Story title: Actions Past He's got high hopes (15)

Timeline: Season 2 (After Becoming) and later in season 7

Rating: R

Spoilers: AU from Beneath You (7.2). In this universe, Buffy took Spike home

Disclaimer: All ME

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Spike sat in the darkest corner of the Espresso Pump, getting more anxious by the minute. Where was Buffy? Shouldn't she have been here already? He craned his neck to look at the clock again, nearly coming in the path of the late afternoon sun. He decided it was definitely time to buy a watch now.

And of course, the moment he looked down in his mocha to stir the last dregs, long gone cold now, she appeared and slid on the stool across him. He'd missed her entrance again. He loved the way she'd come in, hurried, flicking her eyes around, stating her preference in clipped tones and waiting impatiently, toes tapping. The part he liked less was when she sat down across from him without acknowledging him, head turned away from the rest of the crowd, her hair falling like a curtain across her face. Afraid someone might recognize her, maybe? And then what? That hypothetical acquaintance would be able to see at a glance that the boyfriend was a vampire, and hence, that her life was a failure?

This time she put down a fresh coffee for him as well. It still gave him a tiny thrill that she remembered what he liked.

"Sorry I'm late," she said breathlessly, still not meeting his eyes.

"What's up, my love? You seem a little….preoccupied?" He'd thought of 'tense' or 'stressed out' as well, but preoccupied seemed more neutral and less likely to cause his head being snapped off.

The tiny frown above her left eyebrow appeared, vanished, and appeared again. She'd have a wrinkle there by the time she was thirty.

"Nothing," she said vaguely. "Stuff." She flapped her hand. "Doesn't concern you."

"You could try me," he suggested evenly, determined not to let things escalate.

Finally, her eyes met his, and the look from the stormy green depths made him all weak inside. She looked troubled and doubtful. He grabbed her hand and softly started to massage it, finger by finger, trying to make her relax. When he was kneading the thick pads at the base of her thumb, she sighed at last and relented.

"It's Dawn," she said nearly inaudibly. "Her grades have dropped again. They have to inform Social Services, and I'll have to be approved again. More visits form Mrs. Kroeger or her cronies."

Spike winced. He remembered, vividly, Mrs. Kroeger's last visit and how he had bollixed it up, although he'd honestly tried. He must have come along way since then, because unlike at that time, it was easy to see what he should have done differently.

"Tell me what you want of me, love. Should I disappear until she's been around? Anything to let you keep the little Bit."

Her troubled gaze softened and she smiled at him, even smoothing away a curl from his temple. Loved nothing better than to undo his careful work with gel and comb, she did.

"Of course not, baby. You should definitely be around. Show them Dawn has a steady male influence in her life. A father figure."

"I'm a steady male influence? And a father figure? Didn't know you thought of me like that…" he teased.

"Just because I happen to like older men…much older men…"

She leaned into his hand when he caressed her smooth hot cheek and closed her eyes. "I wish we could see more of each other," she murmured. "I wish you didn't have to work nights…."

Spike was so caught up in the flood of emotion her words caused that he hardly registered what the waitress standing next to them was saying. Something about offering him a day job right here in the Espresso Pump. He smiled absently at her and declined her kind offer.

He was totally unprepared for the torrent of words that followed. Hateful bigoted pronouncements on hell spawn and evil creatures of the night, and a warning to Buffy about continuing to see him, that would surely end in her horrible death and worse.

Buffy's face was stricken and her hands shook. The waitress departed in a huff, and the silence between them stretched and stretched.

"Buffy…" he started in a low voice, "don't be sad about this. She meant well. And nine out of ten she would have been right, too…"

"I'm not sad, I'm angry," Buffy said between clenched teeth. "How dare she judge us like that. Making you out to be a monster, and me some helpless little innocent. I'm damn well the Slayer, and nobody messes with my boyfriend!"

Spike heard 'us' and was lost. God, how he loved the fierceness of her. He clasped her hand again, hard. She dragged her stool around the table to sit next to him and gave him a deep, possessive kiss. They finished their coffees sitting close together, thigh to thigh, shoulder to shoulder, and it had never tasted so good. Buffy took his arm when they left. He silently thanked the waitress for her interference. She'd never claimed him this publicly before, and it just made everything seem a little brighter.

