Spike sighed out a cloud of smoke as he shifted in place and tried not to listen to the voices above him.  It was a half-hearted exercise at best; he had always been nosy, especially when he knew that he was the topic of conversation.  However, out of respect for Buffy, who had wanted to ease the Scoobies into the realization that Spike was back among the undead, he continued to puff on his cigarette, attempting to distract his senses by randomly picking up and replacing various knick-knacks situated on old storage shelves while letting his mind wander.

 

It was a noble attempt on his part, which ultimately ended less than twenty seconds after he made the first conscious effort to occupy himself.  While he was no longer listening to the conversation taking place above him, his mind wandered to the potential responses of those gathered upstairs.

 

Red’s was easy; he’d seen her the previous evening.  While she’d been surprised, and reserved at first, by the end of the evening, despite everything that had been revealed, she had seemed genuinely happy to see him.  The other bird would be much of the same – she and Willow always seemed to be of the same mindset.   Anya would welcome him back with open arms and undoubtedly a suggestion of many orgasms to help ease himself back into the routine of being undead.  And his Bit couldn’t be happier.

 

He was even fairly certain how the two sources of questionable testosterone would react.  The Watcher – if he ever decided to show his self-righteous arse; a quick breath of air had revealed to Spike that the Watcher’s scent had faded notably from the building – would undoubtedly polish his glasses, stammer an awkward-but-unmeant welcome back to the world of the living – so to speak – before beginning to chronicle what would quickly be blown out of proportion into the opus of the resurrected vampire.

 

The whelp would cry bloody murder and demand that he be staked.

 

And if given the choice between the two, Spike didn’t know which he’d prefer.  Each seemed a mercy from the promise of the other.

 

And still, standing idly in the darkened basement of the Magic Box, he could not help but allow an increasingly-lesser part of him pipe up with doubt at Buffy’s actions.  <i>If she tells them.  If.  Maybe she’s decided it’s better they don’t know; maybe you’ll screw everything up.</i>

 

And another.  <i>But she says she loves you.</i>

 

Dropping the smoldering cigarette end down onto the concrete floor, Spike paused at the thought, the toe of his boot hovering in midair above the dying embers.

 

If Buffy did tell her friends that he was back -- <i>when,</i> she told them – how much exactly would she tell them?  Would she stop with the telling of his return, or would she inform them that they should get used to his presence in her life in a non-slayer-related capacity?

 

And even if she did tell them that she loved him…would she be speaking the truth?

 

Spike grunted and thrust his hands into the pockets of his duster, wrapping his fingers around the pack of cigarettes there.  This should have been simple.  For too long he’d yearned for the day that Buffy would return his love, and when the time finally arrived, he had dissuaded her with words designed to protect his own heart.  Not for the first time, he berated himself for saying anything at all; but ultimately, he knew the decision he’d made to be the correct one.  He simply loved her too much to let her erroneously believe herself in love with him, especially when all he’d ever gotten from her was disdain.

 

But Christ, he’d woken up this morning, and she’d been in his arms, and he’d never known such a feeling, and had immediately found that he never wanted to be without it again. 

 

He had meant to leave before she woke to find him sleeping in her room – again – but for whatever reason, his internal clock had failed to rouse him.  And perhaps for the same inexplicable reason, he had woken in the morning – a practice virtually unheard of in vampires – to find himself with a generous armful of sleeping Buffy, her heartbeat slow and content, her lips drawn into a barely-there smile of satisfaction.

 

And he’d watched her.  It could have been seconds, or minutes, or even days; time had simply ceased to exist, and the world knew only the two of them, cuddled together on her bedroom floor.  And in that time, he’d allowed himself to believe that she loved him – truly loved him, unconditionally – and was genuinely happy for the first time in he knew not how long.

 

He didn’t want to give it up.  Didn’t want to give <i>her</i> up, wanted to tell her when she awoke that he was more than willing to give the two of them a try.  But for all he’d once strutted around as the Big Bad who lorded over Sunnydale, both his decision and its supporting courage abandoned him when he felt her begin to stir in his arms.  And so Spike, the no-longer-neutered vampire, fell victim to one of the oldest clichés in the book.

 

He feigned sleep.  Not entirely a difficult trick for a man who didn’t need to worry about a racing heartbeat giving him away.

