Rules Reset

By Sweetprincipale

Sequel to I Like to Win. Please read that first. Skipping around through season six. Buffy's life ended before she and Spike had a chance to try out a second game spike proposed, inspired by the drinking game of "Drowning the Sorrows". He never thought he'd have chance to prove how much he loved her, or show he could be her champion when it came to making her happy. Now Buffy's back and the game continues, offering Spike a chance to show that he can not only bring her happiness, but possibly bring her back to life.

Author's Note: The beginning of this chapter is taken from the end of I Like to Win, so it should seem familiar if you've already read that. Just skim.

Dedicated to ginar369, Alexiarrose, Sirius 120, DLilith21, Neon Raver, Lakitalover, rebcake, nipponophile, NausicA, omslagpapper, cavementftw, teddybear-514, Illusera, omslagspapper, Teddybear-514, sbyamibakura, and Illusera.

Direct Quotes are obviously not mine, but belong to the fabulously talented and creative people who wrote them. In this case, some of season six's dialogue will be used.

Nothing of Buffy belongs to me, except my sincere admiration. However, this story is all mine.

Part I

(From Part IV of I Like to Win)

It wasn't just about the alcohol. It was about the game. The life. "But I don't want to win. For once, I don't want to." She admitted in a choked voice.

He wanted to comfort her in the worst way. But unlike a lot of the blokes she'd been dealing with in her life, he listened. He heard all the grief in all she said, and made sense of what things she'd left out, as well. She was alone. She was scared. She could only see the bad in her life right now, and like a trained warrior, she was hardening herself more and more. She wanted to be loved and she wanted to be happy- and she was afraid of being both those things. Understandable to be scared, really, knowing all she'd lost and had stolen, afraid to love and feel joy when it seemed to bring harm eventually.

But she was never afraid of a challenge. And I'm dead clever, if you'll pardon the pun.

Buffy watched Spike's face change. First there was the soft, sympathetic look that both annoyed her and made her feel her heartstrings pull, even though she thought she'd cut them off or bound them up too tightly to ever be moved again. Then a faint trace of his smirk was there, modified to a lopsided grin, barely twitching the corners of his lips.

"Alright then." He reached for the bottle with one hand and and took it from her. He put it gently back on the ground, but not between them this time. He didn't want anything between them, and if he had to do it symbolically for now- well, he'd take what he could get. His remaining hand hovered over her empty ones. "How about this? You come back around for another game some time." He let his hand fall, just letting his fingers ghost over her skin, barely making contact. Like them. Only a dream touch.

Buffy stared at the fingers she could see on her skin, but honestly had trouble feeling. The perfect summation of her life. Trouble feeling.

"W-what kind of game?" She asked uncertainly. She didn't know what else to say. Spike's ever-present attitude of smart-ass wisdom was like catnip to the roving cat inside her, that primal hunting side always looking for something to chase. If he offered a challenge- she never walked away from it. Maybe because secretly she liked being challenged by someone who respected her as both an adversary and a- sort of friend. What am I doing? What's he going to get me into now?

"It's a new game. An' no one's ever played it with you before."

Buffy considered pushing herself a little farther away. No matter what Spike said, she couldn't help equating it with innuendo. Didn't help when she'd seen first hand what he wanted her for. "You didn't by any chance play this with your little robo-bunny, did you?"

"No." He exhaled patiently, despite not needing to breathe. "I'm sorry about that, an' yeah, you made it clear you hate that I did it. Let's drop it back on the unlucky in love pile of woe, shall we? Knew I'd never have you. Tried to make something to dull the pain. You were never s'posed to find out about her, okay?"

"Not exactly okay. But not getting you staked." Buffy conceded.

His hand tightened slightly on hers. "You oughta know what it's like, Luv."

She scoffed as best she could given the fact that she wasn't really up to it after riding an emotional roller coaster without a break for weeks, months, maybe years. "Me? Why? I have never, ever built myself a mechanical playmate."

"Angelus." Spike locked his hand down on hers because he knew she'd get up in arms. She did. Head whipped up and her eyes all but flayed him.

"I hated him." Her lips quivered with rage.

"I know that. But he looked like Angel, didn't he? Had some little part inside that you wanted to believe was still your version? You knew it was wrong, but you couldn't hurt him until it was the very last second of the eleventh hour."

Buffy swallowed the angry denial she had forming. Everything he said was true, and any denial she made would be nothing but a lie. "So?"

