Things That Go Bump in the Night by Slaymesoftly

ReviewsRating: NC-17

Summary: Set several years post NFA, Buffy has moved on, is no longer in mourning for her two dead vampires. Then Dawn calls her for some help and she finds something she never expected to.

Author's Notes: Written for WriterCon UK and inspired by a lovely banner done by teragramm, which I will put up if I can figure out how. lol Much needed beta help from rahirah, Eowyn, Always_jbj and Just Sue.

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Chapter 1

“What do you mean, it’s haunted?”

“Haunted. You know, ghosts, spooks, ‘Boo’?”

“I don’t do haunted. I slay things. Solid, easy to see and hit, evil things.”

“You don’t have to DO anything about the ghost, Buffy,” Dawn whined. “Just go with me so I can prove I spent the night there.”

“With a bodyguard,” she teased.

“Well, yeah. I’m not completely stupid, you know.”

“Explain to me again why we’re doing this?”

“It’s part of my Watcher training – well, unofficially, it is. It’s a tradition -something we all do before we graduate. I have to show that I can deal with supernatural beings on my own. Like being a gazillion year old key and living on a Hellmouth most of my life isn’t enough…” Dawn muttered under her breath.

“Yeah,” Buffy agreed. “I’d say that ship pretty much sailed as soon as the monks decided that a whiny teenager was a good place to hide a Key.” She smiled to take the sting out of her words.

Dawn made the obligatory offended face, and then laughed. “Yeah, I tried to tell them that, but they were all `You weren’t really old enough to appreciate the forces, and your sister was protecting you. And everybody, does it.’”

“Which, of course, I wouldn’t be now – protecting you, that is.” Buffy smiled, then sighed. “Dawn, I don’t want to sound like I don’t want to help, but if you’re supposed to do this on your own…”

“I tried it on my own,” she mumbled, turning away and becoming very interested in the pattern on the rug.

“What? Wait – you’ve already been there? On your own?”

“Well, not exactly on my own. We…we’re allowed to go in pairs, so I went with one of the other watchers-in-training…”

Oh? Who did you….Dawn. Did you and Teddy go together?”

At the mention of her boyfriend, Dawn sighed and gave up on the idea of sparing Buffy any details.

“Yes. Teddy and me. We went up there last weekend. Everybody says it’s no biggie – the ghost doesn’t really hurt anybody, and he even talks to people sometimes. I figured we’d be fine. It’s not like I’m a slayer…”

Filing the question of what she meant by “not a slayer” under something to ask later, Buffy said firmly, “Okay, tell me exactly what happened.”

“Okay. Well, we went in, and just like everybody says, for a while nothing happened. We walked all around the house – which was in pretty good shape for a haunted house – and then we got bored, so I started calling for the ghost.”

“You called the ghost? Have I taught you nothing?”

“I was bored! And, anyway, he didn’t answer. Not a peep out of him. It was weird. I mean you would think he would have said or done something… ghostly, right?”

“Okay, so nothing happened? Why wasn’t that the end of it? Why do you have to go back again?”

“Well, you have to stay until daylight, and we…that is…we didn’t.”

Buffy raised an eyebrow and waited while Dawn shuffled her feet and looked uncomfortable. When she wasn’t offering any more information, Buffy cleared her throat pointedly.

“Okay, I just want to remind you that I’m a grown woman. Okay? And that you were boinking Angel when you were seventeen…and okay, bad choice for example, but—“

“Get to the point, Dawn. You and Teddy were what? Making out? Humping like bunnies?”

“Somewhere in between,” Dawn admitted. “We were on this comfy couch in one of the downstairs rooms and….”

“And…?”

“And suddenly Teddy was yanked through the air and thrown against the wall. The couch was flipped upside down, the doors were slamming and there was a really nasty snarl coming from somewhere.”

“So, you ran?”

“Duh!”

“And now you want me to go back with you. Why? So you can boink your boyfriend while I hold off the ghost?”

“Yes. No! I mean, I want you to come back with us - me, but there will be no boinking or…anything.”

“Damn right there won’t,” Buffy grumbled, then remembered that Dawn was twenty-one and entitled to have a love life. “Not while I’m there, anyway.” She relaxed and sat down, gesturing to the other chair. “So, why do you think seeing you and Teddy set the ghost off?”

“How do I know? Maybe it’s his favorite couch or something…All I know is he went nuts, and he’s not supposed to do that with watchers. He’s just supposed to try to scare us.”

“What does he do with not-watchers? Slayers, for instance.” Buffy’s question made it obvious that she hadn’t forgotten Dawn’s slip earlier.

“Well, I really think you should talk to one of the slayers--” At Buffy’s sudden frown, she hurried on. “But I’ll tell you what I know.” She took a deep breath and began. “Um…well, if a slayer goes in, the ghost gets more…physical. Like he’s really angry that she’s there…or he’s testing her, maybe. Who knows? If he beats her too easily, he smacks her on the butt, throws her out the door and tells her to ‘go home and tell your bloody watcher that you aren’t ready.’ Or something like that. I don’t know if anyone’s ever actually beaten him, but the ones who put up a good enough fight get better treatment.”

“Which would be?”

“If they can give him a decent fight, he just pats them on the head and says, ‘You’ll do.’ and walks them out the door.”

“The ghost walks them to the door? Like he lives there?”

“Uh, Buffy? He does live there – or not `lives’ there, I guess – but anyway, it’s his house.”

“Whose house?”

“Some old British guy who’s been dead forever, I think. Giles knows more about it. Who the house belongs to.”

“Okay. So, this ghost guy does typical ghosty things if he has watcher trainees staying there; but if it’s a slayer, he what – becomes solid enough to fight her?”

“Something like that. You really ought to talk to some of the slayers. They’re the ones that have seen and touched him.”

~~~~~~~~~~

“Hi, Julie, is it? I’m Dawn’s sister, Buffy? And I--”

“Oh my god! THE Buffy? Like, Buffy the first vampire slayer?”

“Um …no, not the first. Maybe the last? Well, except for Faith, cause she’s, you know, almost as old as I am.”

Julie continued to stare at Buffy with what could only be called hero worship in her eyes until Buffy couldn’t stand it any longer and turned away.

“So, um…yeah, anyway, the thing is, Dawn says that you’ve been to the ‘haunted house’ – and I SO cannot believe that the Watcher’s Council is calling that old place ‘the Haunted House’, Buffy huffed indignantly before going back to her subject. “Anyway, you’ve been there and--”

“Yeah, I was there. For all the good it did me,” Julie muttered.

“Can you tell me about it?” Buffy tried to sound patient and kind, remembering that Dawn had told her that Julie was one of the ones kicked out with instructions to “Get better before you come back”.

Julie hunched her shoulders and gave a large sigh.

“Yeah, all right. I guess I – it’s not like everybody doesn’t already know anyway.”

She stood up straighter and looked Buffy in the eye.

“I went to the house, by myself like everybody else does, and at first it was fine, you know? I walked around and checked it out, looking for the ghost or a stray vampire—“

“Vampire?”

Julie nodded. “Everybody says the ghost won’t let any vampires in, but you know, if the house is owned by a dead man…”

“That’s good thinking, Julie. It never hurts to be cautious.” Buffy smiled encouragingly when Julie beamed at the words of praise.

“That’s what I think!” she said excitedly. “So, I had my stakes with me and I was twirling one of them and then—“ Her voice trailed off, the excitement fading quickly.

“Then?”

“Then suddenly, I wasn’t twirling it. It was just…gone. Floating in the air on the other side of the room.”

“The ghost?”

Julie nodded. “I knew right away that’s what it had to be. He laughed at me, and tossed my stake back. And then he…” She shuddered at the memory. “He was behind me, right behind me. I could feel his cold breath on my neck. He laughed again and grabbed me. I couldn’t move, even to use my stake.”

“So, he grabbed you? He was solid then? You could see him?”

“Not then, I couldn’t. But I could feel him. He was solid and his hands were cold.” She shuddered again. “Then he let me go, pushed me away and said “Let’s see what you’ve got, luv”.

Buffy couldn’t suppress a wince. Five years since she’d watched Spike burning up the First Evil’s army, four since she’d heard about his resurrection and second demise helping Angel battle the Senior Partners, and she still got a twinge of melancholy whenever something or someone reminded her of him. Pushing the ache away, she nodded her encouragement.

“So, you had to fight an invisible man?”

“No. When we started fighting I could see him. I couldn’t see him, see him. Like I couldn’t tell you what he looks like cause he kept fading in and out and he was all covered up – like a ninja or something. But I could see him. He was just really, really fast and I don’t think I hit him even once.”

She looked at Buffy apologetically. “He laughed at me again, and I got really mad.”

“And then what? You clobbered him, right?”

“Uh, no, I just kinda…flailed around yelling at him to stand still and then he…”

“He…?”

“He knocked the stake out of my hand again, grabbed me, picked me up and threw me out the front door.”

“No pat on the butt?”

She shook her head, sounding disappointed. “No, he didn’t even do that. He just told me to go home and not come back until I knew what I was doing.”

“So, you left?”

Shaking her head, Julie whispered, “I sat down in the yard and started to cry.” She glanced at Buffy, but the older girl’s face was a careful study in sympathy and curiosity, so she continued. “And then the weirdest thing happened…”

She looked back at Buffy and said, “The ghost was handing me a handkerchief. I couldn’t see him, but it floated right up to me and I heard him. He said ‘Slayers don’t cry, they get even. Now stop snotting and go learn how to fight. I want to see you back here in six months.’ “

Buffy stood up and patted the other girl on the back. “Well then, I guess you’d better do what he says, huh? Thanks for talking to me, Julie. I appreciate it.”

“Are…are you going to fight him?” Julie’s expression was a mixture of awe and envy.

“We’ll see. He might not be quite as ready to start something with an experienced slayer.”

Buffy gave a smile that could almost have been called feral, as she waved her good-bye and left the room.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After she’d talked with one of the slayers that had been escorted to the door with a “well done, pet”, and smothered another pang of what she no longer thought of as grief, she went looking for Dawn.

One of the reasons she had spent so little time at the new Watcher’s Council headquarters was the fact that, at first, she’d found it too hard to be around so many people who spoke in ways that reminded her of Spike. If it wasn’t the accent itself, it was a turn of phrase or a casual endearment that kept his memory sharp and painful. Time, however, had worked its magic, and she was now able to visit England regularly without having to psych herself up for it. She was actually looking forward to fighting this ‘ghost’ and pushing his pet names right down his throat.

After all, I fought and beat Kralick without my powers – and I was only eighteen then. This guy is toast….”

It took only a second for the memory of her Cruciamentum to send Buffy flying down the halls towards Giles’ large, book-filled office. She threw open the door and took a second to enjoy the way he jumped, his pen flying out of his hand as he did so.

“Dear Lord, Buffy! Is something wrong? Are we under attack?

“I thought this was the new and improved Council?” she demanded. “You know, the one that takes care of its slayers? Not sets them up to be killed or …” she remembered what the ghost did with the girls who fought him, and lowered her voice, “humiliated by some tame ghost.”

He didn’t need the angry and disappointed look on her face to help him understand the connection she had made, and he winced before nodding in apology.

“It’s not the same thing, Buffy,” he was quick to assure her. “The…creature… whatever it is, doesn’t hurt the girls – not badly. Sometimes their pride is a bit ruffled, but that just usually makes them work harder.” He studied her angry face and continued, “I don’t send them out there. This is something that the girls themselves came up with once they discovered that it would fight them. I will admit that I haven’t tried to stop it…. But if I weren’t certain that they are in no real danger from it, and that it helps them to become better slayers and thereby possibly saves their lives, I would not condone it. It‘s become a badge of honor for a girl to be beaten by the ‘ghost’ and escorted to the door with his praise ringing in her ears.”

“What about the ones that beat him? What do they get?”

“That has yet to happen to the best of my knowledge. It –he- appears to be quite the skilled and experienced fighter. No one has beaten him – the goal is for a slayer to hold her own long enough for him to tell her she’ll `do’.”

“I see.” Buffy’s face gave no indication of her thoughts, but the new head of the Watchers Council had know her for too long to be fooled by her calm demeanor.

“Buffy, I don’t think-- I really would like you to reconsider--- This is not something that you want to fight.”

“I don’t? Since when can you read my mind, Giles? And, just so you know… I do want to fight it – him. I want to know that these girls are safe.”

“Really, Buffy…” Giles took off his glasses and began the familiar avoidance behavior that made her smile in spite of her impatience.

“Giles, what aren’t you telling me? What do you know about this ghost?”

“I don’t know anything; nothing more than anyone else does. The ghost does not speak to me, nor does it communicate with anyone except the trainees and slayers. However…” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Buffy. I don’t want to… I have my suspicions, but that’s all they are – suspicions. I don’t think sharing them with you would be in your best interest. Some things are better left…”

His warm gaze made her relax and she nodded.

“Giles, you know how I feel about being kept in the dark ‘for my own good’, right?” She gave him a wry grin. “You wouldn’t be doing that to me now, would you?”

“I suppose I am,” he admitted, somewhat unnecessarily. “But it’s only because you seem to be doing so well these past couple of years and I don’t want to stir up old memories or feel--“ He quickly swallowed the rest of his thought.

“Giles,” she said gently, “I’m in a good place. Okay? Yeah, I still miss him occasionally, but I’m not going to fall apart just because you have a ghost who uses words that remind me of Spike. If I was going to fall apart every time somebody called me `luv’ or `pet’, I’d have to stay out of England forever.”

“We don’t see you all that often,” he pointed out.

“Well, that’s because I’m…busy. I’m busy doing stuff and being other places, and…” She met his understanding eyes and shrugged. “Okay, yeah. At first I just couldn’t deal. But I’m fine now. No major missage. There’s a little Spike-shaped spot in my heart, but it doesn’t hurt anymore. I’ve moved on, gotten on with my life. I appreciate your concern, but I’m fine.”

She nodded her head for emphasis, and stood up. “And I’m going kick major ghosty butt, just to prove it.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As they approached the large, dark house, Buffy frowned.

“This is such a cliché. I mean, sheesh! Big, dark, gloomy – doesn’t this ghost have any imagination?”

Dawn shrugged. “I guess it’s where he lived when he was alive. It was probably pretty posh, back in the day.”

Buffy squinted through the gathering gloom and rolled her eyes.

“Maybe. If he had a whole team of maids to keep it clean and a gardener to keep all the bushes trimmed, and…” She looked around again, noting the neatly mowed lawn and shrubbery. “Hey, who do you think is taking care of the yard now?”

“Maybe he has ghosty maids and a ghosty gardener?” Dawn looked around curiously. “I didn’t think about it, before, but it is pretty clean in some places.”

“Some places?”

“Yeah. I mean the front hall and the main downstairs rooms? All cobwebby and dusty, like you’d expect. But the library? And in the kitchen? Not so much. It’s almost like it’s pretending to be a deserted mansion.”

“Which,” Buffy said with a wry twist of her mouth, “it pretty much is, if this thing actually lives here all the time and doesn’t just show up for company.”

“Huh,” Dawn said. “I hadn’t looked at it like that. If he lives here, we’re pretty much trespassing. No wonder he throws the slayers out and tries to scare off the watchers…”

“Well,” Buffy pushed the unlocked door open. “If he doesn’t want company, he ought to lock his door.”

Chapter 2

They entered the dusty hallway, which, as Dawn had said, was liberally festooned with cobwebs and the accompanying spiders. All of which, Buffy was glad to see, were staying near the high ceiling and safely away from potentially deadly feet.

Dawn led Buffy on a chatty tour of the rooms that she and Teddy had been in on their last visit, showing her the big kitchen and the library in which someone had put the couch right-side up again and picked up the books that had been flying around.

“I wonder who did all this?” she mused, surveying the room and trying to remember what it had looked like when she and Teddy had run out.

“If the ghost could wreck it, I guess he’s able to put stuff back,” Buffy muttered, concentrating on trying to sense anything supernatural or dangerous. There was just the faintest tingle on the back of her neck to indicate that there was something in the big house besides the two of them.

They toured the second floor, poking into the various bedrooms and marveling at what a large house it was.

“I guess back then they had really big families,” Dawn said, having counted at least six bedrooms, not including the small rooms over the kitchen that she and Buffy had concluded were servants’ quarters. The flashlight they were using, which Dawn insisted upon calling a ‘torch’ to Buffy’s great amusement, was only able to illuminate small areas of the rooms at a time so they quickly became bored and headed back downstairs.

“Why don’t we stay in the room where he pitched his fit? That way, he can find us easily.”

“Yeah, all right. Maybe we can find a good book to read until he shows up.”

While Dawn replaced the torch with a battery-operated lamp, Buffy wandered around the room examining the titles of the books. She noted idly that the books were not very dusty, nor were the shelves, or the table tops in the room.

“Uh, Dawn?” She waved her hand to get her sister’s attention. “This room looks like it gets used. A lot. Maybe you pissed him off because youwere on his favorite couch. If he can be solid when he wants to, he probably sits in here and reads.” She peered at the dimly lit shelves and added, “Poetry, apparently. Most of these books are poetry.”

Dawn wandered over with the lamp to look at the books.

“Spike used to have some of these,” she said without thinking. “He liked poetry. Did you know that, Buffy?”

“Yes, Dawn.” Buffy’s response was terse, but calm. “I’m very aware that Spike liked poetry. He…he used to read it to me sometimes when we were too tired to—“

“So don’t need to hear the rest of that sentence.” Dawn held up her hand. “I’ve already got the visual, and it’s disturbing enough.”

“I thought you were all grown up now?” Buffy teased.

“I am,” she huffed. “But somehow the idea of you and Spike…it’s like imagining my parents doing…stuff. You know?”

“Your parents!”

“Well, if my parents had been a girl only a few years older and really my sister and her much older vampire boyfriend who was really more like an older brother to me except when he was being all protective and --”

Their eyes met suddenly, the light of the small lamp catching the identical thoughts.

“You don’t think…”

“No. No, I don’t think. It’s a coincidence, Dawn.”

She nodded vigorously. “Of course it is. What else could it be?”

“Exactly. It’s not possible.”

“Of course not.”

They walked to the couch, looked at it, and by mutual consent, sat down in the two matching chairs.. Nothing moved, there was no sound except the normal groans and creaks of an old building. When she’d been quiet as long as she could, Dawn looked at Buffy’s tight face and asked softly, “Do you still miss him?”

Buffy sighed and leaned her head against the back of her chair.

“I’ll always miss him,” she said quietly. “But I’ve learned to live with it. I don’t…I don’t cry any more. Or get all upset if somebody calls me `pet’ or `luv’. I’m fine. He was a hero – not once, but twice. I just hope he got his reward for saving the world.”

Dawn nodded in agreement. “So do I,” she said softly. “He earned it.”

“He did.”

~~~~~~~~~~~

When several boring hours had gone by without any sign of the ghost, Dawn suggested, “Maybe he won’t come around me if there’s a slayer here. Do you think I should go into another room?”

“No,” Buffy said, standing up and stretching. “I’ll go. I’m getting antsy anyway.” She grabbed the flashlight and turned it back on. “I’ll just go exploring. Scream if you need me. And stay off the couch!”

She left the room and began to search the house for areas they hadn’t yet seen. The flashlight cast its light ahead of her as she walked through the halls and rooms on the first floor until she found a locked door just off the kitchen. She examined it closely, then yanked hard, popping the old lock open. With a satisfied smirk, she pointed the light down the exposed wooden stairway.

After checking the railing and the first few steps for stability, she began her descent, slayer senses alert for any trace of vampires or other cellar dwelling creatures. When she reached the bottom and shone the light around the room, she gave an audible gasp.

Rather than the dusty basement she had expected to find, she found herself standing in what was obviously someone’s bedroom. She turned on the lamp sitting upon the nightstand, and flicked off the flashlight while she gazed around the room.

“Looks like the ghost likes his comforts,“ she muttered, touching the plush covers on the large bed. The stone floor was covered with soft, expensive looking oriental rugs, and the furniture was solid and well polished. There was a book of poems on the nightstand, along with a small notebook and a pen.

The large wardrobe was empty, only a pair of boots taking up space in the bottom, and a coat that she refused to touch hanging from a hook. The brick walls were covered with hangings of rich fabric, providing the look of one of the upstairs bedrooms, minus the windows and dust.

Buffy’s stomach clenched as she realized how much the cozy room resembled the lower-level bedroom in Spike’s crypt once he’d cleaned it up and decorated it. She backed slowly away from the bed, forgetting, in her haste to get out of there, to turn off the light. She ran up the stairs, shutting the door behind her and hoping the owner wouldn’t notice the broken lock.

He’s a ghost. He probably just walks through the door…I hope.

A nearby kitchen chair provided some much needed support while she tried to control her breathing and talk herself out of the unwelcome and unaccustomed flare of hope that had sprung to life. She concentrated on breathing in and out and slowing her heart rate until she felt that she had herself under control. Refusing to go running back to Dawn with wild ideas that would only result in disappointment for them both, she resolutely trudged up the back stairs to explore the second floor and the attic.

Dawn, meanwhile, bored with waiting for the ghost to show up, had dozed off in a chair. When Buffy returned to the library, Dawn was sleeping soundly, serene in the knowledge that her sister would handle any ghostly violence that might occur. Giving an annoyed sigh, Buffy curled up in another of the big chairs and tried to read one of books lying on the table beside it.

Before long, her eyelids drifted shut and she catnapped as much as she could and still remain on guard. A warning tingle on the back of her neck brought her to abrupt alertness, to find the dark figure of a man leaning over Dawn. Buffy’s attempt to move towards him silently failed as he clearly heard her and whirled around, beginning to fade out before her eyes.

“No! Wait! Don’t go,” she pleaded. “We won’t hurt you. I promise.”

The response was a disembodied laugh and a sneered, “Know that, don’t I?”

Rubbing her eyes, Dawn sat up and stared at Buffy.

“Who are you talking to? Is he here?”

Buffy nodded dumbly, unable to take her eyes off the last spot that she’d seen the ghost. She was so focused on trying to see something other than the clearly visible books on the other side of the room that she almost missed the increasing tingle and slight movement of the air that meant something was behind her.

Almost, but not quite. Buffy hadn’t survived as long as she had by ignoring her body’s signals; she ducked, fell to the floor and rolled away from the invisible fist that cut through the space where her head had been. She came to her feet in one fluid motion, gesturing to Dawn.

“Go outside,” she ordered. “Wait for me there.”

“No! Maybe I can talk to him.”

“Do as the slayer says, Watcher.” The cold, disembodied voice floated to them from another part of the room, clearing the way between the couch and the door.

Buffy had turned to follow the sound of the voice, noting from the corner of her eye that, despite her protestations, Dawn had bolted for the door as soon as she thought she knew where the ghost was standing. Taking a deep breath, Buffy closed her eyes and extended her senses, pivoting slowly as they told her that the ghost was moving around her in a circle – just out of reach.

When he faded back into sight and threw a kick at her stomach, Buffy was ready, spinning her body away from the kick and into a leg sweep of her own. Before she could take advantage of the ghost’s off balance leap away, he had recovered and was bouncing on his toes – once again a safe distance away from her.

“What are you doing here?” the ghost demanded abruptly.

“I thought we were fighting. Wasn’t that obvious?”

“What’s obvious is that you’re no half-baked slayer-in-training. Can feel the power in you, can see it in the way you move. Why’d you come here to harass an old, harmless ghost?”

Keeping her eyes on the still-visible ghost and maintaining her own relaxed but ready stance, Buffy replied, “That ‘harmless old ghost’ almost killed my sister’s boyfriend, and scared her half to death.”

“The girl who just left – she’s your sister?”

“Yes, she is. Just your luck you decided to break bad on a slayer’s sister. I’m kinda touchy about anything hurting Dawn.”

As they spoke, Buffy could see him becoming more substantial – the formerly semi-translucent body now appearing to be as solid and real as she was. She took the opportunity to study the ghost – noting his height, weight, probable reach and the fluidity with which he moved. Nothing else was visible; his head was covered with a black mask that left only small holes for his eyes, and his body was completely covered in black clothing, a tee shirt, long sleeved over shirt and black pants.

“Like what you see, pet?”

The smirking voice and the words brought an involuntary gasp. A gasp that didn’t go unnoticed by her opponent. He prowled closer, hoping to take advantage of Buffy’s temporary loss of equilibrium, but he misjudged how she’d been affected by his words.

Rather than losing her focus, anger flared throughout her body that this unnatural creature could seem so much like the vampire she knew was dust long since blown from the streets of LA into the southern California desert. With a cry of rage, she attacked, landing two hard blows to his face before he could recover and backhand her away. She rolled with the hit, returning to the fight in time to catch him with another hard fist before he began blocking her punches and driving her back with his own flurries of short, sharp jabs.

They traded blows and kicks for several minutes, Buffy uncharacteristically silent as she determined to shut the ghost’s mouth for good. For his part, the ghost, once he got over his surprise at her speed and strength, seemed to be reveling in the fight. He laughed aloud when she knocked him down, barely rolling out of the way in time as she threw herself upon him. He rolled back quickly and tried to pin her to the floor, but Buffy was already recovering and she met his chest with her feet, propelling him over her head and into a bookshelf.

His muttered, “Bloody hell!” as the books tumbled down around his shoulders, brought a reluctant smile to her face and she couldn’t resist snarking at him.

“Looks like you’ve found some good books,” she said, tossing several more at his head. “Maybe I should just leave you to it and come back some time when you’re not so…wrapped up in them.”

With a roar, he leapt to his feet, shedding books as he did so.

“Some of those are priceless, you ignorant bitch!” he growled, prowling towards her with deadly intent.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Did I mess up your poetry collection? My bad!”

Buffy readied herself for his attack, but to her surprise, he stopped and cocked his head in a motion that was all too familiar for comfort .

“Who are you?” she whispered, finding herself unable to breathe properly for a second.

“Who are you?” he countered. She felt that he was staring at her, but it was hard to see his eyes through the small holes in his mask.

“I’m Buffy. The Vampire Slayer.” She stared back, alert to any sign that her name meant anything to him.

“Buffy. THE Vampire Slayer? Then who are all those other bloodthirsty little bints keep comin’ in here to bother me?”

She blushed. “Sorry. I spent a long time as the vampire slayer; sometimes it’s hard to remember that there are more of us now.”

“Thought you were a bit older and more experienced than those wannabes,” he said. He looked her up and down. “Helluva fighter you are,” he admitted, the admiration in his voice clear. “Don’t know when I’ve had so much fun.”

“I think I do,” she whispered, shaking her head when he twitched with surprise.

He waited, but she refused to say anything else, beginning to back out of the room and in the direction of the front door.

“Hey!” he said indignantly. “We aren’t done here yet. Where are you going?”

“I have to check on Dawn,” she said quickly, proud of her ability to think while everything inside her was screaming for answers.

“That’s your sister? The watcher-to-be that I scared off?”

Buffy paused in her retreat. “Yes. Why did you do that? You could have killed Teddy.”

His demeanor changed from deadly predator to embarrassed blusterer to indignant homeowner with a very short series of changes in body posture.

“Well, they were about to shag on my couch!” He raised his head quickly. “You need to watch that girl. That wanker was going to take advantage of her. You should be thankin’ me, not coming into my home and trying to beat on me!”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “That girl is a grown woman. And that ‘wanker’ is her boyfriend. What business is it of yours what they do?” When he snorted, she added, “As long as they don’t do it on your furniture, I guess… Still none of your business, really. You could have just done something scary, you know. They would have stopped and probably left the house. Why’d you go all Horrible Harry Homeowner on them?”

“Don’t know,” he admitted. “Jus’ saw that wank – that boy on her and….I don’t know…” He was silent for a second, then raised his head again. “Tell her…tell her I’m sorry, alright? Didn’t mean to hurt anybody.”

“Why don’t you tell her yourself?” Buffy gestured towards the front hallway.

He shook his head and turned away. “Nah. Let her hear from you. Let ‘er think you beat it out of me.”

Buffy sniffed, but turned to walk out and join Dawn outside under the slowly lightening sky. As her hand turned the knob on the big wooden door, she felt the air stir behind her, and without thinking, she threw her fist back and felt it smash into what could only be a nose. A bloodcurdling snarl sounded in her ear and she whirled, stake in hand, but she saw no one.

“You broke my nose.” The voice came from several feet away and now sounded more aggrieved than angry. She relaxed slightly and tried to hide her smile.

“You shouldn’t sneak up on people.”

“I’m a bloody ghost. It’s what I do.”

“I’m a slayer. Breaking noses is what I do.”

“Wasn’t goin’ to do anything to you,” he grumbled, his voice slightly muffled. Buffy could picture him holding his hand over his broken nose.

“Then what were you doing?”

“Was jus’ walkin’ you to the door. I wanted…wanted to ask if you were comin’ back, is all.”

“No smack on my butt?”

“Didn’t beat you, did I? Got no right to smack your arse.”

“No `you’ll do’?”

“Know you’ll do. Have done, I suspect. More than once.”

“Then why should I come back?”

“Want to fight you again. Outside, where we can move.”

“You can leave the house?”

Buffy’s surprise was clear. She watched, fascinated, as he gradually faded back into sight. As she’d suspected, he was holding one hand to his nose. Before he could answer, she asked another question.

“How can something so…unsubstantial get a broken nose? Can’t you just fade out and not have to worry about your body parts?”

Instead of answering her, he cautiously approached until he was only a few feet away. He tilted his head again, but this time Buffy was able to control her wince as she waited for an answer. He raised one hand as though to touch her face, but dropped it before she could finish raising her own hand to block any potential punch.

“Want to know all my ghostly secrets, do you, Slayer? Wouldn’t that be more the watcher’s field? All you need to know is that, good as you may be, you can’t beat me.”

“Afraid to tell me your secrets?” she said, squaring her shoulders and giving him one of her best glares. “Cause you know that I can beat you.”

“Come back,” he said, beginning to fade out again. “Fight me again and I’ll tell you everything you want to know.”

He disappeared and Buffy’s senses told her that he was fading. Within a few minutes, she could feel nothing but the same little hint of a presence in the house that she’d felt when they first arrived.

“I’ll be back,” she whispered as she opened the door. “You can count on it.”

Chapter 3

She stepped out onto the front porch and looked around for Dawn, finding her sitting on the steps ands twisting her hands together anxiously. The watcher-to-be jumped up when she heard the door close, whirling around and asking, “Well? Did you kick his ass? Is it safe to go in now?”

“I think it’s safe,” Buffy admitted. “But I didn’t kick his ass.” She smiled to herself and then added, “I think I might have put a big dent in it, though.”

Dawn sighed as they began the walk back to the Council headquarters. “I guess this isn’t going to count as spending the night, is it? I wonder if I can get points for going twice?”

“Considering that you’ve had to run out both times, I’m gonna go with ‘no’,” Buffy said, bumping her with her hip.

“But this time you told me to leave – and so did the ghost!”

They walked in silence for awhile, then Dawn asked, “Did you ask him why he tried to kill Teddy, or were you too busy putting dents in his ass?”

“I asked him, but he doesn’t know.”

“He doesn’t know? He throws a tantrum, tries to make my boyfriend one with the wallpaper, and he doesn’t know why he did it?” Dawn’s voice was shrill and for just a second, she seemed to be seriously considered going back to yell at the ghost.

“That’s what he said. It has to do with…whatever you and Teddy were doing…but he doesn’t know why it made him so mad. That’s his story, anyway.”

They walked a little farther, approaching the Council grounds just as the sun’s rays lit up the metal roof of the gymnasium. Dawn grabbed Buffy’s arm before they reached the gates, and, in a voice that made her sound much younger than she was, she asked, “Was it…did he…” She paused, not sure of what she even wanted to ask. It wasn’t necessary.

“Dawn. Spike is gone. He dusted twice. Yeah, this ghost says Spike-like things, and he’s…” She stopped, squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep breath. “There are some similarities.” Her eyes flew open again to stare into Dawn’s with fierce determination. “But it isn’t Spike. It can’t be. He didn’t know me. He didn’t know you…It’s not him. Don’t start thinking like that. Don’t get your hopes up.”

“Are you talking to me, or yourself?” Dawn asked with a twisted smile. When there was no answer, she shook her head and continued, “Maybe he didn’t know us, but he knows the difference between watchers and slayers. And he’s obviously protective of them—us. How can you not want to check this out?’

“I didn’t say I wasn’t going to check it out. I’m going to be all over the researchy stuff as soon as Giles wakes up. There’s no way that he’s been letting his watchers and slayers sneak up there like they do without knowing everything he can about what’s living in that house. He knows more, and he’s going to tell me what he knows or I’m going to…”

“Good morning, Buffy, Dawn. You’re up early.”

“We haven’t been to bed yet.” Buffy stared pointedly at Giles, waiting for him to notice that they had been entering the building, not leaving it. She wondered briefly if he had heard what she said, but then gave a mental shrug.

If he didn’t, he soon will. I’m not leaving his side until I have some answers.

“I see,” was the non-committal reply. “So you chose not to heed my advice, I take it?”

“Did you really think I was going to?”

He sighed and gave her an affectionate smile.

“Not really, but one can hope…” He made note of the determined look on her face and gave another resigned sigh. “Shall I assume that you have met our resident ghost?”

“Met, fought, promised to come back and fight some more…what else do you need to know?” Buffy’s chin stuck out and her eyes dared him to argue. To her surprise, he just shook his head and gestured towards the dining hall.

“Shall we get some breakfast, then and talk about this over a nice cuppa?”

He allowed Dawn and Buffy to precede him into the dining room and waited until they were all seated at a remote table before breaking his silence. He took a sip of his tea, smiled and exhaled with contentment.

“Ah, good, well-brewed British tea. There’s nothing quite like it to begin one’s day.”

“Except for good old American, heavily caffeinated Starbuck’s special,” Buffy said wryly, stirring her mug full of sugar and coffee. “Especially for those of us who haven’t had any sleep yet,” she added, reminding him of the subject at hand.

“Yes. Quite. Well then, you say you met the ghost and fought with him? How did that go? I don’t see any cuts or bruises, so I’m assuming you won?”

Buffy gingerly patted the side of her face where the ghost’s original backhand had reminded her not to get complacent.

“Not won, so much as brought him up to speed on what it means to fight an experienced slayer. We sort of…tied.”

“I see. And you intend to go back and fight him again?”

“Yep. Not done with him yet. And, anyway, he asked me to come back.” She fixed Giles with a hard look and said, “Now, quit pussyfooting around and tell me everything you know about this ghost – starting with who he is.”

The man who had been such an important part of her life since she was in her early teens sighed again and reached for his glasses. Buffy’s hand stopped him before he could take them off.

“They’re fine,” she said with a forced smile. “Nice and clean.” Her voice cracked just the smallest bit. “Just tell me what you know.”

He nodded, dropping his hand to the table and tracing the handle on his cup.

“Very well,” he said quietly. “I’ll tell you what I know – which is very little, I might add.” He raised his eyes to hers. “I was not lying to you, Buffy. I know next to nothing about this ghost.”

She waited, tapping her fingers impatiently.

“However,” he admitted, “I do have some suspicions, and I have done some research.”

“Giles…”

“Yes, well, let’s recap, shall we? What do we know about Spike’s appearance and subsequent time at Wolfram and Hart?”

“So, we are talking about Spike, then?” Dawn couldn’t contain her excitement.

Giles shook his head emphatically. “No, Dawn. We are talking about some sort of…entity…who appears to have some of Spike’s characteristics and, for lack of a better word, personality. This entity dwells within a building that may – or may not – have belonged to the family of William the Bloody.”

“Well, that’s nice and unambiguous,” Buffy grumbled at the same time that Dawn squealed, “That settles it, then!”

Giving Buffy a smile of appreciation for her reluctance to jump to conclusions, he said sternly, “It settles nothing, Dawn. The records are unclear – the house appears to be still owned by someone in the Pratt family. However, we have not been able to track down who that is, or exactly what relationship he may have to the original owners. Obviously, he would have to be a great grandson or grand nephew or some such—“

“Or,” Buffy cut in, “he could just be a vampire who’s been around since the 1880’s.”

“He could,” Giles admitted quietly. “But then, why would he be unable to recognize anyone that he knows? Most particularly…you.”

“Okay, let’s go back to what Spike was doing with Angel at Wolfram and Hart. What do you know about that?”

“Little more than what Andrew told you after the…the final battle. We know that Spike’s… essence…”

“His soul,” Buffy said firmly.

“Very well, his soul, was somehow contained within the amulet that he wore when he---”

“When he saved the world and defeated the First Evil.”

Glaring at Dawn for her interruption, Giles continued through tight lips.

“…when he saved the world and defeated the First Evil’s army.”

“Was that so hard to admit?” Buffy asked, trapping him with her gaze.

They had long since mended the rift created by Giles’ complicity in Robin Wood’s plan to kill Spike. However, they had tacitly agreed to disagree on Spike’s motives for saving the world. The old watcher was willing to admit that Spike had been genuinely, and with frightening intensity, in love with Buffy; and that his devotion to her had led him to acts that were completely foreign to a vampire’s nature. However, in spite of the final battle between Angel’s small group and the demon army that the Senior Partners had sent after them, he steadfastly refused to accept that Angel had not cooperated with the forces of evil.

The fact that Spike had chosen to remain with Angel in Los Angeles, rather than return to Buffy’s side, indicated – in Giles’ opinion – that there was a stronger bond between the two old vampires than anyone had known. And that Spike’s devotion to doing the right thing had more to do with his chosen leader than to any desire to fight on the side of good.

Their eyes battled over the table, hers demanding he accept what she knew in her heart was true – that Spike had not come back to her right away because he had been willing to risk another death to help his grandsire fight evil in ways that didn’t involve slayers. His eyes reflected his inability to believe in the complete redemption of either vampire, while still acknowledging that they had given their lives in an unwinnable battle brought on by their defiance of the Senior Partners and the destruction of the Circle of the Black Thorn.

The silent war might have continued even longer had not Dawn grown tired of what was, after all, an old argument.

“Can we get to the part that we weren’t there for? You know, the whole ‘coming back as a ghost’ thing?”

Breaking the staring contest, Giles nodded.

“Indeed. All we know – and this is almost all from what Andrew was able to glean when he went there to pick up Dana - is that the amulet had turned up some time later, in an envelope addressed to Angel. When he opened the envelope, the amulet fell out and Spike materialized out of it. He was visible, but not corporeal, and for some time he seemed to be slipping away as he had little control over when he was there and when he wasn’t.

“There was some sort of issue with a former employee or ancient spirit – I’m not clear on that. I do wish Wesley had thought to forward his journals and notes to me before he—“

“Giles! Focus!”

“Right. Sorry. At any rate, when the issues with the malignant spirit were resolved and it was made corporeal and captured—“

“If it could be made corporeal, why couldn’t Spike?” Dawn interrupted, but before Giles could answer, Buffy held up her hand.

“Oh wait. I know this one.” She sent Giles a triumphant look. “Spike gave up his shot so that the evil ghost wouldn’t kill…what’s her name…the scientist.”

He surrendered with good grace. “Yes. That is indeed the story. Spike could have become corporeal at that time, but he did not do so, choosing instead to push the other, less benign ghost, into the spot.”

“So that they could save Fred.” Buffy’s voice brooked no argument.

“Yes. Now, if I may continue…” They nodded and he hurried through the rest of what information the council had pulled together from Andrew’s reports, council spies within Wolfram and Hart’s organization, and other semi-reliable sources in and around Los Angeles at the time.

When he had completed as much as he could tell them – much of which they already knew anyway – he sat back and waited for the inevitable questions.

“Let’s recap, shall we?” Buffy said in a cheerful imitation of his own accent. “Spike and Angel did not turn to the dark side, they pissed off some really big evil guys and ended up fighting –by themselves.” The sudden chilliness in her voice and face reminded him that this had been another roadblock to their reconciliation – the fact that he’d known about the pending battle and had not told her or tried to send slayers to help. “And no one actually saw what happened to any of them. The only bodies they found were Wesley’s and that other guy – Gunn.”

“Deceased vampires do not leave bodies, Buffy.” His voice was gentle, but sure.

“They don’t pop out of ugly jewelry after they’ve turned to ash and been buried under a whole town, either,” she shot back. “Ever since he put that thing on, Spike started inventing whole new ways to surprise people.”

Giles nodded and patted her on the hand. “He did. He has had a remarkable life – lives – deaths – One hardly knows how to identify them. However, he was not a ghost at the time of his last disappearance. He was solid enough for Dana to have cut off his hands. We can only assume that he was therefore, solid enough to be staked or slain in some other fashion by the vast army ranged against him.”

“But,” Buffy prepared to argue. “What if he wasn’t? Corporeal enough, I mean. Or, suppose that amulet just grabs his soul every time he…dies? And spits him back out as a ghost of some sort?”

“Even in the unlikely event that could happen—“ he held up a hand to prevent her protest – “why on earth would it have reconstituted him here? In England? And within walking distance of the new Watcher’s Council?”

“What was here first?” Buffy challenged. “The house belonging to the Pratt family or the Council? Seems to me that I remember when you bought this place. You were all excited that you’d found this old school campus that we could use for training slayers and watchers.”

“Point taken,” Giles grudgingly admitted. “We came to the house; it did not come to us.”

“Exactly! So, if the amulet or whatever is controlling it, decided to send whatever was left of Spike someplace far away, why wouldn’t it pick a house that maybe belongs to him? In his home country?”

Giles had no answer to that, other than to mumble about coincidences and fate and wishful thinking. When Buffy pressed him to ask why he hadn’t worked harder to find out who really owned the house, he reminded her that he had a rather large organization to put back on its feet and that delving into who owned the other properties in the area had not been on his priority list. Only when the students at the school had begun using the house as their own little rite of passage had he thought to look into it at all.

By that time, enough slayers and watcher trainees had interacted with the ghost that he felt no urgency to know more about it. It had not harmed anyone and seemed to be serving a useful purpose in weeding out those slayers who were not skilled or confident enough to be out on their own.

“Come on, Giles,” Dawn wheedled. “Weren’t you even curious? Didn’t you want to meet the ghost?”

“I did meet the ghost,” he said shortly. When they waited expectantly, he looked around quickly to see if anyone else was listening. “He was quite rude. He told me his home was not open to the public, that I was obviously too old to be training as a watcher and not pretty enough to be a slayer, and he threw me out the door.”

“Threw you? As inthrew you, threw you?”

“Yes. I was quite happy that I had gone by myself and there was no one to witness my humiliation. I have made no attempt to return.”

“So, what made you suspect it might be Spike then?”

Giles shrugged uncomfortably. “I readily admit that I do not know Spike as well as either of you. However, he did live with me for a short while, and when you were…gone…he and I shared more than one bottle of good scotch. Between what the girls have reported of his behavior and speech, and the few minutes that I was exposed to his temper, I must admit to noticing an eerie similarity.”

“Well, there you go.” Dawn stood up. “It’s probably Spike. We’ll go back tonight and make him admit it. I’m going to catch some sleep now.”

Buffy waved her hand, too interested in what Giles had admitted to bother speaking.

“Will you do this for me?” she asked, searching his face for some sign of how he would feel if it did turn out that the resident ghost was Spike or some version of Spike. “Will you try to find out exactly who the owner of the house is?”

“And what will you be doing?”

“What he asked. I’m going to go back and talk to him some more.”

“It’s morning, Buffy. Ghosts aren’t about in the daylight.”

“Neither are vampires, Giles. But that never stopped Spike.”

She grabbed her tray and deposited it in the slot on her way out the door. However, instead of turning to go outside again, she made her way to the room they had assigned her and collapsed on the bed.

I’m just going to shut my eyes for a minute. Don’t want to look all baggy-eyed Buffy for the ghost.

~~~~~~~~

Buffy awoke several hours later, blinking in confusion when she realized that she’d slept in her clothes, then sitting up quickly as recollection set in. She jumped from the bed and quickly showered and got redressed. As she blew her hair dry, she wondered what she was doing and what she expected to find when she went back to the house. Although she refused to give in to Dawn’s certainty, she couldn’t deny the flutter in her pulse every time she thought about the ghost.

“Get a grip, Buffy. Even if it turns out that there is some portion of Spike’s personality or mind trapped in that house, there’s no guarantee that it’s really him. Who knows how many souls that amulet has swallowed? For all I know it’s the ghost of some other British-speaking, snarky, martial arts expert, Dawn protecting, Buffy fighting...”

Telling herself to “shut up”, she quickly applied some mascara and lip gloss. She slipped the gloss into her pocket, stared at her stake and then, with a resigned sigh, placed it at the small of her back. She ran downstairs, grabbed a banana and an apple from the table in the dining hall and left before anyone could offer to accompany her.

Chapter 4

Chapter Notes: Thanks to my betas, Always_jbj and Just Sue - any mistakes are the result of my constant fiddling.


She munched on first the banana, then the apple as she walked slowly towards the forbidding-looking house on the small hill. In the daylight, it looked less haunted and more just neglected. An area in the front was mowed into a small lawn, and the boxwoods along the front of the house were neatly trimmed. Everything else, however, was overgrown and unkempt looking. There was no sign of the flowers that were so ubiquitous in most British gardens. It truly did seem as though no one lived there.

“I guess, if he’s a ghost, no one actually does live there,” she muttered as she climbed the steps and approached the door. In a last second attempt to appear less slayer and more harmless girl, she swiped the lip gloss around her mouth and fluffed her hair quickly.

She opened the door, peering inside and taking in the dusty floor and cobwebs, now even more obvious with the sun slanting in the front windows. She entered, pulling the door shut behind her and following the scuff marks left by their feet the night before. Her slayer senses just barely registered that there was still something supernatural in the house with her, although not anywhere in her immediate vicinity.

With growing confidence, she went down the hallway to the library and walked in, hoping to catch the ghost reading or something else non-ghostly. She was disappointed, however, to find the room as empty as they had left it the night before. The bookshelf that had been knocked down and the subsequent pile of books had been restored to their place against the wall, so Buffy knew that the ghost had been in the room after they’d left. The book that she’d been reading was still on the table where she’d left it, although, rather than being open to her page as she’d left it, it was now closed with a bookmark prominently marking her place.

She smiled ruefully and muttered to herself, “Sheesh! If he’s that anal, it’s a wonder he didn’t get along better with Giles…”

Seeing no sign of the ghost, and not really sure how eager she was to find him, she wandered around the house looking out the kitchen windows into the very overgrown back garden and up the stairs to look through the other rooms. She noticed furniture that hadn’t been that visible the night before with just the flashlight for illumination. It was old, but in most cases, in fairly good shape. The thick coating of dust made it difficult to admire it properly, but Buffy suspected that an expert in antiques would find much to like about the armoires and beds in the upstairs bedrooms. The largest bedroom was missing its bed and a wardrobe, leading Buffy to conclude that the furniture had found its way to the basement.

Thoughts of the bedroom reminded Buffy of why she was in the house and she headed for the back stairs, concluding that the ghost, if he slept at all, obviously did it in the bedroom under the kitchen. She walked quietly, but without making any attempt at stealth. She had no desire for the ghost to think that she was trying to sneak up on him.

She hesitated in front of the basement door, noticing with amusement that the broken lock had been removed and was now resting in two pieces on the kitchen counter. Raising her hand to knock, she fought the urge to barge right in; then had to smother a yelp as the door opened right in front of her. Grateful that at least it wasn’t moving slowly and creaking, she shook off flashes from every horror movie she’d ever seen and stepped through the doorway to stand on the top step.

“Hello?” she ventured. “Mr… ghost? Are you here?”

“Did you think the door opened all by itself, Slayer?”

Buffy looked around, but saw no sign of the ghost. The voice had come from the staircase and seemed to be moving away, so she took a chance and began walking down the steps – senses alert for any indication that he was closer than she expected. She made it to the bottom safely and watched in fascination as the mattress on the very slept-in looking bed, dipped under the weight of…something.

Answering his question, she muttered, “Well, it might have. This is a haunted house, you know.”

He chuckled and apparently leaned back against the pillows. Unexpected and unwelcome visions of a naked Spike leaning against a headboard with his arms behind his head made her mouth go dry and she lost her train of thought.

“Cat got your tongue, luv?”

“Wha- huh? No. There is no tongue getting. I’m just…Could you please be visible so I can carry on a decent conversation with you?”

He laughed again and shifted his weight forward. “Whatever you want, pet. Don’t know how ‘decent’ the conversation’s going to be, though…”

“Huh?” Man, I’ve got to stop with the one-syllable words. He’s going to think I’m an idiot. “Why wouldn’t it be?”

“I was asleep when you started clomping around my house,” he said, clearly stretching out again. She could almost picture him sprawled on the rumpled linens.

“So? And I did not `clomp’. I was very careful.”

“So…I don’t wear pajamas.”

“Well, I don’t see wha-- Oh.” She remembered that Spike had always slept naked and blushed in a way that embarrassed her almost as much as not having figured out that she was talking with a naked man. Ghost! A naked ghost!

“Right, Okay, then. Invisible is good,” she said with a quick nod. “No problem.” She cocked her head at where he was still obviously lying on the bed and added, “You know, I was invisible myself once.”

“How would I know that?” The genuine confusion in his voice reminded her that she was speaking with something that only sounded like Spike. Even if, as she was slowly coming to believe, it did turn out to be him, he clearly had no memory of her or their time together, and she quickly tried to cover.

“It’s just a figure of speech,” she huffed. “I wasn’t really saying you should know about it.”

She could feel him studying her and shifted her feet uncomfortably. Spike had always had the ability to see through her when she was lying or trying to cover up a mistake. Apparently, the ghost was no different. Finally, he seemed to decide to let it go.

“So, you were invisible once, huh? What was that like? Did you have fun with it?”

Visions of what she’d done with most of her day as the invisible girl made her bite her lip and wish she’d never brought it up. Once again, she could almost feel him narrowing his eyes at her suspiciously as she fumbled for something to say.

“Not as much fun as being a ghost, I guess. I was on my way to turning into a puddle of goo if we couldn’t get me turned back.”

There was an uncomfortable silence, then he got off the bed and she felt the air stir as he walked past her to pick his pants up off the floor. She watched, trying to look away, but unable to, as the pants seemed to rise up by themselves until they were encasing a pair of legs. She watched the zipper go up and the button close, forgetting that the ghost was probably watching her.

“Never seen a man put his pants on before, Slayer?” he asked in a somewhat testy voice as he reached for his shirt.

“I’m sorry,” she said, glancing away. “I’ve never seen pants stand up by themselves before. Why didn’t they go invisible when you put them on?”

“There you go, again, wantin’ to know all my secrets. You can turn around now,” he added.

Buffy looked back to find that the ghost was fading into sight – pulling his mask over his face as he did so.

“Why do you wear that?” she asked before she could stop herself.

He shrugged. “Dunno. First thing I did when I got here – made myself something to hide my face. Didn’t wear it much until the bitty slayers and watcher wannabes started comin’ round. Jus’ didn’t like the idea of them knowing who I was.”

“Who ARE you?”

“William Pratt,” he answered readily. “But you already know that, don’t you? Or will soon. Know you’re checkin’ me out.”

“I am so not `checking’ you out!” Buffy said with an indignant snort, causing him to chuckle again.

“Meant you were lookin’ into who lives here,” he said, the smirk visible in spite of the mask. Buffy flushed and sent her eyes skittering around the room for something else to talk about. “But,” he went on when she didn’t respond, “You were checking me out. Were last night, too.”

He walked over to stand in front of her, only his hands and bare feet visible, and tilted his head in that gesture that had made her gasp the first time he’d done it. She held herself rigid, not allowing it to affect her outward demeanor, although she felt her heart skip.

Hmmmm. I wonder if ghost vampires have their vampire senses? I wonder if he can hear my heart beat go up?

“So, what’s the deal, Slayer? Are you always this afraid of ghosts?”

“I’m not afraid of you,” she blurted. “I’ve never been afraid of you.”

“Never?” Once again, she mentally bit her tongue while he openly challenged her. When she did nothing but move away from him towards the stairs, he sighed and was in front of her with inhuman speed. He reached for her, as though to hold her arms, stepping back with his hands up in a gesture of peace when she fell into a fighting stance.

“Can we stop tiptoeing around each other, now?” he asked. “I’ll answer all your questions, if you’ll answer mine. You don’t even have to fight me for it. Deal?”

“You don’t want to fight me anymore?” Buffy tried not to sound disappointed as she seized on that unrelated message to avoid answering him right away.

“Oh, I want to fight you, Slayer. Never doubt it. But I want to do where we have some room to move, and right now it’s still daylight – not a good time for ghosts to go wanderin’ around the garden. An’ I want to know why you’re so curious about me…and why you act like you think you know me.”

He waited while she bit her lip and twisted her fingers together; he said softly, “Come on, luv. Know you have questions – you’ve been full of them since you saw me. An’ now I’ve got questions of my own. Fair trade, yeah?”

Buffy shrugged and walked back into the room, then realized there was nowhere to sit except the rumpled bed. She looked at him helplessly and he nodded.

“Right. Not proper for you to be sitting on my bed – ‘specially not while I’m there too. Tell you what – you go upstairs and we’ll talk in the library. Got the heavy curtains in there, should be dark enough--”

“Why does it have to be dark?”

He was visibly taken back by her question and stumbled over his answer.

“Well, I don’t exactly know, do I? Jus’ seems like the right thing to do –stayin’ out of the daylight. Like it’s a habit or something.”

Buffy nodded and began walking up the stairs, saying over her shoulder, “Speaking of `checking out’, you’d better not be watching my ass.”

“Wouldn’t think of it, Slayer,” he said, the lie in his voice making her smile.

“Oh, yes, you would,” she responded. “You would.”

~~~~~~~~~~~

Buffy walked into the library and to the far end of the couch. She could feel the ghost right behind her as she walked into the room, although he had made no sound at all as he followed her from the kitchen and then to the opposite end of the couch at which she was pointing.

“How’s this? Unless you don’t want me on your favorite piece of furniture either?”

“Very funny,” he muttered, sitting down a respectable distance away from her. “Don’t mind you here – long as no bloody watcher is trying to shag you, anyway.”

“Just so we’re clear…is it your couch that’s off limits, or is it me?” She kept her voice deliberately light and tinged with laughter as she waited for him to reply. She knew her respiration and heart rate had gone up, but wasn’t sure if he would be able to sense them or not.

