A Model Romance

By Sweetprincipale

Author's Note: Strictly Spuffy, a gift for Lithium Reaper, based on four beautiful black and white photos depicting Spike and Buffy in various romantic "photo shoot" style poses.

Set in Season Six, immediately after Once More with Feeling, goes completely away from canon- you've been warned.

Part I

"Hullo, Magic Box." Giles answered the phone, tugging one of his personal books from Anya's strong grip.

"I need to talk to you." A familiar voice hissed.

"Can I call you once I get home?" Giles looked around furtively.

"I'd rather get this over with fast."

"Let me get into the back office. I'll call you right back." Giles stopped putting his object d'magic in boxes. He'd made the decision to leave, but hadn't told anyone yet. Anya thought he was just trying to keep his stock separated from the store items. "Anya! I have to go over some invoices. Would you stay up front and keep an eye on the register?"

"Yes! I will. Move, move, move, getting to the register!" Anya sounded thrilled with her assigned task and bustled past several startled patrons.

Feeling sure that Anya wouldn't leave the till to come get him unless of dire emergency, Giles sat at his desk in the far corner of the back room, and dialed.

"Glad you could call back, Giles."

"Angel, what is this? Another vision? Word from the underworld, or the overworld?"

"No, strictly small stuff- I hope. But it does need to be stopped." Angel explained. "Do you know Cliffside?"

"Yes, about halfway between Sunnydale and Los Angeles?" Giles pulled off his glasses and squinted around his desk for his leather notebook. From Angel's worried tone, this sounded like information worthy of writing down.

"There's a modeling agency there. In twelve weeks, they've had six models disappear without a trace. Four females and two males."

"Well, a serial killer, perhaps? I don't mean to make light Angel, but it hardly sounds unusual-"

"I'm not done. I went up there. Someone tipped off one of my contacts that the agency was shady. Giles, don't you think it's odd that a modeling agency has almost no mirrors? And almost no windows, or outdoor facilities for natural lighting?"

"Vampires? Running a modeling agency? Well, that is new."

"I'm not saying it is vampires. There are plenty of demons who can't take the sun or reflective surfaces. Something other than human is in there, there's a weird scent- plenty of human, and then an undertone of something ancient, dead, evil."

"And how do I come in?" Giles asked. "I assume you want Buffy's assistance, but at the moment she'd not really up to-"

"It has to be her. I already went in, my cover was blown right away. I couldn't find out much. I did find that all the models they hire? No portfolios are required. No contracts ever get signed by the models, but the place pulls in plenty of big name clients for freelance work. And the place is run down, shabby, not the place you'd expect to get A-list clientele."

Giles remained unmoved. "You have plenty of resources."

"I've also got my hands full. Giles, women and men, barely out of their teens, are disappearing! They could be dead, they could be hidden some place, waiting to be rescued. I'm known there now, I don't stand a chance of getting in."

"What's your idea, then?" Giles sighed at last.

"This Friday there's an open call for models. I think Buffy and one of the gang should go down and investigate."

"How would that work? How can you even be certain Buffy would be chosen?"

"She's one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen, Giles, and I've seen thousands." He whispered. "But don't let her go alone. Maybe Willow could go with her. She's a natural redhead, photographers love that, plus she can cast a spell if she needs to make them choose Buffy."

"I agree she shouldn't go alone. I'll see what we can do. She's not been-well, of late."

"I know. But she'll go. She always goes where she's needed, where there's a fight."

"Yes, and that's part of the problem." Giles muttered. "I'll speak to her tonight."

"Don't tell her who told you." Angel ordered.

"I won't." Giles replied in an equally forceful tone, and rang off as soon as Angel had given him some information on Cliffside and Melissa Modeling.

Later that night, all of the Scoobies were gathered around the Summers' living room. Giles explained the situation, and sure enough, Buffy sprang to her feet almost before he had stopped talking. "I have to go! I have to stop this thing!"

"Whoa! Slow down, Buff. We don't even know what this thing is." Xander cautioned.

"And you can't go alone!" Dawn spoke up, nervously twisting her hands. "Something's killing people. You need someone to watch your back. I could go!"

"Dawn has long legs and youthful features. There's a big market for models like her, but they have to be over 18 because of the compromising positions advertisers like to use to correlate sex and their products." Anya said matter-of-factly. "But we could get her a fake I.D."

"No! A thousand pounds of no! Dawn doesn't get into compromising positions. And not to add to the badness, but if she misses any more school, they'll probably send Child Welfare over here."

"I-I would go, but- midterms." Tara looked upset that she couldn't be more helpful.

"I need you to stay here and look after Dawn anyway." Buffy said comfortingly. "And Willow- midterms?"

"I could probably teleport to and from Cliffside each day-" she began, but then caught Tara's eye. "Except that I'm not doing any magic this week."

"Okay. Xander, Anya?"

"I can't leave my crew, Buffy, I'd get fired."

"And he can't get fired, and I can't miss work, because we have a wedding to pay for." Anya held Xander's arm with affectionate possessiveness.

There was only one person left in the room, and all eyes turned to him. "What, me? Please, I don't flatter myself that much." Giles snorted.

"Then I go alone. I have no problem going it alone."

"She likes being alone." Dawn muttered bitterly. "Rather be alone than with us..."

