It was a dance, just as he had said it would be, all those long years ago. It was the most joyous of dances - he always at her left hand, the two of them striking, leaping, flashing in such perfect sync that an onlooker might have thought it to be a choreographed fight from some martial arts movie rather than real life here on the Hellmouth, their voices trading jibes and jokes and laughter back and forth as they wove and ducked and struck, vamp-dust floating everywhere.
Who would have thought that her life would ever be so perfect? Oh, the Hellmouth was still open, vamps and demons still appeared to plague them, but now with him at her side, the two of them moving in perfect harmony, it was a pure pleasure to deal with them. And then to go home after, to their house on Revello Drive, and there to move in a different though still perfect harmony all night long, to wake up with him still at her side, to go through the day talking and laughing and sharing things until it was once again time to set aside that dance to go back to this one. They were dancing all the time now, twenty-four hours a day, just moving from one set of steps to another, he as her partner always, in every way.
It chilled her sometimes to think that she might not have been in time to pull that amulet off his head after he had destroyed the Turok-Han. The blaze of sunfire that blasted through his body was bringing the caverns down. That would surely have closed the Hellmouth, but might have destroyed Sunnydale and would certainly have destroyed him. And that didn't bear thinking about.
So the Hellmouth was still open. But that didn't matter. She had lived with that for years and there was another in Cleveland anyway. Sunnydale was still here and back to normal, well, as normal as it could be for a town situated on top of a demon magnet. And Spike was here and alive and her lover. Life was very good.
The last vampire poofed into dust and she twirled her stake like a gunslinger in some cheesy western, then flipped it into its sheath at the small of her back just as Spike came flying through the last flakes of vamp-dust and collided full-on with her. She staggered back against the cold, stone wall of a crypt, laughing as his full weight came on her. Fighting always got both of them horny. They kissed fiercely, laughing and passionate at once, holding each other so tightly that the pressure would have broken ribs on a normal human being.
"I love you so much," she said and his eyes blazed down at her, incandescent blue flame, so completely adoring that she thought her heart would burst, it was so full. "This is perfection. I'm so happy."
Buffy was miserable.
She should be happy. Glory was defeated. Dawn was safe. She and Dawn had finally adjusted to the pain of losing Joyce. Hank was still often behind on support payments, but Giles had wangled a stipend out of the Watcher's Council that was enough to feed her and Dawn, keep a roof over their heads and allow Buffy to continue to go to college. Willow and Tara were happily co-habiting a small one bedroom apartment near the college. Xander and Anya were busy planning their wedding with Anya blissfully running the Magic Box since Giles was back in England with Olivia. And Giles being in England was turning out to be not as terrible a loss as she had thought it would be, since he kept in touch by phone and email, the workings of which Olivia had finally driven into his reluctant head, and was also perfectly willing to come back at a moment's notice if he were needed. Everything should have been perfect.
So why wasn't it?
Because she was lonely. There. It was out in the open. Everyone else was paired up - Willow and Tara, Anya and Xander, even Giles, for heaven's sake! Only she was left out in the cold. It was not that she needed a guy to validate her. She was the Slayer. She didn't need anybody. But every human being needed to love and be loved. And, oh, she wanted that. She didn't want her life to be about nothing but staking vamps and demons on the Hellmouth. God! If that was all she had to look forward to for the rest of her life, she could understand why most Slayers had an early expiration date.
Damn Angel and his curse! Chasing his redemption over in L.A. and leaving her twisting in the wind here in Sunnydale. Though, to tell the truth, she was so, so tired of the whole angsty thing and the brooding and the entire supercilious I-know-what's-good-for-you-better-than-you-do schtick. If somehow he got rid of that curse and turned up looking to go again, she had a sneaking suspicion that she would turn him down flat. He was her first love and would always have a special place in her heart, but their time had come and gone.
And Riley? Vamp hos. So not going there again. Besides, there had always been something missing there. She had never really let him into her heart because of lingering issues with Angel, and he had always wanted her to be something other than the Slayer, had never really wanted the whole package, which was not only the human-girl Buffy, but also the way-more-powerful-than-him Slayer. Plus, the sex hadn't been that great, with her holding back all the time the way she had, for fear she'd do him some kind of damage.
Maybe no normal boy would ever make the grade. So where did that leave her?
