“Oh, god! Oh, god, oh... ah...!” Slayer shuddered and grunted. She couldn’t move her legs. Her body wouldn’t stop shivering, almost as if she were being shocked, and little jolts of residual pleasure still rushed through her, from her core out to her extremities. Was this it? Was this what it felt like when your soul left?

   Spike lay beside her, spent, panting, exhausted. They had managed to stay on the bed, but she was pretty sure they’d bent the frame. Didn’t matter. She had wanted to be thoroughly and completely fucked. That had most assuredly happened, several times, in the last three hours.

   They had not, in fact, consummated the deal in the bathtub, despite Spike’s ardent kisses. What had actually happened was, they both almost fell asleep. They’d been on edge for almost a week, and the night had not been a peaceful one, nor the night before. It wasn’t until Slayer had nodded off and fallen under the water that they both realized sleep was more important than sex. They’d drained the blood for the sake of their health, and toddled into Slayer’s bed still damp.

   It wasn’t until sunset that they’d both woken, and Slayer had decided to try again. Spike had made her wait a moment while he lit some candles, a romantic gesture which both touched and annoyed her. It wasn’t until he was finally done with that that Slayer had stood up, glared at him, and made a very firm declaration.

   “I don’t want it gentle.”

   He had complied.

   At first he just let her do what she wanted, which had not, in fact, been gentle in the least (except in regards to his head.) It wasn’t until she felt she was exhausted and climbed off of him that he’d taken things back into hand, and proved to her that she had residuals of energy she hadn’t anticipated. He started with his tongue, drawing sounds and sensations out of her that she hadn’t thought possible, and then followed up with the rest of him.

   Suffice it to say, the deed was well and truly done.

   If her soul hadn’t winged its way off while she was distracted with all that — and she was pretty sure that wasn’t how it worked — then it should be leaving any moment. Her body was sated, but she couldn’t relax, the terror of what was about to happen next gnawing on her as fiercely as any of those beasts she’d had to fight in the last week.

   “God,” she whispered, her fist clenching. She was almost in tears. The sex had left her feeling vulnerable and soft. “I hope it’s not bad.”

   “Huh?” Spike said to the ceiling. He’d seemed barely able to move himself.

   “I hope... I hope I end up more like you than Angel. I hope....”

   Spike lifted himself and put his arm around her, pulling her back into his embrace. When they’d finally ended they’d needed that moment apart, but it felt good now as he collected her again. “Hey, now. ‘S all right.”

   “I can’t stop shaking,” she whispered, more to herself than him. “Oh, god, this is it!”

   “Maybe,” Spike said. “But that’s pretty normal after any halfway decent shag, love, so don’t freak.”

   “Is it?” She’d never had quite this reaction after doing it for herself, and there was nothing remotely like it after that thing with Angel.

   Spike chuckled. “Yes,” he said without judgement.

   Slayer took in a few more shaky breaths, glad that this was normal, but still worried, because what would it feel like, then? “You really... really won’t let me kill my mom? Or... or my friends? Though... I mean, this is why I wouldn’t let them invite me in, so they’d be... god, I knew from the start I was going to do this, didn’t I? It’s just... out of all the people I could... I don’t want—”

   “You’re not gonna go hunting your mum,” Spike said. “I’d be bloody brassed off at you, for one, I like the bird.”

   “You do?”

   Spike shrugged. “She’s a decent sort. Makes a good cuppa cocoa. You’re not going to kill her.”

   “Why not?”

   “The thought doesn’t give you any pleasure. Angel went torturing you ‘cause he’d always wanted to, even with the damn soul. Didn’t you get that?”

   She hadn’t. She still felt tense. “I don’t know... what I’ll be like.”

   “You’ll be like you,” Spike said. “Just without the soul in the way.”

   “I guess....” She swallowed. “I guess I don’t know what I’m like.”

   Spike looked down at her. “I do,” he whispered. He kissed her a few times, on her eyes, her nose, gently touching her lips. “‘Cause I’ve fallen in love with it.” He nuzzled her, his lips smooth and gentle against her cheek.

   “Can you really love...? Without...?”

   “Yes,” Spike murmured. “We can,” he said. “And I’m in love with you.”

   “Me like this...?”

   “Yes,” he said. “And I’ll love you after, too.”

   “I don’t get it. I won’t be the same....”

   Spike was still speaking against her skin, not even looking at her. “I love every part of you, slayer,” he said. “I love your hair. I love your eyes. I love your lips. I love your sharp, naughty teeth.” He kissed down her throat to her collarbone. “I love your skin,” he said. “I love your nails. I love your heart.” He kissed above it. Then he finally looked down at her. “I love your strength, and your humor, and your courage. I love your loyalty. I love your compassion. I love your short temper. I love your fist. I love your screams. I love this body. And yes, Slayer mine, I’m pretty sure I love your damn soul.”

   She stared up at him, almost in awe.

   “And if some sod came and cut all your shiny hair off, I’d love you. If someone poked out your eyes, I’d love you. If you were hurt and couldn’t be strong. If you were tired and couldn’t laugh. If you were angry and forgot to be loyal. All these bits of you I’ve fallen in love with — even before you were turned, I’ll bet. I love them, but they’re not you. And when this soul wings off to where it’s s’posed to be, I’ll love you. Still. Because you’re you.” He kissed her gently. “You’re not your hair. You’re not your eyes. You’re not some clever quip. And you’re not a soul. You’re you. You’ll always be you.”

   Slayer was touched by the courage of his confession. His eyes were so cold and soulless, but held her so completely....

   “I hope... when this happens that I feel the same,” she said. “However... it works. That I’ll love however you can. Like a demon.”

   Spike smiled. “That’d be nice.”

   “I’m scared.”

   “Hang on to me,” he said, shifting back to her side and pulling her against him. “I’ll be here through the whole thing.”

   She nestled up against him and bit her lip, still nervous. His arms were comforting, and she needed that.

   “When is this supposed to happen, anyway?” he asked after a while.

   “I’m not sure.”

   “Well... how exactly does it work? Are we talking lightning bolts, or some such?”

   “I actually don’t know, I was asleep,” Slayer told him. “We... well, we did it, and then I fell asleep, and... and, well, maybe he did too. But when I woke up he was gone.”

   “Huh. Maybe you have to fall asleep, first,” he said.

   How the hell was she supposed to fall asleep when she was this scared? “I don’t know if I can.”

   Spike chuckled. “All right, if this doesn’t knock you out, nothing will.”

   And to Slayer’s shock, he started reciting poetry. At first she laughed, and then settled in, snuggled softly up against him, listening to his dark, accented voice caressing words like they were lovers. She recognized a couple of the poems from English class in school, but several others were completely new to her.

   “My soul is wrapped in harsh repose. Midnight descends in raven-colored clothes. But soft. Behold! A sunlight beam, Cutting a swath of glimmering gleam. My heart expands, 'tis grown a bulge in it, Inspired by your beauty... effulgent.

    She was drifting off. “Never heard that one.”

   “Old Victorian thing,” he muttered. “Silly, innit?”

   “Mmm...”

   “Sleep, slayer,” he whispered, kissing her hairline. “I’ll be right here when you wake. Always. Now. How about this one? She walks in beauty, like the night, Of cloudless climes and starry skies, And all that's best of dark and bright, meet in her aspect and her eyes....

   She had drifted off before he’d finished.

   

***   

   

   “What the fuck do you mean, you knew it wasn’t sex?” Slayer shouted at the phone.

   Spike knew better than to be in her line of sight, but he just couldn’t miss hearing even half of this conversation. He lurked behind the corner in the kitchen, knowing she knew he was there and didn’t care. But he still didn’t quite dare get in the way of this, not even over the phone.

   He’d been pretty sure her confusion and suspicion was going to boil up into rage when Angel started talking. She’d known she still had a soul, she felt no different at all after their tryst, and when Spike made a few particularly horrible suggestions, she had not been indifferent to suffering, not even when it had nothing to do with either of them.

   She’d called Angel, saying even as she dialed that he probably wouldn’t know what was going on, either.

   “You weren’t sure?” Slayer growled. “But you let me believe that. For the last year and a half! — Oh, so now you’re saying it might only apply to us? You mean there was a specific difference?” Her voice raised half an octave. “Wait, with Darla?” There was a scoff. “Oh. You figured it had grown weaker? Like the damn curse had suffered metal fatigue? — And if we had, after the turning, it would have done what? Sent you off murdering and raping again? What about me, Angel?”

   Spike peered around the edge of the corner, and saw Slayer pacing back and forth. Suddenly her face vamped up with fury. “Don’t call me that! You murdered Buffy. You drew out your sharp little fangs and you sank them into my pretty all-but virginal throat and you drank down every drop of my innocent blood, and then you shoved your evil inside me like the fucking monster you are!” She rolled her eyes and tossed her head. “Oh, listen to yourself. Everyone’s fault but yours. I didn’t make you, you let me!”

   Spike could even hear Angel’s desperate cry, tinny and distant over the receiver. “You said it yourself, there was no other way!”

   Slayer laughed, with no humor in it at all. “Actually, someone just pointed out to me, there was. — No, not some other spell, or anything. All we had to do was just give me a donation while you drank. Any hospital. Hell, I could have had a transfusion from mom and the Scoobies, even, no doctors involved. I know Xander and Willow are both type O.”

   Her eyes narrowed and her face went grim. “Yeah, Angel. Why didn’t either of us think of it? ‘Cause you didn’t want to get better, you wanted to feed. — No, Angel, you wanted me. And I wanted you to, ‘cause you’d set me up. I thought you’d stay if I gave you everything of me. And you still betrayed me!”

   Her voice went darker again, with a perfect demonic growl in it. “Oh, yes, it was. Oh, yes it was! You’d corrupted my soul before you corrupted my body. — No. It was. Because Faith didn’t have to die. I didn’t have to die. No one had to die. But we were both too thick to give a shit about anything but our goddamn melodrama! — Well, why the fuck couldn’t you just let me leave you when I tried? After Spike came, huh? For god’s sake, why’d you have to stalk me down in the first place, you evil, manipulative, fuck!”

   She shook her head vehemently at the phone. “Oh, no, you weren’t. You were trying to help yourself. From the very fucking beginning, I was just a means toward your ultimate redemption. Well, this is it, Angel. How’s it feel?” She scoffed at whatever Angel said next. “I’m supposed to care? You tried to condemn me to a life of celibacy, you fucking jerk! Because you were evil once, I had to try and be a fucking nun!”

   She rolled her eyes. “No, it fucking isn’t, Angel, it’s fine. Your own little baby slaypire is still just as tortured as you set her up to be. Buffy’s soul is still just as cursed and bound to a life of a monster, just like you wanted. Yay you.”

   She smirked then. Spike knew it. Angel had finally caught on. “Yep!” she said with a grin. Then, “Well, actually, I’m not telling you. Because my sex life, or lack thereof, is no longer any of your fucking business!” Slayer threw the phone across the room.

   Angel’s voice, desperate, distant, desolate, gabbled through the abandoned receiver. “No, wait, don’t hang up! Buffy? Buffy!

   Slayer had thrown up her hands and was pacing again, and Spike could not let this opportunity go by. There was no way Slayer could expect him to. “Angel!” he said, grabbing the phone. “Hallo, mate, glad to check in. Your bed’s really comfortable. Thanks for the nice digs, I’m loving it here.”

   “Spike?” Angel’s voice over the phone sounded incredulous, if not horrified. “Spike?

   “Oh, I know, been here before, but it’s lots nicer on two legs. And the master suite is a dream.”

   “What have you done to her?”

   “Just two words for you, mate,” Spike said, unable to keep the grin off his face. “I win.

   Slayer rolled her eyes, but didn’t seem particularly angry. Well, not at Spike, anyway. Fury still sparked in her yellow eyes, but it was all for Angel. “Give me that back,” she said, taking the receiver.

   Her face darkened further at whatever Angel said. “Oh, really. How touching. So, what, fucking an underage girl somehow erased a hundred years of slaughter, rape, and torture? How the fuck did that equate to perfect fucking happiness! Did you just forget about all that?”

   Spike couldn’t hear everything Angel said in response to that, but one word stuck out. “Pure.

   “Fuck you, Angel,” was all Slayer said in response to that. Then, “No, actually, you’re not. You’re staying right there in LA where you put yourself.” She shook her head at what he said then. “No. You gave up that right, when you left.” She listened for one more moment. “Don’t you dare, Angel. You know where you can go? I sent you there once, so you know exactly how much I fucking mean it when I say to you, go to hell!

   And this time she slammed down the phone so hard it broke.

   And Spike couldn’t stop grinning.

   “Will you take that insufferable look off your face?” Slayer demanded. “It pisses me off.”

   “Good.”

   “What did you say?”

   “Good. You should be pissed off.”

   “Not at you!”

   “Yeah, but I’m here.” He danced backward with an inviting stance, his fists at the ready. “Come on, slayer. Lay it on me.”

   “I’m pissed off enough, I might kill you.”

   Spike considered this. “I’ll take the chance.”

   “Your head.”

   “Lay off the face,” he said. “Come on. I dare you.”

   Slayer growled, and leaped for him, punching at his torso. “He said,” she said, “that he’d always sort of known it wasn’t just sex. That he and Darla got it on back — when he first — got the curse!”

   “Yeah,” Spike said, blocking the blows that came with her words. “I wondered about that.”

   “I’ll bet he tried raping and seducing other innocent virgins, too,” she growled. “I’ll bet he knew all along!”

   “How did he explain it?”

   “He said the curse might have gotten weaker!” She laughed. “Then, then he dared say it was just us.”

   “‘Cause you were the Slayer?”

   “No! ‘Cause what we had was true love!

   Spike was actually hurt by that. “Do you think he’s right?”

   “What does it matter?” Slayer shouted. “He let me think all this time that perfect happiness was some euphemism for orgasm.”

   “Well, maybe for him it is.”

   “Yeah, what, one stiffy with a seventeen year old girl, and all his sins are erased? Baptized in my virgin pussy, and he comes up clean and pure! What the fuck?” She body slammed Spike against the wall. “I can’t believe he let that erase all his fucking guilt! He should have been feeling guilty for that!

   Spike wasn’t sure. He was a believer in true love. “Dunno. If it was nice, it was nice.”

   Slayer shoved him sideways. “He’d been stalking me since I was fifteen!” she yelled. “He’d been directed to me. He... he manipulated me!”

   Spike didn’t doubt it. “I know, love.”

   “How the fuck? Did he brag about that, too?”

   He had, but that wasn’t how Spike knew. “No. ‘Cause he did it to me, too. Once upon a time.” Spike picked himself up off the ground. Slayer’s rage was cooling into something he wanted to head off at the pass before it brought her to screaming. He wasn’t sure he could keep off the tears, but that was what the sparring had been about. “Angel’s good at getting what he wants out of people,” Spike said, catching her by the shoulders. “And he’s really selfish, and he doesn’t understand love. He never has. Yeah. I’ll bet he thought that by claiming you, he was redeemed.”

   “All he did was corrupt me, instead,” Slayer whispered.

   Spike kissed her, tenderly. “Then be corrupted,” he said, heady. “It can be fun. Be corrupted, and rude, and powerful, and sexy. Be a little evil, slayer. Be a creature of the darkness, like you always knew you were.” He gently kissed her lips. “With me.”

   “Spike, I can’t.”

   “Sure you can,” he said. “Look. You wanted this soul gone, right? You’re sick of having it in your skin? Well, you want to get rid of it, you gotta learn to be happy, Slayer. So what makes you happy? Clearly poncing around about here being pious and celibate hasn’t done the trick. What do you want, pet? Blood? Violence?”

   “No. Guilt’s a very real thing, Spike.”

   “About what? Getting your fight on? Getting a taste of the good stuff?”

   “I’m not going to go killing people!”

   “You don’t have to. You liked tasting Riley, right?” She didn’t answer. “Right?

   Slayer closed her eyes.

   “A little night club seduction, a dance with a good looking bloke, and you only take a few sips against the wall. Hot and sweet and safe enough, leave him with a powerful hickey. Sound like fun?”

   Slayer bent her head, her yellow eyes finally fading. The idea appealed enough it had softened her, but she felt guilty for it.

   “How about a good brawl? Fist and fangs? You’ve been letting the demons go, not wanting to fight your own kind. Why not? They deserve it. Take ‘em out. Enjoy the kill.”

   She trembled a little in his arms.

   “Slayer, look around you. The world is your oyster, and you’re the pearl. Take joy in it, already! You have the night, and the moonlight, and the whole sodding world, forever.” He touched the side of her face, brushing her hair back. “And you got me.”

   She finally looked up at him. “I can’t, Spike. I can’t be with someone who’s killing people. Not with this soul. I just... I can’t.”

   Spike rolled his eyes. “Fine. I’ll join your sodding co-op.” Slayer actually gasped. “But only if I can still get a nip in at the Bronze sometimes. I don’t have to kill ‘em, but the seduction’s too much fun to lose.”

   “No mess ups! I’d... have to stake you if you kill, even on accident.”

   Spike nodded.

   “And only if you buy them something to eat, first,” Slayer said. “Like the Red Cross gives out cookies.”

   Spike actually laughed. It was so... high school. “Fine. Can I kill criminals?”

   “And you’re judge, jury, and executioner? No!”

   “Slayer!

   “Muggers deserve to be eaten? Na-uh, Spike.”

   “Fine. Can I rough ‘em up and just put a bite on for a minute, just to take them down?”

   She hesitated. “O-only if you call 911 after,” she said. “So they’ll get care.”

   Spike glared at the ceiling for a moment, half annoyed, half amused. “Fine!” he said. “I can do that.”

   “I’ll check up on you!” Slayer insisted. “I don’t want you screwing up.”

   “I wouldn’t risk your anger, pet. The point here is to make you perfectly happy, right?”

   Slayer blinked. “I....” It was as if she’d only just realized that was what he was saying. “You... you’d do that? That would be...?”

   “My goal in life until I succeed, right? Making you, my love, perfectly, deliriously happy. Yes. I plan to devote every bit of my energy to that, until you’re bloody sick of me.”

   “Or... perfectly happy?”

   Spike nodded.

   “What if it never happens?”

   He shrugged. “Then I’ll have to settle for making you a little happier than you are now. I can live with that.”

   “But what about your happiness?”

   He shook his head. “It was destroyed the moment you came into my life, slayer, and someone hit me in the head with a fire axe.” He touched the back of his bandaged head. Ah, poetic foreshadowing. “You’re the only thing that’s made me happy in years. I went and fell in love with you. Terrible mistake.” He slid his hands up and down her arms. “‘Sides. We don’t know that Angel was wrong. Maybe I just haven’t shagged you hard enough yet.”

   “I think we pretty much covered that.”

   “I think we need to make absolutely certain, Slayer,” he said. He scooped her up in his arms and spun her around until she laughed. “We can perform some scientific studies. What do you think?”

   Slayer laughed, and then kissed him, clearly much happier than she had been a few minutes ago.

   Well. That was one step closer, already.

   





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