********

Spike was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, brushing his teeth while Buffy showered, when he was startled by a loud shriek from Dawn. He swallowed some toothpaste and yelled out: "What!" loudly and with no small amount of irritation.

"The door is open, and you're standing there butt-naked! What were you thinking? Can't you think of my feelings?" Dawn said, backing out.

Spike checked out his arse. It looked just fine to him.

"Nothing wrong with it that I can see, Nibblet. You Americans are so sensitive and prudish!" He complained.

Buffy stuck a dripping wet head around the door of the shower stall. "Don't expect me to believe the British are all liberated nudists?"

"I meant vampires, love." He took advantage of the opening she gave him and joined her in the stall.

"Kind of cramped in here?" Buffy said, smiling.

"We'll just have to stand really close together. Thought you might need some help soaping yourself up?"

His hands moved over her glistening golden breasts. Buffy turned around and said, "Sure, you can do my hair."

There was nothing wrong with the wet mounds of her bum sliding against his front, either. He thoroughly soaped the mass of water-darkened tawny hair and massaged her scalp. Buffy leaned heavily against him, relaxing under his hands.

"This is a bad, bad way to wake up," she murmured as Spike's big hands moved sensuously over her skin, lathering her slowly, making her tingle and sigh. "I could just crawl right back into bed again."

"Right here would be just fine, love." Spike pushed her hands above her head and placed them against the wall. "Spread your legs a bit more."

"But Dawn…"

"…won't come in here again."

Buffy caved in and allowed herself to undergo the never boring experience of sex with Spike, feeling severed from the normal world in the confines of the shower stall, hot water pounding down, Spike sliding in and out of her, his hands everywhere; carefully avoiding the healing wound of her encounter with the last demon. She wished it could go on forever.

Dawn put on a long-suffering look when Buffy and Spike entered the kitchen at last, still closely entwined.

"Don't you two ever let go of each other?" she said, a critical eye on Buffy's hand, which was securely lodged in the back pocket of Spike's jeans, and on Spike, whose hand was on Buffy's hip, under her shirt.

"I don't see why we should?" Buffy leaned her full length against Spike as he was fussing with boiling water and tealeaves. He'd even bought a pot and a little sieve to make proper English tea. She patted his thighs indulgently. Who'd have thought Spike would have Gilesy tendencies?

"Well," Dawn said through a mouthful of Rice Krispies, "'cause it might put off younger siblings who are not as steeped in sin and mushiness?"

"Okay, which is worse, the sin or the mushiness? And I am so not mushy, by the way." Buffy ripped into a carton of yogurt in true slayer fashion and proceeded to devour it standing up.

"You are less mushy than your significant other, granted, but the touching and the fuzzy looks are kind of revealing," Dawn continued.

"Huh."

Spike sidled up to Buffy again and put his arms around her from behind. Buffy offered him some yogurt from her spoon. He made a face.

"In my time that was food for the poor Bulgarian peasants. Can't see why I should enjoy it."

"'Cause it's non-fat low-sugar healthy stuff." Buffy licked her spoon with abandon. Dawn had to avert her eyes from the look on Spike's face as he stared fixedly at Buffy's tongue. Ew. She didn't want to know what he was thinking, she was way too close to guessing it already.

Buffy finished off her yogurt, drank down some juice and started to leave for work.

"Bye Dawn!" A wave.

"Bye honey!" A long sloppy mushy kiss.

Dawn sighed. It never stopped. When she heard the door slam behind Buffy, she leaned her head on her hand and turned to Spike. She loved having him to herself a few minutes before leaving for school.

Spike settled himself on a stool next to Dawn with his lovingly prepared cuppa.

"Well?" he asked. "Did you get that A for the Spanish-American war paper?"

"Yeah, that was so cool, he made me read from it and everything! You're gonna have to help me with more stuff, the rest of my grades are sort of down."

Spike nodded. "Buffy told me. You have to ask for help a lot sooner, Bit, you're just like your sis. Leaving it too bleeding long."

"You two were a little preoccupied," Dawn pointed out.

The bell rang. They looked at each other, a little alarmed. Who could it be? Dawn went to open the door. Spike heard a woman's voice. Dawn called out for him, sounding a little panicked.

