staked him will be making it into the final draft."

"You staked him?"

She nodded.

"Good for you!"

"I'm pretty sure I didn't really kill him, though."

"Probably not, what with all those gypsy tricks he knows. Hey, did he try that whole thrall thing on you?"

Buffy hesitated. "Yeah," she said, shifting in her seat, "but it totally didn't work on me. It worked on Xander, though."

He laughed. "I don't doubt that. He's the one what taught Dru how to do that, y'know. He tried to teach me, but I could never quite get it."

"Imagine that."

Spike shrugged. "I never did go in for all that hocus-pocus, mojo crap. It was more Dru's thing. Besides," he added, offering her his most disarming grin, "who needs that when you've got all this English charm?"

Buffy rolled her eyes, but even so, a slight smile lit up the corners of her mouth. That was twice tonight that he'd managed to make her smile. Bully for him.

The washers all finished their cycles, so they went to move their clothes to the dryers. As they waited for everything to dry, Spike remembered the incident with that poofter at the hospital. He debated momentarily whether or not to tell her. She'd probably be cross with him for waiting this long. Things were going so well, he didn't want to give her an excuse to start a fight. That would be bloody typical, her getting all pissed at him for telling her something that might save her life. Stake the messenger type, she was. But she needed to know, and it would just be worse if he waited.

"There's something I've been meaning to tell you, pet," he said.

Buffy closed her eyes and groaned, "Oh, God, not again."

He glared at her. "Would you just let me finish?"

She sighed. "Go ahead."

"You know that bloke with the poof hair, works at the hospital?"

Buffy eyed him suspiciously. "Ben?"

Spike shrugged. "I never caught the blighter's name."

"What about him?"

"I don't think he's human."

Buffy shook her head. "Unbelievable," she muttered. "You know, Spike, you don't get to pull this jealous guy crap."

"No, it's not like that," he said, then reconsidered. "Well, maybe it is, a bit. But the thing is, I hit him, and the chip didn't go off."

Buffy looked like she couldn't believe her ears. "You hit him? Why the hell?"

"Oh. Uh, well, see--"

"The condensed version," she said.

Spike sighed. "I went to the hospital to pinch some blood--"

She looked disgusted.

"--from the blood bank," he pointed out. "Anyway, he caught me sneakin' about, and started giving me the third degree. He mentioned you and, I don't know, suddenly the satisfaction of wiping that smarmy grin off his face seemed worth the pain."

"I don't believe this," Buffy muttered.

"Let's focus on the point here, Summers. That being that there was no pain. Not even a tingle."

Buffy regarded him warily. "You don't suppose that chip's gone defective, do you?"

Spike met her eyes, and for the briefest moment he considered telling her the truth about the chip, but then he thought better of it. They might be getting along, but he had no doubt she wouldn't think twice about staking him if she perceived him to be a real threat. The news of Glory's little chipectomy would have to wait until he'd earned more of her trust. It occurred to him that lying to her wouldn't be the best start in that direction, but what else could he do?

"The chip's fine," he said. It wasn't exactly a lie. There was nothing wrong with the chip, it just wasn't inside his head anymore. "Besides, he proceeded to kick my ass after I hit him. The bugger was strong. Inhumanly strong."

"So how'd you get away?"

"See, now, that's the thing. I don't really remember. It gets all fuzzy after we started fighting."

Buffy stared at him as she seemed to puzzle something together. Great, he thought. Here it comes. She'll yell at me, threaten to stake me, tell me to keep away. I knew she wouldn't believe me. This is it. This is the last time I stick myself out for her. Bint would sooner set fire to herself than say a simple "Thank you, Spike," and I'm done with it.

Just as he was about to work himself up to a real good indignant rage, Buffy spoke up.

"You know, he was at the hospital that night that Dawn ran away. She said he tried to help her run from Glory, but then her memory went all fuzzy, too."

Well, he didn't expect that. "Well there you are, then. He's some kind of memory-alterin' demon."

"I don't know about that," she said, "but I'll have Giles look into it."

"Good," he said. "You do that."

"Thanks," she told him.

Spike stared at her, utterly gobsmacked. Finally he regained his composure enough to ask, "Whatever for, pet?"

