They were all around the kitchen table, with the exception of Anya, eating Chinese, suspicious glances flying left and right. The Scoobies weren't treated to Chinese unless something serious was going on. "Okay," Xander said, breaking the impasse. "What's up? Whose dying? What apocalypse is coming? Who is dating a demon?"
All eyes centered on Buffy. She put down her chopsticks, wiping her mouth on her napkin. "I'm going to save Spike."
"You're what?" Xander asked in shock.
"But – But I thought he . . ." Willow looked to the basement then back to her best friend.
Dawn smiled slightly. "I kind of figured."
Andrew didn't say anything, just kept eating his Kung Pow Chicken.
"We talked it over. It's what we both want."
Xander shoved back from the table, standing up. "This is just – Buffy how can you? After all you know about him! What he did!"
"What about Anya?" Buffy countered. "Her track record is hardly clean. But you seem to want her around."
"That's different! She's not a demon anymore. She reformed, really reformed. Spike – he – he will always be a monster!"
"Anya isn't exactly a Pretty Pretty Princess, Xander," Dawn said quietly.
"Stay out of this!" He glared at her.
Buffy jumped up. "Hey! You need to watch it, Xander. This is my house, that is my sister. If you have a problem with me, you take it out with me. But it doesn't matter what you say. This is what we've decided. Nothing is going to change my mind. I know Spike can be a good man. I'm going to help him achieve that, whether or not you support me."
"Of course we support you, Buffy," Willow said in rush. "It's just sudden, that's all. We thought Spike had –"
"Hell with sudden! It's stupid, that's what it is. I don't know what your thing is with vampires, Buffy, but you're putting us all in danger."
"Then you don't need to come around."
He stared at her, his chest heaving. "Is that how you want it? You'd pick that vampire over your friends?"
"I want you with me in this, Xander, but if you can't handle that, if you can't deal with who I plan to make a part of my life, then it's better for both of us if you just step down. I know you don't like Spike. I know you hate him. But he's here to stay. You need to deal or leave."
"Buffy! You don't – Xander, she doesn't –"
"Yes," Dawn stood, "she does. And she's right. It's her life. How long are we all going to try to interfere? When has Buffy ever knowingly led us into danger? Aren't we the one's usually messing up?"
To say Buffy was blown away by this grown up speech from her seventeen year old sister would be a vast understatement. "Thank you, Dawn."
Dawn grabbed Buffy's hand. "Always."
Xander shook his head. "I don't think this is right, Buffy. He's rejecting his soul, how can he be good if his soul is killing him?"
"It's a lot more complicated than that."
"Is anyone going to eat the last fortune cookie?" Andrew held it up. The group glared at him. "Alright then, I'll just have it."
"Xander, if this is what Buffy wants . . ." Willow chewed her lip.
"Then it's her decision to make, but I don't have to agree." He sat back down. Buffy let out the enormous breath she had been holding; she knew Xander would be the hardest to sway. "When are the festivities going down?"
Dawn and Buffy sat down as well. "Tonight."
Xander sighed. "I'm out of here." He left without another word. Buffy watched him go, knowing that one of her very best friends was possibly walking out of her life forever.
Willow got up, "I should talk to him." She stopped by the door as she shrugged on her coat. "You're sure of this, Buffy? This is what you both want?"
"I'm sorry, Willow, it is."
She gave Buffy a weak smile. "I hope it works."
"How much –"
"He'll know. When he's had enough, I mean. It all depends on the level of degradation." She swung the door shut after her.
"Do you want me to be there with you, in case things get, well, out of hand?" Dawn asked.
Buffy looked idly at her half-full container of fried rice. "No. I can handle it." She stood, clearing the plates. She kissed the top of her sister's head, "But thanks, Dawny."
Dawn hugged her. "No problem."
At ten, Dawn sat down to watch TV, Andrew joined her. "Is your homework done?" Buffy asked, leaning against the wall.
She nodded. "Yep. All finished, complete, finito."
"Ok, good. I'll see you in the morning. Love you."
"Love you too."
Dawn clicked on the TV and the theme song for Dawson's Creek overtook the room.
Before heading downstairs, Buffy changed into a pair of too big grey sweat pants and a black tank top. She pulled her hair back in a pony tail. Sitting in front of her vanity mirror, Buffy checked her reflection. Her cheeks were paler than normal and her eyes were too bright. She wasn't entirely calm at the thought of what she was about to do. Still, Buffy had made her decision and she wasn't going back on it.
Spike had pushed his cot out of the way to allow himself minimal space to pace in. A trail of cigarette butts surrounded his Doc Martens. He looked up at Buffy's descent, worry etched in the pull of his mouth.
