By the time Wednesday rolled around he'd gotten over it, told himself that it didn't really matter what had happened in the heat of a fight and it didn't. Blood pumping, skin on skin like that, a man couldn't be held responsible for any… natural reactions he had. But he did need to talk to her about what was going on with the soldiers and the lab, and so the afternoon sun once again found him darting across the lawns of Revello Drive beneath a ratty blanket. The street was quiet as he leaned in close to the door, picking the locks deftly and letting himself inside, where he followed the strong, steady beat of Buffy's heart into the dining room.

She was sitting in a chair pushed back from the table, frowning down at some sort of colorful advert with her arms crossed, pouting.

That was really the only word for it.

Sulking, maybe.

"Trying to perfect the killing glare Slayer?" he asked lazily, slouching against the door frame, strangely proud when she didn't flinch.

"You've gotta stop picking the locks Spike," she said flatly without looking up. "Ever hear of knocking?"

"Nah" he replied, stamping down carefully on the smoldering edge of his quilt. " 'S all about the entrance pet." Flopping down on the dining chair across from her he scrubbed his hands through his hair making it stand up on end, glanced idly at the stinging redness along the backs of his fingers where the sun caught him. "So. What's got your knickers in a twist?"

She did look up that time, if only to roll her eyes pointedly. "Eww," she said in a dead tone, a token protest made so many times that it had practically lost all meaning. But then she sighed and a little of the tension went out of her and she frowned. "I wanted to go to the mall," she explained, and to him it sounded almost like a confession. "But Willow bailed. I mean, I get it, it's just…"

She frowned again, re-crossed her arms and huffed.

"So you're not going then?"

The glare she shot him could've melted steel.

"You know what?" she asked, standing so fast he thought for a second she was going to hit him.
"Screw it! I'm going!" she declared, shoving her leaflet across the table towards him. "There's a shoe sale going on that I am not missing – one day only. Get dressed!"

And then she was gone, stomping her way up the stairs to do god knows what, leaving him staring after her. It didn't occur to him to ignore the order, or to even be offended by it; he just moved, moved with the easiness of too much practice, pulling his duffel bag down from the shelf in the hallway closet and slipping into the bathroom to change into his shorts and t-shirt. Making sure to stick his wallet in his pocket and pulling the ball cap down over his bleached hair, he caught himself staring into the empty mirror over the sink and he was almost glad that his reflection wasn't staring back, because he had no idea what he'd think of what he saw there. He never would've thought he'd be going to a mall with a soddin' valley girl, let alone the bloody Slayer.

Spike shook his head, didn't let himself dwell on what was happening. He'd spent a century in the dark, he was going to cut himself some slack on what he was willing to do to spend some time in the sun. Or what he wasn't… willing. To do.

Jesus.

Leaving his bag and his jeans in a messy pile in the corner on the bathroom tiles, he made to slam the door behind him but let go of the frame in order to catch the ring being thrown at his chest.

"Let's go."

She didn't wait for him, just sashayed past as she stuffed her wallet and her keys down into the patterned quilt purse on her shoulder, hips swaying in her cutoff jeans. He was fast enough to get the gem on his finger and slip outside onto the front porch before she closed the door on him, and then they both dropped their sunglasses down over their eyes and were making the short walk into town where they caught the local bus that would haul them fifteen minutes away to the single, shoddy strip mall Sunnydale could boast.

They didn't really talk on the way there, just walked in an odd sort of companionable silence until they got to the busses. He'd dug a pair of ones out of his wallet for the fare, rolling his eyes when Buffy'd cocked an eyebrow at him, and he only wished there was a turnstile he could jump so that she'd stop. The bus had pulled up seconds later and she'd looked back at him as she swiped her card, moving towards the air conditioner that blasted tepid air and did nothing to cut through the stale sweat and heat coming off the other passengers.

"Can you handle this?" she asked quietly, her eyes darting around the packed bus, and he'd rolled his eyes again, snorted.

"Really Slayer?" he muttered under his breath. "Bloody hell!"

He huffed an irritated sort of sigh, shook his head and looked away, looming over her awkwardly as the bus took a corner and he swayed against the support bar over her head. Buffy shifted uncomfortably in the cramped seat she'd claimed next to a little old lady who was eyeing Spike warily, pink coloring her cheekbones.