Nowhere. That's where.
She was so furious she just whaled on the next vamp to show up. To her delight, he was not a fledgling and could actually give her a fight. She beat him bloody before she staked him, then dusted herself off and gave a nasty grin to the Scoobies waiting behind her with their mouths wide open in shock.
"Whoa, Buffster!" Xander gasped. "PMSing much?"
"So not in a good mood right now, Xand."
Willow exchanged a glance with Tara, then put out a tentative hand somewhat in the manner of someone trying to calm a raging pit bull. "Is something wrong, Buffy?"
"My life." Something moved in the blackness of the cemetery and she turned, eager for another duel, then subsided with a grunt of displeasure as moonlight glinted off platinum hair. "And now my night is complete."
Spike stopped in a swirl of black leather. There was a bruise on his jaw and he was holding his right arm awkwardly.
"Travelin' in a pack now, Slayer? Beasties getting so dangerous you need help?" he drawled provokingly with a mocking smirk in her direction.
Buffy flushed. It hadn't been her idea to come out in a group; the others had insisted.
"Willy said there was a Chiriwan demon around," Willow explained. "You must know they're awful big and deadly, Spike. We didn't want Buffy going up against it alone."
"It's dead. Ran into it a few minutes ago and took it out."
"What?" Buffy was furious. She had wanted a good fight and here he had cheated her out of it. "Why did you do that?"
He looked at her with that impassive face he had begun to wear around her these last few months, ever since they had defeated Glory. He had killed Doc and saved Dawn, which was a good thing. But then he had started hanging around them as if he thought they owed him something. Which they did, actually. But that knowledge made her even more angry with him. She didn't want to feel obliged to an evil, disgusting thing like Spike.
Something moved behind his eyes. Hope? Couldn't be. Hope of what?
"Thought it would help."
"I never need help from you, Spike!"
His gaze dropped, but not before she caught the sudden flash of pain in his eyes. But that was not possible. Vampires couldn't feel. Physical pain, yes. But not emotional pain. There had to be a soul for emotional pain. And he had no soul.
So why did she feel guilty?
He was driving her crazy. Ever since Glory, he come and hang around, turning up outside her house, at the Magic Box, messing with the Scoobies even when they and she tried to push him away. He'd turn up on her patrols, taking out extraneous vamps or demons. Even when she wouldn't actually see him, her Slayer sense would feel him pacing her through the graveyards, always somewhere around. Okay, he liked fights and demons were the only thing he could fight. But there was something more. She could feel it. He wanted something from her and she didn't know what, only felt the pressure of his wanting. And it drove her insane.
So she hit out. And yelled at him. And pushed him away. But it never worked. He was always there, looking at her with that strange, wistful expression in his eyes that belied whatever snarky remarks came out of his mouth. Just like now.
"Yeah, well," he said vaguely. "Doesn't hurt to have someone at your back, Slayer."
"She doesn't need you for that, Deadboy," Xander snarled. "She's got us."
"Well, Harris, I can see that Red and Glinda might be of some use, what with the witchy powers and all. But you and Demongirl are just dead weight."
"That's enough!" Buffy snapped just as Xander made an uncontrolled movement towards Spike. "Get out of here, Spike, before I let him stake you. Stay away from us. Just stay away from all of us, can't you? Why is it that you can never understand that we don't want you around?"
He shrugged and stepped back with a mocking sweep of his hand. His gaze was down, so she couldn't see his eyes, only the jut of his jaw and the odd twist of his mouth.
"Come on, everybody," she said. "Things are dead around here, pun intended. Let's call it a night and get back to my place."
Spike didn't look at them as they left. His gaze was on the sidewalk as she went past and all she could see of his eyes was a flicker of blue behind the thick, straight lashes resting on his flat cheek. He had lashes most women would kill for. And she so did not just think that.
Because that was the problem, wasn't it? Because that was why she had to keep pushing him away so brutally. Because of those lashes, and those killer cheekbones, and the beautiful mouth, and the clever sensitive hands, and the beyond-sexy body in those tight jeans and T-shirt. He was a vamp and he was evil and he didn't have a soul. She couldn't possibly ever allow herself to even begin to feel attracted to something like him.
It was just so unfair. Angel and Riley couldn't wait to leave her, but even the harshest words and the most complete rejection couldn't drive the utter wrongness that was Spike away.
