Spike lay still as a corpse, in theory sleeping, but in truth absorbing every detail he could via preternatural senses. From the other side of the door, one thin piece of hollow wood and a few steps away, came the sound of two heartbeats: one the slow, steady thud thud of the Slayer, at rest; the other the faster lub dub of her sister.
The beat and counterbeat soothed him into a trance-like state, weaving through his consciousness and into his subconscious.
Back in Sunnydale, he'd used to listen to them just this way from his basement cot. Alone in the dank and dark, chained to the wall, they'd been his lodestar. His reminder that, monster though he was, they expected more of him. In the space between each cherished beat, he'd vowed not to disappoint. Not again.
A sharp bang from out in the street stirred him from his reverie, and Spike wiped away the dampness on his cheeks. He'd never thought to be so lucky as to simply bask in Buffy's nearness again. To listen to the steady proof of her existence, and draw peace from it. Concentrating on her heartbeat, which had served as his own for so long, he knew now without a doubt that it was her. Stolen memories and camouflaged scent aside, the rhythms of her body didn't lie.
She was Buffy.
When Dawn had announced her intention for them to move in with Buffy, he'd resisted. Buffy wouldn't want him there, for one, and furthermore, did Dawn really think it was a good idea to move in with an unknown quantity?
I guess you'll just have to come too, so you can protect me, she'd said. Cheeky little thing.
Lying quiet and still, listening to their heartbeats, heartbeats he could pick out of a crowded auditorium, Spike relaxed once more.
His girls' heartbeats were the first layer of cherished bedtime lullaby, the percussion, keeping time and rhythm. Intertwining with the thud thud and lub dub came the sighs and glissandi of their breaths, and over those, the muted fluting of their voices, rising and falling in cadence, punctuated by the occasional trill of laughter.
Spike breathed deeply, wanting to wrap himself in their scents. Dawn's, full of youth and vigor and health, mixed with Buffy's not-quite-right one. The difference was less jarring than it had once been.
Along with the two women came Lindsey's essence, overlaying them both despite the fresh sheets and the absence of his personal things. Spike's fangs descended automatically, a subsonic growl accompanying them.
He shifted uneasily, furious with himself and plagued by guilt. What had he been thinking, letting the rat bastard walk away when he had him right there, in his grasp? Spike could've slipped around the Slayer if he'd really wanted to... And they would have the answers they needed now. Cured Buffy of the two-year-long amnesia he was sure Lindsey had somehow engineered.
But getting Buffy to talk to Dawn had been more important at the time, and he hadn't expected the lawyer to be such a coward as to just up and walk away without telling Buffy goodbye to her face. McDonald had cleared out that night, before she'd even gotten back. Must've had his things packed and ready, in anticipation, to be gone so fast.
Yeah. Lindsey'd known Spike would come for him, and had had his exit strategy well planned, right down to that goodbye kiss.
Spike growled audibly as he recalled the scene. Not really a kiss, certainly Buffy hadn't returned it, but it was enough to raise his hackles all the same. He breathed deeper, with purpose, hating himself for it even as he did so.
There was no lingering trace of evidence that there'd been more than kissing between the two, and he knew even if there had been, he should drop it. Wasn't his business. Still. Maybe he could nudge Dawn into asking Buffy about her relationship with Lindsey.
With a shake of his head, Spike retracted his fangs and threw an arm over his eyes, trying to recoup his earlier sense of tranquility. Out in the living room, he could hear the Summers girls preparing to leave: boots being zipped up, purses grabbed and rifled through, last minute touch-ups to hair and makeup.
The outer door opened and shut, and soon the apartment was quiet. Way, way too quiet. With a sigh, Spike sat up and reached for his phone.
Willow had been a bust on the lawyer front. Maybe Angel would have some good news.
Spike looked around the small, drab flat, almost all of which could be seen from his position in the middle of the room. The landlord waited by the door, staring into space with an expression of supreme boredom. A final glance at the tiny north-facing window assured Spike the flat would suit his needs. Wasn't the nicest place he'd ever stayed, but it was far from the worst. About on par with the basement apartment 'Doyle' had given him. Besides, it satisfied all his most important qualifications: a fridge, cable hookup, and cheap as dirt rent without actually having dirt floors.