Buffy pretended not to hear. How could she deny it, anyway? Impossible, now that her stupid sing along from last night had let everyone know she was pretty much still dead inside, longing for heaven and feeling as though she'd been cast straight into hell. She did like being alone, or at least, not with people who kept looking at her with worried or pitying eyes, now turned into stares of apology and regret. "I'll be fine. I'll check in every day."

"There is someone you could ask to go. He doesn't have anything to do anyway." Dawn spoke up. All eyes looked at her curiously.

"Who?" Buffy finally demanded, even though she had a sinking feeling she knew who Dawn would suggest.

"Spike! Duh. He doesn't have a job, or take classes. He's really strong and he looks out for you and me like we're his own family. Plus, he's totally hot."

"Dawn!" Buffy gaped at her sister for the last comment.

"No, it's true. He has flawless skin and big blue eyes, very prominent cheekbones and good bone structure. And from what I can see through his shirts, he has extremely well-defined abdominal muscles." Anya nodded with a pleased smile on her face. "That works out nicely."

"No! It doesn't!" Xander shook off his girlfriend's hand. "Spike? Alone with Buffy? He has that creepy obsession for her and Cliffside is over an hour away. We couldn't get there in time if he tried anything."

"Tried what? To glare at me? He has a chip, Xander." Buffy spat, resenting his implication that she couldn't handle a neutered vampire, a lovesick one at that. A very kind one. Who had kissed her last night until her toes curled and her insides twisted with that good, lowdown ache. It had only been a few minutes, before the affects of the musical demonic enchantment wore off, she told herself, but still. A man who could kiss like that wasn't making her list of top ten baddies to watch out for. "I still think I'd be better on my own. Spike probably doesn't want to come anyway." Buffy put her jacket on abruptly. "I'm going to go patrol. If I run into him, I'll ask him. Otherwise, I'm going solo."

Spike saw her before she saw him, for once. "Hi, Buffy." He sounded almost shy. He flicked his cigarette off a nearby tombstone, hopped down and faced her.

"Spike." Her tone was curt, and he looked surprised, then pained, then arrogant, all in a split second.

"We need to talk." He said.

"True. But not about what you want to talk about."

"We kissed, you and I, last night-"

"I know. And I'm sorry. Strictly spell-related, I promise."

"You weren't under the influence anymore than I was, Luv. That spell broke the moment his ugliness hopped it back to hell. I mean sure, we were still singin', but our actions-" He stepped uncomfortably close to her, "were our own."

"Mine weren't." She lied.

"Alright then. Nothin' more to say, I'd wager." Spike took a step back, glared at her briefly and shook his head. He turned to leave and Buffy remembered her topic of conversation.

She let him get almost to his crypt before she forced herself to speak. "Spike- there's trouble in Cliffside. I have to go there."

"Oh." Spike nodded slowly, hand on his crypt door. He turned his head over his shoulder to look at her, but feet still pointed in the other direction. I'm going to get away from her, away from the stupid, good, sappy things she makes me feel. "Keep an eye on Bit? You know you don't need to ask me that. I love Niblet."

"I know you do." Buffy's expression softened. And stayed soft. "Look, even though the kiss was purely a one-time spell thing, you have been a good-"

"Friend?" He held open the door, wordlessly inviting her in.

"Shoulder to lean on." She corrected, striding into his home. His face contracted in pain again, and she sighed. "Okay- friend-ish type vampire."

"I'll take it." He smiled broadly.

"Giles is all freaked out about me going to Cliffside on my own. Probably something about me being dead recently."

"All the best folks are doin' it, Pet." He laughed, gesturing to himself. "But, I do kind of agree with the Watcher. You can handle yourself, Slayer, I know that, but it doesn't hurt to have an extra pair of hands if you've got demons to fight."

"Let me tell you the problems the town is experiencing, and then I'll ask you a favor."

"Favor's granted."

"You don't know what kind of favor I was going to ask for." Buffy smiled at him cheekily.

"Don't matter to me. You know I love you and I'm doing my damnedest not to fail you again."

"You didn't fail." Buffy admitted grudgingly. She would never acknowledge that love, but she knew he had tried to keep his promise to her, and that his perceived failure hurt him more than any rebuke she could dish out. She believed what she'd said, and had never done other than assure him of that fact. He gave her a grateful smile, and then cocked his head, listening to her as she tried to give him the condensed version of events.

"Sounds like somethin' nasty. And you're 'goin' undercover'?"

"That's the plan." She shrugged. "Don't even know why they think I'll get in as a model- must be the fact that they seem to want models who have the 'please kill me' look, and you know I've got that down."

"Yeah, well, I think it's part of the Slayer package, Luv." Spike lit up another smoke, distracting himself from launching into a description of her beauty and how of course she'd be signed on if the people doin' the hirin' had eyes. "So. This favor then. Keep an eye on Bit?" She hesitated and he raised his eyebrows. "Or something else?"

"W-well, it's just that Tara and Willow have midterms," She turned away from him, pacing as she rambled, gesturing with her arms, not looking at him. "- and Anya and Xander work, and Dawn is too young, and Giles is too old and they have this stupid idea about me going alone, like I mean, hey, I'm the Slayer, one girl chosen, yadda yadda, most Slayers don't have a backing group, but here's me, with overprotective-"

Spike halted her nervous rant with an amused smile. "I can go with you, Pet."

