Love Awakened

. Chapter One:

It took a great many soothing assurances that she was fine and nods of agreement from Willow and Xander to calm Joyce down enough to even listen to Buffy's offer to explain both her lengthy absence and her current appearance. Insisting that she not call the police, Buffy offered to give Joyce a full explanation if she would just allow her to get cleaned up and dressed first. Buffy left her mother with a very nervous Willow and Xander and ran upstairs to step gratefully into a hot shower.

As she washed the blood, ash and smoke out of her hair and off her body, she had time to go back over the events of the past twenty-four hours and the full impact of what had happened began to sink in. Before long she had slid down the wall and was huddled under the water sobbing uncontrollably for all that she had lost. For the first time since she had been told it was prophesied that the master would kill her, she felt the full weight of her calling.

No one told me I would be raped by a man – vampire – I thought was in love with me. No one told me that I would have to kill someone I thought was the love of my life. And no one told me that one of the vampires I'm supposed to fear the most would turn out to be the only sympathetic creature in the room.

When her mother began to knock on the door, her voice a mixture of anger and fear, the Slayer left completely and only a sobbing teenager was left to try to respond to Joyce's increasingly frantic questions. Finally throwing off the last vestiges of respect for her daughter's privacy, she threw open the door and plunged into the water to pull the sobbing girl out into her lap.

There were no words exchanged as Buffy sobbed out her heartbreak and her delayed reaction to her treatment at the hands of the sorcerer and his demon accomplices; Joyce just held her tightly and rocked her back and forth as she had done when her little girl was much younger. While Xander remained downstairs, his hormonal urges to peek at Buffy in the shower losing out to his fear of reprisal from Willow and/or Joyce, the redhead ventured cautiously upstairs and stood in the doorway wringing her hands.

Joyce looked up over her sobbing daughter's head and asked softly, "Can you tell me what happened to her, Willow?"

The novice witch shook her head slowly. "Only in a vague, it-was-really-bad-but-I-wasn't-there-and-she-didn' t-tell-me kind of way," she said regretfully.

"Where were you, then? And how did you know how to find her and bring her home?"

"Well, Giles actually—"

"Giles? Mr. Giles, the school librarian? Did he do this?" Joyce's voice went up and her eyes began to express a sincere desire to remove the librarian's important body parts.

"Wha-? Oh! No! No, no. Not Giles. Somebody he kn… knows. He knew where to find them, but I guess we didn't get there in time to keep Angelus from-"

"Angelus? And keep him from what? Is this person under arrest now?"

"Um… no, I think Buffy probably kil…." Willow's voice trailed off as she realized the hole she was digging. She put on her perkiest face and said quickly, "You know what? The only people who can really explain this are Buffy and Giles. I think Xander and I will go look for Giles right now. That's a good idea, isn't it? We'll find Giles and he'll explain everything!"

Before Joyce could argue with her, she whirled and ran back down the stairs, grabbing Xander by the sleeve as she bolted out the door.

Almost growling in frustration, Joyce abandoned the hope of learning more from Willow in favor of continuing to comfort her obviously distraught daughter. As she held Buffy and rocked her gently, her eyes ran over the girl's naked body and she shuddered at the partially closed wounds that she could see everywhere, including, it seemed, places she would have hoped her young daughter had never exposed to the outside world. The scarring on Buffy's throat from what had obviously been a painful gash there caused an unpleasant flashback to their last year in Los Angeles and Buffy's attempt to make her parents believe in vampires.

With a shudder, Joyce suppressed fleeting thought that perhaps Buffy had been telling the truth; instead, she chose to worry that the "cult" into which she and Hank had thought their daughter had fallen had followed them to Sunnydale. Buffy's nakedness, and the heartbroken sobbing that was just beginning to trail off to ragged gulps for air, led to only one conclusion as to what else might have happened to her teenaged child, and Joyce unconsciously tightened her grip as she silently vowed retribution on whomever had taken her daughter's innocence.

As Buffy gradually cried herself out, she realized with some embarrassment that she was sitting, wet and naked, on her mother's lap curled up like a two-year-old. With a rueful sniffle, she sat up and looked at her mother apologetically.

"I'm sorry, Mom. I didn't know I was going to lose it like that."

"It's all right, honey. That's what mothers are for." Joyce smiled tentatively. "Are you ready to tell me what happened and who I have to kill?"

Buffy's quiet, "Already done," did nothing to reassure her mother about the events of the past twenty-four hours, but she smothered her urge to scream, "What do you mean?" nodding and standing up instead.

"I'll give you a few minutes to get cleaned up and dressed," she said quietly, "then I expect you to meet me downstairs and tell me exactly what happened and where you have been. Is that clear?"

Buffy nodded silently and bent over the sink to wash her tear-stained face. A full day of nudity in front of strangers had left her with no inhibitions about standing naked in front of her mother. Knowing it was too late to hide her cuts and bruises, she put her efforts toward organizing her thoughts as she wondered how much to explain.

Joyce picked up the abandoned tee shirt, recoiling slightly at the dried blood and smell of smoke. As she went to leave the room with it in her hand, Buffy's voice stopped her.

'Where are you taking that?" There was just the trace of panic in her tone.

"I'm going to throw it away," Joyce said calmly. "It's filthy and disgusting and it isn't yours, so it's going into the trash right now."

"No," Buffy said softly, pulling it out of her mother's hands. "I'll wash it. Spi—he might need it," she added quietly.

Her mother's face darkened at the reminder that it was clearly a man's tee shirt, but she bit her tongue and forced herself to leave the bathroom. After a quick stop in her own bedroom to change out of her now-wet clothes, she went to the kitchen and began to make hot chocolate for them to drink during what was sure to be an unpleasant conversation.

The Slayer looked into the mirror and saw the scrubbed face of a teen-age girl looking back at her; in that face were the eyes of someone much older and she shuddered once for the loss of her innocence and youth before squaring her shoulders and turning her back on her reflection. Leaving the bathroom, she quickly pulled some sweats from a drawer in her room, covering all traces of the torture inflicted on her body except for the still tender wound on her neck.

By the time she got downstairs, Joyce was waiting for her with a steaming cup of hot chocolate and a grilled cheese sandwich which Buffy grabbed gratefully, her rumbling stomach reminding her that all she'd had to eat in over a day were Spike's stale cookies. She tore into the sandwich, shrugging apologetically at her mother for her inability to speak immediately. As soon as her stomach was more content, Buffy slowed her eating and took a sip of her drink before looking at her mother with determination.

"How much do you want to know?" she surprised Joyce by asking.

"Wha–? Everything," Joyce stated firmly. "I want to know everything. How could you think otherwise?"

"You didn't the last time," Buffy said pointedly, dashing any hopes Joyce might have had that this current problem had nothing to do with Buffy's activities in Los Angeles.

"Are we going to be talking about vampires again?" she asked in a tightly controlled voice. "Because you know I don't—"

Buffy interrupted her mother by tipping her head to the side and displaying the still-open wound on her neck.

"This was not done by a stray dog," she said quietly. "Or by a 'vampire wannabe', Mom. It was done by a vampire. A very old, very dangerous vampire who was trying to drain me."

"Buffy…" Joyce's voice held the beginning traces of anger. "We went through this before. There are no such things as vampires."

"Mom, there are vampires; and demons and werewolves and witches and magic. I know it's hard to believe, and I'm sorry you had to find out about it this way, but if you can't accept the truth of that statement, then we can't have a conversation about this."

Joyce struggled with her urge to run to the phone and call the hospital for a referral to the nearest psychiatrist. They had actually done that the first time Buffy tried to tell them about vampires and something about her being "called" to "slay" the creatures, but after a few days in the hospital Buffy had recanted and offered an explanation that struck everyone as reasonable, thus convincing them to release her. The burning down of the school gymnasium could not be directly attributed to Buffy as no one had actually seen her set the fire and it could have been accidental. Joyce and Hank had kept their own knowledge of Buffy's admission of guilt to themselves and she had been allowed to take Buffy and move to Sunnydale with no interference from the authorities.

Now, here they were, safely settled in this lovely, small city and here was her daughter, covered in strange-looking wounds and claiming, once again, that there were vampires in the world. With an exaggerated sigh, Joyce met Buffy's eerily calm and certain eyes, asking, "And I suppose you are going to tell me once again that you are the one chosen to fight these creatures?"

Buffy cocked her head and stared back at her clearly disbelieving mother. "Mom, how long have I been gone?" she asked, seemingly off-topic.

"Well over twenty-four hours, I guess. Why?"

"Look at my wounds," Buffy said shortly, pulling up her sweatshirt to show the already healed scars and deeper, but already closed slashes and teeth marks. "How long ago do you think I got them?"

Joyce shifted uncomfortably. "Well…"

"Did I have them when you saw me last?" Buffy demanded, her gaze boring into her mother's doubtful eyes. She could see the rapidly developing confusion on her mother's face, before the older woman admitted slowly, "N… no, not that I noticed."

"Think, Mom. I was wearing a skirt and a short-sleeved top. Don't you think you might have noticed gaping wounds bleeding all over the floor?"

Joyce glared back angrily, not happy about the sarcastic edge in Buffy's voice, but was forced to admit that all the damage had obviously been acquired since she'd last seen her daughter.

When she didn't answer, Buffy continued in a softer tone. "Look at them, Mom. Most of them are already just scars and the others are almost healed. By tomorrow you won't see anything but healed scars, and in another week or so, not even those. Maybe this one," she added quietly, touching the bite on her neck, "but not the others. Does that strike you as normal healing?"

Joyce shook her head silently, an inexplicable fear gripping her heart as she recognized the truth of what Buffy was telling her. Rather than belabor that point, Buffy stood up and walked over to her much taller and heavier mother.

"Stand up please, Mom," she said quietly.

When Joyce silently obeyed, Buffy put her hands around her mother's waist and easily lifted her into the air over her head. She looked up into the frightened face above her and asked plaintively, "Do you believe me now?"

Without waiting for an answer, Buffy lowered the astonished woman to the floor and went back to sit down and finish her sandwich. The room was quiet except for the sound of Buffy's chewing and the rattle of china as Joyce tried to pick up her hot chocolate with a shaking hand. When Buffy had finished eating and had swallowed the rest of her drink, she looked back at her mother's horrified face and asked gently, "Are you ready to hear me out now?"

At Joyce's frightened nod, Buffy relaxed back into her chair and began. "Well, you remember the weird old guy I tried to tell you about when we lived in LA…?

Chapter Two

Two cups of hot chocolate and another sandwich later, Buffy was exhausted from talking and her mother was equally exhausted from the sheer effort it took to believe what she was hearing. Gradually, as Buffy reminded her of things she had deliberately pushed to the back of her mind – things like the distorted faces of the "high on PCP" gang members that had attacked the school, as well as the face of the blond man Joyce had hit with an axe when he appeared to be threatening her daughter – the older woman resigned herself to the fact that, as incomprehensible as it may seem, Buffy was telling the truth.

While the slayer slumped in her chair, eyes shut as the lack of sleep and stress of the past two nights took their toll, Joyce studied her with growing understanding and horror.

Oh my god. We didn't believe her. We had her committed! All she was trying to do is to save lives and we punished her. All this time, we blamed her for being a bad daughter and she was trying to keep us safe from monsters.

Joyce allowed her own head to fall back against the couch in despair as she contemplated how unfair she had been to the battered and emotionally torn girl in front of her. Perhaps almost more painful than hearing about Buffy's nightly battles against vampires and demons, was hearing her admit hesitantly that she had been in love with one of the creatures. One that had turned on her – Joyce was not clear how that happened, and Buffy said wearily that Giles would explain – and that had, in addition to administering most of the wounds covering her rapidly-healing body, brutally raped her. Only Buffy's assurance that she had "staked" both Angelus and his childe, Drusilla, kept Joyce from leaving the house to find them herself and make them pay for what they had done to her child.

With a shudder, she accepted that her sixteen-year-old daughter, as much as Joyce might want to protect her, was more than capable of defending herself and had appeared to deal with the situation already. A glance at the clock told her it was pointless to think about going to bed, and she moved wearily into the kitchen to turn on the coffee pot, leaving Buffy sleeping heavily in the easy chair. She paused to put an afghan over the sleeping girl, and to run a hand lightly over her head before going into the kitchen.

When Joyce was ready to leave for work, she gently woke Buffy to suggest that she go to her bedroom and finish catching up on her sleep there. To her amazement, Buffy stretched and announced that she'd had enough sleep for now and needed to go to school – both to keep the principal off her back and to find out what Giles had done with Ethan.

"That's his friend?" her mother asked dubiously. "The one who helped the vampires capture you?"

Buffy almost smiled. "They didn't look all that friendly the last time I saw them," she said wryly. "If I got what was going on, Ethan was just using me to get Giles to walk into a trap. He needed Angelus and Drusilla to help him bait the trap. He knew Giles would try to rescue me before they could kill me or… worse."

"What could possibly be worse?" the horrified woman asked, not sure she wanted to hear the answer, but unable to stop herself.

"They could have turned me," Buffy answered flatly. "They could have made me one of them and Giles would have had to stake me. Or try to," she added in a whisper, wondering briefly how anyone but another slayer could be expected to stand a chance against one that had been vamped.

"Oh my god." Joyce's voice was pitched so low Buffy almost couldn't hear her.

