Buffy is a waitress at a gay coffeehouse, and Spike is a dashing captain of a space ship... and it's not an alternate universe. It's a year after the events of Season Eight, and Buffy is still reeling. But while she and Spike try to sort out the hurt and confusion that Buffy's been dealing with all year, the aftershocks of her betrayal have brought a new enemy forth...one that might just be the one to break her completely...

(bits of the summary stolen shamelessly from Moscow Watcher at LJ's lovely rec and summary of this fic! Thank you for both!)

This fic is meant to take place during Season Nine (though it can probably be read with only rudimentary knowledge of the comics). It's 20 chapters and is already completed, so I'll update as often as I can. :)

There are three constants that Buffy can always count on.

It's been a year since Twilight, and the world has recovered swiftly, too swiftly for Buffy's peace of mind, but nothing else is the same anymore. She works- has this been her longest job yet? Probably. She doesn't hate it, though, and it's pretty much all she's qualified for, so she carries on with her coffee shop vocation and prepares for her real job as soon as she steps out for the day.

Constant Number One is that there are always vampires.

The first one she sees tonight is a small, wiry guy dressed in last year's fashion in parkas and backing a young shopper against the wall. The woman drops her bags and begins pleading for her life in low, terrified tones. "Please, I swear! This is all the cash I've got!" She fumbles for her wallet, yelping with surprise when the vampire instead pins her arm against the wall. "OhGOD!"

"I don't do that gig anymore," Buffy quips, stepping out behind them. The vampire turns and snarls, and she's on him, throwing him backwards and kicking him directly in the stomach. "Barista, maybe. Slayer, definitely. But god? Not my cup of tea."

The recognition dawns in his eyes the moment hers register the markings on his neck, and she's too entranced by them to react when he smashes a fist against the side of her head and barrels her into the closest wall, hissing, "Slayer!"

"The one and only," she agrees, not without the hint of sadness that accompanies all memories of her greatest moment. Her greatest failure. It's been about four years since, and she's still not sure which one it is. "Now, where we?"

He stalks closer to her and she slides downward, knocking his legs apart and to the ground and giving him a swift kick in the head to finish and send him toppling onto his back.

It's easy to leap onto him and land directly on his stomach, stake out and pressed to his chest before he can move. She's only been toying with him, anyway, waiting for the opportunity to demand some answers. These vampires usually run in packs, and it's rare to find just one so accessible. She isn't going to blow this with an easy stake to the heart. "Tell me what's going on with your neck."

He sneers at her, but doesn't say a word. Just like all the others.

She doesn't give up, though. As one particularly annoying…friend…of hers tells her practically every night, she's not the giving up kind, even when she's been hunting for answers from mutant vampires for weeks and hasn't been able to extract a thing. "Tell me," she repeats, digging her stake into his skin.

He smirks up at her, unafraid. "Slaybitch. You think you can scare us into answers? You think that vengeful Angel of Death routine is gonna be effective?"

She flinches at that word-that name-ohgod-and he gets in a solid hit at her abdomen, racing for the nearest street and out of sight before she can continue her pursuit.

The shopper is long gone, hopefully somewhere far from the vampire. Her bags remain on the ground, a carton of eggs leaking onto the pavement. Buffy focuses on the dripping egg, pressing her hand against the side of the wall as she struggles to regain her composure.

-a mask removed, a familiar face, that smirk, those eyes, that kiss-
-but not him, never him, except it's always been him-
-and then he turns, and moves too quickly, and she screams-
-"Buffy…what happened? Did we…did we win?"-

It's been a year, and some moments are still too raw. Moments like an ultimate betrayal, both hers and another's. Moments like the loss of…the death of…

It's still too raw.

She takes a deep breath and turns to leave, carefully stepping over the eggs. There are more important things to worry about now than the past. And she has another encounter with an abnormal vampire to research now.

There are always vampires.

Her apartment is small and mostly bare, not like Xander and Dawn's homey one, but she's not making quite as much as they are and she's proud of at least having a place to herself, at last. At least now, she's finally alone and far from the disturbingly loud Xander-and-Dawn that she's beginning to suspect that Dawn was doing on purpose. Staking her claim, maybe? Buffy quirks a wry smile as she unlocks the door. More likely, Dawn has just been enjoying the opportunity to play annoying little sister again. She's been the one taking care of Buffy far too often lately for both their tastes, and it's a comforting feeling to be able to roll her eyes at her little sister again.

She hangs up her coat, noticing with annoyance the muddy mark the vampire left against her shirt. And it's one of her favorites, too. "Idiot vampires," she mutters, swiping at it.

"Yeah, forget the murders and the feeding," comes the amused voice from the couch. "It's those sodding stains that the vampires really need to be killed for."

She throws her stake in his direction half-heartedly. "Shut up. These are serious mud stains. And you know I'm crap at laundry."

He rolls his eyes. "Well, in that case, destroy them all."

Constant Number Two. She doesn't know what he's doing during the day, and she doesn't ask again after he avoids the question. But Spike will always be in her apartment when she returns from patrol, making himself at home and pushing every boundary she puts up until she's really to stake him or hug him or just run far, far away from him instead.