"I've been thinking, maybe this isn't such a hot idea, Pet. Sure, I'd rather be undead than a pile of ash, but –"
"Willow says there isn't any specific amount of me you should, uh, drink. So it's going to be up to you to know when to stop."
He blanched whiter than his normal pallor. "Bloody hell! That sounds like something I am sodding incapable of doing."
Buffy met his eyes and held them. "I trust you, Spike."
He laughed shakily. "Not sure you should, Pet. After all, I'm only a demon."
"A demon with a soul. Big difference."
He stubbed out his cigarette only to light up another. "So, where are we doing this shindig?"
"The cot, I guess. And we'll keep you chained up in case you go berserk and try to kill everyone." Buffy pushed it back into place.
"Thanks for that vote of confidence, Slayer."
She gave him a wry smile. "You didn't expect me to be all sunshine and honey did you? It would totally mar the slayer image."
Buffy walked up to him, taking the cigarette from between his lips and tossing it to the ground where she stamped it out. "You'll take me standing, if I start to go faint or anything, lie me down on the cot. I want to do this for you, but I don't want it to seem like –"
He pinched his eyes closed, then opened them. "You don't have to say it, Buffy. I know."
She nodded. "Okay."
They eyed each other. "Are you ready?" he asked.
Her heart accelerated to uncertain speeds. "Yes."
"I love you, Buffy," Spike said before he grabbed her to him, one hand on her waist, pulling her hips into him, the other hooked around her neck, baring her flesh to him. She gasped, her hands curling into fists then relaxing, unsure of what they should do. Buffy heard his growl and knew it was coming. She braced herself.
When Angel had bitten her, there was a sharp sting followed by an alarming amount of blood draining. When Dracula had bitten her, it had been all pretense, a pleasurable teasing of what was to come. When Spike bit her, his teeth sliced through her skin so quickly, she only felt the barest slice, then he was drinking her. He sucked the blood from her veins and Buffy's breath caught, she wrapped her arms around him to hold him closer to her.
She sighed as her blood rushed from her and into Spike. It wasn't unpleasant, but it wasn't exactly a walk in the park either. It was somewhere in between, pleasurable because she knew she was helping Spike, pleasurable because he wanted to make it so for her, but still painful because this wasn't something she wanted as a vampire slayer, no matter the vampire, being bitten wasn't a good thing to her inner slayer.
Buffy's head started to spin, her knees grew weak, she could no longer see the basement, she saw only black.
Then in a flash of white, Buffy saw Spike. He was standing there, fighting the tongue demon, Dawn was tied to the crane, the portal was opening. Spike threw a punch, so did the tongue demon, Spike was thrown from the crane, Dawn crying out to him. A new image flashed before her; Spike watching her come down the stairs after being resurrected; his agony as he looked at her hands, at violent odds with his elation that she was alive. Then Buffy flashed to their first kiss, the way it really did make him feel alive again, as if the blood in his veins was rushing.
A mirage of images passed in rapid succession after that, sometimes blurring into one another, but they were always images of the two of them, or pertaining to them. The final image was their kiss in mausoleum last week, Buffy felt what Spike felt, that he was a man for the first time in 128 years, she felt the painful burden of love burning inside him.
Then she was falling, plummeting away.
Someone was shaking her shoulders, it made her bones feel loose. She tried to open her eyes, but her eyelids were too heavy to lift. She was enveloped in black, but it was warm and it was soft.
"Buffy!" The cry was sharp, making her ears hurt. She struggled against the black, wanting to stop the noise.
"Oh, god. Buffy, please wake up. Please."
The light was harsh, blinding her before everything came into focus. She could feel a weight on her chest; Buffy lifted her head slightly, feeling a sting at the movement. Her hands sought out the object weighing her down, running over hair and smooth skin.
He jolted upright, standing over her, his mouth stained red with her blood. "Buffy?"
She reached up, wiping his mouth clean. "How's the soul?"
He laughed hoarsely, dropping down next to her again. Buffy's fingers went to her neck, but Spike gently pulled them away. "I need to put a bandage on your neck."
"But your soul?"
Spike raised his shirt up so Buffy could see his unblemished chest. All traces of his wounds, all of the black lines, had reverted to perfect white skin. "Good as new, Precious."
She smiled at the new pet name and his healed body. "Except for this," her fingers ran over the scar in his eyebrow, her favorite of his attributes.
He shrugged. "Got what I deserved, I expect." He watched her, checking her breathing and her color. "Do you feel alright?"
"Tired, but otherwise, just as slayery as ever."
He smiled. "You had me worried. Went all wonky on me. I've never had someone talk to me while I was . . . drinking them."
"Talk?" Buffy frowned.