 

She had been so tender with him; that had struck him the most.  Upon waking, Buffy had gently slid out of his arms in a careful attempt not to wake him, and he felt her eyes burning trails on his skin wherever they landed.  A moment or two, followed by the soft pressure of her lips on his forehead.  Her lips were quickly withdrawn, and he was greeted instead by the light caress of her finger over his lips: an indirect kiss.

 

And in that moment, he wanted nothing more than to open his eyes and gaze into hers, to find the truth she apparently wanted so desperately for him to believe.  But he’d lost his moment when she just as quickly rose to her feet and walked out of her room; he heard her shower running seconds later.

 

In all, the situation between him and Buffy was an unnecessary mess.  He had known the previous evening – or, if he wanted to be completely honest with himself, the instant she’d told him that she loved him – that he would be open and receptive to anything she wanted with him, had known that Buffy would be nothing like Drusilla, but it had been his previous experience with his former dark angel which had him now erring on the side of caution.

 

And if his unexpectedly-cautious stance on their relationship – such as it was – hadn’t mucked things up enough, that despite it all she wanted to be with him, regardless…he now knew that he had inadvertently meddled hugely in her future.  Would her learning of what he knew change things between them?

 

Because she had to know.  There was no question about that in his mind.  He just didn’t want to tell her.

 

Spike’s ears perked at a round of gasps and Xander’s sputtered, “<i>What?!</i>” broke him from his reverie, and he idly cracked his knuckles, beginning to ascend the staircase that would lead him to the main floor of the shop, readying himself for the certain barrage of questions from Buffy’s friends.

 

------------------

 

It was strange, but they had split up into pairs.  Upon seeing Spike emerge from the cellar, Xander had balled his fists and clenched his jaw, glaring angrily at the vampire before storming into the training room, Anya hot on his heels.  Tara had been the one to approach Spike, her fingers unconsciously skimming the stem of the bramble tucked into the buttonhole of her blouse as she crossed over to him.  And Buffy, keeping one eye on the training room door, had pulled Willow to the side.

 

“Did you find out anything about the stuff you pulled from Spike’s head?” she asked quietly, hoping that Spike was too engrossed in his conversation with Tara to overhear.

 

Willow bit at the inside of her cheek as she debated what to tell her friend.  It wasn’t that she didn’t want to know why such powerful magic was in Spike’s head, per se; she just didn’t want to lose it.  It was difficult for her to explain, especially given the fact that barely twenty-four hours had passed since she’d entered Spike’s mind, but since she’d bottled the magic she’d found there, Willow had begun to feel more powerful, more confident, and upon testing her theory, found that she was able to cast spells with more ease, as though her body was magic itself, and her spells simply an extension of her will.  She just didn’t want to do anything that would jeopardize her newfound magic power.

 

“No,” she replied.  “I didn’t…I don’t think I can.”

 

Buffy’s lips pulled into a pout.  “Why not?”

 

“Because the magic is gone,” Willow lied.  “I woke up this morning, and checked the jar to make sure that the wards were still holding up, and I couldn’t feel it anymore.  It just…dissipated, I guess.”

 

Buffy’s pout turned into a contemplative frown, and with brows drawn, she asked, “Can that really happen?  I mean, I always thought magic was like energy, and energy can’t just disappear…isn’t that one of those property things?”

 

Willow’s lip twitched as she snapped quietly, “I think I would know more about it than you!”  Pausing as she took in Buffy’s surprised, widened eyes and hands raised in supplication, Willow sighed and offered in apologetic response, “My theory is that whatever it was needed to be in Spike to sustain itself…kind of like a host.  Stuck in the jar, there was no host, and it eventually…um, died.”

 

“Died?” Buffy asked cautiously, not wanting to risk another outburst from Willow.  “So it was like some sort of parasite?”

 

Willow shrugged.  “I don’t know,” she replied.  “Like I said…it’s just gone.  I’m sorry, Buffy.”

 

The blonde sighed, her eyes traveling briefly to Spike’s still-occupied form.  “He won’t like that,” she said, her voice carrying a hint of remorse.  Then, “I mean, he’ll probably be happy that it’s gone; he hates magic – no offense – but I think he was kind of hoping that his answers would be there.  And I was kind of hoping that I’d have some to give him.”

 

Willow felt a pang of guilt, and opened her mouth to confess her lie, but the promise of magic power coursing through her veins made her clamp down on that instinct, and instead she offered another quiet, “Sorry.”