Most important of all, it was barely an hour's drive from Oxford. Close enough to visit, but far enough to keep from intruding on Buffy and Dawn's new life. Close enough to be there the minute they needed him, but far enough to maintain some sense of independence.
He'd been right pleased when Buffy had announced her decision to return to England with Dawn, doubly so when both she and Dawn had assumed he would return with them. He'd gone with them – of course he'd gone with them. It hadn't even crossed his mind to decline. Giles would have jobs for him in London, same as anywhere, and knowing Buffy and Dawn would be nearby had, for the first time in the long decades since he'd left home with Dru in search of more exotic pastures, made the prospect of returning to the motherland an alluring one.
But living in Oxford was out of the question. It wouldn't do to look as though he was following Buffy across the pond, like a puppy at her heels. Spike had more dignity than that, these days. He had his own life to live, his own mission work. London would do him fine, and was where the fun was at, besides.
"I'll take it," he said.
The landlord nodded without interest. When keys and rent money had exchanged hands, Spike called Giles. "Say, Rupes. About my wheels..."
"You all set for you and Dawn's big housewarming?" Spike said.
He and Buffy were trolling one of the old cemeteries in Oxford, Buffy bundled up against the damp autumn chill. The patrol had been peaceful; not much in the way of demonic activity in these parts, but that suited Spike. It meant Buffy was anxious to spar whenever he came 'round, much as they'd done back in Tulsa on an almost nightly basis.
Sparring with Buffy was pretty much the highlight of his week, and if that made him pathetic, well then, so be it. Besides, from the way her face lit up whenever he suggested it, he rather got the impression it was the highlight of hers too. And no one would ever dare call his Slayer pathetic.
She sighed. "No? I know I have to face them all sometime, but… I liked things the way they were this last month. Just me and Dawn. And you," she added, almost as an afterthought. "It's not so bad when her friends from Oxford come over. They don't know me, so no pressure there. And the other girls I work with at The Grand Café are fine, because again with the not knowing. But it won't be just them…"
"It's the one night. And if it gets too bad, you send me the bat signal and off we'll go to kill us whatever baddie I can rustle up."
Buffy smiled at that. "From what Dawn's said, there's a good chance her Latin professor might have actually been around since the days when Latin wasn't a stuffy, dead language. Could be some slayage potential there."
"Yeah? Better look into it, just in case."
Tipping her head back, she puffed out a breath and watched it fog. "It's dead out here. And not in the fun way."
"Ready to head back?"
"Dawn's got a study group at the flat. I don't want to interrupt them." Before he could extend the offer, she slanted him a sidelong look and said, "Wanna spar for a bit?"
"If'n you want," he said, keeping his surprise and pleasure at her being the one to suggest it first to himself.
It was a good sign. Not just for his relationship with her, whatever that might be. Spike wasn't willing to push for anything, no matter how much he might wish and hope. She didn't remember their history, didn't remember all he'd put her through in the name of love, and it wouldn't be fair to her to try for anything more than a casual friendship so long as that was the case. Even had she her memories, he had no idea where he stood with her. Probably not in the potential lover category. Not since...
Didn't mean he was going to give up what little time he had with her, mind. He was a selfish creature, no denying it.
No, the good was in her reaching out on her own. Making the connections to others she'd once relied upon to keep her strong. Whether she ever regained her memories, she was still the same woman she'd always been, if a little more gun shy than usual. Buffy needed people, whether she admitted it or not.
She stretched, limbering up, and Spike did his best not to stare the way his inner letch wanted him to. He had intimate knowledge of just how limber the girl could be. Best put that thought right out of your mind, Spike, boy. He peeked anyway, briefly, tongue tracing his lower lip in unconscious habit, and turned away before something other than sparring became uppermost in his mind. Whereas he once would've been more than happy to let her see the effect she had on him, reveled in her disgust, even, Spike had no desire to incur the wrath of Buffy.