She looked relieved. As she so often had around him lately. The one person who was supportive without asking for anything- except her love. Ha. As if she could give that. Not that he really made an issue of it, until she started giving him mixed signals with the hanging out and the kiss, and damn- maybe that's why he was doing it! "The fact that you'll be there doesn't mean anything. Doesn't change anything." She said quickly, harshly.

He twitched his neck, his fingers itching to take a blow at her. Superior bitch. Slapped in the face with her words, every bleedin' time he let her see even a glimpse of his soft underbelly. "Right. Then why have me? Obviously the fact that I care is a terrible thing."

"You can't care! You need a soul to care." She laughed bitterly, wishing it wasn't so. "What you want is to be near me, so you can see me and have your fun little fantasies in your filthy mind. It isn't about caring."

"You admitted that I loved Dawn, not five minutes ago." His voice dripped ice. "You think that I took care of her even when you were gone, just because I got some kind of high off it? That I just look after her now because I get off on getting to see you?"

"Don't you?" She demanded, even though she didn't believe it.

Insulting his relationship with Dawn was his weak spot lately. Even Xander and Giles, who outright hated him, had come to a grudging tolerance of him this summer, and part of it was because of how they saw him interact with Dawn. He'd watched over her like a fallen guardian angel, been someone who grieved with her in a way that was dark and desperate, that the others couldn't emulate. When Xander, Willow, Tara and Anya had started to meet in secret, planning Buffy's resurrection, shutting the two of them out more and more, he practically became Dawn's parent, staying in the house with her more than he visited his crypt. "I love you. And I love Dawn. If you don't know that by now, you don't have a brain in your head or heart in your chest." He growled low, circling her. "I've changed, and I never gave you reason to doubt that I was on your side, not in over a year, Buffy. I changed, and you bloody well saw it."

"People can change. Demons can't. You're not a person. You're a demon in a person suit." She said in a shaking voice, reminding herself that this was true, so the sting of the passion in his words wouldn't infect her.

"I see. Then I'd best stay here, in my crypt, where dead things are s'posed to be. I doubt they want photos of demons in people suits."

"Fine." She turned from him, arms crossed over her chest. "Don't come with me. I don't need anyone, anyway."

By the time he controlled himself enough to reply, she was gone.

"Why wouldn't he go with you?" Dawn's voice was soft and sleepy. Buffy sat on the edge of her sister's bed, stroking her long brown hair, trying to put some sisterly feeling into her actions. The love for Dawn was there, closest to the surface, but still muted by her hardened heart, a heart that hated the world for selfishly refusing to let her take her well-earned heavenly rest. "Did you tell him about the dead people?"

"Yeah, but- he has to stay here. I need him to patrol while I'm gone." Buffy lied. Easier than telling the truth, I threw all the help he's given us in his face and called him a demon in a person suit. Which he is, so why do I care what I said?

"I don't buy that." Dawn sat up, looking hard at Buffy. "It's all my fault, isn't it?"

"What? No!" Buffy looked genuinely flabbergasted. "How could it be your fault, doofus?"

"He won't leave Sunnydale until I do. I'll talk to him. Tell him I'm okay and he can go, a-as long as he comes back." Dawn swung her legs over the bed.

"Can we back up here?" Buffy held up a restraining hand. "What are you talking about?"

"I keep forgetting you don't know about the - all the stuff that went on while you were away." Dawn gave Buffy a strained smile. "I kinda freaked out."

"Freaked out? Like how?" Buffy's eyes widened, all kinds of scenarios going through her head, each one topped with the refrain, But of course no one would tell me if she did that because I'm just newly un-dead, and I can't handle stuff.

"Nothing! Major." Dawn fiddled her hands nervously. "I was so upset Buffy. Mom, and then Riley, and then you. I didn't want to get left by anyone ever again."

God, do I know that feeling, Buffy thought wearily. And that train of thought had often led her to the same conclusion- I don't want to be left, I'll do the leaving. "You- did you try to hurt yourself?"

"No- not really." Dawn's guilty expression belied her words. "I was thinking about it. And everyone was so busy keeping me safe from the outside world, they forgot that I might be in danger from myself."

"I am so going to kill someone." Buffy rose from the bed, blood boiling. Couldn't anyone do her job in her absence? Like look out for one grieving teen? Apparently not!

"No, it's okay! See, Spike figured it out. He was with me the most. He told me he noticed that I wasn't trying anymore, and that he knew what it was like to give up. Said he used to stand in the sun until he started to smoke, and think that, well, even if he wouldn't get to be where you were, at least he'd be out of the pain. And then he'd always say 'I made a promise to a lady, though'." Dawn broke the intensely grave mood with a girlish giggle. "And his voice was always all soft and faraway. I don't think anyone will ever call me "a lady" like that."

"I hope not." Buffy muttered, overwhelmed by all these sobering admissions.

"But, yeah, anyway, I told him about the whole 'getting left' thing, and he promised he wouldn't leave Sunnydale until I did. He also asked me if I'd made you any final promise, and I told him about what you said. About asking me to live my life, even though it's hard. He goes all big and bad, with the bumpies, tells me that no one breaks a promise to you. Of course, he can't hurt me, not that he would, so I just poked him in the nose."

"You poked Spike in the nose? In game face? Are you stupid?" Buffy squawked.