"Yeah." He got up, holding his hands out to her. Buffy took the key from the back pocket of her sweat pants and unchained him. Spike went to the laundry cabinet to take out bandages. "You were murmuring up a storm. Kept repeating my name and . . . other things. Took a bit of the fun out of drinking from a willing slayer. Made me feel like your heart wasn't in it."
Buffy made a face. "You are too much like new I would say."
"Careful what you wish for, Love." He opened the bandaged and steadied it against her neck, pressing it firmly in place. Buffy winced at the unwanted pressure. His worried eyes caught her pain. "Sorry," he said quietly.
Spike helped her sit up. They took each other in; Buffy wondered how she never knew before how entangled his life was with hers. How he had twisted his fabric so that she was essential to his pattern.
Reaching forward, Spike brushed the hair from her face. "Thank you, Buffy."
She cupped his chin. "You're welcome, Spike."
He lifted his scarred eyebrow, Buffy nodded. His lips met hers in an innocent kiss.
"How much did you have to drink?" she asked when they separated.
"I don't think you're in any danger of needing a blood transfusion. It was just a couple of sips really. But you went rigid once you stopped talking, so I laid you on the cot. Had me worried, you did."
"What's life without a few unwanted surprises along the way?" Buffy made to stand, but wobbled in the process. Spike scooped her up in his arms without any warning.
"Just let me do this for you," he admonished before she could protest.
Biting back her defiance, Buffy allowed him to carry her up the stairs and into her bed. When Spike turned to go, she stopped him with her hand on his wrist. "Stay?"
He scoped her carpeted floor. "I've slept on worse."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Don't be a dope." She pulled the sheets back on her bed.
"Who else has had the honor?" he asked.
Buffy frowned. "Does it matter?"
His features clouded. "Guess I'm not that special after all."
"Oh shut up, you stupid vampire." She tossed her pillow at him.
Spike's hand shot out, catching it easily. "Stupid vampire? You cut me to the quick, Slayer."
"Either get in or get out."
He tugged off his boots, leaving them by the door. Pillow under his arm, he climbed in next to her. He lay on his back, Buffy curled up next to him, resting her head on his chest, one arm slung possessively over his waist.
"Goodnight, you big idiot."
Spike laughed quietly. "Goodnight, Precious." He kissed her temple. Buffy decided that she rather liked this new nickname. As far as she knew, it was special for her, one he hadn't said to Dursilla or any other girl for that matter. "Thanks for believing I was worth saving."
She squeezed him. "You would have kept me around, even if I was a zombie when I came back. Call it even."
His right hand drifted up to her hair, his fingers running through the golden strands. With his left arm, he covered hers, drawing patterns with his thumb on her elbow. Buffy was asleep in seconds.
Buffy awoke to a chorus of curses. "Ow! Ow! Shit! Bloody hell! Ow!"
Spike jumped from the bed, hitting the floor hard. "Bollocks!" he scrambled around to Buffy's side of the bed, hunched over, panting.
"Are you okay?" she asked alarmed, bending down to see him.
He grinned wryly up at her. "Forgot about the sun."
Buffy twisted back to see sunlight streaming in through her open blinds. "Oh god! I'm so sorry. I didn't think to shut them last night."
"A man might get funny ideas about you," he joked.
Vaulting over to the window, Buffy pulled the blinds closed. "Better?"
Spike raised his hand. It didn't start smoking. "Better."
She picked up her alarm clock. It was six. She shut the alarm off which was set to start buzzing in five minutes. "I've got to get ready for work."
"Right." Spike started to stand, misinterpreting her words as a brush off. Buffy slung her arms around his neck, keeping him pinned against her bed. She crawled to the edge of the bed, hanging her head over his; she kissed him. He readily kissed back, their lips moving in perfect synchronization.
Buffy ended the kiss, licking her bottom lip, enjoying the taste of leather, tobacco, and oak. "What should I wear?"
Spike glanced at Buffy's wardrobe. "Something that reminds me of my mother."
She grimaced. "Uhm, ew."
He was already thumbing through her clothes. "She wore high collars and skirts that reached the ground. The perfect look for a woman who isn't interested in –"
"Possessive much?" Buffy asked, moving to her vanity. She leaned forward, tugging the band-aid away from her neck. Spike came up behind her, their eyes meeting in the mirror. He ran his thumb over Buffy's newest scar. It was pearly white and shaped like a kiss.
"I guess you'll be needing that high neck."
"Scars add intrigue." Buffy went to her closet taking out a billowing black skirt and red blouse.
Spike frowned. "You don't want to opt for something more –"
"Let it go, Spike. Let it go."
He grabbed her hips, reeling Buffy to him. Tilting his face, he kissed her mouth, then moved to the corner of her lips, then to the corner of her jaw, working his way down, kiss by kiss to her scar. "How do you feel?"
