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Part two of two

Episode Ten: While You Were Out

Lydia couldn't stop laughing.
The Japanese-themed restaurant they'd popped into for dessert and sake had extreme decor that tried very hard to be authentic, but didn't quite match up with its karaoke atmosphere. Nevertheless, Lydia had been forced to remove the sexy, strappy, none-too-cheap pumps she'd bought just for this evening and check them at the door. She didn't know if she'd ever see them again. And then they'd had to sit on satin pillows at one of those low, low tables. Might've been comfortable and relaxed if not for her glorified slip of a dress, which made it very difficult to sit on the floor in any manner that could be described as ladylike. She was quite certain that in trying to do so she'd popped several more stitches. But it was all worth it when, several shots of sake later, Rupert stepped up to the mic to perform his rendition of Oops, I Did It Again.
Lydia wasn't sure which was more appalling: that he'd chosen that song or that he seemed to know the words without help from the monitor. At least he wasn't trying to do the choreograph-- oh, God. He was doing the choreography! Cackling, she slid off her satin pillows and landed hard on her bum. Rupert saw her and nearly tripped over himself, fumbling with the microphone and dropping it. He caught the cord before the mic hit the stage and swung it in a wide circle before pulling it back into his hand. Very nice save. Even so, Lydia completely lost it. She pulled a pillow into her lap and doubled over, burying her face in the tacky red satin.
When she could breathe again, she realized that the song was still going without Rupert. She looked up to see him standing in the middle of the stage, eyes shut tight, his shoulders shaking in silent laughter. A brilliant, boyish grin lit up his whole face. Her laughter died with a sigh as a thought struck her: she could look at that smile forever and never tire of it.
The music faded. Rupert lifted his glasses to wipe his eyes as his own laughter died. Then he opened them and looked at her. Something at the very center of her being began to warm as they held eye contact for a moment, before Rupert tucked his chin in that bashful way of his and went to select another song.
Smiling to herself, Lydia replaced her pillow, climbed back onto it, and tucked her legs beneath her. She poured herself another shot of sake. As she raised it to her lips, a familiar bass riff sounded from the speakers. The Police. Lydia nodded in approval, then downed her shot. At last, something tasteful. But as the significance of the song hit her, she rolled her eyes and cast an incredulous look at Rupert. He merely winked and smiled -- there was that grin again -- and motioned for her to join him onstage. Lydia shook her head emphatically no. Undaunted, he started toward her as he sang.
"Every breath you take." He stepped off the stage.
Lydia's eyes widened. She waved her hands frantically to ward him off and mouthed, "Absolutely not!"
"Every move you make." Lord, his voice went down smoother than a fine bourbon. Still, even as that warm place deep inside of her melted, her resolve remained intact. She scooted away from him as he continued his approach. "Every bond you break, every step you take--" He thrust the microphone in front of her.
Lydia glared up at him. Flatly, she replied, "I'll be watching you."
That grin made a third appearance, and she forgave him. He snatched her hand and pulled her to her feet, then led her onto the stage as he continued to sing. The sparse audience hooted and whistled at them. Suddenly incredibly self-conscious, Lydia tugged at the hem of her skirt. As he reached the end of the second verse, he held the microphone down for her again, and she repeated her line. A few of the patrons cheered. Lydia's cheeks flushed. She put a hand over her mouth to stifle a giggle.
Rupert, of course, kept singing. He was loving this, she could tell. She wondered at him, this strange man who could go so easily from deadly serious protector of his charges to would be rock star with a boyish smile and a mischievous glint in his eye. From stuffy, down to business Watcher to the sexiest thing she'd ever seen on two legs.
He realized she was watching him instead of singing. Placing a reassuring hand against the small of her back, he indicated the monitor that flashed the lyrics for them. She gave him one more dirty look for good measure, then joined him in the song, knowing full well his voice would overwhelm hers anyway. He reached the bridge and gave himself over to it. Lydia stopped singing again, content just to watch and listen. His hand slid around her waist and came to rest on her stomach, holding her against him as they both swayed in time to the song. He once again held the microphone at a level they could share, but Lydia was too distracted by the feel of him against her and the tickle of his breath against her ear. She turned her head to see him as he sang the final verse. He gave up trying to get her to accompany him and serenaded her instead. A shiver ran through her as she realized how close their mouths were. Rupert seemed to realize it, too, as he finished the song. Without taking his gaze off of her, he lowered the mic, but they continued to sway as the music played itself out. That warm place inside of her caught fire. She raised a hand to his cheek, beckoning him to close the gap. He leaned in, slowly, as the last notes faded out.
Applause erupted from the audience. Lydia jumped with a start. Bloody hell, she'd forgotten about them. She reluctantly pulled away from Rupert, gave them all a little wave, and returned to her table. He followed close behind.
"Well," she said. "That was ..."
"Yes, wasn't it?" He rocked back and forth on his feet, hands in his pockets, the suave rocker absorbing back into the Englishman. "I hope you don't mind my pulling you on stage."
"No! It was ... I mean, I didn't expect it, but it was ... quite fab."
"As were you."
Lydia's turn to duck her head as she smiled. "Well. Um."
"What say we get some air?"
She blew out a relieved sigh. "Yes. That would be good."
"Right, then." Giles picked up the last of his sake, tossed it back, then set it down and waved at their waiter. "Check, please!"