"He didn't mind. Not much. He told me if I ever did it again he'd 'break my bloody nose, migraine or not.' And it's kinda nice, y'know? Having a vampire for a friend? They can't go to the beach with you or anything like that, but they're really hard to kill, and they don't get cancer."

"Yeah. Yeah, Dawn, that's good. But Spike isn't coming with me for another reason."

"Oh please! Patrol? The rest of the guys can handle it for a couple days, Buffy."

"He isn't coming." Buffy swiftly kissed Dawn's cheek and stood.

"You said something to him." Dawn stood up as well.

"I'll be fine alone." Buffy ignored Dawn's hurt look and walked from the room.

"You keep doing dangerous stuff alone and you'll end up dead all over again!" Dawn called through the door.

And wouldn't that be peaceful, Buffy thought longingly.

"Do you have enough money for the bus and the motel?" Giles tucked another few bills inside Buffy's knapsack while she was kneeling over her weapons chest.

"I do. I guess. I'm not staying in a nice place, that's for sure. God knows with the bills..." She trailed off. "If something happened to me- would Dawn have enough to live on until she's 18?"

"We would look after her." Giles said gravely. "Are you that concerned-"

"No! I'm just checking." She swallowed. She hated to leave Dawn in the midst of an argument, but Dawn wasn't speaking to her. She'd left her a note and kissed her goodbye as the sulking teen left for school, ignoring the haughty cheek that Dawn barely tolerated letting her touch.

"I must say, I thought Spike would be more helpful." Giles sighed. "Especially after that incident the other night."

"Incident? What incident?" Buffy demanded wide eyed. No one had seen them kiss. No one. If they had, she would lie, say it was the spell, say she hadn't wanted to just give in to some cold comfort.

"When he stopped you bursting in to flames and came to help rescue Dawn? Not that I thought for a moment he'd leave Dawn in danger, but-"

"Yeah, he seems really good about actually looking after Dawn!" Buffy grunted angrily, slamming a fistful of stakes and a few daggers in her bag.

"Pardon?" Giles looked at her quizzically.

"Never mind." She whispered, zipping up her coat. "All right. I'm off then. I'll catch the 6:00 bus and call you when I get there."

"Are you sure you don't want me to come? I can bring paperwork and texts, spend the day quietly in the motel, but I could come to your aid if-"

"No." Buffy placed a gentle hand on her father-figure's arm. "I can do it myself. That's what you wanted, wasn't it? For me to stop relying on others to take care of my problems?"

"I suppose it was." He said with a sad smile. "But this isn't your problem, this is-"

The roar of a motorcycle muted Giles' words. "Oh please. Not more Hellions." Buffy looked at her watch. "They would do that. They totally would. I'm gonna miss my bus if I have to stop and slay something!" She stormed out the door, only to run smack into Dawn.

"Put this on." Her sister thrust a black helmet in to her hands. Buffy looked past her and saw a sullen Spike straddling a black motorcycle in the street.

"What? No! No, bad idea." Buffy hissed. "Spike!"

"I told her it was a bloody stupid idea and you wouldn't go for it."

"Then why are you here?" She demanded.

"Because I asked him to protect your sorry butt." Dawn jammed the helmet on over Buffy's head.

"Owww!" Buffy yanked it back off. "My hair- my earring!"

"Niblet- this isn't going to work. You get back on. We'll go get some blood and smokes and stop at Blockbuster."

"I can protect myself!" Buffy hissed at her, then took a few steps closer to the bike and hissed a repetition to the bleached man sitting on it.

"I know, I told her. She's stubborn." Spike rolled his head back and looked up at the twilit sky, an expression of exasperation on his face. "Wonder where she got that from?" He tossed Buffy an evil smirk.

He's so infuriating, Buffy fumed. And he has really, really hot lips. Oh no. Bad, bad, bad Buffy. Not hot. No lips.

"Would you please just get on? I'll nag you. I'll get on the next bus and follow you." Dawn wheedled.

"Jus' get on, Slayer. She's small, but annoying." His wicked grin broadened. "Wonder where she-"

"Shut up!" Buffy forced the helmet on, and glared at Dawn. "You! You are so grounded when I get home." She reluctantly sat on the back of the bike, making sure no part of her touched any part of him. "Do your homework and listen to Giles and Tara and anyone else you're supposed to listen to. And don't cut class or -" Spike jerked away from the curb with a screech and Buffy yelped and grabbed him around the chest.

"Bye, Bit! No worries!" Spike shouted as he roared away.

"Hey!" Buffy yelled into his ear, as she thumped him smartly on the shoulder. "I wasn't done lecturing and threatening"

"Why I did it." He shrugged.

They rode in annoyed silence for about ten minutes. Buffy caved first. "You know I only agreed to this so Dawn wouldn't do something stupid."

"What?" Spike shouted over the rush of wind. Buffy groaned and pressed herself forward, pressing her open thighs to the back of his hips. Spike tried not to twitch, and bit his lip to hold in a low moan. God, thinking about what was between those thighs- no. No, he wouldn't think about that. Not going to pant after someone who thinks he's dirt. Bloody hell, who was he kidding?

"I said, I only did this so Dawn wouldn't do something stupid." She repeated loudly, right against his ear.