"Hey, Mom, it's all good!" Buffy put on her perkiest cheerleader voice in an effort to wipe the devastated expression from her mother's face. "It didn't happen. Angelus and Drusilla are dust – so go me – and Giles was beating the stuffing out of Ethan the last time I saw them." Her voice softened at the blatant fear on her mother's face and the horror in her eyes. "Mom, you'll get used to it. Not every night is like that – most of time I just go out for a couple of hours, stake a bunch of dumb fledglings, and I'm in bed by midnight."

When Joyce's expression didn't change, Buffy reached up and took her hand, squeezing it gently. "I'm sorry you had to find out this way, Mom. And I'm sorry that you're going to be worrying from now on; but in a way, it's better, you know? I mean now I don't have to lie about where I'm going or what I'm doing, and I don't have hide my clothes when I can't get the blood out, and… I'm not making this any better, am I?" she realized aloud.

Joyce shook her head dumbly, leaning down to clutch Buffy in a long hug before shaking herself and turning to go to work. She paused at the doorway and said firmly, "I want to speak to Mr. Giles as soon as possible. You tell him I said that when you find him."

Buffy nodded silently, walking toward the stairs and waving as her mother reluctantly went out the door. She was more worried about Giles than she wanted to admit, and quickly dressed and left the house for school.

There was no sign of Giles when she got to school, and she risked having a conversation with Principal Snyder by dropping by the main office to ask if anyone had heard from the librarian.

"He is irresponsibly tardy," came the irritated voice from the sharp-featured administrator as he walked up behind Buffy. "As will you be, Miss Summers, if you do not leave the area and get to your first period class immediately. I am sure you do not want me adding 'consistently tardy to class' to the rather lengthy list of infractions on your record."

In spite of his words, the man sounded almost hopeful that Buffy would say or do something to add to his reasons for disliking her. Refusing to give him the satisfaction, Buffy gave him her most dazzling smile and thanked him for reminding her of the time. With a wave of her hand, she left the office and ran to her History class, making it in the door just as the bell began to ring.

After several hours in which she checked the library in between every class, Buffy gave up her attempts to pretend it was going to be a regular school day. Telling Willow she was going to look for Giles, she slipped out of the building and over the fence, avoiding Snyder's suspicious eyes with practiced skill.

She carried a stake with her, laughing ruefully at herself and wondering what good she thought it would do against a sorcerer, but more than willing to find out if she got the opportunity. While her own innate goodness as well as her Slayer training told her she should not kill a human being, the essence of the Slayer inside her wanted very much to kill Ethan – preferably painfully.

As she headed for Crawford Street and it's collection of tumbledown mansions, she wondered briefly what had happened to Spike. He'd paid no attention to her when she had left him leaning against the tree while she drove off with Willow and Xander; staring, instead, into the flickering flames that were destroying the remains of his vampire family.

For all I know, he dragged himself back into the fire and is another pile of ashes now. I need to remember to ask Giles about that again – how an evil demon can love someone so much he would die for her. Or, how an evil demon that has killed two slayers could be sympathetic and helpful to one who was at his mercy? Is it just Spike? Or can other vampires love? And if they can, why couldn't Angelus love me the way Angel did?

As Buffy passed the burned out stone shell of the building that would forever symbolize the loss of her naivety and innocence, she couldn't repress a shudder; nor could she resist a quick look at the tree under which she had left the grieving vampire. She continued her progress down the street, her steps becoming slower and slower, until she stopped completely and with a sigh, turned around and went back to the tree where she'd last seen Spike.

Dropping to her knees, she searched the ground carefully for any sign that he had remained outside long enough to burn up, but found no telltale ashes. She squatted beside the crushed grass for a moment, studying the trail leading back into the building. Obviously the vampire had dragged himself back into the shelter of the mansion; the question was, had he done it while it was still burning so that he could go up in flames with the love of his life, or had he waited until the fire burned itself out before retreating from the rising sun?

Grumbling at her own stupidity, she nevertheless followed the furrowed trail up to the door where she hesitated momentarily. Steeling herself to face the room in which she'd had such a life-changing experience, she entered the now mostly-roofless house and continued to follow the signs of Spike's painful progress. She sighed with unexpected relief when the drag marks veered away from the pile of ashes in the center of the room to lead her to a large table next to the wall. The table's marble top and position next to a stone wall seemed to have protected it from the worst of the fire and she could see immediately why Spike had crawled to it.

In spite of the early afternoon sun beating down through the partially roofless building, the table provided a sheltered and shady area into which Spike had managed to drag himself before falling into an exhausted sleep. Buffy approached cautiously, but there was no sign the immobile vampire had any idea she was there. He truly looked like the corpse he was, as he lie there, curled in upon himself and clutching his body in misery or pain.

Buffy could see the dried tear tracks on his sooty cheeks and felt her own eyes well up in compassion. Oddly enough, she bore no malice toward Drusilla, having heard from Angel's own lips how he had tormented the young seer and driven her insane before turning her. Her anger was reserved for the mage who had encouraged the vampires to torture and humiliate her, and for the one vampire who had professed to love her and had then treated her so shamefully.

Thoughts of Angelus and Ethan reminded her of her primary reason for being in the area and with a reluctant sigh, she rose to her feet and left the mansion. Smothering memories of the way Spike had taken care of her need for food and water, as well as the way he had apologetically soothed her wounds, she told herself he had only done it to help her get back at Angelus and that she owed him nothing more than the chance to live, which she had already given him. She carefully pushed the knowledge that he would be incapable of feeding himself, and therefore unlikely to heal before he became too weak to survive, into the place in her head marked, "Things I don't want to think about."

She worked her way up the street, pausing at each deserted building to look inside and listen for any trace of her watcher or his vengeful former friend. She wondered briefly what the gentle man she knew as her mentor could possibly have done to Ethan to cause him to want to wreak such vengeance. It seemed completely out of proportion to the beating Giles had administered earlier in the year when Ethan's spell had turned them all into their Halloween costumes. Maybe there is more to their history than Giles has told us about, she mused as she entered yet another building.

The sound of moaning alerted her that she had probably found the right place and she proceeded cautiously as she followed the sounds. Upon entering one of the interior rooms, she found the losing sorcerer tied up, lying upon an old dining room table, his mouth taped firmly shut. She looked around for Giles, but saw no sign of her Watcher, only the frightened-looking man trussed up like a stuffed turkey. With a frisson of surprise and horror, Buffy realized that Giles had left the man there to be found by the roving gangs of vamps that occasionally tried to set up nests in the empty houses.

She cocked her head at Ethan, remembering his oily voice encouraging Angelus and Drusilla to make her scream and bleed, and the way he had traveled around her with his camera, taking care to get close ups of her wounds, as well as her bleeding private parts. His widening eyes told her he was reading her face and understanding that her presence did not in any way represent a rescue.

She was turning to leave, ignoring his high-pitched, but muffled screams when she remembered Spike lying under the table and unable to get out of the building or find food. The smile she turned on the temporarily hopeful mage when she began walking back towards him quashed his hopes before they had begun. Not bothering to try to carry him, she yanked his body off the table and began to drag him out of the house and down the street.

When Ethan realized where she was taking him, he began to struggle feebly, unsure of what awaited him, as he had not seen Drusilla's demise and knew she would blame him for the loss of her sire. As he took in the ruined building and its missing roof, he frowned, wondering why, if Buffy was going to leave him to vampires as her watcher had done, she was bothering to bring him to a different building. Then he spotted the soot-covered vampire lying under the table and renewed his struggles. He had no illusions about Spike's attitude towards him. Angelus and Drusilla may have missed his disgusted glares as they amused themselves with the Slayer, but Ethan had not. Nor had he missed the fury in the helpless vampire's eyes as he had filmed him trying to climb back into the wheel chair.

Buffy dragged the man's battered and now-bleeding body over to the table and shoved him under it so that he would be close enough for Spike to reach when he awoke. She worried her lip for a minute, wondering if she should try to awaken the vampire before she left, then relaxed when his eyelids fluttered open and he fixed his puzzled gaze on her face.

She watched his face shift as the smell of Ethan's blood reached his nostrils and she smiled her encouragement at his questioning look.

"Bon appetit, Spike" she whispered, turning away and leaving a bit more of her childhood behind in the building. "Enjoy."

Chapter Three

It now being much too late in the day to return to school, Buffy headed towards her watcher's apartment and the inevitable discussion of the previous day's events. She cringed at the idea of providing any details of her treatment at the hands of the two vampires and wondered how much Giles would guess. The second videotape that Ethan had been making with such care had melted in the heat from the fire and she couldn't recall whether or not Angelus' humiliating fondling of her body had occurred while the original tape was still running.

Taking a deep breath and blowing it out explosively, she entered the Watcher's apartment to find Willow and Xander already there and she favored them with a quick smile before sitting quietly and waiting for the anticipated questioning to begin.

Giles surprised her by declaring that, while he was there for her if she chose to talk to him, he was more than willing to respect her privacy if she chose not to go into details about her time spent in the old house. As she thought about what he said, she realized that he somehow knew exactly what had happened to her and was telling her that she need not discuss it if it made her uncomfortable. He must have made Ethan tell him what he did, she realized with a flash of insight.

Suddenly the fact that he'd left Ethan to die at the fangs of vampires was not so shocking, and she flashed him a grateful look saying with a shrug and a blush, "You pretty much saw it on the tape – they bit me just enough to make me weak from bleeding and to hurt like hell, but not enough to kill me. Your buddy, Ethan, made very sure they knew they had to keep me alive," she growled, her look becoming less grateful as she remembered whose old friend Ethan had been.

Giles' eyes were cold as he replied, "For which he has paid, or will shortly," he added, glancing out the window at the advancing twilight.

"I'm pretty sure he already has," Buffy said quietly, but with chilling certainty.

"You found him?" There was no indication of how the older man felt about that in his voice and Buffy had a moment's hesitation before she admitted to the man who sent her out every night to slay vampires, "I did. And I made sure he was left where he could do the most good."

Having not seen Buffy's impulsive rescue of the only surviving vampire, the watcher frowned in confusion; a condition which increased with Willow's sudden gasp of understanding. Xander was slower to figure out what she was implying and then bellowed in outrage, "You left him for that bleached killer?"

Buffy watched as Giles' eyes widened in sudden understanding. "You didn't stake William the Bloody, then?" he asked quietly.

Buffy shook her head "no" and hastened to explain. "Spike was the only pers—vamp—creature in that room who wasn't enjoying what was happening to me. He fed me, he helped my wounds stop bleeding, he gave me water—"

"And the shirt off his back," her watcher added dryly.

"And his shirt so I wouldn't be naked in front of everybody. Yes. He did." Buffy's lip came out stubbornly. "He lost everything that mattered to him; he was starving, he's crippled – which I did to him, and he could so hate me for – and he was still trying to make me feel better. I owe him."

"So, you what? Fed him the bad guy? Buffy, that man was human!"

Xander's horror and disgust was palpable.

Buffy turned to her friend wearing an expression he'd never before seen her direct towards him.

"That human set me up for Angelus; he made it impossible for me to fight back; he encouraged them to abuse me; he filmed it and sent it to Giles to make him rush into a trap. He was working on making me the star of a pornographic snuff film when Giles got there… stop me when we get to the 'he deserves to live because he's human' part, Xander!'"

Her friend stared at her with his mouth open and his eyes wide. He truly had not thought about why Buffy might have been wearing nothing but Spike's tee shirt, and they were so used to seeing her with the occasional bruise or wound that he hadn't really thought about what she must have gone through to have been cut up the way she was when she fled the burning mansion. He made one last attempt to protest, but had only managed to say, "But, Buffy, it's Spi—" when she cut him off with an abrupt motion of her hand.

"Yes. It's Spike. Spike who came here to kill my boyfriend to save his… the woman he loved. Who trashed our school and tried to kill me. I know who he is. I've been fighting with him for months; we've… we've fought a lot. You two don't even know about all the times I've fought Spike because sometimes nobody else was around and I didn't get hurt."

Buffy stopped to consider what she wanted to say next. She knew that, with the exception of hiring the Order of Taraka to keep her busy when he got worried that she was going to be able to keep him from doing the ritual, the vampire had wanted to kill her himself in a fair fight. He could have brought minions with him to help, he could have done as Angelus did and had a witch or a sorcerer make her immobile so that he could kill her easily. She faced her friends and watcher and tried to explain why she bore so little animosity towards Spike.

"He could have told the Order of Taraka to kidnap my mother to get to me, he could have kidnapped one of you, he could have sired a bunch of minions to just keep after me until they wore me down; he could have done a lot of things if all he'd wanted was for me to be dead. But he wanted to fight me – vampire to slayer – or he didn't want to win. He wanted me out of his way so that he could make Drusilla better; but he didn't want to torture me, or r… ra—" Buffy took a deep breath.

"Except for hiring the Order when he got frustrated that Dru was going to get worse before he could get me out of the way, he never did anything except try to kill me fair and square. He has every right to hate me. I put him in that wheelchair and then I didn't do my job. I didn't go after Angelus as soon as I should have and that led to what happened the other night; not to mention to his ho-bag of a girl friend screwing Angelus right in front of him."

She looked back at the three astonished people staring at her with varying degrees of surprise and dismay.

"I gave him an evil man to eat. I did. And if that makes me a bad Slayer… well, I don't care. I haven't had a real good last few days and that vampire was the only one who cared that I was being… and then he stopped… and he could have… but he didn't… and he tried to help me… and he really loved… and I killed her… and…." To her own dismay, Buffy burst into tears for the second time since she'd been rescued and sank to the floor of her Watcher's house sobbing without let up.