"For the freebie. Well, for everything tonight, really. And for helping Dawn with those knights." She paused, and drew in a deep breath. "I know I haven't given you much reason lately to share information, let alone to rush to mine or Dawn's aid." She shook her head. "No matter how bad things get between us, you always seem to be there when we need you to be. Why is that?"

Spike cocked his head to one side and regarded her as a curiosity. She never ceased to confound him. "Don't you get it yet, love? I'm here because I want to be. And I don't see that changing anytime in the foreseeable future." He leaned forward and locked eyes with her. "I'm not your enemy, Buffy."

"You know," she said, "right now I can almost believe that."

***

They finished out the night in silence. Spike helped her fold her clothes, then she drove him back to his car, where they said goodnight. It had all been very cordial. And comfortable, she reflected. At times like this, it was hard not to think of him as a friend. These past several months, that had been more and more what he acted like. Of course, it was all because he believed he was in love with her. She just couldn't wrap her mind around that concept. Spike, in love with her. Or, whatever passed for love with vampires, anyway. At any rate, she didn't have to think back too far to remember a time when he'd wanted her dead. Whatever Spike was, he definitely was not her friend. But was he still her enemy?

She sighed as she pulled the SUV into her garage. Whatever he was, he was a good driving instructor, she had to give him that. She got out of the car and started to get the laundry, but then decided to leave it for the morning. Inside the house, she stopped in the kitchen for a snack. She supposed she should go patrol. Anything to get out of this house. It suddenly felt so big, and empty. Suddenly she felt grateful for Dawn. She didn't know what she'd do if she had to go through all of this alone, if she had to live in this house by herself.

Wiping an errant tear, she scraped her unfinished snack into the sink, rinsed off her plate, and went out to be the Slayer.

***

Spike sat on a bench at the end of the pier, watching the light of the full moon dance on the waves below. The stars shone clearly out here, away from the lights of the town, and filled the sky all the way down to the ocean's horizon. It was the sort of view that inspired poetry. Really bad poetry, thought Spike, with no small amount of irony, as he lit up a fresh cigarette.

After he'd watched the Slayer drive away he'd gotten in his car and drove towards the abandoned garage where he kept it stashed, and then drove past it, and had kept driving, aimlessly, until he'd ended up here. He just couldn't abide the thought of going back to that empty crypt. Not yet. Not alone.

He'd always liked this spot. He'd discovered it during his first tenure in Sunnydale, after he'd followed the Slayer's mother here one night, and had planned to bring Dru. She'd have loved it, having such a clear view of the stars. But he'd never brought her here. He told himself it was because he just didn't feel like listening to her hold conversations with the moon or whatnot, but really, he'd just never felt like sharing it with her.

He wanted to share it now. Not with Dru. He was done with her, he'd known that even before she'd shown up a few weeks ago. But he did want Buffy to see it. He thought she should see it, what with her mother liking it here and all. He wanted to see her here, bathed in the perfect light of the full moon. He tried to imagine how she would look, then blinked as his imaginings seemed to materialize in front of him. He stared in wonder at the vision before him.

"What are you doing here?" the vision asked, startling him out of his reverie. Bloody hell, where had she come from?

Spike gathered his wits and tried to play it cool. "Just didn't feel like going home yet," he said.

"Me neither." She sat at the opposite end of the bench and looked out at the water. She looked as lovely as he'd expected she would. "I was on patrol, but evil seems to be taking the night off, so I decided to go for a walk. Dawn's spending the night with a friend, and the house is just so..."

"Lonely?"

"Yeah." She never took her eyes off of the water. "My mom used to love this spot."

"Yeah, I know."

Buffy cast him a suspicious look. "How do you know?"

"Oh, I used to see her here from time to time."

"After dark? By herself?"

"Well, yeah, after dark. I'm not in the habit of hanging about on the pier in broad daylight." He paused to pull on his cigarette. "If I was it'd certainly be a short-lived habit." He left the fag in his mouth and let it dangle from his lips as he continued. "She wasn't by herself, though. Least, not when I was here. I always kept an eye on her."

"Gee," Buffy said. "That's... actually, strangely comforting. So, did you just hang around and spy on her?"

"No. Well, I mean, yeah. Sometimes. But sometimes we talked."

"Really?"

Spike nodded.

"And just what did you and my mother talk about?"

"Oh, you know. Soaps, mostly."

She actually smiled at that.

"And, sometimes, you."

Buffy snapped her head around to look at him. "You talked to my mother about me?" Her voice seethed with indignation.