A woman whose face he vaguely remembered was standing there. After a moment, the memory clicked into place. The dreadful Mrs. Kroeger. He approached her with a smile and his hand stretched out.

"Hi, Mrs. Kroeger. I'm Will Smith, Buffy's boyfriend. How may we help you?"

He saw Dawn's eyes grow huge. Hey! He'd learned a thing or two in the course of last year! He continued to smile at the woman, and he saw her soften a bit and reach up to pat her hair.

"Doris Kroeger," she simpered, "from Social Services. We heard from Dawn's school that her grades were slipping, and it is our task to do another check on her home circumstances."

"Yes, Dawn told us, a bit late perhaps-" a reproving look at Dawn, who could hardly contain her laughter"- and we're on it. Her last paper was an A again, in fact, so I'm confident we'll be getting her right on track again. May I offer you a cup of tea?"

Spike sounded more like Giles than like himself. Dawn followed their progress towards the kitchen in amazement. He'd totally mollified the woman in less than a minute! They were talking about college, Spike telling her about his Oxford degree in Ancient Languages - he could really lie well, if he put his mind to it. After twenty minutes or so Mrs. Kroeger left, won over, promising a good report and eradication of Buffy's probationary status as guardian.

Dawn squealed and jumped around his neck. "Spike! You were awesome! You sounded just like a, a cooler Giles! Wow! You totally charmed her!"

Spike staggered a bit as the teenager hugged him. He felt immensely proud of himself. This would make Buffy happy.

******

Willow looked up at the red neon sign saying "Willy's Place".

"Nope," she said, "Now I'm definitely sure I've never been here."

"That is so weird," Buffy said. "You've been a Scooby for nearly seven years, how can you never have been in Willy's bar? You'll love it! It's so authentic, full of really ugly demons and sleaze and drunk vamps."

"Sounds just dandy for a witch like me. Let's go in."

Buffy and Willow planned to hang out at Willy's for a bit while Spike finished out his shift. They entered, two short girls who had to look up to everybody who was standing there, and to some who were sitting down, too. Willow could see the information that the Slayer had just entered travel like a wave through the patrons. Like the Red Sea parting, she thought. Buffy and she strolled up to the bar unhindered, where a grinning Spike greeted them, polishing beer glasses.

"Evening ladies," he greeted them. "You've just upgraded my credibility no end, Buffy. Now they are really sure I'm the Slayer's boyfriend. It won't make me popular, but it will make me safe. It's a very unmanly feeling."

"Aw, poor widdle Spikey! Did you want to be the tough manly man? Who protects his widdle girlfriend from the big bad world?" Willow teased.

Spike shrugged. "With vampires, the point is moot. Male and female are as strong. The only thing keeping the bloody birds from world domination and stuff is their own silly inhibitions." He put down the last glass and gestured to the array of drinks.

"What'll it be, girls? On me."

Buffy and Willow shared a look. "Margaritas!" they said in unison.

Spike groaned. "So now I'm going to have to carry you both home, hold your heads while you barf, and not even tease you about it? What happened to mochas and Diet Coke?"

"We're allowed to drink, and damn it we will!" Willow said firmly. "We've been good girls long enough, there will be carousing, and fraternizing with non-humans, and there will also be buckets of fun!"

The girls sipped their drinks and looked around the bar. It was smoky and crowded, but not as rowdy as Willow had hoped. She waved to Clem, who came over for a moment, but who obviously had other plans for the night. He went back quickly to the demon he was with, who was just as wrinkly and bald as Clem himself, but seemed feminine by her body language and gurgly voice.

Buffy turned around and started talking to Spike, giggling a lot, clearly laying claim to him. Willow was amused. The poor guy had gone through hell and back to get his soul for her, and here was Buffy, all jealous and claimy. As if Spike would even look at another woman! She was so clueless.

Willow caught the eye of a tall, stunning brunette standing at the other end of the bar. She tossed her shiny mane over one shoulder and gave Willow a look from her sloe-dark eyes.

"Buffy," Willow said, without breaking eye-contact, "that woman over there, is she a vampire?"

Buffy checked her out with the briefest of glances. "Yup. You interested?"

