Chapter One

Disclaimer: The characters of BtVS and Angel belong to Joss Whedon. Thanks to his generosity, I play with them as much as I can.

Beta: Many thanks to the most wonderful Holly in the world.

She awoke with a gasp.

Shaking fingers clutched at her sheets as Buffy raised her eyes to the ceiling, her vision blurred by tears and comforted by darkness. There was too much sensation, too much battering at her to do its will. Too much of knowing that the dream that shuttled her to wakefulness was couched more in reality than desire. Reminded her of things she'd much rather forget.

Like Riley coming back and introducing her to his wife.

While that in itself didn't really make her world collapse like he might have hoped it would, it was humiliating that her big introduction was i Spike /i ! That the vampire he'd accused her once of being much more along her line of interests was now the one that shared her personal space in the extreme.

The feeling of humiliation was i much /i stronger than the one of jealousy. She'd liked Sam, in a really non-confrontational way. But for all Riley's claims of love for her, he'd married super-fast, proving once again that the Buffy-love was conditional and that she never really had it. It was never really i hers /i , no matter who she was with.

Spike loved her.

She'd cannonballed into his crypt the previous night, desperate to feel that important to someone. As important as Sam obviously was to Riley. She'd craved to hear i those /i words spill from his lips and to see the awe he could never hold back from his expression as he implored her to see his sincerity. At that moment, she'd do anything for love. Even use the one creature that'd done what he could to save her—to love her and keep her safe. The one being who she'd trusted with every secret and every tear, every second of melancholy that had threatened to rip her limb from limb until she returned broken and splintered to her big, fat revolving door home in the sky.

She'd used him, allowed him the only chance to affirm his love for her while he made her body sing with his sweet love-making. He'd treasured her, whispered his gratitude across her skin and while every single word had slashed at her flesh, it had warmed a small section of her heart. And it had been enough. She'd had the words, and it touched her.

But she'd used him.

Suddenly she didn't want to do that anymore. The look on his face when she'd entered his crypt, interrupted his reading, had struck some deep hidden need she'd banished the last time love had been denied her and suddenly the possibility of having it in her hands was a lot more than a craving. It was a reality and despite feeling so cold and empty inside, she wished she could have wept for its relief. And perhaps she would have, had it been anyone but Spike.

The expression on Riley's face when he walked in on her, lying naked and revelling in the cool touch of Spike's skin against hers, was something she was sure she'd never forget as long as she lived. She'd been ashamed, but she wasn't exactly certain why. At first she'd put it down to being caught. Months had gone by of compulsive fucking and not one of the Scoobies had caught on to her secret activities, yet one night back in Sunnydale and Riley had caught her red-handed. Or red-assed. Had she wanted him too?

The correlation between his last great act before fleeing Sunnydale was too close to ignore. He'd found solace in vamp whores; it wasn't something he'd ever apologised for. Not really. He'd made excuses; he'd said that he'd felt compelled to do it when she shut off her heart to him and never allowed him to get close. When he'd realised she'd never love him.

Was there a connection there to why she was now Spike's fuck-bunny?

Riley had got something from being with them. He'd felt useful, needed, cherished in a way that Buffy had never made him feel. It made her feel nauseous to realise that those were the exact things that Spike made her feel. Was that the flavour of Sunnydale? That you didn't know your niche in the world and a vamp was the fast track in finding one?

No, she couldn't believe that. There was more to what she had with Spike than anything Riley could ever have had with those…women. A long association, for one. She'd known Spike for years whereas Riley had probably known…them…for only days. She…trusted Spike. Trusted Spike with her sister, with the Hellmouth and her friends. She trusted him with her secrets, and apparently her body, and not once had he bitten her. Not once had she asked him to.

Those vamp whores had made Riley weak while being with Spike made her strong. When she was flailing with her life, Spike was solace and he always took the pain away. His love banished her pain to a place where it didn't matter anymore—until she left his side.

Last night she'd been miserable. Riley had been alive, married, happy, fighting demons with a partner—someone who could relate to him in every way imaginable, even the secret ones the rest of the world couldn't know about. Riley had had all that and Buffy wanted it too. Only now did she realise she'd had that for years. Spike had been her shadow when fighting, when living for longer than she cared for, and in too many ways he was her partner. In strength, in and out of bed, in parenting her sister, she'd denied it for too long but he was there, natural and effective where she'd been floundering in her ignorance. He was there no matter what she did. He hadn't left yet.

Could she depend on him to never leave her?

Buffy didn't have to dig far to realise the answer was a clanging and resounding yes. Spike was a stayer, a promise-keeper. He was loyal to a fault and his love, an aberration for a demon of his kind, was all consuming and devoted. He'd shown her last night with the softness of his voice and the care in his touch.

No, she didn't want to use him anymore. It wasn't right, not now that Riley knew. Things had to change before the rest clued in and ruined everything. It was time to face up to the life she'd been returned to and become the person she was, not the carbon-copy that destroyed romance and shredded hearts as a matter of course.

It was time she faced Spike.

He was huddled amongst the rubble of what was once his bedroom and Buffy felt her stomach clench at the complete lack of accusation on his face. He forgave her so much when he should be punching her in the face for destroying his possessions. His expression was so open to her, vulnerable and trusting and Buffy felt sick for what she had to do.

He looked at her expectantly and the words dried up in her throat. God, why wasn't he acting evil like she'd always accused him of? Why did he have to look like his absentee heart would be slashed to ribbons if she uttered the words she'd been determined to say?

The ones she couldn't.

She'd run every argument for breaking up with Spike through her head on the trip over. She'd dressed self-consciously, knowing that whatever she wore would be remembered as the thing that had hidden the body he'd never have again. But underlying her determination to end the torment was the desire to look pretty for him. She'd never gone to him with intention in her heart—never once dressed for an occasion with him. Now that it was coming to an end, she wanted to make the effort just once, to show both of them that he wasn't just a tool to while away her pain.

Seeing the fear spark in his eyes now simply added to her own, and it made Buffy think. Spike was afraid of losing her, and as much as she worried about her friends finding out, of losing herself in the ambiguous world that Spike lived in, hurting him caused her far more pain than she'd ever anticipated.

"I'm not here to bust your chops about your stupid scheme. It's what you do." It was what he did, and curiosity burned within her to find out why he'd done this. The episode seemed twisted and strange and it was far too coincidental with Riley's return when Spike had played nice all winter. As many times as she'd accused him of evil, playing poker for kittens had really been the extent of it from what she'd been able to tell. And how was that a bad for a creature used to causing the worst kind of mayhem and painting every town he walked in red?

"I needed the money." His look was one of desperation as he took a step closer, causing Buffy to suck in a deep, painful breath as she contemplated the situation they were in.

"You did it for me, didn't you?" Her eyes widened as his head tipped to the side, a speculative look searching her for the understanding he almost believed she had.

"I do everything for you, Buffy. You know I do. Ask me to walk off the bleeding edge of the world and you know I'd hurry to do it—just for you."

The tears stung as they gathered in her eyes and Buffy sniffled, her lip wobbling as she finally realised what she'd done. What kind of animal she'd been to take from this man who wanted everything for her and took so very little in return.

"I'm using you," she admitted through an aching throat and a progressively runny nose. All along her walk that phrase had been on repeat. She i had /i been using him, but did that mean she cared nothing for the monster who'd kept her from finding death each night she thought she'd walked the cemeteries alone?

Standing on the edge of his ruined home, Buffy tried hard to think of the positive things about Spike for once. Too often she concentrated on his faults, and now she finally wondered why she had to constantly remind herself he was evil. There was no doubting he was a vampire—he had no shame in displaying his demon whenever the situation called for it. But even when the raw violence of his alter-ego walked in her presence did he do his best by her. The best that he was capable of. She could recognise the moments where pride altered the outcome, and instead of infuriating her as usual, this time it made her smile.

Spike had saved Dawn. He'd fought against Glory because he loved a woman and her sister more than he was supposed to. A vampire renowned for killing slayers was in love with one and suffered no humiliation with the admission. A vampire who'd basically lost everything that had ever meant anything to him could still look her in the eye and profess love as deep as the ocean.

No wonder she found him overwhelming.

Yes, she'd been using him, but she'd been denying him for a reason she'd never even considered before. It was on the edge of her tongue to admit that she couldn't love him when she stopped, and considered her phrasing. She couldn't love him, it was true. She'd fought doing that very thing every step of the way, and yet who could resist when the only way she could lose her way in the world was by leaving his side?

Why couldn't she love him? Was she so righteous that she could reject real love whenever it was offered to her?

Buffy laughed, the shock of it chipping a little more of the ice away that she'd been immersed in for too long.

Spike hadn't said anything to her statement, content to watch as she wandered around trails of thought until her eyes flicked back to his and she took a deep breath.

"I don't belong in the dark, Spike." She was ever aware that the upstairs was bathed with full sunlight and that it made her happy to be in that world, and yet she didn't quite believe Spike belonged in the true dark anymore, either.

He contemplated her intently, a small frown curving his lips downward. "No, sweetheart. That you don't."

Suddenly all the thoughts that had barraged her earlier in relation to Riley and what he'd seen, the fears of what he thought of her, left. Left as though they mattered so little that she could easily shrug them off. And what filled her vision was Spike, looking less powerful and cocky than he usually did as he battled with emotions she could only imagine.

Did he love her as much as she'd loved Angel? Would the sight of her back make him quake and want to die like Angel's leaving had crushed all the life in her? The pain of that moment was something that would never leave her, and for the first time during this perverse relationship, Buffy allowed her heart to be open. She didn't want to break Spike like that. And then she knew.

It wasn't that she couldn't love Spike. It was that she couldn't love i anyone. /i Hadn't she learnt that with Riley? As hard as she'd tried, the emotions would never break through the way they had with Angel. He'd killed every part inside her that made her connect with a man on any level but the physical. That wasn't Spike's fault, and maybe now that she was aware of it, she could change.

She couldn't let Spike do evil. It was just something that had to be established early on. If he loved her, then he'd want to be the kind of man her conscience could live with, and just because he could hurt her now and didn't, it wasn't enough to prove to her that he had the desire or the ability to change.

Words flowed into her consciousness and Buffy stopped, trying to grab at them and make sense of a past she'd tried to ignore. Once he'd told her that he had changed—and of course he had. Was it because he wanted to, or because the chip in his head made it impossible to do anything else?

It was too much thinking for Buffy and she was finding that a headache was taking the place of her indecision. She wasn't so confused now, but she was anxious about her decision. What if it all blew up in her face the second Spike's chip failed? What if she learned to love him too late, and when her heart was invested, he did what they all did and abandoned her?

Since when was she a coward? Buffy shrugged off the rising negativity and took that crucial step toward him—the one that would wipe away that terrified expression on his face probably brought on with the fear that she was ending this thing between them. She didn't want it to end. The only time things made sense was when she was in his arms, and even though separating from him might have the effect of clearing her head and making her life less complicated, it wouldn't hand her the chance she was seeking. The one that only Spike could help her with.

A shaking hand was raised and Buffy placed her palm against his cheek, feeling the electrical charge shoot up her arm as it always did when their flesh collided. How could such an attraction be wrong when the cold, insipid touch of Riley had never made her feel anything close to this good?

You couldn't help who you loved, and maybe, if there was a chance it could be Spike, everything would be okay. They deserved to try, didn't they? She deserved to live a little, and fall in love. And if the first step was melting in the arms of the man who loved her, could she really argue? She didn't want to. She liked touching him, kissing him, being held by him. If she had the capacity to give to another, then she wanted to try first with Spike.

"Can…" Still, being determined didn't make the words suddenly come easy. "Can you help me learn…how to love? Maybe…maybe I i can /i love you."

She knew he could see how hopeful she looked and concentrated on the look of awe that made his eyes clear and sparkle. God, he was beautiful and it seemed so incredibly unfair that the Powers would bring a creature like this into her orbit, give him the power to care for her—to save her from herself and her enemies—and not allow him to be hers. He'd declared it so and for once, Buffy was going to trust in that.

"Buffy," he breathed, looking all the more a man who was about to collapse to his knees in relief. He bent forward, his lips barely touching hers as hesitant hands reached out to hold her. Buffy slid her palm down his face and let it rest over his chest, the place he claimed his heart to be resting silent against her touch. But still there was something—a solid wall of muscle and flesh and bone that shielded a weakness Buffy was determined to protect.

"I love you, Slayer." His lips were smooth and plush against hers and Buffy nodded into the kiss, every part of her happy that this ended not in her walking away, but in a possibility of true happiness.

"I know, Spike," she replied, her voice husky and emotional. "I know."

His lips broke away as if forced, but then he seized her in his embrace and she could feel how much he shuddered against her.

"Do you mean this, Buffy? No more popping old Spike in the nose for trying to do right by you and the Bit? No more ignoring the good between us or turning your back on me as soon as your mates enter the picture?" He talked tough, but Buffy could see how much it cost Spike to show her how vulnerable he was with wanting her. How much this chance to be with her meant to him.

"It depends, Spike," she conceded. "How many more suvolte eggs will you 'hold for a friend?' How much more will you try and manipulate my feelings by flaunting the way my body reacts to you?" She was shaking and she could hardly understand why. This ball was in Spike's court and she could only hope that he would grasp this opportunity with both hands and hang on tight enough for the both of them, because suddenly, she wanted it almost as much as he did.

He answered her with an indistinct sob and the burial of his face in her hair. "I'm a demon, pet. Might be we both have a lot to learn." His body shook against hers and Buffy hugged him hard.

She waited until he raised his face from her neck, sharing a watery and tentative smile with him. "Then…I guess all that's left is…we start. Now. This is our beginning. 'Kay?"

He nodded.