She mock-scowls at him, knocking his feet off the end of the couch and sitting down there in their place.

His feet pop right back onto her legs. "You're back early."

She swats at them, avoiding his gaze. "There wasn't much going on."

"No renegade slayers? No runaway vampires?" His eyes bore into her, and she looks away from the gentle concern she can see in them. He stares at her like he used to stare at Dawn. Like he'd stare at Willow.

Not that that bothers her or anything, because hey, she's been happily single for years now, except for that one fling with Satsu, who's over her anyway and very possibly dating Kennedy, if rumors from England are true, and a Spike who thinks of her as a sister or friend is totally cool. It's better that way. It's not like shehas any residual feelings there, and that would just complicate their arrangement, anyway. So "Buffy and Spike, friends and partners and nothing more" is very much of the good.


"Buffy?" He still says her name the same way, though, with that gentle mixture of questioning and awe. "Are you there? Buffy!"

Well, maybe not awe. "Nothing," she says hastily, focusing on him again. "I mean, there was one, but he got away. One of the ones with the wonky bite marks."

"He got away?" Spike repeats, eyeing her with skepticism. "So now you're just letting them go? I know that the staking isn't-"

"Spike, please." A tense muscle twitches in her face, and she looks down, refusing to meet his eyes. "Just drop it."

His gaze is still hot on her, but he drops the line of questioning and straightens abruptly. "Right, then." He shoves out a hand at her. "Take off your shirt."

She starts. "What?" A frisson of surprised heat runs through her, and she turns reddened cheeks and an indignant expression to his amused one. "I am not-"

"Laundry, pet." And now he's openly laughing at her, a leer curling up one side of his mouth. "'Course, if you're open for other matters…"

She gulps. "I'm going to change!" she announces, hurtling toward the door of her room and slamming it shut. "Don't touch anything or I'll kick your ass! I will!"

She can still hear his soft laughter while she yanks off the shirt, and she leans against the side of her dresser, breathing heavily. Idiot vampire. Annoying, innuendo-ing vampire. Her brain very helpfully supplies several images of Spike removing her shirt more creatively, to a far different end than laundry.

In one of them he uses his teeth.

She swallows back the intrusive thoughts. She's been having them since, well…since Sunnydale, really. They're just a side-effect of being a sex-deprived slayer. That's all. Spike stars in them only because he's around, and available, and okay, basically a sex god. It doesn't mean anything except that she is, as always, lusty-Buffy.

"Oi! How long does it take to put on a shirt already?" The complaint jars her back to the present, and she snaps something stupid and probably not so coherent at him as she yanks on a tank top.

He's standing right outside her room when she emerges, and he snatches her shirt immediately and heads for the bathroom sink. "You're even worse than Dawn," she mutters, stalking into the kitchen corner to open the refrigerator.

"Dawn doesn't do chores," he retorts over the running water. "Where was this vampire before he kicked you? A slop pit?"

"I don't know." She pulls out a half eaten container of Chinese takeout and a bag of blood from the fridge, scowling at the kitchen sink. "I told you, I'm not keeping blood stashed here if you don't wash out your mug."

"Same markings as always on this one?"

"A whole row of fangs, like he'd been turned by a shark. All across his neck." She rinses out the mug, screwing up her face at the red water that dribbles over the dirty dishes to the bottom of the sink. "Have I ever mentioned how gross this blood-drinking habit of yours is?"

"From time to time." She can practically see him grinning at her in her mind's eye. "Listen, some of my contacts in LA have a lead. The marked vamps have been spotted en masse in a local club. It's not much…"

"But it's something," she agrees. "We checking it out?"

He enters the kitchen corner, clean shirt in hand, and grabs his mug from the microwave a moment before it beeps in completion, taking a quick swig of blood. "Nah, I think I'd better go alone. A slayer's presence might tip them off, yeah? Can't risk losing this lead."

She sighs. "Yeah, I guess not." She pops the takeout carton into the microwave and takes her shirt from him. "You'll let me know tomorrow?"

"I always do." He smiles at her, and it's real and sincere and it leaves her a little choked up.

And then the words burst from her mouth too quickly, unrestrained, and she winces at the uncertainty in them. "You're just here for the free food and blood."

His smile turns distant, and there's an awkward pause, longer and more endless than even the one before she'd invited him in once she'd moved into her apartment. "Sure," he says finally, and when the microwave finishes, he's got a piece of sesame chicken in his mouth and he's halfway out the window before she can say another word. "G'nite," he mumbles, his voice muffled by the chicken. "You're welcome for the shirt."

"Goodnight," she whispers after him, but he's already out of sight. "And thanks."

And there's chicken to eat and TV to watch and a vampire mystery to contemplate, so she buries herself in other thoughts until she's too tired to move and she falls asleep amidst the scent of tobacco and leather that marks Spike's place on the couch.

And there's Constant Number Three: At night, when the dreams and the horrors return, she is always alone.