He met her eyes, his own too well hidden by both the dim light in the room and his homemade mask for her to tell what color they were. Even so, her breath hitched a little when their gazes locked for the first time. He held her stare, then broke away and shook his head.

“I think it’s you; but buggered if I can tell you why. Never saw you before last night.” He snagged her eyes again, asking quietly, “Have I?”

Buffy gave a nervous laugh and looked away. The stake was pushing against her back, so she pulled it out of her waistband and set it on the table. When he repeated his question, she raised her eyes back to his.

“I don’t know,” she said, honest reluctance shining in her face. “I…I think maybe you could…but it’s impossible…but you-he did it before…” She shook her head and leaned against the arm of the couch. “Can we just ask our questions and see where it goes?”

“Ladies first.”

Buffy snorted, then said, “Let’s start with the easy ones, ‘k? Let me think – what did I ask you last night?”

“You asked me who I was. But I already answered that downstairs. I’m William Pratt and I’m the ghost of this house.”

“How long have you been haunting this house? Do you know?”

He appeared to think. “Not sure. Sometimes it feels like it’s been forever, but I know it hasn’t. Before the watchers and the slayers started showing up, there wasn’t much to do to pass the time. Every once in a while some idiot would get a snootful and want to impress his friends by spendin’ the night here. Was about the only fun I had for a long time – sendin’ ‘em running out to their friends, crying like a girl.”

“And then the slayers came,” Buffy encouraged. “And you found out you could fight them.”

“Already knew that. I’m pretty solid even when you can’t see me – to answer another one of your questions from last night -- and when you can…” He shrugged and raised one clenched fist. “Had a run-in with some would be burglars when I first moved in. They didn’t realize what I was at first. Thought I was just a caretaker or another thief.” He paused and she could feel his grin even though she couldn’t see it. “Kicked their arses good, I did. Might have killed one of them if his friends hadn’t grabbed him and pulled him outta reach.”

He gave an abashed shrug and concluded, “Anyway, when the little slayers started turnin’ up and thinkin’ they could take on the ghost, I already knew I could fight. Took me sending five or six of them home in tears to figure out I was bloody good at it.”

“So, you are solid even when you’re not visible?” She filed that information away on the ‘probably not ghostspike’ side of the mental tally she’d begun keeping. “That’s why I hit your nose last night. How is it, by the way?” she asked with genuine concern. “Does it still hurt?”

“’s fine, luv. I heal fast.”

“That makes two of us.“ She smiled, rubbing the side of her face. Suddenly serious again, she asked, “How did you get here? If you haven’t always been here…”

“That’s a mite fuzzy, actually. Just sort of was… here. Some bloke was standing in the doorway and as soon as he saw that I was here, he tossed some clothes into the room and told me I couldn’t leave here ‘cept to step out on the porch or the front lawn. Then he laughed and left. Told me to enjoy the rest of my life, the bloody wanker,” he muttered.

“And you don’t know who he was?”

“Not a soddin’ clue. He jus’ left me here to figure out how to be a ghost. ‘Course, I recognized the house after a while and I found some paperwork sayin’ it was mine. That’s it. Don’t even know how or when I died.”

“So, you don’t remember anything from…before. Before you were a ghost, I mean.”

“No.” His answer was short and curt and she realized that not knowing how he came to be there was a source of frustration for him.

“What if…what if I could tell you…stuff.”

“Stuff?”

“About who you really are--”

“’m not really William Pratt?”

“Well, you probably are, or were. But you’ve been somebody else for a long time…somebody I…know. I think. I think I know who you are. But I really need to see your face to be sure.”

He nodded. “Gonna answer a few questions for me first?”

She gave her own cautious nod and waited to see what he was going to want to know and not sure what, if anything, she should tell him. On the one hand, if it was Spike, telling him about his past life might trigger his memories. On the other, it if wasn’t really him but just some ghostly presence that had some of his characteristics, she could be giving a potentially evil being more information than she would want it to have.

Her indecision must have shown on her face as he said softly, “Don’t have to answer anything you don’t want to, pet. But if you can tell me something about my life and…death, I’d be very grateful.”

Buffy took a deep breath and let it out in a rush.

“No, I want to tell you. I just…without knowing for sure if you’re who you seem to be, or why you’re here…”

He nodded. “Don’t want to give more away than you need to. I understand that. You don’t know what I am. Could be evil.”

Buffy cocked her head at him and smiled. “You could be. But, that’s my specialty – fighting evil. I think I can handle it.”

“I’ll wager you could at that,” he said, running his eyes over her in a way that sent warmth throughout her body.

She felt herself flush and turned her head away until she could set her face into disapproving lines.

“What do you want to know first?”

“Want to know who the bloody hell you think I am,” he said in a tone that said he thought she wasn’t very bright.

“Well, you could be…that is, you sound a lot like…” She stopped and stared at him. “Can you hear my heartbeat? Can you…smell…me?”

“If I’m fully solid, I can. Why?”

“Can you…that is…is there any chance…”

“Spit it out, Slayer.”

“Are you a vampire?” she blurted.

“I’m a ghost!” The anticipated ‘you stupid bint’ was clear to her experienced ears.

“But,” she continued doggedly, “could you be a vampire ghost? Can you bite people? What happens if a vampire tries to move in here?”

He pointed to the overly dusty hallway and crossed his arms across his chest.

“Stop playin’ games with me, Slayer. Tell me what you know.”

“I know that you sound just like somebody I…used to know. He was a vampire, and he…he died to save the world. Twice – as far as we know.”

“You used to ‘know’ a vampire? As in, ‘Hi, how’s it goin’?’ rather than know him like he ended up on the end of a pointy stick?” When she nodded, he asked, “Why’d this particular vampire get a free pass?”

“He…look, it’s a long story and no reason to tell it if you’re not him. He couldn’t kill humans, he helped me out sometimes and then he got his soul back. He earned his pass. It wasn’t free.”

“An’ you think I’m him?” The ghost’s voice was flat; she couldn’t tell what he was thinking. He suddenly spun around to face her. “Why? Why would you think I’m him? Just because we had the same accent?”

Buffy shook her head. “That and the house – his real name was William, we think his last name before he was turned was Pratt, he liked poetry, he was very protective of Dawn…” Buffy’s voice trailed off and she gave a shaky laugh. “She used to swear that she was going to die an old maid because Spi—the vampire scared off so many dates.”

“I see. Anything else?”

“He was a really good fighter; he liked it. And he liked fighting with me.”

“I’m sure he did,” he said almost absently as he leaned his head back against the back of the couch and became very still.

Buffy waited quietly, wondering if she’d said too much or not enough. She hadn’t told him that he’d killed two slayers; nor that he’d loved her. I think it’s okay, she decided. I haven’t told him anything that might upset him – except maybe the part about having his soul, but if he doesn’t remember being a vampire, he shouldn’t care about that.

“What would seein’ my face tell you that you don’t already know?” he asked abruptly.

“That this isn’t just some part of the vampire’s personality lurking in somebody else’s ghostly body, for starters,” she snapped back. “You sound like him, you kind of fight like him –as much as I could tell last night, anyway. You have the same name as he did when he was human, you know about slayers and watchers, you aren’t hurting anyone any more than they deserve or can handle…do you want me to go on?”

“No,” he sighed, reaching for the cloth covering his face. “You’ve got a right…” He paused with his hand on the bottom of the mask. “But what if I’m not him? What then, Slayer?”

“I don’t know,” she whispered. “I haven’t thought that far.”

“Do youwant me to be him, Buffy?” His use of her name for the first time sent a shiver up her spine.

Do I want him to be Spike? And what if he is? What does that mean? It’s been years, I’ve moved on, finished my grieving and gone on with my life. And he doesn’t know me – clearly doesn’t love me…Would it be better or worse for him to be stuck here, knowing who he is and the things he’s done?

“Buffy? Slayer?”

“Sorry,” she said hastily. “You threw me when you called me Buffy. Of…of course I want you to be him. I mean, I think I do. If it would help you be…happier. To know who you are and that you have…friends.”

“You had to think about it, didn’t you?” he asked shrewdly. “Not sure if you want to know or not now, are you?”

“I want to know,” she insisted. “I do want to know. I just can’t…I don’t know what it means for you. Would you be happier not knowing? If you are him, you’ve saved the world twice – more than that if you count the times you helped me. You’ve earned a peaceful rest or some sort of reward, and this –“ she gestured with her arm trying to encompass the whole house – “just doesn’t seem all that rewardy, you know? It seems more like you’re being punished for something – being made to haunt a house. It’s…it’s not right!”

“’preciate the indignation on my part, luv, but I know enough to know that what’s right isn’t always what happens. Don’t have to know who I was or what I did to know that.”

“Yeah, well,” she grumbled, “I’m a slayer. Making things right is what we do.”

They were silent for several minutes, then Buffy suddenly tossed him her stake, which he caught easily with his left hand. She could feel him quirking an eyebrow at her.

“You’re left-handed,” she said by way of explanation.

“I am.”

“I was just checking.”

He nodded. “Nothing wrong with checking as much as you can.” He played with the stake, twirling it around and tossing it up and down. “You’ll let me know when you’re ready to see my face, yeah?”

“I’m ready,” she said softly. “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”

Chapter 5

With deliberately slow motions, he began to pull up on the mask, teasing her by pulling up and then dropping it two or three times. When he had exposed only his chin and mouth and was still playing with it, Buffy began tapping her fingers on the table.

“This is not a strip tease,” she growled.

He tilted his head at her, pausing with the mask half up.

“Was just playin’ with you, Slayer. If I was goin’ to strip for you, I’d start with somethin’ more interesting than my face. Something you haven’t seen yet…”

Buffy bit her tongue, deciding that she wasn’t ready to share with him that she might have recognized him just as quickly from other body parts. When she didn’t respond except to roll her eyes, he sighed and yanked the cloth over his head. He turned to face her and said, “Well?”

Buffy’s gasp was all the answer he needed. She was frozen in place, her hand over her mouth and her eyes riveted on his face. They moved around, taking in the loose brown curls in place of the shockingly blond gelled hair that she was used to and the so familiar, and yet now unfamiliar, blue eyes.

When she hadn’t said anything after several minutes, only continued to stare at him and breathe heavily, he sighed and leaned back.

“You don’t seem to be all that happy about being right, luv,” he said gently. “Were you hopin’ to be wrong?”

“What? Oh, no. God, no! I’m sorry. I just…the last time I saw you, you were burning up from the inside out. It’s just…I’m sorry.”

She jumped up and ran to the other end of the couch, leaning down, hugging him quickly and babbbling, “I didn’t mean to make you think I didn’t – don’t want you back. I just – I was trying so hard not to believe it, that I—“ She stopped and straightened up, never taking her eyes off his puzzled face. “I just can’t believe it. That’s all. You’re really back.”

He glanced up into her wide eyes and said quietly, “Not really ‘back’, you know, pet. I am a ghost. Means I’m dead – just stuck here for some reason.”

“Well,” she gave a shaky laugh, “you’ve always been ‘dead’, actually. As long as I’ve known you, anyway. You’re just a different kind of dead – more with the invisible and less with the ‘grrr’ and the blood drinking.”

She walked back to her end of the couch and sat down, twisting her hands together in the awkward silence that followed her tardy welcome back hug.

“So, now what, Slayer?”

His face was blank and his gaze just curious, but she could see the way his jaw was clenched and his fingers were digging into the arm of the couch. Buffy shook her head, still lost in her own storm of emotions. It was Spike, but it wasn’t Spike. She was glad to see him, but she had inured herself to the idea that he was gone forever, and had no idea where or how to fit him back into her life.

Or if he even wants to be in my life. Got to remember that. He doesn’t know me.

“Tell you what, pet. While you get your act together, I’m going to go put my boots on. Sun’s down now.”

She didn’t respond as he silently left the room, sitting still and trying to control the roiling emotions that seemed determined to keep her speechless for the rest of the night.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Spike returned to the library, boots and coat on, to find Buffy still sitting exactly where and how he’d left her, he stopped in the doorway. He hadn’t made any attempt to be quiet as he’d walked down the hall in his heavy boots, so he knew that she was aware of him. When she still didn’t acknowledge his presence after a few uncomfortable minutes, he blew out his breath and said, “I’ll be outside. Just in case you care.”

He spun around and strode to the front door, flinging it open and bursting out into the rapidly darkening night, desperate for more answers, but too puzzled by her reaction to ask for them. He paced back and forth across the lawn, knowing from long experience exactly how far he could go before being flung back into the house.

Buffy jumped when she heard the door bang against the wall and suddenly she realized what he had said.

Oh god, I’m totally messing this up. He thinks I don’t want him here, that I…how can I convince him that I’m glad to see him without telling him what we were to each other? I’m not sure I even can tell him what we were – he loved me, but then he went on without me. I loved him, but it took me until he was dying to tell him. We’re not exactly anyone’s idea of the perfect couple.

She jumped to her feet, running to the open door and sliding to a halt when she saw the agitated vampire pacing around the yard. With his leather coat billowing around his legs, he looked enough like the old Spike to make her gasp again. Vampire hearing - still a part of the ghostly package apparently - caused him to glance up and catch her eyes. They stared at each other for long minutes, Buffy unsure of what to say, Spike becoming more and more confused the longer she refused to speak to him.

When he could take the silence no longer, he strode to where she was standing and held out his arms in a ‘bring it on’ gesture.

“Alright then, Slayer. Let’s have it. Whatever it is you think you need to get out of your system, let’s do it. Don’t know what it is about me being who I am that’s got your knickers in a twist, but it’s obviously something you need to work out.”

“I don’t want to fight you,” she whispered.

“Too bad. I’ve got some energy to work off.”

Without further conversation, he grabbed her arm and yanked her down onto the lawn with him. Instinctively, she pulled away from his hand and went into a fighting stance.

“What the hell’s wrong with you?” she hissed. “I thought you wanted to know who you are – were – whatever.”

“What’s wrong with me is that I don’t know any more now than I did before the big reveal. I get that I’m a real ghost to you, now. Somebody that you thought was dead and gone. What I don’t get is why it suddenly made you mute. I’m startin’ to think you liked me better when you thought you were never going to see me again.”

“That’s just stupid!”

“Is it? ‘cause, I’m not feeling the love here, Slayer. Is that because you aren’t one of those ‘friends’ you told me I have? Do we have some kind of history I should know about?”

Buffy couldn’t suppress the hysterical giggle that exploded from her mouth and turned into uncontrollable laughter. Laughter which, in turn, became gasping sobs that she struggled to smother as Spike glared at her, his fists clenched tightly and his face twisted with confusion and anger. When she collapsed at his feet, clutching her arms around her body, rocking back and forth and shuddering with the effort to control her sobbing laughter, he threw up his hands and stomped away; only to stride back immediately and squat down beside her.

He put a tentative hand on her back, patting it awkwardly.

“Come on, Slayer – Buffy – don’t…stop crying, pet. Whatever I said…I’m sorry, alright? Didn’t mean to get you all…Please, luv. Stop crying.”

Hiccuping and nodding, Buffy did her best to get herself under control. She could still feel the hysterical laughter threatening to bubble up again every time she thought about his innocent question. She took one final, deep breath and blew it out explosively. When she was able to take the next several breaths without losing it, she raised her head and met his worried gaze.

“I’m sorry,” she said hoarsely. “I just - it just all hit me at once. You’re really here. I mean, yeah, okay, a ghost; and you don’t know who anybody is - but you’re here. I can see you. I can talk to you. I can feel you.”

Putting actions to words, she lifted her hand and touched his cheek. When he remained still and made no complaint, she ran her hand over his face, tracing his cheekbones, the scar in his eyebrow and his forehead.

“Pretty silly, huh?” she said, giving him a rueful smile and dropping her hand. “So much for playing it cool and letting you get comfortable with everything before…”

He rose gracefully to his feet and held out his hand to her.

“Come on, pet. Let’s go back inside and you can explain your meltdown, yeah?”

Taking his hand, she allowed him to pull her to her feet, but hesitated as they reached the porch.

“Could we just sit here? On the porch?”

“Sure.” He shrugged and waited until she’d settled herself on the stone steps, then sat beside her – close enough to touch if she stretched, but far enough away not to be in her personal space. He waited as patiently as he could, but soon began to fidget when she didn’t speak.

“So, Slayer, I’m thinking it was the “we aren’t friends” or the “we have a history” that set you off. Are you gonna explain it to me?”

Buffy exhaled loudly again. “Can I just – for now -- say…we have a history? Just for right now,” she hastened to add when she heard a smothered growl. “Just until I bring you up to speed on who you are – were –and you decide how much you really want to know.”

“Can you do that? Without bringing yourself into it?”

“Yeah. I can.” She looked up at him from under her eyelashes and gave a small smile. “It’s not like I was even alive for most of the time you were around.”

“I’m old, huh?”

She nodded. “Yep. As dirt.”

“Okay, then, miss just-born-yesterday, tell me all about myself. I am William Pratt, right?”

“Well…you were. When you were human. I don’t know a whole lot about William. Spike – you -- lied about what you were like before you were turned.” Buffy looked over her shoulder at the big house with the room full of books and art and shook her head. “I’ve always been bad,” she scoffed. “Yeah, right!”

He shook his head with her. “Don’t know what I might have told you, pet, but I’m pretty sure the man who lived in this house was a bit of a nance.”

“Yeah, we figured that out – or Giles did, anyway. Back when you were…around a lot. He wanted to know more about you, so he went through the old Council’s records for anything they had on William the Bloody.”

“William the Bloody? And what’s a Giles?”

“Giles is – used to be my watcher. He’s the head of the new Watcher’s Council now.” She peered at him again. “You’ve…uh…met him. Briefly.”

He frowned; then laughed. “That tweedy old bloke I threw out of here?” he asked. “That’s who that was?”

“Yeah. You – I mean the old you – had some reasons to be pissed at him, I guess. But I don’t know why you – new you – would be so sure you didn’t like him.”

He shrugged. “Me neither. But I remember it. Just didn’t want that wanker in my house. Couldn’t tell you why. A bit like thinking your sis had no right to be thinking about shagging, yeah?”

“Yeah. Kinda makes me think those memories are in there somewhere…”

“Could be, pet. But if they are, I can’t find ‘em. Don’t you think I’ve driven myself half-crazy tryin’ to figure out who I was and what I did to be made to haunt this old place forever? Trust me, Slayer. If I had a clue about any of this, I’d be all over it, trying to suss out the rest.”

She nodded. “I suppose that’s true. You always have been very…persistent.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” he said, risking a light poke to her arm and grateful for the small smile he earned.

“Sometimes it is…sometimes it isn’t –wasn’t.”

“Alright, pet. We’ve established who the wanker is that I tossed out, and that I have reason to know he’s a wanker; but what about William the Bloody? Is that one of my names? How did I get it?”

“Did I mention – vampire?”

“Ah…” He tilted his head at her. “So, I’m guessin’ I wasn’t endowed with this soul when I first became a vampire. Bit of a badass, was I?”

Buffy rolled her eyes at the note of pride in his voice.

“You’d like to think so,” she muttered, giving his booted foot a nudge. “But Giles did some more research after you got the soul, and he says you had that name before you were turned. Something about your poetry being kinda sucky?”

“Hey!”

She giggled and his indignation quickly faded to a soft smile.

“You’ve got a cute laugh, Slayer,” he said. “You should do it more often.”

Buffy snorted. “I haven’t had all that much to laugh about since I was called,” she responded, raising her eyes to his. “Although, I’ve got say, giving you a hard time and making you mad usually made me smile.”

“Glad you found me useful,” he said with a grin. “Did you used to make me mad a lot?”

“Well, yeah, I guess so. You know, what with messing up all your lame plans to kill me, and…”

“I tried to kill you?” There was nothing fake about the horrified voice with which he responded to her casual remark, and she was quickly reminded that he had no idea about their history.

“Okay, see this is what happens when you distract me and I don’t get to start at the beginning.”

“Let’s have it then,” he growled. “Get back to that beginning and get me up to why I was trying to kill a slayer.”

“THE Slayer,” she reminded him primly. “I was the Slayer at the time.”

“Fine! The Slayer. Go on.”

“Okay, the history of Spike, part I…”

~~~~~~~~~~

Hours later, when Buffy had talked her way from what little she knew of William’s turning, and the more extensive information on his sire, Drusilla, and Darla and Angelus – up to the point where Angel was cursed with the soul – Spike stopped her with a raised hand.

“The Scourge of Europe?”

“Well, I think Angelus and Darla might have earned that name first – but once you and Dru joined the little family, it was…it was a pretty rough time for Europe. The Watcher’s Diaries are full of stuff about the four of you. Of course, some of it turned out to be exaggerated or just plain wrong- but nobody knew that until Angel started helping me and he corrected a few things for Giles. And you…you told me a little bit about…things before you came to Sunnydale.”

She paused to glare at him. “Most of which turned out to be lies, by the way, `Mr I’ve always been bad’.”

“You haven’t told me anything yet that doesn’t make me sound like a bloodthirsty demon, Slayer.” His voice was so quiet, and his expression so devastated that she was quickly reminded of how his victims had haunted him after he got the soul back. “Might be a blessing that I don’t remember any of this.”

Buffy rested her fingers briefly on top of his clenched hands.

“You’ve made up for it, since,” she assured him, withdrawing her hand quickly when he flinched from her touch.

He nodded and moved farther away from her. “Alright then, so this Angelus, he did for the wrong gypsy girl and got himself cursed with a soul. Then what?”

Buffy searched her memories for what little she knew about their time with souled Angel and after he left them. All she knew for sure was that he had abandoned or been kicked out of his family shortly after Spike killed his first slayer. Speaking softly and qualifying much of what she said with “as far as we know” or “well, according to Angel” she talked about how they left a Europe that was no longer safe for them and spent some time in China. When she got to Spike’s first encounter with a slayer, she hesitated.

“Well? Met my first slayer, and then what?”

“And then you killed her,” she said flatly.

He surged to his feet and strode away to the edge of his allowed distance, standing with his back to her and staring towards the not quite visible slayer school. He remained there for so long that Buffy began to fear he was planning to greet the sunrise. When he finally strode back to her, he was trembling and she instinctively reached for his hand, only to feel him snatch it away.

“How can you stand to be around me?” he demanded. “How can any of them stand to be around me?”

“They don’t know who you are,” she said as calmly as she could. “And none of them know you like I do. You’re a good man, William. A good man who conquered his demon and earned his soul – a soul that he used to save the world.”

He sank onto the steps beside her and dropped his head into his hands, giving a shaky laugh.

“You know, there’s a part of me that is actually proud I was able to kill a slayer. I know it’s wrong, and I know that if I had it to do over… But part of me is proud, Buffy. You need to know that.”

“I do know that, Spike—“ They both gave a little start at her first use of the name by which she knew him—“And I’m…I’m surprisingly all right with that. Her job was to slay you. You fought; she lost. It happens. Back then, most slayers never lived past their sixteenth or seventeenth birthdays. And by the time some vampire or demon had their `one good day’ most of them would have dusted hundreds, if not thousands of vampires. Vampires and slayers are natural enemies.”

He peered at her out of the corners of his eyes.

“You and I. Are we natural enemies?”

“We were -- when we first met. You tried to kill me; I tried to kill you - it’s just how it was supposed to be.”

“Wonder what changed for us?”

“Time to go back to China!” Buffy said brightly. “Where was I?”

“I’d just killed a slayer.”

“Oh yeah. So, anyway, I’m a little fuzzy on stuff for the next, oh, hundred years or so, after that. I know that you and Dru traveled a lot – I think you were in South America for a while – but I don’t know everything you did or everywhere you went. Angel said something once about running into you during World War II, but he never finished the story so I don’t know where you were or why.”

“What about the rest of my…family? Do you know where they went?”

Buffy shrugged. “I’ll run through what I know – it’s not much. I can tell you where everybody ended up – but that’s about it.”

Spike studied her face, which clearly indicated her reluctance to bring the conversation into a more modern time frame.

“Tell you what, Slayer. Instead of filling me in on my whole life just now, why don’t you give me some time to think about what you’ve told me? Let me see if or how it jogs my memory before you waste any more breath on me, yeah?”

“Oh. Okay. That’s …that’s probably a good--”

Buffy’s relief was palpable and his mouth twisted in a wry smile.

“Thought maybe you’d like that idea.”

She sighed. “I’m not trying to blow you off. Really, I’m not. It’s just that, considering the way you reacted to hearing that you’d killed one slayer…”

“ONE slayer! There were more?”

“Oops?”

He shook his head. “You’re right, luv. I don’t want to know. Not right now, anyway. Let’s talk about something else.”

“Like what?”

“I dunno. Like…where do you live when you aren’t watchin’ over little sis? How did you go from The Slayer to a slayer? Are you married? Engaged? Where are you from? Where and when were you born? What was it like to be the only slayer?”

“Do I get to choose which ones to answer?” she asked with a small smile.

“Jus’ tell me a bit about yourself. That’s all. You know so much about me, seems only fair to let me play catch-up.”

“Okay, let me see. I’m originally from a place in California…that’s in the United States—“

At Spike’s nod, she launched into a severely edited version of her life before and after she was called, and her life since she’d become one of many slayers rather than the one girl in all the world. When she’d finished, pausing as necessary to answer specific questions from the attentive ghost-vampire, she leaned back on her elbows and exhaled.

“Whew! I don’t know the last time I talked so long – or about myself so much.”

“I appreciate it, pet. Now I feel like I know you a little bit. Some things about you, anyway.” He stood up and turned to offer her his hand. “I think there were some pretty big gaps in there, but the sun’s thinkin’ about comin’ up and I need to get back inside.”

“I should go,” she said, allowing him to pull her up, then dropping his hand. “Is there anything you need? Anything you’d like me to pick up for you in town?”

He shrugged. “What would I need? I don’t eat, can sleep all day, have my books…”

“Um, books that were written after 1900?” She smiled to take the sting out of her words. “Music? Spi- you used to like music. Well, if you can call what the Ramones do music…”

He laughed. “I’m fine, luv. Been livin’ like this for a long time. I appreciate the offer, though. I’ll think about it and make you a shopping list if I come up with anything.”

“Okay, then. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow night…if you want me to come ba-“

“I want you to come back,” he said before she could finish. “How could you doubt it?”

“Well, it’s a lot to think about and—“

“And you still owe me another twenty or thirty years of history – including the part that includes you. Don’t think I’ve forgotten about that, Slayer. I’m lettin’ you off easy tonight.”

“Well, that’s not like you.” She smiled as she spoke. “You’ve never let me off easy.”

He smiled back and shrugged. “What can I say? Don’t go expectin’ it every time.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it. Good-night, Spike.”

“More like ‘good morning’, I’m afraid. I’ve kept you all night.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” she shouted as she began jogging back towards town.

“You will be explainin’ that one, Slayer!” he shouted after her.

Her light-hearted giggle floated back to him, making him smile in spite of himself.

“You will be explainin’ that, luv,” he repeated to himself as he opened the door and retreated from the lightening sky.

Chapter 6

Buffy managed to make it back to the school before many people were stirring. One of the advantages of living where much of the activity took place after dark was that no one questioned anyone’s occasional need to sleep late. She got to her room without seeing anyone who was likely to expect more than a wave and a “good morning” from her, and quickly undressed and collapsed onto her bed.

In spite of having been up for a long and sometimes emotionally draining night, she found herself unable to sleep. When Dawn knocked on her door at 10:30, asking if she wanted to come down for breakfast before the kitchen switched to preparing for lunch, she sighed and gave up.

“Okay, I’ll be right there. You go on down.”

She listened to Dawn’s footsteps fading away, remaining on the bed and staring pensively at the cracked ceiling.

Still beats that damp old castle. What the hell was Giles thinking – that we’d keep better if it was cold?

She stared around the spartan room and wondered if she should buy some accessories for it. Until now, her stays at the headquarters/school were usually limited to holidays and brief visits with Dawn; for which the small room and even smaller bathroom that had been allotted to the world’s oldest slayer was more than adequate.

But, if I’m going to be hanging around for a while…

Shaking off any speculation about why she might want to remain there for a long enough period of time that she would feel the need to personalize the room, she got up and pulled on her clothes before heading downstairs to join Dawn in the dining hall.

~~~~~~~

“So?”

Dawn’s greeting was short and to the point. She handed Buffy a mug of steaming coffee and pointed to the chair opposite her own. She had chosen the same remote table that Giles had picked the day before, giving them plenty of privacy for their conversation.

Buffy sipped her coffee, hissing when she burned her tongue, and making a face.

“Ow! Are you trying to kill me?”

“I might if you don’t talk – like, right now.”

“It’s him.”

Dawn barely muffled her squeal of joy, casting a quick look around to see if anyone had noticed.

“It is? For sure? Did he recognize you?”

Buffy shook her head. “Don’t get too excited. It is him – or at least his ghost -- but he doesn’t know us; doesn’t remember anything about his life before he popped up in that house and got told he couldn’t leave it.”

“So, he doesn’t know how he got there? And he doesn’t remember me- us?” Dawn made no attempt to hide her disappointment.

“No. I’ve been telling him about his life as a vampire, but I didn’t get to us yet. I was hoping something would trigger his memory, but whatever spell or curse put him there seems to have done a pretty good job of wiping them out.”

“Well, that just sucks…”

“It does. I’ll have to talk to Giles and see if he has any ideas about how to make him a not-ghost, or at least break the spell so that he can go for a walk if he wants to. I just can’t imagine Spike, with all his energy, being happy trapped in that house.”

Dawn nodded. “Yeah, spending all his time reading poetry and staring out the windows sure doesn’t sound much like Spike.”

“Well, as much as he seems to be ‘our’ Spike, we really don’t know what he’s gone through or how he died. He’s probably changed a lot in the past five years.”

“Probably….” Dawn sounded dubious, but knowing how much having the soul had changed Spike initially, Buffy tended to think it was very possible that the ghost of the vampire they thought they knew could have very different tastes and preferred activities.

They filled their trays, and as they ate, Buffy told Dawn that she was planning to talk to Giles and have him investigate some more into what had happened in Los Angeles when Angel and his team had taken on the Senior Partners.

“Maybe we can get a clue about what happened to Spike and how he went back to being a ghost after being solid all that time.”

“He seemed pretty solid to me when he was throwing Teddy all over the room and wrecking furniture,” Dawn grumbled.

“Yeah, he said he’s pretty solid now, even when he’s invisible. I got the feeling he might have had to work on it a little, though.”

~~~~~~~~

“It’s him.”

Giles glanced up at Buffy and immediately reached for his glasses – until he remembered that he had put his contacts in that morning.

“You’re sure?”

She nodded and sat down opposite his desk.

“I’m sure. It’s Spike. Not quite the vampire we left in the Hellmouth, but definitely Spike.”

Giles studied her face and the blank expression in her eyes.

“I take it he doesn’t remember you?”

She shook her head. “He doesn’t remember anything except some ‘wanker’ dumping him in the house and telling him to enjoy the rest of his life.”

“Someone brought him there?” Giles’ voice sharpened with sudden interest.

“Well, he doesn’t know that exactly. He just said that he doesn’t remember anything and then –poof! - he was standing in the house and some guy threw his clothes at him and told him he couldn’t leave it.”

“So…” She could see Giles going into research mode, in spite of himself, and she hid a smile behind her hand. “We will need to find out who may have transported him here, and how it was done. Perhaps the amulet…”

His voice trailed off as he began reaching for a note pad on which to jot down the pertinent facts.

“All right, then,” he said. “Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? Tell me everything you can remember about the house, and about what Spike said about the man who left him there…”

When Buffy left Giles’ office an hour later, she was confident that they were well on their way to knowing more about how Spike became a ghost and how to fix it.

Assuming it is fixable.

Pushing that unpleasant thought from her mind, she went looking for Dawn or someone else who might want to go shopping with her. Now that she knew who was haunting the old house, she no longer cared for the small collection of utilitarian clothes she’d brought for what she’d expected would be a short stay.

And I don’t care what Spike says. He could use more than one pair of jeans and one tee shirt!

Dawn wasn’t much help; she had an important class to attend and couldn’t go with Buffy, but she gave her what information she could about shopping in the small town near the school.

“There’s not anything like the mall we had in Sunnydale, but there’s a small shopping center. No Debenhams, or anything like that, but there’s a Boots and a lot of little shops.”

“That’ll do. I just need to grab a few new tops and maybe some…well, I’ll just see what they have.”

“Have you got enough money?”

“Even better.” She waved her Watcher’s Council credit card in Dawn’s face. “This way I don’t have to try to remember how much anything is in dollars.”

“Uh, Buffy. The stuff costs the same whether you hand them pounds or your card. You do know that, right?”

“Kinda. In an intellectual sort of way. But it doesn’t feel like I’m spending money, and I don’t have to remember which funny colored bills are what.”

“Yeah, well, have fun. I’ve got to go. See you later.”

Dawn waved and headed for the classroom section of the large complex, while Buffy turned to leave for the nearest place to spend Council money.


~~~~~~~~~

Properly weighed down with shopping bags and packages, Buffy took a taxi back to the school, fumbling with the unfamiliar money as she thanked the driver and gathered her purchases. She went directly to her room and began dumping bags onto her bed.

The first items out were some posters she’d bought on impulse. She unrolled them and cast a critical eye over the bare walls. Realizing she had forgotten to get Blu Tack, she set them aside to be put up later, and pulled out the other items – two new tops, one in bright red, a pair of red sandals with stiletto heels, and one new skirt. From the bottom of the bag, came her most pleasing purchases: a pair of black jeans, size 30; two black tee shirts and one dark blue one; and her favorite purchase – a button-down oxford-cloth shirt the same shade of blue as Spike’s eyes. She carefully re-folded the jeans and shirts and placed them back in the bag, setting it by the door while she put the rest of her stuff away.

After a quick meal, which she shared with Dawn and Teddy, she ran back to change into the new red shirt and a tight pair of jeans. She left her hair down, grateful that she hadn’t taken yet taken her hairdresser’s advice to cut it into a more “grown-up” style. With more care than she’d given in a long time, she applied a light foundation, blush, mascara and more lip gloss. She stepped back to examine her reflection in the full length mirror and concluded that if at least some part of Spike didn’t remember her tonight, it might be a lost cause.

Dawn and Teddy walked her to the gate, assuring her that there was no way that the ghost wouldn’t get his memories jogged, and that he would be happy with the new clothes. Giving a final wave, she began the fifteen-minute walk to what she no longer wanted to think of as a ‘haunted house’.

.Spike’s house. It’s Spike’s house. That’s all.

By the time she got to the house, she was seriously rethinking the high heels that she’d worn to make her legs appear longer in the pencil jeans. Muttering to herself about slayer pain thresholds and the unfairness of it not extending to her feet, she failed to notice the amused vampire/ghost leaning against one of the porch pillars and watching her grimace her way up the walk.

“Not exactly dressed for fightin’, are you, Slayer?”

Buffy jumped, then glared at Spike.

“I thought we were going to be talking? If I’d thought you wanted to fight...” she grumbled, sitting on the top step and taking off one shoe to rub her foot, “…I would’ve worn my vampire/ghost ass-kicking boots.”

“You have boots just for kicking vampire/ghosts? Had no idea slayers were such specialists.”

He was still chuckling as he sat down beside her, picking up the abandoned shoe and turning it over in his hands.

“You know,” he said, holding the shoe up and squinting at the stiletto heel, “if I had a foot or shoe fetish, I might be getting’ a mite uncomfortable now…”

Buffy snatched her shoe back, still miffed that he’d seen her limping towards the house rather than making the grand entrance that she’d planned.

“Good thing you don’t then, isn’t it?” she growled, setting the shoe down and taking off the other one to set beside it. The almost forgotten bag of clothes was sitting at her feet and Spike eyed it curiously.

“Did you bring other clothes with you?” he asked hopefully. “Something you wouldn’t mind getting messed up if we had a go?”

“Wha-? Oh, you mean…never mind. Yeah, I did, but not for me. Here.”

She shoved the bag at him and went back to rubbing her abused feet. Spike was silent as he opened the bag and pulled out the jeans and shirts. He examined them briefly, then said, “Got the sizes right.” When there was no response from the still slightly put off girl beside him, he held up the blue shirt and asked, “Are you tryin’ to make me a watcher? ‘cause I’ve got to warn you, it isn’t happening. Not now. Not ever.”

“I just thought it would look good on you,” she muttered, finally turning to face him. “It sort of matches your eyes.”

“An’ you knew that while you were in the store? Without havin’ seen my eyes in years except for last night in the dark?”

She flushed at the skepticism in his voice and didn’t respond. He set the bag on the other side and moved slightly closer to her, just barely touching the collar of her shirt with one hand.

“And this?” he asked, his voice huskier than she’d yet heard it. “Is it just a coincidence that you’re wearing my favorite color? Did you buy this just for me?”

“You wish!” she scoffed, standing up and moving away from his hand. “And what makes you think I just bought it? It could be some old thing I’ve had forever.”

“Uh huh. That would explain the tags still hangin’ off the back then…” He stood up and followed her across the porch.

“What?” She spun around, trying to see the tags he was talking about. ‘Oh, shit!”

“Here. Hold still a sec, pet.” He grabbed the tags and with a quick tug, broke the plastic strings holding them on to the shirt. He held them out to her, saying, “Here you go. No more strings. Now you can tell me whatever lies you want about why you’re wearing my favorite color for a shirt and come-fuck-me-heels on your feet. And why you know what kind of clothes to buy me and what size I wear.”

“I just wanted to look nice,” she muttered, ignoring the second part of his request.

“You do look nice, Buffy.” He took her arm and turned her around to face him. “You look bloody gorgeous – bare feet and all. But I think it’s time you told me why you care how you look for an old ghost, don’t you?”

Buffy sighed and nodded. “You’re right. It’s time for Spike’s life Part II.”

Chapter 7

She sat back down and patted the space beside her, but he shook his head and remained standing.

“Think I’ll just be workin’ off some pent up energy while you talk. You just go ahead; I’ll be listening.”

“Okay…” Buffy said dubiously. “But sometimes I’m gonna want to see how you’re taking stuff, and I can’t see your face if you’re wandering around out there in the dark.”

“Give a try, pet. Please?” He didn’t elaborate, but as she watched him subtly adjust himself, she realized that he’d had a physical reaction to something she’d done or said. A physical reaction that he didn’t want her to know about. Smiling quietly to herself, she agreed.

“All right, Spike. You do what you need to do and if I want to know how you’re reacting to something, I’ll ask. ‘k?”

Without waiting for a response, she began: “Somehow, Darla ended up in Sunnydale with her sire. He was an old, old vamp called ‘the Master’ and he’d been trapped underground on the Hellmouth for a long time, but he was trying to find a way out. Angel was in LA, supposedly living off rats and stuff, but I’m not sure I believe that….”

Her attention wandered as she tried to picture neat, tidy, every-book-in-its-place Angel living in alleys and eating rats. A cough from Spike brought her back and she continued in a sudden burst of words.

“Some old guy from the Powers That Be supposedly showed him me – before I was called – and told him that he was supposed to help me. So, they sent him to Sunnydale to wait for me there.”

“Not to rush you, Slayer, but what does any of that have to do with me? Where was I?”

“You were in Europe again by this time. I’m getting to that. I’m just trying to keep you up with your vampire family. And, anyway, it all ties in.” After giving him a dirty look, she went on.

“So, okay, Darla’s with old batface--” She giggled at his snort. “Your name for him, by the way,” she said primly. “I called him the Master.”

She didn’t need to see his face to know he was quirking one eyebrow at her. “Well, sometimes I did. Sometimes I called him… other stuff.”

He chuckled. “That’s more like it.”

“Where was I? Of yeah, so I come to Sunnydale, meet Giles and Willow and Xander and Angel – kill the Master – well, he kills me first, but not for long and Xander does CPR and I come back – What? Don’t look at me like that. You don’t need to be thinking you’re hot stuff just cause you’ve died a few times…”

He waved his hand. “Somethin’ else for you to explain later,” he said. “Jus’ go on with life in Sunnydale.”

Buffy talked a little more about her first year in Sunnydale and the following summer in LA with her father. When she got to her return to Sunnydale and his arrival early in the year, she paused to organize her thoughts.

“Buffy? Slayer? Come on, how bad can it be?” he asked, sitting down beside her.

She shook herself, and sent him an apologetic smile. “Sorry, I got lost in some old memories there for a minute.” She took a deep breath and started again.

“Okay, so you and Dru pissed off some mob in Europe somewhere and she was really weak, so you brought her to the Hellmouth. I don’t know why. Maybe you knew the master was there? I know you didn’t know Angel was there – maybe you came looking for a slayer to feed to her…”

“Whoa. Back that one up a bit, pet. That’s all you know about where I was? I was traveling in South America, then back in Europe, then California? That’s it?”

“You, um…spent some time in New York in the seventies…” She looked uncomfortable and he waited before prodding, “ And?”

“And you killed your second slayer there,” she said quickly, prepared this time for his explosive reaction. She watched him pace back and forth for a while, then said softly, “Spike? William? It was before you got your soul. It was your thing. Fighting slayers.”

He sat back down and stared at her apprehensive face. “There’s more, isn’t there?” She nodded. “But we don’t need to talk about it right now. We could—“

“What else?” he asked flatly.

“You…your coat…or the original one anyway…I don’t know if that’s…” She fingered the soft leather, noting the lack of scars and repairs where she’d remembered them. “I don’t think it is. So it doesn’t matter.”

“What. About. My. Coat?”

“You took it off her. Nikki Wood. The slayer you killed in New York. It was a…a trophy.”

“This coat was made in Italy,” he said through clenched teeth. “It can’t be more than a few years old.”

“That’s what I said. This isn’t that coat. So it doesn’t matter. You fought her, you won. End of story. Mostly,” she added in a whisper.

“Mostly.”

“That really can wait till later,” she said firmly. “I’m trying to do this in chronological order.”

With bare feet, wearing just jeans and her new sleeveless red shirt, Buffy was beginning to feel the damp night air. She shivered and stood up.

“Can we take this inside? I know this is probably one of those old English houses with no heating, but it’s got to be warmer than this breeze.”

“Sure thing, pet,” he said without even looking at her, obviously still mulling over the fact that he’d killed two slayers and taken a trophy from one of them. He stood up also, picking up the bag of clothes and her shoes before holding the door open for her. “Go on in.”

Heading for the now familiar library, Buffy was surprised to see Spike pull the shades and then take a small lamp from a cupboard. He smiled at her wide eyes when the room was suddenly illuminated with a soft glow.

“No sense straining my eyes to read jus’ cause the locals think ghosts like it dark,” he said with a wink.

“I don’t suppose you have secret central heating?” she asked hopefully.

He shook his head, shrugging out of his coat and starting to hand it to her; then he paused. “If you’d rather not…”

“No, it’s fine,” she smiled, holding out her hand for the buttery leather warmth. “It’s not Nikki’s coat – and even if it was, I think I’ve worn it before…in an emergency.”

“Emergency?”

While Spike was picturing a sudden Southern California blizzard, Buffy was remembering a time when her clothes were so destroyed that she had to wear his coat home from the cemetery.

“Ahem, yes. A…a clothing emergency. You were very gallant.”

He gave her another one of his “I see right through you” looks, but dropped the subject.

“Alright, luv. So, I’m in Sunnydale with my sick sire. Now what?”

Snuggled into the silky lining of the coat and thinking that she should never have left Rome and its wonderful shops full of Italian clothes, Buffy began to run through the events that occurred after he arrived in Sunnydale. She kept her voice as calm and detached as she could, although she was unable to smother a “crazy ho-bag” when describing Dru after she recovered her strength. She talked in a detached, even voice about her teenaged infatuation with Angel, about thinking he was the love of her life. She was unsparing with herself about whose fault it was that Angelus returned, giving Spike an apologetic look that puzzled him and caused him to break in on her recitation.

“Why are you apologizin’ to me, pet? Seems to me that getting’ my grandsire back into the evil fold would have been a good thing?”

“Well,” Buffy said, her mouth twisting, “Dru certainly thought so…”

“What? Wait. Drusilla – my sire? She and Angelus… alright, I can see that, I guess. But why would I care?”

Buffy’s mouth gapped open as she realized that she’d never once mentioned to Spike that he’d been in love with Drusilla for well over a hundred years. She’d allowed him to think that they were just traveling companions, held together by the bonds of sire and childe.

“Uh…I may have left out an important…something that I forgot you wouldn’t know.”

“Which is?”

“That you were in love with Dru. You guys were together for a long, long time. Until you came to Sunnydale and—“

“And you brought the real love of her unlife back?” he asked dryly.

“Yeah, kinda. That and she…um…she saw something in your future that made her leave you again a couple of times. The last time stuck,” she added unnecessarily.

“Something in my future made her toss me out after all those years? What the bloody hell was it?”

It’s now or never.

“And don’t give me any of that “we’ll talk about this later, bollocks, either!” he growled, his eyes flashing yellow for the first time since she’d found him.

Okay, so never’s not an option.

“Buffy…”

“We could fight again!” she said brightly. “Why don’t we do that? It’ll warm me up and then I’ll feel like telling you more.”

Putting actions to words, she jumped up and dropped the coat on the couch. In her bare feet, she ran to the door and had it partially open when a hand shot past hers, slamming it shut again.

“What the hell is going on?”

The voice was cold and for the first time carried the deep, sepulcher tones of the grave. Buffy elbowed him in the stomach and yanked the door open before he could recover, sprinting out and leaping onto the lawn. She spun around in the air and landed in a fighting stance, predicting, quite rightly, that Spike would be right behind her. They circled each other, Buffy hoping that Spike’s visible anger at her refusal to answer him would wane before either of them had to really hurt the other.

With a snarl, he charged, surprising her with both the speed and ferocity of his attack.

Oops, not sparring then. Got to remember, this Spike doesn’t know me and probably doesn’t care if he hurts me. On your toes, Buffy. William the Bloody looks just mad enough to nail his third slayer.

Aloud, she said only, “That’s just like you, charging in before you know what your opponent’s got.” She reacted reflexively, spinning away from his attack and kicking him in the back as he flew past her. While he was off balance, she managed to sweep his legs from under him, but she hadn’t counted on his speed. He fell, but managed to grab her foot and pull her down too, quickly throwing himself upon her and using his superior weight to hold her in place.

Still snarling, he allowed his fangs to drop as he leaned towards her neck. Not willing to find out if ghost vampires could bite and drink, Buffy flexed her entire body, dislodging him just enough that she could roll them over and be the one on top. Her hands were still clutched in his fists, but now over his head rather than hers. Her legs were still caught inside his powerful thighs, but she was able to keep her throat away from his teeth as she tried to talk him down.

“Spike! Listen to me! You don’t want to do this. If you want to fight me, I’ll fight you; but I’m not going to kill you.”

“You can’t kill me, you stupid bint,” he snarled. “I’m already dead, several times over, if you’re to be believed.”

Although he was still in game face, and still snarling, she chose to believe that his talking to her was a good sign and she relaxed for a second. A second too long, as he flipped them over again, then leaned down and ran his tongue up her throat. She could feel his erection pressing against her and gave thanks for the distraction. Instead of trying to get away this time, she relaxed and just gazed up into his eyes, watching carefully as they faded back to blue and his fangs receded.

“Just stop jerking me around, Slayer,” he pleaded with her. “I don’t want to hurt you; but you’re not telling me something. Something important. What is it? What did my sire see in my future that made her leave me after so many years?”

As he spoke, he was releasing her hands and rolling off her body. Freed from his weight, Buffy sat up and bit her lip. When Spike repeated, “What did she see?” Buffy timidly raised her hand and waved it back and forth.

He blinked, staring at her blankly for a full minute before it sank in and he recoiled, scooting several feet away. Buffy dropped her hand and gazed at him unhappily.

“You? She saw you?”

“Is that so hard to believe?”

She turned away and straightened her rumpled shirt, trying not to see the dismay on his face. When she kept her face turned away so that he couldn’t see her unexpected response to that dismay, he shook off his shock and moved closer. He reached out with one hand, cupping her shoulder and urging her to turn back.

“No, luv,” he said softly, when she was reluctantly facing him again. “It’s not hard to believe – hell, I just met you, and I can already tell you’re something special. It just caught me by surprise, is all. With the having killed two slayers already, I figured whatever history we had would have to do with almost killin’ you, not…”

“Oh you tried that,” she assured him. “Even got yourself a ring that made you invulnerable so you could kill me without worrying about being staked.”

“Doesn’t seem to have worked all that well,” he commented. “Seein’ as I’m dead and you’re still very much alive.”

Buffy giggled. “Well, you have this thing about running your mouth and bragging before you do any killing. Wasn’t in your best interest that time.”

“So it seems.” He relaxed and moved back beside her. “What did I say that could cock up an important piece of jewelry like that?”

“You said something about me and Angel. Pissed me off and I wrestled the ring off your finger.”

He gave her an admiring look. “Remind me not to get you brassed off.”

“Consider yourself reminded,” she grumbled, pulling her shirt around to look for grass stains. “Can you see back there?” she asked, turning her back to him. “Are there grass stains on my new shirt?”

“Let’s get back in the house, Slayer, and I’ll take a better look, but no, I don’t see anything right now.”

He kipped to his feet and held out his hand to help her up. She stared at it briefly, but rose gracefully to her feet by herself. He stared at his unused hand and then put it in his pocket.

“Are you mad at me?”

Buffy sighed as she followed him up the steps to the front door. “No, I’m not mad at you. I’m mad at myself. I’ve totally screwed this up. I wanted…I wanted you to know everything before you found out about -- I just wanted it to not come as such a surprise, you know?”

“Not your fault, pet. I was the one pushing you to say more than you were ready to. I’m an impatient wanker.”

“Ya think?” She giggled as he pretended to be offended, earning a smile that was so familiar it made her blink back unexpected tears.

If Spike noticed, he gave no sign, sitting down on one end of the couch and making sure she was once again wrapped up in his coat before he spoke again.

“So, let’s start over, doin’ it your way. What happened after you shagged the soul out of my grandsire and he came back to make my life miserable?”

“He did make your life pretty miserable, I think,” Buffy said sympathetically. “Living with that soul for so long kind of made his demon cranky…” She smiled briefly at the idea of referring to Angelus’ reign of terror as “cranky”, then continued to fill Spike in on the events that followed.

She could see him jump and squirm occasionally, and knew that he was biting back more questions, but he held them in until she got to their truce and his part in defeating Angelus.

“So, I knocked out my sire, scooped her up and ran? Leaving you to fight Angelus by yourself?”

His disapproval of his own behavior was clear, and she had to smile at him despite the painful memories being conjured up.

“Don’t forget, you were still evil then. And in love with Dru. Our deal was that you could take her and leave as long as you distracted Angelus and kept her from helping him.”

“Looks like you didn’t need my help, anyway,” he muttered. “Still, seems like a cowardly thing to do…”

“It’s no biggie,” she said. “I sent him to Hell, saved the world, and all was hunky-dory.”

Something in her eyes must have reflected exactly how not ‘hunky-dory’ things really were as he held her gaze for a minute, then said, “Think this might be one of those things we need to come back to, pet. I’m pretty sure there’s more to this than ‘it’s all hunky-dory’.”

“Maybe. But it hasn’t got anything to do with you, or with your history, so…”

“Alright. Keep goin’ then.”

Buffy quickly ran through the next two years, smiling as she recalled finding him sitting in her kitchen crying on her mother’s shoulder about Dru. She talked about the Initiative’s arrival and their chip-assisted removal of his ability to kill and feed, surprised when he wasn’t more outraged about it. When she asked him why he wasn’t more upset, he quietly pointed out that he didn’t kill or feed from people now, so why should he get his ‘knickers in a twist’ at finding out something had stopped him from doing it long ago?

She’d got as far as Adam’s defeat and Spike’s subsequent quasi acceptance as a Scooby hanger on, when her mouth opened in a gigantic yawn.

“Ooh! I’m sorry,” she apologized, yawning again and fighting the urge to shut her eyes. “I didn’t get much sleep last night or today—“

“And now it’s almost morning again,” he said, leaping to his feet and walking to her end of the couch. “I’m sorry, pet. I’m a thoughtless git – while I’m here sleepin’ all day, you’ve been out doing whatever it is people who aren’t haunting houses have to do in the daytime.”

“Yeah. I think I need to just crash for ten hours or so before I’m up for any more storytelling.”

She stood up and stretched, noticing how his eyes followed her every move.

“See something you like, Ghost?” she said in a poor imitation of his accent.

“Touché, pet.” He laughed with rueful good humor. “I may not remember you, but I can definitely see how you could turn a poor vamp’s head…”

“I think all I’m going to turn right now, is into a pumpkin,” Buffy laughed with him, picking up her shoes and walking towards the door. “All I have to do is limp my way back to the Council compound.”

“You could stay here, pet.” When she whipped her head around to stare at him, he amended quickly, “Not with me. But you’re welcome to use my bed. I can sleep in here or use one of the upstairs rooms. Not really ready to sleep yet, anyway. Got some more hauntin’ to do before I turn in.”

“I…” Buffy looked longingly at the couch and yawned again. “I don’t want to impose…but it is a long way back. In the morning, I could call Dawn and ask her to bring me different shoes…” She glanced up at him. “I don’t want to kick you out of your bed, though. I can just catch a nap here on the couch for a few hours and then—“

“You’re not imposing. And you’re not sleeping on a couch when there’s a perfectly good bed downstairs. Unless you don’t want to sleep in a cellar…I didn’t think about that. You’re probably used to—“

“Spike!” Buffy cut him off. “Your bedroom is fine. I…it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve slept underground. Underground rooms can be really…cozy.”

“Cozy?” He studied her blushing face. “We still have a lot of history to cover, don’t we, Slayer?”

She nodded dumbly, grateful that he wasn’t planning to pursue it tonight. So far, all she’d really told him was that he’d started helping her and that Dru had seen it coming. She knew he wasn’t stupid enough not to realize there had been more to their relationship, but she really couldn’t wrap her brain around any way to explain the following three years. Considering how long it had taken her to tell him that he and Dru had been a couple, letting him think they just had a very tight sire/childe bond, she wasn’t sure how to even approach the idea of his being in love with a slayer.

She followed him to the basement stairs, making note of the switches he used to turn lights on in the kitchen and on the stairs, and then followed him down the steps. She watched as he turned on the lamp by the bed and then walked back to where she waited at the foot of the staircase.

“The house isn’t very modern, but there’s a functioning water closet – bathroom – just off the kitchen. It’s usable. It’s where I shower when I feel like it. The water isn’t going to be warm, but it runs and the toilet flushes.”

“I’ll be fine,” she said softly. “I’m just going to run upstairs and use it now so I don’t have to get up and stumble around later, ‘k?”

She went back up to the kitchen, saying over her shoulder, “Are you watching my ass again?”

“You know it, Slayer. Very watchable, your arse is.”

“And don’t you forget it,” she snapped back at him, giving her hips an extra twitch as she reached the top.

When she emerged from the bathroom, there was no sign of Spike and the kitchen light had been turned off. As with the other rooms that he used in the daytime, the kitchen had heavy curtains that both kept out the sun and hid the soft electric lights from prying eyes. She called “Good night, Spike” into the empty appearing house and went down to the waiting bed. As she closed the door behind her, she heard his “Good night, Slayer,” floating down the hall from the library.

It took her only a few minutes to shed her shirt, bra and jeans and replace them with one of the new tee shirts from the bag she found sitting on a chair. And it took only a few more minutes for the past two nights to catch up with her and send her into a deep dreamless sleep.

Chapter 8

Buffy woke in the pitch dark, her heart pounding until she remembered where she was and fumbled for the lamp. The soft light illuminated the room and she stretched under the covers, wondering how long she’d been asleep. Reaching for her jeans, she pulled her phone from her pocket and found that it was 1:00 in afternoon.

“Holy shit! Giles and Dawn are going to be sure he killed me,” she muttered as she tugged on her clothes and threw the tee shirt on the bed. She straightened the covers, wondering what felt so different about sleeping in this bed compared to the one in Spike’s crypt in Sunnydale. Then she realized what it was. She picked up the pillow and inhaled deeply, but got nothing but the faint trace of her shampoo off it. There was no familiar scent to let her know whose bed she was in. The sheets were as clean and scentless as if they’d just come from the dryer.

“Ghosts don’t smell,” she said aloud. “Who knew?”

She ran lightly up the stairs and out into the kitchen to find Spike sitting at the table facing both Dawn and Giles. Angry glares seemed to be in vogue.

“Oops?” Buffy said, sliding to a halt. “I’m sorry, guys. It was just so late and I was so sleepy…”

“The ghost – Spike -- has explained it to us,” Giles said stiffly. “We were concerned, naturally--”

“It’s hardly the first time I’ve been out all night, Giles,” Buffy said. “In fact, it’s pretty much part of my job description.”

“I asked him to bring me,” Dawn said quietly. “I was worried when you weren’t back by breakfast…”

“Oh, well…thanks, I guess. I’m sorry that you had to make a trip for nothing.” She looked at Giles and asked, “I suppose it’s too much to hope that you drove?”

“I did, actually,” he replied. “I didn’t know if you would be—it just seemed like the reasonable thing to do.”

With a guilty start, Buffy realized that they really had been worried about her. To the point that Giles had been prepared to pick up an injured or dead slayer.

“I really am sorry,” she repeated, more sincerely this time. “I should have called. I had no idea I was going to sleep so late.”

“You were pretty knackered.” Spike spoke for the first time since she’d come in the room. “You needed the sleep.” His glare at the other man told her that there’d been some argument about whether or not to wake her up.

“I was,” she agreed. “Thank you very much for letting me borrow your bedroom, Spike. It was very thoughtful of you.”

She added her glare to Spike’s, and Giles sighed and nodded. “My apologies for what we were thinking,” he said with ill-concealed reluctance. “It appears that you were quite safe with Mr. Pratt.”

Buffy smiled her gratitude at him as she turned to Spike. “Have you been to sleep yet?” When he shook his head ‘no’, she lifted her shoes off the counter and said, “Then we’ll get out of your hair and let you get some rest. Thanks again for the bed.”

“My pleasure, Slayer. Anytime.”

Dawn’s snicker didn’t go unnoticed by anyone, but she blinked her eyes innocently and said, “What?”

Buffy held on to the counter with one hand and put her shoes back on, standing up to her full height and admiring her newly elongated legs. “I guess since I have a ride, I can wear these without worrying about being crippled when I get where I’m going.”

“They were worth every limp, Slayer,” Spike said, running his eyes up her legs and body until he reached her flushed face. The look in his eyes deepened her flush and she mumbled under her breath as she followed Giles and Dawn out of the room. She paused at the door.

“I’ll be back later.”

“I’ll be looking forward to it,” he said with a lascivious lick of his lips.

Buffy rolled her eyes, but her hips swayed a bit more than necessary as she walked down the hall.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The ride back to the Council Headquarters took very little time; Buffy had barely begun to tell them how far she’d gotten in Spike’s history before they were pulling into the car park in front of the gate.

“I’m starving,” she said, as she exited the car. “Turns out ghosts who don’t eat and can’t leave don’t have food in the house.”

“When you have eaten and put on shoes that are somewhat less ridiculous,” Giles stared at her feet with clear disapproval, “please come to my office. I have some information that may be useful.”

After a quick combined breakfast and lunch that would have filled up the average girl her size at least twice, Buffy went to her room to change clothes. Dawn followed along, demanding a blow-by-blow description of how the night had gone.

“I told him about his vampire family and about his life up to when he got the chip and started helping us. That’s about all we’ve talked about so far.”

“So he doesn’t have any idea that you guys were…”

Remembering her meltdown when Spike asked about their history, Buffy shook her head. “I think he’s getting the idea. He knows there was something – and that Dru left because of me – but he doesn’t have any details yet.”

“That should be a fun conversation,” Dawn smirked. “Can I tag along to listen?”

“No!”

“Spoil sport.”

“Nosy brat.”

They glared at each other; then burst out laughing.

“So, he has no idea who I am yet?”

“Nope. Haven’t got that far. Maybe tonight.”

Dawn nodded. “’k. You’d better get up to Giles’ office. I don’t know what he found out, but he’s been talking on the phone with Willow and the coven for the past twenty-four hours.”

“I’m on my way.”

~~~~~~~~~

“You said you knew some stuff?”

Buffy had followed her perfunctory knock right through the door and into Giles’ office.

“Ah, Buffy. Yes, I’ve been able to find out a few things. The house does, in fact, belong to William Pratt – Spike. He’s been able to maintain ownership all these years by using Wolfram and Hart’s London branch as his solicitor.” He gave her a challenging stare. “So, you can perhaps understand my reluctance to believe that he and Angel were working to undermine their employers.”

“Yes, but--” Buffy argued, “that was probably from a long time ago when they were evil. It makes sense that they would have used an evil law firm – hey, is that one of those redundant thingies? Like a true fact or an ATM machine?” When Giles tapped his fingers impatiently, she hurried on. “Anyway, who else but an evil law firm would work for vampires?”

“Be that as it may, it seems that he does own the house and has since before he was turned. Although he had not, to anyone’s knowledge, been back to it since then.” He shuffled some papers. “In speaking with Willow and the coven, it appears that the most likely thing holding him to the house, or to this plane, is that he has unfinished business of some sort. Apparently, if he…died…with something very important to him left undone, it would not require much in the way of a spell to trap him here. His own desire to complete his task would prevent him from moving on to the next realm – whatever that may be in the case of a souled vampire.”

“Huh.” Buffy dropped into a chair and stared into the distance as she absorbed what Giles had said. Eventually, she brought her gaze back to him to ask, “Where does the guy who put him in the house fit into this?”

“That I have not been able to ascertain. Although, it is certainly possible that in his past dealings with Wolfram and Hart he may have made provision for such a possibility…”

“Giles – nobody makes plans to become a ghost. Especially not Spike.”

“I’m merely speculating and offering some possible scenarios, Buffy,” he responded somewhat stiffly. “I will, of course, continue to look into it, but we may be at a dead end unless Spike recovers his memories and they include something useful.”

Buffy nodded. “Yeah, I didn’t mean to argue with you. And I appreciate this, I really do. You’ll let me know if you find out anything else, right?”

“Of course--” he hesitated, then said gently, “Buffy, you do understand that if these theories are correct, Spike could disappear at any time? If or when he takes care of whatever is keeping him on this plane, the spell would be broken and he…”

“And he will really be dead and gone. Yeah, I got that.” She brightened as she stood up. “Maybe it’s a good thing he has no memory, huh? If he can’t remember what it was he needed to do, he can’t fix it and be really dead.”

“I suppose that is one way of looking at it,” Giles said, shaking his head. “Although, I would think for someone of Spike’s…active… nature, an eternity of walking through the halls of his ancestral home might get a bit tedious.”

“Yeah.” She nodded as she walked towards the door. “I already told him that being trapped in a house didn’t seem like much of a reward for someone who’s saved the world three or four times. Guess I was right, huh?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~


Buffy took a short nap before dinner and allowed Dawn to help her decide where to hang her posters. Their conversation was mostly about Spike and the chances of his gaining his memories and what that would mean for them.

“Is he saying that if we help Spike get his memories back, he might go poof?”


“Yeah. That’s pretty much what he said. It’s just a theory, though. The coven said that’s how ghosts are usually anchored to this plane. This is Spike. He’s probably invented a whole new way to be a ghost.”

“Sure he has,” Dawn agreed loyally. “It’s probably got nothing to do with fixing anything.” They left the room and began to walk down to the dining hall. “But what if it does, Buffy? Are you going to tell him?”

“I’m going to tell him what the coven said. He can decide for himself if he wants to try to remember what it is he needs to do. It depends on whether he wants to…move on, I guess.”

Dawn nodded. “So, just like that? You’re going to let him go again?”

“What? No!” Buffy responded vigorously, then sighed. “But I can’t make that decision for him. If he doesn’t want to be here any more, all I can do is try to give him a reason to stay…”

“Like he did for you when you came back from being dead?”

Buffy looked at her sister and narrowed her eyes. “When did you get so dammed smart?”

Dawn just laughed and pushed in front of her to get her tray.

Chapter 9

It was not yet dark when Buffy had finished eating and changed into something comfortable and flattering to wear to Spike’s. She resolutely pushed Giles’ suggestion of what could happen to Spike if he recovered his memories to the back of her mind as she trudged up the small rise to the house. With the sun still up, Spike was not waiting for her on the porch this time, and she climbed the steps to let herself in.

“Knock, knock?” she called, as she closed the door behind her. There was something about it being a real house rather than just a vampire’s home in a crypt that made her less inclined to just barge in. There was no reply, and no one in the library, so she made her way to the kitchen and the door to Spike’s bedroom.

“Spike? Are you up yet?”

“If I wasn’t, I would be now, wouldn’t I?” he grumbled from below. She saw the soft glow from the bedside lamp as he turned it on.

“Can I come down? Are you decent?”

“No. Not decent – but invisible. Just as good as…”

Not with the visual I’m getting, it isn’t.

“Ok, here I come then.”

She walked down the stairs and glanced towards the bed to see the shape of legs under the sheet covering what was apparently the lower part of Spike’s body. She pushed his jeans off the chair and sat down.

“Making yourself right at home, aren’t you, luv?” The warmth and humor she could hear in his voice told her that he wasn’t really mad, but she apologized anyway.

“I’m sorry. I thought you’d be awake by now. Do you want me to come back later?”

The linens stirred as he sat up straighter and threw them back. She heard his feet hit the floor beside the bed and his disembodied voice said, “Throw me my pants, would you, Slayer?”

Buffy picked his jeans up from where she’d dropped them and tossed them in the general direction of the voice. They stopped in midair, then slowly dropped and became leg shaped. Once again she watched him zip up his pants and fasten the button, wondering as she did how many times she’d watched those same motions during their time together so many years ago. She didn’t realize that her eyes had glazed over until she felt him beside her and his hand on her shoulder.

“Slayer? Buffy? Where’d you go?”

“Huh?” She startled, coming back to herself, flushing as he faded into sight and she could see the smirk on his face.

“I asked where you went, luv. You watched me fastenin’ my pants…again…and then you went away.”

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled, “I seem to be saying that to you a lot, don’t I?”

“Yeah, a bit. Is that something you used to have to do a lot - apologize to me?”

“Apolo—to you?” Buffy’s completely dumbstruck expression told him that he’d made a wrong guess.

“I’m takin’ it that’s a ‘no’,” he said, dropping his hand and stepping away.

“It is,” she replied. “But it shouldn’t have been. I probably owe you way more than you’ve got from me so far.”

“Good to know,” he grinned. “The Slayer owes me lots of apologies.”

“Yeah, well, don’t get too used to them. I’m pretty sure my sudden attack of good manners is gonna evaporate pretty soon.”

“That so?” he said as he walked to the bed and picked up the tee shirt she’d worn the night before. He pulled it on, covering the bare chest that she was having a hard time keeping her eyes off, and turning to face her. “I’ll keep that in mind. Don’t want to use up all those `I’m sorry’s at one time, do I?”

When she just rolled her eyes and sat back down, he walked back to the bed and dropped onto it, leaning back against the headboard. He crossed his hands behind his head and gazed at her until she began to squirm uncomfortably.

“So, Slayer,” he said finally. “Are you going to answer my question?”

“What question?” Buffy had genuinely forgotten what had started the conversation and she blinked at him, her brow furrowed.

“Where you went while I was getting dressed. You were watching, and then you were seeing something else. I’d like to know what it was.”

“The truth?” she challenged.

“That’d be my first choice, yeah.”

“What if you don’t like it?”

“Why don’t you let me worry about what I like and don’t like and jus’ tell me what you find so fascinating about watching me zip up my pants?”

She stared at him for a few seconds, then nodded and squared her shoulders. “Fine. I was watching you and I was remembering how many times before I’ve watched you do that.” She met his eyes firmly, her chin up and her posture daring him to say something crude.

He stared back, then sat up and dropped his feet over the side of the bed. He stood, walked over, and offered her his hand to help her out of the chair. In spite of the absurdity of someone like her needing assistance to rise, she took his hand and allowed him to pull her to her feet. His hand felt as it always had – cooler than normal, but solid and with calluses where you’d expect to find them. When she was standing beside him, he dropped her hand and gestured for her to precede him up the stairs. He waited until she was a few steps ahead before saying quietly, “I’m guessing the history lesson is about to get a lot more interesting and I’m thinking my bedroom might not be the best place for it.”

She snorted as she entered the kitchen and turned to face him, catching her breath in a small gasp as she got a glimpse of his unguarded face and the lustful look on it. Seeing that he’d been caught, Spike played it up – running his eyes over her body and licking his lips.

“I’m just sayin’… No sense letting our hormones get in the way of your history lesson.”

“You just worry about your own hormones, buddy. Mine are under perfect control.”

“’s that so?” He moved closer to her and leaned down to breathe in her ear. “’s not what your body’s telling mine.”

Buffy glanced down at the telltale bulge in his jeans and stepped away. “My body doesn’t know that you don’t know me and don’t lo-- and that you don’t know anything about us. You keep yours under control, and let me worry about mine.”

He nodded, surprising her by agreeing so quickly.

“You’re right, luv. Even if you were willin’, a gentleman shouldn’t try to take advantage of …whatever I’d be taking advantage of.” He cocked his head at her and asked, “You are going to tell me what that is, aren’t you? I think we’re long past waiting for you to work your way up to teling me what I should know about us.”

“Yes, I’m going to tell you. That’s why I told you the truth about what I was thinking downstairs. But I have other important stuff to tell you, too. Stuff you need to know.”

“Right now, all I need to know is why my pants get tight every time I get near you, and why snuggling up with a tee shirt that smelled like you gave me the most restful sleep I’ve had since I got to this place.”

As they spoke, they moved towards the library and once again sat down facing each other from opposite ends of the couch. Buffy was silent at first, running her eyes over his face and body in a way that she hadn’t allowed herself to do when she was trying to keep their relationship the very last thing she told him about. When she’d satisfied herself that she had rememorized every feature, she focused on her wringing hands and began to speak.

“We’ve had a complicated relationship….God, that’s like the understatement of the century!” She gave a shaky laugh and glanced up at him.

“Slayer and vampire – that’s a complication right there, innit? Assuming I wasn’t all souled up at the time.”

She shook her head. “You weren’t. And, at first, we really didn’t like each other very much….” She grinned at him. “In spite of being engaged for almost a whole day. For just a little while, you called me ‘sweetheart’ instead of the ‘bane of my bloody existence’.”

“Engaged? To the bane of my existence?”

“It was a spell. We got over it and went back to hating each other.”

At his disbelieving snort, she insisted, “We did! I just didn’t stake you because you were all impotent…” Over his snarled, “Bloody lie that is!” she went on to explain that he’d made up with his vampire girlfriend and had spent the summer plotting ways to get his chip out.

When she told him about the aborted attempt to get it out, and his attempt to bite her when he thought it was gone, he looked abashed and offered, “Sorry?”

Buffy waved her hand dismissively. “No biggie. You started to change after that. Hanging out with us more, checking in on my mom; and then…”

She chewed her lips and twisted her hands together again. When she could tell that he was losing patience, she let it all out in one long exhalation.

“Andthenyouchainedmeupinyourcryptandtoldmeyoulovedme”

There was a crashing silence until Buffy risked a glance at his shocked face. At the sight of her worried eyes, he managed to close his gaping mouth and nod. Buffy watched him visibly gain control of himself before he managed to speak.

“I’m goin’ to guess there was no spell involved this time?”

“No spell.”

“And how did you take this happy news?”

“About like you might expect…But, in my defense, you did have me chained up at the time, and it was after you and your ho-bag sire knocked me out with a cattle prod. And you threatened to feed me to her if I didn’t tell you that you had a chance with me.”

“Did I?”

“Did you what? Do all that, or have a chance with me?”

“Either. Both.”

“You did do that. You also offered to dust Dru for me – which, I’ve got to admit was tempting. Then Harmony showed up and the whole thing kind of got out of your control.”

“Three women in the same room and it got out of my control? Bloody shocked, I am.”

Buffy laughed softly. “It wasn’t one of your better moments. Both vamps dumped you, and I was so mad I can’t believe you weren’t dust right that second.”

“Why wasn’t I dust?” he asked curiously. “How could you let me walk?”

“I don’t know. Because we had…you were…it was sorta …pitiful... and sweet, in a demented kind of way. Anyway, I’d already had your invitation to our house revoked and the look on your face when you hit that barrier,” she paused, then looked right at him. “I think it would’ve been kinder to have staked you.”

“So, Slayer…” She couldn’t tell from his tone or the blank expression on his face what he was thinking. “How did we get from ‘over my dead body’ to you being an expert on how I put my pants on?”

“Actually,” she watched him carefully as she spoke, “it was more like ‘the only chance you had with me was when I was unconscious.’”

“Nice. Are you always that sensitive when you’re lettin’ some poor bloke down?”

“Only vampires who’ve tried to kill me and my friends and who think falling in love with me makes it all okay.”

He cocked his head at her and moved closer, taking one of her hands in his and turning it over so that he could plant a soft kiss on her palm. He smiled when he felt her heartbeat go up and watched her face flush.

“So, when did it start to make it all okay, pet? Cause I’m sensing that it did at some point, yeah?”

“Yeah,” she answered, taking her hand away and putting it behind her back. “It did. But it was kind of a long process – and not much fun for either of us most of the time.” She raised her eyes to his and said with a soft smile, “But it was worth it…for a while.”

“Just for a while?”

Buffy sighed and ran through as much as she felt he needed to know about Glory, Dawn and what he’d done for her.

“That’s when I started to realize that you really could love, that you could make unselfish decisions to protect someone else. Giles had always insisted that you couldn’t, and after Angelus…”

“You believed him.”

“I did. For a long time. Much longer than you deserved.”

“So, when do we get to me taking my pants off around you?”

Buffy huffed loudly. “Don’t you want to hear how we got to that point?”

“Eventually, I do. Right now, I just want to know how you went from feeling sorry for me to shagging me.” He raised an eyebrow. “There was shagging, I take it?”

“Oh, yeah. Lots of it. But not right then. It was later, and it only lasted a few months.”

“What happened?”

“I…I was using your body – and your feelings for me – to help me forget…something I wanted to forget. And when I started feeling more like myself, I realized it was wrong.”

“You broke up with me because you thought you shouldn’t be using my body? Didn’t I get a vote?” If she hadn’t been reliving her guilt, Buffy would have laughed at his whining tone.

Buffy shook her head. “No,” she whispered, “I just did it. To make myself feel better. I never thought about your feelings.” Her eyes flew to his. “Another apology I owe you, I guess.”

“’s alright, pet. Not like I remember it, is it?” He sighed and touched her cheek with his finger. “And then what?”

“And then there was…stuff that happened, and you went off to Africa and got your soul. For me. You got it for me. The only vampire to ever do something like that. You were –are – a very special man, William Pratt.”

“Not a man, Buffy. Ghost of a vampire is all I am. All I ever will be.”

“Maybe…”

“Maybe?”

“Can we talk about the other stuff I wanted to tell you, and come back to us, later?”

“There’s more? After I got the soul?”

She nodded vigorously. “Much more – and more to tell you about what happened before, too. But I need – you need -- to know what the coven said about being a ghost. And, they could be wrong, you know. It might not be like that at all, but--”

“Spit it out, Slayer.”

He moved away from her, just far enough that there was no danger of accidental touching.

“The most common reason people become ghosts is that they have unfinished business here on this plane. And, usually, if and when they can take care of whatever’s keeping them here, they move on to…wherever they were supposed to go. According to the coven, that’s the easiest way to trap a spirit on this plane. They think that might be what happened to you.”

Buffy repeated the information Giles had given her as if she were reciting it for a slayer class. She waited while Spike thought about what she’d said and then nodded at her.

“Gonna be a bit tricky taking care of my business without having any way to know what that business was, innit?”

“Yeah. Without your memories, you might be kinda stuck here.”

“I’m beginning to think that wanker what dropped me off here knew more about me than he was tellin’”

“Does the name Wolfram and Hart mean anything to you?” Buffy asked, trying to hide her suspicions.

“No. Not that I can recall. Why?”

“It’s the evil law firm that you and Angel were fighting against when you…died again. It’s also the company that handled your ownership of this house. It’s a little bit too coincidental to suit me.”

He shook his head, standing up and growling with frustration.

“If I could just remember…”

“Did you miss the part about how you’d probably move on when you take care of what’s keeping you here?”

Buffy’s voice was very soft, but that didn’t disguise the sadness in it. He stopped his restless pacing and dropped to his knee in front of her.

“I just need to know, Buffy. Can decide for myself then if I want to move on, or stay here playing with slayers for the next hundred years. Not saying I’d rush off to take care of the business straight away, I just want to know.”

“I get that. I do. It’s just that you’ve been…gone. And now you’re here, and I…I missed you. And I thought I was over it – the missage -- but now you’re here and I…” She met his curious gaze and said with as much honesty as she’d ever shown him, “I don’t think I could stand to mourn for you again, Spike.”

His hand brushed the side of her face. “Nor do I want you to, luv. But I’m not really me, am I? Jus’ some stranger who looks and talks like the man – vampire – you knew. If I’m going to be here, I’d just as soon be really me. The me who remembers what he had with you, and what he would be losing if he moved on.”

She nodded and sat up straighter, putting her shoulders back and raising her chin.

“Of course you want to remember. And I want you to. We’ll worry about what might happen to you after we figure out how to get your memories back. Then, if you really have unfinished business to take care of, I…I’ll help you do it.”

He cocked his head at her and rocked back on his heels.

“You’re quite a woman, Buffy. Can see why I might have fallen in love with you – enemy or not. Bloody hell, only known you a few days and I’m already half in love with you all over again.”

“Don’t patronize me,” she snapped. “You’re not in love with me. You barely know me. I’m not doing this to make you love me; I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do and I owe it to you.”

“You’re right. You deserve better from me. How are you with, I’m already completely in lust with you?”

In spite of herself, Buffy felt the corners of her mouth twitch.

“That’s more like the piggy Spike I know.”

“Right. Piggy Spike it is, then. Whatever it takes to make you smile.”

Harmony re-established, Buffy took up where she’d left off in his history lesson, recapping what she’d told him about Dawn’s arrival, Glory and her minions, and ending with the battle at the tower. She stopped to collect her thoughts as to what she wanted to say about the end of the battle, smiling gratefully when Spike went to the kitchen and came back with a chipped teacup full of water.

“Sorry I can’t do any better than this,” he apologized. “Don’t need anything for myself, so I have to make do with what’s got left in the pantry. At least I know the well is a good one.”

“This is fine, thank you.” She drained the cup and smiled at him again. “If I’m going to be talking so much every night, I guess I’d better bring my own stash of bottled water to keep here. And maybe some fruit…and some crackers…”

“Gonna move in, are you?” he teased gently.

“You got a problem with that?” she asked with mock belligerence.

“No, luv. Not a bit. In fact, if you wanted to move in here permanent-like…”

“I don’t think that’s a very good idea,” she said, suddenly serious.

“Just joking, Slayer. No need to get all ‘I’m not that kind of girl’ on me.”

“I knew that.”

“Did not. You thought I was asking you to share my bed.”

“I sooo did not!”

“Uh huh.”

“Shut up!”

“Make me.”

Buffy stared into his laughing eyes for a few seconds.

“I jumped off the tower and died.”

Chapter 10

For as long as it took her to walk to the kitchen, put the cup in the sink and return to the library, he was silent – his mouth open and his eyes staring at nothing. When the couch dipped under her weight, he focused on her again.

“Funny,” he said finally. “You don’t look like a ghost.”

“Nope. Not a ghost. Just me. Seems like I’m not much better than you are at staying dead.”

He nodded. “Seems like. So, that must have been the highlight of my life,” he added with a wry smile. “Losin’ the girl I loved just when she was beginning to trust me…” He froze and stared at her. “You don’t think that’s my unfinished business, do you? That you had to jump? Did I fail you somehow? Was I supposed to keep that from happening?”

Buffy shook her head vigorously.

“No, don’t think that! We settled that argument a long time ago. You did your best, I did my best -- we just didn’t quite manage to stop Glory in time. You got thrown off the tower trying to save Dawn. I did what I had to do to save the world.”

“It was your job,” he said softly.

“It was. It is. It’s what we do, us heroes. We save the world. Sometimes we die.”

“If you’re not a ghost, who or what am I talking to? Know you’re not a vampire.”

“No.” Buffy sighed and shrugged. “I got resurrected the old fashioned way – witchy friend, black magic, scary spell, wake up in coffin, crawl out of grave wondering where Heaven went…I’m pretty much the same me I was before. Not exactly, but close enough; only your chip knew the difference.”

He raised his eyebrows, but when she didn’t elaborate, he nodded. His eyes shone with sympathy as he said, “That must have been a rough go – the transition from Heaven to Hellmouth. You’d have to be a bloody strong person to get through something like that without going mad.”

“I had some help,” she whispered, giving him a tremulous smile. “Somebody who wouldn’t nag me to feel better, who didn’t have anything to do with bringing me back and wasn’t standing around waiting to be thanked. Somebody who let me work out my anger and pain whenever I needed to…”

Understanding dawned. “Now we’re to the part where you start watching me put my pants on,” he said with a nod. “That’s what you meant by helping you forget something. You turned to me to forget about being alive.”

“I turned to you to help me deal with being alive,” she corrected. “I was numb. You helped me learn to feel.”

“And when you could feel again, you left me. Have I got that right?”

“I did. I was…I wasn’t ready to be anybody’s girlfriend. I was still trying to be Buffy. And still trying to make everybody happy.” She reached over and put a hand on his. “Everybody except you. I took you for granted. Another one of the things I owe you some apologies for.”

He shook his head. “I’m thinkin’ there’s more to this than you’re telling me, pet.” He looked at her shrewdly. “Did I go get my soul after you broke up with me? Was that a big deal to you? That I didn’t have a soul?”

Buffy stared at him with her mouth open, then remembered he’d told her that most of what he knew about slayers and vampires had come from his conversations with the watcher trainees he met. Some things he’d just seemed to know instinctively - like how to fight, how to kill the few vampires that had tried to move in; and he’d recognized the slayers’ supernatural power. But he hadn’t known what they were or what to call them until he’d talked with a few of them and their future watchers.

He had no idea how important it was that he’d fought to get his soul back. Or what it had meant to her. She studied his face for a minute, but no trace of sarcasm could be seen in his eyes. She slid off the couch into an imitation of his earlier position, kneeling in front of him and taking one hand in hers.

“I thought it was,” she began. “I threw it at you all the time – the fact that you were soulless. Even after it was obvious that you didn’t need one to love, I said you did. So, yeah, it was a big deal. Not so much that you had one when you came back; but that you got it. For me. Because you thought I needed it. It was probably the most…” She took a deep breath. “Nobody has ever loved me like that. Ever.”

He stared down at her, unconsciously squeezing the hand that was still holding his.

“Buffy—I wish I … I can’t be him, luv. I think you’re a powerful slayer and a bloody amazing woman, but I don’t remember loving you. I wish I did.”

“I know,” she said, scrambling to her feet and retreating to her end of the couch. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I just wanted you to understand what a big deal it was.”

“I think I get it,” he said with a wry smile. “Vampire plus soul equals big deal to Buffy.” He stood up and stretched. “What do you say we save the rest of the history lesson till tomorrow and go outside for some exercise?”

“Exercise?”

“Yeah, you know. Run, jump, play…pretend I’m still evil and try to slay me?”

“You want to spar with me?”

“Yeah. If you want to call it that. Or, we could really fight – we seem to be pretty good at getting each other riled up. But I don’t think your heart would be in it; and I know mine wouldn’t. Don’t want to hurt you, just want to see you in action again.”

“Okay.” Buffy bounced to her feet. “I could use some more exercise.”

Without warning, she shoved him hard enough to knock him back onto the couch and bolted for the door while he was swearing and jumping to his feet.

“Last one out’s a bloodsucking Englishman!”

“Oh, that’s it, Slayer. You’re going to pay for that one!”

Buffy’s giggle floated up to him as he paused on the porch to locate her in the darkness. When he could see exactly where she was standing, still giggling, but on her toes and ready to move, he leapt off the porch, flipping over to land on his feet right in front of her.

“Whoa! That’s a new one,” she said with admiration, ducking under the punch he threw. “You’ve been practicing.”

“Not the vamp you knew,” he reminded her. “Might have a whole collection of new tricks.”

“This could be a lot of fun.”

As she spoke, she pivoted and flipped herself over his head, not landing in time to plant a kick on his ass as she’d intended, but catching him hard on the hip as he spun to follow her movement.

“Ow!”

“Oops?”

“I’ll give you ‘oops’, Slayer,” he growled, tackling her to the ground. She rolled as they fell, using his momentum to throw him off to the side. Breaking his grip on her arms, she sprang to her feet, dancing out of his reach and giggling. The sound of her laughter did nothing to decrease the growls coming from his chest. His expression when he kipped to his feet was thunderous.

“I really didn’t mean to do that,” she said with mock meekness; then her laughter broke out again. “I was aiming for your ass.”

“Gonna kick my arse were you?” His expression softened in spite of himself as he enjoyed her obvious glee in his discomfiture. “Maybe it’ll be your arse that’s stinging when we’re done here. Might just turn you over my knee and give you the spankin’ you deserve.”

“Ooooh. Promises, promises,” she cooed, backing out of reach while he was recovering from his astonishment.

“Wasn’t meant that way, pet,” he grunted, fading away and moving behind her. “But it bloody well is now.”

“Hey! You’re cheating!”

Buffy yelped as he took advantage of his invisibility to pinch her butt and retreat quickly. Turning serious, she extended her senses to follow his predatory circling. Much as she had when they first fought, she tracked him using her finely honed ability to sense any disturbance in the air and her slayer-enhanced sensitivity to the presence of the supernatural.

She felt the brush of air against her face and ducked away from the anticipated punch, only to find that Spike had feinted the jab. Her movement away from the fake punch put her right into the path of his other hand, which seized her shoulder with an iron grip. She quickly found herself spun around and pinned against a muscular chest.

“Gotcha!” he growled, pretending to bite her neck with his blunt human teeth.

Instead of struggling or throwing her head back into his face, Buffy fell against him, allowing herself to enjoy the arms that she’d thought gone forever. She sighed and relaxed against his body, feeling his growing erection nudging her back. She didn’t speak, just turning her head to allow him better access to her neck and rubbing her cheek against his shoulder.

“Speaking of cheating…” His voice was hoarse and his arms tightened involuntarily. “Christ, you feel good…” His mock bite had quickly changed to a mixture of kissing and nibbling as he reacted to her whimpered response.

His hands slid around her waist and made their way under her shirt, stroking her skin and, eventually, shocking her out of her lustful daze.

“No,” she breathed. “No,” she repeated more forcefully. “We can’t do this. You can’t do this…”

“Pretty sure I can,” he growled, sucking on the skin of her neck and sending shivers throughout her body. “If it turns out I can’t, then I’m officially in Hell.”

“No,” she explained, moving away now that he was no longer holding her tightly. “I can’t do this to you. I can’t take advanta-“

“Buffy. Trust me when I tell you that I want you to take advantage of me. Want it so much it’s painful. Anyway, could just as well say I’m takin’ advantage of you. Knowin’ you have feelings for--”

“Love,” Buffy said firmly. “You can say it. The you who remembers me. I loved him.”

“Right. An’ I’m not him, am I? So if anybody’s taking advantage of anybody, it’s me taking advantage of the way you feel about the man who owned this body.”

In spite of his protestations, he had relaxed his grip and allowed her to step away. He touched her shoulder and turned her around to face him.

“Want you more than I can say, Buffy. But I don’t want you doing something you’re going to regret.” He dropped his hands and stepped back. “Tellin’ you right now, though – if you don’t want this to happen again, we can’t fight each other. There’s something about fighting with you makes me…”

She nodded. “I know. This is my fault. I’ve been doing things that I know turn you on; and I’ve been all flirty and innuendoish. I just…I want you. You have no idea how much I’d like to--” She took a deep, shuddering breath, her eyes sending a wordless apology. “But I want to do it with the Spike who loves me. And that’s not you. Not right now, anyway.”

“Fair enough, luv. Like you said, you keep your hormones under control and I’ll put a muzzle on mine.”

They stood, only a few feet apart, neither sure what to do about the awkward silence. Finally, Buffy gave a small laugh.

“I think I should probably take my hormones home and give them a good talking to.” She turned to leave, muttering, “There could be cold water involved…”

“Yeah, think there may be a cold shower in my future, now that you mention it. Or a good wank.” He cocked his head and smiled at Buffy’s retreating back. “Could be both.”

“Pig.”

“Oink, oink.”

If he noticed her sudden gasp it his normal response to being called a pig, he didn’t mention it, only watched her leave the lawn. When she was safely outside his haunting area, she stopped and turned around.

“If I come back in the daytime, will you be awake? Or would you rather I waited till dark?”

“No, Slayer. Come back whenever you want to. I’ll catch some kip tonight so you won’t have to come downstairs where I’m naked…in my bed…all alone…”

“It’s not working,” she warned, laughing at his disappointed face. “Much as I like you naked, it’s not happening. I expect to find you awake, dressed and upstairs waiting for me.”

“Fine,” he grumbled. “Dressed and upstairs. Got it.” He watched Buffy wave and turn away again. “Be careful walking back, luv. Might be something dangerous about tonight.”

Her laughter floated back on the cool night air. “In this town? I’m one of the most dangerous things in it. Remember?”


~~~~~~~~~

She entered the school and went directly to her room, shedding clothes as she went. In spite of her words to Spike, she didn’t take a cold shower, but put on pajamas and got into her bed, determined to get enough sleep that she could get up early and shop before going back. Her sleep was a combination of oblivion and dreams of Spike, Angel, ghosts in white sheets moaning and groaning, and a dragon.

~~~~~~~~~~

After a quick breakfast with Dawn, during which Buffy filled her in on what she’d told Spike the night before, she stopped by Giles’ office on her way to shop again.

“Ah. Good morning, Buffy. I wasn’t expecting to see you so early.”

Giles smiled when she flushed uncomfortably.

“It’s not like I’m planning to move in there,” she huffed. “I just needed a place to sleep for that one night. I’m not going to make it a habit, you know.”

“I would hope not; but one never knows…”

Changing the subject, Buffy asked, “When is Willow due back from her retreat with the coven?”

“Tomorrow,” he responded. “Why do you ask?” The suspicious look on his face told her that he already knew the answer.

“I want her to see Spike. To see if she can tell if it’s a spell or if he’s just stuck being a ghost for some other reason.”

He nodded. “That seems reasonable. I would think Willow would be able to pick up on any magic lingering in the atmosphere of the house.”

“That’s all I need right now. If she thinks there is, then I might be paying a visit to the nearest Wolfram and Hart offices.”


~~~~~~~~~~~



Buffy left Giles muttering over the inadvisability of entering the offices of a notorious demon-catering law firm, and walked into the town to pick up some supplies for Spike’s house. She found an older building containing a clean, bright market and began filling her basket with items she thought might be useful.

Bottled water, some bananas and apples, a tin of biscuits and a packet of crackers were added to the canned nuts that she’d already placed in her basket. She chewed on her lip as she stood in front of a display of toothbrushes, then shook her head and moved on.

Nah. I might stick some floss in my pocket, but bringing a toothbrush is just too much.

She paid the friendly woman at the check out, saying politely, “Your building is lovely. It looks like it’s been here a long time.”

“Oh yes,” the woman replied with a nod. “Our family has been providing the village with food and other supplies for over two hundred years. Of course, the area has grown tremendously and there are other markets now, but ours is the oldest.”

She handed Buffy her purchases, putting them into a cloth bag with ‘Brown’s Market’ written across the side. “Here you are, a nice ecologically sound bag for you to use when you come back. I hope it’s not too heavy for you,” she added, surveying Buffy’s small frame and comparing it to her own rather beefy arms.

“Oh, I’ll be fine,” Buffy said with a smile, easily picking the bag up by its handles and walking to the door. “But, thank you. I’ll be back.”

She strolled back through the town, admiring the neat front yards with their window boxes, colorful pots and gardens full of flowers. No matter how small or humble appearing the house might be, it always had a colorful and immaculate front yard. She couldn’t help comparing them with Spike’s much larger, but so much less cared for home and wishing she could do something about it.

It’s not like the Slayer handbook covered how to take care of English gardens. I wouldn’t even know where to start.

She got to the house and knocked once before walking in and going straight to the kitchen. Seeing no sign of Spike and that the door to his bedroom was shut, she put her bag down on the counter and went to the door that led to the backyard. Once outside, she almost fell through the rotted wood of the steps, only her grip on the doorknob keeping her from sinking through the hole her foot had made. She recovered her balance and jumped gracefully over the two wooden steps to land on a barely visible paving stone.

Buffy followed the overgrown path until she tired of the twigs and branches of shrubs catching on her clothes, then turned back to the house to find Spike standing in the doorway watching her. She waved and began to walk faster as she saw his lips curve into a welcoming smile. He held out his hands when she got to the end of the path and she reached into the doorway for them without hesitation, allowing him to effortlessly pull her up and over the broken steps and into the shade of the kitchen.

“You didn’t get hurt there, did you, Slayer?” he asked, gesturing to the broken step.

“No, I didn’t get hurt – but I think I broke your steps.”

“S’pose, if I wasn’t a ghost and if I could actually go out there, I’d have to think about fixing them. As it is, it’ll help keep the riffraff out.”

“Riff raff?”

He gestured towards the front of the house.

“Somebody jus’ came in. And since you were out here…”

As one, they turned to walk to the front hall. Spike held up a hand and halted her at the entrance to the library.

“Let’s find out who or what it is before we spring a slayer on him, yeah?”

Buffy nodded reluctantly and remained just far enough outside the doorway to hear without being seen. Spike walked a few steps away and stopped, leaning casually against the doorjamb. Buffy was sure that, had he been able to, he would have been lighting a cigarette for effect.

“Lookin’ for someone?”

“Yah!” The voice from inside the room dropped from its initial high-pitched yelp to a more normal tone. “Are you Mr. Pratt?”

“I’m the ghost of William Pratt. Who the bloody hell are you?”

“I…I’m John Smith, of Smith, Nelson and Phelps, acting on behalf of Wolfram and Hart of London.”

Buffy stiffened at the mention of the lawyers she was now convinced had something to do with Spike’s condition.

“And exactly what sort of acts are you planning to perform on their behalf?” Spike asked, his voice not quite a growl, but close enough to increase the other man’s obvious nervousness.

“I’m not sure. I was to come to the house and ascertain that you were still here and that you were alone. And I was to ask you--” His voice broke off as Buffy came around the corner to stand beside Spike.

“And if he’s not alone?” she asked in her best slayer voice. “What do your sleazy bosses care if he’s alone or not?”

“I don’t know!” Now facing, not only a man who was calling himself a ghost, but a small blonde American girl who bore an uncanny resemblance to the photo that had been e mailed to his office, his natural inclination to retreat became overwhelming. Unfortunately for him, the only exit from the room was being blocked by the two people in question – neither one of which appeared to be interested in allowing him to leave. “I was merely asked to come to the house in the daytime and ascertain if Mr. Pratt was still residing here.”

“I am. You’ve seen it. Time to go.”

The man’s eyes shifted to Buffy, darting away when she narrowed hers and stepped into the room.

“Why are you here instead of someone from Wolfram and Hart?” she asked, her voice hard and cold. “Why did they send a minion?”

“A wha-?” He cleared his throat. “I’m extending a professional courtesy, that’s all. Their nearest office is in London and this has saved someone a train ride.”

“So, you don’t know anything about why Sp- Mr Pratt is here?”

“No.” He shook his head vigorously. “I’m merely seeking to obtain the information they requested.”

“Well,” Buffy stepped even closer, smiling in an unfriendly manner when he involuntarily backed up, “you go back and tell them to expect a visit from Buffy Summers. And tell them she wants answers. You got that? Do I need to write it down for you?”

Shaking his head again, he promised to pass the message on. Spike moved to the side and the man scuttled out the door, jumped into his car and drove very quickly back to his office. Where he immediately dialed a number and assured the person on the other end that he had seen Mr Pratt and also the girl in the photograph. In a trembling voice, he added that Miss Summers was planning a visit to their offices and that she was a ‘very intimidating young lady’.

Spike watched from the library as Buffy followed the lawyer to the door and watched him drive away. When she could no longer see his car, she turned around and walked back to the waiting vampire. It was hard for her to think of him as a ghost anymore, now that she’d felt his arms around her and the solidity of his body behind her.

“That tears it. I’m going to find Wolfram and Hart and introduce them to a slayer. A pissed off slayer.”

He laughed and gazed at her with admiration. Her eyes were flashing with anger and her color was high as she paced back and forth in front of him.

“You’re gorgeous when you’re brassed off,” he said without thinking. “No wonder I kept tryin’ to kill you. Probably just wanted to keep you stirred up all the time.”

His heartfelt praise for her beauty interrupted her angry pacing and she stared at him in surprise and dismay.

“I thought we were going to keep our hormones safely tucked away on ice somewhere?”

“Oh? Did I say that out loud? Sorry, luv. Didn’t mean to. You just look so delicious…”

“Spike!”

“Fine. One a scale of one to ten, you’re a three. Does that make you happier?” He glared at her and gritted his teeth. “If you don’t want me commenting on your looks, how about trying to show up here in something other than tight pants and shirts that show your tits?”

He stomped into the library and threw himself down on the couch, taking up so much of it that it was obvious he didn’t want Buffy to sit near him -- which wasn’t a problem, as she stomped in behind him and stood in front of the couch with her hands on her hips.

“So, you’re saying what? That I have to dress like a nun so that you’ll keep it in your pants? Is that what you’re saying?”

“I’m saying, you come here dressed like you’re coming to see a man you want to please, so don’t be getting on your high horse when it turns out it works. And trust me, Slayer, it’s stayin’ in my pants. Don’t you worry about that. You’ve seen me without them for the last time.”

“Good!”

“Fine!”

Buffy turned around and marched through the library door.

“Where are going?” Spike jumped to his feet as she ignored him and went into the kitchen.

“I’m putting my food away,” she muttered, annoyed that the only task she could come up with involved something so domestic. She set the water on the counter and tucked everything else in one of the cupboards. “Don’t you have a refrigerator?”

“Don’t need one,” he growled back, still sounding sulky. “Now where are you going?” He followed Buffy’s stiff back as she stomped past him and towards the front hall.

“I’m going to London,” she said. “I’ll be back in a day or so.”

“A day or so?”

“Yes. Maybe I’ll buy myself some baggy pants or a granny dress while I’m there. I’ll see you when I get back.”

Without another word, she left the house, slamming the door as she went and leaving behind a very bewildered ghost. Trapped in the house by both the daylight and his reluctance to appear to be following her, he vented his anger on the wall behind him, putting his fist through it in a very satisfactory, if painful fashion.

Chapter 11

Buffy’s anger carried her all the way to the school and evaporated only when she reached the administrative areas. Rather than tell Giles what she planned, she talked to Marie, the watcher-cum-administrative assistant who, contrary to what Giles preferred to think, actually ran the new Watchers Council offices. Buffy explained what she needed, and within fifteen minutes, she had the address of Wolfram and Hart’s offices, a rail schedule and a promise not to tell Giles or Dawn until Buffy had time to be well on her way to London.

She ran to her room to pack a small overnight bag, and then ran out of the building without seeing anyone who might ask her where she was going. Using her speed, she was in town and at the railway station in time to catch the next train into London. Buffy settled into her seat and gazed out the window, wondering what she thought she was going to do when she reached the city and the offices of what she knew was a very powerful organization.

~~~~~~~~

It was several hours before Dawn and Giles began to realize that Buffy was not around, nor had she been seen or heard from since Julie had spotted her making an unexpected return from Spike’s. When Marie overheard them speculating on what might have happened to her, she spoke up and told them that Buffy had gone to London.

“By herself? And, why? Why would she go to London without me?” Dawn’s voice wavered between worried and whiny.

Giving her titular boss an apologetic shrug, Marie handed Giles the paper upon which she’d originally scribbled down the address of Wolfram and Hart’s London office.

“I don’t know why she was going – although she did look a bit angry, now that I think of it – but I do know where.”

Giles gave a long-suffering sigh. “I imagine this has something to do with Spike and the house,” he said. “I hope she knows what she’s getting herself into.”

Casting a glance at the late afternoon sky, Dawn announced she was going to walk to the house to see if Spike knew why Buffy was going to Wolfram and Hart. Giles stopped himself before the objection was even out of his mouth, simply saying, “Take somebody with you, then. Preferably a slayer.”

Dawn agreed and went to find Julie. It took her several minutes and a promise that she wouldn’t have to fight the ghost, before the other girl agreed to be her bodyguard for the night. They had a quick meal and then made the walk up the hill to the house.

“I should get extra credit for all the times I’ve hiked up here,” Dawn grumbled. “It’s not like I’m a slayer and can just run up and down hills all day long without getting tired.”

“It’s good for you,” Julie said with just a trace of a giggle. “You’ll need to be strong to keep up with your slayer, you know. When you get one,” she added.

“I wish Giles would let us choose for ourselves,” Dawn said, changing the subject slightly. “He’s all ‘you need to be compatible, not just best friends’.”

“I know,” her friend sighed. “I soo want you to be my watcher. It would be awesome! We’d have sleepovers, and go shopping, and go to clubs together, and--”

“And that’s why he won’t let us,” Dawn responded with a laugh. “He knows we’d be playing all the time instead of researching and slaying.”

They approached the house, watching carefully for any sign of Buffy or the ghost, but all was still. Motioning for Julie to remain behind her on the porch, Dawn knocked on the door and then pushed it open.

“Spike? Are you here? You are here, aren’t you? I mean, you can’t be anywhere else, so you must be--”

“I’m here, Watcher.” His voice came from the library and Dawn stepped into the doorway to find him slouched on the couch, staring at the ceiling. “What d’y want?”

“I want to talk to you about Buffy,” Dawn answered. “But, I brought somebody with me and I need to know if…”

“’s not that wanker that was going to shag you on my couch, is it?”

“No!” she huffed, drawing herself up to her full height. “But if I had brought him with me again, I would expect you to be polite this time!”

“You’d expect that, would you?” he asked, raising a skeptical eyebrow in familiar fashion.

“Well, maybe not expect it but I would insist on it,” she said, sticking her chin out.

“Are you in the habit of ‘insisting’ on things with me? How’d that usually work out for you?”

“You’d be surprised,” she said, relaxing her posture and smiling at him. “I usually just whined and begged or threatened to cry…”

He rolled his eyes and sat up.

“So, what are you doing here, then? Big Sis isn’t here.”

“I know. That’s what I want to talk to you about. But, I need to know if it’s okay for Julie to come in without fighting you.”

“Julie?”

“She’s a slayer. One of the ones you kicked out. Giles said I had to bring somebody with me and I asked her, but she’s afraid you won’t let her in.”

He waved his hand in the air and dropped his head back against the top of the couch.

“Don’t give a flying fuck what she does. Tell her to come in. I’m not goin’ to fight her tonight.”

“Oooookay. I’m sensing that your charming mood has something to do with Buffy’s disappearing into the wilds of London this afternoon?”

Instead of waiting for an answer to her basically rhetorical question, Dawn walked to the front door and brought an anxious Julie in with her.

“It’s fine,” Dawn said impatiently as the slayer looked around with apprehension. “He’s too busy being pissed off at Buffy to worry about you.”

“I heard that!”

“I don’t care,” Dawn said as she walked into the library and sat in one of the big chairs. “It’s true, isn’t it? You guys had a fight about something and now she’s gone off to find Wolfram and Hart.”

“It’s really none of your business, is it?”

“If my sister, who is here and met you because of me, is going into danger by herself because of something you did or said, it is my business.”

Julie, meanwhile, had walked silently into the room and was sitting rigidly in the other big chair. Spike cocked his head and looked her up and down, then his eyes lit up with recognition.

“Aha! The crybaby!” he said. “Are you getting any better?”

“I’m trying,” she muttered.

“Well, good for you, then.” He nodded, then dismissed her and turned back to Dawn. “What do you mean she went into danger by herself? She didn’t take any other slayers with her? And she’s just checking out a soddin’ law firm – how dangerous can it be?”

“Didn’t she tell you anything about what happened while you were with Angel in LA?”

“We’re still working on the ‘she quit shaggin’ me, so I went and got a soul’ part of the story,” he growled. “Why don’t you fill me in. What was I doing hanging out with my grandsire?”

Dawn chewed her lip. “I don’t want Buffy to get mad at me, but…you should know what we know.” Mind made up, she leaned forward and began, “You were stuck in an amulet that--- well, I’ll let Buffy tell you about that; all you need to know is that you were stuck in it somehow after you burned up in Sunnydale.” She went on to tell him about Angel’s taking over the LA offices of Wolfram and Hart, then using his position to take down the Circle of the Black Thorn.

“You guys really, really pissed of the Senior Partners, and they sent this whole big army of demons and stuff against you – there was even a dragon – and you…you all…died. Or we thought you did, anyway.”

“Seems like I did,” he said fading out of sight and then back in again. “Tell me more about this amulet and about how I was a ghost when I came back from dying the first time.”

Dawn admitted that she knew very little about his time as a ghost, or after he became corporeal again. Glaring fiercely, she said, “That’s because, you asshole, you couldn’t be bothered to pick up a phone and tell the women who loved you that you weren’t gone anymore!”

“Was Buffy brassed off about that?”

“When she found out? After you were already dead again? Yeah, I think you could say that. She was royally pissed. But she was…” Dawn looked him in the eye. “She was also devastated. She thought you didn’t believe her when she told you she loved you. That it was her fault you stayed in LA and died with Angel.”

“Bloody hell,” he muttered. “No wonder she wasn’t sure if she was glad to see me. I was a stupid git.”

“Can’t argue with that. But I think she still loves you anyway.”

“She loves the man who loves her, pet. I’m not him. Not right now, anyway.”

“Oh, that reminds me. Willow – did she tell you about Willow?” At his nod, she went on quickly. “She’s coming back tomorrow and Buffy was going to bring her out to check for any magic residue or spells. She might be able to do something about it. She’s very powerful. I guess I could bring her up, if Buffy isn’t back yet.”

“Is she part of this coven that thinks I’m here until I fix something that’s bothering me? And that when I’ve done it, I’ll be gone?”

“She works with them. Yeah, she was the one who told Giles that’s what they thought might be going on.”

“Not going to try to mojo my memories back, is she? Don’t want them comin’ back unless the Slayer’s here.”

“No, I don’t think so. She’s just going to see if she can tell what’s keeping you here. If it’s magic or something else.”

Spike nodded. “Guess it would be a good thing to know.” He cocked his head at her. “Might’ve been a good thing to know before your sis went charging off to raise hell with some big organization that may or may not have had anything to do with it. Don’t suppose she thought about that, did she?”

“I couldn’t tell you,” Dawn responded. “She snuck out without telling anybody except the woman who helped her.” She looked at him and asked, “You wanna tell me what you guys had the fight about? What sent her off to a building full of demons and the guys who keep them out of demon jail?”

He shook his head. “The fight was none of your business. It was stupid. I was stupid. It was nothing. What sent her running off to London was the visitor we had.”

He filled Dawn in on what the local solicitor had said about who sent him, and Buffy’s reaction to it.

“I’ll admit, if she hadn’t been so brassed off at me, she may have given a little more thought to running off without back-up, but that’s the reason she’s paying a visit to London.”

“Well, all right. I guess all we can do is wait for her to come back and tell us what she found out. Giles says that if she isn’t back by tomorrow afternoon, he’s sending a group of slayers out to find her. He’s going to use the girls in London who have experience with stuff there.” She tilted her head and studied him for a minute, then said softly, “I’m glad you’re here, Spike. Even if you don’t remember me, I’m glad to see you.”

“Thank you, luv. I appreciate it. Why don’t you and your bodyguard here go on back to the school? Just in case Buffy’s come back or called or something.”

Dawn nodded and stood up, gesturing for Julie to go out the door in front of her.

“Okay. Maybe we can get you a cell phone or something so that people don’t have to keep running up here every time they need to talk to you. Now that we know who you are, and that you have…friends…at the school, you should be able to talk to us when you want to.”

“I don’t have ‘friends’ at that place, Watcher. I have an ex of some sort, her sister who thinks she can tell me what to do, and an old man who isn’t one of my fans, apparently. If Buffy wants me to have a phone, she can get me one. Other than that I don’t see any reason to talk to the people there any more than I ever have.”

He put his head back to resume staring at the ceiling and missed the pained expression that crossed Dawn’s face at his casual dismissal of her own relationship with him. He didn’t look up when they closed the door behind them and began the downhill walk back to the school.

~~~~~~~~~~~

After spending the night in a medium priced hotel Hey, go me for saving the council some money~ Buffy followed the directions the desk clerk had given her until she was standing in front of an old building with a large modern addition behind it.

“So this is where evil goes when it needs a lawyer,” she muttered, walking up the steps and into the lobby. Her senses immediately began screaming at her and she stared around, unconsciously reaching for the stake tucked into her waistband.

“Please, Miss Summers. Our customers are not attacking you; there is no reason for such overt hostility. Please, if you would follow me…”

The man who had spoken glided away and Buffy reluctantly followed him, glaring around in an attempt to separate the vampires from the humans present in the bustling lobby. Some were easy to spot, given away by their old fashioned clothes or the frightened expressions on their faces as they realized what she was. Others, she was sure probably were vamps, but they removed themselves from her path with the calm assurance of someone who knows that their safety is guaranteed.

They hadn’t gone far before the man leading the way opened a door and held it, gesturing for Buffy to go in. She peered around him suspiciously, but found nothing more frightening than a small office with an attractive, well-groomed woman sitting behind a desk. As Buffy watched, the woman rose to her feet and came over, holding her hand out and smiling warmly.

“Miss Summers! It’s a pleasure to meet you. You’re practically a legend in this firm, you know.”

A speechless Buffy automatically took the proffered hand and shook it, relieved to discover that it was the same temperature as her own.

“Please. Have a seat. Allow me to introduce myself; I am Alice Parker. Assistant to the Director of the London offices of Wolfram and Hart.” She waited untiI Buffy was sitting on the edge of one of the luxurious leather chairs, then continued: “I know you must have questions for me. What can I do for you?”

“Tell me why you’re interested in Spike; tell me why he’s a ghost and why he’s trapped in that house. And tell me where his memories went.”

“Ah, yes. Mr Pratt. One of our long-time customers – although less so lately.” She reached for the brown folder lying in the center of her otherwise clear desk and flipped it open. “Let me see, what do we have on…Oh. Oh dear. Yes. I see.”

She closed the folder and smiled at Buffy sympathetically.

“It appears that Mr Pratt--”

“Spike.”

“Mr,” she cleared her throat, “Spike was involved in some sort of insurrection in the California branch of our firm. The Senior Partners” --Buffy was sure the woman almost genuflected – “were quite angry. Apparently they had some means to capture his essence when he was slain along with the other disobedient employees, and they ordered that he be kept on this plane rather than allowed to move on as the other souled vampire had.

“How is he being kept here? And why is he in that house?”

“Well, it is his house. We’ve handled the upkeep for him for many years. It was probably the easiest place to anchor him.”

“Why take his memories?”

She shook her head. “That I can’t tell you. I would guess that it had something to do with the spell used to bind him; but that really isn’t my area of expertise. You’d have to speak to someone in our Magic Department.”

“I want him released.”

“Ah, yes. I was afraid that might be your request. Unfortunately, as much as we would enjoy doing a favor for the oldest living slayer, we cannot oblige you. The Senior Partners have ordered his binding to this plane and his house and that is that.”

Buffy stood up.

“Magic Department. Now.”

Miss Parker’s smile became a little forced.

“I see no reason for such a tone. I have been instructed to be as cooperative as is possible under the circumstances. We have no obligation to help you, you know.”

“You have an obligation to your clients to see that I don’t slay a whole lobby full of them before I leave.” The smile Buffy returned was not friendly.

With an exasperated sigh, Miss Parker pushed an intercom button and whispered, “She wants to talk to someone in the Magic Department. Yes. No. I did! She is quite rude.”

“She is standing right here,” Buffy growled.

“Very well.” The other woman nodded to the invisible voice on the other end of the phone and rang off. “Come with me, please.”

Buffy followed her down the corridor and into the newer part of the building where she was surprised to see vampires walking past sunny windows without even flinching. Then she remembered what Andrew had said in his raving about Angel’s offices at Wolfram and Hart and realized that the glass was impervious to the sun’s rays. She was shown into a modern laboratory and introduced to a handsome young man who gushed over her status until she held up her hand for quiet.

“Stop with the slobbering over me – we aren’t on the same side, remember?”

“But you’re famous! The only slayer to have two souled vampires fighting over her; the only one who inspired one of those vampires to go to seek his soul for her; the only one to even think about sharing her power…”

“Yeah, fine. I know who I am. I want to know why Spike doesn’t. Why doesn’t he remember who he is? Wouldn’t the punishment be more effective if he knew why he was there?”

“If he knew why, he might figure out what unfinished business was keeping him anchored and do something about it. Not likely, I admit, with him being trapped in a house in rural England, but you never know. It’s just a safety measure. The Senior Partners don’t like mistakes.”

“So, we’re right then, if he takes care of whatever he thinks he left unfinished, he’ll really be gone?”

“He will move to the next plane of his existence,” the man replied carefully.

Buffy nodded and began to walk around the lab, being careful not to touch anything that might touch her back. When she had circled the room completely, ignoring the young man and his explanations for the experiments that she paused to watch, she stopped back at the door.

“Not to be rude or anything, but, you know, as punishments go – being made to haunt your own house forever seems a little…lame. No offense.”

“Oh, none taken! Yes, we thought so, too, but it seems that there were extenuating circumstances. Another, um…group was interested in this vampire. We were told to simply trap the vampire’s ghost in the house and forgo the normal torture and bloodshed.”

“Another group?”

He looked around furtively. “”The Powers That Be,” he whispered. “They indicated they would be very angry if the vampire were to be punished too severely. It was quite an accomplishment for us to come up with something suitable that could appease both the Senior Partners and the…others.”

“Go, you,” Buffy said, rolling her eyes. “Okay, how do we make this thing go away?”

“G…go away?”

“Yes. You know. Give him back his memories, let him leave the house, make him a real boy – er –vampire, again.”

“Oh, that’s not possible! If he gets his memories…and if he can leave the house, then he really isn’t being punished, is he? And we can’t make him…real. He was killed. In the battle. The essence that was returned to the amulet is all there is to him.”

Buffy stared at him, her expression going from furious to dismayed.

“It can’t be fixed?”

He shook his head. “He can try to remember his unfinished business and take care of it, if possible. That would break the spell. But then he…”

“He’d be gone. Completely,” she said dully.

“Yes.”

Without another word, Buffy whirled and left the room, his mocking “You’re welcome” ringing in her ears. She ran past several nervous vampires and one trembling demon, barely noticing their presence. When she got to the lobby, she was stopped by Ms Parker who asked with faux sweetness, “Did learn everything you needed to learn, Ms Summers?”

“Everything except what it is that’s keeping him here. I need to know that so that we can avoid….”

The other woman began to laugh, waving her hand around when Buffy glared at her and stepped closer.

“Oh, oh dear. I’m sorry. It’s just that….” She laughed again. “It’s a bit late for that, isn’t it?”

“What do you mean, ‘a bit late’?”

“The unfinished business that you want to keep from him? It’s you, Miss Summers. The idea was to put him somewhere that you would never find him. But you did, didn’t you? Have a safe trip back,” she said, still laughing, as she walked to her office and opened the door.

Teeth clenched and eyes resolutely dry, Buffy left the building and turned blindly down the street in the direction of her hotel. She walked the ten blocks in a daze, barely acknowledging the concierge as she went through the lobby. Skipping the elevator, she ran up the six flights of stairs to her floor, hoping that the speed and effort would drive the words out of her head.

It’s a bit late for that isn’t it? It’s you, Miss Summers. It’s you, Miss Summers. It’s you, Miss Summers.

She threw herself down across the bed, resisting the urge to scream her frustration and fear. She clutched the pillow to her chest as ideas for how to save Spike came and went – examined and discarded almost as quickly as they popped into her head. With an exhausted sigh, she pulled out her phone and returned one of the five messages Dawn had sent during the course of the day.

“Am fine. bk tomorr.” she typed into it, then dropped it on the floor and gave in to a few minutes of weakness, muffling her sobs with the pillow until she fell asleep, tormented by visions of Spike fading into oblivion before her eyes.

Chapter 12

“If you’d just let me teleport, we’d be there by now, you know,” Willow grumbled as she followed Dawn up the hill.

“It makes me throw-up,” Dawn answered. “Besides, this is like my third trip up here this week. If I can do it, you can do it.”

“If I had legs that were as long as I am tall, I could,” Willow smiled as she cast an eye at the much taller girl next to her.

“Not my fault you and Buffy are such shrimps. Here we are. Have you been up here before?”

“Nope. I’m not sure why, actually. I guess Giles must have had somebody else check it out for dark magic. And, hey! I’ve got three inches on Buffy.”

“I don’t think he bothered before this. Nobody was getting hurt, so he didn’t worry about it. And you’re still a shrimp.”

Willow followed Dawn up the steps to the front door. “Well, I can tell you right now that we just crossed some kind of mystical barrier when we stepped on the grass.”

“Yeah, that’s as far as Spike can go.” Dawn opened the door and called, “Spike? Are you up yet? I brought Willow.”

“I’m here.”

Spike appeared at the entrance to the library, safely away from the sunbeams coming in the front door. He stepped back as Dawn led Willow into the room, staring at her curiously as she walked past with an uncertain smile. When she was fully in the room, Willow turned around and studied the vampire ghost carefully. Spike stood still as she walked around him in a small circle, nodding and muttering to herself until she was satisfied.

“Hello to you, too, Witch,” he said, crossing his arms.

“Oh! I’m sorry, Spike! I didn’t mean to ignore you. It’s great to see you – not dead – well, dead, but you know, still here.” She raised her arms, dropping them when he seemed disinclined to hug. “I just got caught up in the magic –and I’ve never been around a real ghost before. It’s kinda…neat.”

“Neat.”

“Yeah. Well, maybe not for you, but it’s a cool kind of energy, all brrr and …and I’m shutting up now.”

She joined Dawn on the couch, sitting next to her and trying to control the urge to stare at the vampire she’d known for so many years. He gave no sign of recognition when he briefly met her gaze before turning his attention to Dawn.

“Did you hear from her?” he demanded. “Where is she?”

“She texted me. All it said was that she’s fine and she’ll be back tomorrow.”

He nodded and relaxed enough to sprawl in one of the chairs.

“Right then.” He turned to Willow. “So, witch-woman, what do you think?”

“There’s magic here. No question about it. But it’s not terribly strong. I can’t do anything about your being a ghost, but I think I can break the binding that keeps you in the house. If you want me to, that is. I wouldn’t do it without your permission.”

“Good to know,” he said, his gaze telling her that he knew more about how some of her spells had gone than he should.

“Um…I don’t know what Buffy told you, but I’m much better now. Honest!”

“I believe you. If you can magic me out of the house, I’d appreciate it. Gets a mite boring sitting around here waiting for something interesting to come to me.”

Willow swung her backpack down to the floor and began to rummage around in it. She pulled out several bags of herbs, selecting the ones she needed and stuffing the rest of them back into the bag. She looked around, noticing the clean-swept fireplace.

“May I use that?” she asked politely. “I have to make a small fire.”

He nodded and she carried her little batch of herbs and other ingredients to the hearth, placing them in a small pile on the bare stone floor. She struck a match, lit the spell enhancers, and began chanting in Latin. When she had completed her chant and the small flame had burned out, she looked up at Spike and said, “Want to try it out?”

He raised his eyebrow and pointed to the heavy curtains over the windows where a small beam of sunlight was coming through a hole in the old fabric. Willow blushed and nodded.

“Oh, yeah. Sorry about that. I guess you’ll just have to wait until tonight. Unless….”

“Unless?”

“Well, you’re not really a vampire anymore, are you? I mean -- you’re a ghost. So maybe you don’t have to worry about stuff like going ‘whoosh’ if you get in the sun. Have you thought about that?”

“Can’t say I have,” he said thoughtfully. “It’s just so much a part of me to stay out of the sun that I never questioned the why of it. Then, when Buffy told me what I am – used to be – it made sense.”

“You wanna try?” Willow was noticeably eager to show him that her spell had worked, so he smiled and nodded.

“Sure, Red. Maybe I’ll check out those broken steps to the garden.”

Dawn and Willow followed him down the hallway to the kitchen and watched carefully as he stepped to the door. He pulled it open and gazed at the bottom step, which was in full sun.

“Here we go,” he said, reaching his arm out past the invisible barrier of the doorway and into the warmth just beyond. His arm easily went through the formerly impenetrable space and into the golden light. In spite of his automatic flinch, nothing happened to the hand that was bathed in the late afternoon sunlight.

“Bloody hell,” he whispered. He took a tentative step on the edge of the board, avoiding the center and the hole Buffy’s foot had left in it. As his whole body passed through the doorway, he moved more confidently, jumping down onto the overgrown path. He turned to gaze with gratitude at the smiling witch and Dawn.

“Thank you, Willow,” he said formally. “I appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome, Spike.” she beamed back at him. “It’s the least I could do.”

The two women stood in the doorway, watching as he moved around his garden, touching a bush here, pulling a particularly ugly weed there and inhaling the scent of sun-warmed vegetation. Although his body was more translucent than it had been while he was in the house, it was perfectly visible. As he worked his way back to them, Dawn felt her phone vibrate. She grabbed it and nudged Willow to show her the message.

“Cmg bk tnt. Dnt wt up.”

“Huh! I wonder what brought that on? I thought for sure she’d stay another day and do some shopping while she was there.”

Spike materialized at her side, causing her to startle and almost drop the phone.

“Don’t DO that!” she squeaked. “It’s rude to be invisible.”

Ignoring her comments, he tried to look at her phone. “Who was that? Who’s coming back tonight? Was it the Slayer?”

“Yes,” Dawn sighed, putting her phone away. “It was Buffy. She must have changed her mind. She says she’ll be back late tonight.”

The smile that broke out on Spike’s face had Willow frowning in confusion.

“I thought you didn’t remember Buffy?” she said, eyeing him suspiciously.

“I don’t. Don’t remember any of you or anything but this house. Why?”

Willow shook her head. “Because the look on your face when Dawn said she was coming back tonight was not the expression of somebody who was expecting a total stranger.”

“Slayer’s not a stranger,” he said tersely. When the two girls just stared at him expectantly, he explained. “She’s been here every day or night since she got to the school, and we’ve…we’ve talked about a lot of things. She’s told me a bit of her history, a bit more of mine, and some of our history together. I feel like I know her. Enough to want to see her sooner rather than later.”

“Oh, you are so totally falling for her all over again!” Dawn’s delighted squeal was echoed by Willow’s murmured agreement.

“She’s made an impression,” he said stiffly. “We’ve agreed to say that I’m—well never mind what we’ve agreed to call what I’m feeling. None of your business, is it? All you need to know is that I plan to meet her at the station and I want it to be a surprise – so don’t go telling her I can leave here.”

“Fine. But don’t blame me if she thinks you’re being controlled by the First Evil or something.”

“The what?”

“Guess she didn’t get that far, yet, huh? Just don’t surprise her by yelling ‘boo’! In case it turns out you can be staked.”

He nodded. “Good point. She already broke my nose once.”

“There you go,” Dawn said with satisfaction. “It’s not good to startle a slayer.”

Leaving Spike to wander around his garden, Willow and Dawn said their ‘good-bye’s and began the walk back to the headquarters.

“Do you think falling back in love with Buffy is enough to bring back his memories?”

“I don’t know, Dawn. The spell binding him to the house was pretty standard stuff – but whatever took his memories is a lot more heavy-duty, and it must have happened somewhere else, ‘cause I couldn’t find any trace of it in the house or on him.”

“Well, if what the coven said is true about it being his ‘unfinished business’ that’s keeping him here, maybe it’s just as well. If he falls in love with Buffy again, they can just live happily ever after the way he is.”

“Um, Dawn? In case you haven’t noticed, life hasn’t very often handed Buffy romantic happily ever afters. I’m just saying…”

“Exactly! That’s why she’s due to get one. And Spike, too. He saved the world. Not as many times as Buffy has, but still… They deserve it.”

“Again, not arguing, but just pointing out that life doesn’t much care what people deserve. It just hands you what you’re going to get. No returns or refunds.”

“Wow.” Dawn peered at Willow, the rapidly deepening dusk making her harder to see. “When did you stop being all ‘it’ll be all right’ girl and turn into ‘Gloomy Greta’?”

Willow shrugged and put her arm around Dawn’s waist, giving her a brief squeeze.

“I’m not trying to be gloomy – just realistic. I hope it does work out for them. But their track record at being happy together pretty much sucks.”

“Yeah. Well, I still say, it’s time for a change.” Dawn’s mouth set itself into stubborn lines, indicating that the conversation was over.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Buffy stepped off the train and gazed around the almost deserted station. She smiled her ‘no thank you’ at the puzzled cab driver, who then gave her a lecture on the dangers that could await a young woman walking alone after dark. Buffy just smiled again and pointed in the direction of the Council Headquarters.

“I’m going there,” she said, waiting for recognition to dawn. While the Council did not advertise exactly how ‘special’ the students at the school were, it hadn’t taken long for the few bullies and thugs in the town to learn the hard way. Word had spread.

“Ah,” he said, nodding wisely. “Enjoy the lovely evening, then, Miss.”

Buffy smiled again and waved, trailing her overnight case behind her as she went out into the cool night. She’d gone only a short way when she realized exactly how cool the nights were becoming, and stopped, preparing to pull a sweatshirt out of her overnight case. Before she could unzip it, buttery soft leather with a silk lining settled around her shoulders. She gasped, whirling around as she stood up.

When she saw Spike standing beside her, grinning at her surprise, she couldn’t speak for a minute. Then she reached out and poked him, laughing with delight when she felt solid flesh beneath her finger. She threw her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly and squealing with happiness.

“You’re back! You’re you again, and you’re still here!”

Lifting her off the ground and squeezing back, he allowed himself to enjoy the spontaneous hug for as long as seemed right, then gently pried her hands off and set her back on the ground.

“I’m the same ghost I was when you left, luv,” he said. “It’s just that your witch friend was able to release me from the house. I can come and go, but I’m no more the vampire you’re looking for than I was before. I’m sorry,” he added, as her face fell. He stroked her cheek gently and repeated, “I’m sorry, Buffy. I wasn’t thinking.”

“No, it’s okay. I knew Willow was coming today. I should have realized—anyway, how else could you have sneaked up on me like that? You were invisible, right?”

She busied herself rezipping her bag, while she fought to keep her disappointment off her face.

“Right.” He shuffled his feet. “Wanted to surprise you, but I didn’t want to be seen loitering around the railway station. All they need is to find out that the ghost can get around town, and they’ll be out with the pitchforks and torches.”

She straightened up and smiled at him. “This works out,” she said with false cheer. “I was going to come straight to your house anyway, before I went back to my room, so it saves me a trip.”

“You aren’t coming home with me now?” Spike made no attempt to hide his own disappointment.

Instead of answering him, she began walking, making no objection when he reached down and took her suitcase from her hand. They walked in silence for a while, Spike letting Buffy choose the way. When it became obvious that she was heading for the Council complex, he sighed and walked a bit faster.

“So, pet,” he said, “does this sudden desire to not be in my company have anything to do with your little visit to the den of iniquity?”

She stopped, turned to face him, then changed her mind and dragged him off the street and into the shadows of a nearby alley. He put down the bag and looked at her expectantly.

“I have something to say to you,” she announced. “And then, after I say it, I have…other stuff to say. So just be quiet and let me talk, ‘k?”

He nodded and leaned against the brick wall, arms crossed over his chest.

“Let’s have it, Slayer.”

“I love you.”

“Excuse me?”

“I. Love. You.” He opened his mouth to protest that he wasn’t who she thought, but she stopped him with a raised hand. “Don’t. Don’t tell me you aren’t you. You are. You just don’t remember. But you’re still you, and I needed to say that. Just in case you--” she caught her breath, then went on, “I needed to say it. Now. When the world isn’t falling down around our ears.” She stared into his eyes, asking, “Do you believe me?”

Remembering what Dawn had said about Buffy’s thinking he had not believed her before, he dropped his arms and put them around her trembling body.

“I do believe you. I wish I could say it back, but I know you wouldn’t believe me if I did. It’s bloody close to bein’ true though. Your sis thinks she sees it.”

“You’ve been talking to Dawn?”

“How do you think I knew when you were coming back? She paid me a visit or two while you were gone. Brought the witch out to see me.”

Buffy nodded and pushed lightly on his chest until he dropped his arms and allowed her to step away. She took a deep breath. “There’s more.”

“So you said.”

“I went to Wolfram and Hart and they said -- well, I’ll have to tell you about your last year with Angel I guess.”

“Sis filled me in a bit. Told me about workin’ with Angel and the battle after we put the big bosses’ knickers in a twist.”

Buffy nodded. “Good. Then, you know that they have all these people who can do stuff, and that they gave Angel the amulet that you wore to close – never mind, we haven’t talked about that either.” She sighed. “I needed to be farther along in your story – but you need to know what I found out now.”

“Jus tell me what’s what, pet. You can fill in the details later.”

“Long story short – they trapped you in the amulet again and the haunting stuff is your punishment for helping Angel against them. Which, as Wolfram and Hart punishments go, is like a trip to the beach – well, the vampire equivalent, I guess. They couldn’t do any torture stuff because the Powers That Be considered you a champion and wouldn’t let them do anything that didn’t have a loophole or that would be too painful.”

“Remind me to thank them,” he said with a grimace. “So, there’s a loophole?”

Buffy sighed and cupped his cheek with her hand. “There is. Hence, the I love you.” She looked around and laughed softly. “Figures we’d end up having this conversation in an alley.”

Spike growled impatiently and she refocused.

“Right. Here’s the thing. It’s what the coven thought. If you get your memories back, and finish up whatever you think needs finishing, you’ll be free from being a ghost. You’ll…move on.”

Spike frowned at her tight face. He could see that she was struggling to hold back her tears.

“But I don’t have my memories, sweetheart. And I have no desire to ‘fix’ anything if it means I’d be leaving you and whatever’s going on here.”

“But, they could come back. Anytime now. I’ve told you so much about your life already, who knows which story is going to click and bring them back?”

“Doesn’t matter,” he said; sudden fear for where she was going with this gripped him. “I don’t plan to go looking for whatever I need to find to move on. In fact, gonna do my best to avoid it. Don’t suppose they told you what it was, did they?”

“They did,” she whispered.

“Well then? What is it? What do I need to stay away from to be allowed to stay here with you?”

She just stood still, allowing the tears to stream down her face until she saw understanding in his horrified eyes. She went up on her toes and kissed him with aching tenderness, then picked up her bag and walked out of the alley, her “Good-bye, Spike” floating back to him.

Chapter 13

Buffy walked the rest of the way to her building with her head down and her eyes unfocused. Had she not been on her way to a complex full of girls born to slay vampires, demons and other evil, she might have been easy prey. As it was, the immediate vicinity of Council Headquarters and the Slayer School was probably one of the least likely places to find anything more dangerous than a stray cat. She was through the entrance and in her room before anyone even noticed her.

She dropped the suitcase, locked her door and walked towards the bathroom, shedding clothes as she went. After twenty minutes standing in the hot water and letting it wash away her tears, she felt enough like herself to get into some comfortable sweats and curl up on her bed.

I’ll get some sleep tonight and catch Dawn and Giles in the morning. When I explain what’s going on, they’ll understand why I have to leave.

She was so emotionally worn out that she once again went immediately to sleep, and therefore didn’t hear Dawn’s surprised yelp or the whispered conversation that followed it.

“Ow! What the—Spike? Is that you?”

“Sorry, pet,” he apologized, his image emerging slowly while Dawn rubbed her shin and glared down at him.

“What are you doing here?”

“What’s it look like I’m doin’?”

“It looks like you’re trying to break into Buffy’s room.”

“There, see? You didn’t need an answer from me.”

“Spike! What the hell are you doing? Buffy isn’t even here.”

“Yes, she is. I walked her from the train.”

“Then why don’t you just knock?”

“Not sure she’d let me in,” he mumbled as he worked at the door lock. “Need to talk to her.”

“Whatever you think you need to talk to her about, I’m pretty sure this isn’t the best way to do it.”

“Damn! Almost had it. I thought I knew how to do this,” he growled.

“You do,” she said shortly. “Here.” She handed him a bobby pin and when he didn’t take it, huffed and shoved him away. “This is totally on you if she catches us,” she muttered. While the amazed ghost looked on, she quickly found the catch on the old-fashioned door lock and pressed on it. She straightened up and caught the look on Spike’s face.

“What? You told me it was an important skill to have.”

I taught you that?”

“Among other things.”

“Huh.”

As she watched, he began to fade away. “Wish me luck,” his voice said as the door silently opened and closed.

Inside the room, Buffy slept, oblivious to both the breaking and entering and the invisible man watching her sleep. When she began to toss and turn with what seemed to be a bad dream, an invisible hand stroked her head and a familiar voice murmured soothing words until she was once again quiet.

So peaceful and beautiful did she appear to Spike that he toyed with just watching over her all night, rather than disturbing her sleep. However, he hadn’t counted on her slayer senses, which were tickling her with the knowledge that something supernatural was too close for safety. Suddenly her eyes flew open and she sat up, barely missing Spike’s face as he hastily jerked his head away from where he’d been leaning over her, debating whether or not to kiss her as she slept.

She closed her eyes, extended her senses, and then sighed with resignation.

“Spike? How did you get in here?”

Wearing an abashed smile, he began to appear in front of her.

“Turns out I taught your sister a few things you probably didn’t know about, back when you thought I’d be a bad influence on her.”

“Clearly I was wrong.” Her voice dripped with sarcasm. “What are you doing here?”

“Ruining your grand gesture, I’ll wager.”

“My what? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Planning to leave, aren’t you? Going to take your dangerous self right away from here so you can’t be responsible for sending me to my reward.”

“Is that so wrong?” she asked in a bewildered whisper. “You can leave the house now. You could go on and have a real life. Nobody would even have to know you’re a ghost if you didn’t tell them--”

“An’ you’ll be doing what? Hiding out on some Hellmouth in the States and missing what you could have had? All brave and martyr-like.”

“Why are you mad at me? You don’t remember me; you don’t love me. I’m giving you a chance to have whatever you want. You should be thanking me!”

“For not even consulting me about my future? Some things just don’t change, do they, Slayer? I don’t get a vote if you decide to take away something that makes me happy. I may not remember you, but something in me knows that I’m happier when you’re around than when you aren’t.”

“You asshole! The minute you figure out why I make you happy, you’ll be gone. Poof! Moved on to the next plane. Wherever that is. You’ll be GONE. Again,” she finished in a whisper.

“So who is this about, exactly? Making me stay where I’m not meant to be so that you – what? Don’t have to feel guilty that you were responsible for killing me? Maybe moving on is the best thing for me. Did you ever think about that? That I might be on my way to Heaven?”

“You want to leave again?” Her eyes were wide and her mouth trembled; then anger took over. “You want me to mourn for you again?”

“Bloody hell, Buffy. No!” He crossed the room and fell to his knees beside the bed. “I don’t want to hurt you. Know I probably have one way or another, but I never want to do it again.” He looked up at her with eyes that begged for understanding. “But this decision that you made -- to take yourself off where you can’t hurt me. It’s not just yours to make, luv. It’s my life we’re playing with here.”

He paused and stroked her face, pushing her hair off it in a gesture so familiar that her breath caught in her throat. “Trust me when I tell you that I’m no more interested in not being here anymore than you are. I’m just getting to know you, just beginning to realize why I fell in love with you the first time. If you think I want to leave now, you don’t know me nearly as well as you think you do.”

“But…”

“No buts about it, Buffy. You should have asked me what I wanted to do, not made the decision for me. You know how you feel when someone does that to you.”

She gave a shaky laugh. “Yeah, I get really pissed when people do things ‘for my own good’.” She froze, staring at him. “But you wouldn’t know that! We haven’t talked about me enough to--” Panic was plain on her face.

“Relax, luv,” he said, standing up and moving to a straight-back chair. “I’ve got to know you well enough to know that about you. It was just an educated guess.”

Relief flooded her body. “Then you’re not…you didn’t…”

“Nope. Just as mind-wiped as I was when you met me.”

She shut her eyes in relief and dropped back onto the bed. “Oh, god. You scared me.”

“I thought you wanted the real me? You were plenty happy earlier tonight when you thought I was back.”

“That was because I thought you weren’t a ghost anymore! Not because I wanted you to get your memories back. I…I don’t think I want you to now. It’s too dangerous.”

“Only if I know what it is needs fixin’ between us. Seems like with our history it could be a pretty long list.”

“You have no idea,” she agreed, opening her eyes to find him taking off his coat and draping it on the chair. “What are you doing?” Her voice was a startled squeak.

“Jus’ getting comfortable,” he answered, unlacing his boots and pulling them off.

“In my bedroom?”

“Seems only fair.” He stood up and stretched. “We’re not through here, and I don’t want you havin’ to get all dressed again to come out with me.” Still not looking at her, he eased down onto the bed, smiling to himself when she automatically moved over to make room for him.

“You can’t talk standing up?”

Spike rested on his side, supporting his head with one hand. “I can, but I figure if we’re both lying down, we’re less likely to express ourselves with our fists.”

She snorted indelicately. “You really don’t know much about us, do you?”

“Know we’ve got something pretty special – no matter how unconventional it may seem to some – and I’m not giving up the chance to explore this relationship just because I might go poof.”

“That’s not a relationship you’re exploring – it’s my face.” Buffy’s words were testy, but she leaned into his stroking hand. As soon as she realized what she was doing, she jerked back and turned her face away. “We can’t do this.”

“We can. We should,” he said, touching her chin and turning her face towards his. “I want you, Buffy. Won’t say those words you think I can’t mean yet, but my body believes them. It’s telling me to make love to you.”

“It seems to me, you might have learned not to listen to that part of your body by now. It always gets you into trouble.”

“I’ll take my chances,” he said, trailing his hand over her shoulder and down her arm, smiling when he felt her shiver.

“What if…not that I’m saying it would…but suppose it jiggles your memory? I could have you and lose you all at the same time.”

“Not going to happen, love. Not unless my unfinished business with you is to give you the shaggin’ of your life. Jus’ because I get my memories back won’t mean I’ve fixed whatever I think needs fixing.” He looked at her in sudden panic. “It isn’t, is it? Did I leave you wanting?”

Buffy smiled and touched his face with a gentle hand. “I can safely say that you never left me anything but exhausted and completely satisfied. That is NOT your unfinished business, trust me.”

“Then what’s wrong with letting me love you?” When she appeared to be wavering, he added with a twinkle in his eye, “You wouldn’t let me go poof while I was still a virgin, would you?”

“A what? You’re…that’s…” Buffy’s mouth kept opening and closing but she couldn’t make coherent words come out of it.

‘Hey! I don’t remember any shagging. As far as I know, this is all new to me.” He moved closer to her and brushed his lips across hers. “Think about it, Buffy. You could be the one to teach me…”

“I wouldn’t want you to go poof without knowing…” Her words were lost as their lips fastened themselves together and she discovered that Spike hadn’t forgotten how to kiss. Her muffled whimper was all the permission he needed to begin running his hands over her torso. He threw one leg over hers and groaned as her hands came around his back and pulled him closer.

The years seemed to melt away as they fell easily into the familiar rhythms and caresses of their brief time as lovers. Their hands remembered just where to touch, their lips knew just the right pressure to apply, their bodies responded as if it had been only a few weeks since they were last together. When Spike heard the soft cries that meant Buffy was on the verge of orgasm, he put his lips next to her ear and whispered, “Come for me, sweetheart.”

As she shuddered beneath him, he lost control of his ability to remain visible. While he surrendered to the moment and pumped to his own release, she opened her eyes to see nothing but the ceiling of the room. Her gasp of surprise matched his groan as he emptied himself, collapsing upon her. Buffy quickly shut her eyes again, willing herself to relax when she realized that she could still feel him.

After a few minutes of basking in the intimate connection, Spike raised himself on his elbows and tried to move to the side. Buffy clutched him tightly, her eyes still squeezed shut, saying, “Don’t go.”

“Not going anywhere, love. I’m just taking my weight off you.” He gazed at her face with its tightly closed eyelids and murmured, “Buffy? Are you alright? Open your eyes. Let me see you.”

She shook her head vigorously. “You aren’t here if I open my eyes.”

“I’m here, Buffy. I’m right here. You can feel me.”

“I can feel you, but I can’t see you.”

“Wha-? Oh, bugger. I’m sorry, pet. It was concentrate on you or on being visible – I picked the important one.”

“Okay, so there are some drawbacks to this ghost thing.”

He ran his lips across her closed eyelids.

“I can work on it,” he assured her. “Had to learn to control the solid - not solid part; I can work on stayin’ visible, too.”

“Tell me I’m not going to regret this,” she whispered, turning her head into his shoulder and kissing the smooth skin that she could feel, if not see. “Tell me it’s going to be all right.”

“Not goin’ to leave you, Buffy. I promise. Whatever it is I think I owe you – you’re just going to have to take my marker for it; ‘cause you’re not getting it. Not from me.”

“Whatever it is, I don’t want it. There’s nothing you can possibly need to ‘fix’ with me that is worth losing you again. Nothing.”

He rolled to the side, pulling her with him and enjoying the way she nestled into his body with such familiarity. With her leg resting on his thigh, and her arm possessively across his chest, Buffy let out a happy sigh and wriggled against him.

“I’ve missed this,” she whispered. “Not just the sex, but having you right here, with me.”

“Feels good, pet. Having you in my arms like this. Feels right. Did we used to do this a lot?”

“Not as much as we should have,” she said, a trace of regret softening her voice. “But right before you saved the world, we did. We slept just like this for a couple of nights; except we had our clothes on.” She raised her head to look into his now-visible eyes. “You said the first time was the best night of your life -- and that you were terrified.”

“Afraid of how much I loved you, was I?”

She twitched with surprise. “I guess you were. I know I was scared. We had a world to save and there just wasn’t time to work on us stuff, you know?”

“Got time now, don’t we?”

“Do we? I hope so. I want there to be an us. But only if you want it,” she added hastily. “I’m not trying to make decisions for you again; I’m just saying that--”

“I understood you, love. If what I’m feeling now is even half what you say I used to feel for you, it is a pretty frightening thought.”

When he felt her begin to pull away, he tightened his arms quickly.

“Not saying I don’t want it, Buffy. I don’t need my memories to know that I never wanted anything like I want this. You and me -- don’t need to remember it to know it’s right. That it’s what I want.”

“Maybe when you get your memories back, it won’t be what you want. There has to be some reason why you didn’t call me as soon as you were solid enough to hold a telephone. When you were at Angel’s, I mean. I know you were helping him, but--”

“There probably was a reason. But I don’t have a soddin’ clue what it may have been.” He tipped her chin up and glared at her. “Know bloody well that it wasn’t because of something you did,” he growled. “Not because I didn’t believe you when you said you loved me.”

“You’ve been talking to Dawn,” Buffy responded with a rueful smile. “And you don’t know whether that’s the reason or not; so don’t pretend you do. I never gave you any reason to think I loved you…well, okay, maybe I did…a little.”

Memories of the events that followed their break-up flowed freely, and she unconsciously clutched him tightly.

“Buffy?

“Sorry,” she said, forcing herself to relax. “I just had a flashback to some of the less pleasant things we’ve said and done to each other.”

She bit her lip, wondering how much of what he thought he needed to ‘fix’ revolved around the events in her bathroom.

“Something you need to tell me?”

She shook her head vigorously, then buried it in his neck. Her voice was muffled.

“No. This is not something you need to know. All you need to know about it is that I forgave you. I never got a chance to tell you that I forgave you, because you left to get your soul. But I did.”

“What was it? What did I do?” When there was no response, he pushed her back from his chest and waited until she had reluctantly met his eyes. “Why don’t you want to tell me? What could be worse than trying to kill you so many times? You’ve been bloody cheerful about sharing that with me.”

“Well, that’s cause you could never -- you know – actually manage it.” She gave him a half-hearted grin, hoping to change the subject.

“I can’t think of anything worse than trying to kill you…unless I killed somebody you cared about? I didn’t do that, did I? Did I hurt somebody you loved?”

“No! Spike…just stop, okay? You don’t want to know. I don’t wantyou to know. The less you know about stuff like that, the less likely you are to try to make it better.”

In an effort to distract him, she began to nuzzle her way across his collarbone until she could run her lips down to plant light kisses on his chest. She licked his nipple, smiling when she saw it stand up. She took the little peak in her teeth and bit down gently, his lustful growl bringing back memories of the time she’d handcuffed him to the bed and spent an afternoon exploring his body.

When he tried to reach for her, she stopped him. “Ah, ah. You just keep those hands out of my way,” she said sternly. “I’ve been missing this body for years and now that it’s here, I’m going to play.”

She pushed his hands up over his head, waited until he had obediently curled his fingers around the bars on the headboard, before returning her attention to the smooth skin in front of her. As she nibbled her way around his torso, pausing now and then to run her tongue over spots that she remembered as being particularly sensitive, she asked, “You know what I miss?”

“What?” His voice was a gasp as she began to nibble her way down his flat stomach.

“Your smell. I noticed it when I slept in your bed. You don’t smell like Spike anymore.”

“You’re complainin’ because I don’t smell?”

“I liked the way you smelled,” she said with a pout. “It was…it was you. I liked it.” She couldn’t think of anything else to express what it had meant to be able to smell his scent on her even after she’d gone home.

“I’m sorry, love,” he said gently. “You know there’s nothing I can do about that, right?”

“Oh! Ohmygod. I didn’t mean…” She stared at him with frightened eyes. “I wasn’t complaining, I swear. I’m…this is making me very happy. Having you here, with me, feeling you, knowing you want me. I didn’t mean to make you feel like I--”

“’s alright, pet. You need to stop apologizing to me so much. If what you’ve told me about us is right, getting’ my memories back is likely to make me think you’re some sort of robot or something, not the real-- What? What’s so funny?”

Buffy’s convulsive laughter brought a reluctant grin to his face, even as he became impatient for her to stop long enough to explain it to him. Instead of doing so, she sat up, cocked her head and put a completely fake and inane smile on her face.

“You should see him naked!” she sputtered, through laughter that had tapered off to giggles. She ran her eyes over his body and licked her lips. “Buffybot really knew what she was talking about; I’ve got to give her that.”

“Buffybot?”

“Another one of your not-so-great ideas,” she said, still shaking with occasional laughter.

“Please tell me I didn’t shag a robot,” he groaned. “That I couldn’t tell the difference between you and a fake girl.”

“Oh, you knew the difference,” she said, mastering her giggles. “Xander and Willow didn’t, though. And when they saw you and the bot…” She shook her head. “If I hadn’t been so horrified, and so worried about Glory, I might have been flattered – just a little.” She glared at him when he seemed to be taking too much interest in what she’d said. “Very little! It was gross and disgusting and I…”

He titled his head and gazed at her conflicted face. “You what?”

“I might have been…just the teeniest…littlest bit…curious. But not jealous! I wasn’t jealous.”

He smiled and stretched, deliberately flexing his biceps and sucking in his stomach.

“Didn’t say you were, love,” he purred. “Wasn’t even thinking it. But, now that you’ve brought it up…”

“I was NOT jealous. I mean, even if I was going to be jealous, she was me! How could I be jealous of myself? Which I wasn’t. Completely not.”

She glared at him, daring him to contradict her.

“Think we’ve settled that, Slayer. I was a robot-shagging pig and you were disgusted…mostly.”

“Just so we’re clear.”

“Perfectly.” He brought one hand down and stroked her head, letting the strands of hair slide through his fingers. “Can’t believe I was willing to settle for a substitute. Not for you.”

Buffy blushed and warmed to his praise.

“Well, in all fairness, you had no reason to think I was ever going to give you anything but my fist in your face, I guess. And I think…I think you were pretty lonely. I mean, I didn’t think that at the time, because I really wasn’t thinking about you much at all…” She shrugged apologetically. “But my mom said something about it one time, before she…before she died. And later, when I thought about it, I realized that we were pretty much all you had back then and when I shut you out…”

“Buffy,” he stopped her with a finger to her lips. “You were fighting a Hellgod, your mum was dying – or dead? You’ll have to clear up some of these timelines for me – I get the feeling there are big gaps in between one story and the next.”

He dropped his hand and shook his head ruefully. “Anyway, knowing a monster thought he was in love with you and was carryin’ on with plastic made to look like you…Can see why you weren’t real interested in why I did it.”

Buffy nodded. “Yeah, in the overall scheme of things, I guess the Buffybot was more of an ‘ewww’ moment than an evil one.”

Spike put his hands back on the bars and wriggled his hips, drawing her attention to his semi-hard cock.

“Not to change the subject, but don’t you have some playing to do, Slayer?”

“About six years worth of it,” she agreed. “This could take a while.”

“Have at it, love. I’ve got forever.”

With a silent prayer that he was right, Buffy turned her attention to the body part now waving for her attention. She lowered her head and blew on the tip, earning a growl from the hopeful vampire. She gave him a teasing grin, and concentrated on nibbling her way around his stomach and upper thighs, relenting when his hisses and growls turned to unmanly whimpers.

She ran her tongue up the side of his cock, earning herself a contented sigh, followed by an exhaled “yes!” when she took it in her mouth and began to demonstrate some of the things he’d taught her to do so long ago.

Chapter 14

“Buffy? Are you up yet?” Dawn’s voice came through the door just before she entered the room. Spotting Spike’s duster on the chair, she froze and covered her eyes with one hand. “Gah! Invisible, please! Now!”

“He is invisible,” Buffy said, a sleepy giggle accompanying Spike’s annoyed growl. “You can put your hand down.”

Dawn cautiously lowered her hand, peering through her spread fingers before breathing a sigh of relief and dropping it completely.

“Doors, locks. Look into it.”

Buffy raised her eyebrows. “The door was locked – until someone unlocked it to let a man into my bedroom.” Her glare was spoiled by the way she was clearly snuggled into the side of said invisible man, and Dawn snickered.

“Yeah, you can thank me later. I guess you aren’t coming down for breakfast, then?”

“Well, Spike’s stuck here till dark, so--”

A squeeze from the arms wrapped around her stopped her in mid-excuse. Dawn stared in his general direction.

“You didn’t tell her?”

“Had other things to discuss, pet. That one wasn’t really high on the list.”

“What? What are talking about?”

“He can go out in the sun. The only thing it does to him is make him a little bit see-through.”

“You can? You can walk around in the daylight?”

“Well, if what your sis and the witch said, I probably wouldn’t want to walk around town at noon. Seems I’m a bit ghostier lookin’ in the bright sun, but not as flammable as I used to be.”

“Wow.” She cupped his face and said softly, “It’s almost like you’re…”

“Not human, love. Farther from it than I was before, I’d wager. But we can make believe, if it makes you happy.”

Without turning to look at her sister, Buffy said, “Dawn? I need for you to leave now. I’ll be down in a little while, but right now I need to be able to see Spike, okay?”

“Yeah, okay, fine. It’s not like I’m jumping up and down hoping to see you two naked. See you downstairs.” She turned to leave, then paused. “Is it okay if I tell Willow and Giles that you two are…” She gestured in the direction of the bed.

Buffy shrugged and nuzzled Spike’s neck. “What do you think?”

“You’re asking me?” Disbelief was clear in his voice and Buffy flinched. “I’m sorry, love. Didn’t mean that the way it sounded.” He began planting kisses on her disappointed face, neither of them noticing Dawn’s impatiently tapping foot.

“I CAN see at least one of you, you know. And she’s naked, too. Just in case you forgot.”

“I didn’t forget,” Spike’s voice dropped to a rumble that had both Buffy and Dawn blushing.

“Okay, I’m leaving now. If I see them, I’m just going to say that you’re working things out.”

“I’ll be down soon, Dawn,” Buffy said, reluctantly pulling away from Spike’s still busy lips. “I need to talk to them about what I found out at Wolfram and Heartless.”

With a nod, Dawn opened the door and walked out, carefully closing it behind her. When they could no longer hear her footsteps, Buffy and Spike simultaneously turned towards each other. As she watched him come back into sight, Buffy caressed Spike’s face.

“I really do need to talk to Giles and Willow,” she said. “We need some magical input to help us figure out what’s going on. Why the Powers tried to protect you, and what that means about your next plane.”

“Not goin’ anywhere,” he said, his lip coming out in a stubborn pout. “Don’t care where else they want me to go. I’m staying right here. With you,” he added, in case there had been any question.

Buffy leaned in and rubbed her face on his chest. “I don’t want you to go anywhere either, but I’d feel better about it if we had some idea what we should do or not do. Just in case.”

“Alright, love,” he agreed, kissing the top of her head, then pushing her away with a sigh. “You go see the big brains and I’ll try to get out of here without bumping into anybody.”

With a nod, Buffy threw back the covers and stood up, stretching under his admiring gaze with no false modesty.

“Changed my mind,” he growled, reaching for her. “Come’ere, you.”

Laughing with delight, she danced out of reach, picking her sweatpants off the floor where they’d been tossed the night before.

“Uh uh. I’ll see you later. Right now I’m going to go find out what I need to do to make sure you don’t go poof on me.”

She pulled the matching sweatshirt over her head, ran a brush through her hair and blew him a kiss.

“Try not to freak out any slayers,” she said as she opened the door. “Some of them will be able to sense you.”

“Sensing me and catching me are two very different things, love. None of the girls I’ve met here could even begin to follow me the way you can. Not enough experience yet.”

She waved and pulled the door shut behind her, confident that none of the young slayers in the school would be aware of anything except a possible chill when the ghost walked past them.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Buffy walked into the dining hall, she immediately headed for the coffee machines and poured herself a large mug of instant energy. She’d already spotted Dawn and Willow, their heads close together as they talked over their pancakes. It had taken a while to convince the kitchen help that Americans liked pancakes much more than they did mushrooms for breakfast. Carrying her mug, Buffy made her way through the tables, smiling cheerfully at those few people she recognized, until she was standing in front of her sister and her best friend.

“Is this seat taken?”

“Don’t waste time being funny,” Dawn said. “Just sit down and tell us what’s going on.”

Buffy sighed at Willow’s eager nod, and put down her mug. As she pulled out the chair, she smiled at Willow.

“Thanks for shaking Spike loose from that place, Will. He’ll be a lot happier now.”

“You’re welcome. It was no biggie. That spell was pretty simple; the memory thing – not so much.”

“Well, I’m not sure I want him to get his memories back now.” Buffy grimaced as she took a large swallow of hot coffee. At their inquisitive, “huh?” and “what?”, she said, “How about we wait until I see Giles so I only have to explain stuff once? Okay?”

They agreed, Willow much less reluctantly than Dawn, and quickly finished eating so as to accompany Buffy to Giles’ office. As they walked to the Administrative part of the complex, Dawn asked, “So, is Spike just hanging out in your room?”

Buffy shrugged. “No. I think he’s going back to his house. Or somewhere. It’s been a long time since he could walk around. I don’t know where he’s going to go, but as long as he stays invisible, he should be okay.”

Dawn snickered. “If I know Spike, he’s going to go steal some cigarettes and booze.”

Buffy glared. “He is not! In the first place, he doesn’t eat or drink, so he doesn’t need any alcohol--”

“And he probably can’t smoke, either,” Willow put in. “Poor Spike. I wonder what he can do?”

There was silence as Buffy turned bright red and Dawn put her hand over her mouth to smother another snicker. When it finally burst out, Willow’s blush matched Buffy’s. “Oh, yes. Well, there’s that, I guess... Oh look! Here we are at Giles’ office!”

While Dawn rolled her eyes and mumbled, “You’d think you two were still in high school,” Willow walked in the open door and greeted the watcher.

“Hi, Giles. Buffy’s back.”

“So I see.” He looked at Buffy’s still pink face and sighed. “I’m assuming the trip was a success?” he guessed shrewdly.

While the other two women seated themselves and waited to hear her story, Buffy began to pace around the small area in front of Giles’ desk. She quickly ran through her trip and her surprised reaction to finding vampires and demons going about their business in the lobby of Wolfram and Hart’s London office.

“I told you, Buffy,” Giles explained with barely concealed impatience. “The firm caters to demons of all kinds. That is their bread and butter. I don’t doubt that they number some humans among their clients -- sorcerers and others who’ve embraced evil in their lives -- but the majority of their clients are not human.”

She nodded. “Yeah, but all the employees I spoke to were human. Isn’t that weird?”

“A paycheck is a paycheck,” Dawn said with a shrug, bored with the conversation so far.

“Dawn!” Simultaneous gasps from everyone else in the room had her rethinking her remark.

“What? Am I missing something? I’m just saying, if they’re being well paid and the clients know not to eat them…”

“Most of them will have signed away their souls in order to earn those paychecks,” Giles said shortly. “They will never work anywhere else.”

Dawn swallowed her arguments and waited until he was finished speaking. Then she looked at Buffy expectantly. “Okay, so what did these evil people tell you?”

Buffy gave them a quick recap of what she’d learned about Spike’s condition and the reason for it. When she got to the part where she found out what his unfinished business was, she hesitated, not sure what she wanted to say.

While they waited, Giles and Willow plied her with questions about the exact wording that the representative from the Magic Department had used when describing the spell and Spike’s condition. Willow seemed particularly concerned about the man’s use of “his next plane of existence” to explain what would happen when Spike broke the spell by taking care of his unfinished business.

“I wonder if they know what that next plane is?” she muttered, almost to herself.

“What difference does it make?” Buffy snapped. “Gone is gone.”

“Well…you don’t want Spike to go to Hell, do you? Wouldn’t it be good to know if he was going to be in Heaven, or…”

“I don’t think he’d go to Hell,” Buffy said, her shoulders slumped and a chastised grimace on her face. “Why would the Powers insist on giving him an out if he was just going to go to Hell? I guess he…I guess he’d be going to Heaven, wouldn’t he? I mean, he’s saved the world a couple of times, and helped Angel bring down LA’s Wolfram and Hart office. He’s a champion – their champion. What else would they do with him?”

Giles and Willow exchanged looks, the watcher’s slight headshake going unnoticed by either Summers sister. Willow nodded and said, “I don’t know. Probably nothing. But Heaven’s all right, isn’t it? Don’t you want Spike to be in Heaven?”

“I want Spike right where he is – beside me. Until I’m dead. Then he can go to Heaven or anywhere else he wants to.” Buffy’s words were cold, but the broken expression on her face and the whisper in which she said them kept anyone from pointing out how selfish she was being.

There was a momentary silence, then Willow said briskly, “Well, then, let’s hear what it is that he needs to fix so we can take care of it for him. Or make it go away, if that’s what we need to do.”

“I tried that,’ Buffy said, sinking into a chair and dropping her head against the back. “He got mad at me. Said it was his decision to make. Stupid vampire ghost.”

“You’ve already tried to fix it? What did you do?

“I walked away.”

Dawn’s expression was suddenly intent. “But he followed you. He didn’t let you go, did he?”

Giles broke into the conversation. “I don’t understand, Buffy. What does your walking away have to do with…” He trailed of as he realized what Dawn had already figured out. “You,” he said with chilly finality. “He has to fix things with you.”

Buffy nodded. “That’s what the Wolfram and Hart bitch said. I’m the thing he needs to fix before he can move on. So, the sooner he gets his memories back, the sooner he might go poof. If I’m around.”

“And the longer you are here, the more likely he is to get them back.” Willow’s thoughts were already going in a dozen different directions. Spells, there had to be spells or wards that could…She put on her resolve face and said, “We’re going to work this out, Buffy. I’ll talk to the coven. We’ll come up with something.”

“Thanks, Will. I appreciate it.”

“So,” Giles asked more sympathetically than they might have expected, “What is your plan?”

Buffy shook her head. “I don’t know. I thought I’d just tell him what was going on and then go back to Cleveland – or some place that he couldn’t find me. Turns out he didn’t like the idea of me making that kind of decision for him.”

Dawn snorted. “I guess that explains the yelling from your room last night.”

“Yeah,” Buffy admitted. “It might have been a little loud every once in a while.”

“I take it you have changed your mind?”

She sighed. “I guess so. I guess we’ll just …just enjoy what we’ve got and see what happens. I mean, it could be years, you know? Especially if I stop telling him things about his past. We’ll just cross our fingers and live in the present. Or, well, in his case, be dead in the present.”

She looked up at Giles. “I guess you’d better let Faith know that she’s in charge. She’ll like that. We were getting on each other’s nerves, anyway.”

“So, you’re staying here?” Dawn asked eagerly.

Buffy nodded. “For as long as I can…”

She stood up and stretched. “Okay, guys, I’m going to change clothes and go out to Spike’s and tell him what’s going on. I’ll probably be back for dinner, but don’t wait for me. I think I’ll be spending a lot of time there now--”

“Boinking Spike,” Dawn coughed into her hand, earning a giggle from Willow and a glare from her sister.

Giles sighed heavily as he also stood . “As entertaining as this is, I do have an organization to run. If we’re done here…”

The other two girls stood up and watched as Buffy waved and left the room. They waited until she was safely out of hearing before Willow turned to Giles.

“What do you think?”

“I think it’s a very faint hope, of which Buffy needs to remain ignorant for the time being. We don’t know anything about it, other than what Miss Burkle told you about Angel’s desire to attain it someday. It may have been a true prophecy, it may have been something planted by Wolfram and Hart. I think we need to deal with what is, not what we wish might be.”

“But, Giles. If the Powers th--”

“The Powers That Be are not in the habit of sharing information with ordinary humans -- not even with their own champions, except in the most enigmatic manner possible – I would find it highly unlikely that they would do so with that most evil of organizations. And,” he continued when Willow seemed inclined to argue again, “we have no assurance that anything Buffy was told there is the complete truth.”

Willow exhaled loudly. “I suppose you’re right. No sense in--” She stopped, noticing the way Dawn’s eyes darted back and forth between her and Giles.

“You know something,” the younger girl accused.

“No, Dawn,” Giles’ voice was calm and assured. “We do not know anything. Willow is grasping at a very thin straw about which we know next to nothing. I wish I could say that it was likely, or even a remote possibility, but I fear that is not the case.”

“You’re not going to tell me what it is?”

“No.”

“I’m sorry, Dawnie.”

Dawn spun on her heel and left the office without so much as a wave.

“It’s for the best,” Giles said firmly.

“I suppose.” Willow walked slowly towards the door. “See ya, Giles.”

Chapter 15

Before Buffy left for Spike’s house, she packed a small bag with clean underwear, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a change of clothes. There’d been a less-than-subtle shift in their relationship and she thought it best to admit that and come prepared to stay… if he wanted her to.

As she trudged up the hill towards the suddenly friendlier seeming house, she wondered idly if all the uphill walking she’d done since arriving in England was having a beneficial effect on her ass.

Guess I should ask Spike if he thinks my butt’s getting tighter she giggled to herself as she climbed the steps. After all, he’s the one who’s been watching it all week.

When she entered the house, forgoing the knock because they seemed to be pretty much past that point now, there was no sign of Spike and no reply to her call. She dropped her bag in the kitchen, near - but not in front of - the door to his bedroom, and walked over to the open back door. She couldn’t see anyone, but the sound of swearing in several languages told her that she might have found the missing ghost. She jumped over the still-broken steps and followed her ears until she could make out a translucent, shirtless Spike wrestling with a shrub that clearly did not want to leave the ground.

Her laughter when his final yank caused the bush to break off at the roots -- tumbling him onto his ass – caught his attention and he glared up at her.

“Not one word, Slayer. Not one.”

“Mmmph, snort, cough”

Buffy couldn’t contain herself, surrendering to giggles as she walked over and offered her hand. With a final kick at the offending bush now lying across his legs, he took the hand and allowed her to pull him to his feet. They stood there awkwardly for a second, hands still touching, until Spike leaned in to kiss her at the same time that she dropped his hand and stepped away.

“So,” he said, cockiness quickly in place. “Not something we do, then, is it? Kiss hello? Or is it just that you know you wouldn’t be able to resist me?”

“I’m…crap! I am so freaking tired of saying ‘I’m sorry’ to you!” She waved her hands in exasperation. “It was just one of those bad-timing things, okay? Of course I want to kiss you! But you’re right, it wasn’t something that we did very often. Kissing ‘hello’ just wasn’t…we don’t - didn’t do that, all right? I wasn’t expecting it.”

“’s alright, pet. I know last night didn’t change that much for us. We’re still strangers in some ways and I--”

His quick attempt to give her a way out ended abruptly when she leapt onto his body, wrapping her legs around his waist and fastening her mouth on his. Spike recovered from his surprise with vampire speed, his arms going around her automatically to hold her in place while they deepened the kiss. Ignoring the bright sunlight and semi-open setting of the overgrown garden, Buffy’s skirt and underwear were soon pushed out of the way and Spike’s pants were unzipped, allowing her to lower herself onto him without ever breaking contact with his mouth.

Only Spike’s superhuman strength allowed him to remain upright while Buffy moaned and writhed on his cock, seeking more contact than their position permitted. With an impatient growl, he sank to his knees, leaning forward to lower her gently to the newly-cleared earth. Heedless of her clothing, Buffy murmured her appreciation as he took advantage of the new position to pound into her.

In very little time, they were whimpering and growling to a mutually quick and satisfactory release. Spike’s forehead rested against hers, while he held his weight up on his elbows.

“Not complainin’ here, love, but – what the bloody hell was that?”

She gave a shaky laugh and rolled them so that they were lying facing each other, her leg still hooked over his hip, holding him in place.

“I just…I don’t know how much time we’re going to have,” she explained. “I don’t want to waste it misunderstanding each other…or fighting.”

“Ah, but we do it so well,” he teased gently, pushing her sweaty hair off her face. “Seems a shame not to stay in practice.”

“I’m sure we’ll get plenty of practice,” she grumbled, letting him slide out so that she could sit up and survey the damage to her shirt and skirt. “I just wasn’t in the mood for it right now.”

“Here, pet, let me,” he offered, turning her around so that he could try to brush the dirt off her back. “Afraid we may have done for these clothes… I don’t suppose you brought any others with you?’

“I did, actually. Go me, with the planning ahead skills.”

“You planned for this?”

“Well, no. Not exactly. But I know that you and I…we can be kind of hard on clothes, so I brought some to keep here…just in case.”

“Let’s go get them, yeah? I have something to talk to you about.”

“I can’t talk in dirty clothes?”

“You can talk starkers if you want to, pet. In fact, now that I think about it…”

When his attention was clearly about to wander completely off track, she poked him.

“Spike! Focus. What do you want to talk about?”

“Want to pay a visit to that slimy little solicitor that was here the other day. I have some business for him to conduct for me, and I need for you to be there.”

“You’re going to go into town? Like that?” She gestured to his torso. The sun shining through it gave him a golden glow that, while very pretty, was also very other-worldly.

He looked down at himself and growled.

“Maybe you can get him to come here,” he said with a sigh. “I can give you the paperwork – in fact, if we scared him enough the other day when he popped in to be nosy, he might just be willing to do what I want on your say so…”

Buffy stopped just inside the door of the kitchen, staring longingly at the nearby bathroom and its shower.

“I don’t suppose that water’s any hotter?” she asked wistfully.

“Not yet,” he said enigmatically.

Buffy rummaged in her bag and pulled out her jeans and tee shirt. “I was planning to stick these in a drawer somewhere,” she grumbled. “Now I have wear them already.”

“Don’t be glaring at me, Slayer. You’re the one that jumped my poor ghostly bones.”

She giggled. “I did, didn’t I?” She giggled again. “You looked almost as surprised as the first time I did that.” With smirking satisfaction she said, “I really know how to shut you up.”

Not waiting for an answer, she took her toothbrush and toothpaste into the bathroom with her, closing the door in Spike’s hopeful face when it looked like he was planning to follow her in. She put the toiletries on the old sink and shrugged out of her blouse and skirt. With a resigned sigh, she dropped them on the floor while she gave her dirty arms and legs a quick wash. Filling the sink, she put the skirt and blouse in the cold water to soak; and then rejoined Spike in the kitchen.

In the meantime, Spike had put on his own shirt and was closing and locking the back door.

“What are you doing?”

“What’s it look like I’m doing? I’m locking the bloody house up. It’s not much good having a haunted house if the ghost isn’t going to be around to haunt it, is it?”

“I thought you wanted me to make that guy come here? Where are we going?”

“We’re going window shopping,” Spike said with a grin. “I’ll be invisible and you’ll walk around writing down the things I tell you to.”

“We’re not going to buy them?”

“Don’t have the money yet, do I? That’s what I need the legal wanker for – well, that and one other thing.” Handing Buffy a piece of paper and a pencil, he touched the center of her back, urging her towards the front door. “Let’s get going, pet. It’s time to make my haunted house into a home.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Two hours later, Buffy had a long list of stores and items that Spike assured her were not only affordable, but necessary. Some made perfect sense, and she felt a bolt of happiness when she realized that most of them were for her benefit. Spike had no need of the small fridge and microwave, nor of the hot water heater that he assured her could be ordered from the plumbing supply company they walked past. She gave him a small smile when she was sure no one was watching.

She rolled her eyes when he pointed out a large-screen TV in the appliance store’s window, but dutifully wrote down the make and model. He added a CD player and then browsed through the music selection in the next shop. Buffy’s attempt to convince him that he loved Barry Manilow was met with crashing silence, and she eventually had to admit that she’d been trying to see if he’d fall for it. A passing customer hurried away when it appeared that an entire display of CDs was snarling.

Other prospective buys were more confusing at first – a shovel, hammer, nails, saw, and boards that she had finally realized were needed so that he could repair the back steps. At the garden center on far edge of town, he had her make note of which lawn mower he wanted, which pruning shears and other gardening tools that meant nothing to her.

“Do you know how to use all this stuff?” she asked as they walked back through town in the gathering dusk.

“How hard can it be? ‘s not rocket science, Slayer. It’s just moving dirt and cutting stuff.”

She nodded. “Um huh. This is going to go well. You know less than I do – and I’m pretty sure I know nothing about gardening.”

While they’d walked through the garden center, she’d told him about her fleeting urge to make his house look as neat and colorful as the smaller homes they were passing, then her realization that she had no idea where to even begin. She reminded him of her complete ignorance.

“We’ll learn together, pet.” He put his arm around her and squeezed. “We’re heroes. Those weeds don’t stand a chance.”

As they walked toward the road leading out of town, they passed a small pub and restaurant. Spike paused. “You need some dinner, love. You can’t live on those snacks you have at my house. I think we can get away with this – it’ll be dim in there, and dark when we come out.”

Buffy shrugged. “You’re the one who was worried about pitchforks and torches,” she said. “I’m game if you are. But what if somebody asks who you are?”

He sighed. “You’re right. I wasn’t thinking. I don’t want word getting back to those wankers who put me in the house that I can leave it now. Might bring more attention than we’ve already got from them. Maybe you can just order something to take out.”

An invisible hand opened the door and held it while Buffy walked into the dark but cozy room and looked around for the bar. Spotting a friendly appearing woman near a cash register, she walked over and asked if it would be possible to order a meal to go. Assured that she could, Buffy quickly scanned the menu and asked for a burger and chips.

While she waited, she was surrounded by several young men who apparently hadn’t heard about the inadvisability of harassing the students and staff from the big complex on the edge of town. Their drunken posturing and competition for her attention was just annoying and amusing until one of them went so far as to put his arm around her and try to kiss her. Before Buffy could say or do anything, the man was lying on the floor, cradling his arm and cursing. She hissed an exasperated, “I had it,” at her invisible protector, before bending over the moaning man and trying to pretend she had no idea what had happened.

“I’m so sorry? What happened? Are you all right? Did you hurt your arm when you fell?”

Unable to come up with any other explanation, and knowing that Buffy hadn’t moved except to pull away from him, he allowed his friends to assure him that he must have slipped and fallen on his arm. With much laughter and teasing about being too drunk to stand up by himself, they dragged him back to their table, leaving Buffy to pay for her food and leave quickly, the proprietor’s apologies for the “rowdy boys” ringing in her ears.

She stomped down the sidewalk, very aware of the invisible shadow following her, but too angry to acknowledge his presence. It wasn’t until they reached the fork in the road outside of town, that she slowed her pace. When she hesitated, glancing to the left, in the direction of the Council Headquarters, she felt Spike’s tentative touch on her arm.

“Buffy?”

The fear in his voice went straight to her stomach, reminding her of the many times he’d begged her to spend the night with him and her curt refusals to give him even that little bit of affection and companionship. She sighed and turned to the right, reaching out for the hand just leaving her arm.

“It’s all right. I mean - it’s not all right. You can’t go around breaking people’s arms just because they touch me. I can take care of myself. And that was stupid. If they weren’t so drunk…”

She sighed again, squeezed his hand reassuringly, then dropped it and began the long uphill walk to his house.

“It just scared me, okay? I don’t know what Wolfram and Hart might do if they found out that you were free to leave any time you want to. Maybe they have some way to magic you back into the amulet, or…”

“Or?”

“I don’t know! Or something. I don’t know. I just know that they want you to suffer and if they think you aren’t…” She looked up at him with suspiciously damp eyes. “I don’t know how to fight them. I don’t even know who to fight. Their employees are mostly humans, and--”

“Shhh. It’s going to be alright, love. Not going to do anything that might give them reason to think I’m not still stuck in my house, scaring would-be watchers and novice slayers for excitement.” He glanced around for unfriendly eyes, then put his arms around her. “The only thing we can’t hide is you. They know you’re here, and if they know anything about us, they’ll know that it must be making me bloody happy.”

“Well, there’s not much they can do about that,” she said, resting her head on his chest briefly. “It looks like I’m not going anywhere.” She pushed him away and began walking again. “Let’s go home. I really don’t want the men in the white coats coming after me for hugging an imaginary man in the middle of the road.”

“You think they’d be less likely to get out the nets if they saw you doing it somewhere else?” he teased.

“If we keep it to inside the house, there’s no reason for anyone to see it, is there?” she grumbled. “I don’t know why you’re taking this so lightly.”

Rather than answer her, he touched her elbow, squeezing just enough to get her attention. He’d begun to come into sight when they’d left the lights of town behind; suddenly he faded away again.

“What?”

“Something – just up ahead. No heartbeats, but vamps are really rare around here. Probably has somethin’ to do with all those feisty little girls running around waving sharp pieces of wood…”

Buffy checked to be sure she had tucked her stake back into her waist, and extended her senses until she could feel the telltale tingles.

“Guess somebody forgot to tell this one,” she whispered.

“Ones, pet. More than one. Got your back if you need it.”

“I won’t need it.” Buffy rolled her shoulders and gave herself a quick stretch. “I haven’t done much since I got here. This is going to feel good.”

Pretending to be oblivious of the vamps waiting for her, Buffy continued up the road, humming to herself and twirling her stake. As she reached the crest of the hill, several vampires stepped into her path. Rather than attacking immediately, the apparent leader asked, “Are you Buffy Summers?”

Buffy blinked at him. “Who wants to know? Are you fussy about who dusts you?”

“I’m Vladimir the Invincible,” the bald, muscular leader said, expanding his chest and posing. “No doubt you’ve heard of me?”

“Huh?”

He gestured to his minions, now forming a circle around Buffy. “I’m going to kill you. You won’t be able to flee, but my men won’t interfere otherwise.” When Buffy didn’t appear to be sufficiently intimidated, he puffed his chest out even more. “I’ve already killed one slayer, you know.”

“I’ve already killed a vampire, you know,” Buffy mimicked him, grinning at his growl. “Or, maybe that was two or three…hundreds or thousands…”

“I was chosen for this assignment because of my experience. Youwill die.”

“Yeah, yeah. I vill drink your blood…yada, yada. Heard it all before. Let’s fight already.”

They were standing just a few yards away from what had been Spike’s original boundary,, and it was becoming clear that the vamps knew exactly where they wanted to engage her. Buffy narrowed her eyes and glared at the minions standing between her and what should have been any possible assistance.

“Who did you say sent you here?”

There was no response, other than for the vamps behind her to move in more closely while their leader swung his fist at her no-longer-there face. Buffy could feel the presence of the minions pressing in behind her and limiting her ability to dodge the much larger, but clumsier vamp. Without looking, she kicked behind her, shattering a knee. The scream was cut off abruptly as the vampire turned to dust without being visibly touched again.

“Uh, boss?”

The other minions shifted nervously, losing their focus on Buffy. They’d been assured that if the ghost was there, he would not be able to leave the small mowed area in front of the house; their instructions had been to kill Buffy as close to that area as they could safely get and to leave her body just inside the mowed area if Spike for some reason missed seeing her death.

As Spike slowly came into view, standing on the lawn where they expected him to be, their confidence began to return. The fact that he was grinning with delight and bouncing with eagerness didn’t seem to register on them as being a bad sign.

As their attention wandered from their duty to keep Buffy away from Spike and close to her attacker, the fight moved away to where Buffy could use her agility and experience against the snarling vampire.

“Vladimir,” Buffy snarked. “Is that because you’re Russian, or because you want me to think you’re related to Dracula? Cause I really don’t see him turning an ugly bumpkin like you. He’s got better taste.”

“You know the Master?”

Vladimir stopped in mid swing to gape at the smiling woman facing him.

“Met him, staked him – more than once, as I recall – told him to get the hell out of my town and stay out.”

“Impossible!”

“Yeah, whatever.” Buffy shrugged and flipped over his head, driving her stake into his back as she flew past. She landed and glanced up to Spike who was applauding wildly.

“Oh, well done, Slayer! Well done. A bit too short a fight for my taste, but very pretty.”

Ignoring for the moment the minions who were staring back and forth between the Slayer and the ghost, Buffy and Spike continued their banter.

“So, you’ll give me what? A nine point five instead of a ten?”

He shook his head in mock seriousness.

“Got to go with a flat nine, pet. You didn’t stick your landing perfectly.”

“Picky, picky,” she muttered, gesturing to one of the bewildered minions. “Come on, you. Let’s get this over with. My dinner’s getting cold.”

“Let’s get her!” the bravest of the surviving vamps said. “She can’t take all of us at once.”

As Spike stepped through the barrier which they’d been told would contain him, he said mildly, “I’m pretty sure she can, but just in case…” He grabbed the vampire closest to him and tossed him far away from Buffy. As he stalked towards the frightened vamp, now scrambling to his feet, he called back, “You don’t mind if I take this one, do you, Slayer?”

“Help yourself,” she replied, ducking in time for the two remaining vamps to miss her head and punch each other.

Buffy toyed with them for a few minutes, exchanging kicks and punches, then staked them both before the second one had time to notice that he was now alone. She waved the dust away, then picked up her carryout food and went to sit on the steps to watch Spike as he played with the remaining minion.

Taking his usual joy in the fight, Spike allowed the other vampire to get several good punches in before having his head wrenched off. Smiling happily, Spike dusted off his hands and walked over to join Buffy on the steps.

She stopped eating long enough to say, “That is really gross. Twisting the head off like that.”

“Hey, not in the habit of carrying pointy wooden things around with me,” he replied indignantly. “Have to use the weapons I was given, don’t I?”

“You didn’t use them. You never even went into game face.”

“Didn’t need to.” He shrugged. “You took on the big one.”

“Seemed fair. He was after me.”

“So he was. What do you think that was all about?”

“Seems pretty obvious,” she said. “Wolfram and Hart doesn’t want you to get your memories back and move on. That would hurt me, which I guess is a bonus for them, but it could also end your ghostiness. Since you’re the one who’s being punished, I guess they figured taking me out while you watch would kill two birds with one stone.”

“Unfortunate metaphor, there, love,” he said, moving closer so that their shoulders were touching. “Watching you die isn’t something I ever want to have to see.”

“I know the feeling,” she replied quietly, leaning into him. “But I’ll bet they’re going to keep trying. Especially if they find out you aren’t trapped anymore.”

She straightened up, sudden hope flaring in her eyes.

“You’re not trapped anymore. We could leave! We could go somewhere…somewhere they can’t find us. We don’t have to stay here.”

He nodded. “We could. But I wouldn’t count on not being found. I suspect they’ve got ways of tracking me, and probably you, if they need to. Evil can always find willing workers.”

Buffy leaned against his shoulder again, dropping her head against his arm.

“What are we going to do?”

“What we always do, if I’ve understood anything about what you’ve told me about life in Sunnydale. We’ll carry on, and deal with the bad guys when they show up. ‘s all we can do, love,” he added when she didn’t say anything. “Live our lives – well, your life – love each other…” he paused, but when she didn’t contradict him, he went on quickly, “and spite the bloody hell out them by making each other happy for as long as we can.”

Chapter 16

They sat in comfortable silence for a while, enjoying the light pressure of their touching shoulders and the sounds of the advancing night. When Buffy gave a small shiver, Spike stood up and held out his hand.

“Let’s get inside, love. I know it’s not a lot warmer there, but we can probably find something to wrap around you.”

Taking the offered hand, she rose gracefully to stand beside him. Their eyes met and held, followed by their bodies melding together in a simultaneous urge to hang on to each other. When the close proximity had its inevitable effect on Spike’s libido, he swept her up and carried her to the door, pausing in frustration when he remembered that he’d locked it and that the key was in his pocket.

“Bugger.”

Buffy giggled and squirmed in his arms. “Let me down so you can get the key out,” she ordered.

“Wanted to carry you across the threshold,” he grumbled, fumbling in his pocket for the key. He unlocked the door and threw it open with a flourish. “Guess I’ll have to settle for bowing you in,” he added, suiting actions to words and bending down to gesture gallantly with his arm. “Please come in, my lady.”

“Thank you, sir,” she simpered back at him, doing her best to appear to be sweeping elegantly past him in her jeans and tee shirt.

She watched curiously as he locked the door behind them, and frowned as he went around the first floor checking the locks on all the windows.

“What are you doing? Twice in one day? We’re here now; why are you still locking stuff?”

“I’ve got something precious here and vamps out there thinking they can take it. It’s the only way I’ve got to keep ‘em out right now.”

Buffy nodded. “I guess you’re right. At least this way, they’ll make noise breaking in and we’ll know something’s going on.”

She followed him into the library, where he turned on the lamp and settled on the couch with his arm around her.

“What did you mean by ‘the only way to keep them out right now’? You’re planning not to be a dead man tomorrow?”

“I mean, that as of tomorrow – or as soon as we can set it up – I’m giving this house to you. Then it will be vamp-safe, at least.”

“Spike--”

“You’d take it, wouldn’t you?” He stared at her anxiously. “Am I taking too much for granted, here? That you’re going to be staying often enough that being safe while we sleep is important?”

When she didn’t respond, he began to backtrack. “Of course it’s taking too much for granted. I’m a stupid git. Still not the vampire you love, am I? Just a ghost who’s taking advantage of--”

Buffy put her fingers over his mouth.

“If you’d stop babbling for a minute, I might have a chance to tell you that I’m fine with it. You just surprised me, that’s all. I…I’d love to be here often enough to feel like I belong here. I would.”

“Oh.” He looked embarrassed. “Well, that’s all good then, isn’t it? We’ll get hold of that solicitor tomorrow and--”

“No,” she said firmly.

“No? But you just…”

“We’re not going to have anything to do with that weasel. He’d just tell Wolfram and Hart, and then there’d be…well, I don’t know what would happen, but the less they know about us and what’s going on here, the better.”

She took out her phone and punched in a number as she continued, “We’re going to use Council counsel…” She paused to giggle at herself, then responded to the grumpy-sounding “Yes?” that Spike could easily hear. “Giles! Hi! It’s not too late is it? Well I know, but you’re old and old people go to bed---sheesh! Okay. I didn’t mean you were doddering…. Yeah, listen, Spike and I need a lawyer – can we come to your office tomorrow and talk to the Council guy?”

She wiggled her fingers at Spike, who grabbed the hand and played with her fingers while she talked.

“Oh, okay. The next day, then. Yeah, there’s a good reason, and—huh! Aren’t you smart? Yes, that’s what we need to do. Yes, it is good thinking on his part.” She smirked at Spike who paused in his pursuit of her fingers to raise his eyebrows. “Okay, I’ll see you sometime tomorrow and we’ll plan on meeting the lawyer guy the day after. Thanks, Giles. Goodnight to you, too.”

She closed the phone with an expression of great satisfaction on her face.

“Okay, that’s that. We’ll get it done by somebody who won’t go tattling to the bad guys right away.”

“They’ll find out eventually, pet,” he told her. “It will be on public record – all they have to do is take a look.”

“Maybe. But the longer it takes them to find out, the less likely they are to figure out that you can go out or that I’m planning to stay here.”

“They’re going to keep trying to kill you,” he said, squeezing the hand he was still holding until Buffy winced. He placed an apologetic kiss on her palm, but his expression didn’t change. “Won’t have you dying because of me.”

He dropped her hand and stood up. “You were right, Slayer. You need to leave. I was wrong to talk you out of it. You need to be far away where they have no reason to think that you could be making me happy about bein’ here.”

“Now who’s being all martyry?” She stood up, her arms waving around as she warmed to her subject. “Something or somebody has been trying to kill me since I was fifteen. It could happen anywhere. I’m not leaving you,” she added, when he appeared ready to argue. “There’s nothing they can throw against us that we can’t handle together. Or with help from Willow or a group of graduates of the Spike’s Slayer School final exam.”

“Buffy – I know what I said before, but I wasn’t thinking. I can’t be responsible for your death, pet. Don’t ask it of me.”

“Didn’t we just have this conversation? Except the other way around? You aren’t responsible for what happens to me, because the only person who’s making decisions for me is me.

“You are a stubborn bint, aren’t you?” he said, reluctant admiration in his voice.

“Hello? Pot, meet Kettle.”

She stood, hands on hips, and dared him to argue with her. Instead, he gave one of the deep chuckles that made butterflies chase each other around her lower abdomen, and pulled her into another fierce hug. Buffy immediately put her arms around his neck and squeezed back, allowing him to lift her off the floor, holding her with a drowning man’s grip on the only floating object within reach.

“Now might be a good time for the carrying me somewhere thing,” she whispered.

Without a verbal response, he swung her legs sideways and grabbed them with one arm while the other cradled her upper body against his chest. He dipped Buffy so that she could turn off the lamp, then strode out of the room and down the hallway to the kitchen and the door to his bedroom. With another small dip, Buffy was able to reach the doorknob and push the door open.

She felt Spike shift into his vampire mien before he walked down the stairs and crossed to his bed without hesitation. He paused at the edge of the bed and she heard the bones shift back. Raising one hand to the back of his head, she pulled him down into the first kiss of the evening, her muffled whimper bringing a corresponding groan from Spike.

He dropped her legs, letting them slide down to the floor so that he could once again wrap his arms around her and enjoy the way she melted into him. It wasn’t long before there was too much clothing between them and hands were pushing up shirts and tugging at belts. Buffy accomplished her goal first and wrenched her mouth away from his to begin kissing her way around his bare chest, pausing occasionally to lick or bite a nipple.

By mutual consent, they paused long enough to shed their shirts completely and for Spike to unfasten Buffy’s bra. He tossed it aside, saying, “Your call, love. Lights on or lights off?”

“No fair,” Buffy mock pouted. “You can see either way. If they’re off, I just have to feel my way around…” Putting her words into action, she used exaggerated patting motions to feel her way down to the bulge in his jeans. “Aha! There it is. I found it.”

“Pretty sure it wasn’t hiding, pet,” he groaned, pushing into her hand. “But I don’t want you to have a hard time finding anything…”


He flicked the bedside lamp on, tilting the shade so that the light was directed away from the bed, leaving it illuminated by a soft glow. Buffy’s hair reflected the glow of the lamp and he almost forgot what they’d been doing as he stopped to admire the vision in front of him.

“Bloody hell,” he whispered reverently. “You are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

“You don’t remember everything you’ve ever seen,” she said, embarrassed by his awed gaze, even as she grew warm under it. “You don’t even remember anything you’ve ever seen--”

“I’m trying to set a romantic tone here, Slayer,” he growled, sitting on the bed and reaching for her hand. She readily extended it and he pulled her towards him to stand between his open knees.

“Let me undress you, love,” he said, running a gentle finger over one nipple and teasing it to a hard point. “Allow me to unwrap this breathtaking package that I’ve somehow managed to deserve.”

Buffy blushed. More than conscious of how often she’d refused his attempts at romance in their less happy past, she stood still and allowed him to slowly peel away her jeans, kissing his way down her body as he worked the tight denim down her legs. Buffy obediently lifted one foot, then the other, so that he could slide her socks and shoes off before dropping the jeans to the floor. When she was standing in a small pile of denim, he nudged her forward, out of the discarded clothing and closer to him. He buried his face in her stomach, visibly inhaling her scent as he pulled her even closer.

The feeling of Spike’s lips and cool breath on her skin made Buffy’s knees buckle and she leaned into him, putting her hands on his shoulders for support. When he took the elastic of her underwear in his teeth and began to slowly pull it down, her breathing became ragged and her fingers dug into the muscles of his shoulders. Letting her finish taking off the panties by stepping out of them, Spike brought his attention back up, planting a open mouth kiss on her neatly trimmed mound.

While Buffy opened her quaking legs to give him more access, he used his tongue to tease her clit until she was moaning and the only thing keeping her up were his hands clutching her ass as he held her to his face. He waited until she was shaking and whimpering through her orgasm before falling backwards on to the bed, pulling her with him and leaving her lying on his face until she rolled herself off and slid down to rest her head on his bare chest.

“Wow. Wowie, wow,” she gasped. “I’d forgotten how good you are at that.”

“You forgot? Should I be offended?”

Buffy ignored his half-serious question, popping the buttons on his jeans and unzipping them. She pushed them down until his cock could spring free, dropping quick kiss on it, and then moved to the side of the bed and slid onto the floor so that she could pull off his boots and socks. She stood up and began to tug on the hem of his pants until he lifted his hips to assist her. When they had joined hers in the growing heap of discarded clothing on the floor, she crawled onto the bed and up his body until she was lying on him, skin to skin from head to toe.

She rested her chin on her crossed hands and looked up into his darkening eyes.

“There’s something poking me,” she said, wriggling on him until he groaned and grabbed her hips, pulling her down while he pushed up into her flat stomach. Buffy giggled and moved up so that she could reach his mouth; his cock now rested between her thighs. Opening her legs to let it nudge its way into place, she let him guide her hips, sitting up at his silent urging. As soon as she was sitting erect, she sank down on him, bringing matching sighs and smiles.

“Now there’s a sight,” he breathed, watching her face as she began to ride him, slowly at first, then moving faster as he pushed his hips up and gave her nonverbal encouragement to work him as hard as she wanted. With her head thrown back, he could see the pulse pounding in her throat and he felt his fangs dropping as his mouth filled with saliva.

Oblivious to the changes taking place below her, Buffy continued to ride him, squeezing as she rose and slammed down onto him to the accompaniment of small grunts. She felt the change in his cock, but was too distracted by the incredible new sensations it was creating to wonder when it had happened.

“Oh god! Oh god! Spike! Oh my god…don’t….don’t stop…I want…aaaaaah!”

The sudden orgasm took her by surprise and she collapsed on his chest, still vibrating from the scream it had ripped from her throat. Spike flipped them over and put her legs over his shoulders as he began an assault on her body that soon had her biting her lips to keep from screaming again. She shook all over with the force of the sensations being created in her body, bringing her legs down and wrapping them around his hips, hoping that, by hanging on tightly, she could prevent herself from losing consciousness.

Once again, when Spike began to approach his own release, he began to fade out, sparing Buffy the sight of his golden eyes and exposed fangs. He buried his face in her neck, surprised that he had no desire to drink from her, but only to have her flesh in his mouth. While he sucked on the soft skin of her throat, he smothered the words he knew she wouldn’t believe. He couldn’t keep from thinking it, however, as he emptied himself into her and silently vowed his eternal devotion. His hips kept moving in jerky twitches long after his orgasm was over. Eventually, he came down from what he was sure had any drug-induced euphoria completely beaten, and he relaxed onto the soft body beneath him.

For long minutes, the only sounds in the room were gasping breaths as they both struggled for recovery. Finally, Spike rolled to the side, pulling her with him so that she was resting against his body.

“Bloody good thing I’m already dead,” he mumbled.

“Why is that?” Buffy’s question was more of a gasp than it was actual speech.

“’cause I’m pretty sure that would have killed me,” he said, a smile in his voice.

Buffy gave an exhausted giggle.

“We’re pretty good, aren’t we?”

“Good? We’re bloody brilliant! They could write a book about us. They should write poems! Epics, they’d be. Something for everybody who’s not us to strive for.”

She giggled again and snuggled into his side. “That was pretty amazing – even for us. I think it might be a while before I can do it again.”

“Again? We can do that twice in one night?”

“You really have lost your memory, haven’t you?” she snickered.

He snorted his agreement, then added, “And if that didn’t bring it back, I can guarantee nothing will. Think we’re safe there, pet.”

“Yep, seems like we should be.”

Chapter 17

Despite Spike’s original skepticism, they did indeed make love again – albeit, a somewhat less strenuous bout with fewer screams and more grateful murmurs from whichever one was feeling particularly pleasured at the time. When they finally settled in for some well-earned rest, Buffy rested comfortably in his arms, confident that nothing she said or did was going to bring back those missing memories.

It was sad, and frequently frustrating, that he knew nothing of the many things that had brought them to where they were now; so many times she went to share a laugh with him, or, more rarely, a tender memory, only to be met with a happy but puzzled tilt of his head. But, if Buffy had to choose between having Spike in her life without any memory of what went before, or losing him shortly after he remembered her, there was no contest. She snuggled back against his body, smiling when his arm tightened around her and he murmured into the back of her neck.

A hand stroking the underside of her breast brought Buffy back to wakefulness, as did the soft kisses being spread across her shoulders. For a minute or two, she just remained still, enjoying the gentle petting and caressing; but her body soon woke up enough to send her turning around to face the smiling ghost. Spike had changed his gentle stroking from the bottom of her breast to her flank, cupping her ass and pulling her closer.

She lifted her leg over his hip and hummed happily when he slid into her with a whispered, “There’s my girl.”

Without moving her hips, Buffy began to squeeze him, using her internal muscles to knead his cock in a way that had him groaning and growling his appreciation for her talents. When he began to purr vigorously, setting up a wonderful vibration through her entire body, she almost lost her concentration. With his encouragement, she let herself go lax and allowed the vibrations to build. When he added a twitch of his cock to the end of each vibration, she could no longer remain still, rolling onto her back and wrapping both arms and legs around him.

She resumed her squeezing, her whimpers and pants telling him that she was appreciating his renewed thrusts and they soon reached a mutually satisfying climax to their efforts. If Buffy didn’t believe his whispered “I love you”, she gave no sign of it, just added her own quiet “I love you, Spike” as he collapsed on top of her.

They remained together, dozing off while still intimately connected, until Buffy squirmed and wriggled under him.

“If you don’t want to spend the rest of the day in bed, you’d best stop that wigglin’,” he growled, shifting his hips to show her why it wasn’t such a good idea.

“As tempting as that sounds, I need to get up. I have to pee.”

“Ah,” he sighed and nuzzled her neck. “Humans and their infirmities.”

“Just because you don’t have any bodily functions…”

“You just go do what you need to do, pet, and when you come back, I’ll show you my bodily functions are working just fine. All the important ones, anyway.”

He rolled off and gave her a little pinch on her ass as she stood up. Buffy turned around and, enjoying her nudity’s effect on him, stood with her hands on her hips, glaring with mock ferocity.

“I can’t believe you did that! Does the word ‘slayer’ not mean anything to you?”

“Means I’m going to pull you right back down here if you don’t get your luscious arse up those stairs,” he said, openly ogling her as his cock stiffened.

“Oh no, you don’t. You just take that extra testosterone and put it away. We have things to do today.”

She ran up the stairs and into the bathroom, giggling at the disappointed growls coming from behind her. Buffy eyed the shower wistfully, wondering how long it was going to take for a plumber to check the pipes and install the electric hot water heater that Spike had picked out. Not that they could even order anything until the money and house stuff had been sorted out.

Spike thought he could get some money from an old account without the assistance of a solicitor, explaining that he’d found a bankbook for an account at the bank in town; one that had been used just often enough over the years to not have it declared inactive. Of course, during the past several years while he’d been a ghost, trapped in the house, there’d been nothing he could do to get any money out or to remind the bank of his existence. However, Spike had found a stash of cash hidden behind a loose stone in the basement wall, and he was hoping Buffy could use the somewhat dated but probably still legal bills to purchase the smaller items he wanted.

Buffy came out of the bathroom and peered down the stairs. Catching no sign of Spike, she quickly ran down and bent over to pick up her clothes, only to find her underwear dangling in the air just out of reach.

“Very funny,” she said, jumping and snatching it out of invisible hands. “Go find the money. I’m hungry.”

“Aha,” he said, coming into sight, still nude and erect. “You’re only after my dosh. I should have known.”

“I didn’t know that you even had any money, you big doofus. Not to mention a big mansion in England. You used to steal booze and cigarettes, remember?”

“Um…no,” he reminded her with a quirked eyebrow. “I don’t remember… Remember?”

To cover her embarrassment, Buffy busied herself putting her clothes on and running her fingers through her hair. “Well, yeah, okay. You don’t remember. But I do. You never had any money.”

He shrugged, “Vamps don’t need much. And if they do want something, I imagine they just take it. Prob’ly stole stuff for the fun of it, not out of need.”

“You made us pay you for information and help!”

He grinned and pulled her into a quick embrace.

“Maybe I just wanted an excuse to be around you. You ever think about that?”

“Back then?” She shook her head, going up on her toes to give him a quick kiss. “I can guarantee you it never occurred to me – or to you either, I’m pretty sure…”

She twisted away before he could take the quick kiss anywhere time-consuming and said, “Get dressed. We might as well get as much done today as we can by ourselves.”

“I can’t go like this?”

“No!”

“It’s not like I’m going to be visible to anybody, is it? It’ll be fun. Nobody will know.”

“I am NOT walking through town with a naked man! I don’t care if anybody can see you or not. I’ll know.”

“Don’t you think that’s kind of sexy? Me all naked and you being the only one who knows I’m there?”

“Been there, done that, you threw me out.”

“Huh? What? I threw you out of what?”

“Me. Invisible. Naked. Your crypt.”

“Well, I’m sure I had a good reason….you were naked?”

“I was, actually. I even…never mind.

“Oh no, There’s no never-minding here! You need to explain this, Slayer. There’s no way I threw a naked woman out of my crypt – invisible or not – and didn’t dust myself for stupidity.”

“Get dressed. I’ll tell you all about it while we’re walking.”

As Buffy turned to walk upstairs, she could hear him muttering, “This better not be a trick just to get my clothes on.”


~~~~~~~~~

As they walked through the sunshine, their destination the garden center at the opposite end of town, Buffy told Spike all about her adventure as an invisible girl and how Xander had come to his crypt to ask if Spike had “seen” her, interrupting them in the middle of sex. She talked about teasing him while he tried to converse with the oblivious boy, then got quiet when he asked her why he’d thrown her out.

“Because you had to go through that whole song and dance with Xander, instead of being able to say, “She’s right here. She’s fine.”

He stopped and cocked his head at her. She refused to meet his eyes, mumbling that he needed to go invisible before they got into more populated areas. He complied with her request, but put a hand on her arm, preventing her from going any farther.

“We haven’t talked much about that time, yet, love. Is there something I should know?”

“Um…You were there for me, and I treated you like crap? I think that about sums it up.”

Buffy smiled brightly and began walking.

“So, you didn’t love me while you were shagging me?”

“Can we not talk about this right now? Look! It’s a pretty day, we have money to spend, we’re on our way to buy things…it’s all good.”

“Did you love me then or not?”

Spike’s voice was not beside her and she realized that he hadn’t moved to follow her. With a sigh, she turned around and walked back to where she could just make out his outline shimmering in the sunlight. She gazed up at his barely-visible eyes.

“I don’t know,” she said finally. “I didn’t think so. You tried to tell me I did, but I…I didn’t usually take it well. I don’t think I realized what you meant to me until—“

“Until?”

“Another one of those things you don’t really need to know.” She took a deep breath. “Look, I was in denial, okay? Being in love with a soulless vampire just wasn’t…I just didn’t want to believe I could do it, all right? I called it ‘having feelings for you’ when I was forced to admit it. I waited until you were dying before I actually told you I loved you; and then you didn’t beli—“

“Don’t start that again. If I believed it when you were denying it, know damn good and well I would have believed you when you finally said it.”

“Do you really think so?” Her voice was so wistful and hopeful that in spite of their being in public, he wrapped his arms around her and buried his face in her hair.

“I know so, Buffy. I may not remember who I was, but I’m pretty sure I was still me, and I know that I would have believed you.”

“You’re just saying that,” she mumbled into his chest; then realized what she must look like and pulled away. “I’ll bet you say that to all the girls who tell you they love you.”

His warm chuckle stirred her hair before he let go and began to walk beside her again. When they got near the bank, they paused and Buffy asked, “What should I say about this money? Do you think they’re going to want to know how an American visitor came into possession of so much cash?”

“Just tell them you inherited it. That some old dead relative willed you a box of old papers and the money was in it.” He reached into his pocket, only to find himself holding an invisible bankbook. “Bollocks! I should have given this to you before I disappeared. Guess we’ll have to do this part tomorrow.”

Buffy giggled at the barely-visible book he was holding. She took it from his hand and held it for a minute, but it remained stubbornly translucent and she gave it back with another laugh.

“I think I know what to do,” she said. “I’ll be right back.”

She went into the local branch of the Council’s London bank and directly to the receptionist’s desk, explaining that she had a rather large amount of cash with her and that she wanted to use it to open an account. She presented her American drivers license, her Council ID and assured them that she could bring her passport in as soon as she had time to run back to the Council Headquarters to get it. Once they’d seen who she worked for, things went very smoothly – the Council being a rather large depositor and an important customer at this branch of the bank, as well as still having large assets in London.

On her way out, she picked up some deposit and withdrawal slips for Spike and waved a cheerful good-bye to the helpful employees. She’d explained to them that she might be doing some errands for another one of their customers from time to time, hoping to prepare them for the idea that she would be doing not only her own business, but sometimes Spike’s.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

With the money she had kept back for spending in hand, Buffy and Spike took their list back to the shops they’d visited the day before, picking up a lot of small items and finding out what they would need to do in order to have other things delivered. With Spike’s assurance that there was more than enough money to cover everything, Buffy used her Council credit card to make arrangements to have the hot water heater installed within a few days. She pretended not to notice the shocked looks she got when she gave the address, simply nodding and smiling that yes, it was quite an old house and would need much work before it was suitable for a young lady by herself.

She consulted the list and ordered the small refrigerator and the microwave from Curry’s, a chain appliance store that carried many of the items they’d noted the day before. At the growl behind her back, she added the CD player and a smaller version of the TV that Spike had been admiring. Making a mental note to get him a small MP3 player and load it up with bands that she remembered him liking, she also picked out a few CDs. The TV was to be delivered with the other items, the CD player she took with her as she left the happy shop manager behind.

“Now what?” she asked when they were safely away from other ears. “I don’t think I can carry all that garden stuff back from one end of town to the other – and I can’t see me walking along with shovels and rakes floating behind me, either.”

“The bankbook disappeared when I put it in my invisible pocket,” Spike said. “Come in here; let’s see what happens if I take your package and then go invisible.”

They stepped around the corner of the building, into a narrow alley that didn’t appear to get much traffic. Spike quickly came into sight, waiting until he was as solid appearing as was possible for him in daylight, then taking the CD player box and fading out again. To their delight, the box disappeared along with Spike.

“Problem solved, Slayer,” he said happily. “You’ll pay for the stuff and I’ll carry it out – in fact…”

“No!” she said, interrupting his obvious train of thought. “We are not going to steal them. Just get that idea out of your head right now.” She glared in the general direction of his voice, tapping her foot until he responded with a grumpy, “Spoil sport.”

“I’ll carry whatever I can out of the store, and we’ll borrow Giles’ car to come back later for the rest of it.”

Muttering under his breath, he trailed behind her to the garden center, only speaking when she would hold up a tool and raise an eyebrow. In a flash of inspiration, Buffy added a large garden cart to the purchases and was able to put almost all the tools and supplies in it. Under the disbelieving eyes of the cashier, she paid for her things and then easily pulled the cart out of the center and down the side of the road.

She stopped when she recognized the street where the Brown’s Market was located, whispering to Spike that she wanted to get some more food, but he suggested she wait until the refrigerator and microwave had been delivered and installed before bringing more food into the house.

“You can eat all you want on the Council’s money,” he pointed out. “An’ I can come with you as long as we don’t sit too close to anyone who might pick up on my ghostiness.”

Buffy agreed and they hastened to get back to Council Headquarters in time for a late breakfast or early lunch. When Spike had followed Buffy into the dining hall, only to find several of the slayers throwing uncomfortable looks around the room, he touched her back and whispered in her ear, “Think I’m rocking the boat a bit too much, love. I’ll wait for you outside.”

She nodded at him, then noticed Dawn staring at her with narrowed eyes. Buffy shook her head slightly and went to fill her plate, joining her sister as soon as she had loaded up on food.

“Was he here?”

“Just for a minute. I guess some of the older slayers can sense him more than we thought they could. He’s waiting outside.”

“So, what’d you guys do last night? In very PG rated detail, of course.”

Buffy made a face and began telling Dawn about their window shopping trip and the attack on her.

“I guess they really don’t want me around,” she added. “Sending gangs of vampires after me like that.”

“Did you tell Giles yet?”

“Nope, I was hungry. We just went to buy stuff and then came straight here. I’ll see Giles before we go back to the house and fill him in, but there’s not much he can do about it.”

“Maybe not,” Dawn said, “but he knows something – and so does Willow. You need to make him tell.”

“Knows something about what?”

“I don’t know. They were just very mysterious after you left yesterday. Giles was all ‘Buffy doesn’t need to know’ and Willow was all ‘But what if…’ and then he told me it wasn’t anything and that was that.”

“Buffy doesn’t need to know?” Her voice rose until the people at several other tables turned to look at the two Summers sisters. Without another word, she finished her food and stormed out of the dining room.

“Come on,” she snarled as she passed the garden cart and its invisible guardian. “We have some watcher bashing to do.”

Chapter 18

Buffy burst into Giles’ office to be greeted by an exasperated “Did your mother never teach you to knock?” Ignoring the less than cordial welcome, she sat down, leaned forward and said, “What do you and Willow think you know that I’m better off not knowing?”

“Dawn.” He gave a disgusted shake of his head. When Buffy just continued to gaze at him expectantly, he sighed. “I wish she hadn’t said anything, Buffy. I am not trying to hide anything from you, I just prefer not to raise any hopes or expectations that I’m fairly certain would be unwarranted.”

“What? What hopes? What expectations? Can you stop talking in riddles and just tell me what’s going on?”

“Nothing is going on,” he said firmly. “Willow has seized upon some story that Fred Burkle told her about. Angel apparently believed in it for some time, even after it became clear that the prophecy was probably a Wolfram and Hart fraud.”

“A prophecy,” Buffy said flatly. “Oh, joy.”

“Exactly. Hence my desire not to mention it in your presence.”

“Well, consider it mentioned. You might as well tell me about it now. Fake or not.”

“As far as we can ascertain, Angel was given a prophecy that indicated the vampire with a soul could redeem himself to the point that he would become completely human once again. It was one of his objectives in taking over Wolfram and Hart – to commit such serious damage upon the forces of evil that he would earn the right to claim this ‘Shanshu’ of which he’d been told.”

There was a loud scoffing noise to Buffy’s left and Giles froze in his seat. He turned wide eyes to her, groaning when she nodded. His presence no longer a secret, Spike gradually came into view, appearing thoroughly solid in the dim light of the office.

“Spike,” Giles said tightly.

“Watcher,” he replied with a hint of a smirk.

“I thought you were confined to your house?”

“The witch and Dawn didn’t tell you? She cured me of that little part of the spell or curse or whatever the bloody hell this is. And being ghostly seems to have taken care of the sunlight issues I used to have.”

“I see.”

“Well, now you see,” Buffy pointed out, giggling. “But you didn’t before.”

“Quite,” he muttered, turning towards Spike. “I don’t suppose you have any memory of this prophecy that Willow heard about? I understand that you and Angel had quite a fight at one time over some cup or something that was supposed to be a short cut to the shanshu.”

“Got no bloody idea,” Spike said cheerfully, “But that would bring me full circle, wouldn’t it? Start out human, go vampire, then ghost, and then back to human.”

Giles sighed again and the stern expression he’d been wearing since he realized that Spike was in the room softened somewhat.

“You need to realize – both of you need to realize,” he said, giving Buffy a sharp look, “that it is more than likely the entire scroll containing the prophecy was a complete fraud. Something concocted by Wolfram and Hart to distract Angel from his war against them.”

“But Giles, what if it is real? Maybe that’s what they mean by “another plane”. Maybe Spike will--”

“Buffy,” he said gently, “if it were true, why wouldn’t Angel, who had his soul much longer than Spike and who was actively pursuing this…transformation…why wouldn’t he have been the one to receive it?”

She slumped back in her chair, barely noticing when Spike took her hand and squeezed it. Giles gave her some time to get over her disappointment, then said kindly, “You can see why I didn’t want anyone telling you about it, can’t you? The chances that it even exists are so slim, and when you add the fact that neither Angel nor Spike received it at the time of their deaths…It just seems to be a false prophecy invented by an evil organization bent on destroying Angel.”

“Oh,” she said in a small voice. “Yeah. I guess so. Dawn was just so sure that--”

“In retrospect, we probably should have told her about it, if for no other reason than to avoid this very situation.”

There was a lengthy silence, then Spike said, “Don’t fret, love. We’re no worse off than we were before we came in here. Didn’t expect to find a way out then, and we don’t have one now.”

“But we should have a way out, dammit! You’re a champion. I’m the Chosen One …er - one of the ones. We should be able to find a way out of this.”

“Not saying we give up, Buffy. I’m jus’ saying the only thing under our control right now is how we are with each other.” Just as Giles was trying to figure out how to appear to be not listening to the increasingly personal conversation, Spike added, “I’m not going anywhere without you, and you’re not going anywhere without me. Who in their right mind wants to argue with the most stubborn pans in the drawer?”

“Pots, kettles,” Buffy said with a watery smile. “Yeah, you’re right. Double stubbornness. We’re good.”

She stood up and pulled Spike to his feet.

“Thanks, Giles. I guess we’re right back where we started, but we’ll deal.”

“I’m confident that you will,” he said with a warm smile that almost included Spike. “Now, about tomorrow--”

“Oh yeah. Is he going to be here? The lawyer guy?”

“Yes, and I’ve apprised him of the…situation. He will have the necessary paperwork to transfer ownership of the property to you, as well as whatever other legal documents you may decide you need. Perhaps some funds?” he looked inquiringly at Spike, who gave him a surprised grin.

“Got funds, thank you anyway, Watcher. Jus’ need to figure out how to get our hands on them without my having to make a ghostly appearance in the bank lobby at high noon.”

“Perhaps the solicitor can help with that as well,” Giles said, standing up and, after a moment’s hesitation, holding out his hand. “I would hope that, as we are both so fond of the same people, that we could let the past remain past and begin a new, more cordial relationship.”

Spike shrugged, letting go of Buffy’s hand to enclose the other man’s in a cool, firm grip.

“It’s not like I remember what I’m brassed off about anyway,” he said with a shrug. “If my girls think you’re alright, then it’s fine with me.”

“If you two hug, I’m going to hurl.”

They all whirled to see Dawn standing in the doorway, an expression of disbelief on her face.


~~~~~~~~~~

After a quick explanation to a disappointed Dawn about the Shanshu and the unlikelihood of it’s being real, Buffy ran to get her passport and some more clothes to keep at Spike’s. She piled the bag of garments on top of the already full cart and they began the long trek up the hill to Spike’s house.

As her butt muscles began to feel the climb, Buffy remembered what she’d been planning to ask Spike.

“Do you think all the walking up this hill is making my butt tighter?” she asked, turning to present his glowing outline with a view of her tight jeans.

“Not touching that with a ten foot pole”, he replied, amending quickly, “That question, I mean. Not your fine arse, which I will touch at any and every opportunity.”

He put words into actions, cupping her ass and pulling her to him, releasing her only when the cart threatened to break away and begin rolling downhill. With a laugh, he let go and together they easily pulled their purchases the rest of the way up the hill and into the yard. While Buffy ran into the house with her clothes, Spike pulled the cart around to the back and began sorting through the various garden tools for something that would allow him to trim all the overgrown shrubs.

Buffy threw her clothes onto the couch in the library and soon joined him.

“Spike?”

“Yes, love?” he said absently, inexpertly wielding a pair of pruning shears around several bushes that stuck out onto the path.

“If you haven’t lived here since you were turned, shouldn’t everything be in worse shape than this? I mean, I’m not an expert, but it seems to me like a hundred years of neglect would look yuckier than this, you know?”

“Have no idea, Slayer. But, you’re right. I noticed that not too long after I ‘moved in’. It’s obvious the place had been kept up -- at least until fairly recently. The bathroom, the shower, the lights. All new since I was turned, I’m sure.”

“Who do you suppose did it?” Buffy stared around anxiously, as though expecting someone to pop up and declare ownership.

“Reckon I did, love. Don’t remember doing it, but makes sense. The stash in the wall, the bank account – seems like I tried to keep a presence here for a long time. Then gave it up sometime before I became a ghost.”

“Like you knew this was going to happen?”

“Like I knew it would be a smart thing to have someplace to hunker down if I ever needed to keep a low profile for a time,” he corrected. “A comfy bolt-hole if I needed one. The fact that I already owned the house would just have made it easier.”

“I guess.” She looked at him sympathetically. “It must be really frustrating sometimes – not to be able to remember if you did something, or why you did it.”

“It’s a bit of a bugger,” he agreed. “But not much I can do about it, is there? It is what it is.” He stopped hacking at bushes and turned to gaze at her. “Wish it was different. Wish I remembered you and could appreciate how amazing it is that we’re here, together -- but it’s not worth the price, is it?”

Buffy shook her head in agreement and began to pick through the tools, pulling out a rake.

“I could use this to rake all the leaves out of the flower beds,” she said, trudging off towards the nearest debris-filled area. “Maybe it’s not too late in the year to put some flowers in.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Several hours later, they sat on the newly restored steps and admired their handiwork. The path was now safe to walk from the steps to the far end of the garden, all the grasping branches and twigs that had frustrated Buffy so much the first time she went outside had been trimmed back or cut down completely. Most of the beds were now clear and it was possible to see that some of them contained plants that Buffy was able to recognize as not weeds. When she shared her opinion with Spike, he laughed.

“Not weeds’? Is that the best you can do, Slayer?”

“Hey! Working at night doesn’t leave a lot of time for learning about flowers,” she said, her indignation only partially faked. “And my mom didn’t have a lot of time for that stuff after she opened the gallery, either.”

“Was just joshin’ you, love,” he said, nudging her shoulder. “You prob’ly know more about it than I do. I know a lot of stuff about flowers and what they meant in Victorian days, but they were usually already cut when I saw them. Wouldn’t know anything about what kind of plants they came from.”

“You probably wouldn’t remember it if you did,” she pointed out.

“Don’t know why not. I’ve lost my memories of anything that’s part of my previous life – er, lives – not my general knowledge.”

“I meant, doofus, that you’re so old, that you probably can’t remember stuff like that from before you were turned.”

“I knew that.”

“Pffft!”

“Don’t you ‘pffft’ me, missy. I still owe you a spanking from a couple of nights ago. You don’t want to be reminding me of what an irritating bint you can be.”

“Are you sure I don’t?” She gave him a sidelong glance that promised things that made his pants immediately get tighter.

“Oh, you’re asking for it, you are,” he growled, sliding his arms around her and nibbling on her neck.

“Am I gonna get it?” she breathed, tilting her head to give him better access to her neck.

“Count on it.”

He stood up, pulling her to her feet beside him.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m tired. Think I could use a nap…”

“A nap sounds good,” she agreed, slipped her hands around his waist and biting his tee-shirt covered chest. “Race you downstairs.”

As one, they reached for the door, squeezing through it together to the accompaniment of much giggling and growling as they jostled to be first one in. A similar struggle took place at the bedroom door, and they almost tumbled down the stairs together.

“I won!” Buffy crowed, diving onto the bed, only to find herself pushed face first into the mattress. Spike had landed on top of her, his body covering hers completely and pinning her to the bed. He ground his erection into her buttocks, groaning when she pushed her ass up into him.

He rose to his knees, grabbed her around the waist and pulled her against his hips, rubbing himself against her as he used one hand to undo her jeans so that he could slide his hand into her pants and cup her. Buffy writhed against him, whimpering when he pulled his hand out to begin pushing her jeans down. When he had them down to her knees, he surprised her by not following up by unzipping his own jeans, but instead, sinking down on the bed and flipping her over his lap.

“Always keep my promises, pet,” he said with a smirk as he brought his hand down with a resounding smack on her bare rear. Her gasped cry made it very clear that he hadn’t hurt her in any unpleasant way, and he brought his hand down again, admiring the way her cheek turned red under it.

“Beautiful,” he murmured, forgetting about the spanking as he stroked the smooth flesh and leaned over to kiss his handprint. Buffy squirmed on his lap to remind him that she was waiting, and he grinned, nipping at the flesh in front of him.

Her irate, “Hey! Nobody said you could bite me!” made him nip at the other cheek, then take a mouthful of flesh and begin sucking on it. Her muttered complaints turned to moans of appreciation as he pulled the blood to the surface and used his free hand to stroke the inside of her thigh. When he was satisfied that he’d marked her for a while – even if it was in a place nobody but he was going to see – he sat up and began to push her pants the rest of the way off.

Buffy rolled over and kicked them off, sitting up and removing her shirt and bra by herself. When she was nude, she looked at the fully clad vampire and pouted.

“I’m naked and you aren’t. What’s wrong with this picture?”

“Nothing from my point of view, love,” he leered, running his eyes and then his hands over her torso. “I’d like to put this picture on my wall where I could look at it every day…”

Buffy waved her hands in his face. “Hello? Right here? In the flesh? Why do you want to waste time looking at a picture?”

He shook his head. “You aren’t really one for romantic thoughts and gestures, are you?” He laughed and pulled her back onto his lap, cradling her against his chest and nuzzling her neck until she purred and arched it to give him better access.

“I think you’re missing the point,” she gasped as one hand slipped up her thigh to tease at the damp curls between her legs.

Spike ignored her, continuing to run his mouth around her throat while his hand began to stroke and knead until she was moaning and limp on his lap. He moved his mouth to the breasts now within reach and began to suck vigorously first one, then the other while his hand continued to play with her clit. When he heard the little gasping whimpers that he’d already learned to associate with her orgasm, he raised his head to watch her face while she shuddered around his hand.

When Buffy’s eyes opened again, she peered at him and stretched lazily.

“Are you still not naked?”

“Are you complainin’?”

She stretched again, pushing her breasts up toward his face.

“Nope, not complaining. Just feeling a little guilty. It’s been all about me, so far.”

“Suspect it’s always been all about you, love,” he said with a short laugh. “But trust me when I tell you that I enjoyed that just as much as you did. Maybe more.”

Suddenly serious. Buffy sat up and put her hands on his chest. She slid them up to his neck and curled her arms around him.

“You don’t really know me and you’re still being good to me and making me feel like I’m doing you some kind of favor by--”

“By making me feel like I’m king of the world for getting you off while I watch? Not seeing the downside to this, pet.”

“No, not that. I mean, not exactly that. It’s just that… you don’t know me, but you mostly treat me just like you would if you did. Or, at least like you used to want to. I don’t know how you’d be if you had all your memories, but--”

“Buffy,” he respected her seriousness and responded as honestly as he could, “if I can feel like this about you after only a few days, there is no way it would be any different if I had them. Some part of me remembers you – my body knows yours, knows what to do, when to do it – knows that being inside you is the closest I’ll ever come to Heaven… I don’t know why I didn’t come running to you as soon as I could. Maybe we’ll never know. But I know it wasn’t because you were anything but the most important thing in my world.”

At a loss, as she usually was when Spike’s inner poet gave him an eloquence that she couldn’t hope to match, she responded by wrapping her legs around his waist and snuggling closer to him. She could feel the rough denim of his jeans, and the harder roughness of his zipper as he pulled her tighter into his lap. She stayed there for several minutes, grinding herself into him until she could feel him responding in spite of himself.

“So,” she whispered, ‘are you ready to be naked yet?”

“Bloody hell, yes,” he growled, taking his hands off her hips so that he could pull his shirt off. Buffy reached between them, reluctantly moving far enough away that she could get her hand on his zipper. By the time his shirt was off, she had his pants open and was pulling on his cock with long strokes.

“Ah, love, your hands…so warm…so strong…so…”

As he involuntarily pushed his hips towards her, she slid off his legs and fell backwards onto the bed, still holding his cock tightly in her hand. He followed her down, frantically shoving his pants down and trying to push them off with his feet while still remaining close enough for Buffy to continue her attentions. With an exasperated snarl, he threw himself onto his back and finished taking off his jeans, rolling back instantly to pin a giggling Buffy to the bed.

“What’s so bloody funny?”

“You. Me. Us. Come on, tell me if you’d been watching somebody else going through all those contortions that you wouldn’t have thought it was funny. I know you. You’d have been laughing your head off and saying rude, snarky things about how uncoordinated they were and how bad they were probably going to be at shagging.”

He gave a reluctant snort as he settled between her legs.

“Suppose that’s true. I just want you so badly, I can’t think straight. Need to be here –“ he paused to nudge his way into her – “and don’t want to wait one second longer than I have to.”

“You’re here now,” she whispered as he slid all the way in. “I can feel you filling me up. It’s just like I always remembered.”

“Used to think about shagging me, did you?” he grunted, setting up a pace that had her breath catching in her throat.

“I tried not to – but sometimes, when I…oh! Right there! Do that again…”

Conversation tapered off to a series of moans and sighs, leading to a mutually satisfied conclusion that left them dozing lightly, safe and protected in each other’s arms.

Chapter 19

They woke early enough for Buffy to run back to the Slayer school for her evening meal and a quick visit with Dawn and Willow. The girls talked about the purchases Buffy and Spike had made that day, and the things still to be ordered. Excited about the chance to spend someone else’s money, Dawn offered to do some initial scouting around for them, if Buffy would allow her to come along on the shopping trip.

“Dawn, I’m going to be getting boring stuff – a broom, a mop, dust cloths, things like that. It’s not like I’m going shopping for all new clothes.”

Willow smiled, saying with a wistful tone to her voice, “You and Spike sure have gotten domestic. I never thought I’d see the day when Buffy Summers was shopping for cleaning supplies – and William the Bloody was paying for them.”

“I clean!” Buffy said indignantly. “Sometimes…When I’m home…and I don’t have anything else to do…”

Willow gave an embarrassed laugh. “I didn’t really mean…well, okay I kinda did, but only in the most loving way!” By way of atonement, she offered, “Do you want Dawn and me to come out tomorrow and help you clean the house? It’s pretty big for one person to be doing alone. We could help.”

Ignoring Dawn’s “What do you mean ‘we’?” Buffy nodded. “That would be nice. I don’t think I’m going to be able to get Farmer Spike to come inside to help until he’s got that garden looking the way he thinks it should. And I don’t want the guys delivering stuff to a house that looks…”

“Like it’s haunted?” Willow grinned.

“Yeah. Like that.”

They quickly set a time for Willow and Dawn to come out the following day, agreeing that they could follow Buffy and Spike back after their appointment with the Council’s solicitor. Buffy finished her meal and said her “good nights” as she prepared to go back to the house.

“Does this mean we can rent out your room?” Dawn asked. “It’s not like you’re going to be using it.”

Buffy blushed slightly. “Well, we’re not officially living together, you know. We haven’t even had a really big fight yet. He could throw me out anytime.”

“Sheeyah! Like that’s gonna happen.” Dawn’s disbelief was heartening and Buffy giggled.

“Well, probably not. But let’s not give away my room just yet…”

“I was actually thinking more about moving in,” Dawn admitted. “You’ve got one of the few rooms with its own bathroom.”

“We’ll see. Ask me again in a few days. ‘k?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The meeting with the Council’s solicitor went better than they’d hoped. The man, a Mr Charles Smythe, was a bit taken aback by Spike’s shimmery outline, but he’d been warned beforehand that he would be meeting with the ghost of a vampire and he managed to shake hands without trembling. Once they’d settled down to business, Buffy let Spike do the talking, finding to her surprise, that he seemed to know quite a bit about the law and real estate.

Mr Smythe was able to handle the transfer of the house’s ownership easily, as he’d come prepared to do just that. The house was sold to Buffy for a nominal sum, and he assured Spike that he would file the papers as soon as they had completed any other business that might require his services. Buffy had shown him the now-visible bankbook, and had explained about opening her own account and picking up the deposit and withdrawal slips for Spike. When she’d finished, he nodded and leaned back in the chair to stare at them intently.

“I’m afraid I need to ask you some hard questions,” he said with a timid smile at the now frowning vampire.

He glanced at Buffy and at their joined hands, and sighed. “I know only a little about you and your history. Mr Giles has filled me in to some extent, and clearly this is a rather extraordinary situation. Nonetheless, I feel that I must approach it as if you were an ordinary couple attempting to set up a household. If that is what you are doing?”

Buffy and Spike exchanged startled glances.

“I…we…we just…I can’t…”

“Don’t know what we’re doing, do we?” Spike said, somewhat more articulately. “We don’t know how long I’m going to be around. Could be forever, could be I’ll be nothing but a memory by this time tomorrow. I need to know that Buffy’s safe when she’s in the house – we’ve taken care of that. At least as far as other vampires are concerned. And…” He shot a sideways look at Buffy. “And, if it’s alright with her, I’d like to know that she’s taken care of if, or when, something happens to me.”

Buffy’s face whitened at his casual reference to his possible disappearance, and he squeezed her hand reassuringly.

“’s alright, love,” he said softly. “I’m not feeling any less real than I was before. I just want to be prepared for any eventuality. Want you to have the house and whatever money I’ve got. Know I won’t be needing it, don’t I?”

She bit her lip and nodded; they turned their attention back to Mr. Smythe.

“So, I can assume then that you trust her?”

The answering growl was apparently sufficient and the man nodded and went on quickly.

“In that case, I suggest a couple of things. The first one is to give Miss Summers a lasting power of attorney. That way, she will have access to your financial papers and bank accounts. She will be able to pay the bills – including putting money into her own account to pay off the items already purchased – and she will be able to handle any other legal matters that might be awkward for you to do yourself.”

“Sounds about right,” Spike agreed. “What else?”

“Well -- and here is where things become a bit irregular. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a will of sorts.”

“Of sorts?”

“The wording will have to be a bit unusual. You are, after all, technically already dead.”

“Have been for over 130 years,” Spike agreed.

“However,” Smythe went on, “in order for Miss Summers to retain possession of your assets -- with the exception of the house, which will already be hers – she will need to inherit them from you upon your…your…”

At a loss, his voice trailed off. Giles, who had been sitting quietly up until now, came to his rescue.

“I hardly think an actual will is necessary,” he said shortly. “Buffy will have possession of the house – if she wants it. And she is employed, so inheriting money, while a boon, no doubt, for the local shoe shops, is not something she needs to be overly concerned about. Spike could, perhaps, sign something in front of us that indicates that in the event he moves on, Buffy is to retain her legal right to handle his financial affairs. Surely that is sufficient. We’re not talking about the crown jewels here, are we?”

He sat back, looking quite satisfied with himself until he noticed Spike’s uncomfortable expression.

“Are we?” Giles repeated.

The ghost shrugged. “Seems like I was a pretty canny businessman,” Spike said, pointing at the bankbook. “That’s not the only thing that I found in the house.”

Giles stared at the vampire he’d thought he knew well and shook his head.

“The primary issue remains the fact that Buffy will already have possession of your power of attorney and the house. Whether you are physically present on this plane or not may not be relevant.”

“Buffy is sitting right here!” Snatching her hand from Spike’s she glared at him. “And we will be talking about this later – Mr I need money for cigarettes and blood!” She stood up and walked to the door, whirling to face the three surprised men.

“Contrary to what you may think, I do have a brain. I do have a job. And I’ve been taking care of myself for quite a while now. If something should …happen…” she faltered for a second, then raised her chin. “If he goes away, I’d want to keep the house because it’s his and it will hold some good memories. But I’m not some fragile little flower that needs to be ‘taken care of’ if he’s not here anymore.”

She glared at the men in the room, then dropped her eyes and walked slowly back to her seat. “That’s all,” she muttered.

Giles cleared his throat while Spike murmured soothingly into Buffy’s ear, telling her that he knew she was a brilliant and competent woman, but that he wanted her to have whatever he could give her. The solicitor waited to be told what to do next. Eventually, Spike raised his head to look at the man.

“Give me something to sign that says what’s mine is hers – just in case some long lost distant cousin shows up – and we’ll call it a day. The main thing was to make the house safe from vamps and to get at the money in the bank. I’ll handle anything else.”

With a quick nod, Smythe used Giles’ computer to type out a short note making Buffy Spike’s sole heir. It printed out quickly and was signed by everyone in the room, as was the already filled in Lasting Power of Attorney. Shaking hands again, Smythe gathered his things and left, promising to file the transfer of the property and the power of attorney right away.

Buffy and Spike picked up Dawn and Willow, who had relieved the complex of several pieces of cleaning equipment while they waited. Waving brooms, mops, dustrags and furniture polish, they joined Buffy and Spike at the main entrance, prepared to do battle with several years’ accumulation of dust and cobwebs. With much laughter, they gave Spike the bigger tools to carry and waited while he disappeared with them. They all trudged off to the house, ready to make it look more lived in… and less haunted.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Within another day, Buffy had established a routine that would allow her to get two meals a day at Council Headquarters, run any necessary errands in town, and to shower and grab more clothes if she needed them. She would spend the mornings and early afternoons at the Council, doing laundry, visiting with Dawn and Willow, and, at Giles’ urging, covering a few of the slayer training classes. Following that, she would eat an early evening meal and head for Spike’s while it was still early enough to work in the garden.

Only on the days when deliveries were scheduled, did she stay much past ten in the morning, leaving Spike grumbling about being deserted, even as he went back to sleep. Their lives were settling into an easy rhythm of love-making, gardening and frequent trips to and from the Slayer School where Buffy was now an official instructor.

Resigned to the idea that they were probably going to have little control over what happened to Spike, and confident that nothing they’d said or done so far had caused him to vanish, Buffy began to gradually fill him in on more of their history, as well as their final days in Sunnydale. It became a bedtime ritual – for Buffy to tell him about another act in the drama of their lives every night before they went to sleep.

“I wish I could tell you more about Angel and his team,” she said when he’d expressed some frustrated interest in what he’d been doing in Los Angeles. “But we really don’t know very much. After Angel took over Wolfram and Hart, Giles and I were afraid he might have lost his soul again, and we sort of…pulled back.”

“Seems odd, that’s all. That I wouldn’t have come after you; or that someone wouldn’t have told you about me.”

“The only one who knew was Andrew – the vampire hero-worshipping little worm – and you asked him to let you tell me in your own time. I didn’t know anything until it was too late. And all he told me then was that you’d been a ghost for a while, and that Dana cut your hands off. And that you made him promise not to tell me about him.”

“I’m sorry, love,” he said, detecting a strong note of sadness in her voice. “Don’t know what I was thinking, but I know I never meant to hurt you.”

“Don’t apologize,” she said, turning her face into his bare shoulder and kissing the smooth skin there. “It wasn’t the you who’s here now. You probably had a reason – it might even have been a good one…” Her tone indicated how unlikely she found that idea, and he laughed, distracting her with deep, slow kisses until she forgot to be annoyed with him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Slowly, as she brought more and more of her clothes to the house, she spent less and less time at the school complex. With a hot water heater now installed, the shower had been rendered comfortable for human use; and with the microwave and refrigerator plugged in and working, there was really no great need for Buffy to go to the Council grounds except to teach her classes and to do an occasional load of laundry. On the day that Spike surprised her by having a small washer and dryer delivered and installed, Buffy finally agreed to move in completely.

She left her posters for Dawn, who had promptly taken possession of the nicer room and offered to help Buffy move the rest of her stuff to Spike’s house.

“I guess it really isn’t Spike’s house, anymore, is it?” she mused, while helping Buffy decide about the posters.

“It will always be Spike’s house,” Buffy responded firmly. “It’s just technically mine, so that vamps can’t get in.”

“Uh huh.” Dawn was dubious, having heard rumors about her sister’s new-found wealth. No one would admit to having listened in on any conversations, but within a day or two, almost everyone in the complex had known about the oldest slayer and her ghostly partner. Only the kitchen staff and other townspeople working around the complex had not been included in the gossip.

“What are you going to do about your stuff in Cleveland?”

“I don’t know. I guess I’ll ask Faith to get some girls to help her pack it up and ship it here. I miss my music and my…stuff.”

Dawn nodded. “Yep. It’s important to have all your stuff.”

“It is! You don’t realize it until you’re living in somebody else’s house and using their stuff.”

“You don’t feel like it’s your house yet?”

“I need my stuff,” Buffy said stubbornly. “Then maybe it’ll feel like it’s mine.”

Spike’s expression when they walked in with what little had been left of Buffy’s possessions, made the effort worth it and both Summers girls smiled to see his obvious joy.

“Okay,” Dawn said. “If Spike could appear in public, we could all go out for dinner to celebrate.”

“Maybe we can pretend you’re somebody else,” Buffy said, sudden inspiration lighting up her face. “Everybody wonders what I’m doing up here in this old house by myself. You can be my boyfriend who just got here from…from…somewhere British.”

“Your boyfriend?” Disappointment colored his voice and Dawn and Buffy exchanged looks.

“Or your fiancé?” Dawn offered quickly. “You know, somebody who has a right to live here?”

“Or my husband,” Buffy said softly, never taking her eyes off Spike’s. “Who just happens to have the same name as the man who used to own the house…”

“Not going to fool anybody with that, love,” he warned, moving closer to her. “Not anybody who knows anything.” In spite of his words, he was almost beaming at the thought as he ran his knuckles down her cheek.

“I suppose not,” she sighed. “But you could be my fiancé, couldn’t you? You could have a different name – Randy Giles, maybe?”

Spike frowned in confusion as Dawn snorted. Soon, she and Buffy began to giggle and then roar with laughter. When they finally tapered off to no more than snorts and snuffles, they realized that he was not feigning his impatience and anger.

“I’m sorry…” Buffy gasped. “I’ll explain that later. I promise. It’ll be tonight’s story.”

“Better be a bloody good one,” he muttered, his feelings not really soothed.

“Oh, it is!” Dawn promised. “You have no idea.”

Somewhat mollified, he relaxed and pointed out that the Wolfram and Hart “minion’ as Buffy continued to call him, would recognize him if he saw them out and about.

“Well, this just sucks.”

With both women wearing almost identical pouts, he shook his head and relented.

“Tell you what. We’ll go out and I’ll just do my invisible ghost act. With two of you there, maybe nobody will notice that you aren’t always talking to each other.”

Happy to have reached a compromise, Dawn hustled them out the door before Spike could change his mind.

“I hear you’re rich,” she said to him as she walked out the door. “I guess that means you’re buying.”

“I guess it does,” he agreed cheerfully, fully aware that the money in his pocket was going to be just as invisible as he intended to be. He grinned and escorted the girls down the steps and off to town for dinner. While they walked and the sisters chatted, he thought about the way his ghostly life had changed, now that he knew some of what had come before.

As had happened with Buffy, after only a small amount of time in Dawn’s presence, Spike had fallen into old affectionate patterns that he would have thought very inappropriate had he not been told all about their previous close relationship. As it was, he just accepted his feelings towards the two Summers girls with the same ease that he had accepted that there were good reasons for his initial antipathy towards Giles.

Buffy had eventually filed him in on bits and pieces of his history with her watcher, explaining her own disappointment when Giles had not recognized how Spike’s soul had changed him. She’d only found out about Fred Burkle’s death and Angel’s call for help after he and Spike were both dead, but she told him that she was sure some of Spike’s anger towards Giles had as much to do with that situation as it did with the attempt on his life.

“So,” he’d said when she finished her story, “I was right to toss the wanker out of my home.”

He looked at the two chattering girls in front of him and remembered that Buffy’d had no comeback at the time.

Chapter 20

The days passed in a pleasant haze of training, talking and making love on the big bed in the basement. Buffy, who had always walked everywhere in Sunnydale, discovered a love of hiking, and she and Spike spent their nights and a few cloudy days exploring the countryside surrounding the small city.

When their nocturnal wanderings took them close to other nearby towns, their fun was often increased by stumbling onto the occasional vampire nest. They soon learned where the nearest cemeteries were located, and, with the help of Spike’s vampire night vision, the quickest routes there and back. Soon, slaying whatever fledglings they came across became a part of their normal nighttime rambles.

“Mine!” Buffy would shout, as if there could be doubt as to who was going to engage the vamps.

“Have at it, pet,” Spike would reply, leaning up against the nearest upright object to watch and appreciate the fight.

The occasional lone vampire or demon still showed up sometimes to attempt to collect the price Wolfram and Hart had apparently placed on Buffy’s head, but her immediate disposal of each one soon had the attempts tapering off.

Only once had Spike stepped in to interfere, when, upon returning home one evening, they were surprised by a large demon that had been waiting in the garden. Taken by surprise, Buffy found herself in the unaccustomed position of being on the ground, dazed and barely aware of what had hit her.

Before she could recover, and long before the demon could attempt to follow up with a killing blow, Spike had barreled into the much larger creature and begun to express his displeasure at seeing it attack Buffy. For the first time since she’d found him, Buffy saw Spike in his vampire mien as he ripped and tore at the equally ferocious demon.

She struggled to a sitting position and leaned against the side of the house as she watched Spike systematically destroy her attacker. She flinched when he took a blow that sent him spinning away, but her frightened leap to her feet was unnecessary as he was back in the fray before she could ask if he needed help. Gradually, as the other demon began to flag and the fight became more one-sided, Spike slipped back into his human features and his usual joy in the fight was readily visible on his face.

When, with a final triumphant roar, he tore the demon’s head off, she sank back down on the cool grass and smiled indulgently.

“Are you going to beat your chest now?” she inquired when he continued to celebrate.

He gave her an abashed look, but continued to strut around the lawn.

“Sorry, love,” he said finally. “I intended just to teach him to keep his hairy paws off my girl…but, bloody hell! It’s been a long time since I’ve had that much fun.”

“I guess having a slayer school nearby does kind of cut down on the opportunities for mayhem.”

He dropped down beside her. “Says the woman who always yells ‘mine!’ when we find anything worth fighting and killing.”

“I guess we need to find some way for both of us to get our aggressions out,” she admitted. “I don’t want us to start taking them out on each other.” She thought for a minute. “We could spar, though! We used to do that sometimes. When we weren’t fighting for real – we did spar with each other. It was fun,” she added wistfully.

“Could do, if you’d like, love. Don’t want to hurt you, but fighting with you was a lot of fun. What little taste of it I got before you discovered I was your long-lost love and you quit trying to hurt me.”

“Knowing you were my lover has never been enough to keep me from hurting you,” she said, shrugging ruefully. “I’m just trying to be more patient and less physical when you make me mad.”

“And my nose appreciates that, sweetheart. Now, let’s get you inside and get some ice on that bump on your head.”


~~~~~~~~~~~

When Giles hesitantly mentioned that the school’s student slayers were feeling put out at no longer having access to their “final exam”, Spike and Buffy tried to come up with a way for Spike to continue to spar with the girls before they graduated and were sent out to risk their lives.

“They could still come here,” Spike said. “I’ll just fight them outside instead of in the house where something might get broken.

“I wish you could spar with them at the school,” Buffy sighed. “It would be so good for them to train with a real vampire.”

“I imagine having to spar with you is enough excitement for most of them,” he said giving her an appreciative smirk. “Having to face me, too, might be a bit much, yeah?”

“Yeah, since they can’t get at you, they’ve made me their ‘must kick her butt’ goal.”

“You can’t tell me that any of those wannabes is good enough to give you any trouble, Slayer.” He stared at her incredulously.

“Well, not in the sense that they could beat me - no, of course not. But that doesn’t mean I’m not fighting strong girls who are trying their best to do it. One of them might get lucky. As it is, I’m going to be black and blue all the time.”

“Can’t have that. I like you all peaches and creamy…”

“Stop that!” She tried to push his hands away from where they had slid under her shirt. “We have work to do. I have a whole tray full of flowers to put in.”

“Spoil sport,” he growled with mock irritation.

He watched with warm interest as Buffy went to the flowerbed that she’d been working on and began digging small holes for the flowers she’d bought on sale. Even though it was getting late in the season, she’d insisted on clearing as many beds as she could unearth, and putting cheap, root bound potted flowers in them. The grounds around the old house were taking on a pleasantly cared for look that was as much due to Buffy’s horticultural efforts as it was to Spike’s hacking and mowing.

Although he teased her about loving the house and garden more than she did him, he sometimes felt his chest would explode when he watched her planting flowers or dusting furniture. He long since stopped questioning the way he had instantly fallen in love with her, settling for being grateful to have had the opportunity.

They lived mostly on the first floor of the house, although Buffy had claimed the closet and wardrobes in one of the upstairs bedrooms for her extra clothes and her other “stuff”.

“We could sleep up here, if you like,” Spike had offered one day as he watched her putting away some of the things that Faith had shipped from Cleveland. “Since I don’t really have to hide from the sun, there’s no reason for you to sleep in a damp basement.”

“I don’t mind,” she said with a faraway look. “It reminds me of…” She stopped and smiled at him. “I don’t mind. I like it.”

If he was hurt that she was still wishing for the Spike who knew her, he hid it well, only nodding and saying, “Alright then, love. You’ll let me know if you change your mind, yeah?”

As Fall began to put a bite in the air, Buffy switched her allegiance from the summer annuals she’d been planting to pots of mums to be placed on the front porch and in bare areas in the back garden. She was up to her elbows in mulch and potting soil one afternoon when Spike excused himself to go downstairs.

While Buffy labored outside, trying to get all her plants in before darkness fell, Spike worked on making his bedroom warmer and less damp. He’d already brought down a dresser for Buffy’s clothes, and he now worked on placing a space heater where it would warm the room and take the dampness out of the air. At the sound of the door opening, he glanced up to see Buffy framed in the light from the kitchen. He couldn’t have said why, but his heart suddenly clenched in his chest.


“What’s wrong with your hands, love?” he whispered

She came down the stairs slowly, hiding her dirty hands behind her and saying, “I just wanted to see what you were doing in here. I guess I should have cleaned up first, huh?”

The sight of Buffy standing there on the stairs, hands clenched behind her back to hide the dirt and torn nails, threw him a sudden image of another time and another place. A time and place when he’d seen her walking down stairs just as she was now. A night when his world had regained the color that had been missing for the previous 147 days. A time when a younger, more hesitant Buffy, hid torn fingernails behind her back as she came slowly down the stairs, following her beaming sister.

With the force of a hurricane, long hidden memories assaulted him, sending him to his knees. He looked up at her puzzled face and whispered, “Buffy?”

He never heard her frightened cry as he toppled over.

Chapter 21

Spike came to slowly, coaxed out of oblivion by the sound of Buffy’s voice and the scent of her tears. He blinked his eyes open to find her looking down at him with an expression he hadn’t seen since Glory had taken Dawn.

“Hi, Cutie,” he rasped, raising an arm just in time to catch her when she threw herself on top of him, laughing, crying, and threatening to kill him for scaring her so badly.

When she’d worn herself out, she raised her head from his chest and stared into his familiar eyes.

“Are you really you?”

“Think so. Seem to have all my memories back…as much as I can tell right now, anyway. Bloody well know who you are and why having you here has made me such a ponce these past few months. I know that. Anything else is going to be icing on the cake.”

“You haven’t been a ‘ponce’ –whatever that is – you’ve been a gentleman, and sweet and romantic and---“

He raised an eyebrow at her and she laughed, falling off his chest to lie beside him.

“Okay, maybe you’ve been a little…poncy. But it’s nice. And I think it’s probably the real you.”

“This is the ‘real’ me, love. If you want that other one back—“

“No!” She sat up, looking horrified. “That’s not what I meant.” Her voice softened and she cupped his cheek with one hand. “This is the one I want. The one I’ve been missing since he saved the world and died on me. I wanted my Spike. The vampire who loved me.”

“Loves you, Buffy. That hasn’t changed.”

She held his cheek so that he couldn’t look away and said clearly, “I love you, too.”

“I know you do. Jus’ cause I got my memories of the rest of my life back doesn’t mean that I’ve lost the last six years. Remember everything – especially the time since you showed up to protect the Bit from the big bad ghost. Remember it all, love.”

“Oh. Well. Good, then. I guess I’ll go back to my flowers--”

She giggled as her mock attempt at getting up resulted in a growling vampire pulling her down and pinning her to the floor.

“Think you’re funny, don’t you?”

“I knew you’d stop me,” she said, sobering quickly and putting her arms around him. “I knew you wouldn’t let me go.”

“Never let you go,” he agreed, dipping his head to whisper his promise onto her ready lips. “Never.”

“I’m going to hold you to that.”

He didn’t respond verbally, just continued kissing her with the desperate enthusiasm a man who hadn’t seen her since he’d forced her away from his burning body. His lips were everywhere – her mouth, her face, her ears, her neck – licking, nipping, kissing, while he murmured to her of his devotion and happiness. Neither slayer nor vampire could have said how long they remained almost motionless, kissing and caressing in a way that they never had when they’d last shared a bed.

In spite of the hard length poking into Buffy’s thigh, Spike made no attempt to take their reunion any further than the murmured endearments and deep kisses that made it perfectly clear that he was very much the Spike she remembered. When they finally stopped, resting quietly side by side, Buffy asked with some trepidation, “How…how do you feel?”

“Like I just won the lottery,” he responded immediately, then recognized the concern in her voice for what it was. “I feel fine, Buffy. No different than I did before, just as ghostly and just as much here. I think its okay.”

“Well, just in case, if you think of anything you want to apologize to me for, just forget it, ‘k? I don’t want to hear it, and I don’t forgive you for it, whatever it was.”

He chuckled and pulled her closer. “Don’t apologize, and I’m not forgiven. Got it. Sounds pretty familiar, actually. Me refusing to admit I did anything wrong, you blaming it on my evil nature and refusing to believe I’m sorry.”

“Very funny.”

He laughed again.

“I think it’s gonna be alright, love. Look what we’ve got here – a house, a garden, friends and family nearby, a bit of violence when we need it – I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of any way it could be better.”

“That sounds way too much like perfect happiness to suit me,” she said sternly, laughing as he snarled, “I’m no bloody Angelus!”

“I know, I know,” she reassured him. “I was just teasing you. It’s just that, when you rattled everything off like that, it sounded almost too perfect, you know? I mean, how often has anything ever been perfect for us?”

“Point taken, pet; but I’ve got faith in our ability to turn a silk purse back into a sow’s ear. Give us a day or two, and there’ll either be an apocalypse or we’ll be at each other’s throats about something or other.”

“True,” she agreed quickly. “You’ll do something incredibly stupid – like try to steal a bottle of Scotch that you can’t even drink from Giles’ desk ---“ She waited for his surprised and indignant, “How did you--?” before giving him a glare that didn’t quite carry the weight it could have.

“He owes me!” Indignation as false as her glare colored his voice.

“You didn’t know that until a few minutes ago. And it was a stupid thing to do when he’s trying to be nice.”

She stood up and tugged on his hand until he followed her to the more comfortable surface of their bed. Buffy leaned back against the pillows while he continued his protest.

“He’s trying to make nice with a Spike who doesn’t remember that he tried to get me killed; or that he wouldn’t contact Willow so that she could help save Fred. I’m back, Slayer, and your watcher isn’t on my list of people I’m glad to see.”

She sighed and sat up.

“You’re right. You’ve been back for only a few minutes and we’re already arguing.”

“Are we? Arguing? I’m just telling you that I know bloody well Rupert was only helping us get set up here because of you, and because he thought I would never remember why I didn’t want him in my house.”

“Spike,” Buffy’s voice held just the trace of an edge. “He really is sorry for helping Robin try to kill you. And it was Angel he didn’t trust when he called about Fred, not you. We. Didn’t. Know. You. Were. There. If Fred was so damned important to you, maybe you should have made the call. Even if Giles wouldn’t believe you, I would have. You didn’t trust me enough to tell me you needed help. And look where it got you!”

As she spoke, Buffy’s voice had gotten louder and deeper, ending with a final growl that would have done credit to Spike himself.

There was a tense silence, the Slayer sitting rigidly, hands clenched in her lap, the vampire fighting to keep his game face under control while a steady rumble emanated from him. He took a deep breath and replied, “It got me you, didn’t it? Or is that over already, now that I’m back to being me again?”

“Is that what you want?” Outrage and fear trembled in her voice, but her face was a stony mask.

“I’m askin’ you, Slayer. I haven’t been your lap dog for a long time. I might have forgotten how.”

Only inches apart, they glared at each other for long minutes, equally anguished expressions on their faces as each waited for the other to do something before they dug themselves too big a hole.

“Oh, God,” Buffy exhaled sharply. “What are we doing?” She fell backwards onto the bed and stared at the ceiling. “Zero to sixty in nothing flat.”

Spike shook his head and let out a rueful laugh. “Bit of a record, even for us, isn’t it?”

He dropped down beside her, his arm just barely touching hers. He turned his head and kissed her shoulder, nuzzling her and inhaling the scent that was so familiar to him.

“I’m sor—“

“Don’t! No apologies!”

“Alright, then. I’m not sorry,” he agreed quickly. “Truth be told, there’s more than a bit of truth in that. There’s nothing like a good fight with you to get my juices flowing.” He trailed one hand down her arm, smiling when she shifted a little closer to him.

“Your juices are always flowing,” she muttered, even as she rolled towards him and threw one leg over his. “It’s a disease.”

“There’s a cure for it,” he purred, pulling her over to lie completely on top of him. “An’ you’ve got it.”

“That’s going to cure you?” Buffy’s voice dripped disbelief.

“Well, should give me some temporary…relief…from my symptoms…” His words were punctuated by kisses and the conversation soon tapered off to murmurs and whimpers.

Rather than jump right to what he’d indicated would help him with his condition, Spike insisted on taking his time undressing Buffy, commenting upon each bit of flesh revealed.

“I remember this, and this place here, and these pretty nipples…and this is one of my favorite things to suck on…and…oh, how I remember this right here. And it’s just as delicious as I recall it…”

“Guh!” Buffy’s inarticulate sounds were music to his ears and he pulled out every trick he had to bring her off over and over until he finally gave in and sank into another memory, one that felt like coming home.

“Love you, Buffy. Love you forever, never could forget you. Never forget how you feel, the sounds you make for me.”

Buffy wrapped her arms and legs around him, welcoming him back into her life and her body. She held him and squeezed until he was gasping and shuddering into her, bringing them both to tears of joy.

“I love you, Spike,” she whispered as he pulled the quilt up over them. “Love you so very much.”

“I believe you, sweetheart. Never really doubted you, I promise. Just thought my time with you was done and I should let you go.”

“Dumbass vampire.”

“Guilty.”

They drifted off, dozing in each other’s arms until Spike’s vampire senses, and Buffy’s growling stomach told them it was late in the evening and time to get up.

“Are we going to go tell everybody?”

“Define ‘everybody’, pet. I suspect there are some we’d just as well keep ignorant of this little development, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I guess so. We have to tell Dawn – she’s been a little miffed that you don’t - didn’t - remember her. And we should tell Giles…” She waited for his response, but he said nothing. “And Willow. I don’t think anybody else should know.”

“Makes sense to me. Don’t know what the evil empire could do about it, but I’d rather not find out. Might be able to mojo the memory right back out when they find out I didn’t immediately go ‘poof’.”


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dawn and Spike had a moment of awkwardness before she threw herself at him, crying and berating him for dying without making up with her.

“I didn’t really hate you, you know,” she said, earnestly searching his face for any sign that he didn’t believe her.

“You were angry at me, luv. And you had every right to be. Never thought less of you for it. Never stopped thinking you were my Bit.”

“So we’re cool, then?”

“We’re cool, Niblet. ‘n I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you. Least I knew enough to know I wasn’t going to let some wanker shag you on my couch!”

“Spike, you do know that I’m grown up now, right? You can’t go around scaring my boyfriends.”

“Can if I want to,” he said stubbornly. “Especially if they’re on my furniture when they go putting their hands on you.”

Dawn accompanied them to Giles’ office, her smirk almost a match for the vampire’s as they walked in unannounced. Giles heaved a resigned sigh and put down the document he’d been examining.

“Aren’t you going to say anything about the way I keep barging in?” Buffy sounded almost disappointed.

“Clearly it is pointless to continue wasting my breath,” he muttered, taking off his glasses. “What can I do for you this time?”

“You can prove you’re as sorry as the Slayer says you are, by sayin’ it to my face,” Spike said, waiting for understanding to dawn on the watcher’s face.

“I assume from the change in attitude that you have recovered your memories,” Giles replied stiffly.

“Got it in one.”

“Well. This is…unexpected.” He turned to Buffy. “How did this happen? What triggered it?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I was so excited, I didn’t even think to ask him. I just walked down the stairs and…there he was.”

Giles turned his attention back to Spike. “Do you know what it was?”

“I do.”

There was an uncomfortable silence for a minute, while Spike kept the indifferent expression on his face and Giles fought down his anger at the ghost’s lack of cooperation. Eventually he slumped back in his chair and admitted defeat. He looked at the vampire he’d known for so many years and sighed. He stood up and walked around the desk to look down into eyes that gave away nothing of what Spike might be feeling.

“Spike.” Giles cleared his throat and began again. “I truly meant what I said to you some time ago. I would like very much for us to begin anew. I have made many mistakes over the years, some of which you have every right to resent me for. Please understand that I had only Buffy’s welfare at heart; hers and the other young women now under my care.”

“Know that,” Spike responded. “It’s the only reason you lived to become the Head Watcher.” His expression darkened for a second as he remembered that night and Buffy’s relieved expression when she found him alive in front of Wood’s garage. “Though, how you thought taking away one of the only two fighters who were even close to her strength was going to help her, I don’t know.”

Giles nodded. “Quite right. I misjudged both your willingness to do whatever was necessary to end the battle, and your complete devotion to Buffy’s survival.

“And?”

Heaving another sigh, Giles continued, “And it appears that I may have erred in not allowing Willow to offer her assistance when the Old One began to take over Miss Burkle’s body. I had no idea you were there, and no reason to believe in Angel’s ability to hang on to his soul. But I should have told Buffy about it, and I should have investigated. I was wrong and it may have cost Miss Burkle her life. For that, I apologize.”

There was a tense silence while the two men who had more in common than they cared to admit stared into each other’s eyes. Just as Buffy was thinking about poking Spike, he nodded and held out his hand.

“And I apologize for taking your bottle of Glenfiddich,” he said with a small smile. “As the Slayer pointed out, can’t drink the bloody stuff anymore anyway.”

Giles took Spike’s hand and they exchanged a heartfelt, if short, shake before stepping away.

The dramatic moment over, Dawn seized on more practical matters.

“So, is Spike going to work here now?”

They all sat down to work out the practical details of having a ghost working for the Council. A ghost whose ability to leave his appointed haunt and whose recovery of his memories were both best kept as secret as was possible in a small, crowded community.

Chapter 22

Life soon went back to what passed for normal around the Council’s Slayer School. The little flurry of discussion when it became known that Buffy had moved in with the ghost died down quickly when the other girls realized that Dawn had already moved into the vacant room. If Buffy was occasionally accompanied by an invisible presence when she taught her martial arts classes, very few girls were aware of it. Those that were cast anxious eyes around the room, wondering where the source of the disconcerting tingles was hiding himself.

Although Spike couldn’t resist the occasional pat on Buffy’s ass, or, less often, a bump against one of her opponents, it was much less disruptive than he could have been and Buffy took it in good humor.

One afternoon, while she was carefully explaining the importance of good form and technique to a class of attentive slayers, there was a snicker and a cough from atop the weapon storage cupboard. All eyes turned to the apparently empty spot, then back to their instructor who was glaring at the area with undisguised hostility.

She released the class and waited until they had all left before marching over to the cupboard and jumping up to land beside Spike. She had found herself becoming more and more able to pinpoint his exact location, no matter how silent and invisible he tried to be. When a quick glance around showed no sign of onlookers, he faded into sight, grinning at Buffy’s still-angry look.

“What are you trying to do?” she said, punching him on the arm hard enough to bring a wince.

“Oh, come on, Slayer. Half those bints knew I was here somewhere – and the other half have probably heard that when I’m testing them, I can move all around the outside of the house, not just that little patch of grass I used to be stuck in. We’re not fooling anybody here.”

He nudged her side and leaned in to nibble on her ear. “Anyway, you were leaving out the main part of the lesson,” he murmured.

“What was that?” she huffed, struggling to ignore her body’s reaction to his lips which had moved down to her neck.

“Always do the unexpected. That’s why you’ve lived so long and are such a good fighter. Because you don’t stick to good technique and form – you’re inventive. You use whatever’s handy. You aren’t doing these girls any favors spouting that Council of Wankers drivel about form and technique. These girls need to know how to outthink their opponents; not treat the fight like some kind of martial arts contest.”

He shifted into his vampire mien and nipped at her throat, barely scraping the skin with his fangs. “Oops, sorry, love,” he said as he licked off the droplets of blood that welled up. “Didn’t really mean to do that. Just wanted to remind you that we’ve always got our weapons ready. Vamps aren’t going to wait for a slayer to try the next kata.”

“Point taken,” she groused, holding her shirt out. “Did you get blood on my new practice shirt?”

“Didn’t waste a drop,” he said with a final, unnecessary flourish of his tongue. “Shirt’s fine and the little scratch is already closing.”

“Hmmph.”

“Was that your last class today?” he asked, jumping down and holding up his arms to her.

Buffy ignored the offered help and dropped gracefully to the floor beside him.

“Yeah, it was the last one. We can either eat here, or go home and get something there before we head out for the night.”

“Up to you, pet. I won’t be ‘eating’ no matter where we are.”

“Huh! That’s right. You don’t drink blood any more. What was the deal with licking me?”

“Don’t have any urge or need for it. Doesn’t mean I’m going to turn down a sip of Slayer nectar just because I don’t need it.” He gave her one of his best leers. “You still taste delicious.”

“And to that, I just say, ‘ewwwww’.” She made a face at him as he held the gym door for her. “Time to disappear, Spike. You don’t want to scare anybody.”

“Have you any idea what a bloody stupid thing that is to say to a ghost?” he muttered as he faded from sight. “Of course I want to scare anybody. I want to scare everybody!”

“Come on, you. We’re going home before you get us both in trouble.”

“Home it is,” he replied, slipping his hand into hers as they left the building. “I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing that.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After several weeks of having an invisible Spike sitting in on Buffy’s classes, Giles came to her as she was packing up her gear.

“Buffy….and Spike?” he said hesitantly, looking around the room.

“I’m here, Watcher,” came the reply from right behind him. Giles couldn’t help flinching from the disembodied voice, causing Spike to give a scoffing snort.

“Not funny,” Giles grumbled. “Although, I am glad you’re here.” He turned back to Buffy. “It appears to be an open secret that Spike is accompanying you to your classes and the students are beginning to wonder if they can spar with him.”

Buffy exchanged glances with a now visible Spike.

“What do you think?”

He shrugged. “I don’t think there are very many of ‘em that are up to sparring with me yet. They can’t handle you or even the older slayers. I don’t mind helpin’ out, though if you want. We could spar with each other for them once in a while. Give them a chance to see you in action against something besides a baby slayer.”

That settled, they bade Giles a good afternoon and left to enjoy what was left of the cool fall day.

The following week, Spike began his assistant instructor role, to the squealing delight of most of the girls in the class. The few to hang back, either in fear or because they refused to take instruction from a vampire, he ignored for the most part, although he knew exactly where they were at all times.

“Worried that you’re going to be staked in the back?” Buffy asked quietly when she noticed the care he was taking to keep his eyes on the less enthusiastic slayers.

“Thought has crossed my mind,” he said with a shrug. “Probably can’t dust a ghost, but I’d just as soon not find out the hard way.”

Buffy, too, kept one eye on the more reluctant slayers, but as time passed and Spike harmed no one, even the most distrustful girls eventually got used to his daily presence and stopped trying to stay near the weapons. As a reward for the now-total participation, Buffy told the class that the last session would consist of an all-out training fight between herself and Spike.

“I’m not saying that every vampire you meet is going to be able to fight like Spike can. Or be as fast or as strong. He is –was-- a very old vamp, and a powerful warrior. But you can’t know that going in. You have to be prepared to face something just as strong, just as fast, and just as deadly as you are. Every time.”

“Well said, love,” Spike rumbled, quickly squelching any ‘we’re too smart to believe that’ murmurs from the class. “Let’s show them what you mean, yeah?”

He dropped his coat onto the sword rack and took off his boots. Buffy followed suit, taking off her shoes and sweatshirt, facing him in loose pants and a tank top. A student slayer held up her hand.

“Why did you take off your shoes?”

Spike looked her up and down. “Terri, is it?” At her pleased nod, he continued. “We’re going all out, Terri. Means that, while I don’t intend to kill her, and she isn’t going to be trying to dust me – Bit late for that, anyway,” he snorted, “--we will be using our full strength and speed. I don’t want to accidentally ruin that pretty face by smashing it with a steel-toed boot. And I don’t want to risk losing anything I value.” He stopped and conspicuously adjusted himself, until Buffy’s hissed “Spike!” reminded him that he was about to face her in battle. “Um, that is, I don’t want her to give me any kind of serious injury either. That’s why we took our boots off. The vamps you’ll be facing won’t be so accommodating.”

While he was talking, he’d been moving into position so that, as he finished, he could swing a roundhouse kick at Buffy who’d been expecting something similar, and turned her body just enough for the kick to only graze her. Spike grinned appreciatively and followed up with a rush that knocked her down, allowing her to grab his shirt and toss him over her head as she fell. They both rolled quickly to their feet, facing each other with matching grins.

For the next several minutes, the slayers watched in awe as their instructor and the ghost of a now-famous vampire moved with such grace and speed that the fight looked more like a choreographed dance put on fast forward. For every punch, there was a block, for every kick, a counter. First one would be the aggressor – attacking so fiercely that the other could only retreat and look for an opening. Then, opening found, the roles would be reversed and the one who had been retreating would become the attacker, throwing punches that forced the other to duck and weave in an attempt to stay upright. The watching slayers winced in sympathy as fists connected with flesh, or one of the combatants was thrown against a wall or slammed to the floor.

When, with a triumphant cry, Buffy knocked Spike to the ground long enough to pounce upon him and pin him, she raised an imaginary stake. She brought her hand down, fully expecting her fist to hit Spike in the chest. When, instead, her hand went right through the suddenly invisible vampire, she flinched and uttered a small whimper.

“Spike?” she whispered, feeling all over floor upon which she found herself sitting with no sign of the vampire. She leaped to her feet and began looking around frantically. “Spike? Where are you? This isn’t funny!”

“It’s alright, love,” he soothed, coming into sight, still lying where there’d been no trace of his body a few seconds ago.

“What happened? Why did you do that? It wasn’t funny!”

Paying no attention to the curious students, she berated him at the same time as she ran her hands over his torso, reassuring herself that he was really there.

“Didn’t do it on purpose, Buffy,” he said gruffly.

“I thought you were always solid. You said you could stay solid without even trying.”

“Thought I could,” he grumbled. “Looks like I need to work on it some more, is all. Calm down, Slayer,” he added, staring at her intently and jerking his head towards their rapt audience.

“Right,” Buffy said, straightening up and looking at the class. “Okay, then. What did we learn from this?”

“Not to fight ghosts?”

Buffy glared in the direction from which the anonymous jibe had come, then took a deep breath and forced herself to relax.

“Right. Good point. Spike is a ghost. But, if he hadn’t been a ghost, he would have been dust. The lesson is you don’t hesitate when you have the vamp in position to be staked. Just do it and move on.” She gazed around at the still-awestruck girls. “All right, then, who still thinks she wants to spar with my vampire?”


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As they strolled up the hill in the gathering dusk, Spike reached for Buffy’s hand and linked their fingers.

“Quit worrying, Slayer. Told you I’m not going anywhere, and I’m not. Was just a little glitch in my ghostliness.”

“I thought you were gone,” she said dully. “Just like that – no ‘good-bye’, no dust even. Just…gone.”

“I’ll fix it, pet. Was like that for a long time when I first popped up in Peaches’ office. Never knew when I was gonna disappear or fall through the floor. It’s not like being a ghost comes with a handbook, you know.”

“I know. I’m fine. It just scared me for a second. I don’t want to lose you again.”

“Don’t want to be lost, love. Trust me on that. A dream come true these past weeks have been. Wouldn’t trade them for anything.”

As they approached the house, a small group of very toothy demons rose up from the ditch beside the road and blocked the way.

“An’ here I thought we were done fighting for the night,” Spike growled, dropping her hand and falling into a fighting stance.

“A slayer’s work is never done,” Buffy quipped, flipping over their heads while they were concentrating on the snarling vampire.

With no weapon handy with which to decapitate anything, Buffy was forced to rely on her quickness and agility to get in. inflict damage, and escape with minimal harm to herself. She kicked the demon in front of her in what she hoped were its kidneys, sending it to its knees.

Spike, meanwhile, had gone into complete vampire mode, snarling and biting, using his claws and teeth on the surprised demons. He managed to rip the head off his first opponent, then kicked another in the knee, causing it to fall to the ground with a scream. Buffy had picked up a broken post from the side of the road and was using it as a pike to stab at the two demons facing her. The last remaining demon had taken to its heels, running down the hill. It could hear the sound of booted feet behind, but a quick glance over its shoulder showed no sign of the vampire and it stopped in confusion.

An invisible Spike never slowed down, plowing into the bewildered beast and plunging his hand into its chest to pull out its heart. He watched with great satisfaction as it crumpled to the ground and bled out green ichor onto the grass.

Buffy’s cry of rage had Spike racing back up to where she was beating the remaining demon with what was left of her pole, and shrieking at it the entire time.

“I just bought these clothes!” she said, whacking it on the ear. “They were brand new and you just ripped the shirt! And now you’re getting icky green…stuff…on the pants.”

Just as she raised the pole to deliver a killing blow, Spike stopped her hand.

“Give me a second, love. Let’s see who sent these buggers. Be good to know if there’s still a price on your head.”

“One thousand pounds and two virgins,” the demon gasped. His brief hope that cooperation might bring him amnesty was dashed when Buffy growled, “Two what? Oh, that’s just gross!” She impaled the unfortunate demon, leaving him pinned to the ground and squirming weakly until, with a sigh, he stilled.

“Guess that answers that question,” Spike said, continuing their walk as though nothing unusual had happened. “Old Wolfram and Hart must not know yet, or they’d have given up trying to get you away from me.”

“I almost wish they would find out,” Buffy grumbled, rubbing ineffectively at the stain on her pants. “Then maybe they’d stop sending all these lame assassins after me. It’s getting old.”

“Ah, it keeps you in shape, Slayer,” he teased, nudging her with his hip. “Don’t want to be getting all stiff and weak in your old age, do you?”

“Very funny,” she muttered, still peering at the stain. So intent was she on her new sweat pants, that she missed it completely when Spike once again disappeared. He reappeared almost immediately – but in the same place he’d been when he vanished. He quickly strode forward to catch up with Buffy, a small frown furrowing his brow.

Chapter 23

As the week went on, Spike became uncharacteristically quiet. He still went to the school with Buffy, and he wandered around the gym, correcting a lunge here, explaining the finer points of beheading there, but he rarely touched anyone except her. When he saw Giles watching him with a speculative frown on his face, he knew that the watcher had seen.

Spike sent the man a challenging stare, daring him to say anything in front of Buffy. After a few minutes, Giles gave a nod and turned away, his heart already aching for the woman who would always be “his slayer”. He returned to his office and picked up the phone.

“Willow? How are you?.....Fine, thank you…Do you think you could spare us another visit?.... Yes, I’m afraid Buffy may be in need of some support from her friends sooner rather than later…. Yes, it is a shame, but it appears to be happening. I don’t believe he’s told her yet. He appeared to be trying to hide it, but I watched him fade away several times during the course of the hour. He clearly has no control over it, and according to witnesses, at least the first time it happened he was also non-corporeal. I think we have to assume the worst.”

With Willow’s promise to wrap up her work in London and be on a train as quickly as possible, Giles sat back and pondered the unbelievable saga of William the Bloody. From Victorian poet, to one fourth of the Scourge of Europe, to the Slayer of Slayers, to a harmless vampire in love with a slayer, to the only one who could use the force of his newly acquired soul to close the Hellmouth, Spike had carved his own way through the world. Even certain death under Sunnydale hadn’t prevented him from coming back to fight evil once again. And, now, it seemed that his time was finally going to be over. Not in a blaze of glory while battling at Buffy’s side, but by slowly disappearing while instructing novice slayers or working in his restored garden.

Giles brought out his hidden bottle of scotch and poured himself a full glass. He raised a silent toast to the vampire he’d tried so hard to keep away from his slayer before giving in to his rage at the unfairness of it all and flinging the glass across the room to shatter against the heavy oak door.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


“It’s happening, isn’t it?”

Buffy’s voice was calm, but her grip on Spike’s shoulders tightened to the point of pain. He gave a heavy sigh and pulled her into his chest. Instead of answering, he buried his nose in her hair and nuzzled at her neck.

“How long were you going to wait to tell me?”

He shook his head and pushed her out so that he could look her in the eye.

“Until I couldn’t hide it anymore,” he admitted. “I didn’t want you to worry.”

Buffy’s gasping laugh had a hysterical edge to it. “You didn’t want me to worry? You fade away right in front of me, you won’t touch me unless you know I’m not depending on you to hold me up, you don’t touch anyone else at all…” She took a deep calming breath and blew it out forcefully. “I’m not worried; I’m terrified.”

“I’m sorry, love. You know if I had any control over this at all, a flock of dragons couldn’t force me away from you. But I can’t control it. I just come and go – bit longer each time I’m gone.”

“Have you tried?” His raised eyebrow wasn’t really necessary to remind her how unfair her question was, and how unlikely it was that Spike wasn’t trying. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I didn’t mean that. You know how I get when I can’t fight something.”

“I do know, love. I wish it was something you could beat up with those deadly little fists. I do. I wish it was something that I could fight. Know how to do that, don’t we?”

“How—how long do you…”

“No idea. I know I’m gone longer every time; and it’s that much harder to get solid again. But it’s not like I’ve been given a schedule. I’m just taking it as it comes.”

“So, one of these times you’re just going to fade away and never come back?”

“Seems like. Don’t really know, do I?”

Buffy made a strangled cry and sank to the ground. They were in their garden but had just decided it was becoming too chilly to sit outside when Spike had vanished again, remaining gone for several agonizing minutes. Buffy buried her face in her hands and fought the urge to throw herself onto the newly restored flowerbed to kick and scream and pound her fists into the loose soil. With an effort she tried to hide, she gained control over her emotions and stood up, raising her face to meet his worried gaze.

“I don’t want this to hurt you, love. Please. I know you’ll miss me and my tight little body, and my charming wit, and the amazing sex, but…”

“Are you listening to yourself?’ Tears forgotten, she stared at him, taking in the cocky grin and hip-forward stance. Then she caught the shadow in his eyes. “You ass,” she said, hitting him on the chest with the flat of her hand. “Do you think you can distract me that easily?”

“Was worth a shot,” he rumbled, catching her hand and kissing it. “Part of me can’t help but be pleased to know you’ll miss me – but I promised I’d never hurt you again, and now…”

“And now you will,” she finished for him.

“I’m sorry, Buffy.”

“Quit apologizing,” she said automatically. “You’ll make it worse.”

He laughed and pulled her down onto a bench with him.

“I think that ship has sailed, don’t you? Whatever was between us needed fixing must have sorted itself out while we were busy not apologizing to each other. Or, it had nothing to do with anything in the first place and it’s just coincidence that my time is up now.”

“I’d like to believe that, but we both know it isn’t true. You were a ghost for a long time before I came along and started making you remember things. This is all my fault. I should have walked away when I wanted to. Then you’d--”

“Then I’d still be here, never knowing you, not knowing what it was like to have you wrapped around me, hearing you tell me you love me…knowing that you--” He shuddered. “No. It kills me that I’m going to hurt you, Buffy, but I wouldn’t give up these past few months for anything.” He cupped her face with his hands and forced her to look at him. “If I have to leave you, I’m leaving with memories that will make Heaven look like a cheap resort. And that’s because of you, sweet girl. All because you took a chance on me.”

“I think we need to go inside now,” she said, seemingly apropos of nothing.

“We do? Why?”

“Because it’s too cold out here to be naked, and I want to make love to you as often and as much as I can until…until I can’t anymore.”

With a choked laugh, he rose to his feet, pulling her with him. “A woman after my own heart, you are,” he said, slipping out of his coat. “Here, put his over your shoulders for a bit.”

“But…” Buffy automatically slipped her arms into the familiar leather, staring at him with puzzled eyes.

“Shhh, just trust me,” he murmured. “Want to enjoy you in the sun, yeah? Love seeing you in the sunlight – all golden and warm.”

He gently pushed her back onto the bench, kneeling in front of her and sliding his hands up her legs. He pushed her full denim skirt up leaving just her bare legs and boots below the lacy thong she wore. He pulled her forward and dropped his head between her thighs inhaling the scent that wafted into the crisp air. Pushing the thong to one side, he began to lick and nip at the exposed flesh, smiling to himself as her moans turned to gasps and panting repetitions of his name.

When he’d brought her to a shuddering climax at least twice, he moved onto the bench, picking her up and settling her on his lap where she immediately unzipped and unbuttoned his pants.

“That’s my girl,” he encouraged as she pulled him out and began to stroke him. “That’s my very special girl.”

“Your girl,” she whispered. “Always your girl.”

“Mine.”

“Yours,” she agreed again, fastening her mouth on his. Spike moved his hands to her hips and picked her up, closing his eyes and making a low sound deep in his throat as she slid onto him. While the sinking late autumn sun made a golden halo around Buffy’s hair, it turned the ghostly vampire into a translucent shimmer of golden specks. Whispering, grasping, sliding around each other, they repeated the words that each had waited so long to hear. They repeated them over and over until, with muffled cries, they shuddered against each other in a seemingly never-ending spiral of sensation.

When breathing was restored, and they had stopped shaking, they rested, Buffy’s forehead against Spike’s lips. She shivered, the rapidly dropping temperature reminding her that she was sitting outdoors, partially naked.

“You cold, love? Even with my coat on?”

“Parts of me aren’t all that covered,” she pointed out, even as he pulled her skirt down and the coat more tightly around her, covering her bare thighs. “Can we go in, now, Natureboy?”

“In a minute,” he chuckled, leaning in to kiss her. She rested her head on his chest while he stroked one hand through her hair and spoke, almost as if to himself.

“It’s been good, hasn’t it, love? What we have. It was good.”

Buffy had begun to nod when she caught the change in verbs and her eyes flew to his. Even as she watched, he became more and more transparent, until the only thing she could see was the adoration shining in his eyes as they stared into hers.

Using every ounce of will power she had, she bit her lip and accepted the inevitable.

“It’s been very good. Even when it was bad, it was good. I love you, William.”

“Love you, Buffy. Always will. If there’s a way--”

She touched her fingers to his lips.

“Don’t,” she whispered. “Don’t say it…don’t…don’t promise... I don’t want to be the one who pulls you out of Heaven.”

“Can’t be Heaven if my girl isn’t there, can it?” He touched her trembling lip and murmured, “Don’t cry for me, love. Promise me you won’t cry?”

Through the tears already clogging her throat, Buffy choked out, “You know you’ll be really be pissed off if you don’t see me crying when you look down.”

“I probably will,” he agreed, his own voice not only growing choked, but becoming less easy to hear. “I admit it. But when I get over it, I’ll be glad you weren’t sad.”

“Just because you don’t see me cry won’t mean I’m not sad.”

“Well, you won’t seem sad, and that will make me feel better.”

“You’re going to be in Heaven, you big jerk. You won’t need anything else to make you feel better. You’ll be all content and happy.”

“Not if I don’t have you, I won’t,” he said stubbornly. “I’ll be bloody miserable, I will.”

“You are such an ass,” she said softly, stroking what she could see of his face.

“Is that any way to talk to somebody who’s going poof?” he asked, leaning into her hand. He brushed a barely felt kiss across her palm, then abruptly sat up and lifted her off his lap, depositing her carefully on the bench and pulling his coat around her as best he could with hands that kept slipping through the leather. What she could see of his face was twisting in anguish as he struggled to speak.

“I’m sor—“

And he was gone.


~~~~~~~~~~

Buffy waited, huddled under his coat; waited, her legs cramping and her body shaking with shivers that she couldn’t control as the sun disappeared and dusk deepened. She stayed on the bench, shaking and refusing to cry, waiting for him to reappear.

That’s where Giles and Dawn found her the next day, when they came to see why she hadn’t shown up to teach her class.

Chapter 24

While Dawn filled the bathtub with hot water and helped Buffy remove her clothes from her stiff body, Giles used his mobile phone to quietly let the school know that Buffy would not be in. He also called Willow, grateful to hear that she was on her way. He sat in the library, gazing around at the book-filled shelves and comfortable furniture and wondering what might have come of it if becoming human had actually been the reward waiting for Spike on the other side of this plane.

Obviously, the man who’d lived here had been a gentleman, an educated, wealthy man with excellent taste. Smiling at a near-by table where a large screen TV now shared space with a stack of DVDs and CDs, he acknowledged that the man had also been fond of soap operas, cartoons and truly ear-shattering music.

“Inconsistency, thy name is Spike,” he murmured to himself as he waited for Dawn to tell him that Buffy’s slayer strength meant they would not need to take her to a hospital to thaw out. After some running up and down the stairs, Dawn carried an armful of clothes and blankets into the bathroom. Some time later, a pale, wan, heavily clothed, but seemingly recovered Buffy came into the room and huddled under a blanket. She obediently took the cup of hot tea Dawn handed her, sipping it slowly and staring into space.

“Buffy,” Giles said gently. “I’m very sorry.” When she twitched, he added, “I’m sure you don’t believe me, but it is quite true. Even if Spike were not becoming an asset to the school, I would be very sorry…for your sake.” He cleared his throat and continued. “Very few of us are given the opportunity to share a passion and devotion such as that between you and that most unusual vampire. I sincerely wish that you had been allowed to enjoy it for a longer period of time.”

Buffy nodded over her hot tea. “Thank you, Giles,” she said in a hoarse whisper.

When she returned to her mute staring, only taking the occasional sip from her steaming cup, he looked helplessly at Dawn for some way to fill the silence. The younger Summers woman shrugged and sat down close to her sister.

When she caught Dawn swiping at her damp eyes, Buffy blurted, “Don’t cry! He doesn’t want us to cry for him.”

“Stupid vampire can’t tell me what to do,” Dawn snapped back, glaring around as though Spike’s ghost might be still watching them from a dim corner of the room.

Giles narrowed his eyes and examined Buffy’s face again, realizing what had seemed so off about her when they’d picked her up and brought her inside. At the time, his only concern had been to help her recover from a clear case of hypothermia, and the fact that there were no tear tracks on her face hadn’t consciously registered. Now, looking at her bright, dry, unblinking eyes, he understood the coiled tension in her body.

“Buffy,” he began hesitantly, “I fully understand that Spike would not want you to mourn for him excessively. It’s another sign of how fully he loves – loved – you that he would want you to continue to enjoy life.”

She raised those eerily bright eyes to his; giving him a flat stare before turning them back to her drink. Never had he regretted the way they’d grown apart over the years as much as he did now when he longed for her to share her pain with him, to let him take some of the burden off her small shoulders as she would have when she was younger.

“However,” he began again, “I don’t believe he expects you to risk your mental health by not grieving for him appropriately. Dawn is crying because she has lost someone she cared about. Surely he would not forbid you the same release?”

“He said not to cry over him,” she repeated stubbornly, continuing to stare at her cup. Then she raised her gaze. “It’s okay, Giles. I know how to do it. I’ve done it before. It’ll be fine. I’ll be fine. I just needed to warm up. You guys can go now.”

“We’re not leaving you!” Dawn’s shocked response came a second before Giles’ equally vehement denial.

“I’ll be fine,” Buffy insisted. “We knew this was coming. It just caught me by surprise, that’s all. There’s nothing more you guys can do.”

“Well, we’re not leaving yet, so get over it,” Dawn said. “Maybe when Willow gets here…”

“Willow? Why is Willow coming? I don’t need a witch.”

“You need your friends and family, Buffy,” Giles said gently. “Whether you think you want us or not, we want to be here for you.”

Buffy had no reply, except to snuggle down into the blankets and go back to staring into her mug.

Hours later, when Dawn had begun yawning and Giles was barely keeping his own eyes open, Buffy was still huddled on the couch, holding her empty cup. A knock on the door brought them all to their feet. Giles moved quickly to respond, while Buffy sank back onto the couch, disinterest on her face.

He opened the door to find a tired-looking Willow raising her hand to knock again.

“Oh, good,” she said with relief. “I thought I was going to have to break it down.”

At Giles’ disbelieving stare, she amended with a shrug, “Well, or, you know, magic it open. So, how’s Buffy?” she murmured, having already been by the school and learned that something had happened to Spike.

He shook his head and sighed, whispering back, “She is almost catatonic – hanging on by a thread in my opinion -- and refusing to cry. I realize it’s only been a day, but I am concerned for her.”

Willow nodded. “You were probably too busy trying not to die to remember, but when Glory took Dawn that time, Buffy did go catatonic. I had to go into her head and bring her back. She has two responses to that kind of pain – cry her eyes out, like she did when she was seventeen and Angel broke up with her, or go kill something. If she can’t do one or the other, she kinda shuts down.”

They walked to the library where Willow went directly to Buffy and knelt down in front of her. Buffy raised her eyes briefly, then went back to staring at her empty mug. Willow took it gently from her hand and handed it to Dawn.

“Here,” she said, “let’s get you a fresh, hot cuppa, okay?”

Willow stood up and reached into her purse. Walking Dawn towards the door and pushing a small packet into her hand, she said loudly, “Dawnie, why don’t you freshen up Buffy’s tea?”

As soon as a nodding Dawn had left the room, Willow returned to Buffy and sat down beside her. She took Buffy’s now empty hand and held it lightly.

“I’m really sorry, Buffy,” she said softly. “Really, really sorry. I’m gonna let Dawn and Giles go home to get some sleep, and I’m going to stay with you for the rest of the night. Okay?”

Buffy nodded numbly, but she didn’t pull her hand away until Dawn returned with her new mug of tea. She obediently began sipping it; if there was anything about the taste to cause her to be wary of the contents, it wasn’t evident. She continued to sip it from time to time just as she had with the first cup.

Very reluctantly, Dawn crouched beside the couch and said, “I have classes early in the morning, so I’m going back with Giles, okay?” There was no response, so she gave Buffy a hard hug and stood up. “I’ll be back tomorrow, right after class.” Buffy nodded briefly, allowing her eyes to find Dawn’s only long enough to see the sorrow and pity in them. Buffy quickly looked down at her cup again. Acknowledging her sister’s sympathy and grief was to be avoided at all costs.

Clearing his throat, Giles touched her briefly on the top of her head, saying, “I am available if you need me, Buffy. Please…” He stopped, remembering how he’d taken over everything when Joyce died, giving Buffy nothing to do but dwell on her loss. This older Buffy clearly felt no need for his assistance. “Please,” he continued, “If there is anything you need help with, call me immediately.” He leaned down and dropped a kiss on the top of her head. “I truly am sorry,” he murmured before standing up and walking out with Dawn.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For the rest of the evening, Willow held vigil with Buffy; keeping her supplied with the sedative-laced tea until the slayer slid down on the couch and fell into an exhausted sleep. Willow then allowed herself to doze off, waking occasionally to make sure that Buffy was still sleeping, before closing her own eyes again.

Bright autumn sunlight streaming through the open drapes brought her to wakefulness in time to see Buffy disappearing into the hallway. Willow scrambled to her feet and followed, only to see Buffy entering the bathroom. The slayer turned around and raised an eyebrow at her best friend, saying quietly, “I have to pee. That’s okay, isn’t it?”

“I’m sorry,” Willow blurted. “I just…we…I’ll be right here when you come out. If you want to talk, I mean. Or even if you don’t want to talk. I’ll just be…here…in the kitchen…”

“I’m just going to pee, Willow,” Buffy repeated. “It’s not a big deal. I’m not planning to throw myself in, you know.”

“I know,” Willow said gently. “I didn’t mean to smother you.”

With a nod, Buffy closed the door and leaned against it for a second.

“All right, Spike,” she muttered. “You’re not going to see me cry – but you don’t need to see me pee either, so if you’re watching…” Taking a deep breath, she stood up straight and stepped toward the toilet. When she was finished, she washed her hands and took another deep breath before she opened the door to face Willow.

“Hi,” Willow said, raising one hand and wriggling the fingers.

“Hi,” Buffy replied calmly. “Thanks for coming.”

“How could I not?” Willow barely suppressed her hurt feelings as she gave Buffy an astonished look.

“Well, you know. You’re busy, you’ve got your coven stuff and the Council stuff…It was nice of you to take some time off to come here for me.”

Buffy spoke as though talking to a casual acquaintance, someone who had shown up unexpectedly to offer sympathy and support.

“Buffy, we’re all here for you. Everyone who cares about you, or who knew Spike…”

“Well, that’s very nice of everyone, but really? Right now I think I’d just rather be alone, you know? I have to learn to deal with stuff myself. May as well start now.”

Willow gaped at Buffy’s calm demeanor and matter of fact dismissal of the situation.

“You don’t have to be alone!” she said. “And you shouldn’t be. You need your friends and family around you right now.”

“No, I really don’t,” Buffy said, still with a strangely calm voice. “I need some time to get used to…to…” She stopped, unable to make herself finish the sentence. “I need to be strong,” she continued. “I can’t be around people who want to make me weak. This is what was right for Spike, and it would be wrong of me to complain about it. I’m just going to accept it and deal.”

“Buffy…”

“I’ll be fine, Willow. I’ve made my peace with it. It’s not like he hasn’t died on me before.” She walked to the refrigerator and took out a bottle of water. “You can go back and tell Giles that I’ll be in tomorrow to teach my classes.”

“This is not healthy.”

“It is for me. I need for everyone to accept it, as I have. I don’t want them making a fuss over me or telling me they’re…they’re…” Her breath caught and Willow thought she saw a crack in the armor before Buffy recovered herself and continued. “I don’t need to hear that anyone is sorry. Spike is in Heaven. We should be happy for him, not sorry.”

“It wouldn’t be Spike they’d be feeling sorry for,” Willow said gently. “It’s okay for you to mourn, Buffy. It’s healthy. You need to.”

“Don’t tell me what I need.”

Willow looked at the rigid, but outwardly calm slayer and nodded.

“Okay. I’m not telling you what you need. But I’m not leaving, either. I’m staying until I know that you’re going to be all right.” When Buffy glared at her, Willow pointed to her own face. “You know what Xander calls this face,” she said. “And you know that resolve face means I’m not giving up.”

“You’re arguing with a slayer,” Buffy growled. “Are you sure you want to do that?”

“You’re arguing with someone who can turn you into a rat and keep you in cage until you come to your senses,” Willow shot back. “Are you sure you want to do that?”

The two old friends glared at each other, with Buffy looking away first.

“I need to kill something.”

“There! Now see? That’s healthy.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

True to her word, Willow remained with Buffy for the next several days, growing more and more worried as the slayer continued to go through the motions of living without showing a trace of emotion. The worried witch even accompanied Buffy on her first nocturnal excursion, flicking away a hungry vamp with a small sunburst from her fingers while she watched Buffy dust his four friends one after the other.

Knowing how often Spike and Buffy had gone hunting together, Willow wasn’t really surprised to find that the act of staking the vampires had come closer to breaking down Buffy’s detached manner than any of the unwanted attempts at comfort she’d been offered. Willow watched carefully as the slayer stood and stared at the piles of dust, her fists clenched tightly at her sides and her whole body shaking with effort.

Finally, with a gasp, Buffy seemed to regain the iron hold she’d put on her emotions and she turned, ready to head for the house. All Willow’s attempts to chat while they hiked back, even her mild complaint that she wasn’t a slayer and was used to a more sedentary life style, had no effect on Buffy. With single-minded determination, she trudged homeward, leaving Willow to keep up as best she could.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was weeks later, when Willow had almost given up and gone back to London for a while, that she found Buffy lying in bed, wrapped in Spike’s coat.

“Hey,” she said softly. “I thought you’d be up by now. I hope I didn’t wake you?”

Buffy’s hollow-eyed stare made any reply unnecessary. While she dutifully went to bed every night, she didn’t sleep unless Willow had talked her into drinking a cup of “herbal tea”. If Buffy knew that she was being drugged into oblivion most nights, she didn’t object, just sipped the tea and handed the mug back with a muffled “Thank you”.

Willow stood by the bed, uncomfortably aware that she was probably invading what Buffy considered hallowed space. Spike’s clothes still hung in the wardrobe, his book was still beside the bed, as was his note pad and pen. She was just turning to go back upstairs when Buffy’s voice floated to her.

“It doesn’t smell like him,” she said quietly.

Willow whirled.

“What doesn’t?”

“The coat. It doesn’t smell like him. Neither does the bed. They should smell like Spike, and they don’t.”

“Maybe it’s just fading…”

“No. Ghosts have no scent. Nothing smells like him. His old coat – the one in Sunnydale – it smelled like leather and whiskey and cigarettes… and Spike. This one just smells like leather. It could be anybody’s.”

Willow approached cautiously. Something in Buffy’s voice resonated in a way she hadn’t heard yet.

“But it is Spike’s coat, isn’t it? You know that, even if it doesn’t smell like him, right?”

Buffy turned on her eyes that brimmed with the tears she’d been holding back for weeks.

“But is should smell like him!” she insisted, her voice beginning to tremble. “It should smell like Spike, and it doesn’t!”

“Oh, sweetie,” Willow whispered, slipping onto the bed and putting her arms around her friend.

The dam broke.

Chapter 25

An hour later, when Willow’s arm had gone to sleep, she finally had to slip it out from under the still sniffling slayer.

“I’m sorry, Buffy, but that arm seriously thinks it doesn’t belong to me anymore.”

Taking a deep breath and blowing it out explosively, Buffy nodded and shifted away from Willow’s comforting embrace. She lay on her back, staring at the ceiling through eyes that, for the first time in weeks, didn’t feel like they were full of sand.

He was gone. He was really, totally, not coming back gone.

This time, when the tears began to leak out again, trickling down the side of her face and into her hair, she didn’t try to stop them. She was completely sobbed out, but the tears that she’d fought for weeks would no longer be denied. She swiped at her eyes and sat up, trying to pretend that the painful lump she’d carried in her chest for the past month was not noticeably smaller. She caught Willow watching her, a small smile just visible on the witch’s mouth.

“If you say ‘I told you so’, I’m going to hurt you.”

“I wouldn’t think of it,” Willow said almost cheerfully.

“I just spent an hour wailing about the death of the man I love. What in the hell is making you so bubbly?”

“That you just spent the past hour mourning for the man you love,” Willow responded. “You have no idea how different -- how…alive you look now. “

“It still hurts!”

“Of course it does, sweetie. And it will hurt. You know that. You’ve been here before. It will hurt, and you’ll cry, but each time it will be a little easier...until one day you’re back where you were before you found him. Back to when you thought he’d been gone for years, and you could remember the vampire who loved you without crying for him. And you could smile when you thought about him.”

“I suppose you think this makes you sound all wise and…wise,” Buffy grumbled, barely suppressing her own small smile.

Willow lowered her eyes and spoke in a more subdued voice. “I had to spend a lot of my time with the coven learning about grieving and how to do it in ways that wouldn’t hurt myself or those around me.”

“Oh, Wills, of course you did.” Buffy scolded herself for forgetting that Willow had also lost someone she loved very much, just after reconciling with her. “I’m sorry – sometimes I just forget that other people have lost lovers, too.”

“Buffy, for the Goddess’ sake, don’t apologize to me about that. Your loss is right now. Mine was years ago. I’m just saying that I know how it feels and that I know it gets better…eventually.”

Buffy sighed and reached for a dirty shirt lying on the floor. She blew her nose loudly and nodded.

“I do, too,” she admitted. “My mom, Angel, Spike twice before already…” She gave a shaky laugh and threw the shirt back on the floor. “You’d think I’d have it down to a science by now, wouldn’t you?”

“I sincerely hope that neither one of us becomes so used to having loved ones die that we get good at grieving,” Willow said, standing up and stretching. “But I’m glad you finally let yourself cry it out.”

She looked at Buffy’s dubious face and continued.

“Spike probably didn’t mean it when he said not to cry, anyway. If I know him, he’s congratulating himself that you really did love him.”

Buffy snorted, requiring her to grab the dirty shirt off the floor again.

“Yeah, that’s what I told him. He’d be royally pissed if he thought I wasn’t missing him – I don’t care what he said about not crying.”

“Exactly. Now, how about you come down to the school with me and we have lunch with Dawn?”

Buffy shook her head.

“You go on. I know you’ve been putting important stuff off, hanging out here to babysit me. Go on back and tell them I’m going to be all right.”

Willow wavered. “Are you going to cry if you feel like crying?”

“I promise.” Buffy held her hand up and swore. “I promise to cry every time I think about him. Well,” she hesitated. “Unless I’m in the middle of a class or something – cause that just wouldn’t work. The girls have to respect me and they can’t do that if I’m falling apart every few minutes.”

“They do respect you. And I doubt anyone would fault you for having a moment every now and then – especially when you’re teaching them to fight and something reminds you. But I’ll let that go. If you promise not to fight it when you aren’t teaching or slaying, I’ll allow you to hold it in when you think you should.”

“You’ll ‘allow’ me, huh?”

Willow nodded.

“Are you speaking as the Council’s head witch?”

“I’m speaking as your best friend,” Willow said softly. “The one who doesn’t want you to go crazy from trying to pretend that something very bad hasn’t happened to you.”

“Oh.” Buffy stood up and pulled Willow into a grateful hug. “You are the best of best friends,” she said, her voice muffled. “But now I think I want to cry again, so maybe…?”

“I’m gone. I’ll check on you after class, okay?”

“Okay. And, Willow…thank you.”

“Hey, what are friends for if they can’t make you cry?”



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The following evening, after teaching her last class, Buffy joined Dawn in the Council’s dining room.

“I’m glad you’re eating here again,” Dawn said with a tentative smile. “I worry about you up in the old house by yourself. I know you probably aren’t eating without Spike there to remin—Oh, Buffy! I’m sorry. I didn’t--”

“It’s okay,” Buffy said softly. “It’s not like I’m going to forget that he’s not here anymore just because nobody mentions it. And yeah, once I get through wallowing – which, by the way, has not happened yet – I’ll probably go back to eating here a lot. Cooking? So not my thing.”

“Well, I know you’re welcome to eat here whenever you want to. Giles said so. He…we…we’ve all been really worried about you. I mean, I checked on you when I could, but if it weren’t for Willow reporting in every couple of days…”

“I know. It’s just…easier…if I don’t have to be around a lot of people who are feeling sorry for me. You know? I’d rather wallow in private.”

“I…I’d kind of thought maybe…we’d…but that’s okay. You’ll cope in whatever way’s best for you, and I’ll just …cope.”

Dawn had loved him almost as much as she had. The thought pierced the shell of grief that Buffy wore so proudly, and she clutched at her sister’s hand.

“I’ve been a selfish bitch,” she said fiercely, willing Dawn to agree. “I never thought—oh, Dawn. Of course you’re mourning, too. How could I forget that? After Sunnydale, you were the only one who…I am so sorry, Dawnie.”

“No, it’s okay. This was different. I get that. You and Spike were really a couple this time -- I mean, all out in the open and stuff. And you were living together and…and he and I were just beginning to be friends again. I loved him, and I’m sorry he’s gone, but I know the hole in my life is tiny compared to yours. And I have other things to fill it with.”

The reminder that Dawn had a boyfriend as well as close friends within the school, rather than making Buffy feel better, just drove home how dependent she had become on Spike. Just as they had that last horrible year in Sunnydale, when they’d relied upon each other for everything, shutting out the rest of the world and living in each other’s shadow, they’d been completely wrapped up in one another.

Just without the annoying potentials, frightening monster vamps and the First Evil…and with more sex.

Vowing to become more involved in both the school and the lives of the people in it, she smiled at Dawn and said sincerely, “How is Teddy? I haven’t seen much of him since--”

“Yeah, Spike had his usual dampening effect on my love life,” Dawn sighed. “But he’s okay. I told him he just was going to have to get used to having a vampire – or a ghost – glaring at him. At least until he could prove to Spike that his intentions are honorable.”

“And are they?”

Dawn shrugged. “I don’t think either one of us is ready to think about marriage, if that’s what you mean. We need to graduate, figure out where we’ll be working within the Council…we want to stay together, but…” She shrugged again. “We’ll just have to see, I guess.”

Buffy nodded and said, almost wistfully, “That sounds sensible; and so…so normal.”

“Well, yeah, compared to boinking the soul out of a two hundred year old vampire when you were seventeen, sending his evil self to hell and then dating him for another year before he left you so you could be ‘normal’. Not to mention the secret, hyped up Army guy who couldn’t deal with having a girlfriend who was stronger than he was--”

“Okay, okay. I get the picture. Buffy not normal.” Under her breath she muttered, “Lectures on normal from a gazillion year old ball of energy…”

“I heard that, you know,” Dawn said smugly. “I dealt with my Keyness – you’re stuck with being a slayer.”

“Yay, me”

“Oh, you know you wouldn’t give up those superpowers. Just imagine how you’d feel if every time you wanted to punch somebody, you hurt your hand?”

“Feeling that urge right now, actually,” Buffy said, smothering a smile.

“Pffft. Like I’m afraid of you, shrimp.” Dawn stood up to her full height and picked up her tray. “Come on. I want to show you my new blouse before you go home.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As Buffy trudged back to the building that she continued to think of as Spike’s house, she sighed at how much longer and more boring the walk seemed now that there was no ghost accompanying her or waiting for her on the front steps.

“I know it wasn’t this far to the house before,” she grumbled to herself. “And it wasn’t nearly this boring to--” She paused as two vampires stepped into the road. “Okay, boring over.”

“Prepare to die, Slayer,” the taller one said with a thick Spanish accent.

“You forgot the ‘My name is Inigo Montoya’ part.”

“Que?”

“Never mind. What do you want?”

“We are going to kill you.”

“Yeah, yeah, we’ll get to that; but I mean, seriously, what do you want? ‘Cause those thousand pounds and two virgins? So not happening for you.”

“How did she know--?”

“Silence!” the apparent leader hushed his minion. “It doesn’t matter how she knows. It matters only that we have her and that we leave her body in the correct place.”

Buffy rolled her eyes and held up the stake that she had immediately pulled from her coat pocket. Without waiting for a signal to begin, she ran at the still speaking vampire and pushed the stake through his heart. Before his companion could decide if he should fight or flee, Buffy had him on the ground with the stake over his heart.

“Okay, here’s how this is going to go,” she said cheerfully. “I’m not going to stake you right now because I want you to go back to Wolfram and Hart and deliver a message from me, ‘k?”

The terrified vampire nodded dumbly.

“You go back and tell them that they can keep sending killers after me for as long as they want to, and I’ll just keep slaying them. But they need to drop the part about making sure that Spike sees it, ‘cause he’s gone. You got that? Tell them he’s gone. He ‘moved on’ to wherever he was going and he’s not coming back. You tell them that. Got it?”

The vampire looked into her tear-filled eyes that still managed to make his bowels clench in fear and he nodded again, vowing that if he got away from this small town alive he would never go anywhere near a slayer. Never again.

“Okay then. You and I are going to take a little walk to the train station. Just to be sure that you do what you’re told.”

She stood up, yanking the vamp to his feet and twisting one arm behind his back. Even more frightening than the stake in her other hand was the incredible strength in the arm holding him. It was beginning to dawn on him that the girl he’d come there to help kill might not be an ordinary slayer. He had an additional nervous moment when they got to the train station and the struggle Buffy was having with herself to allow him to go free became very apparent.

“I’m going to do just what you said, I promise,” he babbled. “I’m not going to touch anybody, just get on the train and go right back to Wolfram and Hart. I swear!”

Buffy glared at his cowering figure, fighting the urge to just remove him from the world forever. With a final “get out of here” she shoved him towards the train, then changed her mind and threw the stake unerringly into his back. She watched his dust drift onto the tracks, then sighed and began the long trek back to the house.

I guess I can always send them an e mail…”Hey, evil law firm. Spike is out of your reach now. Give it up!”


~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Once again, life settled into a routine – this time minus the love making, verbal sparring, and the occasional loud discussion that had kept it from feeling like a routine when Spike was around. Buffy would have a cup of strong tea in the sunny kitchen when she woke up, then shower, grab a quick snack and head for the Council complex. She divided her time between teaching classes to the newer slayers and consulting with Giles about what areas in the world seemed most in need of their services.

Faith had cheerfully agreed to remain in Cleveland, keeping the demonic forces attracted to that Hellmouth under control. She had become quite good at managing her small group of slayers and Giles was pleasantly surprised at how much she had matured and changed since they first met her so many years ago.

“She’s got her act together pretty good,” Buffy admitted. “I mean, she’s still Faith, and sometimes…but mostly she’s been a really good head slayer. She knows stuff, and she can spot when somebody is having problems or might be heading for some kind of mental crisis. Things like that self-absorbed Buffy isn’t quite so good at seeing.”

Giles shook his head at Buffy’s self-deprecating words.

“No other slayer has ever had to deal with the diverse challenges you dealt with at a very young age, Buffy. When one is going from one potentially world-ending crisis to another, there cannot - nor should there be – any energy left over for worrying about the inner lives of one’s companions. I never faulted you for that.”

He studied her face, wondering if this might be the time to let her know how sorry he was to have failed her so often and to have lost her trust.

“I fault myself for not understanding the emotional drain that events placed on you, and for leaving you to cope on your own. I’m not saying that if I’d stayed you wouldn’t have fallen into a…relationship with Spike. But, perhaps we might have been able to…you may have felt that you could share…perhaps it could have gone better.”

Buffy snorted. “Well, it sure as hell couldn’t have gone much worse – for either one of us. But somehow, I just don’t see myself coming to you to share that I’d jumped Spike’s bones and then couldn’t stop myself from going back for more – even when I knew I was using him and his feelings for me.”

He sighed, knowing that he hadn’t come close to explaining how badly he regretted both the loss of her confidence and that he had not been there to receive it.

“Quite so. However--”

“Giles, you know as well as I do that you would have staked Spike in a heartbeat if you’d had any idea that I was sleeping with him.”

He nodded. “I’m not suggesting that I would have supported such activity – I am saying there was a time when you would have come to me with your…to share with me how lost you were feeling. I abandoned you to deal on your own with a situation that I can barely imagine. Had I been less wrapped up in my own desire to see you become an adult at an age when I, myself, was in open rebellion against adulthood…”

“It’s done, Giles. Over, done and the leftovers have been thrown away. As bad as it was – for both of us – being with Spike is what got me through. He brought me back to life in a way that the spell couldn’t. If you’d been there to prevent that…well, it wouldn’t have been pretty.”

“And yet,” he said gently, “you are once again faced with great loss – not on a par with losing Heaven, to be sure, but a great loss nonetheless. I wish I could…”

Buffy nodded.

“I appreciate the thought, Giles. I really do. But I’m a big girl now. I’ll deal with this and life will go on. Or it won’t; but then I won’t care anymore, will I?” She rose to her feet, not noticing the expression on his face. “Either way, it’s time for me to get home. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She walked out, oblivious to the fear that she’d instilled with her casual “or it won’t”, and to his disappointment that she had chosen not to take him up on his clumsy offer of support. In lieu of providing that support, he reached for the ever-handy bottle in the bottom desk drawer.

Chapter 26

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Dawn’s question seemed rhetorical as she was hanging a ball of mistletoe while she spoke.

“Yes,” Buffy answered firmly from her perch on the ladder from which she was trying to place a star at the top of a heavily decorated Christmas tree. “It’s my house, and I want it to look like Christmas when everybody comes to see it.”

“I didn’t mean the decorating,” Dawn said, allowing Teddy to help her down from the chair upon which she’d been standing. “I meant the having everybody come here for Christmas dinner. It hasn’t been that long, and…”

“And that’s why I’m doing it. I can’t just sit around waiting until I feel like being Christmassy – I need to make myself do it.”

Dawn and Teddy exchanged looks.

“You don’t think asking everybody to come here might be overdoing it?”

“I haven’t asked ‘everybody’, just our oldest, closest friends. And probably the only ones staying here will be Xander and Willow…maybe Faith, if she can come.”

Buffy jumped gracefully down and was starting to fold up the ladder when Teddy stepped in and took it from her. She gave him a smile, saying, “I’m not sure if you’re doing that to be a gentleman, or because you think I’m going to hit something with it.”

“And I’m not telling you which it is,” he shot back as he carried it to the kitchen and put it away.

“Your boyfriend has a mouth on him,” Buffy said to Dawn. “I like that in a man,” she added, as Teddy returned to the living room.

Buffy had wanted to put the tree in the library, rather than in the large front parlor, which was never used. However, Dawn had pointed out that if and when everyone was together, it would be very crowded and uncomfortable in the cozier library.

“Not to mention, the living room has a big bay window just made for a tree,” she’d said, clinching the plan.

The three of them stood back and looked over their handiwork. In addition to the tree and the mistletoe ball, the mantel over the fireplace had boughs of evergreen shrubs, cut from the garden, winding their way through the small selection of Christmas cards that had begun trickling in from around the globe.

Dawn spoke up, while Buffy was rearranging the cards: “Did you know that in 1674 Christmas was banned in England? People weren’t allowed to decorate, or make pies or anything.” She beamed at her frowning sister. “I learned that in a class last year.”

Buffy shook her head. “Nice to know that they’re teaching watchers such important and useful stuff,” she said, going back to her cards and smiling at the messages.

Most of the slayers who had been part of the group of potentials on Revello Drive had stayed in touch with Buffy. However, with their battle-tested experience and the training they’d received before they came into their powers, these veteran slayers were spread around the world, each heading her own small group of girls and responsible for her own territory, so communication was spotty and mostly via email.

Some fat, bayberry-scented candles on the end tables and a poinsettia completed the decorations. Buffy was hoping the Christmas card collection would grow, although she was painfully aware that her own track record for sending cards out every year was not good. However, many of the girls who’d trained under her in Sunnydale made the extra effort to keep up with Buffy’s life and whereabouts, so cards arrived most years.

Dawn riffled her way through the ones already out and asked, “Why did they send Rona to South America? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to put her in a city somewhere?”

“You’re the watcher-to-be, you tell me,” Buffy responded. “That’s one of the things I plan to work on with Giles this coming year. We’re going to go over where these girls have been sent and see if they might not do better someplace else. I’ll probably be doing a lot of traveling.”

“Oh, then who’s going to—umph!” Teddy stopped talking when Dawn’s elbow connected with his ribcage.

“Who’s going to what?”

“Um…uh…who’s going to…to keep your flowers watered?” he recovered as best he could.

“Teddy. You do know this is England, right? It rains all the freaking time! Really not seeing it as a problem if I’m gone for a couple of days every week or so.”

“Yeah, right. That was dumb. Silly me.”

“Dumbass, you,” Dawn muttered, dragging him over to the tree to admire the ornaments that she and Buffy had traveled to London to find. With nothing remaining of their mother’s decorations, the two girls had decided to begin their own Summers Christmas decoration collection by going to Harrods Christmas shop. The tree wore the results of their expedition into the land of overpriced, but unique ornaments.

“Too bad we couldn’t find any Christmas stakes or Santa Claus vampires,” Buffy said, joining them to admire the tree.

“Anya always said Santa was a demon, anyway,” Dawn said. “Maybe we wouldn’t want him on the tree.”

“Oh come on, she said he was almost harmless. He just brought disemboweled children instead of—okay, maybe not, then. I was just thinking a Santa with cute little fangs would be…”

The thought of a small figurine wearing fangs flashed an image of a vampire wedding cake decoration through her brain and directly to her tear ducts. She turned away quickly, not having any desire to explain to Dawn or Teddy why the idea of Santa with fangs had such an effect on her.

She’d been doing fairly well since her meltdown with Willow. Slowly buying things for the house and making it into a home more suited to a young American woman than the ghost of a Victorian vampire. If she occasionally still closed herself into the basement bedroom and had a good cry into Spike’s pillow, it was happening less and less often.

Two months was hardly enough time to work through grieving over Spike for the third time, but she was making an effort to become a part of life at the Council and in the small town. With every purchase made for the house or garden, she became more the American woman who had bought the old house and was fixing it up, and less one of those freakishly strong girls from the old school complex on the edge of town. Everyone knew where she worked, but it was easy to forget that she was one of “them” when she strolled through town carrying her week’s groceries and smiling in her friendly, Southern California way at the people she saw frequently.

Teddy broke into her musings, asking for the third time if she wanted him to bring “a friend” to the Council’s party on Christmas Eve. While Dawn rolled her eyes, Buffy carefully explained, for the third time, that she was quite accustomed to going to parties by herself and that she felt no need for him to provide male companionship for her.

“I appreciate the thought, Teddy. Really, I do. But if I have to tell you one more time that A) -- I’m not ready to date, and B) – blind dates are really, really not my thing…”

She treated him to her best Slayer glare, and he held up his hands in surrender.

“All right, all right. I just thought…He’s a nice guy, and an American and a widower. I thought you two might make good company for each other, that’s all. I’m not saying you should run off to Tahiti with him.”

Buffy sighed and shook her head. “I just don’t want to have to be polite to anyone who doesn’t know me, okay? I’m not ready for that. I’ve got enough trouble with every shop keeper in town wanting to fix me up with their nephews, cousins, best friend’s sons…whatever.”

“That’s ‘cause they all think you’re rich,” Dawn laughed.

“I am rich. At least, I think so. The bank people are always very nice to me when I go in.”

“That stupid vampire.” Dawn said what Buffy had been thinking. “Making us pay him for stuff, and letting you work at Doublemeat…if he was here, I’d rip him a new one!”

Buffy smiled her agreement. “Yeah, he did play us pretty good, didn’t he? Although, in his defense, he did try to tell me he could get money –after I came back. Of course, I wouldn’t have taken it from him, anyway. I guess he knew that…” The small smile vanished as Buffy remembered her callous dismissal of Spike’s attempts to get her to quit her dead-end job. She had no doubt that if he’d tried to give her money, she would have thrown it back in his face and accused him of stealing it.

“Don’t go there.” Dawn’s warning was almost too late, as Buffy felt tears pricking her eyes. “You smiled about him for a minute. Don’t go spoiling it by remembering something bad.”

“It’s okay. I’m good.” Buffy swallowed the lump in her throat and said briskly, “Let’s go make sure I have everything Willow needs when she gets here and starts making cookies.”

With Teddy trailing behind, the two sisters went to the little-used kitchen and began comparing supplies with the ingredient list Willow had sent earlier. They were soon engrossed in flour, sugar, and various other things for which neither of them had much use for on a daily basis.

“Who knew it took so many eggs to make cookies? I’ll have to go to the market again tomorrow.”

“You’re only missing a few things. By the time Willow gets here, everything will be lined up and waiting for her to start mixing.”

“Mixing?”

“You do have bowls and a mixer, don’t you?”

“Um…actually…”

“Okay, on the list of potential Buffy Christmas presents – write this down, Teddy – electric mixer, mixing bowls, cookie sheets….”

“But I need that stuff now! Not after the fact.” Buffy’s face fell. “Willow is going to be so disappointed in me.”

“We’ll borrow it from the school, okay? It’s no biggie. They’ve got tons of bowls and cookie sheets and stuff.” Sensing a meltdown that would be totally unrelated to the lack of utensils, Dawn quickly changed the subject.

“So!” she said with false cheer. “When does Willow get in?”

“Tomorrow night,” Buffy replied, casting a dubious eye around her kitchen.

“Great! So by this time tomorrow, you two will be up to your elbows in cookie dough!”

To her amazement, Buffy’s eyes filled and she began to sniffle.

“Cookie dough. I’m not cookie dough anymore.”

“No, no. I didn’t say that you were cookie dough, I said you’d be wallowing in it.” Dawn stared at her sister’s trembling lip with bewildered sympathy.

“My cookies were baked,” Buffy said, as if she hadn’t heard Dawn at all. “I was done and too stupid to know it in time to…”

“Buffy? You’re scaring me…”

“Huh?” Buffy’s eyes refocused on her sister, then shifted to the equally puzzled Teddy. “Oh, I’m sorry, guys.” She took a deep breath and swiped at her eyes with one hand. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I just…and Angel…but it wasn’t him…and…I never told…but it’s okay. He believed me anyway.”

She forced a smile and said emphatically, “I’m fine. Really. I just had a…a moment. I need to get those out of my system before the weekend. Can’t be sniveling all over my guests, can I?”

“I’m pretty sure everyone who might be coming here would understand,” Dawn said softly, with Teddy nodding vigorously behind her. Then she frowned. “Well, except maybe for the whole ‘cookie dough’ thing, which I’m pretty sure I don’t want you to explain – just in case it’s some TMI thing between you and Spike…”

Buffy gave a shaky laugh. “No, that’s not what it is. But you don’t need to hear about it. I’m okay now. Why don’t I walk you guys part way home?”

Teddy drew himself up to his full six foot three and said indignantly, “We are almost graduated watchers. And we have stakes. We don’t need to be escorted around.”

“Trust me, Teddy,” Buffy said with a sigh. “That e mail I sent to Wolfram and Hart didn’t do a very good job of convincing them that it was too late to torture Spike by killing me in front of him. The road to and from this house is still more exciting than it needs to be sometimes. Just let me get my coat.”

Wearing a soft Italian leather coat, exactly like Spike’s except for being the right size for a small woman, Buffy accompanied them as far as the fork in the road that led to the complex.

“Goodnight, guys. I’ll see you in a couple of days, right?”

“Yep. See you Christmas Eve at the party.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After ten dozen cookies, one crying jag and a giggle about how silly Spike had looked in Xander’s shorts and Hawaiian shirt, Willow and Buffy were sitting in the library sipping wine as they rested with their feet up.

“This was fun,” Buffy said, silently toasting her friend and confidant.

“It was.” Willow raised her own glass in reply, and nodded. “But I’m not looking forward to doing it again until at least this time next year.”

“I’ll drink to that!” Buffy gulped her wine and reached for the bottle. “Right now, I don’t care if I never see another cookie.”

Willow giggled. “Yeah, I know the feeling. I’m definitely cookied out for a while.”

They drank in companionable silence for a while, enjoying the peace and quiet.

“Is your room okay?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah. Yes, it’s fine. I really like what you’ve done so far in those upstairs rooms.”

Buffy nodded. “Yeah, who knew I’d turn into Buffy the compulsive homemaker,” she giggled. “I’m taking my time, though. I don’t want to spend all of Spike’s money at one time. And I don’t want to change too much…”

Willow stood up and stretched.

“If you don’t mind, I think I’ll take a hot shower and go to bed. I’ve still got some shopping to do tomorrow, and then there’s the party at the Council.”

“Sure, that’s fine. I’m just going to do a quick patrol between here and Mildorf. There’s an old graveyard on the way and I think there was a burial there yesterday. Just in case…”

“’k, goodnight, Buffy.”

“Night, Wills. Thanks for the cookie-making help.”

Buffy waited until Willow had taken a shower and made her way upstairs, before putting on her coat and gathering her stakes, hoping to get a good slay in before she got so busy with her guests that she’d have to miss several nights of working off excess energy and meeting her need for action. She smiled, picturing Spike nodding his head and grinning at her desire for violence before bedtime. She’d long since admitted that he’d always been right to tell her she enjoyed a good fight just as much as he did.

Chapter 27

The Christmas Eve party went as well as could be expected in a school heavily weighted with hormonal young women. A few girls had brought dates – boys they had met in town who had not yet had reason to learn about the girls’ superior strength. The male watchers and students were, as usual, outnumbered by the dateless slayers and were in much demand as dance partners.

However, Buffy only had to step in once to prevent two slayers from squaring off in the middle of the dance floor over which one had asked a now embarrassed watcher to dance first. She thought for a second that she was going to have to actually fight the more belligerent of the two girls, until common sense prevailed when the angry young slayer remembered that she’d seen Buffy take down the vampire ghost that no one at the school had ever come close to beating.

“That was impressive,” came a familiar voice over her shoulder as the girl reluctantly agreed to go outside and “take a chill pill” as instructed by the world’s oldest slayer. Buffy whirled to find Xander smiling at her and holding out his arms, his one good eye twinkling.

“Xan!” she squealed and launched herself at him. “It is so good to see you!”

“You too, Buffy.” He squeezed her back and whispered, “I’m really sorry about…you know.”

“Thanks,” she said, squeezing, then letting go before he passed out from lack of air.

Unlike Giles, Xander had been able to completely mend his fences with Buffy. The fact that he’d never participated in the attempt to kill Spike went a long way toward keeping him off her no-longer-my-friend list.

While he’d groused about it, he had taken Spike in when Buffy needed to get him out of the Hellmouth, and he’d driven the car for her the night she defeated the Turok-han and went to rescue the starving vampire. Xander had never blamed Spike for what happened at the vineyard, and he was very aware it had been Spike’s quick action that had saved his other eye.

Over the years, as their grief faded, the two old friends had bonded over their losses on that last day in Sunnydale. No one had been happier to hear that Buffy had found Spike’s ghost than Xander. He had been genuinely pleased for them, and genuinely sad to learn that Spike was gone again.

“So,” he said conversationally as they walked back to the punch table. “How are you doing?”

“Good days and bad days,” Buffy said lightly. “But Willow assures me that someday the good ones will outnumber the bad.”

He nodded. “She’s right. But they sure seem to be a long time coming sometimes, don’t they?”

“They do. But, hey! It’s Christmas. I’ve officially designated Christmas as one of the good days. No bad thoughts allowed.”

“Sounds like a plan I can get behind,” Xander said, reaching for a gaily-decorated cookie and a drink. He took a bite of his cookie and asked, with studied casualness, “Have you heard from Faith? Is she coming?”

Buffy cocked her head and studied his face, then broke out in a warm smile.

“I don’t know. Something was brewing in the Hellmouth and she wasn’t sure that she could leave it to the newer slayers. But we can call her tomorrow if she doesn’t show up.” She reached up and wiped a crumb off his lip. “So, Faith, huh?”

“Huh? Oh! No, no ‘huh’. There is no ‘huh’ here. Just asking about a…colleague. That’s all.”

“Right. And I don’t like new shoes.”

Laughing together, they moved towards Willow and the tall, pretty woman she seemed to be standing a bit closer to than might be necessary for conversation.

“Who’s that?” Xander whispered.

“She’s a new instructor for the watchers. She’s a witch of some sort, but I’m not sure what her specialty is. Willow thinks she’s very talented.”

“I think Willow is planning to find out just how talented,” he mumbled under his breath as they joined the two chatting women. Buffy’s subtle poke did nothing to stop the good-natured leer on his face and the two old friends were snickering together as they joined Willow and her new acquaintance.

“Xander!” Repeating Buffy’s earlier actions, Willow also jumped into her longest and best friend’s arms, laughing as he twirled her around. “You made it!”

“Wouldn’t stay away. Christmas in the Buffster’s new house? A chance to see my best girls? An apocalypse couldn’t have kept me away.”

He set Willow down and flashed a smile at her bemused companion. “I’m Xander, very old platonic friend and co-fighter against evil; and you are…?”

The woman laughed softly and held out her hand. “I’m Emily. Instructor in Earth Magic and newly arrived to the fight against evil.”

“Is that ‘newly-arrived’ as in just started working for the Council, or ‘newly-arrived’ as in formerly evil?”

“Xander!” Willow shoved him hard and glared.

“Hey! I’m not judging here, just asking. I like to know that kind of stuff right up front.”

Emily laughed again, and patted Willow’s hand, which had somehow found its way to Emily’s arm.

“It’s all right. It’s a fair question. And, sorry to disappoint, but I meant newly hired by the Council. It’s hard to be evil and be a practitioner of Earth Magic. They just aren’t very compatible.”

Xander nodded. “Good to know. And welcome to the madness that is the Scooby-run Council of Watchers’ Slayer and Watcher School.”

Leaving Xander to try to charm Emily for a minute, Willow pulled Buffy to one side and whispered, “Emily isn’t going anywhere for Christmas. She’s from South Africa and doesn’t have any family here…”

“Well, that’s a shame—oh! You want me to invite her to dinner? Sorry, I’m not too swift on the uptake these days.”

“Would you mind?”

“Of course not. The more the merrier, I always say.”

“You always say that, do you?” Willow’s wry smile was warm, but doubtful.

“I’m sure I do,” Buffy replied haughtily. “If I don’t, I’m sure I’ve always meant to.”

Remembering the tight-lipped slayer whose house had been full of potentials, watchers, witches and assorted hangers on – and how much time Buffy had spent hiding in the basement with Spike – Willow had to roll her eyes. She knew full well that Buffy was quite happy having the big house to ramble around in by herself. However, all she said was, “Oh course you have. So, it’s okay with you, then? If I bring her with?”

“It’s fine, Willow. I’m happy to see you enjoying someone’s company again…”

Neither one made mention of the several disastrous relationships that Willow had been in since her spectacular break-up with Kennedy several years ago. Although more sophisticated and elegant, there was something about Emily that reminded Buffy of Tara and she mentally crossed her fingers for her friend.

Leaving Willow to extend the invitation to dinner at Buffy’s house, the slayer wandered around the room, trying to see the partiers through Spike’s eyes and smiling to herself at the particularly snarky things he would have said about some of them. She was wearing one of those soft smiles when she heard, “Bufffy? Is it really you?”

She turned to find a stunned Riley Finn staring at her from several feet away.

“Riley? What are you doing here?” She shook herself. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. It’s wonderful to see you, but--”

They shared a chaste hug and stepped apart to look each other over.

“It’s okay. I was wondering the same thing about you. Last I heard, you were in Cleveland.”

“I was in Cleveland for quite a while. But Dawn needed me here for… something…and I just never left. I have a new job now – helping Giles sort out where the slayers are most needed and where they will be the most comfortable working. I think it’s going to be fun. Lots of travel, new big bads to fight…”

“Beats being stuck on a Hellmouth, I guess,” Riley said with a smile.

“Oh yeah. Totally beats that with a stick.” They smiled at each other for a minute, then Buffy frowned and looked around. “Where’s Sam? Didn’t she come with you?”

His face darkened and he shrugged. “Sam tangled with the wrong demon, two years ago. She…she’s dead.”

“Oh,” Buffy laid her hand on his arm and squeezed sympathetically. “I’m so sorry, Riley. I know how that…” She paused and looked at him again. “Oh my god. It was you!”

“What was me?”

“The man Teddy wanted me to meet. American, widower, blah, blah. It was you.”

“And you must be the slayer that Teddy told me I’d have a lot in common with,” he agreed, his smile growing wider. “I never imagined…”

“Ah ha! You’ve found each other!” Teddy walked up beaming, a stunned Dawn following him and mouthing behind his back, “I had no idea.”

Buffy nodded back at Dawn and shrugged.

Oblivious, Teddy went on. “So, have you introduced yourselves, or do I get to do the honors?”

“They already know each other, Teddy,” Dawn growled, grabbing his arm. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me it was Riley.” She pulled him away, obviously planning to give him an earful about trying to set up her sister after having been told not to.

Buffy and Riley looked away, equally uncomfortable about finding themselves in the position of potential blind date. Finally, Riley said with a sigh, “Look, Buffy, if you don’t want me here…”

She shook her head. “No. That’s not it. It’s fine. It’s just that I…I’m not interested in dating; and I thought I’d made that pretty clear to Teddy. I’m sorry if you thought you were going to meet somebody--”

“Buffy. I wouldn’t trade running into you again for all the blind dates in the world. I just don’t want you to feel uncomfortable about it.”