He was tired.
It had been growing on him ever since they had defeated Glory. A bone-deep tiredness. A sadness that the booze could not cure, that was slowly building to the point where he would one day sit on top of his crypt and watch the sun rise.
Nothing he did seemed to work. Even saving Dawn hadn't brought a word of kindness from any of the Scoobies. They had no appreciation for what he was going through, didn't even realize the sacrifices he was making. He could kill them all a hundred times over, even with the chip. He was a Master vampire and of the Aurelian line. All he had to do was snap his fingers and he would have a hundred fledglings vying to be his minions and bring him all the fresh human blood to drink that he wanted and kill anyone he told them to kill.
The demon world understandably rejected him now that he was killing his own kind, and the human world, in the shape of the Scoobies, refused to accept him. He stood outside both, trying desperately to do the right thing with no support at all. All for the love of one girl. Who despised him.
It was possible to return to the demon world. All he had to do was snap his fingers, call those minions, kill once again. But he couldn't go back. Even if the chip were out of his head, he couldn't go back.
Because of her.
He felt abandoned. Desperately lonely. He was the ultimate outsider. Even Angel, that great poof there in L.A., had friends around him. For him, there was no way out of the cold, no way into either world. There was no hope. And without hope, the thought of watching the sun rise was becoming more and more attractive.
He leaned back against the wall of a crypt and sighed. His arm was broken from where the Chiriwan demon had struck him and it hurt damnably, would hurt for the week before his vamp healing finally mended it.
Something touched him and he jumped.
"Glinda!" He hadn't even noticed her presence and that troubled him, because it showed how uncaring of his own safety he was becoming. Not a good sign. "I thought you had gone with the others."
Tara shook her head and smiled at him shyly. "You're hurt. I-I wanted to see if there was anything I could do."
He shook his head. "Broken arm. It'll mend. Soddin' hurts, but it'll be all right in a week."
Tara hesitated for a moment, then said in a rush, "You did it for her, didn't you?"
He opened his mouth to deny that vehemently, then was silenced by the understanding in her clear, sweet eyes.
"Buffy thinks she can take on anything," he muttered uncomfortably. "But Chiriwans are dangerous to humans, even to Slayers. They have a poison in their talons that can kill with the slightest scratch."
She touched his arm very gently and said something under her breath. A flush of heat surged up his arm. He caught his breath involuntarily in surprise at the sudden pain, then it was gone. She brushed her fingers across the bruise on his jaw and the same thing happened in a smaller scale.
"What..?" He moved his arm gingerly and realized it was no longer broken.
"Healing spell," Tara said. "I had it ready in case Buffy got hurt. Only needed one word to complete it."
"Shouldn't have wasted it on me."
She shook her head at him in exasperation. "Yes, I should. That poison. Does it affect vampires?"
"No. We're immune."
"But not immune to a broken arm. Or back. Or neck." She looked at him gravely. "You could have been killed."
"Ah, well. Takes a lot to kill me." He looked down at her and saw the caring in her quiet eyes and suddenly felt a lot better. "Thank you." For more than just the mending of his arm, he meant, and she smiled at him.
"You were owed that." She looked down and sighed. "You're owed a lot more."
"Spike..." She broke off and turned her head at the sound of Willow calling her name.
"You'd better go."
"Hold on. Things can get better."
There was a small silence. Then he looked away from her steady gaze.
"Your aura. I can see it, you know. It used to be very beautiful, full of brilliant colors, reds, vivid blues. Very passionate. Full of vitality. But ever since last year, it's been getting steadily darker, the colors fading, a lot of browns and blacks creeping in. Now it's getting to the critical level." She bit her lip. "Just...hang on, okay? Just hang on."
He let his breath out in a gusty sigh. "Yeh. Trouble with me is I want too much."
She gave him a worried look.
"'S okay. I don't expect anything."
She touched his shoulder very gently, then walked away to where Willow was running back, frowning at Spike.
"Not even a crumb," he said under his breath and leaned his head back against the crypt, squeezing his eyes closed. "I just wish...I just wish she could see how good we would be together. I just...Oh, what's the use, you wanker?" he growled and flung away towards Restfield Cemetery and his own home.
"Done," said a dark figure among the tombstones. "And I owed you that one, William, for my part in your unintended death."