"Sorry," she frowned. "That was… stupid."

It was. Not that he wasn't going to say it. Better to make her feel like an idiot on her own steam. Like he was going to go all Grr, Argh! just because he was on a packed bus surrounded by beating hearts and pounding pulses. Just because he hadn't fed fresh in way too long, just because he was feeling hot and sticky and irritated…

Spike clenched his teeth, turned away to stare out the window.

Stupid.

"Look I said I was sorry."

Spike arched an eyebrow, surprised that she was still uncomfortable, still felt guilty, even that she felt guilty at all, and it stirred something like guilt in his own belly.

He didn't like it.

"Buy me a soft pretzel and we'll call it even," he grumbled, and pretended he didn't see her shoulders relax as the tension drained. It was an olive branch he wouldn't normally offer up, and it… worried him. This whole thing worried him. He was getting… god he didn't even know, but if it weren't for the whole secret soldier lab he probably would've high-tailed it by now, headed for the east coast or Europe or the UK. Taken a bloody vacation, gotten away from the soddin' Hellmouth and the resident vamp-Slayer therein.

He was knocked roughly out of his musings when the bus jerked to a stop outside of the mini-mall and Buffy stood, jumping a little when she looked up to find herself only inches away from him as it hadn't even occurred to him to step back. Her scent spiked hard in his nose, her neck just inches from his lips, and he felt his teeth sharpen in his mouth. For a minute they both froze, staring at each other until she wet her lips and reached out to place a warm hand on his chest and push him firmly back, confusion dark in dilated eyes as she squirmed quickly past.

Spike growled loudly to himself before pushing through the other riders after her, several of them doing some of their own shoving to get out of his way. He'd let a predator's walk bleed into his stance, a hard, pissed-off tension in his shoulders, and despite the hat and the sunglasses, the shorts and the sunshine, he felt like a vampire in that moment. She was right in front of him, had given him her back, and it wouldn't take anything for him to reach out and grab her, lock his fingers around her wrists and jerk her backward until his mouth was at her neck. He didn't even notice that his pace had quickened to catch up with her until he almost knocked into her back.

Spike blinked, jolted out of the tunnel of his attention, only to find that they were already inside the cool, air-conditioned interior of the mini mall. Buffy'd led him from the lobby straight to the little food court, past a smoothie vendor to a small cart that smelled like yeast and salt. He heard a crinkle of waxed paper and then she was shoving a warm cinnamon-sugar pretzel into his hands.

"Here," she said firmly, but he could still here the apology at the edges of the word. "Friends again?"

Spike just cocked an eyebrow and pulled off a piece of the pretzel, popping it into his mouth. He'd told her at the beginning - not friends. Never friends. It just didn't work. This, what they had right now, that was it. It didn't go farther, hell, it might've already gone too deep. For her part she seemed to accept that unspoken monologue, or at least her own version of it, motioning for him to follow her as she headed off down one of the two wings of the little strip mall. He idly considered staying where he was, or disappearing in the other direction, but he found he just didn't care enough to try for a break, so instead he rolled his eyes and followed.

"So," he said, as though he hadn't just been giving her the silent treatment, " 'Bout these soldier boys…"

"Spike!" she hissed, whipping her head around to glare at him with hazel eyes the size of dinner plates. "What the hell?!"

For the second time he found himself rolling his eyes as he watched her dart frantic looks at all three of the other people in the shoe store he'd followed her into, the colorfully advertised sale not quite enough to bring in the hoped-for crowds mid-afternoon on a Wednesday. The ones it had pulled in certainly weren't paying them any attention.

"Relax Slayer," he grumbled, flopping down on a little mirrored bench at the end of the aisle she'd stopped in, apparently numbered according to the shoe size they housed. "Need to talk about this."

"Not in the middle of a mall we don't," she countered, eyes intent on the shelves as her fingers trailed over dozens on dozens of boxes.

"Fine," he drawled, sucking cinnamon-sugar idly off his thumb. "What's got the witch's knickers in a twist then?"

She was quiet a minute and her hands stilled before she pulled three boxes out a little more roughly than necessary.