The cash register slid shut with a "ting" and the expanse of dirty white shirt lumbered 'round.
Spike held up a hand, glass dangling between thumb and first finger, cigarette between first and middle. Universal sign for "More bourbon".
A nod. Then the "what can I get ya?" eyes shifted to a point just beyond Spike's shoulder.
"YooHoo. Chocolate."
"Bottle's good, thanks."
Spike turned and stared as Oz took the stool to his left. "You'll want something stronger'n that if you're to keep up with me tonight."
"Well…" Oz's brows migrated a millimeter toward center. "I usually get strawberry."
Spike allowed himself a chuckle -- an action condemned and punished by the gaping hole over his heart. With a grunt, he stubbed out his cigarette, resisting the instinct to lay a hand on the wound. Then he took a shallow breath and readied the bravado.
"What say you, Chewie! Let's take the Falcon out and blow something up, shall we?"
"You okay?"
He slumped. So much for bravado. The bartender appeared with their drinks and Spike pulled his close. "I'm fine."
"Because I think you might be --"
"Fine. Never better."
"Okay... It's just that you're drinking and smoking and eating stale peanuts --"
"I always --"
"I --" Caught. "You've seen Buffy."
"I've seen Buffy."
He looked down into his drink. "She all right?"
"She's scared."
"Should be."
"She's worried about you."
"Should be. Should've been all along."
"That's not what I meant."
"’S what I meant. What she means, now. Something inside her's finally rebelling against me. What I've done. Who I am. I'm a virus and being with me means fighting her true nature."
"You fight your nature every day."
"My nature eats people. Hers is... not something she should have to fight."
"She's strong."
"Yeh, strong enough to kill Angel. Never believed I'd put her through that, yet here I am: sponsored by the Slayer into the Near Miss Club."
"Of which Xander is --"
"President for life," Spike finished with a smile. But making fun of Xander didn't bring the usual measure of comfort. He knew what was coming next. Knew that he wanted to tell.
"Spike, what happened to Ethan?"
"My true nature."
He could feel Oz studying him.
"She forgave you."
"Or so we thought. Didn't kill me, anyways -- she breaks my heart but can't bring herself to stake it. So the Slayer gets to keep her lover and right hand, while her tortured subconscious sticks me like a voodoo doll." He threw back his drink and slammed the glass down on the bar. Another universal sign.
"What did she say?"
"Say? What, y'mean the illuminating discussion we had as she tore away from her bleeding -- literally -- worse half and ran?” He shook his head. “'Sides, what's to say? Sorry he's dead? I'm not. Sorry I killed him? I'm not. Nothing I can say that I haven't already said with my teeth. Nothing she can say that she hasn't already said with her stake! We're speaking loud and clear -- always have done. Just too stubborn to really listen."
The bartender exchanged a full glass for the empty. Spike lurched for it -- "Ow." -- then switched hands. He clutched his drink and gulped it down. Anger and liquor: his favorite painkillers. He signaled for another. "And it's not like we --"
"She's sorry she hurt you."
Spike stopped. Closed his eyes. Swallowed. "I know."
When he could speak again, he changed the subject. "Why aren't you with Pip?"
"She's out with Julia. I'm here with you."
"Not what I meant."
"I know. But 'out with Julia' still fits."
"C'mon. Seen the way you look at her."
"Have you seen the way she looks at Liv Tyler?"
Spike rolled his eyes. "Like any of that matters."
"Exactly," said Oz.
"Oh! Clever. Bit different, y'know. Thought I could be more than me. But I'll only ever be this."
"You're what Buffy wants."
"She also wants ice cream every night at two a.m. But it always makes her sick the next day."
"Dairy issues notwithstanding, you've always trusted her judgment."
"Right. In everything but her tragic taste in men."
"Buffy likes to choose for herself. When she can."
"What do you know about it!? Your inner hellbeast follows a schedule! A cycle. Three days a month you get your demon-y period, that's it! You don't know --"
"I know about being scared... that what's inside of you is stronger. That someday you'll finally turn inside out, and even if you're sure you won't kill and eat everyone you love -- which you're not sure -- you know you'll kill their love for you. That the part of them that believed in you in spite of everything will die something painful while you sit inside and watch. You're scared that maybe that's how it was supposed to be all along. That if you never loved them, if they never loved you, everyone would be better off."
Hearing his worst fears spoken aloud... hurt like hell. "Well. Guess you sunk all my battleships." He shook out a cigarette. Easy to light right-handed. He'd been wounded enough times to master that. "You'd think I'd get it by now."
"Only takes a second to lose everything."
"A lot of seconds strung together. I'm not with Willow. We'd been through stuff, but we were good. I saw trouble coming long before the moment we lost everything. I should've talked to her. I should've stayed. I didn't. But talking and staying are two things you're really good at."
"Never that simple. Not on the Hellmouth."
"It's always that simple. Especially on the Hellmouth. Hasn't she lost enough? Haven't you?”
Spike blew out smoke and a sigh. "It's not enough just to be lonely. That's not a reason to be together."
Oz looked confused. "Not a --?"
"Reason. A reason."
"Huh." Oz finally picked up his drink, took a healthy swig. "I sorta thought you already had a lot of those."
Spike stared at him.
Through him, into the street, the town, the world, and back over the last hundred years. Alive, dead, evil, less evil. Mother, Dru, Buffy. At everything he'd ever wanted. Everything he'd ever been about.
Then he nodded once, stood, and jammed a fist into his jeans pocket.
"Home?" said Oz.
A handful of crumpled bills landed on the bar. "Was there ever any doubt?"
"Well, it took longer than I expected. I almost had to think of more words."
"Chewie?" Spike stowed his cigarettes in his coat and pulled out his keys. "You had me at YooHoo."
The waitress placed a bowl full of non-dairy creamer on the table. “Anything else I can get for you kids?”
Dawn cringed inwardly. Kids. She hated that. Especially tonight -- she didn’t want to be a kid tonight. She forced a smile. “I’m good, thanks.”
“Just flag me if you need anything more,” the woman said with a quick nod, then headed to another table.
Dawn turned to Bryce. She wanted to say something. Anything. Something smart. Or funny. Or both. “So you take cream and sugar in your coffee?” Neither.
He smiled a little and reached across the Formica table to the sugar caddy. “Both. I like my coffee strong and sweet.”
“Good. I always hate being around people who drink it black. I feel like such a wuss putting all this other stuff in mine.” She pulled the paper lid off a creamer and poured the liquid into her coffee. “What’s in this stuff, anyway?”
Bryce looked up from the sugar packets he was tearing. “It’s milk, isn’t it?”
She squinted to read the small print on the creamer label. “It’s non-dairy. Maybe it’s just milk-flavored. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated.”
He made a face. “I don’t think I’ve heard anything grosser than the words ‘milk-flavored’ in a while.”
Dawn broke into a smile. “I bet I could think of something worse.”
“Can we wait until after eating for the gross-out competition?”
If this had been a phone conversation, Dawn would have been panicking at this moment. But sitting across from him in the tiny diner’s plastic booth assured her that he wasn’t freaked by her at all. His huge smile made sure of that. He had a great smile. His teeth were perfect. He must have had braces.
“Did you have braces when you were younger?” she blurted out.
He blinked, and she noticed a slight flush crossing his cheeks. “Um, yeah. I had them when I was twelve.”
“Your teeth are really straight.”
“That’s what thousands of dollars of orthodontia will do to a kid,” he said with a nod. “My dad keeps saying that I’m not getting a car because he spent all that money on my teeth years ago.”
Dawn stirred her coffee. “Well, it was a good investment. You have very nice teeth.”
“So do you.”
She instinctively closed her lips and flashed him a tight smile.
Bryce laughed. “Hey, if you can talk about my teeth, I can talk about yours.”
Dawn held her hand up over her mouth. “Okay then. Change the subject?”
“So your dad lives with you?”
“Yup. My mom, too.”
Dawn shrugged. “I didn’t want to ask if they were divorced.”
“Yeah, it’s kind of tacky. What about your parents? I never saw your mom at PT.”
“My parents were divorced. Mom died two years ago.” Dawn knew his reaction before it happened. The wrinkled eyebrows, the open mouth, the “I’m so sorry,” the sad eyes. …The sad, big, puppy dog eyes…
“I’m so sorry.”
Dawn shook herself to keep from staring at him. “Oh, it’s okay. I mean, it sucks sometimes, but it’s okay.”
“Does your dad live with you?”
“Nope. Just me and Buffy. And Spike.”
Bryce shifted in the booth, the hard seat squeaking under his jeans. “Yeah, Spike. He’s kind of …intense. He’s not going to do anything when I take you home tonight, like tie me to a chair and interrogate me under bright lights, is he?”
Dawn had to laugh. “Spike? He’s a cream puff under it all. Now Buffy’s a different story.”
The waitress was suddenly at the side of the table, her hands full of giant plates. “Okay, which one of you had the blueberry?”
“That’s me,” Bryce said, moving his coffee to make room for his plate.
“And you’re the chocolate chip,” the woman said, placing a stack of chocolate chip pancakes in front of Dawn.
Dawn’s eyes bulged . “That’s, like, fifty pancakes!”
Bryce reached across the table and poked at them with his fork. “It’s only six. You’ll be fine.”
“But they’re the size of Rhode Island!”
“Can I get you anything else?” the waitress asked.
Dawn shook her head vigorously. “Not me.”
“I’m good,” Bryce said.
The woman smiled and left again, leaving Dawn to stare either at Bryce or her feast of pancakes. She chose the latter. Cocoa batter, chocolate chips, whipped cream and more chocolate chips on top. She’d never finish all this.
“So, um,” Bryce stammered, slicing through his blueberry pancakes. “What’d your mom look like? Was she pretty?”
Dawn picked up her silverware and cut a hunk out of the food. “Yeah, she was. Why?”
“Well, your sister’s really cute and all.”
Her stomach flipped. There was no way she’d be able to eat now. Not with him thinking Buffy was a hottie. “Yeah.” She kept cutting.
“And considering how gorgeous you are, I just thought that your mom must have been really pretty.”
Dawn stared at him. Gorgeous? Did he just say that? Bryce busied himself slicing another quarter off his pancakes. No eye contact. He was biting his lip slightly. “Bryce?”
He glanced up. “Yeah?”
She smiled. “Thanks.”
He breathed out, the corners of his mouth twisting up into a grin. “Any time.”
Dawn pierced the pancake with her fork and studied it for a moment, then chewed thoughtfully, trying to think of something witty to say.
Bryce sipped his coffee and looked out the window. “This is nice.”
“Yeah, these really are good pancakes.”
His thumb rubbed against the rim of the coffee mug. “I, uh, wasn’t talking about the pancakes.”
“Oh.” She ducked her head slightly and tucked her hair behind her ear. “Yeah. This is nice.”
He smiled at her, and she smiled back, this time showing all her teeth.
"Buffy!" he called, sweeping into the kitchen. "Buffy!" Through the dining room, foyer, living room. "Bu --" And saw her.
She knelt before the weapons chest, surrounded by axes and knives, her arms full of stakes. The sight took the wind right out his sails and slammed his boat into dry dock. She turned just as he fell back.
"Spike, wait." The stakes clattered to the floor as she got to her feet. "This isn't... I'm not --"
"Sorry, Pet. Twice staked, once shy is all. Don't mean nothin' by it." He took a step, not toward, but around her and the stakes. Noticed her weapons bag on the floor, half-full. And she'd changed her clothes. Not her jammies, though. Skirt and sneaks. "Is there something out there?"
"No. There's something in here."
He froze.
"Me. Something's making me..." Her gaze shifted to his chest. "Oh my God. You're still bleeding. C'mon."
Still a bit thrown, he wandered after her into the kitchen. She got out the first aid kit and looked at him. "Um..."
"What? Oh." He shed his coat, then pulled off his shirt. Slowly. Painfully. The coat landed on a stool. The shirt she took from him, giving it a sad look before tossing it in the trash.