"Other way around, love." She just looked at him questioningly, so he went on. "No big deal. It's not like she read me your diary or whatall. She just worried about you, is all."

Buffy looked incredulous. "And she told you this?"

He nodded. "It's not like she could open up to the ladies down at the gallery about her daughter the Vampire Slayer."

She sat back. "I guess not," she said, turning her gaze back to the water. "I never really thought about that. So, what did she say about me?"

"Mostly," he said, turning to face her, "she talked about how proud she was of you."

Buffy's eyes shined in the moonlight, filling up with tears. He decided he'd better change the subject.

"I always liked Joyce," he said, taking a quick drag on his cigarette and then flicking a column of ash off of the pier. "She reminded me a lot of my own mum."

Buffy's eyes shot wide open and she turned back to look at him. "Your mom?"

"Yeah."

"Would that be before or after you eviscerated her?"

Spike looked at her, her eyes full of accusation. It irritated him, this whole holier-than-thou routine of hers, especially when she didn't know what she was talking about. Even so, he had to look away. "I didn't murder my mother."

Buffy scrutinized him, obviously not sure whether to believe him. "I just assumed --"

"What? That I killed her for Angelus' little rite of initiation?"

"Well, yeah."

"Yeah. You assume quite a lot about me based on Angelus, don't you, kitten?"

"Based on things Angel told me, yes."

Spike rolled his eyes. "Like he's got no reason to be less than honest with you." He shook his head. "Angelus never got the chance to hurt her."

"Why not?"

Glancing at her, he shrugged. "Details aren't important. But..." He stopped, trying to decide how much to tell. Wanted to open up to her, tell her everything. But she wouldn't understand. Hell, he still didn't understand. "She was sick," he said. "Dying. I had to take care of her." He forced himself to meet her gaze, which had softened just a little. He gave her a weak smile. "Probably should've told you that back when it could've done you some good."

Buffy studied him for a moment. Then her lip gave a tell-tale quiver, and she looked out at the ocean. "Did she die alone?"

"No," he said quietly, but left it at that.

Buffy seemed to consider this as she watched the moonlight reflect off of the water. "My mother died alone," she said at last.

Spike looked at her, and resisted the urge to reach out and touch her. "I'm sorry to hear that, pet," he said. He knew she would never believe how truly sorry he was.

They sat together in silence for a while. It reminded Spike of that night on her back porch, when she'd first learned her mother might be ill. That was the night he finally had to admit that he didn't want to kill this girl. Far from it. He wanted to make her pain go away. It killed him inside to see her hurting like this.

"I should go," she said suddenly. She spoke aloud, but it sounded more like she was talking to herself.

Spike took a long, final drag on his cigarette, then blew it out slowly, marveling at the phantom shapes formed by the smoke in the crisp night air. He threw the butt on the ground and crushed it under his foot. When it became apparent that she had no intention of leaving, he asked, "So why don't you?"

He hazarded a glance in her direction. She never took her eyes off of the water, but her face betrayed a struggle as she considered the question. "I kind of like it here," she said at last.

Spike nodded. "Then you should stay. I'll go."

He stood to leave, but a tugging at his sleeve stopped him. He looked down to see Buffy holding onto his coat and looking up at him.

"Don't," she said. She let him go, and added sheepishly, "you're part of what I like about it."

Spike cocked his head to one side and regarded her quizzically. "Yeah?"

"Don't let it go to your head."

Well. That was a first. He smiled a little as he sat back down, closer to her than before. Maybe this whole evening had actually softened her up. Maybe, he thought, letting his gaze drift down to her mouth, maybe right then would be as good a time as any to make a move.

"What are you staring at?" she asked, eyeing him warily.

He looked away, and shrugged. "I was just..." He looked back at her. "I was thinking about trying to kiss you," he said. When her expression didn't change, he went on. "I was just trying to decide if I should move in slow, or if I should just, you know, lay one on you before you had time to get away."

"So what did you decide?"

Was that an invitation? He studied her face, but her expression was unreadable. Have to remember never to play poker with this one, he thought. He leaned in, locking eyes with hers, and tilted his head just so, but stopped just short of seriously invading her personal space. "I think I'll leave it up to you, pet."