Recognizing a delayed reaction when he saw one, Giles quickly ushered the curious teenagers out the door, bidding them to, "Hasten home before night falls. I do not believe Buffy will be patrolling this evening."

After he had sent Willow and Xander home, Giles walked to a cupboard and poured a small glass half-full of his best scotch. He walked over to where Buffy was now sitting in a chair and wiping her eyes; he held the glass out to her with a "take it" gesture. She sniffed at it cautiously, wrinkling up her nose in disgust.

"Giles! I'm not old enough to drink!"

"I suspect you are not old enough for a good many of the events of the past two days, and yet, you have survived them. I feel certain you will survive this and it may help settle your nerves."

Wearing her most dubious expression, Buffy downed the fiery liquid as if it was medicine, shuddering all over as her eyes began to water.

"Oh my god," she gasped. "You actually drink that stuff for fun?"

"It's an acquired taste," he answered wryly.

Buffy set her glass down carefully and took stock of how she felt. She had to admit, now that the taste was gone from her mouth and no longer burning her throat, that the warmth spreading through her stomach was mildly pleasant and she could actually feel herself relaxing. Until she felt her muscles beginning to loosen, she had not realized how tightly she had been clenching her teeth, or how stretched taut every muscle and nerve in her body had been.

"Feel better?" Giles inquired mildly as he removed the glass and walked to the kitchen.

"A little," she said with a smile at his back. To have said any more would have been to admit to herself how deeply she had been affected by her experiences and that was just not somewhere she wanted to go. "Thank you," she offered softly.

"You're welcome," he answered, sitting down across from her. They rested quietly for a few minutes until he interrupted her pleasant buzz to ask, "What are your plans for William the Bloody, once he is able to get about again?"

"I don't know," she admitted quietly. "I'm hoping he will just leave. Go back to wherever they came from and stay away from Sunnydale."

"And if he doesn't?"

"I'll worry about that when it happens," she replied with a sigh in her voice. "Right now I don't even know if he'll live. He can't hunt yet, so unless I bring him—"

"You are not planning to continue to feed him?" Giles' voice took on more of an edge as he followed her train of thought. "Buffy, it is one thing to use his obvious need for sustenance as a means of disposing of an enemy; it is quite something else to assist him in becoming dangerous again."

"If I think he's dangerous, I'll stake him," she said, her lower lip coming out slightly to hint at the emerging stubbornness he could hear in her voice.

"If I think he is becoming dangerous, I will stake him," her watcher responded, reminding her of who was theoretically in charge in their relationship.

"No!" she replied forcefully. "If he has to be staked, I'll do it. He… he would want me to," she added softly. "He has that right. To be killed by a Slayer."

Shaking his head at the twisted sense of honor that his slayer seemed to share with one of the most notorious vampires of modern times, he tacitly agreed to her conditions and changed the subject. When, after some desultory conversation about school and the unlikelihood of Synder's overlooking her absences, Buffy rose to leave, he did not argue with her but just suggested gently that she go directly home and have dinner with her mother.

Buffy nodded her compliance, but when she left his apartment complex she turned her feet towards the nearest butcher shop and spent what little money she had on several containers of pig's blood. Holding the bag of cold blood, she resolutely set out for Crawford Street and the burned house in which she'd left two enemies – one an evil human and one a strangely honor-bound vampire.

She entered the building quietly, peering through the dimness and wishing the street lamps outside were closer and brighter. It occurred to her that after dark was not, perhaps, the best time to be visiting a vampire; even one who was unable to chase her if she should feel the need to run. Her slayer senses were on full alert as she walked carefully into the room in which she had last seen Spike. She fumbled around wishing she had thought to bring a flashlight until she heard Spike's unmistakable accent.

"Best stop there, Slayer, if you don't want to be stepping on my last meal."

She froze, staring hard in the direction of his voice but unable to see through the gloom. Having no desire to step on Ethan's undoubtedly drained and dead body, she waited quietly until the flare of Spike's lighter showed her his puzzled face.

"Spike?" Her surprise at finding him alert showed in her voice and he smiled tightly at her.

"Amazing what a good, hot meal can do, isn't it, pet? Just stay there until I get some light in here," he ordered, not waiting to see if she would comply. He re-lit his lighter and then used it to light several partially-melted, but still usable candles. Once the candles provided enough light for her to see, Buffy realized that she had, in fact, come very close to stepping on Ethan's body. She made a small face and stepped carefully over the pale drained man; then with a sudden thought she whirled and pulled a stake from her waistband.

"Give me credit for a little common sense, Slayer," the vampire growled in disgust. "D'you think I'm going to turn a miserable wanker like that after the way he… not to mention, he's a bloody sorcerer. Nobody wants to see a vamp with that kind of power and knowledge; not even other vamps."

Eyeing the corpse dubiously, she turned back toward Spike and saw with some surprise that he was sitting up and leaning against the wall – near, but not under the table. She studied him in the flickering light, finally saying softly, "You look a lot better."

He shrugged and responded, "That was the first real meal I've had since you—in a couple of months. Made a big difference, it did."

"Can you walk yet?"

He gave a smothered laugh that ended in a cough. "Wasn't that good of a meal, pet. The little bit of your blood I got the other night did as much to make that happen as his did. It'll be a while longer before I can walk out of here. That's assuming I can find something else to eat."

"Oh! I almost forgot. Here." She held out the bag to the puzzled vampire and then realized that he couldn't move towards her to take it. With a wary look at him, she moved closer and carefully set the bag of pig's blood down on the floor within easy reach.

"And this is…?"

"Pig's blood. I guess it won't be as good for you as human, but it's not like I can go around Sunnydale grabbing up bad guys and feeding them to you."

He was staring at her with complete awe. "You brought me blood? You're feeding me?"

"Well, what did you think I was doing here?" she demanded. "It's not like I don't have a nice dinner waiting for me at home."

He cocked his head and looked at her without answering for few seconds, then said quietly, "I thought you'd had second thoughts about savin' me and had come back to do your duty."

"Oh." His calm acceptance of what he'd thought would be his fate was unsettling to her and she reacted with anger. "I didn't drag your skinny ass out of here just to let you starve to death," she snapped. "And I didn't drag that thing," she gestured to the cold corpse behind her, "all the way down the street for you just so I could stake you while you were feeling better. What do you think I am?"

"I think you're an amazing woman," he said quietly and sincerely. "I doubt there's ever been another slayer like you."

Buffy blushed at both the praise and at the expression on his face, mumbling, "Well, you have to promise to leave town when you're all better. Will you do that?" Her worried eyes suddenly flew up to meet his anxiously. "You'll leave, won't you, Spike? You won't make me have to stake you?"

"No, pet. If you want me to leave, I'm as good as gone. I promise you. As soon as I can drive."

"Okay, then," she sighed with relief. She stood there uncomfortably for a few minutes, shuffling her feet and trying to avoid looking at the dead body behind her. Finally, as much to avoid trying to make conversation with someone she had to admit she barely knew – in spite of the forced intimacy they'd shared – as it was to be helpful, she grabbed Ethan's feet with a shudder and dragged him out of the building and into some bushes in the overgrown yard.

She came back in to find Spike draining the second of two containers he'd taken from the bag. He looked up at her with blood smeared on his upper lip and she was reminded of exactly who and what she was helping. As though reading her mind, he quickly ran his tongue around his lips and licked off the blood, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand in case he'd missed any.

"Sorry, luv," he said gruffly. "Thought I'd be done before you got back from doing my house-cleaning for me."

"It's okay," she said, not looking at him. "It's what you are. I haven't forgotten that."

"No," he almost sighed. "I suppose not."

"I've got to get home," she said abruptly. "Will you be all right until tomorrow afternoon?"

He blinked at her in surprise. "I'll be just fine, pet. I'm just going to sit here and…." He paused and looked at her hopefully. "Unless you think you could bring me my chair? If I had it, I could get into the back of the building away from the wide-open-spaces here." He gestured at the gaping hole where the roof used to be.

Buffy looked around, then taking one of the sputtering candles, she walked toward the area where she'd been manacled to the floor. Spike's wheel chair being mostly made of metal, had not suffered much damage in the fire; although the seat and back both reeked of smoke and were slightly charred. She wheeled it back to where he was watching, stopping beside him and watching impassively as he grabbed the arms and attempted to lever himself up without tipping it over. As he struggled to drag his still-immobile lower body into the seat, Buffy suddenly leaned over and grabbed his legs, easily lifting them up and holding them while he turned his body and lowered himself into the seat. As soon as he was seated, she gently lowered his legs to the floor and stepped back.

"Thank you, Slayer," he said quietly. "Don't quite know why you're doing this for me, but I appreciate it."

"You helped me," she said simply, turning and walking out without glancing back.

Remembering what Spike had said about being fine by himself, she did not go back the next afternoon as she'd said she would, instead hanging out with her friends and trying to get back to feeling like a teenager again. She did a quick patrol after dark, staking a larger-than-usual number of newly-risen fledglings which she blamed on her having been otherwise occupied for three nights in a row. She found a surprisingly cathartic relief in turning the vampires to dust and went home and slept well for the first time since her kidnapping.

She did not go back to check on Spike for two days, partially because she had no money with which to buy more blood for him. Eventually, after an uncomfortable conversation with her mother in which she gave her a sanitized version of the things that happened to her while she was a prisoner, she admitted that she was feeding the vampire who had tried to take care of her and asked Joyce for some money to buy blood for him. After getting a promise from Buffy that she would be careful and that she would allow her to meet Spike at some point, Joyce gave Buffy a few bills from her purse.

Immediately after school, Buffy went by the butcher and bought as much pig blood as she could afford before heading directly to the Crawford street mansion. She walked quickly into the big room, glancing at the table that had sheltered the vampire when she was last there and seeing no sign of Spike. She cautiously continued into the big house, calling out softly until she got an answering growl.

" 'M in here, Slayer. Was just catching a little kip."

She found him in a back bedroom, one that still had some roof left and was sheltered from the sun by the overgrown shrubbery and vines outside the windows. He was lying on an unmade bed, and made no attempt to get up when she walked in. She set the bag of blood containers down on the nightstand beside him and then stepped back quickly. He looked at her for the first time since she came in the room, his expression unreadable.

"What's the matter, Slayer? Are you afraid I'll eat you?"

Buffy flushed, forcing down memories of his tongue caressing her under the urging of Angelus and Drusilla, knowing that he hadn't meant to make a crude remark and ashamed of herself for where her mind had gone. One look at her red face and the vampire smirked to himself, although he managed to keep his face immobile.

Well, that was an interesting reaction. Would have thought she would avoid those thoughts like the plague.

"No, Spike," she said quickly, "I'm not afraid of you."

"Should be, you know," he said quietly, his gaze going back up to the ceiling. "If I drained you right now, I could be on my feet and out of here by midnight."

Unconsciously stepping back, Buffy was surprised when he turned his head towards her, his expressive face showing an emotion she could only identify as pain.

"I said 'if', Slayer. Didn't say I was thinkin' about doin' it."

"Didn't say you weren't either," she said stubbornly. "And you're acting like you're mad at me."

He sighed and sat up slowly. "I'm sorry, pet. You're right. You're here to bring me food and I'm being a right git about it."

"Are you mad at me?" she asked somewhat timidly, as she moved closer. When he gestured at his wheelchair beside the bed, she sat down without thinking about it.

He shook his head, reluctant to admit that his feelings were hurt because she hadn't kept her promise to return the following day, leaving him with little to do but wallow in his unhappiness and helplessness.

"No, luv. I'm not mad at you. Jus' having myself a bit of a pity party and was looking for you to liven it up a touch. Bit disappointed when you didn't show the next day."

"Oh." Guilt for not coming back when she'd said she would had her leaning towards him apologetically until she remembered what he was and pushed herself back. "I'm sorry, Spike. I didn't think… I thought you probably wouldn't want to see me any more than you had to. That I would remind you—"

"Don't worry yourself about it, Slayer. I'm just not used to being alone and I don't handle it very well. I guess I need to get used to it, don't I?"

The sadness on his face and in his voice reached into the piece of her heart that was holding the pain of having lost her first love and she found herself with brimming eyes as she touched his hand where it was lying on the bed.

"I'm sorry, Spike. I guess we both have some changes to get used to."

"Got no one to blame but myself. If I hadn't come here and tried to use sire's blood to cure her…."

"You did it because you loved her. You couldn't have known she would go all ho-bag on you with Angel."

He smiled at her ruefully, leaving his hand in the awkward position it was in and enjoying the warmth of the small hand still resting on it.

"Actually, pet, that's the one thing I could have predicted. I never was as important to her as her precious 'daddy'. Jus' forgot about it – what with having her to myself for the last hundred years."

Buffy straightened up, removing her hand from his, and shaking her head. "I don't understand…" she began, then let her voice trail off.

"What's that, Slayer? What don't you understand?"

She turned aching eyes on his and asked plaintively, "How can you love Dru for over a hundred years… and she obviously loved Angel-us and she must have cared about you to stay around that long…."

"I 'spect she just counted on me to take care of her, more than anythin', luv; but I'd like to think she felt something – just not what she had for the poof. I never got that from her." His attention drifted for a few seconds as he contemplated the truth of the relationship he was mourning. A movement from Buffy reminded him that she had been asking him something and he quickly turned his attention back to her. "I'm sorry, luv. You were askin' me something about lovin' Dru?"

