Chapter Fifteen

"So…we're married now, yeah?" A cigarette clung to his lip as he stubbornly stared at the crunched grass at his feet, revealing nothing of what he felt about that statement and leaving Buffy totally in the dark about whether she should be excited or prepare herself for defeat. Or was his being here, in front of her enough reason to hope?

She decided to be strong and damn the consequences. It was either now or never; he wanted her or he didn't. They had something to work with or they could stay enemies. Her stomach roiled at that last possibility, but she'd tried so hard, maybe too hard and everything so far had backfired in classic Buffy way.

"Yes."

No vague 'yeah' for her, nahuh! She'd be straight up and pop him in the eye with her very forward support of the marriage that was them. She had the certificate framed; she'd cleansed the finger that wore her ring—hopefully in preparation for the day he would give it back. She wanted it like nothing ever before and she'd die if he could never find it in himself to fall in love with her. If she'd ruined it all by jumping into the future and rearranging to her own design she'd be miserable until her next death.

It just wasn't fair. She thought she could change her attitude early, accept him for what he was to become, and actually be happy. She'd just forgotten that his time frame wasn't quite as desperate.

"You were playin' me. Right from the start." His eyes flashed, knowing it was true and if she denied it he'd blow out of this town so fast she'd be hard pressed seeing the back of his duster.

But she didn't deny it. Instead, her shoulders slumped and her gaze hit the dirt at her feet with amazingly defeated speed.

"I'm so sorry. I can't tell you how sorry."

"'Course you can't, pet. You haven't got your little container of biccies." There was a smirk on his face when she looked up, only it faltered when he saw her quick swipe to remove escaping tears. As angry as he was for being made a fool, for being pushed into something that—according to the Watcher—wasn't meant to happen for at least another year, it caused him some pain to see her cry. To see her break a little and her confidence to suffer a beating similar to the one his pride had suffered since crossing paths with her. She'd taken away his right to a slow realisation and he thought he'd wanted her to cry. Thought he'd get pleasure out of making her work hard for his favour and her wedding ring. Hardly surprising that he was wrong again.

His Anglo-language stumped her, and instead of continuing her miserable journey into failure, she piped up with a confused, 'huh?' and wished fervently that she had a jar of some of Willow's 'make things better' cookies. How could he stay mad over sugary goodness? Nobody could. It was the sweet nature of sugar and baking.

He rolled his eyes, looked around and then strode to a taller grave, slinging his duster over the stone as he hopped up and took a seat, making himself as comfortable for this little discussion as he could with cold cement under his bum.

"You forced me into a wedding that I would under no circumstances have participated in." His lips drew into a very hard, thin line while he waited for the argument that was sure to come, smiling when she didn't disappoint.

"But it was a spell. Willow willed for us to—"

"Jus' hang on there before you dig yourself in deeper. We both know that that JP you had on standby wasn' just coincidental, and rings with our names engraved?" He raised a sceptical brow and she blushed.

Turning away from him, she knew at last that no matter what she could do now, it wouldn't be enough. No one could fix a disaster like this. No one could explain away the need to force another being into a joining so sacred. And why did she need it? Buffy knew she could have waited. But when a girl was visited with dreams about the hotness that was her and Spike's future, clashing violently with her 'ripped out of Heaven' backlash, she knew she had only so long to make her life be happy. Knowing the suffering both she and life would put Spike through, rushing them together had seemed like the obvious thing to do. They could be together sooner, longer and make with the happy before their worlds went to respective hells.

Her planning skills were as sucky as his.

Buffy looked up and saw a thick trunked tree in front of her, and found more courage in facing it than the deserving vampire behind her. And then a blur behind it caught her attention and she found herself confronted with army colours and a solitary man loaded up for a night of vampire hunting. His tazer was held aloft when he noticed it was her, and Buffy sighed. They didn't need this. Not on top of everything else.

"Hey, Riley," she greeted, losing herself in the threat of the moment as she instinctually moved to cover Spike.