"Oz left," she said softly, and he cocked an eyebrow in interest at the thought of the loss of a werewolf hurting a Slayer.

"Thought he'd already scarpered," he answered back, zoning in on her heartbeat as she sank down on another bench across from him and kicked off her sandals.

"He did," she replied, "But I guess he sent for his stuff, had his roommates pack it all up… We didn't know he wasn't coming back."

"Rough," he offered after a few seconds of silence. He was good at this, he knew, as good at the comforting and the calming and the sweetness as he was with the hard leather and sharp teeth and the scares. He'd started out that way, held on to that through the years, that strange quality that had tied him to Drusilla for so long. Still. It made him feel a little clammy, a little cold, to think of offering that care to someone else. He wasn't even sure he could.

And so of course his damned pride should flare and make him feel like he needed to prove that he could.

"Your wolf-boy wasn't trying to hurt the witch," he said, and her gaze canted his way as she tugged on a ridiculous wedge heel. "Red's a sweet thing…"

"How would you know?" she interrupted, but there wasn't any real venom behind it, and she was paying more attention to the second pair of shoes she was trying than she was to him.

Spike scoffed. "Musician's a good kid," he continued. "He's goin' through a hell of a thing, you an' me both know."

It was her turn to cock an eyebrow, confusing marring her face, so he crumpled his waxed paper into a ball and bounced it off her forehead. "Vampire, Slayer, werewolf," he said flatly. "Not that different. Soddin' big change, waking up stronger and harder and… angrier. Dangerous."

He was getting into dangerous territory here, getting close to something he didn't really like talking about, but she was listening quietly with a soft look on her face and so he kept going.

"Wolf-boy's scared," he continued. "Know what that's like, never sure you've got enough control to… stop yourself. He's scared. An' you can bet he's hurting too. Never easy to leave your girl, even if you're doing it for the right reasons."

"So you think he did the right thing?" she asked, standing up to walk a few paces back and forth in a pair of bottle green shoes with thick platforms made of cork.

"Yeah," he answered simply. "For him an' for Red. For you too."

The corners of Buffy's mouth tipped downward and sadness flared in her scent, reminding him of lemon and warm pie crust, an oddly homey smell. Sighing hard, she opened her mouth and for a second he thought she was going to fight against what he'd said, make a case against the wolf because her friend was hurting, but instead she sniffed and let it go, toed off the green cork wedges and pulled on a pair of strappy black heels. Striding to the end of the aisle like she was on a catwalk, Spike's eyes followed her tanned, slender legs move unashamedly. She caught him staring when she did her turn and started back, but he only held her gaze, projecting boredom until she came to a halt in front of him, twisting her feet back and forth in front of the mirror between his feet.

"What do you think?" she asked, staring down at her toes with a full frown. "Two inch heels usually make my legs look shorter."

"Told you before Slayer," he mumbled, rolling his shoulders and slouching lower against the wall. "You've got great legs."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "That's just the Victorian in you," she said. "You love a slender ankle."

Spike watched as she sat to remove the shoes, pull her own back on, and then he was laughing.

"Maybe," he chuckled.

Looking up from her feet, she cast him a tentative smile before closing and stacking up a set of five boxed. He only remembered her trying on the two pairs and rejecting one, so he had to give her some credit for her shoe hunting style.

"Come on," she said, climbing to her feet. "Unless you want anything, I'm ready to go."

He certainly wasn't going to pay mall-prices for his cigarettes so he just climbed to his feet, watched her balance her boxes carefully against her chest as she moved to the counter, pulled a stack of crumpled, dirty bills from an envelope inside her purse to pay. She seemed pleased with the amount of change she got back; as for himself, he'd stolen the jump boots on his feet over seven years ago, so he didn't quite understand the three huge bags hanging off her arms.

"Alright," she huffed, "Carry these and tell me about our army problem."

"No," he deadpanned, and she laughed in a way that assured him she'd only been teasing him.

"Fine," she smiled, "Just the second part."

"All righ' then."


Yay! Another Chapter. Keeping in mind that this is Spike and Buffy, that it's only been a few weeks for them, I have a whole timeline planned out that should cover a few months (and a few episodes) in the next handful of chapters. I really really hope you guys enjoy and drop a review by (: