Summary: Spike finds out that the chip doesn't work against Buffy, and decides on an unorthodox approach to the problem. . .

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters portrayed here, they remain the property of their respective owners/creators.

Rating: PG-13, for themes.

Time Frame: "Smashed," with a few changes. . .

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@aol.com) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.




CARDS ON THE TABLE


Spike stalked out of the basement, as the news that Warren had just given him overwhelmed the distaste that he had experienced from having to deal with the young mad scientist and his geek friends. The chip worked. . .the conclusion he had drawn after his nasty experience in the alley had been confirmed by Warren's tests. It didn't work on Buffy, and didn't that just raise all kinds of nasty questions. Spike glanced at the early evening sky, then sat down to think for a moment.

Spike closed his eyes and thought of the contempt on Buffy's face and in her voice as she struck him and told him that he was just a thing. * So that's the way you want to play it, pet? How would you react to hearing that my little chip just crossed you off of the "not OK to kill" list? * He pictured Buffy's face changing, showing rage, confusion, and battle lust, and Spike smiled broadly, anticipating the moment when-

--then his face fell as he saw Buffy's face change again in his mind, and he saw her as she was over a year ago, hopelessly sobbing at the first news of Joyce's illness. As it had on that night, the rage filling him seeped away, leaving him feeling empty. . .and more than a little irritated with himself. * Now THAT would have been a brilliant idea. . .she's already on the edge. Why not just walk her over to a bridge before you tell her. . .that would make it just perfect. She stakes your ass and does a header into the Sunnydale River * The vampire shook his head in frustration, silently cursing the fate that had brought him to this place. * I can't win with Buffy. . .whether I'm trying to kill her or woo her, it always blows up in my face, and I can't even enjoy whatever misery the process inflicts on her any more. . .maybe I should just let her-- *

Spike blinked, and the outlines of a plan began to form in his head. He carefully considered the steps he would take, while the more self-preservatory side of his nature screamed for a more rational course of action. . .like sunbathing in boxer shorts. He ruthlessly forced down the fear: he could do this. . .whether he survived doing it, of course, would be another matter entirely.


* * * * *


"Go away, Spike." Buffy was in a foul mood, worried about Willow and Amy running around loose doing God knew what, irritated at the fruitless research regarding the freezing incident, and above all else wishing to whatever benevolent powers might be listening to please rid her of this infuriating vampire. The powers-if they were out there-ignored her silent pleas, and the Slayer directed her most devastating glare at Spike and grated out, "I don't have time for this crap now, Spike. . .go off and obsess on your own, please."

"I don't think so, Slayer." Spike's voice was calm, though not without the usual sardonic bite that marked their more unpleasant confrontations. He walked around in front of Buffy and locked eyes with her before continuing, "This thing has gone on long enough, Buffy. . .it's time for you to deal with it instead of pretending it isn't there."

Buffy blinked, and Spike could see a touch of confusion in her eyes before she blinked again and reverted to the cold stare as she snarled, "Spike. . .back off: I won't ask again."

Spike set his jaw. * Here we go. * He smirked at Buffy and asked silkily, "And what exactly are you going to do if I don't?"

Spike saw her sigh, and reflected that she was hesitating much more than she would have in a similar situation in the past before a right cross dropped him to the ground. Buffy looked down at him for a moment, her expression still cold, then began to walk away. Spike jumped to his feet and shouted, "Slayer!"

As Buffy turned, she walked into a punch that startled her, but did not knock her down. She blinked again, then waited for Spike to recover from chip pain. . .it was a moment before she realized that the pain was not apparent, and Spike was looking at her with a calmly smug expression on his face. She stared at him and whispered, "What the hell?"

"Oh, that. . .yeah, the little gadget isn't working any more. You know those military types. . .contracts to the lowest bidder and all that. Noticed it wasn't working during our last little confrontation, so I went to check it out on some tasty young thing in the alley behind the Bronze." Buffy's eyes clouded with guilt, and Spike snorted in amusement as he elaborated, "You can relax. . .I did a little bit of bite and release. . .she's probably at home shivering like a leaf, but she'll be fine otherwise."

Buffy glared at him, looking for signs of deception, but saw none. She smiled coldly and commented, "Well. . .the last time we were in this spot, I believe my next line was 'Now I get to kill you.'"

Spike nodded, and replied, "And mine was 'You get to try.'" He shook his head in disgust and added, "I don't want to kill you, Slayer, but I'm not going to put up with the crap I have been for the past two months, either, particularly now that I've got my hunting license back. You've kicked my ass pretty thoroughly the last few times we've fought with gloves off, but you've never been able to stop me from taking off when I was beaten. . .press it now, and I just take a powder and you can wonder what nasty things I'm up to somewhere that isn't here."

"And the reason you didn't just do that rather than bugging me is why, exactly?" Buffy looked visibly uneasy, but her voice was harsh.

"I wanted to give you a chance to make me a better offer," Spike replied quietly, watching Buffy as she visibly tensed in anticipation of a fight. He sighed, then concluded, "Give me a reason to stay, and I will."