Besides enjoying their weekly patrol date, he held on to a faint hope that just by being around her, he could spark some memory, the way she seemed to remember her fondness for abusing his nose. Nothing else had come of it yet, but maybe…
"Ready?" Buffy said.
Spike grinned and made a show of cracking his neck. "I was born ready, Slayer."
Rolling her eyes, she rested one fist on a cocked hip, and made an equal show of turning her back on him and walking away. As part of their sparring routine, they'd been working on 'sneak' attacks – sensing a demon before it was on her, something Buffy had decided was necessary after a vampire had almost gotten the drop on her back in Tulsa. She'd dusted it in the end, but the close call had left her shaken.
At least this time she'd only asked him to help train her, not to recount how he'd offed two of her sisterkind.
While it was impossible to sneak up on Buffy, considering she already knew he was there, Spike could vary direction and speed of attack. He slipped into his demon and sped through the boneyard, taking a circuitous path around the Slayer until he reached an old oak directly in front of her. He slithered up it and inched out onto the branch overhanging the path. There he waited, still as the night, crouched on all fours like a predatory cat.
When she passed beneath him, eyes fixed firmly ahead as per the rules, Spike dropped onto her back. Buffy yowled in surprise as she pancaked under his weight. She bucked, and they went rolling across the grass, fighting for dominance, until they ended up pressed against the side of a large tombstone. Spike found himself on top, Buffy's hands pinned over her head, his legs between hers, both of them breathing heavily.
Buffy wriggled against him, still fighting to flip him. Her efforts had a far different effect on him than she intended, and he groaned before he could stop himself.
Her struggles ceased abruptly. She flicked her gaze from his eyes to his mouth, and back again. Her lips parted, pink tongue darting out to wet her lower lip, and her eyes went huge and luminous in the moonlight.
Biting back a second moan, Spike resisted the urge to lower his mouth to hers and test the invitation in her eyes. Despite having recently spent the night with a very lovely and most willing lady-demon by the name of Yasamin, he was as throbbing hard as if he'd gone years without. With all his parts, not just his dick, straining towards Buffy, it took a monumental effort to keep from relaxing into the warm, soft cradle of her body.
An after-image of her, grey-robed and struggling, flashed across his retinas. It broke the spell and sent him hurtling sideways and off of her.
They lay side-by-side on their backs, panting and not speaking, Spike cursing himself for the fool he was.
"I guess that one's your point," Buffy said eventually, voice ragged. He could hear her fisting her hands in the grass, tearing up ragged clumps.
Spike stared at the stars and tried to find his voice. She didn't understand. Couldn't. Buffy didn't have the memory, and he was pretty sure nobody had ever told her, else she would have never accepted him into her life the way she had, even on the outskirts of it as he was. Certainly, she never would've gone soft and willing beneath him.
"Got to get back to London early tonight," he said, shoving to his feet. Spike debated offering her a hand, and stuffed them in his pockets instead. "See you next week, all right?"
Buffy frowned, forehead creased, eyes cautious. Clearly bewildered by his sudden aloofness. "You're not going to go see Dawn?"
Right. The supposed reason for his weekly visits – to stop by and hang with the Bit. "She's studying," he said with a half-shrug. "I'll catch up with her next weekend at the party."
"Okay." Buffy sat up, gnawing at her lip. Looking somewhere to his left, she said, "Thanks for – for helping me patrol."
Hands fisted in his pockets, Spike closed his eyes against the sight of her hurt, confused face. He couldn't walk away from her when she was hurting. Never had been able to. Releasing his breath, he gave her his best smile and offered his hand. "Got time to walk you home first. If it's all right."
"I don't need you to –"
"Course you don't. But my car's that way anyhow…"
"I was going to go patrol the other cemetery first," Buffy said, pointedly ignoring his hand as she got to her feet.
"Thought we could stop off for a hot cocoa on the way. Could use one for the road." She turned away, but not before he caught the beginnings of a smile. "'Sides, think we need to discuss your spectacular failure to notice me in that tree…"
"I totally knew you were there!" she said, tossing her hair. She turned and headed towards home, and Spike fell into step beside her.
