When he wakes in the early evening, Spike tastes the sourness of whisky in his mouth, a rotten tang of tobacco, and something else he can't define, bitter and metallic. Not blood, though. His head feels glittery and prickly, the almost but not quite hangover he gets when he's had a few jars too many. Bits of unconsciousness scatter into tiny, brilliantly colored fragments of Easter-egg shell as he comes around. It's better inside oblivion.

The bed is not really a bed anymore, it lists sideways like a sinking ship and it reeks of musty things best left unthought of if one wants to sleep in it. The bedclothes look like a Halloween costume project gone awry. The air stinks of cordite and wet dirt and the gloopy residue of the eggs, which despite being scoured away have left their fetid mark. Spike rolls off the crooked side and stands up in the murky gloom, spitting out the taste in his mouth, and runs fingers through his hair. Days have gone by since Buffy stood here in that luminous purple blouse and told him good-bye, and he can't spit that out of his mouth no matter how hard he tries. Bile rises in the back of his throat in his anguished rage, and then he knows what that taste was.

He pours himself more whisky and promises yet again that he won't think about it. Won't, can't, shan't. Any other useful contractions there? Oh yes, don't. Don't think about her face as she said "I'm sorry. William." The lightness in her eyes as she freed herself, leaving him in this blind prison. Don't remember it every fucking minute of every fucking day.

Language, language.

Fuck is such a great word, though, so many uses. Transitive verb: She wanted to fuck me. Intransitive verb: Let's fuck, Spike. Noun: She was the most amazing fuck I've ever had. Adjective: You fucking bitch. Interjection: Fuck! Wrap them all up neatly into Fuck you, you fucking fuck, you fucked me over.

Spike grabs up his clothes and dresses, then leaves for the butcher's. It's been days since he's eaten, since he's been able to penetrate the listless haze of pain and rouse himself from the bed to do anything besides get more booze or cigarettes. It smells annoyingly of spring outside. Rebirth, renewal. Just as his heart hits its deadest place. He tosses his cigarette on the ground and veers off into Sunnydale's streets.


A cigarette butt is smoldering on the grass near Spike's crypt and Buffy watches the smoke rising in curlicues, then grinds it out with her boot. As much as she hates cigarettes, it's oddly the least annoying thing about him. Most of the time he made an effort to smell and taste nice for her. He was good at that, always good at the planning and the precious little gestures of thoughtfulness like presents wrapped in bows.

Thoughts squirm inside her head like eels as she looks at the crypt. Buffy wants to go in, doesn't want to. The ebb and flow of indecision. Inside her there's a familiar hot tension rising up between her legs at the thought of him, and she wants him in the worst way. Wants him to pound inside her and make her come over and over until she has to beg him to stop; or to spend hours between her legs using that incredible tongue, making her cry sharply like a howling wind.

The usual dark amber glow of candlelight isn't coming from the high barred windows, though, so he's probably not there. The memory of hitting Spike in front of Riley, of his broken voice and tortured eyes, floods her mind and she is buckled by shame, bending over to take a deep breath. Then she resolutely opens the door and steps inside, calling his name. No answer. She hasn't seen him in days and he could easily have left town. But it looks like he's cleaned up the disaster area, so she reasons that he must have decided to stick around.

Buffy's resolve has dissipated in flakes of rust that fall off and crumble to powder at her feet. Even though she wants him, she's come to understand something in the time since she walked away: that she needs him. After Riley left, it walloped her hard, the whole concept of unconditional love. That so much of her life since she became the slayer was about conditions. Riley's conditions were that Buffy not be who she was, that she be needier and less inside herself. Everyone else except her mother had conditions for their love; Angel, Xander, Giles, Willow. Even Dawn. All different, some harsher and some merely demanding, but still conditions and expectations. Spike had never asked for conditions. He wanted all of her, but took whatever she would give. And she'd despised him for that, for being different from everyone else. For being easy.

It's not that he didn't have expectations, but they were kept behind his tongue, stowed securely in his heart. You'd have to believe you had a right to ask for conditions, and Spike always knew he was without rights. No passport to her soul. No window to her heart he could draw pictures on in the mist that covered it.

The room down below is a shambles, but he's cleaned up most of it. The bar is gone, the tables and lamps he'd set up, the coffin they'd sat on when she'd gotten drunk with him that one night. The bed is still there, though, tilting to one side. The emptiness of this place she's spent so much time in echoes her own hollowness. Near the head of the bed, in the corner, Buffy notices a box. Part of it has burned away, and things spill out from the charred edge, themselves tattered and crisped. She picks through them, strange mementos of a life she'd never seen before and couldn't imagine he'd have kept. Spike had never seemed like the sentimental type.

The guilt overcomes her in a brown wave of regret. They'd thrown the grenade because they were in danger, and because they hadn't cared what happened to Spike or Spike's place. But she'd destroyed something important to him and meted out a searing justice far greater than the crime deserved. Just because he made it easy to do it.