“It’s fine, Riley. Look, since you’re here already, why don’t you plan to join us tomorrow for dinner? If you don’t already have plans, that is.”

“Dinner? Us?”

“Yes. At my house. You’ll know almost everyone – Xander, Willow, Giles, Dawn.”

“You don’t live here?”

“No, I…” She couldn’t have said why she was reluctant to tell Riley about Spike, but decided it was because it was too long and complicated a story for the middle of a party. “Teddy and Dawn can bring you. They know where it is.”

“Okay. Sounds like fun. Thanks for the invitation.”

“No problem. The more the merrier…”

“She always says that.” Willow’s voice floated into the conversation and Buffy turned to her with relief.

“Willow! Emily! This is Riley. I mean, Willow already knows this is Riley, but Emily is…You know what? I think there are enough people here that Riley knows, that I can safely sneak away. Got some more cleaning to do before tomorrow, and…and other stuff. Willow, maybe you can introduce Riley to some of the other slayers and watchers?”

Without waiting for an answer, she spun away and almost ran for the door, escaping into the cool night air as quickly as she could. Only to stop when she realized she’d left her coat behind. She turned around and reluctantly started back towards the door when it opened, emitting warm light and the sounds of music and laughter.

“Looking for something?” Dawn said, holding out Buffy’s coat.

“Thanks,” she mumbled, sliding it on and buttoning it against the chill air.

“So, you invited Riley?”

“Well, yeah. It just kind of fell out of my mouth, you know? You don’t think he’s going to think it’s…Oh, crap. This was probably a really bad idea, wasn’t it?”

“No, it’s not a bad idea. It’s Christmas and you were just being…Christmassy.” Dawn turned to walk back into the party. “But you’d better hope that ghost is gone for good – cause you know Spike would go nuts if he saw Riley in his house.”

With a giggle, she shut the door, leaving Buffy standing in the cold, torn between irrational hope that Spike might still be around somewhere watching her, and fear that he would see Riley and misunderstand completely. With a worried whimper, she began the walk to her house, muttering under her breath about stupid decisions and ghosts.

Within a few hundred yards, she’d relaxed and begun to enjoy the beautiful winter night. The sky was clear, stars were visible, and the night was crisp, but not unbearably cold. She found herself wishing that Spike was there to enjoy it with her, smiling as she imagined him trying to rhyme words for a poem about the picture-perfect Christmas Eve sky. Continuing to smile, she walked on up her hill, singing an off-key version of Silent Night and vowing to get through the holiday without once crying.

Chapter 28

Christmas Day dawned cold and sunny, and Buffy blinked at the brightness as she made her way up from her cozy bedroom. Moving into the kitchen, she started a pot of coffee and put the kettle on for tea. Dawn and Teddy had insisted they would be by bright and early Christmas morning, saying cryptically, “We have a stop to make first, but then we’ll be there right away.”

True to their word, they knocked on the still-locked front door before Buffy had even gotten dressed. Still wearing her fuzzy slippers and a warm bathrobe, she let them in, yawning as she eyed the big box that Dawn was carrying.

“Does this have anything to do why I had to get up so early?” she asked, almost dropping it when it seemed to shift in her hands. “Should I put it under the tree or open it now?”

“Oh, you need to open it now. Under the tree isn’t going to work for long,” Dawn laughed.

Buffy shrugged; she set the box down and lifted off the gaily-wrapped lid. A pair of tiny, dark ears emerged, followed by the bluest eyes Buffy had ever seen. The button nose and whiskers that followed, and the plaintive “meow?” were unnecessary. Buffy was in love already. She carefully lifted the Siamese kitten from the box and held her to her face.

“Aren’t you just the most beautiful thing in the world?” she cooed, smiling broadly when the kitten licked her nose and began to purr vigorously. She looked up with shining eyes.

“Thank you. I love her…him?”

“It’s a ‘her’. Her stuff is outside the front door.”

“Stuff?”

“Yes, you know, food, bowls, toys – litter box. That kind of stuff.”

Still holding the kitten, Buffy walked over and hugged first Dawn and then Teddy.

“Thank you, guys,” she repeated.

“You’re welcome. We just thought you needed some company in this big house. Plus, the breeder said her mom was a good mouser.”

“Always a plus,” Buffy nodded, thinking about the mice that continued to find their way into the old house no matter what she did, or how many holes she stuffed. They hadn’t been a problem when Spike was around, his vampire senses allowing him to find them immediately and either kill them or throw them out into the garden. Either way, they’d rarely come back. However, with the advent of cold weather and the lack of a predator in the house, it had become clear that there was a large “vacancy” sign on the kitchen door.

For the rest of the day, she interrupted her dinner preparations every few minutes to coo over the kitten and make sure she was enjoying exploring the big house. Willow, of course, was enchanted and promptly wanted to name her “Kitty Fantastico II”, pouting when she was voted down and Buffy settled on “Noelle”. By the time the guests began arriving, the kitten was looking a bit worried about all the noise and feet she had to avoid, so Buffy carried her downstairs where she’d set up the litter box, food bowl and a cat bed on the floor right beside her own bed.

“Here you go, Noelle. Nice and quiet, with a comfy bed. I’ll come check on you later, ‘k?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dinner was everything she’d hoped it would be. With the help of Willow, Dawn and later, Emily, Buffy had been able to fill the table with a selection of traditional American and English holiday foods; and she watched with a warm glow as her friends and family filled their plates and ate until they all said they were too full to move. She smiled at Giles -- seated at the far end of the table in what would have been Spike’s place -- and got a warm smile in return. His eyes told her that he was very aware of the honor she’d bestowed when she asked him to sit at the head of the table and carve. They shared a rare moment of understanding before everyone began rising to their feet and carrying their empty plates to the kitchen.

When Buffy finally left the kitchen, having chased her would-be helpers out and leaving the dishes in the sink to soak, she found everyone lolling around the living room, semi-comatose from their meal.

“Hey! What is this? It’s prezzie opening time. Wake up, everybody!”

Xander groaned and raised his hand. “Can we do that later? Like, tomorrow, maybe? I can’t move.”

“Well, that’s a damn shame.”

He sat up suddenly, spilling his drink in his lap as he did so. Grinning at him from across the room was Faith, still holding her suitcase and wearing her coat.

“Oh,” Buffy said innocently. “Did I forget to mention that Faith was going to be here… but just a little late?”

“Very funny,” Xander muttered, standing up and mopping at his pants. Faith crooked her finger at him and said, “Come on, klutz. You can show me to my room and we’ll get you out of those wet pants.”

“She didn’t mean that the way it sounds,” Xander said, blushing under his tan.

“The hell I didn’t! Get your ass over here, Harris.”

Wearing a grin that he couldn’t hide, Xander followed Faith into the hallway. They paused for a quick kiss and grope, and then he pulled her towards the stairs.

“Well,” Dawn said into the silence, “I guess that’s the last we’ll see of them for awhile.”

Giles cleared his throat and tried to bring the conversation back to the original subject. “I believe it is traditional when one has gifts under a tree, to open them while it’s still Christmas Day. Dawn? Will you begin?”


While Giles and Dawn supervised the distribution of gifts, Buffy went downstairs and brought a still sleepy Noelle up to be admired. After everyone had cooed over the kitten’s cuteness, Buffy retreated to the doorway with her. She was standing, one shoulder against the doorjamb -- the kitten snoozing on her chest -- enjoying the warm atmosphere pervading the room full of laughing, happy people when she thought she felt a familiar presence. Lulled into a state of euphoria by the atmosphere in the room, she forgot, for just a brief second, that Spike was no longer around. She could almost hear him leaning down to whisper in her ear, “Well done, pet. You’ve made our house a home. Happy Christmas, my love.”

Unthinking, she leaned back against the hard chest she expected to find behind her -- to be startled out of her daydream by the sudden lack of support. Only her slayer reactions prevented an embarrassing fall as she stumbled backwards, a low moan of realization escaping her throat.

“What is it?” Willow was by her side almost immediately, Emily right behind her.

Buffy looked at them with wide eyes. “He was here, Will. I would swear it. I know I didn’t imagine…”

The two witches closed their eyes and concentrated, snapping them open after a few seconds. They exchanged glances, Willow saying gently, “Something was here, Buffy. But it felt nothing like Spike’s ghost, and it’s gone now. If we’d been a few seconds later, even that small trace would have been unreadable.”

Emily nodded in quiet agreement. “There was definitely a spirit here, but very briefly. A passing soul, perhaps attracted by the lights and all the happy auras in the room, but on its way to somewhere else.”

“It was him,” Buffy said stubbornly. “He told me ‘Happy Christmas’ and said that I’d made our house into a…a…home.”

Her vow to get through the holiday without crying was in serious jeopardy when the kitten distracted her by complaining about the rude awakening. Emily used the opportunity to point out that the kitten had had a pretty exhausting day for a baby, and perhaps would be happier back in her bedroom with her litter box and some food. Grateful for something to do, Buffy nodded and returned the kitten to the bedroom. She set her down in front of the food and went back to her guests, closing the door tightly behind her.

The rest of the evening passed in a blur of gifts, cookies, eggnog, hugs and Christmas wishes. Willow’s whisper that she wouldn’t be using her room because she was going back to the Council complex with Emily made Buffy smile, even as she debated offering the room to Riley. However, the look on his face when he prepared to say “goodnight” squelched that idea before it was truly born.

As he kissed her cheek and wished her a Merry Christmas, he said that he’d like to come to see her the next time he was in London. She answered as noncommittally as she possibly could without being rude. It was pretty obvious that Riley thought they could begin dating again, and Buffy really didn’t want to have that conversation with him on Christmas Day. She waved ‘goodnight’ hoping that Teddy would fill him in on why she wasn’t dating yet, knowing that it wouldn’t take much for Riley to figure out who the ghostly vampire had been.

When the house was once again empty, except for Xander and Faith who had, as predicted, not made another appearance downstairs, Buffy carefully blew out the candles, turned off the lights and prepared to go down to her own bed in the basement. She paused at the edge of the room to admire the still lit tree – now emitting the only light in the house.

“Merry Christmas, Spike,” she whispered before leaving the room and joining her new housemate, now curled up in the middle of the bed.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

January passed slowly, too cold and damp for hiking at night. Even the few vampires and demons in the area seemed to have left for warmer places. Had it not been for her new job, Buffy would have been bored to the point of distraction. However, the occasional two or three day trip to warmer climates to work with whatever slayers might be in need of her assistance or support went a long way toward keeping her sane. And it also allowed her to reconnect with girls she’d taught or worked with in other places. She gradually began to feel like she had people in her life again.

Giles agreed to allow Dawn to borrow his car when Buffy was out of town so she could make daily visits to ensure that Noelle had plenty of food, water and a clean litter box. She’d really not been able to argue when Buffy pointed out that the kitten had been Dawn’s idea, and therefore, Dawn was obligated to help care for her.

“Is it Spring, yet?” Buffy peered out the window at the cold February rain and laughed at Noelle when she stopped at the edge of the front porch, gave the wet steps a disgusted look, and marched back to meow to come back in.

“It’s nasty out there, isn’t it, Noey, baby? Too bad you couldn’t have come to Panama with me. But those demons probably would have wanted to turn you into a snack. You’re safer here.”

Noelle wound around Buffy’s legs and purred her delight at having her person home for a few days. She followed her around the house like a dog, meowing off and on as though carrying on a conversation. Buffy insisted to anyone who would listen that Noelle could say “out”, “hello” and “goodnight”.

“We know you can talk,” Buffy said, picking her up and carrying her to the kitchen. “Who cares if anyone believes me?” She set the rapidly growing kitten down in front of a cupboard and said sternly, “Now, I know I heard something in here last night. So, when I open the door, you go get it. Okay? You’re a slayer’s cat – time to start slaying.”

She opened the door and smiled when the kitten pounced in immediately, to emerge a few seconds later proudly carrying a dead…cracker. Buffy sighed.

“Okay. It needs a little work. But you’ll get it. I’ve got faith in you.”

Noelle began to bat her prize around the floor, perfectly content to have slain the cracker and allowed the mouse to get away.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


February’s cold damp eased into March with its cold winds, but occasional warm sunny hints of spring. When she was home, Buffy began haunting the garden center, already planning which flowers she would put where as soon as the horticulturist told her it would be safe to do so. She was delighted to see, in addition to the crocus and snowdrops that had appeared earlier, that many of the old beds contained daffodils and what she suspected were tulips just poking their heads out of the warming ground. Visions of beds full of spring and summer blooms filled her days, while memories of working side by side with Spike to bring the garden back to life haunted her nights.

As she’d promised Willow, she let the tears flow where and when they would – only refusing to cry in front of the other slayers. As the days became longer and warmer, and the sun made appearances in the east-facing windows of the house, Buffy contemplated moving upstairs into the unused master bedroom. She knew she would never change the basement bedroom, but there was a growing appeal to having windows and light in her room. She began experimenting with the idea, sleeping one or two nights a week in the large, airy room.

“You don’t think he’d mind, do you?” Noelle cocked her head and listened, meowing supportively whenever Buffy’s voice contained a question. “He offered to move up here before he…” The steadily less frequent tears welled up and she indulged herself in a few minutes of quiet sniffling into the pillow, smiling through her tears when Noelle began licking her face sympathetically.

“Who knew I’d become a cat lady,” Buffy laughed, hugging the kitten until she squirmed. “I can just see me twenty years from now – the old spinster teacher and her house full of cats. Talk about not getting any respect from the slayer students…”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“It’s not fair!”

Buffy paused outside the door of the gym. She hadn’t really intended to eavesdrop, she just didn’t want to interrupt whatever conversation might be going on inside. While the other slayers all respected her and were polite, she’d made very few friends among the students and other instructors, preferring to spend her time with some of the witches and younger watchers. She’d found it could be helpful sometimes to hear her students talk when they didn’t know she was listening, picking up on things that were and were not working in her teaching techniques. So, she paused, and waited to find out what wasn’t fair.

“Until she came, we all had the same shot at the ghost. I think I could have beat him. Now I’ll never know, and it’s her fault.”

“You so could not have beaten him! Did you see them when they were sparring? If I ever see a vamp that fast, I’m running away.”

“I could so have. He liked me. I could tell. He probably would have let me win if I’d rubbed my boobs on him.”

No longer interested in what else the girl had to say, Buffy made some noise to alert them that she was arriving, then burst through the doors.

“Okay! Are we all ready for today’s lesson? I’m going to start with a good practice fight – who wants to pretend I’m an old, wily vamp? You? Debbie, why don’t you come and show us how it’s done?”

The unfortunate Debbie, too proud to let on how so very much she did not want to fight the woman she’d been blaming for her lack of access to Spike, gave a sickly grin and did her best to swagger up to the center of the room where Buffy was calmly taking off her shoes.

“Are you sure you don’t want to leave those on? You might need them.” Debbie’s attempt at bravado fell flat, as the other slayers gasped.

“No,” Buffy said quietly, standing up and facing the other slayer, her face impassive. “I won’t.”

Instead of taking off her own shoes, Debbie swung a kick at Buffy’s head, hoping the element of surprise would allow her to get in one good blow. Her face fell when Buffy easily slipped the intended kick and grabbed Debbie’s foot as it went past her face. As though instructing the class, Buffy calmly twisted the shoe-clad foot, dropping the shocked girl to the floor as she said, “Now, that’s the danger of those high kicks. When they work, it’s great; but when they don’t, for instance when you’re throwing one at an opponent you’ve never faced before and who turns out to be faster than you are...” She released Debbie’s foot and stretched out a hand to help her up. “They can backfire,” she finished, pulling the other girl close enough to whisper in her ear.

“Spike would have had you for lunch,” she hissed. “And he was never one to be distracted by having a pair of tits pushed in his face. Don’t ever think you can count on distracting a vamp with your body. Is that clear?”

As she finished speaking, she shoved the other slayer hard enough to send her tumbling back onto the floor, her face a mixture of embarrassment and anger. Snickering from the other girls in the room did nothing to make her feel better about what had just happened, and Buffy made a mental note that she might have just made an enemy.

“Stupid bitch,” she muttered to herself as she put her shoes back on. “I think I’ll tell Giles she should be sent to Cleveland. Let Faith take her down a peg or two. Or maybe send her to Brazil…she and Kennedy would get along great. Until they killed each other, anyway.”

Sighing for the downside of being mature and responsible, Buffy admitted to herself that she was probably going to have to find a way to make up for publicly humiliating the other girl – rather than having her sent off to someplace unpleasant. She turned with a forced smile and faced the class.

“Okay, then. Let’s go over some other ways to initiate the fight. Something that might not be so easily countered. ‘k?”

Chapter 29

After teaching her morning class, and meeting with Giles to go over how many slayers would be enough to place in a city the size of Houston, Buffy rewarded herself by swinging by the garden center before she went home.

“Hey, John!” she greeted the manager. “What have you got for me today?”

“Hello, Miss Summers,” he replied, ignoring, as he always did, Buffy’s automatic, “Call me Buffy.”

“I’ve pulled a few things that I think you can safely put into the ground now. You did say that you thought your bulbs were coming up, didn’t you?”

“Oh, yeah. It’s kind of cool. I put those things in six months ago, and now I’ve got flowers popping out of ground all over the place.”

He smiled at the delight in her voice, happy to see that the melancholy look she usually wore was not as visible as it had been. He’d become quite fond of the pretty American woman who was working so hard to restore the grounds of the old house she’d inherited, and he was glad to see that she seemed to be snapping out of the sadness that had filled her in the late autumn and winter.

“If you’d like, I can have these delivered for you,” he said as they strolled towards the trays of pansies and violets he’d set aside for her. “Unless you want to pick them up yourself…” He grinned when she made a face, having asked her months ago why she didn’t drive into town. Her embarrassed reply, “Um… I don’t actually drive all that well in my own country – really not interested in finding out what it would be like to try doing it on the wrong side of the road…” had become a standard joke between them, and he never failed to tease her about it.

“I’m going to surprise you one of these days,” she shot back. “I’ll come driving up in a fancy convertible and you’ll have to find somebody else to make fun of.”

He laughed, enjoying the way she could give as good as she got.

“So, you’re going to make our country your new home, are you?”

Buffy gave him a sad smile, making him regret whatever it was about his words that had brought back her unhappiness.

“My only family is here, and most of my friends are either in this country or using it as a home base. It just makes sense for me to stay here, too.”

“Well, you’ve got a lovely place to live. I can understand why you would want to stay there. You’re very fortunate to have come into such a nice property at your age.”

“Yes,” she whispered, turning her face away. “I’ve been very lucky.”

There was an awkward silence; then Buffy forced herself to offer a smile.

“If you would deliver the flowers, I’d appreciate it. I’ll take a few of them with me now, but I can’t carry them all. You can just have Charles leave them on the front porch if I’m not home.”

That settled, Buffy picked up the flowers she wanted to plant that afternoon and started home. As soon as she was out of sight, she allowed the smile to slide off her face. Willow had been right – the good days were now creeping even with the bad days, but the empty spot in Buffy’s life was still a constant. It had taken her several years after Spike’s sacrifice in the Hellmouth to get used to not having him around. It had been so easy to slip, forgetting briefly that he was gone and looking for him to share something she’d just seen or done. She really had only recently stopped having those increasingly rare flashes of forgetfulness when Dawn’s call had come in; and suddenly there he was again.

This time, while their time together had been much shorter, it had been so much more intense, and the relationship – minus the almost daily dramas of life on a Hellmouth – so much more the sole focus of her life, that the several months he’d been gone were not even close to being enough time to adjust. The gaping hole in her heart was so fresh, so raw that she was sometimes surprised not to find her chest bleeding when she woke in the middle of the night with his name on her lips.

Thinking about that reminded her that Riley, refusing to understand how she could still be mourning for a vampire that’d she’d had years to get used to missing, was planning another trip to the Council Headquarters. His excuse this time was that he wanted to recruit a few slayers into the international paranormal military unit that he now served, but he had also invited himself to Buffy’s for dinner. She still wasn’t sure quite how that had happened, but resigned herself to fixing some sort of a meal and then spending some time convincing Riley that she was still in mourning and expected to be for some time.ye

“Stupid men,” she muttered. “Stupid testosterone. Stupid Y gene.”

Noelle greeted her at the door, meowing vigorously as though she had something really important to share. Buffy smiled and walked past her to the kitchen, intending to put her flowers down by the back door. She stopped, shocked, when Riley stood up from where he’d been sitting at the table.

“Hi…I really didn’t mean to break and enter, but I heard the cat meowing and I thought maybe something was wrong…” He paused, watching Buffy’s face carefully as she struggled to accept his explanation. “But you weren’t here,” he added, “so I thought I’d better wait so that I could explain that.” He gestured to the back door, which had clearly been kicked in.

“You broke into my house because you heard a cat meowing?”

Buffy walked past him to the door and opened it, setting the flowers out on the top step. She studied the broken lock and sighed, closing the door and pushing the refrigerator in front of it. She made a point of moving the heavy appliance with only one arm, casting a sideways glance at Riley to be sure that he’d understood the message.

The uncomfortable expression on his face and the way he made sure to keep the table between them indicated that he had received her less than subtle hint. She sighed and sat down opposite where he was standing.

“Sit back down,” she said tiredly. “I’m not going to do to you what you did to my door. Since you’re already here, you may as well hang around until dinner.”

Buffy made no attempt to knock him out with her culinary skills, not sure if she was more annoyed with him for not taking her strong hints that she didn’t want to see him, or with herself for only hinting when she needed to be firm and specific. They had a quick, boring meal of steak and salad, punctuated with bursts of small talk that neither of them really cared about. Buffy put the dishes in the sink and ran some water on them, shocked when she felt Riley looming behind her.

“What are you doing?” she said, turning the water off and moving away.

“I was going to help you with the dishes.”

“I’m not going to do them right now,” she said, leaning down to give Noelle a leftover bite of steak. “They can soak and I’ll get them later.”

He looked disappointed, but followed her out of the kitchen. Buffy automatically headed for the library, then decided she didn’t want Riley in the room that was so very much Spike’s. Although she walked past the doorway, he stopped anyway and looked inside.

“Wow! That’s quite a TV you’ve got there. Why don’t we sit it in here? I’d love to see what the picture looks like. I’ll bet it’s something!”

Buffy shrugged. “I guess so. I mainly use it for watching movies,” she said lingering in the hallway and hoping he would get the hint. “I don’t even know how to use the game controllers. Dawn and Teddy mostly play with them.”

He frowned, pausing halfway between the doorway and the TV. “Why do you have such a fancy one if you don’t use it?”

“It’s Spike’s, Riley. You know, the man who actually owned this house and everything in it?”

Riley took a deep breath, nodded and came back to stand near her.

“The ghost who owned it, Buffy. The vampire ghost, not the man. And it was his. When are you going to accept that he’s gone?”

“When it stops hurting that he is.”

She turned her back and walked to the living room, sitting down in a wing chair and facing the dark fireplace. She stared into the ashes, ignoring Riley’s arrival and subsequent settling into another chair near hers.

“I’m sorry,” he said finally. “That was out of line. I forget that it’s been longer for me than it has for you.”

Buffy nodded, still staring into the fireplace, but didn’t respond otherwise.

“How long has it been?” he asked softly. “Ted was a little fuzzy about that – he just said it was a while ago.”

“It’s been…oh, god…” Buffy’s face paled as she tried to count how long it had been. She’d tried not to, but her subconscious had insisted on counting every day; as though, by counting each one that passed, she would somehow reach a magic number that made it all better. “It’s been…147 days.”

She put her fist to her mouth, pressing it against her lips while she tried to suppress old memories of blue eyes wide with disbelief and awe, followed by another flash of those same eyes staring at her more recently from a similar position. Suddenly, she knew.

“Buffy? Is something wrong?” Riley’s voice broke into her stricken realization, and she struggled to focus on him, having trouble remembering for a second who he was and what he was doing there.

“Why are you here?” The words were out before she could stop them, and she squeezed her eyes shut in apology before trying to explain. “I’m sorry, Riley. I just suddenly realized why Spike got his memories back and whose fault it is that it happened.”

“Buffy,” he began gently, “nothing that happened to Spike is your fault. Surely you realize that everything that’s happened to him stems from the fact that he was a soulless, cold-blooded killer for hundreds of years?”

“One hundred and twenty-six years,” she said absently, still lost in her own guilty misery. “He was only a killer for a hundred and twenty-six years. Then you chipped him and he changed. He changed more than you can imagine.”

“Once a demon, always a demon,” Riley muttered, and Buffy remembered that he’d lost Sam to a demon. She sighed sympathetically.

“Spike was different, Riley. He was always different. Even when he was still evil and in love with Drusilla he was safe to be around if he wasn’t…”

“Hungry?”

“I was going to say, if he wasn’t angry about something or if he liked you.”

Riley shook his head. “You’ve always been blind when it comes to Spike, Buffy. He wanted you long before I left Sunnydale; and as soon as I was gone, he took advantage of your unhappiness to worm his way into your trust. It was never about change, it was all about getting you into bed.”

“I think you should go now, Riley.” Buffy stood up, her face a closed mask.

“Look,” he said quickly, as oblivious to her moods as he’d ever been, “I know he helped you a lot, and I understand that I don’t know much about what happened after I…left. But, surely you don’t think--”

Buffy stared into his genuinely caring eyes and sat back down.

“Never mind. Sit down again. You’re right. You know nothing about what happened after you left me to deal with a sick mother, a hellgod and a sister that my own watcher wanted to destroy.”

“What?”

“Sit.”

He complied, staring at her stoic face in disbelief as she began to fill him in on life in Sunnydale after he’d left. She spared him nothing – her mother’s unexpected death, Glory’s seemingly unstoppable search for Dawn, Spike’s torture and her subsequent realization that he really did care about her in his own warped way. When she talked about her dive off the tower and the peace and quiet that followed her death, she heard him catch his breath in horror.

“But…you…now…I saw…”

“I died, Riley. Died, went to Heaven, was mourned by my sister. The sister that a soulless vampire remained in Sunnydale to protect because that was the promise he’d made to a dead girl.” She almost smiled at the expression on his face. “You might want to remember this if you ever think about doing anything to tick Willow off – she brought me back. Resurrected me. Body and all.”

Ignoring his scoff, she went on dispassionately.

“Of course, it was Willow, so it didn’t go quite like she’d planned – I woke up in a coffin and had to dig my way out of my own grave. And…and I wasn’t real happy about being alive again. Slayers aren’t meant to live a long time. We get tired. I was done, and happy to be that way.”

Riley’s face would have been funny if Buffy hadn’t been re-living a very painful time in her life.

“You—you were dead.” He repeated it, as though trying to find some other meaning than what the words said.

“Dead. As in, fell from a great height, passed through a mystical portal –serious pain there, by the way – and then, when the portal closed…Whump! Law of gravity still in effect.”

“But…and Willow? She…resurrected you?”

“Yeah. Not so good for her mental health, it turns out – messing with those kinds of dark magics; but, shows you how powerful she is.”

He stared at Buffy’s serene face for several minutes, searching for any sign that she was pulling his leg.

“When I was in Sunnydale that time; when you said….I thought you were speaking metaphorically.”

“Nope. There was nothing metaphorical about it. I was dead. Dead, buried, and my soul was quite happy in Heaven. Until my friends yanked me out. I wasn’t thrilled to be here,” she continued. “And the only one who could accept that was an unsouled, ‘evil’ vampire who had loved me enough to stick around and take care of my sister.”

Riley stared, remembering finding her sleeping beside Spike and her obvious embarrassment and horror at having been caught there.

“But you didn’t…I got the impression you weren’t happy about…I thought…I heard it didn’t end well.”

“It didn’t,” she said curtly. “But the ending didn’t take. He went away and when he came back he had a soul. A soul that he fought for and won…for me.” She waited for that to sink in, and went on. “And then he used that soul to close the Hellmouth, save and world, and, oh yeah, die on me. But you knew that.”

She raised her eyes to his. “That was the first time I lost him.” She quickly ran through an abbreviated version of Spike’s time with Angel, their last battle and the subsequent binding of his ghost to the house she was living in. “He didn’t remember anything from before he came here. If he hadn’t overreacted to Dawn and Teddy, I might never have found him.”

Without going into details, Buffy repeated much of what Riley had already learned from Teddy. About realizing who the ghost was, moving in after he fell in love with her, the way Spike’s memories had come back and the last couple of happy months they’d had before his soul was released and he’d vanished for good.

She waited while Riley digested the new information about the relationship he’d had no idea had been as long-standing or as deep as Buffy now implied. Finally, he stood up with a nod.

“Okay, I can see that you became very dependent on Spike after I left. That’s to be expected, I suppose. And that you were traumatized by…by…”

“Coming back from the dead? Being pulled out of Heaven? Finding out my friends thought my soul would have gone to hell?”

“Yeah,” he replied sheepishly. “All of that. I just can’t get my mind around it.” He shook his head. “But, anyway, surely you remember enough from Psych 101 to realize that Spike took advantage of your vulnerability to bind you to him? That what you’ve been calling ‘love’ is really just an artificial need for his presence in your life?” He gazed at her with what she was sure he thought was benevolent wisdom. “I’m surprised, actually, that he could still exert that much control over you after all these years.”

Buffy gaped at him, speechless in the face of his willful refusal to hear what she’d been saying. Taking her silence for agreement, he stepped closer and put his hands on her shoulders.

“I can help you through this, Buffy. Together we can work on putting this relationship behind you.”

Recovering her mental equilibrium, Buffy stepped away from him and began, “Riley, I don’t know what you thought I was saying, but--”

She was interrupted by a loud screeching noise from the kitchen, followed by the sound of the back door being slammed shut. Instantly, the Slayer took over, and with a “Stay here!” to Riley, she ran down the hall, skidding to a halt at the sight greeting her in the kitchen.

The refrigerator had been pushed aside and the broken door was swinging back and forth, still vibrating from having been slammed. Standing in front of it was a very naked man, covered in goosebumps, with soft brown curls and eyes that were currently glaring at the broken door.

Chapter 30

“Bloody hell, it’s cold out there!” He rubbed his arms as he continued frowning at the refrigerator and the broken door. He was pushing the fridge back into place when he heard Buffy’s gasp and whirled to face her.

“Not a dream, then,” he whispered as he drank her in, then louder, “Hello, love. Did you miss me?”

“You’re naked,” she replied, unable to come up with anything more coherent.

“Huh!” He looked down at himself. “Yeah, noticed that. I wonder why my clothes didn’t come back this time?”

Had she know it, Buffy’s face bore almost the exact awed and unbelieving expression as Spike’s had so long ago. He was just beginning to wonder about her strange reception when Riley’s voice came down the hall.

“Buffy? Are you all right? Do you need my help with anything?”

“No!” Her reply wasn’t quick enough to keep Spike’s eyes from narrowing in a familiar fashion.

“Who is that?”

Before she could respond, Riley appeared in the doorway, taking in the naked man standing in the kitchen.

“What the hell is he doing here?” Spike growled, simultaneously with Riley’s, “Why didn’t you call me? I’ll get this pervert out of--”

Buffy stepped in front of Riley, putting out a hand to halt his forward progress. She turned to acknowledge Spike’s question, keeping one hand on Riley just in case.

“He kinda… sorta… invited himself to dinner tonight. I was just--”

“Dinner?” Spike looked around the kitchen again, finally taking in the new appliances, Buffy’s bewildered expression and the length of her hair. Horrified understanding crossed his face. “How…how long have I been gone…this time?”

Buffy left Riley standing by the doorway and took Spike’s hands in hers. “One hundred and forty-seven days,” she whispered.

“One hund—“ He fell against the counter with a thud. “No wonder you’re staring at me like you’ve seen a…”

“A ghost?”

He gave a snort of agreement. “Point, pet. Funny thing though, I don’t feel all that ghostly right now.”

Buffy’s brain finally registered what her eyes and hands had been trying to tell her. She touched his face, warm in spite of the outside chill still lingering on his skin; she slid her hand down to let it rest against the heart she could feel thumping inside his chest. Raising her eyes to his, she could see he had just reached the same conclusion.

“I don’t think you’re a ghost anymore,” she whispered.

He nodded and swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing in front of her. “Don’t think I’m much of a vamp anymore, either,” he managed to get out before sliding down the counter to the floor. He sat there, oblivious of Riley, staring at his pale, but clearly blood filled body. He turned his hands this way and that in front of his face, flexing the fingers and making fists with them; he pinched his thigh experimentally, watching with interest the way the skin reddened immediately.

“Buffy?” he said tentatively. “I think I might be a real boy again.”

“You’re alive,” she breathed in agreement, dropping down beside him and rubbing his bicep. “You’re human.”

Still ignoring Riley who was slowly beginning to understand who the naked man was, Spike asked, “What happened to the door? And why was there a refrigerator in front of it?”

Buffy’s eyes flew to Riley and she gestured with her head for him to leave the kitchen. He nodded and reluctantly retreated to the living room, sinking into a chair and trying to put his mind around what sort of supernatural event might have turned the long-missing ghost of a deadly vampire into the small, shivering, and unimpressive looking man sitting on the floor of Buffy’s kitchen.

Buffy quickly explained that Riley had thought there was something wrong and had kicked in the door in a fit of misguided chivalry.

Spike studied her face for a minute. “You said he invited himself for dinner. Are you seeing him again?”

“No!” The unspoken, but very clear, rest of the answer brought a quick apology.

“I’m sorry, love. Seems like being human again might have turned me back into the insecure wanker I was the first time around.”

Buffy bit her tongue, leaving the discussion of how insecure he’d been as a vampire and ghost for another time.

“I was just in the middle of trying to explain to him that a few miserable months wasn’t long enough for me to start thinking about seeing another--”

He glared at her. “Was there going to be a part of that conversation that included ‘and if I do, it wouldn’t be you’?”

Buffy cupped his cheek, pausing to savor the warmth, and replied, “I’d like to think I’m not that girl anymore. The one who would throw someone’s…affection back in his face.”

He nodded, just a trace of a pout in his voice. “Of course you aren’t, pet. Let him down easy – that’s the ticket…” He straightened his shoulders and rose to his feet. “Right then, we’ll go explain things to him. He’ll understand or I’ll kick his arse out into the street.”

“Spike?”

“Yes, love?”

“Did I mention that you’re naked?”

“I can fight naked.”

He began striding towards the front of the house. “Now where’s the wanker that kicked my door in and thinks he’s going to date my girl?”

“He’s right here.”

Riley’s voice was cold and his eyes were wary. He visibly relaxed as he ran his eyes over the other man’s much smaller form, noting the wiry frame and visible muscles, but also noting the very big difference in their size. Smiling confidently, he said, “I’m actually glad you’re here, Spike. It will be easier to help Buffy understand how unnatural and artificial your hold on her is if you’re around to make mistakes like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like referring to her as “your girl”, as if she was your property. Or,” he added, running his eyes up and down Spike’s naked body dismissively, “like thinking you can throw me out.”

All of Riley’s psychological and military training told him that nudity was the great leveler. Stripping prisoners was one of the quickest ways to destroy their confidence and put them at a disadvantage. Unfortunately for Riley, Spike had not studied psychology or the military, and he appeared as comfortable with his nudity as he always had -- standing, balanced on the balls of his feet and ready to follow through on his threat to throw Riley out.

Buffy edged her way past Spike and got between the two glaring men.

“Okay, I don’t know what kind of testosterone poisoning is going on here, but you two need to back off. Both of you,” she added as Spike continued to move into the room.

Riley drew himself up to his full six foot, four inches. “You’re human, now, Spike. Just like me, only six inches shorter and sixty pounds lighter. And I’m a trained fighter.”

“Do you think being human means I’ve forgotten everything I ever learned, you stupid git?”

“I think you’re being a little optimistic about how much knowing how to fight is going to help you against somebody my size.” Riley spoke confidently, but remained where he was, hoping that the impulsive vampire would make a move that would prove his point.

“That’s enough!” she said through gritted teeth. “You,” she pointed to Riley. “I don’t know where you get off telling me you’re going to help me ‘get over’ a perfectly legitimate grief over losing the man I love. Didn’t you listen to a word I said earlier?”

“And, you!” She turned to glare at Spike. “You’ve been back, what, ten whole minutes? And you already want to start a fight and wreck my house?”

“Right,” he said, ignoring the immediate flash of shocked regret in her eyes and the way she reached out in a vain attempt to stop his outraged exit from the room. “Just tell me where you put the clothes you packed up and I’ll get dressed and out of your house.”

“Spike…” She watched him stomp off towards the kitchen, and hoped he had enough sense not to go outside naked. She turned back to Riley, whose face wore a self-satisfied smirk.

“You see? Not as interesting to him now that he’s not a vampire, are you? It was just an obsession with you because you were a slayer. And, I think you’ll find that you aren’t as--”

“Get out.” Her quiet command was all the more chilling for the calm manner in which it was said. “Now.”

In front of him was no longer the pretty woman he had hoped to begin seeing again, but an experienced fighter who’d spent much of her life slaying beings much more powerful and larger than he – often with her bare hands. Correctly assuming that a strategic retreat was the order of the day, he nodded and sidled past her to the front door.

“I’ll call you tomorrow,” he said, as he let himself out into the night. “I’ll just give you some time to--” The door slammed behind him, locking with a loud “click”.

Buffy flew down the hall to the kitchen, skidding to a stop when she saw Spike standing uncertainly by the broken door.

“It’s cold out there,” she whispered.

“Bit chilly in here, too,” he replied, not looking at her.

They stood where they were, Buffy clutching the doorframe, Spike standing, still naked, with his back to her. His muscles stood out in sharp relief, the tension in them plain to see.

“Don’t leave,” she said, the plea all the more powerful for the calmness with which she made it. “Please.”

He shrugged and gave her a sheepish look from the corners of his eyes. “Don’t know where to find my clothes, anyway. Did you throw them away already?”

She moved towards him, careful not to appear to be trying to trap him.

“Don’t be stupid. Your clothes are where you left them. In their drawers in the bedroom.”

“You didn’t change my bedroom?”

“I sleep in our bedroom,” she corrected. “Why would I change it?”

He shrugged again. “Time passes, people move on…”

“It’s been less than five months, Spike. Do you really think I could forget what we had that fast?”

“Bein’ an arse, again, aren’t I?” Without waiting for a reply he sighed, rolled his eyes up to the ceiling and continued, “Told you human me was a wanker. ‘s no wonder you don’t want me around…”

“I never said that! I said I didn’t want you to break things! And, yeah, all right, I said ‘my’ things. But I was afraid you were going to start a fight with Riley and get yourself hurt. I didn’t have time to worry about semantics.”

She closed the distance between them and slid her arms around him from the back, leaning her cheek against the still-tense muscles there.

“Come downstairs and get some clothes,” she coaxed. “Or, better yet…”

She pulled away and began tugging him towards the door to the bedroom. Spike allowed himself to be pulled to the door, where he peered down the stairs and grumbled, “Can’t see a bloody thing down there.”

Buffy’s giggle floated back to him as she clicked the light on and preceded him down the stairs. “Now you know how I felt all the time, with you wandering around in the dark and laughing at me.”

“Never laughed at you, love,” he argued, following behind her so closely that she could feel his breath on her neck. “I just enjoyed my advantages – had so few of them…”

She turned around so quickly that he ran into her, automatically putting his arms around her to help them keep their balance. She slipped her hands around his waist and laid her head on his chest briefly, then glanced up at him.

“Do you…are you…” She stopped and huffed at herself, then began again. “Are you going to be an ass now because you don’t have superpowers? ‘Cause if you are, tell me now so I know if I have to worry about saying or doing anything to damage your fragile little ego.”

“Let’s just see how fragile I turn out to be, alright?” he purred, pulling her in tighter and allowing her to feel how her nearness was affecting him. “If I recall, when I left, you were wanting to come inside and make love to me until you couldn’t do it any longer. Don’t suppose that offer still stands?”

With a guilty start, Buffy realized that the joy she’d felt simmering through her every second since he’d appeared had not been apparent from her behavior.

“I’m sorry,” she said softly, going up on her toes to brush her lips across his. “I’ve been so busy being surprised and happy that I forgot to let you know that I am. Happy, I mean. Very happy.”

“Can start showing me any time now,” he responded, backing her up until her knees hit the bed. He turned and fell backwards, pulling her with him and enjoying the way her breath quickened.

“I’m naked and you aren’t – what’s wrong with this picture?” he murmured, slipping his hands into the waistband of her jeans.

“There’s nothing wrong with it from my point of view,” she giggled, remembering when their roles had been reversed. She pushed his hands away and leaned back to look him up and down. “I want to make sure that all your parts came back in all the right places…and in working order.”

With a grin, he put his hands behind his head, leaving himself open to her visual and tactile examination.

“You’ll let me know if you find anything missin’, then, won’t you?”

She nodded, beginning at his face and tracing the familiar planes of his cheeks and chin, then trailing down to his neck. He shivered when she lightly rested her fingers on his now pounding pulse, and she made a mental note that even human Spike seemed to be sensitive to touches on his throat. She moved her hands down his torso, sliding them over his nipples and smiling when they hardened against her palms.

With exaggerated care, she counted every rib, stroked every abdominal ripple, and then centered her gaze on the object waving in front of her.

“Looks like it’s working,” she mused. “But you never know…” She leaned down and ran her tongue up his cock, swirling it around the head. His encouraging gasp and the way his hips rose towards her mouth made her giggle.

“Yep, seems to be in working order. What do you think?”

“I think,” he panted, cursing the human need for regular air, “you need to do more checking. Make sure it’s all functional like…”

With a nod, she bent her head and took him into her mouth, beginning to work him as he’d taught her so many years ago. His moans, whimpers and eventual shouts of encouragement brought tears to her eyes as the complete reality finally hit home. This wasn’t a dream; he was really here, hands tangling in her hair, muttered obscenities and endearments tumbling from his lips. When he arched up and spurted his release into her throat, she swallowed quickly, reluctant to waste a drop of the warm fluid filling her mouth.

While Spike lay limply, gazing at her through half-lidded eyes, she stood up and quickly stripped out of her clothes. By the time he had recovered enough to speak, she was draped over him reveling in the feeling of his arms holding her against his body and the warm flesh under her. She nuzzled his chest, laughing with delight as another realization hit.

“I can smell you!” she crowed, burrowing her nose in his neck.

“Tellin’ me I stink?”

“No, you moron. I’m telling you that you smell like Spike again!” When he raised a quizzical eyebrow she elaborated. “Remember when you were a ghost? You had no scent. I could hear you and feel you, but I couldn’t smell you – or taste you, either. I missed that so much,” she added, taking a mouthful of loose flesh and beginning to suck on it making little humming noises as she did. His reaction to having the skin of his throat pulled into her mouth gave her more encouragement. When she finally released the skin with a plop, she pulled back to admire the unintentional results of her work.

“That’s a first class hickey if I say so myself,” she said with satisfaction.

He chuckled, pulling her back down and nuzzling her neck in his turn. “Marking me with a love bite? Are we fourteen, then?”

Suddenly serious, she raised her head and looked him in the eye. “I never told you…when you were a ghost…how much I missed the way you taste and smell. I…when you were gone…I slept with your coat, but it didn’t smell like your coat. Not like the one you wore in Sunnydale. I…it was hard. I wanted so much for something here to smell like you and nothing did, and I…” She lost her ability to speak, and he quickly tightened his arms around her.

“I’m so sorry, love. Never would have left you like that if I…

“No,” she shook her head vigorously. “No apologies. You couldn’t help it; and now you’re back and you’re human and I’ll never cry again.”

“Ah, Buffy, if only we could be sure of that,” he soothed. “Would give a limb to know that I’d never give you a reason to cry again. But I can’t promise you that, can I? Can only promise to do my best to see that I don’t.”

For long minutes they lay together, their quaking bodies tightly wound around each other, held close with powerful arms. Gradually, the flood of emotion subsided enough for Spike’s body to be aware of the naked woman clinging to him and he shifted his hips to rub against Buffy’s bare thigh.

She quickly moved to straddle him, but he gently turned them over, running a hand down to tease until he was sure she was ready. When she was pushing into his hand and whimpering with need, he covered her, nudging his way in slowly until he was filling her as no one else ever had. Her arms and legs moved of their own volition, wrapping around him and pulling him even closer.

Leaning on his elbows, he began to move slowly, never taking his eyes off hers as they fell into the familiar rhythms that she’d been missing. Buffy’s arms and legs remained around him, tightening as sensation built in her until she came with a cry. Without breaking his rhythm, he continued to move inside her, quickly bringing her to another whimpering, clutching attack upon his body. This time, when he felt her shuddering around him, he allowed his own orgasm to join hers. His hips continued to pump long after he’d emptied himself inside her.

“I love you,” she gasped, incapable of real speech for the moment.

“Love you, too, Buffy. More than you can imagine,” he replied hoarsely.

He remained in place, confident that she could and would push him off if he became too heavy. As their heart rates went back to normal and their breathing evened out, they shared their first real kiss since his return. While the familiar lips and tongue began to work their magic, Buffy marveled that it taken until just that minute for them to indulge in one of their favorite occupations. They played, using their lips and tongues, nipped with their teeth, and alternated between light, joyful kisses and deep, soulful expressions of the emotions still running high between them.

She felt Spike growing within her again, and murmured appreciatively as she squeezed around him. His answering twitch and equally appreciative groan at the sensation almost caused her to cry again. Sensing her distress, he tore his mouth away from hers.

“Buffy?”

“It’s okay, really. I just missed you so much, and now you’re here, and you’re alive and you feel so good and I’m just so h…h…happy…” she sniffled.

“Nice to know I haven’t lost my touch,” he said with a smile. “I missed you, too, love. Was beginning to think I’d dreamed the whole thing until I found myself dumped in the garden and freezing my bare arse off.”

“Why do – did you think you’d just been away again? Where were you?”

“Don’t really know, do I? It was quiet, and peaceful – and boring as all hell. I know I tried to get back for awhile; almost thought I’d made it once--”

“Christmas!”

“Wha--?”

“On Christmas Day, I thought I felt you but Willow and Emily said it was just a passing spirit attracted to the warmth and people.”

He wrinkled his brow.

“I’d love to tell you it was me, pet, but truthfully? I don’t know. Was just the one time that I felt like I’d almost made it back, but I don’t remember anything about it except feeling a little better about not being able to see you. Didn’t last, though,” he added, pushing a little farther into her and groaning again when she squeezed him hard. “Oh god, Buffy. Don’t stop…”

She wriggled against him, adding her own whimper to his groan when he touched the place only he could find. “I won’t if you don’t,” she urged, closing her eyes and falling into the sheer joy of feeling him again.

“Couldn’t if I wanted to.”

His hips began moving and they were soon rocking together to another mutually satisfying conclusion. This time, he rolled to the side, pulling her with him so that they faced each other.

“That never gets old,” he said with a satisfied yawn. “I’m pretty sure we’re better together than anyone else in the whole world.”

She yawned back. “I don’t think another man could even come close to you,” she agreed. “I can’t even imagine doing this with a huma…”

Her voice trailed off as she realized what she’d been about to say. She mentally reviewed their activities over the last hour and remembered that she’d responded to him just as she always had – with no allowances for his newly human state.

“Spike? Did I hurt you?”

“Did you what? Only in the very best of ways, love.” He stared at her troubled face, asking more seriously, “What’s wrong?

“I didn’t hurt you,” she explained, waiting for him to understand.

He frowned. “This is a problem for you? I didn’t know you were still into that.”

“Think about it,” she said, clutching his arm and squeezing it hard. “I forgot that you were human. I didn’t try to go easy on you or to be careful how hard I squeezed. Why aren’t your ribs broken?”

“Ah. Good question.” He sighed and reluctantly pulled away from her, rolling onto his back and staring at the ceiling. After a minute of silence he rolled onto his stomach and held up one arm. “Let’s arm wrestle, Slayer. Winner gets to shag the loser. What do you say?”

“I say you’re crazy – and avoiding the question.”

“Humor me, love.”

Rolling her eyes, Buffy shifted around until she was also lying on her stomach and facing him. They locked hands and she sighed.

“Ready?” he asked seriously.

She shrugged and nodded. Before she could think, her wrist was flat against the mattress and Spike was smirking.

“I wasn’t ready!”

“Said you were,” he said smugly.

“Fine, now I’m ready,” she growled, pressing against his hand in preparation for pinning it.

Five minutes later, they were both grunting and panting, their hands still locked in an upright position, the muscles in their arms quivering with strain.

“On a count of three?” Spike asked. Buffy glared her agreement. “On three.”

“One, two, three!” They simultaneously released and sat up panting.

“That’s why you weren’t worried about fighting Riley,” she said accusingly. “You knew you could beat him.”

Spike shook his head.

“Not really. Not then, I didn’t. Just knew I didn’t feel like the milquetoast I’d been when I was human the first time. Was too busy being happy when we were shagging to notice that you weren’t crushing me – but I knew you weren’t holdin’ back. Wasn’t until you turned those special slayer muscles on me that I was sure, though.” He waggled his eyebrows at her and licked his lips.

“You’re not human, then.” She tried to keep the disappointment out of her voice.

“I’m as human as you are,” he countered. “Jus’ with the same perks, I reckon.”

“So,” she said, flopping down on the bed and squirming around to lie on it normally. “The Powers That Be decided I still need a champion, huh?”

He shrugged and joined her, automatically putting his arms around her as she curled into him.

“Could be,” he said. “All I know is I bitched and complained about being bored and missing my girl and then I was lying in the dirt and shivering. Didn’t know anybody was actually listening. Didn’t seem like I’d been gone that long, either. I thought I’d only been there a week or two, three at the most.”

“Time passes differently in Heaven,” Buffy said. “It seemed longer to me – but then, I was enjoying it. Not trying to get myself kicked out.”

“Wasn’t trying to get kicked out of anywhere,” he argued. “If I’d had any idea that was an option, I would have made a real nuisance of myself and been here months ago. I was just sitting around complaining and asking what I was supposed to do for amusement.”

“Well, I guess you got your answer,” she giggled, dropping a kiss on his chest. “You got thrown back into the battle.”

“No place I’d rather be, love,” he responded. “Long as I’m fighting by your side…”

“Hmmmm,” Buffy nodded, her eyes closing as the evening’s events and emotions took their toll.

Spike closed his own eyes and was drifting off when a sudden thought sent him sitting up abruptly. “What?” Buffy said, quickly sitting up and looking around. “What’s wrong?”

“Remember when I said I’m just as human as you are?”

She nodded.

“Means all my body parts are working again. All of them, Buffy…”

“So? You know where the bathroom-- Oh! Those body parts. They’re alive too?”

“Got to figure so, love.”

“Okay,” she said, yawning again. “I’ll go on the pill as soon as I can get a prescription filled.”

“Alright,’ he agreed. “Just thought I’d best mention it before we…”

“It’s okay. I get it. I’ll take care of it as soon as I can.”

He nodded, stroking her hair as she relaxed into him again.

“Not saying you have to, mind,” he ventured, his hand never breaking its gentle rhythm.

She stilled, her thumb, which had been idly running up and down his other arm, ceased its movement.

“What are you saying, exactly? ‘Cause, you know, that was sort of the message I thought I was getting…”

He gave his head a quick shake. “Not what I meant to say, pet. I just figure you’ll want some time to get used to having human me around before you make any decisions about the long haul.”

“You’re not my long-haul guy anymore?”

His hand stopped stroking and both arms tightened around her.

“Always,” he whispered, pulling her against his body. “That’ll never change. Just don’t want to trap you into something you might not want anymore.”

She struggled against his embrace, finally loosening it enough to sit up and glare at him.

“Were you really this insecure as a human? Cause I’ve got to tell you – it could get old really fast.”

While he blinked hurt eyes at her, she pinned him to the bed and straddled him, sitting on his stomach and glaring down at his puzzled face.

“Listen up, ex-vampire. I loved you when you were unsouled and still thinking you were evil. Hell, I thought you were hot even when you were evil…I loved you after you got your soul and weren’t evil. I loved you when I thought you were dead and gone and all I would ever have were memories of my vampire. I loved you when you were a ghost, and I loved you when you moved on to Heaven and left me here all by myself. Why the hell would you think I’d stop loving you just because you’re human?”

She took his shoulders and shook him up and down several times to emphasize her words. “I. Love. You. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. And I don’t ever want to have this stupid conversation again! Is. That. Clear?” She finished with a shove so hard that they both bounced a little.

By the time she had finished, his grin extended from one side of his face to the other. He reached up and pulled her into an extended kiss, pausing only when they both needed more air than they were getting.

“That’s settled, then?”

“It’s settled, love.”

“Good. Then let’s get some sleep.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


It was sometime later that a strange sensation woke Spike up. He raised his head to meet blue eyes almost as striking as his own. Buffy stirred and asked sleepily, “What’s wrong?”

“There’s a poker chip on our bed, and it’s licking me.”

Buffy giggled and squirmed around until she could see the kitten, which had gone back to licking the sweat off Spike’s body.

“That’s Noelle. You’re in her place on the bed.” When he made a noise very similar to a growl, she sighed and sat up. “Here,” she said, pulling up the bedding. “Just get under the covers and she’ll stop licking. But she’s probably going to stay on the bed.”

“I don’t like cats.”

“She’s not an ordinary cat,” Buffy said indignantly. “And she lives here, so get used to it.”

“Huh! I guess that honeymoon’s over already,” he complained, even as he sank bank onto the pillow and pulled the quilt up to his chin. Buffy ignored his grumbling, snuggling up to his warmth and yawning again. They were soon back asleep, the purring kitten curled up next to Buffy.


The End



AN: I want to thank all those readers who have stayed with this story - even through the Spikeless chapters - and who have reviewed and commented so faithfully. It’s been a lot of fun to write – even if I am a bit surprised to find my intended three or four chapter fluffy, Spuffy haunted house fic has turned into a thirty-chapter story with angst, plot twists and other unexpected surprises. And, again, I want to remind everyone that I owe a great debt to my hard-working and wonderful regular beta, Always_jbj; my British expert and newly adopted beta, Just Sue; to Rahirah, who bullied me into helped me decide to explore issues and characters that I might otherwise not have, and who graciously agreed to jump ahead in the story to read one of the chapters and tell me if it was too much; and to Eowyn315 who is my sounding board when I’m muttering to myself about what to do and how to do it. Many thanks to all of you ladies. You’ve all contributed to making this story what it is.

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