"I knew she was plastic, I knew she was copied, not the genuine article. I knew whenever she said she loved me that it was just a bloody program. But she looked like you. There was somethin' about her that was close enough to the real thing to keep me from puttin' her away. An', as you mentioned regardin' my lovely visit with the bitch goddess, my cheap imitation got me hurt. Lesson learned."

"Yeah. Well. At least she only hurt you. Angelus hurt everyone." She whispered, closing her eyes to block out a flood of memories.

"Sadistic bastard."

"Tell me about it."

"Rather not. Except to say he'd have given her high an' mightiness some competition."

They shared a shiver, and the rueful smile that came after it. "So tell me. About this new game that I've never played."

"You'll love it. It's called 'How Can I Make it Better?'." Spike explained. "Same rules, almost. One drink, two fierce competitors," their smiles broadened, "except whoever makes the other player happiest wins the shot."

Buffy blushed and pulled away a little. Spike and happy didn't go together. And Spike and "happy", as in the giving of, definitely didn't belong anywhere, not in dreams, not in real life. "I'm not very good at that game and I-"

Spike's grip caught her escaping fingers once more. "You don't have to be good at this one. You can let me be the champ. I know it'll about do you in." His eyes locked with hers. Let someone try to save you, Luv. Let someone try before there's nothin' left to save. You can have the worst life ever, if that's how you wanna look at it. But let someone try to give you a few happy moments before it all ends.

"Try to make you happy? Spike, I would suck at that game." She chuckled nervously, eyes trying to dodge from his.

He didn't let them. "Then that means I'll just have to make you the happier one. On every single round." Her eyes flickered back up to his, tiny grains of hope still left inside jaded prisons. "After all, Buffy, I like to win, too."

Several weeks later...

They never got to play. He never got to win, never even got to try. She was gone. Both of them, all of them, somehow victorious, but beaten. Game over.

Several months later...

He patrolled. Then he came back to the house, even if they didn't need him to half the time. No one stopped him. Not the girls certainly, and most surprisingly, not even the carpenter and his bad attitude. He was honored, humbled even, that they placed the job of guarding her in his hands, once again, even though logic oughta tell them that was a mistake. But he didn't object, he wanted to help, more than he could ever tell them. Tell anyone but her, and one no longer able to hear him.

She trusted him. She told him. She told him it was what her sister would have wanted, that she wanted it, too. Between them, they decided not to worry about the rest. The others wouldn't mind, didn't mind, because they appreciated who he was there to see, someone who they would withhold nothing from, but someone they didn't know how to help, too lost in their own grief to be effective.

Every night he walked with Dawn. Then they sat and played cards. Watched movies. They talked. Mainly talked. He asked questions. Dawn answered him.

She did it because no one else could bear to talk about the missing member of the family, the heart of the house, they seemed to be huddling together, the four of them, always out somewhere or researching something. Not him. He could talk about her or listen to memories about her with the stamina of a long-distance runner.

He did it because he was silently going over all the regrets. The game they never played. The game they should have played.

All the ways I could've made her happy. That I never got to try. He did it because every night he saved her. Every night, between kissing the pale, teenaged brow, the sweet embodiment of what she'd left behind, and kissing the letters carved in stone, he played the horrible scenes in his head. The "what should have happened", the "what didn't happen", and how it was all his fault. And knowing Buffy wished she could love him back, a secret she'd nearly taken to the grave- that made it worse.

Then, each day, laying low in the darkness, he played another round of "what should have happened" after he's survived his other new amusement. A game to be saved for after daylight struck, and he'd played the round of Russian roulette he so often played- walking slowly, slowly home from his watch over Dawn or his patrol with the Scoobies, seeing if today he'd finally be slow enough, or the sun quick enough- to catch him and send him into hell. The less painful kind, where all they did was rip you to shreds, instead of reminding you every second the world had lost its most precious treasure, all because of you.

After that, he returned to the "what should have happened"s, the game he was meant to play, the one where he made her happy, where he won, out of the sheer bloody overload of making her smile and laugh and wipe the sadness from her eyes.

He stored all those carefully harvested pieces of information Dawn spilled so freely, all the little intuitions and observations he's made himself- and he played the game every day, whiling away the hours with dreams of her smiles- driving the knife in deeper. Because he deserved it, didn't he?

Every night he saved her.

Every day he played the game he should have played, and won what should have been the simplest and sweetest victory.

He made her happy.

But it was too late now. He'd never play it. He'd never see her smile, at him, for him, or even just in passing.