"Good choice," she said flatly, but she didn't break eye contact. Just as he began to feel quite certain that his head might quite literally explode if they didn't get 'round to lip contact any time soon, something in her eyes flickered, and her expression wavered. Spike took this as the go-ahead, but as he leaned in Buffy put her hand on his chest and held him back. Her expression hardened into one of resolve.

"Don't," she said. "I can't."

"Yes, you can," he countered. "And I seem to remember that you do it very well. Taught me a thing or two about snogging during our little engagement, you did."

Buffy blushed and lowered her gaze. He couldn't help but grin. She was cute when she was angry, but she was downright adorable when flustered.

"I thought we agreed never to discuss that spell again," she said.

"I never agreed to anything of the sort. 'Sides," he added as he reached a tentative hand up to brush a stray lock of hair out of her eyes, "for a whole night, you loved me. That's certainly not something I ever want to forget."

Buffy jumped up from the bench. "Stop it, Spike," she said, pacing back and forth in front of him. "Just stop it. We can't do this. I know it, and you know it."

"I know no such thing."

She stopped pacing and looked down at him. "This. will. not. happen. Understand?"

"What's the matter, Summers? Am I startin' to get to you?"

Buffy crossed her arms defiantly in front of her chest. "In your dreams, Chip Boy."

Chip Boy. That's right. He'd almost forgotten. The only reason she still gave him the time of day was because she believed he still had that sodding chip in his brain, making him harmless. Suddenly he had to fight the urge to jump up and show her once and for all just how bleeding harmless he really was; but he did fight it, and the urge passed. Instead he just smirked up at her suggestively and said, "Every day, baby."

"Ugh," she said, rolling her eyes. "You're--"

"What? Disgusting? Yeah, sing me a new one some time, Slayer. So I dream about you. So what? Just means that even when I sleep I can't stop thinking about you. Is that really so terrible?"

"Spike," she began, but before she could finish he jumped up and stood facing her, nose to nose.

"No," he said. "Don't say it. Don't say anything until you can say something honest." He closed his eyes and inhaled the air around her. "I can smell it, you know. Your desire. So don't tell me there's nothing there. I can feel it." He was panting now, a curious thing to do for a creature that didn't need to breathe, but even so, he couldn't help it. "I can hear your blood rushing through your veins, I can feel the heat coming off of you in waves. So don't tell me you don't want it, you don't want this, because I....know....better." As he said this last part he leaned in to steal a kiss, but he was stopped short by the feel of something very sharp and pointed poking at his chest near the vicinity of his heart.

"If I can't convince you," Buffy said, "then maybe Mr. Pointy will."

Spike pulled back ever so slightly, and looked at her pointedly. "You're not going to stake me," he said.

"I'm not?"

He laughed a little. "Come on, Buffy. Don't you think that threat stopped carrying a little weight after, oh, I don't know, maybe the first thousand times or so that you didn't follow through on it? I've already done the worst I'm ever going to do to you, honey, and you didn't stake me then. Even you aren't enough of a bitch to stake me for trying to grab a little snog." He leaned back in, but Buffy pressed the stake until he could feel it penetrate the cotton of his tee-shirt and pierce the top layers of his skin.

"Spike, I'm warning you..."

"If you really want me to stop, you're going to have to bloody well do it," he said, and met her lips with his own. He had just enough time to register the feel of their warm fullness against his cool mouth before pain ripped through his chest and shot out through his entire body. "Bloody hell," he gasped as he looked down and saw the stake sticking out of his chest, a mere inch away from his heart. He dropped to his knees. "You missed, you stupid bint," he muttered as he collapsed to the ground and rolled onto his back.

Buffy stood over him and seemed to consider something. Finally she looked down at him and said emphatically, "I never miss." She stepped over him and stalked off in the direction of home. As she walked away Spike could hear her mutter, "... the hell does evil always have to be so damned attractive?" In spite of the pain, he felt a grin spread across his face. He looked up at the vast starscape above him and laughed, a laugh full of blood, pain, and boyish glee.

***

Dammit! she thought. That had gone too far. She'd let him too close, and he had kissed her. Kissed her. Spike! And she had let him. Oh, sure, she'd made a show of trying to fend him off, but still, there was no excuse for him to have made contact. It would never have happened if part of her... if she hadn't wanted it. She did want it. That was the worst part. It had taken everything she had not to kiss him back. She was a little ashamed about impaling him with the stake, but he'd recover, and if she hadn't, she'd probably still be back there with him, doing things that she had no business even thinking about doing with Spike. Ever.