The harder Spike tried to love her and be what she wanted, the more damage Buffy had done to him. For every action, an equal and opposite reaction. Riley scaling the reaction even higher, shame escalating her need to punish Spike further. Now whatever he kept of his past is ruined, and she'd never bothered to think of him as needing his past. It seems so human of him.

A velvet ribbon is mostly crumbled away in brown tatters. Photos twist from melted edges and their tops are bubbled with heat. A tiny book, the foxed edges now curled and crumbly, has lost most of its leather cover. London Lyrics, it says faintly in worn gold embossing: a book of poems. Finally Buffy finds a few photos that are untouched by the damage. They are all of Spike and Drusilla together, except one.

It's color, but that kind of sixties color that's so oversaturated it almost looks black and white. Spike is sitting in an armchair in front of a window. Everything has that old-world European look -- heavy velvet curtains framing fluttering white sheers that billow from the window, the rounded, overstuffed armchair covered in tufted horsehair fabric, the carpet patterned in dark colors. On the left side is a bed, its sheets and covers rumpled in a just-slept-in way. Spike sits diagonally across the chair, one leg hanging over the arm, the other on the floor; in his right hand dangles a record album, his left hand rests on his knee, a cigarette burning between his fingers. He's wearing a white shirt and black trousers, the shirt open down to his stomach, exposing part of his chest. French cuffs undone so that the sleeves come down almost to his fingertips. It's his hair that fascinates her, though -- brown, wavy, loose, though not long. Almost reddish, and it appears soft, not like his crunchy bottle-blond. On the back is written "Salzburg 1966."

It reminds her of those ad photos for designer perfumes, or the old fashioned matinee-idol pictures of fifties stars when they were young and pretty -- Marlon Brando, James Dean, Paul Newman. In fact, that's what he looks like here: James Dean, all insouciantly glamorous and casually mysterious. He really is beautiful, the cheekbones highlighted by shadows, the hair loosely framing his forehead, the shirt draping around him, eyes on the middle distance somewhere to the left as though he's hearing more than the music on the record. Then she notices there's someone on the bed, and inspects the photo more intently. It's a woman, her dark dress fanning out around her.

No. Not her dress. Her blood. She'd been eviscerated, Buffy realizes, and throws the photo down as she starts running.

At the top of the ladder Buffy slams into Spike head on. His eyes are slits of loathing, mouth taut with controlled anger.

"Fe fi fo fum. I smell the blood of a nosey slayer about to get her pretty arse kicked."

Buffy's hands twitch but she doesn't grab her stake. How long ago was it he said something just like that to her? Years stretch back behind her like black pavement. Buffy makes a move to dodge him but he steps in front of her, his jaw muscles twitching like insect wings, eyes narrowed.

"Care to tell me what you're doing here, poking around? I thought we were over, as you so kindly put it. You don't have rights here anymore."

But he doesn't mean it, she knows that. There's a tremble in his voice, the voice of one betrayed, and the set of his face doesn't hide the aching in his eyes. Buffy wants to touch him, run her fingertips over the smooth skin and read his body like a map of darkness, but all she can see is the flower of blood shaped around the girl on the bed. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't shouldn't have come." She knocks him down and runs away, the door clanging dramatically behind her.

When she has run to the edge of her street, she stops, breathing deeply. It's happening all over again. This fatal battle of attraction and repulsion, matter and anti-matter, and if they meet, the world ends. She hates this with every fiber of her existence. What Spike was and what he is now, what he can be when she asks it of him... none of it works, it's like someone threw pieces of ten different jigsaw puzzles into one box and forced her to put it together into a coherent picture. It can't be done.

Buffy wants him so bad her chest aches. Wants him to love her again, unconditionally, be her friend because she has no friends, not since the friends she had stole her away from heaven. Wants to know the thrill of darkness as it overtakes her, when it's all right to feel full only of hate and bleakness and ugliness. He lets her be whatever she wants to be, and isn't that worth letting go of his past and forgetting? He's the essence of what she loathes and fears, but that's the most delicious thing about him.

Minutes tap by in her head while she stands there, thinking, letting the battle play out inside her heart. Then Buffy slides the stake into her pocket and turns away from home, a decision made.



Inside the crypt, her scent lingers in the air and Spike breathes deep, taking it in like a diver takes in air from a tank. There's something else, too, some reason for her being here that he can smell underneath it all, that's left a vapor trace of itself. She came here wanting him and found something else, something that disturbed her before she made contact with him -- that's what he recognizes. The perfume of kismet.

Spike never really believed in fate before he met Buffy. Afterwards he thought there was nothing else -- only puppets on strings, actors directed on a stage. We're nothing more than that. Giles once asked him if he thought the chip was a sign that he was intended for something greater, and Spike pretended he hadn't heard. But in the back of his mind that dark possibility gnawed at him. Falling in love with Buffy sealed his fate, convinced him it was all being directed to this purpose. Only now it was completely cocked up, whatever purpose they could serve together. They weren't together, probably never would be.