"I just…." Her voice was so low he would not have been able to hear her without his vampire hearing. "I just don't understand why Angel didn't still love me after he lost his soul." Tears threatened again as she continued, "You don't have a soul, Dru didn't have a soul. What's wrong with me that he couldn't still love me?"

Spike's eyes flashed amber and his forehead began to wrinkle as his face tried to shift. "The only thing wrong with you is that you showed bleedin' awful taste in men when you decided to fall in love for the first time," he growled angrily. "Angelus was a self-centered bastard and having the soul didn't change that. He doesn't love anyone or anything but himself. Maybe havin' that soul and being told he could be redeemed if he helped you made him think you were part of his redemption, but losing it just meant you got to see the real Liam."

His face shifted back and he touched her cheek with his hand, using his thumb to catch the single tear that was making its way down her face. "There's nothing wrong with you, luv. You are strong and beautiful, kind and brave and someday you're going to meet a man who appreciates the woman you are. Then you'll realize that losing that git was the best thing that ever happened to you. I promise you."

Great! Here we go again. The person who is trying to make me feel better is my worst enemy.

When she found herself leaning into his comforting hand, she pulled away abruptly, embarrassed at her tears in front of the vampire.

"I… I should go," she whispered, trying not to see the disappointment on his face. "I promise to come back tomorrow."

"Sure, pet. Your mum will be worried about you…."

"Oh!" Her eyes widened in sudden remembrance. "My mom. She wants to meet you. I had to promise her she could before she would give me any money for the blood."

"Your mum bought my blood?" Spike couldn't take his eyes off the girl in front of him.

"Well, um, yeah. I mean, I ran out of money and I had to ask her… and then she wanted to know what I was going to buy… and I said… and she screamed… and I had to explain, you know?"

Instead of responding to her babbling, Spike reached into the drawer of the nightstand and pulled out a wad of bills. He peeled off several twenty-dollar bills and pressed them into her hand.

"Pay your mum back, Slayer. And thank her for me. I can buy my own food."

"Are you mad again?" Buffy frowned at his tight face in confusion.

Spike sighed and squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them and looked into hers, responding honestly, "No, luv, I'm not mad. Not at you. Bit unhappy with myself that I didn't think to give you money the other night; but mostly I'm just trying not to cry like some kind of Nancy-boy. I'm not sure you realize how rarely in my life – or my unlife – that anyone has been kind to me. And here is my sworn enemy…." He gave a ragged laugh and shrugged. "Sound like a complete Nance anyway, don't I?"

"Well, if I knew what a 'Nance' was, I might be able to answer that," she said with a small smile.

Standing up and stretching, she asked, "Can I get you anything else before I go?"

"No thank you, pet. As long as I've got my chair, I can get around pretty well. Not much I need that isn't right here." He gestured at the bag of blood and the rest of the room, which Buffy discovered was filled with boxes and shelves of books.

"Okay, then. See you tomorrow."

"See you tomorrow," he echoed as she walked out into the sunlit part of the house. "See you tomorrow."

Chapter Four

The meeting with Buffy's mother, which took place a few days later, went as well as could be expected between a woman and the vampire who had tried to make her daughter his third Slayer kill. When Joyce peered at his face intently and asked if they'd met before, Buffy insisted he shift into his vampire features and explain to her mother just how they'd met.

Spike glared at the Slayer, but obediently made chopping motions with his hands and quoted, "Get away from my daughter!"

Joyce stared at him coldly. "So, that was you? Can I assume that you've gotten over this idea of killing my daughter? Because I believe I may still have that axe somewhere."

Buffy's "Mom!" went unnoticed as the vampire made firm eye contact with Joyce and, shifting back into his handsome human features, vowed that this particular slayer was as safe with him as she would be with her own father.

Joyce's amused snort and muttered, "That's not quite the recommendation you might think it is," brought a smile to Spike's face and he relaxed into his chair. He'd taken pains to be wearing his cleanest tee shirt and jeans when she arrived, but the way she looked around the room and sniffed told him she wasn't fooled. As she made to leave, following Buffy's instructions to get home before dark, she scooped up all the dirty clothes Spike had tried to hide on the far side of the bed and took them with her telling the astonished pair, "Buffy can bring these back when she brings you your blood tomorrow."

Her exit, arms full of Spike's dirty laundry, left both slayer and vampire speechless and they stared at each other for several seconds before collapsing in laughter at the idea of the Slayer's mother doing William the Bloody's laundry for him. In spite of his laughter at the situation, Spike was unaccountably touched at Joyce's easy acceptance of his word that he would never hurt her daughter, as well as her generous offer to wash his clothes – none of which had been cleaned since he was first put into the wheel chair.

As the time went by and Spike slowly improved on his diet of fresh pig's blood, they fell into a routine in which Buffy would drop by, if not right after school, then at the end of each night's patrol. She would give him his blood – her stated reason for being there; and he would give her more money and thank her.

He much preferred the nights that she came after patrol, as she could stay and talk then. In the afternoons, homework and meetings with her Watcher or her friends kept her from staying more than the few minutes it took to exchange the empty blood containers for new ones; but at night, she would sit in his wheelchair, or even sit beside him on the bed and he would talk to her about Europe and Asia and South America. All the places he had been and lived in his hundred and twenty-four years as a vampire. He even told her the occasional funny story about Angelus when he could remember some example of his grandsire's ego creating situations in which they'd had to run for their lives.

Buffy talked about her school work, finding out in the process that Spike's knowledge of poetry and literature gave her just the tutoring she needed to bring her "C"- in English class up to an unexpected "A". When she came in waving her report card and impulsively kissed him on the cheek, the warm glow in his chest told him instinctively that he needed to leave Sunnydale before he was lost forever.

Unaware of Spike's changing feelings, Buffy continued to visit and chat happily about her days at school, her rare evenings at the Bronze with her friends, and each night's adventures. When Spike questioned her casually about dating, dances and parties, she got very quiet, saying simply, "I'm not very interested in boys right now."

She had learned very quickly that it was not a good idea to visit if she had been injured that night. The first time she showed up limping from an encounter with a demon much larger than herself, Spike's vamped-out rage had her retreating to the doorway before she realized that the anger was not aimed at her, but at his own inability to leave the room and wreak vengeance on the demon responsible. Touched at his apparent concern, but slightly miffed that he thought she couldn't deal with it alone, she drew herself up and said haughtily, "I killed it, Spike. I handled it. Did you think I couldn't? I am the Slayer, you know!"

He gradually relaxed back into his human features and slumped in his wheelchair.

"I know that, pet. Didn't mean to imply you couldn't handle it. It's just… I… I worry about you, yeah? And I can't…."

He growled and then looked at her apologetically from under his lashes.

"I'm sorry, Slayer. I guess I'm just worried about where my next meal would come from if something happened to you," he said less apologetically in an effort to salvage something of his Big Bad image.

To his surprise, Buffy seemed to take him at his word and he watched in dismay as the hurt expression that crossed her face hardened into the Slayer's lethal stare.

"No problem, Spike. I'll just leave my mom a note when I go out to slay reminding her that you need your daily delivery of blood. I'm sure she won't mind becoming your new waitress if something happens to me. I mean, you know, when she's not busy mourning for me, anyway."

She glared at him coldly, resolutely pushing down the disappointment she felt that he was only worried about his own survival.

He's a vampire. What did I expect? That he was worried about me? This is what I get for thinking he… liked me. That we were becoming friends. Friends – vampires. Not mixy.

Buffy's thoughts were more visible on her face than she knew and the vampire reacted explosively.

"You stupid bint! I'm just trying to hang on to some shred of my image here. You know I didn't mean a soddin' word of that! Bloody hell, Buffy," his voice dropped into a mournful register as he turned fearful eyes on her, "please tell me you didn't believe I really meant that, luv. I was just trying not to sound too much like some kind of…." He paused, not sure what he was afraid he might sound like.

"That you might sound like somebody who actually cared what happened to me?" she said coldly. "Don't worry. I think I got the message."

"Obviously you didn't," he growled back at her. "Do you have any idea what it's like for me, sittin' here every night, knowin' you're out there, maybe fightin' for your life? An' all I can do is sit here and hope that I'll see you come in that door sooner or later. Preferably in one piece."

"Because you might starve." She tried to keep the argument going, even though she was beginning to realize what was really bothering him.

"Because I don't want you dead, goddammit!"

He blew out his breath in a gust of cool air as he glared at her fiercely with eyes filled with equal parts irritation and fear. His fear that she would not understand how much he cared about what happened to her fought with his fear that she would understand exactly how much he cared. Something of his indecision must have been visible on his face as Buffy relaxed and said softly, "I don't want me dead either, Spike. I am being careful, I promise you. It's just that sometimes I get hurt. It's part of the job description – hence, Slayer healing."

"Well, I don't like it," he mumbled, somewhat mollified and embarrassed at his outburst. "Don't ever want to see you bleed again."

"I'll try to see that doesn't happen, then," she replied. It wasn't until the first night that she didn't show up at all, leaving him to roll around the mansion all night in a frenzy of worry, that he realized what she had meant by that. When she did finally appear late the next night, with bandages on both legs, there was another loud discussion about how inconsiderate it was of her to make him worry like that; after which, they settled on a mutually acceptable plan that would have her at least checking in with him the next day if she was too injured to come to the mansion after patrol.

To his great relief, there was no need to use the new plan, and they relaxed back into their routine of nightly visits and pleasant companionship. If it occurred to him to wonder why she was so willing to spend her free time sitting around a burned-out building with a crippled vampire, he forced those thoughts away before he could do anything foolish like tell her to go have fun with her friends.

Chapter Five

After another uneventful, but later-than-usual night on patrol, Buffy was quietly approaching the mansion when she noticed a light flickering out of the open front door. Thinking Spike had rolled out into the main room to enjoy the starlight now visible where the roof used to be, she entered eagerly only to find a group of college-boys sitting around a small fire they'd built on the stone floor. The boys were working their way through several bottles of cheap booze, passing them around and singing bawdy fraternity songs.

The arrival of a pretty little blonde did nothing to disrupt their good time; in fact, they tripped over each other in an effort to be the first to offer her a place to sit and a swig from the current bottle. Buffy stared at them with wide eyes, wondering briefly how they had managed to live as long as they had when they clearly had no sense at all. She couldn't sense Spike, but she knew he would not have been able to leave the building in the chair. Looking around anxiously, she saw no sign of him or his wheelchair; not did it seem that the boys had any idea they were partying in the temporary home of a master vampire.

Telling the overly eager boys that she was there to meet a "friend", she tried to sidle past them to go see where Spike was and if he was all right. She was a little surprised he hadn't rolled out and helped himself to a warm meal of drunk intruder, but decided he probably was worried about being able to fight that many human males at once in his current condition. She had no doubt that if he could stand and move he could have killed them all within seconds.

As the boys surged around her, trying to convince her that her friend was not there and not coming, it occurred to her that things were beginning to feel a little dangerous. Naturally, she did not have the same fear of the boys that a normal girl would have – knowing, as she did, that she was stronger than any of them – but the increasing physicality of their importuning was beginning to trigger suppressed memories of the unwanted attentions of Angelus and Dru.

When one of the boys tugged on her shirt, popping buttons off as he did so, she lashed out in terror, sending him skidding across the floor and into the wall. Without waiting to see the reaction of the other young men, she ran from the room, calling for Spike and leaving behind the bag of blood she had dropped. She had only run a short distance down the hall when the ridiculousness of her fleeing from a few drunk and rowdy boys took over from the instinctive reaction she'd had to being touched, and she slowed her pace, stopping before she got to Spike's room.

She was just turning around to go back for the blood, when one of the boys came into the hall holding a flashlight. "Sho, there you are," he mumbled, coming closer and leering at her. "Shame on you for hitting Larry and running away. We were jush trying to be friendly."

"Go away," Buffy said calmly. "You shouldn't be back here. In fact, you shouldn't be in this house at all. Take your friends and go home while you still can."

"Don wanna," he said, setting down the flashlight. "Wanna show you how to be friendly."

Without warning, he pushed her up against the wall, pinning her there with his much larger body and sliding a hand up under her skirt. Once again, Buffy flashed back to Angelus and the brutal rape of such a short time ago and rather than shoving him off immediately, she whimpered in remembered fear. She had just recovered herself enough to realize she needed to do something when suddenly the boy was no longer touching her. Instead, he was dangling from the powerful hand of a very angry vampire. While the young man choked and wheezed, Spike snarled up at him, "You really should have taken the lady's advice, mate."

Recovering her composure, Buffy stepped up and put a restraining hand on Spike's arm.

"Don't kill him," she said softly. "I can't let you do that."

Dropping the terrified would-be groper and glaring at him with disgust, Spike picked up the flashlight and turned it on his own face, showing clearly the fangs he was baring as he continued to snarl at the boy and at the friends who had followed him into the dark hallway. Shrieking in horror, the terrified group fled the hall and the house, the sound of their car's squealing tires telling Spike that they had well and truly gone.

They remained in the dark hallway, each dealing with the emotions stirred by the scene, until Buffy realized that Spike was actually standing beside her and trembling with the effort to do so. No sooner had she realized that he was on his feet, than he collapsed, grabbing the wall in an attempt to remain erect. She quickly moved to his side and slid his arm over her shoulders, supporting his weight as she led him back towards his room and the wheelchair.

She could feel the tension in his body as he struggled to hold himself on trembling legs until he felt the chair beneath him; she tightened her grip slightly to assure him that she wouldn't let him fall. Instead of reassuring him, her help seemed to make the vampire angry, causing him to flinch away from her as soon as he felt the chair behind his knees.

"I… I'm sorry," she stammered. "Was I hurting you? I just didn't want you to fall."

"'S nothing, Slayer," he growled, then relented as he realized she had no idea what he was mad about. "I didn't mean to shake you off like that, pet. I'm just so bloody tired of being helpless—"

"Oh." Surprisingly, she had no trouble understanding what he meant. If her experience with Ethan's magic powder and its effect on her body had taught her anything, it had taught her how hard it could be for someone powerful to adapt to being weak and helpless.

"But you aren't helpless!" she said brightly. "You saved me from that guy."

"You didn't need me for that, Slayer; you know that as well as I do. He might have surprised you for a second, but you would have been wiping the floor with him before long. I've seen you take out that many vamps without breaking a sweat; you would have cleaned their clocks just fine without me."

"But I wasn't wiping the floor with him. I froze, Spike. And before that, I almost killed one of them just for touching my shirt; and then I ran away. I totally lost my cool both times."

She sank down to the floor beside him and rested her head against his leg as she whispered, "I don't know how to act around boys any more. I don't want anyone to touch me. And if they do it without my permission, I over-react."

"Getting' physical with some wanker who's trying to touch things he's got no bloody business even thinkin' about is not over-reacting, Slayer!" The vehemence of his response silenced them both for a few minutes. Then, dropping his hand to the top of her head and stroking it gently, he continued in a much quieter voice, "Now, the not wantin' anybody to touch you, that's something that will go away all on its own, pet. You'll meet somebody you like – not some drunken college boy trying to grope you, but somebody who can love you the way you deserve to be loved – and that feeling of not wantin' to be touched is going to go right away. It's jus' going to take time, that's all."

The irony of his stroking the head resting against his leg while they discussed her reluctance to be touched escaped them both as Spike soothed the feelings of the Slayer who just happened to also be a sixteen-year-old-girl; they sat in companionable silence for some time, neither of the two creatures of the night at all uncomfortable with the darkness surrounding them.

Eventually, Buffy stirred and lifted her head, causing Spike to reluctantly move his hand. "I should go check on your blood," she said. "See if it didn't break when I dropped it. 'Cause if it did, I'll have to go—"

"I'll be fine, pet. Not going to starve to death if I don't get any tonight."

"You need to eat," she said stubbornly. "Look how much better you are since I started feeding you every night. You can stand and walk again!"

"That was adrenalin, luv. Heard you callin' me and that wanker chasin' you and just reacted. Lucky I didn't fall on my face sooner than I did."

Buffy stood up and picked up the flashlight so that she could light some candles before leaving the room. With her back to the vampire, she asked quietly, "Spike?"

"Slayer?"

"Why didn't you eat one of those boys? I know you could have handled one of them, wheelchair or no wheelchair. You're plenty strong enough now."

"Didn't think you'd like it," he mumbled, hoping she would drop the subject.

With a little snort of suppressed laughter, she agreed softly, "You thought right. Good call."

"Didn't get to be this old by being stupid," he replied smugly, ignoring her rolling eyes as she went out into the hallway.

Buffy brought the bag with the blood containers back to the room and held it out apologetically.

"It looks like one of them broke and leaked out all over the floor. But I think there's enough here to hold you until I can come back. Tomorrow's Saturday, so no school; I can get to the butcher's in the morning…"

"It's fine, Slayer," he said gently, taking the bag from her and setting it aside. "Don't worry about it."

"I do worry about it," she replied. "It's taking you so long to get better. I don't understand it. I thought once you started getting blood every day…"

"Anxious to get rid of me, are you then?" he asked, his tone light and his face turned away.

"What? No! I mean, no, I'm not trying to get rid of you – I just want you to be able to… to do whatever you want to do. L… leave, or… whatever." She looked up at him with an expression he wasn't able to decipher. "Isn't that what you want? To leave here? To get away from all the bad memories?"

"What I want isn't really important, luv. I need to leave."

"If you didn't eat people, you wouldn't have to leave. You could stay here and…." Her voice trailed off as he looked at her and calmly shifted into his vampire features. He remained like that until he could see from the resignation in her eyes that she had received his message; then he shifted back into his normal human face.

When she turned away, refusing to look at him, he sighed and said quietly, "You don't want a master vampire livin' here, Slayer. And I don't want to live where there's a slayer on the job every night of the week. Especially a slayer I couldn't kill if I wanted to," he added softly.

"Do you still want to kill me? Is that why you want to leave? Because you'll want to kill me and—"

She heard the chair's wheels rolling just before she felt his hand in hers. He tugged gently until she turned around and faced him. His eyes bored into her as he said very clearly and distinctly, "I do not want to kill you. If I thought I could stay without doing something that would make you want to kill me, I would stay right here and do my bloody best to make you the longest-lived Slayer of all time. But I'm a vampire, luv. Nothing that has happened over these past months has done anything to change that. I don't want to change it. I am what I am. And you are what you are. If I stay here, sooner or later you'll have to kill me. Is that what you want, Buffy?"

The use of her given name startled her so much she almost missed his question; then she realized what he'd asked and she shook her head slowly. "No, Spike, I don't want to kill you."

"But you would if you had to, luv, wouldn't you?" His voice was soft and kind, doing his best to help her see the truth of the situation.

She met his eyes bravely, tears shining just behind her long eyelashes. "I would," she said simply. "If I had to, I would."

"And there you have it, Slayer."

He squeezed her hand and went to release it when, to his amazement, she knelt down in front of him and took both of his hands in hers, willing him to believe what she was about it say.

"I would do it, Spike. And then I would come here and curl up on that bed and cry for a week. So, if your leaving here means I get spared that, then all I have to say is, don't let the door hit you in the ass."

With a choked laugh, he pulled her up onto his lap and buried his face in her neck, allowing her hair to cover his face and envelop him in the essence of Buffy. For long wonderful minutes he kept her there, nuzzling the scar where Angelus had ripped him away from her throat that night that seemed so long ago. Buffy burrowed into his shoulder, trying to hold her tears back but unable to control the occasional sniffle as she fearlessly let a vicious vampire have complete access to her neck.

Chapter Six

Now that he knew he could stand again, Spike spent a part of every day working on strengthening his legs and walking longer and longer distances. He was never standing when Buffy arrived, preferring to sit in his wheelchair or on the bed until she was ready to leave. Then he would walk her to the end of the hallway, or all the way to the door if the sun had gone down. Over time, it had become their custom for the vampire to drop a light kiss on her forehead just before she left him for the night, so the night that he didn't do it as soon as they got to the door, Buffy glanced up at him to see what was wrong.

Having been momentarily distracted by a sound out on the street, Spike was just a fraction of a second slower than normal and he never looked down before dipping his head for his chaste good-night kiss on her forehead; as a result, he didn't see that Buffy's face was already turning up to his. Instead of his lips meeting her forehead, they lightly brushed her own slightly parted ones, causing them both to flinch in surprise. They stared at each other in shock, neither one willing to be the first to move away. When they had remained frozen in place long past the point of salvaging the situation with a casual remark, the vampire sighed against the lips that were still barely touching his, and moved the fraction of an inch it took to make the kiss unmistakably real.

With a matching sigh, Buffy brought her hands up around his neck and held on while the kiss deepened and became something neither one had expected. Where any thought of being touched or kissed by one of the boys her friends were constantly trying to fix her up with made Buffy recoil in disgust, Spike's kiss was awakening feelings she had been sure had gone forever when Angelus destroyed both her innocence and her heart in one brutal act.

When he put his arms around her and pulled her against his body, deepening the kiss and causing her knees to weaken with desire, she felt tears of joy filling her eyes. The instant Spike smelled the tears he realized what he was doing and to whom he was doing it; he responded immediately, pulling back and gasping, "Bloody hell, Buffy. I'm sorry, pet. I'm so sorry. I'm a bloody wanker – oh, god, luv, don't cry. Please don't cry. I'm sorry…. I never meant to—"

"Shhhh, shhh," she soothed him, laying a trembling hand against his cheek. "They're tears of happiness, Spike."

"Happiness? I go after you like some stupid git what has no idea the things you've been through, and it makes you happy? What about that could possibly make you happy?"

Buffy answered him by pulling his head down and fastening her mouth on his, keeping it there, her tongue pushing against his tightly clenched lips until he surrendered and began to kiss her again. He could feel the heat rolling off her body and, as she continued to kiss him, he began to realize what she meant. Mixed in with the scent of tears was the unmistakable aroma of her arousal. Just the faintest trace of it, but enough for him to recognize the scent from when he'd been forced to show her what responses his tongue was capable of evoking.

Satisfied that she wasn't lying, and that he had not ruined their friendship by his involuntary response to her, he held her close again, stroking her back as he nibbled and kissed her swollen lips. When he noticed her slight flinch as she felt his erection, now pressing against her stomach, he pulled back pushed her away, holding her by the shoulders in order to be able to read her face.

She was blushing furiously and quickly stammered, "I… I'm happy that I feel… I mean, you said I would, but I was so sure I would never… but I'm not ready for—"

Understanding immediately what she was trying to say, he released her, holding on to one hand, which he raised to his lips and kissed softly before responding.

"I know you're not, love. Wouldn't expect it of you. That's just the way my body reacts when it's that close to something so beautiful, yeah? "

In all the time she had spent with the recovering vampire, Buffy had learned that she could talk to him about almost anything and they had discussed more than once, her lack of interest in dating and her complete unwillingness to have any physical contact with any of the boys with which her friends insisted on fixing her up. Spike had continued to assure her that Angelus had not "ruined her for life" as she frequently worried, but that she would recover her normal urges and desires in due time. That he, himself, would be the one to reawaken her hormones was not something either one of them had expected and he was at as big a loss as she was.

"I… I guess I'd better get home," she ventured, not meeting his eyes. "There's school tomorrow, and Mom likes me to check in when I come home late, and…" She paused, then, still without meeting his eyes, stood on her toes and quickly kissed his cheek. "Thank you, Spike," she whispered. "Thank you"

"My pleasure, luv," he whispered back as she disappeared down the driveway; his hand touched his cheek where her lips had been pressed so briefly.

Spike walked back to his bedroom and, with a groan, threw himself on the suddenly empty-feeling bed.

That's it, then. If she even comes back here, it will be to tell me to get out of Sunnydale. No more late-night talks and giggles. The poor chit will be afraid to go near me now. It's time to go, Spike. You've worn out your welcome here.

Even as he cursed the body that had betrayed him, he was unzipping his pants and preparing to use his hand to relieve the pressure that kissing Buffy had created. He knew himself too well to think that he would be able to be around her now without expressing the desire he'd been denying for weeks. If nothing else, the raging hard-on he would be sporting would be a dead giveaway.

When he had taken the edge off his frustration, he got up and went out into the night, determined to do what was necessary to prepare to leave the town where he had been both more miserable and happier than ever before in his life.

Chapter Seven

When Buffy showed up the following evening, Spike's old Desoto was parked in the driveway and he met her at the front door, rather than in his bedroom. Panic crossed her face as she looked back and forth between the car and the vampire and her voice shook slightly as she asked simply, "When?"

"A few days," he answered quietly. "Brought the car round 'cause walking long distances is still a bit of a chore, but I can get around pretty well if I use it."

Buffy nodded numbly. Somehow she had never really expected this day to come, in spite of her spirited insistence that he leave as soon as he was able. She walked aimlessly around the big roofless room, unable to look at him. She could feel his eyes burning holes in her as she deliberately kept her face turned away from him. Finally, the vampire could control himself no longer.

"Buffy—"

"This is because of last night, isn't it? You think I'm going to expect—"

"I don't… it's just best, pet. Surely you can see that? There's no way this can end well."

She finally turned to look at him, her eyes shining with unshed tears. "I know you don't want to… that you don't really want me. That it was just a physical response. I understand that. I don't expect… I just thought—" She drew herself up and took a deep, shaky breath. "I'm sorry, Spike. You're right, of course. You have to go. Vampire, Slayer. Been there, done that, didn't work out very well."

"Bloody hell, Slayer. I'm not leaving because I don't want you. I'm leaving because I do! I want you so bad I can't sleep. It's all I can do to keep my hands off you. And you deserve better than that. Better than another vampire; better than… better than me. I'm beneath you, pet. You just keep those fired up hormones in check until you find the right bloke and get yourself the life you deserve."

She stared into his face, reading the truth of what he was saying there, and nodding almost to herself. When she raised her head again, it was to meet his eyes with determination.

"I want you to make love to me before you go," she said flatly. Ignoring the way he was shaking his head vigorously, she walked up to him and stopped just short of touching his body with hers. "I want to know what it will feel like with somebody I… with somebody I like and trust. So I'll know when the right guy comes along. I'll know what it should feel like."

"Buffy… Slayer… you don't know what you're sayin'." He was shaking with the effort required to keep his hands off the willing body so close to his, and he backed away as he continued to argue. "When it's the right man, you'll know, love. You don't need to practice. You'll know."

"So, you're going to leave me with my only sexual experience being that I was raped by a sadistic vampire? With no idea what it is like to make–have sex with someone who cares about me? My only experience with a man's mouth will be the memory of how someone forced you to…. Do you want to leave me believing that you would never have done that if they hadn't made you do it?"