He sat, while she stood between his legs and went to work, removing the bandage he'd slapped on at the Magic Box and redressing the wound. The familiar task relaxed her and she moved on autopilot. Just a routine flight.
For a moment, everything felt normal. How often did their nights end like this? Patching each other up. Checking each other over. Eyes and hands roaming as they connected. Confirmed.
We're still here.
And also... This won't get in the way of sex tonight, right? Right. Only this time she couldn't even look at him. Eyes still planted on the bandage, she smoothed on the last piece of tape, then scrutinized her work. "That feel okay?"
He glanced down. "Yeh. Always been better at this than me."
The smallest compliment seemed to hurt. She just nodded, lips pressed together, hands at her sides.
They stayed like that for a moment. Not touching. Then she stepped away from him and opened the fridge. "You must be hungry."
He sighed. "No. I'm not --"
"And weak. You took on a Slayer after all." "Slayer" came out like dirty word. He watched her fill his mug, stick it in the microwave, then stare at the seconds counting down.
"Buffy, I'm fine." He stood up. "I think we need to --"
"Put away the groceries." Two bags still on the counter from before. Family-wide laziness. After the fudge ripple made it into the freezer -- or not, he thought as he caught sight of the empty carton -- the rest sometimes sat out all day. Convenient props for avoiding painful conversation.
"Buffy." He stepped forward, slid the bags away, and held her fluttering hands in his. "We have to talk about this."
She finally looked at him, eyes filled with fear and dread. "I know."
He released her hands and she let them drift to his chest.
"A part of you," he began, diving right in, "an important part -- is getting stronger than your feelings for me."
"No," she insisted. "No, I love you."
"I know that, Pet. I do. But this may be one of those things that you don't get to choose."
"What? No." Her arms went around his neck. "That's not --"
"Don't know how we can fix it. Not even sure we should." He hated saying these things to her. Either way, she suffered. "Look at you. It's tearing you up."
"No. What tears me up is us not together. Spike... I'm sorry. God, I'm so sorry that I did this, but we are supposed to be together. Isn't that what you always say? These feelings will go away, I promise. They're not even real. What's real is... is..."
She leaned in and he felt her breath on his cheek. Her teeth grazed his ear and then her lips were on his neck. Nipping. Nuzzling. He tilted his head, allowing her full access. Brought his tongue to her ear. His teeth to her shoulder.
She flinched.
At first he thought she'd got ticklish, but she flinched again and couldn't disguise it this time. He stopped. Held up his hands. Backed away.
She gripped his shoulders. "Wait. Wait, I just --"
"No. We shouldn't." He took another step back and her arms fell to her sides. "You don't really want this. You're still..." He paced a little, tried to pull himself together. "Conflicted." Then he remembered the blood in the microwave. He retrieved the mug and stared down at the contents.
Buffy got between him and his distraction. "Spike, no. I'm not." She took his face in her hands and kissed him. Hard.
Lips smashed and teeth grated. Bloodless. Forced. Wrong. With his free hand he pushed back and looked at her. Fear and determination shone from her face. Still fighting herself.
"You don't have to prove anything."
She blinked. Then her mouth went back to his throat, the weaker target. Her hands joined the assault, running down his chest -- careful on the left side -- and stomach.
His head fell back and his hand found her hip. How could he deny her? How could he deny himself? She rubbed up against him, nudging him into the counter, banging the microwave shut, and none of this felt right, but her hands traveled south and need overcame judgment even as he knew that she was...
trying... too... Guh.
She bit. And grabbed. And his hand jerked and the mug took to the air, flipping once then spiraling down, spattering blood on the floor and cabinets.
"Leave it," she rasped, hands and mouth still on the attack.
She spun him into the island, and arms and elbows took out the grocery bags. An avalanche of cigarettes and cereal and eggs and those sodding pink packages a man is forced to buy when he lives with two women. Oranges and onions rolled in every direction. "Buffy --"
She grabbed him by the chin and made him face her.
"Leave it."
She shoved him into the fridge. Then he felt her wanting him down, and he swore that all the gravity on Earth came under her power to get him there.
He slid down the fridge and onto the equally cold floor. His left arm not quite able to help hold him up, he soon rolled onto his back.
The Slayer loomed over him, a foot at each hip. He gazed up at her, rattled -- and aroused. He'd been so lonely for her. And starving for this.
She pounced, the hem of her skirt flouncing up then wafting gently around her knees. Demanding hands worked his belt, his fly, slapping away his hands, now now now His jeans slid down and her knees hit the floor and --
"God! Buffy!"
Oh, how he'd prayed for this. Demon or not, any man fool enough to ask the universe for anything prayed.
Hips swirling, muscles working as she pitched up and down on him, her movements erratic, a skiff on rough seas.
"Buffy..." he gasped through gritted teeth. "My god..."
Spike always wanted out loud. Top of his lungs. Wishing. Tempting fate. Shouting to the patron saints of anything and everything.
Man U down by one but charging the goal with seconds to go -- guaranteed to bring him to his knees. Surrounded by demons two feet taller and ten times stronger -- his battle cry was a summons, calling forth the strength and dark forces of his ancient line.
And whenever his Slayer looked at him with such hunger, and moved on him with such power, his body stretched and bucked -- its way of begging. He gazed heavenward and pushed his desires into the dark. Into her.
His hands surged up. Without a look, without breaking cadence, she grabbed and held them. Frustrated, he pulled free and went for her waist. Batted down. Her breasts, her stomach. No. And no. Not a new game for them, so he got pushy. Cupped her knees, slid his hands up.
