Death and Leather by Jessie

Summary: "She only noticed the sent of tobacco in idle minutes, not understanding how she hadn't before." S/B

Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer belongs to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and many other people with a lot more money than me.

Timeline: Takes place some time after "Once More With Feeling." Willow and Tara have worked things out, Giles is still hanging around, and Buffy's friends are starting to accept the fact that they ripped her out of heaven.

Authors Note: I love feedback. Please read and review- it would make my week.


For some reason, he always smelled like death to her.

The leather of his jacket still had that faint smell of rawhide, but the coppery stench of blood was almost more poignant, no matter how many times he cleaned it. And his breath. He didn't really need to breathe - not really - but when he did, out of habit, or instinct, or some other nonsensical reason, she could almost taste the thousands of people who had met their ends there. All of those victims who had branded him with a small piece of themselves: their scent, their blood, their screams.

And then there was the cigarette smoke. So many years and the nicotine should have yellowed his fingers, his lips, his tongue, his teeth. But it hadn't. She wondered if it had to do with eternal youth and lack of sunlight, but didn't bother trying to make sense of it all. The smell was there though. In place of discolored skin there was the strong odor of Marlboro and a hundred other brand names that he'd gone through over the years.

His hair wreaked of it. At first it was just the styling gel. She could feel the stuff between her fingers along with the bleached-blond hair. It had its own, unique smell. Like graveyards and sweat and rainwater. She wondered if she was just imagining things. If he really only used the cheap stuff at the market closest to his crypt, but then kept the bottle where she could never find it. And she had looked. Something that wasn't just curiosity had filled her, and it had been as though finding out what hair care products he used would make her somehow closer to what made him the way he was.

But she never found it.

She only noticed the scent of tobacco in idle minutes, not understanding how she hadn't before. Between it and the gel it was, by far, the stronger stench. Maybe, she thought on long afternoons, she just liked finding hidden layers. Attacking from the inside out. Starting with the deeper, harder to reach, parts - like love and trust and hair gel - before bothering to notice the things like cigarette smoke.

That's what she wanted, anyway. She wanted to be one of those people who always saw deeper than others did. Who had a way with emotions, and could understand a soul before she understood a face.

When she caught a faint whiff of the bleach that he used, underneath all those other smells, she spent every other night searching for the scent again.

Every sunrise found her in the shower, trying to wash away his smell. Death's smell. She found it twistedly ironic that sunlight peaked out over houses and into the bathroom just as the hot water hit her body. She'd scrub her skin raw, each time wondering if this time it wouldn't be enough. If this time the smell had crept down further than just that top layer of skin.

She scrubbed her stomach until it was red. His hands had been there that night. Travelling up and down. Up and down. They'd found a home there for a moment, then another further down. In the end, they'd returned to her stomach. The rest of the night found them asleep by her navel. Their scent - blood and liquor and tobacco - slept there as well, and stayed for longer than just the night.

She kept scrubbing. There wasn't a part of her that his hands hadn't touched. There wasn't a part of her that didn't still smell like him.

It was her hair that always rebelled. No matter how hard she tried - how many cycles of rinse and repeat - it always smelled like cigarettes underneath. It smelled like him. And her hands... her hands liked to take a bit of him as well. She usually managed to wash most of it away, but always there was that smell of leather on them. She didn't know why. Wondered if it mattered that she didn't care either. She could smell his leather on her fingertips. His cigarettes in her hair.

She could taste alcohol in certain far corners of her mouth. Alcohol that was distinctly his. Imported. Stolen. The taste never went away. Midday and her tongue would find just the right spot on the inside of her cheek where his taste still lingered. Alcohol for the first hour or two. By evening it was just death. Like swallowing a mouthful of vampire dust. Licking blood from a wound. Breathing in the night air of a graveyard.

She often wanted to tell him that he smelled like death to her. That, if she didn't know any better, she'd mistake him for that hooded figure himself. And, in a sense, he was death; taking her away, every night, from the pain that life now was. But she didn't tell him, afraid that saying such things aloud would turn her into a slightly more low-key version of Drucilla.

When she slayed, she imagined that it was him that she was killing. She didn't want to. Didn't like it. But every vampire that disintegrated before her at the touch of that well placed wooden stake, would suddenly take on a characteristic or two of his. She'd see his eyes in one of them - though the vulgar yellow was nothing close to his careful blue. A shadow would hit in just the right way, and they'd have his cheekbones for a moment. His jaw line. His nose. Moonlight would reflect off of glass or water, and suddenly the demon she was fighting would be blond. They'd make a snide remark, and she'd detect a bit of an accent.

It hit her hard. Killing him night after night. She didn't want to. Knew that the ones she really was slaying were the bad guys. The ones who should die. Not him. But then there were the nightmares.

They came and went without any real pattern or order to them. One night: nothing, and the next she was holding his broken body in her arms. And she was the one who had broken him. Other nights, she'd wake up in a cold sweat after having slayed him repeatedly in her dreams, or beaten him to the point where he begged for death. And when she woke, she cried. On the nights when he was there, he held her, and she cried harder. On the nights when he wasn't, she wished that he was.

For awhile, no one seemed to notice the changes in her. Not just the smell, or the lack of sleep, though she wondered why these things weren't as obvious to them as they were to her. But, suddenly, she could hold a longer conversation. She didn't daydream. She ate three meals a day. Some part of her knew that none of it was for her friends. None of it was for herself either. Given a choice, she wouldn't have eaten at all. Wouldn't have spoken a word or paid attention to the rest of the world.

But he had certain demands.

It was the most ridiculous thing her thoughts could come up with. She was doing *him* the favor, wasn't she? She was coming to *him*. She was giving into *him*. How could he have demands? But then, she had discovered abruptly, that he could tell when she had eaten. And, somehow, he always knew if she'd been too quiet that day. Or if her friends were particularly worried about her. And he'd refuse her. She hadn't been able to believe it. Still couldn't, and didn't want to.

She'd gone a week without seeing him that first time that he'd said no and told her to go have a meal and a nice long chat with Willow or Rupert. One week. The nightmares plagued her. She became thinner. She realized that she needed him. In whatever sick and twisted way a slayer could need a vampire. She wanted to be repulsed by herself, but wasn't. Sunday morning, she ate breakfast with Dawn. Monday morning she was trying to wash away his scent.

She remembered, for reasons that eluded her, that it had been a Tuesday when Willow had taken her aside and asked if she'd seen a certain vampire lately. She'd answered with a line about patrolling night before last.

"I can smell him on you." Her eyes widened.


"Not right now. Earlier. In the laundry. Your shirt smelled like cigarettes." Willow stared at her. Buffy lost her breath. Her tongue found that spot in her mouth, and she tried to distract herself with it.

"Are you going to tell me what's going on?" She wanted to say 'no.' Wanted to so badly. But couldn't. The word wouldn't come. All she could do was taste him in her mouth. Smell him on her skin. She wished the nightmares would stop. Wished she could kill a vampire and not be reminded that she was killing his kind. That she could, easily, be killing him.

"Well?" Willow prompted, and Buffy swallowed.

"Well, yourself. It's none of your business." She immediately regretted her words at Willow's hurt look. She took in a breath. It smelled of leather and bourbon.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean..."

"I know." Her voice was soft. Friendly. For the first time in a while, it put Buffy at ease.

"I'm not... I mean, I'm not using him."

"Okay." How simply Willow accepted it, when, Buffy herself, wasn't so sure. The look in the witch's eyes told her that she believed the words. As if she knew something that the slayer didn't.

Her eyes watered. She wanted to tell Willow more. For the first time in as long as she cared to remember, she felt like opening up to some one other than the vampire. It only figured, though, that what she wanted to open up about was him.

"Can we..." She had trouble saying it. Had trouble saying anything really. But her friend was patient. "...You know - talk, maybe?"

Willow's face lit up. "Of course. Do you wanna get something to eat? We can have lunch." She was trying to hold in her excitement, Buffy could tell. But it was all right. She wanted to talk.

Over sandwiches she stared at the redheaded witch. She could still taste the liquor in her mouth, and it gave her lunch something of a bite. A strand of hair fell in front of her face. She pushed it behind her ear. It smelled like smoke.

"I feel like this is Angel all over again. Only... less stressful."

"Less?" Willow spoke around a mouthful of avocado and bean sprouts. Even from across the table Buffy could smell the light fragrance of flowers and candle wax that she always emanated.

"Yeah. You know- more smiling, less brooding."

"Smiling?" Willow tried to hold in her grin, but didn't quite manage.

"What?" Buffy became suddenly self-conscious, furrowing her brow worriedly. She was half-expecting Willow to start yelling at any moment now. Or Xander to walk in screaming about what Buffy was doing to herself. How bad of a thing this was. How vampires were evil and soulless, and there wasn't any getting around it.

"It's good that you're smiling. Smiling is a good thing." The young woman's grin grew a little. Buffy shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

"Yeah." She looked down at her plate for a long moment, than back up at Willow, who she noticed was still staring at her with that look on her face. "What?" She smiled a little, nervously.

"It's just..." Willow fumbled, then tried to laugh it off. "I never pictured Spike as the one to make you smile." She paused for a moment to gauge Buffy's reaction. "I mean, it's great though. That you're happy. You are happy, right?"

Buffy looked at her in silence trying to decided for herself. This very question had come to mind every night since coming back from the dead. Was she happy? Could she even tell anymore? What if what she thought was happiness, really wasn't? Was she that changed?

Her thoughts spoiled the moment for her. She wanted to just know. Just like that. To just feel it, without hesitation, and to tell Willow with equal confidence. Tell Willow that 'yes, I am happy.'

And, suddenly, she knew she could.

It wasn't about what happiness was, and whether she was still the same girl she had been before death. Of course she wasn't the same girl. And the girl she was now... that girl was happy.

"Yes." Buffy smiled. "I am."

It felt like such a relief to admit it, both to Willow and to herself. It was as though her emotions hadn't been real until she recognized them. As though she had been happy - she truly had been - but hadn't known it.

Willow smiled back, looking at her as though realizing just what kind of a change in Buffy's demeanor had taken place. She took a bite of her sandwich. Buffy looked down at hers. She could taste the liquor in her mouth. Wondered when it would start to taste like death.

He died in her arms again that night. Became dust by the wooden stake that she had held. That she had pushed into his heart. She woke up gasping for air. She lay in bed, breathing hard, wishing he were with her. The nightmares still scared her, but she held in her tears this time. She wanted to know what they meant. Were they premonitions? The thought scared her even more. She buried her face in her pillow, wishing it was his so that she could smell him on it. One night in her bed and it would always smell like him, she was sure.

In the morning, she felt alive. It was hard to understand why, but when she met Willow for lunch again it became suddenly obvious. Some one knew. Some one knew about the vampire, and about her happiness, and it made everything that much more real. That much more bright. She worried about the nightmares, but could hold it in.

She went to him at night. Could smell him before she saw him. He'd just finished a cigarette and a glass of bourbon. His jacket smelled strongly of blood and leather. For a moment, as they lay in his bed, she could smell the peroxide underneath everything else. She breathed it in greedily. She fought the smell of death on his being. The taste of it in his mouth and on his skin. It reminded her of the dreams. Of hunting.

"What's wrong, pet?" His voice was different. His voice was alive. She locked onto it. Its tones conveyed all those emotions that she knew he had, but that she couldn't smell. And his eyes... His blue eyes made her feel understood. As though there was nothing about her that they couldn't see.

"I don't want you to die." She confessed in a hushed tone. A whisper that she was afraid would make her fears more concrete if heard.

He gave her a thoughtful look. Then a smirk. "I'm already dead, luv."

She seemed shaken by his reply. She could smell the tobacco more clearly. The blood. She could almost hear the thousands of screams that he had forced from people in his long existence.

"No." She fought for breath that wasn't full of sickness and leather. "You're not."

He smiled a little and held her close, sensing her upset. "No. You're right. I'm not." He looked her in the eye, and she stared back into his. The blue calmed her. "When I'm with you, I'm not."

She took in a breath. Her hair still smelled like cigarettes. Stronger now that she was with him. Her hands, like leather. Her entire body, like blood and alcohol. She breathed him in. She could smell the death. The nights of slaying. Her smell.