He'd lost his chance to play.

No. No, no, not again. Give him one little task- okay, bloody enormous task, and guard the girl. He failed once. He wouldn't fail again. But not his fault the streets were mad and full of brawling demons and the town was finally starting to look like an actual Hellmouth. The only thing that'd ever held it off was - Don't do this to yourself now, not just now. You lost one. Don't lose the other.

He tracked her back to the house, at least he hoped that was what he was doing, but the air was thick with smoke and fear and the stink of Hellions, and Dawn's scent was already all over the areas he was covering. But at least the baddies were gone. For now. He just had to focus on finding her, not on the constant chanting fear and the numbing dread, the voice that was taunting in his head, "It's happening again, it's happening again..."

Fist flat to the door he swung it wide, calling in a furious voice, partly anger at himself for losing track of the girl, partly fury at her for getting out of his sight, and a large chunk of rage being used to mask the fear that wanted to come through.

"Dawn! Dawn! Are you there?"

There was a second's pause. "I'm here!" Her voice came down from upstairs.

"Oh, thank God." He sighed to himself put a hand to his heart, even though it didn't beat, he could swear he felt it relax. He slammed the door shut in the same way he had slammed it open, now the fear gone, replaced with that exasperated, exhausted anger. Now his voice was steadier, and louder, as he called up the stairs at his wayward charge. "Thank God! You scared me half to death ... or more to death. You - I could kill you."

Dawn appeared, walking slowly, a strange, flat look on her face. A look that wasn't actually flat, more like a suppressed look of excitement carefully tamped down. "Spike." She said quietly.

But he wouldn't be stopped. Relief made him vent, the heart that had lodged in his throat now back in place, letting out the threats that he meant, absolutely meant. Funny how he could love the girl like a sister, maybe even a daughter- though he didn't really know what that felt like, he'd never had the feeling before, only knew it was precious and the thought of losing it, after losing everything else- it gutted him. "I mean it. I could rip your head off one-handed and drink from your brain stem." He gestured graphically, almost spitting at then end, deep blue eyes raking her angrily.

That might have made her snark, or apologize, even on rare occasions hug him. Yes. Hug. The bad man and the not-good girl secretly offered each other the infrequent display of affection. This time she was simply silent, looking up at him.

His face changed, shifted, melted down to quietly quizzical. "What?"


It was there. The monstrosity he'd commissioned, cleaned and put back together. He hated to look at it, hated that they let it "charge" on Buffy's bed, some more mockery, the imitation in a place that should be a living shrine. And it was just another stab to his heart. He deserved it. He brought it to life in the first place, and now it mocked her death, a reminder of the friend he was finally making, a love he knew she might've wanted to return, was so scared to try to return. Another reminder of the game they'd never play, reminder of the miserable one they had played after Joyce's death.

" Yeah? I've seen the bloody bot before. Didn't think she'd patch up so-"

Only the robot could never look like that. Haunted. So beautifully tragic.

Then he heard it. Wondered how he could have missed it. The faint, steady thumping. Two of them, not one. Smelled it. The scent of her.

Well, no wonder he missed it. He heard her heart like a soundtrack in his head, he smelled that simple human perfume like it was part of the air around him.

His jaw paused, half open, and he stared. Her eyes met his. He knew. Oh bloody, beautiful, non-hell, oh miracles...

She's looking at me.

And she kept doing it, all the way down the stairs.

No one needed to speak to explain this moment to him, but there was Dawn, he could hear her in the background, like someone speaking in the next room instead of practically against his ear.

"She's kind of- um ... She's been through a lot. With the... the death. But I think she's okay."

Death. Horrible word. He hadn't thought so before it happened, but now he hated it with a passion. Hated how it jarred her when Dawn spoke it, how it made those green eyes slide hastily away like a frightened shadow, She looked down, grabbing at her shirt, too big for her now, buttoning it up clumsily.

Dawn was torn between her sister, and the man she was starting to treat as a brother, or at least as a close friend, a person who treated her like an adult, not like some cute little girl. She bit her lip in silence for a second, eyes trailing agonizedly from the downcast face of Buffy, to the awestruck face of the vampire. "Spike? Are you okay?"

Okay? Okay? Do you know what this means, what this is? "Okay" has no part in this at all.

His voice was soft and slightly halting as he spoke to Dawn, but had eyes only for the vision before him. "I'm ..." He couldn't explain what he was. "What did you do?"