 

Buffy sighed.  “Yeah,” she said.  “I’m sorry, too.”

 

------------------

 

Spike’s fingers twitched around the pack of cigarettes in his pocket, and for an instant, he considered lighting one up inside the magic shop, any potential contamination of ingredients be damned – it wouldn’t be the first time, after all – but ultimately decided against it, opting instead to duck outside the front door for his smoke; it was dark, after all, and not many people frequented their little corner of Sunnydale after business hours.

 

He’d gotten halfway through his cigarette before his eyes settled on the black van parked not a block away.  Brow furrowed, Spike stared at the van as he took another puff of his cigarette.  There were no heartbeats coming from the vicinity of the van; the only ones near belonged to the Scoobies inside the Magic Box.  Yet he found that he could not simply dismiss the mystery van parked down the street.

 

Stubbing out his cigarette before poking his head through the entrance of the shop, Spike called, “Slayer?”

 

Seconds later, Buffy had joined him.  “What’s up?”

 

Gaze locked on the van, Spike tilted his chin in its direction, asking, “Did the whelp get a new car?”

 

Buffy’s brow wrinkled in confusion.  “You mean Xander?” she asked in response.  “No, he didn’t.  He usually parks in the alleyway next to the shop…something about it being safer.  I’m not so sure I buy it.”  She blinked as she realized that Spike had yet to look away from the van.  “Why?  Something wrong?”

 

“Not sure,” he replied, and his voice held traces of desperation and annoyance.  “I jus’…it’s daft, but I…I know this car,” he said, before shaking his head in self-deprecation.  “’s probably nothing,” he added.  “Maybe I jus’ need some sleep.”

 

Buffy bit at her bottom lip.  “You could stay in the guest room again,” she offered.  “It’s closer than the cemetery, and there’s still blood in the fridge.”  She tried to lighten her tone.  “Still a pretty sweet set up, all things considered.  Maybe…”  Her voice became noticeably quieter.  “Maybe you should just…stay.”

 

Spike was silent.  The right thing to do would be to go back to his crypt; blood was easy enough to come by in Sunnydale; it wasn’t coincidence that the butchers were all open later than one would expect.  Or he could always buy some of the horridly overpriced stuff at Willy’s.  The right thing to do would be to leave the Summers’ house, to give Buffy the distance between them that she would need to help her figure out that she wasn’t actually in love with him.

 

But he was still selfish.  He wanted her to love him; he always had.  And after this morning…maybe it wasn’t <i>entirely</i> about gratitude.  Buffy was asking him to stay, and he wasn’t about to turn her down.

 

And if nothing else, if he dreamed of her again…she would be near him.  Her sleeping form could provide him comfort yet again.  He just had to remember to wake up before her.

 

“All right,” he conceded, nodding his head.  He hesitated, his bottom lip twitching slightly as he seemed to deliberate an important decision.  One he apparently reached quickly, as Buffy soon felt his fingers wrap around hers and squeeze lightly.  “I’ll stay.”

 

Their moment was soon broken by the sound of Anya’s voice, calling them to come back into the shop for, as she put it, “something of the greatest and utmost importance.”  Although it had immediately become clear to her, upon entering and seeing a clearly discomforted Xander staring at Spike, as well as the suspiciously-absent Willow and Tara, that perhaps she was not an integral part of the important event.

 

And the van itched at her mind.  Normally, she would have paid it little attention – and to be honest, she didn’t think much about it at this moment, either -- but it bothered Spike, and Buffy had quickly learned that if Spike was bothered by something, it was best to check it out.

 

But when she doubled back outside to make note of the license plate, the van had disappeared.

 

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A/N: I know that by now I probably sound like a broken record, but I am so sorry for the lack of updates…I blame my thesis.  It is quite literally kicking my ass.  But good news: it’s due in the middle of August, so once that happens, I promise many more updates.  But that’s not to say, of course, that I won’t be updating between now and then!  I promise at least one more…and hope that it will be more like three or four.

 

That said…some of you all could help me with my thesis!  I need about fifteen British readers and ten American ones to fill out a completely confidential and anonymous survey on fame desire.  It takes about 15 minutes, and would be conducted via email.  If you think you would like to do this, please contact me – my email address is on my userinfo page.

If you have thirty seconds and are so inclined…please leave a review!  They really do inspire my desperately-thirsty muse!





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