"Well, why the hell d'you think I did it? Bit came in like a snack-sized hurricane an' told me either I follow you or she would. An' since I can't put my hands on her to hold her back, and none of your lot would notice 'til she was halfway to Cliffside, I'm wastin' my night and who knows how many days with Buffy the Nutjob."

Another ten minutes of uncomfortable silence. "Just don't get in my way." Buffy finally said.

"I'm goin' to the soddin' model cattle call and I'm watchin' your ungrateful back."

"I'm not ungrateful!" Buffy jabbed his back with her knee.

"Oh, right." Spike laughed bitterly. "An' keep your hands and any other bits off the goods until we're stopped, yeah? Don't fancy rollin' the bike and ruinin' my ruggedly handsome face."

"Eww! You are such a pig! Like I would ever put my hands on your 'goods'."

"It's an expression, Luv." He said grimly.

"And I am not ungrateful!"

"You bloody well are."

"Why is everything bloody, is that a British thing or a vampire thing?" She asked in annoyance.

"I reckon it's both." Spike considered. "Now- if you're gonna play head games, would you just please shut your trap?"

"If you shut yours." Buffy sighed.

Neither one of them spoke until they saw the Cliffside city limits sign. Spike shifted his shoulders uncomfortably but remained silent.

"Spike." Buffy finally spoke again, thoroughly disgusted that three times in a row, she had been the one to speak first. Didn't he know girls hated that? Probably. It would fit in with the soulless annoying monster motif. But that wasn't what she had wanted to say. "Spike." She tried again. "I am glad you were there for Dawn. We talked last night. She told me how you helped her when I was gone. She told me a lot of things. I do believe- that you can care about her."

"Buffy," his voice sounded hopeful, and as soon as she began to speak again, he realized he was a fool, would always be a fool, to get his hopes up around her.

"But I don't think you can love. You need a soul to love. But care- that's a way less complex emotion."

"I see. And so you- you can love jus' fine then?" Spike asked with a sneer.

"Of- course- I can." Buffy stumbled over her words. Lately she hadn't felt like she could love anyone. Love meant giving, and all she wanted to do was get through the day. Damn him. Hitting close to home. She had a soul and she couldn't love, he didn't have a soul and he could? So not going to get metaphysical now. "I have a soul."

"Hot commodities, these souls." He wouldn't win with her. He wouldn't give up, but he wouldn't win. "Where are we stayin'?"

"I don't know. Find someplace that looks like it's cheap."

"Money still tight, Luv?" His tone softened, and he'd slipped back into using a pet name.

"Yeah. That demon trashing the living room didn't help."

"Things are okay though? You're gettin' by?" He trod carefully. He felt like he and Buffy were about to slip back into their complicated but friendly relationship, she'd talk, he'd listen, they'd joke and jibe, leave feeling the world was a bad old place, but had an occasional bright spot in it.

"Giles gave us some money to fix the house. It's the day to day bills that are going to kill us."

"Pet- if you need any money, I-"

"No. I don't. I really don't." She said, in equal parts because of pride and not wanting to feel soft towards him for trying to help her. He bobbed his head once, matter closed.

"Here's a likely looking spot." Spike turned into a motel parking lot.

"If by likely, you mean hellhole, yeah." Buffy laughed. The parking lot was littered, half the letters in the motel neon were burnt out, and it had peeling paint. "I hope it's cheap. I don't know how long we'll be here." A sudden horrified thought passed through her head and out of her mouth as he switched off the ignition. "We have to share a room. I can't afford two."

"Oh?" Spike couldn't let the opportunity pass. They got off the bike and Spike leaned over her. "Like that idea, Slayer?"

"Don't be disgusting." She spat.

"Oh, can you please remove the stake from your behind, Slayer? I've no desire to go where I am so clearly unwanted." He pushed away from her and strode towards the office. " 'Course if you change your mind on the wantin' score, I'd be happy to oblige, Pet."

"Ughh. Great. I get stuck with the horny vampire in a crummy motel. Why can't I ever get stuck with a millionaire in a mansion?"

"Dracula? Ring any bells?" Spike taunted.

"Shut up, Spike." She followed after him, trying not to blush.

"We'd like a room. Double."

"Two beds." Buffy added over Spike's shoulder. The clerk gave Spike a mocking grin and he turned to glare at her.

"Double full sized beds. Here's the key." Spike took the key and pushed Buffy away gently as she tried to come to the counter. Spike looked at the printed room prices hung over the counter, and forked out some cash. "We might need a few days."

"Pay as you stay." The man replied in a bored voice.

"Got it. Come on." He walked away from Buffy, holding the door open for her out of habit, wincing as she rolled her eyes at him. "Sorry! God, sue me for remembering my manners."

"You paid for the room!" Buffy slammed her bag hard into his chest.

"Wait, you're cheesed off at me for that?"

"You paid for the room!" Buffy hissed again, eyes flashing as she stomped off to their room, marching along the sidewalk until she found the cracking green doorway with the lopsided numbers.

"I wasn't tryin' to offend you!" Spike grabbed her elbow as he chased after her, making her angrily shrug him off. "Buffy! Buffy, listen!" He slid the key in the lock as she stood impatiently in front of it. Soon as the lock was thrown, she stormed inside, ignoring his words. "Fine! Don't listen. I paid 'cause I thought it would help you an' Bit out in the long run. I didn't book a second room, in case that's the other thing makin' you angry, because I don't have lot of dosh either. I wasn't tryin' to earn points, or make you obligated to me. God knows you're not obligated to me for anything, no matter what I do." He flopped backwards onto the nearest bed, raising a faint sprinkling of dust. "Egh! I'm dead, and I keep house better than this!"