Just the way he liked best.
Spike eased open the door of his car, gauging the level of twilight before opening it fully. Necrotempered glass was a brilliant invention; getting Rupert to spring for necro glass for his car had been even more brilliant. Satisfied he was safe, Spike sauntered up the road to the Summers flat.
Judging by the music and the party-goers sprawled on the front steps, the official flat-warming party was in full swing. He stepped around a pair caught in a passionate liplock, then did a double-take when he realized who it was.
"Oi," he said, kicking a booted foot. "Keep it PG for the minors."
Xander blinked up at him, dazed, then disentangled himself from Faith and leapt up. "Spike! Got that card for you –" He rooted around in his pocket, while Faith leaned back on her elbows and smiled lazily up at him.
"Huh?" said Spike, half-distracted by Faith's ample and rather visible cleavage. Looked like it was a shaping up to be a nippy evening in Oxford.
"Oi, you," Xander said, snapping his fingers in his face. "Eyes over here, fang-face."
Spike dragged his gaze back to Xander and the proffered business card in his hand. "What's that?" he said, nodding at it.
Xander shook his head in disgust. "Proof positive you only have a little head after all, wonderbrains."
Curling his lip, Spike said, "And to think I almost didn't care you were in town, Harris."
Other than an eye roll, Xander ignored him. "Remember those monk guys I was telling you about that were looking for Lindsey? Left me a business card in case I saw him?"
"Oh, yeah." Spike reached for the card and examined it. "Order of Shamaya. Sounds sort of familiar, but..." He shrugged and tucked the card into his own pocket. "I'll see what I can dig up. Giles find anything on them?"
Spike nodded, and they traded a few more half-hearted insults before he headed inside, looking for his girls. He was quickly waylaid by Dawn, who accepted his hastily wrapped gift with greedy, grasping hands.
"Ooh," she said when she'd torn off the paper. "Cheetos! You don't know how much I've missed these!"
"Think I got a clue last summer. When you ate all mine. Repeatedly."
Dawn grinned at him, unrepentant. "Gotta go hide these from Buffy." She turned away, gaggle of girls in tow, a pair of them throwing curious glances back over their shoulders at him.
Willow got hold of him next. "Spike! This is Bronwyn," she said, gesturing to a buxom, raven-haired woman in a flowing red caftan. "Spike, Bronwyn. Bronwyn, Spike."
Bronwyn examined him, pale blue eyes openly assessing him. Spike returned the favor.
"Interesting," she said, and took his hand between her warm, calloused ones. "It is good to meet you, finally."
"Pleasure's all mine." Spike resisted the urge to smooth back his hair, but couldn't keep his free hand from creeping up to rub the nape of his neck. "I've, uh, heard a lot about you. Good things," he added.
She laughed, and squeezed his hand before releasing it. "I think Buffy's in the kitchen," she said with a knowing look.
Spike nodded to her and Willow. Pushing his way through the crowded flat, he saw Giles perched on a chair in the corner, holding a beer in one hand and looking out of place amongst all the young people. Spike steered his way to the opposite side of the room. When he got to the kitchen, there was still no sign of Buffy, and he wondered if she'd flown the coop without him. He stood there a moment, not wanting to be unsociable, but the press of warm bodies was reminding him that he hadn't bothered to eat before he'd left London, and he already needed a respite.
The postage stamp garden was occupied, as was the upstairs lavatory. Spike snuck into Dawn's empty room, and from there, out her window and onto the roof. Leaning back against the rough shingles, he dug out his pack of smokes. Nothing like nicotine to calm the blood lust.
Well, excepting blood. But he wasn't likely to find any of that for the taking here.
He was on his second cigarette when the window to Buffy's room slid up, and she began to climb out.
"Oh," she said when she saw him. "Didn't realize you were… I can go."
"Nah." He stubbed out his fag and patted the space beside him. "Need a breather too?"
Buffy gave him a sheepish look. "It's my fifth breather, so need is a questionable thing." She settled in beside him, arms wrapped around her knees, and stared into the distance. "I see you found my thinking spot."