"Not anymore," Willow said, and turned away from the alluring dark gaze.

"Not even tempted?" prodded Buffy. "She looks a little like Faith…"

Willow made her Exasperated Face. "You remember Tara? How she was not even remotely a bad girl? That should tell you enough. I don't need a bit of monster in my woman, like you. I like 'em sweet and soft."

Buffy patted Willow's hand contritely. "Sorry. Just kidding. Who would have thought long ago that I did need some monster in my man, huh? And me always thinking I wanted the normal life."

"Yeah, and now you're all set up for life with a monster of your very own…A very hot curly-haired blue eyed monster, too."

Buffy's face had started to twitch at 'for life'. Willow's brows rose. "Not for life? You coulda fooled me…"

"I guess," Buffy said uncomfortably. "It just sounds so long when you say it. I always imagined my life would be short, like all Slayers. And that I would have to seize the day. Just thinking of having another fifty or sixty years to look forward to makes me feel all wiggy."

"Like not knowing if you would like to spend them with Mr. Hopelessly Devoted To You over there?"

"It's not a bad prospect as such," Buffy admitted grudgingly, "I just need to practice thinking about it like that. Ew. Poor Spike. How gross and wrinkly will I be in twenty years, let alone in fifty?"

They giggled companionably and ordered more margaritas. Willow played pool with a kind of silvery-scaled female warrior demon, and Buffy sat idly watching Spike do his bartending thing. She was kind of enjoying this sneaky boyfriend observing, because she seldom got the chance to. Spike was always looking at her, and it was just nice to enjoy a good stare. She watched the play of muscles in his arms, and the way his eyes crinkled as he laughed. He ran his hand through his hair, loosening some very cute curls, and she wanted to be that hand.

He had to look way up to meet the eye of some giant creature, and Buffy got in a good look at his profile. She loved the slight Roman curve of his nose, that was only visible from certain angles. He seemed to feel her gaze, and flicked her a quick wink from the corner of his eyes. She felt a silly grin spread over her face, and looked away to the pool table to hide it.

"Checking out the merchandise?" a female voice next to her said. It was the vampire Faith look-alike. "Cute little thing isn't he?"

Buffy took umbrage at the 'little' part of that, but nodded. The vamp hitched up her breasts in her tight corset–type top a little more, and leaned over the bar to call out to Spike: "Hey, handsome, come on over and serve us!"

Spike ambled over to his new customer, glancing curiously at Buffy. What was she doing with that tart?

"Give me and my girlfriend here another one of what she's having," the woman purred, and squeezed her arms together so her breasts plumped up even more. Spike's dark eyebrows rose at the sight, but he poured two more margaritas for them. The vamp started telling Spike in a low voice exactly what she'd like to do to him, and Buffy listened in rising disbelief. Were there actually guys who fell for this kind of thing? She checked out the slight smile on Spike's face, and tried to quell her rising anger by downing her drink in one gulp. It warmed her insides with a fiery glow. Spike was now leaning on the counter across from the woman, and his head was tilting as he listened to her spiel. That was the limit. Head tilts were hers.

"Um, honey?" Buffy said loudly, "What time are you getting off?"

The vampire woman slowly turned her head to look down at Buffy from her superior height.

"Aw, was I making the little woman jealous? My mistake. Just letting your boy have a good look at a real woman, show him what he's missing with a little skinny thing like you!"

Buffy didn't need to channel the primeval Slayer to land a hefty punch on the vampire's annoyingly perfect nose.

Spike seemed completely unfazed by all this. He was actually looking pleased. "Don't kill the patrons, love," he said calmly to Buffy. "Willy wouldn't like it."

"Willy will take anything he needs to from me," Buffy said darkly. "Why were you flirting with that skanky ho? Needing a diversion already?"

"What? Sweetheart, the possessive vibe is kind of cute, but don't overdo it. Just being friendly to the customers, ain't I?"

Buffy bit her lip. Was she being ridiculous? "I just thought…she looked like a cross between Drusilla and Faith…like a bad girl, the kind you like?"

"Buffy…It's only you, now and forever," Spike said seriously. "So not into bad girls anymore, apart from Spiffy of course…."

Buffy blushed neon red. "Don't say that! Someone might hear!"