Almost involuntarily, she touched her fingers to her lips. It had been just a tiny kiss, barely more than a peck, really, but it had felt... well, it felt just like it had before, during the spell. She hadn't let herself think about that night since, well, since that night, actually. Once the spell ended she had promptly thrown up some huge, impenetrable mental blocks around that whole ordeal. Bomb shelter walls had nothing on the walls around those memories. So then why all of a sudden couldn't she get that night off of her mind?

Because Spike had brought it up. Bastard. Should have gone for the heart. Did she not have a single defense that he couldn't break through? He was right, though. She had loved him that night, even as she loathed him. She remembered how it felt, to be in love with Spike. It had felt terrible, because it wasn't real, and the parts of her that knew that warred against the parts of her that were under the spell; yet at the same time it had felt wonderful. It was probably the only time since her first year with Angel that she had been able to love someone with complete abandon, to let down her guard and to stop worrying about being the Slayer, and to just be. As miserable as Spike had made her, she had also been incredibly happy with him, for those few hours. So then, a tiny voice inside her asked, how much more wonderful might it be if you were willing? How hard would it be to let go of the hatred? She shook her head. That didn't matter. None of it was real, it was all manufactured by the spell.

Anyway, she had no excuse now. She was the Slayer, and Spike was a killer, and she had to be on her guard. She couldn't allow him to get to her like that, it didn't matter how much he laid on the English charm, or, or how his eyes sparkled in the moonlight, or how cute he looked when he cocked his head to the side just so...

No. Buffy Anne Summers, you did not just think to yourself that Spike is cute. Spike is bad. Spike is Evil. Besides, he's not even your type. He's at least six inches shorter than what you usually go for, and his body... it's not bad, not by any means, but you usually go for big and buff and of course that doesn't even matter because the whole cutting off point lies with 'Spike is Evil.' He's a lot more--thinky--than your status quo, too. Who knew Spike was an intellectual? So, even if not for the whole evil vampire, brutal killer, mortal enemy thing, you and Spike would be totally incompatible. So that's that. No more thinking. Home, shower, bed, forget Spike. Spike who? See? Last part's already done.

"Buffy!"

She stopped and sighed as she looked up at the sky. Damn it! What is with his timing? She turned towards him as he half jogged, half staggered up to her. "Don't press your luck, Spike," she warned.

He opened his mouth as if to make a retort, but seemed to think better of it. Instead he held out the stake. "Thought you might want this back," he said.

"Gee, thanks," she said, wrinkling her nose and looking for a place to grasp it that wasn't coated with his blood. As she took it, she noticed that his hands were also covered with it. She stared at them for a long time. "You have blood on your hands," she finally said.

He looked down at them. "Yeah, I do," he said. His voice sounded almost wistful. "There's not much I can do about that, love." Suddenly it became clear that neither of them were talking about this particular blood.

Buffy looked back up at him, at the face of a killer. A beautiful killer whom she'd loved once, however briefly, but whom she could not allow herself to love again. "Good night, Spike," she said, and turned for home.

***

"Good night, pet," he said softly. He looked down at his hands, coated in blood. His blood, blood she had shed, but he knew that didn't matter. He could wash it off, and his hands would still be just as stained. He'd always be tainted, as far as she was concerned. He knew that. He also knew there wasn't a single bloody thing he could do about it. If she couldn't accept that--couldn't accept him--then it was no use, was it?

Still, it had been a decent night, up until the last ten minutes. Sod that, it had been a bloody brilliant night. They got along, they had fun together, they did. They talked. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been able to just talk with someone like that, except with her mum and sis. To hold a long conversation that didn't include body counts, or singing stars and the like. For a little while, she had treated him like a person. Like a friend. She'd even said thank you. No, it wasn't what he dreamed about during the day, or what he hoped for during his waking hours, but it was something. It was quite a lot, actually. As he watched her round a corner and disappear out of sight, he realized, it was everything. And there was nothing he wouldn't give just to have one more night with her like tonight. Hell, even if tonight was all he ever got, that would be worth it. Whatever he had to do, whatever he had to give, however long he had to wait--it was worth it.

She was worth it.

Sighing, he put his bloodied hands in his pockets, and headed back to his car.

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