The teen squawked quickly, almost nervously, "Me? Nothing."

She was in front of him now, just staring up at him, something lost in those eyes, something scared inside, clutching the now buttoned shirt like a shield.

Oh, Precious, don't be scared. Not of me. Of course she's scared, she was dead, now she's alive, remember how you felt? Everything new and impossible and - who knows how they did this to her? Who knows what she is exactly, what parts of her are back an' runnin', what parts are still filterin' in? He wanted to pull her close and whisk her away, both of them, someplace safe and silent and let them sit and sort it all out. But it would never happen. Buffy and Dawn weren't "his". His job had been, should always have been, to keep them safe. It'd be the job he would try his damnedest to succeed at, even though he'd failed so horribly before. Tend to the practical first, metaphysical second.

"Her hands."

Buffy dropped her hands almost guiltily and hid them behind her back, looking very uncomfortable.

Pillock. Couldn't have lead up to that? No "How nice to see you", no "I never stopped missing you", no "It'll be alright"? Smooth, William. Pillock.

Dawn interrupted his internal bashing. "Um. I was gonna fix 'em. I don't know how they got like that."

The bluntness was still there in his voice. He supposed it had come naturally, being the strong one for Dawn lately. That and hating himself. "I do. Clawed her way out of a coffin, that's how." He tried to modulate the tone when he spoke to her, unable to believe he was actually speaking to her, in the flesh, not at her graveside, not in his constant dreams. "Isn't that right?"

She answered, a quiet, dull voice. "Yeah. That's ... what I had to do."

"Done it myself." He smiled a half smile and slowly reached for her wrists, not the injured hands themselves. "Hrm. We'll take care of you. Come here."

Oh, Sweet God, it was real. She let him gently rest his arm across her back to guide her to the living room. She moved like a sleepwalker treading in heavy sand, but it was her form, her living form, the heat, the texture- it was real, and it amazed him that he had ever tried to fool himself into thinking a machine could emulate this.

"Bit, get some of the first aid stuff, mercurochrome, bandages." He looked to Dawn over his shoulder. She was staring at him, waiting for the same kind of guidance he was giving Buffy, although verbal, not physical.

"Okay." She moved eagerly, relieved to have someone else there to lean on when this situation was clearly out of her depth. She'd made a fine start, but the feelings Spike felt rivaled hers in the longing, the hope, the guilt. They both blamed themselves for her death. Now she was back. It was beautiful. It was terrifying. What if someone decided to take her away again? Why was she here in the first place?

Spike followed the elder sister to the couch, and as she sat down, all closed over, tight arms to her sides, tight legs closed. He sat down opposite of her on the edge of the coffee table. Opposite to her body language as well, loose arms, open shoulders and chest, reaching forward like he was going to close his hands around sunlight in flesh form.

He tried to keep his face even as their skin met. He took her her hands in his and looked at them. His head was bowed in concentration as he took stock of the wounds, and then raised to reassure her. No words came out. He looked up and she looked at him, their eyes meeting. Not across a flight of stairs, across an eight inch space. He couldn't say a word, just let his fingers tighten.

She spoke. If she felt the increase in pressure from his hands, she gave no indication. "How long was I gone?"

He could answer that automatically. "Hundred forty-seven days yesterday. Uh- hundred forty-eight today." His even facade gave way again, a faint smile emerging. "'Cept today doesn't count, does it?"

She didn't answer. Her face was blank. Haunted, hunted, and yet somehow still blank.

"How long was it for you? Where you were?" He asked gently.

The living form replied in a dead voice. "Longer."

He kept hold on those hands, but he lost the eyes.

Didn't matter. He wouldn't lose the chance again. He still liked to win and he'd lost far too much. She still needed something he should have been able to give her. She'd been dying inside before she died for real, and he had lost the chance to bring her back to life, to put the sparkle in her eyes, to put the smile on her face.

She needed it more than ever now. Slayers had craved the looked of peace. Someone had given it to her, and then ripped it away. He had no idea what had happened or what would. There were only two things he knew.

They were all players on some giant cosmic chessboard of life and death, and you took turns at a million games within the game. She'd lost her life. He' lost his turn. He'd never get another chance, he'd never get her back, she'd never see that he could win, that he wouldn't stop trying to win at least, at the game of making her happy. But it was one of those evil games, where the instructions say you have to make it happen before the timer goes off and you're disqualified.

They'd run out of time.

They were both kicked out of the game.

Then someone changed the rules.

To be continued...