Spike hoisted himself up on his elbows on the bar to plant a kiss on her nose. "I'm yours. Your possession, your property. You totally own me, body, heart, soul and demon. That's one more than most girls get. No need to be jealous, ever."

The look from those smiling blue eyes hit her deep in the gut. She swallowed. It must be the drink making her feel all sappy and mushy. Buffy and booze, so not mixy things.

The rest of Spike's shift, Buffy sat quietly at the counter, following her very own demon with her eyes, not noticing the passing of time. She hardly registered Willy coming in and Spike getting off duty, until he stood beside her and grabbed her elbow.

"Let's scarper, Buff. We need to walk Willow home."

She'd forgotten all about Willow. She was such a bad friend. Willow stood talking to the warrior demoness, exchanging phone-numbers, it seemed.

"Willow?" she said, confused. "You're not gonna date…that, are you?"

"No way, I'm not the one who is into demons! Um, I didn't mean that the way it sounded. No, she's a magic user too, we're gonna compare notes sometime."

They walked Willow to her dorm, Willow and Spike doing most of the talking. When they had seen Willow safely into her building, she slid under Spike's arm and circled his waist with her own. Her hand came to rest on his hipbone, under his shirt. She sighed deeply.

"That was missing all night."

Spike's hand on her shoulder made her feel warm and giddy. That was so strange. He should make her feel cold, shouldn't he? She stopped walking and turned towards him, clutching a handful of shirt. A sweet heady feeling was rising slowly inside her. She opened her mouth to tell Spike about it, when something else overtook it.

Buffy wrenched her body out of Spike's embrace and stepped back.

"Just my luck, coming in on the smoochies again!" she hissed. She took in his petrified stance and open mouth, and gestured angrily.

"It's me. Buffy from 1998. Did you forget about me already?"

Spike closed his mouth with a snap. The bloody chit had an impeccable sense of bad timing. He had sensed something coming from Buffy that he'd never felt before, and he had to quell the urge to shake her thoroughly for interrupting.

"Well? What do you want? I thought you were never coming back here?" he said impatiently.

She looked at him somberly for a few moments. "I just thought I'd say goodbye to everything here, including you people from the future. I just saw you tonight, you know. You were rescuing your girlfriend from Angelus' clutches."

Realization dawned. "Oh. Dru. Right. Oh! You're doing a runner to LA, aren't you?"

Buffy sighed as the impatience and frustration left his face and turned into concern. They started walking again slowly. "I'm actually in the bus to LA now, my real body I mean. It's funny, I had completely forgotten about all the time switching, and just now I started thinking of you all, and how you must have known even this. And how you didn't tell me, and I was glad you hadn't. Because I never could have done it if I had had time to think about it."

Spike nodded. "Makes sense. You did the right thing."

"She ever talk to you about it?"

Spike nodded again. "She said that for a long time she thought it was the hardest thing she'd ever done."

"But that feeling passed?"

"Yeah, it passed."

"Not going to tell me a thing, like always, huh?" Buffy looked up at him, the moon shining on his light hair, much curlier than she remembered. "But she's very happy now, isn't she? It's all going to be alright in the end?"

"I do hope this isn't the end yet, pet, but I think Buffy's okay right now." Spike stared straight ahead.

"Okay, huh? Does she really love you?" She saw the muscles in his cheek jump.

"I don't know. If she does, she hasn't told me." His voice sounded rough.

"Oh, come on, what I felt when I passed through her was pretty…" her voice trailed off. "Well, she better tell you herself. This is really goodbye, then. Make her happy, okay?"

Spike turned his head to look at her. "It won't be for lack of trying, pet. Goodbye."

They shook hands, which felt very odd and formal. He saw her falter for a moment, and reached out to steady her, and then she was his Buffy again.

She looked sad and tired, the magic moment that had been building earlier out of reach now. "Let's go home, love," he said softly. They put their arms around each other again and started walking.

****

The last rays of the evening sun could not reach the farthest corner of the porch. Giles looked at the motionless figure of the vampire standing there, only his hair and his white T-shirt clearly visible. He disentangled himself from the little group of Scoobies wrestling with the barbecue and joined Spike.

"Good evening, Spike," he said, and lifted his bottle of beer in greeting.