She jumped when she felt cool hands around her waist and then almost burst into tears when he pulled her back against his body, holding her tight and possessively. Buffy moved reluctant fingers over his hand, covering her mouth when a sob rose to her lips as he threaded his fingers through hers and held her still tighter to himself. And in those seconds she'd forgotten. Forgotten what threat stood in front of her and prevented her from just walking away—in defeat or triumph, she wasn't willing to fight over Spike. She wouldn't lose him, so talking her way out of this confrontation felt like the best decisions she'd made for weeks. Months even.

The soldier hid his surprise that she knew him well. The ski mask was removed and he initiated a conversation that was quite obviously one that was a little more than confusing—but not quite as hurtful as he would have thought.

"I didn't mean to spy, but I saw you last night."

Buffy looked confused for a minute, and then her finger was tracing the cold metal of her husband's ring and the proposal on campus came flooding back, bringing tears to her eyes that she'd been stupid enough to give her ring back to the one she'd taken advantage of. He'd probably tossed it out her window in a fit of temper. That's what he did. She rather assumed that's how Harmony disappeared from the scene so quickly.

"Oh." She didn't know what to say; remembered the sections of her three day marathon sleep that in any other situation, she would have wasted valuable time getting to know this man and try to love him. She'd failed at that too.

The realisations were too much and she shrugged Spike away, choked on her sadness and ran from them. Ran from a situation that had gone completely wrong and left her in waiting for years of unhappiness.

She was almost at the backdoor of home when she tripped up the back step and collapsed on them, broken. Her cries were tortured, full of recriminations. What had been the point of the Powers giving her such valuable information when she had not the maturity to interpret the right course of action? Why did it always have to be cryptic and end up totally wrapped up in the bad?

As the step under her became more on the wet side than the weather actually predicted, Buffy remained oblivious to the approach of the one she ran from. Wanted to block him out and her humiliation for ever until she could grow and cope with it better.

"He said to tell you 'congrat's'. Was a bit more bloody pompous, but you get the drift. Christ pet, what could you have ever seen in an overgrown wanker like that?"

"How did you—?"

He grinned, just like everything was okay and he was pulling her leg. Except he really was, trying to shift her over so he could take up a spot right next to her.

"Your little band of followers filled me in. You should've told me." He didn't look at her, instead maintained his miffed expression as he stared at the stars.

"I was stupid. I thought I could make you love me faster." She needed to do her nails. The pale pink polish was chipped but at least it wasn't as obvious as if it were black.

"You played a dangerous game, luv. Brought aspects of me out that I would rather have stayed hidden. You weren't ready to see—"

"William? He is sweet and tender and loving. He shows his whole heart with just a glance. Believe me, Spike. I was ready for him."

She missed the amazement that flittered over his face as his eyes were torn from the night to settle on her power packed little self. She was a bloody marvel, she was. Wise beyond her years and he felt…proud. Yeah, like he'd found this little unpolished pearl that no one had even tried to string yet. And she wanted to be all his.

"William was a sap…a weak little wanker that didn't know how to win."

Her eyes burned into him with an intensity that he found off-putting. Wisdom was one thing, but he hated being the specimen under the microscope. Especially one that liked to study dust rather than the real being.

"Spike knows how to win, even while he's losing."

Her voice was heavy with conviction and faith and he faltered in his determination to make her sweat. How could he do that when she just automatically took his breath away with every sweet thing she said?

"Yeah, but he doesn' want to be losing you."

And the silence was almost a crack in the night, too loud in face of the hope that bloomed on her face and made her lower lip wobble. And then she was in his arms and crying hard, squeezing the stuffing out of him as she curled up against his body.

"Tell me you mean it," she whispered hotly into his neck and Spike shivered. He couldn't find the words, uncharacteristically stripped of the right things to say when he'd been faced with her eloquence this night. Instead, he delved into one of his deep pockets and fingered the little band of gold. He'd never taken off his own oath, and he was damned if he would ever let her take hers off again. Not without a bloody good wallopin' and some choice words.

When he slid it back on her finger, he knew that no other choice could have been made. Dru had been right. The bleeding Powers had been right. He belonged to this girl and would do all in his power to deserve her. He was fighting uphill all the way, but he could try.

And like she said, Spike would always win.

With a mutual look they agreed. Buffy stood and pulled her vampire up, leading him to the backdoor of the still empty house and showed him the way back to her bedroom.

Sometimes a wedding night could be just as good the second time over.