Seeing him lying down gave her an odd feeling. Because her bed was about four feet away from his. "It's cheap. And we've slept in worse, I guess." She slowly took off her jacket, put her bag down. "Much better than a coffin."

Spike sat up, watching her petite form circle the room nervously, running her finger tips along the edges of the dilapidated dresser and chairs, wincing at the dust she pulled off. "Not big on sleeping in a box myself." He said quietly. She nodded silently, retreating into herself. "Here now. Did you eat before you left?"

"Mmhmm. Did you?" She asked automatically.

"I did. An' I brought a snack." He took a bag of blood and an ice pack from his duster pocket.

"You have ice packs?"

"No, that would be little Susie-Homemaker tryin' to convince me to go with you." Spike laughed and bit into the bag, not caring that it was chilled. It would keep him full until he could find a butcher in this dump.

"Dawn gives you ice packs for your blood?"

"Only if I'm travelin'." He laughed and drained the bag fast, knowing she hated to watch. He cast a quick glance at her, saw her gobsmacked look and turned his back, finishing and wiping blood off his lips.

"My sister is packing vampire lunches. Oh my God. The world is so screwed up."

"It's not so odd! I packed her lunch plenty of times! I mean, here I am, vampire, lookin' after the Slayer's kid sis. The whole bloody world is a farce, Buffy. You just have to do whatever you need to do to live in it." He had walked closer to her, close enough to touch her cheek before she realized his nearness and flashed him a look of panic. He backed away quickly. "It's early. Shall we go out, find somethin' to do?"

"Huh? No, I'm going to stay in."

"Stay in and do what? This place is strikingly limited in its entertainment facilities."

"I'm not going out with you!" She suddenly flared.

"Buggerin' hell, Slayer! I meant go out and find somethin' to do, so we don't sit in this squalor. I wasn't asking you to step along to dinner and a movie!" He threw up his hands and then tore off his coat. "Fine, stay in. Find something static-y to watch on telly."

Buffy kicked herself repeatedly as she tried to tune the fuzzy and ancient television to a channel with something worth watching. "I didn't want to tip off people that we're here. If something's watching us, something bad digging around to see if anyone new in town is a threat to whatever's going on at the modeling agency."

"Fine." He sat on his bed and dealt out a game of solitaire, not looking at her. But she was looking at him, making him feel like an exhibit at the zoo and damned uncomfortable. "What? What'd I do now?"

"Nothing!" She denied hotly. The truth was, she just didn't know what else to do with herself. It was far too early to sleep. Unless she was totally exhausted when she got into bed, she lay awake, or fell asleep only to be woken up with nightmares. Or worse, woken up to find her dreams of heaven were just that, dreams. She kept watching him, not even realizing she was leaning closer and closer, mesmerized by long white fingers flipping and flicking over cards, deftly flicking cigarette ash into the glass ashtray, twirling and tapping through his hair as he thought.

"Stop. Staring. At. Me." He finally growled out through clenched teeth, blue eyes looking up from under hooded lids, burning her.

"I'm a Slayer, I watch vampires. It's what I do!"

"Well, not this one! Luv, y'know I can't hurt you, y'know the last time I touched it you, it was to kiss you. What makes you think I've got to be watched all the sudden?"

With no answer worth admitting, she said quietly, "I'm going to go call Dawn. I forgot to." Buffy got up, ignoring his question. She left the room, heading to the pay phone that was in the parking lot. Spike stared after her, completely bewildered and cursing Dawn for making him come along on this fool's errand.

"Buffy!" Dawn sounded relieved. "You got there okay? You aren't fighting with him, are you? Because I pretty much blackmailed him into coming."

"We're not fighting much." Buffy offered brightly.

"Please be civil to each other." Dawn pleaded.

"Whoa. Giles-type word."

"Please, Buffy? I want him to keep you safe. I don't want you to go away again."

"I'll be nice as I can be." Buffy finally agreed, touched by the love in her sister's voice.

"Promise?"

"I promise." She said, though the words dragged heavily from her lips.

"I love you. Tell Spike I love him, too."

"I love you, Dawn." Buffy hung up before she could say more. No way would she tell Spike that Dawn loved him. It would only feed his delusion that he could love and be loved in return.

Spike looked up as she returned. Her shoulders slumped. Bit's been layin' into her, he thought with a silent chuckle.

"Thank you for paying for the room. It was a nice gesture." She shut her eyes tight and forced the next words out. "And I know you did it because you care about me and Dawn and what happens to us, and you don't want anything back for it."

He was moved, but he couldn't let her see how much. "That wasn't so bad, now was it, Luv?" She rolled her eyes at him, but cracked a smile. "Come on. Pull up some mattress." He shuffled up the cards and began to deal.

"The m-mattress?" Buffy looked at him in shock.

"In case you haven't noticed, Pet, there isn't a table in this room, and the floor hasn't been vacuumed since Nixon was in office. I figure the bed's the safest place to play."