"Giles," acknowledged Spike.

"How long until sunset?"

"Give or take half an hour," answered Spike, not needing to look up for this.

"Hm. How's life? The job, and, well, everything?"

"Job? Pretty bloody awful, as usual. I've started bartending at Willy's again; it's the only place I'm not kicked out of sooner or later."

"What do you think: is it you, personally, or prejudice against vampires?"

Spike uttered a short laugh. "Prejudice? Don't think vampires will ever be bloody PC, nor should they be. People do sense I'm different, somehow; but it's also just me. Not too good at taking orders, never have been."

"Except from Buffy…"

"Right," Spike admitted with a crooked smile. "Except from Buffy. But then she's the general, and my lady to boot. That's different."

"And, um," Giles started delicately, looking away from Spike into the sunset, "how are things with Buffy? You both seem very happy?"

Spike didn't answer immediately, taking so long that Giles glanced at him in surprise.

"Have I been reading things wrong?" he enquired. He gestured at Buffy, who was standing among her friends, glowing with sun, health, and happiness, even looking distinctly plumper than she had in years.

"No, Rupert, things are just dandy. It's just…well, ninety percent happiness is more than most people have, and I s'pose I'm unrealistic in longing for the hundred percent. But I do."

"And what ten percent are you missing, then? A fulfilling job, which does justice to your education and intelligence?"

"Good point! But that would fall more under the heading of icing on the cake…No, I meant--with Buffy. I know I'm bloody lucky to have her at all, I should be satisfied with that, but the romantic idiot inside of me just wishes she loved me back, you know?" Spike toyed with his empty bottle, not looking Giles in the eyes.

"But, Spike, I'm quite surprised to hear that! What makes you think she doesn't? I'd say all the evidence points in the opposite direction!"

"Well, to be exact, she's never told me that she did. Did tell me she didn't feel for me the way she did for Angel."

"I say you should be bloody grateful that she feels differently for you than for that prat!" Giles waved his bottle around so violently he sprayed beer over the railing.

"Love of her life, she thinks!" Spike protested.

"Oh, come on, Spike, you can't seriously believe that!  She was a child when all that happened; it was just a schoolgirl crush!"

"'s not what Buffy thinks…"

"Spike, really, look at her." They both looked at Buffy, who was baring an expanse of flat, tanned tummy to Dawn and Willow, and pinched a tiny roll of fat. It looked like a one of these incomprehensible fat comparing moments between women, where blokes would never be able to say the right thing.

"Spike, if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, quacks like a duck…it's a duck! I mean love. Don't fixate on a couple of words she didn't say. With Buffy, it is never about the words but about actions. Has she ever lived with someone? Has she ever looked so happy? I rest my case."

Spike smiled ruefully at Giles; then they both looked away hastily. Spike turned his head to look at Buffy again. Was he wrong in feeling that he wanted the important things said out loud? Wrong or not, there was this tiny bleak spot in his otherwise full and overflowing heart, that ached and throbbed for explicit acknowledgement from Buffy.

Giles stepped off the porch and went up to the little group on the grass. The girls had given up on helping with the barbecue and were leaving it to Xander to get the fire going.

"Buffy, a word?"

"Hey Giles! Isn't this fun? A real goodbye instead of sneaking off to the airport alone?"

"It's not as if you were actually there, Buffy!" Giles protested, feeling somehow implicated.

They talked idly on slaying and the declining vampire population. Giles was finding it difficult to spot an opening for the subject he wanted to talk about.

"Um, Buffy," he ventured at last. "How are things between you and Spike? Is it going well?"

Buffy looked surprised. "Odd of you to ask, Giles. I didn't think you had issues about Spike and me?"

"No, no," Giles added hastily, "that's not at all what I meant. I meant -- you seem happy?"

"Yeah, well, I guess I am…" It seemed to embarrass Buffy a little to admit to happiness.

"You seem to love each other very much?"

Buffy blushed and started to toy with a strand of her hair. She cleared her throat. "Well, you know, what does love mean, we're good…"

Giles did not give up that easily. "Don't you love him then?"

"I don't know what feelings I have...It's like – slaying together is wonderful -- being able to share that, like it was with Faith before everything turned wrong...Living with Spike's great, waking up together, everything…He looks after me, he knows me so well, he knows what I feel…"

"Have you told him how you feel?"