Poking around below the crypt he sees the box on the floor, its contents spilled, one photograph far away from the others. Spike picks it up -- oh, the time in Austria, he remembers fondly. But that's why she threw it on the ground. It shows just why he's fond of the time they had there. He stares at the girl on the bed; you can't even see her face, really, she's just a blob of light and dark. That's all any of these memories are to him, blobs of light and dark after all these decades.

Sometimes he feels as if he's lived long enough. He wants to rest, to stop, to cease. He may be dead, but he still exists, and he's just so tired now. Before, he was driven by more than the demon inside him -- he wanted to prove himself, to challenge everything, to win. Now he's been ground so low he just wants to give in, hold his hands up in surrender and let her take him out. Whatever special hell he gets to sizzle in come eternity won't be much worse than this.

Spike picks up the box with its contents spilling out like the guts of the girl in the photo and throws it hard against the wall, roaring. He can shake the walls with his bellows; dirt filters down in powdery trails. Then he kicks at the bed, the table, anything that remained after the grenade disposed of his home. Kicks and kicks until it's reduced to more piles of rubble. In the quiet as he stands there trying to stop the salt sting behind his eyes, Spike senses Buffy and turns to her.

She looks almost exactly like she did the day she called him by his name.

Instead of waiting for him to say anything, she pre-empts him by saying softly, "I want you to come with me. You can drive Mom's car." Buffy hands him keys and lets her fingers rest against his palm for a moment. The touch makes him shudder with memory imprinted by longing upon every nerve ending in his body.

"What if I don't want -- "

"Shh," she hisses at him, but tenderly, her eyes round and curious, and presses her fingers to his mouth. "Just come with me."

What are the tests for whether or not you're dreaming? Pinching wouldn't work. He's quite certain he must be dreaming this. But she takes his hand and pulls him forward when he doesn't move, and he stumbles the first few steps as he follows. How metaphorically apt, he thinks wryly. They walk silently to her house and the car. The lights are all on in Casa Summers, and he imagines everyone in there waiting for Buffy to come home, all cozy and familial. He puts the Jeep in gear and she says simply, "Head south." Spike spares her a quick sideways glance and does as he's told. Her face is grim in the low light, her eyes belonging to another place.



They drive through the night and somewhere before they reach the border, Spike realizes they're heading for Mexico. She hasn't spoken to him since he took the wheel. He's matched her silence, staring ahead at the road, jaw clenched and fingers tight around the wheel. Just as they hit San Ysidro he speaks.

"There's no way I can get across the border." Before the chip, he could go anywhere he wanted to, do anything. He was a ghost, a mirage, passing into anyplace he chose unfettered.

"I thought of that." She takes a sprig of something out of her bag, its odor like sun-baked kelp, and waves it at him. "Tara gave me a spell. Now you have to pull over and let me drive through the border." He does as she tells him, because that's what he does now.

So she's planned this, at least to enough degree she contacted the witch. The idea of Buffy doing a spell makes him laugh out loud and she turns to scowl at him. As they creep through the border, he watches her, and damned if she doesn't just put the whammy on the guard and they sail through, neither of them asked for anything.

How much she's changed. None of this is the girl he used to know.

Tired of waiting, he says at last, as they pass through Tijuana, "I don't understand. Any of it."

Only Buffy doesn't answer, just drums her fingers on the steering wheel. She's barely big enough to see over the damn thing. Her stubborn refusal to spill it annoys him even more. First he catches her bang to rights rummaging about in the very place she destroyed with that plastic soldier of hers, violating his privacy, then she decides he needs to be taken on a road trip. Is it for muscle? Are they chasing something? Or some other barmy plan altogether? At this point he'd put nothing past her.

It's nearly sunrise by the time they hit Rosarito Beach. They've been gone all night, and she has never stopped to call home, so she must have told them something. "There's a place..." Buffy says absentmindedly, and pulls a piece of paper out of her bag. She studies it for a bit while trying to keep her eyes on the road. Eventually they pull up to a small hotel, bungalows strung out like pink pearls along the beach, hiding under palms, glorious hibiscus blossoms, and other tropical plants. She gets out and goes into the office and he's left again to realize this is not the girl he knew before. Did she change while they were together, because they were together? Or did it happen before that and he was too consumed by his blind adoration to know it?

Slamming the door as she gets back inside, her only comment is "Took some finagling, but I got us a bungalow. We'd better get you inside before you start to sizzle."



Buffy rolls over and sprawls across the bed, a pearl-sheen of sweat covering her skin. She buries her face in the bed clothes and sighs with completion, uncaring that her legs are spread wide and Spike is probably staring hungrily at her pussy or her ass. Give her a minute, she'll be ready for him again.

They've already fucked four times in the two hours they've been here. If you count giving head as fucking -- she wonders if those acts are distinct or not.

She'd tossed him across the room onto the bed the minute they got in, ripping his coat off and flinging herself onto his smoldering skin. The sun had been too much on the way from the car to the room, but it was the only time she'd ever felt him warm. She kept murmuring "so warm, warm" at him while she stroked his enflamed skin, sucked his fevered cock. And then he'd done the same for her, and then this, and now this, and...