"Not quite the back porch, but it's got its charms." At her questioning glance, he said, "Back in SunnyD. Seemed like whenever you needed to think things through, or get some space, you'd end up on your back porch. You and I tended to end up out there a lot."
"Now'n again," he said with a casual shrug. "That last year, so many under one roof. You and I knew how to be quiet together."
And, for a brief while, not so quiet. Different year, that. Different Spike and Buffy.
She sighed, drawing him from his memories. "What's up, pet?" he said.
Buffy hugged her knees more tightly, and laid her cheek on her arms, face turned towards him. Eyes troubled, she just looked at him.
"Scoobs getting you down?"
She shook her head. "No. Well – it's awkward. No question. They're being so, so careful with me. Like I might break. Or run away again," she said with a wry grimace. "And, you know, I've seen Willow and Giles since we got to England, and sort of made peace with them, but this is the first time I've talked to Xander or Faith since before I left." Buffy puffed out a small sigh. "It's going about as well as you could expect, given the circumstances."
Spike nodded, and they sat quietly for a while. It wasn't long before she began to fidget, toying with the hem of her shirt and jittering her legs.
"Come on, then. Tell Dr. Spike what else is troubling you," he said.
Eyeing his reclining position, Buffy said, "Aren't I supposed to be the one on the couch?"
"Could lie down next to me, if you want. Here." He shucked off his brown coat and laid it across the shingles. "More comfy, like."
Buffy considered for a moment, then lay down and tugged his jacket over her shoulders. "Thanks." Staring up at the night sky, she spoke to the misty stars, hesitating over each word. "I didn't realize until tonight how – lost I feel. Not just the memory thing. But – even the other people who work with me at the Café. They have plans. Degrees to get, careers to have. Me, my big goal in life is to not run away from the people who love me."
Spike propped himself up on one elbow, and resisted the urge to pull her to him. "It's been a rough time for you," he said. "More'n any of them've ever had to deal with, I'd wager."
"When I was with Giles – Lindsey – it wasn't so bad. He'd tell me that I was lucky – I knew why I'd been put on this planet. I had a purpose. I was the Chosen One. All I had to worry about was ridding the world of evil. Then it turns out? Not so much. Slayer, sure. But not the only one. And I still have to figure out who I am. What I want in life."
"Not so different from anybody else, pet."
"No? 'Cause it sure seems like everybody else knows. Everybody down there –" She waved her hand at the party-goers below.
Before he could think of an adequate reply, Buffy adopted a faux-cheery tone that made it clear it was time to drop the subject. "Speaking of the Café. You'll never guess who stopped by last night."
"The Marquis. Guess he heard I was back."
"The Marquis," Spike scoffed. "Poser."
Buffy slanted him a look from the corner of her eye, and twirled a strand of hair around her finger. "I dunno. He doesn't seem so bad. Kinda charming, with his old-world manners. Don't you think?"
"Don't be coy, Slayer," Spike muttered, turning from her to stare up at the sky. "Doesn't suit you."
"Coy?" She wrinkled her nose. "What's the matter, Spike? Jealous I'll like another vampire more than you?"
Spike ignored the bit about her liking him. Just an expression, right? "Jealous? Of that ponce? Please."
"He's not such a big fan of yours, either. Didn't like it when I told him I'd be too busy hanging with you to see him tonight." And there went that sideways look again.
He smiled to himself. Buffy was fishing around, trying to suss out his feelings for her, and definitely attempting to be coy about it. "You be careful 'round him," he said instead of giving her the answer she was looking for. "A tame vampire's still a vampire. No matter how mannered. Likely to rip your throat out as not."
"Yeah? You too, soul boy?"
"Only when my keepers forget to feed me."
Buffy laughed and snuggled deeper into his jacket, her hair fanning out around her face like a golden halo. Spike could feel his expression going soft and sappy, and was helpless to stop it. He sat up, pretending a need to stretch before she could catch him out.
Down at the party, the music changed to some inane boy band, and Buffy hummed along, toe tapping to the beat.