Buffy's eyes grew colder yet, and she whispered, "I'd think you'd have figured out by what went down with Riley last year that I don't respond well to ultimatums, Spike. . .so if you think I'm going to sleep with you just to keep you from-"

"Oh, please, Slayer. . .give me some credit for having a brain and a sense of reality." Spike's casual reply caused Buffy to stop in mid-sentence, and the vampire snorted in amusement and added, "I've got something a bit more basic in mind." He walked forward until he was standing right in front of her, then continued, "I want you to accept my word that I'll continue behaving as if that damned chip was still working, and that I'll continue to help out with all of the nasty things that come to this town. I want you to stop treating me like pond scum, when we both know that I've the one you've been coming to when you needed to pour your heart out about your deepest, darkest secrets since you've been back. I want you to admit that however pissed off you are about it, these feelings you've been having about me are just as real as they would be if you were having them about the Watcher, or Xander, or Peaches. In other words, Buffy. . .I want you to treat me like you would anyone else who has been to you what I have been to you since you came back. . .that's all."

Buffy took a step back, and turned away from Spike, her body language shouting discomfort as Spike waited for her to respond. After a few moments, Buffy turned back and asked quietly, "And if I don't like those choices, Spike? I'm still the Slayer, and letting a soulless vampire run free and unrestrained isn't exactly in the job description."

Spike nodded, apparently considering the question, then reached into a pocket. Buffy tensed, then stared as Spike pulled out a stake and tossed it gently to Buffy. She caught it automatically, then looked down at it involuntarily as Spike replied, "How's that for Plan B?"

Buffy, with great effort, forced herself to look back at Spike as she whispered, "What in the hell are you doing?"

Spike smirked at her again, then removed his jacket and knelt in the alley, looking up at her with serene eyes as he replied, "I thought it would be obvious, Buffy. . .I'm putting my life in your hands. One plunge of the stake, and you can be rid of me forever. No more worrying about who I might hurt, what nasty thing I might say to you, when I might turn on you. . .all of those worries consigned to an anonymous pile of dust in a forgotten alley."

Buffy's eyes hardened again, and she snarled, "You think I won't do it?"

Spike sighed, then responded, "Actually, I'm fairly certain you will. . .there are some advantages from my end, too. It'll all be over for me. . .no more worrying about you or the Niblet, no more having to look over my shoulder for pissed-off demons, no more pain." He paused, then looked into Buffy's angry eyes as he continued, "No more sitting in my crypt at night listening to how terrible it's been for you since you've been back. . .no more struggles to convince you that life is still worth living. . .none of it." He looked down for a moment, then back up at Buffy before concluding, "Well, what's it going to be, Slayer? I'm sure you've got things to do, other demons to kill."

Spike saw the rage blossom in Buffy's eyes, and watched as she brought the stake back. He tensed, but forced himself to remain completely still as her hand began to move forward. He closed his eyes and waited for death.

There was absolute silence in the alley except for the harsh sound of Buffy's breathing, and Spike listened to five breaths before opening his eyes. The point of the stake was about a millimeter from Spike's chest, and Spike inwardly shuddered before commenting quietly, "Not exactly the most efficient technique, Slayer."

Buffy flinched at the sound of Spike's voice, then dropped the stake before falling to her knees and burying her face in the vampire's shoulder, sobbing. Spike involuntarily drew her closer to him, then held her for long moments before whispering in a tone of mock annoyance, "Is it really that upsetting to you that you couldn't bring yourself to stake me?"

The sobbing stopped, and Buffy pulled away from Spike and got to her feet, though her posture was visibly slumped. She looked down and whispered, "I'm just so frustrated. . .nothing seems right any more. If I can't even make myself stake you when you're a danger to others, then what in the hell am I still doing here? How messed up is it to be a Slayer who needs a soulless vampire to keep me from losing it?"

"About as messed up as it is to be a soulless vampire in love with a Slayer. . .more or less," Spike replied quietly, getting to his feet and putting his jacket back on. He met her eyes again and added, "Oh, and I wouldn't worry about my going on any rampages any time soon. . .I wasn't quite up front with you about the chip being out altogether. . .it worked just fine when I tried to bite that woman in the alley." Buffy's eyes narrowed, looking skeptical, and Spike shrugged and added, "I'll prove it to you later. . .you can let your buddy Xander take a few punches at me, and vice versa." He sighed, then concluded, "As near as I can tell, the only one the chip doesn't work for any more is you, Buffy."

Buffy took a couple of steps backwards, shock and horror slowly becoming visible in her eyes. She looked away and whispered, "What does that mean. . .am I--?"

"It means the chip doesn't work for you. . .and that's all, Buffy." Spike replied in a matter-of-fact voice, then shrugged and commented, "It's a glorified piece of gadgetry, Buffy. . .not a mirror for your soul. You've been to heaven and back: it's hardly shocking that some things just don't know how to react to that." He smiled at her and concluded, "You're still you. . .no imposter could possibly be this irritating."

Buffy chuckled involuntarily, then looked downcast as she asked, "Now what?"

Spike shrugged, then suggested, "Patrol? I hear there's a diamond-eating frost demon out there." He started walking down the alley, then realized Buffy was still standing still. He turned back to her, and asked, "Was there something else, Buffy?"

Buffy blinked, then nodded before replying, "Yes, Spike. . .I just wanted you to know. . .I trust you, and I'm glad you're here." Spike smiled, and Buffy continued, "Oh. . .and I won't be kissing you again. . .unless I mean it."

Spike raised an eyebrow and replied, "Really? And when exactly can I expect that to happen?"

Buffy met his eyes, and the old fire was back in them as she smiled and responded, "I'm not sure. When is hell scheduled to freeze over?" She grinned at him and walked past, and Spike shook his head in annoyance and followed, wondering if he'd handled it right. After a moment, he saw that Buffy was moving with her old energy, and he realized that he had. He shook his head again and followed her into the night.











As before, comments are welcome and desired.