She raises her head from the bed and rolls over onto her back. The room is lovely -- all flower-filled and bright, with sunlight dappling through the lace curtains. She's had them send round bottled water and some fruit, but soon she'll have to go out and see if she can't find something for Spike, get herself some clothes and toiletries. In her whole life she's never done anything this rash and impulsive, even when she ran away to LA. It was always about planning and scheming and reacting to everything life threw at her; now she was spontaneous and bad and it felt so relieving. Comforting to be doing the wrong thing.

Spike had asked her three times where she got the money for such a posh place, how she knew about it, why they were here. In between sweaty grunts of pleasure and ecstatic moans of pain. It didn't matter how many times he asked, she wasn't telling him. Her secret, her gift.

Her thighs are sticky with his come, her mouth carries traces of tobacco and that faintly coffeeish taste he always seems to have, her body tingles with the fingerprints of his desire and hatred.

Of course he hates her, hates himself too for coming here, being her dog on a leash. But he'd never say no. Because when you get right down to it, his love for her goes deeper than the wound of his hatred. When Buffy looks into his eyes as he's fucking her, she knows he's dreaming of killing her and taking her for eternity, and that's all right. It makes her feel at ease, knowing he's still that Spike.

He lights up a cigarette but doesn't smoke it; lets it sit in his fingers until the ash burns down. Buffy supposes he does that for her -- tries not to be all gross and taste like he's just eaten a dead yak. His head against the dark pillow is so shockingly white -- skin like the slice of an apple, hair like a pale candle. Only his burning blue eyes, sparking at her with shame and anger, his dark eyebrows and lashes like brown suede, his red mouth vivid with their kisses, have color.

"I need to go out and get some stuff. Clothes, a swimsuit, and food... and food for you." She thinks of the girl in the photograph and in one quick motion is off the bed and in the bathroom to wash away the traces of him.

When Buffy comes out he's asleep, or feigning it, she's not sure. She picks up her bag and checks for weapons and wallet, then leaves quietly and walks into town. It doesn't take her long to find what she needs, every town is the same no matter where in the world you are and when you know what to look for. Buffy can smell the demons and the demon-friendly places the way Spike can smell blood.

For him, she finds a butcher who doesn't ask questions. For herself, she buys some clothes, some cheap toiletries, and a little food, but not much; she wants to go out tonight. She also picks up some tequila, very expensive, hoping he might like it. It won't change his resentment, but Spike always seems so childlike when surprised by any gesture of thoughtfulness. It makes her feel tender to him when he's like that, forgetful of the harshness she sees the rest of the time.

At a phone she stops and calls home, but Dawn doesn't answer, so she calls Xander instead.

"Where are you?" he asks angrily. "Dawn and Will have been freaking."

"I'm... I'm in Mexico. Following something. It's a long story." It's so easy to lie these days. She never used to do it, never was any good at it, but now lies slide right out of her.

"Mexico... Buffy, that's a really bad place for a little blonde girl to be on her own. I know you're the slayer, but we're talking scary bandito guys with guns and all that." Xander's voice is strained, but it fills her with a warmth she hasn't felt for him in a long time.

"I know, but I'm okay. Uh, Spike's here. With me. In a working with me sense."

The silence on the other end fills her ears.

"It's just that... this is tough, and he's stronger than the average bear, you know. It shouldn't take long. We're okay."

"Smarter. It's smarter than the average bear, and that's definitely not Spike."

Xander's occasional slowness is to her benefit right now, because he doesn't ask about the planning it must have taken, about the car, about any of that. He's focused solely on the fact that she's with Spike, in another country, in danger.

He doesn't speak for a really long time, until finally he says "As long as you're okay. We can come down. We can help."

"I know. And if it turns out we need it, I'll call, I really will. Xander, I'm okay." How many times has the word okay been used in this conversation? "It's okay." She's not entirely sure who she's trying to convince. They say their good-byes and hang up.

When Buffy returns he's awake, watching the television. Sprawled naked on the bed, his body gleaming in the half light, hair standing up in little exclamation points around his head. Sexy beyond all belief.

"I brought you something." Hands him the blood and the tequila. Maybe he'll make a mixer of it.

After she gives it to him she runs her fingers along the cool slab of muscle on his stomach, up his chest, and tugs him forward to kiss her. When he pulls away, he stares at her with the two bruises that pass for his eyes now. Spike puts everything down and says softly, "thank you," then picks her up with both hands and lifts her on top of him. Underneath her his cock swells and hardens, and he pulls her forward to suck her breasts greedily. Buffy comes almost instantly, and then he takes his time, worshipping her body, licking, sucking, kissing everywhere. She's a sopping worn-out rag when he finishes.

For a while Buffy dozes, Mexican voices filtering in her ear, the presence of Spike next to her. When she finally wakes up she reaches over and ruffles his hair. "I love you like this, your hair like this. Bed hair... or sex hair. Fighting hair." And finally, for the first time, he smiles at her, benevolent and sweet.

The most curious thing happens. Her heart feels full, large. There are tears behind her eyes. Is this what she came here for, to see if she could feel this way ever again, for anyone, even Spike? Buffy pulls him to her chest, murmuring "William." To honor him, let him know how she feels.

Spike leaps to his feet in a such a flash of speed Buffy's momentarily dazed. "Don't you ever. Call me that. Again. Don't you ever use that name in my presence." Voice like ice cubes on her skin, prickling it. He glares at her for a heart-ripping second, and then storms to the bathroom, slamming shut the door. The shower starts.

It takes her a while to connect the dots and understand why he reacted that way. The understanding only makes her angry and a flame of rage creeps up her chest. After yanking the tag off the swimsuit, she puts it on and takes the room card and her sunglasses to head for the pool. Stopping by the door, she stares at the car keys and considers taking them. He could hotwire the car of course, but it's daylight and he can't get out there without frying. And he can't get back across the border easily without the spell. So Buffy leaves them. He's her prisoner now. As always.

She spends the rest of the afternoon at the pool, baking luxuriously, drinking more alcohol than she should. Hummingbirds zip around through the bushes, drawn to all the bright flowers. Before sunset she'll head back to the room so he can't make a quick getaway, but Buffy's unsure how to act with him now. He's the only person who's given her what she needs, who's made the slightest effort to understand how she feels since being brought back. He's let her do whatever she wanted, and gladly. But now... he's so bitter and angry, and there's such a seething rage underneath his detached cool that she's almost afraid of him again.

Part of her likes it that way. It's easier to dismiss him. The other part of her wants to feel the way she felt when he smiled. To know what it's like to open your heart again. It's been closed away, unused, in a dry, dusty spot for so long now.

Spike is her flip side, Buffy knows this now. He's her dark id, her alter ego, the things inside her she rejected when the first slayer told her she was alone. To make that a part of her life, to accept that Spike is all those things and it's all right... she's not so sure she can do that. Because then, wouldn't that mean she's really alive, able to open herself to anything? More and more now, since Riley came, she wishes so hard she was dead that her chest aches with the strain of it.

When Spike saw how much she wanted to go back, he told her she had to go on living so that one of them was living. More and more now, Buffy understands, it's Spike who's doing all the living for them. She's dead and undead, too. And to love him for making her alive again would be the most frightening thing she could ever face.

When she gets back to the room he's lying on the bed again, only dressed, hair combed back, drinking the tequila she bought. Expending great effort to ignore her. She cleans up, comes back and stands at the end of the bed. "I was thinking we could go out. There's a restaurant at this little plaza, and they have a band and stuff."

His eyes are trained past her on the TV. He points a finger at it and just says "Footy on the box. World Cup time, you know."

In a huff, Buffy turns off the TV and Spike closes his eyes, the muscle in his jaw jumping. "That's not what I brought you here for."

Leaping off the bed, he rushes at her and grabs her by the shoulders, shaking her. "What did you bring me here for, then? Needed a sex toy? Felt you had to run all the bloody way to bloody Mexico before you could have Spike service you, because otherwise, someone might find out? Captain America left you with too much shame to wash down your throat?"

Try as she might, this time Buffy can't break his hold on her, he's pumped up with a rage she hasn't seen since the first time they fought. He brings his mouth to hers and kisses her so hard her lips bleed against her teeth. He's taking it in, god, he's taking it in and she dissolves under his sharp teeth and tongue like a sugar cube into hot water, her mind swirling down and down until she doesn't know where she is anymore. The next thing she knows her pants are off, then her panties, and his face is between her legs. Pulsing waves of arousal course through her pussy and she has to balance precariously on tiptoes while his tongue slithers out, over her clit, into her, fucking her, and she can hardly stand.

Buffy continues to beat at his head with her fists, only it makes him laugh, and he peels her hands away, holding on to her hips so hard she can feel the bruises blooming there. Slowly he pushes her back with his mouth until she's balanced on the edge of the dresser, coming in waves of black and blue.



Over dinner and conversation, Buffy had behaved toward him as if they were a couple. She talked and talked, casually, acting as if he was a confidant, as if they were friends. Spike listened, drank the Modelo they kept pouring for him, and watched the plaza with its swirling rainbow of people. It had been a long time since he'd been anywhere below the border, and then he'd been with Dru. In a way, this reminded him of traveling with her -- the chattering, the sex, the following along as if he had no will of his own.

The music is so frightfully awful that Spike cringes as the male singer butchers Only the Lonely in Spanish. There were certain aspects of this evening that resembled a nightmare, one of those seriocomic Lynchian surrealist nightmares, and he half expects a dwarf to come dancing through at any point.

The longer she talks, the later it gets, and he watches as the people drift back to their hotels. The waiter comes to them, trying to encourage them to eat it and beat it. He's talking quickly in halting English and blurry Spanish, and Buffy's limited Spanish leaves her frowning at him, that little line between her brows he loves so much deepening. Something about the waiter makes Spike want to laugh -- possibly the way his head is so roundly shaped and his ears stick out so far. It reminds him of a chimp. When the waiter has made his point and Buffy understands, he smiles, a huge smile with teeth the size of piano keys, and Spike erupts into bitter laughter. He half expects the man to start picking lice.

Christ, what is he doing here? This is ridiculous.

He once said he was love's bitch. Well, Spike, me boyo, you were wrong. You're just an addict. And there's nothing lower than that.

At least he can guess why he's here, even if Buffy doesn't get what she's doing it for. Buffy wants to pretend this will change how she feels about him, that she can make herself like him, want him if they live a life like normal people. Go on holiday together.

If she pounds hard enough the square peg will fit in the round hole.

"Let's go," Buffy says, tugging on his sleeve. "I was thinking of something fun and risqué, like a moonlight skinny dip in the ocean."

"As you wish." She doesn't get the joke. Spike squints at her, certain she's teasing. These are not words he'd ever imagined her saying to anyone, let alone to the filthy soulless creature he is. Only she clearly isn't joking, beelining toward their hotel bungalow, then past it to the deserted beach.

Staring first out at the thin white line of moonlight as it shudders and dances on the waves, he then turns back to the red and gold lights of the hotels along the beachfront, staring up at them. "You know, this really isn't my idea of risque." Buffy takes his coat off and spreads it out on the sand, then lies back on it, pulls her skirt up and unbuttons the tiny buttons on her blouse. Beckoning to him with her hand. This seductress, this odalisque isn't anyone Spike knows. But Christ she's gorgeous in the darkness, his animal's night vision picking up her heat and blood so that she radiates with dark gold lines all around.

Slowly she pulls his shirt away from him as he kneels above her, then slides his jeans down along his thighs. When they start to make love he feels sand everywhere, cutting like fragments of glass, but Spike doesn't mind. Pain often adds to the experience. Buffy climbs on top of him, riding him, head back and lost in her own pleasure. But then she pulls her hair away from her neck and leans down to his mouth. "Do it," she says softly. For a moment Spike is frozen, suspended like mist in the air, and then he hurls her off. Buffy lands sideways on the sand, mouth open, eyes wide in astonishment.

"Who am I to you that you think I would do that?" he seethes. "That I could..." Spike chokes on the words. "...turn you..."

"Not turn me." Buffy almost spits at him. "You know I'd never want that." She takes his hand and runs it along her neck, down to her breast, the flimsy lace of her bra like candy floss. "Send me back. You're the only one who will, who could."

It's like he's sinking, down into one of those deep chasms at the bottom of the ocean. No light, no sound, nothing but weight and cold above you, the terror of knowing you'll smother in the relentless sea. "That's what you brought me here for?" All the times he seduced and teased before the sublime moment he would kill his then-willing victim. How the mighty have fallen. Now she's taken him in and expects him to play his old tricks. For all this time she's despised the killer in him; now she relishes it. Desires it.

Vampires are just parasites; Spike's known it from the start. Surviving off the host of the living, sucking the life of everything healthy and whole. Most of them don't think of themselves that way, though. They don't think of themselves much at all except to know they are almost always the victors in any fight, afraid only of the slayer and of witchcraft. Most don't even live long enough to know what to be afraid of. When they're turned, nothing's a given. Sometimes they know what to do; most times they have to be educated or learn it fumblingly over time.

You wake up dead within, but somehow know you're alive without. Something new and reborn, old and rotten, your breath the stench of death and decay, your mind littered with detritus of an old self you no longer have use for. Empty of life and hungry for it, an endless hunger that comes from some unnamed place that's as old as dirt. It takes a while to realize what you are as you claw your way forward, intent on one thing, knowing, though, without having been told that you're powerful and weak, that you are infinite -- you go on forever and ever but you are damned within eternity. You wake like a baby, desperately afraid of this world, outside the womb of your coffin and the cold earth, and like a baby you have no voice for your hunger and your fear. You swallow it instead, and it makes you strong. Then you know you're a vampire. And you're alone.

"All this time, you've been playing me. Waiting for the time you could get me to kill you." He'd never thought that vampires could get sick, but the need to vomit wrenches Spike's stomach and he turns away, then pulls up his jeans, draws his shirt across his chest.

She slides her knickers back on and picks up her blouse. Circling her arms around her knees, Buffy says, "No. I didn't. I never did before."

The desire to scream at her and beat her to a bloody pulp the way she beat him in that alley makes his muscles spasm. "All this time you hated me for being a killer and now you want me to kill you."

"I'm sorry." Her whisper scrapes like sandpaper. "But I'm the only one you can bite, and... and I wanted to let you have that if you'd just take it from me. It's a trade. Between two lovers."

"All this time... Christ. You built and built this bloody wall around you. Every day, another brick, piling up and up. First Angel, chonk." He makes a motion like he's plonking down the imaginary bricks. "Then your mum, then dying, then coming back... until you're completely safe inside this bricked-in, dark hole." She turns as he talks, staring coolly at him. "And I'm the only one strong enough to punch through, aren't I? The only one stupid and strong enough to knock a hole in that fucking wall, and you take me by the throat and bash my head against the bricks for having strength enough and love enough to do it. Fuck you."

She touches him, but Spike pulls his hand away as if he's been burned. Buffy gazes remotely at him for awhile, disappointment etched on her face, before getting up and walking to the water and wading in, like a goddess in the night. She's left her skirt and blouse here, wearing only her underwear.

This should, of course, be comical, but he can't find the funny in it at all. It's got tragedy mask written all over it. They're nearly naked, on a hot beach in Mexico in the middle of the night, coitus interruptused, she wants him to kill her, and now she's off playing Esther Williams because he won't. He digs in his coat for fags, doesn't find them, and curses for a bit. He could get up and leave, but that would be rather ungallant. Or he could dress, but there's always hope for another shag once she gets back, gleaming wetly.

Buffy likes it when he knocks her around, so he doesn't knock her around much anymore. The knowledge that she seeks violence from him because she believes it's what she deserves repulses even one so morally deficient as himself. That kind of self-pity and self-degradation insults him. Her refusal to start living again, this desire to die, is like a tumor, stretching its malignant tentacles into her, choking out the life and the love, making her too sick to allow his own love to heal her.

The light shimmies and dances on the water. In the distance Spike can see the lights of a ship. Finally she comes back to him and sits down but doesn't pull her clothes on, even though she must be cold. Moonlight ices down her skin in silvery, slivery gleams. She squeezes water from her hair, looking over her shoulder, not at him but past him.

"When Riley was here, I realized how far gone I was. All along, I've wanted to blame that on you, that you pulled me down here. And he made that even easier. Only I was the one doing the dragging.

"I'm filled with hatred, Spike. I hate everyone for bringing me back, for abandoning me, for loving me enough not to let me go. And so I hate myself most of all for how I feel."

She turns to face him, her eyes filled with tears. "You asked me a while ago if I even liked you and I said sometimes. I do. Sometimes I even love you, because you make me forget for just a little while how much I hate everything. But you're without a soul. You're everything I'm supposed to hate." Her lower lip quivers as she hovers on the brink of breaking down. But all he can do is watch and listen. To do anything else is to surrender to her.

"Don't you get it? I'm supposed to hate you, but I don't. I'm supposed to love them, but I don't. And Riley coming back, it made me understand how truly warped all that is. You are the only one who can knock through that wall, and would. And I love that and I fear that, and it makes me despise you."

There's too much white in her eyes; it makes her look like a frightened horse. She's been hanging on to this for so long that she's probably terrified of admitting it, especially if she thinks he'll use it against her. Spike runs his fingers through his hair, pressing hard on his skull with his fingertips. What is the point of loving someone this much? he wonders. There's no good in it, no possibility of happiness. And there's only so much one heart can take, even his.

"You're not the girl I fell in love with."

"Why did you? I never was that girl. Who did you think you saw?"

He stands up and sheds his clothes; the skin, the uniform of his Spikeness, and walks into the water. Wishes he could drown. That he'd staked himself in Harris's basement so he wouldn't have had to wake up each night wondering, "what fresh hell is this?" What's that from, anyway? He can't remember, all the years gone by and the loss of memory making a mockery of his public school education. The water is warm: bathwater warm, womb-water warm. Blood warm.

When he comes back, Buffy is sitting there in the same position, arms around her knees, staring out into the middle distance. It haunts him, this look of hers, because he knows if she would just let him he could erase it. Ease her suffering enough to let her live again. She's more dead than he is. She pulls fruitlessly at the thread that connects her to life, yet it's unraveling slowly, unstoppably.

But when he sits down next to her, wet and cold, Buffy reaches out and takes his hand, twining her fingers through his. Then she kisses the back of his hand, a tender gesture unlike anything she's ever shown him. "I'm sorry," she says quietly. "I don't know what happens to me. I should never have expected you to..."

"You thought it was the loving thing to do. But it's not, Buffy."

"I know." Turning, she pushes him back and straddles him, running the backs of her hands across his face. Her wet hair runs tiny rivers down along his skin, and the texture of her goosepimpled flesh makes his senses come alive. Her salty kisses are so sweet and loving that he wants to sob. Peeling off his wet jeans in between kisses, taking off all her remaining clothing, Buffy moves against and around him like the water.

Looking into her eyes and the sky beyond is like looking through a kaleidoscope -- Spike sees tiny fragments of color that twist and shape and reshape, making beautiful scattered pictures that then change again and again until he can't see anything more than color and light.

When he comes he feels like something is being pulled from inside, like the moon is pulling some vast silver thread out of him, into the sky, tying his life to the stars. "I love you, Buffy," he moans, "oh god, how I love you."