"Full of blood . . . er, fine. I feel fine."
He smirked. "I like you full of blood."
"Let's not. Okay. Too weird for this early."
"I'll see you later, Precious." He kissed her scar once more then left her to get ready for work.
During work, Bufy's hand kept going to the scar on her neck, tracing the raised skin. It didn't freak her out. She rather liked it actually. A piece of her belonged to Spike and it was marked on her body now; just like the piece of her that belonged to Angel.
The students Buffy met with didn't pose any serious problems, too many tardies, a fight in the cafeteria, normal stuff. When the day ended though, she found herself drawn to the basement. After packing up her things, Buffy traveled down to the musty depths, unsure of what she was looking for, but knowing it was there somewhere.
Slowly but surely, she made her way back to the furnace room. She twisted the handle, opening the door. A shaft of light from the hallway illuminated the space. He was crouched down, his back to her, but the tattoo on his shoulder gave him away.
He turned to Buffy, his features vicious, his eyes yellow. "It's coming, Buffy."
She tensed, moving away from the room, unsure of what she was seeing.
"And when it does, it will devour you." He grinned. "You think Spike can protect you? Bide your time, Buffy. It's coming." The lights went out.
She jumped back, desperate to get her bearings in the dark, but before she could, the lights flickered back on and the room was empty. Buffy raced out of the basement, pushing her way through a crowd of students to Dawn's locker. Dawn was laughing with Davie Smith, his student file had contained an accurate picture of him.
"Dawn," Buffy grabbed her arm, "we've got to go."
"Hey! Wait, I'm talking to –"
"Now, Dawn," Buffy tugged her.
Dawn shot her sister a venomous. "I'm sorry, Davie. My sister get's weird when I talk to boys. See you tomorrow, okay?"
"Uh, sure," he said, watching Buffy warily.
Buffy snatched up Dawn's backpack, still dragging her as Buffy headed down the hallway. "Let go!" Dawn yanked her arm from Buffy who kept moving forward. "Seriously, what's wrong with you?"
"Dawn, not now."
She kept pace with her older sister, having to run a little. "That was Davie Smith, in case you didn't notice, and we were having a perfectly normal conversation until you showed up acting like the Hulk."
"Dawn. Not now." Buffy grabbed her sister's arm again and hustled her out of the school.
Dawn didn't talk to Buffy on the ride home, choosing to sit in angry silence instead. Pulling into the driveway, Buffy didn't wait for Dawn to get out of the car. She slammed the door behind her and jogged into the house, heading straight for the phone.
Buffy's fingers dialed in the number she seldom used. He picked up on the second ring.
"Buffy? What's wrong?"
"Are you in Los Angeles?" she asked curtly.
"What? Of course I am."
"You aren't in Sunnydale right now."
"No. Why, should I be?" he asked in confusion.
"Buffy?" A voice asked from behind her, "Everything alright, Pet?"
"Is that Spike?" Angel asked in shock.
"I don't have time for this," Buffy said to both of them. "I need to know, are you in Sunnydale right now, Angel?"
"Angel!" Spike growled.
"I know that's Spike. What's going on, Buffy?"
"Answer me!" she shouted.
"Hey. Calm down, it's alright, okay. I wasn't in Sunnydale. I haven't been in Sunnydale since. . . since you're mom passed." Buffy could almost imagine Angel holding up his hands in defense, talking her down.
Her fingers were numb from holding the phone so tightly. "I just saw you."
Silence echoed on all fronts.
"What do you mean?"
"In the basement of Sunnydale High. You were there. I talked to you."
"Buffy, Sunnydale High burned down, remember? We fought the huge mayor snake?" Angel spoke slowly as if Buffy might have some mental deficiency.
"They re-built it. I'm not crazy, Angel."
"Okay. Let's go through this step-by-step, what happened?"
In painful detail Buffy went over her urge to go to the basement, her trek down, and ultimately seeing Angel; Angel listened patiently, while Spike listened from her end.
"Right. Well, despite my many other skills, we both know that I can't disappear, so have you talked to Willow about this?"
"No . . . I had to be sure, I had to . . . I'm sorry, Angel."
"It's fine, I understand. Talk to Willow and give me a call if you figure anything out. I don't like the idea of somebody else walking around as me."
"I will." She hung up.
"Buffy?" Spike rested his hand tentatively on her shoulder. Buffy started, jerking around to see him. He took a step back, his expression dower.
She inhaled deeply. And then the tears started, first burning against her eyes, then spilling over. Buffy curled herself around Spike in a hug. He held her close, his cheek pressed against the top of her head, whispering soft reassurances that she didn't for a moment believe.