"I did it for you," he growled, unintentionally confirming what she'd instinctively already known. "Thought I might make it easier for you and to close up the cuts so it wouldn't hurt so much." He paused and huffed angrily. "Wasn't exactly the hardest thing I've ever had to do either, so don't go pretending you think it was. Under different circumstances—" He stopped, realizing from the smile on her face how she had tricked him.

"Bloody sneaky bint," he growled. "You're cheatin'. Tryin' to guilt me into…."

"Is it working?" she asked softly. "Will you feel bad if you leave here knowing you could have made me feel like somebody… attractive and special? That you could have taught me what it feels like to enjoy sex, but that you left me thinking you didn't want me, that you wouldn't touch me unless somebody was forcing you…."

She jumped when his fangs descended and his eyes glowed yellow at her. "Enough!" His snarl reminded her suddenly that she was baiting a master vampire who had already killed two slayers.

He quickly faded back into his human guise, but the anger remained. "You don't know what you're asking for, little girl," he snarled. "I'm not some fumble-handed school boy, some nancy-boy that just wants to play bump and tickle with you. I could hurt you."

Remembering what Angelus had done to her so deliberately, he had the grace to look ashamed for a second and she picked up on it immediately.

"I'm the Slayer, Spike! You think I can't take what you dish out? You already bit me once. I know what you're capable of." She moved close to him again and reached a hand toward his cheek, stroking it gently. "I also know that you can be gentle and caring, and that you can make a terrified girl feel… something… in spite of being in pain and having an audience. I can only imagine what you can do, given time and privacy, to someone who is willing."

"Bloody stubborn bint," he groaned as he put his arms around her and pulled her closer.

"Is that a 'yes'? " she breathed into his descending mouth.

His response was entirely non-verbal as he allowed himself to once again enjoy the soft warm lips beneath his and to feel the strong, lithe body that melted into him. As they had the night before, they kissed standing up, Spike taking Buffy's weight on his arms as she allowed her knees to give out.

It wasn't until she felt Spike trembling with effort that she realized how long they had been standing there kissing, and how much of her weight she had been expecting him to hold up. Tearing her lips away with an effort, she stood up straight and put her arms around his waist.

"Maybe we should sit down," she breathed, pulling him towards the hallway that led to his bedroom.

"Good idea, luv," he agreed, walking instead directly to a big wooden chair that had somehow survived the fire with minor scorching. He sat down, pulling her onto his lap as he had so many times already when she needed comforting about something. This time, rather than the platonic cuddling and reassurance that had marked their other physical contact, he continued to kiss her, his tongue tangling with hers, stroking the inside of her mouth and leaving goose bumps wherever else he put his lips and tongue.

His hands stroked her sides and brushed the bottom of her breasts as he took his time, giving her every opportunity to change her mind and recoil from his increasingly intimate caresses. When she was lying across his lap, shivering with anticipation and moaning as his fingers slid under the elastic around the crotch of her underwear, he felt himself shift as his demon emerged; he jerked his head, pulling back and turning it away from her while he struggled to control it.

"Spike?" Her breathy whisper pulled his attention back to the girl on his lap. With a supreme effort, he pushed the demon down and turned back to the lust-dazed eyes staring at him anxiously.

"Not going to do this now, pet. Not like this. You deserve better. We'll do it tomorrow night, yeah? Give me some time to… to suss out what's best for you—"

"What's best for me is you," she said, sitting up and pushing down her skirt. "But if you don't want to do it, I'm not going to beg you."

Her face was flaming with a combination of embarrassment, disappointment, anger, and barely concealed sorrow. She struggled feebly to get up as he wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly and pleading with her for understanding.

"Know you're not the beggin' type, love. Knew that the first time I fought you, didn't I? I don't want you to beg; I just want to make it good for you. 'S going to be like your first time, yeah? I want it to be special."

She pouted, relaxing back into him as he coaxed her into giving him until the following night to prepare. She reached up and nibbled on his ear lobe, earning a heartfelt groan and a tightening of his embrace as she experimented with using her tongue, lips and teeth to explore his face and neck.

"Don't you think you could give me a little preview?" she whispered, sucking gently on the skin of his throat and smiling at the sounds she was evoking. "A little something to prove to me that you aren't just putting me off until you can leave?"

In the midst of his genuine response to her inexperienced, but enthusiastic attentions, he gave a start of surprise at her perceptiveness.

Bollocks! That IS what I was thinkin'. The chit knows me too well.

As if to prove his point, she stopped running her mouth over his neck and asked tremulously, "You were thinking that, weren't you? You were going to stall me until you could leave here."

Knowing there was now no way he could leave her wearing the heartbroken expression she was showing him, he shook his head vigorously and said, "No, love. I swear. Tomorrow night – I promise. I'll have my room all cleaned up and ready for the deflowering of Buffy Summers."

"Deflowering?"

He shrugged and cursed his Victorian upbringing. "That sounded much more modern in my head," he admitted with a small laugh. "It just means…"

"I think I know what it means," she said quietly. "But it's a bit late for that, isn't it?"

He tipped her chin up, forcing her to look him in the eye.

"All that bloody wanker did was rupture a bit of tissue that wasn't doin' you any good anyway. As far as I'm concerned, I'm going to be teaching a virgin about the pleasures of having a man make love to her. And you're going to be experiencing those pleasures for the first time. Are you with me here, Slayer?"

Buffy nodded hesitantly and settled against his chest, allowing him to stroke her hair and pet her the way she'd become used to his doing when he was trying to soothe her. Although Spike remained in a semi-aroused state, he was able to keep her from noticing and they passed the rest of the evening in chaste, but affectionate cuddling and conversation. When she was ready to go home, he insisted on driving her there, giving her a goodnight kiss that promised so much of what was awaiting her the next night that she had to hold on to the car door for a second until she was sure she could stand upright.

"Night, luv," he said, curling his tongue behind his teeth and giving her a heavy-lidded leer. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Tomorrow," she echoed, as she watched the car's taillights disappearing.

Chapter Eight

Buffy's mother listened to the sounds of her daughter's preparation for the night's patrol with growing suspicion. As a rule, Buffy took a bath or shower after she returned from patrol, not before she left. And the after-bath moisturizing, toe-nail painting and hair curling left little doubt that the Slayer had something more planned than a quick circuit through the town's cemeteries. Her innate desire to know what was going on fought with her unwillingness to put Buffy in the position of lying to her about her activities as she had before her secret had come out. That and the fact that she'd had an unexpected daytime visit from Spike that afternoon.

Hoping the visit was just a coincidence and had nothing to do with Buffy's lengthy primping, she'd chosen not to say anything. In the long run, an unwillingness to pry as well as the hope that Buffy was going to have something resembling normal fun, kept her quiet, and she just waved "good night" as though the Slayer had not gone out to kill things wearing strappy sandals and perfume.

To assuage her guilt for her plan to spend the evening doing something other than her job, Buffy made a quick pass through both cemeteries that she passed on the way to Crawford Street, staking a few early-rising vamps before they even had time to realize where or what they were. Complimenting herself on her responsible behavior, she then hastened toward the burnt-out mansion and the very much undusty vampire awaiting her there.

The Desoto was once again in the driveway and Spike met her at the door, wearing, rather than his signature jeans and tee shirt, a pair of dress pants and an open-at-the-neck dress shirt in a blue shade that matched his eyes. His gaze traveled appreciatively over her petite but shapely form and the clinging short skirt and low cut top she was wearing before he reached for her hand and pulled her gently into a warm embrace.

"I've been waiting for you, luv," he purred as he nuzzled her neck and inhaled her unique scent. "What took you so long?"

"I… I had to… make a patrol first… you know, Chosen One… and…." Her voice trailed off as his lips traveled up to her mouth and he kissed her gently, making no attempt to deepen it but allowing her to feel the suppressed desire behind the skilled lips.

"So, you did what – stun them with the way you look tonight and then stake the poor sods while they were gobsmacked?" His gentle teasing told her that the extra time she'd spent getting ready for the evening was well spent and she giggled with pleased gratitude.

Suddenly she remembered the reason for her dressier than usual appearance, as well as the vampire's own unusual attire, and a wave of shyness swept over her. She dropped her eyes and stepped back from him, wondering if there was something she should be doing. Spike fixed a perceptive eye on her flushed face and said softly, "There's no rush here, love. It was your idea and you're entitled to change your mind at any time. I'm yours to command, Slayer."

"I… I haven't changed my mind," she said slowly. "I just don't know what to do… what do you want me to… should I take my clothes off?"

"Well, not right here you shouldn't," he grinned, leading her away from the open door. "You never know which of these old houses might have actual people livin' in them."

Buffy blushed and hit his arm, hiding her embarrassment behind some minor violence. Laughing softly, he held out his hand and asked, "Come with me, pet?"

He led her through the dark house back to the sheltered room he'd been living in for months. After ushering her through the doorway, he closed the door behind them and pulled her back against his chest while she took in the room's appearance. As Buffy stared around the no-longer familiar space, he put his arms around her waist and rested his chin on her shoulder asking, "What do you think, pet? Does it look like a good place to learn about love?"

Buffy gazed around her with awe. The room had been transformed from a very spare, stone-walled bedroom into something from the Arabian Nights. Candles flickered everywhere, lighting up the entire room and exposing things she had never really noticed before. On the floor was a soft oriental rug that Buffy was sure had not been there previously; the bed was neatly made with clean red sheets and a matching comforter with a red, black and gold pattern that matched the covers on the pillows. The walls were covered with some sort of soft fabric, also a dark red. Soft music was coming from speakers that she could not locate, although she did see the CD player, which was the apparent source of the music.

"It looks beautiful, Spike," she breathed. "All that's missing is the champagne to get me drunk."

"Don't want you if I have to get you drunk, Buffy—" Panic suddenly colored his voice. "Did you want champagne? I didn't think you would drink, being so young and- but if you want it, I can—"

She turned around and stopped his apologies with a kiss. "I was only kidding, Spike. I don't drink and I don't want you to get me drunk. I want to remember everything about this night. I know it's going to be wonderful."

"Way to put the pressure on a bloke, Slayer," he said with a rueful laugh.

"Don't you think you're up to it?" she asked archly. "Did I pick the wrong vampire?"

"Oh, you picked the right vampire, pet. Make no mistake about that." His voice rumbled from his chest as he growled in her ear. Rather than scaring her, she found that the growl sent her heart pounding in anticipation and she pressed up against his body, enjoying the vibrations he was sending through her.

"Oh my god, that's sexy. It's a good thing you never growled at me when you were trying to kill me."

"Like that, do you?" he growled again, making her giggle with the sensation.

"Oh yeah. It makes me tingle… all over, not just my vampire tingles – or my… my Spike tingles."

"You have Spike tingles?" As he talked with her, he was running his lips down her neck and sucking gently on the skin there, enjoying the breathless way she tried to respond to him.

"Y… yes," she sighed, tilting her head to the side and giving him more access to the sensitive skin on her throat. "I can always feel you when you're close by. You'll never be able to sneak up on me."

"That so, slayer?" The barely suppressed laughter in his voice was Buffy's first clue that while he'd been nibbling on her neck and talking in his deep, seductive voice his hand had been slipping under her shirt and unfastening her bra. Her muffled, "Eep!" as the hand slid around to cup a breast brought another smile to his face.

"Wow, that was smooth," she managed to gasp, trying to pretend that having a man's hand gently kneading her breast was an every day thing. When his fingers began to roll her nipple back and forth, she gave up and moaned into his mouth, her own arms going around his neck to hold her up.

Taking his hand away from her warm breast long enough to pick her up and walk to the bed with her, Spike gently laid her down and gazed into her trusting eyes. Her hair was spread on the crimson pillowcase, the golden strands catching the light from the candles flickering around the room. He thought he'd never seen anything so beautiful and for moments all he could do was stare at her in awe.

As Spike remained where he was, leaning over the bed, but not touching her, Buffy's expression changed from anxious anticipation to just anxious.

"Spike?" Her tremulous voice brought him out of his reverie and he flinched as he realized she thought he'd changed his mind. He quickly dropped down beside her, pulling her into his chest and running his hand over her head, stroking it and letting the silken strands run through his fingers.

"Ah, luv, my little Slayer. Didn't mean to shut down on you like that, sweetheart. I just was so taken by the sight of you on my bed, all soft and trustin' and waitin' for me and I… I had to stop and wonder what I ever did to deserve this gift."

Surprising them both by taking the lead, Buffy wrapped one leg around his and pressed up against him, murmuring, "You haven't even unwrapped your gift yet."

With a groan, he allowed himself several minutes to enjoy the feeling of her strong, but so soft and feminine, body against his. Minutes while he kissed her so hard her lips were swollen when he finally stopped and rolled her limp body away from his. With a satisfied smirk at the look of dazed lust on her face, he slowly tugged her shirt up until he could pull it over her head. He tossed it on the floor, to be closely followed by the already loose bra.

"Hey! I got that 'specially for tonight, and you didn't even look at it!" Buffy's indignant protest at the casual treatment of her new lingerie trailed off into another moan as Spike's lips fastened themselves around one nipple and he began to gently suck on it.

"I'll look at it later," he promised, switching to the other breast and causing her to gasp and arch up into his mouth. While he worked both breasts, using his lips and tongue, and even nipping gently with his blunt, human teeth, his free hand was sliding up under her short skirt and stroking the silky skin on her inner thigh.