"I know," she whispers against his mouth, her salty lips gracing his. In the sound of the waves lapping softly on the shore he swears he can almost hear her say "I love you too."



Through the night and into the morning they make love back in the hotel room, in the little private courtyard brimming with flowers, in the bathroom's luxurious tub. Buffy's never thought of it as making love before, it was just sex with him, and animal sex at that. Only now it's different. She feels such overwhelming tenderness for him, for his chivalry and his caring and the way he looks right into her and tells her who she is.

She should have gone out slaying last night, dusted some Mexican vamps for a nice change of pace, but she couldn't keep her hands off him. He's like a drug, just as he'd said. He was in her system and she craved him, his unending adoration, his fearlessness in loving someone who doesn't love him back, his pleasure in pleasing her. Spike knows things to do to her that she could never have imagined wanting, and now she wants them so bad she shakes with it. Sexual positions she'd never conceived of or wanted to try, words she'd never wanted to say.

After noon has come and gone, she tells him, "We'll leave after sundown. I paid for the room through tonight, but... we have to get back and the car windows aren't blacked out."

"All right," Spike says quietly against her ear. His low voice always tickles her ears and she shivers a little. Even though he's agreeable to everything suddenly, she knows he doesn't want to go back. Can tell that he's happier now than he's ever been since he first came to Sunnydale. And it makes her so content and warm that she's giving him this at least, that she's making him feel this way for once instead of miserable and hopeless. Right now, she doesn't want to be without him, doesn't want to envision her life in Sunnydale without his rich, thick voice in her ears like honey, his strong arms holding her, the unneeded breath he takes when he sees her come into a room.

"I was gonna go into town and then maybe lie by the pool while you sleep, if that's okay."

"Of course." His fingers skimming over her back and neck make her tingle.

"I'm glad we came, aren't you? It feels so different, away from all that stuff at home, the things everyone expects of me. I feel like this is who I really am." The girl who'd ask a vampire to kill her, just because he loved her. The girl who hides from her friends and family because she wishes they weren't even there anymore. The girl who sucks love and life inside her like a black hole, absorbing it until nothing's left, and gives out nothing in return.


Buffy lets herself be pulled into a tighter embrace. "When we get back home, I thought... well, I guess I should tell people."

Reaching for a cigarette, Spike says, "It's up to you." His voice is dreamy, contemplative. Not Spike-like at all, and it rankles. It's like he's given up on something just to have her.

Whatever she says now, he agrees to. All he says are words like of course, or all right, or sounds fine. He's nearly silent otherwise, except his noises of pleasure and when he asks her what she wants him to do. She could say that it was because he knew, in the moment she asked him to bite her and steal her death back, that he'd lost her. But then, he never really had her, did he?



When they pull up to the curb in front of her house the lights come on. Xander, Anya, and Willow come to front door, groggily wiping sleep from their eyes, dressed in the rumpled clothes that say they've been waiting up all night for Buffy to return.

Spike gets out of the driver's side to open Buffy's door for her, his vestigial memory of life as a gentleman popping up when he least expects it, and always for her or Dawn. Buffy leaves her hand in his a beat too long, but in her heart she's moving away now, towards her house, her friends.

They'd driven back mostly in silence, Spike tapping on the driving wheel in tune with whatever music they managed to find. Occasionally Buffy would say something to him, something harmless and generic, something that didn't matter. Because to say something that mattered would mean there was a future for them back home, and both of them knew that was just pretend.

The moment she bared her neck to him he knew what a sham it all was. The lies he'd told himself blur into smears of darkness. Whatever she was searching for, his only purpose in it was as a means to an end. Whatever the ends really are now, though, she'll find them here with these people in her house, not with him. She'll keep trying, maybe even run off some place with him again, and he'll go, because he's an addict and this is what addicts do. But she'll never believe in what else they could be together, not when confronted with the truth of Sunnydale, of being a slayer, of what she is.

Sooner or later she'll want to live again. He knows it, can feel it pulsing underneath her skin and muscles as he holds her hand. It's in there, far too strong, only she just doesn't see it yet because she hurts too much.

As Buffy moves toward the door her hand slides out of his and she glances at him, sheepish eyes that flicker away, filled with uncertainty like tears. She stands poised between her friends and Spike, looking first at them, then back at him, and again. And Spike knows now, for certain. Knows in the way he knew he'd lost heaven when Dru took his life, knows in the way he knew he was going to his doom as Buffy looked up at him with tear-stained cheeks on her mother's back porch and he put down his shotgun.

He can still taste Mexico on his mouth. The salt from the sea, the savory blood he'd sucked from her lips, the tart limes he'd picked from the tree in their courtyard to go with the tequila she'd bought him. Spike takes his cigarettes from his pocket and turns away.

The bitch has made the decision for him and there's no use hanging about. He can't go in with her because he doesn't belong, but he can't abide the life that does belong to him, rotting alone, aware of what he's lost. In turning away he is forced to move forward, for where he's been is where he is going.




Gwyneth Rhys is the author of 14 other stories.
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