"What are we playing?" Buffy reluctantly sat on the bed, far from him as she could, not from fear, but from self-preservation. Too close to those pale lips and those graceful hands and she'd be kissing him. And there wouldn't be anyone to go home to this time, no one would know-

"Poker." Spike broke into her thoughts. And then stopped. He sniffed quietly. No. She couldn't be. No, there it was, hints of a wet Buffy. Smelled it only two nights ago, not easy to forget, and he'd smelled it hundreds of times before when they fought, or when that Riley git was hangin' around her.

"I can't play poker! You know what our budget's like."

"We can play for other things than money." He purred.

"I don't have any kittens." She smiled sarcastically.

"You've got plenty in one cute kitten package." He grinned seductively, gesturing to her. The scent of arousal became almost overpowering, but so did something else. Some unknown fear in her eyes.

"I- I can't play for kisses." She muttered, looking at her cards.

"I know." He said with surprising compassion in his voice and manner. She looked at him gratefully, and that made it all the harder. Damn. Didn't she know how much he would love to give her anything she might need to get through this, to make her stay down on this soddin' mortal coil? But she didn't want someone to love her right now. Love makes you think, makes you feel, and it's harder to survive when you run on your heart and brains, not your instincts. So he turned the "badboy" back on. "How about strip poker?"

"What? No!"

"Ah, c'mon, Luv. Best get used to me lookin' at you."

"Why would I need to do that?" She demanded, leaning away from him.

"Hello? Modeling job tomorrow? Who knows what kind of things they want you to wear- or don't want you to wear?"

"It- I don't think Giles would've sent me to a place that does nude modeling." She croaked.

"Maybe not nude." He amended, licking his lips. "Maybe just some little wisps of nothin', though. Victoria Secret'd be a fool not to offer you a contract, Pet."

She blushed, and then got mad. Mad because she liked his compliment and she thought he might be right about what she'd be asked to wear. "I am not doing anything involving 'little wisps' of nothing!"

"So, you'd let a bunch of innocents die if you had to pose in your scanties?"

"No! Of- stupid vampire." She muttered. "What about you?"

"Me? I got no problem with my clothes bein' off. Apparently, I'm a right fetchin' piece of demon." He snarled, licking his lips as he smelled another gush of her sweet juice flow out.

"Just because you have all the modesty of a nudist camp, doesn't mean I'm like that. I'll be staying covered, at least while you're around." She retorted, trying to erase images of what Spike would look like naked. If his lower half matched his top half- Sweet Jesus.

"Play five hands, Luv." His voice ensnared. "Won't take long, with only the two of us playin'. You wouldn't be showin' me your goodies in that many rounds- unless you lose 'em all."

She hesitated. Looked at her cards. "Give me three." She slid back three cards face down, and took three new from his outstretched hand.

She lost the first hand. She smiled naughtily, reaching slowly up to her collar, making his eyes widen and his jaw sag- and took off her necklace.

"Tease." He muttered.

"Pig." She countered.

It was a good thing they were both going heavy on the jewelry today, Buffy thought as the fifth hand ended. Her necklace and two out of her five earrings were on the bed, as well as one of his silver rings and his thick linked silver chain.

"Good game." He said, respectfully keeping to their pre-set arrangement, gathering up her things and placing them tenderly in her palm.

"I didn't know you sucked at poker." Buffy taunted, pushing her jewels back to the center of the bed.

"Yeah, well, I'm goin' easy on you." He admitted.

"You aren't." She argued.

"I am." He glared. "And I'm not cheatin'. Even without cheatin', I could have you down to your socks in five rounds, if I wasn't tryin' to keep things in balance, be a gent."

"Oh, it is so on. Deal, Bleach Boy."

The only problem with playing strip poker with your friend slash enemy, who you are also feeling a sinful attraction to, is that you almost always know when they're bluffing. You've fought them enough to learn their movements, and you've got super senses to tell when someone's heart rate or body language shifts. And lastly, you want to give in to temptation a little bit, and you let your guard down.

"Not quite in my socks yet, am I?" Buffy kicked off her second shoe.

"I can see your socks, same difference." A shirtless Spike sneered.

"No, it isn't!" She pouted and tapped the deck, eager for him to deal again.

"Five more hands, and then we end this." Spike said firmly.

"Afraid of what I might get to see?" She teased. She mentally calculated- boot, boot, sock, sock, pants- the best she could get was Spike in underwear.

He did a quick run down, ignoring her bait, answering with a single derisive huff through his parted lips. Two socks, and then it would have to be either shirt or pants, and then would she go for the topless look, or the sitting in her perfectly matching cute underwear set look? Did it matter? God, she'd better not win all five, his stiffy was about to stab right through his trousers as it was.

His boot. Her sock. Her other sock. His second boot.

"Three of a kind." Buffy finally put down her last hand. He hesitated.

"I fold. You win." He smiled at her.

"Let me see your cards." She demanded.

"Why?" He asked, holding them close to his chest.

"Are you throwing this game?" Buffy sat up on her knees, a picture of tiny righteous indignation, and yanked the cards out of his hand. "This is a- a what is it called, a flushed straight?"

"A straight flush." He said, looking at the wall beside him. "So you caught me! Didn't feel right, an' I threw it. I'm a- what are you doing?" Still kneeling in front of him, she was nervously fiddling with the hem of her tight floral shirt.