There was nothing faint about the smell of her arousal now, and he found his cock straining hard against the fabric of his pants. Grateful for his decision to wear the looser-fitting dress pants instead of his jeans, he pressed his erection against her hip while his hand continued to tease at the elastic of her lacy panties.

When her hips were moving in an imitation of the motions of intercourse, he slid his hand into the lace and ran one finger lightly around her folds, spreading the moisture he found there until he had stroked every part except the little nubbin sticking up and begging for his touch. He pulled her panties down over her hips as he slid his mouth down her body.

Pushing the short skirt up to her waist, he dropped his head down to breathe in the heady aroma coming from her now-bared sex. One swipe of his tongue had Buffy arching off the bed with a muffled scream, it having caught her completely by surprise. She'd been expecting the gradual licking of her inner thighs and outer folds that she'd experienced the first time his mouth was in that area, but instead, he licked her back to front and then pulled her clit into his mouth and began to tease it with his tongue and teeth.

He waited until Buffy's head was thrashing back and forth while she gasped and moaned incoherently, before giving in to her unspoken pleas and quickly sucking her into the first non-dream orgasm of her young life. He felt her strong thighs clench around his head as her hands buried themselves in his hair and forced his face against her jerking hips; he wondered briefly if he should warn her not to do that with a human male.

Poor chit. Doesn't need me tellin' her she might kill a bloke if she reacts like that to him. Maybe it's just me that could get that kind of response from her. "S not like a human can keep that up as long as I can.

While Buffy recovered, her body still trembling, he was working on removing the little skirt that was still bunched up around her waist. Without actually opening her eyes, Buffy shimmied her hips so that he could pull it down and off her legs. When it reached her feet, she kicked it off herself, not caring where it landed.

He moved back up and lay beside her, absently tracing random patterns on the smooth, tan skin of her stomach while he waited for her to acknowledge his existence again. Eventually, her eyes opened and she rolled her head over to meet his amused gaze.

"Are we going to do that again?" she asked softly, but hopefully. "Cause I think I kinda liked it."

Chapter Nine

Spike's deep, rich chuckle turned into a belly laugh at her indignant expression.

"What? Didn't you think I was going to like it?"

"Oh, I knew you'd like it, Slayer. Jus' didn't expect you to be askin' for more quite so soon."

"Oh." Her expression changed quickly to one of confusion and apprehension. "Should I not want to do it again? Does that mean there is something wrong with me?"

"Bloody hell, no," he growled, pulling her on top of him as he rolled to his back. "It means you are responsive and passionate and the answer to every man's wet dream, pet. Jus' caught me by surprise, is all."

"So we can do it again?" she asked hopefully, glaring into his laughing eyes when he couldn't stop another chuckle.

"As often as you want to, luv. I promise. But don't you want to know what else there is?"

"I know what else there is," she said haughtily. "I paid attention in Sex Ed class… mostly… sometimes… and, anyway, I've seen lots of R rated movies."

"Okay, Miss I Know it All, what else is there?" He relaxed onto the pillow and put his hands behind his head, grinning up at her expectantly. "Let's see what you know, Slayer."

"I know you have way too many clothes on," she sniffed, still offended at his obvious amusement. "I guess I'll have to do something about that."

"Is that so?" he replied, his voice rising at the end as she shocked him by ripping his shirt open, popping buttons all over the room.

Although Buffy had seen him without his shirt before, she hadn't really paid any attention to him while she was busy staking his family and saving him from burning up. And, at the time, he'd been emaciated from the months without proper food, all sharp edges and protruding bones. Now, after being regularly fed every day, his body was a sculpted vision in male beauty; his pale skin gleaming in the candlelight. Buffy's breath caught in her throat as she ran her eyes over his torso. Almost without her volition, her hand reached toward the velvety skin in front of her and she stroked it gently down his body.

It wasn't until she heard him gasp and glanced up to see the way his eyes had darkened that she realized that she could have the same effect on him that he did on her. With a small smile, she ran her fingers lightly around his chest, teasing his hardened nipples and trailing one hand down to the waistband of the low-slung pants. She leaned forward and kissed one nipple, smiling again at his hiss of pleasure and the following murmur of "Oh, yes, love, yes."

While she kept her lips moving around on his chest, one hand was gently teasing its way down his stomach until she could feel the bulge straining at the thin fabric of the pants. Spike's heartfelt groan when Buffy touched him through the cloth encouraged her enough that she began to squeeze gently, eliciting another groan. Her memory of what Angel had done to her made an unappreciated appearance as she mentally compared the size of what she was holding in her hand to what the older vampire had used to cause her so much pain. She paused, uncertainty over how she was going to accommodate Spike's much larger cock, sending a stab of fear through her.

What if I can't do this? It hurt so much before and he's so big. He's going to hate me if I tell him I've changed my mind. This was all my idea and now I don't know if I can do it. Way to go, Buffy.

Ever perceptive, Spike noticed her increased heart rate and rapid, panicky breathing. Keeping his voice soft and controlling any tendency to complain, he asked carefully, "What's wrong, love?"

Buffy met his puzzled frown with wide eyes that rapidly filled with tears.

"No… nothing… I just, it hurt so much… and you're so big… and I'm afraid… and you're going to hate me… and…."

Pulling her down onto his chest, Spike struggled to make sense out of what she was saying. When she put a tentative hand back onto his cock and squeezed it again, he pushed into her hand, causing her to let go quickly.

"Don't stop touching me, love," he pleaded. "Please. We'll sort this out, I promise."

"You hate me now," she mumbled into his chest, even as her hand crept back onto him.

"Don't hate you, pet. Never could. If you don't want to do any more than what we're doin' now, that's all right. If you want to stop right now, that's all right too." He tipped her chin up to look her in the eye so that she could see his sincerity. "I don't want you to do anything you don't want to do. You tell me now, and we'll stop. But could you just tell me what happened to turn "I want to do it again" into tears?"

"You're so big," she said softly, ducking her head back down in embarrassment. "I'm afraid it's going to hurt… like before and I don't want it to hurt."

"So, you're doing what? Comparing me to Angelus' dinky little dick and thinkin' because he hurt you, I will too?"

Buffy nodded against his chest, unable to keep from kissing the soft skin there, even as she was telling him she didn't want to go through with what she'd started. Spike heaved a sigh, smothering the urge to grin at the comparison she had made between his grandsire and himself. He took one hand in his and said, "Do you trust me, Buffy?"

She gave an uncertain nod and felt him take her hand and move it down between her own legs. She tried to recoil at the thought of touching herself there, but he persisted and dipped her fingers into the copious moisture. When he was sure she had felt for herself how wet she was, he let go of her hand and put his arms around her.

"Did you feel that, pet? Did you feel how wet you are?" Without waiting for her embarrassed nod, he went on. "That's what it takes to be able to make love without it hurtin'. That's what Angelus wanted me to do to you so that he wouldn't have to work so hard to get his little dick into you. He wanted me to make you wet for him. As long as you want me; as long as that wetness is there, it won't hurt you. Might take a bit of time to get used to me, but it won't hurt. I promise you, love. The last thing I want is for this to be another painful or degrading experience for you. If I thought that would happen, I would never have said yes."

Buffy lay against his unmoving chest, rubbing her nose against his skin and inhaling his unique scent while her hand traced her name around his nipple. When she flicked the hard tip with her fingernail and felt him twitch and hiss, her courage came back and she was soon kissing her way around his torso, gradually working her way down to the faint trail of soft hair leading into his pants.

This time, instead of feeling him through the fabric, she unfastened the button and unzipped him, freeing his erection to bob against his stomach. She gulped involuntarily as she took in her first close look at a man's fully erect penis. Spike held perfectly still as she touched the head, ran her fingers down the ridged side and gently cupped his balls. When she leaned forward and blew her warm breath softly across the tip, he let out a strangled "Bloody hell" but remained still, allowing her to set her own pace for exploring his body.

By the time Buffy was comfortable touching him everywhere she could think of, his pants had joined her clothes on the floor and Spike had given up trying to be silent. Instead, he was encouraging her every move with hisses and curses intermingled with the occasional "Like that, love; there's a good girl."

When her warm mouth covered him and she began to bob up and down with inexpert enthusiasm, he had to grip the sides of the bed to keep from bolting upright. It wasn't long before her attentions, as unskilled as they were, were sending him perilously close to exploding in her mouth, something for which he was sure she was not ready. He reached for her head and stopped her motion, smiling reassuringly when she looked at him with puzzled eyes.

"Doin' that just a bit too well, love," he said in a husky voice. "Come on back up here and let's see what we can do about the next step, yeah?"

Obediently, Buffy dropped a final kiss on the tip and then moved back up until she was lying on him, the hard column of his erection pressed between their stomachs. He pulled her up a little further, allowing his cock to nudge against the tops of her thighs until she opened her legs and let it slip between them. Their matching gasps brought a giggle from Buffy and she got a wry smile in reply.

"All right, love, here's the way this is goin' to go. I'm leaving you in the driver's seat. You decide when, where, and how quickly this happens. Understand? I'm just here for you. Are you ready?"

Biting her lip, Buffy nodded, then, just as he put his hands on her hips to lift her up, she blurted, "Wait!" Smothering a groan, he paused only to find her lips suddenly fastened on his. While Buffy immersed herself in the kisses that she had already figured out could make her forget anything else going on around her, Spike eased her hips up and poised them over his lower abdomen. Buffy slipped her knees to either side of his slim hips and slowly lowered herself until the head of his cock was just pushing against her entrance.

Reluctantly letting go of his mouth, she sat up and let gravity pull on her until she could feel herself beginning to stretch around his width. Squeezing her eyes shut and screwing up her face as though she was forcing down a doze of medicine, she settled down on him, feeling him slide, as promised, into her thoroughly lubricated walls with minimal discomfort. Letting him fill up her up slowly, she felt herself trembling at the sensations coming from her pelvis. It wasn't until he was completely inside her and she was sitting flat against his pubic bone that she opened her eyes and let out the breath she had been holding.

"You all right, love?" Spike could barely speak for the effort it was costing him to remain still. Only the fear that he would hurt or scare her if he started moving too quickly kept him from slamming up into the enticing warmth surrounding him.

In reply, Buffy tentatively squeezed her already tightly stretched walls, giggling when his eyes rolled back in his head and he growled, "I hope to hell that means 'yes'."

"Now what do I do?" she asked softly, unconsciously beginning to move her hips against him. "What do you want me to do?"

"Whatever you want, Slayer," he gasped. "You do what feels good to you and let me worry about what I want." When she frowned at him with disappointment, he elaborated, "What I want right now is to stay like this until I'm dust, pet; so it's up to you what comes next."

"Come on, Spike," she said with a touch of impatience. "You're supposed to be teaching me things. You're making me do all the work."

Before she had quite finished speaking, she found herself flipped over onto her back with a very aroused vampire on top of her. He captured her mouth with his and began to kiss her again as his hips began to rock against hers in a timeless rhythm. As she became more used to the motion, he allowed himself to slide almost all the way out before pushing back in, each thrust a bit harder than the one before. When he added a little twist of his hips, touching on his first try the spongy bundle of nerves that he was seeking, she wrapped her arms and legs around him and began to meet every thrust with growing enthusiasm. It didn't take long before she was gasping his name as she clenched around him, pulling him into release with her.

When their breathing had begun to approach normal rhythms, he rolled off to the side, smiling at her protesting whimper when he pulled out as slowly as he had gone in. Buffy snuggled into his side, one leg across his muscular thigh and her head on his shoulder. Spike's arms were around her tightly, as though he feared she might spring up and leave at any moment.

This might be the dumbest thing I've done in a long time. How in bloody hell am I goin' to be able to leave her now? Can't stay here. She'd never have a boy friend – I'd tear them apart before I'd let someone else near her. I am so fucked…

"What are you thinking?" Buffy's quiet voice interrupted his internal monolog and he dropped a kiss on her head as he answered truthfully.

"I was thinking that I am well and truly buggered," he admitted.

"Huh?"

"Never mind, pet. Nothing you need to worry yourself about." He smiled down at her and tipped her chin up for a kiss. "Was jus' thinkin' that I'd probably just had the best shag of my life and it kind of sucked the fun out of the thought of the next hundred years."

"You mean we aren't going to do it again?" Buffy's aggrieved tone brought another smile to his face and he squeezed her tightly as he assured her they were "a long bloody way from being done here."

"Oh good," she breathed. " 'Cause I think I liked that too."

"Glad to hear it, sweetness. Because I intend to do it until you can't move."

"Humph. I'm a slayer, Spike. I don't get tired."

"I'm a vampire, love. Neither do I."

He leered at her then buried his head between her breasts and blew a raspberry on the sweat-slicked skin there. She shrieked and squirmed, digging her fingers into his ribs and laughing with joy when he turned out to be ticklish. They rolled back and forth, laughing and tickling each other until Spike grabbed her hands and pinned her beneath his body. Their laughter dwindled as their eyes met and darkened with renewed passion.

Buffy's legs fell apart and she moaned as Spike's hips dropped between her thighs and his once-again ready cock nudged at her. Meeting her eyes with complete seriousness he asked, "May I come in, Slayer?"

"Come in, Spike," she answered with equal seriousness, sighing when he slide easily into her waiting depths. "That feels so good," she whispered, more to herself than to him. "It feels like you belong here, inside me. Like you're a part of me."

"Want to be a part of you, love. Want to stay inside you forever."

His whispered response was as close as he was willing to come to telling her how he felt about her. He knew he had her trust and affection, but he had no reason to think that her emotions were at all similar to the overwhelming devotion he had come to realize was his own painful feeling for her.