"Nah, me and the words...I show him."

"Hmm.…" Giles didn't know how to press the issue further, and fell silent for a moment.

"Just this, Buffy: life is short. Don't put off saying the important things. You don't get second chances."

Buffy looked thunderstruck at this. Giles was a bit surprised at having reached her so effectively.

More people arrived. A friend of Willow's, more like Faith than Tara, to Buffy's surprise; friends of Xander's, Clem, even a few sheepish looking work buddies of Spike's from the garage, who seemed to be sorry he'd been fired.

The party went well. Huge quantities of burnt meat and booze were consumed, and it was long past midnight when people started drifting away.

At last only the core group of friends remained. Xander was stretched out in a chair, unable to move, either from drunkenness or too much Alice B. Toklas brownies. Willow and Dawn were having an endless confidential talk, Buffy and Spike were necking on a creaking chaise lounge, and Giles lay back looking up at the sky feeling quite happy.

Two silhouettes blocked the purple city glow up above him.

"Giles? You in there? Wanna come with on patrol? It's a great night for it, look at the moon…."

Giles thought it was a great idea, but by the time he'd gathered enough purpose to say so Spike and Buffy were already gone. He stood up anyway, determined to catch up with them. The world was a little unsteady, but he'd been living in California for so long now that a little earthquake just didn't faze him anymore. Quite cool and collected he went into the house for a few stakes. It was still Sunnydale after all, even if Buffy, with her new powers, had virtually committed genocide on vamps.

He was sure Buffy and Spike would start off their patrol in their usual cemetery. It was a pleasant walk, for all the buckling sidewalks and obstructive tree roots, and the wall surrounding the graveyard came into view quickly. Having arrived at the nearest corner, he could hear the sounds of a fight, not that far off. He tried to hasten his step, fingers tangling in his pocket protector as he tried to find a stake. He was just tall enough to look over the wall, and what he saw shocked him out of his inebriated complacence.

The fight was between Buffy and Spike! Spike was vamped out, and uttered terrifying growls as he rained blows and kicks on Buffy. Giles stared in utter astonishment. Spike turning evil was the last thing he had been expecting. He had to help Buffy! The cemetery gate was too far, by the time he could get there and had doubled back Buffy might be dead or worse.

He decided to climb the wall. He jumped in a single movement, being still agile and in good condition for his age, and couldn't for a moment reconcile this view of the world with the reality. Reality had him hanging by the tips of his finger in the far end of the wall, and his stomach being squashed against it most unpleasantly. In the graceless manner of a sack of potatoes, he managed to hitch first one knee, then the other on the wall, and dragged the rest of his body after it. Perhaps he was a little heavier than a few years ago, but the wall was still unreasonably high and slippery. He lay down for a few moments, cooling his sweaty face on the rough surface of the wall. He could still hear the sounds of the fight, but really needed a moment to gather himself after his climb.

When the world behind his eyelids had stopped spinning, he carefully swiveled his head towards the mêlée. His shocked gaze beheld the two opponents locked in a bone cracking body crush. Spike lifted Buffy up and with a terrible roar backed her in to a crypt. Buffy's legs had curled up, so that Spike crashed against her pelvis in such a way that it made Giles wince in sympathy. She groaned loudly in pain and yanked Spike's head backwards by his curls.

"Break his neck, Buffy!" Giles tried to say, but his voice wasn't working so well. Opening his mouth made him almost heave. When he could open his eyes again, Spike was tearing Buffy's clothes off and bent over her neck, still fully vamped out, mouth stretched wide to strike. Buffy moaned again and yelled something Giles couldn't understand. She shoved him off her, and Spike landed with a thud on the cemetery ground. She jumped on him like a cat, and started to tear his shirt off, biting his neck and chest, then tugging at his jeans. She roughly bent his arms backwards and made a shimmying movement with her hips. Only when she started to move up and down did it penetrate to Giles' fuzzy brain what he was seeing.

His stomach immediately gave up the struggle and Giles had a few extremely unpleasant and humiliating moments, still on top of the cemetery wall. He did manage to vomit on the street-side, a small victory.