"I don't like cheating." She said, and socked him on the nose.

"OW! Goddamn woman, I was -" Spike stopped like someone had yanked his tongue from his mouth. Buffy's shirt was spinning off over her head and onto the floor behind him. She only sat still for a moment, but her image burned itself into his memory.

"I'm gonna go take a shower before bed." She smiled in self-satisfied way, trying to ignore the way her whole body was shaking and walked with slightly unsteady steps to the bathroom.

He could die now. Oh God, yes he could die in much worse ways. She wasn't voluptuous, but she was gorgeous. Just enough to feel soft and warm in the palms of his hands. And that expanse of peach gold skin from waist to shoulders. And when she turned, that soft curve of her back. Like silk, he was certain. He knew without even touching it. And he liked the bra. Pink, but not frilly. Sod the bra, who cared what held them in? The fact was he had gotten to see the top halves of paradise. He knew'd probably never see the rest, and certainly that whole 'warm and soft in the palms of his hands' was ludicrous, but he'd gotten his little glimpse of heaven. He stood hurriedly. Gonna burst soon. Need a smoke, and need to get outside, where he couldn't smell her, where he didn't have to know that she was naked and wet only a very thin and easily breakable piece of wood away.

Ice water. Lots of it. She had sang that fire froze her, but what the hell was that undead piece of ice doing to her? She felt like lava was pooling inside her and she couldn't touch herself. If she touched herself she would a., burn her fingers off, or b., she'd make a noise and he'd know she had reacted to him. She couldn't let him know that. He'd tease her and trap her and- oh God wouldn't it be nice to have someone just trap her in a good way for once in her life?

She upped the water flow, not caring if she could actually see her breath in the freezing spray. He wouldn't let her forget it, that he made her weak and vulnerable.

He might not. He had tried to do some nice things lately. The room. Trying to throw the game in her favor. Helping with Dawn.

This is Spike! He knows how to act nice, but don't get his primal instincts involved, it'd be like shoving a fork in an outlet. The lava was still dripping down her thighs. She needed an outlet, now.

"I'm goin' out for a smoke. Be a few minutes." His voice penetrated the thin plywood door easily, making her jump. It had sounded like he was right behind her. As soon as she heard the door slam- her fingers dove home to try and relieve some of the scalding ache.

He barely lit the cigarette and got to the dense tangle of overgrown bushes that surrounded the back lot before he had his belt open and his top button undone. He kicked his way through beer bottles and cans and assorted deteriorating pamphlets and newspapers, making sure he was completely hidden. He wouldn't take long, she'd done the rest for him.

He pumped twice, heard her voice in his head, had the fleeting thought that his seed should have been planted in her warm little haven instead of this trash strewn ground, and it was over. He breathed hard, letting hot smoke curl in his lungs and erupt from his panting mouth. And she said he couldn't love. Ha. Love is humiliating yourself just this side of public indecency because you won't let her know she'd drivin' you mad, in case she can't handle it. Love is pretending you don't know she's probably flooding the shower with hot juices of her own, and you know they're for you- because she feels ashamed of what she wants.

He knocked before entering, and she called to come in. She was dressed in sweats and a tank top, scrubbed and clean, probably trying to look as unsexy as possible. Didn't work.

"Nice shower?" He asked nonchalantly.

"Yeah. Nice smoke?"

"Always is." He smiled.

"Uh- goodnight then?"

"Goodnight, Luv." He kicked his boots off and stripped back out of his shirt. He loosened his belt and froze. "Ha." He gave a single embarrassed cough. "I never stopped to consider-"

"Oh. Oh, no that's okay." She blushed and tried to look mature and carefree at the same time. "Sleep in your boxers if you want, I mean, they're just like shorts."

"Don't wear boxers, Luv." He said softly, a grin tugging the corner of his mouth.

"Briefs?" Her voice was a tiny bleat.

"No, not those either. An' before you jump to thongs, I just don't wear anything at all." He turned off the lights. "I'll be fine in my jeans. Sleep in 'em all the time anyway."

The silence was heavy on them both. Not to mention the supreme uncomfy-ness of the beds. Sleep wouldn't come yet. "You really do?" Buffy murmured.

"Really do what, Pet? Not wear skivvies? Yeah."

"I meant sleep in your jeans, blood breath."

"I don't prefer it, but yeah, I do, if I rest upstairs in the crypt. If I actually wanna have a proper sleep, I go down to the bedroom and- get comfortable." He glided over the part that was making him feel the hot coil of arousal wrapping around him again. Naked, even in the same room with Buffy, that had to be a head trip.

"I feel bad." Buffy remarked sullenly into the darkness. "And I'm really annoyed, because I shouldn't care. But you're being all helpful and nice."

"Does this conversation have an end, Kitten? Because you need sleep to impress the modeling yobs tomorrow."

"Be comfortable." She said curtly, and tucked her head under the musty quilt.

"Oh." He hesitated, then slowly, quietly, trying not to rustle, he slid the denim to the base of the bed, covering himself from the waist down with the sheet. "Thanks."

"You're welcome." She mumbled. "You try anything-"

"I won't." He breathed.

"I know." She smiled to herself.

"Thanks." He said again, grateful for her vote of confidence.

"Shut up." She ordered.

"Bossy bint." He muttered, a peaceful smile on his lips.