"Looks like the amnesia hasn't improved your taste in music any," Spike said. She stuck her tongue out, and the hopeless, love-struck grin returned.
"Spike," she said, rolling onto her side to face him, her expression serious. "What happened between you and me? I know we were – together." Buffy looked down, blushing. "And I get the feeling it didn't end well. But nobody will really talk about it. Sometimes Xander would start, and then he'd clam up and not say another word. And Dawn –"
Spike cringed, his insides shriveling. Had to come up sometime, but why now, when they were having a good moment?
He blew out a breath. "You want the long version, or the longer one?"
Buffy half-shrugged. "Just the truth."
"The truth?" He laughed mirthlessly. "Truth is – truth is I wasn't a good man. Wasn't a man at all, see? But you – you brought something out in me. Made me want to be a man. For you." Buffy's heart sped up a little at his for you, but she didn't otherwise react to his admission. Spike tapped a cigarette out, and toyed with it. "Wasn't any good at it, of course. Tried, though, and eventually you recognized it. Made me want to try even harder after that."
She was watching him, solemn and serious, and Spike had to face away before he could go on. "When you came back from the dead… you were in a bad place. Wanted to help you, but what would an evil creature like me know about that? I only made it worse for you. And you weren't… you didn't stop me. You were hurting too much, trying to punish yourself, and it was my natural instinct to take advantage of your weakness. Don't know that I even realized what I was doing, but I did it all the same. The more I got of you, the more I wanted."
"Was that when we –?"
"Yeah. Eventually, you started to pull yourself out of that dark place, and you left me behind. I fought it – soulless, after all. Wanted to be with you, didn't matter the cost to either of us. Tried to pretend I wasn't such a bad guy, but –"
Spike, no! Stop!
Eyes shut tight, Spike slumped. A light, tentative touch on his elbow made him look up. Heartsick with remorse, he met Buffy's gaze. The lack of recrimination he knew he should find there made it impossible for him to tell her the truth. He couldn't bear to see hatred blossom in her eyes.
He couldn't do it. He'd tell her the full truth and nothing but the truth another time. When he wasn't such a coward.
"When I say don't trust a tame vampire, I'm speaking from experience. Painful experience. Something – happened. And I had to face the truth. In the end, I was a soulless monster. Nothing more. It was my factory setting, see? So I had to change. Had to be a man who –" He broke off, shaking, the memory still too painful after all these years.
What he'd done to her –
"You went and got your soul," Buffy said.
Mercifully, she didn't ask him to elaborate on why. "And after that, did we -?"
"Knew better, then, didn't I? Knew we could never be – and so did you." He shook his head. "Eventually we became, I dunno if friends is the right word, but, yeah. Friends, I guess. You called me your Champion, even," Spike said softly, wonderingly, still awed by her faith in him.
"From what I've heard, it was a pretty good call."
"S'pose I cleaned up all right."
Buffy touched his elbow again. "Whatever it was you did – and I think I'd rather not know – it doesn't matter now. That wasn't you."
"Wasn't anyone else," he said fiercely.
"I may not remember what happened, but I do know soulless vampires. And that's not what I see when I'm with you. You're a good man, Spike."
He shook his head, and she got up and knelt in front of him, between his outstretched legs. Buffy put a hand on his chest, the warmth searing through his thin t-shirt, and said, "Yes. You are. You think I tell vampires this every day?"
Spike swallowed, humbled by her conviction. "S'pose not."
Bright, hazel eyes held his, refusing to allow him look away. "Thank you for telling me. I know that can't have been easy."
"Didn't really tell –"
"Stop arguing with me," she said, half-exasperated, half-teasing. She squeezed his arm and turned to slither back off the roof, leaving Spike to sag backwards, his thoughts whirling. He was disappointed she'd left, but what else could he expect after –
Buffy's head popped back up over the edge. "Come on," she said, extending him a hand as if the only possible reason she could imagine for him not following was an inability to climb down by himself. "Before they send out a search party for me."
"Of course," Spike said, bemused, and took her hand.