Giles must have dozed off for a bit, for when he regained awareness of the world around him, his left cheek was cold and numb where it was still lying on the cemetery wall, and his neck hurt. He opened his gummy eyes with difficulty and immediately beheld Spike and Buffy dressing each other and checking each other for grass stains.

Spike's bright head was tenderly bent over Buffy's, and Giles saw him picking bits of leaves and grass out of her hair, and smooth the long locks behind her ear. Buffy was doing up Spike's shirt, softly talking to him. The moonlight shone on her bare breasts. Spike was smiling happily, and they exchanged a few more kisses. The scene contrasted so starkly with the one he had witnessed before that Giles felt utterly confused. How could they reconcile these two different worlds to each other? The tenderness and sweetness of the one with the brutality and violence of the other? Had he never really understood Buffy? Was this what she needed? This was beyond his Watcherly or even fatherly powers to comprehend. She would have to decide for herself.

"I love your hair, you know. It's gone a really weird color in the moonlight, I can't describe it," Spike said softly as he combed out the tangles in the long tresses with his fingers.

"I'm sure I remember you saying I had stupid hair," Buffy teased, equally softly. "You were still my mortal enemy then, I guess."

"Yeah, right!" Spike said. "I'd been staring at your window for hours, plotting your death, and all that I came up with when you saw me was a bloody lame remark about your hair and that I didn't like you?"

"Um, not?"

"Of course not! I'd just realized I'd fallen in love with you, and it bloody well scared me, You Slayer, Me Vampire and all. So I said the exact opposite if what I meant, as people do when they're shaken."

"Yeah," Buffy answered softly, playing with his shirt. "I get that. Last year and all. I said all those mean things to you, or nothing, while in reality…You know I love you, right?"

It came out of nowhere. Spike reeled, the world spun, and he had to hold on to Buffy to keep form falling. He tried to swallow away the huge lumps in his throat.

"I do now…." he answered, trying to keep his voice light.

Buffy buried her nose in his chest and clasped him inhumanly tight.

Giles groaned softly when the snogging and mutual grooming seemed to go on and on. Weren't they done yet? If he was unlucky, he would be treated to another bout of what they called making love. Thank God. They started to walk to the cemetery gate, closely entwined. Giles stayed motionless on his awkward perch, and begged whatever Powers would listen that they wouldn't discover him.

He could hear soft words exchanged as they passed him on their way home. The voices receded. Giles gingerly slid off the wall and made his unsteady way back to 1630 Revello Drive. He didn't think he could drive home, but he vowed again this would be the last night he would ever sleep on the lumpy couch.

Epilogue

Buffy woke up in the middle of the night on full slayer alert. She lifted herself on her elbows and tried to assess what had woken her. Her eyes met Spike's. He was awake, too. His teeth gleamed in the moonlight as he stretched his lips in a feral grin.

"Let's go out and kill something, Slayer," he growled.

 Buffy felt an answering grin on her own face, and a rising anticipation, and something she couldn't quite identify. Happiness maybe? They dressed and loped out into the night, two perfectly matched warriors on the warpath. Anyone who was out that late, walking a dog perhaps, might not have known what manner of darkly clad creatures passed him by at great speed, eyes and bared teeth glinting under the street lamps.

Their extended predator senses led them unerringly to their opponents. A throng of assorted demons was trooping down Main Street, intent upon mayhem and plunder. Wordlessly they divided their tasks, one approaching the little troop from the front, the other circling to get behind. In the eerily silent town shouts rang out, dull thuds of bodies hitting hard objects, the ring of steel upon steel.

They met again over the bodies of slain demons. They stood looking at each other, battered and covered in multi-colored gore. Without speaking, they came together, completing the need that had risen out of bloodlust and victory.

Buffy didn't know what made her put her foot on the neck of her vanquished foe. She lifted her face to the moon, chest heaving, preparing to-- to do what exactly?

"Come on, Buffy," Spike urged, "let it out already!"

The victorious hunter threw her head in her neck and gave voice to her exhilaration. The other monsters in Sunnydale shivered in their lairs when they heard the cry of the Slayer, and cautioned their offspring to stay in at night. The hunter and her mate went home and slept the sleep of the well and truly satisfied.

THE END