As they rocked together and felt the pressure building in equal measure, Spike found that his demon was demanding that he somehow mark this woman as his. He fought it as long as he could, but when Buffy clutched him tightly and bit down hard on his shoulder as she ground into him, he lost the battle and allowed his face to shift. As he emptied himself into her again, he slid his fangs into the ragged scar on her neck and took two deep pulls of her blood, sending her spiraling into another orgasm. Pulling his teeth out carefully so as not to make the scar worse, he licked the tiny wounds and murmured, "Mine."

He rolled to his back, pulling her with him and allowing her to remain draped bonelessly over his body. He held her in place with one hand, while he pulled the quilt up over her bare skin with the other. She murmured her thanks into his neck, too relaxed to bother raising her head. As she lay on top of him, her breathing evened out and he realized she had gone to sleep, still intimately connected to him. With a tired and happy sigh, he closed his own eyes and reveled in the closeness and the feeling of contentment they were sharing.

When Buffy stirred and opened her eyes, she found that she was lying beside Spike, who was staring down at her and running one hand gently over her face.

"Did I fall asleep?" she mumbled, not quite awake yet.

"You did," he answered softly.

"Oh," she struggled to sit, giving up when he pressed her firmly back into the bed. "I'm sorry. What did you do while I was sleeping?"

"I watched you sleep," he said quietly, pushing a stray strand of hair out of her face.

"Sounds exciting," she grimaced apologetically.

"Exciting can be over-rated," he smiled down at her. "It made me happy."

She shook her head at him with a smile, then fingered the tiny scabs on her neck and frowned.

"Did you bite me again?"

"I did. Sorry I didn't ask for permission, love, but when you clamped down on my shoulder, the demon wouldn't be denied. I bit you and I marked you."

"I would have thought that gaping hole you left in my neck when Angel yanked you away would have taken care of any marking you needed to do," she said with a shudder. "It's not like I'm losing that scar anytime soon, even with my Slayer healing."

Her grumbling sounded sincere and he hastened to answer her complaint.

"You know I didn't do that on purpose, love. You hardly felt it until that wanker pulled me off," he grumbled back. "This is different."

"Splainy?"

I claimed you. Marked you as mine. I'm hopin' it will give other vamps something to think about if any of 'em get close enough to think about biting you."

"It's going to keep vampires from biting me?"

He shrugged and answered honestly, "I don't know for sure. At worst, it will slow them down, give you some time to get away. At best, they'll respect the claim and leave you alone. It marks you as belonging to a master vampire and they have to worry about me takin' revenge if anything happens to you."

"So I'm what, a human minion?" Her voice took on a chilly edge and he felt her stiffen in his arms.

"No, sweetheart. Not a minion. A highly valued… bollocks! I don't know how to explain this." He growled in frustration, then took a deep breath and tried again. "I don't want anything to happen to you when I'm gone. Marking you as mine, as something –somebody – I care about… that should be respected by other vampires. It won't protect you from demons, but I hope it keeps you safe from other vamps."

"There's another way to keep me safe," she said quietly, relaxing against him once more. "You could stay here and fight beside me."

"We've talked about this, Slayer," he growled. "It won't work"

"I don't want you to leave," she whispered against his skin. "I don't want to give this up."

Spike made a sound somewhere between a groan and a growl.

"Don't make this harder than it already is, Buffy."

"If you think I'm going to make it easy for you to leave me, you really don't know me very well."

In a frantic effort to change the subject, he pushed her onto her back and began to kiss his way around her body.

"Gonna know you a whole lot better, once I get through here," he said, his voice muffled by the flesh under his lips. "Gonna know enough about you to make you come just by touchin' you."

True to his word, by the time he was satisfied that he had found and identified every erotic zone on her body, Buffy was so close to coming that she was pleading with him breathlessly to "stop his dammed teasing" and give her a "happy." With a self-satisfied smirk, he ducked his head between her spread legs and with a flick of his tongue he sent her into a small orgasm, which was quickly followed by another, much stronger, one when he began to suck on her clit as he thrust two fingers inside her, curling them up to hit the spot he seemed to find so effortlessly.

While she was still shaking and arching her hips off the bed, he slid up her body and into her still-clenched walls, growling softly as he forced his way into the tight passage. He began to shake himself as, instead of relaxing, the slayer-strong muscles surrounding him began to clench and release in a steady rhythm that had him babbling things they both chose to ignore. His "oh, baby, my darlin', my beautiful Slayer, my golden goddess" had evolved into "my love, my sweetest love, love you forever," and other, equally unsettling murmurs of endearment that he tried desperately to keep unsaid.

When a final lingering squeeze brought him to his release, roaring her name as he spasmed into her, he once again let the demon out to take another deep pull of her intoxicating blood. This time, his "Mine!" was much louder and more emphatic than the first time, and as Buffy reacted to the sensation of having his mouth on her throat by reaching her own orgasm, she responded with a cry of her own.

"Yours!" she gasped as she shook around him. "Yours, Spike." She was holding him to her, powerful arms and legs locked tightly around his body as though to hold him in place while she rocked against him in a seemingly endless orgasm. Once again, he was reminded of how powerful the slender girl under him actually was and he worried about her ability to control her strength when she was with a human.

The snarl that ripped from his throat at the thought of anyone else touching her, surprised them both and he hastened to explain.

"I'm sorry, love. That wasn't aimed at you. Was jus' thinking about how you're gonna have to be careful you don't hurt a human… lover… and the demon over-reacted a bit to the idea of anybody else touchin' his prop—you."

Choosing to ignore the obviously swallowed "property" that she vowed mentally they were going to discuss before the night was over, Buffy asked anxiously, "You mean I won't be able to let myself go like that with another human? What did I do?"

"Nothing wrong, sweetness. 'S jus' that you're very strong and if you hold on to a human the way you hold on to me, you might… you'll just have to keep in mind he isn't me. That's all."

"Well, since at the moment, that's a hypothetical person, I don't think it's a big problem," she said wryly. "Anyway, I can't imagine doing this with anybody else. Human or not."

"Maybe not right now, you can't. And I hope you don't. Not for a long time." He failed at his attempt to suppress a resigned sigh as he continued, "But someday you will. You'll meet some bloody wanker and fall in love and you'll want to…." He swallowed hard. "You'll want to enjoy each other the way we've been enjoying our bodies tonight. All I'm sayin' is, you'll need to remember how strong you are. Not sayin' you shouldn't let yourself go and enjoy it, just keep that in the back of your mind.

"Now I'm done talkin' about you makin' lo-—havin' sex with anybody else. Don't want to—" His growl was cut off by Buffy's fingertips on his lips.

"You can say 'making love', Spike. Isn't that what we were doing?" Her eyes searched his for the answer she wanted to hear.

"One of us was, pet," he answered gruffly. "Don't ever doubt it."

Chapter Ten

Before she could process what he meant by that, he sat up and gave her a light tap on her firm butt cheek.

"It's getting' late, love. I need to get you home before your mum comes lookin' for me with that axe again."

Without looking at her, he began to hand her the clothes that had fallen onto the floor, not bothering to watch her put them on, but pulling on his own pants and, after a rueful look at his buttonless dress shirt, a clean black tee.

Buffy dressed quietly, not speaking until she was ready to go.

"We're not going to do this again, are we?' she asked in a small voice.

Clutching the doorjamb so hard he left impressions from his nails, Spike struggled to keep his voice even as he replied, "I don't think it would be a very good idea, Slayer."

His use of her title rather than her name or one of his endearments was a clear signal that he wanted her to remember the distance between them and she nodded without arguing. She walked past him as he held the door for her, not looking at him as she did so. If she had, she would have seen the absolute despair that flashed across his face when she quietly accepted his statement.

The ride to her house was both too long and too short. The silence between them stretched out uncomfortably as neither one could think of anything to say; and yet the quickness with which they arrived in Buffy's driveway caught them both by surprise. Buffy gave a little gasp as she realized she was home already and whirled to face the vampire, catching him staring at her as though trying to memorize her every feature. A cold lump settled in her chest as she guessed what he was thinking.

"You're going." she said quietly, not even making it a question.

A silent nod was her only reply.

"Were you even going to tell me 'good-bye'?"

He shook his head, whispering, "I don't think I've I got that in me, love."

Buffy made no attempt to hide the tears now streaming down her cheeks.

"You don't have to do this! You could stay here."

"Your watcher would never stand for it, pet. And if he did, the Council of Wankers would have a wet-team here in a heartbeat – probably to kill both of us."

Buffy sniffled quietly, unable to come up with any argument that didn't make her sound like a spoiled teenager refusing to listen to the voice of experience. In what appeared to her to be totally off the topic, Spike suddenly asked, "How old are you, Buffy?'

"Just turned seventeen," she answered in a monotone. "What has that got to do with anything?"

"Nothing, I hope." he replied enigmatically. "Jus' that it's getting right up there for a slayer."

Buffy's hand was on the door handle as she ignored his remark about her age to say quietly, "If you leave without saying 'good-bye', I'll never forgive you."

She pushed the heavy door open and stepped onto the asphalt driveway, prepared to go in and go to sleep, and take up the argument again the following night. His softly spoken, "Nor should you, Slayer," was her only warning as he backed out of the driveway and turned around in the street. As the car lurched into motion, the momentum caused the still-open door to slam shut as the taillights disappeared down the street.

Buffy's immediate impulse, to chase the car until she could pull him out and beat him to a pulp, faded as quickly as it had arisen. The car was already out of sight and the sound of the V8 engine was fading rapidly, as she sank onto the pavement and began to sob.

Drawn out by the sound of the car's sudden departure, Joyce peered out the front door and saw Buffy huddled on the driveway. With a sigh that couldn't come close to expressing the way her heart ached for her daughter and the life for which she'd been chosen, she walked over to Buffy and silently pulled her to her feet. Without explaining how she knew what had happened, she murmured soothing platitudes of "It's for the best, honey," and "If he didn't care about you so much, he wouldn't have left," as she guided the now-quiet girl into the house.

"You knew," Buffy said accusingly. "You knew he was leaving."

"I knew he was thinking about it," was all Joyce would say.

She had no intention of telling Buffy about Spike's daring daytime dash from a manhole into the back door of the gallery earlier in the day. When he had thanked her for doing his laundry and asked her to take care of Buffy, she had known he was not planning to remain in Sunnydale much longer. She had made no attempt to change his mind about leaving, being convinced that, as much temporary unhappiness as his leaving might cause Buffy, she would never move on to having a normal life as long as she was spending her all free time with the attractive vampire.

She quietly accepted his thanks and assured him that she would do whatever she could to protect her daughter, smiling wryly as she added that she had no idea what that might be as Buffy was the one with the superpowers.

"You jus' keep that axe handy, Joyce," he responded to her with a smile that did not reach his eyes. "Never know when you might need it."

As she looked into her daughter's shell-shocked eyes, eyes that looked old and bruised for the second time in months, she briefly considered finding the vampire and taking the axe to him again. As much as she agreed with him that he was not what Buffy needed in her life, and as relieved as she was that he was gone, to see Buffy so devastated again so soon after she had seemed to recover from her experience with Angelus was tearing at her heart.

Reminding herself that she could not protect her child from the inevitable sorrows that come with growing up and falling in love, she hugged her tightly and sent her upstairs to deal with her latest heartache as best she could.

I hope that stronger than normal means her heart is stronger too; that she can handle more pain than a normal girl. What if it only means that she feels things more deeply? Surely these Powers that she talks about couldn't be so cruel to my poor baby. I think I need to talk to Rupert about this. Perhaps he knows the answer.

Epilogue:

When Buffy returned from patrol the following night, silently carrying an armload of red and black bedding up to her room, Joyce bit her lip in sympathy. While the Slayer went to sleep on her newly decorated bed, sleeping in a black tee shirt that Spike had left behind, her tear-streaked face buried in the sheets that she vowed never to wash, Joyce shed her own tears over her child's difficult calling and the adult decisions that had been forced upon her.

For the first month after Spike left, Joyce wondered every night if she had done the right thing by encouraging him to leave. Buffy's obvious unhappiness was tearing at her heart; all the more so as she became more cognizant of how unlikely it was that Buffy was going to have a normal life span and how weak her platitudes about "finding someone else" and "you're young, you'll forget about him soon" sounded to her own ears.

Chronologically, Buffy may have been only seventeen, but the death that she dealt with – and dealt out – every night, as well as her own shattering experiences had given her a lifetime's worth of growing up and Joyce could no longer cling on to the idea that her daughter was a normal teenager.

When Buffy eventually took the sheets down to the washing machine and laundered them before putting them back on her bed, she sparked hope that she was moving on from her mourning for the departed vampire. Although Buffy continued to sleep in Spike's shirt, she did wash it once a week and Joyce was relieved to see that the teenager was gradually getting back into her school activities.

Sometimes, when Xander and Willow were at the house and the three friends were eating popcorn and watching movies while they giggled over something that happened in school that day, Joyce would allow herself to believe that it was all a bad dream and her daughter was going to have the life she wanted for her. Then, the evening would be over; Buffy would offer to escort her friends home on her way out to slay vampires and demons with the weapons she no longer had to keep hidden under her bed and Joyce would once again wait in fear until she heard the front door close, announcing Buffy's safe arrival home.

The end -

Prequel – Loves Lost

Sequel – Love Continued

Final in series – Love Sanctioned