She snatched his wrists and, full-strength, flung his arms back down. His wrists and elbows hit the floor with a crack.
"Ow!" His eyes went wide as the pain shot up to his shoulders.
Pain. No stranger to their lives, or even to their bed, but this wasn't playful, or adventurous, or even a bloody mistake. It was just pain. And suddenly he couldn't move his hands.
His distress seemed beneath her notice.
Then her body, straight as steel, slammed down on his like a felled redwood. The care she'd taken earlier vanished and the pain swallowed him whole. But she kept pressing against him, pushing him into the floor. Couldn't even feel skin, just muscle and bone and relentless pressure. Her mouth found his ear and her voice, too loud, said things to him.
Dirty things. A never-ending stream about his body and hers and what she planned to do to him. "Can you run all night? I can." He knew this game too, but not from her.
Pleasure wrapped it pain and all of it --
Wrong. Something wrong, but his body had already betrayed them both and she knew it. He tried to turn his head, tried to capture her eyes, but she planted her hands on his temples and held him firm
"Buffy," he whispered into the air. "I love you."
She laughed, and then the litany turned ugly.
"Love? Hate! Fighting. Fucking. You really think there's a difference? One night, we're gonna forget which thing we're supposed to be doing and finally kill each other. Ya think tonight's the night?" She rode harder, thighs crushing his hips, numbing his legs.
He shivered. "No, this isn't... Buffy --" Her hand clamped over his mouth, pushed his face to the side. He bit her. She recoiled, then reared back and struck him. He lay stunned, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth.
She finally sat up, but the relief to have her off was short-lived. The hand on his face slipped to his throat and squeezed. The claustrophobic panic that goes with choking came quickly.
He could suffocate. Not so's he'd die. The air he breathed in and out gave life to nobody, but a crushed windpipe was no picnic. And he did need air. To talk and eat. Fuck and come. Laugh, cry and -- she tightened her grip -- scream. His eyes screamed to her. Buffy. Please. She could very well break his neck. Hear me. See me.
Maybe she did. Maybe that's why.
He very much wanted to breathe but she would not allow it, and, as always, it was for her to decide.
He felt himself going under. Drowning in her. Always.
Her head rolled sideways and he knew. Her breathing, her rhythm, her cries and moans, the way her muscles held him down, held him inside -- all told him that she was about to come. And he, sickened by the necessity, waited for that moment to attack.
She jerked her hips forward, then froze -- balanced on a razor edge -- took a ragged breath and held it. Her whole body clenched and shuddered, wringing her pleasure from him. He gnawed on his lip and focused on the pain. And her face. When her chin tilted upwards... "Oh god... Oh... Oh..."
"God!" they shouted and he seized her by the hips and threw her off.
She tumbled away and he scrambled backwards into the wall, hand to his throat. A fit of coughing and wheezing burned him from the inside. He doubled over and tried to ride it out.
So bloody stupid! To think that they could fix this with sex. Fool.
With trembling hands, he fumbled with his jeans, humiliated. Then he railed on her. "This is about more than Rayne. It's about everybody that I ever hurt. You need to punish me and you're enjoying it!"
"No," she sobbed from under her hair. She sat crumpled on the floor, wrecked, all fight and heat drained out of her. Legs bent back at the knees, skirt hiked up around her thighs. Her hands lay in her lap, palms up, as if to prove she meant no more harm.
He squeezed his eyes shut. Furious with himself for the weakness that had brought them to this.
"No," she repeated. She looked up at him and her face was all eyes. So wet and lost and sorry. "I never thought I'd be bad for you. I made Angel lose his soul. And then it all just... We hurt each other so much and it was so awful." She shook her head. "But you and I are different. I was scared at first, but I never thought... Spike, I never wanted to hurt you."
Never believed I'd put her through this.
"Got it backwards, Love. 'S me who's bad for you. Me doing the hurting."
She just went on shaking her head.
"Buffy. You need to rest. We both do." He looked away. "Look, I'll sleep in the other room. Or down here."
"No. No, you go. I'll be up in a minute."
"I don't think --"
"I'm okay. I won't -- I don't wanna sleep alone."
He reached out to her, but she flinched and turned her head.
"In a minute." She rubbed her eyes. "Just... give me a minute."
So close. So lonely for her.
He nodded and did as she asked.
Spike lay with his back to the door, staring out the window. Since he'd crept into bed without her, the light had changed. He was sure the shadows had gotten darker. If only time would obey and hold still instead of trudging forward, taking her further and further away...
Don't wish don't think don't worry don't feel. Don't pray she'll come don't wonder if she should.
If only his brain would obey...
But he was master of nothing, least of all himself. The night flowed on, and fear and longing churned a hole inside of him. Just when he thought he'd go mad, he sensed her approach.
Up the stairs and into the room. He heard the door click. Heard her shoes hit the floor, followed by her clothes. Then silence. He knew she stood watching him, and like before, he wondered what she saw. Would she ever again look at him and see the man she loved?
Finally, she slid into bed. Laid a hand on his bare hip, testing the waters. He didn't dare move. Couldn't bear it if she flinched away again.
The stillness must've made her feel safe. Her hand slid under his sore arm, slowly. Over his bruised ribs, gently. Came to rest just under the bandage. Then she molded her body to his, her front to his back, holding him to her, as she'd done on so many nights. Such tenderness as to completely undo him.
When the gods want to punish you, they answer your prayers.
He bowed his head and bit back a sob, and she clung to him, pulling him even closer.
The evening had been filled with laughter and great conversation -- both things Giles had had far too little of lately. As he and Lydia walked off the sake, they had exchanged abbreviated life stories. Of her, he'd learned that Magnus Bellingham was not only her Watcher, but her great uncle on her mother's side. Her father had been a transport planner, her mother a primary school teacher. While they'd gotten on well enough, when Magnus had promised the best education England had to offer as part of her training, they'd seized the opportunity and sent her to live with him at his estate in the Cotswolds. After that she'd seen them two weekends a month, three weeks out of every summer, and a week every December for Christmas. When it had become apparent that she'd never be Chosen, she'd gone a bit wild for about a year, running away to London and immersing herself in the club scene (she had a small, ornate cross tattooed on her hip to show for it) before Magnus had tracked her down and informed her that she had been accepted at the Watcher's Academy and was to begin her new training right away. Immensely relieved to have some direction once again, she'd gone only too willingly, happy to still be part of the good fight, if indirectly.
In turn, Giles told how he had wanted to fight anything but the good fight, but that when he'd finally given in and accepted his calling, it had felt like coming home. The Council hadn't exactly slaughtered the fatted lamb for him, but they'd made him feel useful and had given him not only a purpose, but a means to make up for his past mistakes. Those he hadn't gone into. Not that he was keeping anything from her -- she still had all of his journals, after all. If she didn't already know about his sordid Ripper days, she would soon enough. Anyway it wasn't the sort of thing one talked about on a first date. Not that he hadn't been tempted. After they'd left the karaoke lounge, he'd been overcome with the impulse to confess everything to her. He'd fought it, though, until it went away. After all, some of his secrets weren't his alone to tell.
In his car now, feeling much more clear headed, they listened to a mixed CD that Oz had burned for Giles as he drove Lydia home. The top down on a perfect night, excellent music, even better company... he felt indescribably good. Shame it had to end. She made him feel twenty years younger -- which, come to think of it, would put him right at her age. Good Lord. He wondered what sort of picture they presented, this middle-aged man driving around in what Spike had christened the "mid-life crisis mobile" with a beautiful blonde who was technically young enough to be his daughter. Then he remembered they were in Southern California, where they blended right in.
"Here we are," she said as they pulled into her parking lot. She sounded as disappointed as he felt.
"I'll walk you up." He got out and opened the door for her, then followed her inside. "Funny," he said as they waited for the elevator, "I haven't been in this building since..." He sighed.
"Not a happy memory, I take it?"
"Not as such." Lydia didn't press. Once they were on the elevator, Giles elaborated. "The hellgod, Glory. She had damaged Xander's mind. Anya..."
"His fiancée?"
Giles nodded. "I remember her forced cheerfulness as she served us tea and thanked us for coming. But she didn't hide her devastation well. Poor girl."
"She was quite dear to you, wasn't she?"
"As dear as the rest of my girls. Though I didn't realize that until she was gone."
Lydia gave him a sympathetic smile, and they rode in silence for a moment. "Xander seems to be doing well, though," she said at last. "Not that I know him as well as you do. I mean, I know he didn't want his apartment back because he shared it with her, but he seems to be keeping a stiff upper lip."
Giles smiled. "He'd have made a good Englishman. Still, every now and then I catch him staring forlornly at the cash register. But then Faith comes in and he snaps out of it."
"I think he fancies her."
"Yes, well, Xander will never be known for his subtlety."
Lydia laughed at that as the elevator came to a halt and opened. "Do you think that's appropriate?" she asked as she stepped out and started down the hall. "Not that I object, but there is a rule.…"
"An archaic rule that assumes the Slayer won't live past seventeen. Faith is a grownup. Whomever she chooses to bestow her affections on is none of our business. Besides, she and Xander already have a history. The Council didn't seem to think that too inappropriate when they assigned him to her."
"Point." She stopped and pulled her keys out of her handbag. "Well, here I am."
"Yes, of course."
"So, would you like to... um.…"
Giles waited, anticipating an invitation inside. As one failed to crop up, he felt his heart sink a little. He suddenly felt very awkward. Lydia gave a little half-laugh and scratched the back of her ear, signaling she felt the same way. Time to put them both out of their sudden misery. "I should get going."
"Oh." Did she look disappointed?
"I have a new shipment that needs going through before I open the shop tomorrow. Early day."
"Right. And I should check on Buffy. She hasn't been quite herself lately."
"Yes, well. She and Spike are having a difficult time of it right now. But I'm sure they'll work it out."
"I hope you're right."
"So do I."
They stood for a moment in awkward silence. Finally, Lydia thrust out her hand. "Yes, well. Goodnight, then."
Giles shook her hand. "Goodnight." He stood back and watched while she let herself in. Then he took his glasses off and scratched his head, trying to figure out how he'd botched it up.
Lydia stepped inside her apartment and shut the door. "Bloody hell," she muttered as she slumped against it.
What just happened? It had been going so well. They'd clicked on every level, and there had been definite sparks -- no, not sparks. Great, raging bonfires. On her part, at least. Though she was pretty certain he'd felt them, too.
She straightened and paced over to the bar, shedding her cardigan as she went. She tossed it over the back of a chair and stood there, hands on hips, worrying her bottom lip as she tried to figure out how she'd botched it up. She'd been about to invite him in, but then something about him just seemed so old-fashioned, and suddenly she found herself fearing impropriety and that he might think her too forward, and the invitation had died on her lips. God, had she actually shaken the man's hand? "Bloody hell!" she said again, with a frustrated stamp of her foot. What kind of message had that sent him? Now he'd go off thinking that she wasn't interested that way, thank you very much, let's be friends, I enjoy your company but shagging is out of the question.
Damn, damn, damn!
She could call him, she supposed. Or not. Lord, how desperate would that make her look? Or she could... no. Too pushy. Wasn't it? How would it look if she came running after him, breathlessly pleading him to come back inside? It would look like you want him, you nit. Which you do. Very much so.
God, she really, really did. But it didn't have to look that way. She could... something about work... a question. She needed a cover. Get him up here for drinks and then see what happens. Just go, before he has time to get in his car. She could think of an excuse on the way. Mind made up, she hurried to the door and flung it open.
Rupert stood across the hall, leaning against the wall, one hand in his pocket and the other twirling his glasses thoughtfully. He looked up, startled. Caught. Lydia had to suppress a giggle.
"I, ah ..." Rupert straightened up and began to clean his glasses. "I was going to... that is, you see, I needed to... oh, hell." He put his glasses on with a sigh, and looked at her. "I didn't want to go."
Lydia smiled and stepped into the hall. "I didn't want you to."
"Well. That's..." With a bashful smile, he ducked his head and reached up to rearrange his glasses. "That's... good."
Lydia took another step. "Yes, isn't it?" When she was close enough she grabbed his tie and pulled him to her.
"Very," he said, wrapping his arms around her waist. Lydia needed no more encouragement. She kissed him. He responded with unrestrained eagerness, and as his arms tightened around her and her hands slid up to tangle in his hair, the bonfires exploded into an inferno. Impropriety be damned. Rupert swept her up into his arms and carried her inside.
Bryce pulled his car into the driveway and set it in park. He turned to look at Dawn. “I had a really nice time tonight.”
She smiled. “Yeah, me too.”
“That movie was no Oscar winner, though.”
“Well, I don’t think Jackie Chan will ever win for Best Lead Actor, if that’s what you’re getting at.”
“It was cool, that part with the kicking and the flipping and all. Can your sister do that?”
Dawn shrugged. “Maybe if she gets a running start?”
“Remind me never to cross your sister.”
“Will do.”
And with that, they were officially out of things to say.
Dawn stared at Bryce for a moment, he stared back, and then they both stared out the windshield. Dawn studied her house, hoping that Spike or Buffy wouldn’t appear in the windows, watching them. That would be beyond mortifying.
The engine idled softly, filling the car with its quiet hum. All Dawn heard was her heart pounding in her ears.
“Yeah?” She cringed inwardly. Nothing’s worse than answering too quickly. Makes you look desperate.
“Do you want to do this again? Maybe next weekend?”
Stay cool. “Yeah, that’d be fun.”
He grinned, that big, goofy grin that made her stomach twist like she was on a roller coaster. “So I’ll call you later this week, figure out what time, okay?”
“Sounds great.”
And suddenly he was right there, right up close, his face right in hers. And then he was kissing her, and her stomach did flip-flops like she was on the Corkscrew at Knott's Berry Farm. Her feet felt tingly, like when she stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon on that vacation when she was seven. And her hands felt… his face.
Dawn’s eyes fluttered open, and she found herself holding Bryce’s face in her hands, her one hand snaking up to wind through his dark hair. When did she learn to kiss like this? She closed her eyes and leaned into it slightly.
A minute or two later she broke away. “Wow.”
Bryce looked somewhat dazed, a smile pulling at his lips. “Yeah,” he agreed.
Dawn bit her lip. “So, you’ll call me later?”
“Count on it.”
She grinned, then leaned across the car and gave him a quick peck. “Talk to you later,” she said, pulling on the door handle and climbing out of the car. She crossed the driveway and reached the front door, trying to look suave, like making out in a car with a totally hot guy happened all the time. She fitted her key in the lock and pushed the door open, then turned back to wave. Bryce sat waiting in the driveway for her to get inside safely. Then he switched on the headlights and reversed into the street.
Dawn closed the door as he drove off, then leaned against it and sighed heavily, a huge grin spreading across her face. This was the best night ever.
She stood like that for at least two minutes, replaying the last few minutes in the car over and over in her head. Then, suddenly, what if he doesn’t call back? Dawn’s eyes flew open, her thoughts spinning. Wait, there’s no way he won’t call. Not after a kiss like that. Dawn breathed out, the momentary panic fading.
She walked into the living room and switched off the lamp on the desk. #But what if I’m really not that great of a kisser? She frowned, then headed for the kitchen to turn off the light above the sink. She turned the corner and found herself standing at the edge of a disaster zone. Groceries everywhere, eggs and blood spattered on the cabinets, the broken coffee mug… It looked like after an earthquake hit, but she knew it wasn’t that.
“God, can’t they keep the messy stuff to their own bedroom?” she grumped aloud. “I am so not cleaning this up.”
She spun on her heel, leaving the light on and the room a mess, and went upstairs to call Melinda. Dawn had to tell someone about her date tonight, and to find out exactly what makes for good kissing. Certain things a girl just doesn’t learn from Seventeen. And if Dawn sounded just pathetic enough on the phone, she just might be able to borrow that cute pink cashmere hoodie from Melinda while she was at it.
William arose from his bed in the middle of the night, as he did almost every night nowadays, awakened by Mother's frightful cough. He hastened to her side, taking care to keep his countenance calm as he looked on her. He stilled the tremor in the hand that held hers so gently, and the voice that murmured comfort to her did not falter.

For himself, he could do nothing. All his strength for her, barely enough left to smother his own panic. He moved through the long days of his life in this weakened state, struggling to suppress what he knew to be true. At night, he watched over her, silently begging for her life.

I do not wish, dear God, to be alone. Thus, he closed his eyes and prayed


that she would never, ever leave him.


Dru crawled into their bed in the middle of the day, and the rage, humiliation and pain threatened to rise up and choke him.

Drowsy and content, she sighed as she wrapped her body around his. As if it didn't matter where she'd been or who'd been fucking her. As if Spike hadn't heard her cry out all night, couldn't smell him on her all day. He wanted to bolt from this bed and burn down this house.

Kill him. Kill her. Kill himself.

Instead, he fought to stay still and to go on pretending...
That he slept in peace. That his legs didn't work. That he didn't really have a heart. That it could never really break.


Seemed like no sooner had Buffy slipped into bed with him when she slipped back out.

He remembered... when he'd first moved in here, he'd had to get used to sleeping with her. Not that he wasn't used to sharing a bed - ‘s what he was made for after all -- but sharing with a human? Entirely different thing.

The warmth, the scent... the activity of the human body had jarred him. Breath whirring and blood whooshing, like sleeping with a Maytag. And God help him when she dreamed. Slayer dreams, especially, turned their bed into a mosh pit.

Their bed. At times too pink, too small, too hot, too cold, too many pillows and not enough covers, too dangerous to hold him... He'd got used to it all and loved it. Petting her, soothing her, making love, sleeping. Laughing and tickling and rolling right off. All of it.

Then it was her absence that jarred. She couldn't get up for a drink or a piss without his alarms going off. He'd got used to her.

Time enough they'd finally found a rhythm and most nights didn't disturb each other at all unless they wanted to.

So when she left, he reached for her before he'd really woken up. Whispered her name while her warmth still lingered. Before the empty coolness leeched in.

He sensed her moving about the room and by the time he was fully awake, she was fully dressed. He thought to speak, but her relentless silence overwhelmed him and he fell back on an old habit. He pretended to sleep.

Then the door shut. And, after some rummaging and clunking and clanging, so did the one downstairs. Without a word. Without a touch.

She breaks my heart but can't bring herself to stake it.

Of course, a stake could only pierce a heart once. More merciful than his beloved in that respect, for a heart could break again.

And again and again.
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